Modern Translations

Last week, during my vacation, I made it over to Alleluia! Catholic Book Store in Kent and bought a little hand held Bible. As I’ve stated before I am turning into a little bit of a collector of Bibles. This one is the NAB translation. I also purchased one of those “read it in a year programs” that breaks down reading voluminous works as the Bible into small, daily pieces. I got as far as Joshua before in the OT (and through Acts in the NT) but life (if it be called) comes in, stirs it around, and three weeks later I’ve lost what I was doing. Companion to reading the Bible in a year in this thingamabob is, parallel, reading the CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

So I’m reading Genesis (4:1) in the NAB translation and came across this verse:

The man had intercourse with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain,

which, in the past was more commonly, probably universally, worded thusly in the English,

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain,

What is the next translational iteration of this verse?

Adam mounted Eve and ejaculated, and she…


Adam fucked Eve…


Adam got it on with his bitch… [this would be the hip version, for those that want a little urban mix in their Book]


Adam performed the act of coitus on Eve…

The man had intercourse with his wife…

Who did this translation? James Patterson? John Grisham? Such ugly language. I don’t mean offensive, but non-poetic, sterile. The television show The Big Bang Theory commonly has one of its characters refer to sex as “coitus” a clinical word lacking entirely in expression. The show has the character using that word as a joke because he is the type of character that would use such a word to refer to sex (a phenomena the character has not any interest in).

I brought this sort of thing up before when I saw that the expression “… the quick and the dead..” had been rendered “… the living and the dead…” That was the Douay-Rheims translation, and it is shared by most of the others.

But this is even worse. Intercourse is equally a clinical word, sterile in its physical description. It takes the subtly of the old translation away and replaces it with a compound word no poet would use unless under the greatest duress.

So why? Because people don’t understand what “knew” means? Learn. It is quite easy to infer what “knew” meant in the old translations. It is not the case the “knew” was a cover up because it is quite easy to infer as I said.

It seems only the KJV version is, so far, immune to such modern butchery of the language.

I also notice in Matthew 1, the NAB manages to not use the same language,

He had no relations with her until she bore a son,[l] and he named him Jesus.

It has a sort of “Clinton-esque” feel to it, “…I did not have sexual relations with that woman!” I suppose perhaps they thought using the word intercourse in regards to Mary would be in bad taste. I mean, I guess. Why wouldn’t they use the same ugly word as they used for Adam and Eve?

Also note that “relations” does not denote sexual relations specifically, so it is not even a good substitute. Did Joseph also not speak to her? No relations.


The KJV uses the term “knew” for both Adam and Eve and Mary and Joseph. One of affirmation of the act, the other denying the act. But it has a consistency of language that the newer translations violate.




6 responses to “Modern Translations

  • taichiwawa

    For whatever its faults, the King James version sings, it resonates in the poetic sensibility which I believe has a strong affinity with a spiritual aesthetic. Angels sing and with their hymns enchant the universe. This does not mean I think there are winged beings, but I apprehend in a non-empirical but nonetheless genuine way the numinous essence; that is, the vitality, energy, design — ”music,” — with which existence is infused.

    • bensira587

      I would hope that even if you did believe in angels, you wouldn’t mistake the image given to it as anything other than symbolic representation of what cannot be visualized.

      I went off on a segue and then erased it. It wasn’t relevant here, but I am thinking about the literalism of religious imagery. Or, rather how people take it literally. I sometimes like to think how many people would be shocked to find how remote their imagery would be to the truth. For instance, if there is a God, the truth about him would be so abstract from anything we can conceive as to make the popular incarnations of him in the popular imagination seem pretty childish. And they are if they are taken on a concrete level. I am pretty certain God, should he exist, is pretty far beyond any image we have born him.

      We also make God in our image. But that image is a puny tag for what the reality would have to be.

      Visual abstractions – that was the word I was looking for.

      But, besides that, I agree. The KJV is vastly superior to other English translations. I’m going to have to get a good copy of one for myself.

      • taichiwawa

        The Jewish tradition even excludes God from grammatical classification. A verb/noun. “I Am.” Not just being itself, but also a being apart from just being; immanent and also transcendent, a name and not a name — a name yet forbidden to be expressed. Very un-Aristotelian. This is one of the reasons I think a poetic component is necessary to reconcile the limitations of rational / linguistic categorizations.

        The Tetragrammaton

        “God is the perfect poet,
        Who in his person acts his own creations.”

        — Robert Browning

        • bensira587

          Ah, I forgot just before my move to merry ol’ Kent that I had purchased the Biblia Sacra for $100. It has the 1899 Douay Rheims English version, and the Latin Vulgate. I can’t really read the Vulgate too clearly, but the English is pretty good. Not on par with the KJV, but surely ascends higher than the modern travesties (and I mean travesty in its exact meaning here).

          I wonder if Shakespeare has also suffered such modern butchery?

          On a related note. There was a mini-discussion at Mr. Wright’s site the other day about split infinitives. Someone had claimed they were never licit. Someone else brought up the intro to Star Trek, “To Boldly go where no man has gone before.”

          I say they are acceptable – for dramatic effect. The emphasis here is on boldly, not merely the “go”. Perhaps if this were merely written word, the emphasis would be lost. But if one listens to how it is spoken by Shatner, I think it is a licit artistic license.

          I am of the opinion (and I think more than just an opinion could be made) that sometimes a purposeful violation of a rule is what is required for certain meaning – especially for dramatic meaning – or impact.

          “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” It lacks what the original has. It lacks the swashbuckling vigor; it lacks the space-age excitement, sense of adventure and optimism. Much like the substitution of “no one” for “man” did for 90’s revamp.

  • taichiwawa

    There are many ways to inject modifying words and phrases into sentences. A problem can arise if the placement too severely obscures grammatical connections.

    “In the police academy, we were told to without hesitation but with a general regard for our own safety and that of innocent bystanders and non-threatening suspects react according to prescribed procedures pertaining to lethal force.”

    In that sentence, the distance between “to” and “react” is just too large, even if the modifying interjection had been set apart with dashes. A way of avoiding such constructions is to never split infinitives. Moreover, correcting an existing one often (but not always) results in an expression that sounds “better” because it doesn’t violate our concept of “correct’ structure.

    For the most part, however, people won’t object to an occasional split infinitive if the meaning of the sentence is clear and it doesn’t sound awkward. And as illustrated by the Star Trek example, necessity sometimes trumps a general rule.

    • bensira587

      I can’t remember if was in regards to music or writing, but I remember someone from one of those fields said once: “Master the rules, and then forget them.”

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