Lecture 30: Principles 2-4
Course: Why We Trust Our Bible
Lecture: Principles 2-4
2. Principle Number 2 - Audience
So, who are you writing for? This is really an important question. For example, it affects the whole issue of age. Translations may not explicitly say it but all translations have a low-end age limit that they are going for. My dad was on the NIRV committee and they had a division, third grade; they had a linguist
that told them what were third-grade words and what were fourth-grade words. And they couldn’t use fourth-grade words. The kid’s version of the NIRV had a very specific one. The other translations have a basic idea of how high or how low they want to go and that is somewhere between junior high to high school. I think the King James Version is about the 12th grade whereas the ESV is about the 11th grade and the NIV is about the 9th grade and finally, the NLT is about the 6th grade. So all translations have had an idea of age ranges; for example, in Romans 3:25 God displayed publically as a propitiation; a word that we never use. It is neither in people’s active vocabulary nor even their passive vocabulary. What is propitiation? Then in the RSV, whom God puts forward with expiation; this was not a helpful change. The NIV says that God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood. The atonement is tied up with what was happening on the cross. Jesus was a sacrifice and his sacrifice was atonement; whatever atonement means. The NLT says atonement was too big of a word and so we are going to say, ‘for God presented Jesus as a sacrifice for sin.’ The NLT is so heavy on meaning; they keep pushing until the meaning is clear.
Romans 3:25 is actually a very important verse in the history of the English Bible. When the RSV came out, it was owned by the National Council of Churches and thus somewhat looked down upon, especially within evangelicalism. This is one of the verses that went against the RSV which turned out to be a theological difference. Propitiation has to do with the force of what Christ did on the cross which was oriented towards God’s wrath against sin and his holiness. Expiation says that the force of what Christ did on the cross is directed toward human guilt and our willingness to accept forgiveness. So, which one is it? Those two words go into two different directions. One is more conservative whereas one is more liberal. It depends upon who your audience is in order to use such a word. The rule for the ESV, if they can pick up a Webster’s dictionary and look up a word and the meaning that is there matches the meaning in the Greek, then we were okay with that English word. In other words, the ESV assumes that you are going to study. I have never heard anything like this expressed on the NIV committee. They are going to be a little more sensitive to hearing and understanding; different ages. Another thing in terms of audiences is background; how much background are you going to assume that the children had coming to vacation Bible school? I couldn’t assume anything. They may have never heard the name of Jesus; they may have come because they saw these cool bouncy things coming into the church and there was free candy. So the background is important.
Another example is Ephesians 5:2, the ESV says to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. I personally think the idea of walking in love is so transparent. Anyone who listened to Johnny Cash knows what the metaphor is, right? Interestingly, there are members in the NIV who say that this is a dead metaphor and thus not understandable. And I wonder where they are from? Where I am from, I know what this means. But these are the kinds of discussions that take place. The original NIV says that walk was too difficult; we can’t assume that people will understand the metaphor, so instead, they said, ‘live a life of love.’ One of the reasons that I wanted to go on the NIV committee was to change that metaphor. I won that vote. ‘Walk in the way of love,’ is what the NIV says now. But the question remains, will people understand it? Another thing, when it comes to audience we have is terminology; what are you going to do with terms? The NLT will not use any technical terminology whatsoever. They decided not to use church or Christian idiomatic terms to convey meaning. People no longer know what they mean anymore. This is one of the interesting examples of this terminology issue; ESV in Acts 9:13 says, ‘but Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.’ For saints, it is actually ‘holy ones’ but saints is such an easy word. If you go up to the street corner and ask what a saint is; the number one answer most likely will be the football team. So, is the terminology understandable?
The NLT comes along and says to the believers in Jerusalem; that is okay but when Paul calls the Corinthians, saints, he is really saying something, isn’t he? He was writing to the most worthless bunch of Christians in the history of the 1 st century church. These people were really messed up! Any church today doesn’t have anything compared to the Corinthians. And he calls them saints, making a very important theological statement; no matter how you live, because of what Christ has done on the cross for you, God views you as fully sanctified; you are a saint. Now, how about living like a saint? So, you call them believers; well yeah, but you so have so grossly under-translated the term. Because it is making an affirmation about who we are in Christ. We don’t just believe; we have been made holy. If you look at other passages where saints occurs such as in Acts 9:32, the NLT says the Lord’s people. Romans 8:27 refers to God’s people. All of them significantly under-translated, but the problem is whether people understand the term or not. This is a great opportunity for me to qualify an attitude that I’ve had for a long time. Whenever you start to think that translators translate it because; what you are saying is that you know the translators so well that you can get inside his head. Of course, none of us can do that. How many of us really know what motivates us. Why do we pass judgment on why others do what they really do? And this was one of those interesting discussion because the NIV has long been critiqued in negative terms that they think people are too stupid to understand technical terms. And that is not it at all.
