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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Using and misusing Scripture

A couple of weeks ago, Nathan posting on … and his Minister's a Flame of Fire wrote a powerful and important piece on Christian superstition. I was with him about two-thirds of the way through, and then somewhere in the part about not being self-righteous the piece took a turn - subtle, but just a little off. It wasn't fully clear to me until the end. He capped his piece off by saying:

God didn't give us Scripture to make us smug.

He gave it to make us holy.

Is it working?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

He gave us Scripture so that we could come to know Him. Becoming holy is just the byproduct of really getting to know Jesus.

Christians misuse Scripture a lot. I'm with you there, Nathan.

But I can't agree that if we stick to really good Bible study methods, and make sure that we never cite Scripture out of context, and are really careful in our thinking about Scripture (and guard against self-righteousness), then we're safe. We're where God wants us to be.

No. There is nothing safe about being a Christian. Aslan is not a tame lion. And what He asks of Lucy is not what He asks of Edmund.

Many of the arguments I know of showing that Jesus never cited Scripture OOC are effectively circular. It's only in hindsight, we know (or more accurately, believe) that Jesus' interpretation of the OT passage is the correct one. Most of the time the Pharisees, who knew the Scriptures in context inside and out, couldn't recognize that the interpretation underlying Jesus' application of the Scripture was the correct one — because they weren't open to the Spirit.

For example, in Mark 4:12 Jesus cites Isaiah 6:9-10. But that was a word to Isaiah directed at Judah about the impending exile. Jesus use is exactly OOC. How does Jesus get to apply it to Roman era Judea? Because that application is validated by the Spirit of God. This is not a matter of logic; it is a matter of hearing God.

Yes, many will quibble on this point. But there are some lulus in the New Testament. Ones that you cannot get around. My favorite is Matt. 2:23.

Mat. 2:23 “and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” (NIV)

The only OT passage it could refer to is Judges 13:5.

Judges 13:5 “‘... because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.’” (NIV)

My point is not to question the infallibility of Scripture. In fact, I’m assuming it. My point is to call into question our blind confidence in our kind of hermeneutical logic. We have been drawn into believing in humanist modes of thinking. We believe that with the right Bible study techniques, “rightly dividing the Word of God”, we will be where God wants us to be.

This is the mistake of the Pharisees. Do not make it.

The only safety in Christianity is in the meeting of Word and Spirit in Jesus. And that means that from time to time the Spirit of the Lord will light up a Scripture to you irrespective of its meaning in the original context. That's what He did with Matthew. That's what He did with Jesus. He will say, “This is my word for you today. This is what applies here.” And thus will draw you closer to Himself.

We are so taken by the eternal Truth of the Word of God, that we miss the intimacy of the particular truth of His relating to us moment by moment. It's a heart thing not a head thing.

I was teaching a Sunday School class a few months back about getting ourselves to a place where we can recognize God's voice (John 10:4,27). We were in the lesson about hearing God speak in Scripture and the pastor's wife shared this story. Her father, David, a retired pastor, had just recently died suddenly and unexpectedly. In her grief God had comforted her by “lighting up” a passage to her in the OT.

I Kings 3:6a “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart.” (NIV)

Imagine the downer when the Scripture police — at the funeral — got on her case about taking the passage OOC! We helped her get some of the comfort back as the whole class could affirm that, yes, this was God's rhema to her.

This is where the checks and balances lie. The congregation of the faithful, listening to God will keep you from running off thinking you hear God, when you are really responding to other voices in the inner dialogue.

So what does this mean to the translator?

We have to get the original meaning right. We can't tell how God is going to use His Word to talk to people. That’s His business. In particular, we can’t twist the meaning to get OT and NT to align to our theology of what it means to be inerrant. To do so is to put ourselves above Scripture. Instead, we have to take each passage in its own context. The OT informs the NT, but not vice versa. It's God's job to make the Scripture speak to the reader.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Singular "they" in ESV!! 1 John 3:24

After all we have heard from the ESV team complaining about singular "they" in TNIV, I was amazed to find a singular "they" in ESV!! Yes, really!! Look at 1 John 3:24 ESV (my emphasis):
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
What does "them" refer back to? Readers, especially those who don't use singular "they" or don't expect to find it in a Bible whose translators have rejected this construction, may try to understand "them" as referring to "his commandments". But the Greek cannot possibly mean that, for the Greek pronoun rendered "them" is unambiguously singular!

A literal translation of the Greek (there are no textual issues here) would be (my emphasis):
And the one keeping his commands remains in him, and he in him. ...
Now this literal translation is rather confusing, as to which "him" refers to the person and which to God. And so it is not surprising that RSV changed to a plural for the person:
All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. ...
NIV and TNIV similarly use a plural form (and not a singular "they"):
Those who keep his commands live in him, and he in them. ...
(This is TNIV; NIV has "obey" rather than "keep".)

The ESV translators, or revisers of RSV, obviously tried to follow their principles of not changing singulars to plurals. But they failed to do so consistently. As a result they have ended up with the word "them" which can only refer back to "Whoever", which must be singular as it is used with the singular verb form "abides". Therefore this is an unambiguous example of singular "they", not in study notes but in the actual text of ESV!

PS: I didn't find this by reading ESV. I was looking at this passage in the Greek and in RSV, and wondered what ESV might have made of this. Only then did I look it up.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Gen. 2:17 - dying you will die

Our Sunday School teacher, Prof. Jim Edwards, is now taking us through the book of Genesis. As Jim did with the book of Acts, which we completed last Spring, he reads directly from the biblical language text, which, of course, fascinates me no end, as a Bible translator. The teaching is great--some previous classes are available for download from the church website.

Last Sunday Jim pointed out that a Hebrew phrase of Gen. 2:17 is emphatic. Literally, it is translated as "dying you will die" (or for the purists, "dying you shall die"). That repetitive construction--called an infinitive absolute--is quite common in Hebrew. If we kept its literal translation in an English Bible version, users of that version would not understand its Hebrew meaning, because English uses other ways to express emphasis and intensity.

The Next Bible webpage
(a new resource from the NET Bible folks) for Gen. 2:17 displays not a single English version which literally translates the Hebrew idiom. Even the NASB, which is one of the more literal of recent English versions, translates the Hebrew idiom to the appropriate, accurate, meaningful phrase, "you will surely die." From the Next Bible webpage you can read the NET Bible notes on the Hebrew:
Heb “dying you will die.” The imperfect verb form here has the nuance of the specific future because it is introduced with the temporal clause, “when you eat…you will die.” That certainty is underscored with the infinitive absolute, “you will surely die.”
The Hebrew text (“dying you will die”) does not refer to two aspects of death (“dying spiritually, you will then die physically”). The construction simply emphasizes the certainty of death, however it is defined. ...
In debates over Bible versions, there is often the assumption, and sometimes the claim, that literal Bibles are better or more accurate. But even translators of literal and essentially literal translations recognize that if a literal translation does not adequately communicate the original biblical meaning, it should not be used.

In my opinion, Bible translation debates over literalness should be reframed to ask: "How would we express this biblical text meaning in normal English?" With this approach we need not go to extremes of interpretive translation or paraphrase or translating as a commentary. Instead, we would translate within a range of normal, standard English which uses forms that are translationally equivalent to the meaning of the forms of the biblical language texts. Within that range, some Bible versions would be closer to the forms of the biblical texts and others would be less so, but all would be accurate and understandable. Bible translations within that range are better Bibles.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

ESV person and number changes

Dr. Poythress and Dr. Grudem have repeatedly excoriated the TNIV and other recent Bible versions for changing the person and number of pronouns from what literally occurs in the biblical language texts. However, when one studies the meaning of translation wordings where there are so-called person or number changes, one actually finds no real semantic change, just changes in form. We commonly make such shifts in English. For instance, when we speak with the royal "we," we really mean "I". And we often say "you" when we really mean generic "anyone" as in "You can tell a man from the company he keeps."

Blogger David McKay has noticed that the ESV, which Dr. Poythress and Dr. Grudem helped translate, has such person and number changes which they have objected to in other Bible versions:
But what I'm also finding is that the ESV seems to use a lot of the translation methods which its champions deplore in translations such as the TNIV. For example, in Hosea [which I read through yesterday and today], the translators change the person and number in the original Hebrew to make the meaning clearer.

