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The relatively new Lexham English Bible is being marketed as a “second Bible,” to be used with whatever “primary translation” the reader prefers. I hope that this is a sign of a realization among publishers as well as Bible readers that not all Bible translations are equal, or always faithful to the original languages of the Scriptures. Up to this point, publishers have done little more than recommend, “Study Bibles” to their customers who want to do Bible study, and scant attention has been paid to the accuracy of the translations.
Logos has confronted the issue of translation accuracy head-on with the LEB, which is designed mainly to be used with their Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. They have a Hebrew-English Interlinear as well, but it does not appear to be as finely tuned to the LEB as the Greek Interlinear. Queries to Logos for more information unfortunately were unsuccessful, so I can only comment on what can be seen on their website.
There have been a number of translations in recent years touted both as highly accurate and much more readable than some of the more literal Bibles that have been available for decades. Indeed, sometimes an even higher degree of accuracy is claimed for the more recent Bibles in comparison to their relatively “wooden” predecessors. Comparisons of these Bibles (when one can read the original languages) are always disappointing; one consistently encounters inconsistency in the newcomers, a hybrid of easy English with little fidelity to the Greek and Hebrew, and other passages that are difficult to read because they do match something difficult in the original language.
The LEB, in contrast, is the first Bible I have seen in a long time for which no grandiose claim seems to be made for smooth or easy English. The publisher does say that it “remains readable in contemporary English,” but that is a modest claim by today’s standards. Is it true? I would say, readable, yes, but not always contemporary English. For example, the translators seem to have a warm place in their hearts for the old word “lest.” It is not yet gone from contemporary English, but it is archaic enough to strike us as funny when used in ordinary conversation.
In addition, unfortunately, I have to say that the LEB does not always appear to be clear or even proper English. As a case in point, I find “For in this way God loved” instead of “For God so loved” in the LEB version of John 3:16; that’s fine as far as the meaning of the Greek is concerned, but it is followed by “so that he gave,” which is a result clause, an awkward mismatch with “in this way.” A brief survey also revealed that the LEB translators seem to have trouble with the word “should.” John 3:17 is not a difficult verse to translate, but the translators complicate and confuse it by using “should” together with “in order that.” In proper English, there is some overlap between “should” and “would,” but here the reader is compelled to interpret “should” as “ought to,” which makes no sense.
A similarly odd occurrence of “should” is found in Rom. 8:29, where the LEB reads, “…so that he should be the firstborn among many brothers.” Perhaps one reason for this awkward English is the linkage of the LEB to the Lexham interlinear text. Logos did not provide me access to the tools described on their website, but I believe I can illustrate the problem using the sample seen there. They chose Matthew 6:9, and I would assume that they did so because they felt that this passage puts the LEB and the interlinear tools in a good light. It is a familiar passage, simple to translate, and poses no interpretational issues.
If you look at the sample (http://lexhamenglishbible.com/translation/) you will see that the “contextually sensitive” glosses are virtually identical to the “simple, context-free” glosses, excepting minor grammatical adjustments. Given the simplicity of the Greek, the “literal translation,” in turn, mainly just reorders the words to accommodate English word order. Yet as straightforward as this verse is, the LEB translators managed to inject an awkward ambiguity with the phrase “you pray” instead of the simple imperative “pray” (or the equivalent).
We all know what Jesus is saying here, but it happens that the Greek verb for “pray” can actually be parsed as a simple (indicative) statement, “you pray” or “you are praying,” as well as a command. I have absolutely no doubt that the translators understand it instead as a command, so why have “you” in the text? The reason is that it is there in Greek, for emphasis, and therefore it is necessary for the interlinear translations and is consequently carried over into the LEB itself. Handled this way, however, “you” fail to provide emphasis and instead result in awkward ambiguity.
I suspect that the same process led to the awkward “should” in John 3:17 and Romans 8:29. The grammatical forms of the Greek verbs most likely were represented with “should” in the interlinear, and “should” was necessarily carried over into the LEB. The reason this does not work well in real-world translation is that there is no simple formula for handling the grammatical form of the Greek found in these verses (and many others); often the translation will be the simple verb without a modifier like “should,” and there would be no accounting for it in the LEB interlinear analysis.
Another thing that concerns me about the interlinear analysis is the possibility that it will greatly oversimplify the translation process in the mind of the reader. The analysis looks convincing, almost scientific; but in reality, the contextual analysis of word meanings is complicated and often much debated among translators. I think that the LEB tools can be useful if it is emphasized to the reader that the choices of meaning are only those of the LEB translators. They are not necessarily what one will find recommended in the standard lexicons, let alone in all the commentaries, where there are usually multiple opinions on any issue.
I would have expected the LEB Old Testament generally to read better than the New because it does not appear to be so firmly linked to the Hebrew interlinear, and thus it would follow that the translators had more freedom in what–and what not–to express. However, a quick look at Genesis 1 also revealed some awkward or quirky English. I note in particular verse 4, where the LEB reads, “…and God caused there to be a separation between the light and between the darkness.” This is a real head-scratcher because–if I may be blunt while insisting that I truly do not mean any insult–the translation of the verb looks like the work of a first- or second-year Hebrew student. It is all the more puzzling because it departs from what is recommended in HALOT, which is not only the standard lexicon but also the one expressly preferred by the LEB translators.
The simple way to translate the Hebrew verb is “separated,” and this is even recommended for Genesis 1:4 by HALOT. However, as in the interlinear analysis for the New Testament, it appears as if all the grammatical elements were pedantically accounted for and then carried over into the LEB. The only reason I can imagine for adding “caused” is that the Hebrew happens to be a causal grammatical form of the verb. This does not mean that “cause” must be part of the translation. It is a little like adding “actively” to the translation of every active verb, as in “he actively did it” instead of just “he did it.”
