A new Bible translation from Lutherans

I recently blogged about the new Bible translation, the Christian Standard Bible.  I didn’t realize until alerted by commenter MarkB that a new translation led by Lutherans is also in the works, the Evangelical Heritage Version.

This comes from an independent venture known as the Wartburg Project.  Those doing the work are scholars from the Wisconsin Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  The publisher will be Northwestern Publishing House, the publishing arm of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

For how the new translation will be different from other translations, check out the  FAQ’s on the website and the distinctives.

The plan is for the completed Bible to be released this Fall, in time for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation on October 31.  You can download The Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Psalms  on Kindle for 99 cents at Amazon, or free if you have Kindle Unlimited. You can also get free downloads of the lectionary readings  and the passion history.Do you see a problem with a “Lutheran Bible”?  Is that too much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses having their own Bible so as to give support for their own idiosyncratic teachings?  The American Translation by William F. Beck is another Lutheran translation, but its clarity of expression has won it non-Lutheran fans. The Wartburg Project insists that the Evangelical Heritage Version is not sectarian but can be used by all Christians.

That was certainly the case with Luther’s translation.  When Luther was in hiding at the Wartburg castle, he translated the Bible, known at the time only in Latin,  from the original Hebrew and Greek into vernacular German.  William Tyndale, who studied at Wittenberg, emulated Luther’s translation (including its phraseology) by translating the Bible into English.  Tyndale was burned at the stake for doing so–in Brussels at the behest of  the Anglican King Henry VIII, not the Catholics, as I had long assumed–but his Bible (and thus Luther’s Bible) had a great influence on the King James translation that would come.  The Bible began to be translated into many other languages.  The Wartburg Project evidently seeks to be part of that tradition.

After the jump is an excerpt and link to the project’s website giving the “Rubrics” for the new translation.

Here is why I am excited about the Evangelical Heritage Version:  At the Christian Standard Bible post, I complained about how so many contemporary translations get rid of the Bible’s ambiguities and figures of speech in their zeal to explain what the verse “really means.”  I want what the text says.   That includes the poetic and stylistic features of the original.

According to these Rubrics, the translators of the Evangelical Heritage Version agree with me!  I put the Rubrics that show the translators’ literary sensitivity in bold.

From Rubrics:

Thesis 1: The duty of a translator is to convey all the meaning (or the openness to more than one meaning), all the beauty (or the ugliness), all the style (high or low), and all the emotional impact of the original text into the translation.

Thesis 2: Thesis 1 is impossible.

Thesis 3: Thesis 2 is not entirely correct.

Thesis 4: In bits and pieces a translator can come close achieving the aims of thesis 1.  Tetelestai > It is finished. The only major thing wrong with this translation is that it has too many words. Were it not for the weight of tradition, we could probably improve the translation by reducing it to a single word, “Finished!”

Some Principles and Guidelines

Here are the general guidelines for the project.

1. Although any skilled linguist who is fluent in the source language and the receiving language can do an acceptable job of rendering the literal sense of the words of Scripture, the most important qualities for a Bible translator to possess are a thorough knowledge of the whole message of Scripture, the aptitude to let Scripture interpret Scripture, and a humble willingness to submit to everything which Scripture says. It was this aptitude, more than the depth of his knowledge of the original languages that made Luther such a great translator.

2. Translators will strive for a balance between preserving the original meaning and producing English which sounds natural, but the preservation of meaning takes priority.

3. When a choice must be made, accuracy in conveying the divinely intended meaning of the text takes priority over literary beauty or rendering the text into common, contemporary English.

4. The translation must be free of doctrinal errors whether inadvertent or deliberate. It must not falsify the Word of God. It must not subtract from its meaning or add to it. This is reflected in two principles:

(1) We expect that a translation will understand itself as a “direct quotation” of an ancient document, rather than merely supplying the “gist” of the original’s meaning in a contemporizing paraphrase.

 (2) We expect, with Luther, that when theologically necessary a translation will adhere closely to the wording of the original.

5. The translator should not be too locked in to any one theory of translation whether so-called “dynamic equivalence” or “literal translation” because:

a. Literal (or more precisely, literalistic, word-for-word) translations sometimes give the wrong meaning or they do not communicate clearly in the receiving language.

b. Dynamic equivalence, though a worthy goal, is not fully possible. We would be happy with any translation that was dynamic and equivalent, but too often translations labeled “dynamic equivalent” are either not equivalent or not dynamic. We would like every translation to be both “meaning equivalent” and “emotional equivalent.”

c. The translator will have to weigh whether a more dynamic or more literal approach best conveys the divinely intended meaning on a case-by-case basis.

