Archive for the ‘Bible Translations’ Category

5.5.  This post is dedicated to all the men who have endured a pregnant woman’s nesting phase.  It hits with little or no provocation or warning.  When it comes, it comes.  On a related note, there is not a speck of dust in our entire house, so feel free to come over and eat off our floors.

5. The Society of Biblical Literature has recently announced the publication of the SBL Greek New Testament.  This critical edition of the Greek New Testament was edited by Michael W Holmes and differs from the standard NA/UBS text (for those interested, I generally use the UBS, mainly because I hate the font in the Nestle-Aland edition) in more than 540 places.  If you are a Logos Bible Software user, you can get a free download.  You can go here to see other free download opportunities.

4. Okay, let’s get to business.  The NIV 2011 has been officially released; with a copyright date of 2010.  Love it.  If you go to biblegateway.com and use the NIV, you will be using the updated edition.  The word on the street is that the physical copy will be released in March 2011.  I appreciated the Translators’ Notes (pdf, drafted by Craig Blomberg) which helps explain some of the Committee’s decisions.  It was well written and is a helpful look at the ins-and-outs of Bible translation.  You can also view quick comments from Doug Moo, who chaired the Committee. 

3. The most interesting aspect of the NIV 2011 (in my opinion) is the partnership with Collins Bank of English, who have tracked trends in the English language for quite sometime.  If you read the Translators’ Notes given above, you’ll see how this helped the Committee through the process.  This aids in avoiding purely personal and anecdotal evidence in changes in the English language, which is especially crucial considering the Committee is largely made up of middle-aged (or older), highly educated people- not exactly a representation of the English speaking world.  This was an ingenious idea, and I’m glad the Committee went this route.

2.  The Gospel Coalition and Bible Gateway are teaming up to offer a translation forum called Perspectives in Translation.  The format is this: there is a question issued (e.g., how should Romans 1:17 be translated?) and various scholars offer their opinions in a concise format.  Love the idea, not sure I love the implementation.  Let me lay it out for you: 

  • First, there isn’t a main page that has links to the various questions and answers.  The outcome is that it’s a pain in the rear to find things.  There ought to be a page with each question (such as the one above) and links to the answers given.  That would seem to be an obvious approach, so I’m not sure who fell asleep on that one.  To be frank, it’s a mess.
  • Second, there isn’t a ton of interaction between the contributors.  I was looking forward to scholars debating (in a friendly way, of course) some of these issues. 
  • Third, there are Bible scholars contributing, but no linguists.  One of the common mistakes lay people make is assuming that someone who knows Greek or Hebrew is qualified to translate.  But understanding how languages work is a pretty crucial aspect of translating any document into any language.  But, maybe I’m not giving these particular scholars enough credit.

Lest anyone think I’m completely down on this forum, I’ll say that I do love the idea and think it can improve.  I did enjoy Moo’s post on Romans 1:17 (and I agree, I doubt the average person would know what “from faith to faith” would mean).

1. For those interested in comparing the NIV 2011 (©2010) to the TNIV and the NIV 1984, you are in luck.  You can view them side-by-side-by-side at Bible Gateway.  But big kudos need to go to Robert Slowley, who has spent a ridiculous amount of time working on some comparions.  If you want a basic look at comparing the three versions in the NIV family, check out this link.  Another interesting comparison page provided by Robert: the 250 most changed verses.  If you want to see more, check out this roundup of links from Mark Stevens, as well as John Dyer’s page of comparisons.  These help explain an apparent discrepancy.  The Committee claimed that they kept about 95% of the original NIV, yet some of the numbers being quoted are more like 60%.  The Committe kept 95% of the same words, but 60% of the verses went unchanged.  I say that just in case anyone is confused, it was on John’s page that I realize where these numbers were coming from.  Thanks to Robert Slowley and John Dyer for putting the time in to track these changes, and thanks to Mark Stevens for bringing various links together in one helpful post.

