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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cheyenne Bible dedicated

This last weekend my wife and I were on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana for the dedication of the new Cheyenne Bible translation.

Louise Fisher (one of the translators), Elva Killsontop, and Elena (my wife)

Verda King read Cheyenne Scripture

I shared how God had used Cheyennes during a church service several years ago to minister to deep needs in my heart. Through that experience my wife and I became one with the Cheyennes, each understanding better how God comforts us. The people to whom we had come to minister ministered to us. And from that the Word of God became more powerful to all of us.

I ended by reading 2 Cor. 1:4 from the new Bible:

Ôxhótoanávetanótsee'êstse néohkevéstâhémaene Ma'heo'o
naa hápó'e tóoneeto nétaohkenêheševéstâhémôsanémáne.
(God helps us all in our sufferings, so that
we can help people who are suffering that way.)

It was the most I had ever spoken in public in Cheyenne and I sensed that God was really helping me.

the new Bibles and audio recordings of them

the prayer of dedication for the new Bibles

Several Cheyennes told how they understand the Bible better through the new translation.

Each who had worked on the translation was individually honored.

Many Bibles and Bible recordings were distributed.

KULR TV from Billings had a crew there to film the dedication. You can read their report here, and watch the video by clicking on the link at the beginning of the report. (If you watch the video, please note that the TV announcer was mistaken about what the Cheyenne Bible was translated from. The Cheyenne Bible was not translated from any English Bible, but I guess many in the public may assume that the first Bible was the King James Versions.)

There was also a newspaper article about the Cheyenne Bible featured the preceding Friday. The comments on the article are interesting. I posted twice under the name Youngman which is the English translation of my Cheyenne name, Kovaahe.

The service lasted nearly four hours. The entire dedication was so meaningful to us. It was emphasized that the translation work was the result of a partnership, between Cheyenne translators and non-Cheyenne linguists.

That's the way every Bible needs to be translated, including those in English. There needs to be a partnership between biblical scholars and those who can speak and write English as their mother tongue.

Found Through Translation

Michael at Kruse Kronicle posted a great extract from and link to a Washington Post article about Bible translation into a language of the Solomon Islands. When the translated text was launched, a pastor said:
Now God has arrived in our culture.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Tagged by This Lamp

Actually Rick tagged Wayne but he passed it along and I am not up to much serious blogging right now so here goes.

1. Favourite recent sport: Scuba diving.

This is a real accomplishment when you consider that I did my qualifying dive in a local park in November. Unlike tropical diving, here you get to struggle down a scenic woodsy trail in heavy suits and dive in cold water. However, it is always beautiful whether here or in those sunny blue reef waters.

2. Oldest hobby: plant identification

And making people suffer by eating jam made of berries which I protest are edible - like salal, oregon grape, red huckleberry, and so on. My ambition is to make jam out of every native edible berry which grows in BC.

3. Favourite teaching resource: The Ultimate Paper Airplane

This book once saved my life as a substitute teacher. It really doesn't matter whether you teach kindergarten or college students - this book is a must!

4. Favourite Musician: Scarlatti

I no longer remember the reason for this but I once played my way through an entire book of Scarlatti sonatas for most of one pregnancy. Now I prefer to listen to the CD.

5. My Dad was born in Rome, Georgia so I must be at least a little bit American.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Contrary to Nature

It is generally accorded that females score somewhat higher at a young age in verbal intelligence than males, and males score higher on visual spatial tasks such as rotations. This is one of the least contested aspects of the difference between cognitive functioning in males and females.* For those who base their theology on the difference between men and women, these differences must be conceded.

Susan Hunt writes,

So how is it that women are not allowed to teach men languages? The Southern Baptist Convention, which believes in the difference between men and women, does not allow a woman to teach a man biblical languages. Are they not going contrary to nature? Women should be 'helpers' - but not in the area of biblical languages.

Note the distinctions and boundaries. A woman may teach a teenager Greek and Hebrew. (IMO that is the optimum time to learn these languages.) A woman may teach a man French or German. A woman may teach a man grammar and composition. A woman may teach a non-Christian man Greek or Hebrew. A woman may teach the biblical languages if she does so in a secular university. A woman may teach a man Greek or Hebrew if the text being studied is not the Bible. A woman may write about Greek and Hebrew. A woman may be quoted by a man on Greek and Hebrew. A woman may teach a man Greek and Hebrew if she does so in another country, not her own.

May a woman blog about the biblical languages. May a man read a blog written by a woman on biblical languages? They say blogging is nearer to spoken discourse than published articles. It is getting dicey indeed!

What I wonder is how God keeps all these rules straight. I ask myself if God has ordered one of those books which contains 'the list' from I imagine him sitting there adjusting his bifocals, scanning the list, searching for the cutoff point. Like others he gets to decide for himself where the cutoff point is. He is not discriminated against. As long as there is a cutoff point. As long as women get cut off, then the authors of the list are satisfied.

I have been asked to write about Sheri Klouda, removed from her employment for teaching biblical languages to men. Let me supply the relevant background articles.

Wade Burleson has posted on her situation.

Sheri Klouda: Gender Discrimination, Federal Law and the Law of Christ in the SBC and SWBTS
The Strange Belief that a Woman Cannot Teach a Man the Bible
The Sheri Klouda Issue Will Not Go Away Quietly
The Information Begins to Trickle In From SWBTS
A Knowledge of Our History Keeps Us Humble

The Dallas Morning News wrote about it here.

Briefly, this is the case of an exemplary Hebrew professor losing her position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, under president Paige Patterson, because she is a woman. Dr. Klouda is the sole provider for her family and had bought a house near the seminary.

According to this article there are no women teaching theology or Biblical languages at a Southern Baptist Convention seminary. There is one woman at Dallas Seminary teaching Hebrew. This issue is under discussion at Dallas, which, in general, has very few female professors.

But 100 years ago the seminaries were still integrated with the universities. And women were beginning to teach in the universities. One of the first women to teach Greek in Canada in the university to adult men was herself a Christian married to a Plymouth Brethren preacher, and in his old age she supported him - she taught Greek to men and no one fired her. So in Canada Christian women were not followers in feminism, Christian women were leaders in promoting the participation of women in higher education. Christian women were ahead of the curve, not accomodaters to the world.

I believe that it is this present day discouragement and outright prohibition that prevents more women from making a career of biblical languages and therefore participating in Bible translation teams. There is a deliberate bias against women contributing to Bible translation in the conservative Christian community.

This is a request post.

* Personally I think this is mostly bunk but I don't want to clutter the blog with my off topic meanderings.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Evaluating standard English in "standard" Bibles

The last few days I have been evaluating the degree to which English Bibles which have the word "standard" in their title have standard English wordings. I include the NIV because it has become a standard Bible for evangelicals, even though it does not have the word "standard" in its title. I am compiling a new spreadsheet for this latest research. The results are interesting. You can access the new spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel format or HTML format if you do not have an Excel viewer. So far, examples in the spreadsheet come only from the New Testament. This was done at the request of one of the translation teams which does not yet have the Old Testament translation completed.

I should note that the word "standard" in the title of an English Bible does not necessarily refer to standard English. It has been pointed out that the word standard in a title, instead, refers to the fact that those who produced that version desire for it to become a standard version. That is, they desire it to sell well and be used as a pulpit and pew Bible for many congregations.

Sometimes people wonder what the term "standard English" refers to. Here is how I define standard English at the beginning of my new spreadsheet:
By "standard English," we refer to English wordings which are considered grammatical and appropriate by English composition teachers, editors, stylists, authors, and many others who care about good quality English.
And there are, of course, different dialects of standard English, including standard dialects of Australian English, British English, Canadian English, American English, etc. The main point is that a standard dialect is one which is held in high regard by a majority of the speakers of that dialect. It is not composed of colloquialisms or time-limited slang.

After evaluation of 57 examples, here are the percentages for the Bible versions studied:
12.3% KJV
5.3% ASV
31.6% RSV
31.6% ESV
31.6% NRSV
26.3% NASB95
71.4% NIV
50.9% HCSB
91.2% ISV
Each of these versions would, I believe, be considered to be in the "literal" or "essentially literal" category. I was rather startled to see how high the ISV ranks in this category of Bible versions. But I'm always pleased whenever I see a higher percentage of standard English within a translation. Such a translation reads more smoothly for me. I enjoy using such a version much more than I do one which does not have nearly as much standard English. At this point in my research it appears that the ISV is demonstrating that is possible to pay meticulous attention to exegetical accuracy while also wording a translation in standard English. I have longed for such a combination in an English Bible version. I want to be able to trust a version for accuracy as well as enjoy it without experiencing very many literary bumps as I read.

