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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Gender and the Image of God

Gerald Hiestand, on his blog iustificare, has started a series on Gender and the Image of God. He concludes Part 1 as follows:
In as much as the TNIV strives for clarity—so be it. But I worry that in its aim for clarity, the egalitarian bent of the TNIV has inadvertently obscured an element of Trinitarian thought that is of great worth and beauty. Consequently, in the next number of posts I will be laying out my arguments against the use of gender inclusive language, suggesting that there is a correlation between Trinitarian theology and the use of masculine-representative language.
It will be interesting to see how he develops this thought. I have already commented:
From what I can tell (as an evangelical and a Bible translator with a theology degree) there is no correlation between the Trinity and gender.
- with some further explanation in the comment.

Hiestand is obviously interested in justification in the theological sense, but I am more interested in seeing a justification in the non-theological sense of this theological point.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Resolving the current battle for the Bible

I posted somewhere recently, perhaps on this blog, that there have often been different battles for the Bible occurring every so many centuries or decades. During my lifetime I have been aware of at least three such battles. At the turn of the 20th century and into the 1950s a battle for the Bible occurred between theological "liberals" and "conservatives." That battle came to one of its climaxes after the publication of the RSV, which conservatives soundly denounced. People in my church background came close to calling the RSV a "communist Bible." There were people who wanted to burn copies of the RSV, and perhaps some did in other parts of the U.S.

In the 1960s and 1970s another battle for the Bible occurred over the issue of infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. The conservative side of that battle was described in the book titled The Battle For the Bible, by Harold Lindsell (1976). Intense, sometimes acrimonious, debate soccurred at many seminaries over whether or not the Bible could be trustworthy if it had any errors in it. As far as I know, the inerrancy debate did not has a significant effect on the publication of any English Bible version, unless perhaps the NASB resulted from that debate. For the last decade or so there has been another battle for the Bible which has consisted of two parts, which are related to each other:
  1. A call for English Bible versions to be more conservative translationally. This call has come as a reaction to what have been viewed as excesses of the dynamic equivalent approach to Bible translation which started to effect English Bible translation in the 1960s. This call was encapsulated in the book by Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English (2003).
  2. A call to retain grammatically masculine words in the Bible for reference to groups who many exegetes regard as being gender-inclusive, that is, as consisting of both females and males. This call was stated most forcefully in the book The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words, by Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem [2003, with a revised edition, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy (2005)].
The battle over the RSV is largely forgotten today. Many conservative theologians teaching today used the RSV as their study Bible in seminary. Ironically, the ESV, which is intended by conservative theologians to redress both of the last two issues just described, used the RSV as its translation base. The RSV has been only lightly revised to create the ESV. Of course, those passages which have been viewed as being theologically "liberal" have been revised in the ESV to reflect a conservative point of view.

We do not hear too much anymore about the inerrancy battle, although that battle is still in the memories of some theologians today. But biblical scholars of both the inerrantist and errantist persuasions meet together for scholarly conferences such as the recently concluded SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) conference in Philadelphia which has more than 10,000 in attendance.

Biblical scholars have often found ways to agree to disagree or even sometimes to resolve some of their differences over various battles for the Bible which have occurred during the lifetime of the Bible. Will the current battle for the Bible as intense as it is today twenty years from now. Or will there be a different battle for the Bible at that time?

I wonder how resolution of some kind might be possible for the current battle for the Bible. I was struck by the wisdom expressed by Sarah Sumner in her recent article in Christianity today. Dr. Sumner is a female teaching pastor, a ministry role for women which is considered very improper by many, if not most, of those currently calling for the two points in the current battle for the Bible. Yet Dr. Sumner is calling for women, including herself, to repent and submit to the headship of their husbands, something which is of great importance to those calling for the two points in the current battle. Will their be some other voices who will be able to speak out in a way that common ground can be found in the current battle for the Bible?

Perhaps some resolution will come if those who believe in translating the Bible into the most natural linguistic forms of English can also heed the call for natural English Bibles to reflect the different literary genre of the Bible. Perhaps those who translate into more natural English can work harder to have the poetic books of the Bible sound more like poetry.

I suspect that there can also be common ground found exegetically with further study of the passages of the Bible which have been divisive in the current battle. As they exegete passages such as 1 Tim. 2, biblical scholars can work even more to come to consensus (or at least respect for each other's positions) about the meaning of a passage, meaning both within the original historical context of the church at Ephesus which Paul was writing to Timothy about, and implications for normative teaching for other times and cultures.

I am currently reading the book, Two Views on Women in Ministry (2001), which contains well written articles by a conservative male and female scholar from both the complementarian and egalitarian viewpoints. Perhaps some kind of common ground or resolution can be found, in a similar way, in the broader battle for the Bible in which this complementarian vs. egalitarian debate is occurring. I believe that one of the outcomes of cooperation in writing this book has probably been that an increasing number of conservative Bible scholars and theologians are recognizing that each side is committed to a high view of scripture and to a high view of marriage and the value of both women and men in the home as well as church.

It is my hope and prayer that the current battle for the Bible can end with some kind of peace that honors God and his written word, and, yes, can even result in better Bibles, Bibles which will be better because they reflect something good (and even godly) from each side in the current battle for the Bible.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sparked by the CEV

Yesterday The Krow blogged on some spiritual lessons sparked by reading a verse in a newly acquired CEV.

When was the last time something was sparked within you by a wording from a Bible version? Which version was it? What verse?

Happy Thanksgiving to our American blog visitors. I have so many things to be thankful for. This year I am especially thankful that we could move to live in the same city with children and grandchildren. Next month our son will move here also, with his family.

And I am thankful for many translations of the Bible into English. I am especially thankful for the Bible versions that are translated into the form of English that is my heart language, that which I write and speak. It is this kind of English in Bibles that sparks things within me, as they did within The Krow.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Logical fallacies in Bible translation arguments

Critical thinking is important for spotting logical fallacies, if there are any, in any kind of argumentation, whether the argument be to try to persuade you to buy something in an advertisement on television, to try to get you to vote for some political candidate, or to warn you about claimed errors in Bible versions.

Admakers are paid large amounts of money to try to convince us to do things when, often, the grounds of the arguments in the ads are fallacious. One commonly used device is to attract our attention with images or statements which we find attractive. Then the conclusion suggests that because we like the images or statements, we should also like and purchase the product.

It is not always easy to separate fact from fiction in the logical steps toward a concluding argument. But if we do not wish to be persuaded by only partially true argumentation, it is necessary for us to think carefully and critically.

This is true, regardless of what the product is. Critical thinking is necessary to spot logical fallacies in arguments made about Bible translation. But, first, let us be clear that we are not questioning the motives of those who makes some of the arguments. Of course, if advertising is written to promote a new Bible version which calls it "the most accurate and readable translation of the Bible," we would do well to pause to ask if that statement is true, or if it can even be evaluated to determine if it is true.

But there are even more subtle kinds of logical fallacies in arguments raised by preachers, Bible teachers, influential media figures, and others who are responsible for the spiritual welfare of their constituencies. In most of these cases, I prefer to believe that the one making the argument sincerely believes the argument to be true. There is no attempt to deceive. But I think that it is necessary for others who can spot the logical fallacies to call attention to them. We all deserve to have as much factual information, not partial truths, as possible when we evaluate Bible translations.

Claim: A translation which uses the words "young woman" in Isaiah 7:14, instead of "virgin" is liberal. (Fact: "Young woman" is a legitimate translation of the Hebrew word almah. Isaiah was prophecying the birth of a son as a sign to be fulfilled within his lifetime. Matt. 1:23 uses a Greek word for "virgin" and quotes Is. 7:14, messianically applying it to the birth of Jesus, son of the virgin Mary.)

