Should the Bible change?

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The publishers of the popular English Standard Version (ESV), Crossway, have been in the news recently for proposing that their upcoming revisions become a “stable version” of the translation. In other words, they proposed to no longer make any changes after this next edition.


According to Crossway:

The text of the ESV Bible will remain unchanged in all future editions printed and published by Crossway—in much the same way that the King James Version (KJV) has remained unchanged ever since the final KJV text was established almost 250 years ago (in 1769)

You may (or may not) know that most English translations of the Bible are regularly revised and updated to account for changes in the English language. The New International Version (NIV) Bible that you pick up and read at Barnes and Noble today is different from the first edition of the translation published in 1978.

The changes, for the most part, are relatively small and focus on ways of communicating the Biblical author’s most probably intent that are most effective for the English language as it is used today or on recent developments in Biblical studies.

Why might a publisher want to establish a permanent version of their translation?

One reason is a sense of permanence and longevity. According to Christianity Today:

 “We desired for there to be a stable and standard text that would serve the reading, memorizing, preaching, and liturgical needs of Christians worldwide from one generation to another.”

It’s also difficult and costly for a publisher to maintain and synchronize continual updates to a Bible version.

“From a publishing standpoint, there are some practical concerns that might drive such a decision, freezing a translation simplifies the process of keeping new editions in sync with one another, and also increases confidence in the translation itself.”

Mark Norton, Bible Development Director,  Tyndale House Publishers

There are also copyright issues. For example, the rights to the King James Version (KJV) are held by British Crown and extend only to the United Kingdom. As a result the official version of the KJV has remained unchanged for hundreds of years, however outside of the United Kingdom there have been alterations and modifications.

The ESV is the third most popular translation among evangelicals in the United States–following the KJV, and the NIV. It is especially popular among millennials, which is in some ways surprising because it a more literal, word for word translation, and avoids is not gender inclusive in the same way as other version such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), longtime standard Bible of the mainline churches.

Yesterday Crossway announced that they had reversed their decision and will periodically revise the ESV. They did so in an admirable way, presumably after hearing objections from a variety of biblical scholars on the need to be open to revision.

My Take

Personally, there are twin dangers here. On the one hand, the failure to revise a translation will lead to the KJV phenomenon–a wildly popular, but unread Bible. On the other hand, continual change implicitly reduces confidence in the translation itself and also in the Bible. Thinking in legal terms, changes should be made only when the preponderance of the evidence supports making the change. Its for this reason that I do not support the ESV’s re-translation of Genesis 3:16, which I will write about next week.

What do you think?

A prayer for 9-11

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Our Gracious God,

We do not take it lightly that through Christ, we are ushered into your presence
and into a divine audience with the Living God.

We have exalted your most holy name, and rendered to you the honor
that is your due.
We have acknowledged before you and before one another that we are incapable
of living perfectly and that it is upon the merits of Christ alone that we rely for our salvation.

Now, we come before you to name the cares and the concerns that attend our minds and hearts.
We pause to remember the catastrophic events that happened in New York, Washington DC, and Stony Creek Township on this day fifteen years ago—when planes were turned into weapons and innocent blood was needlessly shed.

We pray for the families of those who lost their lives that day—2,996 of them—and in the days that followed. Attend them with your peace, we pray.

We pray for those who survived this great tragedy—whose lives since have been spent coming to terms with what happened that day. Comfort them, we pray, and heal their wounds.

We recall and honor the first responders who willingly gave their lives so that others might live.

Remind us of the motto of the Reformation—post tenebras lux—after the darkness comes light.

Remind us that, in the words of William Cowper, “behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.”

And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever. Amen.

Praying imprecation

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When I was younger, I used to listen to sermons on the local Christian radio station. Between the ages of 10 and 16, I received an unofficial theological education from the likes of Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, and others. I still listen to sermons regularly–especially Alistair Begg, whose ministry I resonate with deeply, but I listen on my phone.

While listening, I once heard Donald Grey Barnhouse pray something remarkable. At the time it shocked me–today I see great wisdom in it. He prayed for those who were running from God or in some fashion resisting him. Dr. Barnhouse asked God to make them so uncomfortable–or something along those lines–that they would turn to him and embrace Christ.

Praying for someone else’s discomfit seemed an alien and strange thing to me as a radio-listening adolescent. It shouldn’t have been, an entire section of the Psalms is dedicated to prayers and songs asking God to do just this to those who oppose him and his people. The imprecatory Psalms call down God’s justice, vengeance, and punishment on those who oppose him and his purposes in the world.

We live in a culture where we cannot imagine that something good can come from something difficult. We cannot imagine a God who would choose to make us hurt in order to bring us to himself. The Psalmist most definitely could.

Can we? Should we?

My answer: yes, cautiously. 

In the last year have prayed specifically against people, organizations, and other entities who have shown themselves to be enemies of God and of the Gospel–false teachers, false Christians, and false churches, for example. I pray against such things because they ruin peoples’ lives both in this life and in the next.

I don’t know of another time in my life when this has been true. As a rule, I don’t pray against things so much as toward God. Yet, there are times and contexts when it is evident that the truth is being twisted and compromised and that people are being manipulated and being led away from truth.  In such instances, I have no problem praying defensively: God defend your reputation, your people, your church. As I have prayed, I have asked God to stop them and to carry out justice.

