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Monday, February 20, 2006

J I Packer and the ESV Team

Response to Michael Marlowe.

At one point, I decided to specifically ask Dr. Packer about the other members of the ESV translation team.

Suzanne: I just wondered if there were people on the ESV translation team who would be familiar with classical Greek, Aristotle, for example, and know that aner was used as a generic. Did you have people on the team who particularly specialized in that?

Dr. Packer: We had two people on the team, of whom I confess I was one, who had had a classical education and knew their way around Greek literature. We didn’t make, what I think would have been a mistake, of supposing that the gospels and epistles represent Greek on the model of any particular Greek author that I can remember.

The two of us did occasionally have to talk to the people who had only learned Greek in order to do the New Testament, you know, who didn’t know it as a language.

Suzanne: Who was the other person?

Dr. Packer: Bruce Winter, warden of Tyndale House, the library at Cambridge.


The inescapable conclusion here is that the other 12 men did not know Greek as a language but had only learned it to do the New Testament. This includes Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress and so I brought up their names.


Suzanne: Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress said that they had no idea that adelphoi could mean both 'brothers and sisters'. They said they had no idea that it was in the lexicon before they drafted the Colorado Springs guidelines and I have to say that I questioned their scholarship, their ability to use lexicons.

Dr. Packer: Well, you are really telling me that Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress agreed on saying that.

Suzanne: They wrote it in their book. (The TNIV and the Gender Neutral Controversy. p. 426)

Dr. Packer: Well I am very surprised also but then I had a classical Greek education as you did.

Suzanne: I am saying that going from the Greek to the English that the TNIV is another way to translate the Bible that made perfect sense to me and since I can read Greek …

Dr. Packer: How can I respond to that? All I can say is, my heart wants to say is, well God bless you. The best of luck.

Suzanne: Thank you.

Dr. Packer: Let me say this. I am not an exponent of the view that there is only one way that there is only one way to translate the Bible. I am an exponent of the view that among the many ways of translating the Bible some are better than others on balance … but on balance there is a computation of pros and cons. And its a tradeoff.


Looking back on this part of the conversation, I have to say that I see a certain candour on Dr. Packer's part, a softening. I believe he saw that I was sincere and he wanted to offer me the notion that there was not only one way to translate the Bible.

With respect to Vern Poythress and his book The TNIV and the Gender Neutral Bible Controversy, besides the error which he made with reference to adelphoi, there were other irregularities in his book. He was unaware of the use of aner (pl) as a generic word meaning 'people'. In Aristotle's Politics, there is a place where the rule of a father over his children (not sons but children tekna) is compared to that of Zeus who is the 'father of men and gods'. In this case aner (pl) is used to mean 'men' in the generic sense, as 'all humans'. The context, in this case, does not allow females to be excluded. This is just one expample of how aner (pl) is often used in Greek. The Liddell-Scott lexicon is quite clear that aner can mean 'man as opposed to God'. There is nothing new here.

With reference to the Hebrew, I find it odd that Poythress misspells Koehler-Baumgartner not once but twice in two different ways. (Bahmgarter and Bahmgartner) Now I admit that this shows my personal prejudice as a school-teacher, and my love of the German language. It is not really a valid complaint.

The rest of the book dealt mainly with English perceptions of how important the English pronoun "he" is and the English word 'man'.

I have been asked if I would like to interview Vern Poythress in addition to Dr. Packer. With all due respect, I know Dr. Packer, and I entreated him as a father. We are members of the same Christian community, we have a similar classical education and background, and I trusted him. He responded to me appropriately.

I am no Greek scholar, but I did study classical Greek for 5 years before I thought of studying Koine Greek. Then I was told to study Hebrew first. After that, I was allowed to study the intertestamental literature, the gnostic gospels and other stuff. At the end of that year I had to write a contrastive analysis of Greek and Hebrew grammatical structure in Matthews gospel. Then the following year in Switzerland, I was finally in a position to take a course in New Testament exegesis. This was in addition to a full linguistics program mentored by Dr. Allan Gleason of the United Bible Societies. According to Dr. Packer, only himself and Bruce Winter on the ESV translation team, had this kind of training. Maybe someone else would like to interview Vern Poythress.

Michael, you must really understand that I love the second epistle to Timothy and I do not want to relinquish the English translation to men only, many of whom will never love it with the devotion I have. Here is one of my favourite verses, a verse I have lived by,
    Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. TNIV 2 Tim. 2:15
Who are men to steal my heritage, that I received from women who were taught by other women?


At Mon Feb 20, 07:21:00 AM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

I would be interested in knowing what you think of the TNIV as a whole. You have spoken much about one issue - but what of the rest? How would you personally rate the TNIV, and why?


At Mon Feb 20, 09:21:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Sorry, I really prefer the Good News Bible. I am writing to defend Gender Neutral language in general as accurate.

The older generic 'man' was not much of an issue, but to read that some men are saying that parts of the Bible are 'men only' is quite a shock to me and a very recent approach.

Of course, I think that the use of such terms as congregation vs. church are also important. I think it is good to have several different Bible translations and realize that all are possible interpretations.

At Mon Feb 20, 10:41:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I would be interested in knowing what you think of the TNIV as a whole. You have spoken much about one issue - but what of the rest? How would you personally rate the TNIV, and why?

Nathan, I wrote a fairly long response to your comment and then decided it would be better as a blog post. So please see my response on the main page of this blog.

At Wed Feb 22, 07:17:00 PM, Blogger Mathew Sims said...

Would there be a way to get a transcript of the conversation with Dr. Packer?
Thanks Guys! Great read.

Mathew S.


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