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Monday, March 20, 2006

Textual variants affecting Old Testament translation

Today Henry Neufeld blogs on Examples of Textual Issues in Translation. Henry begins:
One issue that is commonly neglected in comparing Bible translations is the text used. Translators are well aware that differences in translation can be the result of differences in the text used, but in modern times, the approach to the text used by most translations has been very similar, and thus tends to be ignored by non-professionals. One major distinction is between those translations that follow the Textus Receptus, and those that use a more modern, eclectic text in the New Testament. The NKJV is a good example of a modern translation that follows that text.

But in discussing the RSV, ESV, and NRSV, I was reminded of another textual difference that is less well known: The attitude of the translators toward conjectural readings and readings in supported only by an ancient version or one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Typically, in translating the Hebrew scriptures, Christian translators have followed the Masoretic Text, the text printed in the vast majority of Hebrew Bibles, unless they find it impossible to translate the MT intelligibly. In that case they will look to the versions, the scrolls, or even to a conjectural emendation in some translations. The tendency in New Testament textual criticism, because a large amount of external evidence is available, is to study each variant and determine the best text, but this procedure has not yet carried over into Old Testament studies.
Henry goes on to discuss how treatment of the textual variants affects translation of two passages:
The first is an added paragraph between 1 Samuel 10:27 and 11:1. In this case we have an explanatory paragraph that comes between Saul becoming king and the situation in Jabesh Gilead which is Saul’s first problem as the leader of Israel. The NRSV alone among the modern translations includes this paragraph as part of the text. It is noted in a footnote in both the NLT and the CEV.
He discusses the textual evidence for specific translation choices. He does the same with his second example:
A second case involves the text of Isaiah in the Revised English Bible (REB) and the New American Bible (NAB). Isaiah 41:6-7 are transposed in that version to follow Isaiah 40:20. This is a correction supported by no external textual evidence at all. Presumably the change is based on a copying error involving miscopying part of a column, but the mechanism by which the change could occur is a bit obscure. It would have had to occur very early in the text.
Henry writes well, as always, and many visitors to this blog should find his comments helpful to understand how some Bible versions differ from others in the Old Testament, due to differences in the biblical texts used.

10 Comments:

At Mon Mar 20, 09:01:00 AM, Blogger codepoke said...

I was raised to believe that the Textus Receptus was significantly more trustworthy than all the other "gnostic" texts even though they are older. It is a difficult belief to crack, because everyone who disagrees with it is rejected as a liberal out of hand, but I am learning.

Is there a good resource that deals with the issue of not trusting the older texts?

 
At Mon Mar 20, 08:46:00 PM, Blogger yuckabuck said...

Actually the Textus Receptus would be considered "newer" from one point of view, because it is based on greek manuscripts that do not date from as far back as are the more modern greek texts that most use today. I was taken in by Zane Hodges' argument that we WOULD have actual ancient manuscript evidence for what would later be the Textus Receptus, except that only in Egypt is it dry enough for papyrus and the like to survive for so long. (All our "older manuscripts" that disagree with the TR are from around Egypt.) However, I was completely convinced of the untrustworthiness of the TR by Gordon Fee's article "The Majority Text and the original text of the New Testament," which can be found in Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism, co-authored by Fee and Eldon Epp.

 
At Mon Mar 20, 08:57:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

I was raised to believe that the Textus Receptus was significantly more trustworthy than all the other "gnostic" texts even though they are older.

Well, it's not just that they are older. That's of major importance, of course (considering how much older they are), but there are other factors (like how widely distributed a certain "family" of texts is supported across multiple regions, etc.).

Secondly, they have nothing to do with "Gnosticism". If they were really Gnostic, then you and I and anyone else who reads the New Testament might as well be called "Gnostics" too (In other words, the theological differences between the variety of NT manuscripts is virtually non-existent.).

Secondly, if they were Gnostic, then most of these textual discoveries would have reflected a Gnostic or Marcionite preference in their Canon....Or at the very least, they would have somehow expressed and included their specific beliefs in some way or another.

Is there a good resource that deals with the issue of not trusting the older texts?

To be completely frank: No. About the only people who write about the superiority of the TR are layman and preachers (most of whom usually adhere to KJV-Onlyism). None of them are textual scholars or archaelogists (and I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of them didn't even know how to read Greek).

--------

As for the OT: I'm looking forward to when DSS and LXX studies start becoming a bigger factor in developing a critical OT text. It's strange that they haven't already.

 
At Mon Mar 20, 11:16:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

What about Pickering's thesis?

So, how does my belief that God has preserved the N.T. text square with the evidence? I see in the Traditional Text ("Byzantine") both the result and the proof of that preservation. Please note that I am not imposing my presuppositions on the evidence—the Traditional Text does exist and so far as I can see represents the normal transmission of the original.

