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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Language Police

I have recently read some posts elsewhere about how women don't want inclusive language in their Bibles. They would feel patronized, etc. It is too silly. Okay, I am one of those women. If a year ago someone had asked me if I thought that the Bible should have inclusive language, I would not have responded with interest.

Personally, I don't really give a fig, or a fig-leaf, which pronouns are used in the Bible. I thought 'thou' and 'thee' were nice, ...

So, what is the issue for me? Simply this. I do not believe we should have language police for the Bible. It is a socialistic, central planning coup, a revisionist polemic - and so on - you get the idea. (This is not intended to refer to any particular group, but it is the way some people talk up here about Bill 101.)

A book has been written about language police. Not the Canadian ones, this time.
    Author of 7 books, Ravitch served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education from 1991 to 1993. Her expertise and her 30-year commitment to education lend authority and urgency to this important book, which describes in copious detail how pressure groups from the political right and left have wrested control of the language and content of textbooks and standardized exams, often at the expense of the truth (in the case of history), of literary quality (in the case of literature), and of education in general.

You notice that it says pressure groups from both sides. I certainly hope that I am not part of a pressure group for any particular translation. Okay, I did buy a TNIV and I have been reading it, but I have not bothered to update my Good News Bible to the inclusive language edition.

I don't recommend any particular translation, but simply hope to contribute to an understanding of how Bible versions differ and why we should learn to live with that.

Frankly I am still looking for something that contains verses like this.

    Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Romans 16:7 KJV

    Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9 KJV

    For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 1 Cor. 11:10 KJV

A nice traditional and suitably ambiguous Bible like the KJV is what we need. (Actually I do know that there are places where it doesn't look all that great, but the text critics can fuss over that.) Luther's Bible is also looking good. Tradition!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Lowering the Stakes

I watched Sisters in Resistance on TV last weekend about a group of women in the French Resistance who were sent to Ravensbruk.

    SISTERS IN RESISTANCE tells the story of four young women who risked their lives to fight Nazi oppression and brutality in occupied France, not because they themselves were Jewish or in danger of being arrested, but because it was the right thing to do. ...

    Resistance and arrest led them to Ravensbruck, where they shared a straw mattress, and most importantly, defied the dehumanization of the camp by taking care of one another with love and tenderness. The intense camaraderie that existed among these four friends helped them survive the concentration camp and lead productive lives after the war. Sisters in Resistance
One of the most painful moments in the movie is when one of the women describes her efforts to hide and protect the aging mother of another of the women. She is not able to completely cover the white hair of her friend's mother, a respected professor and mentor, and the guards, tearing her out of the younger woman's arms, drag her away and shoot her.

Now here is the catch. One of the central quotes in this movie is from André Malraux, "Face au mal absolu, une seule réponse : la fraternité." This phrase is often translated "The only response to absolute evil is fraternity." This translation uses a transliteration of the French word. It could be considered congate, but if anything it is one of the 'faux amis'. That is, the word 'fraternity' does exist in English, however, it has a different meaning from the related French word.

Here is the internet list of definitions for 'fraternity' with 'a social club for male undergraduates' at the head. That is what the word means if I hear it used in English. Naturally in context, I can do better, but without knowing the history of how the word is used in French it would be difficult to get the sense in which Malraux meant it. In fact, even better, read Malraux in French.

I don't think anyone would suggest 'brotherhood' even though that would be the etymological translation. What a travesty it would be to supply an etymological quasi equivalent as a 'translation'. It would not represent fidelity to Malraux who is famous for writing "La Condition Humaine'.

Or you could take the approach used by the interpreter, who simply translated fraternité as 'friendship'. The interpreter wisely decided that maleness was not a necessary component of meaning in this phrase. 'Intense bond of friendship', 'solidarity' and 'sisterhood' are all words that have been used to describe the relationship between the young women in this movie.

In case anyone has lingering doubts about whether fraternité really does mean 'friendship'and 'solidarity' I appeal to French wikipedia, "Au sens commun, cette notion désigne un lien de solidarité et d'amitié entre les humains." Here is the Collins entry. "Fraternity, friendship, brotherhood, sisterhood."

Naturally in this movie 'sisterhood' is a good transtion, but that is not what Malraux said. It is also impossible to translate it as 'brotherhood.' That is also not what Malraux said. One can explain the word 'fraternity' in English and extend the meaning from 'a place where boys get drunk', to the original French meaning, or one can simply translate it as 'friendship'.

By supplying an example outside of biblical literature, I hope to lower the stakes and enable us to take a fresh look at the vocabulary of gendered family relationships. I was thinking especially of Richard's comment that God's word is so important that people get things wrong. Maybe this difficulty with fraternité can serve as a less loaded example.

The part about translating God's Word being so important that people get things wrong comes from my discussions with folks who have expressed the literalist position to me. There is a fear of, in effect, sinning by getting the meanings wrong, so they look for procedures to guarantee they aren't responsible for misleading anyone.

Bible version schizophrenia

Jason Woolever and Shane Reynor have both just publicly confessed to being Bible version schizophrenics.

Does anyone wish to make any public confessions on this blog?!


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Is traditional "literal" ?

I would like to respond to the question of whether we are, on this blog, against the traditional "literal" translations of the Bible. The first thing that has to be settled then is what is a traditional translation of the Bible, and is that a "literal" translation. I would argue not necessarily.

It is significant, I think, that when people talk about the English Bible tradition, they often mention Tyndale with great respect and reverence, but they are not always aware of how it differed from the King James. In the Tyndale Bible 'propitiation' is translated 4 different ways in the NT. Propitiation is one of the many Latinate words that appears in the KJV but not in the Tyndale version. So the Tyndale translation varies considerably from the KJV in its lack of Latin derived theological and ecclesiatic terms.

    Like Luther, Tyndale eschewed the Latinized ecclesiastical terms in favor of those applicable to his readers: repent instead of do penance; congregation rather than church; Savior or elder in the place of priest; and love over charity for the Greek agape.

    The Bible Translation That Rocked the World by Henry Zecher
Here is a look at the Tyndale version of four verses where 'propitiation' occurs in the KJV.

    whom God hath made a seate of mercy thorow faith in his bloud to shewe ye rightewesnes which before him is of valoure in yt he forgeveth ye synnes yt are passed which God dyd suffre Romans 3:25

    and he it is that obteyneth grace for oure synnes: not for oure synnes only: but also for the synnes of all the worlde. 1 John 2:2

    Herin is love not that we loved god but that he loved vs and sent his sonne to make agrement for oure sinnes. 1 John 4:10

    Wherfore in all thynges it became him to be made lyke vnto his brethre that he myght be mercifull and a faythfull hye preste in thynges concernynge god for to pourge the peoples synnes Hebrews 2:17
It is worth considering that the Tyndale translation had no clear and consistent word for propitiation, and the Luther Bible does not teach 'adoption of sons'. And yet, the Reformation was based on these Bibles. I have heard preachers and theologians discuss the inadequacies of a Bible that does not contain the expressions 'propitiation' or 'adoption of sons'. I am convinced that these omissions were deliberate on the part of the translators as they wished to communicate the gospel in the language of their day, not coin new and difficult theological terminology.

There is an ahistoric notion that Bible translations have progressed from more literal to less literal over the centuries. In my opinion, other influences and pressures played a more significant role. It is not a matter of unidirectional development or single faceted analysis.

So in response to the question of why we might appear to be against traditional "literal" translations of the Bible, my question is what is a traditional translation? After that one could look at whether 'traditional' is in any way equivalent to literal or not, and then what the relation is between older so-called literal translations, and modern so-called literal translations, what is the value of a literal translation, and so on.

If I were to make a wild guess, I would suggest that emphasis on 'literal' translations came into vogue in the 19th century along with the shift of the locus of literacy from public to private space, from church to home. Any thoughts?

Preacher Mike on the TNIV

Yesterday Preacher Mike blogged on the TNIV. Mike addresses a number of the widespread misconceptions about the TNIV. Here's one:
Yesterday after class a couple students came up and said that at their church they’d been told to get rid of their TNIVs because the translation gets rid of the male language for God.
Mike corrects the misunderstanding:
Let me be clear: the TNIV does NOT get rid of the male language for God.

It does, however, make some changes (just one of many areas where improvements are made over the older NIV) that reflect differences in the way Greek and English deal with gender.

For example, I have one brother and two sisters. In Spanish I could say I have three hermanos. Even though “hermano” is the word for brother, in the plural it can include brothers and sisters. But even though in Spanish I could say I have three hermanos, I wouldn’t in English say I have three brothers.

