Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Do the "would-be orthodox" give away with the left hand what they take with the right?

The Authority of Scripture, the ENGLISH BIBLE, and the Crisis of Anglicanism

It is the claim of the Evangelical, Charismatic and Anglo-Catholic members of the American Anglican Council, The Network and affiliated organizations in Canada and Britain that what they are really standing for, in the current controversy and crisis caused by the innovation of blessing 'gay' partnerships and consecrating a 'gay' bishop, is the authority of Holy Scripture in doctrine and morals.

I want to suggest that unwittingly many of these well-intentioned people are actually undermining the authority of Scripture as the written Word of God by their actual use of modern versions of the Bible in their worship and in this present controversy. This suggestion may seem far-fetched; but, I ask my reader to bear with me and to carry on reading what I write.

What is causing the undermining of the authority of the Bible as God's Word written in this Anglican crisis? I suggest that it is the net result of at least these two factors, which I briefly explain below.

1. The proliferation of versions and paraphrases of the Bible available and constantly being revised and re-marketed and being used in churches and by individual persons. No longer can one refer to the English Bible (as one could for centuries with respect to the KJV) for there are currently around 100 versions in print. No longer can one quote a verse or a paragraph and it be instantly recognized as "the Word of God" for the hearers may be using a very different version and thus not immediately see what is being cited. Proliferation has caused skepticism concerning which version if any is trustworthy, and competitiveness has arisen as to which is the "best" Bible!
There is now a smorgasbord approach to choosing an English version of the Bible, with Christians shopping around for what they feel is best for them in their situation and with the particular needs and context. There is no longer the Word of God written, the English Bible, but there are effectively 100 plus major opinions as to what this Bible could be, should be and even ought to be. Visit your local large Christian bookstore to see for yourselves.

2. The fact that most of these 100 or so versions rely in whole or in part upon the
theory of dynamic (or functional) equivalence for the basis of the translation. That is these versions deliberately set aside the traditional approach to translation (essentially literal, and word for word) as used in the KJV, ASB, NKJV, RSV, and ESV and use instead the modern approach which goes for a "thought for thought" rendering. It will be observed that in this new approach the translator is also to a large extent the interpreter. And this is seen so clearly when one compares in parallel columns the texts of these many versions. Whatever be the skill of the translator in knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, he feels duty bound to render the original into ways that can be easily understood by the reader and often he will have a target reader in mind (e.g., an average 15 yr old in High School, a politically-correct congregation, busy mothers, feminists with an agenda, homosexual activists with an agenda, Sunday School classes in big evangelical churches, and so on). The attraction of the theory of dynamic equivalence is that the Bible can become the Bible for any targeted group and can speak its language and serve its ends! And commercial pressures give a respectability to this situation. This is why this theory has been so
acceptable to both Evangelicals (who want a simple, easy-to-read, accessible
text that has few difficulties of grammar, syntax and style) and radical Liberals (who want a Bible that is "soft" on those sins which they want to make into virtues).

Reflection. To commend and defend the Word of God written and the doctrines contained therein (e.g., of human sexuality and holiness) there is needed an English Bible, or a family of English versions which are of the same genre, likeness, and style. Happily there is still available such a provision -- that family of English versions which are based on the only theory of Bible translation that can offer to the churches today a route into the authoritative Word of God and to what it actually says. This theory of essentially literal rendering is that behind the KJV (1611), RV (1881), ASV (1901) NASB (1971), RSV (1957/71) and ESV (2001).

[Note that such versions as the NIV and the NEB contain some but not total use of the essentially literal rendering, while the Todays New International Version and The New Living Translation go all the way with dynamic equivalency. The NRSV and the REB go most of the way with the dynamic equivalency as do the modern R C versions. The 1979 Prayer Book of the ECUSA also goes most of the way in this direction in its rendering of ancient texts.]

Every moment the "would-be orthodox" and the "would-be biblically based" Anglicans continue to use the variety of dynamic equivalency versions as the basis for their debate (war) with innovators in their churches, they actually agree, regrettably, with their liberal and revisionist opponents in assuming & stating that the Word of God is what we decide it is, by what our "thought for thought" rendering really says to us. Subjectivity and opinion thus reign and the true Word of God remains partly hidden from us as we revel in our "thought for thought" equivalency! Reductionism and dumbing-down have made major inroads into the modern versions of the English Bible and by them true reform, revival, renewal and regeneration are made if not impossible most difficult!

(If you really want to help in examining the great harm that the use of dynamic equivalency does to the Bible in English buy and read Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English. Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation, Crossway Books, 2002 ISBN 1-58134-464-3. The only weakness of this book is that it was published to commend the ESV of 2001 and may seem to be a tract rather than a most serious contribution to (especially) evangelical thinking.

If you want to see how far dynamic equivalency has invaded modern R C writing and translating see Keith F. Pecklers, Dynamic Equivalence: the Living Language of Christian Worship, Liturgical Press, 2003.)

The Rev'd Dr Peter Toon September 15, 2004

No comments: