Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Here's some good news

The New Testament in Plain English blog has started with some interesting posts on translating the beginning of the gospel of Mark. One focus has been on the Greek word euangelion 'good news' in Mark 1:1. Link over to that blog if you want to get in on translation at the ground level. That's good news!

Category: ,

Bob Dylan and Bible translation

There is a new poll in the right margin of this blog which tests the meaning of one sentence in a famous Bob Dylan song. I hope you will take the time to vote in the poll. And, yes, the poll results really do have something to do with Bible translation, and there is a specific connection to Bob Dylan, according to a claim made by an English Bible translator. I'll blog about both after we get a good number of votes in the poll.

Trivia question: What country do you think has the most polls? (you can answer in the comments, if you think you know the answer)


ESV: it's all Greek to me!

Click on the title to this post to read the lastest answer in the ESV translators' interview, posted on Adrian Warnock's blog.


Contest: The mistaken is your blogger

Email friend and prayer supporter, Trevor Jenkins, has posted this comment about yesterday's contest on this blog:
Are all these renderings from the HCSB? Like Jeremy I thought that some of these quotes were from the ESV.

Looking the references up in an online copy of the HCSB some of the wordings are different. This is particularly noticable in Pr 18:23 where the online edition has The poor man pleads, but the rich one answers roughly., 28:6 with Better a poor man who lives with integrity than a rich man who distorts right and wrong., 28:11 with A rich man is wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him.

Now it maybe that some minor (unpublicised) revision of the HCSB has taken place between the edition Wayne is copying from was printed and the edition that is online.
Trevor, I have checked and you are right. Here's what happened. I made my original long list from verses in the ESV. Then I started a list for the HCSB. I imported the ESV list into the HCSB list. I then converted the imported wordings to HCSB wordings, if the HCSB retained the translation issue. Although I thought I had checked each verse in the list, it is now clear that I didn't. So some of the wordings in the contest verses could be from the ESV.

The main lesson, of course, that we learn from this is about checking. I should have checked even more, but I thought I had checked everything. For Bible translation work, it is often helpful, even necessary, to have someone else, other than the original translator check your work. Eyes other than our own often catch errors which our own eyes (and brain) overlook.

The second lesson is that the HCSB and ESV have similar wordings in many verses. This is not at all surprising since both versions were produced using the same translation approach. The ESV team called its translation approach "essentially literal" while the HCSB team called its "optimal equivalence" but for all practical purposes the two approaches are identical for translation itself. There are other differences between the ESV and HCSB, but these differences have more to do with literary style. For instance, the ESV uses some obsolete syntax (retained from the RSV which retained it from the ASV of which the RSV was a revision) and vocabulary. I have studied both versions a great deal (and did some editorial work for the HCSB team), but I have yet to find any obsolete syntax in the HCSB.

Sorry, folks, for my mistake. But it all worked out well, and Michael did a great job locating versions which had the verse wordings I included in the contest.

BTW, even though Michael and I (and many others) share the same language intuitions about the inappropriateness (for me it would be ungrammaticality within my ideolect) of using an adjectival substantive such as "the rich" to refer to a single individual, there are, apparently, some who visit this blog whose personal English grammars have a rule that allows such adjectival substantives to refer to either singular or plural referents. I have had a blog poll testing this for several weeks. As of today, 90 people have responded to that blog poll (the one in the right margin with the black background), with the results as follows:
As you normally understand them, phrases such as "the wealthy", "the poor", "the sick", and "the wicked"
only refer to a plural (group of people): 57
only refer to a single person: 1
refer to either plurals or singulars: 31
I'm not sure: 1
So 31 of the 90 respondents are indicating that for them the following sentences both sound grammatical:
1. The rich are selfish.
2. The rich is selfish.
Now, the poll asked a categorical question, that is, whether or not a sentence would sound grammatical if it had an adjectival substantive referring to either a plural or singular referent. But many language phenomena are not categorical, but, rather, scalar. A more accurate poll on the question on adjectival substantives should be worded so respondents could indicate degree of appropriateness of each wording, when the substantive refers to a plural referent or a singular referent. Another solution would have been to have the poll ask if sentences with those adjectival substantives would sound equally grammatical.

OK, we learn from our mistakes. And we try to do better the next time. And the same goes for the production of English Bible versions. Each translation team wants to make their translation better. And that is good. And this blog is here to stimulate ideas for helping make the versions better.

And may you have a good day, well, may you even have a better day, better than what I'm not sure, but may it be even better! :-)

Categories: , , ,

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Good literary English, spoken English, and contemporary English

Michael Sly asked me in an email today:
Let me ask you, I believe I am falling into the confusion that lies in the gap between "good literary English" and "spoken English" or better put, "English of today". In our world today, do we have the dichotomy between written and spoken English or has it all been blurred together? The reason I ask this is from some your comments regarding the CEV,
"Ultimately we realized that the CEV had English phrasings that were even closer to the way that we ordinarily spoke and wrote than the TEV, so we began using the CEV for our personal use also."
Which also raises the question, does a good English translation for today have a lower reading level? (i.e. the CEV has a reading level of 5.6 - Yet, the literally translated versions (NASB, ESV, NRSV, etc) have a higher reading level. I am really curious about your thoughts on this.
Excellent questions, Michael. These terms and concepts are easily confused. Let me see if I can "un-confuse" them a little while I'm on my work break here.

I often mention "good literary English" on blog posts and comments. By that term I mean English which would be regarded as good quality written English by English experts (such as English professors) as well as other English speakers. There are two important ideas here, first that it is written English as opposed to spoken English. And, next, that it is good quality. I am not sure but I think that the word "literary" might include a meaning sense that is more than simply written language. I think it also includes the idea that what is written qualifies as being "literature," that is, something which many readers would find attractive to read and stands the test of time, such as the writings of Shakespeare, the novels of Charles Dickens, and the poetry of Robert Frost. "Good literary English" is, in my opinion, first "grammatical," that is, follows standard rules of how the parts of the English language fit together. These are not rules which are simply passed on by English teachers, although English teachers often do pass on such rules. Rather, these are rules which speakers and writers of a language "agree" to follow so that they can understand each other. They are the rules which parents teach their children when helping them learn to speak. For instance, when a child says, "Mommy, I is sick," and the mother says, "Yes, you are, and we would say, 'Mommy, I am sick," the mother is teaching her child about subject-verb person agreement.

Then, of course, good literary English needs to be attractive, pleasant to read. Typically it will have some vivid language and interesting figures of speech, and other good rhetorical devices.

There are some important differences between spoken and written English. Linguists have studied and described many of these differences. I don't have a good reference to suggest to learn more about these differences. But I think most of us subconsciously sense that we become a little more formal when we write than when we speak. Our written sentences often have more complex syntax than our spoken sentences. Our spoken sentences are often more convoluted than our written sentences. For instance, if someone records me speaking and then transcribes the recording, it is a little embarrassing for me to read the transcript. There are false starts. I may have more run-on sentences in my speech than I do in my writing, although anyone who reads this blog with any frequency knows that some of my run-on sentences can get almost Pauline (as in the Saint, not a woman named Pauline) in length and convolution-ness (??!!) :-)

Because the Bible is written and it is viewed by many (including myself) as the most important piece of literature ever written, many consider that it should be written in literary English, that is English which is the kind of language found written by authors whose writings are read by many and stand the test of time--they are read by over the course of many generations (as Shakespeare is, for instance). I agree. The Bible should be written in good literary English. But I don't think the Bible should be written in language any more complex than the original Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. That language was accessible, understandable, by ordinary people. It probably was more elevated in literary quality than the language someone might have written on a postcard (or its papyrus equivalent). But I don't think it was highly technical. I don't think it required a lot of higher education to understand. We know from some of what Paul said in his letters that he expected them to be read to church congregations. Congregations are made up of individuals with a range of educational and literary backgrounds and skills. The concepts in Paul's letters were sometimes complex, for instance, when he wrote about the purpose of the law (Torah) and the struggle between spirit and flesh, but the language used to describe those concepts was not extraordinarily complex.

Now, when I speak of "English of today" or "contemporary English," I am referring to vocabulary and syntax which is in current usage. There are far more words in an English dictionary than are in ordinary current usage by good speakers and writers of English. Some words in English dictionaries are no longer used, or only used by people who enjoy using archaic or obsolete terms. The better dictionaries will indicate when a word is obsolete or archaic. Sometimes a word is still in use, but its meaning from some previous period of language use has changed. For instance, we all know what the English word "meat" means. But when the King James Bible was written, the word "meat" not only referred to what could be eaten of an animal, but to food in general. Today the word "meat" no longer has that meaning. If someone speaks or writes today with the 'general food' meaning for the word "meat," that person is not speaking or writing in contemporary English.

