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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.

37 Comments:

At Sat Sep 09, 04:07:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Sat Sep 09, 05:07:00 PM, Blogger Terry said...

While I don't intend to explain this in full, because it would be too long, I see a couple of times in your thread where you over summarize the complexities of reality.

For one, the gender neutral use of language is part of ideology, not language. It is really the language of academia. My opinion is that the gender neutral language is actually the language of prescription which you said will ultimately fail. I think in 50 years this will be looked on as a fad, sort of like in the 70s when some people were trying to make some sort of significance out of the fact that certain objects in French, Spanish, or Greek had a masculine or feminine gender, as if the object was actually feminine. It took a while for linguists to say, no, it is merely a feature of the grammar, not meta-physics.

I think the differences between the medieval world view and the modern world view is much more complex than you described. I don't think you gave either the merit they deserve. While authority is important to both world views, I hope we can also see things such as meaning, virtue, beauty, purpose, and ethics as just as important to a world view as epistemology.

 
At Sat Sep 09, 07:27:00 PM, Blogger Taliesin said...

Terry is correct that you have assumed a base language change that has not taken place. In general society, at least in the US, we do not use "they" as a generic term for a person of either sex. We still use "he" or "man" or "mankind" to refer a person without respect to male or female. It is only in the "hallowed" (sic) halls of academia that there has been a change in the language.

Not all language change is bad, but much of recent language change has been. Your use of "gay" underscores the point. We have lost a word that had a unique connotation to it because of cultural forces.

You're understanding of the Reformers is also a bit off. Calvin quoted Augustine and Bernard extensively, along with others. He (and Luther, et. al.) did not see themselves as rejecting the historic faith, but a corruption of the historic faith.

Also, modernism is not traced back to the Reformers, but most often to the period of the French revolution, though it's beginnings may be seen in a few earlier philosphers (Descartes, Hegel, etc.). Also, I would not assume that the philosophical foundations of the United States are from a Christian worldview.

 
At Sat Sep 09, 07:41:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

In general society, at least in the US, we do not use "they" as a generic term for a person of either sex. We still use "he" or "man" or "mankind" to refer a person without respect to male or female.

Actually, "they" is used very widely throughout the U.S. as a generic term for a person of either sex. This usage of "they" has been in the English language for many centuries (from long before the KJV, which itself includes example of singular "they"). Some of the best English authors have used it.

Here is the public address announcement at the airport which we have used for the past 30 years:

"It is every passenger's responsibility to be fully aware of the contents of their luggage at all times."

Notice the use of "they" as a generic. This announcement is made at the Billings airport in Montana. Montana is a gun-toting cowboy, rancher, and farmer state with many people who hold to traditional social values. Feminism is not highly regarded in Montana.

If you listen carefully, you will hear this singular "they" used very often these days, by speakers of all ages. I was trained to use the generic "he" as apparently you were. But it is no longer used nearly as much as it used to be. Generic "they" was used long before there was any feminist movement.

The TNIV use of generic "they" is right in line with current language usage in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and the U.S. Whether we like it or not, people speak and write with generic "they." Not everyone. There are still people who use a generic "he". But the majority of native English speakers in the countries I just mentioned use singular "they" as least in speaking, and, increasingly, in their more formal writing as well.

 
At Sat Sep 09, 08:10:00 PM, Blogger Chris Hill said...

Although I appreciate a post based on one comment I made, I must respond to two issues you have made here.

First of all, you did not understand what I said. You speak of "Chris Hill's presupposition that language change is bad". I said no such thing. I only said that some changes are bad, and the ones that the TNIV seeks to entertain are bad changes. I currently use and love the NIV. Obviously, if I was opposed to language change, I might use the KJV or something of that sort. Those who hold to only the KJV as the only usable translation seem somewhat silly in their strict adherence to differences that, to me, seems insignificant.

Secondly, you have accused me of idolatry in regards to my world view. I resent this characterization - or rather, mischaracterization - of my words and attitude towards God. Throwing around accusations of idolatry should not be undertaken lightly, as you have done here. God's words are what drive me. My world view is based on God first. THAT is why I have such a problem with changing language for purely cultural reasons. Yes, they are purely cultural reasons. This is not an adherence to a world view over the words of God. This is me saying, "God's words are more powerful than culture."

Let me pose a question: "Why has the term 'their' replaced the generic masculine term 'him' in the last few years?" The question is rhetorical, since the reason is political. Thus, the change in language has been influenced by an agenda to change how we think. We think in language, and when we change the language, we change how we thing (see: 1984).

