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I’m the Guy Wayne Grudem Warned You About

Well, not really. He warned you about some other, much more important guy. But I agree with the guy Wayne Grudem warned you about! Hey! Come on down to the bottom of the slippery slope! The water’s fine!

Adrian Warnock’s interview with Wayne Grudem continues with its fifth part, Must a Woman Always Remain Silent in Church?. It is at times like these that I begin to wonder why I’m involved. Of course, the answer to that is that I advocate continued communication, however distant, between liberals and evangelicals, and in my view even more importantly between liberals and charismatics. For that reason alone, I read Adrian’s blog, regularly consult conservative commentaries, and generally read more conservative literature than liberal. But when the title of a post asks whether women should always remain silent in church, I am reminded that there is a great gulf present in the way we think and approach subjects. One may hope that the great gulf is not fixed, but one fears otherwise.

In his last post and in this one Adrian referenced trajectories, and I’ve commented on the slippery slope argument. I don’t know if other egalitarians use slippery slope arguments, but I’m definitely not concerned with where the complementarian movement is going–I’m concerned with where it is now. That’s because I believe that it’s model of authority and ministry are profoundly contrary to the gospel. Slippery slopes aside, there is a profound difference in the understanding of spiritual authority in the two camps, at least as I understand it. I believe that the complementarian model of authority and treatment of women thends to impede the sharing of the gospel. But that’s not my reason for posting today.

Almost a year ago I wrote a post about inspiration titled The One Ended Cord, in which I discuss viewing inspiration as a complete act of communication. It’s important to notice that when God communicates he is communicating with someone, usually multiple someones, and the message is only truly accurate if it is received accurately. You can imagine a perfect, holy, and utterly accurate message that is not received, but such a message would truly return void (Isaiah 55:11).

Bear with me for a few paragraphs of discussion before I return to the Wayne Grudem interview.

This has often struck me in the standard doctrine of inerrancy, which refers to the inerrancy of the autographs. One great advantage of this form of the doctrine is that it can never truly be tested, because we’re not in possession of the autographs. But more important than this, in my view, is the extreme concern on the part of so many theologians to defend the purity of something that we do not possess. The doctrine of inerrancy is a doctrine that is more about the nature of God than about God communicating in scripture or the way God works with people, and thus one can focus on an element of inspiration that is not accessible.

The KJV Only camp’s argument that they want an inerrant Bible they can hold in their hands is quite cogent on this one point. I have always agreed with them that inerrant autographs that are inaccessible are not very relevant. It’s the only thing I’ve agreed with them on, but there it is! Further, I think that by claiming that the Bible they hold in their hand is inerrant, they make their version of inerrancy falsifiable, and indeed it is readily falsified.

I view the doctrine of inspiration as a teaching about communication, and not primarily as a doctrine about God. It grows out of what we teach about God, it builds on how we understand God, but it focuses on how God gets his message to us.

Now back to the interview. There were two comments that seemed to me to profoundly express this one-ended cord view. The first comes from a question by Adrian:

It seems, to me at least, that a lot of these issues hang together. People who are concerned about the direction of evangelical feminism also seem to be concerned about getting an essentially literal Bible translation that is as close to the meaning of each of the actual words of the original languages as possible. Conversely, those who are happier with more readable translations also seem to have a tendency to feel differently about the role of women, and for that matter many other issues that we see arising in the church today. Do you feel there is a definite connection there? [Emphasis mine]

Notice the phrase “close to the meaning of the actual words of the original languages as possible.” There’s our one-ended telephone cord. There is a greater concern among many people for a faithful content (I don’t even know how to say this! How does one refer to accuracy in reference to a message that is never received?) than there is about communicating that content to the reader. Notice the second underline. It’s the feminists who are interested in “more readable Bible translation.”

Now generally in translation the idea is to get the content close to the receiving audience. There are various ways of doing that, depending on the type of literature involved and the source and receptor languages one is dealing with. But in the view of translation that must underlie this set of comments, the point is to keep the message as close to the source language as you can get by with, and this is to be called accuracy.

Now there’s no necessary relationship between gender neutral, or better gender accurate language and a dynamic equivalence style of translation. One could keep the masculine references in a dynamic equivalent translation. But it seems that every time someone gets more interested in communicating the message than in artificially conveying some meaning of the “actual words,” then they also start asking things like what is the actual meaning of the Greek word as it would be understood by the original audience and how can that meaning best be conveyed to a modern audience. It’s no accident that “more readable” translations tend also toward gender accuracy. They are simply trying to communicate to modern speakers of English, and thus they translate into English that modern speakers use and understand. If you want to read Greek, learn Greek.

Well, I happen to think that the ESV is both highly “readable” and “essentially literal” at the same time! (Just try reading it aloud.)

It’s interesting that I’ve tried this and I disagree with Dr. Grudem here again. The ESV is highly readable to a select portion of the well-churched. It uses Biblish and Chuchese. If you want to keep graying congregations comfortable, that is fine. There are congregations for which I would urge the use of the ESV.

I’ve tested this in teaching classes to laypeople on Bible translation. There will be an older group for whom the ESV sounds natural, because it sounds the way they expect a Bible to sound. And I have to be honest here–I’m part of that group. The ESV sounds deeply appropriate to me. But in each of my classes there is another group, generally younger, for whom the ESV does not sound at all natural. Many of them are new Christians. Their eyes will light up if I read the CEV or the TNIV, but they don’t hear the ESV well.

I don’t always conduct this test with the ESV alone. Any of the modern very literal translations will do. But if I only read the ESV myself, I might well decide that it is both very literal and highly readable. The problem, however, is that I’m not a typical audience. I typically read several chapters each of Greek and Hebrew in a day. I grew up reading and memorizing the KJV, then moved to the RSV in college. I have a very strong grounding in church language, simply by being there and listening.

This concept of using both ends of the telephone cord needs to be extended to the message conveyed by the use of particular pronouns. Dr. Grudem is apparently impacted favorably by “male representation” but there seems to be little evidence that “male representation” occurs in the general populace. It appears to be a function of a few theological minds who have decided that is how things work.

Similarly the generic “he” is a factor of how people use and understand language. It may be understood differently by theologians, but there is very little evidence that others understand it as the theologians do. Suzanne McCarthy gathers some material on this issue here. Again, I believe the critical issue in how one understands this element of language is whether one is more concerned with composition than with comprehension.

Consider Dr. Grudem’s further statements on this topic (from the same portion of the interview) that seem to me to reflect a severe misunderstanding of the work of translation, and certainly a incorrect representation of the intent of the translators of the Bible versions in question:

Part of that trend has been seen in the strong push for “gender neutral language” in our culture. Bibles such as the TNIV, the New Living Translation, and the New Revised Standard Version remove thousands of examples of the male-oriented words “man,” “father,” “son,” “brother,” and “he/him/his,” and change them to the gender-neutral terms “person,” “parent,” “child,” “friend,” and “they,” in places where the original Hebrew or Greek referred to a specific male human being or used a masculine singular pronoun (equivalent to the English “he”) to state a general truth.

But you see the issue is not “removing” words from the source texts. We keep none of the words of the source language. At a minimum we loosely represent them through transliteration, but in the vast majority of the cases they are replaced by English words that are never 100% equivalent. Now I know Dr. Grudem is trying to present this concept using only English, but I think he fails. Again, he assumes a masculine content where very often none exists.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that in the church the one-ended telephone cord is still present.

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