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Newer than the New

Keeping up the new theme of new news (except this is not so new, I suppose), it has been announced that the new New International Version will have its text be posted on Biblegateway.com starting November 1, in anticipation of the “physical” release in March 2011.  For fans of the New International Version, you’ll no doubt want the newest.

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Some Thoughts on the Updated NIV

While I was overseas for the last 3.5 weeks, I purposely didn’t spend much time keeping up with events back home in America.  One thing I did notice, however, was the announcement from Zondervan and the Committe on Bible Translation (CBT) that they will be discontinuing production of the TNIV and will be releasing a revised NIV in 2011.  You can read their press release here, and check out their website nivbible2011.com.  For those of you who know me, my interest in this announcement won’t be a surprise to you.  I’ve written previously about the TNIV here, as some of you may remember.

Quite a few people have already written about this, so I’ll give you some posts to look at in a couple places.

Al Mohler

Denny Burk

Ligon Duncan

Rick Mansfield

Darryl Dash’s interview with Douglas Moo, the chairman of CBT

The first 3 are from people who are quite critical of the TNIV, whereas Moo is obviously not.  Mansfield is not critical of the TNIV, moreso of Zondervan.  He and I see things very similarly.  I’ve read a few other reactions, but that’ll do for now.

My previous post regarding the TNIV dealt a bit with marketing decisions by Zondervan and how that negatively impacted TNIV sales.  They are now doing what they probably should have done in the first place, that is, replace the NIV.  Selling an NIV and a revision of the NIV side by side always seemed a bit odd.

But will it make a difference?  We won’t really know until the time when the new NIV is released in 2011.  There are some supporters of the TNIV who feel that the CBT and Zondervan have caved into pressure from outside groups and voices, such as Mohler and Duncan above.  But we can’t say they’ve caved until we see the final product.  If the new NIV looks an awful lot like the TNIV, then we can’t say they’ve caved.  In fact, they’ve done the exact opposite.  Even if they do revert some of the changes made in the TNIV, could it be that they didn’t cave but were convinced those changes were wrong?  “Caving” depends on your perspective.

If I were a betting man (and I may be), I’d bet the 2011 NIV looks more like the TNIV than the older NIV.  I know too much about the scholars who are on the CBT to think they’ll revert back to what was going on before.  Truth be told, I’ll be disappointed if they do.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the TNIV is a good translation, one that I think improves on the NIV.

Anyway, I’m not that excited about the next 2 years, largely because they’ll rehash arguments I’ve grown tired of.  In the above articles, you can see some of the language already coming back out.

For instance, Burk notes (correctly, in my opinion) that supporters of the “gender accurate” language of the TNIV claim that generic masculines are no longer used or understood by modern English speakers.  This certainly an overstatement, and Burk argues that this was never demonstrated by those supporters, simply assumed.  Of course, he then states that he thinks that this argument stems owes “more to pervasive feminist propaganda in the culture than to any profound changes in the English language,” which he assumes but never demonstrates.  Oh, the irony.

Mohler states, “The issues of concern related to the TNIV remain. For the sake of the Gospel, we must hope and pray that we do not confront these same issues in the updated NIV.”  I love the “for the sake of the Gospel” language.  And by “love” I mean “hate.”  Here’s the point: opponents of the TNIV aren’t just complaining that the translation philosophy of the CBT is inferior to others (specifically, the “formal equivalent” theory).  They are saying that philosophy has no place at the evangelical table.  Personally, I think this shows a high level of ignorance regarding translation work and linguistics (sorry, knowing Greek and Hebrew does not mean you actually know anything about translation), since many linguists (you know, people who study these sorts of things) would hold to a philosophy closer to that of the CBT.  Then again, Mohler is also the man who once sang the praises of the HCSB as “a major translation we [the Southern Baptist Convention] can control.”  This, apparently, was said without a smile or laugh.

