Evaluating the New International Version 2011

Republished with permission from Baptist Bulletin Sept/Oct 2011. All rights reserved.

New translations often face considerable opposition if they attempt to replace long-cherished traditional versions. The KJV was bitterly opposed in 1611 by many who clung to the Geneva Bible (witness the Mayflower pilgrims!) or the Bishop’s Bible. Revisions of existing translations sometimes experience the same fate. “Keep your hands off my Bible!” is a common perspective—and perhaps for good reason in some cases. At best, this attitude could reflect long years of memorization and meditation on words that have become so ingrained in readers’ minds and hearts that they seem second nature, in contrast to which different words and phrasing seem out of sorts. However, this attitude may also simply reflect an obstinate resistance to change. Change in itself is not necessarily good. But when change can result in greater accuracy and more ready comprehension of the Word of God, at that point, inflexibility serves not to protect fidelity to Scripture, but to hinder effective discipleship and ministry.

The current occasion for such discussion is the recent release of the 2011 revision of the New International Version (NIV11). The NIV New Testament was first published in 1973 and the complete Bible in 1978. It was the only “modern” translation of the time that became widely accepted in conservative circles. In more recent years there have been many more versions, though few have achieved the widespread popularity of the NIV. The NIV was revised in 1984, making the 2011 revision the third edition.

The NIV has always been an attempt to balance transparency to the original text with ease of understanding for a broad audience, that is, a balance between formal and functional equivalence. Doing so inevitably results in some loss of transparency to the structure of the original text, but it is more than compensated by the resulting access to the meaning. According to the translation committee, “the NIV is founded on the belief that if hearing God’s Word the way it was written and understanding it the way it was meant were the hallmarks of the original reading experience, then accuracy in translation demands that neither one of these two criteria be prioritized above the other.” This has not changed in the new revision, the committee says, reporting that the vast majority of the text is unchanged from the existing NIV. Only about 5 percent of the text has changed, and most of this “involves comparatively minor matters of vocabulary, sentence structure and punctuation.” Someone who knows the wording of the NIV quite well can read large chunks of the new edition without noticing any differences whatsoever.

From our location on the timeline of English-speaking history, we can observe, if we can look past our familiarity, that our older translations do not communicate God’s inspired, inerrant revelation with the freshness they once did. This is not due to deficiencies in the translations themselves. The KJV translators sought to make their words speak directly to Tyndale’s plowboy. In their own words, “We de?ire that the Scripture may ?peake like it?elfe, as in the language of Canaan, that it may bee vnder?tood euen of the very vulgar” (i.e., even by the uneducated).

But English stops for no one; our language has continued to change—much more rapidly during the past hundred years than it did in the 17th century. Our language has changed. That is undeniable. It is for that reason new translations appear periodically and older ones are revised. The KJV was updated a half dozen times in its first two centuries. The NIV has now been revised twice for the same purpose.

Changes in English may involve changes in English word meanings or improvements in word choice. For example, in the earlier NIV the word “alien” occurred 111 times, but that has come to be used most commonly in English to refer to an extraterrestrial being. As a result, the new NIV now uses “foreigner” (or a similar expression; e.g., Genesis 19:9). An archaic choice of wording in Isaiah 16:6 has been improved considerably by replacing “overweening” with “arrogance.” Progress in scholarship has also prompted some changes in the NIV11. For example, in Philippians 2:6 the word harpagmos was translated as “robbery” in the KJV and “something to be grasped” in the original NIV. More recent study, however, has shown that we should understand this text as it is now given in NIV11: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.

Clarity has been the aim in Philippians 4:13, where a common misunderstanding is avoided. The original NIV said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” The revision now reads, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Paul’s claim is not of an unqualified ability to do absolutely anything, but is a reference to what he has just talked about in the context, that is, being content in all circumstances.

Other systematic changes were made throughout the text. These include the use of “Messiah” for the Greek word Christos when used as a Messianic title and “God’s”/“the Lord’s” people (or something similar) in place of “saints” to avoid the usual connotation of special holiness (especially in a Roman Catholic sense). The conjunction gar, “for,” is more often included in the text now compared with the earlier NIV, which often left it untranslated for reasons of English style. The vast majority of the sort of changes illustrated here are, in my opinion, very good ones that contribute to understanding the Word of God in English.

The NIV and Translation Theory

To paint with broad strokes, there are two general approaches to translation: formal equivalence and functional equivalence. Formal equivalence is a translation approach that seeks to reproduce the grammatical and syntactical form of the donor language as closely as possible in the receptor language. Thus, for each word in the donor language, the same part of speech is used in the receptor language and, as much as possible, in the same sequence.

Functional equivalence, by contrast, focuses on the meaning and attempts to accurately communicate the same meaning in the receptor language, even if doing so requires the use of different grammatical and syntactical forms. Although the form may differ in functional equivalence, the translation functions the same as the original in that it accurately communicates the same meaning.

These two approaches are not to be thought of as mutually exclusive categories. All translations include both formal and functional equivalents; there is a spectrum with formal equivalence on one end and functional equivalence on the other (see the diagram on the next page). Any individual translation may be judged to use a greater or lesser degree of formal or functional equivalence and thus fall on a different part of the translation spectrum. The diagram shows one possible view of such relationships among translation philosophies.

The NIV attempts to balance both approaches, occupying a middle position between formal and functional. The NIV11 does not appear to differ significantly from the 1984 edition in this regard. The two most popular alternative translations in the marketplace, the ESV and NLT, take their respective positions closer to either end of the translation spectrum relative to the NIV. The ESV is somewhat more formal, the NLT much more functional.

Due to the advocacy of the ESV by both its publisher and some well-known users who promote it, the ESV is sometimes viewed as more accurate or more reliable than other translations due to its supposed use of formal equivalence. But there is a surprising amount of functional equivalence in the ESV, far more than one would suspect from reading the publisher’s PR material. Indeed, some of the best features of the ESV are those places where it has done just that. (See my review of the ESV in the Baptist Bulletin, May/June 2009.) Advocates of formal equivalence argue their view is more consistent with verbal inspiration, but this misses the point that verbal inspiration is important to ensure that God’s revelation was accurately inscripturated. No translation is able to match the words and syntax of the original because English communicates meaning very differently from Hebrew and Greek. Translations can communicate the meaning accurately, but they are not inspired; that is a characteristic only of the original text.

If every association or denomination produced its own translation, the matters discussed in this article would be quite different. English translations, however, have not been done that way. They have always been produced for large swaths of the church. Over the past century this has typically been for Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, or evangelical use. Relatively few “one-person” translations have been published in English. None of these have ever become a “standard” translation, and they have seldom been used by churches. Instead our English tradition has been that of translations by committee—committees deliberately comprised of a range of denominational and theological perspectives. Every major English translation that has been widely used during the past 400 years has been prepared by just such a committee. The intent of such a structure is to produce a translation that is usable by a majority of churches and that does not cater to one particular perspective. This has proven to be a wise approach. I might like to have a Baptist translation (one that makes the Biblical basis for my Baptist heritage very clear!), but some of my gospel-preaching friends in other traditions would surely prefer one with Methodist or Presbyterian distinctives!

This background is relevant to the discussion of the NIV11, since we must ask, For whom is this translation intended? The Committee on Bible Translation, responsible for the NIV, is comprised of a multinational, multidenominational group of 15 scholars who represent a wide spectrum of conservative evangelical theology. Yet within this group are premillennialists and amillennialists, Calvinists and Arminians, Reformed and Baptist, etc. In any of these doctrinal positions there are texts that could be translated in such a way as to make the preferred interpretation appear to be the only (or at least the more likely) conclusion. We may like to think that our own theological system is certainly the correct one, but more careful reflection suggests that such a conclusion is inevitably overstated. It is therefore wise to prepare our standard translations so as not to prejudice disputed questions.

