In this special episode, we give Beth Allison Barr the floor.
Beth wanted to have a conversation with Scot McKnight about Biblical translations, how they come together, and how bias and agendas influence certain translations more than others (we're looking at you, ESV). We interviewed Beth in April about her brilliant book The Making of Biblical Womanhood. Beth has said numerous times that of all the questions about her book that she gets, most are about this topic.
Enjoy this brilliant conversation between two scholars who happen to also be incredibly fun. And check out the companion blog post here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2021/07/what-evangelicals-just-dont-know-about-bible-translations/
In this episode, we sampled Blade and Bow Whiskey made by the Stitzel Weller Distillery.
Check out the follow-up to this episode at the end of season 2! Direct link here.
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Randy: [00:00:00] If you're a regular listener, this is going to be a little bit of a different episode. This episode was born out of a little Twitter exchange that I had with Beth Alison Barr. And basically today, we're just giving the stage and the microphones to Beth. She wanted to have a conversation about biblical translations with Scot McKnight, who is a new Testament scholar.
And I put up my hand up and said, we would do that. We would host that for you. And they said, yes. And so we get to host. Really brilliant conversation that gets us under the hood of the Bible in looking into how translations are put together and how reliable they are or aren't, and maybe if there's agendas or biases to them as well. So it's going to be a fun one.
Kyle: Spoiler: there definitely are.
Randy: Welcome to A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar.
Kyle: The podcast where we mix a sometimes weird, but always delicious cocktail of theology, philosophy [00:01:00] and spirituality.
Randy: Well Drs. Scot McKnight, and Beth Alison Barr. Thank you so much for joining us in this special episode. Welcome to A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. Thank you.
Beth: This is a lot of fun. Thanks for doing it for us.
Scot: Thank you. Good to be with you and good to be with Beth again.
Randy: Funny thing happened about a month, month and a half ago. I follow Beth Allison Barr. You know, you follow someone a lot when half the things on your Twitter feed are Beth Allison Barr liked this or Beth Allison Barr retweeted this; that's my Twitter feed these days. And I was literally in my backyard and Beth, you tweeted and said, I get this question all the time about translations and which translations are better than others and which translations need to be thrown away, and I would love to do, host some space with Scot McKnight about it because he's a New Testament scholar.
And I saw that at the right time and said, oh, please, please, please. Could you, could you do that on A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar podcast and amazingly within about an hour, you both said yes. [00:02:00]
Beth: You tweeted that like seconds after I sent mine out. Cause I saw it like almost immediately. So…
Scot: And I, and I saw it and I thought, Hey, I just got invited to do something. I didn't know what I was. So I was watching too.
Randy: Nice. So, so Beth you've said, I've seen you say this numerous times, but, um, well, first of all, let us ask, cause it's been a while since we've had you on and the book was released right after the episode was released, how is The Making of Biblical Womanhood? How's the reception been?
Beth: So, um, it has been quite overwhelming actually. I mean, you never know what's going to happen when these go out. And I think I talked to y'all right before it was released. I'm trying to remember when that was. And so I really didn't know, but it has, it's in its fourth printing a little over two months out.
And so it is, it is, it is being read by, I guess, thousands of people, lots of, you know, multiple thousands of people. And so, uh, that, [00:03:00] that has produced some interesting results for me, including, and I thought maybe I thought Kyle would like this. One of the things that happened early on is some people proposed a drinking game to go along with, um The Making of Biblical Womanhood and sort of the challenge was it was, it was which part of The Making of Biblical Womanhood is going to get the most pushback.
And so the, you know, it was like, so every time you, you know, people said what they thought was going to get the most pushback and when it got that pushback, they were going to drink. Um, so I've had a lot of alcohol pairings with The Making of Biblical Womanhood that I've seen. So we'll have to do that beer episode sometime.
Kyle: Yes, we’ve not forgotten.
Beth: Um, but, but I actually, I honestly thought chapter two, my Paul chapter, was going to get the most pushback, I really did, but I was wrong about that. And all of the people who chose chapter five, which is of course my Bible translation chapter, [00:04:00] they were the right ones. Um, I think that, and inerrancy, my use of inerrancy, have gotten the most pushback, which kind of led us to where we are now.
Randy: Right, right. So something that has happened within, I don't know, you guys would know, but how in the last decade or so is that it seems like everybody who has a scare quote, “high view of the Bible” has a big thick ESV Bible along with them, in their arm. And that's, that's their version of choice. Well, let's, let's ask Scot, Scot, what's your perspective on the ESV?
Scot: I was in the car with Wayne Grudem the day that he and John Piper gained rights to the old RSV. John Piper and Wayne Grudem loved the Harper Study Bible. And Harold Linzel had, sort of in charge of writing the notes if I remember, and they got control of it. And I remember thinking, why, [00:05:00] I mean, what difference does it make?
You know, there's a new RSV. Well, um, I then left Trinity and I was at North Park I believe when the ESV was produced, I didn't even know about it. And I had a student who worked there and she told me something about the ESV and I thought, well, I don't know anything about it. I, I read the Greek New Testament and I'm perfectly happy with the NRSV and the NIV.
So, so who cares? Well, uh, as it turned out, it became a very well-known translation. Many people followed it. I did a survey one day on an old blog and people were able to vote and I got all kinds of, uh, critical emails or comments that I didn't include the ESV. And I said, I've, I've never seen it. I don't know anything about it.
So someone sent me one and uh, I don't have that anymore, but at any rate. Um, the ESV was a [00:06:00] translation by the Crossway people, uh, spearheaded, as I said by Piper and Grudem, and then others where the main editors. It is not a translation. It is an editing of the RSV. It wasn't a complete refresh translation.
Although I'm not saying that those who were involved didn't look at the original texts, which they did, but it definitely has biases. And you know, it leans in the direction of the people who wanted to produce this Bible who were irritated by the NRSV because it had inclusive rendering language. So the ESV has an agenda.
