Recently in Bible Translation Category

I've firmly occupied the middle ground in the so-called inclusive language translation debates. Both sides have a point, and good translation needs to take both factors into account. There are things I like about how several recent translations do things, but no translation philosophy has gotten it quite right. I'm firmly convinced that the English language is changing, and there's no going back. In certain quarters it's changed enough that certain English speakers simply can't hear the so-called non-inclusive language as meaning what it once meant (when such language was actually inclusive: hence my use of "so-called" before speaking of the new style as "inclusive"). But I also think the complaints of sexism in the mere use of grammatically-masculine pronouns for gender-indeterminate or gender-unknown referents are exaggerated and overblown.

My main concern is not with the intrinsic worth of either way of translating. There's probably a place for both, with each serving a populace more comfortable with that translation method. But this should be non-absolute. A translation must have a tendency that it can go against, because there are cases where the method you predominantly use can obscure what the text says if you do it in a way that the other audience picking up the translation might hear wrongly, and I don't mean in interpreting "sons" to be only male or "he" to be only male. I mean in just hearing the text to say something it doesn't say in other ways.

The ESV of II Kings 23:10 reads:

And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.

To someone used to the use of "his" as a gender-inclusive pronoun, this is no problem. Josiah is the referent of the first "he". Josiah defiles Topheth so that no one might burn their own son or daughter. The way I just put it is the more contmporary way of saying it, and it precludes thinking that Josiah is worried about people burning Josiah's own son or daughter. But the way the ESV translates it, someone used to the more contemporary, so-called inclusive translations is going to think Josiah is scared to death of people going after his son or daughter, and so he defiles Topheth to prevent it. When I hear the ESV translation, it's the first thing I think, and I know better. Someone unfamiliar with the storyline is going to be pretty confused.

So I conclude that the ESV, in its consistent refusal to hear how contemporary English-speakers of my generation will hear a text like this, is actually translating in a way that conveys the wrong meaning. This is thus a mistranslation for a certain segment of the population (a growing segment). There are examples that go the other way, where the insistence on the so-called inclusive language obscures some important aspect of the meaning of a text. But this particular example is the kind of thing that gets ignored in Bible translation, and I thought it was worth drawing attention to it.

In every translation I've read of Aquinas' discussion of love, I find a completely worthless translation of the two categories of love he discusses. If you translate them with a formal-equivalence model, you get "the love of desire" and "the love of friendship". What he means by those is that the love of desire is when you love someone or something for the benefit you get from it or them, and the love of friendship is when you love someone in a way that takes what they desire as becoming among your own desires, and you desire it for its own sake and not just to get something out of them.

To an English speaker, the expressions "the love of desire" and "the love of friendship" suggest no such thing. They sound more like the thing you love is desire for the first, and the thing you love is friendship for the second. A much better translation would be "desire-love" and "friendship-love". Those preserve the connection with desire and friendship rather than paraphrasing them, but they change the form of the grammatical construction in order to remove the different sense that the form carries in English.

A formal-equivalence translation has this danger. It preserves the form as a higher priority than the basic meaning of the expression in its context, and you get this kind of misleading nonsense that someone teaching the material then has to explain. Isn't it better just to translate the expression in a way that conveys its meaning? If this can be done without altering the basic linguistic units, as my translation above does, then that's ideal. The problem with most dynamic-equivalence or thought-for-thought translations is that they don't do that. They might translate this as something like "self-seeking love" and "unconditional love". Such a translation would make no sense of Aquinas' attempt to explain why love having to do with desire is self-seeking and why love having to do with friendship is unconditional. It doesn't translate what's said but adds to it based on the background knowledge about how Aquinas is using the terms. It's probably rare that you can find the happy medium that I've come to with this case, where you avoid both extremes, but that seems to me to be the goal.

Help Meet

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In the KJV and some translations that it's influenced, Genesis 2:18 describes Eve as "a help meet for" Adam. Somehow this has come into English as a noun "helpmeet", which (judging by how it was used in circles I grew up in) seems to mean "helpmate" or something like that. Since I hardly ever use the KJV, I don't look at this expression all that much, and it never occurred to me until recently that this understanding of "help meet" completely misunderstands the language of the KJV, which actually translated the Hebrew very well into the languge of the day but completely misleads the reader of today, as is so often the case with archaic translations.

What the KJV says is "I will make her a help meet for him." In archaic English, "meet" in such a context means "fitting" or "suitable". She is a helper who is meet for him. She is fitting for him, well-suited to him. That's exactly what the Hebrew says. To garble this as a noun "helpmeet" completely obscures the point (not to mention sounds meaningless to most speakers of English who weren't raised on the KJV).

Faith

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"Faith, to hear most people talk about it, and certainly in a religious context, is the permission that people give one another to believe things for bad reasons, and when they have good reasons they immediately rely on the good reasons." -- Sam Harris on NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday a few weeks ago

On one level, this is complete nonsense. My faith is not my giving anyone permission to believe things. If I have faith, that's trust in God, not permission for others to believe things. I'm not sure why Harris thinks it has to do with your attitude toward others' beliefs. No one really believes that, and I would include Harris in that.

But what he's saying reflects a common attitude toward what faith is. Perhaps he's even right that in most contexts the English word turns out to mean something to do with believing things without good reasons (which isn't the same as believing things for bad reasons, I would insist). That's at least how many people have used the term since Kierkegaard's corruption of the concept of faith.

This is not, however, how faith has historically been thought of. Augustine saw it as a kind of knowledge, just not one based in the usual sources. Its grounding comes from God and his role in giving us the faith. Thomas Aquinas distinguished it from knowledge but saw it as equally well-grounded as knowledge, just from a different source. Both of them, in fact, took the Bible to be God's word, and thus they took it to be a reliable source to get the information God wanted to convey. God is, in fact, the most reliable source of any information, and thus believing what God says is a pretty good method to get beliefs. Those who don't accept the Bible as God's word would not accept that conclusion, but what they say follows from accepting that about the Bible. The Bible itself takes faith to be simply trust in God and what God says, and it does not treat faith as some irrational acceptance of things we probably shouldn't believe.

There are plenty of debates about whether religious beliefs can be justified or warranted and how they could be if they can. I certainly have my views on that. But there's a problem before you even get to that point. There seems to be a huge discrepancy between what a lot of religious people mean when they talk about faith and what most people mean when they talk about faith. Several recent Bible translations pick up on this and use only terms of the belief-family and trust-family for the biblical words usually translated into the faith-family of English words. I think there's something to that. But might this not be a fight worth having? Sometimes it's worth giving up a term because of the confusion about what it might mean. Do we want to give up on the faith-family of terms?