Claim: Modern versions are missing words, sometimes entire verses, of the Bible. (Fact: This is a text critical issue; the oldest Greek manuscripts used by translators today do not contain those "missing" words.)

Claim: The TNIV removes 5 words: father, son, brother, man, he/him/his from the Bible. (Fact: Obviously, these English words are not in the original biblical texts. More importantly, in the passages in dispute, the biblical texts have, instead, what the TNIV team believes to be generic words which would be accurately translated with English generic words. This is not a matter of "inaccuracies" as claimed, but of biblical scholars coming to different exegetical understandings of the biblical texts in question.)

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

About the TNIV: Not One Point or Iota

Gordon Tisher of Balafon recently blogged on problems he sees in the attacks on the TNIV.

Among blogs there have been far more posts negative about the TNIV than for it. Typically anti-TNIV posts repeat claims made by others, often originating with Wayne Grudem, who never points out that what he considers "errors" in the TNIV are considered as exegetical options within the community of biblical scholars. What Grudem calls "errors" can only be considered real errors if one begins with his theological, ideological, and linguistic presuppositions, especially the linguistic theory of male representation which he and Vern Poythress connect to the doctrine of a masculine hierarchy and promote in their book, The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words

Well, let's get back to Gordon Tisher's post. Gordon addresses these anti-TNIV claims:
  • Tampering with Scripture, including, ironically, Revelation 22:18-19.
  • Culture is influencing translation.
  • The Slippery Slope: translating “πατηρ” as “parent” might lead to referring to God as “parent” instead of “father”, and to referring to Jesus as female.
  • They’ve taken a lot of masculinity out of the Bible — it’s not as much a man’s Bible any more.
It's a fairly lengthy post, but worth the read, if you want to hear another viewpoint about the TNIV which has not gotten as much press or blog coverage as that of Grudem and those who repeat his arguments.

I wouldn't agree with everything that Gordon says, especially his ad hominem characterizations of those who do not like the TNIV, but he makes some important, as well as entertaining, arguments. If nothing else, Gordon's post should call us not to simply accept the claims against the TNIV, even if they are made by public figures who have a significant following. We must test all things (including arguments in debates about Bible translations) and hold on to that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21).

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Journal of Translation: Discourse study article

We have included links to good Bible translation resources in the right margin of this blog. The Journal of Translation (JOT) is one of them. JOT articles are well written and peer-reviewed. They deal with important issues for Bible translators.

The first article "Source-Language Versus Target-Language Discourse Features in Translating the Word of God," is by my friend Robert Dooley. Bob makes the point that the quality of Bible translations will improve to the degree that Bible translators better understand the discourse (rhetorical) structures of each language involved in the translation process. Bob also addresses the question of micro-level discourse structures and macro-level structures. Macro-level discourse patterns allow us to grasp the connections among larger sections of writing. Ultimately, study of macro-level patterns can help us understand the overall purpose a biblical author has for a discourse, including a discourse the size of an entire book of the Bible.

The better that we understand the discourse patterns of the Hebrew and Greek in the biblical source texts, the more accurately we can translate authorial intention from the biblical languages to a target language such as English. Study of discourse patterns in the Bible are not simply esoteric exercises for people interested in linguistics. Such study has been going on for many years by non-linguist exegetes who have included within their study of books of the Bible a focus on the rhetorical purposes for sections of the biblical text larger than sentences, clauses, or phrases.

I remember visiting once in a Sunday School class on the book of Mark, I think, taught by a seminary professor. I was amazed and excited to learn that Mark was not simply a string of unrelated narrative events attached to each together until the book was complete. The teacher pointed out how different narratives were connected with each other by the author of the gospel, to maintain a theme. Thematic continuity is one focus of discourse study.

Finally, the better we understand how writers of a target language, such as English, maintain connectedness (cohesion), overall themes, allow for flashbacks, etc., the more accurately we will be able to translate the discourse features of the biblical source languages into equivalent discourse structures of target languages. And more accurate translations are, as we all know, better Bibles.

The SBL and ETS conferences have been taking place in the Philadelphia area. I am glad that an increasing number of papers are being included in both conferences on technical details of Bible translation. Bible translators need insights from exegetes. Exegetes need insights from those who approach the biblical and target languages from a linguistic viewpoint. We all need each other. Interdisciplinary cross-pollination cannot help but bring us better understanding of the scriptures, with one result being better Bibles.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

ESV radio spot: Ps. 119:9-11

I am enjoying and being spiritually enriched listening to the ESV radio spots which I blogged about in my preceding post. These spots are short, up-tempo (including contemporary background music), yet drive home spirituals truths which everyone needs to hear.

I just listened to the radio spot for Ps. 119:9-11:
How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Interesting, the reading and meditation, with application to herself, were done by Joy Williams, who is, obviously, not a "young man." Wayne Grudem would, correctly, in my opinion, state that this verse was written about a young man. He would also say, as he often does, that there is a spiritual principle in this verse which can be applied to others, including Christian women, like Joy Williams.

The spots are fast-paced for today's fast-paced people. Within just a few second the radio reader transitions from reading, literally, about a young man to application to her own life as a woman. Well done, Joy! Well done, ESV team. May God bless your use of beautiful voices reading the radio spots clearly within a context of contemporary technology and music to bring the truths of God's Word, including application of gender-specific verses to other gender and age groups.

I am saving each of the ESV spots to my hard drive and look forward to listening to each one.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

ESV radio spots

Today's ESV Bible blog posts notice of several new radio spots, with ESV passages read and commented upon, often by well-known Christian public figures. To listen to all of the ESV mp3 radio spots, click here and choose a passage to listen to from the links in the left margin.


Heads, leaders, and submission in Ephesians 5

Much of the heated debate about gender and Bible translation these days hinges on how one interprets biblical source text words having to do with husbands, wives, and women in church. In today's email posting from Christianity Today, Sarah Sumner, a professor at at the Haggard School of Theology at Azusa Pacific University, writes on Bridging the Ephesians 5 Divide: A fresh look at what this controversial marriage passage says—and doesn't say. I find this to be a helpful article, one which can help us as we approach translation of debated biblical passages.

Here are some things to ponder from Sarah's article:
Does the Bible say that Christians are to submit to one another? (answer: yes)
Does the Bible say wives should submit to their husbands? (answer: yes)
Does the Bible say that husbands should submit to their wives? (answer: not explicitly)
Does the Bible say that a husband is the "head" of his home? (answer: no)
Does the Bible say that a husband is the "head" of his wife? (answer: yes)
Does the Bible say that husbands should "lead" their wives? (answer: no)
Has your interest been piqued yet? I hope so. It would be worth your while to read the rest of Sarah's article.

But I want to include Sarah's conclusion here. It expresses what I feel also:
In many ways, we in conservative churches stand at odds with one another not over a matter of orthodoxy or salvation, but rather because we sharply disagree on where a certain paragraph begins. Whereas egalitarians usually say the paragraph on marriage begins with Ephesians 5:21, complementarians usually say that it begins with Ephesians 5:22.

It's important to identify where the paragraph begins. But it's much more important for us as members of Christ to respect those who contend for an opposing position, especially since the answer is unknown. Rather than accusing one another or holding one another in suspicion for reading the same Bible slightly differently, we could be striving for unity. After all, it's not liberal to insist that Ephesians 5:21 informs Ephesians 5:22. Nor is it unscholarly to insist that the paragraph on marriage begins with verse 22. It's not heretical to begin with either verse.

