The Sinful Nature in Dynamic Equivalence Translations

I don’t like the NIV 2011. I’ve been clear about that from the get-go. Now, permit me to let you in on a little secret: I didn’t particularly like the NIV 1984, either. I can clearly perceive the immense superiority of the NIV 1984 over the NIV 2011. In fact, so can the owners of the NIV, otherwise, they wouldn’t find it necessary to embargo the NIV 1984 (embargoes are generally only necessary to protect inferior products from superior ones). And yet, it seems to me that of the problems that plague the NIV 2011, they all arise from the committee’s decision to apply more consistently the translation philosophy of the original NIV. In this essay I’d like to explain why I believe that the philosophy of dynamic equivalence is flawed by taking a look at one of its more prominent examples in the NIV New Testament (and, by “NIV” I mean the “NIV 1984″).

Every Bible translator has to choose how to balance the tasks of translation and interpretation. These tasks are inseparably intertwined. No one can translate without interpreting—or at least, if there is a text for which a translator can do so, it is a rare situation indeed. If you look up a word in a lexicon and find three choices, when you pick one of them you’ve made an interpretation of the text. One word in Greek can mean “touch,” “grasp,” or “set on fire.” Whenever you say that the woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment rather than saying that she set His garment on fire, you’ve chosen one interpretation of that verse over another.

So, it is true that interpretation is inevitable in translation, and it is also true that not all interpretations are equally reasonable or likely to be worthy of our consideration. In the example that I gave above, no version of the Bible presents the “set on fire” option to readers—not even the Amplified Bible, which exists to show a variety of options in translation. Why? Because the interpretation that has Jesus’s garment being set on fire by this woman is an entirely unreasonable interpretation compared to the others and is unworthy of our consideration (although it provided a great deal of fun for me during a particular homework assignment once upon a time). Sometimes it is the job of a translator to leave certain interpretations of a phrase or concept on the cutting room floor and move on.

Also, just as it is true that interpretation is inevitable in the process of translating the Bible, it is also inevitable in the process of reading the Bible. Everyone who reads the Bible is a theologian; we’re just not all equally good at it. One good way to consider the process is this: The translator and the reader constitute a team. The translator has studied the source language (Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek), and so the task of translation is his alone. The task of interpretation is shared between them. Both the translator and the reader (and, for the believer, the Holy Spirit) are partners together in a task of interpretation that begins during the process of translation and is only finished when the reader has comprehended the text.

Here’s where the translator faces a philosophical choice: how much of the task of interpretation to entrust to the remainder of the team. A translator can choose to do as little interpretation as is necessary or as much interpretation as is reasonably possible. A translator can choose to leave to the reader (hopefully aided by the Holy Spirit) as much of the interpretive task as is reasonable, or only as much as is absolutely inevitable. In my opinion, a good translator chooses the former option rather than the latter, leaving as much of the interpretive task to the reader as is possible for a reader who has not studied at all the source languages.

To illustrate how this choice works itself out and why it matters, I direct you to the differences in the ways that the NASB and the NIV have translated the word sarx in the writings of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

The word sarx in Greek simply means “the muscular part of the body” and, in a usage at least as old as Homer’s Odyssey, by extension it is used to refer to the physical body as a whole. The best literal translation of the word is “flesh,” and the NASB, true to its translation philosophy, consistently uses the word “flesh” to translate “sarx.” In many places in the Pauline corpus, the NIV is also content to use the word “flesh” (1 Corinthians 15:50 NIV 2011…although I’m actually providing you with a contrast of the NIV 1984 and the NASB, you’ll have to take my word for it that the NIV 1984 uses “flesh” here just as the NIV 2011 does, since Biblica has decided to make it illegal for BibleGateway or anyone else to provide you with the text of the NIV 1984, and therefore, I cannot provide you with a link to the actual text that I am discussing).

In many other passages, however, Paul clearly means something MORE than just “the muscular part of the body” when he refers to the sarx. For example, in Galatians 5:16-18 Paul is depicting a struggle within the believer between good and evil. In a similar discussion in Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul depicts this as the struggle between the “old man” (palaion anthropon) and the “new man” (kainon anthropon). Here in Galatians, however, Paul chooses to employ a dichotomy between “spirit” (pneuma) and “flesh” (sarx). In both cases, Paul’s clear intention is to speak about a difference between the base sinful life that precedes conversion (and is therefore “old”) versus the higher spirit-filled life made possible after conversion (which is therefore “new”).

For a translator, when you face a philosophically-laden concept like this, what do you do? The NIV 1984 translates sarx in passages like this one generally by resorting to the phrase “sinful nature.” The NASB, following a more literal translation philosophy, sticks with “flesh.” I’d like to explain what might be reasons that would make a good translator consider doing what the NIV 1984 did, followed by giving my reasons why I think that the NASB’s approach is the better one.

The difficult philosophical question here is simply this one: What connection is there between our physical bodies and our sinful natures? Christian History abounds with bad answers to that question. There’s the neo-Platonic error that closely associates the two: Whatever is physical is inferior, and therefore a sinful nature is inherent to any physical body. This error leads to Docetism (Christ could not have possessed one of these physical bodies if He was without sin…He must have only SEEMED to have been human) and the Gnostic versions of antinomianism (Don’t worry about behavior, because that fleshly body of yours is sinful no matter what you do with it). These errors are hardly compatible with a Christian story of creation in which God creates a physical universe and declares it to be “very good,” not to mention a Christian story of redemption that involves God’s birth as a physical baby.

This error of associating the physical body too closely with the sinful nature is one that has repeatedly appeared down through the years. Whenever it does appear, its proponents make significant use of passages like Galatians 5:16-26. It is a fair statement to declare that this neo-Platonic error amounts to one interpretation of Galatians 5:16-26 (although other passages are involved in this conversation, too, as well as philosophical contributors beyond the biblical text). If a translator can, by employing a phrase like “sinful nature” rather than “flesh,” prevent people from adopting this bad, heretical interpretation of the passage, then that’s a good thing, right?

Right. But at what cost?

Because although it is erroneous to make too close of a connection between the physical body and the sinful nature, can we divorce the two entirely without doing violence to what Paul is saying? I don’t think so. There is, after all, a reason why Paul chose to use such a word as “flesh”—a word he sometimes uses simply to refer to the physical body—to speak about the conflict between our sinful natures and the redeemed spiritual part of us. Physical creation WAS “very good,” and there is nothing inferior about material existence per se, but physical creation (especially including our bodies) has been tainted by the Fall and is pervasively sinful. The body was good and could be good, but the present reality is that the very flesh of our bodies is infected with the sin-disease.

This biblical concept goes far beyond Paul’s use of sarx:

  1. It is present in James’s use of the Greek word melos (“member, body part”) in James 4:1.
  2. In the list of the “works of the flesh” that follow in Galatians 5, so many of them are connected with biological urges.
  3. It is present in our understanding of the Resurrection: We will have physical bodies in eternity, but the physical bodies that we now are “must be changed.” Indeed “flesh (sarx) and blood cannot” take part in this eternity (I Corinthians 15:50-53).
  4. It is present in purification requirements in the Torah. These value and honor human bodies as valuable and as God’s masterpiece while asserting that the actual bodies of actual human individuals are riddled with impurities that must be washed before one may approach God.

