The Bible Translator’s Dilemma #1: Pursue or Practice Hospitality?

The Bible Translator’s Dilemma #1: Pursue or Practice Hospitality?

Since this the first of a series of articles, let me explain. The “Translator’s Dilemma” is that he is constantly faced with dilemmas that seem to have no adequate solution. Now a dilemma is a situation in which a choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally (or almost equally) undesirable ones. Dilemmas are a daily experience in the life of any translator. Some of the choices involve hot issues such as gender neutrality. But most simply involve the difficulty of choosing what word to use in the translation of a document. Since there are over 300,000 words in Scripture, there are lots of word choice dilemmas. So I expect this series to go on for several years. You will be amazed (as I am every day) at the choices that have to be made.

The articles will give you insight into your Bible and help you learn more from it. They will also help you avoid errors in your understanding of the Scripture and give you more confidence in your walk with God.

Pursue or Practice Hospitality?
Reading Romans 12:13 in the Greek text, the translator encounters two words, philoxenian diōkontes. The first word is simple to translate. It is a noun that means “hospitality.” But the second word creates a dilemma. It does not simply mean to pursue something, it means to do it with vigor, aggressively, with zeal. And since it is a present-active participle, the action takes place repeatedly. So how do we render this in English?

As a Bible translator, I want to render the text as closely as possible to the original text. I want to use one word to represent each word in the original language. If I use two or more words every time I encounter a dilemma like this, my translation will be monstrously large. The problem is that, commonly, no one word in English communicates all the meaning of one word in Greek. In some ways, I want to render “pursue and practice hospitality.” This gives a complete sense of what Paul is suggesting. But I’ve used three words for one word in Greek.

If I write “practice hospitality,” I have totally neglected the idea that we are to look for opportunities to be hospitable. If I write “pursue hospitality,” I have lost the idea of it being an ongoing (everyday?) habit. So what do to do? To maintain readability, and hold closely to the original word count, The Readable Bible renders “pursue hospitality.” And we add a footnote that says: “Greek: diōkontes, which includes the idea of “pursuing with zeal.” This provides an easy-reading experience, and the person who is using the Scripture for study or devotional reading will find the whole meaning.

In our next blog in this series, we’ll look at how to apply this in our own lives.






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