Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Doctoring Doctrine Through Dynamic Equivalency, Part II

I previously wrote a post on an unnerving addition made to Sacred Scriptures by the NIV translators in an effort to make a "necessary" clarification. Let me reiterate that I have not been part of the Anti-NIV bandwagon, and have generally been sick of hearing people in the PCA say "out with the old (NIV) and in with the new (ESV or NKJV)!" But I am coming to appreciate that substantive changes were made to Holy Writ, and this merits serious attention. The NIV is among the most widely published English translations of the Bible.

Consider Hebrews 11:11, where the NIV tells us that, "By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise."

Would you be at all surprised to learn that Abraham is not mentioned in this verse in the Greek? I was! The verse is literally something like this (and do check out the Interlinear yourself, since I'm not really qualified to do what I do in the remainder of this sentence), 'through faith also [the also modifies the preceding passage which IS about Abraham] barren Sarah was empowered for the laying down of seed, obtained beyond her season of prime, because she believed the one promising.'

Let me paraphrase these side-by-side to highlight what the NIV translators dodged:
NIV: Abraham's faith in the promisor enabled him, though he and Sarah were past age, to father.
Greek: Sarah's faith in the promisor enabled her to receive seed in spite of her age.

This is a substantive change to our infallible, God-breathed, solely sufficient Bible. Two main complaints come to mind, one minor but obvious, the other major but subtle:
1) Simple biology dictates that men do not experience menopause and become BARREN. Women do.
2) The NIV denies the reader the ability to appreciate that Sarah is an antetype of (that is, she prefigured) Mary. This verse in Hebrews does more than encourage our belief that the Old Testament prophesied the Messiah's coming just as He did; it tells us something substantive about Mary. It underlines that Mary was made able to receive the laying down of God's seed in her otherwise barren womb BY FAITH. The Reformed, I believe, are squeamish about this possibility, and so inclined to filter this verse. We say that Mary just happened to be the one chosen by God, without any regard for her personal merit (and indeed that the wicked Catholics and Orthodox are blasphemous for presuming contrary to predestinarianism that Mary was selected for her merit). Let the Scripture speak for itself.

Worth mention is that the NIV translators included an alternate reading of the verse in a footnote (without explanation), but it is an inadequate substitute, and it still misses the notion of being able to receive seed. Seed theology is not for the hogs.

Ironically, the Today's NIV, which "was produced to meet the ever-growing spiritual needs of today's generation of believers", reversed the text option and the footnote from the original NIV! To get a feel for the TNIV, check out the picture of it's cover. (Story? Are we referring to a Fable? Singular? It's one fable, not a collection of sacred fables? Of God? Not of redemption, but of God? We've encapsulated the Almighty in one story? Wow!)

To be continued...


Joseph said...

That's nothing, you should read "The Message"

Psalm 1:1 (The Message)
"How well God must like you — you don't hang out at Sin Saloon, you don't slink along Dead-End Road, you don't go to Smart-Mouth College."

Psalm 1:1 (Douay-Rheims)
"Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence."

It's a very recent trend.

Joseph said...

I understood your point, I just never miss an opportunity to break out with "The Message". I hope my "message" doesn't distract anyone from yours. Yours is much more serious. Nobody reads "The Message" expecting it to be a reliable translation. At least I hope not!

Thos said...


I did not realize the Message was so corny, but one can guess my overall take on it (since I've never even taken the time to crack the cover). I often recite Psalm 1 with my eldest son before bedtime; it's a special verse - how ghastly a treatment! They missed the depth - walking, standing, or sitting, no matter how active or idle we are, we are susceptible to falling in with sinners.

And thank you for noting that yes, the NIV needs the serious scrutiny because of it's claim to be dynamically EQUIVALENT to the Greek (whereas the Message claims to be a paraphrase).

Nick said...

"The difficulties of this verse are well known (for example, in Greek the expression δυναμιν εις καταβολην σπερματος ελαβεν is regularly used of the male in begetting, not the female in conceiving) and have led some scholars (including F. Field, Windisch, Zuntz) to suggest that και αυτη Σαρρα στειρα is an early gloss that somehow got into the text. Appreciating the lexical difficulty, but unwilling to ammend the text, a majority of the Committee understood the words και αυτη Σαρρα στειρα to be a Hebraic circumstantial clause, thus allowing Αβρααμ (ver. 8) to serve as subject of ελαβεν ("by faith, even though Sarah was barren, he [Abraham] received power to beget...")"

Bruce M. Metzger. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testanent, 2nd Ed., (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994), 602.

Thos said...


Thank your for explaining the reason for the addition of Abraham to the verse in question. Anyone wanting to read a defense of the translation straight from the horse's mouth can read Ken Barker's paper here: (page 62).

It tells us that Bruce the scholar determined that the Greek phrase for "to conceive seed" does not mean 'to conceive seed,' but rather refers to the father's role. It tells us that the literal translation is "for depositing sperm". This means the sentence should read something like 'By Faith even Sarah received the power for depositing sperm.' Again, the word "even" makes plain (as well as the word "Sarah") that we're talking about Sarah and not Abraham, who had been the subject of the preceding text. The "he" is the "he who promised" (God).

As I said, the TNIV translation back-tracked on this reliance on our scholar Bruce. The NIV/Bruce approach is novel in the history of Biblical translation (see, e.g., Douay-Rheims, KJV, ESV), and an example of the historical-critical method altering the faithful's reading of perspicuous Holy Writ (substantively, since the antetype of Mary is effectively dissolved).

Peace in Christ!

Joseph said...


This is a bit off topic again, I'm sorry. But have you ever read St. Augustine's exposition on Psalm 1? You may find it enjoyable.

Thos said...

I have not. I'll try to find it online, thanks for the tip!

Bob said...

I've looked it up, and the New American Bible is doing the same thing as well. I've always told friends to stay away from the NAB because of the footnotes (definitely written by those of the historical-critical method). Now it seems that the translation may be suspect as well. I'll keep an eye out for this in the future.

Joseph said...

I've never liked the NAB translation either and have only used it to compare verses on occassion, just like the NIV.

I'm not a Scripture scholar, so I can't translate directly from Greek or Hebrew. Instead, I have occassionally compared translations with my Russian Orthodox friend's Scriptures and have come to rely on the Latin Vulgate. In English the Douay-Rheims. I have the Douay-Rheims Haydock at home which I find useful because it is almost 1/3 footnotes largely with exegesis by Early Fathers. The only way I feel absolutely confident in the translation is to read the comparable Fathers writings where available. The Haydock version condenses that search somewhat and gives an understanding of the Scriptures through the lens of Church teaching.

There are several verses that I look for that I believe are of great importance. But, I'm sure you have your own list.

I was disturbed to find the following either altogether removed or relegated to footnotes in the NIV, NAB, and other translations:

Matthew 17:19-20
Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.

Mark 9:28
And he said to them: This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.

Matthew 17:20
He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Mark 9:29
He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer"

Matthew 17:20
He said to them, "Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Mark 9:29
He said to them, "This kind can only come out through prayer."

This may seem trivial enough, but it seems to me that Our Lord is giving instruction to the Apostles for a prescription of ridding oneself of evil spirits. It's a huge case for fasting too. The Church has always believed that prayer combined with fasting are powerful tools to subdue our passions. Once again, it seems rather clear that this is also a recommendation from Jesus Christ Himself. Why would this be relegated to the footnotes or removed entirely?

Once again, this doesn't necessarily have the theological impact of the errors that you've pointed out in the last couple of blog posts, but this one, in my opinion, definitley has practical impact.

Anyway, I'm up for correction. Let me know what you think.

Thos said...


Thanks for the note. Re: not trusting NAB, or looking for another translation, I think the moral here for us is that there is no truly objective translation (at least the Protestant should have no reason to hope one, not trusting notions of Church infallability). There are just too many things happening when you take ancient Greek, mix it with today's English-speaking scholars, and expect to get a good translation. Much of the original language is obscure to today's Greek speaker as it it.

Joseph nicely notes the value of Church Fathers' interpretations. I have the sense that this is a growing practice, and hopefully it will displace (to an extent) the depleted historical-critical method. I have said before that I love my "Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture", which claims to have translated much Church Fathers' writings into English for the first time for this exegetical application.


I'd love to hear scholars debate Mark 9:29. The NIV defensive work by Barker that I've been mentioning says that the two 4th Century manuscripts we know of do not have the words "and fasting." The first appearance is in 5th Century manuscripts. The NIV team went with the theory that these words were INSERTED when "much emphasis was being given to Gnostic asceticism and to monasticism." This is a serious claim. I think the conclusion is that what was originally infallible has been unreliably preserved (a claim the Mormons take to great lengths when dealing with the Christian scriptures!).

As for going with the oldest mss. available (as the NIV did), I've heard different views. Some say the oldest EXTANT (that is, the oldest we have in our hot little hands) is best, others say that the 5th century mss may be a copy of something older than the extant 4th century mss. This theory would say that the 4th century ones were copied wrong, or doctored as part of the Gnostic disputes. I DO NOT KNOW THE ANSWER, or even the clear boundaries of the debate. I'll have to re-read on this.

There are other clear examples of GOOD fasting even outside these verses (e.g., Luke 2:37, Acts 13:2, Acts 14:23).

Joseph said...


"The NIV defensive work by Barker that I've been mentioning says that the two 4th Century manuscripts we know of do not have the words "and fasting." The first appearance is in 5th Century manuscripts."

Interesting. Like I said, I'm no Scripture scholar and don't pretend to be. But what I find peculiar is that "and fasting" appears in the Latin Vulgate as translated by St. Jerome at around 382AD. That's in the 4th century.

So, I think we run into the argument of extant manuscripts versus the ones that the Early Fathers had that have either been lost or destroyed, the only record of which would be in the oldest compiled Scriptures at the time that were protected through the centuries.

I'm not sure that what is extant today means that much to me since there is already a wealth of extant Scripture exegeses by the Early Fathers before the dates of the earliest extant manuscripts that modern day translators use as their justification for removing Scripture.

The Fathers never fail to quote the Scriptures in their extant writings, some of which were written much earlier than the best preserved manuscripts of Scripture we have today. That is why I refer to them. If the quoted Scripture in their writings has been altered, well, the sense of the text can still be discerned in their sometimes lengthy exegesis.

I'll look to see what the Fathers say about these verses as well. Perhaps I can find some pre-Nicene Fathers who quote these particular verses. Whether I do or not, St. Jerome compiled the Vulgate in the 4th century, so, unless he was the Gnostic that added that text, I'm not sure the argument against it stands.

What are your opinions? Meanwhile, I'll try my best to scrape up some Ante-Nicene Fathers quotes on these verses. I hope I can find some!

Thos said...


Excellent observation! I'm sure then it also has Matthew 17:21. The NIV defense says that the whole of Mark 9:29 was inserted into Matthew after their fourth century mss. It therefore left out all of Matt 17:21.

Joseph said...


Actually, the verse count is offset between the Vulgate and the NIV/NAB. The NIV/NAB broke out Matthew 17:14 into two verses, so the Vulgate beyond that point would be one verse behind in number. Hence, NIV/NABs Matthew 17:21 is the Vulgate's Matthew 17:20.

So, yes it's included, just not the same verse number.

Matt said...

On the surface it appears fishy for the NIV to do that. I think it is kind of strange to bash the TNIV for correcting it if you think the TNIV translation is the correct one.

I have all the resources mentioned in the comments so far. When I get a minute I will see if I can pick it apart a bit. Bruce is no lightweight and is pretty conservative for the most part. Metzger is also no lightweight. If these two defend that translation, it is probably for a good reason. It may take me a couple of days to get around to it.

Thos said...


I will look forward to hearing what you are able to learn. I know the translation was not done by lightweights. It was done by noteworthy historical-critical scholars. I am not persuaded by the Barker defense of the translation for this passage, but will try to keep an open mind.

Was I really bashing the TNIV? I quoted the publisher's description of its intended purpose and audience. I made a wise crack about the cover pictured (I don't like that cover and I don't like translations aimed at readability, but that should surprise no one). Bashing implies some kind of thoughtless hatchet job.

At any rate, I wasn't promoting the TNIV's translation, but rather was showing that the same publisher (IBS) recanted on its earlier text choice on this verse.

I hope this clarifies things on my end a bit. Thanks!

Peace in Christ,

Bob said...

Hi Thos,

I understand what you're saying. I have several translations at home. Douay-Rheims, Jerusalem, New Jerusalem, RSV (Catholic Edition), and the NAB. And I can use to view various Protestant translations. In this case, my concern is not to find the perfect translation -- I'll often use a different Bible for different purposes. The trust issue comes from the expectation that a Catholic Bible be Catholic. I've found a few footnotes that directly contradict the Catechism of the Catholic Church. That's not right.


Joseph said...


Allow me to offer a solution: Don't use the NAB if you don't like it. :)

The only way the NAB can be identified as a Catholic Bible is that it contains the DC books. It is used liturgically, but it's my understanding that the lectionary differs to the NAB private versions because they were corrected in places where the translation was problematic (I've heard where this has been fixed in the latest version of the NAB).

None of the other English speaking countries use the NAB. You don't have to either.

Joseph said...

"It is used liturgically, but it's my understanding that the lectionary differs to the NAB private versions because [the lectionary was] corrected in places where the translation was problematic (I've heard where this has been fixed in the latest version of the NAB private editions)."

Sorry, my bad grammar needed correction.