In every translation I've read of Aquinas' discussion of love, I find a completely worthless translation of the two categories of love he discusses. If you translate them with a formal-equivalence model, you get "the love of desire" and "the love of friendship". What he means by those is that the love of desire is when you love someone or something for the benefit you get from it or them, and the love of friendship is when you love someone in a way that takes what they desire as becoming among your own desires, and you desire it for its own sake and not just to get something out of them.
To an English speaker, the expressions "the love of desire" and "the love of friendship" suggest no such thing. They sound more like the thing you love is desire for the first, and the thing you love is friendship for the second. A much better translation would be "desire-love" and "friendship-love". Those preserve the connection with desire and friendship rather than paraphrasing them, but they change the form of the grammatical construction in order to remove the different sense that the form carries in English.
A formal-equivalence translation has this danger. It preserves the form as a higher priority than the basic meaning of the expression in its context, and you get this kind of misleading nonsense that someone teaching the material then has to explain. Isn't it better just to translate the expression in a way that conveys its meaning? If this can be done without altering the basic linguistic units, as my translation above does, then that's ideal. The problem with most dynamic-equivalence or thought-for-thought translations is that they don't do that. They might translate this as something like "self-seeking love" and "unconditional love". Such a translation would make no sense of Aquinas' attempt to explain why love having to do with desire is self-seeking and why love having to do with friendship is unconditional. It doesn't translate what's said but adds to it based on the background knowledge about how Aquinas is using the terms. It's probably rare that you can find the happy medium that I've come to with this case, where you avoid both extremes, but that seems to me to be the goal.
A recent survey of Bible translations used by pastors in the U.S. of different denominations [dead link removed] gave me the idea for this post. I have little to say about the survey itself except that it was strange that they didn't include Presbyterians as a category and that they didn't single out the NET, RSV, or ESV.
What I'm mainly interested in doing here is giving people enough information to choose what English translations of the Bible are best for various purposes. I don't think there's one best translation, and which one you pick will be affected by a number of factors, including things about yourself and the circumstances in which you'll be using this particular Bible. First, though I want to report two real occurrences from my friend who worked in a religious bookstore. One woman asked about purchasing a Bible. He asked her what translation she wanted. Her response: "English!" This was not someone who spoke English as a second language, from whom such a response makes perfect sense. The second case is often told as a joke, but this really happened to my friend. Someone came into the store asking for a Bible. He asked what translation the person wanted, and he received in response, "The King James, you know, the one Jesus used." Well, I hope to do a better job of explaining Bible translations than those who failed these people.
First I should say that some people, for reasons they have little or no control over, already have some reasons to prefer Bibles of certain sorts. Some factors that might go into this are age or level of understanding of the English language, both of which can easily (or will of necessity) change over time. Someone at a very young age might do best with a translation that's easier to use, particularly with an easier vocabulary and more straightforward grammar that sounds like English. Some translations don't have this, and sometimes they have good reasons not to (e.g. in service of a certain sort of accuracy). For new speakers of English, similar criteria will come into play. So this is one factor that will be important for some people but not others, and it's not something you should expect to continue to have the same role ten years down the road.
A couple weeks ago Volokh blogged about 'thee' and 'thou'. One thing he mentioned that I've known for a little while but seems so contrary to popular opinion is that 'thee' and 'thou' were the informal and more personal versions of the second person pronoun, and 'ye' and 'you' were reserved for more formal situations. The informal 'thee' and 'thou' eventually became archaic, and their association with old-fashionedness, which also somehow got associated with formality, led to the dominant myth that 'thee' and 'thou' are more formal.
Should people use these terms when praying? Should people prefer a Bible translation that uses them with respect to God? I've encountered a number of people who prefer them and some who insist on it. I've also encountered probably a much greater number who have preferred 'you', many of them insisting on it. The issues become quite complicated, simply because most people don't understand the history of their own language enough to know why these words were chosen in older translations (and the archaic on this matter NASB) when referring to God.
Jeremy Pierce is a philosophy professor, Uber/Lyft driver, and father of five.