We probably don't need the term, but if we give up on it there's at least one unfortunate consequence. People will completely misunderstand much of the tradition, including Bible translations that use it in the traditional way. So I'm not ready to give up on it. It's a bit of work to explain ourselves when we use the term, and it will take work to convince those who are out of touch on this point that they actually need to do that, but it's work worth engaging in, in my view.

The NIV 2011's translator notes explain a number of their translation decisions. As I said in my initial reaction, I like a lot of their decisions about so-called gender-inclusive translation issues, even if I don't think they quite got things right.

One problem is that they avoided using the very singular "they" that their own research determined to be pretty much standard English nowadays except if it was ridiculously awkward to avoid it. As a result, they did end up with some not ridiculously awkward but still nonetheless awkward constructions just to avoid standard English. It's much more awkward to translate a personal pronoun as "the one who" or "the person who" when the alternative is simply "they".

I do appreciate their attempt not to create ambiguities with plural-form pronouns with singular reference. It would be bad to have a singular-referring "they" in a context where it's not clear if it is singular-referring (when the original language has no such ambiguity). That's one of the problems with the TNIV that they're trying to correct (and the NLT and NRSV demonstrate similar problems at points).

They chose to avoid singular-referring plural-form pronouns unless there's a singular antecedent in the context that can remove the ambiguity by serving as the most obvious antecedent. That strikes me as a good decision. Consider the examples they give:

Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. (Mark 4:25)

It's hard to hear the "they" there as referring to a group. It refers to any individual who does not have, who will even lose what they have. On the other hand, consider the following two statements:

When Jesus comes into someone's life, he is a new creation.
When Jesus comes into someone's life, they are a new creation.

The first statement is ambiguous, if it's appropriate to use "he" to refer to anyone regardless of their gender. But it doesn't actually come across that way, at least to me. I cannot read that statement as a good paraphrase of "anyone in Christ is a new creation". The "he" seems to me to have to refer to Jesus being a new creation. It just doesn't seem natural for it to be referring back to "someone". The second statement removes the ambiguity in a way that makes it impossible to take "they" to be referring to a group.

Consider also something like:

Everyone who is righteous will receive his reward.

I read that, and I think, "whose reward?" It seems to lack an antecedent. I just can't hear that sentence with "his" referring to "everyone" in the subject. I have to work very hard to make that meaning come out of the sentence, and it would require the same double-take it I encountered such a sentence in the writings of someone who died over a century ago who would have used such a statement in a much more natural way. There are people for whom this is natural, who just don't interact with the mainstream population and thus don't understand that "everyone who is righteous will receive their reward" is much more natural for most English speakers.

Combine that with the fact that the committee looked to hard data to see what actually is being used, and I think they've got some good support behind their decisions on this question. Instead of arriving at a translation result politically by assuming an ideology (whether feminist, traditionalist, or whatever else it might be), they decided to be translators and translate into the actual English language rather than English as they'd like it to be. That's how they ended up with "mankind", which I would oppose if I had a vote. But apparently it's still common enough, whereas using "him" to refer to a gender-unknown person isn't really common anymore but common enough that they left it in a number of places when the alternatives were just too awkward, ambiguous, or problematic in whatever way.

So there's a sense in which what they're doing is simply the insistence of Protestants in Bible translation since the Reformation (and most Catholics since the Counter-Reformation). They seek to translate into the language as it's actually used, and they went to an actual study providing hard data rather than going with their gut about which forms people actually use. You might prefer that the language not change in the way it's changing or that it change more rapidly, but they're Bible translators, not language architects. They're not in this in order to figure out how the language should be changing and how rapidly. They're simply trying to put the Bible into the language most people in fact do use. Given that criterion, several translation choices that are controversial (and in my view worth avoiding if you do want to move the language in the right direction or prevent it from going in the wrong direction) suddenly become the most appropriate choices, in a way that both sides of the broader debate will quickly lose much effect from their arguments, since those often have to do with maintaining or resisting some kind of status quo about language-use. If that goal is no longer legitimate, then all you have left to do is translate into forms people actually use.

NIV 2011

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The NIV 2011 is now online. My general sense after looking over their preface is that it's an improvement over the TNIV, and most of the changes in the TNIV were improvements over the NIV. Here are a few observations:

1. I'm not 100% happy with the gender-translation decisions, but it's much better than the TNIV, and the things they didn't change are the ones I've always thought were minor annoyances, while the things they did change were the more serious ones that were never the focus of the stupid complaints of most TNIV-haters. (For example, it's pretty dumb to claim that we undermine the authority of scripture by translating "adelphoi" as "brothers and sisters", when the term actually does refer to brothers and sisters.)

2. It looks like they've also made some further changes not present among the TNIV changes that were non-gender-related, including that awful NIV translation of Philemon 6 that the TNIV didn't fix. It now makes it clear that it's talking about cooperation rather than evangelism, which even a quick look at the Greek makes clear, but the translation committee couldn't see that the original NIV and TNIV "sharing your faith" sounds to most people as if it's about evangelism.

3. I don't understand their use of "mankind" rather than "humanity". It's one thing to retain masculine-form terms to refer to gender-indeterminate or gender-inclusive people or groups when altering that would change the meaning of some other element (e.g. by making the reference ambiguous as to being singular or plural or by changing the person from third-person to second-person). But why insist on "mankind" when "humanity" will do just fine? That seems like a battle with absolutely no reason to have. (I've been told that some people strangely think "humanity" can only be used in contexts referring to someone's humanity rather than to humanity as a collection of all humans. Such a view is demonstrably false. Just do a Google search of the word. So I don't count that as a real reason.)

4. They have a healthy use of singular-referring "they". They resist it in cases where it makes the singular or plural reference ambiguous when the original text is not ambiguous, which I think is good. That was a big problem in the TNIV. But they use it freely when the context makes it clear that it's singular-referring, such as when it refers back to an earlier singular term in the same sentence. Their explanation points to the long history of singular-referring "they" in English going back to the KJV (but they forgot to mention its use in Shakespeare and Jane Austen to satisfy those who continue to complain that it's bad English and never has been used by respectable writers). In any case, it's far superior to use singular-referring "they" in these unambiguous ways than to engage in the awkward expressions the NLT, TNIV, NRSV, and other so-called gender-inclusive translations have used to avoid using masculine-form pronouns to refer to gender-unknown people or gender-mixed groups. They even looked at actual studies to figure out what usage is most common, and it turns out to be the singular "they" (not that this is any surprise to me).

