Bock

More Detail on the NIV 2011 Issue and the CBMW Statement

Since some have asked for content details on my earlier post, I am going to look at a few texts discussed in the CBMW statement on the NIV 2011. Let me begin by saying I have no complaint with someone wishing to take a close look at how a translation handles the text. We need to handle God’s Word with care.

Since some have asked for content details on my earlier post, I am going to look at a few texts discussed in the CBMW statement on the NIV 2011. Let me begin by saying I have no complaint with someone wishing to take a close look at how a translation handles the text. We need to handle God’s Word with care.

Nor do I question the motives of anyone who accepts the statement. I simply am raising the question whether the statement adequately addresses the issue of the quality of the translation of the NIV as a whole. One point I will consistently make is whether the rendering really undercuts the text in a way that distorts its authority, meaning and application. There will be some texts where I will agree with the CBMW statement that the rendering is less than what it should be. In other places I will argue the complaint is overdrawn.

 

1 Timothy 2:12

 

This is a key example where the CBMW is correct. It may well be that this is the text that matters most to the CBMW. It is 1 Timothy 2:12. The NIV has “assume authority” “have authority” or “exercise authority” in its rendering of this verse. I think the statement’s complaint here is right and fair. There is no alternative in the margin, either. That is yet another unfortunate feature of the rendering. I suspect this rendering bothered the statement writers more than any other in their list.

 

So how to handle it? This is an example where I would continue to appeal for a revision on the principle that any translation has places where one can improve it. Of all the examples I will treat, this is the one that merits more reconsideration by the NIV committee than any other text.

 

Romans 16:7

 

Here I find the statement fair in discussing the options of the verse, but opting for a choice that is less than likely. They get there by two means: (1) arguing Junia is likely male and (2) suggesting rendering apostle as messenger. This covers their bases twice. The problem is that IF Junia is male, there is no reason to soften the rendering of apostle. One senses both moves are being made to protect the passage for a desired result.

 

And let us be clear about the charge of being “feminist.” If the text reads in the way the NIV renders it and is intended with that meaning it is NOT a feminist reading, since feminism came 20 centuries after the writing of this text. This kind of characterization of the debate over what the text means is a problem in the statement in my view. It imposes emotion about a current cultural political debate onto the discussion about what the text means. The statement is aware the reading the NIV gives is a common one for the verse and that its rendering is disputed. There is irony here. The complaint against the NIV is that these changes and sensitivity concerning gender rendering would never have been made without our changing cultural climate. It actually is an observation I think is true. However, the same thing in reverse is taking place in this response to this verse by labeling the reading anachronistically feminist. So both sides are reacting with current cultural concerns in play rather than simply examining the text.

 

1 Corinthians 13:33-34

 

This is a case of the statement making too much of a clausal move. The claim is that moving the remark to what happens with order and disorder separates it from the remark about silence for women in all the churches. I think this judgment is simply wrong. If the principle of God being a God of order and peace is true in the churches with the example about women’s silence being the example, then the point applies to both the principle in general AND the example it reflects. Many of my complaints about the statement reflect such a over-reading of the text that isolates the linguistic discussion too much.

 

Romans 16:1

 

This complaint is odd to me in a document that is saying be as literal and precise as possible. The complaint is that the rendering “deacon” will mislead churches where deacons have a governing role in the church (because we have a woman tied to the title deacon or servant). Nowhere does the complaint reflect on the fact that the biblical term for this highest oversight slot is elder or overseer. In other words, the request is to render with a sensitivity to the current terminology and scope of a text, something the statement complains about elsewhere when the NIV does it as it relates to gender (not office). This concern is a Baptist one. So by raising it, the standard applied to the complaint in other texts is ignored here. Is it because the concern fits a category acceptable to the writers versus the other texts that run counter to such a concern? What is good for the goose ought to be good for the gander.

 

What I say about 1 Timothy 2:12 about the NIV applies here to the statement. Reconsider this complaint about this verse.

