Category Archives: Translation

Translation traps

Two weeks ago I wrote a book. Well, I put together a book. Most of it I had written previously in one form or another. In talking with Bruno Valle, Herald of Truth representative in Central America, I realized that we needed a book to give out at some events we’re about to do in Nicaragua. So I put together a book in Spanish called “Lea La Biblia.”

Much of the material was cannibalized from a book I’ve been working on for the last two years. That one’s in English, though some of the material in it was translated from stuff I’d done for my radio program in Spanish. (Dizzy yet?)

I’m a decent translator, but not a great one. Especially when translating a ton of material in a short amount of time. Sometimes I can fall into common language traps. Like what are known as false cognates.

False cognates are words that look like a word from another language, but the two have totally different meanings. “Actual” in English means something that truly exists; “actual” in Spanish means current or up-to-date. They are false cognates.

I was translating a description that I had written, a description of a library. I wrote that there were “miles and miles of books.” When I translated the description into Spanish, I put “miles y miles de libros.” Problem is, that means “thousands and thousands of books.” In this case “miles” ≠ “miles.” Fortunately, the phrase fit the description, which is probably why I didn’t notice my mistake in the first place.

Oh, well. Fortunately I had Bruno to proofread the rest of the book, catching less fortunate errors; he also put together the cover of the book. And I had Joey Roberts to do the layout. Out of the ashes… a book!

“The Message” isn’t always a translation

There’s some debate about whether Eugene Peterson’s The Message is a translation or a paraphrase. I’d argue that it’s both, in some ways.

That is, Peterson translated from the Greek without consulting English translations, according to him. That’s a translation. Yet it seems to me that he then took that translation and “riffed on it,” producing a paraphrase of his own work!

Look at Paul’s question to the Ephesians in Acts 19:2. Here’s how the NIV translates it:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

I’m no Greek expert, but looking at the GNT, the question seems to consist of 5 words which basically state what is above. Now look what Peterson did with the question:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?”

See what I mean? The first sentence is the translation. The next two… have no basis in the Greek text. They aren’t translation. At best they are paraphrase. Essentially they are Peterson’s commentary on the translation.

How is the reader to know that? How is the reader supposed to know when Peterson is merely injecting things into the text?

Look at Romans 8:38-39. In “translating” this verse, Peterson writes:

Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: (Tim: underline mine)

As a reminder, here’s how the NIV does it:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In another post, I’ll note how Peterson avoids discussion of spiritual powers; that’s a definite problem. What I’ve underlined shows a major theological point that Peterson has inserted into this passage… with no textual basis. Depending on what Peterson means in what he has authored here, I very well may agree with him. However… that’s not Romans 8. That’s not translation.

Again… how is the reader supposed to know?