Hermeneutics - Lesson 7

Hermeneutical Issues in Translation

Dr. Todd Miles delves into the complexities of translating the Bible into English, addressing cultural and linguistic gaps. He discusses various translation philosophies, emphasizes accuracy, and highlights the significance of ancient manuscripts like the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ultimately, he advocates for universal, dignified translations based on contemporary language and culture.

Todd Miles
Lesson 7
Watching Now
Hermeneutical Issues in Translation

I. Problems of Translation

II. Philosophy of Translation

III. Qualities of a Good Translation

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  • Understanding the Bible through biblical theology is crucial, as it reveals the overarching narrative of God's redemptive plan, centered on His glory and the role of Jesus Christ, enabling a more profound comprehension of individual Bible passages and their relevance to our lives.
  • Dr. Todd Miles underscores the vital role of historical and cultural context in interpreting the Bible. Understanding the era when a passage was penned is crucial for grasping its genuine significance. Using examples like the virgins' parable and Revelation 3:14-22, it demonstrates how historical context aids in discerning interpretations and adds depth to the message. The text emphasizes that, while the Bible offers some historical context, external sources can also enhance comprehension. In conclusion, historical and cultural context is essential for accurate biblical interpretation.
  • In this lesson on Hermeneutics by Dr. Todd Miles, the focus is on understanding the cultural context when interpreting biblical texts. Dr. Miles emphasizes that culture plays a significant role in both the biblical author's writing and the reader's interpretation. He discusses the concept of cultural conditioning, highlighting that everyone, including the biblical authors, the original audience, and modern readers, is influenced by their respective cultures.
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  • In taking this lesson, you gain insight into the concept of typology in biblical interpretation. Typology involves finding resemblances between Old Testament figures, events, and institutions and their fulfillment in the New Testament, particularly in relation to Jesus Christ.
  • Learn about poetry in the Bible by exploring Hebrew poetic parallelism and its emotional power in Psalms. Discover how poetry enhances biblical narratives and offers unique insights.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles discusses various types of psalms found in the Psalter and delves into their unique characteristics and theological significance. He begins by providing a list of different kinds of psalms, emphasizing that this list is not exhaustive but illustrative, highlighting the diversity of poetry within the Psalms.
  • By studying this lesson, you gain insight into essential figures of speech in the Bible and learn to interpret them effectively, enhancing your hermeneutical skills and deepening your understanding of the Scriptures.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles discusses the interpretation of parables. Parables are a specific literary genre with their own rules of interpretation. Parables are designed to teach a single point, although there might be exceptions. Historical context remains essential in understanding parables, as they are shaped by the situations of the day. 
  • This lesson explores Proverbs and wisdom literature, focusing on its distinct genre, interpretation rules. Dr. Miles highlights its purpose, living wisely with God. It emphasizes the fear of the Lord, touches Ecclesiastes' question of meaning, and Job's theodicy.
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  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles explores the concept of perspicuity, which refers to the clarity of the Bible. He begins by explaining that perspicuity is a theological term used to describe how clear the Bible's teachings are. It means that the Bible is written in a way that its teachings can be understood by anyone who reads it, seeks God's help, and is willing to follow it.
  • This lesson provides practical guidelines for applying biblical principles. Dr. Miles emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit, examining the original context, and identifying parallel situations in the present. He encourages applications to be personal, specific, measurable, and time-bound, ensuring they lead to tangible actions in your life.
  • In this lesson, you'll grasp the Holy Spirit's vital role in biblical interpretation, going beyond changing hearts to enabling comprehension and acceptance of the text. Dr. Todd Miles stresses the Spirit's role in illuminating the Bible, making it relevant to believers, challenging the idea that unbelievers interpret it as effectively, and emphasizing the importance of understanding the text's intent. The ultimate aim is not mastery but being mastered by the text, with the Holy Spirit as a key player.
Hermeneutics is the science and art of the interpretation of the Bible. It's a science because it is an orderly process based on rules you can apply. It is an art because of the nuances in communication and translation.