Hosea 2 verse 6 is rendered
I will hedge up her way with thorns,
but the footnote says that the Hebrew text says your way.
In chapter 4 verse 19 the Hebrew original
A wind has wrapped her in its wings
is changed to
A wind has wrapped them in its wings.

Now this is not a problem to me, but the apologists for the ESV say that when the TNIV changes 3rd person to 2nd or from singular to plural, they are changing the Word of God. When the RSV revisers [which is a more accurate description of the ESV translation team] alter the original are they not also changing the Word of God?
Hmm? Are person and number changes right for the ESV but wrong for the TNIV? I think not. Personally, I think that person and number changes that make a translation better fit the natural patterns of the target language and do not change meaning are just fine, whether they occur in the NLT, TNIV, or ESV.

What's fair for the goose is fair for the gander. What's fair for the ESV is fair for the TNIV. And good, clear, accurate, natural translation is, indeed, something fair. It makes for better Bibles, in fact.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What makes a better Bible?

The focus of this blog is on qualities that make some kinds of Bible translations better, at least for certain audiences and different uses for the Bible.

I'd like to throw a big question out to you, our blog visitors. Some of you are long time members of faith communities, whether Jewish, Christian, or perhaps another. Some of you may be English language majors. Some of you may be in tune with the kind of English that is required for Bibles to communicate to those who are not yet members of a faith community. Some of you may be familiar mostly with the language of faith communities.

What, in your opinion, makes a Bible better for specific audiences and uses? Feel free to give more than one answer if you want to mention one kind of Bible translation that is better for one audience and another kind better for a different audience.

This is your chance to tell what is on your minds. Speak from your own experience, and, if you can, speak from your experiences working with people who can benefit from the Bible but do not speak dialects of English which are mostly confined to faith communities.

I hope that there will be many comments to this post. And may I suggest that we be gracious to each other when we have differences of opinions? Let's allow for that. Let's not be too quick to judge someone to be wrong, based on our own experience or beliefs.

OK, your turn to write, in the Comments to this post.

Monday, September 25, 2006

singular "they" in the ESV

Blogger David McKay has found singular "they" in the ESV, in spite of pronouncements against it by ESV translators Dr. Poythress and Dr. Grudem. To be fair accurate, now, the singular "they" is not found in the text of the ESV translation itself, but, rather, in one of the comments (page 1421) in the ESV Reformation Bible, a favorite edition of the ESV:
A person who wants to repent, that is, to reverse the sins they may be guilty of, has not suffered this hardening and has not committed this profound act of hatred that God has determined he will not forgive.
If singular "they" is as misleading and inappropriate to use in English Bible translation as Dr. Poythress and Dr. Grudem claim, would it not also be inappropriate to use in comments in a reference edition of a Bible? Of course, that sentence was not written by Dr. Poythress or Dr. Grudem themselves (nor by anyone else from the ESV team, as far as we know), but one would think that if singular "they" is as bad as P&G have so often insisted it is and as often as they include it in lists of purported "inaccuracies" in the TNIV, then would not those who create reference editions of the ESV have taken their grammatical advice more seriously. Perhaps singular "they" is used more widely, even among those who publish the ESV, than P&G realize.


KJV: Is there a reason why specialists esteem it?

Well down a comment thread on the post Scattered thoughts on the KJV, Anonymous wrote the following:
A more interesting question to ask is: is the elevated status of the KJV mere caprice or snobbery or herd-instinct, or is there a reason that so many people who specialize in studying literature esteem it so highly?
This is indeed an interesting question, and one which should not be lost in a long comment thread.

I would suggest (and already have in a further comment) that there are other non-literary factors here, not just "mere caprice or snobbery or herd-instinct" but also tradition, and originally royal and ecclesiastical sponsorship. But is there in fact any genuinely literary reason for the high esteem for KJV? Is there any objective sense in which it can be judged as having a high literary quality?

Indeed, are there any objective criteria, aside from technical ones of adherence to orthographical and grammatical norms, by which any work can be judged as of higher literary quality than any other? This question has been asked several times in recent comments on this blog, but no objective criteria of literary excellence have been put forward. So, should I conclude that in fact there are no such criteria, and therefore that the existing canon of supposedly excellent literature is defined by a combination of tradition and "mere caprice or snobbery or herd-instinct"?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Book announcement: Metaphor in Zulu

SUN PRESS at Stellenbosch University in South Africa has just published my 1995 doctoral thesis, which may be of interest to some. The details are as follows:

Metaphor in Zulu:
Problems in the translation of Biblical Metaphor in the book of AmosEric A. Hermanson
ISBN 1-920109-27-7
R 180.00 (VAT incl.)
Available online from

This study examines metaphor in Zulu in the light of conceptual metaphor theory from the perspective of a Bible translator. It then considers the possibility of translating Biblical Hebrew metaphor into Zulu.

Selected Hebrew metaphors in the Book of Amos are analyzed according to conceptual metaphor theory and compared with the conceptual metaphor analysis of the corresponding verses in existing Zulu translations, thereby increasing the empirical basis of the theory, and showing that it is valid for the study of both Biblical Hebrew and Zulu and a useful tool for translators."

Kind regards,
Dr Eric A Hermanson

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bible translation and mission

Lamin Sanneh, an African scholar who teaches at Harvard Yale, has emphasized that Christianity is a religion of translation of its holy book. Translation of the Bible is part of the mission of the church throughout the world. In spite of the cultural insensitivities of some missionaries, Sanneh promotes the idea in his book Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture that Bible translation shows respect for cultures and languages.

A series of articles on Bible translation and mission has been posted on another website. They would be well worth your reading. Comments on them would be welcome here.

HT: Kouya Chronicle

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Jerusalem is lost in translation

Here, courtesy of the BBC, is a good example of the dangers of over-literal translation!

Thanks to George Athas of the b-hebrew list for posting about this.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Psalm 37:23 - Who delights in whom?

Many years ago I memorized Psalm 37:23 from the KJV:
The steps of a [good] man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
This verse is one of many which have been set to music and I have often sung this verse. Sometimes the scripture chorus runs through my mind. It has been my desire to be the kind of person whose steps are ordered by the Lord.

Somewhere along the line--I can't remember when--I noticed that the antecedents of the pronouns of this verse are unclear. I realized that I could not tell from the English translation who delights in whose way. And from the little study I have done, it appears that this ambiguity is part of the original Hebrew.

Most translations teams have felt that the more likely original meaning intended is that God delights in the way (life) of a person whose steps are directed by God. The following versions make this meaning clear:
The LORD guides us in the way we should go and protects those who please him. (TEV)

The steps of a man are from the LORD, and he establishes him in whose way he delights (RSV)

Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way (NRSV)

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way. (NASB)

A man’s steps are established by the Lord,and He takes pleasure in his way. (HCSB; the potential ambiguity in the NASB and HCSB is removed by their capitalization of pronouns for deity)

It is the LORD who directs a person's steps; he holds him firm and approves of his conduct. (REB)

If the LORD delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm (NIV)

The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives. (NLT)

The LORD grants success to the one whose behavior he finds commendable. (NET)

When a person's steps follow the LORD, God is pleased with his ways. (NCV)

A person's steps are directed by the LORD, and the LORD delights in his way. (GW)
The CEV and TNIV translation teams have chosen the interpretation that the person whose life is directed by God takes delight in God's way:
If you do what the LORD wants, he will make certain each step you take is sure. (CEV)

The LORD makes firm the steps of those who delight in him (TNIV)
Some versions are worded in a way that we are not able to tell which of the two interpretations their translation teams felt was more likely. In other words, the English wording displays the same ambiguity that the Hebrew text does. Among these versions are:
The steps of a [good] man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. (KJV)

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way (ESV)
Now, there are some who would say that when the original biblical language text is ambiguous, our translation of it should also be ambiguous. This is a reasonable position. However, it does not take into account that fact that humans often produce ambiguous language when their intended meaning is not ambiguous. Sometimes it is possible to guess, with varying degrees of certainty, what meaning an original author intended.

Please note that in this case it is entirely possible that the translators of the KJV and ESV believed that the psalmist intended to be saying that God is the one who takes delight in the life of a person who submits to God's directions. It is possible that the ambiguity in the KJV and ESV was not intended by their translators. We cannot know the intentioned meaning of the KJV translators who are all gone. We may be able to find out from the ESV translators if they intended one of the options for who takes delight in whom in Psalm 37:23.

