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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The King James Bible - meet and fit

I haven't commented much on some of the issues swirling around. Mostly I just love the diversity of voices, the various opinions, yeah to all of them - well, almost all. So what about the King James Bible and all that?

First, I would not recommend the KJV as a pew Bible. I believe that it is not appropriate to expect a congregation with a mix of ages, education levels and English language competency to understand the King James Bible. And I am not particularly interested in attending a church that does not have such a mix.

I actively stand against those who teach the doctrinal position that the King James Bible is the only trustworthy English Bible translation, since this is based on a false premise. The premise is that,
    Because the Gospel is true and necessary for the salvation of souls, the true Bible text has been preserved down through the ages by God's special providence and is found today in the King James Version.
This is the argument presented by E. F.Hills and many others. This argument tends to include a belief in the providential preservation of the majority text base. For some, it even extends to believing that the primacy of the English language as a global language falls within God's providential will.
    From the 17th century and into the 20th century the AV preserved the Word of God not only for the English speaking peoples but for all those whom they evangelised. The AV became the Bible of those nations brought to Christ through the great Christian Missionary crusade of almost four centuries. Ian Paisley
The King James Bible is promoted as the Bible of nations evangelized by English speaking people. I believe that concerns expressed about the promotion of the King James Bible as a pew Bible are valid.

However, in the last couple of years I have interacted more with those outside of my own evangelical circle rather than those within. I have found that the King James Bible is used in my seminary course, along with the NRSV, as the one translation most likely to represent the grammar of the Greek and Hebrew reliably. We always refer to the KJV.

I have also found that among my friends and colleagues in my secular workplace, the King James Bible has unique status as a literary Bible, as a Bible which the Jewish community has found acceptable, and one which educated women have a positive response to.

Therefore, at this moment - one never knows about tomorrow, I hold the King James Bible to be the premiere Bible for academic and literary reference. It is also by its style of language and due to the history of its use, acceptable to the Jewish community, women and a wide variety of denominations. On a community level, it is a Bible of inclusion.

However, I also associate on a daily basis with those who will never understand the King James Bible. On an individual level it is not a Bible of inclusion.

For a pew Bible, I would recommend the NRSV. It is relatively literal, it stands within the Tyndale tradition and it is inclusive of women and presents relatively less doctrinal bias than other Bibles. The TNIV is also inclusive of women and retains the style and language of the NIV.
I don't own a CEV, but I have so far found it to be an attractive alternative for those of an average reading level, even though it makes little attempt at representing any features of Hebrew poetry in English.

My concerns are to have a Bible that is as accurate to the intended meaning as possible, with as little doctrinal bias in either text or footnotes, that represents the literary features of the original and is true to the English language.

Quite frankly, I think that these are common goals of our bibiosphere and I find the ongoing argument and counter argument delightful.


Note in response to a private email: I know that some will ask if the NIV, NASB and HSCB are not also accurate and literal. However, I am convinced that when "men" and "brethren" were used in the KJV these words were inclusive of women. The underlying Greek and Hebrew was inclusive of women. I am not convinced that this is the case for Bibles translated in the latter half of the last century. I do not see the point of using a pew Bible which makes the status of half of the congregation unclear.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Psalm 51:5-6

I am continuing to work on Psalm 51, and the vocabulary in verses 5 and 6 pose some interesting problems. (I have numbered these verses according to the usual English editions.)

    7הֵן־בְּעָווֹן חוֹלָלְתִּי

    וּבְחֵטְא יֶחֱמַתְנִי אִמִּי

    8הֵן־אֱמֶת חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת

    וּבְסָתֻם חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי

    5 ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἐν ἀνομίαις συνελήμφθην καὶ ἐν ἁμαρτίαις ἐκίσσησέν με ἡ μήτηρ μου
    6 ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀλήθειαν ἠγάπησας τὰ ἄδηλα καὶ τὰ κρύφια τῆς σοφίας σου ἐδήλωσάς μοι LXX

    5 ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum et in peccatis concepit me mater mea

    6 ecce enim veritatem dilexisti incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi Vulgate

    5 For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me.

    6 For behold thou hast loved truth: the uncertain and hidden things of thy wisdom thou hast made manifest to me. DR

    5 Ecce in inquitate conceptus sum,
    et in peccato peperit me mater mea.

    6 Ecce enim veritatem diligis
    absconditum et arcanum sapientiae manifesti mihi Jerome's Iuxta Hebraeos

    5 Ecce in inquitate genitus sum,
    et in peccato calefacta est de me mater mea.

    6 Ecce veritatem voluisti in renibus
    et in occulto sapientiam scire fecisti me. Pagnini

    5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

    6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. KJV

    My mother, lo! when I began to be,
    Conceiving me, with me did sin conceive;
    And, as with living heat she cherish'd me,
    Corruption did like cherishing receive;
    But lo, thy love to purest good doth cleave,
    And inward truth, which, hardly else discerned,
    My truant soul in thy hid school hath learned. Mary Sidney Herbert 1599

    5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
    6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. RSV

    5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

    6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place. TNIV

    5 Truth be told, I was born into sin,
    into wrongdoing my mother expelled me.

    6 Truth be told, you desire truth in the inward parts,
    in secret you would teach me wisdom. John Hobbins

John Hobbins comments that the verbs in verse 5 a and b mean "writhe out" as in "give birth," and "heated out" as in "give birth." Therefore, looking back, any association with coitus, the act of conceiving a child, is not necessarily present in the Hebrew. Rashi's notes indicate that the notion of conception may be considered, but continues that the creation of the child is in view, and not the conception.

In verse 6 the words at the end of each line are particularly obscure. For the end of line a the three Latin versions went from incerta (uncertain) to absconditum (hidden) to renibus (inner organs). The translation renibus in the Pagnini Latin version derives from Rashi's notes, as do changes in other translation. About verse 6 Rashi wrote,
    in the hidden places Heb. בטחות. These are the reins, which are smooth

    and in the concealed part You teach me wisdom And in the heart, which is concealed, You have taught me wisdom to confess.
"Reins" are any inner organ and surely the "womb" is an inner organ, so we can attribute both the addition of "womb" and "heart" to Rashi's notes. Every translator has struggled with these lines composed of unusual and obscure Hebrew words. Somehow, the TNIV translation creates the best match between verse 5 and verse 6. Most translations do not connect these two verses well at all, and yet they each begin with the same interjection "behold."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

my favourite translation

I have been enjoying tremendously the exchange between Henry, Iyov, El Shaddai and others on the KJV.

