I sometimes wonder why I keep trying to read modern translations of the Bible. On my devotional blog I read through Proverbs each month and write a post from the chapter that corresponds to the day of the month. It is a personal discipline more than an effort to convert the world. I usually read in the New American Standard Bible and add the King James Version in my study. One of the things I do to keep my mind alert is occasionally read a different translation. In some cases that is a “translation”. The New Century Version (NCV) I am reading this month is one of those poor choices.
In their attempt to make the Bible easy to read the so-called translators dumb it down so that even people who attended public school in the 21st century can understand it. Not only does it make for boring reading, it often misses the richness and depth of the original languages.
The word that jumped out at me today is “tell”. This came up in Psalms. I read a Psalm a day also and make it through every five months. Today was the 71st Psalm. I was doing okay up until verse 15. I kept wondering what the Psalm really said but was able to squash my critical attitude until this little word kept showing up. Verse 15 starts off,
“I will tell about how you do what is right.”Okay. It seems a bit vanilla lite. If I were talking about the acts of God I would be shouting or at least proclaiming. “Tell” is what you do when you wife asks you what you had for lunch. And it seems a bit arrogant of him to be declaring that God is doing the “right” thing. Maybe it is just me. The NCV continues,
“I will tell about your salvation all day long,I don’t know if you are counting but that makes three times we see the English word “tell” in one verse. I don’t know if you were listening in your English classes as a child but one of the signs of lack of imagination, poor writing skills, limited vocabulary and vapid proof-reading is to use the same word repeatedly. I acknowledge that there are times when it is a legitimate literary device but in this case it is a mind-numbing need to KISS, keep it simple stupid, or keep it simple for stupid.
even though it is more than I can tell.”
I found myself wondering if Solomon were really this limited in his Hebrew. (Yes, I know you think David wrote Psalms but not this one, or the next, or the next, etc.) When I did a little homework I found that the Hebrew word for the first “tell” is only used once in this chapter. Keep that in mind.
When we move to verse 16 we find it two more times.
“I will come and tell about your powerful works, Lord God.The synonym starved scholars use the word three more times in the next two verses.
I will tell only about you and how you do what is right.”
Writing well requires an awareness of your reader. The translators of the KJV and NASB understand that you can pass on the skill of the original author by structuring your thoughts so that you use a word once and make it apply to several following comments. Thus the NCV will use the word three times when it was only there once in the original. Sometimes repetition is good. Sometimes it is boring. I would think that one principle of translation would be that the original author had some skill in how he expressed what he was trying to say.
That goes double for the Bible if you believe that it is inspired by God.
There. I got is off my chest. I feel better. Now to move on with life.
homo unius libri