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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Good News for Everyone VIII: Sanctification

Today I am looking at Nida's discussion of the term "saints" and how to translate hagioi. The GNB usually translates it as the "people of God."
    The term "saints" is another word which has lost much of its real significance as the result of popular usage and misconceptions as to its true biblical meaning. For many people, "saints" are only the patron saints of persons or institutions, and as heavenly beings they are supposed to intercede for their devotees.

    For others, "saints" are only those specially devout and holy persons who are often more sanctimonious than sanctified. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses the "sanctified" and indicates that they were called to be "saints," while in his second letter the apostle addresses them as "saints," but obviously he wants them to be far more consecrated to the work and worship of God than they as yet are.

    In order to reproduce more faithfully the meaning of the Greek term traditionally translated "saints," it is much better to speak of "the people of God," even as Today's English Version does. They have not always been fully consecrated or sanctified, but they do belong to God, and as his people they are the objects of his constant concern and love. page 74 - 75

I asked Dr. Packer what he would use for the word hagioi ἁγίοι in the situation of translating the Bible for the first time into a new language. He suggested "committed", or "given to God."

With this in mind, I want to revisit the last two paragraphs of the Statement of Concern against the TNIV.

    How do they know that changing "saints" to "those" in Acts 9:13 or to "believers" in Acts 9:32 or to God's people" in Romans 8:27 does not sacrifice precious connotations of holiness which the Greek word carries. To justify translating "saints" as "believers" because it refers to believers is like justifying translating "sweetheart" as "wife" because that is who it refers to.

    Because of this we cannot endorse the TNIV as sufficiently trustworthy to commend to the church. We do not believe it is a translation suitable for use as a normal preaching and teaching text of the church or for common memorizing, study, and reading Bible of the Christian community.

This discussion of "saints", continues the series on Nida, but also rounds up the last of the points in the Statement of Concern and my interview with Dr. Packer.

I realize that by now, at least one of our readers has forgotten why God might be said to have "children" instead of only "sons". I do my best to be a faithful reminder, but nonetheless I have had a request to rerun this and start over again at the beginning. Maybe next year. Maybe not.

I will be taking a break for the rest of the summer but expect to be around and will drop back in once in a while. I just want to add that I have not been here on this blog to promote an egalitarian agenda, although others have given me that label, and I see no reason to deny it. But it seems utterly irrelevant to my position here. Authority resides in word and truth, not in man or woman.

Concerning my defense of the single woman Bible translator, I was rereading my sister's autobiography the other day and noticed where she talked about her first experience on the mission field working with another woman, a Bible translator. I have rephrased their experience here.

    My sister went to live with a small community of missionaries in a faraway place and teach high school and evangelize. There were a few older missionaries and another young woman, a Bible translator, and later a couple of young men came too.

    In all the meetings the women were silent. Even at the Friday evening prayer meeting only the men prayed. Later the Bible translator told my sister that, not only, had she never spoken during a meeting, but no one had ever even prayed for her work.

    The younger missionaries finally started up a group with some of the local young people and in this group the women spoke. That went okay for a while until James arrived. He not only knew that women were to be silent but he also knew how to silence women.

    If a woman speaks then you must not acknowledge it. You freeze and do not turn your head or move a muscle. Then when the woman stops you carry on as if not a sound had been made. If this happens, the woman has not spoken but she has only made a noise.

Truth is stranger than fiction.


At Mon Jun 26, 07:15:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Surely "saints" also sacrifices "precious connotations of holiness", because "saint" does not mean the same as "holy" in normal English usage.

I also note "To justify translating "saints" as "believers"" in the quotation from the Statement of Concern. How can "saints" be translated as "believers" when these are two words in the same language? There seems to be an assumption here that TNIV has been prepared as a paraphrase of other English versions. And the arguments are based entirely on the supposed meaning of other English renderings, and the presupposition that they are correct, rather than on the actual meaning and usage of the original language terms. This demonstrates the unscholarly nature of Statement of Concern.

At Mon Jun 26, 09:34:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Authority resides in word and truth, not in man or woman.

What a great and memorable statement. Thank-you for your series, Suzanne.

