May 13, 2009

Translations of Paul

Tim (at Catholic Bibles) raises issues of translations of Paul.  In Tim’s post NT Wright + NIV = Not Friends, Tim notes that in N. T. Wright’s Justification:  God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (I have just received this book and have not started reading it yet) that Wright pans the NIV translation of the Pauline epistles.

Here is Tim’s account:

[Wright] begins by stating that he had recommended use of the NIV early in the 1980's, believing that it injected "no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses (51)." However, over a two year period, while lecturing with the NIV and the Greek text, he discovered that "the translators had had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said (52)." He follows that up by saying: "I do know that if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about (52)." Ouch! He sites the NIV translation of Romans 3:21-26 & 29 as a major problem, particularly in its use of dikaiosu.

As an example, Tim quotes Wright:

In other words, "the righteousness of God" in Romans 3:21 is only allowed to mean "the righteous status which comes to people from God", whereas the equivalent term in Romans 3:25 and 3:26 clearly refers to God's own righteousness-which is presumably why the NIV has translated it as "justice", to avoid having the reader realize the deception. In the following paragraph, a similar telltale translation flaw occurs, to which again we shall return. In Romans 3:29, Paul introduces the question, "Is God the God of Jews only?" with the single-letter word "e", normally translated "or"; "Or is God the God of Jews only?"- in other words, if the statement of Romans 3:28 were to be challenged, it would look as though God were the God of Jews only. But the NIV standing firmly in the tradition that sees no organic connection between justification by faith on the one hand and the inclusion of Gentiles within God's people on the other, resists this clear implication by omitting the word altogether (52-53).

I was well aware of Wright’s criticism of the translation of the Pauline epistles from minicourse Romans in a Week at Regent College.

I note further that these errors have not been corrected in the TNIV. 

Finally, I note that N. T. Wright himself has translated and annotated most of the New Testament in his For Everyone translation series.

I think that Wright’s points are well taken.  However, it is interesting to contrast his decision with my preferred textbooks for introductory study for Paul.  I prefer the Wayne Meek’s Writings of St. Paul (published in the Norton Critical Edition) for its inclusion of pseudo-Pauline sources and wide set of reactions from Jews, pagans, church fathers, Marcionites, gnostics, and gentiles across the spectrum, together with later commentary from across the spectrum of thought.  This work appeared in two editions, both of which are still in print (and both are worth buying).  I note that the second edition (co-edited by John Fitzgerald) uses the TNIV translation (although with copious notes); the first edition sticks with the RSV translation.

These volumes are useful for a critical study of Paul, especially in a secular setting.  They are a fine purchase choice as our Catholic friends wrap up their Jubilee Year of Paul.

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