Andrew G. Shead
Andrew Shead is the head of Old Testament and Hebrew at Moore Theological College, Sydney, and is a member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation.
Finally, translators, even with God’s help, are only human, and they do not get every phrase or even sentence exactly right. But context helps to correct these inaccuracies, and when more and more sentences are read together as a whole, their combined meaning becomes more and more accurate. The only exception to this is when a generally accurate translation strays from faithfulness in order to introduce a bias, or tendency. A good example is the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. While most of its sentences are faithful, they add up to a portrait of a different God.
Take Ps 18:2, ‘my God is … the horn of my salvation’. The word ??? , meaning an animal horn, is frequently used as a metaphor of strength (e.g., Ps ; ; , etc.). But there is one verse where horn, because of its shape, is used to mean ‘ray of sunlight’ (Hab 3:4, where it is in parallel with ‘brightness’ and ‘light’), and Isaiah uses it once with the meaning ‘hill’, to create a rhyme (Isa 5:1). A related verb means ‘to send out rays’, but the horn’s shape underlies all these derived meanings. Simmons ignores the core meaning of the word (strength) and creates a double translation combining all the derived meanings: ‘You are Salvation’s Ray of Brightness / Shining on the hillside’. He also makes the false claim in a footnote that the root word means ‘ray of brightness or hillside’. It means neither.
5 Lord, I have always trusted in your kindness, So answer me, [Note: implied in the text] I will yet celebrate with passion and joy When your salvation lifts me up. 6 I will sing my song of joy to you, the Most High, For in all of this you have strengthened my soul. My enemies say that I have no Savior, But I know that I have one in you!
Simmons has changed the genre of the Psalms from Near Eastern poetry to poetic prose. Notice in the following example, where I have laid out TPT as prose, how words are omitted (underlined in ESV) that would have created duplicate sentences saying the same thing, and words are inserted (underlined in TPT) that turn the remainder into a complex prose paragraph whose elements are logically joined into a narrative. A poetic flavour is added back into this prose by means of abundant alliteration, a technique used in at least every second verse, and by multiplying colourful, emotive, and exclamatory language wherever possible.
5.1.1. Emotions in the Bible
Not only does TPT seek to overwhelm its readers with emotions that have been imposed on Scripture, but the distortion of the word of God that results from these additions means that readers are deprived of the correct knowledge of God that is prerequisite for the proper shaping of their emotional responses. Simmons’s reprehensible selectivity about the emotions he tries to ‘trigger’ in his readers plays a role here. In his listing of major genres in meet me the Psalms (‘themes’, pp. 5–6) he completely omits the Psalter’s most common genre, namely, lament. And while the translation does include the lament psalms, it does not give them the expansive treatment that praise receives.13 Tragically, this illegitimate layering of selective passions over the top of Scripture – mostly those of physical intimacy and breathless elevation – prevents TPT from showing us the actual dimensions, the ‘width and length and height and depth,’ of the love of Christ as it shines from every page of Scripture.
The original text of the holy scripture we alter not, either by adding, taking away or changing of any letter or syllable, for any private purpose; which were not only a thing most wicked and sacrilegious, but also vain and impossible. For so many ancient copies of the original text are extant in divers places of the world … [that] we should be rather mad than foolish if we did but once attempt such a matter, for maintenance of our own opinions.15
William Fulke, A Defence of the Sincere and True Translations of the Holy Scriptures into the English Tongue, ed. Charles Hartshorne for the Parker Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1843), 11. See also pp. 547–56.