This latest research has been quite time-consuming. I justified it to myself because I had a lull in my own translation consultant work. Now that lull has come to an end and I need to focus on my regular work again. And tomorrow Elena and I will fly to Montana for the dedication of the Bible translation we've had the privilege to help with since 1975.

In the near future I do hope to add another section to this spreadsheet evaluating degree of standard English for the same examples for Bible versions which are more idiomatic on the continuum between literal and idiomatic translations. I also want to add the TNIV, so we can compare its results with that of the NIV. And I will continue to add more examples to the spreadsheet. I also want to do a parallel spreadsheet for the Old Testament.

Your comments are welcome on specific examples within the spreadsheet. Also, please feel free to suggest other examples of Bible passages which would merit evaluation for whether or not they are worded in standard English.

UPDATE (Jan. 25): I have continued to work more on the spreadsheet. There are now 73 examples which you can access at the same Internet addresses given above. The ISV team has been revising their translation, so there are changes to ISV wordings and ISV percentage of standard English. If you have time, I would encourage you to study individual examples within the spreadsheet to try to see what the translation issue is. Remember, a translation which is written in standard English can be just as accurate as one which is not, if not more so, because standard English communicates meaning better. Non-standard English often leaves us with lack of clarity when the biblical text was clear. I have tried not to include examples where the biblical text is "ambiguous", as least as we analyze it from our perspective. I have also tried to include examples where the context of the wording studied does not affect whether or not that wording is standard English or not. The question is not whether or not anyone, especially those who are biblically literate, can get meaning from non-standard wordings. The question in this particular study is simply whether or not that wording is standard English. My observation has been that those who speak only standard dialects of English as well as those who are also fluent in church dialects of English understand Bible translations more accurately and clearly when they are worded in standard English. And for those of us who enjoy reading good literature, there is an added esthetic element: it is a greater pleasure to read anything written in standard English. Finally, standard English does not prevent anyone from using vivid idioms and other figures of speech. Standard English is chock full (!) of gobs (!) of figurative expressions.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sunday School Greek

First, there was the Greek in a Week. Now there is Sunday School Greek. These initiatives are thought possible with the help of the Reverse Interlinear and many different kinds of Bible software. I wouldn't know - I haven't updated my Greek resources in 30 years. Now, if I have an extra dollar, I invest in books like Epp's Junia.

The premise, put forward by Hank of Think Wink, and warmly received by the ESV Bible blog is that eveyone in the church could learn Greek and Hebrew in Sunday School. And then people could decide for themselves all the sticky translation issues. The democratization of exegesis! We might wake up one day and find out that the world really is flat. As Hank says,

    the whole fuss over dynamic vs. formal equivalent would go away because the people would have the ability to look up exactly what the word means and how the word was used. People could then make the decision over which translation is best in that particular verse, phrase, or word.
Wow, we wouldn't need Biblical languages experts or professional translators at all. Everyone in the church could translate for themselves.

Let me recount a little of my own experience here. I am an overqualified literacy specialist, being trained both as a Reading Recovery practitioner and also in policy through the, ahem, Marshall McLuhan Centre (of goodness knows what - communication, I think.) I am a little embarassed by both of these qualifications, but in this case, let me say, someone should be qualified.

First, as a literacy teacher, I have taken the two illiterate 10 year old children who were brought to me in Sept. up to the level where they can now read about Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition. I am an eternal optimist when it comes to children reading. Children in our school are rarely refered to special programs if they can be sent in my direction first.

Second, I once attempted to teach Greek to adults in a Sunday School situation. It was a 2 hour session on a Wed. evening. Me, the teacher who can teach anyone how to read, who never loses a child, emptied my class in less than 5 weeks. That was it - my clientele of adults disappeared, evaporated. It was the most humiliating failure of my life that I was not able to make Greek easy enough for the average non-university trained adult.

In fact, I studied Greek every day for 7 years to attain what I consider to be the most mediocre level, an amateur level of skill in the Greek language. I did not study the scriptures in Greek so much as the language itself. However, I didn't spend years of my life functioning only in Greek so I don't actually speak Greek.

The first Sunday Schools were indeed vehicles of literacy, a venue for teaching children and adults how to read their own langauge, but they were never a place where one could learn to read an entirely new language. There is difference!

But, one might say, now we have software! As a teacher who uses technology quite a bit, I am always cautious, and never of the opinion that technology replaces traditional learning. I was amused recently, and flattered I might add, at the honest attempt of one blogger to recreate my Junia study using software. He soon bogged down.

I couldn't help but speak out on these issues since literacy and digital literacy are, in fact, my daytime job, and Greek is my playtime. I hope that those who think that anyone can be a biblical languages specialist and make all their own translation decisions will accept this word of caution.

Thanks for posting about this Hank. Many people have the same thoughts.

Junia, the apostle: part 17

I did not previously write at any length about why it was thought that Junia might have been Junias, a man. I had understood, perhaps wrongly, that Junias, the male apostle, had been laid to rest some time ago. Evidently not! Let me do that, by quoting Epp on this subject.

However, Eldon Jay Epp, in Junia, the First Woman Apostle, discusses not so much whether Junia could have been Junias, a man; no scholar is attracted to that possiblity at the moment, that I am aware of. No, Epp is fascinated by how it came about that something which is evidently not so, could have been considered so. How on earth did this happen, how did a non-existant name Junias, enter the text and the lexicon (BADG) and why has Junias now been removed without an all-out confession of male bias?! That is what fascinates Epp. Are the men responsible simply going to sweep the male Junias under the carpet? So it seems.

If you dislike my rhetoric, here is Epp's take on this,

    Moreover, in the 1998 Jubilee N-A and the 1998 printing of UBS, where Ἰουνίαν properly but inexplicably appeared in the text, the clearly masculine form Ὶουνιᾶν is not even in the apparatus, quite the contrary of what normally happens when a critical edition undergoes a change in its text: one reading moves up to the text as another moves down to the apparatus. In this case, however, suddenly the emperor has no clothes!
    Apparently this masculine form Ὶουνιᾶν, disappears altogether from the textual scene! Of course, it should disappear, even though, as we shall discover in a moment, the clearly masculine form had been a Nestle fixture for three-quarters of a century and a UBS constant since the first edition in 1966. Yet in a flash it is gone, and neither the Jubilee Edition nor the 1998 volumes of N-A and UBS contains a list of changes made in its text as it moved through several printings between the 1993 and the 1998 volumes of N-A and UBS, nor is the reason for the change otherwise transparent.

    One astounding fact (and disturbing, if one thinks about its implications) requires emphasis again about the UBS and the Nestle-Aland editions: to the best of my knowledge, never was the definitely masculine form of Ὶουνιαν (namely Ὶουνιᾶν), either when it was designated as the text or after it had been replaced in the text by the Ἰουνίαν reading, accompanied by any supporting manuscript or other evidence (except when UBS listed the support of eight early unaccented majuscules, which of course were impotent for determining accentuation.)
    In fact, for the greater part of four centuries, as far as I can determine, no apparatus in a Greek New Testament cited Ὶουνιᾶν as a variant reading to the Ἰουνίαν in the text - not until Weymouth in 1892 (who cites Alford's text - though neither in Alford nor Weymouth is any munuscript attestation provided) - and never again after that. The reason is simple enough: no such accented form was to be found in any manuscript or anywhere else. Moreover, when Ὶουνιᾶν was interpolated into the New Testament text and became a regular feature of the post-1927 Nestle and Nestle-Aland editions and all of the UBS editions until 1998, no viable manuscript support could be garnered for there was none. (page 47)
So let me state that there never has been textual evidence for a male Junias. This is an invention of the imagination, pure and simple.

Men need to realize that they will not be trusted to seek out the best interests of women unless they create a strong track record first. For a biblical scholar, part of this track record is recognizing Junia, paying a simple courtesy to this woman in the scriptures. I recommend to you Eldon Jay Epp's Junia, the First Woman Apostle.

On this one simple item, I find that the complementarian ethic demonstrates itself to be a house of cards. Left to themselves, many men will not seek woman's best interests, they will edit woman out.

Note: I am aware that at the beginning of the second paragraph I have written a sentence which contains 'so much' but no following and corresponding 'that'. I am assured by Jespersen that it is the custom of women to use 'so' in this fashion, as in "I love you so much!" Apparently a man would not use 'so' as an intensive but only to introduce another clause, as in "I love you so much that ... " Very awkward being a man, I should think.

