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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lindisfarne Gospels 2

Let me state clearly that this series is done from the perspective of an amateur. My Junia series was composed in the same spirit.

I will leave issues of Anglo-Saxon script and font for a bit and continue with a few of the more decorative features of the Latin text. However, those interested in the Anglo-Saxon glosses should view the text of John's and Luke's gospels which Anonymous contributed in the comment zone of the previous post.

In looking at the illuminated pages I was immediately delighted to note that letters were not always represented in linear fashion but occasionally in a blocked arrangment. How funky is that? I am all for non-linear where possible.

This image, taken from the initial page of Matthew's gospel, is my favourite. It says "Chri(sti) filii David philii Abraham."

Actually I have no idea why the Greek letter phi appears for the second 'filii' - any ideas? Of course, Christ's name is written with a chi throughout but using the Greek chi symbol for Christ within a Latin text is a typical feature of a medieval manuscript. I will provide illustations for more of the nomina sacra in a later post.

Here are a couple of other examples that demonstrate the fanciful nature of the script. The second image says "quidem multi conati sunt ordina..."

And in the last image, the 's' at the beginning of the second line mimics the shape of the chi at the beginning of the preceding line. This says "Chri(sti) fili(i) d(e)i sicut scribtum est..." This is significant because throughout the manuscript the initial letter of a line is used to advantage to create rhythm and shape on every page.
Now if you look carefully at the 'm' in the second line, it resembles three vertical bars tied by a crossbar. Possibly the letter at the end of the first line in the second image is this same letter turned on its side.

Addendum: Regarding the Greek phi and the fanciful 'm', I found this comment on the British Library site.
"The distinctive display script takes elements from many different cultures. There are Roman capitals, Greek characters and angular letters recalling Germanic runes."


March Bible rankings

The CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) has released their March figures for sales of Bibles in their stores during January. Their Bible sales ranked as:
1 King James Version
2 New International Version
3 New Century Version
4 New King James Version
5 New Living Translation
6 English Standard Version
7 Holman Christian Standard Bible
8 New American Standard Bible update
9 The Message Eugene Peterson
10 Reina Valera 1960 (Spanish)
HT: This Lamp, where Rick's post gives more details and comments on the rankings.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lindisfarne Gospels 1

This post is dedicated to beauty and 'exceptional exuberance'. It is also about the first vernacular version of the gospels in English. (This is to give Wayne the heads up that there is a tie-in to translation.) The 'beauty' and 'exuberance' is to communicate happiness to the dear reader. Fortunately I can spin this one out even longer than Junia, so be prepared for a series of visual delight.

This image is from the Lindisfarne Gospels In the British Library. (Right click on the image and open in its own window to view along with this post.) The commentary on this page notes that it is "of quite exceptional exuberance and complexity, offering all the different elements of Eadfrith's decorative vocabulary within a single final tour de force."

A few pages of this manuscript can be viewed at the British Library online gallery* where it is accompanied by this explanation.

    The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the most magnificent manuscripts of the early Middle Ages, was written and decorated at the end of the 7th century by the monk Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698 and died in 721. Its original leather binding, long since lost, was made by Ethelwald, who succeeded Eadfrith as bishop, and was decorated with jewels and precious metals later in the 8th century by Billfrith the Anchorite. The Latin text of the Gospels is translated word by word in an Old English gloss, the earliest surviving example of the Gospel text in any form of the English language, it was added between the lines in the mid 10th century by Aldred, Provost of Chester-le-Street. Today the manuscript is once again bound in silver and jewels, in covers made in 1852 at the expense of Edward Maltby, Bishop of Durham. The design is based on motifs drawn from the decoration of the manuscript itself.
This page is from the first verse of John's Gospel and the text is,

    In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus
    (In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and God)
To make it easier to read, I have broken up the words line by line.

In the upper right hand corner is the yellow inscription 'Johannis aquila' (John eagle.) Below that in red is written 'incipit evangelium secundum Johannis' (begins the gospel according to John.) I will post about the nomina sacra (abbreviations), the symbols preceding and following 'Johannis aquila' and several other features of the script in future posts.

As best as I can see, the interlinear Anglo-Saxon gloss for this page reads as follows,

    in prima fryma vaes uord & uord that is godes sunu vaes mid god fader
Even though this is basically a literal word for word interlinear gloss, one can see already that interpretation is represented. In addition to the interlinear gloss there are also notes in the margin of many pages.

It is also interesting to note that the spelling of the Anglo-Saxon text is not constant. 'Word' is spelled as uord here and word elsewhere in the text.

In the initial letters of this page animal ornament alternates with knotwork, and this is the only page of script in the Lindisfarne gospels in which the face of a human is woven into the lettering.

Notes: *There is a fancy little shockwave pageturner version here with a magnifying glass feature. However, I find the static images far more accessible as the whole page can be viewed full size at one time.

** My Anglo-Saxon is not very good so please feel free to correct my transcription. I cannot find a copy of the Anglo-Saxon text on the internet.

*** I became familiar with the Lindisfarne Gospels through this book by Janet Backhouse which I acquired many years ago. A glance at this book makes me suspect that the colours in the internet pages are not always true.


Is there chiasmus in Acts 20:32?

I continue to spend many hours checking the ISV and emailing the ISV team with my comments. (You, too, can email them with suggestions for changes in the ISV text.) I have finished checking the gospels, Romans, and Philemon, and am currently 2/3 of the way through the book of Acts.

Yesterday I came to ISV Acts 20:32:
I am now entrusting you to God and to the message of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified.
I wrote the ISV team:
Hmm, I'm not sure what the subject of "give" is. I would think that it is God who gives this inheritance. Might there be chiasm here, where God gives the inheritance and they are built up by the message?
Chiasmus was frequently used by Semitic speakers and there are chiastic relationships in a number of Bible passages, including in the New Testament whose Greek is often colored by Semiticisms.

I don't think we can know with certainty if there is an intended chiasmus in Acts 20:32, but it is an intriguing possibility. I have checked other English versions and none of them translate a chiastic structure for this verse, while some do for other passages, such as Matt. 7:6 and Philemon 5.

What do you think?

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Monday, February 26, 2007

The ever-renewing endurance of the vernacular

As I was recently visiting a Christian college, a book in the bookstore caught my eye (not exactly unusual). The title is "Translating the Message, The Missionary Impact on Culture", written by Lamin Sanneh.

A paragraph stands alone, in more ways than one, at the very beginning of the book. It not only convicts the many historians who have, with incredulous blindness to the obvious, missed how Christianity has shone on the human face of this world, but it shows unequaled perception into how the Lord Jesus has used the common language of people to carry the so freely offered message along that very pathway of history.

Here's the quote--read it slowly, since it's packed with keen insight.

The issue that frequently escapes the dragnet of the historian is the cumulative capital Christianity has derived from the common language of ordinary people. To the secular historian this fact has only political significance as a force for incitement; to the economic and social historian it is a fact that creates social mobility, and perhaps social tension. Yet to a Christian the confident adoption of vernacular speech as consecrated vessel places it squarely at the heart of religious change, and thus at the heart of historical consciousness. The central and enduring character of Christian history is the rendering of God's eternal counsels into terms of everyday speech. By that path believers have come to stand before their God.

To the phrase, "vernacular speech as consecrated vessel," I say, "Amen."


7 Reasons Why Not?

Henry Neufeld, who is a long term reader and commenter here on BBB, has posted on one of his own blogs an interesting review, With Reasons Like These..., of an article by Wayne Grudem Key Issues Regarding Bible Translation, also entitled "7 Reasons Why". Henry shows how many of Grudem's arguments in this article don't make much sense, and others simply give good reasons why the Bible can be understood properly only by those who read the original language text.

