Hebrews 2:6 – A Response to Rick Shields

I have been working for a couple of weeks on a response to John Hobbins’ response to my previous post. There I will talk about  differences in usage between, Xenophon, the LXX, and the NT to argue that the NT is not ALL in Biblish. But then Rick Shields posted on Hebrews 2:6 which touches on a key issue and my comment to him was turning into a whole post, so I’m responding to Rick here, and postpone the trickier discussion of John’s points till later.

We linguists wince at the treatments of the gender “problem” in Bible translation, because it’s one of the key places in which people argue from a complete misunderstanding of the nature of language. Grammatical gender is simply not referential, it is classificatory.

The belief that grammatical gender is referential, in turn, triggers a theological feedback loop, in which people fight tooth and nail for interpretations that simply aren’t warranted by the text, as if their salvation depended on it. But that’s another matter.

At least three dimensions are in play in translation, Bible or otherwise. One is the referential intent of the writer. Another is the norms of usage in the respective languages, and the third is the intertextuality within the larger conversation that the particular text was written as part of.

I tried to tease out the second of these dimensions, the usage one, in my post a couple of weeks ago. But it didn’t work very well, because it got overrun by a discussion that was driven by questions of intertextuality. Then Rick Shields posted on a topic that goes to the heart of intertextuality, and I couldn’t resist.

In garden variety translation, including literary translation, the priorities are (in order):

1) Get the reference right.
2) Make the usage natural.
3) Then work in whatever intertextuality you can without damaging the previous two priorities.

There are, of course, complications. Sometimes the “real” reference is implied in some way, rather than stated, and you may have to wiggle some to get it to come out. For example, you may have to undo a metaphor that doesn’t work in the target language. Knowing just when to do that kind of thing is what makes translation an art form.

But in Bible translation, usage somehow seems always to end up at the bottom of the priority list. And for some people, intertextuality is at the very top. That is, they are willing to sacrifice even clarity of reference to maintain the intertextuality of the original.

While I personally don’t agree with devaluing usage, I understand that it is easy for us to accept the distortions of weird usage because we’ve heard so much Scripture in some or other distortion of Elizabethan/Jacobian English, that we think natural usage just isn’t what Scripture should sound like.

I could go on for days about that.

But overvaluing intertextuality is a real problem for me. And Rick Shields has landed smack dab in the middle of one of the most difficult cases. (He posts about it here. He says he’s talking about gender, but that’s not the real problem with the passage he cites.)

Let me set up the case.

The OT uses the trope man (אֱנ֥וֹשׁ  enosh)/son of man (בֶן־אָ֝דָ֗ם ben-adam) in repetitions/elaborations for emphatic reasons. There are many examples. I’ll cite just one.

Blessed is the one (אֱנ֥וֹשׁ  enosh) who does these things
and the person (בֶן־אָ֝דָ֗ם ben-adam) who holds on to them.
Blessed is the one who keeps the day of worship from becoming unholy
and his hands from doing anything wrong. (Is. 56:2) (GW)

This is the device being used in Ps. 8:4.

what is man (אֱנ֥וֹשׁ  enosh) that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man (בֶן־אָ֝דָ֗ם ben-adam ‘son of man’) that you care for him? (Ps. 8:4) (ESV)

Now here’s the problem.

Jesus frequently uses the very non-Greek phrase υἰὸς ἀνθρώπου (= בֶן־אָ֝דָ֗ם ben-adam, ‘son of man’) to refer to himself.  He follows in the OT tradition of Ezekiel in what one could and probably should interpret as a claim to be a prophet. It’s probably something that you don’t even try to translate, you just calque it. (And that’s OK, because it’s as weird in Greek as it is in English, and the writers of the NT simply calqued it from the Aramaic, rather than making the pragmatic substitution.)

But in the end Jesus turns that phrase into a reference to Daniel 7:13 and a claim to being the Messiah, (Matt 24:30, 26:64, Mark 13:26, 14:62, and Luke 21:27). The writer of Hebrews knows this, so he’s reading the Messianic claim back into Psalm 8, and the translator is forced to give the intertextuality high priority here, just to maintain the intended reference.

The result is a minimum requirement that the form of the two noun phrases in question must be both singular and indefinite. That traps you in awkward English, since we prefer our generic references to be plural or definite.

Sheep are docile animals.
The sheep is a docile animal.

are both more natural than

A sheep is a docile animal.

An attempt to preserve the singular definite might read like this:

what is the mortal that you pay any attention to him,
or the son of mortals that you care about him?

That doesn’t quite work. But I have another kind of solution.

I have long argued that OT quotes in the NT are in Biblish Koine as opposed to the rest of the NT Koine. If you take that position then the OT quotes should generally be set off in KJV-like language.

Here’s a larger excerpt from Hebrews 2, using existing translations to show the kind of approach, I favor.

4 God himself showed that his message was true by working all kinds of powerful miracles and wonders. He also gave his Holy Spirit to anyone he chose to. We know that God did not put the future world under the power of angels. Somewhere in the Scriptures someone says to God,

“What is man, that Thou art mindful of him,
or the son of man, that Thou carest for him?
7 For a little while Thou madest him lower than the angels;
Thou crownedst him with glory and honor,
and didst set him over the works of thy hands:
8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.

God has put everything under our power and has not left anything out of our power. But we still don’t see it all under our power. What we do see is Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels. Because of God’s wonderful kindness, Jesus died for everyone. And now that Jesus has suffered and died, he is crowned with glory and honor!  (vss 4-6a, 8b-9 CEV, vss 6b-8a ESV/KJV mash up)

Norms and accuracy

I’ve been absent for quite a while here. I’m on sabbatical and trying to finish not one, but two, books. Since I last posted I’ve been to India on a spur of the moment trip.

One of my wife’s work colleagues got married and invited us to the wedding. So we went. I have for years been telling my wife that I wanted to visit India some day. Seeing the Taj Mahal was on my bucket list. So she called my bluff.

