Tabulated Lists in Translation

Elements of formatting and layout can have a significant impact on the use of a Bible translation and even the way in which it will be read and understood. Examples of formatting choices that may be very significant include paragraph divisions (not to mention the more historical, though unoriginal, chapter and verse divisions), section headings, and the often overlooked capitalization choices for divine names and titles.

In reading Numbers 13 the other day I noticed another case, which I doubt will impact interpretation very much, though I do think it impacts readability–tabulated data.┬áIn the NLT, Numbers 13:4 introduces the list of those chosen to spy the land of Canaan. Here NLT breaks out, puts headers of “Tribe” and “Leader” and presents the content in tabular form. This doubtless makes it easier for a modern reader to scan through the list.

I thought I’d check a few other translations that I had close at hand, just for fun. (This selection is neither carefully selected nor exhaustive. These are Bibles that are on my ready-reading shelves.) Providing a tabulated list are the NLT, JPS, NIV, and REB. Breaking these verses out into separate lines, while maintaining paragraph format otherwise are the NJB, CEV, HCSB, and NAB. I’m skipping any versions that do not include paragraphing, as each leader would automatically start on a new line due to verse breaks. Finally, both the NRSV and the ESV include the names in a paragraph, not broken onto separate lines. (I’m not certain if this might change by edition or if this part of formatting is protected.

This is doubtless a trivial point, but when all aspects of formatting and page layout are combined, the overall impact can be considerable. It is a good idea for the serious Bible student to be aware of the choices that are being made by translators.


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