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Wayne Leman

Nicely done field testing, John.

ElShaddai Edwards

I actually don't have much to disagree with here. I was struck, however, by the question of whether we're all using the term "Biblish" consistently. I've tended to equate it with the KJV/Tyndale language tradition, especially on a syntactic level. Is that consistent with how you're using the term? Or is Biblish a wider ranging term that includes Hebrew metaphors and other semantic units?

Along the lines of the first view, I would be curious to know whether you consider the REB to be "Biblish", especially since its predecessor was conceived as sort of an anti-KJV.

My point in my blog post, perhaps poorly written, was whether Biblish, aka KJV/Tyndale, has assumed a sacred language status, such that attempts to use standard English syntax, as in the REB and HCSB, are dismissed because they don't "sound right". The question then is whether beauty is in the "sacred" or "profane".

Peter Kirk

I note that you ignore issues of intended target audience. The target audiences of the predecessors of CEV and NLT were explicitly non-mother tongue English speakers and children respectively. These are at least implicitly the target audiences of CEV and NLT. This is the very good reason why they are deliberately not literary translations. That does not imply that they are not good translations.

In fact I am not at all sure why, apart from subjective feel-good factors or intellectual arrogance, anyone should prefer to read a literary translation rather than a non-literary one. John, can you give any such reasons?



Biblish is a pretty flexible term and gets used to cover the whole range of things you mention. I think it was Wayne who defined 'go the way of all the earth' as an example of Biblish.

We agree, I know from many of your posts, on just about everything. I am also in favor of modifying KJV/Tyndale wherever it turns out to be possible to render the syntax, discourse structure, figures of speech, metaphors, etc. of the originals more naturally than they did.



a literary translation, if done well, carries over the content of the originals with what I call "ouch-level" referential accuracy. A non-literary translation settles for 'it hurts me' referential accuracy. I remember giving some startling examples from Job 28, and you, like me, found the DE translations in question indefensible.

You're right I think that CEV and NLT are meant for children and those who speak English as a second language. It's good to leave them behind when one's grasp of English improves.

Peter Kirk

John, thanks for your reminder of your working definition of literary translation, in terms of ""ouch-level" referential accuracy".

But that, surely, is not what most people have in mind when they hear about literary translation. They are thinking more in terms of translation into high literary registers of English. I'm afraid that for me translations like this certainly do not have ""ouch-level" referential accuracy", for words like "ouch" are not permitted in high literary style.

In fact I think your definition contradicts the definition which Lingamish was working with when he wrote "A truly literary translation will suggest the foreignness of the original without being incomprehensible." I suppose your extract from Alter in this post is a good example of that. To me, a translation like this which seems foreign but is comprehensible may have "'it hurts me' referential accuracy"; but for something to get to the "ouch-level" it has to abandon foreignness and speak in my very own native language and vernacular.

I think it would be better if you abandoned the term "literary translation" for what you are talking about and find another term. Actually there is one already in use: "dynamic equivalence"! For the whole point of the DE method was to focus on equivalence not at the formal verbal level but at what you call the "ouch-level".

If the supposedly DE examples you quoted from Job were not "ouch-level" equivalent (perhaps you can remind me with a link of where to find them), that surely implies that they were bad examples of DE, not that the DE method is inherently bad. Of course the versions you quoted may have been DE for children or foreigners, giving another constraint on what would be a good translation. I'm not sure if there is a good example in English of DE for highly educated adults, but REB is perhaps the best we have. Even so, I don't think the foreign-sounding "I am about to go the way of all the earth", although understandable, gets me at the "ouch-level".


Peter, you say:

Even so, I don't think the foreign-sounding "I am about to go the way of all the earth", although understandable, gets me at the "ouch-level".

That's where we differ. The advantage of retaining the Hebrew idiom, which is a figure of speech, is that it preserves and highlights co-textual references elsewhere, as in Joshua and Qohelet, as explained in my previous post. This, too, is part of ouch level accuracy, because no text is an island. But I would be interested in what figure of speech for figure of speech translation you would suggest here. If instead you think it's fine to take figures of speech and metaphors and transform them into tidy little propositions, we are worlds apart in terms of translation method.

A translation that aims to be as literary as its source text is, will have to be a DE translation. Point well taken. But DE translations to date succeed more often in taking high register language, as in the case under discussion, and putting it in lower register language of a 4th grade level. This too has a place, but is the opposite of my concern.

ElShaddai Edwards

A translation that aims to be as literary as its source text is, will have to be a DE translation.

Yes, that was the conclusion reached in my set of posts on "literary equivalance". I'm not looking for a Bible that reads like Tolstoy or Tolkien all the way through, but one that reflects the varying writing styles of the original authors.

In one of my first reviews of the REB, I wrote that the "REB was the first translation that really made Paul (mostly) intelligible and come alive to me. However, whether that illumination is from the original authors or of the translators is a question worth asking. We seem to struggle often these days with whether translation teams have overlaid the text with theological bias or ideological agendas. The REB seems not to suffer so much from these concerns, so much as whether the essential character of the original texts has been accurately duplicated or whether it has been elevated to a higher literary character, especially in the New Testament."

