Browsed by
Tag: NIV

Galatians 3:2: AKOE PISTEOS

Galatians 3:2: AKOE PISTEOS

Or should I make that AKOH PISTEWS? Note that a similar question can be asked in Galatians 3:5, but I will assume due to theme that one will give the same answer in both places.

Writing an exegetical article on this verse could be quite lengthy, but I agree with J. Louis Martyn in his commentary on Galatians when he says:

. . . Paul is not asking the Galatians which of two human acts served as the generative locus in which they received the Spirit, a decision on their part to keep the Law or a decision on their part to hear with faith. On the contrary, he is asking rhetorically whether that generative locus was

  • their act in becoming observant of the Law or
  • God’s message (akoh).

— page 288 [some punctuation/formatting including Greek rather than transliterated text is mine-HN]

The specific translation of akoh pistewj depends on two factors. First, should the word “hearing” be active or passive, in other words is the thing that generates the reception of the Spirit the act of hearing, or the content of what is heard, the message? The second is how does faith relate to the message. Is it a message that is faith, or is it a message that elicits faith? Martyn (op. cit.) Romans 10:16-17, where the message is much more clearly established as that which elicits faith, and the word akoh is also pretty clearly established as passive in intent.

So how do translations compare on this. Here are some examples, showing the variety on these two points:

  • TNIV – Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard. [This agrees with the NIV, which is surprising considering the accusations of Calvinist bias in the NIV translation.]
  • REB – did you receive the Spirit by keeping the law or by believing the gospel message?
  • NLT – Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ.
  • ESV – Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
  • CEV – How were you given God’s Spirit? Was it by obeying the Law of Moses or by hearing about Christ and having faith in him?
  • TEV – did you receive God’s Spirit by doing what the Law requires or by hearing the gospel and believing it?

I don’t see any translation that gets quite the nuance that I see in this passage, though perhaps I’m being a bit too tense. In this case, I think the NLT actually has the best translation with the CEV and TEV following very close after.

Of course, it’s hard for translations to get everything right. In this case, however, I think that formal equivalent translations, such as the ESV really leave the English reader hanging, because “hearing of faith” cannot possibly elicit the same semantic ranger as akoh pistews, with unfortunate results.

Revision and Translation

Revision and Translation

In my book What’s in a Version? and in my Bible Translation Selection Tool I do not deal much with the question of whether a translation is a revision or not, except when the translation is not taken from the original languages. In this entry, I’m going to look at a couple of revision histories, and discuss what terms like “revision” and “derivative” mean in the context of translation.

Let me deal with “derivative” first. As a literary term, it is of very limited usefulness, simply because a translation is derivative to some extent by nature. The translator is not attempting a composition. Originality is not all that desireable for the most part; occasionally one may need serious originality to come up with a way to accurately convey what is said in the source language. Thus all translations are derivative to some extent. To apply this to a translation revision is a bit misleading, unless that translation is rewritten without reference to the source languages. It might, for example, be accurate of the Living Bible, though not of its successor the New Living Translation.

Before I look at the process of revising a translation let’s look at the historical connections between some modern versions. The KJV has been the root for many English translations, as the following chart will show:

Some genetic links between Bible translations

Note: I make no attempt in this chart to show precise chronology. Note also that any translation owes something to those that have gone before. The NIV, for example, was a new, original translation, but nonetheless it does owe something the the KJV and RSV before it.

Now let’s look at the whole process of revision.

In some ways this issue is similar to the one commonly found in apologetics books. How can one trust the Bible when it has been translated so many times? In response, one might ask what damage is done to the source text when it is translated. The difficulty here is that each new translation can, and most commonly does, go back to the source texts, and thus there is no deterioration due to successive revision; rather, there is likely to be improvement.

What process does a person undertake to produce a new translation? One goes deals with issues of target audience, source texts, translation philosophy, target language style and so forth, and one translates. How does this differ from a revision? In a revision one deals with all of the same questions. There are two differences. The translation philosophy and method is to one extent or another derived from the earlier translation, and second, phrases in the older translation that do not need to be changed are not changed. Variations in how much a revision will change a translation depend on what the translators find as they translate.

In the chart above, for example, when the ASV was produced from the RV, it was largely a matter of employing the American editors preferences in wording and style. This was not a new translation at all; simply the selection of one set of editing results over another. Because of the time gap, there were a few additional points, but these were largely minor. In the case of the Living Bible, the ASV was paraphrased from the English of the ASV to a more modern, colloquial English, and this was done without reference to the original languages. This is the closest thing I see in Bible translation to the normal understanding of a derivative work in terms of literature. The New American Standard Bible, on the other hand, while flowing from the tradition of the ASV, was a new translation starting from the original languages. The only importance that the fact that the NASB is a revision has for the user is that a certain style is maintained. Every word of the text has been reworked using original language texts by the new translators.

The NIV and the NEB each introduced some new elements into Bible translation philosophy at the time. The NIV manages a sort of balance in terms of functional and formal equivalence. If you check my data page on that translation (link above), you will see that it rates quite high in both my formal and functional tests. The NEB leans much more to the functional side of the scale. These are not directly revised from any other version.

Nonetheless translators will consult other versions. I normally make a working translation of my own when I prepare to preach or teach, even if I use one of the major versions when I’m actually in front of people. I will first create a translation of my own, then I revise it, and then I will compare it to several major versions. I recheck differences between these versions and my own work to make sure that I understand why they translated as they did. Sometimes the result is that I again modify my own work. This is also normally a part of the process of translation for anyone who wants to be accurate.

