Perspectives in Translation

Archive for the 'New Testament' Category

Five Most Intriguing Changes in the Updated NIV

Posted in New Testament, Old Testament, Translation Philosophy by Collin Hansen on February 28th, 2011

Last year I enjoyed the privilege of moderating the Perspectives in Translation forum at Bible Gateway. This work put me in touch with some of the world’s most gifted Bible scholars, men and women committed to helping us understand God’s Word in many varied contemporary English translations.

We launched this project around the same time the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) released the updated NIV at Bible Gateway. NIV translators Doug Moo and Craig Blomberg participated in the Perspectives forum. But so did translators and/or supporters of several other versions, including the NLT, ESV, HCSB, CEB, and NET. That made for some vigorous discussion, especially regarding the best way to render passages related to gender roles. We welcomed such debate, because translation is a serious matter that carries serious consequences for Christian faith and practice.

Now the scholars have returned to their regular tasks of teaching and writing, so we will only update the Perspectives forum if we see occasion and reader demand to convene a group discussion. We’re grateful for the significant interested readers have shown in the forum and welcome any tips for special topics we might cover.

To recap our discussion so far, I wanted to look back on the updated NIV and observe what I regard as the five most intriguing changes unveiled in last year’s edition compared to the 1984 NIV. Scholars discussed most of these changes at Perspectives in Translation. Others were covered in the translation notes released by the CBT.

5.) Philippians 4:13

1984 NIV: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

2010 NIV: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Here we have one of the most popular and frequently memorized verses in the entire Bible. According to data compiled by Bible Gateway, this is the number four most-read Bible verse. It’s easy to memorize and packs a punch. But the 2010 translation helps us to understand the apostle Paul’s intent more clearly by encouraging us to examine the context of his remark. God granted him contentment in all circumstances, whether rich or poor, well fed or hungry. Indeed, we know from Philippians 4:7 that the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” God does not promise to protect believers from all hardship. But he does promise to preserve us in it.

4.) Psalm 23:4

1984 NIV: ‟Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

2010 NIV: ‟Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

I don’t remember much from Sunday school as a child, but I remember memorizing Psalm 23. The King James Version of 1611 conveyed the beauty of this chapter with lyrical, rhythmic phrasing like the “valley of the shadow of death,” retained in verse four of the 1984 NIV. Some modern translations, such as the ESV an NASB, have preserved this beautiful language. The 2010 NIV, however, has joined the HCSB, NLT, NRSV, and NET by opting for broader comprehension with a simpler modern phrase: “darkest valley.” No matter how dark things appear in our lives, God will never leave us. There can be no greater hope!

3.) Romans 8:8

1984 NIV: “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

2010 NIV: “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.”

I could have selected several other verses to illustrate this same change. The CBT’s translation notes explain that particularly in Paul’s letters, the word “sarx can mean either part or all of the human body or the human being under the power of sin.” Paul uses the word both ways, just as we use the same words today with both literal and figurative meanings. The 1984 NIV aimed to help readers by offering the figurative meaning whenever translators believed they could establish Paul’s intent. The 2010 NIV takes a more hands-off approach, more frequently translating sarx as flesh and urging the readers to make their own decisions about when Paul means to reference the sinful nature that misleads us.

Blomberg explained on the Perspectives forum more about the misconceptions prompted the CBT to make a change:

Through my seminary studies . . . I came to learn that it wasn’t as though Christians had two compartments to them, one in which the Spirit resided and one in which the flesh resided, so that one could speak of their spiritual and their sinful natures. The Spirit always indwells us, and sometimes fills us, but when he doesn’t it is because we are not fully yielded to him. Thus the flesh, as the common Scriptural opposite, is most naturally likewise understood as a power to which we can yield, to varying degrees.

2.) 2 Corinthians 5:17

1984 NIV: ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

2010 NIV: ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

However you translate it, this is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible. Believers cling to this promise when overwhelmed with the weight of our sin and its effects on the ones we love. The 2010 NIV helps us to more clearly understand something profound: our union with Christ has cosmic implications! Far from minimizing the significance of the new birth, Paul teaches us that same re-creative power that raised Jesus from the dead now regenerates us, who were helpless in our sins. Indeed, Jesus is making all things new.

The CBT tells us more about Paul’s teaching:

Given his overall theology that the coming of Christ and the new era he inaugurated began the period of the restoration of all things that would culminate in new heavens and new earth, it is likely that Paul is making a much more sweeping claim than just the salvation of the individual believer. A new universe is in the works!

Blomberg argued at the Perspectives forum that Paul employs an attention-grabbing structure in the original Greek in order to show us that our individual conversions are part of God’s grand creative plan. This example demonstrates how translators consider both a verse’s sentence construction as well as the broader context of biblical theology.

1.) Philippians 2:6

1984 NIV:Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.”

2010 NIV: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”

This verse belongs to a beloved section of Scripture, Philippians 2:6-11, which explains the humiliation Jesus suffered on the earth and the exaltation he enjoys in heaven. Paul tells us we have the same mindset, looking not to our interests but to the interests of others, as Jesus did by enduring death on the cross.

This verse also bears tremendous theological importance. In particular, scholars have long debated the meaning of the rarely used Greek word harpagmos. The 1984 NIV translated it “something to be grasped.” But what does it mean that Jesus did not grasp equality with God? Isn’t he in very nature God? What’s the difference?

The CBT considered new scholarship in the last 25 years that led them to believe that harpagmos carried the meaning of someone who possesses something he does not use for his own advantage. Blomberg explained more on the Perspectives forum:

The point then of the verse is not that Christ, in choosing to give up his position, metaphorically, at the right hand of the Father in order to become human, gave up his deity or even his divine attributes, but that he didn’t consider them as something to be used to his own personal advantage. Evangelical theologians have often spoken of Christ giving up the independent exercise of his divine attributes apart from when it was his Father’s will.

More than any other change, I think, this verse illustrates how Bible translators serve the rest of us. A verse that has baffled me for so long now comes into clearer focus thanks to careful study of the original language in its ancient context. And now that I know more clearly what Jesus Christ did for me, I praise him and ask for the Spirit’s help in serving others to the glory of God the Father.

Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition and editor of the Perspectives in Translation forum at Bible Gateway. He is the co-author of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir.

*******************************************

Note from Bible Gateway:

Looking for an opportunity to connect with other Christians who are passionate about carrying out the Great Commission in a world of rapidly-changing technology and social trends? The Gospel Coalition 2011 National Conference takes place in Chicago this April 12-14, and there’s a huge amount packed into its three days. More than 60 teachers—including Don Carson, Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, John Piper, and others—will lead workshops about diverse topics like business leadership, inner-city church planting, counseling, and sharing the gospel with Muslims. The conference website has a full speaker list and workshop schedule.

As an added incentive to attend, The Gospel Coalition (in partnership with Zondervan) will be giving away a premium copy of the NIV Thinline Reference Bible (ebony leather edition–a $129.99 retail value) to 35 conference registrants. It’s a powerful resource for pastors, seminary students, and Bible readers.

The Gospel Coalition partnered with us last year to create the Perspectives in Translation forum about Bible translation. They’re doing valuable work, and we encourage you to consider attending their national conference. Everyone who registers for The Gospel Coalition conference between now and Tuesday, March 8, will be eligible for the NIV giveaway.

What Do We Know About ‘Harpagmos” in Phil. 2:6? Craig Blomberg

Posted in New Testament by Craig Blomberg on December 27th, 2010

Moderator’s note: Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the most beloved passages in Scripture. It’s also one of the easiest to misunderstand. Scholars today continue to wrestle with the interpretive challenges posed by these demanding verses. Advances in this debate actually led the Committee on Bible Translation to make a change on Philippians 2:6 in the updated NIV compared to the 1984 version. So I asked scholars to respond, and CBT member Craig Blomberg shared his thoughts on a challenging Greek word and the implications for our understanding of Jesus.

Question: What do we know about harpagmos in Philippians 2:6?

We know that the word occurs once only in the New Testament, in this passage. We know that it does not occur in the Septuagint, although the cognate harpagma does, which refers to the unlawful seizure of something. We know the root verb harpazö, from which we get our English “harpoon,” means to grab or to seize something suddenly. In the rare instances in which harpagmos appears in non-biblical literature it means something akin to “robbery” (cf. KJV), but that scarcely fits in the context of Philippians 2:5-11 on Christ’s incarnation. Nouns in Greek that end in –mos ordinarily have a verbal dimension to them, hence many translations speak of “a thing (or something) to be grasped” (ASV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NET, original NIV). But this does not catch the somewhat negative overtones of the cognates, so something like “a thing to be seized” meaning “something to be taken advantage of it” (see Fee’s Philippians [NIGTC], 206-7) probably is best.

The point then of the verse is not that Christ, in choosing to give up his position, metaphorically, at the right hand of the Father in order to become human, gave up his deity or even his divine attributes, but that he didn’t consider them as something to be used to his own personal advantage. Evangelical theologians have often spoken of Christ giving up the independent exercise of his divine attributes apart from when it was his Father’s will.

The Holman Christian Standard captures this nicely: “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.” So, too, does the NRSV with its rendering, “something to be exploited.” The updated NIV is almost the same as the HCSB: “something to be used to his own advantage.” The New Century Version substitutes “benefit” for “advantage” and gets at almost the same meaning.

