Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Truth in Translation: Grading the Professor
05/29/2008 - Mike PorterNot too long ago, this ministry received some emails regarding a small work that had been handed or otherwise recommended to them by members of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The book was concerning to them for a couple of reasons: 1) It was written by a man claiming to be a biblical scholar who was, above all, a neutral observer and evaluated several translations to determine bias and fairness. 2) Among the translations he evaluated was the New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses and, despite finding some flaws with it, determined that it was among the best translations he reviewed.
It is not surprising, then, that many Jehovah's Witnesses have been offering this book to their Christian friends and family members. Many believers have been told over and again by reputable scholars that the NWT is not a good translation and demonstrates theological bias rather than biblical and linguistic scholarship. So, when a biblical scholar claims neutrality for the sake of historical truth and judges in favor of the NWT, it is hardly surprising to find such believers requesting information on such a work.
The particular book is by Dr. Jason BeDuhn of Northern Arizona University and is called Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament. It is not intended to be a scholarly work, but rather a popular work which dispenses with the usual detailed argumentation and rigor demanded. He targets his audience those who have little to no knowledge of the biblical languages and culture.
This blog article begins a series where I will examine and review the claims of Dr. BeDuhn in his book and discuss his approach, methods, arguments, and conclusions. I am not intending on reviewing every chapter of the book as some of the arguments seemed to be peripheral to greater matters of theological import (although I am sure to touch upon some issues briefly, such as gender translation).
Dr. BeDuhn evaluates several translations and paraphrases of the New Testament intending to, in effect, grade their competency. He believes that he is qualified because he considers himself a biblical scholar and unbiased in his perspective. These are points he wishes to make abundantly clear in order to contrast himself with those who worked on the translations he reviews. The premise is that major translations are not made by biblical scholars but by reasonably competent committees with a vested doctrinal interest. Indeed, he states:
"With thousands of biblical scholars in America alone, you may think that biblical translation is mostly a scholarly enterprise. It isn't. Although biblical scholars have been the key players in identifying the more accurate Greek text of the New Testament, most have never been involved in a bible translation project." (BeDuhn, 9)Dr. BeDuhn then goes on to assert that the work of these biblical scholars is usually confined to specialist type projects focused narrowly on particular passages.
By contrast, he tells us, ""Bible translation is usually undertaken by people with theological training who also happen to be reasonably competent in biblical languages." (BeDuhn, 8)
Note that biblical translators are not necessarily biblical scholars. Just what is a biblical scholar according to Dr. BeDuhn? A biblical scholar must possess three qualities in order to be considered a true scholar: Knowledge of 1) the linguistic content, 2) the literary setting of the work, and 3) the historical and cultural setting (BeDuhn, xvi-xix).
Dr. BeDuhn believes that he is qualified because he considers himself to be a biblical scholar. Now, I am willing to grant Dr. BeDuhn the assumption of scholarship. I am a little hesitant to consider him to be a biblical scholar since I am not familiar enough with his works on biblical scholarship to be able to grant him such on his word. I did look into his background and his website to understand where he believes himself qualified.
Dr. BeDuhn has his doctorate in Manichean studies. It is neither specific to nor specialized in New Testament. However, he does have a Master's degree in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. Thus, I am certain he has had at least two years of Greek training. And, I am aware of at least one Greek manuscript of Manichean writings that he may have worked on at the doctoral level. ...
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