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A book with serious factual errors and a heavy bias of its own
on 2 May 2015
For a book on translation, BeDuhn seems to have an extremely shaky grasp of language in general and Greek in particular. I note from his website and CV that he studied at a number of reputable universities, including Harvard Divinity School, where he undoubtedly took courses not only in Greek but also the other languages he lists on his CV. I find it baffling that BeDuhn could have taken such courses and yet make mistakes that a lowly undergraduate (yours truly) can unpick with a little attentive reading and a grammar.
For example, at one point (p.105) BeDuhn writes that the word γενέσθαι in the phrase πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί is a past (aorist) "tense". This is incorrect. The word is past (aorist) in aspect, a subtly but importantly different concept from tense. As an infinitive in a subordinate clause it takes its tense from the main verb of the main clause εἰμί, which is exactly the cause of contention.
In making an argument that the Holy Spirit is not conceived as a person in the NT, BeDuhn writes that grammatically neuter nouns are not (indeed cannot) be used to refer to persons (p.140). This is untrue, as may be seen by nouns fairly common in the NT such as the grammatically neuter παιδιον ("slave/small child").
BeDuhn also regularly compares sentences which are not grammatically equivalent. The sentence mentioned above from John 8.28 is a compound sentence (that is it has a subordinate clause), but the numerous other sentences from John's gospel which BeDuhn quotes as comparanda are simple clauses (without subordinate clauses). This matters because the problem of how to translate πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί rests in the interplay between a main verb in present tense and a subordinate clause that seems to refer to the past (since Abraham was, at the time of speaking, dead).
There are other troubles because translation is treated tritely. A section at pp. 104-5 seems to indicate that BeDuhn's translation from Greek ignores the original word order.
I shall add only one other criticism, but it is the most important one. For a book that purports to point out the "bias" of prevailing Bible translation, there is rather too much bias of its own. And from an author who claims that he will be a "neutral investigator" (ix) the entire endeavour is much less an attempt to get at the heart of Bible translation than to attack particular readings of the New Testament. In particular, BeDuhn focusses a dogmatic attack on the doctrine of the deity of Jesus.
I would very much dissuade anyone from buying - or even reading - this book. That is not a criticism I level lightly. Most bad books are just not good, and there is no harm apart from the groan of a badly written joke or one too many cliches. This book, however, if taken at its face value, could be genuinely damaging to a general readership thanks to its shoddy standard of scholarship and its skewed perspective. It makes me seriously doubt if this book was peer reviewed.
My advice for anyone interested in learning what the Bible actually has to say would be to learn Greek. Certainly I would advise against taking J. BeDuhl as your "neutral" interpreter.