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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Jim Packer and TNIV

I have long respected J.I. (Jim) Packer as an evangelical teacher. His "Knowing God" helped to establish me in the Christian faith, and has been on my bookshelf for nearly 30 years. I also heard him speak nearly 30 years ago, and he was not a young man then, so he must be old now.

And so it has come as a surprise and a sadness to me to find Jim Packer regularly listed as one of the Christian leaders who has joined in the intemperate public campaign against the TNIV. So I decided to investigate further Packer's position on such issues.

I found that Packer is indeed a complementarian, and a member of the Board of Reference of CBMW (the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). But then many of the TNIV translation team are complementarians.

Recently Packer has written a preface to the book "Translating Truth", to which Wayne Grudem is a major contributor. In this preface he criticises dynamic equivalence translation, but he does not mention gender related language.

So, it seems that Packer is a complementarian with a preference for formal equivalent translations. And so it is no surprise to find him also listed as the General Editor of the ESV Bible. But this does not imply that he would be an opponent of TNIV. Some members of the ESV team have been accused of opposing TNIV out of rivalry, but I respect Packer too much to suggest that.

Here I repeat in edited form some remarks which I first posted as a comment on the posting Grudem on choosing a faithful Bible translation, in response to a previous comment in which Packer had been named as a leading opponent of TNIV.

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, Packer has no strong objections to TNIV on principle. He refused to sign a statement of opposition to it. Rather, he seems to show just an old man's failure to recognise that English really has changed, and probably permanently, since he was young. He also demonstrates 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. (End of adapted comment.)

It seems to me that Packer's opposition to TNIV is fundamentally different from Grudem's. Firstly, he has not joined in the campaign of vilification or signed the statement condemning its alleged errors. More importantly, his reasons for opposition seem to be fundamentally different from Grudem's. Grudem insists that all masculine pronouns in the Bible have a real male orientation, on the principle of "male representation", and so must be translated by explicitly masculine pronouns like "he". Packer's position, however, seems to be that masculine pronouns in Greek and Hebrew can be gender generic, the general scholarly view, but should be translated by "he" because this word is gender generic in English, except as "a passing modern fad". The result is the same, and so both Grudem and Packer can accept ESV, but their understanding of the issues is totally different. Packer's position is the traditional evangelical one, but Grudem's theology of male representation is novel. I am sure that Packer has recognised this and so has distanced himself from Grudem's criticisms.

Packer is certainly a prominent figure, but he has not joined in the intemperate campaign against TNIV. So I would conclude that it is wrong to list him as a leading opponent of TNIV.


At Thu Dec 15, 08:11:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Is there a list of those who signed against the TNIV?

Also, I find it interesting that some of the names on the translation review panel of the ESV were also translators for the NLT which is inclusive. I would wonder what their positions on the TNIV are.

At Fri Dec 16, 03:40:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I did find a press release from 2002 stating that "100 Christian leaders have issued a joint statement that claims they cannot endorse Today’s New International Version (TNIV)". 35 of these leaders are named in the press release, including Jim Packer. But the links to the text of the statement and to the full list of leaders are dead. So it is impossible to find out what statement Packer and others actually put their name to. Perhaps the statement was withdrawn after some signatories repudiated it, or the frankly not very Christian way in which it was being used. It is also interesting that apparently no such statement has been issued after the publication of the full TNIV. Maybe the opponents of TNIV have decided on a different strategy.

At Fri Dec 16, 05:49:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Peter, you make a good point here.

I've never lumped J.I. Packer with Wayne Grudem in this matter in exactly the same way. I don't know if Packer has a comment in Grudem's tome on Bible and gender.

When your name is with another's name on an issue, you are identified with the same cause and more or less viewed as taking the same stand. That is unfortunate.

At Fri Dec 16, 08:16:00 AM, Blogger J. Mark Bertrand said...

" old man's failure to recognise that English really has changed..." Maybe. Or perhaps he doesn't sympathize with the reasons behind the change. The "passing modern fad," in that case, would not be the usage per se, but the gender politics that made using the masculine pronoun in the traditional way such an objectionable thing to do.

