Bibliotheca Sacra 150 (July-September 1993): 273-84
Copyright © 1993 Dallas Theological
Seminary; cited with permission.
Bruce M. Metzger
The work involved in making a translation of the
Bible is both exhilarating and exhausting. It is exhilarating
when translators consider the benefits, both spiritual and liter-
ary, that the rendering will provide to their readers; it is exhaust-
ing when they confront various problems, some of them beyond
the possibility of solution. Problems involved in translating the
Scriptures are many. Some result from the presence of variant
readings among the manuscripts of the Old and New Testa-
ments. Others have to do with the meaning of rare words as well
as the uncertainty of punctuation of the Hebrew and the Greek
texts. Still others relate to the appropriate renderings in English
or any other receptor language and bear on the choice of the liter-
ary level and style of phraseology. This article considers exam-
ples of these kinds of problems.
The first problem facing Bible translators is the differences
in wording among manuscripts of the Scriptures. These differ-
ences have arisen because, even with the strongest determination
to copy a text without error, a scribe copying a text of considerable
length will almost inevitably introduce changes in the wording.
It is understandable that mistakes can arise from inattentive-
ness brought on by weariness. For example instead of the correct
reading, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a
Bruce M. Metzger is Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Emeri-
tus, Princeton Theological Seminary,
* This is article three in the four-part series, "Translating the Bible: An Ongoing
delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at
274 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1993
bed, and not on a stand?" (Mark , RSV), several important
manuscripts read "under the stand." This is obviously a scribal
error in repeating the preposition "under" in the third phrase.
Sometimes a scribe's error of judgment works havoc with the
text. One of the most atrocious blunders of this kind is in the mi-
nuscule Greek manuscript no. 109, dated to the 14th century. This
manuscript of the four Gospels was transcribed from a copy that
must have had Luke's genealogy of Jesus (-38) in two
columns of 28 lines in each. Instead of transcribing the text by
following the columns in succession, the scribe of MS 109 copied
the genealogy by following the lines across the two columns.
In addition to such transcriptional blunders, which can usu-
ally be detected and corrected, occasionally a scribe deliberately
introduced into the copy a change that seems to clarify the sense or
eliminate a difficulty. For example the older manuscripts of
Mark 1:2-3 attribute to the Prophet Isaiah the evangelist's com-
posite quotation from both Malachi and Isaiah, whereas later
manuscripts (followed by the King James translators of 1611)
read, "As it is written in the prophets," an obvious amelioration of
the earlier text.
By comparing the surviving manuscript copies, scholars
seek to determine what should be regarded as the original word-
ing, and which reading or readings are secondary. Two kinds of
considerations are taken into account. One concerns external ev-
idence; this has to do with the age of the manuscripts that present
the several different readings, as well as the geographical spread
of the witnesses (and these include early versions in other lan-
guages) that support each reading. In general, the older
manuscripts are, in the nature of the case, separated from the
original text by fewer stages of copying and recopying than more
recently copied manuscripts. Likewise, the more widespread the
witnesses for a given reading, the more impressive is their testi-
From considerations such as these one can appreciate why the
discoveries in the 20th century of much earlier copies than those
previously available are so important. Scrolls and fragments of
each book of the Hebrew Bible, except Esther, hidden for centuries
caves by the
are at least 900 years older than previously known copies. Simi-
larly the acquisition of Greek papyrus manuscripts of various
books of the New Testament now provides evidence for the word-
ing of these texts that antedates what was previously available.
Besides external evidence, scholars also take into account
what is called internal evidence of the variant readings. This is
Persistent Problems Contronting Bible Translators 275
of two kinds, involving transcriptional probability and intrinsic
probability. Transcriptional considerations have to do with the
habits of scribes. When a scribe was confronted with divergent
wordings in two or more manuscripts, it was likely that, rather
than choosing one and discarding the other, he would sometimes
produce a composite reading that embodied both. In such cases the
longer reading may be suspected as secondary. For example in
the account concerning Stephen in Acts 6:8 some manuscripts de-
scribe him as "full of grace" and others as "full of faith." The
sixth-century Greek and Latin manuscript of Acts known as
Codex Laudianus (E) conflates the two and says that Stephen was
"full of grace and faith."