My own personal preference in cases where it is not fairly clear from the context that ambiguity was intended is that a translation not display ambiguity. Having ambiguity in translation wording indicates to me either that the translators overlooked an ambiguity which they did not intend to communicate, or that they felt they needed to preserve an ambiguity in the biblical language text which may or may not have been intended by its author. (Some word plays in the biblical text clearly demonstrate intentional ambiguity.)

I like the approach taken in this and many other cases in the NET Bible. Its translators chose the interpretation they felt most likely to be that of the biblical author, but then they footnoted a wording which gives an alternative translation:
Heb “from the Lord the steps of a man are established, and in his way he delights.” The second line qualifies the first. The man whose behavior is commendable in God’s sight is the one whose ways are established by God. Another option is that the second line refers to the godly man delighting in God’s “way,” namely the lifestyle which he prescribes for men. In this case one might translate, “The Lord grants success to the one who desires to obey his commands.”
I like such transparency in translation. This approach, that of making translation choices guided by sound exegesis, based on lack of certainty that an original ambiguity was intended, but allowing the reader to know other translation options seems to me to be ideal for most English Bible readers. Most such readers do not have the background that well trained exegetes do to be able to determine which of several possible interpretations is most, or more, likely to have been the meaning intended by the biblical author.

I fully realize that others claim to prefer to leave all exegetical uncertainties in the translation text itself. And this is, as I stated earlier, a reasonable position. I cannot dismiss it. Of course, in actuality, even those who prefer to leave exegetical choices to the reader make many choices for their readers.

Do you think that the psalmist more likely wanted to communicate that God delights in the lives of those who submit to his direction, or that it is more likely that those who delight in God's directions have their lives specially helped by God?

And do you prefer Bible versions to leave all possible biblical language text ambiguities ambiguous in translation whether or not the biblical authors intended that ambiguity?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Scattered thoughts on the KJV

I have written about the King James Version before in very positive terms. But the diction is varied and there is much to like and much to dislike. It is better for me to come clear on what irritates me first and then look at what can be learned.

Primary among the transgressors are the latinizations - words like justification, sanctification, salvation, propitiation, redemption, temptation, fornication, damnation, etc. They can't be disposed of entirely but they can be used minimally, choosing only those that are essential. The Greek itself uses words that were already present in the language. It would be nice to do the same with English.

Along with these intruders in the text are the ecclesiastical terms: church, bishop, deacon, etc. Then come the transliterations: synagogue, mystery, and baptism. All of this vocabulary lends an unevenness to the English that the Greek does not have. It makes for an awkward mix.

Next, and most offensive are those terms which owe nothing to either Latin nor Greek in origin, and don't sound like much in English either.

    former conversation
    the old man
    bowels of mercies
Okay, let me stop and respond to your protest,

    That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love Col. 2:2
This sounds lovely and evokes an image of sweaters knit by (fill this one in yourself - or don't!) But the Greek says 'made to come together', that's it! It is possible that others may look at the Greek and not see clearly the morphology of this term, but it is transparent to me. It does not say 'knit'! I wish it did.

'Quicken' is the same. The Greek says 'made alive'. So the translators were indeed improving on the original. But this kind of translation obscures the compound nature of these words; it covers up the genius of the Greek.

Here is another set of phrases, delicately configured alliteration and imagery. But they do not in any way reflect the structure, or evoke the style, of the original.

    world without end Eph. 3:21
    peculiar people Titus 2:14
    often infirmities 1 Tim. 5:23
    do thy diligence 2 Tim. 4:21
    in times past Gal. 1:13
    tossed to and fro Eph. 4:14
So what valid contributions does the KJV make to style? It does at some points successfully translate the natural word building style of the Greek language. It does represent with accuracy and artistry from time to time the morphology of the source language. Here are some of the best.

    singleness of heart Col. 3:22
    lowliness of mind Phil 2:3
    breathing out threatenings Acts 1:9
    nurture and admonition of the Lord Eph.6:4
    bringing into captivity every thought 2 Cor. 10:5
Sometimes the word order makes a positive statement.

    according to his mercy he saved us Titus 3:5
Ultimately, there is no reasons not to make the most of the imagery and rich morphology of the Greek, and to play with the word order, and varied sentence length, both abrupt questions and 'laundry lists' of virtues and vices.

I cannot reverence the KJ version, but I can appreciate its position in English literature and consider what it has to teach us. Whether this in any way inspires me to think of how a new version might look, I don't know. I don't want to think about one more translation - not right now!

Jude 24-25 and literary beauty

An animated discussion has been taking place about the literary beauty of English translations of Jude 24-25 in the comments to a preceding post. (It's probably the immediately preceding post, but that is not easy for me to find out since I am now back on the reservation in Montana and I'm "borrowing" my neighbor's dial-up connection. I miss our high speed, always-on connection at home.)

In any case, I thought it would be interesting to post several translations of Jude 24-25. Perhaps we can draw a few conclusions regarding literary beauty of the various translations. I would like to think that while beauty is so often in the eye of the beholder, some elements of literary style might be more objectively measured. And if we polled enough people, we might find a statistically significant number of people preferring certain literary elements over others. At the same time, as with art and music, subjective judgements are very much a part of trying to decide what is beautiful and what is not.

These two verses in Jude surely were beautiful in Greek. Yes, these two verses are a long "run on" sentence--and run-on sentences often are not perceived to be beautiful by many (?) current English speakers (or at least their English composition teachers). But in this case I agree with those who see beauty in this long sentence, with its rhetorical progression that builds toward the ending climax (yes, I think a Freudian allusion is appropriate here; I think that there is beauty in a number of different kinds of climax, including musical, artistic, literary, and intimate physical oneness).

The progression, in this case, is not simply that of any old items on a laundry list. These are terms in Greek and, surely should be so in translation to English or any other language, of wonderful, glorious concepts captured by words (sorry, I tried not to use the word "glorious" since it's part of several translations of this verse, but sometimes it is difficult to avoid a word which fits so well!). There is syntactic parallelism which we could chart. I suspect that enjoyment of syntactic parallelism would be a nearly universal phenomenon. It definitely is in music. It's all over Western styles of music and it is widespread in Cheyenne indigenous music which is sung to different scales from Western music, has different rhythms, etc. Parallelism is part of the beauty of poetry, whether it is formal English poetry with rhythm and rhyme or Hebraic poetry where parallelism of concepts predominates.

Here, then, are translations of Jude 24-25:
Vnto him that is able to kepe you that ye faule not and to present you fautlesse before the presence of his glory with ioye yt is to saye to God oure saveour which only is wyse be glory maiestie dominion and power now and for ever. Amen. (Tyndale)

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present [you] faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, [be] glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen. (KJV)

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen. (RSV)

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (NRSV)

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (ESV)

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (NASB)

Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to cause you to stand, rejoicing, without blemisht before his glorious presence,to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen. (NET)

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glory without fault and with unspeakable joy, to the only God, our saviour, be glory and majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before time was, now, and in all ages to come, amen. (Phillips)

Now to the One who can keep you from falling and set you in the presence of his glory, jubilant and above reproach, to the only God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all time, now, and for evermore. Amen. (REB)

Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now, and forever. Amen. (HCSB)

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—Jude 1.25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (NIV)

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (TNIV; one change from NIV: "falling" to "stumbling")

God can guard you so that you don't fall and so that you can be full of joy as you stand in his glorious presence without fault. Before time began, now, and for eternity glory, majesty, power, and authority belong to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (GW)

Now to the one who is able to keep you from falling and to make you stand faultless in his glorious presence with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time and for all eternity! Amen. (ISV)

And now, all glory to God, who is able to keep you from stumbling, and who will bring you into his glorious presence innocent of sin and with great joy. All glory to him, who alone is God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Yes, glory, majesty, power, and authority belong to him, in the beginning, now, and forevermore. Amen. (NLT)

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to bring you faultless and joyful before his glorious presence— to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, might, and authority, from all ages past, and now, and forever and ever! Amen. (TEV)

Offer praise to God our Savior because of our Lord Jesus Christ! Only God can keep you from falling and make you pure and joyful in his glorious presence. Before time began and now and forevermore, God is worthy of glory, honor, power, and authority. Amen. (CEV)

And now to him who can keep you on your feet, standing tall in his bright presence, fresh and celebrating—to our one God, our only Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Master, be glory, majesty, strength, and rule before all time, and now, and to the end of all time. Yes. (The Message)
What kinds of literary beauty do you see in these various translations? And do you note any objective language characteristics that correlate with that beauty?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bible translation and stylists

In the preceding post, by Peter, there was debate whether stylists had some input to the NIV. Some Bible translation teams include members whose expertise is in English style. This is good, in my opinion. Stylists should never be able to make revisions to a translation text so that it becomes inaccurate. But stylists can work with exegetes so that the English in a translation is of better quality than what which many exegetes produce. Greek professor Dan Wallace, a key member of the NET Bible translation team has noted:
... since those responsible for this new translation [NET Bible] are primarily exegetes, our perspective is often so entrenched in the first-century world that we are blind as to how the English reader would look at the text today. Exegetes tend to produce a wooden translation without realizing it.
Of course, not all stylists will help produce the same kind of English. A translation team needs to include stylists who produce language of the audience for which that translation is targeted. The stylists who worked on the NLT seem to have been fairly sensitive to current English, although the NLT is less idiomatic than its successor, the Living Bible.

Dr. Leland Ryken is a longtime professor of English at Wheaton College. He has taught many Wheaton students about the literary features of the Bible. Dr. Ryken personally prefers Bibles to be more literal than can typically be produced using only natural, contemporary English language forms. He has written expressing his view that more "dynamic equivalent" Bibles such as the NIV and TEV do not adequately capture the literary features of the Biblical languages. Dr. Ryken was an appropriate stylist for the ESV translation team since that team specifically wished to use a kind of English ("essentially literal") which "stands in the classic mainstream of English Bible translations over the past half-millennium." The ESV maintains the Tyndale-KJV literary tradition with the language updated enough so that many of its users can access the translation more easily than they could the Tyndale or KJV translations.

English Bibles, whether by design or not, are targeted for certain audiences. We can tell from observation of the language of an English version whether it is targeted toward people who understand theological terms traditionally used in English Bibles, such as "sanctification, "redemption," "repent," "flesh," "propitiation," etc. We can tell from the language used whether a Bible can be understood by people who are not part of a faith community. We can tell whether or not a translation team believed that only current natural English language forms should be used in a translation to be used by English speakers today.

No single Bible fits all audiences today. Some versions such as the TEV (GNT), CEV, NCV, GW, and NLT are better suited for those who are not familiar with church language. Others, such as the ESV, NASB, and NKJV are better suited for those who wish to do detailed studies of biblical words. Others such as the NIV, TNIV, NEB, NRSV, NJB, and NET Bible are positioned somewhere in the middle, with potential usage by non-churched people as well as those who wish to use their Bibles for more detailed study.

Stylists with different literary preferences help a translation team produce translations which fit the audiences they most wish to reach.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Should stylists change a translation?

In a comment on Christopher Heard's Higgaion blog, Jack Poirier suggests that NIV is "a paraphrase rather than a translation". Here is his comment in full:
One of my former professors was on the translation committee for the NIV, but even he hates that Bible and won’t use it. According to him, once the translation committee did its work, their completed translation was given to a group of English professors in order to “improve” the wording from an English standpoint. In other words, the final wording of the NIV was determined by a group of editors who don’t read the original languages. That, in my opinion, makes the NIV a paraphrase rather than a translation. (BTW, the translation committee was not warned in advance that their work would be changed by a group of English professors.)
Has anyone heard this point made before? Can anyone confirm its truth?

[Update, 14th September: The Chairman of the NIV translators has effectively denied the truth of this account. See the comments by Wayne Leman.]

Is it a reasonable policy to allow the text of a translation to be changed by stylists of the target language, apparently without reference back to the original translators?

My own answer to this would start by affirming that target language stylists should indeed be involved with the translation process. However, this should not be a separate stage following translation by original language experts, but from the beginning an integral part of the translation process, with stylists working alongside original language experts. Changes proposed by stylists certainly need to be approved by experts in the original languages.

However, I can see that it might not be practical to agree every stylistic change with every original translator. Also it might not be possible to agree on every kind of change, especially if the translator's instincts are rather literalistic. So it is not surprising, however well a project might be run, that some members of translation teams become rather disgruntled with the whole process.

Bible translation is difficult and time-consuming. Translators who are part of a team, rather than those producing one man or woman versions, need some give and take, and to accept that sometimes their preferences will not be accepted by the majority. All of us who work in this field need plenty of humility.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A heart of compassion

I was thinking this morning as I drove to school that if I wrote again about literary devices in Alter's translation that I would want to show how I have used alliteration and parataxis in my own writing. Not here on the BBB, but on my writing blog. I wanted to explain that when someone reads a piece of writing that is full of literary devices they should not even notice them, and the writer should not even know that she is putting them in - until after. This is why.

Last spring I started writing on my writing blog - privately, for myself. And I got an email,

"Suzanne, you are quiet. What are you up to at the moment?"

"I'm writing this,' I said, 'What do you think of it?'

'I'll tell you when I stop crying.'

Then, I thought, well that is one person. It is not exactly a published collection. And I decided against mentioning it here.

But, today after school, as I was packing up my papers, a man stood in the middle of my classroom, waiting to speak to me - the school engineer.

'How's your daughter?' he asked.

'Better,' I said, 'She'll be going back to school soon.'

'Did you write that story about the girl?' he asked.

'Yes," I said, but this time I didn't ask him how he liked it.

'I cried,' he said. 'Can I make a copy and give it to a friend? Is that all right?'

'It's on the internet,' I said. 'I'll show you.'

So we sat at the computer and we talked about children and language and Shakespeare and the Bible, and Alter and Adam and Eve. He talked about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. And I talked about how God has chosen the foolish things of this world to shame the wise and the weak things of this world to shame the strong. And he talked about his family and his university studies.

And then I sat silent and stared out the window and waited - I waited until finally he told me what he had come to say.

He told me how his son had died. He had lived never seeing, never talking, never knowing about life. He lay dying while he lived, a constant object of care. He wondered out loud why his son had lived so long. Then he told me that his son had lived to create a heart of compassion in those who cared for him, and when he died he left a void.

He got up and left and then I cried.

    ἐνδύσασθε οὖν ὡς ἐκλεκτοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιοι καὶ ἠγαπημένοι σπλάγχνα οἰκτιρμοῦ χρηστότητα ταπεινοφροσύνην πραΰτητα μακροθυμίαν 13 ἀνεχόμενοι ἀλλήλων καὶ χαριζόμενοι ἑαυτοῖς ἐάν τις πρός τινα ἔχῃ μομφήν καθὼς καὶ ὁ κύριος ἐχαρίσατο ὑμῖν οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς 14 ἐπὶ πᾶσιν δὲ τούτοις τὴν ἀγάπην ὅ ἐστιν σύνδεσμος τῆς τελειότητος
    Clothe yourselves therefore, God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, with a heart of compassion, with usefulness, humility, gentleness, and a slow temper, putting up with each other. Indulge one another if anyone has a complaint against someone else. As the Lord indulges us, so we others. To all these things add love which binds to completeness. Mine
      Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. KJV
        Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. TNIV Colossians 3:12-14
      Notes: In this passage 'heart of compassion' replaces 'bowels of mercy' and 'slow temper' replaces 'longsuffering'. Longsuffering only gives the impression that it translates the Greek, but it actually doesn't.

      Translation of biblical poetry

      I hope you appreciated learning about poetic features in the translation work of Robert Alter which Suzanne focused on in her preceding post. I'd like to continue on the theme of translation of biblical poetry. It is a topic of great interest to me, because I enjoy poetry and have written some at times myself. I know that Suzanne has written some also, some beautifully lyrical poetry.

      There is much on the Internet that has been written about biblical poetry. One article I would like to point you to is written by a scholar, United Bible Societies consultant Philip Stine. It is titled Biblical Poetry and Translation. You are most welcome to comment on the article in the comments to this post.

      In the near future I want to post on some poetic features I have found in some translations of biblical poetry.

      Sunday, September 10, 2006

      Robert Alter's Narrative style

      A couple of months ago our anonymous commenter - thank you Anon - mentioned the Five Books of Moses by Robert Alter, 2004. I read this review and was able to borrow a copy of the book and had even intended to post on the topic the next day. However, I was distracted.

      Here is the passage from Alter which I chose then to demonstrate his narrative style. Gen. 2:4- 7.
        On the day the Lord God made earth and heavens, no shrub of the field being yet on the earth and no plant of the field yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not caused rain to fall on the earth and there was no human to till the soil, and wetness would well from the earth to water all the surface of the soil, then the Lord God fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature.
      The literary quality of this translation can be appreciated by reading out loud "wetness would well from the earth to water all the surface of the soil." Alliteration, reproduced here, is a key element in the Hebrew scriptures. It is not a secondary feature of the text but a primary one.

