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From the April, 2002
issue of Touchstone

 

Heretical Bibles by S. M. Hutchens

Heretical Bibles

The editors of Touchstone agree with Hendrik A. Mills on the importance of defense of the faith against the recent tide of bad scripture translations (see Letters in this issue), and appreciate his putting the subject before us for comment. While Fr. Reardon is our best Bible scholar, I will speak here for the senior editors, for what is required is not so much expertise in translation as a review of our indications that every Bible systematically employing what is called “inclusive language,” whether for God or man, is unorthodox and unacceptable.

Each of the most widely used English Bibles current before this new spate of versions has its strengths and weaknesses. No Bible translation is without flaw. Even if the problems of selection from variant texts and actual mistranslation were placed to the side, the impossibility of duplicating one language in another remains. Some of those older versions we (varying among ourselves) might have considered too “loose” to be of value for close study, or colored by sectarian bias. Some, in the attempt to modernize or colloquialize, date themselves with jargon or impoverished English. Some are hobbled by questionable theories of semantic correspondence, some miss (or refuse) the advantage of newer manuscript discoveries, some lack certain books of the Old Testament canon, and most lack the genius that makes for truly great translation—all imperfect, all requiring the superintendence of Spirit and Church in teaching, preaching, and private reading.

None, however, had yet been altered to the dictates of egalitarian ideology, the principal mark of the newer translations—some produced by reputedly conservative committees—to which we assume Mr. Mills is referring. The reason we have not felt the need to evaluate specific new translations is that we have a clear and frequently stated theological opposition to sexual egalitarianism, along with its stilted, artificial patois, upon which we have published a great deal. Egalitarian Bibles encourage a faulty view of man, thus of Christ, thus of God. All these translations are to be avoided because they deliberately and systematically reflect doctrinal error. We reject the New Revised Standard Version and the reworked New International Version on the same grounds we reject the Bible used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Agreeing with the more clear-sighted (and hence non-Christian) egalitarians, we believe that the language of Scripture is what it appears to be, that it carries unavoidable theological freight with respect to the matter at hand, and that the “male orientation” of the text they find so obnoxious points to a biblical theology of humanity that must be abandoned by people who have rejected the idea of male headship over the woman as an ordinance of the world created and redeemed in and by the Son of God the Father and reflected in the grammar of the Church from the beginning. “Blessed is the man” (’ashrei ha’ish) of the First Psalm, for example, points not only to the incorporation of the woman in the man as her head, but does so precisely because it is a Christological adumbration of the blessed Man whose sex as the Son of God and Paschal Lamb is by no means insignificant, and into whose decisively male incarnation and headship all who are saved must enter. All this is crudely and culpably disposed of by translators who, in ignorance or defiance of Christian faith, and of actual biblical usage, wish to even things out by forcing us to say “Blessed are those” instead.

It will not do to say that language has changed so readers accustomed to the new order must be accommodated for evangelical reasons, as though these changes were not imposed by an anti-Christian ideology enforced by political and economic sanctions. Even if the language were undergoing natural evolution to a more egalitarian form quite apart from these artificial and all too frequently mandatory constraints, the Scriptures themselves provide a theological-grammatical contradiction that requires, for those who regard them as authoritative, the reformation not of biblical, but of vernacular language. If, for example, our native speech had only a gender-neutral word to describe the human race, our conversion to the Christian faith and its theology would necessitate the addition of “man” to our vocabulary as its proper name.

It is more than dismaying to hear educated people who present themselves as orthodox, resting their own teaching authority on an infallible Bible, insist that our standard for its translation includes conformance to the mind and vocabulary of people whose discourse and understanding their Bibles tell them is pervaded by sin and error. The proponents of these new versions have got it exactly backwards: It is the Word of God that is to rule the word of man, not the other way around. The first question to be asked is not whether language has changed, but how God has taught us to speak. Where the ancestral tongue serves Scripture, altering it so it can serve no longer must be identified by Christians not as change to accept, but as corruption to resist.