In other cases scribes amplified and rounded off phrases by
the addition of natural complements and similar adjuncts. A
good example of a "growing" text is Galatians , where the ear-
liest form of the text reads, "I carry the marks of Jesus branded on
my body." In later centuries scribes expanded the simple and un-
adorned mention of "Jesus" with various additions, producing
"the Lord Jesus," or "the Lord Jesus Christ," or "our Lord Jesus
Intrinsic probability has to do with considerations of what the
author is likely to have written. Naturally attention should be
given to such considerations only after all other kinds of evi-
dence have been canvassed and evaluated. At that stage, one is in
a position to test the validity of tentative conclusions as to the orig-
inal reading. If a reading is contrary to the immediate context
and/or is out of harmony with the usage of the author elsewhere,
serious doubt is cast on the originality of that reading, despite the
weight of the external evidence. In some cases, therefore, opin-
ions will differ on the original wording.
Obviously all such decisions as to textual variants have been
made by editors of the original texts, and translators generally
depend on the expertise of those who have produced the printed edi-
tions of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek New Testament.
The most widely used printed editions at the end of the 20th cen-
tury are the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977; ed. sec. emen-
data, 1983) and the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament,
prepared by an interconfessional and international committee
(1966; third edition corrected 1983; a fourth edition is shortly to ap-
pear). Translators, however, may give further consideration to
the evaluation of textual evidence and occasionally will adopt a
reading different from that in the printed text. In 1 Thessaloni-
ans 2:7 Greek manuscripts are divided; some read "gentle,"
some "infants." The difference in Greek is only one letter, h@pioi
276 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1993
and nh<pioi. The last letter of the previous word in the Greek is “n,”
and so no one can say whether scribes wrote “n” twice instead of
once, or once instead of twice. "Infants" is found in many good
manuscripts (and is printed in the United Bible Societies' Greek
New Testament), but "gentle" makes better sense,1 and is adopted
by most translators (RSV, NIV, REB, NRSV) who otherwise follow the
THE MEANING OF HEBREW AND GREEK WORDS
After translators have decided which wording of the Hebrew
or Greek text should be taken as the basis of the English render-
ing, the next problem has to do with ascertaining the precise
meaning of the words. Lexicographers are constantly attempting
to learn more exactly the meaning of ancient Hebrew and Greek
terms and expressions. The Hebrew Bible contains about 300,000
words, comprising 8,674 different words, of which, according to
one method of calculation, about 1,500 occur only once.2 In many
cases a similar word occurs in the literature of other Semitic peo-
ples, notably in Arabic, Assyrian, Eblaic, and Ugaritic. By com-
parative linguistics and archaeological finds scholars are able
in some cases to define more precisely the meaning of rare He-
brew words. One such Hebrew word, which has never been found
in other Semitic literature, is MyPi (1 Sam. ). Because of the
context the King James translators took this word to mean "a
file," used by blacksmiths to sharpen hoes and other agricultural
tools. In the first part of the 20th century, however, archaeologists
at various places in
used for business transactions, each bearing a Hebrew word. One
of these, weighing almost two and two-thirds ounces, is marked
MyP and so translators now know this was the amount that the
blacksmiths charged for sharpening various tools.
Even when the meaning of individual Hebrew words can be
determined with a degree of certainty, there is sometimes also the
problem as to how they are to be understood in relation to each
other in the sentence. What has been called the most obscure verse
in the Book of Proverbs (26:10) involves a whole nest of problems.
Many combinations of the words have been made, along with at-
1 Two of the five members of the United Bible Societies committee (Allen Wik-
gren and the present writer) have expressed their preference for the reading
"gentle" (Bruce M. Metzger, ed., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testa-
2 For a discussion of such words, see Frederick E. Greenspahn, Hapax Legom-
ena in Biblical Hebrew (Chico, CA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1984).
