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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

J I Packer and the RSV

During my conversation with Dr. Packer I asked him many other questions. Here is a question from my co-blogger, Wayne. I do hope that people realize that I had absolutely no idea how Dr. Packer would respond to my questions and that he was aware of and uninhibited by the tape recorder. He is a very confident speaker.

Suzanne: What advantages are there to retaining the obsolete negative word orders found in the RSV?

Dr. Packer: I hope we made it plain in the introduction what we what we were seeking to do, which was to work over the text of the RSV, removing all the blemishes which kept it from being as good as its skill in verbal expression should have made it. The language is, I think, in the old RSV, is brilliant but there were all sorts of weaknesses. We found more than we bargained for when we started on the work.

Suzanne: Uneven?

Dr. Packer: Well, it was uneven. I think that must have something to do with the fact that it was translated by liberals who haven’t got the same devotion to the actual wording and structure of the original as evangelicals, as I think you and most certainly me, do have.


I will write about Dr. Packer's comments on the King James Version in a few days.


I have actually used the RSV for the last 10 years as a pew Bible without being aware of any blemishes. That goes to show how much I have been listening in church. (I just stuck this link in in case there are any Plymouth Brethren or fans of Garrison Keillor who would like a break from this blog!)

Anyway, I have never noticed blemishes in any Bible that I am aware of. Unevenness or weaknesses, maybe, blemishes or inaccuracies no. However, I would like to come clean here on my Bible reading history, since others have done so recently.

I was brought up listening to the King James Version, in season and out. Therefore it is the Bible in my head. Forgive me, cobloggers. At the age of 12 our Bible study leader decided that we were ready to graduate from the pure milk of the word, to something a little meatier, and we used the Darby translation. To this day I often wonder where that elusive phrase went. Ah, it was in the Darby Bible! The sentences are no loss, however, each a page long. This translation was not considered suitable for reading out loud.

I started studying Greek at 14 and my older brother gave me a Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, 1968, for my 15th birthday. Now that I had the Greek New Testament and used it, I did not feel the need for an authorative English version. At 16 I bought myself a New Living Bible.

In university we were persuaded to use the NASB and I memorized many chapters of that. Throughout these years I also used the Louis Segond, French Darby, Bonnes Nouvelles, also the Gute Nachtricht Bibel and the Vamva Greek Bible.

Shortly after that I became a high school English teacher and bought a Good News Bible. This is the Bible that I still have and use along with the Greek New Testament. My Hebrew is a little sketchy.

The one Bible that has been with me through most of my life is the Greek NT. It has a utilitarian wine vinyl cover, which disappointed me at first, but it is in good condition still.

I have reviewed this personal history to help me think about the various functions that a Bible fulfills in one's life. Why is one version not enough?

Apparently in looking back, I memorized from the KJ and NASB. I am sure that my stilted writing sometimes reflects that.

However, I never thought of authority resting in anything other than the Greek NT. When at the age of 19 and 20 I was exposed to the textual criticism of the theologians of the University of Toronto this tested both my faith and my father's. (I mean my real father here, Wayne) (And this tested my parents patience as well.) However, we all carefully repositioned our faith in Christ and carried on.

For communication with others, the Good News Bible is simply the best. Okay, the NIV and the TNIV are absent from this list. Oops. Sorry. I cannot really recommend any specific Bible above any other. It is important that people realize that no Bible is 'transparent to the Greek'. I knew the Greek New Testament fairly well before my theology had even passed go. And every single Bible that I know has some good things and is missing some others.

However, I wish to help create and maintain an environment that allows the Bible to be translated by trusted scholars in a variety of ways without risk of ongoing persecution and criticism.

Update: I have reposted this since it was posted in its draft order and therefore might be missed, especially since it is part of the J I Packer series I thought it was worth reposting.

I have included the comments here.

Rey said...
Suzanne giving a shout out to the Peebs. heh heh. (I did read the rest of your article and have been following your entire series on the interview with Packer but haven't had anything to ask or add--just so that you know I'm not randomly making a comment from the void after seeing the mention of Plymouth Brethren.
4:23 PM

Suzanne McCarthy said...
Hi Rey,You will know where I am coming from if I say that ordained ministry is far more of a taboo to me as a PB than as a woman,(at least in our exclusive assembly) However, I do support the full ministry of women, for other women. I still have many happy memories of my PB upbringing.
6:06 PM

Is singular "they" a colloquialism?

Michael Marlowe has a wealth of biblical resources on his website linked from our blog's right margin. I have admired the quality of his website resources as well as the quality of his English writing for many years. Michael and I have had many exchanges over the years. I have learned that whenever Michael makes a claim about the English language I need to take it seriously, because it is likely based on careful, clear thinking. Michael has commented on my preceding post, suggesting that singular "they" is a colloquialism, similar to the colloquial status of the English contraction "aint". I must take Michael's comments seriously and I have. I started to reply to Michael in the Comments section of the preceding post, but then I realized that there might be others who would appreciate the exchange between the two of us who might not check the comments to read them there. I will copy Michael's comments in italics and respond in this font style.

Hello Michael. You said:

Wayne, this is a bit like saying "aint" is fine in a Bible version because so many people say "aint."

I respect your opinion on this, Michael, but I respectfully disagree. There is a significant difference between usage of "aint" and singular "they." I think almost all speakers of English recognize, as you and I do, that "aint" is a colloquialism. But most users of singular "they", a large percentage, perhaps a majority, of linguists, and an increasing number of English editors recognize singular "they" as a legitimate linguistic form in standard dialects of English, not a colloquialism.

But there's a difference between standard and colloquial English.


The colloquial usage of "aint" just isn't acceptable in formal prose.


Same way with the "singular they."

For you, Michael, and a good number of English speakers, yes, but for millions of English speakers as well as many who analyze English and proofread it, no.

It's a colloquialism.

Not precisely, Michael. Note this definition of colloquialism which seems to be rather standard:
an informal word or phrase that is more common in conversation than in formal speech or writing
You are right that singular "they" is used more in speech than in writing, but it is not necessarily an informal phrase. It has been used formally in writing for many centuries as I will demonstrate with examples below.

It may not be confusing in colloquial speech (although sometimes it is), but we just don't expect it in writing.

Again, Michael, it depends on who you mean by "we." It is widely used in English writing, less so in American English writing than in British or Australian English writing, but still widely in most dialects of English writing. There are, of course, still many prescriptive English teachers and grammarians, editors, and stylists who frown on the use of singular "they" in formal writing. But just as prescriptive prohibitions against splitting infinitives and many other artificial rules passed on through generations of prescriptivists have given way to the realities of language use among most, if not all, social and educational strata.

Michael, please tell me if the following taken from English literature are colloquial:
... so shall they set forward, every man in his place by their standards ("their" is anaphoric to "every man") (See Comments for reason for striking out this example.)

According to the number that ye shall prepare, so shall ye do to every one according to their number.

So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

[Let] nothing [be done] through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

If a person is born of a gloomy temper ... they cannot help it.

He neuer forsaketh any creature vnlesse they before haue forsaken them selues.

Nobody can deprive us of the Church, if they would.

Whenever anyone was ill, she brewed them a drink.

Eche of theym sholde... make theymselfe redy.

A man or woman being lang absent fra thair party. (Michael, this one is from high quality literary English written in 1563; note that this has identical syntactic form to the conjunct example you cited from the TNIV)

A person can't help their birth.

Hereby one may take to themselves a lesson.

Whoever it is, I won't see them to-night.

Wha so weddes ofter þan anes, þaire childer er bastardes.

There's not a man I meet but doth salute me,
As if I were their well-acquainted friend.

She kept her head and kicked her shoes off, as everybody ought to do who falls into deep water in their clothes.
When we see it in writing, it seems to be plural in meaning, because in standard English it is plural, and in writing we expect standard English.

Actually, it is the case that singular "they" is syntactically (grammatically) plural regardless of whether it is used in a spoken or written standard dialect of English, or in a non-standard dialect. Singular "they" is always singular in meaning (semantics). Singular "they" is very much a part of standard dialects of English. Listen a lot, Michael. Keep reading--I know you already read a lot but keep it up and you will find more and more examples of singular "they." Listen to the news media, many of whom have been taught to speak in a standard form of media speech, which is essentially Midwest American English spoken near Kansas City and surrounding metropolitan areas.