The use of 'so' as an intensive is due, according to Jespersen, to women breaking off without finishing their sentences. (page 250) Jespersen gives me much latitude in my writing. I am so grateful! I shall take greater liberities, now that I have Jespersen's backing, in writing as a woman. I am no fan of hypotaxis in any case.

Friday, January 19, 2007

comparing the ISV and NIV

Most of the Bible-reading public, evangelicals anyway, are quite familiar with the NIV. It has been the best-selling English Bible version for quite a few years, although in recent months occasionally the NKJV outsells it at Christian bookstores. The ISV (International Standard Version) is far less well known but deserves to be much better known. I have been evaluating the ISV since it first began to be released in electronic, then print, editions on the ISV website. These days I get the sense that the ISV team is getting a second wind which, with some additional financing, will enable them to complete translation of the Old Testament.

Recently the ISV Foundation, producers of the Holy Bible: International Standard Version, received an inquiry regarding vetting of possible international publication rights to the ISV by a major publisher. The publisher, the identity of which remains confidential for now, has asked to be provided information comparing the ISV with the New International Version as currently published by Zondervan. As you are probably aware, the ISV Foundation in its Front Matter to the ISV claims that the NIV is very idiomatic. For example, the following paragraph can be found on the ISV's Principles of Translation page and in the Front Matter to the ISV:
All major translations of the Bible fall somewhere on a scale between complete formal equivalence and complete functional equivalence. Some of these translations are quite literal (e.g., the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV®), the American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB®), the Revised Standard Version (RSV®), and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV®). Other translations lean toward the idiomatic end of the spectrum (e.g., the New International Version (NIV®), the New English Bible (NEB®), the Revised English Bible (REB®), the Good News Bible (GNB®), the New Living Translation (NLT®), and the Contemporary English Version (CEV®).
The candidate publisher has asked to receive, to use his own words, "some examples of where, in their [the ISV Foundation's] view, the NIV goes astray." Please note that the inquiry does contain some ambiguity as to what constitutes "going astray". The ISV Foundation is at a loss to explain what this phrase means, having never once employed it in any discussions comparing the ISV to other modern translations. The ISV Foundation suggests that perhaps the candidate publisher is aware that certain individuals have doubts about the suitability of the NIV for serious Bible study, and perhaps this publisher is uncertain as to how to phrase their request for clarifying information about how the ISV differs from the NIV.

Due to my involvement in Bible translation comparisons over the years, I've been invited by the ISV Foundation to extend an invitation to you to assist in providing an answer to this inquiry. The ISV Foundation's director, Dr. William Welty, believes that it is in the best interests of the Body of Christ to have an answer to this inquiry provided by impartial observers who have extensive experience in reading other English languages translations from an independent, "arm's length," viewpoint. Also, comparisons of the ISV with other modern translations might also be appreciated, so feel free to send these along as well. Embedded URL links to previously published web pages that discuss these issues are also welcomed.

If you would like to help answer the inquiry, please email your thoughts to Dr. Welty who will forward them to the candidate publisher. Also please include your comparisons as a comment to this blog post, so others can benefit from your analysis, as well. You may also wish to post your comments in the ISV section of the Cross Connection forum.

I have spent some time this morning comparing the ISV and NIV. Following is my beginning list of comparisons:
Ex. 3:14b: (register)
“Thus you shall say to the Israelites: ‘I AM sent me to you.’” (ISV)
This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (NIV)
("Thus" is higher register English.)

Matt. 10:27 (idiom)
what is whispered in your ear you must shout from the housetops (ISV)
what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs (NIV)
(both translate the literal biblical idiom, "what you hear in the ear," to the same equivalent English wording)

Matt. 23:15 (idiom)
you make him twice as fit for hell as you are (ISV)
you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. (NIV)
(ISV translates the meaning of the biblical idiom better.)

Matt. 23:32
Then finish what your ancestors started! (ISV)
Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! (NIV)
(ISV translates the original to meaningful English; it is difficult to understand the more literal translation of the NIV.)

Mark 1:1 (genitive ambiguity)
the gospel of Jesus Christ (ISV)
the gospel about Jesus Christ (NIV)
(The ISV is unclear whether it is the gospel about Jesus Christ or the gospel that he proclaimed, likely reflecting the ISV translators' belief that it is unclear which meaning is intended by the Greek genitive; the NIV chooses one exegetical option, so its English is clearer. The ISV team would consider its translation more accurate, unbiased in favor of either genitive meaning.)

Mark 2:19 (idiom)
The wedding guests (ISV)
the guests of the bridegroom (NIV)
(Both translate literal "sons of the bridechamber to accurate, meaningful English.)

Luke 2:26 (idiom)
that he would not die (ISV)
that he would not die (NIV)
(Both translate the literal idiom "not see death" to "would not die", identical accurate, meaningful translation.)

Luke 6:22 (idiom)
slander you (ISV)
reject your name as evil (NIV)
(The ISV translates the figurative meaning of the original idiom more clearly to English.)

Luke 10:6 (idiom)
a peaceful person (ISV)
a man of peace (NIV)
(Greek, literally "son of peace." I consider that the ISV rendering is more natural English, with the adjective preceding the noun.)

Luke 19:9 (idiom)
a descendant of Abraham (ISV)
a son of Abraham (NIV)
(The ISV more accurately communicates the meaning of the Greek here, literally, "son of Abraham." Note that in English we do not generally refer to someone who is descended from another after several generations as a "son" of that person.)
I hope to add more comparisons as time allows.

Why don't you join me in helping the ISV team. In the process, I'm sure that you will learn more about the Bible and the various factors, sometimes competing, that go into the Bible translation process.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

translation checking

I work these days as a translation consultant. Recently I have checked the translation of 2 Cor. and Ephesians for one tribal language, and 2 Peter for another. I find the work fulfilling. It is special to be able to have a part in bringing translations of the Bible to groups other than the one we personally worked with (Cheyenne). I don't have to know the translation language to check its translation. The translation team sends me a literal back translation to English which I then check to see if it is accurate and if there is anything missing or anything added that should not be there.

A couple of days ago I received the following email message from another Bible translator:
Dear Wayne,
I am enjoying reading your blogs on the Better Bibles blog. My wife and I are with xxx and work with the Ayta Abellen people ( in the Philippines (but are home on furlough this year). Just before coming home on furlough we got consultant approval to publish the book of Mark but we have a rough draft of the whole NT because of CARLA.
I got to thinking that since the Philippines branch requires we do a back translation into English before submitting to a consultant, I might as well do the English BT really early in the process, even before I have had a chance to work through the exegesis. The reason for doing this is to be able to put the text online ( for review by others (ala the NET Bible). We basically are putting online Back Translations that are only half baked and need some work. The main reason for doing this is that our translation committee can't read English (thus severely limiting their ability to do their own exegesis) but are eagerly revising the CARLA draft to the point where I can't keep up with my doing the exegetical checks while they do revising for naturalness. Hopefully we can get the bulk of the exegetical problems isolated online through massive review. We have one person working with us who has reviewed all of James and Acts (although I haven't yet uploaded Acts). He really enjoys it and is making helpful suggestions (he knows Greek). As we go along I would love to have many more reviewers to help us and that's where you come in. I don't have many contacts of people who love Biblical studies as a pasttime (it seems they are becoming a rare breed in the churches in our area) but I notice that many comment on your blog so there must be people like that out there. Am wondering if you could check out our site and think about letting others know about it who might be able to help?
P.S. We are using Wiki software (like Wikipedia) so anyone who has registered as a user can insert comments by putting (( double paretheneses)) around them.
Would you like to try your hand as a translation consultant? Here's an opportunity for you, not only to help a translation team, but to learn a lot about translating to a language which is very different from English. I recommend that you read the wiki introductions to the above translationEspecially read the answers to the question "How can I help with the Translation if I don't speak the language?" and other questions. This section will help you better understand the translation so that you can focus on noting things that might be actual problems in the translation.

