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Avoiding Transliteration in Translating the Bible

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There are many words found in most Bible translations that aren’t translations at all.  They are transliterations.  Let’s consider some key words in the New Testament. Words like “Christ,” “baptism,” “angel,” and “apostle”  are not translations  from Greek to English but transliterations, that is, replicating  the sounds made by the words.William Tyndale

When scholars began to translate the Old and New Testaments into the English language, they faced enormous challenges. Not only were powerful people opposed to rendering the sublime texts of Scriptures in a common language such as English, but the English language itself did not have all the words needed to reproduce meaningfully what the original languages were saying. The solution was to invent words which did not exist in English. One example is the word passover .

In the fourteenth century when Wycliffe translated the New Testament into English, the word “Passover” did not exist in the English language. So when he came to those New Testament passages that referred to the Jewish Passover, Wycliffe transliterated the Latin word pascha—which is itself a transliteration of the Greek word pascha—into English as “pask” or “paske.” As you see, transliteration involves representing the characters of one alphabet in another alphabet; it has nothing to do with translating the meaning of the word, only the sound of it. How readers and hearers may have reacted to this new word we do not know. Did they understand what it meant, or was some further explanation needed?

In 1535 when Tyndale translated the Old Testament into English, he decided to invent a new word in English to communicate the meaning behind the Hebrew root pesach:

When your children ask you, “What does this ritual mean to you?” you will answer them, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Eternal, for He passed over the houses of the Israelites when we were slaves in Egypt. And although He struck the Egyptians, He spared our lives and our houses” (Exodus 12:26–27).

The Hebrew root of the name of the Jewish festival alludes to the fact that God “passed over” the houses of the Israelites on his way to judging the cruelty of the Egyptian slave owners. Tyndale combined the two English words—“pass” with “over”—to create a single, new word which carefully and accurately reproduced the meaning of the Hebrew word. Transliteration, at its best, can only reproduce the sounds made in another language not their meaning. What Tyndale did by creating the word passover.  The Voice translation has done for other key words which, until now, have not been accessible to a modern audience.


 
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2 Comments

  1. Brett Patterson says:

    Hello David I found your article most helpful. I am at present doing research on translation vs transliteration with respect to the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus. This is what I have found. Jesus is a transliteration based on Jesu from Latin which is a transliteration of Iesous in the Greek New Testament which in turn is a transliteration of Yeshua in Aramic which is translation of Yehoshua in Hebrew which means the Lord saves and is translated in the Old Testament in English as Joshua.

    Thus in saying ‘Jesus’ or Iesous (Gk) and Iesus pre 1500 English as J did not exist as a letter apparently in any language//] depending on our pronuncation we are sounding his name aright [Transliteration] but are not spelling it correctly and have a new word for His Hebrew birth name as a Jew which would have been ‘Yehoshua’ which means ‘the Lord saves’ which turn appears to have been transliterated in the English as Joshua. Thus in speaking or saying the name Iesous or Jesus or Joshua is sounds the same but with the spelling changed and without meaning unless it founded on the real name which in truth was ‘Yehoshua’ the Christ/Christos.

    So I have some questions:

    Are my findings true and correct?

    Why did the New Testament writers write ‘Iesous’ and not His Hebrew Name ‘Yehoshua’ ? Why change the spelling?

    Are there some early New Testament manuscripts and/or Christian writings that wrote/spelt Iesous as Yehoshua or Yeshua?

    Could there have been a change in spelling in the copying of new manuscripts due to cultural, religious and political reasons? Is there any evidence with respect to this?

    Does the different spelling and in fact the creating a new Name in Greek, Latin. English … probally all the languages of the world that sounds the same but is not spelt the same nor in many instances not pronounced the same make a difference?

    As long as we are speaking of and to and about the one who is the Christ the Son of the one true God and Father over all! The Lord and Saviour of the world!

    This about where I am at so far in my searching and reflection…….

    Your perspectives would be valued as will be any books.,articles and website links on this.

    Grace & peace

    Brett

  2. Bev. says:

    Brett, I wonder why your questions aren’t answered, as they sound quite valid to me. I agree, I’ve discovered the similar in my researches, however, the journey has been quite a journey and still is.

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