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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Calling all humans!

One of our commenters has brought up the NRSV translation of 2 Peter 1:21 saying,

    2 Pet 1:21 in the NRSV seems to be inaccurate, and gives the appearance that a feminist agenda is at work
What does the Greek New Testament say?

    οὐ γὰρ θελήματι ἀνθρώπου ἠνέχθη προφητεία ποτέ ἀλλὰ ὑπὸ πνεύματος ἁγίου φερόμενοι ἐλάλησαν ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἄνθρωποι
And how is this translated? And which one looks anything like the Greek? Only one in this case!

    because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God NRSV

    For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. ESV

    For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. TNIV
Since anthropos in the plural can mean simply 'people', it is interesting to note that this was not chosen as an translation. The repetition of the word anthropos, combined with its position in the sentence, near the front and then at the end, certainly suggests to me that only the TNIV communicates the intent of the Greek.

No, the author was not trying to stress that both men and women prophesy, although the scriptures make clear that they both do; the author was saying that humans prophecy. Most of the Bible is not about gender, it is not about being male or female, it is about being human. We are human, equally, male and female, and focusing on gender is just silly. Je m'accuse.

However, I wish to thank our commenter for bringing to my attention another passage in which the ESV translators demonstrate their willingness to take the Greek word for 'humans' and translate it into English as 'men'. And I already know that when they use the word 'men' they actually do mean 'men' the male of the species. I cannot think of any other major translation that has gotten away with this kind of inaccuracy.

First, the ESV says women don't teach, (2 Tim. 2:2) and now it wants to reinforce that they don't prophecy either? How much of the scriptures are they willing to dispose of?

Dear commenter,

Thanks for asking about this, but no, 2 Peter 1:21 is not an example of a feminist agenda in the NRSV, it is an example of a complementarian agenda in the ESV. I think some have called this a masculinist agenda. I wonder if the translators really thought no one would notice.

22 Comments:

At Tue Aug 08, 09:56:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, thank you for promoting this to the level of a posting, and not just a comment response as I made.

This is an interesting example because of how RSV, NRSV and ESV compare, and perhaps the exception that proves the rule which I put forward recently, that even apart from gender-related issues ESV is closer to RSV than NRSV is. In this verse RSV is very similar to NRSV, except for the gender-related language:

because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

But ESV has made significant changes, not in the gender-related language but in the overall sentence structure.

My first reaction to this posting was to wonder whether the ESV reading "man ... men" came from an oversight rather than an agenda, a cock-up rather than a conspiracy - in other words, that the ESV had simply copied the wording of this verse from RSV and failed to notice that it was now incorrect because of the change of meaning of "man" over the last 50 years (a change which has been recognised by the ESV translators). But, since ESV has made significant changes to the structure of this verse, the translators cannot be allowed the get-out that this is an oversight, or a deliberate choice to preserve the RSV wording. They must be presumed to have made a deliberate choice here to make a statement in their translation which is clearly untrue, for in 2 Kings 22:15-20 for example we have the words of a female prophet preserved as part of Old Testament Scripture.

 
At Tue Aug 08, 10:01:00 AM, Blogger Peter M. Head said...

Suzanne,
No doubt it is fair enough to regard most of the ESV translators as 'complementarian' in the sense you mean.
But the first complication (and this applies to your previous post too) is that the ESV took the RSV as its default base text (for whatever set of reasons, perhaps including the fact that it was pre-inclusive w.r.t. gender language). Hence ESV simply follows RSV at this point.
I think you are probably right in thinking that the human/divine contrast is well brought out in the TNIV. Perhaps the ESV translators (assuming they thought about it), building on a human/divine contrast which (for them) could be expressed using an inclusive 'man', might also have thought that 'man' was more appropriate than 'people' in drawing out an additional 'male component of meaning' in that the author of 2 Peter would have thought that prophecies of scripture, although including the occasional word from a prophetess, was composed by male authors under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

 
At Tue Aug 08, 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

using an inclusive 'man', might also have thought that 'man' was more appropriate than 'people' in drawing out an additional 'male component of meaning'

There is a semantic fallacy here, I think, one which is found throughout the writings of Poythress and Grudem. It is the claim or suggestion that a word can be both gender-inclusive as well as having a 'male component of meaning.'

