British TNIV: "empathize" becomes "feel sympathy"
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.But when proofreading the post I spotted the American spelling "empathize" (with "z" not "s") and so checked with my British edition of TNIV. There I found:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.The team who prepared the British edition did not simply change to British spelling, they changed the actual wording here. This was a surprise to me, because the only change of wording usually made in British editions of recent Bible translations is to replace the American word "rooster" with the four letter word which was good enough for the KJV translators and is still in regular and polite use here in Britain.
I think it is good that a change was made here in TNIV, for although here in England we understand "empathise", it is not a word we empathise with! Indeed it is one which we would tend to dislike as an Americanism. But "feel sympathy for" is not an improvement. I guess that NIV's "sympathize" (American; British is "sympathise"; this is also the RSV reading, and in fact a transliteration of the Greek word used here, sumpatheō) was changed to "empathize" because the primary current sense of "sympathize", according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is an inappropriate one: "To feel or express compassion, as for another's suffering; commiserate." The real meaning of the passage should surely be more like the second and probably original sense of "sympathize": "To share or understand the feelings or ideas of another". This meaning is brought out more clearly with "empathize". But the British TNIV reading "feel sympathy for" seems to me a reversion to the first sense of "sympathize": "To feel... compassion, as for another's suffering".
I must say I am disappointed to find in this key passage the British edition of TNIV has introduced an unfortunate and theologically significant change of meaning. For the important point in this passage is that Jesus understands what we are going through when we are weak and tempted, because he has himself been tempted while living in a weak human body. Yes, he feels compassion for us as well, but the meaning of this verse is far more than that.
I am also puzzled at why, if the British TNIV editors were free to make changes of this kind, they did not change the blatant Americanism "garbage" in Philippians 3:8 back to NIV's "rubbish", the normal British word.