I have to say that I have some sympathy with Henry since I once knew a KJV only evangelist and it can be a very stressful thing. Dear old "Uncle" Jim. Before he came to visit, my dad used to sit me down with the Greek text and get me to prep him with a counter argument. That lasted until I was 17 and had read enough text criticism that even my dad didn't want to know about it. Then I was excused. But now I find that many people from various backgrounds that I know are quite fond of the KJV as a translation. They are lucky - they have never been evangelized by an onlyist.

But my favourite translation at the moment is not even in English. I have been studying the Psalms lately, three hours on Wed. night with the Hebrew tutorial some other time during the week. But Wed. night is basically in English with passing references to Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, German and Cree.

We sit 6 to a round table and study the psalm together charting it in coloured pencils à la Brueggemann. (I would appreciate hearing more from Bob about this.) I am a novice at this as well as the many other ways the psalms are studied in this class - 5 or 6 reformation and other psalters, modern music, ancient music, dance, clay, poetry, muttering, reciting, window painting, etc.

The basic study takes place by marking up the NRSV version of the text, with several parallel versions available for reference. There is always the KJV and sometimes the other 4 or 5 will be translations produced between 1520 and 1545 or some other specific era.

However, the main study is done on the NRSV text. The other pieces of paper pile up underneath. I obstinately keep open my Kohlenberger's Psalter with the Hebrew, RSV, NETS, LXX. The two English texts are too small for me to read, and my Hebrew is nascent, so, yep, my default version is the Greek. No one else in the room is interested much in the Greek so I don't blurt out random insights or anything like that.

But last week, working on Psalm 146, I thought that I had wandered completely off course. I thought that I must have been daydreaming or distracted and was not looking at the same psalm as everyone else. The group had decided to solve the problem of "voice" first. Who was speaking to whom? Nothing matched for me.

There was some discussion of imperatives and a soliloquy to self. I never was able to articulate exactly how I knew what was going on because I was reading the Greek in my head and I have no idea what language I was thinking in. However, in Greek all imperatives are marked as singular and plural, in fact, all verbs are marked as singular and plural.

Ultimately, without saying anything, I just took my copy of the psalm and wrote down the side "singular" and "plural" for the different sections and placed it in the centre of the table.

The KJV, if carefully considered would help, but it is not as clear as the Greek in this psalm. Quite simply there have been many times when I have found the Greek easier than the English. It matches up with other scriptures nicely and I always know if the psalmist is addressing one person or the congregation. Here is some of the text,
    αἴνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν κύριον
    Praise (singular verb), my soul, the Lord,

    αἰνέσω κύριον ἐν ζωῇ μου ψαλῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἕως ὑπάρχω
    I will praise the Lord in my life I will make music to my God while I have being

    μὴ πεποίθατε ἐπἄρχοντας καὶ ἐφ υἱοὺς ἀνθρώπων οἷς οὐκ ἔστιν σωτηρία
    Do not trust (plural verb) in rulers and the sons of men in whom is no salvation.
It is somewhat easier to understand this in the KJV but not quite as clear as in the Greek. Overall the loss of the distinction between the singular and the plural of the second person is enormous in the Psalms, greater I think than the subsequent loss of the distinction between singular and plural for the third person in the inclusive translations such as the NRSV and TNIV.

Another feature which is maintained in the KJV can be seen in the next verse,
    His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
I don't know of any other translation, which has "his" although it is there in Hebrew. However, no translation, including the Septuagint, can reproduce what the Hebrew says,
    Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, (בְּבֶן-אָדָם beben-adam) in whom there is no help.

    His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth (לְאַדְמָתוֹ leadmato) in that very day his thoughts perish.
The pun is lost in translation and to a certain extent the purpose for choosing the vocabulary in this line.

Back to the pleasures of reading the Psalter in the Septuagint. This translation is literal in many places, obscure in some and given to commentary at other times. I even perceive flashes of humour. Look at this line in Psalm 51:6,
    הֵן-אֱמֶת, חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת
    Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts;

    ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀλήθειαν ἠγάπησας τὰ ἄδηλα
    For behold, truth you love - the unclear

    וּבְסָתֻם, חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי

    make me, therefore, to know wisdom in mine inmost heart

    καὶ τὰ κρύφια τῆς σοφίας σου ἐδήλωσάς μοι
    and the hidden things of thy wisdom you made clear to me.
What is so funny about this is that some of the Hebrew words are obscure and unclear, so the translator created a word play in Greek that does not exist in Hebrew. I think the translator did a little creative translating to the effect that the Hebrew was unclear at this point.

Hen Scratches Mar. 27, 2008

There are a few added names on our blogroll, Kevin Sam, a fellow Canadian, has some insightful posts about Bible translation and other things, and Nathan Bierma digs into alliteration. I love it.

My dear friend Lingamish sent me a comment which I promptly forgot to post,
I love this topic. And I think the NRSV is frequently terrific. I'd like to know more about the holiness vocab in this Psalm and if the words are all ruach derivatives. It is an anachronism to have David saying "The Holy Spirit" as if he was perceiving some sort of third person of the trinity. That's not possible. And I think the capitalization is a distraction to the modern reader since it creates an association that shouldn't be there.
And I'm a holy roller, by the way.
I will be getting back to the Psalms later but I think that the ruach words relate to the spirit and the qodesh words related to holiness. I wrote a paper on that for last weeks homework so I'll see if I can post some of it in a few days on my other blog. Scintillating - as homework assignments usually are.

The main action in terms of debate right now is taking place on Iyov's blog, bless him, here and here. I think you will enjoy the vigour of the argument.

Thanks for all the good comments here on the holy spirit, etc. I haven't responded much because I don't know what else to say except to add the post I put up earlier this evening.