If anyone can linguistically demonstrate how it is possible for a word to be referentially gender-inclusive as well as having a masculine "nuance" (to use one of P&G's terms), I would very much appreciate it.

It seems to me that if a word has feminine or masculine "nuances," it is no longer a gender-inclusive word.

I suspect, but cannot prove, that P&G base their claim on their own intutions about the English word "man," where they know that that word has had a gender-inclusive meaning for some people. But being speakers of current English, they also recognize that for many speakers the word "man" refers to an adult male. Somehow they try to get the two different meanings together, but, as a linguist, I still don't understand how they do that nor if it is even possible.

I'm open to being shown how the P&G claim for a word being both inclusive as well as masculine is possible.

 
At Tue Aug 08, 10:49:00 AM, Blogger rebecca said...

In this case, I think the reasoning behind the word "men" is simpler than you're making it. The particular prophesy mentioned, in context, is specifically about how Scripture came to be--the "prophesy of Scripture"--and it's simply an acknowledgment that historically the writers of scripture were men.

The NET translators translate the word "men" as well, and give this explanation:

"If, as seems probable, the “prophecy” mentioned here is to be identified with the “prophecy of scripture” mentioned in the previous verse, then the Greek term ἄνθρωποι (anqrwpoi, “men”) would refer specifically to the human authors of scripture, who (as far as we know) were all men. Thus “men” has been used here in the translation. If, on the other hand, the “prophecy” mentioned in the present verse is not limited to scripture but refers to oral prophecy as well, then women would be included, since Joel 2:20 specifically mentions “sons and daughters” as having the ability to prophesy, and the NT clearly mentions prophetesses (Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9)."

 
At Tue Aug 08, 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Peter H.

My entire purpose in going to interview Dr. Packer was to find out if the use of men for anthropoi in the ESV was an oversight, a retention of the generic understanding of 'men'. He said that they, the translators thought that it meant 'men'!

Rebecca, it doesn't matter if no women ever wrote a single word of the Bible, the Greek really doesn't say 'men'.

And it doesn't say 'men and women' either, it says 'human' - why is that so hard for people to talk about - the human/divine contrast. It is so integral to Greek poetry and prose, anthropos, we are all of us poor, lowly, mortal human beings. That is the focus, that is what we should be talking about. Not gender.

How can we talk about this in English now? All anyone cares about is masculinity and femininity? Don't you ever get tired of that? Men are this, women are that?

All people do now when they read Greek is look in a dictionary or hypertext, nobody feels the emotion of having read all of the Greek epic poems and plays and knows what it really means to say 'human' anthropos!

But when I read the TNIV I don't think of the translators as having a feminist agenda, I think of them as being people who have more in life to think about than whether people are male or female. They realize that there is truth to be told about being human.

 
At Tue Aug 08, 12:19:00 PM, Blogger larrybkj said...

When i read "the will of man" in the ESV it comes off as referring to mankind to me, otherwise it would read "the will of A man"

 
At Tue Aug 08, 12:53:00 PM, Blogger DavidR said...

OTOH, "...prophets, though human..." doesn't really render ἄνθρωποι, either! The reference isn't to prophets but people, no?

Suzanne's main point strikes me as exactly right here: the contrast in the verse is between human will and the movement of the divine spirit. Which, I suppose, points back to v. 18 in the immediate context.

Btw -- λαλέω + ἀπὸ could use a look, too. Cf. Jn 16:13?

FWIW. David Reimer

 
At Tue Aug 08, 02:22:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

The comment this post was based on was mine, and I hope the concern was not misunderstood.

