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Mike Aubrey

As a theologically Lutheran member of the Evangelical Free Church, I'd be curious as to what bible you would expect me to Be using...

Sociology is, indeed, a factor, yet I question whether it plays so obvious a part that you suggest for those who have the level of knowledge and training that both you have Rick have.


Hi Mike,

The range of English translations a theologically Lutheran member of a Canadian EVFree congregation might use for the purposes of preaching, group Bible study, or teaching in a church context is not that expansive, right? In an EVFree context south of the border in any case, I would think that NIV would be the default translation -with NLT an alternative.

In an SBC congregation, the default translation is likely to be HCSB, though ESV and NIV are also strong contenders. In my current UMC congregation, RSV is the pew Bible and the translation best known; if I read from ESV instead, which I do when RSV departs too much for my liking from MT, they don't notice the difference unless they are following along very carefully.

My default translations for study purposes, BG (Bibbia di Gerusalemme, a new and excellent Italian translation), ZB (a recent, excellent German translation) and NJPSV (always interesting), are not very practical for preaching, teaching, and group Bible study. You're a linguist, so you know the value of reading the Bible in a close translation in a language with a more articulated TAM system than English, with fine-grain distinctions in the use of function words. If nothing else, it forces one to come to grips with aspects of the text that are easily neglected if one's point of departure is an English translation.


I seldom have any way to contribute to this blog. However, as I read the phrase "Cast your bread upon the waters" it rings so beautifully. And I can only speak as someone who pays close attention to language, given my training as a therapist.

First of all, that's such a lovely image all by itself. At the same time it leaves you with a lot of questions. Is this bread "broken" or whole? Are the "waters" one or many? Not that it matters necessarily, but I like the openness of the wording here.

Next, and even more importantly, to me, are the many allusions to other parts of the Bible, which this one phrase conjures up. "Cast" makes me think of sowing as the sower going out to sow the word. And of course "bread" and "word" are so rich in how they play off each other in the New Testament. And "waters" of course make one think of "living water" and John's Gospel. Well, the whole phrase makes me think of the Gospels actually. (As an aside, have you ever noticed how each of the feedings of people by Jesus are followed by setting out on a lake?)

So I may be going far, far afield from the text's meaning here, but still, for me, all this richness adds to the poetic beauty as well as to the "field of meaning" (to coin a term) within which this phrase sits. Which is maybe another way of looking at what makes for a good translation.

Jason A. Staples

Another way of reading these verses is that "casting bread upon the water" was the first step in brewing beer in antiquity, which potentially accounts for the context following that suggestion. The new NIV's interpretive translation rules that out (and the social implications of what it would mean to share one's beer with a few people after receiving the results of having cast one's bread upon the water), unfortunately.


Thanks, Thera, for an important and highly significant comment.

I think Bible translation teams would do well to have people used to paying "close attention to language, given [their] training as therapists" as consultants.

I think it's important to be aware of the archetypal function of language. Structuralist exegetes like Remi Lack focus on that, with illuminating results. Furthermore, the Bible is also the Great Code, as Northrup Frye had it - and he meant it also in the senses you touch on. It couldn't have been otherwise, given Frye's predilection for Ovid and Blake.

If one knows all of these things, the value of a

(1) close translation

(2) attentive to "concordance" [fields of meaning across the length and breadth of Scripture and beyond]

(3) in the Tyndale-King James tradition

will immediately be seen to be enormous.


Hi Jason,

You've been reading BAR, I take it. Or maybe you picked that up directly from Michael Homan.

I've yet to see a compelling defense of the "beer" interpretation, but; in any case, you're right: NIV's interpretive translation excludes it.

Regardless, Homan's interpretation is worth putting into practice.


"Deeds of charity, not business ventures, are more likely at issue in Qoh 11:1-2."