I have tried to approach these prayers in a balanced way bearing in mind the wise counsel of William Ross:

First, we must recognize God’s sovereignty in acting out his own justice on evil. To be sure, until that judgment, Jesus commands us to love our enemies, to pray for them, even to bless them (Luke 6:27-28Rom. 12:201 Pet. 3:9). Jesus spoke more about love than bearing the sword (Matt. 10:34-35Luke 12:51-53). In similar fashion, Paul instructed Christians to “bless and do not curse” our persecutors (Rom. 12:14).

But this instruction does not prohibit calling evil what it is, and desiring that God deal with it promptly and specifically. We see this most clearly in Revelation 6:9-10 where the heavenly martyrs call out for justice and vengeance. Theirs is an intensely personal concern: they ask God to avenge “our blood upon those who dwell on earth.” It is important to note that while the heavenly martyrs are issuing a personalized imprecation, it is nevertheless divinely mediated. Their imprecation is qualified by the sovereignty and agency of God himself to answer their prayer.

Second, we must distinguish between cursing our personal enemies ourselves (Col. 3:8) and calling upon God to curse his enemies. This distinction is evident in Romans 12:14. While Paul instructs us not to curse others, he does not prohibit asking God to pour out his justice. The distinction is subtle but important. In the former we condemn men on our own terms and make ourselves gods; in the latter we beseech the King and recognize his holiness and our finitude.

In that sense, when making specific imprecation, we must always balance “Father, save the lost!” with “Father, pour out your wrath upon evil!” The contingency that holds together these two ideas properly submits to God’s sovereignty—his justice and mercy—without assuming that only one of the two options will bring him glory. Paul does not shy away from personal imprecation as he puts this principle to use in 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, then let him be accursed!” (cf. Gal. 1:8-9). As Christians redeemed by Christ, we can simultaneously recognize the forgiveness of our own sin and the fact that sin itself grounds our appeal for God’s judgment.




David Gushee–the missing link

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by D. G. Wakeford

There is no room middle ground on same sex marriage according to Professor David Gushee of Mercer University. In an RNS column he writes,

It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions.

Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.

He continues, describing how religious conservatives are responding to the great sweeping tidal wave of justice:

They are organizing legal defense efforts under the guise of religious liberty, and interpreting their plight as religious persecution.

There can be little doubt that what Gushee writes is coming to pass. He is one a number of people who once described themselves as evangelical who have “evolved” on issues of “justice” Gushee is–if you will–the missing link, the transitional species, between fundamentalists and evangelicals, on the one hand, and equality-loving progressives, on the other. He’s trying to “[defend] the Religion of Jesus from intolerant ideologues” who believe that what Jesus taught is amplified, clarified, and applied in the writings of the Apostle Paul and others.

Critics have chided Gushee for implying (with relish and delight) that the days when genuinely-held, religiously-motivated beliefs can be accommodated in the public square are coming to an end.

His essay concludes with three sentences that are reasonably (although not necessarily) understandable as a value judgment: “Sometimes society changes and it marks decadence. Other times society changes and it marks progress. Those who believe LGBT equality marks decadence are being left behind.”

Gushee, in response, claims chides them for not reading his article carefully and for being captive to a persecution narrative that is not rooted in reality:

Did you notice how I described my post, up there in the first line? That was exactly what I was attempting to do in my article on Monday. In my allotted column space of about 750 words I was attempting to sketch changing realities, based on new information since I last wrote about this issue. I was describing. Not prescribing. D-E-S-C-R-I-B-I-N-G. Together with a bit of predicting, which is describing what you think will happen in the future. Lots of people describe and predict. It’s fun. Everyone should try it.

One would presume that an academic of his stature would be a little more adroit with words. He continues later:

Those digging in their heels against any rethinking of the LGBT issue believe they are standing with the saints and martyrs of the ages and facing persecution for doing so. As they set their faces like flint and narrow their steely eyes to peer into a hostile future, they feel brave, strong, and courageous, and they maybe look brave, strong, and courageous to the constituencies they are trying to please. Suffering for Jesus has its rewards.

Whether or not the first article was merely descriptive matters not. Gushee’s dismissive response tells us all we need to know. What we suspected in reading the first article is confirmed in reading the second. The dismissive attitude evidenced by Gushee’s response is endemic in the mainline denominations despite claims to respect individual consciences.

At the end of the day, it matters little to me what Gushee–or the broader culture, for example– makes of the issue of full social and legal equality for any class of person.

One of the central historical differences between liberals and conservatives is the belief of the former that God is less a personal being than the spirit of the age, subjectively experiences in a “religious sense.” Today’s progressive are the inheritors (intellectually) of yesterday’s liberal and romantics. Gushee is a fine example of this since his ‘conversion’ took place almost exclusively as a result of seeing the suffering of a gay relative. Cognition followed subjective experience.

On the other hand, conservatives do not disavow subjective experience but we subject it to revelation–seeing that Scripture shapes and interprets our experiences. Of course gay people suffer and have been wronged. We should name that and repents of the ways in which we have not honored the image of God in all people. At the same time, we offer a vision of life in which sexual expression is not the highest and best form of identity open to people, gay or straight, bisexual or transgender. As heretical as it might be to write: sex is necessary but sufficient to human-ness. We cannot re-phrase Descartes, “I am therefore I copulate.”