Finally, the same basic methods for checking a translation in another language work for checking translations in English. If you can put your (linguistic) feet in the (linguistic) shoes of the intended audience of a translation (such as mixed non-churchgoers, new churchgoers, and long time churchgoers), then you can check to see if each wording is expressed as that audience would write and speak. And, of course, you can check for accuracy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Transculturation and Bible translation

Henry Neufeld has posted another stimulating piece on culturally contextualized Bible translation, Translation, Paraphrase, and Transformation. Henry believes that
there is a spectrum in translation from formal equivalence to dynamic equivalence. I don’t think any translation falls off that line, so to speak. It is appropriate to say that a translation does a poor job, but an excessively loose translation is simply bad execution of dynamic equivalence translation. I suggest a second spectrum on which translations can be placed, one of transformation. Transformation refers to the extent to which a text is altered in form or context in order to express the same message in a different cultural or historical setting. A clear example of transformation would be the Cotton Patch Version, which transposed Biblical stories and peoples into 1960s Georgia. While I would be uncomfortable calling that a translation, I have nonetheless found it useful in teaching, and not just as a source of humor. It lacks timeless value, because these days I have to explain to some of my younger audiences the 1960s atmosphere in Georgia. I can do that because I lived in Georgia during the 60s. But for the place and time, the Cotton Patch Version often transformed the message.
Henry started his post by asking:
I’ve been using a term about Bible translation, or rather, about a form of presenting the message of the Biblical text without taking the time to rigorously define it. That term is “transformation.” I want to throw out this post for some comments, and explain why I started using that term. Has it been used elsewhere in a similar way? Might there be a better term to use.
I responded at length because I have done quite a lot of thinking in this area. I find it important to think about how we communicate spiritual truths to others. Here is what I commented on Henry's post:
Henry, I think the term you are searching for is transculturation. Missiologists use the term to refer to the communicating the gospel to people using the vocabulary and, to some extent, items of the target culture. I believe some have used the same term to refer to the use of local cultural terms (such as for names of deity) and items in Bible translation. An example of transculturation when the Bible was translated to German (and then other Germanic and Anglo-Saxon languages) would be the use of the name for the pagan deity, Gott. German translators could have borrowed a Greek (theos, which was itself a pagan term) or Latin (deus) term, but they chose to use a term already in the vernacular, Gott. Today English speakers inherit the result of that choice in English Bibles with the use of the word "God" rather than a borrowing from Greek or Latin.

A seminal work was written on transculturation by a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in the 1970s. I'm having a senior moment right now trying to come up with his name and the name of the book. I have it in one of our boxes of books which has not yet been opened up after we moved a year ago. Got it: Charles Kraft (those synapses are amazing, misfiring sometimes, and then firing a bit later!!), book title: Christianity In Culture: A Study In Dynamic Biblical Theologizing In Cross-cultural Perspective, originally published in 1979. I found the book very stimulating.

Building on Kraft's ideas, Daniel Shaw, a later professor at Fuller seminary, and a former Bible translator, wrote the book titled Transculturation: The Cultural Factor in Translation and Other Communication Tasks, published in 1988.

The Fuller seminary bookstore website describes transculturation, as explained in Shaw's book, saying it
... is to the cultural and non-verbal aspects of communication what translation is to verbal and literary forms. The application of anthropological principles to understanding source texts and receptor contexts allows for a presentation of the message to people in very different times and places. In this way a translation not only talks right but acts right as well. Transculturation is a process of information transfer that takes the whole communication context (source, messenger, and receptor) into account and allows people to respond in a way that is natural and appropriate for them.
More recently Shaw co-authored Communicating Gods Word In A Complex World - Gods Truth or Hocus Pocus? with Charles E Van Engen. The seminary bookstore webpage says of this book that it
considers a variety of approaches regarding how to communicate the Gospel. The authors suggest that contemporary proclaimers of the Gospel can model their approaches after those of the writers of scripture, who reinterpreted and restated their received texts for their audiences. In this way, communication of the Gospel is impacted by the ways in which humans know God.
Some critics of dynamic equivalence suggest that translating by thought units rather than word-for-word is a form of transculturation, but I disagree. I prefer to reserve the term transculturation for the specific use of names for "different" cultural items from those found in the biblical texts. Your example of "salmon" in The Message is a good example of transculturation:
Oh, look—the deep, wide sea,
brimming with fish past counting,
sardines and sharks and salmon. (Psalm 104:25)
I do this just to keep the example small, and it’s also trivial–supplying the names of fish, and fish that are familiar to modern readers. I don’t know if “salmon” get going in the Mediterranean, but they certainly aren’t mentioned. Now my problem is not the supplying of the names. For what Eugene Peterson is doing, that’s just fine. It’s one of the charms of his translation of the Psalms. But there is an element of culturally shifting the message to make it more comprehensible to modern ears, and that element is what I’m calling transformation.
Henry replied:
My remaining question, in those lazy times before I read some of the references, is whether “transculturation” covers the changes of form to which I referred. I see “salmon” as a good example of transculturation, but what about by altering Psalm 46 into a new form, or the translator who reworked Psalm 119 into an English acrostic (I can’t recall his name just now), or even the rewriting of a short Biblical/apocryphal story? That was why I chose “transformation” as the broader term.
I would think that transformation would, then, be an appropriate term to subsume each of the changes that Henry is thinking of. The specific kinds of rephrasing of a Bible passage he mentions I would probably just call paraphrase.

I do want to emphasize that transculturation is a different kind of translation from dynamic equivalence, functional equivalence, or even what is typically called thought-for-thought translation, as in the New Living translation. When the original cultural references in a Bible translation remain the same as those of the biblical text, no transculturation has occurred. It is only when references, that is, places, people, animals, objects, or actions, have been changed that transculturation has occurred.

It is not transculturation to translate the Greek command metanoiete of Matthew 3:2 to English as "Change your hearts and lives" (NCV) rather than with the single word "repent." Both refer to the same act. It would be transculturation to translate the Greek command as "get yourselves new spirit guides" since this would not be referring to the same thing as the author of Matthew was referring to with the word metanoiete.

It is appropriate for Bible translators to use linguistic forms which are already in use in a target language to communicate the meaning of the biblical texts. For some English audiences it may be more appropriate to use the word "repent" to translate Greek metanoiete. For other audiences it is more appropriate to translate the command as "Change your hearts and lives" which has the same meaning as that intended by those who use the word "repent". Which wording to use is determined by paying careful attention to the vocabulary already in use by an intended target audience.

Let us not dismiss English Bible versions which translate using current vocabulary of their intended readers instead of vocabulary we are accustomed to in traditional Bible versions. And, most of all, let us always find ways to communicate to others what God wants us to, using words and grammar that they understand best. Jesus, a rabbi who had effective teaching skills, set that example for us.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Is the TNIV more literal than the NASB?

Yes, believe it or not, sometimes the TNIV (and its predecessor, the NIV) is more literal than the NASB. How do I know? My blogger friend and careful Bible student (perhaps even scholar, by now), Rick Mansfield, has told me so. And he's happy to tell you so, also. Just click here to read his latest post. Note that Rick doesn't simply make a broad brush claim, but, rather, examines specific instances where the TNIV is more literal than the NASB. Note also that Rick is not suggesting that, overall, the TNIV is more literal than the NASB. It isn't. But in specific verses it sometimes is.

To me, Rick's post is an example of the kind of work that needs to be done when we compare Bible versions. It is detail work, dealing with specifics. It is objective research, dealing only with the facts of the biblical languages and English.

That's the kind of research I like. Objective, careful, specific. This is why we have this blog. We don't want to make broad brush generalizations about Bible versions. We don't want to make claims based on theology or ideology or who has endorsed a translation. We want to be as objective as possible. We realize that we are a small blog in a big pond. I harbor the naive hope that maybe English Bible translation teams or publishers would someday consult our blog and find ways that they can improve their Bible translations. But mostly, I think, the benefit this blog can have is helping each of us who think about translation topics become more aware of the specific issues involved and what can be done to improve Bible versions.

The header to this blog invites us to note specific wordings of specific verses in specific translations which can be improved. We continue to extend this invitation to each of you. When you come across a wording which seems odd or doesn't make sense to you in the version you are using, why not return to our blog and note the problem in the blog section for that Bible version.

Maybe if each of us does our little part, becoming more sensitive to how Bible translations can be improved, eventually we will have some positive influence upon the wordings in Bible versions. We really do want to make a difference. We do not want to tear down. We want to build up, to help improve, so that the good Bibles that we already have can become even better Bibles.

Monday, January 15, 2007

gender-inclusion cont.

Let me just note that this post is about gender-inclusion small g. as was Wayne's. And, Wayne, hello-oo, I ALWAYS want to win.

Women are definitely first off the block in the language wars, no doubt there; but are men more logical and women more relational?! Let me say this - men are more logical to other men, and women are more relational to other women. Where that puts us, I don't know!

