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Italics in The Voice – The Story of Bathseba

Italics in The Voice – The Story of Bathseba

Last week I mentioned that while I found the italics in The Voice more logical than I usually do in the formal equivalent translations that use the device (e.g. KJV, NKJV, NASB), I still found them annoying in the text. One goal of a dynamic equivalence translation is generally readability, and for me the italics tend to detract from that.

Then there’s logic. Here are some examples from this coming Sunday’s lectionary passage from the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 11:1-15. This is not a complete list, just those that caught my eye. Numbers refer to verses

1. most kings – I think readers could figure out that not every king in the world went to battle; it was the season.

1. Joab out as general in charge of – Again, I think readers could figure this out. Was the addition necessary? Is it necessary to mark it as an addition? It’s pretty clearly implied. But the text also reads very sparsely, “David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel.” So why is “as general” in italics and “in charge of” not? Note also that “his” is interpreted (correctly) as “David’s”.

1. whole army of Israel – again, a well justified addition, but I question whether the reader wouldn’t assume this easily, and whether, if one thinks the addition is justified, italics are necessary. It’s pretty clearly implied.

2. Early one evening – In this case I think the Hebrew, l’eth ha;ereb, implies the “early” part pretty clearly, but saying “in the evening” in English seems to me to imply it as well.

2. bathing on a roof below his – Here there’s clear justification for the italics, as this is definitely beyond simple dynamic equivalence translation. I’m not sure if all bathing would have taken place on a roof, but if that’s what the translators believe to be the case, these italics are justified by their rules.

3.Uriah was one of David’s officers who had gone to war with the rest of David’s troops. – Here we get into a problem with the meaning of dynamic equivalence, which is intended to produce the same effect for the reader. It think letting the reader know where Uriah is weakens the story line. We’re only supposed to be reminded of where Uriah is as the story progresses. Thus my suggestion would be not to add this point. It will become clear later. If added, of course italics are justified by the rules expressed in the preface. (Note that in the course of 2 Samuel, the reader has not been introduced to Uriah at this point, so the storyteller is able to introduce the fact that not only had David committed adultery, but he’d committed it with the wife of one of his soldiers currently at war.)

4-5. David couldn’t get her off his mind, so he sent messengers – What are the translators doing to the storyteller? The story line does not imply that David spent time thinking about it. It presents a “see, query, get” sequence that is very stark and does not portray David in a good light. The material should clearly be in italics, if added, but I don’t see that it contributes to the story.

4-5 after the purifying bath after her period, her husband Uriah could not have been the father. – What is this? Bible exposition for dummies? Who missed this point?

6. his general Joab – We have, presumably, forgotten who Joab is since the first verse.

8. go to his own house to clean up, relax, and visit his wife. – Again, are we to assume he was going to his house to clean up and then ignore his wife? Surely this is implied by the text, but it makes for much poorer storytelling than does the original.

That is enough sampling, I think. I see much less logic in the use of italics in this passage as well as in the way in which the translators choose to expand on the text. It’s possible that italics in the text doesn’t bother other people as much as it does me. I’m more than ordinarily aware of typography issues.

But in this case we add an additional problem. Is the explanatory material making this story easier to read in English or is it just adding stuff? Any storyteller will be aware that adding implied information to a story does not necessarily improve it, and will often destroy it. If that added information was something that modern readers would not be likely to know, it might well be justified, according to the rules stated in the preface to The Voice.

But I would say that modern readers are at least as likely as ancient ones to get the point that if Bathsheba was purifying herself after her period, that counted out conception prior to that event, and thus made David the father.

I don’t want to become hypercritical of The Voice. Many people are reading it and benefitting. I don’t think anything here gives a wrong impression. It just takes a rather well done story and reduces its impact.


Isaiah 64 in the Orthodox Study Bible

Isaiah 64 in the Orthodox Study Bible

I’ve begun using the Orthodox Study Bible in my lectionary reading, which brought me to Isaiah 64 a couple of days ago.  It’s been that kind of a week, so I haven’t had time to comment on it until now.