As said in a previous discussion, the bible has been used for centuries to affect the English language itself. We can see pieces of it everywhere (I again use the example of the word "talents", which comes from a parable of Jesus). Thus, the words of God, being translated as accurately as possible into our language, have been used to define our language and culture. Today, rather, we try to use our culture and language to define the words of God. If anything is idolatry, that is, but I won't accuse you of it...

 
At Sat Sep 09, 09:58:00 PM, Blogger Chris Hill said...

Ironically, while posting about the proper use of English, I inadvertently used the word thing when I meant to use the word think. My apologies.

 
At Sat Sep 09, 10:10:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

As I'm relatively new to this blog, I'm not sure whether the "they" controversy has already been discussed extensively and whether this post at LanguageLog has already been mentioned. If it has, please forgive the redundancy. If it hasn't, go and read it, especially the final paragraph.
There are many things that I dislike about prescriptivism and purism. My numbero one issue with their adherents is that they see language as a monolith where some forms are clearly 'correct' and some clearly 'wrong'. It ain't never so.

terry,
It is only in the "hallowed" (sic) halls of academia that there has been a change in the language.
Oh I wish we academics had that power! The fact is, we don't. If you're looking for someone to blame for the "corruption" of the English language, I suggest you turn to the media.

taliesin,
In general society, at least in the US, we do not use "they" as a generic term for a person of either sex.
Please provide evidence.

Chris,
I am not sure whether Peter's words really amount to an accusation of idolatry. These do: the way you describe what you call "God's Words" sure sounds like idolatry to me. The words of the Gospels, Acts and Epistles as well as the Hebrew Scriptures were written down by humans who were definitely more holy than me, but in any other aspect, they were just like me - or you. They were inspired by God, yet they could only write and speak in a human language in a way (= style) intelligible to others, otherwise they would be but a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. They had to work with what they culture could provide, because, as everyone should know, language is inseparable from culture and is in fact the most important part of culture. As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, our culture and our language have changed in the past 50 years. You may not like those changes, but they happened and any good translation (or indeed any other written communication) should reflect them.

the bible has been used for centuries to affect the English language itself
That is undoubtedly true and not only of English. I understand you are calling for more traditionalism and a part of me agrees. After all, I would really miss all the beautiful phrases KJV has given us. But shouldn't our first concern be the effect Bible has on people and their souls?

If you really worry about 1984, you too should look no further than the media.

 
At Sat Sep 09, 10:24:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

Sorry, bad link.
This is the real thing: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002748.html

 
At Sat Sep 09, 10:47:00 PM, Blogger yuckabuck said...

random thoughts-
(note that appreciate the intelligence shown by all those in the debate, and do not wish anything here to come across as insulting to anyone)

I am a mere novice at translational issues, but I may have sat in on a social science class or two, so bear with me here. I think it is a category mistake to personify and speak of "culture" as something outside of ourselves that is pressing in on us. Certainly "peer pressure" exists, and sociologists like to speak of cultures having ways of enforcing its own norms upon individuals. But ultimately, "culture" includes everyone who in the "culture." So what does it mean, exactly, to sat that "God's words are more powerful than culture?" God's words are certainly a powerful force IN my particular sub-culture. But to say that "God's words are more powerful than culture" is like saying that my parents have more authority than my nuclear family. (They are a part of my nuclear family, and constitute the supreme authority within it, but there is also more to my nuclear family than just my parents. They are definitely not outside of it and in conflict with it.)

Chris Hill says, "Today, rather, we try to use our culture and language to define the words of God," as if that were a bad thing. Yet, since "culture" is, by definition, the patterns and norms that those in a specific group share in common; then "using our culture and language to define the words of God" is just another way of saying TRANSLATING. Our English bibles is a product of our culture, as they are rendered for us in English, and not in Greek or Hebrew.

Chris Hill mentions the effect that translating English bibles had on the developement of English, and criticizes the effect the later developement of English has had on translating English bibles. But where is the authority that says that English is supposed to be suddenly frozen in time, and the culture shall not depart from it?

Are we as individuals to set out to translate Bibles in a way so as to influence the culture to return to using masculine forms for generic referrents? When did a calling to engage in accurate translating become a call to cultural activism?