It is designed for complementarian Calvinists, American white, mostly Baptist, uh, types, uh, Reformed types who want a translation that they think is more accurate, uh, and supports their interpretations of scripture. I don't know if that's what Beth…
Beth: [00:07:00] No, I, I just love that you were in the car with them when they got ahold of it. I mean, you had the potential to stop this in the very beginning.
Scot: Stop it?! Stop it? What was I gonna stop…
Kyle: Wait a minute, wait a minute, how would he have done that?
Scot: I thought, you know, at the time I really, I really thought all he wanted to do was to be able to reproduce the RSV again. I, I don't remember the conversation until later. And they were so irritated by the NRSV because it had inclusive renderings and they saw it as the creeping in of feminism, and the next thing you know, who knows, you know, what, they, they run their slippery slope arguments, especially Wayne Grudem.
And they, they were really irritated and they, they produced this translation, you know, I, I'm not gonna totally trash it. And it, it is true that any student who tries to use it in my class, I give them a hard time. And sometimes I tell them that the translation is banned in our classroom. Um, but I [00:08:00] don't think it, I don't think they pay attention to what I'm saying.
One guy has a leather one and it's a beautiful Bible. And he says, I got it free and I'm going to use it. But I try to give him a hard time about it, but it is, it is overall, like most translations, reliable. Uh, it is biased, but it is reliable. And people who use it are not going to go astray. But any claim that it's the most accurate translation is just, it's nonsense, and it's tribalistic promotion rather than genuine ac... The NIV, the NRSV, the RSV, the ESV, they're all reliable translations, the common English Bible, CEB. I haven't paid much attention to those. What's the Southern Baptist one, the Christian Holman Standard?
Beth: The Hol, yeah, the Holman Standard.
Kyle: The Holman Standard, yea.
Scot: Yeah. I don't, I don't, I don't, I don't think I've ever read hardly any of it, so, and it's not because I'm against it. [00:09:00] It's just, I've got what I need, you know?
Randy: When you say they're biased, it's you think it's a, it comes from a bias perspective, Scot, explain that a little bit.
Scot: Well, there's an agenda. For instance, Romans 16:1. We have this amazing statement: I commend to you our sister Phoebe. Phoebe's a woman, Greek, Greek name, uh, she's from Cenchrea over by Corinth, who the translation has, is, in the ESV, is “a servant of the church at Cenchrea.”
Now that word “servant” is interesting. The NIV has a “deacon” of the church in Cenchrea. Now, the minute you translate that with “deacon,” you've got a different category altogether, because at this time, Paul was already calling a significant leaders in the church deacons. So she sounds like a deacon, but the ESV [00:10:00] translate it “servant” because they don't think women were first century deacons.
All right. In Romans 16:7, this is a famous passage, “greet Andronicus and Junia.” And they have a footnote that says it might be Junius, which is impossible. “My kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well-known to the apostles.” The NIV has “greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, they are outstanding among the apostles.” “Well-known to” means they are not apostles. So Junia is not an apostle. Look, the, Chrysostom, and he wasn't alone, in the fourth century already was saying that this was a woman named Junia, and she was an apostle, and she was a superlative apostle. And when there was a realization that Junia was a woman, there was a conclusion by some [00:11:00] translators, then it can't be among the apostles, it must mean to the apostles. So the translation “to the apostles” is late. All right. So 2 Timothy 3:6. Here's one that's very interesting. “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women.” All right, this is the ESV. So the ESV has “servant” instead of “deacon,” it has well known to the apostles and a footnote to Junius as a man, and it is “a weak woman.” The NIV has “gullible women.” Now here's what's interesting. The Greek word is gunaikaria and this only can mean “little women.” And it would be either little in size, you know, gymnast type woman, you know, or, or a point guard or, um, and probably young or [00:12:00] immature. But where did you get that word weak? That's not what the Greek word means. You can't get the word “weak” out of that. And then we have the amazing passage. “I do not permit,” in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” This has led to a very strong teaching among complementarians who are behind the ESV that women are not to have authority over men.
And some of them would say in any situation (I got a funny story about but probably don't have time for it).
Kyle: Oh we have time.
Scot: Or to teach, but the NIV, the NIV has “to teach” or “to assume authority.” That's closer. Paul has a word for “authority,” uh, exousia; that's not what he uses here. He uses the word authentein. It is very rare. And it probably, well, I would say the chances of it meaning anything [00:13:00] other than “seizing authority” or “dominating and controlling” is, that's what it means.
So to exercise authority is a blanket un-permission for women to teach in a church. And that's, that's the rendering of 1 Timothy 2:12. But everybody knows that this Greek word authentein is the center of the debate and it is an unusual word. So there we go. So to me, that's what I mean by bias.
Look it, the ESV… You can't say the NIV, which I, was the other translation I looked, is anything other than conservative, almost entirely white evangelicals. It was originally translated all by males, I believe. Now there are women, women involved in the translation. You can't say it's anything other than conservative.
Well, the ESV makes it clear that it pushes in the direction, every time it can, so that male headship, whatever you want to call it, is exalted and [00:14:00] women authority is diminished.
Kyle: Quick, quick follow up, a couple of things. So when you say you can't say the NIV is anything but conservative, what do you mean by conservative?
A lot of our listeners might hear politically conservative. I don't think that's what you mean. So what do you mean when you call the NIV conservative?
Scot: Um, I suppose, I suppose that's involved too, but I I've never thought about that. It's a, it's an evangelical group of mostly white males translating the Bible and it's, it's going to sound like that.
If you ask African-Americans to translate the same text and women to translate the same text, there's going to be differences from what the NIV has. Now they have worked hard at trying to broaden their translation base. So I commend them for that, but it is, what I mean is it's not like I chose some liberal translation, you know, that doesn't make it except in [00:15:00] mainline churches.
This is the NIV. The ESV is to the right of the NIV on, on the theological spectrum of translation.
Scot: Is that fair Kyle?
Kyle: Yeah, I have more follow-ups, but Beth, go ahead.
Beth: I'm sorry. You see me sitting here. I'm like, there's so many things. Um, no. Well, one of the things that the ESV has done is it has started to soften language about slavery.
