Why the New NIV is Bad News for Lutherans
You may have heard, or if you haven’t heard, you should know, that Zondervan has released a new version of the New International Version. For lack of any other name, it is referred to in most circles as NIV 2011. Simply put, this translation is not appropriate for use by confessional Lutherans because it imposes a theological and cultural agenda that is alien to that of God’s Word. It does so through the use of “gender neutrality” in how it translates God’s Word. I frankly am glad that this new translation affords us the chance to move away from a translation that has been insufficient since it was first released, and now, in light of the fact that Zondervan corporation, the publisher of the NIV, is owned by Ruppert Murdoch’s media empire, the sooner we can stop putting money into one of the world’s largest purveyors of pornography, the better.
We here at CPH reviewed carefully the text of the NIV 2011 and are particularly disturbed by the subtle, but highly significant, ways it changes the wording of key texts referring to men and women and their proper relationship and roles in the Church. These changes open wide the door that laypeople will be misled into thinking that women clergy are appropriate.
In the past couple years, I’ve published a number of blog articles on this issue, and I thought it time to bring them back and gather them in one place to make it more convenient for you to read them. Here they are, you can either link to them, or you can read the full article in this blog post by following the “read more” button:
I’ve posted the articles mentioned above, in the extended entry of this post. Click read more to…read more!
More bad news for the 2011 NIV…and more reason for those using the NIV to move away from it. My recommendation remains that the English Standard Version be the translation of choice for Lutherans. After extensive research and study by the top Biblical scholars, seminary professors, and members of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Commission on Worship, a number of years ago, the ESV was recommended for us in all Missouri Synod worship materials and the recommendation was overwhelmingly adopted by the Missouri Synod several conventions ago. Here’s the news story, from Baptist Press:
Major group says it cannot endorse NIV 2011 Bible
Posted on Nov 22, 2010 | by Michael Foust
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A major evangelical organization which supports a complementarian position on manhood and womanhood says the newest translation of the NIV Bible is a significant improvement over its predecessor, the TNIV, although the group says it still cannot endorse it because it contains many of the same problems.
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released a statement Nov. 19 stating that the NIV 2011 has many of the same flaws that prevented the TNIV from gaining in popularity among the evangelical community. CBMW, though, did applaud the translators for the “openness and honesty” of the translation process.
The older translation of the NIV — now called the NIV 1984 version — is being phased out and eventually won’t be published, its publisher, Zondervan, has said. The NIV 2011 will be in print next year and currently is available only online. (BibleGateway.com hosts it and many other translations.)
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is an organization that believes men and women are equal but have different and complementary roles in the home and in the church. The CBMW withheld an endorsement of the TNIV in 2002 due to gender-neutral language, some of which the group said changed the theological direction and meaning of the text. The NIV 2011, as it is being called, maintains some of the TNIV language and some of the NIV 1984 language, and in some passages splits the difference.
“[T]hough we are genuinely thankful for the many positive changes in the new NIV (2011), and though we are deeply appreciative of the very different process by which our friends at the CBT [Committee on Bible Translation] and Zondervan pursued and unveiled this new version, we still cannot commend the new NIV (2011) for most of the same reasons we could not commend the TNIV,” the statement read. “Our initial analysis shows that the new NIV (2011) retains many of the problems that were present in the TNIV, on which it is based, especially with regard to the over 3,600 gender-related problems we previously identified. In spite of the many good changes made, our initial analysis reveals that a large percentage of our initial concerns still remain.”
CBMW began its statement by saying the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) — which translated the NIV 2011 — “made some significant improvements in various areas” over the TNIV.
“For instance, in many passages ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ replace a gender-neutral equivalent, resulting in greater accuracy in translating the Hebrew or Greek text,” the CBMW statement read. “This is also true in many cases for the words, ‘he,’ ‘him,’ ‘his,’ ‘brother,’ ‘father,’ and ‘son.’ In numerous passages that now contain these words, the CBT revised many of the most egregious passages that concerned us previously.”