It's important, even critical, to be accurate. We are held responsible to handle the Word accurately and to discern the proper meaning of every principle and practice the Bible teaches. But a minor discrepancy such as this one shouldn't be so divisive. We all agree that Christ belongs at the center of every marriage.
Is every word in the Bible important as we translate? Absolutely. But let's be sure we are translating what the Bible actually says and not what we think it says. The shoe should fit all the way around, no matter what side anyone is on in any debate about the Bible or translation of the Bible. If we translate the meaning of the original biblical texts, we will produce better Bibles.

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new blog: Gender Accurate Bible

A new blog was birthed yesterday. It is the Gender Accurate Bible blog. I have been invited to be one of its authors. I invite you to visit the new blog and tell others about it.

My first post is titled What is gender accurate translation?

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Announcing a perfectly accurate Bible translation

And all interpretation is left to the reader.

I think I'll publish a new translation of the New Testament. I'll include here a representative text from John 3:16 and I ask for any feedback you all might like to contribute.

The goal of the translation is to be perfectly accurate--no interpreting of the original text will make it into the translation! Guaranteed.

I hope you'll agree this is a worthy goal and that my translation accomplishes this perfectly. Thanks for your support.

Here's the text:


I admit that English readers will have to learn new words; but, this objection is overwhelmingly answered by the accuracy, and the fact that interpretation is left totally up to the reader. Besides, at most, only about 5000 new words will need to be learned.

I'm calling it The Neologism Inspired Version.

Stay tuned since research will immediately commence on how to create a dictionary so that the reader will accurately learn the meanings of all the neologisms. We're excited about this project since it enables us to honestly market an interpretation-free translation (we've put all the interpretation into the dictionary.) We believe this additional project will be quite difficult and therefore require extensive funding. So, please contact me regarding where to send your checks or money orders.

Order now, and get your free sushi knife.

Language police and Bible translation

Yesterday Shane Raynor of Wesley Blog blogged in a balanced way about when political correctness can go too far in Bible translation. Shane refers to the demands for getting rid of gender references for God as coming from the "language police," which makes me wonder who they are. Maybe I just am not in contact with those police. In any case, I continue to resist all efforts at language engineering, whether the calls come from social liberals or our friends on the right who are now trying to take English back to a prior stage of the language where grammatically masculine generics were more widely known and understood. I think that it is important to be sensitive to how some words can impact individuals wrongly. My wife and I would never allow our children to use negative terms for ethnic groups or other segments of society. But I don't think we should revise the Bible to get rid of things which were part of people's cultures in Bible times. We simply can read what the cultures were like back then and determine to do better, if there is a need for that.

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CBMW on "gender-neutral" Bibles

CBMW has reorganized some of its webpages. Now they have a separate website to promote their claims against what they call "gender-neutral" Bibles. The new website is and it has links to a number of resources which support their views.

On this blog we honestly try to give people the opportunity to be exposed to all sides of a Bible translation issue. We believe that that is the ethical thing to do. People do not need to be told what to believe. But they do need to be presented with evidence from which they can draw their own conclusions. And it is appropriate, as we try to do, to point out weaknesses or fallacies in various claims about Bible translation. We believe that when all evidence is considered, the result can be better Bibles.

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Grudem on Albert Mohler radio program

Dr. Grudem has been busy lately, continuing his public accusations against the TNIV. On Oct. 26 and 27 he spoke against the TNIV on Dr. Dobson's Focus on the Family radio broadcasts (see our preceding blog post). On Nov. 3 he appeared on the Albert Mohler radio program. The title of the broadcast was "Choosing a Bible: Which Translation is Best?"

You can hear the broadcast by going to its webpage and listening to the streaming audio or downloading the mp3 file of the broadcast.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Focus on the Family responds to question about Grudem broadcasts

Soon after the Focus on the Family radio broadcasts of Oct. 26 and 27 which featured Dr. Grudem's continued attacks on the TNIV, I emailed FOTF:
Subject header: Where was the opportunity for responses to Dr. Grudem?

My wife and I have long appreciated FOTF's ministry to the family. We are on your mailing list and receive your publications. But we are deeply grieved that you only presented one side in the debate over the TNIV. In the interest of fairness and biblical grace, it would have been proper to include godly responses from one of the many scholars who question Dr. Grudem's statements. Our own attempt to try to bring greater fairness to the debate are on our blog today, with a response from Dr. Stan Gundry. You can read the response at url:

We agree with FOTF that the choice of a Bible Christians use is very important. But there was much falsity presented by Dr. Grudem in your broadcasts, not deliberately, but because he has some theological and linguistic presuppositions which are not mainstream orthodoxy within conservative evangelicalism. Godly scholars who share FOTF's commitment to the family and God's Word have been trying to address the misunderstanding that Dr. Grudem has, but it becomes more difficult when influential programs like FOTF only host Dr. Grudem. We would request that you also present responses from committed conservatives who can help you understand where Dr. Grudem is in error and misleading millions of Christians, including those who listen to FOTF broadcasts.
Today I received their response. It looks like a boiler plate reply. I am awaiting permission from FOTF to post their response publicly. Until then I can summarize that the key section states that Dr. Dobson has no intention of inviting other points of view about the TNIV to be presented on his radio program. Their reply states that Dr. Dobson has very strong views about the TNIV and he wants to educate the public and warn them about what he considers the dangers of the TNV.

SingingOwl has also received a reply from FOTF and she has blogged about it.

I find it sad that a radio broadcaster with so much influence as Dr. Dobson has, apparently, has not taken the time to carefully study whether or not the TNIV is truly accurate or not. He started out his radio broadcasts with Dr. Grudem by again stating what he has stated in the past, that he is not a Bible scholar and that he depends on others to help him understand Bible translation issues. It seems clear that he has decided which Bible scholars to consult for advice. History has many examples of people who have made choices like this, and history will judge whether or not the opponents of the TNIV have based their attacks on factual evidence or not.

I think it would be a very interesting study to thoroughly compare the communicative accuracy of the translation which Dr. Grudem worked on, the ESV, with the translation he opposes, the TNIV. From the standpoint of English quality, I know that the TNIV has no obsolete negative inversions found in the ESV and far fewer linguistic problems for current speakers of English than the ESV does. I hope that comparative accuracy studies can be done and distributed so that many people can make more informed decisions than they could just by listening to the Focus on the Family broadcasts about the TNIV.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Translating idioms

Translators generally agree that idioms are usually impossible to translate literally from one language to another so that their original idiomatic meaning is translated accurately. The exception is when two languages have the same idiom. Occasionally this happens, as with the euphemism "he's gone" which idiomatically means "he died" in both English and Cheyenne, the language I have helped translate the Bible into.

If we translate any of the following English idioms to another language, speakers of that language will not understand the idiomatic meaning, which is the meaning that is intended by the person who uses these idioms:
It's raining cats and dogs.
He's pushing daisies.
She had a cow.
He's two sheets to the wind.
He's stacking furniture.
Idioms are usually impossible to translate literally because their meaning is not built up of the meaning of their parts. Instead, they have a unique meaning which has nothing to do with the meaning of their parts. When we say "It's raining cats and dogs," we are not saying anything about cats or dogs. When we say that someone is stacking furniture, we are not referring to anything about stacking or furniture.

Translation of biblical idioms is no different from translation of any other idioms. If the words of an idiom in any source language, including any idiom in the biblical source texts, are literally matched up with words in a target language, those who read or hear the translation will not understand the original meaning of the idiom.

