Monday, March 10, 2008

Translations and theology

I was responding to a comment in another post, and realized that this subject justifies a bit more than one blog comment. We will begin with the comment I was writing in response:

Raphael wrote:

[The Douay-Rheims translation] has been in use since its first edition in 1610. It is a near as possible word-for-word translation of the Latin Vulgate, being the work of St. Jerome (342-420). St. Jerome's work is a careful, word-for-word translation of the original texts.

We do owe a lot to St. Jerome, but here we see a need for better scholarship than was possible in his age. 1 The traditional translation of the First commandment provides a splendid example of what I mean.

My own literal translation of the first commandment, directly from the Hebrew with the original syntax, goes like this:

"No having to you other gods over the face."

This translation is absolutely exact, and it makes no sense. Now, the word I have translated literally as "over" means, by implication, "in front of." This can be summed up in one word: "Before;" that is, as long as we understand that "before" means "in the presence of." Now, from the original, we have a problem. Does the commandment mean, "No having to you other gods before your face," or "before my face," in line with the accepted standard translation ("before Me")?

The traditional translation is drawn from the larger theological understanding that God's presence fills the whole earth, and indeed, all creation. And so, the translation, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," points to this further revelation, termed by theology as omnipresence. Also, the distinction between having other gods, and having idols, is a distinction between the first and second commandment that helps us learn the subtle difference between a false god and an idol. This may not have been as clear in the days of Moses as it would be later. The Gnostics did not have literal idols, but rather false gods by definition. The ultimate false god that has no idol, that is, no image before which the devotee bows in worship, is the god of Mohamed.

The traditional rendering of the first commandment, consistent with the Latin translation (The Vulgate) is quite helpful in one respect, and not at all helpful in another. By helping us to see that worship of any other god is a sin even without an idol (as would be lost with our alternative option, “before your face”), we are able to grasp the fuller meaning of scripture. It is just as wrong to worship conceptual gods, as Marcion and Mohamed proclaimed, as it is to worship a deity represented by an idol. Unfortunately, the same customary translation that helps us in this respect also fails us by combining the first and second commandment into one commandment (followed by the equally mistaken custom of dividing the tenth commandment into two separate commandments), weakening the strength of this teaching. This was corrected by the Church of England, both in its very first Book of Common Prayer and in the early translations of the Bible into English

Raphael wrote also:

For this reason [by which he refers to what he said about the Vulgate], the Douay-Rheims is considered the definitive translation.

I prefer the translation of 1611. "Translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesty's special command." The translators were aided by their use of the original Hebrew and Greek texts. On the other hand, their conservatism kept them from making arbitrary and radical changes in traditional meaning. Without the second part, their diligence in comparison to former translations, they may have felt free to use translation as an excuse to be overly creative. That is, not that accurate translation would have been the problem, but the feeling and assumption of poetic license. This presumption of too much authority by some modern translators has led to utterly false renderings. In a previous article, I provided the following example (about the first error in one of the worst versions of the Bible available in English):

The first mistranslation in the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) combines the first two verses of Genesis into one sentence, adding wrongly the word 'when,' as if the world existed before God’s creation. ‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form…’ The Hebrew simply does not justify this ‘translation’ ... The first two sentences are not joined in the original Hebrew. The older “And, the earth was without form and void...” is literally correct, and it cannot be used to suggest Pantheism.”

The mistranslation I cited has become quite trendy among people who seem bent on trying to destroy the revealed doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, and so the NRSV is not the only example of this particular abuse. The problem here is either one of deliberate mistranslation, or an exaggerated regard for poetic license. Either way, it flies in the face of the two things that steered the translators of The Authorised Version (the King James). It would have been prevented by a sincere principle to “translate out of the original tongues" added by the second principle as a safeguard, namely, “and with the former translations diligently compared and revised.” What marked the King James as setting the standard for Bible translation was that combination of accuracy and humility. Accuracy of language and meaning, aided by the humility to learn from the work of past generations. Furthermore, this requires both an education in languages and in theology.

1.About St. Jerome, here is an interesting passage from a book.
“'The flesh I might try to break with frequent fasting: but my mind was seething with imagination: so to tame it, I gave myself up for training to one of the brethren, a Hebrew who had come to the faith. And, so after the subtlety of Quintilian, the flowing of Cicero, the gravity of Fronto and the gentleness of Pliny, I began to learn another alphabet, and meditate on words that hissed and words that gasped'
The final vintage was to be the Vulgate translation of the Old Testament: he was still working on Hebrew in his old age.”
Helen Waddell, The Desert Fathers, (New York, 1998), p.33


Canon Tallis said...

This echos a complaint that Dr Peter Toon made at a lunch with me over a year ago in which we discussed the failings of more modern "translations" of the Bible in purpose and accuracy. I am glad to see the same issue taken up here as it needs to be made clear that modern revisions of Holy Scripture frequently are an attack on traditional theology.

Sodbuster said...

No question that the English of the 1611 is beautiful.

But it was translated from corrupt texts, including having parts back-translated from the Latin into Greek by Erasmus.

We have a -much- better understanding of the text of the New Testament in particular, but also the TNK.

The most recent widely-received translation in English is the ESV, which unfortunately to my mind, starts with the RSV and then corrects some of the more egregious errors in the RSV, and corrections coming from a better textual base. But where it differs from the RSV, the English is -clunky-.

One could wish they'd have redacted the NKJV rather than the RSV, or simply started from the original, as with the NIV, but with less paraphrasing.

As to the Vulgate, is it true that the Roman Catholic position is that the Vulgate is the inspired version, over and against the autographs, just as King James-only cultists and sectarians do with the first major revision of the of the 1611? Or is that untrue?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Thank God we have the KJV, NKJV and Third Millennium Bible.

About the last one, read this bit from its preface:

"In evaluating the reliability of almost all contemporary versions one must take into account some little-known history of Bible translations. The principal Greek New Testament text from which almost all contemporary translators worked is known as the Codex Sinaiticus, discovered by archaeologist Konstantin von Tischendorf at the foot of Mt. Sinai in 1844. This manuscript is shorter than the text used in translating the Authorized Version by almost three thousand words. This shorter Greek New Testament text was unused and ignored for more than fifteen hundred years in the life of the church, and was reflective of Gnostic and secular influences of the Alexandrian and Hellenistic cultures of antiquity. It was never used in any English Bible translation until 1881. It is worthwhile to note that the New Testament of the Authorized Version finds its support in over five thousand ancient Greek manuscripts, more than any writing in the entire history of literature. By contrast, contemporary versions are supported by a mere handful of ancient manuscripts."

When the Codex Sinaiticus was discovered it gave opportunity to publishing companies. The rush to treat as more authentic than the many other manuscripts was its age. That is not logical. The same reason accounts for why the only surviving manuscripts of the Codex Sinaiticus were few in number and older than the thousands of proper manuscripts. Older because no one had copied it, and fewer also because no one had copied it. That is, the ancients knew it was not worth copying.

The serious problem with most modern translations of the New Testament (RSV, NRSV, NEB, JB, NIV- the last being very overrated) is that they relied, for no good reason, on the Codex Sinaiticus. No matter how accurate the translation, it is from a corrupt text, produced by a gnostic sect rather than by a valid church, that dropped over three thousand of words from what we now know to have been the real New Testament.

By contrast, readers of Greek and Hebrew do not generally find much fault with the KJV, and neither with the Third Millennium Bible.

Anonymous said...

The textual criticism of the Greek NT is a difficult discipline; I know of few things more terrifying to read than the 53 page introduction to The Greek New Testament published by the British and Foreign Bible Society. But we can be thankful that the NT has a far greater wealth of manuscript evidence than any other writing from the ancient world. While textual criticism can be a controversial subject, particularly in extreme fundamentalist or "King James Only" circles, we must rejoice that only 15% of the verbiage in the Greek NT falls into the category of "variant readings." The other 85% is unanimously attested! Of the mushy 15%, none involves any doctrine of the faith; there is not a single theological controversy which hangs on a doubtful reading.

The critical text which we have in the Nestle Greek Testament and B&FBS Text (now virtually identical) was a great scholarly achievement, in which the renowned Anglican scholars Westcott and Hort played a major role. By comparing ALL available manuscripts, citations in the Fathers, ancient translations such as the Vulgate, and ancient lectionaries, they established that we have a pretty good (85% solid) idea of what the original manuscripts (the so-called Autographa) actually said.

Sadly, there has been a curious reaction against this consensus, which the preface to the Millenium Bible expresses. The accusation that the Codex Sinaiticus shows Gnostic influence is exceedingly odd in view of the fact that it was preserved at a Greek Orthodox monastery, St Catherine's. It would be nice to have a real quote from the Codex to prove that.