First, let me note that having a study Bible with an overtly Christological interpretation of the Old Testament makes for a nice bit of variety in my reading.  I do have a couple of others, but this one is quite unapologetic about it.  I’m a little less satisfied with the quantity of the notes available.  For example, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, which I also read regularly, has about 380 words of notes on the page with the major portion of Isaiah 64, while the Orthodox Study Bible has about 160.  In addition, one of the notes, on Isaiah 64:4 does nothing more than restate the message of the verse in other words and so doesn’t advance us that much.

I wrote recently about how easy it is to trash translations, but I hope I can be allowed just a little bit of complaining here.  I knew that the New Testament of the Orthodox Study Bible was from the NKJV.  This makes sense because that is a translation of the majority text, more or less, though there are a number of devations in favor of the text behind the KJV.  The NKJV is not one of the most readable translations around, and I already knew what to expect there.

But for the Old Testament, we have a new translation of the LXX.  The introduction (p. xi) gives us three key points about this translation, in my view:

  1. It is based on Alfred Rahlf’s edition of the LXX.  Since I have this text, I am reading the Greek alongside the translation as I review the book.  I’m going to assume until I’ve had time to research this more fully that this was a good textual choice for the purposes of this Bible, i.e. that Rahlf’s is close enough to the text used in Orthodox liturgy.
  2. It uses NKJV renderings where the Masoretic text of the Hebrew is the same as the LXX text.  This seems a less useful goal, due to the somewhat stilted nature of the NKJV English.
  3. The introduction states that “[t]he Old Testament text presented in this volume does not claim to be a new or superior translation.  The goal was to produce a text to meet the Bible-reading needs of English-speaking Orthodox Christians.”

My problem is with the last one.  But first let me simply note that few Christians outside of the Orthodox tradition will realize just how many differences there are in the LXX text and the Hebrew.  It is fortunate that the introductory materials provide a chart of the differences in chapters and verses, and I hope English speaking readers who are accustomed to our western Bibles will read those materials.

But the real problem here is with English.  I’m not arguing here that the Greek was not correctly understood by the translators.  I’m also not asking for a functional equivalence translation where a formal equivalence translation has been presented.  But even formal equivalence translations can make good, meaningful word choices.

These remarks are preliminary.  I’m basing this on comparison of just two passages, Isaiah 64 and Psalm 80, and all examples are from the former.  But it is not encouraging to find this many examples in just the Psalms and OT reading from this week’s lectionary.

As examples, consider Isaiah 64:8[9]:

Do not be exceedingly angry with us, and do not remember our sins in an opportune time. [emphasis mine]

What does it mean for God to remember sins in an opportune time?  If one did not imagine that the translators know Greek well, one might guess that they had opened a lexicon and simply chosen the first possibility that jumped out at them.  Surely “kairos” here must have some more relevant meaning.  BDAG includes things like a “time of crisis,” though I actually don’t think that is the intended nuance here.

Then in verse 9 we have:

Zion is like a desert, and Jerusalem is for a curse.

Again, in English, what does “Jerusalem is for a curse” mean?  It would seem like a few minutes checking with ordinary speakers of English would suggest some alternative was of phrasing this.  And bluntly, this looks a bit much like a class exercise style of translation for “eis kataran.”

Finally, in verse 10, we find:

. . . and all our glorious things have become extinct.

Were they animal species or something?  Again, I don’t get this.  The Greek word here is “sumpipto/sunepesen” and I don’t see how one would get such an inappropriate English word to use in this context.

The bottom line is a bit like I expected, knowing the translation used as the foundation, and assuming that a similar process was followed in this translation.  I’m frankly enjoying the introductory articles and the excurses in the text.  The translation, on the other hand, is frequently jarring and sometimes puzzling.

I will continue to write notes as I read.

Received: The Orthodox Study Bible

Received: The Orthodox Study Bible

. . . and it’s even more interesting than I anticipated.  This is obviously not the intended review, but I do find the idea of a Bible with a strong flavor of the Orthodox doctrine quite interesting, and the Bible looks fascinating.  The New Testament is NKJV, but the Old Testament uses the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, with which I am not too familiar.  I’ll probably have my Septuagint beside me as I study!

I did write up a few descriptive notes on my Book site.  They are just a description, not an evaluation.

I expect I will be referencing this Bible quite a bit as I work my way through it.

Acts 2:45 – A Short and Simple Lesson in Gender Accuracy

Acts 2:45 – A Short and Simple Lesson in Gender Accuracy

This passage in the KJV reads:

And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. [italics in original]

Note that the italicized “men” is an indication from the KJV translators that this was an addition of a word not reflected in the Greek. But the adjective here, “all (pasin)” is masculine in form (it could be neuter, but in context doubtless is not), and thus is translated “men” by the KJV.

As a side note, the use of italics to indicate added words is questionable, because since there are no words in the English text that are also in the Greek text, it is difficult to draw the line. What exactly is reflected in the Greek text, and what is added by the translators? Note the second word “man,” which is not italicized in my edition of the KJV. (Not all KJV editions are identical.) It is reflected in the Greek text just as little, or just as much, as is the first “men,” but it is not italicized. It is probably impossible for someone to be perfectly consistent on this point.

Now note a couple of modern versions that normally try to reflect the masculine in their translations, at least where those represent words like “adelfoi (brothers)” or “anthropos (human being).”

And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (ESV)

and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. (NKJV)

I haven’t searched exhaustively, but I haven’t found any of the translations that avoid gender neutral language that reflect the masculine form here. And of course they should not. They should refer to its referent by the appropriate English form for referring to a referent that doubtlessly included both men and women. One is conveniently available in this case, “all” which is not specified as to gender in English. So we don’t hear about “male representation” in this case.

But I believe a similar argument could be made for dozens of cases at least of occurrences of “anthropos” or “adelfoi” in the Greek text where those terms refer to groups of mixed gender.

In general, this whole debate is more about modern culture and language usage, I suspect, than it is about reflecting the actual meaning of the Biblical writers.

Textual Emendation in Isaiah 49:7

Textual Emendation in Isaiah 49:7

The JPS Tanakh of Isaiah 49:7 reads, in part:

Thus said the LORD,
The Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One,
b-To the despised one,
To the abhorred nations,-b . . .

Note b reads: Meaning of Heb. uncertain. Emendation yields “Whose being is despised / Whose body is detested”; cf. 51.23.

I noticed this first when I read this in Hebrew, and found that I was not able to produce a translation that I found satisfactory. I remained in doubt. So I looked it up in a few translations. Note also that the reading adopted in the JPS text is itself an emendation.

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Nelson Study Bible Note Problems

Nelson Study Bible Note Problems

I’m not going to link to a specific edition on this, because there is no ISBN in the edition from which I’m working. It appears to be a match for this item on, and to be essentially the same notes as this item, though I cannot be absolutely certain. If you have a similar version, you can simply check your notes to see if they say the same thing as mine.

First, of course, I’m a bit prejudiced because I think the NKJV is one of the less useful translations. It is literal, but less readable than the ESV or the HCSB. I don’t call any of the major modern versions bad Bibles, but the NKJV is fairly low on my list.

What I want to comment on today, however, is the notes, part of Nelson’s Complete Study System. I used this Bible today for my lectionary reading. Each morning I read both the current week’s lectionary passages and the next week’s, thus giving me 14 opportunities to meditate on them. I use different Bible versions and also read the notes if I’m using an edition that has notes.

In my reading on Isaiah 42:1-9 today, I noticed this note in a “wordfocus” block:

. . .While ‘ebed can mean slave (Gen. 43:18), slavery in Israel was different than in most places in the ancient Middle East. Slavery was regulated by the Law of Moses, which prohibited indefinite slavery and required that slaves be freed on the Sabbath (seventh) year (Ex. 21:2)–and the Year of Jubilee–the fiftieth year (Lev. 25:25-28). . . .

Now there is certainly value in pointing out the slavery laws in Israel, and comparing them to those in the ancient near east. Notice, however, that if one reads on in Leviticus 25, there is something that is not mentioned in this little note, and it is significant.

44But as for your male slave or your female slave who are yours, from among the nations who are around you you may acquire both male slave and female slave. 45And also from among those who are [foreigners] living in your land and from those who are sojourning among you you may acquire them and from their clan that is with them which they bring forth in your land, and they will be your possession, 46and you may leave them to your sons after you to possess; they may enslave them permanently. Only with your brethren, the children of Israel, each person must not make his brother labor harshly.