In some passages, the NIV 2011 uses the phrase “that person” instead of a specific pronoun. CBMW said such a rendering can make for an awkward sentence, such as in Revelation 3:20: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” The “they” in the passage actually is a “singular they.” The NIV 1984 read: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” The TNIV translated the latter part of the passage as “I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.”
In a statement, the Committee on Bible Translation said a “singular they” rendering is the “most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents.”
The CBMW said the translators’ “desire to avoid the use of a generic ‘him’ has led to the use of a more distant-sounding ‘that person.’” The rendering, the statement said, “has a very cold, impersonal feel” and will leave pastors and teachers “with the task of explaining the difference between a singular and plural ‘they.’”
But more significant problems remain, CBMW said. A significant portion of the group’s statement focused on the NIV 2011′s translation of 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” It is identical to the TNIV translation. The NIV 1984 translated it as “have authority.”
The question is whether “assume authority” has a different meaning than “have authority.”
It is one of the most-debated passages between those in the complementarian camp and those who hold to an egalitarian position (which asserts that male and female roles in the home and church are interchangeable). Christians for Biblical Equality, an egalitarian group, has articles on its website arguing the NIV 1984′s “have authority” rendering is not the best translation.
CBMW said the NIV 2011 is “out on a limb” against other major translations, including the often-criticized NRSV, which also uses “have authority.”
“The new NIV (2011)’s translation … designedly lends itself to a common current egalitarian misinterpretation of this passage (i.e., that Paul is only addressing the case of women illegitimately ‘assuming’ authority, rather than prohibiting women from having/exercising authority as teacher/shepherds of the church),” the CBMW statement read.
The NIV 2011′s translation of 1 Timothy 2:12 has been a major source of scholarly debate at BibleGateway.com, which is hosting a “Perspectives in Translation” forum regarding the new NIV. Denny Burk, dean of Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., has written articles criticizing the verse’s translation, while Douglas Moo, chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation, and Craig Blomberg, a committee member, have defended it.
“I can tell you authoritatively that we did NOT choose this rendering to tip the scales one way or the other,” Blomberg wrote. “Whether you are a complementarian or an egalitarian, you have some view of what Paul thinks women should not do here, in terms of exercising authority. When they violate that, whatever it is, they inappropriately assume authority. That’s all we were saying.”
Moo wrote, “[T]he translators believed that ‘assume authority’ could be taken in either direction. We often use this phrase in a neutral way (e.g., ‘When will the new President assume authority’?). … [I]t is our intent to provide a translation that is faithful to the text, bowing to no particular theological agenda.”
Burk said “one cannot underestimate” the importance of 1 Timothy 2:12 “in the intra-evangelical debate over gender roles and women in ministry.”
“Complementarians argue that Paul prohibits women from doing two things — teaching Christian doctrine to and exercising authority over the gathered church,” Burk wrote. “Egalitarians argue that Paul prohibits women from doing one thing — a certain kind of teaching. They argue that there is no gender-based authority structure indicated in this text but that Paul means to prohibit women from ‘teaching with authority,’ from ‘teaching in a domineering way’ or from ‘teaching false doctrine.’ In their view, Paul doesn’t prohibit all teaching by women over men, but only a certain kind of teaching.”
Even before the NIV 2011 was released, some egalitarians were arguing for a translation of “assume authority,” Burk said.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Read the CBMW statement at http://www.cbmw.org/Blog/Posts/CBMW-Responds-to-New-NIV2011. Read the discussion on 1 Timothy 2:12 at www.biblegateway.com/perspectives-in-translation/. Read the translators’ initial statement on the NIV 2011 at www.niv-cbt.org/niv-2011-overview/translators-notes/.
