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Monday, June 30, 2008

Scholarly Legends

Well, I guess I’ve been tagged by David. Even though I’m supposed to be packing for the first of my summer travels which start tomorrow, I’ll hold forth on something that has been bothering me for the last week.

In 1991 the most eloquent curmudgeon in the field of linguistics, Geoffry Pullum, a professor at — of all places — UC Santa Cruz, that most laid back of all the campuses of the University of California, published a volume of wickedly pointed, but very entertaining, essays about the state and practice of the the field of linguistics, entitled The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. The essay that gave the book its title can be read online in a rough OCR’ed version here.

Cutting to the chase, the punchline is this: the CW about Eskimos having hundreds of word for snow is hooey. Baloney. The scholarly equivalent of an urban legend.

Pullum draws on the work of a linguistic anthropologist and Mayanist (!) by the name of Laura Martin, a professor at Cleveland State and one time chair of the Department of Anthropology. She traced the growth of this tidbit of CW from Franz Boas’ introduction to the original Handbook of North American Indians, where he cited 4 words, to the full blown legend it is now. In the early 80s she read a paper on the topic at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (I was in the audience) and circulated a long essay meticulously documenting the whole history, but the American Anthropologist would only publish a much reduced version as a research report (vol. 88.2:418-23 [1986]).

But Pullum’s point isn’t really about Eskimo — interesting though that may be. As he himself says:
“[This essay] isn't about Eskimo lexicography at all, though I'm sure it will be taken to be. What it's actually about is intellectual sloth. .... The tragedy is not that so many people got the facts wrong; it is that in the mentally lazy and anti-intellectual world we live in today, hardly anyone cares enough to think about trying to determine what the facts are.” (pg. 171)
Well. I’m here today to grouse about a similar urban legend in Biblical Studies with ugly implications for Bible translation. Dr. Jim West brought it up again last week in a piece called “Why Modern Translations of the Bible Bungle it” and I rankled. The whole piece is based on just a scholarly legend not unlike the Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax.

The arugment of the piece is this:
The times of the Bible were very different from ours.
The Bible needs to express these differences.
Therefore the language of the Bible in translation should sound different.
I’m tempted to stop here and let the reader work out all the fallacies in that reasoning which should be perfectly obvious when it is laid out as a syllogism. But the fact that huge segments of the church have bought this bogus line for so long suggests I had better be more explicit.

The times of the Bible were very different from ours. This is no doubt true. We have more stuff -- a lot more stuff. I don’t mean that we’re more materialist, I mean that science and technology have given us lots of manufactured goods that either didn’t exist or were only available to the wealthiest people of those days. We have indoor plumbing; they were lucky to have outhouses. We have cars and planes. The had horses and camels, and they walked a lot. We have machines, washing machines, dishwashers, and printing presses; they had slaves and scribes.

But, I ask, just how relevant is that to the message of the Bible?

Hardly at all.

Why does the Bible speak to us today? It speaks to us because it’s about human nature. It’s about loyalty and honor, love and respect, and trusting God. These things (and their opposites) haven’t changed a whit since Adam. (If they have, then, as Paul said, we of all men are to be most pitied.)

The Bible needs to express the difference of our worlds. Here I take issue with the premise right up front. The stuff of the Bible that is of interest are those things about human nature. The differences in the worlds and worldviews is irrelevant, beyond the fact that knowing something about them helps us to better understand the motivations and reactions of the people.

So you can see why I reject the conclusion.

Do I think we should go around changing pigs into sheep? or wine into pulque?

Not at all.

But there is an ocean of difference between substitutions of that magnitude and using language that drops a veil between the heart of the reader and the Word of God (Mt. 25:12):
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, know you not. (KJV)
But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ (ESV)
Instead of
But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’ (HSCB)
(Notice the Message is way off base here, but in a different way:
He answered, ‘Do I know you? I don’t think I know you.’)

Now I don’t think it’s an accident that so many students of the Bible fall prey to the mistake of believing in the essential foreignness of the Scriptures. It has an easy explanation.

Anyone who is seriously interested in studying the Bible will study Greek and Hebrew in order to dig deeper. And, as anyone who has learned a second language as an adult can tell you, it takes a very long time before that language stops sounding foreign, even if you are moderately fluent in it. Often you’re a half beat behind as the native speakers rattle on. And they are constantly saying things in ways you’d never have thought of in a million years.

And for languages that you don’t have to actually use in live interaction, the matter is worse. It is the rarest of people for whom written languages become truly alive.

The distance that so very many Bible scholars feel when approach the Scripture in the original languages is not essential to the Scripture. It arises unnoticed as the product of language learning. They feel distance when reading in Greek and Hebrew and think that the distance is in the text. They read passages they don’t fully understand and think that therefore the author was expressing a mystery.

Not at all. The NT is natural in Greek as the Egyptian papyri show. It should be natural in English.

That foreignness stuff, that’s a scholarly legend.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rich Rhodes seen fishing with Elvis

Can you explain the disappearance?

Summer Fun: Word Play in Paul

I had been thinking about a good topic for summer fun. We had Psalm 68 last year, which was wonderful, but I thought we should do something Greek this year.

It must be ESP, because just this afternoon, I was thinking of all the good buddies who blog about Greek, and then I decided to choose "Word play in Paul. " And lucky for me, Iyov has given the topic a great introduction, so I don't have to do that. (As they say, great minds think alike.) So, I hereby second the opening of the summer blog play on Paul! We can do a round up at the end of the month or the end of the summer.

The object will be to write something about the language that Paul uses. Is it influenced by Hebrew, by his rabbinical training, by Greek rhetoric, or what? I have not the remotest clue, so I await your contributions eagerly. Post a sample translation or a passage or discussion of some aspect of Paul's use of language. Examples and comparisons can come from anywhere in the Bible. How does he use the Hebrew Bible, for example. Link to something you have already written, contribute whatever you like. A picture of the hippo dressed up as Paul would also count as an entry.