And don't miss the Mysterious Appearance of "Satan" in the book of Job. HT Lingamish.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The upper case

Just to continue the theme of upper case letters for a little longer, here are examples from the two extremes. I can't say that one is interpretive and the other isn't. However, one can see how the choice of whether to use upper case or not could well be doctrinally motivated.

We can't really have the same experience as those who read this in the original language. Having upper case letters means one thing and not having them means something else.
    Judges 9:13

    But the vine said to them, "Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway over the trees?' NRSV

    But the vine said to them, 'Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?' ESV

    Psalm 110:1

    The Lord says to my lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool." NRSV

    The Lord says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." ESV

    Ps. 2:2

    The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, NRSV

    The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ESV

    Is. 63:10

    But they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit; therefore he became their enemy; he himself fought against them.

    But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. ESV

HT: Claude Mariottini for a great post on whether God drinks wine.

Things are not what they seem

This weekend I went to a wedding in Kingsburg, CA. That’s about 180 miles from my home in Castro Valley. The couple met at Berkeley Covenant Church.

She’s an MK from Colombia and a recent Berkeley grad. Born in Kingsburg, she grew up in Medellín where her father has been a Covenant missionary for over 20 years.

He’s a Berkeley graduate student in economics from Montreal and a PK. His father is the pastor of a French-speaking Mennonite Brethren church.

This weekend had more than its fill of things that didn’t fit our usual categories. For those of you not familiar with California, you’ll need a little background.
First, there were a LOT of Swedish settlers in northern California and the Central Valley. Kingsburg, about 10 miles south of Fresno on CA99, was one of the centers of that settlement. The Bay Area was, too. Berkeley Covenant, founded in 1903, was established as a missionary outreach to Swedish speakers. It was Swedish speaking until 1935. Only now, in the first decade of the 21st century, is the last generation of California native speakers of Swedish dying out. The last native speaker at Berkeley Covenant, now in his late 80’s, is from Kingsburg.

Kingsburg is very proud of its Swedish heritage, even piping Swedish music onto the streets of the downtown business district in honor of the centennial of the incorporation of the town. And Swedish symbols are everywhere — even at the MacDonalds.
The motel we stayed in had rooms that looked almost exactly like the medium price range rooms at the Covenant retreat center in northern California, Mission Springs, complete with the horse on every door.

All of this belies that fact that the area has a sizable Hispanic population. You hear Spanish everywhere. The local Catholic church has masses in both Spanish and English and plenty of Hispanic bilinguals attend the English masses. On Easter it was SRO at all the masses in an ostensibly Protestant stronghold. (11,000 population, 17 Protestant churches, including two Covenant congregations.) This is not unusual for the Central Valley, where conservative Christianity is strong in both evangelical and Catholic guises. There are even towns, like Escalon, which are reputed to have more churches than bars.
Back to the wedding. The whole affair was loaded with stereotype breaking features. The bride looks like a Swede from Kingsburg, tall and blonde. But in reality, because she grew up in Colombia, she’s Latin American. The groom, a Mennonite with a German last name, is French Canadian. Even personally, it seemed a bit odd to me to be attending the wedding of friends both of whose parents are younger than we are, but then the church can be like that. One can have easy cross-generational relationships through participating in various ministries.

There were unusual things about the service as well. It was jointly celebrated by the respective fathers. It was trilingual — mostly English, but some in French and Spanish. When they came to the part where his father, as the primary celebrant, asked, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”, her father answered that if his mother and father were willing to give him in marriage to their daughter, then he and her mother were willing to give her in marriage to their son.

A murmur rippled across the crowd.

The exchange of vows was unusual, too. His father began by cracking a joke, saying that vows would be exchanged in French and Spanish, and that they realized most of the guests wouldn’t understand one or the other sets of vows. “But,” he quipped, “you’ve heard these many times before, so just remember what they say.” Some muffled chuckles ensued. She said her vows in French, which she speaks fluently, administered by his father. He said his vows in Spanish, which he doesn’t speak, administered by her father.

I tell you all this to loosen you up for what I am about to say about categories and mismatches in the ongoing discussion of the Holy Spirit — or is that holy spirit?

The root of the problem is that the categories related to spirits and the Holy Spirit are different between modern church thought and the worldview of both OT and NT times. What we think of reflexively when we hear the words holy and spirit together is a familiar category, the Third Person of the Trinity. It’s clear that that is NOT what anyone heard in Biblical times.

In the Old Testament, God may have sent His Spirit to act in the world, but it was just seen as a part of Him, like our spirits are part of us. And there were other spirits that were understood to be holy as well, but my understanding of OT culture is too limited for me to go any further.

In Roman era Levantine culture, however, the understanding of Greek speakers both mirrored the OT understanding and was influenced by the Greco-Roman belief in supernatural beings that embodied abstract notions like love and war, compassion and anger, and holiness. Roman and Greek gods were often portrayed as embodiments of these notions. Amor/Eros and Mars/Ares.

So in NT era thinking there is no separate category for the Holy Spirit apart from a spirit of holiness and both distinct from a holy spirit. If, by the time of some of the manuscripts, the doctrine of the Trinity had started to gel to the point that some scribes copied in such a way to make some verses distinguish THE Holy Spirit from the other two, that doesn’t solve the problem for us. That’s post hoc and the issue remains. We have three categories where the writers of Scripture had one.

Recognizing the problem doesn’t solve it, unfortunately. It just gives us a way to address it. But it does serve to point up a serious problem floating below the surface in many of our discussions about translation.

The categories of 21st century Euro-American Christianity are NOT those of the NT writers. We make many, many translational — and even doctrinal — mistakes because we fail to recognize that that one very pervasive fact has a much deeper implication:
Words that are legitimate dictionary equivalents often don’t mean the same thing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

holy spirit continued

I admit that I don't really know at this point how to resolve the addition of upper case letters for the name of the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, in a translation of the Hebrew Bible, it certainly seems to have the potential to alienate Jewish readers. On the other hand, in the Christian scriptures, not using upper case might be a shibboleth for many Christians.

I will simply wind up my remarks by pointing out that Bibles do vary considerably in the use of upper case, and this does mark an interpretive feature, even in the most literal and "transparent" Bibles. This kind of feature may, in fact, alter our conception of "transparency" when it comes to translation.