There are many idioms in the Bible. We can only understand their meaning by having someone teach it to us, whether that is done in person or Bible footnotes, through a book or another resource tool. Here are some idioms from the Bible, along with their idiomatic meaning after the equal = sign:
You will go to your fathers = you will die (Gen. 15:15)
He will lift up your head = restore to honor (Gen. 40:13)
They knew no quiet in their bellies = They were greedy (Job 20:20)
their throat is an open grave = they speak deceitfully (Ps. 5:9)
lifted heel against = turned against (Ps. 41:9)
lift horn = defy God (Ps. 75:5)
son of wickedness = wicked person (Ps. 89:22)
their lamp will be put out = they will die (Prov. 24:20)
son of the morning = morning star (Is. 14:12)
spread feet = offer self for sex (Ezek. 16:25)
had in the belly = pregnant (Matt. 1:18)
what you hear in your ear =what you hear in secret (Matt. 10:27)
those having badly =those who were sick (Mk. 1:32)
sons of the groom =guests of the bridegroom (Mk. 2:19)
taste death =die (Mk. 9:1)
they hear heavily with their ears = they are slow to understand (Acts 28:27)
Biblical idioms are fascinating. They help us recognize that those who spoke the biblical languages often spoke figuratively, not literally, just as we do in English, and just as people do in many other languages.

But if we want to translate the Bible accurately so that people who read the Bible understand the meaning of what we have translated, we cannot translate biblical idioms accurately, unless English happens to have the same idiom. It is perfectly fine to footnote the translation of the meaning of an idiom, giving the literal meaning of the words of that idiom. Many people find such information interesting.

There is another problem with literally translated idioms: Many churched people, including some Bible scholars, recognize that idioms are not intended to be understood literally, but they try to get some spiritual or theological meaning from their literal translation. Yesterday we blogged about a post where it was claimed about 1 Kings 2:10 that its Hebrew euphemism for dying (literally, "David slept with his fathers") should be retained in translation, rather than its idiomatic meaning of "David died."

But there are problems with this approach of translating biblical idioms literally. First, David did not literally sleep with his fathers and that is the meaning that the literal translation communicates to its readers unless they have a footnote or other teaching resource that lets them know that the literal meaning is not the intended meaning in this case. If we think about the literal meaning of the literal translation, we can easily assume that the Bible is saying that David's fathers committed incest with him. So there is the problem of communicative accuracy. We don't get communicative accuracy with a literal translation, unless extrabiblical information giving the actual meaning of the idiom is supplied for the translation user.

The other problem raised is that the blogger claims that versions which translate the idiomatic meaning, rather than the literal meaning of each word
do not allow their readers to see the beauty of "resting with his fathers." Instead, David simply died. What a tragic loss! Readers of these translations will not see any hope beyond the grave. They will not know that David has gone to be with his fathers and that he is merely resting.
But David was not "merely resting." He had died, and every speaker of Biblical Hebrew understood that idiom to mean that he had died. The blogger was importing the theology of hope after death into the Hebrew idiom, but doing so is speculative. There is no proof that the Hebrew idiom intended to state that there was life beyond the grave. Many Jews believed there were no life after sheol. The Hebrew idiom is a euphemism for death, just as many languages, including English have euphemisms for death. Euphemisms are used to decrease our discomfort with uncomfortable events.

There is a place for letting Bible users know what the words of biblical idioms literally mean, but that place is not in a Bible translation intended to be used by anyone who has not learned to speak "church language." Biblical idioms, like idioms in any language, have figurative, not literal meanings, and so it is a logical fallacy to translate literally what was intended to be understood figuratively. Speakers of the biblical languages did not need to be taught the meaning of the idioms of their languages. Neither should we who read the Bible in translation.

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Translation vs. Transliteration

Kenny Pearce has an interesting and informative post about true translation vs. transliteration in Bible translation.

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Eisegeting Hebrew metaphors and idioms

I love metaphors and idioms. Syntax is the skeleton of a language. The lexicon adds flesh to the skeleton. But metaphors and idioms are those unique features of a language's skin that cause us to say, "That's beautiful!"

Tim Challies, who always has something important to say, has just posted on Words, Phrases and Metaphors. Tim likes the fact that the ESV matches up Hebrew words with English words when translating Hebrew metaphors and idioms. Tim knows the Bible well. He is a member of those English speakers who are biblically literate. So he understands and enjoys the literary beauty of biblical figurative language. I do too!

But Tim finds meanings in the Hebrew idioms which I suggest were not there for the Hebrew speakers. He does so sincerely, assuming that the meanings of English words of "literal" translations of Hebrew idioms accurately tell us the meanings of those Hebrew idioms. Tim unintentionally is practicing eisegesis, importing outside meanings to the biblical text, meanings which are likely not there in the original.

Each thing that Tim states about the Hebrew figurative language makes sense. And it is quite possible that much of what Tim says had some basis in Hebrew etymology of the idioms used. But metaphors and idioms which people use at any point in time cannot simply be understood etymologically. James Barr made this clear as he critiqued the "etymological fallacy" in his seminal book, The Semantics of Biblical Language.

Read Tim's post, well-written as all his posts are, then read my comments on his post. Then ask yourself how legitimate it is to assume that we know the meanings of biblical idioms based on English translations of that language which match the biblical words with English words, but do not translate the overall meaning of the idiom itself. Idioms, by definition, have a meaning which is different from the sum of the meaning of their parts. Better Bibles which ensure that everyone intended to use them will be able to get the meaning, accurately and clearly, of biblical idioms. For audiences which are not so biblically literate as Tim Challies, myself, and many (most?) who visit this blog, it may be necessary to translate the meaning of the idiom itself and put it in the text itself. Then we can footnote to tell what the meanings of the parts of the biblical idiom were, as the NET Bible does so well.

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A better Bible for Gullah

Speakers of Gullah, who live along the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia, have just received a better Bible, a translation into their heart language. Gullah is a creole language, with many words borrowed from English, but syntax and other linguistic features from Africa where the ancestors of Gullah speakers originated.

Celebrate with the Gullah as they hear God's Word more accurately and clearly in their first language, the language that best speaks to their hearts and minds.

Last week in Dallas I enjoyed hearing more about the Gullah celebration from the translation consultant from the United Bibles Societies who checked the Gullah translation.

HT (Hat Tip):, rob's place,, Charlotte Observer

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Obsolete and archaic language in Bible versions

The ESV Bible blogs's post for today is on obsolete and archaic language. The post repeats the claim that it is proper, even necessary, to use outdated language in English Bible versions, because such language is understood within church contexts and that such language often reflects technical terms in the original biblical texts.

But the post misses an important point about Bible translation. It is that the original biblical texts did not use obsolete or archaic language. Instead, they used the current language of the people to whom those texts were written. If Bible translators are to be fully accurate to the original texts, it is necessary for them to use the same kind of language found in the original text, namely, good quality literary language of the people for whom a translation is made. Translating in a different literary register from what the biblical texts were written in is not fully accurate translation. It diminishes the communicative accuracy of the translation since the translation does not communicate the meanings of the biblical texts as accurately and clearly to Bible users today as those original texts did.

The ESV post also claims:
We’ve mentioned before that the ESV Preface notes that the ESV “retains theological terminology… because of their central importance for Christian doctrine and also because the underlying Greek words were already becoming key words and technical terms in New Testament times.”
I have heard this claim before, that "the underlying Greek words were already becoming key words and technical terms in New Testament times" but I have never seen any evidence for this claim. I, personally, do not know of any terms used in the New Testament which were technical terms or becoming so. The vocabulary in the New Testament is from Koine (Hellenistic) Greek and was in common use, known to common (Koine) speakers. This includes words such as dikaiosune which is translated as "righteousness," a technical term in English, but not in the original Greek, and other Greek words translated to English terms such as "santification," "propitiation," "predestine," etc.

