Friday, 20 March 2009

Bible Translation Conundrum

I've got Bible schizophrenia. I like 2 translations. I oscillate between them to such a degree that I don't memorise either. It bugs me. I'd like to commit to one and refer to the other, but like Paul, I'm hard pressed between the two. Is it just me?

I like the TNIV. It reads well because it has a very sophisticated and nuanced translation philosophy. It translates the way we speak. Like it or not, the English language has changed/is changing. I would never speak using a masculine singular generic pronoun (i.e. his, he, him, etc). I would always use the plural pronoun in a singular context. For instance, I would never say, "Each pupil opened his jotter", but rather "They all opened their jotters". The TNIV speaks in a way that I speak. I dig it. Using antiquated forms of language in our Bibles is a sure fire way to convey to our kids that the faith is something stuffy and old fashioned (as opposed to ancient). I don't buy into the ideological arguments against gender neutral (or accurate) language.

Further, the TNIV has some cool editions. I'm currently plodding my way through "The Books of the Bible" reading plan. It's a Bible with no chapters or verses. You just read by page number. It really rocks my world.

I also own The Bible Experience, which is quite simply a breath-taking audio of the TNIV. I really have never heard anything quite like it.

I also know the NIV pretty well and given that the TNIV is only a 7% revision, memorising it isn't too difficult either.

Also, some good people translated it. Doug Moo, for instance, was on the translators' committee.

These are all good reasons for making the TNIV my primary bible. Nevertheless, I do have some reservations. Some of its translations irk me. If you've ever read John 17 (in the TNIV or NIV) and compared it to a literal translation, you will be shocked. Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne compared the ESV with the NIV on this chapter and I really lost a lot of confidence in the NIV.

I like the transparency of the ESV. Whenever I'm not using it, I feel like I'm missing out on some subtle nuance in the Greek/Hebrew that the ESV would make a little more transparent.

I like the Bible words the ESV encourages us to use, i.e. propitiation, glorification, flesh, Sheol etc. I like its consistency of translating various words and terms. I like the fact that it translates connectives and rarely misses important ones (compare Romans 1:18 in the ESV and TNIV). I like the fact that it preserves multiple meanings in the text (e.g. righteousness of God, law of liberty). I like the fact that I have it in a beautiful, 3 ribbon goatskin edition which is unlike any Bible I've ever owned. I like the fact that every expository preacher I've ever respected tends to use it.

I don't like the unnecessary archaisms. I don't like the gender masculine pronouns (I am complementarian by the way). I don't like the fact that my wife doesn't like it (ideally, I'd memorise texts with her). I don't like some of the turgid narrative or prophetic books. I don't like the emotional pressure that inadvertently bears on Reformed-ish folks to use it, a pressure that comes from ESV zealots running down other good versions.

Maybe I'm not alone in my Bible conundrum.


Fiona said...

I have a similar problem. I really like the New Living Translation but it bugs me when people give me the "are you sure you're a Christian?" raised eyebrow when I say that. I'm disappointed that I just don't like the ESV, but I don't.

I find it really hard to memorise any of them but that's as much to do with my heart as my mind.

ChrisNC said...

I use the ESV, exactly because I do enjoy reading it. I've always found the NIV bland. I would never claim that the ESV is the only good translation. I personally also enjoy the New King James and the American Standard Version. I can also recommend the New American Standard Bible and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. My objection to gender-inclusive language is only when it is used to alter plain Hebrew or Greek words for deity, namely Father, to neuter terms, such as Parent, placing a social agenda ahead of accuracy. One comparable objection I have to the NIV is its use of "one and only" for monogenes. While I understand that "only-begotten" has an archaic ring to it, there is no questioning its accurate representation of monogenes. "One and only" is NOT accurate. Jesus is NOT God's one and only son. I am also a son of God. The difference is that I am a son by adoption, while Jesus is Son by nature.