"The Hermeneutics of Translation"

James A. Sanders

[From Howard Clark Kee and Irvin J. Borowsky, eds., Removing the Anti-Judaism for the New Testament (Philadelphia: American Interfaith Institute, 1998): 43-62.]

Translation of a text from one language to another is the most challenging task a scholar faces. It is one thing by exegesis to come to a reasonable understanding of a text stemming from another culture; it is quite another to create a translation which corresponds responsibly to the meaning of the Vorlage ~ the text to be translated -- in terms of its structure, morphology, intertextuality and content. And even when one has done reasonably well in those essential respects, it is yet another matter to attempt to convey in the receptor language the depths of multivalency which inhere in a text.

It is commonplace to note that there are two basic kinds of translation: formal equivalence and dynamic (or functional) equivalence.

The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible may well be the best extant example in English of a completely formal equivalence translation. It reflects the structure of the Hebrew and New Testament (NT) Greek texts of the Bible as well as can be done and still convey meaning in English. It attempts to translate crucial words with the same English word each frae it occurs, insofar as context and meaning allow; it puts words necessary for clear meaning in English in italics if there is no strictly corresponding word in the Hebrew or Greek; it reflects the structure of a verse or sentence or paragraph as well as possible; and it translates the Vorlagen it had with a minimum of emendation. The fact that the KJV is in an early English sometimes difficult to understand four-hundred years later, and was based on late manuscripts and printed texts of the Bible, does not detract from its value as a formal equivalence translation of the biblical text available to it at the time. It is still useful to the student of the Bible who, though unable to handle the Hebrew and Greek, is nonetheless interested in biblical intertextuality and how later passages often build on earlier ones; the KJV sometimes manages to convey the fact that the Bible is midrashically full of itself.

The Good News Bible, and its successor, The Contemporary English Version, are good examples of functional equivalence translations, of the sort sponsored by the American and United Bible Societies under the influence of the linguistic genius of Eugene Nida. They especially the Contemporary English Version, already largely follow in practice what is here proposed in theory. The focus of functional equivalence is to score the essential point or points of a passage in the receptor language without necessarily reflecting the original with its textual nuances. Both types of translation are useful for different kinds of readers, and for different purposes.

Even so, both types share characteristics of what a translation basically is. Writing about early Jewish and Christian translations Elias Bickerman wisely remarked, "Every translation was an adaptation of the original to the needs of its new readers." Bickerman was writing principally about translations in the pre-Christian period of Hebrew and Aramaic (largely biblical) texts into Greek. The Greek translations in the so-called Septuagint varied considerably in terms of formal and dynamic equivalence. The Torah or Pentateuch is basically quite stable in the Septuagint and has characteristics of formal equivalence translation. By contrast, as Isaac Seeligman has convincingly shown, the Greek translation of Isaiah is often midrashic and sometimes targumic, or quite free, with as much regard for the needs of Jewish readers of Greek of the time as for its Hebrew Vorlage. The same is true of the available Greek translations of other biblical books, such as other prophetic books and most of the Writings. Recent work in text criticism takes into account the widely differing characteristics of the Greek translations, and of other ancient Versions, of the various books of the First Testament.

Tradents and Texts

There is an overall observation one can make, in fact, about all tradents, ancient and modem, of biblical texts. A tradent was/is one who brings the past into the present, specifically a biblical text. All scribes, translators, commentators, preachers and teachers of the biblical text were/are tradents. Another word sometimes used instead of tradent is traditionist, that is, one who engages in his or her time in the traditioning process of a community text, such as the Bible. A traditionist is not a traditionalist; the two should not be confused. Whereas a traditionalist wants to make the present look like the past, a traditionist, or tradent, tries to bring the past into the present in an understandable way.

In doing so, the tradent of necessity has two responsibilities. The one responsibility is to the past, or the biblical text, and the other is to the present, or the community being served. Put another way, a tradent specifically a translator, has to pay as much attention to the needs of his or her community to understand the text in their terms, as to the needs of the biblical text inherited from the community's past. It is integral to the task of traditioning to know the requirements for understanding by one's community in order to bring the past into the present. One can range ancient Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, done between the third century BCE to the second CE, on a scale from the freely dynamic to the rigidly formal, demonstrating a range of understanding of the two responsibilities.

It is a commonplace in text criticism since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and recent New Testament papyri to note that the earliest texts and versions of the Bible, both testaments, were more fluid and adapted to the needs of ancient communities than later texts and Versions. Consciously 'accurate' copying and transmission did not become a concern in either early Jewish or early Christian communities until a certain point in their histories, the first century of the common era for the First Testament and the fourth century for the Second. This suggests that early tradents were keen on making sure their communities understood the text they were traditioning. The focus was on understanding, and that of necessity meant shaping and adapting the translation in such a way that their people were adequately served in terms of their own cultural gifts and givens. It also suggests, of course, that it was the understanding of the particular tradent and his community that shaped the effort. This may be contrasted with Greek translations done in the early second century of the common era: Aquila, Theodotion, and to a large extent Symmachus, which showed an understanding of the biblical text which was quite different from the way it had earlier been understood.


Such an observation focuses attention on the importance of the hermeneutics of translation. The word "hermeneutic" comes from the Greek word meaning "understanding". A translator's understanding of a text depends on what one thinks the text essentially is. One enters a hermeneutic circle concerning the text being engaged by bringing to it one's prior understanding of the nature of the text. But one can be secure in that understanding only through sufficient, initial with the text and the ability to approach it With concepts and methods appropriate to it. One's prior understanding of the nature of a text indicates the expectations one has when reading it. In the case of biblical texts.one usually brings to the text the prior understanding of it espoused and taught by the faith community to which one belongs. Different faith communities bring different understandings to the biblical text, as to what they think the text is; and then meanings of passages crucial to their self understanding are those assigned to them by the traditions of that community. This is the principal reason there are so many different 'denominational' understandings of the Bible and so many different interpretations of crucial passages in it.

The uncritical mind often thinks of the Bible as a "rule book" that governs or should govern the beliefs and conduct of the adherents of that community. Or the Bible may be thought of as "The Word of God" which one consults, as one might an oracle, to discern the will of God. At ancient Qumran Scripture was viewed as essentially "prophetic" in nature. For them Scripture, indeed all Scripture, addressed the end of history as they knew it, and since the faithful at Qumran believed that they lived in the end-time, it was a matter of conviction that Scripture was a kind of encoded message intended directly for their situation. The Greek-speaking Jews for whom Aquila and Theodotion translated apparently viewed Scripture as yet a different kind of code based on verbal and even literal inspiration of Scripture.

By contrast, most western-cultural scholarship understands the Bible as a product of history which can be understood only in its "original" historical settings. In fact, it has been suggested that guilds of modem western scholars constitute "modem" believing communities, since their adherents seem to subscribe to a kind of faith that Baruch Spinoza was right to claim (in 1670) that the truth of the Bible would be found in the history of its formation and in the intentionality of its authors. Most "modem" translations of the Bible reflect the western, scholarly hermeneutic that the truth of each book or passage of the Bible is to be found in efforts to reconstruct the history of formation of the biblical text as well as in the ancient authors' intentions within their historical contexts.

Text Criticism

The history of the work of text criticism since Martin Luther is interesting in this regard. Beginning in 1523 when Luther started his work of translating the First Testament, he gathered what manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible were available to him, in and around Erfurt, along with the printed First Rabbinic Bible, and then the Second Rabbinic Bible in 1525, and realized that he would have to work out a hermeneutic of text criticism whereby he could make decisions as to the best readings among the apparent variants he found in those manuscripts. His hermeneutic called for selecting the reading, and even a change in Hebrew vowel pointing if necessary, that led most clearly to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (his understanding, of course, of Paul's understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ). Eventually, by the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth, the hermeneutic of text criticism followed by most German and French scholars was instead to follow Spinoza's call and to choose the reading which reflected scholarly understandings of the time of the history of formation of the text, and hence authorial intentionality.

The interface between the hermeneutics of text criticism and the hermeneutics of translation in western scholarship has been fairly well set since the eighteenth century with the work of Johann David Michaelis. It has been assumed that translations should reflect the same intention as the text critical principles which determined the text to be translated. And yet the assumption is not without problems. It is fully recognized that the art of First Testament text criticism, as well honed and developed as it has become, especially since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, can only establish a text probably composed at considerable remove from the events which it reflects. In the case of biblical texts which purport to recount "history" there is often still a gap between what scholarship understands to be the time of the author(s) and editors of a text and the events which the text relates. How to span the gap between record and event is a constant problem for the student interested in the historical value of biblical texts.

The problem was well illustrated by two publishing events in the middle of the current century, Martin Noth's The History of Israel (first German edition, 1954) and John Bright's A History of Israel (first English edition, 1959). The first discounted the Pentateuch as a source for Israel's history prior to entry into the land, while the latter insisted that the Pentateuch has solid, though admittedly limited, value in reconstructing the periods of the patriarchs and of the Exodus and Wanderings events. It was a difference in hermeneutics or understanding of the nature of the Pentateuchal text. Bright, a worthy student of William E Albright, reflected his teacher's view that through consideration of the data of archaeology and the findings of philology the scholar can reconstruct a biblical text by emendation and conjecture that reflects an earlier stage in the formation of the text, thus reducing the gap between record and event. That view, or hermeneutic, has also affected its adherents' hermeneutics of text criticism. And that hermeneutic clearly emphasizes text critical and translational decisions which stress historical value of the text, and help span the gap between record and event by re-dating the sources to an earlier period than scholarship had generally done.

The Gospels and Acts

The pertinence of the hermeneutics of text criticism and the hermeneutics of translation of biblical texts to the task of removing anti-Judaism from Christianity lies principally in the texts of the gospels and Acts. As Norman Beck has recently shown, new religious groups go through an identity crisis as they break away from a parent group. Beck categorizes the anti-Jewish polemic of the Second Testament into three kinds: christological, supersessionist and defamatory. These are comparable to the kinds of polemic in which Protestantism has engaged in its break with Catholicism. Just as the latter polemic has not been totally resolved, despite the modern ecumenical movement, so tile polemic Christians have directed at Jews beginning in the Second Testament has not been resolved.

That polemic came to a dramatic head when the text of the Passion Play at Oberammergau came to the attention of the rest of the world after the Second World War and the Holocaust of the Jews by Hitler. Here was a startling example of how a pious vow made in 1633, and its faithful fulfillment by an Austrian village every decade since that time, indeed a model of dedication and commitment for all Christendom, came to be viewed as the essence of Christian anti-Judaism. The exposure of the text of the play to interfaith dialogue showed a dark side that could not be seen when viewed only by faithful Christians, no matter how intelligent they thought they were. Careful study of the text of the Oberammergau Play shows that its anti-Judaism stems directly from the text of the four canonical Gospels from which it is taken. If Beck is right in his thesis, Christianity is now, after twenty, centuries, in a position to move to a more mature expression in this regard. Beck identifies seven interrelated factors in Christian teaching of contempt for Jews. His hope is that Christians in the twenty-first century will be able to name the factors, confess the sin of them, and move to Christian maturity. One hopes he is right.

Basic, however, to Christian anti-Judaism is the text of the Second Christian Testament, and especially the texts of the gospels and of The Acts of the Apostles, the most sacred literature of all Christendom. The thesis of the present paper is that since Second Testament scholarship in the past century has convincingly made a distinction between the date of the composition of the text of the gospels and Acts, and the historical events they purport to recount, serious attention should now be paid to the gap between the records and the events they relate. Other than brave, unsubstantiated attempts to try to date this or that Gospel to an earlier first-century date, scholarship is in near universal agreement that the composition of the gospels and Acts dates from the last third, or even last quarter, of the first century of the common era when most Christian synagogues were becoming independent of any other form of Judaism. But because the text purports to have been written by eyewitnesses of the events themselves, the impression is left that the situation of the last part of the century was actually that of the first part. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it is time to correct the impression, because it is that pervasive impression which lies at the root of Christian anti-Semitism.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

One of the results of work on the Dead Sea Scrolls during the past almost half century is considerable revision of the history of Early Judaism, the term used to refer to the Judaism that arose out of the ashes of the old kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the sixth century BCE and lasted until the fall of the second temple in 70 CE. Judaism in that period was highly pluralistic having a number of different shapes and forms, leaving a variety of Jewish literature either preserved by the early churches (such as the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, and the Second Testament) or recovered through modem archaeology (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls). What rabbinic Judaism preserved after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE was of a certain type of Judaism only.

