Equivalence in Bible Translation

Dr. Yancy Smith of BLI has written an article on the usefulness of “equivalence” in Bible translation in the Missio Dei Journal.

“Since the era of Eugene Nida, evangelical Bible translation has been revolutionized by his notion of dynamic or functional equivalence. Powerful theological and theoretical concerns, however, call into question its usefulness and its catholicity. This article explores and questions the usefulness of the equivalence model of translation in Christian mission from the standpoint of incarnation.”


Christmas Shopping for that Inmate in Your Life

Bible League International will release The Prison Bible in January 2014. The Prison Bible is the Easy-to-Read Version with 52 lessons made especially for inmates. In addition to Scripture lessons that walk through various parts of the gospel of John, readers get serious content dealing with anger, violence, and mental health. There is also significant attention to preparing inmates for life after prison. The Prison Bible  is available for pre-order until the end of the year for less than $5. Click the pic to see the promo video.





BT2013 just finished up in Dallas, TX. Bible translators and consultants, ethnologists and musicologists, and biblical studies scholars all met and presented papers on topics ranging from the history of Indonesian Bible translation to translation strategies for clause chaining languages. It was fun. I learned a lot. I got a t-shirt.

Some papers, handouts, and PPTs from BT2013 have been posted on MAP.


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Matt Chandler and Bull Balls

My church has bought something a lot of churches are buying— videos that teach so you don’t have to.

I’m sure you can tell I’m not too excited about the proposition, but I understand the need. Most folks aren’t scholars so having good, introductory-level educational resources is a must. And if you can stream it to your iPhone, all the better.

So my church is using RightNow Media, which allows users to stream “discipleship” videos from folks like Chip Ingram, Tommy Nelson, Margaret Feinberg, and Francis Chan. Already I’m nervous cause this has potential to continue the turning-leaders-into-celebrities syndrome that Derek Webb has sung ad nauseum about.

But you gotta try it before you knock it, right? So I see Matt Chandler has a new video series up called “Apologetics”. Matt Chandler has been the speaker at more than one youth camp I went to as a kid, so his was a recognizable face. I’ve also gone from reading Norman Geisler to Mark Noll, so I’m familiar with apologetics and what its proper place is.

Chandler’s first video in the series is called “Why Does God Allow Suffering and Tragedy?”. Some of the things Chandler says are helpful. Some things he says are stupid mistakes from the best of intentions. But some things he says are scary and dangerous, I think.

Good things- Chandler takes suffering seriously. He shares some of his own medical history and how it debilitated him for a time. He honestly shares that Scripture in the face of that pain seems trite and even rude to the person suffering. He also reminds victims of abuse that “no one gets away with injustice”. Its a confession Christians must repeat and remind ourselves of.

Not so good things – Chandler also makes some stupid mistakes that are easily fixed by doing your homework before you open your mouth. The first happens a few minutes. Chandler says,

“When he (God) created the world we live in, he created it good. The Hebrew word is shalom. He created it at peace, or really, in rhythm.”

Actually, the Hebrew word is טוב tov (good). In fact, the Hebrew word שלום shalom doesn’t happen in the Bible until Genesis 15. I’m not sure what source says that God created the world in shalom/rhythm, but it isn’t the Bible. Sounds like Chandler needs a Hebrew refresher before he preaches from the OT publicly. (He and 1,000 others here in North Texas. But you’d figure folks who put this up on the internet would know to check it with the biblioblogging community first. Sheesh.)

Sadly, Chandler builds a theology from this mistake and claims that God’s shalom was fractured when sin entered the world. But shalom doesn’t just mean peace in the shallow way we Americans talk about it. Shalom means wholeness, completeness. So to say that God’s shalom has been fractured is to say that God is not whole. But you’d have to read the Bible to get that. And who has time? Isn’t that why we need to stream these videos?

Another item that shows OT ignorance is a statement that Chandler makes that I hear a lot of people make. In fact, my old systematics prof said it too and he said it started with Augustine. The statement is “God uses, he does not cause, he uses suffering”. Well the Bible says the opposite. In Isaiah 45:7 Yahweh tells Cyrus and the prophet that there is none like him who creates light and dark, peace and violence. That word for violence (רע) is the same word that gets translated “evil” often times in King James style Bibles. No matter how you translate it, Isaiah says that God causes pain. (I’d like Chandler to answer the question “Why did God make the snake?”)

Okay, now the scary dangerous part- Chandler turns to Romans 8:18-22 to find encouragement in the face of suffering. He, like Paul, admits that the world is still waiting to be fixed. So how do we live in the midst of this suffering? Chandler says,

“If we can get our minds on 10,000 years from now, when Jesus Christ has made all things new, and everything has been redeemed, and restored, and put back into that Shalom— if we keep our minds there, our hope there, then we have hope for tomorrow.”

