Thursday, March 30, 2006

The English Standard Version in historical perspective

In order to understand the origins of the ESV we must go back to the Revised Version of 1881. The claims that were made for the RV, especially in the USA, are of great interest. The publication of this version was a huge media event, with newspapers competing against each other to print extracts. The Chicago Tribune ran the headline that 107,000 copies of its printing had been sold in 4 days. The New York Evening Post lauded the revision as a New Testament that needed neither commentary nor glossary, rather like more recent versions that have claimed: “now no interpretation needed”. Philip Schaff, chairman of the American committee, called it the year of the republication of the gospel, claiming that the RV brought modern Bible readers “as near to Christ as the Christians of the first generation” (In discordance with the Scriptures: American Protestant battles over translating the Bible, Peter J Thuesen, Oxford University Press, 1999, p.106). Schaff, in common with modern Bible translators, was not however, averse to mixing a little commercialism with his idealistic faith and less than modest advertisements. Enthused perhaps by the level of consumer demand at the publication of the RV he suggested that updating it every 50 years or so would pique the curiosity of the general public, with satisfactory results. As it happened a revision was forthcoming within just 20 years in the American Standard Version of 1901. A revision of this had been successfully accomplished in the publication of the RSV New Testament in 1946, not quite 50 years. With the publication of the ESV, as a revision of the RSV in 2001, things are keeping to schedule.

The momentum for the RSV had been building since the 1920s when perceived advances in biblical scholarship were deemed to justify retranslation. The mainline denominations responded with alacrity and pursuing the goal of closer denominational integration they imitated the ecumenical structure of the RV translation committee. Schaff had exulted in “a commonwealth...of Christian life and Christian scholarship which transcends all sectarian boundaries” (p.47). For all this, however, only the American Baptists formally endorsed the RV. The RSV ran no such risks in being promoting by the National Council of Churches. The dedication service of the RSV New Testament in 1946 included a prayer referring to that version as “a standard for the Christian Church whereby she may be corrected in error, healed of her divisions, and made One in Christ so that the world may believe”. Ultimately the imprimatur of the NCC was their justification for referring to it as “the fifth authorised English Bible”. It was estimated that upwards of $500,000.00 was spent to promote the advertisement and sale of the RSV. On the first day of publication of the complete RSV Bible 30September, 1952 it sold one million copies.

On receiving his specially presented copy President Truman predicted “peace for all mankind” if only the Bible could be successful behind the Iron Curtain. The Cold War background is a vital aspect of the reception of the RSV: it was in fact tarred with the un-American or Communist brush by dead-end McCarthyist investigations into the NCC. A conspiratorial climate ensured that the decreeing power of a seemingly totalitarian “super-Church” upon the Scriptures was viewed with immense suspicion. Ultimately the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) launched their own flagship in this analogue of the Space race of the Cold War: the NIV bore their de facto imprimatur.

A significant dispute arose concerning Isaiah 7:14, where the RSV rendered the Hebrew word “almah” as “young woman” rather than “virgin” thus putting the scientific method into conflict with theology. The NIV translators were sure to have the word “virgin” in their version.
Yet, ironically this allegedly conservative version made a distinct break with the AV in terms of using dynamically equivalent language whereas the RSV had sought to retain a certain connection. The ESV at least attempts to restore the link with the AV and have some formal correspondence with the words that it is translating. If the NIV made its position at the expense of the RSV, the promoters of the ESV are now seeking to make use of criticisms of the NIV to further its position in the marketplace. As various studies have indicated, the ESV does not always achieve its goal in this way, however and the claim of an essentially literal translation is to be interpreted rather ambiguously.

Both the RV and RSV were highly academic productions. A. H. Nichols observes that the RV and ASV ‘gained acceptance only amongst the scholarly elite who could appreciate the translation because of their familiarity with the original languages’ (A. H. Nichols, Translating the Bible: A Critical Analysis of E. A. Nida’s Theory of Dynamic Equivalence and its Impact upon Recent Bible Translations (unpublished Ph.D thesis, Sheffield University, 1996, p. 8). The Preface to the RSV trumpeted "the best results of modern scholarship as to the meaning of the Scriptures"
claimed that in Biblical translation there can be such a thing as "linguistic science" which "knows no theology" and that "those of the most contradictory view can meet on common ground devoid of polemic, agreed that Hebrew words mean such and such, and their inflection and syntactical relations imply this or that."