(As an aside, I doubt that the King James translators set out to influence the English language. They produced a translation that was eventually accepted by many individuals in the culture, after which many individuals in the culture then decided to incorporate certain words or phrases in the KJV that had not been so widely used or accepted up to that time. The translators motives were clearly translational, and not meant to change people's thinking through changing the language. I apologize for the clunky wording here, but I am avoiding the useful shorthad word "culture" because of the dangers of personifying culture that I referred to above.)

All done. We may now return to our regularly scheduled blog filled with folk who are more educated than I. :-)

 
At Sat Sep 09, 10:51:00 PM, Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

Having found that I have been ancipated in pointing to one relevant piece by Geoffrey Pullum, I will add that the most recent Language Log postings include Sally Thomason's report from a conference in Finland, "18th-Century Grammarians vs. Shakespeare et al." It deals mainly with studies of the origins of some of the "rules" in question. The title refers to the once-prevailing fashion for finding awful "mistakes" in well-known writers of the past -- including the King James Bible. Some early prescriptivists were not ignorant -- they just preferred their own opinions, or the norms of their social circles, to any mere documentary evidence. See http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/.

 
At Sun Sep 10, 12:03:00 PM, Blogger Taliesin said...

Regarding he/she/they and universities versus the media:

Baylor on using gender neutral language.

If you will note, this was written within the last 10 years and is an attempt, but a major university, to change the language. What's more, I agree with much of their argument for some written materials and language.

Two big disagreements: (1)"They" should not be used for a singular. I would lobby we need to find a plural form of you (y'all), not further confuse the english by introducing another singular/plural personal pronoun. If you feel you have to be gender neutral, use s/he, or alternate using he and she.

(2) Even if you want to call it the novel and poorly thought out doctrine of "male representation", it has been a historic understanding of the church that Adam and Jesus are representatives. Adam, a man, stood as our representative, both male and female. The generic "man" stands for both genders. The TNIV translators argue that "Adam" is used most often as generic term for humankind, yet do not want to let "man" in the english do the same, though it has done so for centuries.

In order to achieve this neutrality, you are making interpretive decisions, as in Psalm 8:4. Are you sure, absolutely positive, that "son of man" is not intended here to point us to Jesus? 100% positive? Comparing Hebrews 2:9 with Psalm 8:5, I don't think you can be sure (in fact, I think we are to see a reference to the Son of man in Psalm 8). But it is obscured when you translate "son of man" as "human beings".

Think about the relationship and ask is the goal of translation to help people understand the Bible? Are we forcing them to go to commentaries and other sources to see connections? Are we requiring them to understand ancient languages to know whether a group or an individual is being spoken to?

 
At Sun Sep 10, 01:06:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

taliesin,

"They" should not be used for a singular.
Why not? Because it's incorrect English? It's not. Because it's illogical? It's not the only thing that is. Because think so?

would lobby we need to find a plural form of you
First of all, it's an issue totally independent of 'they' in singular. Secondly, I would argue there already is one, at least in American English: 'you guys'. I heard it five times today just channel surfing with my remote.

The generic "man" stands for both genders.
Not anymore. Not in English.

n order to achieve this neutrality, you are making interpretive decisions, as in Psalm 8:4.
True, but that's an issue of interpretation, not language.

 
At Sun Sep 10, 01:08:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

Ehm, since when is Baylor University in Waco, Texas, a 'major' university?

 
At Sun Sep 10, 02:14:00 PM, Blogger No Fixed Address said...

"They" should not be used for a singular.
Why not? Because it's incorrect English? It's not. Because it's illogical? It's not the only thing that is.

Indeed. So English speakers have found a way to accomodate the need for a generic pronoun by using another pronoun in a different way. Why is this a problem? In Italian "lei" means "she" whereas "Lei" means "you" in the singular formal/polite. Similarly, "loro" means "they" but "Loro" means "you" in the plural formal/polite. I suspect Italians have little if any problem making the distinction. Germans can make sense out of "sie" meaning either "she" or "they" and "Sie" meaning the formal "you" in both the singular and plural. In both senses of "you" the form of the verb following "Sie" looks and sounds plural. Why is the English use of "they" (how about "They" for the generic?) such a problem? Whether we like it or not, and obviously many don't, the use of "he" in a generic sense just doesn't make sense or sound natural to a lot of people anymore. Is finding another pronoun really that big a deal?

