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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

J I Packer and the Statement of Concern

Yesterday, I posted part of my conversation with Dr. Packer about the different Bible versions. I was particularly interested in finding out how Dr. Packer came to sign the May 28, 2002, statement below. I wished to understand why he would sign this document if he did not find the TNIV untrustworthy. Here is the statement and Dr. Packer's response.

    Statement of Concern about the TNIV Bible

    Recently, the International Bible Society (IBS) and Zondervan Publishing announced their joint decision to publish a new translation of the Bible, known as Today's New International Version (TNIV). The TNIV makes significant changes in the gender language that is in the NIV. The TNIV raises more concern in this regard than previous Bible versions because, riding on the reputation of the NIV, the TNIV may vie for a place as the church's commonly accepted Bible. We believe that any commonly accepted Bible of the church should be more faithful to the language of the original.

    We acknowledge that Bible scholars sometimes disagree about translation methods and about which English words best translate the original languages. We also agree that it is appropriate to use gender-neutral expressions where the original language does not include any male or female meaning. However, we believe the TNIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards in several important respects.

    Because of these and other misgivings, we cannot endorse the TNIV as sufficiently trustworthy to commend to the church. We do not believe it is a translation suitable for use as a normal preaching and teaching text of the church or for a common memorizing, study, and reading Bible of the Christian community.
Dr. Packer: I can only respond that we who subscribed to the statement were coming from a different starting point. What we were noticing was that the TNIV did everything it could to be, as they say, as gender neutral as possible which was a sort of concealment of what was said in the Bible.

At some points the TNIV is not what I would want a Bible to be. I didn’t draft the document. I was ready, you are faced with choices, you are having to consider the pros and the cons. I was ready to sign the document. I agreed with the substance if not with the precise manner of expression.

You may know, you may not know, that I am not an American. I have behind me no culture of the fundamentalist kind which says that the stronger you feel, the stronger your language. I am a Brit and always try to express myself in the way which is as cool as can be consistent with the emphasis I am trying to make. That is the cultural difference. The TNIV comment was drafted by one or more Americans. I don’t know who. It was put to me already drafted.

Suzanne: I believe that it was Vern Poythress and Wayne Grudem. The statement is found in their book.

(Dr. Packer was not able to confirm who had drafted the statement. I cannot be sure, either, of who actually drafted it. )

Suzanne: These are the people who said that they had no idea that adelphoi could mean 'brothers and sisters' before they drafted the Colorado Springs document, and I have to say that I questioned their scholarship, their ability to use lexicons.

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

Suzanne: They wrote in their book. (p. 451) I was very surprised.

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

...

I later came back to this and asked him if he had, in fact, read The TNIV and the Gender Neutral Controversy by Poythress and Grudem, which they wrote on this topic. He said that he had not read the book, it was a matter of priority, there is only so much time.

However, there is an endorsement on the back cover, stating, "This is the best book on its theme." J I Packer.

18 Comments:

At Tue Feb 14, 11:19:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne, from what I have picked up from some of his statements, I think that Tim Bayly had a major role in drafting the CSG. He is the opposite in expressive style of J.I. Packer's British understatement. Of course, others reviewed the first draft, probably esp. Poythress and Grudem. And then there was the revision later, after they had time to think and study further.

 
At Wed Feb 15, 01:16:00 AM, Blogger Eddie said...

Suzanne, I'm astounded at your information about the publisher's blurb on the back of the book. Were you able to ask Dr Packer about this?

 
At Wed Feb 15, 05:46:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Blurbs on the back of books usually mean nothing. The dirty little secret in the publishing industry is that the statements are already drafted and sent to a "reviewer" along with a copy of the book. All the reviewer has to do is sign the previously drafted statement regardless of whether the book has actually been read. I've even heard of some statements having been read over the phone with the "reviewer" asked if he or she agrees. This dishonest policy goes across the publishing industry, but it's even more shameful that it takes place in Christian publishing. And, unfortunately, it's not to say that some promotional blurbs aren't genuine, but how in the world would the person picking up the book in a store know the difference?

On another subject, and this really has to do with the previous post, but I'm really confused as to why the NLT is acceptable to some who oppose the TNIV. The main objection seems to be the use of inclusive language, but the NLT does this. And I know of at least one (there may be others) translator of the NLT who has voiced disapproval of the TNIV, but I don't understand why.

 
At Wed Feb 15, 07:49:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

You're right r. there are quite a few modern translations that are doing exactly what TNIV is doing (CEV, NLT, Message) but TNIV is taking all the heat. In my opinion, TNIV is doomed. And it's not just the fault of its opponents.

But I can also guarantee you that my children's generation will not be preaching from ESV. NLT has won the marketing race positioning itself very favorably with a wide spectrum of the American church. CEV and TNIV have not done that.

 
At Wed Feb 15, 08:19:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

In the end I'm very saddened that a translation of the Bible (of all things) is dividing the evangelical church.