Anyway, we also got to visit some longtime friends in Tamil Nadu as well. Mary met them in Ethiopa in the 60’s. They are a family of polyglots. They speak excellent English in addition to their native Tamil. From their years in Ethiopia, they speak Amharic. Their son, who has had a most interesting work history, went back to Africa to work so he speaks Swahili as well as Hindi and all the major Dravidian languages (Kannada, Malayalam, and Telegu). This is an example of something we linguists say over and over. Much of the world is multilingual. People who speak only one language are the exception, not the rule. And Vinod didn’t learn his languages by studying them in school for years. Rather he picked them up mostly in the context of living and working in places where he needed to have them. Needless to say, he thinks about language and translation in a very different way from you and me. To him language is the tool you use to communicate with.

That’s a position I’ve been arguing for in this blog for years.

If you think it’s the words of the original that are important and that wording must be preserved up to the limits of intelligibility, then you have to be willing to distort the meaning because no two languages work the same way — even if they are closely related.

Let’s look at a subtle example where Koine and English match in categorial distinctions but the where the norms of usage are different, and see what the distortion of meaning is.

The words in question are man, woman, and person on the English side and ἀνήρ, γυνή, and ἄνθρωπος on the Koine side. The categories match.

man = [adult male human]
ἀνήρ = [adult male human]

woman = [adult female human]
γυνή = [adult female human]

person = [human being]
ἄνθρωπος = [human being]

The difference I want to focus on is a subtle one.

In English one normally includes the gender of the referent unless there is reason not to. As a result man is about four times as frequent as person in running text, and woman is about three times as frequent.

But in Koine, it’s the other way around. You don’t use the gender based term unless there’s a reason to.  So ἄνθρωπος is a little more than twice as common as ἀνήρ, and in one in eight of those cases, ἀνήρ means ‘husband’, not ‘man’. The patterns are similar for woman.  Ἄνθρωπος is a more than four times as common as γυνή, and in half of the cases, γυνή means ‘wife’, not ‘woman’.

If you saw a man standing on the corner and you say (1), it is not just a simple report. You imply something more.

(1)  I saw a person standing on the corner.

Because (2) is what we normally say, unless there’s a reason to withhold the gender of the referent.

(2)  I saw a man standing on the corner.

For that reason alone, translations that try to push the gender neutrality of  ἄνθρωπος often sound odd in English. Here are some examples.

καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ἄνθρωπός εἰμι ὑπὸ ἐξουσίαν, … (Matt. 8:9a)
The Source: I, too, am a person under authority, …
Stylistically better: I, too, am a man under authority, …

Ἄνθρωπός τις ἦν πλούσιος ὃς εἶχεν οἰκονόμον, καὶ οὗτος διεβλήθη αὐτῷ ὡς διασκορπίζων τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ. (Luke 16:1)
The Source: There was a certain rich person whose manager was accused of wasting money.
Stylistically better: There was a certain rich man whose manager was accused of wasting money.

Δεῦτε ἴδετε ἄνθρωπον ὃς εἶπέ μοι πάντα ὅσα ἐποίησα· … (John 4:29)
The Source: Come see a person who told me everything I ever did!
Stylistically better: Come see a man who told me everything I ever did!

In these cases ἄνθρωπος is best translated man. That choice isn’t driven by sexism, but by the norms of English usage.

But then that knife cuts two ways.

There are places where translations in the King James line say man (for ἄνθρωπος) where person, someone, or human or some kind of indefinite is a more accurate translation, both referentially and stylistically.

τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖται ἄνθρωπος κερδήσας τὸν κόσμον ὅλον ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἀπολέσας ἢ ζημιωθείς; (Lk 9:25)
ESV:For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
Stylistically better: What will you gain, if you own the whole world but ruin yourself or waste your life?

Of course, we’ve heard enough sermons now to know what Matt. 15:9 means, but apart from Biblish (or in fixed phrases) we don’t use a nominal construction with man when we mean to highlight humanness.

Human nature does not mean the same as the nature of man.

This is especially when we want to highlight the distinction between human and divine.

To err is of man, to forgive is of God.


8 Ὁ λαὸς οὗτος τοῖς χείλεσίν με τιμᾷ,
ἡ δὲ καρδία αὐτῶν πόρρω ἀπέχει ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ·
μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με,
διδάσκοντες διδασκαλίας ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων. (Matt. 15:8-9)
ESV: 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Stylistically better: “‘These people honor me with their words,
but their hearts are far from me;
9 their worship is useless,
they teach human commandments as doctrine.’”

None of our translations even begin to grapple with questions of style beyond the frequently cited argument that Biblish sounds like better English. (A point I roundly dispute.)

But, I fear, that by pointing out the stylistic problems associated with the use of gendered terms, I may have stepped into a mine field.

So let me affirm that I’m saying there are specific passages (and not a few of them) where using man makes for better English than using person or human (being). In asserting that I’m responding to stylistic concerns, not pushing an anti-feminist or complementarian agenda. I’m certainly not a feminist, but I am egalitarian. So if I say there are places where ἄνθρωπος is better glossed man, it’s not because I have a theological ax to grind.

(WARNING: If the comments start to wander off into a debate, theological or otherwise, about men’s and women’s roles, I’ll moderate with a heavy hand.)

King James Bible in National Geographic

We here at Better Bibles often say disparaging things about the KJV. There are several reasons.

Elizabethan English is hard for modern English speakers to understand, because English has changed so much. (The sticklers will point out that the KJV was written in Jacobean times, but I will respond that the translators were being self-consciously archaic, so the language is more Elizabethan than Jacobean. But the point remains either way.)

Their use of the Majority Text because they didn’t understand textual transmission is problematic.

While the translators may have, from time to time, used wonderful English in the passages they fully understood, they were very literal in the passages they didn’t fully understand, particularly where metaphors and indirect reference are involved. (You can’t now, nor could you then, use the English word walk to mean ‘live, conduct one’s life’.)

Nonetheless the KJV casts its shadow across every word of Scripture in English. We memorized from it. It echoes in our heads, even when we are reading contemporary translations. And its effect on the cultures of the English speaking world are so profound that one can hardly image English without it.

So it’s worth checking out the article in the December National Geographic on the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

A Book on Literary Translation

For those of you who may have missed it, there is a new book on translation out.

