Monday, November 07, 2011

NEW Conclusion to Bible Translation Study

UPDATE: 4/18/12
Another error has been found ... arghhh. See google doc for correct totals. Here's the skinny:

         The HCSB has the most points with 30. The NIV has the second most points with 27. The ESV (21) and NET (20) were close at 3rd and 4th. The NIV84 (12) was 5th place. Finally, the NASB did miserable in part 2, with a -3 score, lowering its total to 9: last place.

        Looking at the negative points should help distinguish between the HCSB, ESV & NIV and the NIV84 and NET. The ESV had the least amount of negative scores with 3. The HCSB was close behind with 4. The NIV had twice as many as the ESV with 6.

Here is the entire 34 part series in a google doc.


Sandy Grant said...

David, as you may see from my own blogs, I am tossing up (in fellowship with others) between HCSB and NIV11 for the church I serve.

Some gender matters are a genuine are of concern for NIV11. In most other matters it is an improvement over NIV84.

May I run a few of the concerns with HCSB that make me hesitate by you for your opinion... (sorry if I forget you already dealt with these)

1. Inconsistent use of ‘Yahweh’ rather than ‘Lord’ to translate the Hebrew tetragrammaton. It is not always even consistent within the same verse (e.g. Exod 15:3; 2 Kgs 3:11) or when the New Testament quotes the Old Testament (e.g. compare Joel 2:32 with Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13)!

2. Capitalisation of pronouns for God and Christ (except for ‘who’), something I am not convinced about, especially given the original Hebrew and Greek texts did not have such markers.

3. Inconsistent use of ‘Messiah’ as a translation of 'christos' in many passages, which some scholars now think appropriate when the word is used in a Jewish context. The NIV11 also does this, but almost exclusively in the Gospels and Acts. However the HCSB often also does it in the Epistles, but inconsistently (e.g. in Colossians, compare 1:27, the “mystery, which is Christ…”, and 4:3, “mystery of the Messiah”); also 1 John 2:22, where “Messiah” rather than “Christ” completely misses the critical verbal link to “antichrist” in the very next phrase!

3. Inconsistent translation of some key terms in Romans. E.g. in Romans 1, the HCSB flips between ‘good news’ and ‘gospel’ as the translation for the Greek word euangelion (and repeats this inconsistent translation at later points in Romans). Likewise, it is inconsistent in translating dikaioō, flipping between ‘declare righteous’ and ‘justify’ throughout Romans, even in the space of a few verses.

4. Poor translation choice in Phil 2:7-8, with phrase "external form" where my former doctrine & church history lecturer, Dr Mark Thompson says, “the imperfection is so serious as to make it difficult for me to recommend it at all. In fact, at least at this point it opens the door to heresy”, namely that of docetism.

Sandy Grant said...

David, on your conclusion and on your maths, please.

But first an observation that I do not think you have uploaded an revised PDF via google docs, reflecting the corrected scores. At least when I downloaded it today, it was still the old incorrect scores.

On the maths about the negative points, you scored ESV 3 (lowest is best), HCSB 4 and NIV11 6.

You say this is twice as many as ESV, and you conclude The NIV’s negative 6 score would make it hard for me to use it in teaching, since I appear to disagree with their translations too often.

I wonder if a little more mathematical nuance might reduce the strength of that comment. If I counted correctly, there were 50 individual issues you tested (26 in part 1, 24 in part 2), where you could score a negative or positive point (or a zero).

So in percentage terms, you disagreed with the top three translations at the following rates...
ESV - 6%
HCSB - 8%
NIV11 - 12%

I am rusty on my maths stats where I did honours at uni (passing the subjects well, though I ended up withdrawing from the degree itself), but I am not sure this a highly significant statistical difference, especially when your sample size of issues explored is quite small (50) in statistical terms.

Add just one more issue in (and I suggested 4 possible examples above, with Phil 2:7-8 a definite problem in my view) where the HCSB scores a negative while others are positive, and the difference in rates of negatives are negligible.

So possibly a little overstatement on the importance of the negatives.

The flipside of course, is that the overall score of NIV11 at 28 and HCSB at 27 is also statistically insignificant, although a one point difference here (where there was a spread of 3 points per issue), is like a 3 point difference on the straight scale of how many negative points.

My conclusion is that on the basis of your assumptions HCSB and NIV11 are too close to split and ESV is also very close.

Therefore unless there are certain defeater verses/issues which trump all others (like some see 1 Tim 2:12 or Phil 2:7-8), then we could legitimately choose any of these three options.

It will be a personal choice, among 3 very good options. Praise God for the faithful and scholarly and readable options we have in the English-speaking world.

David Croteau said...

Regarding 1. - I'm not crazy about the "Yahweh" translation. I don't have a huge problem with. Consistency would be nice, but there are legitimate debates over the correct pronunciation of that word ... and I've been convinced that Yahweh may not be the right one. It's a valid point. However, I don't find this overly problematic.
Regarding 2. - I like the capitalization of pronouns for God and Christ. For someone who like functional equivalent translations, this should be ABSOLUTELY no issue, as it is an interpretive/preference thing. The original Hebrew and Greek didn't have such markers ... but couldn't, so that issue is moot to me.
Regarding 3. - I think it's an interesting start. The question is: "what makes a Jewish context?" I don't think that is actually too difficult of a question to answer, but the inconsistencies make me wonder. I don't understand using it in Colossians or 1 John. I think "Christ" is just fine. But I have no problem with Messiah.
Regarding your other 3. - This is typical of functional equivalent translations and is one of the biggest problems I have with using them in teaching. My students have to "trust me" when I say the word in the original is the same. Many times in the HCSB (or, NLT) there appears no good reason to do this but stylistic variation ... but I don't care for it.
Regarding 4. - I'll need to look into this. Thanks for pointing it out.

David Croteau said...

Regarding the stats you did, I see what you're saying. My main point is that I don't want to have to "correct" the translation a lot. In teaching, I'd rather have ambiguity. Now, if I was recommending a Bible for personal reading, my recommendation might be different. I'm going to try to illustrate this in a post today or tomorrow.
Thanks for these thoughts though. In the end, I totally agree, statistically, the NIV11, HCSB, and ESV are basically a stalemate with this study. Of course, that makes me feel like I wasted my time, but regardless, it helped me evaluate that: 1) the NASB should NOT be my Bible for teaching, and 2) the NIV11 is an overall improvement from the NIV84.


Sandy Grant said...

Hi Dave, funny that the stats bloke could not number his points properly, hey! What do they say? Lies, damned lies, and statistics!

Thanks for your two conclusions about NASB and NIV11 over NIV84.

I don't think your series has been a waste either. It provided another interest-grabbing-and-sustaining approach that hooked me in (and others I know too).

Seeing different brothers work through the issues and coming to fairly similar conclusions - that ESV, HCSB and NIV11 are all fairly equal - is reassuring.

In some ways, I think it shows the decisive issues for some will be
(i) a strong preference about translation philosophy, and so if you lean strongly to formal equivalence, you'll trend to ESV;
(ii) what I'll call 'defeater verses' or issues, like some people consider 1 Tim 2:12, or Phil 2:7-8 in the former case, or approach to gender, in the latter.

But I think there are some other very important factors to consider, e.g. how it reads aloud, continuity for people used to their Bibles, etc.

I think my initial post over at the Briefing, on the method of evaluating the options, remains very important to control that decision-making process and avoiding a rush or stampede to conclusion.

Thanks for your work.

Jordan Doty said...

Great project and great set of posts. I have also been researching and reading through these translations for a year now (including the NLT) and have come to similar conclusions. I see the ESV having a better edge in "formal accuracy" and the NLT in "functional understanding," while enjoying the optimal aspects of the HCSB and NIV 11. Then the gender discussion also comes into play for these four as well.

I currently use the HCSB for my primary teaching and devotion, although the ESV would be my formal backup and the NLT my functional. The NIV 11 would be my optimal backup, although in my particlar church context the HCSB would work better (sadly gender preferences and such, although the NLT somehow always gets a pass for this, although no pass for being functional rather than formal).

I did want to chime in about the rather inconsistent use of Christ/Messiah in the HCSB NT. There are obvious places where the HCSB does it to show a Jewish context, but other "random" uses in Colossians and Ephesians that initially seemed confusing to me. However, in the case of Colossians 3:1-4 it seems that there might be a greek "kai" before Christos which might mean that it should be translated as "the Christ" (a title) rather than just "Christ" (a stand-in name for Jesus).

If the kai is really there in certain places throughout Colossians and/or Ephesians, then perhaps other translations are leaving it out for the sake of tradition or smoothness: "if you have been raised with the Christ..." but that might explain why the HCSB swtiches to Messiah in those places. Not only for a Jewish rather than Gentile context, but also to explain a title rather than a place-name.

I for one like the interplay between Yahweh and Lord, just to show people that God has a personal name (even if it takes some initial intruction over time, and we are not sure on prefering YHWH/Yahweh/Yehowah/Jehovah in English). Sometimes I dislike the unusual Christ/Messiah interchange, but I also would like people to understand the Old Testament Hebrew-Jewish context of Messiah and NT Greek connection to Christ, as well as the difference between Christ as Jesus' last name and his title as annointed one or king.

I hope this is correct information and helpful to the discussion. Thanks for the wonderful project and comments!

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I really appreciate the comparison you have done. I came across your blog while researching the HCSB.

There appears to still be a problem with the results in your conclusion.

Through out part 1 the versions are listed vertically.

NET 11
ESV 10
NIV 10
NIV84 8

At the end of part 1 the results are reoriented so the versions are listed horizontally, with scores in descending order from left to right.

13 12 11 10 10 8

Through-out part 2 the versions are listed horizontally in this order.


The versions are listed horizontally in this order in your concluding thoughts.

However, the point totals from part 1 are not reordered along with the versions.

It looks like if the part 1 totals are given to the correct version the results would be this.

1 13 12 11 10 10 8
2 17 -3 9 11 17 4
Totals 30 9 20 21 27 12

If this is correct, the HCSB is significantly better than the NIV which has the next highest score.

Also, I have not checked the details for each translation but it's not clear why the score for the NIV was changed from -1 to 1 for Gal 3:28
If this is an error, this would be the result.

1 13 12 11 10 10 8
2 17 -3 9 11 15 4
Totals 30 9 20 21 25 12


Anonymous said...


My comment above

"If this is correct, the HCSB is significantly better than the NIV which has the next highest score."

should really be at the end and should also note that the HCSB is also significantly better than the ESV.

David A. Croteau said...


I (unfortunately) have to say that you are totally correct that I added incorrectly AGAIN! However, the NIV does get a 1 for Gal 3:28: nor is there male and female. As long as it has "male and female" not "male nor female," you get 1 point. I'll adjust the post in a few minutes.


Sean Harrison said...

I enjoyed reading the series - the pdf was very nice to have - and have posted a translation of Eph. 2:1-10 that attempts to follow the translation values that you have expressed. I would be interested in your feedback.