If a translation is intended to serve conservative, evangelical Protestants, then it is only fair that all major positions have a balancing input. We have recognized this in terms of millennial systems, denominational polity, and even soteriology. We draw the line when a position becomes nonorthodox. The question comes where other positions are judged to be in relation to the evangelical constituency. Is it possible to hold with integrity to the inspiration and authority of Scripture and not agree with, say, the doctrinal position of the GARBC? Since we are not, so far as I know, proposing to prepare our own Regular Baptist Version, we need to expand our doctrinal criteria for what is considered acceptable in a translation beyond the GARBC Statement of Faith. Since we recognize as bona fide Christians others who would not be comfortable as part of our fellowship, the potential doctrinal positions that should be allowed input to the translation process must be a wider circle than our own.

The NIV and Gender Language

Another group of changes in the NIV11 involves gender language. Changes have taken place in English in this regard. Some originated from feminist pressure and others did not. Some of these have prompted strong reactions. We joke about “politically correct” language, and some English teachers campaign against other changes. Regardless of how the change has come about, however, our language has changed. The feminist advocacy for such forms as “s/he” have not found a place in our language, while other changes have become a regular part of the English language, even the awkward use of “he or she.”

Almost all recent translations, including ESV, HCSB, and NET, have begun to reflect these changes. Here are a few examples. The ESV includes a marginal alternative for most instances of “brothers” (adelphoi) in the Epistles: “or brothers and sisters” (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:8). The HCSB translates 2 Timothy 3:13, “Evil people and impostors will become worse”; the Greek text has anthropoi, traditionally translated “men.” The NET Bible in John 6:31 says that “our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness,” in contrast to older translations, which typically refer to “fathers” or “forefathers” (hoi pateres). The NIV in the 2011 revision has begun to use the same type of language.

Bible translations that make such changes may be suspected of complicity with the feminist agenda. The CBT has been clear on its motivation for changes in the NIV11. The group points out that 95 percent of the NIV11 is identical with the 1984 NIV. Where there are changes, they are due to one of three factors: changes in English, progress in scholarship, or concern for clarity. If we take the CBT at its word (as we should), concern for a social agenda is not indicated. When change in gender language is involved, it almost always involves the first item: changes in English. Why English has changed is not the issue; rather, the CBT has made such changes only where it has determined that English has, indeed, now changed. These revisions are not an effort to influence change or to appease a feminist agenda.

How was change in English usage determined? With the NIV11, the translators have taken special pains to address this question. Rather than relying on personal observation or recommendations of various style guides, they commissioned a study of gender language by Collins Dictionaries based on the Collins Bank of English—a 4.4 billion word database of English usage worldwide. By doing so, they have been able to document the actual changes that have taken place in general English usage. Where there have been clear shifts in usage, the CBT has made similar shifts in usage where it is appropriate to accurately reflect the meaning of the original text.

The principle involved in the NIV11, as is the case with a number of other evangelical translations, is that wording in the donor language that is not gender specific should not become gender specific in the receptor language. The issue involved is not if some form of inclusive language should be used, but what specific types of language are legitimate and how extensive they should be. I suspect that all translators would agree in principle that the goal in translation is to represent the reference of the donor language in regard to gender language as accurately as possible in the receptor language. That is, if the Bible makes a statement that refers to men and women, the translation should do the same to the extent possible. The rub comes not in agreeing with the principle, but in deciding exactly where such reference is used.

Some decisions in this regard by translators have proven controversial. The use of “they” or “their” as a singular form in place of the traditional “generic he” is one such change that has drawn criticism, but the Collins Report has documented that the use of “they”/”their” is now far more common usage in English than “he” when used generically. English teachers shudder, but the average English speaker appears to have shrugged off those dictates and gone happily on their way. (Did you even notice the pronoun I just used? If you are an English teacher in the Boomer generation or older, you probably did, but your younger contemporaries likely didn’t even bat an eye!)

A similar issue has been raised regarding the use of “people” or “human” in place of “man” or “mankind” in generic contexts (usually as a translation of anthropos/oi). The Collins Report shows that this usage predominates by 70 percent versus 10 percent. Consider Romans 5:12 in NIV11: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” You will notice that “man” occurs once when the reference is specific to a male (Adam), but that “people” is used when the reference is to both men and women. The goal is to make the translation as general or as specific as is the original text. Some have argued that this is legitimate only when the Greek word is plural and that singular forms must always be translated as “man, but that is a rule that makes consistency quite difficult. (Try it in 1 John 3:13–17!)

The translation of gender language in Scripture in recent evangelical translations, particularly in the NIV11, is an attempt to express accurately the meaning of God’s revelation. Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss (two members of the CBT) make this point in How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth, noting that the NIV does not advocate “the blanket replacement of masculine terms with inclusive language. This is not about gender ‘neutrality’ (as some have claimed), but about gender ‘accuracy.’ The goal is not to eliminate gender distinctions in Scripture, but to clarify them”—“to reflect as accurately as possible the original meaning of the text. Gender accurate versions seek to introduce inclusive language only with reference to human beings and only when the original meaning included both sexes.”

Criteria for a Good Bible Translation

What makes for a good translation? We might evaluate such a question on the basis of accuracy, clarity, naturalness, and appropriateness.

If accuracy is defined as communicating God’s revelation in such a way that what God intended us to understand is, indeed, understandable as intended—the meaning is successfully conveyed—then I would rate the NIV11 (as the older NIV in its time) high in terms of accuracy overall. By taking a mediating position between formal and functional equivalence, the NIV has been able to produce a text that is clearer than many translations, especially those weighted more heavily with formal equivalence. If we are serious about making the Word of God a vital tool in the lives of English-speaking Christians as well as an effective tool in evangelism, then we must aim for a translation that communicates clearly in the language of the average English-speaking person. It is here that the NIV excels.

Is the language of the NIV11 natural? The questions of clarity and naturalness are related. Clarity asks if a text can be easily understood. Naturalness asks if the translation communicates in the receptor language using expressions that would be used by a receptor-language speaker. In other words, is this the way an English speaker would say it? This is what makes the NIV sound much more natural than many other translations.

Is it appropriate? I cannot give a simple answer here, since there are too many variables in any given church. Based on many years of using the NIV and my initial exposure to the NIV11, I would suggest that the new NIV is still one of the more versatile choices. It not only communicates the meaning of God’s revelation accurately, but does so in English that is easily understood by a wide range of English speakers. It is as well suited for expository preaching as it is for public reading and use in Bible classes and children’s ministries. I think a case could be made that a translation like the NIV11 is one of the better choices for an all-around tool for ministry, supplemented for serious Bible study by translations that flank the NIV on either side of the translation spectrum.

No Translation Is Perfect

Every translation of the Bible ever produced in any language is a human production, and is not perfect. No translators have been superintended by the Holy Spirit in the way the original writers of Scripture were. The original text was inspired; translations are not. Thankfully most translations are reliable and accurate, despite their differences. The differences are not usually matters of error, but of variations in how the meaning of the original text is expressed in English.

There are some warts in the NIV11. All translations have warts, in that some portions of any translation will disappoint us. Of course, what disappoints you may not disappoint me! Some of these differences are simply matters of English phrasing. New translations and revisions usually have some infelicitous expressions that are corrected in the next revision. (See Philippians 3:10 as a possible example of this in NIV11.) These are small warts.

