I have been the senior translator for the NASB (and Scholar in Residence) at the Lockman Foundation for about two decades, and Edward Andrews and I are good friends who share a passion for literal Bible translation. He has invited me to write about Bible translation as a professional in the field, and I am happy to do that. We have come to a point in time when, strangely, literal translations (I’ll use “LT” for short) are being challenged for accuracy and relevance. I want to do what I can to address and clarify the issues. I will be speaking for myself, not as a representative of the NASB or the Lockman Foundation. In the process, I will try to be objective and critical about the NASB where criticism is due.
I believe that bona fide credentials are important for a translator or for any Bible expert, so at the risk of boring you, I will provide mine. Let me begin with what I lack, however: I know less about New Testament (NT) Greek than the least-educated person living during the first century who knew the common Greek of that time. The same is true, mutatis mutandis for my Hebrew and Aramaic, the original languages of the Old Testament (OT). And let me quickly add: don’t let any modern expert in the languages claim otherwise for his or her own skills and credentials. In all our academic efforts we are trying unsuccessfully to teleport ourselves back to the ancient times when these languages were spoken. It might be just as helpful if we could locate and resurrect a few people from those times, but that so far has been proved an equally hopeless project.So the best we can really do is read and study what has been written in these languages.
So the best we can really do is read and study what has been written in these languages. Fortunately, a lot of ancient Greek has survived, and a good deal of my graduate work (M.A. and Ph.D.) was spent in working through long lists of Greek works, the NT among them, that I had to be prepared to sight-read for exams. Through the course of my studies, I read Greek from every historical period except modern, i.e. from Homer to Byzantine Greek. This also included ancient Greek in different dialects. And just for fun, I was also required to translate English into ancient Greek, imitating the styles of famous authors. What this forced me to do is to think of how an ancient Greek might say something, which proves to be a valuable tool in NT Greek research.
I can only claim graduate work in Hebrew and Aramaic from seminary, where I earned the M.Div. and Th.M. degrees. What I have learned since has been through experience, and thankfully computer-aided research has been very helpful. Also, the Greek translation of the OT (the LXX) is extremely important for research in the Hebrew/Aramaic OT, and I am fully qualified to work with it. In addition, my Ph.D. includes Latin, and the Vulgate is sometimes helpful. Knowing Latin is also quite an advantage in reading some of the better commentaries.
Having introduced myself, I was going to talk about a sideswipe Mark Strauss took at the NASB while discussing translation philosophy. I’ve already said a lot here, however, so let me just give you a preview of Strauss’s comment. You can find his talk on the NIV site, where he raises the question of what “¿Cómo se llama?” means. He uses this example to deal with the issue of literal translation. If you are familiar with this common Spanish question, how would you translate it? We’ll look at this and LT next time.