So, I suppose the announcement of the NIV revision and the corresponding cancellation of the TNIV is newsworthy, but we can’t really make any firm statements until we actually see the final product.  In the meantime, I will continue to use the TNIV, as well as other translations, and recommend it to others if they truly are in need of a new Bible translation.  I will also continue to argue that maybe we need to stop working on so many English translations and start working on more translations into languages that have no Bible at all (I’ve promised before that rant is coming- I’m working on it).

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Wayne Leman over at the Better Bibles Blog (my proposed subtitle- Making Good Translations Even Gooder, and I will continue to make this joke until they make it official) cites someone who cites the latest figures in Bible salesThe original poster (meaning “one who posted” rather than something you hang on your wall) and Wayne note that the TNIV doesn’t appear on the Top 10 list for sales by translation, either by unit sales or dollar sales.  Here is the chart, orginally taken from the CBA report:

They both mention the decline in TNIV sales as well as the surprising (to some) continued sales of the HCSB.  As I mentioned in a comment on the BBB post, the latter doesn’t surprise me at all, since the HCSB has the backing of the largest Protestant denomination in the US, the Southern Baptist Convention (and it’s a good translation).

But the relatively poor sales numbers (though these figures are only from Christian bookstores, so the numbers may not reflect total sales accurately) of the TNIV are a bit more surprising to me.  When I first started reading the TNIV regularly back in the fall of 2006, I assumed it would do reasonably well if for no other reason than it’s an improvement on the NIV (see Blomberg’s article), which is the most popular translation among evangelicals.  Who wouldn’t want to make a good thing even better?  I didn’t think that it would “take over” the market, mainly because there are so many translations available, unlike in previous generations.  In the late 70’s evangelicals basically used 1 of 3 options: the NIV, the KJV or the NASB (of course, I was born in 1979 so I could be corrected on this front).

But I think there are a number of reasons why the TNIV hasn’t done well.  I touched on it in my comment at BBB, but I thought I’d expound a little more here.  First, I agree with one of the other commentators that Zondervan’s marketing strategy wasn’t very good (I’m not even sure they have one anymore).  When I looked for a TNIV back in the summer of 2006, I had a hard time finding one that didn’t look like it was intended for a teenage girl.  I’m a man in my 20’s, I don’t want a Bible with polkadots or various shades of purple.  I finally found one that was a 2-tone black Bible, and even that was trendier than I wanted.

Second, the anti-TNIV campaign has been very strong, which is rather unfortunate.  I still have people say to me, when I mention that I like the TNIV, “that’s the gender-neutral Bible!” with a mixture of horror and disbelief that I would allow myself to degrade God’s word.  After all, the TNIV emasculates the Bible!  (Side note: I’ve never read a translation and thought to myself, “my, that was rather masculine.”  How would a Bible translation be masculine?  Perhaps an audio Bible, narrated by Ted Nugent with sounds from a football game and Harley engines revving in the background?  Oh wait, this guy has already told us.  But I digress…)

The anti-TNIV campaign has been effective.  You have at least one website dedicated to showing not just the flaws of the TNIV (all translations have flaws) but rather the danger of accepting the TNIV as a legitimate translation for evangelicals.  They’ve drafted a list of over 900 “inaccuracies” from the TNIV.  Mind you, “inaccuracy” is a misleading term; this list would be better titled “Over 900 Translations from the TNIV that Are Potentially Not the Best Option.”  Of course, such a title doesn’t catch attention.

There is also the list of gravely concerned evangelicals who oppose the TNIV.  It helps that there are important names on this list that would make it difficult for Zondervan to market effectively.  I can think of 2 men specifically who have a leading position in evangelicalism.  One, James Dobson, is one of the most influential evangelical voices for my parents’ generation.  The other, John Piper, is, in my opinion, the single most influential evangelical voice for my generation.  These men, and others on the list, are trusted men.  And since most church goers don’t know enough about what goes into a Bible translation, this is enough to shy away from the TNIV.  The truth is, I trust D A Carson’s thoughts about Bible translation more than anyone on that list, and he has endorsed the TNIV (or perhaps “stuck up for the TNIV”, I don’t want to put words into his mouth).

