Tradent and Traitor
I am disappointed that my former colleague Leroy Huizenga wrote and that First Things published a review of the updated New International Version (The Collins Bank Bible, October) that is biased and (apparently) uninformed about translation. Restriction in my word count forces me to mention only the most egregious problems.
First, Huizenga engages in selective quotation. He criticizes the NIVs translation of Hebrews 2:6“8 for effacing the christological import of the passage while cutting off the quotation at the point where the NIV explicitly applies the language of Psalm 8 to Christ (v. 9b). He suggests that the NIV moves in an egalitarian direction (egalitarian being undefined but apparently bad) in rendering 1 Timothy 3:11 as the women while omitting mention of the footnote that provides deacons wives as the first option.
Second, he criticizes the NIV for using different English words to translate the same Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word. He not only fails to note that concordant translation (consistently using a single English word for every occurrence of a Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word) is impossible but also that every English translation falls prey to the same criticism. For instance, to mention one of Huizengas examples, no English translation renders the sixteen occurrences of hodos in Mark with the same English word each time.
Third, he appears to be ignorant of basic linguistic and translational principles. He criticizes some of the gender language decisions in the NIV because they are based on a descriptive approach to modern English. But what is the alternative? A prescriptive approach? But who or what does the prescribing: Elizabethan English? 1960 English? British English? 2011 academic North American English?
His commendation of the King James Version for often following the biblical idiom and syntax suggests that we are to find our prescription in the form of the biblical languages. Should, then, the gender of words in the biblical languages dictate our choice of gender in English? Must a house in English translations of the Bible be a he in English because it is masculine in Greek?
The very question reveals the foolishness of Huizengas suggestion and a willful disregard of the way translators ( all translators) actually work. Once the meaning”with all its nuances!”of the original is determined, the translators task is to render that meaning into the target language. Only by understanding that target language can translation accomplish its task. The Collins Report has provided the NIV translators with an unparalleled resource in pursuing that task. Such descriptive analysis of language, as any linguist will confirm, is the only way to understand language.
As I read Scripture, two of the very first things are truth and charity. I am saddened to find First Things publishing a review so notably lacking in both.
Douglas J. Moo
Dr. Moo was chair of the Committee on
Bible Translation for the New International Version.
Leroy Huizenga objects that the NIV, purportedly born out of a marriage between evangelicalism and modernity, strives for lively language at the expense of fidelity to the form of the original. Cases in point for this assertion can be found in the NIVs decision to use gender-inclusive language in reference to humanity and stylistic variation where the Greek word remains the same. While Huizenga grants that language is value-laden and bound to culture, he also adds that proper translation technique must recognize Christianity as its own culture with its own language and practices.
I wonder, however, what exactly it means for Christianity to have its own language. I also wonder whether the implied connection between the NIV committees strategy of functional equivalence, on the one side, and evangelicalism and modernity, on the other, can be sustained. I for one applaud the NIV because, arguably unlike the more literal translations like the RSV and its modern-day progeny, the ESV, I believe it employs a translation practice that reflects the very best of the Chalcedonian tradition.
As Huizenga reminds us, language is deeply embedded in culture”and vice versa. It is precisely for this reason that word-for-word equivalency approaches fail. In translating adelphoi simply as brothers, we are at the end of the day doing a disservice not only to half the human race, but also to Pauls intention to speak to both genders. Sometimes a short-sighted insistence on accuracy sacrifices accuracy altogether. If the NIV occasionally trades accuracy on the lexical level for the currency of discursive meaning, and if such moves are characteristically evangelical and modern, then perhaps neither modernity nor evangelicalism are such bad things after all.
But in reality the NIVs functional-equivalence approach is neither distinctively modern nor characteristically Protestant-Evangelical. The favorite Catholic English Bible translations have no qualms in resorting to the same functional equivalence strategies operative in the NIV. For example, it may be true that Mark uses the adverb euthus forty-one times and that the NIV translates this Greek word seven different ways when it bothers to translate it at all. The esteemed Douay-Rheims (1899), translates euthus four or five different ways, when it bothers to translate it at all. Clearly, the difference between the NIV and the Douay-Rheims is a difference of degree not kind.
