Intracanonical Echoes in Unexpected Places (Or, What Hath Galatians To Do with Hebrews?)

I must apologize, my gentle snowflakes, for not having yet posted the sequel to my earlier piece on pluralization in Biblical translation, but I simply haven’t had the time or energy to finish it. I expect to post it within the next couple of days. In the meantime,  however, I would like to call to your attention an intriguing paragraph from an older book that I have obtained only in recent days, and which I’ve been reading with great delight: the late estimable Stephen Neill’s Jesus through Many Eyes: Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1976; reprint, Cambridge: James Clarke Lutterworth, 2002). Bishop Neill writes:

The central section of the Epistle [to the Hebrews] deals with priesthood. T. W. Manson once made the brilliant suggestion that the key to understanding this part of the Epistle lies in the Epistle to the Galatians. The writer of Hebrews had read and understood that letter. He had grasped [St] Paul’s remarkable doctrine of the ceremonial Law as ‘the interim’ between the period of the forward-looking promise, which was the period of Abraham, and the period of the promise fulfilled, which was the period of Jesus Christ. He said to himself, ‘How will that work out, if we apply it to the ritual law of sacrifice?’ He found that here too the principle of the ‘interim’ appliesthe Law made nothing perfect (7:19)” (page 109, brackets mine).

This is the most exciting suggestion I have stumbled upon in quite some time, as it tentatively brings together three  long-standing research interests of mine that have so far met at very few junctures: the interpretation of Galatians, the interpretation of Hebrews, and the relationship between the Testaments. Sadly, Manson will be of little help beyond his brilliant suggestion, as Neill ruefully comments in a footnote that this idea was offered to him by Manson in conversation, and that he was able to find no detailed exposition of it in any of his published writings. That is very unfortunate indeed, but no matter: I have still got some reading to do!

(Incidentally, T. W. Manson’s On Paul and John, which I encountered in Spanish translation when I was all of 16, was the very first book on Biblical theology that I ever read. That little book, which still is somewhere around here, gave me an appetite for that discipline that has not diminished with time. For that I thank Manson, and I find it quite  fitting that such a felicitous suggestion should come from him.)

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Bible Translation, Pluralization, and Apostolic Exegesis

As is well known, it is now commonplace for English Bible translations to make use of pluralization as a device to achieve gender-inclusive renderings. Scores of instances of this from several translations published within the past 20 years could be readily offered, but let us take St John 14:23 as an example:

ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἐάν τις ἀγαπᾷ με τὸν λόγον μου τηρήσει, καὶ ὁ πατήρ μου ἀγαπήσει αὐτὸν καὶ πρὸς αὐτὸν ἐλευσόμεθα καὶ μονὴν παρ᾽ αὐτῷ ποιησόμεθα.

“Jesus answered him, ‘If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’ ” (RSV).

“Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them’ ” (NRSV).

Also well known is the charge that pluralization does undue violence to the Biblical text by erroneously generalizing what is meant to be particular. Wayne Grudem’s objection to the NRSV’s translation of our passage is typical:

“The problem is that Jesus did not speak with plural pronouns here; he used singulars. Jesus wanted to specify that he and the Father would come and dwell within an individual believer. But the NRSV has lost that emphasis because of the plurals ‘those’ and ‘them’ indicate a group of people, such as a church. The words of Jesus have been unnecessarily changed in translation, and the meaning is different”1.

Of course, D. A. Carson (pace Grudem and Poythress’ protestations to the contrary2) has decisively put to rest the basic linguistic thrust of such arguments in his superb (but regrettably out-of-print) study, The Inclusive Language Debate: A Plea for Realism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998). Hang on momentarily, however, to the notion that “the rejection of the generic ‘he, him, his’ obscures the personal application of Scripture”3, and that it therefore fundamentally distorts the meaning of the Biblical texts, for this line of thought is what concerns us here.