So I say Grudem is right, and you are wrong about this "singular they" business.

And you have every right to express your opinion like that, Michael. And I have every right to debate your claim by presenting what I consider to be more compelling evidence.

One other thing you need to consider, is the fact that your examples all involve the use of "they" where the antecedent is a sematically plural noun like "everybody."

Michael, I gave only one example in the preceding post. If you are referring to examples I have listed at other times in this same discussion we have had, I cannot remember if I gave any examples other than with anaphora to "everyone." I assume that I have, because singular "they" is used in many more contexts than just with "everyone." I know that and assume I would have tried to give examples of anaphora with "nobody" and other antecedents. Your memory is likely much better than mine, however, so you may remember my only citing "everybody" antecedents in the past. If I did, then I was wrong to do so.

It is easy to slip a "they" in when this is the case.

True. It is also very natural to use singular "they" in a number of other contexts. Linguists have been discussing the variety of contexts for quite a few years. Geoffrey Pullum is one of the world's most respected linguists. He's been around a long time and is a keen observer of English language usage. He also happens to be a native speaker of the Queen's English, although he has been a professor of linguistics in the U.S. for many years. Check out the archives of his blog which have many posts on singular "they."

But the TNIV uses the "they" in places where it strikes people as being obviously ungrammatical, such as: "If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you alone. If they listen to you ..."

Again, Michael, it depends on who you mean by "people" in that sentence. It's true of yourself. It's true of many English speakers. It's not true of many other English speakers. The TNIV example is in common usage and considered perfectly appropriate by millions of English speakers.

This just doesn't work.

It depends on who determines whether it does or not, Michael. As always, you present challenging things to think about. Obviously you care about good English usage a great deal. It is clear from your writing that you had good English teachers and likely good role-modeling of proper English from your parents. I understand exactly what you are saying. I was taught the same prescriptive grammar. I remember how guilty I felt when I finally started spliting infinitives when I wrote, even though my teachers had told me it was improper to do so. They were sincere and thought they were teaching properly, even though we now know that they were not teaching a rule othat was a true part of English syntax but a rules which had been adopted from Latin grammar where it is wrong to ever split an infinitive. For that matter, Latin infinitives, as you likely know, could not be split, not just should not, but could not. And you know why, I'm sure.

Tim Challies' review

Today Tim Challies reviewed the book Why Is My Choice of a Bible Translation So Important? by Wayne Grudem and Jerry Thacker. In this book Dr. Grudem continues to confuse syntax and semantics in his objections to use in Bible versions of the centuries old singular "they". He keeps repeating in debates, on radio programs, and in books that the "they" of a singular "they" changes a biblical text singular to a plural. He has been corrected on this point numerous times, but he never seems to acknowledge what he has been told. Singular "they" is syntactically plural but semantically singular. It refers to a preceding referent which is singular and often indefinite, as in this English sentence:

"Everyone will get over the flu faster is they follow their doctors' instructions."

Millions of English speakers use the singular "they". It is not a new phenomenon of English. It has been used in the KJV, by Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, and many other great writers over the centuries. Dr. Grudem has such a wide following of people who believe him. It is frustrating to hear him continue to repeat things which are simply not true of the English language. Too many people then simply repeat what he has said, because they respect him. But we should only repeat things which are true.

Here is the truth:

Generic "he", the pronoun Dr. Grudem wants used in English Bible, is syntactically masculine but has been historically gender-inclusive or gender-neutral, whichever term you prefer. It has a conflict of grammatical gender with semantic gender. Semantics always wins out when there is such a conflict because people communicate meaning when they speak or write. They do not communicate forms. Rather, they use forms as vehicles by which meaning is communicated.

Another truth:

Singular "they" is syntactically plural but semantically singular. It is understood and spoken by millions of English speakers. It has been spoken and written by English speakers since at least the late 1300s. There is nothing inferior about it, in spite of what prescriptive English teachers might say. It is neither worse nor better than the generic "he"--until we deal with connotative meaning and discover how people are impacted by generic "he" or singular "they." Language forms which are used by people are not good nor bad. They simply are, again, until we deal with the impact of connotative meanings.

Bibles need to be translated using the English forms that the majority of speakers in the intended target audience use.

Please, Dr. Grudem, we appreciate you and respect you. But please stop repeating what you say about the singular "they". It's not true and it is misleading many people, some of whom repeat what you say elsewhere such as on their blogs or from their pulpits.

Prophetic Formulas

Talmida has an interesting post today on Prophetic Formulae. She spells the word "formulae" which is correct. I have gone along with the crowd's regularization of the Latin plural to Germanic "formulas." Well, that's off topic. Go ahead and read about the fun things Talmida is learning as she reads the Hebrew Bible.

Oh, BTW, Talmida, the part of the body called the hand in Hebrew is the same as in Cheyenne, the language spoken in Montana that we studied the last 30 years. Both words have a larger body area from what is called "hand" in English.

And now we hand it over to Tamida :-)

P.C. Bibles

AMDG at Christendom Blogosis today blogs on Political Correctness in Bible Translation. He wonders what the big deal is about gender in Bible translation.

Questions I would ask in response would be: How do we determine if anyone has translated a Bible version to be "politically correct"? How can we know the motives of others? What standards of proof should be required before suggestions of political correctness (or heresy, or any other claim) are justified? Might the legal standard of "innocent until proven guilty" work? Will Christians require any kind of accountability and empirical proof for the claims that are made under their banner? Or do we revert to an Old Testament standard: Every man did that which was right in his own eyes?

For myself, I wish for a higher standard. I wish for empirical support for any claim presented. If we claim to know why someone has done what they have done, then we should provide some kind of proof to justify our claim. Without such proof we revert to subjectivism, a form of relativistic humanism which is often decried so strongly by those who themselves practice it, perhaps unknowingly, for what they sincerely believe to be righteous causes.

Frankly, I am tired of hearing years of generalized, subjective accusations made against various Bible versions:

"This one is too liberal."
"This one is too literal."
"This one is bowing to feminist concerns."
"This one is just a paraphrase."
"This one doesn't deserve to be sold in Christian bookstores."
"This one is dumbed down."
"This one leaves out entire phrases or verses."

Let's give details and support for our claims. And let's make sure that any support we do give is based on the realities of the biblical languages and the languages we are translating to, not simply our opinions, however sincere, about what a translation wording should be.

Righteous vs. good in Rom. 5:7

Some time ago someone asked in a comment to a BBB post if we might blog on Rom. 5:7. That person said something to the effect that he had never understood this verse. I responded that I had not either. I like to learn what the meaning of verses that I do not understand in translation might be, so here is my post. Let's learn together!

Rom. 5:7 is worded fairly much the same in Bible versions, regardless of whether they are literal or more idiomatic, as can be seen by comparing the ESV (essentially literal) and more idiomatic GW (God's Word) translations:
It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. (ESV)

Finding someone who would die for a godly person is rare. Maybe someone would have the courage to die for a good person. (GW)
It has never made sense to me that someone might be more willing to die for a good person than for a righteous person. To me, it would seem that a righteous person would be more highly valued than a good person. Of course, this begs some questions, one of which is: In whose estimation is the comparison made between a righteous and a good person? Is it from the viewpoint of God or the viewpoint of people, who often have distorted views of the value of others?

Obviously, the most important question which needs to be asked is: What is Paul's intended meaning in this verse for the Greek words dikaios and agathos? The first word, dikaios, has traditionally been translated as "righteous" (KJV, RSV, NRSV, NASB, NET, NIV, TNIV, TEV, ISV). It has also been translated as "just" (REB, HCSB, ESV). I like the word "just" here since I think it might key us in to a Torah definition of dikaios even better than the word "righteous." To my mind, a person can be just but not righteous.

From the reading I have done to prepare for this post, I get the idea that a dikaois person is someone who follows God's laws. It is quite possible that Paul was thinking of a person who is Torah observant. Paul was dikaios before he became a follower of Jesus. He spelled out his dikaios pedigree:
If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. (Phil. 3:4b-6 NET)
The Greek word translated here as "righteousness" is dikaiosune, which is simply the nominalized form of the adjective dikaios.

