Wednesday, January 9, 2013

LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) recommends against NIV 2011

In December of 2011, a similar headline appeared on Intrepid Lutherans: ELS doctrine committee recommends against NIV 2011. In that post, we reported that the Doctrine Committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), “based on preliminary study of the NIV 2011” upon which they found “significant changes to the text of the NIV (1984)... diminish[ing] the accuracy of the NIV,” proceeded to publicly “recommend against the use of the NIV (2011).”

In August of 2012 – coincidentally, shortly following the last of the WELS 2012 District Conventions – the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) issued a similar, though more lengthy, statement expressing their opinion on the strength of the NIV 2011 as a suitable translation for use in the congregation, specifically with reference to its rendering of the Biblical texts in gender inclusive language. The statement was issued at the request of LCMS Synod President Rev. Matt Harrison. The name of this document is CTCR Staff Opinion on Inclusive Language in the New International Version (2011). They conclude on page four:
    ...[W]e find the NIV's Committee on Bible Translation [CBT] decision to substitute plural nouns and pronouns for masculine singular nouns and pronouns to be a serious theological weakness and a misguided attempt to make the truth of God's Word more easily understood. The use of inclusive language in NIV 2011 creates the potential for minimizing the particularity of biblical revelation and, more seriously, at times undermines the saving revelation of Christ as the promised Savior of humankind. Pastors and congregations of the LCMS should be aware of this serious weakness. In our judgment this makes it inappropriate for NIV 2011 to be used as a lectionary Bible or as a Bible to be generally recommended to the laity of our church. This is not a judgment on the entirety of NIV 2011 as a translation – a task that would require a much more extensive study of NIV 2011 – but an opinion as to a specific editorial decision which has serious theological implications.

    (NOTE: in all quotes from this Statement, emphasis is mine)
Leading up to this conclusion, the August 2012 CTCR Statement makes plain that the issue of Gender Neutrality is not one that hasn't already been thoroughly investigated by the LCMS. Unlike WELS, they are not just beginning to discuss it as a Synod, but took the issue of gender neutral Bible translation seriously when it first emerged in the 1990's. Responding to gender neutral editorializing of the Bible, such as that taken up by the translators of the New Revised Standard Version, the CTCR examined the issue closely and at length, issuing in 1998 a document entitled, Biblical Revelation and Inclusive Language (BRIL). The August 2012 CTCR Statement on the issue of inclusive language in the NIV 2011 quotes at length from this 1998 document. It states that, while BRIL “recognizes that 'language evolves' and so takes no position with regard to the propriety of inclusive language in everyday life,”
    [t]he concern that led to [BRIL] had to do with the removal of gender specific language from translations of the Holy Scriptures... and the substitution of gender inclusive language that is not present in the original languages and texts of Scripture. In this regard [BRIL] takes a clear position grounded in the understanding of revelation itself that is held by us as Lutheran Christians:

      This raises a different set of difficulties, for the Scriptures are not merely the rendering of a culturally based understanding of God. They are to be regarded as revelation whose author is finally God himself. Moreover, not only the concepts of Scripture but the very words of Scripture have been given to the biblical authors to write (1 Cor. 2:9-13; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; Jer. 30:2). While the church will certainly wish to accommodate modern sensibilities and translate anew where the language of the Scriptures allows, the church is not free to alter the language of revelation.
Quoting from BRIL, the August 2012 Statement of the CTCR goes on to say,
    It is in the Word made flesh (John 1:14) that God has fulfilled “his purpose for humankind's eternal destiny.” This purpose, in one particular Person born of Mary at a particular time and place, is revealed in the particularity of Holy Scripture and most specifically “in the written testimony of the evangelical and apostolic writings of the New Testament.” The specificity and particularity of the Word made flesh and the sacred Scriptures compel the church to “resist demands to change the words of Scripture or to replace them with words derived from common human experience, cultural predilections, or the ideas of philosophers and lawgivers.