With this in mind, I wish to offer the following extract from Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss’ excellent little book, How To Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007):

“Evidence that pluralizing does not necessarily distort the meaning of the text comes from the Bible itself, since Biblical writers sometimes translate masculine singular generics with plural constructions. Consider these examples, where the apostle Paul quotes from the Old Testament:

Old Testament Text

New Testament Text

Isa. 52:7: How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news. Rom. 10:15b: . . . As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Ps. 36:1b: There is no fear of God before his eyes. Rom. 3:10, 18: As it is written . . . “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Ps. 32:1: Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Rom. 4:6-7: David says the same thing . . . “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”

In all three cases [St] Paul translated Hebrew singulars with Greek plurals. He clearly recognized that generic plurals in Greek accurately represent the meaning of generic singulars in Hebrew. He changed the form but retained the meaning”4.

To be sure, this is hardly breaking news: careful students of the Bible have doubtless noted at least as much in their own reading. Further, Strauss himself had previously included the above table in his book Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation & Gender Accuracy (Carol Stream: IVP, 1998)5, and even earlier in a paper presented at the 1997 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Strauss’ paper, in turn, led Carson to comment on these texts in The Inclusive Language Debate (see below). Thus, notice of these clear and unambiguous instances of Pauline pluralization has long been available from a variety of sourcesand indeed, they stand right there in the Bible for all to see.

As I revisited the literature of the “Bible wars” over the past several weeks, however, I kept coming back to our three Pauline quotations of the Old Testament with a sense that I was missing something in spite of my long familiarity with them. After much reflection, it finally dawned on me that there were some rather obvious parallels to be drawn (how could I miss them!) between the issues they raise for the contemporary debate and the subject of Apostolic exegesis. I ask your indulgence, then, in allowing me the following heuristic thoughts on the matter.

Now, frequent readers of this blog are no doubt aware that one of the chief burdens of The Voice of Stefan is to promote the cause of the normativity of Apostolic exegesis for our own reading and interpretation of Scripture. To quote once again our Infallible Hero, Moisés Silva:

“If we refuse to pattern our exegesis after that of the apostles, we are in practice denying the authoritative character of their scriptural interpretationand to do so is to strike at the very heart of the Christian faith”6.

Yet this obvious truth is not so obvious to all, and it is not difficult in the least to find scholars who, in spite of their high confessional commitment to the authority of Scripture, would deny that it is desirable or even possible to reproduce the exegesis that the Apostles model for us in their use of the Old Testament in the New. In like manner also, though in our three Pauline quotations of the Old Testament we have not only an example of Apostolic exegesis, but indeed of Apostolic translation, they are not few who oppose the use of the translation method that St Paul modeled for us in these and other texts. E. Earle Ellis protests:

“Some suppose that if Christian apostles or prophets could elaborate the biblical text from, e.g. ‘he shall be my son’ (2 Sam. 7:14) to ‘you shall be my sons and daughters’ (2 Cor. 6:18), why cannot they do the same? They are not the first transmitters of the Scriptures to think like this.”

And then he proceeds to compare the unfortunate “supposers” with the villains of Bart Ehrman’s youthful nightmares, those scribes who took it upon themselves to smooth over and improve upon the manuscripts which they were copying7. Of course, Ellis denies that it is possible to reproduce the exegesis of the Apostles, which he considers a charismatic exercise exclusive to the apostles and prophets of the earliest Church (cf. Ephesians 2:20)8; it is no coincidence, I believe, that he also strongly rejects the possibility of reproducing the translational example of St Paul. But let us not get ahead of ourselves.