For the fun of it, here, in the first image, is 2 Cor. 6:6 in the Codex Sinaiticus - too bad the LXX portions are not online. Look for the ΠΝΙ in the fourth line from the bottom, three letters in. Then, on the last line at the very end you can see ΘΥ for God in "power of God." The nomina sacra can be easily entered into a post by cutting and pasting from this entry.

Of course, this seems like very early evidence that this phrase denoted the Holy Spirit. However, we have to remember that we are aware of some corruptions in the Codex Sinaiticus. In the second image we see that the scribes have written the Greek for,
    Salute the brethren that are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church that is in their house. ERV 1885
The KJV has,
    Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.
It wasn't until the RSV that a translation represented what is likely the original, since Nympha is a woman's name,
    Give my greetings to the brethren at Laodice'a, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
Look at ΟΙΚΟΝ ΑΥΤΩΝ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑΝ in lines 4 and 5.

Theologically motivated changes or additions to the text are not unheard of. I don't know to what extent verses relating to the persons of the trinity have been affected but I suspect that this is something one should look out for in a translation. I am going to think over the implications of upper case letters for a while and maybe come back to them later. I have no further insight into how to resolve these things. We just have to ask ourselves sometimes how our reading of scripture is affected by our determination to find proofs for certain beliefs.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Holy Spirit in the manuscripts

There have been a few comments on the "holy spirit" in 2 Cor. 6:6 correctly indicating that it is not necessary for there to be an article for the term to denote the Holy Spirit. I have also looked at some early manuscripts and found that in the Codex Sinaiticus the word "spirit" in this verse was in nomen sacrum form.

However, the nomen sacrum for "spirit" is a later addition to the nomina sacra repertoire so this information simply tells us that the scribe for the Codex Sinaiticus believed that "spirit" should be in nomen sacrum form in this verse. This does not give us information about the original manuscripts.

Probably what tips the balance slightly for me is the fact that the expression "holy spirit" occurs in a list in both 2 Cor. 6:6,
    ἀλλ' ἐν παντὶ συνίσταντες ἑαυτοὺς ὡς θεοῦ διάκονοι
    ἐν ὑπομονῇ πολλῇ
    ἐν θλίψεσιν
    ἐν ἀνάγκαις
    ἐν στενοχωρίαις
    ἐν πληγαῖς
    ἐν φυλακαῖς
    ἐν ἀκαταστασίαις
    ἐν κόποις
    ἐν ἀγρυπνίαις
    ἐν νηστείαις
    ἐν ἁγνότητι
    ἐν γνώσει
    ἐν μακροθυμίᾳ
    ἐν χρηστότητι
    ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ
    ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἀνυποκρίτῳ
    ἐνλόγῳ ἀληθείας
    ἐν δυνάμει θεοῦ
And in Psalm 51,
    καρδίαν καθαρὰν κτίσον ἐν ἐμοί ὁ θεός
    καὶ πνεῦμα εὐθὲς ἐγκαίνισον ἐν τοῖς ἐγκάτοις μου

    μὴ ἀπορρίψῃς με ἀπὸ τοῦ προσώπου σου
    τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιόν σου μὴ ἀντανέλῃς ἀπ ἐμοῦ

    ἀπόδος μοι τὴν ἀγαλλίασιν τοῦ σωτηρίουσου
    πνεύματι ἡγεμονικῷ στήρισόν με
It seems that the only way that the ambiguity present in the original language can be resolved is by a footnote. We would normally be open to a translation choosing one or another of the alternatives but when the stakes are high as they are in the scriptures, a footnote offers an opportunity for reflection on what else a passage might be saying.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

spirit of your holiness

I will be blogging for the next little while on issues arising in the translation of Psalm 51. I hesitate to announce this as a series since I may be working through the psalm in a fairly random order. I have already found many more questions related to ruach kadeshka in verse 11 than I could have thought possible.

I find that there are two different ways to attribute the possessive pronoun "thy/your." In the Darby translation I find,
    the spirit of thy holiness
The Buber Rosenzweig translation also has
    den Geist deiner Heiligung
However, in the NLT it is,
    your spirit of holiness
Can anyone explain which turn of phrase is more accurate - "spirit of your holiness" or "your spirit of holiness?"


holiness of spirit

I am fascinated sometimes by the coexistence of two very different translation options, both of which can be considered quite literal. I noticed, for example, that the two English options for ruach hakodesh, "holy spirit" and "holiness of spirit" also appear in translations of the Greek scriptures. In 2 Cor. 6:6, we read,
    in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; TNIV
There was only one translation which did not have "Holy Spirit" or "Holy Ghost" in this verse - the NRSV,
    by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love
When I looked at the Greek for 2 Cor. 6:6,
    ἐν ἁγνότητι ἐν γνώσει ἐν μακροθυμίᾳ ἐν χρηστότητι ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ ἐν ἀγάπῃ ἀνυποκρίτῳ
I could not help but be very surprised - surely this verse echoes the expression of hope for holiness of spirit found in Psalm 51:11. I do think that it is quite a stretch to get the "Holy Spirit" from the expression ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ

Although I appreciate the sentiment, I do have to wonder if it is accurate to insert the definite article into this verse and make it "the Holy Spirit" instead of "a holy spirit." I note that the Louis Ségond Bible has un ésprit saint, "a holy spirit".

I can't help but suppose that this would be one of the shibboleths of many churches, expecting respect for the third person of the trinity to be marked with upper case letters even when the intent of the author does not seem to be a reference to the Holy Spirit.

The real loss to readers is, of course, that they will experience less teaching on "holiness of spirit" while gaining a reference to the Holy Spirit. In addition, a case like this increases my respect for the NRSV as an academic and literal translation. I am beginning to think that the NRSV is an essential Bible translation, not just a nice to have.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

ESV Apocrypha on the way

I thank Bob Burns for the news that an ESV Apocrypha is on the way. The following now appears at the official ESV website FAQ page:
Crossway will not be publishing the ESV in editions with the Apocrypha. An edition of the ESV with Apocrypha is being developed by another publisher, which we expect will be announced in mid to late 2008.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thy Holy Spirit

Further research on the "holy spirit" in Psalm 51:11 reveals that the first English Bibles, Wycliffe, Coverdale, Great, Bishops did not capitalize "holy spirit." However, the Geneva Bible 1560, and KJV 1611 have "holy Spirit" in verse 11 as well as "free Spirit" in verse 12.

