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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

English Bible Version Generator

Now this is a tool that we’ve been needing for a long time. Eddie Arthur, a Bible translator based in the UK has come up with this amazing tool for producing names for Bible translations: The English Bible Version Generator. Just think how handy that is! We’ve got the AV and the ASV and the RSV and the NRSV and the ISV and the ESV. I kid you not! So the field is getting rather crowded. But thanks to Eddie’s tool you have 320 possible names for your very own personal Bible translation!

I think I’m going to call my version the “Inspired Dynamic Study Testament” or IDST. Now that I have a name all I have to do is translate the Bible. But I just need to make this clear from the start: the IDST will have no Apocrypha. And I’m going to translate the entire Bible into Haiku poetry using The Message as my source text…

Try out The English Bible Version Generator at

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

More NLT buzz

No, that’s not a variation on a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich!

Here are a couple of places where people are talking about the NLT:

Tyndale seems to be doing a lot of things right in the marketing of this Bible version. They’ve avoided firestorms while also coming out with a lot of attractive editions of their Bible. The CEV by the American Bible Society and the TNIV by Zondervan seem to be struggling to gain momentum by comparison.

Any other buzz out there about the NLT?

BTW I heard that all the review copies of the NLT Study Bible have been sent out.


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Thursday, July 24, 2008

In the news: World's oldest Bible goes online

Parts of Codex Sinaiticus will go online starting today. CNN reports:
The British Library plans to begin publishing the Codex Sinaiticus, a 4th century text handwritten in Greek, on its Web site. The Gospel of Mark and the Book of Psalms go online Thursday. The full manuscript is to be online in a year.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Don't try to preserve verbal links in translation!

A poster on a private mailing list about Bible translation put forward an argument which was essentially that Bibles should be translated literally and concordantly in order to preserve the verbal links and word plays between different books, even between the Testaments. This is what I wrote in reply:

This reminds me of a talk I heard from an Islamic scholar arguing that the Qur'an is untranslatable, because of all the complex verbal links which cannot be preserved in translation. The complex links in Bible translation cannot all be preserved, and so if that is your standard we have to conclude that the Bible is untranslatable.

But as a counter-argument to that we see that the apostles used a Bible translation which didn't preserve the Hebrew verbal links, and Jesus' words are preserved for us in translation, with many verbal links doubtless lost and others speculatively reconstructed. So I think what this is teaching us is that these verbal links are of secondary importance.

Indeed I might provocatively suggest that they have been deliberately obscured in the process of God inspiring the New Testament to stop Christians getting involved in "disputing about words ... stupid, senseless controversies" (2 Timothy 2:14,23).

Rise of the New Living Translation

Don't miss Rick Mansfield's latest post, Rise of the New Living Translation.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Overly interpretive translations

Iyov has a post comparing different versions of Ecclesiastes 11:1. Here’s the KJV:

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

Looking at the different versions on Iyov’s post you can tell a lot about the philosophies of the different translation committees. Iyov is critical of interpretive translations that “close out alternative meanings.” When I first started consulting for a Bible translation I believed that you should find “the meaning” and translate it as clearly as possible. Now after almost ten years of battling to find the meaning I have relaxed quite a bit and now hope to eliminate misunderstanding without restricting a range of interpretations. That’s a linguistic tug-of-war that almost always ends with polysemy on the losing end of the rope.

Upon arrival in the US I found a copy of the CEV Learning Bible waiting for me. I almost said “weighing for me” because this volume is huge. Despite the hefty size and price tag (more than $30), I am really excited about this edition. It weds the clear CEV text to margins full of helpful notes. But my favorite part is all the pictures. The edition features artwork from all over the world and through the centuries. I’m definitely going to start using this for our family devotions.

Below are details from the page featuring Ecclesiastes 11:1.

ecc 11 1 left column

Here is the note in the margin:

ecc 11 1 marginal note

  There’s a lot to like about this format. The text gives a clear “interpretation” of the original. Then the margin note muddies things up a bit showing how this phrase has been interpreted over the ages.

Head on over to read Iyov’s excellent article: Overly interpretive translations

Saturday, July 19, 2008

1 John 3:1 (T)NIV

I love 1 John 3:1 in NIV and TNIV, especially the first part:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (NIV)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (TNIV)
There is something wonderful about the thought that the Father has lavished his love on us, and I mean in the idea, not just in the alliteration. But is this translation justified? The word translated "has lavished" is dedoken, which is just the normal Greek word for "has given". There is nothing in the text to suggest the extra generosity implied by the word "lavish".

