On the “And’s”

For most translations that lie within the genealogy of the KJV (which would include the KJV, the RV/ASV, RSV, NKJV, NRSV, and ESV), the normal translation practice is to translate the Hebrew vav and Greek de and kai with the English word “and.” It was thought that the English “and” was the closest equivalent to those connectives. This has resulted in less than felicitous translation choices, the absolute worst being the ESV’s use of “and” at the beginning of the second table of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. It reads:

You shall not murder. And you shall not commit adultery. And you shall not steal. And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s (emphasis added).

This is quite simply hideous English. Any English teacher will state unequivocally that starting consecutive sentences with conjunctions (especially the same one!) is not good English style. For some reason, however, the ESV translators and English style specialists believed that the practice was fine when it came to translation.

The problem is this: Hebrew vav and Greek de and kai have a far more flexible range of meaning and application than English “and.” We usually reserve the English conjunction for joining together two specific thoughts. However, the Hebrew and Greek conjunctions often say no more than, “I’m continuing the narrative.” Printing in paragraph form is often quite adequate for Hebrew narrative vav’s. What I could wish for earnestly is a new revision of the ESV that takes this difference between English and Hebrew/Greek into account.

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12 Comments

  1. Rowland Ward said,

    June 4, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Maybe you should reappraise the NIV 2011 which overall has to be judged better in English. Personally I prefer it to the ESV anyway.

  2. roberty bob said,

    June 4, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    The RSV [one of my favorite versions] translates “neither shall you . . .” which is in line with the Orthodox Jewish Bible’s “neither shalt thou . . . .”

    I haven’t seen a translation that does better than that!

  3. reiterations said,

    June 4, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    I agree. I love the ESV and read it daily, but even it gets a little clunky in a few places.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    June 5, 2018 at 9:57 am

    Rowland, while the NIV certainly has smooth English, the 2011 gender neutral choices, and especially its botching of 1 Timothy 2:12 makes it a no-no for me.

    Bob, “neither” is certainly better than “and” in that place. Printing those commands in a paragraph form in Deuteronomy would also work just fine.

  5. Larry Wilson said,

    June 8, 2018 at 7:50 am

    I’ve been coming around to be with Rowland on this one. The fact that someone of his stature said it first gives me the courage to add my Amen. I was very bullish from the upshot on the ESV. But the more I used it – especially for public reading – the more I thought its English is awkward and tends to frustrate hearing with understanding. And the more I thought about trying to reach the lost in a society that is becoming less and less literate, the more I thought we need to try to clear away unnecessary obstacles (such as awkward syntax). So I began reading and using the NIV for my own private purposes, while still using the ESV in my public ministry. Yes, I’ve got a few frustrations with the NIV. But isn’t that true of every version? But I have been more and more inclining to the view that criticisms of its “gender neutrality” were exaggerated and unfair.

    By the by, what’s your critique of 1 Timothy 2:12 (NIV) – “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”?

  6. roberty bob said,

    June 8, 2018 at 10:30 am

    Having compared a string of English translations, I am curious [GB #4] about the manner in which you regard 1 Timothy 2:11,12 as a botched translation? It reads similar to NASV, KJV, and ESV.

    Given that the NIV was written for those of whom English is a second language, the overall tendency of this translation is to soften the text by choosing the easier English words — those most likely to be known by the readers — rather than the harder words which could more accurately give a truer sense of the Hebrew or Greek text.

    How do you read and translate 1 Timothy 2:11,12?

  7. greenbaggins said,

    June 8, 2018 at 10:31 am

    Larry, my problem with the translation is that the word “assume” can mean either “take up” (which is not included in the meaning of authenteo) or it can mean “making an assumption” that they could have this authority. The latter is definitely not in view. Either translation obscures and allows potential wiggle room for a liberal interpretation. The word “authenteo” means “to exercise authority.” It is a positive activity (as the grammatical construction shows: the “either…or” construction means that both activities are viewed positively or both negatively, as Kostenberger has shown us) that is then negatived in the case of women in the church. The NIV 2011 translation narrows the focus of the action in view in one of those two directions, whereas the statement itself is much broader.

  8. roberty bob said,

    June 8, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Authenteo: 1) to have authority over; 2) to exercise dominion over

    The 2011 NIV must have revised the early NIV version which reads “have authority over.” Even so, to “assume authority over” implies that one is “taking on” what was not given to her by God — to “usurp” or to “seize for oneself” that for which she was not ordained. It is impossible to draw any conclusion other than the woman who would assume authority over the man will, in practice, have authority over him / exercise dominion over him. I do not see how translating “assume authority over” offers any wiggle room for those who want to use this text as the basis for allowing woman to actually exercise dominion over men.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    June 9, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Bob, the translation would allow wiggle room, because if a woman didn’t “assume” authority, but was “given” it, then she could exercise it in a lawful manner. Just because “assume” leads to “exercise” does not mean that the translation in question would forbid the latter, and not the former.

  10. roberty bob said,

    June 9, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    So, then, greenbaggins, are you saying that “assume” in this instance does not mean “seize for oneself that which was not given to you” or “usurp?” If “assume” means one or the other, then the woman has no wiggle room: she cannot legitimately exercise authority that was not given to her, but was taken [seized / usurped] by her. Am I right?

    I offer up seize and usurp for assume that leaves no wiggle room. What do you offer up?

  11. greenbaggins said,

    June 10, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Bob, I am saying that “assume” means one of the two things I suggested in comment 7. If I say, “You can’t legitimately exercise any authority that you take for yourself,” then I am implying, “You can legitimately exercise any authority that is given to you.” Or, given the other definition, if I say, “You can’t legitimately exercise any authority that you simply make an assumption that you have,” such a statement would imply, “You can legitimately exercise any authority that you don’t take for granted.” That’s where the wiggle room lies, not elsewhere. But to imply any kind of negative definition for “authenteo” is not correct, since the structure of the “neither…nor” means that both of the activities must be seen in the same light. “Teaching” is a positive activity, therefore “exercise authority” must also be positive. These two positive activities are then denied to women in the context of the church.

  12. roberty bob said,

    June 11, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    The Apostle Paul says “I do not permit a woman / wife to teach OR to exercise authority over a man / husband.” The “do not permit” pertains to what follows, namely, ” to teach” or “to exercise / have / assume authority over.” I agree with you that “to exercise authority” or “to have authority” is a stronger translation than the newer NIV’s “to assume authority.” Those of us who interpret “to assume authority” as “to usurp authority” do so on the understanding that the context leads us directly to that meaning. If someone is forbidden from assuming authority, any attempt of assuming it would have to be viewed as usurpation: taking what is not within one’s rights to take. The older KJV, interestingly, runs with “usurp authority.” I don’t see the NIV as having “botched” the text here, but they needn’t have revised their early translation.

    The NIV reads better in some places than others, probably due in large part to particular persons on the translating committee who brought both strength and weakness to the table when making their arguments. I think that the general intention of the NIV is to make the rough places smooth and to fill in the valleys. This makes for easier reading, but so much is sacrificed to meet that goal. I find the RSV far more reliable, although a plethora of English translations have blossomed in the meantime. Who can keep up?


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