Sunday, April 22, 2007

NIV vs. TNIV: 1 Peter 4:12

This morning, we will study 1 Peter 4:7-19 in our Bible study. As part of my preparation this week, I read Thomas R. Schreiner's commentary on the passage from the New American Commentary series. Commenting on v. 12, Schreiner writes

...believers should not be astonished...that sufferings strikes them. They should not consider it as if "something strange were happening." Such suffering is to be expected because its purpose is "to test you" (pros peirasmon). The NIV, unfortunately, leaves out the purpose altogether and hence fails to communicate why the readers should not be astonished.

Schriener's criticism of the NIV here is justified. It simply does not fully reflect the full intent of Peter's words in the Greek:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Pet 4:12 NIV)

Does the TNIV improve upon its predecessor? Absolutely.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Pet 4:12 TNIV)

Not only does the TNIV correctly communicate the purpose of the suffering "to test you" (πρὸς πειρασμὸν/pros peirasmon), it also renders πύρωσις/purosis correctly as "fiery ordeal" rather than the NIV's weaker "painful trial." Thus, Peter's allusion to the OT idea of a "trial by fire" (Prov 27:21; Psalm 66:10; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:1-4) which was all but absent from the NIV rendering is clearly presented in the TNIV.

The TNIV improves upon the NIV not only in regard to the changes in the English language over the last generation, but more importantly in terms of accurately reflecting the original biblical texts. From this point forward, publishers who are considering the NIV as a basis for a commentary or reference work would do well to choose the more accurate TNIV instead.


anonymous said...

I rarely praise posts, because I do not wish to be fulsome, but I must congratulate you what I think is the best post to date on this blog. It was clear, concise, and to-the-point. While the conclusions of your last paragraph do not necessarily follow from the single example given above it, the example itself is straightforward enough and certainly provides a useful study of one verse in which the TNIV is clearly stronger than the NIV.

I was particularly interested in your discussion of a "fiery ordeal." I agree with you completely here, but I was a little surprised to read it, since I have elsewhere seen the argument (on BBB, for example) that Semitic idioms are best rendered non-literally and naturally into the receptor language. "Fiery ordeal" is clear enough in English, but it is hardly a natural expression. Your implied argument -- that in this verse, at least, the benefits of drawing connections across different portions of Scripture outweigh disadvantages -- is a powerful one, and provides a useful counterexample.

Another point that is fascinating in your post is the implied meta-criticism of critics who focus exclusively on a single aspect of a revision to a translation (e.g. critics who prefer the NIV to the TNIV or the RSV to the NRSV because of gender issues) while ignoring the many other improvements in the translation. This idée fixe makes for dull argument and limits the opportunity to learn from a new translation. I am sorry to see that so many defenders of the TNIV fall into the trap of letting the critics define the limits of the debate and thus effectively validate the TNIV-critics suggestion that the main issue in selecting between the NIV and TNIV is one's views on gender and grammar.

I hope in future posts you will draw out more distinctions between the TNIV and NIV and thus provide more evidence supporting the conclusions of your final paragraph.

Wayne Leman said...

Anon. commented:

I was a little surprised to read it, since I have elsewhere seen the argument (on BBB, for example) that Semitic idioms are best rendered non-literally and naturally into the receptor language.

I'm sure I'm one of the BBB bloggers who has contributed to your statement here. My actual position is more nuanced than this, but I can see that I haven't communicated it clearly enough. My test is always whether or not the figurative meaning of an idiom in one language is understood accurately in a translation to another language. I love idioms and love to retain them, *if* their figurative meaning is accurately communicated. Although I often speak about the need for natural language, my position is actually more nuanced than simply calling for natural language everywhere in a translation. As a poet I love figures of speech in any language and appreciate the gift that they bring to how we view the world, situations, feelings, etc.

"Fiery ordeal" is clear enough in English, but it is hardly a natural expression.

I agree with you on both points. I really do not want a translation to remove the Semitic or Hellenic feel of the original text. But I do want users of a translation to understand an English translation of those texts as well as their original hearers did. (And I recognize that this begs a number of questions, which I don't want to address right now.)

Without idioms and other figures of speech, our language, including in translations would be flat, bland.

What I want us to avoid in translation are ungrammatical wordings, such as saying collocating "the rich" with a singular verb, and other word combinations which have nothing to do with figurative language from the source texts, but which are simply out of place in English and often obscure accurate communication of the meaning of the original.

I don't mind a translation sounding a little unnatural, as long as it is not ungrammatical and can accurately communicate original meaning. After all, apart from translation, there is quite a range of acceptable composition in English. Some of the greatest English authors use a lot of poetic license with English forms, newly coined figures of speech (which we are able to interpret based on analogy or other communicative strategies), etc.

R. Mansfield said...


Thanks for the high compliment. My goal in this ongoing NIV vs. TNIV comparisons is to focus on the improvements to the NIV found in the TNIV. By design these posts should be short in nature and to the point. There are literally thousands of these kinds of examples, so there's lots to explore. It's one thing to defend the TNIV from critics, note so-and-so who's adopted it, etc., but in my opinion, only the improvements in the translation are what counts.

As to the "fiery ordeal," frankly I'm surprised that you're surprised I would appreciate it's use in the translation. You refer to arguments made on BBB, but I don't write for BBB, although I'm in general agreement with guidelines for idioms that Wayne describes.

In regard to "fiery ordeal," you are right that it is clear enough in English. Plus, the idiom/metapor of a "trial by fire" seems to be common enough in English--I don't think it's merely used in chuch=talk.

As I've written on my own blog, I'm very much in favor of retaining an idiom if it can be understood. Understanding can also be communicated through use of footnotes. In the fututre I'm going to write about the TNIV's translation of περιπατέω in Paul's writings. Formal equivalent translations generally translate this word "walk," while the NIV generally translated it "live." Realistically, "walk" doesn't work in English is all passages; however I would want to retain it over "live" wherever possible because it connects to the OT metaphor of one's relationship with Yahweh seen as a journey. One of my complaints against the NIV is that the metaphor is totally lost with the rendering "live." The TNIV restores the metaphor in a couple of places. I'll be writing on this in the future.

Mark and Julie said...

How do you make a suggestion for another book to add to the list? I can't find any e-mail address anywhere so I'm just going to post this and see what happens.