Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On "Emasculated Bibles" and being "Objective"

I spent an evening last week in the company of around fifty WELS laymen and clergy. They had asked me speak to them about the issue of Bible translations, in preparation for the decisions our Synod will be faced with in the very short period of time between now and the 2012 District Conventions. I think I used about two hours of time – I lost track. I first gave a “presentation” – “a little talk”, as I put it to them, rather than a formal lecture or power point entertainment session. I think that lasted around fifty minutes or so, in which I talked a little about the history of Christian education, from Abraham to the Reformation, and the fact that all education over the expanse of time the Church has existed – both the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church – grew from God’s command to read that which was written. That is, our forebears didn’t create for themselves dumbed-down childrens’ Bibles to read. They didn’t produce translations rendered in an artificially reduced grammar and vocabulary for the sake of wider distribution and profit (in the name of “readability,” of course). Instead, they read the Scriptures as they were written, and in the case of the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, Luther’s German Bible, and Tyndale’s English Bible, they read in their own language translations which were honest academic attempts to reproduce in those languages, not just the meaning of the original text, but a grammatical structure and vocabulary that was as nearly parallel to that of the source texts that the target language could accommodate – a parallel grammar and vocabulary in the target language that also carried the meaning of the source. But the Bible, in the source languages, has a lot of complex grammar, and very precise vocabulary! If, as a result, the Bible was hard to read and understand, what was the solution for the Hebrews? The early Christians who read Paul’s letters directly in Greek? The Latin Church? And the Reformers? The solution was not to dumb-down and emasculate the Bible. The solution was to redouble their commitment to educating Christians. All Christian education emanated from this need: to read and understand God’s Word.

Emasculated Bibles
From there, I talked a little about the terms Dynamic Equivalence and Formal Equivalence, which readers of Intrepid Lutherans should be familiar with – we wrote a little about these terms in our post The NIV 2011 and the Importance of Translation Ideology, and they come up frequently in discussion concerning the evaluation of modern Bible translations. After that, I spoke a bit about the difference between Complementarianism and Egalitarianism, the militant feminist influence which faces us in Egalitarian teaching, the postmodern devices of language employed by feminism to “cleanse” the English language of masculine forms (read about this, and the recent challenges WELS has faced from Egalitarians, in our recent post on Postmodernism and pop-culture), and the clear connection between emasculation of the Bible in the NIV 2011 and the objectives of Egalitarianism and militant feminism, including confused teaching regarding the roles of men and women, especially in Acts 1 and 1 Cor 14 (for more on this, see NIV 2011: A brotherly debate). I concluded “my little talk” with a dramatic reading of a conversation which covers many of these issues.

Being the first time through these presentation materials in front of a group, it went a little rough. Add to this the fact that I was actively redacting and adding material on the fly, to adjust for my audience. But it went well-enough that nearly an equal amount of time was spent in Q&A following, discussing the material in my presentation, and other various issues related to the decisions we will be facing, the time for which is swiftly bearing down on our Synod. This presentation, and the conversation with followed, was good timing for these men; and the materials I left them with, Rev. Brian Keller's (WELS) excellent essay, Evaluating Bible Translations: Alle Schrift von Gott eingegeben, and Rev. Robert Koester's (WELS) important open letter Thoughts on Gender-Neutral Language in the NIV 2011, will go a long way toward informing their thinking. The fact is, there are many deep issues for the laity to investigate and consider. It would be a pity if they were presented with substantive information to consider only a couple months before District Conventions.

