KJV/NKJV Translation of Hesed?

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NM_Presby

Puritan Board Freshman
I’ve been reading the NKJV for a while now (switched from the ESV), and while overall I love it, there’s one thing in the OT that is bugging me: the inconsistent translation of “hesed” (which is drawn straight from the KJV).

Does anyone have information or speculation on why the KJV translators chose to translate it in various ways? It seems most modern translations translate it with the same term every time, or almost every time, and this feels helpful for tracking the term over the OT. Why did KJV translators switch around the translation of this word so much?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Andrew, the answer to that question is answered in the prefatory material to the KJV. They did not believe it was good translation practice to assume that the word meant only one thing all the time. They believed (quite rightly) that context determined the meaning of a word, and (though they didn't say it in so many words) that a word has a semantic range that is often better served by a variety of translations into English. If you wish to track the term, use a Hebrew concordance.
 

NM_Presby

Puritan Board Freshman
Andrew, the answer to that question is answered in the prefatory material to the KJV. They did not believe it was good translation practice to assume that the word meant only one thing all the time. They believed (quite rightly) that context determined the meaning of a word, and (though they didn't say it in so many words) that a word has a semantic range that is often better served by a variety of translations into English. If you wish to track the term, use a Hebrew concordance.
I do agree with that principle, I guess I just don’t always get why they chose to change it up when they did. Perhaps that’s merely a function of my limited knowledge of Hebrew, however.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Junior
I'm not sure the KJV has much more variation than other translations here: I think it's mostly "mercy", "kindness," "merciful kindness" or "lovingkindness" in the KJV. ESV likes to use "steadfast love" mostly, but also has "loyalty", "kindness", and "good deeds." It's a word that doesn't really have a direct English equivalent, which is always a challenge for translators. The advantage of a semitechnical translation like "lovingkindness" or "steadfast love" is that it flags the astute reader to the Hebrew word behind it, but that only helps if they have enough understanding to use the information wisely. The bottom line is that this is why pastors should strive to acquire and maintain enough Hebrew to understand the original text and not be more dependent upon translations than is necessary.
 

NM_Presby

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm not sure the KJV has much more variation than other translations here: I think it's mostly "mercy", "kindness," "merciful kindness" or "lovingkindness" in the KJV. ESV likes to use "steadfast love" mostly, but also has "loyalty", "kindness", and "good deeds." It's a word that doesn't really have a direct English equivalent, which is always a challenge for translators. The advantage of a semitechnical translation like "lovingkindness" or "steadfast love" is that it flags the astute reader to the Hebrew word behind it, but that only helps if they have enough understanding to use the information wisely. The bottom line is that this is why pastors should strive to acquire and maintain enough Hebrew to understand the original text and not be more dependent upon translations than is necessary.
Thanks for the reply. I think your info illustrates the problem really well then! I had long been under the impression as an ESV reader that it was virtually always “steadfast love”— but it seems I had somewhat false confidence that may have hindered my ability to find important connections because I wasn’t looking for them.
 
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