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Monday, December 12, 2005

Grudem on choosing a faithful Bible translation

Radio talkshow host Jerry Bowyer interviewed Wayne Grudem on the topic of "Choosing a Faithful Bible Translation" on December 1. As many of you know, Wayne Grudem crusades against the TNIV and claims that it is not a faithful translation of the Bible. In October of this year The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood published the book Is My Choice of a Bible Translation So Important? coauthored by Wayne Grudem and Jerry Thacker. In 2000 Grudem and Vern Poythress coauthored the book The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words. Their 2005 revision of that book has an anti-TNIV focus, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy.

For myself, I don't understand why Dr. Grudem is so intent on trying to convince people that the TNIV is not a faithful Bible translation. The TNIV actually is an accurate translation. Its translation committee is the same group of highly qualified biblical scholars who produced the NIV. What Dr. Grudem and his followers call "inaccuracies" in the TNIV are translation wordings for which there are legitimate differences of interpretation among Bible scholars. Many of the so-called "inaccuracies" are actually wordings which a majority of scholars would consider to be preferred over the wording choices Dr. Grudem advocates. For instance, Dr. Grudem believes that the huioi (theoou) of Matthew 5:9 should be translated as "sons (of God)" rather than "children (of God)", as it is in the KJV, and most recent English Bible versions. I believe that a majority of Bible scholars consider that Jesus was referring to both males and females in this Matthew 5:9 of the Beatitudes.

In my opinion, a translation wording should only be called "inaccurate" if it can be demonstrated that it is actually in error. I have kept up with the campaign against the TNIV and from all that I have read and heard, there is not a single verse in the TNIV that I am aware of which can be demonstrated to be translated erroneously. I, personally, would prefer some wordings in every Bible version, including the TNIV, to be different, but I definitely cannot call the TNIV an unfaithful or inaccurate translation.

But repetition of the same claims by Dr. Grudem, on websites, in books, in debates, and on radio talkshows, has convinced many people that the TNIV is a bad translation. Many people believe things if they are repeated enough or if those who say them are sincere. And Dr. Grudem is definitely a sincere man in his crusade against the TNIV. When he speaks about problems he perceives in the TNIV there is an evangelistic fervor in his voice that makes his claims sound even more compelling. But Dr. Grudem never lays out all the exegetical arguments for and against the translation wordings he disagrees with. He does love God and the written Word of God but differs from many other biblical scholars in how some words of the Bible should be translated.

My sincere hope for this Better Bibles blog is that we might do more than keep saying the same things about which there are honest differences of opinion. Instead, I hope that this blog can be a place where people are encouraged to think clearly about differences of opinion about Bible translations. And my prayer is that we would do so with grace toward those with whom we might disagree.

(HT: Funky Dung, via email)

Categories: , ,


At Tue Dec 13, 04:12:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

It seems to me that Grudem's evangelical fervour is for promoting his own theological viewpoint, the "male representation" thing. What he doesn't seem to realise is that this theology is in fact something quite novel, and arises from his own misunderstanding of gender generic nouns and pronouns in older English Bible versions. As a young man in the 1960's he misunderstood these originally gender generic words as having a gender specific meaning - and later read his understandings back into the Greek. As he has based his theology on these English wordings, he is of course strongly opposed to any change to these wordings. Unfortunately Grudem's novel and fundamentally unbiblical theology has been accepted far too widely. I see it as a serious threat to the church and the Christian faith.

These are strong words. I hope that they are too strong. If anyone can provide any evidence that they are too strong, please let me know. I would be particularly interested in any evidence that the concept of male representation was known before Grudem.

At Tue Dec 13, 12:22:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

I wish there was a way to move past the endless arguments on this subject. No one seems to be budging at all from their position. The survey results are a good indication that English usage is still very much in transition. What are some ways that we can approach in a different way?

When acceptability is the big problem for a translation it seems that most translation organizations have a long view, being content to keep an older translation in circulation even while bringing in a newer one and building acceptance.

As I think about this in the larger framework of global translation efforts it seems ludicrous for two reasons: 1. many languages do mark gender and 2. many peoples of the world have only one or no translation of the Bible so they are happy for whatever they have.

At Tue Dec 13, 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

What are some ways that we can approach in a different way?

This really is the appropriate question for some kind of resolution, or at least accommodation, so that we all can move on from the current stalemate.

For myself, one way to approach the stalemate is to recognize as valid the linguistic intutions of each side. The survey on this blog indicated that respondents have different intutions about whether or not the English word "brothers" can include sisters. I validate those who include sisters in brothers, as well as those who do not. I do think that we all need to be alert to what sociolinguistic group of English speakers has each interpretation of "brothers."

If a majority of English speakers are unable to say:

"A sister is a kind of brother"

then that is a clue that there is a mismatch somewhere. I would like all sides in the debate to try to decide if a sister is a kind of brother, for them. If they decide that sisters are not a kind of brothers, then it seems to me that their translations of the Bible to English should reflect this fact. After all, we should be translating to English, not some special dialect of English. The original biblical texts were translated to standard dialects of the biblical languages, understood by all speakers of those dialects, as far as I know. I think translations to English should be the same. If we intend to translate for current speakers of English, then we should translate using the meanings of words that those current speakers have.

Would you have any other suggestions for moving forward from where were are in the gender-language Bible translation debate today? I think a good number of people would welcome more good suggestions. I, for one, am tiring of the debate.