Persistent Problems Confronting Bible Translators 277
tempts at emendation. Because the meaning of more than one
word in the verse is subject to various interpretations, at least 10
different translations of it have been proposed.3
In comparison with the difficulties of ascertaining the mean-
ing of words in the Hebrew Bible, the Greek New Testament is
much easier, at least with regard to the number of lexical prob-
lems. According to statistics collected by an assiduous re-
searcher, the Greek New Testament contains 137,328 words, com-
prising a total of 5,436 different words, of which 1,934 occur only
once.4 The great majority of these hapax legomena occur also in
other Greek sources,5 and so the meaning of most of them is not
often in dispute. The meaning, however, of a word in the Lord's
Prayer as recorded in Matthew 6:11 and Luke 11:3 has often been
debated. Does "Give us this day our e]piou<sion bread" mean "daily
bread" or "bread for tomorrow"? Except in subsequent quotations
of the prayer, no other piece of Greek literature is known to con-
tain this word. The only time it seems to have turned up was in
1889 when A. H. Sayce edited a fragmentary Greek papyrus con-
taining a householder's account-book listing the purchase of pro-
visions. Here, according to Sayce, in one of the broken lines of the
list was e]piou<si--, with the end of the word defaced. It is most un-
fortunate, however, that scholars who wish to double-check this
information are unable to do so, for the papyrus fragment has
disappeared and cannot be found. Furthermore its loss is particu-
larly distressing because Sayce (whose shortcomings as a deci-
pherer of Greek papyri were generally recognized) may have
misread the householder's list.6 And in any case, even if Sayce
did correctly read the word, lexicographers do not know much
more about its meaning than was known before, namely, that the
expression signifies either "daily bread" or "bread for tomor-
row." In such cases when a word is susceptible of two equally le-
3 See the list in C. H. Toy, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of
Proverbs (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1899), 476, note. For a more recent assessment
of the verse, see D. C. Snell, "The Most Obscure Verse in Proverbs," Vetus Testa-
mentum 41 (1991): 350-56.
4 See Robert Morgenthaler, Statistik des Neutestamentlichen Wortschatzes
(Zurich: Gotthelf-Verlag, 1958), 25.
5 According to information kindly supplied by Frederick W. Danker (letter, De-
cember 10, 1989), only two dozen words (not including proper names) have not been
6 For further information see the chapter entitled, "How Many Times Does e]pi-
ou<sioj occur outside the Lord's Prayer?" in Historical and Literary Studies, ed.
Bruce M. Metzger (Leiden: Brill, 1968), 64-66. After this chapter was published a
search has been made in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae but without discovering
any other occurrence of the word.
278 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1993
gitimate renderings, translators have no choice except to place
one in the text and the other in a footnote.
THE PUNCTUATION OF THE TEXT
Once translators have decided which form of text to translate
and what the Hebrew and Greek words mean, the problem of
punctuation arises. In antiquity it was customary to write Hebrew
and Greek manuscripts with few, if any, marks of punctuation.
The beginning of a sentence was not identified by a capital letter.
Not until the eighth or ninth century A.D. did Greek scribes begin
to be more or less systematic in the use of punctuation marks.7
Though exegetes can learn something concerning the history of
the interpretation of a passage by considering the punctuation in
the manuscripts, translators need not feel bound to adopt the
punctuation preferred by either the scribe or the editor of the
printed text. Furthermore, since there are no quotation marks in
any of the manuscripts, the decision of where to insert these in the
translation is totally in the hands of the translators.
Naturally the opinions of translators as to appropriate punc-
tuation will sometimes differ. There is no infallible rule to fol-
low; judgments must be based on what seems to provide the fullest
and most appropriate sense in the context. The beginning of a di-
rect quotation can usually be determined without any trouble
when it is indicated by a verb such as "said," "asked," "replied,"
or the like. But problems can arise concerning the close of a quo-
tation, especially when it is the final sentence of a series of com-
ments of a conversation. It is uncertain, for example, whether the
last statement. made by Jesus to Nicodemus is intended to end at
John (so the RSV) or at (so the NIV and NRSV).
The position of a comma within a sentence can totally alter
the sense. In Revelation 5:1 the traditional punctuation describes
the scroll held in the right hand of God as "written on the inside
and on the back, sealed with seven seals." The Greek text, how-
ever, may also be understood in a different way, resulting in the
translation given in the NRSV footnote on this verse, "written on
the inside, and sealed on the back with seven seals."
Changing the position of a comma can sometimes expand the
sense. The third petition in the Lord's Prayer in the King James
Version reads, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"
(Matt. ), whereas most modern versions punctuate it differ-
ently, "Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven." The principle
7 See Bruce M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to
Greek Palaeography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 31-32.
Persistent Problems Confronting Bible Translators 279
translators follow is to use the punctuation that provides the best
and fullest sense. In this case the second way of punctuating is
better, for it permits the phrase "on earth as in heaven" to be taken
with all three preceding petitions, thus enlarging the scope and
meaning of the prayer.