Similarly, when Paul writes to the “brothers” in a church, he isn’t just addressing the males. So in Today’s NIV it comes out as “brothers and sisters” (unless, of course, the context suggests a male audience).
Mike concludes his post:
Despite what a few have said, the TNIV isn’t an attempt to create some gender neutral society. It’s an attempt by people who love scripture to translate scripture accurately in this generation. Spend a little time at their website, and you’ll get a feel for the devotion the translators had to this communicating God’s message. If you want to check out more about their decisions of how to handle language related to gender, there’s a great explanation here. As he explains, one day we’ll realize that this was a tempest in a teapot!
As I have read and listened to the TNIV opponents and studied their lists of supposed "inaccuracies" in the TNIV, I am led to agree with Mike. There is little genuine substance to the claims of inaccuracy in the TNIV. One can have differences about how to translate some passages in the TNIV, but there are very few, if any, translation wordings that can objectively be considered inaccuracies. The public has been misled by a powerful campaign, itself inaccurate, when judged by sound biblical scholarship, against the TNIV.

Is the TNIV my favorite translation? No, it is not. But it is a good, accurate, trustworthy translation. It is clearly a needed update to the NIV. Would I preach from the TNIV and recommend it to others? Yes, gladly.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It's The Thing Between

If you haven't read Rich's entry yesterday, Sins of Omission, go do that now.


I did a Snoopy Dance!

I started to reply with a comment and...well...the result is this post.

I have a statement I use that refers to what Rich said.

It's the thing between.

This statement is meant to refer to the fact that within a context there is something connecting the various pieces of the context. These connections create a very highly complex network which generates the coherence of the meaning of a text.

If I say, "Connections blue Fred burn ugly," you have no idea what that could possibly mean. It's totally incoherent. Why? There are no connections; there are no things between. (Though some of you will play with that "sentence" trying to make it make sense. What are you doing? You're constructing the things between.)

Now, some of these connections are explicit--they're in the text (eg. a genitive case ending). So, there are syntactical connections.

However, in many, many cases the connection is not in the text. The specifically required connections are determined by or selected by the text, but they aren't in the text[1]. This is obviously seen when I say 'trunk' and then ask you what am I referring to? You don't know! Why not? Because you don't know what to connect it to. Though you have probably thought of a prototypical trunk; you didn't think of a rhinoceros, for example. That sequence of connected letters, t-r-u-n-k, significantly constrained the potential meanings. But, there is still sufficient ambiguity that you don't know what I'm referring to. Now, as soon as I say 'trunk' and 'car' then an American makes a much stronger connection and does so quite quickly. It's the thing between that generates the meaning. And furthermore, and quite importantly, it's the thing between that generates the clarity in a communication.[2]

Another way of seeing this is the fact that I can leave a certain ______ out of a sentence and you will very likely be able to figure out what is missing. The connections, the things between, force you toward an appropriate determination of what word goes in that blank. Cross word puzzles somewhat work this way. You are given a clue; you have to come up with the word. Also, cross word puzzles point out that different people are different, and different words come to mind more readily than others. That is, for some answers you require more information such as additional letters. These facts point us to concluding that the connections are within your mind. These are the things between.

To a degree, word for word translations, by definition, ignore the things between. This is ironic since those who strongly advocate word for word translation also insist that words derive their meaning from the context (as do I). I think what they don't seem to understand is that the word-focused activity of a word for word translation process subverts the clarity generated by the things between. An accurate translation will not only translate the words, but will translate[3] the things between. And may I say here with little further justification that not only are the words inspired, but the things between participate in that inspiration. They had to, or we worship an inspiring God that is limited in his ability to communicate. So, as Rich said, there is no place to hid. The words are there; the things between are there--we have to humbly deal with that.

Lastly, I purposely used 'trunk' and 'car' in the above illustration since my British friends (and I think other non-Americans) will get the connection more slowly than their American counterparts, though not in all cases. And that's within the same language although separated by a common people (note that this sentence is meant to be humorous since it is connected to a similar humorous statement, but that connection is not in the text). This doesn't mean that Brits are somehow dumber than Americans (what provincialism!) Nor are those who want a clear translation asking for a dumbed down Bible (provincialism again!?!). People who want a clear translation are simply asking for Bible translators to do their job (and yes, most certainly, I know it's hard--the risk is great--this point in Rich's article is well taken!)

We need clear translations. We need to bring across from the original context into the modern context enough of the things between in order to generate that clarity.

[1] This is particularly true of an authoritative and sacred text such as the Bible.

[2] If we want to maintain a strong view of inspiration, then we have to come to grips with the coherency of the text and how that coherency interplays with clarity and ambiguity as it exists in communcation (or language use). In other words, has God communicated?

[3] The word translate doesn't quite work here; but, we don't appear to have a word that accurately captures the meaning. Transduce comes to mind.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sins of omission

Back on April 10 in my post on ὁρθοτομέω I mentioned the Russian linguist Igor Mel'chuk. In addition to being very, very smart about language and linguistic matters, he has a lot of wise things to say about life in general. One of them came up in a discussion about having too much at stake. If something is too important, it can make it all but impossible to be able to perform well. His example was this: if you fill a glass of water just below the brim and tell someone to walk it across the room without spilling any, many people could do that. It's not easy, but it can be done. But if you offer someone $5,000,000 to do it, almost no one can. (He said $1,000,000 but that was over 25 years ago when that amount of money would make you independently wealthy, so I'm adjusting for inflation.) It's the same principle that lies behind the laws that prevent doctors from operating on their own family members. If it's too important to you, then you'll mess it up.

Bible translation is like that. Translators can be in awe of the fact that they are dealing with God's Word. They feel that if they are standing between God's Word and the Christian public, they've got to be sure they get it right. So they go looking for something safe. The traditional logic runs: Don't interpret the Word, just tell people what's actually there.

But there is a problem. Because no two languages are alike, telling people what's actually there can be every bit as misleading as putting something in that doesn't appear in the original. What looks the same can be mean something quite different.

The translation of ουδαοι is an example. Here is Packer's quote from Suzanne's interview.
You know very well in Johns gospel it is just 'Judeans' or 'Jews'. 'Jewish leaders' is probably the right interpretation though it isn’t a grammatical. It can’t be said that 'Ioudaioi' means Jewish leaders - it doesn’t, it just means people who lived in Judea. John could have said 'chief Judeans' but he didn’t, he said 'Judeans'. There are various ways he could have said that. He only said 'oi Joudaioi'. The only safe way is to translate it 'the Jews' and explain that translation isn’t a matter of working in your own preferred interpretation of things. [emphasis mine]
How does he know Ἰουδαῖοι means 'Jews'?

Well, in Greek class they teach that it does.

OK. But, how do they know?

Well, because that's what the dictionaries say, BAGD, LSJ, etc.

OK. But, how do they know?

Because they had earlier dictionaries and wordlists (many of which can be traced ultimately back through -- horror of horrors -- Islamic scholarly sources in Spain). And because they compared those lexicographic sources with the texts and with older translations of the texts into other languages. (See the introduction to LSJ.) There's an important point here.

It is the body of original texts that is the ultimate authority, not the dictionaries, wordlists, translations, and the language lessons based on them.

When we treat the dictionaries as ultimately authoritative, we make a serious mistake. The general problem with dictionaries is that making a dictionary is essentially a task of decontextualizing words. Pull the words out of a text and list them in a standardized form. Mark them up to indicate their various word forms and something about their use in sentences, and give them a definition (BTW, definitions in the very best dictionaries run from barely adequate to completely terrible.) The loss of information in this process is mind-boggling. (I know. I've written a dictionary.)

Throw in that we know more about Greek grammar and much, much more about how language works than the best of the 19th century scholars whose modestly revised works we lean so heavily upon, and you can see that there is no excuse in the world for not going back to the texts for everything.

The reason is simple. In actual communication context is everything. The essence of language is that it gives you just enough information to pick out of the context what it is that the speaker intends to communicate. Why do we call red hair red? If meanings were absolute we would call it orange. It's red because it has a reddish cast compared to blonde hair. We say red because that's enough information to enable you to pick out the right class of hair colors. If you order a sandwich in a deli you're likely to say
A ham and cheese on rye, please. Hold the mayo.
I'd like to order a ham and cheese sandwich on rye bread, but don't put any mayonnaise on it.
(And, I should note, that meaning of hold isn't in any of the big dictionaries, Webster's 3rd, Random House Unabridged, etc.)

OK, so I have the texts, now what?

