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"Original Bible Project" vs. the ALT

By Gary F. Zeolla

The Original Bible Project (OBP) is a new Bible version nearing completion. The current plans are for it to be finished by the year 2000. Information on it is currently posted here. But when it is finished the main site for the OBP will be located at Original Bible.

I read through the background pages and sample chapters (Genesis one and Matthew five) posted. The OBP appears like it will have many similarities to my own Bible project, the Analytical-Literal Translation (ALT). But there are also some important differences. This article will discuss both of these.

Similarities

The similarities between the OBP and the ALT will be looked at first.

Literal translation:

The most important similarity is both projects are following a literal or "formal equivalence" translation method. This method attempts to translate the original Hebrew and Greek into English as word for word as possible. It is based on the belief that EVERYTHING God has said is important in every detail.

This method is contrasted with the currently more popular "dynamic equivalence" translation method and even more so, a paraphrase method. These methods are more thought for thought translations rather than word for word. So they have a tendency to present what the translator thinks God MEANT by what He said rather than just presenting what God SAID.

See the articles listed under "Translation Principles" on the Bible Versions Controversy page for much more detail as to why this writer believes a literal method of translation is much to be preferred to either of the "freer" methods.

The background pages for the OBP also provide some basic explanation of the different translation methods. For instance, the pages make the following statement, "the literal rendering allows you, the reader, to make your own interpretation." This is very true and why following such a translation method is a big plus, in this writer's opinion, for the OBP.

Consistency in translation:

Another parallel between the OBP and the ALT is both are attempting to translate the same Hebrew or Greek word by the same, or at least, a very limited number of English words. Most versions use a wide variety of English words for the same original word.

The importance of such a consistency in translation is it gives even the English reader some feel for the nuances between the different Hebrew and Greek words. It also aids the English reader in doing word studies when only working with the English text.

However, what is not stated is if the OBP is attempting to use different English words to translate different Hebrew or Greek words. This is being done, as much as possible, in the ALT. See the various ALT: Background Pages discussions on the idea of translation consistency.

Emphasized Pronouns:

Both versions are showing the emphasized pronoun in the Greek text (see Part Seven of the Grammatical Renderings section in the Companion Volume to the ALT for a discussion on this point). The OBP is putting the emphasized pronoun in bold type.

Such a method had been considered (or using underlining) for the ALT. But the problem with it is, when the Bible text would be converted to a "text only" format (as is done when Bible versions are used in Bible programs) such special formatting would be lost. So the ALT is using underlining before and after the pronoun (e.g. _you_). Such formatting is a little more awkward; but at least it remains in conversion.

Translation rather than transliteration:

The OBP looks like it is planning on translating words that most versions just transliterate. This practice is being following in the ALT (see ALT: Unique Features). But the OBP might go a little farther in this regard than the ALT. For instance, the pages say aggelos will be rendered as "messenger" rather than the traditional "angel."

Young's Literal Translation, which the ALT updated for stage one for the NT, did the same. It was considered leaving it as such; but it was decided to go with the traditional "angel" for reasons discussed in the ALT: Glossary: NT.

Plural you:

A final similarity to be noted is both versions are indicating when the word "you" is singular vs. plural in the original languages. The OBP uses a superscripted "sg" for the singular "you" and a superscripted "pl" for the plural you. This is a helpful practice; but again, one that would not translate well into a text only format. The superscripts would end up as regular characters and the words would end up being "yousg" and "youpl."

So the ALT is using an asterisk to indicate the plural "you" (i.e. you*) and the singular you is rendered with no special markings. Using some method to distinguish the two is important as sometimes it can make a difference in interpretation whether one or more than one person is being addressed.

Differences

So there are several similarities between the OBP and the ALT. But there are also some important differences. These will now be looked at.

Greek text:

The most important difference is the Greek text the OBP is apparently basing its New Testament on is the Critical Text (CT). The ALT, however, is currently based on the Textus Receptus (TR) but will later convert to the Majority Text (MT).

I say "apparently" because nowhere in its background pages does it state specifically what Greek text the OBP is using (at least that I saw). But by looking at textual variants in the sample chapter of Matthew five they have posted, it was obvious they are using some edition of the CT.

There are several textual variants in the passage and for every one the OBP follows the CT rather than the TR/ MT reading. The most significant of these variants is in Matt 5:22 where the CT, and the OBP, omit the words "without cause" (Gr., eike). The significance of this variant is discussed in the following article: Significant Textual Variants: MT vs. CT.

See the other articles listed under "Greek Text-types" on the Bible Versions Controversy page for much more detail as to why this writer believes the TR and even more so, the MT better reflect the original texts than the CT.

Order of Bible books:

Another important difference, and probably where the name Original Bible Project comes from, is the OBP is placing the Bible books in their (supposed) "original" order. For the OT, this means they are following the order of books as they appear in the Hebrew Bible (2Chronicles is the last book, for instance). The order of the books as we have them today comes from the Septuagint (second century BC Greek translation of the OT).

I have seen the theory before that somehow the OT makes more sense if read in the Hebrew order. I really don't think it would make much of a difference. I considered following the Hebrew order for the ALT-- for about a minute. But to me, it would just make it more difficult for people to find verses without really making much of difference otherwise.

What I hadn't seen before was the idea that the NT books were originally in a slightly different order. Namely, the "general" epistles are placed before the epistles of Paul, with Hebrews being in the middle of Paul's epistles. I'm not sure where this idea comes from as any listing of NT books I've ever seen has them in the same order as we have them today. But again, I really don't see that it would make much of a difference except to make things more confusing.

