Perspectives in Translation

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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.

When and Why Do We Update Bible Translations? Craig Blomberg

Posted in Translation Philosophy by Craig Blomberg on December 3rd, 2010

Question: When and why do we update Bible translations?

It all depends on which translation we’re talking about. The most common reason is because what was once understandable language no longer is as easy to understand. That led to the American Standard Version updating some of the Elizabethan English of the King James Version, and to the New American Standard updating the American Standard.

The Revised Standard Version was updated by the New Revised Standard Version for the same reason, and especially to do with the more archaic language deliberately preserved by the RSV in more poetic sections. The NRSV also wanted to introduce some inclusive language for humanity. The English Standard Version also updated the RSV but in different ways, wanting not as much inclusive language and wanting to preserve what it believed was some of the elegance in the older poetry of the RSV, and avoiding what it believed were more “liberal” renderings of the NRSV.

Sometimes a translation is updated to move it in more formally equivalent directions. The New Jerusalem Bible doesn’t take quite so many eccentric liberties with the text as the original Jerusalem Bible did, nor does the Revised English Bible take quite as many as the New English Bible did. The New Living Translation took what was a paraphrase (the original Living Bible) of the old ASV, preserved paraphraser Ken Taylor’s wording wherever it could, but also translated directly from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek in order to make it a bona fide dynamic equivalence translation.

The updated NIV, while preserving more than 95 percent of the wording of the 1984 NIV, recognized that with the severe criticism in some quarters of the TNIV, it had to find more acceptable forms of inclusive language for humanity. Already even the ESV and the Holman Christian Standard, originating out of circles with highly publicized objections to the TNIV, had significantly more inclusive language in them than did the 1984 NIV. The older NIV also had other linguistic anomalies not shared my most more recent translations. Who would have guessed in the 1960s and 1970s when it was being produced that today “thong” as something a person wore would not immediately conjure up a sandal or the strap of a sandal to everyone but a form of women’s underwear? It is good that Jesus in the updated NIV no longer has any thongs!  Sometimes scholarship begins to achieve a consensus that is important to incorporate into translations, such as the “guest room” rather than “inn” as the translation for kataluma in which there was no room for Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:7. And even in the years since the last NIV, words became more and more archaic. How many people today use the word “overweening” in any context other than the stock expression “overweening pride” taken straight from two biblical uses and scarcely used by anyone not influenced by that language?

Sometimes an update deliberately uses only certain advances in scholarship. The New King James Version wanted to make some of the most archaic or obsolete language of the KJV more current but deliberately did not want to change the textual basis of the KJV. So instead of following the oldest and most reliable manuscripts, almost all of which have been recovered since 1611 and the completion of the KJV, it retained the readings less likely to be original of the so-called Majority Text tradition, following an approach to textual criticism adopted by less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all the textual critics in the world! This certainly limits the value of the NKJV even if it is more understandable than the KJV.

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.

When and Why Do We Update Bible Translations? E. Ray Clendenen

Posted in Translation Philosophy by E. Ray Clendenen on December 2nd, 2010

Question: When and why do we update Bible translations?

In the HCSB introduction we explained why we thought another English translation was needed. Several of those explanations also apply to the need for periodic updating. The most important is the rapid advances in biblical research. Many new Bible commentaries, reference works such as lexicons and works of theology, and groundbreaking works in biblical studies, including advances in our understanding of Hebrew and Greek, are published each year. Advances in computer technology are also constantly opening new doors for biblical research. Periodic updating of translations allows for new understandings of texts to reach Bible readers.

Continuing changes in the English language probably do not justify an update every few years, but would justify the various “updates” that have been made to the KJV since it first appeared. The third reason for updating is the rather embarrassing fact that nothing is perfect. No matter how many brilliant scholars, literary experts, and readers have worked through a translation numerous times, there are always places that can be improved and decisions that can be re-evaluated.

For example, the HCSB wanted to introduce to modern English readers the rendering of the divine name used by most Old Testament scholars, which is Yahweh. We felt it was time to depart from treating “the LORD” as if it were a name in such verses as Exodus 33:19: “I will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD’” (RSV). In the first edition, however, rather than a wholesale changing of LORD to Yahweh, we were very tentative or conservative in the number of times we used Yahweh, settling for about 75. The positive response we received to that decision encouraged us to use God’s name much more in the updated edition (about 600). Most of the changes by far, however, were in tiny matters such as punctuation.

E. Ray Clendenen is Bible commentary editor for B&H Publishing and associate editor of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

When and Why Do We Update Bible Translations? Tremper Longman III

Posted in Translation Philosophy by Tremper Longman III on December 1st, 2010

Question: When and why do we update Bible translations?

