Saturday, May 26, 2007

Doctrine and the TNIV: monotheism

This is the first in a series of posts I plan to write to evaluate whether or not the TNIV accurately translates passages in the Bible which teach doctrines considered important by many faith communities.

The belief that there is only one God is central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Monotheism is emphasized in the Shema of the Hebrew Bible. The Shema has been memorized and recited by Jews for millennia. Jesus summarizes the Shema in the two greatest commandments that he speaks of, as recorded in the New Testament (Mark 12:29-31).

The full liturgical recitation of the Shema includes three passages:
  1. the Shema proper: (Deut. 6:4-9)
  2. Vehayah (Deut. 11:13-21)
  3. Vaiyomer (Numbers 15:37-41)
In this post we will only evaluate the TNIV in its translation of the core prayer of the Shema, Deut. 6:4-9:
4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Here is the NIV wording from which the TNIV was revised:
4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6.These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The TNIV and NIV wordings are nearly identical. Did you spot the revision? TNIV verse 6 ends with "on your hearts" while NIV ends with "upon your hearts". I sense no meaning difference between "on" and "upon" in this context. If you considered the NIV rendering of the Shema accurate, the TNIV wording is as well.

Both versions footnote verse 4 whose Hebrew can be accurately translated in more than one way. The TNV footnote reads:
Or The LORD our God is one LORD; or The LORD is our God, the LORD is one; or The LORD is our God, the LORD alone
The NIV footnote is identical to that of the TNIV.

The TNIV translation of the Shema compares favorably with that of the Jewish scholars who translated the Tanakh, the most recent (1985) revision of the Hebrew Bible produced by the Jewish Publication Society:
4. Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. 7. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. 8. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; 9. inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Verse 4 differs slightly, reflecting the various ways its Hebrew can be translated. Like the NIV and TNIV, the Tanakh footnotes this verse to give an alternate translation:
Others "The LORD our God, the LORD is one."
The wording in this footnote is identical to the translation in the text of the TNIV.

The NASB has often been promoted as the most accurate English Bible translation. Note how close its wording is to that of the TNIV:
4. Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The only major difference I can see between the NASB wording and that of the TNIV is that in verse 7 the NASB has "sons" being taught rather than "children." The Hebrew root here is ben which in the plural can refer to either male children or both male and female children, depending on the context. The context of this verse does not tell tell us whether all children or only sons were to be taught. So either "sons" or "children" can be considered accurate translation. The majority of English Bible versions I have checked translate those being taught in Deut. 6:7 as "children", including Coverdale, Bishop's, Geneva, KJV, ERV, ASV, RSV, Smith-Goodspeed, Beck, REB, NAB, NJB, JPS, NJPS, NIV, TNIV, NKJV, NRSV, WEB, ESV, New Life Version, TEV (GNT), CEV, NLT, GW, NCV, NET, Christian Community Bible, The Message, HCSB, ISV. Versions I have found which have "sons" are Wycliffe (1395), NASB, NWT, Alter, Darby, Young's Literal, Farrar.

In the past few years the ESV has been promoted by some as a more accurate translation than the TNIV, especially with regard to gendered language in the biblical texts. Some of the most vocal critics of the TNIV served on the ESV translation committee. Here is how the ESV translates the Shema:
4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The ESV wording is essentially identical to that of the TNIV. There are minor word differences but none that reflects any meaning difference. Note that the ESV, which is promoted by its advocates as more accurate than the TNIV with regard to gendered language, translates those who are taught in verse 7 as "children," the same gender-inclusive word as in the TNIV and most other English versions, not gender-exclusive "sons."

I conclude that the TNIV is an accurate translation of one of the most important passages of the Bible, the Shema, which emphasizes monotheism, total devotion to God, and the need to teach the commandments of God to our children.

Shabat shalom.

34 comments:

Mike said...

Thanks Wayne, that was a good, informative post. I've been enjoying my TNIV.

anonymous said...

