[Repost and discussion of an interview by Books at a Glance.]
One of the wisest things a Bible interpreter can do is become familiar with the best translations of Scripture in his or her own language. The NIV (New International Version), whether or not you agree with every aspect of its approach, is certainly one of the best in English. Credit for that goes to its thoughtful and informed translators–people such as Douglas J. Moo.
Moo is one of my favorite NT commentators. (His name appears seven times on my list of recommended commentaries.) He also serves as current Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), the body of translators that produces the NIV translation.
I’m posting this interview with Moo here because I think it gives helpful insights into the mindset of the NIV translators. If we understand the NIV’s translators better, we can make wiser use of the NIV translation.
Moo says lots of useful things in this interview. I especially noticed this sentence about translation philosophies:
“The key tension here is not form vs. meaning but, in practice, form vs. natural English.”
I find that sentence interesting because it avoids the fallacy that a translator needs to choose between (a) accurately conveying the form of an original text or (b) accurately conveying the meaning of the original text. Too often that is exactly the claim that you hear, especially from proponents of functional equivalence translations (otherwise known as dynamic equivalence or thought-for-thought–translations such as NIV or, more radically, the NLT). Moo avoids that fallacy. Instead, he correctly understands that (a) all good translations aim to convey meaning accurately, and (b) all translations must continually make choices between following the form (sentence structure, etc.) of the text in the original language or the forms of natural English.
I also admire the way he expresses the NIV’s goals regarding decisions about gender:
To put it simply: our “agenda” on the CBT is clear and single: to put the meaning of the Scriptures into accurate, natural, and contemporary English. We view our gender decisions in this context – and only in this context. To render expressions in the original text that clearly refer to human beings in general with words such as “man,” “he,” etc., is to betray our mandate to put the Bible into accurate English.
Three things in response: (1) I think the updated NIV can be a great help in alerting readers to passages where gender decisions must be made, and to where they may have had false assumptions about what a passage actually says about gender (see here for an example from my own experience). (2) I think the NIV would do well to balance its valid concern for gender accuracy with an increased emphasis on other equally valid translation concerns, such as the concern to properly transmit number (singular vs. plural pronouns, for example). (3) I think it is time for those of us who have some legitimate concerns about the NIV’s gender choices (see 2) to stop insinuating they have an egalitarian agenda. The truth is, the CBT contains both members of egalitarian persuasion and members of complementarian persuasion, who agree on their goal to translate Scripture faithfully. We may (should) discuss the extent to which they achieve their goal, but I don’t think it is helpful to question their good intent.
Here is the beginning of the interview with Moo, hosted over on Books at a Glance:
If you’ve kept an eye on the headlines at all you are aware that 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the NIV, an enormously successful and influential Bible translation. To mark the celebration here at Books At a Glance, we are very pleased to have our good friend Dr. Douglas J. Moo, Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) here to talk to us about their work.
And here is Moo’s final sentence in this interview:
At some point – perhaps 8-10 years from now – we will probably release a new edition.
(hey, that sounds nice!)
I’m reading through Galatians right now (repeatedly–about nine times in the last ten days or so), and I’m reading it in a variety of translations (ESV, NASB, NLT, NIV, plus a wee bit of Greek). The ESV is the translation I use most (see here), but here, for the record, are several places where I like the NIV translation of Galatians at least as well or maybe even better than the ESV:
Galatians 1:16 — Here the NIV actually follows the Greek more closely than the ESV does, relying more on immediate Greek vocabulary and less on contextual interpretive clues in its translation choice.
- ESV: “to reveal his Son to me” (footnote: Greek in)
- NIV: “to reveal his Son in me”
Galatians 3:16 — Here I don’t know which translation I prefer, but the NIV, interestingly, chooses a word that is more suggestive of the underlying Greek word (σπέρματι, or spermati, which was used to refer to, among other things: plant seeds, sperm, offspring, or anything possessing vital life force).
- ESV: “to Abraham and to his offspring”
- NIV: “to Abraham and to his seed”
Galatians 6:1 — Here the NIV, though less word-for-word (a slight negative), does a better job of recognizing that Paul is still talking about walking and living by the Spirit, as he was in the immediately preceding verses of chapter 5.
- ESV: “you who are spiritual”
- NIV: “you who live by the Spirit”
Thoughts about this interview, Douglas Moo, or the NIV translation? Share them in the comments below!