My first-ever exegetical paper in seminary, in a second-year Greek course, assigned us Philippians 2:5-11. I remember after doing all the research way back then, that it struck me that a very nice rendering would be “a prize to be clung to.” Several translations use the verb “cling” (NLT, TCNT, Phillips) and Knox’s translation offers “prize to be coveted,” but mixing and matching the two comes out, in my opinion, particularly elegantly. But it probably starts to move one just a little bit closer in the direction of functional equivalence than would be appropriate for a translation like the updated NIV.

Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.

What Factors Determine How We Translate 2 Cor. 5:17? Craig Blomberg

Posted in New Testament by Craig Blomberg on December 23rd, 2010

Note from the moderator: The updated NIV made a noteworthy change in 2 Corinthians 5:17 as compared to the 1984 NIV. I invited several scholars to respond, and CBT member Craig Blomberg explained more behind this alteration.

Question: What factors determine a translation of 2 Corinthians 5:17?

When my now 23-year-old daughter was 10, she invited two girlfriends her age who were not Christians to come to our church for the children’s Christmas program/service that she was singing in. The two friends seemed to appreciate the music and worship quite a bit. When the woman who was then our children’s director got up at the end to give an invitation to receive Christ, she read 2 Corinthians 5:17 out of the King James Version, her lifelong preference. After she read aloud, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” one of the girls sitting with my wife and me turned to her in disgust and asked quietly, “Does your church always use language like that?” All of the good of the service was undone with one unnecessary gender-exclusive reference that was unlike anything this 10-year-old had been exposed to in her home or in her public education.

Of course, this is only one of the translational problems in this verse. There is the textual problem of whether the verse ends just with kaina (“new”) or adds ta panta (“all things”) either before or after kaina. There is the question of whether the ellipsis before kainē ktisis (“new creation”) is even to be filled in with “he (or she) is,” or whether Paul is thinking more probably about the arrival, in part, of the new creation worldwide. This is related, thirdly, to whether or not ktisis should be translated “creation” or “creature.”

Let’s begin with the textual question. Textual critics are confident that the original reading was the shorter one, with just the word “new.” The last three (Greek) words of the verse then become, “Behold I have made new things (or things new).” Because verse 18 begins with a reference to “all things,” scribes likely added this to the end of verse 17 as well trying to clarify Paul’s meaning. That they did so in two different positions, that “new” is the shorter and harder reading, and that the best and most reliable manuscripts strongly support “new” all combine to make this a fairly straightforward decision.

But as so often is the case, textual variants may correctly interpret the meaning of the original, especially when it appears there are gaps to be filled in. Paul regularly looks forward not just to individuals becoming new creatures but to the arrival of a new creation (see esp. Rom. 8:19-23). How, then, would Paul have expected his audience to understand his meaning at the end of verse 17?—presumably by his language in the first part of the verse. The Greek does not actually supply a subject and verb before “new creation/creature,” which is unusual for Paul if he is saying simply that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. It is more likely that he is getting his readers’ attention by a staccato-like construction that makes them realize that he is talking about more than just the expected results of conversion—personal transformation—but about the arrival, even if only in part, of a whole new creation. Thus the Holman Christian Standard Bible writes, “there is a new creation,” as does the New Revised Standard Version and the New Century Version.

Clearer still is the updated NIV: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” The footnote, however, acknowledges the possibility that the second clause could be translated, “that person is a new creation.” Neither of these constructions requires any gender-exclusive language. In fact, the only masculine word in the whole verse in the Greek is “Christ.” Tis, or “anyone,” is a two-gender pronoun. That is to say, its masculine and feminine forms are identical; only the neuter differs morphologically. The KJV, the NKJV, the old American Standard Version, and the New American Standard Bible all put “he is” in italics to show that they were adding something that corresponded to nothing in the Greek. Unfortunately, more recent translations that don’t use this convention but still preserve the gender-exclusive language become the most misleading of all (e.g., the ESV, NET, or the 1984 NIV).

Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.

What Is the Best Way to Convey What Happens to David in 1 Kings 2:10? Douglas J. Moo

Posted in New Testament, Old Testament by Douglas J. Moo on December 22nd, 2010

Note from the moderator: Students learning the biblical languages for the first time often produce wooden, overly literal translations dependent on what they know about words’ dictionary definitions. More experienced translators familiar with usage in ancient languages feel greater latitude when communicating God’s Word to contemporary readers. But in their zeal to bridge time and culture, translators must be careful not to disallow potential meaning embedded in literal phrases we no longer use today. This challenge emerges in passages such as 1 Kings 2:10.