I may have more to say as I read some of it and think more about some of what they've done, but I'll be looking forward to seeing how they've made some compromises between TNIV style and the ESV style that they wanted to move back toward (which was why they brought Bill Mounce on board to help with). I still will prefer the ESV and HCSB in general, but on gender-translation issues I think they've managed to bring the NIV much closer to what I'd see as ideal, and I do think the ESV and HCSB have irrationally resisted a little too much toward approaching ordinary English in this way.

Gender-Inclusive

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My post on slaves and sons reminded me of a point I've been thinking that I don't think I've ever discussed with anyone or written anything about. The term "gender-inclusive" has come to be associated with a certain translation philosophy in Bible translation, namely the translation philosophy that considers it accurate to translate terms referring to multiple genders only with terms that in contemporary English can apply to multiple genders. In other words, using "he" to refer to a gender-unknown or gender-unspecified person or using "sons" to refer to a gender-mixed group would not be gender-inclusive.

It strikes me, however, that the term "gender-inclusive" is actually ambiguous, and the translations that use "sons" for a gender-mixed group or "he" to refer to a gender-unspecified or gender-unknown person are actually the gender-inclusive ones in one sense of the term. After all, they're using usually-masculine terms in a gender-inclusive way, right? They're using a sometimes gender-specific term in a gender-inclusive way. So why is it the opposite approach that always gets to be called gender-inclusive?

[cross-posted at Evangel]

Bill Mounce on Translations

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I really like Bill Mounce's attitude toward Bible translation. He recognizes different translation philosophies for different purposes, something I've consistently defended on this blog for over half a decade. He's been discussing the TNIV, ESV, and some of the debates among supporters of those translations, and I thought it would be good to direct those interested in such issues to his posts.

Luke 17:35--The ESV and Dirty Dancing makes two observations that I think are worth recognizing. First is a short discussion of colloquial translation. I frequently see complaints about certain translations not being English, and some people who know English pretty well will sometimes make such claims about things that seem very much English to me. (For an example from Wayne Leman, whose work on such matters is often very good, see this post and the comments on the issue of "in the days of".) Mounce's discussion of "grinding together" seems to me to get to the same kind of issue.

Then Are Ants People? looks at a very interesting ESV translation in Proverbs 30. The ESV uses the term "a people" to describe ants (and then again for badgers). A critic of the ESV considers this an error. Mounce defends it as getting the point of the passage much more strongly than the more dynamic translations can do and sees it as a weakness of dynamic translations.

Then I Tim 3:8 -- Double-Tongued Deacons looks at the tendency of the more formally-equivalent translations to leave ambiguities of the original language in the translation. His example is a Greek term that seems to appear nowhere else in Greek literature before this point. We're not sure exactly what it means. You can make a decision on what it might mean and get a specific meaning in your translation, but that relies on speculation. Alternatively, you can retain the sense of the original (which may have been a new word to its original hearers) by translating the components of it literally and getting "double-tongued". This may actually convey better what someone would have heard it as if it really was a newly-coined word. This isn't Mounce's preferred translation, but what he's drawing attention to is that a translation of this word the way the ESV does it should be perfectly fine, and critics who make fun of it are missing something important. He points out that you'd have to think you're reading a Harry Potter novel or something to think it means someone really has a forked tongue.

Today Mounce has announced that he will be serving on the translation committee for the revision of the NIV. I think that's an excellent move on the part of those selecting the members of the committee. Mounce understands the reasoning behind ESV decisions, since he was a member of that committee, but he's also committed to there being good reasons for different translations that use different translation philosophies, and he accepts the TNIV policy as not generally problematic. He does see specific problems in some of the ways they implemented it, but I do too. I haven't seen anything from him before on gender translation issues, so it was nice to see some of what he has to say about that in this post.

It sounded to me as if he intends to continue his series looking at these issues, so I wanted to recommend it to those who, like me, really enjoy reflecting carefully on them. The Koinonia blog in general often has good stuff (but I also find stuff there that's a lot less interesting or helpful to me, as often happens with multi-author blogs), but I think Mounce's contributions have often had some of the highest-quality content.

I noticed an interesting translation issue as I was reading Jerome Walsh's commentary on I Kings. The longstanding debate between favoring the grammatical form vs. favoring the sense of a text comes up full force in I Kings 11:1-4. Consider the NRSV translation of these verses:

King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods"; Solomon clung to these in love. Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.

Walsh makes the following comment in a footnote (p.134, n.2):

Hebrew uses the same word (nasim) where English has two different ones, "women" and "wives." The NRSV tries to capture the proper nuance to translate each case. My discussion tries to reflect the way nasim becomes a motif word in the Hebrew text.

Some people favor the sense over the form, most noticeable in translations sometimes called dynamic equivalence (e.g. in Bible translation, the NLT is a good example, and the NIV and TNIV tend in that direction often). One good thing about this kind of translation in cases like this is that you get to capture the nuance of the word in different contexts. The same Hebrew word can mean both "wife" and "woman". In different contexts, it might have the flavor of one of those rather than the other, and here it has each flavor a verse apart. If you translate them both the same way, that's harder to capture. In particular, if you talk about Solomon's women rather than Solomon's wives, in English you get the sense that it's talking about his harem. But then with Solomon you actually are talking about his harem, so maybe it's not that big a difference in his case. Still, one might argue for translating the word as "wives" in all of its occurrences so as to avoid that sense instead of translating it consistently as "women" the way Walsh does. You lose something either way, but you lose something if you translate it differently in different instances also.

I think it's easier to tell from the context what the sense might be, so it's less necessary in these verses to seek to distinguish between the senses the word can have by translating as the NRSV does, as one in one verse and the other in the other verse. What Walsh points out, though, is that you miss something important about this passage if you emphasize sense over form. The repetition of the word conveys something in the Hebrew that you lose in an English translation if it distinguishes between different senses the word can have throughout this passage. There's a literary element of the passage that the NRSV translates away.

This sort of thing often happens in the so-called dynamic translations. Translations that emphasize form, while sometimes missing elements that a sense-for-sense translation will convey, does capture some elements like this that you won't see in a translation like the NLT and often won't see even in the NIV or TNIV. There are those who regularly deride translations like the ESV or NASB as if they have no positive features as translations, seeing them as wooden artifacts of archaic language that barely make sense as English and are too hard for the average English speaker to understand. Whatever element of truth there is in that characterization, there are certainly things that the ESV and NASB preserve that you don't find in the sense-for-sense translations, and it's one reason I always like to have one around.

(The ESV does translate them the same way the NRSV does, as "women" and then "wives", I should note. This is a theoretical point about Bible translation, not an argument for a particular translation as a whole.)

