[sword-devel] Copyrighting The Bible?

Mike Sangrey sword-devel@crosswire.org
Mon, 27 Aug 2001 22:01:38 -0400

John Gardner <gardnerj@biotronik.com> said:
> 	A more important question, in my mind, is: how many *new*
> english translations do we need?  It does make one wonder if there
> isn't an attempt to water down the message or to some how make the
> language so clear, that somehow we don't need to be taught of God?
> Christ said, that we would understand if we are willing to obey.
> The reason that some have trouble understanding the scriptures is
> that are not willing to obey it.  Perhaps those involved in
> translation, has lost the vision of trying to get the word out, and
> has become simply a quest to make money.  Then the tendency will be
> to make "acceptable" translations that make money rather than
> accurate ones.

Hi John,

I'm not a "professional" translator, though I do co-moderate two Bible
translation lists, one of which is internal to Wycliffe Bible
Translators (aka SIL).

As in a lot of things, it gets a bit complicated as soon as you pull
back the covers and look underneath.  Or maybe the onion metaphor is
better: you peel back a layer and you cry a little.

Bible publishing is VERY BIG business. Zondervan makes 2% royalty.
That means if your Sunday School curriculum quotes the NIV, Zondervan
makes 2% off of every copy sold.  I'm trying to remember the dollar
figure for the slice of the pie, but suffice it to say that there's
hundred's of millions of dollars of motivation to protect the

That said, I know of no translators who are not deeply motivated to
provide accurate translations for English speaking people (as well as
the other languages currently being worked on).  I'm sorry for the
double negative, but they're there for emphasis.  There are different
levels of understanding and different opinions regarding the
linguistics behind the translation philosophies, but the bottom line
is a great desire for accuracy.

Regarding "make the language so clear": that's an interesting
statement.  It is popularly believed that accuracy and clarity are at
two ends of a spectrum and that the best the translator can hope for
is to reach some marketable compromise.  That's not true.  They are
two different dimensions and the goal is obtain a high degree of both.
Think, perhaps, of your own writing and when you get something down on
paper that says exactly what you want to say and then give it to
someone and they misunderstand or are puzzled by certain things.  You
rewrite parts of it to make it clear.  Is it any less accurate?  No.
You've just increased the clarity.  And, anyway, ultimately, what a
Bible translator is trying to accomplish is the accurate communication
of God's word.  The Greek New Testament is accurate, but it
communicates nothing to John Q. Public in a KMart parking lot.  So,
the goal is to take the meaning and transfer it from those original
forms into entirely different forms which clearly convey the meaning
to the new audience.  And by `forms' I mean anything which packages
meaning be it a `word', a `sentence', an `idiom', `word order', and
quite a few other things.

The key lay in the linguistic axiom that any concept can be
communicated in any language; that's the basis of all Bible
translation.  If that's true, then a good translation takes the
original meaning and hauls it the whole way across the language/
culture/history chasm and renders that meaning in an entirely
different language.

Hope that's helpful.

In His (and your) service.

Mike Sangrey
Landisburg, Pa.
                        "The first one last wins."
            "A net of highly cohesive details reveals the truth."