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Open Source Bible Translation

Joined: 11/28/2008

I was listening to the API podcast where Rob & Matt mentioned copyrighted Bible translations, and I totally agree. Why should the Bible be copyright?

Why don't we (and by 'we' I mean someone else ;) setup a Wikipedia-style website that let's people translate the Bible freely, with possibly an API to integrate it into other software (like open source Bible study tools, CMS's, etc.)? Have a free-to-use-and-edit Bible translation that will not only be current in today's culture, but can stay current and evolve over time (not the meaning, but the wording and the way it's explained).

It would, of course, have to be monitored, and there's always going to be people that disagree on the interpretation of passages, but perhaps there could be a system in place where users can view the different interpretations, like revisions...

Just some thoughts I had when listening to the guys talk about it. What do you think?

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Matt Farina's picture
Joined: 06/01/2006
Not So Simple

This is really a complex problem. First, the bible isn't copyrighted. Translations of the document into languages other than the thousands of year old school versions are public domain. But, they aren't much help to most people.

The issue with setting up a wikipedia style setup is who can edit it and then can you trust it. How do we know it was experts debating the greek, hebrew, and arabic meaning and not someone who has read a transliteration in english and just has an opinion on it? Will people be willing to trust the translation if it's that way.

Then you deal with things like philosophy. In each translation or transliteration of the bible there is a philosophy at the front. Most English bibles are actually transliterations and not actual translations. The NASB and ESV are the closest we have in modern english to being actual translations. How do you keep a consistent philosophy over the document? Or, don't you?

Take a look at YouVersion and the types of comments people leave there. We live in a world where a lot of people are heavily opinionated on scripture but don't know that much about it or the culture/environment it was written in. How would people like that change things to their liking?

Or, look at the wikipedia problem. They have to lock pages of controversial stuff when it's controversial. People abuse things, put bad stuff in there, manipulate things for their purposes, etc. The bible is controversial. What it says raises up a lot of opinions and feelings. How do you stop that abuse?

And, what we really want is an open document that was generated by experts for the masses. Would something like this be something they would contribute to?

Then there is the idea of having what needed to support your family, a very biblical principle. How do the people, hopefully experts, get the support they need? This is part of the reason for the current system. An expert needs to pay his bills and feed his family. What model works for that? We can't expect them to do it and not be able to support themselves. While free is great we have to be concerned about the people giving and make sure they are ok.

While none of this means it shouldn't happen. It does highlight many of the issues that need to be worked through.

Just my 2 cents...

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host
www.mattfarina.com

Joined: 04/04/2009
Open Source Bible Translation

Hello I was just listening to the podcast on the site and wondered if you all know about this project and what do you think?
http://ebible.org/

KJV Matthew 10:8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.

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Matt Farina's picture
Joined: 06/01/2006
Needs More Info and Ugly

First, I applaud the effort. I hope they keep going.

My reservations....

1) It's based on the ASV. The ASV is written in english from 1901. Since then English has changed a lot. On top of that, many of the bibles now are more accurate translations to english. I'd rather have one of them.

2) They don't talk about their translation strategy. Are they taking the ASV and attempting to make it more readable? Are they doing an essentially literal translation? These things mean different things. If they are taking the ASV and attempting to make it more readable without going back to the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic they are really giving their interpretation of an English translation. I wouldn't be a big fan of that. Basically, there are a lot of 'what ifs' here. They need more detail.

3) Their site is ugly and not very usable. It needs to be updated.

Again, I applaud the effort to get the word out there and I wish them the best of luck. But, at this point I wouldn't use it.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host
www.mattfarina.com

Joined: 02/06/2009
Possible but unlikely

Having worked as an editor in a Christian publishing company, I am also irritated by the expense of utilizing modern translations to share the Gospel message. I understand the copyright issues and that the organizations, companies, and individuals who did the work of translation need to be compensated for their work (1 Timothy 5:18), but sometimes it just doesn't seem right.

What probably ought to happen is for a group of scholars to get together and translate the Scriptures from the original languages into an average reading level without their own theological bias. Can it be done? I suppose it could, but I just don't think it's likely. Why?

  1. Getting them together, even in a virtual environment would be a huge struggle, but probably the easiest task.
  2. Choosing the level of modern English---sure that's selfish, but that's what I'm typing---would be a nightmare. The most readable modern translations (going out on a limb here, but: NLT and NIV) are at a junior high reading level. Apparently the average reading level of Americans is between 8th and 9th grade, but then we read that the reading level of the average 8th and 9th grader is somewhere between 3rd and 4th grade. I hate being cynical, but good luck.
  3. Avoiding theological baggage is unlikely. Don't believe me? How would they translate "baptize"? That "English" word is a transliteration that was injected into the language because of theological differences. The simple fact that the word actually means "immerse," as in dunk, is enough to start an uproar that would likely kill such a collaborative effort.

Perhaps someone with an "in" among, say, the American Bible Society, could convince them to spearhead such a project. While I don't know that it's viable, I certainly think it worth exploring. I'm proven wrong often enough that I'd look forward to being pleasantly surprised.

