Monday, August 15, 2011

Issues with the NIV 2011: "The saints" are no more

There are no more “saints” in the NIV 2011. The term has been completely removed and replaced with various alternatives. I find this very troubling.

Consider the following analysis of how many times the word “saints” appears in the most standard English translations of the Bible:
    NIV 2011:0

As the reader surely knows, the English word “saint” comes from the Latin “sanctus,” which means “holy” or “holy one.” It has been used for centuries as the common English translation of two Hebrew words in the Old Testament and one Greek word in the New Testament.

There are two nouns in Hebrew that have traditionally been translated as “saints” in English: Chasidim and Q’doshim. The primary meaning of Chasidim is either “recipient of mercy” or “merciful or faithful.” In most of the cases where that word occurs in the Old Testament, NIV 2011 translates with “faithful people,” “faithful ones,” or “faithful servants.” This change may be justifiable (see Professor Brug’s comments below), but most English translations have, nonetheless, historically translated the word with “saints,” and Luther’s German translation had “Heiligen” (“saints, holy ones”) for this word.

The primary meaning of Q’doshim is “holy ones.” In these cases, the NIV 2011 translates it as “holy ones” or “holy people” most of the time. Again, this change is justifiable. One may argue about whether or not it is helpful or necessary to do away with the term “saint.” It has served the English language well for four hundred years and remains in common usage in most translations of the Old Testament.

Hagioi is the Greek word in the New Testament that has traditionally been translated saint. The word hagioi means “holy” or “holy ones.”

Here is the breakdown of how many times the word “saints” appears in the most standard English translations of the Old Testament:
    NIV 2011:0
As one can see, only the Holman Christian Standard Bible and the NIV 2011 completely erase the word “saints” from the Old Testament.

But the NIV 2011 is boldly going where no standard English translation has gone before by entirely eradicating the word “saints” from Holy Scripture. Here is the breakdown of how many times the word “saints” appears in the most standard English translations of the New Testament:
    NIV 2011:0
The NIV publishers did this already in 2005 with the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) translation, in which the word “saints” totally disappeared for the first time. Professor John Brug of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary wrote a brief review of the TNIV, commenting on that change:
      2. Concerning “saints,” current usage (as reflected in major dictionaries of the English language) burdens it with meanings that lie outside the sense of the original-language words. The main Old Testament term that has traditionally been rendered “saints” refers to those who are faithful to God. The New Testament term primarily designates those who have become followers of the Christian Way as people consecrated to God and thus belonging to the Lord in a special sense.

    The motive here seems to be to avoid the Catholic connotation of “saint.” This change would not necessarily be bad if hagioi was consistently translated with an expression like “God’s holy people” as it is in Ephesians 1:1 TNIV, but sometimes it is translated with a more non-descript term like “God’s people” as it is in the passages listed below.

    Passages in which “saints” (Greek hagios, plural) become “believers include:”
    Acts 9:32 TNIV; Acts 26:10 TNIV; Rom 15:31 TNIV; Rom 16:15 TNIV.

    Passages in which “saints” become “people” or “God’s people” include:
    Rom 8:27 TNIV; Rom 15:25 TNIV; Rom 16:2 TNIV, Rom 16:15 TNIV; 1 Cor 6:1 TNIV, 1 Cor 6:2 TNIV; 1 Cor 14:33 TNIV; 1 Cor 16:15 TNIV; 2 Cor 8:4 TNIV; 2 Cor 9:1 TNIV; 2 Cor 13:13 TNIV.

    This continues a tendency which exists already in the NIV to “homogenize” terminology and to blur the distinction of synonymous or parallel terms. It is true that in the Old Testament chasidim is the common title of God’s people just as hagioi is in the New Testament. Chasid, however, does not mean “holy one,” but “recipient of mercy or merciful or faithful.” In the Old Testament of the NIV and the TNIV this term is sometimes simply translated as “godly one” or some equivalent. In the New Testament the same function of serving as the common name for God’s people is served by hagioi. The terms chasidim and hagioi are thus the same in function, but not in meaning. The NIV often blurs such distinctions. This translation rule is not in itself a big deal, but it is just another sample of what is a tendency of both the NIV and the TNIV to be too careless or casual in preserving the distinctiveness of biblical terms. Another example is the frequent translation of hesed simply as “love,” blurring the distinction from ahavah. There is, however, a hint of a theological problem here. Does the translators’ comment that “holy people” refers to “people consecrated to God” over-emphasize the sanctification aspect of the term at the expense of the justification aspect of the term?

I won’t comment any further on the change in the Old Testament passages. As stated previously, these at least seem to be justifiable translations of the Hebrew words.