Do you still think this, given the following context (vss. 3-6)? To me, it seems that risk-spreading strategies are encouraged here, due to chaotic ecology. If you do not, and still maintain that it is "deeds of charity" at work here, how do you interpret the "seeds" of vs. 6?

Thank you.


Hi Kris,

Thanks for your call to pay attention to context. Such a call is always appropriate.

I concur that taking risks and risk-spreading are broader themes of the larger passage. For Qohelet, I would argue, that is the point of doing charitable deeds, more precisely, the point he chooses to emphasize.

One of my teachers, Michael Fox, argues this at length in his commentary already cited.

BTW, on an eschatological plane, a Nazarene made a similar point: "Make friends for yourselves with Mammon ..."

Bob MacDonald

Lovely post John - thanks - and you elicited great comments with this - particularly the one from TheraP - this intertextual resonance is what makes an English translation work 'by itself'. That doesn't make it easy by any means.


Very well put, Bob. Thanks for chiming in here.


For example, given that NIV is a Christian Bible, it makes sense for it to translate Isaiah 7:14 with “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” But a clarifying footnote might read....

I don't understand. The NIV2011 does have a clarifying footnote at this point. What's the problem?


In line with ESV

And the ESV does not have a clarifying footnote at the example you chose -- "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14.

Of course, the RSV does have a footnote here, so the ESV editors went to the trouble of removing the RSV's specifying alternative meanings here.

R. Mansfield

John, I tried to leave a post earlier. I guess it didn't go through, or perhaps I didn't hit the post button correctly.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I appreciated the link.

Of course, what really caught my attention was your comment as to my preference for the HCSB and NLT. I felt your statement did not actually square with my experience and purpose for using either one of these translations. I started to leave a full response here, but after it grew too long I moved it to This Lamp.

After I wrote my post, I noticed that someone else referred here in the comments to Horman's BAR article regarding Israelites and שֵׁכָר/beer. I had also used that as an example of the HCSB's non-traditional translation choices.

You can see my full answer here:



The NIV update's footnote at Isa 7:14 is as clear as mud. IMHO worse than nothing.

But you are right that ESV's footnote policy is a step backwards with respect to that of RSV. On the plus side, ESV follows MT more faithfully than does RSV. That counts for a lot if you ask me.


Hi Rick,

Thank you very very much for your response. For the love of God, this is why I enjoy blogging. I'll try to come up with a response up to yours, but that will be difficult. Thanks again.

Tony Siew

Wonderful post, John. "The “common English Bible” of my dreams would be far more firmly rooted in the Tyndale-Geneva-KJV tradition." I share the same dream.


What are translations in the Tyndale/Geneva tradition? What makes it this way?


Hi Dan,

Besides Tyndale and Geneva, the other chief translation in that tradition is KJV. After that, a number of translations are revisions of that base, in particular, the Revised Version (1886), the American Standard Version (1901), the Revised Standard Version (1952), NJKV (1982), and most recently, the English Standard Version. The NRSV also qualifies, but to a lesser degree.

Other widely-used translations, however much they claim to be made fresh from the original languages, preserve the wording of the Tyndale-Geneva-KJV tradition with greater or lesser frequency. NIV and HCSB and many others fall into this category.

For a history of the English Bible which defends the centrality of the Tyndale-Geneva-KJV translation tradition with wit and tenacity, see "The Bible in English: Its History and Influence," by David Darnell (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

A related question is textual base. In the case of the OT, the RSV and the NRSV follow a policy whereby they depart from the received Jewish text in favor of a reconstructed text based on data from pre-traditional manuscripts, ancient versions, and educated conjecture. Departures of these kinds were rare to non-existent in the earlier common English Bible tradition. The ESV revives a commitment to faithfulness to the Masoretic text.


Departures of these kinds were rare to non-existent in the earlier common English Bible tradition.

