Thursday, October 27, 2011

NIV 2011 translation-philosophy and abortion-logic

M'man Professor Jim Hamilton has a terrific post on the decision by the NIV 2011 translators to take Selah from the printed text, and move it to footnotes. Jim makes a characteristically thorough and solid case that this is a bad and insupportable decision, and should be reversed.

Well, good luck with that. The entire NIV "family" of versions have made a number of bad and insupportable decisions, and not reversed them. It is doubtful that they will reverse this.

But I just want you to focus on the enormity of what they have done. They taken a part of the text which has unimpeachable textual support, and sidelined it. In other words, there is no objective doubt that Selah was part of the canonical text of Psalms, the Bible that our Lord affirmed as God's Word. But because the word is mysterious, and for whatever other corollary reasons, the translators simply decide that its value is up for re-evaluation, and they demote it.

One more time:
  1. This is undoubtedly part of the canonical text
  2. But we estimate its value to be less than the rest of the text; therefore
  3. We are free to demote it
Now, do you see the connection between this apparent reasoning and our discussion of abortion the other day? There, the reasoning we opposed went like this:
  1. This is undoubtedly a baby
  2. But we estimate its value to be less than other babies; therefore
  3. We are free to contract for its termination
In both cases, I see the problem as insufficient fear of God, an issue I develop a little bit at Pyro today, and at great length in the Proverbs book. This is the text of Scripture, the very word of God... yet I feel free to demote part of it. This is a baby, created in God's image and posing no imminent physical threat to the mother's life... yet I feel free to have him killed.

Note too the slope in either case.

In the case of abortion-for-a-parent's-crime, advocates have granted the proposition that we are free to define human value for convenience's sake (emotional convenience, in this case).

In the case of Selah, translators have granted the proposition that a part of the sacred text can be demoted for... cultural or other sake.

In the former case, then in principle all babies' lives (and all children's lives) are in principle forfeit and negotiable.

In the latter case, then in principle all texts (and all text's importance) are in principle forfeit and negotiable.

In the former, you have "it is a baby, and yet..."

In the latter, you have "it is the text of Scripture, and yet..."

Where could it lead? Given the clear yearning on the part of at least some NIV minds to be liked by folks who hate Biblical teaching concerning women, is there any in-principle reason why a future "edition" of the NIV should not similarly decide that 1 Timothy 2:8-15 was not, like Selah, a cultural fixture for which we no longer have any need, and that it should not be read aloud in church, and so it should be relegated to a footnote?

Think about it.


Robert said...

People might as well do that with the way they have tried to contextualize those verses. If people would quit asking "What does this verse mean to me?" and started asking "What does this verse mean?" things wouldn't be murky at all. I fear, however, that the culture is so wrapped up in postmodernism that they don't think the second question makes any sense.

This reminds me of how as I was getting to my teenage years this sentiment became very popular:

"I'm just going to raise my kids to make a decision about their own religious beliefs."

What does that tell you about holding to the truth? Which is, in essence, what this whole abortion debate is about...what is the truth?

Unknown said...

In your second to last paragraph you state, "In the latter case, then in principle all texts (and all children's lives) are in principle forfeit and negotiable."

But, are you not actually making this point:
In the latter case, then in principle all texts (and all meaning derived from those text) are in principle forfeit and negotiable.

Or, maybe I have missed the mark.

Steve Burrow

Mike Westfall said...

It is God's Word. Selah.
It is a baby. Selah.

One of the speculations I've seen about the meaning of Selah, is that it means, "Stop and think about this."

DJP said...

Corrected, and some lines added. Thanks.

DJP said...

I say it means "Guitar solo." But regardless, it's the text.

Like the Psalm-titles.

Anonymous said...

That is pretty damning of the NIV in my opinion.

DJP said...

Unless I'm missing something — which certainly happens — I think the least you have to say is that it's breath-takingly high-handed.

Though I may be a minority voice in this, I say the same about their decision unnecessarily to pluralize singles. They swear it's not to kiss up to some cultural fad. Color me completely unconvinced.

Gilbert said...

This would all be a moot point if the authors grasped the authority of Scripture, and Genesis 1:1, going hand in hand. Understand and truly know that first verse, and everything falls into place.

JackW said...

Guitar solo?

Now why didn't I think of that?

... and that's not a softball Dan.

