When Translations do too much or not enough

Sometimes Bible translations interpret too much. The ESV occasionally does this. As I am finalizing my message for tomorrow morning I am slightly vexed by the fact that I have to highlight the fact that the ESV arbitrarily left out a word in order to make a supporting observation or I have to choose to not make the observation at all.

Not every point and observation in a message is equally critical. But sometimes there is a neat connection you’d like to make that could be done without much ado if the translation you are using supported it. However, pointing out the missing nuance in the translation takes about thirty seconds of precious sermon time and then results in making a mountain out of molehill.

Preachers, opine.

Here’s an example. The ESV translates Mt. 15:2 “they do not wash their hands when they eat.” Most translations rightly add “bread.” I get the fact that “eat bread” is probably –even likely – a synecdoche for food here, but the translators don’t need to force the synecdochical use by leaving out what is obviously in the text. The bread theme in Matthew 14 and 15 is obvious and I think it was intentional on Matthew’s part.

I merely wanted to make the observation while expositing the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman that in contrast to the House of Israel rejecting the Bread of Life by superciliously refusing anything that did not come to them per their traditions and cleansings (Jesus was unclean to them), the Canaanite woman would take the Bread of Life from off the floor if she had to.

I grant that the table and bread in this story have nothing to do with the Eucharist, but I am quite certain that the whole gist of the entire chapter is about how Jesus is received. The leaders of Israel were scandalized by the Bread that was offered to them because it was unclean as far as they were concerned. The Canaanite woman only wanted the “unclean.” She knew God was sent to the House of Israel. She also knew that some of God, if you will, — a piece of God With Us (Emmanuel) — had fallen among the dogs. That’s why she boldly asserted herself in faith. Humble people are not scandalized by a ceremonially unclean God. They’re saved by it.

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One Response

  1. I had a very similar situation last Sunday evening with the ESV.

    Thank God for the liberty to point out such concerns and reference other translations. I am still just getting used to having this liberty and still find it wonderful!

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