Troublesome Topic: Why Write a Translation and a Paraphrase Side by Side?

            I never, ever thought I would write a paraphrase because I don’t like them. Usually I think they are too free, too far removed from the original text. So why am I writing one now?

            Yes, I am writing a paraphrase, but it doesn’t feel the same because it has my translation right beside it. Doing both a translation and a paraphrase has allowed me two opportunities to help my readers understand what was being said. Actually, every time someone has translated parts of the Bible from the original languages, it has been an attempt to shoot somewhere in the middle, between “here’s what it actually says” and “here’s what it means to us today.” None of the translations out there are actually literal, exactly like the original language. If they were, they would be very confusing much of the time and incomprehensible some of the time. Hebrew is known for leaving out lots of words, and sometimes the word being left out is quite important. But that is the nature of Hebrew, it requires that you assume things. So a literal, word-for-word translation just does not work. Thus, every translator in is the position of making many decisions about how close to stay to the original or how far to move away from the original in an attempt to make it clear. I have two shots at that, while most only have one. (There were times I wished I had three of four columns to work with, but alas, phones and even books are seldom that wide.)

            I might have liked The Message, a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson, if he had done what I am doing. The guy is a Greek and Hebrew professor so he knows his stuff and he had his reasons. But I usually don’t care for his rendering; it seems too free and too far from the original. However, if he had provided a translation and a paraphrase side by side with lots of footnotes telling us why he did what he did, I would probably love it. I don’t know if he even thought about doing that, but if he had, I imagine there was one big problem – his publisher would have said, “It’s impossible. The Bible would be a tall stack of books instead of just one thick book.” And the publisher would have been right. Who could afford to buy a Bible that looks like a set of encyclopedias or bigger? Revelation is 404 verses long. My printed book on Revelation was 398 pages long. The Bible has 31,240 verses in it (at least the ones I use; some others include even more books and are even longer), so if that pattern holds out, my side-by-side study Bible would be over 31,000 pages long. It would take a fork lift to get it down the aisle at church! After the pastor announced the passage of Scripture he would be speaking from, you would request that they sing 6 more songs while you unload your pallet and find the right volume! No publisher would agree to printing such a monstrous set of books. (But the ability to present it online is perfect for this type of thing!)

            The side-by-side layout also works very well for books with lots of symbolism in them. Symbolism uses words in ways that are far removed from their actual meaning. So I have positioned the translation and paraphrase in such a way that the symbol in the text on the left is visually connected to the meaning of the symbol in the column on the right. Thus you know what it said, but you also know what it means.

            I provide lots of footnotes which tell you, among other things, why I did things the way I did in the translation or the paraphrase.

The next lesson is Why Have I Chosen to Produce My Own Translation?