St Paul’s use of pluralization in our three passages is nothing short of remarkable on two counts. Firstly, he can hardly be accused of playing translational fast and loose with singulars and plurals, as witnesses his argument in Galatians 3:15-18, which depends entirely on καὶ τῷ σπέρματί σου (“and to your seed“) being in the singular. Secondly, it should be remembered that using the generic singular masculine in Greek would still have rendered the meaning of these passages inclusiveyet St Paul uses the inclusive plural here. Carson comments:

“I am certainly not suggesting the singulars may be translated into plurals indiscriminately. [ . . . ] But at the very least, one must conclude, from [St] Paul’s own habits, that the apostle does not think something of truth is lost when he renders a singular by a plural. In the last of the three cases (Ps. 32:1 in Rom. 4:6-7), he is quoting the LXX. The apostle neither condemns the translation nor reverts to the Hebrew to retain greater accuracy”9.

This brings us to my ultimate point: if, as Grudem argues, pluralization fails to accurately translate the Biblical text and effectively changes its meaning, can we accuse St Paul of distorting Scripture in the passages we have quoted? Would this not bring into question the authoritative character of his handling of Scripture? And would this not strike at the very heart of the Christian faith?

But this is not the end of the matter. The apostles do not pluralize their quotations from the Old Testament in every instance, and as Carson suggests, neither should we. Further, each side must resist the temptation to simply “[bless] its own translation preferences with divine sanction”10. But St Paul’s example does clearly suggest that pluralization does not necessarily distort the meaning and application of Scripture, as many contemporary critics aver. His example should also give pause to those critics who accuse others of so doing, lest they place the Apostle under their injunction, and thus also the Apostolic exegesis on which their faith is founded.

Of course, Apostolic exegesis interprets Christologically many of the singular masculine references in the Old Testament (especially in the Psalms). This poses a delicate problem for pluralization for which I’m not sure there is a satisfactory solution, but I will comment on this and other matters in my next post.

ENDNOTES:

1. Wayne Grudem, What’s Wrong with Gender-Neutral Bible Translations? (Libertyville: Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1997), page 3. Available online here.

2. Vern Poythress and Wayne Grudem, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2004), pages 467-478.

3. Grudem, What’s Wrong, page 3.

4. Fee and Strauss, How to Choose a Translation, page 105.

5. Cf. Strauss, Distorting Scripture?, page 126.

6. Moisés Silva, “The New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Text and Form,” in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (eds.), Scripture and Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), p. 164.

7. Let me note in passing that altering the form of a text in translation according to the needs of the receptor language is hardly comparable to tampering with the particulars of the original text!

8. See, for example, Ellis’ Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), especially pages 173-187, and The Old Testament in Early Christianity: Canon and Interpretation the Light of Modern Research (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), especially pages 77-121.

9. Carson, The Inclusive Language Debate, page 116.

10. Ibid., page 108.

Saturday à Machen: Reading Paul in Light of Paul

Was St Paul’s thought consistent? It can hardly be denied that the Apostle makes statements in his various epistles that appear to be in tension (or, some cases, even to flatly contradict) one another. Not a few scholars argue on the these grounds that it is impossible to read St Paul’s writings as a coherent corpuswith some, to borrow Moisés Silva’s words, raising questions “not just about the authority of apostolic teaching but about Paul’s basic intelligence.” But of course, this need not be so, as a sympathetic reading of the Pauline epistles readily demonstrates. Machen addresses the point as it relates to the claims of independence that St Paul makes for “his Gospel” in the Epistle to the Galatians, and concludes that far from being an impossibility, reading St Paul’s epistles as a coherent whole is necessary if we wish to avoid a myopic reading of these texts.

J. Gresham Machen” . . . 2 Cor. v. 16, rightly interpreted, does not attest any indifference on the part of Paul toward the information about Jesus which came to him through contact with Jesus disciples. Such indifference, however, is also thought to be attested by the Epistle to the Galatians. In Gal. i, ii, Paul emphasizes his complete independence over against the original disciples. He received his gospel, he says, not by the instrumentality of men, but by direct revelation from the risen Christ. Even after the revelation he felt no need of instruction from those who had been apostles before him. It was three years before he saw any of them, and then he was with Peter only fifteen days. Even when he did finally have a conference with the original apostles, he received nothing from them; they recognized that God had already entrusted him with his gospel and that they had nothing to add. What can this passage mean, it is asked, except that Paul was indifferent to tradition, and derived his knowledge of Christ entirely from revelation?

