Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Translation Philosophy

As I continue to read articles and books and listen to debates and read my ESV and read my TNIV, etc., this issue doesn't bother me a whole lot. I like a variety of types of translations: formal equivalent OR functional equivalent OR balanced/mediating as Dr. Kenneth Barker would call the NIV/TNIV. I see great strengths in each.

I wonder how much of our background affects our approach. I'm 36 years old. When the full TNIV was released, I was 34 - right at the tail end of their target audience. I've always lived in the Midwest. While I only have a handful of college credits under my belt, I was academically gifted throughout school.

Thus, I've never had much problem reading a KJV, for example. So as I approach this subject, I have no problem reading an ESV and knowing who the intended audience is, genderly speaking. I know when male pronouns are applying to the whole human race. I don't mind a formal equivalent translation.

However, I can't say I'm having a lot of problems with gender-accurate translations such as the TNIV and the NLT so far either. I listen to both sides and see their points. Some points are better than others.

How much of our background and our personality affects our ability to form an objective conclusion on this issue? I'm not saying an objection conclusion isn't attainable. Indeed, I think mine's objective. But why do I come out differently than theological heros of mine such as Grudem or Sproul, et al? They're objective too, aren't they? I can think of two possibilities:
  1. Either they or I have better data to form a more informed conclusion.
  2. Either they or I are allowing subjective things or outside pressures to slant our conclusion.
When it comes to non-formal equivalent translations, people (notice the gender-accurate word people) appear to like them or not like them. People (there I go again) are not indifferent on this issue. Wayne Grudem is one of the more respected and outspoken people against the TNIV. But Wayne Grudem is not too hip on non-formal equivalence.

In commenting on Grudem's book The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Controversy, one person stated in a book review at Amazon.com
Grudem fears that the TNIV will grow in popularity and that his beloved NIV may fade in popularity.
I don't think this person is too familiar with Grudem. Beloved is too strong a word for Grudem in regard to the NIV as far as I can tell. After listing many problems he has with functionally equivalent translated verses, Grudem writes in a co-authored book Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation . . .
When I look at examples like these I know I cannot teach theology or ethics classes using a dynamic equivalence translation . . .Although the NIV is not a thoroughly dynamic equivalence translation, there is so much dynamic equivalence influence in the NIV that I cannot teach theology or ethics from it either. I tried it for one semester several years ago, shortly after the NIV first came out, and I gave it up after a few weeks . . . Nor can I preach from a dynamic equivalence translation . . . Nor can I teach from an adult Bible class at my church using a dynamic equivalence translation without checking the original at every verse . . . Nor can I lead our home fellowship group using a dynamic equivalence translation . . . Nor would I ever want to memorize passages from a dynamic equivalence translation.
Though I bought the book, you can read it yourself for free here so that you can see I did not leave out anything that changes Grudem's meaning as I skipped over portions.

Grudem reads functional equivalent translations as commentaries only (see the link above to the book). His Systematic Theology has memory verses. In the chapters, he uses the RSV for the memory verses (a predecessor to the ESV . . . though his book has been revised since I bought it and my guess is it uses the ESV now), and the NASB & NIV at the end of the book for the memory verses.

His personality and background, it would seem, give him a disposition against functional equivalence. So of course he will not agree with the TNIV. We should hear his arguments. But if his translation philosophy doesn't even give a hearty thumbs up to the NIV, can we expect any better with the gender accurate TNIV?

It seems to me the bottom line might be people who prefer formal equivalent versions are not for the TNIV while people who don't mind non-formal equivalent versions don't have serious problems with the TNIV.

So what causes a person to prefer formal over non-formal and vice versa? Does our age, our extent of education, our geographical location, and our function in life (or ministerial calling) affect our conclusion on this?

I don't think one of those things by itself makes the decision. But a combination might slant us more in one direction than the other. Does growing up in the Midwest give a slight different bent for me than someone growing up in the New England area? What about your function in life? Does one person whose function is being a theology professor at a seminary have a different effect on them than the person reaching out to minister to a postmodern society or to junior and senior high students? Does it make a difference if you were born in 1951, 1971 (me), or 1991?

What causes a person to prefer formal equivalence only? Or am I making a category mistake by asking what what causes the cause? Or is this thought of translational philosophy and its relation to one's conclusion of the TNIV not accurate? Are there people that are pro-functional equivalence that are still anti-TNIV?


Jay Davis said...

At 50 years old I like the TNIV and NLT. When I was younger (1970s) I read the Living Bible and had a copy of the NASB as well. I like accuracy with readability. The gender issue does not bother me. I think an extreme in either direction is sad. I think many people pick a Bible from other people's recommendations. Many times in a Christian bookstore the worker is asked about a Bible and the customer is often pointed toward the NIV even with the TNIV in the store. BTY accuracy (as you know) can mean "word" accuracy or "meaning" accuracy. Zondervan has a great DVD explaining this concept concerning the TNIV.

