Evangelical Textual Criticism

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

An Evangelical Bible Society

I think we need an evangelical Bible society. There are of course many evangelicals in Bible societies and many Bible societies with an evangelical ethos. However, at present, UBS does not have a consistently explicit evangelical approach. Why should it? The Bible does not belong to evangelicals. UBS does lots of good work that does not need to be duplicated. However, there is a case for an evangelical Bible society that is able consistently to apply evangelical principles in commissioning Bible translations—evangelical principles about text, translation and canon. The Gideons is, of course, a great distribution network for Bibles. But it does not commission Bibles.

The advantage of an evangelical Bible society is that it also might be able to be a market force to counterbalance evangelical publishers. They each like to have their own translation since translations sell well. An evangelical Bible society would not be for profit and would be able to put pressure on publishers not to use Bibles as a source of profit.

The Trinitarian Bible Society was, originally, a mainstream evangelical Bible society, with a rather broad compass (e.g. Edward Irving). Its exclusive commitment to our beloved KJV has, however, meant that it can no longer serve the mainstream.

Thoughts?

24 comments:

  1. I don't particularly like how the impetus behind modern Bible versions has generally been profit making for a publisher. But I see it as a fact of life. Modern copyright laws make it profitable to produce these Bibles. And their popularity is determined by the marketplace. Zondervan makes money not just by selling NIV's, but also by other publishers wanting to quote the most widely read modern English version in their commentaries, Bible study guides, and popular literature, an expense which only gives these publishers greater incentive to make versions of their own. How exactly would an evangelical Bible society counterbalance that?

    And why again do we really need yet more versions?

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  2. Peter and readers,

    1) You might want to distinguish between the approach your positing and that of others, such as IBS
    (http://www.ibs.org).

    2) Open source and broad copyright release (save for right of author identification and restraint on modification) would be excellent tools for mitigating the profit-driven model you note. Imagine a good study Bible that cost 5 dollars/4 euros/3 pounds. Wouldn't many scholars wish to contribute their valuable time to such a project?

    3) Eric, you closed with a great--I say crucial--question. You and I do not need another Bible translation. But the Mongolians and hundreds of other peoples desperately do. Far too many translations are, despite the best efforts of translators, subpar. Some are even based on the KJV. God is good and gracious and powerful, and He uses such.

    But we have an ungodly habit of hoarding knowledge (in the same way in which, on balance, we are guilty of hoarding our money and personnel). Any such Bible society should not have a primarily Western/Northern/Anglo-centric ethos and telos; it should be focused squarely on the South and East, the locus of "textual need." Its board would have African bishops and Chinese house church leaders...okay I'm going on too much.

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  3. I wasn't really proposing a society to make yet one more English Bible translation. An evangelical Bible society could also sponsor a new edition of the GNT. In countries where evangelicals make up a minority of Christians it would be able to make sure that there was a Bible translation available that was based on evangelical principles. The UBS in this situation would probably incline more towards the larger grouping of Christians in that country.

    Open source Bibles won't stop publishers wanting to market their own Bibles. And while they're marketing them, they will sell. The translation principles behind many translations are not really drawn up by the scholars who translate. There is often a significant input from the publisher first. The scholars then translate according to the model they've been given. I would imagine that an evangelical Bible society would seek to support a few good English Bible translations and work closely with publishers which were not working for profit. It would support a non-competitive atmosphere between various Bible translations.

    Historically we should remember that publishers have always done well out of Bibles. Oxford and Cambridge University Presses would, at times, have become bankrupt were it not for the monopolies that they had on versions of the KJV.

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  4. "Its exclusive commitment to our beloved KJV has, however, meant that it can no longer serve the mainstream."

    TBS has problems far more limiting than this, and in fact of the many languages it publishes, only English is affected by its KJV policy.

    And there's nothing necessarily limiting about translating the KJV into other languages. The first Bible in Sranantango was a KJV translation, made out of frustration at the endless foot-dragging by the UBS sponsored translation team. It has been a best-seller for so long it is difficult to see how the UBS edition will be able to supplant it whenever it finally does come out.

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  5. You you guys checked out what the Biblical Studies Foundation is doing with the NET (New English Translation) Bible (http://www.bible.org)?