Those evangelical academics who always had a predilection for the RSV haven't let go and now want to popularise it. The ESV is another instance of the Academy dictating to the Church. It is somewhat about the coming of age of evangelical academia. The Translation Oversight committee membership reads as a Who's Who of evangelical academics. There is an inordinate emphasis on contemporary academic pretensions in General Editor JI Packer’s rhapsody of praise for the ESV: “We are drawing on commentaries which roll off the press in great numbers these days. We are drawing on the increased knowledge of culture of the ancient world, which modern study has given us. We are drawing on the fact that computers now enable us to search the English Bible, the whole of the Hebrew heritage, the whole of the Greek heritage that has come down to us. It makes it a great deal easier for us to handle particular words and make decisions about how best to translate them. And in all these ways I think the ESV is going to go beyond its predecessors”. We are inclined to ask: “All this in a lightly revised translation dating from 1952?”

The ESV has been estimated to be 97-98% identical to the RSV, retaining some of its esoteric textual decisions and deliberate undermining of trinitarian passages whilst mainly revising areas of gender specific language and removing the remaining thees and thous. O.T Allis regarded the RSV as a new translation with lax views of plenary inspiration and not a revision of the AV. R. Laird Harris wrote:
“It is a curious study to check the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, a monument of higher critical scholarship, and note how every important Old Testament passage purporting to predict directly the coming of Christ has been altered so as to remove this possibility ... It is almost impossible to escape the conclusion that the admittedly higher critical bias of the translators has operated in all of these places.” Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible: An Historical and Exegetical Study, p. 58.

From a historical point of view it is exceedingly ironic that the RSV disguised is being touted as the answer to the NIV (which was itself supposed to be the answer to the RSV). It is even more strange that evangelicals are keen to support financially the organisation they once viewed with so much disdain and is now only more opposed than ever to their fundamental principles and professed convictions. The ESV bought the rights to the RSV from the National Council of Churches (the copyright holder of the RSV) are as liberal and apostate as you get in theology and principles, supporting same-sex marriage etc. The inside cover of every ESV proclaims: "The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Copyright Division Of Christian Education Of The National Council Of Christian Churches Of Christ In The U.S.A. All Rights Reserved.” These evangelicals are now turning round the fortunes of a liberal translation that had declined to 5 percent of the USA market share in Bibles by 1990.

This radical shift almost reads like a parable of the change in evangelical subculture. The RSV controversy in America, largely a struggle between the mainline Protestant Churches and the evangelicals who opposed them, has been turned right around through the capitulation of evangelical academia to the liberal scholarship that they are breathlessly pursuing. The 'success' of evangelicals attaining to university chairs is rather too similar to their success in being made bishops within the Church of England. It is a 'success' arrived at by the bypath of compromise and silence in relation to error. In No Place for Truth (1993), David F Wells warned of the potential theological corruption of evangelicalism in this way. Robert L Thomas and F. David Farnell have written The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship (1998). John F. MacArthur writes in the Forward; "Some of Evangelicalism’s best-known theologians and seminary and college professors are now debating among themselves ideas that would have been deemed entirely nonnegotiable before the last quarter of the twentieth century. Destructive applications of redaction theories, source criticism, literary speculations, and so on have always been the theological liberals’ stock in trade. However, to see evangelicals applying this sort of Historical Criticism in order to cast doubt on the authenticity or historicity of the biblical text is unprecedented. Tragically, the prevailing attitude among evangelical scholars today closely mirrors the extreme tolerance that left the door wide open for Historical Criticism in the leading mainline schools and denominations of a hundred years ago." Now we have a bible prepared by higher critics only lightly revised by evangelical scholars.