Surely you are vastly overstating your case! It would be churlish and anti-Catholic (both with an upper case "c" and a lower case "c") to exclude from the "English Bible tradition" important and influential translations from the Latin such as Wycliffe or the 1610-1611 Douai. (The Douai is of course of ongoing interest outside Catholic circles -- indeed, Harvard University Press has just last week published a Vulgate-Douai Pentateuch -- my copy is due to arrive from Amazon on Tuesday. I am quite keen to see if this version uses the 1610 edition or the later revision due to Challoner.)

And of course many versions depart from the received Jewish text by including the Apocrypha such as the KJV and Geneva.

But enough of my words. Let us let the KJV translators speak for themselves about their eclectic text:

Neither did we think much to consult the Translators or Commentators, Chaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek or Latin, no nor the Spanish, French, Italian, or Dutch; neither did we disdain to revise that which we had done, and to bring back to the anvil that which we had hammered: but having and using as great helps as were needful, and fearing no reproach for slowness, nor coveting praise for expedition, we have at the length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see.

The KJV is, for better or worse, an eclectic translation, as the example of Isaiah 7:14 shows. More generally, consider the entirety of chapter 7. Here no fewer than 12 times, the translators include footnotes indicating deviation from the Hebrew or textual alternatives (I am working from the 1611 edition here, which accounts for the irregular Heb./Hebr. abbreviation and the archaic spelling):

7:2 -- Heb. resteth on Ephraim.

7:3 -- That is, the remnant shal returne.

7:3 -- Or, causeway.

7:4 -- Heb. let not thy heart be tender.

7:6 -- Or, waken.

7:8 -- Heb. from a people.

7:9 -- Or, doe yee not beleeue? it is because yee are not stable.

7:10 -- Heb. and the Lord added to speak.

7:11 -- Or, make thy petition deepe.

7:14 -- Or, thou, O Virgin, shalt call.

7:19 -- Or, comendable trees.

7:20 -- Hebr. in the midst of the land.

Similarly, both medieval and modern rabbinic chumashim have long printed the Aramaic translation of Scripture attributed to Onkelos (as well as key commentators such as Rashi) -- a tradition that still continues to this very day.

And I suspect that few Christian readers of the Bible use the Masoretic text; rather they are introduced to the Hebrew Bible through BHS or similar critical editions with elaborate critical apparati that bring in many non Hebrew readings.

One way in which the KJV was a distinct step backwards from earlier translations such as Rheims-Douai and Geneva, and from Jewish rabbinic Bibles is in the removal of non-textual footnotes. This was not done as an appeal to sola scriptura at all -- rather it was rather explicitly part of the charge to the translation team from the king, who was disturbed by anti-monarchical notes in the Geneva. It is the aspect of abbreviated notes that the NIV has inherited (which you, with good cause, call "clear as mud"). In recent times, in English, we have been the beneficiary of a large number of various annotated editions of the bible (sometimes called "Study Bibles") -- some of them horrid, some of them heretical, some of them sectarian, and some of them quite useful. Almost all of the annotated Bibles in my personal collection all have extended discussions at Isaiah 7:14. (Even most of the Haredi annotated editions have a discussion here, since Rashi discussed this very issue).



Thank you for many interesting observations.

However, I do not think I overstated my case. Perhaps I need to explain myself better.

(1) Departures from the received Jewish text in favor of a reconstructed text based on data from pre-traditional manuscripts were non-existent before the RSV, because we didn't have any pre-masoretic Hebrew manuscripts, with the unique and arguably sometimes more original readings they preserve.

Now we have such, from the caves of the Judean desert. Among others, RSV, NRSV, and most recently ISV justify departures from the Hebrew text of tradition based in whole or in part on readings from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

(2) Departures from the received Jewish text in favor of a reconstructed text based on data from the versions were very rare in what I call the "common English Bible tradition [through ESV]" compared to RSV, NRSV, not to mention NEB/REB, NAB, NJB, and even NJPSV (in this case, rarely presented as such).