 

Changes of Father to Parent in Proverbs or son to child

 

This is a class change complaint of the same type with two kinds of changes.  It is correct that the more precise rendering is father or son. An additional linguistic question is this. Does the rendering violate the application of the text? One might prefer a rendering of father or son here, but by speaking of the parent and child submission has one really altered the meaning of the text in a significant way? I think most of us would recognize that the point of the text is about parent-child relationships and not just father-son ones. We would not say in teaching this text that it has no point of contact with mothers and sons or mothers and daughters or single parent homes. Proverbs 1:8 makes it clear that mothers are in view as well as fathers, so the main issue is parent-child relationships. My point here is that either rendering works. We potentially gain and lose with each choice. But all would inherently understand the scope of the example and thus what its ultimate force is. In sum, too much is being made of what is lost here, given it makes the ultimate force of the example clear. (I put the later complaint about the change from mighty men to mighty warriors in the same kind of camp [2 Sam 23:8]. Had the rendering been “mighty Amazons,” then the complaint would have had merit. For my ear, when I hear warrior, I think of a male.).

 

Changes of He or Him to Them or They

 

A large number of changes the statement challenges fall into this class if I am reading the early charts correctly. John 14:23 is a good example to consider. The passage speaks of a class of people to start when it speaks of anyone loving me. It is clear we have more than a single person in view and this linguistically frames what follows. The following plural (The Father will love them) keeps this class in view. It reflects the force of the text as a whole and its scope in a way the singular in English may miss. Again, my point is not that to render this in the singular is wrong. No, the point is that a plural does not violate the class force of the text when it is considered as a whole. So again either rendering can and does work. There is NO removal of the Father and Son dwelling with the individual since that is included in the reference to the class. The Father and Son indwell all who are referred to, both as individuals and as a class. So that point is misdirected in my view.

 

Summary

 

I have simply noted a few examples in my survey. I could go on, but my point is simply to have us pause and reflect on whether the scope of complaint against the NIV as a good translation is met by the kinds of things the CBMW statement raises. In most cases, I think the statement’s complaint does not show the translation is flawed in a way that distorts the meaning and application of the sacred text we all respect. I am keeping the focus on the issue of translation quality here. That is the issue that matters to all of us who regard the Bible as God’s Word. We should be careful about how the text is rendered. Everyone on all sides is right to care about this which is why it generates so much response. All, I think, are well motivated to try and be faithful to the text. We are making different judgments about which renderings do that the best. In sum, I think the CBMW statement overreaches in its complaint in many of its categories, which is why my initial blog on this topic called the complaint unfortunate. The statement is right to complain about 1 Timothy 2:12 in my view.  What this discussion needs is some balance. That is what I hope this survey helps to provide.

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15 Comments

  • Avatar

    Jim Hamilton

    thanks

    Thanks for your comments, Dr. Bock, especially regarding 1 Timothy 2:12, which I think Denny Burk has rightly identified as the most important passage in this discussion.

    Some questions about the switch from father-son to parent-child in Proverbs: could this be a case where the switch actually hides important aspects of the culture of ancient Israel from us? What I have in mind is this: it seems to me that Deuteronomy 6 places a responsibility on fathers to teach their children the Torah, and then Deuteronomy 17 places a responsibility on the king to be a man of Torah. The connections between Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs 3 (and other passages in Proverbs) incline me to think that Solomon is seeking to obey Deuteronomy 6 and 17 and, in a sense, be a father to the nation by teaching the Torah in an exemplary way to his own son for the benefit of all sons in the nation. This will actually be good for all the little girls in Israel, too, who will be blessed with husbands who know the Torah and teach it to their own children.

    It seems to me that when these texts are read together we get a strong sense of the importance of the leadership of fathers in Israel. The lack of it is devastating.

    I think the switch from father-son to parent-child takes away from this aspect of the text. Further, is it necessary when Proverbs also directs sons to listen to their mothers? And in support of what I'm suggesting here, I think it's significant that it's the father who instructs his son to listen to the teaching (Torah) of his mother.

    So while we might not think of family relations in these terms today, it seems obvious to me that ancient Israel was a Patriarchal culture that thought along these lines. Should translators do things that hide these aspects of Israel's culture from readers?

    What would motivate a translator to de-patriarchalize an ancient text?

    Thoughts?

    Jim

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      Darrell L. Bock

      Depatriarchal?

      Jim:

      A fair question. I would not call the parent-child rendering devastating. That is the very overreaction I am complaining about. Here is why.