Tremper makes good points. “Sleep with one’s fathers” has a certain literary quality to it which might resonate with a certain audience. On the other hand, “sleep with one’s fathers” might strike many modern readers as a bit outdated. It might even, more seriously, be misunderstood by some readers. It could, then, be an example of what some translators call “biblisch”: the preservation of certain English locutions (often handed down from the KJV) which are not used broadly in contemporary English. I think it generally best to avoid “biblisch,” since it tends to put an unnecessary barrier between the modern English-speaker and the biblical text.

Without, I hope, hijacking this thread, I might mention the related issue in texts such as 1 Thess. 4:13. By using the Greek equivalent to “sleep” is Paul making a point about the nature of Christian death? That is, is “sleep” for him a “live” metaphor? Or is it a dead metaphor, a simple euphemism for “die” (for which there is some evidence in Paul’s culture)—something like our “pass away”? If the latter, then nothing is lost and something in terms of clarity may be gained by simply translating “die.” But the evidence for “sleep” as a euphemism for death in Paul’s day is not very widespread, so it might be appropriate to keep the language here.

Douglas J. Moo is Blachard Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and chair of the Committee on Bible Translation.

How Do We Decide What ‘Sarx’ Means? Craig Blomberg

Posted in New Testament by Craig Blomberg on December 20th, 2010

Moderator’s note: English speakers today commonly use the same words to mean various things in varying contexts. The same is true of ancient writers. When we study biblical Greek and Hebrew, we observe the fascinating and ingenious use of word pictures and double meaning, among other literary techniques. One word the apostle Paul for multiple purposes was sarx. I asked a panel of scholars, How do we decide what Paul has in mind when he writes sarx, as in Romans 8:8? CBT member Craig Blomberg offers some insight into a change from the 1984 to the updated NIV published online this year.

It is well known that several New Testament authors, but especially Paul and John, regularly use sarx (“flesh”) in two ways—the skin on a person’s body, and by extension, a human body more generally; and a person manifesting sinful behavior or a sinful condition. Context usually makes clear which of these two is involved, but how do we translate the latter? Romans 8:8 is just one of many passages that could be chosen by way of illustration: “but the ones being in the flesh are not able to please God” (a woodenly literal rendering). Most translations historically and today have chosen simply to retain the word flesh here, and the updated NIV has followed suit, after the 1978 and 1984 NIVs used “the sinful nature.” Other options that have been utilized include “the lower nature” (Weymouth’s NT in Modern Speech), “earthly minded” (Montgomery’s Centenary Translation), “their old nature” (Complete Jewish Bible), “the corrupt nature” (God’s Word to the Nations), “their natural inclinations” (New Jerusalem Bible), and “their sinful nature” (New Living Translation).

I confess that when the NIV first appeared, I liked “the sinful nature” (as a translation, not the concept!). It meant I didn’t have to stop and think each time I saw “flesh” how it was being used. I had been schooled in Campus Crusade for Christ’s distinction between the natural, carnal, and spiritual persons, while realizing already then the limitations of the way they described the distinctions among these terms. Through my seminary studies, however, I came to learn that it wasn’t as though Christians had two compartments to them, one in which the Spirit resided and one in which the flesh resided, so that one could speak of their spiritual and their sinful natures. The Spirit always indwells us, and sometimes fills us, but when he doesn’t it is because we are not fully yielded to him. Thus the flesh, as the common Scriptural opposite, is most naturally likewise understood as a power to which we can yield, to varying degrees. “Earthly minded” and “natural inclinations,” of the options noted above, probably capture this better than any expression involving the specific word “nature.”

But occasionally it seems like the negative use of sarx really does shade over into the (metaphorical) sense of a “compartment” of a person. Romans 7:14-25 is an excellent example of this. Paul waxes eloquent about the war going on inside of himself between two powers. So in the two appearances of sarx in verses 18 and 25, even the updated NIV preserves “sinful nature.” In other places, however, it is not even clear if sarx is being used pejoratively (for something sinful) or just neutrally for frail humanity (e.g., “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”). On balance, then, it is best to leave most of the renderings of sarx simply as “flesh” and not foreclose on the interpretive conversation. But the updated NIV does make an improvement by often speaking of “the realm of the flesh” (as in 8:8), which sounds a little bit more like someone under an influence rather than a certain location inside a person.

Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.

Burk: Unconvinced by Blomberg on 2 Tim. 2:2

Posted in New Testament by Denny Burk on December 17th, 2010

I would like to thank Dr. Blomberg for taking the time to interact with me on the proper translation of anthrōpois in 2 Timothy 2:2. I remain, however, unconvinced of his arguments in favor of rendering anthrōpois as “people.” I will explain why by responding briefly to items he raised in his last post.