Word has been circulating for a couple of weeks or so about a new edition of the New International Version translation. While many hope it will correct the severe problems caused by Today’s New International Version, the word is now that in fact it may only exacerbate those problems and will remove as an option the original NIV edition, which is used by many still. This raises the distinct prospect/possibility that by 2011, the New International Version’s original edition will no longer be available and will instead be replaced by a version that advances the gender-neutral agenda of the TNIV and may well introduce a whole host of other problems. Here is an excerpt from a secular article on the NIV’s new version:
The top-selling Bible in North America will undergo its first revision in 25 years, modernizing the language in some sections and promising to reopen a contentious debate about changing gender terms in the sacred text. The New International Version, the Bible of choice for conservative evangelicals, will be revised to reflect changes in English usage and advances in Biblical scholarship, it was announced Tuesday. The revision is scheduled to be completed late next year and published in 2011.
Dr. Gene Edward Veith raises an important alarm and posts a caution that is well worth our attention:
We blogged about how a Zondervan editor thinks the handling of the TNIV was a mistake, but, as some of you pointed out, he may have been referring more to mistakes of marketing than of mistakes of translation. Other news reports are suggesting that the new TNIV will have even more gender-inclusive language:
The New International Version (NIV) of the Bible is going to begin its first revision in over 25 years, according to the Associated Press. The changes that will be made will be to make the language more modern, meaning the text will reportedly have more gender neutral and inclusive language. It is expected that the revisions will be completed in late 2010 for publishing in 2011.
The most controversial aspect of the revision is the inclusion of gender neutral language. This new version will not have all gender references removed, only those where the translators feel that the original text did not intend to be gender exclusive. One example, according to the AP, would be changing “sons of God” to “children of God.”
See also this. Creating one impression with Christian publications and another with secular publications is not a good sign.
There has been a great deal of anticipation about the new edition of The New International Version translation of the Bible. It was first released in 1984 and took off like a rocket, particularly among generally conservative American Evangelicals. Since then, there have been many other translations produced, as well as a growing level of concern that the NIV is not actually, in many respects, a translation, as much as it is a dynamic equivalence. The LCMS moved to accept the English Standard Version as its translation of choice in all worship materials and consequently the Synod’s publishing arm, Concordia Publishing House, has moved to use the ESV as its translation of choice in all published materials. The ESV is a more accurate translation and lends itself well to a study Bible due to its consistency in translating key terms in the original languages.
But, the NIV remains popular among some conservative Lutherans, like the Wisconsin Synod, and those who “grew up with it.” I share Gene Edward Veith’s recent comment about the NIV that what is most irksome about, on a consistent basis, and grated on my ears for the many years I was forced to endure it in church is “the utter tone-deaf resistance to metaphor, poetry, and beauty of language.” Zondervan has released a statement explaining what the changes are that have been made to the NIV. You can read the document by downloading it here: Translators-Notes I have found several much more detailed listings of changes here and here and here.
You can also review the entire new NIV translation at Bible Gateway, which is now owned by Zondervan, the publishers of the NIV. I have said this often, but it always catches people by surprise when they find out that Zondervan is owned by Harper-Collins, which in turn, is part of the Ruppert Murdoch media empire. It is important for Christians to realize that supporting the NIV contributes to the support of Murdoch’s corporation, which is one of the world’s largest providers of pornography. Something to think about.
The question now becomes what are publishers going to be asked to do with the new NIV. We at CPH have heard from Zondervan asking us to agree to use only the NIV by 2013, this is the same request that has been sent out to many other publishers. Much remains unclear about what this means for existing publications, like the Concordia Self-Study Bible which was based largely on the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Will we be permitted to keep that book, as it is, in print, or would we have to entirely revise it to use the newest NIV edition. Churches like the WELS which remain strongly attached to the NIV will need to evaluate the changes in the latest edition of the NIV, some of which I find personally very disturbing, particularly when it comes to key theological concepts.
Here is a graphic display of what has changed over the years in the NIV and the present level of changes in the 2011 NIV. HT, for the graphic and the comparative details, to John Dyer.