Although the word "good" sounds weaker than "righteous" to us in English, there must have been something about being agathos 'good' that brought greater respect and admiration from others. My mind has gone back to Jesus' interaction with the young ruler in Luke 18:
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ (Luke 18:18-20 NIV, TNIV)
Perhaps the Lukan young ruler, like Saul who became Paul, was dikaios but not agathos. He followed the rules, but was not truly good.

In a study of Romans 5:1-11, Greg Herrick says of verse 7:
The overall point of verse seven is clear even though the precise significance of its parts is debated. Its presentation of faulty human love stands as a marked contrast to the love which God himself demonstrated in Christ. But what does Paul mean by the contrast between a righteous (dikaios) man and a good (agathos) man? Some scholars argue that there is no contrast in the Greek text and the terms mean essentially the same thing. But a contrast seems to be the point of what Paul is saying and there is evidence that the two terms were contrasted by the Gnostics who held that that the God of OT was dikaios while the God of the NT was agathos (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 1. 27.1). The point, then, as it applies to men, is that a person will rarely (if ever) die for a purely righteous person, though for a person who was good, that is, benevolent and generous, a person might dare to die.
If in God's estimation an agathos person is truly better than a dikaios person, then Romans 5:7 makes sense to me. It becomes coherent.

One Bible version has stood out to me as having a coherent translation of Rom. 5:7:
Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. (NLT)
We would regard a righteous person as being good. But a person who not only follows God's laws, but also reflects God's character, would be "especially good."

What do you think? Might there be some other way for Rom. 5:7 to make sense in translation?

Monday, February 27, 2006

CBMW continues its anti-TNIV crusade

The CBMW (Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) continues its longstanding campaign against the TNIV with the latest issue of its journal, available on the CBMW website as a free PDF download. This issue contains the following articles (I have added links so that BBB visitors can learn more about each author):

Editorial, by Peter R. Schemm, Jr. (faculty webpage)

I Want My NIV: Gender Issues, Bible Translations, and the Rise of Evangelical Individualism, by Russell D. Moore (SBTS faculty webpage)

A Response to “Why the TNIV Bible?” by John Mark N. Reynolds (blog)

Today’s New International Version: A Brief Look at Its Methodology and Some Examples, by Justin Taylor (recent commenter on this BBB blog; Justin's blog; interviewed; employed by Desiring God, a ministry of John Piper)

Changing God’s Word, by Wayne Grudem (theology professor; faculty webpage)

Small Changes in Meaning Can Matter: The Unacceptability of the TNIV, by Vern S. Poythress (website)

(Mis)Translating Psalm 1, by Robert L. Cole (SEBTS faculty webpage)

Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve: How the TNIV Cuts Off the Ancient Conversation, by Peter R. Schemm, Jr., and Michael E. Travers (SEBTS faculty webpage)

Choosing a Translation of the Bible, by Russell T. Fuller (SBTS faculty webpage)

Annotated Bibliography for Gender Related Books in 2004, by Rob Lister

Categories: ,

"in Christ" in the latest issue of JBS

The latest issue of the JBS (the Journal of Biblical Studies) is now online. One of the articles is on "in Christ," one of the most difficult biblical terms to translate to any language, including English. English lacks a parallel syntactic form with the same meaning as that of the Greek dative en xristw, which is usually literally translated as "in Christ" in English Bible versions. If you are uncertain what the translation issue here is, ask yourself: What does "in Christ" mean? Also ask: Do we have parallel forms in English that have a meaning parallel to that of en xristw?

Please note that linking to an article or blog post does not indicate endorsement of any linked content by BBB contributors. It is the intent of BBB contributors to link to items which we consider newsworthy for Bible translation discussions.

HT: Michael Pahl

Sunday, February 26, 2006

NIV Concerns Group

Here is Dr. Grudem's account of what happened on May 27, 1997 in Colorado Springs.


    That was ... what happened May 27 at the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs. James Dobson had asked that the main defenders of the New International Version meet with a group concerned about its "inclusive language" editions in England (NIVI) and the United States (the NIrV).

    Our “NIV concerns group” ... presented a statement we had prepared the previous day. R.C. Sproul opened with an expression of the importance of accuracy in translation, the realization that language does change over time, and the caution that Bible translators must be very careful not to be influenced by wrongful intrusions of secular culture. Then John Piper presented a ten-page list of specific translations in the NIVI and the NIrV which we thought to be inaccurate. Third, ... Dr. Poythress said that, while he appreciated the desire of the NIV translators to communicate effectively in contemporary English, these concerns have to be weighed against some important losses in the accuracy and content of what was actually communicated by the revisions. Fourth, I presented a list of suggestions for guidelines involving the translation of gender-related language in Scripture. Finally, Tim Bayly presented some actions that we were asking the NIV representatives to consider in light of our concerns.
Follow this link and use edit>find, input the title NIV Supporters and Critics and click find to read the entire proceeds of the May 27 meeting.

It also seems relevant to mention Dr. Grudem's timeline for the origin of the ESV. In his response to Ben Witherington's account of that origin, Dr. Grudem said:
1998: Translation Oversight Committee was formed and work began on the ESV.
Note that this was 1998, a year after the May 27 meeting at Focus on the Family where the CSG (Colorado Springs Guidelines) for English Bible translation were developed. The ESV and HCSB are the only two English versions which follow the CSG. The CSG state how adelphos should be translated.

Please understand that my central concern is that this meeting took place before these men looked up adelphos in the Lexicon.

How many fathers do you have?

"How many fathers do you have?" I asked my wife at breakfast this morning. She gave the answer I expected, that she had one father. Now, my wife is a believer, so she has God as a spiritual father, her heavenly father, so from one point of view she has two fathers, her biological father and her divine spiritual father.

Some people have a birth father and an adoptive father. They might refer to both of them as their fathers. Yet others have a step-father who they might also refer to as one of their fathers.

But that is about as far as we can go with the number of fathers that we have, if we are speaking the English language as a native speaker of English. In English the word "father" refers to someone one generation removed who has a father relationship to you.

Biblical Hebrew speakers, however, could use their word for father, ab, for any male ancestor no matter how many generations he is removed from you. And we find this usage common in the Bible. Abraham is called the father of many nations. That was a multi-generational relationship. A person's ancestors were sometimes referred to as their "fathers."

In contrast, the English word "father" does not include the meaning sense of "ancestor" for most of us. Even when U.S. President Lincoln began his Gettysburg Address with the memorable words, "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, ...," he was not referring to our ancestors, but, rather to those who founded the United States. And "founder" is still one of the meaning senses of the English word "father" for many speakers today. We may speak of Thomas Edison as the father of the electric light bulb, or James Madison as the father of the U.S. Constitution. But, in English, we do not use the word "father" nor its plural to refer to any of our ancestors.

When we translate the Bible to any language, we need to obey the syntactic and lexical rules of that language during translation. We must not try to import foreign syntax or lexical rules to any language when we are translating to that language. If we do so, at minimum we make it more difficult for our translation audience to understand what we have translated, because they, as native speakers, follow the rules of English. And, at maximum, we create inaccuracies when we import foreign syntax or lexical rules.

If, for instance, we try to honor the Hebrew language or try to be "accurate" to its lexical rules and retain both its single-generational as well as multi-generational lexical usages of its plural avot by translating that plural to English "fathers", we have dishonored the rules of English. In the process, we have created an obstruction to clear understanding of the meaning of the Hebrew word, at minimum, and, in the worst case, created an actual misunderstanding, which is often a sign of inaccuracy in translation. Our attempts to honor the biblical languages and their syntax and lexical rules can actually create misunderstanding and even inaccuracy in translation. Every translator knows this is true, at some level, but when we read English Bible versions we often observe that translators do not always follow this principle that they know, namely, that languages do not share the same syntax nor lexical rules.

So, if Hebrew avot or its Greek counterpart, pateres, is referring to multi-generational ancestors, what is the most accurate English translation? If we are referring to both male and female ancestors, the most accurate translation would be the word "ancestors." In my ideolect, if we are referring only to male ancestors we can use the word "forefathers." There may be English speakers who use the word "forefathers" for both male and female ancestors. I have not yet met any English speakers who use the word "fathers" for both male and female ancestors.