The problem with “sinful nature” is that most people, I think, pretty quickly abstract that phrase in their minds to make it something akin to the little demon sitting on one shoulder and arguing with the little angel on the other. In other words, people reading “sinful nature” pretty quickly take ALL of the physicality out of that concept, replacing it with something immaterial, psychological, and behavioral.

I think that Paul meant by sarx NEITHER “a physical body” NOR “a sinful nature,” but instead meant something more along the lines of “what a physical body is when it has been tainted by a sinful nature.” Of course, that’s a wordy, complicated translation of a single word (if I were to do a translation of the entire Bible, how many pages would it be?), and no professional translator would ever prefer a translation like this one.

The word-for-word translation of sarx, “flesh,” is superior to “sinful nature,” I think, because it is far more likely that a reader would reason his way from “flesh” to “flesh tainted by a sinful nature” than it is that a reader would reason his way from “sinful nature” to “a sinful nature that extends beyond our psychology to the very nature of our physical bodies.” When the translation removes all reference to physicality (the primary sense of the word in the source language!), what clue is there, really, to tell a reader that physicality should be some part of the interpretation?

Whether you are talking about sarx or gender-neutrality or a whole host of other issues, it is the general tendency of dynamic equivalence translations to remove interpretive options from the reader’s view. Where the translator sees a risk of misinterpretation, such as with sarx, a good translator should resist the temptation to make things simple for the reader. Trust the reader, aided by the Holy Spirit, with as much of the interpretive task as one can undertake without a lexicon and a grammar.

This is especially important because translators, even the most devout and intelligent among them, inhabit these physical bodies tainted by sinful natures. The more interpretive work that the translators do on the readers’ behalf, the more power a small group of people have over the faith conclusions drawn by a whole host of believers. As Baptists we have believed that the Holy Spirit works through the broad membership of the congregation as a preventative against the consolidation of too much spiritual power in any one or few sinful humans. Formal equivalence translations, well done and carefully worded into the vernacular, embody this principle better than dynamic equivalence translations precisely because they reserve more of the task of interpretation for the readers of the sacred text to perform.


  1. Christiane says


    you wrote, this:

    “I think that Paul meant by sarx NEITHER “a physical body” NOR “a sinful nature,” but instead meant something more along the lines of “what a physical body is when it has been tainted by a sinful nature.””

    perhaps you were influenced by the idea of Christ ‘making all things new’ and you see the greater implication of the Incarnation,
    and perhaps you have seen an insight into the follow profound Scripture from Romans 8 ?

    “19For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God;
    20for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope
    21that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
    22We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
    23and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies”

    Dr. BARBER,
    do you see in Romans 8 this meaning?
    “the cosmos groans with us in wanting our bodies to be saved.”

    do you see Our Lord as the Lord of the Cosmos?

    do you see Christ as the Creator and Preserver of the Cosmos and of all creation

    and do you see in the New Testament the physical transformational aspect of our adoption into Christ in His statement
    ‘behold, I am MAKING all things new ?

    The Christian is a WHOLE person . . . spirit, soul, and body . . . and ‘in Christ, a Christian is undergoing a state of transformation as a WHOLE person.
    Is this something that a Southern Baptist can believe?

  2. Jess Alford says


    OK, I give up, judging from your past posts this post is not about Bibles or translators, or even translations. So go ahead and tell me what it is about so I can comment on this thread.

    • Bart Barber says

      Sorry to disappoint you, Jess. This post is about precisely what you have identified: Bibles, translators, and translations.

    • says

      Jess, its about two translation philosophies – the more literal (though as Bart points out, that is not entirely possible – represented perhaps best by the NASB?) and the dynamic equivalence (represented by NIV).

      It really is about effective Bible translation.

  3. says

    One question raised in my mind: is the sarx/flesh/sinful nature example typical of differences in translation between the two translation philosophies , or is it an outlier?

    I’ll note that the NET (New English Translation), which generally takes the Dynamic Equivalance philosophy (and can get quite colloquial in places), translates sarx as ‘flesh’ in the passages concerned. Apparently they agree with Bart’s arguments above, at least as far the translation of sarx is concerned.

    But there are places where, properly used, I think the DE approach is useful. Take I Pet 5:6,7. In the NASB: ”Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” What’s not quite obvious there is that ‘casting all your cares on him’ is intended as how you are to humble yourselves. It certainly wasn’t obvious to me until I ran across the NET translation and note (it’s the NET – it’s going to have at least one note) (I’ll note the NIV misses this, too, putting v 7 as a separate sentence). The NET slightly changes the word order in v 6, so as to make this more clear: “And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you”.

    What I really appreciate about the NET is the voluminous translator’s notes. At points like this, they document the choices that were available and why they chose to make the translation they did. It’s really helpful.

    • Bart Barber says


      I wouldn’t really classify that issue in 1 Peter 5:6-7 as a contest between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. Neither of the translation alternatives is, strictly speaking, more literal than the other one. A participle must have a certain relationship with the main verb. The NET translators take this as an instrumental adverbial participle. Every translator has to classify it somehow (temporal, concession, etc.), no matter which translation philosophy is in use.

      You might note that the NIV does not follow the NET at this point. That’s a good indication that this is not really a contest between formal and dynamic equivalence.

      A dynamic equivalence translation of this verse might substitute for “casting all your cares on Him” something like “by trusting God and letting the chips fall where they may.” There you have not only drawn conclusions about the syntax but have also left behind the (perfectly comprehensible) meanings of the vocabulary words present in the Greek text to replace them with a phrase that you think conveys the same meaning as does the Greek text (as you interpret it).

      • says

        Substituting “by trusting God and letting the chips fall where they may” for “casting all your cares on Him” sounds more like paraphrasing to me than dynamic equivalence.

        • Bart Barber says

          Yes. It is. I was trying to come up with a good example in the brief amount of time available to me to compose the reply. That was the best that I could do in a moment’s notice. Sorry!

        • Bart Barber says

          Of course, the difference between dynamic equivalence and paraphrase is really one of degree and sophistication, not essence. “Sinful nature” is a paraphrase of one understanding of “flesh,” used in a place where highly trained language scholars believed that a paraphrase would be more likely to communicate the original thought than would the actual original wording (technically speaking, because they believed that some literary function other than grammatical function was at play in the text).

    • Bart Barber says

      I answered your latter question, but failed to address your opening paragraph. I’ll correct that right away.

      You do rightly note that dynamic equivalence is more about what a translator CAN do, not what a translator MUST do. A translator following DE can determine that “flesh” is a perfectly good translation upon which the translator cannot improve with a better equivalent. It’s just that a formal equivalence translator is pretty much bound by that approach to use the actual verbal vocabulary of the underlying text unless the resulting text would be misleading or inscrutable.

      Can a translator using DE wind up following the text, as the NET did with sarx? Sure. But in those cases, they’re no better off than—no different from—the formal equivalence translations. The risks of over-interpretation in DE are only present in those places where DE flexes its muscles and gives us what are its purported advantages: Passages where the translators replace source-language vocabulary that would work in English with new wording that is more in accord with what the translators interpret the passage to mean.

  4. says

    I generally glance through posts to get the gist of the concept. This one required a slightly deeper reading.

    I used the NIV 84 for a long time, for one reason – the way it read outloud. Since I studied from Greek (Hebrew is too rusty to do that), I could put up with the dynamic equivalence of the NIV.

    I gave it up when the gender neutral thing hit.