What has become quite clear is that all early Christians were Jews, whether by birth or by conversion. If non-Jews joined "the Way", they joined a Jewish sect, that is, they became Jews even though of a particular sort. But all forms of Judaism at the time were of a particular sort, no matter the later history of rabbinic Judaism. Jesus and his followers were alt Jews. We were all Jews, so to speak. It was not until the last third or quarter of the century that Christian Jewish synagogues began to break away from any Jewish identity at all. ts The expression, Christian Jews, should not be confused with the expression, Jewish Christians. The latter term in NT studies designates those in early Christianity who insisted on keeping halachah all the while preaching Jesus as Messiah (e.g., Acts 15:1-35). The term, Christian Jews, simply designates all early, first century Christians, whether born Jewish or converted to this particular sect of Judaism in the early first century, who believed in "the Way". The crucial point is that the break with Judaism did not take place early in the century and did not take place all at once. Some Christian synagogues in the various towns, cities and villages of the Mediterranean area (including Palestine), would have remained within Judaism longer than others. We were, indeed, all Jews -- a point underscored by the churches' insistence in the first century on adding the gospels and Epistles onto Jewish Scripture and, then in the second century, insisting on keeping the "Old Testament" in the Christian canon.

The Polemics of Separation

It was in the period of the breaking away of individual Christian congregations (ecclesiae) from any form of Judaism that the texts of the gospels and Acts were composed. It was a period of hurt and rejection experienced by most Christians. The Johanan ben Zakkai/Aqiba, or rab binic, type synagogues were becoming more and more concerned about the deepening hellenistic influence in the Christian synagogues, and were disturbed about their apparent lack of loyalty to Moses and the Torah, as they interpreted and understood them. On the other hand, Christians were everywhere experiencing increased persecution by the Romans as well.

Christians often became scapegoats for whatever went wrong in this or that locale, or in the Empire generally --essentially taking over the role of scapegoat for the ills of society which Judaism in general had played for centuries, ever since the diaspora in the Persian Empire (see the Book of Esther). Anti-Jewishness generally stemmed from the fact that Jews scattered in foreign lands could not follow the generally accepted tenets of hospitality in that they could not bow down to their hosts' idols or essential values - a primary requirement of accepting the hospitality of foreign hosts. From the standpoint of the hosts it was a small matter; everyone they knew was and always had been polytheist, so, in their view, it would be but a minor little gesture on the part of grateful guests to bow down also to the values of the hosts (sort of "Love America or leave it"?) as well as to continue worshipping Yahweh! But the essential mark of Judaism is its exclusive monotheism. Brave Jews were convinced they could not do that and be true to their faith, and so experienced persecution from hosts who could not comprehend a thoroughgoing monotheism.

The rabbinic synagogues of the late first century apparently feared that some Christian Jews were expressing their christologies in polytheistic terms; and indeed, idolatry and polytheism have been a Christian temptation since the earliest attempts to understand what God was doing in Christ, and how. The trinitarian formula affirming the triune God was precisely devised by thinking Christians, in the latter part of the period of the split of Christian synagogues from other forms of Judaism, to avoid polytheism and idolatry; they had apparently become convinced of the danger through dialogue with other Jews of the period.

But, unfortunately, the language of polemic against the parent group, to use Norman Beck's terms, became the language of the composition of the gospels and Acts; and while it is not absent in the rest of the NT, there is where the polemical language has damaged Christianity ever since. This, joined with the necessity on the part of early Christians to gain some kind of acceptance or at least tolerance for existence in the Roman Empire, by appealing to the wide-spread anti-semitism caused by the Jewish rebellion against Rome in the war of 66-73, colored the language of the NT in such a way as to disguise the sectarian Jewish character of Christianity for centuries to come.

If Bible translations of the gospels and Acts are to continue uncritically to present this "historical" section of the Second Testament as accounts of what happened in the first half of the century, the late polemical language in which they were written must finally be addressed.

Inclusive Language

But there might be a clue in the hermeneutic of translation pursued by the NRSV translation committee for a basically formal equivalence translation. Among other aspects, the NRSV hermeneutic of translation clearly demanded inclusive language in English insofar as gender of humans was concerned. It was argued that exclusivity based on gender for humans was an ancient cultural matter not of essence to the biblical message. It was decided not to attempt inclusive language on the question of divine gender, even though biblical scholarship generally affirms that God is both male and female, and neither. The failure of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) committee to address the question of gender for God has resulted in the confusion that has reigned in the churches stemming from the Re-Imagining Conference held in Minneapolis in February of 1994. It underscores the argument of those who pressed for inclusive language in the NRSV; biblical translations wield tremendous influence on the thinking of the faithful in the pew.