 
At Wed Feb 15, 09:07:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

I think the TNIV may be just a step to another revision which will take hold in years to come, if the Lord tarries.

I did hear that NLT translators were unhappy because Tyndale forced them to make simplifications (or some kind of changes) that they were not in agreement with. Actually I read that on a web site. Perhaps the NLT 2 addresses that.

I used to love the NLT and used it until I read that web site. I was tired of waiting for the revision of the NIV due to the culture war (in my opinion), so used that. Now I'm very attached to the TNIV (was hard for me to leave the NLT at the time) and am not about to change. It's a fine translation, for whatever shortcomings it has. We live in a time when there is so many translations vying for use in the church that I don't see any clear cut winner in this, that way (NLT, HCSB, NASB, NIV, TNIV, ESV, etc.)

 
At Wed Feb 15, 09:08:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

there are so many translations (sorry, bad English)

 
At Wed Feb 15, 12:03:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Wayne,

I was asking him about the Statement of concern signed in May, 2002; not the Colorado Springs guidelines signed in May 1997 and revised in Sept. 1997. I had to stick to one document.

It is not simply that the CSG are bad scholarship, but that the criticism of the TNIV is also, now knowingly, based on bad scholarship, that bothers me.

 
At Wed Feb 15, 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

TNIV is not doomed where I live. Plenty of people are taking a good look at it. Our church has been using the NRSV, and people are finding the TNIV a refreshing change.

 
At Wed Feb 15, 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Ruud Vermeij said...

Since I started reading this blog several weeks ago, I was very surprised that there a so much English Bible translations. Much more than in Dutch (but on the other hand, there are much more English speaking people in the world than Dutch...) In Holland, we recently had a new Bible translation (NBV = Nieuwe BijbelVertaling) of which the translation principle was: faithful to the source language and aimed on the target language. I think it is in fact a dynamic equivalent method. It uses inclusive language. As far as I know, this translation has a broad acceptance. Evangelicals as well as Liberals as well as Reformatical believers are using it (maybe not the very traditional ones...) I am not aware of Dutch statements of concern :-), well maybe there is some obscure website somewhere...

Well, this BBB blog is very interesting. On my blog http://equamusic.blogspot.com/ I blog on equality. It is totaly in Dutch, but that must be a challenge for you linguistics...

 
At Wed Feb 15, 01:32:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Tim said:

TNIV is not doomed where I live. Plenty of people are taking a good look at it. Our church has been using the NRSV, and people are finding the TNIV a refreshing change.

I'm glad, Tim. The TNIV has better quality English than the NRSV. Both the NRSV and ESV are based very closely on the RSV text which is quite poor English,in spite of commendations about its English made by biblical scholars. I think that many biblical scholars are not well trained in English scholarship. As you know, the TNIV is based on the NIV and the NIV, in general, has better quality English than the RSV or NASB. Better yet is the English in the NLT, REB (although it can be stuffy), and CEV.

 
At Wed Feb 15, 08:51:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thank you, Ruud, for the encouragement. I visited your blog. The Salvation Army has always been a wonderful example of shared male and female leadership.

 
At Thu Feb 16, 01:40:00 AM, Blogger Dickie Mint said...

This may be very wide of the mark but my own perception has been that some of the reason why the TNIV draws more flak than the NLT/NLT2 comes down to who publishes them and how people perceive those publishers and their intentions - that is, it's not strictly a translational issue.

BTW, does anyone know of an online NLT2? Thanks.

Dick.

 
At Thu Feb 16, 03:56:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

The TNIV has better quality English than the NRSV. Both the NRSV and ESV are based very closely on the RSV text which is quite poor English,in spite of commendations about its English made by biblical scholars.

I would agree. It is better quality English than that contained in the NRSV. It's just too bad that the TNIV (like all Evangelical projects) indirectly shuts out half of the English speaking Christians in the world. It's merely "interdenominational" and not ecumenical. And for that, I'd rather rely on the NRSV (as far as study/liturgical translations go), just out of principle.

This may be very wide of the mark but my own perception has been that some of the reason why the TNIV draws more flak than the NLT/NLT2 comes down to who publishes them and how people perceive those publishers and their intentions - that is, it's not strictly a translational issue.

On a sidenote, I've noticed that most of those who attack the TNIV are associated with Good News Publishers/Moody and Lifeway/Holman in one way or another. Call me cynical, but I often wonder if they have any real goal other than making money (i.e. competing with Zondervan). That it's all a game being played by book publishers under the guise of the "serious" ecclessiastical issue.


Of course, that's just my cynical hypothesis. I have others as well. Perhaps they really do care about the issues involved. But either way -- I don't care what any of them have to say anymore.

 
At Thu Feb 16, 03:58:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

Correction:

under the guise of the "serious" ecclessiastical issue.

I meant to say "under the guise of a "serious" ecclessitical issue.