OT words for God:

The OBP is not translating the various words for "God" in the OT but instead is just transliterating them using all capital letters. This practice, along with the different order of Bible books, are probably the most unique features of the OBP.

Now the ALT is using "Yahweh" for the proper name for God in the OT rather than the traditional "LORD." The OBP is using simply YHVH. It seems a bit awkward not to supply the vowels even through the OBP does so for the other words for God (The Hebrew text was originally written in all consonants; the vowel points were added later).

For instance, the "generic" name for God or gods (it is used for the one, true God and for false gods) is transliterated as "ELOHIM" in the OBP. This word the ALT is translating as "God" (or "god" when referring to a false god).

I had someone ask me about the idea of transliterating rather than translating the words for God in the OT a while back. I explained why I thought it would be best to translate the words (except for "Yahweh") and posted the discussion on the following page: Translation Questions.

Greek Tenses:

The OBP does not appear like it will be as conscientious in its rendering of Greek verb tenses as the ALT. It was hard to tell from just one chapter; but it appears the OBP, as with most versions, will not be showing the difference between Greek tenses that have a "progressive" or ongoing sense to them and ones that are "punctiliar" or singular in meaning.

For instance, Matt 5:2 says Jesus "taught" his disciples. The verb translated "taught" in the OBP is in the imperfect tense. The basic sense of the imperfect is that of ongoing past action. Also, in this context, the imperfect has an "inceptive" sense." Hence this verb is translated as "began teaching" in the ALT.

So the OBP makes it sound like the tense is a simple past (aorist in the Greek) whereas the ALT shows the distinction between the aorist and imperfect tenses. Most likely, the OBP would not show the basic ongoing sense of the Greek present tense either. But the sample passage given wasn't sufficient to be sure.

For more on the different Greek tenses, and the importance of showing the distinction between them in translation, see Part One of the : "Grammatical Renderings" section in my book.

"Ecclesiastical" words:

The OBP says it is avoiding using traditional or "ecclesiastical" translations but trying to show what the Bible would look like without centuries of "tradition" influencing its translation. Such an idea is being followed in the ALT, although without stating it as such.

For instance, in the ALT, the word "church" (Gr., ekklesia) is rendered as "assembly." But the reason for doing so is not because of trying to avoid ecclesiastical renderings but because "assembly" is the basic meaning of the Greek word. See the ALT: Glossary: NT (A-L) for more on this translation.

But the OBP seems to be planning on going even farther in avoiding "traditional" renderings. For instance, Matt 5:2 in the OBP does not say Jesus taught His "disciples" but that He taught His "students."

Either "disciple" or student" are appropriate translations of the Greek word. In fact, it could be argued, "disciple" would be an even better rendering as it is a little more encompassing. One can be a "student" of someone else with being his disciple. Anyone who has attended school has been a student; but the word "disciple" includes not just being taught by someone but also being that person's "follower." And both ideas are contained in the Greek word.

So the OBP appears to be trying to avoid "traditional" renderings even when it is not necessary to do so, or even when the traditional rendering is even more accurate. The ALT utilizes the most accurate translation of a word, whether traditional or not.

Use of Footnotes:

Another difference is the OBP is including extensive translation and background information type of footnotes. This would be a good idea; but a lot of work that is beyond what is being done with the ALT at this point. It also is making the OBP more of a "study Bible" than just a translation.

I would rather concentrate on just the translation, with an occasional note in brackets within the text, at least for now. Maybe someday I, or someone, else will add extensive footnotes to the ALT. However, there are already extensive Background Pages for the ALT which lay out the basic translation principles being followed.

Another point in this regard, the OBP does not appear to be including textual, variant footnotes. For instance, for Matt 5:22, there is no indication the TR and MT include the words, "without cause."

Timetable:

One last difference, the OBP is much closer to being finished than the ALT. Work on the project has been going on for almost seven years. And as indicated above, they are planning on having it finished in time for the year 2000. Work on the ALT began late last year (1998). So it has a long ways to go before being finished.

Conclusion

To conclude with my opinion on the OBP, it would be somewhat that of my opinion on the NASB (see NAS95: A Review). If the OBJ was based on the TR or MT rather than on the CT I would add it to my list of "recommended" Bible versions. But as it is, the best I could do is suggest it be used for comparison purposes.

Of course, if someone is interested in a Bible version with the "unique features" of having the books in the "original" order and the words for God transliterated rather than translated, then the OBP would appeal to them.

It must also be added, even through there are quite a few similarities between the OBP and the ALT, as the above indicates, there are also several important differences. So the ALT remains an unique project even with projects like the OBP also going on.


Follow-up

>Dear Gary: I have been reading your comments about what text Dr. Tabor might be using for the NT. I discovered quite by chance (1-30-99 newsletter, p. 9) that the news is not good. I quote:

One of the highlights of that trip was my visit to the British Library in London, which now houses the New Testament manuscript I am translating--Codex Sinaiticus as well as its sister manuscript, Codex Alexandrinus. . . . To stand as I did, gazing at the actual text under glass, was an incredibly moving, riveting experience for me.

Too bad, I say—this certainly dampened my enthusiasm for the Original Bible Project.

Karen
6/7/1999<

Thanks for the info. It does confirm what I suspected about the text underlying the OBP NT. But in his defense, probably any kind of manuscript over 1500 years old would be a bit "riveting" to see. Not that many documents of any type last that long. And for some reason, us humans seem to have a "thing" for really old things!


Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

Original Bible Project vs. the ALT. Copyright 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).

The above article was posted on this Web site February 28, 1999.

Bible Versions Controversy: Various Versions
Bible Versions Controversy

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