When the great scholars of the 19th century did their work, there was a rear-guard movement, led by Dean John Burgon, which tried to cling tenaciously to the "Textus Receptus," prepared by Erasmus, one edition of which was the basis for the AV aka KJV. This seems to be making a comeback, advanced by fundamentalist professors in Baptist seminaries (Hodges & Farstad at Dallas Seminary), but surprisingly it is being picked up by conservative Anglicans.

Sometime ago I became involved in an internet controversy over this which a man who took it all very emotionally, and seemed horrified by the idea that "God had failed to preserve His inspired Word." After a very few exchanges, I caught on that the poor guy did not even know the Greek alphabet. But this is not a conservative vs modernist controversy; it is a matter of pious scholarship vs obscurantism.
The controversy is really much ado about very little. We should be grateful for the solid 85% of the text.
Laurence K. Wells

agrarian said...

Bravo, Fr. Hart! I have encountered far too many Anglican clergy who treat the matter as any agnostic, deist, or atheist would: that it is a foregone conclusion that the Majority Text (actually used by God's people, and used continuously) must be corrupt, and that the Critical Text (hidden from human eyes for fifteen centuries) must be truer to the original. It should really be a prerequesite to ordination to recognize that with God all things are possible, but obviously it is not. I applaud you for minimally recognizing, as every Christian truly should, that there is more than one school of thought on the matter.

By any chance, do you have an opinion on Septuagint translations?

Anonymous said...

A translation which deserves to be better known is the "Revised Version," produced in the 1880's
(NT in 1880, OT 1884, Apocrypha 1898). It is a fairly rare book and I am grateful to own a copy I came across in an antique store.

This translation reflects the findings of Westcoot and Hort and is based on the "critical text" as it had been developed up to that point. Commenters like "Agrarian" should compare this to the New King James in order to learn what little difference there really is in these two forms of the Greek text.

This translation has the literary/ liturgical advantage that it tampers with the AV aka KJV only when textual evidence calls for it.
It made no effort to remove archaic Jacobean terms such as "forsooth" or "bewray."

There was an American equivalent to the RV, called the ARV, issued around 1901, which differs little.

I once owned a copy of the Millenium Bible. It has one great advantage: it contains the splendid "Preface to the Reader," a document which is valuable as a statement of classical Anglican doctrine of inspiration. But it suffers the disadvantage of arbitrarily using about four different typefaces for the Biblical text, according to how edifying the MB editors felt the text was, subjectively evaluating the text itself. Highly questionable procedure, for those who believe it's all God's Word, even the endless genealogies of I Chronicles.

Those who harbor a suspicion of the scholars who produced the critical text should read their biographies of Fenton J. A. Hort (1828--1892) and Brooks Foss Westcott (1825 --1901)in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. They belonged to an era wjich makes one proud to be an Anglican!

Laurence K. Wells+

Anonymous said...

Back to Fr Hart's article itself (which should not be lost in a debate over textual criticism), the blatant falsification of the text, even in undisputed passages is downright shocking. This has been shamelessly promoted in "politically correct" unisex versions, such as the Psalter in the 79 bcp, where Psalm 1:1, where the Hebrew is clearly "Blessed is the man" is turned into "Happy are they."
In their effort to placate the feminists, the translators sacrificed a text which the Church Fathers saw as a Christological prophecy: "Blessed is The Man." The original Hebrew supports this interpretation, with "ha-ish" rather than "ha-adam," reflected in the LXX version with ho anhr rather than ho anthropos. Clearly, there is a lack of intellectual honesty and scholarly integrity in such mishandling of God's Word. So Fr Hart's central point is both well-taken and imortant.

poetreader said...

On the preservation of "older" manuscripts in better condition than those in use, I need only look at my own library. I have upwards of 30 English translations in my possession, with multiple copies of the KJV. While, with the exception of one or two, I value them all highly, the degree of trust is reflected in the condition of the various volumes. My KJVs are all in wrteched shapr (except for one that was printed with missing pages and is therefore less useful), and some of the others are nearly pristine.
What this reflects is my preference. The version I trust most gets worn out and needs to be replaced often. The versions I rarely use will probably outlast me by a long period of time. Might this not account (at least in part) for the survival of such as the Sinaiticus? If it was valued, but less so than other copies, would it not have greter likelijood of survival than a copy often used and often copied? In other words, older does not necessarily mean better. The conversze is also not necessarily true, and the accuracy or utility of a text needs to be determined on other grounds than that. I see no reason for prefering an older, but unused, variant over a variant that has been perserved in actual use opver a wide spectrum of the church. I believe (not as a Greek scholar which I am not, but on basis of generally accepted content) that the KJV stands closer to this "majority", "Byzantine", or "received" complex of texts than do the newer critical versions of the text.

