Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Resolving the current battle for the Bible

I posted somewhere recently, perhaps on this blog, that there have often been different battles for the Bible occurring every so many centuries or decades. During my lifetime I have been aware of at least three such battles. At the turn of the 20th century and into the 1950s a battle for the Bible occurred between theological "liberals" and "conservatives." That battle came to one of its climaxes after the publication of the RSV, which conservatives soundly denounced. People in my church background came close to calling the RSV a "communist Bible." There were people who wanted to burn copies of the RSV, and perhaps some did in other parts of the U.S.

In the 1960s and 1970s another battle for the Bible occurred over the issue of infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. The conservative side of that battle was described in the book titled The Battle For the Bible, by Harold Lindsell (1976). Intense, sometimes acrimonious, debate soccurred at many seminaries over whether or not the Bible could be trustworthy if it had any errors in it. As far as I know, the inerrancy debate did not has a significant effect on the publication of any English Bible version, unless perhaps the NASB resulted from that debate. For the last decade or so there has been another battle for the Bible which has consisted of two parts, which are related to each other:
  1. A call for English Bible versions to be more conservative translationally. This call has come as a reaction to what have been viewed as excesses of the dynamic equivalent approach to Bible translation which started to effect English Bible translation in the 1960s. This call was encapsulated in the book by Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English (2003).
  2. A call to retain grammatically masculine words in the Bible for reference to groups who many exegetes regard as being gender-inclusive, that is, as consisting of both females and males. This call was stated most forcefully in the book The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words, by Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem [2003, with a revised edition, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy (2005)].
The battle over the RSV is largely forgotten today. Many conservative theologians teaching today used the RSV as their study Bible in seminary. Ironically, the ESV, which is intended by conservative theologians to redress both of the last two issues just described, used the RSV as its translation base. The RSV has been only lightly revised to create the ESV. Of course, those passages which have been viewed as being theologically "liberal" have been revised in the ESV to reflect a conservative point of view.

We do not hear too much anymore about the inerrancy battle, although that battle is still in the memories of some theologians today. But biblical scholars of both the inerrantist and errantist persuasions meet together for scholarly conferences such as the recently concluded SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) conference in Philadelphia which has more than 10,000 in attendance.

Biblical scholars have often found ways to agree to disagree or even sometimes to resolve some of their differences over various battles for the Bible which have occurred during the lifetime of the Bible. Will the current battle for the Bible as intense as it is today twenty years from now. Or will there be a different battle for the Bible at that time?

I wonder how resolution of some kind might be possible for the current battle for the Bible. I was struck by the wisdom expressed by Sarah Sumner in her recent article in Christianity today. Dr. Sumner is a female teaching pastor, a ministry role for women which is considered very improper by many, if not most, of those currently calling for the two points in the current battle for the Bible. Yet Dr. Sumner is calling for women, including herself, to repent and submit to the headship of their husbands, something which is of great importance to those calling for the two points in the current battle. Will their be some other voices who will be able to speak out in a way that common ground can be found in the current battle for the Bible?

Perhaps some resolution will come if those who believe in translating the Bible into the most natural linguistic forms of English can also heed the call for natural English Bibles to reflect the different literary genre of the Bible. Perhaps those who translate into more natural English can work harder to have the poetic books of the Bible sound more like poetry.

I suspect that there can also be common ground found exegetically with further study of the passages of the Bible which have been divisive in the current battle. As they exegete passages such as 1 Tim. 2, biblical scholars can work even more to come to consensus (or at least respect for each other's positions) about the meaning of a passage, meaning both within the original historical context of the church at Ephesus which Paul was writing to Timothy about, and implications for normative teaching for other times and cultures.

I am currently reading the book, Two Views on Women in Ministry (2001), which contains well written articles by a conservative male and female scholar from both the complementarian and egalitarian viewpoints. Perhaps some kind of common ground or resolution can be found, in a similar way, in the broader battle for the Bible in which this complementarian vs. egalitarian debate is occurring. I believe that one of the outcomes of cooperation in writing this book has probably been that an increasing number of conservative Bible scholars and theologians are recognizing that each side is committed to a high view of scripture and to a high view of marriage and the value of both women and men in the home as well as church.

It is my hope and prayer that the current battle for the Bible can end with some kind of peace that honors God and his written word, and, yes, can even result in better Bibles, Bibles which will be better because they reflect something good (and even godly) from each side in the current battle for the Bible.

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


At Fri Nov 25, 08:21:00 AM, Blogger Funky Dung said...

The RSV used to be considered liberal? Fascinating. These days, the RSV Catholic Edition is preferred by a lot of theologically conservative Catholics, inclusing me, over the banal NAB.

At Fri Nov 25, 01:10:00 PM, Blogger Chuck said...

I agree, Wayne. Perhaps this blog (or another like it) could be an appropriate forum for guest writers to weigh in on the differing sides of these issues (much like the book you're reading). Such interaction can only help to test and refine one's views of these issues.


At Sun Nov 27, 08:10:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I could be mistaken, but I'm not sure the NASB resulted from the inerrancy debates.

