The amplified woman

Posted: 30th July 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

No, I’m not talking about Joyce Meyer. In the comments to Rick Mansfield’s missive on the rising fortunes of the NLT translation, there was an interesting side discussion about the Amplified Bible, which is seemingly unique in its effort to catch the range of functional meanings of a passage through the use of multiple renderings of the original text. An example of this is John 11:25 —

“Jesus said to her, I am [Myself] the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on) Me, although he may die, yet he shall live.”

The items in [brackets] and (parenthesis) have been added to the text as a way of using different nuanaces in language to suggest different facets of the text’s meaning. A more complete explanation of this system and the underlying textual sources can be read on the Lockman Foundation’s webpage.

I should disclose at this point that I have used the Amplified Bible in the past and while I don’t currently have a copy, I found it a valuable resource – like having a mini-Strong’s built into the text. My dad has used it as his primary translation for quite a while as well, though I think he’s been shifting toward the TNIV lately.

From the comments in Rick’s post, it appears that the base of usage for the Amplified Bible is focused these days in Charismatic/Pentecostal circles, as evidenced by Meyer’s Everyday Life Bible which uses the Amplified as a base text. Evidently charismatic leaders like Meyer have been using the Amplified for years. The suggestion was made that critics of charismatics might claim that their targets are attracted to the Amplified because they can take one of the bracketed meanings and say, “to me, it means this,” or even read into the Amplified whatever meaning they want to. However, Peter Kirk noted that “in the relatively little of Joyce Meyer’s preaching I have listened to, I have not seen poor exegesis based on misuse of the Amplified.

The final topic on this tangent was more anecdotal, but it was noted that usage of the Amplified seemed skewed toward women. Suzanne commented that “I think that those who do not have training in the Biblical [languages] feel that this gives them authority. That would tend to be charismatics and women who enter the ministry without formal seminary training.” Her point on assumed authority perhaps runs into the criticism noted above.

Toward the end of all this, I commented that “with all the discussion of the Amplified and its seeming favor with women, I’m surprised that nobody mentioned that the translation was originally undertaken by a woman, Frances Siewert.” This is no small point. The Amplified Bible was created in the middle of the 20th century alongside the great committee translations like the NEB, RSV and Jerusalem Bible, which were predominantly if not exclusively produced by men.

Born in 1881, Mrs. Siewert (Litt. B., B.D., M.A., Litt. D.) dedicated her life to the intensive study of the Scriptures as well as to the cultural and archaeological background of biblical times. Her M.A. thesis was on “The Effect of the Bible on English Language” (1910). In 1954, she wrote that “I have averaged 4 hours a day of serious Bible study since 1914 [ed. 40 years!], when I was already a theological seminary graduate, and yet I am finding daily evidence of the fact that there are countless Scripture passages which have been obscure to me until now.”

Siewert’s vision and life’s work was to create a translation which would bring out each word’s original, often hidden, meaning in all its fullness. She began work in 1952, already in her early ’70s, and lived to see her work financially supported by the Lockman Foundation and Zondervan Publishing. The Amplified NT was published in 1958 and the full Bible in 1965; Siewert died in 1967.

Certainly the Amplified Bible is a legacy worth celebrating?!

HT: The Lockman Foundation

  1. chad says:

    I am not sure why-but when I took my first Inductive Bible study class in seminary, the instructor started off his lecture on translations with “Don’t ever,ever,ever use the Amplified Bible. I know that the teacher wasn’t scared of charismatics. The only thing that I can think of is that some of the glosses provided are case specific and sometimes would provide a pretty skewed translation.

    I think the text of the Amplified is the old American Standard test.

    Issue with the translation aside, we could all learn from Frances Siewert, her life looks amazing!!

  2. Thanks for the anecdote – I’ve never experienced any formal resistance to the Amplified, but certainly got some eyebrows raised when I read from it in a small group, including the [] and () text.

    Yes, the base text was the ASV, though it’s certainly been revised along the way. I think if you skipped over the [] and () texts, the translation would be fairly straightforward (for what it is), but that would defeat the purpose of the translation.

