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Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Woman's Bible

I am not going to pretend that I am able to give a dispassionate review of a contemporary evangelical Bible. I can only present my point of view. I may sink myself in oblivion when reading the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Pagnini Psalter and Alter's David Story. I can allow myself to be lost in those texts and reflect on how God is revealed and humankind responds. I can become Mary and Martha and Michael and the psalmist.

But sometimes I experience the epistles as a series of proof texts. There are enough sermons and studies and papers which take one verse and through a series of supposed syllogisms decide the boundaries which shall restrict woman, and the role she shall play, always responder, never leader.

Therefore, the handful of verses which enable some to come to these conclusions must be separately plucked off the vine and tasted. Each Bible version must be able to defend its decision. Why stray from tradition, why provide an interpretation and not a literal rendering, and why choose this sense and not that one from an array provided in the lexicon?

So I simply decided to do it - to evaluate the different Bibles according to how they translate 5 verses concerning women. Rom. 16: 1 and 2 are rated as one verse, then Rom. 16:7, 1 Cor. 11:10, and 1 Tim. 2:12.

But aren't I simply driving in a wedge, opening the chasm further with this kind rhetoric? I think not. The chasm was there and widening. The preaching against the TNIV continues. The distrust is embedded.

In fact, I don't and haven't advocated any particular style or version. My major concern has always been that of intense regret that there seems to be no Bible that the evangelical Christian community can share. No Bible has replaced the King James Version in that respect. I find this incredible, but I believe it is so.

Dr. Grudem will not use the TNIV, not because of its gender language, but because of its translation of 1 Tim. 2:12; and others won't use the ESV for its undefended use of the Junia hypothesis.

I long for some kind of openness. I dream that there is some way that those on the opposing sides of this debate can resolve their differences and come together and agree on at least one common Bible.

I had always believed that it would have to be a literal Bible, close to formal equivalence, but I am not sure. It should either represent the traditional understanding, or have a note to explain why it departs from tradition. It should accord with the current accepted lexicons and grammars, and critical text. It should duly represent those things about which we have scholarly consensus. It should have nothing too controversial.

I am convinced that this is something that we can come together on.

Gender language itself no longer seems to me to be the critical factor in this debate. I note that Dr. Grudem allows his name to be associated with the NET Bible, and Dr. Packer warmly recommends the NLT2. Bibles with inclusive gender language include the NRSV, TNIV, NLT2, NET, CEV.

But Dr. Grudem raised the issue of 1 Tim. 2:12 and I think that shifts the focus. Dr. Grudem writes,
    The TNIV in particular has changed the translation of many of the key passages regarding women in the church, and I would find it almost impossible to teach a Biblical “complementarian” view of the role of women in the church from the TNIV. It has gone further in supporting an evangelical feminist position than any other translation . . .

    To take one example: in 1 Timothy 2:12 the TNIV adopts a highly suspect and novel translation that gives the egalitarian side everything they have wanted for years in a Bible translation. It reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man” (italics added). If churches adopt this translation, the debate over women's roles in the church will be over . .
I would like to examine this thesis and see if the TNIV has indeed changed the translation of many of the key passages regarding women in the church. Dr. Grudem writes "many" - and I can only think of 4 or 5. If I have missed any, I would appreciate a little prodding.

This series is also a response to frequent commenter, Glenn, who has asked me many times to interact more with Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 2004. I'll try but I won't go into any long detail - unless asked, of course.

So, I shall blog about how each translation handles a few key verses. I hope we can then develop criteria on which we can agree, and establish what we think would be best translation of each verse, to bring about greater fellowship between Christians of different stripes.

Update: Metacatholic has a post on a related post here. Naming the books we have in common Different topic but same concept. How can we hold something in common?

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At Thu May 31, 10:39:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne, you quoted Dr. Grudem as saying that he could not teach from the TNIV, as a complementarian. But complementarianism can be taught from the TNIV just as egalitarianism can be, as I blogged previously, citing specific Bible passages. Both viewpoints can be taught from any English Bible version.

I disagree with Dr. Grudem. I suspect that the complementarians on the TNIV translation committee would disagree also, starting with its chairman, Doug Moo, who has written an article defending complementarianism. It appears in the anthology Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which may be downloaded for free from the CBMW website. Other authors in the anthology include, among others, Dr. Grudem, his co-author, Dr. Poythress, with whom he has written a book against the TNIV, Thom Schreiner, and D.A. Carson.