Some Bible translation apologists today would have us believe that translating the Hebrew or Greek words for ancestors with the English word "ancestors" is inaccurate. They sometimes claim that we should use the English word "fathers" to translate the Hebrew or Greek words, avot and pateres, respectively, when they refer to ancestors. They point out that the English word "ancestors" is gender-neutral--and they are right about that. But they also say that using this gender-neutral word mutes some of the masculinity of the words of the Bible. It is with this latter claim that they are wrong. Unlike Hebrew, English lacks a grammatically masculine word which refers to both male and female ancestors. If a language lacks a word which both grammatically and semantically matches a source language word, then we must use whatever word the language uses that has the same referential meaning as that of the source language word. That word for English is "ancestors" and it is an accurate translation, no matter the claims of some who wish to retain grammatically masculine but semantically gender-inclusive words in translation, to the contrary.

Let us think carefully about our own language usage when we evaluate English Bible versions. And, perhaps even more importantly, let us think carefully about the language usage of those we desire to accurately understand the Bibles which we translate or encourage others to use. Accurate Bibles will accurately honor the meanings of words and all other language forms in both the biblical languages and the languages into which we translate the Bible, including English.

So, how many fathers do you have? Are you using a Bible version which accurately reflects your answer and the answer of those you encourage to read the Bible?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sitting at the Feet of the Lord

This is a very powerful story for women. Here Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet, listening to his teaching.

    Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42 ESV
Only in a literal translation do we get the comparison with Paul.

    "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. Acts 22:3-5 ESV
Paul claims that he was taught by Gamaliel in the law of the fathers, by saying that he was educated at the feet of Gamaliel. Being at someone's feet was to be a pupil, to be taught by someone. A less literal translation might prevent us from making this comparison between Paul and Mary. Martha was scolding Mary not only because she was not helping in the kitchen but because she was taking a male role, being seen to be taught by a man. But Jesus said,

    "Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."
Ironically Poythress and Grudem have claimed this role of Mary's for themselves. Here is what they say.

    On the other hand, the Bible is also an incredibly profound book. The wisdom of God in the Bible is unsearchably rich and deep. ... God invites us to go on, to hear more, to learn more, to sit at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:39), to digest the vast richness of biblical wisdom. God calls on us to grow in wisdom by meditating on and absorbing his Word.
But still they ask women to accept a difference in prominence, order, leadership and representation between men and women, because that is how Jesus wanted it.

And I do get tired of those posts that demonstrate how 'woman shall be saved through childbearing' means women shall only experience (some stage or other of salvation, forgive me if I forget which one) if they stay in the domestic sphere. That is not what Jesus said. He actually said that Mary had chosen the good portion, and it shall not be taken from her.

Are you provoked enough to attend church?

A couple of Sundays ago I was startled to hear the word "provoke" during the epistle reading from the pulpit Bible at our church:
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24, 25 NRSV)
I have always understood the word "provoke" only to refer to causing someone to have negative feelings, such as anger or resentment. But there was the word in the Bible reading in a context where the provocation was to do something good. When we got back home I checked my English dictionary and, to my surprise, discovered that there are meaning senses of the word "provoke" which do not necessarily refer to a negative result. The example given in my dictionary was of provoking laughter. I don't know how many people can use the word "provoke" in a neutral or even positive context, but, apparently, some do.

For my own ideolect and, I suspect, the ideolects of many other English speakers, the word "provoke" is used only in negative contexts. Because of that I prefer alternates words in Heb. 10:24, 25 including "stir up" (RSV, ESV), "spur on" (NIV, NET), "encourage" or "encouraging" (CEV, NLT, ISV), and "stimulate" (NASB).

To me, the lesson here is that a Bible version should use vocabulary that is accurately understood by the largest percentage of people of its target audience. Dictionaries are sometimes cited by English Bible translators as indicators of how people understand words, but dictionaries seldom tell us what percentage of people understand which meaning senses for each word. I do not believe in "dumbing down" Bibles nor writing to the lowest common denominator, but I do believe that the words used in a Bible translation should be ones that evoke the desired meaning as the primary meaning that the most number of people have for those words.

Justin Taylor Deletes my Request

Justin Taylor has deleted my comment on his blog, where I address a request to Wayne Grudem to retract the Statement of Concern.

Justin Taylor has not responded to my private email.

Update: I would like to interact with Grudem and Poythress' discussion of the Greek personal pronoun but it is not possible. They mention the Greek pronoun 5 times, usually in the footnotes and give the English translation for autos as 'he, him, his' even though a Greek dictionary devotes several pages to its definition.

If this link works for you, you will see that for the pronoun autos, meaning II, is 'he, she, it'. That is what is in the dictionary.

It is simply not possible for me to review The TNIV and the Gender Neutral Bible Controversy without saying that the authors do not fairly represent the definition of autos.

This book devotes 100 pages to the English pronoun 'he' and makes this the mark of a 'trustworthy' Bible.

Email to Justin Taylor

This is the text of my email to Justin Taylor sent Friday morning.

    Dear Justin,

    I respect the non-confrontational manner in which you have interacted with us.

    I wonder if you could tell me who would be the appropriate people to contact in order to request a retraction and an apology for the Statement of Concern about the TNIV.

    I deeply feel that the scholars of the TNIV deserve a retraction and apology posted on a prominent website. I think that the ESV blog might be suitable given the official position of some of the translators of the ESV and the involvement of the general editor, Dr. Packer himself, in this statement.

    Please accept that I cannot further apologize for what I have quoted from Dr. Packer without saying something untruthful, since I am quoting him honestly and do not want to appear to change what were in fact his own words told to me spontaneously without my expectation.

    I have revised my post here.

    Please understand that I too do not wish to be cantankerous but have a deep desire for truth and charity.


    Suzanne McCarthy

He has not responded. I have posted a similar request on Justin Taylor's website in the comment section.

Many people have contacted Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress in the past to get them to retract the Statement of Concern about the TNIV but these men have not responded.

I have found that the online status of the Statement of Concern is in flux. The original link is broken. The short version is here. However, the statement has been copied and reproduced in full here. It is in its full text in The TNIV and the Gender Neutral Bibile Controversy, by Poythress and Grudem, a book that I have been given to review. This book is still on the market.

I have interpreted this parable that I should not give up.

    Jesus told his disciples a story about how they should keep on praying and never give up:

    In a town there was once a judge who didn't fear God or care about people. In that same town there was a widow who kept going to the judge and saying,

    "Make sure that I get fair treatment in court."

    For a while the judge refused to do anything. Finally, he said to himself,

    "Even though I don't fear God or care about people, I will help this widow because she keeps on bothering me. If I don't help her, she will wear me out."

    The Lord said: Think about what that crooked judge said. Won't God protect his chosen ones who pray to him day and night? Won't he be concerned for them? He will surely hurry and help them. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find on this earth anyone with faith? Luke 18:1-8 CEV

Tyndale's one note

I have been moved this morning reading John Piper's account of the passion of William Tyndale. Piper's theme is the one note that Tyndale sang:
Stephen Vaughn was an English merchant commissioned by Thomas Cromwell, the king’s adviser, to find William Tyndale and inform him that King Henry VIII desired him to come back to England out of hiding on the continent. In a letter to Cromwell from Vaughan dated June 19, 1531, Vaughan wrote about Tyndale (1494-1536) these simple words: “I find him always singing one note.”1 That one note was this: Will the King of England give his official endorsement to a vernacular Bible for all his English subjects? If not, Tyndale will not come. If so, Tyndale will give himself up to the king and never write another book.

This was the driving passion of his life—to see the Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew into ordinary English available for every person in England to read.
Piper gives many more details of the life and death of this courageous Bible translator. I cannot compare myself with Tyndale, but I do share his passion "to see the Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew into ordinary English available for every person ... to read." Ironically, Piper encourages others today to adopt the ESV as their main Bible, but the ESV is not translated into "ordinary English" as several scholarly reviews and my own observations and those of others show. The ESV honors Tyndale in retaining many of his translation wordings, but if Tyndale were translating for English speakers today, his passion would still be to translate "from the Greek and Hebrew into ordinary English available for every person ... to read." But "ordinary English" today uses different words and syntax from what was ordinary English in Tyndale's day. Tyndale would translate into today's "ordinary English."

