(Fourth in a series.)
One objection I want to respond to in connection with this series is the scandal readers may experience when reading that our modern Bible products “gag God” and “delete God’s Words.” Why put it so harshly? Isn’t this merely a scholarly debate and wouldn’t it be better to keep it private? Doesn’t publicizing it harm the sheep’s trust in the Bible they read? How is that helpful?
A couple conversations in the past made me think carefully about this matter.
First, back in 1997, a group of us had flown out to Colorado Springs for a meeting Jim Dobson had called to confront the International Bible Society’s1 Translation Committee and the CEOs of the International Bible Society and Zondervan over their plans to neuter the NIV.2 The evening before the scheduled meeting, our working group met at the Marriott where we were staying, and discussed strategy. We began with a discussion of the merits of joining together to produce a new Bible version. (A short time later, we began the work to produce the ESV, inviting Crossway’s CEO, Lane Dennis, to be its publisher.)
For weeks leading up to the Colorado Springs meeting, I’d personally been pushing our working group to turn our attention to producing this new Bible. It would not neuter God’s Words and might become the new standard among Evangelicals, replacing the NIV.
Making my case by email, Wayne Grudem responded negatively saying he didn’t want to do it because he was too busy. Paige Patterson said the men of the SBC were producing their own new version, so he’d not be able to help. Others in the email chain were simply silent.
That evening in the Springs, though, I persevered, pressing the men to consider the need. There was simply no other way to protect the Scriptures from the removal of all the male inclusives—thousands of them—throughout Scripture. There were seven or eight of us that night, and early in our discussion we went around the group, identifying and explaining which Bible translation we each used.
As it turned out, several of the men used the RSV. But what I distinctly remember was John Piper saying he wouldn’t use the NIV because, as he put it, “I’d have to be explaining to my congregation all the time that this is not what the original Greek says [and] this would harm my congregation’s trust in Scripture.”
This shocked me. At the time I preached from the NIV, and despite my firm commitment to the historic doctrine of Scripture’s plenary verbal inspiration, I had not thought about how inaccurate it was as it currently stood, even without any neutered revision. (From that time on, I switched to the NASB95, which I’ve used since.)
The second thing that helped me to consider this danger of causing scandal among the sheep by discussing the failures of Bible translators and publishers was a conversation with Evangelical theologian and longtime editor of Christianity Today, Carl Henry. The last book Dad told me to read was Henry’s autobiographical Confessions of a Theologian, and Henry was likely the most respected theologian among American Evangelicals the last half of the twentieth century.
This too occurred during the neutered Bibles conflict. It was 1997 and Dr. Henry was living up in a retirement community in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. I’d called to ask his help. At the time, the conflict was hot. World magazine had done the first article, but the story was taken over by mainstream media and it went viral across the country. Would Dr. Henry join us in opposing the neutering of Scripture?
Dr. Henry responded, “Tim, is it really necessary to broadcast this debate? Can’t it be kept private? Why does it have to be made public? I think it would be better for these things not to be argued about publicly.”
My answer was something like this:
But Dr. Henry, when has the Church ever tried to hide the battles in defense of God’s truth? Did the Apostle Paul keep his battle against the Judaizers private? How would we ever have known what was at stake with the controversy over circumcision if we didn’t have the report of the battle in Antioch and the resultant Council of Jerusalem? And what about the book of Galatians?
Then there’s Calvin and Luther. What if they’d tried to hide their battle against Rome? If they’d tried to keep it private?
After saying a few more things in that vein, I was silent. Dr. Henry sort of answered with a corresponding silence. He wasn’t going to get involved. Whether it was because he thought it was good to neuter Scripture or simply that he was tired, I don’t know. But the author of God, Revelation, and Authority was not interested in opposing the neutering of Scripture, publicly or privately. He never showed up for the battle.
What have I concluded?
There’s no way to fight for the integrity of the text of Scripture privately. The Bible belongs to the Church. It is the Church the Holy Spirit worked through to declare the canon of Scripture. It was not the academy.
What is at stake today in the bowdlerization of Scripture carried out by scholars and their publishers is the doctrine resident and communicated through God’s very words. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God. All Scripture is God-breathed.
When men add to and delete God’s words, the church must be warned. Repeatedly. Publicly. Loudly.
Across the Western world today, there is an intense battle over language, and this battle is eternally more important than any battle over economics, public health policies, the right to bear arms, free assembly, immigration, and all the other abuses of power by civil authorities that (often rightly) cause God’s people to gnash our teeth. When teachers, profs, corporate communication policies, and big tech censor Christian speech and confessions of Biblical truth, we must fight. We cannot give in.
We must continue to confess man’s federal headship over woman through our use of the male inclusive. We must continue to name our race “man,” and not give in to their attempts to force us to speak of the race of adam using neutered words such as “persons” and “humans.” We must continue to refer to the LGBTQ… perversions as moral “abominations,” just as God Himself names them in His Word.
Never forget how Scripture concludes:
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. – Revelation 22:18-21
It is hard to learn we can’t trust modern Bible products, but we must have faith to teach the Church the difference between what God spoke and what scholars themselves speak. We must trust God to use our teaching and preaching to build greater trust among the sheep for His very Words in His very Word.
Yes, there is a clear risk the sheep will refuse to heed our warnings and will throw up their hands, justifying their complacency by repeating Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” But the alternative to warning the sheep is refusing to blow the bugle of warning God has delegated to His pastors and elders.
Do we really want the sheep’s blood on our hands?
(Fourth in a series.)