Similarly, there are some syntactic forms which have changed. There have been at least three different syntactic forms for expressing the negative idea in Englishy. The first was use of the word "nye" which was cognate with the contemporary French negative "ne."

This negative word was eventually dropped by English usage and was completely replaced by the word "not." The word "not" occurred, though, in a different word order from how it occurs today. For instance, the following would have been a negative sentence appropriate to say or write during the 1500's (and probably earlier):
I think not that it is raining.
At the time the King James Version was produced, English speakers and writers were changing from that negative order, where the word "not" follows the verb that it negates, to the contemporary word order where the word "do" is inserted and it and the word "not" preceded the verb that is negated, as in:
I do not think that it is raining.
By 1750 A.D. the change to the contemporary word order for negatives was complete for all speakers and writers. The old order was used only for special rhetorical effect when a writer or speakers wanted to say something in an "old-fashioned" way. There are various rhetorical effects that using old-fashioned language have upon hearers and readers. One of these is that often people get a feeling that the person speaking or writing knows a "classical" form of the language. This can give an impression that the speaker or author is "educated," since educated people, presumably, would have had more exposure to older forms of a language.

Every stage of the development of a language has grammatical forms. The old negative word order was appropriate good grammar for its time. After it was replaced, the new word order became the appropriate grammatical way to express negation.

Writing in contemporary language is usually preferred for clearest and most accurate communication because writers and hearers share more language rules when they all use contemporary rules. Writing in contemporary language does not mean that slang or other passing linguistic fads are included. It would not generally be considered appropriate to use exclamations such as "Cool!" or "Awesome!" in a Bible translation because these expressions come and go, although I have noticed a resurgence of use of "cool". It seems to be cool to use "cool" again, just as it was when I was a teenager some 40 years ago. But "cool" still has such an informal, colloquial sound to it that most people (including myself) would feel uncomfortable having it in a Bible version.

One more concept that could profitably be mentioned in this post is that of the relationship between "literal" translation and quality of English. "Literal" or "essentially literal" translation does not at all require use of obsolete syntax or vocabulary. The best essentially literal translations have syntax and vocabulary which should be understandable at least by individuals who have achieved a reading level of approximately the 6th grade. Translating literally is a translation approach and there is no direct connection to whether the syntax and vocabulary is contemporary or obsolete. Similarly, one can translate "loosely," as a paraphrase, while using obsolete syntax and vocabulary.

All Bible translations today, all the way across the literal-dynamic continuum, can be translated using contemporary English syntax and vocabulary. What places a version at a certain point on the continuum is the degree to which the forms of English match the forms of the biblical language which is being translated. Accuracy is not related to how literal a translation is. Translation accuracy is whether or not a translation communicates the same meaning as the original to users of a translation.

I hope this helps, Michael, and anyone else who is interested in these translation concepts. I probably left something out or was not clear on some point. As always, anyone should feel free to follow up with corrections or clarification of their own, or questions which this post raises.

FWIW, this post and your email message to me were both written in contemporary English. They both use current syntax and vocabulary. As a linguist, I may have used a few technical terms which are not understandable to everyone. I try not to do that when I am writing for the general public, but sometimes they still sneak into what I am writing. I am not the world's greatest writer, but I do try to write as well as I can, with syntax which most fluent speakers of English would consider appropriate. BTW, if you want to read some really good writers, some of them have blogs of their own and are found in my blogroll called "Good writing blogs" (right margin of this blog). Outstanding among the good authors are Shannon who has the blog named "wind scraps" and Mark , with the blog named for himself, Shannon writes more informally, and her writing sparkles. It pulls in the reader. Mark writes more formally, more philosophically. He teaches about good literature.

OK, enough, I need to get a little more translation work done before supper.

Oh, you mentioned the CEV and my comments about it. The CEV is not a translation I would recomend for everyone. It is written in "plain English." It has a writing style or "register" that would rank at the 5.6 grade reading level, which is where most adults in the U.S. are at in terms of reading ability. Those who read this blog are, on the whole, far more literate than the 5th grade level, and would prefer more sophisticated English in their Bible versions. The CEV, along with the NCV, I believe, does not use technical religious language, such as "sanctification," "righteousness," "justification," etc. Instead, the translators of these plain English versions attempt to translate the biblical meanings of the original words behind such technical terms and express those meanings in non-technical language. Some people consider this improper for a Bible translation, others just prefer not to read such a translation, while others prefer a translation which does not use technical language. I hope to blog on this topic someday, including the idea of whether or not the original biblical manuscripts had any technical language in them.

Your final question was:
Which also raises the question, does a good English translation for today have a lower reading level? (i.e. the CEV has a reading level of 5.6 - Yet, the literally translated versions (NASB, ESV, NRSV, etc) have a higher reading level.
The answer to this question depends on who the intended audience is. Most adults in the U.S. have a reading level of about grade 6. As I mentioned earlier, most visitors to this blog have a much higher reading level, so we are not a very representative group of English speakers as a whole. (Nevertheless, it is important to have Bibles which are pleasant and challenging enough for people who have higher reading levels, also.)

Some people believe that one purpose of a good Bible translation is to educate the populace, to challenge people's literary senses, to teach them new vocabulary. I do not believe that that is the purpose of the Bible. I do not find anywhere in the Bible that states that it is part of a program to lift the educational level of people. (It is one of the wonderful side effects of biblical literacy that it often raises the standard of living and social status of people, but it is a side effect and not part of what the Bible says about its own intended purposes). I do find much in the Bible that makes it clear that it is part of a program to lift the spiritual level of people. Of course, it does not stand to reason that Bibles should be "dumbed down." By "dumbed down" is meant that something is written at a grade level lower than the intended audience requires. IF the majority of people for whom a Bible translation is made have reading levels of grade 12 or higher, then it is appropriate to translate for them at that level. But we must be honest with ourselves here. We must do the required field testing to determine the ranges of reading grade levels for any translation we make.

There can be "good" Bible translations at any reading grade level. A reading level does not determine how "good" or accurate a Bible is. A reading level simply is a measure of how clearly the literary style of that Bible, including the kind of vocabulary and syntax used, can be understood by those who read it. It is a matter of meeting people on their own terms. In this regard, it is similar to how Jesus met each needy person on their terms. He did not speak down to those who were educated, nor did he use highly educated language to people who did not have much formal education.

A Bible can be accurate at any reading level. Accuracy simply means saying the same thing in the target language that is said in the source language, so that those who read a translation get that same meaning. If a translation is worded with non-English syntax (many English versions have much non-English syntax such as over-use of English "in" phrases to translation Greek dative phrases) and/or obsolete vocabulary, that translation will not be accurate for those who do not understand the syntax or vocabulary used. It will only be accurate for those who do. This concept is not well understood by many, including many who do godly, sincere English Bible translation work. The latter often had had the great privilege of attending good seminaries and understand the biblical languages well. But as Greek scholar Dan Wallace has pointed out, these seminary professors are sometimes out of touch with how English is actually spoken and written. They often speak or write in a special dialect of English which we can call "seminary English." They need the help of English scholars and feedback from adequate field testing to ensure that their English has been revised enough so that it good quality contemporary English, respected by all fluent English speakers, including English composition professors, and those who lack much formal education.

It is possible for literal or "essentially literal" translations to have a reading level of 10-12 and also to have good quality contemporary literary English. Such translations should normally be used by people who read at the grade levels of 10-12. It becomes frustrating for people who read at a lower reading level to try to read something written at a higher level. And frustration often turns to not using such a Bible version. This mismatch of reading levels also leads to a sense that the Bible is not meant to communicate to everyone who speak a language, that it is a good for some kind of elite group. But this is not truth. There is no indication in any of the books of the Bible that they were only written for people who had attained a fairly high level of formal education.

I personally like to read literature which challenges me. I don't mind an occasional word that is outside my everyday wording vocabulary. I enjoy looking up words in dictionaries. But I would not want to have to look up very many words when reading the Bible. This would be "offputting", to use a term that may be more British than American.