NLT thoughts

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I've spent some time in recent weeks reading parts of the 2nd edition of the New Living Translation of the Bible. See my Review of Bible Translations for more information about the translations and terminology I use in this post, along with background about translation philosophy and a discussion of what I like about the NLT and what its editors intended it to be. Several features of the NLT have begun to annoy me about how it does things that I don't think I've blogged about before. Some of these are more objectively problematic than others, but I thought it would be worth recording my thoughts on them.

In the Corinthian letters, Achaia becomes Greece. At first I was a little puzzled about this. Why would they rename a particular region with a term that describes a much larger area? Is it just because one name is obscure and the other not? Do the translators care so little about precision? But as I thought about it, it occurred to me that maybe it's because the area we now know as Greece was called Achaia at the time. I have no idea if that's even true. Is it? If so, I don't have as much problem with this, even though in that time they would never have called that area Greece. It was one part of Greece. Macedonia was another part.

In the Psalms, Zion becomes Jerusalem, and Jacob becomes Israel. If all you care about is what city or nation/people you refer to, this is ok, since the names refer to the exact same thing, but it's a huge sacrifice in poetic quality, in diversity of names, and in accuracy of language. We don't usually translate names. We transliterate them. Sometimes we do so inconsistently, but there's no reason to artificially remove an entire name from the Bible just because it refers to a city that has a more common name. The only reason I can think of why they did this is that they think the purpose of translating is to make things easier to understand rather than to convey what's there in the original language. It's true that not every biblically-illiterate reader knows that Zion is Jerusalem, and that can be confusing, but it would be confusing to a Hebrew speaker who was ignorant of the same fact. This is about historical ignorance, not about the language. Should a translation change such things? This isn't a huge deal, but I don't like it.

I'm finding their treatment of saints/holy ones language to be a bit more problematic. Its occurrences in the epistles usually become "believers" and such things in the NLT, at least in the books I've been reading (especially the Corinthian letters, which I just finished, but I think the Thessalonian letters and maybe Galatians do this too). Do these translators really think the original readers would have understood what saints or holy ones were but English speakers today don't in virtue of their speaking modern English? The problem understanding this is a problem that early readers could just as easily have had. You lose actual content when you don't have this holiness language appearing as a matter-of-fact description of all believers. You do leave room for confusion by having it there, but the original Greek has that same room for confusion. Is the goal of translating the Bible really just to make it so there are no difficulties in interpretation? Or is it to convey what the original means? The NLT completely fails at the latter on this score while doing the first in terms of referent but failing even to do the first in terms of meaning.

One translation decision that especially annoyed me was Paul's "I know a man" in II Corinthians 12. It's simply "I" in the NLT. There's something Paul is doing in this passage by referring to himself in the third person and not saying that he's talking about himself. Almost all commentators accept that he's referring to himself, but there's a reason he speaks this way, and NLT readers would have no idea that he's even doing this if they don't happen to know either the original Greek or how other translations render it. It's not as if the expression usually translated "I know a man who" has an underlying meaning more like "I" when you understand how the Greek language works. In this passage, then, the NLT has failed at their goal of producing a dynamic translation and has simply paraphrased in a way that doesn't preserve the original content very well.

The goal of the NLT was to have something as readable as the original Living Bible without its being a paraphrase. This was to be a scholarly translation. When I read the original NLT, my immediate impression of its treatment of the Corinthian letters was that they were the worst of the NT books by their own criteria for what makes a translation good. I was hoping they would be improved in the second edition that I'm now reading. Perhaps they are in some ways, but this is indicative of a translation trend that makes me a lot less positive about it than I had hoped I would be when I heard they were moving the NLT a little more in the direction of the NIV and TNIV, which I see as about halfway between the formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence translations.

John Hobbins divides Bible translations into the following two categories:

Which do you prefer: (1) a translation that makes sense on its own, without off-site explanation, or (2) a translation that is a head-scratcher until an explanation is given which clears things up, and even then leaves you wondering if you have it right?

Most people who speak this way intend the former category to be what is called dynamic equivalence and the latter what is called formal equivalence. Usually the English Standard Version is held up as the most recent and best example of the second category, although some put the New Revised Standard in that place. The New Living Translation is my favored candidate for the first category. A number of others exist that I don't like at all. The New International Version and its revision Today's New International Version occupy the middle ground between the two (but the NIV seems to me to be closer to the first category than to the second, and the TNIV is closer to the second than the first, except in gender language which is closer to the first than even the NIV).

John seems to be saying that pretty much everyone really wants (1), even if they actually use one of the translations in (2), but that many examples in translations in category (1) really don't achieve the purpose very well. Henry Neufeld responds with several reasons someone might actually prefer category (2) translations while insisting on a balanced perspective of using and recommending both kinds of translations as the circumstance warrants. I agree with Henry in general, but I think he's actually ignored some of the reasons why someone might want to use the kinds of translations usually put into the second category. The rest of this post is adapted from a comment I left on Henry's post.

Here are several reasons to prefer certain translations that are often classified in category 2 that don't require sitting at a desk with all your study tools present. One complaint against the NIV and TNIV that I believe also applies to the NLT has to do with consistency of translation. You always know when the KJV, NASB, and ESV are translating 'hesed', because it's translated as the same expression every time. All you need to know is that the KJV uses 'lovingkindness' for that term and for no other term and that the ESV uses 'steadfast love' or whatever it uses. When I read the TNIV, I often wonder which term is being used. It's actually the TNIV that I need my study tools to understand, not the ESV.

The same goes for terms often translated in the ESV as "flesh". While the ESV isn't as consistent on this as some of the other Tyndale-tradition translations, it's far more consistent than the TNIV or NLT. When I read the TNIV and see a term in that general ballpark, I often wonder if it's the same term usually translated "flesh" in the category 2 translations, but I usually know if it is by simply reading it in the ESV. So the category 2 translations are again in practice working out to fit the category 1 description and vice versa.

On the gender-inclusive issue, the same thing happens with 'adelphoi'. The ESV always translates it as "brothers". When I see "brothers and sisters" in the TNIV, I usually wonder if it says something explicit about sisters or if it's the translation philosophy supplying that.

Now you have to know something about Bible translation to be in a position to benefit from these translations the way I do, although you can get some of it just from reading the introduction to the translation, which doesn't require sitting at a desk with lots of study tools. Also, if you can think globally about what you read and have a good memory for exact words you can benefit somewhat in these ways without such prior knowledge, because you can observe much of it on your own. I'm not saying that this is a reason everyone should use these translations. But it's one of my primary reasons for liking the ESV, and it has nothing to do with the reasons Henry gives or the context he suggests for when someone would want to have a translation like this at hand.

