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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

RSV: acceptable to all?

Suzanne's 21st May posting Together on the gospel was a call for
at least one Bible translation that all are comfortable using for scholarly work and for the purposes of dialogue.
In a comment on this I wrote:

The ESV translators have disqualified their translation in the eyes of anyone who is not a fully committed evangelical by their theologically motivated changes e.g. to Isaiah 7:14, going back to "virgin" instead of "young woman". For similar reasons NIV is unacceptable to these people; TNIV is somewhat less of a problem to these people, as for example it has drawn back from capitalising "son" in Psalm 2, but it retains "virgin". The objection is to reading New Testament interpretations back into the Old Testament. Thus ESV, NIV and TNIV will never be acceptable to any more than one wing of the church.

The more liberal wing of the church might claim that NRSV fits the bill, but unfortunately this is not acceptable to evangelicals, because of the liberty it takes on some textual matters, and to some because of its approach to gender issues.

I would suggest that RSV is still the nearest we have to a generally acceptable translation. Evangelicals have mostly forgotten their old objections to "young woman" and "expiation". Even if some of us don't like RSV's approach to gender issues, we can at least take it as a product of its time - whereas an almost unbridgeable gap seems to have opened up on this, implying that no more recent translation will be acceptable to all.

Unfortunately I am now thinking I must revise this positive opinion of RSV. I have been using this version as a basis while checking a draft translation of the gospel of Luke. And I am afraid that I have been shocked by the approach to textual matters in this book - although several other books I have checked have not been so bad. The basic problem is that time after time RSV follows Codex D, the 5th century Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis. This manuscript presents a highly variant Greek text (the "Western text") for which there is usually no support from any other Greek witness, although sometimes from Old Latin versions.

In just one chapter, Luke 24, RSV follows Codex D against all other Greek manuscripts in the following places:

v.3 omits "of the Lord Jesus"
v.6 omits "He is not here, but has risen"
v.12 omits the whole verse
v.36 omits "and said to them, 'Peace to you!'"
v.40 omits the whole verse
v.51 omits "and was carried up into heaven" (one other Greek MS agrees with D here)
v.52 omits "worshipped him, and"

All of these readings are rejected by the UBS Greek New Testament with a B rating, which "indicates that the text is almost certain". Admittedly RSV footnotes all of these. I note that all of these points except the first NRSV follows the UBS Greek rather than RSV, with the RSV reading footnoted - not surprising because of the leading role of Bruce Metzger in preparing both of these texts.

Oddly enough, in v.32 RSV does not omit "within us" although this is omitted by Codex D and two other important MSS.

In the light of this, I have to revise my assessment of RSV and suggest that like NRSV it is "not acceptable to evangelicals, because of the liberty it takes on some textual matters". My criticisms of the NRSV on textual matters relate largely to the Old Testament, whereas my criticisms of RSV relate to the New Testament.

Have you ever cut off your children?

Many of you who read this post have children? Have you ever cut off your children? Hmm, do any of you wonder what the phrasal verb "cut off" means in my preceding sentence. I hope so. I have wondered what it means. My American Heritage dictionary has these definitions for "cut off":
1. To separate from others; isolate. 2. To stop suddenly; discontinue. 3. To shut off; bar. 4. To interrupt the course or passage of: The infielder cut off the throw to the plate. 5. To interrupt or break the line of communication of: The telephone operator cut us off. 6. To disinherit: cut their heirs off without a cent.
Which of these meaning senses would seem reasonable in my question:
Have you ever cut off your children?
I have sometimes cut off my children by interrupting them or stopping them from saying something I felt they shouldn't say.

Let's try a variation on the verb. What do you think this question might mean?
How would you feel if your children were cut off?
I'm still having difficulty figuring out what either of my sample questions most likely means. Let's see if yet another sentence with "cut off" might clarify what that phrasal verb means:
The LORD loves justice, and he will not abandon his godly ones. They will be kept safe forever, but the descendants of wicked people will be cut off.
Does that help us understand what "cut off" refers to? It might, for those of us who have been taught what "cut off" means in Bible English. Oh, for those who wonder, the last quote was a translation of Psalm 37:28, and--don't be too shocked--the wording is not from either a literal or essentially literal translation. (We really do want to be equal opportunity employers on this blog!) Surprisingly, that translation wording is from the God's Word translation, which usually translates with fairly clear, understandable English. I consider that GW is a good translation with above average quality English for Bible versions. Perhaps "cut off" just slipped through the cracks on this one in GW. The translators of Ps. 37:28 likely deliberately included the words "cut off" in more literal English versions, including: KJV, RSV, ESV, NRSV, and NASB. The REB also uses the words "cut off."

So what is "cut off" supposed to mean in Psalm 37:28? There is some exegetical debate about its figurative meaning. TWOT gives the following glosses for karat, the underlying Hebrew word in question in this verse:
1048 cut off a part of the body, e.g. head, hand, foreskin; cut down trees, idols; cut out, eliminate, kill; cut (make) a covenant.
Some take karat to be a Hebrew metaphor for being done away with, destroyed, killed. The biblical contrast is that godly people will be safe forever, but descendants of wicked people will die, a punishment for them from God himself.

Versions which translate with that meaning of karat:
the children of the wicked will be destroyed (HCSB)
the children of evil men are wiped out (NET)
the children of the wicked will perish (NLT)
the children of the wicked will die (NCV)
He ... destroys the children of the wicked (CEV)
Did you already understand that meaning of "cut off"? If so, are you surprised that the meaning intended in Ps. 37:28 is not found in a good dictionary such as the American Heritage dictionary? (I would hope that the meaning of the biblical metaphor would be found in more exhaustive dictionaries, perhaps the OED, which I am not able to check, but maybe one of you will and can include it in a comment.) If a meaning sense intended in a Bible version is not found in a dictionary, which is supposed to represent the collective understandings of different meanings of words, what might we conclude? Do we assume that the dictionary is simply not thorough enough? Or do we question whether the literal translation of the Hebrew metaphor may not be the most accurate and clearest way to express the figurative meaning of that metaphor for most English speakers?

So many questions, but I'd better cut off my post before it gets any longer!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

HCSB review

Rick Mansfield has reviewed the HCSB, the version which is #1 on his list of top ten versions. It is a good review.

I have added Rick's review to my HCSB links webpage.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Key Issues Re: Bible Translation: critique #2

In this post I examine another claim in the essay "Key Issues Regarding Bible Translation" by Wayne Grudem and Jerry Thacker. Let's look at the last sentence of the first paragraph:
An essentially literal translation "strives to translate the exact words of the original-language text in a translation, but not in such a rigid way as to violate the normal rules of language and syntax" of the translation language.
It is appropriate to ask if Grudem and Thacker are right in their claim that the wording of an essentially literal translation does not:
"...violate the normal rules of language and syntax" of the translation language
Grudem and Thacker do not define how they are using the word "normal" in this sentence, but normally (!) we would understand the word "normal" to refer to something which conforms to a standard. I assume that Grudem and Thacker would agree with me that the normal rules of language and syntax of English would include those rules which fluent English speakers of some standard dialect of English regard as the usual, typical rules to follow to produce grammatical wordings.