ElShaddai Edwards said...

Interesting post and good questions raised. I am soon to be 35, grew up in Alaska, now living in Minnesota. I grew up in non-denominational family churches and have bounced around over past 10 years from Lutheran to non-denominational to Evangelical Covenant.

From my perspective, and I will honestly admit this, I have been seduced by "get the best" marketing, especially the "literal is best" message. I grew up on the NASB77 and naturally interpreted the NASB's "most literal" marketing as "the NASB is the best Bible". When I wanted to get a new Bible, the NASB95 was the first translation I turned to and after much research, I found an excellent edition from Foundation. When the ESV came out, it was positioned as "a more readable NASB" - perfect marketing for someone like me and I bought a copy, i.e. a cheap hardback since Crossway's bindings were definitely not reviewed as "the best".

Part of my problem is that my innate personality is to think about lots and lots of questions or options and never make or stick to a decision (I'm an INTP in the Myers-Briggs world). So I will read everything I can about a translation and explore lots of different issues, but then always find something that causes me to move on to the next translation.

So I actually liked the ESV before I read more about how it was mostly just an evangelical revision of the older RSV and then about how its supporters were attacking the new TNIV. That caused me to look into the TNIV; I've actually been moving toward adopting the TNIV full-time as "the best" compromise of literal and dynamic, but after reading through the lengthy comments in the TNIV/monotheism post, I now find myself wondering how important the original Hebrew rhythm and verse structure is (to me) and if the TNIV is "the best" choice for that... or if I should just go back to my NASB77 that I received when I was 13 and clear the rest of my shelf.

Peter Kirk said...

Age 52 now and from good old England, and I still like TNIV!

It has long been clear to me that Grudem was brought up on the RSV and basically wants to use RSV with the worst supposedly liberal distortions removed, which is basically what ESV is. Grudem's theology seems to have been formed by his reading of RSV. He clearly misunderstood "man" in RSV as specifying gender when in fact it was mostly intended to be gender generic, and since then he has tried to justify his mistake by making the novel claim that Greek anthropos is not gender generic. At least, that is my inference from what I have read from him on gender issues.

Joe Myzia said...

Jay brings up a great point about "word" accuracy or "meaning" accuracy. Also, I relate to Elshaddai's "literal is best" background. Having been Textus-Receptus Only for the first 8 years of my walk and thus using only KJV or NKJV during that time, formal equivalence was all I was exposed to.

Being a teacher at churches is what has really caused me to lean more towards the NIV and now the TNIV because the people understand so much better. I'll quote the Living Bible or The Message, but I would never use Bibles that are that free for verse-by-verse teaching. I've found the NIV/TNIV to be a nice middle ground.

When I guest speak at a church for the first time, the message I give is one in which at the beginning I quote 1 Timothy 4 by memory from the NIV. I don't tell them what I'm quoting from. I don't give them a chance to open their Bibles. I just start, "Paul wrote to Timothy . . ." What has been neat is that inevitably, someone comes up and tells me that passage was never so clear to them before.

Beginning in 1995, I read through the NIV every year - OT once and NT twice (Now I use a different version each year). I don't see how I lost anything from that compared to KJV or NKJV. In fact, I'm convinced I gained more. While I understood the KJV/NKJV, I understood all the more once I started using the NIV.

Word accuracy is fine. However, if I only get the full impact by pulling out my commentaries, is it really that good? Sure I pull out commentaries, but how many Christians have shelfs full of commentaries and read them?

So many times I'd read a commentary and they'd say what this means is . . . and then their explanation would be what was in the NIV already. I concluded I'd rather use the NIV because few, if any, will buy the commentaries I have nevertheless read commentaries, but they may happen to read their Bible.

It's sad, but it's the truth about Christians. It's hard enough to get many into the Word itself, never mind trying to get them into commentaries to find the nuggets that aren't readily jumping out of the text.

Joe Myzia said...

One other interesting thing . . . both Peter & Elshaddai mention the ESV being an Evangelical revision of the RSV.

I've been listening to Ray Stedman's Adventuring Through the Bible. Stedman uses the RSV. I noticed while reading along in my ESV how closely it followed.

I looked up ESV at Wikipedia where it states that the ESV made changes to 5-10% of the RSV.

So I've been conducting an experiment. I have the ESV in audio form read by Max McLean. What I've been doing is listening to Max while reading the RSV. They are extremely similar.

ElShaddai Edwards said...

One other interesting thing . . . both Peter & Elshaddai mention the ESV being an Evangelical revision of the RSV.

Peter's characterization of the ESV as the "RSV with the worst supposedly liberal distortions removed" is my understanding as well. Ironically, that made the ESV intolerable to my Bible teacher, who used the RSV exclusively because of its "liberal distortions" in the Old Testament.

MissionalGirl said...

