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Monday, June 18, 2007

ESV breathed out, 2 Timothy 3:16

"Metacatholic" (actually Anglican) Doug Chaplin makes some interesting comments Eisegesis in Overdrive on the ESV rendering of 2 Timothy 3:16,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness
Doug also quotes this comment apparently from the ESV website (no URL given):
The Bible says every word was “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). For this reason, the ESV seeks to translate the original Greek and Hebrew words with the greatest possible accuracy and precision. (their emphasis).
Then he writes:
We’ve moved from the traditional “inspired” of most translations, through the “God-breathed” of the NIV (whether into or out of) to the “breathed out by God” of the ESV text, to this gloss of “every word was breathed out by God”, presumably one at a time! And all this justifies a translation theory, which in a number of places, not least the verse under consideration, the ESV doesn’t even stick to.

Is this a translation for those who don’t care what the Greek text says, as long as the English reinforces their prejudices?

I wouldn't have dared to put this quite so strongly, but this is not the only place in ESV where one might suspect something like this.


At Mon Jun 18, 12:19:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

There is of course a long tradition of translation as (church) politics... though in this case the problem is slightly different, I think, it lies in the claim that small fragments of the Bible have meaning all on their own, and that doctrines may be erected on any small fragment that catches your eye.

If Scripture is "God-breathed" then every word is perfect and holy (2 Tim 3:16) QED

Of course you only look at the fragments that support your position!

At Mon Jun 18, 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Debbie Kaufman said...

Isn't the Greek word theopneustos
which in fact does translate "Divinely breathed in" which could also translate to God inspired? I don't see the problem.

At Mon Jun 18, 01:10:00 PM, Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

The url is linked in the first paragraph of the post unless something weird's happening between my browser and yours!

At Mon Jun 18, 02:47:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Doug, thanks for pointing out where the URL was. I had moved on too quickly to the quote.

Debbie, the problem is that no one quite knows what theopneustos means. Doug is right to point out that we can't derive its meaning from cutting it up into small parts. I don't see the problem with a rendering "inspired", as long as that is not taken to imply some rigid definition of the inspiration of Scripture. But Doug rightly objects to "breathed out by God" as reading too much into this one word. And even more unsupportable is the apparent claim at ESV website that this breathing out applies to each word separately. There is no suggestion in 2 Timothy that, in Tim's words, "small fragments of the Bible have meaning all on their own". What is inspired is the message as a whole.

At Mon Jun 18, 04:42:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

I'm confused. The (T)NIV has similar rhetoric: All Scripture is God-breathed as Doug notes. Why do you single out the ESV and not mention the (T)NIV, given your obvious interest in the latter translation?

At Tue Jun 19, 03:22:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Iyov, it is not me but Doug who singles out ESV. He also criticises the NIV rendering (same as TNIV) but notes that ESV has heightened the difficulty by adding "out" which is not justified by the Greek. And perhaps his main target is the ESV's abuse of its own dubious rendering to justify its literal translation approach.

In case anyone is misled, I have no interest in TNIV, that is nothing to gain from its wider use. I simply want to promote what I believe to be generally a better Bible than ESV and most other translations. Also, as a largely separate matter which I take up more in my blog, I am opposing the unbalanced claims of the "Reformed" party for ESV and on many theological issues, because I consider these to be harmful to the church and to the work of God.

At Tue Jun 19, 09:45:00 AM, Blogger Iyov said...

Here I used the word "interest" in the sense of "a feeling that accompanies or causes special attention to an object or class of objects" (M-W) instead of financial interest.

My point is that it seems to me sometimes that people here are apply a more critical standard to the ESV than to the TNIV. This case was especially striking since the ESV and TNIV share the same problem -- as Doug had pointed out!

To be clear about the ESV: I feel the RSV and NRSV are superior to the ESV on many counts, and those parts of the ESV that differ from either of those translations is usually mediocre. However, I am also sharply critical of the NIV and TNIV.

As we've discussed, one reason for my criticism is purely on the basis of scholarship. A second reason has to do with the dubious claims made by the advocates of either translation.

But another criticism of both the ESV and the (T)NIV share is that they are for "Protestants only" -- they have a Christological reading of the Hebrew Scriptures and a Protestant reading of the Christians Scriptures (the frequent popular Catholic criticisms [e.g., by Jimmy Akin] of the idiosyncrasies in the translation are well founded) -- and of course they lack the Deuterocanonicals. Thus, unlike the original language documents, which are universal, in the process of translation, they have become sectarian documents -- and this is a major loss in the meaning and beauty of the originals. (I also believe it is unhealthy for Evangelicals, since it may engender in some a feeling of exceptionalism.)

At Tue Jun 19, 10:49:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Iyov wrote:

But another criticism of both the ESV and the (T)NIV share is that they are for "Protestants only" -- they have a Christological reading of the Hebrew Scriptures

Yes, you are right. Fortunately, the TNIV has revised many (perhaps most) of the Christological intrepretive translations of the Hebrew Bible which were found in the NIV. The NIV was often criticised for them. Those who like the ESV praise it for having these Christological interpretive translations, saying that it is appropriate to translate the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. I disagree. I believe that each document needs to be translated within its original situation.

At Tue Jun 19, 11:44:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Iyov wrote:

Here I used the word "interest" in the sense of "a feeling that accompanies or causes special attention to an object or class of objects" (M-W) instead of financial interest.

Fair enough, but in that sense, which does not imply any value judgement, I have an interest in ESV as well as in TNIV. It is just that I value TNIV higher than ESV. And this is an example where the ESV reading was picked up, by Doug not myself, as even worse than the (T)NIV one.

For that matter, I have an interest in all Bible translations, although not so specifically in all of them.

I agree that TNIV offers "a Christological reading of the Hebrew Scriptures and a Protestant reading of the Christians Scriptures". But please note that in the Hebrew Scriptures TNIV is significantly less Christological than NIV (but retains "virgin" at Isaiah 7:14, with "young woman" in a footnote). As for them lacking the deuterocanonicals, see my comments on canon (which you won't agree with, that's OK) here and here.

At Tue Jun 19, 12:14:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Tue Jun 19, 01:40:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Tim, I see your point, and have some sympathy with it. Many of the interpretations which the translators of NIV, ESV and TNIV have put on the text are very doubtful and should not have been put in a translation.

But I fear that by grossly overstating your case you are in danger of not being taken seriously. You imply (in breach of blog guidelines, by the way) that the translators "deliberately and intentionally" introduced "sectarian readings" "to allow them and their friends to misread and misuse" the Bible. But I would disagree, at least in most cases. The translators have almost always rendered the text according to what they genuinely believe to be the correct way of understanding it. Their understanding is of course coloured by their presuppositions as mostly "American, Evangelical, Christian Men" (in fact there are a significant number of Commonwealth scholars on the CBT and the ESV team; the latter is led by one, Packer), just as everyone's interpretations of the Bible are coloured by their presuppositions. But, unless you have some evidence to the contrary, I think we ought to accept that they are honestly trying to make the best and most accurate (within their overall translation philosophy) translation they can.

There is a special issue with regard to the Old Testament, which by long church tradition has generally been translated to some extent Christologically. Within relatively recent times liberal as well as Jewish scholars have worked to avoid this in new translations, but have had to fight conservative backlash, and mostly not from evangelicals. In fact some evangelicals are gradually realising that this tradition is one which should not be followed, and because of this the TNIV Old Testament is markedly less Christological than the NIV one. It is sad that ESV has moved the other way in reaction to what was perceived as excessive liberalism in RSV and NRSV.

At Tue Jun 19, 02:29:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Tue Jun 19, 02:34:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

Here are some random criticisms, courtesy of Google. There appear to be many more:

Roman Catholic critics have pointed out that the NIV seems to show a Protestant bias in its treatment of the Greek word paradosis "tradition." The word is literally translated "tradition" in places where traditions are being criticized (e.g. Matthew 15:3, Colossians 2:8), but it is translated with "teachings" where traditions are being recommended (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6). In this, there seems to be an avoidance of giving any positive connotation to the word "tradition."

The NIV renders Romans 4:2, "If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works [ergon], he had something to boast about--but not before God." This passage is used to support the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. But the NIV translates the erg- derivatives in Romans 2:6-7 differently: "God `will give to each person according to what he has done [erga].' To those who by persistence in doing [ergou] good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life."

At Tue Jun 19, 02:57:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

I should note that the TNIV changed the translation at 1 Corinthians 11:2, although it retained the old wording at Matthew 15:3, Colossians 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, Romans 4:2, and Romans 2:6-7.

At Tue Jun 19, 03:09:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

I am sorry, it was a rant from decades of frustration, I should not have shot off my "mouth" without thinking. I unreservedly take back the remarks about the choices being deliberate and intentional that is NOT so. And the comment about "the better to allow them and their friends to misread and misuse it." should never even have been thought, much less expressed.

If anyone associated with the translation teams reads this please forgive me. I wrote before I thought!

At Wed Jun 20, 10:59:00 PM, Blogger John said...

It is also worth pointing out that Catholic and Orthodox translations of the Old Testament around the world tend to be just as anachronistically christological as evangelical translations. I'm writing from Italy, from the home office of a friend who happpens to be a professor of russian literature. The Bibles of his shelf, whether in Italian or Russian, all have the equivalent of 'virgin' at Isa 7:14.

John Hobbins

At Thu Jun 21, 05:10:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

The Russian Synodal version (the 19th century preferred by almost all Russian Christians) is strongly Christological in the Old Testament, and Orthodox Christians object strongly to any attempts to modify this.

At Thu Jun 21, 03:12:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Thu Jun 21, 03:36:00 PM, Blogger Iyov said...

I don't understand the point. The older Orthodox and Catholic versions are definitely sectarian Bibles. More recent translations (such as the RSV and NRSV) aspire to be non-sectarian, and they have received the imprimatur from the Catholic Church and approval from a number of prominent Orthodox ecclesiastics. (To a lesser extent, we could also point to the GNT and the REB, although I do not believe this is an approved Bible for Orthodox and I do not believe the REB has received the imprimatur.)

It seems to me that the scope of the (T)NIV is even narrower than that of the NAB or the (N)JB since those recent Catholic translation at least employed some Protestants and are widely used by Protestants.

Furthermore, the NAB and (N)JB translate the full Protestant Bible [even to the extent of translating from Hebrew Esther with the Greek additions clearly indicated], although the (T)NIV translation committee has expressed no interest in translating the Deuterocanonical books.

Furthermore, the NJB is far less Christological than John's comment would seem to imply; for example, see the translation at Isaiah 7:14.

I stand by my original comment: the (T)NIV is a sectarian translation.


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