Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Keep A Close Watch On Your Bible

Fill in the blank.

Do not be conformed to this ______, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind . . .

Here's a picture in case you want to think for a second before seeing the answer.

Do not be conformed to this world . . . It's the first part of Romans 12:2. We covered it in Sunday school last week, and the ESV footnote on world got my attention. It reads, "Greek age."

You may be thinking, so what—translations have little different-word notes like that all over the place. Yes, but consider the difference between this footnote and the kind we see in Romans 12:1. There the ESV footnotes spiritual worship with, "Or your rational service."

Note the difference. The footnote on spiritual worship begins with "Or." The translators have chosen one phrase, but they acknowledge another choice could have been made. The footnote on world begins with "Greek." The translators acknowledge that the Greek text says one thing, but they have chosen to say something else. Why?

I wondered if the ESV Study Bible would comment on this question. Here's how its note on Romans 12:2 begins.
The present evil age still threatens those who belong to Christ, so they must resist its pressure.
That is, the ESVSB presumes age as the object at hand. It says nothing on why the ESV text reads world.  I found the same tactic in the commentaries I consulted.

For instance, Robert Mounce, in the New American Commentary, devotes some thought to why we might choose spiritual worship or rational service in verse 1, but in verse two he presumes age, even though the NAC uses for its starting point the NIV, which also reads world, and without any footnote!

There are some translations that read age, including the (Holman) Christian Standard Bible [which kind of works to the tune of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles], but I've found no more explanation on why they use age than I have for why others use world.

Having said that, there is one explanation we can assume for the ESV choice. It comes from its preface.
The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale–King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV, with the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for our work. (source)
The RSV says world, and so does the ESV. Translation is always an act of interpretation. Sometimes, it is also an act of tradition.

What does it matter?

Granted, this world is the realm in which we experience this age, and this age is the time—between Christ's ascension and return—when we live in this world. Both show the marring of sin, and we don't want to conform to either. They're two sides of the same coin?

Even if it doesn't make a huge difference for the meaning, any translation owes us an explanation when it deviates from the most straight-forward translation. In this case, the ESV is deviating both from its claim to be essentially "word-for-word," and also from this:
Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original . . . (also from the preface)
Paul uses the same Greek work several times elsewhere. There are a few other instances where the ESV renders it world, but in most cases it is either age or part of a construction translated forever. Here's a couple examples:

Galatians 1:4
. . .who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father . . .
Ephesians 1:21
. . . far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

But really, what does it matter?

What matters is that we remember our Bible translations are always making decisions for us. Usually, they don't even footnote these decisions. Let's be sure to read the disclosures when they do make them. Remember Paul's exhortation to Timothy.
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4:16)
Let's keep a close watch also on our Bible translations!

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