Most translations have a few larger ones as well. The question then becomes, How many warts are tolerable? How big are they? Where are they located? It is possible that a single translation wart, if it is large enough and ugly enough, and especially if it is located dab on the front of the translation’s nose, could be judged serious enough to cause one to look for another suitor.

The bigger warts in the NIV11 include Romans 16:1 and 2, in which Phoebe is described as a deacon—potentially problematic in some churches, but that depends on the function of deacons in a particular church. Likewise, 1 Timothy 2:12 now says that a woman is not to “assume authority over a man”—a translation that goes back to the Reformation, but one that is different from recent English translations. In Romans 16:7 we find Junia (a woman’s name) to be “outstanding among the apostles.” Most warts of this sort involve difficult issues of word meaning (1 Timothy 2:12) or textual criticism (Romans 16:7). Most have marginal notes that give alternate translations.

In texts with multiple issues such as these, it is precarious for a translation to attempt to resolve all possible implications, and it is certainly not appropriate methodology to decide what is acceptable translation based on preconceived theological positions. As always, the text must determine our theology, not our theology the text. A recurrent problem with criticisms of the NIV11 is the expectation that a translation should do more than it is possible to do. Not all issues can or should be resolved by translation, especially one translation. Many of the questions raised are those of the Biblical languages and can best be discussed in that context. Readers without such ability dare not lean exclusively on any one translation. Even if a church has adopted a standard translation (and that is wise for consistency in ministry), readers must be taught that careful study of difficult issues requires the use of multiple translations. They need to know that all translations will have some warts. One of the pastor’s primary ministry roles, after all, is that of teacher. He must train his people how to think about such translation issues and how to compensate for them.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The results of the new revision of the NIV appear to me to be justifiable and in almost all cases helpful. Yes, there are a few warts (as any translation has), but I do not think they are of sufficient quantity or seriousness to detract from the far greater gains in clarity (in all areas) in the NIV11.

Is the NIV11 a viable, usable translation in Regular Baptist churches? My judgment is that the NIV11 is a usable translation in many situations, one that some of our churches will continue to use effectively. It continues the NIV tradition largely unchanged, though improved in many small ways across the breadth of the canon. It is not perfect. No translation is. Overall, however, it is an improvement of an otherwise fine translation.

[node:bio/rodney-decker body]

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Any translation that replaces...
“If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies.”

with...
“If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides.”

Should go straight the junk pile.

Short case for this conclusion: Why do we want to encourage people to remain comfortable with a group that thinks it's a good idea to adopt progressive/cutting-edge/experimental grammar (singular antecedent, plural pronoun--ick) in order to be more politically correct?
There are two huge problems here that no increases in accuracy elsewhere in the translation can make go away:

  • Those producing the translation are keen on political correctness (the CBT may be telling the truth when they say that social pressure is not part of their conscious motivation, but the pressure to re-eval. traditional renderings has no other source than these social trends).
  • Those producing the translation are bonkers on English grammar

The standard to judge the supposed accuracy of NIV against is not the original NIV but how accurate NIV 2011 could have been. And at least the old NIV got the grammar straight most (all?) of the time.

Third point:

  • Those producing the translation are keen on removing too much interpretive process from the reader.

I realize no English Bible can perfectly mirror the nuances of the original languages. There are too many words and phrases that have no true English equivalent. But a translation that aims to preserve as much of the ambiguity of the original language as reasonable clarity will allow will do a much better job of rendering a faithful text than a translation that aims to remove as much ambiguity as possible.
There are plenty of places where the Greek can be understood three different ways and the English can be selected to give readers close to the same three options... but NIV selects one of the three and locks it into the English text, leaving readers oblivious of two other possibilities. That they make pretty good choices most of the time is beside the point. The readers need to be presented with a good many of these choices (balancing readability, etc... ESV does this very well in general).
This ambiguity avoidance makes NIV a useful tool for pleasure reading, and casual study (like comparing translations to see what interpretive choices they make), but it's too dumbed-down for general use or serious English study.

jimfrank's picture

The King James Only people (KJVO's) insist that "God only wrote one Bible," and the KJV is it. Some hold to this view so fanatically that they rejected the 1982 New King James Version and the later KJV 21, even though the two translations are based on the "authorized" (by them) Masoretic OT text and the NT Textus Receptus (Received Text). Apparently the underlying text is not the issue. The translators must not change the "thee's," "thou's," "durst's," "wist's," and so forth. Why? There is no real difference between the KJVO views of the inspiration of the Scriptures, which is orthodox, and their preservation of the Scriptures doctrine, which is probably not orthodox. Since in their minds there is no real difference between the two doctrines, it is difficult to explain. My homiletics prof told us, "A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pews." It's not that the preacher is smart and the members are dumb. That's just the nature of good communication.

On the other hand, how many translations of the Bible do we need? Ten years ago my Greek professor was pushing Dallas Seminary's NET Bible. They produced the marvelous NET Study Bible. Now my two copies sit in their boxes gathering dust. The Lockman Foundation produced the New American Standard Bible in the early 70's. The NASB is still preferred by many trained in Biblical Greek, and the 1995 revision was well done. It lost out to the NIV because the translators allowed Zondervan to market the NIV where the Lockman Foundation kept tight control of the NASB.
Now we have what seems to be a hundred new versions of the Bible.

I've used the NIV since 1981. All my memorized verses are in NIV. I've read it cover-to-cover numerous times. The language has truly changed since then. But has the language changed enough to warrant an entirely new translation? Dr. Decker used the example of "alien." Yes, one of the definitions of "alien" is "an extra-terrestrial being." But we understand the other definitions well enough so that if I refer to a foreign national from a Latin American country who did not properly complete the immigration process as an "illegal alien," some politically-correct people will take great exception to this statement. One would argue this is reason why the word "alien" has been replaced by "foreigner." Yet "foreigner" can be problematic as well. So can the generic use of "he." Dan Wallace goes into great detail concerning this usage in his textbook Greek Gramman Beyond the Basics. Dr. Wallace will be the first to tell you that in many cases the generic usage is the translator's judgment call.

I never thought I'd live to see the day when there would be an "NIV Only" movement. Apparently, we're there, or at least at the beginning of it. I have observed before that the publishers of the ESV cannot buy this sort of advertising. And some publisher would be wise to purchase the rights to the old NIV. My guess is it would continue to outsell every other modern translation and challenge the KJV for dominance of the English translations.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

When I was about 10 years old, my native denomination, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, began to solidify its official transition from KJV to NIV (pretty remarkable, really, when you consider that when my dad was a boy they still offered services in German).
I am not saying that the opponents to that move were always correct in all they did, but it was that change to NIV that, indirectly, started my family and me on the path out of Lutheranism and into fundamentalism.
Needless to say, I have always had a funny feeling about the NIV. However, I avoided the trap of KJVO, and shortly after entering fundamentalism began using the NASB -- which gave me sort of a fresh start.
For more than 20 years, my English version of choice has been the NKJV. I have recently begun reading the ESV to supplement it.
Between NKJV, NASB and ESV, I have no interest whatsoever in investing time in the old NIV, say nothing of the new one, nor do I see any need for updating it, other than as a marketing strategy or an offering to political correctness. I deeply respect Dr. Decker, but I am with Aaron (comment no. 1) on this one. I certainly hope that NIV 2011 will not catch on in our circles. That would be a tragedy, in my opinion.

