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Wayne Leman

Very good post, John. I'm on the same page with you about literary translation like this. I esp. like the last part of your translation, "spiked themselves on many a painful thorn," which, to my mind makes this a literary translation.

I consider that the NEB and J.B. Phillips translation have a number of vivid phrasings similar to yours which make them literary translations also.

I really do agree with you about how flat the CEV is. It's in a different ballpark, so to speak. I do think there is a need for that ballpark. Some players belong there, by virtue of their literary skills, or lack of fluency in more erudite English. But I do crave translations into English that take advantage of the literary possibilities that English offers us for a Bible translation.


My goodness, so many things I could comment on...

well, here's a start:
1) When I think of OT background Betz is the last person who comes to my mind. Betz is all Greco-Roman - not Jewish. I do think of F. F. Bruce (DSS in particular) and Craig Evans - and yes, Hengel. But I'll admit that Betz' rhetorical perspective is excellent and he wrote an amazing commentary on Galatians.

2) I like your translation. Its vivid, which is good. And its not semantically ill-formed, so congratulations, you do not get a pound sign.

I have plenty more to say, but now I must go study Russian...I'll be back in a couple hours.


Thanks, Wayne for sticking up for CEV. It is the only translation on my shelf I can just pick and read without ever stumbling over a phrase. All other translations I know of read best if studied and practiced beforehand.



I know what you mean about Betz, but I have his Sermon on the Mount commentary, which I adore, and even though he clearly depends on compendia like Strack-Billerbeck, he does his homework, and often finds just the illuminating passage from the Septuagint, other Second Temple Jewish texts, and/or later rabbinic literature.

I look forward to further comments and criticism on your part.

J. K. Gayle

I admit it. That was very unkind. And yes, I read CEV to my 4 year old before she goes to bed.

Can't tell whether I'm waking up or falling asleep. I think I remember coming over here from Mike's place with the tantalizing warning of "fierce polemics." Now I think I remember over here some where early at the beginning of this long post (hey, do other people do that too?) something about "rhetoric." Not fair, I say. There's way too much context and Bob-MacDonald-like color coding up there. Mike's now off learning Russian and Wayne said something about J. B. Phillips. But I wonder if John saw my translation of Paul to Timothy. (I think I thought Paul knew Aristotle, who didn't especially like literature, though he probably likes CEV). With all this waking zaniness, I really do wonder why "root" in English has to be so definite.

J. K. Gayle

Oh, those words there mean I really appreciate what you've done here John!



no I missed your translation. Is it on your blog, or over at Mike's?

As for "root," the question is: is there deliberate hyperbole here? I think so; hence the definite article is appropriate. It's a problem though, because English - unlike Italian, for example, supports hyperbole in fewer contexts than was true among Greeks.

J. K. Gayle

It's in the comments at Mike's and now here:

"A root of all the bad things, in fact, is the affection for silver, which causes some climbing for it to wander from the belief [in God], and they themselves are driven around by many regrets."

and (I didn't do a commentary there so you get one here):

I'm after something physical/geographical: a root in bad soil, and then reverse up to mountain climbing but then aimless wandering around.

And I think Paul, with φιλαργυρία, was after something Maqabim at least as he seems to borrow from the word choices of the LXX writer (not translator) of 4 Maccabees. The Greek language is quite original, rather rhetorical in the classical sense, and liberal (so it seems) with respect to Jewish law. (How does Paul read that?) At any rate, in 4 Maccabees 1:26, there's this (the playfulness of which no literary translation of I Tim 6:10 should too easily ignore):

καὶ τὰ μὲν ψυχῆς ἀλαζονεία καὶ φιλαργυρία καὶ φιλοδοξία καὶ φιλονεικία καὶ βασκανία

J. K. Gayle

John, sorry for the double comment twice. I really do get your definite root in English. How can the Italian do it?


Awesome post. I won't be able to chew on this any time soon but I see all sorts of good stuff here.


Okay, here's some more:

3) You're right about Paul's language. It is truly unfair to him that we divide up his sentences so much. It is grammatically possible to have lengthy sentence in English and such sentences fit better both with Paul's intellect (I think it was Cotterell & Turner's Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation that talked about the fact that some people who have been blessed with incredible minds who can remember the subject of a sentence that began 10 lines ago - anyway) and also with Paul's style of writing in general, such as a good number of verses in Ephesians: 1.3-14, 3.1-13, 14-21, and so on.

4) "[S]piked themselves on many a painful thorn" is a much more natural expression and is readily understandable. But is this the place for creativity of expression - not in the sense of using language creatively at all, buth rather the sense of creating new idioms that have not necessarily existed in English before this point? This isn't really a criticism, its a question. I'm unsure and I'm interested in your thoughts since its your translation.

Peter Kirk

The "fronted, hyperbolic" ROOT OF ALL EVIL may be "the arch-rhetorical peak of the unit", but in the Greek sentence structure, by Colwell's rule (for which 1 Timothy 6:10 was one of the original examples), this is the complement of the "to be" clause and LOVE OF MONEY is the subject, surely. Also this rule implies that ROOT OF ALL EVIL may be definite.



the "spike themselves by many a painful thorn" expression comes straight from REB. The imagery is more specific than that of the source text, and yes, I think such specificity is a good option at times for a literary translation to take. The usual tendency, to drain the source text of its imagery and replace it with colorless abstractions and propositions, is more problematic in my view.