It is highly misleading to speak of KJV as eclectic in the text-critical sense. The "authorized" translators sought to be faithful to the received texts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek they had while preserving the work of previous translators wherever they thought it felicitous and defensible to do so.

The data you present from Isaiah 7 proves my point, not yours. You make it sound like the KJV translators deviated from the sense of the received Hebrew text as they understood it 12 times in Isaiah 7, picking and choosing among versional readings in justification thereof.

That is not the case. I encourage you to become more familiar with the Hebrew language and your own tradition. You want proof, I imagine; I am happy to provide it.

KJV Isa 7:2 "is confederate with Ephraim" -- with footnote: "Heb. resteth on Ephraim." Here KJV follows LXX *and* Rashi and R. Josef Qara' - check your Miqraot Gedolot if you don't believe me. A different Hebrew text is not presupposed.

KJV Isa 7:3 "Shear-jashub" -- with footnote: "That is, the remnant shal returne." For goodness' sake, KJV is simply explicating the received text.

KJV Isa 7:3 "highway" with footnote -- "Or, causeway." I don't know where "causeway" comes from, but it's not from the LXX or Vulgate. "Highway" and "causeway" are acceptable translations of the received Hebrew text.

KJV Isa 7:4 "neither be fainthearted" with footnote: "-- Heb. let not thy heart be tender."
KJV is not departing from the Hebrew. A literal translation thereof is nonetheless misleading in English. The footnote, God be praised, nonetheless gives a literal rendition of the translated text.

KJV Isa 7:6 "vex" with footnote "-- Or, waken." The chosen translation follows Ibn Ezra. The footnote follows Jerome and Rashi.

I could go on, Theo. Next time, do your homework. Isa 7:14 is the unusual case, the exception that proves the rule. But even there, KJV rendered "virgin" in good faith, convinced that that was the Hebrew meant, because it had to.

(3) Departures from the received Jewish text in favor of a reconstructed text based on educated conjectures are, strictly speaking, non-existent in all translations of the Bible until recently. As is true with the Sages, even when sotto sotto a variant text is presupposed, the necessary meaning is derived however painfully from the received text, in lieu of proposing (as a true text-critic would) a plausible though hypothetical variant.


Departures from the received Jewish text in favor of a reconstructed text based on data from pre-traditional manuscripts were non-existent before the RSV

John, thank you for changing your position: the KJV is based on a broad variety of both ancient manuscripts (not just the Masoretic Text) and medieval Jewish and Christian commentaries. Your examples show that beautifully!

As you correctly point out, the Dead Sea Scrolls were not known to the KJV translators, but since they were willing to use manuscripts of dubious provenance such as the Peshitta and Septuagint, one can only imagine that they would have consulted the Dead Sea Scrolls had they been known.

Of course, as you well know, the medieval Jewish commentators often subversively change the meaning of the Masoretic Text -- a position fully supported by Saadiah Gaon's ruling that the Bible was subject to textual analysis -- see B. Barry Levy, Fixing God's Torah (Oxford 2001). Further, the medieval Jewish commentators in many cases base their commentary on the Rabbinic, non-Biblical works encompassing a wide class of agaddic material. This is, of course, the basis of much anti-Jewish invective from Luther and others, who eschews the use of these commentaries. How fortunate we are that the KJV translators stand opposed to Luther in this sense.

Of course, the KJV translators were honest in the sense that they fully documented (to the best of their understanding) their differences from the MT -- something that is lacking from many later translations.

The KJV is a scientific translation (as is the RSV and NRSV) -- and in that it differs from faith-based translations such as the Douai (which you still strangely exclude from the English Bible tradition.) We may agree or disagree with the work done by the RSV or NRSV translators, but their approach is not dissimilar to the use by the KJV translators of the widest possible set of source material.



I was wondering how long it would take you to get a shot in at Luther.

