Archive for the 'Gospel of John' Category

‘World’ does not mean ‘world’ in John 3:16 to some Calvinists

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

By Spencer D Gear PhD

‘For God so loved the world’ (John 3:16) should be a straightforward statement but it is not so when I get into discussions with some Calvinists. Let’s see how it worked out on a Christian Forum.

A. Changing the meaning of ‘world’

I encountered this Calvinist who wrote:[1] ‘Your accusation was that I changed the definition of the word, which I did not do’.[2]

I responded:[3] There is no other language to use than to call this a lie. You have changed the definition of the word ‘world’ in relation to John 3:16 and who God loves. How do I know? Here’s your evidence in this directory:
clip_image002 Please go back to #418[4] where you stated: ‘It’s not unjust for God to not love everyone. It would only be unjust if He was obligated to do so’.
clip_image002[1] Now go to #425[5] where you stated: ‘Yes, God loves His CHOSEN people. That’s the reformed view’.
clip_image002[2] In #430[6] you wrote: ‘I have a biblical view that says God actually saves those He loves, not that He sends some that He loves to hell for disagreeing with Him’.
So you have misinterpreted ‘world’ in John 3:16 and made

  1. world = not everyone (#418);
  2. world = his CHOSEN people (#425);
  3. world = those God actually saves and loves (#430).

Please don’t kid us into believing that you haven’t changed the meaning of ‘world’ and who God loves in John 3:16. I’m not falling for your tactics when you have provided the evidence to refute yourself.

B. ‘No’ does not mean ‘yes’

Hammster continued: ‘I have not misrepresented “world” in John 3:16. I just disagree with your use of it. That’s not the same thing as changing the definition. If I had said “world means Calvinists”, or something similar, then you’d be correct’.[7]

I continued:[8] No amount of calling it ‘yes’ when your posts have documented ‘no’ to God’s loving the whole world, will convince me that you have not misinterpret Scripture by adding to what is stated.

And have a guess what?

Another Calvinistic Reformed commentator, Don (D A) Carson, in his commentary on John’s Gospel refutes your perspective on the meaning of ‘world’ with your applying it to God’s chosen people in John 3:16. Of this verse, Carson wrote:

More than any New Testament writer, John develops a theology of the love relations between the Father and the Son, and makes it clear that, as applied to human beings, the love of God is not the consequence of their loveliness but of the sublime truth that ‘God is love’ (1 Jn. 4:16).
From this survey it is clear that it is atypical for John to speak of God’s love for the world, but this truth is therefore made to stand out as all the more wonderful. Jews were familiar with the truth that God loved the children of Israel; here God’s love is not restricted by race. Even so, God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big and includes so many people, but because the world is so bad: that is the customary connotation of kosmos (‘world’; cf. notes on 1:9). The world is so wicked that John elsewhere forbids Christians to love it or anything in it (1 Jn. 2:15-17). There is no contradiction between this prohibition and the fact that God does love it. Christians are not to love the world with the selfish love of participation; God loves the world with the self-less, costly love of redemption (Carson 1991:205, emphasis added).

I continued:[9]

FreeGrace2 wrote, “No, the heart is that God created the human race antagonistic to Him” (#441).
You (Hammster) responded:

This is not the heart of Calvinism. That you think so shows that, despite all your time here on CF, you still only know your straw man view of Calvinism. I honestly cannot see how trying to correct you further will be of any benefit. You may continue to call this a dodge. I frankly do not care.[10]

I could not let him get away with this one.[11] That is factually untrue for some Calvinists. It is the heart of Calvinism for some like John Piper, the double-predestinarian, when he stated this?

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.

So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing.

If I were to drop dead right now, or a suicide bomber downstairs were to blow this building up and I were blown into smithereens, God would have done me no wrong. He does no wrong to anybody when he takes their life, whether at 2 weeks or at age 92′ (‘What Made It OK for God to Kill Women, Children in Old Testament?‘, The Christian Post, February 6, 2012, emphasis added).

By application, is it right for God to slaughter 3,000 people and leave 3,000 victims on September 11, 2001 in the USA? What about the cause of all rapes of children around the world? How about the suicide bombers and the deaths caused by Muslims? Who is the cause of these ‘calamities’? Is it right for God to do this ‘anytime he pleases’ (Piper’s words)?

So did God slaughter all those people on September 11, 2001? What about the carnage that is going on today in Syria and the South Sudan? What about the children who are being raped by paedophiles in your country and mine? Is it right for God to do these things ‘anytime he pleases’ (to use John Piper’s words)?

C. Conclusion

A Calvinist such as Hammster is an example of how the Calvinistic Reformed deliberately change the meaning of ‘world’ in John 3:16 to make it mean ‘not everyone’, ‘his chosen people’ or ‘he saves those he loves and that is not the whole world of all people’.

This is a classic example of distortion or lying about the truth of ‘world’ in John 3:16.

We know that God’s love for all of the people throughout the world was manifest when Jesus died on the cross, not for the elect but for the whole world. This is stated clearly in 1 John 2:2 (ESV): ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’.

D. Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Inter-Varsity Press / William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

E. Notes


[1] Christian Forums 2014. In Arminianism, God excludes some people from salvation. OzSpen#459. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/in-arminianism-god-excludes-some-people-from-salvation.7815138/page-23 (Accessed 209 April 2014). I, Spencer Gear, am OzSpen.

[2] Ibid., Hammster#458.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#459.

[4] Hammster #418, Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology DEBATE, ‘In Arminianism, God excludes some people from salvation’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7815138-42/ (Accessed 29 April 2014).

[5] Ibid., Hammster#425.

[6] Ibid., Hammster#430.

[7] Ibid., Hammster#461.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#462.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#468.

[10] Ibid., Hammster#460.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#468.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 August 2016.

Does God only draw certain people to salvation?

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

What is the meaning of ‘draw’ in John 6:44?

Boy and cat fishing vector drawing

(image courtesy publicdomain)

By Spencer D Gear

How are people drawn to Christ in Sierra Leone or North Korea? What happens in certain countries where the open proclamation of the Gospel is prohibited? This has been the burden of short-wave Christian radio stations such as Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB) and Trans World Radio. How can the Gospel reach beyond the human barriers that prevent overt evangelism on the ground in some countries?