Translation and the Meaning of Everything
By David Bellos

It was reviewed in the NY Times Sunday Book Review last week. Find the review here.

In brief, Bellos, himself a well-regarded translator of literature, attempts to re-frame the translation argument, and ends up with something in the spirit of dynamic equivalence, but one which is at the same time both more constrained and more free. His approach includes translating style, even if it entails referential inaccuracies, since the style is part of the message. (Yes, Virginia, sometimes the medium is the message.) Or it allows for displacing information, if that’s what it takes.

Bible translators, especially those of us who are interested in the questions of style and literary translation, should take careful note.

(For those of you not up on the popular culture of the ’70’s and ’80’s, the allusion is to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

Dynamic Equivalence re-visited

With the news of Eugene Nida’s passing, it’s worth revisiting the single biggest contribution of his thinking to the field of Bible translation.

Nida proposed that the basis of translation should be to replicate the meaning of the original and not necessarily the wording.

Dynamic equivalence (also known as functional equivalence) attempts to convey the thought expressed in a source text (if necessary, at the expense of literalness, original word order, the source text’s grammatical voice, etc.), while formal equivalence attempts to render the text word-for-word (if necessary, at the expense of natural expression in the target language). The two approaches represent emphasis, respectively, on readability and on literal fidelity to the source text. There is no sharp boundary between dynamic and formal equivalence. Broadly, the two represent a spectrum of translation approaches. (Wikipedia Dynamic and formal equivalence)

The idea of translating “the thought” behind a text rather than something more literally reflecting the wording of the original has been controversial since the time Nida first proposed it — not helped by an unfortunate choice of name. Presumably the dynamic part refers to the fact that more natural sounding translations are more emotionally engaging. Witness the popularity of The Message. Nida, himself, moved toward a more neutral terminology in response to controversy, re-labeling his approach function equivalence.

To many of us in the linguistics business the uproar makes little sense. After all, simultaneous translators translate functional equivalents all the time. Ditto the translators who deal with government and business documents. Anyone who seriously attempted a formal equivalence translation in such contexts would be fired by the end of the day.

And ditto, BTW, literary translators. Where there are bilinguals around to judge, it’s the meaning of the text, not its form that is the bottom line in the translation business. Literary translators get bonus points if they can find ways to mimic the form without sacrificing the meaning.

Why, then, did Nida get all the flak?

In large part, I’d say, because functional equivalence is really, really hard to define. It’s a lot like obscenity was to Justice Potter Stewart.

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. (Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio regarding possible obscenity in The Lovers (Les Amants), a French film about adultery and the rediscovery of love. 1964)

Too often what passes for functional equivalence (like, say, The Message) overshoots the mark — sometimes quite considerably. On the low end of intrusion into the text Peterson makes the Bible sound slangy, and that’s not what the Greek reads like. On the high end he reads a lot of his theology back into the text. (But then that’s nothing new for the English Bible translation game.)

The missing piece of what functional equivalence is supposed to be is something that every linguist absorbs as part of his (her) training, but which is never really made explicit. There is a difference between the meanings of the words individually and the only slightly more abstract meanings that people understand when phrases and sentences are made up of those words. Formal semanticists stand on their heads trying to account for such differences. Cognitivists delight in pointing out the difficult cases that the formalists’ theories can’t handle. But the operative expression here is “slightly more abstract”. Functional equivalents might be worded in dramatically different ways, but in context the meanings have to be very close — if not absolutely identical.

Here’s a example from a recent comic strip that will help highlight the difference between the thing said and the meaning intended.

Wanda (the mother) intended that Hammie (the son) take a bath, but she said it in such a way that it required more cooperation in the communicative exchange than Hammie was ready to give. Here’s how it works:

Taking a bath is a complex frame, in this case it consists primarily of an action chain.

1) One fills the tub with water (and assures that the various soaps and shampoos are readily available).
2) One undresses,
3) gets in the tub,
4) uses the soap and shampoo to get oneself clean,
5) rinses oneself off,
6) gets out of the tub,
7) dries oneself off, and
8) gets dressed again (presumably in clean clothes).

Generally, this action chain is referred to as a whole by saying take a bath. But that’s not the only way to accomplish that communicative end. Wanda referred to one step in the action chain — the most salient step — and assumed a cooperative listener would provide the rest of the action chain by inference.

As is often the case failures give us the most insight into the way language works in general. Relative to the amount of information actually communicated, the amount of information conveyed is small. An important part of knowing a language is knowing how speakers of that language refer to a particular knowledge complex. Normally such reference is made at phrase or even sentence level not word by word.

Let’s take a Biblical example.

Throughout Scripture there are references to people who acted without regard for their own safety for someone else’s benefit, or for some higher cause. There are several expressions used in the NT to express this notion, but there is a common English expression to refer to that class of scenario, it is the word risk. Risk is a relatively new word in English. We got it from the French around the end of the 17th century, but it has become the standard way to express this idea now. In fact, attempting to express this meaning without using the word risk, risks misunderstanding.

It’s worth noting that that fact was not lost on the RSV translation team, as shown by the differences between the 1946 RSV translations (continued in the 2001 ESV) and the 1611 KJV and the 1901 ASV.

ἀνθρώποις παραδεδωκόσι τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Acts 15:26)

‘Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’(KJV)
‘Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’(ASV)
‘men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (RSV)
‘men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (ESV)

οἵτινες ὑπὲρ τῆς ψυχῆς μου τὸν ἑαυτῶν τράχηλον ὑπέθηκαν (Rom 16:4)

‘… Who have for my life laid down their own necks, …’ (KJV)
‘… who for my life laid down their own necks; …’ (ASV)
‘… who risked their necks for my life, …’ (RSV)
‘… who risked their necks for my life, …’ (ESV)

ὅτι διὰ τὸ ἔργον Χριστοῦ μέχρι θανάτου ἤγγισεν, παραβολευσάμενος τῇ ψυχῇ ἵνα ἀναπληρώσῃ τὸ ὑμῶν ὑστέρημα τῆς πρός με λειτουργίας. (Phil. 2:30)

‘Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.’ (KJV)
‘because for the work of Christ he came nigh unto death, hazarding his life to supply that which was lacking in your service toward me.’ (ASV)
‘for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete your service to me.’ (RSV)
‘For he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.’ (ESV)

The Greek expressions are like the indirect reference in the cartoon above, they refer to part of the scenario to express the meaning of the whole.