With all due respect to my good friend, I believe that such translations should be received with gratitude, because it is the churchs role to make the Word of God accessible to its members. And if the Bible is to be accessible, it must also be readable. It is difficult to find theological grounds for sacrificing readability on the altar of lexical equivalence. Readability and accessibility are of course not simply Protestant values: Vatican II itself teaches that easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful ( Dei Verbum 6.22).
While we may debate the NIVs collective wisdom at isolated points, in my view, to object to the NIVs functional equivalence on principle”as now, as I understand it, the Southern Baptist Convention has also done”is to risk denying the intersection between Word and culture. From there it is but a very short step to docetism, the very doctrine the church so earnestly sought to eradicate”and perhaps has not as yet fully succeeded.
Leroy Huizenga replies:
Every translation is an interpretation, every translator both tradent and traitor. One language is not another, and translation is an inherently difficult and political act. I want to thank Nicholas Perrin and Douglas Moo (who were great colleagues, and, I hope, are still good friends) not only for raising important issues in response to my review of the NIV but more importantly for their lifetimes of service interpreting and translating the Word.
My review is no surreptitious Catholic critique of an evangelical translation. I drew exclusively upon public items”the translation itself and the Translators Notes”without speculating about any private mental intentions of the translators. Thus, bringing up the Douay-Rheims and Dei Verbum misses the point. The issue is the philosophy undergirding the NIV. My concern is for my fellow evangelicals, that we have the best vernacular Scriptures possible, Bibles that will nourish our intellects and souls rather than diminish them.
Instead of clarifying facts I think my respondents get wrong, let us go to the heart of the matter. I praise Perrin for thinking theologically about translation, and Chalcedonian Christology proves a fruitful model in various theological areas. But the Son of God became incarnate in a particular man, the Jew Jesus of Nazareth, in a particular time and place. He did not incarnate in multiple cultures. Rather, Jesus Christ founded a community that has borne forth his message, his practices, and his sacraments through the ages, along with the Scriptures bearing witness to him, as his very body.
Christianity is thus its own culture with its own history and practices. For all our variety, we belong to a cultural-linguistic tribe called Christian, bringing our traditions of translation with us in time. Thus, a principled preference for some sort of formal equivalence is not docetic but profoundly incarnational.
In fact, astute readers perceived I was drawing on George Lindbecks The Nature of Doctrine , and his typology can help us clarify some issues. Old-school evangelicalism fell into Lindbecks first category of religion as cognitive-propositional doctrine. It is thus telling that the NIVs Notes speak not of communicating doctrine but recreating an experience. The philosophy of the NIV fits Lindbecks second category of experiential-expressivism, the philosophy of religion of modernity, in which the particulars of religion are seen as the expression of a common core experience. Its separation of form and content (meaning, experience) enabled postwar ecumenists to downplay denominational and religious particulars just as the NIV downplays the particular formal contours of biblical texts in order to offer its readers an experience that mirrors that of the original audience.
Subtly, a swath of evangelicalism has slipped categories, and as such is now in accidental league with liberal Protestantism, itself located squarely in Lindbecks second category. Protestant liberals attempted to accommodate the gospel to that mythical creature of which Bultmann and Tillich spoke, Modern Man, by translating it into language he could understand (and thus erasing its mythological particulars). Translation makes strange bedfellows, indeed.
Moo touches the issue acutely in raising concerns about prescriptivism. Languages are always evolving, but the descriptivist position does not follow, and its a false choice to suggest our only options are a thoroughgoing democratic descriptivism or a fascist prescriptivism picking a particular ossified moment in the history of a language.
There is a true third way, something other than a mere mean: tradition. As a language evolves, teachers, writers, linguists, and others, including Bible translators, engage in an everlasting debate about what counts as good language. I would suggest the consideration of certain criteria I mentioned in the review”coherence, clarity, efficiency, consistency, etc.”while drawing on the best of the tradition of the language.