How does God draw people to salvation? Is this by an irresistible grace of election over which they have no say? Do some people choose to respond in faith or is that forced on them by God (irresistible grace)? Or does it involve God’s drawing and human beings agreeing to co-operate with God by responding in faith?

Join a discussion on a Christian forum and you’ll see the heat – and not light – that this discussion often brings. I was involved in such a dialogue. There was quite a bit of banter between Calvinists and non-Calvinists (including Arminians) about the meaning of ‘draw’ in John 6:44. This verse states:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day (ESV).

A Calvinist wrote: ‘I never said it meant drag. But it doesn’t mean to woo or lure or whatever you think it means’.[1]

A non-Calvinist response was: ‘Well when you use those words, of course not. What it conveys is seen in the metaphorical use of [the Greek] helko, to signify “drawing” by inward power, by Divine impulse. Not against our will, but in empathy towards our inner heart’.[2]

What is the demonstration in Scripture?

To try to make headway through this sometimes antagonistic theological jungle, I replied:[3]

The focus on the etymology[4] of the Greek, helko, gets our discussion into this kind of bind. John 6:44 makes the teaching clear:

This drawing is by the power of God with the specific purpose of moving the sinner’s inner being (heart/soul) to move from darkness to light and into God’s eternal life. No human being can do this by himself/herself. God’s divine power does the drawing. If that does not happen, no salvation will take place.

However, the book of John clarifies that this is not for a select few. What does John 12:32 declare? These are the words of Jesus, ‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw[5] all people to myself’ (ESV). So the drawing of John 6:44 and the drawing of John 12:32 demonstrate that it applies to all human beings, not a select elect.
We know from Romans 1:16 that it is the gospel that is accompanied by God’s power ‘for salvation to everyone who believes’. So, people are the ones who make the decision to believe, to have faith in Jesus.

Not irresistible

 fishing the big fishes

(image courtesy shutterstock, public domain)

But we know from Matthew 23:37 what Jesus’ view was:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (ESV)

Thus we know that God’s moving and drawing of all human beings is NOT irresistible as this verse affirms, ‘And you would not’. All human beings have the power to resist God’s drawing. This means that it cannot be an irresistible ‘dragging’ into the kingdom of God.
I’m pleased it is this way. There are decided disadvantages against a faith that compels people and does not allow them individual choice. See my article, What is the nature of human free will?

God does the drawing

It must be emphasised that there will be no kingdom salvation for believers without God doing the drawing and human beings responding. This is not Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism.

Pelagius (ca 360-420),[6] the originator of Pelagianism, was a British monk and theologian who went to Rome about AD 400 in the time of St. Augustine of Hippo who died in 430. Cairns explained that Pelagius’s beliefs were that

each man is created free as Adam was and that each man has the power to choose good or evil. Each soul is a separate creation of God and, therefore, uncontaminated by the sin of Adam. The universality of sin in the world is explained by the weakness of human flesh rather than by the corruption of the human will by original sin. Man does not inherit original sin from his first ancestor, although the sins of individuals of the past generation do weaken the flesh of the present generation so that sins are committed unless the individual wills to cooperate with God in the process of salvation. The human will is free to cooperate with God in the attainment of holiness and can make use of such aids to grace as the Bible, reason and the example of Christ. Because there is no original sin, infant baptism is not an essential element in salvation.

Augustine, the great bishop of Hippo, opposed what he believed was a denial of the grace of God by insisting that regeneration is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit. Man was originally made in the image of God and free to choose good and evil, but Adam’s sin bound all men, because Adam was the head of the race. Man’s will is entirely corrupted by the Fall so that he must be considered totally depraved and unable to exercise his will in regard to the matter of salvation. Augustine believed that all inherit sin through Adam and that no one, therefore, can escape original sin. Man’s will is so bound that he can do nothing to bring about his salvation. Salvation can only come to the elect through the grace of God in Christ. God must energize the human will to accept His proffered grace, which is only for those whom He has elected to salvation.

(Cairns 1981:137)

According to Stephen Filippo, because Pelagius

promoted moral fervor, there was an inherent danger in it: self-reliance, not God-reliance, based upon an inadequate understanding of human nature. Pelagianism stressed complete human autonomy and freedom of the will before God. Pelagius posited three elements to any moral action: 1. that we must be able to do it, 2. that we must be willing to do it, and 3. that the action must be carried out. Or the three elements can be described as possibility, will, and action. Possibility is a natural gift from God alone, but the other two, since they arise from man’s choice, are from man. For instance, God has freely given us the gifts of speech, sight, hearing, etc., and the power to speak, see hear, etc., yet whether or not these are put to good use is left entirely up to the individual. Thus, we are entirely free to will and do good or evil. Nor does he separate will from power, finding in the will the power to automatically carry out what it has willed.

(Filippo 2013)

(Pelagius, image courtesy Wikipedia)

 

So, self-reliant, human generated salvation of Pelagianism is contrary to Scripture and so is false teaching.

What about semi-Pelagianism that has often been associated by monergism with Arminianism. The Calvinistic website, CARM, gave this definition, ‘Monergism is the teaching that God alone is the one who saves. It is opposed to synergism which teaches that God and man work together in salvation. Cults are synergistic. Christianity is monergistic’.[7] While this accurately describes monergism, it is a false representation of synergism. Synergism is associated with Arminianiam, which is main-stream Christianity.

Semi-Pelagianism

is tied inextricably to the teachings of Gallic monastic critics of Augustine and most importantly (prototypically) John Cassian. Cassian and certain other Gallic monks (“Masillians”) argued that although God may initiate salvation with grace, for many people the initiative is theirs toward God. That is, God waits to see the “exercise of a good will” before responding with grace. This is what was condemned (along with predestination to evil) at Orange in 529.

“Semi-Pelagianism,” then, is the view that “the beginning of faith may have its source in the human agent, although it will not always have its source there.” Furthermore, to compound Cassian’s non-Augustinian view of free will and human initiative in salvation, he taught that “the free will, even in its fallen condition, is not totally unable to will the good” and “the emphasis [of Cassian’s doctrine] falls on vigilance, unceasing struggle, in the attainment of salvation”.

