Thursday, December 30, 2010
Greetings from the land of Saguaros and Scorpions. The following post, my second, continues my series on translations in honor of the 400th birthday of the King James Version (See HERE for #1). The KJV was a remarkable work of scholarship for its day but it was not and is not above criticism or improvement. This post reflects some of the conversations I have had on the weaknesses of the KJV as recently as yesterday. What I say is not to be construed as a put down on the king's men in 1611 for they were the first to recognize that others would one day improve on their work. Rather I want to show, briefly, how archeology has continued to help us understand the language of the Bible better.
The advance of knowledge in the Hebrew and Greek languages has more than sustained the proposition that contemporary translations like the NIV, NRSV and ESV are in a much better position for accurate translation than the KJV. A long list of discoveries has made this possible. In this post I will list numerous examples where discoveries in archeology in the 19th and 20th century have taught us the meanings of Hebrew and Greek words more accurately -- thus having a better translation of God's word. But first a . . .
Quotable Quote from Alexander Campbell
"The labors bestowed upon the original text, . . . the great advances made in the whole science of hermeneutics . . . since the commencement of the present century [19th], fully justify the conclusion that we are, or may be, much better furnished for the work of interpretation than any one, however gifted by nature and by education could have been, not merely fifty but almost two hundred and fifty years ago. The living critics and translators of the present day, in Europe and America, are like Saul amongst the people -- head and shoulders above those of the early part of the seventeenth century." (Alexander Campbell, Address to the American Bible Union Convention, 1852, pp. 583-584).
Archaeology Debunks the KJVs Addiction to Mythology
The proof of Campbell's statement (made 28 years after his production of the Living Oracles) is seen in the following examples. In the area of linguistics, especially in the Hebrew Bible, the modern scholar -- towers over the king's translators (not a claim to more intelligence just more and better info!). Objects formerly simply guessed at have now been identified (see Ex. 25.29; 37.16; Num. 4.7; Lev. 26.30; Isa. 17.8; 27.9; Ezek. 6.4 in the KJV and the RSV/NRSV or NIV). Many kinds of animals were simply unknown to the King's men so they supplied mythological names to these creatures of God. We see this mythological strand running throughout the Hebrew Bible of the KJV: Satyrs (Isa 13.21), Dragons (Job 30.29), Unicorns (Deut. 33.17), cockatrices (Isa 14.29), all of these animals are now known and translated properly and accurately (see the NIV in each case). What these men thought, in 1611, was "sapphire," is now known to refer to "lapis lazuli."
The same has happened in the NT as well. Regardless of the text type used, we now know Greek much better than in 1611. The papyri -- which revealed the world of koine Greek to modern scholars -- has taught us this. Just one example. The verb kapeleuo in 2 Corinthians 1.17. This is rendered in the KJV as, "For wee [sic] are not as many which corrupt the word of God . . ." The ASV also translates kapeleuo in this manner.
Here is an example where advancement in knowledge, not a change of text, has resulted in a more accurate translation. In 1611 they never dreamed of the papyri buried in the sands of Egypt and 1881 they were still a decade away from the fabulous discoveries. The verb kapeleuo occurs quite frequently in the papyri. Moulton and Milligan (The Vocabulary of the New Testament, Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources) tell us that the verb means to "trade" or "sell." The noun form being used in the sense of "dealer" or a "peddler" of wares (like a used car dealer). This knowledge simply was unavailable in 1611 nor 1881. Thus when we pick up the NRSV or the NIV it should surprise none that we find this fine (and accurate!) translation of kapeleuo :
"Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit . . ." (NIV).
Interestingly the ASV anticipated this rendering by suggesting it in the footnote. Today we know that the footnote was correct. Other examples of this kind of movement to an accurate translation (that is rooted in the benefits of archeology) are in Matt. 28.1; Acts 19.16; Phil 4.18; 1 Thess. 5.14, etc.
I for one thank almighty God that he -- in his good grace and mercy -- has allowed us the good fortune to see his word with more clarity. The NIV is clearly more accurate in all of these places. The words of Campbell ring more true today than he could ever have imagined.
A good book like Adolf Deismann's classic Light from the Ancient East contains literally hundreds of examples of what we are talking of. Aren’t we glad that mythology has been sent back to the books on Greek gods rather than in the word of God.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The year 2011 will witness the 400th anniversary of the publication of what is commonly called the King James Version. It was a major milestone in 1611 and its shadow continues to fall across English speaking Christendom. Throughout the coming months I hope to blog on various themes related to the history of the English bible from various angles. The history of the bible combines numerous areas that have long fascinated me: church history, Hebrew and Greek languages, biblical interpretation and the like. Tonight I begin with some thoughts on the King James as a "literal" translation. Many are under the illusion that it is and that a so called "literal" translation is by definition more accurate. We will touch on all these themes in the future ...
KJV: A Literal Translation??
Greetings this Wednesday nite. I was reading Romans in my 1611 so called Authorized Version this morning and was struck by something: Its lack of consistency in rendering the same Greek term the same way in English. I will be the first to admit that often times a word should be translated differently in different contexts because the meaning is different. But if the KJV was an exacting literal translation it would in fact render the terms the same -- consistently. Further there are places where the same Greek term is used -- in the same passage -- by the inspired author for emphasis; in these places the English should be rendered the same. The English reader will not know the apostle uses the same word for effect. The King's translators themselves warn us about this feature of their work. Hear them:
"Another thing we think good to admonish thee, of gentle Reader, that we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men somewhere have been as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there be some words that be not of the same sense every where), we were especially careful, and made a conscience according to our duty." (Translators to the Readers, pages are not numbered).
Having recently gone through Romans in my Greek Testament, I was struck by the KJV in Romans 5. Here we have a picture perfect example of the love of variety in translation testified to in the quoted section above. In Romans, in the KJV, we read:
"we . . . REJOICE in hope in the glory of God" (5.2); In the very next verse we read, GLORY in tribulations" (5.3) and a few verses down in 5.11 we read "we also JOY in God . . ."
The bold face words are all the one and the same Greek verb. Further they have the same connotation in each place. The NIV reads "rejoice" in all three places (more consistently and more accurately than the KJV).
If the aim of translation should be the production of an equivalent effect in the reader of the translation as the reader of the original text, then there is much to be said for translating in a passage like Romans 5, and the examples provided above, the same words with the same English word. For a good part of the effect intended by Paul was produced by his deliberate repetition of the same word. This is but one single example that could be multiplied into dozens but there is no need. F.F. Bruce, a widely respected historian and NT scholar comments on this "character trait" of the KJV:
"It is probably right to say that the Authorized Version has gone too far in its love of variation, whereas the Revised Version runs to the opposite extreme" .
A true "literal" translation is simply not possible. For example if you can suggest to me how one might "literally" translate the middle voice from Greek into English I would be grateful. English does not HAVE a middle voice. This is a major problem since the middle voice is not a rare bird in the Greek NT.
Other examples of the KJV's love of "variation" would include:
1) Matthew 25.46, renders "aionios" as "everlasting punishment" opposite of "life eternal" - why not the same? The text invites the reader to suppose that there is a difference when the same term is used.
2) In Romans 4 the same verb is rendered "counted" (vv 3, 5); "reckon" (vv. 4, 9-10) and "impute" (vv.6, 8, 11, 22-24). This is significant variation! Especially when Paul seems to be consciously using the same meaning.
3) In Romans 7 epithumian is rendered three different ways in the space of two verses: "lust" (v.7), "covet" (v.7) and finally "concupiscence" (v.8).
The NIV is much more consistent and accurate in all of these places (cf. NIV in the texts cited).
4) The Greek word katargein occurs twenty-seven times in the NT. But the King James Version translates it with seventeen different English words (which is a tad excessive!).
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year,
 F.F. Bruce, The King James Version: The First 350 Years (Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 27.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Friday, December 03, 2010
A Momentous Fall Evening
Four Hundred and One years ago, on November 30, 1609, Galileo Galilei took his "spyglass" and some drawing equipment into the garden of his apartment in Padua. On this night Galileo did something no one had done before ... he pointed his spyglass at the Moon. Galileo's evening in the garden set off a series of events that would rock the world. When the dust settled it became clear that Galileo did not just usher in a few new facts about the universe rather what he had done was bring about a new way of "seeing" the cosmos itself.
The world Galileo lived in had undergone serious change in little over a century. Christopher Columbus had "discovered" a "new world" completely unknown to the ancients. Martin Luther had innocently brought a revolt against the Roman See. But these events had all occurred in the imperfect, unclean, lower realms of creation. The heavens were a different story. For two millennia classical Aristotelian cosmology was embraced as not only pure common sense but was married to Scripture by the medieval church and became theological dogma. The heavens, unlike the earthly realm, were perfect and unchanging. The celestial bodies were perfectly smooth crystalline spheres according to this doctrine. The large visible spots on the Moon were explained as parts of the sphere that absorbed and then emitted light differently from other parts.
How does one see, interpret, and understand phenomena? How does one explain what has never been seen by a human before? When Galileo first began to observe the Moon and then Jupiter at the end of 1609 and the beginning of 1610 he wasn't sure how to interpret the data ...
Just WHAT was he seeing?
A perfectly smooth crystalline sphere should be ... well it should be smooth! But on November 30th when Galileo trained his crude spyglass (the word telescope was not invented yet telescopio was coined by John Demisiani a Greek theologian residing in Rome on April 14, 1611 at a dinner held in Galileo's honor) on the Moon it appeared ... splotchy! The terminator was not smooth but appeared to be "jagged." There were lighted areas within the darker areas. What did this phenomena mean? Perhaps something is wrong with the instrument. Or perhaps something wrong with Galileo's eyes. Perhaps it was caused by Galileo's attempts to hold the spyglass steady. He did write that it was difficult to "escape the shaking of the hand that arises from the motion of the arteries and from respiration itself" . But Galileo soon solved that issue ... so what was he seeing? The implications of his interpretation had cosmological significance! Galileo provides a summary of his conclusion ...
"By oft-repeated observations of them we have been led to the conclusion that we certainly see the surface of the Moon to be not smooth, even, and perfectly spherical, as the great crowd of philosophers have believed about this and other heavenly bodies, but, on the contrary, to be uneven, rough, and crowded with depressions and bulges. And it is like the face of the Earth itself, which is marked here and there with chains of mountains and the depths of valleys." .
Galileo then describes his observations in detail and gave the world its first ever published drawing of the moon as seen through his spyglass. The celestial spheres were not perfect! In fact they were just like the Earth. Or was it that the Earth was just like the celestial bodies ... the Earth became a planet.
Galileo was not finished with his shock and awe on how we see the world. He had taken his spyglass and looked at the Milky Way, the Pleiades's, and Orion the Hunter all suffered a similar fate. Suddenly before his eyes the Milky Way was seen to be nothing but "congeries of innumerable stars distributed in clusters!" The Pleiades's were anything but Seven Sisters. And Orion was more stars.
Galileo's thermonuclear bomb however was saved till last: his observations of Jupiter the King. Since the dawn of time itself there had always been Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and also the Sun and Moon ... all of which revolved around the Earth. On January 7, 1610 "Jupiter presented himself" . As crude as his spyglass was Jupiter was still resolved into a disk, whereas the "fixed stars" did not. The keen sighted observer noticed "that three little stars were positioned near him." But Galileo, understandably, interpreted these as among the "fixed stars." Yet his curiosity was piqued because "they appeared to be arranged exactly along a straight line and parallel to the ecliptic and brighter of that others [i.e. stars] of equal size." On successive nights Galileo returned to Jupiter and found that the King was "dancing with the stars" (my phrase ... couldn't resist).
The "stars" had shifted in respect to Jupiter. What was really being seen? And what, more importantly, did it MEAN? Was the movement that of Jupiter's? was it the "stars?" Was it a hallucination? Galileo decided "henceforth they should be observed more accurately and diligently". He declares that he had moved from "doubt to astonishment." On January 13, Galileo returned to Jupiter and spied four stars in respect to Jupiter. As the nights progressed the stars changed formation ... some on the East and others on the West, then all on either side or one on the West and three on the East. Galileo "arrived at the conclusion" that these stars wandered "around Jupiter like Venus and Mercury around the Sun" [Galileo betrays his orientation to the Copernican system]. This was indeed astonishing!! It was cataclysmic!
Failure to See
Galileo announced his discoveries Sidereus Nuncius in March 1610. It was a sensation. The world was both in awe and disbelief. Some "believed" and saw and others did not "see" and did "not believe." One, Martin Horky, published a short tract accusing Galileo of fraud. Galileo could not show the "planets" around Jupiter to the University of Bologna (in April 1610) faculty because they simply did not exist. Either the spyglass was bewitched or Galileo was a liar!
To demonstrate that his instrument worked Galileo performed daytime tests with observers. It worked in the daytime ... so why not at night was Galileo's point. However the encounter with Horky and the Bologna faculty highlights three responses by people to new worlds (in all arena's of life).
1) Some refused to look through the telescope. The "planets" wouldn't be there because they had decided a priori they couldn't be there. One Florentine astronomer claimed that "these satellites of Jupiter are invisible to the naked eye, and therefore exercise no influence on the earth, and therefore would be useless and therefore do not exist." Since special equipment that brings things to the senses, that is even contrary to common sense, is dangerous, useless and misleading.
2) Some looked through Galileo's spyglass and refused to see. These critics accused Galileo of stacking the data so to speak. Though unable to explain just how he did it Galileo's instrument was the problem. So one claimed that though the Moon's surface appeared to be mountainous, in reality a transparent crystalline surface as high as the highest peaks covered Luna's surface thus preserving its spherical perfection.
3) Some looked and couldn't see.
Thus the simple act of looking, seeing, and understanding was no longer as simple as it appeared to be. "Seeing" is not so simple after all! All the filters that had been in place for generations inhibited the ability to see, interpret ... and understand the Truth. The flatness of the Earth (though the ancients did not believe this), the immobility of the Earth, the perfectly circular orbits of the planets, the Earth's position at the center of the cosmos ... all that we could ever hope to see ... all the assumptions based on generations of observations were gone. Without prior experience, observers had no way of knowing for sure what they were seeing.
There are many important lessons to be drawn from the experience of Galileo and those around him. I want to briefly state a few with hopes that my readers will ponder them further.
1) No matter what the subject matter be it Scripture or science we must take the time of learning the actual data. Sometimes the "common sense" explanation is absolutely not the correct answer.
2) Galileo, like an interpreter of Scripture, had to learn to let the phenomena actually "exist." It is rather easy to decide material does not exist or is of no importance at all when we discover "stars" where there should be no stars.
3) Galileo, like an interpreter of Scripture, not only had to let the phenomena exist but he had to learn to "see" it. By seeing I mean he had to study it long enough to distinguish those stars that weren't supposed to exist and how they might relate to Jupiter in which he was told it was a scientific impossibility for an object to revolve ... much less four. Galileo's learning curve here came from patiently listening to the evidence on its own terms.
4) Galileo had to have the courage to stand up against millennia of scholars and even the everyday experience of practically the entire human race. The German astronomer Kepler wrote in defense of Galileo over the charge of being arrogant enough to think he was more gifted with insight than all the ancient worthies. It was "[b]ecause he loves the truth, he does not hesitate to oppose the most familiar opinions, and to bear the jeers of the crowd with equanimity."
5) Like Galileo we need, as Christians and interpreters of the Word, to be willing to go out in the Garden once again. We must be willing to study afresh. We need to learn to "see" and make the quest for truth the only criteria ... not all the things "surely believed" but never actually examined.
In Bible study we have some who react just as did Galileo's contemporaries. Some refuse to look. They already know all truth and there is not the slightest chance they could be wrong. To even admit such a possibility is tantamount to committing a sin. Some look and refuse to see they have as amazing, and ingenious, ways to explain away the evidence as Florentine astronomers did the mountains on the Moon. Some look and cannot see.
But on that November night Galileo did in fact usher in more than a Moon with mountains. He brought in a new way of seeing and understanding the world itself. We are still reeling from the events of that night. My prayer is that our encounter with the Word will be equally revolutionary. We are committed to seeking the truth ... we do not let what we have been taught or what we have always believeb determine what can and cannot be the truth.
He who has an ear let him hear ... he who has eyes let him see ... some Look and See ...
"Yield, Vespucci, and let Columbus yield. Each of them
Holds his way through the unknown sea, it is true.
But you, Galileo, alone gave to the human race the sequence of stars,
New constellations in heaven"
- Johannes Faber
 Sidereus Nuncius or The Sidereal Messenger of Galileo Galilei, Translated with Introduction and Commentary by Albert van Heldon (University of Chicago Press, 1989). p. 11. Anyone that has held a pair of binoculars today can empathize with this pioneer astronomer.
 ibid, p. 40
 ibid, p. 62
 ibid, p. 64
 ibid, p. 66