I see no need for the phrase “there to be,” but at least it is in italic to indicate that it is not present in the Hebrew. This is a practice for which the LEB deserves praise, this and the notes providing the reader with literal translations when deemed necessary. Too many translations provide the reader no indicators of added words at all.
Also very awkward within this verse is the repetition of “between,” and it too looks like the result of an interlinear analysis. The word is repeated in Hebrew because it is Hebrew style, which happens to come across poorly into English. If I were teaching first-year Hebrew, I might require my students to “account for” every word by translating them all, or even have them do their own interlinear translations. In this kind of analysis, “between” would show up twice, but it should only show up once in the final English translation.
So, expect to find literal translation throughout the LEB with occasional passages that are awkward, sometimes even lacking in sense. These are passages for which you will probably need the Lexham interlinears to sort them out. Logos may be hoping for exactly that since the LEB is free but not the interlinear modules. However, I hasten to add that you will not learn Hebrew or Greek from the interlinears; in fact, if you are trying to learn the languages on your own, you may find the translations in the interlinears confusing at times. The only purpose they really serve is to provide insight into the translation of the LEB, so if you discover that you do not like the LEB as a translation, why purchase the other modules? Spend considerable time with the LEB on Logos’ dime, and then decide whether you want to invest your own money and considerably more time into learning what you can about the LEB translation process from the additional modules.
One other feature of the LEB deserves special mention because, in a way, it is a milestone. There currently is a quiet revolution going on in textual criticism, the science/art of determining the original biblical text (the autograph) from the ancient manuscripts that we have in existence today. Until 2010 or so, most modern translations of the Greek New Testament were based on the Novum Testamentum Graece, known commonly as the Nestle-Aland text (or simply NA text) for its editors. In 2010, the Society of Biblical Literature published The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (or SBLGNT), which is edited by Michael Holmes. The LEB is based on this edition rather than on the NA Greek text. Indeed, Logos has a working relationship with Holmes and is the publisher of the SBLGNT.
This new version of the GNT may in part be a reaction to the latest edition of the NA text (NA28), and both are to different degrees products of the revolution in textual criticism. Space does not permit a real discussion of the differences between the old approach to textual criticism and the new, but I can outline the important points. In the first place, computer technology has opened the door to change. There are thousands of copies of the New Testament in varying conditions of quality, far too many for all the differences to be adequately accounted for and compared. Appraisals had been made of the quality and reliability of particular manuscripts and groups of manuscripts, and these appraisals still have a measure of credibility.
However, all of the manuscripts show certain amounts of what modern textual scholars are mostly calling “contamination,” i.e. various readings that disagree and are assumed to have been imported from other manuscripts. As is the case for research in many other fields involving documents, the texts of large numbers of biblical manuscripts have now been input into computers, and the data can quickly be evaluated to reveal trends, factoring in differing viewpoints. It is similar to number crunching in an accounting program. Doing the same thing by hand and brainpower alone would have been prohibitively time-consuming.
One result, as textual scholars advocating the new approach see it, is that finding the original text (autograph) is no longer a matter of identifying and using the best manuscripts, but of identifying the best readings without so much regard for where they are found. Their possible derivations can be constructed by computer modeling. Theoretically, then, a very early reading may surface in a relatively late manuscript, and an early manuscript can also have late readings, all of which is the result of contamination.
The analytical methodology of the new approach is often called “reasoned eclecticism” because, on the one hand, the textual critic is free to choose readings that do not have the support of the oldest and traditionally “best” manuscripts. On the other hand, he or she must have sound reasons for choosing them, thus the term “reasoned.” I can honestly say that the reasons are common sense when one fully understands the goal and the challenges of textual criticism. In addition, the older, preferred manuscripts came to be preferred in large part because they passed common-sense tests for the originality of their readings, so even though they lose some ground in the new approach, they still retain their high standing.
NA28, where it differs from the previous edition, is based entirely on the new approach and future editions will continue in that direction, as it appears now. Michael Holmes, the SBLGNT editor, also favors this approach, but I looked over a number of readings in the SBLGNT and found some that agreed with the last edition of the NA text as opposed to NA28. One significant reading in 1 Peter 4:16, in particular, indicated a clear preference for the oldest and traditionally “best” manuscripts over against what appeared to be the best reasoned eclectic choice.
I should clarify that this decision by Logos for the LEB is not a milestone in the sense that no one else has been so bold as to deviate from the NA text in the past. Translators and their publishers have always been free to accept and reject NA readings; I have been involved in such textual decisions for the NASB as a translator, and the NIV translators’ choices have been especially well-publicized, so much so that the SBLGNT even lists them as NIV “readings.” However, this is the first time to my knowledge that a new Bible translation has been based on a Greek text other than the NA (or the Majority Text for those who prefer it).
It should also be noted that Logos states that they have used their own transcription of L, codex Leningradensis, for the Old Testament instead of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). They call this transcription the Lexham Hebrew Bible. This statement is a little confusing because their website maintains that the LEB is based on BHS, and I found no way to make comparisons. Perhaps it is just a point-of-view difference since BHS is also based on codex L, and the LHB would simply represent where the LEB translators chose different readings from BHS.
I think the choice of the SBLGNT for the New Testament is a far more significant decision. It will be interesting to see by comparison whether translators and publishers who may be uncomfortable with eclecticism adjust to the new NA editions, stick with the older ones, or go their own way as Logos has done, possibly configuring their own.