Epistles of Thomas

December 9, 2017

To Translate or Interpret?

It seems every news outlet is reporting that the Pope has called for changes in the English translation of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13. Some headlines are more inflammatory than others but the general idea is the same. Pope Francis told Italian TV on Wednesday evening that we shouldn’t translate it as “lead us not into temptation” but rather as “do not let us fall into temptation.” His reasoning is that “God does not lead humans to sin” but rather we fall into it on our own accord. Aside from the fact that we cannot change the original Greek or the Latin translation that Catholics value so highly we are specifically told in Matthew 4:1 that

Matthew 4:1 “Τότε °ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνήχθη ⸂εἰς τὴν ἔρημον ὑπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος⸃ πειρασθῆναι ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου.”
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”



Matthew 6:13 “μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.”
“And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from the evil one” [NIV]
“Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo” [Biblia Sacra Juxta Vulgatam Clementinam.]
“and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one” [New American Bible – American Catholic Bible translated from the original languages]

The same word “tempt/temptation” is used in his prayer in 6:13. I suppose Francis could argue that Jesus is God incarnate and thus God is not tempting a human but that seems disingenuous to me. Clearly God is the active agent in Matthew 4:1 so whatever it means, it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t tempted by God. This is also theologically necessary because in Hebrews 4:15 we are told that “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

οὐ γὰρ ἔχομεν ἀρχιερέα μὴ δυνάμενον συμπαθῆσαι ταῖς ἀσθενείαις ἡμῶν, πεπειρασμένον δὲ κατὰ πάντα καθʼ ὁμοιότητα χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας.

If Jesus is seen as holy and without the original sin that we all possess (thanks Augustine) which leads us to be tempted in a way categorically different from him AND God does not tempt us in the same way as Jesus was in Matthew we have a disconnect with Hebrews. We would also do well to read 1 Corinthians 10:12-13:

“12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

The Greek word can also mean tested but whatever the origin of the temptation we are assured that it is nothing special to us and is not overwhelming. God is firmly in control and he controls the “level” of temptation that we face as well. Clearly we are told that we can bear whatever temptation and a way through is provided, just as Jesus survived the temptations in the wilderness by relying on God’s Word. Should we not read the Bible for what it says, rather than try to interpret it for people through translation? Of course the “orthodox corruption” of Scripture began early and the Catholic Church has a long history of protecting scripture from the masses. Perhaps Pope Francis should be repenting for that rather than falling into translation temptation. As leader of the largest Christian group on earth it is surely unhelpful to call the veracity of the Bible into question, English translation or not.

Update: I see that Daniel Wallace has a response with more details regarding the various manuscripts, translations and reasons why Francis’s recommendation is unwise.

September 22, 2009

NLT releases Mosaic edition

Filed under: Translation — Thomas @ 12:13

The New Living Translation is becoming more popular every year and today they released a new Mosaic edition. I was given a copy of the first edition of the NLT back in 1999 when I was at CTS. It’s definitely a translation worth having for reading during your devotions. The new Mosaic edition seems to be ever better for this. Check out their blog or official website for more information.

September 1, 2009

NIV and TNIV to be replaced by Tom’s NIV

Filed under: Translation — Thomas @ 10:35
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Tomorrow’s NIV (Tom’s NIV) has been announced and will be published in 2011. I like the title, assuming that they stick with that abbreviation ;-). It is designed to replaced the ever popular NIV while avoiding the controversy which plagued the TNIV and has prevented it from selling. It will be interesting to see how things develop and what the repercussions are of discontinuing the NIV. I like the irony of the title of their press release: “Biblica Announces First Update in Quarter Century of the World’s Most Popular Bible.” I wonder what the TNIV was then, especially given that Tom’s NIV is mean to replace both. Of course, if the TNIV had been well received we would never have seen a Tom’s NIV.


August 8, 2009

Two translation paradigms for English Bibles

Filed under: Translation — Thomas @ 18:40
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There are two approaches that those undertaking a new translation of the Bible can follow. Perhaps I should say there are two ends to a continuum and translators need to place themselves on that continuum. The question is whether they will take into account previous English translations or instead create something “entirely new.” Given the variety and quantity of English translations today it will not be possible to create a new translation that does not show some similarity with previous measures but the spirit can be there. In just the last few days I have read two prominent English “J. B.” scholars who have followed these two divergent approaches.