You apparently still wish to claim that the "authorized" translators, early and often, departed from the MT, based on the sole authority of the Septuagint and/or the Peshitta. At this point, I would ask you for proof. You haven't given any yet.

You might want to take back your description of the Peshitta and the Septuagint as "manuscripts of dubious provenance." I can't think of one credible scholar today, Jewish or non-, who would describe them in that fashion. Once again, you are free to prove me wrong.

I wasn't challenging the academic good faith of the scholars who produced any of the translations that have been mentioned. I wouldn't challenge the good faith of the Douai translators either. All the translations mentioned are knowledge-based ("scientific"). They differ in that they answered the question; cui bono? in diverse fashion.

I'm not sure why you bring Douai up. I can't think of many Catholics today who make use of it. The translations Catholics use today made a clean break with the Douai tradition - NJB and NAB - or are in the KJ tradition broadly speaking (RSV and NRSV). Or, if they are evangelical Catholics, they may prefer NIV. I remember seeing plenty of Catholics reading the Living Bible or Good News years ago. Not so much recently. The afterlife of the Douai tradition in English literature interests me, don't get me wrong. I would love to have the specifics, beyond Paraclete and a couple of others. If you have bibliography, let me know.

You describe the great medieval commentators as subversive, and thereby agree with Luther. I would be more reserved in my judgment. I would describe them as interpreting the Bible "constitutionally," - here I allude to a paradigm of interpretation fleshed out by Jaroslav Pelikan.

Regardless, in contradistinction to many medieval commentators (Jewish and Christian), but in agreement with Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers, the KJ translators privileged the peshat and eschewed the aggadic.


Well, Luther was a major translator -- his name often comes up. Of course, despite his virulent anti-Semitism, Luther was a great genius, and we have much to learn from him, but I do think he was wrong to challenge the legitimacy of the works collectively described as Oral Torah -- which are subversive by Providence. I also think you are at times quite subversive , and I mean that as a compliment (and I also am sure you take pride in your subversiveness!)

Re Douai: the Douai stands as a direct predecessor to the NAB. The Douai, through the Challoner revision, through the Confraternity revision (which you will recall included several books from the Challoner revision) through the NAB (which, you will recall until recently included books from the Confraternity version). Now, true, more has been lost from the Douai (which unlike the KJV was not written in elegant language) so the connection is not as direct as it is with the RV/RSV/NRSV, but it is there.

You state "I'm not sure why you bring Douai up. I can't think of many Catholics today who make use of it." I'm rather surprised you don't consider the Douai to be a major translation! You need to hang out with trads. Ask at Catholic bookstores: you will find the Douai (in its Challoner revision) is a considerably better selling translation than the JB and NJB combined.

Further, your test of the importance of a Bible ("I can't think of many [people] today who make use of it") seems to be contradicted by your own frequent references to Tyndale and the Geneva Bible. I suspect you will agree that few non-scholar Protestants today use the Geneva or Tyndale. The historical importance of a Bible is hardly measured by its use by lay people today.

I also think it is fair to say that the Douai was a tendentious, polemical translation -- a work designed specifically to counter the charges of the anti-Catholic ravings of the notes of the Geneva Bible. The Douai quite literally sticks to the Vulgate, unlike the KJV which attempted to use a broad variety of source material. This is why I say the Douai was not a scientific translation.

Finally, although you are correct that the KJV tends to follow the peshat (but not as closely as the RV/ASV -- which makes the KJV superior by my reckoning) one hardly needs to look hard for aggadic material in the KJV. One of the most famous examples is Isaiah 34:14 which features the wholesale importation of a "screech owl" (previously unknown in English Bible translations) -- and completely unsupported by either the Greek or Latin translations. Further examples can be found in the book of Job -- which has the most hapax legomena of any book in the Bible.

Which reminds me -- when are you going to be reviewing Alter's new translation? I was a little surprised you didn't quote him here! Today would be a good day to review the work -- it is, after all, International Jewish Learning Day (although I realize that your day job will keep you from going to local shiurim.)