Well the TNIV's translation is problematic. First, verses 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 all begin with an "and" in the Hebrew -- connecting the verse together as a single unit. That is missing from the translations you cite.

Where did "hearts" come from? It is not what the Hebrew says -- it is singular -- and indeed, the same word is translated in the singular in the preceding verse. This switch from the individual to the general completely changes the nature of the passage, which is a catechism to the individual.

The translation "with all your soul" for nefesh is misleading since it suggests a body-soul split alien to Pentateuchal thinking. Better is "with all your being."

"Impress" is not all bad, but the verb, following Jeff Tigay, is a variant of "shanah" "to repeat." The other meaning -- of "sharp" would give the meaning "incise." Still the notion of repetition should be here.

I hardly need mention that the wording is sons, not children.

The rhythm is wrong with "get up" -- ending the two merisms -- better is the traditional rendering of "rise up."

It is not "symbols" -- it is singular and "sign" -- the idea being that these words form an explicit sign of God.

The free paraphrase of "forehead" for "between the eyes" is unexpected and unnecessary.

And finally, it is not "houses" but "house."

Perhaps the translation of "children" for "sons" is justified by the TNIV's translation philosophy, but its other substitutions (such as changing the singular to plural) completely misrepresent the original while adding no clarity to the text. The result is a "feel good" version of what is viewed as a central passage without the force or even rhythm of the original. It is no longer seen as a commandment to the individual but as a group order to greater Israel. Now there is an aspect to this -- to write them "on your gates" means "gates of the city" since houses in the Ancient Near East did not have gates it distorts the meaning -- for no purpose at all.

In this regard, the NIV and ESV are much closer to the Hebrew. Even more disturbing is that the post does not consider this to be a "major difference" and that they are "essentially identical" although the TNIV has moved away from concordance with the Hebrew -- substantially changing the meaning -- without gaining additional clarity or readability -- just to be different.

I often see the claim made that the TNIV is closer to the original languages than the NIV, but here is a case where it moved further away.

Wayne Leman said...

I often see the claim made that the TNIV is closer to the original languages than the NIV, but here is a case where it moved further away.

The only difference I can see between the NIV and TNIV wordings is the revision of "upon" to "on." Otherwise, everything else about "hearts", "gates," etc. is identical between the two versions, as far as I can see. I simply copied and pasted from the two versions, so I don't even have the excuse of typos this time!

:-)

anonymous said...

Touche -- I was reading from the NJPS version.

However, I do think the unnecessary plurals are an accuracy problem for both the NIV and TNIV.

However, as you point out, I must retract my argument that the TNIV is less accurate than the NIV here.

Wayne Leman said...

The translation "with all your soul" for nefesh is misleading since it suggests a body-soul split alien to Pentateuchal thinking. Better is "with all your being."

I agree. I like Alter's translation here. A wording with "soul" was one that I posted recently as one of several wordings in English Bibles that I do not understand.

Wayne Leman said...

However, I do think the unnecessary plurals are an accuracy problem for both the NIV and TNIV.

After your comment, I looked at them both in light of the Hebrew and agreed with you. I had never realized before that the Shema was addressed to a singular person. I don't know if that was a rhetorical device once plurality was established in the first sentence, or if the grammatical singularity was intended to be truly singular. My starting assumption, like yours, would be to take what is in the text at face value unless there is evidence to the contrary.

However, as you point out, I must retract my argument that the TNIV is less accurate than the NIV here.

No problem, we're all in this search together.

:-)

Joe Myzia said...

If having "and" at the beginning of all the verses except for verse 4 is problematic, then all modern versions suffer this. I found "and" in every verse of the following translations: Darby, ASV, KJV, RSV & YLT.

Interestingly, the NLTse had it there for a couple of verses.

I don't see how that will impact our interpretation and application of the passage. I can't help but wonder if part of the reasoning is that in the translations I mentioned a verse will end with a period thus the next sentence begins with the word "and". When I was growing up, that was unacceptable. And when I was growing up was when the NASB was growing in fame and the NIV came into existence.