Here is a nice list that might illustrate my reticence on this topic.

right brain - left brain
nonlinear - linear
acoustical - visual
analogical - logical
inductive - deductive
concrete - abstract
mystical - causal
intuitive - rational
relativity - absolutism

This is not a list on gender differences. This list is from a book on pop cross-cultural psychology. It represents the contrast between east and west.

In my view, there is a master list somewhere, maintained by some select group of people, containing all those things which they want to be and those things which they don't want to be. They parade the list around in whatever context necessary. "The list" proves that certain people are logical and others are not. But eastern vs western, female vs male, traditional vs modern, who knows - just maintain the list and put a title on it when the need arises! That's my take.

However, I admit that there are indeed certain differences and for your edification, let me contribute a few pithy observations from Otto Jespersen, whose book, Language, I have been browsing through as I organize my library - a sort of early spring cleaning.

Jespersen writes here about the superior scores of women on reading tests.
    Not only were they able to read more quickly than men, but they were able to give a better account of the paragraph as a whole. ... But it was found that rapidity was no proof of intellectual power, and some of the slowest readers were highly distinguished men. Ellis (Man and Woman, 195) explains this in this way; with the quick reader it is as though every statement were admitted immediately and without inspection to fill the vacant chambers of the mind, while with the slow reader every statement undergoes an instinctive process of cross-examination; every new fact seems to stir up the accumulated stores of facts among which it intrudes, and so impedes rapidity of mental action.
In short, women read faster to fill the "vacant chambers of the mind" and they allow ideas to enter uncritically. If you are a man who is a fast reader, I have this piece of advice, don't ever admit to it!

    The superior readiness of speech of women is a concomitant of the fact that their vocabulary is smaller and more central than that of men. But again this is connected with another indubitable fact, that women do not reach the same extreme points as men, but are nearer the average in most respects. ... Genius is more common among men by virtue of the same general tendency by which idiocy is more common among men. The two facts are but two aspects of a larger zoological fact - the greater variability of the male.

    In language we see this very clearly, the highest linguistic genius and the lowest degree of linguistic imbecility are very rarely found among women. Lg. 253
Shall I continue? Let me not forget the most important insight of all.

    If we compare long periods as constructed by men and by women, we shall in the former find many more instances of intricate or involute structures with clause within clause, a relative clause in the middle of a conditional clause or vice versa, with subordination and sub-subordination, while the typical form of long feminine periods is that of co-ordination, one sentence or clause being added to another on the same plane and the gradation between the respective ideas being marked not grammatically, but emotionally, by stress and intonation, and in writing by underlining.
    In learned terminology we may say that men are fond of hypotaxis and women of parataxis. Or we may use the simile that a male period is often like a set of Chinese boxes, one within another, while a feminine period is like a set of pearls joined together on a string of ands and similar words. Lg 252.
By this token women should translate the Hebrew scriptures and men, the Greek scriptures. This bothers me. I feel that women should translate the Greek, and men, the Hebrew. What indeed is so feminine about the Hebrew scriptures vs the Greek scriptures - parataxis?

Who really wants to make a list of feminine traits vs masculine traits? That way madness lies, let me shun that. No more of that.

HT Wayne brought these related posts to my attention several months ago. Thanks, Wayne.

Sex & Language Stereotypes through the Ages
The vast arctic tundra of the male brain

These are offered for your entertainment.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Zechariah 9:9

John Hobbins, of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, posted recently On the Interpretation of Zechariah 9:9. He has written at some length in his article (PDF) about many of the translation issues which we often mull over here.

For example, what role does translation tradition play in the production of new translations? John shows how earlier interpretation consciously or unconsciously contributes to contemporary understanding of a verse. The influence of tradition is not necessarily a negative thing, but we should always be aware of it and look at this aspect of translation critically. The history of translation tradition is regrettably often an overlooked discipline. (But, of course, we are trying to turn this around!)

John demonstrates the role of tradition in the translation of Zechariah 9:9 in many fascinating ways.

גִּילִי מְאֹד בַּת-צִיּוֹן
הָרִיעִי בַּת יְרוּשָׁלִַם
הִנֵּה מַלְכֵּךְ יָבוֹא לָךְ
צַדִּיק וְנוֹשָׁע הוּא
עָנִי וְרֹכֵב עַל-חֲמוֹר
וְעַל-עַיִר בֶּן-אֲתֹנוֹת.

χαιρε σφοδρα θυγατερ σιων
κηρυσσε θυγατερ Ιερουσαλημ
ιδου ο βασιλευς σου ερχεται σοι
δικαιος και σωζων αυτος
πραυς και επιβεβηκως
επι υποζυγιον και πωλον νεον LXX

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Proclaim, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King comes to you;
Just and saving is he;
Gentle and mounted on a beast of burden
And a young colt. LXX (tr. from Ancient Hebrew Poetry)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem:
behold, thy King cometh unto thee:
he is just, and having salvation;
lowly, and riding upon an ass,
and upon a colt the foal of an ass. KJV

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
Righteous and having salvation is he,
Humble and mounted on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey. ESV

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion,
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem;
behold, thy king cometh unto thee,
he is triumphant, and victorious,
lowly, and riding upon an ass,
even upon a colt the foal of an ass. JPS 1917

Throb with abandon, fair Zion!
Let out a shout, fair Jerusalem!
Behold your king, He will come to you;
He is just and victorious;
Lowly, mounted on an ass,
On a donkey, a foal of she-asses. (John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry)

John works through the translation issues in detail line by line. I found the following to be of special interest. First, there is the tendency to move from a concrete word in the Hebrew to an abstract one in the Greek or English, i.e. "rejoice" instead of "throb", and "proclaim" instead of "shout".

Next, there is a discussion about how best to translate "daughter of". John opts for a phrase which maintains the meaning but not the form with "fair Zion".

Word order is a recurring puzzle. Note how the different translations have dealt with line 4. The KJV does not attempt to maintain the original Hebrew word order but the ESV does. I am not aware of the history of the ESV decision for this verse. I wonder if there is a precursor to this inverted syntax in another translation.

Of special interest is the variation in translating צַדִּיק. John remarks,

    The translation "Righteous and having salvation is he" is wrongheaded on several counts. It reproduces the word order of the Hebrew, but that word order is the normal one in Hebrew. The equivalent word order in English is with the subject first.

    Righteous" (צַדִּיק) is a frequent stand-alone descriptor of right-behaving as opposed to wrong-behaving people in biblical literature. For a man of means, right behavior involved protecting the rights of others and helping those in need (Job 31). The sense in which a king is to be righteous is not far removed from the sense in which every individual is expected to be righteous. A righteous individual is one who does all in his power to advance the good of his fellows.

    A king is expected to secure the rights and freedom of those in his care and vanquish those who mean to do them harm. In Zech 9:9, another descriptor, "victorious" (נוֹשָׁע), helps to bring this out. Just and victorious is what a king is supposed to be. The ideal king is described more extensively in Jer 23:5. ...

    JPSV renders the phrase under discussion with "He is triumphant, and victorious;" NJPSV with "He is victorious, triumphant." These translations allow the sense of צַדִּיק to be swallowed up in that of נוֹשָׁע. ESV’s "having salvation" is a clumsy rendering of נוֹשָׁע. The participle’s active sense and adjectival force are clear from the context.
I recommend John's article to you. I am delighted to see an analysis of translation decisions laid out with such detail. John is currently working on a book about ancient Hebrew poetry and recently gave papers at professional conferences in Edinburgh and Washington DC.

PS This is an excursus from Tamar, but the discussion of צַדִּיק is relevant. I wanted to offer this interesting article while I continue to mull over Tamar's dilemma.

Paraphrasing to personalize Bible study

There are many different Bible study techniques. Which ones we choose to use will depend on what it is we are trying to accomplish with Bible study.

Greg Lamm has just blogged on a technique which has helped him appreciate one of his favorite psalms even more. Greg begins:
I remember when I used to think that paraphrasing the Bible was akin to playing Chopin on a kazoo. But I'm over that way of thinking now and often find myself drawn to the intimate joy of putting God's Word into my words. I think God's ego can handle it. Just one more indication of how much God's love can tolerate, or even instigate.
Then Greg paraphrased Psalm 1:
So here's what I've done with my beloved PSALM 1. I wrote out David's six verses from six translations and one paraphrase (New American Standard, New Century Version, Today's New International Version, English Standard Version, New Living Translation, Revised English Bible, and The Message). Then I spread them all out on a table in front of me and read them through numerous times and then started writing out my own paraphrase. And here's where the bottle stopped spinning ...
Read the rest of Greg's post to find out how his paraphrase turned out. I am impressed with its quality. But even more important, I know from my own efforts to paraphrase or turn a Bible passage into poetry, that this kind of serious interaction with the biblical text, which Greg has done, changes the text from being "out there" to "in here", personalized, where it impacts us as individuals.