Keep in mind, friends, that the same gender neutrality that plagues the new NIV edition, also plagues the Kolb/Wengert Book of Concord, where, for example, in the Smalcald Articles, the translation intentionally distorts the original language to allow for women clergy. See the discussion on the pastor’s self-communion in the SA. Go ahead, track it down. In spite of this being drawn to the attention of the editors and translator and publisher, these egregious error stands to this day in the Kolb/Wengert edition.
And to illustrate the dangers of gender neutrality for theology, this is a very useful blog post by Denny Burk. The essay below appeared yesterday on the “Perspectives in Translation” website. It concerns how the Greek word anthrōpois should be translated in 2 Timothy 2:2. Craig Blomberg has argued that it should be rendered as “people” (as it appears in NIV 2011), but I argue that it should be translated as “men.” Here’s how other translations handle the term:
One other thing before moving on to my response. Two prominent egalitarian New Testament scholars agree with me on this translation—I. Howard Marshall and Luke Timothy Johnson. Johnson is an unabashed liberal in his view of scripture, but I think his comments on this text are apt:
“The phrase pistois anthrōpois could be translated as ‘faithful people,’ since anthrōpos is inclusive for all humans, in contrast to anēr, which can mean only males. I translate ‘faithful men,’ however, because that is clearly what the text means. In the case of the Pastorals, an attempt to create a gender-inclusive translation only camoflouges the pervasive androcentrism of the composition. For better or for worse, the assumptions of the author’s culture (or place within his culture) should be accepted by the translation. It is the task of hermeneutics to decide what to do about those assumptions” (The First and Second Letters to Timothy, p. 365).
Johnson thinks the text means “men,” even though he goes on to reject its normative significance for modern readers. Of course I disagree with his rejection of biblical authority, but his interpretation is certainly correct. My response to Blomberg is below.
Dr. Blomberg’s argument in favor of rendering anthrōpois as “people” is illuminating. 2 Timothy 2:2 has not been much of a flashpoint in the gender debate, and there is not much published material on the “men” vs. “people” question. Last week, I made my way through fourteen different commentaries on this verse. Out of the six of them that favored the translation “people,” not a single one of them put forth a sustained argument in favor of that translation. The most they have to offer is the observation that the plural of anthropos is regularly used generically. Thus Blomberg’s earlier post on this site is the most substantial argument in favor of “people” that I have read.
That being said, I do want to contest Dr. Blomberg’s conclusion that says “people” is “the only legitimate translation” of anthrōpois. It is true that the plural of anthropos is often used generically (e.g., 1 Tim 2:1, 4; 4:10; 6:5; 2 Tim 3:2; Tit 2:11; 3:2), but that fact is no argument for a generic referent in a given context. As Ray Van Neste pointed out in his post, if we want to understand the word’s appearance in 2 Timothy 2:2, we must look to context. So let me make some observations about the context that in my view tip the scales decisively in favor of the translation “men.”
First, there is precedent in the pastorals for Paul’s use of plural anthropos in a gender-specific way. In 2 Timothy 3:8, for instance, Paul writes, “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose
the truth–men [anthrōpoi] of depraved minds,
who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.” The anthrōpoi here must be men since they are “worming their way into women’s homes” (Mounce, Pastoral Eptistles, p. 550). If this is correct, then the anthrōpoi of both 3:2 and 3:13 should be understood as males as well. Consider also the anthrōpoi of 1 Timothy 5:24: “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.” In context, Paul is telling Timothy to be careful about whom he appoints as elders (v. 5:22: “Do not lay hands on a man too quickly”). Since Paul held to an all male eldership (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:2), the anthrōpoi of 5:24 must also be males. Given Paul’s use of anthrōpoi in a gender-specific way both in the pastorals and elsewhere (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:7), we have to allow for the possibility that context can determine anthrōpoi with a masculine referent.
Second, in the context of 2 Timothy 2, Paul is telling Timothy to entrust the gospel to faithful anthrōpoi who will be able to teach others (2:2). Notice the one qualification that Paul has for the anthrōpoi. They must be qualified to teach “others.” This is significant because “others” is a masculine plural pronoun [ἑτέρους]. That means that “others” would consist of both men and women or of men only. Since Paul has already prohibited women from teaching Christian doctrine to men (1 Timothy 2:12), women would not be qualified to teach “others.” Thus, when Paul employs anthrōpoi here, he certainly has in mind males only. Contextually speaking, anthrōpoi must be gender-specific in this text. It seems that Paul wishes to emphasize the special responsibility that qualified men have to pass the faith on to the next generation.
With this interpretation in mind, we are in a position to answer Blomberg’s arguments in favor of “people.”
1. Blomberg argues that “people” is a grammatical “slam dunk” because the plural of anthropos is “regularly” used in a gender-inclusive way. Nevertheless, the regular use of anthropos in a gender-inclusive way is not argument for its meaning in a given context. Gender-specific uses of anthropos are also within the term’s range of possible meanings, so the argument for “people” has to be developed within the context of 2 Timothy (and the other pastorals). I do not think Blomberg has provided such an argument yet.
2. Blomberg argues that translating anthropois as “people” would not “infringe on those restrictions” Paul set up to prohibit women from teaching men. The problem with this argument is twofold. First, the term “others” is masculine plural, so the teaching of both men and women is in view. Thus, Blomberg cannot placate complementarian concerns with the suggestion that only the teaching of women and children is in view. Second, most English readers will read “people” in a gender-inclusive way. If Paul did not intend to be gender-inclusive in this text, why obscure the point for English readers?
3. Blomberg says that the translation “faithful men” will be heard by most readers as gender-specific, not as gender-inclusive. In this context, he is certainly right about this. But those who favor the translation “faithful men” do not do so because they believe “men” to be gender-inclusive. On the contrary, they favor “men” because they believe males are in view.
4. Blomberg also mentions his experience in parachurch organizations for whom this text is a staple. In those organizations, this text is a touchstone for understanding the organic disciple-making process that is incumbent upon all Christians, both men and women. I would argue that such organizations can still access this text in support of such disciple-making ministries. But when they do so, they should find that support in a legitimate implication of the text, not as Paul’s original meaning. In context, Paul is addressing the special responsibilities of church leadership who are supposed to be examples to the rest of the flock (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).
Finally, let me offer a word about how this text has been rendered in the NIV and its revisions since 1984.
|Text of 2 Timothy 2:2||Marginal Notes|
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
And the things you have heard me say
in the presence of many witnesses
entrust to reliable peoplea who will also be qualified to teach others.
|a 2 Or men|
And the things you have heard me say
in the presence of many witnesses
entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
Only one word has been changed in this verse from the 1984 NIV to the 2010 revision. “Men” has changed to “people.” The initial change occurred in TNIV 2002, and a marginal note was added to give the alternate interpretation from the NIV 1984. In the TNIV 2005 and in the NIV 2010, there is no indication in the notes at all about another possible interpretation of this text.
If my interpretation is correct, then anthrōpois should be rendered as “men” in the text of NIV 2011. Short of that, the marginal note that appeared in TNIV 2002 should be restored to show that there is another possible translation of the text.
A problem with modern Bible “translations” that intend to try to capture meaning, rather than translate the actual text of the Bible, is that they often destroy, or badly mangle, the metaphors in the original languages. Dr. Gene Edward Veith had a great comment about this on his blog site that I’d thought I’d pass along here:
In my earlier post about the even newer New International Version of the Bible, I complained about how that line of translations is indifferent to metaphor, poetry, and beauty of language. I cited as an example how the new NIV renders “the valley of the shadow of death” as “the dark valley.”
I would argue that sensitivity to literary qualities is necessary in an accurate translation. Metaphors are not just ornaments. They express meaning and are essential in expressing complex, multi-leveled, rich meanings that go beyond simple prosaic statements.
