A Non-Ecclesiastical Bible

Recently Peter responded to a remark I had made in the comment section with this,

“Suzanne, I’m sorry to say that you have fallen into the same fallacy as … by claiming that Darby’s translation of 1 Timothy 2:15 is somehow less interpretive than KJV or Tyndale. Darby chose to render the Greek verb σωθήσεται as “she shall be preserved”. KJV chose to render this verb as “she shall be saved”. These are both interpretive choices. It may be true that Darby’s interpretive decision is correct and KJV’s is incorrect in this case, or it may not be true, but that is not the point. One is no less interpretive or more literal than the other.”

Thank you, Peter, for challenging me to think this over. I was brought up hearing the KJV read aloud in church, but the Darby translation was often used for personal Bible study. I have thought of the Darby translation as being more ‘literal’ than the KJV, but it may be that there is another word to describe the difference between these translations. If, in fact, they are both ‘literal’ translations, and there is a consistent difference in the pattern of translation, how should one describe this?

The tradition to which the Darby Bible belongs has been called ‘non-ecclesiastical.’ In this kind of translation ecclesiastical words like ‘church’ ‘bishop’ and ‘deacon’ do not appear. It is a deliberate attempt to avoid ‘church’ English in some domains. While this is not a black and white categorization, it is worth examining different translations to see how they appear in light of this criteria.

The cornerstone of a non-ecclesiastical translation is the absence of the word ‘church’ for εκκλεσια, which appears first in Matthew 16:18.

KJV And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Here is how the early translations compare.

Vulgate et ego dico tibi quia tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam

Wycliffe And Y seie to thee, that thou art Petre, and on this stoon Y schal bilde my chirche, and the yatis of helle schulen not haue miyt ayens it.

Tyndale And I saye also vnto the yt thou arte Peter: and apon this rocke I wyll bylde my congregacion. And the gates of hell shall not prevayle ageynst it.

Coverdale And I saie to ye: Thou art Peter, & vpo this rocke wil I builde my cogregacion: and ye gates of hell shal not preuayle agaynst it.

The Bishop’s Bible And I say also vnto thee, that thou art Peter, and vpon this rocke I wyll buylde my congregation: And the gates of hell shall not preuayle agaynst it

Geneva Bible And I say also vnto thee, that thou art Peter, and vpon this rocke I will builde my Church: and ye gates of hel shal not ouercome it.

After the KJV all of the better-known translations use the word church. However, the following do not.

Darby And *I* also, I say unto thee that *thou* art Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it.

Young’s Literal Translation `And I also say to thee, that thou art a rock, and upon this rock I will build my assembly, and gates of Hades shall not prevail against it;

Hebrew Names Translation I also tell you that you are Kefa, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of She’ol will not prevail against it.

A Non-Ecclesiastical New Testament Now I am also telling you that you are ‘Peter,’ and on this ‘rock’ I will construct my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail over it.

This last translation was completed in 1995 and comes with this comment in the introduction, which is worthy of reflection.

“Every translation follows the opinions of the translators and is therefore an opinion. This is not, therefore, “the Word of God;” it is a translation, an opinion, a mere human viewpoint of an ordinary human being. The value of this translation rests not in its authoritative nature but in the examination of the different paradigm which it may be found to contain.”

About his translation in general, he states,

“There are no apostles, angels, deacons or ministers, bishops, devils, demons, or preachers in this edition; rather, the reader will find envoys (those who are sent out as representatives), messengers, servants, overseers, accusers, spirit beings, and heralds. The term “church” has also been dropped in favor of “assembly,” which is the meaning of the Greek word. Here, this translator has followed certain former translators who refused to retain the “old ecclesiastical words.”

I undertook this research in order to define or provide an example of translations that are less influenced by the culture of the institutional church than the KJV, and the many translations that inherit its ecclesiastical vocabulary. These other translations are nontheless influenced by their own ‘non-conformist’ culture.