May more of us have Tyndale's passion "to see the Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew into ordinary English available for every person ... to read."

HT: Justin Taylor

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Friday, February 24, 2006

A New Literal Translation

Ben Witherington has posted a few examples of a translation that he is working on. Here is one example.

    Romans 3.22-26: But the righteousness of God through the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ, to all those believing, for there is not a differentiation/ distinction, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, being righteous freely of his grace through the liberation which is in Christ Jesus whom God intended/set forth publicly as a means of propitiation through [his] faithfulness, in his blood as a proof/indication of his righteousness through the overlooking of previously commited sins, in the tolerance of God for a proof of his righteousness in the present time, unto his being righteous and making righteous those from the faith/faithfulness of Jesus.
I thought I would hazard a quick response. First, the simplest change in this translation is the consistent use of 'righteous' and 'righteousness', intead of 'just' here and 'righteous' there. This really reduces the confusion.

Second, using 'faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ'' is a nice way to reflect the ambiguity in the Greek.

Third, 'intended/set forth' is an excellent improvement and really demonstrates what is obvious in Greek over and over, the sense of a placement in space and a placement in time, both together in one word. There is so often this time/space continuum in Greek. This is my favourite improvement, because now it makes sense that Christ was intended in the past and a proof of God's righteousness in the present time. That sense of time comes out.

'Liberation' and 'tolerance' are two words which give the language a contemporary feel.

The only detail missing is the mercy-seat. Hmmm. Maybe 'means of propitiation/mercy-seat.'

Emotive translation accuracy

Blog visitor Pastor Dickie Mint has asked in a comment:

If a less exact/accurate text moves me more than a more precise translation, just what is going on and how valid is that experience?

It's an appropriate question to ask, Dickie, especially since many of us want to have a spiritual experience which is firmly grounded in biblical truth, and not just some "emotional" experience. Of course, putting the issue in precisely those terms does not do justice to the fact that we are made in God's image and emotions are just as much a part of that image as is our cognition and our will. But what I think is the concern of many is whether we allow experiential "reality" to have primacy over revelational reality. For instance, can experience trump what is revealed in the Bible?

Given those comments to try to show that I think I am tuned in to what you are asking, let's now try to deal with the actual question. Why are we moved sometimes more by Bible versions that are less accurate than by those that are more accurate?

Part of the answer to that question depends on how we define accuracy. If we define translation accuracy as existing primarily at the word or word and phrase levels, then it is fairly easily to answer the question, because there is so much more to language than just what we gain of meaning from words and syntactic phrases. There is much meaning which occurs at so-called higher levels of language, including rhetorical meaning, discourse meaning, and coherence. And then there are the critically important figurative meanings we get not from the sum of the meanings of the individual words, but from a meaning which is unique to the entire idiom. Usually idiomatic meaning cannot be translated accurately at the word or phrase level, so if biblical authors intended us to be emotionally impacted by idioms, then we must have translations that accurately convey their figurative meaning in order to be impacted by them.

Next, there is no inherent reason why exegetically accurate translation of the Bible should not move us as much as the biblical authors intended to move their audiences. If we are not moved by an exegetically accurate translation, when the author intended to move his audience through what he wrote, then the exegetically accurate translation is not communicatively accurate. That is, it is not accurately conveying connotations and emotive aspects of the biblical texts.

Finally, a big reason why we are often moved by translations which may be are less exegetically accurate is that such translations are often made by individuals who may be more gifted at writing English well than they are at exegesis Most translators of translation teams are great writers. Most exegetes are not so gifted. Being able to exegete well is a very different skill from being able to write well. The ideal translator is a good exegete as well as someone who knows their own language so well and is creative enough with it that they will only translate to language which is natural. And, because they are good writers, they can add stylistic quality that is above average. We are moved by good style, powerful figures of speech, contemporary language more than outdated language (for most people), rhythm, and a number of other aspects of language which are often overlooked in translations.

I believe that we should try to choose some exegetes for Bible translation teams who are recognized as being talented writers of their language. Or at least we should have literary stylists on translation teams who truly can make a difference in the literary quality of the translation. They should not be outvoted by the exegetes on a team if what they propose has the same meaning as what the exegetes propose, but is written more naturally and more emotively appropriate and accurate.

I hope this helps some, Dickie. I think I should copy this to be a post, beside a comment response to you, since it is such an important part of what it means to produce adequate Bible versions.

Bookshelf update

Today I added Fee and Stuart's great book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, to our blog Bookshelf.

Please let us know of any other books which have been especially helpful to you for understanding Bible translation principles. We'd like to add such books to the Bookshelf. We prefer to include books which are based on the most sound scholarship possible and which are as free of ideology as possible.

Psalm 130: Translating about God's forgiveness

This morning my wife and I came to Psalm 130 in our daily after-breakfast reading. Listen to verses 3 and 4:
If you, GOD, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance?
As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that's why you're worshiped.
Isn't that great? The phrase "forgiveness is your habit" jumped out at me and spoke to my heart as well as that part of me that loves interesting, poetic, powerful wordings. I am so thankful that God forgives, that he's in the habit of forgiving. I need it.

Oh, in case you haven't already discovered it by now, our reading was from The Message. It has some wonderful phrasings like "forgiveness is your habit" and it also has some phrasings which are a little too unique and some which are not as exegetically accurate as one would like. But it speaks to my heart in a way that most other versions do not. Spiritual and emotive impact in translation can cover a multitude of translational sins! Of course, the best translation is one which is both highly accurate as well as worded so well that it also speaks to our hearts. Few versions have both, so it is valuable to work with several versions to try to get as much accuracy, clarity, and spiritual impact from the combination of them all.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ben Witherington apologizes for ESV comments

Justin Taylor, who works for Crossway, which publishes the ESV, has just posted a statement of apology from Ben Witherington on his (Justin's) blog Between Two Worlds. Ben's apology, which first appears in the comments to his own blog post The Problem With the ESV, reads in part:
I would therefore like to apologize for airing what was not the whole story or full truth about the ESV. Different persons had different reasons for wanting this translation to happen. This is clear to me now. There are still problems with this translation, as with all such translations, but they should be assessed on their own merits on a case by case basis.


The lesson I have learned from this is that assessing the motives of a team translation is not only difficult, it is often not really possible when there are many motives and reasons for such a thing.
I admire Ben for this apology. He has, in my opinion, now placed the focus where it should be for any Bible version, on its own merits, not on what one perceives to be the motives of its translators. Far too much harm has been done among Bible users from imprudent comments made about the perceived motives of translators of a number of Bible versions. Such comments cannot be verified and that is why we ask that they not appear on this blog. We who blog here make our own mistakes and we have invited you, our readers, to hold us accountable for them. Some of you have done that and even though it is never easy to hear such comments, we thank you for them. Iron does sharpen iron, as we noted in our preceding post.

I personally don't know if we will ever fully know exactly how the ESV originated, the timeline of who did what when, and the precise relationship of the ESV to the Colorado Springs Guidelines (CSG) which were created in 1997 (the ESV was published in 2001) by several on the ESV team, including Vern Poythress, Wayne Grudem, and R. C. Sproul. Besides the statements linked to in the preceding sentence, we also have a public record of statements from some of the ESV team's most public figures, and there are public statements that two recent versions follow the CSG, the HCSB and the ESV. I have found it difficult to reconcile some statements about the ESV with the recent official statement on the ESV blog, such as this:
The ESV developed from this perceived need, not as a reaction to other Bible publishers’ doings or to meet the Colorado Springs Guidelines.
I don't know what the difference, if any, there is between translating according to the CSG and that the ESV was not developed "to meet the Colorado Springs Guidelines." But it is not my responsibility to try to reconcile all the statements about the ESV or the CSG made by those associated with them. If there are discrepancies, it is an issue for the ESV team to address--and I hope they do--not us on this blog. If there is more to the facts than what has been presented on the ESV Bible blog, they may come out someday. If there is no more than what is in the official statement, then that must be the end of this chapter of the story. We have enough to do on this blog to post on the thousands of more objective Bible translation details which can appropriately and constructively be addressed as best as we can.