I assume that Grudem and Thacker (as well as most other fluent speakers of some standard dialect of English) would agree with me that each of the following sentences break at least one "normal" rule of English grammar, at least in dialects of English which are considered to be "standard":
  1. The man are sleeping on the bench. (The rule of subject-verb number agreement is broken.)
  2. I is a man. (The rule accounting for the first person form of the verb "be" is broken.)
  3. The tree laughed at me. (A tree cannot laugh.)
  4. My father teacheded me how to throw a frisbee. (incorrect past tense of "teach"; I heard one of my grandchildren say "teacheded" a few days ago)
Now, do essentially literal translations of the Bible to English follow such normal rules of "language and syntax"? In general, yes, they do. But over the years as I have evaluated different English Bible versions I have often observed some translation wordings in literal and essentiallly literal translations which seem not to follow some normal rules of English.

In English it is possible to form a noun phrase which consists solely of the definite article "the" followed by an adjective. Such a noun phrase is typically called a substantive. Some examples of English substantives are:
the rich
the poor
the sick
the proud
If such a substantive is the subject of a sentence, does it require plural subject-verb agreement, singular subject-verb agreement, or can it have either? To check, read the following two sentences:
  1. The rich oppresses the poor.
  2. The rich oppress the poor.
Do both of these sentences sound grammatical to you? If only one of these sentences sounds grammatical to you, which one is it? For me, only #2 sounds grammatical. I have field tested this fairly extensively and most respondents agree with me that only #2 sounds grammatical. This means that in English a substantive phrase is considered plural. This seems to be a "normal" rule of English grammar. "The rich" would be equivalent to "rich people."

If it is true that such substantive phrases are only plural in English, as we are claiming, do literal and essentially literal Bible versions always follow this rule. In many cases they do, as in:
Job 5:16
So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth. (RSV; ESV)
So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth. (NRSV; HCSB)
Thus the poor have hope, and iniquity shuts its mouth. (NET)

Prov. 10:14
The wise lay up knowledge (NRSV; ESV)
The wise store up knowledge (HCSB)
But in a number of cases literal and essentially literal translations do not follow the English rule, as in:
Psalm 37:12
The wicked plots against the righteous (RSV; ESV; NASB)
The wicked schemes against the righteous (HCSB)

Prov. 11:7
When the wicked dies, his hope perishes (RSV)
When the wicked dies, his hope will perish (ESV)
When the wicked dies, his expectation comes to nothing (HCSB)

Prov. 11:8
The righteous is delivered out of trouble (KJV)
The righteous is delivered from trouble (RSV; ESV; NASB)
The righteous is rescued from trouble (HCSB)

Prov. 14:15
The simple believeth every word (KJV)
The simple believes everything (RSV; ESV)
The naive believes everything (NASB)

Prov. 21:18
The wicked is a ransom for the righteous (RSV; NRSV; NASB; ESV)

Prov. 22:3
The prudent sees the evil and hides himself (NASB)
The prudent sees danger and hides himself (ESV)

Ezek. 33:19
And when the wicked turns from his wickedness (RSV; ESV)
But when the wicked turns from his wickedness (NASB)
When the wicked turns from his wickedness (NET)
If our claim about the ungrammaticality of singular number agreement with English substantives is true, how might such ungrammatical examples have gotten through the editing and checking processes for essentially literal translations? My guess is that they did so because Biblical Hebrew, unlike English, allows for both plural and singular number agreement with substantives. Those who translate following an essentially literal approach sometimes follow the forms of the biblical languages so closely that they do not notice that they have created a translation wording which is not "normal" for the translation language, in this case, English.

It turns out that there are some simple solutions to translate singular Biblical Hebrew substantives to "normal" English. A substantive is a generic form which implicitly assumes a generic noun such as "person" or "persons" which is being modified by the adjective of the substantive. So, one solution is to make the implicit noun of a singular biblical substantive explicit. For example, if the Hebrew is literally "The rich oppresses the poor," if we make explicit an implicit noun modified by the adjective "rich," we can get the grammatical English, such as, "The rich person oppresses the poor." If the context is referring to an indefinite "man," a singular substantive with "man" as its implicit noun stated explicitly would be grammatical.

Is this good translation practice? Yes. As Susan recently posted, essentially literal translations often make some implicit words or meanings explicit, when they are needed to make the original biblical meaning clear or grammatical. Indeed, making an implicit noun explicit is exactly what some essentially literal translations have done in some passages, as in:
Prov. 10:14
Wise men lay up knowledge (RSV)
Wise men store up knowledge (NASB)

Prov. 11:8
The righteous person is delivered out of trouble (NET)
The result is translation which is both accurate and grammatical. Essentially literal translations can be even more grammatical if their translators pay as much attention to the rules of English as they do to details of the biblical languages they are translating. Both languages, the source language and the target language, must be fully honored and their rules observed and followed during the translation process. Better Bibles will result.

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Plotz is reading the Bible and blogging about it

David Plotz, of Slate, has decided to read the Bible for himself. I just found and read his post about why he decided to do this. He has begun blogging about his experience of reading the Bible. Plotz doesn't react to the biblical text the way many readers of this blog do. He's coming at it fresh and he's often rather fresh in what he says as he reads the Bible. I find his comments interesting.

Plotz is Jewish but has to read the Bible in English translation since he doesn't read Biblical Hebrew. If you were recommending a Bible version for Plotz to read, which one would it be?

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Is the TNIV more accurate than the ESV? Reviewer T. Christian believes so and presents evidence to support his claim.

Do you agree with the evidence he presents?

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Friday, May 26, 2006

The Bible wasn't written to you

Lingamish has blogged that The Bible wasn't written to you. It is a powerful and passionate post. The implications for accurate Bible translation are important. For example, we should not translate the Bible as if it were written to us. We should not make any passage say more or less than it was meant to say for its original audience. We should not make translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) sound more "Christian". We should just translate the text. The primacy of the text itself was emphasized at the graduation ceremonies of our son-in-law last Sunday where he received his M.A. in Biblical and cognate languages. One of the phrases that stuck with me from one of the speeches at the graduation was "Text trumps interpretation."

Here are the two concluding paragraphs from the post by Lingamish. We should hear them well. We will translate and understand the Bible more accurately if we do.
God has preserved these messages over many centuries and brought it into your language. It is worth the trouble to understand his message on his terms. Its not a grab bag of moralisms, sound bites or bumper-sticker sayings. The Bible means something but not necessarily what you think it does. The truth is there, but truth taken out of context is destroyed or can be turned into a lie. Read it in the original packaging. Usually that means reading an entire letter, or an entire discourse, or a major section of a book. Read it and read it again. Ask questions about the text. Who wrote it to whom? What is the occasion of the letter? Is the message of this text universal or was it addressing a specific person or situation? If it was written to a specific person or situation, is there an indirect application of this truth for your life?

The Bible wasn't written to you, but it was written for you. Read it the right way and you'll hear the voice of God.
How do you think our Bible translations might be different if we fully took to heart what Lingamish has written?

