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Translation Consistency

In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer's comments are in black and and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

>Hello, I should start off by saying that I am quite impressed by your page. I found your testimony concerning Bible versions to be levelheaded - a true rarity where this topic is concerned.<

Thank you for the kind comments about my article My Bible Versions Experiences.

>I myself was, for some years, persuaded that the NASB was the "best" and most "accurate" Bible. This persuasion was not based on any evidence but merely because all the Christians I knew believed it. To give you an idea of how uncritically I approached different translations, when I was exposed to the New Jerusalem Bible by a university professor and found the text delightful (in terms of style), I promptly switched to it. This was before I was saved. I was quite flippant about such things.<

If you weren’t saved yet, I find it interesting that you were even reading the Bible at all. Then again, I was reading the Bible for about three years before I became a Christian.

>And, indeed, I was not even aware of the magnitude of the Bible versions controversy until relatively recently. I at once perceived that academia and all the best sorts of people were on the side of (i.e. believed in the superior validity of) the critical text whereas the KJV-only folks seemed to be outgunned (in terms of scholarship and learning), outmoded, and slightly unkempt.<

Probably a true observation. At least all of the professors at Denver Seminary that I attended ascribed to the NIV or similar versions.

>Being a natural contrarian I immediately gravitated toward this unruly but, also, sincere and forthright (indeed, to a fault) KJO crowd. I say "gravitated toward" because I never believed for a minute that the KJV was itself inspired (except by derivation) or anything of the kind. In any case, I have settled on a King James "First" (as opposed to "Only") position.<


>All this is by way of introduction to a comment concerning a sense in which I think that the KJV is superior to the NKJV. I have not seen this argument made by anyone in the correspondence that you have posted for public perusal. I apologize beforehand if I'm going over well trod ground.

Basically, I have chosen to put the KJV first because it seems to be more consistent in its translations of Hebrew and Greek words throughout the text. That is to say, it seems to translate the same Greek or Hebrew words into the same English words to a greater degree than the other versions I've looked at.

Now, I'm quite sure that you will say that this is a misconception. And, indeed, I am familiar with the section of the translators’ introduction to the KJV in which they disavow the translation principle to which I am referring (translating the same word the same way as much as is humanly possible). However, even though they disavow this principle they actually seem to have followed it much more scrupulously than even the most rigorous (some might say "anal") modern translators (e.g. the translators of the NASB).<

I have heard of this concept before; but if you have ever done some actual translating from one language into another, you would know that it is impossible to follow consistently.

For instance, one of my Greek professors had an "overhead" picturing an elephant, with its trunk prominently displayed, wearing gym trunks, standing beside a tree trunk, with a trunk of clothes on the other side. The caption underneath read, "Different trunks for different folks."

The point is, if you were to try to translate the English word "trunk" into another language, you would have to use different words in the "receptor" language. There is simply no way you could use the same word in every context. Similarly, it simply is impossible to use the same English word when translating from another language into English.

Now, I have found it helpful to do concordance studies using the Hebrew or Greek words in a text rather than the English words. Even a non-Hebrew or non-Greek reader can do so using something like the New Englishman's Greek Concordance by Wigram & Green and the New Englishman's Hebrew - Aramaic Concordance by Wigram.

Both of these are coded to Strong’s numbers. So using Strong’s Concordance or Green’s Interlinear Bible anyone can find out the Hebrew or Greek words underlining an English word and look up the original word in the concordances. They then list the every verse in the KJV which uses the Hebrew or Greek word. In addition, such concordances studies an be done on the Online Bible and Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible.

In any case, doing such studies will show you that the KJV very often uses different English words to translate the same Hebrew or Greek words. At the same time, it will also show the range of possible meanings for a word. And then you, the reader, can decide if the translator in fact used the "correct" translation for a particular verse.

But how does one decide which of several possible renderings to use in a particular verse? First off, as one of my Greek professors would put it, "Context, context, context!"

For instance, if I said the word "trunk" to you, you would have no idea what I was referring to. But, if I said, "I put my spare tire into the trunk" I doubt you would picture me trying to shove a tire up the nostril of an elephant!

But sometimes even a wider context than just one sentence is needed to determine the meaning of a word. For instance, if the context of above sentence was about a new wooden trunk I just got, it is possible that I was talking about putting the spare tire into this wooden chest. Or maybe, I was talking about finding a tree with a big hole in its trunk. So maybe I was trying to hide my tire in the tree.

So you can see, that translating can get rather complicated. It simply is not so clear cut as to learn one meaning of a word and then use it throughout a text.

But having said this, there is very often a more common meaning of a word, with one or more less common meanings. When learning Hebrew or Greek vocabulary, a person will generally memorize just the more common use.