And this is something that you can also follow. Um, Samuel, Perry's done some really great work on this, where he's taken all of the different translations, and the ESV is one of them, and they've started, you know, they, they started adding and footnotes trying to make “slave” not sound like, you know, trying to suggest that it could also be a “servant” and that there was different levels.
And so, I mean, but very clearly a push to soften what slavery meant in the Bible.
Scot: Oh I see, okay, yeah.
Beth: Yeah. Yeah. And part of it too, I think there's a [00:16:00] gendered element to that as well. Because if, you know, one of the problems with the household codes is that if you hold up that women are to be under the authority, that if you go, if you say slavery, that even though it says, you know, slaves obey your masters, that if that's not true, then why do women have to obey their husbands? If you take those very sort of literal renderings of it. But if you softened slavery, so that it's more, you know, talking about just simply servants and hierarchical order in the household, then you can keep the household codes intact without, you know, slavery sort of, without supporting chattel slavery.
And so I think there's a gendered element behind the softening of slavery and the ESV too. And so I was recently reading Sam, Samuel Perry on that. And so it's really fascinating.
Scot: So where did he write about this Beth?
Beth: I'll send it to you. It's in the journal of American Religious History
Scot: Okay. Okay. You know, a slave, a slave [00:17:00] is an owned body, involuntary owned body.
And I don't care if you want to say new world slavery was worse than Rome. An owned body is an owned body, and the evidence of first century slavery is bad. And I think we should translate doulas, doulos, in the new Testament with the word “slave.” And I don't know if our, our kind hosts know that I'm trans, I've translated the New Testament or not, but I have a translation sitting at InterVarsity and I've translated doulos as “slave” every time it appears, so.
Randy: But what would it be if it wasn't “slave,” what have other people…
Scot: Well they’ll use “servant”
Beth: “Servant,” “bondservant,” they use “bondservant” too.
Scot: Uh, “domestic.” Sometimes they'll use the word “domestic,” but it's an attempt to soften that sense of slavery. But I think we have to feel it, uh, [00:18:00] with that word. With that word, we feel it. And that's, that's what we need to do.
Beth: It’s the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. I have it that PDF up right here. So 2021, it's very recent, this article here. Yeah. It shows this stuff. So one of the things that really surprised me, Scot, about The Making of Biblical Womanhood, was how little people knew about the history of the trends of the ESV.
That actually really surprised me because it's something that I've known from the very beginning. I guess I was paying attention to those conversations. I was early in grad school when it was going on and my, uh, we'll get to this at the end, but one of my favorite books. just because I attached to it, is my Today's New International Version, my TNIV, and the TNIV was, was in that controversy with ESV.
And so I think maybe that's why I was attuned to it. And also because of the gender inclusive language, which I thought was really [00:19:00] funny as a medievalist, you know, people getting upset about this. So anyway, but I was really shocked by how many people did not know that the ESV had a very particular slant to it.
And it was to support complementarianism. In fact, they say this on the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website, they say it's unapologetically complementarian, is the word, their words.
Scot: And it's true. You know, um, Beth, this is, uh, this is the realm of a sociologist, which I'm not, but just ask yourself who carries the ESV, who carries the NIV, who carries the RSV or the NRSV and see, see who's carrying them.
And the ESV is carried by Passion conference-going, John Piper-listening and reading, Wayne Grudem systematic theology-believing, uh, Crossway Books. You know that, it's a tribe. Now that's not to say that the NIV, the CEB, the NRSV, aren't [00:20:00] tribes too, they are, but it's, it's a little unnerving to people to realize that translations today are tribal.
And I would like to see us work at transcending that and in a sense, get everybody irritated.
Scot: And make translations feel a little foreign, uh, like John, John Goldingay’s First Testament. It feels a little odd. And that's, it should. It's Hebrew. It's not… You know, the NIV… listen to this. This is, this is a theory.
They, they have a lexicon, some electronic, digital one, of words that are known, I think at the 12th grade level. And they don't use language above that. Now, why is that the case? Why is that the case? Do you think Acts 1:1-4 by Luke or the book of Hebrews or the Greek of 1 Peter [00:21:00] or actually the Greek of the pastoral epistles is understandable to a common person in the first… it wasn’t, those, those were sophisticated grammatical syntactical constructions. Why do we decide that it has to fit the group of people that we want to hear this? Some of the texts need dictionaries. And when I found, when I was translating, and I saw some Greek words that were very unusual, even in the ancient world, I made sure to try to find an English word that people would have to look up.
Beth: That's good. I like that.
Scot: That's the way it was.
Kyle: So many questions here. So there's a very, very common, at least it was common in all the churches that I went to growing up, common idea amongst maybe especially Protestants and evangelicals particularly, that the Bible is supposed to be accessible to the average person.
It's supposed to be the sort of thing you could [00:22:00] pick up and get it and just read and get at least the core idea out of it without help. Um, and what I'm hearing you say is that if you're translating properly, you should need some help. You should need to look up some words, you should maybe have to rely on some expertise. Is that fair to say?
Scot: A reformation idea I believe, maybe it was medieval, Beth can tell us perspicacity, perspicuity of scripture basically said the average person should be able to hear or read—the average person couldn't read, remember—hear or read the text and understand the basic message of salvation.
That's all it meant. It doesn't mean that you can read the book of Hebrews and understand it, and come on, how many people can read the book of Job and comprehend what's going on there? I mean, it's, it's complex. Why, why do we think we decide it's going to be understandable? If we, in making it understandable to a junior higher or a high schooler, overrun and [00:23:00] override the sophistication of a Greek expression, then we are not letting the Bible be what it is. We make, we decide that, that we are the judges of how this translation should come off. I don't, I don't like that. I think, I, I'm a big fan of these translations. I use them all. Uh, you know, I'm not, I'm not criticizing the NIV, the ESV, the RSV, the NR… I'm not. We, I don't know where these theories come from, but I’m not too keen on it.
Kyle: So how do you, as a translator avoid that? How do you avoid putting your own spin, so to speak, on it? I mean, you, you know, you've said all of these kind-of have agendas, or their translations or tribal or something. Are you aiming at objectivity when you translate? Like what, how do you avoid your own bias?
