Friday, March 30, 2007

another change of heart

Andreas Kostenberger is a professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In the late 1990s he was a critic of "gender inclusive" Bibles. He endorsed the Colorado Springs Guidelines drafted by Wayne Grudem, Verne Poythress, and a handful of others.
That's what makes Kostenberger's contribution to The Challenge of Bible Translation (published in 2003, a year after the TNIV NT released) so interesting.

Kostenberger wrote a chapter called Translating John's Gospel: Challenges and Opportunities, evaluating "the quality and accuracy of nine major English translations of the Gospel of John."
He makes several comments about the inclusive language debate that are well worth reading. Here are some excerpts (see page 8 of the full article for the entire discussion of inclusive language):
To make this an issue of doctrinal fidelity and orthodoxy (inerrancy)—as Grudem and Poythress continue to insist on doing—is erroneous and fails to appreciate the complexities involved in Bible translation.
To some extent, the difference is over perceptions to which degree the English language has in fact shifted or is expected to shift. While I am no expert in this area, I believe that translation committees should consider all the available options—including generic “he”—and then choose the best overall translation that presents the least amount of difficulties. In my consulting work I have seen a fair share of instances where translation committees were so intent on avoiding generic “he” that they chose inferior options instead.
Just as Poythress and Grudem criticize Carson for appearing to exclude generic “he” as an option, they should be open to other possibilities—including those that entail changes from singular to plural, from third to second person singular, etc. They should not claim divine sanction for English generic “he,” as if it were somehow intrinsically superior to possible alternatives. I am also not so sure that the latent masculinity Poythress and Grudem claim underlies certain generics is as widespread as they allege.
Incidentally, which translation was the winner in his study?
Hence, in our unscientific case study, the TNIV comes out on top with a superior “6” rating.
What prompted this apparent change of heart? It seems to have begun in 1999, two years after the inclusive language controversy that led to the Colorado Springs Guidelines. In an article that year for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Kostenberger shared this story:
The other day, my six-year-old daughter Lauren and I read the gospel account in which Jesus promises to make his followers "fishers of men" (or so it read in the NIV that we were using). My daughter commented: "Daddy, I'm going to be a fisher of women," and then adding, with customary "generosity," "Tahlia [her younger sister], she can be a fisher of men." I was struck by the perceptive nature of my daughter's remark: unaware of the recent inclusive-language controversy, she had unwittingly yet intuitively picked up on the need for Bible translators in this day and age to be sensitive to how they render gender-related terms in Scripture.
Even Bible scholars' children need translations like the TNIV.


Swaroop George said...

Really good blog...

Keep up the good work..


John Radcliffe said...

Andreas Kostenberger wrote:

The other day, my six-year-old daughter Lauren and I read the gospel account in which Jesus promises to make his followers "fishers of men" (or so it read in the NIV that we were using). My daughter commented: "Daddy, I'm going to be a fisher of women"

Of course, instead of translating the Bible into natural current English that ordinary people can understand without explanation, we could stick with "traditional" renderings and simply tell them what words like "men" or "he" *really* mean.

I know which approach I'd advocate.

David McKay said...

Dr Kostenberger also espouses such views in his helpful blog.

He is a firm believer in complementarianism and also someone who believes there is a place for bible versions which are written in contemporary language.

I have discovered that some others who have not yet chosen to "out" themselves, have misgivings about the ways there names are used in publicity against versions such as the TNIV.

I'm waiting for them to declare themselves!

reGeNeRaTe said...

Andreas Kostenberger said:

My daughter commented: "Daddy, I'm going to be a fisher of women"

Out of the mouth of babes...LOL.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I am surprised that Dr. Köstenberger would allow a woman to fish. He has very strict guidelines for women, married and unmarried, staying within the boundaries of the domestic in order not to be tempted by Satan.

The sense of the injunction in the present passage is thus that women can expect to escape Satan under the condition of adhering to their God-ordained role centering around the natural household.

Passages such as the present one appear to indicate that it is precisely by participating in her role pertaining to the family that women fulfill their central calling. Moreover, if the reference to “childbearing” should indeed be understood as a synecdoche, even unmarried women are to retain a focus on the domestic sphere and all that it entails.

I suppose that a woman might be able to fish as recreation. I have to think this one through.

ben irwin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ben irwin said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

John... I know which one I'd advocate, too. The irony is, I've heard Grudem argue that if someone doesn't realize "man" really means "people," then you should just explain it to them. After all, says Grudem, the Bible wasn't meant to be easily understood.

I just don't think we should make people stumble over things in scripture that weren't meant to confuse. Sure, there's some challenging stuff in there, but did the biblical authors really mean for us to wonder whether a passage like Revelation 3:20 applies to men and women or just men only?

David... one can only hope that others will have the same courage to go public with their misgivings. Then again, I know of one former critic who asked CBMW to remove his name from their "no TNIV" list a few years back... Oddly enough, it took several weeks (and repeated contacts) for them to finally honor his request.

Suzanne... FWIW, I don't share Dr. Kostenberger's interpretation of 2 Timothy 2:15 either, knowing what I know about the historical and cultural context of that passage. But I think Kostenberger's change of heart with respect to inclusive language makes it difficult for anyone to argue that the TNIV is part of some "sinister" egalitarian agenda. I especially liked Wayne's post about the "Complementarian TNIV" (as he called it) on the Better Bibles Blog last October.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Ben,

You're right. I am just having a little fun for the 'poisson d'avril.' It is de rigeur to make a comment about fish on April fool's day.

I hope you like my post about Aner and Grudem.