Moreover, when I am translating a portion of Scripture I will use this more common definition, unless there is a clear reason in the context to use a less common meaning of a word. The context is always the final determiner of the meaning of a word, as the above mentioned Greek professor would constantly repeat.

To illustrate the above, take a look at the Gospel of Mark. In the KJV, most every verse begins with "And" but not always. Sometimes you will see "But" (3:7), "Howbeit" (5:19), or "Then" (7:1).

In the NKJV almost every verse in Mark begins with a conjunction; but you will see a wider range of possibilities. Along with the above (except for "Howbeit"), there is also "Then" (1:5), "Now" (1:6), "When" (1:19), "Also" (5:6), and "However" (5:19).

In each of these cases, the underlying Greek word is kai. And the most basic definition of kai is "and." However, as the above shows, it can also have a range of other possible meanings.

The above also shows that you might be right, the KJV is somewhat more "consistent" in its translation. It does use "And" much more often and the alternatives less often than the NKJV. Whether this makes the KJV a "better" translation would be a matter of debate. It would show that the same Greek word is being used throughout. But reading "And" over and over again could get rather tedious.

In any case, the KJV does not slavishly use "And." It does use the alternatives when necessary. Mark 5:19 demonstrates why "And" cannot always be used. To get the context I will start quoting from verse 18:

18 And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him.
19 However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you" (NKJV).

To begin verse 19 with "And Jesus did not permit him" would not make sense. The conjunction is being used in an adversative sense. So "However" - "But" or even the KJV’s "Howbeit" would be appropriate.

As for my position, if I was translating Mark, on the first draft I would probably use "And" each time kai appeared. But then I would go over the text and use an alternative when the context required it or when one of the possible alternatives would express the connotation of kai better than "And" in a particular context. However, one thing is certain, I would never use a word like "Howbeit" in my translation.

For comparison, the MKJV seems to always translate kai as "And" or "But." The LITV also only uses these two words except for in 3:18 where it has "Also" (at least as best as I can determine glancing through the translations). So if consistency is what you want, then maybe you should try the MKJV or LITV as they seem to be even more consistent that the KJV.

One last point, however the kai is translated, in all four of the above translations it IS generally translated. But compare a version like the NIV. In it, only rarely does a verse in Mark begin with a conjunction. The reason is, the NIV translators did not find the kai important enough to always translate. They probably believed that doing so would make the text too awkward to read. So it was left untranslated most of the time.

In reply to this attitude, I will simply say, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY word that proceeds from the mouth of God’" (Matt 4:4; NKJV). And "every word" includes all the conjunctions.

>I will give two concrete examples in which the KJV adheres to this principle in ways that contribute the reader's being able to tease out important patterns in the text of the Bible.

1. Genesis 2:4:
KJV: "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth . . ."
NKJV: "This is the history of the heavens and the earth . . ."

This is important because the term "generations" in this verse marks one the ten "chapter headings" of Genesis. The other headings (uses of the term "generations" occur (of course) at 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, and 37:2. The point is that the existence of such headings (in the number ten, in particular) argues, in my mind, for the unity of Genesis (in contrast to the "four authors" theory).

Moreover, it is a pattern that (according to dictionary in the Online Bible) does indeed exist in the Hebrew. In any case, it is at least a potentially significant pattern in the text that simply could not be picked up by reading ANY of the modern versions that I am familiar with. I take that back, the pattern is preserved in (of all places!) the NIV where the term that is translated "generations" in the KJV and (variously) "history" or "genealogy" in the NKJV is consistently translated as "account" which is, as far as I can see, the most absurd approach of all. But, then, they're making it up as they go along anyway so what do they care?<

I would agree with you that the use of "generations" (Hebrew, toledoh) is a significant pattern in Genesis. And I would agree with you that the NKJV should renders the phrase consistently throughout, as there is no contextual reason why it should not be. But in the NKJV’s defense, the translations it uses are legitimate renders of the word.

Strong’s gives the following:
8435 towledah (to-led-aw');
or toledah (to-led-aw'); from 3205; (plural only) descent, i.e. family; (figuratively) history:
KJV-- birth, generations.
(copied from Biblesoft’s PC Study Bible).

Thayer’s has:
08435 towl’dah {to-led-aw'} or tol’dah {to-led-aw'}
from 03205; TWOT - 867g; n f pl
AV - generations 38, birth 1; 39
1) descendants, results, proceedings, generations, genealogies
1a) account of men and their descendants
1a1) genealogical list of one's descendants
1a2) one's contemporaries
1a3) course of history (of creation etc)
1b) begetting or account of heaven (metaph)
(copied form the Online Bible).

