(Second in a series.)
One brother responded to the first article in this series saying he thought I was open to the charge of being naïve about the work of translation. He pointed out translation is moving the meaning of words into the receptor language, and thus always interpretation.
Which is true.
Still, we need to keep in mind that translators across the centuries have taken many Hebrew and Greek words from the text of Scripture and simply ported those same words into English. The process is called “transliteration” and it’s one of the many acceptable tools in the translator’s tool box. In Bible translation, English examples include “sabbath,” “manna,” “apostle,” “baptism,” “angel,” “deacon,” and hundreds more. (In fact, there’s a book in my library with hundreds of words of the KJV which are merely transliterations from the Hebrew and Greek.)
Bible translators have often moved Hebrew and Greek words directly into English, choosing to transliterate the words rather than protecting those words’ semantic meaning components by selecting English words with comparable meaning.
Transliteration to the side, though, all translation is, indeed, interpretation. No translator can escape the work of interpretation. We have no expectation otherwise, but the question needing to be focussed on is what the translator’s ideological and doctrinal commitments are which inform and control this interpretive work?
Then, once more, we point out that these men producing their modern Bible products are changing the words of Scripture to be more politically correct, and this process has left inerrancy behind. Examine their work—even sometimes how they describe it. Here’s an explanation published in the front of one of the first neutered Bibles demonstrating the distinction these men can’t help but make between God’s Words and God’s meaning behind His Words. Note how he attributes the male inclusive God inspired to the “ancient” and “male-oriented culture.”
But most particularly, note this “inclusive language” version doesn’t hesitate to state the “original language is male oriented, but not intentionally so.”
This is God’s intentions He speaks of, that is if he believes it’s the words and not simply the concepts behind the words, that God inspired:
The English language changes constantly. An obvious recent change is in the area of gender-inclusive language. This creates problems for modern translators of the ancient biblical text, which was originally written in a male-oriented culture. The translator must respect the nature of the ancient context while also accounting for the concerns of the modern audience. Often the original language itself allows a rendering that is gender-inclusive… There are other occasions where the original language is male-oriented, but not intentionally so.1
This is how these men think, although normally their statements are more nuanced, more disguised. It is for this reason I say again and again that the PC translators and publishers marketing their latest Bible products no longer hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. “The original language is male-oriented, but not intentionally so.” It’s the meanings behind the words that are inspired–not the words themselves.
With full intention, they are leaving behind meaning components of the Hebrew and Greek words they are translating into English. The most obvious example is the thousands of words modern Bible versions have removed from Scripture in order to protect Scripture against the charge of being “hopelessly patriarchal” or sexist.
Every time Hebrew and Greek male inclusives are removed from the English text of Scripture, the translators have made the decision to leave God’s inspired words behind, substituting what they themselves judge to be His “real,” “true,” or “accurate” meanings behind His words. The typical statement these men would make justifying what they have done is to say, “The meaning is all people, not just men.”
Point out to them that the actual Greek word has a clear male meaning component and they become irritable and dismissive. “That’s not significant.” Or “Gender isn’t meaning.” Or “That’s just how they spoke in ancient patriarchal cultures.” Or that old standby, “All translation is interpretation. You can’t escape it. I would have thought you would know that.”
If you respond, “So you decided to separate the meaning of the word you judge to be essential from the meaning of the word you judge to be nonessential?”
“No! I’ve simply made it clear all people are included—not just men!”
We may suggest this rejoinder:
Uh, sorry. I do get it. You don’t like your scholarly work to be questioned, but it’s obvious the Greek word “adelphoi” translated “brothers” across the New Testament epistles for centuries now has a male meaning component you remove when you change “brothers” to “brothers and sisters” and “siblings.” That’s what I mean when I say you no longer believe the words are inspired. It seems obvious you are choosing one meaning and leaving behind another meaning. You claim you have better communicated God’s meaning behind His Words than if you actually used His Words. Is that not a fair representation of your work? Thus words God inspired have been abandoned for this or that meaning behind the words which you choose to privilege in the receptor language.
And may I be so bold as to add that, among your scholarly colleagues, this makes you look good? Award-winning translator and Princeton prof David Bellos talks a lot about this peer pressure translators face—and often succumb to—in his work, Is that a Fish in Your Ear. Have you read it?
In the past, the most common motivation for separating Scripture’s words and meanings was the denial of the Biblical doctrine of Creation. Men would cop the posture of affirming what they described as the “very deep, spiritual truth” that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But then they would add that God did not create in the way and in the time frame recorded in the first chapters of Genesis. Such men said (and still say) Adam wasn’t the first man, but only a representative name for an early tribe of hominids from which the first man and woman evolved. Then (and still today) they cavil at the specifics of the Fall documented in Genesis. The snake was “mythical,” the woman was “mythical,” the fruit was “mythical,” the woman’s husband was “mythical,” and the spiritual disease he contracted was merely one ancient people group’s method of explaining the problem of evil.
They would say there was death in the Garden prior to the Fall.2 They would pronounce that carbon dating tells us this and the fossil record tells us that. They would lower their voice and share with us that they think this and that. They would suggest to us it might be like this and it might be like that. They wonder this and they wonder that. It’s all so very interesting to them and their colleagues.
The end of the project is never stated or admitted, but when their deconstruction is done, inevitably the Bible has been stripped naked of authority.
Trying to meld God’s Words with scientism’s words, they declare Scripture’s record “mythical” or “poetic”— the pseudo-intellectuals’ euphemism for “wrong.”
Proud of their brilliant suppositions, such men don’t hesitate to assert in each other’s company that they understand Genesis better than the sheep. Yet they’re quick to reassure any of the sheep’s shepherds who might raise a concern that they know how (and will be careful) to phrase things in such a way as to avoid frightening the sheep. Usually, this “way” takes common words and twists them so the sheep think they mean one thing while the scholars’ colleagues know they mean something else.
This normally pacifies pastors who have concerns. After all, if it’s only the fears of the sheep that are problematic, and there’s no serious danger, word games are sufficient to avoid controversy and schism. It’s not uncommon for the pastor himself to take a certain pride in knowing these rules of the game and having his seminary profs throw the occasional wink and nod in his direction. It feels so good to be among the cognoscenti.
How do such men decide which of God’s Words are true and which false?
The fact of the words being in Scripture is not sufficient for them to submit to those words. The words must also strike them as accurate, but what they mean by “accurate” is that those words must be helpful, as they see it.
Note carefully that word “helpful.”
Of course they agree “for God so loved the world” is accurate and helpful. But go on and ask them if these words themselves are inspired, or if it’s merely the truths behind these words?
They’ll balk at your question. They’d never want to say it’s the truths behind the words of John 3:16 that are inspired, and not the words themselves. If they put their deconstruction to work on John 3:16, you can bet they’d lose their seminary professorship. They only want to deconstruct God’s Words in Scripture they don’t like, but who on earth dislikes John 3:16?
In fact, when we come right down to it, across the vast majority of Scripture, such men would not want to argue that it is the meanings behind the words of Scripture that are inspired, and not Scripture’s very words. That’s such a blunt-force instrument, and it leaves them so very vulnerable to the accusation that they’re really not orthodox, but neo-orthodox.
Only simpletons fail to see where this is headed.
Such men deny all the words of God’s Word are God-breathed so they can depend upon themselves, and not God. So they can be the judge, the wise one. So they can say “yes” to what they want to say “yes” to, and “no” to what they want to say “no” to.
When I pastor such men, I inquire of them whether Scripture’s words are true? For instance, is it true still that “God is true” though “all men are liars”3? Or is this here one of the many places where they believe God’s Words are…
(Second in a series.)