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The Amazing Bible

May 30, 2016

Once in a while I see an idea that has been rolling around in my head show up in print as a more fully developed thought from somebody else’s head.  That happened to me the other day.  For some time now I’ve been thinking that the translation of the Bible you use, or even cherish, says more about you (or me) than it does about God and the Bible itself.  We tend to gather together in tribes asserting that our preferred translation is the best and often sneer at other translations.

This thought started rolling around in my head when our church, because we give Bibles away quite often, ran out of 1984 NIV pew Bibles and had difficulty getting new ones.  The elders (I was one of them) reviewed rather quickly, a week or so, the available replacements and proposed that we use the ESV from now on.  Sometime after that decision I began to notice the ESV had a pattern of controversial translations concerning the role of women; they always translated disputed words or thoughts to favor the complementarian view.  To be fair, I soon was able to see that the TNIV did the same thing in favoring the egalitarian view with its translation.

Then recently I saw an article by Scott McKnight giving his view of how you can tell the “tribe” Christians belongs in by the translation they favor.  McKnight’s list is as follows:

The NIV 2011 is the Bible of conservative evangelicals.
The NLT is the Bible of conservative evangelicals.
The TNIV is the Bible of egalitarian evangelicals.
The ESV is the Bible of complementarian conservative evangelicals.
The NASB is the Bible of conservative evangelical serious Bible students.
The NRSV is the Bible of Protestant mainliners.
The RSV is the Bible of aged Protestant mainliners.
The CEB is the Bible of Protestant mainliners.
The KJV … fill in the blank yourself.  (Ha!)
The Message is the Bible of those who are tired of the politics (and like something fresh).

You can read his article, which concludes that translation wars are much ado about nothing because all of these translations are good and all, to one degree or another, use the same translation principles here.  I particularly like this part of his opening paragraph:

“The reality is that the major Bible translations in use today are all good, and beyond good, translations. There is no longer a ‘best’ translation but instead a basket full of exceptional translations.”

I’ve been wondering why this gathering into tribes happens so vividly, and is often the source of bitter conflict and have concluded that the problem lies in the doctrine of inerrancy.  Inerrancy is a simple statement to make but it takes a huge and complex document to flesh out.  This is particularly true because in that document there is this paragraph that pretty much gives any translator a pass:

“We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

In other, if I think your translation evaluates the Bible is “according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose” I am free to call your translation wrong.  The problem with this loophole is that it exposes the primary flaw in current inerrancy assertions and leads to tribalism.

That flaw is that even if the Bible is inerrant nobody reading the Bible is inerrant themselves so there is no way we can assert that our translation (and you can pick the one from the list you like) is inerrant.  In McKnight’s words again – “The politics of Bible translation is a sad case of colonizing the Bible for one’s agenda. There is lots of stone throwing about translations as if one is wildly superior to the others, but often that is about tribes and not the translation.”

Perhaps, while it may be a bit confusing, churches would be well served by using a variety of translations.  Perhaps we should call off the silly wars that rise primarily from interpretations that we and our preferred translators favor.  Perhaps we should cease accusing those who differ with us, and their translation, of flawed thinking or even heresy.  Let’s agree that we have an amazing Bible and that we can read with thanks the many good translations we are blessed to have.

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From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. arm5 permalink

    Thank you for sharing this. Most people judge you by the translation that you use or assume that you use. I use many different versions myself.

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