(Weaver 1996, cited in Olson 2013a, emphasis in original)

Roger Olson’s further explanation of semi-Pelagianism was:

“Semi-Pelagianism,” then, is the view that “the beginning of faith may have its source in the human agent, although it will not always have its source there.” Furthermore, to compound Cassian’s non-Augustinian view of free will and human initiative in salvation, he taught that “the free will, even in its fallen condition, is not totally unable to will the good” and “the emphasis [of Cassian’s doctrine] falls on vigilance, unceasing struggle, in the attainment of salvation.”

This is the standard definition/description of semi-Pelagianism. But in some Reformed circles it has been broadened out to include any and every denial of the irresistible efficacy of grace (for the elect). That’s too broad and it departs from historical tradition in identifying what semi-Pelagianism is. That would be like me using “supralapsarians” to describe all denials of free will. I would be quickly challenged and corrected by especially infralapsarians like Sproul.

(Olson 2013a)

The Arminian position

As Roger E Olson has indicated with Sproul’s exposition of Arminianism, all too often semi-Pelagianism has been wrongly associated with Arminianism. The Arminian position in relation to the order of salvation is summarised by Olson:

Dr. Olson

1) God’s electing grace in Christ of all who will believe in him;

2) Christ’s atoning, reconciling death for all sinners;

3) Prevenient grace given by God to sinners through the Word (calling, convicting, illuminating, enabling);

4) Conversion (repentance and faith) enabled by assisting, prevenient grace;

5) Regeneration, justification, adoption, union with Christ, indwelling of the Holy Spirit;

6) Sanctification;

7) Glorification.

Remember—these are not necessarily chronologically sequential. Especially 3, 4, 5 and 6 may be temporally simultaneous. (Of course, some Arminians will view all as temporally simultaneous in God’s awareness as God does not experience temporal sequence of events).

(Olson 2013b)

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

The Calvinistic position

A Calvinistic view on John 6:44 is clearly articulated by Calvinistic commentator William Hendriksen:

William Hendriksen.jpg

William Hendriksen (image courtesy Wikipedia)

 

Here the emphasis is on the divine decree of predestination carried out in history. When Jesus refers to the divine drawing activity, he employs a term which clearly indicates that more than moral influence is indicated. The Father does not merely beckon or advise, he draws! The same verb … occurs also in John 12:32, where the drawing activity is ascribed to the Son; and further, in 18:10; 21:6,11; Acts 16:19; 21:30; and James 2:6. The drawing of which these passages speak indicates a very powerful – we may even say, an irresistible – activity. To be sure, man resists, but his resistance is ineffective. It is in that sense that we speak of God’s grace as being irresistible. The net full of big fishes is actually drawn or dragged ashore (John 21:6,11). Paul and Silas are dragged into the forum (Acts 16:19). Paul is dragged out of the temple (Acts 21:30). The rich drag the poor before the judgment-seats (James 2:6). Returning now to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus will draw all men to himself (12:32) and Simon drew his sword, striking the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear (18:10). To be sure, there is a difference between the drawing of a net or a sword, on the one hand, and of a sinner, on the other. With the latter God deals as with a responsible being. He powerfully influences the mind, will, heart, the entire personality. These, too, begin to function in their own right, so that Christ is accepted by a living faith. But both at the beginning and throughout the entire process of being saved, the power is ever from above; it is very real, strong, and effective; and it is wielded by God himself!

(Hendriksen 1953:238-239, emphasis in original)

It is important to note a couple of Hendriksen’s emphases that throw doubt on his rather adamant interpretation:

  • Contrary to Hendriksen, there is not a word here about predestination. That’s Hendriksen imposing on the text. In context this is not about the divine decree to salvific predestination. Faith as a predetermined gift from God is not the subject. The following verses does speak of those who ‘will all be taught by God’ (ESV). The predestination interpretation is Hendriksen’s imposition on the text, especially in light of the use of the same verb in John 12:32, where …
  • When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he stated, ‘I … will draw all people to myself’. Hendriksen surely would not want that to mean the teaching of universalism – all people will receive salvation. It can only mean that God in his grace is making the offer to people regarding salvation – all people. But some will not receive it. We know from Romans 10:17 that ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (ESV).
  • Hendriksen’s language is that with sinners, ‘God deals as with a responsible being’. That cannot be so if ‘draw’ means ‘dragged’. Responsible human beings cannot be responsible if they are dragged as in the decree of a dictator. There is something fundamentally amiss with this Calvinistic interpretation.
  • Another Calvinist, G C Berkouwer stated of John 6:44, ‘This “drawing” of the Father is not at all an act that rules out all human activity; rather, says Kittel, it rules out all that is coercive and magical’.[8]

Robert Shank’s pertinent comment was,

Thus, according to Kittel (and Berkouwer), the “drawing” is a matter of compelling but it is not at all coercive. No explanation is given of how God can compel without being coercive. Obviously, both propositions cannot be true, for they are mutually exclusive. Truth rests with the latter proposition: The Father’s “drawing” is not coercive. And if God does not coerce, it follows that in man’s response to the Gospel, something is left to man’s volition. That this is so is implied in John’s passage. Having asserted that “no man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (v. 44), Jesus immediately declared,

It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught by God. Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me (v. 45 RSV).

Robertson comments on verse 45

And hath learned (kai mathen)…. It is not enough to hear God’s voice. He must heed it and learn it and do it. This is a voluntary response. This one inevitably comes to Christ.[9]

(Shank 1970:176)

Often the Calvinism vs Arminian debate can be buried within a discussion over monergism vs synergism. Why don’t you take a read of Eric Landstrom’s excellent overview: ‘The False Antithesis Between Monergism and Synergism: A Lesson from Historical Theology’.

Conclusion

John 6:44 is not dealing with the doctrine of election or predestination. God’s electing grace is needed for there to be salvation of any kind. However, it is extended to all who hear the Gospel and respond in faith to it. It is not a drawing of compulsion that avoids human responsibility. There can be no salvation without God’s initiative and God’s giving human beings the opportunity to respond in faith to the Gospel call.

The sinner’s inner being is moved by God but there is no salvation without a human response. Romans 10:17 is clear: ‘Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’.

From this assessment, you hopefully will have concluded that I’m a convinced biblically-based Arminian in my theology (Reformed/Classical Arminian). See an affirmation of this position by Seth Miller in, ‘The Foundation of Election: An Overview of Classical Arminianism’. See Roger E. Olson, ‘Is Arminian theology “Reformed”?