Here is my meager opening sample, from Romans 15:30-16:2,
    30 παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀδελφοί διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ πνεύματος συναγωνίσασθαί μοι ἐν ταῖς προσευχαῖς ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ πρὸς τὸν θεόν

    31 ἵνα ῥυσθῶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀπειθούντων ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ καὶ ἡ διακονία μου ἡ εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ εὐπρόσδεκτος τοῖς ἁγίοις γένηται

    32 ἵνα ἐν χαρᾷ ἐλθὼν πρὸς ὑμᾶς διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ συναναπαύσωμαι ὑμῖν 33 ὁ δὲ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης μετὰ πάντων ὑμῶν ἀμήν

    16:1 συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν οὖσαν καὶ διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς

    2 ἵνα αὐτὴν προσδέξησθε ἐν κυρίῳ ἀξίως τῶν ἁγίων καὶ παραστῆτε αὐτῇ ἐν ᾧ ἂν ὑμῶν χρῄζῃ πράγματι καὶ γὰρ αὐτὴ προστάτις πολλῶν ἐγενήθη καὶ ἐμοῦ αὐτοῦ

    30 I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to struggle together with me in prayers on my behalf to God.

    31 that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my ministry which is for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,

    so that I may come to you with joy by God's will and together with you be refreshed. 33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

    16:1 I stand Phoebe with you, being a minister of the church at Cenchrea, 2 that you accept her in the Lord, in a manner worthy of the saints, and stand beside her in whatever matter she may have need of you; because she also has stood before many, even me.
a) I use "brothers" here in the sense of peers or equals, in the sense that women really are "brothers." It is also easier in a concordant translation like this.

b) Paul repeats the root words for "minister," "accept" and "saints" first for himself and then for Phoebe. Is this chance or deliberate?

c) Paul uses three three related words that create a word play that many translations have tried to imitate in part. συνίστημι - stand together, παρίστημι - stand beside, and προΐστημι - stand before. This is why you see the repeated use of "help" in some translations. Here is the RSV and other translations.
    and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.
Of course, this is based on etymological fallacies, and some meaning may not be communicated properly, but maybe some meaning elements are clearer.

I hope to hear from some of you who are really blogging up the Greek. TC (whom I have lost momentarily, Mike, Rick, everybody. It doesn't have to contain a translation, just some insight, no matter how tangential, into Paul's use of language.

As always I owe a debt to Rotherham's Emphasized Bible.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wordles for Bible books

Andy at Think Christian mentioned what for me is a very useful application of the web tool Wordle. Yipeng Huang has created Wordles for each of the New Testament books. Here are just two:

Matthew Galatians

Can you guess which books they represent? (Hint: Hold the mouse over the image for the answer.) Sorry that doesn't work on Blogger. Look at the link instead if you need help.

I believe that Yipeng used the NIV for this exercise. It would be interesting to compare translations of a small rather dense book like Jude and see how the Wordles are different. This works in English because it is an agglutinative language evolving toward being an isolating language. Portuguese and Koine would not work as well because of their richer morphology. This would be a great tool for a Sunday School teacher (or even Bible college professor) who wants to show major themes of a book based on word frequency.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

birds and wirds

First, let me offer a word of thanks to commenters on my previous two posts. It is always a thrill to interact with such a wild and woolly bunch.

The logic problem that always leaves me scratching my head is this: God wrote The Book. He intended for it to be translated. But he left us without the tools to do it properly. We lack the original authors to consult on their intentions. In most cases we have far too little data to make a comparative analysis of lexemes and phrases. We're often not sure of the original author or readers and the cultural milieu that they lived in. Too often, we just don't know. Our translations can become a projected solipsism. Grab it and create the meaning of your choice.

In Spanish or Portuguese if I ask you what you mean, I ask what did you "want to say?" ¿Que queria decir? or Que queria dizer? Jorge Luis Borges once remarked on a translation of one of his works, "It translated what I meant but not what I wanted to say." That "want to say" element of meaning is the part that leaves translators like myself feeling nervous. We can often tell you what God's Word means, but not what he wanted to say. But being God I suspect he could have set things up differently had he wished. Ambiguity and error don't take him by surprise. The one who created bird takes joy in the more than 10,000 species. He might find equal pleasure in the 6,912 wirds.

*6,912 is the number of living languages listed at

If anyone could track down the actual Borges quote I'd be grateful.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

'Tis the gift to be simple

Note to self: never hit "post" before the second cup of coffee in the morning. I mixed a few thens and thans.

There is a misconception about Bible translations that the ones with the biggest words and the most complicated sentences must be the most accurate. And a corollary error is that simple translations are dumb. On the contrary, 'tis the gift to be simple. Speaking clearly and well is a gift. And in translation it is evidence of a translator who has so internalized the original message that they can express it in natural language. But it's more than that. While translations that try to imitate the sentence length of Paul or the wordplay of Isaiah are valuable, they are prone to failure. That's because the nuts and bolts of languages are so different from one to the next that when we try to dolly up English to look like Hebrew we inevitable end up with something badly dressed.

So, 'tis the gift to be simple when making a Bible translation. Because it gives the reader a chance to absorb the meaning with a minimum of barriers. This happened with us last week in translating the story of the man born blind in John 9 into Nyungwe. We laughed at this audacious man who stood up to the powerful and said, "Do you want to become his disciples, too?" And we had more vocabulary for shepherding in Nyungwe than John did in Greek so our translation of John 10 was what some might call "free" in parts.

A good translation depends on what you're after. If you wish to translate the Psalms as if they were Elizabethan sonnets or head-banger anthems then good for you. If you hope to capture some of the raw language of the Psalms in raw English then terrific. If you hope to produce a translation that gives English readers a feeling for the rhythms and cadences of the original Hebrew then please do so. This is part of the problem in our translation debates. Sometimes we take shots at translations without defining what kind of translation we're after. ESV and TNIV are equally excellent translations with regard to their goals of targeting (much different) ideological and liturgical niches.

I am a great lover of the poetry of Pablo Neruda. I fell in love with his language and thought through translation. However had someone decided to make him sound like William Shakespeare or Walt Whitman I might not have been captivated by Neruda's lines of love. So a simple translation of Neruda is best. And then, if you wish to go further. It's time to learn Spanish. So too with the Biblical languages. A simple translation is best. Otherwise we very often end up exegeting a difficult-to-understand translation rather than the original text behind it.

Fall in love with the message of the Bible. And then dive into the original languages and fall in love all over again.

This post title quotes the first line of a beautiful American Shaker song, Simple Gifts. Here are the lyrics:

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
     'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
     'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
     To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
     Till by turning, turning we come round right.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Have a blessed week.



I have been away for a bit on other blogs. First, I have tried to engage with a couple of complementarian blogs in a non-combattive way. Second, I have been reading some blogs of girlfriends so I could find some words to express how I feel.

Here is an example of what I found,
    So when I read books like How Women Help Men Find God, I well up inside with so much frustration because I can not believe that an otherwise intelligent person would write in this way. Intellectuelle

    What I am leading to is this: women are justified in being angry at the injustice, inconsideration, and just plain wrongness in probably 90% of the rhetoric touting itself as biblical womanhood and manhood, or any other mistreatment. Intellectuelle

    Like an abused caged wild animal newly set free, most any movement made me flinch and anything that looked like a cage wall made me snarl and run. Compegal

    The hardest part about the change wasn’t in making the change itself, but in grieving the loss of some hopes and dreams based upon the old beliefs, in knowing I had been a part of giving people “Christian” advice that wasn’t really Scriptural at all but was harmful, and in missed opportunities and other wrong choices based on the old beliefs. CBE blog

    On Monday, I burnt four marriage books. I was very angry. The enemy was there, controlling, menacing, ever strong. I need to work on my reactions to the enemy’s victories, but it hurts so much! MRB

    I have discussed this topic with several women and have been a little bit surprised by their reactions. It seems to me that women would be glad to know that the idea of submission precedes the fall. This shows us that the headship of the husband is not rooted in a punishment, and perhaps even an unfair punishment where woman was given the harsher penalty of having to submit, but is rooted in the very purpose and creation of mankind. Yet women have told me that they prefer to think that submission is a product of the Fall. Challies
I can't express how I feel myself - way over the top of what you read here - except to say that it is a pain that crashes in my head. The pain of knowing that the Bible was used to enslave me for being a woman. Since clearly this affects how I interact, I have resorted to borrowing the words of other women to help me express it here.

So, this is just to say that if you see me saying untoward things sometimes, it comes out of this kind of pain. I'm sorry. I know that when other people say things it comes out of their pain.

Fortunately this is mostly about Bible translation, and not about the rest of my life. My kids are great, my dog is healthy, my grass is cut, and I love my job. So, no, I am not having a nervous breakdown. But Bible translations being used to enslave women causes me pain, a great deal of pain.

Now, I will try to listen harder to other people and their issues.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Beware of Bible experts

They believe that you don't understand the Bible unless you read it in the original languages. They think you should learn words like "haft" and "buckler." They advocate the use of wooden translations as being preferable to those written in contemporary language.

I want to believe that they are poking fun at themselves. But sadly, they are very, very serious.

Why is that?

It's because in the process of mastering ancient languages they have lost their own. Mastering Greek or Hebrew or Ugaritic is no mean feat. To get to the point where you can fluently read all those squiggles requires years of effort.

We should respect these people and listen to them when they tell us about the scansion of the Psalms. Or the laments of Jeremiah.

But when they start telling us how to speak English they just need to be listened to patiently and then ignored. And when they start telling us that our Bible translations should sound wooden, well, just roll your eyes and smirk a little.

Because they have forgotten the mother that gave them birth. In suckling at the teat of ancient languages, their taste for good home-cooking has soured.

Let me ask you a simple question. Where did 5th graders learn to speak English? From their parents. They speak the way they do because that is the way their parents speak. So a translation that "speaks" like a middle-schooler is speaking English the way it is spoken today. Not like Sir Philip Sidney. Or King Lear. Or even Barbara Walters. But like real people speaking real language in a real world.

The experts want us all to learn a bridge language called "Biblish." It's spoken by the NASB and the NRSV and KJV. And most of the people in attendance at the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston speak Biblish, too.

Or do they? I read their blogs and they very often sound like they're speaking the English of 5th graders. Jim West called his camera "sweet." John Hobbins called someone a "wannabe." So I know they have it in them. While they're telling you that all the secrets of God's Word are hidden in the original languages, they spend their evenings watching American Idol and House.

Thankfully, there are exceptions. Martin Luther was one. He listened to mothers and children to test his German translation of the Bible. Barclay Newman hung out with children and people unfamiliar with the Bible to produce the CEV translation. Desiderius Erasmus said, "Would that the farmer might sing snatches of scripture at his plough, that the weaver might hum phrases of scripture to the tune of his shuttle." (See this post for more quotes)

My favorite quote in that post is in the comments:

On another note, since I haven’t said it for a long time, I will repeat it now. Good News for Modern Man, the mother of all DE translations, was the only translation I read the New Testament in, cover-to-cover, as a teenager. That’s because it is clear and easy to understand.

Once I began learning Hebrew and Greek, the limitations of TEV became clear to me, but then, the limitations of NASB, which many of my friends at the time preferred, became even more palpable.

That's John Hobbins of the aptly named Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog. Listen to him, my friends. Because on this point I completely agree. The best translation for the majority of people, whether children or adults is a clear translation written in idiomatic English. The next step should be diving into the turbulent and murky original languages, not trying to cross the very rickety bridge language called Biblish.

See Beware of men in high lace collars and Martin Luther on Bible Translation for more Bible translation quotes.

For some quite contrary points of view read:


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bible Translation Selection Criteria

Trevor Jenkins wrote the following as a post to the Bible Translation list. Trevor has a long term interest in Bible translation, especially for the Deaf with whom he works. With his agreement I am posting this here to reach a wider audience - Peter Kirk.

We have 10 to 12 Deaf* people attending our current Alpha course. The group has a wide range of educational attainment; two guests have post-graduate education, two or three have completed the English equivalent of American high school. The others possess only basic education. All of the group acknowledge them to be Christians.

One Alpha session focuses on the Bible. For this session we brought along a variety of different English translations so guests could check which English one(s) they preferred: Easy-Reading, which with a different cover is marketed as "The Holy Bible for Deaf People", CEV, GNB/TEV, God's Word, TM, the Graphic Bible, and NLT. All deliberately chosen because their targeted reading level is nearly equivalent to that of the average (hearing) adult. All literalistic translations were excluded because of their implicit targetting of above average hearing adults. Of course the group's preferred version is in BSL but the project to produce that translation has only recently begun.

The existing Bible choices for the group are interesting. The two with post-grad education use either the GNB or NCV (in the Youth Bible format). The GNB because of the language and the Youth Bible because of the supplementary information included on the page. One of the "high schoolers" also uses the GNB. The one hearing guest commented that despite a professional background as a general practioner their NIV was sometimes difficult to read. None of the others owns a printed English Bible. They can't access the language of their churches pew Bible (the NIV as it happens). They weren't aware of other translations being available.

Everyone in the group liked The Graphic Bible for its visual presentation but for some the text was too small (and more recent reprints have made it smaller still). The format matches the story-telling aspect of BSL. Although we didn't have a copy on the night some of the group have evaluated the newly published Manga Bible. But sadly that isn't as comprehensive in its narrative retelling of the biblical record and the text is even smaller. Plus The Manga Bible editions tack on a highly literal English translation that many of this group see as nothing better than gibberish. :-|

The most interesting part of the experiment was that the two GNB/TEV users both preferred GW. They really like the conventional one column format of the pages. Also the consistent and clear typography. The English was good too they said; each compared their favourite passages in both translations. They were split over the NLT and CEV. Neither liked the bi-columnar presentation that these versions are printed in. Although the CEV's original British edition use of single columns for poetic books was greatly appreciated. (They didn't notice the tri-columnar format of much of the Torah.) The two liked GW so much that they asked where they could purchased copies for themselves. I'll be seeking out copies for them during a visit to New York in a couple of weeks time.

Presentation seems to be forgotten in Bible publishing. Cramming the text onto the page with multiple footnotes, cross-references and alternate readings appears to be more important than the simple act of reading the text. But it isn't only the D/deaf who have problems with the layout of pages in Bibles. As someone with dyslexia I too find columnar text difficult to access; hence my own preference for GW. My daughter who has M.E. needs to go lie down for several hours if she even glances at a page of the NIV Study Bible; I am NOT exaggerating she truthfully does have to do so. Layout is the first impression. Get it wrong and no matter how "accurate" your translation it will not be read.