I don’t really want to get into a point-by-point refutation of the TNIV critics.  One of the concerns with these critics, and thus those who read them, is that the TNIV is a translation for “feminists and egalitarians.”  I generally point out that I can think of a few complementarians who were on the translating committee (Douglas Moo, Karen Jobes, Bruce Waltke), as well as a couple who are a part of the revision committee (Craig Blomberg and Mark Strauss).  Has anyone told them that they are being driven by a feminist agenda?  I’m sure they’d like to know.  There may be other complementarians, I haven’t done enough research on every member to find out where they stand.  And the aforementioned D A Carson is a complementarian.  My point is that the average church goer doesn’t know this and therefore can’t make a fully informed choice.  When they’re told that the TNIV is part of a feminist agenda, they are more likely to believe it because they don’t know much about the scholars behind the translation.  These aren’t Harvard liberals with an agenda, they’re top notch scholars from top notch evangelical schools.

Now, I started using the TNIV not because I was looking for something new, but because it is recommended in the book we use in our Bibles classes (which started in September 2006).  I thought that if it were recommended in the book I’m teaching from, I ought to be familiar with it.  I was always an NASB user, so it was an interesting change of pace.  I’ve been using it now for 2.5 years and I think it’s a good translation.  Not perfect, but good.  I have no problem recommending it to people, but I don’t necessarily tell people to run out and buy it, either.  Since most in my church use the NIV, I let them know that if they are thinking about purchasing a new Bible (maybe their Bible is falling apart, they gave it away, the kids threw it in the toilet, etc) then I’d recommend the TNIV.  If their Bible is in good condition and they like it and they aren’t in need of a new one, then the NIV is perfectly fine and they don’t need to go out and get a TNIV.  I’d rather them use that money to buy a homeless man a sandwich or give it to Wycliffe Bible Translators so that people who actually need a Bible translation (rather than another Bible translation) can get one (don’t worry, that rant is coming).

Believe it or not I actually have a point in this post.  I’m interested in all this, in part, because I never really thought about how marketing Bible translations plays a role in people’s choices.  Maybe I’m naive, but I guess I thought the better translations would win out.  Instead, I think we’re witnessing how marketing and anti-marketing campaigns have factored into the landscape.

I’d like to ask our reader(s) what translation you use and why you chose that one.  There’s no real right or wrong answer here.  Did you make your choice because it was recommended by someone (a friend, a pastor, an author, scholar, etc)?  Did you try out a couple translations and decide on one?  If so, what factored into your decision?  I’m sincerely interested, so feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you think about all this.

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Lovers of obscure 80’s movies may recognize the title of this post from Real Genius; it’s a line spoken by a young Val Kilmer.  This line comes to my mind most often not when I’m thinking of random movie quotes (though I do that frequently), but when I’m reading an English translation and find it to be, well, awkward.  I find myself asking, “who talks like that?”

Truth be told, I find myself asking this question a lot when I’m reading the ESV.  Sure, it’s a fine translation, and it sticks closely to its translation philosophy, which is a fairly literal one.  But almost on every page I read something and ask, “who talks like that?”

So, I’ve been following a paper presented by Mark Strauss at last week’s Evangelical Theological Society meeting.  This paper critiques the ESV and shows how it often translates the original languages into English that hardly anyone actually uses.  The paper is being posted by Wayne Leman over at Better Bibles Blog (my proposed subtitle: Making Good Translations Even Gooder) in a series of posts, which I will link to below.  There’s also a mini-response at Koinonia by William Mounce, NT editor for the ESV, which I will also link to (he promises a full response in next year’s ETS meeting).  Strauss gives numerous examples of where the ESV can be improved, many of which I’ve noticed and many that were new to me (largely because I don’t use the ESV as my every day translation). 

