Friday, June 04, 2021

Review: The Eastern Orthodox Bible, New Testament

Over the past couple of years, I have often been asked my opinion about the Eastern Orthodox Bible, published by Newrome Press, and so I purchased a copy of their "portable" edition, and read my way through it. So my comments are about this edition specifically, but while other editions may not have some of the same issues in terms of font size, or typos, my comments about the translation itself would generally apply to all current editions. To better understand the issues involved in translations of the Bible, I would recommend reading my article An Orthodox Look at English Translations of the Bible.

In terms of the quality of the book itself, it is beautifully printed. I personally do not like the zipper on the cover (which is especially a problem with the ribbon markers), but the imitation leather cover is attractive, does not look or feel cheap, and it seems like it should hold up very well over time. The text is gold leafed, and the text itself is beautiful, as is the artwork. The paper is high quality. The font is far too small, in my opinion. The main body of the text is in 7 to 7.5 point font, which is small, but at least legible. The footnotes are in 6 point font, and are very hard to read without a magnifying glass.

Unlike most modern English translations of the New Testament, there is not a problem with the choice of the base text that is behind this translation. The text is translated from the Patriarchal Greek Text, which generally (though not always) coincides with the text behind the King James Version, and the New King James Version (which you would find in the Orthodox Study Bible), and so the base text does adhere to the textual tradition of the Church. 

The translation is generally not in what I would describe as beautiful English, and so I would not recommend it for liturgical use, for that reason alone. However, a contemporary English translation, that is well done and accurate could be very helpful for private study. In its present form, however, this translation has a number of problems, and here are some specific examples: 

In the introduction to the text, there is a section that explains the use of  abbreviations and codes, and this table begins with two kinds of brackets, the first kind is square brackets "[ ]" for words which are not literally found in the Greek, but which are added to the text for clarity. In the King James Version, these kinds of words are put into italics. Then there are curly brackets "{ }" which are used for words that are included for theological clarity -- but it states that these words should not be read aloud in the public reading of Scripture. There are two problems with this. One is that  because the text is so small, it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between these two kinds of brackets in the Portable edition. Secondly, most people don't pay close attention to the introduction to a Bible, and so most people will assume that these words are part of the text and intended to be read aloud. And this becomes a particular problem, for example, with John 1:1, which the EOB translates as: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was {what} God {was}." I am not sure why these bracketed words were thought to be useful here, but it would have been far better to have put some comments into a footnote to explain what was going on with the Greek text (and you can see commentary on this translational question in the footnotes the NET Bible provides for John 1:1), because, if the intention here is that when this text is read aloud, that it be read as "and the Word was God,"  that is what the main body of the text should actually read.

Throughout the text, you find certain Old Testament names listed with two forms, for example,  you find "Isaias (Isaiah)," and "Elias (Elijah)," but for some reason they use "Jeremiah" rather than "Jeremias," and "Elisha," rather than "Eliseus." I think it makes the most sense to consistently use the form of a name that is most commonly used in English, and so even though in the New Testament the King James uses  "Isaias," "Elias," "Jeremias" (though it also uses "Jeremy"), and "Eliseus," I think it is far less confusing to use the forms the King James Version uses in the Old Testament, which are clearly the most common forms used today in English for these Old Testament persons (the KJV did this differently in the New Testament because the underlying text in the New Testament is Greek, and so they use a transliteration of the name as it occurs in Greek). But in any case, a translation should pick which form of the name they are going to go with, and then just use that one form. Putting two forms into the text is distracting.

The EOB consistently translates the word "proskyneō (προσκυνέω)" as "express adoration," and "latreuō" (λατρεύω)" as "offer divine service." The translators are trying make a clear distinction between these two words, because proskynesis refers to showing reverence... and literally refers to bowing. This can be in reference to God, but it can also be in reference to people, or icons. Latria literally means "service," and specifically refers to the worship that is due to God alone. The problem with these translations is that they make for clunky translations. For example, you have Christ speaking to the Samaritan woman:
"Woman, believe me, a time is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you express adoration to the Father. You express adoration to what you do not know. We express adoration to what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will express adoration to the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such [people] to express adoration to him. God is a spirit, and those who express adoration to him must express adoration in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).
If one was trying to avoid translating proskynesis as "worship," it would generally be better to use the word "bow" or "reverence," but often "worship" is the only thing that really works in English, and this passage is clearly a case in point. In our Protestant culture, it is common today to use the word "worship" exclusively with reference to God, but this is not historically true, and I think it is often better to use the word "worship" and simply educate people better on what the word actually means. For example, in the services we often hear "O come let us worship..." "O come let us us express adoration..." would not do at all.

Furthermore, the word "adoration" has often been used to refer to the worship due only to God, and so this choice of translation is more likely to confuse people, then to illuminate the question. For more on the meaning of the words proskynesis, latria, and the Hebrew word hishtahawa (which has a meaning which closely parallels proskyneo), see The Icon FAQ, and Old Testament Exegesis on the Hebrew Terms for Prostration and Worship).