This is a common answer to people who suffer: One day, you won’t suffer anymore, so try to focus on that time to come. But this is cheap comfort. This is a back without a spine. This is scary in the face of suffering. And it is not the gospel.

Chandler should finish reading chapter 8 of Romans (v37 is a doozy!), because Paul certainly does not tell Roman Christians (some of whom were slaves) to focus on a liberating day 10,00 years down the road. Instead, Paul tells us to hope in what Jesus has already done. Jesus’ faithfulness  is evidence that God keeps his promises. And since we share in his death, we also share in his resurrection (which has already happened! Ya’ know— Easter!). Because God makes good on his promises, we are more than conquerers even while we suffer in slavery. Paul raises Christian tolerance for pain, rather than convince us to focus on something else (or somewhen else) that is not painful. In this regard, Chandler’s ethic is more Buddhist than Christian or Jewish.

So, my church… This is level of education and excellence we expect from our preachers and teachers and its lower than a bull’s balls are to the floor. WTF.

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On γαρ’d

Douglas Campbell’s Deliverance of God has generated lots of discussion, especially on Romans 1:18-32. The γαρ in 1:18 has been a problem for interpreters long before Campbell came to it. But Campbell’s work is making folks take another look at the particle in this verse.

Koine “traditionalists” (is there a better word?) assert that γαρ is a discourse connector which logically joins two parts of a discourse, normally in an explanatory way.  This sense is typically translated “therefore”. Example: I have a broken leg, therefore I will not be playing football. If one only reads the NT, then clearly this is the most frequent usage.

But there is other Greek literature out there. Consider Euripides’ Bacchae. In places like lines 477, 483, and 612, γαρ is used to signal a switch in speaker (like from Dionysus to Pentheus or the Chorus leader to Dionysus). This is evidence for how the particle could function in rhetoric, particularly in a Socratic dialogue. To be fair, just because Euripides used γαρ this way sometimes does not automatically mean that’s what Paul did in Romans 1:18. However, it is evidence that I don’t see many people consider before they dismiss it. A better question for the traditionalists might be Why can’t the γαρ in Romans 1:18 indicate a speaker change?

In addition to Euripides, there’s biblical evidence as well. Consider the translation Greek of the LXX. In Job, when he converses with his “friends”, γαρ is twice used in a change of speaker (Job 6:2; 25:2). Also, by my count there are over 45 instances of γαρ symbolizing a speaker change in LXX Isaiah (tweet me if you want the list and begin discussing who is speaking where in Isaiah). (Maybe this requires an intro to the various voices in Isaiah, but…) One of the clearest examples is Cyrus talking to Yahweh in Isa 45:15— συ γαρ ει θεος, και ουκ ηδειμεν, ο θεος του Ισραηλ σωτηρ (You are the God people cannot see. You are the God who saves Israel. ERV)

Long story short: γαρ is a very small form that gets used in lots of contexts. Identifying what the form means from context-to-context should be determined by those contexts, not by a lexicographic straight-jacket.

So does the γαρ in Romans 1:18 signal a switch from Paul’s voice to the Teacher’s voice? I think the evidence suggests so.




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a MAP for bible translators

MAP stands for Modular Aggregation of Principles for Bible Translation. It is an online learning community created by the Nida Institute. MAP is a collection of videos, PDFs, MP3s, TED and YouTube links, and original content created by community members. While aimed at Bible translators, anyone interested in Bible, language, and cultures should check it out. Content ranges from discussions of Relevance Theory, Ancient Near East, and neurology. Its open to the public, so feel free to join.

MAP is a question driven tool. So the best way to get around is to use the search bar. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you can ask a question and someone else in the community might have your answer.


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My Dad The Qohelet

I used to always be pissed at my dad. He never seemed to take those particular things seriously when in particular I thought he should.

I sucked at math. I still suck at math. So of course, my dad’s a math whiz. He’d always sit down with me and help me through math homework even though I’d fight him the whole way. Whenever I’d get really frustrated with math, he’d frustrate me further and make me say “Math is my best friend”. Then he’d laugh.

Eventually, he’d say things that seeped into my head and I’d get an A on a test. Then he’d say, “I told you! Math is your best friend. Say it!” And of course, I’d begrudgingly repeat our mantra. But he’d remind me to not take it too seriously and to get back to playing guitar or he’d ask me why I didn’t have a girlfriend.

When something bad happened— cancer in a family member, friend in a car accident, friend in jail— he’d say not to worry about it. Grieve, help out, but move on and don’t worry about it. These things happen. He’d tell me just to get my shit together and make sure I go to church, no matter what.

And he was serious about that. My dad and I are both Mexican-American statistics in America’s drug war. Even when he was doing his dirt, he’d always go to mass. His mother made sure he was always in mass, even if stoned with sunglasses. I’ve inherited that.

