Comparing Bibles – “In the Gates,” An idiom with many meanings

The word ‘gates’ was often used in Hebrew idioms, with a variety of figurative meanings. The idiom was retained in the Matthew Bible when it could be easily understood, or the meaning learned over time, as in “gates of hell.” But where the meaning was not easily derived, the Matthew Bible often gives the figurative sense.

The idiom “in the gate(s)” illustrates the translation approach of William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale, and how it contrasts with that of the Geneva revisers. Where it was fully translated in the Matthew Bible, the Geneva Bible, consistent with the revisers’ literalistic approach, often gave the words alone. Certain verses in Amos 5 show the difference in result:

Amos 5:10, 12

V Matthew Bible (Coverdale) 1599 Geneva Bible
10 They owe him evil will, that reproveth them openly, and whoso telleth them the plain truth, they abhor him… They have hated him that rebuked in the gate: and they abhorred him that speaketh uprightly…
12 As for the multitude of your wickednesses and your stout sins, I know them right well. Enemies are ye of the righteous. Ye take rewards, ye oppress the poor in judgment. For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take rewards, and they turn aside the poor in the gate.


Some notes on the Geneva rendering:

(1) ‘In the gate’, which occurs twice, is a literal translation of a Hebrew idiom. However it is foreign to English, and so it is not easy to guess the meaning.

(2) Verse 10, though short, contains a confusion of three verb tenses, the present perfect, past, and present. The Hebrews do this, but the English do not, and so it is distracting. In fact, it is poor English composition.

(3) Verse 12 demonstrates confusion of second and third persons: “I know your sins …  they take bribes” does not follow. Perhaps the Hebrews confused grammatical person like this, but it is not proper English.

None of these problems are in the Matthew Bible. ‘In the gate’ is fully translated. The present tense is consistent throughout, which makes the passage relevant for all times, and which makes sense of it. In verse 12, the consistent use of the second person also makes sense. These are only some of the things that make the Matthew Bible clear and easy to read and understand.