A Defense of a “Well-Versed” Doctrine of Inerrancy

(Christy Hemphill) #21

I work in minority language Bible translation, so this is something I’ve thought about some.

The modern English versions available to people today are the results of years of work by panels of PhDs with lifetimes’ of expertise. They are some of the best translations available in the world. But best practices in translation say you have to be faithful to the original texts and translate what’s there without biasing one interpretation over another, as far as is possible within the confines of the language. Obviously, some degree of interpretation is required to translate a text but people have different ideas about how much implicit information can be made explicit and still count as a “translation” not a paraphrase or commentary. More and more study Bibles are offering cultural context in the form of notes and articles interspersed with the Bible text. Even the most meaning-based translations (think NLT or NIV as opposed to more “formally equivalent” ESV or NASB) refrain from making too much implicit information explicit. That’s what commentaries are for.

Bibles don’t disciple people into the Christian faith, churches do. I think the problem is that seminaries have traditionally spent a lot of time on things like systematic theology and church history and maybe not enough time teaching future Bible teachers how to read and study the Bible and do (or at least recognize) good interpretation. And many lay people don’t spend enough time in church or good Bible studies to learn how to do it on their own.

(John King) #22

I concur with almost all you say, so I suspect we will find it hard to do battle! It is true that there is too much second-hand, processed, access to the Bible in the lives of most Christians; and the consequences are tribal-centred interpretations at the hermeneutic level. As you say, churches are responsible for discipling, but when teachers who read misleading interpretations are immersed in the same defective culture, churches are going to mis-teach, and produce incapacitated Christians.

Although translators have all the qualifications you could ask for, there remains scope for well-placed caution. It is true that the theological bias of all translating teams is easily diagnosed in their work, and that suggests that there is considerable scope for slanting interpretations. I suspect there are dominant pressures for conformity to the local orthodoxy in most theological institutes; no-one wants to risk being labelled as a heretic, or even holding slightly wobbly theology. And those in authority have espoused certain attitudes for too long to make change easy. Anyway, we should always take note of the one thing on record that Jesus rejoiced over: “I thank you Father that you have revealed these things to babes, and not to the clever and educated”. Education is no guarantee of dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Taking on a biased reading that has held sway for 16 centuries is no mean task. I do not underestimate the resistance that this provokes.

I could give many examples, but if you have time and the inclination for one, I would like to draw your attention to the parable of the widow and the corrupt judge. There is confusion among commentators. Some say that God is like the judge others that he is not. So it is worth investigating. I fully expect that the result of this investigation will teach you nothing new. But my experience is that many without your advantages are led into misunderstanding by what they read in standard versions.

All I ask is that you look at these comments on Luke 18:

  1. v1 There is always the intrusion of weight in the English usage of should and ought. This influences the interpretation of dei throughout the New Testament, when in Greek, the meaning is much lighter.

  2. v2 ekkakeó The rendering of this word here is the most damning in the New Testament. One root meaning is a rather agricultural “in the muck”, ie in difficulties.

  3. v6 It is usual, I am near to saying universal, for legó to precede what is said. Without inverted commas, this would seem to be a necessity for clear communication of speech. Making legó “retrospective” here, has altered the meaning significantly.

  4. v7 The use of οὐ mē in a question hardly reflects its strength. The only other time it is found in one is John 18 11, where the emphasis is dominant (and the construction can be understood as an affirmation, not a question). Making it into a question here obscures the point Jesus is making.

  5. The interpretation of makrothumeó here is unique. Elsewhere it is always used of an antagonistic relationship. Jesus is saying that the relationship between the Judge and the widow was such.

  6. The phrase hémeras kai nuktos usually means for ever .

  7. v8 I can think of no good reason for the second half of this verse to be construed as a question. This is one certainty of the Gospel, consistently stated throughout the New Testament. We have been robbed of this as a ringing affirmation, and a reassurance. It is obvious why legalists would want to burden people with the responsibility of ensuring that Jesus will “find faith” on his return.

All these interventions lean towards presenting prayer as a legalistic obligation. Once disentangled, the message is: God is not like an unjust judge, who has to be badgered to get him to respond. It is his nature as a loving father to hear and respond to our requests immediately.

Jesus says that God, if he were like the unjust judge, has the stamina to resist requests for ever! That is his reductio ad absurdum, just before he says legó… That is the point at which we should always listen.

Jesus is contrasting Christian prayer with pagan practice. (See 1 Kings 18 25-29.) Christian prayer is rooted in the character of God, not in human effort. This is an anti-parable! This insight is revolutionary, and largely contrary to our present Christian culture; I am still finding ways to exercise the faith to rid myself of old habits of repetitious, untrusting prayer.

It is worth noting that the following parable rejects performance religion and asserts prayer that relies on the nature of God. That is the same message here, hidden by traditional imposed legalism, not welcome to legalists, and those who use legalism to dominate others.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #23

I would be cautious about linking “repetitious” with “untrusting”. Yes - there are passages elsewhere to the effect of “not letting your words be many” … (Matthew 6:7) and that God knows how to give good and timely gifts to his own (in Matthew 7). So this call to persistence in prayer can be seen to be in tension with those things. But this strong inclination we indulge in to try to make all tension, all paradox just go away is, I suggest, a strongly modern tendency. Let’s think of it the following way.