1. Blomberg says that I am not “acknowledging the normal usage of language.”

But what I have demonstrated in my previous post is that “the normal usage” of anthropos includes both gender-inclusive and gender-specific uses of the term. A quick glance at the entry in BDAG confirms this point. According to BDAG, anthropos can refer to “a person of either sex” (meaning number one) or “a male person” (meaning number three). Even the NIV 2011 at times will translate anthropos as “man/men” (1 Tim 2:5; 6:11; 2 Tim 3:8). Is Blomberg suggesting that the NIV 2011 is going outside the “normal usage of language” when it translates anthropos as “man/men”? Probably not. In those texts, the translators determined that the referent of anthropos was contextually defined as male, so they translated accordingly. Once again, citing the “normal usage” of anthropos is not by itself determinative for interpretation. Context is. I do not think we have yet seen Blomberg offer a compelling argument from context in favor of “people.”

2. Blomberg says that an anti-egalitarian prejudice has kept me from accepting the gender-inclusive significance of anthrōpois.

I am indeed a complementarian, but I do not regard this text as any kind of crux for either side of the gender debate. Let’s face it: The interpretation of 2 Timothy 2:2 does not bear the weight of a 1 Timothy 2:12 or a 1 Corinthians 11:3 as far as being a complementarian is concerned. One can be a perfectly consistent complementarian while translating this term as “man” or “people.” Paul has elsewhere instructed women to “teach” other women (Titus 2:3), so one can imagine an appropriate application of the NIV 2011′s rendering within a complementarian framework. I do not think the same can be said, however, for the egalitarian cause. To interpret this term as “men” would mean that Paul is assigning a special responsibility to men for the passing-on of the faith. That interpretation cannot be neatly fitted into an egalitarian framework. As far as theological bottom lines are concerned, egalitarians have more at stake here than complementarians.

We should also note that the interpretation of this term among commentators does not divide neatly down complementarian/egalitarian lines. Yes, many complementarians prefer the translation “men” (e.g., Knight, Mounce, Köstenberger). But there are also other interpreters who favor “men” but who could in no way be accused of being complementarian. Both I. Howard Marshall and Luke Timothy Johnson, for instance, prefer the translation “men.” Johnson is an unabashed liberal in his view of Scripture and has a feminist outlook on gender. His comments on this text are apt:

The phrase pistois anthrōpois could be translated as “faithful people,” since anthrōpos is inclusive for all humans, in contrast to anēr, which can mean only males. I translate “faithful men,” however, because that is clearly what the text means. In the case of the Pastorals, an attempt to create a gender-inclusive translation only camoflouges the pervasive androcentrism of the composition. For better or for worse, the assumptions of the author’s culture (or place within his culture) should be accepted by the translation. It is the task of hermeneutics to decide what to do about those assumptions (The First and Second Letters to Timothy, p. 365).

Johnson thinks the text means “men,” even though he goes on to reject its normative significance for modern readers. Of course I disagree with his rejection of biblical authority, but his interpretation is certainly correct. Once again, one’s position on the gender issue is not necessarily determinative of how one interprets this text. Second Timothy 2:2 is simply not a locus classicus for the gender issue.

Having said all that, the foregoing argument is a bit of a distraction from the question at hand. From a purely exegetical point of view, the real issue here is not how this text impacts this or that side of the gender debate. The real issue is what Paul meant by what he said when he wrote it. If he meant “people,” so be it. But if he meant “men,” we will have to let that stand as well. For my part, the context of 2 Timothy (and indeed the pastorals together) dictate the latter rather than the former. For my argument on this, see my previous post.

3. Blomberg says that Paul’s use of the masculine plural heterous “hardly means that the person is teaching everyone within that group at the same time.”

I actually agree with Blomberg on this point, and I plead nolo contendre to the LXX texts he cites. But I do not think his point is germane in this case. My argument is not that the “faithful anthrōpois” have to teach the others (whoever they are) all at once. The “faithful men” need not be qualified to teach everyone in the group at the same time, but they do need to be apt to teach everyone in the group at any given time. Timothy needs to pass on the faith to “men” who will be able to teach in whatever situation they find themselves in. The qualification is quite like the one applied to elders in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:4. They have to be “able to teach” (διδακτικόν).

4. Finally, Blomberg says this: “The NIV translation of this verse in no way precludes even the most conservative of complementarians views. On the other hand, Burk would desire a translation that excludes all egalitarian views. Whether or not that is legitimate interpretation, it is certainly not objective translation!”

I have to contest Blomberg’s apparent definition of “objective translation” here. He makes it sound as if an “objective translation” will not “exclude” egalitarian views. On the contrary, I would argue that any translation that tries to accommodate one or both sides of the gender debate is not doing objective work. Objective translation has nothing to do with whether one’s complementarian/egalitarian view is included or excluded by the translation. Objective translation has everything to do with rendering faithfully into a receptor language the author’s original meaning. If one’s agenda in translation is anything but that, the translation cannot be deemed “objective.”