      When Alter uses alliteration and rhythm and imagery in his translation, he is not catering to the elite. Literary devices are not the exclusive domain of the educated class. Their identification and labeling might be, but an aesthetic appreciation of rhyme and rhythm is one of the first things that a child acquires in learning language.

      When I read the text above, it felt natural and flowing as if the consonants were used as colours and chosen deliberately as they so often are in Hebrew. Alliteration is part of the nature and essence of the original text, not a peripheral characteristic.

      Another innovation in this text is the use of 'human' as a noun. I mentioned this to a friend a few days ago, and she responded vehemently that 'human' could not be used as a noun. She is over 80 years old and so I have to ask you if this is acceptable today or not.

      In the Concise Oxford Dictionary 'human' is listed as a noun and is synonymous with a 'human being'. In various internet dictionaries, some list it as an adjective only and others as a noun.

      My own rationale for wanting to use the term human, or possibly human being, are as follows.

      In many languages including Hebrew, Greek, Latin and German for starters, there is a word for man and a word for woman and another word for human. If English does not have a word for human then things get tricky.

      In Genesis Adam אָדָם is the name of the first human. The English word 'man' came along at some later date, let's not worry about it. Adam, however, had a name which suggests that he was taken from the ground, adamah אֲדָמָה. So let us understand that the nature of the human is that he is gathered from the ground and she is of composed of compost. That is meaning of the word. (the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Eccl. 12:7)

      It is true that a woman can understand the generic 'man' of the King James Bible and other literature belonging to our culture. A woman does not want to speak up and say that she would like to have the dumbed-downed version. So a woman will read what is there to read. But how should a woman write?

      Can a woman write about how one must love their 'fellow man' and keep a straight face. Or would she feel hampered by the ambiguity and end up feeling ridiculous?

      A woman might more easily write about her fellow human being, a human, a person, a friend. And is that a cultural agenda or clarity, plain and simple?

      (Does she look to google for permission? I think not! However, I am used to great google tiffs and once started one myself with the microsoft keyboard guy. I didn't enter the comment zone on google results today but I have played those games before.)

      Back to language and agendas. If we can't introduce a new form of expression into our language then we can't translate the Bible into English at all. After all, English did not exist in its present form when the scriptures were written. We either come to a full stop or we keep moving.

      singular "they" in English Bibles

      Before prescriptive grammarians banned it, singular "they" enjoyed significant usage in speech and literature, including important English Bible versions. Note the following examples from some English Bibles, where a semantically singular "they" has an antecedent which is syntactically singular. In each of these examples, except the first, the antecedent is an indefinite pronoun, a kind of collective singular (such as "everyone" and "anyone") which has the feel of a semantic plural--after all, an indefinite pronoun refers to a set of individuals.

      Singular "they" appears with the antecedent "his brother" in some versions of Matt. 18:35:
      So lyke wyse shall my hevenly father do vnto you except ye forgeve with youre hertes eache one to his brother their treaspases. (Tyndale, 1526)

      So lykewyse, shall my heauenly father do also vnto you, yf ye from your heartes, forgeue not, euery one his brother, their trespasses. (Bishops, 1568)

      So likewise shall mine heauenly Father doe vnto you, except ye forgiue from your hearts, eche one to his brother their trespasses. (Geneva, 1587)

      So likewise shall my heauenly Father doe also vnto you, if yee from your hearts forgiue not euery one his brother their trespasses. (KJV, 1611)

      So likewise shall my heavenly Father do to you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. (Webster, 1833)

      so also my heavenly Father will do to you, if ye may not forgive each one his brother from your hearts their trespasses.' (Youngs, 1898)
      Semantically singular "themselves" has antecedent of "each" in Phil. 2:3:
      Let nothing be done through contention: neither by vain glory. But in humility, let each esteem others better than themselves: (Douay-Rheims, 1582)

      Let nothing bee done through strife, or vaine glory, but in lowlinesse of minde let each esteeme other better then themselues. (KJV, 1611)

      Do nothing through strife or vain-glory, but in lowliness of mind, esteem each the others better than themselves. (Wesley, 1755)

      [Let] nothing [be done] through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. (Webster, 1833)

      [let] nothing [be] in the spirit of strife or vain glory, but, in lowliness of mind, each esteeming the other as more excellent than themselves; (Darby, 1890)
      Antecedent "everyone" is followed by singular "their" in Numbers 2:34:
      And the chyldren of Israel dyd accordyng to all that the Lorde commaunded Moyses, so they pitched with their standerdes, and so they iourneyed euery one throughout their kinredes, according to the housholdes of their fathers. (Bishops, 1568)

      And the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so they set forward, every one after their families, according to the house of their fathers. (KJV, 1611)

      And the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses: so they pitched by their standards, and so they moved forward, every one after their families, according to the house of their fathers. (Webster, 1833)

      Thus did the children of Israel; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so they pitched by their standards, and so they set forward, every one by their families, according to their fathers’ houses. (RV, 1881)

      Thus did the children of Israel; according to all that Jehovah commanded Moses, so they encamped by their standards, and so they set forward, every one by their families, according to their fathers' houses. (ASV, 1901)
      The same agreement appears in some versions of Numbers 15:12:
      According to the number that ye shall prepare, so shall ye do to euery one, accordyng to their number. (Bishops, 1568)

      According to the nomber that yee prepare to offer, so shall yee doe to euery one according to their nomber. (Geneva, 1587)

      According to the number that yee shall prepare, so shall yee doe to euery one, according to their number. (KJV, 1611)

      According to the number that ye shall prepare, so shall ye do to every one according to their number. (Webster, 1833)

      According to the number that ye shall prepare, so shall ye do to every one according to their number. (RV, 1881)

      according to the number that ye offer, so shall ye do to every one according to their number. (Darby, 1890)

      According to the number that ye prepare, so ye do to each, according to their number; (Youngs, 1898)

      According to the number that ye shall prepare, so shall ye do to every one according to their number. (ASV, 1901)

      According to the number that you prepare, so shall you do with every one according to their number. (RSV, 1946)

      According to the number that you prepare, so you shall do for everyone according to their number. (NASB, 1995)

      According to the number that you prepare, so you shall do with everyone according to their number. (NKJV, 1982)
      Singular "they" (in the possessive "their") takes "every man" as antecedent in 2 Kings 14:12:
      And Iuda was put to the worse before Israel, and they fled euery man to their tentes. (Bishops, 1568)

      And Iudah was put to the worse before Israel, and they fledde euery man to their tents. (Geneva, 1587)

      And Juda was put to the worse before Israel, and they fled every man to their dwellings. (Douay-Rheims, 1582)

      And Iudah was put to the worse before Israel, and they fled euery man to their tents. (KJV, 1611)

      And Judah was defeated before Israel; and they fled every man to their tents. (Webster, 1833)
      Opponents of the TNIV consider its usage of singular "they" to be "inaccurate" in Rev. 3:20 and other verses:
      I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. (TNIV)
      However the TNIV is in honorable company with its usage of the singular "they" which has a centuries old tradition of usage by good speakers and authors in English, including translators of English Bibles. For those who use and understand singular "they", there is nothing inaccurate nor ungrammatical about the singular "they" in an English Bible version.

      For many people indefinite pronouns "feel" semantically plural. However they follow singular subject-verb number agreement. Singular "they" is syntactically plural but agrees with indefinite antecedents. Because English has no pure gender-inclusive third person singular pronoun, English speakers over the ages have used various solutions to meet the need for a generic singular third person pronoun. One solution has been generic "he" which is still in use by some English speakers and authors. Another solution has been singular "they" which has been in use since ca. the late 1200s.

      Both solutions have a mismatch between their syntactic behavior and semantic properties. Generic "he" is heard as being of masculine, rather then inclusive, gender to many speakers. Some speakers today claim that they do not hear generic "he" as having a masculine sound (or nuance). For yet others, such as Drs. Poythress and Grudem, it is recognized as sounding masculine (at least as what they call "nuance"), and they consider that appropriate for expressing gender inclusion in their theory of theological and linguistic male representation.

      Singular "they" is heard as being both syntactically and semantically plural by some English speakers. For many other English speakers singular "they" is perceived as being semantically singular but syntactically plural. These are the speakers who use and understand singular "they." They are the audience for whom the TNIV has been translated. Other versions are available for those who prefer generic "he."

