Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

One word can make all the difference

I came across a couple interesting verses. My comments are not so much about grammar as they are about translation, but thought it would be fun to look at the LXX a little.

In Job 1:3 we read, “He owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants (וַעֲבֻדָּה רַבָּה מְאֹד, ὑπηρεσία πολλὴ σφόδρα)” (NIV). In neither the Greek nor the LXX is there a word for “had” in the final clause. Can you tell why the NIV added it in (as does the NLT)?

Part of the answer lies in the meaning of עֲבֹדָה, which can refer to slave labor or to non-slave labor. Part of the answer also lies in the translation “owned”; other translations have “had” (NRSV) or “possessed” (ESV).

The answer is that the translators apparently felt that not all of Job’s servants were slaves, and therefore to not include a verb would continue “owned” from the beginning of the verse and force the interpretation that all of Job’s servants were slaves that he owned. So including the “had” takes care of the problem.

In Jeremiah 7:22 God says, “For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Again, there is no word for “just.” Why did the NIV add it?

Take a look at the ESV. “I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” That is just wrong; God did give the Israelites instructions relative to sacrifices. The “just” removes the problem.

As I have often said, I know of no random translation. Every word in every translation I have studied has a reason behind it; no word is just added for no reason. It does illustrate how phenomenally difficult translation is, and how the translators work to get it “just right” as measured by their translation philosophy.