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Leaving Ambiguous Texts Ambiguous

There are many scriptures that are simply ambiguous. A student can pick up many commentaries or reference works on a given text and find multiple interpretations from each writer. My one complaint about dynamic translations or functional equivalence is that the translators usually feel compelled to pick an interpretation, rather than leaving the text open to different interpretations. Consider some of the following examples.

1 Corinthians 7:39

A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, onlyin the Lord. (ESV)

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. (NIV/TNIV)

A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord. (NLT)

The phrase “only in the Lord” has been the subject of many writings and discussions. Unfortunately, the TNIV, NIV, and NLT choose to decide the matter for the reader rather than leaving the text ambiguous. While “only in the Lord” may mean marrying a Christian, there are other possibilities that scholars argue. Paul may be arguing that the widow has the right to remarry any one else who has the right to marriage. Perhaps the apostle arguing that the Lord’s marriage laws still apply to those who remarry. There are other options but dynamic translations unfortunately remove the possibilities.

1 Corinthians 11:10

It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. (TNIV)

For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority. (NLT)

Sometimes dynamic translations can be literal and leave the ambiguity. The TNIV leaves the ambiguity in 1 Corinthians 11:10. The NLT decides to explain the phrase “because of angels” with the interpretation that they are watching. This is not in the Greek and is just a matter of educated guessing at best. Leave the text like the TNIV did. There are a number of possibilities of what “because of the angels” mean and we should leave the ambiguity so the student can draw his or her own conclusions.

When the text is uncertain, leave the uncertainty! Put a footnote in with the possibilities, if you want. But let us work it out for ourselves.