For that reason I feel we are wise to stick with KJV as the standard for English-language use, while gratefully using the others to assist in understanding.


J. Gordon Anderson said...

One of the many things that older translations like the KJV get right is how Pauline passages where he speaks of being saved by faith "in" Christ are translated as the genitive usually is: faith "of" Christ. Newer "trendy' translations always seem to say "in", even though elsewhere they use "of".

Anonymous said...

I am afraid a couple of people are making comments they are not qualified to make. There has never been a translation of the Bible based purely on the Codex Sinaiticus. From the RSV forwards, translators have worked from Nestle's Novum Testamentum Graece and/or the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament.
At one time these two Greek Testaments (I have worn out several in my lifetime) diverged slightly in their "apparatus criticus." In their current editions are are for all practical intents and purposes identical. These give Sinaiticus due, but not disproportionate, weight. So please do not use it as some kind of whipping boy for bad modern translations!
The Siniaticus was NOT a group of manuscripts, as Fr Hart seems to think ("The same reason accounts for why the only surviving manuscripts of the Codex Sinaiticus were few in number and older than the thousands of proper manuscripts.") It is itself a single manuscript, the earliest manuscript to gather all the NT books into one codex. It is housed in the British Museum. For those who have a serious interest in the topic, I would recommend the British Museum's website

Also worth reading in the Catholic Encyclopaedia article, which ranks it next to the Codex Vaticanus in value. The Cath. Encyc. article, however, passes on the legend that Tischendorf found the Codex in the trash can. Actually, it was prized as a treasure by the monks at St Catherine's monastery. How Tichendorf persuaded them to sell it is somewhat murky, but the monastery is said to hold Tiscendorf's receipt and exhibit it it with pride.
For those fearful of textual criticism, I would recommend Bruce Metzger's "The Text of the New Testament." Dr Metzger, who died recently, was a conservative evangelical scholar, perfectly orthodox in his approach to the text.
Poetreader, perhaps the least used volume is the one that is most highly valued. I am always puzzled by those with strong opinions on textual criticism but lacking the zeal to learn the Greek language.
Laurence K. Wells
I am always puzzled

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I know that there was only one copy of the Codex Sinaiticus. I said "manuscripts" in the plural because I assumed it took more than one book to make this deficient version. I should have used the word "books."

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Agrarian asked
By any chance, do you have an opinion on Septuagint translations?

I am not aware of any English translations of the LXX.

Canon Tallis said...

I saw a copy of the LXX, Greek text with English between the lines, in a university book store within the past year. So that should be available. This is what the Greeks and Russians use as the basis of their Old Testament.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The view of most of the Orthodox is that the truly authoritative Old Testament is the LXX. Frankly, I have a hard time with that idea, since the LXX was a translation. Yes, it was the Old Testament known to the Gentile converts in the early Church who did not know Hebrew, and it is quoted in the New Testament.

I have a harder time, and little patience, with some Roman Catholics who quote the Latin of the Vulgate as if it is somehow the original. And, I have reason to think St. Jerome would agree with me (I know Pope Benedict XVI does).

poetreader said...

Fr. Wells,
I, for one, fully admit that I am not qualified to judge the content of the various editions of the Greek and Hebrew as my knowledge of either language is minimal at best. I recognise this as a hindrance to an in-depth linguistic study, and I regret that lack. However, my comments do not reference the actual text, but the principles on which certain texts are regarded as authoritative. I am convinced that the preference of the readings in older manuscripts simply because they are older is not necessarily valid. I am, moreover, convinced that it is in the ongoing use of the text by the Church that the authoratitive is revealed. These principles are not dependant on linguisitic knowledge, but on an understanding of the relationship between the Church and the Scriptures which I perceive to be consinant with the Fathers, and which certainly seems to be different from that of contemporary scholars. Thus I can't decide for myself what is the trxt, but I believe myself to be justified in examining the philosophies of the editors and critics as to which is most trustworthy. That is what leads me to respect the KJV as (though not perfect) still far and away the best and most trustworthy English version extant.