(HT: Kouya Chronicle)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Translating Psalm 46

Henry Neufeld recently blogged on translating Psalm 46. Henry discusses some translation approaches and displays the Hebrew of Psalm 46. He then provides his own translation of this beautiful Psalm:
(To the director, for the order of Korah, on high notes, a song)
1God is our safe hiding place,
Easy to find when danger strikes.
2We won’t fear
When the world is broken,
When mountains crash into the sea.
3When roaring waves crash over us,
As mountains shake at the sound.
4There is a river, with streams that make God’s city glad,
The holy place where lives the Highest God.
5God is there, right in town!
The city won’t be moved.
Early in the morning,
God will help.
6Nations are troubled!
Kingdoms totter!
God shouts!
Earth trembles!
7YHWH is here with his army.
Our parents’ God is our high ground.
8Come! See what YHWH has done!
The kinds of places he’s wiped out.
9He stops wars anywhere-now!
He splinters bows and breaks spears!
He burns chariots!
10Calm down. Know that I’m God.
All nations will know that I am boss.
The world will know that I am in charge.
11YHWH is here with his army.
Our parents’ God is our high ground.
Henry has even set this psalm to English poetry, in the form of a sonnet which you can read by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The etymological fallacy and translation of metaphor

In the comments to my previous post, Michael Marlowe and I have been interacting about the "etymological fallacy" (decried by James Barr in his seminal book The Semantics of Biblical Language) and literal vs. idiomatic translation of biblical figurative language.

Someone commits the etymological fallacy when they claim that a previous meaning of a word is its current meaning. The etymological route the meaning of a word has taken is often referred to as diachronic meaning, while current meaning is called synchronic meaning. Etymological meanings are interesting and often have some bearing on a word's current meaning. But they often are not the current meaning of a word. Dictionary (or lexicon) entries often do not adequately distinguish between previous meanings of a word and the primary current meaning of a word.

Metaphors and idioms semantically derive from more concrete meanings and create new figurative meanings from them. Such figures of speech have some kind of etymological connection (including recent semantic change for live metaphors) to the more concrete (or "literal") meanings from which they derived. But the figurative meaning is not the literal meaning in the case of metaphors, nor the combined total of the meaning of the individual parts of an idiom.

Many Bible versions typically have a mixture of literal meaning (or etymological meaning for recently coined metaphors) and some figurative meanings for translation of biblical figures of speech. In his book The Word of God In English, Leland Ryken promotes the idea of literally translating many of the biblical figures of speech. Dr. Ryken loves the figurative language of the Bible, as do I. Neither he nor I want any Bible translation to sound stylistically flat, devoid of the beauty of figurative language. But if we literally translate the Bible's figures of speech and our literal translations do not accurate convey their figurative meanings to readers of our translations, our translations for those readers are not accurate.

Current speakers most often use the current meanings for words as their primary meaning, unless a context indicates to them that a word is being used in some currently non-primary, such as figurative or obsolescing, meaning. Some, with a more classical education or who are well-versed in older literature of a language, will also know previous meanings of a word. For instance, some, but not many, current speakers of English know that the word "prevent" in the KJV currently means 'precede' in 1 Thess. 4:15:
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
I have often heard individuals preach from the KJV using the wrong meanings of some of its words, because they are not familiar with the meanings some of its words had at the time the KJV was translated. Someone could preach from 1 Thess. 4:15 that those of us who "remain" (that is, are still alive) will not hinder (a current meaning of "prevent") those who are "asleep" (a metaphor) from coming back to life. Their preaching would be sincere, but it would not be based on an accurate understanding of the word "prevent" as used in this KJV verse, which meant 'precede,' not 'hinder.'

Similarly, current speakers usually understand the word "son" to refer to the male offspring of someone. There is, however, a figurative use of the word "son" in Biblical Hebrew which is semantically extended from its 'male offspring' meaning to a meaning of 'one who has the characteristics of.' There are a number of references in the Hebrew Bible to "the sons of the prophets", including this one in 2 Kings 6:1:
And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us. (KJV)
Now, unless someone already knows that "sons of the prophets" does not refer to male offspring of the prophets, they will commit the etymological fallacy of understanding this Hebrew idiom in its semantically prior sense as 'male offspring.' These men who spoke to Elisha were not literally sons of the prophets. Rather, they were followers of the prophets. They were students who were training to become like the prophets. Today a number of Bible versions translate this Hebraic figurative meaning of the phrase "sons of", allowing users of those translations to immediately understand the figurative meaning.

We come, then, to specifics of the exchanges between Michael and myself. Michael correctly states in a comment to my preceding post:
Wayne, the Hebrew does not say "length of nose" in Ex. 34:6. There are three different senses for the word aph, and "nostril" is one of them. The other two senses are "face" and "anger." In the place you cite, it is clearly being used in the third sense, "anger." So it's really incorrect to say that the Hebrew word means "nose" here.
Michael correctly notes that 'anger' is one of the meaning senses of Hebrew aph. Had I said that the Hebrew actually meant 'nose' in Ex. 34:6, I would have been wrong. It does not mean 'nose' in this verse. It refers only to anger. A critical question here, and it is an empirical one, is whether or not Hebrew aph in Ex. 34:6, meaning 'anger,' semantically derived from a body part metaphor built on the meaning 'nose.' The Hebrew lexicon HALOT (2001, p. 76) indicates that it did, citing a number of instances in the Hebrew Bible where constructions with the word for nose metaphorically referred to anger, e.g.
snootiness Ps 10:4; in anger there is heavy breathing through the nose and a fire burns inside Dt. 32:22, which is why the nose becomes the organ symbolic of anger.
BDB (Brown-Driver-Briggs) supports the same understanding of Hebrew forms with aph 'nose' as having a metaphorical meaning of 'anger' in appropriate contexts.

All English Bible translators know that in the appropriate contexts aph refers to anger, not a literal nose. And no English Bible translators that I know of have translated aph with its semantically prior etymological sense of 'nose' in any English Bibles that I have checked, and properly so. Were they to have done so, they would have committed the etymological fallacy. But it is still likely that the figurative meaning of 'anger' derived from the Hebrew metaphor based on nose.

But many other body part metaphors are translated in Bible versions with their prior, concrete, "literal" (that is, non-figurative) meanings in a number of English Bible versions, including "the finger of God," "the arm of the Lord," "bowels," "heart," "head," "neck", "forehead," "the ears of the church," and many others. If literal translations of these metaphors accurately communicate their figurative meaning to current English speakers, they are accurate translations. If they do not, it would be well for English translators to put the metaphorical meaning in the translated text, as they did with the metaphor of 'anger' for 'nose' and leave etymological or literal meanings for a footnote.

I suggest that when literal translations of biblical metaphors do not accurately communicate the meaning of those metaphors, we are committing the etymological fallacy just as much as if we had translated Ex. 34:6 referring to nose, rather than anger. For those who object, I would suggest that Ex. 34:6 then also be translated with its non-figurative meaning, and that we teach the metaphorical meaning, as some say should be done for people to understand the literal translations of many other metaphors in the Bible.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Together on the gospel

Some scholars have emailed me to say that there is no such thing as a neutral translation, and I have my own doubts about the possibility of a literal translation. However, I feel that it is absolutely essential that the Christian community have at least one Bible translation that all are comfortable using for scholarly work and for the purposes of dialogue.

I deeply regret what I see as the widening chasm between different positions. I can heartily recommend the TNIV as a pew Bible and a personal study Bible. But I have been convinced that many scholars and writers see the need for a more literal and traditional translation. I respect that perspective, and noting my own increasing dependence on the KJV for this purpose, I have continued looking.

The ISV reads to me as a Bible without a political agenda. The only unusual feature that I have seen so far, is the translation of 1 Cor. 11:14, as 'Nature itself teaches you neither that it is disgraceful for a man to have long hair nor that hair is a woman's glory, for hair is given as a substitute for coverings.' In my view there is no proof that this could not be correct. It is every bit as valid as the traditional interpretation.

