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God Created Man . . . Male and Female

Louis Markos makes an important point against the use of gender-neutral language in Bible translations:

Over the last several decades, this postmodern deconstruction of masculinity and femininity has, I believe, been fostered by the widespread acceptance of gender-neutral language. Many recent Bible translations (NRSV, NLT, CEV, NIV 2011) have adopted such language, despite the fact that God himself (Gen. 5:1–2) refers to the human race by the name of the first man, Adam. McDowell and Stonestreet do not use one of these translations (they use the ESV); still, I think their own use of gender-neutral language has the unintended consequence of downplaying the sexual complementarity on which strong and fruitful biblical marriages rest.

I suspect that the usage of “man” to refer to humanity in the English language resulted from the influence of the Bible.

If I’m reading a document from another time and place that has been translated into my language, I want to read the words they used so that I can see how they conceived of the world. I don’t want their way of conceptualizing the world re-shaped into the way the world is conceptualized by the pc police in this time and place. If that happens, I won’t have any suspicion that the world was seen differently in that time and place.

Once again, the best remedy for this is to learn and use the biblical languages. If you can’t do that, stick with a literal translation.

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What Flag Do Your Words Wave?

The way that we view the world is reflected in the words that we use to talk about it. At Ray Van Neste’s recommendation I’m beginning to read The Language of Canaan and the Grammar of Feminism by Vernard Eller, a short little book of 56 pages. He quotes Karl Barth on the important point that the words we use reflect our thought structures:

It was, I think, Karl Barth who once said something to the effect that Christians have an obligation to become competent in the “language of Canaan” (i.e., biblical ways of thinking and speaking) rather than simply demanding that everything be translated into our language (i.e., contemporary forms of thought).

This is exactly why I am an inveterate advocate of literal Bible translation–and I refuse to stop using the word “literal” because some people sniff at it.

The point is that if we are trying to learn Biblical Theology, we are trying to access the thoughts of the biblical authors, and for that to happen we need the words they used. I know, I know: you have to make adjustments moving from one language to another, but where possible–and it is usually possible–we should maintain the actual words they used rather than rephrasing things for them. If the biblical author has used the phrase “the good hand of God,” let’s keep that rather than changing it to “the gracious hand,” or “the gracious power.” Hebrew has words for gracious and power and those words are not what the biblical author chose in this case. Are we translating? Or are we re-phrasing because we can improve on what the biblical author wrote?

Among other things, maintaining the words as far as possible helps us see how inter-connected the Bible is, as it preserves biblical intertextuality.

Eller also speaks to the way that the words we use wave certain flags:

although the feminist grammar surely is not deliberately antirhetorical, it is most deliberately political. Its linguistic innovations (such as “chairperson,” “humankind,” “God gives us God’s grace,” “he or she”) are code symbols, each a little red flag bearing the letters FA (Feminist Approved). And the game–the language game–is to score points by the amount of writing that can be labeled FA. “Look: Eller has conceded! Or, if not that, at least an editor has dragged him in. Either way, you can chalk up another one for us.”

The use of our language is not a neutral matter, nor is the translation of the Bible. Bible translators may not be consciously capitulating to the feminist agenda, but when they avoid words like “father” and choose words like “ancestor” or “family leader” instead, points are being scored.

Another reason to learn the biblical languages, and persist in them.

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Robert Gundry on N. T. Wright’s Translation of the New Testament

Calling it “Tom’s Targum,” Bob Gundry makes some important points about translation theory and much else in an entertaining and spirited review of N. T. Wright’s translation of the New Testament.

Some highlights:

Time was when everybody understood a translation to be a more or less word-for-word transfer of meaning from one language to another—”or less” because grammatical constructions differ in languages foreign to each other and therefore sometimes require renderings looser than word-for-word. On the other hand, everybody understood a paraphrase to be recognizably freer: more thought-for-thought than word-for-word. But translation of the Bible increasingly into languages featuring grammatical structures far different from those of biblical Hebrew and Greek, and carrying cultural freight far different from that of the Bible, made word-for-word transfer a lot less feasible.

Along came the dynamic (or functional) equivalence theory of translation. For the sake of languages and cultures exotic to those of the Bible, this theory incorporated paraphrase into translation, so that even in English versions of the Bible the boundary between translation and paraphrase became as porous as the border between the USA and Mexico. You can even hear Eugene Peterson’s The message, a paraphrase if there ever was one and self-identified as such, quoted as a “translation.” The incorporation of paraphrase into translation may best be illustrated by the shift from the marketing of Kenneth Taylor’s The Living Bible originally as “a paraphrase” to its being marketed now as The New Living Translation, though those who revised it (I was one of them) were told at the start to keep it recognizable as a paraphrase by Taylor.