παραδεδωκόσι τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν  lit. ‘handing over his life’
τὸν ἑαυτῶν τράχηλον ὑπέθηκαν lit. ‘they have laid down their necks’
παραβολευσάμενος τῇ ψυχῇ lit. ‘making a throw with one’s life’

The difference between the indirect expressions in Koine and the direct expressions in the RSV demonstrates the proper application of functional equivalence. Between the time of the KJV (1611) and the RSV (1946) there was a shift in English usage making the word risk all but obligatory for referring to scenarios of risk.[1] That shift made expressions with risk the functional equivalent of the various Koine expressions.

That’s functional equivalence — née dynamic equivalence — properly understood.

[1] The ASV was behind the curve. Risk was already in wide use by the end of the 19th century.

Money, money, money

This has been a crazy spring and summer — I’m involved in two book projects and I’m still working part time as a dean dealing with student issues. And the dog, sweetheart that she is, still takes up almost two hours of walking time a day. So I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to the blog at just the point I wanted to delve into some more complex matters.

For some time now I’ve been meaning to post on the commercial transaction frame in Koine. Sorry for the jargon laden announcement, but it’s worth talking about what a frame is and why it’s important for translation. And, because the language of money and commerce is all over in the Scripture, with both literal and figurative uses, it makes sense to use the frame(s) evoked by money as a place to learn about frames.

Let’s start by talking a little about money. First and foremost, the Scripture talks about money a lot. Go to Strong’s and you’ll find over 130 references to the word money and that doesn’t count the dozens upon dozens of references to buying, selling, spending, saving, borrowing, lending, interest, credit, and debt that don’t even mention money explicitly.

God has a lot more to say about money and how it should be used than you’d think by listening to preachers in the contemporary church — but that’s not for this blog.

The question of importance here is: how did I get to connect money to buy, sell, spend, save, borrow, lend, etc.? The answer is: when one uses a word, the thing that word refers to occurs in particular real world contexts. So the fact that money is spent or saved, borrowed or lent, is used in buying, selling, and so on, has a linguistic reflection. Say the word money, and people are primed to think about the things you do with money. Say save after you’ve said money and people will think about refraining from spending and not rescuing from danger.

This connection of ideas is called a frame. Frames arise from our experiences in the real world. It’s easiest to think of them as scenarios. Say restaurant and you can talk about waiters and tables and menus without further explanation. Say bus and you can talk about drivers and fares and routes without explanation.

When we talk about differences between Biblical times and modern times, it’s the frames that are most relevant. That was my point about chairs in my first post to this blog.

So now that we understand the basic concept of a frame, I have to remind you that most frames are pretty abstract. When I said restaurant and bus and started talking about the respective frames, I suspect many of you visualized a restaurant and a bus of some sort. This is what Plato was reaching for when he talked about idealized entities. But those entities aren’t really idealized, rather they are an abstraction from our experiences, real or vicarious. And in the case of restaurants and buses, the frames don’t just paint static scenes. Things happen in restaurants and in buses, so these particular frames include scripts.

A man walks into a restaurant, is shown to a table, is handed a menu, orders a meal. The meal is brought to his table, he eats it. He is offered some coffee and/or desert, and if he orders some it is brought to him. He consumes it. He is given a bill. He pays and leaves.

Notice the key parts of this script. Order, be served, consume. In the particular instantiation I just outlined that happens twice. This is what I mean about frames being abstract. There are several simplex frame scripts combined here. The twice repeated ordering script is embedding in a more encompassing script in which the man enters a place of business, partakes of the service offered, pays for the service, and leaves. Notice that description also covers what happens in a taxi. Enter, partake of the service, i.e., be transported, pay, leave. In a bus the order is different. Enter, pay, partake of the service (be transported), leave. What is in common among all these is that each involves a commercial transaction. One is buying a service. The internal order is irrelevant. Service rendered, payment rendered counts the same as payment rendered, service rendered. As in buying a commodity, money is exchanged for something, in this case a service. That’s what the basic commercial transaction frame is. One entity gives another money in consideration of a product or service. (Gold stars to anyone who recognizes that this applies to bribery and blackmail, too.) If you’re interested there’s a nice little pdf of an article on the basic commercial transaction frame here.

Pike talked about frames and scripts (in other words, to be sure) in his massive tome Language In Relation To A Unified Theory Of Structure Of Human Behavior, describing breakfast in the Pike household. The linguistic world at the time didn’t have a clue what he was getting at. Fifty some odd years later we’re just catching up.

So now we’re ready to talk about commercial transactions in Koine. It starts with money. In Roman times people thought about money somewhat differently from the way we do. The idea of a check or a bank transfer would have been mystifying to a first century person.

Money was concrete.

Accounts were just inventories of physical money. If you owed a hundred denarii, you had to hand over a hundred actual denarii. When Rome got really rich, they had to mint the money to keep up, which means that by the end of the Empire there was a LOT of physical money around. Archeologists are digging up Roman (and Greek) coins all the time. There are so many that you can purchase actual Roman coins today for a few dollars. Museum quality coins are more expensive, but they’re out there — and most are not valued in 5 or 6 figures.

My point is that people in the Roman era thought of money as physical stuff. So there is no proper word for money. Instead money is most often called ἀργύριον properly ‘silver piece’. This is a case of one kind of common metaphor:

The best example of a type stands for the type.

That’s the linguistic logic that turns Kleenex and Scotch Tape (both brand names) into kleenex (= facial tissue) and scotch tape (= cellophane tape), and — feminists should probably cover their eyes at this point — that is responsible for turning proto-Germanic *man ‘person’ into English man ‘adult male human’. (And why ἀνήρ can be used to mean ‘human’, as discussed before in this blog here.)