Scot: I, I don't think it's possible not to have bias. Um, I think we're going to have [00:24:00] that. For instance, the Greek word adelphoi used throughout the Pauline letters is usually translated “brothers” in the, uh, I think the ESV does that, I'm not sure. The NIV often, often uses “brothers and sisters” when it only said “brothers” in Greek and it's masculine.
I used the word “siblings.” I think that's a little biased toward, uh, inclusive rendering. I had to make that judgment. When I think it's only men, I would use the word “brothers.” But I, I think that we have, I, I've tried in my translation to offend all sides and to make it sou-, make it feel and sound the way it sounded in the original language.
Even if it doesn't, if it's a little clunky in English. It's our attempt to make it sound like English that does the damage. I mean, we want, we want it to, [00:25:00] to, you know, to sound like our language because we're translating it. Everybody who studies translation theory knows the expression that “a translator is a traitor.”
Um, the, so, so I, I wanted to be a traitor as little as possible, but I'm going to be, there's a, you know, there's a Greek word, andrea, that's, that really means “manly.” And it's in, it's in Paul's letter. I want to translate it “manly,” but I feel, you know, everybody says “it means courage.” Yea, but it means “manly,” and men were the courageous ones in that, in that sense.
So I'm really fighting that, Beth, I want you to support me.
Beth: “Be strong and courageous”. That's the verse, isn't it, to be strong and courageous? Well, you know, I mean, and, and in the medieval world, um, the way [00:26:00] women gained authority was becoming like men. And so, you know, women, “Women and God be men,” that was one of the phrases.
And so it's this sort of idea of transcending their sex, but the idea was they could transcend their sex. Whereas, you know, in the modern notions, that's less possible for women.
Scot: Yeah, alright.
Kyle: So what do you think of a translator who would look at that and say, let's say they agreed with you and they thought, okay, at the time, probably the best translation, if you were to get inside Paul's mind somehow, it would be something like “manly,” but also they have an eye on the audience that's going to be reading it, and let's say they're sensitive to patriarchy and they're against it. What do you think of a translation decision to say, okay, I'm going to translate that “courageous,” even though I think “manly” is technically closer to the original, is that an acceptable decision to make for a translator?
Scot: I mean, I would say to you that it's not only acceptable, it's what everybody's doing. Okay. So, so anybody who translates it other than that feels like they're betraying the [00:27:00] cause, but yet it, it has, you know, the traitor has already gotten through the door, you know, there's a, what, there's something about the word “manly” that works. It evokes something that “courageous” doesn't. “Courageous” is more neutral. It's more of a moral virtue. So there's an image there. And I, I haven't, I don't think my editor is going to ever permit me to use the word “manly” there. I think they're going to say you're going too far here, but I, Kyle, to me, it's acceptable.
That's, that's deciding what it means in our culture. And that's part of translation theory.
Beth: You know, if anyone could get away with using “manly,” it would be you Scot, because you have made it quite clear where you stand on women in ministry. So I, you know, I, I think you could get away with it. You would still get [00:28:00] criticism for it, but I think you could get away with it.
Scot: I saw, I saw someone make this comment online the other day, and it was a woman who who's very skilled at this whole issue, said “it does nothing for me to say ‘manly.’” And I thought to myself, so we're going to translate by what does something for you? Is that what we're doing? So. The word “manly,” well people go, oh, does it mean that, why did he do that? Now I've won. You see now they’re thinking….
Beth: It's Roman culture, yea.
Kyle: That’s what you were going for.
Scot: They're thinking, they’re thinking.
Beth: That's exactly right. I think that is. You know, I think there's some anti-Catholicism in this sort of idea that the Bible should, could be completely accessible to us. I think some of this is not only born in the 16th century, but in the 19th century.
Um, you know, there's an explosion of translations after, you know, late 19th, early, mid-20th century. And I think some of it is part of the anti-Catholicism., this idea that [00:29:00] scripture is not controlled by anyone else, especially the pervasive myths about how the Catholic church controlled the English Bible.
And so I think part of it is tied into that sort of, we are not going to be Catholic and the Bible is going to be translated in a way that everyone can read it. You know, even, even Sunday school kids can read it and understand it, you know, in their own language. So.
Scot: What kind of translator could make Romans 7 understandable to anybody?
I, I think that the idea that it's going to be accessible to everybody, I want to make it feel like the way Paul or Matthew wrote it. I want them to feel that.
Randy: So Beth, you started talking about the history of biblical translations, but get us into that world, you two, if you can. And just, just so we remember, if anyone's like, oh, these guys sound biased, [00:30:00] let's just remember who we're talking to. We're talking to a medieval church historian at Baylor University.
That's a Baptist university. Let's keep that in mind as well. And then we're talking to one of the foremost New Testament scholars there is right now. So just, just hold that, who we're talking to, who we're hearing from as you…
Kyle: And neither of you are like flaming liberals right?
Randy: No, no.
Scot: Beth is, definitely.
Beth: Scot's getting me in trouble.
Randy: Uh, can you bring us into the history of biblical translations? What, what was, tell us about that.
Beth: Yeah, so I can do a little bit and then I'll let Scot, you know, he can jump in and fill in where I mess up. So my knowledge, you know, when I start teaching about Bible translations, I start with the most significant Bible translation of the medieval world really, really up until the 16th century. And that was the Vulgate by [00:31:00] Jerome. It's not a true translation either. I mean, some of it does go back to the original text, but Jerome also built it on the Septuagint. And he did look at some Hebrew texts that went along with it, but he wrote, a lot of it was from the, was from the Greek.
And so we have to remember that as well, but it became the most pervasive used Bible, and most of the vernacular translations of the medieval period, and there were a lot of vernacular translations, that's another cath-, that's another myth of Protestants, is that people couldn't read the Bible in their own tongue before the 16th century, and that's just not true. Uh, there was a lot of vernacular Bibles floating around there as, you know, early as the early medieval period, we have Bible being translated into English, as well as, you know, as well as into French and German. You know, so vernacular Bibles are a thing before the reformation. The Vulgate was originally, I mean, that's, it was a vernacular text.