      Better Bibles are worded with English forms which are widely used by the audiences for whom they are translated.

      Saturday, September 09, 2006

      The TNIV controversy: a matter of theology, of language, or of world view?

      In reply to comments by Chris Hill (a 25-year-old naval officer from Pensacola, Florida) on the recent Pyromaniacs Who's afraid of TNIV? post, I referred him to my post here on acceptable English. He replied with the following comment (about number 85):
      Then that is where you and I, at least, disagree. I don't think we could ever come to any mutual agreement on the TNIV with such different understandings of language. That is the crux, here.
      In a previous comment he had written:
      The changes which the TNIV seeks to entertain I believe to be bad changes in language - changes that come as a result of political agendas and the dumbing down of the English language itself.
      This is interesting. Is this indeed the crux? Is the difference of opinion over TNIV really purely one of approaches to language, and not of theology at all? Or is it perhaps more an issue of general world view?

      In forums like this it should be easier to discuss questions of language than of theology, because we can do so without implicit accusations of heresy, and because hopefully people's positions are not quite so entrenched. Nevertheless I continue to be surprised at just how inflammatory this language issue seems to be, even among those who don't try to argue that there is a link to theology.

      On some blogs there is extensive discussion about post-modernism, and whether the shift from modernism to post-modernism has any positive aspects for the Christian faith. But the issue we are dealing with here seems rather to be whether to accept the shift from pre-modernism to modernism. Modernism is based on believing what one sees, and what logically follows from that, rather than the pre-modernist or mediaeval approach of accepting what one is told by traditional authorities.

      This shift from pre-modernist to modernist thinking started with the Renaissance, which rejected the mediaeval reliance on ancient authorities like Plato and Aristotle, and on contemporary ones like the church of Rome. And this modernist thinking was continued by the great Reformers, who rejected the authority of the church in favour of their own interpretations of the Bible. The same pattern of thinking was followed by the early scientists, who observed and experimented rather than relying on classical writers. Later, during the Enlightenment, the authority of the Bible was also rejected by many, and deism and atheism became common. So I am by no means claiming that modernism is necessarily more Christian than pre-modernism, or than post-modernism. But modernism was certainly the approach of the Reformers.

      Yet it seems rather ironic that in the United States of America, a nation which was founded on the modernist rejection of traditional authorities and on the principles of the Enlightenment, there should currently be such a strong revival of pre-modernist, even mediaeval, ways of thinking. I see this in certain strands of theology, especially those which treat as authorities certain Reformers, or for that matter the King James Version. This reliance on authorities from centuries in the past is an essentially mediaeval world view. The irony is that if these people truly accepted the authority of the Reformers, they would also accept their world view which would cause them no longer to accept them as authorities!

      Well, perhaps theology is a special case; after all, even I accept one ancient authority, the Bible. But I see the same general attitude displayed in all areas of life. Now, for example, I see it in attitudes to language. People do not accept that the English language is what they actually see written and hear spoken, and insist that it is instead what has been defined by some traditional authority such as a prescriptive grammar book - in this case an authority which has in fact never been authorised by anyone. Or, when they are forced to accept that what they hear and read is different from what the authority says, they resort to value judgments like "bad changes in language ... dumbing down", and try to assign guilt for such changes to those who have allegedly promoted them.

      Thus for example, Chris Hill is correct to write that "there have been cultural ... changes to the English language in recent years", but he is quite out of order to insert after "cultural" the value judgment "(read: political, agenda driven, etc.)". Language does change, in part to reflect cultural changes, but rarely as a result of people accepting agendas. Even those with strong negative views about homosexuality have changed their usage of the word "gay" over the last few decades, and this change does not imply that they have accepted anyone's agenda. Similarly those who avoid generic "he" and use singular "they" have not accepted anyone's agenda, they are simply following widespread changes in language, to which no positive or negative value can rationally be assigned.

      It seems to me that, while some people claim to reject TNIV and similar versions because of their supposed theology, this is in fact a pretext. In fact there is no real theological difference between NIV and TNIV, despite the nitpicking of some. (At least, there are no differences which relate to orthodox theology, including evangelical theology, although there are some that relate to the novel and poorly thought out doctrine of "male representation".)

      The issue is in fact more about language, and the attempts by some to resist changes in English. These attempts are of course bound to fail, as have all past attempts to control language change, at least when not enforced by violence. The most that such people could hope is to prohibit such language change in the Bible and the church and so ensure that the language in them falls further and further out of step with that of the common people, which would have huge negative effects on the kingdom of God. But do these people care about that? Apparently even those who claim to be evangelical Christians do not.

      So, it seems to me, the real driving force here is something which these people hold on to even more dearly than their Christian faith, an idol which is dearer to them than God himself: their world view. There seems to be a deep and growing conservatism in much of the USA, of a kind which is completely foreign to us here in the UK. According to this conservative world view, anything new and any significant change is bad, at least unless proved otherwise. This is coupled with a reverence for traditional authorities which is frankly mediaeval.

      Now I don't claim that the modernist or post-modernist world view is necessarily better than this mediaeval view. Perhaps my own world view is also an idol which is dearer to me than God himself. If so, I need to repent and renounce my idol as much as others need to. But of one thing I can be sure: if any attitude or world view we hold, such as Chris Hill's presupposition that language change is bad, or my own wrong presuppositions which I am not yet aware of, is hindering the work of the kingdom of God, then as Christians this is the response we should make to God:
      "The dearest idol I have known,
      Whatever that idol may be,
      Help me to tear it from its throne,
      And worship only thee."
      (William Cowper)
      PS: I don't intend to pick on Chris Hill, whose views are probably not exceptional, but he happened to provide a convenient explicit statement of the views I am discussing here.

      Closest natural equivalence translation

      The Numenware blog has a post about Closest natural equivalence translation (CNE). The blogger explains what CNE and its advantages. Although the blogger is not a Bible translator, they point out translation approaches which have been used in Bible translation. CNE was used in the God's Word (GW) translation.

      I'm quite keen on CNE. I especially like its emphasis on natural language. The debates between advocates of word-for-word vs. thought-for-thought translation often miss the fact that the best translation for most audiences needs to be in natural language. It is possible for a translation to be both accurate and natural. Using natural language does not mean disregarding idioms, metaphors, and other figurative language or the literary forms of the Bible. But it does mean that the biblical forms are translated into natural forms already used in the target languages, so that they can be accurately understood by translation users. Better Bibles, IMO, are accurate and natural.

      Friday, September 08, 2006

      In which I attempt to answer a question

      In the comment section a few days ago I wrote,
        Certain words in Greek simply were more gender neutral than older English translations indicated. So the trend toward gender neutrality is usually a trend towards greater accuracy. So far I have yet to see the opposite.

        Replacing 'brothers' with 'people' or 'friends' simply reflects the way the Greek word was used to refer to a collective of people, whereas in English 'brothers' does mean the men. And, of course, αδελφοι in Greek is easily understood as refering to both the αδελφοι the brothers and the αδελφαι the sisters. There is no easy way to represent this in English.

        It is very important to start with the Greek first, each and every time. Once must not assume that earlier translations were more literal.

        A simple example is the replacement of 'workman' with 'worker'. Of course, 'worker' is a word that much better reflects the morphology of the Greek word εργατης. This kind of thing is found throughout the Bible. The move towards gender neutrality reflects a more literal translation. So no discussion about gender should start from an older English translation.
      And Gummby asked the following question.
        Suzanne, how would you answer a person who says that much of your approach is informed by classical Greek that is being read into Koine?

      I would like to answer this question as fairly as possible. Not that much.

      1. First, grammatical gender is not usually translated. Brother and sister in Greek are differentiated by grammatical gender alone. It is a general prinicple not to represent this in translation. Everyone agrees that αδελφοι means a group of both men and women.

      2. For υιοι Luther and Tyndale translated this as 'children'. I am not sure if I need to review why. The υιοι Ισραηλ really were the 'people' of Israel, the men and women both. 'Sons' would not mean that today. It would mean the men.

      3. For ανθρωπος, classical Greek, and modern Greek, both secular and religious, understands this to be a person, a human being. When we use derivatives of this word in English that is what we mean. There is no difference for Koine Greek.

      Woman has always been a person, that is a human being, to God. However, in terms of the law and social customs, a woman did not function as a full human being. She did not share the rights and privileges of men. So, ανθρωπος means human, and not male, but is woman fully human? That is the real question. Is woman a person?

