Archives For translation

Since I’ve been working in Acts 14 of late, it was a bit of a shock† I was surprised to notice that ESV has an inclusive language note in Acts 14:2 but that NIV does not.

ESV, But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.*
*Or brothers and sisters

NIV, But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.

The question revolves around the referent of τῶν ἀδελφῶν.

οἱ δὲ ἀπειθήσαντες Ἰουδαῖοι ἐπήγειραν καὶ ἐκάκωσαν τὰς ψυχὰς τῶν ἐθνῶν κατὰ τῶν ἀδελφῶν.

It would appear that the only possible referent in this context is Paul and Barnabas. Unless someone can explain to me who the “sisters” are in this context, I’m afraid that I should conclude that the ESV has been a bit to enthusiastic (or “mechanical”?!) with their inclusive language at this point.


†I originally wrote “shock,” but that’s too strong. I’ve commented on others using language that was too strong in discussing translations, so I should be careful myself!

My review of the NIV 2011 has now been published in the November issue of Themelios. This has been revised since the original conference copy posted here on NTResources earlier this year. Themelios is accessible for free on the Gospel Coalition website. Both html and pdf versions are available. (The pdf link is the entire issue, not just my article.) This issue is 238 pgs. in the pdf edition.

There are other good articles in this issue as well and more than 70 book reviews. One of the most thoughtful articles is Don Carson’s editorial on spiritual disciplines. He says some things that I’ve thought for a long time, but which do not seem to be popular viewpoints.

(There are a few formatting glitches in the html version of my article–it has some complex formatting and has given the layout team a headache! I suspect some of the anomalies will be corrected in the near future.)


The links above are all to the TGC site. Here’s a pdf version of just my review, extracted (with permission) from the full edition: Rodney J. Decker, “An Evaluation of the 2011 Edition of the New International Version,” Themelios 36.3 (2011): 415–56.

NIV11reviewFromThemelios36.3_Nov2011.pdf

ESV 2011 revision update

November 4, 2011

Not long ago I posted a note regarding a possible update to the ESV. Turns out that is has already been done “silently.” Now, somewhat after the fact, Crossway has finally announced what’s involved.

As the publisher of the ESV, I want to let you know that a small number of word changes are being incorporated into the ESV Bible text, as we reprint and publish new editions of the ESV in 2011.

This list of 2011 changes was reviewed and discussed over the last five years by the thirteen-member ESV Translation Oversight Committee (TOC). The TOC then met in the Summer of 2010, and finalized the list in the Spring of 2011. The changes were then approved by the Crossway Board of Directors in April 2011. Editions of the ESV with the 2011 text changes include the following notice on the copyright page: “ESV Text Edition: 2011.”

Most changes to the ESV text were made to correct grammar, improve consistency, or increase precision in meaning.

They provide a few examples of the changes:

from “yourself” to “you”; from “servant” to “worker”; from “has not” to “does not have”; from “young man” to “boy”; from “capital” to “citadel”; from “bondage” to “slavery”; from “nor” to “or”; from “trustworthy” to “faithful”; from “competent” to “sufficient”; from “everyone” to “each one”

There is a link to a complete list of changes. Unfortunately it is in a protected Flash container of some sort so that it cannot be copied and can only be printed in a very low/poor/fuzzy resolution, one-page-at-a-time ordeal. 27 pgs altogether.

As a sample, there are 6 changes in Mark, ranging from the pedantic to very helpful.

I would judge the change in Mark 4:3 to be pedantic, resulting in clumsy English. The previous (2d) edition read:

“Listen! A sower went out to sow.”

This is the same as, e.g., NIV, NET, HCSB, and NRSV. But since “Listen!” represents two words in Greek (Ἀκούετε. ἰδού…), we now have a more formal, but awkward:

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.”

Other than keeping some ESVO advocates happy by “not omitting any words” from the text (!), it accomplishes little other than lessening the naturalness of the English a bit further.