P.S. -- The switch to NIV 2011 has been a new topic of discussion in the WELS. Interestingly, Kevin Mungons writes about it http://baptistbulletin.org/?p=18067 ]here .

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Larry's picture

Moderator

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Any translation that replaces...
“If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies.”

with...
“If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides.”

Should go straight the junk pile.

I am confused here, unless this is an attempt at parody. The first translation is found only in the KJV and NKJV. The second translation is the translation is the standard translation (NASB, ESV, NIV, NIV2011, NRSV). Are you saying all those translations except the KJV and NKJV should go to the junk pile?

Quote:
Why do we want to encourage people to remain comfortable with a group that thinks it's a good idea to adopt progressive/cutting-edge/experimental grammar (singular antecedent, plural pronoun--ick) in order to be more politically correct?
Again, I am confused. Who is encouraging anyone to remain comfortable with a group?

Quote:
But a translation that aims to preserve as much of the ambiguity of the original language as reasonable clarity will allow will do a much better job of rendering a faithful text than a translation that aims to remove as much ambiguity as possible.
So we want God's word to be ambiguous? Isn't that what leads to problems in interpretation? I would think the point of translation is clarity, not ambiguity. I have spoken in other contexts that needed translation (o for the gift of tongues), and I know the problems that arise from ambiguity in translation. I am a poor enough speaker that I don't need any help in being unintelligible.

Quote:
There are plenty of places where the Greek can be understood three different ways and the English can be selected to give readers close to the same three options... but NIV selects one of the three and locks it into the English text
Don't they all do this except for the amplified? Any translation is going to pick one interpretation to put in the main text. Others, if desired, are put in the margin.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Larry,

Aaron is correct in his statements about maintaining ambiguity. To use a wild, made up example, who are the sons of God in Gen. 6? A translation could theoretically "translate" sons of God as angels -- leaving the reader out of the interpretive process altogether -- and taking a position that may or may not be correct. That would be an unfortunate step.

Even the old NIV actually went a step farther than this -- as it smooths out concepts so flatly into modern English that it sometimes misses the original concept entirely. For an example, see 1 Cor. 12:17 -- where Paul used a part of the body and its function interchangeably. NIV changes the concept and misses the whole point.

That is a good example of why we need to have a formal equivalence translation at least as a baseline. The two that match up are NASB and, especially, NKJV.

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'll try to be less confusing.
On the translation sample... (emphasis added)

KJV 1900 | ‎1 Pe 4:11 ..if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth
‎‎NASB95 | ‎1 Pe 4:11 ....whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies [omits pronoun entirely ]
‎‎ESV | ‎1 Pe 4:11 ...whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies
‎‎RSV | ‎1 Pe 4:11... whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies
‎‎NET | ‎1 Pe 4:11 ... Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies [no pronoun ]
NIV(84) | ‎1 Pe 4:11 ...if anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides

My point was that NIV11 is willing to embrace really crummy grammar in order to dodge the gender pronoun issue there. As the other translations I've quoted here show, that isn't necessary.
(The grammar problem is that "anyone" is singular and "they" is plural. The strategy that invents a "singular 'they'" to avoid saying "he" or "he or she" is, sadly, gaining ground, but it's still pretty avant garde.) I think ESV and RSV handle it best because there is actually no "to do" verb in the Greek and no need to supply one in the English.

On encouraging to remain comfortable with a group... my point was that the NIV translation committee and Zondervan (the "group") are really not worthy of the kind of confidence many in pews give them by default if we steer them toward use of NIV as their main/only translation. I seldom make prophecies, but just wait til the next one comes out and I think you'll see better what I mean. I'm arguing that there is a trend evident here and ministry leaders should help folks get out of that particular boat before it sinks.

On ambiguity...
Do we want God's word to be ambiguous? I'm not sure how to answer that. It doesn't really matter what we want. The fact is that it is ambiguous in many places. Though it's true that all translators must make interpretive choices, it is often possible to preserve ambiguity--this tends to happen when something closer to formal equivalence is the goal.
We're really talking about a continuum here. The more paraphrastic the translation, the fewer interpretive choices we give to the reader. The more reluctantly we depart from formal equivalence (and all translations do depart to some extent... and it's good that they do!), the more interpretive choices we tend to leave in the hands of readers.

As for what Amplified does, this is something different. Quite often (if I remember right) it commits the fallacy of taking several possible definitions of a word and saying that a particular occurrence of the word in particular context has all those meanings at once. Or it will sometimes take one connotation and use it in contexts where it isn't intended. Or it offers options by listing choices.

I'm talking about passages where the wording of the Greek itself (this applies to Hebrew as well, but I have less facility in that--and I think it's harder to discern, anyway) can be understood in more than one way and we have perfectly good English words and phrases that can preserve that... not by expanding the translated text ("amplifying") but simply by staying closer to the original structure.

I don't have alot of examples handy but I see them all the time in study because comparing translations is part of my study routine.
But Leland Ryken's book provides numerous examples. G. Wilson reviewed it for SI here:
http://sharperiron.org/article/book-review-understanding-english-bible-t...

Larry's picture

Moderator

So just so I am clear, Paul, you think the Bible should be ambiguous rather than clear? I don't mean that pejoratively in any sense. I am just trying to get a grasp on the position here. How would you explain this a bit more?

You are right that Gen 6 is a far out example, so far out that it really doesn't even seem to belong in the conversation. There's nothing ambiguous in the language. I think the functional/formal distinction is a bit of a different distinction.

I am not seeing your point about 1 Cor 12:17. Perhaps you could elucidate that for me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

1 Co 12:17 NIV84 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

Paul S. is saying that "where would the hearing be" is a figure of speech and the meaning is "where would the ear be" and likewise with nose/smell. NIV's supplying of "sense of" makes that rhetorical device less evident.

Whether Paul's right or not about the figure, I think he's right about it being better to leave that to readers to decide.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
My point was that NIV11 is wiling to embrace really crummy grammary in order to dodge the gender pronoun issue there. As the other translations I've quoted here show, that isn't necessary.
First, the second clause has no pronoun in it that I can see (though maybe I am missing it), so it really isn't translating a masculine pronoun for a generic one is it? Second, should we really think that Peter intended this to apply to "him" and not "her"? That is the real question. If the intent of the passage is gender specific, then gender specific language should be used. If the intent of the passage is not gender specific, then should we make it gender specific? Culturally, in times past, the "he" was widely understood to be generic in some cases. Whether we like it or not, and whether it is political correctness or not, that is not the way it works today. In the Bible and in past times, "man" was understood to mean "mankind" or "humans." Today, that understanding is clouded. Language is not set in stone; it is fluid and changing. Tis better by far to use the conventions of the people that you are trying to communicate with, and if anything should be clear, it should be the Bible should it not?

We can say something is avante garde, but it is becoming fairly widely accepted. And the rules of grammar are more often descriptive rather than prescriptive. That's why ancient languages are often hard to learn; rules always have exceptions, which means they aren't really rules. They are general principles that don't always apply.

Quote:
On encouraging to remain comfortable with a group... my point was that the NIV translation committee and Zondervan (the "group") are really not worthy of the kind of confidence many in pews give them by default if we steer them toward use of NIV as their main/only translation. I seldom make prophecies, but just wait til the next one comes out and I think you'll see better what I mean. I'm arguing that there is a trend evident here and ministry leaders should help folks get out of that particular boat before it sinks.
I don't find this convincing at all. The issue is the translation itself. As Dr. Decker said, we should take the word of the committee for what is trying to do. If you were to complain about 1 Tim 2:12, that would be more legitimate, that may be a concern about the politics, although the committee has strongly denied it. The CBT is pretty wide, isn't it? And I would not promote trust in the committee per se. But why is that committee any worse than the ESV or the NASB or the NKJV? The question comes down to accuracy. Does the translation communicate what God intended to be understood?

