In the preface of my ESV, the following words are found:
“The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on “word-for-word”correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.”
I enjoy the ESV and use it as my primary English translation. I went from using the NIV to the NKJV to the ESV after I spent a year working through Romans and comparing the various English translations with the Greek text. I find it a fine translation and, like I said, use it for my primary English reading. I also enjoy the NLT, so all of you “functional equivalent” folks need to cut me some slack. I almost always consult the original languages when working through passages of the New Testament, so I go into the ESV generally informed. But while I generally enjoy the ESV, I can’t for the life of me understand why they translated Matthew 5:37 they way that they did. The ESV is rendered as follows:
“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
This is their translation of the Greek, but my issue is how the ESV renders both nai nai and ou ou. I know this is nit-picky, but the ESV’s rendering seems to actually be the opposite of their translation philosophy. The vast majority of English translations follow the Greek and render the text with something similar to “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes'” or “yes, yes.” Basically, most translations keep the words that are there in the Greek. I guess I’m fascinated as to why so many of us who love the ESV overlook the fact that it is interpretive. I will agree that it’s not nearly as interpretive as The Message or even the NLT, but it is interpretive. I think we would do well to admit this and deal with verses on their own terms or with the overall translation, rather than the usual polemical discussions that leave us sounding as if the ESV is the new KJV for the English speaking world.
That being said, I think the ESV is correct in it’s interpretation! As Morris writes,
“The conclusion of the matter is that it is never necessary for Christ’s people to swear an oath before they utter the truth. Their word should always be so reliable that nothing more than a statement is needed from them. God is in all of life, and every statement is made before him. Your statement will refer to anything you say. I have translated the Greek fairly literally, but the meaning may well be as in REB, “Plain ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is all you need to say.” That would suit the context. Another possibility is that the words signify much what James says: “Let your ‘yes’ be yes, and your ‘no’ no” (Jas. 5:12), that is, your statement should be thoroughly reliable and thus make an oath unnecessary. Some interpreters suggest that a doubled “yes” or “no” (which is more than the single word) is the limit of what is permissible, but it is unlikely that Jesus would engage in such casuistry, especially when he is opposing that of the Jews.” (The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 125)
So how about that? Not in keeping with the “word-for-word” philosophy, the ESV is correct in it’s interpretation. Doesn’t this seem to add more weight to the use of the NLT? In fact, the NLT translates it as “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.'” I wonder how many more of these silly little technical details can be found throughout the English translations of the Greek New Testament.
By the way, I won’t be including this information during my message this Sunday because I think the ESV translates it fine (*snicker*)… but so does the NLT.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
Great post! It is interesting to watch translations work phrases, even when it would “seem” to violate a principle they try to hold to, but the right phrasing comes out as a result.
My main translation is the NIV 2011, but I keep working with all different translations. I find myself defaulting back to the NIV 2011 all the time. Lately I’ve been using the NLT, but again I find little quirky phrases that surprise me. 1 Peter 1:7, for instance, adds”it will bring YOU much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”
I haven’t found another translation adding the “YOU.” It sounds so… so… egotistical! I’m wondering why they went that route!
No translation is strictly literal. That’s impossible in going from one language to another. Besides, the KJV isn’t even the most literal of the literal translations is it? I think that honor belongs to the NASB.
My question is this. What is the limit of interpretive license in translation? How can you tell when the text is being rewritten rather than translated? When I have looked up The Message it seems to be much more of a commentary than a translation.
That’s an interesting verse. I’ve never noticed that. I think it would sound egotistical if Peter was saying it about himself! Ha ha!
However, I think the NLT’s translation there is not as good as it could be because it seems that the focus is on “faith” and not “you” (as you’re saying). Heureth? seems to be referring to the previous piste?s, but I guess it wouldn’t be too crazy to see how the genitive pronoun (hym?n) may be the NLT’s determining reasoning. Good question. Next time I get a chance to talk to Grant Osborne, I’ll ask him… ha ha!
@ Paul Poppe:
I think we have to agree on the issue of meaning. For me, I think meaning is super important… in fact, more important than some who subscribe to the “formal equivalent” philosophy care to admit. That being said, I am cautious about going too far because there’s a certain place for *pause and don’t jump to conclusions here*… ambiguity. Some verses need to be left alone and translated as “hazy” as they appear in the Greek (or Hebrew).
That being said, at least The Message will MAKE decisions whereas The Amplified just lets everyone join in the fun!
In this case, as even Morris admits, it’s a matter of approach. I don’t think either approach is necessarily wrong. I tend to favor the repetition here. 😉
One other thing, “essentially literal” doesn’t mean word-for-word at every turn. I think this is a wrong assumption.
Is the NASB the most literal translation? It can’t be more literal than Young’s Literal Translation, can it?
T.C. R wrote:
TC, I agree. Accurate is not the same as “literal.” If I gave that impression, I apologize because that was most certainly not my intention.
The standard dictionary connects meaning to the word “literal,” which is often over looked by some. The only closest “literal” text we have is the Greek New Testament 🙂 (ha ha).
Mark Montana wrote:
When I’m doing exegetical studies, I still have BibleWorks display Young’s. It’s a bit dated (late 19th century) but there are some strengths with the translation. I’m not sure I’d say it is the “most literal” because it’s dated.
The NASB tends to be as “formal equivalent” as one can be out of the majority of English translations. I just can’t see using it as a translation to preach from because it is not as readable (or preachable). I still enjoy the ESV as my primary and I constantly also recommend the NLT too.
I also like the NET, mostly due to the textual notes, though the translation is nice too.