  3. What a great post, ElShaddai! I never knew any of this.

  4. Bryan L says:

    I know the Amplified is more popular in the Charismatic circle I run in. I think people seem to think that any one or all of the words in the brackets are applicable in that particular context.

    I don’t think the Amplified necessarily teaches them this as these are common mistakes made by people who do word studies. It just makes it easier as it is like you said a mini-Strong’s built right into the text.

    The main thing I don’t like is listening to people read scripture from the Amplified because they read the words in brackets too and a simple verse ends up sounding convoluted and much longer than needed.

    Bryan

  5. tc robinson says:

    El, thanks for this post. This is absolutely brilliant.

    The suggestion was made that critics of charismatics might claim that their targets are attracted to the Amplified because they can take one of the bracketed meanings and say, “to me, it means this,” or even read into the Amplified whatever meaning they want to.

    The charismatics try to get whatever help they can from “scripture.”

  6. TC – I’m not being critical of charismatics and I’d prefer this not to be such a thread. Both my parents were part of the movement in the late ’60s and they turned out just fine. I would suggest that examples of *any* flavor of Christian can be found who take scripture to mean what they want it to mean.

  7. @Esteban – glad to educate! I forget when I first found that page on Lockman’s website, but there’s a lot more biographical info on Mrs. Siewert on the link I provided.

    @Bryan – as long as you know what the words in the brackets are and why they’re there, then the Amplified can be a useful tool. But you’re right – it’s easy and tempting to choose an alternate “definition” from Strong’s and change the wording or meaning of a passage – the Amplified just eliminates the middle man (woman?), so to speak.

    As I’m guilty of reading from the Amplified, I can appreciate your final thought.

  8. lj says:

    Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (in their How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth) gave pretty much the same advice as Chad’s professor did.

  9. For what it’s worth, there is one sentence in “How To Read…” about the Amplified Bible with respect to whole Bible translations not discussed in the book:

    One should probably also include here the Amplified Bible, which has had a run of popularity far beyond its worth.

    I might hesitate to put that on the same level as “Don’t ever, ever, ever use the Amplified Bible.”

  10. tc robinson says:

    El, it seems like I was just echoing what you said. My bad!

  11. I was summarizing/quoting the comments from Rick’s thread, not expressing my own opinion. But no worries…

  12. Interesting post, ElShaddai,

    I’m afraid that, in my own humble opinion, the legacy is only worth celebrating because of the fact that a remarkable woman was behind it.

    While I cannot comment on Joyce Meyers, when I consider those whom I have known in various church settings, charismatics are much more likely to use the AMP, and apparently for reasons similar to what you mentioned (although I agree that this is not a charismatic-only problem). The presupposition is that the Bible is a magic book, and you can “choose your own adventure” from the list of synonyms in the text. The problem is not so much with the AMP itself (any more than with Strong’s) but with the lack of understanding on the part of those using it: one can’t simply assume that the word in question means all or any of the words listed based on what “rings true” at the time. Even when you’re not trying to extract strictly over-personalized meaning, I’d rather have a translation that I knew bent one way or another rather than try to wade through a “wilderness of words” ( 🙂 ) to get at what’s meant. Language simply doesn’t work that way, even if it’s in the Bible.

    I’ve noticed in practically every case of the AMP’s usage I’ve observed firsthand, be it Sunday School or sermons, that an incorrect view of Scripture compounds the ambiguity of the text by expecting the full range of English synonyms for each word/expression already artificially multiplied in the AMP to be accurate meanings of the biblical text because, after all, God inspired the Bible, right? It is this sort of misunderstanding (common among the same crowd) that gives rise to the following practice: someone will find the word “atonement” (e.g.) in the Bible, look it up in an English dictionary, and find that the etymology is “at-one-ment”, and conclude that that’s what the biblical usage of that word means. Goodness gracious! But this is all just me.