Works consulted

Berkouwer, G C 1960. Studies in dogmatics: Divine election. Tr by H Bekker. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Flippo, S N 2013. St. Augustine and Pelagianism. Ignatius Insight: Ignatius Press (online). Available at: http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2008/sfilippo_augustinepelag_jan08.asp (Accessed 5 September 2014).

Hendriksen, W 1953. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Olson, R E 2013a. R C Sproul, Arminianism, and Semi-Pelagianism. Patheos (online), February 22. Available at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/02/r-c-sproul-arminianism-and-semi-pelagianism/ (Accessed 5 September 2014).

Olson, R E 2013b. An Arminian Ordo Salutis (Order of Salvation). Patheos (online), August 23. Available at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/08/an-arminian-ordo-salutis-order-of-salvation/ (Accessed 5 September 2014).

Oxford dictionaries 2014. Etymology (online). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/etymology (Accessed 5 September 2014).

Robertson, A T 1932. Word pictures in the New Testament: The fourth Gospel, the epistle to the Hebrews. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Shank, R 1970. Elect in the Son: A study in the doctrine of election. Springfield, Missouri: Westcott Publishers.

Weaver, R H 1996. Divine grace and human agency: A study of the Semi-Pelagian controversy. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press.

Notes


[1] Hammster#561, Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology debate, ‘Why do Arminians’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7820790-57/#post65659060 (Accessed 23 May 2014).

[2] Ibid., stan1953#564.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#567.

[4] Oxford dictionaries give the meaning of ‘etymology’ as, ‘The study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history: the decline of etymology as a linguistic discipline’ (Oxford dictionaries, s v Etymology 2014).

[5] This is the same word for ‘draw’ as in John 6:44.

[6] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:137).

[7] CARM (2014).

[8] Berkouwer (1960:48).

[9] Robertson (1932:109).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 4 June 2016.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses wrong translation of John 1:1

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (world headquarters).jpg

International Headquarters, Watchtower, Brooklyn NY (Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

The New World Translation of John 1:1 reads: ‘In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god’ (emphasis added).

The Greek of John 1:1 is found HERE.

The contentious translation is ‘the Word was a god’ as the transliterated Greek into English is theos aen ho logos. Word order is not important in Greek. However, the conjugations of the verbals and the declensions of the nouns, pronouns, adjectives, etc are important for determining where the word goes in the sentence.

The JWs have violated a fundamental of Greek grammar with their translation, ‘the Word was a god’. In Greek, the subject of this sentence is made plain because it has the definite article with it, ho logos. The complement (what we call it in Australia) or the predicate nominative after the verb to be, aen, is determined by dropping the article. So the meaning is ‘The Word was the God’. Technically in Greek this is known as Colwell’s Rule for determining which is the subject and which is the predicate nominative when a sentence contains a copulative such as the verb ‘to be’.

Colwell’s Rule originally appeared in 1933 in E. C. Colwell’s article, ‘A definite rule for the use of the article in the Greek New Testament’. Please understand that it is a general rule and there are a few exceptions.

Colwell’s Rule in Greek has been defined this way: ‘In sentences in which the copula [e.g. the verb ‘to be’ in John 1:1] is expressed, a definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb’.

We see this rule applied in John, with the translation of 1:49, ‘You are the King of Israel’. There is no definite article before ‘King’ in the Greek. Even the New World Translation has this translation of John 1:49, ‘You are King of Israel’. If it translated consistently with the way it translates John 1:1, it should at least have this translation, ‘You are a King of Israel’.

This has been a technical translation, but it is my attempt to explain why the NWT is not consistent with Greek grammar.

Here is a sound refutation of the JW translation of John 1:1, ‘John 1:1, “The word was a god”’.

 

Copyright (c) 2013 Spencer D. Gear.  This document is free content.  You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the OpenContent License (OPL) version 1.0, or (at your option) any later version.  This document last updated at Date: 9 March 2013.

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Whytehouse designs

What’s wrong with the NRSV translation of John 3:16?

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Courtesy NRSV

By Spencer D Gear

This verse in the New Revised Standard Version states, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ (John 3:16 NRSV).

Some other translations of the verse are:

arrow-smallRevised Standard Version: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16 RSV)

arrow-smallEnglish Standard Version: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16 ESV)

arrow-smallNew American Standard Bible: ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3:16 NASB).

arrow-smallNew International Version: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16 NIV).

arrow-smallNew Living Translation: ‘For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16 NLT).

arrow-smallNET Bible: ‘For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16 NET).

Translation of the verbs makes the difference

Notice the contrast in translation of the verbs in these three translations: RSV, NRSV and ESV. The NRSV and ESV are based on the RSV, but notice the differences in verbal translations in the second half of the verse:

RSV: ‘whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’;

ESV: ‘whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’;

NRSV: ‘everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’;

 

What are the meanings of the NT Greek verbs in John 3:16b?

The Elements of New Testament Greek        https://i0.wp.com/vig-fp.prenhall.com/bigcovers/013184234X.jpg?resize=167%2C270

Cambridge University Press               Pearson

1. NRSV, ‘believes’ = Greek pisteuwn = masculine, nominative, singular, present participle of pisteuw. Because it is the present tense of the verb it is accurately translated as ‘believes’ or ‘continues to believe’. The latter translation emphasizes the continuous action of the present tense of the verb. So, all of the above translations, including the RSV, ESV and NRSV, are accurate in their translation of this verb as ‘believes’.

2. NRSV, ‘may not perish’ (me[1], meaning not, is the negative accompanying the verb). The Greek verb is apole[2]tai = third person, singular, 2nd aorist tense, subjunctive mood of the verb, apollumi = may not perish (with the negative) as this is the function of the subjunctive mood. This verb is contained in a purpose clause beginning with hina. The Greek aorist tense means point action; Then the negative, me, is used with the aorist subjunctive, it ‘generally denotes a command not to begin an action…. Commands and exhortations (whether expressed by Subjunctive or Imperative) have an element of doubt, since they refer to the future and they may or may not be followed’ (Wenham 1965:166, emphasis in original). In English, ‘the subjunctive expresses thought or wish rather than an actual fact’ (Wenham 1965:12). Therefore, the NRSV translation, ‘may not perish’ and the ESV and RSV translations of ‘should not perish’ are both acceptable as translations with the negative.

3. NRSV, ‘may have’ = Greek eche[3] = third person, singular, present, subjunctive verb, of echw. Greek grammarian, A. T. Robertson, stated that the subjunctive mood ‘is the mood of doubt, of hesitation, of proposal, of prohibition, of anticipation, of expectation, of brooding hope, of imperious will’ (1934:928). However Robertson also admits, after his survey of Greek grammarians and their views of the subjunctive, that ‘the grammarians lead us [on] a merry dance with the subjunctive’ (1934:927). Here’s the problem with the NRSV’s translation of the present tense, subjunctive mood:

4. Machen (1923:128, 131), a Greek grammarian, has stated that while aorist and present are the only tenses used with the subjunctive mood, ‘the present subjunctive does not necessarily refer to present time…. [but] refers to it as continuing or as being repeated’. However, when associated with the conjunction, hina, meaning ‘in order that’ (as in John 3:16), ‘ordinarily it is impossible to bring out the difference in an English translation’ (Machen 1923:131). In John 3:16, the literal meaning would be ‘they may have eternal life’, but this is NOT a good translation as it is impossible to translate as such. Therefore, it seems strange that the NRSV has translated as ‘may have eternal life’ instead of the expected ‘have eternal life’. Any translator wanting to convey the continuous action of present tense, surely would not use ‘may have’ as a translation that accurately gives the understanding from the Greek.

5. The meaning of John 3:16 is conveyed later in that same chapter, in John 3:36, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him’ (ESV). In 1 John 5:12, we have a parallel meaning by the same author, John: ‘Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life’ (ESV).

Conclusion

The main difference in John 3:16b between the NRSV’s translation of the last verb and the other translations cited above, is that the NRSV does not accurately convey the present tense meaning of eche[4], the present subjunctive of the verb.

With the NRSV’s kind of translation, using the subjunctive mood, it indicates that eternal life is not being experienced in a continuous action. It is only potential with the NRSV translation.

This is a serious theological issue. Can Christians experience eternal life as a continuing reality when they experience it in the future? The common teaching of biblical Christianity is that the Christian life is experienced in the NOW and continues through death as it refers to eternal life that never ends (unless there is apostasy) – but that’s another topic. For discussion of that latter topic, see my article, ‘Once saved, always saved or once saved, lost again: An exposition of Hebrews 6:4-8‘.

Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research

Logos Bible Software

References

Machen, J G 1923. New Testament Greek for beginners. Toronto, Ontario: The Macmillan Company.

Robertson, A T 1934. A grammar of the Greek New Testament in the light of historical research. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Wenham, J W 1965. The elements of New Testament Greek. London: Cambridge University Press.

Notes:


[1] This ‘e’ is the transliteration of the Greek letter of the alphabet, eta. Since this html page will not accept the usual transliteration of eta, I have resorted to the use of e, which is the normal transliteration of the Greek letter epsilon.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. However, eche has the iota subscript to go with the eta. Therefore the parsing is third person, singular, present subjunctive.

[4] Ibid.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 February 2017.

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Woman caught in adultery: In or out of New Testament?

Monday, August 20th, 2012

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ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

Are there chunks of the Bible that should not be there? Even to raise this topic may cause some some conservative Christians to doubt my salvation: ‘How dare you suggest that you know better than what is in the Bible’,a small number have said to me. What they fail to realise is that they are accepting what is in their English Bible (for many it is the KJV) as the authentic word of God – all of it. They treat their Bible version as the original, inspired text.

However, like it or not, there are issues with a few small sections of Scripture as to whether they should be in the Bible or not. One such example, which I will discuss here, is John 7:53-8:11 which deals with the woman caught in adultery.

The latest edition of the New International Version states at the beginning of this passage: “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53” (BibleGateway).

For the English Standard Version, latest edition, immediately prior to John 7:53, there is this statement, ‘The earliest manuscripts do not include John 7:53-8:11’ (BibleGateway).

Should this passage of John 7-8 be included in the New Testament or not? Let’s look at the evidence. There are two sides to the discussion. Yes! and No! Firstly, let’s those who support the retention of this portion in the NT.

1. Support for John 7:53-8:11 to remain in the NT

Who are the supporters of this passage remaining in Scripture?

1.1 Supporters of the Majority Text of the NT

What is the Majority Text? Michael Marlowe explains that

The “Majority Text” is a statistical construct that does not correspond exactly to any known manuscript. It is arrived at by comparing all known manuscripts with one another and deriving from them the readings that are more numerous than any others. There are two published Greek texts which purport to represent the Majority readings — Hodges & Farstad 1982 and Pierpont & Robinson 1991 (in ‘What about the Majority Text?’).

The Majority Text is the Greek text behind the King James Version and the New King James Version of the Bible – New Testament. The text of modern Bible translations for the NT is known as the ‘Received Text’. This is the text behind the RSV, NRSV, ESV, ERV, ASV, NASB, NIV and NLT to mention a few. Michael Marlowe gives an excellent assessment of the issues and his summary is reasonable:

The idea that the majority of existing Greek manuscripts (i.e. the numerous medieval copies) somehow represent the original text better than any of the oldest manuscripts known to us is an idea that is very hard to defend intellectually. One would suppose, even on common-sense grounds, that a consensus of the earlier copies is likely to be closer to the original text. Against this, it is said that perhaps all of the early manuscripts known to us have derived from a deviant kind of text which gained currency only in the area around Alexandria, where these very old manuscripts were preserved on account of the dry climate. But this hypothesis fails to account for the readings of the ancient versions (e.g. Latin and Syriac) which frequently agree with the older Greek copies against the later ones. We cannot reasonably suppose that the Latin and Syriac versions were based upon manuscripts that were not circulating in Italy and Syria. And then there are the scripture quotations from ecclesiastical writers who lived outside of Egypt, which likewise often support the earlier manuscripts. It is very hard for a Majority Text advocate to overcome this evidence, and certainly it cannot all be brushed aside with an hypothesis about “Alexandrian” deviations. For this reason, very few competent scholars have argued in favor of the Majority Text.

1.2 Dean John Burgeon

Dean John Burgeon supports its inclusion in the NT. See his arguments in John 8:1-11. They include:

  • The historical circumstance and burden of proof lies with those who challenge its authenticity;
  • The Gospel context – John 8:1-11 is an integral part of the immediately antecedent and following narrative;
  • The content and meaning – it ‘carries on its front the impress of Divine origin’;
  • Style and diction – it is ‘woven on a heavenly loom’;
  • Alleged textual evidence against – in spite of the trail of opponents, ‘these twelve verses exhibit the required notes of genuineness less conspicuously than any other twelve consecutive verses in the same Gospel’.

Burgeon explains further:

Section 9: – Evidences Re-Examined: The Old Latin
Section 10: – Patristic and Versional Support

Sidebar: – The Ferrar Group (Family 13)

Section 11: – The Cause of the Omission
Section 12: – The Ancient Lectionary Tradition
Section 13: – Silence of Early Commentators Explained
Section 14: – The Voice of the Early Church Identified
Section 15: – Critical Theories Fail to Explain Facts
Section 16: – Spiritual Bankruptcy of the Critical Position

1.3 Peter Ruckman

Another promoter of this passage in John 8 to remain in the NT is long-term KJV-onlyism advocate, Peter Ruckman of Pensacola Bible Institute. See Ruckman on ‘James White’s Seven Errors in the King James Bible’. See James White’s reply, ‘A response to Dr Ruckman’.

1.4 Trinitarian Bible Society

The Trinitarian Bible Society has a statement in its Constitution:

This Society shall circulate the HOLY SCRIPTURES, as comprised in the Canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, WITHOUT NOTE OR COMMENT, to the exclusion of the Apocrypha; the copies in the English language shall be those of the Authorised Version.

1.5 Gail Riplinger

See Gail Riplinger’s website, ‘Authorized Version Publications’ for her view of keeping the section on the adulterous woman in John’s Gospel.

2. Support for John 7:53-8:11 to be excluded from the NT

But there is support for excluding this passage from the NT.

D. A. Carson wrote:

“Despite the best efforts of Zane Hodges[1] to prove that this narrative was originally part of John’s Gospel, the evidence is against him, and modern English versions are right to rule it off from the rest of the text (NIV) or to relegate it to a footnote (RSV). These verses are present in most of the medieval Greek minuscule manuscripts, but they are absent from virtually all early Greek manuscripts that have come down to us, representing great diversity of textual traditions. The most notable exception is the Western uncial D, known for its independence in numerous other places. They are also missing from the earliest forms of the Syriac and Coptic Gospels, and from many Old Latin, Old Georgian and Armenian manuscripts. All the early church Fathers omit this narrative: in commenting on John, they pass immediately from 7:52 to 8:12. No Eastern Father cites the passage before the tenth century. Didymus the Blind (a fourth-century exegete from Alexandria) reports a variation on this narrative, not the narrative as we have it here. Moreover, a number of (later) manuscripts that include the narrative mark it off with asterisks or obeli, indicating hesitation as to its authenticity, while those that do include it display a rather high frequency of textual variants. Although most of the manuscripts that include the story place it here (i.e. at 7:53-8:11), some place it instead after Luke 21:38, and other witnesses variously place it after John 7:44, John 7:36 or John 21:25.[2] The diversity of placement confirms the inauthenticity of the verses. Finally, even if someone should decide that the material is authentic, it would be very difficult to justify the view that the material is authentically Johannine: there are numerous expressions and constructions that are found nowhere in John, but which are characteristic of the Synoptic Gospels, Luke in particular.

On the other hand, there is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred, even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books. Similar stories are found in other sources. One of the best known, as reported by Papias (and recorded by the historian Eusebius, H. E. III. xxxix. 16)[3] is the account of a woman, accused in the Lord’s presence of many sins (unlike the woman here who is accused of but one). The narrative before us also has a number of parallels (some of them noted below) with stories in the Synoptic Gospels. The reason for its insertion here may have been to illustrate 7:24 and 8:15 or, conceivably, the Jews’ sinfulness over against Jesus’ sinlessness (8:21, 24, 26) [Carson 1991:333-334].

Bruce Metzger’s (1971:219-222) assessment is:[4]

[John] 7.53-8.11 Pericope of the Adulteress

The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming. It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as Papyrus66.75 Aleph B L N T W X Y D Q Y 0141 0211 22 33 124 157 209 788 828 1230 1241 1242 1253 2193 al. Codices A and C are defective in this part of John, but it is highly probable that neither contained the pericope, for careful measurement discloses that there would not have been space enough on the missing leaves to include the section along with the rest of the text. In the East the passage is absent from the oldest form of the Syriac version (syrc.s. and the best manuscripts of syrp), as well as from the Sahidic and the sub-Achmimic versions and the older Bohairic manuscripts. Some Armenian manuscripts and the old Georgian version omit it. In the West the passage is absent from the Gothic version and from several Old Latin manuscripts (ita.l*.q). No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospels do not contain it.

When one adds to this impressive and diversified list of external evidence the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the pericope differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel (see any critical commentary), and that it interrupts the sequence of 7.52 and 8.12 ff., the case against its being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.

At the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western church and which was subsequently incorporated into various manuscripts at various places. Most copyists apparently thought that it would interrupt John’s narrative least if it were inserted after 7.52 (D E F G H K M U G P 28 700 892 al). Others placed it after 7.36 (ms. 225) or after 7.44 (several Georgian mss.) or after 21.25 (1 565 1076 1570 1582 armmss) or after Luke 21.38 (f13). Significantly enough, in many of the witnesses which contain the passage it is marked with asterisks or obeli, indicating that, though the scribes included the account, they were aware that it lacked satisfactory credentials.

Sometimes it is stated that the pericope was deliberately expunged from the Fourth Gospel because it was liable to be understood in a sense too indulgent to adultery. But, apart from the absence of any instance elsewhere of scribal excision of an extensive passage because of moral prudence, this theory fails “to explain why the three preliminary verses (vii 53; viii 1-2), so important as apparently descriptive of the time and place at which all the discourses of chapter viii were spoken, should have been omitted with the rest” (Hort, “Notes on Select Readings,” pp. 86 f.).

Although the committee [that is, the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament] was unanimous that the pericope was originally no part of the Fourth Gospel, in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage a majority decided to print it, enclosed within double square brackets, at its traditional place following John 7.52.