Since the NASB and ESV are known for being two of the more formal versions today, the NASB never begins a verse with "and" and the ESV only does so in verse 6.

Beats me what you do with this info. However, it's stuff I looked at.

Joe Myzia said...

I forgot to mention one other. The Septuagint has "and" (καὶ) at the beginning of all the verses, including verse 4.

Joe Myzia said...

All this aside, back to the post's theme. While I haven't read the whole TNIV, I haven't found, nor am I expecting to find, anything but monotheism. I'd be disappointed otherwise and since this website is TNIV Truth, we'd reveal that truth. Surely if this was a problem, Grudem & Poythress would have pointed this out along with Bock, Carson, Blomberg, Wallace and many others.

anonymous said...

You are looking at the NASB95, which dropped much of the formal equivalence that made the NASB77 famous. Try looking at the NASB77 -- you'll find those "Ands."

The difference between the NASB77 and NASB95 is perhaps as great or greater than the difference between the NIV and TNIV. And I suspect you grew up with the former, not the latter.

You have carefully avoided looking at the major Jewish translations -- they include the ands. Try looking at Fox's or Alter's translation. Certainly, when Jews recite the prayer twice daily, in Hebrew, they do not omit the "vav"s. Judaism has a different notion of monotheism than Christianity -- which was the topic of many debates since the medieval period.

The use of an initial "And" makes a difference in both in some exegesis (look at Rashi) and certainly in the rhythm. In other words, the omission may not make a difference to you, but it makes a difference in meaning and rhythm to others.

R. Mansfield said...

Anony said, Well the TNIV's translation is problematic. First, verses 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 all begin with an "and" in the Hebrew -- connecting the verse together as a single unit. That is missing from the translations you cite.

This is a stylistic choice made by just about every modern translation aimed at widespread usage. The same thing takes place in many NT writings, especially the Gospels where the writers will use kai repeatedly, which reveals that although they are writing in Greek, they are thinking in Hebrew.

I don't think I mentioned in in my review of the MLB the other day, but Verkuyl was one of the first translators to begin to remove extraneous (from our viewpoint) kai/and in the New Berkeley Version. In writing about his desire to make his translation less like the KJV than the RSV, he says,

"As an example of the latter, turn to Matthew 9 and you will count the use of “and” six times in four verses. These conjunctions were needed in the original language because it had no punctuation marks. They are mostly superfluous in modern English but the RSV retains five of them."

I have an NASB handy here, too, and it's mentioned in the Forward:

"...frequently 'And' is not translated at the beginning of sentences because of differences in style between ancient and modern writing. Punctuation is a relatively modern invention, and ancient writers often linked most of their sentences with 'and' or other connectives."

This, of course, was a difference between the 1971 and 1995 editions of the NASB just as there is a difference between the RSV II of 1971 and the 1989 NRSV.

When read aloud, any of these older translations that retain the "and" come across like an 11 year old boy on a sugar high trying to relate the afternoon's events while at play.

This is again an example where literal does not equal more accurate. While it certainly may be more literal to translate the vav's and kai's, they become superfluous in the English. In our language thoughts are held together not by putting a conjunction at the beginning of every sentence but by using paragraph marks.

anonymous said...

The "ands" create a strong sense of rhythm that make the Hebrew distinctive. If one is interested in the literary features of the language, the "Ands" are the single most dominant aspect.

R. Mansfield said...

Anony said, The "ands" create a strong sense of rhythm that make the Hebrew distinctive. If one is interested in the literary features of the language, the "Ands" are the single most dominant aspect.

Absolutely. But in contemporary English, it's difficult to always retain that rhythm and produce translations that use natural (from our perspective) language. Of all modern translations, produced in the last generation, with appeal to widespread usage, the REB perhaps does this best. Yet, who uses the REB these days?

