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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Is ESV really an improvement?

In a comment on his own posting Gundry responds to Grudem and Focus on the Family, Wayne wrote:
...the ESV. It is an improvement on the KJV for today's speakers of English.
But it is not an improvement at Matthew 5:9, where ESV has ruined the perfectly good KJV reading for the sake of a spurious ideology that "sons" must be used rather than "children". Well, the ESV footnote refers to the following, in its online preface:
In addition, the English word “sons” (translating the Greek word huioi) is retained in specific instances because of its meaning as a legal term in the adoption and inheritance laws of first-century Rome.
But what is the relevance of Roman adoption and inheritance laws to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount audience? The Roman laws probably didn't even technically apply in Galilee, and Jesus' audience would not have been thinking in these terms at all.

More probably the real reason for this choice is that the translators wanted to follow the Colorado Springs Guidelines, which include:
2."Son" (huios, ben) should not be changed to "child," or "sons" (huioi) to "children" or "sons and daughters." (However, Hebrew banim often means "children.")
Although there is a clause here there may be unusual exceptions in certain contexts, the ESV translators apparently did not recognise this as an exception. For they did not take the obvious point that Jesus' original word was surely Hebrew banim or its Aramaic equivalent and therefore should be understood as "children", or, since this applies to all ages, "sons and daughters".

In fact this is a case where the supposedly unusual exceptions may be more common than the rule, and so these hastily put together guidelines need revision. There are some places, such as Matthew 20:20, where υἱοί huioi refers to males only and so is correctly translated "sons". But, whatever the details of Roman adoption law, it seems clear that the various blessings promised in the New Testament to the υἱοί huioi of God are available to all regardless of gender, and whether or not the promises are on Jesus' lips or in Paul's letters. This is something which should be brought out properly in a good translation.

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8 Comments:

At Wed Nov 02, 12:24:00 PM, Blogger Phil (Col 1:27-28) said...

So, Barclay is all wrong?

(iii) The Authorized Version says that the peace-makers shall be called the children of God; the Greek more literally is that the peace-makers will be called the sons (huioi) of God. this is a typical Hebrew way of expression. Hebrew is not rich in adjectives, and often when Hebrew wishes to describe something, it uses, not an adjective, but the phrase son of … plus an abstract noun. Hence a man may be called a son of peace instead of a peaceful man. Barnabas is called a son of consolation instead of a consoling and comforting man. This beatitude says: Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God; what it means is: Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be doing a God-like work. The man who makes peace is engaged on the very work which the God of peace is doing (Romans 15:33; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20).
The Gospel of Matthew : Volume. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Just wondering?

Blessings in Christ Jesus!

 
At Wed Nov 02, 02:50:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Phil, I'm sure Barclay was right about many things.

The question for Matt. 5:9 is whether the hUIOI TOU THEOU referred only to males or to both males and females. If it referred only to males, then "sons of God" is an accurate translation in today's English. If it referred to both males and females, then "children of God" is more accurate.

The English word "sons" refers only to male offspring.

Do you understand Matt. 5:9 to refer to males only or to both males and females?

 
At Wed Nov 02, 02:52:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

No, I don't say that Barclay is all wrong here, although I think there is rather more to being a "son of God" (or a daughter of God) than "doing a God-like work" - but then I don't want to divert this blog into theology. Barclay surely agrees with me on my main point that there is nothing gender specific here, for his rendering "Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be doing a God-like work" is entirely gender generic. Admittedly he does also speak of "The man who makes peace...", but in 1975 he could still get away with using "man" in its old gender generic sense, especially when as here it is contrasted with "the God of peace".

 
At Thu Nov 03, 10:46:00 AM, Blogger David said...

I'd say that the ESV made the correct choice in translating the Greek accurately. What I like about the ESV is that they don' t try to do interpretation at this point. That's my job as I preach or teach on the passage.
I used to get frustrated with the NIV because they often made interpretive choices. Even when I agreed with their choice, I never thought it was the job of the translation to narrow down the options, put a proper name in place of a pronoun, etc.

 
At Thu Nov 03, 02:49:00 PM, Blogger Paul W said...

David, what is your basis for claiming the ESV translated hUIOI TOU THEOU correctly? All of the evidence from the lexicons suggests to me that the ESV has done a lot of what you call "interpretation" at this point in translating hUIOI TOU THEOU as "sons of God."

David said: "What I like about the ESV is that they don't try to do interpretation at this point. That's my job as I preach or teach on the passage."

You seem to forget that all translation is interpretation, including the ESV. We recognise this in the diplomatic and public services when a Chinese leader may be giving a speech to a New Zealand audience and he has an English-Chinese "interpreter" on stage with him.

 
At Thu Nov 03, 03:51:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Wayne wrote: The English word "sons" refers only to male offspring.

I'm not so sure; that depends on context. In the corporate environment with more females than males, it is not unusual to hear a female say "Hey, guys, let's...." -- "guys" including males and females, thus considered generic. I think in some contexts "son" in English functions the same way.

Perhaps another question regarding OT usage: is there a difference between "daughters of Zion" and "sons of Zion" (aside from the negative and positive connotations)? Note that the second reference actually switches.

Isaiah 3:16-17 The LORD said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet; the Lord will smite with a scab the heads of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will lay bare their secret parts.

Lamentations 4:2-3 The precious sons of Zion, worth their weight in fine gold, how they are reckoned as earthen pots, the work of a potter's hands! 3 Even the jackals give the breast and suckle their young, but the daughter of my people has become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.

 
At Thu Nov 03, 05:59:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Rich, as I understand it "daughters of Zion" in the plural are usually the women of Jerusalem, whereas "daughter of Zion" in the singular, and perhaps also "daughter of my people", is generally a poetic name for the city itself. That makes sense of the passages you quote.

 
At Fri Nov 04, 07:54:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Rich, you wrote:

Wayne wrote: The English word "sons" refers only to male offspring.

I'm not so sure; that depends on context. In the corporate environment with more females than males, it is not unusual to hear a female say "Hey, guys, let's...." -- "guys" including males and females, thus considered generic. I think in some contexts "son" in English functions the same way.


I would need some specific example, taken from naturally uttered speech or something naturally written to be able to check on this. I have never heard or read "son" or "sons" used naturally by any native English speaker to refer to anyone other than a male. Of course, it is used in the special "church dialect" of English, but that dialect has forms imported from the biblical languages, rather than just using natural English, so any claims based on church English would be based on circular reasoning.

 

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