Friday, March 25, 2011

Rejoinder to Jamin Hubner: Part 3

Note to readers: I have added the label "Jamin Hubner"at the end of this and the other rejoinders in this series. If you click on the "Jamin Hubner" button, you can read all the rejoinders in this series.

This is the third part of a rejoinder to Jamin Hubner’s series of responses to my blog article, “Three Basic Challenges to the ESV.”

This part three rejoinder corresponds to and flows Hubner’s part three response.

After quoting my article’s introduction to the second challenge to the ESV, Hubner opens with another “straw man” argument: “Obviously, Riddles [sic] believes that all of the Reformed and Reformed Baptist endorsers (here) are unaware of this claim, or, that they are aware of it but don't see it as significant. That's quite an assertion.” In truth, my article never offered any statement, speculation, or "assertion" as to how other Reformed Baptists understand the roots of the ESV.

Hubner then states that he does not understand my contention that the claims made in the ESV regarding this translation’s pedigree are “awkward.” He states: “It is unclear what is meant by ‘awkward stance.’ What is awkward?”

Let me try to explain further what I mean. The purported stance of the ESV, as presented in its printed preface, is “awkward” in my view in that, on one hand, it claims to “grow out of the Tyndale-King James legacy, but, on the other hand, it acknowledges its roots in the English Revised Version of 1881 (via its daughter the RSV). This is “awkward” in that these two traditions are in direct contradiction with one another. The one (English Revised Version of 1881) was presented as an alternative to and in order to usurp or dethrone the other (the KJV). Perhaps most significant, they are translation traditions based on completely different texts (the KJV on the traditional or received text and the Revised Version on the modern critical text). This is why I said that the claims of the ESV preface are “awkward.” In fact, I think I stated this quite clearly in my article when I wrote: “On one hand, the ESV wants to claim a place in the tradition of the classic English translations of the Protestant Reformation, but, on the other, it must admit that its roots are actually in later Protestant liberalism.” I maintain that this claim is justified and hope this clarifies my point.

Hubner next seems to challenge the notion that the RSV translators held liberal bias that is reflected in the RSV (e.g., its infamous rendering of Isaiah 7:14). For evidence here, I would again cite Oswald T. Allis’ critique of the RSV, Revision or New Translation? (P & R, 1948).

He then challenges questions raised by Macgregor concerning the RSV/ESV rendering of Micah 5:2, noting that “Macgregor is simply wrong.” NB: This is just one of nine such examples of theological questions with RSV/ESV renderings cited by Macgregor (see Three Modern Versions, pp. 55-58).

Why is Micah 5:2 important? Like Isaiah 7:14 it is a messianic prediction. It is important, because it offers a prophecy about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It is a Christologically significant verse. The KJV rendering reflects a high Christological view in that it affirms the eternality of the Son as being “from everlasting.” The question is whether or not the RSV rendering of “from ancient days” might subtly undermine orthodox Christology. I am not implying that the evangelicals behind the ESV desire to undermine orthodox Christology, but I do believe that they could have unintentionally perpetuated the work of RSV translators who well may have had this intent.

Hubner, and no doubt the RSV/ESV translators, would argue that this is a more “literal” translation. But is this the case? After citing the Hebrew and LXX text of the phrase in question, Hubner makes the following grammatical observation: “The specific preposition that makes the text render "day" (min) is used, which is why the RSV, ESV, and NASB are generally more ‘literal’ or ‘word for word’ than the KJV at this point.” Though I will readily admit that I am not an expert in Hebrew, I find Hubner’s comment here to be curious. Yes, the preposition min is present in the text but so is the plural for the word “day” (yom)! It is not the preposition—as Hubner states— that might lead a translator to use “day” but the word “days” itself! The KJV translators apparently took the phrase mime ‘olam, that might well have been woodenly rendered “from the days everlasting,” as an idiom best rendered simply as “from everlasting.” The real question with theological bearing is how to translate the word olam. I would conclude that the KJV rendering is best in that it affirms orthodox Christology. The Puritan Matthew Poole, in his commentary on this verse, acknowledges in a marginal note that the Hebrew might be taken as “the days of eternity” but then explains the doctrinal significance of the translation “from everlasting” in his commentary: “whose generation, as he is the Son of God equal with his Father is eternal: this asserts the eternity of his Divine nature.”