So, in summary, there is nothing wrong with having translations at higher reading levels, as long as we understand what the effects are. Similarly, we need to understand what the effects are when using a translation that is written at a grade level lower than the majority of people who will be using that translation. We just need to think clearly and carefully about these matters. And, by the way, reading grade levels should not be the only factor used in determining what audiences are most appropriate for different levels of language for Bible translations. For one thing, tests for reading levels only measure a few parameters of language, in particular word length and sentence length. Such tests never, as far as I know, rank text higher in reading level if it has obsolete vocabulary, higher register vocabulary, more complex syntax, or non-English syntax. We really do need much "smarter" software to measure reading levels more accurately. But we can save more of this discussion for other blog posts.

Finally--and this really is the end--I have run some of my blog posts through the Microsoft Word spell checker. I was surprised to learn that my posts had a reading grade level of 12. I would have thought my writing was at a lower level, because I try not to use too technical vocabulary, and I revise a lot, trying to make my writing as clear as possible. But the MS Word Fleisch-Kincaid test, one of the most common tests for reading level--is picking up on how long many of my sentences are, and on the fact that I have some difficult twists and turns, with parentheses and other literary rabbit trails when I write. So it takes some determined effort to write at a lower level. It is not easy for some of us. But it can be done, and it is necessary to do if we want to reach all of a population with God's Written Word, in a literary form that fits their reading level.

Categories: , , , , , , ,

Contest: The victorious is ...

That was fun. It didn't take long to get a winner in this contest. The winner is Michael Sly. Congratulations, Michael! Michael not only got each Bible version correct but he also gave important comments on what the potential translation problems were. Oh, BTW, I had selected each verse from the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible), but Michael found other versions which had identical wordings to those of the HCSB for these verses, so his answers are all correct.

Michael, why don't you go to the rules for the 5-5 contest and pick out which Bible version you would like as your prize. For fun, go ahead and post a comment to this post, telling me and others which version you chose. Then please email me privately with your mailing address so I can mail it to you.

As I stated in the previous post, if anyone wants to enter the 5-5 contest and claim one of the four remaining prizes (after Michael's pick), you are welcome to do so. If you do enter the 5-5 contest, please post a comment on this post telling which Bible versions you commented on, and which Bible version you have chosen as your prize (after Michael picks his).


Contest: The swift is victorious

Here is your chance to win a free Bible version postage paid by me. (The contest winner gets to pick from a selection of Bible versions I offered as prizes for the 5-5 contest early in the history of this blog, but no one entered that contest so we'll see if this contest gets a winner. The prizes for the 5-5 contest are still available if anyone wants to enter that contest.)

OK, are you ready? Read over the following verses. The first blog reader to post a comment correctly stating which Bible version the following verses are from, as well as commenting on the main translation issue in the verses will win.

Here are the verses (I'll leave off the references to make the contest a little more difficult):
The rich rules over the poor,
And the borrower is servant to the lender.

A gossip goes around revealing a secret,
but the trustworthy keeps a confidence.

The poor man uses entreaties,
But the rich answers roughly.

The righteous will rejoice
when he sees the retribution;
he will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.

What the wicked dreads will come to him,
but what the righteous desires will be given to him.

When the wicked dies,
his expectation comes to nothing,
and hope placed in wealth vanishes.

The righteous is rescued from trouble;
in his place, the wicked goes in.

Better is the poor who walks in his integrity
Than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.

The rich man is wise in his own eyes,
But the poor who has understanding searches him out.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

e-sword: other modules

FYI, e-sword Bible modules which I regularly use are:

CEV (probably the clearest, most natural English of any major translation)
ESV (e-sword is faster access than my fumble fingers in my print edition)
GNB (Good News Bible)
GW (God's Word)
ISV (International Standard Version; a rather nice version)
NET (I still like all the notes in the full HTML free version.)

It's also nice that I can access the following when the fancy strikes me:

Geneva Bible
Bishops Bible

I would like Tyndale's version but it is difficult to find in public domain formats.

It is easy to copy and paste from e-version to other programs. There are also version compare and parallel functions which are helpful for viewing more than one version at a time for comparisons.

Categories: ,

e-sword NET Bible

I just found out that the NET Bible is now available in the e-sword Bible program format. For e-sword there is a free NET Bible version (full text, but limited footnotes) and a premium version $19.95 (U.S.) with all the footnotes. To download the NET Bible module for e-sword, click on the title to this post. If you do not yet have a registration username and password for the NET Bible (and website, you will need to signup for them before you can download the e-sword module.

I like e-sword. It is one of the easiest Bible programs to use and it is freeware.

The NET Bible is still free for regular downloads from its website, in HTML and Microsoft Word formats. I have been using the HTML version for quite a few years. It also is very easy to use.

Categories: ,

HCSB reviews

Does anyone know of any scholarly reviews of the Holman Christian Standard Bible? I have not been able to find any? (I am thinking of reviews in JETS or a similar journal of that scholarly status.) It is interesting that the HCSB is at about #5 in English Bible sales in Christian bookstores in the U.S. and Canada, but may not yet have a scholarly review.

In contrast, the ESV is at about #14 for sales ranking and already has had several scholarly reviews.

The two teams had similar quality of biblical scholars working on their team. They used the same "essentially literal" translation philosophy. Both teams followed the Colorado Springs Guidelines for use of gender-inclusive language in Bible translation.

I cannot account for the fact that the ESV has gotten much more blog coverage (it was widespread before I even started reading blogs about 3 months ago) than the HCSB but HCSB sales are so much higher, unless the numbers are significantly helped by Southern Baptist denominational sales.

Categories: ,

TNIV links

I have updated my webpage with TNIV links. Click on the title to this post to get to it.


ESV: Are commentaries less necessary with the ESV?

Another interview answer from Dr. Wayne Grudem of the ESV translation team. Click on the title to this post to read it.

I posted two comments to Dr. Grudem's answer on Adrian Warnock's blog. Here's my first comment:
I'm glad the ESV team consulted exegetical experts on individual books of the Bible. This surely increased the exegetical accuracy of the ESV. Now if they would only have consulted [a team of] English scholars so that the accurate meaning would be conveyed in contemporary, good quality, literary English we would have an ideal Bible. Instead, the ESV team chose to use many obscure wordings and some obsolete syntax. Each of these linguistic forms which is not current standard English is an additional barrier to those users of the ESV who are not already familiar with "seminary English."
And here is my second:
What is the difference between getting what Dr. Grudem calls arriving at "the best reading of a verse" through the translation process followed by the ESV team--which I happen to think is the proper procedure--using commentaries and exegetical experts on individual books of the Bible, and what is criticized by many as using "interpretation" in the translation process? Isn't getting "the best reading of a verse" interpretation? I think it is, and I think it is an appropriate process to try to do the most accurate Bible translation. I applaud the ESV process, but wonder about the criticisms directed at what seems to me the same kind of process the ESV team used. What am I missing as people define good interpretation, as followed by the ESV team, and interpretation which people say should not be used in translation, but, rather that one should simply translate word-by-one what the Bible "says" and not what it "means"?
You are most welcome to respond here (or on Adrian's blog) to anything I said in my comments.

Categories: ,

Field testing

The most reliable way I know of to ensure that your translation is accurately and clearly communicating the meanings that you want it to is to field test it with a wide range of speakers within the audience that you intend to use that translation. If you want children to use your translation, then you must field test it with children. If you want new believers, who know little about the Bible, then you need to test your translation with them.

Over the years I have created a number of surveys for testing overall translation categories, as well as surveys testing wordings in specific English Bible versions. To view the surveys, or, better yet, to view and take them, click on the title to this post.

A few months ago the Internet service that provided a view of voting results so far, after a person answered one of the surveys, stopped its service. I then had to use a less efficient backup service. When I can find time (in very short supply these days as I push hard to complete our Cheyenne Bible translation work before the end of the fiscal year), I want to convert the surveys over to a format which can be used by one or two new polling services, to display voting results.

Categories: ,

Monday, June 27, 2005

Why was the ESV produced?

Dr. Wayne Grudem, a member of the ESV TOC (Translation Oversight Committee), answers this question in an interview posted on Adrian Warnock's blog. Click on the title to this post to read the interview.

Categories: ,

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Out of Egypt I have called my son

In my preceding post I mentioned that I wanted to start a series on how some English Bible versions have made the Bible even more evangelical than it already is. This series will be my attempt to answer Phil's questions quoted at the beginning of the preceding post.

Here is my first post in the series "Christianizing the Old Testament through translation." This first post is about a hypothetical translation issue. I decided to start with an easy, hypothetical example, since they sometimes are easier to understand in terms of the underlying translation principle. I have not seen a Bible version actually translate this hypothetical way, but it is a possible translation, and the translation issue exhibited here is one that is very real in some other passages.