There are those who think there's something immoral about translating the measurements in the Bible into contemporary units (e.g. miles or gallons). They claim that it's anachronistic, because the writer of the passage wouldn't have had a clue what a pound or an inch is. I can accept this argument with respect to passages where the numeric values are clearly symbolic, as in the temple measurements in Revelation. Translations that remove that by using contemporary units and thus different numbers are removing a key enough feature of the text that it's worth keeping the original values and units. But some people think it's changing the Bible to use contemporary units anywhere.

When I was reading Andrew Hill's commentary on Chronicles, it occurred to me that the Chronicler does exactly the thing such people spend so much effort calling evil. He translates units used in the early Kings text into the Persian units of his own day. People who make this claim are almost all inerrantists. If they were to remain consistent, they would have to admit that the Chronicler was inspired by God to do something they think is immoral, and thus they'd have to give up inerrancy, at least about Chronicles, or give up their view that this kind of translation is always bad.

I came across an oblique reference to this while scanning my file of unblogged things that I've thought about blogging, but I don't have any references. I thought it was an interesting enough point that I figured it deserved a blog entry, even if I couldn't remember what part of the book this occurred in.

Trust Without Action

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Kenny Pearce looks at the famous statement in James 2:20, usually translated as "faith without works is dead". He suggests a better translation, because 'faith' means a lot of different things, often something very different from what the biblical authors meant by 'pistis', and because 'works' isn't exactly ordinary English among those not raised with church language. (Neal Morse, formerly of Spock's Beard, expresses in one song that his response to this statement was that it was good, because he hadn't worked in a year.)

Kenny's translation: "Trust without action is dead." That does seem to me to be a lot better than the traditional translation.

Some might push replacing "is dead" with something more clear, and that might be fine according to a dynamic-enough translation principle, but I don't think this is a case where that's needed. The metaphor of something accomplishing nothing or being worthless because it's dead isn't exactly unclear in English, and I doubt it's less clear in English than it would have been to Greek-speaking people in the first century. This is one place where I'd argue for retaining the metaphor rather than translating it to what it's a metaphor for. It's things like that that lead me to avoid the more dynamic translations, even though I've got problems with the more formally-equivalent translations being too formally-equivalent. I'd rather not lose metaphors in general. But you can still translate clearly with contemporary English without translating away all the metaphors that do translate well into English metaphors, as Kenny shows. This is what I'd really like to see in a contemporary translation, and I don't think anyone has really done that at this point.

I was struck by the HCSB translation of Matthew 5:

But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Fool!' will be subject to the  Sanhedrin. But whoever says, 'You moron!' will be subject to  hellfire.

There's a footnote after "Fool!" that says:

Lit Raca, an Aram term of abuse similar to "airhead"

On the one hand, I don't generally approve of translating words that in the Greek are foreign (in this case Aramaic) into English translations as English. It's not a Greek word, so translating it into English should involve keeping the foreign word as a foreign word, other things being equal. But Matthew's readers would have know the word, or he wouldn't have used it. English-speakers generally don't. So other things might not be equal in this case.

That issue aside, I think the HCSB has it right with "moron" and "airhead". Those words have much more force than the typical "fool" used in this passage. The downside is that Jesus may well have intended a connection with the fool of Proverbs, who usually is called a fool in English translations. But the English "fool" doesn't exactly capture that either. The term "moron" really does capture the anger element Jesus is getting at, and "airhead" isn't bad for "Raca".

It would be fun to ask people where the word "moron" is in the Bible and see what they come up with. It would be interesting seeing how certain people respond to Jesus saying that calling someone a moron is sufficient for deserving to burn in hell (I'm thinking of people who see Jesus as all mercy as a revision from the wrath of God in the Old Testament). All it takes is calling someone a moron. I know the Sermon on the Mount has pretty high standards, but think about that for a little bit.

A colleague of mine where I teach is sort of a stickler for assigning grades according to the traditional but now completely obsolete approach whereby a C is average. He seeks to have the median student in the class earning grades in the C range, with an equal number of people in the D range as in the B range and as many failing as earning an A. His argument is that this is what these grades have always meant, and grade inflation is a violation of the meaning of the grades.

It struck me today that this argument is very similar to the argument language conservatives give against gender-inclusive language. The English language has changed since the time the ordinary English speaker could hear a sentence like "Surely every moral man must be appalled at the judicial execution of the innocent or at the punishment, torture, and killing of the innocent" and not wonder what the author thinks about moral women and children. (The sentence is from Kai Nielsen's "Against Moral Conservatism" from Ethics 82 (1972), which my students had to read this week.) Gone are the days when a sentence like that could make it into publication in a top philosophy journal.

So too have the standards changed when it comes to what letter grades mean. A grade of a C just doesn't indicate merely satisfactory anymore. Students know this. Most faculty know this. You can pound your fists and complain about this sorry state of affairs, and maybe you're right that it's regrettable (although I see no reason why we should have to stick with any particular arbitrary assignment of letters to standards). What I don't think will ultimately pass muster is sticking to your guns and giving people grades in a way that's wholly inconsistent with what the standards in fact are by basing it on some system of giving grades that hardly anyone follows anymore. Doing so means you're not giving people the grades you think you're giving them. This is why I can't in good conscience follow my colleague's policy.

This is not to say that college students today are as competent as in the past, which may well not be the case. It doesn't mean the work that now counts as satisfactory is what should count as satisfactory. Those are completely separate issues. All I'm saying is that the meaning of the letter grades has changed in a way that those who hold onto the traditianal system of assigning grades have been resisting to the point where the grades they assign are dishonest, even if not deliberately so. Grade inflation may be a problem in other ways, but one element of grade inflation is simply a fact, and resisting it in the way my colleague does seems to me to count as academic dishonesty.

Rick Mansfield finished his top ten Bible translations series about a month ago, and I never got around to linking to his last few posts:

The Modern Language Bible: New Berkeley Version: This was my mom's favorite translation while I was growing up. The Honorable Mentions: KJV, NET (i.e. New English Translation, i.e. NET Bible), Cotton Patch Version, NRSV. Final Thoughts. For links to the rest of the series, see here.

It took Rick over a year to finish the series, and he put a lot of work into it over that time. I highly recommend it to those interested in Bible translations who haven't looked at it as I've linked to it over the past year-plus.

Rick Mansfield has finally come back to his top ten Bible translations series. He'd gotten through eight translations by November, and he has now posted his review of his ninth, the Wycliffe New Testament. See my discussion of his Good News Translation review for links to previous entries in his series. Rick's post is a good read and provides an interesting discussion of one of the earliest English translations of the Bible (1388), which unusually include the Epistle to Laodicea, all of which (it's very short) is included in Rick's post, along with several samples of other passages, with such cool words as 'anents', 'parfit', and 'advowtry', along with some no less interesting turns of phrase that you wouldn't hear anymore.