 
At Sun Sep 10, 02:17:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Terry wrote, "the gender neutral use of language is part of ideology, not language". I disagree. It may have become part of ideology over the last 30 years or so. But it was part of language for centuries before any ideological issues were raised, and will (in one way or another) continue to be so for centuries after it has lost any ideological significance. But I accept that I have oversimplified the distinction between the mediaeval and modern world views. After all, this was a blog post that was already too long, and to do the matter real justice it would have required a major book - one which I admit I would not be qualified to write.

Taliesin wrote, "We have lost a word that had a unique connotation to it because of cultural forces." Indeed (although our agreement may be only apparent as your understanding of "cultural forces" may be quite different from mine), but this is what always happens with language change: as culture and other aspects of life change, words disappear or change their meanings and new ones arise. This is as natural as the succession of day and night. Was today's sunrise bad just because it was different from yesterday's?

I certainly did not assume that the USA was founded on Christian world view. I said that it was founded on the principles of the Enlightenment, and clarified that I do not consider these to be especially Christian. Indeed in many ways these are fundamentally anti-Christian, such as deism.

Also, Taliesin, it is not the TNIV translators who "do not want to let "man" in the english do the same [be used in a gender generic way], though it has done so for centuries." No, Taliesin, it is the English language which no longer allows "man" to be understood in this way. This usage is as dead as the dodo, as dead as the old sense of "gay" or the KJV senses of "suffer" and "let". On this one there can be no doubt that TNIV is simply copying English as spoken and written by everyone in the last 20 years at least.

Then you ask if I can be "100% positive" about an interpretive decision. No, I can't. Perhaps I can be 98% positive. So, if I have a choice between two translations, one of which agrees with the 98% interpretation and contradicts the 2% interpretation, and the other which agrees with the 2% interpretation and contradicts the 98% interpretation. What should I do? The TNIV translators went with just the 98% interpretation and ignored the 2% one. They could reasonably have put the 2% possibility in a footnote as an alternative. But what they could not do was follow the 2% interpretation and rule out the 98% interpretation, as that would be deliberate distortion of the Word of God. Meanwhile, can you point me to ANY English translation which has translated Psalm 8:4 or even Hebrews 2:6 as a reference to Jesus, which would imply use of capital letters "Son of Man"? If not, you have to agree that the TNIV translators have made the same exegetical choice here which every other English translation team has made. Yes, there may be connotations of Jesus in Psalm 8:4, but no one understands this as an actual reference to Jesus. This possibility does not even get a mention in my scholarly commentary.

Chris, I didn't intend the accusation of idolatry to be personal. But I do believe that there is something here which conservative Americans put before God himself. If this is not true of you personally, I'm sorry. But the most deceptive idols are those which are intended to represent God himself, like the golden calf which Aaron made as an image of the Lord. But God commands us not to worship our human-made images of him, but only him himself. Anyway, Chris, on what basis do you judge certain language changes to be good and others to be bad? Perhaps it is a better way to describe your presuppositions that you believe it possible and meaningful to make such value judgments.

As for the question "Why has the term 'their' replaced the generic masculine term 'him' in the last few years?", this presupposes that this has in fact happened. In fact singular "they" has always been used in English alongside generic "he", as is clear from the examples from Shakespeare, Jane Austen etc which have been given. It has probably always been the regular form in the conversation of less educated people. Over the last couple of centuries people who have been taught old-fashioned prescriptive grammar have tended to avoid it because some self-appointed experts declared it ungrammatical. But it has never disappeared. Indeed it hasn't even had much of a revival yet, but it is gradually becoming more acceptable in written English. This is partly because generic "he" has been rejected as misleading.

 
At Sun Sep 10, 04:49:00 PM, Blogger Taliesin said...

T: "They" should not be used for a singular.

B: Why not?

Because it is confusing.

T: The generic "man" stands for both genders.

B: Not anymore. Not in English.

Google shows 1,550 hits for humankind and 6,990 hits for mankind. Additionally, The American Heritage Book of English Usage: A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contemporary English (1996) states: Despite the objections to the generic use of man, a majority of Usage Panel members still approve of it. . . A majority of the panel also accepts compound words derived from generic man.

T: In order to achieve this neutrality, you are making interpretive decisions, as in Psalm 8:4.

B: True, but that's an issue of interpretation, not language.

Not quite. It is an interpretation of language. The language being used is clouding the ability to interpret. In a similar vein, responding to Peter, the problem with "son of man" is not a 98%/2% decision. In one case, you hide a possible link, in the other you allow the reader to decide if a link exists or not. So the 2% is a non-issue. You are not imposing the 2% on the reader, you are allowing the reader to decide.

