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Evangelical Bible Translations and the Jews

Category Articles
Date October 1, 2000

For years, feminists have waged an increasingly successful struggle to strip the Bible of patriarchal language while claiming such alterations will lead to no further Biblical cleansing. Now the slippery slope is confirmed.

A recent article in the Jewish Telegraph tells of recent success in an 18-year campaign by retired Jewish publisher Irvin Borowsky to alter New Testament language he describes as ‘excessively faulting all Jews for the suffering and execution of Jesus.’

76-year-old Borowsky founded the American Interfaith Institute in 1982 to urge Christians to cleanse the New Testament of such ‘hate language.’ According to Borowsky these efforts are finally bearing fruit: ‘History will record that the scholars and the president of the American Bible Society who published the first Bible that contained no anti-Judaism in nearly 2,000 years were the first to record accurately the historical events of the first century.’

The Bible Borowsky refers to is the American Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version (CEV). Adoption of inclusive gender language in the CEV has been common knowledge for years. Less well known until recently was the willingness of CEV translators to alter New Testament words referring to the Jewish people.

Yet the American Bible Society is not the only Bible publisher thus far in history to refrain from ‘excessively faulting all Jews.’ There is another recent translation which has incorporated the same changes Borowsky praises in the CEV.

Quite by accident, a few weeks ago I discovered Tyndale House Publisher’s New Living Translation ( NLT) has joined the American Bible Society’s CEV in obscuring the text of Scripture surrounding ‘Ioudaios’ and its cognates. At times the NLT changes the Greek from ‘Jews’ to ‘Jewish leaders,’ at other times just to ‘people’–with no Jewish marker at all.

What else do the two translations have in common? Both have largely stripped Scripture of its generic male pronouns and altered other specifically masculine language in ways that obscure the patriarchal worldview and language permeating God’s Word.

The fact that these changes in New Testament terminology for the Jewish people were quietly slipped into the NLT is remarkable for several reasons. First, the CEV has never been known as an evangelical translation: CEV translators were not culled from Evangelical ranks, NLT translators were. Plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture was not an issue for CEV translators, Tyndale House stresses that translators of the NLT ‘are evangelicals who accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God.’

Second, the NLT made clear its preference for inclusive gender language from the very outset. Before inclusive language became a major issue in the evangelical world, the NLT had publicly stated in the introduction of its first edition:

‘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.’ New Living Translation, 1996 edition Introduction.

The gender violence done Scripture by the NLT at least had the virtue of complete disclosure. So we took the NLT translators at their word, that it was only gender markings related to the generic Hebrew ‘adam’ (man) they wanted to obscure or delete? Well we were wrong. And why are we surprised to learn this, given the intensity of our culture’s hatred for anything smacking of anti-Semitism?

It’s not surprising the New Living Translation did not stop with muting the patriarchalism of Scripture, but also muted the texts which have been accused by Jews of leading Christians to call them ‘Christ-killers.’ The same men who saw nothing wrong with ‘muting patriarchalism’ are unlikely to see anything wrong with muting ‘Ioudaios’ and ‘Ioudaioi.’

It never ceases to amaze how men of impeccable evangelical scholarly credentials think nothing of changing hundreds of words in Scripture in order to diffuse or hide the language of patriarchy, or any purported anti-Semitism – yet at the same time see no need to cash in their inerrancy credentials. And tragically, no one has the courage to tell them they ought to do so.

Stop and think for a moment: if the Holy Spirit meant to say ‘Jewish religious leaders,’ would he not have breathed ‘scribes and Pharisees’ or some similar construction as he has done in so many other New Testament passages? When there are so many places in the New Testament where what the Holy Spirit has inspired is the equivalent of the NLT’s ‘Jewish religious leaders,’ is it not imperative to communicate that, for instance, in John 10:31-32 this is most decidedly not what he breathed? Similarly, look at John 1:19; 2:18; 5:10; 5:15; 5:16; 5:18; 7:1,2… Then notice other places where Jewish markings have entirely disappeared from the NLT: John 2:13; 2:20; 3:1; 6:41; 6:52; 7:2….

There is no logical end to this censoring of God’s Holy Spirit. Once we set ourselves up as authorities over the Word of God, thinking that we can communicate more accurately the meaning of the Holy Spirit by hiding his words, we rightly come under God’s judgment.

