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No translation is perfect

September 25, 2011

I find this odd. I just don’t know how to react to this kind of writing from a respected seminary professor. HT Rod Decker. 

Every translation of the Bible ever produced in any language is a human production, and is not perfect. No translators have been superintended by the Holy Spirit in the way the original writers of Scripture were. The original text was inspired; translations are not. Thankfully most translations are reliable and accurate, despite their differences. The differences are not usually matters of error, but of variations in how the meaning of the original text is expressed in English.

There are some warts in the NIV11. All translations have warts, in that some portions of any translation will disappoint us. Of course, what disappoints you may not disappoint me! Some of these differences are simply matters of English phrasing. New translations and revisions usually have some infelicitous expressions that are corrected in the next revision. (See Philippians 3:10 as a possible example of this in NIV11.) These are small warts.

Most translations have a few larger ones as well. The question then becomes, How many warts are tolerable? How big are they? Where are they located? It is possible that a single translation wart, if it is large enough and ugly enough, and especially if it is located dab on the front of the translation’s nose, could be judged serious enough to cause one to look for another suitor.

The bigger warts in the NIV11 include Romans 16:1 and 2, in which Phoebe is described as a deacon—potentially problematic in some churches, but that depends on the function of deacons in a particular church. Likewise, 1 Timothy 2:12 now says that a woman is not to “assume authority over a man”—a translation that goes back to the Reformation, but one that is different from recent English translations. In Romans 16:7 we find Junia (a woman’s name) to be “outstanding among the apostles.” Most warts of this sort involve difficult issues of word meaning (1 Timothy 2:12) or textual criticism (Romans 16:7). Most have marginal notes that give alternate translations.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2011 10:33 am

    Decker is a Regular Baptist. From the little I know, this is a very conservative (read traditional) group. So it should be assumed he believes in some form of gender hierarchy. Hence when verses are translates in ways that do not support gender hierarchy, he sees them as warts. These kind of reviews tell us more about the reviewer than the translation.

  2. September 26, 2011 2:57 pm

    It’s ironic that such an “in-depth look” would focus so sharply on those surface “warts.”

    Donald,
    Decker’s denomination’s online belief page only has two explicit mentions of females,

    “the historical Adam and Eve, first parents of the entire human race”

    and

    “born of Mary, a virgin, as no other man was ever born or can be born of-woman,”

    Everything else is “man” or “men,” singular and/ or generic. Perhaps we could infer “gender hierarchy” from that.

    http://baptistbulletin.org/?page_id=7006

  3. September 26, 2011 5:22 pm

    Here is another review — this one by a Catholic professor of Scripture — that goes in a similar direction.

  4. September 26, 2011 6:06 pm

    Before you judge me based on a *highly abridged* (ca. 4K words from the full 23K), lay-level, “for popular consumption” version, read the full review. It will be published in a journal in Nov., but an earlier draft can be found on my website at ntresources.com. (I’d rather you evaluated the journal version, revised and slightly expanded, but it is not yet available.) Note in particular my *definition* of a what I call a “wart.” Suzanne, I believe, *has* read the full version. Yes, I am a complementarian, not an egalitarian, though I’m not here to debate the issue. I understand Suzanne’s position and it’s her blog. And I’m not a “debater.” One might be a bit more cautious in accusing someone else of reading their theology into a text. There’s a saying about glass houses… 🙂

    RD

  5. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 26, 2011 6:50 pm

    Rod,

    I had always had the highest opinion of your scholarship and your defence of the NIV. But after reading the full article on your website, I coulc not understand your reluctance to investigate whether there really was a manuscript with the masculine name Junias in it or not. You say that there was – I have not seen the evidence.

    The honest truth is that I withdrew from complementarianism intellectually when I realized that I was not always being given the straight facts. I can only say that finding out that I was not being told the truth by men in the pulpit was devastating for me.

  6. September 26, 2011 6:52 pm

    Rod, I respect your request that readers refer to the full review, but was the abridged review published without your permission?

    If you feel the review was not representative of your views, why did you allow it to be published?

    I note that you advertised the abridged review in your blog.

  7. September 27, 2011 7:10 am

    Suzanne says that “I coulc not understand your reluctance to investigate whether there really was a manuscript with the masculine name Junias in it or not. You say that there was – I have not seen the evidence.”

    That’s a surprising statement since my full paper clearly says: “According to Reuben Swanson’s data (New Testament Greek Manuscripts: Romans [Wheaton: Tyndale, 2001], 256), there are three accent patterns on this name: Ἰουνῖαν (only 1837), Ἰουνίαν (Bc D2 Lc P Ψ 056 1 33 69 84 104 133 1243 1270 1424 1735 1874 1881 [+ 40 more minuscules]), and all the rest are unaccented (B* ℵ A C L* 049 D* D1 F G). There are also several variant spellings: Ιουλιαν (𝔓46), Ἰουλίαν (6), and Ὀυνίαν (618 1738).”