First is Bishop J. B. Lightfoot the famous churchman and scholar. Of English translations he wrote in 1857:

“If, then, the English of former times speaks more plainly to the heart than the English of the present day, and at least as plainly to the understanding, surely we should do well to retain it, only lopping off a very few archaisms, not because they are not a la mode, but because they would not be generally understood.” Journal of Philology. 4 (1857): 108. Quoted in Bishop Lightfoot. London: Macmillan and Co., 1894. 48-49.

This was the approach followed by the RV of the Bible as stated in its preface: “That in the above resolutions we do not contemplate any new translation of the Bible, or any alteration of the language, except where in the judgement of the most competent scholars such change is necessary.”Preface of Revised Version of the New Testament.” Quoted in Ibid., 49. Many subsequent English translations fall within a family of translations that take into account their forefathers. e.g. AV, RV, ASV, NASB, NRSV, ESV; NIV, NIrV, NIVI, TNIV.

On the other end of the spectrum are scholars who decide to start anew and forge their own way forward, not taking into account what has previously been established as the “proper translation form.” J. B. Philips is one such translator who writes of his translation of the gospels: “I could not, and did not try to, rival that wonderful translation of 1611. I simply ‘forgot’ as completely as I could familiar words and turns of phrase and translated the first century Greek into what I thought would be its modern equivalent in English.” Ring of Truth: A Translator’s Testimony. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967. 55. Phillips still endeavoured to offer a translation of the Greek rather than a paraphrase such as Eugene Peterson’s The Message. He chose not to take into account the previous translations of which the KJV was the standard.

Which method is right? Both have their benefits and problems. The difficulty with the former method is over who decides which language is archaic and how much to change. What is archaic to one Christian community will be very different than another and generationally changes occur as well and are accelerating. The second method provides for a fresh English text but does not provide continuity with the past. Older generations will feel that it is not the Bible they are used to. It also makes it hard to memorise scripture because things keep changing. Just think what trouble we have reciting the Lord’s Prayer together these days. Usually we revert to the KJV because most people are familiar with it; we just have to decide whether they are trespasses or sins.

P.S. The book Bishop Lightfoot can be read in PDF format online.

June 22, 2009

Mormon scholar to work on Biblia Hebraica Quinta

Brigham Young University is reporting that professor Donald W. Parry has been assigned to work on the book of Isaiah in BHQ which will replace BHS once it is complete. Parry makes the rather curious statement that “This work will impact virtually all translations of the Old Testament (including the King James Version) for many years to come, including all translations of all of the world’s languages.” Obviously the KJV was translated four hundred years ago and nothing can impact its form. This statement stems from the Mormon reliance on the KJV, which they believe is the closest to God’s intended revelation, although even it has errors such as excluding mention of Joseph Smith’s status as prophet. What does Parry mean when he claims that BHQ will impact the KJV? Is he suggesting that the LDS will be able to create a translation closer to God’s intended word? Does he imply that he will discover new things in Isaiah that will provide evidence for the Mormon view of doctrine and scripture?

Does it make sense to have a Mormon work on BHQ? As much as most of the disinterested scholars, I suppose. So far most of Parry’s published work deals with the Bible’s relation to Mormonism and the Book of Mormon. It will be interesting to see how his views are confirmed or changed through this process.

I read a summary of a lecture Don Parry’s made on the DSS thanks to the ping from heartissuesforlds (see comments). One of the comments on that summary quotes from Parry’s book Harmonizing Isaiah (FARMS, 2001) and demonstrates the bias Parry works with:

“translators who lived before the restoration of the gospel [i.e. LDS] believed doctrines and teachings that biased their translations. Likewise, translators since that time tend to be biased in similar ways. Like their earlier counterparts, they may embrace teachings that are not compatible with the doctrines of the gospel as revealed through Joseph Smith and other prophets of the latter days. Such false teachings include predestination, creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), the Trinity as three in one, an immaterial God who cannot be seen by humans on earth, and a denial of living prophets of God, modern temple worship, the gifts of the Spirit, angels, and so on” (12-13).

