As I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, I use the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) as my primary translation. It is a good “mediating translation” (watch Dr. J’s podcast on Choosing a Translation for an explanation of that term) which I find offers good English readability without getting too far from the wording of the original text. One of the things about this translation which I both like and dislike is its willingness to break from traditional renderings of well-known passages.
You see, one challenge translators face is that certain Bible phrases have become so ingrained in the consciousness of English speakers that we don’t want translators to mess with their wording—even when the traditional translation might be improved upon. We expect Psalm 23 to end with, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” We expect John 3:16 to begin, “For God so loved the world.” And we expect the Lord’s Prayer to begin, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Many translations will update and improve the renderings of other passages, while mostly leaving these well-known phrases alone.
The HCSB is more willing than most translations to break with traditional renderings of well-known texts. Part of me loves this, because the HCSB usually ends up expressing the meaning of these passages more clearly than the traditional rendering. Yet part of me also dislikes this, because I too have an emotional attachment to the traditional rendering. Even if I know a new rendering is “better,” the traditional rendering just “sounds right” to me. The result is that when I read the HCSB, I sometimes find a new rendering of a cherished text a little jarring, but when I examine it more closely, I usually agree that it is an improvement.
Such was the case today when I read the HCSB’s rendering of Matthew 6:9. Instead of the familiar “Hallowed be thy name,” the HCSB reads, “Your name be honored as holy.”
To see what’s going on here, I opened a parallel pane with the tagged Greek New Testament, and found that the word translated by the King James as “Hallowed be” is a third person imperative. In other words, the Greek expression means “Let your name be holy.” It expresses the wish on the part of the person praying that others would recognize and honor the holiness of God’s name.
Knowing this, we can see how the traditional rendering, “Hallowed be thy name,” originally did express the idea of this third-person imperative. In Elizabethan English, “Hallowed be” is another way of saying “Let it be hallowed.” But for those of us unfamiliar with Elizabethan English, we are likely to translate “hallowed be” into “holy is.” Yet “Holy is your name” is merely an affirmation of what the one praying believes about God, not a petition that all people would come to regard God’s name as holy. Thus, the traditional rendering—while excellent in its day—is misleading to modern readers because we tend to misunderstand the grammar of an archaic English construction.
From this we can see the value of translations which dare to deviate from traditional renderings. The HCSB’s unusual translation of this verse prompted me to examine the original Greek, which is always a good thing.
Now that I’ve examined the underlying Greek of this passage, I’m naturally curious to see how other English translations have rendered it. In my next post, I’ll show you the easiest way to look this verse up in every English Bible you own, and we’ll separate the daring translations from those which bowed to the weight of tradition. I think some of the results will surprise you.