My reference to Sinaiticus (I could have added Vaticanus) does not imply that I think any version is solely from that manuscript, but that I question those occsions in which it is cited as a 'corrective' to the accepted texts.

Fr. Hart,
Many Orthodox scholars, and some RC scholars seem to favor the LXX in the belief that it is translated from a better Hebrew than the Masoretic. Since the Masoretic text became authoritative among the Jews long after the Jewish community had defibnitively rejected Christ and therefore would have prefered readings less favorable to Christian claims than those in the LXX, there might be something to that. The continuous use of LXX by the very Greek-speaking Christians who preserved the NT could be seen as supporting this idea. I tend to consider this an open question. Our acceptance of the "Apocrypha" even in a subsidiary position, tends to give a small amount of support to that possibility.

BTW I just read an anouncement that the ne Orthodox Study Bible with the OT translated from LXX is due to be released shortly


Anonymous said...

"My reference to Sinaiticus (I could have added Vaticanus) does not imply that I think any version is solely from that manuscript, but that I question those occsions in which it is cited as a 'corrective' to the accepted texts."

Can you name an occasion when such a thing has ever happened? The Sinaiticus is one witness among many, which scholars have carefully sifted and evaluated. Even if it upsets your impressions of what the NT is like, the fact is that Tischendorf found it, purchased it, and enabled many to study it. Is this wrong in your eyes? Should he have buried it again?
Laurence K. Wells

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The willingness of modern translators, or editors, to relegate portions of the New Testament to footnotes on the basis of the CS, or to imply that they are less trustworthy, seems to fly in the face of logic. The CS is priceless because it is unique. But, it is unique because it was not worthy to be copied.

Priceless it is because worthless it was. Or so they judged in antiquity.

Fr_Rob said...

I agree with Fr. Wells. Many of the comments here seem more reflective of the obscurantist KJV only crowd than one would expect from educated Anglicans. It helps to have even a minimal knowledge of the Biblical languages, textual criticism, theories of translation, and history of the Bible in English. Very, very few textual critics today continue to defend the Majority Text, as many much older Biblical manuscripts have been discovered since 1611. In terms of the NT, this has relevance particularly to the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel (16:9-20), the account of Jesus' encounter with the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11, and a few other places. For those who cannot read Greek and/or Hebrew, the best bet is to read as many translations as possible, particularly if one is going to preach or teach from the Bible.

Each translation has strengths and weaknesses, and to simply dismiss a particular translation because it follows a more dynamically equivalent model of translation than the KJV betrays a lack of understanding of how translation works. It is also a gross mischaracterization to claim that those scholars who labored to produce the NIV, NLT, REB, NAB, GNB, CEV, and, yes, even the NRSV were hacks or theological liberals with axes to grind. Every translation is ipso facto an interpretation and reflects to some degree the theological presuppositions of its translators.

As to English translations of the Septuagint, there are several. There is Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton’s 1851 translation (available online as well as in a modernized version called The Apostles’ Bible) as well as NETS, published by Oxford as well as available online.

agrarian said...

Ed wrote:

BTW I just read an anouncement that the ne Orthodox Study Bible with the OT translated from LXX is due to be released shortly.

People have actually been receiving copies since the beginning of February, if not a little earlier, and it is available in some Orthodox parishes now, although I have yet to get a look at one. I would be interested in the opinion of anyone posting here who has seen it. It includes, if I am not mistaken, the first ecclesiastical translation of the Septuagint into English. However, it uses the NKJV as a template and, in my opinion, the translators would have been much better advised to use the KJV in that role.

Fr. Hart wrote:

I am not aware of any English translations of the LXX.

There have been a handful. Best known is Brenton's from 1851 or thereabouts. I believe he did use the KJV as a template, but only translated the books of the post-Jamnia rabbinical canon. However the so-called "apocrypha" of the KJV, itself translated from the Septuagint I believe, can obviously be added to it for a more complete Septuagint translation such that Brenton plus the Apocrypha and New Testament of the KJV roughly equals a translation of the "Orthodox Bible" based upon the KJV. However there apparently are a few translation errors in Brenton and he relied solely upon Codex Vaticanus, which means that his text lacks a fair number of verses. For these reasons, the Orthodox have never really embraced Brenton's translation.