My perception of the passage is that Peter was referring to Scripture that had been written and handed down as Canon (which were men, unless I'm forgetting any). I'm well aware there were oral prophets of both genders.

Thanks for the clarifications. I was not saying it was translated wrong, only that that is the appearance it has considering the tradition of translation of that passage.

 
At Tue Aug 08, 05:19:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

G D,

The feminist agenda argument has come up so often that it needs to be refuted. I didn't mention your name because, of course, I don't want to make more of this than just to mention that you asked. No problem. I am constantly redefining my own position as I learn more.

 
At Tue Aug 08, 05:52:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

Let me also say I have had to redefine my own position as I learn more, and I certainly cannot say I am a linguist like most of the people on the blog here, but my concern is not so much translating what the writers of the Bible meant as what the writers of the Bible wrote. There can be a large gap between what is written and what is thought to be meant by what is written, but since I largely don't know what has been written in the original languages, that leads to my questions.

 
At Tue Aug 08, 06:22:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Welcome GD,

We all add to each others knowledge daily here at the BBB!

 
At Tue Aug 08, 11:34:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Wed Aug 09, 08:34:00 AM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

It was stated, I wonder if the translators really thought no one would notice.

I don't know what they thought. I know that they may be regretting it now though, as they have been taken to task on more blogs than you can count! So, if they were gambling, they can rest assured that most everyone has noticed something or other.

It was also said that, The feminist agenda argument has come up so often that it needs to be refuted.

Actually, agendas in general have come up so often, and are so distracting, that I wish they would all just dissappear, or that someone would get smart, make an online list of the perceived agendas in all bibles, and we could all go to that list or website and discuss it instead of always having to devote blogs such as the BBB to it (I am much more interested in making translations accurate yet natural, the agendas, gender, etc., are just becoming tiresome, as I have decided on those issues so many years ago that I am personally surprised that this dead horse can still be dug up so often).

Maybe I'm over reacting, but for me it was obvious in 1989 that gender "inclusive" translations were necessary in order to convey to the new generations a more true sense of much that is found in scripture.

If confusion over translation continues in the USA and other dominantly English speaking locales as it has been, pretty soon every translation is going to need an "apparatus" much like the NET Bible, which, although many may not know what some of the notes are saying, at least it provides discussion and rationale for the translation in a succinct manor. "And there ends the matter." (I won't reveal the quote author, because it is sooo cool.)

Forever promoting open discussion of the issues.

 
At Wed Aug 09, 08:52:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

If the ESV translators really are regretting their approach to gender language, they have the chance to show it in the revised edition of ESV which, I have been told, is likely to appear within the next month. But I must say I have little confidence that they will make any significant changes in this area, although they may correct some of their oddest decisions.

 
At Wed Aug 09, 10:14:00 AM, Blogger Adrian said...

OK a gender neutral word which has gender implications? How does this one strike you - the word COW.

When we say Cow, we think of the female cow mor than we do of cows and bulls but it can certainly mean both cows and bulls in some context.

eg "The cows all lined up in the shed for milking" vs
"The farmer worried about whether his field of cows would reproduce sucessfully" clearly in the latter case the lone bull would be included in the meaning of the word "cow".

A similar example would be the word "Dog" which can and often does mean "Dogs and Bitches" but in certain context means male dogs only. It is then all about context, but again, if someone was to say "I am taking my dog for a walk" and the dog in question happens to be male the word could well have both a generic and a gender-related meaning as they spoke"

 
At Wed Aug 09, 10:32:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Adrian noted:

When we say Cow, we think of the female cow more than we do of cows and bulls but it can certainly mean both cows and bulls in some context.

Nice example, Adrian. I grew up in a fishing village where we had little contact with cattle. We used the word "cows" to be synonymous with the word "cattle." We were aware that the word "cow" referred to a female, in appropriate contexts, since we were not allowed to shoot moose cows, only moose bulls.