Thanks, Theo, for the conversation.

Re: Luther as a translator, the question is, does his translation of the Hebrew Bible show signs of anti-Semitism? Not that I know of; it's hard to find examples of anti-Judaism for that matter. That doesn't mean he doesn't "gospelize" here and there. All in all, Luther shows remarkable intellectual integrity as a translator. The same kind of integrity that made him a more profound theologian than Erasmus.

Still, it was in Geneva and Zurich that Renaissance values lived on in purer form. KJV is a beneficiary thereof.

On that same note, I appreciate you playing up the openness of the KJV team to Jewish learning. I too see the hand of Providence there (though I don't see any real evidence for a tendency to introduce construals of the text based on Aggada).

Conversely, I see an absence of Providence in a translation like NLT Gen 3:16 "And you will desire to control your husband." Perhaps I'm missing something, but such a translation seems to be a good example of what happens if translators pay insufficient attention to Jewish exegetical tradition.

How much better translations would be - Catholic, liberal Protestant, evangelical - if at least someone on the translating team were deeply versed in Jewish learning.


I haven't yet ordered my copy of Alter's translation of Proverbs, Qohelet, and Job. What I've seen so far has the same strengths and weaknesses of his earlier work. All in all a splendid achievement.

Kind readers, who experts likely noticed my error, but were too kind to chastise my mistake, I noticed this morning that Luke does not report any setting out on a Lake following the feeding of a multitude. (Though Matthew and Mark do) I should have hedged on that... (As they say: Post in haste, repent at leisure.)


That was me above... thinking I'd end up as TheraP. Plus I made a grammatical error. It's my day of penitence, I guess. I should have just left well enough alone. Sorry. (Now I see the preview button!)


Luther was probably a nice guy when he was sober, but unfortunately, toward the end of his life, that never happened. His contribution to the Holocaust/Shoah is incalculable:

Mel Gibson was likewise deeply impressed by Catholicism with a loathing for anyone with the name "Cohen" or "Levi" or "Burnbaum."

Luther should be vehemently denounced, not praised. No wonder he loathed himself!!



By the same logic, for their incredible flaws, you would denounce many of the people the author of the Epistle of Hebrew lifts up as members of that cloud of witnesses of the true faith (Hebrews 11).

Luther got it exactly right: we are, at our very best, nothing more than simul iustus et peccator - justified (by grace) and sinners at one and the same time. That never changes, this side of heaven and hell.

You seem filled with the spirit of the one who is holier-than-thou (and he was, in every sense) in the parable found in Luke 18:9-14. I would rather be in the shoes of the one who knows himself to be a sinner, standing in the need of prayer, a beggar, as Luther put it, in the presence of God.

Perhaps you don't believe in God, but if you do, you might think twice about uttering slander.

Steve Pable

Crap. All this time I thought those verses were about feeding a family of seven or eight ducks. *sigh* Such are the pitfalls of unlearned exegesis.

Humor aside, I couldn't agree more with some of the concerns you raise, John. Translation is tricky enough, and already risks importing meanings and interpretations. The citation you give sounds more like it came from a paraphrase, a la "The Message".

There's only other point I wanted to chime in on here, which is related to the remarks of TheraP. I think there is great value in a text being widely recognizable to the listener or reader. Think of the weight of our Lord's cry of abandonment from the cross. Some sort of tangential reference to a random lament probably wouldn't have even been remembered by the onlookers, much less preserved in the Gospel.

Likewise we have our verses that give comfort in our times of affliction, or raise our hearts to God, because they are ubiquitous in our shared Christian tradition. As Christians, I think we have a lot at stake in maintaining some common ground in Biblical translation. Call it "cultural protectionism".

By guarding this treasure, traditionally "proverbial" texts and references can retain their savor. "Cast your bread upon the waters" does just that, as do countless other phrases from Scripture. The parable of the Compassionate Foreigner doesn't conjure up the same collective understanding as the Good Samaritan.