There is also the translation of the American Charles Thomson from the early 1800s. He too translated only the books of the Jewish canon and relied solely upon Codex Vaticanus (missing text again). However I have read reports that Thomson's translation was generally held in higher regard than Brenton's in the nineteenth century, particularly by the translators of the RV if I am not mistaken. There is one site online which claims to offer an edited Thomson's Septuagint (a fuller "Orthodox" translation in line with the KJV), but I have yet to find a review of this product.

Then there is the NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint), a very recently published effort of scholars relying upon critical texts (I think) of the Septuagint and using the NRSV as a template. The reports I have seen from more "orthodox" reviewers predictably point to a few problems with it.

There is also the as yet incomplete "Eastern Orthodox Bible" which relies upon Orthodox ecclesiatical texts and purports to be an ecclesiastical translation. The whole thing can be downloaded in two pdf files from the site, but it is still being proofed before final publication. If I am not mistaken, it uses Brenton for its Septuagint template such that its Old Testament might be said to follow the KJV. However, it uses the World English Bible as template for its New Testament (corrected to match the Patriarchal Text of 1904) such that there may be a serious disconnect between the styles of its Old and New Testaments. Even so, its Old Testament may ultimately be worthy of serious consideration as an Orthodox ecclesiastical translation of the Septuagint.

Then there is the newly released Orthodox Study Bible of which Ed spoke (or wrote). It is so new that I have yet to see a very detailed review. It is an ecclesiastical translation, but it relies upon the NKJV, which arguably introduces its own set of problems.

Finally, there is the "Holy Orthodox Bible," the effort of one man, a Peter Papoutsis. He is in the process of translating the Septuagint from Orthodox ecclesistical texts. However, his project is as yet incomplete and I have yet to see much in the way of reviews of the portions he has thus far released.

I hope I have not left any version out. If anybody is knowledgeable about any of these, I would love to read your comments. As it stands, I am tempted to rely upon the Douay Old Testament as I doubt that the early Hebrew texts consulted by Jerome had as yet diverged very far from the Septuagint, or at least they should be much closer to it than the much later Masoretic text historically favored by Protestant translators. Until such time as the Orthodox produce an ecclesiastical translation using the KJV as template, that may well be the best way for a traditionalist to approach the Septuagint in English.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr. Rob wrote:
t is also a gross mischaracterization to claim that those scholars who labored to produce the NIV, NLT, REB, NAB, GNB, CEV, and, yes, even the NRSV were hacks or theological liberals with axes to grind.

Actually, I don't think anyone is dismissing all of these works with a "KJV Only" bias. However, I have good reason to be critical of some of the work that has been done. The list of problems with the NRSV are so outrageous in their very nature that I do regard much of what is in that version to be plain dishonesty, which is a weighty charge to make; and, which I make only because I can't see any other explanation after weighing the evidence. And, as for the '79 Psalter in that so-called BCP, if it were not tragic it would be funny.

As for the CS,I have merely quoted the Preface to the TMB, with a few thoughts added. Should it be thrown out? No. Should it and other odd but old mss. be regarded as the standard? No to that too. What deserves criticism is the authority granted to something novel, authority granted for all the wrong reasons.

The value of textual criticism, however, is that the Bible comes out looking even better than before. That is, when the real science of such work is taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

I have to respond to to this remark by Poetreader:

"The versions I rarely use will probably outlast me by a long period of time. Might this not account (at least in part) for the survival of such as the Sinaiticus? If it was valued, but less so than other copies, would it not have greter likelijood of survival than a copy often used and often copied? In other words, older does not necessarily mean better."

You seem to be reasoning that the CS has been preserved because it was not valued. Well, it is only one of many Codices which have been preserved. Along with these are numerous papyrus manuscripts also preserved. Do you conclude then that none of these were valued? Or why would you draw that conclusion for one Codex but not for others?

The great wealth of manuscript evidence for the NT text is staggering. None of the writers from the ancient world have anything like this much representation. The experts are still in the process of analyzing and sifting the text of the NT. It always amazes me that this scholarly enterprise creates fear and anxiety for so many. Just as archaeology has served to prove Biblical history, textual criticism has served to CONFIRM the Biblical text, not to undermine it. If one sits down with the Nestle Greek Testament and the Textus Receptus side by side, the difference has been estimated, by partisans for both texts, to be about 15%. Bottom line: we can trust our Bibles as accurate.
Laurence K. Wells

poetreader said...