As many of you know, the New Testament "quotes" the Old Testament in some interesting ways. There has been much scholarly discussion about this. It is not necessary to refer to all that discussion (Ahah! Just maybe we'll get a shorter post this time!!) to follow the translation issue involved.

In Matthew 2:14-15 we are told:
14 And he [Joseph) rose and took the child [Jesus] and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” (RSV)
OK? A New Testament author (writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, according to my theological system) has taken an Old Testament passage and found in it messianic fulfillment of prophecy. Matthew takes the Old Testament wording, "“Out of Egypt have I called my son" to refer to Jesus, God's son.

Now, let's look at the Old Testament passage which Matthew quoted. It is Hosea 11:1-2 (I include v. 2 to make the context even clearer):
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and burning incense to idols.
Who does it sound like Hosea, the prophet, was referring to by "my son" who was called out of Egypt? Well, it is quite clear that Hosea is referring to the people of Israel, who are explicitly named in Hosea 11:2.

So, what is the potential translation issue here? Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, finds messianic fulfillment of prophecy in the fact that baby Jesus was brought back from Egypt. Many of us who accept Jesus as Messiah find great value in New Testament passages which quote Old Testament passages as fulfillment of prophecy. Matthew 2:15 is another one of those wonderful passages of messianic fulfillment.

OK, let's keep going with our messianic line of thinking. Matthew says that "my son" who was called out of Egypt was Jesus. We who believe in progressive revelation (as I do) would value the Matthew quote of Hosea. If we follow some typical Bible translation principles, we would then take Matthew's (and the Holy Spirit's) interpretation of "my son" as referring to Jesus, and use that to help us translate Hosea 11:1. Now, instead of simply referring to "my son" we could make the messianic connection clearer. One way would be to capitalize "Son" to indicate that it refers to divinity, the Son of God, like this:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My Son.
Have you followed the logic so far? We have used a New Testament passage which refers to an Old Testament passage as messianic fulfillment to help us make the quoted Old Testament passage itself clearly messianic.

This is the principle of using the New Testament as a guide to translating the Old Testament. It is important to many Bible translators that Old Testament passages which have messianic fulfillment in the New Testament be clearly translated as referring to the Messiah in their original Old Testament wording.

Do you agree with this principle? Do you agree that this principle should be applied to the translation of Hosea 11:1? If you do not believe this principle should be applied to the translation of Hosea 11:1, why not? If you are not convinced that this principle should be applied at all, or only for certain Old Testament passages, why not?

How do we decide which Old Testament passages to translate in a way that will clearly indicate a "Christian" Messianic interpretation of those passages?

It's past my bedtime so I should stop for now. You can think on these important questions and try to answer them in the comments to this post, and you can also wait for the next post in this series, on "Christianizing the Old Testament through translation."

Good night, sleep tight,
and try not to let the bed bugs bite!

Categories: ,

Here's what the ESV hullabaloo is about

Phil Almond of Almond Branch Ministries Int'l and host of the Spirit Formed Life blog and I have been having interesting exchanges in the comments section of a post I blogged on a few days ago. In one of my comments I said:
[the Living Bible, the NIV, and now] the ESV make the Bible even more evangelical than the original biblical texts already were.
Phil caught this, as I imagined some readers might, and asked the appropriate followup:
Wayne could you give some examples of where specifically this is true in the ESV?
I then replied:
Yes, I would be glad to do this, Phil, but it will take some time to gather the details. I started the process yesterday soon after I posted that comment which I figured would prompt followup questions such as yours, appropriately so.
I had hoped to begin a series of blog posts on this topic this afternoon, but before I started that, I spotted a post on Phil's blog asking So, What is All of this Hullabaloo About the ESV? I've decided first to respond to this important post and then to begin my other series. I'm tired right now, and it takes less energy for me to respond to someone else's comments than to do the necessary research to post quality blogs of my own. First, I want to thank Phil for posting his questions. They are good ones to ask and to be answered. I will do my best to answer them. And it is appropriate that I answer since the way Phil worded some of his post, I suspect that he was asking questions about comments I have made on this blog about the ESV. I'll try to be thorough (Uh oh! Warning: this could be another one of my lengthy ones!). Where I leave something out or misspeak, I hope that others will chime in and fill in what is missing or in error. I won't quote all of Phil's post, since it is nearly as long as some of mine become (!!), but I'll excerpt his questions and respond.

Phil said:
One frequently complained about issue with the ESV is this reverse negative thing.
Right, Phil. This has come up in some reviews of the ESV. You can see all the reviews of the ESV that I am aware of on my ESV links webpage.

Phil continued:
I believe it has to do with, for example, instead of saying, “ I do not like something” I say, “I like it not” or something like this.
Yes, you have correctly stated the difference, Phil.

Phil continued:
Now I admit that when I first took note of these reverse kinds of phrasings, I stumbled a bit, but this was very easily overcome, even for me. It was simply my making a mental adjustment and not a big deal. Even when I first read this phrasing, I had no trouble understanding what was being communicated in the text. So again, what is the big deal? So, you don’t prefer it, ok, that is alright with me, but it isn’t an issue for me, so again, what is the big deal?
Phil, I'm not sure that anyone has said that it is a big deal, myself included. I do have significant concerns about the ESV, however. And they are appropriate concerns for a Bible version which has been promoted so heavily as having "literary excellence." It is not a sign of literary excellence to use the old negative word order, an obsolete literary form which was displaced by the current form 250 years ago. The issue is not whether a reader like yourself can, with a little effort, come to understand what it means, but whether we are committed to translate into the heart language of a people, as did Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and many others. It has been shown time and time again that when a Bible translation uses the language of the people who are going to use that translation, they understand the translation better. Ultimately, there will then be more accurate communication of God's words to us. If we use obsolete syntax and vocabulary it takes greater effort to understand God's Word accurately. And there is something else, perhaps even more serious that occurs when we use obsolete language in a Bible version: It continues to reinforce the idea that so many unchurched people already have that the Bible is not relevant for them. If we use outdated language, it confirms people's mistaken idea that the Bible is an outdated book. The Bible was originally written to people thousands of years ago, in ancient languages, within cultural contexts different from ours. We can do nothing about those cultural contexts, if we are going to translate accurately. We must leave the cultural context of the Bible just as it is. But we do not leave the Bible as it was originally written in the ancient languages. If we did, only those who have studied Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek could understand it. We should not even leave the Bible in earlier stages of our own language, because many words have changed in meaning, some words are no longer used, there have been changes in syntax, etc. We CAN do something about language in translation. Specifically, it has always been the case that the reason for doing Bible translation is so that people who do not understand the ancient biblical languages can understand the Bible in their own language, their heart language. There is no benefit in using English from several hundreds years ago if we want a Bible to clearly and accurately communicate to speakers of English today. This does not mean that we translate into contemporary slang, like, you know, dude, this here book, like, it's from God, you know. And, like, if you don't listen up real good, and do what this book says, you gonna get fried! :-)

The matter of the reversed negatives is not a big deal to you, but it is a bigger deal to some people. I can assure you that it will be a big deal to the children who Crossway is hoping to reach with their children's edition of the ESV. These children will never have been taught reversed negatives in school. They will never had heard their parents speak reversed negatives unless their parents read to them extensively from the KJV which had reversed negatives because reversed negatives were still in widespread (although decreasing) usage in 1611 A.D. when the KJV was published. And it will be a big deal to non-christians who Crossway is trying to reach through its evangelistic version. Non-christians have even less exposure to reversed negatives unless they have studied classical English literature which has this older syntactic form.

Phil then said:
Making adjustments in our reading and or understandings regarding what we read is a common thing. I mean you cannot read as much as a lot of us do and not have to make adjustments in our thinking and perceptions to get at what the writers are saying, even in “good English”. We need to do this anyway, in studying the scriptures, I mean what is Hermeneutics all about, if not our having to make adjustments to truly understand the history, the culture, the writer and the language of the text.
You are right, Phil. But hermeneutics is NOT about trying to decipher obsolete vocabulary and syntax of our own language, only about the biblical languages. There is no reason why the ESV translation team needed to use any obsolete English in the ESV. Such language does not add anything to the beauty or accuracy of the ESV. And it goes against the marketing claims about the ESV, that it is written in English "with literary excellence, beauty, and readability." Use of obsolete vocabulary and syntax, both of which occur a large amount in the ESV, does not contribute to this "readability" claimed for the ESV. As for literary excellence, I do realize that some people consider obsolete English to be more beautiful and have greater literary excellence that contemporary good quality literary English. But I think most people do not have this opinion. Most people, I think, find greater readability in English literature which is written in contemporary syntax and vocabulary. Jesus spoke the language of his own people, which was called Aramaic. Jesus did not speak to them, for the most part, in classical Biblical Hebrew, which was, by his time, outdated, no longer understood well by most of the Jewish people. I think we should follow Jesus' example when translating the Bible to any example. We should use good quality current language, not slang, not passing colloquialisms, but language which is considered good quality by all speakers of a language, and which is understood by all speakers.