Quote:
The fact is that it is ambiguous in many places.
Really? Is it actually ambiguous? Or it is the chronological and cultural distance? Might it be true that the reason many things aren't explained as clearly as we would like is that it wasn't ambiguous at all in the time of its writing. It may be that it is only ambiguous because we are not as clear on the language due to time and distance. It is hard to imagine the Philippians or the Ephesians sitting around having long drawn out discussions about what Paul meant by the use of a particular genitive in a given context.

Quote:
Though it's true that all translators must make interpretive choices, it is often possible to preserve ambiguity--this tends to happen when something closer to formal equivalence is the goal.
It is often possible, but it is probably not a goal to be pursued. The goal is clarity. Ambiguity should be reserved only for the most rare occasions.

Quote:
As for what Amplified does, this is something different. Quite often it commits the fallacy of taking several possible definitions of a word and saying that a particular occurrence of the word in particular context has all those meanings at once. Or it will sometimes take one connotation and use it in contexts where it isn't intended.
Right, but the point is that the Amplified is the only version that places all these options in the text. In all other versions, the other interpretive options are in the margin. You said that the NIV "locks" one interpretation into the text, as if that is a problem. My response is that they all do that, so that can hardly be a fault, can't it, unless it is a fault of them all?

Quote:
I'm talking about passages where the wording of the Greek itself (this applies to Hebrew as well, but I have less facility in that--and I think it's harder to discern, anyway) can be understood in more than one way and we have perfectly good English words and phrases that can preserve that... not by expanding the translated text ("amplifying") but simply by staying closer to the original structure.
But is this what Paul (and God) intended? I don't think God intended ambiguity, did he? And if he didn't, why should we try to preserve what God never intended? I don't think Paul intended the readers to select from a range of meanings. He intended them to understand one thing.

As a disclaimer, one reason I preach from the NASB is precisely because of what I am arguing against here. I like that there are less things I have to "explain away." It is ambiguous enough in some areas to give an explanation. But I think, overall, that's a bad thing when we think about the original intent in the writing. It seems to me that God inspired his word in human language for the purpose of clarity, not ambiguity.

Jay's picture

Aaron-

I know that your complaint seems to be with the gender-neutral grammer; I understand and agree with you on that. However, if the greek grammar in I Peter 4:11 is the word I'm thinking of, then "minister" and "serve" could also be translated from the same root word in the Greek.

Overall (and I haven't done a ton of research on this), it seems to me that most of the gender neutral changes in the new NIV are fairly innocuous ("any man" goes to "anyone" in a passage that clearly is referring to all mankind), so I tend to think that we're making a mountain out of molehills. If anyone knows of changes that are more substantial, I'd appreciate the information.

For the time being, though, I'll be sticking with my ESV or going to the HCSB (which I really like and have been impressed with).

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Larry,

I don't have time to answer you thoroughly point by point. I will provide brief answers.

Larry wrote:
So just so I am clear, Paul, you think the Bible should be ambiguous rather than clear? I don't mean that pejoratively in any sense. I am just trying to get a grasp on the position here. How would you explain this a bit more?

I think the Bible should be exactly what it is. The purpose of a translation should not be to make it more ambiguous or less ambiguous -- but to accurately convey any ambiguity that is there.

Larry wrote:
You are right that Gen 6 is a far out example, so far out that it really doesn't even seem to belong in the conversation. There's nothing ambiguous in the language. I think the functional/formal distinction is a bit of a different distinction.

Gen. 6 is a perfect example of the whole situation. Translating sons of God as angels would be a perfect, even if extreme, example of dynamic equivalence. It is simpler, more common, less ambiguous, etc.

Larry wrote:
I am not seeing your point about 1 Cor 12:17. Perhaps you could elucidate that for me.

Paul says the ear, the member, ought to be hearing -- that is, functioning. To lose that analogy for the sake of keeping it simple is to detract from Paul's inspired lesson. That is not translating -- or even interpreting. It is re-crafting a completely different message for the sake of better understanding.

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

ChrisS's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I think ESV and RSV handle it best because there is actually no "to do" verb in the Greek and no need to supply one in the English.

I believe this is one good example for me, a neophyte to the original languages so far, when the NASB puts is to do so in italics. As explained in my Bible's "Explanation of General Format": "Italics are used in the text to indicate words which are not found in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek text, but implied by it." Not sure it's needed, but it serves as an indication of where translations may vary, and may warrant further study. When I come across those verses in study, I will read them both with and without the italicized text.

I presume as one studies more, such translation devices become less necessary.

KevinM's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
My point was that NIV11 is willing to embrace really crummy grammar in order to dodge the gender pronoun issue there. As the other translations I've quoted here show, that isn't necessary. The grammar problem is that "anyone" is singular and "they" is plural. The strategy that invents a "singular 'they'" to avoid saying "he" or "he or she" is, sadly, gaining ground, but it's still pretty avant garde....

I dunno about the "avant garde" part. I heard Rod present the long version of his paper at the Ankeny faculty summit, and ended up having an interesting discussion with him afterwards. I told Rod that one of our young editors had already raised the question of “singular they” earlier this summer, when she returned from Bible college. In her upper level English classes, she is being taught that “they” can appropriate for some styles of writing. Rod and I laughed at this irony—while the Bible faculty may argue over whether such uses are appropriate for Bible translation, the English faculty of the same school may already be teaching it as a settled matter!

When I got back home, I noticed that the Chicago Manual of Style has really waffled on the singular “they.” [I have editions 10-11-12-13-14-15-16 in my office ]. The 13th edition seems neutral to the idea, 14th edition was very much in favor of the singular they, and then the 15th advised against it. So much for saying there is a consistent rule. Now the new 16th edition approves the singular “they” for informal writing but not formal (grammar nerds can look this up in section 5.46). Personally, I'd avoid tagging this with "crummy grammar."

Dan Salter's picture

From the publishers of the HCSB--

Translation Philosophy:

In practice translations are seldom, if ever, based purely on formal or dynamic/functional equivalence. Rather they are mixed, with a tendency in one direction or the other. Optimal equivalence is our attempt to describe a translation philosophy recognizing that form cannot be neatly separated from meaning and should not be disregarded. It should not be changed unless comprehension demands it. For example, nouns should not be changed to verbs or the third person “they” to second person “you” unless the original sense cannot otherwise be clearly conveyed. The primary goal of translation is to convey the sense of the original with as much clarity as the original text and the target language permit. Optimal equivalence appreciates the goals of formal equivalence but also recognizes its limitations.