    Biblical Revelation and Inclusive Language considers two aspects of the debate about masculine language in the Scriptures: the language that is used to refer to God and the language that is used to refer to humanity (both Christians and humanity in general). With regard to biblical language about God, the CTCR concludes: “If one wishes to translate accurately the words of the Scriptures, the language of both the Old Testament and the New Testament is clear enough concerning the terminology about God. God and his Spirit are consistently referred to in masculine terminology.” With regard to language about people, BRIL asserts that whenever the Scriptures speak about people, the texts should be translated in a way that is consistent with “the language which the biblical authors in fact use.”
While merely interpreting concepts and rendering them “with words derived from common human experience, cultural predilections, or the ideas of philosophers and lawgivers” (the way that NIV 2011 does), instead of translating the actual words and grammar “which the biblical authors in fact use,” doesn't adversely affect the meaning of a translation in every case, the August 2012 CTCR Statement stresses that this ideology of translation itself violates our understanding of Biblical revelation in principle, and that this is sufficient grounds for rejecting it, and thus also the NIV 2011. Nevertheless, this brief statement goes on to give two “very significant” examples where the meaning of Scripture is, in fact, adversely affected by the gender inclusive principles espoused by the translators of the NIV 2011. Rather than reproduce the entire Statement here, I leave it to the reader to download and digest its contents. Again, those documents are as follows:It should not escape the readers notice that, based on the CTCR's appeal to the Lutheran understanding of the very nature of Biblical revelation, for WELS to continue embracing the NIV 2011 as a viable translation that is not only suitable but recommended for use in our pulpits and in the homes of our laymen for private study, and which will serve as the Standard translation in all WELS publications – from devotions to hymnals, catechisms and commentaries, and even theological works published by Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) – is to invite a rift with nearly all other confessional Lutherans in America over the nature of Biblical revelation itself, including the doctrines of inspiration, inerrancy and perspicuity.


Anonymous said...

A member of the TEC became very upset when I mentioned this LCMS document at a conference this fall. First he told me that no such thing existed. Then when I pulled up a copy on my laptop and began to read a few quotes for the benefit of the room (which directly opposed the blatantly pro-NIV2011-but-pretending-to-be-neutral presentation he had just delivered), he interrupted and began to speak quite loudly over me, informing the audience of laymen, teachers, and pastors from my district that he "would not let me mislead them" and informing them that it was not any kind of an official opinion of the LCMS, "but merely one person's thoughts". He then strongly implied that Paul McCain was probably behind the whole thing.

I left very unimpressed.

Mr. Joseph Jewell

Pastor Spencer said...

Mr. Jewell,

Thank you for sharing your observation. Since it was a public meeting, attended by many, would you care to share also the name of the presenter from the TEC? I think it is important to know exactly who is saying what on this issue.

In any case - thanks again for the report.

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

The speaker was Prof. Ken Cherney of WLS, speaking September 29, 2012 at California Lutheran High School (the keynote speech of a "discipleship workshop" on the Bible). I should say, by the way, that all of the breakout sessions for the workshop that I attended were very well done.

I found it quite ironic that the tag line publicizing the workshop was Martin Luther's quote about the power of "a simple layman armed with scripture..." Not in the WELS, I guess!

Mr. Joseph Jewell

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

I have no idea what the internal political machinery of the LCMS may look like. Not that I really care to know – I happen to detest internal organizational politics. But every organization has them, including church organizations like WELS and LCMS. But it is really quite ridiculous to dismiss this CTCR Statement just because politics may have been involved, or even more crassly, because certain "less-preferred" political figures may have been involved in issuing it (one would assume based on this, that if a political figure with a more preferable position had been involved, it would be taken more seriously instead of being dismissed as "one person's opinion"). Politics were involved, to be sure – the statement says so directly in footnote #1: "This document is in response to a request from the President of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS), who asked for an opinion on the appropriateness for use in the LCMS of the 2011 edition of the New International Version." The chief political figure of the LCMS was behind it. Perhaps we should be more quick to dismiss anything in the WELS behind which our chief political figure is standing, or anything we think we can justifiably guess a "less-preferred political figure" was somehow involved with.

