Wisconsin Evangelical Lutherans endorse NIV 2011

In a pointed contrast to the way in which the Southern Baptist Convention recently condemned the NIV 2011 update in a snap vote, the Translation Evaluation Committee of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has prepared a long and detailed report (PDF) proposing that the Synod formally accept this new version for use in its publications. Their evaluation process included discussions with Douglas Moo of the CBT (the NIV translation committee). This report can serve as a model of how a new Bible version should be evaluated in this kind of context.

Thanks to Esteban Vázquez for the link.

64 Comments

  1. Posted July 1, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    You’ve hit on a subject close to home. I’ve had a WELS blogger on my site recently who – not surprisingly – is investigating why others are up in arms about NIV 2011. The comment below reworks a comment already made on Esteban’s wonderful blog.

    I am fairly conversant with the situation you allude to. A large and significant part of the Lutheran family is WELS. It has been a staunch NIV supporter since the beginning. Some of the principals in the debate are people I know and for whom I have the utmost respect.

    Make no mistake: in the wake of the changes incorporated into NIV 2011, the chances of WELS distancing itself from NIV and moving in the direction of ESV have never been stronger.

    There is a long tradition in the WELS of sympathizing with the translation philosophy of a great LCMS pastor and missionary, William F. Beck. His AAT is an example of what a Bible in Nidaesque common language would look like if crafted by an orthodox Lutheran. In many ways it is a marvelous translation.
    AAT is to NIV as wine is to water. Nonetheless, in the context of WELS politics, NIV was the compromise solution with something like KJV or NKJV on the other extreme.

    NIV 1984 was an excellent solution. It is now beloved by many WELS folk – virtually none of whom have cultural affinities with those behind the changes that led to the gender-sensitive revision known as NIV 2011.
    The original NIV people (whom you know well) were irenic and accommodating to the particular demands WELS had in the process of putting the final touches on NIV 1984.

    WELS is now in a bind. Despite the attempts of Moo and company to be just as accommodating this time around, there might very well be the makings of a “Tea Party” movement within WELS against NIV 2011. By that I mean a bottom-up rather than top-down groundswell against the extent to which NIV 2011 made modifications in line with a (un-)felt need for gender-sensitive language. A groundswell of the kind that did NIV 2011 in among Southern Baptists.

    I’ll be honest and say that, as soon as it became clear to what extent NIV 2011 would depart from NIV 1984 in terms of gender-sensitive language – elimination of phrases like “God and man,” “man and beast,” avoidance of generic masculine pronouns, plurializing of singular constructions in the name of the same priority – I thought it unlikely that NIV 2011 would gain wide acceptance. The changes in and of themselves are not terribly significant (though I don’t mind saying I dis-prefer a sizable number of them). But they are easily understood as portending or promoting extra-textual changes of a particular kind.

    One needs to keep in mind that WELS is old school on gender issues. Men only vote in assembly. Men only are ordained. The recommended marriage vows are the traditional “love/obey.” Same sex marriage: forget about it. If the wife of a WELS pastor divorces him, even if it is obviously on her, he is defrocked.
    On the other hand, there is no evidence that women are oppressed in the WELS family. They don’t have equal “rights,” but that is not the same thing, viewed emically. If I had to say anything, I would say that WELS women tend to have a stronger and a more vital self-directed faith than do women in many so-called progressive environments.

    Nonetheless, against this backdrop, it will be a more than a little bit uphill for NIV 2011 among WELS Lutherans.

    One further note: it is my understanding that it is WELS policy that if a WELS member finds herself in a city in which there is no WELS congregation – as often in the American South – the recommendation is to go to an SBC congregation. I point that out because what has happened in the SBC may influence matters in WELS.

  2. Posted July 1, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Oops. I forgot to delete “whom you know well.” Esteban is personally familiar with the godly Christian Reformed scholars behind NIV 1984. You, I imagine, probably not.

  3. Posted July 1, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    John, thanks for the long and detailed comment. I suspected that the in depth report was intended to head off some significant dissent within WELS. I guess we can only wait and see what happens at the actual synod. If you hear a report before me, please mention it in the comment.

  4. Posted July 18, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    “In our evaluation of the various English versions, it is likewise important for us to apply the eighth commandment to the work of the translators lest we demonize those whose approach we may disagree with or dislike.”

    Assuming these Lutherans are using the Catholic, rather than the Protestant numbering of the Ten Commandments, they go on to do the very thing in the very next paragraph:

    “An Unavoidable Issue
    Here one might well ask, “If this is such an emotive issue, why then would one ever want to revise a version as popular as the NIV?” There are two reasons. First of all, language changes. The English we speak today is not exactly the same as the English that was spoken in Elizabethan England or even at the time of the Civil War. Words once used often, pass into oblivion. The meanings of individual words also change—sometimes within the space of a single generation. For this reason, “freezing” a translation that was intended from the outset to communicate in contemporary English was not an option for a committee charged with the responsibility for translating it.”

    An “unacceptable option”–yet it is the very thing the CBT did in “freezing” the 1984 NIV and coming out with the “additional” TNIV–which in turn has now been rebranded as the “New and Improved” NIV to replace the very edition they promised to never change again.

  5. Posted July 18, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    “Although he published a translation of the entire Bible in 1534, Luther and a committee of scholars continued to 37 work on revising it throughout his lifetime and until his death in 1546. Revising a translation is, 38 therefore, hardly a new concept.”

    Neither is “freezing” a translation. Luther himself wrote, in a preface to his last of over thirty revisions of the Luther Bible:

    “I entreat all my friends and foes, my masters, printers, and readers, that they would let this New Testament be mine. If, however, they find a deficiency therein, that they make their own for themselves. I know well what I make; I also see well what others make. But this Testament shall be Luther’s German Testament. For of playing the master and of criticizing there is now neither measure nor end.

    And let every man be warned against other copies, for hitherto I have well experienced how carelessly and falsely others reprint us.”

  6. Mike Sangrey
    Posted July 18, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Whiteman, one quick quibble with your comment. You mention that the CBT froze the NIV, promising to never change it. That seems quite odd to me since it is written into their bylaws that they need a 75% Quorum to change it. See here.

    [This is an update to my comment]
    Also, the CBT FAQ, under the question, “Why update the NIV?” states

    The original NIV charter requires us to constantly monitor developments in biblical scholarship and changes in English usage and to reflect these changes in periodic updates to the text. Without these periodic updates the NIV would be unable to maintain the priorities that have drawn people to it over the years: providing the optimum blend of transparency to the original text and ease of understanding for a broad audience.

  7. Posted July 19, 2011 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    On May 27, 1997, The International Bible Society issued a press release saying it “has abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version (NIV)”. It stated further that “The present (1984) NIV text will continue to be published. There are no plans for a further revised edition.”

  8. Posted July 19, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    White Man, that statement was made by IBS, not the CBT which is an independent body. Anyway it was not a promise for all eternity. At the time IBS may have had no plans but over the last 14 years they have made new plans, as any business would be expected to do. In any case the statement you refer to was arguably issued under duress without proper consideration and authorisation.

  9. Posted July 19, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Mike and Peter,

    I confess I was a little sloppy with my words, so thanks for the clarifications. It’s true that they referred to “plans,” not a promise.

    But I watched the press conference when the 2011 (“400th anniversary of the KJV”) NIV was announced, back in 2009. It was held jointly and severally by IBS/Biblica, Zondervan/NewsCorp, and the CBT. Mention was made of an earlier ‘promise’ (whatever word was used) that the 1984 NIV would never be revised, but that they had repented of that. So whether or not one feels they should be held to this plan/promise, nevertheless it was prominent enough in their minds that they felt they had to mention it, and somehow excuse themselves from holding to it.

    The whole fracas since 1995 had been over gender-sensitive language, and it’s interesting that no one at the table–Moo particularly–was willing to admit that there would be any gender-sensitive language in the 2011 NIV, although I’m convinced that it was a forgone conclusion that there would be. A few of the most outrageous passages were changed, no doubt with input like that provided by the Wisconsin Lutherans, but in the end there’s no chance they were going to go back to using ‘Man’ as a generic reference.

    Anyway, I appreciate all the research the Wisconsin Lutherans did to nail down every last difference between the ONIV, TNIV, and NNIV. I plan to make ongoing use of the database.

  10. Posted July 19, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    White Man, in 2009 they were of course expecting people to raise this issue and so dealt with it at the press conference. Or was that in response to someone raising the issue? Of course it was a point that needed to be clarified, and I am glad it was. It was entirely predictable that the gender language would not be much changed from TNIV, as indeed I predicted at the time.

  11. Posted July 19, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Gentle Wisdom
    This certainly seems to go against the promise which IBS (now Biblica) allegedly made in 1997 that “it would in the future continue to publish the NIV of 1984 unchanged”.

    Peter, I’ll go with your own wording, which used ‘promise.’ Certainly that is how the complimentarians took it. And I think the point may indeed have come up as a question from the floor–one for which IBS/NewsCorp/CBT had a ready answer.

  12. Posted July 19, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    White Man, in 2009 I wrote about “the promise which IBS (now Biblica) allegedly made in 1997″. But I have seen no evidence that they in fact made any promise. They made adopted a resolution, the words of which were reported the same day by the Baptist Press. But the word “promise” is not used. And the words “The present (1984) NIV text will continue to be published” do not include “for ever” or any equivalent. Publication has continued for a further 14 years and will continue for a little longer, which I think is more than adequate to fulfil any commitment in the resolution.

  13. Posted August 2, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    The WELS synod in July failed to endorse NIV 2011. For links and discussion go here:

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2011/08/another-denominational-groundswell-against-the-new-niv.html

  14. Posted August 3, 2011 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    I am interested in the examples of how the NIV 2011 “overinterprets messianic prophecies” as this appears to be the chief reason that the NIV 2011 has not been recommended by this organization.

  15. Posted August 3, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    In Resolution 1 which passed at the synod, the delegates declined to accept the TEC’s recommendation to accept NIV11 for synod publications. Two problem areas were identified and remanded to the TEC as follows:

    resolved, that the TEC specifically address the concerns about gender inclusive language and Messianic prophecy in connection with their proposal to use NIV 2011 in synod publications

    For the resolution in full:

    http://www.wels.net/sites/wels/files/19-01%20Translation%20Evaluation%20Committee.pdf

    The concern with respect to Messianic prophecy is a real one. The decision not to translate ben adam in Psalm 8 with “a son of man” was inopportune: note that the expression is retained in NABRE 2011 and the revised Grail Psalms 2010.

    Christians with a keen appreciation of traditional exegesis, Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant, want a translation that preserves in its diction the source text’s openness to messianic fulfillment (already Hebrews 2 in this instance).

    Tom Nass (disclaimer: Tom is a friend of mine) argues at length that NIV11 is not perfect on this issue but good enough:

    http://www.wels.net/sites/wels/files/Messianic%20Prophecy%20and%20English%20Translations.pdf

  16. Posted August 3, 2011 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Suzanne, I would like to see such examples also. I have heard that the CBT made a deliberate effort to make revisions to NIV 1984 to leave the O.T. passages referring to what is in their original context. The over-christologizing has been a frequent criticism of NIV 1984. I can’t quote chapter and verse for anything right now since I am still away from home and my reference materials and I still have very poor Internet access. But that will change after Elena and I fly home tomorrow.

  17. Posted August 3, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    John,

    This is not clear to me. When the phrase “overinterprets messianic prophecies” was used I assumed that it meant that the messianic prophecy aspect of the passage was overinterpreted, that OT passages were “over christologized.”

    It appears that the concern would be better expressed as the “underchristologization” of the OT. The concerns seem to be summarized as

    – the removal of a handful of capitalizations, which in some cases bring the NIV 2011 in line with the KJV.
    – the use of “human beings” in Ps. 8
    – the addition of a footnote for Is. 7 mentioning the usage of “young woman”

    Are these three concerns enough to cause the NIV 2011 to be rejected?

  18. Posted August 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    There are probably other examples along the same lines as those you point out. It’s not about under-christologization so much as rendering prophecy or psalm passages understood to have a messianic fulfillment in Christ in such a way that that the wording is open to that interpretation.

    Rodney Decker on the other hand argues for strict compartmentalization. Christians with a higher appreciation for traditional exegesis will not follow him, or NIV11, in this non-traditional view.

    Another set of problems are also a determining factor. I discuss these on my blog.

  19. Posted August 3, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    in such a way that that the wording is open to that interpretation.

    I find it hard to believe that the change in capitalization back to the KJV pattern is objectionable. Perhaps the footnote for Is. 7 is offensive to some. But I feel that this leaves us with Ps. 8, which is an issue that ought not to be discussed here. I won’t bring it up on my blog, nor can I participate on yours.

    However, it is always useful to stay informed of how others are making their value judgements.

  20. Posted August 3, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Actually, Suzanne, I don’t think the issue with Psalm 8:5 is primarily one that cannot be discussed here. After all the NIV 2011 rendering is hardly g****r neutral. The basic issue with this verse is whether the primary referent of what is traditionally translated “the son of man” is a generic person or the Messiah. If the meaning we translate is the meaning intended by the original author, the psalmist, then I would say there is little doubt that the referent is a generic person. The NIV 2011 translators clearly agreed. But so did the KJV and NIV 1984 translators when they used small letters here – contrast Psalm 2:7 in these two versions with capital letters.

    The only logical reason that WELS can have for objecting to the NIV 2011 rendering is that it is less literal. So we are left in the strange position that a translation has to be literal in places where some preachers might want to find a probably inappropriate Messianic reference. Should translators be bound by that kind of thinking?

  21. Posted August 3, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    It is a question of wording much more than capitalization. The problem is serious, not just for confessional Lutherans but for traditional Orthodox and Catholics.

