Translating Teh Bible.

Did this comment on someone’s blog about translating the bible, thought it was micro-blog-worthy:

Getting a really accurate translation of the bible is a hopeless cause.  Even if there were no discrepancies between manuscripts and these were not dead languages we’re talking about, these texts were written over 1500 years before the first dictionary, before any mass-media or reference material reliable and plentiful enough to be able to tell what words meant colloquially at that time and place.  Hell I don’t even think we know exactly where they were written.

Think about how much language changes now, with standardized language, dictionaries etc.  50 years ago fag meant cigarette and cool meant chilly.  Imagine how much language changed when there was no mass-media and a word could mean one thing in one town and another thing a few miles away.  Where people worked out what words meant by their sound, and authors routinely invented new words.

There are some words in the bible we “know” what they meant because of a reference to that word in another place a hundred or more years later.

No, accurately translating this stuff is a lost cause.  There’s a lot of guesswork involved, even if it’s just guesswork in the reference materials people use.


About agnophilo

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31 Responses to Translating Teh Bible.

  1. z_stands_for says:

    Sheez, I love your playlist. Tool blew up my mp3 player. hahaAnyways, The other day I was having a discussion with a couple of people about books being better than the movie and we came to the movie “Passion of the christ” and the guy said,”Yeah, I liked the movie better than the book…it took FOREVER to read that book”..

  2. agnophilo says:

    @z_stands_for – : )Talk about everyone seeing the movie and nobody reading the book, lol.

  3. leaflesstree says:

    you know, I made a similar comment on someone’s blog recently relating to why I don’t think it’s possible to know exactly what God (if there is one) thinks/wants because of the fact that it’s a 2,000 (plus?) year old book which has been translated, retranslated, and re-interpreted a billion times. Not to mention that, despite what some people claim, it was written by men, not gods, and thus is open to human misinterpretation, right from the beginning. It was a very sensible conversation until then. The response was I got (not by the blog owner, but another reader) was something about knowing what God wanted and the father’s will and I didn’t bother to reply to that, since I knew at that point I was basically speaking with a lunatic (at least in that regard).

  4. The Old Testament was translated into Greek (The Septuagint) way BC and was recognized by the Hebrews as a valid translation.There is no problem with the New Testament as it was written mostly in Greek and translated into Latin by Saint Jerome by order of Pope Damasus I around 381AD.Since Jesus put the Church in charge of his teachings, the Catholic Church is the most authoritative teacher on what the Bible actually means.

  5. Dargon says:

    Not to mention that in most languages, there are terms that do not have direct translations to other languages. For instance, in Spanish there is a word for “day after tomrrow,” but not word for “hungry” (instead, what is said literally translates to “to have hunger”). So no matter what, there will always be interpretation when translating.

  6. @LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – I must disagree, lest we forget Martin Luther’s reformation. Luther changed the course of human history when he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, accusing the Roman Catholic church of heresy.  

  7. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @Dargon – That would be the biggest problem, yes.  And it’s magnified the further away from the original language the translation goes.  Reading the Tanakh as translated into Greek as translated into Latin as translated into French as translated into English, for example, would be a problem no matter how good the translator was at each juncture.

  8. @LifeNeedsProtection – The greatest heresies were always initiated by priests.  Martin Luther was no exception.Who was Martin Luther to accuse the Church of heresy?  He was just a crazy little man who the aristocracy used to break the shackles of the Church.

  9. @LoBornlytesThoughtPalace   In the day of Luther …why should I not be able to read the Holy Scriptures myself….and be ordered to listen to the ways of priests? 

  10. The translations were always done in a historical context, beginning with the second century.  We have lots of ways to cross-check things among translations in various languages.  This is true for all kinds of ancient works, just like the Bible.  There’s no serious problem.  I can translate from greek to english and compare the results with other peoples’ translations.  There are Greek and Hebrew lexicons which reference all kinds of works, not just the Bible.  If you have any serious doubts, learn koine greek and find out for yourself.

