Luther meets Ryken

The conversation has been hot and heavy on TC’s blog, New Leaven. A good comparison of the ESV and NRSV today. But on an earlier post Luther meets Ryken, we got into an interesting discussion.

TC claimed,

Here’s the grind: while the English professor is highly critical of the dynamic equivalence approach to Bible translation, the 16th century German reformer gladly embraced the dynamic equivalence approach to Bible translation of his time.

Iyov wrote,

No, this is not really right. You are mistranslating Luther, or misexpressing him. He did not produce a dynamic translation and took care to produce an accurate translation according to the standards of his day.

Do you have the original German quote?

And I took the bait. I am such a sucker for this stuff. I wrote,

I think Tyndale and Luther had the same goals and undertook a very similar type of translation. However, Luther did sneak in a few of his own dynamic translations here and there. For example,

1. He added allein “only” to Romans 3:28,

Rom. 3:28

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. KJV

So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, allein durch den Glauben. Luther

2. He prefered to say that a woman was schwanger “pregnant” rather than “with child” or “conceive seed.”

Hebrews 11:11

Durch den Glauben empfing auch Sara Kraft, daß sie schwanger (pregnant) ward und gebar über die Zeit ihres Alters; denn sie achtete ihn treu, der es verheißen hatte. Luther

Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. KJV

3. And I like what he did here,

Hebrews 13:17

Gehorcht euren Lehrern (teachers) und folgt (follow) ihnen;

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them KJV

4. But not so much here,

Romans 16:7

Grüßet den Andronikus und den Junias, (first to translate Junia as a male) meine Gefreundeten und meine Mitgefangenen, welche sind berühmte Apostel (are well known apostles) und vor mir gewesen in Christo. Luther

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. KJV

Otherwise, though, it is very similar to Tyndale although there are specific differences in details. For example, “saved” and “blessed” are both translated with selig and German lacks latinizations like “justification” so that would always be gerechtigkeit – righteousness.

Luther’s Bible sounds less formal than the KJV but it is still for the most part literal. That my sense in any case.

So here is the question, if Luther’s translation is relatively literal why did he write,

“Whoever would speak German must not see Hebrew idioms; but if he understand the Hebrew writer, he must see to it that he grasps his meaning and must think: Now let me see. How does a German speak in this case?”

How should we characterize Luther’s translation?

In the beginning …

On the NLT blog today, Tremper Longman writes about the reasons for knowing the identity of the translators of any Bible version. He writes,

The main value of knowing who translated the Bible you are reading is to let you know the theological perspective of the work. (Yes, it is also to tell you that the people who did it are highly trained specialists in the language and literature of the Old and New Testaments). But what difference does the theological perspective of the translator make?

A big difference. After all, as I like to say, a translation is a commentary without a note. Well, not quite, but what I mean is that to translate requires interpretation and interpretation means that exegetical decisions have to be made. Much of the Bible is crystal clear and easily rendered into a modern language like English, but not all of it.

Let me give an example from the very first verses of Genesis (1:1-2) and let’s do so by comparing the NLT and the NRSV.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. (NLT)

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…” (NRSV)

Notice the difference? In the NRSV at the time (when) God created the heavens and earth, the earth was formless and void. In other words, it was already there and ready for God to use. The NLT hints at a creation from nothing. There was nothing and then God created a formless earth which he then shaped into the habitable planet described in the rest of Genesis 1.

I am tempted to contribute my usual schtick. Here are an additional five translations of the first two lines of Gen. 1,

    In the beginnning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth –
    when the earth was astonishingly empty Artscroll Series

    When God began to create heaven and earth –
    the earth being unformed and void JPS

    At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth,
    When the earth was wild and waste Fox

    When God began to create heaven and earth,
    and the earth then was welter and waste Alter

    In the beginning God formed the heavens and the earth.
    And the earth was desolation and emptiness, Julia Smith

As an addendum I would like to add that the rabbi that I studied with this summer explained that the Jewish translations are roughly distributed thus. Artscroll is Orthodox, JPS is Conservative, and Fox is Reform. If you disagree, take it up with her!

Thanks to Kurk Gayle for directing me to Julia Smith’s translation.

Hebrews 2:7

Nathan has asked John and myself to post about Psalm 8:5 in Hebrews 2:7. This is a fascinating issue. I will only look at a few points relevant to the Greek version of this verse. First, the author of Hebrews quotes exactly from the copy of the LXX as we know it today.

    ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρ ἀγγέλους Psalm 8:5

    ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρ’ ἀγγέλους Hebrews 2:7

But the Hebrew is

    vattechassereihu me’at, mei’elohim

    You have made him a little lower than Elohim

The King James creates an agreement between the passage in the Psalms and in Hebrews.

    For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, Ps. 8:5

    Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Hebrews 2:7

It is worth noting that the Vulgate has “angels” while Jerome’s Iuxta Hebraicum has “God” and the Pagnini translation has “angels” again (Excuse my English). Of the Reformation versions, we see,

“God” Luther, Geneva, ERV, RSV, NRSV
“angels” Coverdale, Bishop’s, KJV
“heavenly beings” ESV, (T)NIV

As an aside, this might point to Luther and Geneva favouring the Iuxta Heb. or the Hebrew itself, and Coverdale depending more on Pagnini. However, the translation that Nathan points to uses “the powers that be” for elohim. Perhaps that is the meaning suggested by the use of “angels” in Greek. There is a suggestion that the meaning of elohim is related to that of ἐξουσία in Rom. 13:1

    Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities ἐξουσίαις

It seems that in Rom. 8:38, ἄγγελοι (angels) are related to ἀρχαὶ (principalities) and δυνάμεις (powers).

    For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Rom. 8:38.

It is also worth noting that the LXX translates elohim as “angels” on other occasions as well, notably Deut. 32:43 and Psalm 97:7. This is then quoted in Hebrews 1:6,

    Let all God’s angels worship him.

So, when we see “angels” in this verse, it is a translation of elohim. Is the author of Hebrews saying that the elohim worship Christ? I hope this provides some background to Nathan’s post and provokes a little thought about elohim and “angels.” I have not commented on the other aspect of this post, that the verb should read, “he requires little.”

Nathan has written a post presenting the possible translation,

    And You made him so that he requires little from the powers that be. Ps. 8:5.

Romans 3:12

Here is an interesting verse where I think the ESV did the right thing and kept the KJV tradition. It also brings up the question of how Paul cited the LXX. In Romans 3:4, Paul cites Ps. 51:4,

    so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment. Ps. 51:4 ESV

    “That you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail when you are judged.” ESV

    ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου
    καὶ νικήσῃς ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε Ps. 51:4

    ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου
    καὶ νικήσεις ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε Rom. 3:4

Of course, Ps. 51:4 in the ESV is translated from the Hebrew.

    לְמַעַן תִּצְדַּק בְּדָבְרֶךָ
    תִּזְכֶּה בְשָׁפְטֶךָ

    That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings,
    and mightest overcome when thou art judged. Rom. 3:4 KJV

However, you can see that in P 51:4, the phrase “in your judgment” is active and in the LXX and Rom. 3:4 the phrase is passive, “when you are judged.” This caused Luther quite a bit of consternation. Apparently Calvin was ahead of Luther in realizing that the Hebrew of Ps. 51:4 said “in your judgment.”

Many other translations have decided to simply tidy up the discrepancy between Ps. 51:4 and Rom. 3:4. Here are a few.

    So that you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail in your judging.” NRSV

    “So that you may be proved right when you speak
    and prevail when you judge.” NIV

    “He will be proved right in what he says,
    and he will win his case in court.” NLT

Here are some of my questions. Is the Hebrew vague or ambiguous? Did Paul know what the Hebrew was for this psalm? What do we do when two different interpretations for one original verse appear in the scriptures?

For Augustine this lead to his belief that the LXX was inspired as a translation. So for him the original Hebrew was inspired and the LXX was inspired. He actually thought that the LXX must have been a better translation of the Hebrew than Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, because the LXX was translated by a “comittee” and Jerome was only one person.

I like the fact that the ESV retains the original sense of what Paul wrote, even though the sense is very odd indeed. Is God judged?

The Bible doesn’t say

In a maelstrom of otherwise incomprehensible verbiage, a note of sanity emerges. Here is my number one pick of the day. Doug writes, The Bible doesn’t say. Words to heal the wounded soul.
In memory of a long forgotten meme, I would like to mention some spoof posts – only these are not spoofs. Let’s laugh, cry and share some fellow feeling.

Gone with the wind pulls a post. Absolutely unheard of but in a good cause.