Also potapos doesn't really mean "how great" or "what great". In classical Greek it meant "from what country", and I'm sure that preachers could craft a nice creative sermon from that thought. But in Koine Greek it seems to have meant more like "what kind of", although Barclay Newman suggests the gloss "what wonderful" for this verse and for Mark 13:1.

So in this case the more prosaic ESV rendering is actually better justified by the text:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; ... (ESV)
To me, this illustrates the danger of allowing literary flourishes like "love ... lavished" to have precedence over accurate rendering of the meaning.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Denominations and Bible versions

I think that most English Bible translators hope that their translation of the Bible will serve the needs of more than one church denomination. It is interesting, however, to note the denominational background (or funding) for some English Bible versions. In this post I'll note denominational connections. But before doing so, I want to emphasize that many, if not most, of those who have translated and published these versions do not wish for them to be thought of as denominational versions. In my own years of study of English Bible versions I have found very little evidence of denominational bias in translations. (There is greater ideological or theological bias, but that bias is not limited to beliefs of single denominations, except in the case of the NWT.) So, please do not take away from this post that the versions mentioned here are denominational versions. They are not denominational versions, except for the NWT and the Catholic versions (which are also used by some Protestants, as "Protestant" versions are used by some Catholics). These versions just originated with a denomination or had funding from a denomination or an organization association with a denomination.

Here are denominational connections for some English Bible versions:
  • KJV - Church of English England (Anglican)
  • NAB - Catholic
  • JB/NJB - Catholic
  • NIV - Christian Reformed impetus, but began with an inter-denominational translation committee
  • NWT - Jehovah's Witnesses
  • God's Word - Lutheran (Missouri Synod)
  • HCSB - Southern Baptist (see Kevin Sam's recent blog post; I disagree with Sam if he is saying that there is Baptist influence in the HCSB text itself)
  • NCV - Churches of Christ
  • Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures - Jewish
  • "Our New Bible" (version name not chosen yet) - United Methodist (but ecumenical)
Please feel free to correct me if I have erred anywhere. And please comment on other denominational connections with specific Bible versions, if you are aware of any.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hebrews 2:7

Nathan has asked John and myself to post about Psalm 8:5 in Hebrews 2:7. This is a fascinating issue. I will only look at a few points relevant to the Greek version of this verse. First, the author of Hebrews quotes exactly from the copy of the LXX as we know it today.
    ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρ ἀγγέλους Psalm 8:5

    ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρ' ἀγγέλους Hebrews 2:7
But the Hebrew is
    vattechassereihu me'at, mei'elohim

    You have made him a little lower than Elohim
The King James creates an agreement between the passage in the Psalms and in Hebrews.
    For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, Ps. 8:5

    Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Hebrews 2:7
It is worth noting that the Vulgate has "angels" while Jerome's Iuxta Hebraicum has "God" and the Pagnini translation has "angels" again (Excuse my English). Of the Reformation versions, we see,

"God" Luther, Geneva, ERV, RSV, NRSV
"angels" Coverdale, Bishop's, KJV
"heavenly beings" ESV, (T)NIV

As an aside, this might point to Luther and Geneva favouring the Iuxta Heb. or the Hebrew itself, and Coverdale depending more on Pagnini. However, the translation that Nathan points to uses "the powers that be" for elohim. Perhaps that is the meaning suggested by the use of "angels" in Greek. There is a suggestion that the meaning of elohim is related to that of ἐξουσία in Rom. 13:1
    Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities ἐξουσίαις
It seems that in Rom. 8:38, ἄγγελοι (angels) are related to ἀρχαὶ (principalities) and δυνάμεις (powers).
    For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Rom. 8:38.
It is also worth noting that the LXX translates elohim as "angels" on other occasions as well, notably Deut. 32:43 and Psalm 97:7. This is then quoted in Hebrews 1:6,
    Let all God’s angels worship him.
So, when we see "angels" in this verse, it is a translation of elohim. Is the author of Hebrews saying that the elohim worship Christ? I hope this provides some background to Nathan's post and provokes a little thought about elohim and "angels." I have not commented on the other aspect of this post, that the verb should read, "he requires little."

Nathan has written a post presenting the possible translation,
    And You made him so that he requires little from the powers that be. Ps. 8:5.

God’s Long Nostrils

You gotta see it to believe it: God’s Long Nostrils at Scotteriology.

Romans 3:12

Here is an interesting verse where I think the ESV did the right thing and kept the KJV tradition. It also brings up the question of how Paul cited the LXX. In Romans 3:4, Paul cites Ps. 51:4,
    so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment. Ps. 51:4 ESV

    "That you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail when you are judged." ESV

    ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου
    καὶ νικήσῃς ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε Ps. 51:4

    ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου
    καὶ νικήσεις ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε Rom. 3:4
Of course, Ps. 51:4 in the ESV is translated from the Hebrew.

