The Vulgarity of It All!

One of the other contributors asked me to write a brief article concerning the need for translation. Why don’t we simply teach people to read Hebrew, Aramaic and koine Greek?

The reason is simple – because God didn’t.

Consider this easily verifiable fact: the Christian Scriptures are in a different language than the Hebrew TANACH. That’s right. God did not require the early Christians to write their part of the revelation in the same language as he required the Hebrews to write their part in.

What’s more, the early Christians did not use precise translations when going from Hebrew into Greek. Some of their translations would be considered terrible by modern scholars, and yet there they are.

Deuteronomy is a rephrasing of the other books of TORAH in a different form of Hebrew. Ezra/Nehemiah speaks of some kind of translation of the TORAH into the language of the people at this time.

Jesus himself quotes the TORAH in Aramaic translation.

The Scriptures in the vulgar language of the people is a hallmark of Christian faith. People often point at the Vulgate as a detriment to people accessing God’s word in their own language, but in fact, Latin was still the written language of the western world through most of the early Middle Ages. As the Romance languages evolved, Latin remained their ‘literary form’ for quite some time. Those people who did learn to read and write did not do so in their own vulgar language. They learned Latin. In a very real sense, the Vulgate was the vulgar Bible.

In the eastern world, the Bible was translated into the languages people spoke – Syriac, Coptic, Bulgar, Goth, Slavic, etc. They were given written languages and were never Latinized, so they wrote the Bible in the languages they used. The Greeks kept the Bible in Greek because they spoke Greek.

God’s Word is bigger than some static language. He never restricted his people to one or two languages. Even at Pentecost, the Gospel was spoken in the languages of the heart – the VULGAR languages.

So there it is – the reason we need translations. They are at the very fabric of our Holy Book, itself written in three languages INTENTIONALLY, BY INSPIRATION OF GOD.

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Revelation 22:18-19 And Perfect Textual Preservation

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Does Revelation 22:18-19 Teach Perfect Textual Preservation?

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. ” (Revelation 22:18–19)

The above verses have been used to argue for the King James Version against other translations of the Bible. Simply stated, the argument is that the original text is preserved in the KJV and that all other translations add to, or take away from the original text.

Our question is this, “Does this passage actually teach said doctrine?” Some say that it does, and others say that it does not. What do the Scriptures say?

Words

First of all, let us ask what words are. That is what we are warned against embellishing or removing. Words are expressions of thought. The form of words change over time so that words become archaic and are replaced by other words that convey the same meaning. One instance of this is that we use the word “let” to mean “to allow”. In the King James Version the word was used to mean “to hinder”. We must ask ourselves, then, whether the use of synonyms is acceptable in Bible translation. We must then ask ourselves whether a sentence in a more recent English translation of the Bible could have more or less words in it than a sentence in the KJV contains and yet still convey the same thought.

In the Scriptures we find that sometimes the very word “word” is used to express the decree, or command of God. One example can be found in Psalm 33:6-9 where we know that it simply means that God spoke the command and the worlds were made. We again see this in Hebrews 1:3 where we find that universe is sustained by the word, or decree of God.

The meaning of “word” does not have to be the lexical form of a word, but can be a word, its synonym, or the command of God.

The Bible does not condemn the use of synonyms or loose quotations of Scripture, as long as the thought of the Scripture is conveyed. Most students of the Bible are aware of the fact that the New Testament writers sometimes quoted the Old Testament in ways that were definitely not verbatim quotations. One interesting instance is found in James’ writing. James said, “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?” (James 4:5) Have you ever tried to find the instance in the Old Testament where that statement is made? Most of us will admit that there is no place in the Old Testament where one can find this statement verbatim. It will not do for someone to claim that the Bible writers were inspired and could use Scripture in such a fashion, because to do so would be to charge the Bible writers and God the Holy Spirit with inconsistency. After all, if God tells us not to change the form of one single word, we can be sure that He would be inconsistent to command one to do so even if he were inspired.

Jots And Tittles

What, then, of the jots and tittles of Matthew 5:17-18? What is that all about? Simply put, it means that the Scriptures will be perfectly fulfilled. We have a saying today that goes something like this: “He follows the rules to the letter.” What we mean is that a person strictly adheres to the meaning and intent of the rules. So it is with God’s Word. All will come to pass perfectly, just as God has told us.

The words of Jesus concerning jots and tittles cannot teach perfect textual preservation, because the law itself neither teaches, nor is presented as an example of perfect textual preservation. This truth is seen in a comparison of the ten commandments as given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. When Moses spoke the law to Israel the second time he did not speak it verbatim, but actually added words to what he said previously. We will find, too, that it is this same Moses who said that we are not to add to the words of God.