Consider these translations of Genesis 4:1: T
The historic English Bible, from the KJV through the ESV, keeps the Hebrew metaphor: “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived.”
The 1984 NIV thinks it has to explain what the metaphor means: “Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant.”
The 2010 NIV is more romantic: “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant.”
The original Hebrew uses a profound metaphor that communicates important meaning about marital sexuality in God’s design: They “knew” each other.
Ironically, the other readings are just as metaphorical and even more euphemistic. “Lay with” is ugly and strangely old-fashioned, a version of “sleep with.” “Make love,” not too long ago, meant courting or flirting, not having sex (so that many contemporary readers of 19th century novels think they are much more racy than they are).
At any rate, “Adam knew Eve” is how the original language reads. If God inspired the words, He surely inspired the metaphors.
I had an interesting meeting yesterday with the leaders of Good News Publishing, the publishers of the English Standard Version. During our meeting we talked about the surprising announcement from the publishers of the New International Version that in 2011 they are going to stop publishing both the original NIV and Today’s New International Version and produce a hybrid of the two. Most conservative Christians were outraged by the publication of TNIV which fell into the trap of gender inclusivity and neutrality that plagues much of modern Protestantism and Christianity. Here is the real problem coming up for those persons and churches still using NIV. They will lose the present text and be forced, if they continue using NIV, to use a text that will continue down the path of a translation that is more agenda-driven than committed to offering an essentially literal translation of the Scriptures. We don’t know what this means for the future of any edition of the NIV presently being published. Needless to say, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and gave thanks to God for the ESV, and the choice by The LCMS to use the ESV as our translation of choice in all worship materials.
My feeling is that we got out of the NIV while the getting was good, and I advise others to do the same. I remain convinced that The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod made a very good decision in returning to a more literal and accurate translation of the Bible. The New International Version is not that, and it is only going to get more difficult to use.
You’ll be interested to know that, contrary to the flat-out lies repeatedly printed in Christian News, the publishers of the ESV do not pay one red cent to the National Council of Churches as part of the revenue stream they are receiving for sales of the ESV. In fact, quite the opposite. A portion of all sales of the ESV is set aside to distribute Scripture for free as part of Crossway’s publishing efforts. Generous donors, a number of years ago, provided funds to pay for the RSV text outright from the NCC and absolutely no part of sales of the ESV goes into the pockets of the NCC. Also, note that sales figures on various Bible translations show startling declines in sales of various Bible translations, with NIV, NASB, NKJV and KJV done, often over 30-40% and sales of TNIV down over 60% last year, but…the ESV has seen sales increase in this same period over 35%! This is a remarkable testimony to is increasing popularity.
For our part at Concordia Publishing House, we are very grateful for the fact that the ESV demonstrates a much greater consistency in how it translates key terms and phrases, and most particularly, those terms and phrases that are so critical to the proclamation of the Gospel itself, like “grace” and so forth. A person quipped in my hearing the other day that more and more we are witnessing Christians rejecting paraphrases and other such loose translations, described as “graceless”and “bloodless” Bibles! Amen.
A colleague passed this information along to me, and I to you. I think you will find it very interesting. We hear sometimes that people think the ESV reading level is more difficult than the NIV. This is, in fact, a misunderstanding. I personally did a lot of Bible reading with children for a research project last year, reading to and with pre-K through second grade. That’s one of the reasons I’m aware of this information about readability. The ESV and the NIV are on virtually the same reading grade level (ESV 7.4 and NIV 7.8). Crossway has provided very specific information about the ESV <a href=”http://www.esv.org/blog/2005/08/readability-grade-levels/ “>readability scores on their blog</a>. Some might think this is biased information, since of course the publisher of the ESV would want the best possible outcome to such a question. But here is where it gets really interesting. The publishers of the New International Version have issued their own “readility” analysis, and the ESV beats the NIV here too! Here is <a href=”http://www.zondervan.com/Cultures/en-US/Product/Bible/Translations/NIV.htm?QueryStringSite=Zondervan”>information from Zondervan</a> about the readability level of the NIV. There is some misinformation on the web that places the ESV on a 10th grade reading level. That may be a case of misunderstanding or of someone trying to shore up the NIV’s market position, which has been badly damaged by their decision to use gender inclusive language and by competition with the ESV. According to retailers, the ESV is growing exponentially in popularity while the NIV is now in rapid decline. Their editorial board is planning a revision of the NIV. <a href=”http://www.christianpost.com/article/20090901/scholars-to-revise-popular-niv-bible/index.html”>You can read about that here</a>.