I don't reject all the contemporary translations, in fact I use them. An honest interpreter with limited linguistic ability needs to do so. Thr issues I keep raising (sometimes, I fear, until people get tired of hearing me) have nothing to do with the integrity or honesty of the scholars, but with their philosophical/theological reasons for making the choices they do. I remain unconvinced that a manuscript is automatically "better" simply because it is older. And I do remain convinced that the Church jas the authority to determine the text and has been doing so by its continuous use through many centuries. There are indeed a number of passages that have been altered or relegated to footnotes as a result of this preference for a limited number of older manuscripts over the continuous ecclesiastical use. Just off the top of my head, I can mention the ending of Mark, the woman at the well in John 8, and several uses of "prayer and fasting", all of which have indeed figured in the use of Scripture by the Church. There certainly is value in the 'critical' editions. They may indeed represent the form the text had at a given time and place, but it is the Church that selected what documents to include in the first place, and it is the Church that has endorsed the form of the text as authoritative, by continuous use. For all these reasons I continue to hold that, while not perfect (as I said before) the KJV continues to be the best and most authoritative version in English.

Additionally, there are problems with the content of many translations, arising not because of dishonesty, but because every translator does indeed have a theological bias. That is inescapable. Anyone who translates anything from one language to another distorts the content to greater or lesser degree in accord with what his predilections cause him to see in the text. It does make sense, then, ro evaluate the theology of a translator himself as part of the evaluation of a translation. Some translations show that more distinctly than others. Those done by Evangelicals tend to reflect an Evangelical viewpoint. I used to be a pastor in an up-to-date Evangelical church that used only NIV. Many of its readings are vastly out of accord with traditional understandings, and this discrepancy is one of the factors that pushed me back toward traditional Anglicanism. Other modern versions tend, on philosophical grounds, to take the wording least amenable to NT understanding of OT as prophetic. Older RC versions have tended to read the text in the light of Tridentine understandings, and choice of wording reflects that. None of that is dishonest, but it remains so that the belief of the translator does indeed affect the way the translation will be done. It is not only "hacks" that err because of their own understandings. I do, and so does every one that is reading this comment. It is a factor that musr be considered. Again I believe KJV comes out rather better than any of the modern versions.

Scholarship is good. The productions of scholars certainly have their value, and should be used, but it is the living and worshiping church that sets standards of authority.


Anonymous said...

Poetreader: I will not use this thread to debate your notion of the authority of the "living and worshipping church" to establish the text of the Scriptures. But you may be interested to learn that the ecclesiastical body which has asserted such authority most aggressively (the RCC) makes extensive use of "periti" on matters such as textual criticism. RC scholars are very much in favor of the critical text. In fact, their bias (if they had one) would be against the Erasmian text, which you are defending, as a product of the Protestant Reformation and the basis of Protestant Bibles!

One of the less known achievements of Vatican II was the production of the of the "New Vulgate Bible," a brand new translation of the Bible into Latin, to bring it into conformity with modern knowledge of the original documents. Do you find this objectionable? Does this violate your notion of a "living and worshipping church"?

If you will do some reading, in either Bruce Metzger or F.F. Bruce, you will learn that the textual critics do not automatically prefer the "older" manuscripts; manuscripts are clues to the original autographs.

And it is the original which we seek for, not for some later version which the Church canonized.
(If you prefer the latter option, then you must pinpoint the date when canonization took place--which will open up a rather insurmountable problem for you.)

You also need to distinguish the problems of textual criticism with the problems of translation, as different as apples and pomgranates

Ed, I know absolutely nothing about the Chinese language. How qualified would I be to discuss
textual problems in the Analects of Confucius? Could I say anything worthwhile on the proper methods of translating classical Chinese?
Yours in friendship,
Laurence K. Wells

Fr. Robert Hart said...

When I spoke of dishonesty it was about specific problems with the NRSV. I mentioned one in this thread already, and before that I mentioned another from Malachi chapter 4 as well (and have written about these things over the years). When editors admit that they have deliberately put some amount of "inclusive language" into a version of the Bible, they are revealing the following problems:

1. Ideology over accuracy
2. Willful Ignorance about classical language and the common usage of "Man" in Hebrew, Greek and Latin and throughout all the literature of Western civilization.
3. Approaching the Bible with a mission to correct it.
4. Arrogance.

For a while the Jerusalem Bible was off the shelves, and we were all supposed to accept the New Jerusalem Bible. The editors of the NJB admitted to the same ideological endeavor in their preface. And, frankly, the lengths they went to for Inclusive Language, both what was inserted and what was removed, were horrifying. A verse from Isaiah (3:12) was simply dropped altogether, and something cute created in its place. I think that the NJB is, however, out of print in favor of the older Jerusalem Bible. The JB is one of the best in modern English (and no, it was not translated from French, as the rumor used to go).