Dr. Todd Miles


Hermeneutical Issues in Translation

Lesson Transcript


Before we jump into the weeds of how to interpret the Bible, I do want to talk about the Bible that you have in front of you, whatever translation that is. We mentioned earlier in the steps of going from the mind of God to the mind of Todd inspiration, transmission, and then translation. And we have, especially in English, so many different translations that are at our disposal, so many to choose from. What do we actually have? And sometimes I think it's helpful when we're thinking about hermeneutics to to talk about the hermeneutical issues that are involved in translation and translation is necessarily going to involve some interpretation. And the reason for this is that language is a part of culture, and no two cultures are exactly the same. Cultures will differ. Language is a product of culture, and culture is simultaneously or symbiotically. A product of language. They they work mutually on each other. And for those of you who've taken foreign language before, you know, there's no such thing as an exact equivalent between the thoughts and words in one language and the thoughts and words in another. You might know that all language and all words have a semantic range, and the semantic range of one word in one language is not going to match up well with the semantic range of of a word in a different language. A good example of this would be in Matthew chapter one versus 18 and 19. This is about the birth of Jesus Christ. And we're we're told this the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way when his mother, Mary, had been betrothed to Joseph before they came together. She was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quickly. Well, this creates a conundrum for Bible translators, because in our culture it's very different than what took place in the ancient Near East culture that Mary and Joseph were a part of pledged to be married, husband, wife, divorce. There's really no equivalent in our culture to this first century Hebrew phenomenon. We wouldn't talk about needing a divorce in order to break an engagement of what often happens is like the woman hopefully will give the ring back to the guy and then there will be some embarrassing cards and letters having to be sent out and maybe send back some gifts. But it's not a legal thing. You don't go to a courthouse to break an engagement. Mary and Joseph weren't married yet, but to in the engagement required a legal proceeding, and Mary would have been guilty of adultery otherwise. So that's that's a bit of a conundrum. The English translation that I read to you just said they resolved to divorce her quietly before they came together. Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, and that's how they chose to translate those words. But that takes some interpretation. Did they make the right choice? Another example, John. Chapter one, verse 29. The next day he, John the Baptist, saw Jesus coming toward him and said, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Well, what if you're translating the Bible in a part of the world that doesn't have sheep? What if you're like in the Arctic or what if you're in Papua New Guinea? What do you do? What if pigs are the main staple of diet where you're at and also the main staple of clothing are that the clothing comes from from pigs more than anything else. Would you translate it? Behold the pig of God that takes away the sins of the world. Behold the piglet of God who takes away the sins of the world. Before you say yes, remember, there's an entire theology of clean and unclean animals in the Bible. Another example. Isaiah 1:18. Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though are red like crimson. They shall be like wool again. What if you're in a part of the world that there's no concept of snow? It's just inconceivable if you're in a tropical place, Papua New Guinea. And furthermore, they might not even know what wool is. What are you going to do? What if you're in Japan in the past and the color of purity is red, not white? What are you supposed to do then? Do you translate it the opposite? Then everything gets fouled up. It's difficult as you go from culture to culture. Well, Bible translators have a lot on their plate. And there's a continuum, if you will, of of options that they have. And that's usually spoken of in terms of formal equivalent on one end and dynamic equivalent on the other end of the continuum. A formal equivalent translation is going to try to adhere as closely as possible to the original wording of the text. And you might think, well, that's going to be impossible. And quite frankly, it is. There is no straightforward word for word translation because Greek in Hebrew syntax or grammar is very different than English, for example. Nevertheless, in a formal equivalent translation, they're going to try to do word for word translation, maintaining word order where they can. The in a SB new American standard Bible would be probably the best example of a formal equivalent translation. Now, if if we had a continuum here, it's not purely formal equivalent. A purely formal equivalent translation would be gibberish