Once again, thanks to Dr. Blomberg for the stimulating exchange. I am grateful to be sharpened on the interpretation of this text (Proverbs 27:17).

Denny Burk is associate professor of New Testament and dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Blomberg Responds to Burk Over 2 Tim. 2:2

Posted in New Testament by Craig Blomberg on December 14th, 2010

Denny Burk’s post shows the lengths to which concern over the slightest hint of egalitarianism can keep people from acknowledging the normal usage of language. Simply to say that a person is qualified to teach “others,” using the generic masculine plural, which indicates either men exclusively or men and women inclusively, hardly means that the person is teaching everyone within that group at the same time.

Consider other uses of heterous in the Greek Bible. In Matthew 15:30, great crowds bring to Jesus the lame, blind, crippled, mute and “many others,” and he heals them. From Jesus’ practice elsewhere we must assume men and women together needed his healing. But we don’t necessarily imagine one giant healing ceremony in which Jesus speaks one word and everyone is healed at the exact moment together! More likely, he went about having a personal word with most, laying hands on them as he usually did, and healed each one at a time. That means sometimes an individual woman would have been the object of his healing.

Or take Daniel 11:4 in the Septuagint, in which the evil kings’ empires will be broken up and given to “others.” Normally kingdoms are ruled by a solitary monarch, king or queen. Even if Daniel had no queens at all in view, he wouldn’t have had groups of kings in mind either. One can give a kingdom to others by giving one part to one person, another part to someone else, and so on. Daniel may even have had in mind subsequent generations beyond the first one after the demise of the evil rulers.

Then again there is Jeremiah 6:12, where both husband and wife will have their houses turned over to “others.” Given the explicit mention of both genders in the text, it would be natural to imagine another “husband and wife” couple as the next recipients of the house. But given the larger context referring to rebellious Israel more generally, it is clear that many couples will have their houses turned over to many others. But this hardly means that all those new owners occupied their homes at the identical moment. Nor does it preclude a single man or a single woman turning their houses over or single individuals receiving the homes.

Finally, consider Ecclesiastes 7:22, which warns a person not to pay attention to every word people say because you know in your heart the many times you have cursed “others.” Maybe more clearly than any of these other passages, this one reflects on the times people have out loud or mentally spoken profanely to individuals. Sometimes it may have been an individual woman, sometimes a man; maybe occasionally a group of people. But it hardly is limited to people cursing just groups jointly.

The point should be clear. Faithful people can teach “others” (2 Timothy 2:2) by teaching one man, many men, one woman, many women, or men and women together. The NIV translation of this verse in no way precludes even the most conservative of complementarians views. On the other hand, Burk would desire a translation that excludes all egalitarian views. Whether or not that is legitimate interpretation, it is certainly not objective translation!

Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.

How Should We Identify the Teachers in 2 Tim. 2:2? Denny Burk

Posted in New Testament by Denny Burk on December 13th, 2010

Question: How should we identify the teachers Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 2:2?

Dr. Blomberg’s argument in favor of rendering anthrōpois as “people” is illuminating. 2 Timothy 2:2 has not been much of a flashpoint in the gender debate, and there is not much published material on the “men” vs. “people” question. Last week, I made my way through fourteen different commentaries on this verse. Out of the six of them that favored the translation “people,” not a single one of them put forth a sustained argument in favor of that translation. The most they have to offer is the observation that the plural of anthropos is regularly used generically. Thus Blomberg’s earlier post on this site is the most substantial argument in favor of “people” that I have read.

That being said, I do want to contest Dr. Blomberg’s conclusion that says “people” is “the only legitimate translation” of anthrōpois. It is true that the plural of anthropos is often used generically (e.g., 1 Tim 2:1, 4; 4:10; 6:5; 2 Tim 3:2; Titus 2:11; 3:2), but that fact is no argument for a generic referent in a given context. As Ray Van Neste pointed out in his post, if we want to understand the word’s appearance in 2 Timothy 2:2, we must look to context. So let me make some observations about the context that in my view tip the scales decisively in favor of the translation “men.”

First, there is precedent in the pastorals for Paul’s use of plural anthropos in a gender-specific way. In 2 Timothy 3:8, for instance, Paul writes, “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men [anthrōpoi] of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.” The anthrōpoi here must be men since they are “worming their way into women’s homes” (Mounce, Pastoral Eptistles, p. 550). If this is correct, then the anthrōpoi of both 3:2 and 3:13 should be understood as males as well. Consider also the anthrōpoi of 1 Timothy 5:24: “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.” In context, Paul is telling Timothy to be careful about whom he appoints as elders (v. 5:22: “Do not lay hands on a man too quickly”). Since Paul held to an all male eldership (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:2), the anthrōpoi of 5:24 must also be males. Given Paul’s use of anthrōpoi in a gender-specific way both in the pastorals and elsewhere (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:7), we have to allow for the possibility that context can determine anthrōpoi with a masculine referent.