When I started studying continental philosophy, I— like all young people who are thrown into that sea without family or church— became immaturely angry at my father for what I called apathy in him. I had big questions. And he was happy to listen, but he couldn’t identify. He didn’t care. He loved me of course. But he couldn’t identify with how Kant was turning my worldview into Jello (Biafra). He never had those conversations with his father. He didn’t know who Kant was, nor did he care once I told him. He told me to keep studying philosophy if it pleased me, but to not take it too seriously. Then he’d ask me who I was dating, and I’d get pissed.

I felt the same way about Qohelet until I learned Hebrew. The whole book of Ecclesiastes was a mysterious frustration to me— apathetic like I thought my dad was. But then I learned the language.

I think after going down paths that my dad has already walked, now I’m talking his language, and man don’t I feel like a jackass…

My dad the Qohelet teaches that this world is absurd, so just play the game. There is no justice now, so keep your head down, enjoy your work, enjoy your family, enjoy beer, enjoy barbecue, and go to church. I used to think that was disengaging. Now I think its engaging the right things.

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When are biblioblogs appropriate?

On the internet. But as print media and scholarship evolve, biblioblogs creep into places that maybe they shouldn’t be.

Case and point: Eisenbrauns‘ new book edited by Miller, Naudé, and Zevit called Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew (2012). The book’s afterword is an article by Zevit entitled “Not-So-Random Thoughts Concerning Linguistic Dating and Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew” (pp 455-489), and this blogger thinks that Zevit has brought Bible blogs (or at least one) into a place they don’t belong.

In 2008, Bible scholars Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd published a 2 volume book called Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (Equinox) (henceforth LDBT), wherein they conclude that Hebrew Bible texts cannot be dated based on the linguistic evidence available. This started a huge debate among Hebraists to the degree that the topic has dominated more than one SBL session every year since 2009. Now, Eisenbrauns has published a book that collects articles on the topic, and most specifically, responses to LDBT. Zevit’s afterword is one such article. In this post, Zevit’s handling of a biblioblog interview in that article will be discussed.

The now defunct Hebrew and Greek Reader weblog did some interviews with the authors of LDBT back in 2009. As the creator of those interview questions, I think I am qualified to shed light on the questions in question. There are 7 issues I take with the article, and 3 resulting broader issues for further discussion.

1. On p459, Zevit writes, “It is rare that authors of a very specialized academic book are interviewed and even rarer when readers of an interview can be sure that what is reported reflects the ipssisima verba of the interviewees. But it happens sometimes.”

It used to be rare that scholars were interviewed about their specialized work. Since YouTube, iTunesU, podcasts, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, that has all changed. In fact, this all changed a few years before 2008, when LDBT was published. For some time now, anyone in the world can read, hear, or see scholars discuss graduate level academic issues, and many do so everyday.  I think Zevit’s assertion of this as a rarity is evidence of a generation gap in biblical studies.

2. I find the use of ipissisima verba uncritical and perhaps even self-contradictory (but I’m no classicist, so I’m open to being schooled). To say that the interviewer used the same words as the authors on page 459, and then to say on page 461 that the authors deny the interviewer’s premise of assuming the authors have their own dating system is quite near self-contradiction. While I used the words “linguistic dating”, that is what was being discussed. The real issue is if I was a dumb parrot, mouthing back to the authors their own ideas. Obviously that’s not the case, because the questions show that, at the time of asking, I did not fully understand what the LDBT authors were talking about (one letter off and that acronym takes an entirely different meaning!).

3. (And this is a picky thing, but I think is also evidence for a larger issue) The website is once referred to as “Hebrew and Greek Reader: Bible, Language, Education”. This was not the title of the weblog. The taglines “Bible, Language, and Education” are simply taglines. When creating a wordpress.com weblog, wordpress.com gives bloggers the option to put taglines in the site header under the title. Again, this is the generation gap. Had the author ever created his own weblog or played around on wordpress.com or blogspot.com, he would have quickly seen that blogs are not like books or academic papers. Bloggers use keywords to get more hits, not to create formal titles. Further, an Eisenbrauns editor should have caught that.

In a footnote, Zevit cites the website haphazardly. Two of the four URLs given take a reader to the relevant page, the other two do not. The main website reference mistakenly has an @ symbol that looks like a Twitter handle, the specific interview pages have ellipses in the URL (though @Eisenbrauns has explained this. Follow them on Twitter!), and in (2) Robert Rezetko’s name has an ø symbol instead of a letter o (@Eisenbrauns has also explained this typo). While there are cleaner ad hoc ways to cite a blog in a footnote, there are guidelines for this now. MLA, Turabian, and SBL style handbooks all explain how a website is properly cited. In fact, §14.246 in the new Chicago manual is dedicated to citing blogs.  Zevit, and even worse Eisenbrauns, has followed no standard convention. For Zevit, this is evidence of the generation gap. For Eisenbrauns, it shows editorial sloppiness.