In the wake of this development arrives The Kingdom New Testament (from here on KNT) by N. T. Wright, identified effusively in its back ad as “the world’s leading New Testament scholar (Newsweek)” and accurately in its gatefold as “one of the world’s leading Bible scholars.” Duly distinguishing between translation and paraphrase, Wright asks, “Is this new version really a translation or a paraphrase?” and answers, “It’s a translation, not a paraphrase.” Why a new translation? Because language is constantly changing, so that “translating the New Testament is something that, in fact, each generation ought to be doing.” (I leave aside the question whether for the present generation enough new translations have already been produced.)

KNT originally appeared in Wright’s series of popular commentaries on the New Testament—Matthew for Everyone et al.—and therefore sports a colloquial style. I’ll call Everyone “Joe the plumber” and “Jane the hairdresser.” Or to suit today’s American culture, should I say “Jane the plumber” and “Joe the hairdresser”? Either way, “J&J.” And since Wright calls me “Bob,” I’ll call him “Tom.” Colloquialism all around, then, so that KNT is to be evaluated at the level of J&J’s everyday speech.

“She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth” adopts one of several possible interpretations of 1 Timothy 2:15 by translating “She will be saved” as “She will … be kept safe” and by injecting “the process of” into “through childbirth.” Perhaps the most obvious example of a translation slanted by interpretation appears earlier in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which Tom renders as follows: “They [godly women] must study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed.” Tom first replaces learning (from men) in quietness with studying undisturbed (by men). Then he imports “to God,” with no support in the Greek text, to make God rather than men the object of women’s submission—against the making of men, especially husbands, the objects of women’s submission according to Tom’s own translations of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1, 5. Finally, he changes Paul’s “I don’t permit [a woman to teach men or dictate to them]” into a wishy-washy “I’m not saying that ….”

Does KNT work, then, as a translation in the sense taken for granted by J&J when reading both KNT’s subtitle, “A Contemporary Translation,” the back ad’s description of KNT as “modern prose that stays true to the character of the ancient Greek text … conveying the most accurate rendering possible,” and Tom’s own statement of having “tried to stick closely to the original”? No, not even by the standards of dynamic/functional equivalence, of which J&J are ignorant anyway. Too much unnecessary paraphrase. Too many insertions uncalled for. Too many inconsistencies of translation. Too many changes of meaning. Too many (and overly) slanted interpretations. Too many errant renderings of the base language.

But there is a body of religious literature characterized by all those traits, viz., the ancient Jewish targums, which rendered the Hebrew Old Testament into the Aramaic language. So KNT’s similar combination of translation, paraphrase, insertions, semantic changes, slanted interpretations, and errant renderings—all well-intentioned—works beautifully as a targum. Which apart from the question of truth in advertising isn’t to disparage KNT. For the New Testament itself exhibits targumizing, as when, for example, Mark 4:12 has “lest … it be forgiven them” in agreement with the targum of Isaiah 6:10 rather than “lest … one heals them” (so the Hebrew), and as when 2 Timothy 3:8 has “Jannes and Jambres” in agreement with a targum of Exodus 7:11-8:19, which in the Hebrew original leaves Pharaoh’s magicians unnamed. Hence, Tom’s Targum. Trouble is, J&J won’t know they’re reading a targum.

Read the whole thing.

HT: Bobby Jamieson

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Camus’s Translator on Translation

I have posted before on Dostoevsky’s translator, and I was pleased to read the “Translator’s Note” to Albert Camus’s The Stranger. Matthew Ward is the translator, and it seems to me that his comments weigh against “dynamic equivalence” in favor of a more literal rendering. Ward is actually critiquing the earlier more dynamic translation of Stuart Gilbert. Here’s what he says:

Camus acknowledged employing an “American method” in writing The Stranger . . . . There is some irony then in the fact that for forty years the only translation available to American audiences should be Stuart Gilbert’s “Brittanic” rendering. . . . As all translators do, Gilbert gave the novel a consistency and voice all his own. A certain paraphrastic earnestness might be a way of describing his effort to make the text intelligible, to help the English-speaking reader understand what Camus meant. In addition to giving the text a more “American” quality, I have also attempted to venture farther into the letter of Camus’s novel, to capture what he said and how he said it, not what he meant. In theory, the latter should take care of itself.