I hope to see others take up this question over the next few months and years. Is there, in fact, a need for a neutral translation, a translation that is literal enough, traditional enough, and ambiguous enough (where warranted) that it can be inclusive of people from differing doctrinal positions. Surely we should at least be together on the gospel.

Key Issues Re: Bible Translation: critique #1

Wayne Grudem (who helped translate the ESV) and Jerry Thacker have recently co-authored the book Why Is My Choice of a Bible Translation So Important? The essay "Key Issues Regarding Bible Translation" appears to be a summary of the main points of that book. The book is published by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the essay is featured on its website.

In this post I begin critiquing the essay.

The essay begins:
If you went into a Christian bookstore back in the 1960’s, you could usually count on the fingers of just one hand the number of Bible translations on the shelves. Most people knew that there were two broad categories of the types of Bibles you would find. Some followed a “word-for-word” or “essentially literal” translation philosophy.


The other category of Bibles was based on a “dynamic equivalence” or “thought-for-thought” translation philosophy.
Grudem and Thacker's essay promotes "essentially literal" Bible versions and these introductory comments about there being "two broad categories of the types of Bibles" are "essentially true". But it is possible to characterize Bible versions and individual translation wordings even more precisely.

Students of translation theory, including as it applies to Bible translation, have recognized for many years that it is more informative to characterize translations as part of a continuum of degrees of literalness. Different English Bible versions are positioned along this continuum. There is no clear qualitative boundary on this continuum between essentially literal translation and another kind of translation. It is all a matter of degree. And it is not even totally accurate to characterize a version as being of a certain degree of literalness. It is more accurate to determine the degree of literalness on a case-by-case, verse-by-verse basis. But there are overall characterizations of English Bible versions which are "essentially true." The NASB is more literal than the ESV. The ESV is more literal than the NIV. The TNIV in a number of passages, and perhaps overall, is more literal than the NIV. The NIV is more literal than the ISV which is more literal than GW. GW is more literal than the TEV (GNB), CEV, and NCV, each of which are more literal than the Living Bible or The Message.

Scholars who have reviewed the ESV, the newest of the "essentially literal" translations, find a number of non-literal translation wordings in it. This is to be expected and it is good translation practice since the biblical scholars who translated the RSV, of which the ESV is a light revision, recognized that some wordings in the biblical texts do not properly translate literally to English or most other languages.

Neither the RSV nor ESV (nor any other "literal" translation that I know of) literally translates to English a Biblical Hebrew idiom for anger as "length of nose" (Ex. 34:6). Instead, they translate God's own reference to himself as being "slow to anger" rather than not being "longnosed". That is accurate thought-for-thought translation.

Neither literally translates the body part metaphor for emotions as "bowels", as does the KJV (Jer. 31:20)
[Is] Ephraim my dear son? [is he] a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the LORD.
Both the RSV and ESV substitute the English cultural equivalent "heart" for "bowels":
Therefore my heart yearns for him
Such cultural substitution is accurate translation even though it is neither literal nor essentially literal. It is not an example of word-for-word translation, but, rather, of accurate thought-for-thought translation.

Similarly, in the New Testament both the RSV and ESV translate Greek "bowels" idiomatically (thought-for-thought):
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection (KJV: bowels) of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:8)
Other thought-for-thought (idiomatic) translations can also be found in essentially literal Bible translations. Each English Bible version is a mixture of both literal and non-literal translation. There are differences among versions based on the degree of literalness employed in each.

We will continue discussing Grudem and Thacker's essay in future posts.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Rhetorical Questions ll

In answer to yesterday's discussion of how rhetorical questions are marked, it appears from the rest of 1 Corinthians that they are often directly followed by an answer. However, they can be answered in either the positive or the negative. They may be introduced by κρινω, 'you examine the question', or 'you decide.' So it seems correct to translate 1 Cor. 11:13 as, "You decide. Is it proper for a women to pray with her head uncovered?"

However, the answer is less obvious. Is it "Does not nature itself teach you?" or "Nature itself does not teach you?" I find little support for the first option. The natural world does not teach us this. Nor does the Old Testament, with its stories of Samson and Absalom. Experience might teach you to keep long hair tied back, that is reasonable. The other interpretation is contrary to what we know.

Neither is there a single dominant custom regarding head covering. And if 'nature' means 'custom' then how does one explain the following verse, "We have no such custom." Even though this option appears to contradict verse 4, it seems to be the only clear choice.

If verse 14 contradicts verse 4, verse 11

    πλην ουτε γυνη χωρις ανδρος, ουτε ανηρ χωρις γυναικος εν κυριω
also contradicts verse 8.

    ου γαρ εστιν ανηρ εκ γυναικος, αλλα γυνη εξ ανδρος
And we achieve a consistent pattern. Then verse 10 is the pivot. After reading over 1 Corinthians, I can only interpret δια τουτο οφειλει η γυνη εξουσια εχειν επι της κεφαλης as having Christian liberty, since this is Paul's repeated use of the phrase in Corinthians.

It seems clear that a woman should have liberty regarding her own head. I have a definite doubt about whether a woman should take this liberty if it will cause others to stumble. That is, if an older woman always wears a hat out of her own upbringing and conscience, a younger woman might also where a hat, even if she felt no requirement. That has often been done. If a head covering correctly communicates a married status it seems reasonable to wear one. Today it does not.

Paul discusses many Christian liberties. But we should not necessarily take them. It would surprise me very much if any woman ever spoke up in a Brethren breaking of bread service. I cannot ever remember hearing a woman speak in a situation where she had not been given that liberty by the men. (I have just recently heard that there are Brethren assemblies that allow women to teach. I know little about them.)

That does not mean that a woman should always keep silent. The first time I ever challenged church elders, it was over a matter of serious abuse. I do not in any way think that I should have kept quiet. But I went to the home and spoke in private. No one should look out for their own interests but for the interests of others. 1 Cor. 10:24.

The first women ordained in Canada had served as deacons and teachers for a lifetime before they were formally recognized for the service they had given, often in remote locations. They had no more to do with modern worldly feminism, than Florence Nightingale. They took the Christian liberty of working for the gospel in a place where no one else did and many scholarly and traditional men realized that this was of God.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rhetorical Questions

Ruud has posted on the topic of Paul's Hair on my bookshelf blog. Of course, we have no idea how long Paul's hair was when he had it cut. However, I thought that there might be a significant difference if he was taking a vow. Maybe he would shave his hair and then not have it cut again until he had fulfilled certain conditions. How long would that be, a month, a year? There is no indication.

However, a more grammatical issue is involved. Michael has recently brought up the possibility that certain expressions could be ironic, (verse 10) and that the intended meaning is the opposite of the plain text reading. Once again, how would we know for sure.

What about rhetorical questions? Is there no clear way in Greek to tell if something should be a rhetorical question? I don't have the answer. There seems to be some disagreement here. Could 1 Cor. 11: 4 - 5 read,

    Does each man [or husband] praying or prophesying having a draped head dishonor his head? Yet does each wife [or woman] praying or prophesying with the head uncovered [or against the uncovered head] dishonor her head? Is she [or he] surely one and the same with [or as] she who has been shorn?
If verses 13 - 15 could be rhetorical then maybe these verses also are. How can we tell? How do we know that one passage is a rhetorical question and another is not?