Let us all try to move forward from here, evaluating Bible versions on their own merits, not resorting to broad subjective evaluations which cannot be substantiated empirically. Let us not demonize any Bible versions or their translators. There is good in each translation and there are weak points in each. Let us work to become better critics, in the positive sense of thinking critically, and let us use these critical thinking skills to help each other understand better the myriad of facets which make up adequate Bible translation. Critique can be destructive or constructive. Let us each resolve to contribute constructively toward better understanding of Bible translation principles and, where possible, revision of Bible versions so that we can have even better Bibles than we already do.

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How does iron sharpen iron?

The wording of Proverbs 27:17 has been familiar to me all my life, starting with the version we used for many years from my childhood:
Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. (KJV)
The many other English versions I have consulted all refer to iron sharpening iron, including the most idiomatic versions, such as:
Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other. (CEV)
I have often referred to mutual learning among colleagues as "iron sharpening iron." But I must confess that I have never known what it means for iron to sharpen iron. It must have been some kind of action done by the Hebrew people and others who lived after the Iron Age, where one piece of iron metal was used to sharpen another piece. But if I were to take two pieces of iron, I wouldn't know what to do with them so that they sharpen each other.

Might one of the pieces have a rough edge, like that of a file, which can grind away at the other piece so that it gets an edge which can be used for chopping wood, or perhaps even get such a honed edge that it can cut meat and other food?

Or does the ironworker use both pieces to chip away at each other until each piece has some sharp edges?

Inquiring minds want to know how iron sharpened iron at the time that this Hebrew proverb was recorded. Do some of you who have studied the culture of the Ancient Near East know? If I knew how iron sharpens iron, it would help me better understand the entire proverb, and I wouldn't just be reciting it, but it would all make sense, which, I believe, is supposed to be the case for most of the Bible. The Bible was written to make sense, and I'd like that sense to come through in the versions that I read.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"We think that it means men"

There has been a lot of discussion about whether 'men' for anthropos in the ESV means 'men' or 'people'. With reference to 2 Tim. 2:2, Dr. Packer said "We think that it means men." I cannot understand why people are trying to deny this.

It is, however, possible that the ESV translators intended people to read 'men' in some places and 'men and women' in others. However, they did not actually give a key for this interpretation. Maybe they thought that in all the controversial verses they would say 'men' for anthropos and then in the non-controversial places they would say 'people'. I am not sure how this is supposed to make the translation transparent to the Greek but it does give one a certain latitude if you know that most of the times when it says men you are free to interpret this as either, 'men' or 'men and women'. Or 'men' who represent the human race.

I went as a woman to ask Dr. Packer does 'men' mean 'men', or 'men and women'. First, he said that it meant 'men' and then he said that until 1950, 'men' could mean 'men and women' although it was a different convention than how people speak today. Then he said that he and I would have to agree to disagree.

Context and Intent

I would like to clarify that the conversation between myself and Dr. Packer was primarily with regard to the Statement of Concern and authors and signatories to this document. We did not at any time discuss anyone other than those involved with the statement of concern and the authors of The TNIV and the Gender Neutral Bible Controversy. Dr. Packer's remarks were in this context and I did not clarify with him whether this applied to any other individuals on the ESV team. I do not believe that it did. Other names simply did not come up. This was neither the context nor the intent.

It is my sincere belief that the Statement of Concern about the TNIV Bible should be retracted since it reflects poorly on the scholarship of the signatories, many of whom may now regret their involvement. Some of these same people are translators of the ESV. Those people are in a conflict of interest.

Update: Here is the question and answer.

Suzanne: I have been reading Aristotle’s Politics in Greek . I noticed the use of aner for people, that is man in the generic sense. I wondered if there were people on the ESV translation team who would be familiar with that kind of classical Greek language and that aner was used as a generic in Greek. Did you have people on the team who particularly specialized in that?

Dr. Packer: We had two people on the team, of whom I confess I was one, who had had a classical education and knew their way around Greek literature. We didn’t make, what I think would have been a mistake, of supposing that the gospels and epistles represent Greek on the model of any particular Greek author that I can remember. The two of us did occasionally have to talk to the people who had only learned Greek in order to do the NT, study the new Testament, you know, who didn’t know it as a dialect, as a language.
I interrrupted Dr. Packer to ask him who the other person was and he told me a bit about Bruce Winter. I inferred that by "the people who only learned Greek in order to do, to study, the NT" this meant the rest of the ESV Translation Oversight Committee other than Packer himself and Bruce Winter. However, it is certainly by no means clear that he intended this as a description of each one of these 12 men.

He later commented with regard to the authors of The TNIV and the Gender Neutral Bible Controversy, "Well, I am very surprised" [at their stating in their book that they had not known the classical Greek lexical meaning of adelphoi in 1997] "but then I had a classical education as you did." No names were mentioned other than the authors of this book. I had not heard of, or read any books by, the other members of the ESV translation committee, so I did not question Dr. Packer on this.

The truth is that his comment took me by surprise. I had simply not expected this. However, on reflection, after reading the TNIV and the Gender Neutral Bible Controversy, I would concur with reference to its authors. Dr. Packer's assessment seems accurate.

I think that I should describe a little of what I understood from Dr. Packer's reference to a classical education. For myself, and I believe Dr. Packer, a classical education means that we had studied many other books in Greek literature, before reading the NT in Greek. For both of us expectations had been put on us in high school that we would be able to read literature in Greek that we were not necessarily familiar with in English. This is what I think he meant, that we knew how to read a passage in Greek that we had not previously known in English. This is what I inferred.

For myself I started studying Greek in grade 10 and we read Homer, some history, the Apology of Socrates, etc. Vocabulary is studied apart from theological constructs. We used a Liddell Scott Lexicon. However, later I studied Hellenistic Greek and it was a very rigourous course, requiring a knowledge of Hebrew. Hellenistic Greek was studied apart from theology as a language and body of literature.

Ocassionally we did study a text from the NT but only as a stylistic exercize or commentary. It was assumed that we could read the NT books easily by then.

I do not know how Greek is taught or studied in a seminary.

ESV reviews by Rodney Decker

The most scholarly, fair, and detailed reviews of the ESV, to date, are by conservative seminary professor, Rodney Decker. Decker has posted to his resources-rich website both short and long versions of his review of the ESV. Although Decker wrote his reviews some time ago, they are especially relevant right now when the blogosphere is focusing on the ESV and different versions of its origins. Decker is, in my opinion, thoroughly fair as he evaluates the ESV. He discusses things he likes about the ESV as well as weaknesses.

I commend Decker's reviews to anyone wishing to get as factual and scholarly insight into the ESV as possible. Readers need to be prepared to wrestle with some technical material in Decker's reviews, but that material is still accessible to non-scholars.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Phil. 4:6 - Balance and rhythm in translation

One of my favorite Bible verses is Phil. 4:6. My favorite translation of that verse is NLT:
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
The NLT wording is largely retained from that of the Living Bible, of which the NLT is a revision. I have often found that my favorite passages in the NLT are ones which retain the literary genius of the Living Bible (it can be faulted for exegetical deficiencies but there are true literary gems in the LB):
Don't worry about anything; instead pray about everything; tell God your needs and don't forget to thank him for his answers.
Both versions demonstrate literary beauty, with balance and rhythm in the phrasings. Both versions essentially create non-rhyming English poetry for this verse, which can be seen if we arrange the verse with one clause per line (I'll focus on the NLT now):
Don't worry about anything;
instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need,
and thank him for all he has done.
Notice that the contrast between not worrying but, instead, praying, which is a part of the underlying Greek, is made clear in the first two lines of the verse. The last two lines amplify upon what the content of such prayer should be.

Only standard English syntax is used in both versions, unlike every other version I checked which is essentially literal, starting with the NIV/TNIV versions on the literal-idiomatic continuum and and continuing toward the most literal versions:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (TNIV)
It is non-standard English to say "by prayer and petition." This directly reflects the dative phrases of the Greek, producing a kind of English translation which I sometimes call "Gringlish." It would create more natural, clearer, and, ultimately, more communicately accurate translations if more English Bible translators would stop for each verse they are translating and ask, "What is the English translational equivalent of this Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek construction? What is the natural way that English speakers express that the biblical text is saying?"