(PS: As an eagle-eyed commenter noticed, my name temporarily disappeared from the list of BBB contributors, apparently when this blog was updated to the new version of Blogger. When I updated my personal Blogger account to the new version, my name was immediately restored.)


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Essentially Literal

This is a follow up to All things are lawful 2. I had been trying to think of how to define "essentially literal". Does it mean being faithful to the grammatical structure versus the semantic structure? In other words, does it mean to defer to word order or word count instead of word choice? Does it mean representing the morphology faithfully, ie, if Elohim is plural then the English word for God should be plural, if the spirit is neuter, use "it" instead of "he" for the Holy Spirit?

Let's look at an awkward examples. Here is 1 Cor. 14:20,

    Αδελφοι, μη παιδια γινεσθε ταις φρεσιν, αλλα τη κακια νηπιαζετε, ταις δε φρεσιν τελειοι γινεσθε

    Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. ESV
What is this word φρην? According to the lexicon it means the diaphragm. From this it can also mean "the seat of passions, the heart, mind, understanding and reason," take your pick. In this verse, one cannot preserve morphological number, ie the plural, or semantic reference either.

But semantics, on the one hand, and morphology and syntax, on the other are often in conflict. In translation one might be able to preserve one at the expense of the other. But, preserving both. Hmm. This is difficult.

However, just recently, the ESV site provided an explanation of their term 'essentially literal' in this post which is interesting for other reasons as well.

    At the same time, in accord with its “essentially literal” translation philosophy, the ESV has retained consistency and concordance in the translation of Christos (“Christ”) throughout the New Testament.
    we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original (ESV Preface)
Let's look at the ESV and see how it abides by its intention of maintaining concordance. I thought I would choose the word εξουσια and the English word authority for example.

Here is εξουσια and its various translations into English. And then I will present those same English words with their various Greek equivalents.

I English equivalents for εξουσια in the ESV

Matt. 7:29 authority (and many other places)

Acts 8:19 power (and many other places)

1 Cor. 8:9 right

1 Cor. 11:10 symbol of authority (only this once)

Rev. 13:17 strength

II Now let's go in the other direction.

a) authority

In most places -εξουσια

1 Tim. 2:13 - αυθεντειν (a one off)

b) power

Luke 22:69 - δυναμις

Acts 8:19 - εξουσια

c) right

John 18:23 - καλως

Acts 2:33 - δεξια

Acts 4:19 - δικαιον

Acts 6:2 - αρεστον

Acts 10:35 - δικαιοσυνην

1 Cοr. 8:9 - εξουσια

1 Cor. 9:15 (no Greek found for 'right' in this verse)

d) symbol of authority

1 Cor. 11:10 - εξουσια (found only this once - strange how men have 'rights' and women have a 'symbol of authority' - and then they call this constancy and concordance!)

e) strength

Mark 5:4 - ισχυεν

Luke 1:51 - κρατος

Acts 9:22 - ενεδυναμουτο

Acts 14:22 - επιστηριζοντες

2 Cor. 1:8 - δυναμιν

Okay, this is what I think. The ESV only occasionally wanders right off course in its translation. However, if the ESV blog identifies 'essentially literal' with concordance, then it needs to reconsider. I have asked the editor about this, does he really think the ESV provides concordance, and he said "That is what we set out to do."

The problem is that when I complete a study like this I remember that the ESV translators have these notions about men and women,

    God gave men, in general, a disposition that is better suited to teaching and governing in the church, a disposition that inclines more to the rational, logical analysis of doctrine and a desire to protect the doctrinal purity of the church, and God gave women, in general, a disposition that inclines more toward a relational, nurturing emphasis that places a higher value on unity and community in the church
so they won't actually consider a study like mine as having validity. The ESV translators will persist in their belief that they have produced concordance. Or maybe they simply mean that authority is not an important concept. I can handle that.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Brothers Cont.

I notice that we are talking about brothers again. Bother! Always a little weird since the words 'brethren' and 'brothers' have such different cultural overtones in so many contexts. To add to that, we have our attention brought back to the brothers and sisters of Matt. 19:29. Sometimes I think that the BBB posts should just be turned into a loop. I am almost positive we covered this before.

However, I have a little new light to cast on this. I have often wondered what the translators of the 16th and 17th century really thought about words like αδελφος. Now I have a least a glimmer of an idea.

At Christmas my aunt gave me a 1654 Christianus Schotanus Greek - Latin lexicon. Here are two entries in it.

αδελφος - frater, cognatus, consanguinis, Christianus, proximus, popularis

αδελφη - soror, Christiana, uxor, cognata

For what its worth! Fascinating, isn't it? Your neighbour is your brother and your wife is your sister. And by that same token, why isn't your wife your neighbour?

In any case, you must notice that there is a certain latitude, a breadth of interpretation allowing discretion in translation. We must recall those good old days.


Brothers, some of you may have already noticed a new poll which has been in the right margin of this blog for a couple of days. It has a magenta background (is that an appropriate color for brothers?!) and asks what meanings you have for the English word "brothers." I invite you to take the poll when you have time. You can select as many of the options as you wish which give meanings which you personally have for the word "brothers".

Oh, did any of you feel left out the way that I began this post? If so, that would indicate that your understanding of the word "brothers" is different from some others who have responded to the poll.

Feel free to discuss the poll and the English word "brothers" in comments to this post.

Also, today I was required to convert BBB to use the new Blogger system. I hope that all of you will be able to continue accessing and commenting on this blog as easily as in the past. Please let me know if you have any difficulties with BBB under the new Blogger system.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Living letters

Suzanne has gifted all of us by sharing a painful part of her life in the preceding post. It has encouraged me to share my story under my own name. It's scary because I have refrained from doing so for so long so that I can protect confidentiality of those involved. But I'm trusting that this blog is a safe place with understanding visitors.

Since this is a blog about Bible translation, I want to tell you all about one of the biggest breakthroughs I experienced in our tribal Bible translation work. Just before I turned 40, our mission supervisor required us to leave our work, move our family far away, and enter a counseling program for therapy to address the lifelong effects of child abuse. That was a very difficult time, but I applied myself as best as I could to therapy. Eventually, the cover came off the cesspool of masked emotions which I had protected for so long. I didn't want to live anymore. I had always been afraid of people and had stuttered badly as a child, I was so afraid. I wanted to tell others something of how I was dealing with the issues of the past, but when I tried to do so before one of our donor churches, I had a panic attack. I gutted it out (as I thought a "real man" would do), but could not control my body and started going into a black fog of fainting. I could hear myself speaking more and more slowly. Finally, I had to be honest and just say I wasn't feeling well. I asked my wife to come up and finish for me. For a year after that I was mute, like Zechariah, John's father, in public, unable to do any public speaking.

The next summer we had a break and were able to visit back on the reservation where we had been translating. Our pastor there notified me ahead of time that he had to be gone our first Sunday back and asked me to take his place, sharing with the congregation "what you've been learning" in counseling. I didn't tell him "no", I guess because I was too afraid to do so.

The Sunday arrived and I had no idea how I would be able to speak, let alone speak about what I'd been learning as a person. Our pastor's cousin was the worship leader that Sunday and noticed where I was sitting on the porch of our old office building next to the church. He asked me if our pastor had asked me to speak and I say yes. Then I somehow had the courage to tell him that I didn't know if I could speak. (I had often done so there before, but that was before dealing with the junk stuffed away in the closets of my psyche.) And then I heard from him what I had never heard before in my life, "It's OK if you can't speak. We'll figure something else out." "Failure" had never been an option in our abusive family when I was growing up.