By the way, this kind of metaphor confuses the heck out of literalists.

Anyway, the most basic things you can do with ἀργύριον are: buy and sell.

buy — ἀγοράζω

sell — πωλέω

Look in the dictionary and that’s what you’ll find. But we’re interested in the whole frame, so here’s how the different players and props are expressed.

ἀγοράζω πωλέω
person relinquishing the money subject (τίς) indirect object (τινί)
person providing the goods παρά τινος subject (τίς)
the goods object (τί) object (τί)
the price τιμῆς /genitive of money word τιμῆς /genitive of money word

There are other wrinkles. For example, the classical word for ‘buy’ was ὠνέομαι, but by the time of the LXX, ἀγοράζω had become the normal word. Nonetheless, Luke knew the old word and used it in Acts 7:16.

καὶ ἐτέθησαν ἐν τῷ μνήματι ᾧ ὠνήσατο Ἀβραὰμ τιμῆς ἀργυρίου παρὰ τῶν υἱῶν Ἑμμὼρ ἐν Συχέμ.

and [their bones] were laid in the tomb that Abraham bought from Hamor in Shechem for a large sum of money.

Notice the παρὰ phrase for the sellers (παρὰ τῶν υἱῶν Ἑμμὼρ) and the genitive of price (τιμῆς ἀργυρίου), which brings up an important point. The word τιμή ‘honor; value, worth, price’ isn’t well understood by the lexicographers. They fail to recognize that it belongs to a class of words like smell in English and schmecken in German. These words don’t mean just ‘smell’ and ‘taste’. Unmodified they mean ‘smell bad’ and ‘taste good’.

It smells. = ‘It smells bad.’

Das schmeckt. = ‘It tastes good.’

Linguists say such words bear defeasible presuppositions. That is, such words imply a particular characteristic in their referent, but that characteristic can be overridden by an explicit modifier.

It smells good.

Das schmeckt faul. ‘It tastes rotten.’

So τιμή really means ‘honor; (high) value, (high) price’, hence the translation for Acts 7:16 I snuck by you, ‘for a large sum of money’.

So where in Scripture would knowing this make any difference in translation? Well, how about I Cor. 6:20a.

ἠγοράσθητε γὰρ τιμῆς

For you were bought at a price. [NIV]

For ye are bought with a price [KJV]

for you were bought with a price [ESV]

for you were bought at a price [HSCB]

For you were bought with a price! [The Source]

Nobody talks like that.

?*This Ming vase was bought for a price.

In fact, even if you make the adjustment for the implication, it’s awkward to say it in the passive. It doesn’t sound natural.

This Ming vase was bought for a high price.

To say it naturally you have to say something like:

This Ming vase cost a lot.

This Ming vase didn’t come cheap.

Because I Cor. 6:20 is figurative language, not about literal money, I’d be hesitant to head in too colloquial a direction.

You are not your own. You cost God a lot. So honor Him in what you do with your body.

So once again — as I keep pointing out — the CEV beats the rest for translational accuracy and they got the style question right, too — that you can’t do it in the passive.

You are no longer your own. God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honor God. [CEV]

More on the commercial transaction frame in future posts, including how you get from buy to cost or pay in the CEV translation.

Conferring a degree

When Nick Bailey asked if I would be on his doctoral committee, I leapt at the chance.

I have known Nick for about 25 years now. The story is long and somewhat complicated, but suffice it to say that we met in Germany through a mutual professional acquaintance, and only later discovered that we shared mutual church friends in the Bay Area. Over the years I have visited Nick and Denie in Germany a number of times. Nine years ago we both taught at SIL in Oregon.

Those connections alone would have been enough to rope me in. But I might have opted for the participation-at-a-distance option they suggested, except for one thing. Nick was getting his degree at a Dutch university.

So, you say, what’s the big deal with Dutch universities?

Well, it’s the thesis defense — or maybe you’ve already surmised this from my post about it last month.

You see, the Dutch really do up a thesis defense.

At Berkeley, you just submit your thesis to the graduate school, and when your committee has signed off, you are done. You can mail it in — and many grad students do. Not very satisfying (except for the fact that Berkeley linguistics PhDs do exceptionally well in the job market).

At Michigan I had to publicly defend my thesis. The room was one of those well-appointed meeting rooms in the Rackham Building where the graduate school is housed and the proceedings were quite formal, but we just dressed in coats and ties. It was a rite of passage.

But the Dutch take it to another whole level and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity once in my life to participate in a formal thesis defense dressed up in my academic garb.

The pictures of Nick’s promotie are in, and he has graciously allowed me to post them.

The process of the defense is somewhat complex. All the parties had weeks to read the thesis. When we gathered for the defense the committee met first in camera. This is to get straight the rituals of defense, when to have our tams on and off, what special phrases have to be used, how we were to address the candidate, what the order of questioning was to be, a check to see that we weren’t going to ask the same questions, etc., etc. Then the candidate — officially the defendant — was brought in and charged. When we were all ready and the advertised time was upon us, the department beadle led us out into the aula. She was followed by Prof. Michael Hannay, who was standing in for the rector, followed by the promotors, Prof. Lourens de Vries (VU, Theology), Dr. Rutger Allan (co-promotor, VU, Classics), and the opponents.

And at the end of the processon come the defendant and his two supporters. (You might note that the defendant wears tails.)

The defense starts with an introduction of the defendant by the rector and his presentation of a summary of the results of his thesis research.

Then the faculty, the rector, the promotors, and the opponents take their seats in the front and the defense proper, begins moderated by the rector (or in this case the rector’s stand-in).

Here we all are. Acting for the rector: Prof. Michael Hannay (VU, Linguistics). Promotor: Prof. Lourens de Vries (VU, Theology), Co-promotor: Dr. Rutger Allan (VU, Classics). Opponents: me, Dr. Dejan Matić (Max Planck Institute-for Evolutionary Anthropology), Prof. Albert Rijksbaron (Univ of Amsterdam, Classics), Prof. Bert J. Lietaert-Peerbolte (VU, Theology), Prof. Gerard J. Boter (VU, Classics) [off the edge of the picture]. This is Nick answering the questions. (Note his supporters seated on either side of him.)

