There are three (no, four!) ways of handling disputed text in the Bible. Consider these examples of 1 John 5:7 in Portuguese:
1. Leave it in but bracket it
Pois há três que dão testemunho [no céu: o Pai, a Palavra e o Espírito Santo; e estes três são um.
(RA93: João Ferreira de Almeida, Revista e Actualizada)
2. Take it out but footnote it
Há três que dão testemunho: 8 o Espírito,a
(NIV: Nova Versão Internacional)
a 5.7,8 Alguns manuscritos da Vulgata dizem testemunho no céu: o Pai, a Palavra e o Espírito Santo, e estes três são um.8 E há três que testificam na terra: o Espírito, (isto não consta em nenhum manuscrito grego anterior ao século doze).
3. Leave it out
Há três testemunhas
(BLH: Linguagem de Hoje)
Each of these strategies is appropriate for the different types of translations represented.
1. A translation with a long tradition
The Almeida translation has a four-hundred year history. Just leaving out the phrase inherited from the Vulgate would possibly result in an outcry. Bracketing the disputed phrase allows the translation to carry on a tradition while also acknowledging modern scholarship.
2. A translation aimed at accuracy and scholarship
The Nova Versão Internacional was translated using a similar philosophy as the New International Version. As an academic translation they didn’t include an obvious emendation but did footnote it for the sake of those who might be comparing it to older translations.
3. A translation aimed at comprehension
The Biblia em Linguagem de Hoje is meant to be an accurate translation in contemporary language. Footnotes, italics, or brackets would all distract from the message of the passage and so are omitted.
Our next example comes from Mark 9 where verses 44 and 46 are disputed. Interestingly, the translations choose different strategies here. Almeida again puts the traditional phrases in square brackets. But the NVI includes the verses and footnotes them. Incidentally, this is one example of the relative independence of the NVI from the NIV translation where both verses are omitted. By the way, that’s a great prank. Ask someone in Sunday School to read Mark 9:44 and 46 (It only works with the NIV, of course). Oddly enough, the BLH chooses to square bracket the phrases rather than removing them. Perhaps they felt that leaving out a disputed phrase was one thing, but leaving out an entire verse was too radical. Another oddity of the BLH is at John 7:53-8:11. The BLH omits John 7:53 but brackets 8:1-11 (For the record this is one of my favorite stories in the gospels).
So I’ve mentioned three methods of bracketing disputed text, but what is the fourth? The Bible is full of “authorial asides” in which the writer explains something that might be strange to his readers. So Matthew highlights fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. John explains strange Jewish customs. Textual “corrections” have been made throughout the ages to make a text more comprehensible or to give a more positive twist on a story. The ending of Mark and the opening and closing sections of the book of Job are such examples. A Gospel isn’t very good news when it ends with a dead Messiah. And the existential angst of Job was tweaked (very crudely, in my opinion) with a “happily ever after” frame.
This is an awkward topic for some since it seems to attempt to undermine the divine inspiration of Scripture. What I seem to be saying is that people have been tampering with the Bible through the ages and it is essentially inaccurate. On the contrary, my point is that divine inspiration is both organic and diachronic. We’re not meant to quibble with whether or not some person named Mark really wrote the end of the Gospel carrying his name. Rather, we accept as canonical the Scripture in development over time. It seemed good to believers at some point in history to add this passage and we can accept that as being divine inspiration equal to the same breath that rustled the original pages.
By the way, did you notice all the parentheticals that I included in this post? I’m commenting on someone else’s comments about the text and then commenting about my comments. The question is, will you comment as well?