The service started. The time came when the worship leader opened the floor for anyone to share anything they wanted. I wanted so much to speak, but was so afraid. But I started talking. I just sat in my pew. I doubt that I could have spoken if I had gone to the front to stand behind the pulpit. For the next twenty minutes I told the people for whom we had come to translate the Bible why we had to leave them and what we had been dealing with. I told them about the child abuse. I cried the whole time even though men in their culture are not supposed to cry. They cried with me. After the service they hugged me. One lady, who later became the main translator, told me, "Well, now we know why you had to leave. We thought there were something wrong with us because you told us you had to go away to deal with interpersonal issues." That day we became one with those people. The tables were turned. The people to whom we had come to minister ministered to us. They knew all about abuse. Many of their lives were filled with it. They thought nothing less of us.

We still had a year or two of therapy to go. It was always difficult. But we made progress and our family was rescued. Our children felt safer from their critical, workaholic father. It helped when I would journal and record my experiences in poetry. Eventually we were allowed to return to the tribal translation program. Somehow it was not the same as it had been in the previous years. Our relationships with people took on a different tone. The translation effort was still difficult, but there was a new integrity to it. The translation process became less cognitive and more relational, even while the quality of translation itself improved, both in terms of accuracy and clarity.

I mentioned in a comment on Suzanne's post that I used to have a banner on my college dorm room which said in bold, shimmering letters: TRANSLATE. I understood it in two ways, first, it addressed my desire to become a Bible translator, and second, it represented my desire that my life would translate the Bible for others. Little did I know then that when I was 40 years old the people for whom we were translating helped me translate the freeing message of the Bible into my own life in a way that I had never been able to previously. It reminds me of what Paul wrote:
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:3-4, NET)
I am passionate about translating the Bible for those who do not have it in their language (including those have a Bible translation but one which is not translated into natural forms of their language). But since going through those difficult times of dealing with my past--and I am continuing to do so--I am even more passionate about wanting to help people experience personal freedom through good news from God written in the Bible. I have been privileged to help a number of people who have been abused. I never would have chosen this kind of ministry for myself, but God ...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

William Carey

There have been so many posts recently that I wish to link to but this is the most recent so here it goes. Justin Taylor always has informative posts. Here is an excerpt from yesterday's.

    It is no small lesson that that the great missionary, William Carey, who labored to bring the Gospel to India, who translated the Bible into three languages over 40 furlough-less years, and portions of the Bible into some 30 dialects, also labored to end child-killing in India. The prolife legislation that finally outlawed the practice of throwing babies into the Ganges River to be eaten by alligators is called Carey’s Edict. The Gospel saves the innocent and proclaims good news to the guilty. They are not at odds with each other or Christ would not have pointed to the Samaritan and said, “Go and do likewise.” When we preach Christ and him crucified, we are proclaiming the extreme end to which God proves his love of human life; body and soul.
This made me sad because I had just finished reading a book written by a contemporary bible translator - a good book, I might add, full of references to people and professors that I knew well. I should have enjoyed this book and I did. But suddenly near the end I had the strangest feeling that I had possibly just witnessed a real life crime. With reference to a conversation the author and bible translator had with a young woman (referred to by the author as his sister) who had run away from her husband repeatedly, this is what was written,

    I told them I was working on Titus 2:5 where wives are instructed to be "good housewives [and] submit to their husbands". I asked my sister if she lived this way; her response was a mumbled negative. I turned to my brother-in-law and communicated the idea of verse 6, "urge the young men to be self-controlled". This young man had a violent temper and the verse grabbed his attention. I then encouraged both of them to act in a manner that would not allow others to criticize their behaviour, prayed with them and extracted a promise to return to their village and work on their relationship.
I shut the book ill with the realization that the author, the proof-readers, the editors and publishers had not been aware that they were in all liklihood witness to a tale of violence, of a missionary and bible translator sitting by and counselling someone to suffer violence without reprieve.

There is a great deal of rant about not conceding to culture, but thanks partially to the influence of feminism, now the state presses charges against the violent spouse these days, not the indidvidual. However, I sat and listened today as a lawyer friend recounted to me the situation of a woman who just this past Christmas, in this city, was duct-taped wrists, ankles and mouth by her husband. On her rescue she began writing her statement to the police when she put down her pen and refused to continue. The police will not be able to press charges.

This incident will not be mentioned in the statistics. This particular husband was not a Christian, but an article in the Vancouver Sun last month refered to the fact that the Mennonites found that even within their ostensibly pacifist community, spousal abuse occurs at the same rate as among non-Christians.

Are ministers and missionaries aware that preaching submission means that some women are carefully monitored by their husbands, phone calls listened to, friendships limited, income restricted, authority over children denied and confidence undermined at every turn. The pattern of submission puts these women in a position where they will not tell others of physical abuse because they know that then they will have to leave abruptly and they lack the confidence to do that. They do not have the confidence to reconstruct a life in which they may not have adequate training, a job, a car, a credit rating, a bank account, a name of their own, and a pattern of self-sufficiency. The church may never know how many lives are ruined by the preaching of submission because it is usually beneath the dignity of either partner to reveal this information.

I have read William Carey's autobiography many times with great interest. Let's remember this tribute,
    His prolonged efforts for social reform led to the passage of laws prohibiting the heathen practice of infanticide, disposing of children for religious or economic motives; and abolishing the suttee rite of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Carey, who was a century ahead of his day in insights into co-operative Christianity, is beyond doubt "the greatest and most versatile Christian missionary sent out in modern times.
This is the legacy of William Carey. What will be the legacy of this generation of bible translators?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Can you stomach translation of Matt. 1:18?

(Sorry for the bad pun in the title, but I'm not so sorry that I restrained myself from using it!)

The Greek of Matthew 1:18 is:
Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν. μνηστευθείσης τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ Μαρίας τῷ Ἰωσήφ, πρὶν συνελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου.
Word-for-word translation to English is:
but Jesus Christ-of the birth thus was.
betrothed the mother of-him Mary the-to
Joseph-to, before they.came.together was.found in
belly having by spirit holy.
The Greek that we want to focus on in this post is ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα (en gastri exousa), translated literally, word-for-word, as "in belly having" or, rearranged closer to English word order, "having in belly." This is how the meaning for 'be pregnant' was expressed in the Greek of the New Testament.

For a number of months there has been a poll (red background) in the right margin of this blog which has asked how you would express that Greek meaning of being pregnant in English "As you normally speak and write..." Many of you have responded and I thank you for that. It is time to discuss the results (and shortly remove the poll):

(There was a typo in the poll introduction in the reference. It should have been Matt. 1:18 instead of 1:28, but that typo should not have influenced the poll itself, and I believe we may have discussed the typo soon after the poll was posted on this blog.)

Nearly one half of the total of 413 respondents indicated they they would "normally speak and write" the Greek meaning of being pregnant with the English words "was pregnant." So for Matt. 1:18, these respondents would, presumably, translate all of the Greek of this verse similar to this:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. (NET)
35% of respondents answered that their normal way of speaking or writing the meaning of the Greek would be to say that Mary "was with child." I find this answer interesting as well as surprising. I say surprising because I have never heard anyone "normally speak or write" that someone was pregnant by saying that they were "with child." But perhaps there are more than a third of the visitors to this blog who do normally speak or write that way. Or, maybe my instructions for the poll were not clear enough when I wrote that responses should be "As you normally speak and write..." Or, perhaps my instructions were clear, but the fact that the poll referred to a Bible verse may have had more influence over poll results than the instruction to answer "As you normally speak and write..." It may be that many of you who answered "was with child" did so based on your familiarity with one or more Bible versions which use that wording, rather than "As you normally speak and write..."