Revelation 22:18-19

What is meant by the adding to and taking away of Revelation 22:18-19? The answer to that question has to be found by considering the previous places in which we were warned not to add to, or take away from the words of God.

Moses told Israel, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. ” (Deuteronomy 4:2) Why was Israel warned not to add to, or take away from the words of God? So that they would obey God. The issue that is before us is that the message cannot be changed by adding commandments, or taking away commandments. Either one would be sin. Either one would lead people into disobedience. That is why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, because they were adding commandments to God’s Word, and taking away commandments, also. (See Matthew 5:33-35;15:1-10) Furthermore, Moses told Israel, “These words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me. ” (Deuteronomy 5:22) We already saw that Moses did not give a verbatim quotation of the ten commandments here. Now he adds that God gave them no more words. In other words, the law that God gave at Sinai was all the word that they needed at that time. Simply put, “Ye shall not add unto”, or “He added no more” simply means that what they had been given was all that they needed. The message that God had given Israel through Moses was sufficient for them at that time, and was not to be changed so as to make the message say something that God did not say.

In the same vein of thought, we read in the Proverbs, “Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, Lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar. ” (Proverbs 30:5–6) Those who add to the words of God will be shown to be wrong, and demonstrated to be liars. One is not a liar who uses synonyms and yet retains the message accurately. He is a liar who changes the words to the extent that the message is changed. God’s warning is for us to not change the message. This is the foundation of Paul’s anathema in Galatians 1:7-9. The message IS NOT TO BE CHANGED!

Thus it is that Revelation 22:18-19 is the last in a long chain of warnings against changing the message of God, and not a text that supports the doctrine of perfect textual preservation.

The New NIV… It’s Here!

For years, the NIV has been the most loved, and most hated of the modern Bible versions produced in the 20th Century. Many of us who used to be KJV-only advocates used to reserve our sharpest criticisms for the NIV. Perhaps that background is one of the reasons many of us still are hesitant to use it. We just prefer a more literal approach to Bible translation for various reasons.

With the advent of Today’s New International Version, there was an outcry about gender neutral language run too far. Partly as a result of this controversy, the English Standard Version was produced. The ESV is a conservative remake of the somewhat liberal Revised Standard Version. And the ESV took the Bible market by storm, as many Reformed pastors and teachers have made it their Bible of choice. It is making inroads into non-Reformed segments of Christianity as well.

Along the way, people like Leland Ryken, John Piper and Wayne Grudem have had some not so flattering things to say about the NIV, and especially the TNIV. And many other conservative scholars have concurred. At issue are the many places where the NIV smooths over the text to make nice sounding English, but in the process obscures the presence of important connector words like “for” and other features of the text which influence its interpretation. Many feel the NIV makes too many interpretive choices for its readers. Of course the gender neutrality of the TNIV is not a problem in the NIV, but the direction the TNIV took seems to be far afield of where conservative scholarship thinks we should go with respect to Scriptural integrity.

In light of this reaction, I was initially hopeful that the announcement of a new NIV update might promise a turn toward a better direction for the NIV. After reading the translators’ notes about the new update, I am inclined to think it actually is the positive change I was hoping for. In several cases they move toward a greater transparency to the original text. They restore many of the missing “for”s, and the gender neutral language concerns seem for the most part to be satisfactorily addressed. The tack they take is not much different than the ESV which also uses some gender neutral language in an attempt to employ contemporary English.

In this whole process I was also pleased to learn that the publishing house has little control, if any, over the actual text of the Bible translation. The translation aspects of the NIV are kept separate from the publishing and marketing arm of spreading the finished product abroad.

I encourage you to read the translator’s notes on this important update for yourself. You can also see a video introduction of the text by Douglas Moo, the chair of the translation committee. Furthermore, there are several comparison tools available for comparing the 1984 NIV text, and the TNIV and now the new 2011 NIV Update edition. BibleGateway can do that. And a couple other sites have comparison tools for comparing the various manifestations of the NIV: This site has a drop down menu to pull up the text a chapter at a time. This one offers several different comparison points between the editions.

I think this whole update was handled transparently and honestly. I believe it is a good sign that evangelicalism as a whole has a careful concern for the text of Scripture and aren’t just ready to adopt any translation that can be made. The respect and care with which the translators of the NIV handle their work has been apparent through the whole process. I think the end result will prove to be a blessing to the wider church, even with the presence of other useful, conservatively produced translations. May this lead to a greater unity and a lessening of the “Bible wars” which have been transpiring in the last decade or so. I for one, am eager to get a copy of this new NIV, to see how it compares with my ESV.

One last word: check out Rick Mansfield’s review of the updated NIV. I’m sure more reviews will be forthcoming, in the next few weeks.