Friday, January 12, 2007

gender-inclusion and Bible translation

No, this post is not about what you think it's about!

I have been reading fascinating, uplifting posts on the Adventures in Mercy blog. Blogger Molly writes on difficult topics with humor and humility. She's self-effacing, recognizing that she is a work in progress as she wrestles with issues of concern to her and her husband. Well, I admit that I may be a bit biased as I read Molly's posts, because she happens to be one of my cousins. I'm a genealogist in our big family system, and Molly is my 4th cousin once removed, for those who like details.

One of Molly's recent posts
noted that men are empowered by testosterone to do their work. The hormone causes a tendency for men to be more aggressive than women. Molly pointed out that women tend to be more relational. Now, of course, these are tendencies. It is important for men to learn to relate better, but, on the whole, women like to relate more than men do. And some women, including from Bible times, have done good jobs of leading. God has given spiritual gifts to everyone in the church, including the gift of administration. Some women, including my wife, have that gift. But my wife is relational, as well.

As I was thinking about what Molly has written, I realized that there are important implications for Bible translation. By far, men make up the majority of members on English Bible translation committees. Much of the disparity in numbers between men and women on translation committees is due to social traditions which have not permitted women to get the advanced degrees in biblical studies and exegesis which are helpful for translation work.

But I'd like to encourage all of us to work toward greater inclusion of women on Bible translation committees. And why would this be important?

Here are some reasons.

It has often been said that women do better with languages than men. I think it has something to do with which part of our brains are used for language functions (I forget if it is women or men who are in their "right" minds!). I remember how it was in my Biblical Greek classes in Bible school. Even though women were not permitted to be in the Pastoral Ministry major, they could take biblical languages. Typically there were three or four women in each of my Greek classes. They would sit together in the back of the room. I resented what those young ladies did to the grading curve in our class. To my shame, I recall thinking that women didn't really belong in "our" Greek class and they were hurting the grades of some of us who actually were doing rather well, but when a prof grades on the curves sometimes we don't get as high a grade as we might like. And why did those ladies do well? Probably because they were women, gifted at language work.

But who ends up doing the language work on Bible translation committees? Almost exclusively men. Who teaches biblical language courses in Bible schools and seminaries? Almost exclusively men. Now men can do well studying, analyzing, and teaching biblical languages. But just think how much better it would be if more women could use their natural linguistic gifts, God-given, to teach biblical languages and serve on Bible translation committees.

Only half of the job of translation of English Bibles is focused on biblical languages, however. The other half must focus on English. Unfortunately, many English Bibles have not had adequate input from English language scholars and those who are gifted in English writing and stylistics. There have been exceptions: J.B. Phillips, Ken Taylor, and Eugene Peterson were/are gifted authors. They understood the importance of good turns of phrase, of words sounding good together, of using natural English forms, of using contemporary language spoken by their readers.

Many women not only do well--often better than men--at biblical languages, but their natural linguistic abilities extend to their own language, English, as well. When women combine their desire for being relational with their linguistic gifts, they often have special contributions to give to committees who need to improve the quality of English in their translations.

In our own worldwide Bible translation mission, there are many women who have done good translation work. I know of at least one team of two single women who have done three different Bible translations. I think two of them were in related dialects, but the dialects were far enough apart that they needed separate translations, and the women would have had to learn differences between the dialects to help create adequate translations in both dialects. The work of missionary Bible translation would be far behind where it is now if it were not for women who have done so much of the work. Yes, we need more men, as well as women, in Bible translation, but let's especially thank God for the women who have heard God's call to translate the Bible for those around the world who need it.

One way for us to have better Bibles is to be more gender-inclusive. I think that the relational side of women would help oil the gears of discussion and relationships among Bible translation committee members. My sense is that men tend to be more logical about how they translate; women many not only have the facts of the biblical languages right but many also be able to express those facts in better English. A man may logically dig in and insist on using a certain English word to translate some Hebrew or Greek word. Often men want to win. I sense this in myself. I like to win arguments on my blog or in comments I place on the blogs of others. When I read blogs of feminine, thoughtful, relational women like my cousin Molly, I am impressed by how that natural drive of men to win is either non-existent (oh, yes, women can be competitive, but it doesn't always exhibit itself in the same way as it does in men), or else it is surpassed by other motivations which we can all benefit from.

God did not create us to function alone, or even gender-exclusively. As the Good Book says, "Adam is not an island; Adam does not stand alone. Eve can stand with him." Men and women Bible translators need each other to produce better Bibles.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

TG 2: Tamar, the Righteous

Tamar is the first woman mentioned in the genealogy in Matthew 1. She is known for being called צדק "righteous". About her Judah said,

'She is more righteous than I' צָדְקָה מִמֶּנִּי Genesis 38:26.

Tamar was not known as a prostitute, in spite of Driscoll's slip.

Of course, there is a prostitute in the genealogy, but it is Rahab and not Tamar. However, Rahab herself was remembered, not for being a prostitute, but for being חסד, kind or loyal, and this is the identical defining trait that we associate with Ruth.

Ruth was called חסד for her act of choosing to bear a child to Naomi by one of Naomi's kinsmen, when she could have married someone else younger. She was loyal or faithful, she fulfilled her obligation to Naomi to bear her an heir. She was חסד because she chose to offer herself to Boaz, a relative of Naomi's, instead of to a younger man. Ruth loyally served Naomi's reproductive rights and gave Naomi her first born child, whom Naomi named Obed. This is a story of friendship and loyalty between two women.

חסד can be translated as obligation to the community in relation to relatives, friends, etc. also unity, solidarity, loyalty. We can, of course, always hope that the story also contains a romance, but it is first and foremost about the baby which Ruth presented to Naomi.

Tamar was righteous because she actively pursued her own reproductive right to bear a child for her deceased husband, Er, by sleeping with her father-in-law, Judah. She was a widow and her father-in-law was a widower. Although this seems irregular to us, Judah realized the justice in the situation and called Tamar righteous.

If Ruth was courageous and admirable, Tamar was even more so. Without the evident support of a friend or advisor, Tamar was able to produce an heir for her deceased husband by gaining access to her father-in-law as progenitor. She did this by pretending to be a prostitute. But she was acquitted of being considered a prostitute. Let us not forget that.

Some have suggested that Ruth and Tamar were included in the genealogy because they acted with resolution and initiative outside of the patriarchal structure. (For Ruth this is seen in her act of giving the first child to Naomi to be named.)

However, there are two other women in the genealogy. Rahab, as a prostitute, did act outside of the patriarchal structure, but we must assume that her child was born within her marriage to Salmon. And Bathsheba was not in a position to act with either initiative or resolution.

Overall, Tamar and Ruth demonstrate the flip side of ancient patriarchy. Unlike patriarchy which is occasionally recommended today, women didn't have a duty to bear children, nor was it a privilege, it was a right. Additional phrases in the Hebrew scriptures, like Gen. 31:48 and 2 Sam. 13:32, indicate that patriarchy today is missing other offsetting elements.

Of course, an alternate way to read the Hebrew scriptures is simply to gain insight into what life was like back then without actually trying to reenact the patriarchy it reflects, as Kostenberger recommends here,
    For example, marriage and the roles of both husbands and wives is grounded in Genesis and then traced through the entire Old Testament. Husbands are to love and cherish their wives, to bear primary responsibility for the marriage union and to exercise authority over the family, and to provide the family with necessities for life.

    The wife, on the other hand, is to present her husband with children, manage her household with integrity, and provide her husband with companionship. Contemporary readers may be shocked by the candor of Kostenberger's presentation, but he grounds his arguments directly in the biblical text.
When we remember women of the Hebrew scriptures, let's not forget Tamar, who stood up for herself when no one else did. She was called righteous.

Translation is not an exact science

This is adapted from a comment I made on Richard's post What's in a Word. In a previous comment, Nathan had suggested that a translation must be corrupt if it cannot be translated precisely back to the original text.