* Big-D deaf being those in the sociolinguistic group of sign language speakers rather than little-d deaf who follow a medical-only interpretation of the situation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Wayne has emailed to say that Elena's mother died peacefully this morning in Eugene, Oregon. We wish to express our sympathy and acknowledge the loss of a devoted Christian, a wife, mother, missionary, teacher and musician.

In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began. -- Titus 1:2

Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

Note: Well, I didn't realize we were supposed to be dignified! I'm not sure why this post is titled as it is. How about, "A Brief Reflection on John's Use of Water Metaphors as a Symbol for the Holy Spirit?!?

I had so much fun today checking the Nyungwe translation of John 8. This is the section of the Bible that the scholars don't want to acknowledge is in there. The woman caught in adultery. It is a hilarious story. We talked about recording a dramatized version. Elidio laughed nervously when we volunteered his wife to give the one line, "Palibe, Mbuya."

Although this passage is disputed, it is inspiring. And I think it balances the story of Jesus standing up in the temple and shouting about streams of living water in John 7. Stood up. Shouted. Streams of living water. Then, bent over. Wrote with his finger. In the dust. John has such a masterful way of playing with words and symbols and most of all I think he's the funniest evangelist. John 9 has to be one of the funnier passages in the Bible with the man born blind letting loose with a string of one-liners while the Pharisees stand around looking dumb.

Last year I wrote about the context of John 7 and the Feast of Tabernacles. It's a beautiful image contrasting the vain pouring of water over the altar with the symbol of the Holy Spirit taking residence within us and filling us with a continual stream of life. I'd like my life to be like that. To have such an abundance of God's Spirit that I can face down the legalists and offer grace to those caught in sin.

What do you read in Jesus' scribbles in the sand?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Form in the Greek Psalter

Okay, I can't stand any more to see the last post title. I am trying to look dignified here, Dave, and look at your last post title. Gheesh.

Back to the Septuagint. This also relates to Cahill but that will have to wait for another post. In the Greek Psalter and other books of the LXX, words such as "rock" and "shield" referring to God, become personal nouns such as "helper" and "protector." It is quite wrong to think of the Septuagint as nothing more than a literal translation. It has its own form and style. Here is an example from Ps. 18.(17 LXX) Notice also that the very concrete "rock" has become "firmness."
    καὶ εἶπεν ἀγαπήσω σε κύριε ἡ ἰσχύς μου
    κύριος στερέωμά μου καὶ καταφυγή μου καὶ ῥύστης μου
    ὁ θεός μου βοηθός μου καὶ ἐλπιῶ ἐπ αὐτόν
    μου καὶ κέρας σωτηρίας μου ἀντιλήμπτωρ μου LXX

    I love you, O Lord, my strength.
    The Lord is my firmness, my refuge, and my deliverer,
    my God is my helper-and I will hope in him-
    my protector, and the horn of my salvation, my supporter. NETS
From the Hebrew, however, we see a different pattern. Here is the KJV,
    I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.
    The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;
    my God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
    my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. KJV
And here is another example from Ps. 62 (62 LXX),
    καὶ γὰρ αὐτὸς θεός μου καὶ σωτήρ μου
    ἀντιλήμπτωρ μου οὐ μὴ σαλευθῶ ἐπὶ πλεῖον LXX

    Indeed, he is my God and my savior,
    my supporter, I shall be shaken no more. NETS

    He only is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved. KJV
These same shifts in meaning occur in other books in the Septuagint as well. This language of the Septuagint found its way into the Latin Psalter. Although Jerome's "Hebrew" Psalter was much closer to the Hebrew, the Latin Psalter from the Greek predominated in the liturgy.

I am not really sure what to make of this. Did the translators lack an appreciation of Hebrew poetry or did they simply consider the use of such concrete language impossible in Greek? In any case, we want to be familiar with the Greek translation of the Hebrew, as it was widely used in the early Christian era.

Augustine thought that the Septuagint was itself inspired. He did not know how else to accept the fact that Paul used citations of the LXX which contrasted with the meaning of the original Hebrew. It was quite a thing for some church fathers to accept Jerome's translation from the Hebrew at first.

I am not questioning the validity of a literal translation, but we have to be careful not to overspiritualize the feature of literalness. The Septuagint was, in some ways, highly interpretive. We need to be careful not to make assumptions that God has stamped his imprimatur of approval only on literal translations.

Maybe it is for the evocative beauty of the imagery and cadences, that we appreciate a literal translation from the Hebrew, and not because "God has laid down literalness as the morally superior pattern of translation." This should not deny to others space to make their own somewhat freer translation from the Hebrew.

And just to make this post a little more multivocal I will add in here a few lines of commentary from Iyov, who writes here,

    But for the sake of your soul, I hope you pray the psalms in Hebrew, because that will please God. If you pray in English in a version so bad that it perverts the prayers, then the prayer is lost.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Better Bibles Blog shares host with porn purveyors

Shocking headline, isn't it?!? But it's true. Blogger is one of the worst sites on the web for publishing filth. You might not realize that right next door to BBB are all sorts of salacious sites. Should that bring down Wayne and the founders of this blog? I don't think so. It's an uncomfortable truth of the Internet that squeaky clean blogs like this one share the turf with a lot of trash. We as the readers are invited to use discernment and discretion (they're not the same thing) and monitor our own viewing.

On Saturday I threw out a quick piece on my Lingamish blog about the American Bible Society's flub-up. According to reports, ABS hired an enterprise to handle its Web operations only to discover later (thanks to the NYT) that the company was also managing Internet porn sites. The whole fiasco raises a lot of questions but I for one am reluctant to cast stones at ABS on this one. Dig a little and you'll find dirt anywhere you look. We'll see in time if the ABS mucky-mucks made an honest mistake or turned a blind eye to the baddies. I'm rather more upset with the fact that the two honchos that were suspended were raking in a combined income of almost $1,000,000. Dude, I could really use some juice like that. I think I might have to send my resume to New York.

Here are lots of links on this affair:


World Mag

Christianity Today



Saturday, June 14, 2008

Anastasis: to rise again

I will have to take some time to wend my way through Desire of the Everlasting Hills. In the last post I showed how Cahill mixes the use of "thou" into an overall modern and idiomatic translation. In every chapter he makes original and informed translation choices. Here is another.