One time, we got into this committee meaning and I raised the issue of this problem with this word, saints. The concern had nothing to do with terminology, but instead, there was such a natural bifurcation in the church that John Mark was the holly one. They are the ones that have to do all that Scripture say, we just sit in the chairs and so we don’t really have to be fully obedient. We have John Mark and Steven being the saints. I say that facetiously but that is the heart of the problem in the American church. There is none of that in the Chinese church. But in the American church, there are lay people, deacons, elders and pastors and nobody else has to do what they have to do. The committee was so concerned about that ungodly, umbilical split in the church that they wouldn’t use the word saints. So audience is one of those things that we have to watch out for.
3. Principle number 3 - English Style
So the third principle has to do with the style of English. How much weight are you going to give to style? In Romans 12:11-13 we have, ‘do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.’ This is word for saints, Paul talking about the church, ‘in zeal not slothful, in spirit fervent, to the Lord serving in hopeful rejoicing.’ I almost like this translation, but it continues, ‘In tribulation enduring, in prayer being consistent, to the needs of the saints contributing.’ So this is not really English; and so to finish it up, ‘In hospitality perusing.’ What are you going to do with a passage like that? You can’t really translate it that way. The NIV says ‘never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.’ Where it said, ‘in zeal not slothful,’ they say never be lacking in zeal. Then where it says ‘in spirit fervent,’ they say to keep your spiritual fervor. This is just a question of English style and especially for the NIV, it is important that the text impact upon you in the same the Greek impacted the original audience. That is the standard that the NIV uses. And so there is more time spent on NIV kind of translations on English style and how do you say this well.
Here is another example, ‘and when he had begun to settle the account, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.’ What are ten thousand talents; the NIV translates this as ten thousand bags of gold; so is a talent a bag of gold? The NLT says millions of dollars, which is much more accurate. The Greek word used hyperbolically as in English in formal usage, it is an extremely large incalculable number. Jesus wasn’t concerned with how much the man owed, he wasn’t specifying ten thousand anything. So, what about style here? Most people will not say gad-zillion; millions of dollars; so the NLT is fairly accurate. So how much weight are you going to put on style? How interpretive are will to be to have it really sound like you speak in English?
4. The Fourth Principle – Ambiguity
There is also the issue of ambiguity; I mean where the Greek isn’t clear or it is purposely ambiguous. Why would that be? What are you going to do when these exegetical Bible study kind of issues has to be made? In 1st Timothy 3 in the deacon section, he has been going on for several verses about what it
means for a deacon to be above reproach. Then you come to an odd verse like that of verse 11, ‘in the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.’ It doesn’t quite fit; this is part of the problem. The RSV translates it, ‘the women likewise must be serious, not slanders but temperate and faithful in all things.’ Who are the women? Well, the reading of the RSV most natural would be women deacons. Churches have always had female deacons; for me it is not an issue at all in church leadership. They played a large role in the first several hundred years of the church and for some reason the whole order of deaconesses went away and nobody seems to know why? So this is not an issue that can be determined theologically, is what I am trying to say. So, you can translate it women, the women likewise must be serious. So you have male deacons and you have female deacons and the text goes back to male deacons again in verse 12. But the problem is with the Greek word gune, it can be translated both women and wise. And, you can also translate it as their wives. In other words, we are still talking about deacons and just as there are qualifications of the deacons, there are also qualifications for the deacon’s wives. So their wives must be dignified, not slanderers but sober-minded and faithful in all things. There is a footnote in the ESV that says ‘or wives’; so it can just be wives not necessarily ‘their wives’ or it can be women. The ESV is saying that it could be either way. Most translations go with ‘wives’ and most of the commentaries today go with women. The Greek is simply ambiguous with this and gune can simply mean both. You have to look at other contextual indicators to decide whether Paul is still talking about deacons and the qualifications they and their wives have or is he acknowledging that there are female deacons in the church and they do have to meet certain standards. So the text is ambiguous, it is difficult decision.
In James 1:20, ‘for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.’ This is a strange expression because nothing that I do will ever achieve God’s righteousness. I will not be righteous like God is. I don’t understand the NRSV; ‘for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.’ I don’t know what that means. But they are taking it as God’s own righteousness. The NIV says, ‘human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.’ Both can work in this sentence according to the translation from the Greek. The Greek is ambiguous, in fact whenever you get the ‘of construction’ in Greek, it is as ambiguous in Greek and also in English. The love of Christ constrains me; the love of Christ holds me back when it comes to sin. So what is it? Is it your love for Christ or Christ’s love for you? I really hope it is Christ’s love for me because my love for him varies; his love for me doesn’t vary. I would much rather have his love for me, holding on to me than my love for God somehow being the agency by which I remain faithful. I really believe that it is Christ’s love for me is what keeps me from sin, but it is also my love for him. So this is ambiguous, both in Greek and in English and here we see the translations are trying to deal with it. So what are you going to do with ambiguity? Are you going to leave it or are you going to explain it? The rule in the ESV is; if it is ambiguous, as long as it doesn’t lead to misunderstanding, we will leave it ambiguous. That was the hard and fast guideline for the ESV. If there was any hint that people would misunderstand the ambiguity and actually believe something that was wrong and do something that was wrong, that was the threshold, we would have to explain it. The NIV doesn’t like ambiguity; it leaves some of it but it tries to explain much of it. The NLT leaves no ambiguity; there is no ambiguity in the NLT. It is good to read to see what translators do with this ambiguity.