Kenny Pearce has a thoughtful post on the continuum between what some might call more literal and what they would call less literal Bible translations. I wish I had time to comment on it myself, but I thought some readers of this blog might appreciate it.

Leland Ryken's Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences is not really a guide to different Bible translations, as a the title might suggest, but a very short polemic against popular Bible translations that fall under the category commonly known as dynamic equivalence translations (e.g. the New Living Translation and to a lesser degree the New International Version) and in favor of what he calls essentially literal translations (e.g. the New American Standard Bible or Ryken's preferred translation, the English Standard Version). Dynamic equivalence translations are less concerned about matching every word with a word in English (or some smaller unit of meaning) and more interested in capturing the sense or basic meaning of each sentence (or some larger unit of meaning).

I'm generally in agreement with Ryken on some of the issues that drive his arguments in this book, but I think he way overstates his case far too often to give this book a good recommendation. Here is where I agree with Ryken. We ought to be more careful in translating the Bible than some of the more dynamic translations often are. When there is an ambiguity in the text that scholars do not tend to agree on, we should seek to preserve the ambiguity in the translation. When translators can avoid working too much interpretation into their text without sacrificing genuine English language grammar and semantics, they should do so.

However, Ryken does not stop at such moderated claims. He argues that it is always wrong to interpret the text when translating, which is impossible. English words are usually not exactly equivalent in meaning to Greek or Hebrew words, and any translation will be inexact. Sometimes inexactness in one way is better than inexactness in another, but Ryken seems to disallow any interpretation at all, which strikes me as ignoring the fact that translators must interpret before figuring out how to translate. How do you know which words to translate in which ways unless you know what they mean in the particular context? That takes interpretation.

Compare the following two translations:

1 "Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. 2 "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed."Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft. 4 If the stolen animal is found alive in their possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—they must pay back double. [Exodus 22:1-4, TNIV]
1 When someone steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, the thief shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. The thief shall make restitution, but if unable to do so, shall be sold for the theft. 4 When the animal, whether ox or donkey or sheep, is found alive in the thief’s possession, the thief shall pay double. 2 If a thief is found breaking in, and is beaten to death, no bloodguilt is incurred; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, bloodguilt is incurred.[Exodus 22:1-4, NRSV]

Do you notice anything funny about the NRSV translation? They've transposed the order of the verses because verses 1 and 4 are about a similar subject matter, while verses 2 and 3 are about another subject matter. They've assumed that some copyist or editor was too stupid to notice that they'd moved the verses out of the original order and thus split up the original unit of verses 1 and 4. (Technically, they've also made what the NIV has as v.3b into part of v.1 as well, but it's more complicated to describe it if you factor that in.)

A more likely explanation for the only order we have in any Hebrew text (or any ancient translation) is that it's deliberately ordered the way it is as a chiasm, a common literary device in Hebrew literature. In this case, the chiastic structure is a simple ABA, with the A laws as bookends around the B law. Simple chiasms are common in this section of Exodus. Two of the more obvious examples include Exodus 21:12-14 and Exodus 21:15-17, both ABA structures. It seems, then, that the NRSV order is just a premature disordering of an already ordered text out of a complete lack of sensitivity to the kind of literary structure Hebrew literature regularly displays. It's an interesting example of cultural insensitivity leading to a sense of cultural superiority, i.e. the attitude a modern, western ordering would be superior.

In Christ

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Wayne Leman at Better Bibles Blog argues that the Greek phrase usually translated "in Christ" in the New Testament would better be rendered in other ways. His main reason is that the English expression "in Christ" just doesn't mean very much to most English speakers who aren't thoroughly steeped in this expression from English translations of the Bible. I generally agree with this sort of argument when it applies to things that would have been very clear in the original language but are not at all clear in contemporary English, but I think there are sometimes other factors that count against such a translation, and this case may well have several of them.

My first thought on reading his post was to ask whether this have sounded like natural Greek grammar to its original audience. I've always gotten the sense that it wouldn't have. If that's right, then we do Paul a disservice by translating the unnatural form out of it. But I don't have good information on this. The only extra-biblical case I can think of is Epimenides' "in him we live and move and have our being", which Paul quotes in Acts 17 when speaking to the Epicureans and Stoics in their own terms. But was this a normal way of speaking in religious contexts in the Greco-Roman world, or was is strange to Epimenides' context and still strange when the NT authors used it?

It's also worth pointing out that this isn't just "in Christ". Paul regularly says "in him" and "in whom", and John has a lot of similar expressions, e.g. "in me", "in the Father", "in the Son". I believe we get expressions like "in God", "in Jesus", "in the Lord", and even "in the Beloved" in various places, and then there are the compounds like "in the Lord Jesus" or "in Christ Jesus".

Update: I hadn't read the article very carefully and was taking the ESV blog's tying together of the Tickle quote with the issue the post was raising, which was functional equivalence. My brother pointed this out to me, and I looked again at the article itself, and he's right. The ESV blog (they don't indicate who is responsible for the post in question) has tied Tickle's quote to something that it's not even close to being about. [Update: They have now added some clarificatory words, and some of my criticism here no longer applies. I have removed some of it.] This post has now been edited several times to correct several errors and to focus on the main issue rather than the original portrayal of Tickle's words. The comment thread may not be as understandable now, but I want the post itself to represent the argument I had originally intended to give, without distractions from things that turned out to be mistakes that aren't really relevant to begin with.

The ESV Blog points to an article by Daniel Radosh in The New Yorker that discusses Bible translations. The ESV blogger's presentation of the quotes from the article was originally confusing. They quoted an argument from Phyllis Tickle against adding all sorts of commercialized nonsense to Bibles to attract younger readers but placed it in a context about functional equivalence that seemed to indicate that Tickle was against functional equivalence translations. They have since partially fixed that problem (but not good enough for me), so I will focus mostly on the post's argument and not that other issue in what follows. The rest of this post is therefore an argument why I think functional equivalence translations can be very good (even if there are plenty of circumstances in which I would rather have a formally equivalent translation, of which the ESV is the one I use the most, for the record).

Rick Mansfield continues his series reviewing Bible translations, this time with the Good News Translation, otherwise known as The Good News Bible, Today's English Version, Good News for Modern Man, and various other names. (Rick explains the name issue in the post, by the way.)

For other entries in the series, see the entries on the HCSB, NASB, NLT (with an addendum), TNIV, Message, REB, and NJB.