Here are the facts that those who released this Statement share with everyone equally – facts that they want known about it. This document is available from the CTCR page of the LCMS website, where it is prominently listed under the "Theological Opinions" heading of the "Recent Actions" section. That is, it is publicly labeled by them as an action of the CTCR, not the opinion of a person, and it is distributed by the LCMS CTCR as one of their documents, not by an individual. The Statement itself notes that it was issued by "request from the President of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS)," not by request from Paul McCain or anyone else. The Statement declares of itself that it is "an opinion on inclusive language" or "an opinion as to a specific editorial decision which has serious theological implications," as opposed to a formal evaluation of the NIV 2011 in its entirety. Interestingly, the "opinion" is limited to this statement: "In our judgment, this makes it inappropriate for NIV 2011 to be used as a lectionary Bible or as a Bible to be generally recommended to the laity of our church." Other than this sentence, this Statement does very little "opining" at all, as its substance rests on profuse quotation from BRIL – a report of the CTCR with official standing, being prepared in response to an official request of the LCMS in Convention (1989). Indeed, a healthy respect for BRIL would make it very difficult to justify any other than the "opinion" this Statement finally expresses.

Continued in next comment...

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

...Continued from previous comment.

As for Paul McCain, according to the LCMS document What is the CTCR? (which is also available on the CTCR page of the LCMS website), he has no association with the CTCR. Speculation that he is "behind the whole thing" as a means of dismissing this Statement is either rumour or conspiracy theory. Finally, this August 2012 CTCR Statement is signed, "CTCR Executive Staff," which is different than some of the other documents, some of which are signed "Adopted by the CTCR [on such-and-such a date]." This is a curious difference. Given the prominent placement of this Statement on their website, however, it is difficult to say, without a public explanation from them, what this difference means in terms of its general sanction. One can read What is the CTCR? to determine who the "Executive Staff" might be – but the Statement refers to the signatories as "we" throughout, not "I". Regardless of its status as "an opinion," or the number of people included as signatories, or whether it has the full sanction of the CTCR or not, the substance to contend with isn't really the "opinion" contained in the Statement. The substance to contend with is BRIL, and this CTCR statement makes that clear.

Finally, I think it is important to note the significance of recommending against the use of the NIV 2011. The LCMS CTCR and the ELS Doctrine Committee are not merely saying that other translations are more preferable than the NIV 2011 as a standard translation for use in Synod publications, parish lectionaries and pulpits, and for lay devotional use. What they are saying is far more forceful. They are making a positive recommendation against the use of the NIV 2011 by conscientious Lutherans, the CTCR stating directly that the NIV 2011 is inappropriate for use in the congregation, and cannot even be recommended for lay devotional use due to the "serious theological implications" of adopting a translation rendered "with words derived from common human experience, cultural predilections, or the ideas of philosophers and lawgivers" that are inconsistent with "the language which the biblical authors in fact use," all according to a human ideology which deliberately elevates the former above the latter. The reader must notice that there is nearly an ocean-breadth divide between them and the WELS TEC, and the issue isn't at all a minor one. It is a matter of fundamental Christian doctrine.

My "Opinion,"

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Somebody just drew this discussion to my attention. I would like simply here to state that *if* it was said, by anyone, that "Paul McCain was behind" the CTCR statement this is a serious violation of the 8th Commandment.

I have no position with the Missouri Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations, nor did I have anything to do with the preparation of the CTCR statement.

I however do welcome it as yet another clear and definitive explanation of why no Lutheran church body that holds dear to the doctrine of Sacred Scripture should recommend the NIV2011 as their translation of choice.

My thoughts about the WELS considering using the NIV2011 are well known as I've expressed them on my public blog site. I continue to hope and pray that the WELS does not make what I would regard to be a very serious error in judgment re. NIV2011.

Pastor Spencer said...

Rev. McCain,

Thank you for your comment.

As anyone who reads Intrepid Lutherans knows, we do not always agree with each other. But we do appreciate you taking a moment to clear this up and set the record straight.

