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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Jews in John's Gospel

Again, I am expanding a comment, this time on Suzanne's posting on her forthcoming Interview with Dr. Packer, into a separate posting.

One of the main criticisms made about TNIV, second only to the negative comments on its gender related language, is how it has rendered the Greek Ἰουδαῖοι Ioudaioi, traditionally translated "Jews".

See for example section F of the article Translation Inaccuracies in the 2005 TNIV New Testament, sponsored by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I'm not sure why this group is interested in language about the Jews; could it be that their intention is in fact simply to be as negative as possible about TNIV? The claim on that page is that in TNIV
“the Jew(s)” (hoi ioudaioi) [has been] changed to “Jewish leaders”.
18 places are listed where this "change" has been made: John 1:19; 5:10,15, 16; 7:1,11,13; 9:22; 18:14,36; 19:31,38; 20:19; Acts 13:50; 21:11. Also nine places are listed, John 2:20; 5:18; 8:52,57; 9:18,22; 10:33; 18:31; Acts 18:14, where
“the Jew(s)” (hoi ioudaioi) [has been] changed to “they” or omitted
- and these seem to be counted as errors even though in many cases TNIV has simply avoided repetition which is unnecessary in English, something which is accepted practice in almost all translations. The same section of the article concludes:
So it seems to us that changing hoi ioudaioi from “the Jews” to “Jewish leaders” introduces an incorrect change of meaning into a translation.
Now there is a logical problem here with the word "changed", for TNIV claims to be a new translation from the original languages, and so not in any sense to be "changed" from any other English translation. However, to the extent that TNIV is quite closely based on NIV and to some extent in the tradition of KJV, this statement makes sense, although it would be more logical to write that TNIV has "Jewish leaders" in places where NIV and/or KJV has "the Jew(s)".

But the main point I want to make here is that "the Jews" is potentially a very misleading rendering of the Greek Ἰουδαῖοι Ioudaioi. My point is backed up by BDAG, the most authoritative lexicon of New Testament Greek, as quoted in the same CBMW article. But I would like to clarify the argument here.

TNIV is by no means breaking new ground in rendering Ἰουδαῖοι Ioudaioi as "Jewish leaders". The rendering in TEV, already in my 1976 edition, is "Jewish authorities", in John 1:19; 2:18; 5:10,15,18; 7:1,11,13,15,35; 8:22; 9:18,22; 13:33; 18:14,28,36; 19:31,38; 20:19; Acts 23:20. I will consider here only the occurrences in John's Gospel. The TEV renderings are explained in a paper "THE JEWS" IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN by Robert G. Bratcher, Practical Papers for the Bible Translator 26, October 1975, pages 401–409, and reprinted as Appendix I to the UBS Translators' Handbook on the Gospel of John, by Barclay M. Newman and Eugene A. Nida, 1980. TNIV mostly (but not in 7:15,35; 8:22; 13:33 - accepted as debatable by Bratcher) follows Bratcher's recommendations in rendering Ἰουδαῖοι Ioudaioi as "Jewish leaders" when Bratcher understands the meaning as "the authorities in Jerusalem".

Others support Bratcher's distinction between various uses of Ἰουδαῖοι Ioudaioi. Thus for example, in his commentary on John in the Pillar series (Eerdmans 1991) (on 1:19), Don Carson writes:
In fact, careful examination of the seventy or so occurrences suggests John uses 'the Jews' in a variety of ways. Sometimes the expression is rather neutral ... Elsewhere the expression bears decidedly positive overtones ... In 7:1, the expression takes on geographical colouring: the people of Judea. Most commonly it refers to the Jewish leaders, especially those of Jerusalem and Judea ...
Well, Carson is guilty of an exegetical fallacy of his own when he writes that John uses 'the Jews'; of course what John uses is the Greek word Ἰουδαῖοι Ioudaioi, and "the Jews" is simply the traditional rendering whose misleading character Carson is himself trying to demonsrate. But Carson's comments show that TNIV is following accepted and responsible exegesis in translating different uses of the same Greek word in different ways. It is of course normal practice in all but the most extremely concordant translations to use different target language renderings for the same original language word used in different ways.