The problem here is that the note implies that somehow Israel’s form of slavery was entirely benign, without mentioning the exception to the rule. Anyone from the nations around or from foreigners who were in their land could be bought and possessed permanently.

This is important because there are two ways of handling slavery passages in the Bible. The first is to try to deny the similarity between the slavery practices in the Bible and that in other countries or in more recent times, such as slavery in the United States. The second is to view the rules of slavery as a cultural accommodation, i.e. slavery was not good, but was not yet forbidden.

I take the second approach. My point about this note is that that the editors of these notes presumably take the opposite one, but that they gloss over a substantial element of the Israelite rules for slavery. This is one of the ways in which study notes can be deceptive, even unintentionally.

The second note comes on Psalm 40:1, in which it discusses the words translated “waited patiently” in the NKJV:

The Hebrew translated I waited patiently is literally “waiting I waited.” The emphasis of this phrase is not really on patience but on the fact that David waited solely on the Lord. . . .

I have to wonder where they got this interpretation. The phrase “waiting I waited” is simply not good English. It is formally equivalent to the Hebrew, but this is one of those cases where the literal translation does not suggest the right set of options to English ears. It is a Hebrew idiom of intensification. I WAITED! Now you may think of a few options, such as the intensity of the expectation, or the length of the wait, but the verbal structure itself does not specify who is waited on, or anything about how this person is the sole person on whom the Psalmist waits.

The context suggests that YHWH was the sole one in whom the Psalmist placed his hope, but the verb form suggests only the intensity of the experience. For modern American English, I don’t even like the word “waited” here, though the REB and the NRSV both use “waited patiently.” I would prefer the JPS Tanakh’s “I put my hope in the LORD.” They lose the intensification, but I think they catch the essence of the verb more clearly.

What I would hope to show from these examples is the danger of depending on notes, along with the value of looking at more than one translation. Looking at more than one set of notes is also a valuable hedge against incomplete or misleading notes.

Capitalization as a Translation Issue in the Hebrew Scriptures

Capitalization as a Translation Issue in the Hebrew Scriptures

In my ratings for the Bible Version Selection Tool, one of the areas on which I compare translations is capitalization of pronouns referring to God or to Jesus. The interesting thing about this is that the Hebrew text has no analog to capitalization of any kind, while edited Greek texts and some late manuscripts can mix majuscule and miniscule forms, the rules are hardly the same, and such capitalization cannot derive from the autographs which, like the Hebrew, did not use capitalization rules.

There are two reasons I rate this. The first is practical. I regularly encounter people who consider it disrespectful to write a pronoun referring to God in all lower case. This is a peculiarity, I think, and I certainly don’t capitalize pronouns referring to God any more than any other pronouns in my own writing. A number of modern versions, such as the NRSV, ESV, and CEV don’t use such capitalization.

Recently, while reading some texts in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), I noted this capitalization in Isaiah 42, which illustrates some of the potential problems with this practice. (For those interested, Psalm 22 presents similar issues in the NKJV, but the HCSB does not follow the same practice there as in Isaiah 42.)

This is My Servant; I strengthen Him,
this is My Chosen One; I delight in Him;
He will bring justice to the nations. — Isaiah 42:1 (HCSB)

Notice that pronouns referring both to God and to the servant are capitalized. I found this practice in the NKJV and NASB as well for this passage. “Spirit” is a special case, which I have discussed elsewhere. Should the word “spirit” be capitalized in the Hebrew scriptures which do not teach the doctrine of the trinity? My personal answer would be “no,” and the REB and the NRSV follow that practice. The NLT and CEV, which do not capitalize the pronouns in this passage do capitalize the word “Spirit.”

The potential problem here is that the nature of the servant is somewhat controversial. Elsewhere (Isaiah 49:1-6 for example) the servant is identified as Israel. In Isaiah 53, Christians generally identify the servant with Jesus. There are those who would identify the servant as Jesus throughout the servant songs, dealing variously with passages identifying Israel in that role, while others would view Israel as the servant throughout. One option describes the servant as the remnant of Israel, taken into exile, and then redeemed, and sees Jesus as the ultimate representative of Israel, and thus the servant can be properly read as both Israel as a whole and the one individual, Jesus. Some would hold that different servant songs require a different identification of the servant.