My purpose here is not to favour one translation or tradition over another but to demonstrate how very difficult it is to have a translation that is ‘transparent to the original text.’ Can any translation enable us to understand the original on its own terms rather than on the terms of 2000 years of accumulated church culture? Certainly not the KJV, NIV, TNIV, RSV and ESV. They all are alike in this – that to some extent they use words whose meanings were established after the New Testament era by a church hierarchy. What impresses me about the Non-Ecclesiatical translation is that the translator presents his translation as “mere human viewpoint.’

Note: Quotes from the translations in todays post are from StudyLight.org and A Non-Ecclesiastical New Testament. These links are found in the link Online Translations of the Bible located in the sidebar.

12 Comments

  1. Tim
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    I don’t have my copies at home with me, but I believe the NEB and REB also do not use ‘church’, or at least not in every case. I believe the NEB often uses ‘assembly’, but I’m going by memory.

    Tim

  2. Suzanne McCarthy
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    I haven’t found the REB online. I’m not sure that it matters to me which tradition a translation follows but I thought it would shed some light on the issue of how literal a translation is to realize that there are no word-for-word translations, but only thisparticularword-for-this particularword translations.

  3. Wayne Leman
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    What impresses me about the Non-Ecclesiatical translation is that the translator presents his translation as “mere human viewpoint.’

    Or even her translation, Suzanne. A great many females are busy in Bible translation work today. Well, you yourself have presented a good translation for John 1:14!

    :-)

    (I don’t know the emoticon for tongue-in-cheek so my smiley is the best I can do!)

  4. Suzanne McCarthy
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    In point of fact I was quoting a man, and allowed him to remain ‘he.’

    The translator’s name is Frank Daniels. I assume that he is a man. :) The question really is whether men are ‘human’. Is Frank allowed a ‘human’ viewpoint, or should we more correctly say, he has a ‘manly’ viewpoint, since his is, in fact, a man. Hmm.

  5. Wayne Leman
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    In point of fact I was quoting a man, and allowed him to remain ‘he.’

    The translator’s name is Frank Daniels.

    Ah, yes, I see that now. I confess to having done the “manly” thing and not listened (read) very well.

    Fair warning, though, I do listen for generic “he” and “his” and like to tease!

  6. Suzanne McCarthy
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I think it would be called ‘doing the male thing’ and not listening. The manly thing is that you admit it. :)

    I am a committed convert to the singular generic they, but I think I have always used it in speech, I just didn’t have such a good excuse until I read all your evidence. Thanks.

  7. Peter Kirk
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    In fact the one woman I know of who has translated the full NT, The Source New Testament by Ann Nyland, also uses “assembly” rather than “church” in this verse. In fact she also avoids traditional ecclesiastical terminology. I think she could have written the passages you quote from the Non-Ecclesiastical New Testament introduction, although she did not.

    But, Suzanne, while I am glad that you thought over the issue I raised in my earlier comment, I still don’t think you have grasped the issue fully. The difference between KJV and Darby in 1 Timothy 2:15 is not a matter of Darby avoiding a possibly churchy word like “saved”; after all, as I wrote before, Darby is quite happy to use “saved” in Romans 10:13.

    I am still puzzled about why you consider Darby to be more literal than KJV, unless it is simply that Darby is marketed as a literal version – or that is was preferred in the church, sorry, assembly in which you were brought up. One possible measure of literalness is consistency, in rendering the same Greek or Hebrew word with the same English one. In general Darby may be more consistent and so in this sense more literal than KJV, but on this particular point he is not, for he uses “saved” in one place and “delivered” in another for exactly the same Greek word, whereas KJV renders both “saved”.

    This is of course for me by no means a negative point about Darby’s translation. He has done the right thing here to avoid a confusing consistency. But here (to put it in terms which most of you will understand better than a reference to British politics) I feel a bit like a Democrat praising President Bush for not doing something even more crazy than usual like bombing al-Jazeera.