On the other hand Mark 16:1 has been improved considerably, though the change is only punctuation; it avoids a misunderstanding of the text:

2d ed.:

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

3d ed.:

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

Mark 7:3 adds a word to the text—one that is very much a functional equivalent:

2d ed.:

For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders…

3d ed.:

For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders…

“Properly” is presumably an attempt to represent πυγμῇ—a word omitted in earlier editions, though with a f.n., “Greek unless they wash with a fist, probably indicating a kind of ceremonial washing.” The former note was, indeed, a formal equivalent (an “essentially literal” translation, if you will 😉 ), but to translate πυγμῇ as “properly,” while not a bad choice, is certainly a very functional equivalent.

In 8:24 we have an increase in gender neutral language:

2d ed.:

And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.”

3d ed.:

And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.”

A good change since the man’s blindness would not have enabled him to distinguish men from women before his healing.

The remaining two changes are unremarkable: 3:18; 5:13.

Bill Combs, NT prof at Detroit Baptist Seminary, recently presented a seminar at a conference held at DBTS (Mid-America Conference on Preaching; 2011, Church Planting & Renewal) on the history of the controversy that has surrounded the NIV. It’s about an hour long. I’ve read Bill’s paper which he graciously sent me a week ago (but haven’t had time to listen to the full audio yet). You can find the mp3 file here.

Perhaps I will also hitch hike on the post and note a related discussion on Mark Snoeberger’s blog today: “Parataxis and Hypotaxis: What They Mean and Why It Matters (Hint: It’s About the NIV).” Mark is one of Bill’s colleagues at DBTS.

Is it wrong to “remove” words from the text of Scripture? Is this incompatible with a high view of Scripture? If we adhere to the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture and contend that it is inerrant in the original text, have we violated our profession if we fail to represent every word when we translate? If it is invalid to move a musical notation to a different location on the page (yet still retain it clearly in the translation) as does the NIV11 with Selah, what are we to think of translations that outright omit multiple instances of words that are incontrovertibly part of the original text? Translations which contain no note, no explanation at all—which just omit them altogether. If we were consistent in our argumentation at this point, then I think that we would be forced to conclude that any such translation must be judged to have violated the ICBI Chicago Statement because they have not faithfully presented the text of Scripture as it has come down to us.

Now to be perfectly clear so that I am not pilloried for what I do not believe, let me be very clear up front in saying that I adhere to the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture and contend that it is inerrant in the original text. In no way am I questioning that theological position. I am also concerned that we are careful in how we translate. Translation, however, is a complex task and not one to be represented simplistically. Let’s take two translations and examine how they handle some common situations in both OT and NT. I’ll refer to them as A and B. Since I’m a “NT guy,” I’ll begin with an example from (surprise, surprise! 🙂 ) Mark’s gospel. For sake of time and space, I’ll use just the first chapter of Mark, but surely if there are problems in one chapter, then the number of problems would only increase if the entire book or the entire NT were considered.

One of the characteristics of Mark’s idiolect is that he usually begins his sentences with καί. Doing something similar in English is considered very poor style, but in Mark’s case, it likely reflects his Semitic mother tongue Aramaic which, like its Hebrew cousin, normally begins sentences with waw. In any case, there is a specific Greek word involved which rarely has a textual problem connected with it. In Mark 1 there are 30 instances of sentences beginning with καί. If I counted right, there are 35 sentences in the chapter (i.e., which end with a period in UBS/NA text). So the textual data seems pretty secure and perhaps even “culturally significant” since it likely tells us something about Mark’s mother tongue.