Being “Objective” in matters of consequence
But did I provide them an “objective” presentation? The answer is emphatically, “No, I did not.” I was nice, of course, and non-polemical – I even told a joke or two. I simply provided a positive case for my position. So the next question to ask is “Did my audience know that I was biased, and that my presentation was ‘non-objective’ from a political standpoint?” The answer is emphatically, “Yes, they did.” How do I know? Because I told them so. Here are my words from introductory remarks I prepared and delivered:
    How do you do, gentlemen? My name is Doug Lindee. I’ve been invited here tonight to talk a little bit about Bible Translations. None of you really has any good reason to know who I am, so you may be wondering, “Why was this guy asked to speak here, on this topic?” I am not a pastor. I am a layman. I have no education that would be officially recognized by Synod as qualification for Ministry of any sort among us, nor am I, having no Call from a Congregation, a “Minister of the Word” in any sense. I am a simple layman, and any “ministry” I engage in occurs within the context of Vocation, not in any “special” capacity within the Church. But I have a College Education. Thirteen years of full time, classroom education, 10.5 years straight, including Summers (except two), plus 2.5 years straight beginning about five years later. In this time, I studied Mathematics, Physics, Economics, Computer Science, Education and Philosophy, and Business and Organizational Leadership. In other words, I know how to learn, and using the tools of learning which I obtained through years and years of practice, I have independently pursued study in matters of the greatest consequence: those of my own faith and confession. It was this study which brought me, along with my wife who studied with me, through the Scriptures, to the conclusions of the Lutheran Confession, and which propels us into further study and advocacy of Scripture’s teachings. As a result, I have gained somewhat of a reputation (a good reputation according to some, a not-so-good reputation according to others) for taking and defending positions – more recently, positions related to the ideology of Bible Translation. So, when it was mentioned to an acquaintance of mine that someone was looking, and found it difficult to find, a person who could speak on the issue of translations which is currently facing our Synod, and inquired whether he knew of someone who might be able to discuss this issue with laity, when my name was mentioned as a knowledgeable layman, this person was aware of who I was and what I have written on the subject. Apparently, that was qualification enough to appear here before you tonight...

    Finally, I need to be honest with you and say, I am not objective regarding the issues I will be discussing. I have already drawn conclusions that I am convinced are correct and worth defending. That isn’t to say my mind can’t be changed, but anyone who attempts to do so will have their work cut out for them, as I have been considering and researching these issues for over fifteen years, and my position didn’t just develop overnight. This is important for you to know. For this reason, I am going to stay as far away as I can from characterizing the perspectives of those holding a position opposite to mine. Why? Simply because I know that I will not be able to do so to their satisfaction – I am biased after all. And this should really be the approach taken by anyone discussing these issues who is known to have taken a position regarding them. How disingenuous it would be for me, or for anyone, to claim objectivity in this matter when it is known that I have taken a firm position. You would have every reason to be suspicious of me! I mentioned that I have 13 years of college experience – and this is an absolute fact that I have learned at the feet of countless college professors during that time. The absolute best professors were those with a definite position, who advocated that position in their lectures. I may have disagreed with them from start to finish, but their impassioned defense provided me the opportunity to develop a more refined rebuttal of my own, and more firmly establish my own position. At other times, though I may at first have disagreed with them, I found their impassioned defense to be more valid than my own position, prompting me to change my mind. Yeah, that happens too, and there is nothing wrong with it.

    On the other hand, the absolute worst professors were those who were “objective.” The only way to be truly objective in matters of consequence, without violating your own conscience, is if you actually don’t care. The worst professors were the “objective” professors. Why? Because they actually didn’t care about what they were talking about. In matters of consequence, this was most frustrating, because we had no idea whether we were receiving key information which would determine the issue, or if such information was being deliberately omitted to keep us students from developing a definite position of our own. But the real tricky professors were the ones who “pretended” to be objective. You see, one rule you can always count on is that college professors know far more than what they actually say in lecture. They choose to share certain information, and choose to withhold certain other information, time being the primary criterion, of course, but also usually according to an unspoken agenda. No, they are not actually objective, but when they nevertheless pass themselves off as objective, they are disingenuous. Sometimes, they are under genuine political pressure to publicly lend support to certain viewpoints which are at odds with their own convictions. Other times, perhaps they are required to "objectively" present issues on which they hold definite bias. The result in any case is that they do so in a way which minimizes damage to what they are convinced is true. The kids who pay attention usually have such professors figured out by the end of their Sophomore year, if not before. In either case, such professors, once they are figured out, are not considered reliable.