A theological point is involved in the placing of a comma in
Luke 23:43. According to the traditional way of understanding
the passage, the repentant robber asked Jesus on the cross to re-
member him when Jesus entered His kingdom. To this request
Jesus responded, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in
paradise." In the interest of supporting the doctrine of "soul sleep"
by Jehovah's Witnesses, the translators of the
Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures have moved the
comma so that the verse reads, "Truly I tell you today, You will be
was speaking to him that day, and so the correct punctuation is
that of traditional translations.
Sometimes a sentence in the Greek New Testament can be
construed as either a statement or as a question. This ambiguity
accounts for the change at Romans 8:33 between the RSV, "Is it
Christ Jesus, who died. .." and the NRSV, "It is Christ Jesus, who
died ..." (the latter returns to the interpretation of the King James
translators). At Mark 15:2, in response to Pilate's question, "Are
you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered with a statement, "You
say so." It is possible, however, to understand the Greek here as a
question, "Do you say so?"8
Modern translators occasionally find that an exclamation
mark brings out most appropriately the force of the original. The
awe and wonder of the scene described in Revelation 4:1-2 is then
disclosed in the RSV: "After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an
open door! ... At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in
heaven, with one seated on the throne!" In the Old Testament,
particularly in the Psalms, the RSV translators were overzealous
in their use of exclamation marks, and in the NRSV many of them
have been replaced with a period (as in the King James Version).
TO TRANSLATE OR TO TRANSLITERATE?
Yet another problem confronting translators arises when a
Hebrew or a Greek word can be either translated or transliter-
ated. What should be done with proper names that can also be used
as common nouns? For example, MdAxA is both a common noun
8 This punctuation is given by Westcott and Hort in the margin of their edition
280 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1993
meaning "a man" and the proper name "Adam." In translating
Genesis the question soon arises at what point in the narrative
one should begin to use "Adam" rather than "man." On this mat-
ter there has been wide disagreement among translators. Some
versions make the change at Genesis 2:7 (Targum), others at
(Septuagint), and still others at (KJV), (NIV), (RSV),
The traditional rendering of Psalm 84:6 in the King James
is, "Who passing through the
well." Since, however, xkABA means "a balsam tree," the New Jeru-
Balsam," and the New American Bible has, "When they pass
through the valley of mastic trees." Since, however, the similarly
pronounced word hkABA means "to weep," the American Standard
reads, "Passing through the
A similar problem in the New Testament concerns the Greek
word Xristo<j, which can be transliterated "Christ" or translated
"anointed one," or "Messiah." Several modern translations
in earlier renderings of the Gospels (e.g., KJV, ASV, NASV) with
"Messiah." The reason for making the change arises from the
recognition that it was only after the message of the early follow-
ers of Jesus was addressed to Gentiles that the word Xristo<j as a
title (Jesus the Messiah) would come to be understood as a proper
name (Jesus Christ). The transfer of understanding was total
when, still later, the expression Christ Jesus is sometimes used in
the Epistles and in the Book of Revelation.
The word "Hades" in Greek (%!dhj) was originally a proper
noun, the name of the god of the underworld. In time the word
came to denote a place or state, and in the King James Version it
is usually rendered "hell," and once "grave" (1 Cor. ). In the
RSV the word is usually transliterated, but in Matthew it is
rendered "[powers of] death," where the NRSV transliterates.
Besides proper names other words are sometimes translated
and sometimes transliterated. The Greek verb bapti<zw has tradi-
tionally been transliterated "baptize." About 1885 the American
Baptist Publication Society of Philadelphia issued the New Tes-
tament in two forms, one that used the traditional rendering,
"baptize" and the other that translated the verb with the word "im-
merse." "John the Baptist" became "John the immerser."
The Greek words presbu<teroj and presbute<rion, usually
translated "elder" and "council of elders," can also be translit-
erated "presbyter" and "presbytery." The Greek word e]pi<skopoj
means "overseer" but is often transliterated (through the Old En-
Persistent Problems Confronting Bible Translators 281
glish "bisceop") as "bishop." Also dia<konoj, which means "ser-
vant," is transliterated "deacon."
Since the Bible is a source of both information and inspira-
tion, translations must be both accurate and esthetically felici-
tous. They should be suitable for rapid reading and for detailed
study, as well as suitable for reading aloud to large and small
groups. Ideally they should be intelligible and even inviting to
readers of all ages, of all degrees of education, and of almost all
levels of intelligence--all without sacrificing accuracy, in either
matter or manner. Besides the several problems already consid-
ered as to text, meaning of words, punctuation, and the like, the
following are illustrations of some of the more delicate stylistic
problems that confront Bible translators.
