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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Is there such a thing as a pure translation?


Let me begin by affirming that yours is a great desire (i.e., to want the “pure Word of God”) and that you follow up on that desire with a very good question (i.e., that you want to know if there’s a “pure translation”). I like your heart, and affirm the value of the question in your head. You might not like my response, however.

Those who render translations should make no claim to inerrancy, or its being a “pure translation,” save the fact that the hearts of those engaged in doing so can and should lay siege to the claim that their work product comes from the purist of motives. In our case, the Tree of Life Version of the Bible comes by way of many dozens of scholars, individuals whose focus–both personally and professionally–has been on recovering the Jewish essence and substance of the Bible’s two testaments.

Trained scholars all–as opposed to being enthusiasts, alone–the presented work represents our honest best efforts to date. It’s the best efforts of sullied humans, however. Is it a “pure translation”? I think not. For that, you’d need to dig up the original documents penned by the original ancient authors and read it in their tongues. Mistakes invariably surface in translation. Anybody who says otherwise, about any other translation, or any other religiously inspired endeavor (for that matter), is being less than forthright in my opinion. Difficulties aside, happily for humanity, Divinity has come through the pages throughout the ages.

Some time back I was talking to the factory print manager who had the contract for the Cambridge University edition of the classic 1611 King James Version. He told me that when it was subjected to computer scrutiny, some 400 errors were noted–all of which had escaped the eyes of the editors for centuries. Five hundred years later their still working on improving it.

Words change. When I was a teenager, a guy might have said “I dig that girl,” or “she’s groovy.” Groovy has fallen into complete disuse, in but a short time, and “digging” someone might better refer to an archaeologist or to someone robbing graves. Modern language changes. Ancient language becomes better understood, in time, with more and more examples of it surfacing and more comparative studies that help focus scholars attention. We all need to be open to the work of perfecting. But, the end product will be imperfect, in my opinion.

Speaking of perfection or the lack thereof, aren’t we all imperfect, really? From Genesis chapter three to the end of Revelation, God is represented as being at work in the world, working amidst and working through imperfect people.

Pure as the motive is–with the TLV’s being an outgrowth of our wanting a Jewish telling of thoroughly Jewish biblical dramas in both testaments–and expert as the scholars are, in both Jewish and Christian studies, I trust that our perfect God found a way to work through imperfect us–all for the sake of His perfect purposes.

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