Cahill cites Job 19:25-26 as an example of "the evolving Jewish idea that there must be life beyond this life." Here is the NRSV for this passage. All translations in the KJV tradition translate it in a similar way.
    For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
    and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    then in my flesh I shall see God, NRSV
However, Cahill provides the Jerusalem Bible version of this verse.
    This I know: that my Avenger lives,
    and that he, the Last, will take a stand on earth.
    After my awakening, he will set me close to him,
    and in my flesh will I see God.
This translation owes something to the Greek version.
    οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι ἀέναός ἐστιν ὁ ἐκλύειν με μέλλων ἐπὶ γῆς
    ἀναστήσαι τὸ δέρμα μου τὸ ἀνατλῶν ταῦτα παρὰ γὰρ κυρίου ταῦτά μοι συνετελέσθη
The second line here starts, "rise up my skin which endures these things." However, the word for "rise up" is the same word in Greek as "resurrect." The Jerusalem Bible translates this as "my awakening." Cahill has deliberately chosen a translation which will reflect the growing belief in immortality, in a resurrection. He remarks,
    The translation I use was chosen not to make inferences unjustified by the original but to see this passage from Job as it was already being interpreted by Jews of the intertestamental period.
Cahill clarifies that the author of Job had no notion of a resurrection from the dead but the idea was being read into the text long before Christianity, as we can see from the Septuagint.

What I like about this book is that Cahill uses a translation which reflects a specific underlying Hebrew, Greek or Latin original, whichever was the text used in the period he is talking about. It would be blantantly ridiculous if he were to translate from one version throughout.

This point about "resurrection" or αναστασις, anastasis from ανιστημι, is important to understanding how the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew. Unfortunately the New English Translation of the Septuagint does not make clear that this word for "rise up" was also used for "rise again." Here is another example from Ps. 1 which may demonstrate how significant this feature of the Septuagint is.
    οὐχ οὕτως οἱ ἀσεβεῖς οὐχ οὕτως
    ἀλλ ἢ ὡς ὁ χνοῦς ὃν ἐκριπτεῖ ὁ ἄνεμος
    ἀπὸ προσώπου τῆς γῆς
    διὰ τοῦτο οὐκ ἀναστήσονται ἀσεβεῖς ἐν κρίσει
    οὐδὲ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἐν βουλῇ δικαίων
    The impious or not so, not so,
    but are like dust that the wind flings
    from the face of the land.
    Therefore the impious will not rise up in judgement,
    nor sinners in the council of the righteous. NETS.
Here is the NRSV translation of the Hebrew.
    The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
    5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
I would suggest that the Greek text can also have a slightly different interpretation.
    The impious or not so, not so,
    but are like dust that the wind flings
    from the face of the earth.
    Therefore the impious will not
    be resurrected in the [day of] judgment,
    nor sinners in the council of the righteous.
We need to see that the Greek adds somewhat to the Hebrew in the preceding line, the wicked are "like dust that the wind flings from the face of the earth" and then these wicked people will not rise again. Whether the translator meant to communicate the meaning of "resurrect" is not something we can be sure of. Possibly not. But we do know that there was a growing belief in a resurrection at this time and anastasis was the word used to communicate this. So, later readers would see "resurrection" both in this text and Job 19:25.

Few translations make this clear. I am glad that Cahill chose a translation to clarify this point.

It's all about the endnotes

There are some books in which the endnotes are simply better reading than the main text. If you have not read Desire of the Everlasting Hills because you fear that you will not learn much from the author's main premise, read the endnotes. Of course, it helps to read the book itself, but it is light reading for the most part.

I am enjoying Cahill's book as a review of the major historical markers before and after the time of Christ. The book is unremarkable in some ways, although I appreciate the readability and don't feel that I have to agree with him to find pleasure in his prose.

But, in one aspect, Desire of the Everlasting Hills stands out. Each time Cahill cites the Bible or another ancient text, he choses from a variety of translations or supplies his own. At first, I found it disconcerting. There is no fixity of style in the translations. It is somewhat irritating that one has to turn to the endnotes for each chapter to find out where the translation comes from. But, it is worth the work.

Most striking are the passages he translates himself. Here is an excerpt from the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5:22). It has the feature of maintaining "thou" in the citing of the commandments and using a more idiomatic style overall,
    You have heard that it was said to our People long ago, Thou shalt not kill and whoever does must face judgment. But I say to you: Whoever is angry with a brother must face judgment.
In this way Cahill allows for different registers of language. One is forced to hear the language as part of a particular discourse. In the endnotes, Cahill comments,
    In this chapter and throughout the remainder of the book all translations from the Greek of the New Testament (except as otherwise indicated) are mine - but with an eye to other translations, especially two at opposite ends of the translation spectrum: the New International Version (NIV), which is moderately literal, and the NJB, which in its assiduously idiomatic English sometimes approaches paraphrase. page 324
More insights into translation from this book later.

PS This post is a followup to Iyov and Holdfast on the use of the singular in the Ten Commandments. It is a good discussion.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Head and body, an organic unity

Since we don't have one of those fancy widget thingies that Iyov has put on his blog, I'll respond to a comment here with a new post.

Dru asks on this post,
    If 'kephale', despite it's use twice in Judges 11 in what appears to be the way it is used in English, is only normally used in greek to mean a physical head, then what on earth can Paul be meaning when he uses it metaphorically in what appears to be a similar way to how the equivalent word for 'head' is used in Hebrew, English and various other languages?

    If that metaphorical usage, which is so familiar in English that it is hardly a metaphor at all, did not work in Greek, what was he trying to say? If it really didn't work, would it have meant anything to his readers?

    After all, in English, Christ being the skull or the cranium over men does not work.

    Or was he thinking in Hebrew and translating so instantly that he didn't notice he was doing it? And for that matter, what was Paul's first language, and how was the word for 'head' used idiomatically in Aramaic?

    'Head' used biologically has a fairly precise meaning. I would query whether it is legitimate to insist that 'head' when it is used idiomatically as a metaphor/cliche, must have a meaning that is quite as precise as its biological one.

    What I think I am trying to say, is that I'd query whether it is possible to say that Paul does not mean by this metaphor something much like what we'd probably expect it to mean in English.

    I'd also, though, query, and I hope Suzanne you'll agree with me on this, how much one should found doctrine on a metaphor.

    We assume thought takes place in the head. Do you, or any other readers happen to know whether the ancients believed this?
First, I don't have the answer, I want to be clear on that. But I have been thinking about it. In the Septuagint kephale is used to translate r'osh in Judges 11 for Jephthah who is brought in to lead the tribe, and in 2 Sam 22:44, where David will be the "head of the heathen." There are almost 200 other instances where r'osh means leader of one's own people, and it is translated as archon, hegemon, archegos and chiliarch. Paul was familiar with the Septuagint. These words mean "leader" or "ruler."

Here is the catch. There seems to be an agreement between the early patriarchs, more recent complementarians and egalitarians, that in Eph. 5 the head forms an organic unity with the body. However, in the few examples that we have where kephale is used to translate r'osh, the leader has discontinuity with the people. David is not of the same people as the Gentiles. This, I believe, is what posed a problem for Chrysostom. He writes,
    Is He then Head of the Gentile also? In no wise. For if we are the Body of Christ, and severally members thereof,1 Corinthians 12:27 and in this way He is our head, He cannot be the head of them who are not in the Body and rank not among the members. So that when he says, of every man, one must understand it of the believer.

