With Reasons Like These . . .

. . . who needs rationalizations? I refer to the article 7 Reasons Why (it’s title in the title bar) also titled “Key Issues Regarding Bible Translation.” This is on the domain genderneutralbibles.com, (yes, Virginia, there really is a genderneutralbibles.com!).

A while back I blogged on Mark Driscoll’s reasons for using the ESV at his church. But with highly credentialed people to feed pastors misinformation, what should we expect? I am freshly astounded at the poor quality of argumentation and even of exegesis that is used in these articles, even though I shouldn’t be, because I have read these so many times before. Much of this is warmed over KJV-Only argumentation, just used a little bit more narrowly.

Let’s look at some of the major problems with this essay.

In discussing 1 Kings 2:10, the authors wax quite eloquent about the wonders of the metaphor “slept with his fathers” as opposed to “died,” preferring the Hebrew metaphor for death to a modern understanding. One should, of course, note that the metaphor is a Hebrew metaphor, and question whether the modern English reader in fact hears all of the things the translators expect. This underlines one of the common problems with the arguments of advocates for literal translation: They speak constantly of what meaning a word, phrase, or passage “contains” without asking what an audience will hear when reading that translation. What is lacking is any testing to see precisely what people will hear and understand.

This is precisely how I was awakened out of my own apathy on the issue of translations. I was already a fan of dynamic equivalence translations, and thought the KJV was hopelessly out of date in terms of language. But I felt there was no great reason for me to argue with anyone else about this until I was invited to teach on the history of the Bible to a group of high school aged young people. A couple of the students used the KJV, and when they would read, nobody, including them, understood. Now I still see no problem with my mother using the KJV. She’s 87 years old, has read it all her life, and can understand it quite well. But those young people could not. Why should I spend my teaching time in teaching them how to understand 17th century language?

But that incident started me on learning something very important, other than the realization that many people try to use the KJV even though they don’t really understand it. It suggested to me that the right way to discover how well a Bible translation functioned was to ask people to read it or hear it, and then to explain what they had heard. This applies to the use of gender language, or in this case to the particular metaphor, “slept with his fathers.” Does this metaphor mean all those things to actual church congregations, new believers, or non-Christians? I haven’t tested that particular one, though I suspect the answer is that few people would come up with all the wonderful meanings for the metaphor that our authors find. The problem is that those authors are blithely unconcerned with what people understand. For them, communication is all about what’s “in” the text, not about what readers actually understand from it.

Thus we see the following:

Supporters of essentially literal translations would agree that the dynamic equivalence rendering “then David died” does translate the main idea into contemporary English, but they would add that it is better to translate all of the words of the Hebrew original, including the word shakab (which means, “to lie down, sleep”), and the words ‘im (which means “with”), and

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  1. Henry, I have felt for a long time that Dr. Grudem’s claims in various articles, speeches, and debates need to be rebutted one by one in a scholarly way. I was thinking especially of his claims of several thousand translation “inaccuracies” in the TNIV. But there have been other errors from him which have influenced many of his believers, including in this article you have just reviewed. Thank you for your service to those who care about accuracy in Bible translation debates.

  2. It is a very astute observation that these arguments are similar to the KJV Only arguments, only narrower. I had not noticed the similarity.

    I see Grudem’s problem as a by-product of the difference between a biblical theologian and a systematic theologian. (I could also say, the difference between a translator and a systematic theologian.)

    My first exposure to Dr. Grudem came as I, a member of a Vineyard church, was reading a book where Dr. Grudem gave 35 or so arguments against cessationism. I was really impressed with his ability to use logic, which along with philosophy is one of the main tools required for constructing a coherent interlocking systematic theology. The biblical theologian (Ben Witherington, Gordon Fee, George Ladd, etc.) has as his or her main tools a knowledge of the biblical languages and the ancient culture, and is trying to construct a historical picture of the text’s message in context, whether it coheres with other books in the Bible or not. Obviously both kinds of persons are needed in order to fully understand the Bible’s message, but too many times I see a systematic theologian placing his logical system ahead of everything else, including evidence in the Bible that runs contrary to his system. Dr. Grudem seems to fall into this trap over gender issues.

  3. Thanks for your analysis. I believe that the details in formal-equivalence translations are important, but have concluded that the best translation for any one person at any particular stage in that person’s life, is the translation that best enables that person to really hear what the Lord is saying through the scripture. (You’re right, that the only valuable Bible is one that is read.)

    For a feminist, the TNIV would probably be a better choice than the ESV. For a person who’s fairly new to speaking English, the CEV or the NIRV would probably be better than the NIV.

    Thus, even though I prefer “essentially literal” versions, I believe the Lord can and does use dynamic-equivalence translations.

    How wonderful it is to have the problem of knowing which of many honest versions to pick!

  4. do you think that Dr. Grudem’s concern is really about biblical translation in this argument, or is he more concerned about “biblical manhood and womanhood” (whatever THAT means)?

  5. Oh, I think he is absolutely more concerned about “Biblcial manhood and womanhood,” and what that means is that women get to be second class citizens in the church. There are lots of euphemistic ways to put it, but that’s what it amounts to, IMV.

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