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Saturday, 14 March 2009

The TNIV and God's sword in the heavens

My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
see, it descends in judgment on Edom,
the people I have totally destroyed.

So reads the NIV at Isaiah 34:5. And the TNIV? It reads the same. For comparison, here is the reading of the KJV, the version the NIV was meant to replace.

For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.

Notice several things here. The impetus behind the NIV was that the language of the KJV was so quaint and antiquated that no one could be expected to take it seriously. The impetus behind the TNIV was that the NIV needed to speak the language of today's young people. But how will the phrase "My sword has drunk its fill" come across to the young person of today as anything but hopelessly antiquated? And that's being generous; how can a sword 'drink'? Or for that matter, what damage will it be able to do even in Edom, if God has already totally destroyed the people there?

Well, that's poetic language, they say. Yes, but whose poetic language? The Hebrew says nothing about 'drinking its fill'. How much does a sword have to drink to be full, anyway?

Here is a literal translation of the Hebrew Masoretic text:

For soaked in the heavens was My sword, Lo, on Edom it come[s] down, On the people of My curse for judgment. --Young's

This Hebrew word can be understood to mean 'bathed','soaked', 'filled', or 'got drunk'. So they are only stretching the rules a little bit to combine two different meanings. But there's a major problem with any of these meanings: On WHAT in heaven is God's sword getting sloshed? Heaven is not a place of judgment. But aha, here is what the Syriac version reads at this verse:

For my sword shall be sharpened in heaven; behold, it shall come down upon the Edomites and upon a people that is condemned in judgment. --Lamsa

Well, now, that makes a whole lot more sense. Actually even Lamsa was stretching things a bit here, as the word tithgalli just means 'drawn'. The whole point of the verse is that God is getting out His sword in heaven, and actually wielding it in Edom. And that's how it would make sense to today's young person, who may have never owned or even used a sword, but certainly knows the difference between drawing and drinking.

The CBT, who thought nothing of following the Syriac over the Hebrew elsewhere, missed out on a major opportunity to improve this portion of the NIV text. Apparently they don't expect today's young person to actually read the whole book of Isaiah.

Well, all of The White Man's young adults have read through not just the book of Isaiah, but the whole Bible--just not in any iteration of the NIV.

Added on March 20, 2009

Rather than make a new post, I thought I'd add another example of what inspired that last sentence:

Isaiah 37: 29 NIV=TNIV
Because you rage against me
and because your insolence has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
by the way you came.

Now, everybody knows that today's young person does not wear hooks in his nose, or bits in his mouth. But though he may very well wear a stud in both places, that's not what this verse is talking about, and the CBT knows it. It's referring to two different ways of controlling cattle: either a ring through the nose, or a bit in the mouth, in either case attached to a lead so as to guide the animal where the driver, not the animal, wants it to go. Both are still used in the Mideast in much the same way they were in Isaiah's day.

So why the mention of 'hook'? One leads a stubborn bull by a ring firmly attached to his nose, not a hook that could come back out. And despite its assurances to the contrary, the CBT did not bother to put the whole NIV book of Isaiah into a language that would relate to today's young person. Instead, they did what every Bible translator since Tyndale has done: took an existing translation (in this case, obviously the KJV), and changed it to make it more marketable. But in the case of the word 'hook', their latest attempt is farther from reaching the young person of the day than was the very first English Bible, six hundred years ago:

therfor Y schal sette a ryng in thi nosethirlis, and a bridil in thi lippis

Young people in 1395 could certainly relate to the use of rings and bridles on stubborn beasts of burden. Today's young people however, reading the TNIV, are probaly more likely to think of facial piercings.

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