For those who are interested in the issue of literal or essentially literal or word-for-word translation, we should note that "was with child" is not translated according to any of these translation approaches. English "was with child" is no closer in form to literal "having in the belly" than is English "was expecting" or "was pregnant." Each of the English translations refers to the same thing. They all mean the same except that wordings such as "was in a family way," "was expecting," and "was with child" are euphemisms, less direct than "was pregnant." There used to be a cultural taboo against English speakers using the word "pregnant" publicly. That taboo seems to be gone today.

I would invite comments from you all on the poll results. Do you feel you answered the poll "As you normally speak and write..." or did you answer more according to how you remember some Bible version has translated the Greek for being pregnant?

If you did not respond with "with child" you are still welcome to comment on the poll results.

Another question which could be discussed is: How might we write the instructions for poll questions more clearly when we desire to know how people normally speak and write, if that is different from how they speak or write when using Bible English?

Perhaps someone might want to comment on any literary superiority that any of the poll answer options might have over any other options.

The floor is now open to discussion. As always, let's please keep our comments gracious. There were no right or wrong answers for this poll, so there is no need to criticize anyone for their answers in the poll (or even their comments to this post).

Yet, as we think about what kind of language to use in Bible translations, it is appropriate to ask how people normally speak and write and try to determine if this is the same as or different from how they speak and write within the context of a religious community. We can even ask what the advantages and disadvantages are of having a special religious dialect different from how people normally speak and write. Such questions are not intended to criticize anyone.

Language study is simply that, study of observations of how people speak and/or write. And Bible translation uses language which can be studied. Bible translators choose what kind of language to use in their translations. By discussing observations of language usage and advantages and disadvantages of using different kinds of dialects in Bible translations, we may be able to contribute to the effort to make better Bibles, including the effort being made today from some Bible translations teams (such as TNIV, NET, ESV, and ISV) to improve their translations. Click on links to those translations in the right margin of this blog, if you wish information on how you can submit suggestions for improvements for them. And if you don't find the information you are looking for, ask in a comment.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ESV and TNIV, another comparison

Blogger and dedicated Bible reader David McKay today compares the ESV and TNIV. David has done his homework:
Now I have read the whole bible in both versions. All 260 chapters of the New Testament and all 929 chapters of the Old Testament. And what I have discovered is that both versions interpret, and the ESV does it much more than its promoters would like you to believe. I'm not criticising their translation technique, but I am warning that what is said about it is not completely accurate.

I think it may be true to say that the ESV is less interpretive than the TNIV.
David adds these important observations:
We are also led to believe that the TNIV uses gender-inclusive language, whereas the ESV retains the masculine language of the bible. But this is not really exact either. If you compare the RSV [on which the ESV is based] and the NIV [on which the TNIV is based] with their later incarnations, you will see immediately that the main differences between both old versions and their new editions is the use of gender-inclusive language.

For the most part, both new editions have removed the masculine language of the RSV and NIV where there was none in the original. Both versions also have used gender-inclusive language to clarify what the original authors meant.

However the ESV translation is fairly squeamish about translating a Hebrew or Greek masculine word by an inclusive word [or words] in English, even where it is clear that the word was used in an inclusive way.

So in Romans 1:13 where the TNIV has
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you
the ESV says
Romans 1:13 want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you
but has a rather lengthy, clarifying footnote link from the word brothers which says
Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated "brothers") refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to men or to both men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God's family, the church.
Now if the TNIV occasionally uses gender-inclusive language where it is not necessary, it is also true that the ESV's retention of masculine language sometimes obscures the writer's meaning.
David concludes, fairly:
Which is the best version? I think we need both. We use the TNIV for daily reading, but I often check the ESV rendering for added clarity.

Why we are reading the ESV

(UPDATE: This is the same blog post that many of you have already read. I have adjusted the date-stamp so that the post will remain at the top of this blog for several days to give as many people as possible a chance to state in the Comments to this post why they voted for the ESV in our Bible-reading poll. Thank you to each one who has commented so far. Your answers are informative. Please look below this post to read other new posts.)

Since this blog began (more than 1000 posts ago), I have posted several invitations for those who use the ESV to state in as objective a fashion (non-ideological, please) why they do so. With this post I extend that invitation again, especially now that the ESV won hands down in our New Year's resolution Bible reading poll.

Some reasonable answers have been suggested in comments to my preceding post to explain why the ESV won in our poll. They included that the ESV, along with the TNIV, are the "new kids on the block," so there is a natural curiosity about them. I know that feeling. I like to spend time reading a new English Bible to discover what kind of a translation it is.

If you were one of those who answered that you would wanted to read the ESV through during 2006, please comment on this post explaining why you have chosen the ESV, rather than some other version, to read.

I would like to understand the poll results better.

So, this is your turn. I'll suggest some possible answers just to stimulate your thinking, but I won't limit the possible answers for you in another poll. You can word your answers as you please in comments to this post. Here are just some ideas. There are many more.

Do you read the ESV because you have discovered it to be the most scholarly reliable of all the English versions?

Do you read it because your knowledge of Biblical Hebrew and Greek leads you to conclude that the ESV is the most accurate English translation?

Are you reading the ESV this year out of curiosity because it is a new translation?

Are you reading the ESV because some preacher that you respect has recommended the ESV?

Are you reading the ESV because it has wordings which are familiar to you from some Bible version you have used much in the past?

Are you reading the ESV to try to understand why I and some other BBB bloggers don't care for its English, even though the ESV publisher says it has high quality literary English?


Now let's everybody be fair to each other here. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and we need to respect that. Let's try to have this be a safe place for people to express their opinions.

Monday, February 19, 2007

translating biblical cohesion

All well-formed discourses share a number of important characteristics. One of them is cohesion. Cohesion is linguistic "glue" that holds a text together. It helps us see an idea that an author wishes to maintain throughout a section of discourse. Cohesion can be maintained in a variety of ways, including repetition of the same words, or use of synonyms, to keep a focus on a concept behind those words.

A couple of days ago I was reviewing translation of a section of the gospel of John. It was worded like this in the version I was checking:
While Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, many people believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. Jesus, however, did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and didn't need anyone to tell him what people were like, because he himself knew what was in every person. (John 2:23-25)
This translation basically makes sense to me, as it is worded. But for some reason I decided to check the Greek underlying the wordings "believed in his name" and "did not entrust himself to them." I discovered that the Greek verb, pisteuw, behind each wording was identical (apart from adjustments for different subject prefixes for those verbs). Because the repetition of the verb was so close within the text, I wondered if the author of this gospel, known for deliberately using stylistic tools for rhetorical effect, was doing just that here. The more I thought about it and examined other English versions, the more I sensed that the author was using lexical cohesion here, using the same Greek verb, in order to contrast the way that the people trusted Jesus but he did not trust them.

We might be able to understand that contrast clearly from the words used in the translation above, words which are in the same semantic set, namely, "believe in" and "entrust to" but I wondered if the contrast could be made clearer in English, as clear as in the Greek, if the repetition of the same verb was stylistically deliberate. So I suggested to the translators of that version that they consider a revision to:
While Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, many people trusted him because they saw the signs that he was doing. Jesus, however, did not trust them, because he knew all people and didn't need anyone to tell him what people were like, because he himself knew what was in every person.
It can be argued whether my omission of literal "in his name" (which is the synecdoche figure of speech where the name of a person represents that person) is legitimate or not, but let's save that argument for another time.