From time to time, I hear from pastors and lay people asking, “Why did the Missouri Synod decide to go with the English Standard Version in its new hymnal resources and now across most of its published resources?”
It has been a number of years, nearly six to be exact, since the Missouri Synod’s Commission on Worship issued their recommendation to The LCMS that as part of the process of adopting a new hymnal, the English Standard Version Bible translation be the translation of choice for all worship materials in the Missouri Synod. And since the hymnal and all companion resources was adopted by the Synod convention with an overwhelmingly strong majority, since the Commission on Worship surveyed the entire Synod’s pastoral roster relentlessly beforehand, and kept everyone fully aware and informed of all decisions about this, and all matters related to the hymnal, and then, in light of the fact that now nearly 70% of all LCMS congregations are using Lutheran Service Book, with an amazingly high level of satisfaction, and low level of complaint, it is clear that the decision to go with the ESV has been very well received and well accepted.
The ESV is now used in the campus chapels of both of our seminaries and most of our universities. In the process of selecting and recommending the ESV, a massive amount of consultation was done with both seminary faculties and our Commission on Theology and Church Relations.
I thought it might be useful to share the Commission on Worship’s statement on the choice to use the ESV Bible translation. Here then, from December 2003, is the Commission’s statement. Available at: http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=5126
Bible Translation Recommended
A statement from the Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
After careful study and consultation, the Commission on Worship is recommending the English Standard Version (ESV) as the primary Bible translation for the new LCMS hymnal and its companion volumes. The commission made its decision at its October 27–28 meeting. Their recommendation will go to the synodical convention next summer along with the rest of the Lutheran Hymnal Project proposal.
When the Lutheran Hymnal Project began five years ago, the Commission on Worship recognized that the selection of Bible translation would be an important decision that required careful deliberation. For this reason, a separate committee was formed to examine issues of translation and language usage. In early 2002, the Translations Committee issued an extensive comparative study of modern Bible translations. Later that year, the committee distributed an abbreviated version of this study to each of the Synod’s 35 districts, asking that all of the circuits in each district be encouraged to study the issue. Finally, in the spring of 2003, the committee requested an opinion from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations concerning the accuracy of various Bible translations.
In its opinion, adopted on September 15, 2003, the CTCR noted the following:
• “On theological and linguistic grounds, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the New King James Version are preferable to the New International Version.”
• “On text-critical grounds, the English Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible are preferable to the New King James Version.”
The CTCR went on to say that in principle it “declines to endorse officially any English translation of the Bible.”
No Perfect Translation
So why didn’t the CTCR give an official endorsement of a particular translation? Historically, our Synod has never adopted an official translation of the Bible. Among the various reasons for this precedence is the fact that no translation is perfect. Each has its particular strengths and weaknesses. As the Translations Committee and the Commission on Worship worked their way toward a final decision, they continually tested various translations against the original Hebrew and Greek, asking which versions were most consistent in faithfully translating the original languages of the Bible.