Here at the Better Bible Blog, the obsolescence of the generic masculine pronoun is taken for granted, and that does away with the need to address whether it was ever morally appropriate to speak in such a way. People who don't concede its obsolescence seem to fall into two camps -- those who don't want to admit to the immorality of the traditional usage (and think it's absurd that such a thing has even been suggested), and those (like me, and I suspect Packer) for whom the various strategies to avoid the generic masculine still ring false.

At 35, I'm not exactly an old man, but whenever I hear someone substitute "their" for "his" in a sentence -- and I concede that it's done -- I can't escape the feeling that a mistake has been made. This in spite of the fact that Wayne has convinced me elsewhere on the blog that "their" has been legitimately used in this way for quite some time. (I do with Dr. Clark had known this in 1990, as it would have saved me having to sit through his standard lecture to English majors on the outrageous fortune that would belong to anyone who could come up with a viable alternative to s/he.)

At Fri Dec 16, 08:39:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

At 35, I'm not exactly an old man, but whenever I hear someone substitute "their" for "his" in a sentence -- and I concede that it's done -- I can't escape the feeling that a mistake has been made.

To each their own, Mark! :-)

At Fri Dec 16, 04:29:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Fri Dec 16, 04:32:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

It seems that the TNIV opponents' strategy has not changed as much as I suggested in my earlier comment. CBMW has issued and continues to host a Statement of Concern by Evangelical Leaders, which is a very general rejection of TNIV, with 62 attached names. Also it has issued and hosts a Statement of Concern by Evangelical Scholars, with 72 attached names, which refers more specifically to troubling translation inaccuracies - primarily (but not exclusively) in relation to gender language - that introduce distortions of the meanings that were conveyed better by the original NIV. A number of names, including Jim Packer's, are on both lists. The second statement was certainly issued in 2005, and probably the first one was also.

Thank you to the two people who pointed this out to me.

Does this affect what I said about Packer? Well, this is the first time I have seen Packer endorsing a statement referring to "inaccuracies" and "distortions", and I think the less of him for doing so, for supporting the use without proper justification of such language against a work created in good faith by his Christian brothers and sisters.

But probably Packer's main point is that in verses like Revelation 3:20 NIV is better than TNIV. I would expect him to say that because the generic sense of "he" is part of his dialect of English, whereas he would not recognise singular "they" at least in formal language. What he does not seem to realise is that generic "he" is not part of the dialect spoken by many of the TNIV target audience who are perhaps 40-50 years younger than him. So, what he is really saying is that NIV is a better translation into his dialect of English. I would not dispute that. But he should not presume to pontificate on which is the better translation for speakers of a different dialect which he does not speak.

At Fri Dec 16, 08:27:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

There really has come to be a strong undercurrent of "essential literalists" and "generic he" people who would alter what has been the mainstream of how one should translate Scripture. (I think leaving "generic he" behind is faithful to a more dynamic equivalent or meaning versus formal goal of translating)

I honestly am surprised at the number of younger people that have been swept into this undercurrent of thinking- and are users of the ESV.

Before the arrival of the completed TNIV I toyed around with the possibility of switching to the ESV, as I looked at my own copy.

I just couldn't get into the strange and stilted -for me- language. I was born in 1956, so I'm no youngster. But I have been influenced by the NIV and I believe the TNIV is much better as to good clear English spoken today.

At Sat Dec 17, 03:43:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

For whatever it's worth J.I. Packer does write a strong commendation for this book by Wayne Grudem, "Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth"

I don't know how that would actually translate into Packer backing Grudem on the latter's arguments about the TNIV damaging Biblical teaching on gender.

At Wed Dec 21, 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

There were a few NLT translators who didn't know it was going to be a inclusive language translation, and they publicly expressed their frustration and disappointment that their work was, as they saw it, mangled. Also, at least one ESV translator (Craig Blomberg) has publicly endorsed the TNIV. I believe a few others have taken a fairly neutral view on this issue in general but have been willing to follow the translation philosophy of whichever translation they're working on.

I do know that some people who signed one statement about inclusive language translation did not appreciate how their names were being used. I don't remember who these people were. It may have included Sproul and/or Packer. I just don't remember now.

In defense of Packer, he doesn't think the mainstream use is a dialect. He thinks it's a fad. If he's right, then it does indeed make some sense not to treat it as a dialect that we should ever translate into for anyone. I think he's wrong, but I want his view represented correctly.


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