For now, let's focus on the lexical cohesion in the translation of the Greek verb pisteuw. What do you think? Do you think that repetition was deliberate? If so, does it seem to you legitimate to try to translate the Greek verb in such a way that the English in each case is referring to the same thing? Can you think of any better ways to make clear the lexical cohesion of the Greek text here?

I found one other version which attempts to bring out the lexical cohesion which I suggest is part of this text:
Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn't trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like. (NLT)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

unveiling the ESV

A couple of days ago I quoted from the RSV in a comment on another BBB post. I quoted 1 Cor. 11:10 which reads:
That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.
Then I noticed that the ESV had revised that wording to:
That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Notice that RSV "veil" has been revised to ESV "symbol of authority." The ESV wording is more accurate than that of the RSV. There is no veil in the underlying Greek. Instead, there is the Greek word exousia which means 'authority.' Louw and Nida state in their lexicon that exousia can also refer to 'a symbol of authority,' besides simply 'authority.' I don't know what the consensus of Greek lexicographers on this point would be.

For the record, the revision from "woman" to "wife" is legitimate, in terms of the Greek lexicon, but it is an interpretational choice which the ESV translators have made for us. The Greek word gune can refer either to a woman or a wife. In this context, I would tilt toward the ESV translation, but it is still a choice. It is important to note this since it is often claimed that dynamic equivalent translations make translation choices for their readers. Well, the truth is that essentially literal translations do, as well. They may not make as many, but they still do make many translation choices. So the difference between essentially literal translations and dynamic equivalent ones is not a qualitative one, between whether or not they make translation choices for readers. At most, on this particular issue there is a quantitative difference between essentially literal and dynamic equivalent translations. For anyone who might be concerned at this point, and if it helps any (it might not!), I happen to believe what many others have pointed out, that every translation involves making translation choices. There is no such thing as automatic translation, where translation can be done without making choices at all. The bigger question is whether or not the choices that are made are legitimate ones. And that becomes a matter of careful exegesis, including study of biblical scholarship on any biblical passage.

There are a number of other passages where the ESV has increased accuracy over the RSV. What are some of those passages that you are aware?

If you are aware of any passages where you feel the ESV revision is less accurate than the RSV, feel free to mention them also. Just please be clear whether the passage you mention is one you feel is more or less accurate than it is in the RSV.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Children of God

I will be quite frank and say that as a woman worshiping within a conservative Christian community most of my life, I have never had occasion to address a congregation or teach a group of adults from the scripture, (except for that infamous Greek class of course). But, my perspective - affected by this accident of nature, my femininity, that is - when it comes to translation, is almost entirely focused on what the text means to the unchurched, or my wider community.

On Monday I saw this verse, Matthew 5:9 displayed on an immense banner in a public building in Vancouver,

    Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
From this I would deduce that - a) the general public believes that peacemaking reflects the purpose of God, b) that God is not entirely irrelevant to modern society, c) that the KJV is better known than the RSV and its derivatives, d) that peacemakers are male and female, e) that we are the children of God because we are made in his image. As our anonymous commenter has pointed out,

    that each person, having been created in the Divine Image, and having had spirit breathed into him by God, is a "Child of God", regardless of religion.
That is how I see it, and to add my two cents to the Bible poll, only two versions of the Bible have ever been mentioned to me by the unchurched, the KJV and the Good News Bible. If I had to pick only two ... Oh, I think I have said this before.

"sons of God" poll

(UPDATE: I have removed this poll from the blog. I confess to feeling frustrated that I have not been able to word the poll adequately to do a decent field test for the words "sons of God." I will leave up this post and anyone is welcome to continuing discussing the poll and the words "sons of God," however you wish to discuss them--no limits this time from me about how you "normally understand English that is spoken or written." If you have suggestions for how the poll could have been worded better, I would very much appreciate that. Feel free to comment on anything else that could have been improved about the poll. If we, together, can come up with a better way to word the poll, that would be good and I can put up a revised poll. Thank you to each of you who answered the poll so far.)

There is a new poll in the right margin of this blog. It is green and is introduced by these words:
As I normally understand English that is spoken or written, I would understand the words "sons of God" in some translations of Matt. 5:9 to refer to:
Please note the words "As I normally understand English that is spoken or written." These words are key to how anyone should respond in this poll. Think of it this way: In your everyday, normal English, what does the word "sons" mean to you? Does it only refer to males, or can it include females, as well. For instance, if you have several children, let's say, two girls and one boy, can you address them all by calling them "sons"?

Our normal, everyday, ordinary understanding of English should be the same as how we understand the longer phrase "sons of God," other than that whatever "sons" means to you would reference God as parent, rather than someone else, such as yourself. Our understanding of the word "sons" should not, as far as I know, be affected by the fact that we are testing a phrase from translation of a verse from the Bible. English Bible versions are written in English, which, we would assume, is the same English language that we understand in our language encounters outside of the Bible.

So, if you answer that the word "sons of God" only means to you "male believers" you are answering that the English word "sons" only refers to male offspring of someone. If you answer that "sons of God" refers to both male and female believers, then you are stating that for you the English word "sons" includes both male and female children.

If for some of you the word "sons" changes meaning when we add the prepositional phrase "of God" to it, that is a very important linguistic phenomenon, and we want to know about it. If this is the case for you, please do state that in Comments to this post. If you can, please give us some background information, explaining how the word "sons" changes meaning for you. Perhaps you can tell who taught you that the word "sons" can change meaning. Any kind of background information like that would be most interesting as we study both the biblical languages and English to try to find out the most appropriate (including accurate) ways to translate biblical language words to English.

There are no right or wrong answers in this poll. Feel free to answer honestly as you understand the word "sons" and its meaning in the phrase "sons of God."

We can deal in another post whether or not the English word "sons" is an appropriate translation for the Greek word huioi of Matt. 5:9. That is not the issue in this poll. In this poll we are only testing what "sons of God" means to you, as you understand the English language.

If you believe that there is anything flawed about how the poll is worded, please note that in the Comments to this post also. I always want to improve my polls.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Metzger dies at age 93

Bruce Metzger, biblical scholar and English Bible translator, has died of natural causes at age 93. Click here to read the AP News article, and click here for the NCC news release. Click here for Ben Witherington's tribute to Metzger in CT.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love means never having to say ... "What does that mean?"

OK, OK, I changed the original wording. But it's Valentine's Day and I felt like using that allusion in the title to a movie line about love. On this day when we celebrate love, I celebrate God's love for me. I became part of God's family when I was very young, about four years old. But due to some things which I cannot discuss openly yet, I did not really comprehend God's love for me until I was 41 years old. God had to break through some cognitive barriers I had erected so that I would know he loves me, really know it. My relationship to God has been more genuine since that time.

Today I also celebrate my wife's love for me (always unconditional, wow!) and mine for her. She has struggled for more than two years with a serious illness that saps her strength and causes her very intelligent mind not to work so well. I admire her even more today than I did before she became sick. Oh, I did remember to give her a Valentine's Card today. (Guys and gals, if you haven't yet expressed your love for your significant other today, there is still time.)

