Perspectives in Translation

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Bible Gateway and The Gospel Coalition have teamed up to host a discussion of English Bible translation. We have convened a team of world-class scholars representing different versions of the English Bible who will address specific passages from the Old and New Testaments and answer questions about the translation process.

We hope that by pulling back the curtain on translation, this discussion will help readers understand their Bibles more clearly and learn to love God's Word more deeply. And we pray that careful attention to Scripture will excite readers to behold God's glory as he has revealed himself to us in our own language.

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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.


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What Difference Does It Make if We Capitalize ‘Son’ in Psalm 2? James M. Hamilton Jr.

Posted in Old Testament by James M. Hamilton Jr. on December 16th, 2010

Moderator’s note: The relationship between Jesus Christ and the Old Testament raises a host of interpretive questions. Preachers must decide how or even if Old Testament passages point forward to the new covenant. Translators face a similar challenge, but they can’t explain or equivocate. They must decide and stand behind their choice with the confidence of speaking authoritatively through God’s Word. When, for example, translators capitalize pronouns in the Old Testament, they identify the referent as God. The case of Psalm 2 proves particularly vexing. New Testament writers quote Psalm 2:7 several times (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5, 5:5) with explicit reference to Jesus. Does that mean, then, that translators should capitalize ‘son’ to solidify the connection to Jesus for readers? Let’s hear from the panel of scholars.

Question: What difference does it make if we capitalize son in Psalm 2?

The promises to David from 2 Samuel 7:4–17 are clearly in view in Psalm 2, especially in verses 5–12. In 1 Kings 2:1–4 and several other passages these promises are specifically applied to Solomon. These promises are also significant in the accounts of kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah. There is a sense, then, in which the promises apply to the line of kings that descends from David. This line culminates in Jesus, in whom the promises are ultimately fulfilled.

The problem with capitalizing son in Psalm 2:7 is that it cuts straight from from 2 Samuel 7 to Jesus. It’s great to get to Jesus, but the short cut keeps readers from seeing the typological development that grows and deepens through the accounts of the sons of David. This can keep us from understanding what Jesus meant when he declared that one greater than Solomon had arrived (cf. Matt 12:42).

So capitalizing son in Psalm 2:7 gets the termination point right, but it can keep us from feeling the buildup of the development that swells and plunges between David and Jesus.

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.


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What Difference Does It Make if We Capitalize ‘Son’ in Psalm 2? Tremper Longman III

Posted in Old Testament by Tremper Longman III on December 15th, 2010

Moderator’s note: The relationship between Jesus Christ and the Old Testament raises a host of interpretive questions. Preachers must decide how or even if Old Testament passages point forward to the new covenant. Translators face a similar challenge, but they can’t explain or equivocate. They must decide and stand behind their choice with the confidence of speaking authoritatively through God’s Word. When, for example, translators capitalize pronouns in the Old Testament, they identify the referent as God. The case of Psalm 2 proves particularly vexing. New Testament writers quote Psalm 2:7 several times (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5, 5:5) with explicit reference to Jesus. Does that mean, then, that translators should capitalize ‘son’ to solidify the connection to Jesus for readers? Let’s hear from the panel of scholars.

Question: What difference does it make if we capitalize ‘son’ in Psalm 2?

Well, the difference that it makes is that if you capitalize son in Psalm 2 it shows you don’t understand the psalm. The son in Psalm 2 is the Davidic descendant who assumes the throne. [The psalm] was likely sung at inauguration services and other royal ceremonies. We can see this by the allusions to 2 Samuel 7, which speaks of David having a son on the throne forever.

Of course, as readers of the New Testament we know that Psalm 2 has a deeper significance that probably wasn’t known by its original composer or audience. After the monarchy failed, the faithful realized that the fulfillment of 2 Samuel 7 was not found in the line of Davidic descendants whose rule came to an end in 586 BC. Thus, particularly in the late Old Testament time period and into the Intertestamental period, the eschatological significance of the Davidic covenant and the royal psalms were emphasized. Jesus is the greater son of David who is the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant and also of course of Psalm 2 as the numerous references to the psalm in the New Testament indicates. However, Psalm 2 is not a messianic prophecy, which would be the only reason to capitalize son in this psalm.

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.


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