Sunday, January 14, 2007

Galatians 2:17, Sinfulness and the TNIV

Last week, we had a Covenant Renewal service at college. In principal, I don't think I have any objection to them, but I've never been to one I found helpful.

My main problem with those things is that they often expect people to promise what they know they can't fulfil. In this case, I think we were expected to promise never intentionally to sin again. Now, I know I can want to do that, but I know equally well that I am not perfect and that I do all kinds of stupid stuff. I know that I am a sinner in continual need of God's grace. And I have no intention of promising anything I can't fulfil.

So I am quite happy to promise that I "intend to lead a new life" or to say that I surrender to Christ. I'm happy to offer my soul and body as a living sacrifice, but I know that I'm a sacrifice that just keeps trying to crawl off the altar.

So this led me back to wondering how on Earth I could be a Christian. How can I seek to follow Jesus, when I know that I'll fail? That's a painful path, but it's one I've trodden before and I know the way now.

So I turned to Galatians 2:17, which in the NIV reads

"If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.
Galatians 2:17-19, NIV

In other words, the fact that I go on sinning even after putting my trust in God only goes to show that I am a sinner and that I keep on needing God's grace. And that's the normal Christian experience. It reminds me not to be complacent, but that I need to keep coming back to Jesus to seek forgiveness and to recognise that I need him.

Except that the Bibles we have in chapel are TNIVs. I'm usually fine with the TNIV, but this verse really annoyed me.

But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn't that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.
Galatians 2:17-19, TNIV

The addition of the word "Jews" totally changes the meaning away from the meaning that I found so helpful when studying this as an undergraduate. So I looked it up in the Greek, and "Jews" isn't there. It seems to have been added in as a totally unhelpful and incorrect addition for no good reason whatsoever.

So God is good, but the TNIV translators are dumb and just as much in need of God's continued grace as I am.


Daniel Hill said...

Did you have to promise that you would never intentionally sin again, or that you intended never to sin again? I agree with you that the first is out, but think the second we should do.

John said...

I've lost the piece of paper, but I'm pretty sure it was the former. The latter I'd have been fine with.

Anonymous said...

Dear Custard,

My name is Mark Strauss. I am a professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in San Diego and a member of the Committee on Bible Translation, which produced both the NIV and the TNIV. Someone at Zondervan alerted me to your blog and asked me to respond (No, big brother is not watching! But I guess they monitor the web for TNIV comments to try to correct misconceptions).

I appreciate your positive comments about the TNIV, and especially your willingness to examine it closely and critique it. No translation is perfect and we are constantly trying to improve the TNIV to make it as accurate and reliable as possible.

I was not on the Committee when the change you mentioned was made, but I can tell you why it was made. If you look at the context at 2:15, you will see that Paul says, "We who are Jews by birth..." In this whole context, then, the "we" refers to those who are Jews. This continues in the two "we”s in v. 16 as well as the "we" in v. 17. Since a reader may easily miss this and so misunderstand the passage, the TNIV translators introduced “Jews" into v. 17. Though the Greek word Ioudaioi (Jews) does not occur there in the Greek, the antecedent of the "we" is clearly the "we Jews" of v. 15. So the translation is actually accurate and less likely to be misunderstood than the NIV.

We must always translate Scripture according to its original meaning, and in this context the argument Paul is making relates to Jews who have come to faith in Jesus and now realize they are not justified by keeping the OT Law. This certainly has application to all of us, since none of us can be justified through works, but this secondary application must be kept distinct from Paul’s original meaning. Translators must stick with the original meaning and then allow readers to discern how the Scripture relates to other analogous situations.

May God richly bless you as you seek to serve and honor him.

Mark Strauss

John said...

Wow - thanks for your comment. I'm not expecting a response to this...

I agree that the "we" in the passage (which of course only actually occurs in v15 but is implied throughout by verb endings) refers to Paul and other Jews. However, to insert an extra "Jews" in v17 seems to lessen the immediate applicability of v17 to non-Jewish groups.

Translation is always a difficult task, and it's often necessary to insert words that aren't explicitly in the original simply because of how different languages work syntactically. But that doesn't matter here. English and Greek work equally well on this. If Paul had wanted to remind the Galatians that it was Jews he was talking about, he could have inserted a "Ioudaioi" in v17. He didn't, and I think it goes against the doctrine of the perfection of Scripture to go against him.

Further, compare the ESV "we too were found to be sinners", which is pretty much a literal translation of the Greek at this point, with "we Jews find ourselves also among the 'sinners'" in the TNIV. Where did the "among" and the scare quotes come from? The Greek is in the nominative not the genitive, and there don't seem to be any manuscript variations here.

Yes, I know - they're taking v17 to be part of an explanation of v12-14. But they're trying to outthink Paul, who could have said that if he'd wanted to, and he didn't. It is an explanation of v12-14, but as with so many of Paul's explanations, it's going beyond simply explaining what it's officially there to explain.

Having said that, I personally am still undecided between the TNIV and the NIV for my preferred dynamic equivalent translation. No translation is perfect, and the TNIV is much much much better than I could do...

Daniel Hill said...

Just to go back to the covenant-renewal service, I did find an example of a prayer for something impossible in Ephesians 3: 19 `to know this love that surpasses knowledge'. So there would be no problem with your praying never intentionally to sin again . . . .