All translators have some kind of theological bias but most are either within orthodox Christianity or are supposedly disinterested in proving any theological points. Parry works within an entirely different paradigm as this makes clear. Is he truly blind to the fact that he is biased towards ensuring that he embraces a translation that is compatible with the revelations of Joseph Smith? Whenever you accuse someone of bias you need to be aware of what bias is causing you to make that claim. Which bias is true? 😀

June 7, 2009

NETS review posted

Filed under: Greek,Old Testament,Review,Translation — Thomas @ 21:29
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NETSRBL has posted a review by Wolfgang Kraus of the New English Translation of the Septuagint. For those of you who haven’t heard yet, NETS is now available online for download in its final published form.

Pietersma, Albert and Benjamin G. Wright III, editors. A New English Translation of the Septuagint and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included Under That Title. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. 0195289757, 9780195289756.

Kraus is quite favourable towards NETS overall and concludes with “One must explicitly thank Al Pietersma, the spiritus rector of NETS, for the translation itself, the discussion about translation theory triggered by it, and numerous single pieces of research.” I read through the NETS translation of Exodus for a class I took with Dr. Hiebert and my wife read through Psalms for another class and we both appreciated the translation. Now if only Oxford and Logos would work things out and make it available in Libronix.

January 20, 2009

Exodus 1-3

Filed under: Old Testament,Translation — Thomas @ 18:52
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At the beginning of Exodus the history of Genesis is quickly summed up and it ends with the statement that “all that generation died.” Then a king “to whom Joseph meant nothing” came to power. I like that the TNIV has explained what it means that the Pharaoh “did not know Joseph.” It is a contemptuous disrespect for the memory of Joseph that leads this Pharaoh to persecute the Hebrews. The people have greatly increased in numbers and the Pharaoh is worried that they could rise up and cause trouble. What better way to prevent this than by oppressing them with forced labour and causing them to desire to rise up? Once it became obvious that forced labour was not preventing the Hebrews from increasing Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all the Hebrew baby boys at birth. Pharaoh’s plan is thwarted because the midwives, who were probably Egyptian, feared God and refused. They claimed that the Hebrew women gave birth without assistance. Pharaoh then commanded that all Hebrew boys be thrown into the Nile River.

When Moses was born his mother hid him for three months but then did as Pharaoh commanded and threw him into the Nile River. However, before throwing him in, she placed him in an “ark.” This is the same word used in Genesis 6:14 of Noah’s ark. That old joke about Moses building the ark is only half wrong! How about this one: “How old was Moses when he got in the ark?” Answer: three months!

Pharaoh is again thwarted by two women. In this case Moses’ mother and his own daughter who finds the boy, knows full well that he is a Hebrew, but takes him as her own. When Moses grows up he has a clear desire for justice but it is unguided. He kills an Egyptian who is abusing a Hebrew slave and is forced to flee for his life when Pharaoh finds out. Moses sits down by a well in Midian and we know that his wife can’t be too far off! She soon arrives along with her six sisters and he draws water for their flocks after scaring off some shepherds. Their father invites Moses to the house and offers Zipporah to him. Interestingly, she is the daughter of a pagan priest just as with Joseph and Asenath. Moses’ father-in-law is here called Reuel but is subsequently referred to as Jethro.

Meanwhile back in Egypt, the Pharaoh whose daughter had rescued Moses died. The new Pharaoh was no better. “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (2:23b-25). It is interesting that they “cried out” but it doesn’t say that they cried out specifically to God. Nevertheless, God heard their cry and decided to act on it. Although it says that “God remembered,” it does not mean that he ever forgot. When God “remembers” it means that he has decided to act.

In Exodus 3, Moses sees a burning bush and goes to investigate. God speaks to him and appoints him the leader of his people. God said “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (3:10). The new Pharaoh was likely the son of the previous one and therefore would have been Moses’ “brother.” It is interesting to think what their childhood relationship might have been.

