Tag Archives: translation

Translation is Interpretation: Calvin, CBMW, & Phillipians 2:6

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The ever vigilant Suzanne McCarthy, who works with translation issues and points out many of the ideological translating going around in Christian circles, has once again used one of the Reformers and the original Greek to refute the quite biased (and for the worst) translation of Scripture.  At least the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood do not claim to be objective in their readings of Scripture. Then, we would have a problem.

On Philippians 2:6, CBMW says:

The significant thing here is that some theologians writing for the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood have interpreted “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” as an indication that Christ is in some way not equal to God. Here Denny Burk writes for the CBMW,

First, this verse affirms that Christ has ontological equality with the Father with respect to his deity. That’s what “existing in the form of God” means. Second, the verse affirms that in his pre-incarnate state Christ did not try to obtain (or “grasp for”) another kind of equality which he did not have in his pre-existent state.What kind of “equality” did he refuse to grasp for? He refused to “grasp for” a functional equality with the Father that would have usurped the Father’s role as Father. In contrast to grasping for that kind of equality, the Son “emptied himself” and took the form of a servant (v. 7). In other words, in eternity past Christ determined not to usurp the Father’s role but decided to embrace his own role in the incarnation. Thus what we have in this text is both an affirmation of Christ’s ontological equality with the Father (vis a vis his deity) and a passing reference to his functional distinction from the same.  “

But Suzanne, quoting the original Greek, Calvin, and other translations:

This is what Calvin wrote about Philippians 2:6,

6. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

6. Qui quum in forma Dei esset, non rapinam arbitratus esset, Deo aequalem se esse:

In the Latin Vulgate, the Greek word harpagmos, ἁρπαγμός, had been translated as rapina, meaning “rape, pillage, plunder and robbery.” This is how Luther and Calvin also understood this word harpagmos. Calvin wrote,

Thought it not robbery. There would have been no wrong done though he had shewn himself to be equal with God. For when he says, he would not have thought, it is as though he had said, “He knew, indeed, that this was lawful and right for him,” that we might know that his abasement was voluntary, not of necessity. ….

For where can there be equality with God without robbery, excepting only where there is the essence of God; for God always remains the same, who cries by Isaiah, I live; I will not give my glory to another. (Isa 48:11.) Form means figure or appearance, as they commonly speak. This, too, I readily grant; but will there be found, apart from God, such a form, so as to be neither false nor forged?

As, then, God is known by means of his excellences, and his works are evidences of his eternal Godhead, (Ro 1:20,) so Christ’s divine essence is rightly proved from Christ’s majesty, which he possessed equally with the Father before he humbled himself. As to myself, at least, not even all devils would wrest this passage from me — inasmuch as there is in God a most solid argument, from his glory to his essence, which are two things that are inseparable.

However, at least since the RSV, harpagmos has been translated as “a thing to be grasped.” This phrase occurs in the NIV 1984, NASB and ESV. The NRSV, on the other hand, has translated harpagmos as “something to be exploited” and the NIV 2011 as “something to be used to his own advantage.”

For the rest of the post and to make comments, please see this link.

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What Now Shall I Read? A Case for the NAB

The Codex Gigas from the 13th century, held at...
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A very special thank you to Jeremy Thompson from Free Old Testament Audio (where coincidentally you can find the rankings of the top 50 Bibliobloggers on the interwebs) for joining us in this project, “What now Shall I Read?” You You can read the first post on my search for a new Bible translation here. The case for the NIV can be found here. The case for the NRSV can be found here.  Jeremy recommends checking out the USCCB lectionary page and iMissal (an NAB iphone app). And now, let’s give Jeremy a very warm political Jesus welcome as he tells me why he uses the NAB version.

Thanks to Chad for inviting me to write the third part in this series on Bible translations.  As happens from time to time in the Biblioblogoshpere, I may be a bit of an odd one out.  As a Roman Catholic, I’m likely writing a post about a translation that many readers will dismiss, the New American Bible.  So, humor me … 😉
There are only two Bible translations that I read with any kind of consistency, namely the NRSV and the NAB.  I generally use the NRSV in academic settings and the NAB in parish settings.  That is not to say I don’t use other translations.  In fact, when I am studying a particular passage I almost always compare translations using either BibleWorks or Logos.  I don’t believe that there is any one translation that is adequate taken on its own.  Be that as it may, there are three underlying reasons why I primarily use the NAB for daily reading and in parish settings: canon, community, and liturgy.
From the standpoint of canon, I use the NAB because it contains the deuterocanonicals.  I doubt anyone would read a version of the Harry Potter series that left out all or part of book three. In the same way, I don’t read Bibles that leave out books that I believe to be canonical.  If you are a Protestant, would you read from an NIV that was missing the Book of Esther or Job?  Doubtful.  In the same way, I wouldn’t expect an Orthodox Christian to consistently read from the NAB.
Let me give you one illustration where this would play an important role.  My NAB is a study Bible, as most of them are.  In its cross-references and notes it sometimes refers to the deuterocanonicals.   A translation that doesn’t contain these books cannot do so.  I think this is a major weakness even in Bibles where these texts are not taken as canonical (i.e. perhaps they could be included as an appendix somewhat like the NRSV).  At the very least, the deuterocanonicals do shed some light on the New Testament, even for the Protestant.  The inability to cross-reference these texts or refer to them in notes such that the reader can easily look them up without going to another text is problematic.
Now, I have no intention of arguing about issues of canon here.  This is not my blog.  I’m only explaining to you why I read a particular translation.
Against that backdrop, one might say that there are a number of texts that include the deuterocanonicals other than the NAB.  This is certainly true, which brings me to the point of community.  To be quite honest, many Catholics are not entirely happy with the NAB.  I’m not always happy about the translation decisions either.  I hate the way it sometimes handles text critical issues.  But, the fact of the matter is that it is what most people in my church parish read.  So, if I am teaching my adult Sunday School class on Sunday morning and read from anything other than the NAB, I am likely to cause confusion.  Therefore, I read the NAB as a part of my community and point out possible translation issues as I am teaching.
I remember what it was like being in an evangelical Protestant church and everyone using a different translation.  I could walk into church on Sunday morning and find people reading from the NIV, the NLT, the ESV, the NASB, the KJV, the NKJV, the Message, or the HCSB.  And, then there was the continual interjecting in Sunday School class: “but mine says …”  and me thinking “well that’s nice” ;-).  It is refreshing not to have to deal with that so much anymore.  Of course, some people in my church parish do have different versions, but I would say that over 90% of the people who come in for any teaching that I do in my parish use the NAB.  And, any time I listen to another person in my parish teach, they use the NAB.  So, do I love it? No.  I love Hebrew and Greek texts.  Is it adequate? Yes.  And, most people in my community use it.
Finally, and tied to the aspect of community, is liturgy.  The NAB is the text used in the lectionary from which my church and most others in North America read.  When I do devotional reading I generally read from the lectionary.  I always try to interact with the lectionary texts in Hebrew and Greek when I have time, but that is a bit idealistic considering everything I’m currently doing.  Whether I study the lectionary readings in Greek and Hebrew or English I always go to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops website or to iMissal to find where the lectionary readings are.  If I read the lectionary in English, I am reading the NAB.  If I do that, then I am seeing the same readings from the same translation as any Catholic in North America who has attended mass that day or who has read from the lectionary.  And, I think there is something really wonderful about that – Christians reading the Bible together in some unified way.
I love the lectionary.  In the tradition of which I was a part, the usage of scripture was somewhat myopic.  Rarely were there sermons on the Old Testament or the gospels.  Our preachers spent most of their time in the epistles.  The lectionary forces me to remove my blinders to some degree because I am not choosing what I want to read.  I get an Old Testament reading (usually), a psalm, and a gospel reading.  I must interact with readings that I might ordinarily overlook.  And, I believe that is important.  At the very least, I think it humbles me.  It makes me realize just how difficult it is to do theology considering the variety of perspectives found in the text of the Bible.  Some may believe that all of the Biblical authors are saying similar things only in different ways, but even still, that is a lot to sort.  I am thankful that lectionary makes me ever more aware of this.  And, the Bible version that makes it easiest for me to experience these benefits of the lectionary is the NAB.
With all this said, I am not recommending that everyone read the NAB.  For me, it just makes sense.  I would recommend though that we should all take into account canon, community, and “liturgical” context when making decisions about which translation we read from, even if you don’t use a lectionary – God help you ;-).
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