Saturday, January 14, 2012

Squeamish Translating – Prologue

My Reticence to Write This

Christianity and Naturism are seen by most Christians today as morally incompatible. Yet, I have proclaimed myself to be a Naturist by Biblical Conviction. In other words, not only do I see them as morally compatible, I have found that my commitment to Biblical truth forces me to counter the lies of our culture (including Christian culture) by literally embracing naturism.

For many Christians today, that fact alone puts a bull's-eye on my forehead. Being a “target” for attack and condemnation is certainly not something I need to make worse.

But… suggesting—as I will in this series of articles—that the Bible has been translated into modern English in a way that communicates a bias against nudity might be like begging people to take more pot-shots at me. They might feel justified in claiming that I don’t respect the Scriptures and that I’m just trying to “explain away” any negative reference to nudity; as if I were saying, “I don’t like that passage… I’ll just claim that it’s a bad translation.”

I recognize that some might assume that… or want to make it appear that that’s the case, but it is not.

My View of Scripture

I have the utmost respect for the Scriptures. They are inspired by God and without error in the original documents. They are true and authoritative.

And it is precisely this commitment to the inspired text that drives me to write these articles.

The English translations are not “inspired” (none of them!). Only the original language text is inspired by God. Therefore, every translation must be assessed according to its accuracy to the true meaning of the original language text. Thorough study of the Bible must include an examination of the original language words used to ensure that the process of translating the text into English neither obscures nor adds to the meaning intended by the original author communicating with his original audience.

How I Discovered This Bias

When I first began to study the Bible’s perspective on nudity, I searched the Scriptures for every place where nudity is mentioned or implied. My search was conducted primarily by finding the original Greek or Hebrew terms that reference nakedness, then examining every passage that uses those terms in multiple English translations.

To my surprise, it seemed that every time there was a passage that spoke of nakedness in a positive or neutral way, the modern translations rendered the passage in a way that would allow the reader to avoid imagining or thinking about nakedness. Conversely, whenever a passage criticized or condemned a negative expression of nakedness, the modern translations did not shrink at all from using the word “naked.”

The pattern was consistent enough that I began to suspect a bias.

Hats Off to the KJV!

I am not suggesting that all English translations are biased against nakedness. Where the NASB and the NIV were evidently squeamish about the N-words, the KJV was bold and accurate.

The real question is this: if the KJV translators were willing to use the word “naked” wherever the original authors of the Scriptures did, why weren’t the NASB and NIV translators willing to do the same? If the KJV narratives describe contexts where nudity was possible (according to the original language text), what compelled the NASB and NIV translators to modify the meaning or add words that preclude that understanding?

I Have to Write This

My commitment to Biblical accuracy compels me expose the evidence for this bias.

Some may dismiss the evidence as inconclusive or meaningless. Some will dismiss anything I say because I have dared to criticize the highly trained and skilled people who gave us God’s Word in English. Some will declare that it is I who am unwilling to hear what the Scriptures are saying and that I am only attempting to explain away that which I don’t like.

But, others will look honestly enough at the evidence to question their previous assumptions. They may find that things they’ve always thought the Bible taught aren’t actually there after all. They may see—as I do—a squeamishness on the part of the translators that prevented them from translating the inspired text as accurately as they should have.

Either way, I write to promote the truth. If I take some shots in the process, so be it.

— 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)


Anonymous said...

I just finished reading your PDF file “Squeamish Translating”. Well done! I attended a seminary which required proficiency in translating Greek and Hebrew. (We weren’t even allowed to have English translations of the Bible in the classroom!) It may surprise you to learn that the biases of the NIV and other modern translations were openly discussed and are common knowledge, at least to the clergy of my denomination. What may be even more surprising, and I have no more than my antidotal recollections to prove this, is that the translators of the NIV in particular were very open in academia with their desire to water down Holy Scripture on these points! They seemed to have a passion for keeping the Bible g-rated, though I don’t remember exactly why, presumably to keep the Bible accessible to the general population. Nudity isn’t the only topic they watered down. Bodily functions of all types, slang idioms, and acts of violence all fell victim to the translators good intentions. By the way, I found your blog via Fig Leaf Forum. Blessings!

Matthew Neal said...

Wow... that's amazing!

If you could find some real documentation for that, I'd love to see it. I did a quick Google search but didn't find anything promising.

Thanks for your kind words.


Daniel ben Yishia said...

Another "squeamish" translation would be Exodus 6:3 -
וָאֵרָא, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אֶל-יִצְחָק וְאֶל-יַעֲקֹב--בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי; וּשְׁמִי יְהוָה, לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם
(KJV) And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.

The root word שד refers to a woman's breast. Adding a י to the end makes it singular personal possessive. So the term אֵל שַׁדָּי El Shaddai should be literally translated as "God my breast".

This concept should play heavily into the thoughts anyone dealing with the Theology of the Body. A baby at mother's breast has no concern about what town they are in, whether they a riding a train, walking down the road or sitting at home. All provision is given. There is warmth and love and caring. The baby has no reason for concern or worry. So it is for the one who fully relies upon God. This is similar to Psalm 131:2 "Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a child nourished by his mother, my soul is nourished."

Squeamish translators couldn't carry across the idea of God being like a "breast" to a baby.

Anonymous said...

The search key that you need is: "translation principles:NIV". Your hard work will be establishing credentials! Two that look reasonably good are:, mainly concerning dynamic equivalence; and, which may be their side of the info that you are actually looking for.
I must remain anonymous, since the optional URL seems to be compulsory - leaving blank recalls the default "(optional)" and gives illegal characters.
Keep up the good work.
Brian Willis