Joy & Happiness

I had a discussion with a friend recently over the distinction in meaning between joy and happiness, as expressed by a pastor in a recent TV interview:

My friend makes a similar distinction in meaning as that pastor does, while I do not.  Dictionary definitions are not very helpful, since the dictionary that I generally use (Third College Edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary, c. 1991) appears to make no distinction between the two terms, while the online dictionary that he regularly uses does.

In support of my view that any distinction between the two terms is blurred or not present at all, I’m listing the following songs, which cover a span of more than 160 years.  While we were in Liberia 40 years ago, we often sang #6 and #7.

1 Happy the Home by Henry Ware, Jr. (1846)

          Key Lines: Happy the home when God is there, and love fill every breast
Happy the home where Jesus’ name is sweet to every ear

2 Happy in My Savior’s Love by Harry Dixon Loes (1919)

3 Happy All the Time (author & copyright unknown, but prior to copyright of songbook, 1931)

           Key Line: With Jesus in my heart, from him I’ll never depart

4 Happy in Jesus Today by W.T. Chapelle (1936)

5 Happy Am I by Clayton P. Erb  (1956)

          Key Lines: Happy am I, Jesus loves me; He took my sins and He made me free

6 Happiness by William J. Gaither (1967)

I found happiness; I’ve found peace of mine
I found the joy of living, perfect love sublime
I found real contentment, happy living in accord
I found happiness all the time, wonderful peace of mind
When I found the Lord

7 Happiness is the Lord by Ira Stanphill (1968)

Happiness is to know the Savior
Living a life within His favor
Having a change in my behavior
Happiness is the Lord

Happiness is a new creation
“Jesus and me” in close relation
Having a part in His salvation
Happiness is the Lord

Happiness is to be forgiven
Living a life that’s worth the livin’
Taking a trip that leads to heaven
Happiness is the Lord

Chorus:  Real joy is mine, no matter if teardrops start
I’ve found the secret – it’s Jesus in my heart!

8 Happy Am I by Mickey Holiday  (1971)

          Key Line:  Jesus is mine forever

9 Happiness Is by Bonnie Low (1982)

Happiness is Knowing that Jesus loves me
And Happiness is Knowing that God above me
Is looking after me And watching over me in love

10 Happiness Is by Evan Rogers, Nathan Fellingham (2007)

          Key Line:  Happiness is a sinner forgiven

Some Bible translators also have used the term happy in ways that blur a distinction from joy (see Matthew 5 in Today’s English Version – Good News for Modern Man, Phillips Modern English translation, Jerusalem Bible, The Source New Testament).

Now for your thoughts.  In terms of Bible translation, should translators avoid using the term happiness for the sake of readers who make a distinction between joy and happiness, or should they feel free to use the term happiness for the sake of readers who consider it synonymous with joy?

If a translation has a particular target audience, how can one determine whether that target audience makes a distinction between the two terms or not?

Thanks to Wayne for posting the relevant survey.  I’m wondering in what “important ways” those who selected that option consider the terms “different”.

joyful and happy survey

Five More Myths by Dan Wallace

Dan Wallace looks at five myths about Bible translations and textual criticism:

  1. The Bible has been translated so many times we can’t possibly get back to the original.
  2. Words in red indicate the exact words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth.
  3. Heretics have severely corrupted the text.
  4. Orthodox scribes have severely corrupted the text.
  5. The deity of Christ was invented by emperor Constantine.

Now hopefully none of the BBB readers have fallen for any of these, but you still might find his answers if you run into someone who has.

Was Paul hard to understand?

I’ve wondered for quite a long time whether 2 Peter 3:16 means what we think it means. The Greek word (“hard to understand”, δυσνόητος) is unusual; Peter, curiously enough, could have used a simpler to understand expression.

The verse is very often used to support an objection to clear translation. I’ve come to the opinion that this verse can’t be used to support such an objection.

The word only occurs once in the NT. It also occurs in Lucian’s “Alexander the Oracle-Monger” (Para 54).

I laid a good many traps of this kind for him; here is another: I asked only one question, but wrote outside the packet in the usual form, So-and-so’s eight Queries, giving a fictitious name and sending the 120 drachmas [~13.6 troy ounces of silver]. Satisfied with the payment of the money and the inscription on the packet, he gave me eight answers to my one question. This was, “When will Alexander’s imposture be detected?” The answers concerned nothing in heaven or earth, but were all silly and meaningless together.

The phrase of interest is the very last one. “Silly” translates δυσνόητος. The entire tone of this section, indeed, the entire book, will not allow for “unable to understand.” Lucian is making fun of Alexander. It’s not that Alexander’s reply was “hard to understand.” But, the answers were just stupid or infantile. It’s as if Lucian is saying, “Gosh, a person with a brain could have done better.” (if you think I’m overstating, go here ( and read the first paragraph.

