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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Responsibility for Clear Translation - follow up

A follow-up to my previous posting: Tim Bayly made the following response to my second comment on his posting:
Dear Peter,

You're right to call to mind the warnings of Scripture concerning God's judgment, but wrong in your choice of the one most pertinent to what's here under discussion. When men want to clean the text of Scripture up so that it can't be charged with sexism or anti-Semitism and delete or change words such as 'man' or 'Jew" in the Greek original that have a direct parallel in English, they are choosing the approval of man over the approval of God.

This is precisely what "Today's New International Version" and the "New Living Translation" do in a number of places, and no matter how men such as yourself justify this change, it is sin.

The proper place to look for warnings of Scripture pertinent to these deletions and changes is neither Ezekiel 33 nor Luke 17, but Revelation 22:18,19: "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book."

The problem with the words 'man' and 'Jew' is not that they are unable to be understood by the modern man, but that he understands them quite well and finds the Holy Spirit's use of them offensive. They seem sexist and anti-Semitic to him and so he finds men who style themselves translators to do his bidding and remove the offense of God's Word.

The Holy Spirit warned that the time would come when men would not put up with sound doctrine, but would surround themselves with teachers who would say what their itching ears wanted to hear. Today His words continue to be fulfilled, and the men hired to do the scratching continue to deny that this is what they are doing.

Sincerely in Christ,

Tim Bayly
He then closed the posting to further comments, so that I was not able to reply to his accusation of sin. So I will reply here instead.

First, I resent being accused of sin and not allowed the opportunity to reply to this accusation. I wrote to Tim Bayly off list asking for the right to reply, but he refused it to me. I also asked him:
Is it OK for women to produce translations like TNIV? After all, you have stated only that it is a sin for men to do so.
But he did not answer this question.

Now Bayly has confused the issue by this comment. There was no mention of gender-related language, nor of alternatives to "Jew", in the original posting, nor in my comments on it. My comments related to the use of words and phrases in translations which are not understood by target audiences, because they are archaic or religious jargon. This clearly does not apply to "Jew", nor to "man" or to other commonly criticised renderings of gender language. Bayly has in fact completely failed to answer my point that using language which is not well understood in translations is a stumbling block preventing many from finding salvation.

With these words there is an entirely different issue: the words are well understood, but (at least according to some) in a sense which is different from that intended by the biblical authors. And the motivation of most translators who choose alternative renderings, including the NLT and TNIV translation teams, is exegetical and communicative accuracy, not "to clean the text of Scripture up so that it can't be charged with sexism or anti-Semitism". Tim is welcome to question their exegetical and translational choices, but he is out of order to attribute to them motives which they have denied.

Bayly refers to "the Holy Spirit's use of" terms like "Jew" and "man", presumably in fact meaning his use of Greek words like Ἰουδαῖος Ioudaios and ἄνθρωπος anthrōpos, and their Hebrew near equivalents. I think he should look carefully at exegetical opinions, e.g. from well-known scholars like Don Carson, before assuming that the Holy Spirit's use of these terms is necessarily everywhere compatible with translations like "Jew" and "man". I wonder if attributing one's own opinions to the Holy Spirit might be the unforgivable sin against that Holy Spirit. (If Bayly wishes to understand this as an accusation and respond to it here or elsewhere, he is welcome.)

I am surprised that Bayly claims that I am seeking the approval of man. I would have expected him to claim that I am seeking the approval of woman! But in fact I am seeking the approval of God, by presenting his word as clearly as possible to those who are perishing without it. That is the responsibility which I have as a Bible translator, and I am not going to allow anyone like Bayly to divert me from it.


At Wed Jan 25, 10:39:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...


I appreciate your defense of your comments but I feel some of your comments especially toward the end are confusing the issue. Especially the word play on "man" and "woman" seems to throw a lot of confusion in the mix.

What exactly are you and Tim disagreeing on? Does it have bearing on Better Bibles or is the spark of a flaming war? Language on both sides seems inflammatory and emotional.

In my opinion your strongest argument is that literal translations are in essence "changing the Word of God" since they are being misunderstood by readers. That's a strong argument, especially if you can back it up with evidence and examples.

Make every effort to live at peace with one another.


At Wed Jan 25, 12:03:00 PM, Blogger D. P. said...

Well said, Peter!

At Wed Jan 25, 12:35:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Peter, I really wonder sometimes whether it is worthwhile arguing with these people. Their views are obviously so carved in stone that they are not going to be able to hear what you are saying, because they do not want to.

What I say next I say to myself as much as to you; I sometimes wonder whether too much reading and commenting on blogs is bad stewardship of the time God has given us. We might be better occupied doing what we do well, accepting the support of those who are willing to stand with us in the task, and leaving the others to God. I don't know; I'm just thinking off the top of my head.

At Wed Jan 25, 02:30:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Peter is trying to shine a light in a very dark place. I pray some good might come out of it.

At Wed Jan 25, 03:15:00 PM, Blogger Loren Rosson III said...


I certainly wouldn't worry about being accused of sin, not with the remarkable diligence you and your colleagues show in investigating these translations issues. Keep up the good work.

At Wed Jan 25, 04:35:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thank you for your various opinions. I realise that I am unlikely to change the Baylys' opinions, and so I don't intend to waste a lot of time arguing on their blog. But I do think it is good occasionally to witness to the truth in the forums provided by those of different opinions, as well as on this mostly more sympathetic blog.

David, it wasn't a word play about "man" and "woman" but a gentle reminder of what "man" actually means to me and to most English readers today. But there is a real issue of disagreement here. Well, in fact there are at least two of them, which Bayly has confused. The relevant disagreement was on whether translations should use language which is well understood by its target audiences. Bayly says no, at least if the target audience is "television-watching moderns"; but I insist that it must be yes, indeed that we are failing in our duty of Christian witness if we fail to use clear language. But Bayly has confused the issue by bringing in the almost entirely separate issues of gender language, on which we have disagreed before, as well as of alternative words for "Jew" on which he has simply assumed my view.

David, I agree that it is a very strong argument that "literal translations are in essence "changing the Word of God" since they are being misunderstood by readers". I think that plenty of evidence for this has already been presented on this blog, and Bayly has had ample chance to see this evidence. See for example the comments on Wayne's posting about ESV, and similarly for other versions - more links in the sidebar of this blog under "Versions". So I don't see an urgent need to provide another collection of this evidence.

At Wed Jan 25, 04:51:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

Peter, thanks for your reply.

Hey Tim, I think you're right. I'm spending way too much time blogging lately. At least in June I go back to Africa and low connect speeds so that will slow me down on this very addictive yet edifying activity.


At Wed Jan 25, 05:01:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Peter, please understand that I was not trying to be critical. You've already been accused of sin once too often today; I wasn't intending to do it again! Rather, I salute you for your patience and persistence.


At Thu Jan 26, 03:02:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...


Thanks for interacting on that blog. To write someone off as sinning and dismiss them the way it was done to you seems to suggest to me that maybe your comments were doing some good (from our perspective) there.

He's a brother. They're mistaken. It's sad. Life goes on.

I do find your thoughts helpful. And I do think your input even in such places can do good.


At Fri Jan 27, 01:30:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Tim and Ted, thank you for your encouragement!



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