Alter's & Fox's translations are absolutely wonderful works that attempt to retain in English the literay qualities of the Hebrew. Yet, you don't see them used widely. I wish it weren't always such an eithor/or, but it is.

Regardless, this is the benefit of having multiple translations for comparison, and all the more reason to follow Augustine's admonition to study the Bible in parallel translations.

But to say that the TNIV is less accurate because it leaves these "and's" out is sheer nonsense and does not pay attention to the fact that (1) this was was a purposeful stylistic decision for sake of translation into contemporary English, (2) Every other modern mainstream translation does the same thing for the same reasons, and (3) that the vav's are represented by the setting off of vv. 4-9 into one single paragraph.

anonymous said...

Had I only argued on the basis of the "ands", I would agree with you. But, as I demonstrated in my lengthy comment above, the TNIV deviates in many ways from the Hebrew, including changing singular senses to plural for no reason at all -- thus changing the underlying theology -- rather than be commandments binding on the individual, they become commandments binding on the community.

----------

It is quite easy to illustrate the inferiority and sloppiness of the TNIV's treatment of elegant Hebrew.

Consider for example 1 Kings 22:27

KJV: Put this fellow in prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace.

The expressive Hebrew phrases here are lechem lachats and mayyim lachats. Lachats is a noun derived from a verb meaning "to squeeze, press, oppress", so that "bread of oppression" and "water of oppression" are, as we might expect, literal renderings. Any reader will grasp that the phrases mean a prison diet of bread and water, but it is the ponderousness of expression which makes the king's sentence so forbidding. All the effect disappears, though, when the TNIV spells out the meaning:

TNIV: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.

What is lost in the modern translation is the Hebrew way of thought, and without this there can be no successful translation.

Another example is the opening of Ezekiel 33 in the TNIV:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’

This only covers six verses, but there are numerous important deviations from the original Hebrew, so that what in the Authorized Version is a power prophetic warning becomes, here, something more like a handout from the Department of Homeland Security. These are some of them:

"people" of verse 2 is literally rendered in the KJV as "children of they people." The TNIV is doubtless correct in its assumption of what the Hebrew idioms mean, but we have lost the the mentality behind the Hebrew where "child" embodies both kinship and dependence.

Once again, we see the strange shift to the plural in this passage -- while the Hebrew has, in the KJV:

He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.

The TNIV has to make this plural, strangely taking away one's individual responsibility.

Consider Psalm 44:26 (Hebrew numbering)

KJV: For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth.
TNIV: We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.

Having decided to ignore the Hebrew word nephesh in the first half of the verse, the TNIV entirely loses the grand poetic contrast of a soul bowed down and a belly cleaving, i.e., a soul forced to act against its will and a belly all too ready to embrace the earth.

For these reasons, I must conclude that the TNIV translators barely paid attention to the Hebrew and certainly had no respect for its inherent beauty.

-------------

Regarding the NASB77 and NASB95 -- the failure of the publisher to give this largely new translation a new name has successfully confused people between a translation that did attempt close literalism and one that moves considerably towards paraphrase in expression.

R. Mansfield said...

Regarding the issue of "soul" for ‏נפשׁ, I agree with you that soul is the best translation, but it's fairly common in other translations and modern understandings. In reality, the non-use of soul will take some "de-education" in our churches over the next generation or two.

In the meantime, the Message reflects the meaning well: "Love GOD, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!"

Changing v. 9 to plurals is interesting. I suppose that this is done due to the context of Moses speaking before the assembly. I note that the REB changes these to plurals as well.

anonymous said...

Alter's & Fox's translations are absolutely wonderful works that attempt to retain in English the literay qualities of the Hebrew. Yet, you don't see them used widely.

I don't understand this argument at all. If we are ranking the value of translations by the degree to which they are used, why publish this blog at all? By that criterion, the TNIV is a total failure and the NIV reigns supreme. And by the same criterion, arguably, all Bible versions must submit to the KJV, which over time, has sold more copies than any other.

It seems to me that implicit in the existence of this blog is the suggestion that we should judge translations by their inherent value, and not by their sales figures.

R. Mansfield said...

In my last comment, I meant to say that soul is NOT the best translation.

Now, I'm not even going to go down the road of comparing the TNIV to the KJV with you. I mean if you really want me to start pointing out problems with the KJV text--especially for use in general modern contexts---well, where would I even begin?

"I don't understand this argument at all. If we are ranking the value of translations by the degree to which they are used, why publish this blog at all? By that criterion, the TNIV is a total failure and the NIV reigns supreme. And by the same criterion, arguably, all Bible versions must submit to the KJV, which over time, has sold more copies than any other."

You misunderstand my point entirely. I've been studying the differences between translations for well over two decades. One mistake people make in evaluating translations is failing to take into account the purpose of translations, including their intended audience and goals. That's why I can appreciate a variety of versions, including paraphrases, including the KJV, including the TNIV, including Alter, including the REB, including the NLT, etc.

The fact that the vav's are included in Alter's translation and not in the TNIV means nothing to me, and doesn't say one thing for one translation over another. These translations are very different with different goals and different intended audiences. It can be fun to compare them, but at some point, the comparison becomes an apples to oranges comparison.

It seems to me that implicit in the existence of this blog is the suggestion that we should judge translations by their inherent value, and not by their sales figures.

I agree and have never said anything to the contrary.

All this is extremely off topic in regard to Wayne's original post, by the way. His post aimed "to evaluate whether or not the TNIV accurately translates passages in the Bible which teach doctrines considered important by many faith communities" and in particular, "Monotheism [as] emphasized in the Shema of the Hebrew Bible.

Good post, Wayne. I think you demonstrated that quite well.

anonymous said...

The fact that the vav's are included in Alter's translation and not in the TNIV means nothing to me

You are certainly entitled to your opinion. However, since many writers perform exegesis on those "ands" and others consider them unimportant, I think you are imposing your values on others.

Since you make comments such as Yet, who uses the REB these days? and Yet, you don't see them used widely.

(By the way, I suspect you are wrong on the last point. I suspect that sales of Alter & Fox divided by the number or Jews in the US is greater than sales fo the TNIV divided by the number of Evangelicals in the US.)

I don't mean to advocate use of the KJV, but merely use it to point out what is a consistent feature of the TNIV: A poor treatment of the Hebrew. The TNIV translators seem free to discard the original meaning of the Hebrew and pay no attention to the stylistic features at all. This makes it an exceptionally unreliable Bible for the Hebrew Scriptures.

Arguably, with the informal and agrammatical structures of New Testament Koine Greek, a translation such as the TNIV is justified. Still, one cannot but help notice that considerable care has been exercised by the TNIV translators on these portions. In contrast, the Hebrew Scriptures are distorted in the worst possible ways.

I can demonstrate this in many, many ways, but here is just one: consider the fraction of changes made to the New Testament passages from the NIV to the TNIV to those made to Old Testament passages. New Testament revisions were much more common -- the Old Testament remains largely unchanged.

If you notice, in contrast the NRSV carefully explains that it attempts to match the Hebrew style:

Another aspect of style will be detected by readers who compare the more stately English rendering of the Old Testament with the less formal rendering adopted for the New Testament. For example, the traditional distinction between shall and will in English has been retained in the Old Testament as appropriate in rendering a document that embodies what may be termed the classic form of Hebrew, while in the New Testament the abandonment of such distinctions in the usage of the future tense in English reflects the more colloquial nature of the koine Greek used by most New Testament authors except when they are quoting the Old Testament.

This is to my mind one of two serious scandals associated with the TNIV translations -- its second-class treatment of the Hebrew Scriptures. (And these verses are prefect illustrations of this.)