Here’s what I’m thinking. The definition of δυσνόητος should be something like: “refusal to cognitively accept. The word does not refer to an inability caused by lack of intelligence or knowledge, or to the difficulty of the content, but has more to do with how one disparages the value of the content that actually is communicated.

2 Peter 3:16 (NIV) says:

He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Keep in mind that Peter refers to Paul to bolster the importance of what he himself writes. It seems odd to me that Peter would commend Paul for wisdom and do that in a context where he immediately adds, “Well, you can’t understand him half the time anyway.” And, furthermore, where then is the culpability for the “ignorant and unstable” if Paul is hard to understand to begin with?  Such “logic” doesn’t work for me.

I suggest:

“His letters contain content which some find silly, which the ignorant and unstable distort, …”

What are your thoughts?

Why (Bible) translation matters

I have been skimming descriptions and reviews of the book Why Translation Matters, by literary translator Edith Grossman. I hope I can read Grossman’s book someday, because many of the things she advocates about translation ring true for me as a Bible translator.

The first reviewer on the webpage for this book excerpts these lines from Grossman’s book:

[T]he most fundamental description of what translators do is that we write–or perhaps rewrite–in language B a work of literature originally composed in language A, hoping that readers of the [translation] will perceive the text, emotionally and artistically, in a manner that parallels and corresponds to the esthetic experience of its first readers.

“To my mind, a translator’s fidelity is not to lexical pairings but to context–the implications and echoes of the first author’s tone, intention, and level of discourse. Good translations are good because they are faithful to this contextual significance. They are not necessarily faithful to words or syntax, * * * because words do not `mean’ in isolation. Words `mean’ as indispensable parts of a contextual whole that includes the emotional tone and impact, the literary antecedents, the connotative nimbus as well as the denotations of each statement.

Anyone concerned about full-throated accuracy in Bible translation, including accuracy at literary levels, must take seriously the principles of translation that Grossman promotes and practices.

How far can we trust our translations?

LNE ends his many questions by asking:

Are some things in Scripture inverted simply to make them theologically correct? Are there places in Scripture which should, simply based on the Greek language and not on theology or Church history, be changed?

That is a legitimate question from a “humble layman”. When Greek scholars and theologians disagree among themselves, who can we trust? There is no simple answer, but I do not recommend trying to find a solution in individual words in Greek. That is a dangerous path for the layman, when even scholars stumble. It is much better to read the Bible in several translations, for instance a very literal one like the ESV, a modified literal one like the NIV and an idiomatic one like the NLT. The better we know the Bible the better prepared we are to evaluate questionable theology. As a rule of thumb, if there is a majority opinion among translations, that majority is almost always correct. As another guide, look to the context rather than individual words out of context. You can get the context well enough from a translation without having to dig into Greek yourself.

Are some things inverted to make them theologically correct? A few things, maybe, especially where the original is not very clear. I think the ISV claims about a few passages where they disagree with the majority, is a good example of that. The problem is that when you have two theological camps with opposite interpretations of the same text, both will accuse the other of having changed the meaning of the text to fit their own theology. Both will claim that the other group has misunderstood the text and we know better.

Let me comment on the following from LNE:

Romans 2:3 – It’s made into a question in most Bibles it seems, but I see no indicators for such. If it is a declarative statement, then the “n” in Romans 2:4 negates the idea that the people will not come under judgement.

Romans 11:2 – Starts with “ouk” like many interrogative sentences from Paul, but it’s translated as a statement instead of a question here… and I don’t know why. If it was a question (the first half of the verse before the “n”), then the “n” would be negating “Has not God thrust away His own People who He foreknew?”

There is no doubt that Rom 2:3 is meant to be a question. There is a strong focus on “you”: “Do you really think, you (Jewish) fellow who condemn those who do such things (as described in chapter 1) and (at the same time) are doing them that you will escape the judgment of God?” It is clear judgment of the hypocrite.

The Greek word ἤ (H) which introduces verse 4 simply means “or”. It does not negate anything, but it indicates another step in the argumentation, another rhetorical question.

In Romans 11:2 we read “God has not pushed away his people whom he has known (and been with) from ancient time.” This is a restatement of what we read in verse 1: “Surely, God has not pushed aside his own people, has he?” A rhetorical question which demands the answer “No, of course he hasn’t!” The ἤ in the next sentence again does not negate anything, but simply introduces another step in the argumentation, this time with a rhetorical question: “Don’t you know what God said to Elijah in the following Scripture passage…?” What God said comes in verse 4, so we really must read the whole context and preferably the whole chapter if we want to understand individual words and sentences as they were intended.