Bard and Bible recommends an illustrated abridged paraphrase edition of Shakespeare for my reading pleasure (in the comment section.)

Dave posts a picture of him and his Mom. Condolences, Dave, and what a great picture.

TC and Rick both make a statement of affirmation for the TNIV

Some serious study says “I think. I’ve confused myself.” Wow, do I ever know what that feels like. Great conclusion, ’cause I so identify. Anyway, I love this blog.

And in a new development, the term “ESV-onlyism” is gaining currency. Several bloggers have also weighed in on the term “essentially literal” so we should do a tour on this. And then my next post is going to be on a verse that the ESV does right.

It all started at Tim Challies. Several bloggers responded. El Shaddai, TC, and CD-host. In the process of reading these posts I thought I would track down the phrase “ESV-onlyism.” This is a neutral study, BTW.

    “I am an ESV-onlyist right now, but most of the scripture tucked in my memory is in King James English.” Oct. 17, 2007

    Show me where God told me ESVOnlyism is wrong. March 11, 2008

    “In some gatherings there seems to be a ESV-onlyism developing. Anyone else notice that?” April 11, 2008

    “Yes, I’m the only ESV-onlyist I know LOL. Seriously, it is a cool translation.” April 16, 08

    I’ve got a big beef. In fact I’m starting to put together materials for a series on my blog “ESV-onlyism”. June 13, 2008

    Do I see ESV-onlyism on the horizon? June 24, 2008

I don’t think this is really about the ESV, but about our attitudes to Bible translation, in general, and “onlyism” in particular. For example, I got quite a shock out of this verse the other day,

    Obeie ye to youre souereyns, and be ye suget to hem; Wycliff

    Obeye the that have the oversight of you and submit youre selves to them. Tyndale

    Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves. KJV

    Obey your prelates and be subject to them. D-R

    Obey your leaders and submit to them, ESV

    Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. NIV

    Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority. TNIV

    Gehorcht euren Lehrern und folgt ihnen

    (Listen to your teachers and follow them,) Did I somehow forget how to read German! Is that really what it says? Somebody?

    Be yielding unto them who are guiding you, and submit yourselves Rotherham

So are the words “obey” “rulers” and “authority” in the Greek? Weeeeel, not really. Rotherham is pretty accurate. Don’t be an “onlyist,” whatever you do. That is more important than which translation you choose.


I am sorry to be absent from here. I note with delight all the memes and mirth. I have been elsewhere protesting against certain teachings which wrongfully derive from the doctrine of the subordination of women. (which is in itself wrong, but I don’t expect to convince anyone of that who is not already convinced.) If you wish please add your comments to the thread. 1159 comments and still climbing.

Summer Fun: Word Play in Paul

I had been thinking about a good topic for summer fun. We had Psalm 68 last year, which was wonderful, but I thought we should do something Greek this year.

It must be ESP, because just this afternoon, I was thinking of all the good buddies who blog about Greek, and then I decided to choose “Word play in Paul. ” And lucky for me, Iyov has given the topic a great introduction, so I don’t have to do that. (As they say, great minds think alike.) So, I hereby second the opening of the summer blog play on Paul! We can do a round up at the end of the month or the end of the summer.

The object will be to write something about the language that Paul uses. Is it influenced by Hebrew, by his rabbinical training, by Greek rhetoric, or what? I have not the remotest clue, so I await your contributions eagerly. Post a sample translation or a passage or discussion of some aspect of Paul’s use of language. Examples and comparisons can come from anywhere in the Bible. How does he use the Hebrew Bible, for example. Link to something you have already written, contribute whatever you like. A picture of the hippo dressed up as Paul would also count as an entry.