Second, in the context of 2 Timothy 2, Paul is telling Timothy to entrust the gospel to faithful anthrōpoi who will be able to teach others (2:2). Notice the one qualification that Paul has for the anthrōpoi. They must be qualified to teach “others.” This is significant because “others” is a masculine plural pronoun [ἑτέρους]. That means that “others” would consist of both men and women or of men only. Since Paul has already prohibited women from teaching Christian doctrine to men (1 Timothy 2:12), women would not be qualified to teach “others.” Thus, when Paul employs anthrōpoi here, he certainly has in mind males only. Contextually speaking, anthrōpoi must be gender-specific in this text. It seems that Paul wishes to emphasize the special responsibility that qualified men have to pass the faith on to the next generation.

With this interpretation in mind, we are in a position to answer the Blomberg’s arguments in favor of “people.”

1. Blomberg argues that “people” is a grammatical “slam dunk” because the plural of anthropos is “regularly” used in a gender-inclusive way. Nevertheless, the regular use of anthropos in a gender-inclusive way is not an argument for its meaning in a given context. Gender-specific uses of anthropos are also within the term’s range of possible meanings, so the argument for “people” has to be developed within the context of 2 Timothy (and the other pastorals). I do not think Blomberg has provided such an argument yet.

2. Blomberg argues that translating anthropois as “people” would not “infringe on those restrictions” Paul set up to prohibit women from teaching men. The problem with this argument is twofold. First, the term “others” is masculine plural, so the teaching of both men and women is in view. Thus, Blomberg cannot placate complementarian concerns with the suggestion that only the teaching of women and children is in view. Second, most English readers will read “people” in a gender-inclusive way. If Paul did not intend to be gender-inclusive in this text, why obscure the point for English readers?

3. Blomberg says that the translation “faithful men” will be heard by most readers as gender-specific, not as gender-inclusive. In this context, he is certainly right about this. But those who favor the translation “faithful men” do not do so because they believe “men” to be gender-inclusive. On the contrary, they favor “men” because they believe males are in view.

4. Blomberg also mentions his experience in parachurch organizations for whom this text is a staple. In those organizations, this text is a touchstone for understanding the organic disciple-making process that is incumbent upon all Christians, both men and women. I would argue that such organizations can still access this text in support of such disciple-making ministries. But when they do so, they should find that support in a legitimate implication of the text, not as Paul’s original meaning. In context, Paul is addressing the special responsibilities of church leadership who are supposed to be examples to the rest of the flock (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).

Finally, let me offer a word about how this text has been rendered in the NIV and its revisions since 1984.

Text of 2 Timothy 2:2 Marginal Notes
NIV 1984

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

TNIV 2002

And the things you have heard me say

in the presence of many witnesses

entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

a 2 Or men
TNIV 2005

And the things you have heard me say

in the presence of many witnesses

entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

NIV 2010

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

Only one word has been changed in this verse from the 1984 NIV to the 2010 revision. “Men” has changed to “people.” The initial change occurred in TNIV 2002, and a marginal note was added to give the alternate interpretation from the NIV 1984. In the TNIV 2005 and in the NIV 2010, there is no indication in the notes at all about another possible interpretation of this text.

If my interpretation is correct, then anthrōpois should be rendered as “men” in the text of NIV 2011. Short of that, the marginal note that appeared in TNIV 2002 should be restored to show that there is another possible translation of the text.

Denny Burk is associate professor of New Testament and dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

How Should We Identify the Teachers in 2 Tim. 2:2? Craig Blomberg

Posted in New Testament by Craig Blomberg on December 8th, 2010

Question: How should we identify the teachers Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 2:2?

It’s probably because I got my first seven years of Christian nurture more through the parachurch than the church that it’s hard for me to see these teachers as limited to special officeholders. Both in my Campus Life club in high school and my Campus Crusade for Christ chapter in college, 2 Timothy 2:2 was a key verse we were all encouraged to memorize and apply. When you are involved in campus ministry, whether as student or staff, you know how high the turnover rate of students necessarily is every year. A thriving ministry one year can become mediocre the next, anemic the year after that, and dead in the water soon thereafter. Everyone who can be mobilized must be involved in teaching others so that they can in turn keep passing on the core truths of the gospel.