“In answer, it is sufficient to point to 1 Cor. xv. 1-11. Was Paul indifferent to tradition? In 1 Cor. xv. 3 he himself attests the contrary; he places traditionsomething that he had receivedat the very foundation of his missionary preaching. “For I delivered unto you among the first things,” he says, “that which I also received.” The word “received” here certainly designates information obtained by ordinary word of mouth, not direct revelation from the risen Christ; and the content of what was “received” fixes the source of the information pretty definitely in the fifteen days which Paul spent with Peter at Jerusalem. It is almost universally admitted that 1 Cor. xv. 3ff. contains the tradition of the Jerusalem Church with regard to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

“The comparison with 1 Cor. xv. 1-11 thus exhibits the danger of interpreting the Epistle to the Galatians in one-sided fashion. If Galatians stood by itself, the reader might suppose that at least the resurrection of Christ, the central fact of Paul’s gospel, was founded, in Paul’s preaching, upon Paul’s own testimony alone. In Galatians Paul says that his gospel was not derived from men. But his gospel was grounded upon the resurrection of Christ. Surely, it might be said, therefore, he based at least the resurrection not at all upon the testimony of others but upon the revelation which came to him from Christ. Is it possible to conceive of the author of Galatians as appealing for the foundation of his gospel to the testimony of Peter and the twelve and other brethren in the primitive Churchto the testimony of exactly those men whose mediatorship he is excluding in Galatians? Yet as a matter of fact, that is exactly what Paul did. That he did so is attested not by the Book of Acts or by any source upon which doubt might be cast, but by one of the accepted epistles. The Epistle to the Galatians must always be interpreted in the light of 1 Cor. xv. 1-11.”

(J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion [1925; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], pages 144-145.)

Also, for a masterful elucidation of whether St. Paul was a systematic thinker, see Moisés Silva, “Systematic Theology and the Apostle to the Gentiles” (Trinity Journal 15.1 [1994]:3-26), available online at the link, and in a reworked format as chapter 8 of Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001).

On Projects that May Never Be Completed, and Various Other Musings

I

Ah, my gentle snowflakes, it is once again that time of the year! In Eastern Christian churches, chapels, and monasteries near and far the words of St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (barring any reprehensible liturgical transgressions which need not concern us here) are being heard during the Divine Liturgy. The Sunday lectionary cycle has just treated us to three consecutive readings from that Epistle (1:11-19; 2:16-20; 6:11-18), and the Saturday lectionary cycle will soon offer us another three (1:3-10; 3:8-12; 5:22-6:2). It is no secret that, like the infallible Moisés Silva and the great J. Gresham Machen before him, I am fascinated by the Epistle to the Galatians; it surely comes as no surprise, then, that year after year hearing its words in Church invariably leads me to revisit the Galatians literature at my disposal, which is fortunately not inconsiderable.

Chief among the works to which I turn is our Infallible Hero’s book Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), which I enthusiastically recommend to all. To open this book is always bittersweet, however, given the opening paragraphs of its Preface (p. 11):

Like every other book, this one has a history. The main title reflects the latest stage in that history, namely, a volume intended to provide guidance in the development of exegetical method. But in the beginning it was not so. Nearly two decades ago [=c. 1976] I envisioned a more ambitious work, consisting probably of two or three volumes, and covering in near-definitive form every major area in the study of Galatians. It would have established with firmer footing than before the original text of the epistle; it would have uncovered significant facts in the history of interpretation; it would have provided a cogent treatment of Paul’s use of the Old Testament; and so on.