The translation committee for the NASB began around 1960, if I remember correctly. However, I'm sure that the NASB was in reaction to the first edition of the RSV which relegated some passages in the NT (such as John's adultery pericope) to the footnotes), favored "expiation" (following Dodd) over "propitation," and of course, the then controversial use of "young woman" instead of the traditional "virgin" in Isa 7:14.

Interestingly, right around the time the NASB was finally released in the early seventies, the RSV was updated as well, primarily moving the footnoted passages back into the main text.

At Mon Nov 28, 04:18:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne wrote:

A call for English Bible versions to be more conservative translationally. This call has come as a reaction to what have been viewed as excesses of the dynamic equivalent approach to Bible translation which started to effect English Bible translation in the 1960s. This call was encapsulated in the book by Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English (2003).

This paragraph strikes me as somewhat ambiguous, covering up the fact that there are two distinct issues here. The first is the well known distinction between formal equivalence and dynamic or functional equivalence. The second is Ryken's call for translations to remain close to the traditional wording of KJV because of its supposed literary excellence and valued part in the English literary heritage. Now a translation can hardly remain close to KJV while being a fully dynamic equivalence translation - although it can include quite a lot of dynamic renderings while keeping reasonably close to KJV where it can, as NIV does. But a translation can be formally equivalent without being in the KJV tradition; an example would be the New World Translation (but I don't want to open up discussion here of theological issues about NWT). So, there are in fact two largely separate issues here. Ryken may address both of them in his book, but they should not be confused.

At Tue Nov 29, 09:12:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

There will always be differences of belief as to how God's Word should be translated. In the "hay day" (spelling?) of the NIV there were still a significant number who held on to the KJV and the NASB.

The stand that some on the side of the ESV have taken marginalizes (into the unacceptable zone) all translations that don't follow suit with their translation philosophy, especially, it seems, in regard to gender. I suspect that part of their clamor for "essentially literal" at least for a number of them is their concern over the gender rendering issue. They really end up throwing out a number of the translations out there today: besides TNIV: NLT, NRSV, CEV and surely more.

So it does look like they consider themselves in nothing less than a battle for the Bible. It is a new era that way here in the U.S. anyhow.

So maybe the question remains: what do we do in this situation? Do we just surrender to a common denominator in translating the Bible that will keep us in harmony over this matter? I don't think that will work with everyone. It does work at RBC ministries where I am at. They use NKJV for their "Daily Bread", sometimes NIV in other publications, and now in their "Our Journey" magazine, with James MacDonald joining us- they use the ESV.

I'm inclined to think that for many of us, we will just have to learn to live with our differences of opinion and belief on this matter.

And I still think the market for more "dynamic equivalent" Bibles will be larger than that of "formal equivalent" ones. But be that as it may, we will just have to learn to live with our differences, I think. Obviously right?

At Tue Nov 29, 09:14:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

At the same time, I appreciate the give and take of debate among scholars on this issue such as yourselves. Keep up the good work.

At Tue Nov 29, 03:54:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

The best defense of TNIV or a translation like that: (though TNIV is the one that's in this battle):

At RBC Ministries (formerly "Radio Bible Class") there are mostly moderate conservatives (I would classify them). But I noticed at that time that when the TNIV was mentioned it was considered "that politically correct translation" and "gender neutral".

The team I work on had one outspoken critic of the TNIV, himself an NIV user. I had the opportunity to lead a "devotional" study and we studied Christ's passion. As I remember it, I had the Scripture text printed out, and that from the TNIV. When all was said and done the critic had nothing to say against the TNIV (though sometimes complaining abut the idea of revision at all of Bible translations). People of a more conservative bend also had no problem with it.

My point: If people are exposed to the TNIV, they will not find it objectionable.

There are matters to get used to in any new innovations in a translation. Though most readers will hardly notice them. And other innovations are not that hard to get used to.

At Tue Nov 29, 04:04:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

One other point:

There comes a time when one has to simply "go for it" and "let the chips fall where they may".

Life involves spiritual warfare. And above all it involves a love-faith relationship with God and an effort to walk with God- certainly in the community of Jesus.

So what Bible translation I use is going to pale in comparison to that. Yet how I use it, and how I may even defend it is all part of the bigger picture of a desire and effort to walk with God.

So if I would have to, I'll use a different translation than the TNIV to "minister" to someone. But above all I'll try to simply be a part of what God is doing in the world. I think this is the best translation of God and his truth that we all need to be engaged in and receive from each other.

Just some thoughts.


At Wed Nov 30, 03:19:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Ted, I can confirm your point that "If people are exposed to the TNIV, they will not find it objectionable." My church has now been using TNIV for several months. I have heard no objections from anyone. Most people don't even realise that it is different from the NIV which most are used to. There are not very many people in the church who would be likely to object, but I think I would have heard from those few if they did object. But because there has been little anti-TNIV propaganda this side of the Atlantic these people don't know there is anything in it they are supposed to object to! And as they are not looking for it they don't find it.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home