    לְמַעַן תִּצְדַּק בְּדָבְרֶךָ
    תִּזְכֶּה בְשָׁפְטֶךָ

    That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings,
    and mightest overcome when thou art judged. Rom. 3:4 KJV
However, you can see that in P 51:4, the phrase "in your judgment" is active and in the LXX and Rom. 3:4 the phrase is passive, "when you are judged." This caused Luther quite a bit of consternation. Apparently Calvin was ahead of Luther in realizing that the Hebrew of Ps. 51:4 said "in your judgment."

Many other translations have decided to simply tidy up the discrepancy between Ps. 51:4 and Rom. 3:4. Here are a few.
    So that you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail in your judging." NRSV

    "So that you may be proved right when you speak
    and prevail when you judge." NIV

    "He will be proved right in what he says,
    and he will win his case in court." NLT
Here are some of my questions. Is the Hebrew vague or ambiguous? Did Paul know what the Hebrew was for this psalm? What do we do when two different interpretations for one original verse appear in the scriptures?

For Augustine this lead to his belief that the LXX was inspired as a translation. So for him the original Hebrew was inspired and the LXX was inspired. He actually thought that the LXX must have been a better translation of the Hebrew than Jerome's Latin Vulgate, because the LXX was translated by a "comittee" and Jerome was only one person.

I like the fact that the ESV retains the original sense of what Paul wrote, even though the sense is very odd indeed. Is God judged?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Putting paid to the complementarian position on 1 Corinthians 14:33-34

The title of a post at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, International SBL Meetings in Auckland, New Zealand, gave me little clue to the great significance of its content, the second paragraph. I would of course like to see the paper of which this is a summary. But it seems to have overthrown one of the main bases within the New Testament text for the complementarian position, and demonstrated why many translations of the passage in question, 1 Corinthians 14:33-34, are in error.

The standard Greek texts, Nestle-Aland 27th edition and UBS 4th edition, put a paragraph break in the middle of verse 33 and no punctuation at all to separate it from verse 34. That is, they associate the phrase translated "as in all the churches of the saints" with the following main clause rather than the preceding one. As such they depart from the tradition established by KJV and before that by whoever divided the text into verses, and strengthened by the English Revised Version (1881) which indicates a paragraph break at the start of verse 34. But by the time of the RSV (1946/1971) the interpretation had changed, and this translation has the same breaks as the Greek texts, as do NIV (1978/1984) and NRSV (1989). But TNIV (2001/2005), has reverted almost to the ERV punctuation, with a new paragraph at the start of verse 34; as such it reflects the preference of Gordon Fee, one of its translation team, as expressed in his 1987 commentary on 1 Corinthians. Indeed Fee writes (p.697 footnote 49):
The idea that v. 33b goes with v. 34 seems to be a modern phenomenon altogether.
What was the reason for the change between ERV and RSV? Was there some technicality in the Greek text, not recognised by earlier scholars or only found in more recent manuscripts, which suggested the paragraph division in the scholarly texts? Or might it just be that editors preferred a reading which strengthened Paul's supposed instruction in verse 34 that women should be silent? After all, in Romans 16:7 the same Greek text editors, with no manuscript evidence at all, supplied the accents for the unattested male name Junias rather than for the well known female name Junia, for which the only possible explanation is a theological preference. If they preferred a "complementarian" reading in Romans, it seems quite plausible that they made a similar decision in 1 Corinthians.

And that suspicion seems to me to be confirmed by the paper presented at SBL in New Zealand. For the paper concludes that
the overwhelming consensus among the manuscripts [is] that the major punctuation or segmentation break should be at the end of v. 33, not in the middle of the verse. This would result in "as in all the churches of the saints" being applied to the principle of God being one of order, not disorder, and would negate applying this WS [i.e. "as" in Greek] clause to verses 34-35.
Of course this conclusion does not in itself invalidate the statement that (literally) "the women should be silent in the churches". But it does reduce the emphasis on it and the grounds for taking this as a rule for all time rather than a situational and temporary one. It also opens the way for two alternative interpretations of verses 34-35, one that these are words of the Corinthians which Paul rejects in verse 36; and the other, preferred by Fee with some slight manuscript support, that these verses are not an original part of the letter but a marginal gloss incorporated by mistake into the text. Both of these alternatives work only if the "as" phrase (not a clause!) at the end of verse 33 is taken with what comes before it.