In the study materials accompanying its opinion, Committee II of the CTCR provided some examples from the New International Version (NIV) that demonstrated why they did not consider this translation to be preferable “on theological and linguistic grounds.” Here are a few of their citations:
The NIV translates this passage as “He [Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything.” A literal translation of this passage is quite different: “Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoring.” While the NIV translation appears easier to understand, its paraphrase of the original gives the impression that Jesus’ body can no longer be present with us. Such a notion is in direct contradiction to the biblical teaching on the Lord’s Supper where Jesus promises that his true body and blood are given for us to eat and to drink.
Here the NIV translates with the phrase “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The Greek word which is translated with “obey” has a much broader range of meaning, including the concepts of observing, keeping in one’s heart, faithfully preserving, and doing. The NIV’s use of the word “obey” here and in other passages tends to reinforce a Reformed understanding that focuses only on what the Christian “does.”
If no translation is perfect, it might be logical to conclude that no translation, certainly not the NIV, can be trusted. The Commission on Worship has no intention of making that claim.
While no translation may be perfect, one can be confident that reputable translations of the Bible do seek to be faithful. In most cases, the differences between translations are minor. Only occasionally is a doctrine called into question on the basis of a particular translation. It is for these reasons that our church body continues to insist that our pastors be trained to read and translate from the original biblical languages. Through their faithful study, they are able to guide us through the sometimes difficult labyrinths of Bible translations
English Standard Version
So why was the English Standard Version chosen? Before answering that question, it may be helpful to provide a little background concerning the genesis of this translation.
The ESV was released in 2001 after an intense period of development. It is published by Good News Publishers (CrossWay Books) in Wheaton, Ill., a privately owned Christian publisher that has been publishing Christian books and literature for 65 years.
The history of the ESV began a number of years ago when the editors at Good News approached the National Council of Churches (NCC) with a proposal to publish a conservative revision of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible. The NCC owns the copyright to the RSV but no longer permits its sale. After the NCC agreed to the proposal, the editors at Good News assembled a team of Greek and Hebrew experts to begin the revision. During the course of their work, several LCMS biblical scholars served as reviewers of various biblical books.
The interest in the RSV was based on the recognition that it was generally a very fine translation of the Bible. First published in 1952, the RSV was based on the fruits of the latest research on the biblical manuscripts. In addition, its translators sought wherever possible to preserve the high literary quality of the King James Version. It was for these reasons that the RSV became a natural successor to the KJV, especially in many LCMS congregations during the 1960s and 1970s.
Like every translation, however, the RSV had its weaknesses, specifically, its liberal tendencies in certain places where Old Testament prophecies were denied. In one famous passage (Rom. 9:5) the divinity of Christ was even denied through the creative re-punctuation of the original text! Some of these weaknesses were retained and even broadened with the addition of unacceptable inclusive language principles when the RSV was revised and published as the New Revised Standard Version in 1989.
The primary criterion on which the commission based its choice of the ESV was that of accuracy of translation. Its overall assessment is that the ESV is a very reliable translation. Another key factor, however, concerns the language and style of the translation. Given that the ESV is based on the RSV, it preserves much of the linguistic style of the RSV-KJV tradition. Given that many of our congregations used these translations up until the 1980s, the commission believes that the ESV will have a familiar ring to it.
A “Primary” Translation
In its adoption of the ESV, the commission noted that this version will serve as the primary translation for the new hymnal and agenda. When, however, the ESV appears not to do as good a job as another translation, the commission will consider substituting the better version in that instance.
The commission believes that the concept of a primary translation also squares well with current practice in our Synod. Go into almost any Bible class in most of our congregations and you will likely find a variety of translations in use. While the use of a single translation has great benefits, especially as it aids in learning, it is also true that a variety of translations can be very helpful in the study of God’s Word. Far from requiring congregations to replace their current pew and study Bibles, the choice of the ESV as the translation for the hymnal project will offer our Synod the opportunity to delve even deeper into God’s holy Word.
Web Site Links
The commission has posted several resources on the Web site concerning Bible translation. Go to:
Click on “Lutheran Hymnal Project” and then again on “Bible Translation.”