In the 1769 edition of the KJV the capitalization was removed from "spirit" and the expression has remained without capitals in the KJV proper until today. However, in the 1873 Cambridge edition of the KJV, the American Standard Version 1901, the RSV 1952 and the NKJV, the capitalization has returned.

The first English Bible which I could find to capitalize both words as "Holy Spirit" was the Young's Literal Translation 1898 1862.

Among more recent Bibles, the NEB, JB, NEB and NRSV do not use capitals for either word, and the NASB, (T)NIV, ESV, CEV, NLT and HCSB capitalize both words.

In French the Louis Segond 1910, has "ton esprit saint" which is distinctly different from "Le Saint Esprit," the name of the Holy Spirit in Luke 1:35. However, la Bible du Semeur, 1999, has made the two correspond as "l'Esprit Saint".

Another tradition preserved the phrase "spirit of holiness" as in the Darby translation 1890.. The equivalent for this appears in the Elberfelder translation, 1871, "den Geist deiner Heiligkeit" and in the David Martin translation, 1744, "l'Esprit de Ta Sainteté." Today in English only the NLT offers the variation "your spirit of holiness" as a footnote.

Although exegesis and theological thinking is supposed to come from the original languages, it is virtually impossible not to be influenced by the version which one meets in one's own language first. Therefore, we see several distinct lines of interpretation for this verse. Psalm 51:11 can be used to illustrate the representation of the third person of the trinity in the Hebrew scriptures, or to teach that God can remove His indwelling Holy Spirit from an individual,
    Psalm51 says, “Take not Your Holy Spirit from me.” The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Triune God. The Holy Spirit is the sole giver of God-pleasing spiritual life. “No one can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit." The psalm makes it pretty clear that the Holy Spirit can be taken from you and me.
The other interpretation leads to commentary such as that of Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)
    He gives the spirit of prophecy to the prophets,4 and renewal and sanctification and guidance to all of God’s children (Ps. 51:12-13 and 143:10).
and from Whitten, 2004, page 186,
    This is the plea by David for God to restore the condition of sanctification to his spirit.
Since there are no capital letters in Hebrew, one cannot say with certainty that "holy spirit" should appear in English capitalized or not. However, if the addition of capitals is going to cause people to fall into error and then preach that error from the pulpit, I feel that the publishers have a responsibility to add a footnote or reconsider the use of capital letters in this passage and others.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Boundary maintenance

A couple of years ago I wrote several posts on my search for a mediating or neutral Bible translation. I grew up on the King James Version and had the pleasure of being able to share the same text with Christians in most denominations, and those of the Jewish and academic communities.

I experienced a real shock when I first read some of the translations published in the last 10 years. I realized that each one would only appeal to a relatively small segment of the Bible reading community. There would no longer be a common text.

I experience this as a real loss. At first I thought that a translation which was relatively literal could be acceptable to all. The KJV is very careful in many ways, not always, but for the most part, to not add interpretive words. No other translation since has been so careful.

I actually thought that we could have a translation today that we could share, that would keep Christendom from fracturing into a thousand pieces, that could be the reference text for dialogue with others. However, I was told that this was very unlikely.

Wayne has brought up this idea again, asking what points people keep as shibboleths or group boundary markers in Bible translation. I want to thank Kevin Sam for his response,
    “I fully agree that these exists when they really shouldn't. The disadvantage is that they discriminate against others who are outside the circle of insiders. Personally, I try not to use them and would discourage others from accepting shibboleths as a group identity.”
What a thoughtful response. We don't want to exclude others with the Bible translation we use. This thought has also been a view expressed notably by Chris Heard some time ago, and Iyov. (Unfortunately I cannot cite exact posts but I wish to acknowledge the posts they have made on this issue.)

I had an experience today of realizing that certain English translations published recently had a small feature of their translation which might make them quite unsuitable for a wider audience. I wonder what others think of this.

This is Psalm 51:11,
    Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. (KJV 1987 edition)
In most recent evangelical translations of the Bible "holy spirit" has been written as "Holy Spirit." This form is found in the (T)NIV, ESV, NASB, NLT, CEV, NKJV, HCSB. (The NLT provides this footnote: Or your spirit of holiness.)

The Darby translation offers this alternative.
    11Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not the spirit of thy holiness from me. Darby
The JPS does not capitalize "holy spirit," as one would expect. Nor does Robert Alter. It appears to me that the publishers of the Bibles mentioned above are well aware that these Bibles will not meet the needs of a wider community. They are for insiders.

Those Bibles which do not capitalize "holy spirit" are the
JB (1966); NAB (1969); NEB (1970); and NRSV (1989).

What I am wondering is whether capitalizing words in the Hebrew Bible which could possibly refer to members of the trinity is a shibboleth. Do those in evangelical circles expect this of their Bibles?

A view from the Planning Commission

As some of the regular readers of this blog may remember, I got involved in politics pretty much by accident last summer. The county tried to reorganize our neighborhood and we, all 6700 of us, stood up and said no. Three of us, whose main qualifications are that we are willing to stand up and speak in front of an audience of hundreds, emerged as the leaders. And that got me nominated and appointed to the Alameda County Planning Commission.

Well, on Monday we had a very difficult case. A Mexican woman (to judge from her accent in Spanish) stood up to petition for a variance in building an addition to the family house. (She spoke because her husband has no usable English.) Her English was tentative and, because one of the planning staff is bilingual, she was allowed to testify in Spanish.

The story is wrenching. They hired a contractor and filled out the forms for permits, which the contractor said he would apply for. He asked for money up front and constructed a sorely needed addition, which was largely complete when a county inspector noticed that the construction was unpermitted because it did not conform to the setback ordinances. The contractor, who, it turns out was unlicensed and therefore didn’t actually apply for the permits, disappeared. Now the family has been told they will have to tear down the addition they need and which has already cost them $40,000. We toured the site and the neighborhood and noticed that setback ordinances are widely violated throughout the area, but the homeowners association is adamant in this case, and if the Planning Commission were to allow this as an exception — clearly the compassionate thing to do — it would give the next person a precedent on which to demand a variance. Our hands are pretty well tied. There are no grounds to find for a variance. So we continued the case to see if the planning department can work something out.