So how do my two translations fare when evaluated in terms of their accurately reflecting every word of the Scriptural text? Translation A clearly omits any equivalent of καί four times. No note. No explicit translation. It’s just gone. If we argue that we must translate every word in order to be faithful to a high view of Scripture, then we have a problem. Four times in only one chapter Translation A has been unfaithful and omitted words from the text. That is surely grounds for suspicion. Translation A has failed to present the text faithfully. We should surely, then, not encourage the use of any such translation that is so careless and should seek a more reliable guide. Perhaps Translation B will prove more faithful. Unfortunately when B is examined, the problem is far, far worse. Translation B omits καί 23 times! In one chapter. No note. No explicit translation. It’s just gone. Surely we have now moved into dangerous territory. If Translation A evidences an unfaithful attitude toward the inspiration of every word of Scripture in the original text, then surely Translation B is obviously the product of biased, liberal scholarship which denies the inspiration of Scripture and emasculates its meaning. There must surely be some sinister plot afoot here; Translation B is certainly accommodating an evil social agenda of some sort.

Perhaps there are some mitigating factors. If we study the 30 instances of καί-initial statements in Mark 1 we would discover that there may be issues of idiom involved. There are two distinctive expressions in Mark’s gospel, καὶ εὐθύς and καὶ ἐγένετο. So let’s be generous and subtract these idioms from the data, allowing that they may require some special treatment in English to render them intelligible. (I’m trying to be very generous here, since I do not think that this is the case at all; a strictly formal equivalent translation, while perhaps a bit clumsy, is still intelligible. But I want to give every benefit of the doubt to these two translations, so I’ll go with a hypothetical argument.) Thankfully this reduces the problem somewhat. Unfortunately, it does not eliminate the problem for either translation. Omitting the two expressions that I’ve noted results in figures of 2 and 15 respectively for Translations A and B. Two is certainly better than four, but it remains a stubborn fact that Translation A has twice—in one chapter—omitted words that are clearly in the text of Scripture. Of course 15 instances in Translation B is still enough of earn our scorn for such a careless handling of the text.

So much for the NT. Let’s turn to the OT and see if these two translations fare any better. (I’m using the SBL “general purpose style” of transliteration below for simplicity sake on a blog.)

Let’s take the example of the word na’ in Gen 19. (My only reason for selecting this chapter is that it has the most instances of na’ in any OT chapter.) HALOT tells us that this is an “emphatic particle”—so if emphatic, then one would expect that a faithful translation would pay particular attention to reflecting it in the English. In Gen 19 na’ occurs once with an imperative, twice with a cohortative, 4 times with hinneh, and twice with ’al. As one example of how this emphatic word may be translated, with an imperative it often adds the idea of “please.” E.g. in Gen 19:2b we could translate the imperative, suru na’, as “please turn aside” rather than just “turn aside.”

What do we find with Translations A and B? Of the 9 instances of na’ in this chapter, Translation A only translates the word 3 times (possibly 5?). Six times (or 4 if I give them the benefit of the doubt) the translation has omitted a significant word from the text. As with the example from Mark, this would surely cast doubt on the reliability of this translation. What about Translation B? Interestingly, the figures are the same (though the specific verses are different!): 3 times this word has been omitted from the text. I’m afraid that we must conclude that both translations have not faithfully presented the text of Scripture as it has come down to us.

While we’re in Gen 19, what about hinneh? Since it’s a “deictic and interrupting interjection” (per HALOT), it ought to be significant (though of course if we insist that a view of verbal plenary inspiration requires us to include every word in the translation, then it wouldn’t matter if it was a particularly significant word or not!). There are only 6 instances of hinneh in Gen 19, but that’s adequate as a test passage. Of our two translations under scrutiny, Translation A does fairly well with 5 of the 6 instances retained in the translation—but that does mean that in one instance it has omitted a word from the text. This is not a word of ambiguous meaning as is Selah, but one that is well known and widely used. It would appear that we’d have to be a bit suspicious of Translation A since as with our previous two examples there is a noticeable tendency at times to omit words from the text. It has not been totally faithful to the text of Scripture—and surely we want a translation that is totally faithful don’t we? What about Translation B? The news is not good: fully half of the occurrences of hinneh have been omitted, so B is less faithful than A in this regard.