All translators realise that translation is not an exact science. This means, among other things, that if you translate a sentence into another language and then back into the original language there can be no guarantee that you will get precisely back to the original text. This is true whatever translation style or philosophy you use, at least unless you use a highly artificial interlinear gloss type "translation" which would on its own probably be quite incomprehensible to the target language reader. It is just as much true of allegedly "full access" translations like ESV as it is of the most dynamic translation. I think I can safely say that there is not one single English Bible translation which could be translated perfectly back into the original language - especially because Greek word order is very fluid and its nuances can never be captured in English. I would not expect any Greek scholar, who had not memorised the Greek NT text, to be able to translate more than an occasional sentence of ESV or any other version precisely back into the original Greek - and similarly for Hebrew.

Does this mean that every English Bible translation is a bad translation? No, it means that there are fundamental limitations to what can be done in translation. If you really want full access to the original text, you need to learn the original language.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Translating Genealogies 1

I begin this series in response to a request some time ago, that I write more on Tamar. Tamar's claim to fame is that she is mentioned along with 4 other women in the genealogy of Jesus. I have been thinking about writing this series since last fall when I read Gospel Women by Richard Bauckham, who includes a chapter on this genealogy.

It is of vital importance for a translator to appreciate and understand the significance of every part of the text she is translating. It is too easy to attempt to boil things down, to translate key passages first, to offer excerpts of the word. Of course, this is done to establish the acceptablility of a translation, and especially to test the orthography. I have seen many such selections which were submitted to me as examples.

But back to the genealogies - these were read along with every other chapter in the scriptures at our dinner table. I am just back from visiting my elderly father. His voice is the one which I first heard read scripture, along with my mother, who supplied the commentary.

Here are the opening verses of Matthew 1. May they not be skipped.
    Matthew 1
    The Genealogy of Jesus
    1A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2Abraham was the father of Isaac,
    Isaac the father of Jacob,
    Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
    3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
    Perez the father of Hezron,
    Hezron the father of Ram,
    4Ram the father of Amminadab,
    Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
    Nahshon the father of Salmon,
    5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
    Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
    Obed the father of Jesse,
    6and Jesse the father of King David.
    David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife,
I have also been enjoying Mark Driscoll's series on Ruth. He writes with great feeling and romance,
    Boaz is also a wealthy, and successful man who falls in love with Ruth after investigating her relationship with God and her character, until he is certain that she is the woman of his dreams. After Ruth gets all dressed up and puts herself in Boaz’s way as Naomi instructed her, Boaz redeems Ruth, marries her, and cares for her and her mother-in-law. He is a type of Jesus who redeems these women and blesses them in every way, treating the poor, widowed, outcast, marginalized, and racially despised with redeeming love.
But I take exception to this comment,

    In Matthew 1, Ruth the foreigner is included with the unwed Mary and Tamar the prostitute as the only three women included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.
Mark has momentarily forgotten Rahab and Bathsheba. However, that is a detail. I thought it would be of interest if I offered a partner series to Mark's, a series about Tamar and Bathsheba and Rahab, women who were not lucky enough to be married to men who are a type of Christ, but instead mated with fallible human males.

Bauckham's chapter on this topic turns a genealogy into a book and opens new doors.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Response to Mark Driscoll: Common words for uncommon ideas

This post follows on the same topic as the two preceding ones here on BBB.

I have added a comment to the Mars Hill church blog post which contains Mark Driscoll's explanation for why their church will now use the ESV. I thought it would be helpful to share my comment here, as well:

Pastor Driscoll noted:

“Furthermore, even the greatest of communicators were known to be hard to understand when they spoke God’s truth. For example, some of Jesus’ teaching was declared to be a “hard saying” by His hearers (John 6:60). Jesus also taught in parables, knowing that His teaching would not be readily understood by all his hearers, but only those with “ears to hear” (Mark 4:10–23).”

Very true, but Pastor Driscoll has confused two different matters. Jesus did not speak in technical religious jargon which we find in the ESV and similar English Bibles. Instead, Jesus used plain-speak, everyday language, the language of the field and fishing. It was not Jesus’ words that were hard to understand. It was the thoughts he was conveying with those words that threw his listeners. Jesus didn’t use complicated, rare words when he told the parable of the sower and the seeds. But even Jesus’ disciples often didn’t catch Jesus’ meaning. It wasn’t a problem of vocabulary, as Pastor Driscoll seems to be saying in his article, but, rather, lack of ability to understand the application to people’s lives.

Nicodemus fully understood Jesus’ words when Jesus told him he needed a second birth. Nicodemus’ response lets us know he understood those words. But Nicodemus wasn’t on the same spiritual wavelength with Jesus. He didn’t understand the *concepts* (thoughts) behind the words. He didn’t know how to be born again.

Let’s not encourage people to use Bible versions which use words less familiar to English speakers than were the words used in the original Biblical language texts for their audiences. It is accurate to translate the Bible to ordinary English words which are the equivalent of the ordinary words Jesus used when he taught.

We erect artifical barriers to the work of God when we encourage people to use Bibles which are not of the same kind of language as that used by the Biblical authors. The Biblical authors did not use the word “propitiation.” Instead, they used a common word hilasmos. Biblical authors did not use a rare word like “justification”. Instead they used a very common, ordinary word dikaiosis to communicate what English Bible translators are hoping to communicate with the theological term “justification.” John the Baptist did not tell his audience to “repent” (Matt. 3:2). Instead, we have the Greek translation of what he said in his Semitic language as being metanoiete which was a very common word which meant “change your mind.” That’s what God wants from us sinners, he wants us to change our thinking and our ways. He wants us to stop sinning. God inspired his Holy Word which was written in words which were, on the whole, ordinary, everyday, good quality language. But English translators have made things more complicated by using uncommon, rare, often obsolete words. I think this must make God sad.

Jesus did not consider it his mission to teach people the meanings of words. He simply taught people. And he used words they already understood. It’s not necessary to use “Christianese” when we evangelize or even in our Bible studies with fellow Christians.

People need to be able to understand the words of the Bible, just as they understood the words that were spoken by Jesus, Paul, and others in Bible times. Then we need dedicated Bible teachers like Pastor Driscoll to help people understand the concepts behind those words, again, just as Jesus had to explain the meaning of his everyday language parables to his disciples.

Please note that I am *not* suggesting that every word in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament was common or easy to understand. BBB commenter Anonymous is right to point out that we don't always know exactly what those words were. There is uncertainty over what the actual words were in some text passages.

Not all of the biblical language texts are of the same literary genre or complexity. Some texts are written in straightforward everyday language. Others have greater literary sophistication. Paul's epistles are written in more complicated language than are the Greek translations we have of the teachings of Jesus.

But I want to focus on the matter of overall vocabulary used in Bible translation. I still find very few technical religious terms in the original biblical texts. And I think we have not been fair (or even accurate) if we translate ordinary source text (biblical) words with uncommon, obsolete, or jargon terms in English. It is here where I disagree with Mark Driscoll.

What's in a word?

Twice in the last few months I’ve written posts that touch on the emotional connections people feel towards their favorite Bible translations, once about dealing with the mental conflicts that arise between newer translations and the Scripture many Christians carry around in their heads and once about why it’s not good to have emotionally comforting translations for study

But here’s the problem. The emotional component in the translation debate is very large. But few will acknowledge it. Instead many feel the need to rationalize (or worse, theologize) their preferences. The debates about translations are carried on as if the very Truth of God’s Word were at stake. This approach leads otherwise rational people to say truly incredible things. (See Mark Driscoll’s apology for using the ESV in his church, and an excellent critique of his position by Henry Neufeld) I won’t rehash all those arguments, Henry has done a great job, but I want to emphasize one crucial point. Pastor Driscoll articulates a positon that seems to underlie much of the debate about contemporary translations.
If you change the wording, you’re tampering with God’s Word.
Nothing could be further from the truth. These are translations, after all. God’s Word was delivered in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, not in English and no one's saying anything about changing them.

The professor in me can’t resist the opportunity to give a little lesson in linguistics.

The root of the problem here is the view of the linguistic naïf that the meaning is in the words. Sorry, Virginia, this one isn't true. The meaning is not in the words. Hard to believe, but them's the facts. The meaning is not in the words. Most of the meaning we associate with a word is in what the word refers to. The component of meaning that the word brings is the “spin”. A word tells you how to look at the thing it refers to.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of good, concise examples that show the difference in these components of meaning, so I pretty much need to use one that is PG-13. So if you’re easily offended by scatology, you can just take my word for it and skip ahead. (Believe me, if I knew a nicer example that worked as well, I’d use it.) Anyway, here goes.