Look at the word in question in the places it is used -- all the places it is used -- and ask how is it used? What is its syntax and what could it mean? What is the speaker trying to accomplish communicatively? (In effect, this is how children learn what words mean, but that's another whole story.)

So for Ἰουδαῖοι. What is the basic word? Ἰουδαίος. It's an adjective form referring to Ἰουδ. Like many a Greek modifier, it can, in the appropriate syntactic context, be used as a noun. (There's a long and interesting story here that I will pass over for now.)

By the standard sources, the word
Ἰουδαίος is used in the NT 240 times. In those uses, four distinct senses can be seen.
  1. Jewish/Judaean as an adjective -
    • Τιμόθεος υἱὸς γυναικὸς Ἰουδαίας (Acts 16:1)
    • μετὰ ταῦτα ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν γῆν (John 3:22)
  2. a person of the Jewish race -
    • διὰ τὸ διατεταχέναι Κλαύδιον χωρίζεσθαι πάντας τοὺς Ἰουδαίους ἀπὸ τῆς Ῥώμης (Acts 18:2)
  3. a leader of the Jewish faith -
    • οἱ οὖν Ἰουδαῖοι ἐζήτουν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ καὶ ἔλεγον ποῦ ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος (Jn. 7:11)
    • οὐδεὶς μέντοι παρρησίᾳ ἐλάλει περὶ αὐτοῦ διὰ τὸν φόβον τῶν Ἰουδαίων (Jn. 7:13)
  4. to refer to the Roman province of Judea -
    • ἡγεμονεύοντος Ποντίου Πιλάτου τῆς Ἰουδαίας (Lk 3:1)
Now wait a minute, some of you will say. Isn't the fourth sense a separate word? That's what the dictionary says.

Not so fast. Look at the form of the word. It's the feminine form of the the adjective
Ἰουδαίος. To say that ἡ Ἰουδαία means the province of Judea is an interpretation, in just the sense that the literalists are trying to avoid. It's short for ἡ Ἰουδαία γῆ, which actually occurs in Jn 3:22 (cited above). LSJ are explicit about that interpretation (pg. 832). To make it make sense in English, you have to have a phrasing which makes explicit the part about the land -- the very thing that is specifically omitted in the Greek 44 of the 46 times this word is used to refer to the Roman province.

So when we turn to the question of whether οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι can mean 'the leaders of the Jewish faith', all we need do is look at the text. Jesus and his disciplines are Ἰουδαῖοι, but John's Gospel is full of confrontations between Jesus and οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι. In the passage cited in 3. above, it makes no sense to say that it is Judeans that are seeking Jesus, or Judeans that are frightening Judeans. While these things are logically true in the way philosophers calculate truth, the only thing that makes sense to non-philosophers is that some specific group of Judeans are seeking to find Jesus, and some specific group of Judeans are frightening other Judeans into silence. What is the only thing that makes sense as a referent for οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι in this context? The Jewish leaders. There is no theology here, just making basic sense of the text. This is like the deli order example. You say ham and cheeese and they understand ham and cheese sandwich; you say rye and they understand rye bread. The writers of the Gospels were saying what was conventional to say in that same minimalist way. You, as a Palestinian Jew in the 1st century, refer to the leaders of the Jewish faith in Greek by the expression οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, just as you refer to the country you live in as ἡ Ἰουδαία. In supplying the information conventionally missing in Greek we are performing no more or less interpretation with the former nominal use of the adjective Ἰουδαίος than with the later.

To make the logical inconsistency of the position that Packer is articulating clear, consider the key fact. It's a complete accident of history where Greek and English happen to work somewhat alike. If you translate ἡ Ἰουδαία as 'the Jewish thing', then it makes no sense in English. ('when Pontius Pilate was governor of the Jewish thing') so adding the information contextually implicit in the Greek doesn't count as interpretation. But if you translate οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι as 'the Jews' (= 'the Jewish ones'), then the passages all appear to make sense in English, so adding the information contextually implicit in the Greek that this term sometimes refers to a salient subgroup of Jews, namely the Jewish authorities, is committing the sin of interpreting God's Word?!?


Failing to grapple with the meaning in context is just as much an interpretation as adding information that is not fully explicit in Greek. And this has nothing to do with political correctness or hypersensitivity regarding the Holocaust. Or theology for that matter. This is a straight up question about author's intended reference.

The mid-twentieth century Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset had a lot to say about translation. While I deeply disagree with his conclusions about what a translation should be like, he has some of the deepest insights into the nature and problems of translation of anyone I've ever read on the subject. And on the point in question he hit the nail on the head.
The fact is that the stupendous reality, which is language, will not be understood at its root if one doesn't begin by noticing that speech is composed above all of silences. ... And each language is a different equation of statements and silences. (Ortega y Gassett: "The misery and splendor of translation" reprinted in Schulte and Biguenet Theories of Translation, University of Chicago, 1992, pg. 104)
If you fail to examine every form, even those that seem to be straightforward, you are interpreting by default. As I have said before, there is no place to hide. You have to know where the silences are in both Greek and English. And where Greek is silent and English is not, you must supply the implicit information or you've gotten it wrong. By blindly accepting what happens to sound like English, you are committing a worse sin than consciously "interpreting". You are interpreting by not acting. It is a sin of omission.

You've buried the talent in the ground.

You've spilled the water on the first step.

Monday, April 24, 2006

adoption of sons: part 2

I have been puzzling over this one for a few days. I do understand that this passage is a major concern to some pastors. I have been asked specifically about this verse a few times. So here are a few thoughts.

Here are Galatians 3:26 and 4:5 - 7 in a few major translations. There are three traditions. First, the KJV and the preceding translations, which use 'children' first and then switch to 'sons'. The TNIV falls within this tradition. Then there is the tradition of the RSV, ESV and NIV which uses 'sons' in both 3:26 and 4:5 - 7. Finally, there is the tradition of the New Living, Good News and Contemporary English version which use 'children' throughout.
    3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 4:5b that we might receive the adoption of sons. 6And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. 7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. KJV

    3:26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith 4:5b that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7 So you are no longer slaves, but God's children; and since you are his children, he has made you also heirs . TNIV

    3:26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,
    4:5b that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. NIV

    3:26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith
    4:5b so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. ESV

    3:26 So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 4:5b so that he could adopt us as his very own children and because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father Now you are no longer a slave but God's own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you. NLT (has footnotes)
Although υιοθεσια is a distinctive word this is not the only time it is used in the NT. Here are the other passages in the KJV.

    5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. Ephesians 1:5 KJV

    For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Romans 8:15 KJV

    And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. Romans 8:23 KJV

    Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises Romans 9:4 KJV
In each of these places the ESV uses 'adoption of sons' except for Romans 9:4 where they have retained the simple 'adoption' of the KJV. It is probably worth mentioning that in the BAGD the first entry is simply 'adoption'.

I have to assume that in this case it is the CEV, GNB and NLT, which will take the flack for not being exact. However, my next thought on this is that a simple 'adoption' is indeed the correct translation and that, in fact, 'as sons ' is entirely redundant. Here are the Luther Bible and the Louis Segond.
    Denn ihr seid alle Gottes Kinder durch den Glauben an Christum Jesum.
    daß wir die Kindschaft empfingen.
    6Weil ihr denn Kinder seid, hat Gott gesandt den Geist seines Sohnes in eure Herzen, der schreit: Abba, lieber Vater!
    7Also ist nun hier kein Knecht mehr, sondern eitel Kinder; sind's aber Kinder, so sind's auch Erben Gottes durch Christum Luther
In the Luther Bible, there is no 'son' in sight. Kind is 'child'. I am beginning to wonder whether there has been a recent statement of concern against the Luther Bible.

    3:26 Car vous êtes tous fils de Dieu par la foi en Jésus Christ;
    4:5b afin que nous reçussions l'adoption. 6Et parce que vous êtes fils, Dieu a envoyé dans nos coeurs l'Esprit de son Fils, lequel crie: Abba! Père! 7Ainsi tu n'es plus esclave, mais fils; et si tu es fils, tu es aussi héritier par la grâce de Dieu. Louis Segond
In the French Bible, it is simply 'adoption'. I do note that 'fils' is used instead of 'enfants'.

Concerning the necessity to make 'as sons' explicit, I would say that the implications of the Greek law will not enter into your understanding about this verse unless you look up the word in the first case. In which case you will know the word and you can discuss what this term means in Greek law.

If there is any spiritual truth concerning gender here, surely it is this, that women too are adopted by God with all the rights of sons. I think that a pastor could get this idea across best by treating women as if they had the same rights as the men. Women would not need to be reassured that they have equal rights with men, unless they have first been made to understand that they do not.

However, reading gender into this passage at all is a detraction from the main point. The contrast is with slavery. We will be children and not slaves. We will have the full rights of children and heirs. Since we do not live in a time in which daughters have different rights from sons, we do not need to worry about which word is used here.

Having said that I would not find 'adoption of sons' out of place, but I think that in terms of translating the Bible into languages which have not had a Bible before, the Luther Bible is a much better model in many ways than any English translation tradition. It appears that because English does not have grammatical gender for the most part, we tend to interpret gender in language as 'truth'; instead of understanding, as Luther seemed to, that the grammatical features of language itself are not more important than the truth being talked about.

Friday, April 21, 2006

adopted as sons

Yesterday Douglas Knight blogged on our spiritual "adoption as sons", as in:
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Gal. 3:26 ESV)
Knight's post was a followup on an earlier one of his on sonship.

This brings up an interesting translation issue, one on which some battlelines are clearly drawn for many who take the Bible seriously. In this post I'd like to examine the translation issue from the different points of view.

Those who call for literal or essentially literal translation of Gal. 3:26 correctly point out, as Bible scholar Ken Collins notes, that "a son automatically held his father’s power of attorney" in the Roman Empire, when Paul wrote Galatians. So retaining the word "sons" accurately reflects a cultural practice at the time that Paul wrote what he did about spiritual adoption.

But Paul also wrote two verses later, in Gal. 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
Was Paul saying in verse 26 that there was something more special spiritually about sons than daughters?

Or was he using a cultural practice of his time to illustrate a spiritual relationship, expressed in the metaphor of adoption, a relationship that would be true of any child who God spiritually adopts? In other words, is the teaching focus of what Paul is saying on male adoption or on adoption?

One side would insist that if God wanted a more gender-inclusive focus on adoption, he would have used generic language rather than the masculine language of sonship adoption, as Collins also correctly notes:
In the first-century Roman Empire, if a man had a trustworthy slave with a good flair for business, he could adopt the slave as his son. The adoption automatically gave the slave a full power of attorney to manage his adoptive father’s business affairs. It was not uncommon in those days for slaves to be adopted as sons for business purposes.
One side in the translation debate properly refers to the Roman law which allowed a son to have his father's power of attorney. They correctly want to retain the historicity of the Roman law which Paul alluded to in Gal. 3:16. They do not want to transculturate the Bible from its original cultural and historical setting.

The other side in this debate would insist that the focus of spiritual adoption is on what God does for an individual regardless of their gender, unlike Roman sonship adoption which focused on males. This would claim that females are adopted by God just as equally as males are. In addition, they would claim that using masculine language in a translation obscures this generic fact.

And so we have a translation tension, one in which the original illustration keyed into a masculine-oriented cultural practice, but for which that original spiritual illustration was for all, without any greater focus on males than females (Gal. 3:28).

Are female believers actually adopted to some kind of spiritual "sonship"? Is this what the Bible teaches? Or does the Bible teach that God adopts us as his children? What is the focus of the Bible's teaching? These questions are a dilemma for Bible translators who want to be true to the original context of each Bible passage while not obscuring any teaching that was intended to be normative for all cultures and times.

Those who believe that masculine terminology of the Bible should be retained, even if the spiritual teaching is gender-inclusive, believe that the translation decision is clear: We must retain the wording of "adoption as sons". Then we can teach what they consider the "wonderful truth"that females can become spiritual "sons of God" just as males can. A theological system has developed around this masculine primacy believed to be in the Bible.

Those who ask what the focus of the adoption passage is are not so sure the answer is that clear. They believe that Gal. 3:28 makes it clear that gender is not a factor in how God treats people spiritually, including when he spiritually adopts us.

Each side believes that the other is compromising some important spiritual truth. One side believes that removing any male component from Gal. 3:26 or similar passages is "muting the masculinity of God's words", as Poythress and Grudem insist. The other side believes that focusing on masculinity, when passages are about both males and females, compomises the generic nature of the teaching of such passages.

Bible translation can be difficult. There is often a balancing act. The idea of divine adoption, whether to become a "son of God" or a "child of God," is one of the difficult issues which must be faced by Bible translators.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Structure and translation (Part 2)

Rich's recent posting is a breath of fresh air to me. If the reader has not read his post (Structure and translation), please go and read it now.

There's a profound irony expressed by the misunderstanding of how language works, and therefore, how translation must work. If the Tower of Babel did what I think it did, then cross-linguistic comprehensibility must be very hard. Otherwise, those people would have quickly hired a few interpretors and went back to building. If Packer is right--access to foreign form is access to contextual meaning--then we are faced with explaining how it is that people don't comprehend the text. If the answer to that is “it's a spiritual problem,” then why is the form an issue to begin with? One should simply show the text to the person and deal with the rebellious, sinful response to what the text plainly says. If it's not a spiritual problem, then why is comprehension of the text, as Packer would have it written, so difficult?[1] These questions reveal the irony.

The same point Rich makes has led me to hold that we need two types of translations. I've talked about this before, so I won't belabor the point. I wish to make another. To review: one type of translation is analytic, the other is synthetic. Analytic assumes the reader is trained in cross-linguistic analysis. Synthetic assumes a complete analysis of the original formulation of the text in order to obtain meaning, and then synthesizes that meaning into the target language. Packer argues that the former is sufficient. Clear, accurate, and natural translation argues that only the later is complete.

Now, with profound irony, my point is that many, many people fail to grasp the obvious: that the end result of analysis is not comprehensibility.
One does not comprehend a linguistically foreign text until one has put the result of analysis of that text into one's own language.

Comprehending a text is a synthetic, cognitive process, not an analytic one. If the text is composed of foreign linguistic structures, then it deeply depends on analysis, most certainly true; however, analysis is only a single step across a two step chasm—pausing after only one step is certain disaster.[2]

For me, the deeply disturbing thing is that vocal, Evangelical leaders insist the majority of people need to function at the analytic level. People don't. Sadly, this is where the accusation of lack of spirituality becomes quite damaging. It is wrong to insist that spiritual people must be analytic. It is right to provide a synthetic translation so that any person can read and comprehend and be changed.

[1] I base this last statement not on an assessment of the average Christian. I base it on the variety of interpretations delivered by independent and largely unaccountable Bible teachers and preachers. If access to foreign form is access to contextual meaning, then why do these spiritual leaders come to different conclusions? And why are they deeply disturbed by translations that make one prominent exegetical option readily available to the reader? My answer: It's obvious; foreign form is ambiguous and the Tower of Babel had profound impact on cross-linguistic communication.

[2] Another irony is that the pedagogy of original language education in our Bible schools and seminaries is permeated with taking only the first step—it's only analysis.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Neither Hand nor Foot

When you want to say in German that something makes no sense at all then you can say it has neither hand nor foot. I guess this is an old familiar example of why we don't want a truly literal translation.

Helmut Richter has a webpage on Bible translation here with many insights from German.

    Someone writes:

    When a decision is made to stray form a "word for word" translation to a "thought for thought" translation, no notation is made for the reader to know that a particular verse is not an exact translation but more of a paraphrase.

    Though there may be very little doctrinal difference I feel that the reader should be aware of any significant paraphrasing of God's word.

    I do not understand the asymmetry in this argument: if a verse translated "thought for thought", dropping the exact rendering of the words, is to be marked as such, then a verse translated "word for word", dropping the exact rendering of the thoughts, should be marked as such, too. As I pointed out in a recent article which I will not repeat here, there is no reason to consider one of the two approaches more "exact" than the other.

    Also, the word "paraphrase" is misleading. A paraphrase differs from the original in that it has a new wording of the same ideas. Insofar, each translation could be called a paraphrase because each renders the ideas in other words, namely those of the target language. There are, of course, translations that definitely take considerably more freedom to represent thoughts than implied by the two languages. The NIV is not one of them.

    I hope I could make discernible that a translation has hand and foot only if it does not stick to the single word but, before all, also has the context in its eye without which the single word is sound and smoke.

    Got the last paragraph? It is an "exact" translation from German:

    "Ich hoffe, ich konnte deutlich machen, dass eine Übersetzung nur dann Hand und Fuß hat, wenn sie nicht am einzelnen Wort klebt, sondern vor allem auch den Zusammenhang im Auge hat, ohne den das einzelne Wort Schall und Rauch ist."