It was translating the Bible from Greek [00:32:00] and Hebrew into Latin, which was, uh, you know, the common tongue at the time. And so this was, this text was the base text that, that was used. And in fact it influenced some of the early 16th century translations. You know, the, the Vulgate greatly influenced Tyndale that we often, you know, think about.
And as well as of course, Tyndale of course, um, influenced the KJV and the KJV… So, I mean, the, the Vulgate continues to influence the translations that we have today. One of my favorite things about the Vulgate is that it wasn't just the work of Jerome. It was the work of women too. And so I love the fact that the most pervasive and the most influential Bible translation ever was not only translated by a man, but was translated and was actually funded by a woman named Paula and her daughter Eustochium who worked with Jerome on the [00:33:00] translation, became scholars themselves, and Paula funded, she was, she was the money behind the, the translation of the Vulgate. And so I really liked that from the very beginning, Bible translations, that women were involved in the translations of Bibles.
So that's, that's where it kind of begins, but I don't know how much you want me to talk about.
Randy: No, I mean, that's incredible. Refresh our memory, when was the, when did Justin write the Vulgate? Was that the fourth…
Beth: Sorry, Jerome, fourth century. I’m sorry about that, fourth century. He died around 420. Um, and so the Vulgate, he was commissioned to write the Vulgate in the late fourth century, and then he ends up going on this very extended pilgrimage with Paula. I talk about Paula in my, in The Making of Biblical Womanhood. But he goes on an extended pilgrimage with Paula and Eustochium. And they end up in the holy land and that's actually where they end up finishing the translation of the Bible. And during their whole time together, Jerome teaches Hebrew [00:34:00] to Paula and Eustochium and they become biblical scholars also. And, and they, they edit his translation, and they also make suggestions for his translation. And Paula finds a lot of the original manuscripts, not original, I hate the word original, but she finds a lot of the ancient manuscripts that help Jerome make a translation of the Bible.
And so she buys them, she's essentially his collector. She goes around to all the antique stores and buys manuscripts. And of course I'm making that accessible to us in the modern, by saying antique stores. But. She finds the manuscripts.
Kyle: So she's like the, she's like the Hobby Lobby of the ancient world.
Beth: Oh my goodness. Okay. So I want to give Paula, I want to give Paula more credit than that, I wanna say. Um, I think maybe she was a little more ethical in her dealings with the manuscripts. Can I say that?
Randy: Oh yea, yea you can.
Scot: She was more like Constantin Lobegott Friedrich [00:35:00] von Tischendorf, who discovered on Mount Sinai, do you know this story about finding a codex Sinaiticus? He, he ends up at Mount Sinai—and this is all told in Bruce Metzger’s famous New Testament book—he finds this, uh, this, this abbott gives him a manuscript wrapped in, in red, in red velvet, I believe. And, uh, Tischendorf starts to read it and he realizes he's got maybe the oldest complete New Testament on the planet earth. And so he goes to his room at night with the manuscript, he gets permission.
And he says in his diary, in Latin, of course, which I don’t have quoted, I used to know what it was, “it seemed a sacrilege to sleep.” So he read it all night long, realizing the value of this manuscript. Eventually it gets purchased by the Russians and then, uh, the British [00:36:00] Museum has it. But, um, these, these manuscripts were, are a big part of the whole thing about translation.
Once the Vulgate, in a sense is, uh, is let's say knocked off its perch, then they're trying to find Greek manuscripts and get the best translation. So the King James is a response—this is one of the more interesting, Beth, you may be able to tell the story better than I, but the King James is one of the more interesting stories—the English church was, uh, furious over the impact of the Geneva Bible, which was a bunch of Reformed people. Uh, and they had, they had a study Bible—I got a copy in the other room—they have a study Bible in which it had, which it, uh, is against the divine right of kings. So King James and all his buddies, they'd get together and they, they translate.
And it really is a gorgeous translation with [00:37:00] beautiful poetry in English. It's, it's very serious stuff. And so it is an attempt to knock out the Puritan movement in England and to give a Bible to the churches that would knock off some of this anti-divine right of kings. So, but there's, there's several Bibles at the time.
In the 20th century, the major denominations, I mean, everybody was using the King James version. Some people, I grew up with some people who liked the ASV. When I was in high school, a ju-, a senior in high school, I liked the NASB, New American Standard Bible, and my youth pastor said I could read it at home, but don't bring it to church. Because we use the King James.
And then when I was in college, the NIV started coming out and that really rocked the situation. It displaced the King James as the Bible [00:38:00] for American evangelicals.
Beth: I, I think, you know, I was looking at this recently. I think the KJV is still the top selling Bible, but I think that's globally too, but the NIV is the second and then the ESV’s the third.
Randy: Wow. They made it all the way up there.
Beth: Yeah. So that's where, you know yeah. And it's, I'm, I'm hoping, we'll see what happens with the ESV, but those were the top three.
Kyle: I wonder how much of that is due to the Gideons who just exclusively use the KJV and put it in every hotel room.
Scot: Well it’s free too. It's free. It doesn't have a copyright.
Kyle: Somebody’s gotta buy em, did they print those themselves?
Scot: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, they, they get donations and put them in all the hotels, millions and millions.
Beth: As long as it's not, the only copyright of the KJV is the authorized version in the UK. But as long as you're, you know, otherwise you can technically still use it.
Kyle: Do whatever you want.
Beth: Yea, do whatever you want.
Kyle: That’s funny. Scot, could you take our listeners quickly through, uh, the different kinds of text types and traditions that the translations [00:39:00] are based on?
So, uh, it seems particularly funny that your youth pastor was okay with the King James, but not with the NASB. Given what little I know about the traditions of those things, isn't it the case that the NASB is based on a much, much older and more well-attested manuscript tradition? Is that, is that accurate?