Although there is a proper place for exegetical work in translation, all the meanings of words must be retained even when some of the meaning may prove dangerous in the hands of ignorant men. In fact, wasn’t this exactly the argument that caused the Roman Catholic Church to condemn lay preaching and vernacular translations in the time of, for instance, Peter Waldo? And what of the reformers’ doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture? If dangerous misinterpretations of Scripture are protected against by the removal of some of the meaning of the original text by scholars who do not trust that text in the hands of hoi polloi, the little people in the pews, are we not reverting to the practice of the medieval church chaining Scripture to the podiums of her cathedrals?

It seems today that we are seeing a movement back to scribes and Pharisees holding a privileged position in the reading and interpretation of the Word of God when scholars give the souls in the pews a truncated version of that Word.

And who presided over the NLT’s translation of the book of John, ground zero for these newly discovered bowdlerizations of God’s Word? Along with two others, Gary Burge of the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College, a man who figured prominently in several attacks upon the Colorado Springs Guidelines for Translation of Gender Markings in Scripture several years ago.

So who’s surprised? A man is well paid to do translation work on a Bible committed to muting the language of patriarchy (the NLT). Several years later when such muting of gender language is called into question he attacks those who criticize. Yet no one is willing to publicly mention the self-interested motives behind his defensive attacks.

Now we find that this same man participated in the NLT’s muting of purported anti-Semitism in the Gospel of John.

Similarly, when Don Carson issued his tract defending the muting of the patriarchalism of Scripture, did he see fit to divulge that he, too, had been paid to do translation work on the NLT? Did anyone reviewing his book–say, for instance, Andreas Kostenberger, the current editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) who did the quite-substantial recent review of Carson’s tract in JETS – see fit to inform his readers that Mr. Carson had a definite self-interest in the matter? No.

Ironically at the very same time we as evangelicals are being too polite to mention obvious conflicts of interest in the conduct of paid translators of the Word of God, debates over conflict of interest rage in the secular world. For instance, an editorial in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine states,

Many researchers profess that they are outraged by the very notion that their financial ties to industry could affect their work. They insist that, as scientists, they can remain objective, no matter what the blandishments.

In short, they cannot be bought. What is at issue is not whether researchers can be ‘bought,’ in the sense of a quid pro quo. It is that close and remunerative collaboration with a company naturally creates goodwill on the part of researchers and the hope that the largesse will continue. This attitude can subtly influence scientific judgment in ways that may be difficult to discern. Can we really believe that clinical researchers are more immune to self-interest than other people?
— The New England Journal of Medicine; May 18, 2000 , Vol. 342, No. 20

This, from a secular journal with absolutely no commitment to the doctrine of the depravity of man and little knowledge of Jeremiah 17:9, which reads: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ Nor is it likely many of them have ever read Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2 : ‘All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD’ (Proverbs 16:2). ‘All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart’ (Proverbs 21:2).

Nor the Apostle Paul who testified about himself: ‘For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members’ (Romans 7:22, 23).

Is it only within the Body of Christ we need not fear conflict of interest; only among believers that the rule, ‘Follow the money,’ does not apply; only in the Church that full disclosure need not be practiced? What bunk!

Let me go on record here saying that one of the most egregious examples of muting the patriarchalism of Scripture in the NLT was carried out by Carson and his two assistants in the book he himself was paid to translate, Acts.

Look at the first edition of the NLT, Acts 1:21, 22:

So now we must choose someone else to take Judas’s place. It must be someone [aner!] who has been with us all the time that we were with the Lord Jesus–from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us into heaven. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection (NLT-First Edition).

The Greek word is ‘aner’. The only proper translation of this verse is as the New American Standard Bible translates it: ‘Therefore it is necessary that of the men (aner) who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us–beginning with the baptism of John until the day that he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection’ (NASB-95 Edition).

Since the onset of this debate, it has been clear that evangelicalism is moving away from its historic commitment to Scripture, into neo-orthodoxy. Whereas in the past, we evangelicals believed, with Calvin, Warfield, Packer, etc., that it is the words of Scripture which are inspired, many evangelicals now believe that it is only the ideas behind those words which are inspired.

Look, for instance, at the current issue of the Atlantic, the cover story called ‘The Opening of the Evangelical Mind,’ for all the corroboration one could need. Then for a good purgative following the Atlantic piece, buy a copy of Iain Murray‘s latest work, Evangelicalism Divided.

As I told my congregation this past Sunday night, dark days are ahead for those who believe. May God give us wisdom and strength to raise our children in such a way that they fear God, not adam.

Timothy B. Bayly (Rev.), is Senior Pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd, Bloomington, Indiana. His father-in-law, Ken Taylor, is Chairman of the Board of Tyndale House Publishers, publisher of the New Living Translation.

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