    The Orthodox and the Catholics never have cottoned to NIV; it is after all a Protestant Bible from many points of view.

    There are strands of Protestantism and Anglicanism that are paleo-orthodos. Defenders of TNIV and now NIV11 like Decker end up turning the paleo-orthodox against those versions, since Decker presents those versions as instantiating his non-traditional views on prophecy.

    Christological interpretation of the Psalms is deeply rooted not only in Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and orthodox Lutheranism, but also in a part of the Anglican tradition and in the Puritan tradition. For specifically Lutheran objections to NIV11 on this score, you can always ask for clarification and discussion on blogs by WELS and LCMS people. They will be happy to respond to respectful inquiries.

  22. Posted August 3, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    I think it is the use of “human beings” as a synonym of “mankind” that is the difficulty.

    Perhaps it would be better to go with something a great deal more evocative of the original languages like this translation that John offers,

    What are mortals
    that you mind them
    children of dust
    that you note them.

  23. Posted August 3, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Suzanne, that rendering of John’s is excellent apart from the unfortunate rendering of ‘adam as “dust”, which is an example of the etymological fallacy.

  24. Posted August 3, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    It is always a challenge to differentiate in some way between ish, enosh, adam, and gibbor.

  25. Posted August 4, 2011 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    Peter,

    It’s not a fallacy that fails or makes you fall flat on your face so long as you know what you are doing. And poets know what they are doing, far more than you give them credit for. Moreover, poets are often misunderstood by the literal-minded, which is why Plato called them liars and wanted them banned from his Republic. I think you have more in common with Plato than you know.

    Suzanne,

    Thank you for citing my translation of Psalm 8, which provides me with an occasion for exemplifying further what is at stake here.

    The translations I offer on blog are, unless I state otherwise, not “traditioned” translations.

    They render a Vorlage (the text before the translator) for its own sake, apart from its “emplotment” in the canon of Jewish scriptures, in the canon of Christian scriptures, and in a larger metanarrative, inclusive of Old, New, and para-canonical writings including the deuterocanonicals, and the creeds.

    My first commitment is to the texts and their authors, what the texts would have meant at the intersection of author, text, and first audiences / readerships.

    It’s a hard slog since most people are reactive readers and read the texts based on their own sense of right and wrong, their own likes and dislikes, what rings true to them. If that means refusing to take the text on its own terms, who cares.

    Most people don’t even try to understand what the texts might have meant to those for whom they were written. They bring to the text questions of their own, rather than allow the text to suggest questions appropriate to it.

    They don’t have time, so they believe, to understand the text from the inside out; if they did, they would discover that the text, paradoxically, speaks to them and changes them and causes them to rethink themselves and their world.

    Let’s face it: we live in a narcissistic age. How many people care about what a bunch of dead white males had on their minds in some age of darkness best forgotten?

    At stake is a sense of what constitutes virtuous reading. Here I side with Sarah Ruden, the great translator of Virgil, who learned how to learn from the ancients, and has never been the same since:

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2011/05/bishop-n-t-wright-rebukes-barack-obama.html#more

    My second commitment, and I wonder whether it ought to be my first, is to a canonical, creedal reading of the Bible, the resignification of the individual components of the canon in light of each other according to a rule of faith derived from the canon and serving as a ranking criterion such that scripture is understood as a whole, given to us by a single author, and is not read against the grain of the metanarrative to which it – Scripture – bears witness.

    To exemplify, this means that most modern translations may or may not capture the flavor of the original when they translate John 1:18:

    No one has ever seen God, the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known (classic NIV)

    No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (new NIV)

    New NIV is unacceptably paraphrastic in my view, but it avoids ancient idioms and is therefore clear to the untrained. HCSB adheres to the diction of the original with slightly greater tenacity:

    No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father’s side — He has revealed Him.

    But I prefer NKJV in this locus, which, like KJV, maintains a linguistic and conceptual connection with the Nicene creed:

    No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

    “Begotten, not made.” If you remove the “begotten” language from Scripture, Old (Psalm 2) and New (John 1, etc.), the Creed no longer makes sense.

    Peter Kirk will not care, nor will other non-creedal Christians, but creedal Christians ought to care very much that almost all modern Bible translations sever the connection between Bible and creed by eliminating “begotten” language in this locus.

    There are two kinds of translations that are most needful to moderns, both of which will often fall into the category of “I really don’t know that means” to the average reader – an excellent sign; moderns by definiition need to learn a heap of things before they can understand a text like the Bible.

    (1) A non-traditioned translation, intent on rendering scripture as if it were not scripture, a-canonically; (2) a traditioned translation. What is interesting is that they sometimes coincide for the most part.

    Example: Hebrews 12:8

    A non-traditioned translation:

    If you go without the discipline which all are born to share, you are bastards, not sons.

    That’s Lattimore; those of who know Greek know what nothoi means. Of course it’s not a PC translation, but why should it be?

    A traditioned translation:

    But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, not sons.

    That’s KJV. Subsequent translations bowdlerize the source text. Wouldn’t want to disturb the kiddies.

    “Chastisement” too is important, given that the entire exposition depends on “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord .. for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and he scourges every son whom he receives.”

    The Proverbs passage references corporal punishment, another modern no-no: why this is profoundly misguided is another subject; there is a great need to “embody” discipline again, just as there is a great need to “embody” love again, in healthy as opposed to “oops! I did it again!” ways.

    Regardless of whether the current modern preference for punishment by “timeout” as opposed to embodied punishment is well thought out, I want my Bible to stand over against that preference, in both non-traditioned and traditioned translations.

    Which means, in this locus (Hebrews 12:4-17), I can recommend only Lattimore and KJV. Virtually all other translations make this passage say what they think it should say, not what it says, read canonically or a-canonically.

  26. Posted August 4, 2011 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    John,

    I read the papers you referenced, but other than Ps. 8:4, I was unable to come up with other examples of substance. There was an enormous chart, but I don’t remember any other variant in the NIV 2011. It seems that this is another case where the treatment of a single verse carries undue influence.

  27. Posted August 4, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    Subsequent translations bowdlerize the source text. Wouldn’t want to disturb the kiddies.

    Yes, I suppose that is where “bosom” went. And perhaps also the “young woman” in Isaiah 7.

  28. Posted August 4, 2011 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    In my view, “at his side” is no substitute.

  29. Posted August 4, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    As far as I can see, you are overlooking the obvious. There are plenty of other “son of man” passages in the OT which need to be translated as such in order to provide background to the expression “son of man” in the NT applied to Christ. A relatively high degree of concordance in translation is necessary for the claim that the New fulfills the Old to be substantiated. That’s how a “traditioned” translation of scripture in a Christian context works; said tradition has always depended heavily on concordance. I know how well-read you are in the history of interpretation, so what I am saying will merely serve to jog your memory.