The ESV promoters and translators attempt to align themselves with the Tyndale-King James legacy, and no doubt are closer than the NIV and others in this, but they are still very far adrift and the legacy that they are closer to is particularly dubious in its treatment of the Word of God. It is unlikely that the ESV will become the standard bible for evangelicals, but even if it did it will not signal an upward trend but will rather consolidate defections.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Rutherford and the Gospel Offer

Excerpts from Trial and Triumph of Faith
  • Now, the special intent of the gospel is to bring men to put a high and rich price upon Christ, and this is one gospel-offer: What thinkest thou of so excellent a one as Christ? What wouldst thou part with? What wouldst thou do or suffer for Christ?
  • Faith can stand upon one foot, even on a general word; hence, this is a gospel word in the Prophets, which requireth faith, Turn to the Lord for he is merciful, (Jer. 3:12; Joel 2:13; John 4:2). And because a general promise received with heart-adherence and confidence giveth glory to God; and if it be holden forth to a humbled soul, who is now within the lists and bounds of grace, and, for any thing that the person thus laden with sin knoweth on the contrary, (for the secrets of election and reprobation belong to the Lord) Christ mindeth and intendeth to him salvation, therefore he is to believe.
  • This would be considered, that unbelief breaketh with Christ first, before Christ break with the unbeliever; and the elect of God findeth no more, nor any higher favour in the kind of external means to open the Lamb's book of life, which is sealed and closed with God's own hand, than the commandment of believing. Now, when our Lord maketh offer of the kingdom of sons, to slaves, and casteth his jewel of Christ offered in the gospel, in the lap and bosom of a bastard, whatever be the Lord's secret decree and purpose in so doing, the bastard is to take God at his word, and to catch the opportunity of God's love in so far; and if he do it not, the gospel offer to the reprobate being a treaty of peace, then the treaty breaketh off first upon his side; for Christ cometh within a mile of mercy, to meet the sinner, and the sinner cometh not the fourth part of a mile, yea, not half a step of love and thankful obedience, to meet Christ; and so, Christ killeth the unbeliever with the sweetness of the preventing courtesy of offered mercy.
  • But if the sinner be wearied and laden, and seeth, though through a cloud only, Christ only must help and save, if not, he is utterly and eternally lost, What is there upon Christ's part to hinder thee to believe, O guilty wretch? Oh, (saith he,) I fear Christ only offereth himself to me, but he mindeth no salvation to me.
    —Answer. Is not this to raise an evil report and slander on the holy One of Israel? For Christ's offer is really an offer, and in so far, it is real love, though it cannot infer the love of election to glory, yet the total denial of this offer openeth up the black seal of reprobation to heathens without the church. And therefore it is love to thee, if thou be humbled for sin; (2.) And have half an eye to the unsearchable riches of gospel mercy; (3.) And be self-condemned; (4.) And have half a desire of Christ: thou mayest expound love by love, and lay hold on the promise, and be saved. An error of humble love to Christ, is no error.
    Though it were true, that you were upon the borders of hell, yet the gospel, though it except you from actual mercy, yet excepts you not from the duty of believing and coming to Christ; and though such think and imagine, that they believe Christ is able to save and redeem them, only they doubt of his will, yet the truth is, the doubt of unbelief is more of the power of mercy and infinite grace in Christ than of his will; and my reason is, "that whosoever believeth, hath set to his seal that God is true;" (John 3:33;) and "He that believeth not God, hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son." (1 John 5:10.)
  • It is true, the gospel excepteth no man from pardon, and all that hear the gospel are to be wearied and laden, and to receive Christ by faith, as if God intended to save them. But the promises of the gospel are not simply universal, as if God intended and purposed, that all and every one should be actually redeemed and saved in Christ, as Arminians teach; and so God excepteth in his own hidden decree, not a few, though he reveal not in the gospel who they are, yet he revealeth in the gospel the general, that "many are called, but few are chosen:"