1. Not only the choice of English words but also the order in
which they are arranged often makes a difference in meaning.
In the words of the institution of the Lord's Supper, the rendering
in the King James Version, "Drink ye all of it" (Matt. 26:27),
leaves it uncertain whether Jesus meant all who drink or all of
the contents of the cup. Since the Greek text here uses the plural
form of the word "all," the English translation should be some-
thing like, "Drink from it, all of you."
Although E. J. Goodspeed's translation of the New Testament
(1923) usually employs American idioms, here and there one
finds curious slips in sentence arrangement. Hebrews 10:1
reads, "The same sacrifices . . . cannot wholly free those who
come to worship from their sins." In Hebrews 9, where Goodspeed
uses "chest" and "agreement" in place of "ark" and "covenant,"
verse 4 reads, "the ark that contained the agreement, entirely
covered with gold." The ark, not the covenant, was gold-covered.
The New Revised Standard Version corrects several mis-
leading RSV renderings. Instead of Moses leaving "Pharaoh in
hot anger" (Exod. 11:8), it now reads "in hot anger he left
Pharaoh," and instead of "Joshua was standing before the angel,
clothed in filthy garments" (Zech. 3:3), the NRSV reads, "Joshua
was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel."
2. Translators must pay attention to what can be called the
color or tone of their rendering. For example, though the verbs "to
dwell" and "to live" are more or less synonymous, translators
need to be sensitive to the context in which one word is more ap-
propriate than the other. Translators generally agree that "dwell"
is to be preferred in contexts that speak of God in heaven, such as
the traditional rendering of Isaiah 57:15 (which is retained in the
282 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1993
NRSV), "I dwell in the high and holy place." On the other hand the
word "live" is certainly more appropriate in matter-of-fact state-
ments, such as "Jabal ... the ancestor of those who live in tents"
(Gen. 4:20, NRSV), where earlier versions continued with the King
James rendering "dwell."
3. Care must be taken in choosing words that are susceptible
of being understood in the wrong way. Modern English versions
avoid the King James rendering of Matthew 20:17, which says
that Jesus "took the twelve apostles apart in the way." Though
James Moffatt struck off many happy phrases in his translation,
occasionally one finds an ambiguous rendering. The wording in
his 1913 translation spoke of two men in one bed (Luke ), but
his 1934 revision reads "two men in bed" (i.e., not a double bed).
The RSV in 1 Kings 19:21 says of Elisha, "Then he arose and went
after Elijah"; this is modified in the NRSV to read, "Then he set out
and followed Elijah." The earlier rendering of Psalm 50:9, "I
will accept no bull from your house," is altered to read in the NRSV,
"I will not accept a bull from your house."
Also under the category of words that can be misunderstood
are homophones, that is, words that have the same sound but differ
in spelling and meaning, such as "there" and "their." To prevent
possible ambiguity during oral reading, the statement "because
there God had revealed himself' (Gen. 35:7, RSV) was altered in
the NRSV to "Because it was there that God had revealed himself."
Another kind of oral ambiguity can arise when one hears Luke
read aloud: "`Did you lack anything?' They said,
"`Nothing."' The NRSV renders the second sentence, "They said,
`No, not a thing"' to prevent hearers from thinking the sentence
read, "They said nothing."
4. The maxim of the committee that produced the New Re-
vised Standard Version is that the version was to be "as literal as
possible, as free as necessary." Though, as expected, there would
be differences among the members as to when to reject a literal
rendering, they agreed that expressions that reflected ancient
ideas of psychology should be replaced by modern terms. Both the
Old and New Testaments contain references to one's kidneys as
the seat of affections and emotions. Because the King James
translators used the older English word "reins," which meant
kidneys, most readers of that translation today have no idea or, at
any rate, a wrong idea of the meaning of such passages as, "My
reins also instruct me in the night seasons" (Ps. 16:7), or "I am he
which searcheth the reins and the hearts" (Rev. 2:23). In present-
day English the equivalent is "heart" or "mind." The King
James literal rendering of Philippians 2:1, "any bowels and
Persistent Problems Confronting Bible Translators 283
mercies," does not convey the idea intended by the original text.