When Meursault meets old Salamano and his dog in the dark stairwell of their apartment house, Meursault observes, “Il etait avec son chien.” With the reflex of a well-bred Englishman, Gilbert restores the conventional relation between man and beast and gives additional adverbial information: “As usual, he had his dog with him.” But I have taken Meursault at his word: “He was with his dog.”–in the way one is with a spouse or a friend. A sentence as straightforward as this gives us the world through Meursault’s eyes. As he says toward the end of his story, as he sees things, Salamano’s dog was worth just as much as Salamano’s wife. Such peculiarities of perception, such psychological increments of character are Meursault. It is by pursuing what is unconventional in Camus’s writing that one approaches a degree of its still startling originality.

. . . .

. . . an impossible fidelity has been my purpose.

. . . time reveals all translation to be paraphrase.

Sentiments such as these are very close to my own reasons for thinking the Bible should be translated literally.


Dynamic Equivalence: The Method Is the Problem

What Makes a Translation Accurate?

“Son of Man” or “Human Beings” in the NIV 2011: What Difference Does It Make?

The Heresy of Explanation

Can Dostoevsky’s Translator Weigh in on Bible Translation?

Was Gender Usage in the English Language Shaped by the Old Testament in Hebrew?

The Word of God Is Living and Active (unless your translation philosophy emasculates it)

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What Makes a Translation Accurate?

What makes a translation accurate?

Its ability to preserve the way that later biblical authors evoke earlier Scripture. The Bible was written by at least 40 authors from Moses in the 1400s BC to John around AD 90. Everyone who followed Moses learned from his work, and the later authors made heavy use of what the earlier authors had written.

When we consider “accuracy” in a translation, one factor that should receive more attention is the question of whether the influence of earlier Scripture on later Scripture has been preserved. The biblical authors are not always engaging earlier passages in ways that are obvious. The authors of biblical narrative do more “showing” than “telling,” and the authors of biblical poetry and prophecy have very subtle ways of evoking the promises and curses, patterns and portrayals from the narratives.

There is, of course, a spectrum of opinion about how best to translate. Those who present a dynamic equivalent may “accurately” communicate the meaning of a particular passage in the language into which the Bible is being translated. But what if the translator did not see a subtle connection the biblical author made to an earlier passage of Scripture? This could result from the fact that while the translator may be an expert in the Psalms, he may not have spent as much time as he would like in Deuteronomy or Genesis. Or, what if the translator did see the re-use of words or even whole phrases from an earlier passage (or passages) but thought it was of no significance and so did not preserve it in his dynamic equivalent? Yet a third possibility is that the translator saw the connections, thought they were significant, but thought that clarity in the translation was more important than the preservation of intertextuality. If the translator does not present a formal equivalent, will readers of the translation have the opportunity to evaluate the significance of subtle connections to earlier Scripture?

The more dynamic a translation is, the more often one is faced with these questions. Consider, for instance, the possibility that there are connections at word and phrase levels between Genesis 12, Genesis 15, 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 72, Luke 1, and Galatians 3. Will these connections be evident if one scholar presents a dynamic equivalent rendering of the relevant statements in Genesis 12 and 15, then another scholar does the same for 2 Samuel 7, perhaps without concern for or knowledge of how Genesis 12 and 15 have been rendered? What if this process is continued by a third scholar working on Psalms, a fourth on Luke, and a fifth on Galatians? Then the dynamic equivalents of the various scholars are forwarded to a final committee. Will the committee be in position to bring all these dynamic equivalents together “accurately” to represent connections between these texts and the myriads of others whose influence is operative?

This issue is ultimately a great motivation to learn the biblical languages! Most people will not have that opportunity. Will they have the opportunity to see more or less of the Bible’s inter-connectedness? Won’t more of the Bible’s inter-connectedness be preserved if the translation is presenting formal equivalence instead of dynamic equivalence? Because the influence of earlier Scripture is so often determinative for the meaning of later Scripture, I prefer more literal translations.

Originally posted at BibleGateway

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What difference does it make if we capitalize son in Psalm 2?

The promises to David from 2 Samuel 7:4–17 are clearly in view in Psalm 2, especially in verses 5–12. In 1 Kings 2:1–4 and several other passages these promises are specifically applied to Solomon. These promises are also significant in the accounts of kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah. There is a sense, then, in which the promises apply to the line of kings that descends from David. This line culminates in Jesus, in whom the promises are ultimately fulfilled.

The problem with capitalizing son in Psalm 2:7 is that it cuts straight from from 2 Samuel 7 to Jesus. It’s great to get to Jesus, but the short cut keeps readers from seeing the typological development that grows and deepens through the accounts of the sons of David. This can keep us from understanding what Jesus meant when he declared that one greater than Solomon had arrived (cf. Matt 12:42).