  11. bakersdozen2 says:

    Hmmm…. The Dead sea scrolls. I wish unbelievers had a deeper fund of knowledge. It doesn’t appear Skeptics have any desire to venture beyond the narrow field of information provided by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins et al. There is a world of information out there, you know.

  12. @LifeNeedsProtection – Making copies of the Bible was still difficult in Luther’s day.  Consequently, the Gospel was predominantly taught through preaching and teaching.  The ways of priests are the ways taught in the Bible, so what’s the problem?

  13. @LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – I am thinking of the times during King Henry when no one was allowed to read the bible.  If they were caught …death was sure to follow.  

  14. @soccerdadforlife – Wow….you always know exactly what to say! 

  15. I agree. No matter how hard a person tries to make the translation close to the original there is gonna be discrepancies. Have you read Crime and Punishment? It had to be translated. Have you read Count of Monte Cristo? It was translated. So how close was it to the original? I heard that with the crime and punishment that it was pretty hard(I might be thinking of a different book, ugh=/ if I am wrong, correct me, haha) because of how he was using some of the words. Anyways, we can never make the translation be perfect. 

  16. agnophilo says:

    @leaflesstree – When religion comes into the discussion perfectly sensible, intelligent people can start speaking gibberish.  Logic often goes straight out the window.  And yeah, it’s actually dozens of 2000+ year old books from different eras and places, written in different dead languages, lol.@LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – The catholic church is an authority in the sense of enforcing it’s interpretations and declaring them to be absolute truth.  They are not, however, a credible authority if you know anything about the history of all the insane, wicked and made-up-from-thin-air doctrines they have taught over the years.  The teachings of the catholic church change from one decade to the other, their teachings are only loosely based on scripture.  And btw thanks for not acknowledging or responding to anything I said in this blog.@LifeNeedsProtection – Yup.  Ironically now it’s perfectly legal, strongly encouraged and we’re up to our eyebrows in bibles and nobody reads them.  Haha.@LifeNeedsProtection – He comments on my site but I’m long-since blocked from his for disagreeing with him.  Just FYI.  I think people should get credit for hypocrisy.@imasilentheart – Count of monte cristo (which I haven’t read but LOVED the 2002 movie of btw) was written some 3 centuries after the first dictionaries and printing presses, and there were many, many texts to use for translation.@Dargon – Yup.  Accurate translations are very hard to follow, and the more “natural” a translation sounds of an old language especially, the more it is obviously just someone translating it and then putting what they think it means into their own words.  Which is why despite all it’s inaccuracies I prefer old bibles like the KJV (whose distortions are also much more readily researchable) to newer translations that sound like they were written last week.@bakersdozen2 – Personal attacks are a pathetic non-argument.  You pretend like you have some great knowledge that I lack, but apparently don’t feel like gracing me with any of it.  My blog didn’t mention dawkins or harris or any of their philosophy, and was comprised of about 80% my opinions and 20% facts on which they are based.  Facts.  You know, verifiable reality.  Come back if or when you have an argument.@soccerdadforlife – Another response which doesn’t acknowledge one word of my blog and amounts to “nuh uh!”

  17. yeah and so didn’t the bible no?

  18. @agnophilo – The teachings of the catholic church change from one decade to the other, their teachings are only loosely based on scripture.That is simply not true.  The Council of Trent 1564 reinterated the same teachings as the Council of Nicaea in 425AD.  And the Vatican II in the 1960s reinterated the same teachings as the Council of Trent.They are not, however, a credible authority if you know anything about the history of all the insane, wicked and made-up-from-thin-air doctrines they have taught over the years. What made up doctrines are those?  The Catholic Church has been remarkably consistent over 2 millenia.  You sound confused about something.And since Jesus put the Church in charge of his teachings and gave the Church his authority, yes it is reasonable to conclude that the Church is THE authority on what the Bible means.