I am in no way trying to cover all the options on interpreting the servant songs. I’m simply pointing out that there are a variety of views. I would say that the scholarly consensus is Israel (see notes in the Oxford Study Bible and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible for good summaries of the consensus view). Thus with something as simple as the choice to capitalize or not capitalize certain pronouns, the translators tip their hand as to how they would interpret the passages in question.

I doubt that most readers would notice this detail and make anything of it. The impression would be relatively subtle. And I would not automatically condemn translators for doing so. If the dialect into which they are translating the passage requires that pronouns referring to deity be capitalized, then they are subtly passing on their interpretation whether they capitalize or not. For what it’s worth, I believe that modern American usage tends against capitalizing. Readers who do not expect capitalization will probably simply think the text looks a bit odd.

The Impossibility of Verbal Plenary Translation

The Impossibility of Verbal Plenary Translation

I have heard many good things about Mars Hill Church in Seattle, despite some theological disagreements (with whom do I not have such disagreements?) so I was disappointed to receive the following via e-mail from a friend: Theological reasons for why Mars Hill preaches out of the ESV.

This isn’t intended as an attack on the ESV. I put the slogan “the best Bible version is one you read.” If you find your Bible reading life lighting up when you read the ESV, then by all means use it for reading and study. If the carefully gender accurate language of such versions as the NRSV grates on your nerves, then by all means use it, but admit that it’s because of your language tastes, and not because of theology. If you’re reading the ESV because you think it is theologically more correct, or because it more accurately and clearly conveys the message of scripture to the populace in general, then I urge you to think again.

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Hebrews 1:1-4: Translation Issues

Hebrews 1:1-4: Translation Issues

In some passages, I may divide discussing translation issues into one section on how a passage is rendered into English, and another on the textual issues, but this passage has only one textual issue of any consequence.

Textual Issues

In verse three we have the following general options:

  • “when He had by Himself purged our sins” (NKJV), also the reading of the KJV, Darby, and YLT.
  • “After he had provided purification for sins” (NIV), also the reading of the remaining translations available to me.

The issue is the presence of either Greek “di’ heautou” or “di’ autou” preceding the word “katharismon (cleansing).” The bulk of modern translators have chosen to follow those manuscripts that leave out those words. And there are some very good ones there–Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus, for starters, a very good trio of witnesses. But for the alternative text we do have P46, which is the oldest known manuscript to contain this passage, along with the bulk of the Byzantine tradition.

In this case, however, internal evidence, combined with good external evidence, overwhelms even the testimony of P46. One of the principles of textual criticism is that you accept as oldest that reading that can best explain the others. In Greek we have three variants: “autou” alone, “autou, di’ heautou”, and “autou, di’ autou.” These do seem to involve explanatory additions, explaining how the cleansing was accomplished. In addition, I would note that this seems to break the very compact style of expression in the prologue.

Translation Issues

There are basically two categories of translation issues to consider: The structure of the passage and the translation of the two keywords describing Jesus and his relation to the Father in 1:3.


In Greek, this entire passage is one sentence. Various translations have dealt with this in different ways. English readers may miss the point of verse 4, which is pointing forward to the first element of the author’s argument that Jesus is greater than the angels, if that point is included in the same sentence or even in the same paragraph as verses 1-3. Many versions do divide this long sentence into multiple English sentences, but only a few, such as the NLT, which places verse 4 in the next section, and the CEV, which places part of verse 3 and verse 4 in a separate paragraph.

The difficulty with including it in the first introductory paragraph is that this leaves the reader without a thesis sentence for the material in verse 5ff. Verse 4 tells us what our author is about to argue. First, he will argue that Jesus is greater than the angels (1:5ff), and then he will say he is greater than Moses and the Torah (3:1ff). This is a good example of a case in which a reader can be led astray by the divisions presented in a Bible edition. There were no such separations in the Greek manuscripts. These are features of modern Greek editions, and modern translations. Always be prepared to “think across the boundary.”

