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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Meet a translator ... Ann Nyland (TSNT)

Today we interview Dr. Ann Nyland, translator of The Source New Testament.

Hi, Ann
Hello, Wayne.
When did the Bible first start becoming important to you personally?
I was born into a Christian family so was brought up with the Bible and accepted the Lord as my Savior when I was 6. My father was a Greek scholar (as was his uncle) and from an early age I can remember him talking about what the Greek really meant and how it was a shame it wasn’t brought out in English translation. He had a collection of English translations. He was also a preacher and used to go on at length about how the King James said this, the other versions said this and that, but the Greek said something else. He might spend 20 minutes on one word! He wouldn’t mind me saying that we all used to dread that.
What was your role in the production of The Source?
I was the sole translator and it took me six years translating and doing the lexicography work. The Greek of the New Testament is extremely simple Greek, nothing like Thucydides or Plato, but the trouble is that the resources for translation have not been available to the Bible translator. Translators need decent dictionaries, and the current New Testament lexicon project (going on in my town, although work has stalled) won’t be in print for many, many years. As a lexicographer, I had to do my own dictionary work.

As a classical scholar who had formally studied a range of Greek dialects, I came to the translation not from a religious viewpoint but simply as a Greek translator. I did not alter the text to fit in with any preconceived religious viewpoints or to bring it into compliance with what I thought the text meant elsewhere.

I also tried to bring out the flavor of each author’s speech – Mark is very colloquial and excited and even remarked once that the disciples were thick in the head, whereas Matthew is more an accountant. Luke has a full-on sense of humor, and makes playful remarks about Paul, even mimicking certain aspects of his style when he quotes him.
How do you view The Source as being unique as an English Bible translation?
Aha, my favorite subject, the documentary sources! The meanings of numerous New Testament words have remained unknown as a look at any Bible dictionary will reveal – well, they have guessed usually on an etymological basis, a big mistake with Greek, but really, what else could they do without the resources. In the late 1880s and again in the mid 1970s, large amounts of papyri and inscriptions were discovered. These impacted our knowledge of word meaning in the New Testament dramatically. Why? Well, the papyri and inscriptions were written at the time of the New Testament. They were non-literary sources, that is, they touched upon all aspects of life - everyday private letters from ordinary people, contracts of marriage and divorce, tax papers, official decrees, birth and death notices, tombstones, and business documents.

Why is this important? Prior to these discoveries, people who made up New Testament dictionaries didn’t have a clue what many of the words meant, as I said. But now, these rare words appeared commonly in different contexts, and everyday contexts too. We would use formal language in a letter to a politician, but we use everyday language in letters to friends. It is this everyday language that appears in the New Testament, and up popped hundreds of examples of these words. Large numbers of previously uncommon words found in the New Testament now appeared commonly in everyday documents as well as on inscriptions. Many mysteries of word meaning were thus solved.

However, every New Testament translation of today, apart from The Source, follows the traditional translations of the earlier versions, which were published centuries before the evidence from the papyri and inscriptions revealed to us the actual meanings of numerous New Testament words!

In 1895, the great German scholar Deissmann published a large body of papyri, and between 1914 and 1929 Moulton and Milligan published documentary (“documentary” or “non-literary” meaning papyri and inscriptions) vocabulary in 8 volumes. This was a huge advance, but still Moulton and Milligan had no entry for about 17% of New Testament words! And of the words they included, there were 800 words for which they did not list documentary attestation, in other words, for which they supplied no examples or evidence, so really, there was no point listing them at all. Due to ongoing discoveries, the work was out of date before the last volume had been published. Nearly every recent New Testament dictionary is based on this outdated work while older ones are based on work prior even to that of Moulton and Milligan.

