NIV 2011 and James 3:1

So, I’ve not really followed very closely the whole controversy/hubbub about the NIV 2011. It has something to do with dissatisfaction with the TNIV*, but I won’t get into that.  In my humble opinion, they should just call this next revision “Tomorrow’s NIV”. . .  JK. Folks are calling it the NIV 2011, among other things. The text is now available online for all to see (;

Robert Slowley has put online a handy comparison of the original NIV, the TNIV and the NIV2011. John Dyer made a similar tool.

So, given the new release of the text, I decided checked out the differences in the Epistle of James (given that I’ve spent a little time studying that book in the past).

One thing I found particularly ‘interesting’ is the translation of adelphoi in James. The author of James uses this  word throughout the letter to address his audience. He particularly punctuates the epistle with reference to adelphoi mou (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 5:12, 19). In the original NIV, this phrase, adelphoi mou is consistently translated “my brothers”.

That’s an OK translation. The problem is that while the Greek word, adelphos, in the singular generally refers to “a male from the same womb” or “brother”, in the plural it can also refer collectively to a group of both brothers and sisters (male and female). Adelphos can also refer more ‘metaphorically’ to a person “viewed as a brother in terms of a close affinity”, rather than by virtue of being ‘from the same womb’ (BDAG, s.v. ἀδελφός). Of course the precise meaning of adelphos in any given instance is determined by context. If, for instance, you know that a group of individuals being referred to are both male and female, you’d assume that adelphoi means either “brothers and sisters” (siblings) or perhaps “folks associated closely with each other.”

Given this understanding of adelphos, particularly adelphoi (the plural), the TNIV consistently translated adelphoi throughout the Epistle of James as “brothers and sisters.” This makes sense. It is highly unlikely that James would have addressed only males of “the twelve tribes of the dispersion” (1:1) who came from the same womb. He was most likely using the term more metaphorically to refer to those with whom he shared a close association (they were, after all, a part of the same twelve tribes), and just as likely he was referring to both men and women.

Once upon a time in English, one could simply say “brothers” and folks would pretty much understand that both men and women were being referred to. (Growing up, I memorized a lot of the KJV so I was familiar with this inclusive* ‘brothers’ language . . . Shakespeare was a lot easier for me than for the other kids in high school.)  Nowadays, given the way language has shifted over the years, folks might have a hard time with this. If you refer to “brothers” it would pretty much be assumed you were speaking to an all (or mostly) male crowd. So, James is addressing more than just the men in the congregations, why should we leave our ‘sisters’ out?

Well, the NIV2011 retained the TNIV’s translation of adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” in all places but in 3:1. Here is the Greek text and the English translations in the NIV family tree:

  • NA27 Μὴ πολλοὶ διδάσκαλοι γίνεσθε, ἀδελφοί μου, εἰδότες ὅτι μεῖζον κρίμα λημψόμεθα.
    Mē polloi didaskaloi ginesthe , adelphoi mou, eidotes hoti meizon krima lēmpsometha
  • NIV Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
  • TNIV Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
  • NIV2011 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
So, I’m a bit befuddled. Where did the translators of the NIV2011 get the phrase “my fellow believers”? It’s simply not in the text. James uses adelphoi mou the same as he does elsewhere in the epistle–to address his listeners as a whole. He uses adelphoi to do so, implying a close connection. I guess that “my fellow believers” gives the sense of this close affiliation, but there’s a difference in ‘feeling’ between “fellow believers” and “brothers and sisters.”
Throughout James, the NIV2011 uses “brothers and sisters” to translate adelphoi mou, (see the translation footnote a in 1:2) but in this context, the translation gives no clue that he’s using the same form of address. There is another thing to consider: James talks a lot about ‘faith’ and ‘belief’.* Given the NIV2011’s translation in 3:1, if I didn’t know any better, I’d assume that Jimmy was using one of those ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ words. He did after all just get done preaching about the importance of faith/belief backed up by works. I can imagine a well-meaning-and-observant Sunday School teacher having an “Ahah! moment” reading this translation. James just gets done talking to the folks about the nature of true belief, and then he lovingly refers to his addressees as “fellow believers.” Problem. He is not.

I can’t help but wonder about this. Was this simply the slip of the translator’s pen? An oversight in translation consistency? The nuance is slight enough; I think it very well could have been. If it is, it’s an unfortunate slip. James is here admonishing his readers, “Not many of you should become teachers.” If memory serves me correctly,* wasn’t gender and the whole ‘women in ministry’ thing at least tangentially related to the controversies over the TNIV? Why didn’t they use fellow believers elsewhere in the text? The only place where the translators used “fellow believers” to translate adelphoi mou refers to potential teachers. Elsewhere they used somewhat ‘gendered’ language. Were they avoiding explicit reference to brothers and sisters in a place where James may be addressing both brothers and sisters who could potentially be teachers? Was this an attempt to avoid the TNIV feather-ruffle?

My inclination is to believe that this would not be the case. I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt, or at least to believe that there was some other relevant stylistic reason to do this. Still, this made me wince just a little. If anything it provides one of those brave souls who would become a teacher a ‘teachable moment’ in translation theory.

So. That’s my first post in almost a year. I await the darts. 😉

A Liberal Bible in Need of Fixing?

The folks over at “conservapedia” are engaged in a new “Conservative Bible Project” that goes beyond the TNIV/ESV debate and actually eliminates the various passages of Scripture that can be deemed as “liberal”, while enhancing passages that support “conservative” values.

Is this for real? If it is, then give me donkey ears and paint me blue, because I’m going liberal!

Forget the gender-inclusive wars… They don’t go far enough. Functional/dynamic equivalence be damned! What we need is a non-dumbed down, non-emasculated Bible that utilizes powerful conservative terms and expresses free-market parables!

Here are the ten guidelines for this “translation:”

  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level
  4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative as they develop; defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”; using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

The site even gives examples of possible changes:

First Example – Liberal Falsehood
The earliest, most authentic manuscripts lack this verse set forth at Luke 23:34:

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Is this a liberal corruption of the original? This does not appear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible.

Second Example – Dishonestly Shrewd
At Luke 16:8, the NIV describes an enigmatic parable in which the “master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” But is “shrewdly”, which has connotations of dishonesty, the best term here? Being dishonestly shrewd is not an admirable trait.

The better conservative term, which became available only in 1851, is “resourceful”. The manager was praised for being “resourceful”, which is very different from dishonesty. Yet not even the ESV, which was published in 2001, contains a single use of the term “resourceful” in its entire translation of the Bible.

Third Example – Socialism
Socialistic terminology permeates English translations of the Bible, without justification. This improperly encourages the “social justice” movement among Christians.

For example, the conservative word “volunteer” is mentioned only once in the ESV, yet the socialistic word “comrade” is used three times, “laborer(s)” is used 13 times, “labored” 15 times, and “fellow” (as in “fellow worker”) is used 55 times.

I do hope this is a joke. I can’t wait to see what Mike Aubrey will have to say about this!

HT: CrunchyCon via BoingBoing