  8. exegete77
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Interesting points, Suzanne – and discussion. I suspect there is a distinction between “non-ecclesiastical” and “extra-ecclesiastical”? Frank Daniels’ translation attempts to be both, while most modern translations are the latter (being done by quasi-church groups – translation committees apart from any ecclesiastical group, except perhaps HCSB).

    It seems that there is a fallacy in Daniels’ approach. Namely, how can he circumvent 2,000 years of ecclesiastical history when it is that exact same ecclesiastical history that has produced, maintained, and transmitted the very same texts that he is translating? To me, this is a significant issue, that is often forgotten by many translators. One can at least see the desire of some to continue the Wycliffe/Coverdale/Geneva/KJV/RV/ASV tradition because it is does recognize the ecclesiastical history.

    BTW, I would hope that Frank Daniels can offer a “human” assessment, otherwise many of us would be “less than human”, some might even say “sub-human” – and I have been called worse! LOL

    Thanks, Suzanne.

  9. Wayne Leman
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Suzanne, seriously, I think there is some usefulness in noting a difference between eccliastical and non-ecclesiastical translations. At the same time, I agree with Rich that there is some value in recognizing the contribution of ecclesiastical tradition to Bible translation. For myself, however, I would never want ecclesiatical tradition to trump accuracy in translation. I would, in some strong ecclesiastical contexts, follow ecclesiastical tradition to make a translation acceptable to the dominant church (and its communicants) of an area. For instance, I find it acceptable to transliterate Greek baptizo to English when a translation of “immerse” would not be acceptable to many non-immersionist churches.

  10. Peter Kirk
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Rich asked how Daniels can “circumvent 2,000 years of ecclesiastical history when it is that exact same ecclesiastical history that has produced, maintained, and transmitted the very same texts that he is translating“.

    No, Rich. Daniels is translating the Nestle-Aland critical text, which has not been produced, maintained, and transmitted by any church, except in the purely accidental sense that some of the earliest manuscripts were lost for centuries in church or monastery libraries. The scholars who produced this critical text deliberately tried to circumvent nearly 2000 years of church history in an attempt to find the text which predates all that history and goes right back to the apostles. In practice they can’t go back to the very first century or so after the texts were written, but the aim is precisely to circumvent that history to find the original text.

    Now if you had said written that ecclesiastical history has interpreted the text, that would be a different matter. When we come to translation, it is not possible to entirely circumvent ecclesiastical tradition. Nevertheless, some translators consider it desirable to do so. Among those are translators who consider that the church has in some way been apostate since its earliest centuries. It is hardly surprising if persecuted translators like Tyndale had this kind of view of the church, and no doubt it was also held by someone like Darby who left the Anglican church. But others who try to circumvent ecclesiastical tradition do so because their target audience is outside the church and so negative towards church traditions.

  11. Suzanne McCarthy
    Posted December 28, 2005 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Hi Peter,

    One purpose of my post was to reinterpret the contrast between the KJV and Darby, so that I would not say that one was more literal than the other, but rather that the Darby translation was a non-ecclesiastical translation.

    Obviously I did not make it clear that I no longer consider the Darby translation more literal but rather different in its respect to chosen vocabulary.

    I still think it is correct to say that I ‘have thought of the Darby translation as being more literal’ and then go on to redefine this difference. I regret that this pattern, this progression in my thinking wasn’t clearer. How should I say it? Once upon a time I had thought that the Darby translation was more literal… but now that I am enlightened I see that the difference between the Darby and the KJV is a difference in ecclesiatical paradigm. Does that communicate better my intent? Yes, I think so. I will have to learn to be more clear.

    Really what is bothering me is that so much of the discussion elsewhere is predominated by the unidimensional contrast of ‘formal equaivalence’ and ‘dynamic equivalence’ as if that were all that is going on.

  12. Peter Kirk
    Posted December 29, 2005 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Suzanne, thanks for the clarification. Yes, I agree that the distinction between types of Bible is not unidimensional.


Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *

*
*

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 193 other followers

%d bloggers like this: