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Friday, 12 May 2006

The TNIV in Romans 4:1 vís-a-vís Galatians 4:26

Romans 4:1 TNIV

What then shall we say that Abraham, the forefather of us Jews, discovered in this matter?

To begin with, this is a difficult passage both textually and hermeneutically. There are no less than four possible texts from which to translate, and it's not all that easy to express the differences between all of them in translation. In my opinion, the NIV goofed in deleting an entire phrase from the verse that wasn't even under dispute: "according to the flesh." The only question was whether this phrase modified Abraham, or what he had discovered. The NIV's "in this matter" was a rather awkward way of leaving the question open. The TNIV, at least, clarified the situation a little with an addition of their own, "of us Jews," which is undoubtedly what is meant in the manuscripts that reference Abraham as "our" ancestor. To clarify, which side of the textual question is taken by the CBT is now clear to the thinking person; but clearly both of these clarifying statements are not necessary if Abraham is the clear referent. Perhaps such verbosity will be remedied in the Newer and Improveder International Version.

UPDATE: It wasn't--quite. The 2011 NNIV reads: What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter?

But it's a bit too early to leave the textual question and go on to gender sensitivity issues. Another variant in this verse is the identification of the Jewish progenitor: Is Abraham the 'father' or 'forefather' of the Jewish race? The verdict of the manuscripts is somewhat indecisive; however, the dead hand of Hort still lies heavily on the CBT, and they retain that portion of the reading of Codex Vaticanus (which, by the way, Hort followed in full by relegating 'discovered' to a marginal note in his Greek text) which agrees with most of the other Alexandrian manuscripts in reading protatopa (ancestor) for patera (parent).

But oops, I've given the gender-sensitive translations of these words--not so the TNIV, which follows the NIV in rendering protatopa as 'forefather', these respective words not being found anywhere else in the New Testament, either in the TNIV or its Greek textual base. 'Ancestors' as a translation of pateres (the plural of patera) is found a few dozen times, though. So why 'forefather' and not 'ancestor' (as the NRSV)? Apparently it is there for no other reason than to indicate that the TNIV here was following the same textual base as the NIV. This, even at the expense of emphasizing Abraham's masculinity, when it was only his ancestorhood that was the point of the passage. Even Jesus didn't rate such treatment in 1 Timothy 2:5!

How about foremothers--do they ever get to be called 'ancestors'? No, alas, in the one spot where the CBT could have translated mhthr as 'ancestor', they stuck to their usual procedure of retaining all generic female references and translated Galatians 4:26 as:

"But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother."

What's wrong with a little gender sensitivity here, for the sake of the males in the reading audience:

"But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and it is our ancestor?"

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