 
At Tue Mar 21, 05:27:00 AM, Blogger codepoke said...

I was completely convinced of the untrustworthiness of the TR by Gordon Fee's article "The Majority Text and the original text of the New Testament,"

Thank you, yuckabuck. I enjoyed one of Fee's books, and will look for this one.

Straylight,

Secondly, they have nothing to do with "Gnosticism".

Agreed. I was taught this, and am unlearning it.

About the only people who write about the superiority of the TR are layman and preachers

I am a little surprised that nobody has taken the time to give people like me a reason to lay down their KJVs. I was long in the position that if anyone retranslated the TR, I would buy it. I accepted a long time ago that the KJV translators made glaring errors, but I still did not trust the Egyptian texts that everyone else used.

Suzanne,

I have never heard of Mr. Pickering, but I will see what he has to say. Thank you.

 
At Tue Mar 21, 09:50:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I am not supporting his view in any way. I only want to say that some still hold a position that the Byzantine text has priority over the earlier manuscripts. However, he does nuance this a bit, but I don't find his arguments convincing. Nontheless he is linked to by the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

We went to school together, but this does not imply that we were reading the same scholarship.

 
At Tue Mar 21, 03:07:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

If anyone really wants a modern translation of TR, they should get NKJV.

 
At Tue Mar 21, 08:25:00 PM, Blogger yuckabuck said...

Codepoke-
You're welcome. The link Suzanne Mccarthy gives is to an online copy of one of the more scholarly defenses of the TR. It is interacted with in the Gordon Fee article I previously mentioned.

"I am a little surprised that nobody has taken the time to give people like me a reason to lay down their KJVs." Here is my story in a real brief nutshell:

My original encounter with a "high view" of the TR came through Zane Hodges' and Arthur Farstad's critical edition of the "Majority Text," which is similar to the TR. (I have heard that the text behind the New King James is actually the Majority Text rather than the TR, though that may be an oversimplification.) I was impressed with his reasonings because I had no clue, and it sounded appealingly non-conformist. I was prepared to dump my NIV and adopt the New King James as the only true Word-a-God.
I understood Hodges to be saying that we were basically accepting textual changes from what had been considered "traditional" (ie. King James) based on an argument from silence: Since we had not yet found manuscripts that support the KJV/TR/Majority Text from the earlier centuries, then we were assuming they didn't exist. Arguments from silence are, of course, weak. However, when I read the Fee article, I realized that the evidence was much greater and positive than that. Yes, most of the greek manuscript evidence comes from one general area, but Hodges was overlooking all the other evidence we have from those times as to what the text said. There are translations of Scripture into other languages, as well as quotations from the church fathers of the time, that also gives us more reason to trust that we are on the right track in devaluing the TR and pursuing the correct readings from these earlier older greek manuscripts. I was convinced, and ended up NOT starting a New King James Only movement.... :-)

 
At Wed Mar 22, 02:44:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Yuckabuck wrote: "(I have heard that the text behind the New King James is actually the Majority Text rather than the TR, though that may be an oversimplification.)" Not so, at least according to Michael Marlowe, whom I trust on such matters of fact despite my disagreements with him on some translation issues. In his article on NKJV he writes:

The New King James Version is a conservative revision of the King James version that does not make any alterations on the basis of a revised Greek or Hebrew text, but adheres to the readings presumed to underlie the King James version. In the New Testament, this means that the Greek text followed is the Textus Receptus of the early printed editions of the sixteenth century.

This Bible has not been accepted by many KJV-only people. Part of the reason for this may be that, according to Marlowe:

The NKJV editors have provided information on the readings of the ancient manuscripts in the margin. Most of the significant differences between the underlying Greek text of the NKJV and the ancient manuscripts are indicated there, by notes which give the readings of the United Bible Societies' third edition (see Aland Black Metzger Wikren Martini 1975). Also indicated are significant differences from the "Majority Text" published by Hodges and Farstad in 1982.

In other words, the NKJV editors can be seen as making concessions to other manuscript traditions - although as Marlowe points out these concessions are not even-handed as claimed.

 
At Thu Mar 23, 07:53:00 AM, Blogger Randall Buth said...

I didn't see people interact with the Hebrew MT. There are many issues that are overlooked in translation committees.
If the MT is chosen as a canonical text, then a translation should not say "according to emendation. HEbrew unclear." or 'Hebrew unlcear: LXX'. If the MT says Shaul was two years old, then translate that, with your own guess, should you wish, in a footnote.
A useful commentary on the MT is da`at miqra. The various authors are at least pledged to explaining the MT as it stands.
And yes, I would translate the MT according to its te`amim, footnoting what I might consider a better accentuation. The principle is simple, if translating the MT, then translate the MT, don't create a new text. This principle would affect one or two readings per page in many English Bibles.

braxot
Randall Buth
www.biblicalulpan.org

 

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