Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Romans 8:6 - A Case Study

No one that I know who has done any translation work (dead or alive), has ever said the translation is easy. It is not. There are many difficulties involved at many levels. I once read a piece from Luther where he said that the author of the book of Job seemed to have written it purposefully to frustrate a translator.

Romans 8:6 is not terribly difficult, but given that there are no verbs in the sentence and that the function of the genitives are debated, it is an interesting case for translation.

A very literal word for word translation might read,
For the mind of the flesh [is] death, but the mind of the spirit [is] life and peace.
Here is William Tyndale’s attempt:

To be carnally mynded is deeth. But to be spiritually mynded is lyfe and peace.
Romans 8:6 (Tyndale’s New Testament)
Concerning Tyndale’s translation, John Owen wrote:

All our English translations, from Tindal’s, the first of them, have constantly used, “To be spiritually minded;” neither do I know any words whereby the emphasis of the original, considering the design of the apostle in the place, can be better expressed. But the meaning of the Holy Ghost in them must be farther inquired into.
The Works of John Owen, vol. 7, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (Banner of Truth), 268.
Here are couple other ways translators have attempted to render the text:

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
Romans 8:6 (New American Standard Bible)

Following after the Holy Spirit leads to life and peace, but following after the old nature leads to death.
Romans 8:6 (The Living Bible)

So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
Romans 8:6 (New Living Translation)

Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.
Romans 8:6 (The Message)

The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;
Romans 8:6 (New International Version) {note: Or mind set on the flesh}

For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace.
Romans 8:6 (The Holman Christian Standard Bible)

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
Romans 8:6 (English Standard Version)
Here are a couple observations about each of these translations:

First, the NAS, ESV, NIV, and the Holman all see the implied verb as “is.” This is the most natural verb to be supplied when the verb is missing in Greek. The NAS and the ESV both borrow the term “set” from other Pauline passages (i.e. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:2 ESV).

The Living Bible versions see the implied verb being “leads to” which is hard to explain or justify from the text, but that is the liberty paraphrases have. Along with the concept of “leads to” we also see the supplied concepts of “following” and “controlling” in these versions. Flesh is turned into “sinful nature” or “old nature.”

The Message adds all sorts of new meaning into the text which is far from justifiable, even for a paraphrase. I really can’t see how the translator could get these ideas from the text at all. This is not just a change of form and words or even a refocusing on certain aspects the translator finds most important, but are totally different thoughts that have no relationship to Paul.

For what it’s worth, I think the Holman Christian Standard Bible did the best job with the text. Thus John Owen can update his book if he’d like. Even so, I’ll be continuing to read Owen’s work to get help on the meaning of the passage.

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