  19. agnophilo says:

    @imasilentheart – Come again?  No the bible wasn’t written in the 1800s.@LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – “That is simply not true.  The Council of Trent 1564 reinterated the same teachings as the Council of Nicaea in 425AD.  And the Vatican II in the 1960s reinterated the same teachings as the Council of Trent.”What are you talking about?  You are talking about the decrees of men long after the scriptures were written. And no, jesus did not put the catholic church, which did not exist at the time, in charge of the planet.  The catholic church claims that jesus gave peter authority because of an obscure passage in scripture, then they claim without evidence that that power flows through 263 successors to the modern pope.  Jesus never said anything, even in their versions of scripture and their chosen texts, about the authority of god being passed down through successors elected by men.  Not to mention that the bible when the apostles had to replace one among them they drew straws to let god decide who the next apostle would be.  They didn’t have an election to decide themselves.But whatever.Oh, and you wanted an example of a change in doctrine – how about papal infallability.  If it was based on something in scripture why did it take them almost 19 centuries after the death of christ to come up with it?

  20. there were many, many texts to use for translation.That is what you said. Didn’t the bible have many texts to use for translation also?

  21. agnophilo says:

    @imasilentheart – I don’t have exact figures but I do not believe there were remotely as many contemporary texts.  Not to mention no dictionaries etc.

  22. Well yeah, maybe not as many, but they did have some resources. You picked that bit out in my comment. But my point from the beginning was that no matter what text you are trying to translate, it is hard to get it perfect and actually it never will be. There will always be mistakes. No matter how many different resources/dictionaries/etc, I doubt that you can make a perfect translation.

  23. @agnophilo – The catholic church claims that jesus gave peter authority because of an obscure passage in scripture, then they claim without evidence that that power flows through 263 successors to the modern pope.It’s in the Bible.  Jesus said it.  The Apostles followed Jesus’ instructions.  What you are saying is pure fantasy that has no basis in fact.

  24. agnophilo says:

    @imasilentheart – I agree. I’m just saying it’s not like they could google what a word meant or look it up in a dictionary from the year the text was written.  If they even know what year it was written.

  25. agnophilo says:

    @LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – Jesus said that his authority would be passed through hundreds of men for thousands of years?  Where did he say anything about peter having a successor? And way to ignore everything else I said.

  26. @agnophilo – In the letters of Paul and Acts, for example we see the Apostles already choosing successors.  Also, at on point, Jesus chose 72 people to help spread the Gospel.By giving Peter the power to “bind and loose”, Jesus gave Peter authority to run and manage the Church.  Consequently, Peter is the 1st pope.

  27. agnophilo says:

    @LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – Quote me the scripture where jesus explicitly said his divine authority would be passed down through a series of human successors.

  28. UTRow1 says:

    Oh man, Soccerdad comments on your blog? I thought I permanently quarantined him into his own blog years ago. Looks like I will be posting here more often! 

  29. agnophilo says:

    @UTRow1 – He comments on my site but blocked me from his.

  30. UTRow1 says:

    The separate ID blog that he started with some of his whack job buddies was absolutely precious. I remember they wrote this enormous rant, completely un-sourced, lauding irreducible complexity as the absolute death of evolutionary theory. Then, later that very week, Ken Miller published another paper discrediting the very IR theory they based their whole thesis on. When I brought it to their attention, they just deleted the example they had originally chosen and replaced it with another example. The problem was that this new example was discredited in 1880. Then they just deleted the whole post altogether without issuing a single formal retraction or redaction. If only “lientists” practiced open, honest science like the REAL scientamaticians like SDFL and all the other insane conspirators! To be fair, I am only 95% sure SDFL did this. I may comb through the document I created to store all his hilarious bullshit just to double-check and remind myself of why I remember him being the King of all dishonest, fundie quacks. 

  31. agnophilo says:

    @UTRow1 – Lientists : )  Nice.But yeah, nothing creationists come up with hasn’t been disproven.  Even behe’s “irreducibly complex” mechanisms were known to be reducible before he published his book.  Good thing it was meant for a lay religious audience desperate to agree with it’s conclusions and not his peers, eh?

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