    But in general, I see Bart’s argument about the danger of the translator engaging in too much interpretation. Good point. There is an inherent danger when we try to make those judgments for the reader.

  5. says

    Could you give us a rundown of your opinion of some of the other popular English Translatins.
    any others

    And know that if you get one of them wrong it could affect our friendship.
    David R. Brumbelow

      • Christiane says

        yikes, the Living Bible is practically as dynamic in its translation as the LOLcat . . . but no version is as dynamic as LOLcat

    • Bart Barber says


      I take a risk stepping out of my field (Church History) to weigh in on issues in another field (Greek, Hebrew, New Testament, Old Testament) with this post. By limiting the post to these topics (translation philosophies, the NASB, and the NIV), I can stay within the scope of the research that I’ve actually done for myself.

      To weigh in on the ESV, NKJV, and HCSB would take me far beyond my level of competence and personal research. I’m going to decline to answer, if you don’t mind.

      As far as this post goes, I can safely say that I think the NASB represents a good balance on the spectrum of wooden literality versus paraphrase. To the degree that you know how to plot these other translations on that spectrum (and I do not), you know my opinion of the translation philosophies that underlie them.

      Translation philosophy does not necessarily correlate 100% with readability or with modernity. Someone could release a new translation following precisely the same translation philosophy that it has used, but could make it more readable (by being an amazing wordsmith) and more modern (just by virtue of being alive now and using more modern wording).

      Finally, with regard to the NKJV there is also the question of textual basis, which is another question totally beyond the question of translation philosophy.

      • John Wylie says


        This by no means is meant to be a gotcha at all, but would you lean toward the Nestles Aland over say the Majority or the TR?

        • Bart Barber says


          That really introduces an entirely different subject matter to this post, but I’ll reply. I prefer an eclectic text. I don’t see why we would ignore any of the manuscript evidence that we have in hand. I often disagree with the choices Nestle-Aland makes on the basis of that evidence, but it would not be a solution for me to go strictly to the TR and set aside some of the manuscript evidence a priori.

          • John Wylie says


            Thanks for your answer and I hope you don’t think that I was trying to hijack the comment stream. You had mention textual basis in your response to David and I do think that textual basis plays almost as big a role as translational/interpretive philosophy does.

          • says

            I agree fully with Bart on this. To say one follows Nestle Aland or that one follows Majority Text religiously would be a mistake. In general, I think I would prefer the critical text principles, but that does not make the MT inherently wrong.

            And the differences are not nearly as extreme as some people make them sound.

          • John Wylie says


            I agree 100%. I personally lean toward the Majority text (and I know that the TR is not the same as the MT). But the voice of manuscript families taken together I think no doubt give a more faithful witness.

          • says

            On that note, we conclude this part of the discussion – hard to quarrel with that John. Pass in the songbooks and take up the offering!

            Seriously, while my preference might be one over the other, the key is looking at each passage individually. I studied textual issues a little more back in my younger days at Dallas. I actually had Zane Hodges and Daniel Wallace (a doctoral student at the time) so I certainly was exposed to MT theory.

          • says

            Bart, your preference for an electric text is quite a detriment to those who have no access to the power grid.

            Oh, wait. Never mind.

          • Bart Barber says

            Doug, did you forget to take your adderall this morning or something? You’re on quite a roll today! :-)

          • says

            Term is ending, I have one assignment left that was supposed to be due next week but is actually due tomorrow, but I finished with Greek and can now go back to doing Greek my way instead of the professor’s way.

            Plus, I finally learned to preach these past two terms. I’m not sure I care for how I learned to preach, so I’m going back to preaching where the main grade I worry about is an “F” for faithful to the text and the Author thereof and any letter but “Zzzz” from the congregation.

            It remains to be seen, though, if I will pass “Worship” as a course. I may fail worship, and then won’t know what to do in heaven when I go.

          • Donald says

            “Plus, I finally learned to preach these past two terms. I’m not sure I care for how I learned to preach, so I’m going back to preaching where the main grade I worry about is an “F” for faithful to the text and the Author thereof and any letter but “Zzzz” from the congregation”


    • Stephen Beck says

      As someone probably less qualified than Bart to speak on the issue but who has done a small amount of study as seminarian, I’ll throw in my opinion: The ESV and HCSB suffer from being too inconsistent in their translation philosophies. When the ESV is good, then it translates the text with a good ‘literal’ phrase that avoids some of the clunkiness of the NASB. The problem is that in a lot of places (I don’t have a list offhand) the ESV overshoots themselves and goes all dynamic-equivalence, in places where the NIV becomes more literal! There are also many places where the ESV remains clunky.

      The HCSB also has a good translation philosophy (I’d recommend everyone read the prefaces to their bibles, you can learn a lot). Two really big problems with the HCSB are their inconsistent translations of YWHW in the Old Testament and Xristos in the New. It is true that the KJV ‘Jehovah’ is not a “real” word and that modern translation’s use of “LORD” (a la the Septuagint and superstitious medieval Jewish editors) is a dynamic translation and so I applaud the HCSB for going with the more literal “Yahweh.” But they only translate YHWH as “Yahweh” about 10% of the time and left “LORD” in all the rest! So you get nonsensical verses like Exodus 15:3 “The Lord is a warrior;
      Yahweh is His name.”

      In the New Testament, it is somewhat defensible to translate Xristos as “Messiah” since you could say that is an actual word and preserves continuity with the OT while ‘Christ’ is just a transliteration (see other comments for baptizo/immerse). But there are also places where the word is used as a title and so the HCSB has left “Christ” in. The problem in the New Testament is that the authors do not make clear distinctions between Christ as a title of Jesus and Christ as a fulfillment of OT prophecy. Again in the HCSB you get weird verses that do not make it clear they are translating the same word twice like Ephesians 2:13 “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.” As Bart said in the original post, better for the translators to allow the reader to do the interpretive work than to take away all their choices.

  6. says

    I’m still not quite sure why this started out as criticism of the NIV when the NIV actually made the change you’re arguing for. 2011 went to ‘flesh’ for many of the same reasons you mentioned.

    (BTW, I also think there are ways ‘sinful nature’ is helpful for a normal English reader, but also agree ‘flesh’ is the better choice.)

    • Bart Barber says

      The NIV is the most prominent dynamic equivalence translation. The one example, sarx, is given as an illustration and demonstration of why I prefer formal equivalence over dynamic equivalence. That NIV would, on a case-by-case basis, move back to what is the result of a formal equivalence approach is not the same thing as abandoning the approach entirely. Indeed the NIV 2011 pursues the DE approach all the more vigorously in some respects. Psalm 8:4 would be a good example, and if I were writing this about the NIV 2011 rather than the NIV 1984, that’s probably the test case I would have chosen.

      So, why DID I write about the NIV 1984 rather than the NIV 2011? Because, having already been critical of the NIV 2011, I thought it might be worthwhile to confess that my beef lies not only with the changes from the 1984 to the 2011, but goes deeper to my concerns about the use of this translation philosophy in general.

  7. Greg Buchanan says

    Formal equivalence translations, well done and carefully worded into the vernacular, embody this principle better than dynamic equivalence translations precisely because they reserve more of the task of interpretation for the readers of the sacred text to perform.

    Bart – As a student of multiple languages, I appreciate your excellent post. However, as for your conclusion, I think it is lacking because it is too generalized… too DE itself.

    You create (or document) a dichotomy between FE and DE where there should be none. From what I’ve read about Bible translation (having not gone down that road yet) it seems that the field suffers from too much academia, specifically the idea of a “dead language.”

    This idea being that there are only so many vocabulary words, they can all be known (unless they are unknown: selah) and therefore, we can get this down to a science (FE) or we can interpret to save from heresy (DE). An accurate translation team should proceed from the fact that these were living languages and therefore are littered with literal phrases and idioms and loftiness and irony.

    One has to proceed with the idea that people actually used to SPEAK these words, not just write them down. HOW it is spoken is as important as WHAT was spoken… as you know it can change the meaning. In my experience, you have to understand how living language works and take that into account.

    As such, you have to leave room for some DE and some FE in any good translation because we don’t always mean what we say… why should we assume the authors of the Bible did? Before anyone thinks I doubt Divine inspiration, what I’m getting at is idioms and the like.

    Lets take the bathroom for example. Unless you are speaking of a home, calling the room with a sink and two stalls with commodes a “bathroom” is a misnomer: there is no bathing that takes place at IHOP (although some more scrubbing of the silverware would be nice). Calling it a “restroom” isn’t exactly accurate either unless sitting on the porcelain throne is “resting.” In Spanish, baño is the closest, although it definitely conveys more of the “bath” meaning. In Russian, they don’t even use the word restroom or bathroom normally. It was considered a rude topic culturally, so they would say: (transliterate) Gdye Tuda Kuda? from the phrase “Gdye tuda kuda, dazhye tsar idyot peshkom” : Where is the place that even the Tsar had to go on foot?

    If anyone is leaning one way or the other and not considering the alternate (not opposing) method, then I think damage will be done to the text.

    • Bart Barber says


      Even formal equivalence translation recognizes the presence of idioms in language. As I mentioned in another comment, where a word-for-word translation would either mislead or be inscrutable, a good translator will search for an equivalent thought in the target language. The question on the floor involves what to do when a word-for-word translation would not mislead and would be comprehended in the target language, but might not be, in the eyes of and according to the interpretation of the translator, the best way to get the thought of the source language across into the target language.

      In such cases, I say that one should stick with translations of the actual words of the Bible when one can responsibly do so, rather than choosing the other path and performing thought-for-thought translation when one thinks that one can responsibly do so.

    • says

      “From what I’ve read about Bible translation (having not gone down that road yet) it seems that the field suffers from too much academia, specifically the idea of a “dead language.””

      You touch a bit on my side of things, where I think that a good translator (or, for that matter, a good theologian) ought to have a well-developed skill at listening(listening in the sense that what you hear has a fair chance at actually resembling what the speaker is trying to communicate, something that’s not actually that common), at least in his native language. Developing that skill greatly improves knowledge of “how living language works”. I would by no means call myself an expert listener (although at times I think that ‘expert listener’ approaches being an oxymoron), but I’ve developed enough to be irritated at those who play what I call “Bible logic puzzle”, treating words as if they always have a narrow, technical meaning and all you have to do is figure out where they fit in the puzzle. My (internal, at least) reaction is typically “no, guys, language doesn’t work that way”.

  8. says

    Bart, enjoyed the read. A couple of things. You wrote:
    “…Biblica has decided to make it illegal for BibleGateway or anyone else to provide you with the text of the NIV 1984…”
    I had assumed that I was looking at NIV 1984 when I looked at it on — since the last copyright mentioned is 1984. I’ll now have to double-check this. [If it is, shhh, don’t anybody tell Biblica! 😉 ]

    “…a good translator chooses the former option rather than the latter, leaving as much of the interpretive task to the reader as is possible…”
    “…it is the general tendency of dynamic equivalence translations to remove interpretive options from the reader’s view.”
    “The more interpretive work that the translators do on the readers’ behalf, the more power a small group of people have over the faith conclusions drawn by a whole host of believers.”
    “Formal equivalence translations, well done and carefully worded into the vernacular, embody this principle better than dynamic equivalence translations precisely because they reserve more of the task of interpretation for the readers of the sacred text to perform.”
    Amen. I think all these observations in particular and the article itself are right on. I often use 1 Timothy 5:10 from the Good News Translation as an example of dynamic equivalence gone wrong:
    and have a reputation for good deeds: a woman who brought up her children well, received strangers in her home, performed humble duties for other Christians, helped people in trouble, and devoted herself to doing good.

    KJV, NASB, HCSB, et al. (and even the NIV) all say something about “washing the saints’ feet” — which words are in the Greek text — where GNT has “performed humble duties for other Christians.” Probably no one here practices literal feet washing, but don’t we all want to know that is what Paul said and then decide for ourselves what it means rather than having the translators decide? I do.

    Bart, I think you’ve hit a home run in favor of formal equivalence.

    • Bart Barber says

      Great point, Robert, and one that makes my point so well. On such a disputed point (the role of foot-washing in modern Christian practice), in texts like 1 Timothy 5:10 all of the possible implications of the text should be preserved in the English translation if at all possible. If you didn’t practice literal foot-washing and I did, it wouldn’t be fair for you to take a passage that might support my argument and translate it out from under me (unless I’m doing some violence to the text myself).

  9. Jess Alford says

    Guys, get you a KJV and you will not have to worry about too much translation.

    • says

      Except for having to translate Elizabethan English into Modern American English, but that’s no big deal, right?

      KJV and the underlying translations around it, like Tyndale’s, are also examples on this subject. What should one do when translating a word that means “to dip” or “to immerse”?

      Simple: create an English word that transliterates the Greek word, so that church practices don’t have to change. There you have the far stretch beyond Formal Equivalence, which is to bring as little of the meaning across into the receptor language as possible, making your translation work inaccessible except to those who learn the origin materials anyway.


      • Bart Barber says

        Agreed. ??????? should, by all principles of translation, be translated “immerse.” It baffles my mind that the Southern Baptist Convention has produced a translation that does not do so.

        • says

          Bart, I share your incredulity that the HCSB does not translate “baptizo” as immerse. Perhaps they didn’t want to be stigmatized as a “Baptist translation”. (That looks funny when I type it; a Baptist translation would use the word immerse, and a non-Baptist translation would use the word Baptist??)

          Bart, Doug, I disagree that the use of “baptize” rather than “immerse” is an example of dynamic equivalence instead of formal equivalence. The word “baptize” in Tyndale’s day, in 1611, and in our day does mean “to dip” or “to immerse”. It can and does mean other things within its definitions. As far as I can tell neither Tyndale nor the KJV translators (nor the HCSB translators for that matter) “created an English word that transliterates the Greek word.” According to dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster the “chain of custody” is Greek to Latin to French to English by the mid 1200s. So Tyndale in 1525 was choosing a word that had been around in the language for 250-300 years. Wycliffe also used it in 1395.