It suggest that those who make the claim that there are technical terms in the biblical source texts are using circular reasoning:
  1. Technical terms are used in their English versions.
  2. Because they are technical terms in English, they are believed to reflect underlying technical terms in Greek.
  3. Therefore, technical terms should be used in English Bible versions.
What is needed, to help us break out of circular reasoning, is empirical demonstration from ancient Greek that the meanings of the purported technical terms of Koine Greek had taken on special senses not known to those outside of the church of the New Testament. As far as I know, such evidence has never been presented. It is simply repeated, which, of course, is not evidence to support a claim.

I contend that since the Greek words were in common usage, Bible translators today should use English words which are in common usage to translate them. This is possible, but we often allow centuries of theological and church tradition to keep us from translating in such a way. May we return to the principles of Martin Luther and William Tyndale who believed it was important to translate into the language of the ordinary person, the hausfrau (housewife), as Luther said it, and the ploughboy, as Tyndale said it. If we translate into Koine English, corresponding to Koine Greek, not only will unchurched people understand the Bible better, but church people will also. In fact, my own experience as someone who has quite a lot of theological training, including being taught the definitions of theological words such as "sanctification," is that my heart and mind respond better to Bible versions which are written in good literary English which I use outside of church. The mental processing burden is less for anyone when they hear the Bible in their own language.

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TNIV review, by Ken Collins

Ken Collins has added a short review of the TNIV to his website.

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HCSB review, by Ken Collins

Ken Collins has also added a review of the HCSB.

And I have now begun a webpage of HCSB links.

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ESV review by Ken Collins

Ken Collins, who hosts a beautiful website with short, careful reviews of English Bible versions, has added a review of the ESV.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Grudem on the NET Bible

Wayne Grudem, a member of the ESV Translation Oversight Committee, has praised the extensive footnotes of the NET Bible. I agree with Wayne, and I like his name! :-)

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Psalm 34:20: "their bones" or "his bones"

In the Comments to our post on Nov. 1, titled "Gundry responds to Grudem and Focus on the Family," a topic thread began concerning translation of Psalm 34:20. The TNIV is worded as:
[H]e protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken.
The TNIV wording is a revision of the NIV which translates with "his bones" rather than "their bones":
[H]e protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
Following the same claim made by Dr. Grudem in his recent appearances on the Focus On the Family radio broadcasts and elsewhere, blog visitor hollyhouse commented on our post:
If you [think] TNIV is all for accuracy then they missed it in Psalm 34:20. "He protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken." It should rightly state "his bones", since this is a reference to Christ, which is totally lost in the TNIV. So much for accuracy!
I responded in the Comments:
No, the TNIV did not miss it here. Check the Hebrew (not English translations of it) and you can see that "their bones" is accurate within its context of referring to how God protects righteous people. The New Testament quote adapts Ps. 34:20 to have application to a single person, Christ. Dr. Grudem misleads millions of people who heard his broadcast when he called this a TNIV inaccuracy.
Michael Marlowe (aka son of abraham) replied:
Wayne, the Hebrew text has masculine singular pronouns in Psalm 34:20. And the apostle John's Christological interpretation of the verse depends upon the number and gender of the pronouns. So, if Grudem has misled millions, then the apostle has misled billions in his quotation of this verse.

I will grant that "the righteous man" in the Psalm may stand for all the righteous, and so in the DE philosophy of translation it might be permissible to render the verse with plural forms, but this is a case where a New Testament interpretation depends upon a literal rendering of the verse, and the TNIV avoids the literal rendering for the sake of its "inclusive language." To them, it seemed more important to use "inclusive language" than to allow for John's Christological interpretation. That's what Grudem is saying.
Peter Kirk, a contributor to this blog, responded to Michael:
Michael, I agree with you that "the righteous man" in the Psalm may stand for all the righteous. Indeed I would say that the word sometimes translated "the righteous man" truly does "stand for" all the righteous, male and female, and does not refer only to Jesus. In the specific version of English spoken most widely by the explicitly stated target audience for TNIV, 18-35-year-olds, there is no gender generic singular personal pronoun except for the singular "they". It would be a mistranslation to use "his" here because in this dialect that would give the wrong teaching that the promises in this psalm are for males only. So, in accordance with its general practice in both NT and OT, TNIV renders with "they".

I am very glad that this psalm refers to all the righteous, and so that its wonderful promises apply to me, righteous in Christ. John the apostle is by no means denying this when he applies the general promise to one particular righteous man, Jesus. The verse continues to have a general applicability as well as referring to Jesus. The OT certainly should not be translated in a different way just because of this individual application of it.

By the way, I came across an example where ESV does exactly what TNIV is here criticised for, by using the plural where the original is singular: Deuteronomy 29:10 "all the men of Israel" rendering כֹּ֖ל אִ֥ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל K.OL )IY$ YI&:RF)"L, literally "every man of Israel". Those who promote the ESV should look more carefully in their own eyes rather than searching for every speck in the TNIV eyes.
Michael replied:
Peter wrote: John the apostle ... applies the general promise to one particular righteous man, Jesus.

John gives us a Christological interpretation of the Psalm, Peter, not just a particular application of something that he sees as a general promise. He sees a reference to Christ there, as the one true and ideal "righteous man." And he sees the literally unbroken bones of Christ as a literal fulfillment of the promise given concerning this "righteous man." This kind of Christological interpretation, where the interpretation depends upon the exact form of the Hebrew text, is frequent in the New Testament. It really ought to be represented in a translation, because it is important for an understanding of the apostolic interpretation of the OT.
A blog visitor named Adam then quoted from the TNIV website where the translation of Psalm 34:20 is discussed. Adam quoted, in part:
Note, for example, how NT writers occasionally change OT singular references to plurals (compare Isa. 52:7 with Rom. 10:15; Ps. 36:1 with Rom. 3:10,18; Ps. 32:1 with Rom. 4:6-7). Do such changes "obscure" the connections between the OT and NT passages? Of course not. Moreover, entirely apart from the gender issue, the shift from singular to plural in this verse is actually a gain in that it makes clearer to the reader that the reference in Ps. 34:20 is generic rather than particular, and that in John 19:36 the author of the Gospel was applying this generic statement about "the righteous" to Jesus as the supreme Righteous One.
On Nov. 5 I posted to the Bible Translation email discussion list the first blog comment on Ps. 34:20 and my reply to it. To maintain confidentiality I did not identify the first commenter in any way. I wanted to give the subscribers to the Bible Translation list an opportunity to deal with the question of translating with "their bones" or "his bones" in Ps. 34:20. A topic thread began on the BT list. One of those posting in the BT list topic thread was Harold Holmyard, one of the translators of the HCSB, who we have previously interviewed on this blog. Harold suggested that I add his BT list comments and replies from Peter Kirk to a blog post on Ps. 34:20. I think that is a good idea, so here is that post.

Harold agrees with Wayne Grudem that the TNIV would be better translated with "his bones" in Ps. 34:20. Peter Kirk points out that were the TNIV translators to do so, the "his" pronoun would obscure for the TNIV's target audience the generic meaning of the pronouns in Ps. 34:20 and throughout that psalm. But let's let them explain in their own words. Harold said:
I have to agree with Wayne Grudem here. The referent is a single righteous person in Ps. 34:19. It is not talking about a gang of righteous people but the righteous person as an individual, though of course the singular speaks of a category of persons. When translations change the number like this, they are tampering with the text needlessly. By the way, there is no emphasis put on masculinity in the Hebrew, though the masculine adjectival form is used. HCSB considered this type of word as fair game for rendering in a more gender neutral way. The HCSB translated in verse 19: "the one who is righteous," and used the generic "his," which seems quite similar to the Hebrew structure. Here is the TNIV for the two verses:
19 The righteous may have many troubles,
but the LORD delivers them from them all;

20 he protects all their bones,
not one of them will be broken.
But, you see, it is not plural but singular in the Hebrew. There are parts of Psalm 34 that speak of a plurality of people and parts that speak about the individual. It is good to preserve the style and expression of the author. Who knows, he may have meant the individual. I am being facetious.

Beyond that, an issue raised about this verse is the fact that the words are quoted in the NT of Jesus (John 19:36). So putting them in the plural here makes it harder for the NT quotation, which is in the singular, to be referred back to this passage. The TNIV editors say that the quote might be from other passages (Ex 12:46; 9:12), but that if it is from here, the connection is clear anyway. That is certainly debatable if you change the number. The form of John 19:46 is closer to the form of the Ex 12:46 and Num 9:12 passages, but there is reason to consider that Ps 34:20 could draw on these passages. Therefore, it helps to keep the number singular to obtain a clearer linkage.

Here is a comment by Delitzsch on the righteous person of Ps 34:19-20:
He is under the most special providence, "He keepeth all his bones, not one of them (NE UNUM QUIDEM) is broken"--a pictorial representation of the thought that God does not suffer the righteous to come to the extremity, that He does not suffer him to be severed from His almighty protecting love, nor to become the sport of oppressors. Nevertheless we call to mind the literal fulfilment which these words of the psalmist received in the Crucified One; for the Old Testament prophecy, which is quoted in John 19:33-37, may be just as well referred to our psalm as to Exod 12:46. Not only the Paschal lamb, but in a comparative sense even every affliction of the righteous, is a type.
Peter Kirk responds, explaining two translation principles, one having to do with the language of a translation matching the language of its target audience (in this case using the English generic that is used by the majority of the TNIV target audience of 18-34 year olds), and the other having to do with whether or not Bible translators should translate the Old Testament to harmonize with New Testament interpretations of Old Testment quotes:
[T]his psalm refers generally to all righteous people, and not only to Jesus Christ. This is clear from the indefinite noun forms, contrast with the specific "this poor man" in v.6 which of course refers to the author David. If Grudem indeed claims that this "A righteous man" refers specifically to Christ, he is wrong. I note that Delitzsch does not think this, for he interprets this as "God does not suffer the righteous to come to the extremity", with "the righteous" as a plural with a small "r" so not referring specifically to Christ.

The problem for the TNIV translators is that they are translating into a form of English (that of their explicitly defined target audience) which does not have a gender generic third person pronoun. When you say that "there is no emphasis put on masculinity in the Hebrew", I presume that you are recognising that the original text has a gender generic sense, i.e. that the promises in this psalm apply to both men and women. It would therefore be a mistranslation to use a male specific pronoun like "his" when the meaning is gender generic. Now I can understand that "He protects all of his or her bones" would be in some ways a more precise translation than changing this to the plural. But presumably this was ruled out as stylistically unacceptable. So the choice was between gender inaccuracy and number "inaccuracy". But I think the translators realised that here, as in many other places, there is no real inaccuracy introduced by changing to the plural, although there are some slight changes in connotation. However, to use a male specific pronoun where the original is gender generic is to introduce a real change of meaning, that this promise is for males only and not for females. Therefore, I presume, the Committee chose the alternative which compromised the meaning less. This is of course precisely the same choice as they have made in countless other places in the NT and the OT. (Well, maybe not countless as Grudem et al have attempted to count them - was it 904 choices of this kind that they found?)

The issue with this verse is slightly confused by the allegation that it refers specifically to Jesus. It does not, although it was correctly applied to Christ in John 19:36 because Jesus was one of those righteous people to whom the original promise referred. Well, yes, he was THE righteous person par excellence, but different degrees of righteousness are irrelevant if we can agree that the psalm applies to all righteous people.
The question before us now is: Is Dr. Grudem correct in claiming that the TNIV is in error to translate Ps. 34:20 with "their bones" instead of "his bones." I conclude that we cannot say that the TNIV has translated inaccurately here. But Dr. Grudem's points are well made and must be studied seriously. Dr. Grudem is referring to the grammatically masculine singular third person possessive pronominal suffix of the Hebrew of Ps. 34:20.

Those translators who match forms of one language with forms in another will typically translate the Hebrew suffix on the word for 'bones' as English "his." But this misses the fact that that the Hebrew suffix is generic in reference. There is no male adult mentioned in Ps. 34:19-20. The possessive suffix on 'bones' can refer to any righteous individual, whether female or male. We could, as Peter Kirk states, accurately translate the possessive suffix as English "his or her." But that is cumbersome. The TNIV translation team apparently chose to use the historical singular "they" in Ps. 34:20. This is accurate translation for those English speakers who understand the generic meaning of English singular "they." And, to be fair, we should note that translating with "his bones" is accurate for those who understand the "his" of Ps. 34:20 to be generic.

The other point is that it is not the job of any Bible translator to Christianize the Old Testament (see our previous blog post on this topic). Every Bible translator must translate the Old Testament on its own terms, with the meanings intended by the Old Testament authors. The authors of the New Testament often interpret a passage from the Old Testament messianically, following traditional Jewish hermeneutics where prooftexting is commonly used. Typical rabbinical hermeneutics permits almost any words from the Hebrew Bible (or Septuagint) to be used as a prooftext to support an argument.

John 19:36 clearly refers to some passage in the Old Testament (perhaps Psalm 34:20) as being messianic. The gospel writer used typical Jewish rules of interpretation to apply the Old Testament passage to Jesus Christ. It is not for us to say that the New Testament writers were right or wrong in using the kind of heremeneutics that they, as Jews, were familiar with. The NET Bible footnote for its translation words "not one of them is broken" is appropriate here:
The author of the Gospel of John saw a fulfillment of these words in Jesus’ experience on the cross (see John 19:31-37), for the Roman soldiers, when they saw that Jesus was already dead, did not break his legs as was customarily done to speed the death of crucified individuals. John’s use of the psalm seems strange, for the statement in its original context suggests that the Lord protects the godly from physical harm. Jesus’ legs may have remained unbroken, but he was brutally and unjustly executed by his enemies. John seems to give the statement a literal sense that is foreign to its original literary context by applying a promise of divine protection to a man who was seemingly not saved by God. However, John saw in this incident a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ultimate deliverance and vindication. His unbroken bones were a reminder of God’s commitment to the godly and a sign of things to come. Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end of the story; God vindicated him, as John goes on to explain in the following context (John 19:38-20:18).
For those of us who believe that God himself inspired all scripture, including the New Testament, we accept prooftexting within the biblical canon as divinely inspired, even though many of us do not favor it as a good hermeneutical practice today. I gladly accept the messianic affirmation of John 19:36. Jesus Christ is my messiah and savior. I firmly believe that Christ fulfills Old Testament law, longings, and prophecies, even when the prophecies were not originally intended by their human authors to be prophecies. But, as a translator, I cannot change the meanings of passages in the Old Testament to be more messianic than they originally were. I believe that intellectual integrity calls for Bible translators not to Christianize the Old Testament. It is appropriate, in my opinion, for Bible translators to include footnotes to Old Testament texts, pointing out where the New Testament quotes those passages, and, often, puts a messianic interpretation upon them that may not have been there originally.

Is the TNIV wrong to translate "their bones" in Psalm 34:20? I believe that if we take all the data into consideration, which we have tried to do with this blog post, we can conclude that the TNIV wording is not in error. It is unfortunate that TNIV opponents accuse the TNIV translators of translating "inaccurately" in passages where there are differences of opinion about translation philosophy, target audiences, and what wordings are best to use for which target audiences, as well as differences of opinion about the degree to which Bible translators should word Old Testament passages to be as close as possible to their New Testament interpretation.