At Tue Dec 13, 04:47:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

On this point (remembering that these are comments on "Grudem on choosing a faithful Bible translation", not on "Are sisters brothers?"), I think we need to recognise that Grudem differs from most others in rejecting the exegetical consensus of all scholars, even going back to KJV, that verses like Matthew 5:9 are gender generic. Instead he is trying to impose upon such texts a male only or "male representative" meaning which they cannot possibly bear, and which exegetes and translators before Grudem have never made them bear.

If this point was more widely understood, people might stop listening to him, and the debate might fade away.

At Tue Dec 13, 10:06:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

The Grudem factor will not prevail. All these matters have to stand up to the test of time. I think the scholarly base and desire for clear translations that will be available, will in time render the Grudem factor obsolete.

However, if in fact this is not the case. And if Grudem's mark is still with the church 50 and more years from now (should Jesus tarry), (I just can't envision this being the case, though)- we'll have our differences.

I "move on" by using the TNIV. The only difference people will notice between it and the NIV is the gender changes. And I don't think most people will care about that. But what we care about is the vision of Jesus and the kingdom that we are beginning to see and enter in. As to whether I use the NRSV, the TNIV, the NIV or even the ESV in comparison to that, should be beside the point.

At Tue Dec 13, 10:08:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

One question: is there any blog that is pro-ESV or where Wayne Grudem interact, that allows comments?

At Tue Dec 13, 10:20:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

One other thing I'd like to add.

I read lately that an egalitarian evangelical position seems to be gaining ground and even beginning to prevail in evangelical circles.

I think Grudem erroneously sees the TNIV as part of this matter. He is at the forefront of trying to bring a more traditional stance on gender to the Church. And people like James Dobson, J.I. Packer, John Piper, etc., seem to be on his side- at least signing on to his side of this battle in more or less related websites.

For myself Wayne Grudem has lost credibility as a scholar. I'm sure he has much good to teach, but with how he has erred concerning translation, I would have no mind or heart to turn to him and think I was getting help in scholarship. I say this, I hope, sadly.

Ironically I really think he doesn't help his own side- at least not on the scholarly level. And double irony, the common people hear him gladly- at least in the sense of being swayed by him.

Maybe someone who has "credentials" can begin to speak out on programs they can get on and debate Grudem.

As for myself, I have followed this only through your blog here, as of late. I don't have time, or mind, or heart to dwell in such matters.

But again, I thank you guys for your work and expertise in all of this.

At Wed Dec 14, 07:51:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I agree. What I'm interested in is your thoughts on the people who do the same thing with the ESV, including a recent post by Ben Witherington that one of your co-bloggers cites favorably. It seems to me that Witherington is doing exactly what Grudem does but against the ESV rather than the TNIV. It's the same kind of rhetoric. He even puts his criticism of it in parallel with his criticism of the New World Translation, which people will take to be a sign that he thinks they're equally bad. I'm sure he doesn't intend it that way, but he should have said so.

At Wed Dec 14, 02:30:00 PM, Blogger Michael Sly said...

But are Witherinton's criticisms of the ESV valid?

I came out of KJV Onlylism (after being in it for 12 years - another story altogether), the ESV was the stepping stone that the Lord used to bring me out. I am thankful for that. I used the ESV for several years, until I started seeing issues with it (same criticisms that Witherington made against it). What concerns me is what I see is the beginnings of the same rabid defense of the ESV, much like the mindless rhetoric you get from the KJV Only camp. Granted, the KJVO camp has many years of practice, so the ESV defenders have a ways to go.

What I find interesting as well is that of the three major translations that have come out since 2001: ESV, TNIV, and the HCSB - how as the HCSB stayed under the radar in this debate?

At Wed Dec 14, 03:56:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I would say that the translation site of the ESV has deliberately initiated a debate and put the spotlight on the TNIV. By doing this they have necessarily put their own transltion in the same spotlight.

I too came from a KJV background and was familiar with the KJV only group. I remember being consulted at the time, when I was quite young but studying Greek, about translation of certain phrases. All I could say was "Well, that is one option." But people don't want to live with such ambiguity.

At Wed Dec 14, 05:27:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Ted writes that "And people like James Dobson, J.I. Packer, John Piper, etc., seem to be on [Grudem's] side- at least signing on to his side of this battle in more or less related websites." Now I accept that Dobson is on Grudem's side, and is strongly supporting the same agenda. But I suspect that some of the others who have been persuaded to sign up as supporters don't understand what they signed up to. I found the following extract from an article from 2002 quoting Packer, whom I greatly respect, in which his criticism of TNIV is rather muted:

Another leading theologian, J.I. Packer, did not add his name to the signatories, but told Baptist Press: "This [TNIV] is a retrograde move that the translators have made. I have read a text of a statement by Wayne Grudem and others, and I find myself in sympathy with it. I find it to be a passing modern fad, frankly, to object to the inclusive masculine pronoun. To change the shape of biblical verses to fit this fad leads to a good bit of under-translation. The masculine pronoun belongs in almost every language of the world. The gains that this translation seeks to achieve are far outweighed by the loss. I appreciate the NIV, and I think they have taken a wrong turn."

In other words, no strong objections on principle, just an old man's failure to recognise that English really has changed, and probably permanently, since he was a young man - plus his ignorance concerning "almost every language of the world", for there are very many which have no masculine pronoun, and none that I know of other than English which have one which primarily agrees with real world rather than grammatical gender.


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