6. It is necessary for a translation to have a set of rules and rubrics to guide the translators, but the relationship between two languages is so complex, that it is hard to image a rule or rubric which can be applied without exception.

7. The translator should adhere to the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture. This is especially true in regard to doctrinal statements. One passage of Scripture cannot be set against another. New Testament interpretations of the meaning of Old Testament passages should be accepted. (This does not mean that every Greek rendering of an Old Testament passage in the Septuagint or New Testament is the best rendering of the Hebrew.)

8. The translator should not specify one level of language and usage to be used uniformly throughout the Bible because the level of language in the Bible itself varies greatly from book to book and from passage to passage. The goal is that the level of difficulty of the translation should be similar to the level of difficulty of the original. In many Bible passages the original language was neither“common” nor “contemporary.”  If the word in the original is uncommon or archaic, the translation should try to reflect that.

9. The translator should not drain the color and variety of expressions from passages or level the language by downgrading the imagery. If Scripture uses five different words for a concept, the translation should reflect that diversity.

10. If the text uses a metaphor, the translator should use a metaphor; the same one if possible. Do not make the metaphorical prosaic.

11. Poetry should look and sound like poetry. Unusual and emphatic word order may be retained to some degree as it is in our hymns. In translation of poetry pay attention to rhythm and to balance of the length of lines, especially for musical performance.

12. The goal of a translator is not so much to make Judeans sound like 21st century Americans but to make them sound like Judeans who speak good English. Consider the example of the gospels which maintain a Semitic tone in the speech which they record in Greek. The goal is not always to say it “the way we would say it” but to make Judeans speak in a way we can understand.

13. Though “one Hebrew/Greek word = one English word” is not a viable standard for a translator to apply consistently, the translator should strive to be consistent rather than casual in his renderings of specific words and word groups.

(1) There is a lot of confusion about the concept “a literal translation.” “Literal” means taking words and phrases in their ordinary, common meaning, in the ordinary base sense, not in a figurative sense. A literal translation cannot be equated with a word-for-word rending. See our FAQ concerning the concept of a literal translation.

(2) Here “rule” means a general guideline such as those we are listing here. A “rubric” is a more specific guideline such as “we will translate the Tetragrammaton as LORD.”

(3) This principle does not militate against producing secondary versions such as a simplified version or children’s Bible, but that is not the goal of our base translation,

 14. The translator will try to be euphemistic where the original is euphemistic and blunt or coarse where the language of the text is blunt.

15. Capitalization of nouns and pronouns that refer to God is not a feature of the original text, and therefore it falls into the category of interpretation rather than translation. The practice is best avoided. English style, however, requires titles and proper names be capitalized regardless of whether or not they are a reference to deity. (See the rubrics for specific guidelines and the FAQs oncapitalization)

16. Good translation should preserve the authors’ co-ordination and subordination of thought units.

17. Translators should be wary of importing their own stylistic preferences into the translation against the preference of the original author, unless such changes are necessary for clear communication in English.

18. Wherever possible, when the text, on the basis of Scripture, is open to two equally valid understandings, the translator should attempt to preserve both options. When this is not possible, one of the options can be preserved in a footnote.

19. In using “gender-accurate language” the translator will strive to be inclusive where the original is inclusive and exclusive where the original is exclusive.

20. The translator will recognize and preserve direct prophecy where the immediate context or other testimony of Scripture indicates direct prophecy. (Ditto for typical prophecy.)

21. Sometimes there is no definitive, consensus solution as to how to translate a given text, so the translator has to make his best effort and use that result. For example, a precise identification of each gemstone in the high priest’s breastplate is beyond our reach. In cases where the meaning of a term or verse is uncertain, this may be indicated in a footnote.

22. A key decision by a translator is which text he is going to translate. A translation project will need to choose a base text and a set of principles to guide translators in evaluating variants from that text. If in doubt, keep the longer reading in the text, and add a note that it is not in all manuscripts. (See the rubrics for specific guidelines.)

The translator should remember he is a translator not an editor. He has no calling to “improve” the message the Spirit has given. As much as possible the translator’s duty is the say what the author said in the way that the author said it. If the author’s style is repetitious, the translation should be repetitious. Ifthe author’s style is flowery, the translation should be flowery. Though Bible, in one sense, has one author, the Holy Spirit, in another sense it has many authors. The translator should respect their diversity of style and vocabulary.

This list is not complete. The editorial committees may develop additional principles as they work on the various stages of the translation.

About Gene Veith

I am a retired English professor and college administrator. I have written over 20 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.