But the New Testament changes do violence to the inspired words of Scripture.

The phrase “hoi hagioi” (“the saints / the holy ones”) occurs 61 times in the Greek of the New Testament. In 22 of those instances, NIV 2011 translates “holy people” or “holy ones.” This would be acceptable, except that in 17 of those 22 cases, the word “God’s” or “his” are added as modifiers even though there is no equivalent form in the Greek. For example:
    Colossians 1:2 – “To God’s holy people in Colossae” (lit., “To the saints/holy people in Colossae”)

    Ephesians 5:3 – “… because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (lit., “…because these are improper for saints/holy people”)

    Philemon 5 – “…because I hear about your love for all his holy people” (lit., “…because I hear about your love for all the saints/holy people.”)
The question is not whether or not “the holy people” belong to God. Of course they do! It is obviously not introducing any false doctrine to call “the holy people” “God’s holy people.” The issue is not one of doctrine, but one of faithfulness to the inspired words. When God wants to speak of believers in Christ as “his people,” he does, as in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 and 2 Thessalonians 1:10, or in 2 Cor. 6:16 or Hebrews 8:10. But the idea of “belonging to God” is not there in the Greek text, nor is it required to complete the thought in most of the cases where the NIV 2011 adds it to “holy people.” Its addition seems rather capricious.

In the TNIV, “saints” was translated as “believers” at least four times (see Professor Brug’s review above). In the NIV 2011, that number has been reduced to one. Only Acts 9:41 translates “saints” as “believers.” The meanings of the two words are not at all related. To translate as the NIV 2011 does is irresponsible, as if the meaning of the original word were no longer relevant.

Of the 61 occurrences of the phrase “hoi hagioi” in the Greek New Testament, 38 remove all reference to “holiness.” Instead, NIV 2011 uses phrases like “the Lord’s people, God’s people, his people, the people of God.”

Again, there is no doubt that “the saints” are, in fact, “God’s people.” But the inspired text does not say, “God’s people.” It says “the saints / holy ones.” Man (note the generic use of the word) has no right to tamper with God’s inspired words.

The publishers of NIV 2011 justify this change with their claim that “the New Testament term primarily designates those who have become followers of the Christian Way as people consecrated to God and thus belonging to the Lord in a special sense.” They are obviously keying off the root meaning of “holy,” which is “set apart for sacred use” or “consecrated.” But then they ask us to take the logical leap of reasoning that since they are consecrated to the Lord, therefore they belong to the Lord, and therefore the idea of consecration in the inspired text becomes irrelevant. The kind of theological gymnastics required to reach their conclusion is better left to the scholars. As for the rest of us, the translation “saints” (or “holy people”) works just fine.

And better than fine, the translation “saints” is extremely helpful when studying the Scriptures with people of Roman Catholic background. Roman Catholics are generally taught that “the saints” are on a higher level than the average Catholic, that “the saints” have worked so hard at serving God that they have gained extra merits that they can share with the believers who haven’t attained “sainthood.” It is usually quite a revelation to these Catholics to see how often all the believers in the New Testament are referred to as “saints.”

So instead of fulfilling their stated goal of ridding people of the idea that “the saints” are an exclusive group of super-Christians with whom the average believer has little in common, the NIV 2011 actually reinforces that idea, since the average Christian loses the title “saint” in their novel translation, while “the Saints” recognized by the Roman Catholic Church continue to be called “the Saints.”

Much more will be said about the NIV 2011 in weeks to come. The tragic loss of the word “saint” is but one reason among many why the NIV 2011 should not become the official translation of WELS publications.

Below is the entire list of passages in the New Testament in which the Greek phrase hoi hagioi appears. If you hover over the passage with your mouse, you should see the verse displayed in the TNIV, which is almost identical to the NIV 2011 in its treatment of “saints.” (RefTagger still doesn’t have the NIV 2011, and I didn’t have time to manually copy in all the verses.)