A question in 1 Cor 11:14-15?

LNE asked on the SHARE page whether the question in these verses could be understood as a statement. The ISV translation takes it as a statement, but everybody else take it as a question. (The Wycliffe Bible is unclear, the only other contender to the statement option.)

It is quite true that it can be difficult at times to decide whether a Greek sentence is to be interpreted as a question or a statement. Question marks were not used, so it is a matter of context and common sense. It is theoretically possible that ISV is correct and all other translators are wrong, but I am always sceptical of people who claim to have discovered that everybody else is mistaken. At least, they must have very strong arguments for their position and some new insight that others have so far missed.

I am not familiar with the ISV, but thanks to LNE for the link to their website. I listened to how they praise their own translation. They claim to have discovered a new way of translating which they call literal-idiomatic. I have worked with both literal and idiomatic translations for 30 years, and I am familiar with the benefits and weaknesses of each of these two classical approaches to translation. Most translations are in the middle somewhere between the extremes, but some can be said to belong to the mostly literal camp while others belong to the mostly idiomatic camp. This new literal-idiomatic approach belongs to the literal camp, but it is claimed to have the benefits of the other approaches and none of the weaknesses. My reaction to that is the same as it would be to an architect who wants to build a round square. The ISV prouds itself of being original, and 1 Cor 11:14-15 is not the only place where they claim that they are right and more or less everybody else are mistaken.

ISV renders 1 Cor 11:14-15a as follows: “Nature itself teaches you neither that it is disgraceful for a man to have long hair nor that hair is a woman’s glory…” Is that a reasonable and accurate translation of the Greek text? I am afraid not.

The Greek OUDE is made up of two parts, the negative particle OU (meaning not) and the discourse particle DE which can mean “but”, “or” or “and”, but often there is no direct English equivalent word for it. One has to look at the whole context. OUDE can also mean “not even”. Paul is here using a rhetorical question where the answer is assumed to be obvious: “And is it not the case that the nature of things teaches you that on the one hand if a man wears long hair it is a dishonor to him and/but on the other hand if a woman wears long hair, it is an honor to her?” Expected answer: Yes, it is obvious from the nature of how things are (we might call it current culture of that time and place).

English often indicates the statement/question dichotomy by word order, so if we were to change the question above to a statement, it would become: “And it is not the case that the nature of things teaches you that on the one hand if a man wears long hair it is a dishonor to him and/but on the other hand if a woman wears long hair, it is an honor to her.” Does that make sense to you? I cannot figure out what that is supposed to mean. Since the ISV translators apparently find the question option to go against their theology and culture, they have a problem. In order to make some sense out of the statement option, ISV moves the “and/or/even not” from the beginning of the main clause to the beginning of the dependent clause. They also introduce a “nor” to connect the two contrastively coordinated dependent clauses, but there is no “nor” in the Greek text, only the bare DE (and/or/but) without the “not” part. The DE here is the counterpart to the MEN in a common Greek contruction: “Man on one hand, woman on the other hand.”

So, to answer LNE’s question: No, based on what the Greek text is actually saying, you are not on the right track, and it is pity if ISV has led you and others to get off track.

Out of the mouth of babes

A friend asked me about these two verses, and I don’t believe that we’ve looked at them before:

Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes (Psalm 8:2a, ESV)

And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” (Matthew 21:16b, ESV)

Now as your Bible’s footnotes probably tell you, this is another example where the New Testament has followed the Greek Septuagint rather than the Hebrew text.

Why though did the authors of the Septuagint translate this verse as they did? I don’t know, but maybe you do, and can help explain these strange verses.

It is also worth noting that our many English translations vary quite widely on these verses. Which do you think conveys the meaning best?

Hearts and minds

Mark 6:45-52 is the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water, which comes right after the story of the feeding of the five thousand. The narrator in v. 52 concludes that the disciples might have understood how Jesus could walk on the water if they had been able to really understand that he was able to feed the five thousand. In the Authorized Version, verse 52 reads, “For they considered not [the miracle] of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.” Is that a good translation? Well, we all know the language of the KJV is archaic, so let’s look at the RSV: “For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Okay, we know that the RSV is a faithfully literal translation, so we can be assured that the original really does say here something about hearts and about hardness. (A look at the wording of the Greek original confirms that fact.) That must be a good translation, right? Because it reflects what the original says. The NIV (both the 1984  and 2011 versions) says, “For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Looking also at the New Living Translation, we see “For they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.”