    Compare KJV with NIV11 and you will discover a yawning abyss precisely in the case of “son of man” language. KJV is concordant; NIV11 is not. NABRE OT (2011) and the revised Grail Psalms (2010) stand apart from the new NIV on this score.
    We are talking about different ways of reading Scripture. NIV11, simply put, is not well-adapted for use by people who interpret Scripture along paleo-orthodox lines. And that is what eastern Orthodox, confessional Catholics, and confessional Lutherans and Reformed do. Some Methodists and others do as well.

    There is also a long tradition of seeing Christ as true man in a double sense, not only as Mensch, but also, vir. In Irenaeus for example, Christ is the true living man, the second Adam, whereas Mary (aka the Church) is the second Eve. This line of interpretation is sensitive to gender in a way that is deeply rooted in ancient and not-so-ancient constructions of gender.

    For a translation to be open to this tradition of interpretation, it will need to translate Psalm 1 for example as “Blessed is the man” – so, once again, the NABRE Psalms (2011) and the revised Grail Psalms (2010). But not NIV 2011 (against classic NIV).

    For the rest, you will be in a better position to evaluate confessional Lutheran objections when you familiarize yourself with the details of their Christological interpretation of the OT. I can’t help you there; on Christological interpretation of the Psalms in general, I recommend the following forthcoming volume:

    http://www.brepols.net/Pages/ShowProduct.aspx?prod_id=IS-9782503534336-1

  30. Posted August 4, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    John, your rendering of Psalm 8:5 is good poetry, I grant you that. But should a general purpose translation of the Psalms (which this probably was not intended as) use this much poetic licence? I got in trouble a few years ago for allowing a translator to go too far down that route, and the churches insisted on the translation being redone.

    The rest of your comment is very interesting. But perhaps things have got a little out of perspective when a comment is so many times longer than the post it is a comment on. I would recommend using your own blog for such lengthy observations, with links here.

    In John 1:18 you have ignored the important textual issues and misquoted (haplography?) NIV 1984. Or are you attempting to quote the very first edition of NIV, which was different, but still not I think what you wrote? More importantly, since monogenes does not have a meaning component “begotten” but simply means “one of a kind”, it seems to me that you are advocating deliberate mistranslation in order to meet your audience’s presuppositions.

  31. Posted August 4, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    John, concerning your later, not quite so long, comment, we don’t want to get back on to the gender issue. But I would want to argue that, quite apart from that issue, “son of man” is a poor rendering in the New Testament as well as the Old. Here “son of” is a Hebrew idiom meaning “representative of” which is simply not understood by English speakers. I accept that in the New Testament it has become something of a title, and it has become important in later theology which makes it hard to change. But I would suggest a rendering like “human one”, consistently in OT and NT, with “son of man” in footnotes at least in NT. Is that what the new CEB does? I don’t see how this could conflict with anyone’s tradition of interpretation. But we can’t expect a translation to express every aspect of every tradition, especially when that is not supported by the best exegesis of the text.

  32. Posted August 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    On the meaning of monogenes in John and 1 John, see, to begin with, the entry in BAG, A forceful argument has been made to the effect that it has a heightened meaning in the Johannine literature. “Only begotten” or, more subtly, “the only Son” (so NRSV, NABRE [2011]), a little less subtly “the one and only Son” (so NIV 2011, against NIV classic “the One and Only”), is not necessarily a mistranslation; it might be the only right translation.

    At the very least, it is worth taking a long hard look at the interpretation of the relevant passages among early exegetes whose mother tongue was Greek, rather than simply assuming that Bultmann got this right, with everyone ever after dutifully following his opinion.

    In short, a case can be made for a translation along the following lines:

    No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

    That, of course, is what one finds in RSV CE2, a popular translation among Bible-reading Catholics.

    Even if one grants that “only begotten” is over-specified as a translation of monogenes in Johannine lit, one might still choose to translate that way, in terms of a commitment to a larger narrative one knows to be true. The case is symmetrical to Isa 7:14, where “virgin” is over-specified vis-a-vis Hebrew almah. “Virgin,” of course, is the rendering in NIV [whole tradition}, RSV CE2, etc.

    As far as “son of man” language in the Old Testament goes, the same principle applies. Are you going to render it such that you provide full background to its use in reference to Christ in the New Testament? In a *Christian* Bible, that is exactly what one might expect. In a translation for use in an academic setting, one might well choose to translate the texts a-canonically or even anti-canonically, against the grain of the sense they came to have in the history of interpretation once all the components of the NT were read in light of one another, as if from the pen of a single author, and in light of developing definitions of orthodoxy and heresy.

  33. Posted August 4, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    John, thank you for your reply.

    I am not as familiar as you with the literature on John’s use of monogenes. I suppose if we read monogenes theos at 1:18 it can hardly mean “the only God”, so you may have a point.

    I agreed with you that the phrase traditionally rendered “son of man” would probably best be rendered the same in OT and NT, just not in this misleading way. But I don’t accept that a Christian Bible should be different in meaning from an academic one – that way lies a very unhealthy anti-intellectualism.

  34. Posted August 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    The NIV has chosen to translate ben enosh and ben adam differently in English. Not traditional, but if we agree that the KJV can be updated at all, then why argue with this in particular? If your answwer includes a reference to gender issues, then I am unable to respond.

  35. Posted August 4, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    At this point, it is virtually impossible to dislodge “son of man” as the standard translation of the relevant idiom. The phrase was already calqued in this way in the various translation units of what we call the Septuagint; this usage was taken over by the first Greek-speaking Christians, and retained thereafter.

    To lay all that aside is easier said than done. That the new NIV tries to do so is one reason it encounters resistance. Just saying.

    It would be great to have a common English Bible again, one that could be used by Jews and Christians and none of the above.

    KJV and RSV, even though they are Protestant Bibles, functioned and still function to some extent in that way, except that RSV now exists in alternative forms: liberal Protestant NRSV, conservative Protestant ESV, and Catholic RSV CE2. There are academically oriented study Bibles; almost all of them are NRSV-based.

    NIV classic or NIV 2011 do not stand a chance of becoming a widely used translation in academic settings. I can try to explain why if the reasons are not obvious.

  36. Posted August 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    I won’t belabor the point: see my comment of Aug 4th, 6:35 am.

    Suffice it to say that a Christological reading of the OT is an incredibly important part of the spirituality of many Christians; “son of man” and “man” language in various passages play a key role in the activation of that spirituality.

  37. Posted August 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Suzanne, can you elucidate, for those of us who don’t know much Hebrew or who don’t have the right resources to hand, in which verses can be found these two Hebrew expressions traditionally rendered “son of man”?

  38. Posted August 4, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Peter seems to be thinking in terms of recognizable vs. unrecognizable meanings, while John seems to think in terms of archaic vs. outright obsolete. I don’t claim to be a mind-reader here, but I get the feeling that you’re talking from uncommon ground.

    I would like to point out that the phrase “son of” with the meaning “representative of” is not obsolete. In reading a Forgotten Realms novel this week, I encountered a “daughters and sons of [city name]” construction. In Dissolution by Richard Byers, a priestess and her entourage are waylaid. Remembering how her company was slaughtered and she herself captured, she laments how the “sons and daughters of Ched Nasad” fell. [Since the Drow culture and mainline religion is matriarchal, daughters comes first.]