Scot: Oh yea, yea the, uh… But he wanted the King James because everybody was using it. It would be disruptive. We have thousands, 20,000, 30,000 pieces of evidence, of manuscripts that can be filtered into making decisions on what word is the most reliable word that we can reconstruct. Every word in an English Bible is a translation of a word chosen by a bunch of expert textual critics who examined manuscripts and decided that this word was better than that word.
And there are a lot of variants, [00:40:00] none of which are all that significant, but I mean, you're not going to change Christian theology by changing... So, and there is, there's a general consensus of some manuscript types and there's always, people get really fussy about this, but there's one tradition that is often called the Byzantine text type, that is the majority text. It has the most number of manuscripts, and it is, a prototype of that kind of text was behind the King James version. So when you're defending the King James, you're actually defending a prototype set of manuscripts, there's only like six or seven originally, manuscripts that were behind the King James and they're Byzantine types.
But we discover manuscripts in the holy land. We discover manuscripts in Egypt, we've discovered manuscripts enough and widely enough that we know that there were better manuscripts, more accurate, according to text critical criteria, which is pretty technical stuff. [00:41:00] So we then kind of get into arguments about families, which group of manuscripts is the more reliable of, let's say the 3, 4, 5, or 6, and, um, which one should we use for this one, and how do we weigh the judgment?
But I think, I think we can say that New Testament scholars have come to a consensus on the best text that we can reconstruct right now. It will be adjusted every few years, a word here, a word there, not much. And that's behind all the modern translations. So, it's, I like, I like text criticism, but I don't do it, you know, today, because it's done by experts and they do a better job than I can do, but I love to read their stuff.
Beth: Yes. So, I mean, so most of the modern translations, that's one of the reasons we have an explosion of translations in the, in the, in the [00:42:00] 19th and 20th century is because this is also when we start having, you know, some of these discoveries that led to more of these manuscripts, is that correct Scot? That's one of the things that began…
Scot: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Beth: Yeah. But then most of the translations still today are really just, there, there's only small variations between them. Most of them are pretty much, you know, the message of the Bible is still pretty consistent in all of them. And they're mostly based on the same group of manuscripts.
Scot: Yes, that’s right.
Beth: So yeah, so they most, so it comes down to really those translator decisions about key, about key concerns, about things that we're concerned about. And I think this is one of the things that I really want people to hear when they think about choosing Bible translations is that you've got to pay attention to the translators because culture always comes through. I mean, I, I, Scot said this very well. You can't be objective. Objectivity is not a human, [00:43:00] is not part of the human condition. None of us are objective. As a historian, I'm not objective. I've got to recognize that. And so translators aren't objective either. You know, one of my favorite examples to talk about with students to show how translators are not objective is one of the versions of the Geneva Bible.
There's only a few of them that were made, but in Genesis 3, they translated, after Adam and Eve realized they were naked, they sewed themselves leaves together and made breeches, and that’s what’s said in the Bible, it's called the “Breeches Bible.” And, you know, and to us, it's hysterical cause we can see Adam and Eve wearing, you know, 16th century trousers. You know, as I said, it's really funny.
But it shows how cult... I mean, that made a lot of sense to them. That's what Adam and Eve did. Of course they did. They sewed together fig leaves and made trousers for themselves. And so we have to think, you know, that those, that culture always comes in. I mean, this is one of the reasons why I think medieval priests said, used gender inclusive language was because they, when they, in their services, when [00:44:00] they preached, women sat on one side and men sat on the other, and it's really easy, you know, they would just look and they would say men and women.
I mean, it makes a lot of sense why they would include that. It's not because they were feminists; it's because they, you know, it made sense within their culture. So I think people need to realize that translators make decisions about these. And so if, you want to know, what is influencing your translators? You know, who is on the trans-, who's on the translation team, who's on the editorial board? Where did they get their degrees from? Who did they study under? And not that you have to know it about all of them, but you can just look at a few of them and just read the preface to your Bible, read the preface to your Bible, because they tell you what manuscripts they're using and what decisions they're making, what their major decisions.
And so, I mean, you, you will know what is influencing your translators just by reading the preface. And it's right there. It's [00:45:00] not a, it's, you know, it's not a secret. They put it there.
Randy: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it's, it's similar to when I'm looking for commentaries, when I'm preaching through a book of the Bible, I'm going to research who wrote it and what's their, what's their background, what's their theology, what's their, their biases. Um, it, when you talked about the Geneva Bible and Adam and Eve it made me go to, what if, what if we, at one point find a translation or manuscript that actually did have not Adam and Eve, but Adam and Steve? (It’s a really bad joke.)
Kyle: What a stupid joke.
Beth: Yea, stupid joke there, but uh, there was a funny Bible. There was a funny Bible where they left, it was called the “wicked Bible” where they left the “not” out of the 10 commandments where it says “thou shalt not commit adultery,” it says “thou shalt commit adultery.” And I mean, it was just a printer's error, but it's called the “wicked Bible.”
So you can go look, there's all sorts of fun, yeah, there's all sorts of fun things like that.
Scot: It's in the Matthew 5, uh, statement of [00:46:00] the, of, of the 10 commandments, isn't it? The wicked Bible. Hey, I found one in David Bentley Hart recently, where he dropped a word “not,” and it was pretty funny.
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Randy: So I was going to ask a little bit ago. I mean, I've, I hope our listeners are finding this conversation as fascinating as I am. I mean, we're talking, it's like you guys are talking about how [00:47:00] to build this big complex engine and what's gone into it, except we’re talking about the holy scriptures.
I mean, this is just fascinating, but as you talked particularly, Scot, about the biases that these translators bring in, it made me wonder a little bit. Why can we be confident in what we have in the Bible, in these translations that we have? I mean, cause some of these, some of the stuff can sound really fascinating, but some of it can sound scary that a lot of it is very subjective. And is it reliable?
Scot: Yeah, they're reliable because they give us a reliable translation. It's reasonable. It's a accurate translation of what the Greek intends to say. Now. No two people are going to translate identically. So there's going to be slight variations, but the, the differences are not going to change the gospel.
They're not going to change the significance of Jesus. They're not going to change that, that there's a God. And that the Holy Spirit is at work [00:48:00] and that they were founding churches. It's going to change minor points, but the minor points seem to be where people want to fight. You know, they want to fight about women in the church, then they're, they're gonna, they're gonna fight about the ESV and the NRSV.