But, some people might object, surely "Jews" means "Jews", and it is for the readers to decide exactly who is referred to. Well, there is some merit in that argument - although also the demerit that historically many people have misunderstood these references, as teaching that all Jews are necessarily opposed to Jesus, which was certainly not the position of John, a Jew himself. But the real weakness of this argument is that the Greek word Ἰουδαῖοι Ioudaioi does not simply mean "Jews". The Greek word and its Latin equivalent may be the etymological origin of English "Jews", but that is irrelevant to the meaning.

English "Jew" refers to any member of the people of Israel. But the Hebrew יְהוּדִי yehudi and the (biblical) Aramaic יְהוּדַי yehuday, and the Greek Ἰουδαῖος Ioudaios derived from them, at least originally meant "Judahite", i.e. member of the tribe of Judah or perhaps citizen of the kingdom of Judah. By extension they seem to have come to mean "Judean", i.e. inhabitant of the area known in Roman times as Judea. Only later did the Greek word come to refer to all of the people now known as Jews. The apostle Paul seems to have used the term in the wider sense of all Jews. But his fellow apostle John seems to have used it both in this wider sense and in at least two different more restricted senses. The details are a matter for real exegetical debate, but this debate which cannot be sidestepped by a snap judgment that the rendering "the Jews" is literal but "Jewish leaders" is non-literal.

This reminds me of how many Americans use the word "English" to refer to all people from Britain or the UK, whereas within Britain few people would say this. Certainly no Scot would identify himself or herself as English! And for us in Britain, a Yankee is any American, not just one from the north-eastern states. So in general it is locals who make finer distinctions than outsiders. Similarly, it seems that John the Galilean used Ἰουδαῖος Ioudaios usually in its strict sense of "Judean", excluding himself and his fellow Galileans, whereas outsiders, including diaspora Jews like Paul, used the term more loosely of all the people of Israel.

So, this seems to be another issue, separate from gender, where a certain group of people has decided to take issue with TNIV, accusing it of "translation inaccuracies", without allowing that TNIV is following a legitimate and widely supported exegetical opinion. Now, it might be that someone could come up with good exegetical or translational arguments against the TNIV rendering. But instead the argument seems to be that any change, or at least any change which these people choose to highlight, is an inaccuracy. Well, surely the logic of their arguments implies that they should go back to Tyndale, or at least to KJV. And in many ways I wish they would, for at least then their irrelevance to the modern world would be plain for all to see.


At Tue Feb 07, 04:06:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

There seem to be some strange effects here concerning the order in which postings appear on this blog. This posting The Jews in John's Gospel was posted after Rereading Psalm 100:3: In Search of a Better Translation and "You say so" continued, but before Propitiation. This one originally appeared before Rereading Psalm 100:3: In Search of a Better Translation and "You say so" continued because it was dated 9.01 AM Monday (PST?) which was probably the time at which I started to write it, although I completed it and posted it some hours later. I guess that Wayne noted the anomaly and so changed the time stamp on my posting to 9.01 AM Tuesday - still in the future if PST - and so appears at the top of the blog. Well, thank you, Wayne, for giving my posting priority over your own ones; but it might be better to adjust its time to the actual time of posting, which was about 1.00 AM GMT. For this has had the unfortunate result that Suzanne's important posting Propitiation appeared in second place on the blog even when it was first posted, and so isn't getting the visibility which it deserves.

It seems to me that it is an undesirable feature, even a bug, in the Blogger software that postings are by default given the date of when editing of them is started, rather than the date (which could be some time later) when they are completed and posted. It is probably a good idea if we who post remember to adjust the dates and times of any postings which are not posted immediately after editing of them is started (and I will need to remember to adjust these times to PST). Sorry that I did not do this and so caused some confusion.

At Wed Feb 08, 05:38:00 AM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Yeah Peter. I think I learned that on my blog.

Thanks for your informative post in this translation squabble (it seems to me to be less than scholarly as to the argument against it). I hate to think that of those who oppose the tniv, and using this as one of their grounds. I stand to be corrected. But what I read from you and have read seems only to verify it.

At Wed Feb 08, 05:43:00 AM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Actually my use of "squabble" is surely a poor choice of words since it takes two to do that. One side I just don't see acting on scholarly grounds. I regret to say this.

At Wed Feb 08, 05:48:00 AM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

maybe better yet, arguably poor scholarship.


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