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More on the TNIV

I was a bit put off at first by certain rhetoric on the new TNIV Truth blog, and I must confess that anonymity doesn’t rank high with me, even when I understand the motivations. Now the blogger there has “outed” himself and also posted a note on the TNIV on one of my pet peeves–discussions of translator motivations.

First let me quote from Lane Wiemann’s profile:

I have a passion for the Bible being worded in the language of the majority of English speakers. I also have a passion for truth.

Excellent! This is precisely where we want to be.

Much criticism of the TNIV, often combined with advocacy of the ESV is motivation based. While the sophistication of the rhetoric and arguments is better than the old KJV only stuff, there is a distinct nasty odor in this type of argument. It seems extremely odd to me, and even borders on dishonest, to criticize a translation based on some assumptions about translator motivations when the translation itself is available to check alongside the source documents.

I have never encountered any translators who are not motivated by a desire to help people understand the Bible. There are plenty of disagreements about how to accomplish that, and sometimes I have thought translators get way off the mark on the method, but I would be very slow to question any of their motivations.

Thus this from the post Have you stopped beating your wife (TNIV Truth blog) is right on target:

Rather than speculating about the motives of the TNIV translators, it would be better if we objectively examined each verse with which there is a difference of interpretation. In most cases we will discover that good Bible scholars differ on the interpretation of those verses and that the TNIV wordings are supported by lexical and exegetical evidence from the Bible itself as well as from good scholarship.

Wow! What an amazing concept! Let’s look at the actual evidence and see what conclusions we come to! (I am not aiming this sarcasm at Lane Wiemann, but rather at those who somehow miss this obvious method and go instead for unknown and often unknowable motivations.

While I have not encountered actual Bible translators who do not want to express God’s message clearly and accurately, I have encountered many church members who are primarily concerned with other things. Unlike Mr. Wiemann and the folks over at Better Bibles, I’m not a translator except for what I do as part of my own teaching and writing work. Where I encounter this issue is in churches with actual church members when I teach classes in how translation works. Those church members are often confused.

Because some people have attacked the motivations of Bible translators, and the TNIV seems to be the main target right now, and so people are afraid of corrupted Bible translations. Their concern often keeps them from using new versions that provide clearer translations. My own choice for use in writing and often in teaching has been the CEV. One common complaint has to do with the way a version sounds when read from the pulpit. Now oral reading is something that needs to be given consideration in translation, but these members are often not concerned with whether it is easy to understand when read orally or has good rhythm. What they want is something that sounds “Biblical,” generally meaning “like the KJV.”

One class I taught was split throughout, with one group repeatedly saying that the Bible used in church and Sunday School should be one that made them feel comfortable, while the remainder of the class thought the choice should be made based on how well an unchurched person would understand the reading. Not surprisingly, when I read passages to these two groups, the first group like versions like the RSV, ESV, NASB, or the NRSV, except that they generally didn’t like gender-neutral language. The second group favored dynamic equivalence translations like the CEV or TNIV.

I think it is extremely important for those who have a good technical knowledge of translation issues to be truthful and to reduce the rhetoric which makes church members believe there are conspiracies of Bible translators whose purpose is to conceal the truth and support social agendas by inaccurate translation.

It would be valuable, as a start, to stay away from accusations of bad motivation except where there is very substantial evidence.

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