Update: These verses are taken from a translation proposed by Norman E. Anderson.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

the International Standard Version (ISV)

Suzanne quoted from the ISV in her preceding post. The International Standard Version (ISV) is one of the best English versions to have been produced in the past 20 or so years. Unfortunately, it has not gotten the public attention that it deserves. It is truly a "professional" translation, with obvious marks of careful attention paid to exegesis as well as English quality. I have been evaluating the ISV since it first became available as a translation of the New Testament. I have lamented the fact that it has taken longer than hoped to complete translation of the Old Testament.

The ISV tries to bring out the aspectual differences among the Greek tenses, similar to how Williams did in his New Testament translation many years ago, but more naturally than Williams did.

Unlike most recently produced "moderately literal" translations, the ISV shows clear care that not only are the biblical languages honored through careful exegesis, but the English language is also. The ISV reads like it was produced by people who speak and write English well. My guess is that its New Testament editor, David Alan Black, a Greek professor, had significant influence upon the difficult process of matching the meanings of Greek linguistic forms to natural English translation equivalents. I was first attracted to Black's unusual (among Greek professors) literary abilities for translating Greek well when I read his book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications. I examined the ISV to see if Black's application of common sense linguistic insights in his book influenced the translation wordings in the ISV, and I'm convinced it did. I wish that every exegete on every English Bible translation team could take a workshop from Dr. Black on how to combine good exegesis with good English.

But Professor Black was not alone in creating the good quality of the ISV New Testament. William Welty, who has led and championed the ISV project over the years, has brought a passion for precision in translation that has been married well with Black's work in the New Testament. I would like to have been a mouse in the corner observing the two of them, as well as others on their translation committee, discuss the translation wordings.

I have had a few quibbles with the ISV, as I have with all English versions (some more than others). But this is a version that deserves more than it has gotten in recognition so far. It should be used more widely than it is.

And I hope that its Old Testament can be completed, and will evidence the same kind of attention to careful exegesis and good quality English that its New Testament translation does. A number of OT books have already been translated and they are done well.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The pigtail hangs behind him

In Wayne's inaugural post on the BBB last spring he mentioned the International Standard Version. I have been considering it as a relatively neutral and traditional version of the Bible. It is not perfect but I think we have discovered that no translation is. I don't even think that one translation has emerged above the others as exemplary.

In this translation 1 Cor. 11:14 varies from most other translations. When I first saw this, I reacted against it. But the more I read the more I thought that this might indeed make sense. Maybe it is not a shame for a man to have long hair.

I think that this is a very relevant issue for people who translate the Bible into other languages for other cultures. Didn't the founding fathers favour a ponytail? And Chinese men were once not allowed to cut their braid. Hudson Taylor grew his hair in order to travel in China. On the other hand there are people and cultures that do not favour long hair on either men or women. So does nature teach us that it is a shame for men to wear their hair long?

    ἐν ὑμῖν αὐτοῖς κρίνατε πρέπον ἐστὶν γυναῖκα ἀκατακάλυπτον τῷ θεῷ προσεύχεσθαι 14 οὐδὲ ἡ φύσις αὐτὴ διδάσκει ὑμᾶς ὅτι ἀνὴρ μὲν ἐὰν κομᾷ ἀτιμία αὐτῷ ἐστιν 15 γυνὴ δὲ ἐὰν κομᾷ δόξα αὐτῇ ἐστιν ὅτι ἡ κόμη ἀντὶ περιβολαίου δέδοται αὐτῇ
    It is proper for a woman to pray to God without head coverings. Nature in no way teaches on the one hand that if a man has long hair it puts him to shame nor does it teach on the other that a woman's hair is her glory. All of this is true because hair is given as a substitute for man-made coverings. (1 Corinthians 11:13-15 ISV)
If verse 14 is not a rhetorical question but a simple negative statement then it would not be shame for a man to have long hair. For a recent treatment of this read Ruud's post How long is your hair? 1 Corintians 11:13-15

This also brings up the question which Jeremy has alluded to in recent comments. To what extent should a translator add and manipulate punctuation?

This post is dedicated to those young men who seem to want a little more activity on the BBB this weekend. I leave you to contemplate whether a Christian man may wear long hair?

Note: Thackeray's poem, from which the title is taken, is found on this page.

Friday, May 12, 2006

another TNIV review

Phil Ward, an English Bible translator in Australia, has written a review of the TNIV titled "What has happened to the NIV Bible?" It was published in a church magazine. Phil has graciously given permission for his review to be uploaded to a website from which it can be downloaded.

Phil's review also follows, here:
What has happened to the NIV Bible?
by Phil Ward

What book holds the world record for the most number of copies sold in its first thirty years on the bookshelves?

It’s the New International Version of the Bible. It has sold an incredible half million copies each month since it was first published in 1973.

This outstanding sales success has created a difficult problem for its publishers. The English language is constantly changing and the NIV wording is now a little old fashioned. It needs to be updated, or its sales will gradually fade. But the “simple solution” of modernising the language creates a serious risk of losing the existing loyal customer base.

How can you update the product, but not lose your existing market? The solution is to have two versions. Give one version the traditional wording; give the other the updated language.

And that is exactly what has happened. The New International Version of the Bible has spawned an offspring. It’s called Today’s New International Version.

Its publisher, Zondervan, says the TNIV is aimed at the under 35 market, but in truth it’s probably written for all age groups. However, by marketing it to the younger market, its older readership will not feel threatened. They won’t feel the Bible version they have used for a generation is being taken away from them.

What is this new translation like? Most differences between the TNIV and NIV are too subtle for most people to notice. That is a major drawback for promoting the new translation. If people don’t notice the changes, they won’t talk to their friends about the book, so there will be few word-of-mouth sales. Zondervan is solving that problem with a million dollar advertising campaign. It’s believed to be the largest advertising budget in history to launch a religious book.

What are the subtle changes in the TNIV? The most frequent is the removal of sexist language. Many times the old NIV used words like “he” and “him” when the original Greek language did not specify the sex of the person. This type of sexist language has been removed from the TNIV.

Another example of this is the word “brothers.” The old NIV uses this word 339 times in the New Testament alone. However, in most cases the original Greek word means “siblings.” So the new version usually replaces “brothers” by the more cumbersome, but more accurate term “brothers and sisters.”

Other subtle alterations are occasional changes to make the translation more accurate. The last 50 years has seen a stunning 30,000% growth in the amount of scholarly material examining the meaning of New Testament words. The translators have dug into this huge new resource to try to make the TNIV more accurate. It is comforting to know that where necessary, these improvements in accuracy are found in the new version.

Weights and measures are more relevant in the TNIV. For example, in Matthew 13:33 the old NIV says, “a large amount of flour.” The new version says, “about sixty pounds of flour,” with a footnote saying, “about 27 kilograms.”

Do these changes mean there is a significant difference between the old NIV and the new? Not really. I took a section of the New Testament and counted the number of words which were changed. There were only 4 per cent. So reading the new version gives almost exactly the same impression as reading the old. The main difference is that if people are offended by “sexist” language, the TNIV will not offend them. Thus, it can carry God’s message more successfully to people offended by “sexist” language.

At this stage I need to confess that my comments in this article are biased. I am translating a Bible which I hope will be a future sales competitor to the NIV/TNIV. And from my biased viewpoint, I feel that the new TNIV needed three more major changes.

The first change I would have liked is shorter sentences. On almost every page the TNIV has sentences between 30 and 40 words long. However, the average person cannot easily understand a sentence more than 20 words long. So by dividing longer sentences into two shorter ones, the TNIV could have been much easier to understand.

