For an Informed Love of God
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Is There an Evangelical Bias in Translation (Mark 5:23)
Sometimes we translators are accused of having an evangelical bias, of altering the translation of a passage to make the New Testament not contradict itself, or artificially conforming a New Testament citation to its Old Testament source.
It is an interesting charge, and is somewhat based on the assumption that the New Testament contradicts itself or that the New Testament authors were not able to quote their Old Testament accurately.
Mark 5:23 provides a good example of the former. This is the famous crux when it comes to inerrancy. Was Jarius’ daughter dead, or almost dead, when her father was speaking with Jesus?
The NASB translates, “My little daughter is at the point of death” (also ESV, NRSV); the NET has, “My little daughter is near death.” However, the CSB has, “My little daughter is dying” (also NIV, NLT). The Greek is ἐσχάτως ἔχει, ἐσχάτως meaning “to being at the very end, finally” (BDAG). The parallel in Luke 8:42 has the imperfect ἀπέθνῃσκεν.
The conflict is that in Matt 9:18 Jarius says, “My daughter has just died” (ἄρτι ἐτελεύτησεν). ἄρτι means “ref. to the immediate past, just (now),” and τελευτάω means “come to an end, die.”
This is not the time to deal with the synoptic issue, but I do want to point out a difference. To my ears, there is a considerable difference between “near death” and “dying.” The latter can refer to anyone in the process of dying; “near death” emphasizes that they are at the very point of death. Both are legitimate translations, but “near death” softens the contrast with “just died.” The synoptic problem still exists, but it is not as pronounced, so why not translate ἐσχάτως ἔχει as “near death.” It actually is closer to the Greek than “is dying.”
The fact of the matter is that there are often multiple ways to accurately translate a passage. If two options both have a claim to legitimacy, then why default to the one that causes a conflict (or a greater conflict) with another passage? Is that not an non-evangelical bias?
(On a side note, I watched my mother die over a five year period. My big brother was reading C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, and when he finished the last page and looked up, mom and stopped breathing. Given mom’s gradual decline and soft passage into eternity, there was virtually no difference in the minute before death and a minute after death. We often refer to a person as “dead,” even though they are still breathing but their death is an assured conclusion; other times we speak of someone being “as good as dead.”)