The examples could be multiplied. If we want to argue that translations must include every word of the original in order to be judged a faithful translation, then we must be consistent in our judgments. If NIV11 is flawed due to the way it has handled Selah (retaining the word in the translation, but printing it apart from the main text column, presumably to avoid a misreading of the text), then Translations A and B are far worse in that they outright omit many words. Not obscure words, but words well documented and clear in their meaning and usage. Even emphatic words. One cannot depend on such unreliable translations for they have been unfaithful to the text of Scripture. Even though Translation A might be more reliable than B, that is still a relative term since even A frequently omits words from the text. We should surely look elsewhere for a faithful translation of Scripture.

Now that my argument/illustration is finished, let me say clearly that I do not consider either Translation A or B to be seriously flawed. Both are faithful translations of Scripture. They both take different approaches to some difficult translation problems. Every translation must do just that. There is no one perfect translation. Every translation must deliberately choose to omit some information and to add other information. It is not possible to translate any text exactly into any other language. Something is always lost and something is always added. It is inevitable. Translation A is closer to the formal equivalent end of the spectrum and B is closer to the middle. That is the point of my illustration.

Oh yes, you wanted to know what translations they were? I figured as much. Hopefully I haven’t discouraged you from trusting either the ESV (Translation A) or the HCSB (Translation B)! 🙂

A friend sent me a link this morning to a very interesting and helpful symposium on Bible translation.

Sept 26, 2011 at Liberty University

Ray Clendenen (HCSB), Wayne Grudem (ESV), and Doug Moo (NIV)

There are videos of each half hour presentation and audio (only) of the subsequent responses and Q&A posted on David Croteau’s blog, Slave of the Word.

I’ve just finished listening to all the translation sessions. (Apparently Grudem got two speaking slots; the first one [listed as “morning”] is on inerrancy, and I’ve not listened to that one.) The formal responses in the wrap-up session are far too short to be very helpful, but the Q&A has some good material. Worth your time. If you can’t spare the time for all of them, at least listen to Moo.

A book is scheduled for a year from now from B&H that will have expanded versions of these presentations along with Phil Comfort on the NLT. Hopefully this will be a “four views” style book in which the authors are allowed extended responses to each other. I don’t know who the editor will be or what the title will be. (If anyone knows, please post it in a comment or send me an email and I”ll add it here.)

Updated info: Andreas Kostenberger and David Croteau are editing the book. The tentative title is “Which Bible Translation Should I Use?”

Selah in NIV-11

October 25, 2011

I just noticed something in the NIV-11 that hadn’t registered before. In the Psalms, the word selah is not printed in the text. Instead there is a footnote marking the places where it occurs. This may make some traditionalists unhappy (and ruin a few sermons that hinge on that word! 🙂 ), but I think this is a very good move (no pun intended). Selah is a bit mysterious, but probably is a musical notation that may have indicated a rest/pause. When reading Scripture orally, it should never be read and it should certainly not be made into a matter of exegetical or homiletical significance. (I’ve often heard it used as an indication that some statement is particularly significant: “think of that!” is the usual idea that I’ve heard.) To do so would be a bit like singing these actual words in the Hallelujah Chorus: “Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest.” I doubt Handel would be pleased! (with your singing—and the NIV-11 would probably sound strange to him also, but then the 18th C. didn’t speak 21st C. English, which is the whole point of the NIV-11).

