Harmonizing in Translation

So I was reading Mark 11:1-11 this week, in preparation for a sermon.  I compared Mark with the other Gospels (since they all relate this account of Jesus’ arrival) and discovered that they use different words to describe the animal(s) that Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

Mark uses polos, the basic word for a young male equine mammal, a.k.a. a colt (either a horse, donkey, or mule).  Luke, like Mark, uses polos, and John employs onarion, a diminutive of onos (so a little or young donkey).  Matthew takes Zechariah literally and depicts both a colt (polos) and a donkey (onos).

In my research, I consulted the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), to see how they translated this passage.  And to my surprise, the HCSB translates all three different terms in all four Gospels as simply “donkey.”  And I am still puzzled why a translation that prides itself on being accurate would flatten out the four different ways the evangelists chose to tell this story.  Don’t get me wrong: I typically appreciate the HCSB.  I think their translation policy (a simple, hybrid between literal and dynamic) is excellent (except for how they render words for human beings, but that’s another post).

But I think they got this one wrong.

And worse yet, the only explanation I can think of, is that the HCSB translators wanted to create artificial harmony among the Gospels–to smooth over any perceived inconsistencies, perhaps in service to inerrancy.  It’s as if the translators (or editors) started with a liturgical picture–Palm Sunday, with Jesus riding on a donkey, and children waving palm branches around him–and then went to the text.  Which is eisegesis, by the way.  Which is not how you interpret Scripture, by the way.

Can anyone else explain this to me?  Any other theories?



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