So I'm all for the renderings that resonate, and put in plenty of footnotes to guide people along, and open up the richness of the text. I think the payoff-- spiritually, liturgically, communally-- can't be overstated.


Thanks, Steve, for carrying the conversation forward in a fruitful way.

Jason A. Staples

Agreed, John, that Horman's beer interpretation doesn't exactly blow all the other options out and may not be the best way to read the text. But I think retaining ambiguity is as important a part of translation as retaining clarity, so this serves as a good example where one viable interpretive possibility is completely ruled out by the translators' decision to remove the ambiguity present in the exemplar text itself.



That is such an excellent point, with the caveat of course that retaining ambiguity is an art in the best sense of the word. Achieving clarity is child's play by comparison.


John, you may be brilliant with the original languages but you really have no clue about "average" SBC congregations and their Bible habits.

They vary widely by geography. Here in TN, the HCSB is probably the LEAST likely translation and some of the baptists are mad here because it uses the word "beer"!

King James, New King James, NIV are popular.

In some SBC circles, they warn pulpit committees to "beware" of would be pastors carrying the ESV or ESV Study Bible for fear they are secret Calvinists waiting to impose the rule of Geneva upon unsuspecting churches.

And, by the way, the General Editor for the HCSB grew up in the Evangelical and Reformed Church and is an Independent Presbyterian.

I think your sociological reading is a bit flawed to say the least.


Hi Chuck,

Thanks for stopping by. Honestly, I have no idea why Southern B's wish to delink HCSB from its known social and ecclesiological matrix.

Here is one description of HCSB and its genesis:

From that review, I would respectfully ask you to explain what is wrong with this statement:

The Holman Christian Standard Bible is a publishing project of Broadman & Holman Publishers, the trade books division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. LifeWay (formerly known as the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) is a non-profit agency of the Southern Baptist Convention.

End quote. It was really nice of Southern B's to coopt a few Presbyterians in their anti-NIV project. But that is what is it called: cooptation. If you think otherwise, please explain why.

Reviewer Michael Marlowe's summary evaluation goes like this:

In general, the HCSB translation is slightly more literal than the New International Version, but much less literal than the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version. In various ways the text is simplified (long and complex Greek sentences are broken up into smaller and simpler ones) and made easy to understand by interpretive renderings. The style is on a level much lower than the NKJV, RSV and ESV. It sometimes fails to convey the literary qualities of the text. But an attempt is made to present the Psalms in a suitable literary style.

End quote. My question to you: are there any factual errors in Marlowe's assessment? Not that I know of.


Got around to Koheles in Alter tonight. He agrees with you. Check it out:

Send out the bread upon the waters, for in the long course of time you will find it. Give a share to seven and even to eight, for you know not what evil will be on earth.

Nothing dramatically new here. But what is interesting is Alter's long footnote to verse 1:

Send out your bread upon the waters: These words initiate a series of prudential maxims on how to conduct one's life in the face of the unpredictability of events and their deterministic character that is beyond human control. The sending out of bread on the waters is surely not advice about overseas investments, as some commentators have imagined, but rather a didactic metaphor. The proposal of Rashi, ibn Ezra, and other medieval commentators that the reference is to acts of charity is perfectly plausible: perform acts of beneficence, for you never know when you yourself may benefit from having done them. The idea is continued in the next verse: be generous to any number of people, for in the course of events you yourself may end up in need and enjoy a reciprocation of support from one of those you have helped.


By the way, if you want to hear an hour-long extended defense by Alter of his translation technique, here is an interview recorded Monday.