Hubner also takes issue with my use of the word “change” to describe the RSV/ESV divergence from the KJV here (i.e., my statement: “The doctrinal issue here has to do with the change of “from everlasting” to “from ancient days”). Why, however, would the word “change” be inappropriate? First, the KJV is an older translation. It predates the RSV/ESV. It is also generally considered to be the normative or standard English translation against which later English translations are typically compared. As we have already noted, the ESV itself claims to follow in “the Tyndale-King James legacy” (though I have challenged this point). Therefore, to speak of the RSV/ESV “changing” the KJV translation is highly appropriate. I stand by it.

Hubner next offers two (colorful!) graphs showing statistics regarding the ESV renderings of the Hebrew word olam. I do not find this argument from “statistical analysis” to be germane, however, since the question here is not about general translation of this word in the Old Testament but the specific theological ramifications of the correct English translation for olam in this particular verse.

Oddly enough, after arguing that questions about the Christological significance of the RSV/ESV translation of Micah 5:2 are merely speculative, Hubner notes that Jehovah’s Witnesses (who deny the deity and eternal Sonship of Jesus) in their New World Translation render the disputed phrase in Micah 5:2 much as the RSV/ESV does. I was unaware of this fact, but I thank Mr. Hubner for raising it, since it clearly reinforces my point.

Let me add one more comment on this topic. Hubner seems to imply that anyone who has concerns about the theological implications of how translations read or how the theological presuppositions or bias of the translators affect the translation must hold to some kind of irrational “conspiracy theory.” This is not the case, however. I, for one, do not believe that the supporters of the ESV translation, for example, have a desire to undermine the doctrine of Christ’s deity. Macgregor’s comments are likewise charitable. However, I think one would have to be very na├»ve to think that the liberal translators of the RSV did not have a tendency to undermine orthodox views of Christology. The question is whether or not there are traces of this in the RSV that have been retained in the ESV. This is certainly a valid concern, and is at the core of the second objection lodged in my article: The ESV is not a new translation, but a mild revision of a notoriously liberal one!

Hubner next cites the ESV Study Bible notes on Micah 5:2. Far from allaying my misgivings about the RSV/ESV translation of this verse, however, this citation clearly indicates that the author of these notes realizes that Christological questions and objections might be raised about how this verse is rendered in the ESV. Hubner has already conceded that JWs, for example, will not take the RSV/ESV translation as an affirmation of the Christ’s “ancient (Davidic) lineage” but as a denial of his eternality. This is why the RSV/ESV rendering is potentially spiritually dangerous.

One would not expect an apologist to say that concerns about Christological implications of how a verse in Scripture is translated are “irrelevant,” but this is what Hubner says (“Thus, Macgregor and Riddle’s argument … is irrelevant.”). He declares that this text only discusses Christ’s physical lineage and not his eternality, so we should not worry about how the RSV/ESV renders it. Such a conclusion, however, is far from clear. Should we not be diligent in examining how a translation reflects upon the orthodox doctrine of Christ?

Hubner next throws out another aside defense of using “multiple translations.” Again, I have never advocated using only one translation, so this is again a “straw man” argument (see the same argument made in part one).

Hubner then responds to questions about gender neutrality in the ESV as cited by Macgregor. I continue to maintain that the examples speak for themselves. Despite Hubner’s protestations to the contrary, these changes do not add to the “accuracy” of the translation but reflect a gender inclusive impulse. Though the ESV did not alter Christologically questionable renderings from the RSV (like Micah 5:2) it did make changes to the RSV in places to insure gender neutrality (see again the clear examples cited by Macgregor in Romans 2:28; 3:4; 3:28).

Finally, Hubner correspondingly defends the ESV’s claims to be an “essentially literal” translation in the face of Macgregor’s citation of the above gender neutral renderings (which depart from the literal text) and other “dynamic equivalent” examples from the ESV. Granted, the ESV, thankfully, is not the NIV, much less The Message. The point is that the ESV’s claim to be a superior “literal” or “essentially literal” translation is open to challenge. Hubner claims that I and Macgregor commit “a fallacy of composition” by citing specific examples of problems with the ESV translation and assuming that this is true of the whole. He thus argues that the problems cited are “exceptional” and not the rule for the whole. Is this not, however, the very question under discussion? Are these examples exceptional or typical of the whole? I must conclude that it is not fallacious but highly appropriate to raise specific examples of non-literal renderings in order to investigate whether or not the ESV’s claim to be “essentially literal” is accurate.

In conclusion: The second challenge to the ESV stands as a legitimate concern. The ESV is an evangelical revision of the RSV. In places it has made improvement (e.g., Isaiah 7:14) on the RSV, but in other places questionable readings from the RSV have been maintained. Those rushing to embrace the ESV as their translation of choice should be aware of this concern.


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