I have not totally given up on some of those goals, but time (the awesome competitor) is against me. A few years ago, however, it occurred to me that there might be some value in publishing part of the material as a work-in-progress. If nothing else, such a move would facilitate conversation with other scholars, whose feedback could be of great help in further developing my research. (In other words, when the inevitable criticisms appear, I can conveniently respond that nothing here is meant in a definitive waymy statements here are all tentative!) Such a volume would have the additional advantage of making it possible to rework and bring together a few articles that have been previously published but that are directly relevant to the larger project.

Needless to say, the mere thought that Silva might never publish his multi-volume treatment of Galatians is enough to trigger the onset of despair in more than one expectant soul. Mercifully, we are not wholly bereft of resources if we wish to pursue Silva’s interpretation of Galatians: in addition to Interpreting Galatians and a bounty of articles in journals and books, we have a full outline in his contribution to the New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, and his rather thorough treatment of St Paul’s use of the Old Testament in Galatians in his contribution to the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. (There also exists a 13-CD lecture series recorded while Silva taught at Westminster Theological Seminary, which I hope to acquire some day.) [UPDATE: This series is now available online from the Westminster Archive Media Center.] Still, it is surely much to be regretted that Silva’s extended treatment might never see the light of day, neither as a multi-volume work, nor even as the single-volume commentary once slated to appear as part of the BECNT seriesthough, as our friend Kevin Edgecomb has happily reminded us, hope springs eternal.

II

Now, there are some youthful projects on a grand scale for whose abandonment we should render thanks to Almighty God. Take mine, for instance: nearly a decade ago, I envisioned a homiletical commentary on the Epistle and Gospel readings for Sundays and Feasts. It would have established the ecclesiastical text of the pericopes with firmer footing than before; it would have identified the more significant lines of patristic and liturgical exegesis connected with each passage; it would have provided a cogent treatment of the canonical shape of the New Testament and its relationship to the shape of the lectionary; and so on. Though I am a little over three decades younger than our Infallible Hero, time (the awesome competitor) seems to have caught up with me too, and I have come to the conclusion that this is not a project I could realistically complete in my lifetime. Of course, I have not totally given up on some of those goals. Beyond the issue of time, however, I have come to question the rationale behind a project like the one I once envisioned. For one thing, patristic commentaries on Scripture are more readily available in English now than ever before: witness IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and Ancient Christian Texts series, as well as Eerdmans’ fantastic and promising series The Church’s Bible (whose volume on Isaiah, I should note, features the NETS translation by none other than Moisés Silva). The publication of patristic sermons is also on the rise: in addition to the old mainstays like the NPNF (for St John Chrysostom) and Toal, one can also turn to the admirable new volume of the complete homilies of St Gregory Palamas. Many similar examples could be mentioned.

More importantly, however, I am now concerned that a series of homiletical commentaries on the lectionary readings might wrongly communicate to its readers that we must preach exclusively those texts appointed by the lectionary. This is, broadly speaking, the received wisdom of the liturgical movement of the past century. But upon further reflection, one worries about unwittingly crossing over into something of an utilitarian understanding of liturgy: why read any Scriptural texts in worship that will not be the subject of a sermon? And if we ought to preach on these and no other passages, why stick with a lectionary that is so very repetitive in its choices? As is well known, this line of reasoning lead to the scrapping of the traditional Roman lectionary in the West in favor of a new 3-year lectionary, even featuring readings from the Old Testament. All of these texts are thematically linked, thus facilitating the endeavor to preach from them. By contrast, our lectionary seems like a prehistoric beast: the Epistle and Gospel readings run on practically independent cycles, and the pairings of a given Sunday this year might not be the same as for the same Sunday the next!

