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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Berean Believers: Men, Women, or Jews?

Inasmuch as this blog's posts on the TNIV continue to be of interest to Zondervan and even the CBT itself, I feel compelled to complete as many posts on it as I can in time for consideration before the Newer and Improveder NIV comes out in 2011.

I've been reading the NIV again after having set it aside for a couple of decades, and of course one thing that frequently comes to mind as I go through it is, "I wonder how the TNIV changes this?" Such was the case this morning while reading Acts 17. And what do you know--when I went online to check the TNIV, I found a change from the NIV that actually appears to be for the better. Don't get too excited about it, though, until you've heard me out.

Acts 17:10-12 NIV
As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Now, the common English text just had "these" as the subject of 'were' in v. 11, but in replacing it with a proper noun for the NIV, the CBT looked all the way to the sentence before the previous one to find an antecedent for the Greek pronoun outoi. But in looking the passage over again to update the gender reference, it appears that someone on the CBT noticed that the actual referent was probably the Jews who met at the synagogue; it's actually the noun just previous to the pronoun in the Greek text. Thus the following change in the TNIV, which, I will agree, corrects the overgeneralisation of the NIV:

Acts 17:10-12 TNIV
As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Okay, so of course 'brothers' had to become 'believers', a change from the specific to the general, consisting at least implicitly of an elevation of women to an influential position of leadership in the Thessalonian church which is in no wise implied in the Greek text itself. "The Berean Jews" as a change from the general to the specific is warranted, however, but only because the previous change from the specific to the general wasn't. I will grant, though, that the TNIV makes the identity of those noble Bereans more explicit than did the KJV and most of its revisions.

It was no innovation, however, for Zondervan had pinned the same label on the noble Bereans in its Amplified New Testament back before it had even taken over sponsorship of the NIV. In other words, the NIV was a step backward in translation excellence, and all the TNIV did was bring it forward to a previous standard of several decades earlier--a time span during which the English language had supposedly changed so much that a new rendition was warranted.

Looking further in the NIV, we find the missing 'Jews' in v. 12, where they are in contrast to the Greeks who believed along with them. The TNIV was able to dispense with the label here, having put it back where it belonged--although even there it is only implicit, not explicit, in the Greek text. But that's fine, as it fits the CBT translation philosophy.

What isn't fine, though, is that the decades-old gender-insensitive reading at the end of v. 12 was left uncorrected. Of course the CBT in the TNIV never tampered with explicit references to women, only with masculine references that they felt should explicitly include women. So "a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men" was just fine as-is. Or was it?

What the Greek literally reads is:

many therefore of them believed and of the hellenic women the honorable ones and of the men not a few

If I had no knowledge of Greek beyond what a lexicon would supply, I would probably assume that there were three classes of new believers mentioned here:

1. Many of the Berean Jews who had searched the Scriptures
2. The honorable ones among the Berean Greek women
3. Not a few Berean men

But really, I doubt this is how any translator actually understood it. The genitive phrases link three groups to the verb 'believed': 'them', 'the Greek women', and 'the men'. Thus the verse should be punctuated to read:

Many therefore of them believed, also of the Hellenic women (the honorable ones), as well as of the men--not a few.

This is the most likely reading of the KJV rendition:
Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

But translators have generally understood this to refer to the following three classes of new believers:

1. Many of the Berean Jews who had searched the Scriptures (implicitly just the men)
2. Many of the prominent Berean Greek women (mentioned in a place of emphasis)
3. Many of the prominent Berean Greek men

You can read a lot into this understanding of the passage; for instance, among the nobility the women were the first to respond to the gospel, and then went on to lead their husbands to Christ. But this isn't how the CBT saw the situation. Despite the above three classes being explicit in the Amplified Bible, Zondervan went on to sponsor a rendition which has yet to be revised, and yields the following classes of new believers:

1. Many Berean Jews (gender left unspecified as per TNIV philosophy)
2. A number of prominent Greek women
3. Many Greek men (these last two classes, by implication at least, also being Bereans)

The problem again is one of referent. The Greek plural adjectives (which in the genitive case are gender-neutral) ellhnidwn (Greek) and euschmonwn (honorable) are only found once in the passage, but the TNIV does not apply both of them to men and women equally. This, even though they take just two mentions of 'numerous' and apply them to all three classes.

In other words, the CBT translations--like a straightforward reading of the KJV, implicitly depriving the Berean men of their prominence--nonetheless grant them an explicit Greek identity. This they do differently than the KJV, which allows the possibility of the Berean men being honorable, but not being Greeks. While I wouldn't want to encourage one approach or the other, either is allowed in the complex world of Greek-to-English translation, and most revisions of the KJV up to the present decade have retained its ambiguity. One of the most recent of these, however, the NRSV, while attempting to make more explicit the honor due the men, practically went the other way with the women. In trying not to mention the women in their usual grammatical place (after the men), the NRSV comes to within a single comma of implying to the English reader that they weren't prominent, even though that is explicit in the Greek:

Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing.

This revision also perpetuates the NIV's overgeneralisation of including Greeks in the class of Scripture-searching Bereans--even though it calls them 'Jews' in the previous verse!

If I might add one more dig here, consider the refusal of the CBT to include a woman named Damaris in a class called 'men' in light of The Message's take on this passage, which, like the NRSV, includes Greeks in a class called 'Jews' (something not entirely impossible in biblical English, but certainly not understandable as such to Today's Young Person):

The Jews received Paul's message . . . . A lot of them became believers, including many Greeks who were prominent in the community, women and men of influence.

In Acts 6, Eugene Peterson referred to the two classes of Jewish believers as "Greek-speaking believers--'Hellenists'" and "Hebrew-speaking believers." I don't believe he actually intended to equate the two here; had he consulted the NIV instead of the RSV in preparing this paraphrase, he probably would have caught the inconsistency.

Now in conclusion, I have to say that the CBT may very well have made a conscious decision not to include 'men' in the class of honorable Bereans--at least not in verse 12, that is. And it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility to translate the text thus--the NLT did it as well, though not as explicitly. But there are actually two levels of inconsistency here, at least one of which is inexcusable.

First of all, the TNIV identifies the men as Greek, but not as honorable--although their honorable status is fully as implicit in the text as their Greek identity. This perpetuates a grammatical inconsistency in the RSV, which was apparently a favorite version of quite a few of the original members of the CBT. But at least the RSV, unlike the revision that replaced it, was able to keep the Jews straight from the Greeks.

Secondly, the TNIV, again like the now-defunct RSV, restricts the application of the adjective 'honorable' to just the Greek women of Berea. While this may be an acceptable translation, it shows a glaring inconsistency in the CBT's translation philosophy as it comes through in the TNIV. In the TNIV, the CBT has bent over backward to include the women in every possible explicit reference to men, but has made no such effort not to overlook the men whenever women are explicitly mentioned.

In the process of fixing a grammatical inconsistency of racial identification in the supposedly gender-insensitive NIV, the CBT has perpetuated the very philosophical inconsistency that made it insensitive to gender identification--but couldn't seem to see it through their pink-colored glasses. Is this not always what happens when, in an attempt to forcibly eliminate entrenched discrimination, those who tamper with societal norms must needs send the one class down in order to bring the other up?

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