    I do NOT argue for the masc., but I do point out that, per Swanson, MS 1837 has the accent expected for the theoretical masc. form.

    > finding out that I was not being told the truth by men in the pulpit was devastating for me.

    I doubt that in most cases such things were deliberate. Many of the relevant discussions are of recent vintage (at least in evangelical circles) and I’d venture to speculate that most pastors were simply repeating what they’d been taught. That they may have been taught poorly (or not well trained at all) is a different issue. How many pastors (unfortunately) spend much time with text critical issues? Many don’t even know Greek. Perhaps the solution is better training rather than postulating deliberate deception?

    Re. the abridged version of my review, I prepared the first draft myself and it was then further edited by the magazine editorial staff. I have no problem with such an approach, but it’s necessary to realize that a popular-level magazine article can’t say everything. In particular there simply isn’t room to nuance everything as I’d like, not to provide appropriate context or warrant for many statements.

  8. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 27, 2011 11:21 am

    Rod,

    There seems to be a technical misunderstanding. Manuscript 1837 has the accent over the iota and therefore fits the feminine pattern. It is much more likely that an accent has the wrong shape than that it be in the wrong place. I have the impression that 1837 is considered by scholars to be feminine and NOT masculine. That is what i have read on this topic.

    Epiphanius is also put forward by some to demonstrate that there was at least one person called Junias in Greek. But as you know that also is a dead end.

    When people suggest that data exists for the masculine, they then often claim that this must be accepted since it is in line with 1 Tim. 2:12. However, 1 Tim. 2:12 cannot be established as meaning “to exercise authority” but only “to master or usurp – to control absolultely.”

    These two verses are played back and forth against women. I have read in detail the Junia hypothesis by W and B and have been terribly disappointed at their citations.

    I feel that I have interacted with the very top complementarian scholars, and every time there is such a desire to establish female subordination, that the truth is compromised. It is glossed over or reshaped in subtle, and perhaps entirely subconscious ways.

    But for me, male authority has been devastating. And yet I attended an extremely scholarly and respected congregation with Dr. Packer. The damage on finding how the truth was reshaped for presentation regarding Bible translation was in some ways the last straw. I am acquainted also with Fee and Waltke.

    I am sure you must see that caught in the crossfire, male authority was forever nullified for me and cannot be reinstated.

    But I do consider you to be a generous and honest scholar so your statement about Junia puzzled me. I hope that you will continue to write with clarity on gender language. It has also been my prayer that the dissent over the NIV could be calmed before these men that I have mentioned pass on. But now it seems that the enmity is intensified in some places. I don’t understand. It gives me so much grief that men I could have looked up to are at such odds and in enmity with each other.

  9. September 27, 2011 2:12 pm

    > There seems to be a technical misunderstanding. Manuscript 1837 has the accent over the iota and therefore fits the feminine pattern. It is much more likely that an accent has the wrong shape than that it be in the wrong place.

    Hmm. That’s interesting and a detail I hadn’t considered. I’d be curious to see a hi-res photo of 1837. I’m not sure that shape is a more likely error than place; it would be interesting to see if anyone has spent enough time studying medieval scribal accent patterns/errors to judge probability here.

  10. September 27, 2011 3:52 pm

    It seems that John Chrysostom and Jerome may have seen something. Was it this manuscript, or one that MS 1837 was copied from?

    The former wrote,

    Ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου.

    Δοκεῖ μὲν καὶ τοῦτο ἐγκώμιον εἶναι·
    τὸ δὲ ἐφεξῆς πολλῷ μεῖζον.

    Ποῖον δὲ τοῦτο;

    Καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου.

    Τοῦτο γὰρ ὁ μέγιστος στέφανος,
    ἡ μεγάλη ἀνακήρυξις.

    Καὶ ποῦ γέγονεν αἰχμάλωτος Παῦλος, ἵνα εἴπῃ,

    Τοὺς συναιχμαλώτους μου;

