Literal Nonsense – the HCSB of 2 Corinthians 8:11-12

I’m doing some studying in 2 Corinthians right now, and I encountered the following translation while reading it through in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB):

11But now finish the task as well, that just as there was eagerness to desire it, so there may also be a completion from what you have. 12For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

If you get additional context, more than I want to quote here, it will make it just a bit clearer, but it is still somewhat hard to follow. Also, I don’t intend this particularly as a criticism of the HCSB, though obviously I think such a translation in a major Bible version should be fixed. Rather, I think it is a good example of how a very literal (or formal equivalence) translation can be nonsense in the target language.

This HCSB version follows the Greek fairly closely. In fact, it looks a bit like a student Greek exercise, following which I would tell the student, “Now that is a good draft and shows me you have found the words in your lexicon. Now we need to make it into English.”

The English Standard Version (ESV) is only slightly better:

11So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.

Now compare those two translations to a dynamic equivalence version, the New Living Translation (NLT):

11Now you should carry this project through to completion just as enthusiastically as you began it. Give whatever you can according to what you have. 12If you are really eager to give, it isn’t important how much you are able to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you don’t have.

Now certainly the NLT has made some choices is clearing up the confusion. I don’t think the text as it is even suggests the real possibilities for translation. This isn’t preserving ambiguity–it’s nonsense.

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