So both "history" and "generations" are possible translations. So the NKJV is not "wrong" in its rendering. But a consistent translation throughout, in this case, would probably be best.

And note, the KJV is not completely consistent in its rendering of toledoh. Rather than "generations" it does use "birth" once - but that is in Exodus (28:10). The NKJV also has "birth" in this verse. And the context clearly requires "birth" rather than "generations." So again, context is the final arbitrator of a translation, even in the KJV.

As for the NIV, Thayer’s does give some credence to the use of "account" - but it is rather slim. However, there are two modern day translations that render the word identical to the KJV: the MKJV and LITV. Both use "generations" in every occurrence of toledoh except again in Exod 28:10.

Lastly, as for the significance of the repeated use of toledoh in Genesis, see my Commentary Gilgamesh vs. Genesis. It discusses possible real sources for Genesis, as opposed to the hypothetical JEPD documents that you allude to.

>2. In John 1: 51 Jesus makes an important, nay, a crucial allusion to Jacob's ladder. His allusion would seem to indicate that HE is, in fact, the ladder (i.e. ladder = son of man). When we turn back to Genesis 28: 10-22, where Jacob's dream is recorded, we are struck by the following phrase (in the KJV) "And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth . . . and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (28: 14).

If we read "seed" the way Paul reads "seed" - ". . . thy seed, which is Christ" (Ga. 3: 16) the christological character of Jacob's prophetic vision is confirmed (by a second witness, as it were). Moreover, according the OLB dictionary (again) the KJV almost always translates the Hebrew term the same way. That is to say, they didn't just translate the word as "seed" in this place to support a Christian reading of Gen 28: 14.

The NKJV, on the other side, is all over the place here. It usually translates the word as "descendants" but, at the end of 28:14 suddenly translates it (again, the Strong's numbers on the OLB suggest that it is the same word) as "seed." If anything, it is the NKJV that is guilty of "Christianizing" the text by its irregular pattern of translation. If there is a substantial reason why the word should be "descendants at the beginning of 28: 14 (in the NKJV) and "seed" at the end, I am willing to be corrected. But, as far as I can see, this is another case in which the KJV seems to be more consistent.<

Here again, I would have to agree with you. The NKJV rendering does seem a little suspect. But again, in its defense, Thayer’s gives the following:

AV - seed 221, child 2, carnally + 07902 2, carnally 1, fruitful 1, seedtime 1, sowing time 1; 229
1) seed, sowing, offspring
1a) a sowing
1b) seed
1c) semen virile
1d) offspring, descendants, posterity, children
1e) of moral quality
1e1) a practitioner of righteousness (fig.)
1f) sowing time (by meton).

So "descendants" is a possible translation of the word. But so is "seed." And given that the word is singular in Hebrew, the latter would be preferred. I have no idea why the NKJV translators would change which term they used within the same verse.

But again, as Thayer’s indicates, the KJV does render the word differently in a few places. Again, this would be because the context requires it. Lev 18:20 is one such example: "Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her" (the NKJV is similar). "carnally" is the same word as "seed."

Also again, the LITV and MKJV have "seed" in most places. Lev 18:20 in the LITV is rather interesting: "And you shall not give your semen to the your neighbor's wife by lying with her, for uncleanness with her." This rendering is more literal than the KJV. Moreover, "seed" could have easily been used for "semen" giving the LITV even more consistency.

Since you have the Online Bible you might try checking the LITV and MKJV which are on the program. You might find them to your liking.

>I fear I have taken too much of your time. But, I hope that you will be able to address this particular issue of translation (consistency) on your page. I think it is an area where the NKJV falls short and I think this denies English-only readers a chance to pick up on the deeper textual patterns of the Bible.


Yes, discovering "textual patterns" can be important. But, as I hope the above shows, it simply is not possible to slavishly translate the same Hebrew or Greek word with the same English word in all occurrences. Sometimes the context requires an alternative, possible translation.

Moreover, as mentioned, even English readers can have some access to the original languages using the study aids I refer to above. Also, your letter re-enforces a long-standing recommendation of mine, Bible readers should compare more than one version of the Bible for serious study.

If you want to use the "KJV First" that is just fine with me. But comparing the KJV with one or more of the NKJV, MKJV, or LITV I think you would find very helpful.

Moreover, please excuse me if I continue to use the NKJV first, and then the other three versions above. As I say in my "experiences" page, I simply find the KJV too difficult to read, namely due to word like "Howbeit" in it. The American Heritage Dictionary on MS Bookshelf 95 says the use of this word as a conjunction is "obsolete."