      The model/example in Proverbs does fit the patriarchal culture of the OT period. That is only natural. The danger the other way is we lose or risk thinking the point is ONLY about fathers and sons. Proverbs 1:8 as an opening tells us not to think this about the book and its teaching to the son. Just Fathers and sons is surely not all that is intended. What we are seeing in the text is a call to respond to authority in the home, which was naturally male in the time. What does get softened is the example, but the principle is how children are responsible to those who head the home. Again, I might prefer to keep the example in a rendering but the alternate does not really damage the ultimate sense or authority of the text, provided one is aware of the patriarchal nature of authority in the ancient world. This is especially the case if one takes how Proverbs as a whole has been rendered in the NIV. References to the son and father are retained in the early sections (see 1:8; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1; 6:1, 20; 7:1), establishing the point, so there is not a depatriarchalizing in the book as a whole. In 15:5, I think a judgment was made in light of a text like 10:1 that the reference is broad. Proverbs 13:24 works similarly in light of Proverbs 20:20. So I see these differences as trying to balance the overall thrust of what the book is teaching. So we get some pointing to father-son to establish the example and cultural base and others showing the broad application of the principle of the text. (And thus the rendering is not inconsistent either, but a reflection of the theology of the book as a whole).

      This is why the change is not "devastating". It is rather an attempt to balance the multiple themes in the book. Now one can prefer one rendering over another (as a matter of a judgment call– and we might differ here as to what is best since only one text can be printed in the body of the translation), but neither rendering undercuts the text, especially when all of these passages are placed side by side. It might help for more text notes of alternate renderings be placed in the margin. (This is something I often contend for in these situations. The NIV might help itself by doing more of this than it has done) Nevertheless, my overall judgment is that we have an overreaction in the complaint and the significance of the difference is exaggerated.

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    Denny Burk

    Mighty Amazons

    Dr. Bock, Thanks for the follow-up and the engagement. I'm traveling this weekend, so I'll try to get back into this again after the holiday. In the meantime, I just wanted you to know that your bit about " mighty Amazons" cracked me up! Blessings! Denny

  • Avatar

    Darrell L. Bock

    Amazons

    Denny:

    All the best, my friend. I am not sure how much more I want to say on this topic. I am pleased with the tone. Let's keep that up. And watch out for those strong ladies!

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    Don B Johnson

    1 Tim 2:12

    On 1 Tim 2:12, both comps and egals bring a LOT of arguments to the table.

    From what they committee stated, they did not want the translation to decide one way or the other, the goal was to allow this translation to be used by both groups, which I think is a reasonable goal.  This they achieved with their word choices.

    • Avatar

      Darrell L. Bock

      1 Tim 2:12

      Don:

      Yes, but in this case they did it with a rendering that is not really reflective of the term's force. (Exercise authority would have been better.)

  • Avatar

    Michael B

    Why the change?

    The NIV 2011 is clearly more gender neutral, as the FAQ on Biblia.com has shown, "To the extent that gender inclusive language is an established part of contemporary English and that its use enhances comprehension for readers, it clearly was an important factor in decisions made by the translators.”

    This raises many questions, the most obvious is "does the original intent of the author to write a certain gender into the text matter?" And "why is it so important to neuter certain language that is clear in the original text? Does this really bring more meaning or bring less clarity to the text?"

    It is hard not to believe this translation is simply bowing to the winds of cultural change, much like the Message did many years ago.

  • Avatar

    Darrell L. Bock

    change?

    Michael:

    More gender neutral than what? It actually is less so than the TNIV that came before it. Your question does not distinguish between the gender of a word in Hebrew and Greek and what it refers to. It is the latter that yields the meaning. We often say "guys" in English and mean men and women in mixed groups. So when a translation shows the scope of the meaning it does not deviate from the intent of the author. The context of the passage makes the scope of a text clear (or at least often does). This is what the translators are trying to make clear. So the result is a clearer meaning (provided they get the scope right). This is why a translation committee has 15 members on it, so there are many eyes looking at each text. This is different from the Message (which never claimed to be a translation but a paraphrase) and had only a team of four or five looking at the text.

    One more thing. biblia.com is a site for the ESV, a competing version (if I have the right site). Do you think that impacts their description of the NIV? The ESV is a good translation, but that does not mean they are neutral in their response to this.

    So please think through some of these factors before coming to a conclusion.

  • Avatar

    Michael B

    Change?

    Yes, I meant Biblica.com, specifically CBT's FAQ at http://www.biblica.com/niv.

    I agree with you on scope, however you would likely agree there is meaning in the original text that must not be overlooked. Take Acts 17:26 for example. The NIV 2011 says "From one man he made all the nations", clearly leaving out and not tranlsating the additional "of all mankind" (anthropon). Now you could make the argument that this is not necessary in our modern language, but I wonder if it was needed when Luke wrote it? Would his readers not understand ethnos without the qaulifying anthropon? Either way, it is there for a purpose and why choose to leave it out now?