Matthew 27:52 TNIV
Acts 9:13 TNIV
Acts 9:32 TNIV
Acts 9:41 TNIV
Acts 26:10 TNIV
Romans 1:7 TNIV
Romans 8:27 TNIV
Romans 12:13 TNIV
Romans 15:25 TNIV
Romans 15:26 TNIV
Romans 15:31 TNIV
Romans 16:2 TNIV
Romans 16:15 TNIV
1 Corinthians 1:2 TNIV
1 Corinthians 6:1 TNIV
1 Corinthians 6:2 TNIV
1 Corinthians 14:33 TNIV
1 Corinthians 16:1 TNIV
1 Corinthians 16:15 TNIV
2 Corinthians 1:1 TNIV
2 Corinthians 8:4 TNIV
2 Corinthians 9:1 TNIV
2 Corinthians 9:12 TNIV
2 Corinthians 13:13 TNIV
Ephesians 1:1 TNIV
Ephesians 1:15 TNIV
Ephesians 1:18 TNIV
Ephesians 2:19 TNIV
Ephesians 3:8 TNIV
Ephesians 3:18 TNIV
Ephesians 4:12 TNIV
Ephesians 5:3 TNIV
Ephesians 6:18 TNIV
Philippians 1:1 TNIV
Philippians 4:21 TNIV
Philippians 4:22 TNIV
Colossians 1:2 TNIV
Colossians 1:4 TNIV
Colossians 1:12 TNIV
Colossians 1:26 TNIV
1 Thessalonians 3:13 TNIV
2 Thessalonians 1:10 TNIV
1 Timothy 5:10 TNIV
Philemon 5 TNIV
Philemon 7 TNIV
Hebrews 6:10 TNIV
Hebrews 13:24 TNIV
Jude 3 TNIV
Jude 14 TNIV
Revelation 5:8 TNIV
Revelation 8:3 TNIV
Revelation 8:4 TNIV
Revelation 11:18 TNIV
Revelation 13:7 TNIV
Revelation 13:10 TNIV
Revelation 14:12 TNIV
Revelation 16:6 TNIV
Revelation 17:6 TNIV
Revelation 18:24 TNIV
Revelation 19:8 TNIV
Revelation 20:9 TNIV

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What is the Biblical definition of worship?

We found this comment buried in a discussion on Brothers of John the Steadfast and thought it was well worth posting here on IL.



First, you can’t reduce the definition of worship to one or two sentences. That would be like trying to reduce the definition of a “safe and legal car” to one or two sentences.

Second, among us Lutherans, we answer questions on the basis of Scripture with reference to the Confessions. Reference to the Confessions mainly avoids having to “reinvent the theological wheel.”

Third, the English word “worship” is one of those undefined fundamental words that even a kindergarten kids knows, “It’s what we do on Sunday morning in church.”

Fourth, if you complain that I am avoiding the constraints of your question, Jesus did that all the time! :)

Fifth, our Lutheran confessions succinctly give the purpose of worship: “Places, times, persons, and the entire outward order of worship are therefore instituted and appointed in order that God’s Word may exert its power publicly.” (LC 3rd Comm, 94; Tappert, 378); and to hear, learn, retain, seriously ponder, and put to use the Word of God (LC 3rd Comm, 95-102; Tappert, 378-379).

Sixth, the “entire outward order of worship,” is structured on these biblical principles:
    a) First, Second, and Third Commandments, as explained in the Small and Large Catechisms.

    b) The Lord’s Prayer, as explained in the Small and Large Catechisms.

    c) The Three Sacraments, as explained in the Small and Large Catechisms.

    d) Various principles and rules found throughout the New Testament, particularly 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14, and Colossians 3:16.

Seventh, Lutherans recognize that all who follow the fifth and sixth points (above) conduct Christian worship, though there may be some error involved here and there. Some churches have significant error in worship, such as the Reformed denial of the Lord’s Supper (i.e., denial of its nature, power, and benefits) and the Roman Catholic invocation of the saints (against the 1st commandment).

Eighth, Lutherans do not eliminate traditions of the “entire outward order of worship,” but rather affirm traditions of the Christian church. This is in contrast to the Reformed religions deriving from the Anabaptists, Zwinglians, and Calvinists, who reject all traditions in principle. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession states that: “The holy Fathers . . . instituted [traditions] for the sake of good order and tranquility in the church.” (Ap XV, 13; Tappert, 216). “The holy Fathers . . . observed these human rites because they were profitable for good order, because they give the people a set time to assemble, because they provide an example of how all things could be done decently and in order in the churches [1 Cor. 14:40] and finally because they helped instruct the common folk. For different seasons and various rites serve as reminders [i.e., memory aids] for the common folk. For these reasons the Fathers kept ceremonies and for the same reasons WE ALSO BELIEVE IN KEEPING TRADITIONS. . . . This good order is very becoming in the church and IS THEREFORE NECESSARY” (my emphasis; Ap XV, 20-22; Tappert 218). The Formula of Concord echoes and affirms the Apology when it says that ceremonies and church rites serve good order, decorum, preserve Christian discipline, and the edification of the church (FC SD, X, 1, 7, 9; Tappert, 610-612).

Ninth, Lutherans accept change in worship, so long as the changes:
    a) serve good order, decorum, preserve Christian discipline, and the edification of the church (FC SD, X, 1, 7, 9; Tappert, 610-612).

    b) are not contrary to God’s Word (FC SD X, 5; Tappert, 611).

    c) are not useless and foolish spectacles (FC SD X, 7; Tappert, 611).

    d) do not give the impression that the Lutheran church is not greatly different from other religions or denominations (FC SD X, 5; Tappert 611).

    e) do not give the impression that opposing religions or denominations agree with the Lutheran church, or that agreement will gradually result due to the use of these worship practices (FC SD X, 5; Tappert, 611).
Tenth, for further study, you can look at the Index in Tappert, under the topics of Worship, Ceremonies, Human Traditions, and Holy Days. Also the recently published book by Dr. James Brauer of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis “Worship, Gottesdienst, Cultus Dei.” It is an excellent resource for seeing all the passages in the Lutheran Confessions which pertain to worship, and therefore the full treatment of the Bible’s understanding of worship from a Lutheran perspective.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why We Must Speak Out

Every student of World War Two history will recognize the dictum written by German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller about the silence of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power. It goes like this:
    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Some years later, another writer was inspired by these words to write a poem entitled "Hangman." Its concluding verses are as follows:
    Then through the town the Hangman came,
    Through the empty streets, and called my name --
    And I looked at the gallows soaring tall,
    And thought, "There is no one left at all

    For hanging, and so he calls to me
    To help pull down the gallows-tree."
    So I went out with right good hope
    To the Hangman's tree and the Hangman's rope.

    He smiled at me as I came down
    To the courthouse square through the silent town.
    And supple and stretched in his busy hand
    Was the yellow twist of the hempen strand.

    And he whistled his tune as he tried the trap,
    And it sprang down with a ready snap --
    And then with a smile of awful command
    He laid his hand upon my hand.

    "You tricked me. Hangman!," I shouted then,
    "That your scaffold was built for other men...
    And I no henchman of yours," I cried,
    "You lied to me, Hangman. Foully lied!"

    Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
    "Lied to you? Tricked you?" he said. "Not I.
    For I answered straight and I told you true --
    The scaffold was raised for none but you.

    For who has served me more faithfully
    Then you with your coward's hope?" said he,
    "And where are the others who might have stood
    Side by your side in the common good?"

    "Dead," I whispered. And amiably
    "Murdered," the Hangman corrected me:
    "First the foreigner, then the Jew...
    I did no more than you let me do."

    Beneath the beam that blocked the sky
    None had stood so alone as I.
    The Hangman noosed me, and no voice there
    Cried "Stop!" for me in the empty square.

    (by Maurice Ogden)
The single point of both men's words is quite clear, direct, and simple; namely, that when people see and know that something is wrong, it is their duty and responsibility to speak up about it, raise awareness of it, and thus try to bring opposition to bear and stop it, or at least curtail its worst effects. And this is not only the responsibility of elected leaders and other important or prominent people. This is the responsibility of every person who has knowledge of the truth!

It is the same in the church. Of course, I'm speaking of the confessional Lutheran Church in the United States, and especially that part of it called the WELS.

One comment I hear now and then from brother Pastors in our synod often goes something like this: "Don't you have anything better to do? You should be paying more attention to your own parish ministry, or your family, or getting some exercise, instead of wasting your time on the internet with Intrepid Lutherans. I don't have time to get involved in synodical politics. I'm taking care of my congregation. I'll let God take care of the synod!"

OK, let's grant that perhaps that's a fair question and a legitimate point of view. In any case, it deserves a response. Here goes.

First, in my case, no, I don't have anything better to do, thank you. I usually put in sixty-plus hours a week at my parish ministry and work as a Circuit Pastor, not including private devotions and personal study. I also spend some time with my dear wife every day. My children are grown and out on their own, but even when they weren't, I managed to have some "extra" time for myself nearly every day. It just so happens that history and theology are hobbies of mine, on top of the work I do as a Pastor. So, since I'm going to spend some leisure time reading or on the internet anyway, I spend that time on things like Church History, the Lutheran Confessions, and so on. So, time spent on Intrepid Lutheran is not at all wasted as far as I'm concerned.

Now for the second main assertion sometimes raised - that other Pastors have neither the time nor the desire, nor indeed should they even, be involved in matters beyond the borders of their families and parishes. This involves the whole concept of confronting wrong - whether it be ideas, statements, or actions. Allow me to use another literary example:
    No man is an island entire of itself; every man
    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
    well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
    own were; any man's death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind.
    And therefore never send to know for whom
    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

    (John Donne)
Or perhaps I may be so bold as to answer Cain's inquiry and proclaim that we are all indeed our brothers' keepers. Thus, concerning the Church, and our little corner of it, I cannot help but come to the conclusion that it is the duty and responsibility of every believer to call out false or even questionable doctrine and practice whenever they see or hear it, confront it, test, and if found wanting, oppose it. Period!