When the hour for questioning was over we all processed out. The committee met and decided that it was a worthy thesis and adequate defense. Then we processed back into the aula and the results were announced.

At that point the promotor signed the degree parchment and presented it to the defendant.

The defense ended with a reading by the promotor of the laudatum, a summary of the achievements of the newly created doctor.

Then the rector’s stand-in pronounced a doxology and beadle led us out in a recessional.

As is traditional Nick and Denie treated us all to dinner that evening. Here are some pictures in the restaurant afterwards.

Nick and Denie

Lourens de Vries , professor of Bible translation, Nick’s advisor (promotor), and Gerard Boter, professor of Greek language and literature

It took a bit of reflection after the fact for me to realize what the logic behind the Dutch ceremony was. After all this is the kind of thing that most would write off to a quaint cultural difference between the Dutch and everyone else and miss the deeper connections to ways of doing things that we find more familiar. The touchstone between the Dutch thesis defense and the ways theses are defended (or merely filed) in American universities has to do with the conferral of the degree. In American universities, after they have completed all the degree requirements, all the degree candidates gather at the end of the semester, or at the end of the academic year, dress up in academic garb along with a collection of faculty and “graduate”. That is, we confer the degrees, at least ritually, all at once. At Berkeley, there are points in the graduation ceremony when the dean or department chair bids all the candidates for each particular degree stand and recites the formula “By the powers vested in me by the Regents of the University of California I grant you the degree of  …” The graduates move the tassels on their mortar boards from right to left (or is it left to right?) while parents and others present clap and cheer.

So the real difference with the Dutch system is that the degree is conferred at the end of the defense. Everything else follows logically. When a degree is conferred the faculty should be in academic garb, and the candidate should be formally attired.

I wonder how much of the oft touted cultural gap between modern western culture and Roman era Palestinian culture is like this.

One of the arguments that is used to support the translation of the Bible more literally is that Biblical culture was so foreign to us so the language should signal that. I, of course, reject that premise, while at the same time fully recognizing that the most egregious misapplications of dynamic equivalence occur when translators overreach trying to bridge cultural distance.

But my Dutch experience got me thinking about how much of the distance between us and the culture of the Scripture is simply a sensible outworking of differences in how things are packaged. In such cases the challenge in translation is to figure out when to make the adjustment in translation and when just to say what is there.

Take the association of chairs with wealth and power in the middle east as in Matt. 23:2-3.

2“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. (NIV)

2Ἐπὶ τῆς Μωυσέως καθέδρας ἐκάθισαν οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι. 3πάντα οἶν ὅσα ἐὰν εἴπωσιν ὑμῖν ποιήσατε καὶ τηρεῖτε, κατὰ δὲ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν μὴ ποιεῖτε, λέγουσιν γὰρ καὶ οὐ ποιοῦσιν.

The question is: do we translate the phrase ἐπὶ τῆς Μωυσέως καθέδρας ἐκάθισαν as:

(1) [they] sit on the seat of Moses

(2) [they] bear the authority of Moses

The former translation is more literal. The second renders the intended sense more clearly for a contemporary English speaking audience. In a previous post I discussed several reasons why (2) is better. But I want to raise a grammatical point here that I hadn’t noticed before. The verb has a plural subject. This is odd if the reference were literal. Maybe the High Priest physically sat in Moses’ seat, but not the scribes and Pharisees. (And what about the Saducees?) The plural agreement strongly supports the view that the intended reference is to Moses’ authority, not to his chair.

I want a 4G translation

A couple of days ago I was out walking our dog, Pixie, when I ran into a neighbor and long time friend, Russ, who was out on a walk. Russ and I have known each other for more than 20 years. We met when I first started going to Berkeley Covenant shortly after moving to California. At the time he lived with his family in Oakland.  Now we live about a mile apart in Castro Valley. We have a long and intimate history. Our children have been friends pretty much their whole lives. Russ lived with us for some months while his wife and kids were in North Carolina. She went back to school and to their great surprise (and consternation) he couldn’t arrange for a job transfer. Now Russ and his wife  go to another church where they have an active and productive ministry that would never have been possible at Berkeley Cov.

While we walked together, Russ asked me about The Source by the Australian Greek scholar, Ann Nyland. There were a series of posts about it here on BBB in the summer of 2005 (here, here, here, and here). An elder in Russ’ church really likes it. In our discussion I was hard on it. But trying to articulate why was more difficult than I expected. And that led me to start thinking about translations in a way I hadn’t before.

If you’ve been watching any TV in the US recently, you’ve seen the commercials of dueling cell phone providers — Verizon claiming the most 3G coverage, AT&T claiming broader broadband 3G, and Sprint talking about its 4G technology. And it occurred to me that what I want is a 4G English translation. (For those who aren’t familiar with the lingo, that’s fourth generation.)

The first generation translations started with Tyndale translating from Greek (rather than Latin) and went through the KJV. They are based on a Greek text that precedes textual criticism.

It’s not well known that the KJV is deeply influenced by Tyndale’s translation, as can be seen from wordings which differ significantly from the Greek but are the same in Tyndale and the AV. For example, in Luke 2, which we have been discussing, there are a number of clear points.

Wycliffe: 7And sche bare hir first borun sone, and wlappide hym in clothis, and leide hym in a cratche, for ther was no place to hym in no chaumbir.

Tyndale: 7And she brought forth her fyrst begotten sonne and wrapped him in swadlynge cloothes and layed him in a manger because ther was no roume for them within in the ynne.

AV: 7And she brought foorth her first borne sonne, and wrapped him in swadling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no roome for them in the Inne.

TR: 7και ετεκεν τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον και εσπαργανωσεν αυτον και ανεκλινεν αυτον εν τη φατνη διοτι ουκ ην αυτοις τοπος εν τω καταλυματι

and notably

Wycliffe: 9And lo! the aungel of the Lord stood bisidis hem, and the cleernesse of God schinede aboute hem; and thei dredden with greet drede.