I have three observations about the examples Rick chose to highlight this translation and one picky comment about his choice of language in one a side point. First, look at the Proverbs example he gives and his comment below. I actually noticed the parallelism issue before I got to his comments on it, and I have to say that it bothers me much more than it bothers him. The structural features of Hebrew poetry often do give clues to meaning, and this is a case where the loss of the structure is entirely unnecessary. Exactly why do you need to lose the parallelism to keep the meaning and to put it into modern English? That strikes me as just unnecessary. It's one thing to give up the form reluctantly in order to preserve some aspect of the meaning, as dynamic translations often do, but here I'm guessing they give it up because they think it makes the content clearer. I fail to see how.

At Better Bibles Blog, Wayne Leman and several others often complain about inverted negatives in the ESV. [See Wayne's comment here, for instance.] Inverted negatives are a kind of construction that you find regularly in the KJV and some of its heirs that do not ever appear in contemporary English unless someone is deliberately trying to sound archaic. Yet the ESV continues it, largely out of respect for the KJV tradition and a desire to avoid changing the language many of the biblically literature find familiar to them and expect in a Bible translation.

Matthew 6:13 is an example. The ESV translates it "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The normal English way of saying this in our day would be "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The archaic reversal of the negative is simply not contemporary English, and it's contrary to the purpose of translating into contemporary English (to be understandable to ordinary readers not familiar with Biblese) to translate with inverted negatives.

Contemporary translations not in the Tyndale tradition tend not to translate with inverted negatives, however. The HCSB, a translation similar in many ways to the ESV, translates Matthew 6:13 as "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." The NET gives exactly the same translation. This rendering is much better as contemporary English than the ESV translation. The GNB (TEV) says, "Do not bring us to hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One." The ISV has "And never bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." The NRSV translates it as "And do not bring us to the fiery trial, but rescue us from the evil one." I think this is more likely referring to temptation than to trial, and there's no indication of anything fiery in this verse, but the structure of the sentence here is correct (and "rescue" is far better in contemporary English than the old-fashioned sounding "deliver").

This morning I was reading the TNIV of the Luke parallel (Luke 11:4), and I discovered that it uses the inverted negative. In fact, it's exactly the same translation as in the ESV. This is also true of Matthew 6:13, and it's true of the NIV renderings of both verses. That led me to check several translations, and the other one that struck me as interesting was the NLT: "And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." That raises an interesting translation issue that I think is worth spending some time thinking about.

Three members of the ESV Bible translation committee are very vocal against the use of inclusive language for human beings when it means using different forms in English than the original language has. That's why the ESV tends to translate 'adelphoi' as "brothers" rather than as "brothers and sisters" or "dear friends" as some of the inclusive language translations are now doing (cf. the NRSV, NLT, TNIV, and CEV). The inclusive language translations tend to avoid using masculine pronouns when the group they refer to includes women or girls, and thus some of the inclusive language translations will use the singular 'they', which is pretty much standard in contemporary English but is not really new to English in recent years anyway, despite the claims of those who have resisted it. It's recognized in the Oxford English Dictionary and the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

So it is indeed a great irony that the ESV itself contains an unambiguous example of the singular 'they'. Peter Kirk discovered it, and Rick Mansfield has some further thoughts on it. I agree with their general assessment that this is a problem for a translation that explicitly states in its translation policy that it does not translate in this sort of way. That suggests that someone in the editing process did not notice that a translator had done this, either out of a rushed job or because the editor in question, like the translator in question, is so familiar with the singular 'they' that they did not notice. So I'm in full agreement that this is in itself evidence against the view that the singular 'they' is bad English. I do, however, have some reservations about how we might frame our criticism of the ESV on this. In particular, I think we need to be careful not to treat the Grudem-Poythress-Ryken view as representative of the ESV translation committee in general.

'Human' as a Noun

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Suzanne McCarthy posts about 'human' as a noun. I'm not sure if I've ever encountered anyone saying that 'human' is not a noun. I consider it to be a strange enough view, given that the word 'human' clearly does gets used as a noun in all sorts of contexts. That's just a fact about the English language, and any dictionary that fails to acknowledge that is simply displaying ignorance. But then people who think some arbitrarily selected body of people can arbitrate prescriptions for what counts as English will come up with all sorts of features of common English that they will declare to be wrong.

While I do think it's a mistake to think 'human' is not a noun in English, I also think there are times when people use it as a noun that sound very unnatural to me. Sometimes it sounds much more natural to say 'person' or 'human being' or to change the syntax so the noun is 'anyone' or 'someone'. This is not because 'human' cannot be a noun but because using it as a noun suggests a contrast with other sorts of creatures. We can talk about what's true of a human as opposed to an ape. It seems strange to say that you went to answer your doorbell, and you discovered a human there. When you say that, it sounds as if you were expecting the neighbor's dog, an ogre, or aliens from another galaxy. Since Suzanne's post was about Bible translations rather than just good English grammar or style, I have to suggest that contemporary translations that use 'human' as a noun need to be careful to do so when it's natural to do so. Since that isn't always the case, other methods might be preferable so as not to give the wrong sense.

Interpretive Translation

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A lot of people complain loudly and frequently about what they call "interpretive translation". Most of these people are criticizing what is commonly called dynamic translation, which includes translations that tend to translate the sense of an expression as opposed to favoring the formal properties of the sentence. Either favoring can obscure the other, and good translators will know how to find the right balance to express the original meaning best. But the complainers don't understand the complexities of translation very well, or they would realize that sometimes capturing the sense of the original means sacrificing the ability to capture its form. Thus translations such as the NIV, TNIV, or NLT will come under their wrath, and they will favor translations such as the ESV, NASB, or NKJV.

One deep irony of this is that lots of interpretive translation goes on in those translations that people are, following the ESV translators, now calling "essentially literal". Wayne Leman points out one example. A lot of these translations that are supposed to avoid interpretive translation do exactly that all the time in ways that their supporters consider the right way to translate those passages. Wayne's example is in capitalizing words like 'son' or 'man' when the translators interpret them to be referring messianically to Jesus. But this is indeed an interpretation, even if the interpretation is based on other scriptural passages that quote it and apply it to Jesus.

Someone wanting to translate this way might defend it on the grounds that interpretations based on other parts of the Bible are infallible and thus can serve as the good kind of interpretation. After all, if Hebrews or Acts quotes Psalm 2 about Jesus, then can't we be 100% sure that it's simply talking about Jesus? If we believe the Bible to be infallible in its quotations, then this kind of interpretation is God's own interpretation, and thus it's true. Whats right about this is that someone who takes the Bible to be infallible should see the Bible's quotation of itself as infallible, i.e. it couldn't be an error in quotation. What's wrong about this argument, however, is that our interpretation of what the quotation is doing might be wrong. If Acts 13 applies Psalm 2 to Jesus, that doesn't mean its original referent is Jesus. It might be referring to the Davidic line in general in most of what it says, with Jesus representing the ideal Davidic king and thus fitting into its reference but not encompassing the entirety of its reference. Those who capitalize the pronouns about Jesus or the word 'son' are thus engaging in the bad kind of interpretive translation in this case, because it might actually give the wrong result.