    Αἰχμάλωτος μὲν οὐκ ἐγένετο,
    αἰχμαλώτων δὲ πολλῷ χαλεπώτερα ἔπασχεν,
    οὐ πατρίδος ἀλλοτριούμενος μόνον καὶ οἰκίας,
    ἀλλὰ καὶ λιμῷ παλαίων καὶ θανάτῳ διηνεκεῖ καὶ μυρίοις ἑτέροις.
    Τοῦ μὲν γὰρ αἰχμαλώτου τοῦτο μόνον ἐστὶ τὸ δεινὸν,
    ὅτι τῶν οἰκείων ἀλλοτριούμενος,
    δοῦλος γίνεται πολλάκις ἀντ’ ἐλευθέρου·
    ἐνταῦθα δὲ νιφάδας ἔστιν εἰπεῖν πειρασμῶν,
    οὓς ὑπέμενεν ὁ μακάριος οὗτος,
    ἀγόμενος καὶ περιαγόμενος,
    μαστιγούμενος καὶ δεσμούμενος,
    λιθαζόμενος,
    καταποντιζόμενος καὶ δεσμούμενος,
    λιθαζόμενος, καταποντιζόμενος,
    μυρίους ἔχων ἐπιβούλους.
    Καὶ οἱ μὲν αἰχμάλωτοι οὐδένα λοιπὸν ἔχουσι πολέμιον μετὰ τὴν ἀπαγωγὴν,
    ἀλλὰ καὶ πολλῆς ἀπολαύουσι προνοίας παρὰ τῶν εἰληφότων αὐτούς·
    οὗτος δὲ ἐν μέσοις περιεστρέφετο τοῖς πολεμίοις διηνεκῶς,
    καὶ πανταχοῦ δόρατα ἔβλεπε,
    καὶ ξίφη ἠκονημένα,
    καὶ παρατάξεις καὶ μάχας.
    Ἐπεὶ οὖν καὶ τούτους εἰκὸς ἦν πολλῶν αὐτῷ κεκοινωνηκέναι κινδύνων,
    συναιχμαλώτους αὐτοὺς καλεῖ,
    ὥσπερ καὶ ἀλλαχοῦ φησιν·

    Ἀρίσταρχος ὁ συναιχμάλωτός μου.

    Εἶτα καὶ ἕτερος ἔπαινος·

    Οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις.

    Καίτοι καὶ τὸ ἀποστόλους εἶναι μέγα,
    τὸ δὲ καὶ ἐν τούτοις ἐπισήμους εἶναι, ἐννόησον ἡλίκον ἐγκώμιον·
    ἐπίσημοι δὲ ἦσαν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων,
    ἀπὸ τῶν κατορθωμάτων.
    Βαβαὶ,
    πόση τῆς γυναικὸς ταύτης ἡ φιλοσοφία,
    ὡς καὶ τῆς τῶν ἀποστόλων ἀξιωθῆναι προσηγορίας.

    Καὶ οὐδὲ ἐνταῦθα ἵσταται, ἀλλ’ ἕτερον πάλιν ἐγκώμιον προστίθησι,
    λέγων·

    Οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γεγόνασιν ἐν Χριστῷ.

    And the latter translated:

    salutate Andronicum et Iuniam cognatos et concaptivos meos qui sunt nobiles in apostolis qui et ante me fuerunt in Christo

  11. September 27, 2011 6:25 pm

    I’d be curious to see a hi-res photo of 1837. I’m not sure that shape is a more likely error than place; it would be interesting to see if anyone has spent enough time studying medieval scribal accent patterns/errors to judge probability here.

    I would be very interested in this as well. If you find anything out on this front please share it!

    However, in the meantime, the scholarly consensus seems to be that this is not a clear example of the masculine. Both this, and the citation from Epiphanius are suspect references to the masculine, and so ought not to be able to stand alone as evidence.

    In addition to this the major flaw in the Junia paper by W and B ought to be acknowledged. It is because these facts are not fairly dealt with that some feel that theology is being read into the text.

  12. September 27, 2011 7:06 pm

    Rod,

    I tried to respond to your extensive comment addressed to me on your blog, but I was notified that I was blocked. Was this an accident?

  13. September 27, 2011 7:44 pm

    I’ve not blocked you.

  14. September 27, 2011 7:50 pm

    We’re having very heavy rain and some serious thunderstorms tonight, so I can’t do much of anything on the web (such as check the spam filters on my blog). It takes several *minutes* for even simple pages to load. If you included multiple url’s in a blog comment, that usually kicks in the spam filters on my system. Hopefully this comment will post (eventually). I’ll check again tomorrow when I’m on campus with better connectivity. Sorry for the hassle.

  15. September 27, 2011 8:44 pm

    Rod,

    I didn’t really think that you had. Nonetheless, I get this message when I try to post.

    “Your comment has been blocked because the blog owner has set their spam filter to not allow comments from users behind proxies.

    If you are a regular commenter or you feel that your comment should not have been blocked, please contact the blog owner and ask them to modify this setting.”

    I should add that I am not just someone who writes about equality for women, but I also posted here a few years ago on the diaeresis.

    http://abecedaria.blogspot.com/2006/04/history-of-diresis.html

    I thought it might be of interest.

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