1. 1 Peter 2:17
I thank Danny Silk, whose material on honour I linked to in a post on my own blog, for pointing out that something rather strange has happened in many translations of this verse. The verse starts with pantas timesate, and ends with ton basilea timate. That is, the same verb is used in the first and the last of the four clauses. The first is an aorist imperative and the last is a present imperative, but the significance, if any, of that difference is unclear.
So it is interesting to see how different versions have rendered this verse. NIV, TNIV and The Message have different renderings for the first and last clauses (I am taking most of these texts from Bible Gateway, hence the mostly American spellings):
Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (NIV)
Show proper respect to everyone, love your fellow believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (TNIV)
Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government. (MSG)
All the other versions I looked at use the same verb in the two clauses:
Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. (KJV)
Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (RSV)
Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (NRSV)
Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (NASB)
Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (NKJV)
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (ESV = HCSB)
Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king. (NLT)
Respect everyone and show special love for God’s people. Honor God and respect the Emperor. (CEV)
So, are NIV, TNIV and The Message justified in using a different verb here? They might claim that it is not good English style to repeat the same verb so quickly. Then it probably wasn’t good Greek style either, but that is what the author did – with a variation in verb form which might have been stylistic, to avoid exact repetition. Or the translators might claim that the difference reflects their interpretation of the different verb forms – but it is unlikely that the author intended such a significant difference between them.
I am not one to press for complete concordance in rendering Greek verbs. But in cases like this it probably is best to translate concordantly. I can hear in my mind preachers trying to explain the difference between the “honour” we are to give to kings and the (perhaps lesser) “respect” we are to give to all people. But that was surely not Peter’s point in this verse, which is obscured if different verbs are used.
The NIV (but not TNIV) punctuation at least is good here. The first of the four commands is surely the generic one, to honour everyone, human and divine. (There is no word for “men” or “people” in the text.) Then Peter gives three examples of how this is to be put into practice. Fellow Christians are to be honoured by showing agape love to them. God is to be feared. And even the emperor, the feared persecutor, is to be honoured like everyone else.
So this is a clear place where NIV and TNIV need to be updated, if only back to the wording of older translations. Unfortunately it is too late to present this as a formal submission for the NIV 2011 update, but maybe the suggestion can still be slipped in somehow.
2. John 13:12
There is an interesting variation in how Jesus’ words in this verse have been translated, in more literal versions:
Do you understand what I have done for you? (NIV = TNIV)
Know ye what I have done to you? (KJV)
Do you know what I have done to you? (RSV = NASB = NKJV = NRSV)
Do you understand what I have done to you? (ESV = MSG)
Do you know what I have done for you? (HCSB)
(Emphasis added to all of these)
Consider the difference in English between doing something to someone and doing something for someone. The latter is always for their benefit. The former carries the clear implication that what was done brings them harm or disadvantage.
Is what Jesus did in the previous verses, washing the disciples’ feet, to be understood as for their benefit or for their disadvantage? The Greek in this verse, a simple dative, is ambiguous (it could be a dative of advantage or a dative of disadvantage, for those who understand this kind of classification and find it meaningful – I’m not sure if I do). But in the wider context it is clear (or at least I think it is) that Jesus’ action was for his disciples’ benefit.
Now in English in this place, as in so many other cases, it is impossible to preserve every possible ambiguity in the original Greek. That causes a difficulty where in context the Greek is really ambiguous. But many of the supposed ambiguities, like this one, can be resolved with a little thought. Unfortunately in this case most of the translators don’t seem to have given that little thought to their rendering, but have mindlessly rendered the Greek dative with English “to”.
So this time three cheers to NIV and TNIV (also to HCSB, although “understand” makes much more sense than “know” here) for getting this one right.
3. Matthew 18:21
This one is a bit of light relief, which I could call “Out of the Mouths of Babes and Sucklings”. In this verse the Greek adelphos is clearly intended to refer to men as well as women. Does anyone question that? But Tominthebox News Network reports how Brother Cites Matthew 18 – Intends to Never Forgive Sister Again:
“Ha! It doesn’t say anything in the Bible about forgiving your sister!” screamed an excited Jared. “I’m so glad we went to church. It was awesome. She has to forgive me because I’m her brother, but I don’t have to forgive her for anything, because she’s a girl!”
It seems that small children understand that “brother” in English does not include sisters. So why don’t some translators understand this?
Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? (NIV)
Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me? (TNIV)
This is a clear example of when TNIV is a great improvement on NIV, and that improvement needs to be preserved in the 2011 update.