  13. chad says:

    What we have is an attempt at understanding a complex grammatical structure in a language that is spoken 2000 years later. I do think it is interesting the circles that use the Amplified Bible, but I agree that is those who often find some sort of “empowerment” in it. Just looking at the verse in the post (John 11:25) we can try to see what is going on, and why these brackets are there.

    1. “I am (myself)”. This is a translation of the ἐγώ εἰμι phrase that is found all throughout the New Testament (96 times by my count). An exact translation of this statement would be “I am to be”, implying some sort of possession. εἰμι is one of those odd verbs that is used in several differnt manners, and in any place besides these 96 statements regarding Christ, it would roughly translate out to “I am-verbing”. The exact theological implifications of ἐγώ εἰμι is pretty complex, and is a integral part in many Phd dissertations. I am (myself) seems to be a pretty good estimate, but most of our modern translations just go with “I am the…”

    2.”Whoever believes in (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on) Me”. The word is question is πιστεύων a participle, and with that comes it’s own set of questions and answers. I think the only questions regarding translation would be if the glosses in the parenthesis actually fit into the idea of the participle.

    I understand why this is a great idea, but I think the subtle nuances of Koine Greek can’t be simplified by adding multiple definitions. The effort to do it is admirable, but it just can’t work. It is alot easier (and safer) to at least develop a rudimentary knowledge of bible software and understand Koine morhology, that way if you are really curious, you can understand the original text but don’t have to invest the hours upon hours of memorization it takes to really know Greek.

    Maybe the forces in questions are actually combating against the defiance towards a theological education that exist in some fundamentalist and charismatic circles. The use of this bible would give the reader the appearance of understanding the text without knowing original languages, and thereby justifying the position against a formal education.

    I am not trying to pick a fight, just working through why some consider the Amplified Bible a dangerous tool (including my teacher, so maybe I will email him).

  14. Thank you, Chad. As one without Greek skills, the most validation I can do is check the [] and () renderings against Strong’s and see if they make sense. So I appreciate your insight from the grammatical perspective.

  15. R. Mansfield says:

    I just realized that I’ve quoted from the Amplified on a number of occasions. Years ago I noticed the way that the Amplified amplifies “believe” in John 3:16 as “trusts in, clings to, and relies on.” I’ve used this definition many times to distinguish “believes” from the kind of usages that says “I believe it might rain tomorrow.”

  16. @Steve: I’m afraid that, in my own humble opinion, the legacy is only worth celebrating because of the fact that a remarkable woman was behind it.

    Thanks for stopping by, Steve. I was thinking more about this after posting this afternoon and I’m wondering if there are or have been any other significant Bible translation projects led by women?

    I would hope that Mrs. Siewert would want her work evaluated for what it is, not because of who she is, but certainly the Amplified Bible could be viewed as the achievement of her life’s work.

  17. R. Mansfield says:

    I can think of two other translations by women:

    Spurrell’s Old Testament Translated from the Original Hebrew (Helen Spurrell) –1885

    and

    The New Testament in Modern English (Centenary Translation / Helen Barrett Montgomery) –1924

  18. CD-Host says:

    One of the things I think that is very useful about the amplified is it keeps the reader profoundly aware they are reading a translation. Translation committees make very clear choices in what direction they want to take a text. That combined with the massive changes in culture makes the bible much more distant than it seems. I would assume that Amplified readers develop an awareness of the fact that they are reading a translation and that the translation is severing them from much of the original more clearly than readers of other translations.

    As far as women… back at the turn of the century missionaries were women 2:1. So in the missions field, women were heavily involved in bible translation and exposition. But the inerrantists were also anti-women so once a belief inerrancy became a litmus test for being on a translation committee women’s participation dropped off. Also with the collapse of the Asian missions program during the 1930s that venue disappeared and so women’s involvement in that sort of work disappeared.

    I kind of cover this from a different angle in my piece on Machen.

  19. Steve noted: I’d rather have a translation that I knew bent one way or another rather than try to wade through a “wilderness of words” to get at what’s meant.

    Nice reference! I understand your point and probably agree, though in one sense all Mrs. Siewert has done is move alternative renderings from footnotes to inline with the text itself. Granted, she proposes many more alternatives than most translations would footnote.

    In a sense she is shifting the authority of translation away from the translator back to the text itself. Where the translator normally makes the decision on what a word means in context and how it should be translated, she leaves that decision decidedly unfinished. To CD’s point, “it keeps the reader profoundly aware they are reading a translation“, perhaps even to the point of making the reader part of the translation process inasmuch as they are exposed to multiple possible meanings.

    So all that said, if the original Greek carries multiple nuances of meaning that might actually be captured by the Amplified’s proposed “amplifications”, shouldn’t the criticism be aimed at those who misuse the translation rather than the translation effort itself?

  20. Steve says:

    ElShaddai,

    I tried to make a point to shift the preponderance of the blame to interpreters. But at the same time…it’s like giving a loaded weapon to children. Now, that’s much more dramatic than I actually feel about it – I’m not going to say that I’ve heard any AMP-based damnable heresies or anything. And I certainly don’t want Ms. Siewart picking up the full tab. But my misgiving with the Amplified Bible as with study Bibles in general is that they often give a false impression of adequate study: anyone reading a bare-bones translation should be aware that they’re not doing research, but many who have study Bibles will not feel the urge to go consult a dedicated resource or two because, well, their study Bible’s notes say this-or-that. Here again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have study Bibles, but that’s definitely a pitfall with them, and the Amplified fosters this false assumption, even among those who have better hermeneutics than what I criticized in my earlier comment. Personally, I’d rather have a good translation (not a word list) and use study helps for references. But that’s just me…

  21. Agreed, Steve – I understood your point, I was just trying to pull it together with the criticism that had been earlier presented to the effect of “don’t ever use the Amplified Bible”, as if the translation itself was in error. The quote from Fee and Stuart was immediately preceded by a statement about the Jehovah Witness translation being chock full of doctrinal heresy.

    Personally, I’d rather have a good translation (not a word list) and use study helps for references.

    I agree completely.

  22. Brian says:

    Based on some of the comments above, I am reminded that sometimes the Amplified Bible is also called the Multiple Choice Bible with πιστεύων – “believes in (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on) Me” as a case in point.

  23. Peter Kirk says:

    Another translation by a woman, NT only, is The Source New Testament by Ann Nyland, currently being discussed here. But I think Ann would be unhappy to have The Source listed as a translation by a woman because she wants it to be taken seriously on its own merits.

  24. Dave says:

    CD-Host said: “But the inerrantists were also anti-women so once a belief inerrancy became a litmus test for being on a translation committee women’s participation dropped off.”

    That’s kind of inflammatory, IMO. I’m an inerrantist, and am certainly not anti-women. Wrong exegesis runs strong with people who come from both the inerrant and errant camps.

  25. @Peter: Thanks for the link – I’ll be sure to check that out. I agree that we shouldn’t qualify any translation work as by “a woman”, though I find it ironic that many translation committees seem to be under pressure from some quarters to include a wide sample of minority voices, including women and non-white ethnicities. It’s hugely ironic to me that on one hand we want a meritocracy that recognizes superior work as such, regardless of who did it, while on the other we want to give equal weighting to work from a diversity of backgrounds, regardless of quality.

    @Dave: I agree that poor exegesis and interpretation seems to be a universal flaw, not limited to specific doctrinal or theological viewpoints.

  26. CD-Host says:

    “But the inerrantists were also anti-women so once a belief inerrancy became a litmus test for being on a translation committee women’s participation dropped off.”
    That’s kind of inflammatory, IMO. I’m an inerrantist, and am certainly not anti-women. Wrong exegesis runs strong with people who come from both the inerrant and errant camps.

    Dave, I certainly wasn’t intending to be inflammatory. I wasn’t addressing correct exegesis or not, I’m not sure it even makes much sense to when we are comparing those camps since there views on what is correct also different. Just simply addressing the level of woman’s participation and how the inerrancy litmus test effected that.

  27. Dave says:

    @CD-Host, Sorry for my misunderstanding 🙂