Tyndale: 9And loo: the angell of ye lorde stode harde by the and the brightnes of ye lorde shone rounde aboute them and they were soare afrayed.

AV: 9And loe, the Angel of the Lord came vpon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.

TR: 9και ιδου αγγελος κυριου επεστη αυτοις και δοξα κυριου περιελαμψεν αυτους και εφοβηθησαν φοβον μεγαν

The second generation translations are those that benefited from the 19th century scholarship that brought us textual criticism, the  Neogrammarians, and the early lexicographic work on classical Greek,  i.e., the Revised Versions, the English Revised Version and the American Standard Version. And since the ESV is based on the RSV, it, too, is only a 2G translation.

Third generation translations are based on two kinds of scholarly advances. First, the discovery of large numbers of Roman era papyri completely revised our view of the nature of the language of the NT. The 20th century editions of  Greek lexicons benefited greatly — Liddell and Scott, and, specifically for Koine, Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen Urchristlichen Literatur, the fourth edition (1952) of which  was translated into English by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich and first appeared in 1957. Second, mid-20th century developments  in linguistics and translation theory were applied to Bible translation (mostly influenced by Eugene Nida), including the much misunderstood notion of dynamic equivalence. Third generation translations include the TEV/GNB family and the NIV translations — and The Source.

There are other translations and paraphrases that use this generation of scholarship: the Amplified Bible, The Message, and the Cotton Patch Bible.

But what I’m looking for is a 4G translation.

The 4G translation would fully incorporate the late 20th  century developments in linguistics, particularly:

semantics, especially embodied metaphor theory and frame semantics,


pragmatics, information structure, speech act theory, and conversational implicature, including further developments of Grice’s maxim of relevance into relevance theory. (There have been earlier posts on relevance theory here and here. I mentioned places where you can learn about speech act theory and conversational implicature here.)

Here are two examples that I’ve talked about at some length before.

Getting the framing right: 2 Ti. 4:2 (discussed here)

2κήρυξον τὸν λόγον, ἐπίστηθι εὐκαίρως ἀκαίρως, ἔλεγξον, ἐπιτίμησον, παρακάλεσον, ἐν πάσῃ μακροθυμίᾳ καὶ διδαχῇ.

3G translations

[I command you] 2to preach God’s message. Do it willingly, even if it isn’t the popular thing to do. You must correct people and point out their sins. But also cheer them up, and when you instruct them, always be patient. (CEV)

2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (NIV)

A 4G translation with correct framing of ἐλέγχω (LSJ ‘to disgrace, put to shame’; BADG ‘expose; convince; reprove, correct; punish’; correctly framed meaning: ‘show [someone] their faults’) and ἐπιτιμάω  (LSJ ‘rebuke, censure, of persons’, BADG ‘rebuke, reprove, censure’; correctly framed meaning: ‘tell [someone] to stop [doing what they are doing]’):

Preach the Word; make it a priority, no matter how inconvenient. Teach people what they are doing wrong and tell them to stop. Encourage them, doing it all with the utmost patience and care.

Get the information structure right: John 9:8-9 (discussed here)

8 οἱ οὖν γείτονες καὶ οἱ θεωροῦντες αὐτὸν τὸ πρότερον ὅτι προσαίτης ἦν ἔλεγον οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ καθήμενος καὶ προσαιτῶν 9 ἄλλοι ἔλεγον ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ἄλλοι ἔλεγον οὐχί ἀλλὰ ὅμοιος αὐτῷ ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος ἔλεγεν ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι

To contextualize this verse (to meet Mike’s concerns about not atomizing Scripture), here is the larger context in a 3G translation:

1As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who had been blind since birth. 2Jesus’ disciples asked, “Teacher, why was this man born blind? Was it because he or his parents sinned?”

3“No, it wasn’t!” Jesus answered. “But because of his blindness, you will see God work a miracle for him. 4As long as it is day, we must do what the one who sent me wants me to do. When night comes, no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light for the world.”

6After Jesus said this, he spit on the ground. He made some mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes. 7Then he said, “Go and wash off the mud in Siloam Pool.” The man went and washed in Siloam, which means “One Who Is Sent.” When he had washed off the mud, he could see.

8The man’s neighbors and the people who had seen him begging wondered if he really could be the same man. 9Some of them said he was the same beggar, while others said he only looked like him. But he told them, “I am that man.”

10“Then how can you see?” they asked.

11He answered, “Someone named Jesus made some mud and smeared it on my eyes. He told me to go and wash it off in Siloam Pool. When I did, I could see.”

12“Where is he now?” they asked.

“I don’t know,” he answered. (CEV)

Here’s another 3G translation:

8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” (NIV)

Here’s a 4G translation. (Note the use of italics to mark the stress in the final sentence.)

8His neighbors and those who had previously seen him begging asked, “Isn’t that the same man who used to sit and beg?”
9Some said it was. Others said, “No, it only looks like him.”
But he insisted, “It is me.”

Ironically, this passage in 4G translation is no less — and possibly even more — literal than the ESV version. (Note, in particular, the last clause.)

8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” (ESV)

Why do we make pastors translate?

I’m here in Austria at the moment visiting the two sets of friends I have in Graz. One set are associated with the Linguistics department at the Karl Franzens University, including my colleague of longest standing, Bernhard Hurch, who holds the chair, and is arguably the most insightful German-speaking linguist of his generation — and the very best student ever produced by the brilliant Ulli Dressler in Vienna.

The other set are my friends from the church I attended while I was on sabbatical here three years ago. I’m staying with the pastor and last night’s discussion turned to questions of translation.

To understand the context of the discussion I’m about to report, you need to know that Paul Miller is an American expatriate who planted the church in question here in Graz twenty-five years ago. (Find the website here.) His official reason to be in Austria at the beginning was that he was here studying to be an interpreter, and since then he has done a lot of interpreting. This means his understanding of what it means to translate is both intellectually sophisticated and shaped by years of experience. From time to time he’s called upon to do the live English-to-German translation for Vineyard sponsored conferences in German-speaking areas. This is an unusual thing because the standard for interpreters is to interpret into their native language. The honor of his being asked to interpret into German bespeaks just how close to being bilingually native he is. So when Paul has an opinion about translation, you best sit up and take notice.