    As I said before, it is a dubious linguistic approach to expect exactitude of translation from literal rendering. In my opinion, it is a far more dubious theological approach to expect exactitude of understanding from literal interpretation. The meaning of the text, as intended by God, is not conveyed by nit-picking on the text. Rather, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

    He who prays for the guidance of the Holy Spirit has a much better chance to understand the text than he who uses the best translation based on the best manuscripts, whatever the criteria. I do not mean to discourage anyone to strive for a good text, but, please, let us get the priorities right.

    If, however, your stance is that every single word matters, then you are definitely obliged to learn the original languages. (Being able to recognise words in an interlinear or in Strong's concordance is not what I mean with knowledge of a language.)

There are lots of pithy quotes on Helmut's page.

The heart of DE is not interpretive translation

A common misunderstanding of Dynamic Equivalence (DE) translation is that it is a form of interpretive translation. That misunderstanding is highlighted in the April 13 post, "Bible translations, "dynamic" and otherwise: the heart of the matter," by Dan Phillips on the Pyromaniacs blog. Dan states:
Here is the real problem with all paraphrases, and all "dynamic equivalent" (DE) "translations": they all remove the work of interpretation out of the hands of the readers, often without notice.
Dan's post is about the "heart of the [Bible translation] matter," but, ironically, in his sincerity, he misses the heart of DE translation. It is not about interpretive translation. He may have seen examples of what he regards as interpretive translation in some DE translations, but that does not mean that DE translation calls for removing "the work of interpretation out of the hands of the readers, often without notice."

It can easily be demonstrated that
literal, and essentially literal, translation is often not the most accurate translation. That is, attempting to maintain the linguistic forms of a source text in a translation often does not accurately communicate in translation the meaning of those linguistic forms.

Dynamic Equivalence translation is flawed whenever it is applied in a flawed manner, just as any translation approach is flawed whenever it does not accurately communicate the meaning of the original linguistic forms But DE translation, per se, is not an interpretive approach to translation. It is an approach to translation which seeks to communicate the meaning of original forms more accurately than a form-oriented approach does. And lest someone respond that form-oriented translation approach are not interpretive, that simply is not the case. They are often highly intepretive, in that they represent a possible interpretation of the original text which is not the actual meaning intended by the original author. This is especially the case with translation of figurative language, including idioms of the biblical languages.

Urban myths, as well as less urban ones, quickly spread across the Internet and from pulpit to pulpit and book to book, until someone seriously interacts with original sources whose ideas are being discussed. Today the term Dynamic Equivalence has become a boogeyman for any kind of Bible translation with which one disagrees. It would do us all well, if we are going to use such technical terms, to study and understand what their originators actually said about them. The books explaining the terms have been in publication for many years, available for all to read. A number of the biblical scholars have seriously interacted with the literature on DE translation. And their writings on the topic benefit from that serious interaction.

FWIW, I am not an advocate of DE translation. I prefer newer translation approaches which improve upon some of the inadequacies of DE translation. But interpretive translation is not one of those inadequacies, since it is not one of the components of DE translation.

Let us dedicate ourselves to serious study of Bible translation issues, and not second-hand caricatures of any claims about Bible translation or versions of the Bible.

Which translation should I use?

Joe, a frequent visitor to this blog, asked in the Comments to the preceding post:
I get asked a lot by laymen about which translation one should use.
What is the best response to this question?
Joe, I'm going to make a post out of this question since it is so frequently asked and it is an important question.

There is no single "best" answer for this question. The answer requires several other questions to be answered first, including:
1. What audience is going to use the translation? New believers? Seasoned Christians familiar with traditional Bible English?
2. What kind of English does this audience prefer in a Bible? More natural English? Bible English?
3. What will the translation be used for? Mostly devotional reading? Serious Bible study?
4. Does your church already use a good Bible version as its pew Bible?
When these questions are answered, one can often help the questioner narrow the options of Bible versions down to one to three which would fit their situation.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

ESV conjectures in Jeremiah 18:14

Should kephale be translated "leader"?

Suzanne's latest post on her Bookshelf blog has a statement which will not please some:
(Headship refers to marriage not to behaviour in the assembly.)
In the debates over the roles women can have in the church and home some (many?) believe that women are to submit to the "headship" of men in the assembly (or church, if you prefer).

But that is not what the biblical texts say. Note this essentially literal rendering from the RSV:
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3 RSV)
Some might call translation of the Greek word aner as "husband", rather than "man", interpretive translation, but aner often does mean 'husband' in Greek, especially when it is juxtaposed to gune ('woman' or 'wife') as it is in 1 Cor. 11:3.

In Ephesians 5:22-24 Paul clarifies whether aner in 1 Cor. 11:3 refers to a certain man, any man, or a husband:
22. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
24. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (ESV)
The head of a woman is not any man. It is not a group of men, such as elders of a church. The head of a married woman is her husband. This is what Eph. 5:23 says. Dr. Sarah Sumner, who follows the biblical texts closely, makes the same point in her recent book, Men and Woman in the Church. That point is translated clearly in the RSV and several other English versions.

When the Bible teaches about headship, it is probably best to translate Greek kephale directly as "head." None of us knows precisely what kephale meant with all its connotations, allusions, and additional teaching that it can trigger. Clearly there is something special about the relationship between a biblical "head" and the group or person that submits to it. We must not go beyond what the Bible says about headship and import (eisegete) our own ideas about it, extending what the biblical text actually says to teachings about leadership roles in the church. They are two separate issues and accurate Bible translations carefully distinguish the two.

Adequate Bible versions should communicate in translation as much as, and no more than, what the biblical texts say and what they mean by what they say.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Structure and translation

Let me take a few minutes to clear up a mistake that I made in my last post. (I should learn not to post in haste.) I tripped as I was racing through the syntax of Matt. 13:44 because it was background to the point I was making in the post.

Anyway, Matt. 13:44 is a verse of little theological consequence, but one that has some really interesting syntax -- and more than a little relevance to Packer's comment on structure in Suzanne's recent post. Here's the quote.
Packer: I am still saying there is a difference between trying to give people access to the way in which the sentences were put together, it was thus the thought was expressed in the original, and keeping people from the original by only telling people what you think it means.
The depth of misunderstanding of the nature of language implicit in this quote is hard to overstate.

It embodies two very profound errors. First, it is a mistake to think that there is any translation which is free from (the implied sin of) "telling people what [the translator] thinks it means". Second, it is a mistake to think that "access to the way in which the sentences were put together" is a guarantee of translational accuracy. In this post let me focus on the second error, the one that deals with structure.

For the purposes of this post I will gloss over the fact that for 80 years or so linguists have believed, with good reason, that structures were devoid of meaning. Chomskian linguistics, which has dominated the field for 50 years, all but demands such a view. It is only in the 1990's that a minority opinion came to the fore that there are certain limited kinds of meanings, usually fairly abstract, associated with particular linguistic structures. (This view is part of a movement called construction grammar. Some of the thinking is traceable back to Ken Pike's ideas.) However, the meanings particular structures express are, like words, different from language to language. So simply copying the structure from one language into another can be like translating 'dog' when the word means 'cat'.

So let's go back to our particular example.

The structure of Matt. 13:44 is very, very Greek -- and very, very un-English. The whole verse is:
ομοια εστιν η βασιλεια των ουρανων θησαυρω κεκρυμμενω εν τω αγρω ον ευρων ανθρωπος εκρυψεν και απο της χαρας αυτου υπαγει και πωλει παντα οσα εχει και αγοραζει τον αγρον εκεινον

The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man happens to find a treasure hidden in a field. He covers it up again, and is so happy that he goes and sells everything he has, and then goes back and buys that field. (GNB)
The structural differences are so many it's hard to know where to start to show that cramming the Greek syntax into English does not give English speakers any meaningful help in understanding "the thought [that Matthew] expressed in the original". We could start with the word order.
"Like is the kingdom of the heavens to a treasure hidden in the field which finding a man hides, and ..."
All but the most literalists grant that Greek word order is not to be mimicked in English. Why? Because the function and meaning of word order is very different in the two languages. In English, it's the main way of telling who is doing what to whom.
John loves Mary.
is not the same as
Mary loves John.
In Greek you can tell who is doing what to whom by the endings on the nouns and adjectives coupled with the agreement marking on the verbs, so the word order gets used to do other things, like guiding the listener/reader's attention to those things that are most important in the mind of the speaker/writer. That's why ομοια is the very first word in the sentence. Matthew wants you to attend to the comparison. There's no neat way to do that in English. It's part of the triage that every translator has to perform to figure out what the essence of the communication is and how to get as close to that as the target language allows.