We would all do well to speak to each other as objectively and scholarly as possible, as Harold Holmyard does, irenically presenting support for his position, a position which has been held for a long time by many Christian exegetes. Such an objective approach to translation differences is in stark contrast to those who feel they can call so many translation differences "errors" and also feel that they can divine the motives of Bible translators for translating as they have.

For me, unless there is firm evidence to the contrary, I believe I need to take the TNIV translators at their word when they explain why they translated Ps. 34:20 as they did. Not everyone else agrees with me in taking people at their word like this. Some believe that the TNIV translators are either acting and speaking in self-delusion or are deliberately distorting the truth. I have had enough interaction with members of the TNIV team to believe that they truly are trying to translate as accurately as possible in each passage of scripture. I have to leave judgments about motives up to God himself who is the only one who truly knows our motives, even better than we ourselves know our own motives.

Is it accurate to translate Ps. 34:20 with "their bones" as it is in the TNIV (as well as the TEV, CEV, NCV, and NLT)? Yes, it is, if we understand the issues surrounding the generic meaning of the Hebrew possessive suffix, and what linguistic forms the target audience of the TNIV use to express that meaning.

Is it accurate to translate Psalm 34:20 with "his bones" instead of "their bones"? I believe it is for target audiences who understand that "his" in this verse is a generic possessive pronoun referring to any righteous individual, regardless of biological gender. As we have tried to stress on this blog, we must always take into account translation audiences of Bible versions when we are addressing matters of translation accuracy (as well as other language issues such as linguistic register, naturalness, and stylistics).

I have tried to be as open-minded as possible in this blog post. I believe in being fair to all sides and permitting, even inviting, all sides to present evidence for their opinions. With God's help, we will continue doing so on this blog. And should I be wrong in my conclusions about the translation of Ps. 34:20, I am willing to change them. I have changed my opinions in the past when the weight of evidence requires it, and I am willing to do so again in the future.

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Gundry responds to Grudem and Focus on the Family-Followup

Our recent post which featured Stan Gundry responding to Wayne Grudem's statements on two Focus on the Family radio broadcasts has probably elicited the most number of comments of any post on this blog. For those of you who wish to read more about that debate, you can read the comments under a blog post by Professor Scot McKnight titled The TNIV, Wayne Grudem, and Stan Gundry.

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Announcement: 150 Parables

I have received an email message from the daughter of a man, Deacon Michael Carrell, who believes he has found a literary key to the entire New Testament. His website, The 150 Parables, states, in part:
All of the writers in the New Testament have written their books and letters in Stories, using the literary form of the parables of Jesus. The literary form of the parables of Jesus is explained in detail in the book The 150 Parables.
This is the kind of claim which deserves to be examined within the community of biblical scholars, especially those concerned with the literary structures of the Bible. If Deacon Carrell is right, then he has uncovered an important tool which can help us highlight the literary structures of the New Testament better in translation. If he is not right, he will at least have raised an important thesis which biblical scholars can wrestle with, so that in the process we all grow further in our understanding of the literary structures of the Bible.

UPDATE: The book The 150 Parables is being revised now. The author prefers that those who wish to buy the book wait until the revisions are made so they can purchase the most up-to-date version of the book. The revised book should be ready for sale in a month or two.

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Liturgical translation

Rich Shields, a frequent visitor to and irenic commenter on this blog, has posted on the topic of liturgical Bible translation. His post was picked up by the ESV Bible blog, whose host, Stephen Smith, expands upon Rich's post. Both posts are well worth reading.

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Translating an ancient text

The Bible is an ancient text. It was written millenia ago over a great span of time. It was written within cultural contexts that existed millenia ago. It was written in ancient languages which are dead, no longer spoken or written by any of their native speakers. Yet, there is great value--eternal value as many of us believe--for people of any time or culture to be able to read, hear, or follow deaf signing of, the Bible.

Some people believe that when an ancient text is translated, we should do so in a way that makes it sound ancient. This typically means that if there are older words or syntactic forms in the target (translation) language, these should be used to produce reader responses that can include any or all of the following:
  1. The translation sounds classical to me.
  2. The translation sounds sacred to me.
  3. The translation stirs up feelings of mystery within me.
  4. I cannot understand all of the ancient language.
  5. The translation feels distant from me.
  6. The events of the translation happened long, long ago.
Others, however, believe that a translation should accurately preserve all references to events, people, places, and other cultural aspects which were from long ago, but do so in the current language of those for whom the translation is made. By current language we mean that language which is widely known by speakers of the target language and which would be considered to be of good literary quality, as, presumably, the original biblical texts were considered, on the whole, by their readers (or hearers). This idea that an ancient text can, and should, be translated in current language, should never lead to translation that allows any translation user to feel that the events described in the ancient text occurred recently. That would not be accurate translation.

I happen to believe in the second approach to translating an ancient text, believing that there is no need to use outdated words or syntactic forms of English, for instance, in order to accurately preserve all the ancient references within the Bible. In fact, I would contend, as I often do in my blog posts, that using current English allows English readers to more accurately understand the ancient text of the Bible. Accuracy in communication is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of making a good translation of the Bible. Such accuracy leads to better Bibles.

That's what I think. What do you think?

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Essentially literal translation is impossible!

I was interested to find the following in an article on gender issues at the ESV website:
The inclusive use of the generic “he” has also regularly been retained, because this is consistent with similar usage in the original languages and because an essentially literal translation would be impossible without it.
I will leave to one side the inaccurate statement that the English generic “he” “is consistent with similar usage in the original languages” (in fact the English use of gendered pronouns is quite different from Greek and Hebrew grammatical gender) and focus on the last part of the above. This would seem to imply that “essentially literal translation” is impossible into languages which do not have a generic “he” or an equivalent pronoun. But does the ESV translation team really intend to teach this? For, since there is also a clear implication that “essentially literal translation” is the only fully valid method of Bible translation, the implication of course is that it is impossible to translate the Bible into some languages.

And those languages into which they seem to suggest the Bible is untranslatable include the dialects of English which do not have a generic “he”, which are spoken by the majority of speakers in the UK and Australia (including myself) as well as by a large proportion of US speakers. So, must at least 100 million of us be deprived of the Word of God in our own language?

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ESV 2 Cor. 4:16

Yesterday the ESV Bible blog linked to a new dashboard widget for Macintosh computers which can be used for displaying the ESV verse of the day.

Ironically, the ESV blog displays 2 Cor. 4:16 to illustrate a verse of the day. This verse is worded as:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. (ESV)
I used the word "ironically" because this verse is meaningless in English, at least for myself and many other English speakers, as it is currently worded. What is meaningless are the words "our outer nature." I don't think English speakers conceive of us as having outer natures. A person's nature refers to something which is more "inward," such as their personality.

The ESV wording is intended to translate the Greek exo hemon anthropos, but in this context the Greek word anthropos would be better translated, in an essentially literal translation, as "person". Even more literal translations of this Greek phrase render it as "our outer man" (KJV,NASB) which also does not communicate the meaning of the Greek accurately to English speakers. Even then, "our outer person" (HCSB) is not very meaningful in English. There even more accurate and meaningful translations of the Greek phrase possible.

Meaningless wordings in a translation cannot, by nature, be accurate because they do not communicate to translation users the meaning of the biblical text, both as intended by the original author and as he assumed his audience would understand it, based on their shared knowledge of the Greek language and its usages in different contexts.

