Words to avoid

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.
(Mark 10:13, ESV)

We read this verse in church recently. I had to stop myself from laughing.

What’s wrong with it? Any ideas on how could it be translated differently?

12 Comments

  1. Posted April 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    So, the disciples rebuked those little tykes, eh? I bet Mom and Dad weren’t too happy about these men scolding their children.

  2. Posted April 13, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    “that he might bless them…” I can’t say that I wouldn’t laugh either. A similar thing happened to me not long ago when I happened upon this book. In our culture, such titles should really be reconsidered!

  3. Yancy Smith
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Yes, unintentional inuendo is such a difficulty for translators. Since people tend to focus on defects, a text needs to be carefully gone over with this in mind. Another problematic rendering is “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (John 7:4 ESV). Probably better is: “If you want to be well known, you must not hide what you do. If you can do such amazing things, let the whole world see” (ERV). Also problematic in the ESV here is the ambiguous “these things,” which probably needs to be disambiguated for today’s readers.

  4. David Ker
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I just posted this morning on my blog about unintended humor. http://lingamish.com/2011/04/its-time-to-cut-the-cheese/

    This definitely gets added to the list!

  5. Tiffany
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I would replace “touch” with bless and “rebuke” with “scold”, such as the NET does. It seems there is some discrepancy as to whether it was the children being scolded or the people who brought them.

  6. Mike Sangrey
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (John 7:4 ESV).

    Great observation!

    Though, come to think of it, perhaps Jesus’ brothers were attempting to imitate Will Rogers.

    Well, probably not. But it sure did make me think of Will Rogers.

  7. Mike Sangrey
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    You might want to note 1 Cor. 7:1, too.

    περὶ δὲ ὧν ἐγράψατε καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ γυναικὸς μὴ ἅπτεσθαι

    Now, concerning the things you wrote about. First, you wrote, “It’s good for a man not to touch a woman.”

    I translate with ‘touch’ to highlight the euphemism and to bring out the fact that ἅπτω is used here in 1 Cor. 7, the same word used in Mark 10 (καὶ προσέφερον αὐτῷ παιδία ἵνα αὐτῶν ἅψηται). I think the contexts in the original clearly disambiguated the difference. And did so without the reader needing to analyze the text.

    So, we have to make sure of two things in the translation:
    1. We choose a good word for ἅπτω.
    2. The context (ie. other word choices and sentence constructions) are built such that the reader makes the right choice when reading the translator’s word choice for ἅπτω.

    That is, it’s not just the word. It’s the word in context.

    FWIW: A clearer translation of 1 Cor. 7:1 should probably be something like, It’s good for a man not to go to bed with a woman..

  8. Posted April 14, 2011 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    Tiffany, “bless” is what several translations do use, though I’d like to know how certain that meaning is.

  9. Posted April 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    People were bringing their children to Jesus, hoping for just a touch from his hand, but the disciples tried to shoo them away.

  10. Posted April 16, 2011 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    Yeah, they sure got a lot of work to do in revising the ESV.

  11. Dru Brooke-Taylor
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Can someone explain why “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (John 7:4 ESV) is problematic? It isn’t obviously so here.

    Is this the US idiom equivalent of what the effect would be in UK idiom if one were to translate the passage ‘“No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, expose yourself”? Or is it something quite different that I have not guessed?

  12. Posted April 17, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I wonder if it would stretch the bounds of accuracy too far to instead say “so they could touch him”? The innuendo is removed because the children are the actors in the sentence, but the meaning (from context) would be interpreted as being similar, the idea of a blessing still comes through….


One Trackback

  1. By It’s time to cut the cheese! | Lingamish on April 13, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    [...] UPDATE: Totally by coincidence, Dannii at Better Bibles blogged about a really unfortunate case of humor in a translation: Words to avoid [...]

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