    Christ is called the Head of the Church. If I am to take nothing from what is human in the idea, why, I would know, is the expression used at all? On the other hand, if I understand all in that way, extreme absurdity will result. For the head is of like passions with the body and liable to the same things.

    What then ought we to let go, and what to accept? We should let go these particulars which I have mentioned, but accept the notion of a perfect union, and the first principle; and not even these ideas absolutely, but here also we must form a notion, as we may by ourselves, of that which is too high for us and suitable to the Godhead: for both the union is surer and the beginning more honorable.
Therefore, I suggest that Paul is not using the very limited occurrences where kephale translates r'osh as background for his use of kephale. That does not mean that Paul does not have some notion of gender hierarchy. That is simply another question. But Chrsysostom thinks that Paul has another meaning here. Organic continuity is crucial.

Oddly, when some people report the results of the kephale study, they claim that "David as king of Israel is called the "head" of the people" thereby giving the impression that kephale is used to refer to the ruler of one's own people. There is actually no case of that. There is no example of the phrase "head of the people" using kephale in Greek. And yet this is cited as evidence.

The other example is, of course, in Philo, where King Philadelphus is called the "head" of the herd, the most illustrious of all the Ptolemies. Philadelphus is not actually called the "head of the nation" although, once again one finds this cited. Since the family of the Ptolemies includes Philadelphus' father, the meaning of "authority over" is not in view. I don't know how or if this occurrence relates to Paul's use.

So, simply put, there is no evidence for the use of kephale as the leader of one's own family, tribe, or nation before the epistles and this is an important point. If one wants to maintain the notion of perfect unity, then one has to appeal elsewhere for an idea of ruler or leader.

Naturally, one can say that the head makes the decisions. But, for the Greeks, there are many different psychological models. In the tripartite soul, reasoning takes place in the head, appetite in the belly, and the will is located in the thumos, or lungs. There is no point in equating "reason" and kephale since Christ is the logos of God, and God is the kephale of Christ. So we chase a wild goose on this one.

Some say that the head is where the semen is stored and there seems to be some evidence that the head is related to the idea of reproduction. The head is also the place where we eat, see, talk, hear, and so on. Does God provide this for Christ, and man for woman? Does man think for woman? It becomes rather complicated. Chrysostom does not go in that direction. Here is another passage from Cyril of Alexandria,
    Therefore of our race he become first kephale, which is arche, and was of the earth and earthy. Since Christ was named the second Adam, he has been placed as kephale, which is arche, of those who through him have been formed anew unto him unto immortality through sanctification in the spirit. Therefore he himself our arche, which is kephale, has appeared as a human being: indeed, he, being by nature God, has a kephale, the Father in heaven. For, being by nature God the Word, he has been begotten from Him. Because kephale means arche, He established the truth for those who are wavering in their mind that man is the kephale of woman, for she was taken out of him. Therefore one Christ and Son and Lord, the one having as kephale the Father in heaven, being God by nature, became for us a kephale accordingly because of his kinship according to the flesh.
The point again is kinship, not headship. Imagine how radical it would be if we taught the "kinship" of man and not the headship of man. Personally, I believe Paul's concern was about the nature of Christ. God shares his nature with Christ, Christ with men, and man with woman. Not that women are a step further from God, but for the purpose of what Paul is trying to say, he uses this pattern. Woman is contingent on man, just as man is clearly contingent on woman - just in case women forgot that.

PS By "headship" I mean the definition in English, that man is the master of woman. That is not a likely meaning for the Greek word kephale.

ESV Study Bible

The ESV blog has made the introduction to Revelation available. It provides a good discussion of the different models of prophecy regarding Christ's return. Read more about it on the ESV blog.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Singular and Plural

It is often said that modern translations lose in expressing the meaning of the original languages if a generic "they" is used instead of a generic "he." But, of course, we are all aware that the singular "thou" has been replaced by the plural "you." I had not been aware of how significant this could be until recently. Certainly in studying the Psalms, the difference is remarkable. One is able to notice when God is addressed and when the congregation is addressed, or even oneself.

Iyov introduces his study of the singular in the giving of the ten commandments with this question,
    A careful look at Exodus 20:2 and the text of the Ten Commandments immediately following shows that throughout they are addressed in the singular. Why is this?
Jesus is quoted as using the singular form for the commandments in the gospels. It is a marked feature in his quotations of the commandments in Greek.

For one more example, here is a familiar passage, Rom. 10:5-10, in the KJV, RSV and NRSV, with and without a singular "thou." Does it make a theological difference and how should we address this?
    5For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

    6But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)

    7Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)

    8But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;

    9That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

    10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

    [5]Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it.
    [6] But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?" (that is, to bring Christ down)
    [7] or "Who will descend into the abyss?" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
    [8] But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach);
    [9] because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
    [10] For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.

    5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) 7‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say?
    ‘The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart’
    (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
Does changing the verb to the plural shift the focus to a group confession? How important are these kinds of changes? Which one is closer to the Greek? Or underlying Hebrew?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hen Scratches June 10, 2008

I shall most certainly have to toss out a few more half-baked posts, my last few were the best conversation starters yet and gave rise to quite wonderful comment threads. Thank you ever so much.

Among the comments on agape and kephale are some fascinating contributions. I can't quite compete with (oops, I meant complement)Dave in entertainment value but the comments do.

E provides an article which is a must read. We have been having the conversation on and off for over a year, in whispers, as to whether the fact that some ancients believed that semen was stored in the head was significant to the interpretation of 1 Cor. 11. I will leave Paul's Argument from Nature with you. No, I don't think this is a whackjob. What do others think?

In other encouraging notes on the gender front, TC has bought the TNIV study Bible for his wife and Iyov pounces on people who hold to this position.

All the recent posts on words like charis, psyche, agape etc. have got me thinking about how words have been invested with meaning subsequent to their appearance in the scriptures. Studying this helps to break through our misconceptions.

In ending rather abruptly, I just want to add that my writing here at all right now is a demonstration of philia, (or agape, but that sounds rather lofty, so I will revert to philia, a humbler word for the same thing - a bond of affection). I enjoy the bibliosphere and I am reading and enjoying the various conversations around and about. At the moment all my creative juices are required for writing report cards.

And I would love to hear your thoughts on agape and philia. Philia, the bond of affection and interdependence in Aristotle, is usually translated as "friendship." Is philia synonymous with agape, Christian charity? They both promote social bonds of fellowship. There is a charity/organization near my home called Philia, and this has got me thinking.

Monday, June 09, 2008

When translation committees chicken out

"This edition of the New International Reader's Version has been revised so that the gender language more closely matches that of the New International Version."