The second change I would have liked is less verbosity. The TNIV New Testament has almost 20% more words than the Greek original. Some of that increase is necessary, but not all of it. A good student of creative writing can remove an average of three words per verse in either version without changing the meaning. That means that about 10% of the words are not necessary. If those words were removed, you could take 10% less time to read a given passage. But more importantly, giving the same message in less words means people absorb more of what they read.

The third change I would have wanted was replacing more of the NIV’s obsolete words. The noun “grace” (meaning “favour”) has virtually dropped out of modern English. However, the TNIV uses it 117 times. Perhaps TNIV readers would have been better served by words like “favour,” “approval,” “gift,” or “kindness” rather than “grace.” Similarly the ancient word “herald” could have been replaced with “messenger.” The word “disciple” has changed its meaning since it became part of the English language 800 years ago. It originally meant “student,” which is what the Greek also means. However, the new version uses “disciple” 315 times. Maybe it should have used the more accurate word “student.” And perhaps “the elect” could have become “the chosen” or “those selected.”

It is a dangerous thing to criticise a Bible translation. So please don’t interpret my comments as meaning we shouldn’t take the TNIV just as it reads.

Take either the old NIV or the new one just as it reads. Or take the KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NASB, CEV, TEV, or any other combination of letters which means this book is a Bible. Take it just as it reads. The Bible, just as it reads, is to be our guide.

PHIL WARD has been a full time Bible translator since 1986. He has so far spent 25,000 hours translating the Bible and expects he needs another 20,000 hours to finish the task.

What is the most accurate Bible version?

The question is frequently asked: What is the most accurate English Bible version? I, personally, don't think that question can be answered, at least not without a great deal more research. To answer it would require meticulous verse-by-verse checking that the original biblical text meaning has been accurately communicated in a translation to its intended target audience. This requires extensive fieldtesting among that intended target audience.

I have begun such research and fieldtesting and the results for accuracy of Bible version can be found on my webpage with Studies evaluating English Bible versions. But that is only beginning research. Final results will likely differ from the relative degrees of accuracy which my studies have shown so far. The results of my studies are also surely influenced by the particular Bible passages I chose to evaluate. My regular translation work does not allow me the massive amount of time required to do the verse-by-verse analysis and fieldtesting necessary for a truly thorough evaluation of accuracy in English Bible versions.

Although the claim is often promoted that literal translations are more accurate than idiomatic translations, that claim is easily disproven by examples where literal translations of figurative expressions in the biblical text do not accurately communicate the original figurative meanings to intended translation audiences. We have had a number of posts on this blog which demonstrate clearly, in my opinion, where a literal translation of original figurative language is not accurate for its intended audience. My preceding post on "heavy ears" was one such post.

Exegetes frequently point out what they consider exegetical errors--which is a form of inaccuracy--in more idiomatic translations such as the TEV, CEV, and NCV. (The Message is in a class of its own here; I don't think it can be directly compared with "regular" translations.) On the whole, idiomatic versions translate the figurative language of the Bible more accurately than do literal or essentially literal translations. But they, like any translation, literal or otherwise, have translation wordings which are questioned by exegetes.

Until and if the detailed verse-by-verse exegetical research is done with various English Bible versions, and until and if the necessary verse-by-verse fieldtesting is done among intended target audiences, I don't think we can objectively state what is the most accurate English Bible version. We can, however, I believe, trust that most Bible versions have a high level of accuracy, with the exception of a handful which have been criticised for taking too many liberties with non-consensus exegetical options in translation. One such version that comes to my mind is the Living Bible, interestingly, one of the Bible versions which helped millions of people clearly understand the basic message of the Bible in ways they had never understood before.

We English speakers are rich with Bible versions. Each can be improved. But if you like the quality of English in a Bible version and you believe you understand what that version is saying (we sometimes don't when we think we do), you can usually be confident that you are accurately reading God's Word in English.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Do you have heavy ears?

Biblical Hebrew had an idiom of "heavy ears," as found in Isaiah 6:10. When Hebrew speakers referred to someone having heavy ears, as in Is. 6;10, they were not referring literally to the weight of someone's ears. Rather, the figurative meaning was that a person with "heavy ears" had stopped listening. Hebrew scholars agree that this is the meaning of this Hebrew idiom.

Now, how might we translate the meaning of the Hebrew of Is. 6:10 to English so that readers of a translation will understand the metaphorical meaning just from reading the translation? That, after all, is the purpose of a translation, to allow speakers of one language to understand what was said in another language.

Following are some English versions which accurately translate the meaning of the Hebrew idiom to English:
Make these people ... plug their ears. (GW)
make their ears deaf (TEV, NET)
Shut their ears. (NCV)
Make them stop up their ears (CEV)
Close their ears (NLT)
deafen their ears (HCSB)
The following might make sense in English to some people:
stop their ears (NRSV)
but it would make more sense to me if it were worded as "stop up their ears."

In English it is possible to be "dull of hearing" or to have "dull hearing," but I don't think we can communicate the meaning of not hearing by saying that someone's ears themselves are "dull" as in these versions:
make their ears dull (NIV, TNIV)
Render ... their ears dull (NASB)
Finally, I am quite certain that the following wording is inaccurate. That is, I don't think it communicates any meaning in English other than a literal meaning that someone's ears weigh a lot:
Make ... their ears heavy (KJV, RSV, ESV)
I would be glad for fieldtesting to prove my claim of inaccuracy wrong.

If a translation wording does not communicate the meaning of the original biblical text to its users, it is not an accurate wording. It would be great if we could literally retain this Hebrew idiom in an English translation, but doing so alters the original meaning and that is a form of inaccuracy. Translating the figurative meaning of the Hebrew into English which has the same meaning is accurate translation. It is not so-called "interpretive translation" as the term is used pejoratively these days. There is no personal interpretation of the Hebrew idiom involved in translating its meaning to English. English Bible translators agree on the meaning of the idiom.

Literal or essentially literal translations are fine whenever they accurately communicate the meaning of the biblical text to translation users. They are inaccurate when they do not. Similarly, more idiomatic translations are inaccurate whenever they do not accurately communicate the meaning of the biblical text.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Orthotomeo: A Response

This is not intended to extend the discussion of this word or take it up again. However, I do want to acknowledge belatedly the response from Rich and a few emails and comments which I have received.

First, I do not think that I have reached some kind of final word or conclusion about 'orthotomeo', nor was that my intent. Rick Brannan has nicely interpreted my intent when he comments on my use of online resources. I was interested in actually trying out and strengthening my skills in using online resources on a vocabulary study that was not of earth-shaking doctrinal importance.

I have been persuaded by a few kind people that this expression, 'orthotomeo' may well mean 'working one's way through the word in a straightforward manner.' It seems ambiguous to me, and entirely possible that it could mean either 'traveling through the word of truth for oneself in a straightforward and level way', or 'making the word of truth available to others in a straightforward and level manner.' There seems to be significant support for both.

In any case, I ended up with the impression that the research from all sources came together to suggest a 'making a straight and direct path'. There did not seem to be any variance between classical Greek and Septuagint sources. The Peshitta was also in agreement with this.