Now my Spanish is OK. I pretty well followed what she said, but there is one interesting thing in the woman’s testimony and how I heard it that shows the tendency for English speakers to misread the meaning of gendered language.

In the course of her testimony the woman cited the reason for needing the addition was:
Tenemos cuatro hijos.
Since I was working hard to keep up, I processed that
they have four sons.
and it wasn’t until the official translation came back
‘They have four children.’
that I noticed the error.

ElShaddai Edwards may be upset that gender language in Bibles tends to attract excessive attention, but here is evidence that even I, who know better, tend to misread the meaning of gendered forms in a language that I don’t speak natively. The reason for bending over backwards on this point over and over is that English speakers misread the gender by reflex.

The facts?

The patterns are clear and they work the same in Greek and Spanish.

Greek — Spanish — gloss

υἱόςhijo —son’
υἱόι – hijos — ‘children’ (in special contexts ‘sons’)

πατήρ — padre‘father’
πατέρες — padres — ‘parents’ (in special contexts 'fathers')

ἄνθρωπος — persona —person’ (NOT ‘man’ ‘woman’)

This is hard to swallow for English speakers, especially if they are immersed in a tradition of Bible translation which has gotten it wrong for a long time. (See a fuller discussion here.)

Speakers of languages with grammatical gender do much better, for example the Reformers (as pointed out by Suzanne in a comment on the previous post), many of whom were German speakers. They know from their own languages that just because ἄνθρωπος is grammatically masculine does not mean it refers directly to men and only indirectly to women, any more than the grammatically masculine word Mensch does in German. The same is true of persona in Spanish. Just because it is grammatically feminine does not mean it refers to women primarily and only secondarily to men. The most macho Spanish speaker will not mind being referred to as una persona.

And we are all children of God.


In Spanish if you want to say ‘They have four sons.’ you have to say.
Tienen cuatro hijos hombres.
(The dictionary will tell you to say hijos varones but my Mexican friends say that sounds a little archaic.)

In Greek you don’t NEED to add a modifier to υἱόι to get the reading ‘sons’, but because there is ambiguity in referential gender, Koine has expressions like υἱός ἄρρην (lit. ‘male son’) and υἱεῖς ἄνδρες ‘grown sons’ (lit. ‘sons men’) with modifiers to clarify actual gender reference.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bible translation and keys to the kingdom

Are you using the "right" Bible? Maslow claimed that one of the most basic human needs is the desire to belong, to be part of a group. I have noticed that one of the marks of religious solidarity is often what version of the Bible is used. In some churches it is a requirement that only the King James Version be used. In others it is the NASB. It appears that there is a recent movement toward using the ESV as a mark of group solidarity and doctrinal purity. I suspect that there is a reaction among some to use the TNIV as a mark of group identity.

We often create shibboleths which are "keys to the kingdom", social doors through which applicants must pass in order to be fully accepted within the group or church. Some Bible translation shibboleths which have developed are:
  1. Does this Bible say "young woman" or "virgin" in Is. 7:14?
  2. Does this Bible say "blood of Christ" or is it sometimes translated as "death of Christ"?
  3. Does this Bible retain "theological terms" such as "grace", "righteousness", and "sanctification"?
  4. Was this Bible version translated according to the Colorado Springs Guidelines?
  5. Is this Bible version gender inclusive?
  6. Does this version use "church" or "assembly"?
  7. Does this version use the name of God, "Yahweh" or "Jehovah"?
  8. Does this version retain literal translations of biblical idioms, such as "doing what is right in God's eyes", "son of perdition"?
I just came across a blog post titled “Proper” and “Rightly”: How Conservative Evangelicals Creatively Manage the Scriptures. Although this post is not directly about what Bible version we use, we can find within the post the idea that the use of certain "Bible" words can divide us into factions.

Paul noted a problem like this in the Corinthian church:
10 I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters,* by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. 11 For some members of Chloe's household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. 12 Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,*” or “I follow only Christ.”

13 Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not! 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. 16 (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don't remember baptizing anyone else.) 17 For Christ didn't send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power. (1 Cor. 1:10-17, NLT)
What are some Bible version shibboleths you are aware of? Which ones are used in your faith community? Which ones do you yourself tend to use?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Bible translation shibboleths for group identity?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Rhetorical level translation: Life on God's terms

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them--living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells--even though you still experience all the limitations of sin--you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!

So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us--an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him!
Highlighting is my own in the preceding text, marking wordings which are written in unique, but natural English that grabs my attention and helps me comprehend and feel what surely must have been the original author's intention.

You can find this section online by clicking here.

How are you impacted by the reading in this post?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What do we want from our translation?

This semester I’m co-teaching a seminar (actually a practicum) on lexicography for endangered languages. Twenty some odd years ago I published an extensive dictionary of the Ottawa and Eastern dialects of Ojibwe (a.k.a. Chippewa). It’s what got me my job here at Berkeley.

In this seminar we talk a lot about what dictionaries are supposed to look like. To a large extent that depends on a combination of the purpose of the dictionary and the audience expected to use it.

And also it depends on the preferences and prejudices of the author.

The other professor co-teaching this practicum is a classicist and historical linguist by training. He got involved in work with California native languages after he came to the Berkeley department. But he still retains his historical and classicist leanings, often chaffing at the low level of scholarship in the field of linguistics. (Sad, but true, and Chomsky only made an already bad situation worse.) When the discussion a few weeks ago turned to how you list glosses in a dictionary, he articulated his preference for having the more literal glosses first, ones that make it easy to see the word parts of the original, even in those cases where native speakers only notice those meanings when prodded.

So for the Yurok(1) word kwegeru'r (< kweruhl ‘snout, long nose’) he prefers:
kwegeru'r n ‘any long-nosed entity; esp. pig, hog’
where I would suggest:
kwegeru'r n ‘pig, hog; or more generally any long-nosed entity’
To a certain extent this is a matter of taste. Both entries carry the same information. But my experience with average dictionary users is that there is a difference, and it’s quite an important one.