From A Word About the New International Reader's Version in the NIrV Discoverer's Bible for Young Readers, 2002, Zondervan.

In March, I blogged about how the Contemporary English Version had been edited to put "grace" back into the "graceless CEV." (See my article at Lingamish: Seasoning the CEV with grace)

Translation committees are sometimes persuaded to reverse their translation choices based on public pressure. In the case of the CEV, I was quite disappointed to see the "Seeker Friendly" Seek Find issued with antiquated English. The 1995 CEV was at some point edited for the 2006 edition and numerous instances of "God's undeserved kindness" or "God treated us much better than we deserved" were edited out and that amazing word "grace" was popped back in.

Although I am always in favor of intelligibility, I think acceptability is even more important. If people reject your translation, it doesn't matter how "clear and natural" it is. I've seen this happen in two cases recently in Africa. The N. translation was beautifully done but they chose a word for God that wasn't acceptable to pastors. The result: a wasted printing of thousands of Bibles. In the case of the S. translation, the traditional word for "grace" was replaced by a "meaningful equivalent." The result is that the translation has been almost universally rejected.

So what do you think? Did the NIrV editors make the right choice editing out gender neutral language?

Here's NIV, Psalm 1:1

Blessed is the man
       who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
       or stand in the way of sinners
       or sit in the seat of mockers.

Here's the NIrV, Psalm 1:1

Blessed is the one who obeys the law of the Lord.
     He doesn't follow the advice of evil people.
He doesn't make a habit of doing what sinners do.
     He doesn't join those who make fun of the Lord and his law.

It's interesting how the "simplified language" with shorter sentences results in more pronominal references than even the NIV.

To see the full-blown "gender neutral" language, here's the TNIV, Psalm 1:1

Blessed are those
who do not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,

And how about the CEV? Here's Romans 5:15-20 in the 1995 edition ("charis" and "charisma" in bold):

15 But the gift that God was kind enough to give was very different from Adam's sin. That one sin brought death to many others. Yet in an even greater way, Jesus Christ alone brought God's gift of kindness to many people.


17 Death ruled like a king because Adam had sinned. But that cannot compare with what Jesus Christ has done. God has been so kind to us, and he has accepted us because of Jesus. And so we will live and rule like kings.


20 The Law came, so that the full power of sin could be seen. Yet where sin was powerful, God's kindness was even more powerful.

This is the same version that is available at

But the 2006 version that I have in the Seek Find edition is heavily (if unevenly) edited. In this edition, the CEV editors changed the instances of "kindness" to "undeserved grace." As I mentioned in my Lingamish post, this is the worst of both worlds. If grace is understood as being undeserved kindness from God, why say "undeserved grace?" That's redundant.

This is an example of the sloppy kinds of patch up jobs translators can do when they're trying to please everyone. On one hand, they've got a consultant saying, "Grace is no longer a term that carries any of the connotations of the biblical term charis." So the translators try to find a good term for charis that communicates well for modern speakers. Then they send it out to the reviewers and they freak out! "Where's grace? This isn't right. What are we supposed to sing in church, 'Amazing undeserved kindness how sweet the sound?!?'" So, the translators go back and try to change it to something that the consultant will accept and the pastors will accept and the result is some awkward phrase like "undeserved grace." Lest you think I'm casting stones, let me confess, "I've been there and done that!"

Does anyone know of any other translations that have come out with a later more formal edition after the original "free" edition?

And which is more important to you: intelligibility or acceptability? Or is there a third option?

And a quick note: I've really enjoyed Suzanne's recent posts on love and also kephale. I loved that line, "the possibility of a relationship of loving interdependence." Sorry I can't comment but for some reason it's easier to post an entire post than comment on Blogger.

P.P.S. If anyone can track down the story on the 2006 CEV edition published in Seek Find I'd be very interested to hear it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Kephale in translation

For a long time I felt that the metaphorical meaning of kephale was not important when considering translation issues. However, I have rethought the issue. It needs to be recognized that the English word "head" has a meaning which includes both the physical head, and "a person to whom others are subordinate, as the director of an institution or the manager of a department; leader or chief."

The Greek word kephale had no such corresponding meaning of "leader" or "chief." Over the last two years I have seriously considered every example which has been cited as an occurrence of kephale meaning "authority over" or "leader" prior to Paul's epistles. Other than the translation of the highly irregular case of Jephthah, I have not seen one other instance of kephale being used in translation or original Greek writing as the "leader" or "chief." This was contrary to my expectations.

So the Greek word means head in the sense of the physical head, but the meaning of "leader" attached to the word "head" is a product of interpretation. It is one of several possible candidates for the meaning of kephale.

Other interpretations of kephale, are "beginning" and "first principle." Possibly both sides in the comp egal debate promote a meaning of "head" that is an interpretation of the word, rather than a referential meaning of the word. It is equally suspect to promote "leader" as to promote "source." Personally, I find some support for "first principle" (and therefore, possibly "source") and no support for "leader" so far. But someone may yet offer me support for "leader." I don't discount this.

However, I think we agree, technically, those who propose any meaning other than physical head, and therefore of one flesh with, and in perfect sympathy with, promote an interpretation. Here are some examples of the suspect translation of kephale.
    In a marriage relationship, there is authority from Christ to husband, and from husband to wife. The authority of Christ is the authority of God. Message

    Now I want you to know that Christ is the head over all men, and a man is the head over a woman. But God is the head over Christ. CEV

    But I want you to understand that Christ is supreme over every man, the husband is supreme over his wife, and God is supreme over Christ. Good News
Each one of these goes beyond translation. The awkward thing is that since the word "head" in English has the meaning of "leader" and the Greek word kephale did not have that meaning, we are stuck with the realization that even by translating kephale as "head," we are not using an equivalent.

It is a tricky thing to find a conversation about men and women that is not infused with the notion that the man is the leader or servant leader. And yet, women throughout scripture and throughout the history of the church have acted on their own moral judgement and God's calling without a male leader. We must not commit to a meaning for a word that denies the scriptures as well as moral and ethical realities.

We must accept that the complementarian egalitarian divide exists on the level of interpretation. Some, like myself, will choose egalitarianism, that is the equal authority of women, as necessary to personal safety and offering the possibility of a relationship of loving interdependence. It is, for me, a moral and ethical choice, a necessary choice between two interpretations demonstrated to derive from scripture, ultimately a choice to neither harm nor self-harm.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The love of women

I am going to be away again but I want to start a response to a question I received some time ago. Should agape and philia be translated differently in the scriptures? Should we have a different translation for the two verbs in the exchange in John 21?

As it turns out, no. Agape and philia love are used about equally for love of things, spouses, friends and God. And of God for us. There is virtually no difference in their use.