I personally prefer the option of putting verse 4 into a separate paragraph which will allow us to see it as a transition point, but you’ll notice that in my outline of Hebrews, I don’t follow my own rule. In that case, however, I carry over the thought by labeling point II.A. “Jesus is Greater than the Angels.”

Key Words

There are a number of key words in this passage, and I will discuss them when dealing with interpretation of the passage. Two terms in the first part of verse 3, however, have evoked a broad range of translations. My own translation of this line follows:

3This Son is the brightness of his glory and the exact representation of his real essence.

The Greek word I translated “brightness” is “apaugasma” and the phrase I translated “exact representation of his real essence” is “charactEr tEs hupostaseos autou.” The first of these may mean either something shining on its own, or reflecting the light of another. This is why some translations will use the term “reflection” in their translation (“The Son reflects God’s own glory” NLT). A good parallel to this is Wisdom of Solomon 7:26:

26For she is the radiance of the eternal light,
and the spotless reflector of the activity of God,
and the image of his goodness. (my translation)

By putting “radiance” and “reflector” in parallel, the author suggests a more passive understanding. Nonetheless, Wisdom of Solomon is referring to wisdom, while Hebrews 1:3 is referring to Jesus. Those with a high Christology may well prefer “brightness” or “radiance.”

My use of “exact representation” comes directly from the Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. This is the word from which we get the English “character,” but the meaning we normally find in the literature contemporary more or less to the book of Hebrews is something like “stamp” or “impression.” In combination, these terms state that Jesus presents God to us exactly, and I think this view will be supported by our later study of the book.

There is some remarkable theology in these few verses, and I look forward to blogging about some of the things we can learn from it.

Another Note on Deuteronomy 32:43

Another Note on Deuteronomy 32:43

In my previous post on this passage I stated that I was ignoring one textual issue that was really quite minor, but on thinking about it, it seems to me that it will illustrate one of the points that makes textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible different.

We have relatively few Hebrew manuscripts, and most of those are quite late. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide us with fragmentary evidence that is much earlier and in Hebrew, but much of the evidence available is found in translations, Greek, Syriac, and Latin primarily, just because of languages that are most commonly known, but also Coptic, Georgian, Armenian, and so forth.

Hebrew was written with only consonants in early times. Indications of the vowels came in two stages, first with vowel letters, and then with a system of pointings (actually more than one, but one became overwhelmingly dominant), dots, lines, and marks that indicated the vowels. Since these vowels were added long after the texts were originally written, based on an oral tradition of pronunciation, most scholars of the Hebrew Bible regard the consonantal text as more established than the pointing.

In Deuteronomy 32:43 we have a case in which a textual variant involves only the pointing. There are two possible readings involved, and again I’m going to summarize the translations that use each option based solely on the Hebrew text they can be presumed to translate.

  • with him – CEV, ESV, REB, NLT, NRSV
    This is an alternate reading of the Hebrew consonantal text.
  • his people – JPS, HCSB, TEV
    This is the reading of the MT as pointed.
  • with his people – MSG, NASB, NCV, NKJV, NIV
    This reading is supported by some Hebrew mss, and would presumably result from haplography (writing something once when it occurs more than once), because in Hebrew with people-his, would have the same two letter combination twice at the start. Against this reading is the fact that it is both not the dominant reading in the evidence, it might have been created by dittography, and it tends to make the reading more comprehensible. In other words, nobody would want to correct this reading to any of the alternatives, but someone might well want to correct one of the alternatives to this one. Note that 4QDt32 does not have the additional two letters assumed by this reading.

Just to illustrate, let me display the Hebrew text.

Hebrew consonantal text for with him or his people, no vowel pointing This displays the Hebrew consonants that can be read either “with him” or “his people” depending on the vowels.

Hebrew consonantal text for _with him_ with vowel pointing This displays the Hebrew consonants with vowel pointing for “with him.”

Hebrew consonantal text for _his people_ with vowel pointing This displays the Hebrew consonants with vowel pointing for “his people.”

The only difference is the straight line under the first (rightmost) consonant. The pronunciation changes from something similar to an English ‘i’ as in ‘bit’ to something like an English ‘a’ as in ‘bat’.

I think a good case can be made for either of the first two options. I think the case for the third option “with his people” is much weaker.