I think those are all the comments in Phil's post which would be relevant for me. I have not posted on the other topics in his post, which interested ones can read for themselves.

Phil, I have said it many times in the past, and I will say it again. And it harmonizes with your own legitimate plea in your conclusion:
I really like the ESV without apology, period.
My response is the same as it is every time I get to this part of my posts, "Good, Phil. I am glad for you that you have found a version that you like and that you can trust. May God bless your ministry using the ESV."

It is normal, yes, I think even proper, for people to review Bible versions. The ESV translation team themselves have been reviewing the ESV and have been revising it. They will continue to revise it. Why? Because it is a bad translation. No. Rather, because they want to make it better. And that is the desired ministry of this blog, to help make English Bibles better. I am a Bible translator myself, Phil. I can tell you that if we left our first efforts at translation into the Cheyenne language alone, the Cheyennes would not get nearly the accuracy and clarity and naturalness of language that they have today, because the translation has gone through many stages of revision, just as English translations do, and translations in many other languages. There is always room for improvement. Pointing out weaknesses or problems in a translation is a gift that is given to a translation team. Whenever a Cheyenne person suggested an improvement for the Cheyenne translation, I was grateful. It meant that God's Word in Cheyenne would become even more accurate, even more readable.

Phil, I respect your opinion, but I don't agree that there is a "hullabaloo" about the ESV. When I first started reading blogs a couple of months ago I began noticing bloggers enthusiastically commenting on the ESV. Having studied the ESV myself, I did not understand that reaction. So I thought it would be wise to speak out on the matter but to try to do it in a gracious way. It is normal for there to be debate and discussion about any English translation. This has happened with every English translation, including the KJV. The KJV was not widely accepted at first. It took awhile before it became a standard translation in churches. Even today, some people who have studied the history of English Bible translation believe that Tyndale's translation was probably a superior translation to the KJV. But King James wanted to a version which set better with his ideas and with the ideas of the Church of English. So he commissioned the revision of Tyndale's work which has come to be known as the KJV or the Authorized Version (authorized by King James).

There has been far more criticism for many more years about the NIV, as well as high praise for it (the same split among public opinion that we see today with reactions to the ESV). And there was much criticism of the Living Bible. I hope, Phil, that this post will help answer some of the important questions you ask in your blog post. If I have missed some or messed up some, please feel free to follow up. Until then, keep enjoying your ESV. No one is telling you to stop using it. No one is saying it is a bad translation. It is simply one among many English translations. It is getting some attention now because it is one of the new kids on the block and also because its team has made some strong claims about it which they post on their website. I believe some of these claims are not supported by the facts of how the ESV is actually translated. There is within me a strong sense of justice which calls out for me to speak up when I see claims which do not seem to be supported by facts. Maybe I should just keep quiet and not say anything. But the history of the Christian church and of growing in the Lord seems to me to include pointing out where there can be improvement. Improvement helps make things better. And yes, some of you will get tired of hearing me quote the T.V. advertisement, but, well, "better is better." :-)

Blessings, Phil,
and everyone else reading this,

Categories: , ,

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Shane's E-Z Guide to Bible Translations

Shane at Wesley Blog has blogged one of the most current overviews of major English Bible versions. I have appreciated Shane's clear thinking and writing in this blog post (click on the title to my post here to get to it). Shane seems to me to be someone who is willing to think independently of trends in thinking among various groups (that can be a valuable quality). Although neither you nor I will probably agree with everything Shane says, I do think his post is an important read for an informative, and, yes, accurate, overview of the most widely used English versions today.

Thanks, Shane, for posting your review. It is well done, and refreshing to read at a time like this when it is sometimes difficult to find reviews which are not a polemic for one version or another.

Categories: ,

Tweaking Shakespeare, but not the Bible

Andrew Dionne, host of an anti-TNIV blog, has just linked to a news article about students who took "Romeo and Juliet" by Shakespeare and "created a play that made students think about race relations." Interesting transculturation. Andrew properly warns us, though, not to do the same thing with the Bible. He believes that the TNIV translation team is doing just that. There are many who agree with Andrew, and many who do not. It's part of the heated debate blogged about recently on Adrian Warnock's blog and this blog.

Categories: , ,

Spring cleaning on my blog

I am using RSSReader these days. I am able to monitor many more logs with the reader than I feel comfortable including in blogrolls on my blog. I especially like hearing the chime that means there are some new posts on some blogs and I can see what they are. A couple of days ago the reader chimed and let me know about a new post about blog demerits. I decided to read that post and started getting scared. Some of the things Tim Challies was saying were blog sins I have been committing. I held my breath as I read down Tim's list of blogs to which he was giving demerits, hoping that my sins had not been found out and posted for all the world to see. Phew! I escaped this time, but decided I needed to do some spring cleaning on my blog to avoid being caught in the future.

I got rid of the two biggest blogrolls, from the Evangelical Aggegator and the League of Reformed Bloggers. I found a way to link to those blogrolls without having each of the blogs displayed on my blog.

I did some other tidying up on my blog.

I do my best to compose and type well when I post, but I do often spot typos and some composition problems after I have published my post, so I am guilty of the sin Tim mentioned of updating my blog posts after they have been published the first time. I may yet get a public flogging for that sin. I have been using my spellchecker more often lately, before I publish a post. But still some things slip through.

I do want to ensure each of you who have linked to this Better Bibles Blog that I appreciate your links. And I have retained links to blogs which I consider most valuable to discussion of bettering Bible versions. I wish I could link to all of the interesting blogs I have come across but that would make my blogrolls too long. And now that I know that it is a blog sin, I am even less inclined to have long blogrolls.

I can assure you all that my RSSReader keeps me in contact with the blogs that I enjoy the most, not just blogs about biblical scholarship. I also enjoy blogs that display especially good writing. Outstanding among these are wind scraps. I also am intellectually stimulated by the thoughtful literary posts of J. Mark Bertrand.

So, if you don't see your blog listed on my blog, it doesn't mean I'm not interested in it. It may just mean I follow it with RSSReader (a nice freeware program which works very well, BTW).

Friday, June 24, 2005

Versions I have used

Michael Sly just asked me in a post comment:
which version(s) do you personally use for your own studies and devotional life?
Michael's question is timely since I've been thinking it might be helpful for me to give this information in a post, so here goes.

I was born in Alaska in 1949, not long after the RSV New Testament was published. But that was not an event celebrated in our church (my birth was, not the RSV publication!). In fact I remember hearing things about the RSV that made it sound like it was close to being a communist book. My church only used the KJV and considered the translators of the RSV to be liberal and to have some kind of communist associations. I look back now and consider the communist part rather humorous. In any case, I grew up with the KJV. I heard it read extensively in good sermons. It was read in our home in family devotions. I memorized huge portions of it and can still remember much of what I memorized.

When I was junior high age, I believe, I was briefly exposed to Living Letters and other parts of the Living Bible as they were produced. I read them a little but dismissed them, thinking that they couldn't really be a Bible because the English was so clear.

It was not until I began to attend Bible school that I really used any other Bible version. In one of my Bible classes the version assigned for us to use was the ASV of 1901, called the Rock of Integrity, because conservatives trusted it so much. It was very literal.

While I was in Bible school the New Testament of the NASB was published and I began to use that. I found the updated English refreshing. That began many years of using the NASB. Later, of course, I purchased the entire Bible in the NASB after the Old Testament translation was completed.

In the summer of 1969, when I was a counselor at a Bible camp in upstate New York, I began reading a New Testament published in paperback which was written in the kind of English which I spoke and wrote. It was called the Good News for Modern Man. That version really spoke to me in my personal devotions and other Bible study. When I got back home to my home church, however, I found tracts in the bookrack with titles like "Bad New for Modern Man." They and our pastor criticized the Good News Bible. Some people even suggested that it was a Satanic version. I found that difficult to believe since it seemed to me to be saying essentially the same thing that other Bible versions did, only with contemporary English words.