It is also not quite standard English to say "... with thanksgiving ..." rather than using more natural English such as NLT "thank him for all he has done," TEV "with a thankful heart," NCV "always giving thanks," and GW "while giving thanks."

And it is periphrastic (not paraphastic) to say "present your requests to God." This is understandable and perhaps dignified, but it strikes many English speakers as not being quite the way they would express it. Crisper, more natural ways of saying the same thing are: NLT "Tell God what you need," GW "let God know what you need," and TEV "ask God for what you need."

Translations which clearly and naturally reflect the semantic contrasts and explanaory amplifications of the original biblical texts are easier to memorize. For me any, they stick in my mind better, settling down there so that my mind processes them longer. And that is a form of meditation, feeding on God's Word, which is a very biblical thing to do.

No English version has literary beauty in every verse. But I rejoice, yea, verily, I even exult in, and also am glad whenever I come across a wording in any English Bible version which has the literary beauty that I find in NLT Phil. 4:6.

Oh, the most important question, of course, to ask is, "Is this beautiful wording exegetically accurate?" Well, I have followed my translation consulting process of checking each phrase of the original Greek with each phrase of the NLT. Obviously, they are not in the same order. But every original piece is there. And from what I can tell, each original piece has the same meaning as that of each Greek phrase.

Finally, while it is nice to point out the beauty of this verse in the NLT, we must do more with the verse than just admire its literary qualities. Let's put Paul's teaching into practice. Let's not worry about anything (even though that is humanly natural). Instead, let's pray about everything. Let's tell God what we need. And let's thank him for what he has done, for his answers to our prayers.

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ESV translators are not misogynists

Bible rage--a term used by D.A. Carson to characterize the virilent attacks upon the TNIV and its translators, questioning of their motives, calls to boycott TNIV sales, etc.--occurs when people who care about the Bible do not adequately talk to each other, or even listen to each other. One of the unbiblical, carnal aspects of Bible rage is attempting to divine the motives of those with whom we disagree. Those, including me, who have been grieved and angered by the tactics of TNIV opponents can easily give in to the temptation to fight back in kind. That, also, would be Bible rage.

It is likely that most, if not all, of the married ESV translators are loving husbands who do not lord it over their wives in an unbiblical way. Wayne Grudem, a highly visible member of the ESV translation team, and one of the most vocal critics of the TNIV, has lovingly sacrificed for his wife. And that, according to Eph. 5:23-25, is a defining characteristic of what it means for a man to be head of his wife:
For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (ESV)
Dr. Grudem taught at Trinity Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois, for many years. He had an important tenured position on the faculty. His wife increasingly struggled with a respiratory ailment which was exacerbated by the Illinois climate. Not too long ago Dr. Grudem sacrificed his well-established position at Trinity and moved to Arizona, so that his wife could be in a better climate for her illness. He now is on the faculty of a much smaller seminary in Arizona. Dr. Grudem sacrificed an important part of his own career for the sake of his wife. That is loving, sacrificial biblical headship.

I have also listened to sermons preached by Dr. Grudem. There is no hint of misogyny in what he teaches. I get no idea that he thinks of women as second-class citizens. Egalitarians can differ with Dr. Grudem on what roles are appropriate for a woman to have in the home and church, but it would be inappropriate for anyone to accuse, a priori, Dr. Grudem or any who believe strongly in divinely ordained complementary roles for women and men, of being misogynists, wife-beaters, etc.

I have wanted to post on this for some time. It is my desire that debates of any kind be conducted in a biblical way, graciously, lovingly listening well to each other, with sincere respect for each other, even while differing on some matters. One of my passions is that biblical teachings about interpersonal relationships and speech be especially followed when it involves the Bible that is at the heart of our faith, the faith shared by people who may have some differences in theology or ideology, but are all still orthodox in their beliefs.

Let us not accuse the TNIV translators of heresy, as some have done. They are not heretics, nor is their translation heretical. The TNIV translators seek to honor God through translating as accurately as possible. And let us not accuse TNIV opponents, several of whom produced the ESV, of being heretics, or women-haters, or anything else which might easily slip off our tongues but for which we have no proof.

Above all, in any discussions, but especially when debating how best to translate God's Holy Word, let us follow the instruction of Paul:
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. (TNIV)
or more idiomatically:
Instead, as we lovingly speak the truth, we will grow up completely in our relationship to Christ, who is the head. (GW)

UPDATE: Henry Neufeld has posted helpful comments which add nicely to mine. Henry has correctly read the spirit of my post. He goes on to point out what I perhaps should have in my post above, also, namely, that some of the translation wordings in the ESV are unfortunate and contribute to some unhealthy traditional views toward women. For instance, translation of adelphoi in Rom. 12:1 as "brothers" when almost all exegetes recognize that the word referred to both males and females, is an example where masculine words were retained which reinforce the idea of excluding women from the Bible (the ESV does footnote the meaning "brothers and sisters" but that accurate meaning should be in the text, not in a footnote). There are other examples like this in the ESV where masculine words were retained when probably most on the ESV team recognize that both women and men were referred to in the biblical text. This practice in the ESV isn't misogny, per se, but it definitely causes many females to feel excluded from versions such as the ESV where the Bible itself does not exclude them.

I stayed away from the translation deficiencies of the ESV in my post above, choosing only to address the issue of the spirit of our debates over Bible versions. I have addressed deficiencies of the ESV a number of other times in BBB posts, as well as in the ESV section of this blog and the ESV links webpage, but I can see that my post might allow readers to infer that the ESV is an acceptable translation. It is, IMO, not an acceptable translation, but I do not believe that I should question the motives of those who produced the ESV. I do believe that it is proper to question the ESV translation itself.

I have found many problem wordings in the ESV and likely will continue to do so. As an editor myself, the ESV strikes me as a translation that was rushed to publication without adequate care taken to be consistent to its own translation patterns. For instance, the ESV team only revised a few of the obsolescent inverted negatives of the RSV. From private communication I know that the ESV team was made aware before publication that the obsolete negatives should be more consistently revised, but for whatever reason they were left in the translation. With today's computerized search routines it would have taken only a few more minutes or at most, perhaps two or three hours, to have completed that revision job. Had the ESV team completed revising the negative word orders to standard English usage since 1750 A.D., the ESV would have less of a strange, out-dated sound to it.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

J I Packer collection to date

Ben Witherington: The Problem with the ESV

Ben Witherington has blogged again about the ESV. Today's post is titled The Problem with the ESV.

HT: Shane Raynor

UPDATE (Feb. 21): Today the ESV Bible blog responded to Ben Witherington, denying his "second hand tale" of how the ESV came to be. I suspect that we have not heard the end of this one, since I seem to recall hearing Wayne Grudem publicly give one or more accounts of the origin of the ESV which differ from what is now posted on the ESV blog. I recall hearing Dr. Grudem state that the ESV was created in response to the decision of the CBT for the NIV to continue revising the NIV including updating its masculinist language to be more gender-accurate, many of the updates which are now the same as gender-accurate wordings in the ESV. My impression from the quality of the revisions of the RSV is that the production of the ESV was something of a rush job. Perhaps those on the ESV team who were most vocal against the TNIV, such as Dr. Grudem and Dr. Vern Poythress, were pushing hard to publish the ESV before the complete TNIV Bible was published.

I would like to see an independent statement from Dr. Grudem giving his account of how the ESV came to be to see how that compares with the account just given on the ESV Bible Blog.

On Dec. 19, 2005, Jeremy Pierce posted on this same topic.

Update (Feb. 22): Today blogger Denny Burk takes Ben Witherington to task over his post. Unfortunately, Burk's post is subjective, stating his own opinions, and does not present empirical data, which are always essential for supporting or refuting claims. For instance, Burk claims:
Witherington is in error when he says that translating anthrōpoi as “men” misrepresents the meaning of the word. In English usage, as in Greek, everyone knows that the plural form “men” can refer to mankind or people in general without respect to gender. A quick perusal of any English dictionary will confirm that this is in fact a long standing English idiom.
Burk makes the unsubstantiated claim, that "everyone knows ..." My own observations as a linguist supported by empirical field testing, casts doubt upon Burk's claim. Everyone today does not know that the English word "men" "can refer to mankind or people in general." The appeal to the dictionary only supports the claim that Burk makes, namely, that the generic usage for "men" is "long standing." It does not support the claim that the longstanding usage is continued among "everyone" of today's speakers of English. The empirical facts can only be determined by scientific field testing, not from personal statements believed to be true of "everyone."


