Saturday, November 28, 2009

Oh me, Oh Translations

I was writing on Paul this morning and came to a place where I wanted to quote 1 Corinthians. I had planned to use the TNIV going forward in my popular writing. But now I hear Zondervan is phasing it out. They're going to revise the NIV with Doug Moo in charge.

So now the TNIV is a bad choice for both the philosophy book and the Paul books and Bible studies I'm under contract to write--a bad choice for promoting in our new seminary or in our undergraduate program. I'm not going to use the outdated NIV or wait till 2011 to finish these books. Frankly I haven't felt that Zondervan is very Wesleyan-Arminian friendly anyway. Why reward them by supporting their translations?

What version to use? There is the ESV, which I suspect is the best literal translation overall currently on the market. But I eschew the politics of its origins. It was created in reaction to the pro-women in ministry trajectory of Christianity. Although thankfully I don't think these political dynamics have harmed the translation I find myself hating to associate myself or Wesleyan institutions with it given what it represents sociologically. Perhaps I will eventually give in but I am still holding off stubbornly, not wanting to support these forces in evangelicalism.

There is the NLT, which is great for preaching, but is a dynamic translation and so not suitable for detailed study of individual passages. Its strength is overall communication, not being able to hear the details of the original meaning.

So I find myself this morning using the NRSV in the quote. It is the choice of mainstream biblical scholarship anyway and bests the ESV in literalness if you understand its dynamic translation of "brothers" with "brothers and sisters" and such. I am not opposed to that dynamic translation for the purposes of communication and it was, after all, part of the TNIV too. Its just that the male-orientation of the original texts was, whether I like it or not, an aspect of the original text, just as those who do not use inclusive language today implicitly function in a male-oriented way.

We have to accept the fact that the original context of the Bible was sexist in its orientation. We can't be as Christians in our context, not and be faithful to the core message of Christ. But when we are studying the original meaning of the Bible, we simply have to deal with the fact that we are reading male-oriented texts, as all the texts of the day were. This is one area, interestingly, where Western society as a whole--even the fallen world at large--has thankfully moved closer to the kingdom than the New Testament itself, since its books were truth incarnated within the thought patterns of its day.

God took where they were, met them there, and pointed them in the direction of the kingdom. Pity those like the Grudems and Pipers of the evangelical world who mistake the wineskins for the wine.


Mark Schnell said...

Come on, Ken. You know you can't bring yourself to give in to the ESV because Piper loves it so much. ;-)

Seriously though, that was one of my hang ups about using it but I finally started to. I use it as my default english version in Bibleworks and have even been using it in my personal Bible reading.

Norman Wilson said...

At what point do those who confuse the wineskins with the wine cease being Evangelicals? Not much Good News just chewing on them instead of drinking the contents. Pitying them is appropriate, I guess, but I'm a lot more concerned about those who are misguided by them.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I look at the wine as the spirit of man/holy spirit coming to maturity, where the old wineskin is outgrown, in however that "tradition" was understood.

Tradition serves a purpose but is not THE purpose. Man is the purpose.

Tradition is whatever one depends on for "truth". Truth is resident in man through the use and development of his reason, gifts and talents.

So, the only reason to worry about another is if they do not have the proper encouragement to develop whatever they need to...

Mike Aubrey said...

Ken, they're not Zondervan's translations. They're IBS/Biblica's -- supporting IBS = supporting Bible translation work around the world (as is supporting the NLT).

Ken Schenck said...

Mike, what is the precise relationship between Zondervan and Biblica? I know Zondervan got the flack for the TNIV. Did it commission Biblica to make these translations? I know it also sells the NRSV although it didn't commission it.

Shaylin said...

I agree that on the whole the ESV is a good translation. I'm not sure, though, that it has entirely escaped harm from its political origins. There are a few places where what seems to me an inferior (or even problematic) translation appears to have been chosen specifically to undercut egalitarian arguments based on it. The best example I can think of off the top of my head is Romans 16:7. Unfortunately, those few bad appls spoil the whole bushel for me, and I tend to avoid the ESV because of it.

Ken Schenck said...

Forgot about Rom. 16:7... that's enough reason to me not to use it :-)

Marc said...

I grew up on the NIV but when I encountered Wright who is always shredding it (esp. Rom 3:21) I switched to the NRSV. I know Piper uses the ESV so that's reason enough for me to be suspicious of it.

Mark Schnell said...

Entering back peddle mode!

Ken and Shaylin: are you referring to "episemoi en tois apostolois."" (Sorry I don't know how to use a Greek font here) which the ESV translates as "well known to the apostles?"

The other translations I looked at use "among the apostles." If this is what you are referring to that is problematic? If it is then I'm in full agreement with you!

Are there any other major issues like this with the ESV?

Ken Schenck said...

I'm being somewhat light hearted, Mark. But that is one place where the translators did wear their theology on their sleaves. Like I emailed Moo in relation to several NIV passages, why not let the interpreter decide. "notable among the apostles" is ambiguous like the Greek. Why not let the reader decide?

Mike Aubrey said...

Good question.

The origin of the NIV, TNIV, & NIV20011 is all found in Biblica. Biblica commissioned the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), who alone has authority to change the text of the NIV, TNIV, & NIV2011.

Zondervan is the sole licensee of the NIV translation family for North America.

Here's a length explanation directly from Stan Gundry:

The Production of the TNIV/NIV Bible

It's worth reading.

Mike Aubrey said...

Like I emailed Moo in relation to several NIV passages, why not let the interpreter decide. "notable among the apostles" is ambiguous like the Greek. Why not let the reader decide?

Debated? Yes. Ambiguous? Probably not. The debate isn't about ambiguity, it's about mutually exclusive meanings for the phrase. I'd put up 50 bucks that a Greeks speaker wouldn't have had any problem with it.