R. Mansfield said...

I said:"The fact that the vav's are included in Alter's translation and not in the TNIV means nothing to me

Anony responded: "You are certainly entitled to your opinion. However, since many writers perform exegesis on those "ands" and others consider them unimportant, I think you are imposing your values on others.

I never said the vav's weren't important or even significant. My only point is that stylistic purposes in contemporary English, the TNIV translators--like EVERY OTHER mainstream translation committee--has chosen to remove them.

And how am I "imposing my values on others" when I clearly used the words "to me"? Look, the person who is going to do any serious kind of work that involves study of the use of these vav's is generally going to use the Hebrew Bible and not a translation anyway.

My only point here is that you can't say one translation is better than another based on whether or not they are translated. My question would be "better for what?" I think that's common sense. If that's imposing my opinion on others, so be it.

Anony said, "In contrast, the Hebrew Scriptures are distorted [in the TNIV] in the worst possible ways."

WORST POSSIBLE ways? Or you going for hyperbole here or just gross exaggeration?

I will agree that in general Evangelical translation committees have often favored the NT over the OT in terms of translation quality. My recent view of the MLB bares this out in that the OT was far more inferior to the NT.

Yet there have been some recent efforts lately to begin making up for this. I would point to the NLTse as a prime example of improvements over its predecessor, the NLT1. I personaly know the OT editor for the NLT--Dan Block--and I can tell you that he's very concerned about this kind of thing, and he's also a top-notch OT scholar and translator.

And I would also point to the TNIV OT as superior to the NIV OT. Do problems still remain? Certainly. But each revision brings us a better product.

Oh, and did I already say, "Hey Wayne--great post on monotheism in the TNIV"? Too bad we couldn't have discussed that.

anonymous said...

Well, in fact, I don't think the passage reflects monotheism accurately as it is taught in the Hebrew.

The First of the Ten Commandments, according the Jewish counting, is "I am the Lord thy God." This is an individual responsibility, not a corporate responsibility. We can contrast this with corporate commandments such as the Seventh Noachide Commandment: to establish Courts and Government.

By translating the First Commandment from an individual responsibility to a corporate responsibility, one radically changes the nature of monotheism. We only collectively need to acknowledge One, not individually.

Now in counter-argument, you may claim that individual responsibility may be derivable from corporate responsibility (Joe Myzia has said this elsewhere on this blog -- "I can't tell the difference.") But for those who read carefully and reason carefully there is a distinction.

However, according to Wayne this is one of the most important portions of the Old Testament. Why didn't the TNIV translators spend a bit of time on it (rather than just going into their word processor and changing all the "upon"s to "on"s.)

R. Mansfield said...

Well, I think it's a bit of a stretch. I'll admit that I'd like to see reasoning behind changing some of the singulars to plurals. Often there's some influential article or something that preceded this kind of change. But I have no idea what it is. I did note that the REB also changes to plural in v. 9, so there's reason for this out there somewhere. But I don't know.

Nevertheless, I don't agree with you that any emphasis on monotheism is lessened. There's validity to the counter-argument that you anticipated. This still has to be applied individually.

But there's still a question to be asked here. Perhaps since Wayne has contact with the translators, he could ask them about this for us.

R. Mansfield said...

By the way, Anony, I happened to notice, after looking it up, that the JPS removes all references to vav's in Deut 6:4-9 as well. So even the standard Jewish translation is in agreement with the TNIV in that regard.

anonymous said...

Well, Thomas Aquinas claims that the issue of corporate commandment versus individual commandment was of importance, and who am I to argue with the Great Doctor Angelicus?

You are correct that the NJPS has removed the vav's -- which lead to the NJPS being rejected by many in the scholarly and Orthodox Jewish community (an in contrast, being celebrated by Robert Brachter). For a typical Jewish response, you can see Prof. Marc Brettler's page. There is a recent book by Prof. Naomi Seidman on this point -- and the very different philosophies of translation between Jews and Christians.