Moses asks God what name he should give to the people. If they are going to call “on the name of the Lord” they need to have his name. He reveals himself as “I am who I am” which means he is the all encompassing God. The end of the chapter provides a synopsis of what will happen in the near future as he rescues the people.

January 12, 2009

Did Jesus speak Greek?

Filed under: Greek,Jesus,New Testament,Translation — Thomas @ 23:25

We know that Jesus spoke Aramaic because the gospel writers quote some of the Aramaic phrases he used and translate them for their Greek readers (e.g. Mk 5:41). It has also been suggested by some that Jesus spoke Greek but there is no consensus concerning his fluency. In Mark for Everyone by Tom Wright which I recently reviewed Wright makes the startling statement: “It is virtually certain that, though Jesus and his followers would be able to speak and understand Greek, their normal everyday language would be Aramaic” (63). I say this is surprising because no one had previously suggested to me that some Galilean fishermen would be able to speak Greek. I could conceive of a tax collector speaking Greek but a fisherman? I had always been led to believe they were uneducated country bumpkins.

Although Google will provide a lot of results for the question “Did Jesus Speak Greek” there does not seem to be a lot of scholarly work done on the subject. Michael Wise in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels from IVP is not nearly as emphatic as Wright, stating “The question whether [Jesus] also knew Hebrew and Greek can only be answered on theoretical grounds” (442). I have come across two articles by Stanley Porter that assert Jesus could not only speak Greek but was fluent enough to teach in that language. Obviously this has implications for interpreting the gospel accounts of his public ministry. They would not just be second hand translations of his teaching but could be the actual words he spoke.

Stanley E. Porter, “Did Jesus Ever Teach in Greek?” Tyndale Bulletin. 44:2 (1993): 199-235.
“…it is virtually certain that he used Greek at various times in his itinerant ministry” (235).

Stanley E. Porter, “Jesus and the Use of Greek: A Response to Maurice Casey.” Bulletin for Biblical Research. 10:1 (2000): 71-87.

As may be deduced from the title of the above article not everyone agrees with Porter’s conclusion, namely:

P. Maurice Casey, “In Which Language Did Jesus Teach?” Expository Times. 108:11 (1997) 326-28.

Casey argues for the use of Aramaic by Jesus in his teaching. No one is willing to argue that Jesus would not have known some Greek but the question is whether he was fluent enough to teach in that language. The consensus seems to be that it is likely that he spoke to some people in Greek because it is less likely that they knew Aramaic than that he would not have known Greek. In other words it is an argument based on probabilities and silence. Aren’t those the best kind? 🙂

December 8, 2008

Awkward Message

Filed under: New Testament,Translation — Thomas @ 12:09
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I was reading the Message by Eugene Peterson today. Luke 20:27-30 caught my attention. It records the Sadducees’ question about whose wife a woman would be if she married seven brothers and had children with none of them. The Sadducees opposed the idea of resurrection and this question was obviously a popular one to boost their argument. What struck me was Peterson’s rendition of their question: “They asked, “Teacher, Moses wrote us that if a man dies and leaves a wife but no child, his brother is obligated to take the widow to wife and get her with child.” I have bolded the ending which is the part I have trouble with. Does anyone talk this way? Does it even make sense?

I compared this with some other translations. The TNIV translation is also awkward: “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.” At least the wording of marrying the widow is better but who says “raise up offspring”? The NIV said, “the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother” which seems much more natural in English. I wonder why the TNIV chose to change it. The only other popular modern translation that I can find that says “raise up offspring” is the ESV.

The best translation of this verse seems to be the NLT: “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife but no children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name.” This renders it into natural English as well as appropriately explaining why this is happening.

October 8, 2008

Most “interesting” verse in the TNIV?

Filed under: Greek,Hebrew,Old Testament,Septuagint,Translation — Thomas @ 10:43
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Ezekiel 21:7 gets my vote for most “interesting” verse in the TNIV, although 7:17 comes a close second.

“And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every knee be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

The only other translations, that I know of, to go with “urine” instead of “water” are the NET and NEB. The Hebrew is literally, “their knees will run with water” and the LXX took this to be urine (ὑγρᾰσία because where else would that water come from?). Ezekiel certainly has a way with words, I will say that!

HT New Epistles.

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