OK, so what does all this have to do with the title of this post. Well, let's see if I can pull us back there. I do love God and I know he loves me. In a real sense I have loved his written word, the Bible, since I was a small child. I do love the job I have of helping to translate the Bible into other languages. I try to be careful not to let "love" for the Bible to take the place of love for God. They can't be the same. But I care so much about God's written word that I am passionate about it, passionate that it get translated into Bibleless languages, and passionate that it be translated into languages that do have the Bible in a way that people can understand it accurately and clearly. I believe that it is possible to have both, accuracy and clarity. I realize that some visitors to this blog may get tired of my same old, same old sermon on this topic. But it really is my passion in life. I speak from my heart, from where I love, when I plead for both accuracy and clarity in Bible translations. It is because I love God and his word that I lobby for the use of standard forms of English in English Bibles. When we find standard English forms to express the meanings of the original biblical language forms, we increase the ability of translation users to understand the original meanings of the biblical text as accurately as possible. And I'm serious when I use the word "accurately" in this way. Accuracy has to do with communicating a message faithfully. Accuracy is not something that exists in the abstract in a text. It is part of a relationship between a text and how someone understands that text.

So, even if it sounds a little corny, I love God's word so much that I don't want to have to say when I read parts of it, "What does that mean?" Now, I recognize that there are concepts in the Bible which I probably will never understand very well. We got hit with one of those in our Sunday School class this last Sunday. We struggled with the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob, who was set up by his mother, who deceived his father to get that birthright. Jacob's mother knew that Esau was not the right son to get the blessing that would be carried on down through many more generations of their people. So she took things into her own hands to produce the right outcome. Did the ends justify the means? Could a sovereign God have used some other way to ensure that Jacob carried on the blessing instead of Jacob? These are difficult questions for me. But I can understand the text itself clearly without understanding these difficult concepts.

I am not suggesting that all parts of the Bible were perfectly clear in the original. There are difficult things in the biblical texts, not just difficult concepts, but difficult wordings, things which we are not sure how to translate, problems with textual variants, etc.

But we still have a pretty decent text, overall. And it can be translated both accurately and clearly, so that ...

we may never have to ask, "What does that mean?" as we read its words expressed in standard English syntax following proper English lexical rules.

If the Bible is translated that well (and it is an ideal; there is no such perfect translation), we can come to love it even more, and, better yet, come to love even more the One whose love for all of us is made so clear throughout the biblical texts.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

an aging translation

I have just finished commenting on an English translation of Luke 11:29b:
This generation is an evil generation.
The translation employs the traditionally used English word "generation" to translate the Greek word genea of this verse. But is "generation" the most accurate English translation of genea in this context? Let's examine the lexical data.

First, let's look at the Greek lexicon. Louw and Nida explain genea as:
people living at the same time and belonging to the same reproductive age-class - ‘those of the same time, those of the same generation.’ ...

The expression ‘the people of this generation’ may also be expressed as ‘the people living now’ or ‘the people of this time.’ Successive generations may be spoken of as ‘groups of people who live one after the other’ or ‘successions of parents and children.’
BDAG gloss genea as:
  1. those exhibiting common characteristics or interest, race, kind
  2. the sum total of those born at the same time, expanded to include all those living at a given time and freq. defined in terms of specific characteristics, generation, contemporaries
  3. the time of a generation, age
I am certain that Jesus intended the meaning of Louw and Nida's second paragraph, which is the same as BDAG's gloss 2. Do most English speakers know that meaning for the word "generation"? And, more importantly, would they understand that meaning sense to be the one used in Luke 11:29?

Now let's look at the English lexicon. My American Heritage dictionary gives these meaning senses for the word "generation":
  1. All of the offspring that are at the same stage of descent from a common ancestor: Mother and daughters represent two generations.
  2. Biology. A form or stage in the life cycle of an organism: asexual generation of a fern.
  3. The average interval of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring.
  4. a. A group of individuals born and living about the same time. b. A group of generally contemporaneous individuals regarded as having common cultural or social characteristics and attitudes: “They're the television generation” (Roger Enrico).
  5. a. A period of sequential technological development and innovation. b. A class of objects derived from a preceding class: a new generation of computers.
  6. The act or process of generating; origination, production, or procreation.
Meaning sense 4 is the meaning of genea which is used in Luke 11:29. The question for translation accuracy then must be raised: Is meaning sense 4 commonly enough used that English Bible readers will know that it is that meaning and not meaning sense 1, for instance, intended in Luke 11:29? I don't know the answer to this question. But I think we could find the answer if we did sufficient field testing among people who are potential readers of our English Bibles.

To perform the field test, we would need to read enough of the context so that those being tested would have adequate clues to what the meaning of "generation" might be. I would think that all of verse 29 would be a sufficient context, but there would be nothing wrong with supplying a larger context to those with whom we are testing the translation.

We could then ask individuals, "What group of people does it sound like Jesus is addressing?" If they answer with the word "generation," then we would need to follow up and ask, "And what would you understand "generation" to mean in this context?"

How would you answer these questions?

Monday, February 12, 2007

All things are lawful 2

To continue our discussion of 1 Cor. 10:23, I would like to identify a few criteria for a good translation. Frankly the term 'literal' is simply irritating to me. I have no idea what value a word-for-word translation could possibly have.

I do think that a translation which is 'transparent to the Greek' might have value. But I do not agree that this has ever been properly calibrated, so when that claim is made it does not mean much to me. Let's try these qualifiers.

First off, if the translation gives some idea of the semantic relationships it might be more transparent to the Greek. It might not be a good translation on the basis of actual meaning but it would connect the reader to allusions and relationships within Greek discourse.

Second, the stylistic characteristics are important. Is there a concrete metaphor in Greek and can it be translated? Often these metaphors are dead, and may counter the communication of meaning - but sometimes they are not - they add colour.

Third, with reference to style. I personally hold that the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary reflects the Greek language better. Greek does not have the mix of language roots that English does. In fact, English is unusual in having such a mixed source of vocabulary. Not unique, but atypical. I leave myself open to correction here by others - let's see what comes up.

Here is the verse again, (I am avoiding textual issues)

Now, let's try this,

    "I have the right to do anything," but not all things are helpful. "I have the right to do anything", but not all things build up.
Let's make this a tad closer to the Greek.

    "One has the right to do all things," but not all things are helpful. "One has the right to do all things," but not all things build up.
Now we have the Anglo-Saxon roots, it is about as transparent to Greek semantics as one can get, and the word order and other grammatical features are preserved. I am not saying that this is the best translation - that depends on your definition of best - but I suggest that it is transparent to the Greek.

I have deliberately chosen the impersonal pronoun to strengthen the impression that this is a quote - an aphorism - and to avoid imposing a pronoun not supplied in the Greek. This may not be the best register, but I would suggest it is 'transparent to the Greek'.

I don't suppose that anyone will like this version, but simply, this could be an example of what is 'transparent to the Greek'. Let's define this quality and then make claims about certain translations.

I had the unfortunate experience of hearing a minister recently explain that he had chosen a certain translation on the basis of a claim he read in the preface. But he was unable to verify whether this claim was true. I have also heard remarks that certain translations are "dumbed down." And how would one define that - I ask.

Thank you to commenters for inspiration.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

All things are lawful

I heard a vote for the New King James Version last night from a young man who is currently studying English literature and classics. So I had to pay attention. He supplied 1 Cor. 10:23 as his proof text. I did not have a chance to pursue this discussion at the time so I am taking a few minutes today to meditate on why 1 Cor. 10:23 could be considered exemplary in the NJKV. Tell me what you think. There are no right answers.