I was delighted to read tonight in the comment section on the preceding post, this contribution from Codepoke, that we should not dispense with 'valuable, appropriate and intentional color.' That really was my point. No need to fall into the etymological fallacy of translating 'orthotomeo' as 'rightly dividing', or 'cut in a straight line' as Darby does, but why dispense with intentional colour altogether? Why setttle for the relatively colourless 'correctly handling' when something else can be made out of it, something like 'setting a straight course through the word of truth' or 'making a straight path', although there may be better ways to construe this.

In sum, it seems to be a journey or a course - one does not necessarily reach the destination, have done with a concept, and then move on to the next, but rather, the idea is for us to stay on the straight path, without getting sidetracked into the sideroads, tripping and stumbling over uneveness.

I was fortunate to hear a sermon this Sunday on Galatians 6:14-16

    But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which[b] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. ESV
Many other translations use "follow", but "walk by" seems more evocative of the Greek, which has another colourful word here, this time used 5 times in the NT, στοιχεω, to 'walk straight' or 'walk in line with'. Somehow, after having read both Timothy and Galatians in Greek, I see some correlation between ορθοτομεω and στοιχεω that might not have been so clear in English.

All this bringing about the same conclusion, that there is a central truth that we boast in, which is the cross of Christ. Do these colourful expressions draw us into the central truths, I think they do. Does this mean a literal translation is better? Not necessarily, 'rightly dividing' for ορθοτομεω sounds literal enough, but meaningless, and 'be drawn up in a row' for στοιχεω is also literal but meaningless.

There should be some sensitivity and fidelity to the original metaphors, but it seems to be an art rather than a science to arrive at the desired effect in a translation. I await enlightenment from commenters or cobloggers on this. Surely it can be turned into a science. I appreciate the continuing discussion on this topic, and see how much more there is for me to learn as I develop a greater sensitivity to language from being in dialogue with others.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Should we forgive our debtors?

Our church recites the Lord's Prayer/Our Father (Matt. 6:9-13) each Sunday using the wording "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Other churches recite the prayer using the word "trespasses" rather than "debts". In this post I argue that neither wording is as accurate as we would want for today's speakers of English.

First, we need some background. The concept of sin is an abstract idea. We cannot touch sin, see it, or measure it. Speakers of languages all over the world often refer to abstract ideas with more concrete words, typically used metaphorically. (Remember recent BBB posts about the book Metaphors We Live By. Metaphors pervade the Bible as well as our English language. Our daily language usage is "awash" (!!) in metaphor.)

There is no single word used in the Greek New Testament for sin. Instead, there are several more concrete words used metaphorically in the Bible to refer to the abstract concept of sin. Among them is this list of Greek words for sin:
  1. ἁμαρτία - to miss the mark (Luke 11:4)
  2. ἀγνοημα - an act done in ignorance of God's will
    1. Hebrews 9:7 (sin committed in ignorance)
    2. 1 Timothy 1:13 (sin committed in ignorance
  3. ὑπερβαίνω - going beyond the will of God [1 Thess. 4:6 (overstepping or trespass); in Josephus and Philo lit. "going beyond the head of the risen Lord."]
  4. σκάνδαλον - a cause of sinning or causing someone else to fail (1 John 2:10)
  5. ενοχος- guilty or liable (Matt. 26:66)
  6. πονηρoς - guilty or evil, as a noun one who has done an evil deed (John 3:19)
  7. πταίω - stumbling or failing to live up to God's will (Rom. 11:11)
  8. προσκόμμα - taking the opportunity to sin or cause someone to sin (Rom. 14:20)
  9. παραπτώμα - a transgression of the will of God (Matt. 6:14)

To this list should be added:

10. ὀφειλήμα - debt; metaphorically, a moral debt, sin
(UPDATE: Caveat emptor! BBB contributor Peter Kirk notes that ἁμαρτία likely just meant 'sin' at the time the New Testament was written. It's etymological meaning was probably a dead metaphor by that time. Also see comments to this post for some additional Greek words which referred to sin.)

Some exegetes believe that Jesus was referring to cancellation of literal financial debts when he taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer. And that is what it sounds like Jesus taught when we recite the Lord's Prayer in our church. There is a great deal of exegetical support, however, for understanding Jesus to be referring to sin in the prayer he taught. Some of that support is found in the very context of the Lord's Prayer. Just two verses after Matt. 6:12, we read:

but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (ESV)

The Greek word underlying the translation "trespasses" here is παραπτώμα, which is a common word used, again metaphorically, to refer to sin.

In Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer, he uses the common Greek word for sin, ἁμαρτία metaphorically, rather than ὀφειλήμα. I personally think we are straining at gnats (metaphorically!) if we try to find very much difference in the semantics of the reference to sin between the Matthean and Lukan versions of the Lord's Prayer.

Perhaps there was a hint of the more concrete (non-metaphorical) meaning of ὀφειλήμα as 'financial debt' in the Matthean version, but I doubt that any such connotations are in focus in the Lord's Prayer. It is much more likely that Matthew used ὀφειλήμα here with the idea of moral debt which occurs when you sin against someone, that is, when we wrong them. We can wrong God, just as we can wrong others. When we wrong anyone, we owe them a moral debt that needs to be cancelled before our relationship with them can be fully restored. The debt is cancelled through forgiveness, another abstract idea which is referred to in the Bible metaphorically. When we forgive someone, we (metaphorically) release them from their debt to us. The Greek word for forgiveness, ἄφες, used in the Lord's Prayer is another metaphor. Its non-metaphorical meaning can be glossed as 'cancel, release.'

(We can also note that there are other kinds of debt we can incur toward others besides those which are financial or moral. We can be socially in debt to someone. For instance, if someone does something really nice for us, we can say in English, "I'm indebted to you," or "I'm in your debt." Social debt, like moral debt, is an extended semantic usage of the primary meaning of the word "debt.")

So, what is it that we are really asking God when we recite the forgiveness part of the Lord's Prayer (Our Father)? Are we asking to have our financial loans canceled? No, we are asking to be forgiven. Technically, we might be asking to have our moral debt due to sin removed, but how do we express that accurately and clearly in today's English? I suggest that the closest translation equivalent in English to the semantic focus of

ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν (Matt. 6:12)
in the Lord's Prayer is simply:

Forgive us

We might translate that request following the Greek syntax more closely as "Forgive us our sins" but I don't think that is very natural English. And it means the same as "Forgive us." There is no semantic component of the originally intended meaning that I am aware of which is left out if we just say "Forgive us." In English we can omit the object of "forgive" since we understand from the meaning of the word "forgive" that its semantic object is some kind of wrong or sin.

Let's not make things more complicated than they were in the original biblical texts by using misleading "literal" or "essentially literal" words in translation when the original text was metaphorical and needs to be translated with English words which accurately communicate that metaphorical meaning.

The following English versions accurately communicate the figurative (metaphorical) meaning of the Greek words having to do with sin in the Lord's Prayer:

Forgive us the wrong we have done, as we have forgiven those who have wronged us. (REB)

Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. (TEV)

Forgive us as we forgive others. (GW)

Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us. (NCV)

and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. (NLT)

and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. (ISV)

Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others. (CEV)

More literal translations which use the word "debts" (KJV, NKJV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NIV, TNIV, NET, HCSB) do not accurately communicate the metaphorical meaning of Jesus' reference to sin in the Lord's Prayer. Instead, for most English speakers today, they communicate something about financial debts.

Some visitors to this blog have been concerned thinking that we BBB contributors have an agenda against literal or essentially literal Bible translations. This is a special concern since there is currently widespread promotion of essentially literal Bible versions as being the most accurate kind of translations. To suggest anything else almost sounds like heresy in some circles today.

