Friday, October 14, 2011

Translation Recommendation for Wesleyan Church

The Wesleyan Church has used the NIV generally for decades, but as we now know, the old NIV is being phased out and churches are having to decide what to use now and what to put in their pews.  I have waffled on a recommendation, but one has finally crystallized in my mind.  I'm recommending the new NIV 2011.  Here are my reasons:

1. Continuity
There are many other fine translations out there.  Some Wesleyans, for example, were involved in the translation of the NLT.  The NRSV remains the version that most scholars use and that you will use if you go to Asbury.  The ESV is now very popular among Calvinist evangelicals. The CEB is a new translation that has many fine features.

But to decide in any one of these directions requires a new direction for Wesleyans, and it is unclear that any of these are so much better as to tip the scales in their direction.  Our people are used to the NIV.  Why not stay with it?

2. It is an improvement on the old NIV.
To be honest, I used to make fun of the NIV from a scholarly perspective.  It added words here and there, wore its theology on its sleaves.  It was also a product of its age, meaning that it used "he" and "man" all over the place when it isn't actually there in the Greek or Hebrew. A lot of people think that the new NIV is caving in to political pressure in taking most of this language out.  But much of the time, it's actually more accurate to go neutral.

In fact, I think some who pushed the ESV for this very reason were surprised to find out how much of that language it took out.  Much of the time, the Greek doesn't specify the gender, meaning that doing away with this language is actually more accurate.

I came across this example.  Someone was concerned that the new NIV of 2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, "If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come."  They thought the ESV was more accurate to say, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation."  But the Greek simply says, "If anyone is in Christ, new creation."  The ESV here thus makes the original more masculine than it was.

There are numerous places where the new NIV has improved things that I used to critique.  For example, the old NIV of Colossians 2:14 read that Christ had "canceled the written code, with its regulations." The NIV incorporates good evidence from archaeological discoveries that have led almost all scholars to agree that what Christ cancelled here was "the charge of our legal indebtedness." The translation of 2 Corinthians 5:17 above in another example of taking into account some recent scholarship on 2 Corinthians.

Bottom line: The new NIV is a better translation than the original NIV, and it was headed by evangelicals with absolutely solid evangelical credentials like Doug Moo of Wheaton.

3. Even more Wesleyan now!
I would claim that the NIV was originally a product of the primarily Calvinist-evangelical powers that be, despite the fact that Stephen Paine of Houghton was involved with it.  In my opinion, the ESV has become the new baby of this power block.  The new NIV, interestingly, seems to fit better with Wesleyan theology than the old one did or than the ESV does.

Notice, for example, that the new NIV calls Phoebe a deacon in Romans 16:1.  The ESV, since it was produced by people who generally resist women in ministry, could not bring itself to do this.  So in the ESV, Phoebe is just a servant of the church.  Meanwhile, while Junia in Romans 16:7 of the NIV is outstanding "among" the apostles, in the ESV she is "well known" to the apostles.  The new NIV lets you decide if she was an apostle.  The ESV doesn't want to give you the chance to think something awful like that.

Let's be clear about this "gender neutral" stuff.  The NIV only uses "brothers and sisters" when that's what we would all agree the original meant.  It never adds women to the translation when they weren't there originally in the meaning. While a translation would not have to do this, certainly it fits well with Wesleyan theology.  Sometimes rendering the neutrality of the original requires changing a singular to a plural to make good English, but in some places this may actually be less of a change than translating with "he."

All translations involve a loss of meaning.  You simply cannot render the exact meaning of something in one language into another.  All translations are approximations and interpretations.  If we are really this concerned about precision, we had better stop using translations altogether and learn Greek and Hebrew. Fine with me.  We'll do away with all translations and read the real Bible. ;-)

I wish everyone could do a quick study of the way the NT authors use the OT.  What you'll find is that they definitely fall in the "dynamic equivalence" camp.  Think The Message.  They make the new NIV look like the King James.

So there's my recommendation to the church.  Let's stick with the NIV.  It's our tradition.  It's more accurate than the old NIV.  It's more Wesleyan than the ESV.


Nathaniel said...

The problem with the 2 Corinthians 5:17 example is that the new NIV has resorted to bad English that obscures the meaning of the verse in order to preserve the accident of the Greek's gender neutrality. In order to avoid the unclear passivity, one has to add the "is a" and an appropriate pronoun. Since personal pronouns are not genderless in English we end up with "he is a."

I'm not saying you don't know all this (you do of course, and much more than I). I just don't understand why a passive phrase which obfuscates the object and meaning of "καινὴ κτίσις" is a better choice than choosing a gendered pronoun which makes this meaning clear.

Ken Schenck said...

There is a question whether Paul actually means to say he or she is a new creation. NT Wright suggests it means something like the new NIV, if someone is in Christ, then it is an indication that the new creation is here. All debatable, of course.