I had not heard anything official in this regard, but the ESV committee is apparently continuing to meet to discuss further revisions to that translation. That’s not surprising, but I was not aware that this was the case. I’ve no idea when they anticipate releasing what would be the third edition of the ESV. All I know comes from this 4 min. video from the BBC which filmed a study session of the ESV committee at work at Tyndale House in London “last year” (not sure if that means 2010 or earlier 2011?). The discussion that was filmed revolves around the use of δοῦλος in 1 Cor 7. Interestingly, they voted (9-3) to change it to “bondservant”—a word that I don’t think I’ve ever heard used in contemporary English outside of some Bible translations. ESV currently has “slave” in the text and “Gk bondservant” in the footnote. I grant this is not an easy word to handle in contemporary culture (esp. the US where there seems to be a collective social guilt regarding our past history of slavery), but I’m not sure that “bondservant” is helpful. Nor do I see it accurate for the current edition to say that the Greek has “bondservant” in contrast to “slave” in the text.

HT: News note on the Tyndale web site

I’ve been getting frequent requests for comments on the NIV-11. I have just received a copy of NIV-11 and also the NIV-11 module for Accordance, so I will be writing a review of the new NIV over the next two months. I haven’t read more than a few verses at this point, so I’m not ready to pass judgment on it yet. There have been some “loud rumblings of discontent” against it—but they started a year ago, long before it was released, I think assuming that it would be a repackaged TNIV. That I don’t think is fair, so I’m reserving judgment. (And remember that some single-issue groups and some vocal individuals [e.g., John Piper] didn’t like the NIV either!) I liked a lot of what I found in TNIV, but there was sufficient question in how some matters were handled that I decided it was not going to be generally usable. The market seems to have verified that call. If the NIV-11 keeps the good parts of the NIV and TNIV and has addressed the problematic aspects of the TNIV, then it might turn out to be useful. I think that the translation committee has listened carefully to the criticisms of the TNIV, so I’m hopeful—but I’m not ready to make that call yet. Keep an eye on this blog come July and I’ll be ready to have my say. There will be two versions of the review, one an academic paper for a conference the last week in July and another a “lay” version which will be published in a denominational magazine, probably early fall.

I’ve just found a very helpful site that is working carefully and (I think) wisely to evaluate several of the recent translations. This is the WELS web site (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod). There are a number of helpful articles, some pertaining to the NIV-11 and a perceptive review of the ESV.

Dave Black on translations

January 22, 2011

Here’s some sage comment on current Bible translations by David Alan Black (who happens to be the NT editor of the ISV).

No controversy has been more overworked these days than the one over modern Bible translations. It is thought a crowning virtue to be opinionated about what is the “best” translation. But no translation of the Bible is perfect. (This includes the ISV of course.) There is much artificial whipped-up enthusiasm among Christians today who have found the “perfect” translation that “finally gets it right.” The same enthusiasm can be worked up by a cheerleader for “slave” over “servant.” Tie that to a book promotion and you have a possible recipe for disaster.

One of the distressing developments in our superficial church culture is a cheap familiarity with New Testament Greek. It is fashionable to give the impression that we (and we alone) know what the Greek really says. I have sometimes referred to this as “evangelical Greek” or, in my less sanctified moments, “philological voodoo.” There is no place in evangelical biblical scholarship for the frivolous approach by which we claim for ourselves an inerrant understanding of Scripture. None of us who has labored in the task of Bible translation is ever worthy to claim perfection for our product. That includes me, and it includes you.

You can find the original here if you (manually!) scroll to 1/22/2011, 8:50 am entry.

Moulton on translation

March 12, 2010

I ran across this interesting statement in Moulton this afternoon:

The Greek translator, endeavouring to be as literal as he could, nevertheless took care to use Greek that was possible, however unidiomatic—a description well suiting the kind of language used in every age by translators who have gained the conscientious accuracy, but not the sure-footed freedom, of the mature scholar.

I found this while thinking about Mark 10:8, ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν, in which an εἰς phrase is used as a predicate nominative. Mark (or Jesus?!) cites it from the LXX (= Gen 2:24) which could be judged an “overly formal” translation of the Hebrew text at this point.


J. H. Moulton, A Grammar of NT Greek, vol. 1, Prolegomena (T&T Clark, 1908), 76.