Also while at Bible school I attended some seminars at which the seminar leader encouraged us to memorize and meditate upon some important passages of the Bible. He suggested that we do so using the beautifully literary translation by J.B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English which was so meangingful to him in his own meditations. So I followed his suggestions and did that memory work. Still to this day I love the beauty and literary power of the portions I memorized in Phillips' translation.

Later I married and my wife and I became members of a Bible translation mission. We studied Bible translation principles as part of our training. I got to learn about how the different language forms in the Bible could be expressed accurately in naturally corresponding forms of the languages into which the Bible is translated. I found that exciting. We were invited by Cheyenne church elders in the fall of 1975 to help them produce a translation of the Bible into their language. We accepted and began this fulfilling work among the Cheyennes. The pulpit Bible in the cross-cultural church which invited us to live on their church property was the Good News Bible. This Bible had English was easier to understand by Cheyennes. (Most Cheyennes have been bilingual in their mother tongue, Cheyenne, then, later in English for several decades. But even though they could carry on basic conversations in English, they missed a lot of the English. This was especially true of the Bible. We did testing before accepting the invitation to work among the Cheyennes to see if they really needed a translation in their language, and the answer was yes, based on the difficulties in understanding the Bible in English.)

We have worked with the Cheyennes since 1975. It has been long, difficult work. But we have learned a lot, both about the Bible and about translation, but, also, about ourselves. God has been good to teach us things we needed to know about ourselves so that we could minister more effectively to the people to whom we have come to help bring the Good News of God's salvation and spiritual growth to them.

During our work we have consulted a number of different English versions to help us understand the meaning of verses before we could translate them. I would also use as much of the New Testament Greek that I could remember from my classes in Bible school. That was helpful, especially as I would consult commentaries which referred to the original Greek.

I never used the NIV as my personal Bible, other than occasionally to look at how it worded something while we were working on Cheyenne translation. I just never found myself attracted more to the NIV than I was attracted to versions I was already using. The NIV was often the pulpit Bible when we would visit various churches to talk about our tribal translation work and I was always grateful when I discovered that a church was using the NIV. I felt the NIV was so much better for people to use, to understand the Bible in contemporary English, than for a church to continue to use the venerable KJV which still sounded so good to me. But I had come to realize that I did not understand the KJV nearly as well as I understood versions which were written in more contemporary English.

My wife and I examined the CEV (Contemporary English Version) when it was published. We found that it answered even more of the translation questions than the TEV (Good News Bible). Translation questions are questions we needed to ask to try to get at the meaning of verses as we translated into Cheyenne. Ultimately we realized that the CEV had English phrasings that were even closer to the way that we ordinarily spoke and wrote than the TEV, so we began using the CEV for our personal use also. By that time, I believe, our children were mostly gone from home, for college. When our children were home we continued using the Good News Bible in our family Bible readings because it was our church Bible when they were used to.

As time went on I was able to get Internet access. I discovered the NET Bible posted on the Internet, along with requests for comments from Internet visitors. I appreciated that transparency with the public and the opportunity to help contribute to making the NET Bible better. I submitted lots of comments to the NET team and they even publicly thanked me in one of their website open letters after one of their major revisions was completed. I appreciated being able to consult the many translation notes in the NET which helped me in our translation work.

Today when I translate with Cheyennes I use a computer program called Paratext which has been designed for Bible translation work. Several windows can be open at once within Paratext. I do all our revision work for the translation from within Paratext. I have one window open for the Cheyenne translation. The next window contains the English "back translation," needed for us to check to see if we have accurately gotten all of the meaning of the Bible into the Cheyenne translation. Then I usually have two English versions open as well which I can easily consult. I have another Bible translation program which synchonizes verse-by-verse with Paratext which has many more English versions, and I often consult them. The two versions I usually have open in Paratext are the CEV and NRSV, the CEV in very idiomatic English which I like and which the Cheyenne translators can understand more easily than any other English version, and the NRSV because it is literal and highly regarded among biblical scholars.

Today my wife and I have our family (just the two of us now) devotions using The Message which has such vivid English. Of course we do find a number of passages where Dr. Peterson, the translator of The Message, didn't translated as accurately as we think the Bible should be translated. We take note of those places, and I am now trying to remember to post them to The Message section of this blog. We find ourselves moved spiritually by The Message.

So, as usual, when you ask me a question, you probably get a longer answer than you might have wanted. But all this tells you what versions I have used and also why we have used them.

If I were to list the versions which I find most helpful to me today, either for my personal devotions or work, they would be the CEV, the NLT, the NET Bible, and The Message (this last one not for our translation work). If I have room for only one Bible version when I am traveling I take the CEV. I have a pocket edition of it. I also have a HP Jornada PDA pocket computer which has many English editions on it. I often read from my pocket computer while traveling, since I like to be able to compare wordings in different English versions.

I have not yet found my "ideal" English version, or as I've seen in some Christian literature "the Bible I am waiting for." That ideal Bible would combine the accuracy of the NET Bible, NIV, and NASB with the contemporary English of the CEV, but I would like it to have more literary beauty than I find in the CEV (which isn't bad literary-wise, it just doesn't sparkle, as I like a Bible version to do, if possible). I find it painful to read any English Bible which uses obsolete English syntax and vocabulary. I find it a joy to read and be moved spiritually by a version which is written in my heart language, and which also appeals to my literary senses, as a poet and someone who appreciates good quality English literature. The NLT probably comes close but I am so keen on quality English (as I understand it, anyway) that I spot "seminary English" in some passages in the NLT (far less, of course, than in most other major English Bible versions) and my heart language is not seminary English. Fortunately, I have become friends with Mark Taylor and I can freely tell him about NLT wordings which I think lost some of the literary sparkle they had in the paraphrase done by his father, Ken Taylor.

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blog description update

I have updated the second sentence of my blog description in the blog title box above. I hope that this clarifies what I hope for as one function of this blog: gathering comments on specific verses in specific versions, comments which can help make English Bibles better.


Thursday, June 23, 2005

ESV and TNIV gender language: my POV

I have wanted to avoid blogging on this topic because I know how divisive the issue of gender language in English Bible translation has become. I have been deeply hurt in some discussions on this topic, but I realize that we cannot stay in the dust, but must get up, dust ourselves off, and keep going. It's hard to do, though.

In this post I simply want to introduce some general thoughts about gender-inclusive language and Bible translation in the TNIV and ESV. I will try my best to be as objective, honest, and fair to all sides as possible. I will not enter into the debate itself, although even these general comments I will make will cause some of you to strongly disagree with me. That is the nature of discussions that involve deeply held convictions.

1. The translators of both the ESV and TNIV are godly individuals, deeply committed to a high view of Scripture and to the Bible as our most reliable rule for faith and practive. Many of the translators on the different teams have been friends and colleagues for many years. I believe that most of them have a high degree of respect for each other.

2. The translators of both versions agree that references in the biblical autographs which clearly refer to groups consisting of both males and females should be translated with English words that make that clear.

3. Both the ESV and TNIV have made the translation of a number of passages more gender-accurate than, for instance, the NIV is. For instance, in all cases where the Greek indefinite pronoun tis clearly refers to any individual, regardless of gender, both translations translate the word with an English indefinite rendering, such as "whoever" or "someone." And this is correct, accurate translation. It contrasts with the NIV treatment of tis which was sometimes translated with words such as "any man."

4. Both versions translate original references to males or females with appropriate matching gender terms in English. This includes references to God, whose fatherhood is a pervasive part of the biblical autographs. Hence, references to boys and men in the Hebrew or Greek have corresponding male words or masculine pronouns referring to them. Similarly, all references to females in the Bible are translated in both versions with feminine nouns and pronouns.

1-4 is what the two versions have in common. And let me stress that what they have in common is a great deal. But I do not want to minimize the gender-language differences between the TNIV and ESV. The differences are not trivial.