    πάντα ἔξεστιν ἀλλ' οὐ πάντα συμφέρει πάντα ἔξεστιν ἀλλ' οὐ πάντα οἰκοδομεῖ Zhubert

    “Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds others up. NET

    "Everything is permissible" but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" but not everything is constructive. NIV

    "I have the right to do anything," you say—but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything"—but not everything is constructive. TNIV

    All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. NASB

    You say, "I am allowed to do anything "but not everything is helpful. You say, "I am allowed to do anything" but not everything is beneficial. NLT

    "All things are lawful," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. NRSV

    All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. NKJV

    All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. KJV

    "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. ESV

Which is more literal? In the first place, panta can be translated by 'all things' which reflects the plural but is actually two words, rather than one word. 'Everything' does not reflect the plural but, on the plus side, it is a single word translation. Does that make it more literal? Is it at all relevant if the translation of one Greek word is one word or two words in English? Is it less word-for-word if the English demands two words?

Now for the real stuff. Translating exestin with lawful gives the impression, in my view, that this verse refers to the law - nomos. It does not. So there is a disadvantage in translating exestin by 'lawful'. 'Permissible' or 'I have the right' are to me contenders for a literal translation.

Translating sumpherei with 'beneficial', 'helpful', 'expedient', or 'profitable', are all equally literal for this rather vague Greek expresssion. I would suggest that 'expedient' is the closest to the Greek. 'Helpful' has been chosen by the ESV and is the easiest English word to use in this case. It has the lowest register, and occurs in the NKJV and the NLT. There seems to be no rational for this grouping. But these translations are the favourites of the ESV general editor. The main difference seems to be in stylistic register rather than literalness.

Finally, oikodomew. This is more interesting. It was a literal and transparent metaphor in Greek. There is no doubt in my mind that the word 'build' is the best rendering. Perhaps 'edify' was a transparent and concrete word for the KJV translators. Maybe the connection to edifice was obvious and automatic. But no longer. 'Edifying' today has spritual reference first. Not so the Greek word. 'Constructive' maybe.

Now for the placement of the negative. In the Greek there is a contrast between 'all things' and 'not all things'. So the KJV does not perform well here. This word order is retained in every other translation.

Let's try this for consistency and Anglo-Saxon roots. If anyone can supply another word for 'permissible' that would be great.

    All things are permissible, but not all things are helpful. All things are permissible, but not all things build up.

What do you think? I was not able to find an answer to my question regarding the NKJV. I don't know why it would be considered better. I do know that the use of quotation marks was an irritant to my young friend.

You may notice that the title reflects my propensity to identify verse by their rendering in the KJV.

Friday, February 09, 2007

ESV wins Bible reading poll

Since the beginning of this year we have had a poll in the right margin inviting visitors to this blog to tell which English Bible version they would read if they read the Bible through this year. It is now time to bring that poll to a close. But first, some comments are in order. Yesterday I discovered a post on the Marching to Zion blog about our poll. I found the comments from Gary interesting. Like Gary, I have been surprised by how the ESV has taken such a commanding lead in this poll. It didn't start out that way, as I recall, but over time the votes for the ESV have far out-paced those for any other version. This is especially surprising since we do not get many comments from visitors to this blog who advocate for the ESV.

After 520 votes, here are the results of our Bible reading poll:

I really do not know what to make of these poll results. There are several possibilities. One is that the poll results are as accurate as is possible for self-selecting polls (which are not at all scientific). In this case, we would guess that ESV readers are, for one reason or another, more active than other Bible readers, in the Christian blogosphere. I would have expected NIV readers to have that distinction, but my expectations are not always right.

Another possibility is that the results are not an accurate reflection of the sentiments of those who regularly visit this blog. In other words, it is possible that there have been private email messages or messages posted on other blogs or discussion forums encouraging fellow ESV users to vote in this poll. (And there is nothing wrong with that if it was done; it just wouldn't accurately reflect the sentiments of the usual visitors to this blog.) Perhaps there was a campaign to boost the score for the ESV to put us BBB bloggers "in our place" for commenting so often on aspects of the ESV which we find disturbing, in particular its low quality of standard English in contrast to several other English versions. (Click here for my latest evaluation of such standard English in Bible versions. I have reduced the number of examples in my study from 100 to 85, by removing some of the entries which visitors to this blog were most concerned about as well as some which were essentially duplicates.) I'd hate to think that that is what happened, since I don't really care for conspiracy theories and I usually prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to being straightforward about things. Well, I don't know if we will ever know if we got anything like reasonably fair results in this poll. I can tell you that I had the poll set so that no one could vote more than once, so the results must reflect those who actually voted. And there is no doubt that the ESV has been selling well, at least among some segments of conservative Christians. If our poll results actually do reflect the normal flow of visitors to this blog, then I am even more interested in the popularity of the ESV and want to know more about why people like it and use it.

I congratulate the ESV team, if any of them have paid any attention to our poll. And I, once again, extend an invitation to anyone who does like to use the ESV to post as informative and objective information as possible about their feelings for the ESV. I have found few blog posts or scholarly reviews about the ESV which present objective data demonstrating its superiority to other Bible versions. I would very much welcome scholars or others who can write including as much empirical data as possible to share such information here on the Better Bibles Blog. I'd be glad to provide space for one or more blog posts for this, as I have mentioned in the past.

However any of you voted, I hope that your Bible reading is going well. I have spent many hours lately reviewing the ISV, checking for literary or other translational glitches which might trip up Bible readers and submitting my comments to the ISV team. They have been quite appreciative. It has been interesting to get a much better feel for yet another English Bible version.

We will remove this Bible reading poll soon, since it has served its purpose and the time for making New Year's resolutions, including ones about Bible reading, is past.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lewis on translating into the vernacular

C.S. Lewis wrote:
In both [England and America] an essential part of the ordination exam ought to be a passage from some recognized theological work set for translation into vulgar English—just like doing Latin prose. Failure on this exam should mean failure on the whole exam. It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it.
(Published in The Christian Century, 31 December 1958, pp. 1006-1007.)

I wonder if Lewis would have said the same thing about the Bible being in vernacular "American or English"? I would hope so. Lewis was a good author. It's his kind of English and that used by a number of other good English (and "American") authors that I would like to see in English Bibles. We find it in J.B. Phillips' translation. We find it sometimes in passages in other English Bible versions. It would be wonderful to see it much more.

It's that kind of natural, vernacular translation that I keep crusading for on this blog. It results in better Bibles. Vernacular translation does not mean the end of good literary English in the Bible. On the contrary, some of the best literary English can appear in English Bibles. We just need to commit ourselves to pay as much attention to the quality of English in our translations as we do to the biblical languages we try to understand to translate them.

HT: Bradford Mercer via Adrian Warnock

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Jeremy's review of Ryken, Choosing a Bible

Yesterday Jeremy Pierce of the Parableman blog reviewed the book Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences. Jeremy's review is fair, balanced, and temperate in tone. I recommend it for your reading. Jeremy points out that Ryken diminishes the value of his book by making a number of over-generalized claims about dynamic equivalent Bible versions. Of course, that danger can be made by any of us, whenever we over-generalize about anything.

Ryken's book and reviews of it, including Jeremy's is part of the important on-going discussion about what constitutes better Bibles.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Comparing the NIV and TNIV for standard English

Out of 100 Bible wording examples I have evaluated for whether or not they are standard English, it is interesting to note that the TNIV edges out the NIV by 9%. The outranking of the NIV by the TNIV has remained steady as the number of examples I have evaluated as increased, even though TNIV revisions are sometimes more literal than original NIV wordings. (I recall giving a wording in the TNIV a "0" because its change toward greater literalness resulted in a wording which is not so standard English, but I have so far been unable to find that example to include in this post.)