because of the grammar and syntax differences as you go from Greek or Hebrew to English. Nevertheless, in the NASB, you're going to see more word for word where they can, and one result of that is, one, the translation is going to be shorter. Typically, you're also going to see a lot of commas and long sentences in the NASB. It's almost like reading the Puritans who never saw a comma or semicolon that they didn't like. On the other end of the continuum are dynamic equivalent translations, and the goal of a dynamic equivalent translation is to reproduce thought for thought rather than word for word. And like the NIV or the CSB, these a good example of a of a pretty dynamic equivalent translation. Sometimes in some instances the idioms or figures of speech are interpreted and replaced. An example of that in in the NIV where language of sexual intimacy is used and a Hebrew idiom would be an Adam knew his wife, for example. Well, they'll just translate that for you or they'll interpret it for you. And Adam had sex with his wife. They might say, there they are taking a Hebrew idiom and they're interpreting it for you in case knowing someone is not the culturally relevant way of of talking about sexual intimacy off the continuum, in my estimation, something to to the other side of dynamic equivalence would be a paraphrase and here explanatory words and phrases that aren't found in the original, but the paraphrase or feels are necessary to give the sense of the passage. Those are included in that. And I would argue, like Eugene Peterson's,The Message is a paraphrase. It's not really a translation. I know in the preface to The Message, it says that it's a it's a translation. I would argue it's probably more of a paraphrase now in all of this. In all of this, even with paraphrase is I I'm not I'm not a translation basher. I'm not I delight in all the different Bible translations that we have. I there's some that I prefer over others, but I think all of them have strengths. So So a couple of things that I want you to remember about this. First off, accuracy is not related to where you're at on the continuum. That is. So I know that with formal equivalent translations, they will often advertise as the most accurate Bible translation precisely because it is a formal equivalent translation. I just want you to know that's false. I don't think that's the case at all. Every Bible translator is endeavoring to produce the most accurate translation that they can. No one is saying, Well, ours is super readable, but not that accurate, but it's super readable, so buy it anyway. No one wants that and no one is advertising as being. We're the fourth most accurate Bible translation out there, so it's worth the small amount of money we want you to pay. No one is doing that. Every Bible translator picks where they're at on the continuum because they think that's the best place to be accuracy wise. It's a difference in philosophy. It's not a difference in desire for accuracy. And second, you need to know that that wherever a person, a Bible translator chooses to be on the on that continuum of formal equivalent on one end dynamic equivalent on the other end, they're not always going to be consistent in where they're at. I have a whole book that was written. Showing how in some places the NIV is more formal than the NASB and vice versa. So they're never going to be exactly true to their philosophy compared to other translations. But that's okay. Bible translation is very, very difficult. So delight in the riches that we have. Also, I guess one more thing. This would be the third thing. Go to the front of your Bible and read what the Bible translators say their philosophy of translation is. Again, I'm not a translation basher, but I do want you to know what you have in front of you and use that knowledge to your advantage. Now, what would be qualities of a good translation, in my estimation? Well, first off, I think it should be based on the best Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Now I say best, and that's going to raise a big question that is debated. Why is that? Because the King James version is based on a manuscript, family or tradition called the texts receptors or the received text. In 1516, the great Catholic humanist scholar Erasmus used for Greek manuscripts from the 12th century. He didn't have the last six verses a book of revelation. He had to take those six verses from the Vulgate, the Latin translation, and he put together a a critical edition, if you will. Now, since that was very, very important for the Reformation, the Martin Luther, for example, will say if Erasmus hadn't done what he did, there would have been no Protestant reformation. So having a good Greek text was of vital importance. Since then, since Erasmus, we have found at least 5000 additional Greek manuscripts, some from at least a thousand years earlier than that. So the question is, there's largely two families of Greek manuscripts. One is the Textus Receptus. The other is referred to as just the critical text, which is a group of scholars have have performed this critical analysis to decide amongst all the different manuscripts they have what what is the best, most reliable