For instance, I was recently reading 2 Samuel in the ESV and ran across 2 Samuel 18:25 (which is also noted in Strauss’ paper): “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.”  So, I ask, “who talks like that?”  Seriously, I can’t even imagine saying such a thing, unless I was intentionally trying to sound like an overly wooden Bible translation (which I’ve been known to do on occasion for comic effect, see my use of “with child” in a previous post).  I don’t even see what you gain from such a translation.  It’s just odd, plain and simple.

So, here are the links for the paper.  But I want to make some preliminary comments for my readers:

1. I am a whole-hearted believer that for in-depth study of the Bible, you are better off using translations from multiple translation philosophies, simply for the fact that no translation gets it entirely right.  We even mention this in our Learning the Bible article (where we recommend the ESV under the “literal” category).  So, I’m not arguing that the ESV isn’t worth using.  I’m just saying that it’s far enough from normal English that it’s hard to use it on an every day basis when other translations are available.

2. I don’t think this is a matter of using a more formal or educated form of English.  “There is news in his mouth” is not formal English.  It does not sound educated.  For the record, I believe that we ought to teach and use proper English grammar.  That isn’t to say that mine is always perfect (in fact, I’ve noticed grammatical problems in this post, which I’ll leave as is out of sheer laziness), though I’ll point out that I’m one of about 5 people on the planet who still make a strong effort to avoid split infinitives.

3. I think Mounce brings up a good point.  Sometimes Strauss’ language is a bit inflammatory, specifically when he says that the ESV translators didn’t “consider” a possible translation.  I’m not sure how Strauss could have such knowledge, unless he was there when they were making decisions (and he wasn’t) or got a play-by-play breakdown from someone who was present (highly doubtful).  He’s better off not pretending to know what they did or did not consider and stick with what’s actually on the page in front of him.  With that said, it doesn’t negate his many valid points.

4. It’s helpful to remember that Strauss’ paper is entitled: Why the English Standard Version (ESV) should not become the Standard English Version.  It isn’t Why the ESV is an Imperfect Translation, because any translation could have been critiqued.  The question is whether or not the ESV should be the standard translation.  I’m amazed at how many people argue that very thing- that the ESV is the best translation around and should be the most widely used English translation.  The thought of a translation that causes me to say “who talks like that?” becoming the standard translation is a baffling one to me.  It’s good for what it is, but it’s hardly “standard.”

5. I learned my lesson back in seminary from Dr Roy Ciampa, who blasted me on a paper for an overly wooden translation.  In our exegesis papers, we were to provide a translation at the beginning that reflected our exegetical decisions, providing the defense of those decisions in the body of the paper.  I won’t give my actual translation (sorry, it’s embarassing), but I translated a phrase awkwardly, then said in the body of the paper, “this means _____.”  Ciampa’s comment in the margin was telling: “if it means that, then why don’t you translate it that way?”  Ouch.  Point taken.

Anyway, here are the posts, in order with the titles.  I’ll warn you, the formatting is a little weird, but you’ll figure it out.  Thanks to Wayne Leman for taking the time to put these up, to Mark Strauss for making his paper available, and to William Mounce for his response.

Mark Strauss’ Paper

Why the English Standard Version (ESV) should not become the Standard English Version

Oops Translations in the ESV (this one made me laugh out loud at points)

Idioms Missed in the ESV

ESV Lexical Errors and Problems

Exegetical Errors in the ESV

Collocational Clashes in the ESV

ESV Archaisms

Inconsistent Gender-Language in the ESV

Awkward and Unnatural Style in the ESV

Word Order Problems

Run-on Sentences and Tortured English

Mistranslated Genitives

Conclusion (at the end of this post is a link to download the entire paper in a pdf format)

William Mounce’s Response

Go here.  It’s a little ways down in the post.

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