Bible Matters #11

Veils Over The Bible

By Gary Amirault

The following three paragraphs simply speak much to me regarding translating from one language to another, especially translating the Bible from its original languages to the common languages of today. They were taken from an article entitled “The History of the English Bible” by Dr. Daniel Wallace, Ph. D., a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and a translator of the NET Bible:


“There is an old Italian proverb about the nature of translation: “Traddutore, traditore!” This means simply, “Translators—traitors!” Of course, as you can see, something is lost in the translation of this pithy expression: there is great similarity in both the spelling and the pronunciation of the original saying, but these get diluted once they are put in English dress. Even the translation of this proverb illustrates its truth! Another Italian dictum expresses a similar sentiment: “All translation is a polite lie!”

“Slightly less pessimistic about the nature of translation is this one-liner by the Jewish poet Hayyim Nachman Bialik, “He who reads the Bible in translation is like a man who kisses his bride through a veil.” In a sense this is true, but as MacGregor retorted in his Literary History of the Bible, “Still, when a veil there must be, the translator’s task is to make it as gossamer-fine a veil as may be. Indeed, the face of even the most beautiful of women may be enhanced by a veil, if only the veil be worthy of her beauty.”

“You can understand, from these snippets, one of the reasons why there is sometimes great reticence to translate the Bible into other languages. For one thing, since the translator presumably already knows Greek and Hebrew, he does not need to do the translation for himself. He is doing it for others. Second, he may sense that his work is doomed from the start. His translation can never measure up to the original document. That great standard of comparison can only unmask the flaws in his own efforts. And third, because he is translating the Word of God, the spiritual burden to get it right is often a very heavy weight. Every translator knows that he is also an interpreter, for there is no translation without interpretation. And the translator of the Bible knows that as an interpreter he is, in some sense, a teacher, and that (as James says), “not many of you should become teachers, because teachers will face a more severe judgment.” For the translator, this ‘severe judgment’ initially comes not from God but from man—because every translation of the Bible has been condemned by someone as soon as it rolled off the press. It is preeminently an act of selfless love that the translator engages in this task at all.” End quote.

Dear Christian Bible student, I cannot overemphasize the importance of comparing Bible translations. They do NOT read the same despite the general consensus among most pastors that they do. Take some of your leisure time devoted to sports, TV or some other pastime and devote it for a season to simply comparing Bible translations. Try comparing the King James Bible, New International Version, Amplified, Young’s Literal, Twentieth Century New Testament and Concordant Literal New Testament. Invite the Holy Spirit to be your guide during the study. You will be absolutely amazed how many differences there are even in respect to major doctrines.

Gary Amirault

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