    I suspect the author chose this construction due to a desire characterize the priestess’s thoughts either as patriotic or perhaps just to connect a Biblish usage with a priestess character.

    While I realize the “representative of [toponym]” construction is not the same as “son of man”, both are Hebrew idioms not in common use, and so I believe this anecdote is still worth the mention.

    Perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider how English authors (of any nationality) of science fiction naturally use constructions we might object to as “Bibish”. I can find books from the past fifteen years that use a generic masculine, even on the lips of female characters. In books focused on the Drow, one instead finds the generic feminine construction, again reflecting a strict matriarchal culture. Medieval fantasy novels are an excellent source for seeing how natural English authors (as opposed to translators) express the mental map of a different (hypothetical) culture into our language.

  39. Posted August 4, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    I don’t feel capable of responding to either John or Gary without discussing gender. Since I am not to do this I decline further comment.

  40. Posted August 4, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Gary, thank you for your comment with the interesting anecdotes. Yes, I suspect the priestess was deliberately given Biblish to speak. But please remember that we are not discussing gender issues here.

  41. Posted August 5, 2011 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    Given the context of the anthology, it was probably more for patriotic sentiments than to give her biblish. Still, the “representative of” construction, at least for toponyms, is not utterly obsolete.

    Field testing seeks to gauge understanding of a translation among the general populace. What methods could we use to gauge understanding specifically among bibliophiles? I submit that, for developed countries, looking at the works of successful science fiction authors may be of significant value for determining how writers of secular literature in a language gauge the naturalness of what we, perhaps erroneously, call biblish. If a sci-fi writers expects to be understood when using a term that we might consider biblish, then perhaps we shouldn’t categorize it as biblish.

    Or, is it unwise to hold a biblical translation to the same literary standards one finds in adult fiction (closer to Lord of the Rings than Harry Potter)?

  42. Posted August 5, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Gary asks:

    Or, is it unwise to hold a biblical translation to the same literary standards one finds in adult fiction (closer to Lord of the Rings than Harry Potter)?

    Off the top of my head, I would think it reasonable to hold a biblical translation to the same literary standards that the original biblical languages texts had for their target audiences. It seems to me that most words and phrases in the original texts were expected by the authors of those texts to be understood without the hearer/reader needing to be familiar with extrabiblical or dated vocabulary.

  43. Posted August 5, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Gary, this is certainly an interesting direction for this conversation.

    To answer your question, I would want to consider the audience for a Bible translation and compare it with the audience for the adult fiction you have in mind. I suspect that the kind of adult fiction you have in mind, even the most popular books like Lord of the Rings, is generally read only by perhaps the most literate 25-30% of the population at most. If that is the target audience for a translation, that style of language may be appropriate. If the translation is intended to reach almost anyone (in a developed western nation), it probably needs somewhat simpler and clearer language, perhaps like Harry Potter.

    Additionally, these fiction writers use expressions like “son of [city name]” for deliberate effect, possibly to sound religious or nationalistic but very likely largely just to sound strange, something from a different culture on a different planet. Do we want our Bible translations to sound strange in this way? Some would argue that we do, because they are from a very different culture from ours. I would argue that we do not, because God’s message is not tied to any one culture but is supposed to be presented in a way which is fresh and relevant to all.

  44. Mike Sangrey
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Gary wrote,
    Or, is it unwise to hold a biblical translation to the same literary standards one finds in adult fiction (closer to Lord of the Rings than Harry Potter)?

    And Wayne replied,
    Off the top of my head, I would think it reasonable to hold a biblical translation to the same literary standards that the original biblical languages texts had for their target audiences.

    For me, the question is better put in terms of the audience. I think it wise to try to track close to the original target audience, as suggested by Wayne. That conveys to me that the translator is trying, as best as he or she can, to submit to what God has put forth as the intended audience.

    However, I also think a strong argument can be made that God has now intentionally communicated to a wider audience[1]. If that’s the intention of God, should we not submit to that? And to be clear, this really is not, as I see it, much in disagreement with Wayne’s point. The question for me becomes whether a specific translator (or committee) would be called to (say) translate for children age 7 to 14.[2] IMO, I think that calling is valid even though there are few, if any, books that could be described as such.[3]

    I find it interesting how an audience, in this case the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutherans, followed a process whereby they determined whether the translation was, well, written for them? Having said that, it seems to me they judged more along theological lines than linguistic ones, but, I guess that simply underscores the complexities inherent in different audiences.


    [1] This intention becomes quite obvious in the New Covenant Era. Though, there’s an interesting question here, to my mind, as to whether the Hebrew Bible should then be translated similarly. Or, whether translating it in such a way as to convey a much more Israel-centric focus would better express the “mind of God” (if you will). The Hebrew Bible was written to the Jews (“they were entrusted with the very words of God”). So, I wonder if the New Covenant, being for everyone, would stand out in stark relief when viewed against a Hebrew Bible translated as if it were not really for them?

    [2] Should the Song of Solomon be translated in such a way that only adults would “get it”?

    [3] I’ve often wondered if 1 John was written to children, possibly Jewish children.

  45. Posted August 5, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    One of the complexities here is whether or not to read scripture as scripture.

    If one reads the Bible as scripture, that is, as a defined collection of writings meant to serve as a unique resource of faith and practice, as a constitutional document with binding force in faith and life, it gets read, not from the point of view of original audiences, but in terms of an audience that takes in the entire canon, and allows scripture to interpret scripture.

    For example, scripture x is understood to reflect on or refer to the fulfillment of scripture y; Paul gets read in light of the book of Genesis, and vice versa; the Psalms need to resonate, linguistically, throughout the entire corpus; and so on.

    As soon as one reads scripture as scripture, in terms of its one author who speaks through the text to one audience, then concordance becomes of great importance. How are the interconnections, including those the original authors and audiences would not have grasped, going to be made evident in translation?

    Proponents of functional equivalence translations have yet to provide a convincing answer to these questions, either in theory or in practice.

    Even if you wish to argue that formal equivalence translation as a means to the make the text amenable to concordant interpretation creates more problems than it solves, it is still the case that an alternative method of canonical interpretation has to be developed.

    If it isn’t, then functional equivalent translations, for students of the Bible who read it as a canon or criterion of doctrinal and theological matters, will always be thought of as poor stepsisters of the real McCoy, a translation like RSV, ESV, NABRE, etc., just possibly, a mediating translation still chock full of Biblish such as HCSB or NIV.

  46. Posted August 5, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    John H. wrote:

    If it isn’t, then functional equivalent translations, for students of the Bible who read it as a canon or criterion of doctrinal and theological matters, will always be thought of as poor stepsisters of the real McCoy, a translation like RSV, ESV, NABRE, etc., just possibly, a mediating translation still chock full of Biblish such as HCSB or NIV.

