Last Wednesday I took my daughter down to the church for an evening choir practice. Since she’s only there for a little less than an hour, and it takes 10 minutes to get there, 10 minutes back home, then 10 minutes down there again and 10 minutes home again, I naturally decided to hang out while she’s in choir practice.
Shortly after I got there I encountered the mom who used to be in my Sunday School Bible study class back before I suspended the class because she was the only student most Sundays, and people started talking because we went into a windowless room, closed the door, and spent most of an hour in there together. (You can understand why people started talking.)
Since we hadn’t talked much since we ended that class, we sat and caught up with each other’s families and so on. She said she’s been frustrated by the loss of the class. Sundays just aren’t the same any more. She got so much out of our study, and now she has virtually nothing by comparison. The pastor’s sermons, while good, are just too short on both time and content to satisfy her hunger for the Word. And since we stopped our study of John just as we were starting chapter 17, she has felt a real sense of incompleteness, of leaving a task unfinished.
It then occurred to both of us that we may have a good opportunity on Wednesday evenings to finish that task. I have to bring my daughter, and she brings her daughter down for confirmation classes at the same time. We found a room right off the sanctuary, called the “cry room” (used by parents of kids who cry or are noisy during the church service) but it’s not used Wednesday nights. And it has two great big picture windows so anybody walking by or doing anything there in the sanctuary can see what we’re doing. And anybody else would be welcome to join us, too!
Anyway, last night I was looking through my commentary that I was using in the class. It’s the IVP commentary on Bible Gateway.com, and I have been very impressed with it. But as I read through the commentary on John 17, I was disturbed by the frequent comments the writer makes about how certain choices made in the NIV translation could be better (It’s a NIV-based commentary.) Usually this writer only makes an occasional comment about that, but in chapter 17 it’s frequent. I also found that the TNIV is virtually identical to the NIV in this chapter, too, so I wasn’t gaining anything by using it. The most disturbing example was in v.12:
John 17:12 TNIV
12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. (emphasis mine)
Here’s what the commentary says about this verse:
If Jesus protected them, why did Judas fall away into destruction (v. 12)? Judas’s failure to find life would raise questions for the disciples about Jesus’ ability to protect them. Jesus points to two explanations for what happened to Judas. First, his action fulfilled the scriptural pattern of the enemy of the righteous sufferer (for example, Ps 41:9, which was referred to in Jn 13:18 regarding Judas). This does not mean Judas was locked into some deterministic plan but rather “Jesus knew himself to be one with, and had to go the way of, the threatened people of God in the world to fulfill their God-given task” (Ridderbos 1997:553-54). Thus, Jesus finds an assurance in the Scripture of the same sort he is offering his disciples, for they also are the threatened people of God.
The other explanation regarding Judas concerns Judas’s own character as “the son of destruction” (NIV, the one doomed to destruction). While this expression can have the sense of indicating one’s destiny, as the NIV takes it (cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:299), its basic idea is “to denote one who shares in this thing or who is worthy of it, or who stands in some other close relation to it” (Bauer, Gingrich and Danker 1979:834). In Ephesians, for example, the expression “sons of disobedience” (2:2, RSV) is explained in terms of actions that flow from an inner disposition (2:3). So also here the reference is primarily to Judas’s own character. The text reads, literally, “no one was destroyed [apoleto] except the son of destruction [apoleias].” Judas had heard the words and seen the deeds and even been the recipient of special signs of love from Jesus (see comment on 13:26), but in his heart he was not of the Father (cf. 17:6) and so did not receive with humility, faith and obedience the one sent from the Father. When one rejects the offer of life one is left only with destruction. The tree became known by its fruit. Jesus offered life to Judas, but he did not force Judas to accept it, for he does not force anyone’s acceptance (cf. Chrysostom In John 81.2). The disciples have confidence because this same offer is made to them, as it is to everyone, and they have responded and received. Jesus is saying these things in the world, that is, in the arena of conflict, so that his disciples can have the full measure of his joy within them (v. 13). This joy comes from total confidence in the Father and in his protection as well as in the intimate communion with him such as Judas lacked. (emphasis mine)
There were numerous such comments that made me wonder if I should continue to use the TNIV/NIV or go with something that translates this verse more literally, like the NASB, NRSV, or ESV. I don’t know if I should continue with my TNIV and just teach that this is an example of how translation choices have to be made, or not. I would assume that if I go with something else, and the student is using the NIV, the question will come up, why it’s stated differently.
So I’m churning with indecision at this point. I love the TNIV. I think it really hits the nail on the head, so to speak, very often and is an outstanding example of combining readability with literal accuracy. I hate to go back to one of the other translations and lose the readability.