More meaningful and also more accurate translations of Greek exo hemon anthropos for 2 Cor. 4:16 are:
outwardly (NIV, TNIV, GW)
our physical body (NET Bible)
our physical being (TEV)
Our bodies (CEV)
Our physical body (NCV)
our bodies (NLT)
The constant lesson to be learned from each example of meaningless translation in any English version is that translators of that version need to step back from it to think about whether or not their wording communicates anything to fluent English speakers. They can also be helped empirically, if they test their translation wordings with scientifically representative samples of good speakers of the language, to discover what they understand from their translation wordings. Any wording which communicates little, if anyone, cannot, by definition, be accurate. Only accurate translations communicate the meaning of the biblical text to translation users.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

ESV poll results: Is. 65:18 wording is not a gladness

The fifth sentence tested in our poll of ESV translation wordings is:
Jerusalem's people are a gladness.
This sentence is excerpted and slightly revised from Is. 65:18 which is worded, in full, as:
But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.
Only 82 of 350 respondents (23.4%) indicated that they considered the test sentence to be proper English.

The test sentence is odd English, perhaps even ungrammatical. In 20th or 21st century English one would never, as far as I know, refer to anything being a "gladness," let alone a group of people being a "gladness." Instead, a group of people can be a "delight" or a "joy." They can "bring us joy." "Delight" and "joy" collocate properly with a reference to people in the English lexicon. "Gladness" does not do so for a majority of English speakers, at least not a majority of the English speakers who visit this blog and chose to take the ESV wording poll.

The RSV, of which the ESV is a revision, has better quality English in its parallel sentence of Is. 65:18 (see other version wordings below). The amount of poor English which I and others have found in the ESV is especially baffling given the following statement on the ESV website:
more than sixty of the world’s leading Bible scholars pored over every word and phrase to achieve the unique accuracy, excellence, and beauty of the ESV Bible
Better quality English wordings, excerpted and revised to parallel the test sentence, are:
Jerusalem's people are a joy. (KJV; essentially literal)
Jerusalem's people are a joy. (ASV; literal; source text for RSV)
Jerusalem's people are a joy. (RSV; essentially literal, source text for ESV)
Jerusalem's people are a source of happiness. (NET Bible; essentially literal)
Jerusalem's people are a delight. (HCSB; essentially literal)
Jerusalem's people are a delight (NRSV; essentially literal)
Jerusalem's people are a joy. (NIV, TNIV; moderately literal)
Jerusalem's people are a source of joy. (NLT; dynamic equivalent)
The NASB is the only other English version that uses the word "gladness" in Is. 65:18 and its syntactic and lexical usage in the NASB is different from that of the ESV:
For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing
And her people for gladness.
I look forward to a revised ESV with better quality English. And I will be glad to note improved wordings in the ESV. I am always glad when revision leads to better Bibles.

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NET Eph. 1:4

I appreciate the NET Bible. When I have a question about how to translate some passage in the Bible, I often turn to the NET Bible to find how it words that passage. Often I find good help from the NET footnotes for that passage. I have studied and evaluated the NET Bible for several years. I have read some reviews of it. At this point, I can't remember where I read the reviews. I wish I could so that I could provide a link to them if they are on the Internet. I do recall that others have noticed, as I have, that the quality of English in the NET Bible varies from book to book. I'm sure that that is a factor of how the NET Bible was translated. I seem to recall that a single person on the NET team was responsible for its first draft. Then the draft would be checked at least by a general editor. Unless a general editor regularizes the styles of the different translators (we would not want him to regularize away the different styles of the biblical authors), those differing styles remain in the final translation.

In this post let's look at the wording of Eph. 1:4 in the NET Bible:
For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love.
I suppose the overall wording of the NET for this verse is better than that of some versions. I think I can figure out most of the intended meaning.

The major idea is that he (God, previously referenced) chose us for a certain purpose. That purpose was that we would live the kind of lives that he wants us to, which here is specified as being "holy and unblemished in his sight in love."

Reflecting the long original Greek sentence, the English sentence of the translation is also long and has many smaller syntactic parts. And it is not initially easy to figure out how all the parts relate to each other, at least if we approach the wording as if we were reading it for the first time. Being difficult to comprehend on first reading is not necessary bad. In our translation consultants workshop, which I am attending now, someone pointed out that we don't necessarily need to aim for all parts of a translation to be understood the first time it is read. It's all right to read something more than once to get more of its meaning. Literary critics know this and it is often pointed out in reviews of Bible translation approaches.

We can examine the major syntactic parts by temporarily dropping out some of the details. For instance, to get at the setting of the time frame for the verse, we can read "For he chose us before the foundation of the world." I know what the NET translators are trying to convey here. It is that God chose us "before the creation of the world" or "before the world was created". I'm not sure what "the foundation of the world" refers to in English. I know what a foundation of a building is. I know about the foundation of some things that are more abstract than a building. For instance, I understand what it means to refer to "the foundation of our democracy." I would think that the Greek word katabole could more naturally be translated here as "creation" even though the lexicons give one of its glosses as 'foundation.' To me both English words refer to the same event, and the word "creation" brings to a reader's mind more easily what that event is. But I can't say that it is wrong to translate with the word "foundation." To my mind, the word "creation" would translate Greek katabole as accurately as "foundation."

Now let's look at another major syntactic construction, the purpose clause (again, only temporarily leaving out those details which are not directly part of the purpose syntax): "For he chose us that we may be holy." I understand this wording all right, but if I were a teacher of an English composition class, or one of the NET Bible editors, I would probably recommend that the NET wording be changed to have a purpose infinitive clause instead of a purpose "that ... may" subordinate clause. I think a wording with an infinitive clause sounds more natural in English:
For he chose us to be holy.
Interestingly, this revision would be closer to the syntactic form of the Greek which also has an infinitive clause for which the English infinitive seems more natural, in English.

I suggest that the conjoined purpose clause "to be holy and unblemished in his sight" may reflect a Semitic doublet where the two parts conjoined are near synonyms and may be combined to give added emphasis to the necessity of having the kind of holy life that God wants to see in us.

Exegetes and translators have struggled with how the English phrase "in love" syntactically connects to its context (and whether it is relating to what precedes or follows). In the NET wording, as in the wording of a number of other English versions, this prepositional phrase is tacked onto the end, but it is not clear what it relates to syntactically or semantically. Again, if I were a composition teacher or an editor for this translation, I would suggest that they work some more to try to make it clearer in the translation how the Greek phrase en agape relates to something else in its context.

Well, these are the kinds of things a Bible translation consultant or editor looks for in a translation, all with the purpose of helping the translation become a better Bible, more accurate, if there is the need for that, clearer, more natural, and, when possible, with greater stylistic elegance or literary beauty.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Translating Truth

Tim Challies reviews a new book, Translating Truth, with articles by several ESV translators. Tim's post is cited on the ESV blog today. The authors claim that the best translation philosophy is "esentially literal," the translation approach followed in their own ESV translation.

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The literary artistry of Judges 4

Rob Bradshaw of the Biblical Studies blog points us to a new upload to his online archives, an article titled "The Bee and the Mountain Goat: A Literary Reading of Judges 4," by John H. Stek.

Dr. Stek, who happens to be the current chairman of the CBT (Committee on Bible Translation) which produced the TNIV is right in attempting to describe the literary artistry of a passage of the Bible. There are many beautiful passages in the Bible. Better Bibles should attempt to communicate that literary beauty through translation. It is often not easy to do so, especially if one is dealing with poetry, but the attempt is worth it.

BTW, the importance of reproducing the literary artistry of the biblical texts is something about which Dr. Leland Ryken, a professor of English at Wheaton College and literary chairman of the ESV, would agree with Dr. Stek, even though the two differ on their assessment of the quality of the NIV and TNIV.

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