I'm way behind on my Language Log reading, but I just noticed Wayne Leman blogging about this Mark Liberman post about an instance of the singular 'they' in the KJV. I know there are manby older instances, but this is the KJV.

This isn't new to me (see here), but one counterargument in the comments on Wayne's post is worth responding to. The anonymous commenter argues that it couldn't be a singular 'they' but must instead be some roundabout form (particular to this example and not usable in other singular 'they' examples from the same period), and the only real argument for this is that the verb seems to be plural. It's 'have', not the singular 'has' that would be expected if you had a singular subject.

There's one major problem with this. Singular 'they' (in the newer dialects of English that have it as a regular feature nowadays) does not take a 'has' but a 'have'. It's a singular 'have' as well. The following sentence clearly has a singular subject and verb in the second clause: "Someone took my pencil, and they have it on their person." So why couldn't we read 'have' in the KJV as singular, just as it is in today's English?

I've been busy enough lately that I've lost touch with several blogs I've been trying to maintain connections with, and one of the things I've let slip is checking for Rick Mansfield's Bible translation reviews. He's now done the REB and the NJB, two translations I've spent a lot less time in.

I have little to say about these reviews, since I don't know either translation very well, but I did notice something interesting in the comments on the second piece, which arose from the NJB's use of 'Yahweh' to transliterate God's name in Hebrew rather than the standard English translation policy of using 'the LORD' for that name. Since orthodox Jews can't use such a translation because of that, it led to a discussion of the practice some Jewish people have of writing out 'G-d' so they don't use God's name. Apparently that very practice is viewed as sacrilege by many orthodox Jews, despite its opposite intent. This makes sense, though, because 'God' is not the name of God to an orthodox Jew. The tetragrammaton is, i.e. what would be transliterated as 'YHWH'. The fact that 'God' is used in English as a name for God is irrelevant, since it's not the name God revealed himself as having. Thus orthodox Jews see this practice of leaving out the vowel in 'God' as sacrilege, because it raises the status of this English word to the level of the Hebrew name that God used to reveal himself. That's an interesting irony.

A common urban legend in evangelical circles (and probably elsewhere too) is that 'ekklesia' in the New Testament (the word usually translated as "church") means "called out ones". This is simply false. It means "assembly" or "congregation". Its etymology derives from the sense that you can call together or call forth a group of people to gather for a purpose, but its meaning in the time of the Hellenistic period, when the NT was written, is simply a group of people gathered together. The literal translation should be "gathering" rather than "called out ones". See Jollyblogger's recent post on this for more information, with some careful nuance about various ways this etymological fallacy can occur. Note carefully his point that this has some relevance to George Barna's "assembly that never assembles" movement. He also makes several other nice little points in the process.

The Message Review

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Rick Mansfield's latest Bible translation review is up, this time for The Message.

For earlier posts in the series, see the NASB, TNIV, HSCB, and NLT reviews. Next up is the Revised English Bible.

NLT Review

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Rick Mansfield posted his review of the NLT last week. I hadn't heard much about the second edition. It sounds pretty good to me. See also his addendum.

For earlier posts in the series, see the NASB, TNIV, and HSCB reviews. I'm curious what he'll say about the Message, which is next up.

NASB Review

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Rick Mansfield's series reviewing Bible translations has another entry, this time on the New American Standard Bible. See also his earlier reviews of the HCSB and TNIV, which I linked to here.

Rick Mansfield has started what looks to be an excellent series on his favorite Bible translations. So far he's done the HCSB and the TNIV. I have to say that I agree with him in the main, with some disagreements expressed in the comments. I'm especially appreciative to see him liking the TNIV for what it is and seeing what it's good for (enough for it to come in second place) while preferring a more formally equivalent translation for his own primary use, because that's exactly my own attitude.

In the comments on the TNIV post, I challenged one of Rick's statements. He says, "From a grammatical standpoint, one of the most controversial aspects of the TNIV's implementation of inclusive language is the use of plural pronouns for singular antecedents. This is in keeping with the way we informally speak, but technically it's a grammatical error." I responded that this use of 'they' is actually singular and pointed him to the linguists at the Language Log blog. He replied that he's never seen it in a grammar book and thus won't believe it until he does. I tried to respond, but Haloscan wouldn't let me leave a comment with lots of links, so I'm just posting it here instead.

Well, it is in a grammar book, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Here is an interview where one of the authors of that book, Geoff Pullum, explains and defends the view on this issue taken in the book. Pullum also blogs at Language Log, and several posts there argue for this view. I managed to dig up a few posts on this here, here, and here.

There's also a strong history of the singular 'they', including a number of the finest writers of the English language and the KJV translators.

Adam Knew His Wife

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The ESV Bible Blog discusses the literal rendering of the term for knowledge in sexual contexts. Some contemporary translations treat this as a mere euphemism for the physical act of sex. Since we don't use the word 'know' in English in this way, he argument goes, we should use an expression that says what really took place, a physical act of sex. I think this loses not just a connotation of what the original expression says. I think it loses the very reason that word was used to begin with. I do note that the ESV doesn't always keep the original word, as the post admits. It just treats this argument as presumptive, as I think it should be treated. Other factors might turn out to be more important in any given passage. I don't know if I'd always agree in particular cases, but I think that's the right approach.

However, I think one argument the post discusses but does not endorse seems to me to be too far, and I think what it shows is a deeper problem in translation to begin with. The argument is that translating the Hebrew word for knowledge in these contexts as "have relations with" is banal and does not capture the element of knowing in the original. Is this true? Maybe so, but if so then I wish it were not true. Has the sense of relationship and relating to someone completely gone out of expression "to have sexual relations"? If so, this is a further slide down a path we've already seen in the past. Intercourse was once a close sharing, of human interaction on a deep level. Now it's sex, and it's used in he clinical, banal way that "have relations with" is claimed to be used. Consider also the word 'intimacy'. We can say that two people were intimate, and we might just mean that they did the nasty in exactly the sense of performing the physical act, with no sense that they were close in any other way.

Tyler Williams' Love Poetry for Biblical Literalists is hilarious. I just can't get over that picture.

For an encapsulation of the Song that does transfer nicely into a contemporary context, see Michael Card's "Arise My Love", which I sang to Sam at our wedding.

New Bible Translations

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Fiction I've Finished Recently

Non-Fiction I've Finished Recently