But word order is mooshy stuff. The differences can be subtle, and the arguments are often not emotionally satisfying. So let me cut to the chase -- the really intricate syntax of the crucial part of the verse. The point I want to make is based around the word θησαυρω, and the second of the two clauses that follow and modify it. The comparison Matthew is making is between η βασιλεια των ουρανων "the kingdom of heaven" (leaving out that the Greek is plural, BTW) and the treasure, θησαυρος, in the parable. The treasure is the thing he is telling the story about, not the man. Greek allows Matthew to make that focus of attention explicit by syntactically backgrounding half the story. A more or less literal rendering would be:
θησαυρω [κεκρυμμενω εν τω αγρω] [ον ευρων ανθρωπος εκρυψεν]
'treasure dat. [hidden in the field] [which finding man hid]'
This is really hard to do in English. Maybe something like:
The kingdom of heaven is like the treasure in this story: A man stumbles across a treasure hidden in a field and hides it again. Then with great excitement goes and sells all he has and buys the field.
The problem is in that second clause, ον ευρων ανθρωπος εκρυψεν. In Greek, the ον can function simultaneously as the object of both ευρων and εκρυψεν. This is just not do-able in English. Translate the Greek structure into English and you get something close to word salad. They tried it in the KJV
the which when a man hath found, he hideth,
but it's hopeless. If you say
He hides.
in English, it means 'He hides himself'. The verb is obligatorily transitive. The same for find,
*He found.
Each verb has to have an object to make it even resemble English. The which will do for one, but you need an it for the other:
which, when a man found it, he hid
but still that's awkward. What you sacrifice is that, in Greek, this is garden variety syntax. Part of the meaning of this verse is it's very ordinariness. Insist on stretching English to fit the Greek structure and you totally lose that ordinariness in the translation.

This example, I hope, shows that if you are going to try and translate the structure, then you'll have to make more or less arbitrary decisions about which structures don't interfere with understanding in English and which structures do. That's tantamount to "telling people what you think it means."

The mere fact that the literal versions sound almost comprehensible is more a testimony to our having had our linguistic senses eroded by exposure to the ungrammatical forms of the KJV, than to the Englishness of the translation.

When I was a graduate student in the 70's, studying syntax, we had to make up ungrammatical sentences to test hypotheses about each particular analysis. If you do this for a long time, it turns out, you can lose your sense of what's grammatical and what's not. I think that's exactly what's happened in the church. We have heard God's Word in obsolete English for so long that we've lost our bearings, and we've come to believe that strange English is the way God's Word should sound. And we're suckered in when some otherwise quite sensible authority stands up and says
"it was thus the thought was expressed in the original, and [you're] keeping people from the original by only telling people what you think it means."

Now for the confession of my sin. In my previous post, in my haste to get it up, I mis-parsed ευρων as a subject relative (which must be post-nominal) instead of a clause initial adverbial adjunct clause. (Sorry for all the linguist speak, but those who recognized my mistake will understand. And those who didn't, if they really want me to yack on about esoteric details of Greek syntax, can send comments or email and I'll explain the reason I thought it could be a word order exception.)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Dream of the Rood

I have found a new website called the Bitter Scroll. Last weeks post was a podcast of the Dream of the Rood. I have written a bit about it on Suzanne's Bookshelf, where I post regularly on a variety of issues that defy categorization. The podcast mentions some of the early English/Germanic vocabulary and concepts around Christ and his crucifixion.

Friday, April 14, 2006

ESV: "at table"

Today's post at Christendom Blogosis compares the ESV wording "at table" with translation wordings in other English versions.

UPDATE: The ESV blog responds to Christendom Blogosis, saying:
retaining the RSV’s use of “at table” was a deliberate choice on the translators’ part and not an oversight.
The natural followup question would be: Why did the ESV translators choose to retain "at table" which is odd phrasing, at least for fluent speakers of American English?

One of the greatest gifts the NET Bible brings to those who use it is exhaustive documentation of the translation decisions that went into NET wordings. It would be nice to have similar documentation for the ESV, at least in a companion volume. Translation decision explanations are a significant aid in Bible study.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Passion of the Word

Yes, for those who wondered, the title of this post deliberately parallels that of the film produced by Mel Gibson. Secondly, in case you wonder, I don't consider the title of this post to be very good English. We could think about the title in terms of Greek genitives, which some Bible translators like to translate fairly consistently with English "of" prepositional phrases. Then we might consider whether the title is a subjective genitive, i.e. the passion that the Word has, in which case the phrase is semantically anomalous unless the Word is animate (hey, He is alive!!), or, with strange English, an objective genitive, passion that people have for the Word, which could be the Living Word (the Logos, the Christ) or the written Word of God, the Bible.

Mostly, though, what I wanted to do with this post is remind myself and every one of us that the Bible is an invaluable gift from God. At this blog we function as analysts, using our God-given minds to critique different English versions. But when we do so, or when we read someone's analytical post, we must not fall into one of the logical fallacies that Lingamish could write about, namely, that whatever analytical or critical statements we make logically lead to the conclusion that any particular Bible version we are critiquing is bad or inferior. There is good in every Bible version. The English-speaking world is rich many times over for having so many different English versions. No matter what your literary tastes might be, you can find an English version which likely will satisfy you much of the time. And there is a high degree of exegetical accuracy, overall, in most English versions. We can be confident that we are reading what God intends us to know when we read most passages in most Bibles.

Can English Bibles still be improved? Absolutely. And that is why this blog exists, to help us all understand that translation is a complex task, no translation is perfect, and there are ways of improving even the most highly regarded versions. This blog does not exist to tear down any Bible versions. Criticism is intended to inform, not destroy.

This is Passion Week. My hope and prayer for each of us is that we will, this week, sense again the Passion of the Christ, our Living Word, as he endured such great pain for each of us. And may we encounter the Living Word in the pages of the Written Word. Let us be passionate about both of these Words. And let us be passionate that the Written Word continue to be translated for the millions of people around the world who do not yet have it in their language, not even one single version.

Blessed Passover, Happy Easter, to all!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ekklesia and Kerux

I am looking forward to someone else continuing the discussion on translation philosphy. However, I wanted to slip in a plug for Kenny Pearce in Greece who has posted on the words εκκλεσια and κερυξ. I still have trouble considering any Bible version with the word 'church' in it as a 'literal' version.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Packer and Nida

Since our attention has been drawn back to the question of translation versus interpretation by an informative post of Tim Challies on Petersons's Message. (thanks to Lingamish) I thought I would post more of my interview with Dr. Packer. This should also tie in nicely with Dan's discussion of unnecessary clutter, and with the mention of Rodney Decker's article. This article is well worth a close reading, especially in the context of what Dr. Packer told me about the ESV translation philosophy.

I asked Dr. Packer about the inclusion of the TNIV translation of Ιουδαιοι as 'Jewish leaders' in the Statement of Concern about the TNIV. Here is the relevant quote from the Statement of Concern.
    Gender problems are not the only serious problems with the TNIV. For example: How do the TNIV translators know that changing "Jews" to "Jewish leaders," for example in Acts 13:50 and 21:11, does not make a false claim, and obscure a possible corporate meaning?
In today's post I include Dr. Packer's response to my question about how the transition from 'Jews' to 'Jewish leaders' had come about and what his reaction to this was. Here is his response. Unfortunately I did not specify which context was at stake here, so this is only of general interest and does not deal with any particular verse. Rather, what I find interesting is how he presents the two contrasting translation philosphies, his and Nida's.

Dr. Packer:

    It’s a spinoff from extreme sensitivity, extreme unwillingness to say anything that would be offensive to Jews since the holocaust which has given all Protestants a bad conscience about our Protestant performance. Most nations took a step or two in their history towards what ended up in Germany as the holocaust.

    Let me say now on behalf of the ESV which tried consistently to hold to the distinction between translating, that is showing you what was there in the original, and interpreting, which is a matter of telling the contemporary reader what you think it means in areas where more than one view of what it means is possible .

    You know very well in Johns gospel it is just 'Judeans' or 'Jews'. 'Jewish leaders' is probably the right interpretation though it isn’t a grammatical. It can’t be said that 'Ioudaioi' means Jewish leaders - it doesn’t, it just means people who lived in Judea. John could have said 'chief Judeans' but he didn’t, he said 'Judeans'. There are various ways he could have said that. He only said 'oi Joudaioi'. The only safe way is to translate it 'the Jews' and explain that translation isn’t a matter of working in your own preferred interpretation of things.