Here is an example from the Septuagint.
    ἀλγῶ ἐπὶ σοί ἄδελφέ μου Ιωναθαν ὡραιώθης μοι σφόδρα ἐθαυμαστώθη ἡ ἀγάπησίς σου ἐμοὶ ὑπὲρ ἀγάπησιν γυναικῶν

    I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were made very beautiful to me. Your love to me was wonderful, beyond women's love. 2 Sam. 1:26
In fact, there is not much evidence that this agape love was unconditional. Here is Leah.
    καὶ συνέλαβεν Λεια καὶ ἔτεκεν υἱὸν τῷ Ιακωβ ἐκάλεσεν δὲ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ρουβην λέγουσα διότι εἶδέν μου κύριος τὴν ταπείνωσιν νῦν με ἀγαπήσει ὁ ἀνήρ μου

    And Leah became pregnant and bore a son to Jacob and she called his name Reuben, saying because 'My Lord has seen my humiliation and now my husband will love me.'
The case is no better in classical Greek. Some people have agape love for their pet monkeys. Even in the NT there is no difference between agape love and philia love. Love is love. The broken down human kind and the divine. Love defined by one word is no different from love defined by another word. The actions will make the difference.

No, I don't think that agape love and philia love in John 21 where Peter and Jesus talk, are any different. The switch between the two words is of stylistic importance only.

Addendum: post has been edited to correct errors.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Be glad in this post!

I can't help it. I hear things all the time. Oh, not a psychotic kind of hearing, I hope. But I've got ears and a brain that constantly monitor what I hear or read.

Yesterday as my wife prayed before we ate breakfast, she included Psalm 118:24:
This is the day which the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (RSV)
Now, my wife hears things a lot also. Often, she will comment on something she has heard, questioning whether it is natural English or not, just as I do. This time it was my turn. I mentiond to her that I wondered if "be glad in it" is natural English.

Is it natural English to be glad "in" something (or we might substitute some similar words too "glad")? Listen to the following sentences to see if they sound like proper, natural English to you:
  1. I'm glad in my car.
  2. John is glad in the pastorate.
  3. Suzanne is glad in her studies.
  4. David rejoices in the wife of his youth.
  5. Peter is glad in this month.
There is a long tradition of using "glad (or "rejoice) in it" in translations of Psalm 118:24. Among the versions which follow this tradition are: KJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, NAB, NWT, NIV (but not TNIV), NET, HCSB, NLT, and ISV.

I like the way the NJB handles the issue here:
This is the day which Yahweh has made,
a day for us to rejoice and be glad.
Saying "a day for us to rejoice and be glad" sounds like natural English to me" (except for the Hebraism of "rejoice and be glad" but that should wait for another post).

Are you glad in this day? Are you glad in this post?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Leet speke

If you are interested in learning more about the slang used in the previous post you might check out this Wikipedia article about Leet, the ancestor of LOLCat.

What impressed me about the 1 Timothy 1 passage was the use of FTW and pwn. This is creative and idiomatic use of language and required a thought process on the part of the translators to express an ancient concept in modern parlance. Another interesting thing that I noticed was the words and concepts that weren't changed. This points toward concepts which are so alien that the translators didn't have a way to express them in modern slang. Does that happen in any other translations? You bet it does.

Should this translation be added to the sidebar at BBB? And does it minister to a community that isn't touched by traditional translations? I think the answer to both questions is yes. It's a big world out there and this is a niche translation for a part of it that until now I didn't know about.

Monday, June 02, 2008


"Blessinz of teh Ceiling Cat be apwn yu, srsly."

Initially I was really depressed to see that since June of last year, 61% of an entire translation of the Bible has been produced in LOLCatSpeak. Here in Mozambique, it has taken us ten long years to produce a measly handful of books for the Nyungwe Bible. But, I'll rejoice with those who rejoice, as it were, and share 1 Timothy 1 from (HT: JK Gayle)

1 O hai Timothy, dis is Paul. Ceiling Cat makeded me an apossel of Christ Jebus.2 I iz riting you cuz ur lik mai reel kitteh. U can has grase n mercy n peece from Ceiling Cat n his kitteh teh Christ Jebus.3 When I tooked mah invisible bicycle to Masedoneea, I asked u to be a gud kitteh n stai at Efesus n tel othr kittehs to stop speekin different ideas,4 dat tehy not lissen 2 mifs or fambly trees dat go on n on n on. Teh mifs n fambly treez makes teh kittehs fight n distractz dem from fayth in Ceiling Cat. Iz sayin u dat agin now.5 But Iz not mad and u should no dat; iz cuz of luv an conscience an fayth.6 Sum peeps talkin vain talk;7 dey wanna teech da law but dey no unnerstan wut dey even sayin.8 We knowz da law is good when cats followz it;9 nobody makeded da law for rychus cats, dey makeded it for bad mean cats dat doesnt luv Ceiling Cat, dat killz momz n dadz n other cats,10 n for cats dat lieks buttsecks 2 much,11 accordin 2 da gospel of Ceiling Cat which got giveded 2 me.12 Ceiling Cat FTW cuz he noez I r faythful n he makeded me his servant,13 even tho I useded 2 say bad thingz n persekyute othr cats n stuff: he showed me I r doin it rong,14 n now I'z ok.15 Iz faythful n good 2 say dat Jebus came 2 da world 2 help us stop doin it rong. I useta be da worst of all,16 but Christ Jebus gaveded me mercy n now Jebus showz evryone how much he sufferd, so they can has eternal life 2.17 Dear Invisibl Ceiling Cat, u pwn; plz hav honor n glory 4ever kthxbai.18 OK Timothy, now iz time 4 u 2 fite da good fite,19 wif fayth n good conscience n stuff,20 not liek Hymenaeus n Alexander cuz dey say bad stuffs about Ceiling Cat, so I makeded them go 2 hel HAHAHAHAHA lusers.

This isn't a computer-generated adaptation of the KJV. It is a thoughtful (17), humorous (20), and possibly offensive (10) translation. Is this a Better Bible? I'm thinking not necessarily of the translation itself, but the concept of crowd-sourcing a Bible translation for a niche audience.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

My soul

For those of you who do not find a discussion of kephale uplifting here is something else. I do feel that kepahle is vitally important and that we should seek common ground, a common understanding of the vocabulary of scripture. I continue to welcome complementarians and egalitarians to comment and I am quite happy to not know which one you are or whether you have never heard of either.

Here is TC on nephesh,

The HCSB has decided to translate the Hebrew nephesh in many places as "life" or something similar but not as "soul." It is correct that the Hebrew nephesh can be rendered various ways: "soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, and passion."

Here's the HCSB against the TNIV in the Psalms (the HSCB being the first line and the TNIV the second):
He renews my life(23:3)
He refreshes my soul

So I long for You, God (42:1)
So my soul pants for you, my God

I am at rest in God alone (62:1)
Truly my soul finds rest in God.
Thanks TC. This refreshed my soul. I agree that technically nephesh means "life" or "self" but "soul" fits very well in these instances.