5. The TNIV does not continue use of the English masculine pronoun "he" as the generic singular pronoun (when the gender of a referent is not known or is irrelevant in the particular context). Instead, the TNIV uses various other English forms, all of which have already been in use in English, to avoid use of generic "he." The reason the TNIV translators avoid use of generic "he" is that many (but by no means all) English speakers today have the feeling when they hear the pronoun "he" that it is masculine, rather than generic. This is true even of some speakers, like myself, who were taught in "grammar" school that "he" could refer to either females or males. I, however, still use generic "he" sometimes. Most of the time, however, what comes most naturally out of my mouth is the singular "they" which has been in general usage in English since ca. 1400 A.D. The singular "they" sounds "right" to me. I am not driven by any feminist agenda, although as soon as I say that I use the singular "they," there are likely to be people who will say that I am (but if I am, then so is Dr. James Dobson, who also uses the singular "they"!). For anyone not familiar with the singular "they" it is the form used in a sentence such as:
It is every passenger's responsibility to be aware of the contents of their luggage at all times.
This is what is repeated on the public address system at our airport in Billings, Montana. Montana is a conservative state with cowboys, ranchers, farmers, gun owners, etc. but I suspect that very few people in this conservative state think twice when the pronoun "they" is used in the public address announcement to refer back to the antecedent, "every passenger." The TNIV translation team has denied charges that their decision not to use generic "he" was motivated by feminist concerns. Their detractors do not believe them and this makes for a fair amount of back-and-forth argument of the nature of "no, we don't", "yes, you do." By the way, some of the greatest authors in the history of the English language have used the singular "they", including Shakespeare, the translators of the KJV (yes, the singular "they" is in the KJV; I don't have the references right at hand but I can locate them sometime), C.S. Lewis, and even anti-TNIV detractor, Dr. James Dobson of the Focus on the Family radio program.

6. The ESV (and also the HCSB) use the generic "he", following the Colorado Springs Guidelines For Translation Of Gender-Related Language In Scripture (CSG). These translators believe that the generic "he" is still understood as a generic by a sufficient number of English speakers to warrant its use in new English translations produced at this time. They also believe, as stated in the book on this topic co-authored by Drs. Vern Poythress and Wayne Grudem, that those who do not understand the generic meaning of "he" can be taught it very quickly. A number of those who translated the ESV and HCSB have signed a statement opposing the particular usage of gender-inclusive language in the TNIV. As a matter of fact, both Drs. Grudem and Poythress who helped draft the CSG are on the TOC (Translation Oversight Committee) of the ESV. The translation of the ESV was initiated in response to movement of the NIV CBT (Committee on Bible Translation) to revise the NIV to be more gender-inclusive. (A further motivation for production of the ESV was discontent with what was viewed as too much "dynamic equivalence" in the NIV and a desire to have a more literal translation than the NIV, but one that read more smoothly than the NASB. I believe, however, that had the NIV CBT not made moves toward more gender-inclusive language the ESV would not have been produced.)

7. In some passages where a singular male term is used in the Bible as a kind of "representative" (an important theological and translational term for Drs. Poythress and Grudem) of all of humanity, or, in some cases, all righteous people, the translators of the ESV and TNIV differ in their interpretation. The ESV translators believe that the reference to a single male (even if he represents a gender-inclusive group) must be translated as a single male in English. This is regarded as word-level accuracy, precisely translating both the number and gender of the person referred to in the biblical text. In many of these passages, the TNIV team believes that since the single male represents a gender-inclusive group, they should use an English term which more clearly conveys that the biblical text is speaking about a gender-inclusive group. Typically, as in Psalm 1, the "blessed man" is translated as the "blessed people" (or some close synonym) in the TNIV. Anti-TNIV people (including ESV translators) believe that this is changing God's Word, changing both the number and gender of the original word "man." Both teams believe that they are accurately translating the intent of the original biblical wording in such male-representative passages.

Part of what makes this debate so intense are deeply held convictions about what are the God-ordained relationships between males and females in the world, in marriage, and in the church. One of the primary reasons the ESV was produced was to support the traditional teaching of many churches (and the belief that it is the Bible's clear teaching) that females are to be in submission to males, especially to husbands and to elders (who must only be males) in churches. Those who believe in such female submission are called complementarians. Complementarians believe that males and females are equal in value in the eyes of God, but, by divine commands, then have distinct roles in the world and church. Those who believe that women are not only equal in value but can have the same roles as men (other than obvious biological roles) are called egalitarians. Everyone on the ESV team, as far as I know, is a complementarian. I think that most on the TNIV team are also complementarians, believing, for instance, that women should not be ordained to be pastors or elders. The linguistic forms of the ESV more easily support the complementarian belief system. Complementarianism, however, can be taught from the propositional wordings (teachings) of the TNIV, also, however. The fact that there are more masculine forms to function as generics in the ESV is viewed by Drs. Poythress and Grudem as a proper use of English in Bible translation, a linguistic means of supporting the complementarian belief system.

I have probably over-simplified the two positions a little, although that has not been my intent. Again, I hope I have been objective and fair to both sides in this very intense debate.

For those who might wonder, I personally am not fond of either the TNIV nor the ESV. (I never used their predecessors, the NIV nor RSV, and when I look at them now, I am not fond of them either.) But I do not want to advocate against either version. I will try to be gracious in any statements I make where I point out areas where either translation can be improved. I have already posted a number of such things in the appropriate ESV and TNIV sections of this blog and I will continue to do so. I do with respect for each of the translation teams. And if anyone could help me find places to improve in our Cheyenne Bible translation, I would gladly welcome it.

Regardless of what someone believes about complementarianism or egalitarianism (and I do consider these belief systems to be important), the more important issue for translation is whether the biblical text has been translated accurately with regard to gender. It is my understanding that all members of each translation team, those of the ESV and TNIV, believe that the way that they have translated is more accurate than the way the other team has translated. For some people, including perhaps many reading my post here, the answer is obviously clear as to which of the teams is right about translating accurately. To them there really is no argument. There is no need for any discussion or debate. I respect that position, but I do believe that it is important for this issue to be discussed. Right now the world is watching as Christians shoot each other (only figuratively, so far) over this issue. On the whole, the world doesn't care about this inter-nicene battle. Many think it is humorous to watch Christians attack each other over various issues like this. I, for one, do not think it is humorous. I do think there are real differences among godly sincere people. Of course, advocates of either side can quote the familiar adage that anyone can be sincere, "sincerely wrong." And this is true. But it is also true that not every Bible passage is as clear as we would like it to be so that we could translate it without any doubt about its meaning. This is true even of some of the Bible passages involved in the gender-inclusive language debate. Some believe that when Paul addressed the adelphoi of Romans 12:1, he was only speaking to males, so Paul properly used the plural male term for "brothers." Others, including the translators of the ESV, believe that in some cases adelphoi can and does refer to a mixed group of males and female believers. The ESV places a note to this effect on the word "brothers" for Romans 12:1 and a number of other passages.

May God give us grace to hear each other. I especially hope that he would give us grace not to question the spirituality or biblical commitment of those with whom we disagree on this issue. This doesn't mean that I consider anyone's convictions unimportant. No, on the contrary, the fact that Adrian and I encourage gracious discussion which includes dissent, indicates, I think, that we both consider these important issues. If nothing else, the amount of heat which is being generated these days by this debate makes this an issue to be dealt with as best as possible. The church has dealt with a number of other issues over the centuries and survived, including whether or not to baptize babies, whether someone who is baptized is to be placed all the way under some water or if getting water just on their heads is enough, whether or not it is possible for a true believer to lose their salvation, whether God is totally sovereign or if he has chosen to allow people to act in ways that he has not determined for them to act, whether or not the "sign gifts" ceased at some point in the past, etc. etc. May the church also survive this debate. A world which needs to hear God's Word both from Scripure and seen in our lives needs the church to survive this issue.

Categories: ,

The ESV, the TNIV and gender

Adrian Warnock is a courageous blogger. He has just posted an invitation for bloggers to discuss this topic on his blog. It is probably the hottest of the burning issues in English Bible translation today. It is also one which I have seen very difficult to discuss with those with whom one disagrees without the discussion degrading into name-calling, questioning of orthodoxy, questioning of one's commitment to biblical teaching, etc. But maybe we can prove the common wisdom wrong in this case, and honor Adrian's spirit of trying to bring together different points of view to discuss in a way that honors our Example.

For anyone interested, I will copy my first comment to Adrian on this topic to the comment section of this blog post.

Categories: , , ,

Phrasal verbs, again

I didn't do the greatest job relating phrasal verbs to some Bible translation wordings in my previous posts. I just stumbled across a blog that has a section devoted to phrasal verbs, with lots of examples. Click on the title to this post if you are interested in reading more about this interesting subclass of English verbs.

It would be fun someday (maybe during my retirement, when I'll have all the time in the world to devote to chasing words--oh?!!) to list all phrasal verbs used in English Bible versions. For that matter, it would be fun to see several doctoral dissertations written on the linguistics of English usage in English Bible versions.

Over the years I have noticed some different English rules used in many English versions from the English normally used by good English writers and speakers, including those who translated those versions. Maybe I will blog on these linguistic differences someday.