I mentioned above the new Harvard Vulgate and Douay-Rheims Pentateuch (ISBN 0674055349; Prophets forthcoming ISBNs 0674996674 and 0674060776). The English translation is not particularly new (it is a relatively minor revision of the 1899 revision of Challoner's revision of the original Douay Pentateuch), but the the Latin is fascinating -- it starts from the (rather reasonable and well-documented) assumption that the Douay translation was begun in 1578 and completed 676 days later (but delayed by the exile to Rheims). This means that the English text is witness to an earlier version of the Vulgate than we know through the Sixto-Clementine version. The text is adapted from Weber's 5th (2007) edition, with an eclectic correction from Quentin and the 1959 Vatican version of Sixto-Clementine. Now, I have only had time to consult a small fraction of this book, and maybe this text-critical reconstruction of the Latin Bible is a bit esoteric, but it appeals to the Latin geek in me. Further, I will say that the format of this book is by far more attractive than any previous Latin-English Bible diglot I have seen.



Thanks for giving us Alter on the passage under review, and the link to an interview.

Speaking of Latin, I've just got my daughter Betta started with that wonderful language. She is a junior in high school; not that they offer Latin in the classroom; she is taking it online through UW-Extension. She is pleased because she is hopscotching her way through it because she is bilingual English-Italian, which means Latin comes easy in some ways. She already has the joy of being at home in an inflected and gendered linguistic system, with a subjunctive, a passato remoto, and other delights. Now she is having fun with a language with a full set of csse markings. All of a sudden she understands her father a little bit better, the joy of knowledge which connects one to people across the ages. I can live with that.


Hi John,

I'd say Marlowe's comments on the HCSB are pretty spot on. Although I'd also say that the licensing fees that Lifeway had to regularly pay to include quotations from the NIV in its quarterly had as much to do with the translation as anything else.

But Chuck is right about preferred versions varying with geography. Here in the deep South the HCSB really doesn't seem to have caught on all that well. The old NIV still appears to be the most popular translation, with the KJV or NKJV or NASB following behind. At my church, I see people with several different versions (I typically carry the ESV and see a few others who do as well) but don't know of anybody who carries the HCSB. Our pastor still preaches from the NIV, although he would occasionally teach from the NASB on "off night" services.

Obviously some things will be changing as the old NIV fades away. It will be interesting to see which translation the SBC churches settle on.


Hi Brad,

In fact, I doubt that HCSB, though it is a Southern Baptist sponsored translation designed to replace translations like KJV, NKJV, NASB, and NIV, will actually do so. NIV in any case is a translation that has the advantage of uniting those who use it with a worldwide evangelical community.

It's just that, like you, I am convinced that a translation like ESV - modernized further at the level of syntax and in terms of gender-neutral and gender-specific expressions (but on this the new NIV is not conservative enough in many places, and too conservative in a few places, IMHO), would be a better candidate for a unitive, truly catholic translation, if that makes any sense.

David Young

thank you for your wonderful work and though-provoking writings. I am fascinated to see someone make reference to Bibbia di Greusalemme. I do not speak/read Italian; but I have been following any info I can get on this versions/edition. Have you heard anything at all about whether there is going to be an English translation of this? I keep looking for an update to the NJB and hoping that this might be it but I have no real info - other than the Bibbia di Gerusalemme website!
Any info you can give to me would sure help as I would love to use this as a main study Bible - similar to my NJB.
David Young


Hi David,

Yes, BG is a remarkable revision. No, I don't think it will be adapted into English. But NAB is in the process of revision. It will be interesting to see what comes of that.

David Young

I'm very sad to hear that you don't think it will be adapted into English. The design [typography/graphics choices etc] and page format are to me very aesthetically appealing and I would love to be able to read it in English. I guess I will have to try to learn Italian now that I am a "senior citizen" - maybe an elder college in my city on Vancouver Island might help with this.
BTW I just love reading your blog and the variety of topics you cover. While my Masters work was in NT [Fuller/Regent College @ UBC] your insights into the Former Testament are drawing me in to want to do more study in that area.
I will wait with interest for the NAB revision.

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