“Finally, bros, brothers, brothren, whatever is straight up, whatever is knight in shining armor, whatever is right on, whatever is a pure, whatever is purty, whatever is jaw dropping- if anything is supurbulous or standing o worthy – think about em, foo!” – Philippians 4:8
Back in 2010, I translated this verse above to, well, be funny. But it raises a question, which version of the Bible is correct?
Let’s take it away from the Bible for a second. Spoiler alert: Voldemort from the Harry Potter books is actually named Tom Marvolo Riddle. When you rearrange the letters in his name it can spell, “I am Lord Voldemort.” This is how he reveals himself to Harry in the second book. So it’s a big plot point. But, when you translate “I am Lord Voldemort” into French, you get different letters: “Je suis Voldemort.” So, the translator had to make some decisions. They decided that “Voldemort” was more important than “Marvolo.” So they changed his name to Tom Elvis Jedusor.
When translating, the translators first establish their skopos. The skopos gives them a guideline for translating the whole text. While translating they make sure their work matches their guidelines. The skopos decides if they want to translate based on the intention of the original author to the original audience or the literal word for word writings of the original author, or a mixture of both. Then they have to consider the intended audience and the new audience. What information is the most valuable at what time. In other words, translation is not an easy job, even before you start changing words.
The translator for Harry Potter into French decided that, according to their skopos, changing Marvolo to Elvis was the appropriate thing. Does “Elvis” ruin the text? No. Does it completely throw off the story line? I would say it, in fact, helps keep it true to form. Is it funny for English speakers? Absolutely. Could I have done better? Absolutely not. Does making it say “Elvis” make it not Harry Potter? No. Even though it is in French, it is still very much Harry Potter.
Now, back to the Bible. Different translators establish different skopos. Some choose to match the new audience’s understanding. Some choose a more literal approach that doesn’t necessarily account for the new audience. Then there are several different translators with skopos in between. And that’s why we end up with, in English, several different versions of the Bible. Are they all still the Bible? Most likely. Do some speak to you better than others? Of course. Is it shameful that you can’t understand the New King James Version? Uh, no. Not even a little bit. Is it bad that you prefer the Message? Uh, no. Not even a little bit.
Linguistically, translation is hard. There are several factors to consider and much tugging of hair before it’s all said and done. But, I believe, that when we ask Jesus to speak to us through his word, he’ll do it with any version we pick up.
What version have you been reading lately? Let me know in a comment below!