At 34, I'm a formal equivalent chick who loves the TNIV enough to use it as my primary text for exegetical study and expository teaching/preaching. Why? I realized after dealing with a number of unchurched people that translations like the TNIV sound closer to the way people actually speak (so they tell me). I could impose my NASBism on them but that wastes precious time and energy when I'm trying to minister to people.

I've come to appreciate a translation philosophy somewhere in between formal and dynamic. What's the point of having all the words in literal, grammatical order if the sentence still makes no sense to the hearer?

Gary Zimmerli said...

What's the point of having all the words in literal, grammatical order if the sentence still makes no sense to the hearer?

That was the driving force between my own acceptance of the more functional translations. When I want to look at what the words all actually mean, I'll fall back on my NASB and commentaries, and other Bible study tools. But if I simply want people to understand what the Bible says, then the TNIV is among the best. It's been a ministry-driven decision.

Apprentice2Jesus said...

I drift between the ESV and the TNIV. When Zondervan finally gets off square one and makes a decent REGULAR TNIV Bible, I will be all TNIV all the time probably.

I LOVE the RSV and the NASB because I know enough Greek to make me dangerous, so "literal" translations are more "soothing" to me as I study. The ESV is a decent, not perfect, compromise on that front.

I LOVE the TNIV because the small percentage of changes they made from the NIV are VAST improvements to me. It reads a bit more formally than the NIV, which really attracts me.

So, for now, I use the ESV for study, using the journaling Bible (with a magnifying glass...just kidding) so I can have wide margins for notes. I will preach from the TNIV because it reads better in public.

We read Scripture publicly every Sunday, so I did a bit of an experiment for a few weeks each. For a few weeks I printed the text in TNIV to see how the reader would handle it. Then, I printed the text in ESV to see how each reader would handle it. The TNIV went much smoother for public reading. The ESV would cause each reader to pause from time to time, kind of wondering if they were reading the text right...

At any rate, that is my current dilemma and imperfect solution.

anonymous said...

Are there people that are pro-functional equivalence that are still anti-TNIV?

Absolutely. There are many people who prefer the NIV to the TNIV -- and Zondervan seems to cater to this audience.

Peter Kirk said...

Anyone who is really pro-functional equivalence (or dynamic equivalence, I take these terms as synonymous) will be supporting not TNIV but a real functional equivalence translation like NLT or CEV. TNIV is not a functional equivalence translation, but a basically formal equivalence translation which has been modified in a limited number of places (fewer than NIV in fact) with functional equivalence type renderings where a formal equivalence rendering is too difficult.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Absolutely. There are many people who prefer the NIV to the TNIV -- and Zondervan seems to cater to this audience.

I hope I am addressing some of these issues on the BBB. Besides the shift in gender language the TNIV has gone back to a literal rendering for the verses relating to women.

a2j, your comparison study sounds great - that's an excellent way to test translation readability.

Jeremy Pierce said...

I've thought all along that it's inconsistent with functional equivalence to use gender-neutral 'man' or gender-neutral 'he', and thus the gender-inclusive translations are just being consistent with functional equivalence. If you already favor functional equivalence, it's a no-brainer to translate the functional equivalent in English, which is gender-inclusive.

However, it's inconsistent with formal equivalence to do that. That's why people who prefer formal equivalence tend to dislike the gender changes in these translations. But they generally dislike the main distinctives of those translations anyway.

So what happens when a beloved middle-ground translation goes gender-inclusive? Those who lean more formal-equivalent despise it, and those who lean more functional-equivalent love it. Again, a no-brainer. This is what you should expect.

What strikes me as disingenuous is when they indicate some philosophical reason for their view, as if the TNIV is promoting a feminist agenda or as if the ESV is promoting an agenda to "keep women in their place". Neither is true, but I'm getting sick of people on both sides pretending that that's the explanation. The real explanation is very straight-forward and is simply a result of trtanslation preferences on issues that have nothing to do with gender.

Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy, you reject the implicit claim that if the ESV is promoting an agenda to "keep women in their place". And this would probably be an unfair claim if levelled at the ESV translation team as a whole. However, it is clear that several prominent members of the ESV translation committee are also prominent in CBMW, whose aim is to promote teaching that women have a particular place and that they should be put there, or at least encouraged to go there, and in authoring books promoting this teaching. They have also mixed this interest of theirs with their work on ESV by promoting ESV as reflecting their teaching on the place of women and rival translations as conflicting with this teaching. The evidence for this is incontrovertible.

Jeremy Pierce said...

If people were careful enough to limit such criticisms just to those people and not to associate them with the ESV itself, the ESV translators, or the ESV publishers, then I would stop making this complaint.

I don't have time to read all the egalitarian literature anymore, but I'd be very surprised not to find the same sort of thing there. This isn't a problem specific to anyone's complementarian agenda. It's a general sort of problem that a few people who happen to be complementarian and who happen to oppose functional-equivalence translations are saying in this particular case.