For a while now, I've been thinking of starting an ongoing series of posts on This Lamp comparing revisions of translations to their predecessors. These will be short posts comparing usually on a verse or two at a time. This new TNIV Truth blog is the perfect forum to write about the ways that the TNIV improved on the NIV, so I will write those posts here and posts about other translations at This Lamp. Much of the attention that the TNIV has received has been over its supposed controversial aspects (which I always refer to as artificial controversy) to the neglect of the actual improvements in accuracy over the NIV.
One such example is found in Matthew 11:12. The intent of the writer's Greek can be very difficult to determine in this verse.
|πὸ δὲ τῶν ἡμερῶν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ ἕως ἄρτι ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν βιάζεται καὶ βιασταὶ ἁρπάζουσιν αὐτήν.|
|From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.|
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence,* and violent people have been raiding it.
*Or been forcefully advancing.
The key phrase in question is "ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν βιάζεται." Is the kingdom of heaven on the giving or receiving end of violence? This isn't a text critical issue because the text itself is not in question. We cannot determine a harder reading for guidance. In fact, harder readings don't apply here because obviously the context must weigh heavy on a translator's choice.
The NIV rendering is clearly in the minority among English translations, although the NLT also agrees and makes the action active rather than passive. The TNIV, however is clearly in line with the way most translations interpret the phrase (yet another case in point that ALL translations require interpretation, regardless of method). The NIV doesn't offer an alternative translation, but the TNIV includes one as do a number of other translations (ESV, NASB, NET, NLT, NRSV).No doubt that during certain periods in Christian history, such as during the Crusades, the idea of the kingdom of heaven forcefully advancing would have been a popular one. And certainly, one could spiritualize the phrase to think of the kingdom of heaven advancing against powers and principalities. But what would the context (which is regarding Jesus' praise for John the Baptist) suggest?
The ICC commentary on Matthew by W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison is one of my favorite works on the first gospel because they are so exhaustive when looking at the possibilities for a question such as this. In fact, Davies and Allison list seven different interpretations for this passage that have been offered down through the ages before hesitantly settling on this one:
N. Perrin, speaking for many, finds in 11.12 par. a reference to 'the death of the Baptist and the prospective suffering of Jesus and his disciples'. Further, 'In Matt 11.12 the use of kingdom of Heaven ... evokes the myth of the eschatological war between God and the powers of evil and interprets the fate of John the Baptist, and the potential fate of Jesus and his disciples, as a manifestation of that conflict'. In other words, the suffering of John and of the saints after him is interpreted in terms of the messianic woes or the eschatological tribulation of the latter days [p. 255].If such things bother you, don't get hung up on the word myth in the quote above. It's being used in the straight literary sense, not as an evaluation of a truth claim. Regardless, the point is that John the Baptist is the prime example of one who would suffer violence for the sake of the Kingdom, and there would be more who would follow after him. Though the exact translation of the phrase is not a closed subject and still open to debate, in my opinion, the TNIV translators made a fair corrective to the NIV in this verse that fits in not only with the immediate context, but also with the context of the Bible as a whole and in many ways, with the context of church history.