When my wife and I moved to the state of Montana to do Bible translation on an Indian reservation, we lived on the church grounds. Our pastor was from a farming family. He maintain a small herd of cattle. I used the word "cows" to refer to all of his animals and he quickly informed me that only the females were cows. Then he told me other cattle names important to his work, such as heifer, steer, etc. There was a lot for me to learn!

When the word "cows" is used to refer to cattle, regardless of gender, it does not have a feminine nuance. It is simply a generic term to refer to all of the animals in the herd of cattle.

A good dictionary will list each of these meaning senses for the word "cow."

Obviously, as was your intention, all of this has important implications for the gender-inclusive language debates for Bible translation.

We need to be sure that we are not mixing different kinds of meanings when we refer to words which have gender implications for Bible translation.

Hey, it's great to see a comment from you on this blog, Adrian.

Have a good day.

 
At Wed Aug 09, 04:49:00 PM, Blogger rebecca said...

And it doesn't say 'men and women' either, it says 'human' - why is that so hard for people to talk about - the human/divine contrast. It is so integral to Greek poetry and prose, anthropos, we are all of us poor, lowly, mortal human beings. That is the focus, that is what we should be talking about. Not gender.

Perhaps it would have been better to say "human" but it's not really a natural use of the English language to say "humans spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." And in this case, saying "men and women", which is certainly more natural than "human", would give the wrong impression because in this particular case every human in the set of humans being referred to is male.

 
At Wed Aug 09, 05:02:00 PM, Blogger rebecca said...

Oh, and I really prefer "people" to "humans." I think I might like it best if it said, "no prophecy is produced by the will of a person, but people spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." The advantage? "Human" sounds more technical to me, and more for use in a theological treatise or something rather than natural prose; and neither of "men" or "men and women" is ambiguous enought to include both possible interpretations.

 
At Wed Aug 09, 07:50:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Rebecca,

English is very awkward this way, for sure. And 'human' has a certain stylistic disadvantage. I think 'people' is a good possibility. However, the TNIV for this verse, is, for me, more transparent to the Greek because it forefronts the contrast between God and humans. That is the sense in Greek.

It isn't so much that there is one right way to do this, they are all possible. However, you know that the TNIV translators are people I respect, and I feel that they, who have produced a translation with certain advantages, have been unjustly criticized. But the TNIV really has offered a uniquely excellent translation for this verse.

Your contribution 'people' is very good, Rebecca, and your company even better. Please come by often.

 
At Wed Aug 09, 10:59:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

Peter said:
If the ESV translators really are regretting their approach to gender language, they have the chance to show it in the revised edition of ESV which, I have been told, is likely to appear within the next month.

Is there any site or way to see information on the status or what type of updates are being done?

 
At Thu Aug 10, 09:47:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

GD, here is what David Dewey posted on 8th August to the b-trans mailing list on this matter (I have added the links):

There has been increasing speculation about when a revised ESV might appear. The answer looks like being next month. There is a clue - even hard evidence - on the ESB blog site. A few entries ago (on August 2) they posted details of the forthcoming reverse interlinear. This includes a reproduction of the start of Acts 1. Close observation reveals that verse 3 has been revised. The existing ESV (including even the new journalling edition) has, 'To them he presented himself alive...' The interlinear has the rather more natural, 'He presented himself alive to them.' Does this suggest that most of the revisions will be to awkward word order? And if one revision is found in just four verses, how many changes might there be in total?

Am I not suprised that Crossway have included their revisions in the interlinear. To have kept the unrevised text would have been foolish: typesetting an interlinear is enormously expensive and it is not something you are going to want to drop for a second edition in a hurry.


I know nothing more about this revision, except that Wayne has submitted a number of suggestions.

 
At Thu Aug 10, 11:32:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

This comment is near worthless, but I think it is great how Wayne submits suggestions to bible translation committees and whatnot.

Keep it up Wayne!

 

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