    Other examples abound. Why change "workmen" to "workers" in Ex. 36:8? Were there women building the tarbernalce alongside the men?

    2 Cor. 11:13 says that "such men are false apostles", yet NIV2011 changes it to "people are false apostles"? Did Paul mean men or women when he said τοιοῦτος like when we say "guys" today? Were there female false apostles?

    Did Jesus mean "brother" or "them" in Matt. 5:24? Sure, it applies to both men and women, but how likely is it that a woman would be placing a sacrifice on the altar? Application comes from preaching and teaching, not from translation of the text.

    When we string all the changes together, a pattern of change merges. And one cannot wonder if there were certain "sensibilities" the translation committe had in mind when doing their work.

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    Darrell L. Bock

    change?

    Mike:

    Think about all of these.

    2 Cor 11:13. Revelation 2:20 mentions a female false teacher. So a woman could be a false apostles. There also were problems in Ephesus where Paul wrote Timothy. 

    Matt 5:23-24. Does reconciliation for anger only mean males? Probably not. So the rendering is accurate.

    Exodus 35:10-29 had already named the workers. This included men and women the best I can tell. So why complain here? This is precisely why one has to look at context and keep an eye on the scope of the texts.

    You noted the redundancy in Acts 17 yourself. Is there anything really lost in the in terms of meaning in the shortening of the text? Nations are only made up of humans, right? So one reference assumes the other.

    This is why I am complaining about the complaints. They say too much in terms of meaning. Just remember when the Spirit cited the OT in the NT it often made such moves yet kept in the scope of the text's meaning. Sorry, application comes from meaning and translation, as does teaching.

    • Avatar

      Marg

      female false teachers and apostles

      I'm intrigued by a couple of things in this comment.

      You've cited 2 Corinthians 11:3 without a comment.  Are you suggesting that this verse only applies to women?

      As for your comment that Revelation 2:20 mentions a woman who was a false teacher (and false prophet): Do you think that this acknowledgement of a female false teacher/prophet implies that there were genuine, godly Christian teachers, prophets (and apostles) who were women?

      • Avatar

        Darrell L. Bock

        female false teachers and apostles

         

        Actually my only point in citing 2 Corinthians 11:3 is that women could be included given Revelation 2:20. So I am definitely not only referring to women, but including them. Remember women, at the least, would sometimes teach women as the Pastorals indicate (and some of that was producing issues there). Women are teaching, the debate involves who they teach. Women teaching women for sure is taking place (Titus 2:3-4). In the Pastorals, there is a prohibition of women teaching men in the church (1 Tim 2:12). More discussed is when this happens in teams (Priscilla and Aquila do this together with Apollos more informally, Acts 18:26).

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    Alex R

    Translationtary?

    In perusing the comments and the post, it's interesting to consider what's expected from a translation: a rendering of the text that facilitates an accurate understanding of the text's intended application, a rendering that facilitates detecting related themes across the corpora, a rendering that leaves debated texts ambiguous, and a rendering that renders the text into an understandable form of the target language! Bible translators are stuck with the same expectations as Bible commentators — but with considerably less space to use! Just an interesting observation, I thought, from all the different concerns posted in the comments.

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    David Randall 04976

    I Tim 2:12

    If I understand correctly (and I'm not sure I do, since I can't locate the original CBMW statement), the substance of the complaint against NIV 2011 on this passage is that it is biased toward an egalitarian interpretation.  It seems to me this is purely based on dogmatic rather than translational considerations.  First let me hasten to say that my position is NOT egalitarian, and I am not defending the NIV translation of this verse from that position.  And  personally I'm not a BIG fan of the NIV in any of its editions, though I do use it occasionally and believe it has its place.

    However, I have to believe that "assume authority" is a more faithful translation of the original whether or not that may weaken it as a complementarian proof text.  The word being translated is "authentein" which seems to distinctly have the sense of authority which is self appointed or absolute.  That this is the only use of this word in the NT lends strength to the argument that Paul has a specific abuse of authority in mind not just having authority in general.  One should not make too much of a hapax legomena, but when an author uses common words for authority over and over, and then selects an obscure word in a particular passage, one must believe he does so intentionally.  It is for this reason that the KJV translators chose to translate it "usurp authority".  (And no one can sustain an accusation of being "egalitarian" against the KJV translators.)

    So let's be honest.  It is not about whether the language is neutral with respect to the complementarian/egalitarian dispute; it is whether it is faithful to the original intent.  Let the chips fall where they may.