We should update Bible translations about every 25 years since in that period of time the English language changes enough that the translation begins to sound dated and stale. We should also update Bible translations because biblical scholars come to better understanding of the original text over time. Most of the Bible is written in everyday language (Isaiah and some other texts would be exceptions) and our translations (or at least some of them) should reflect that. High-style translations tend to impose a kind of churchy, learned English style on texts that are meant to communicate with all people, whether educated or not.

Tremper Longman is the Robert H. Gundry professor of biblical studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He has been active in the area of Bible translation by serving on the central committee that produced and now monitors the New Living Translation.

When and Why Do We Update Bible Translations? Douglas J. Moo

Posted in Translation Philosophy by Douglas J. Moo on November 30th, 2010

Question: When and why do we update Bible translations?

Translators grapple with the competing interests of maintaining a certain tradition and continuity in translation and of keeping the Bible up-to-date with respect both to scholarship and to current English. We are, of course, very spoiled in the English world with all our excellent translation options; and one can make a case for waiting some time to produce revisions. But, on the other hand, some of these same people who don’t like frequent revisions are the same people claiming from the pulpit on in books that “such and such a translation does not have it right here; it should rather read . . . “ – a reading that is exactly what the revision would provide to the reader.

And, with all due respect to Michael Bird, I think it is indeed overly cynical to suggest financial gain as the primary motivation for updating translations. (The very same motivations could be ascribed to publishers when they initiate, for instance, new commentary series—but we scholars tend to be noticeably silent when we are asked to contribute to them!) But my main point is to remind everyone involved in this conversation that the NIV, to take one example, is sponsored not by a commercial publisher but by a missions organization that plows royalties back into the translation and distribution of Bibles all around the world (Biblica).

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

When and Why Do We Update Bible Translations? Michael Bird

Posted in New Testament, Translation Philosophy by Michael Bird on November 29th, 2010

Question: When and why do we update Bible translations?

Call me cynical, but the main reason why people create new translations or update them is because it is financially profitable. There is big money in printing and selling Bibles. As to how often we need to update translations, well, it is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. We need to keep English translations current with the vernacular of the English language. There is no formula as to how to do that. Certainly when words radically change in meaning we have to do something. A good example is 1 Thess 4:15 in the KJV, which says that we “shall not prevent them which are asleep.” I’ve even heard unlearned men with a weird fetish for the KJV Bible explain this passage by saying that we cannot stop or hinder the dead in Christ from rising from the grave at the second coming. They are ignorant of the fact that the word “prevent” was itself derived from the Latin previens, which means to “precede.” A proper translation is “we shall not precede them who are asleep.”

Michael Bird formerly lectured in New Testament at the Highland Theological College (UHI Millennium Institute) in Scotland and is currently lecturer in theology and New Testament at Crossway College in Brisbane, Australia. He is also an honorary research associate at the University of Queensland. He is the translator of 1 Esdras in the Common English Bible.

Seventh Question: When and Why Do We Update Bible Translations?

Posted in Translation Philosophy by Collin Hansen on November 29th, 2010

Because the KJV served so many Christians so well for so long, it may be confusing and even frustrating to see the number of English Bible translations proliferate in recent decades. What’s wrong with what we’ve been reading? Why not just leave well enough alone? The Committee on Bible Translation faced this question when they decided to cease publication of the NIV (1984) and TNIV (2005) in favor of the updated NIV, released online November 1. They wrote in their translators’ notes:

Since 1978, the NIV translation team has continued to meet, year after year, reviewing developments in biblical scholarship and changes in English usage—revising the translation to ensure that it continues to offer its readers an experience that mirrors that of the original audience, and periodically releasing those revisions in updated editions of the text.

The NIV translation philosophy seeks to replicate the ease with which the Bible’s first readers understood the text in their native language. So that philosophy demands frequent updates to reflect the ever-changing English language. It also requires the translators to make tough calls on how to reflect ancient idioms for modern ears. But even versions that seek greater continuity with the English translations familiar to previous generations need to make periodic updates, whether to fix minor editing errors or reflect new understanding of Greek and Hebrew. So I posed a question to scholars familiar with various versions: When and why do we update Bible translations?

Collin Hansen is the editorial director for The Gospel Coalition and co-author of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir.

What Makes a Translation Accurate? T. David Gordon

Posted in Translation Philosophy by T. David Gordon on November 5th, 2010

Question: What makes a translation accurate?