______________________________
Love God. Love People. Serve Like Jesus.

Bruce Stoker
Memorial Church of Christ
Livonia, Michigan

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Matt Farina's picture
Joined: 06/01/2006
Not going to happen

I don't think you can avoid the theological bias of the translator for 2 reasons.

First, you can't translate anything that doesn't go through a human filter. Languages don't translate 1 to 1 so stuff needs to happen at the human level. Even if a human programs a computer to do it some bias is going to shine through. This is the nature of translating languages. I recently herd a seminary professor tell his students to read the bible in the original languages to bypass the biases of others. I liked that.

Second, translating isn't that simple. For example the word for baptize means to immerse and to wash clean. This is what makes it's usage debatable. In fact the word baptizo (which is translated to baptize/baptism many times) is, also, translated to "wash" in the bible. The Enhanced Strong's Lexicon provides definitions for immersing, dipping, washing, and more.

Then throw in documents from the early church like the Didache which says pouring is acceptable and the issue gets compounded. If the matter was a matter of translation it wouldn't be so debated. It's a matter of context and detail from 2,000 years ago we just don't have today.

FYI, when the authoritative list of bible books were published a second list of books was published listing the good to read books. The Didache wasn't written by an apostle or someone directly taught by Jesus. If I remember right, it was written by the Apostles followers.

Another FYI, I don't mean to take sides on the baptism issue... I just want to use it as an example to point out that the theological issues involved aren't so easily answered and no matter what side of the issue you're on the other side can make a strong argument.

What we don't know, what we assume, what we presume, and the blanks translators try to fill in to make it readable in English is a source of problems. Another source of them is doing weak translations to not have harsh words. Some of the Greek and Hebrew words would shock people if they were translated with all their flavor.

Now, there are bible translations that are much more readable than something like the NIV, which is considered a watered down translation. For example, there is the Gods Word Translation. It's in modern day english. I'm reading it now and so far nothing has jumped out at me.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host
www.mattfarina.com

Joined: 02/06/2009
My Point Exactly

You have amplified the point well.

I guess I'm just really irritated that we've gotten to this point. The benefit of our time and the technology that we have is that more people can dig into the original language on their own; of course, we're still drawing our own conclusions and disagreeing.... I mean, I can read the Bible in any translation, and even do enough wrangling with the original texts (OK, just the Greek) to validate my own theological, doctrinal tradition, just as many other Christians from varied backgrounds can.

Personally, I think the translation/transliteration argument is used needlessly as a blunt instrument; it's an easy thing to marginalize someone else's position by marginalizing their version of the Bible. (Except for, maybe, the New World Translation, there aren't a lot of translations out there that have specific agendas.) Unfortunately, even though we have reliable documents and even though we have a lot of other historical documents in the same language, much of what we assume/presume the authors "really" meant beyond what is actually written on the page are, basically, educated guesses, albeit really, really, really good educated guesses.

The bottom line is this: as long as we're looking through 2000+ years of theologically, culturally, humanly tinted glasses, our "word for word" and "thought for thought" translations are never going to be 100 percent accurate, except by divine "protection." That is, despite what we are inclined to do with our own biases, I don't believe God will allow us to mess it up enough that we will lose our ability to preach the Gospel and respond to it.

All that to say, I still think it would be really nice if we could do some John 17 based collaboration in this area.

______________________________
Love God. Love People. Serve Like Jesus.

Bruce Stoker
Memorial Church of Christ
Livonia, Michigan

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EdRoss's picture
Joined: 10/05/2006
New Audio Bible

Steve Webb of the Lifespring! Family of podcasts is doing his own translation of the Bible (based on the KJV): The Lifespring! Audio Bible. It isn't done yet, but could be a good start for translations (though going back to the original languages, is of course a good idea too!)

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Matt Farina's picture
Joined: 06/01/2006
Weak Translations

Well, there are weak translations.

Some of these are good. For example, a weak translation that's easy enough to read is good for people just starting out who want to see what it says at a basic level. It may be weak in the sense of the translation but it's strong in sharing the Gospel.

Yet, there are other translations that use nice language. They limit the strong words from being two strong. I still remember the example that really put this in my head. In the english translation it said something about a dirty rag. In my mind I though of a dirty cloth from washing the floor or from a mechanics garage. But, the flavor of dirty rag in the original text was closer to that of a used menstrual cloth. That's a much stronger mental image. Some translations try to tone down anything to strong like this.

My opinion is that we shouldn't try to tone down scripture. Translate it. If it's the inspired word of God who are we to edit the tone?

That being said, I would love to see more openness in bible translations. But, we still need to have a fair wage to cover the people who do the work. In the current system people aren't generally involved with the church. There are bigger fish to fry than how bible translations are made available. 97% of church growth in American is Christians moving from one church to another. Christianity in America is shrinking which atheism and agnosticism are growing at over 220% and 700% respectively. We have bibles that work and people to teach them. In the grand scheme of things to work on this is small potatoes.

Just my 2 cents.

Matt Farina
Geeks and God Former Co-Host
www.mattfarina.com