The full inclusion of women with men in the concept of humanity has brought about felicitous changes in the churches with regard to the vocation of women in ministry, despite the patriarchal nature of ancient Mediterranean cultures in which the biblical text is cast. Failure to address the issue of divine gender has left the faithful with the age-old confusion of symbol and reality. Such confusion is typical of the uncritical mind: because the biblical languages reflect Hebrew and Greek cultural traits of the biblical period many faithful actually view God as male, confusing symbol (or metaphor) with reality. Since the Bible comes from a full millennium in antiquity, spanning five culture eras from the Bronze Age to the Greco/Roman, the Bible may be viewed as a text book in how to re-image God for the limited human mind in ever-changing contexts. God is God and cannot adequately be imaged in any way. The task force, however, weighed the problems involved and decided that the NRSV might simply not be used at all in most churches if inclusive language for God were attempted at that point in time; and it may have been right.

It is nonetheless strange that the word "inclusive" had come to be used only with regard to gender, whether for humans or God. I have often thought that if we had put in the time and energy to make the NRSV inclusive on a basic, human level, of the sort we put in on the gender level, we might have been forced to face up to the problem of the polemical anti-Jewish language of the NT.

The Bible as a whole is very self-critical; there may be no, other literature quite like it in that regard. The Bible includes and does not soften intra-group polemics in the Torah, Prophets or Writings, and so also the Second Testament. In fact, one of the shames of Christian anti-semitic use of the OT against Jews is in citations of the harsh criticisms against Israelite and Judahite leaders by the ancient Israelite and Judahite prophets. But in those instances it is clear, in the Hebrew (and ancient Greek translation) texts cited, that the prophetic criticisms had always originally been intra-mural. That trait in the Second Testament gets lost because of the fact that the gospels and Acts were composed precisely in the period when the movement away from Jewish identity generally had begun for an increasing number of Christian congregations and individuals.

The tensions of the later period are well reflected in the anomalous sentence in Matt 13:54, "He came to his hometown and began to teach them in their synagogue..." As an account of what went on in Jesus' ministry the phrase "their synagogue" contradicts the first part of the sentence about Jesus' going to his own hometown to teach. What it then falsely conveys to the current reader is that Jesus was speaking in an unfamiliar place. Translating the phrase "their synagogue" by "the synagogue there" would not only do no violence to the story, it would enhance the truth of it by conveying more deafly the point of the narrative (in all three gospels) that Jesus' sermon at Nazareth was preached to his own family and friends among whom he had grown up (Mark 6:3-4; Matt 13:55-57; Lk 4:16). And it would not stretch the hermeneutic of human inclusiveness beyond that of the NRSV. "He came to his hometown and began to teach them in the synagogue there...." CEV has "their meeting place" and the NTP "their synagogue".

When the observation about the date of composition of the gospels and Acts is then combined with the fact that the manuscripts we have of the NT come from an even later period, the polemical aspect or intra-mural critique within it looks and sounds almost totally extra-mural. It has gone even further in that some christologies developing in the early churches were becoming more and more pre-existent in thrust, thus permitting one to view Jesus as not only non-Jewish but extra-terrestrial. Docetism has always been an attractive heresy to the uncritical Christian mind.

Since, on the contrary, it is clear that Jesus was a Jew, that all his early followers were Jewish by birth, or by conversion to a sect of Judaism, and that the Dead Sea Scrolls have shown that Christian Judaism was as much a Jewish community as any other within the Jewish pluralism of the time, then the polemic within the NT against "the Jews" needs to be addressed for what it really was, instead of allowing the NT language of Christian hurt and rejection at the end of the first century to continue to color what was going on in the first half thereof. If Bible translations like the NRSV can legitimately "correct" exclusion on one level, caused by the patriarchal cultural trappings in the text, they ought to be able to "correct" exclusion on the broader level, so that the text reflects what was essentially an intramural Jewish situation of the early first-century period which the narratives purport to describe, and hence provide clear mirrors for Christians today to see their own humanity reflected in those around Jesus, instead of identifying with Jesus and dehumanizing his fellow Jews.

The Jews

The phrase hoi Ioudaioi, the Jews, occurs about 192 times in the NT, 79 in Acts, 71 in John, 24 in the Pauline corpus, 16 in the Synoptic gospels (6 in Mark, and 5 each in Matthew and Luke, more than half of which occur in the expression, "King of the Jews"), and twice in Revelation. It is interesting that it occurs more often in Acts than in other NT books, but only five times in the Gospel of Luke. Luke, or his gospel sources, would have needed to use the term less often there than in Luke's story of the earliest Christian movement when many non-Jews joined it, as reported in Acts . This highlights the frequency of its use in the Gospel of John. By far the most numerous occurrences are in Acts and John, and there precisely is where most of the problematic uses of the term occur.