 
At Sun Sep 10, 06:30:00 PM, Blogger Chris Hill said...

bulbul (sorry, I don't know your real name),

Yes, Peter's words did amount to an accusation of idolatry: "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...if any attitude or world view we hold, such as Chris Hill's presupposition that language change is bad...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.'
"

To then, yourself, accuse me of idolatry because I called Scripture the words of God (you have misquoted me as well by capitalizing word), is profoundly ridiculous. To that extent, you have accused the majority of committed Christians as idolaters. On top of that, Jesus himself said Scripture cannot be broken and referred to it as the "word of God" (John 10:35 - just one example).

Peter,

I appreciate and accept the apology. God is to be put before any and every thing. However, Jesus is called the "Word of God," and God created everything by his words. So to be concerned about honoring the words of God in Scripture is high priority in worshiping him, not some form of idolatry.

I believe language changes that are good (or perhaps neutral) are ones that evolve with the natural development of communication - changes that help us communicate better. I believe bad changes are ones that are a result of cultural agendas, or changes that are made so as not to offend others. One relevant example I can think of from college is the generic use of the term she, which is used in a form of protest to the generic he. These changes are forced and are not for the sake of clarity. Thus, they are bad.

Other bad changes include ones that are made to dumb down (people will jump on me for that phrase) the language. These changes are not as severe, in my mind, and are often more of a concern for those who hold to the KJV. They are reasonable concerns due to the loss of specific christian theological terms, but do not often change the meaning of translations - only the level of understanding that can be pulled out of them. I only include this here as another form of bad language change (in answer to your question), and have no desire to debate this point at all.

 
At Sun Sep 10, 06:35:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

Because it is confusing.
No it ain't.

Google shows 1,550 hits for humankind and 6,990 hits for mankind
All doubts about Google as a reliable tool in semantic analysis aside, I thougt we were talking about the word "man"...

Not quite. It is an interpretation of language. The language being used is clouding the ability to interpret.
Again, no. These are two different things: interpretation/hermeneutics is the process of discerning the meaning. It is in this part of the translation process that the translators decided that 'son of man' does not refer to Christ. The "language being used is clouding the ability to interpret" refers to the other part of translating - expressing that meaning in the target language.

 
At Sun Sep 10, 07:31:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

Chris,

To then, yourself, accuse me of idolatry because I called Scripture the words of God
If I recall correctly, I was referring to the way you described "God's words". What I reacte strongly to was "God's words are more powerful than culture." It certainly had nothing to to with you referring to the scriptures as such (the capitalization was completely unintentional, a slip of the finger, if you will) - I too believe the Bible to the word of God. I just don't forget that it was written down by human beings living in a human culture in a human language.

To that extent, you have accused the majority of committed Christians as idolaters.
I wonder what could the word "committed" possibly mean...
Definitely not the majority. As far as I know, the Catholic church (including the churches in Union) together with the Eastern churches form a majority of Christians.

I believe bad changes are ones that are a result of cultural agendas
And your fight against 'cultural agendas' isn't a cultural agenda?

or changes that are made so as not to offend others
So you normally refer to African-Americans as "negroes" or "coloreds"?

 
At Sun Sep 10, 07:37:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

Jesus is called the "Word of God,"
Except 'logos' does not necessarily mean 'word'

and God created everything by his words.
In what language were those works spoken? If it indeed was Hebrew, as most believed and some still do, isn't it a sacrilege to translate them?

 
At Sun Sep 10, 07:37:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

works > words.

 
At Sun Sep 10, 07:38:00 PM, Blogger Taliesin said...

T: Google shows 1,550 hits for humankind and 6,990 hits for mankind

B: All doubts about Google as a reliable tool in semantic analysis aside, I thougt we were talking about the word "man"...

We're not talking sematic analysis, we are talking usage. This was one example where "man" (admittedly as a compound) is still used. I notice you ignored the American Heritage Book of English, which dealt specifically with "man" and it's continued use as a generic (i.e. gender neutral) word.

b: Again, no. These are two different things: interpretation/hermeneutics is the process of discerning the meaning. It is in this part of the translation process that the translators decided that 'son of man' does not refer to Christ. The "language being used is clouding the ability to interpret" refers to the other part of translating - expressing that meaning in the target language.

That is exactly what I'm against. It is not the responsibility of the translators to decide whether or not "son of man" refers to Jesus. It should be left up to individuals studying the text.