Others have written so many good things that I just wish to add a brief observation. Perhaps we should ask, “What makes a responsible (not just accurate) translation?” The KJV was always responsible. When it had to make educated guesses, they appeared in italics. If there were an ellipsis in the original (e.g. Rom. 9:32 has no verb), the KJV took an educated guess, then put that guess in italics, so at least the readers knew that it was an educated guess. The contemporary translations rarely do this. Since I’m writing on Galatians now, consider this one from Gal 3:10 (KJV)—“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” KJV is literal here; and, in my judgment, correct.

Other translations add “rely on” to the text out of thin air: “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” There is no justification for the addition of the English “rely on” here in the ESV (or RSV/NRSV). Each of the translations that gratuitously adds “rely on” here does not translate the parallel in the previous verse (οἱ ἐκ πίστεως) “those who rely on faith.” The translation “rely on works of the Law” is therefore both inconsistent with 3:9 and gratuitous (not needed). If ἐκ needed “rely on” to make a sensible translation, then it would have needed it in both substantives, in both verse 9 and verse 10. Further, if Paul had wanted to say something like “rely on,” he would have used the language he chose to use in Romans 2:17, where he does say “rely/rest on the Law” by saying ἐπαναπαύῃ νόμῳ. “Rely on” does not come from Paul or from his Greek; it is nothing more nor less than an intrusion of the pre-Sanders prejudice about first-century Judaism into the translation. If such a gratuitous addition is made, at a minimum the addition should be in italics, so the readers know when the translators are doing so. I prefer that unnecessary guesses just not be made; but if the translators feel some necessity to do so, I believe it would be more responsible if they did what the KJV used to do, and put the guesses in italics.

T. David Gordon is professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania. He previously taught New Testament for 13 years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Should I Use Multiple Translations or Stick with One? Michael Bird

Posted in Translation Philosophy by Michael Bird on November 5th, 2010

Question: Should I consider using multiple translations or stick with one?

I heartily recommend using multiple translations for several reasons. First, in my own sermon preparation, after working through the original Greek or Hebrew, I always consult a paraphrase (e.g., Message, NLT), a dynamic equivalence translation (e.g., NIV, NRSV), and a literal/essentially literal translation (KJV, ESV, NASB). This gives me a good overview of the various ways in which the text can be rendered and interpreted. It provides a birds-eye view of the linguistic playing field that I am about to enter into when I discuss a biblical text.

Second, in our congregations and schools, you will have people with a variety of reading levels, and the fact is that some translations are better than others for young readers. I find that the NIVR, NLT, and GNB are good for children and for new Christians (personally I use the NIVR with my own children). I tend to use the NRSV in my scholarly work since it is basically the standard text in the guild and is interpretively neutral most of the time. In my English exegesis classes I like to use the ESV since it is a good text for people who don’t have biblical languages. In my preaching I use the NIV or TNIV since it is very readable and popular with lay folks. I do not hold up any single translation as the paragon of Bible translations, nor do I pledge my allegiance to any single version because they all have their relative strengths, weaknesses, uses, and shortcomings.

Michael Bird formerly lectured in New Testament at the Highland Theological College (UHI Millennium Institute) in Scotland and is currently lecturer in theology and New Testament at Crossway College in Brisbane, Australia. He is also an honorary research associate at the University of Queensland. He is the translator of 1 Esdras in the Common English Bible.

Should I Use Multiple Translations or Stick with One? James M. Hamilton Jr.

Posted in Translation Philosophy by James M. Hamilton Jr. on November 4th, 2010

Question: Should I consider using multiple translations or stick with one?

Stick with one, for one main reason: it facilitates the memorization of Scripture. If you are always reading, always studying, and always consulting the same version, you will be constantly reinforcing what you have memorized. It is so frustrating to have a text memorized, or almost memorized, then to hear it read or quoted in a different translation. The result? The next time you try to quote it you mix and mash the two translations together and can’t reproduce the concepts and the connections of the text you’re trying to quote. This reality alone has me pining for the days when there was one dominant translation of the Bible, even if it was the archaic KJV.

This isn’t to say never use another translation. If you’re studying to preach or teach it can be helpful to consult something other than your staple version. But I find that it’s even helpful to stick with one copy of the one translation that I use. I know where things are on the page or that I’ve marked something I’m looking for.

It’s far easier for us to inscribe the words of Scripture on the tablets of our hearts when we stick with one translation. I’m for being able to quote as much of the Bible as possible, and I’m for anything that facilitates that, which means that I’m for using one translation as my mainstay.

James M. Hamilton Jr. is associate professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He also serves as preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church.