So, what does that mean? My understanding of the expression “hard-hearted” is that it means that someone is callous toward other people’s feelings. Huh? Is this saying that the disciples were insensitive to Jesus’ feelings? Or was it someone else, to whom their insensitivity was directed? To confirm my understanding of the expression, I looked it up, and according to the Random House Dictionary, hard-hearted means unfeeling, unmerciful, pitiless, heartless, merciless, mean, unforgiving, from Middle English hard herted. This means that the disciples couldn’t accept what was going on because they were pitiless, mean, and insensitive. Right?

Compare this with a set of other English Bible translations that do not use the word “heart” in Mark 6:52. Is it possible that these could be correct, accurate, even if they are missing a word that is in the original?

TEV: “because they had not understood the real meaning of the feeding of the five thousand; their minds could not grasp it.”

CEV: “Their minds were closed, and they could not understand the true meaning of the loaves of bread.”

GW: “They didn’t understand what had happened with the loaves of bread. Instead, their minds were closed.”

JB: “because they had not seen what the miracle of the loaves meant; their minds were closed.”

Here is what one commentary says about this expression: “This hardness of heart is something quite different from our use of the same words, denoting blunted feelings and moral sensiblities. The Biblical καρδία denotes the general inner man, and here especially the mind, which is represented as so calloused as to be incapable of receiving mental impressions.” If this commenary is right, and I believe it is, based on my own studies, then it is possible that a translation that translates καρδία into English as “mind(s)” is more accurate than a translation of “heart(s)” in this context. Or maybe an analogous idiom like “thick-headed” would be appropriate. Along those lines, we translated this verse into Saint Lucian French Creole (1999) as “paski yo p’òkò té konpwann miwak-la Jézi té fè èk sé pen-an. Tèt yo té wèd toujou.” (I’ll leave it to you to figure out that one.)

The problem, of course, is that in different cultures, different qualities are attributed to different body parts. That’s a simple way of putting it. The translation problem is cultural and linguistic. In this case, it might not be so bad if the resulting translation resulted in no meaning, such that the reader/listener might realize that a proper understanding is lacking and go looking for it. But what is worse here is that a literal translation involving “hardness of heart” would prompt a wrong interpretation without the reader/listener being aware of it. This may be debatable, but I believe that a translation cannot be accurate if does not prompt, or at least allow, a proper interpretation in the mind/heart of the reader.

Now let me back up and qualify that a little. There are different kinds of translations. There are what I consider normal, good translations, suitable for lectionary or devotional purposes or personal reading, and then there are special purpose translations, such as quite literal ones. A literal translation has a purpose of giving a word-for-word rendering, and if this results in an incomplete or inaccurate understanding, that is not their problem. The RSV falls into this category, and I appreciate the RSV a great deal. It is very dependable for certain purposes. I use it for study purposes, to get at the forms of the underlying original texts. But it is a special purpose kind of translation that I would use for study but not for general use. So I am not criticizing the RSV, considering its special purpose, and when it first came out, it was one of the few Bibles available that did not use the archaic language of the King James. What I am saying is that a normal translation is not so tied to the words of the original that it does not take responsibility for accuracy of understanding on the part of the reader, and that accuracy in a translation is tied to an accurate understanding on the part of the reader/hearer. Of course, no translation is perfect.

doves or pigeons?

A commenter from The Wuggy Chronicles just asked in our Share section:

I have been wondering why in many translations, “peristera” is translated as “dove” in John 1:32, but rendered “pigeon” in 2:14,16. An important layer of poetry is lost by using a different word there, so I’m curious about what tradeoffs motivated that (pretty common) decision.

I enjoy answering this kind of question since it involves looking at a number of different English Bible versions which I like doing.

First, I can’t speak to tradeoffs that motivated the decision not to use the same bird name in the two passages in John. I seldom have any idea what motivates a translation team to translate as they have unless they explicitly say what their motivation is. I agree with you: I see no reason to use a different bird name in the two passages. I believe that the versions that use the same English bird name to translate the same Greek New Testament bird name are clearer for English readers that the same bird is referred to.

Now, to the first part of your comment, the versions I have viewed which use the words “dove” and “pigeons” in the two passages are RSV, ESV (essentially the RSV with doctrinal revisions of a few verses), REB, GNT, and GW.  I cannot think of anything these versions have in common that are different from other versions.

Versions which use “dove” and “doves” are: KJV, Douay-Rheims, NASB, NWT, NKJV, NIV, NRSV, CEV, NJB, NAB, NLT, NCV, TM, NET, HCSB, ISV, and CEB.

By my count, the score is 4 versions (5 if ESV is counted as a different version from RSV) that use “dove” and “pigeons” and 17 versions which use “dove” and “doves.”


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