Readers Bibles and Translators Notes

Reader’s Bibles represent a great revival of Sola Scriptura. I purchased the 6 volume set from Crossway as soon as it was available because I believe that this is the most natural way to consume scripture as the written word. Although criticisms can be levied against the premium cost of some editions, it seems perfectly natural for my Bible to be the most expensive book in my possession because it is the most important book for my life.

Others have already written well regarding the benefits of Reader’s Bibles, here are some recommendations.

Kickstarter’s Million-Dollar Bible Is Finally Finished by Kate Shellnutt

The Case Against Reference Bibles by J. Mark Bertrand

THE EFFECT OF READER-FRIENDLY DESIGN CHOICES by J. Mark Bertrand

At least three of the landmark Reader’s Bibles: Bibliotheca, ESV Readers Bible 6 volume edition, and NIV Books of Bible have completely removed all translator’s notes. The complete absence of marginalia is refreshing. However these editions would benefit from reincorporating translators notes as footnotes. The practice of normal translated works is to include translators notes where necessary. In fact the New Testament’s itself uses translator’s notes and they are considered part of the inspired text. Some examples are:

Matthew 1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (ESV)
Matthew 27:33 – And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), (ESV)
Mark 5:41 – Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” (ESV)

And of course the most famous example of dual-language presentation in the New Testament: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (ESV)

Strictly speaking, the above are examples of the Bible using transliteration along with translation in order to intentionally present both for the audience. Such handling of phrases and translation leads me to believe that the Bible itself considers translation notes to play an important role in the transmission of the idea and story to a cross-cultural audience.

Modern translator’s translation notes cannot be considered inspired writing in the same way that we would consider the Biblical text. However the translation itself is an attempt at bringing the inspired word to a modern audience across language barriers, so I do believe that translation aids belong in readers Bibles as footnotes on the page.

So then, which translators notes should be included? Many translators notes denote manuscript variances and those can be left out. This is because I have never seen New Testament authors addressing manuscript identity, even though scholars tell us that New Testament Christians may have quoted either the Septuagint and Masoretic Text depending on the situation.  Jesus never seemed to specify which version he was using. However I consider translator’s notes in linguistic choices to be part of the translated text itself, not reference notation. This seems appropriate given the New Testament’s handling of languages. In fact Crossway says on their ESV translation preface:

The footnotes that are included in most editions of the ESV are therefore an integral part of the ESV translation, informing the reader of textual variations and difficulties and showing how these have been resolved by the ESV translation team. In addition to this, the footnotes indicate significant alternative readings and occasionally provide an explanation for technical terms or for a difficult reading in the text.

In essence, I am arguing for the Bible to be presented in the most natural way, taking our cues from the way the inspired text has handled the question of translation notes.

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