Accuracy or Translations of Certain Problematic Words:

1. The Greek word doulos occurs 124 times in the Greek NT. Many Bibles have translated it as “servant” or “bondservant.” ESV uses servant in the text, but they attach a footnote that reads, “Greek bondservant.” NIV and NLT alternate between “servant” and “slave.” The translation of doulos as servant is faulty (cf. BDAG, p. 260) and causes people to miss a significant Pauline metaphor. HCSB uses slave. There is a significant difference between a servant and a slave. Paul says, “. . . You are not your own, for you were bought at a price . . . ” (1Co 6:19b-20)

2. The key term torah occurs 223 times in the Hebrew Bible. Most Christian Bibles consistently translate it as law. Most Jewish Bibles normally use instruction or teaching. “The majority of present day exegetes translate tora as instruction, education, teaching” (TDOT, XV: 615). If we compare the translation of torah in Ps 1:2; 19:7, and 37:31 in the major Bibles we note the following:

• ESV – law
• NIV – law
• NLT – law and instruction
• HCSB - instruction

3. God’s personal name, YHWH, occurs 6,828 times in the Hebrew Bible. In English Bibles LORD is commonly used following the LXX tradition of rendering it with kurios. However, LORD is not a name; it is a title. It has been argued that the use of YHWH (or Yahweh) will offend Jewish people. Very orthodox Jews will not even vocalize the word “God,” preferring the use of “G-D.” However, some modern Jewish translations have used YHWH. French Protestants as well as the Moffatt translation have used “The Eternal” as a name. B. Waltke prefers to translate the name as “I AM” (OTT, p. 365.) If we compare the translation of YHWH in major translations we see the following:

• KJV – Jehovah 4 times
• RV (1881) – Jehovah 10 times
• ASV (1901) – Jehovah 6,777 times
• NJB – Yahweh 6,342 times
• NLT – Yahweh 7 times (all in Exodus)
• REB, NASB, NIV, NKJV, TNIV, ESV – all use LORD
• HCSB – Yahweh 75 times (first printing); currently 467 times; the 467 uses are where the name of God is praised or discussed. For example:

“I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols.” Is 42:8

“Yahweh is the God of Hosts; Yahweh is His name.” Hs 12:5

“May they know that You alone—whose name is Yahweh—are the Most High over all the earth.” Ps 83:18

4. In the HCSB NT, christos is translated Messiah where there is a Jewish context (cf. BDAG, p. 109). An example is, Mt 16:16, which reads “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!’” NLT agrees with HCSB, but ESV and NIV translate this as “the Christ.” (TNIV has changed this to “the Messiah”.)

Vocabulary Choices
The NIV, NLT, and the HCSB use a more modern and American vocabulary. The ESV retains some of its British heritage by including dated or archaic language. Here are some examples:

• ails Ps 114:5
• alms Lk 11:41 (8 total occurrences)
• barley was in the ear Ex 9:31
• bosom Ex 23:8 (12 total)
• chide Ps 103:9
• disdained 1Sm 17:1
• ears of grain Gn 41:5 (4 total)
• fodder Gn 24:25 (7 total)
• he-goat Pr 30:31
• morsel Gn 18:5 (13 total)
• she-bear Pr 17:12
• whoredom 2Ch 21:11 (13 total)

The NIV and TNIV also include some archaic or unusual word choices:

abound naught unmindful spurn
alas profligate unsandaled strode
astir reckon unto suckling
befuddled rend unwary thus
bosom self-abasement upon toil
deluged shall vaunt to no avail
kindred slew vilest unkempt

Charlie's picture

ESV modified: If the whole body were an eye, where would be the ἀκοή? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the ὄσφρησις?

ακοη has a pretty broad semantic range:

1. the act of hearing
2. the faculty or sense of hearing
3. the thing heard
4. obedience (the effect of hearing)

ὄσφρησις is more limited:

1. the faculty or sense of smelling
2. the nose (place of smelling)

Now, assuming that there is a real parallelism in the verse, and I see no reason to think otherwise, there is only one definition that gives the semantic overlap we need. We must take each word to refer to the faculty implied by the associated organ. Thus, the NIV (and ESV and NET and NASB) rendering is not interpretive or destructive, but simply the correct rendering of the word in its context.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Larry's picture

Moderator

Thanks Paul. I don't have time for along exchange, so I will just respond briefly.

Quote:
I think the Bible should be exactly what it is. The purpose of a translation should not be to make it more ambiguous or less ambiguous -- but to accurately convey any ambiguity that is there.
This reflects my point however, that I am not sure there was a lot of ambiguity there for the original readers. I think we experience a lot of that by virtue of cultural and chronological distance in translating an ancient language.

Quote:
Gen. 6 is a perfect example of the whole situation. Translating sons of God as angels would be a perfect, even if extreme, example of dynamic equivalence. It is simpler, more common, less ambiguous, etc.
I don't think any of the parties here (or in the CBT) would advocate an extreme dynamic translation would they? That is why I say this is too far out to be helpful.

Quote:
Paul says the ear, the member, ought to be hearing -- that is, functioning.
Paul uses the same word (akoe) twice. It can mean ear or hearing (or some other stuff all connected). I doubt that Paul's emphasis here is on the functioning (something that would make more sense with a verbal form rather than a noun; he used the noun). I think his point in context is on the interdependency of the body. In other words, his point isn't that ears should be hearing, but that ears are not sufficient without eyes or nose. In other words he is talking about the variety of gifts in the body, hence, the ear, nose, eye, feet, hand kind of comparison.

Quote:
To lose that analogy for the sake of keeping it simple is to detract from Paul's inspired lesson. That is not translating -- or even interpreting. It is re-crafting a completely different message for the sake of better understanding.
I don't think there is anything in the text that would lead to this "inspired lesson," given the context of comparing various body parts.

Kevin Subra's picture

To me, the point of translating is to represent what is there in the original text, not what the ultimate explanation or application of the text is. The former recognizes the presence of verbal inspiration, and that God gave the very words on purpose. The later is the realm of interpretation and explanation.

Though some may argue that the Bible should be readable to all, I believe that it is intended to be proclaimed and taught. 2 Timothy 2:15 indicates that it is hard work to rightly divide the Word. A translation is not going to cross that bridge.

Attempting to fit language shifts to the inaccurate of ambiguous grammar is a moving target. In reality, it' involves many moving targets.

Having been in the "Christian book industry" for a spell, I was told by conservative publishers in no uncertain terms that the primary holy grail in income was to obtain a translation of their own. Though I am not against newer translations (even the 1611 was a new translation to update language of the day), I do not believe that most are needed beyond keeping publishers afloat or profitable.

To sound really old, I'd never thought I'd see the day when the SBC rejects a translation that the GARBC basically endorses by its own publication. I was stunned. I am stunned.

As always, I encourage people to find a literal translation of the Bible, and use it and grow with it. Use the non-literal translations (dynamic or functional equivalents) as you would a commentary.

I told you at the beginning these were random thoughts. ;>D

For the Shepherd and His sheep,
Kevin
Grateful husband of a Proverbs 31 wife, and the father of 15 blessings.
http://captive-thinker.blogspot.com

James K's picture

The NIV (and all revisions) along with its DE method is simply a commentary. The translators tried to make the translation like a commentary. Too many times they inserted their theological bias upon the text. God didn't merely inspire thoughts, but words that make the thoughts.

Consider this gem:

Matt 5:31
But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

The TNIV actually manages to correct that, but then you have to deal with the other garbage they inserted.

If you use the NIV, my advice is to get yourself a Bible.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Larry wrote:
But is this what Paul (and God) intended? I don't think God intended ambiguity, did he? And if he didn't, why should we try to preserve what God never intended? I don't think Paul intended the readers to select from a range of meanings. He intended them to understand one thing.

As a disclaimer, one reason I preach from the NASB is precisely because of what I am arguing against here. I like that there are less things I have to "explain away." It is ambiguous enough in some areas to give an explanation. But I think, overall, that's a bad thing when we think about the original intent in the writing. It seems to me that God inspired his word in human language for the purpose of clarity, not ambiguity.

I would agree in general that God wanted us to understand, but he also said to "search the scriptures," "study to show [our ]selves approved," and other similar phrases. He didn't write at a 5-year-old level, and I believe he also was trying to express some things to us in some form that are beyond our complete understanding in this life. Some of those concepts will never lend themselves to complete clarity, no matter the translation.

