ST LOUIS (BP)–The controversy over one Bible translation has helped R. Albert Mohler Jr. shape his opinion about another.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed the issue of Bible translation June 10 during a breakfast sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources for pastors attending the Southern Baptist Convention. LifeWay’s trade publishing division, Broadman & Holman, is publishing a new translation, the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
“When I first heard about the Holman Christian Standard Bible, I was not excited about it,” Mohler said. “I think in many ways there are too many translations, and having one more translation is not necessarily a great thing. [However,] the changes in the last several months have convinced me that in the end this is an important thing for Southern Baptists to do — if for no other reason than that we will have a major translation we can control.”
Mohler was referencing the controversy over the Today’s New International Version published by Zondervan. It is billed as a “gender-accurate” translation of the Bible, although some 100 evangelical leaders, including Mohler, have voiced their opposition to its publication, saying its attempt at “gender-accuracy” has led to mistranslation of various biblical texts. The New Testament version of the TNIV has already been released, with the complete version scheduled for 2005.
Likewise, the Holman Christian Standard New Testament is already available, and the complete HCSB is scheduled for release in 2004.
There is no guarantee, Mohler said, that other well-respected translations will avoid substantial changes in the future.
“[Owning the rights to the HCSB] may be extremely meaningful in the future — even more so than now,” Mohler said.
LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. agreed with Mohler, saying that because of the TNIV controversy the HCSB translation is “more important than we thought it was. These are very critical issues.”
Mohler said that the HCSB is one of three Bible translations that he will recommend for use in serious study. The other two are the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version.
“I’m not saying this because I’m at a LifeWay-sponsored event,” Mohler said. “It’s a translation I would commend, and there aren’t very many I would commend.”
Mohler said the arguments over Bible translations are anything but trivial.
“If we love the Scripture, then the issue of scriptural translations is one that [should be] of our stewardship and priority,” he said.
Translators, Mohler said, are wrong when they argue that a Bible translation must use “street language.”
“We are being told that if we are going to translate the Bible into the vernacular, it has to be what we would call street language,” he said. “But is that the way Scripture should be translated?”
The answer, he said, should be no. He pointed to the type of Greek in which the New Testament was written as an example.
“It was the common form of the day but it was not the lowest common denominator of the day,” he said. “… It was not the street language.”
Mohler said a Bible should aim for a translation using “the language as it currently exists — not at its lowest level and not at a level of abstract specialization. Instead, [it should be] a level of the language that is formal and yet is understandable by anyone who is literate.”
Mohler discussed the two translation bodies of thought. One is “formal equivalence” — sometimes referred to as a “literal” or “word for word” translation. The other is called “dynamic,” which is occasionally referred to as a “paraphrase.” Dynamic translations tend simply to maintain the concept of the verse, while not necessarily rendering an exact translation of the original text.
Because every word of Scripture is inspired, translators should aim for a formal equivalent translation, Mohler said.
“If we believe in a verbal doctrine of inspiration, then how can we believe in anything less than a verbal concept of translation?” he asked. “If we really believe in verbal plenary inspiration, then the words are important.”
But Mohler said even the best literal translations must paraphrase certain isolated texts.
“There are some texts that simply require a reshuffling of the entire issue in order to make it plain in any modern translation,” he said. “The question is whether those difficulties drive the entirety or whether you start with a formal equivalence aim and then use dynamic equivalence models where absolutely necessary.”
Translators, Mohler said, face many temptations, including the temptation to use gender-inclusive language.
“There are many persons who are uttering feminist-originated arguments who do not consider themselves feminist, but they have bought into the worldview that if women are not named specifically then they are not included,” he said. “If you buy into that, then we have to update all of our hymns, we have to change our historic language, we have to rewrite most of English literature. We have to reform our law.”
But Mohler said there are other pressures — including pressures from those pushing political correctness. He noted that the TNIV has changed “Jews” to “Jewish leaders” in several New Testament passages.
The language is being contorted so fast, he added, that in five to 10 years some will be arguing for the removal of words such as “marriage” and “family” from the Bible. Mohler said those in the politically correct camp will be arguing that “You simply can’t say ‘marriage,’ you simply can’t say ‘family’ and expect people to know what you’re talking about.”
Thomas Schreiner, Southern Seminary professor of New Testament interpretation, said there are a handful of instances when it “it’s proper to use inclusive language.” He pointed to Galatians 6:1, where the HCSB reads “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted also.” While the NIV also uses the word “someone,” the King James Version instead uses “a man.”
But Schreiner said the TNIV’s changes often go too far, resulting in a change in theological meaning.
“Shouldn’t the translation simply reflect what the text says?” he asked. “Then we can interpret the text.”