    John, I understand your argument but I believe that it fails precisely because the RSV and its successor, the NRSV, did *not* christologize Old Testament passages in terms of N.T. interpretations of them. That has long been a criticism of these translations by those who wish to translate the O.T. in terms of N.T. interpretations. One of the biggest reasons that the ESV team revised the RSV text was precisely to restore N.T. Christian understandings to O.T. passages which typically had a non-messianic meaning its author was communicating, but whose words were re-interpreted in the light of the N.T. part of the canon to be messianic. As a Christian, like you, I believe the messianic interpretations of those passages. But I do not believe that we should change original meaning of authors. That is, in essence, the charge made against dynamic equivalent translators, that they have made the interpretive decisions for the reader or congregations. It’s perfectly fine, for a study Bible for evangelicals, to have footnotes that indicate a messianic understanding of various O.T. passages. But a translation should be free enough from theological slant that a Jew or Christian or agnostic or atheist can read a translation and feel that it is accurate to what the authors intended to communicate.

    So on the matter of translating in such as way that makes it easier to “read scripture as scripture,” it’s not a matter of whether one translates according to formal equivalence or dynamic equivalence. Either approach can christologize O.T. passages that had an original meaning and then another meaning found in the N.T.

    And it’s not a matter of having biblish in the translation. It’s simply a theological matter, i.e. whether one believes that original authorial intention should be translated as it is, or whether it should be adjusted in the light of later revelation.

    Biblical scholars typically reject translations which christologize O.T. passages. Evangelical churches and Christians often prefer christologized Bibles, assuming that they better honor Jesus who we Christians believe was the long-awaited Messiah.

    NIV was criticized for many years for Christianizing the O.T., putting too much of an evangelical slant in it. Some newer “evangelical” translations such as NET and NIV2011 have tried to translate O.T. passages in a more theologically-neutral fashion. The NIV CBT has tried to respond to the criticism, I believe correctly, by removing Christian interpretations from O.T. passages, even when major churches and branches of Christianity strongly believe that those passages are messianic. Now that the CBT has done so, it is getting criticized for doing precisely what they were asked to do by biblical scholars over so many years.

    Personally, I think it is time for pastors and congregations not to take theological “short-cuts” with scripture. Rather, we need to teach and recognize more fully the original meanings of scripture. And *then*, later, during the process of interpretation, which should follow translation which is as theologically-neutral as possible, communicants of the various denominations and branches of Christianity can be taught doctrinal positions based on what their segment of Christianity believes.

    The argument for moving from Dynamic (or Functional) Equivalence more toward Formal Equivalence has been based on this principle, i.e. of removing doctrinal/personal interpretation from the translation process as much as possible (never possible fully, since all translation requires a certain minimum interpretation even at the lexical level). The mantra has been to allow the reader or minister to decide which interpretation to follow in each case.

    If those who criticize making the NIV more theologically objective reject doing so with potentially messianic passages, how can they be consistent in their desire to leave interpretation up to the readers or their teachers?

  47. Posted August 5, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    John,

    You divide nicely between the original audience of an epistle and the audience of the epistle once it had become a part of the canon. In fact, Blomberg touches on this very thing, stating that the gospels were not circulating at the time that Hebrews was written, and that the phrase “son of man” ben adam Ps. 8, would not have been used or understood as referring to “the son of man” bar enosh Daniel 7, in Jesus sayings.

    Blomberg argues that the reference to Christ begins in verse 9 of Hebrew 2 and this is what we see in the NIV 2011. In this case, Blomberg would argue, it is not question of maintaining true concordance, but one of stripping away an accidental concordance.

    I agree with your last paragraph, that people likely chose a Bible translation which accords with their theology rather than the other way around. They would not benefit from learning the original languages either. They already have their theology.

  48. Posted August 5, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Here is Blomberg’s article.

  49. Posted August 5, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    John, I see a fallacy in your argument which is that you presuppose that a functionally equivalent translation cannot be concordant. I would dispute that – and out of several years’ experience working on trying to make a translation in a mediating style as concordant as reasonably possible. Now I accept that it is easy to make a highly literal translation also highly concordant – in fact computers can do that rather well – but much harder to do so while retaining proper functional equivalence. But, if the work is put in and some compromises are allowed, I believe it is possible to make the interconnections you refer to evident in a translation. If existing translations have not always done that as well as they could, that may be for lack of effort or because the translation team have not given it the priority which you think it deserves. That does not invalidate the method.

    For a specific example, take what I have already suggested, that every occurrence of “son of man” in OT and NT be replaced by “human one” or some variant, with the interconnection made evident by the word “human”. I’m not saying that is ideal, but it is a serious suggestion.

  50. Mike Sangrey
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    John,

    You’ve connected the genre of scripture to concordance as if they are somehow intractably connected. I don’t see how the connection is necessary.

    To be clear, I think there is requirements for some concordance. A classic and obvious example would be seed in Galatians. I think there are other cases where an author alludes indirectly to other scriptural texts in order to strengthen the point being made either in the alluded to text or only their own. However, where the importance of concordance evaporates away is when a reader builds up his or her own theology based on concordance and does not allow the author to determine the theology. I know I’m going against one of the methods theologians use to construct their theology; however, I think the translator’s duty is first and foremost linguistic and to the original author. It is not to the theologian or a specific theology.

    For example, (if we can set aside your necessary connection between scripture and concordance for a moment and focus purely on the method of building one’s understanding of something based on concordance), would it make sense for me to connect real McCoy in your comment to the real McKay as it was originally used? Should I make connections to James S. Bond’s short story? Should the stepsisters make me reflect on Cinderella (or the movie Cinderfella)? I don’t think so. It doesn’t help me understand your point. Your use of two phrases, in many ways metaphorical, was plenty clear enough to convey your point. In fact, I had to do a bit of research and let my mind wander in order to make these connections presented in my questions. My point is that there is no increase in my understanding of what you’re saying if I make these connections. Concordance is not necessary. You could change real McCoy to real thing and no meaning would be loss (and I wouldn’t need to make a connection to a soft drink, though I’m probably showing my age).

    For me, the guiding principle is the meaning conveyed by the text itself and its coherence within itself. Coherence between widely separate texts only have value when the authors themselves are relying on it to make the point. If a reader, such as a theologian, must rely on a constructed coherence which the author didn’t need, then, at least for me, it’s the theological point that should be called into question or at least admitted that it’s a point the original author did not think was all that important.

    One last point which may provide some common ground. I certainly do think weight needs to be given to such things as: the temptation of Jesus alluding to Israel’s wilderness experience. And I think there is a strong but contrastive allusion by Jesus between Nathaniel and Jacob in John 1. I think a translator should very seriously think hard about how to convey such connections with the translation. In fact, I would go so far as to say these connections might be important enough that concordance isn’t enough to accurately reflect the connection.

  51. Posted August 6, 2011 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    I think everyone agrees concordance is important, but also that perfect concordance is neither possible nor desirable. So the real question is what is worthy of concordant translation?