Unknown said...

I was a little wide of the mark, but close.

Nice, insightful post. Interesting to see the parallels in the logic.

Steve B

Robert said...

This seems to tie in a bit to your post on Pyromaniacs today...if these people had a healthy fear of Yahweh, would they be able to change any of His Word in this fashion? And would people have such an easy time trying to define the value of life for themselves instead of turning to God and understanding that the baby in the womb is created in His image just as much as they are? The more I think about this, the more I am reminded of 2 Timothy 3 and how much people these days resemble the people that Paul is describing there.

David Regier said...

Maybe they were trying to avoid thinking of this:

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Oh, wow, I get the parallel.

And my first reaction was something about how matters more in terms of abortion, but then... doh! If we (all) treated God's Holy Word with the fear and respect it's due, we wouldn't be having the discussion about abortion anyway.

Anonymous said...

You're firing on all cylinders today Mr. Phillips.

Tying those two topics together as you did was very instructive...and brilliant.

Unknown said...

Where could it lead?

Anywhere our enemy Satan wants to trip us up. As you have driven home in the post, once you start making exceptions (be it regarding scriptural integrity, abortion, marriage/divorce, gender roles, etc.) you pretty much open up a hole large enough to drive a truck through.

So if the primary problem leading to these issues is an insufficient fear of God, as you have identified, it would have to follow that the wisdom and understanding to rightly deal with these issues when they come up in the first place is also not there, right? (Proverbs 9:10)

But wait! What is inseparably linked with the fear of the Lord in this verse? Why, knowledge of the Holy One, of course! And oh look, there it is again in Hosea 4:1. Say, what does God say just after this that happens when the people lack knowledge of Him? My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6)

Now all of a sudden its looking a touch formulaic:

Fear of the Lord & knowledge of the Holy one leads to wisdom & insight resulting in life. (Proverbs 9:10-11)

Lack of faith & lack of knowledge leads to sin & destruction resulting in death. (Hosea 4)

So you tell me - is it really a good idea to obscure parts of the text that cannot be translated because there is no English equivalent or because certain societal norms dictate otherwise? We are being conned if we think so and the liberals from the NIV translation committee appear to be playing right along. So Dan is perfectly right in asking what they're planning to drive a truck through next.

In the end it probably doesn't really matter though exactly what it is because all Satan really wants is to have the 5 Solas in his rear view mirror.

Doug Hibbard said...

I can state that categorically "selah" does not mean guitar solo.

It quite obviously means either "drum break" or "saxophone riff".

And it belongs in the text, not the footnote. Even if it meant "clarinet feature."

Unknown said...

Personally, I'd be happy with "trumpet blast!"

It is God's instrument after all.. ;)

JackW said...

Solo Guitar Gloria.

VcdeChagn said...

I wasn't sure whether to leave this as a comment or not as it's really not on topic for NIV/Abortion, but it does touch on changing God's Word based on culture or comfort (mental or otherwise).

We're almost through the Bible in our family devotions and I'm looking for another translation. Like you, one of my pet peeves is YHWH use, or lack thereof. I did some research and the HCSB does better than most but doesn't come really close to what I want in a translation.

Well, yesterday evening I was reading this blog entry: and thought this meshed well with your description of "dumbing down" the NIV.

You say:

In the case of Selah, translators have granted the proposition that a part of the sacred text can be demoted for... cultural or other sake.

In the blog article, the letter from the HCSB translator says:

… our objective is to introduce to the contemporary church what is the most likely pronunciation of the divine name YHWH in the Hebrew Bible. We did not render the majority of occurrences of YHWH as Yahweh because our goal is not only to be accurate but to use an English style that is most familiar to people. Since most Christians today probably do not commonly speak of “Yahweh,” but rather of “the Lord,” we felt it would be insensitive to use Yahweh for YHWH in every case and would make the Bible seem too uncomfortable for most people.

To me, they are similar if not the same. Our comfort is not a good reason to translate differently. Yet every translation hides YHWH's name.

Now if I could get the DJP version of the OT.

DJP said...

THAT would be CRAZY.

Well, I'll say this for the CSB vs. NIV.

The NIV by fiat (folllowing the execrable TNIV, I think) simply drops all of the Selah's in the Psalms. Whoomp.

The CSB, by contrast, is at least beginning the return of Yahweh to the text in a language whose main translations have completely lacked it.

**Selah is in most EVV, NIV removes it
**Yahweh is not in most EVV, CSB is sneaking it in

VcdeChagn said...

Yeah, the NIV would not be a translation of choice for my family devotions.

I'd just about as soon use The "Message" (scare quote alert).

BUT. I wish there were a good OT translation that uses YHWH consistently.

DJP said...

You and me both, bro. No mainline "Prot" version does.



Phil said...

One of your more insightful observations.
There is a world (tilting?) of difference between "the word can mean this" to "I don't think it has value so I'm eliminating it."
Even if a by-standard doesn't think they crossed the Rubicon before, they've clearly done so here.

Family Blogs said...

Hi Dan,

I do so appreciate your blog and find myself in agreement with you on 99% of issues. But this post, while undoubtedly sound in terms of logic, seems a little excessive in its conclusions.

I say that respectfully, and with an appreciation for your grasp of biblical languages and translation principles. I know that you have proven by your inferences and ergo that a comparison can be made between the logic of the abortion lobby and the translation committee. But I don't think there's a necessary link here. I feel that you've taken two strongly emotive issues (rightly so) and wedded them together in a way which isn't really all that helpful. We shouldn't (I would go so far as saying mustn't) align the work of godly people like Doug Moo and the CBT with the murderers who deny life to the most vulnerable (tragic to say) in our society.

I just can't find any justification for this kind of alignment, and I also can't find any true engagement with the why of the issue of demoting Selah to the footnotes.

Perhaps a simple question addressed to the CBT would yield their textual/translational motives for this move? Or perhaps their response would galvanise your arguments against all things NIV. I feel that bringing abortion into the arena allows for neither of these possibilities.

Commenting negatively is highly uncharacteristic of my engagement with your blog, but I feel that this post is uncharacteristic of your normal engagement with the issues of our day. I trust you'll sense the charity and grace behind what I'm trying to articulate here. I know that you rightly demand that readers' comments engage only with what you say rather than what they think you are saying, but there is undoubtedly a burden on any writer/preacher to sound how his argument may be interpreted by those who read and hear. Trying to rhyme the CBT and pro-abortionists seems like an unhelpful concept to plant in peoples' minds.

Wishing you every blessing,

DJP said...

Fair enough, Andrew, and you're welcome both to hold and express that view. I was aware in writing that it was a "reach," not in that the connection is invalid (at least not to my mind, or I wouldn't have made it), but because it is not obvious. Just to restate or clarify briefly:

My point is that in both cases there is a devaluation which forms the basis of a mistreatment.

Further, the devaluation in either case may not be stated in word, but it is expressed in action nonetheless. That is, the proponent of killing children of rapists confesses that they are children made in God's image — but it's morally OK to kill them anyway; the NIV translator may affirm the inspired textual nature of "Selah," but it's OK to demote it from the text anyway.

Thanks for expressing your view.

Family Blogs said...

Thanks, Dan, for your gracious response. I do see the logic of what you're saying and I share your concerns regarding NIV 2011.

I know from some of your previous posts that you have always felt lukewarm (to put it mildly) about the NIV since its emergence in 1984.

I'm coming from a different perspective where I use the NIV for preaching and teaching and have introduced it as the pew Bible in the church of which I'm Pastor. I know that the 1984 carries compromises between fidelity to the original languages and readability, but that's an area where I've been happy to take a hit for the benefit of our members being able to readily read and understand their Bibles.

Now, frankly, I'm concerned about the direction of NIV 2011. The CBT have effectively shut down my ability to recommend the 1984 as it is going out of print, and I'm unhappy about many of the translation decisions in NIV 2011. The Selah issue is one thing, but other parts don't bear scrutiny.

Deuteronomy 21:23 is an excruciating translation:
("you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance")which evacuates the text of its Christological nuance. I could name others but this troubles me immensely. It seems like a liberty.

I'm left now in a position where anyone who begins to attends our church and buys NIV will be getting 2011 with no choice to revert to 1984. Its a dilemma which I haven't yet resolved for myself.

Anyway, enough rambling from me. All of the above is simply to say I'm in total sympathy with what you have to say about the NIV 2011's liberties with the text. I just don't think abortion rhetoric helps.

Thanks for what you share on this blog, Dan. I don't want my criticism of this post to downplay how helpful I find your thoughts.

Suzanne said...

What is your opinion of the 13 times that the ESV, NET and HCSB remove "men" from the book of Acts without even a footnote?

Can you recommend a Bible which does not have certain words removed. I think the KJV would be fine, but it surely must be labeled an egalitarian Bible due to its translation of 1 Tim. 2:12.

Perhaps you will endorse the KJV as long as 1 Tim 2:12 is removed.

DJP said...

I haven't studied those instances, and don't know what to make of your cryptic remark about the KJV. I don't recommend it simply because it isn't the language anyone (except old-school Pentecostals faking prophecy) speaks.

I recommend either ESV, CSB, NAS or NKJ. No translation is perfect. If I made one myself, it wouldn't be perfect, either (duh). There's always both art and science to rendering something from one language to another. But I am basically comfortable with the translation philosophies of those versions, though the textual tricks of the NKJ in the NT make my brain itch.

Suzanne said...

The ESC, HCSB, NET and so on, all omit translating the Greek word aner (andres) in the expression "andres adelphoi" in the book of Acts 13 times. No footnote, nothing. Why attack the NIV for putting selah in the footnote and not attack these other translations?

Why is it an "enormity" when the NIV puts a word in the footnotes but it is not an enormity when the ESV, HCSB, and NET remove a word altogether? I don't understand the selective attack on the NIV for selah.

On the other hand, I have heard that the most criticized verse in the NIV 2011 is 1 Tim. 2:12 for having "assume authority" instead of "exercize authority." But "assume authority" is from Calvin's commentary. The KJV had "usurp authority" and Luther had "herr sein" Jerome "dominari."

"To exercise authority" is by far the minority choice. The NIV 2011 is far more main stream and traditional in its interpretation, and stands with Luther and Calvin on this one.

I don't understand the basis of your unique attack on the NIV 2011. If you did not like any Bible translation, that would be fine - I am all for reading the Bible in the original languages - but you recommend the ESV, which emasculates the book of Acts and uses modern and unusual interpretations for 1 Tim. 2:12 and Romans 16:7.

Suzanne said...

There are 13 instances of the phrase ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί in Acts which the ESV, etc. collapse to just ἀδελφοί. Here’s that list: 13x: Acts 1:16; 2:29, 37; 7:2; 13:15, 26, 38; 15:7, 13; 22:1; 23:1, 6; 28:17.

Suzanne said...


Are you selectively criticizing the NIV and you are not concerned that the ESV, NET and HCSB also delete words from the original?

Where did my comment go where I supplied all the citations? Perhaps you are not interested in evidence.

I am sorry but I do not understand the purpose of a blog that does not apply the same criteria to all Bible translations.

DJP said...

Suzanne, I just don't have an opinion about your questions. I do have the opinion I expressed and explained in the post, and I do have a fulltime job, and this isn't it. So there y'go.

Suzanne said...


Thanks for posting my comments. I thought they were lost.

I was just wondering why Jim, or you, would criticize the Niv for removing words, but not criticise the ESV for removing words. It seems random. I have a full time job too but some people I work with don't think much of Christians for what they perceive to be unfair and irrational criticism of each other.

DJP said...

Sure. Seeing and explaining an error in a "translation" riddled with high-handed errors is a standalone, and doesn't really oblige me to study every oddity of every translation. I wish I had the time! Nor do I recommend any translation without reservations. Some are closer to the mark, some further. Some, like the NIV, start out wrongheaded and go worse from there. Lots of things about the ESV frustrate me.

Suzanne said...

But at least you can see that the logic you have applied to the NIV 2011 and abortion applies equally well to the ESV, NET and HCSB. You wrote,

"But I just want you to focus on the enormity of what they have done. They taken a part of the text which has unimpeachable textual support, and sidelined it."

This is done by all translations. Your criticism of the NIV 2011 rests entirely on issues that you have not mentioned in this post. Christians should strive for more transparency than this.

DJP said...

No — and I think this will be the last time will do this reel — it rests on what I explained in the post. If no one can comment on anything until he has studied everything, then no one can comment on anything.

If you disagree with that, you may not comment.

If you agree, you need not.

See? Not rocket science.

Either way, we're back to the NIV (which I like less, the more I read it) and its indefensible decision to drop part of the text of Psalms for lame, or no, reasons. See above.