What is missing here is the crucial notion that reading and hearing the Scriptures in the Church is a complete act of worship in and of itself. In this capacity, then, Scripture only needs to be read and heard in order to be “liturgically effective” as such. Naturally, the Scriptures must also be preached, but it should be understood that this is a separate matter (that is, a separate act of worship) altogether. Now one may ordinarily preach on the Scripture readings of the lectionary (and especially the Gospel) as a matter of course, but this is not strictly necessary: one may also consider (laudably and profitably, given the lean biblical diet of many of the people in our churches) preaching according to the pattern commonly known as lectio continua. This does not lessen the importance of lectionary readings in the least, since, as we have noted, these readings fulfill an altogether different liturgical functioncertainly in the Byzantine lectionary, the Gospel readings, for example, are carefully selected and arranged in a canonical shape that paints a definite picture of Christ, the Mystery of whose power and divinity in the Resurrection we celebrate every Sunday.

III

So, in the end, there is every reason to render thanks that my youthful project will never be finished, but every reason to mourn the fact that Silva’s might not. Let us fervently pray that things will remain unchanged with the former, but that they will radically change with the latter, much to our benefit.

Marketing the Common English Bible

UPDATE: Paul Franklyn, Project Director for the CEB, informed us in the comments that the text originally featured on the new CEB website would be revised taking into account the concerns laid out below. I sincerely commend Abingdon for their gracious response to criticism and for their willingness to promptly put suggestions into practice. Further, I am pleased to report that the text quoted below has been removed from the website and that the new presentation of the CEB is much, much better.

As most of my readers know, the Common English Bible is a new ecumenical Bible translation project sponsored by Abingdon Press. News of the project appeared throughout the Biblioblogosphere last year, and over the past few days, the buzz has been about the release of the text of the St Matthew’s Gospel, which was finally made available for download yesterday. I expect to make a few comments about the translation later, but  at the moment I only wish to discuss the perplexing statements featured in the brand new website for the CEB, which was launched in connection with the release of its translation of the Gospel of St Matthew. Below are two blocks of text from the website’s front page, each followed by my comments.

A TRANSLATION FOR MAINSTREAM CHRISTIANS
While new translations abound for part of the church, for mainstream denominations the choice is limited. The NRSV revision began in the 1970s and is now 20 years old. It reads at an 11th grade level (which is higher than the typical college graduate), and it was a modest revision of the 1951 RSV. In the past 20 years alone, the English language grew from 300,000 words to over 1 million words. In our quickly changing world, we need a translation of Scripture that connects with the kind of people who worship and study the Bible in our congregations. The Common English Bible can connect people to God once again. What happens next, when we study the Scripture, can take our passion for loving God and neighbor to the next level.

The first question here is what exactly constitutes a “mainstream Christian” or a “mainstream denomination.” By any count, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the US, and news of the controversies at their annual convention often make the national news, so they have a large degree of public visibility. Further, they have recently produced the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and hardly lack choices of other translations to use. Evidently, then, “mainstream” denotes here neither numbers nor public visibility, since Southern Baptists have both of these, and the opening statement still does not apply to them.

A possible solution to the dilemma is that “mainstream” is used here as a synonym of “mainline,” a proposal that has much to commend to it: after all, a majority of the CEB’s translators and consulting readers hail from such denominations as the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Traditionally African-American denominations are also well represented, as is even the Roman Catholic Church. But then the Church of the Nazarene, a 20th-century revivalist denomination of Wesleyan-holiness heritage, is represented by 5 translators and two readersmore than, for instance, the very mainline UCC. Further, there isn’t a single Orthodox translator or consulting reader in the CEB team, though one would certainly think that the Orthodox Church is considered by all to be at least “mainstream.”

It is unclear, then, to whom does the CEB website actually refer when it speaks of “our congregations” and of the “kind of people (!) who worship and study the Bible” in them. What is clear, however, is that the CEB is being marketed with a regrettable “us versus them” mentality from the start, even though who falls into which category is not explained. Still, whoever belongs to the “us” can rest assured that the CEB will “connect [them] to God” and stir them to “take [their] passion for loving God and neighbor to the next level”presumably in a way that the NIV will not (see below).

