NIV and Bible Translation: Fifty Years On

Greg Strand – February 23, 2015 2 Comments

At the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting last November, Doug Moo, Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies, Wheaton, and Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation, gave a lecture as part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the New International Version (NIV). The lecture was sponsored by Zondervan, publisher of the NIV.

The NIV New Testament was published in 1973, with the whole Bible being completed in 1978. 1984 marked the first update/revision, so most who use the NIV either personally or in churches, use the 1984 edition. The next and most recent update was released in 2005, which raised concerns among some, and which was published separately as the TNIV. The most recent revision was released in 2011, which is the only NIV now available (since Zondervan no longer publishes earlier translations). 

In his introduction, Moo explains the reason for the 50th anniversary now.

In December of 1964 a joint committee of representatives from the Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals met in Nyack, New York, and issued invitations to a translation conference. That conference met in August, 1965, at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois. Two key decisions were made. The first was that “a contemporary English translation of the Bible should be undertaken as a collegiate endeavor of evangelical scholars.” The second was that a “continuing committee of fifteen” should be established to move the work forward. The “committee of fifteen” was ultimately named the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) while the “contemporary English translation” became the NIV.

This means that although the NIV was not published as a whole translation until 1978, Zondervan has decided to celebrate those early days when these critical decisions were made to undertake a “contemporary English translation of the Bible.”

The emphasis of Moo’s lecture was on translation and understanding the purpose of translations, which he concludes Evangelicals still don’t get. Specifically, Moo focuses on linguistics as it relates to translations (pp. 3-4):

I highlight three basic and generally agreed-upon linguistic principles that have too often been ignored in modern Bible translation. First, linguistics is not a prescriptive but a descriptive enterprise; second, meaning resides not at the level of individual words but at the level of collocations of words in clauses, sentences, and ultimately in discourses; and third, the meaning of individual words is expressed not in a single word gloss but in a semantic field. 

Zondervan is now making the manuscript of that lecture available: We Still Don’t Get It: Evangelicals and Bible Translation Fifty Years After James Barr

I attended and appreciated Moo’s lecture.


Theology Conference 2015: Postscript

Greg Strand – February 20, 2015 Leave a comment

The EFCA Theology Conference was held on the Trinity International University campus the end of January. The Preconference topic addressed the important theme of “Soteriological Essentials and the Significance of Silence: Arminianism/Wesleyanism, Calvinism/Reformed (baptist) and Lutheranism and the EFCA.” The Conference theme focused on the vital subject of “The Doctrine of the Scriptures.”

There were over 400 in attendance, which is the second largest Theology Conference on record. The Scriptures and soteriology (and doctrine/theology more broadly) matter to the EFCA, its pastors and churches. Both the Preconference and Conference were excellent!

Regarding the Preconference, one stated the following about both content and presenters:

The pre-conference was exceptionally valuable. The people with whom I attended were blessed to see the spirited defense of the various soteriological positions combined with the deep love and respect that the presenters had for one another. I think they learned more from the example of the presenters than they did from their presentations and they learned a lot from the presentations.

The Conference also proved to be invaluable to attendees, as noted in this comment:

The conference theme was fantastic. In every area of ministry, I find people questioning the authenticity, authority, value, and application of Scripture. This was a great idea for a theme.

And it was not just information about the doctrine of the Scriptures that was gained, but it was information that led to a recommitment to the Word of God and its application.

[The] conference subject matter provided lots of action-items for my return to ministry; likewise, it provided much encouragement for keeping the Word of God central in our work. Great choice of material!

Recordings of all the lectures and accompanying notes and PowerPoint slides are now posted on our website. We will also be posting video recordings of the lectures for local churches to use as they study these important doctrines.

EFCA Theology Conference Resources

Greg Strand – February 19, 2015 2 Comments

The recordings of the EFCA Theology Conference and the Preconference are now available. It is a joy to share the excellent content of these great messages with you.

Below you will find audio recordings of each lecture and PowerPoint slides and a pdf to accompany those lectures in which they were used.

The conference notebook contains all the notes for these sessions, along with specific bibliographies for each lecture. Use the bookmark function within this document to quickly access all the conference sessions.

We are also working on editing the video recordings and once that is completed these will also be posted.