Sandra McColl said...

The Romans here still use the JB. So, therefore, do the papalising Anglicans. My ears nearly dropped off my head the day I heard "I want you to be happy" at the beginning of Philippians 4:4. The problem with JB, and its little friend the Grail Psalter, is that it isn't all that comprehensible anyway. I sit there trying to match what I'm hearing to a known passage of KJV, RSV or Coverdale's Psalter in order to work out what's going on.

Translations, in any case, are only part of the issue. Even if I had perfect Greek, perfect Hebrew, and the text of the Bible as God intended it dropped down from Heaven, I'd still need guides to interpretation. We have the Fathers for that, and no few other good sorts, such as Dr Pusey. If you want to be a Biblical scholar, learn the original languages and learn enough about the ancient manuscripts to be able to make a sound critical judgement about the decisions of editors. If you just want to be a faithful bum on the pew, I don't see what harm is to be had from KJV, possibly also RSV and good explanatory material. I certainly don't see what harm is to be had from KJV in worship along with good expository preaching. I fail to see the value in changing the words used in worship every time scholars decide that something different was meant.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more about the wickedness of PC unisex translations (even if Bruce Metzger did have a hand in the NRSV). Dr Elizabeth Achtemeier of my alma mater, UTSVa, was a stinging critic of that evil fad, and made the point that whereas it had taken over 400 years for Protestants and RC's to overcome doctrinal bias and agree on an ecumenical edition of the RSV (no small achievement!), it was a shame to return to the 16th century practice of creating tendentious translations.

The AV aka KJV is a literary monument, right up there with Shakespeare, Dickens, et al. It is still my favorite for liturgical use, as it reads aloud well. I had a very liberal homiletics professor who was fond of saying that KJV is the best to preach from, as its obscure language gives the preacher many opportunities to explain things. I agree.

It's good to know the earlier JB is back on the shelves. As a translation, I don't care for it, but the notes and essays are five-star splendid. The NJB was a downer for notes and essays, with serious compromises on things like the Mosiac authorship of the Penteteuch, unity of Isaiah, early date of Daniel, priority of Matthew, etc.

I rather like the ESV and for a Study Bible I recommend to my people RC Sproul's "Reformation Study Bible." (Don't let the name scare you away.)

Sandra writes:
"I fail to see the value in changing the words used in worship every time scholars decide that something different was meant."

Sandra, dear, I hate to be the one to tell you, but most modern translations are purely a business venture. Every new translation is a book sale. I once clerked in a denominational bookstore and was amazed to learn how many people simply collect Bibles and try to own every Bible available. It's not the scholars, its the publishers who find this all very valuable. New translations = new $$$.
Laurence K. Wells

Elijah said...

For those who cannot read Greek and/or Hebrew, the best bet is to read as many translations as possible, particularly if one is going to preach or teach from the Bible.

This approach is good for a few, but there needs to be a hierarchy of translations. The Authorized Version is a great candidate for the top position because it has penetrated so deeply into our liturgy and our literature. We do not want to obscure the allusions that we have in our liturgy and literature with many translations. See, for example, the reference earlier to Psalm 1:1. Or take "Oh Lord, open thou our lips. And our mouth shall show forth thy praise." Depth is added to the phrase because it comes from Psalm 51, where David is repenting of his sin with Bathsheba. This phrase in not at the center of any theological debate that I am aware of, but the link becomes less clear in some translations, like the New English Bible "Open my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may proclaim thy praise." I following along in a NEB during Advent, and went right past Isaiah 9:6 without even realizing that it was the "wonderful counselor, mighty God, ..." passage I had heard since my youth (the NEB says "in purpose wonderful, in battle God-like"). Another example is "a young woman shall conceive and bear a son" in Isaiah 7:14 of the RSV. Scholarly study of the Scriptures is very important, and having many translations is a valuable tool, but it is not the calling of every Christian. Juggling multiple readings is often distracting and gives a false sense that we must not fully trust our bible. Publishers and, to a lesser extent, scholars do not have pastoral concerns, and that is a big blind spot. We need to know the difference between the translations that we read in parallel to aid our understanding, and the translations that we have our children memorize (and memorize ourselves).