Now our friend Jeff over at Scripture Zealot brings to our attention another instance in which our English translations have likely conveyed an incorrect meaning in English, but this time by slavish adherence to form: Psalm 119:92.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction. (ESV)
But as Jeff notes, the idiomatic use of “perish” here doesn’t seem to mean precisely “to die,” but rather to be crushed under, to fall into despair. And much to his surprise (and to mine as well), only one English Bible seems to pick up on this nuance: The Message. Well, I guess that proves that it is not entirely useless, as I had previously thought! Go read Jeff’s post to take a look at Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this verse, and to read some relevant quotes from some older (and therefore better) Biblical commentators. (And to learn why I dutifully check out the likes of Matthew Henry, John Gill, and Adam Clarke before the thought of opening a critical commentary even crosses my mind, see the first paragraph of this older post.)
“Form,” while able to communicate meaning clearly in some instances, can be a hindrance in others. I can say in Spanish “Mi mamá me dio aliento,” which can be formally rendered as “My mom gave me breath;” however, this idiom does not mean that my mother gave me life, but rather that she encouraged me. Thus the formal translation quite plainly communicates the wrong meaning in English— and so slavish adherence to form leads us astray here. Let it be noted, however, that I believe it is greatly misguided to dispense with form as matter of principle. That seems to be rather en vogue these days, but I just find it to be a hopelessly obtuse endeavor. As I’ve noted before, there’s no reason to try to make a translation easier than its original! But more about that later.