Steadfast WELS — New Bible Translation or Bust – or Both

It was almost a year ago when the Brothers of John the Steadfast alerted their readers to some of the controversy surrounding the updated NIV translation of the Bible, published one year ago this month. The 1984 version, which has been the official translation for WELS publications since 1977 (Yes, I recognize the anachronism there, but I’m just quoting from the WELS website!), is now gone, finished, out of print, off the market. If you want a copy, too bad. Those who love their NIV84 will have to take extra good care of their Bibles. Churches might want to begin hoarding their copies like those ubiquitous bicentennial quarters, hoping they’ll be worth something someday – because the NIV 2011 is already turning out to be a bust.

Well, that’s my take anyway, and the take of a good chunk of my synod. The rest of the WELS will have to weigh in very soon, with at least a preliminary decision being submitted by each of the twelve districts at their 2012 conventions.

Although my English Bible of choice at the moment is the ESV, I still have my Concordia Self-Study Bible (NIV) that I received at my confirmation (1987). It was hot off the presses (1986) back then, even as the NIV itself was relatively hot off the presses, first published in the year I was born (1973), and then revised through 1984. My home WELS congregation in Michigan made the switch from the KJV to the NIV already in 1981. I still remember my parents’ annoyance at not being able to hand down my second-grade memory book (KJV) to my younger brother. If they were alive today, I think they’d be ready to quit the church that endorsed the NIV 2011.

The issues with the NIV 2011 are many. I won’t go into detail here. Like the NIV84, it tends to paraphrase beyond the comfort level of many adherents of verbal inspiration. It also abandons key theological terms like “saints,” and it not only calls into question the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 (as NIV84 also did), but it degrades it to an italicized addendum to the Gospel of Mark (without even the red-lettering for Jesus’ words that ’84 had). There are several instances of weakening in Messianic prophecy, including the fact that the NIV 2011 “makes it impossible for an English reader to interpret Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2 as direct, rectilinear prophecy about Christ.” (See this paper by Pastor Brian Keller for more info, including his Appendix A and Appendix B.)

Most noticeable of all – from Genesis to Revelation – is the “new” way the NIV deals with gender. (See this open letter written by Pastor Bob Koester dealing especially with this issue.)

A prestigious committee, chaired by President Paul Wendland of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, was handpicked to study the NIV 2011 to determine its usability in our synod. In spite of all the issues mentioned above, the committee concluded that the translation was not only passable, but commendable (especially with regard to the gender neutralization), and since the summer of 2011, members of the committee have been visiting pastors’ conferences around the synod attempting to build a consensus around the NIV 2011. A Bible study has been written and published (for free) by the synod that, while not endorsing any translation, certainly chips away at the arguments that have been raised against the NIV. And our monthly periodical magazine, Forward in Christ, has been subtly (and at times not so subtly) defending the NIV’s innovations for months.

But the decision has not yet been made. Almost surprisingly, given the theological weight of the Translation Evaluation Committee, some synod officials and a large number of pastors and congregations – and even whole districts – are resisting the peer pressure to get on the bandwagon (perhaps “locomotive” is more accurate). They are supported by the ELS doctrine committee, which recommended against the NIV 2011 (I’ll leave it to Steadfast ELS to elaborate). Many are not convinced that the NIV’s changes are either innocuous or inevitable. Some are calling for a vote this summer at the district conventions that would not make a final decision, but that would include as an option removing the NIV 2011 from all consideration as a choice for synodical translation.

What other options are being considered? Some are suggesting the ESV. Others, the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Still others are advocating a new Lutheran translation. I personally like any of these options better than the new NIV. I also like the New King James Version, but I would be surprised if it makes the ballot that the synod praesidium is charged with preparing for the summer conventions.

Whether we like it or not, the WELS will be choosing a new Bible translation within the next couple of years, and the decisions begin to be made just three months from now. It’s new translation or bust. Of course, if the new translation chosen is the NIV 2011, I think it will be both new translation and bust.

About Pastor Paul Rydecki

Rev. Paul Rydecki is originally from Stevensville, Michigan. Although baptized in the LC-MS, he joined a WELS congregation with his parents at an early age. He graduated from Northwestern College in 1995 and from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2000, when he was ordained and commissioned as a world missionary to Puerto Rico. After four years in Puerto Rico and three in Mexico, Rev. Rydecki accepted a call in 2007 to Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he now lives with his wife, Amy, and his four sons, Nathan, Jacob, Samuel and Lucas.

Comments

Steadfast WELS — New Bible Translation or Bust – or Both — 56 Comments

  1. Johan Bergfest :I’m not trying to remove all objective standards. Rather, I’m suggesting that there is no objective standard because every “standard” comes with the bias of both the translator and the reader.

    Really? That’s just semantics. Follow the logic to the bitter end and you arrvie at the same result. It is just one path is quicker than the other. It is almost like arguing sins of ommissions aren’t as bad as sins of commission. May be true, but it is still sinning.

    You are still trying to undercut any standard of authority, standards, best practices, etc., so that you and everyone else can be free to do whatever he or she wants. Your posts show a consistant Gospel Reductionism, American individualism, which leads to sectarianism because there will be so little in common that is will be hard to be part of any group, particularly on deep levels.

  2. Jason :
    Really? That’s just semantics. Follow the logic to the bitter end and you arrvie at the same result. It is just one path is quicker than the other. It is almost like arguing sins of ommissions aren’t as bad as sins of commission. May be true, but it is still sinning.
    You are still trying to undercut any standard of authority, standards, best practices, etc., so that you and everyone else can be free to do whatever he or she wants. Your posts show a consistant Gospel Reductionism, American individualism, which leads to sectarianism because there will be so little in common that is will be hard to be part of any group, particularly on deep levels.

    The standard is God’s inspired Word and the Incarnate Word revealed to us through that inspired Word. I have not said anything in this conversation to undercut that standard. I have affirmed the practice of using Scripture to interpret Scripture, which is, as I have been taught, a Lutheran understanding of “best practices”. What I have challenged is the authority of human interpretations.

    Certainly, there are minimum standards and best practices for the scholarship required to translate the ancient texts into modern languages. I’d suggest that such standards would include the idea that the work of translation ought to be as free as possible of all bias, theological or otherwise. The standards should include the recognition that it is not possible to do this work without bias. Therefore, the translators should acknowledge the bias that they bring to the work.

    I also have challenged the idea that there ought to be a single “authorized” version of Scripture and, even more, the idea that Christians can, on a deep level, sort themselves into groups based on adherence to a particular version of Scripture. On the deepest level, you and I are one in the Body of Christ because, through Baptism, Christ has named and claimed each of us. You and I are one in spite of our differences – differences that arise because, even though we both are renewed through daily contrition and repentance, we both are still sinners.

    In post #48, I confessed the heart of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. I find it strange that you would equate my bias for relying on the doctrine of Justification as the key to correct understanding of Scripture with “Gospel Reductionism”.

  3. My wife and I are presently members of a WELS congregation. We have been having a very tough time thinking how it would be conscionable for us to remain with WELS should WELS choose the gender neutral Bible (NIV11) for its official publications. The very reality that WELS is considering the NIV11 is distressing and also, revolting to us.

    We believe the choice is both simple and clear. I continue reading literature from WELS and our local congregation that WELS is committed to sound doctrinal Christian belief and practice, based upon the inerrant Word of God. However, the very consideration of the gender neutral NIV11, renders that repeated resolve, inconsistent (incompatible).

    Adopting a gender neutral Bible is tantamount to messing with God’s Word. I prefer to liken it to “molestation” of God’s written revelation. Adopting gender neutrality in Scripture, has the effect of humanly micro managing and tweaking Scripture to suit one’s own (carnal political correctness, Bible study slothfulness, or, whatever) ends. There is no Scriptural or rational excuse to intentionally remove and / or alter / edit Scripture’s patriarchal language. Doing so would be akin to literary revisionism, – as the altering of other literary works of antiquity, such as Homer’s Iliad, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, Josephus’ writings, etc. Even in the secular world, I’m convinced that many would consider this, type of “editing alteration,” unconscionable and irresponsible.

    Scripture, itself makes it clear that “every word of God is pure.” Scripture, also states that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” [God-breathed – the very words] – [Proverbs 30:5-6 ; 2 Timothy 3:14-17]

    If WELS leadership and congregational pastors would be (Biblically) wise, (and aware of the offense they are conveying), they would drop the NIV11 consideration from their mix of options. Presently, I’m reminded of the Scriptural reality: “…..Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you…..” [2 Corinthians 6:14-18 – in context]

    It speaks volumes that the large [Christian] Southern Baptist Conference gave thumbs down to the NIV11. Knowing that the Southern Baptists are committed to the doctrinal teaching of Biblical inerrancy as well as the continued (such) profession of WELS – we ask ourselves the rational question: “How can WELS persist in riding the fence, including a gender neutral translation in the mix of its consideration for a new translation change for synodical and congregational publications?”

    Again, I believe, it all boils down to shifting the patriarchal language of Scripture [the manuscripts] and “adapting” the present culture’s ever changing language usage. It will be utterly gagging to my wife and me, (should WELS adopt the NIV11) to hear WELS synodical leadership and pastors profess the “inerrancy of Scripture” having [then] decided that the NIV11 was acceptable for synodical publications and congregational usage!

    Pastor emeritus Nathan Bickel
    thechristianmessagedotorg

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