Sep 1, 2009

text-ing God

Some of you may not be interested in this article, but others of you may be... and should be.

It raises some interesting issues... and while you may have an opinion on what translation of the Bible we should and shouldn't read, I think the core issue this all puts into play is this tension:

  • Should a translation of the Bible start with a subjectivity to the reader's interests/desires/preferences and then work its way back to the original Text?


  • Should a translation of the Bible start with the Text, and then work its way into whatever culture the reader lives in, objective to their interests/desires/preferences?
As a bit of backstory, some controversy arose when a popular translation of the Bible - the NIV - was "re-translated" and a new version emerged as another option. This was called the TNIV and a big piece of the debate was around the softening of gender when God was referenced. The advocates stated that this since the Lord made both male and female "in His image," we shouldn't call God a "He" but find more "inclusive" ways of referencing. Others felt that this was an unnecessary move away from the core inferences of the Scripture that utilized the masculine way of describing God even when it wasn't directly an issue. And even more importantly, it would lead to even more recreating of Scripture "in our image."

If you don't understand yet why this matters, it is the problem we see with any issue in our world - if you don't like something, change it... and if you don't have the authority to do so, create that authority by vote, force, or a whole lot of ranting.

And so the question remains: Is it up to a translation committee to recreate the Bible for its audience, or is the job of a committee to find ways to let the original Text speak to any given culture?

I remember back in 2002 when the Chairman of the TNIV board was being interviewed on the radio and taking phone calls. I grabbed the phone and ended up first in line, which was actually kind of humbling. Nonetheless, I asked him why "now" did the changes occur (versus back when the first NIV committee met a few decades earlier), and he mentioned they felt they had a more accurate read of the Bible and this would be a more inclusive offering culturally.

I respectfully pushed back a bit and asked him why that was a value, and he said it was important that people be able to see themselves in the Bible more.


I then asked a follow up - "So what happens if, say, many Christians and church leaders decide to loosen up on some things we consider sins today? Will you be putting out another version of the NIV five, ten, or twenty years from now?"

He sort of stumbled over his answer of, "Well, there's no way to predict if we'll need to change it."

So I asked, "Then... how confident are you... really... in this translation?"

I heard, "Well..." by the gentleman, and then quickly, "Thanks for the call." by the radio personality.

Keep in mind, I am convicted that the Bible is inspired and has been preserved as a perfect message even while it has passed through the hands of imperfect people. We see it affirming itself within its pages and find that archeology only continues to show how amazing a book the Scriptures are in their accuracy.

In addition to that, though, I also believe that there may not be one "translation" from the original languages to our own 21st Century ones that fully captures the Divinity of God in a way that humans can perfectly understand. As a tag, I do believe that there are translations that offer us perspective that is "more accurate" than others, but even then there is a component of mystery that will always exist - God will never be fully understood by people, but through the Scriptures we can fully connect with God in an accurate way.

There will always be critics of whatever is out there, and I don't think they should be ignored. However, I also don't think they should be elevated. It is a good idea to take in their thoughts with context. For without fundamentalists, we would forget the fundamentals... and without the liberals, we would forget to take risks. Both seem to be needed.

So whatever your favorite version of the Bible is, I'd encourage you to not be a groupie of it.

Rather, be a fan of the original Text...

and learn to appreciate what a struggle it is to not take authority over the Scriptures, but rather, let the Scriptures take authority over us.


Anonymous said...

Have not yet read the article, but in response to the blog entry, I love the crux of it all lies in seeking out the truth, based on a COLLECTION of imperfect people being inspired by a perfect God.

It's the whole Rob Bell thing in his Velvet Elvis book: Acts records the Jerusalem counsel as saying "it SEEMS good to us and the Holy Spirit..." when deciding some monumental issues in early Christianity.

love the pursuit and the community :)

Tony Myles said...

Well said. But who's Rob Bell? :)