      I can only refer you to Susan B Anthony's speech given in 1872. I suggest a software reading of this speech. Go to edit>find and type in 'person' and see how she analysed this word in terms of the right of women to be considered persons.

      4. Women are overwhelmingly served by a literal and accurate translation of the text. A text like the King James, which uses the 'children' of God, in which 'brethren' are a collective of men and women, in which Junia is an apostle and Mary sat at the feet of Jesus as Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel, serves woman.

      In addition to that, a literal translation shows that Pheobe was a 'minister', as was Paul, and she was his advocate or patron, possible giving him legal or financial support.

      5. The pronoun αυτος means that same person or thing which was just mentioned in the antecedent. If it is ανθρωπος or τις it is completely gender neutral. In fact, the only trend in gender neturality for Bible translation is a trend in English; it has nothing whatsoever to do with changing the Greek text, or misinterpreting it.

      6. The loss of number accuracy in translation is legitimate. Thou, thee, thy and thine is now lost - more or less. I have heard that it is not completely lost, but I have also noticed that those who understand it well, can use it properly and can make the verb form agree with this pronoun naturally in fluent speech are in decline. The loss of this pronoun makes English an inferior language altogether, but we live with it.

      A French - English dictionary certainly supports translating 'on' with either 'one' 'they' 'we' or 'you'. I cannot find that a loss of number, switching from the singular 'he' to a plural 'they' or using a singular 'they' represents a loss of accuracy. Nor does it have anything at all to do with Koine or classical Greek.

      In summary, Gummby, I am not really sure what you meant by my 'approach'. Would you like to know more about my training and background, my qualifications? You may ask more about that if you wish. But the short answer is that I did study Hellenistic Greek. I have no difficulty telling you more, but I am not entirely sure if that is your question.

      Others have mentioned so called 'poor scholarship'. Would that be refering to Longenecker, Fee, Waltke, R K Harrison, Pietersma, or some other men from whom I may have picked up habits of bad scholarship? Maybe Northrop Frye, who taught at my home college!

      Thursday, September 07, 2006

      The foolish things of this world

      In these first few days back to school I have been recalling previous Septembers and reflecting on this fall.

      One year I had a short term position in an international baccalaureate class, teaching the Enlightenment and Latin American Revolution. We discussed everything from Aristotle to Bolivar, in French. Two years later I read in the news that one of the classes I taught became the top ranking class in Canada in the International Baccalaureate exams. They were exceptional students. (I don't think I was there long enough to be able to take any credit for these results, but it was quite the experience just the same.)

      I still remember how a group of students stood around me crying (don't ask me when high school students took on that affectation - not mine as a kid!) on my last day with them. But now they are all at Harvard and Standford and well taken care of.

      From there I went into my present job not far away in the poorest district in the province, maybe the country. I think about our children here, abandoned by parents who live on the street, physically and sexually abused, some with parents who don't speak English and often don't even have a language in common.

      One hearing impaired child was mute until 9 years old, with only a rudimenatary ability to communicate. Another watched as his father commited suicide. Some boys fall off their chairs if you speak too loudly, and you know that the startle reflex is there for a good reason. Some girls are sent out of the country at 13 years old to be married to men they have never met, and one girl knows that her mother was murdered by her in-laws.

      So when I sat down tonight to write I lost interest in grammar, and sat thinking of the children. And then I looked up a verse or two here and there and let the Greek New Testament fall open on an easy passage. I decided this time to let the Greek flow into English as I read and then I wrote it down. Here is a small piece of what I read,
        βλέπετε γὰρ τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν ἀδελφοί ὅτι οὐ πολλοὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ σάρκα οὐ πολλοὶ δυνατοί οὐ πολλοὶ εὐγενεῖς ἀλλὰ τὰ μωρὰ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεὸς ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τοὺς σοφούς καὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ τοῦ κόσμου ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεὸς ἵνα καταισχύνῃ τὰ ἰσχυρά1 Corinthians 1:26-27
      And here is what I wrote,

        For think of when you were called, my friends, that not many were wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many well-born. But the foolish things of this world God has chosen to shame the wise, and the weak things of this world God has chosen to shame the strong. (Mine)
      And here are the King James Version and the CEV,

        For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; KJV

          My dear friends, remember what you were when God chose you. The people of this world didn't think that many of you were wise. Only a few of you were in places of power, and not many of you came from important families. But God chose the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose the weak things of this world to put the powerful to shame. CEV
        I like the rhythm that I created in my own translation, (even using predicate fronting. I am not sure how it sounds to others but it came quietly and unbidden into the text. Sometimes it is best to remain flexible!) 'Powerful ' and 'well-born' are obvious and undisputed terms that fit well on a stylistic level with the Greek, and 'shame' is also the literal translation.

        However, when all is said and done I find that the CEV communicates the meaning well. Is there a way to meld the rhythm and compactness of my translation with the communicative effect of the CEV?

        Acceptable English is what people actually use

        Rick Mansfield, in his first posting on 2 Corinthians 5:17 (already linked to on this blog), notes Jeremy Pierce's point that
        the singular they has recently become a topic of discussion in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002).
        In a comment on Rick's posting, "Larry" (whose views and writing style sound very similar to those of our "Anonymous" commenter - you are not by any chance the same person, are you?) wrote:
        The Cambridge Grammar is a descriptive grammar; so it can't be relied on for presc[r]iptive issues.
        This raises an interesting question. Who or what can "be relied on for prescriptive issues" concerning the English language? Who has the right to prescribe what is grammatically correct English? For English we don't have an equivalent of the Académie française (or try this link in English), so no one has an official right to prescribe our language, despite the attempts of some, even the British parliament, to be prescriptive.

        It seems to me that the only people who have the right to prescribe the form of English are the speakers of the language taken as a whole, exercising their democratic right in the way that they actually speak and write. That implies that the only prescriptive grammar for English is in fact a descriptive one. For if there is any way in which we ought to speak or write, it is the way that the language is actually spoken or written.

        In other words, the only criterion of what is acceptable English is what people actually use.

        This has some interesting implications for Bible translations.

        Firstly, it suggests that Bibles are not acceptable if they use vocabulary and syntax which are not in regular use in modern English. Of course there are various styles of modern English; this criterion should not be used to reject wording which is used in high quality literary English but not colloquially. Nevertheless, constructions are used in many modern English versions (as has often been demonstrated on this blog) which have not been used in standard English at least since the 17th century. I would suggest that since these constructions are not now in regular use, they should not be used in Bible translations. Then there are some constructions which are used only in poetry in English; they should be used only in poetic passages in the Bible.

        Secondly, my principle implies that any vocabulary and syntax which is actually in regular use in English, even constructions such as the singular "they" which have not been accepted by older prescriptive grammarians, should be considered acceptable in Bible translations. Here I would obviously exclude rude and offensive language, but that is a separate issue.

        There should also be a principle here of what is acceptable to specific audiences. Bible translations need to be tailored to their audiences; despite some claims, there is no such thing as a translation which is ideal for all. So I would extend my original principle to suggest that what is acceptable language for a Bible translation is what is actually in use by the target audience for that translation.

        Wednesday, September 06, 2006

        Luke 22:58: a woman anthropos?

        It is often asserted that in the Bible the word anthropos is never used of a specific woman. I have found an interesting case which seems to be an exception: Luke 22:58.

        In each of the four gospels Peter is accused three times of being one of Jesus' disciples and denies it three times. His accusers are as follows:
        1. All four gospels: a servant girl (paidiske).
        2. Matthew: another (feminine), i.e. probably another servant girl; Mark: the same servant girl; Luke: another (masculine); John: "they".
        3. Matthew, Mark: "those standing there"; Luke: another (masculine); John: "one of the high priest's servants".
        It is not easy to harmonise these accounts, especially of the second denial, but the most likely harmonisation of this is that the second accuser was in fact a woman, and Luke mistakenly used the masculine form heteros.

        The interesting point for us here is that in Luke's account Peter addresses his first accuser as gune, but his second and third accusers as anthropos. The other gospels do not record Peter's words of address. If, as I have argued, the second accuser is in fact a woman, here in Luke 22:58 we have a case of anthropos being used of a specific woman.