Unfortunately, this idea that you and CPH have pressured the Missouri Synod into rejecting the NIV 2011 for whatever reason seems to be fairly wide-spread in the WELS, and is often used as a reason to ignore the very valid, substantive, and important criticisms of the NIV 2011 by those in the LCMS.

And we agree with you that acceptance of the NIV 2011 by the WELS would indeed be a very serious error in judgment.

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Since it's become a point of interest I want to be more specific about the Paul McCain reference, since I said "implied", which is vague.

A questioner from the floor asked Prof. Cherney if he thought "Paul McCain was behind this" (which I thought was a fairly ridiculous assumption) and Prof. Cherney said something along the lines of "I wouldn't disagree". He didn't say "yes"; he was noncommittal but positive. Hence "implied" rather than "said" in my original statement.

On a lighter note, I should tell you, Pastor McCain, that amongst a number of WELS pastors I have advocated for ESV with, you are seen as basically running the LCMS. The quatrefoil argument against the ESV seems to go like this--in order!--for the WELS NIV2011 advocates.

1) No translation is perfect (the opening gambit--even they must know that this doesn't mean that some translations aren't better than others)
2) "Wooden" (always this precise adjective, but usually without any examples)
3) It comes from the RSV (guilt by association)
4) Paul McCain (the trump card, as if that settles the question)

I shared this observation with my now-wife before one of our premarital counseling sessions (to which I brought along my copy of The Lutheran Study Bible). She was very impressed when the pastor doing the sessions ran through the list--unprompted, items 1 through 4 in order!--when we began to discuss Bible translations after the session. I can only assume that these are the talking points informally distributed on the grapevine, or perhaps at all of the various study-it-until-you-like-it sessions going on around the synod?

Mr. Joseph Jewell

Warren Malach said...

What do posters to this forum believe is going to happen at this summer's WELS Convention with regard to the NIV2011? I have heard some in the WELS say that adopting the NIV2011 is "already a done deal." Do posters here believe that that is true?

Warren Malach said...

When we were discussing the adoption of a new Bible translation by the WELS at this summer's convention in our congregation, I stated my opinion that, whatever translation was adopted, a list of suggested corrections to the text such as was made available in the WLQ back when the NIV1984 was adopted by the WELS should be made available to everyone in the synod, to deal with the most important translation errors. Otherwise, a study edition of whatever translation is adopted should be made available with notes which could include such translation corrections. Since joining the WELS, I have noticed some members have copies of the OONCORDIA SELF-STUDY BIBLE, which was published to be used with the NIV1984, and which in its notes corrected such mistranslations as Acts 3:21 "He must remain in heaven," as did the suggested corrections published in the WLQ. I believe that this is the LEAST that can be done to try to make ANY translation which is adopted more accurate.

Joe Krohn said...

This is off topic...but will there be a conference this year?

Tim Niedfeldt said...

I'm not saying I'm running a book on the odds of the NNIV passing at convention...But...Even money says it will. WELS parishioners are not intrepid enough to counter "The Study". Relational and relevant are the post-modern crack and WELS is hooked.

For a long time I have been wondering...where is the action? Where is the definitive direction? When did we start becoming of the world instead of set apart from the world? However I guess I have already made my decision. "Synod" is irrelevant. I say it's every man for himself and God bless the local congregation.

I recently was talking with a pastor and he said this line which I now love. "When a church stops contending for the Word, it becomes a synod."

Tim Niedfeldt

Pastor Spencer said...


Very tentatively, we are hoping for another conference in June or July, probably in the Milwaukee area. But plans are very preliminary at this time, and events may change the picture considerably.

Thanks for asking.

Pastor Spencer

Tim Niedfeldt said...


Well I think the Intrepids could earn a prize for intrepidness if they had a conference right before the convention. I have offered a location to host and cash towards the conference to help make it happen. So I hope "events" don't change too much. Here is the only real hope for an effort to oppose what we all know is an ever slippery slope to doctrinal decline. I hope everyone can remain Intrepid to the End or what is the point.

Tim Niedfeldt

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