Now, it is true that distinction is somewhat subtle -- perhaps beyond the abilities of the intended audience of the TNIV -- and it is true that nowhere does the TNIV teach polytheism (in the Old Testament at least.) However, they could have gotten this point better with no cost to them. And we are both in agreement that the TNIV OT is of lower quality than its NT. And most translations get this right.

Wayne is correct that this passage is important -- it is written on the Mezuzos outside Jewish households and inside the Phylaceteries worn by Jewish men at morning weekday prayer. Both of these are written on animal parchment in the same fashion as a Torah Scroll.

You mention above the NLT2's translation as being more faithful. I cannot comment on this since I have only read portions of the NLT2. However, I would not at all be surprised to discover the NLT2 translators were more careful than the TNIV translators.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Isaiah 52:7
how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news”;

Romans 10:15
“the feet of those who proclaim the good news.”

Psalm 36:1
“There is no fear of God before his eyes,”

Romans 3:18
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Psalm 32:1,
“Blessed is he whose lawless deeds are forgiven, whose sins are covered,”

Romans 4:7
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”

2 Samuel 7:14
“I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me.”

2 Corinthians 6:18
“I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.”

I guess Gamaliel didn't drum all this individual vs corporate stuff into Paul very well.

anonymous said...

I guess Gamaliel didn't drum all this individual vs corporate stuff into Paul very well.

Indeed, this is one of Hyam Maccoby's arguments in his highly controversial The Mythmaker.

Peter Kirk said...

Anonymous, didn't you learn at school that a sentence in English should never begin with "And", just as you (or was it another Anonymous?) learned not to use singular "they"? So why do you, who are normally such a devotee of prescriptive grammar, advocate breaching the former rule for the sake of more accurate translation, while arguing so strongly elsewhere against breaking the latter rule even when required for accuracy?

anonymous said...

Anonymous, didn't you learn at school that a sentence in English should never begin with "And"?

No.

Peter Kirk said...

Anon, I'm surprised. Really. I certainly was, although it is not a rule I follow these days. I found the following here:

In informal English, coordinate conjunctions are sometimes used to show the relationship between the ideas expressed in separate sentences. For example:
The wind was strong. And I felt very cold.
However, this use of coordinate conjunctions is considered to be grammatically incorrect in formal English.


And the following here:

In the past, schools were rigid in their ruling that sentences could not start with conjunctions, such as "And" or "But". However, nowadays, this practice is considered acceptable.

But the grammarian Burchfield wrote:

There is a persistent belief that it is improper to begin a sentence with And, but this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times onwards. An initial And is a useful aid to writers as the narrative continues.

So I don't feel bad about starting sentences with "And". But I remain surprised that this is not something you were taught not to do, as I was.

The question remains, should we put in our Bible translations sentences which are "considered to be grammatically incorrect in formal English" in order to maintain formal correspondence with the Hebrew or Greek text? If you think we should do so with sentence initial "And", your main grounds of objection to singular "they" disappears.

anonymous said...

As a small child, I knew that the initial "And" was acceptable in English because it was so commonly used in the KJV and for great effect. This is why we must strive for excellence in Bibles -- they are pedagogical tools. My fear is that if a child read the TNIV, she would lose her ability to make careful distinctions in English.

R. Mansfield said...

It's a standard rule of formal English not to begin with a conjunction; although, I confess that I do it all the time.

But what are you going to do Anony, teach your child the King's English?

“But hast done evil above all that were before thee: for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and hast cast me behind thy back: Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone. Him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat: for the LORD hath spoken it. Arise thou therefore, get thee to thine own house: and when thy feet enter into the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him, and bury him: for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found some good thing toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam. Moreover the LORD shall raise him up a king over Israel, who shall cut off the house of Jeroboam that day: but what? even now. For the LORD shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and he shall root up Israel out of this good land, which he gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the LORD to anger.” (1 Kgs 14:9-15 KJV)

The poor child!

anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymous said...