So capitalizing son in Psalm 2:7 gets the termination point right, but it can keep us from feeling the buildup of the development that swells and plunges between David and Jesus.

Originally posted at BibleGateway

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Prince Charles, the Book of Common Prayer, and Dynamic Equivalence Translation Philosophy

I think what Prince Charles says about the Book of Common Prayer is relevant to translation philosophy:

Prince Charles, heir apparent to the British throne, is widely disliked by conservatives because of some of his politically incorrect statements. But his introduction to a new book celebrating the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is one that cultural conservatives should cheer heartily. He writes:

“Over recent years, we have witnessed a concerted effort to devalue the currency of [the 1662 BCP’s] resonant words. But who was it who decided that for people who aren’t very good at reading, the best things to read are those written by people who aren’t very good at writing? Poetry is surely for everybody, even if it’s only a few phrases. But banality is for nobody. It might be accessible for all, but so is a desert.”

HT: Michael Potemra

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Union University KJV Festival

At Denny Burk’s recommendation I listened to these addresses in the car last week. Enjoyed them so much I’m commending them to you. Here’s what Denny said about them that got me to listen to them:

Union University recently hosted the “KJV400 Festival,” a conference celebrating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. All reports are that the conference was a great success. The audio from the conference is now available for free download from the Union University website. I have already begun listening to the plenary sessions, and they are fantastic. I have linked them below so that you can hear them too. There are many more presentations from the breakout sessions that are available at Union’s website.

Timothy George – “William Tyndale and the Making of the English Bible” [download]



John Woodbridge – “The Status of Biblical Authority Among Europeans at the Creation of the King James Bible” [download]



Leland Ryken – “What Makes the King James Version Great?” [download]

Leland Ryken – “The Legacy of the King James Bible” [download]


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Grudem’s Essay, “Are Only Some Words of Scripture Breathed Out By God?”

Crossway has generously granted me permission to post a free copy of an important essay by Wayne Grudem:

Are Only Some Words of Scripture Breathed Out by God? Why Plenary Inspiration Favors ‘Essentially Literal’ Bible Translation

This essay was published in Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005) 19–56.

Grudem’s thesis is in the sub-title of the essay: Why Plenary Inspiration Favors ‘Essentially Literal’ Bible Translation.

Grudem writes:

‘I will argue in this chapter (1) that the Bible repeatedly claims that every one of its words (in the original languages) is a word spoken to us by God, and is therefore of utmost importance; and (2) that this fact provides a strong argument in favor of “essentially literal” (or “word-for-word”) translation as opposed to “dynamic equivalent” (or “thought-for-thought”) translation.’

One of the frustrating things about this debate is the way it seems people on different sides seem to be talking past (or perhaps not listening to) each other. (In the end, however, it may come down to a simple disagreement. If that’s the case, register me on the ‘essentially literal’ side of the spectrum.)

Grudem avoids the talking past/not listening to problem by giving patient, fair, careful definitions of what he means by both “essentially literal” (this is more nuanced, as the Leithart quote also shows, than the caricature often painted by opponents) and “dynamic equivalence.” Grudem’s final section before the essay’s conclusion is an insightful discussion of how Eugene Nida arrived at his positions. Here Grudem expresses appreciation for Nida, but weighs the method and finds it wanting.

If you’ve only read the other side of this discussion, you might be surprised to know that Grudem discusses the spectrum along which Bible translations fall. The surprise would be natural, since sometimes advocates of dynamic equivalence use things like definitions of “essentially literal” or “dynamic equivalence” or the reality that there’s a spectrum of possibilities like “gotcha” cards. Reading that side of the discussion might give you the impression that only an idiot would favor the “essentially literal” translation philosophy. That kind of argumentation scores rhetorical points, until someone compares those arguments (which are little more than subtle ad homimen attacks) with something like this essay by Grudem.