Christians should also appropriate our traditions of translation, drawing on them with theological considerations also playing a decisive role, as Jesus Christ is the divine and rational Word incarnate. Our language for both common and sacred purposes should reflect divine rationality, goodness, beauty, and truth, as God is the first speaker. Not for nothing did the Catholic theologian Nicholas Lash say that care with language is the first casualty of original sin, and so postlapsarian man is a descriptivist.
What translations, then, would I recommend? Translations in the RSV tradition, the true heir to the great legacy of English Bible translation, a stream of tradition that has served the Anglophone world well. The old RSV remains serviceable, and more recent versions of it exist: for Catholics, the Ignatius Bible: Second Catholic Edition, and for evangelicals, the English Standard Version.
The Popes Balthasar
Because Bruce Marshalls insightful and sympathetic essay on Pope Benedicts Jesus of Nazareth (Reading the Gospels with Benedict XVI, October) displays the works beauties quite well, I largely agree with him, but I have to demur when he writes that in the books bibliography the pope accuses Hans Urs von Balthasar of an exaggerated theology of solidarity, which mistakenly takes Jesus cry from the cross as the expression of a personal experience of abandonment. The more balanced view, he [Benedict] argues, recognizes that Jesus certainly does take our suffering upon himself but not in order to succumb to it and be overwhelmed by it. He enters into solidarity with us, bears our griefs (Is. 53:4), not in order to experience them as we do, to be crushed by them as we are, but to transform them and triumph over them.
As a Balthasar scholar, I wish to note that the Swiss Catholic theologian never denied that Jesus atoning suffering transforms and triumphs over our griefs. Indeed, the usual objection to his theology holds that he insists on Christs triumph over sin and suffering too much .
Anyone who looks at the bibliography as it actually stands, and not as Marshall airily characterizes it, will notice that Benedict is merely directing readers (without any additional editorializing or critical comments of his own) to the last volume of Balthasars Theo-Drama , called The Last Act ”the very volume, ironically enough, where Balthasar makes clear his disagreement with Jürgen Moltmanns attribution of pain as part of Gods essence!
If Marshall wants to find the popes real attitude toward Balthasar in Jesus of Nazareth , he need only consult its first volume, where Benedict speaks of Jesus plunge into the River Jordan at his baptism as a foretype or adumbration of Christs later descent into the underworld on Holy Saturday. In that passage the pope speaks of the link between the Lords baptism and descent in these noticeably Balthasarian accents:
Jesus Baptism, then, is . . . [an] entering into the sin of others . . . a descent into the inferno. But he does not descend merely in the role of a spectator, as in Dantes Inferno. Rather, he goes down in the role of one whose suffering-with-others is a transforming suffering that turns the underworld around, knocking down and flinging open the gates of the abyss . . . Because of his equality with God, [Jesus] can take upon himself all the sin of the world and then suffer it through to the end”omitting nothing on the downward path into identity with the fallen.
As to Marshalls wider claim that Jesus does not experience our griefs as we do, that only holds true if we directly add that his sufferings were worse, because all-atoning: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). God made him who knew no sin to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). We have an advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for our sins alone but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2: 1b“2). Sounds like solidarity to me.
Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary
Bruce D. Marshall replies:
Im not surprised that Edward Oakes disagrees with my comments on the difference between Pope Benedicts reading of the Passion narrative and that of Hans Urs von Balthasar. This is not the place to go into the merits, or the coherence, of Balthasars characteristically modern way of understanding Christs solidarity with sinners (it is, of course, Balthasars understanding, not the solidarity, thats in question). About this, as we both know, Fr. Oakes and I disagree.
When it comes to reading Benedict, though, I wonder if Fr. Oakes hasnt approached Jesus of Nazareth: Part II without sufficient Romanitas . Benedict writes under his baptismal name here, but he also writes as pope. Treating Jesus cry of abandonment, he argues that the many attempts in recent theology . . . to gaze into the depths of [Jesus] soul and to understand the mystery of his person in his final agony are all hampered by too narrowly individualistic an approach.
The understanding of Jesus cry from the cross offered by the Church Fathers, deliberately contrasted with those of recent theology, was much closer to the truth. Benedict offers his own explanation of Jesus cry”or prayer, as he several times calls it”in patristic terms, where Jesus invocation of the opening lines of Psalm 22 bespeaks not the agony of Gods absence, but the confident assurance of his presence. This, surely, ought to interpret Benedicts understanding of Jesus solidarity with sinners in his baptism, not the other way around.
When we turn to the popes annotated bibliography for this chapter, he mentions modern theologies of Gods pain and Jesus suffering at Gods absence, and gives two cases in point: one by Moltmann and one by Balthasar. These two modern theologies are, I would have thought, deliberate examples of the recent theologies of Jesus dereliction that Benedict has already compared unfavorably with those of the Church Fathers, and to which he opposes his own interpretation.
The former Joseph Ratzinger is a great scholar, and much experienced in academic confrontation. Writing as bishop of Rome, however, in a book aimed at presenting to Catholics and non-Catholics alike his personal search for the face of the Lord, he is unlikely to make a frontal academic attack on a particular Catholic theologian. How else would Pope Benedict signal his demurral from Balthasars reading of the passion narrative than in this subtle but unmistakable”this typically Roman”way?
William Tighes review of my book Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (Briefly Noted, October) uses language I did not and would never use (the pope as CEO of his patriarchate) and concludes in such a way as to make me wonder whether he bothered to attend to my arguments. To claim that reforms might narrow the practical width of the gap that separates the two churches, but would not reduce its doctrinal depth predicts reactions he cannot possibly know now; and it misses the central point I made repeatedly: For the Orthodox it is precisely the practical applications of papal (and particularly curial) power that present far more and far greater obstacles to unity than doctrinal questions.
Adam A. J. DeVille
University of Saint Francis
Fort Wayne, Indiana
William Tighe replies:
I assure Adam DeVille that I attended to his arguments”but failed to be convinced by them. As to the pope under his proposals becoming effectively CEO of his patriarchate, for example, the phrase was mine, but it seemed a fair demotic summary of one of his proposals. I do see his reform proposals as both foreign to the Church of Romes longeval self-understanding of its Petrine primacy and dangerous to the point of folly in the context of contemporary doctrinal and moral crises in the Catholic Church. In Tiberim defluxit Orontes ”Juvenals old phrase characterizing the influence of Hellenistic ideas and practices on the old Roman ethos”seems a fair characterization of DeVilles proposals and (I fear) of their probable effects.
James Hannam is quite persuasive in explaining why Christianity was the only religion to cultivate a philosophical outlook consistent with the rational investigation of nature (Modern Sciences Christian Sources, October). Nevertheless, I have deep reservations about his contention that the rise of modern science was singularly rooted in the religion of Christianity and not in ancient Greek philosophy. Christianity developed a metaphysical framework consistent with that of modern science due to the deep impact of Greek philosophy on the very formation of Christianity.
Without Hellenic acculturation, Christianity would not have gone beyond its message of love and humility, beyond the fellowship of a common hope that sustained the small group of subliterate disciples who met in the years following the crucifixion to talk about Jesus teaching. Philo, for example, brought together the religious beliefs of the Torah and Mosaic law with the Platonic and Stoic idea of a single rational law inherent in nature, and also introduced a whole new allegorical method of reading the Bible. Accordingly, when the Old Testament and the gospels came to the Gentiles, they did so allegorically, with newly discovered meanings concerning the separation of the body and the soul, personal immortality, the Trinity, and the Incarnation.
By about ad 120, Christ had come to personify the Logos, the Word of the opening of St. Johns Gospel. As members of the educated middle and upper classes joined the congregations, they found much in common between the leading Stoic school of thought and Christianity. Both agreed that a single spirit, intelligence, created and guided the movement of the world.
The way Greek reason entered into Christianity, insisted Edwin Hatch, author of the classic The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity (1888), could be seen, first, in the search for clear definitions around the idea of God and in the effort to demonstrate, on rational grounds, the truthfulness of the definitions. It could also be seen in the tendency to draw inferences from definitions, to construct systems from these inferences, and to ascertain the validity of these inferences in terms of their logical consistency within those systems.
In explaining the relationship between Greek thought, Christianity, and modern science, one should not neglect as well the fascinating relationship between the classical literary tradition and the emergence of Latin Christianity. Christian scholars absorbed and debated all the intellectual currents of the Greco-Roman world, Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and Skepticism.
Hannam is correct that many ancient works in history, natural philosophy, logic, and literature awaited their discovery in the late Middle Ages, but the early Christian leaders responsible for the development of a Latin Christian doctrine were the harvest of a meticulous classical education. Lactantius, known as the Christian Cicero, for example, told his readers that the Stoic notion of a cosmic rational order was consistent with the Christian idea of a benevolent Creator who ruled the world providentially.
We can easily add many more examples. It is extremely one-sided to argue that modern science, and its rational discourse on the workings of nature, developed out of Christianity while ignoring the profound influence Greek philosophy had on the development of Christianity in the first place.
University of New Brunswick
Saint John, New Brunswick
The legacy of Greek science, and Aristotles role in particular, requires a more tempered appreciation than James Hannams. For example, one of the still too poorly studied puzzles of history is why the Byzantines failed to do anything significant with the Greek scientific corpus. The Byzantines were the inheritors of the Greek legacy, yet they neither institutionalized naturalistic inquiry as Western Europeans did nor laid down any significant markers of scientific progress.
In short, something very powerful happened in Western Europe that created a new synthesis of Christian theology, Roman law, and Greek philosophy, and that synthesis proved to be indispensable for the rise of universities as well as early modern science. I would propose: No Aristotle and Greek mathematics, no modern science.
The great, nonpareil achievement of modern science was Newtons Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy of 1687. That great work created and codified the new science of mechanics that established the unity of celestial and terrestrial physics, all governed by the universal law of gravitation . You cannot get to a new science of motion without first studying an old science of motion. That old science of motion was Aristotles, and it was with all the assumptions of this faulty science that dozens of Europeans struggled for centuries until at last they arrived at correct answers. But it was only Europeans who did carry on this intellectual struggle. So progress toward the new science of motion had to begin somewhere, and lucky for us, it began in Aristotles writings”or at least the science of motion developed and was passed on via Aristotle.
Second, some kind of mathematics was required. Newtons brilliance as a mathematician enabled him to achieve all his results in the Principia solely with geometry”no algebra, no equal signs, no trigonometry. Greek science, and geometry in particular, were the indispensable ingredients without which it is very difficult to imagine the Newtonian revolution.
There are other minor points on which James Hannam and I might disagree, but it is still too much the case that scholars, never mind ordinary laymen, underestimate the influence of natural philosophers from the Middle Ages on the gestation of modern science. Medieval universities were the early training grounds wherein intellectual curiosity about the natural world was instilled and continued to flower all the way to our modern era.
James Hannam is to be congratulated on his efforts to counter one of the most pernicious of the black legends: the myth that the Middle Ages, the period when Catholicism became the religious foundation of a new Western civilization, impeded the development of science. The persistence of this black legend, in the face of revisionist works by Pierre Duhem, Stanley Jaki, and Thomas Woods, among many others, suggests that many people simply do not want to abandon their negative judgments.
The revelations made in The Genesis of Science are not only like discovering buried treasure, but may trigger a broader appreciation of the falsity of so many popular narratives of history that darken our culture today. James Hannam has lit a candle in this darkness, and we need many more such initiatives.
Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion, Oxford University
I found it odd that central to James Hannams case for the Christian sources of modern science was a thesis common to the rival secular narrative of conflict between science and the Church: that progress in science required the repudiation of Aristotle. Is Hannam conflating Aristotles philosophy of nature (revealing fundamental principles about the nature of causes in general) and his natural philosophy (applying such principles to articulate theories about particular causes, such as those concerning gravity, heavenly bodies, projectile motion, etc.)?
Progress in the latter does not come despite, but rather because of, the soundness of the former. Notice that once we distinguish Aristotles philosophy of change from his theory of projectile motion, we can see that Newtons first law does not disprove, but is in fact an instance of, the principle that everything that is undergoing change is being caused to change by something else”an objects velocity remains constant unless acted on by an external agent. Change implies a cause, and things dont change themselves.
Medieval scientists sought to improve on some of Aristotles theories because they had the confidence to search for underlying order in creation”a confidence due both to Christian faith and to philosophical, especially Aristotelian, tradition.
Joshua P. Hochschild
Mount St. Marys University
James Hannam replies:
I am very grateful to the respondents who have kindly commented on my article. It is encouraging to find there is now plenty of support for the once heretical notion that the metaphysical background provided by Christianity was a necessary condition for the rise of modern Western science, even if it was not a sufficient one.
Ricardo Duchesne correctly notes that Christianity itself was profoundly influenced by Greek philosophy. But this does not alter the fact that, in the field of natural science, Greek philosophy alone never led to a scientific revolution and never looked like it was going to. This was not because scientific instruments, such as the telescope, were unavailable in antiquity. Toby Huffs new book, Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective (Cambridge, 2010), has conclusively shown that telescopes dont in themselves lead to scientific advance.
In any case, Tycho Brahe didnt need one to provide the data that allowed Kepler to crack the problem of planetary orbits. Instead, we must admit that the Greek philosophy of nature itself was deficient.
In his letter, Huff raises the question of why science failed to advance within the Christian Byzantine Empire. It certainly could have done. The
Christian philosopher John Philoponus, working in Alexandria in the sixth century, made substantial progress towards a modern understanding of nature. For example, he was the first person to correctly note that Aristotles insistence that heavy objects fall faster than light ones is false. Philoponus gives the lie to the widespread belief that the Greek philosophical tradition ended when the Emperor Justinian closed the school of Athens in ad 529.
But Alexandria fell victim to the Persians in 621. And no sooner had the Byzantines recaptured Egypt and the other eastern provinces, than they were snatched away again by Muslim invaders from Arabia. The loss of two thirds of its land area and its richest provinces transformed Byzantium into a militarized state”from Athens into Sparta. Survival became the priority, and most kinds of intellectual life withered for centuries.
I should also mention Huffs observation about the importance of Greek mathematics. I wholeheartedly agree with him on this point. Still, it is worth asking why the Greeks excelled in this field and not in the natural sciences. The answer, I think, is to be found in their habit of pure rationalism. As Aristotle demonstrated over and over again, the method of deriving a general law from specific observed examples is flawed. One major difficulty is that the method provides no way to judge between competing theories.
In mathematics this is much less of a problem. Euclid, for instance, was able to demonstrate the general truth of his conclusions using rational analysis alone. Problems could be treated as solved so that new problems could be tackled. The body of mathematical knowledge increased as a result.
This contrasts with the increasingly sterile disputes that characterized late antique natural philosophy, prior to John Philoponus. The same arguments were endlessly recycled without any progress being made because there was no way to distinguish the right theories from the wrong ones. Aristotles philosophically derived maxims simply could not be translated into reliably true physical theories.
An example of this failure is unintentionally given by Joshua Hochschild. He suggests that Newtons First Law is a specific example of Aristotles rule that change can only be brought about by a changer. However, Aristotle would have regarded it as absurd to suggest that violent movement, even at constant velocity, does not represent change. We should resist the temptation to credit Aristotle with insights he did not have on the grounds that his thought can be interpreted in ways he would not have countenanced.
In any case, quantum mechanics even does away with the notion that the change in the energy state of an atom must be brought about by a changing agent. Even if a deeper level of physics is eventually found that finds a cause for this apparently random effect, Aristotles maxim is, for now, unhelpful to the advance of science.
The achievements of Greek philosophy are certainly foundational to Western civilization. But in the field of natural science, this philosophical tradition required radical transformation at the hands of Christian metaphysics. It does not seem unfair to say that this transformation amounted, in substance, to a repudiation.
Corrections: In Ian Marcus Corbins The Heavy Eyelids of Lucian Freud (October), Lucian Freud is identified as the great-grandson, not the grandson of Sigmund Freud. Michael W. McConnells A Free Speech Year at the Court incorrectly states that none of the justices has military experience. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and assigned to the United States Army Reserve after his graduation from college, Justice Samuel Alito served on active duty from September to December 1975 while attending a Officer Basic Course.