Greek that we have. If you were to open up a Greek text in most published form, you would find a page where a lot of it would be Greek text. And down below is what we call the apparatus, and that lists all the different variants. And it's the job of these critical scholars to decide what belongs up above in the Greek text and what goes down below in this is a variant. The King James version is based on this Textus Receptus. NASB, ESV, NIV, CSB fill in the blank with here therefore with whatever your favorite translation probably coming from from what I described as this this critical text. There's not enormous differences between the two, but there are some and there's at least one very significant difference in first John, Chapter five, verses six through eight. I'm going to read the ESV version and then I'll read the King James version to you. The ESV reads this way first, John 5:6-8. This is he who came by water and blood. Jesus Christ, Not by the water only, but by the water and the blood. And the spirit is the one who testifies because the spirit is truth. For there are three that testify the spirit and the water and the blood. And these three agree. To open up a King James version. You would read this. Same passage. This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ. Not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the spirit that bears witness because the spirit is truth for. And then here's here's the difference. For there are three that bear record in heaven. The Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one. And there are three that bear witness Earth, the spirit in the water, in the blood. And these three agree in one. You might notice there's a really strong Trinitarian verse that's in the King James version that's not in the ESV, and I wish that that verse were in the Bible because it is the if it were there, it would be the clearest Trinitarian verse in the entire Bible. The problem is, I don't think it actually belongs. There are only four extant Greek manuscripts that have the inclusion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in verse seven. Three of those were written in the margins. Even one of them comes from the 16th century. It's also interesting to me that no one who argued for the Trinity in the second, third and fourth centuries ever cited first John five seven, a book of the Bible that had strong acceptance at this time. No one went to first John five seven to support the doctrine of the Trinity. Why not? It seems pretty obvious that would have been a good one to pull out in the Council of Nicaea when people were arguing with the Arians about the the equality of the father and the son. But they didn't. Why? Probably because it wasn't actually there. That's that would be my my guess. Also, John really doesn't reference the Holy Spirit, although he has dozens of references to the Spirit. It seems to me that a glaring failure this is this is me bashing one translation. And I just told you earlier, I don't really bash translations, but but I do think a glaring failure of the new King James version is that the editors kept the Trinitarian reference in first John five seven when I think they knew it doesn't actually belong there. It's not really even in most of the received text manuscripts that we have. So the question is, when it comes down to what's the most accurate write, the most accurate Greek manuscripts. Do you want the one where we have the most copies or do you want the one with the oldest copies? If you if you want most copies, then you would go with the received text. If you think oldest is more reliable, then you would go with that that critical edition. And that would be the translations of basically everything that's not King James. A good translation should be based on the latest knowledge of language and culture. It seems to me the Dead Sea Scrolls here were an enormous find. We gained invaluable insight into the cultural and religious life of the period during which many of the biblical manuscripts were written. That's very, very helpful when it comes to translation theory. They're also invaluable for establishing the semantic domain of of biblical words. And we always want to be updating our translation based on good scholarship of what culture and language was like at the time that the Scriptures were written. Obviously, it goes without saying hopefully that a good translation should be accurate, but I'll say it anyway. There are some versions of, say, John chapter 21, verse two, where the Greek text literally says, and the ones of Zebedee, no doubt referring to the sons of Zebedee, who are James and John. But there's there's some translators who just translate it instead of and the Sons of Zebedee, they just say, my brother James and I. Well, but it doesn't say my brother James and I. It says and the ones of Zebedee. Let's that's a bit to interpret it it seems to me. Should be understandable. The scripture doesn't work like like magic. We have to understand it. Our traditions, our our translations, I'm sorry, must reflect the way language is used right now. And language does change over time. Look, if you will, at the NASB rendering of second Corinthians chapter