          But another interesting thing is that though its use is figured as a compromise to keep the English church practicing sprinkling, the main practice of the Anglicans from the mid 1500s to mid 1600s (and how far beyond??) was dipping or immersing, not sprinkling or pouring. I had read this in John Christian, Thomas Armitage and John R. Rice (all far from KJV-Onlyists), so I did some checking of available resources. In the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church the prescription for baptism was “dipping” (see 1549, 1604, et al.). In 1549 it was even by trine immersion! By 1604 the trine immersion had been dropped for a single dipping: “Then the Priest shall take the child in his hands, and aske the name. And naming the child, shall dip it in the water, so it be discrettly and warily done, saying, ‘I baptize thee, in the Name of the Father, and of the Sonne, and of the holy Ghost. Amen.'” A Google Book copy of a reprint of the 1604 Hampton Court edition of the Book of Common Prayer can be found HERE (unfortunately there is no pagination; look under the heading “Publique Baptisme”; a Google search will turn up other old versions of this book). Disclaimer: pouring was allowed “if the childe be weake,” and I cannot say how closely all ministers followed the prayer book. But this does indicate that the prescribed form of baptism in the 1611 Anglican Church was dipping/immersion. It should mollify the monotonous moans about the masked motives of the KJV translators in using “baptize” instead of “immerse”. It does not settle which word is the best choice, but their choice was much more simple than it was sinister.

          It’s one thing to believe that immerse is a better translation choice than baptize, but to regard this as an example of dynamic equivalence is mistaken in my opinion.

    • says

      Pondering this today brought up a very odd thought. I have generally appreciated the DE translations. The NIV, by being a fairly good reading Bible, helped teach me something about following the flow of thought in a passage. The NET has brought out a number of things that I missed in more FE translations (e.g. the I Pet 5:6,7 example above – the implication is that ‘humbling yourself’ isn’t so much a matter of grovelling before God as it is of making yourself utterly dependent on Him, casting all the things you are anxious about and care about on Him). I would not have them entirely tossed out.

      And yet, looking back, it seems to me that the benefit that I got out of the DE translations came because I already had a thorough grounding in FE translations. I wore out two of the orange-cover NASBs before I read much of the NIV.

      Hence, the irony. My experience says that the DE translations may work best after having first read an FE translation. Yet the reason typically given for DE translations is to make it easier for first-time readers. This at least deserves a hmmmm.

      • Bart Barber says

        I agree. I think that DE translations can make a wonderful second Bible.

  10. Donald says

    There are certain key passages I look at to see how the translators handled the text. (e.g. Psalm 1:1, 1 Sam 13:1, etc…). The NIV fails on both of these and so I moved on. I particularly like the NKJV (Baptist Study Bible) and use it for my daily bible reading.

    I study “The New Testament in the Original Greek” by Robinson and Pierpont (Byzantine Priority), assisted by Bibleworks and several english translations.

    As and aside, I find Dr. Robinson’s “New Testament Textual Criticism: The Case for Byzantine Priority” particularaly compelling.

    • Stephen Beck says

      Robinson’s argument deserves a wider audience, if only so that people can know there are sane Majority/Byzantine traditionalists that are not KJV-only. I think the new Logos/SBL-GNT that is available for free download from Logos used the Robinson critical text as one of their 4 primary texts, though mainly so they could point all the places they disagreed with it.

    • Bart Barber says

      Verses like Galatians 5:21 especially show the strength of Robinson’s argument, in my opinion. The only strong reason to favor the shorter reading here is the bias in favor of Alexandrian readings.

      Again, I would not favor any approach that would, for any passage, choose a priori to ignore any of the manuscript evidence that we have in hand. But to begin with a presumption that the MT reading is valid unless the other evidence compellingly shows otherwise—I’d be comfortable with that.

  11. says

    Brother Bart,

    Good article. I agree with all that you’ve said except for one thing: a physical body cannot be [morally] tainted any more than a spirit can be physically corrupted.

      • says

        Brother Bart,

        Do you recognize that the idea that a physical body can be morally tainted leads to a Docetic view of Christ—not full Docetism, but a belief that Christ’s body was not the same as ours but only appeared to be? Would you say that Jesus’ body was morally tainted like ours? If not, then you would imply that we have an excuse for not being righteous like Him (since He wasn’t saddled with this tainted body like we were).

          • says

            No, he does not have an excuse. The physical body only provides a means by which a man can be tempted. It does not force him to succumb to the temptation. Sin and righteousness are spiritual matters—“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Mat. 15:19).

          • Bart Barber says

            Well, I never argued anywhere that the physical body forces anyone to succumb to temptation. Rather, I simply stated that the physical body has been tainted by sin. I’m saying that one result of sin is a change in the nature of the physical body. I’m also saying that these bodies changed by sin actually give rise to temptation to sin. If we both agree that the physical body provides a means by which a man can be tempted, and if we both agree that the physical body is affected by sin, then what precisely is the area of disagreement that makes me a Gnostic heretic and you an orthodox Christian?

          • says

            Please, Brother Bart—I never said you were a heretic. I apologize for giving you that impression. There is a difference between full Docetism/Gnosticism and Docetic/Gnostic tendencies of thought—and I only mean to criticize the latter in your view (fully admitting that you have tradition on your side, making me the odd man out).

            The disagreement is that there is and can be no moral taint of a physical body, object or substance. A moral “taint” is moral corruption, and this claim puts the seat of sin in the body rather in the spirit/soul. And as I said, it removes responsibility from the sinner because it is no longer his will that is to blame but a body that he had no choice in selecting. Furthermore, there are more than a few who go as far as to claim that Christ was immortal from the moment of conception, never having had any “seeds of death” in His body that are present in sinful bodies.

          • Bart Barber says


            Sorry. Gnostic is a big word. I apparently inferred from it more than you meant to imply.

          • says

            It’s my fault. Internet communications tend to misunderstandings, so I should be more careful. Just for the record, I have great respect for you and your ministry. For one who seems to be on the Traditionalist end of the spectrum, you’re very reasonable.

          • Bart Barber says

            The physical lusts driven by the body are not morally neutral. A man walks down a street in New Orleans. He’s simply trying to get to a meeting at Cafe du Monde. As he walks by a strip club, just as quickly as he can and without looking, a barker steps out and shouts at him. A topless maiden beckons to him. He instinctively looks her way, then looks away from her immediately.

            But in the medulla of his adrenal gland, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream. His heart rate rises. Testosterone is released into the bloodstream as well. In every way, although unbidden by his will, his body begins to generate arousal. And in this way his very body seeks to incite him to sin.

            He can choose not to do so, and whether he sins or does not will be determined by his heart. But the body was not morally neutral in this whole chain of events.

            For some depraved souls, their bodies respond this way to the sight of little prepubescent girls. Still, whether they sin or do not sin is determined by the heart. And perhaps they didn’t always respond that way to little girls. Maybe at least some of them fed themselves a steady diet of child porn and the sexual response of their bodies changed. That this happens—that pornography has this kind of effect—is undisputed scientific fact. The body has been changed. By what? By sin. With what result? With the result that it entices more forcefully toward sins more depraved.

            Now, I refer to this as a physical body tainted by sin. Perhaps ours is simply a difference of terminology, or do you deny that these scenarios happen in just the way that I have described them?

          • says

            No, I don’t deny that they bodily appetites provide temptation. But the temptation itself is not sin (and I think you agree). I’ve encountered many who say that even lusting after one’s own wife is sin—and that’s exactly the kind of error that I’m speaking of. It is one thing to admit that the body provides temptation, but quite another to put responsibility for sin onto the body.

            Would you not agree that Christ was tempted in these same “more forceful” ways?

          • says

            You know, you explanation of adrenaline, testosterone, and blood shows very well that the physical is just that—physical and not moral. The elements of the body do not seek to sin. They simply seek to function as they were created.

          • Bart Barber says

            But we’ve drifted a bit here. I’ve never argued that temptation is sin. Rather, I’ve simply stated that (to reword it all)…

            1. Our bodies tempt us to sin.
            2. Sin changes our bodies in ways that make them tempt us to sin all the more.

          • Bart Barber says

            Thanks for replying here, but I think we’re still not connecting with one another. If a pedophile’s body entices him to desire sex with nine-year-old girls, do you consider that bodily temptation to be morally neutral?

            To keep this just as physical as I can: He sees a nine-year-old girl before him. He becomes physically aroused. He cannot become physically aroused for mature women. Let’s say that he’s a believer. He knows it is wrong. He wills not to sin (very Pauline from Romans, that his will is at war with his flesh) and has sworn never to act upon these urges again and never to indulge them. His spirit, his mind, his will—all of it is in concert against the sin. The nine-year-old girl is entirely innocent, not knowing at all what is going on. Only one thing is pushing him toward sin: the physical response of his body. And then HE DOES NOT DO IT. His Spirit-inclined will wins out over his flesh.

            1. Is there anything morally neutral about his physical arousal toward a nine-year-old girl?
            2. Is there any question that his body—his physiological processes—are a powerful force (perhaps THE powerful force) trying to influence him to sin?
            3. Even if #2 is true, because he has the ability not to follow the temptations of his flesh, mustn’t you drop your allegation that the influence of his body absolves him of his responsibility for his own sinfulness?
            4. If over time he has lost the ability to be aroused with mature women and has acquired a propensity toward arousal with children, doesn’t this demonstrate that the physiology of his body has been altered by his past sinful behavior?

          • says

            I almost missed this one. Good questions. You asked:

            If a pedophile’s body entices him to desire sex with nine-year-old girls, do you consider that bodily temptation to be morally neutral?

            The pedophile desires what he cannot lawfully have, just as the single heterosexual who cannot find a spouse. At the most basic level, sexual desire in any sexual being is the same: it is simply a chemically-based desire for satisfaction. Remove the chemicals (or the glands that produce them) and the desire is gone. Whether one desires sexually mature mates of the opposite sex or children or the same sex is actually a matter of the mind. We enter the world at birth already programmed, but that program can be rewritten. Still, there are basic desires of the body, and then there are desires of the mind. Only a mind can desire to sin. A body desires to satisfy hunger, but it is the mind that it conditioned to desire one food over another. Admittedly, this line is not easily drawn, since it is at the most physical part of the mind. Nevertheless, even if it is the body of the pedophile that is attracted to children, desire is not sin just as temptation is not sin. And this is no mere academic trivia, either, as it applies to how the Church ought to deal with homosexuals. If we adopt the world’s definition of homosexual, then anyone who feels a desire for the same sex is a homosexual. However, Scripture defines only the practice of homosexual acts. So we ought not to tell them that they are evil, sinful or rejected by God merely for having desires that they cannot control. Neither should we be telling converts that if they still feel homosexual desires, then they were not genuinely saved or did not fully repent. Rather, we should explain that desire is not sin, and they should resist temptation just like heterosexuals must resist temptation.

            In your example of the pedophile, what part of him won out if he does choose to sin? It is not his body that chose to sin but his inner man—his spirit/soul/heart and mind.

            Yes, the sinner is responsible no matter what temptations come his way; but do you see how exempting Christ from the kind of strong temptations that sinners face would be a mistake?

      • says

        This statement (although it comes from tradition) is Gnostic superstition:

        …physical creation (especially including our bodies) has been tainted by the Fall and is pervasively sinful. The body was good and could be good, but the present reality is that the very flesh of our bodies is infected with the sin-disease.

        The sin of Adam affected both the condition of both the physical and the spiritual; however, the effects were appropriate to the medium involved (the spiritual was affected only in spiritual ways, and the physical was affected only in physical ways).

        • Bart Barber says

          “The sin of Adam affected both the condition of both the physical and the spiritual; however, the effects were appropriate to the medium involved (the spiritual was affected only in spiritual ways, and the physical was affected only in physical ways).”

          It’s a remarkable and inspirational bit of philosophy. I just can’t think of a passage of scripture anywhere that sounds anything like it. My “Gnostic superstition,” on the other hand, is an attempt to understand Paul’s meaning by the use of the word sarx, which figures prominently in the actual text of the New Testament. Perhaps I am understanding Paul’s use of sarx wrongly, but at least I am not asserting as authoritative—indeed, as the standard of orthodoxy!—that which sounds quite extraneous to the actual wording of the New Testament.

          • says

            Was Christ tempted in all ways like us or did He have an advantage? The latter would imply that if Christ had been saddled with a tainted body like we all have, then not even He could have remained without sin. Such a view takes some of the responsibility off of the sinner, and devalues the righteousness that Christ earned.

          • Bart Barber says

            Not necessarily. Adam was tempted, but fell. He had no advantage that Adam and Eve did not have. If one follows an Augustinian understanding of the incarnation, then Jesus was fully human in the same way that Adam was fully human, but is not a sinner by nature and by choice in the same way that we are.

          • says

            The idea that sin is from the heart and not from the body is not extraneous to the actual wording of the New Testament—see Matt. 15:19. Paul says in Rom. 8:, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Is saying that we must leave behind our morally tainted body (which would be to physically die) in order to please God?

          • Bart Barber says

            Romans 8 is a great place to start. Good. Thanks!

            Romans 8 speaks of those who “walk according to the flesh” (v4), “are being according to the flesh” (v5), “ponder the things according to the flesh” (v5). Who is unable to please God? The one who “is being in the flesh” (v8).

            Look back at Romans 7:5 to see a good definition of what it means to be in the flesh: “While we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the law, were at work in the members of our bodies to bear fruit for death.” What does Paul mean here by “the flesh?” Something immaterial? Something psychological? In 7:14 Paul contrasts it with the spiritual. In 7:18, he contrasts it with the will. In 7:22-23, he contrasts it with “the inner man” and with the “mind,” identifying it instead with “the members of my body.” In 7:25 he contrasts it again with the “mind.”

            So, whatever the “flesh” is, it isn’t the spirit, the inner man, the will, or the mind.

            I submit that the “flesh” is the…flesh.

            But a person gets to choose whether to follow the temptations of the flesh or to follow the Spirit. The person who “walks according to the flesh,” “is being according to the flesh,” “is being in the flesh,” and “ponders the things according to the flesh” is a person who is choosing to follow the temptations of the flesh. Such a person cannot please God.

          • says

            The fact that Jesus was not formed from the dust as Adam was, but instead was born of Mary is a strong indicator that He had a body like hers. The fact that Scripture nowhere gives any indication that His body was in any way different than those around Him is also a strong indicator that His body was the same as the mother from whom He came. He slept, He was subject to fatigue, He was subject to hunger and thirst, He was subject to injury and He even died. Those are not characteristics of Adam’s body prior to the fall but only after the fall.

          • Bart Barber says

            That He was subject to sickness and death is a good point in showing the difference between Adam prior to the Fall and Jesus. I’ve never been much impressed by Traducianism or by the Augustinian philosophy of incarnation. It presumes things far beyond the text. I mentioned it simply to indicate that it does not necessarily follow logically that the concept of a body tainted by sin requires either Docetism or a sinning Christ. If Augustine’s view is reasonably possible, then the dilemma you propose does not hold.