One example I've heard of the intentional ambiguity is II Cor. 5:14 - "For the love of Christ constraineth us..." The phrase "love of Christ" (as I understand it, and have heard it explained) accurately translates the Greek, but is intentionally ambiguous, as it could refer to Christ's love for us (as many modern versions put it) or our love for Christ. Even the man I heard explain this, Dr. Mark Minnick, believes the proper interpretation is the former, as the modern translations have it, but also believes it is unclear enough that the ambiguity in the original should be maintained. Among more "formal equivalence" versions, the NASB and ESV retain this form as well, while the HCSB does not. The NIV and NLT also do not retain that form, which makes sense, given they are trying to reduce the ambiguity.

I also checked out a few German translations on this verse, and most of them keep the "love of Christ" format (albeit in different exact grammar, depending on the age of the translation), though one modern dynamic version puts it as "the love Christ gave us."

I'm not entirely sure where I stand on the spectrum between formal and functional equivalence, though as someone who uses two languages, I certainly see the obvious cases where formal equivalence fails completely. I do however, think I agree with the notion that we should be no more or less ambiguous than the original Hebrew and Greek, though I am not qualified to judge those. That means I have to do a lot of reading and digging to see where the various translations made the right choices, as it seems none is perfect.

Dave Barnhart

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Any translation that replaces...
“If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies.”

with...
“If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides.”

Should go straight the junk pile.

Short case for this conclusion: Why do we want to encourage people to remain comfortable with a group that thinks it's a good idea to adopt progressive/cutting-edge/experimental grammar (singular antecedent, plural pronoun--ick) in order to be more politically correct?


As someone from your generation, I share your discomfort with the mangled grammar in the 2nd version above. However, I think it was the complete failure of grammarians to come up with a better singular alternative than "he or she" to represent gender neutrality the same way that 'they' and 'their' do in the plural that allowed the usage above to become common. As a result, I think that such usage will become standard for informal writing very soon (if it is not already), and it won't be long after that time that it will be adopted for formal usage. At that point, there will be very few who even notice any longer.

In Germany a number of years ago, the government undertook a project to change the grammar/spelling rules to make the language simpler and more consistent. All the textbooks were changed, and students were now to learn the new version. Many adults continue to write the old forms, but school children could not do so and get good grades. I'm sure some still get confused (my wife among them), but modern spell/grammar check programs help with this. Discomfort for the older generations or not, time moves on and languages change (and in this case, the change was forced, rather than just changing through common usage). New generations will not only not notice the "wrongness" of the new grammar, but will simply think of the old usages and rules as outdated or archaic, much as we do already with even literature from the 1920's, let alone KJV or Tyndale.

Much as I don't like to think of myself as part of the older generation, I'll have to make a choice to be one of the grumpy old guys about old grammar rules, or get used to the changes, because like it or not, we will get them.

Dave Barnhart

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
The phrase "love of Christ" (as I understand it, and have heard it explained) accurately translates the Greek, but is intentionally ambiguous, as it could refer to Christ's love for us (as many modern versions put it) or our love for Christ.
Did Paul intend for this phrase to be ambiguous? Did the Corinthians consider it ambiguous?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Larry wrote:
should we really think that Peter intended this to apply to "him" and not "her"?

and...
dcbii wrote:
I think it was the complete failure of grammarians to come up with a better singular alternative than "he or she" to represent gender neutrality the same way that 'they' and 'their' do in the plural that allowed the usage above to become common.

To Larry's question: in English "him" or "he" has long been understood to be generic in these situations. But there is no need for a pronoun at all.

To Dave, it's not a complete failure of grammarians. That isn't really what happened in this case... unless we're including "teachers of grammar" under that heading. English had two perfectly good gender neutral third person singular pronouns up until everyone somehow forgot that was what they were--or decided that it just wasn't proper.
The two choices were:

  • it
  • he/him

Because we tend to use "it" impersonally, the customary usage was "he" meaning "he or she."

The pronoun usage paralleled what we understood a couple of nouns to mean:

  • man
  • mankind

Unless the context indicated "man" to mean "a human of male gender," it was understood to mean "a human being."

Once again, poor education or agenda-driven obfuscation resulted in widespread thinking that now "man" always means "a male human" unless we specify otherwise.

But I'd like to point out that in the beginning God created the man and then the woman out of man. In Hebrew they were named "man" and "from man."
It's not just traditional, but theologically superior to refer to the race as "mankind" and a human as a "man."

But yes, I realize this is all water under the bridge now. In my first post in the thread I slipped into a case of one my own pet peeves: idealism. What ought to be, is that the social agendas of political groups do not mess up languages. What is... well, they have, and the paste is not going back in the tube.

But I still teach my students to use the generic he (though I also teach them to expect that they will find work places where ignorance/political correctness has won the day and this will not be acceptable). I know it's too late to keep the language from decaying in this particular way, but I can still fight it in my small corner of the world.

I'll close with a quote from good ol' Strunck & White.... (Elements of Style, p.59-60)

The use of he as a pronoun for nouns embracing both genders is a simple, practical convention rooted in the beginnings of the English language. Currently, however, many writers find the use of the generic he or his to rename indefinite antecedents limiting or offensive. Substituting he or she in its place is the logical thing to do if it works. But it often doesn't work, if only because repetition makes it sound boring or silly.
Consider these strategies to avoid an awkward overuse of he or she or an unintentional emphasis on the masculine:

[1. ] Use the plural rather than the singular. [for both pronoun and antecedent ]
The writer must address his readers' concerns.
Writers must address their readers' concerns
.

[2. ] Eliminate the pronoun altogether.
The writer must address his readers' concerns.
The writer must address readers' concerns.

[3. ] Substitute the second person for the third person.
The writer must address his readers' concerns.
As a writer, you must address your readers' concerns.

No one need fear to use he if common sense supports it. If you think she is a handy substitute for he, try it and see what happens. Alternatively, put all controversial nouns in the plural and avoid the choice of sex altogether, although you may find your prose sounding general and diffuse as a result.

Greg Long's picture

Dan Salter wrote:
From the publishers of the HCSB--

Translation Philosophy:

In practice translations are seldom, if ever, based purely on formal or dynamic/functional equivalence. Rather they are mixed, with a tendency in one direction or the other. Optimal equivalence is our attempt to describe a translation philosophy recognizing that form cannot be neatly separated from meaning and should not be disregarded. It should not be changed unless comprehension demands it. For example, nouns should not be changed to verbs or the third person “they” to second person “you” unless the original sense cannot otherwise be clearly conveyed. The primary goal of translation is to convey the sense of the original with as much clarity as the original text and the target language permit. Optimal equivalence appreciates the goals of formal equivalence but also recognizes its limitations.

