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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Scot McKnight repents and I like ESV John 13:35

Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog is one of the most refreshing watering holes on the Internet. Scot is a biblical scholar who integrates his mind with his heart, his theology with its application, and I like that. In a recent post Scot quoted scripture from memory:
“All men will know that,” Jesus once said, “you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35).
I love to tease and often my teasing tries to make a point. When I read Scot's post, the word "men" in his quote from John 13:35 jumped off the (virtual) page at me. So I did my typical Wayne thing and commented on his post:
All women too, presumably! :-)
I knew Scot would take it well, and he did. He emailed me saying he had revised "All men" to "All." Great! Even Bible scholars can repent!

I decided to look up John 13:35 in several English versions. Until fairly recently most have used "men" in that verse even though there is no corresponding Greek word for "men":
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (RSV)
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (NASB)
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)
The Greek simply has pantes which means "all" or "everyone." It is a generic word referring to everyone, regardless of their biological gender. Pantes is grammatically masculine but is often semantically generic (gender-inclusive), as it is in John 13:35. Greek uses grammatically masculine words to refer to groups consisting of both females and males. This is simply the way that Greek works. There is no theological or other significance to it.

One of the versions I checked was the ESV. I was encouraged to find that the ESV translators accurately revised RSV "men" of John 13:35 to "all people" which, of course, means the same as "everyone" or, simply, "all":
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (ESV)
This is a departure from the frequent ESV practice of translating Greek grammatically masculine generics with English masculine words. This is done even though it is not accurate for many English speakers. For instance, ESV masculine "brothers" of ESV Rom. 12:1, is understood today by a majority of English speakers as referring only to male siblings, the Greek word it translates, adelphoi, does not refer to males only, but to both males and females. I'm glad that the ESV translators got it right in this passage. They used a truly generic English wording "all people" to translate a truly generic Greek word, pantes. That is accurate translation. Now if the ESV team would follow the same policy for other Greek generics, the ESV would become even more accurate. Perhaps it will someday, since the ESV team is revising the ESV and will be publishing a new edition in a year or so.

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8 Comments:

At Thu Feb 09, 04:38:00 PM, Blogger Carl W. Conrad said...

NET and The message have "everyone," which seems to me better idiomatic English than a substantival "all."

 
At Thu Feb 09, 04:42:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, I admire your optimism in hoping that ESV will be revised to become gender accurate. But the chances of this happening are surely minimal while the ESV Translation Oversight Committee includes scholars like Grudem and Poythress who have clearly demonstrated their ideological opposition to the kinds of changes which you are looking for.

 
At Thu Feb 09, 05:09:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

NET and The message have "everyone," which seems to me better idiomatic English than a substantival "all."

I agree, Carl, and noted that before I posted, but I felt that dropping "men" was an improvement. As long we don't drop men too far anyway!! We know what happened to Humpty Dumpty.

 
At Thu Feb 09, 05:40:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

But was Humpty Dumpty a man? He certainly wasn't a woman, at least not in the classic illustrations of Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass", but he doesn't look very human either. Anyway, Carroll calls him "he". But then some think that he was in fact the famous Greek lexicographer, and Alice's father, Henry Liddell, the same one whose work (together with Scott) on the gender genericness of adelphos was ignored by Grudem. So, if the ESV committee is not to drop Humpty Dumpty, they need to drop "man"!

 
At Thu Feb 09, 07:43:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Note also the HCSB: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 
At Thu Feb 16, 06:59:00 AM, Blogger Steven said...

Dear Sir,

Perhaps I am straining at gnats, but I have a quibble with the suggestion that "all people" and "all" are equivalent translations. "All people" is a noun modified, "all" can be a noun, but it is most often an adjective, and as a noun it is exceedingly ambiguous. The all here can be all creation (which is not a bed thought, but does it express the intent of the original author in the use of the term).

My interest in translation comes from the fact that I know virtually nothing of the originals. I can understand the points presented here and enjoy hearing about them. However, my concern for translations is that they present the majesty of God's revelation in language suitable to that revelation. When we allow ambiguity to creep in, we may have better poetry, but we may be escaping from the intent of the passage. Hence, I would prefer to see "all people" in preference to "all," unless the "all" referred to is "all creation." The precision of "all people" is more satisfying, if somewhat less poetic. And I really like "all people" much better than everyone--but that is merely personal preference. I know that I would most likely put down a translation that said "everyone" and continue to read one that said "all people." I want accuracy and precision, but prefer less "chatty" translations. But again, I recognize that merely as a personal quirk not as a note on translation.

shalom,

Steven

 
At Thu Feb 16, 08:09:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Steven said:

Perhaps I am straining at gnats, but I have a quibble with the suggestion that "all people" and "all" are equivalent translations.

Steven, I don't think you are straining at gnats on this. There are degrees of equivalence, and degrees of naturalness. As you can see in my comment above, agreeing with Carl Conrad, I prefer "everyone" to "all." And I also prefer "all people" to "all." I think "everyone" is more natural than "all people."

Thanks for your comments.

 
At Wed Feb 22, 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Wayne, this sort of thing is extremely common throughout the ESV. They regularly translate 'anthropos' as "people" or "human". Suzanne has pointed out some irregularities on this in one or two particular passages, but my understanding of it from having read the whole ESV is that that's the exception rather than the rule. They normally do exactly this sort of thing.

 

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