Thursday, September 3, 2009

Paul, the NIV, TNIV, TNIV 2011: 'Sinful Nature' or 'Flesh'?

The title of this post was inspired by the Godfather of New Testament biblioblogging, Mark Goodacre (btw-Happy 6th anniversary!), where he comments among other items on the forthcoming NIV:

As far as the content is concerned, I will be disappointed if they regress to some of the non-gender-inclusive language of the NIV. But there is one thing I will be looking for more than anything else, to see if they finally drop "sinful nature" as a translation of sarx in Paul, which was retained in the TNIV. It makes it unusable as a translation for teaching Paul.

This immediately struck a chord with me, as I remember Doug Moo writing an essay on this very problem. It can be linked to here. Moo, now the chairman of the CBT for the NIV, stated in this essay ("Flesh" in Romans: A Challenge for The Translator") sentiments very much aligned with Mark's but with an additional caveat:

The decision of the original New International Version (NIV) translators to render the Greek sarx, when it had its distinctively negative connotation in Paul, with the phrase sinful nature has been widely criticized. I was one of those critics. Every time I taught on passages in which the phrase occured, I insisted that students heed the marginal note indicating the alternate rendering "the flesh" and criticized the translators for their decision. Along with many others, I worried that the introduction of "nature" would further encourage the questionably biblical focus on contrasting "natures" as a framework for conceptualizing the contrast between pre-Christian and Christian experience. Then, in 1995, I was asked to join the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), the group charged with the oversight of the NIV text. As we comprehensively reviewed the NIV text with a view to needed revisions, we came to Romans--and I was asked to serve on a subcommittee that would recommend alternatives to the existing NIV rendering of sarx in Paul. As we did our work--based on a comprehensive review of the translation alternatives by my colleague Walter Liefeld--it quickly became apparent to me that the translator had to consider factors that the exegete and teacher did not (365).

Moo, in the end is not thrilled with the gloss of sarx as 'sinful nature', but skillfully presents the difficulties the translator faces on this particular word by surveying Pauline use in general and more specifically, the use of sarx in Romans 7-8 (In The Challenge of Bible Translation: ‘Communicating God’s Word to the World. Essays in Honor of Ronald F. Youngblood, ed. Glen S. Scorgie, Mark L. Strauss, and Steven M. Voth, 365-379. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.)

Happy reading!

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