    Its simply a matter of making it possible for the readers of the translation to see what was there in the original in saying that of course, you realize, we are, people like me, we are returning to an ideal of translation which was rubbished by people like Nida, and which I think you have to return to because Nida foreshortened translation as a process and he made it into interpretation. He said that you must understand that translating is interpreting in a sense that gets away from the first purpose of translation, which is to tell the people what was there.

    All translation is to a certain extent interpretation, that is, in the Darby translation of 1 Tim. 2:16 it is “she shall be preserved in childbearing”, and in the Luther Bible it is "she shall be blessed through childbearing". But to come back to preserved - the difference is between preserved and saved, they are both word for word translations, but you have to make a decision, it is in interpretation.
Dr. Packer:

    Oh that is certain, and there are lots of circumstances like that in scripture, I give you that point without argument. I am still saying there is a difference between trying to give people access to the way in which the sentences were put together, it was thus the thought was expressed in the original, and keeping people from the original by only telling people what you think it means.
My sense from this is that Dr. Packer may want the ESV to maintain a 'quantitative equivalence' with the original, when he says 'the way the sentences are put together'. Therefore, 'word for word' is one of the tests of a good translation.

I have a few difficulties with this. First, how possible is quantitative equivalence, the same number of words in the translation as there are in the original. Sometimes a month worth of writing will only approximate the idea :-) Second, once one settles for a 'word for word' translation, there is still a vast range of words to choose from. Which word is the 'right word' for any particular 'word for word' rendering? It is not always obvious and ultimately depends on interpretation.

Third, can one actually try to translate a Greek word consistently by the same English word in similar contexts. ESV Translation Philosophy "we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original." We know that no English Bible does this, and certainly the ESV no more than any other. Decker's article has more to say about this.

At the same time I am in sympathy with a translation philosphy that does not encourage unnecessary interpretation. While I enjoy and use the Good News Bible, I am also quite attuned to the KJV. But I have been told over and over, "No, Suzanne, that is not an option." (sigh)

II Tim 2:15 Postscript

In a comment on my last ὁρθοτομέω post, Lingamish asked about the syntax of the whole of II Tim. 2:15. I had focused so much on ὁρθοτομέω, that I hadn't read back more than to recognize that ὁρθοτομέω was a participle being functioning as a subject relative clause. (Sorry for the linguist-speak. An explanation is at the end of this post.)

What hadn't struck me is how parallel II Tim. 2:15 is to Rom. 12:1. (Read it in translation, and you have no idea.) Maybe this is old news to you all. Maybe they tell you this stuff in seminary, or some commentary from the 1800's has made this old news, but it took me by surprise.
Rom 12:1 παρακαλω ουν υμας... παραστησαι τα σωματα υμων θυσιαν ζωσαν αγιαν ευαρεστον τω θεω

II Tim. 2:15 σπουδασον σεαυτον δοκιμον παραστησαι τω θεω εργατην ανεπαισχυντον
Match up the forms:
παρακαλω ... υμας<> σπουδασον
'I appeal to you' <> 'make an effort'

τα σωματα υμων <> σεαυτον
'your bodies' <> 'yourself'

παραστησαι [τω θεω] <> παραστησαι τω θεω
standard translations:
'present [your bodies] [to God]' <> 'show [yourself] to God'
but literally:
'cause to be present [with God]' <> 'cause to be present with God'

θυσιαν ζωσαν <> εργατην ανεπαισχυντον
'living sacrifice' <> 'unashamed worker'

αγιαν ευαρεστον τω θεω <> δοκιμον [τω θεω]
'holy, acceptable to God' <> 'acceptable [to God]'
I don't have much more to say about it. But I thought it was interesting in its own right, and worth a mention.

A brief tutorial on relative clauses

Relative clauses are chunks of sentences used to modify, i.e., identify and/or describe nouns.
the book that I left on the table
the neighbor who lives next door
In relative clauses in English the noun being modified is left out of the clause, being replaced either by who(m), which, or that which is placed as the first word in the clause.
the book that I left on the table
the neighbor who lives next door
Greek works in a parallel way. The word that substitutes for the modified noun is ος.

This is just a rough approximation. The syntax of relative clauses can be quite complex and differ dramatically from language to language. Some of the complexity is that different languages treat relative clauses differently depending on what the grammatical role of the modified noun is in the clause itself. In English, if the noun is not the subject of the clause you can omit the who(m), which, or that:
the book that I left on the table, or
the book I left on the table
but not if the noun is the subject
The neighbor who lives next door is friendly., but not
*The neighbor lives next door is friendly.
In Greek, the relative clauses based on subjects are normally given as participles instead of full fledged clauses. An example is found in Matt. 13:44:
θησαυρω [κεκρυμμενω εν τω αγρω] [ον ευρων ανθρωπος εκρυψεν]
'treasure [which was hidden in a field] [which finding a man hid]'
Actually there are two participles as subject relatives here, κεκρυμμενω and ευρων. In English we can't embed relative clauses like: *'which [which a man found] hid', hence the funny calque above. But because the modification is done with participles in Greek, there it can be easily said.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Orthotomeo VII

One of the unrecognized perqs of being an academic is that you get to meet really interesting people. In the 1970’s there were a group of Russian linguist refuseniks who ended up in various universities in the West, some of them quite colorful characters. In my career, I’ve crossed paths with several. But one, in particular, is worth mentioning in connection with our discussion of ὁρθοτομέω. His name is Igor Mel’chuk, he is still at the Université de Montréal. I had met him briefly and had had some correspondence with him about Ojibwe, the language I focus on, when we met again at a conference in Toledo (Spain) in the summer of 1985. He took me around to meet his Russian friends and showed me how to do Spain on the cheap – far more interesting than the sanitized tour plan I had had. By the time we parted, me to go home and him to go visit an old friend in the Pyrenes (a really old friend it turns out, an aunt of Trotsky’s who was then over 100), I had learned a lot of unexpected things about language as well as about Spain.

The particular feature of language I became aware of through this encounter is called a collocation. What is a collocation? At first approximation it is a phrase which must be said a certain way, draw a breath, take a bath, commit a crime, catch a cold, etc. A small group of Russian scholars, including Mel’chuk, started in the 1970’s to work on understanding this remarkably common phenomenon. They developed a theory of meaning which takes into account that many meanings in many languages are spread over two (or more) words. In Indo-European languages (like Greek and English) the principle domain for this phenomenon is the combination of a verb plus its object (known in the business as a verb phrase or VP). In some Indo-European languages there are lots of these verb object combinations (German has many more than English, for example), others fewer. In Indo-European VP collocations a disproportionate amount of the meaning resides in the object. (It always drove Mel’chuk crazy that Algonquian languages, like Ojibwe don’t work this way.) In the examples above most of the information is in the noun. Many could almost be paraphrased with a neutral verb like do: do a breath, do a crime, do a bath. Terrible English, but very little information is lost.

There is much that one could say about collocations, but for our purposes only one thing is important. In an Indo-European VP collocation, when you look at the verb, all semantic bets are off. So when you take something you not only bring it into your possession, but you also move it somewhere, but when you take a bath, you don’t exactly come to possess it, nor do you move it anywhere. And when you catch a cold it actually catches you. And the verb in commit a crime (noun form commission) doesn’t have any semantic relation to its productive meanings outside of the collocation:
(1) ‘promise’ (noun form commitment)
   The UN committed $4.5 million to famine relief in Darfur.
   She committed herself to going on the short-term mission trip.
(2) ‘transfer, hand over’ (no noun form)
   They committed him to a mental institution.
   He committed it to memory.
   Into thy hands I commit my spirit. (archaic)
At best the part of the overall meaning that can be assigned to the verb proper is a pale version of its meaning outside the collocation, as in draw a breath (i.e., draw air into the lungs) but in productive use draw generally suggests effort is involved to overcome some difficulty.
They drew the puss out of the wound.
or figuratively,
They drew the information out of him bit by bit.
(I’m not sure what to make of sentences like We were driving down the highway minding our own business when a police car drew along side of us. I have a theory, but it would be too much of a digression.)

