In dire need of clarity and interpretation: 1 Kings 10:4-5

Literal translations can sometimes leave the reader scratching their heads and wondering what in the world is the bible saying. Here is a case in 1 Kings 10:4-5 I found as I was reading from the NRSV tonight:

“When the queen of Sheba had observed all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his valets, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit in her.” (NRSV)

…there was no more spirit in her. (NASB, NKJV)
… there was no more breath in her. (ESV)

When I first read this passage in the NRSV, it made absolutely no sense to me. Then I checked out the other formal translations and found them wanting of more interpretation. Obviously, we know that the Queen of Sheba was overwhelmed and made breathless when she observed the wisdom and grandeur displayed in Solomon’s house. This is a case where there is a great need for interpretation, otherwise, the reader is left utterly confused because it says the queen had “no more spirit in her.” What does that mean? The NASB and NKJV, the reads the same as the NRSV. The ESV is slightly better but not by much. Its rendering is a slight improvement over the RSV and NRSV.

Literal translations can sometimes:

1) fail to bring out the real meaning of the text;
2) is not the original writer’s intended meaning;
3) leave the reader with more confusion.

This gives the reader no choice but to desire a more accurate interpretation.

Where formal translations fail, dynamic translations can do a better job at bringing out a more accurate meaning:

… it took her breath away. (HCSB)
…she was overwhelmed. (TNIV)
…she was breathless. (NLTse)
… It left her breathless and amazed. (GNT)
… she was breathless. (GW)
… All these things amazed her. (NCV)

These dynamic translations, though interpretive, provide a more accurate meaning in the text. The ESV is still a little unclear. The T/NIV, GNT and NCV may border on being a little overly interpretive. With this particular verse, I feel the HCSB provided the best rendering. This verse is accurate, yet literal, and even manages to be idiomatic. It does not leave the reader wondering what is going on when they read this passage.

9 thoughts on “In dire need of clarity and interpretation: 1 Kings 10:4-5

  1. Kevin,
    Sorry I’m late here. Another good post!

    Any chance we can come up with a new term for “literal translation”?

    It can be misleading.


  2. “L.Wells, overall, I gather that you prefer the formal translation of the ESV.”

    Yeah, I always prefer more formal, so long as it is reasonably understandable, which some of those translations admittedly weren’t.

    That being said, I have crowned the NRSV my main translation, followed by the RSV. I just posted on ElShaddai’s blog that I cancelled my pre-order of the ESV Study Bible this morning. I had been thinking lately of the many “interpretive translations” in the ESV that seem a bit awkward. I still prefer it to the other recent translations though.

    Anyway, I will still use it and several others for comparison, but I have come to grips at last with my main staple. I plan to purchase probably the New Oxford Annotated in the NRSV, as I have all the other critical Bibles in that translation, but my Oxford is the old RSV one from the seventies. Do you have any experience w/the more recent Oxford Bibles Kevin? If so, what is your opinion? I normally use the HarperCollins. I can get a good price on the Oxford, and I’m trying to cut costs due to having to buy lots of books right now as I will probably soon be starting a course in Anglican Studies en route to becoming a worship leader in the Episcopal Church. I am currently in the discernment process(the prayers of all are requested).


  3. I was very surprised the NEB went with the literal there. Agreed the NEB is generally more creative, arguably too much so which was the major drive the REB. But I always like to include the REB since it generally handles these things well.

    So far I’ve liked the HCSB the best. It may that “breathless” is not a british expression?


  4. CD, I like the NJPS’ rendering but I’m kind of surprised at the NEB’s literal rendering. REB, which is more a little more literal than NEB is more dynamic and better. But I’m still enjoying reading the NEB more and more days.


  5. Thomas —

    Good to see another NET lover. That’s my favorite evangelical translation.

    Kevin —

    REB — overcome with amazement
    NEB — no more spirit
    NJPS — left breathless


  6. Thomas, thanks for stopping by New Epistles and for the NET’s rendering. It’s an accurate rendering. I believe there is a place for interpretation when it is unclear.


  7. I thought I might add the NET translation:

    “…she was amazed.”

    Of course, with a note reading:

    hb “there was no breath still in her.”

    best of both worlds, as is so often the case with NET. : )


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