Consider the following list of synonyms:
s**t, crap, fecal matter, feces, stool, poop, caca, doo doo
In one way all these words mean the same thing. That’s what I mean when I say the meaning is not in the words but in what the words refer to. Wait, you say. These are different words, they must mean something different. Well, yes. The difference is in how the words get you to look at the thing they refer to. (In the linguistics business this is called "framing".) S**t is a taboo word. That’s the part of the meaning that belongs to the word and not to the referent. Crap is only slightly better. When one says fecal matter, feces, or stool, one is talking more technically or in the detached manner of a doctor. Poop, caca, doo doo are more children’s words or humorous or euphemistic. I won’t belabor the point. You get the idea. The bulk of the meaning of a word is in what that word refers to. The part of the meaning that’s in the word is how it frames the way you think about the thing it refers to.

But there’s the problem. Not only do the categories of things referred to by words differ from language to language, but the words themselves frame the categories differently, as well. So the translator is always in a trade-off between optimizing the reference and trying not to get the framing too wrong.

Take Mark Driscoll’s example of propitiation. This is a highly technical term in English. To all but the highly initiated it has no reference beyond that we know that sin is somehow involved and that it’s good for the sinner in some way. In English it’s all framing and essentially no reference. But the Greek family of words it translates —
Oh, yes, Pastor Driscoll was not entirely honest with the data. There is not one word translated propitiation, there are three ἱλάσκομαι, ἱλασμός, and ἱλαστήριον. Yes, they all refer to the same root concept, but if you say it’s the wording that is important and not the concepts, you can’t go around using the very same thought-for-thought translation that you railed against elsewhere. (Peter Kirk at Speaker of Truth makes a similar point about the concept justification on his post about Pastor Driscoll and the ESV.)
Anyway, the Greek family of words refers to something that eastern Mediterrean culture in Roman times was familiar with. You offer a sacrifice to appease the gods. Details were different in different cultures, but the notion that something could be offered to turn away the wrath of a deity was there. These words were religious – because of their reference. But they weren’t any more technical than the word stool, when the doctor asks you for a stool sample.

This religious concept is not in the consciousness of 21st century Americans, however. So what’s a translator to do?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with spelling things out when no good single word exists in the target language.
I John 4:10 … [he] sent his son to be the sacrifice that turns away his anger over our sin.
Don’t try and tell me propitiation is a better translation for ἱλασμός. If you do, it’s not about translating at all, it’s about how you feel about translating and translations and it’s time to admit it.

Oh, and if the exact wording is so important in the ESV, why does Luke 18:13 read:
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful (ἱλασθητί) to me, a sinner!’ (ESV)

The point that seems to be missed in this ongoing debate is that the unique thing about Christianity and language is that the God who is the Word, THRIVES on being translated. I’ll say it again. God’s Word thrives on being translated. He wants to speak to you in the most intimate way.

If you are an ordinary follower of another major world religion, you need to learn God's language, Arabic for the Qur’an, Sanskrit for Hinduism, and Hebrew for Judaism. But in Christianity our God speaks our language, not the language of the church, but the one that we carry on our inner dialogue in.

In Christian history times of major revival have often been associated with translation or re-translation of the Scriptures into the language of the common people.

So why are we getting so worked up about translations that speak ordinary English?

The Impossibility of Verbal Plenary Translation

Henry Neufeld has just responded to Mark Driscoll's new article, Theological reasons for why Mars Hill preaches out of the ESV. Henry argues, correctly in my opinion, that Driscoll is wrong in claiming that a proper approach to Bible translation will result in using theological jargon terms such as "justification" and "propitiation" because Driscoll's claim
actually reflects an argument used for many years by KJV Only advocates, who compare every new version to the KJV, and then call every change from the KJV in a modern version a change in the scriptures. They accuse the modern versions of altering the words of scripture. But what words are altered? The words of a translation that has no authority whatsoever over the source texts. When a translator uses a word/phrase in the receptor language to reflect a word/phrase in the source language, that doesn’t make the two equivalent. It is simply the way that translator thought was best to convey the thought of the text in the source language in the receptor language. It is critically important to state this correctly: The translator(s) of a new Bible translation do not alter the words of scripture, they reflect the words of scripture in a different way, using different words.
Believe it or not, words such as "justification," "propitiation," "sanctification," "flesh," "predestination", and "repentance" do not appear in the original biblical texts. There is no sound linguistic or theological reason why the original biblical words which have been translated by those theological terms cannot be translated by ordinary English words which mean the same thing as the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words did.

There is too much circular argumentation in many of the claims made today for the superiority of so-called word-for-word translations--not to mention the fact that pure word-for-word translation is an impossibility. The versions which Driscoll lists as being word-for-word translations are not really word-for-word translations:
Only interlinear translations are word-for-word translations. Every version in Driscoll's list of word-for-word translation rearranges word order and makes many other adjustments so that English readers can better understand what the original biblical language text meant. The introduction of each version in Driscoll's list makes this clear. The translators of the ESV make this clear for their translation:
The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on “word-for-word” correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original. [emphasis added]
The ESV is more word-for-word than the NLT, but there is not a qualitative difference between the two. It is, rather, a quantitative difference.

Henry Neufeld is right: verbal plenary translation is impossible. It is high time that claims to the contrary are properly confronted. And sound alternatives need to be as widely distributed as the fallacious statements made by Driscoll, Grudem, and others like them today who advocate word-for-word translation.

Henry had many more important well-founded things to say in his blog post. Please read it.

Finally, a word to those who believe in verbal, plenary inspiration: the thrust of Henry's post is about verbal, plenary (that is word-for-word) translation, not inspiration. We can believe in verbal, plenary inspiration while recognizing that true word-for-word translation is an impossibility.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Accessibility in Bible translation

Today's post at the ESV Bible blog is on the important topic of accessibility in Bible translation, that is, to what extent should the language forms used in a Bible translation be understood by any particular audience? The blog post ends:
Do you use language understood by churchgoers (“grace,” “propitiation”) or by non-churchgoers (“kindness,” “sacrifice”)? Either choice will require explanation: in this example, you will need to define “grace” or explain how “kindness” doesn’t capture the full meaning of the Greek word.

There’s not necessarily one right answer for all circumstances.

I agree that there is "not necessarily one right answer for all circumstances". But I disagree that there are simply the two choices Stephen presented, namely, using church language (translationese, Biblish) in translation or the language of non-churchgoers.

I suggest that it would be better to study the kind of language used in the original texts of the Bible itself, and follow that kind of language as our example for translation. For instance, New Testament authors did not use a word like "grace" which was only understood by churchgoers. Instead, they used the Greek word charis which was commonly used by all Greek speakers.

Now, it may be that there is no single English word which fully captures all of the meaning components of charis, as we have come to understand the word theologically But charis was not simply a single word of Greek, with all of its meaning fully contained within that word in every context. No, the word charis had a core meaning having to do with favor. And then the riches of the nuances and all other meaning aspects of the word charis were built up in the minds of people as they used the word in various contexts. Unlike the claims of some, the word charis was not a technical term in the New Testament. It was an ordinary word used by ordinary Greek speakers. Theologians and Bible translators have turned it into a technical term by recognizing that it is a word used to express rich truths about how God treats people. And we have often assumed--incorrectly--that we need to use some technical (that is, jargon or nonstandard usage) word to capture all the riches of the Greek word charis. There is a linguistic fallacy in that reasoning which overlooks how ordinary words are used in language, including to convey wonderfully extraordinary concepts.

Charis was an ordinary word in Greek. It conveyed wonderful meaning about how God has favored people. There is no reason why English Bible translators cannot follow the lead of New Testament authors and use an ordinary, natural, well-known to both church-goers and non-churchgoers, word, or words, to express in English the meaning of Greek charis.

The same principles apply to any other words of the original biblical texts which we have turned into technical terms, including propitiation, atonement, mercy, flesh, predestination, trespass. Something special happened in my understanding of the Bible and application of it to my life when I first began to use Bibles written in my ordinary English language, rather than my church language.

I suggest that many churchgoers like myself would similarly experience a deeper, richer, fuller understanding of the Bible the more they used versions which were written in the same kind of language which the original biblical texts were written in. And think of the advantages that occur when churchgoers relate spiritual truths to non-churchgoers using the language that they each already know. Jesus set the example for us when he spoke to people, using language that both he and they understood. His audience didn't always understand what he meant by the ordinary words he used (as in his parables or when he told Nicodemus he needed to experience another birth), but they did understand the words he used.

Let's not use sacred language in English translations for words that were not part of sacred language in the original text. Let's keep our Bibles as accessible to our readers as the original biblical language texts were to their readers.