I am way behind on my blog reading and just today came across Bill Mounce’s reflections on the job of translating Biblical metaphors. Mounce is a writer and Greek scholar who lives in Spokane, WA and was involved with the translation of the ESV. He begins his article:
For some metaphors, the answer is simple. If it conveys no meaning to the target language, or if it is going to be misunderstood by the majority of readers, then most translations will simply interpret the metaphor. One way that Hebrew says a person is patient is to say that they are "long of nose." Does this phrase "literally" mean that their proboscis is of unusual size? Of course not. The metaphor/idiom literally means they are patient. I doubt any translation is comfortable saying "long of nose," although the KJV’s "longsuffering," while no longer part of colloquial English, is a tad more transparent to the imagery than "patient."
On the other side of the spectrum is a statement like the "hand of the Lord." Does this "literally" mean God has a physical hand? Of course not, and translations generally are comfortable allowing this type of metaphor (i.e. anthropomorphism) to stand (cf. Luke 1:66). It is not going to be misinterpreted.
But where does a translation draw the line?
Read the rest of his article here.