    And I grant, there is no ground for any one man not to believe upon this ground, because some are reprobated from eternity, and it may be I am one of those, for the contrary is a sure logic; many are chosen to life eternal, and it may be that I am one of those. (2.) It is most untrue, that Christ belongeth to sinners as sinners, for then, Christ should belong to all unbelievers, how obstinate soever, even to those that sin against the Holy Ghost. Nay, Christ belongeth only to sinners elected to glory, as elected to glory in regard of God's gracious purpose, and He belongeth only to believing sinners, as believing, in regard of actual union with Christ, (Eph. 3:17, Gal. 2:20). (3.) It is false that sinners, as sinners, do receive Christ, for so, Judas and all sinners should receive Christ: now the Scripture showeth, that believers only receive him, (John 1:12, Gal. 2:20, Eph. 3:17). (4.) It is false, that sinners, as sinners, believe in Christ. This way of libertines is a broad way for sorcerers, thieves, murderers, parricides, idolaters, remaining in that damnable state, to believe; whereas sinners, as such, sinners thus and thus qualified, are to believe; that is, humbled, wearied, and self-condemned sinners only, are to believe, and come to Christ. It is true, all sinners are obliged to believe, but to believe after the order of free grace; that is, that they be first self-lost and sick, and then be saved by the physician.
  • If Christ be sent for lost Israel, and say in the gospel, 'Who will go with me?' and say to thee, 'My Father the King sent me, his own Son, to bring thee up to his house,' why, but thou shouldst go? When old Jacob saw the chariots and messengers that Prince Joseph, his own son, yet living, had sent to fetch him, "His heart failed for joy." Seest thou the chariot of Pharaoh paved with love? make, then, for the journey. The home we have here is a taking lover; why, but thou mayest say, I cannot stay here, the king hath sent for me.
    Christ's act of dying was a special law: "This commandment received I of my Father, that I should lay down my life." (John 10:18.) (3.) By his death and resurrection he is made a Prince by law, and hath law and authority to forgive sins, (Acts 5:31; Matt. 9:6); and power to give life eternal, (John 17:2,)—and rule all by a new law in his new kingdom. (Matt. 28:8.) Our heaven now, is by law and a special commission; but the gospel is a general: he brought all God's secrets from heaven; and in his special commission, Christ hath, as it were, private instructions: Save such and such persons, not any other, not all Israel, but the lost sheep; not the goats. There is a great mystery, how there be no double-dealing in the gospel, and two contrary wills in God.
  • He offereth, in the gospel, life to all, so they believe; and God mindeth to work faith, and intendeth to bestow life on a few only; like a king's son coming to a prison of condemned men, with offered pardons to all, upon condition they accept of them; but yet he singleth out some, and persuadeth them to lay hold on the Father's grace; and by the head taketh them out, and leaveth all the rest to justice. Yet is it no greater mystery than this, "Many are called, but few are chosen." So Christ's sending with his commission, cometh under a two-fold notion: one is, in the intention of the Evangel; the other is, in the intention of him who proposeth the Evangel to men,—I mean, God's intention to give faith and effectual grace. The former is nothing but God's moral complacency of grace, revealing an obligation that all are to believe if they would be saved; and upon their own peril be it, if they refuse Christ. This is the heart and mind of Christ to persons, revealing two things: (1.) Men's duty; (2.) God's grace to give life eternal to believers. But the latter is not a moral will in God only, but a real physical will, (to speak so,) according to the which, Christ effectually, strongly layeth bands of love, cords of sweet enforcing grace, to persuade the soul to take Jesus Christ. Christ cometh to the mind under a higher apprehension, with his rainy and wet hair, knocking, and again knocking, to show his face in such soul-redeeming beauty and excellency, as the soul must be taken captive, subdued, and overcome with the love of Christ; as the spouse is so wrought on with the beauty, grace, riches, endowments of excellency, words of love of such an husband, that she is forced to say, 'I have no power, neither heart nor hand to refuse you.' Now, the former notion of the gospel is enough to lay the obligation of believing on all; so as though the gospel reveal not God's purpose of election, (that is only and formally revealed in, and by God's efficacious working of faith, called the inward calling,) yet it saith this to all, 'You are all to believe no less, than if there were not any reprobated persons amongst you.' If, therefore, any despairing ones, as Cain, yea, and many weak ones, refuse to believe, on this ground, Why should I believe? the gospel hath excepted me, it belongeth not to me, I am a reprobate,—they are deluded, for the gospel formally revealeth neither the Lord's decree of election nor reprobation. The embracing of the gospel, and the final rejection thereof, can speak to both these; but that is neither the gospel voice, nor the gospel spirit, that revealeth any such bad tidings.