Accuracy or Translations of Certain Problematic Words:

1. The Greek word doulos occurs 124 times in the Greek NT. Many Bibles have translated it as “servant” or “bondservant.” ESV uses servant in the text, but they attach a footnote that reads, “Greek bondservant.” NIV and NLT alternate between “servant” and “slave.” The translation of doulos as servant is faulty (cf. BDAG, p. 260) and causes people to miss a significant Pauline metaphor. HCSB uses slave. There is a significant difference between a servant and a slave. Paul says, “. . . You are not your own, for you were bought at a price . . . ” (1Co 6:19b-20)

2. The key term torah occurs 223 times in the Hebrew Bible. Most Christian Bibles consistently translate it as law. Most Jewish Bibles normally use instruction or teaching. “The majority of present day exegetes translate tora as instruction, education, teaching” (TDOT, XV: 615). If we compare the translation of torah in Ps 1:2; 19:7, and 37:31 in the major Bibles we note the following:

• ESV – law
• NIV – law
• NLT – law and instruction
• HCSB - instruction

3. God’s personal name, YHWH, occurs 6,828 times in the Hebrew Bible. In English Bibles LORD is commonly used following the LXX tradition of rendering it with kurios. However, LORD is not a name; it is a title. It has been argued that the use of YHWH (or Yahweh) will offend Jewish people. Very orthodox Jews will not even vocalize the word “God,” preferring the use of “G-D.” However, some modern Jewish translations have used YHWH. French Protestants as well as the Moffatt translation have used “The Eternal” as a name. B. Waltke prefers to translate the name as “I AM” (OTT, p. 365.) If we compare the translation of YHWH in major translations we see the following:

• KJV – Jehovah 4 times
• RV (1881) – Jehovah 10 times
• ASV (1901) – Jehovah 6,777 times
• NJB – Yahweh 6,342 times
• NLT – Yahweh 7 times (all in Exodus)
• REB, NASB, NIV, NKJV, TNIV, ESV – all use LORD
• HCSB – Yahweh 75 times (first printing); currently 467 times; the 467 uses are where the name of God is praised or discussed. For example:

“I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols.” Is 42:8

“Yahweh is the God of Hosts; Yahweh is His name.” Hs 12:5

“May they know that You alone—whose name is Yahweh—are the Most High over all the earth.” Ps 83:18

4. In the HCSB NT, christos is translated Messiah where there is a Jewish context (cf. BDAG, p. 109). An example is, Mt 16:16, which reads “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!’” NLT agrees with HCSB, but ESV and NIV translate this as “the Christ.” (TNIV has changed this to “the Messiah”.)

Vocabulary Choices
The NIV, NLT, and the HCSB use a more modern and American vocabulary. The ESV retains some of its British heritage by including dated or archaic language. Here are some examples:

• ails Ps 114:5
• alms Lk 11:41 (8 total occurrences)
• barley was in the ear Ex 9:31
• bosom Ex 23:8 (12 total)
• chide Ps 103:9
• disdained 1Sm 17:1
• ears of grain Gn 41:5 (4 total)
• fodder Gn 24:25 (7 total)
• he-goat Pr 30:31
• morsel Gn 18:5 (13 total)
• she-bear Pr 17:12
• whoredom 2Ch 21:11 (13 total)

The NIV and TNIV also include some archaic or unusual word choices:

abound naught unmindful spurn
alas profligate unsandaled strode
astir reckon unto suckling
befuddled rend unwary thus
bosom self-abasement upon toil
deluged shall vaunt to no avail
kindred slew vilest unkempt


I tried to love the HCSB but it just doesn't "flow," and a lot of the translation choices seem awkward to me. I like the ESV and old NIV much better.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
To Larry's question: in English "him" or "he" has long been understood to be generic in these situations. But there is no need for a pronoun at all.
This is true, and I agree. I have no problem with it. But increasingly in English usage, this is not the case. It's not the failure of grammarians. It's just life. Remember, language is ultimately about communication.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's just interesting to me how far we've come. KJV was a huge factor in establishing the norms of the English language of that era. NIV11 is a factor in eroding the norms of the English language in our day.

Now I'm not one to argue that it's the job of a translation to try to improve or defend its receptor language... but it should at least not contribute to its decline.

I realize, too, that whether these changes are "decline" or "progress" is hotly debated. But in the case of pronoun antecedent agreement, using a plural with a singular noun is certainly decay because the language is moving from greater precision to less precision. Eventually it becomes more difficult to tell which pronouns are representing which nouns.

But how should a translation committee view trends in the receptor language? My contention is that it should greet them very conservatively. The point is to be clear, and where there is no need to adopt a newfangled usage in order to be clear, standard usage should be preferred. Stand the passion to "fix" socially sensitive renderings up next to the lack of passion to use good grammar, and it kind of makes you go "hmmm." To me it says something about the thought process behind the translation. And not something good.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Larry wrote:
Did Paul intend for this phrase to be ambiguous? Did the Corinthians consider it ambiguous?

The answer to those questions for me is "I don't know." I don't know how the Corinthians would have understood it, or whether the ambiguity was something that was a well-known phrase at the time in Greek, or any number of other possibilities.

Also, with regard to Paul, I have no idea what he intended, but with inspiration in view, I have no idea what God intended there either, which might have changed what Paul would usually have written. Trying to determine intent and using that as part of translation goes even farther than functional equivalence, which at least is trying to get the meaning correct over getting the exact wording. Changing something to get the "intent" right is a problem when the actual intent is not known, and I would argue that doing so in a translation is a much more "liberal" translation strategy, and goes much more into what the translator thinks than what is actually there.

I would agree with you that it's pretty clear that Paul would not have attempted to intentionally confuse the Corinthians, but maybe something was meant by that ambiguous turn of phrase that we have no way to know or find out. When that is the case, preserving the original wording is going to be more accurate than guessing at the intent and translating using that guess.

Dave Barnhart

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Larry wrote:
But increasingly in English usage, this is not the case. It's not the failure of grammarians. It's just life.

When I referred to "failure of grammarians," obviously I intended that somewhat figuratively, since there is no group of people who get to define English by fiat, even the editors of the OED. However, my point above was that if a good alternative had been suggested *before* the use of "he" for any gender-neutral singular began to fall out of use, then using "they" in place of it would likely not have become so prominent. I would bet that resistance by traditionalists (i.e. 'if "he" was good enough for our grandparents, it's good enough for our children') probably worked against coming up with something new.

You will note that except for some radical feminists, no one is trying to change "he" or "she" used as singular pronouns to something else, because they work fine. However using "he" for both genders or "he or she" doesn't really work because one is no longer generally accepted, and the other is way too awkward. Since there is no good alternative, "life," as you put it, has pretty much made clear that "they" is now informally acceptable. I find that I don't cringe quite as much at that as I would have at one time.

Dave Barnhart

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
Trying to determine intent and using that as part of translation goes even farther than functional equivalence, which at least is trying to get the meaning correct over getting the exact wording.
How would we know what a word means apart from authorial intention? This is a pretty fundamental feature of hermeneutics at all levels. Words have semantic domains, but a contextual meaning requires some discernment of authorial intention.

Getting the "exact wording" is not the goal. Communicating the author's intention is the goal. The words are important because they do that. That's why we talk of verbal, plenary inspiration. The words bring to us the message of God which is what God intended to communicate to us through human authors. The words do not exist for the sake of words.

But back to the illustration about ambiguity, if "love of Christ" was not ambiguous to Paul's audience (and I doubt that it was), our goal should not be the "preserve ambiguity" because there was never ambiguity there to preserve; it wasn't ambiguous. The ambiguity is because of our chronological and cultural distance, not because of the text.

It may be true that translators should leave it as "love of Christ" but that's not "maintaining ambiguity" unless Paul wrote something that was ambiguous. It's more akin to creating ambiguity, which when I speak with a translator, I do not like. I don't want ambiguity about what I am saying. This is why translators will sometimes stop and say, "Do you mean this or that?" before translating it. They want to make sure they got my intent right.

This whole discussion (not you, Dave) reminds me of a http://andynaselli.com/correcting-bible-translations ]something on Andy Naselli's blog a while back that read: "90 scholars with 11 PhDs a piece spent 25 years translating this but today I am going to tell you what the original Greek really says."

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