Q: The NEB translates Ezekiel 34:16b as “…strengthen the sick, leave the healthy and strong to play, and give them their proper food.”
But the NASB, for example translates the same as “…strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment.” The KJV, also translates, “…strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” The NEB translation communicates a message contradictory to the other two. So, (1) on what basis does the NEB differ from the NASB and KJV, and (2) which is the better translation?
A: First, some background. The NEB translators, while commendably relying on Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, did not attempt a word for word translation, but rather utilized dynamic equivalence – a thought for thought method of translating. Translations that use dynamic equivalence generally require much greater interpretive commitment than do the more literal translations. In order to translate a verse, the translators do not mechanically translate lexically from one language to the next. Instead, they must interpret the passage and then translate. Generally, I suggest this makes for poor translation. While it can sometimes clarify ideas, in other cases it can completely misconstrue them.
The NASB, ESV, NKJV, and KJV on the other hand, are noted for their attempts at word for word translation, and as such are generally respected for the accuracy in translation. They may sometimes be a bit “clunky” in their communication, but they enjoy a high level of accuracy. This is the basic reason for the differences in the translation of this particular passage.
But which translation is better? Is Ezekiel 34:16b representing God’s blessing (as the NEB implies) or God’s wrath (as the NASB and KJV make clear)?
From the Hebrew (please forgive the awful transliteration, but hopefully it helps nonetheless to clarify): “wa-et haeshmenah (and the fat) wa-et hachatzeqah (and the strong) ashmiyd (I will intensely destroy) ere’enah (I will pasture, or graze, her) bemishpat (in judgment).” Literally translated, the text reads, “and the fat and the strong I will intensely destroy. I will pasture or graze her in judgment.”
So, the dynamic equivalent of the NEB turns out not to be equivalent at all. Now, as to why the translators translated the passage in that way, I can only assume it was based on some theological presupposition to de-emphasize the wrath of God. Still, that is mere speculation on my part.
Hope this helps…