 
At Sun Sep 10, 09:35:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

We're not talking sematic analysis, we are talking usage.
Yes, we are talking semantic analysis. And even if we weren't:
a) a compound is not the same as a simple word
b) you really get some strange results from Google. I got 34.400.000 for "mankind" (the top hit being a company manufacturing cosmetics for men) and 8.600.000 for "humankind".

I notice you ignored the American Heritage Book of English
That's because I don't have a copy of AHB on me, nor any other respectable dictionary. When I get hold of them, I will get back to you.
But since you brought it up: "Despite the objections to the generic use of man, a majority of Usage Panel members still approve of it". So it's the majority of Usage Panel members who decide on the meaning (semantics) of this word and not the actual speakers?
Sounds awfully prescriptivist to me...

That is exactly what I'm against. It is not the responsibility of the translators to decide whether or not "son of man" refers to Jesus. It should be left up to individuals studying the text.
Full disclosure: I'm a Catholic. I do not believe in sola scriptura, i.e. "individual interpretation".
That being said, in my opinion, translators should be both linguists and exegetes.

 
At Sun Sep 10, 10:30:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

It is not the responsibility of the translators to decide whether or not "son of man" refers to Jesus.

This is correct. That decision was made by the original biblical author, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

It should be left up to individuals studying the text.

Only if there is true ambiguity or if we truly do not know what the original author meant.

If you are discussing the meaning of the Hebrew phrase ben adam translated literally as "son of man" in Ps. 8:4, there is no doubt about the original meaning. The Hebrew phrase in that context is poetically synonymous with the Hebrew enosh, according to how Hebrew poetry indicates such synonymy. In this case the form of the Hebrew tells us clearly what the original meaning was. If we leave it up to users of translations, there is a good chance that many of them will not understand enough about Hebrew to know that ben adam means the same as enosh in this context. It would be more accurate translation for translators to translate the meaning of ben adam accurately and clearly to English since we do know its meaning. It is not a matter of individual or subjective interpretation on the part of a translator, but, rather, of making the original meaning communicate accurately to users of the translation.

Now, if we are translating Heb. 2:6 and following, interpretation does become more difficult and subjective since within the entire passage Jesus is highlighted and Ps. 8:4 is quoted at the beginning of the passage. In this case, we have to be very careful that we do not inject personal interpretation. It is a different matter from the meaning of ben adam in Ps. 8:4, about whose meaning there is no doubt.

BTW, Jesus did not take the wonderful name "Son of Man" from Ps. 8:4. Instead, he took it from the special use of the Hebrew phrase in the book of Daniel and perhaps also Ezekial. Jesus was that special "Son of Man." He was not simply the 'individual person' or 'individual man' of either line of the Hebrew couplet of Ps. 8:4.

All of this shows us how very careful we must be when translating. We must not assume that the same word or phrase means the same each time it appears. Rather, we must translate its meaning that it has within each specific context. And that meaning comes from the original author, not from translators. Translators must never insert their subjective opinions about meanings into a translation. But they also must not be afraid to translate the original biblical meanings fully when it is clear what those meanings are.

 
At Mon Sep 11, 04:10:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Taliesin, how do you translate "son of man" or "Son of Man" and retain the ambiguity between a reference to Christ and no reference to Christ, unless you abandon capital letters for divine persons completely? By avoiding capital letters every English translation I know of rules out a reference to Christ. If you were to use capital letters in a translation, you would be imposing on readers the 2%. In fact on reflection I don't grant even that small probability to the psalm referring to Christ.

You suggested that "It is not the responsibility of the translators to decide whether or not "son of man" refers to Jesus. It should be left up to individuals studying the text." In this case, experts who have studied the text have effectively ruled out a reference to Jesus. Should translators be forced to allow people to misinterpret their translations?

Chris, I worship Jesus Christ, the Word of God. I do not worship the Bible, the word of God. Again the capital letter is significant.

Singular "they", for example, was not invented by people with an agenda. So, it seems, your definition of a bad language change is that it is supported by people who you consider to be bad, or to be promoting a bad agenda. But don't you see where this leads? Is helping the poor bad because it is supported by Communists? Is a positive view of the family bad because it is supported by Fascists? This kind of guilt by association can be used to tarnish and reject anything that you don't like. Anyway, it seems clear to me that generic "man" was disappearing and generic "he" was under threat, implying that generic "they" was likely to become more acceptable, long before anyone started to push for inclusive language as an agenda.