Last night Paul was asking questions about why I think that there simply aren’t any major language Bible translations available that are properly translated. So I ran through my litany of complaints, and I thought it might be of interest to readers of this blog if I explained the key one.

The discussion started with his observing that he was using multiple translations in both English and German to try to get at what the Greek meant in a particular passage he was studying. That led to my making the point that it makes little sense for the Christian enterprise to shove the task of translating Greek onto the shoulders of the church authorities least qualified to do so, namely the pastors.

Sure pastors go to seminary and learn some Greek, but most walk away from seminary barely beyond being able to recognize enough inflected forms of words to be able to find them in dictionaries. (But they all seem to remember what their Greek professor said about the translation of aorists.) Furthermore, the gold standard for seminary Greek is being able to parse. The seminarian who can tell you that πληρωθῇ is an aorist passive subjunctive in the 3 sg.  gets an A. But nobody gets points for observing that its use in Matt 1:22 is metaphorical in Greek but has to be translated literally as ‘was fulfilled’ in English, which is actually much more important in the larger scheme of things.

Τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ Κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος (Matt. 1:22)

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet (ESV)

Now I don’t want to undervalue the ability to parse, but in my book that’s merely the price of entry. That gets you to where you can start thinking about the important questions.

What are the important questions?

Well, it’ll take a little doing to get to the bottom of the matter. Let me start here.

I have several times in the past asserted that the meaning of a text is not in the words, for example, here. That is, of course, too simple. (The linked post is, in fact, more nuanced than that.) Still the point is that what we normally think of as the meaning of a word — what the word refers to, what gets into the definition in a dictionary — that part of the meaning cannot  be said to be IN the word in any useful way. If I say dog, your reaction and understandings are in terms of your experiences with and feelings about dogs, the referent of the word.

The parts of the meaning that really are in the word are those that we hardly notice and that barely appear in monolingual dictionaries. There are two. One is how the word makes you look at a situation. Let me repeat an example I’ve used before here.

Elizabeth I had her cousin Mary killed.

Elizabeth I had her cousin Mary murdered.

Elizabeth I had her cousin Mary executed.

The reference is the same. Queen Elizabeth said something to someone and Mary Queen of Scots ended up dead. But each of these sentences gets you to look at the situation in a different way. That’s framing, and that’s in the word.

The other part of the meaning that is in the word is something I’ll call speech level for now. Some words have the property of being slang or colloquial or formal or taboo. For example, obtain and get mean the same thing referentially, but obtain is formal and get is neutral. You can see this if you use obtain in a context that is obviously not formal.

When you go to the store, could you obtain some hot dogs for me?

Well, in my discussion with Paul I noted that almost all of my problems with the various translations center around getting the framing wrong and/or getting the speech level wrong. My stock example is ἐπιτιμάω, generally translated ‘rebuke’. That’s the right referent in most contexts, but very wrong in framing. (See this post and the ones it links to for a full explication of why.) Outside of Jude 1:9, the right framing would be ‘tell/ask [someone] to stop doing [something]’. To figure that out I had to do a lot of fairly sophisticated exegesis, of a kind that linguists and Greek professors do, but is well out of the range of your average pastor.

Yet the kind of translations that are out there hang pastors like Paul out to dry. They often know that there’s a problem, but they don’t have the tools to deal with it. That’s why they consult different translations, hoping that somehow the “real” meaning will emerge as some kind of compromise among them.

No, it’s a problem of wrong priorities in Bible translation. If our translations require our pastors to do the exegesis that the translator should have done, who is God going to hold responsible for the lack of understanding of His Word and the lack of growth among His people?

Hint: It won’t be the pastors.

OK, Mr. Schlafly …

I guess I’m one of those terrible professors mentioned in the last post — after all I teach at Berkeley, that notoriously liberal institution, and I think there are serious problems with important conservative ideas about Bible translations, like how you translate ἄνθρωπος and ὕιοι.

But let me tell you about what I did today.

I attended the doctoral defense of my long-time friend and Bible translator, Nick Bailey. He was awarded the degree of PhD for a thesis about the structure of Koine Greek sentences that have the function of introducing new characters or ideas into the text, like:

Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ, ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάνης (John 1:6-7a)

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John (NIV)

Along the way he made serious progress in solving mysteries of Greek word order that are — literally — millenia old. (Who says linguistics isn’t good for anything?)

His defense was not at Berkeley — it was at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. And I wasn’t there to watch. I was one of his opponents. It entailed a lot of pomp and circumstance.  John Hobbins would have loved it.

We wore our academic garb, the caps and gowns in the US reserved for graduation ceremonies. Only the caps aren’t mortarboards, they are the six-sided tams, and the gowns that the Dutch wear are smaller and don’t zip up. (They call them togas.) The dean of the college convenes the various meetings wearing a chain and seal of the university. We were led around between the private meeting room and the public aula (auditorium) by the department beadle carrying a staff. We had to wear our tams when standing, and we had to observe certain formulaic speech when asking and answering questions.

Esteemed defendant, by the authority of the Rector and in my own right …

The diploma is quite big and has a seal on ribbons. It was signed in public and rolled up by the beadle and presented to the candidate, after the announcement of the positive results of the deliberation by the opponents.

But the thing that most caught my attention was that the proceedings were openly Christian. The promotor (thesis advisor to gringos) and most of the opponents (examiners) were confessing Christians, some involved in Bible translation, one a member of the United Bible Society.

The dean opened the proceedings by charging the candidate with 2 Timothy 2:1-7

1You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 3Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. 5Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. 6The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. 7Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

… and closed the proceedings with a doxology.

All this in a country where drugs and prostitution are legal, the government is, by American standards, socialist — and the streets are safe to walk on at night.

Mr. Schlafly, maybe we have our priorities wrong. Having professors work on Bible translations is not the problem. The really liberal professors just aren’t that interested. The problem is we are trying too hard to sell a brand of conservatism that doesn’t work when it comes to translating what the Scripture actually says — and maybe not even when it comes to life.