And if this is true of every believer, how much more so must it be true of each and every one of those who are blessed with a Divine Call to preach and teach only the pure truth of the whole council of God?! Again, I myself can come to no other conclusion.

Now, of course it is true that we in the WELS have a system in place to oversee doctrine and practice. We have a Synod President, District Presidents, and Circuit Pastors in place throughout our church body, whose task is expressly this. But even if that system works flawlessly - and it is the opinion of a good many that it works much less than flawlessly - but even if it works to the utmost of human ability, I see nowhere in Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, or the doctrinal statements of the WELS that removes or abrogates the responsibility of each and every Pastor to still "test the spirits."

Perhaps I've missed something. Such is not outside the bounds of possibility. But it seems clear to me that any and all of us who are Ministers of the Gospel in the Wisconsin Synod, once we have attended to parish and family duties, do indeed have very little else better to do! In fact, I would go so far as to say that WELS Pastors who don't, in some kind of public and meaningful way, engage in the discussions and debates concerning doctrine and practice now going on throughout our synod, are simply not living up to their calling.

If more of us don't get involved and stand up for true confessionalism in the WELS, then Pastor Niemöller's words might someday apply to us, and they might sound something like this: (with apologies to Niemöller)
    First it was said we should make room for those who believe only in a "local" Great Flood,
    and I didn't speak out because I didn't believe that.
    Then it was said that "everyone's a minister,"
    and I didn't speak out because that "could be understood correctly."
    Then it was said we must remove all "manmade barriers to the Gospel,"
    and I didn't speak out because that "sounded kind of ok."
    Then I was ordered to "Change or Die,"
    and there was no one left to speak out against this with me
Stand up! Stand tall! Speak out!
Do it now! Keep it up! Never stop!
Or lose your confessional church.
Speak up now else you may not be able to speak up at all!
It's just as simple and straight-forward as that.

Pastor Spencer

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Synod convention highlights - IL edition

Here’s my little recap of what I consider to be the high’s and low’s of last week’s synod convention.

Schroeder re-election = High

The convention started off on a very high note with Pres. Schroeder’s landslide re-election. He has been quite outspoken over the past four years about our need as a synod to embrace confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice in all areas, including hot button areas like worship and outreach. His overwhelming re-election is a good sign that the synod as a whole believes he is on the right track and wants to be led in that direction.

Zabell essay = High

Rev. Jon Zabell delivered an excellent essay on the Sacramental Life, with a very practical emphasis on the role of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the daily thinking and spiritual life of the saints. The essay was very carefully worded in regard to “forgiveness won” at the cross and “forgiveness distributed” in Word and Sacrament. I was impressed by the spirit of the essay as well as the content, and appreciated the encouragement to consider offering the Sacrament of the Altar more often.

Translation Evaluation Committee report = Low

Let me reiterate what I have said before: I respect the men on the TEC and don’t question for a moment their qualifications, their integrity, their honesty, their motives or their Christianity. And I appreciate the time they have invested in studying this issue.

That said, I disagree with most of their conclusions. I think they are absolutely wrong. Not only do they see the numerous changes to gender-neutral language in the NIV 2011 as innocuous, but they even seem to embrace and welcome most of these changes. They are not swallowing hard as they recommend the NIV 2011 to the synod. They are promoting it as a translation they favor.

It’s not just the gender-neutral issue that concerns me. It’s the approach to translation that, in the process of trying to “help” the reader, ends up adding to or subtracting from God’s inspired Word. As Mr. Lindee has articulated so well in his articles on translation philosophy, we are going down a very dangerous (and non-Lutheran) road if we move too far away from the formal equivalency model employed by Luther and the KJV. That doesn't mean we need to retain "Thee's" and "Thou's" and other words that have changed in meaning over the last 400 years. It does mean that attempting to convey the "most 'relevant' aspects of the essential 'meaning' intended by the biblical text" is not good enough.

Delegates’ response to TEC report = High

In spite of the credentials of the men on the translation committee, the delegates did not behave like lemmings. They respectfully asked for more study and for more time, which they have now been given. Next year at the district conventions, the twelve districts will each have the opportunity to vote on a translation for use in our synod publications. This is a good thing. But it means we have lots of work to do in the next year. While the TEC has been enlisted to try to build a consensus around the NIV 2011, those of us who disagree will have to articulate our concerns very thoroughly and very loudly.

Much more will be said about translations over the coming year.

Time of Grace resolution = Low

Two memorials were submitted to the synod convention regarding Time of Grace with Mark Jeske. The first did not address the content of Time of Grace, but rather called for an end to Time of Grace’s Recognized Service Organization (RSO) status with the LCMS, since it is, at best, a cause of confusion and offense and, at worst, unionistic. The second memorial did not address the RSO status at all, but praised the content of Time of Grace and called for the synod to officially encourage WELS members to watch Time of Grace and make use of the materials they produce.

Time of Grace mailed to all the convention delegates a packet of promotional information, including a defense of their RSO status. To the delegates on the floor committee to which the two ToG memorials were assigned, Time of Grace sent a second mailing with a point by point rebuttal of the memorial that criticized their RSO status.

The delegates at the convention ended up adopting a merger of the two memorials, mostly praising the content of Time of Grace, but also recognizing the concerns that have been raised, and sending the issue back to the Southeastern Wisconsin District for resolution, to be presented to the Conference of Presidents in October.

The delegates, in good faith, assumed the messages of Time of Grace to be “doctrinally sound,” since there was no evidence presented to the contrary. One cannot fault them for that, but I think it was unwise for them to turn their good-faith assumption into a synodical declaration. One wishes that they had avoided entirely speaking to the content of the programming – either for or against.

I found the Time of Grace arguments in defense of their RSO status to be utterly...unconvincing. Over the past two years I have corresponded directly with Time of Grace over this issue, and have forwarded all my thoughts and concerns, as well as copious documentation, to the president of the Southeastern Wisconsin District and to President Schroeder. In deference to synodical leadership, the matter has not been the subject of discussion on Intrepid Lutherans during all that time, in spite of the public nature of the issue. In one more show of good faith on our part, we will continue to postpone the discussion, trusting that the Southeastern Wisconsin district presidium, together with the COP, will bring the matter to a God-pleasing resolution by their October meeting.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The NIV 2011 and the Importance of Translation Ideology

Our recent post, The NNIV, the WELS Translation Evaluation Committee, and the Perspicuity of the Scriptures, has attracted a number of very good comments. I am going to belabour the issue a bit more by focusing on the importance of translation ideology, using a set of comments offered by Rev. Kurtzahn following that post. He raises a point worth exploring – which if left unexplored, has us up to our eyebrows in nothing but the technical translation details of each and every questionable phrase, debating not only what texts accurately represent what was actually written in the original, but how “it can be understood” in whatever it is that we’re calling “modern English.”

Is translation ideology substantive? It seems some would prefer not to address this issue. Refusing to regard it as such, or even to discuss it, certainly keeps laymen out of the discussion, as it has us jumping straight into technical “examples.” The simple fact is, most laymen are more than capable of parsing the issues involved with ideology, and are justified in not only judging whether a given ideology is, in principle, capable of producing a translation that they consider adequate, but in rejecting those ideologies which, in principle, do not.

As Mr. Peeler pointed out, Dynamic Equivalency (the translation ideology of the CBT) is related to post-Modernism in its understanding of meaning in language as a social construction (“grammar follows usage”) – an understanding which is a very recent innovation. According to it, social experience is the vehicle for, and social context the arbiter of, meaning. Language is merely a social experience by which meaning is conveyed, and it is the immediate social context which dictates both usage and meaning, not the structure of the language itself. As a result, post-Modernism teaches that meaning is always subjective and relative (resulting in a lack of clarity... terms and phrases of otherwise objective meaning become “slippery”). This is why post-Modernists will insist that there is no truth – not because there actually is or is not Truth, but because even if Truth does exist, it cannot be expressed since language is insufficient to convey it.

But what is “Dynamic Equivalency?”

To use a very widely used (and seriously discussed) example, the post-Modern adherent of Dynamic Equivalency will complain that the passage in Isaiah which reads “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow,” cannot be understood by a person who has never seen snow. It has no meaning because it is not part of his experience. As a result, instead of actually using the word “snow” to communicate “white-ness,” a more effective translation for, say, a resident of the Caribbean may be “the sands of St. Thomas Beach.” But that wouldn’t communicate to someone outside the Caribbean, so another translation would be needed for those groups of people who have seen neither white snow nor white sand, but which is common to their unique experience – fields of cotton, for instance, or even milk. These are all naturally occurring examples of the color white, and communicate the idea of “white-ness” just as effectively. It doesn’t matter that the word in the original is “snow.” This is Dynamic Equivalency, and the job of the translator under this ideology is to (a) interpret the meaning of the source language, and (b) choose his own words in the target language that communicate this same idea.

Only, notice in the case of “snow” used above, that the translator, while communicating “white-ness” through the use of alternative words, fails to communicate the idea of a “covering” which descends from above, and also fails to communicate the idea of “cleansing,” which is precisely what snow does for the landscape as it melts (and is also part of the meaning directly intended by Isaiah). Thus, under the ideology of Dynamic Equivalency, the translator, in choosing his “alternative phraseology,” is said to “pick and choose” from the source language what meaning he will include in his translation – not because he is forced by inadequacies in either source or target languages, but because he is ideologically (a) given license to do so in order that he may engage in the task of interpretation, and (b) constrained by his own ideas of what constitutes “meaning” within a given social or cultural construct and of what patterns of words can be legitimately used in association with that meaning.

This is in distinction to the translation ideology known as “Formal Equivalency,” which constrains the translator to criteria which are largely external to “contemporary” usages (which are different from what is meant by “modern” usages, as we shall see) peculiar to given social constructs that shift from region to region and over short periods of time. Rather than a social construction (“grammar follows usage”), this ideology follows Classical and Modernistic ideas which see language as the basis of human reason and of the structures of society (“usage follows grammar”), and endeavors to reproduce in the target language a grammatical structure and vocabulary that is essentially parallel to what is found in the source. As a result, choices in grammatical construction and word choice are characterized by the objective challenge of identifying grammatical structure in the source language and determining the best approximation in the target; likewise with the vocabulary chosen.

But what happens when structural differences in the target language result in an objectively inadequate “approximation” of the source? Most commonly, in the KJV for example, such problems are handled by adopting a convention, to assist the reader in determining what was actually written in the source, as distinct from what the translator may add for the sake of clarity. For example, all of the italics in the KJV are words added by the translator to complete the grammar in English – they are italicized to alert the reader to this fact. The terms ye, you, thee, thy, and thou, which are all understood to mean “you,” were used to distinguish between plural and singular usages: ye and you were used to signal to the reader that groups of people were being addressed, while thee, thy, and thou indicate that a single individual was being addressed. This was a convention adopted for the sake for the translation, which did not follow common usage (anyone who is familiar with Shakespeare knows that these terms were not used strictly in this way). Likewise with the similar, though distinct terms longsuffering and patience (μακροθυμία and ὑπομονή, respectively), which are translated with the single word “patience” today – after all, we’re told, “they’re just synonyms.” But if they are merely synonyms, why did the KJV maintain the distinction? Simple. Do a word study and you’ll find out why. The Greek term ὑπομονή (translated “patience” in the KJV) is never used as an attribute of God; μακροθυμία (nearly always translated as “longsuffering” in KJV) is used as an attribute of God. The difference is that “patience” looks forward in time to an expected result – an idea which is ridiculous when applied to God; “longsuffering” bears with the burdened, without emphasis on time or expectation – an idea which not only can be applied to God, but which is fulfilled in Christ, who bore our burdens for us. Maintaining this difference was a convention adopted in the KJV to assist the reader in determining what was actually written in the original languages; it was not dictated by common usage.

This raises a related point, one which is often heard with respect to the KJV, but which is applied in various ways to other older versions of the Bible, along with older literary works, as well: its language isn’t “modern” English, but is “olde” English. This type of reasoning betrays, in addition to exposing a basic knowledge deficiency, a post-Modern attitude toward older works of the English language: their language is not our language. Our language, they would say, is a recent evolution dictated by changing social constructs.

The fact is, the period of “Old English” (which is actually the “Anglo-Saxon” language – the language of the barbarian German inhabitants of Mediæval England, the Angles and Saxons) came to an end with the Norman Conquest in 1066. The most common example of “Old English” literature is Beowulf – and if anyone has seen this in its original language, they can attest that, indeed, it is a completely different language. The Norman Conquest then began the period of “Middle English” which lasted until the late 15th Century – the most significant literary works of this period being Wycliff’s translation of the Bible and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The period of “Modern English,” that is, the period of our language, began at about the time of the Renaissance; and the first great work of “Modern English,” which still is the greatest and most significant work in our language, is the King James Version of the Bible. Its recognized greatness has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that it is the Bible, but rests purely on its literary merits alone. As a result, and until recently, this work has been used for centuries to teach the English language. Our language is not a recent innovation; rather, ideas which insist that contemporary speech patterns (which are largely the result of declining literacy) constitute our language are themselves recent innovations, resulting from the development of 20th Century Analytical Philosophy and its application to linguistics theory. This goes all the way back to Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica (1910), which concluded via rigorous mathematical proof that mathematics is a branch of pure formal logic, and therefore does not carry meaning other than what the mathematician brings to and derives from it. Grammar is formal as well, thus linguists picked up on the work of Russell and Whitehead and began applying its conclusions to the study of language. Post-Modernism descends almost directly from these influences. By the 1920’s, the National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE) was calling for teachers to refrain from teaching students how they ought to use language to express themselves, and instead only teach the “facts” of language. By the 1950’s, the formal teaching of grammar was regarded as a waste of classroom time, since it was largely agreed that grammar was not necessary to derive meaning from language – meaning, they insist, is derived purely from the social context.

(For more on the decline of language from the perspective of a professional Classicist and grammarian, read Dr. David Mulroy’s The War Against Grammar. Three good reviews of this work that I recommed are, one by Dr. Jeremiah Reedy (Macalester College) and two by Andrew Kern (CiRCE Institute): one here and the second, here. There is, of course much more to the story of the decline of American education, and its well-documented design, since the Industrial Revolution, to maintain a distinction between a well-educated “professional” and “leadership” class, and a minimally educated “working” class... but that is a separate topic.)

I was shocked when I first learned these things in the mid-1990’s, as I argued with an English grad-student who was chiding me for lamenting the decline of grammar instruction. She said, “Sure, it’s important for English speakers to know that there is such a thing as grammar, so we’ll provide a unit or two in high-school, but it is not necessary for effective communication to occur. We’ve known this since the 1950’s, and formal grammar instruction has been rapidly declining since then. On purpose!”

“But,” I countered, “How can the Christian possibly read his Bible and understand it without grammar!?” She was a Christian and appreciated the significance of this question. She just shrugged. “How can a student be prepared as a good citizen, without a knowledge of grammar?! You must know grammar to read and understand the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence!” She shrugged again. “This is utterly disenfranchising! How can students be prepared to function in a litigious society, where every transaction is considered a legal contract? How can a citizen hope to engage in entrepreneurial activity if he doesn’t know enough grammar to effectively engage in contracts!?” She shrugged again.

When Rev. Kurzahn complains that “In taking formerly unchurched people through Bible information classes for church membership, I find I have to stop to explain words the NIV uses, and the long sentences are difficult for some to grasp,” I reply, “It’s not the Bible that is the problem. It’s the people and their deficient education. The solution is not to follow them into the chasm of declining literacy by advocating increasingly simplistic Bible translations and thus drag the rest of English-speaking Christendom into that abyss with them, but to do what the Church has always done – you must to the hard job of educating them. If their education and formal understanding of their own language is deficient, then that deficiency must be remediated.

We are not the first one’s to encounter the problem of ineffective literacy among the unchurched – or even among our own. The Early Church had to contend with the problem of illiterate catechumens, and solved that problem by establishing a network of catechetical schools which taught language and doctrine, and later, also trade and professional skills. By the time of Constantine (three hundred years following Christ’s Ascension) the pinnacle of the cultured elite in the Roman Empire was dominated by Christians – not only was Constantine compelled to elevate Christianity by ending the persecutions, by recognizing Sunday as the day of worship, by lifting the burden of taxation from the clergy (and many other concessions), it is evident from Christian literature of that time that authors presupposed a sophisticated and well-educated audience. So well-prepared were the early Christians in their ability with language, that St. Augstine said of Christian women (who were educated alongside the men) that they were known to be more capable in the acuity of their religious discussion than the Greek philosophers. Luther and Melanchthon had to contend with this problem, as well, and their solution was to develop a rigorous system of universal education and adjure the German Princes to implement it (as I mentioned in commentary following my post, NNIV: The New Standard for WELS?).

The current “problem of language” is a problem foisted on us by a World which has eagerly embraced philosophies which militate against God and His Word. It is nothing other than a continuation of the openly antagonistic assault on the Church that has ensued since the time of the Enlightenment (which was chronicled in my as-yet-incomplete series on Law & Gospel). The solution isn’t to give in to these philosophies, but to do the hard work of recognizing their danger, and then combating them by standing in the face of society with the declaration “No!” In this case, it means refocusing ourselves on the importance of a thorough and rigorous education. I say this in confidence, knowing that if any Christian church body in America can live up to this challenge, the WELS can. Our parochial school system is recognized as among the top in the nation. Let’s use it.

So I conclude, discussion regarding translation ideology is substantive discussion, and we must be clear on what we insist, in principle, both is necessary and what must be rejected, before we even attempt to gaze into the technical minutiae of specific translation challenges.

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