If you want to fight about different theories of the atonement, then you're going to get after the old, uh, TEV, Today's English Version, or the Good News Bible, whatever it was called. And, and if you want to get after titles, you're going to say the, the, uh, uh, common English Bible’s use of the word “son of humanity” or “the human one” for “the son of man” is a little bit too much for some people, but these are still reliable translations.
Now, the, I would not say that about the Jehovah's Witness Bible. I would not say it's reliable. It's, it's just so, it's mendacity at work in there rather than an attempt to translate what the text [00:49:00] says. So overall, I want to say they're reliable. They're helping us understand what that text says. They vary and they vary in ways that the translators lean.
So you can see bias. If you then use five translations, then you can see the different biases come through. Now, I don't like people who can't read Greek to say, “I prefer this translation.” You know, you know what they're saying? That's the one that I like, cause it, it tells me what I want to hear. I don't like that. This should be left up to people who actually know what they're talking about, not to people who are giving us their preferences.
Kyle: So, what is, uh, what's the average reader to do then? What do you recommend for somebody that wants to get, you know, they're afraid of this bias and they don't want to read the super conservative translation, but they don't want to be misled on the other direction either. So, uh, do, should they read a selection, and if so, how do they know which ones they should choose?
Scot: Well, [00:50:00] I think they need to talk to someone who is knowledgeable. They can trust and say, which translation should I use? Look, you go to a normal church, a mainline church, they're going to be using the NRSV or the CEB. Okay. Those are reliable.
You go to a Baptist church and they're going to use the NIV, or if they're influenced by the Gospel Coalition, the ESV, okay, so, or the Christian Holman Bible, and they're reliable, you know, you're going to get, you're going to get, you're going to get a little bit of leaning in all these directions by these people, but these are faithful, reliable, intellectually sound, theoretically based translations that differ, but they, they're worth reading, and you're not going to be led astray from the gospel and the centrality of Jesus Christ by these translations.
Kyle: You have a, do you have a favorite? Either of you? Other than yours Scot? [00:51:00]
Beth: So, um, you know, one of the things, we were in youth ministry for so long, and we would always tell the youth, you know, because teenagers were often, you know, they would be concerned, and when you start introducing about different translations and stuff, it could be scary to them.
So we would tell them, you know, that translations are 90 to 95% the same, you know, really, I mean, the variations are in that smaller, I don't know if Scot wants to push back on my percentages there, but you know, I mean, they mostly it's, it's we used to tell them it's not the big stories that translations change, it's the little stories. And so those are the things. So anyway, but my favorite translations. You know, I have some that I'm nostalgic about; I'm nostalgic about the NIV cause I grew up on it. I actually like the KJV 1611, because I use that a lot in my research and I've gotten very, I used that and I also used it because for a little while we lived in KJV only territory, but they had a KJV Bible that didn't have the Apocrypha in it. So I started using the [00:52:00] KJV 1611, cause it had the Apocrypha. So I, those, those are two that I like a lot, but mostly I use a lot of Bibles. I have the TNIV, the ESV, the NIV, the NRSV. I use the NRSV mostly now in church, but I have all those Bibles and I use them all regularly.
Scot: I, um, okay. I, I read the Greek New Testament and what, if I'm writing, the publisher will usually decide which translation they want to use.
So I'm doing something right now for Zondervan, so that's the NIV. Uh, no debate asked. Um, uh, when I write something that's a little bit more on the academic side, I always use the NRSV. I like the NRSV; that's the Bible I taught out of for 17 years at North Park. But in general, I use the Bible that the audience I'm speaking to uses.
So in my church, they use the NIV, so that's the one I use. All right. I don't want to spend my [00:53:00] time telling the people in the pew that this is what your Bible says, but this is what I think it should say. That's just confusing and it's unnecessary. So.
Kyle: All right. Well, I think we're coming to the end of our time here. I think, Scot, you said you needed to, to jump off real quick, and we don't even have to put this in, but I'm just curious. What do you say to people like Bart Ehrman who like to make it seem like the Bible is not reliable? What's going on there?
Beth: You know, Bart even says, I mean, one of the reasons I got that percentage from was actually from Bart Ehrman, where he actually says that the, you know, the changes in the text are actually very small.
Kyle: Yea. Like, he knows better.
Beth: Yeah, he knows better. I mean, so I, I, he, I, anyway, I'll let Scot speak to that, but that…
Scot: Yeah, his dissertation was published called The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. And what he wanted to show was that the early church messed with certain texts to lean it toward what was going on in orthodoxy, [00:54:00] but it, and so we now know these variants, we fight over these variants, some of them, uh, people would lean where Bart goes on some of them, and others, they disagree with him.
He, he favored whatever was the least orthodox. He liked that idea, even though he was working with a brilliant conservative Bruce Metzger, who was a beautiful scholar, wonderful godly man. So I think Bart has magnified this to kind of create a conspiracy theory. He kind of likes doing that and you know, he, he, he's, he knows what he's doing when it comes to textual criticism. He's, he's gifted at it, but I think he maximizes the, the, the tensions and the issues.
Beth: Right. And he builds on fear. Evangelicals are, you know, he, this conspiracy theory, I think, is exactly what he's doing. But I also think he, he knows that these differences aren't as big as what he makes them out to be.
Kyle: I think he was on a radio [00:55:00] program one time, I can't cite the source here, but, you know, went through his spiel and the interviewer was like, so what do you think the original text said then? And his response was something like, well, pretty much what you have there in front of you. Like you would never know that that was his opinion by reading his books.
Scot: Yeah. He's got, he's got, he interprets the New Testament on the basis of what everybody else does.
Randy: Yeah. So Beth, this conversation was your desire, your brainchild, any questions left unasked or stones left unturned?
Beth: Yeah. Well, I guess, you know, I just mostly want people to know is that our, the translations you have are very reliable translations, and I don't want anybody to go and burn their ESV.