Another odd quirk in the EOB is that in the Sermon on the Mount, where we find the Lord's prayer, they shift into traditional English, and have it as: 
"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we also forgive our those who trespass against us [sic]. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. <For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, now and unto ages of ages. Amen.>"
Then in a footnote, you find: 
"EOB Translation: "Our Father in heaven, may your name be sanctified. May your Kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is [done] in heaven. Give us this day our sustaining bread and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. Do not bring us o a period of trial, but deliver us from the evil one. <For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, now and unto the ages of ages. Amen.>"
This is odd on a number of levels. If the translator makes the decision to go with contemporary English, it is odd to switch back to traditional English simply because this prayer is used Liturgically. There are other parts of the Gospels that we use liturgically (aside from reading the Gospel lectionary readings), and this is not done (e.g. in the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55). And curiously, when the Lord's Prayer occurs in Luke 11:2-4, contemporary English is used.

The decision to consistently translate the word "presbyteros" as "presbyter," even when it is in reference to Jewish elders, and so you end up with texts like this:
"In the morning, all the chief priests and the presbyters of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death..." (Matthew 27:1).
Since in English, the word "presbyter" is used exclusively in reference to Christian clergy, this choice makes little sense.

Between Matthew 27:31, and Matthew 27:32, there is a section header, which apparently was meant to be in the margin, that somehow found its way into the body of the text.

In the account of the rich young ruler, in Mar 10:21, instead of translating it as: "Then Jesus beholding him loved him," the EOB reads "Jesus look at him and felt love for him." The problem with this translation is that not only is it exceptionally awkward, there is nothing in the Greek that speaks of how Christ "felt." It just says that he loved him, and the word for love that is used here is a verbal form of the word "agape," which is not at all about feelings or emotions.

Rather than the more familiar "...when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" in Luke 18:8, the EOB reads "...when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the land?" In a footnote, "on the earth" is provided as an alternative translation, but it is hard to imagine how finding "faith on the land" was considered to be an improvement. There is no subtly in the Greek that is being brought out here, just a very strange way of expressing the same idea.

Because the translator seems to favor translating "psyche (ψυχή)" as "life," whenever possible, rather than "soul," instead of the familiar words of Christ with regard to those facing persecutions: "In your patience possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19), the EOB translates it as "By your endurance acquire your lives." This is not only an unnecessary choice, in the context, it is clearly a bad choice, because when facing persecution, preserving your soul and preserving you life are two very different questions, and often one has to be prepared to give up their life, to save their soul.

The big advantage to a new translation over the King James is supposed to be that it is easier to understand, but compare these two translations of 1 Corinthians 2:11, and ask yourself which one is easier to follow:
KJV: "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God."

EOB: "For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? Likewise, no one truly comprehends things of God except the Spirit of God"
And if we look at some other modern literal translations, we see that the KJV has conveyed the sense of the text far better and more clearly than the EOB:
NET: "For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God."

MEV: "For what man knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man which is in him? Likewise, no one knows the things of God, except the Spirit of God."

NASB: "For who among people knows the thoughts of a person except the spirit of the person that is in him? So also the thoughts of God no one knows, except the Spirit of God."

RSV: "For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God."
One of the more famous verses in the Bible is St. Paul's statement: 
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).
However,  the EOB translates it as: 
"Now faith is the personal foundation of things hope for, certainty about thing hat cannot be seen." 
So do any other major translations translate this in a similar way? Not one. There are different ways that this could reasonably be translated, but this is not one of them. The Greek word that the King James translates as "substance," and the EOB translates as "personal foundation" is the word "hypostasis (ὑπόστασις)," but I don't think any patristic interpretation of this passage would support this translation, and every other translation either ops for "substance," "confidence," "reality," or "assurance." Though this term obviously acquired a particular meaning in the context of Trinitarian theology, we cannot read that meaning into this text when neither the context, nor the historical use of the word prior to St. Paul's time supports its. 

Many more examples of quirky, idiosyncratic translation choices could be cited, but of course much of the translation is accurate, and there are some cases in which I would say that he EOB does a better job than most translations of accurately conveying the meaning of the original Greek. But there would need to be a thorough revision of the text before I would recommend anyone consider using it as a primary text for personal study, and it would need a lot more work before it would be suitable for liturgical use. Even so, I think it is worth having for comparison, and often the footnotes, as hard as they are to read, are very insightful. I sincerely hope that a revision of this text is done, because clearly a lot of work has been put into the text, and there is a need for a good, accurate translation of the New Testament that matches the Greek texts the Church has actually used, and is done by, and for, Orthodox Christians.

You may also find these two reviews by R. Grant Jones helpful:

This is a review of the original edition of the EOB New Testament:

And this is a review specifically of the EOB New Testament, portable Edition: