The Holey Bible

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Wayne points to Nick’s post on parentheses in the Bible.

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?

6 thoughts on “The Holey Bible

  1. John Lussier says:

    “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.”

    Where does the ability to add to scripture stop than? Is this addition something the Holy Spirit will reveal to us individually, in our community, elsewhere and else how? Are we only to accept additions after a certain date? Why would God give later revelation to be added (Was this addition unnecessary for the original audience, but later necessary)? What if the addition doesn’t align with the intent of the author/text? I think a good part of creating a Better Bible is making sure that the textual variants are taken into account and sifted responsibly.

    (In the case of Mark are we meant to come away with a feeling of anxiety or comfort from the ending section on resurrection? In my mind anxiety and fear FILL the narrative strategy of Mark, so the addition actually creates the opposite of what was meant to be evoked.)

  2. David Ker says:

    John, I like all your questions. And I agree with you on the narrative tension at the end of Mark.

    To respond to one of your questions, I would say that God felt the need to add to his original message throughout the development of the collection of documents that we call “The Bible.” Paul saw something in the Law that required a different book (Galatians) to be written in view of God’s new covenant. Now, the really important question you’ve asked is when do we stop adding to the canon? It could be argued that we are still adding to the canon through translations, commentaries, and entire books written on Biblical topics. In some cases these additions have actually made it into the Bible itself through footnotes and text boxes in Study Bibles.

  3. JKGayle says:

    “Just leaving out the phrase inherited from the Vulgate would possibly result in an outcry.”

    You sound like that Hippo guy – St. Augustine of Hippo, I mean.

    So my comment on your comment on someone else’s comment is his comment:

    “[The Prophet Amos, for example,] was by divine appointment taken and sent to prophesy to the people of God: but not according to the Septuagint translators, who even themselves, working under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, seem for this very reason to have expressed some things in a different way, in order that the attention of the reader might be rather directed to a study of the spiritual sense–and thus some of their passages are even more obscure because more figurative–but rather as the translation has been made from the Hebrew into the Latin language, done by the presbyter, Jerome, himself a skillful expounder of both tongues.”

    (This is Therese Sullivan’s English translation of Augustine, which is a little kinder to those LXX translators than Philip Schaff and Henry Wade, who render Augustine’s Latin as “I shall not, however, follow the Septuagint translators”).

  4. Michael Nicholls says:

    John, I like your questions too.

    I’m also curious how you would answer some of them. At what date was the Canon closed, and how was it closed? Also, how were books such as 2 Peter and Jude included in the Canon?

    If it’s too off topic though, we don’t have to go there. Your questions sparked my curiosity, and I’m still wondering what David would say too.

  5. Aaron Armitage says:

    David Ker;

    Am I free to disregard a translation, a commentary, a book, or the notes in a study Bible?

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