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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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At Wed Nov 23, 10:16:00 AM, Blogger Dave Spaun said...

Another fallacy one could make in any debate is to not use all the evidence at hand (intentionally or not).

It's interesting to me that on the link you give to Grudem's site (in the 3rd 'claim'), he lists the NET bible in the 'essentially literal' category, and makes no mention of it when making his anti-gender neutral claims (he lists the NRSV, TNIV, NLT, NCV, GNB, and CEV).

However, if we were to look at the NET, we'd find that it is actually more 'gender neutral' than the TNIV! For example, nearly all the Proverbs that begin with "My son..." are translated "My child..." in the NET (ex. 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 10, 20, 5:1, et al). Ironically, the TNIV translates ALL of these as "son!"

This seems to be rather inconsistent. I trust that this inconsistency is unintentional, but it seems that if Dr. Grudem (among others) is going to categorize and criticize certain translations, it might be wise to categorize consistently.

Wherever one stands on the issue of gender accuracy/neutrality, shouldn't we all make the effort to be consistent in our arguments?

At Wed Nov 23, 11:13:00 AM, Blogger Rey said...

Excellent post. There's some anti-X-translation folks out there basing their whole argument on fallacious statement.


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