"the "spike themselves by many a painful thorn" expression comes straight from REB."

Wow, the REB is one of the few major translations I don't have. I'm going to have to find a copy. Did the REB come before or after the NEB (which I do have)?

"The usual tendency, to drain the source text of its imagery and replace it with colorless abstractions and propositions, is more problematic in my view."

Well, then you'll be glad to know that your view is correct - its the main problem with the two translations I listed that sounded the most natural.

To paraphrase your own words (from somewhere):

Why can't we have both? Why can't we have a quality English translation that is at higher, literary level of English? No more of this 5th grade reading level stuff, thank you. I be an educated man.



Why can't we have both? Why can't we have a quality English translation that is at higher, literary level of English?

We do. It is called the KJV. Some people claim it is too difficult for typical English speakers. I believe these critics exaggerate the difficulty.

By the way, I am quite sure that John was using his handy Oxford Complete Parallel Bible with Apocrypha (NRSV/NAB/REB/NJB) for the purposes of preparing this post. Although it is out of print (why Oxford, why, why?), it is worth acquiring for one's bookshelf.

ElShaddai Edwards

Wow, the REB is one of the few major translations I don't have. I'm going to have to find a copy. Did the REB come before or after the NEB (which I do have)?

Smile. Welcome to the club. The REB was the revision of the NEB and is considered to be a little more balanced (conservative) overall, though it preserves many of the NEB's delightful phrases. This one is a revision from the NEB's "... and spiked themselves on many thorny griefs." I too like the specificity of the REB here.


and I love the KJV. But I'm also ready for something new and just as good.


Thanks, everybody, for so many thoughtful comments.

Kurk, your translation is daring and I'm probably not the right person to evaluate some of your more unusual proposals. A phrase like "affection for silver" is very nice indeed.

Peter, I suspect Colwell's rule may well apply here, but I wasn't interested in syntactic transliteration in my translation, but rhetorical equivalence.

Iyov, the volume you mention is incredibly handy and should be reissued. Used copies on Amazon start at $125.95 right now, but I'm not selling mine.

Peter Kirk

I wasn't interested in syntactic transliteration in my translation, but rhetorical equivalence.

Fair enough, John, but you can't have the latter without the former, that is, without accurately understanding and rendering the syntax, can you?


I'm not sure what you're suggesting, Peter.

It's possible to render an "X=Y" clause with fronted "Y" in another, more convoluted way: "Y is what X is." But surely you do not wish to say that one must so render. It doesn't sound very natural to me.

Peter Kirk

I suppose my point is that if the Greek means "The X is a Y", then to render "The Y is the X" is not merely inversion for stylistic reasons but is inaccurate because wrongly it makes Y definite. The issue here is not that simple, but is of that kind.


Here's an illustration, Peter. In English, one can say "Elvis is the king," or "Elvis is king!" But one can also say, for emphasis' sake and with the proper intonation, "The King is Elvis!" It's this last option that I'm trying to instantiate in my translation.

Peter Kirk

John, the problem is that you have jumped into the target language rendering stage of translation without properly doing the necessary preceding stage of exegesis, that is, understanding the source language text. It seems that you have simply assumed that Paul is making some kind of uniqueness claim about the love of money as the only root of all evil, analogous with the uniqueness claim of "Elvis is King!" - or perhaps hyperbolically a claim that the love of money is outstanding among roots of evil. If this is the correct understanding of the source text, then "The King is Elvis" or "The root of all evil is the love of money" is indeed a good way of putting it in English.

The problem is that I dispute that that is what Paul is saying at all. Rather, I suggest, very likely he is saying that "the love of money is one of a number of roots of all kinds of evil", compare TNIV. This fits much better with Paul's overall theology and with the context in 1 Timothy.

Note the lack of the article before the Greek word for "root". Your only justification for taking this as definite and so reading Paul's words as a uniqueness claim, even a hyperbolic one, is Colwell's rule. But this rule, as properly understood, does not specify that the complement is definite, but only that it may be definite or may be indefinite. Anyway the rule is these days highly controversial and uncertain. For more about this controversy, including why your implicit use of Colwell's rule is illegitimate, see this article.


That's fine, Peter. I'm sure we have a honest difference of opinion on this matter.

I see hyperbole here, and a uniqueness claim being made in that context. I find your notion that the text is saying that "the love of money is one of a number of roots of all kinds of evil' pretty odd. Preachers don't talk like that; slightly addled professors do.

This author is brusque and unilateral on occasion in his expression: 1 Timothy 5:11 comes to mind, and don't get me started on 1 Tim 2:15, in which the author makes salvation dependent on child-bearing. I think I know what the author had in mind, and I'm sure he knew himself to be justified in so saying in the circumstances he faced. But, in general terms, the opposite of what is said is true: a woman will NOT be saved through childbearing, but through perseverance if faith, love and holiness.

We always want the biblical authors to write as if they were writing with everyone in mind, in all imaginable situations. But they don't. They face immediate problems head on, and express themselves accordingly.

Peter Kirk

John, you may be right. But I hope you realise that there is at least a case for the TNIV reading "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil", and that in principle the exegetical question of whether this is correct needs to be answered before proceeding to rhetorical renderings.

Argumentative Essays

A Literary Translation of 1 Timothy 6:8-10 <------that's what i was looking for
Argumentative Essay

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