Battle for the Bible Translation


At their annual summer convention, the Southern Baptists passed a resolution expressing „profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House” for publishing the 2011 New International Version, concluding that „we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.”

The resolution strikes us as divisive, shortsighted, and something that brings us, and no doubt the majority of the Christian community, profound disappointment.

To be fair, the resolution was not brought to the convention by the resolution committee, which wisely determined that the convention did not need to comment on the new translation. The resolution was the work of a single delegate, and only one other person spoke on its behalf. But no one on the convention floor spoke against it, and eyewitnesses say that up to 90 percent of the delegates raised their ballots to signal their approval.

The issue at stake is what the resolution called the NIV’S „gender-neutral methods of translation,” saying the 2011 NIV has „gone beyond acceptable translation standards.”

Whose translations standards are they talking about? The translation principle the resolution refers to is properly called „dynamic equivalence” or „functional equivalence.” Such translations try to do something on the order of common sense: When arriving at a word or phrase that literally says one thing but functionally means another, they choose the functional meaning.

In biblical times, speakers would address a mixed group of believers with the greeting „brothers.” Such was the practice even in English a generation ago. If a speaker were to do that today, many people in the room would assume the speaker was addressing his remarks only to the men present. If we translate the Greek word adelphoi as „brothers” in many biblical passages, it would lead the modern reader to the same conclusion. In short, it would mislead the reader. Hence, the need for functional translations.

No single translation method can possibly convey with complete accuracy the biblical text.

Functional equivalence is the principle used by the New Living Translation, published by Tyndale. And by the New Century Version, published by Thomas Nelson. We have no reason to believe that such publishing houses, or the reputable evangelical scholars who produced their versions, are driven by a secular feminist agenda.

Even so-called formal equivalence translations—which do their best to translate the original languages word for word and syntactical structure for syntactical structure—regularly resort to functional equivalence. The English Standard Version, for example, always uses the wordman for the Greek anthropos when the context suggests a male human is in view. This is a literal and accurate translation in such cases. But when the context suggests that both men and women are in view, it uses people or others. This is a functional and accurate translation.

To be clear, no contemporary, evangelically based translation changes the gendered names used in God’s self-revelation. The first person of the Trinity is still called „Father,” and Jesus is his „Son.”

One SBC concern is ideology, a commitment to complementarianism, the view that men and women have different, divinely appointed roles in church and home. We all should be concerned about any translation that lets an ideology shape its language. But we should not let ideology—egalitarianism or complementarianism—determine whether a translation is valuable or not. The only criterion for a good translation is this: Does it accurately convey what the authors said and what the original listeners heard? Read more on this post

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