Resolving the current battle for the Bible
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:
- 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).
- 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)].
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: Bible translation, complementarian, egalitarian, inerrancy, liberal, conservative, translation philosophy, dynamic equivalence, Wayne Grudem, Vern Poythress, Harold Lindsell, RSV, ESV