Categories: ,

Meet a translator ... Hall Harris (NET)

Hi Hall. When did the Bible first start becoming important to your personally?
I grew up in a Christian home, so I can remember reading the Bible as a child and teenager (it was the 1952 RSV, the first of the "modern" translations, because that was what our home church used. When I went to
college, I planned to study engineering, but switched to English literature before I graduated, because I had decided to attend seminary. My main goal was to study the original biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek, in order to be able to understand the Bible better. I was frustrated at the time reading Christian authors who would say things about the Bible or based on passages of the Bible, yet without telling me how they arrived at their conclusions. I remember in particular one big discussion I had with one of our campus ministry leaders over the meaning of Genesis 6:3, which in the RSV says "Then the Lord said, 'My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.'" He was understanding the phrase "a hundred and twenty years" to refer to the average lifespan of humans, which was now to be reduced (compared to the very long lifespans of the antediluvians). I was arguing that the phrase did not refer to average lifespan at all, but to the amount of years remaining to the human race before the flood. (As a matter of interest, in the NET Bible we rendered Gen 6:3 as follows: So the Lord said, "My spirit will not remain in mankind indefinitely since they are mortal. They will remain for one hundred and twenty more years." This makes it pretty clear what is
What was your role in the production of the NET Bible?
Since its beginning in November 1995 in Philadelphia, I have been the Project Director and General Editor (now we call it Managing Editor) for the NET Bible. I did participate in some of the original draft
translations myself as a contributor (notably the Gospel and Epistles of John in the NT) and did some retranslation and major editorial work on part of the OT (notably Ezekiel), but my main role has been to oversee and manage the entire project from start to finish, including not only the translation but the extensive notes by the translators and editors which accompany the NET Bible text and attempt to explain the translators' choices and the various options available both for rendering the original languages into English and for major interpretive options. (It is important to realize that these notes are so massive there are actually about five times as many words in the notes as in the translated biblical text itself.) My work has extended from chairing the Executive Steering Committee which set out the original principles of translation and made major policy decisions for the translation as a whole, to the very detailed editing of NET Bible text and notes for the entire Bible at the chapter and verse level. Along those lines I'd like to say I have been privileged to work with what I consider one of the best teams ever assembled to translate the Bible into English--we deliberately kept the team small, so we have a total of just under 25 editors and translators for the entire Bible (with the notes). Thus I know all the editors and translators personally and have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with them all. It has been difficult at times to sustain the level of effort necessary to see this project through over 10 years, but my desire to publish the Bible on the Internet for free access to everyone everywhere at any time has kept me going.
What are one or two revisions during the translation process that you remember?
Well, the things which tend to stand out are the things you're glad you found out about, that is, unintended mistranslations that often can be understood in more than one way. One of the outstanding ones in that category is 1 Sam 23:7, "When Saul was told that David had come to Keilah, Saul said, 'God has delivered him into my hand, for he has boxed himself into a corner by entering a city with two doors and a bar.'" (One can only presume that David was enjoying his stay.) Our revision got rid of the "bar" by translating "for he has boxed himself into a corner by entering a city with two barred gates." (I should point out that this was not the only verse where a "bar" appeared in connection with a city gate, and also that other major English versions retain the literal Hebrew construction like we initially did.) Along these lines perhaps the most infamous translation accident occurred in the first 10,000 copies of the NET first beta editon (November 2001), where in a translator's note on Prov 2:16, which warns against the "sexually loose woman," a phone number appeared by accident (an 800 number)! This happened when the editor working on the text received a phone call from a major bank with a credit card offer too good to refuse. Without pencil and paper handy, the editor typed the phone number of the bank into the text he was editing, carefully spacing down about 5 lines so he could find it again. Unfortunately he forgot about it, though, and our automated formatting removed the extra lines and pulled the 800 number right back into the text of the note. I only hope some of our early readers didn't think they could call this number to speak with the woman mentioned above! One more example which we just recently fixed illustrates how Bible translation and culture are intertwined. In Isaiah 30:4 we had "Though his officials are in Zoan and his messengers arrive in Hanes." This was easy enough to fix by changing the English preposition to "at Hanes," to prevent anyone thinking the messengers wore a particular brand of underwear!
How would you like people to pray for the ministry of the NET Bible?
I would ask people to continue to pray for the NET Bible Team as we move forward with new types of notes and with ongoing revisions and
improvements to the translation. I would also ask for prayer that the Lord would use our efforts--all of us who have had a part in this project--to increase people's understanding of the Bible and make it more accessible to them.
Thanks, Hall.

Categories: , ,

ESV Bible Blog: Responses to Comments around the Internet

The ESV Bible blog continues to monitor blog posts and stay current with its own ESV announcements. Click on the title to this post for the latests "responses to comments about the Internet" from the ESV Bible blog, including tantalizing hints of some new typesettings and more reference books to appear.

I want to say that I have observed the quality of the ESV webpages as well as the operation of the ESV Bible blog, and both are a major class act, top quality, lovely layout, excellent use of the latest webpage technologies. Blog posts are fair, responsive, timely, and non-defensive. I have had several email exchanges with Stephen Smith, the webmaster for Crossway's ESV webpages and blog, and my appreciation for him, his technical competence, and his spirit continues to grow. Stephen, if you are reading this, thank you for being the person you are. It can only help the ESV cause. The fact that you do not stoop to mean-spirited jabs at other Bible versions is a God-thing (as our son would call it), in my opinion. I wish that more people involved in Bible translation debates would learn from the example of people like you who do not get involved in public bashing of other versions or questioning the spirituality or motives of other Bible translators.

Categories: ,

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"Normal" English Bible versions survey

It's my bedtime. I just checked to see what the most recent voting results are for my English Quality of Bibles Survey (left margin of webpage). There have been 499 votes cast so far. Maybe tomorrow the number will edge over 500. I think the survey has been going about three months.

Good night! (Oh, my wife enjoyed the birthday beef stew I cooked for her today.)

(P.S. Morning, June 23, one person cast a vote since I wrote the above, so we made it to 500 votes. And I consider the results interesting. Maybe I will post on them one of these days.)


No hemming nor hawing on this one

Today I linked into a nice blog, iBlog @ 5twenty8, that I had never visited before. The blogger, Shane, had an interesting post giving new insight into the translation of Matthew 9:20 (click on the title to this post to read what Shane wrote). Observant male Jews wear a tallit (prayer shawl) which has tzitzit (tassels, Greek kraspedon) on its four corners. The woman with the "issue of blood" believed that if she could touch even the tassels hanging from Jesus' prayer shawl she would be healed. And she was right. And some English Bibles now have the translation right also, indicating that the woman wanted to touch the tassels of Jesus' prayer shawl, rather than the "hem" of his garment. Shane mentions that the ISV is one of the recent versions which has incorporated this anthropological insight so that its translation of the clothing term is more accurate. And more accurate is better. Here's the ISV wording of Matt. 9:20:
Just then a woman who had been suffering from chronic bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel of his garment.
I note that the HCSB also translates Greek kraspedon here as "tassel" rather than "hem":
Just then, a woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years approached from behind and touched the tassel on His robe
The NET Bible translates with the words "edge of his cloak" but footnotes "edge", explaining:
The edge of his cloak refers to the kraspedon, the blue tassel on the garment that symbolized a Jewish man’s obedience to the law (cf. Num 15:37-41). The woman thus touched the very part of Jesus’ clothing that indicated his ritual purity.
The ESV retains "edge" from the RSV and footnotes the word, pointing us to Numbers 15:38,39 and Deut. 22:12 which specifically refer to the "tassels" on the corners of garments. Well done! This is accuracy, guiding us to understand precisely what the woman wanted to touch.

The NASB translated with the words "the fringe of His cloak" and footnotes "fringe", saying:
I.e. tassel fringe with a blue cord
The REB (Revised English Bible) also footnotes "edge" saying it could also be rendered as "tassel."

I have found similar insights into the Jewish background of the gospels from the writings of the Jerusalem School, a group of Christian and Jewish scholars working together to help us understand the Jewish foundations of the gospels more accurately. And when we understand more accurately we can produce better Bibles.

I was glad to read in an interview with ESV translator, Paul House, that the ESV team made some of its revisions of the RSV based on "new scholarship coming out all the time that helps us understand the background of words and the meaning of words in their context." Those insights have made the ESV better. And better is better! (I couldn't pass that one up! Who wants to explain the humor here to our friends across the Atlantic or Pacific?)

Categories: , , , , ,