Once again TNIV has made the right decision here, anticipating the results presented in the SBL paper and returning to the paragraph division of ERV, which was abandoned for no good reason.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Bible doesn't say

In a maelstrom of otherwise incomprehensible verbiage, a note of sanity emerges. Here is my number one pick of the day. Doug writes, The Bible doesn't say. Words to heal the wounded soul.
In memory of a long forgotten meme, I would like to mention some spoof posts - only these are not spoofs. Let's laugh, cry and share some fellow feeling.

Gone with the wind pulls a post. Absolutely unheard of but in a good cause.

Bard and Bible recommends an illustrated abridged paraphrase edition of Shakespeare for my reading pleasure (in the comment section.)

Dave posts a picture of him and his Mom. Condolences, Dave, and what a great picture.

TC and Rick both make a statement of affirmation for the TNIV

Some serious study says "I think. I've confused myself." Wow, do I ever know what that feels like. Great conclusion, 'cause I so identify. Anyway, I love this blog.

And in a new development, the term "ESV-onlyism" is gaining currency. Several bloggers have also weighed in on the term "essentially literal" so we should do a tour on this. And then my next post is going to be on a verse that the ESV does right.

It all started at Tim Challies. Several bloggers responded. El Shaddai, TC, and CD-host. In the process of reading these posts I thought I would track down the phrase "ESV-onlyism." This is a neutral study, BTW.
    "I am an ESV-onlyist right now, but most of the scripture tucked in my memory is in King James English." Oct. 17, 2007

    Show me where God told me ESVOnlyism is wrong. March 11, 2008

    "In some gatherings there seems to be a ESV-onlyism developing. Anyone else notice that?" April 11, 2008

    "Yes, I’m the only ESV-onlyist I know LOL. Seriously, it is a cool translation." April 16, 08

    I've got a big beef. In fact I'm starting to put together materials for a series on my blog "ESV-onlyism". June 13, 2008

    Do I see ESV-onlyism on the horizon? June 24, 2008
I don't think this is really about the ESV, but about our attitudes to Bible translation, in general, and "onlyism" in particular. For example, I got quite a shock out of this verse the other day,
    Obeie ye to youre souereyns, and be ye suget to hem; Wycliff

    Obeye the that have the oversight of you and submit youre selves to them. Tyndale

    Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves. KJV

    Obey your prelates and be subject to them. D-R

    Obey your leaders and submit to them, ESV

    Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. NIV

    Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority. TNIV

    Gehorcht euren Lehrern und folgt ihnen

    (Listen to your teachers and follow them,) Did I somehow forget how to read German! Is that really what it says? Somebody?

    Be yielding unto them who are guiding you, and submit yourselves Rotherham
So are the words "obey" "rulers" and "authority" in the Greek? Weeeeel, not really. Rotherham is pretty accurate. Don't be an "onlyist," whatever you do. That is more important than which translation you choose.

Monday, July 07, 2008

NLT Blog: Words in the New Living Translation

Several times I have wished that there would be a blog to promote the NLT (New Living Translation). Tonight I found out that there is one. In one of its first posts, Keith Williams responds to a post by Tim Challies. Tim prefers the ESV. In his post he criticizes translations like the NLT which are not "essentially literal." I left a comment on Tim's post.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


I am sorry to be absent from here. I note with delight all the memes and mirth. I have been elsewhere protesting against certain teachings which wrongfully derive from the doctrine of the subordination of women. (which is in itself wrong, but I don't expect to convince anyone of that who is not already convinced.) If you wish please add your comments to the thread. 1159 comments and still climbing.

Easy as 1-2-3

By posting this I'm not just trying to lure you from the respectable Better Bibles Blog to my weird Lingamish blog. But I do want to bring to your attention a post with a rather interesting comment thread: Beg to differ. In this post I listed 9 axioms of Bible translation and begged my readers to differ. Differ they did. In fact, Iyov wasn't sure he could agree with any of them. You might check out the list and see if you agree with what I've written, but I wanted to make sure BBB readers had a chance to think about this quote (thanks again to Iyov):

As will be seen in Chapter 7, in which basic problems of style are considered for languages with a long literary tradition and a well-established traditional text of the Bible, it is usually necessary to have three types of Scriptures: (1) a translation which will reflect the traditional usage and be used in the churches, largely for liturgical purposes (this may be called an “ecclesiastical translation”), (2) a translation in the present-day literary language, so as to communicate to the well-educated constituency, and (3) a translation in the “common” or “popular” language, which is known to and used by the common people, and which is at the same time acceptable as a standard for published materials.

Source: Eugene Nida and Charles Taber’s The Theory and Practice of Translation (p. 31)

What do you think? Is this a helpful way of looking at Better Bibles? In your circumstances, what would be 1, 2, and 3? I've got some good candidates for #1 and #3 but I still haven't found what I'm looking for in a #2. How about you?