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Saturday, August 26, 2006

2 Peter 1:21 in TNIV and ESV

There are many things I could say about Adrian's discussion of Cows, Dogs and Political Correctness. I have already made some of them in comments on his blog, including that just as I would not presume to contradict him (a medical doctor) on medical matters, he should not presume to contradict experts on Greek and linguistics (not referring to myself!) in their field. Materials written for lay people, whether on medical or language matters, have their place, but that place is not for arguing with experts.

For now I will just make one point here. Adrian has reproduced 2 Peter 1:21 from the ESV reverse interlinear and on this basis has made an accusation about
the terrible laxness with the actual WORDS of the text that the TNIV shows in the rest of this verse. This is immediately apparent when you look at the reverse interlinear of the ESV version. The text itself does not say “prophecy never had its origin” — it says “no prophecy was ever produced.” The text does not say “prophets though human spoke from God” — instead it says “men (or if you prefer, people!) spoke from God.” The word “prophet” is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures here.
The problem is that Adrian is reading the reverse interlinear on the assumption that ESV is actually a perfect literal rendering of the Greek, when it is not. This reverse interlinear distorts, even biases, his whole view of the text.

Actually the Greek text does not say “no prophecy was ever produced”, or even a literal Greek equivalent of that. The ESV "no" has been paired with the Greek οὐ ou, but this Greek word does not mean "no" (a negative adjective - that would be οὐδείς oudeis) but "not". The more literal rendering is “prophecy was not ever produced,” or “prophecy was never produced.” That's getting more like TNIV.

Now I don't want to defend TNIV's “prophets, though human”. I understand Adrian's objection to this, which is a helpful clarification but not one which has a part in an essentially literal translation like ESV. (My opinions about essentially literal translations are well known, so I won't repeat them here.) But let's look and see if there is any further basis for Adrian's more general accusation that TNIV is showing "terrible laxness with the actual WORDS of the text".

For this, and to avoid the bias necessarily introduced by a reverse interlinear, I have prepared my own non-reverse interlinear of the Greek text (no relevant textual issues here), ESV and TNIV for 2 Peter 1:21:

ESV:no2For1by the will7-9of man,10-11
TNIV:never3For1will,10in the human7-9

was… produced4,6prophecy3ever5
had its origin4-6prophecy2-

but12by22the Holy23-24Spirit25as they were carried along17-21
but11by23the Holy24-25Spirit26as they were carried along18-22

spoke15from16God17prophets, though human,12-14

If we ignore the very last part of this, TNIV's “prophets, though human”, the ESV and TNIV look remarkably similar, don't you think? It would take an extreme literalist pedant to complain that TNIV has combined "not... ever" into one word "never". I can understand that some don't like TNIV's "the human will", but even apart from gender issues that is decidedly better than "the will of man", which suggests to me some kind of corporate will of the entire human race. Why (since Greek has no indefinite article) did ESV not render "the will of a man"? Could it be that they were in fact too embarrassed to make the passage so clearly male-oriented, without support from the Greek, and so tried for generic "man" without the article which is still understandable as gender generic? But then maybe they just copied KJV.

Well, my conclusion here is that there is little to choose between ESV and TNIV on this verse, even if judged by the literalist standards Adrian is applying, as long as those standards are applied in an unbiased manner. The only reasonable point of objection to TNIV is “prophets, though human”, but the difference between ESV and TNIV here comes from their different overall translation philosophy.


At Sat Aug 26, 06:25:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Nicely done! As you mention in your comment on my previous post, the real problem is that 'human' is an adjective in English, and does not normally function as a noun. So it is very difficult to make a word for word translation from the Greek, which does have a very common noun for human.

At Sat Aug 26, 07:33:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, thank you for your kind comments.

I have made some formatting improvements since I first posted this. Hopefully now almost everyone will be able to read the Greek properly.

At Sat Aug 26, 09:10:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Peter, you have perfectly illustrated the dangers of a reverse interlinear and how abuse will occur by those who don't adequately understand the issues.

In the coming days I'm planning to do a comparison review of the ESV reverse interlinear with Zondervan's newly revised reverse interlinear based on the NIV. Although I'm not overly excited about promoting either product, the value of the NIV reverse interlinear is that it also contains the Greek NT in its proper order and is designed to be a tool in learning Greek. The ESV interlinear is not designed to be such a tool, but is an end in and of itself.

At Sat Aug 26, 09:57:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Has anyone started a "Badder Bibles" blog yet?

Somebody should.


At Mon Aug 28, 05:50:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...


I think someone could have a lot of fun parodying Better Bibles for the purpose of making fun of bad translations! Is this the idea that finally pushes you to start your own blog?!?

"Blogs of Biblical Badness"
"Worser Bibles Blog"
"Essentially Literal Bibles Blog"

At Tue Aug 29, 07:42:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Perhaps we could have the "Wicked Bibles Blog", which could exploit the multiple senses of "wicked" ;-) At least two printings of KJV have been known as the "Wicked Bible", according to wickedpedia (as Rick might call it). I wouldn't personally call any modern translation that, except perhaps the "Street Bible" in the street sense of "wicked". But perhaps the WBB would be more edifying as a collection of negative statements others have made about various Bible versions.


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