Here is my meager opening sample, from Romans 15:30-16:2,

    30 παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀδελφοί διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ πνεύματος συναγωνίσασθαί μοι ἐν ταῖς προσευχαῖς ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ πρὸς τὸν θεόν

    31 ἵνα ῥυσθῶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀπειθούντων ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ καὶ ἡ διακονία μου ἡ εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ εὐπρόσδεκτος τοῖς ἁγίοις γένηται

    32 ἵνα ἐν χαρᾷ ἐλθὼν πρὸς ὑμᾶς διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ συναναπαύσωμαι ὑμῖν 33 ὁ δὲ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης μετὰ πάντων ὑμῶν ἀμήν

    16:1 συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν οὖσαν καὶ διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς

    2 ἵνα αὐτὴν προσδέξησθε ἐν κυρίῳ ἀξίως τῶν ἁγίων καὶ παραστῆτε αὐτῇ ἐν ᾧ ἂν ὑμῶν χρῄζῃ πράγματι καὶ γὰρ αὐτὴ προστάτις πολλῶν ἐγενήθη καὶ ἐμοῦ αὐτοῦ

    30 I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to struggle together with me in prayers on my behalf to God.

    31 that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my ministry which is for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,

    32 so that I may come to you with joy by God’s will and together with you be refreshed. 33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

    16:1 I stand Phoebe with you, being a minister of the church at Cenchrea, 2 that you accept her in the Lord, in a manner worthy of the saints, and stand beside her in whatever matter she may have need of you; because she also has stood before many, even me.

a) I use “brothers” here in the sense of peers or equals, in the sense that women really are “brothers.” It is also easier in a concordant translation like this.

b) Paul repeats the root words for “minister,” “accept” and “saints” first for himself and then for Phoebe. Is this chance or deliberate?

c) Paul uses three three related words that create a word play that many translations have tried to imitate in part. συνίστημι – stand together, παρίστημι – stand beside, and προΐστημι – stand before. This is why you see the repeated use of “help” in some translations. Here is the RSV and other translations.

    and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.

Of course, this is based on etymological fallacies, and some meaning may not be communicated properly, but maybe some meaning elements are clearer.

I hope to hear from some of you who are really blogging up the Greek. TC (whom I have lost momentarily, Mike, Rick, everybody. It doesn’t have to contain a translation, just some insight, no matter how tangential, into Paul’s use of language.

As always I owe a debt to Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible.


I have been away for a bit on other blogs. First, I have tried to engage with a couple of complementarian blogs in a non-combattive way. Second, I have been reading some blogs of girlfriends so I could find some words to express how I feel.

Here is an example of what I found,

    So when I read books like How Women Help Men Find God, I well up inside with so much frustration because I can not believe that an otherwise intelligent person would write in this way. Intellectuelle

    What I am leading to is this: women are justified in being angry at the injustice, inconsideration, and just plain wrongness in probably 90% of the rhetoric touting itself as biblical womanhood and manhood, or any other mistreatment. Intellectuelle

    Like an abused caged wild animal newly set free, most any movement made me flinch and anything that looked like a cage wall made me snarl and run. Compegal

    The hardest part about the change wasn’t in making the change itself, but in grieving the loss of some hopes and dreams based upon the old beliefs, in knowing I had been a part of giving people “Christian” advice that wasn’t really Scriptural at all but was harmful, and in missed opportunities and other wrong choices based on the old beliefs. CBE blog

    On Monday, I burnt four marriage books. I was very angry. The enemy was there, controlling, menacing, ever strong. I need to work on my reactions to the enemy’s victories, but it hurts so much! MRB

    I have discussed this topic with several women and have been a little bit surprised by their reactions. It seems to me that women would be glad to know that the idea of submission precedes the fall. This shows us that the headship of the husband is not rooted in a punishment, and perhaps even an unfair punishment where woman was given the harsher penalty of having to submit, but is rooted in the very purpose and creation of mankind. Yet women have told me that they prefer to think that submission is a product of the Fall. Challies

I can’t express how I feel myself – way over the top of what you read here – except to say that it is a pain that crashes in my head. The pain of knowing that the Bible was used to enslave me for being a woman. Since clearly this affects how I interact, I have resorted to borrowing the words of other women to help me express it here.

So, this is just to say that if you see me saying untoward things sometimes, it comes out of this kind of pain. I’m sorry. I know that when other people say things it comes out of their pain.

Fortunately this is mostly about Bible translation, and not about the rest of my life. My kids are great, my dog is healthy, my grass is cut, and I love my job. So, no, I am not having a nervous breakdown. But Bible translations being used to enslave women causes me pain, a great deal of pain.

Now, I will try to listen harder to other people and their issues.


Wayne has emailed to say that Elena’s mother died peacefully this morning in Eugene, Oregon. We wish to express our sympathy and acknowledge the loss of a devoted Christian, a wife, mother, missionary, teacher and musician.

In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began. — Titus 1:2