And that’s not all! 1976 was potentially a big year for New Testament translation. In that year, several thousand Greek inscriptions and papyri were published for the first time, or reissued. 15 volumes of new papyri were published in 1976. This meant that the meanings of a large number of words previously unattested were discovered. In the last 20 yrs, 4,000 inscriptions have been found at Ephesus alone. These discoveries have been largely overlooked by Bible translators. The problem is that laypersons and a significant number of Bible translators alike are unaware of all this as it is tucked away in technical journals. Available Bible dictionaries do not have this scholarship to any useful degree. BDAG has a little of it, but not much at all. In other words, Bible translators rely on dictionaries. The dictionaries are wrong, for many words.

The disregard of this evidence for word meaning has had a terrible impact on Bible translation. Many words suffer, but technical terms and idioms suffer particularly. For example, the term mistranslated “husband of one wife” is actually “faithful to their partner” and has been found on the tombstones of women. It is also clear that many modern translators have followed the KJV, whether directly or through the lexicons (dictionaries). For example, the word paidarion in John 6:9 is translated as follows: “lad” (KJV, NKJ, RSV, NAS), “boy” (NIV, PME, Weymouth, TNIV), “small boy” (JB), “little boy” (Amplified). Yet paidarion can mean “slave”, “young free man” “young free woman”, “child”, “girl”, “manservant”, “soldier”. All these meanings have been well attested, even in the Septuagint. There is no evidence for the exclusive term “lad” or “boy” followed by most translations (a tradition started by the King James Version’s “lad”). BAGD’s (the predecessor of BDAG) entry disregarded the evidence from the Septuagint, and ignored BGU 2347.3 where paidarion is clearly shown to be an adult man. BGU was published three years earlier than BAGD.

Here’s another example. Matthew 11:12 caused problems for translators, and puzzled readers for centuries. “Why did heaven suffer violence?”, I used to ask myself. Only in recent times it was discovered that bia refers to illegal forcible acquisition, and is a technical legal term referring to the delict of hindering an owner or lawful possessor of their enjoyment of immovable property. From the papyri, there is now firm evidence to show that bia and harpage were used in legal terminology with reference to forcible acquisition. We now know the scripture has nothing to do with heaven suffering violence or forcefully advancing. The actual translation is, “From the time of John the Baptizer until now, Heaven’s Realm is being used or even robbed by people who have no legal right to it. This stops those who do have a legal right to it from enjoying their own property.”

The translations of most New Testament versions are based on a lack of understanding of Greek word meaning. Available translations do not sufficiently regard the abundant evidence from the papyri and inscriptions and thus in many cases present a far from accurate translation of the New Testament. The reason is twofold:
  1. because the tools are not available to the translator – the tools being published lexicons - and the other reason in some English Bible versions:
  2. deliberate ignoring of the scholarship along with censorship (which I describe in my recent book More Than Meets the Eye) and tradition and reading English translation back into the text, notably in the case of gender (mis)translation and anything pertaining to women.
In many cases, the trouble is that religion based on mistranslation has laid down certain things in the Christian community on the whole and tradition is a very powerful thing. Take the women passages for example. They contained some rarer and more misunderstood words. Many people do not want to know what the Greek here really says, as it conflicts with what they have been brought up to believe - and this is quite a problem.

The Source is different because:
  • The meanings of many words in other available Bibles are, quite bluntly, wrong.
  • These meanings were discovered only recently but have been published only in technical academic journals related to the classics discipline in secular universities. The lexicon to replace Moulton and Milligan will not be published in fascicles, and is years away from publication.
  • The Source is the only translation to date to take account of these word meanings. My field of research is lexicography.
  • Another difference - I, as a translator, am a Classical Greek scholar formally trained in all Greek dialects, not a theologian. I am not backed by any denomination. Of course, some see that as a bad thing, but I note this as a difference. I have also avoided the Biblish dialect, as no secular translator would say for example, “I am in the Persian king” (unless they were a sandwich, not a person) – they would say, “I am a follower of the Persian king”, and no secular translator would say, “I believe in Socrates” – they would say, “I believe Socrates”. “Believe in (someone)” is an appalling mistranslation and I would happily mark a student wrong for such a translation.
What are one or two revisions during the translation process that you remember?
Too many to remember! I revised it many a time. I had to pour through many volumes of papyri and inscriptions to check word meaning.
How would you like people to pray for the ministry of The Source?
It would be wonderful if people would pray for The Source. I would ask that they pray that it fulfils God’s plan for it.
How can people purchase The Source?
Outside Australia, it can be purchased from the publishers’ website, both as a book (they ship it the next working day) or as electronic download. In Australia, it is also available through certain bookstores including Koorong, Australia’s main national Christian bookstore chain.
Do you hope that other booksellers will stock The Source?
Absolutely! But there is huge political pressure not to. One large national Australian Christian bookstore chain refused to stock it.
Thanks, Ann
Thank you, Wayne.