          • says

            Do you see Jesus contradicting Paul when He said, ”For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Mat. 15:19)? Paul is not speaking of the cells, sinews and bones of his body when he speaks of “…our sinful passions, aroused by the law…” Cells and sinews cannot comprehend any law—comprehension is of the mind, and moral comprehension is of the spirit. The passions of the body are amoral and sinless in and of themselves. Only the mind or heart can take a God-given passion and change it into a sinful passion. Only the mind can comprehend the law and rebel against it in such a way as to be aroused to sinful passions by that law. The “flesh” as Paul uses it in this passage is the flesh-focused nature. It is the “old man”—the inner, spiritual man as he was before Christ came into his heart and life, operating independently of God’s will and power, and turned inward, self-centered and seeking only satisfaction through the flesh.

            Paul’s contrast is NOT between the flesh of the man and the spirit of the man, but rather, it is between the flesh-focused nature and the new spiritual nature provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

          • Christiane says

            Christ was fully human in ALL ways except that He never sinned.
            The doctrine of who Christ was caused many problems in the early Church and finally was settled through the Councils which produced the Creeds.

            so ‘True God and True Man’ means not ‘half God and half man’, nor does it mean Christ’s humanity and divinity were ‘blended together’, no. He ‘assumed’ our humanity while retaining His divinity . . . each fully operational, not conflicting with one another, nor interfering with one another

          • Bart Barber says


            Sleep is falling quickly upon me. This may be the last response I am able to give…

            1. No, I do not believe that Paul and Jesus are contradicting one another. The body tempts. The heart decides. They body is affected by the outcome. Since the heart decides, Jesus is absolutely right that these sins come from the heart.

            2. Yes, Paul certainly is contrasting the “flesh-focused nature” with the “new spiritual nature provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit.” But that doesn’t answer the question really. It doesn’t go far enough. Why is it that the flesh is such a bad place to focus? Because it entices to sin, that’s why.

            And so, if we look at what Paul actually SAYS (and in the passage that you chose for us to consider), he says that this is NOT the mind, is NOT the will, is NOT the spirit, but rather consists of “the members of our bodies.” I just don’t see how I can deny what I have written earlier without denying what the actual text of Romans 7-8 says (not to mention James 4 or Galatians 5).

            3. I do hope that you’ll interact with what I wrote above (the “New Orleans” comment). Perhaps we’re haggling over terminology rather than over substance. I’d really like to know whether that is the case before ringing the bell for Round 15. :-)

          • says

            As far as Augustine goes, in Augustinian realism or traducianism, it is not the body but the soul that is morally tainted. As Tertullian said, transmission of sin requires transmission of the sinning soul.

          • Bart Barber says

            I might also add that, just as I do not believe that Paul and Jesus are contradicting one another, I do not believe that Jesus is contradicting Himself when, in Matthew 5:27-30, while discussing sexual sin He talked about being led by body parts to sin and suggested that the removal of the body part (and thus the temptation) would be superior to succumbing to the temptation.

          • Bart Barber says

            And explaining why flesh doesn’t really mean flesh or why sinful flesh really cannot be sinful flesh or why body parts must be morally neutral might be convincing if we were only doing so in one passage or with one biblical author. But the fact is that the New Testament is simply chock full of this stuff. In just this thread, I’ve shown it in gospels and epistles; from Jesus, Paul and James; from varied vocabulary words like sarx and melos. It happens over and over and over. Maybe we ought to just listen to it and let it mean what it says?

          • says

            In Rom. 7:22-23, Paul is speaking in the person of the new man. Gill seems to put it well:

            after the inward man; by which he means the renewed man, the new man, or new nature, formed in his soul; which had its seat in the inward part, is an internal principle, oil in the vessel of the heart, a seed under ground, the kingdom within us, the hidden man of the heart, which is not obvious to everyone’s view, it being not anything that is external, though never so good: this in its nature is agreeable to the law of God, and according to this a regenerate man delights in it: but then this restrictive limiting clause supposes another man, the old man, the carnal I, according to which the apostle did not delight in the law of God; and proves, that he speaks of himself as regenerate, and not as unregenerate, or as representing an unregenerate man, because no such distinction is to be found in such a person; nor does such a person delight at all, in any sense, upon any consideration in the law of God, but is enmity against it, and not subjected to it; nor can he be otherwise, without the grace of God…

            But I see another law in my members,…. That is, he saw, he perceived it by experience; he felt the force and power of inbred corruption working in him, and as a law demanding obedience to it; and which he might well call “another law”, it being not only distinct from, but opposite to the law of God he delighted in; the one is good, the other evil; this other law is a transgression of the law of God, and which he observed to be “in his members”, i.e. in the members of his body; not that it had its seat only, or chiefly in his body, and the parts of it, but because it exerted itself by them, it made use of them to fulfil its lusts…

            warring against the law of my mind; by the “law of his mind” is meant, either the law of God written on his mind in conversion, and which he delighted in, and served with his mind, as renewed by the Spirit of God; or the new nature in him, the principle of grace wrought in his mind, called “the law” of it, because it was the governing principle there; which reigns, and will reign in every regenerate person through righteousness, unto eternal life, though the law of sin opposes all its force and power against it…

            What you seem to overlook is that the old nature is just as spiritual and just as much “of the heart” as the new nature. But because God is Spirit, and His Holy Spirit comes to indwell us and give us spiritual life, there is a contrast in imagery that Paul is using, associating God and righteousness with “spirit” and associating sin and death with “flesh.” As Gill points out, it is not because sin is seated in the members of the body, but because “it exerted itself by them, it made use of them to fulfil its lusts.”

            You asked, “Why is it that the flesh is such a bad place to focus?” The body does not entice one to sin, but rather, the body craves satisfaction of its God-given desire. The devil and our sinful natures entice us to fulfill those legitimate desires in illegitimate ways. As far as the chemical reactions of the body, they are exactly the same ones that attract us to our spouses. Is the sexual relationship in marriage the result of illegitimate physical “enticement?” The reason that the flesh is a bad place to focus is because God ought to be our focus. That which one allows to take one’s focus off of God need not be evil in itself. Indeed, it may be quite good and legitimate in and of itself; but focusing on that instead of God is sin

            Good night, Brother Bart… and thanks for the discussion. I hope I didn’t take you too far afield.

  12. says

    Here’s a question: if the Holy Spirit decided to use a figurative term in the original language, then why should any translator replace that with a literal term?

    • Bart Barber says

      Ken, if a source text employs a known idiom, every responsible translator will translate that idiom into some phrase with an equivalent meaning in the target language. If, on the other hand, we’re talking about some way that the Holy Spirit is employing an analogy or metaphor, the best thing to do is to preserve the metaphor for the reader. After all, we deliver to people Jesus’ statements about mustard seeds and camels in needles and the like. We bring those statements across literally, word for word, rather than explaining the figure of speech not because the statement should remain uninterpreted forever, but because the reader rather than the translator ought to be the one interpreting the text to understand precisely how the Kingdom is like a mustard seed. The Holy Spirit uses figurative language to teach disciples—preserving those figures for the reader empowers that ministry of the Holy Spirit through the scriptures.