Are we heaping onto parables the same kind of “concordism” that so many attempt to heap into creation passages? We think that every component of a story must correspond to (“concord with”) some deep truth that the story-teller is tucking away into each story component for us to decode and find. What if the purpose of the entire story is just to make a singular point? We don’t have to read the prodigal story and decode whether or not God would be such a reckless dad as to just give a wayward son anything he demands; not if the story is instead entirely about God’s reaction to returning prodigals and the resulting attitudes of the self-righteous, “better-behaved” family members. Nor should we need to wonder how God compares with an absentee king who just leaves lesser servants in charge of everything when that parable is instead entirely about what we do with gifts we are given.

In the same way it’s probably not appropriate to get caught up decoding the significance of the misbehavior of the unjust judge when the focus is on persistence in prayer.

Jesus wants to make a point by telling a story. Why to so many need it to be about other stuff?

[edited for clarity]

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #24


First of all I cannot tell that you have replied to my post unless you send me the right signal, namely address me as I addressed you above or quote from my post or click on reply under my post.

Agreed, so we need to tell people the right way, whi9ch means emphasizing the Covenantal character of the Christian Faith and the fact that the New Covenant is in Jesus Christ, and not the Law.

The Source is the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

When people substitute the Bible for the Word of God, Jesus Christ, this opens the door for rejecting the New Covenant and making the NT a continuation of the Old. The3 problem is not the Bible, but what people think it says, how they understand it.

The Old Covenant is not the problem. The problem is that many Christians do not understand and thus do not accept the New Covenant. Also some leaders are using Legalism to control their followers, as the Pharisees and Sadducees did. Salvation is forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ, not obedience to the Law.

(John King) #25

@Roger A. Sawtelle
I hope this reaches you easily, Roger.
Yes I agree, in a perfect world we may have ready access to some people and be able to impart true knowledge about Jesus, so they can then engage with him. I am thinking of those who start looking, but find themselves presented with legalistic preaching or are sent down the wrong route when the read legalistic interpretations of the Bible. Casting our net as widely as we can, a legalism-free Bible seems a good idea.

(Christy Hemphill) #26

I don’t know that changing a phrase here or there is going to drastically affect people’s interpretations though. They need to be taught to pay more attention to understanding the cultural conventions of genre and realize that parables are not analogies or allegories (where every character lines up analogically or allegorically with God, sinners, godly people, etc).

They are stories that make a point. If you get that, you don’t try to read yourself into the role of the widow and God into the role of the righteous judge. Like you say, the point is to say something about the character of God. If the wicked judge who neither cares about God nor people can administer justice in an untimely fashion because of persistence, how much more can people have confidence in the vindication of a loving, holy God, who will not make them wait, but will “see that they get justice, and quickly.”

A lot more attention is being paid these days to “discourse level features” in Greek, which is an interesting development in translation. Logos has hired a guy who has a PhD in Koine Greek discourse analysis to help create exegetical helps. This is good, because for a long time the exegesis that preceeded translation was very honed in on individual words and sentence-level structures, not discourse features of the paragraph or text type. Now linguists are paying more attention to higher level linguistic cues, things that condition inferences like information structure and discourse particles. But again, a lot of these things can be hard to “translate,” but they can inform commentaries and other helps.

(John King) #27

Christy, you make my point for me: “how much more can people have confidence in the vindication of a loving, holy God, who will not make them wait, but will ‘see that they get justice, and quickly’”, is the point of the parable. But in our posts, Roger A. Sawtelle wrote of the same parable, “What is the problem here? Faith requires persistence”. That, of course, is the conventional interpretation, the result of medieval legalism.

By untying the distorting strictures imposed on the interpretation of this text and many others, we can rediscover what Jesus, and the others really intended. Not just “a phrase here or there” but the whole message has been messed with. I offered you the resolution of 7 distortions, that unlocked the meaning of a short passage, showing it to be about God not religious observance, not a minor change.

I would not refute that there are “higher” levels of understanding of the text that merit applying, but I would argue strongly that, at the ground level, there is scope for a lot of “earth moving” of the kind I have offered you. The danger, as I see it, is that the “industry” of the establishment would always like it to be complicated; Is God’s communication to us so inept that we need high levels of academic attainment to understand it? In engaging our intellects, I suggest, we have to be guided by, “I thank you Father that you have revealed these things to babes, and not the clever and educated.”

(Christy Hemphill) #28

I guess I’m still confused about how you think translation decisions are going to lead to your interpretation. You said how you would explain the passage differently, but not really how you would translate it differently. How do you think the passage should be translated in English?

(John King) #29

This Is about it, Christy: - John
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them how they could continue to pray without getting into difficulties. 2 He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about people. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent’.

4 “For some time he refused, but finally he thought, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about people, 5 because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me down with her pestering!’”

6 "And the Lord said, " Notice that the story of the unjust judge implies 7 that God would not bring about justice for his favourites, and he would be quite able never ever to respond to their appeals, 8 but I tell you that he sees that they get justice, and quickly.

What is really certain is that when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on the earth!"