Lost in translation

My first real topic for this blog will talk about translations, such as different Bible translations. One can look up on Bible translations on Wikipedia and find there are numerous translations–over 30 have been released this millenium. Then there is the popular 1611 “Authorized King James Version” often abbreviated as KJV or AV. (As I was trying to research this fact, this is not to be confused with the AKJV or the American King James Version, released in 1999 [1].) But why do we have so many translations in English? Instead of using the usual debate over languages, it helps to have a personal experience.

I spent over six years abroad in Sweden. Before anyone asks if I like it, I can say that it was an experience. Once I moved over there, I was placed in the state school program to learn Swedish. It is a total immersion of language: similar to how a kid learns English, one has to learn by using the language alone. While most immigrants in that class struggled, the two Americans (including me) and one from eastern Asia graduated in half the time. Yet there were some interesting tidbits about the Swedish language. While it is part of the same family as English, it had more ties to languages like French in that all nouns required a gender. So, an apple (äpple) is a female, while a newspaper (tidning) is masculine. In addition, there are three different words for “think”, based on whether you are physically thinking (att tänka), feel (att tycka), or believe (att tro)–all of these are in the infinitive “to think” form. To add to the confusion, if someone says “jag tycker om dig”, please look around to see if Cupid is nearby. In addition, there are some words in Swedish that stolen from other languages, such as English, like TV and music. However, they have two major bible versions: the original Gustav Vasa bible from 1534 and updated periodically, and then the Bibel 2000, which is a rewrite to modern Swedish language changes [2]. Like English, Swedish has changed over the years, and is probably the most progressive of the languages in the Nordic region.

While I am searching for a new church in southeast Colorado, I have noticed different churches using different versions. One church use the KJV, another church use the NIV (New International Version), and I’ve seen another use the New Living Translation (NLT). I’m using primarily KJV and NKJV when possible. I ran into a conflict on Sunday over Ephesians 5:8 in which I had to do a double take in a paper book bible to confirm this. The KJV states: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light:” The red word “sometimes” is my highlight to try to understand why this word was used. Other versions have used “formerly” or a word referring to the past, while the NLT (as linked) rephrased it to say “were full of”. In a day when contracts and formal documents declare word meaning such as “SHALL and MUST are things that are required”, the word sometimes is currently used to show option where it may happen or it may not. It could also be to designate “at some time”, which would make more sense with this content. As the English language develops, incidents like this would make the KJV relevant to the dustbin

Just like the “think, think, think” dilemma in Swedish, there are some words and phrases that cannot be translated literally. Some phrases like “att tycka om” would translate completely different than the individual words would. While there may be some printing issues on the translations, it is also worth noting that the KJV is not completely the same as it was first released in 1611. In addition, the language, while is functionally the same as it was in KJV release days. While I do use the KJV to  read from, I do know there are some modern versions that have adapted to the current language for that reason [3]. This does mean that NLT is not as accurate due to its reversal: the same Ephesians 5:8 changed it from are children of light to have light. When a bible verse doesn’t change the meaning, the translation shouldn’t matter much.