Saved by Childbirth in 1Tim. 2:15

Rick Brannan blogs on exegeting the difficult Greek of 1 Tim. 2:15. We have had at least one blog post on this topic in the past here at BBB, but it is good to revisit the topic when other bloggers have discussed this verse. As for myself, unlike Rick Brannan and Aaron's Corner to which he links, I am skeptical that Paul was saying anything in 1 Tim. 2:15 that suggests that a woman's primary role in life is childbearing or nurturing children, as biblically important as those roles are. Paul himself praised women who were entrusted with the gospel and helped share it with others, so surely he saw women's role in evangelism and discipleship as vitally important, along with childbearing and child nurturing, the latter of which is also a biblical role for fathers.

UPDATE: Rick has followed up with a post that clarifies his ideas on 1 Tim. 2:15. He and I have exchanged email messages and I can see that I probably should not have used the word "primary" above. I struggled with what word to use to try to characterize the gist of Rick and Aaron's posts. Perhaps one of you can suggest another adjective that would be more accurate for what they were saying.

About the TNIV

In a comment to Suzanne's preceding post, Nathan said:
I would be interested in knowing what you think of the TNIV as a whole. You have spoken much about one issue - but what of the rest? How would you personally rate the TNIV, and why?
I started to respond to Nathan in that comment section but my response became long enough, and, I hope, substantive enough, that I feel it best to turn it into a post.

Nathan's question is most appropriate, especially since it is asked in a climate where the Christian community is so polarized over the TNIV. An answer to his question deserves an answer with much more detail than I can afford to give it right now when I must return to my priority Bible translation consulting work (checking a translation of 2 Cor. right now). More detailed analysis of the TNIV, from both its proponents and oppoents, can be found at the TNIV links webpage:

Also visit the TNIV section of this blog. I and others have included a number of comments on passages in the TNIV where we believe it could be better translated. I also happen to be working privately with the TNIV team to help them improve the translation. But let us not think in polar terms about this. Just because any Bible version can be improved (and this is true of every one ever published) does not mean that it is not a good translation.

The TNIV is a good translation. It is more accurate than the NIV, as noted in reviews by some biblical scholars. Its language has been updated from the NIV in minor ways to be more current English. There is serious biblical scholarship behind it.

For myself, I have never used the NIV nor the TNIV as a personal Bible. That may be more accidental than anything else. I happened to attend a Bible school in the 1960s where we used the ASV at first, then later, its revision, the NASB, as a Bible version for detailed study. Later my wife and I also attended a church where the pulpit Bible was the NASB.

For Bibles written in more standard English, I bought the TEV (Good News Bible) as soon as it was published in the mid-1960s and liked it a great deal. I still do. I found that it was written in my language. It is the pulpit Bible of the church where we worshiped for the last 30 years. Our children grew up on it. Today my wife and I like the CEV even more than the TEV. Both versions are written in standard English, the kind of language parallel to the Koine Greek in which the New Testament was written.

For me, both the NIV and TNIV are a bit stilted (but far less so than the NASB and moderately less so than the NRSV and ESV). But that kind of English results from the good intentions of the CBT which translated both the NIV and TNIV, their desire to have a Bible version that sounds "dignified." I respect that desire and the fact that many churches want a Bible that sounds dignified for use in their worship services.

I consider much of the opposition to the TNIV against its gender-inclusive language to be misinformed and misleading. There are long lists of purported "inaccuracies" in the TNIV. But when they are studied carefully, nearly every one does not qualify to be called an "inaccuracy". That label is a misuse of an important English word. Instead, those long lists represent verses where those who made the lists have a different understanding about how the translated texts should be worded.

For instance, many English versions, including the KJV, translate Greek huioi theou of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:9) as "children of God." I happen to believe that this is the best, most accurate translation of the Greek in this context. But Matt. 5:9 is included in the lists of TNIV translation inaccuracies for its translation as "children of God." Those who compiled those lists prefer the translation "sons of God." That is one possible translation of huioi theou. But TNIV opponents are mistaken in calling the TNIV translation of Matt. 5:9 a translation "inaccuracy." It would be more accurate for them to label their difference with the TNIV wording as a difference of exegesis or translation philosophy. And it would be appropriate for them to state why they have such a difference of opinion.

I also wonder how many of those who oppose the TNIV have read it widely and carefully. How much of the opposition to the TNIV is a pack mentality? Do TNIV opponents understand the use of the singular "they" in the TNIV? Do they understand the difference between what a biblical language word means in one passage as opposed to what it may mean in a different passage? Have they field tested their understanding of generic pronouns and nouns against the understanding of those who they hope to use Bible translations?

Having said all this, will I ever use the TNIV as my main Bible version? I doubt it. I continue to prefer my main Bible to be written in more standard English, as our language is actually spoken and written by good native English speakers. But for those who prefer a more literal translation, even if it does not have such natural English, would I be glad if they choose to use the TNIV as their main Bible? Absolutely. It is one of the best Bibles available today for those who prefer a more "Bible sounding" Bible version.

Some day I hope to have the time to work through the lists of purported "inaccuracies" in the TNIV. I would like to demonstrate that most, if not all, of them are not inaccuracies at all, but, rather reflect differences of exegesis and translation philosophies. We have lived with such differences for many decades now since the time when the KJV was no longer the main Bible version used by many Bible readers.

But the TNIV has resulted in strong debates and even "Bible rage" among many conservatives for several reasons, not the least of which is that the Evangelical community has felt a sense of ownership of the NIV. It is their Bible. When we own things, it is normal that we don't want anyone changing what we own.

There are other secondary issues that trigger opposition to the TNIV is oppposed, such as the fact that there was an agreement signed by a couple of members of the CBT (Committee on Bible Translation, the group that has translated the NIV and TNIV) stating that they would follow the Colorado Springs Guidelines (the TNIV subsequently produced does not follow them). And there was some kind of organizational statement made that the NIV would not be revised. Later there was an organizational change of mind. Some conservatives felt betrayed by this decision to go ahead and produce the TNIV when the organization has previously stated it would not produce a revision of the NIV.

Finally, there is, in some circles, great oppposition to the degree of gender inclusive language found in the TNIV. It is believed, by some, that the gender inclusive language of the TNIV represents capitulation, whether consciously or not, to feminist influences in our society. Some TNIV opponents believe that Bibles must, on theological grounds, reflect some kind of masculine primacy. This is even propounded in a new theological theory called male representation, developed by Vern Poythress and Wayne Grudem and described in their book The Gender Neutral Bible Controversy and its revision, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy.

Is the TNIV a trustworthy, reliable, accurate Bible version? Yes. Is it an improvement upon the NIV? Yes. Will it be widely accepted by conservative Christians and the evangelical community? I don't know. There has been so much criticism of the TNIV, without as widespread scholarly responses to the claims against the TNIV, that many are hesitant to purchase and use the TNIV. Many Christian bookstores refuse to sell the TNIV, even though it is no more gender inclusive than some other Bible versions that those bookstores sell.

Could the TNIV be improved? Absolutely. And I am hoping that this blog, which is dedicated to improving every English version, can help do that.

Do I endorse the TNIV? No, I do not. I do not endorse any English Bible version. Do I enjoy reading the TNIV? Not really (but I'm glad that others do, and the TNIV is more enjoyable to read than some other recent versions which have quite a lot of strange, convoluted English). But the TNIV is among the set of English versions which I would recommend to others to use, depending on what their needs are for personal Bible study, desire for degree of conformity to standard English dialects usage, their church's views on what kind of Bible is best for corporate and personal use, etc.

My personal desire for standard usage of English in Bible versions lead me to prefer the CEV, TEV, GW, ISV, NCV, NLT, and The Message for my Bible reading. Which versions do I consider accurate? There are many, including these more recent English versions: NET, NASB, NRSV, ESV, ISV, GW, NLT, NIV, TNIV. If we consider accuracy at higher levels of language than just the word or phrase, I also consider these versions to be accurate, with reservations about some passages: CEV, TEV, NCV.