Inasmuch as the passage is absent from the earlier and better manuscripts that normally serve to identify types of text, it is not always easy to make a decision among alternative readings. In any case it will be understood that the levels of certainty ({A}, {B}) are within the framework of the initial decision relating to the passage as a whole.[5]

My conclusion

Since I accept that the MSS that are closer to the originals are deemed to be the most accurate (see the arguments above), I accept that John 7:53-8:11 is an addition to the original MSS and should not be included in the NT.

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Metzger, Bruce M 1971. A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament: Acompanion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (3rd ed). London / New York: United Bible Societies.

Notes:


[1] BibliothecaSacra 136, 1979, pp. 318-372; 1980, pp. 41-53.

[2] Carson’s footnote at this point was, ‘For a convenient summary of the evidence, cf. Metzger, pp. 219-222. He is referring to Metzger (1971).

[3] This was in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16, available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250103.htm (Accessed 14 May 2012).

[4] Available at: (1) Bible Research, ‘The story of the adulteress in the eighth chapter of John’, available at: http://www.bible-researcher.com/adult.html (Accessed 14 May 2012); (2)

[5] The last paragraph was not in the URL. I copied it from the actual text.

 

Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

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John 3:16 and ‘only begotten’

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Ticket to Heaven

ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual for those who support the KJV translation of the Bible to oppose some of the more modern translations. I encountered this in an objection to the NIV, “one and only Son” instead of “only begotten Son” in John 3:16. In a post of Christian Forums, there was this comment:

Oh, and look at the famous John 3:16 verse from the NIV Version: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. NIV removed the word “begotten”….[1]

Begotten is used because it implies Jesus Christ is fully man as well as fully God. He is the literal only begotten of God.

As far as these other irrelevant arguments involving original greek, that’s useless. If you are an average Bible reader, you will not have original script to compare translations. That is essentially the Bible’s printer’s job. An average Bible reader should have a completely fufilling Bible without need for a study guide or accompanying texts. The King James Version of the Bible being the best translation.[2]

[3]The issue in John 3:16 is over the translation of the Greek word, monogenes,[4] which the KJV translates as “only begotten” and the NIV translates as “one and only”. What is the meaning of this Greek word? It is derived from ginomai (I come to be, become, originate – Arndt & Gingrich) and NOT gennaw (I beget – Arndt & Gingrich). So, monogenes is not connected with begetting.

The Greek word means nothing more than “only” or “unique”. It is used of the widow of Nain’s “only” son (Luke 7:12, cf. Luke 9:38); Jairus’s “only” daughter (Luke 8:42). What is particularly instructive is that the word is used in referring to Isaac (Heb. 11:17), because Isaac was not Abraham’s only son, but he was “unique”. He was God’s promised son to Abraham.

So when monogenes is used in John 3:16, it is indicating that Jesus is God’s Son in a unique way. There is no other son who can be God’s Son like Jesus is in this unique way. There is a unique relationship between the Father and the Son, which is one of the special themes of John’s Gospel.

Therefore, the song and dance that has been made in this thread about “only begotten” of the KJV being “one and only” in the NIV is a non-issue. Because the word monogenes is NOT derived from begetting but is referring to the only, unique Son. Therefore, the NIV translation is a good one. In fact, when one understands the etymology of monogenes, the KJV translation gives a meaning that is not based on the origin of the word, monogenes. The etymology of a word is important.

So whether in Cantonese, Mandarin, English, German or Icelandic, the issue in translating monogenes is: How do we best translate it to mean only or unique?

Somebody came back to me with this response:

Monogenes is a two part word in which mono means ‘only’ or ‘one’ and genes means ‘begotten’, ‘born’, ‘come forth’.
Buchsel, in his definitive treastise on the meaning of the word ‘monogenes‘ said:
It means only-begotten (The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. iv, p. 739).[5]

[6]It is too bad that you didn’t read on further to p. 741 of Buchsel’s Greek exposition of monogenes in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 4 (Eerdmans 1967) where Buchsel’s word study is not as assured as you are making it out to be. He wrote:

“It is not wholly clear whether monogenes in John denotes also the birth or begetting from God; it probably does, John calls Jesus ho gennetheis ek tou theou [the one born of God], 1 John 5:18. Though many will not accept this, he here understands the concept of sonship in terms of begetting. For him to be the Son of God is not just to be the recipient of God’s love. It is to be begotten of God. This is true both of believers and also of Jesus.[7] For this reason monogenes probably includes also begetting of God (p. 741).

In his footnote at this point, he states,

One should not refer the monogenes to the virgin birth of Jesus…, for the pre-existent as well as the historical Jesus is the son of God (p. 741, n 20).

While Buchel does prefer the translation of monogenes as referring to the begetting from God, he tempers it with, “It is not wholly clear”.

Arndt & Gingrich in their Greek lexicon also are not as sure as you want it to be. They state that the meaning of monogenes is of an only son or daughter (Heb 11:17; Luke 8:42) – also unique in kind.

“In the Johannine literature monogenes is used only of Jesus. The meanings only, unique may be quite adequate for all its occurrences here…. But some … prefer to regard monogenes as somewhat heightened in meaning in John and 1 John to only-begotten or begotten of the Only One, in view of the emphasis on gennasthai ek theou [born of God] (John 1:13 etc)” (p. 529).

On the basis of the study of these Greek exegetes, it is NOT definitive that monogenes should be translated as “only begotten” and for someone to say that the NIV’s translation of “one and only” Son in John 3:16 is wrong, does not line up with what the exegetes are concluding.

If Buchel can conclude that it is “not wholly clear” and Arndt & Gingrich say that in the Johannine writings, the meanings of “only, unique may be quite adequate for all its occurrences here”, but “some prefer” the “somewhat heightened” meaning in John’s writings of “only-begotten or begotten of the Only One”, indicate that those intensely involved in Greek exegesis are not absolutely convinced that the one and only meaning of monogenes in John 3:16 is “only begotten”.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Communities, Baptists, ‘The New International Version (NIV) Bible completely removes the word Godhead’, Proverb2717 #1, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7669527/ (Accessed 8 July 2012).

[2] Proverbs2717#7, ibid.

[3] This is my response as OzSpen, ibid., #77.

[4] Most of this information was gleaned from Leon Morris’s commentary: Leon Morris 1971. The Gospel according to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p. 105. Morris in his comments on John 3:16 (1971:230) referred back to this explanation of monogenes in John 1:14.