Admittedly, part of the reason for the eclipse of the issue in our minds may be that few of us still belong to, or will regularly attend, churches where these Bibles are used or where teaching on these matters is foggy or the subject of lively debate. Speaking for my wife and myself, we will not attend a church, however orthodox or Evangelical it claims to be, where the teaching authority sees no problem in the use of egalitarian Bibles or in singing hymns that have been revised in accordance with feminist sensibilities. We will not have our children’s minds formed in this consciousness as though it were Christian, nor will we allow our own sensibilities to become dulled, having seen so many friends drift into heterodoxy by constant, unresisted exposure to error.

The churches must stand against what is heard everywhere else, even though the whole world be against them, actively teach where the error in such matters lies, and present a clear example of what is right in their own discourse. What good, after all, is a church whose main object is professedly to “win people to Christ,” when the Christ they are winning them to is a Christ whose maleness, like all maleness, has no deep significance—that is, a Christ who does not exist? Such churches, though they multiply converts, are, but for an intervening grace, winning them to an idol. Our alienation from them does not mean we won’t publish any more on the topic, but we do think the basic issue has been firmly and frequently addressed in these pages.

Editorial convictions notwithstanding, we have not forbidden our contributors to use some neutered prose as touches man in their own work, if they feel they must. As much as we dislike it, we allow them to write “men and women” when they can’t bring themselves to write “man,” or “he or she” when an inclusive “he” will do. It is not, after all, a theological mistake (although it is often clumsy English) to write this way, except when it is done consistently, in accordance with an egalitarian principle—and this is not, after all, Bible translation.

We also understand that heresy is normally marked by rightness in what it affirms—such as the equality of men and women in dignity and worth—and wrongness in what it denies—male headship as an indispensable mark of divine being and order. Someone who asserts the equality of the sexes, or uses language that emphasizes it, is not by mere virtue of the fact wrong, for the sexes are indeed equal. Often such expressions are required, the language as traditionally spoken and written makes ample provision, and putting the idea in words is no affront to good theology or euphonious English. It is when the assertion is based on, or becomes, a denial of the other truth that it becomes false, and its slavish, exclusive expression in prose makes writing tense, dissonant, and ugly.

Some of our contributors, while agreeing with us on this, work in environments where apparent concession to egalitarian demands is required. They reflexively “balance” their writing less from conviction than from fear of reprisal. We sympathize, and bear with them. (Most publishers, including now the major Evangelical houses, expect neutered prose from their writers, and if they don’t get it, alter the submissions accordingly.) Some don’t see the problem, or don’t agree with us on the point, and we allow it if the writing is otherwise good, believing the editorial position on these matters to be clear and corrective. As a practical matter, however, those who hold to egalitarian principles rarely find appearance in Touchstone’s pages amenable to their publishing ambitions.

The grammar of orthodoxy, and so also orthodoxy of grammar, is important to us. We promise our readers to continue swimming against the prevailing stream, and will not intentionally allow mistranslation of any kind to be cited in our pages as Holy Scripture.

For those we know will ask: The English Bible most favored by Touchstone’s senior editors, especially for teaching and public reading, is probably the Revised Standard version of 1952, adjusted, when necessary, by our own translation. We are all over forty, and still have the cadences of the King James or Douay-Rheims Bibles lively in our minds. Making no exclusive claims for them, we can hardly bear thinking of many of the most memorized and recited passages of Scripture in any other version.

S. M. Hutchens, for the editors


S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor of Touchstone.

Letters Welcome: One of the reasons Touchstone exists is to encourage conversation among Christians, so we welcome letters responding to articles or raising matters of interest to our readers. However, because the space is limited, please keep your letters under 400 words. All letters may be edited for space and clarity when necessary. letters@touchstonemag.com

 

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“Heretical Bibles” first appeared in the April 2002 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.

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