    The other real question is, is this topic about concordance?

  52. Posted August 6, 2011 at 3:54 am | Permalink

    The other real question is, is this topic about concordance

    Dannii,

    The WELS discussion seems to be based on two issues – gender language and lack of christologization of certain OT passages.

    I read the various documents, and the only concern of substance that I could find other than gender was the use of “human beings” for the Hebrew expression ben adam. Of course, this also relates to gender. This restricts the discourse significantly.

  53. Posted August 6, 2011 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    I see I’ve stirred the pot up good on this thread.

    I spent part of the day with a WELS pastor who has dedicated his life to work with ex-cons and people with addictions. We talked about mutual friends and the recent synod and I asked him what he thought. He is confident that WELS will not endorse NIV11; he hopes for the adoption of NASB95. I wanted to say that that is because he finds NASB95 of most help when he reads Hebrew and Greek, but I am, in person, too polite for that.

    Wayne, you say:

    “One of the biggest reasons that the ESV team revised the RSV text was precisely to restore N.T. Christian understandings to O.T. passages which typically had a non-messianic meaning its author was communicating, but whose words were re-interpreted in the light of the N.T. part of the canon to be messianic.”

    That’s true; the most important instance is at Isa 7:14; and on this, ESV and NIV11 concur: the text is rendered in such a way that its fulfillment in Christ is unmistakable. Another important instance is at Zech 9:9; all Christian translations continue to render “colt” in agreement with LXX and the gospels of Matthew and John, but not with the underlying Hebrew; ‘ayir simply means a “male ass”: it does not reference the age thereof. The only translation that does not over-specify Zech 9:9 is, surprise, surprise, NJPSV. Details here:

    http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/files/zechariah_9.pdf

    Another capital case is Gen 12:3, where the near-contextual sense is “will use your name in blessings” (NIV11 footnote); as NJPSV has it, “shall bless themselves by you.”

    I certainly cannot recommend NIV11’s approach, which is to put the near-contextual sense of the passage in a footnote without explanation and without identifying it as such (so at Gen 12:3 and Isa 7:14).

    Three more straightforward options come to mind:

    (1) Translate the Hebrew straight up, and explain in footnotes, both in the Old and New Testaments, in unapologetic language, that in all three cases the language of the original, in changed circumstances, was deemed open to and was given an extended far-contextual sense, a fuller sense that is evident in God’s work in Christ.

    (2) Translate wherever possible in a “neutral” fashion, such that the language remains open to its fulfillment in Christ, and footnote accordingly. This is the path taken by NABRE OT. Here is its footnote at Gen 12:3:

    [12:3] Will find blessing in you: the Hebrew conjugation of the verb here and in 18:18 and 28:14 can be either reflexive (“shall bless themselves by you” = people will invoke Abraham as an example of someone blessed by God) or passive (“by you all the families of earth will be blessed” = the religious privileges of Abraham and his descendants ultimately will be extended to the nations). In 22:18 and 26:4, another conjugation of the same verb is used in a similar context that is undoubtedly reflexive (“bless themselves”). Many scholars suggest that the two passages in which the sense is clear should determine the interpretation of the three ambiguous passages: the privileged blessing enjoyed by Abraham and his descendants will awaken in all peoples the desire to enjoy those same blessings. Since the term is understood in a passive sense in the New Testament (Acts 3:25; Gal 3:8), it is rendered here by a neutral expression that admits of both meanings.

    Authors, Various (2011). New American Bible Revised Edition (p. 99). Fairbrother. Kindle Edition.

    (3) Translate the OT in key passages in terms of its far-contextual fuller sense. This has been the norm always, until very recently, among both Jews and Christians (in different ways: each tradition is practiced at according different pan-contextual senses to key verses: the most important Jewish example is the Shema, which I don’t have time to elucidate now: suffice it to say that all evangelical translations – NIV11, ESV, HCSB, etc., except for NLT – respect the traditional pan-contextual sense accorded to the Shema, whereas NJPSV (very controversial choice among Jews), NRSV, REB, NABRE, etc. do not). For the same reason, truth be told, Gen 1:1 is still translated “In the beginning God created …” The Hebrew, strictly speaking, doesn’t mean that, but it *came* to mean that, very widely among Jews and Christians, as the doctrine of creation continued to be refined (not unlike the way the doctrine of the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit continued to be refined; in both cases, for creedal Christians, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit).

    But if (3) is going to be adopted – and it has been adopted, with more or less rigor, by most evangelical translations including NIV11, and the Catholic RSV CE, I would hope for (but not expect to receive) an honest preface and honest footnotes describing the facts. Honesty is a very lonely word, and if anyone takes the opportunity on this thread to rag on evangelicals for dishonesty because I brought it up, I will be happy to supply examples of liberal dishonesty – in spades.

    In short, I cannot endorse NIV11 on these matters, or any other evangelical translation produced to date. To one extent or another, they are all type (3) translations ( – I do not object to this, Wayne, and there we disagree – ) but they do it on the sly, or, perhaps just as often, based on coming to conclusions everyone else, including fellow evangelicals like me, finds indefensible.

    If one wants to be super-charitable – not a bad move in these shark-infested waters – one might rather say that it is best to presume that evangelical and Catholic translators who do these things do so with a clean conscience, to the extent that translators are convinced (this happens fairly often) that the univocal sense of the OT texts in question must be what the NT says it is.

    In the concrete, I am in favor of having different Bibles for different purposes.

    (1) In worship, in devotions, in disciple Bible study, I want a translation that reflects the sensus plenior the text was accorded in the Jewish and Christian traditions where they agree: for example, “In the beginning God created,” not “When God created … [the construal I teach in Hebrew class], “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (as Jews understand it the world over), not “The Lord our God, the Lord is incomparable ["one" in the sense of unique].” And where they disagree, with the sensus plenior accorded to the passages in the Christian tradition (at Gen 12:3; Isa 7:14; Zech 9:9; etc.). I also want to teach people to respect and love the fuller sense; at the same time, I want to teach people to be able to distinguish between near-contextual and far-contextual senses – a distinction whose implications are deep and wide; as I have already argued, you don’t really have a canon until you privilege far-contextual / pan-contextual senses.

    (2) In an academic setting, I want other kinds of Bibles, something like NRSV (and occasionally ESV, paradoxically; see Deut 32:8) which translates the original texts as they would have been understood by their original readerships, with the text itself reconstructed against the Masoretic text where the evidence points in that direction; I would also like a translation of the Hebrew Bible that translates the Masoretic text as is, without apology, warts and all. That, interestingly enough, has never been done. Never mind that the prefaces all say that that is what they do.

  54. Posted August 6, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    I disagree strongly with Blomberg’s atomistic approach to the question of “son of man” language. I also disagree with the way he privileges reconstructed pre-canonical senses of NT passages. This is something I’ve thought about a lot, not least because I have been invited to write a monograph for a new series designed for OT scholars in which I will lay out my arguments in gruesome detail.