In a large number of cases, the TNIV and NIV wordings are identical. But let's look at some of the differences between the NIV and TNIV which I have noted in my study.

In Matt. 13:38 I consider that TNIV "the people of the evil one", in contrast to NIV "the sons of the evil one," is a more natural way to communicate the Semitic meaning 'belonging to' of the original idiom. The TNIV rendering also communicates the original meaning more accurately to English speakers who do not know that Semitic "sons of" meant 'belonging to.'

In John 12:15 TNIV "Daughter Zion" is better, IMO, than NIV "daughter of Zion," which sounds like it is referring to a female whose father's name is Zion. The TNIV wording is still not as clear as it could be that it is referring to the people of Jerusalem, but this is probably one of those places where the TNIV translators feel that this information needs to come from teaching.

Although my most recent research has been to evaluate whether or not wordings are standard English, I sometimes have observed that one wording is more accurate than another. In 1 Cor. 7:1, I consider that TNIV "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" is more accurate than NIV "It is good for a man not to marry." Both words, of course, are standard English.

In Eph. 2:3 I gave both NIV "objects of wrath" and TNIV "deserving of wrath" a "1" for being standard English. But this is a case where I would prefer to assign scalar numbers rather than binary ones. The TNIV wording is better English.

TNIV 2 Thess. 3:10 "Anyone who is unwilling to work" is a clear improvement over NIV "If a man will not work." Other recent English versions, including those which strictly follow the complementarians who created the Colorado Springs Guidelines, also correctly translate the gender-inclusive Greek pronoun tis here as "anyone."

It is not standard English to have a testimony "in" yourself or even in your heart. In 1 John 5:10 TNIV "Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony" improves upon NIV "Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart."

What are some other improvements to the quality of English that you have noted that the TNIV has over the NIV?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Eta Linnemann and the JBMW

I thought I was being a bit over the top when I wrote my post about Sheri Klouda the other day, saying,

    A woman may teach a man Greek and Hebrew if she does so in another country, not her own.
I actually thought that we were beyond this, that those were the bad old days, when a white woman could teach the Bible to a non-white man and get away with it in the complementarian community. However, I find to my shame that this attitude is alive and well. I feel a little embarassed belonging to the white race at this point.

I have myself benefited from the friendship of men from the First Nations and would not even dream of holding the view that they constituted an exception to biblical teaching on manhood. This pastor was a fatherly mentor to me.

This reminds me of Piper's list. Who else is on it? Evidently more than a few men. Stories like the following just make me cry.

Here is the story. The current Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood , recommended by Jim Hamilton, is entirely written by women. Although it is subtitled "For Women by Women" the preface remarks that,

    Scripture is clear that authoritative teaching in the church belongs, by God’s design, to men. It is equally clear that women contribute to the church in many and varied ways. One of these ways is scholarly writing, like that of Linnemann, a brilliant lady who is also submissive to the teaching of Scripture.

    Written scholarship tends toward nonpersonal, non-directive influence. It is, thus, an influence women may exercise while upholding the God-given order that exists between men and women. We must conclude, therefore, it is fitting that our male readership also benefit from these articles, writings of learned and holy women of today who follow by disposition, by motivation, and by virtue the ancient pattern.
So Eta Linnemann is submissive to scripture according to the teaching of John Piper, I must assume, because she left her her job as a professor in Germany to teach the Bible to native pastors in Indonesia. Therefore men may read her book?

    Eta Linnemann taught New Testament at Philipps University, Marburg, West Germany, until her personal spiritual crisis and conversion. Later she became a missionary teacher of native pastors at a Bible institute in Batu, Indonesia. She lectures on historical-critical theology throughout Europe and North America. ebay (I acknowledge that ebay is my weakest source so far and not acceptable on a scholarly paper. If someone could confirm this story for me I would appreciate it so much.)
Personally I find this hard to believe. But the JBMW writes at length about Linnemann, holding her up as 'learned and holy', and above all 'submissive.'

If women are permitted to translate the Bible into minority languages as they do, and to teach the Bible to minority peoples as Linnemann does, women should be permitted to teach the Bible and biblical languages in America. Women should be permitted to contribute to each and every English Bible translation that is going to be read by women - or men.

Note: I would like to thank Jim Hamilton for bringing this story to my attention - inadvertently, I would imagine.

Timely Bible translation

English Bible versions have a mixed record as to whether or not their prepositional phrases referring to time are worded in grammatical, standard English.

Notice that the following three sentences are what native speakers would consider proper, standard English:
  1. I saw him on Tuesday. (But not, "I saw him in Tuesday.")
  2. He will arrive on Christmas. (Not, "He will arrive in Christmas.")
  3. He came on the day that he said he would. (Not, "He came in the day that he said he would.")
It's not too difficult to understand when to use "on" and "in" in this case: When we know the specific day, we use the preposition "on" with the day being the object of that preposition.

In standard English, can we ever use "in" with a time word? Yes. Compare these sentences:
  1. In January we will go skiing. (Not, "On January we will go skiing.")
  2. In the summer I worked as a forest ranger. (Not, "On the summer I worked as a forest ranger.")
The preposition "in" is used when there is a period of time referred to. Sometimes the preposition "during" can be substituted for "in" as in:
During the summer I worked as a forest ranger.
The preposition "at" can be used when we refer to a point in time as measured by a clock:
  1. At the stroke of midnight Cinderella returned home. (Not, "In" (or "On") the stroke of midnight Cinderella returned home.")
  2. We will have supper at 6 p.m. (Not, "We will have supper on 6 p.m.")
Those who learn English as a second language have to memorize these uses of different prepositions for different kinds of time reference. If the wrong preposition is used, an utterance is ungrammatical. Anything which does not follow the standard patterns of a language is ungrammatical. We are not referring here to simply "bending the rules" slightly for poetic reasons, but actual breaking of the rules of English which are followed by speakers and writers of standard dialects of English.

Now, what does this have to with Bible translation? Well, that's a timely question, and this is intended to be a timely post.

A number of English Bible versions do not use the correct prepositions with the time objects of prepositions that they occur with. Compare these examples from Phil. 2:16, found on my chart evaluating standard English in Bible versions (which now has 100 examples):
  1. so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain
  2. that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain
The first wording is ungrammatical because it uses the preposition "in" when "on" should be used.

Let's compare another wording, from Luke 1:5, that shows a difference among Bible versions as to whether or not standard English is used:
  1. In the days of King Herod of Judea ...
  2. During the reign of King Herod of Judea ...
  3. During the time when Herod was King of Judea ...
In standard English we do not say "In the days of ...," as in #1. Instead, it is standard English to say either #2 or #3.
(UPDATE: See Comments.)

English versions correctly use "on" with the time word in Acts 20:7:
  1. On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, ...
  2. On the first day of the week, when we had met to break bread, ...
In my studies I have found no English version that uses an incorrect preposition in Acts 20:7.

When wrong English time prepositions are used in Bible translations, it makes those versions sound like they were translated by people who are not native speakers of English. The forms, including any prepositions, were correct in the original Greek from which the English is translated. Better Bibles are translated by people who ensure that they are using English forms that are the proper equivalents to the Greek forms. The good news is that it is possible to have English in Bible translations that is both accurate as well as grammatical, natural, and standard. A number of English Bible versions demonstrate that, when we examine specific examples of word usages.