ten, verse 13. But we will not boast beyond our measure. But within the measure of the sphere, which God apportioned to us as a measure to reach, to reach even as far as you. I think that's almost meaningless. It's just really difficult to understand. Does it reflect Greek in Hebrew? Hebrew. Greek Word order? Yeah, largely. It's pretty minimal as well. And so it has value. But if you're just if you're reading devotionals. That's. That's a tough one. Now, understandable may not mean accurate and and accurate may not always mean understandable. So how do you strike the balance there? Our our translation should be contemporary. So there should be no end to the making or updating of translations. Rapid changes in English require constant revision to our translations and words change. Make sure what they mean. Is what they mean today. That is, make sure the words you use in Bible translation are what the words actually mean today. You can think of obvious words that have changed meaning over time. I think in my own lifetime, the word gay has it has dramatically changed. It's been said, I think that's true. If Shakespeare came back today, it's estimated that he would recognize less than five out of every nine words spoken in English. That's amazing, because who has had more influence over English than Shakespeare and and probably the King James version of the Bible. Those are the standards of English for hundreds of years. Should be universal and there's probably a place for narrow dialect translations. But but generally speaking, I don't think that Bible translation should be limited to a narrow dialect at all. This is just me. But I think the I think Bible translation should be dignified. We shouldn't blush as we read them. Now, the Bible is an earthy book and it doesn't pull punches, but the Bible does or was written in a way that we can obey what we're told to do, which is read the Bible to our kids or to our kids. So shouldn't use crude language for shock effect. I'll just I'll just leave it at that. Should avoid theological bias. This is accurate an accuracy thing as well. The Roman Catholic theology would suggest  and teach the perpetual virginity of Mary. But Matthew 1:25 is problematic there where it reads that Mary or that Joseph knew her not until she had given birth to a son. The clear implication being that after she gave birth to a son that Joseph and Mary consummated their marriage. Well, that's inconvenient for the Roman Catholics. So in the Jerusalem Bible, which is a Catholic translation, they just translate it. Even though Joseph knew not Mary, period. And they leave out the until she had given birth to a son. That feels like you're cooking the books just a bit. Let's let's avoid theological bias. Let's have our theology be influenced by our Bible translations, not the other way around. So those are just some thoughts on on Bible translation. If I were to tell you the story of of Bible translations in my own life, it would run from King James version to I remember getting my first NIV as a seventh grader and reading that just being odd at how wonderful that translation was. I used the NIV up until I got to college, joined the Navigators, was told that, you know, we're serious study of the Bible and the NASB is is is more accurate and better for Bible study. I believed it because that's what I was told. So I used the NASB for four years. After that, I went to Western Seminary where I took a class from a fellow named Earl Rodmacher, who had been the chief editor on something called the Nelson Study Bible, which used the new King James translation. The Bible. I didn't know any better. I well, it was a required text, and I just assumed that was the standard at Western Seminary. So I bought it and used it. I never it, it wasn't until I had already bought copies of it that I realized that I can use whatever Bible translation I want and I'll be taught Greek and Hebrew. Anyway, there. But I used the new King James for years, and then I went to seminary and did my my doctoral work. And a lot of my professors were involved in the ESV translation. And so then I started using that and I really like the ESV, but, but now at at our at our church right now, our Pew Bible is the CSB. We made that decision because we couldn't buy the NIV 1984 version anymore to replace the NIV's that we had. We decided to go with the CSB instead because we thought it was most like the NIV, and we preferred that over the NIV 2011 version. And, and it's our core conviction that we preach out of whatever the Pew Bible is. And so now I have a CSB, and that's what I've been using a lot in this class, although there's a lot of ESV sprinkled in there as well. If you were to ask me to quote like John 3:16 do you I couldn't do it in any one translation. It would be a hodgepodge of new king of King James NIV, NASB and ESV and all that to say I'm not a translation basher. I probably came to Christ reading the NIV. I use the ESV for most of my scholarship, and now I use the CSB almost exclusively because of who I publish with Broadman and Holman and what our church uses. But delight in the many English translations. You have just to be aware of what you have in front of you.