But there were no parachurch organizations in Paul’s day. When he wrote both of his letters to Timothy he was writing to his younger, spiritual son in the faith, who was now pastoring the church in Ephesus. He was outlining of chain of transmission of Christian tradition with four links in it: Paul, Timothy, another group of faithful people, and “others” whom they would in turn train. The updated NIV renders the verse thus: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

The only change from the 1984 NIV is using “people” instead of “men.” Grammatically, this is a slam dunk. The Greek has pistois anthrōpois. The Greek word rendered “men” in older translations comes from anthrōpos not anēr. Even anēr is occasionally gender-inclusive (see, e.g., BDAG, ad loc), but anthrōpos regularly is. The so-called Colorado Springs Guidelines defended in their books on Bible translation by Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress allow for “people” as a translation for plural forms of anthrōpos whenever contextually appropriate, and the ESV, the most restrictive of all the recent new Bible translations with respect to the use of inclusive language for humanity, uses “people” for anthrōpos in the plural literally dozens of times in the New Testament.

So what’s the debate? Well, you see, these are people who teach. And in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul prohibited women from teaching men in the church. Without getting into all the exegetical conundra of that passage, let’s assume just for the sake of argument that women still are not to teach men, presumably Christian doctrine or biblical truths, in the church. Let’s assume, again without judging on its probability one way or the other, that elders or overseers, whom 1 Timothy 3:2 says should be able to teach, were and still should be all men. Would translating 2 Timothy 2:2 with “faithful people” in any way infringe on those restrictions?

Not in the least. Even the most conservative complementarians I’ve ever met or read agree that women can and sometimes must teach other women and children, especially their own children. These complementarians agree that Paul uses “teaching” as a spiritual gift (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:28), as well as with reference to an office, and that God gives his spiritual gifts to men and women as he pleases. Women who receive the gift of teaching, they would insist, must exercise it with other women and with children.

Does Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 have an all-male elder board exclusively in view? I know of absolutely no way of demonstrating this. It’s possible, but given how Paul praised Lois and Eunice for passing their faith on to Timothy less than one chapter earlier (1:5), I find it unlikely. Be that as it may, “faithful people” in no way precludes an interpretation that limits those people to men. The last time I checked men were still people (well, perhaps except for the men behaving extremely badly!). Paul regularly taught mixed audiences, so if someone “misreads” people as including women, when Paul didn’t intend that, and therefore imagines that Paul called some of the women he taught to teach others also, all the ultraconservative complementarians has to do is explain that he is referring to their teaching women and children.

But suppose a translation retains the expression “faithful men” in 2 Timothy 2:2. With every passing year, fewer and fewer English-speaking people will naturally assume this is the old-fashioned use of a generic “men.” There are kinds of inclusive and exclusive language for humanity that are still a mixed bag in 21st-century English, but “men” is rarely one of them. If I stand before a mixed audience and address them by saying, “Greetings, men!” almost no one would find that natural unless I was deliberately singling out the males for some kind of special attention. So unless some new discovery made it possible for scholars to achieve consensus beyond any reasonable doubt that Paul had only males in view in this verse, the only legitimate translation, that leaves all options open, is “people.”

Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.

How Should We Identify the Teachers in 2 Tim. 2:2? Ray Van Neste

Posted in New Testament by Ray Van Neste on December 7th, 2010

Question: How should we identify the teachers Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 2:2?

Discussion arises as to whether this verse refers to faithful “men” or simply faithful “people” as the ones who are to be trained for future teaching. I think there are two keys issues to consider here.

First is the Greek word, anthropos, which can be translated “man” or “person.” It must be acknowledged that this word can be used in a gender specific way or in a gender non-specific way. Some simply state (in print) that this is the generic word for human beings and thus it should be translated here as “people.” However, this is less than careful. The word can certainly be used in this general sense. However, it is also used specifically to mean a “male person.” In two of Paul’s key marriage texts, he uses anthropos in precisely this way. In 1 Cor 7:1 Paul cites the Corinthians as writing, “It is good for a man [anthropos] not to have sexual relations with a woman.” Anthropos here clearly means male!  Then in Eph 5:31, citing the Old Testament, Paul writes, “A man [anthropos] shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” Thus, we cannot simply say that anthropos must refer to people in general. Nor can we say the word must refer to males. The word itself is not determinative, so we must look to context.

The second key issue is the context. We would affirm that both men and women should be taught the Scriptures and have a role in passing on the faith. Titus 2 contains a clear call for older women to teach younger women. However, the context in 2 Tim 2:1-7 seems to involve not general discipleship but the training of the next generation of leaders. This position of churchwide leadership and instruction has been forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2.

Thus, it is best to understand anthropos here as referring to men. Timothy, as he is being called away from the work in Ephesus, is urged to make sure new leaders are trained to continue the work of leading the church.

Ray Van Neste is associate professor of biblical studies and director of the R. C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.