Sunday, June 26, 2011

Objective measure of translation accuracy

So I've had this idea for an accuracy test between bibles.    The idea was to pick verses each of which has a different kind of complication and see how all the various bibles handle it.  The complications and scoring is is thought for thought not word for word, but at the same time highly detailed so it should be fair between formal, dynamic translations and hopefully going further out in either direction.  Score the various bibles form 1-5, with 2 being the "wrong answer" 4 being the "right answer" and 1 and 5 being additional penalties and bonus, and 3 being 1/2 credit.      I'm going to score both translations and study bibles on how well they handle this, because there may be (and probably will be) differences between study bibles and some translation have excellent study bibles while other's don't and availability of good quality notes matters.    I was going to do NT only so I can include a lot of bibles like The Voice, The Source, Gaus which don't usually get rated.    I also intend to include bibles from non-Protestant groups: Catholic bibles, New World Translation (Jehovah's witnesses), Clear Word (Adventist)...

And hopefully with time:

a)  Expand out to more translations
b)  Expand out to more tricky aspects
c)  Maybe move to a more random sample 3 of each type of issue

The idea being this gives something of an objective measure of "accuracy".  Here are the types of issues and corresponding verses I was thinking about:

1 Corinthians 2:6-10  dual meaning of archons of the aion, as both heavenly demons manipulating the earth, ephemeral powers  and their earthly representatives, "princes of this age".  Most bibles just have this as earthly.

2 = earthly
4 = heavenly, both or ambiguos.
5 = captures the relationship between both.

2 Corinthians 12:2 "third heaven" Venus translation vs transculturation covers this one.  Frequently bibles use "heaven" or "with God" and God simply doesn't live on the 3rd heaven.

1 = With God
2 = Heaven
4 = 3rd Heaven
5 = 3rd Heaven with an explanation of what the the term means.

Romans 6:8 (tense complexity and the Greek notion of time) (Bible translation: Ebonics and the aorist tense)
This is a tricky passage since the tenses are hard, particularly hard in standard English.  This is a key verse of great theological importance that is tough to translate, and because it is tough to translate people often just change the underlying theology.   Moreover the Greek notion of timelessness isn't really part of American / Christian culture so there is a temptation to consider what Paul is considering an act that takes place in eternity to have taken place at a simple point in the past.

2 = Simple past tense.
4 = Captures the aorist / continuing action of death in some way.
5 = Capturing the notion of an eternal act in a mythic realm rather than an act in the human realm, i.e. capturing the middle platonism of the original.

Romans 11:36 / Romans 12:2 (lack of concordance across chapter boundaries)
This is a tricky pair of verses because aion is frequently translated "world" or "age" depending on context.   Normally bibles are concordant with aion within a single paragraph or idea because otherwise it converts Paul into speaking gibberish.  But... this pair happens on a chapter boundary so translators often miss it.  Of course chapter markers weren't added until centuries later so this split is part of our tradition not part of the original.

2 = Using world & age without treating this like a single thought.
4 = Using the same word.
5 = Doing something creative so it works in context.

1 Timothy 6:20 (de-historical ideology over accuracy).  This verse is a great test because in it "Paul" makes reference to a 2nd century Christian book called the Antitheses, that the author of Timothy is hostile to.    Generally conservative translations will try and obscure this issue so the verse makes no sense, because they don't want to undermine Pauline authorship.  Liberal translators are quite often not any better.    The word Antithesis means literally Oppositions, but in this case it is a proper noun.  So a correct translation is something like: “O, Timothy, guard the precious deposit recoiling from profane and empty jabbering and the Antitheses (Oppositions or Contradictions in English) of the falsely labeled ‘gnosis’ for some who profess it have shot wide of the faith ”

2 = gibberish, meaningless comment like translating "opposition" lower case without any context.
4 = Right idea
5 = Antitheses capitalized or any explanation of what "Paul" (the author(s) of Timothy) is talking about here.

Romans 16:7 (Sexism over accuracy)  This verse is often translated so as not to have a woman called an apostle even though unequivocally that's what Paul is doing.  Here is a link to a meta article on BBB: )

2 = Cop-out, either making Junia male or dropping apostle
3 = Junia is an apostle but not highlighting Junia is a woman's name.
4 = Junia is a female apostle
5 = Discussion of this drawing attention and why there is resistance.

Galatians 5:6 (Protestant Orthodox corruption) this verse should be faith working through love.  But quite often translators want to duck any hint of salvation through work and so change this to "faith expressing itself through love" so as not to offend.  J.D. Kirk has a funny short article on this verse: Boo… Theologically Manipulated Translation. Boo…

2 = Non work
4 = Faith working through love

Mark 1:41 (proper footnoting) This is a simple verse where the textual information is split.   The reading found in almost the entire NT ms tradition is σπλαγχνισθείς (splancnisqei", “moved with compassion”). Codex Bezae (D), {1358}, and a few Latin mss (a ff2 r1*) here read ὀργισθείς (ojrgisqei", “moved with anger”). It is more difficult to account for a change from “moved with compassion” to “moved with anger” than it is for a copyist to soften “moved with anger” to “moved with compassion,” making the decision quite difficult.   Given a split original with experts cleanly divided on both sides:

2 = one side only
4 = both options

So what do you all think of the idea of objectively measure of accuracy?  Do you like the list?  Anything I should add or remove?   Most importantly does this list meet the fairness criteria?

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