 
At Thu Feb 16, 04:42:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

On a sidenote, I've noticed that most of those who attack the TNIV are associated with Good News Publishers/Moody and Lifeway/Holman in one way or another. Call me cynical, but I often wonder if they have any real goal other than making money (i.e. competing with Zondervan). That it's all a game being played by book publishers under the guise of the "serious" ecclessiastical issue.

I don't know how to divine unspoken motives of others, but I have come to know some of these institutions and individuals associated with them well enough to be fairly certain that money is not their motivation. I believe they are thoroughly sincere. They honestly believe that what they oppose is unbiblical. And they believe that it is their duty to oppose what they believe too be unbiblical. None of them would take up arms against those with whom they disagree, but they do believe it proper and necessary to create alternative Bible versions which follow, in their understanding, the true faith. And they believe it is proper to encourage others not to purchase or use materials which they believe are unbiblical.

The church has often had serious diagreements within its ranks. Some Chrisians in Germany supported Hitler; others believed it was their duty to oppose him. Some Christians have consistently opposed being part of any military. Others believe it is their duty to God and country to be participate in military action. Some Christians believed that the Bible supported slavery and used the Bible to justify the continuation of slavery at a time when the issue divided the U.S.

Today some Bible translators believe that it is best to translate to English as it is spoken and written by the majority of native English speaking people. Others believe that regardless of language changes we must do everything humanly possible to retain masculine sounding generics in English Bibles. They believe that best honors God whom they believe to have created a hierarchy in which their is some kind of masculine over feminine primacy..

Deep doctrinal differences have split the church at times. If history goes as it usually has, the issue of which generic pronouns and nouns to use in English Bibles will in so many years be less of a critical issue than it is today.

It is always the case that there are some people who feel that they believe and follow a more orthodox form of faith than others. This seems to be a part of our humanity, to strive for doctrinal purity and to request that others follow us in our understanding of what that means.

I do think that the money motive is probably a factor with some of the larger publishers who create so many different editions of Bibles in so many different versions and for so many niche targeet audiences. But I can't prove it. It just looks that way to me when I look at the Bible sections of bookstores.

I wonder which Bible version and edition Jesus would use if he were with us today? I wonder what he would say to us about the proliferation of English versions and the Bible wars?

 
At Thu Feb 16, 06:09:00 PM, Blogger KAT said...

I wonder which Bible version and edition Jesus would use if he were with us today? I wonder what he would say to us about the proliferation of English versions and the Bible wars?

Well...That's an interesting question. Not one that could be definitively answered either, I think. I'd say that the best we have to go on (in a very general way) are examples from how he interpreted Sabbatical and Purity laws. "Rigid" and "literalist" would be the last words to describe a person like Jesus of Nazareth, to say the least.

That being said, we can at least guess on how the biblical writers themselves would view "translation" -- especially the New Testament writers.

For one, they taught and spoke about the life and teachings of Jesus in Greek. From the very get go, the message about him was already removed from it's cultural, Aramaic context. If they really want to be rigid and literal, they would have never done this.

Secondly, they had no qualms with using the Septuagint -- Details aside, much can estimated from this fact too.

Thirdly, look at the Synoptic Gospels, for instance....

It's easy for anyone to see the difference between the Synoptics and John, but even the similarities between the Synoptics are fairly superficial. In a general sense, they resemble each other, but as far as details and sequencing are concerned, they aren't really alike at all.

For example: Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recount the story of Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee. While they all agree with each other on the episode in a general sense, they are still quite different from each other on what was said by Jesus and the disciples, as well as on the contextual events surrounding the passage.

What we can deduce from this is that the gospel writers were anything but strict and literal when it came to recounting events about the life of Jesus. They were pretty liberal about details.

Or look at the differences between the Lord's Prayer in Matthew and Luke -- Generally speaking, it's the same prayer. Literally speaking, however, it's not the same prayer at all.

Or how about the "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew and the "Sermon the on the Plain" in Luke?

Out of their need for strict literalness, some have desperately tried to explain that these are two seperate sermons. That Jesus was simply repeating himself...

But the plain and simple fact is that they are the same sermon, adjusted to the literary needs of the writers of Matthew and Luke. They viewed their textual and oral traditions about Jesus as a living and fluid one -- Not a rigid one set in stone -- And they had no qualms about adjusting sequence, context, word order, vocabulary, and focus to meet their needs.


Anyways, my point is that the New Testament was founded and built upon this kind of freedom. First, as a fluid Oral tradition, and later on, as a multidimensional Textual tradition -- All described in a language and culture removed the original Aramaic and Palestinian context, AND using an imperfect Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures.

Taking all of these factors into account, I highly doubt that Jesus or the Apostles would have any problem with "less than literal" Bible translations made in 21st century English.

 
At Fri Feb 17, 10:18:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Packer said: the TNIV did everything it could to be, as they say, as gender neutral as possible...

If he thinks that TNIV did everything it could in this way, he obviously hasn't read the real feminist Bibles with their father-mother God etc.

 

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