At Thu May 31, 10:41:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I forgot to include the link to my previous BBB post on teaching complementarianism from the TNIV.

At Fri Jun 01, 05:27:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Wayne, I don't think Grudem is saying that the TNIV rendering of I Tim 2:12 is inconsistent with complementarianism. If he is saying that, he's wrong. It doesn't make as strong a claim, perhaps, but you can't derive egalitarianism from the TNIV rendering of that verse, which still has to be interpreted and put together with other statements based on assumptions complementarians wouldn't grant. Otherwise you don't derive egalitarianism.

I think what he's saying is that it's impossible to teach, i.e. derive, the complementarian position (in the version he holds it, anyway) from the TNIV rendering of that verse. He thinks what that verse says in the TNIV is weaker than what it says in the Greek. I think Suzanne would agree with him in his claim that the TNIV rendering doesn't support the full complementarian view (but of course disagree with him in his claim that the Greek says something stronger).

I happen to think the TNIV rendering is a little ambiguous. It can be taken in several ways. If you think any authority a woman exercises abouts to assuming authority illegitimately, as some complementarians do, then what it says amounts to the same thing as saying what Grudem would prefer. So I don't see why it's as clearly a problem for complementarianism in general, but I think it might be a problematic translation for some complementarian views (and its ambiguity leaves me unsatisfied, since I think there are clearer translations that capture the Greek better).

At Fri Jun 01, 05:46:00 AM, Blogger Apprentice2Jesus said...

When I keep examining these current issues between the TNIV and the ESV I get torn up. I LOVE the ESV because I prefer a more literal translation in the vein of the NASB. However, I get more and more perplexed with the translation philosophy of the ESV committee as they seem to be battling gender issues alone. Still, I like the tradition the ESV is set in.

I LOVE the TNIV because it is improved over the NIV, reads better for me than the NIV, and is better for public reading than the ESV.

HOWEVER, the TNIV is still slow out of the gate with types of Bibles I could really use, so currently I am in a quandry using a wide margin ESV for notetaking (putting in the TNIV wording in key places like 1 Tim. 2:12 and Rom. 16), while I preach from the TNIV for wording purposes.

I just wish we could use both as good translations and get away from these crazy hang ups about "hidden agendas" over gender issues!

At Fri Jun 01, 06:31:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I don't use wide margin Bibles or make notes in my Bibles, so I don't share some of the concerns that others have.


I would like to see if it is possible to establish which interpretation of the verse is the most literal and in concordance with the present lexicons and studies and let the chips fall where they may.

I derive my egalitarianism from "Love your neighbour as yourself" so it won't upset me.

However, you mention clearer translations that capture the Greek better and I would love to have you offer a suggestion. What do you think captures the Greek here?

At Fri Jun 01, 06:34:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Apprentice2jesus, I'm entirely with you on this. I've been trying to argue that there's a place for both the ESV and the TNIV for quite a while now. Some people can't get over a few disagreements they have on their pet issues, ignoring the fact that the vast bulk of both translations contribute a great deal to improvement in Bible translation, in both cases making great advances over the NIV/RSV in textual criticism, accuracy of understanding the original languages, and keeping up-to-date on changes in scholarly opinion. One might argue that either translation fails to do this in certain places or doesn't do it the way one might like, but by and large I think the ESV is a much better translation for contemporary readers than the RSV is, and the same is true of the TNIV as compared with the NIV.

At Fri Jun 01, 08:19:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I just read your comment here and thought that you offer a lot of useful insights. I almost missed it.

The whole thread is interesting.

At Fri Jun 01, 11:10:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy, the problem with 1 Timothy 2:12 is that people tend to translate it according to their presuppositions. They think they can get away with that because the precise original meaning of the word is not clear. But to me the implication of that is that the rendering in a translation should be a mediating one allowing for various interpretations, perhaps with various options in footnotes, much as TNIV has done. It is illegitimate to translate this verse, as some people want to, in a way that forces only one interpretation and rules out others. The TNIV rendering also has the advantage of being very much in the KJV tradition which is generally accepted. I really can't understand why some people are insisting on writing their own sectarian rendering into the Bible text. The predictable result is that their Bible is rejected as sectarian.

At Fri Jun 01, 02:13:00 PM, Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

Suzanne, I'm looking forward to your arguments in this series, and would hope you could widen your search beyond a translation common to the whole evangelical community. I've trackbacked to a longer reflection on this point.


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