Saturday, January 14, 2012

Squeamish Translating – Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked

In this series of posts, I have been trying to document how modern translations seem to be shy away from references to nakedness unless it is a negative context and/or we associate that nakedness with sin or improper behavior.

The Bible does mention nakedness at times when it is not condemned or criticized. In such passages, I have observed that we are typically shielded from the real meaning of the original text in modern translations. This allows us (or even leads us) to form conclusions that are in direct opposition to the meaning of the inspired text.

Such is the case in this next passage that I want to highlight.

The Apostle Paul was Naked While Writing to the Church at Corinth.

The passage in 1 Cor. 4:11 is not one that we hear about much. Paul writes these words to the Corinthians almost in passing as he details to his audience the hardships that he and his companions have suffered in their service to Christ.

Here is exactly what the texts say. The word in red is the Greek word, gymnēteuō (G1130) which is based on the Greek word, gymnos (“naked” G1131).

Greek ἄχρι τῆς ἄρτι ὥρας καὶ πεινῶμεν καὶ διψῶμεν καὶ γυμνητεύομεν, καὶ κολαφιζόμεθα καὶ ἀστατοῦμεν

Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;

NASB To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless;.
NIV To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.


The disparity between the various translations is easy to see. The Greek word is a derivative of the word gymnos which we have already noted means “naked.”

The KJV faithfully and accurately translates it according to the real meaning of the Greek word.

However, I have a very hard time finding any justification for the other two translations. The meaning of the English translation is actually the opposite of the Greek word’s meaning:

  • In the Greek, Paul said, “we are naked.”
  • NASB says, “we are … clothed”
  • NIV says, “we are in rags.”

In both translations, a very different mental picture is painted than Paul (and God!) intended for us to have!

Even If They Weren’t Naked…

Were Paul and his companion(s) literally naked as he penned these words? Perhaps not. But even if they were not, do we really need the translators to insulate us from hyperbole for fear that we just might take Paul’s words at face value? Evidently, the translators of the KJV felt no such need to modify Paul’s writing. If they were willing to translate Paul’s words exactly as they were written, why are the NASB and NIV translators evidently unwilling to do so?

Maybe Paul was not actually naked as he wrote, but at the same time, it’s entirely possible that he really was naked! Either way, that IS what Paul really said. So, that’s what the English rendering should say!

Could they have literally been naked? Yes. There is no reason in the inspired text to assume otherwise.

Consider the situation they were in: they were being persecuted! Their persecutors were not concerned at all for their “dignity” nor did they care for their welfare. Paul and the others were being mistreated and clothing was an item of value that could have been—and evidently was—taken from them. The idea that they may have been genuinely naked certainly is not contrary to the context or the plain meaning of Paul’s words.

We Don’t Need a Censor.

Even if Paul was not completely naked, he chose a word to describe himself that way on purpose. It is not the place of translators to “filter” the text to make it more palatable to the contemporary mind.

We are followers of Christ. We are students of the Bible. Let us read the Word as God inspired it!

To me, this is one of the clearest examples of squeamish translating that I have run across. It is made all the more evident by the fact that the KJV translators did not shrink from translating Paul’s words directly and accurately. However, for some reason the NASB and NIV translators intentionally avoided the word “naked” and translated it in a way is actually contradicts the inspired text.

— Matthew Neal


Squeamish Translating

Part 1 – Naked Disciples
Part 2 – An Unclothed Savior
Part 3 – Writing Scripture Naked
Part 4 – Unclothed Servants
Part 5 – Speaking of Genitals

Squeamish Translating (PDF of the entire series)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Another interesting question is: What was the source of these tribulations? Paul is describing a state of common poverty, but he also says that he and his companions were being "buffeted," which in the Greek, literally means "we're getting punched." The next verse makes reference to persecution. I think Paul's poverty was probably deliberately inflicted by his persecutors, who were, according to my understanding of what he writes in the passage, mugging him on a fairly regular basis. While it is true that this would have left Paul poor enough to have been "clothed in rags," we also have to understand what a precious commodity clothing was (as you've said many times - kudos!) and how ready the robbers of the day were to snatch it up. The Jew in the parable of the Good Samaritan was probably stripped bare by his muggers in an effort to make the biggest profit off of their score as possible. I don't see a reason why pagan Roman persecutors wouldn't have been similarly thorough in their treatment of Christian evangelists.
Personally, I think this image of fierce, mugging-like persecution is the best argument to Paul being truly naked in this passage, and makes it likely (to my mind) that Paul did spend a good deal of time (at some point) truly as naked as the slaves passing him in the streets.
But as usual, I could be mistaken. Peace!