Linguists have the patience to work all the way through an entry, however it is structured, to find what they want. But if you don’t put the most relevant information right up at the front of the entry, you’ll lose the ordinary user. The obsolete, but still widely used, Thayer Greek Lexicon provides a good example.
περι-πατέω, -ῶ ; impf. 2 pers. sing. περιπάτεις, 3 pers. περιπάτει, plur. περιπάτουν, fut. περιπατήσω, 1 aor. περι-επάτησα; plupf. 3 pers. sing. περιεπεπατήκει (Acts xiv. 8 Rec.elz), and without the augm. (cf. W. § 12,9 ; [B. 33 (29)]) περιπεπατήκει (ibid. Grsb.) ; Sept, for הַַַָָָלַך; to walk; [walk about A. V. 1. Pet. v. 8]; a. prop. (as in Arstph., Xen., Plat, Isocr., Joseph., Ael., al.): absol., Mt. ix. &; xi. 5; xv. 31; Mk. ii. 9 [Tdf. ὕαγε]; v. 42; viii. 24 xvi. 12; Lk. v. 23; vii. 22; xxiv. 17; Jn. i. 36 v. 8 sq. 11 sq.; xi. 9 sq. ; Acts iii. 6, 8 sq. 12; xiv. 8, 10; 1 Pet. v. 8 ; Rev. ix. 20 ; i. q. to make one’s way, make progress, in fig. disc. equiv. to to make a due use of opportunities, Jn. xii. 35. with additions : περιπ. γυμνός, Rev. xvi. 15; ἐπάνω (τινός), Lk. xi. 44 ; διά w. gen. of the thing,
and so on.
I think there’s an important lesson here for the translation debate. Bible readers can be looked at like dictionary users. Some are very sophisticated and will tolerate a lot to find out what the text means. But that’s not the ordinary Bible reader. How much are we to treat ordinary Bible users like specialists? The literal translations (which, by the way, aren’t nearly as literal as we like to think) might have a place as study Bibles for the serious Bible student, just like dictionaries structured for linguists. But what about the ordinary Bible reader?

Romans 10:17 says
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (ESV)
So the witness of Scripture is that the primary thing we need from our Bible is to hear God in it.

Notice that it does not say
Faith comes from studying ...
Study Bibles are fine but we need a Bible that doesn’t stand in the way of our hearing.

There is a prominent member of our church who recites Scripture from memory. I’m not talking about a verse or two. He can recite entire passages, even whole books, from memory. On occasion he is called upon to do so as the Scripture reading.

The effect is astounding.

Even though he’s not a particularly good actor, his presentation of Scripture reaches places in your spirit that does just what Rom. 10:17 says. You hear it and you believe it. Your faith is built up. The added dimension of putting together a whole passage with natural speech rhythms and intonation overcomes unnatural wordings in the text. And that’s great for such performances, but why can’t we have a Bible that duplicates that experience when we do our daily reading? one that sounds so natural that it touches our spirit directly?

(1) Yurok is spoken by about 70 people along the westernmost stretch of the Klamath River in Northern California. More information about the tribe is available here.


I just received the following email message. It always encourages me to hear how this blog is helping others. I hope you are encouraged, as well:
My name is ____, and I am a full-time campus/young adult minister for the Catholic Archdiocese of ___. I just wanted to send you a quick note thanking you for your informative Better Bibles Blog. Probably the main focus of the ministry work I do is focused on catechetics, focusing around Bible study. In any given week, I am leading 2-3 weekly Bible studies either on campus or at a local parish. So for me, your blog is a nice site to visit daily and be informed with what is going on in the world of Bible translations. As a Catholic, there have been a great deal more quality Bible study materials being published in recent years, but we still do not have the breadth and options that our Protestant brothers and sisters have. (I would really like to see the number of Catholic translations increase, with the backing of large publisher like Zondervan.)
Also, I recently saw the link on our site for the book "How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth" and decided to purchase it. I think it might be the best basic guide to translations and scripture reading that I have seen. So, thank you for bringing that to my attention.
God Bless you in your continued work!

Monday, March 10, 2008

familiarity vs. naturalness

I know that my comments about the use of natural English in Bible translations are frustrating to some people and probably even obscure at times. I don't make these comments to be frustrating or obscure. I know from personal experience and from observing others how very important it is to use natural language in Bible translations. I know that such natural language allows Bible users to understand the Bible more accurately. Yes, I wrote that word "accurately" deliberately. There is not a disconnect between translation accuracy and naturalness. There is an important relationship which must not be overstated nor understated.

I have sensed that my preaching and field testing about naturalness in Bible translation over the years has sometimes come across as confusing to others. In this post I'd like to address one reason why I think this happens: it is easy to confuse language with which we are familiar with language that is natural to us. I myself have grown up with the Bible, in fact, I grew up with the King James Version. Its wordings are familiar to me from so much exposure to me. But familiarity and naturalness are two different issues when it comes to use of Bible translations.

Language wordings are natural if they are what people normally and commonly say or write. It is how we speak to our children, our neighbors, our coworkers (unless we are using special jargon of a discipline, such as medical or legal language), the checkout person at the grocery store. Now, such natural language will also sound familiar to us, obviously, since it is what we normally and frequently hear. (Such frequent exposure, by the way, is how our children learn our languages. We do not *normally* teach our children to speak by giving them language lessons, although a few people like myself have been known to give a few language lessons to the young ones!)

But it is also possible for us to be familiar with language wordings which are not natural. That is, they are not wordings which we normally speak or write. One source of many familiar but unnatural English wordings are some English Bible versions. Let's look at some examples.