Lastly, I had thought I has covered every aspect of the KJV vs. NKJV controversy in my five-part correspondence with Gregg (starting at Correspondence on KJV vs. NKJV - Part One). But you raise an additional point that does need to be covered. So, unless you object, I will post the above on my site.

Additional Information

Subsequent to the correspondence above, I read a book written by the NT editor of the NKJV: Arthur L. Farstad. The New King James Version in the Great Tradition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993).

Farstad writes in regards to the use of connectives in the NKJV vs. other versions:
A good illustration of the difference between a strictly literal rendering (here, NASB), a dynamic-equivalence translation (NIV), and a literal rendering tempered by the stylistic demands of the receptor language (NKJV), is their varied treatment of connectives, which is illustrated below.

It is well known to students of the original languages of the Scriptures the biblical tongues are fond of short conjunctions….

The Evangelist Mark is so fond of the word kai that in the KJV you will sometimes notice several verses in a row in his Gospel that begin with and.

The dilemma here is that English style does not favor sentences starting with and, except on a limited scale. Should we make a wholesale deletion of these connectives in favor of English style and thus perhaps violate our strict view of verbal inspiration? Or should we translate nearly all of them as and and violate good English style?

Most modern versions, such as the NIV, choose the first option. Thousands of Hebrew wes, as well as Greek kais and des, are summarily dismissed. On the other hand, should we go the route of the KJV, ASV (1901), and NASB, and have myriads of verses starting with and? Or could be a better way to translate?…

One of the tasks of our English Editor, Dr. William McDowell, was to vary the English connectives in both the Old Testament and New Testament for literary variety, but according to context. The lexicons allow many meanings. The contexts suggest several subtle nuances of thought. Why not retain as many of these connectives as English style will permit?…

The result is smoother translations, especially in the New Testament, where the Greek text often builds its argument partly by means of various logical connectives. This variety of translation is both refreshing and helpful in keeping the action moving along" (pp.125-6).

Farstad then gives a comparison of Mark 1:29-34 in the NASB, the NKJV, and the NIV. He then notes that five out of the six verses in the NASB begin with and and one with now. In the NIV, all but two of the connectives are left untranslated.

Farstad then notes:
The NKJV deletes the connective in verse 32 to suggest the break in time, and translates the rest according to context. Not only is the text more complete, but it flows better, since, we believe, those little words were put a purpose—to connect sentences in a logical chain of thought (p.127).

So the NKJV principle appears to be to translate the connective according to context; and to only leave it untranslated when doing so would better indicate the flow of thought in the text.

In regards to translation consistency in general, Farstad writes:
It is well known that the King James translators were fond of translating the same Greek word several different ways in one passage for literary variety They also would sometimes translate different Greek or Hebrew words with the same English word. If all of these were to be computerized so that the same Greek word was always translated the same way, it would not be the King James tradition. Neither would it be good English style!

However, most careful students of the Scriptures felt that the 1611 "learned men" overdid the variety motif. For this reason a detailed and laborious "consistency check" was performed, using the fine "Greek-English Concordance" of the Mennonite scholar, J B. Smith. This volume presents KJV translations of Greek words in chart form. The New King James much more consistent than the Old, but without going overboard on changes.

For example, in parallel passages, if a certain word was translated "garment" in one Gospel, "vesture" in another, "raiment" in a third, and "clothing" in a fourth, the two archaic words would be changed to the same word as one of the others. There would then be two, not four, translations of this word.

On the other side of the coin, in John 13, two very different Greek verbs both translated "wash" in the KJV. Here the symbolic argument of the footwashing versus the complete bath is lost in the older version. "Bathe" is the correct rendering for the body, "wash" for the feet (p.47).

So Farstad believes the NKJV is actually more consistent in its translation than the KJV. Now, I have never done an in-depth comparison of the two in this regard. So I cannot confidently say which is more consistent. If it was up to me, I would probably try to render the same word the same way as mush as possible; but without slavishly doing so. Again, context must always be the final determining factor.

Also, Farstad is correct that the exact meaning of a word can be important to know in understanding a passage. So careful attention must be paid to each and every word when translating the Bible.

As such, Martin Luther was very correct when he stated, "Translating [the Bible] is certainly not everybody's business, as the mad saints imagine; it requires a genuinely pious, faithful, diligent, God-fearing experienced, practiced heart" (quoted in Green, J.P. ed. Unholy Hands on the Bible. Vol. II. Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Trust Fund, 1992, p.313).

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above E-mail Exchange was posted on this Web site January 1998.
The "Additional Information" was added March 8, 1998.

Bible Versions Controversy: Translation Principles
Bible Versions Controversy

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