    Anyway, my purpose here isn’t necessarily to change your mind or establish your position, nor is it to “demonize” those holding an opposing position, but is simply to give you information which supports my own position – a position held by quite a number among both laity and clergy in our Synod – knowing that you will be exposed to opposing information. And that’s as it should be. You need to hear information from opposing positions, from those who actually hold those positions, in order to draw your own conclusions. What is my position? I am convinced that adopting the NIV 2011, as our English Language standard of the Holy Scriptures, would be a major mistake; and further, that any alternative ought to favor a Formal Equivalence approach to the translation of the source texts into English.
The laity of our Synod will be presented information regarding Bible Translations. The men of the TEC have been tasked with doing this. They are all known to hold definite positions. This fact, along with their rather staunch defense of NIV 2011 at the 2011 WELS Synod Convention, raised the question of their “objectivity” in this task from the floor of the Convention: “Haven’t they already ‘tipped their hand’?” is the question I recall. This question resonates with me, along with many laymen and clergy I speak to or hear from. The men of the TEC are certainly capable of providing a defense of their own position, which is support for the NIV 2011, and in all fairness I think they ought to continue doing so. But who will speak from an opposing perspective? We at Intrepid Lutherans don’t know. While we assume that they must exist, we know of no man from either the Seminary or MLC who is opposed to the NIV 2011. If such men exist, as we assume, then “they ain’t talkin’”. On the other hand, there are many very knowledgeable parish pastors who are busy talking and writing in defense of something other than the NIV 2011 – but to my knowledge they are not being selected to the invitation-only Symposium in January, from which will proceed positions/materials used to present these issues next Spring. Which raises a second issue regarding the presentation of these issues to the laity: “How much time will the laity have to consider these substantive issues, prior to the time they cast their votes at the District Conventions?” A couple of group meetings a few months before District Convention is insufficient.

For my part, I am convinced that, given the time, regular folks can digest these difficult issues, come to sound conclusions, and act accordingly. I am also convinced that, in the absence of other voices, I am willing, and find it necessary, to speak and write about them as my conscience dictates.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Lindee,

I've tried to give an opposing view at our congregation. I was soundly criticized for it. In the next ministry meeting, the leaders, beginning with the pastor, lined up in support of the 2011 NIV, as if the decision was already made. That show of support for the 2011 NIV included statements like "There is no difference between the 1984 and 2011 NIV", "We don't need to study this issue in our local congregation", "We just need to leave it up to the boys at the seminary to do their job". You see, my views were criticized for not being objective, but somehow, their views were objective and therefore appropriate. And with a commanding statement by most of the leadership before a decision is even reached, who CAN speak from an opposing perspective.

Vernon Knepprath

Pr. Benjamin Tomczak said...

Just so you know that what Mr. Knepprath experienced isn't in some way universally applicable, beginning this month our congregation is "sampling" the various translations that have been mentioned in recent discussions (NASB, NKJV, HCSB, ESV, AAT, NIV2011).


Each month we will use one of them in worship (for reading the lessons), and I will use one of them in my sermon text study as my main English version.

Also in Bible classes as we study various books of the Bible (or key sections/lectionary readings) we'll have the translations in parallel columns (two or three at a time to keep it manageable).

Hopefully, by the time District Conventions roll around we'll have formed some sort of opinions and at least experienced the various translations.

It's work, yes, but this is God's Word and it's worth doing the work.

By the by, two interesting books to get a sense of some of the discussion: "The Challenges of Bible Translation," edited by Strauss, Scogie, et al, a festschrift for Ron Youngblood, and so very representative of CBT thinking (though it's written in the early 2000s, and so pre-NIV2011).

The other, "The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy," by Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress. This represents the evangelical movement that opposed the TNIV and led to the ESV and so formulates many of the arguments and has much of the discussion we're having about the NIV2011.

LutherRocks said...

Our pastor reads directly from the Hebrew or Septuagint...depending on the text...it is amazing how the KJV follows how he reads it.

I would also suggest getting acquainted with the Dean Burgon Society...they put forth good information regarding translations going forward from the 1880's or so. I have on order "The Defined King James version of the Bible. Lots of good notes and editorial. Check it out: http://www.biblefortoday.org/kj_bibles.asp

OldLutheran said...

I recently attended a WELS Bible Translation meeting (entitled 2011NIV) given by Rev. Tom Nass, and came away with the distinct understanding that the Bible Translation Committee is by far and away concerned about readability and gender neutrality, as to not confuse the college aged females (this example was seriously presented). Accuracy was always a side note, but the focus was repeatedly that the English of the NIV was the best for all concerned.

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