I accept that language changes which reduce clarity might be considered bad, but language naturally compensates for such changes by increasing clarity in other ways. I agreed with criticism of one particular example of singular "they" because there was some ambiguity and loss of clarity. However, most examples of generic "they" are quite clear. I should note that generic "he" has also lost the clarity it once had because of other language changes, and so by the same criterion retention of it can be considered bad.

Bulbul, thank you for your very helpful contributions to this debate.

 
At Mon Sep 11, 05:40:00 AM, Blogger Taliesin said...

Bulbul: I'm using Firefox with the Google toolbar. Numbers come from the pulldown as I typed in the words.

Wayne: BTW, Jesus did not take the wonderful name "Son of Man" from Ps. 8:4. Instead, he took it from the special use of the Hebrew phrase in the book of Daniel and perhaps also Ezekial. Jesus was that special "Son of Man."

Granted. But does that mean that no other OT reference to "son of man" can refer to Jesus?

Peter: unless you abandon capital letters for divine persons completely?

You mean like the ESV has, thereby allowing the reader to decide to whom the personal pronouns refer?

It seems to me we have reached low level philosophical disagreements (presuppositions, if you prefer), so I will tip my hat, and bid you farewell.

 
At Mon Sep 11, 10:38:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

No, not like ESV, which has "son of man" in Psalm 8:4 and Hebrews 2:6, but "Son of Man" in Matthew 8:20 and many other New Testament verses. Haven't the ESV translators made it clear and unambiguous that they do not take Psalm 8:4 or Hebrews 2:6 as a reference to Jesus? Now you might like to argue that there are connotations of Jesus at least in Hebrews 2:6, and that these are lost in TNIV. But your argument that Hebrews 2:6 is a reference to Jesus is, I repeat, entirely lost.

 
At Mon Sep 11, 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Eddie said...

As a native speaker of one form of English (British English, sub diealect, Geordie) I have always used 'they' as a generic singular. This is a legitimate form of English, with historic roots and certainly not an idiological affectation pushed by some academic elite. (I invite those who know the UK to imagine an academic trying to get the coal mining communities of Co Durham to trim their language to fit some sort of political agenda! This is a family website, so I won't suggest what their response might be!)

This background colours my perception (I freely admit) and so my perception of ideological bias in this debate lies with those who would try and ban the use of they for the singular generic. I read comments saying that this form (which is part of my mother tongue) is wrong, bad or, even, unchristian.

The debate over the use of the generic they can revolve around aesthetics ('they' sounds right, 'he' sounds silly - to me that is) or even ideology. However, it cannot be based on 'they' being a recent imposed innovation on the English language.

 
At Mon Sep 11, 08:06:00 PM, Blogger Taliesin said...

No, not like ESV, which has "son of man" in Psalm 8:4 and Hebrews 2:6, but "Son of Man" in Matthew 8:20 and many other New Testament verses. Haven't the ESV translators made it clear and unambiguous that they do not take Psalm 8:4 or Hebrews 2:6 as a reference to Jesus?

Does this mean the ESV translators don't think Rev 1:13 & 14:4 are references to Jesus either? Obviously, where they see Son of Man as a title, they've capitalized it. But for the personal pronoun (he) when refering to Jesus it is left lower case. The issue isn't one of capitals for divine persons, but capital for a title.

 
At Mon Sep 11, 08:41:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Does this mean the ESV translators don't think Rev 1:13 & 14:4 are references to Jesus either?

I think they have done the right thing for both of those passages. The person being referred to is Jesus. I'm sure that all the ESV translators would agree. But the Greek is properly translated to English in the ESV as referring to a person "like a son of man". This is a parallel structure to that of Daniel 3:25 where the ESV has, correctly, IMO, translated as: "the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods".

In each case, the person speaking says that the one they see is like has the appearance of someone else who, biblically, is very special. I happen to believe that it is in each case the Christ.

The Daniel passage does NOT say that the king saw "the Son of God". There is not this concept yet in the Hebrew Bible, although there is a foreshadowing of it in some of the terminology. The concept came into its fullness when Jesus was alive and he called himself the Son of God. And he called himself the Son of Man, which, as you note is a title, not simply a description of someone who looks like a son of man.