Modern translators employ a variety of equivalent terms, such as
"warmth or sympathy" (NJB), "kindness and compassion" (GNB),
"warmth of affection or compassion" (REB), "compassion and
sympathy" (NRSV), "tenderness and compassion" (NIV).
5. In recent years yet another problem has begun to confront
those who translate the Bible into English, namely, the question of
the suitability of using masculine-oriented language in passages
that obviously apply to men and women alike. The movement for
women's "liberation," with its occasional extravagances, has
made people conscious as never before of deficiencies in the way
humans speak of each other. Many publishers, as well as church
educational boards, now issue guidelines as to how best to express
oneself in "inclusive" language. No doubt such concerns will not
go away, and translators of the Scriptures obviously do not wish to
offend and put off readers by using what is increasingly coming
to be regarded as unacceptable English.
The problems that are easiest to correct are, of course, those
passages where earlier translators inserted the word "man" or
"men" but where the Hebrew or Greek text lacks such a term. The
traditional rendering of Jesus' words in John is, "And I,
when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
Here the King James translators inserted the word "men," itali-
cizing it to indicate (as they were accustomed to do) that it is not in
the Greek. In order, however, to show in modern English usage
that the passage does not intend to limit the reference to male
adults only, translators have rendered the passage either "draw
everyone to myself' (NAB, 2d ed., and REB) or "draw all people to
myself' (NJB and NRSV).
According to the King James Version, at the wedding feast
held at Cana of Galilee, the comment was made, "Every man at
the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well
drunk, then that which is worse" (John ). Here the words
"man" and "men" do not appear in the Greek text, nor are they
italicized in the translation. The REB and NRSV have indepen-
dently of each other avoided the masculine bias of the King James
Version by using "everyone" instead of "every man" and
"guests" instead of "men."
Somewhat more difficult to assess are the passages that do
contain the Hebrew or Greek word for "man" (wyxi or a@nqrwpoj) but
where it would be wrong to understand the passage as restricted to
adult males. For example, "Mari shall not live by bread alone"
(Deut. 8:3, quoted in Matt. 4:4 and Luke 4:4) is rendered in the
NRSV, "One does not live by bread alone."
284 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / July-September 1993
When the apostle referred to the work of the Holy Spirit in
strengthening "the inner man" (Eph. ), what should transla-
tors do? Should they assume that the expression "inner man" is a
stereotyped phrase that would be understood by women? Or is it
better to use the expression "your inner being" (NIV and NRSV) or
even to replace "strengthen" with the noun "strength" and render
the phrase "grant you inward strength"?
Of course in other passages the word "man" or "men" must
remain in English. One recognizes that the congregation in most
Jewish synagogues in antiquity consisted exclusively of men.
Furthermore the presence of the Greek word a@ndrej in Mark's ac-
count of the number of those who had eaten at the feeding of the
5,000 (Mark ) must be rendered "men."
A recurring difficulty facing translators is the lack of a
common gender third person singular pronoun in English. It is
ungrammatical to say, "everyone must bear their own burden,"
and it is restrictive to say, "everyone must bear his own burden,"
but it would be cumbersome to say, "everyone must bear his or her
own burden." In such cases the NRSV translators considered that
the least unsatisfactory solution was to represent the meaning by
pluralizing, "All must carry their own burden."
6. Several problems are virtually impossible to resolve. How
should poetry be translated? To turn Hebrew poetry into prose has
been compared to playing on a violin a score written for the or-
Plays on words in Hebrew and Greek are especially difficult
to handle. Frequently the only solution is to supply explanatory
footnotes. At Jeremiah 1:11-12 the NIV adds the note, "The Hebrew
for watching sounds like the Hebrew for almond tree," and the
RSV provides in notes the transliteration of the two words in ques-
tion, "Heb shaqed" and "Heb shoqed." The Greek name Ones-
imus means "useful," to which Paul alluded in Philemon 9-10.
is handled gracefully in
"Formerly he was useless to you, but now-true to his name-he is
of great use to you and to me."
The presence of an acrostic format in such passages as
Psalm 119 and Lamentations 1-4 is the despair of many transla-
tors. Ronald Knox, however, was no ordinary translator and he
managed to present in English the equivalent kind of structure.
To take Lamentations 4:1-10 as a specimen, the opening word or
words of Knox's rendering are as follows: "All dim.... Bright. .
Cub.... Dry throat.... Even they feared.... Faithless Juda. .
Gone.... Here.... It were better.... Juda brought low ..."
and so forth.
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