[5] Christian Forums, Limikin#84, ibid.

[6] The following is my, OzSpen, response at #85, ibid.

[7] My emphasis in bold.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

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Incorrect translation of New International Version 2011 for John 11:25

Monday, September 12th, 2011


(Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

In the church I attended on Sunday, 11 September 2011 (North Pine Presbyterian, Petrie, Brisbane, Qld.), John 11:25 was read publicly from the NIV 2011. This verse in the NIV 2011 edition has incorrect grammar when compared with the Greek (I read and have taught NT Greek) and in English. This is how the two versions of the NIV for this verse read.

John 11:25, NIV 2011: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”‘;

John 11:25, NIV 1974, 1984: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies”‘;

John 11:25 in the English Standard Version reads: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”‘.

The NIV 2011 rendering is incorrect grammar while the 1974 version is correct grammar. What is wrong with the grammar of “the one who believes in me will live even though they die” in NIV 2011?

(1) In English the antecedent to which the plural “they” refers is the singular, “the one”. Therefore, since “the one” is singular, “they” must be replaced with the singular. In English, these dynamic equivalent translations are possible: (a) “the one who believes in me will live even though he/she should die”, or (b) “the one who believes in me will live even though that one/person should die”.

(2) In Greek, the verb which is translated in NIV 2011 as “they die”, is an incorrect translation as the verb is apothanw, which is 3rd person singular, aorist 2, active, subjunctive of apothaneskw. Therefore, the verb needs to be translated with the singular, “that one should die”. If you want to translate with dynamic equivalence, the meaning could be, “those who believe in me will live even though they die”.

However, as it stands, the grammar in both Greek and English of the second half of John 11:25, NIV 2011, is incorrect with the words, “the one who believes in me will live, even though they die”. I urged the International Bible Society[1] (publishers of the NIV 2011) to change this for the sake of English speakers and to be consistent with the Greek language.

At the street level when I was living in theUSA, Canada and here in my home country of Australia, many people confuse the singular antecedent with a plural pronoun which follows. However it did surprise me that the NIV 2011 inserted this grammatical error. I wonder how many other times this happens in this new revision.

I consider the NIV to be an excellent translation, as long as we understand that it is a meaning-for-meaning translation (i.e. dynamic equivalence).

This is what is stated about the NIV translators on BibleGateway, “The New International Version (NIV) is a completely original translation of the Bible developed by more than one hundred scholars working from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts”.

I look forward to hearing from the International Bible Society that this grammatical error is corrected in future printings of the NIV.

Here’s a list of the NIV translators. I know of many of these and they are fine Bible scholars in the evangelical Protestant tradition.

This Biblica (home of the NIV) article contains a section on “What Was Decided About Inclusive Language” for NIV 2011. In short, it means that inclusive language was used for “mankind” but definitely not for God.

Appendix A

This is the email response I received in Australia (received 13 September 2011) from the International Bible Society (Biblica) in response to my inquiry about the above information about John 11:25:

Thank you for your feedback regarding the NIV translation. We appreciate your opinion and welcome your prayers for us and the Committee on Bible Translation. We always seek to faithfully translate the meaning of the original biblical texts.

Though your grammatical explanation is correct as far as it goes, languages are inconsistent. As you know, the Greek word teknon (often “child”) is neuter, even though people of all ages have gender. What’s more, Mathew 9:2 Jesus uses it to address a seemingly a grown man. Furthermore, an inanimate plural subject in Greek often takes a singular verb (e.g., Mt. 10:2, which reads literally “the names is [sic] these”). The CBT’s response to the use of “they” as a singular referent in English is explained, along with other matters, on the following web page: http://www.niv-cbt.org/niv-2011-overview/ An excerpt is here added for easy reference:

The gender-neutral pronoun ?they” (?them” / ?their”) is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents such as ?whoever,” ?anyone,” ?somebody,” ?a person,” ?no one,” and the like. Even in Evangelical sermons and books, where the generic ?he,” ?him” and ?his” are preserved more frequently than in other forms of communication, instances of what grammarians are increasingly calling the ?singular they” (?them” or ?their”) appear three times more frequently than generic masculine forms. In other words, most English speakers today express themselves in sentences like these: ?No one who rooted for the Chicago Cubs to be in a World Series in the last sixty years got their wish. They were disappointed time and time again,” or ?The person who eats too many hot dogs in too short a period of time is likely to become sick to their stomach.” It is interesting to observe that this development is a throwback to a usage of English that existed prior to the solidification of the generic ?he” as the only ?proper” usage during the nineteenth century in Victorian England. Even the KJV occasionally used expressions like ? . . . let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). For that matter, so did the Greek New Testament! In James 2:15-16, the Greek for ?a brother or sister” (adelphos ? adelph?) is followed by plural verbs and predicate adjectives and referred back to with autois (?them”).

May the Lord bless you as you follow his Word.

Biblica, 1820 Jet Stream Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80921, www.biblica.com

I do not find this a satisfactory explanation as it violates a fundamental of English grammar. Because other translations such as the KJV in Phil. 2:3 use this incorrect English grammar, does not justify the NIV 2011 translation of John 11:25. Because the use of they/their ‘is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents’ is not an adequate explanation for violation of English grammar rules.

I’m not the only one with discomfort over an NIV 2011 translation. The Southern Baptist Convention in the USA resolved on June 14-15, 2011, as reported by Baptist Press:

The resolution states:

WHEREAS, Many Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople have trusted and used the 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation to the great benefit of the Kingdom; and

WHEREAS, Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House are publishing an updated version of the New International Version (NIV) which incorporates gender neutral methods of translation; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists repeatedly have affirmed our commitment to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16) and, in 1997, urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture; and

WHEREAS, This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and

WHEREAS, Although it is possible for Bible scholars to disagree about translation methods or which English words best translate the original languages, the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards; and

WHEREAS, Seventy-five percent of the inaccurate gender language found in the TNIV is retained in the 2011 NIV; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a similar resolution concerning the TNIV in 2002; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011 express profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.

References:

[1] I sent this information to the International Bible Society, which translated the NIV, on Monday, 12 September 2011, at: http://www.biblica.com/contact-us/.

 

Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.

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