Translations: Practical points for the budding apologist

Previously, we began to discuss why English translations change, as background information concerning its influence on apologetics. Last time, we discussed the fact that scholars have an increased amount of information and better means to sift through that information than did scholars in previous generations. Now, however, I want to present a few observations for applying this material to apologetics. What I have listed below are not universal statements, but they are general tendencies that I have observed:

• English translations often focus on revision rather than retranslation. This is partially because of past textual critical controversies (beginning in earnest with the Revised Version of 1881), and partially because we tend to be comfortable and familiar with certain ways of translating a given expression. Evangelical scholars, for example, are used to thinking of the word “hope” as implying an expectation, and so it remains the standard gloss for the word “Elpis,” even if this is no longer the standard meaning for the English word “hope.” This sometimes creates distance between lay-level translations and scholarly opinion.

• This brings up another point: the English language has changed significantly since William Tyndale first translated the English Bible in 1532 (most major translations have largely been revisions of Tyndale’s work often through the King James which preserves approximately 75% of Tyndale’s language and 90% of his syntax in the New Testament); as a consequence, many “translation issues” are actually cases where we are reading “1532” English and applying “2014” meanings.

• When all else appears to be equal, it is my conclusion that American Evangelical seminaries and grammarians are actually superior, in matters of Greek grammar, to non-evangelicals because Evangelicals tend to be better immersed in Koine Greek than is the religious left. As above, I am not suggesting that this is a universal truth, but my observation is that this is a general reality. This is likely due to left of center seminaries relying on Blass and Debrunner as their advanced grammar of choice. My own examination of Blass and Debrunner indicates that it is overly reliant on Classical Greek works, as compared to the standard Evangelical advanced grammars by A. T. Robertson and Nigel Turner (to say nothing of Wallace’s Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, which is an intermediate grammar, but its widespread use is a positive sign of the vitality of Evangelical scholarship).

• While it is true that not every apologist will have direct access to the Greek Text of the New Testament (since many do not learn Greek), good use of modern Evangelical commentaries is a help to all believers, although, of course, it is wise to cite your source on these points.

This is my general take on Greek grammar as it relates to apologetics; I hope the background is helpful. Do you have any thoughts on this topic, or on Evangelical scholarship, in general?

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