Preconference Sessions: Soteriological Essentials and the ‘Significance of Silence': Arminianism, Calvinism, Lutheranism and the EFCA

Greg Strand, Welcome and Introduction (Audio) (PowerPoint)

Tom McCall, Arminianism/Wesleyanism (Audio)

D.A. Carson, Calvinism/Reformed (Audio)

David Luy, Lutheranism (Audio(PowerPoint)

Panel Discussion – D.A. Carson, David Dockery, David Luy,Tom McCall, (Audio) (The audio consists of the first 13 minutes of the discussion.)

Conference Sessions: The Doctrine of the Scriptures

David Dockery, Welcome (Audio)

Greg Strand, Introduction: Framing the Doctrine of the Scriptures (Audio)(PowerPoint)

D.A. Carson, Introduction to the Present-Day Discussion (Audio)

John Woodbridge, The History of Biblical Authority: Nine Pointers (Audio)

Kevin Vanhoozer, Inerrancy and Hermeneutics (Audio) (PowerPoint)

Kevin Vanhoozer, Q&A (Audio)

V. Philips Long, Competing Histories, Competing Theologies, and the Challenge of Old Testament Interpretation (Audio)(PDF)

Douglas Moo, The New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Audio)(PowerPoint)

Panel Discussion – D.A. Carson, Douglas Moo, John Woodbridge (Audio)

Graham Cole, The Theology of Canonicity: Why a Book, Why this Book, Why this Sequence of Books within the Book (Audio)

Panel Discussion – Graham Cole, Daniel Doriani, V. Philips Long (Audio)

Daniel Doriani, Scripture in the Life of the Pastor (Audio) (PowerPoint)

Evangelicals, Ash Wednesday, Lent and Liturgy

Greg Strand – February 18, 2015 3 Comments

Today is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. Evangelicals, for much of their history, have moved away from these annual Church Year events. They have historical support as a tradition of the church, but they do not have biblical sanction. For this reason Evangelicals did not generally engage in them.

What is happening among a number of Evangelicals is that they adopt these traditions, but often without much biblical, theological, and historical reflection. There is a temptation to engage in them because they are trendy, or because they believe it connects them with the longer and larger historical church.

I have addressed the Church Year in the past, addressing both strengths and weaknesses of it, so I will not do so again. What does this attraction mean? What is the perceived (or real) gap that is missing in church life that this fills? Carl Trueman responds to some of these questions in his post Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety

Trueman does not see that it is wrong or sinful to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent, and he states this on the basis of Christian liberty. But when this practice becomes the expected norm for all Christians, then it is a practice to which it must be strongly objected. He believes that the attraction of Evangelicals to Lent

is as much to do with the poverty of their own liturgical tradition as anything. American evangelicals are past masters at appropriating anything that catches their fancy in church history and claiming it as their own, from the ancient Fathers as the first emergents to the Old School men of Old Princeton as the precursors of the Young, Restless, and Reformed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer as modern American Evangelical. Yet if your own tradition lacks the historical, liturgical and theological depth for which you are looking, it may be time to join a church which can provide the same.

Trueman concludes in the following way:

When Presbyterians and Baptists and free church evangelicals start attending Ash Wednesday services and observing Lent, one can only conclude that they have either been poorly instructed in the theology or the history of their own traditions, or that they have no theology and history. Or maybe they are simply exhibiting the attitude of the world around: They consume the bits and pieces which catch their attention in any tradition they find appealing, while eschewing the broader structure, demands and discipline which belonging to an historically rooted confessional community requires. Indeed, it is ironic that a season designed for self-denial is so often a symbol of this present age’s ingrained consumerism.

I don’t agree with all of Trueman’s observations and criticisms, but he does have much to provoke thoughtful reflection. Here are some questions for reflection.

  • Do you agree with his assessment that this renewal of interest in and practice of Ash Wednesday and Lent among many Evangelicals is due to a weak ecclesiology or the “poverty of their own liturgical tradition”?
  • Do Evangelicals generally lack a solid “historical, liturgical and theological depth” in doctrine and practice?
  • Does a focus on Ash Wednesday and Lent serve as a substitute or replace what the Word and the ordinances are intended to convey making the former irrelevant?
  • Is an interest in and practice of Ash Wednesday and Lent evidence of “this present age’s ingrained consumerism”?
  • What do you do during this season and what are your biblical and theological reasons for doing so?