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6 Comments:

At Tue Jul 26, 10:18:00 AM, Anonymous Kenny Pearce said...

Wayne, you don't have trackback enabled...

My thoughts are here.

Thanks for the interview and keep up the good work.

 
At Tue Jul 26, 02:03:00 PM, Blogger David said...

Wayne,

I've been reading The Source for a couple of months now so this bit of bio and translation philosophy from Ann is welcome. Thanks for publishing the interview.

 
At Tue Jul 26, 05:57:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Wayne,

Can you give an example of some verses in relation to the below comment.

Take the women passages for example. They contained some rarer and more misunderstood words. Many people do not want to know what the Greek here really says, as it conflicts with what they have been brought up to believe - and this is quite a problem.

I would be interested to see how she translated them.

 
At Sat Sep 03, 02:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anne stated:

deliberate ignoring of the scholarship along with censorship (which I describe in my recent book More Than Meets the Eye) and tradition and reading English translation back into the text, notably in the case of gender (mis)translation and anything pertaining to women.

In many cases, the trouble is that religion based on mistranslation has laid down certain things in the Christian community on the whole and tradition is a very powerful thing. Take the women passages for example. They contained some rarer and more misunderstood words. Many people do not want to know what the Greek here really says, as it conflicts with what they have been brought up to believe - and this is quite a problem.


That is a heavy accusation to lay at the feet of the academic community. Could you please recommend some respected journal articles that prove this claim--exposing 1.) the technical errors in the translation and exposing 2.) the deliberate rejection of the irrefutable facts by these translation teams?

I frequently disagree with translators and commentators and their approach to the text (and they, too, disagree with eachother). But there is a fine line between disagreeing with ones position and reaching as far to say everyone of a position has rejected scholarship in an area. Scholarship is not homogenous or cohesive on almost any issue. Because one disagrees with a current trend in scholarship and has technical/textual reasons for disagreement is not an outright rejection of scholarship.

In this case those who don't take up the feminist position are not "anti-scholarship" in all cases. There is a broad spectrum of thoughts and debate on this issue, some technical and some socially driven by both sides.

Anyhow, I would appreciate some respectful and evidence driven journal articles that provide substantial evidence to back up this claim--because if it is true it would expose the academic community that have "arrived" at these positions as hacks and frauds.

 
At Sun Oct 30, 05:30:00 AM, Blogger Patchouli said...

Brian, you can find info about specific Scripture at http://www.godswordtowomen.org/



Anonymous, you make some good points in your comments.

However, I take issue with your use of the word "feminist". Those of us who are seeking the truth about spiritual equality are not feminists.

(those who don't take up the feminist position are not "anti-scholarship" in all cases...)

This is an issue of truth that impacts women in a mighty way.

Katherine Bushnell's "God's Word to Women" is an excellent source
exposing 1.) the technical errors in the translation and exposing 2.) the deliberate rejection of the irrefutable facts by these translation teams.

But you really need to read it without the feminist blinders on. And if you can't, then wait until you can.

 
At Sun Oct 30, 07:13:00 AM, Blogger Karen said...

Patchouli,
Exactly....."feminist" seems to be a word that is used to scare traditionalists off from seeking the truth. The TRUTH in scripture is what we are looking for. We're not interested in gender-inclusive language if it's not correct. What we are looking for is gender-ACCURACY.

 

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