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  6. I'm not saying you can use the KJV to create a Bible God can't use. I'm just saying that (from TC perspective and from that of exegetes, etc) you're going to be creating problems in the long run. UBS's footdragging sounds like a good reason to get others involved, not a reason to be satisfied with a subpar translation--which now cannot be supplanted by a good one (assuming UBS is). I've ministered in Argentina and Siberia, and in both instances it was difficult to get their old, KJV-equivalent (Reina Valera and Synodal) substituted for anything better and more useful.

    Maybe I should just take a 'strength in weakness' approach to this, but I really do believe making the Bible readable and accurate is critical. NET is great, sounds like they may be doing the sort of thing that's needed. But it's needed in every single country, every single language. And we need professional TCs on the task (which I'm not--nor are many other translators).

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  7. PJW: However, there is a case for an evangelical Bible society that is able consistently to apply evangelical principles in commissioning Bible translations—evangelical principles about text, translation and canon.

    Maybe I missed something in our earlier discussions, but can you summarise what textual differences emerge as a result of applying consistently evangelical principles (say cf. NA or UBS).

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  8. Hi P.J.,
    "An evangelical Bible society could also sponsor a new edition of the GNT."

    On what principles? In what way would differ from the NA/UBS?

    I've always thought it interesting that most evangelicals incline so strongly to the NA, given that some of the readings chosen make it more difficult to defend an inspired, inerrant Bible.

    C. Perkins

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  9. "An evangelical Bible society could also sponsor a new edition of the GNT."

    Perhaps something could be learned by mulling over the history of the Comfort/Barrett project "The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts".

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  10. Daniel,
    In recent years the TBS passed a resolution to ensure greater conformity between its non-English translations and the KJV. I was of course trying to describe the problems I saw in the TBS in as gentle a way as possible.

    JV,
    The NET Bible is a good project, though I think that for normal reading purposes footnotes have an undue prominence in it. It is an excellent study resource.

    Peter and anon,
    We do not yet know how a GNT edited under evangelical principles might differ from NA27/UBS4. We have not yet tried to get the best evangelical scholars together on this issue to debate the issues. It may be that evangelical principles have indeed gone into NA27/UBS4 (e.g. via Metzger) and that it would be simply a question of applying those more consistently.

    Moreover, evangelicals may differ as to what they think the best text is. There are members of this blog with different opinions, for instance, about the end of Mark. I am more talking about a GNT into which evangelical principles have gone, than a GNT that all evangelicals will feel is the best.

    I think it probable that evangelical principles would reach a different text in Acts 16:12 from NA27.

    I am also sure that evangelical principles, thoroughly applied, would result in a different apparatus. The apparatus would have as its principal aim that of establishing the original text, not of illustrating textual history, the history of interpretation, or variants that were simply deemed 'interesting'.

    Anon,
    I'm not really sure how 'inerrancy' is a issue, unless one could establish that a preference for 'errancy' was involved in the way NA27/UBS4 text was established. Can this be done?

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  11. PJW said: "I think it probable that evangelical principles would reach a different text in Acts 16:12 from NA27."

    F.F. Bruce had 34 years to think about it between the first and second editions of his Acts (NICNT) and he supported the conjectural emendation in both editions.

    On the other hand B.M. Metzger and K. Aland were in protest of the majority decision to adopt a conjecture.

    I hope playing devil's advocate doesn't annoy anyone on this blog. It is my normal modus operandi.

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  12. Regarding distinctively evangelical textual criticism, the NA/UBS platform is a so-called scientific approach to tc. This approach rests, to a large degree, on canons of transcriptional probability. Royse argued that these canons are, 'not - as far as one can tell from the exposition - based on the actual knowledge of documents of which Hort speaks, but rather appear to rest upon a priori reflections on how scribes behaved (or *must* have behaved)(Scibal habits in early GNT papyri, p10).

    These transcriptional canons, unsupported by any real body of evidence (i.e. not really scientific at all), result in a preference for dumber readings and a more discordant NT.

    Thus, although individual cases of dumber/discordant readings in the UBS may be defensible, the cumulative effect of dumber reading after dumber reading, requiring one strained explanation after another, becomes wearisome for evangelical expositors and DOES eventually raise issues regarding innerrancy. Many non-evangelicals simply conclude that some of these readings are hopelessly irreconcilable with the idea of an inspired NT - and they would probably win a debate before neutral judges (if there were such things) for it is the evangelical whose defence of these dumber readings is more convoluted, time after time.

    In contrast, a distinctively evangelical approach would presuppose doctrines like the perspicuity and unity of scripture. Such presuppositions would act as a brake on some of the more extreme manifestations of 'prefer the dumber/discordant reading'.

    Notice that I am not excluding the possibility that a *proper* scientific approach to things like scribal habits would probably come a lot closer to ascertaining the original text with or without evangelical presuppositions about the nature of scripture. It is just that when these presuppositions are absent, as in UBS, there is nothing to stop the results going badly awry.

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  13. CSB,
    I don't think there was ever any question of saying that all evangelicals would agree with the product. Moreover, it is possible to be fully evangelical and not to act consistently with evangelical principles. I do this all the time.

    Andrew,
    I'd prefer a bit more substantiation to what you say about NA editions. It might well be possible to get a sense of specific proportions of variants within UBS that were chosen on grounds that evangelicals might find difficult, by a careful study of Metzger's textual commentary. Nevertheless, we come back to the fact that Bengel stood early on in the tradition of those who advocated lectio ardua and lectio difficilior. We need a much clearer taxonomy of 'difficulties' before we can be sure of the relationship between the maxims and evangelical conceptions of the truth of scripture.

    Moreover, the 'scientific' (i.e. rule governed) approach of NA seems to me to be preferable for an evangelical over more subjective forms of eclecticism. After all it usually appears to offer more grounds for certainty—something evangelicals tend to like.

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  14. I wanted to ask the group just a quick question and see if you could point me in the right direction. I am wondering if there is a particular author, book, section of a book, or article that has been most influential in helping you sort through the issues towards an evangelical view of Scripture. Working with texts so closely, especially OT texts, brings about many challenges that many other scholars never have to address. I am not sure if I am satisfied with typical evangelical theologians in their formulations of the doctrine of Scripture, because sometimes I feel that they give too many "ready-made" answers. Can you point me somewhere that might help me sort out some of these challenges?

    Thanks a million!

    TML

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  15. Dear TML,
    Working from doctoral level and above, you're largely on your own in your area of textual work. You may find role models (e.g. D.W. Gooding, Bruce Waltke), but, whoever your role models are, they will only have worked through a tiny fraction of the material and may not have done so in an entirely satisfactory way. Often the most helpful material on textual issues is by people working within an entirely different belief framework from yourself. You use insights from others eclectically to formulate something new and convincing. There are no books of answers and those that promise to answer all problems are mere mirages.

    That said, I can say that while, as an evangelical, you may need to go through a period of several years when the rate at which questions and problems arise is quicker than the rate at which such problems are solved, there comes a point when new problems arise at a much slower rate and the old problems start falling more quickly. At least that was my own experience.

    Do not let anyone persuade you of the ridiculous belief that if there are problems with a belief system that system is necessarily fundamentally flawed. Evangelical belief in verbal inspiration may have problems, but as a whole the evangelical understanding of scripture has far fewer problems than any other understandings (IMVHO!).

    I'd be interested in knowing who the 'typical evangelical theologians' were. On the whole, due to specialisation 'theologians' who write about evangelical beliefs tend to have studied doctrine and theology much and texts relatively little. They therefore do not engage with questions that textual scholars ask. On the other hand, textual scholars do not often seek to formulate questions doctrinally. That's part of the purpose of this blog. It is run basically by people with training in texts, but encourages them to engage in questions that are usually the reserve of systematicians. There are rare cases of people who know a reasonable amount about both text and doctrine, e.g. B.B. Warfield. I've read little of what he wrote (I say this to my shame), but am sure that there would be much benefit to be derived from reading him.

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  16. Hi P.J.,
    "Moreover, evangelicals may differ as to what they think the best text is. There are members of this blog with different opinions, for instance, about the end of Mark."

    I think that for most evangelicals and other conservative Christians, the ending of Mark and the Pericope Adulterae are non-issues. They have accepted those passages in spite of the judgment of textual critics, even though they accept other changes that have been urged (such as dropping Acts 8:37 and the Comma Johanneum). I'm guessing that this is not likely to change in any case.

    "I'm not really sure how 'inerrancy' is a issue, unless one could establish that a preference for 'errancy' was involved in the way NA27/UBS4 text was established. Can this be done?"

    My sentiments on this are pretty much in line with what Andrew said. A too-stringent preference for the harder reading is a de facto preference for errancy, in my opinion.

    "Andrew,
    I'd prefer a bit more substantiation to what you say about NA editions."

    I'm not Andrew, but I'll take a stab:

    John 1:42 and John 21, NA "Simov o uios Iwavvou" instead of "Simov o uios Iwva".

    Matthew 1:10, NA "Amws" instead of "Amwn"

    Luke 3:33, NA "tou Admiv tou Apvi"

    Luke 4:44, NA "Ioudaias" instead of "Galilaias"

    Any thoughts about these?

    C. Perkins

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  17. CP,
    The Αμως variant would only be untrue if the author intended Amos the prophet or someone other than Amon the king. We need to start with an open mind about the phonetic possibilities for representing a name and to derive our knowledge of such possibilities from the ancient texts themselves.

    The Jonah/John issue likewise could be more a question of phonetics than of truth.

    I haven't looked enough into the variant in Luke 3:33, but I reckon that one could make a reasonable historical defence of either Galilee or Judaea in Luke 4:44.

    Thus I guess one could have either maximalist or minimalist views of the degree to which NA editions are more inclined to prefer seemingly errant readings.

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  18. PJW said: "I think it probable that evangelical principles would reach a different text in Acts 16:12 from NA27."

    CSB said: F.F. Bruce had 34 years to think about it between the first and second editions of his Acts (NICNT) and he supported the conjectural emendation in both editions.

    PJW said: I don't think there was ever any question of saying that all evangelicals would agree with the product. Moreover, it is possible to be fully evangelical and not to act consistently with evangelical principles.

    CSB replies:

    But I seem to detect an evangelical principle at work in : F.F. Bruce's decision to support the conjectural emendation in Acts 16:12 found in NA26/UBS3 ... . There are two good reasons. One is semantic coherence and the other is historical accuracy. Bruce explicitly highlights the issue of historical accuracy.

    I noticed that Parsons/Cully Handbook on Acts referred to the UBSGNT committee decision as a "drastic step" and chose to follow Metzger and Aland. However, I have a hard time putting the word "drastic" together with the name F.F. Bruce.

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  19. Hi P.J.,
    "We need to start with an open mind about the phonetic possibilities for representing a name and to derive our knowledge of such possibilities from the ancient texts themselves."

    That's the usual explanation given by apologists, but Metzger says in the textual commentary that Amws (and the "Asaph" reading a few verses before) is an error by the author of Matthew (!), later corrected by scribal emendation.

    As for Luke 3:33, Metzger says that the Committee adopted "the least unsatisfactory form of text, a reading that was current in the Alexandrian church at an early period." Yet, if I'm reading the NA apparatus correctly, the verse (taken as a whole) as printed in NA/UBS has no support anywhere in the manuscript tradition.

    C. Perkins

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  20. There are already several evangelical Bible societies:

    IBS (International Bible Society)
    The Bible League
    Standard Bible Society (promotes ESV)

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  21. Oops! Just saw that I was in fact reading the apparatus wrong for Luke 3:33. Apparently there is some support for the NA/UBS reading after all (though I think not enough to justify the choice).

    C. Perkins

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  22. Wayne,
    The Bible League—at least if it is the Bible League that publishes the Bible League Quarterly—is not a Bible society in that it does not undertake the mass distribution of Bibles.

    I was not aware of the Standard Bible Society, though I find its details on: http://www.gnpcb.org/sbs/

    I have not read the whole ESV, though I do think it is a purposeful translation. I also am grateful that it is a not for profit venture. At the moment the SBS has defined its role as solely to promote this version. It does not engage in Bible translation outside English, nor in editions of the GNT. In that sense the SBS is not (yet) quite the society needed.

    I had forgotten about the International Bible Society. Is there any relationship between IBS and UBS? At the moment it is indeed promoting translation on a wide scale. It also does a great work online. It does not yet seem to do original textcritical work with the Greek/Hebrew (except in so far as such is done by translators). The IBS has a rather close relationship with the NIV family: it sponsored the original NIV and has the copyright of the TNIV. Without wanting to get into a long story about the TNIV, or about gendered language, I can say that it would be necessary for translations distributed by any new society to have a reputation for accuracy.

    I append below some comments that I made on the TNIV NT on Amazon.com (Aug 26, 2003):

    Feminists may love it, traditionalists may hate it, but careful readers will just go away unsatisfied.

    This translation includes some improvements on the NIV. Thus in Matthew 13:32 'Though it [the mustard seed] is the smallest of all seeds' (TNIV) is better as a representation of the Greek than 'Though it is the smallest of all your seeds' (NIV). I also preferred Matthew 27:46 and Luke 1:15. However, on the whole it is weaker. The supposedly sensitive changes in gender issues have been carried out in a fairly indiscriminate way.

    For instance, Matthew 5:22 now reads 'anyone who says to a brother or sister, "Raca"'. The problem is that 'Raca' is a masculine singular term in Aramaic. No one is any more likely to call a woman 'Raca' than are we to call a woman 'male fool'. The gender of 'Raca' should have been taken by the translators as a sign that the Greek here meant 'brother' not 'brother or sister'. The application of Jesus' teaching to include not insulting females should really be a hermeneutical step not a translational one.

    Similarly indiscriminate are the translations in Acts 2:14, 2:22, 3:12, 14:15 and 17:22 which take the clearly male term ANDRES 'men' to refer to males and females. All along sensible people have been arguing that Greek ANTHROPOI can mean 'men and women'. Quite right. But no scholar has ever tried to argue this with ANDRES. Consequently, it seems that the translators are trying to blur the distinction between the original audience of the speeches in Acts and us today.

    Probably the most obviously problematic passage from the point of view of gender has nothing to do with recent debates about inclusive language: In 1 Corinthians 7:4 we now read 'The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.'

    This is simply twisting the text. There is nothing in the Greek about 'yielding'. However, TNIV has actually moved the locus of authority from one spouse to exactly the opposite one. Now no doubt the translators were concerned about how wife-batterers might abuse the text. But that just shows that the text requires sensible interpretation and wise application not to be rewritten by the translators.

    Aside from issues affecting gender we may ask whether a translation that has decided that the word 'saints' is too obscure a designation for the people of God can really claim to be using plain English when it introduces the phrase 'elemental spiritual forces' (Colossians 2:8, 2:20). Enquiry among various scholars specializing on Paul showed that they too were rather perplexed by the phrase.

    The translation also does some unhelpful things textually:

    In 2 Peter 2:15 we read of 'Balaam son of Bezer' with a footnote telling us that the Greek reads 'Bosor'. Weird. It is not as if either spelling means very much to the average reader, but on what basis do the translators decide that their spelling is better than that of the Greek?

    In Mark 1:41 we read that Jesus 'indignant' rather than 'filled with compassion'. A footnote states 'Many manuscripts
    Filled with compassion, Jesus'. Strictly this is true, but it is rather economical with the truth: all manuscripts except for one Greek one and three Latin ones read 'filled with compassion'. The problem is that this type of footnote simply exacerbates what was already a tendency the NIV footnotes to mislead by giving a wrong impression of the textual evidence. The translators do not want average readers to know that they have in fact chosen to print a reading which very rarely found in manuscripts simply because they believe that it is more likely to be original than the others.

    In John 3:3 (cf. 3:5) Jesus says, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again'. So, is being born again a result of seeing the kingdom or does it happen before? It's unfortunate for a translation to be unclear on something like this.

    Since it is probably the case that the majority of changes with regard to the NIV are changes for the worse it would be easier to start a new revision of the NIV than to repair this.

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  23. I am not arguing that the UBS text has "a preference for errancy". I simply argued that they have no theoretical objection to errors in the original, nor even interest in the issue one way or the other. This is one way, in reply to Peter Head, that an evangelical approach would differ. Certain of the UBS readings (e.g. Acts 12:25) are so difficult that a defence on innerrancy grounds is virtually impossible. Evangelicals would at least, even if subconsciously, be influenced by their theological commitments, but the UBS textual commentary is not greatly interested in having a text that makes sense - even by conjecturing one. Heaven help us when, in 20 years time, we have a UBS committee which has even less Christian commitments than UBS3/4.

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  24. As far as the future of the NA tradition is concerned, I don't think that we should expect a major shift towards 'errant' readings. The NA/UBS text has been unchanged since 1975 and will not change with the arrival of NA28. Even changes that have been introduced in the Editio Critica Maior have been minor and have generally resulted from a closer consideration of the genealogy of readings and manuscripts. I think that the changes that will be introduced in future editions of NA will not have 'errancy' as any significant influence.

    As for Acts 12:25—the motions described in NA27 are identical to those described in Robinson and Pierpont's GNT. These latter can hardly be accused of favouring errancy. Without needing to talk of lectio difficilior we may say that the reading that best explains the origin of the others is the earliest. If the earliest reading were απο why would εξ come into existence? If the earliest reading were εξ why would απο come into existence? By contrast, if εις is original we can explain the existence of the two different prepositions meaning 'from' as scribal corrections of something that did not make sense to the copyist.

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