I fear the latter, but wish for the former.


Sorry to come in late on this. I went the way of all the earth for a while there.. Actually I was writing love letters to my Valentine.

Peter, thanks for tag-teaming on this. I've been the skinny guy at the beach getting sand kicked in his face by the big bully.

Peter Kirk

That's where we differ.

Well, a lot of this about the ouch level is necessarily subjective.

If instead you think it's fine to take figures of speech and metaphors and transform them into tidy little propositions, we are worlds apart in terms of translation method.

No, I don't - except for certain audiences such as those CEV has in mind, where there is no suitable figurative equivalent. Instead, at least to some extent, we need to transform them into figures of speech which have the same kind of impact as the original language figures had.

A translation which tries to do this is The Message. Yes, sometimes it goes too far away from the original. And sometimes the equivalence of the new figure is debatable - but what in Bible translation isn't? Perhaps we should be looking at The Message as well as REB as better models than CEV and NLT of what you call a literary translation for an educated audience. Of course both have their problems, so don't try to refute my argument by quoting specific places where The Message gets it wrong.

In this particular case, I won't suggest a specific rendering. But take the situation. An English-speaking old man, dying, tells his son he is about to die. What words would he use? Probably not CEV's simple words. Almost certainly not REB's "I am about to go the way of all the earth" - unless perhaps he is a pastor or Bible scholar. To my surprise The Message here is almost identical to REB. What would you expect to read in such a scene as portrayed by a good modern novelist? Then put those words in your translation. And put the same words in Joshua to preserve your co-textual links.

DE translations to date succeed more often in taking high register language, as in the case under discussion, and putting it in lower register language of a 4th grade level.

You found this because you chose to look only at DE translations intentionally written at 4th grade level or thereabouts.

Lingamish, I don't see John as a big bully. His dog looks like the type that would lick you to death, and I'm sure John takes after it.


I agree with much of what you say, Peter, except about Leo, our dog, who is becoming a problem as he becomes an adult. Usually very gentle, he will occasionally charge and bite a stranger without warning.

Am I right to think that for you, The Message is the closest thing we have to a DE translation for adults? But The Message isn't a translation at all. It's a paraphrase.

ElShaddai Edwards

Peter, in your opinion, how well does the style of The Message match the literary register of the original texts? I've not spent any time with The Message, but my impression, as also seems to be John's, is that it more reflects the register of Eugene Peterson than the original authors.

Peter Kirk

John and ElShaddai, I am not endorsing The Message. I don't know it well enough to know how well it reflects the variety of styles in the original.

But as for "The Message isn't a translation at all. It's a paraphrase." - that is a libellous untruth. I will allow "It's a paraphrase", although the authors prefer the phrase "paraphrasing translation", on the basis that a paraphrase can be a variety of translation. But beyond doubt it is a translation, a version of a text in English prepared from the original language texts. Arguably it is an inaccurate translation, indeed I would agree that in places it is. In other places it goes beyond what is acceptable DE. But considering that all other genuinely DE translations into English, except perhaps for REB, have not been prepared for adults whose mother tongue is English, I would suggest that either it or REB is "the closest thing we have to a DE translation for adults".


I would not have thought that either REB or the Message fit into the category of DE translations.

The latter is a paraphrase, or a "paraphrasing translation" if one prefers. The former, REB, falls into the same category as NRSV, NAB, NJB, and NJPSV. They retain hundreds if not thousands of examples of what DE people refer to as Biblish. Since when has it become acceptable to refer to REB as a DE translation?

The standard DE translations in English are GNB / TEV, CEV, NLT, and NCV. If there are others I need to pay attention to, let me know, Peter.

ElShaddai Edwards

Thanks, Peter. I'd be interested in exploring your statement: "In other places it goes beyond what is acceptable DE." I assume that what you meant is the line between DE and paraphrase. Is there a guide to the principles of pure DE, which, as John points out, is a much smaller group of translations than traditionally viewed?

Peter Kirk

(Having to retype my comment because your ACCURSED "snap" popped up while I was typing and interpreted my keystrokes as wanting to follow its links. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE get rid of this distraction.)

ElShaddai, the line I am referring to is not "the line between DE and paraphrase". I recognise no such line. I recognise two definitions of "paraphrase" in relation to Bible translation. The first refers to a version which is prepared from another version in the same language, and this is independent of the translation method axis. The second (the one which John uses of The Message) is "a translation which is less literal than I like", and is entirely subjective and pejorative.

The line which I do think The Message sometimes crosses is that between translation and transculturation, that is between attempting to render the meaning of the original text and adapting that meaning into a message more suitable for a contemporary audience. A version which regularly crosses that line is the Cotton Patch Version. While The Message is certainly not as extreme as this in its translation method, it does in places indulge in this kind of transculturation.

John, I don't really call REB a DE translation. It is just a little closer to DE than the other translations you list with it. The English speaking world has yet to see a manistream DE translation intended for an educated adult audience.

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