We need to repeat what we have said a number of other times. We are not for or against any particular English Bible versions. Instead, on this blog we promote translation which most accurately communicates to current speakers of English the intended meanings of the biblical texts.

When we know the intended meanings, and for the most part we do, for the majority of Bible passages, we should accurately translate those meanings to English. We should not use less accurate non-metaphorical translations when the original texts were written to be understood metaphorically.

We should not require Bible teachers or pastors to have to explain to us when a word in an English translation should be understood literally and when it has a metaphorical meaning, nor should we have to discover the difference using commentaries, lexicons, or other biblical study helps. The original meaning should be accurate and clear in a translation itself. This is not so-called "interpretive" translation. It is, rather, the most accurate kind of translation possible. Any other teaching about translation is misleading.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Top Ten Bible Versions

Rick Mansfield, a seminarian and host of This Lamp blog, has just begun a series on his picks for the Top Ten Bible Versions. He will be blogging about the following ten Bible versions and why they are his top ten picks:
1. Holman Christian Standard Bible
2. Today's New International Version
3. New American Standard Bible
4. New Living Translation
5. The Message
6. Revised English Bible
7. New Jerusalem Bible
8. Good News Translation (Today's English Version)
9. The Wycliffe New Testament (1388)
10. Modern Language Bible (New Berkeley Version)
I want to follow Rick's blog series. You might want to also.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Why Most Bibles Have Two Columns

Today's post at the ESV Bible blog is about "Why Most Bibles Have Two Columns". I hadn't thought much about this issue in the past and found the post informative. According to the post, there are three main reasons that most Bibles have two columns: economics (it takes less paper to print in two columns rather than a single column), readability (our eyes can process the number of words per line in two columns better than they can the number of words in single column), and history (the traditional look of a Bible).

I commend the post to you for your reading, if you are interested in this topic.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

BBB wins Baloney Buster award

BBB visitor and missionary Bible translator, Lingamish, has just awarded this blog his Baloney Buster of the Week award. We gratefully accept, yea, verily, we even tolerate, No Baloney! Seriously, this blog could not have earned the Baloney Buster award without the work of each of its contributors and the interactions with its good reading audience. Thank you to each of you!

In his award-winning, I mean, award-giving, post, Lingamish says:
This week's award for Baloney Buster goes to Wayne Leman and the crew at Better Bibles Blog for their work on promoting rational discussion of Bible translation. Few people have Wayne's ability to explain this topic in ways that the average person can understand and find engaging. Wayne presides over a blog blessed with some very talented contributors and all of them share a genuine desire to interact with people of differing viewpoints while still vigorously defending their beliefs.

Suzanne McCarthy's series on "rightly dividing" the word ORTHOTOMEO is a fascinating series of close to a dozen posts about a word that occurs only once in the New Testament.

For a sample of the kind of heated debate that only occurs among theologians and linguists check out Wayne and Michael Marlowe sparring over colloquialism in translation in the comments on the post "Is singular 'they' a colloquialism?"

Whether you are an academic or a layman you will always be treated with respect at Better Bibles. So don't let all the PhDs intimidate you: ask away!

As a Baloney Buster, Wayne is entitled to display the Baloney Badge on his blog. Congrats Wayne and BBB team!
Thanks, Lingamish. For the record, I think there is only one Ph.D among us contributors. It's Rich, our newest contributor, who is a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. We all try, however, to post in a way that is as academically honest and grounded as we can be. We want to challenge each other and our readers to contribute to the cause of making better Bibles in English, and, of course, for the thousands of languages remaining which do not yet have any translation of the Bible.

Happy Birthday! I'll also take this opportunity to mention that this blog has been active now for one year. We began the Better Bibles Blog in April 2005. A year is a long time for a blog. I truly am grateful for each one who has helped this blog keep going. There is no end of good ideas we can blog about. My hope and prayer is that our efforts can make some difference in helping there be better Bibles, Bibles which are both exegetically accurate and which honor the natural linguistic patterns of the biblical languages as well as English. Such better Bibles are the ones which will communicate God's Written Word best to English speakers today.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Rereading Daniel 9:25-27: The Coming of the Messiah

Dr. Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament: Rereading Daniel 9:25-27: The Coming of the Messiah

In this post Dr. Mariottini addresses the question of theological bias that we bring to the task of interpreting the biblical text. And, of special interest for our blog, he also addresses the prior question of translating the biblical text itself as free of bias as possible. I believe, with Dr. Mariottini, that it is possible to translate as free of bias as possible.

First, of course, we need to become aware of what our own biases are that we are bringing to the translation task. We may need to set these aside for the sake of creating a translation that is as theologically and ideologically neutral as possible. Now, there will still be a lot of theology left in the translation, for one thing, because the Bible contains quite a lot of theology. But it is, in my opinion, not a systematized theology. It doesn't solve the theological tensions we often try to solve through systematic theology such as the tension between a sovereign God and human free will.

May we on the BBB and visitors to this blog be as honest as possible with the biblical text itself. May we refrain from imposing any theological grid of our own upon the biblical text. Let's let the text speak for itself. And let's listen carefully to it. Much of it is rather clear if we read it seeking its "plain text" meaning. And when it is clear, let us submit ourselves to its teaching. Let us also be humble about the things in the text which are not clear.

There is room for godly translators to sincerely disagree about some points. However, in my opinion, there is little room for translators to treat each other in unspiritual ways, questioning their motives and suggesting that they have translated "inaccurately" when there is solid biblical scholarship which supports the translation choices of those with whom we disagree. I would suggest that when we find ourselves tempted to call a translation wording "inaccurate" when it has quality exegetical support, we ourselves may have crossed the line into theologically biased translation.

Thank you, Dr. Mariottini, for your helpful and gracious reminders to us about healthy ways to approach the biblical texts.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Potential Bible Translators

When Philip asked the Ethiopian (Acts 8:31) if he understood what he was reading from the prophet Isaiah, he replied, How can I, unless someone guides me?

This reminds me of an article entitled Translators Are Born, Not Made by Dr. Eugene Nida (published in The Bible Translator by the United Bible Society). After discussing with experienced translators and teachers of translation what the key element of successful translation is likely to be, Dr. Nida concluded that the most important factor for potential Bible translators is creative imagination, which involves the following:

A capacity to spot problems in the source-language text (e.g., Greek), to detect things which are difficult to understand and things which can have more than one meaning (e.g., foundation of the apostles – Ephesians 2:20)

An ability to spot statements which do not really make sense (e.g., less than the least – Ephesians 3:8)

An ability to recognize figurative expressions which at first sight appear to be completely non-figurative (e.g., filled with the Spirit – Ephesians 5:18)

An ability to recognize mixed figures of speech, which produce serious problems in transferring thoughts from one language to another (e.g., rooted in love – Ephesians 3:17)

An ability to recognize the potential problems of transferring meaning into another language (e.g., God and Father – Ephesians 1:3)

A capacity to recognize expressions that could appear to be contradictions in a given language (e.g., sweet-smelling sacrifice – Ephesians 5:2)

A capacity to sense ways of communicating meaningfully in a particular language
Dr. Nida concludes his article by stating that one key to the potential ability of a person to be a translator is their deep-seated dissatisfaction with existing translations and their creative use of words in wanting to explain to people what these wooden and often misleading translations are really trying to say.

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