    In view of that monograph in utero, I would love to go back and forth on these things with Craig and/or Rick Hess. Your comment at least makes me wish for dialogue of that kind.

  55. Posted August 6, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Peter,

    I agree that a mediating translation like NIV, which retains a ton of Biblish after all, can maintain a relatively high degree of concordance. But a truly functional equivalent translation like NLT, CEV, and so on cannot, and has not.

    As for your specific suggestion with respect to “son of man” language, I definitely see its merits. I just don’t think we can turn the clock back on these things at all easily.

    Note that a similar problem obtains in the case of Anointed / Messiah / Christ. Greek-speaking people in Paul’s day who read their Bible and knew key passages by heart (many did) understood “Christos” in a sense we *never* get when Christos is translated with “Christ.” They all knew, per Psalm 2, that the nations prototypically rage “against Kurios and his Christos.” They all knew, likewise, that the nations continued to rage against the one they knew to be Kurios and Christos. They read a psalm like 118, which they understood (correctly) to spoken in the voice of a Davidide, a Christos, which they then re-read in the light of the one who was for them *the* Christos par excellence.

    You would think that a Christian Bible, if not in translation, at least in explanatory footnotes, would make true and proper Christological reading of the Old Testament clear. Such a Bible is not easy to find. But the question here is how and if to keep the language of a translation open to such interpretation.

  56. Posted August 6, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Mike,

    Your “seed” example is instructive. The only recent translations that translate the Genesis passages concordantly with the Galatians passage are those some on these threads have called boutique translations for literary aesthetes: Alter and Fox! I seed, you seed, we all seed for Abe’s seed.

    Long live translators attentive to fine nuances of the source text, and willing to reproduce them in translation no matter how much explanation following is necessary.

  57. Posted August 6, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Suzanne,

    In my opinion (and I am in conversation with some of the principals), you are conveying a false impression of the internal debate in WELS. The documents you refer to reflect the take on the issues of *one* faction in the debate (the faction that appears to be losing, furthermore).

    There are plenty of WELS pastors who simply prefer a severely literal translation. Or they are miffed at lower-casing of words that refer to their Lord and Savior. Or they want to be in communion with their nearest confessional kin on this question, the Missouri Synod Lutherans, who have adopted ESV.

    Yes, the failure to calque “son of man” in Hebrew with “son of man” in English, the accepted practice among Lutherans and indeed all Christians until very recently, rubs many the wrong way. We are talking about a highly confessional part of the Christian family, almost as proud of their tradition down to its wording as are the eastern Orthodox.

    The gender question is separate and matters, too, but not in the way most non-WELS people imagine. I would love to talk about that in another context, but don’t know if I will find the time.

  58. Posted August 6, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Dannii, you are right that concordance isn’t really on topic for this thread. The post wasn’t really intended to open up a discussion except perhaps on how denominations approve translations. But I can’t keep a lid on two Pandora’s boxes at once. But bear in mind that I go on vacation on Monday and won’t be able to moderate comments promptly.

    John, I just approved five of your comments including another very long one. As I said before, this might have been better as a post on your blog, or perhaps offered as a guest post here. I will only attempt to respond to your comment addressed to me.

    I understand that clocks are not easily turned back, and that denominations like WELS are slow to adopt new ideas like this one. But your own less conservative UMC is apparently the main sponsor of a version, CEB, which uses “the Human One” instead of “the Son of Man” for Jesus. I don’t know how consistent they are in OT allusions. This shows that a move in this direction can be started. Changes in terminology from KJV to RSV took 50 years or so to be accepted by conservatives – who then condemned further changes made in TNIV, even where TNIV followed KJV, and insisted on ESV which follows RSV in such places. (I have examples but they are not appropriate here.) I would predict that 50 years from now many conservative evangelicals will have become attached to “the Human One” (which will very likely appear in NIV 2031) and resist any further changes.

    On Christ/Messiah, I think I would suggest dropping “Christ” from the NT and going with “Messiah” throughout – and in Psalm 2. Yes, I know that causes an issue at John 1:41. This is clearly another change which would take some time to be accepted by conservatives.

  59. Posted August 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    John,

    Perhaps Blomberg would engage with you on “son of man.” Personally, the passage in Hebrews 2 makes more sense to me as it is translated in the NIV 2011.

  60. Posted August 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Peter.

    If you want, I can gussy up my most recent long comment for the purposes of a header post for a new thread. The subject matter I touch on, of course, is extremely contentious and seldom talked about openly and honestly.

    There is a political dimension to the production of Bible translations, in the good and proper sense of the term “political.”

    One of the things that means, in my view, is that if you intend to produce a translation that will be used by conservative Protestants, you simply don’t do certain things because they will prove too contentious.

    Doug Moo and the committee for NIV11 worked hard to ensure in advance that NIV11 would not be shot down for frivolous reasons. I know this since Moo offered to meet with me, presumably given my blogging on translation questions. I didn’t think at the time that I had anything to offer that he didn’t already know. Now I’m not so sure.

  61. Posted August 6, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    John, let me clarify. You can post what you like on your own blog, but I hope you will avoid anything offensive. If you want to offer another guest post for BBB, you will need to discuss that privately with Wayne or Mike, and they would probably want to be sure that your post and the comments keep well away from gender issues.

  62. Posted August 6, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    The bone of contention is not so much NIV11’s treatment of Hebrews 2, as its elimination of “son of man” in the OT.

    For a recent translation of the OT whioh retains “son of man” diction in concordant fashion throughout the canon, see NABRE 2011. It should be available online soon on the UCCB website. Since I suspect most people on these threads are not attuned to goings-on among Catholics, here is some background on NABRE:

    The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)

    Released on March 9, 2011, the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) is the culmination of nearly 20 years of work by a group of nearly 100 scholars and theologians, including bishops, revisers and editors. The NABRE includes a newly revised translation of the entire Old Testament (including the Book of Psalms) along with the 1986 edition of the New Testament.

    The NABRE is a formal equivalent translation of Sacred Scripture, sponsored by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, using the best manuscripts available. Work on most books of the Old Testament by forty revisers and a board of eight editors began in 1994 and was completed in 2001. The 1991 revision of the Psalter, the work of thirty revisers and six editors, was further revised by seven revisers and two editors between 2009 and 2010. Work on the New Testament, begun in 1978 and completed in 1986, was the work of thirteen revisers and five editors.

  63. Posted August 7, 2011 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    I honestly do not think that any discussion of Bible translation today does not have gender as its pivot point.

  64. Posted August 8, 2011 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    Thank you all for your comments, but due to the vast number of them we have decided to close comments now.


2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] contrast, as I reported at Better Bibles Blog, another very conservative group, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, looks likely to accept [...]

  2. [...] BBB family. Some got the mistaken notion from a recent BBB prohibition on discussion of gender on the WELS post on the NIV2011 that gender issues in Bible translation could not be discussed on BBB. We bloggers did not intend [...]

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