  13. says

    One other thing tickling my mind in all this is what seems to be an underlying presumption that we *must* find *one* best translation (or translation philosophy) to use *solely*. It tickles my mind because I think I’ve seen it before in my IT career. It’s common for programming managers to want to proclaim that “henceforth all development shall be in X language (or on X development platform)”. They make such pronouncements because they believe they will make things more efficient by reducing maintenance, making it easier to find workers, etc. And sometimes they have a point. But (as Tom DeMarco points out in the book “Slack”), increased efficiency doesn’t necessarily bring increased effectiveness. It may be more effective to have programmers versed in multiple languages and programming platforms, and knowledge when to use each on different problems. It’s basically the difference between having a single “solution” that you try to shoehorn all problems into and having multiple tools on your toolbelt that can be used as appropriate.

    I get the impression that we want to find one “perfect” translation that allows us to act as though we’re not reading a translation (and worse, a translation from languages whose cultural surroundings and assumptions are quite different from our own), but the original. We want *one* *solution*. However, we don’t have it (sorry, Jess). What we do have are an embarrassment of riches of translations, done in a panorama of translation philosophies between full FE and full DE. There are more tools on our toolbelt than it can probably handle. Though Bart seems to be arguing for throwing out one side of tools, I’m taking his arguments as input in evaluating when and how to use different tools. You do need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the tools (translations) you have available, and Bart is certainly helpful. :)

    • Bart Barber says

      I think one difference between different philosophies of translation on the one hand and choosing between C# and Objective-C on the other hand, is that we presume divinely inspired scripture as the medium being manipulated by the task of translation, whereas C# and Objective-C are dealing merely with relative holy computers (Macs) and relatively demonic computers (all others).

      Translation philosophy is more important because in the preservation of the text of God’s word we deal with something truly sacred.

      • says

        Oh, you *would* be a Mac fan-boy. How dare you blaspheme the holy Linux penguin like that? (now I’m wondering if we actually have anyone in here who would characterize Microsoft as anything but demonic. That seems a much harder call to me).

        But do we recognize that there are limits to translation, even the best translation? I think you’ve recognized that a DE translation can bring out things not well rendered by a FE translation. Even if we agree to characterize FE as a primary method, it seems that a FE translation plus a DE translation gets us closer than just the FE translation alone.

          • says

            The geek in me insists that the originals are the code, and happily, *that* code doesn’t change, so there’s no problem with the code changing and the comments not. The FE is a mechanical translation to a different programming language(and as us geeks know, sometimes that results in some pretty grungy code in the target language), leaving DE to be the comments.

        • Greg Harvey says

          References to C# cannot in any way, shape nor form blaspheme Linux. That–and .Net in general–is Bill Gates’ Rube Goldberg device. And it was his fit of passion rebelling against the court order that ruled his appropriation of Sun’s Java as a breach of the license Microsoft had for using Java.

          Objective-C is a compiled language while C# is typically executed in bytecode form on a virtual machine. So Objective-C is much more like FE than C# in my opinion because Objective-C is one layer of distraction closer to the bare metal.

          While you could run C# on mono in Linux land, no one in their right mind would do so. You would choose either OpenJDK or Java proper to do the same thing.

          That said: there are things about C# and .Net in general that are crazy good. But you have to drink the Microsoft Koolaid to use the best version of it. I simply can’t drink green slime no matter how good it tastes.

          Now you can all thank me for not talking about my primary career very often. And you’re welcome.

  14. says

    One more comment, and then I gotta go to bed (should have been there already). If you go DE, I really appreciate the New English Translation approach: document each divergence from a literal rendering with a note, giving the translation context and the reason for the rendering used. The notes (over 60000 of them, including text-critical, study, and translator’s notes) I’ve found to be as useful as the translation itself. I’m the ‘bible reference guy’ for the home fellowship I go to, and I’ve lost count of the number of times the NET notes have provided useful insights to our study.

    • Bart Barber says

      That’s as good an approach as I can imagine for a DE translation. When you really need to know what the Bible means, you can go to the notes for an FE translation.

      Or, you could just have an FE translation to begin with, where the most important of those excellent notes are right there in the text to begin with. :-)

      • says

        I know you’re being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but DE translations often have notes of the “lit. -literal rendering-” type. The NIV certainly does. The NET notes go beyond that, and are typically more useful than that, if occasionally being a bit on the academic side.

  15. Jess Alford says


    I have to agree with Ken, you have missed the mark on this one. I wish you would go back and look at what you have said.

  16. Bart Barber says

    Homeschool Day at Six Flags over Texas today. I’m with the family there today. This will cause some of you will feel envy toward me. Some of you will feel pity toward me. I will not say which of you is correct. :-) I also will not be available to comment today. Sorry.

    • Dave Miller says

      I think that you could have taken your phone with you and engaged the blog while riding roller coasters at Six Flags. I’m disappointed.

  17. says

    Bart, good post. In my mind, there is only one occasion where dynamic equivalence is warranted, and that’s for the purpose of clarifying idoms, especially where the idiom would cause problems for readers in the target language.

    I like your observation that when you pick one definition over other ones, you are interpreting. In this case, we can see that we don’t have to be translating from one language into another to see this. Bill Clinton’s definition of “is” is a famous example. Of course, there’s some consideration that must be made depending on the genre regarding authorial intent not to obfuscate.

    There is sometimes a reader’s intent to obfuscate, and this can play into translation. My oldest son is a good example when he says something like, “You told me to wash the dishes. You didn’t tell me to dry them and put them up.” Whether or not to include a word that carries connotative implications, or actually spell out an implication natural to the source text by adding a phrase, is where this kind of thing usually falls. Reading into what the text doesn’t say is sometimes denying the antecedent so translators and readers have to be careful.

  18. says

    Bart and Ken,

    I enjoyed this “heavy weight bout” that you two have waged here. You have both made some outstanding points where the discussion of the flesh and spirit are concerned with respect to the realities of temptation and sin.

    I hope you do not mind my intrusion into the conversation.

    It would seem to me that both arguments are both arguments are actually equally accurate and kind of like looking at a coin and arguing over the reality of heads or tails? It is almost as if Bart you are arguing for the reality of “heads” where the flesh is both affected by sin and effectively leads to sin. Ken on the other hand is maintaining the importance of the spiritual/mental aspect of sin while insisting that the flesh itself is amoral. I suppose Ken’s argument would be supported by the example of money; that it is itself not sinful; it is what we do with it that causes it to be seen as sinful.

    I believe the truth is really best served by combining BOTH arguments. Bart I believe you are correct. “Our physical body has been tainted by sin. I’m saying that one result of sin is a change in the nature of the physical body. I’m also saying that these bodies changed by sin actually give rise to temptation to sin.” Ken counters by saying that temptation is not the problem; mental assent to the temptation is the problem and he is correct.

    I would suggest the following: Sin is a CHOICE WE MAKE and one of the consequences of our sin is that it affects our bodies in that our response to some physical stimuli is just that, our response. It seems to me that temptation is real and it is like a stream of rushing water… it tends to take the path of the least resistance and that is where the most damage is done.
    The path of least resistance as Ken notes runs through our minds which by the way is part of our body!

    Bart’s Bourbon Street example is an interesting one. Can the chemical make up that causes our bodies to function also cause us to be tempted? God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” Given that mandate, it would seem plausible that God would have created bodies that are conducive to accomplishing that task. The question that Bart poses is this, can those natural God given tendencies lead to sin? I believe the answer is absolutely.

    However, Ken is correct; sin does not take place in the flesh but rather in the mind and only takes place when a choice is made. So the temptation itself is not the problem but rather the choice but to ignore the source of the temptation and the conditions that lead to the choice is equally problematic.

    Thanks again for the dialogue! It made for an interesting read this morning!