A comparison of three current translations, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the Contemporary English Version (CEV), and the New Testament and Psalms (NTP) is revealing. The NRSV, which frequently abandoned the Hebrew and Greek texts of the two testaments in order to sponsor inclusive translations of words and phrases dealing with human gender, is quite literal in translating hoi Ioudaioi, in the passages compared for this study, and even followed the KJV in adding the word "the Jews" in English where it does not occur in Greek manuscripts (Acts 23'30).

In eleven passages in John, chs. 7, 8 and 11, and in eight passages in Acts chs. 18 and 23, the CEV is the most consistent in using paraphrases instead of translating hoi Ioudaioi, literally. The paraphrases are "the leaders", "the Jewish leaders", "the people", and "many people"-- all reflecting an intramural Jewish setting for understanding the passages. (In one passage [John 7:13] the CEV adds the modifier "their" where the Greek does not have the personal pronoun, and it is not dear why it did.)

The NTP is inconsistent in its effort to modify translations of hoi Ioudaioi, in the same passages in John and Acts as noted above. It used the NRSV as base translation on which to make changes in masculine references to God to be more gender inclusive. In John 7:11, 13, 15 the NTP translateshoi Ioudaioi, by "the religious authorities", and in John 8:48 and 52 by "the religious leaders" or "the leaders"; but in most of the passages the NTP simply followed the NRSV, in all cases of which the term is translated literally.

In John 11:54, however, the NTP reverted to intramural language in translating hoi Ioudaioi, In fact, a comparison of the three translations of John 11:54 is very interesting:

"Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews..." (NRSV);

"Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among his own people..." (NTP);

"Because of this plot against him, Jesus stopped going around in public..." (CEV).

The NTP obviously used the NRSV as base translation, but in the place of NRSV's "the Jews", it offers "his own people''. Given the inconsistency of the NTP in following the NRSV in the other passages checked, this effort, though felicitous, appears almost like an afterthought on the part of the NTP translator.

Acts 28:25 is an interesting case. The majority of manuscripts read pros tous pateras ’umon, and so the NRSV followed by the NTP translates the phrase "to your ancestors". One sixth century uncial manuscript and numerous eleventh to fourteenth century Byzantine read 'emon for the personal pronoun, so that the KJV translated it "to our fathers" and the CEV "to our ancestors". The setting is Paul's address to Jewish leaders in Rome.

"Scribes and Pharisees"

The expression "scribes and Pharisees" has become a pejorative term because of the gospels and has been used for most of two millennia in Christian propaganda or apologetics against so-called "Jewish legalism". In the six passages checked, the NRSV followed faithfully by the NTP, translates the expression literally. The CEV also translates Pharisees literally wherever it occurs, but nuances "scribes" with "teachers of the law" in Acts 23:9 and John 8:3. It would be our contention that to correct this centuries-old distancing of Jewish religious leaders from Christian readers, and to make them available for current readers to see in them our own similar tendencies toward legalism (especially in church judicatories), we might translate "scribes" as "Scripture scholars" and "Pharisees" as "religious experts", context permitting.

Going Public

These are but a few examples of the hermeneutic of translation here being advanced for basically formal equivalence translations, such as the NRSV purports to be. The proposal needs cautious consideration and debate. There are difficulties, of course, especially for those of us who focus on intra-biblical midrash and intertextuality throughout the biblical text.

A pluriform Bible, for which we have frequently argued otherwise on text-critical grounds, would offer both the formal equivalence translation and the dynamic-equivalence one in parallel columns for immediate comparison. Normally a formal equivalence translation is preferable for midrashic and intertextual study of the Bible, while dynamic equivalence translations are valuable for less advanced students and those who do not know the history of the formation of the biblical text.

The real issue is whether biblical scholarship is prepared to "go public" with the truth about the crucial gap between record and event in the case of these canonical narratives of Christian origins. If we think we have arrived at that point, then we should offer historically dynamic translations such as those here suggested, or we should print in banner headlines across the top of the usual formal equivalence translations of the gospels and Acts that they were written decades after the events recounted and in a quite different situation with regard to Christianity's Jewish origins. The present falsehood, with all the pain and damage it has for centuries caused both Christians and Jews, cannot in good conscience be permitted to continue.