Be aware that "son of man" in Hebrew is not a divine term. It is a very common phrase that refers to a human being. But that common phrase took on more and more special meaning in the book of Daniel. And it got its most special meaning when Jesus used the title for himself. And that is where the ESV and other English versions properly, IMO, consider it as a title, rather than a common noun description as it is in the Hebrew Bible and probably also in Rev.

These things are complicated, but they show us how important it is that we consider the meaning of each biblical phrase in its own context. Sometimes "son of man" is a common noun phrase and sometimes it is a title. We should not regard each time it occurs in the Bible as a title for Jesus Christ. That would be inaccurate.

Obviously, where they see Son of Man as a title, they've capitalized it.

Correct.

Good questions. Thanks for them.

 
At Tue Sep 12, 02:43:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Taliesin, you confused me by mentioning Revelation 14:4, but I see from the link that you actually meant 14:14.

The ESV translators could hardly say "one like the Son of Man" with capital letters here, because that would imply that this person is not the Son of Man but only like him, i.e. that he is not Jesus. The confusion is because in this verse and in 1:13 "like a son of man" in fact means something like "of human appearance", cf. TEV "what looked like a human being". The same is true of Daniel 7:13 which is clearly being alluded to. I suppose other translators have been reluctant to translate this phrase according to its meaning because of the complex set of connotations (rather than denotations) of this phrase.

I note that TNIV is almost the same as ESV in these verses, "someone like a son of man", but adds a clarifying footnote "See Daniel 7:13". It also footnotes the first part of the quotation in 1:7 as from Daniel 7:13, and it is this which confirms that the author really was alluding to that verse.

NLT ignores "as" (except in its footnote "Or one who looked like a man") and renders "the Son of Man". I don't think this is accurate translation; nor did the ESV or TNIV translators presumably.

 
At Tue Sep 12, 03:50:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Anon, thanks for the link to Chris Heard's article. Here is the comment I have made on it:

I don't know what "rhyme or reason" TNIV has for this. But the policy which was followed in the Bible translation project I am working on is to use the same name for the same person throughout the Bible, except of course for those cases e.g. Abram to Abraham where there is a record of a change of name. This policy is logical and consistent, and is helpful to ordinary readers, although perhaps not in the rather special circumstances of your class.

On the other hand, NRSV's policy is neither helpful to ordinary readers nor consistent. For, while it preserves the small distinction between "Toi" and "Tou", like almost every other English version it ignores differences like the variation between -yah and -yahu endings of many Hebrew names. The four Hebrew forms Hizqiyahu, Hizqiya, Yehizqiyahu and Yehizqiya, and the Greek form Hezekias (Matthew 1:9,10), all used of the same king, are collapsed together as "Hezekiah". Indeed all Greek names of Old Testament characters are spelled as in the Old Testament, even when this introduces unjustifiable distinctions such as between Joshua and Jesus. I don't say that NRSV's policy is bad in these cases, just that it is inconsistent to make these distinctions with minor characters but not with more significant ones.

 
At Tue Sep 12, 05:07:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I should add to my last comment, for those who don't read it in full, that I have shown that it is not TNIV's translation philosophy which is inconsistent, but NRSV's.

Meanwhile, Anon, have I defeated you on Wayne's examples of singular "they"? If not, I await your further comment.

 
At Wed Sep 13, 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Concerning Christopher Heard's comments on NIV, he has now (in a comment on the same posting) accepted that "my grumble is specific to a specialized need for a limited audience." I accept that for such an audience a version more like NRSV may be better, but it would be better still if it were more consistent.

 
At Wed Sep 13, 05:27:00 PM, Blogger Lance Roberts said...

The United States certainly was founded as a christian nation, study the original documents like the Mayflower Compact.

Deism and the Enlightenment philosophies came on much later, and only got strong after the country was founded, and thereby hastened the decline of Christianity.

 
At Thu Sep 14, 04:15:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Lance, I am confused, but in the history I remember the USA was founded not by the Mayflower group, who were indeed good Christians, but c.1776 by a group who were definitely influenced by the Enlightenment and included deists.

 
At Mon Sep 18, 04:34:00 PM, Blogger Terry said...

Perhaps I have not communicated correctly. When I used the phrase gender neutral, I mean the recent fad to say 'he or she' in a cumbersome way when just 'he' or 'she' would do. Also, I do not mean to say that academia has changed everyone else's language, but they suppose they are teaching everyone the correct way. I think many academic writers are out of touch with normal speech and writing when they use stilted forms. Perhaps I still have not communicated correctly. May blessings flow your way.

 

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