“The Culture is Overrated”

Greg Strand – February 17, 2015 Leave a comment

One of the major discussions among Evangelicals today focuses on the importance of understanding and engaging the culture, of doing cultural exegesis, etc. I affirm the significance of this discussion. However, I also fear that for some it may become the central discussion at the expense of the one that is to be of first importance, the gospel.

For Evangelicals who have become somewhat enamored with being cultural savvy or astute in our attempt to be relevant, it would be wise to listen carefully to those who have trod this path before, those in other churches and denominations who followed a similar course. It certainly does not mean that we ought not to engage with culture. We must, since the gospel transforms people who influence and impact culture. But we must do so wisely and discerningly.

I was reminded of the importance of this again recently by something written by William Willimon. He serves in a place where the culture has consumed the gospel and writes about it in The Culture is Overrated. He begins,

When I recently asked a group of pastors what areas they wanted help with in their preaching, most replied, “To preach sermons that really hit my people where they live.”

At one time I would have agreed this was one of the primary purposes of Christian preaching—to relate the gospel to contemporary culture. Now I believe it is our weakness.

In leaning over to speak to the modern world, I fear we may have fallen in. Most of the preaching in my own denomination struggles to relate the gospel to the modern world. We sought to use our sermons to build a bridge from the old world of the Bible to the modern world; the traffic was always one way, with the modern world rummaging about in Scripture, saying things like, “This relates to me,” or, “I’m sorry, this is really impractical.” It was always the modern world telling the Bible what’s what.

This way of preaching fails to do justice to the rather imperialistic claims of Scripture. The Bible doesn’t want to speak to the modern world; the Bible wants to convert the modern world.

Importantly, the gospel is a culture and creates a culture, which makes the people of God counter-cultural. In many ways, Christians are against the culture for the culture, for its common good (language that is used today). And Willimon writes of the importance of not becoming impatient or apologetic of this gospel-formed and gospel shaped culture.

When we speak of reaching out to our culture through the gospel, we must be reminded that the gospel is also a culture. In the attempt to “translate” the gospel into the language of the culture, something is lost. We are learning that you have not said “salvation” when you say “self-esteem.” “The American Way” is not equivalent to “the kingdom of God.”

You cannot learn to speak French by reading a French novel in an English translation—you must sit for the grammar, the syntax, and the vocabulary and learn it. So you cannot know Christianity by having it translated into some other medium like Marxism, feminism, or the language of self-esteem. Christianity is a distinct culture with its own vocabulary, grammar, and practices. Too often, when we try to speak to our culture, we merely adopt the culture of the moment rather than present the gospel to the culture.

Our time as preachers is better spent acculturating modern, late-twentieth-century Americans into that culture called church. When I walk into a class on introductory physics, I expect not to understand immediately most of the vocabulary, terminology, and concepts. Why should it be any different for modern Americans walking into a church?

In conclusion, Willimon illustrates how counter-cultural and yet culture forming and shaping the gospel is, and the importance of the church and preaching in that culture.

The other day, someone emerged from Duke Chapel after my sermon and said, “I have never heard anything like that before. Where on earth did you get that?”

I replied, “Where on earth would you have heard this before? After all, this is a pagan, uninformed university environment. Where would you hear this? In the philosophy department?  Watching Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood?  No, to hear this, you’ve got to get dressed and come down here on a Sunday morning.”

It is a strange assumption for Americans to feel they already have the equipment necessary to comprehend the gospel without any modification of lifestyle, without any struggle—in short, without being born again.

The point is not to speak to the culture. The point is to change it. God’s appointed means of producing change is called “church”; and God’s typical way of producing church is called “preaching.

This is an excellent “testimony” and reminder about the centrality of the Word of God, and that the Word of God creates a culture itself, the people of God, who have been transformed by the gospel and are to impact the culture. This testimony comes from one within a movement that has, for the most part, given lip service to the Bible, the gospel, and become preeminently focused on the culture. Evangelicals have become quite enamored with cultural matters.

My point: it is absolutely necessary to understand culture, to exegete culture, to educate and equip believers to live life in this culture, to be in this world – but let’s make certain we remember the rest of Jesus’ statement as well, not to be of the world (Jn. 17; cf. Matt. 5:13-16). I am convinced of this. But we must also remember the vital, foundational place for the gospel that works outward to transform people, who then in turn influence and impact the culture. It is a matter of both/and with the gospel being that truth of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1-5) of which we are not ashamed (Rom. 1:16).