        Wal-Mart Bible Letter

        A petition has been posted on the Internet, asking Wal-Mart to stop selling Bibles. This is a blog announcement only. I do not agree with the contents of the petition letter. I am glad that Wal-Mart sells Bibles. I enjoy finding out which Bible versions are stocked in large stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Barnes and Noble, etc.

        HT: Truth and Repose

        Tuesday, September 05, 2006

        TNIV 2 Cor. 5:17

        Rick Mansfield wrestles with the translation of TNIV 2 Cor. 5:17 in his blog post today. I like what he has to say and the tone of voice with which he said it. Oh, you haven't used his blog's voice producer option yet so you can hear his voice also?!

        Unspiritual Bible versions

        I have been studying and evaluating English Bible versions for many years. I have had the privilege of personally communicating with members of translation committees for several of these versions. Based on all of my interactions and research, I conclude that the following English Bible versions are unspiritual and were translated by people who had motives to lead people away from God and an accurate understanding of what he wants us to learn from the Bible:

        Monday, September 04, 2006

        Translating the genitive construction

        One of the most frequent Greek grammatical constructions in the New Testament (occurring thousands of times) is what grammarians call the “genitive construction.” English translations often reflect this with the preposition of as in the love of God. In Intermediate New Testament Greek, Richard Young lists 20 different meanings that the genitive construction can convey, including description, possession, relationship, comparison, manner, means, reason, and purpose.

        The genitive construction occurs three times in the phrase the kingdom of the son of the love of him (Colossians 1:13). Since each genitive construction can convey 20 possible meanings, there could be as many as 8,000 (20x20x20) possible interpretations of such a phrase. However, the meaning of the nouns and their context reduce that number significantly.

        In the Colossians text, none of the following translations rephrases the first genitive construction, the kingdom of the son. The translators apparently felt that the meaning is clear in that form. But most of the translations (even the King James Version) rephrase the second and third genitive constructions (the son of the love of him) to convey the meaning his dear Son, or the Son he loves.

        the kingdom of his dear/beloved Son – KJV, NASV, RSV, TEV, CEV, NEB, GNC, NLT, Phillips, Source
        the kingdom of the Son he loves – NIV, Jerusalem Bible, God’s Word, Message
        The New King James Version rephrases only the third genitive construction (the love of him) to convey the meaning His love:
        the kingdom of the Son of His love
        As one can see, the more literal a translation is, the less clear and natural it tends to be. This is particularly evident in the literal translation of the Greek: the kingdom of the son of the love of him.

        Categories: , , ,

        Sunday, September 03, 2006

        Ps. 51:17 -- Who sacrifices?

        Ambiguity occurs when a language form has more than one possible meaning. In English the possessive construction is multiply ambiguous. For example, is I say, "John's book is on the coffee table," the sentence could mean:
        1. The book that John is currently reading is on the coffee table.
        2. The book that John owns is on the coffee table.
        3. The book that John wrote is on the coffee table.
        If we are translating from English to a language which does not have a possessive form (many languages do not, such as Greek which uses the genitive case to encode possessives as well as several other meanings), we must be sure we know which meaning of "John's book" is intended so that we will use the correct translation equivalent for that meaning in that language.

        Similarly, many of the linguistic forms in the biblical languages are not found in English. English, for instance, does not have a genitive case, nor an instrumental case. When we translate a Greek genitive or instrumental to English we have to find some English translation equivalent for the meaning intended by that particular genitive or instrumental.

        One of the greatest sources of confusion for readers of English Bibles is overuse of "of" prepositional phrases for translating the Greek genitive or the Hebrew status constructus forms. English does use "of" prepositional phrases. I naturally used three of them in the preceding sentence. But English does not use naturally nearly as many "of" phrases as are found in more "literal" Bible versions.

        The use of so many "of" phrases in English Bibles creates potential ambiguities for English readers which were not ambiguities in the biblical texts, as their authors wrote that they intended to communicate. Just as the English possessive form has potential ambiguity, so do "of" prepositional phrases.

        If I said "The revelation of John is the last book in the Bible", this could mean
        1. What John revealed is the last book in the Bible.
        2. The revelation about John is the last book in the Bible.
        3. The revelation that John owns is the last book in the Bible.
        Last Sunday the minister of our church quoted Psalm 51:17 during his sermon. He quoted it with the traditional opening words, "the sacrifices of God," which I have heard all my life:
        The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (NIV)
        This time, however, I noticed that the "of" phrase is ambiguous in English. Potentially, this verse could be referring to
        1. Sacrifices which God makes
        2. When God is sacrificed
        Those are the two possible meanings I get out of "the sacrifices of God". But I know that neither of them is the meaning intended by David when he wrote Psalm 51. I spent a long time running the wording "the sacrifices of God" through my mind, trying to come up with the intended meaning. There were times when I thought I almost got it but then it would slip from my brain.

        I field tested the phrase with a number of people, including a group of linguists who do Bible translation. Some of the respondents said they got David's intended meaning which would be something like "sacrifices made to God" or "sacrifices which God desires." Others responded as I did and said the traditional English translation of Ps. 51:17 sounds like God is making sacrifices. Some pointed out that the preceding and following contexts for this test phrase clarify who is making the sacrifices. This is true, however, when it is possible for any phrase to be both accurate and clear, we should not have to depend on context to clarify an ambiguity which was not there in the original biblical text.

        It is easy to find and use an English translation equivalent which does not create the problem of potential ambiguity or unintended meaning for Ps. 51:17. Several English versions are already unambiguous and clear, including some (Wycliffe, Bishop's, Douay-Rheims) which were produced centuries ago:
        1. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (RSV; note that ESV reintroduces the problematic traditional wording)
        2. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (NRSV)
        3. The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit – O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject. (NET)
        4. The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God,
          you will not despise. (NLT)
        5. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. O God, you do not despise a broken and sorrowful heart. (GW)
        6. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart. (HCSB)
        7. The sacrifice God wants is a broken spirit. God, you will not reject a heart that is broken and sorry for sin. (NCV)
        8. A sacrifice to God is a spirit troblid; God, thou schalt not dispise a contrit herte and maad meke. (Wycliffe)
        9. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Douay-Rheims)
        10. Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, a broken, contrite heart you never scorn. (NJB)
        11. Sacrifices for God is a mortified spirite: O Lorde thou wylt not despise a mortified and an humble heart. (Bishop's Bible)
        Better Bibles do not introduce ambiguities in translation which were not intended by the biblical authors.

        Saturday, September 02, 2006

        CBE post on best Bibles

        A post on the CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality) blog objected to the ESV and HCSB being finalists for the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association's Christian Book Awards. The ESV and HCSB are the only two English Bible versions translated according to the CSG (Colorado Springs Guidelines) which are primarily about maintaining masculinity in English Bibles.

        CBMW (complementarians) would object if the TNIV were nominated for the same award. CBMW websites have a great deal of material criticizing the TNIV.

        I wonder if some who are candidating as pastors of churches these days are being asked which versions of the Bible they approve and disapprove of. Sigh! I hope that true biblical scholarship can win out in the end in these debates and that we can move on to matters which are more important to work in the Kingdom of God, not the least of which would be putting some of the millions of dollars spent creating "proper" Bibles and channeling a good percentage of that money to translating the Bible for people who have no Bible in their language.

        I wonder if we are now paying the price for having too many Bible versions in English. Perhaps we have become immune to how much there is in common among all of them, even when different versions are not approved of by groups like CBE or CBMW.

        Best Bibles in their best editions

        Dr. Comninos used to subscribe to our email Bible Translation discussion list. He is outspoken about his preferences and opinions about English Bibles. Click here to read his ideas about English Bibles, posted on

        Although I often disagree with Dr. Comninos I usually find that his comments are based on some kind of reality from his own experience. He has done his homework. He seems not to speak primarily from ideology.

        I find these comments from his list interesting:
        The REB has more literary polish than most modern Bibles.
        NEB: Far too accurate for public acceptance, this Bible is as startling now as it was when first printed.

        TEV/GNT: Can someone explain to me why people saw a need to publish meaning for meaning translations after the Good News? Much better than the CEV, Living, New Living, etc. Suprisingly brilliant in the Psalms.

        NRSV HCSB (HarperCollins Study Bible): Study Bibles are more common these days tha[n] air. This is the best one in print because its editors are smarter than all of the others put together. Brilliant analysis of obscure texts.
        "its editors are smarter than all of the others put together", well, I wonder if that is a statement of fact or opinion?! :-)

        Some of you may enjoy reading Dr. Comninos' comments.