>“Our Mother who is in heaven”: Reflections on a New Translation of the Bible

>The Adventist News Network has published an article in which they review a new translation of the Bible published recently in Germany. Below is an excerpt from the article:

Seventh-day Adventist theologians in Germany worry the latest Bible version released in their country sacrifices Scriptural accuracy on the altar of political correctness.

Reflecting five years of study and the input of nearly 50 individuals from diverse backgrounds, the new Bible version, worded to “do justice to women, Jews and marginalized groups” sold out as soon as it hit bookshelves in Germany, according to Ecumenical News International.

With its diluting of Old Testament violence and references to female disciples, apostles, and Pharisees–among other revisions–the version has inspired much hype, not to mention controversy.

“The intent of the new German translation…is to present the Bible in gerechter sprache, or ‘just language,’” said Udo Worschech, a Seventh-day Adventist theologian at Friedensau Adventist University in Friedensau, Germany.

“[The translators] tried to be innovative and scientific,” said Siegfried Wittwer, a German Adventist pastor, “[adhering] to the Hebrew and Greek text, [but] using a modern, up-to-date language. They wanted to be gender-fair and avoid anti-Semitic expressions.”

Women are not only mentioned, but addressed personally. As one such example, Wittwer cites several Old and New Testament examples where the phrase “my daughter” replaces the traditional “my son,” and where “mother” joins the typical mention of “father.”

Additionally, Wittwer notes that when referring to God, the translation often employs the expression, “the Living, the Eternal, the Holy.” Each of the attributes is gender-neutral in the German language and–accompanied by a feminine article–intends to temper a patriarchal notion of God, he explains. The familiar “Lord’s Prayer” now begins, “Our mother who is in heaven,” says Frank M. Hasel, dean of the Adventist-run Theological Seminary at Bogenhofen.

Despite the translations’ attempt to heighten Scripture’s relevancy, both Wittwer and Worschech remain skeptical of its credibility. Worschech even questions its title. “The German word gerecht is here imbued with the idea of “righteous[ness]. In the German language, this title itself is already misleading, since it recalls the idea of absoluteness and finality,” he explains.

Holger Teubert, director and editor of Germany’s Adventist Press Service, agrees. “The title of the new Bible version is provocative and polemical. My question is this: Is this Bible version the only translation in a fair language? Are all other translations [written] in an unfair language? The title condemns all other Bible translations.”

Where the version claims absoluteness, its language is disturbingly wishy-washy, says Hasel. He cites its treatment of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the book of Matthew. “We read that Jesus no longer speaks with his divine authority saying: ‘but I say to you…’ Instead, he says: ‘I interpret this today to mean…’ A definite statement is turned into an optional and provisionary suggestion,” he explains.

To read the entire article, visit the Web page of the Adventist News Network by clicking here.

Many modern versions of the Bible make an attempt at being gender inclusive, but a translation that changes masculine words into feminine words in order to promote social equality cannot be considered a reliable translation.

Translators are human and for this reason, every translation falls short of perfection since, at times, translators may allow their views to influence the way a text is translated. To be reliable, a translation of the Bible must reflect integrity in representing the meaning and the intent of the original text.

Translating from one language into another is not easy. A good translator must be familiar not only with the intricacies of the language, but also with some aspects of the culture and traditions of the people who produced the text. Translators also must be familiar with their own language. This is necessary in order to convey the meaning of the original language into a form that can be easily understood by the people who will read the translation.

Translators must determine the meaning of the original text and then transmit that meaning in the language into which the text is being translated. Take for instance, the English expression “he gets my goat.” This expression simply means that one person makes another person angry or irritated. In the Spanish spoken in the United States, this expression has been translated “me pega el chivo.” No native Spanish speaking person will understand the meaning of this expression in their language because a person needs to know the context of the phrase in order to know the reason a person is getting a goat. In other words, a literal translation of the English expression makes no sense in Spanish.

Every translation is, to some extent, an interpretation. Translators must interpret the intent of the original author and be able to communicate what they understand the original author was saying. However, private interpretation and theological bias should be set aside for the sake of the integrity of the text.

When this new translation takes the prayer Jesus taught his disciples and translates it “Our Mother who is in heaven,” the translation becomes more than a mere distortion of the original text. This translation, if it could be called a translation, is an imposition of political correctness that reflects a theological agenda that has been imposed upon the text.

I believe that there is a place for gender inclusiveness in translating the Scriptures. However, gender inclusiveness has its limitation because when it is wrongly used, it completely distorts the true intent of the original writers.

If I lived in Germany, this would be one translation I would never use.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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2 Responses to >“Our Mother who is in heaven”: Reflections on a New Translation of the Bible

  1. >Dr. Mariottini,What do you think of just this one item, “the Living, the Eternal, the Holy”I was brought up on the French scriptures, in which the Lord was L’Éternel, so this sounds traditional to me and related to the Hebrew etymology. I believe that Ewige has been used in German for some time.


  2. >Suzanne,Thank you for your comment. The Eternal God was one of the titles by which God was known in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, El Olam (Genesis 21:33) can be translated as “the Eternal God” (NIV) or as “the Everlasting God” (ESV). You have to know, however, that these are titles of God, not God’s name. The real name of God was revealed to Israel in Exodus 3:14 and his name is YHWH.I hope to address this issue in a post sometime in the future. Again, thank you for your comment.Claude Mariottini


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