So what does all this have to do with ὁρθοτομέω? A lot. I said that Suzanne didn’t recognize the importance of what she had found when she dug up the Koine (and, in fact, Classical Greek) collocation τήν ὅδον τέμνω. I misspoke, but only slightly. I should have said, she didn’t understand the full significance of what she’d found. Having shown, as LSJ attest, that this is a collocation, the ‘cut’ meaning of τέμνω is no longer present, or at least the burden of proof now devolves to the person who claims that it is. The expression just means something along the lines of ‘follow a road/trail/path’. LSJ traces the steps of how it goes from a more compositional meaning ‘make (by cutting) a path’ > ‘take a path’ > ‘follow a path’, which I will not repeat here. But suffice it to say that this is how collocations arise. Inch by inch they get interpreted as having slightly different meanings in subtlely vague contexts. The cumulative effect is that the original meanings of (some of) the parts are ultimately left behind. That’s how draw a breath came to be.

However, it can also often be the case that some abstract semantic notion can be associated with the verb, something based in the original semantics . For example, the English verb take is widely used in collocation. take a bath, take a nap, take a breath, take a step, take a dump, take a break, etc., etc. The one thing expressions with take all have in common is that they are things that you can only do for yourself. With the productive take, there is often an invited inference that you are taking something because you want to have it (Don’t take any of the apples, please.) That would be an action that you do for yourself. But this is only an invited inference. In the take collocations that’s the only piece of the meaning (besides something like ’do’) that can be associated with the verb.

I suspect (but can’t prove) that the same is true of τήν ὅδον τέμνω; there is some semantic shadow associated with τέμνω. Looking at examples from Plato through II Tim, one could make the case that the shadow of τέμνω in this expression is that there is some difficulty associated with following the road/trail/path in question, and that would fit with the workman idea in the passage. (LSJ translates this usage as ‘make one’s way’, which has that notion of difficulty in it.)

That would make ὁρθοτομέω mean roughly ‘make one’s way along the correct road’ (assuming the ορθο- metaphor is right, which I think it is).

So then the question becomes, which metaphorical road is intended? LIFE IS A JOURNEY? or SPEAKING/LOGIC IS A JOURNEY?

As I noted before, LIFE IS A JOURNEY is well attested in both the NT and the LXX. It’s the metaphor in the passages Suzanne cited:
Proverbs 3:6
ἐν πάσαις ὁδοῖς σου γνώριζε αὐτήν
ἵνα ὀρθοτομῇ τὰς ὁδούς σου
ὁ δὲ πούς σου οὐ μὴ προσκόπτῃ

In all your ways make her known.
that she may make straight your ways,
[and your foot will not stumble] NETS

Proverbs 11:5
δικαιοσύνη ἀμώμους ὀρθοτομεῖ ὁδούς ἀσέβεια δὲ περιπίπτει ἀδικίᾳ

Righteousmess cuts out blameless paths
But impiety is beset with injustice NETS
although if I were translating just from the Greek, I’d go for something that emphasizes following a path more than making a path, say “he enables you to go the right way” if you insist on translating the metaphor. In fact I’d probably bail out on the metaphor entirely and say “He makes it possible for you to live a righteous life, and won’t set you up for a fall.” And for the Prov. 11:5 passage something more like "Being right in God's sight leads to an upright and blameless life." Not elegant English, but that's the general direction. I'll leave it for the Hebrew experts to say if such an interpretation is warranted.

What about SPEAKING/DISCUSSION IS A JOURNEY? It’s certainly around in Greek since the beginning. There’s a marvelous passage in Plato’s Protagoras in which Plato develops the DISCUSSION IS A JOURNEY metaphor fairly elaborately, and which also includes a use of the word τέμνω in the sense of ‘follow a road/trail/path’ and is cited in that sense in LSJ.
[337e] ἀξιώματος ἄξιον ἀποφήνασθαι, ἀλλ' ὥσπερ τοὺς φαυλοτάτους τῶν ἀνθρώπων διαφέρεσθαι ἀλλήλοις. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν καὶ δέομαι καὶ συμβουλεύω, ὦ Πρωταγόρα τε καὶ Σώκρατες, συμβῆναι ὑμᾶς ὥσπερ ὑπὸ διαιτητῶν ἡμῶν συμβιβαζόντων [338a] εἰς τὸ μέσον, καὶ μήτε σὲ τὸ ἀκριβὲς τοῦτο εἶδος τῶν διαλόγων ζητεῖν τὸ κατὰ βραχὺ λίαν, εἰ μὴ ἡδὺ Πρωταγόρᾳ, ἀλλ' ἐφεῖναι καὶ χαλάσαι τὰς ἡνίας τοῖς λόγοις, ἵνα μεγαλοπρεπέστεροι καὶ εὐσχημονέστεροι ἡμῖν φαίνωνται, μήτ' αὖ Πρωταγόραν πάντα κάλων ἐκτείναντα, οὐρίᾳ ἐφέντα, φεύγειν εἰς τὸ πέλαγος τῶν λόγων ἀποκρύψαντα γῆν, ἀλλὰ μέσον τι ἀμφοτέρους τεμεῖν. ὣς οὖν ποιήσετε, καὶ πείθεσθέ μοι ῥαβδοῦχον καὶ ἐπιστάτην καὶ πρύτανιν ἐλέσθαι ὃς ὑμῖν

[337e] but should quarrel with each other like low churls. Now let me beg and advise you, Protagoras and Socrates, to come to terms arranged, as it were, under our arbitration: you, Socrates, must, not require that precise form [338a] of discussion with its extreme brevity, if it is disagreeable to Protagoras, but let the speeches have their head with a loose rein, that they may give us a more splendid and elegant impression; nor must you, Protagoras, let out full sail, as you run before the breeze, and so escape into the ocean of speech leaving the land nowhere in sight; rather, both of you must take a middle course. So you shall do as I say, and I strongly urge you to choose an umpire or supervisor or chairman
I'd argue that the general sense of II Tim. 2:15 all but demands an interpretation of SPEAKING/DISCUSSION IS A JOURNEY, since λόγος is the object of ὁρθοτομέω.
σπουδασον σεαυτον δοκιμον παραστησαι τω θεω εργατην ανεπαισχυντον ορθοτομουντα τον λογον της αληθειας
So the sense is "working your way through the Scripture understanding it correctly", or maybe better "teaching, step by step, the proper understanding of the Scripture". All in all that makes the GNB translation truer to the sense of the original than most translations.
Do your best to win full approval in God's sight, as a worker who is not ashamed of his work, one who correctly teaches the message of God's truth. GNB

PS LSJ gloss this phrase as: "teach it aright". I hope I've shown why that's a most credible translation.

The Picture Bible

Some time ago I more or less promised one of the commenters an image from The Picture Bible. Lingamish's heartfelt post reminded me of this today. Here is one of my favourite pages from the Picture Bible, the shipwreck on Malta. The epistles do get short shrift but otherwise it is great. My son loved it when he was little; it seemed natural to him to read the Bible in the same familiar format as the Illustrated Classics.

We took our children back to Malta a few years ago to see where my husband went to school and swam in St. Paul's Bay. Click on this image to get a readable text.

Lingamish: A bitter breakfast discovery

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Quantitative Equivalence

I happened to notice that the yesterday's post by Wayne was #666. Since this was causing me some unwarranted anxiety, I felt that I should make a post today instead of a comment. So I will respond to Dan's post on Unnecessary Clutter with a quote that I hope will support his thesis.

This is from a recent article by Dr. Pietersma on Hermeneutics and a Translated Text, page 6.

    Discourse Analysis or Text-Linguistics has made us aware of the fact that human discourse is held together by all sorts of devises, labeled cohesive links. One might perhaps call these the glue of discourse. That the source text would have such links is to be expected, since Hebrew Ps. 29 is a piece of written discourse, a text. That such cohesive links would be transferred in some shape or form from the source text to the target text might also be expected, given the fact that translations in the Septuagint are typically isomorphic, i.e. each morpheme is quantitatively represented in the target text. But since in a commentary on the translated text as produced, the exegete’s concern is with the interpretive difference of the target text from the source text, simple representation does not come into play.

    When one asks whether in Ps 28 such cohesive links are added by the Greek translator without explicit warrant in the source, the answer is a resounding No. Most conspicuously lacking, for example, are the ubiquitous particles of Greek prose. In point of fact, what one does find is what I have called (for lack of a better term) anti-links, i.e. disruptive items resulting from an excessive insistence on quantitative equivalence between source text and target text. A case in point is the strange use of an article with κυριος. When the source gives no explicit warrant for an article, κυριος remains anarthrous (13x), when the source does give explicit warrant (4x), an article is duly produced, even if it only represents the source text quantitatively. The presence or absence of an article with κυριος is, therefore, based not on considerations of text-linguistics but of quantitative equivalence between target text and source text.
I have also been enjoying Lingamish's Fallacy Files and Mike's recent Exegetitor posts.