I cannot help but to comment on the incredible (and linguistically naive) statement that “[i]n the past 20 years alone, the English language grew from 300,000 words to over 1 million words.” Imagine that: a mind-boggling 700,000  new words coined in two decades, whereas the previous six or so centuries before that only managed to produce a mere 300,000! Clearly our Anglophone ancestors were lazy and unimaginative in the extreme. This sort of figure is usually produced by counting words in a dictionary or another lexicographical corpus and comparing the tally with previous editions of the same, or yet more fantastically, by swallowing whole the claptrap advanced by Paul J. J. Payack’s Global Language Monitor. But let us suppose for a second that English has really expanded at a rate of 35,000 new words per year over the past 20 years: how many of these new words do you suppose would find their way into a new Bible translation? There are no New Testament passages, alas, that recount how St Paul wrote his email to the Seattleites from his laptop while using the wireless connection at Panera.

OTHER TRANSLATIONS
Several Bible translations were produced over the past 20 years. However, most of these translations represent a particular conservative theology and are revisions or updates from prior translations (e.g., ESV from the RSV, NKJV from KJV, TNIV from NIV). The revision is generally less than 5 percent. Or they are paraphrases of the biblical text (e.g., The Message, The Voice, or the New Living Translationa revision of the Living Bible). The NIV will be marketed again in this crowded conservative field in 2011, by merging the TNIV with the aging NIV, which originated among Reformed groups in the 1970s.

There are a couple of glaring errors in this paragraph. For one, we hear the same old tired canard that the New Living Translation is a paraphrase of the Biblical text. It is not. Like the Good News Translation, it is a functionally equivalent translation, not a paraphrase. Also, the New International Version had its origins among Reformed groups in the ’50s. By the ’70s, when the translation was finally published, the members of the NIV’s Committee on Bible Translation hailed from no less than 13 different denominations, all Evangelical, but not all Reformed or Calvinistic. (For details on how the NIV came to be, see this article by the late great John H. Stek.)

More importantly, however, here we learn where the perceived divide between “us” and “them” in the previous paragraph lies: it is something ominously called “conservative theology.” By this I suspect  that they mean Evangelicals and others with a so-called “high view of Scripture,” since they are the ones who by and large have produced the revisions mentioned above, and also the ones who make the most use of them. This is a shocking proposition on which to market a Bible translation, particularly taking into account the fact that Evangelicals and others with a “high view of Scripture” are the primary market for Bible translations. If it is hoped that the dying demographic of the mainline will suddenly become energized by the publication of the CEB and return handsome profits to Abingdon for their enormous expense on this project, I’m afraid that such hopes are built on quickening sand.

From the above we would be led to think that no individuals who espouse a “conservative theology” are involved in this translation project, but a brief glance at the list of translators and readers quickly dispels that notion. Indeed, three of the translators belong either to the Evangelical Free Church of America or to the Baptist General Conference, two bodies that unambiguously affirm Biblical inerrancy in their statements of faith. There are also several translators who serve on the faculties of Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary, Asbury Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Denver Seminary, all of which are, at the very least, decidedly Evangelical schools who affirm a “high view of Scripture.” Why, then, stir the hornet’s nest of “liberal” versus “conservative” Bible translations? Why the gratuitous indictment of the “conservative theology” that several of the CEB’s own translators espouse?

I realize, of course, that framing the matter in this way likely responds to the recent news that a new edition of the NIV will be released in 2011, which is also the target publication year for the CEB. One can practically hear the terror behind the lines quoted above about “the aging NIV” and the hideous progeny that will surely result from its “merger” with the TNIV (which descriptions are, incidentally, very disingenuous). It is understandable that those responsible for marketing the CEB should want to have the first strike against its putative rival, especially when it said rival is a new edition of a translation that has over 300 million copies in circulation. However, the point that they have chosen to emphasize in their campaign isn’t only misleading (because the CEB is not a “liberal” translation, and plenty of “conservatives” are involved in its production), but it is also a classic example of shooting oneself in the foot.