Many of us are familiar with the wording
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
I grew up hearing that wording read from the KJV. I memorized it. My wife and I currently attend a church which recites this exactly this wording from the Lord's Prayer at the end of each of our church services. But this wording is not natural English. It was natural at one time in the history of the English language, but it is not natural for current speakers of English. English speakers have not normally used the word "not" in the order in which it appears in the the Lord's Prayer of the KJV since even before 1611 A.D., when the KJV was printed. English speakers were using the syntactic rules of "do" insertion and NEG-inversion (movement of "not") since before 1611 A.D. resulting in what has been natural English for centuries:
And do not lead us lead us ...
The KJV translators deliberately chose to use the obsolescing word order for "not" to create a more "literary", perhaps more majestic, sound to the English of their translation. By ca. 1850 A.D. the older word order had ceased to exist in normal language usage. It would still be used, and sometimes still is today, for special literary effect, typically to give a wording a kind of romantic or old-fashioned sound.

It is not inaccurate to use the older word order with the word "not". Most English speakers today can still figure out what something means that uses the older word order. Children would not understand it very well, but if they heard it a few times in church they would eventually catch on to what the older word order meant. But almost all speakers today have a sense, at some level of their being, that there is something unusual about the older word order.

For a long time English speakers have naturally used the apostrophe "s" syntax to express the meaning of possession and relationship. So people naturally say and write wordings such as:
Wayne's computer
Elena's daughter
Mike's dog
Barb's book
God's children
the Devil's tricks
English speakers today do not naturally say or write:
the computer of Wayne
the daughter of Elena
the dog of Mike
the book of Barb
the children of God
the tricks of the Devil
Now, many of us, myself included, feel a certain tension about my claims here, especially when we hear or read "the children of God" or "the tricks of the Devil." These sound "right" to us. But they do not sound right because they are natural, commonly used by us or others today. They sound right, instead, because we are familiar with them.

There are many other wordings used in a number of English Bibles which are familiar to us and so they sound "right." But if we record how we actually speak or examine how we actually write, we will find that we seldom, if ever, use an English "of" prepositional phrase to indicate normal (unmarked, natural) possession or relationship. We do find in current English, both spoken and literary, that "of" phrases are used for express some instances of possession or relationship. But as Rich Rhodes pointed out in a recent comment, those instances are "marked." That is, they are unusual in some way. Typically, they are used to draw our attention to them in a special way, such as when we refer to "son of Sam".

Who among us can forget one line from President Kennedy's inaugural address of 1961:
Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
It's a wonderful sentence. It inspired many young people to enter the Peace Corps to help others around the world. It begins with the unnatural wording, "Ask not". Natural English would be: "Do not ask ..." But would President's Kennedy's speech been as powerful if that sentence had been fully natural, as:
Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
The answer is "No." The line was effective precisely because it used an outdated word order for negative commands. Use of what is unnatural often creates a special rhetorical effect and President Kennedy and his speech writers understood that well.

Overuse of anything, food, sex, blogging (!), whatever, can desensitize us to its intended effect. Overuse of unnatural wordings for rhetorical effect desensitizes us and a desired effect is lost. If English Bibles are filled with unnatural wordings, readers get from those Bibles the wrong sense about the messages they are reading. Instead of being intellectually or emotionally or volitionally challenged by the unnatural, the unusual, the unique turn of phrase, we become too familiar with them if they are overused. And familiarity can not only breed the proverbial contempt, but it can also create within readers a sense that God is distant, he doesn't talk our language, he isn't really interested in incarnation. And that is exactly the wrong message we want to have connoted by Bible translations. God not only incarnated himself to bring salvation to mankind, but he also incarnated messages he wanted communicated to mankind through normal human languages.

For the most part the wordings in the original biblical language texts were natural in those languages. It is proper for our translations to be natural, as well, if we want them to communicate the same way to people today as God wanted the original texts to communicate to their audiences thousands of years ago. If there is a passage in the Bible which was intended to convey some special rhetorical effect, it is at that point that translators can look for English forms which might adequately convey that effect. One option might be some unnatural wording.

Please note that I am not at all suggesting that our Bible translations should be written in bland colloquial English that leaves us feeling flat. I happen to love lively language. Our translations should be as natural as were the original texts. Too many of our translations have too many unnatural wordings and therefore communicate inaccurate and wrong messages to their readers.

What are some examples of unnatural English wordings you have come across in Bibles that you have used? To warm my data-hungry bones, why don't you list some in comments to this post. Let not this challenge go unmet!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Do we need another English Bible translation?

Iyov recently asked: Do we need yet another English Bible translation? He answered, "Yes."

Although I can never forget about the 3,000 language groups who have no translation of the Bible, I agree with Iyov that English could use another Bible translation. I believe that we have yet to see an English Bible which is just as sensitive to the syntax and lexicon of English as it is to the syntax and lexicon of the Biblical languages. To do an adequate Bible translation into English, I think that translators should know English well enough that they can answer questions such as:
  • When should we write "Zebedee's sons" instead of "the sons of Zebedee"?
  • Does "rejoice and be glad" communicate one or two emotions?
  • Is the word "in" the English equivalent of the Greek dative, as in "you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17)?
  • Can "the wicked" refer to a single person or only to plural people?
  • What might be a natural English translation equivalent of "Sons of Thunder"?
  • Why is "I sent to know your faith" ungrammatical in English?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

NET Bible Interview

Hall Harris, General Editor of the NET Bible, has just completed an interview about the NET Bible. It can be read on the Midlands Bible College Blog. English versions recently reviewed on the Midlands Bible College Blog are:
HT: Hall Harris

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Welcome to the Biblicalist!

I am delighted to announce a new Biblical Studies list, designed to be open to people from a wide variety of perspectives. Our desire is to welcome students of the Bible from differing backgrounds.
    Welcome to The Biblicalist, a biblical studies list of academic emphasis open to all who wish to approach the Bible in its wider context, past and present. All viewpoints and perspectives which draw on the work of scholars in biblical studies and cognate disciplines are welcome.

    Topics of discussion include the interpretation of particular texts of the Bible and related literature, the background of ancient Near Eastern and Classical cultures, theological and philosophical reflections on relevant issues, and the Bible in art and literature, including the reception of the Bible from ancient times to the present.

Chris adds,
    If you’re interested in an academic biblical studies e-mail discussion list that is open to the full sweep of exegetical and theological studies, one that welcomes discussants of all theological commitments (or lack of same), one that invites participants to bring their theological commitments to bear on their interpretive tasks, then the Biblicalist is for you! Join today!
Iyov links to the moderators.