4. Zevit’s understanding of tone on the blog is also objectionable. In footnote 6 on p459, he writes that the answers given in response to 7 (except for Young’s) are “serious and on-point”. I disagree.  I think Rezetko’s response that includes detours into cooking is not “serious and on-point” but rather funny and conversational. One of the special things about Bible weblogs is that many of them, to follow Ian’s use of colloquialism, take the piss out of scholarship. Biblioblogs are funny and off-point and chase down detours and post lots of pictures of lol cats.

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5. Zevit also addressed my interviewing skills. He writes, “Question 7 is poorly worded from two unrelated questions (p461)”. I am grateful for the criticism. The question is poorly worded as evidenced by Zevit’s assertion that the two parts of question 7 are unrelated. They are indeed related, which is why they both make up question 7. By “writing style” and “research method”, I meant exactly what I said. I wanted to know if the authors wrote in a particular way. Do they do lots of re-writing as they go? Do they do one big blow-out draft, put it down, then edit it a month later? Do they write as if the paper might be read aloud? At the time, I was writing an MA thesis and my writing style was being forced to change from something I would call bop-prose to scholarly technical writing. It was hard and I wanted to see if others had similar struggles. Then by “research method” I meant the exact same thing. Do you write in a particular place? Do you stop to do push ups or stretches to break up the time? Do you listen to music when researching? I could have made the questions more specific, but I didn’t want to direct them too much. I was simply interested in how their scholarship works in daily life. I am satisfied with their answers. All three basically said, “No.”

The relatedness of the two parts of question 7 is a great issue to raise in the post’s comments section. Why this question was not first asked there instead of being taken to print, I do not know. It is worthy to note that in all the comments I’ve received about these interviews, this is first time I’ve ever heard of someone being confused over the interview.

6. Regarding question 13 in the interview, Zevit asserts that the phrase “linguistic dating” actually refers to the LDBT books and should thus be capitalized “Linguistic Dating”. This is incorrect. Again, why an author would assume this and publish a mistaken assumption before asking the question in the blog’s comments section baffles me. Again, perhaps Zevit is on the other side of the generation gap from me and did not wish to enter into an online discussion. Still, an editor or one of the peers who reviews such works before they are printed should have offered to ask the clarification question on the blog. This is why comments sections exist.

By “linguistic dating” I do not refer to the LDBT books, but rather the lack of formal historical linguistics in the authors’ work. To clarify this, I added “(like generative or cognitive linguistics)” to indicate that I was looking for a formal theory rather than their ad hoc process. Again, I could have worded the question clearer, but the interviewees clearly understood and answered accordingly.

There is also a pesky typo. “Cognitive linguistics” is misquoted as “cognate linguistics” (460).

7. Again on p461, Zevit mistakes what is happening in the interview. In question 15, I asked a question about their research, using their term “textual instability”, and then I formed the question in a way that was not conducive to their conclusions. They have concluded that linguistic dating of biblical Hebrew texts cannot be done with present evidence (and I agree). However, at the time (still three-quarters of the way through Vol. 1 back in 2009), I did not fully understand that. I was expecting them to propose an alternative dating system, as Zevit rightly notes. Upon discovering my ignorance, the authors did not call attention to my error, but quickly and simply corrected me. I am thankful for their time and answers.

There are some specific issues I take with Zevit’s handling of the interview, which I have detailed above. On the whole, there are three larger issues that this section of the new Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew book raises. 1) Just how big is the generation gap in biblical studies? 2) Are book publishers less strict with senior scholars in the peer review and editorial processes? 3) How do scholars go about deciding which weblog posts are worthy of being re-published in print media? And what etiquette should be observed when doing so?

But question 3 is the biggest. Some might even expand, should biblioblogs be used to analyze printed scholarly work at all? To that I answer- with discretion. Certainly little-to-nothing I’ve ever posted should be used in an Eisenbrauns book. You take the finished work to folks like Eisenbrauns. Hebrew and Greek Reader was a learning tool, a writing tool, a conversation tool. It was useful as an undergrad and a new masters’ level student to have a place to vomit out ideas and get feedback from others. Sometimes posts were good. Sometimes they were bad. But as for me, they were all good cause they all taught me something (“shut your mouth” was a common theme). I think many other bloggers have approached their sites the same way, like a comic doing open-mic night: just working out the new stuff.

But then I think of bloggers like John Hobbins and April DeConick and Kurk Gayle and Steve Runge who often write/wrote (Hobbins ain’t a country pastor no more) posts that should be referred to in scholarly works.

So when are biblioblogger posts appropriate for printed scholarly materials? When they’re not mine.


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