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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.


At Sun May 21, 07:50:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne, I know that the ESV proponents hope that that version will become the translation you long for in your final paragraph. They consider it literal enough and I suspect it is. It clearly carries on the Tyndale-KJV-ASV-RSV tradition. It leaves ambiguity in the text where it is possible for us analysts to see possible ambiguity. Whether or not it is a "neutral" translation, I don't know. The claim can be made that it is neutral in the sense of carrying on traditional translation wordings which have been accepted as "neutral" for hundreds of years in the past. Today, in terms of gender accuracy, many would view the ESV as promoting a masculine priority of roles in the home and church. But I suspect that the ESV team itself would view their work as being as neutral in this regard as possible. They believe, I suspect, that their use of masculine forms and masculine gendered generic forms is fully biblical and not meant to disenfranchise women from full participation in using their spiritual gifts in the home and church.

So, whether we view the ESV or the TNIV as closer to "true" biblical teaching ultimately comes down to an interpretational and/or theological decision on the part of the one doing the evaluation.

I long for some way that truly spiritual individuals who place a priority on our unity in Christ might find some ways to help us break out of the current dichotomy of these two ways of viewing Bible translation vis-a-vis our own gender theologies. Some would take my preceding sentence as placing a higher priority on unity than on truth. I, of course, believe that I do. But others will question my sincerity or my integrity on this matter, or, at minimum, will consider me naive that it would be possible to find any common ground between the currently polarized gender theology positions as they relate to English Bible translation.

I still remain deeply troubled by the current scene and the intentional or unintentional competition to produce English Bibles which seem to reflect one position or the other. I wish there could be a truly "neutral" Bible which would satisfy each of the gendered theology camps today. I don't know if it's possible. I do know that there are deeply spiritual, totally sincere individuals on both sides, each desiring to follow biblical truth as closely as human possible. There are, of course, also crusaders on each side who may not have the highest spiritual goals as their own. Such as always been the case throughout church history.

Oh, who shall deliver us from this situation?

At Sun May 21, 08:32:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


The Luther Bible and the KJV established a tradition of using 'children' of God, not 'sons' of God. The RSV switched to 'sons' of God. The RSV also introduced interpretation into 1 Cor. 11:10 that the ESV maintains. Above all, 'men' was actually a generic term in the KJV, and it clearly is not in the ESV. There is a world of difference between the KJV and the ESV - there is some continuity of style but I see them as having a different translation paradigm.

I think the ISV represents a fairly neutral approach. I really don't think it should be all that difficult. However, I don't mean to say that others are not good translations. I know many people have recommended using the ESV when studying OT in Hebrew. The correspondance is easier to grasp. But the TNIV in the NT sounds better to me. It really does make a difference to how I take something to heart if I read 'sisters'.

And I still do use the GNB regularly.

At Sun May 21, 11:09:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

There seem to be a lot of trends working against the possibility of a single translation being agreed upon. First and foremost is the "Ford and Chevy" paradigm. As long as people are forced to make a choice they will after the fact maintain that their choice was the best one. In Oregon we have two truly terrible football teams but once fans have identified themselves with the Orange or the Green they will praise their team till the end of time.

Another trend is "Googlization" of our Bible use. Lots of people are comfortable using a bunch of translations and picking and choosing the verse that sounds best in a particular application. One of the criticisms of "The Purpose Driven Life" was that Warren grabbed verses from lots of translations depending on what he was trying to get across.

Academics are always going to need to resort to quoting the original and showing translations which they feel best communicate the intent of the original.

Another possibility is that short-term polemics are going to be superseded by larger trends of language use, market preferences, or theological movements.

Take heart, my brothers and sisters. His words will never pass away.

At Mon May 22, 02:47:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

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.

At Mon May 22, 06:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a reader of this fine blog, I can say I have learned a lot about the nuances of the Biblical text, many passages which I would have thought were pretty simple turn out to be full of difficulties, or better full of opportunities to engage the Spirit. I am curious as to this blog's position on the NET v. 1.0 - surely this is as close to a neutral scholarly work as there can be since just about every verse is annotated by the translators! How much clear can a Bible be made?! -- Leo

At Mon May 22, 07:33:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Leo, I had hoped that NET might be just such a translation but while it may be neutral (I haven't studied it in depth) I have noticed that there isn't always a note where I would like one.

In general though, there is much to like about NET. I'd also like to hear from others whether there are "biases" present in the translation of the NET.

Also, are there previous articles in BBB on the NET Bible?

At Mon May 22, 07:40:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Also, are there previous articles in BBB on the NET Bible?

Well, let's find out, Lingamish. Type "Net Bible" in the search window at the upper left of the blog page, click on the "Search This Blog" next to the window. Voilá!

At Mon May 22, 10:11:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Peter Kirk said, "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."

I have to agree with him. In my quest to find a good Bible that satisfies as many needs as possible, while forsaking as little as possible, the RSV has become my primary Bible of choice. It is very modern (for the 50's, but noone said that was bad) yet the Psalms in particular still satisfies the KJV need inside of anyone who grew up on the KJV.

I personally recommend at least picking up a copy for comparison purposes. We need to keep this Bible in print for as long as possible, because in our currently charged society, it keeps looking better and better as a translation (personal opinion).

At Mon May 22, 04:28:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

Thanks, Wayne for the blogger tip! I saw quite a number of helpful posts available there.

Has anyone seen a general review of the NET translation? Because it's available free online I imagine its "sales" far exceed any other Bible translation. I haven't been able to find any statistics on the site.

At Tue May 23, 06:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there! Good blog.

I've been using the NET for about a year, and overall I think it's very good. I see some Calvinism in the footnotes and sometimes the scripture wording is a little awkward, but that's to be expected in a translation that strives for accuracy. I like their footnote on Isaiah 7:14 (as opposed to the lame "bash the LXX" footnote in the NRSV). Personally, I think God had good reasons for the somewhat vague terminology in that verse, since it had a dual fulfillment.

I'll have to check out this ISV, which I am unfamiliar with. Too bad they only give a few samples though.

my Bible blog

At Wed May 24, 09:42:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

As for the NET Bible (of which I actually have had a few print copies in addition to the digital copies) I find that the translation itself is fairly inconsequential, there are plenty of Bibles already out where you can generally find the NET translators preferred renderings in modern english.

However, I find the notes to be of decent value for the interested laymen and the general learned person. To bad they don't just sell a notes version as a hardback or something to use as a companion with a different (and dare I say better) translation of the Bible.


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