I think that the ESV is particularly clear on this issue in their preface. They have separate headings, “Translation Legacy” and “Translations Philosophy.” Under the first heading, they note that ” . . . each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighted against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek . . .” A little later they note: “The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale-King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV . . .”

In effect, the revisers thoroughly check everything against the original languages, and are willing to change what needs to be changed for accuracy and for current language, in effect giving you the same quality of translation as you get from a brand-new translation. There is no ongoing loss of meaning that results from this process. There would be no necessary improvement were the translation not a revision at all.

Now if a new translation introduces a new translation philosophy or some new efforts in terms of style, then there is a reason to look at a translation that is not a revision. But those are the precise things we look for in a translation in any case. So supposing you are looking for a literal, or formal-equivalent translation. The fact that the NASB and the NRSV are both revsions tracing their history back to the KJV really has no bearing on which you should choose. You would have to look at their philosophy of translation, their style, their translation committee and from there make your decision. And in this case, I chose the NRSV because, though a revision, it has introduced a substantial new twist in translation style–gender neutral (or gender accurate, depending on your viewpoint) language, and it made this innovation while revising another version. Which just goes to show how little the term “revision” will tell you about a particular translation.

One last point I like to emphasize is this: The proper way to test a translation is to check it against the documents from which it was translated. I have seen huge numbers of arguments discussing what might have happened, or what certain terms mean, when simply looking at the translation itself would answer the questions.

(Note: I will get back to talking about inspiration, though I suspect some were hoping I’d find another subject!)

Finding an Authoritative Translation

Finding an Authoritative Translation

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm things eventually boil down to “all the animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

I think I can apply this to Bible translations as well as to animals, especially when one is looking for an authoritative translation. The fact is that no translation perfectly reflects the source languages. Thus, there is no translation that is the final word on the interpretation of any particular passage. The final appeal must be to the texts in the source languages, and to the best research available there.

This situation is very disappointing to many Bible students who don’t know their Biblical languages, which is the vast majority of Bible students. How can they successfully get finality about a point of Biblical interpretation from a translation? Surely there is a translation that is right all the time, that can simply be trusted. But the answer is no. No translation is ever perfect.

But are some translations “more equal” on this point than others? I would say that there are, and that there are some techniques that English speaking and reading Bible students can use in order to avoid getting caught by a translation issue. These techniques are really fairly simple, and the necessary tools are widely available.

  1. Use multiple translations
    If you compare the translation of a text in more than one version, you will be alerted to translation differences. Start with the assumption that if there is a substantial difference in the way a verse is translated, i.e. that the two translations don’t simply express the same thought in different words, then there may be a significant translation issue underlying those different versions.
  2. Make your choice of versions wisely and purposefully
    Choosing multiple versions to compare when looking for translation issues is differnt than choosing a version for your own reading or study use according to your preferences. You want to find versions that are done by credible scholars, but that differ in their approach sufficiently so that they are likely to disagree on controversial issues. I’ll list some good selections for this purpose below. In particular, be aware of the translation philosophy involved. For example, comparing the rendering of the ESV with that of the CEV may give you the idea that there is a significant translation issue, when the problem is really that one is very literal while the other is dynamically expressive. With some extra attention, you will then often find that they are both trying to convey the same message, just in a different way.
  3. Check concordances with original language references
    Many people put a great deal of weight into these kinds of studies in terms of finding or even creating new definitions, but without facility in the language in question it is doubtful that your work will be all that accurate. Such study can alert you to just where the problems are in a translation. This may not give you the final answer, but at least it may keep you from being embarrassed by finding out that you based your interpretation on a faulty translation, or that you were dogmatic about something that is really very controversial.
  4. Use commentaries
    For this purpose you need an exegetical or critical commentary. You might want to look at some suggestions for materials in my reader’s guide to Bible study tools.

Now let’s expand just a bit on which translations are “more equal than others.” If you want to catch translation problems you need to be more careful than usual in your selection. Let me suggest that your select one or more from each of the following groups. Note that the groups do overlap.

You want to avoid hitching your star to older translations, such as the KJV, ERV, ASV, Young’s Literal and so forth. These translations can be good an helpful in reading and study, but they were made without much modern research and many recent discoveries in manuscripts and language, and thus are not nearly as helpful in identifying true translation issues.

Literal Translations

You can generally avoid the older RSV as most translation issues will be reflected in the newer versions. I don’t list the New King James Version simply because its focus was to reflect the text and language of the KJV, and thus it does not present as much new information as other versions.

Dynamic Translations

Catholic Translations

Protestant Translations

Mainstream/Liberal Translations

Evangelical Translations

Jewish Translations

In this category, the one item to consult is the JPS Tanakh: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. I do not have this rated yet on my list of Bible translations, but it should be consulted especially in cases of interfaith dialogue.

As I noted earlier, there is ultimately no way short of learning the source languages to really be able to handle all translation issues. You will find, however, that the majority of the Bible is not that controversial in its translation. Translation issues deal with a small number of texts, though often these are the most contentious. Using multiple translations wisely will help you avoid errors and embarassment.

See also my book, What’s in a Version? and my Bible Translation Selection Tool.