Differences between Translations (Part 3)

My pastor is working his way through Galatians, and this morning’s sermon was on Gal 3:23-29. I found fertile ground for thinking about differences between translations. Here are some examples:

Sentence structure: The UBS Greek text has 4 sentences in this paragraph. The RSV, ESV, and NIV use 6 sentences; KJV, NKJV, ASV, and NASB use 7; NLT uses 11. Why so many sentences in the NLT? The answer is that Paul uses a complex argument with lots of ideas. In contemporary English, we tend to use a new sentence for each new idea. So the NLT, with its focus on clear communication of the meaning of the text, uses more sentences.

“Faith” or “the faith”? In 3:23, I’m mystified as to why the formal-equivalence translations have all omitted the definite article before “faith.” KJV, ESV, and many others read, “Now before faith came.” In English, this use of “faith” without a definite article implies the concept of faith. What? Did the concept of faith begin with faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so. Furthermore, the Greek text has a definite article: tēn pistin “the faith.” So Paul is not talking about faith as a concept. He’s referring to some specific kind of faith.

Granted, in English it would sound odd to say “Now before the faith came.” The NIV and HCSB attempt to capture the nuance by using “this” for the definite article: “Before this faith came.” But the NLT sees “faith” in this context as being more than just faith in Christ. After all, Paul’s argument in this pericope is the contrast between the “system” of law and the “system” of faith. So the NLT translates the meaning of the Greek as follows: “Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us.”

Is it permissible to add words? In the phrase just quoted, the NLT translates pistin as “faith in Christ.” But since the Greek text does not explicitly use the name Christ in v. 23, why does the NLT use it in English? It fits with the NLT’s translation philosophy of dynamic equivalence. Everyone would agree that Paul is talking about faith in Christ (as he just said in v. 22). But he uses shorthand, referring simply to “the faith.” And since the NLT renders tēn pistin as “the way of faith,” it clarifies that this is not just any “way of faith,” but “the way of faith in Christ.”

The use of metaphors: Paul uses three metaphors in quick succession in vv. 23 and 24. First he uses two different metaphors in v. 23 to show that the law had “confined us” and “held us prisoner.” But the meaning of these metaphors as metaphors is not instantly understandable in English (and perhaps it wasn’t readily understandable in Greek, either). So the NLT helps the reader in v. 23 by making explicit that these are metaphors: “we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, . . .”

In vv. 24 and 25, Paul uses the metaphor of the paidagōgos (rendered by various translations as “schoolmaster,” “tutor,” “guardian,” “custodian,” “disciplinarian”). Paul uses the Greek word hōste (typically rendered as “so” or “so then”) to show the relationship between what preceded (his first two metaphors) and what follows (this next metaphor). To show that Paul is now using a different metaphor to get his point across, the NLT renders it this way: “Let me put it another way.”

Well, that’s enough for now. But if you compare a pericope like this in multiple translations, you’ll see even more differences between them. And as I said in an earlier post, “Vive la différence.”

11 thoughts on “Differences between Translations (Part 3)

  1. Thank you for your comments on translation principles. I look forward to each new posting. One comment: in Galatians 3:22 the Greek is "faith Christ" without the "in" that you point to in your comments. If it is also to translate the Greek as "faith of Christ" then vs. 22 might read, "so we receive God's promise of freedom only by Christ's faith." Then the meaning in verse 23 may be different: "Before Christ's faith was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law." This shed a different light on the faith that saves us from the law, don't you think?

  2. Kevin sent me this way. Like what you wrote.second what anon wrote. I'd have prefered the transformation bible to have had wider margins (also whiter pages with blacker ink – so important to avoid eyestrain!)

  3. Pastor Gary,In Gal 3:22 the preposition is imbedded in the genitive form of the Greek proper nouns, Iēsoû Christoû. Normally one would translate the genitive case as "faith of Jesus Christ" (or "Jesus Christ's faith," as you put it). But in this instance I think substantially all commentators would agree that a better English translation is "faith in Jesus Christ." Mark Taylor

  4. Again, with the dynamic approach in translation, the reality (and therein need with this approach) is always to exegete. But is this really translation?

  5. Anon,Your question "Is this really translation?" implies that translation should not have to include exegesis. But how can it not include exegesis? How can the translator correctly translate the meaning from Greek to English without first asking, "What does it mean?" If we don't work at transferring the correct meaning of the text, we run the risk of merely translating strings of words that may or may not capture the correct meaning. And at worst, we will translate the words in such a way that they convey the wrong meaning. "Is it really translation?" Absolutely. But I invite others to join the discussion.Mark

  6. OK. Sidelines are fine, to a point. I have to ask… Is this the faith of Christ possesive (Christ's faith) or the faith of Christ discriptive (faith like that of the Christ)?

  7. Thomas, a better translation of the genitive in 3:22 is "faith in Jesus Christ." I have just looked at eleven different English translations of this verse. Ten of the eleven translate it "faith in Jesus Christ." Only the KJV rendered it "faith of Jesus Christ."Mark Taylor

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