Shakespeare came from a poor family and had only a grammar school education -- and yet he became the preeminent English writer. How did he do it? He read the Geneva Bible as a child.

Churchill had poor grades and never attended college and yet became the greatest speech maker of the 20th Century and went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. How did he do it? He read the KJV and Gibbon as a child.

Perhaps children should read Bibles that are written in more elevated English than the Harry Potter novels (although, I must say, J. K. Rowling uses considerably better English grammar than the TNIV translators.)

R. Mansfield said...

Use of the KJV may create a vocabulary in the child that would make her sound like a member of the Amish community.

If you're really going to use the Bible to teach good English, I would recommend the REB :-)

anonymous said...

In fact, the REB is a fine translation in many ways. It is well written, as you state -- much better written as English than perhaps any other contemporary translation (although perhaps an argument could also be made for the New Jerusalem Bible.) The REB is also relatively free of theological bias -- it is not a particularly Christianizing translation and had both Protestants and Catholics on its translation committee. The REB includes a basic Deuterocanon, which is an important feature to me in a serious Bible.

The predecessor of the REB was the New English Bible, and I regularly consult the NEB. The NEB was a more interesting translation, and often chose unusual readings for verses (although it had support for those readings it chose.) The REB, however, uses more conventional readings.

The REB was also written for reading out loud.

So with all of these things going for the REB, why don't I beat the drum more for it? The principle reason is that the REB (and also the NJB) often use paraphrase in their renderings -- they are not particularly faithful to the literary qualities of the Hebrew.

I think the arguments against the KJV are basically three-fold: (a) it uses archaic language; (b) it is a Protestant translation, and reflects that bias in its translation; and (c) it had inferior source texts and weak knowledge of Hebrew. Point (a) bothers me not at all: indeed, when I was in high school, we read Shakespeare, Milton, Marlowe, in the original, -- indeed, we even read Middle English works such as Chaucer -- and I trust that all educated people have the ability to read the full range of English literature without excessive difficulty. Point (b) is problematic in using the KJV as a critical Bible. Point (c) is very problematic.

Still viewed as a work of English literature, the KJV is the standard translation. And it showed the ability to write Hebraized-English and still preserve literary English qualities. In English, the only translations in recent times that have seriously attempted this are those of Fox and Alter (which are both limited to the Pentateuch and the Books of Samuel.) While Alter plans to release an English Psalter soon, both of them are fairly senior and I do not know how much more of the Bible they will be able to translate.

So the sad fact of the matter is that today, despite the flood of translations, we lack a modern literary translation of the entire Hebrew Scripture. Arguably, the most critical translation we have today is the NRSV (and for those who prefer a Christianized Hebrew Scripture, the NASB), but neither the NRSV nor the NASB make a serious attempt to preserve the literary qualities of the Hebrew.

The situation is rather better with the Christian Scriptures -- first because the Christian Scriptures demonstrate less word-by-word literary qualities (indeed, some have controversially argued that at least the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, because there are puns and literary effects there that can be found in Hebrew versions of the Gospel of Matthew which are missing in the Greek) and second, Koine is not a dialect given to elevated writing. Third, and most important, the Christian Scriptures are more important to most Christians than the Hebrew Bible, so they receive much more attention in their translation.

(For example, as we've all agreed in this thread, the TNIV is better as a translation of the Greek than it is as a translation of the Hebrew. In fact, over recent months, I've reversed my previous position and believe that the TNIV is an adequate translation of the New Testament. However, I cannot imagine recommending it for its Hebrew Scripture, and I have yet to see any serious argument made for its translation of the Hebrew. Finally, the fact that it lacks a Deuterocanon means that the TNIV will instantly be rejected by a large fraction of English speaking Christians.)

Still I remain optimistic. I believe the success of Fox and Alter may inspire a careful translation of the full Hebrew Bible in our lifetimes. Certainly, that will become the standard translation of our age.