Preliminaries in place, Grudem dives into the biblical evidence. Here’s the full outline of the essay:

I. Introduction

A. Essentially Literal
B. Dynamic Equivalence
C. Translations Fall Along a Spectrum

II. The Argument from the Bible’s Teaching About Its Own Words

III. If All the Words Are From God, Then Translations Should Translate No Less Than the Original

IV. Dynamic Equivalence Translations Often Leave Out the Meanings of Some Words That Are in the Original Text

1. The Missing Sword
2. Removing the Wrath of God
3. The Missing Hands
4. The Lost Soul
5. The Lost Spirit
6. The Disappearing Rod of Discipline
7. The Lost Faces
8. The Lost Kiss
9. The Missing Heart and the Absent Holy Spirit

V. Dynamic Equivalence Translations Often Add Meaning That Is Not in the Original Text

1. Restrictions to What God Provides
2. Added Elders
3. Teachers Who Can Never Get Anything Right
4. Boasting About Being Wise as the Worst Kind of Lie

VI. The Result: Can We Trust Dynamic Equivalence Translations?

VII. The Theory of Dynamic Equivalence Is the Culprit Behind These Missing and Added Words

VIII. Conclusion

Thanks again to Crossway for the fact that you can download this important essay and read the whole thing:

Are Only Some Words of Scripture Breathed Out by God? Why Plenary Inspiration Favors ‘Essentially Literal’ Bible Translation.”

I think Dynamic Equivalence is a translation philosophy that should be rejected by those who hold to verbal plenary inspiration. Or perhaps it would be better to distinguish more clearly between translating and explaining. When translating, dynamic equivalence is inappropriate. When explaining, dynamic equivalant to your heart’s content.


Dynamic Equivalence: The Method Is the Problem

The Heresy of Explanation

Can Dostoevsky’s Translator Weigh in on Bible Translation?

Was Gender Usage in the English Language Shaped by the Old Testament in Hebrew?

The Word of God Is Living and Active (unless your translation philosophy emasculates it)

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The Word of God Is Living and Active (unless your translation philosophy emasculates it)

In Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture, Peter Leithart writes (3–6),

“It is easy for Christians to blame secularists for ‘letting the Bible go,’ but the church is at least as culpable. As [Clive] James points out, translation is a key symptom of our willingness to emasculate our own Scriptures.
[here Leithart presents two renderings of Psalm 23, first the KJV then the Message, then discusses a few differences between the translations]
The most crucial difference, though, is a difference in authority: which language, which idiom, determines the rendering of the Hebrew into English? For the KJV, the Hebrew text forces itself on the English. ‘Valley of the shadow of death,’ now an English cliche, was introduced by Bible translators, as was ‘my cup runneth over.’ Older translations refreshed the target language (English) by bringing in the Hebrew as much as possible. The KJV enlarged not only the language but also the conceptual apparatus of English speakers, as more or less common words and concepts like table and cup and staff took on the religious aura of the psalm. For The Message, by contrast, contemporary English dictates what the Bible may and may not say.
Leithart continues:
“This example from The Message is far from the most egregious example that could be found. But it does go some way toward justifying Dwight Macdonald’s complaint that modern Bible translators turn down Scripture’s ‘voltage, so it won’t blow any fuses.’
My point is not merely aesthetic, and it is not at all nostalgic. I am not pining to hear the echoing, arching rhythms of the KJV ring from pulpits everywhere. My point is theological, and one of the main themes of this book. For The Message, the crucial thing about the Bible is the substance of what it teaches us, and many readers and interpreters come to the Bible with the same interests. For translators, commentators, preachers, and theologians, the idioms and cadences, the rhetoric and the tropes, the syntax and the vocabulary of the original have been reduced to mere vehicles for communicating that message. If the vehicle fails to reach its destination, we change vehicles. We substitute, add, or subtract words to make the Bible sound normal. We change idioms to be more familiar. We turn God’s names into generic terms of divinity. We fiddle with the Bible’s rhetoric so that it fits our rhetoric, rather than letting the Bible’s rhetoric shape ours. Once we think we have found the spirit of the text, we feel free to mold the letter as we will.
As the comparison of the two translations indicates, students of the Bible have not always treated the Bible this way. Older translators recognized that no translation can completely capture all the features of the original text. But the goal of Reformation and post-Reformation Bible translators was always to carry over as much of the original text as possible into the target text. When Tyndale found no word for a Hebrew concept, he invented one–atonement–which is having a remarkably fruitful career in the English language, not to mention English theology, psychology, anthropology, and political theory. When the KJV translators found the Hebrew redundant, they made the English redundant: ‘dying, you shall die.’ When they found a vulgarity, they (sometimes) kept it in English: a vulgar man is one who ‘pisseth against the wall.’ For most earlier translators, and for commentators, preachers, and Bible scholars, the original Bible set the agenda, while the target language and the target culture were expected to make room for it. They did not believe that the Bible needed to adjust to our prior concepts and institutions.
Scripture once transformed the world precisely because Bible students clung to the letter. Once the letter is reduced to a malleable vehicle, Scripture loses its potency. It no longer shapes our imaginations, our poetry, or our politics, because it is not allowed to say anything we do not already know.
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