At Mon Jun 26, 09:40:00 AM, Blogger Kevin Knox said...

Eventually, it appears that NEU (normal english usage) will become a stretcher.
LOL! I agree.

At Mon Jun 26, 09:50:00 AM, Blogger Kevin Knox said...


Wow. Great subject.

This seems to be a case where Normal English Usage has killed a very, very valuable word. I agree that the word "saint" is abused beyond repair, but the concept is so rich. We have to find a word to save it.

We are not "the committed." Ick. God made us clean, not our commitment. And calling us "people of God" is nice, but somehow the word has to say, "people clean enough for God."

"Holy ones" is the only thing close enough for me.

At Mon Jun 26, 10:01:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Codepoke, I tend to agree that something is missing by just translating hagioi as "believers". As the usage is almost always collective, I rather like the idea of translating "God's holy people", with adjustments to fit the context. Of course we still have the problem that many people don't really know what "holy" means, but it has not acquired as many misleading connotations as "saint" has.

At Mon Jun 26, 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Ruud Vermeij said...


I put a translation of your sisters story on my (Dutch) weblog.

At Mon Jun 26, 06:03:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Now that I have brought up the topic of "saints", I look forward some day to reading a post on the meaning of 'holy' and continuing the conversation.


Thanks, it will certainly help me to read a little Dutch!

On the Statement of Concern,

The complete Statement is here. On the CBMW site only an abbreviated statement appears with the signatures. It hardly seems right to display the signatures without the statement that they signed. I have the Statement in the Book by P & G.

This is an example of an article linked to by the CBMW.

At Mon Jun 26, 10:33:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


You write,

And the arguments are based entirely on the supposed meaning of other English renderings, and the presupposition that they are correct,

This is typical of the rhetoric.

“They are changing a historical document [the Bible],” Grudem said. “It is like someone writing about Bob Dylan’s song from the 1960s, ‘How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?’ and deciding that people today wouldn’t understand that Bob Dylan was using an example of a specific man to teach a general truth, and therefore telling modern 18-34 year olds that Bob Dylan wrote these words in a song: ‘How many roads must a human being walk down, before you call them a person?’ Crosswalk

Then there is this example,

"World’s Joel Belz, for example, points to the translation of John 6:33, where the NIV says, For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The TNIV, however, changes the verse: “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (emphasis added).

“So, since the reference is so clearly to Jesus, why the need for eliminating the masculine pronoun?” Belz asks. “The evidence is overwhelming. The editors of this Bible have a preoccupation with doing away with anything masculine.”
Agape Press

There are few references to what anything meant in Greek that I can see.

And this Kostenberger on ανθρωπος in Phil 2:8

"Where the NIV has, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death...” the NIVI translates, “And being found in appearance as a human being....” Köstenberger argues that Jesus suffered, “not merely as an undifferentiated human being, but specifically and concretely as a man.” Strauss

But reading this in Greek one could never mistake the basic dichotomy of the divine/human contrast (θεος vs ανθρωπος) and the emptying, the kenosis.

At Tue Jun 27, 04:57:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

John 6:33 is interesting. TNIV here has the same rendering as the English Revised Version and RSV, "the bread of God is that which..." (also NRSV, which has a footnote "Or he who"). So no one can allege that this reading is a response to late 20th century feminism or egalitarianism. These words can refer either to the bread (masculine in Greek) or to Jesus. There are two exegetical alternatives here, neither one of which is certainly and objectively true.

The problem with the KJV and NIV rendering "the bread of God is he who..." is that it jumps the gun on Jesus' clear argument. Yes, as we discover later, this bread of God is Jesus. But Jesus reveals this important truth only in v.35, as the climax of his argument. Up to that point he is apparently (in the Greek) talking only about bread, perhaps a new supply of manna. The crowds who reply in v.34 are asking not for Jesus but for this new manna. When they discover that this bread is in fact Jesus himself, they start to change their tune, in v.41. In v.34 they are not already murmuring that Jesus has said "I am the bread which come down from heaven", because in the Greek he has not yet said this - although in NIV and KJV he has. This, as far as I can see (without consulting commentaries), is the reason for preferring "that which" in ERV, RSV and TNIV.


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