What I want them to do is to understand that there are choices that translators have made that affect, that affect stories that we are, that are culturally important. And one of the culturally important stories right now is do women get to preach? And so [00:56:00] those are some, our translations affect that even though that has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus.
Randy: That's good. Excellent. Beth Allison Barr, Scot McKnight, thank you so much for bringing so much clarity and just letting us in on a rich conversation.
Scot: It was fun. Thank you.
Beth: Thanks. Thanks for letting us do this. Yeah.
Scot: Thank you Beth.
Beth: Yeah, thanks Scot. Thanks for joining me for this. And now, now I know what to do for our blog posts. So I'll be emailing you very soon.
Kyle: Man, what a fun and kind-of nerdy conversation about Bible translations. I didn't really quite know what I was getting into for this one. I haven't thought about Bible translations for several years, but that was a good deal of fun. I'm really glad we did it. It seems like on the surface, we're going to talk to a historian and a New Testament scholar about Bible translations. That's some really wonky stuff, but I think it turned out really awesome.
Randy: I don’t find that wonky at all. That's, that's, that's fun times right there, but… [00:57:00]
Kyle: Hey I love wonk; there's nothing wrong with that.
Randy: There you go.
Kyle: And one of the things we do here on A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar in case you're a new listener, is we like to have a drink that we feature with each episode. Normally we put that at the beginning of the episode. This was a bit of a special episode, so we didn't do that this time. So what we're going to do now is have a little drink together. We're going to share some bourbon and then we're going to reflect a little bit on what Scot and Beth just brought. It should be a good time.
Kyle: And so we've got something that we're going to share here. This is a bourbon from Kentucky, as all good bourbon is. Uh, this is called Blade and Bow Either of you ever heard of this?
Randy: I've heard the name.
Kyle: Yeah. So this was made by the Stitzel Weller distillery. I'm sure you've heard of Weller at least, if not Stitzel Weller.
Uh, so this is a solera style bourbon, which means they take a little bit left from really old barrels and blend it with stuff from younger barrels and they kind of keep it going, [00:58:00] uh, in the sense that like every bottle produced has some percentage of really old, they won't tell you how old, but like really old bourbon in it blended with some younger stuff, uh, to kind of give it a complexity that you wouldn't have from just, you know, a freshly aged batch.
Randy: So we'll find out if it's just cool conceptually or if it's actually delicious.
Kyle: Yeah. They take the idea from wine. I think some people have been doing that in wine for a long time. So we'll see what you think of this; this is the last of my bottle. Hope you enjoy it.
Randy: It smells more new than old to me. I would guess it's a lower cut cause it's not very hot.
Kyle: It’s about 45% I think.
Randy: Okay. About average.
Kyle: Yeah, I agree with you. There's not a lot going on in the nose. A little, a little bright, I think, but on the palate, I think everything changes.
Randy: It reminds me of—you’re going to hate me for saying this—but it reminds me of Eagle Rare.
Kyle: Why would I hate that? That's a wonderful bourbon.
Randy: I don't know, people slam Eagle Rare, but it's very clean. It doesn't have any, to me, huge flavor [00:59:00] profiles. Like it doesn't have any overwhelming things. It just works well all together, which is fun because it comes from two very different barrels and very different ages. But it works well.
Elliot: You get some of the shimmer of like star anise or…
Randy: “Shimmer of star anise,” Elliot said, wow, wow.
Kyle: That's a good band name, or that should be like the debut album of the nineties indie rock band. No, I like this quite a bit, I'd forgotten that I had it and went looking for things to taste today, and here we are.
Randy: Yeah, that's good.
Kyle: I don't know that it's quite worth the price point personally. I would prefer to buy a Woodford or something at this price point.
Randy: Oh yea.
Elliot: I think what it lacks is sweetness.
Randy: I wouldn't say it lacks sweetness; I would say it lacks that like rich caramelly thing, for me, personally. There's a lot of citrusy lemon going on there. It's good overall, it's just, again, yeah, it's just kind of one, one flavor profile.
Kyle: Yeah, for me, it's a pretty clean, pretty drinkable. Not very, not very [01:00:00] complex, but it feels like kind of a standard, rye forward bourbon.
Randy: Yeah. Yeah. It's good.
Kyle: If you're into that. I don't know what the mash bill is, but that's what it tastes like to me.
Randy: So one more time, what is it Kyle?
Kyle: This is called Blade and Bow from the Stitzel Weller Distillery.
Randy: Excellent. Thanks for the treat.
Elliot: So you wouldn't say it lacks sweetness, but you would say it lacks something almost entirely made of sugar?
Randy: There's a difference between sweetness and caramel, caramelly.
Elliot: I feel like I, so I, I said, I said anise, and then I, you dinged me on my sweetness note. I can’t do anything right today.
Randy: No, I mean, you said, what was the phrase you said, it was…
Elliot: The shimmer of star anise.
Randy: Shimmer! The shimmer of star anise.
Kyle: There you go, yea. I like it.
Randy: I'm not, I wasn't criticizing. I was just like, it's like when a shooting star goes by, you're like, whoa! Wow.
Elliot: Yeah. Cause it was a good tasting note.
Kyle: That's what happened with your, with your simile.[01:01:00]
Randy: At the beginning of the episode, when Scot was going through Romans 12:1, then Romans 12:4, and then 1 Timothy whatever it was, and when he's bouncing around bringing the, the differences that the ESV Bible in particular, the way they've translated certain words, Junia/Junius, or servant or deacon, or servant to the apostles or great among the apostles. It just struck me, as he just kept going, I mean, I'm sure he could have brought more, it just struck me of how influential those choices are. Right? Like if, if they're right—and I trust Scot McKnight and Beth Allison Barr—if they're right that Grudem and other ESV translators had a bit of a bias, and they even say they had a bias, complementarian bias. It's so easy because I know so many people who proudly hold onto their ESV Bible. And when that thing came out, they said, we found the new best version, the best translation of the Bible. And I didn't think anything [01:02:00] of it. I was like, okay, I don't particularly like it, but, uh, it's fine.
And then all of a sudden you start hearing about these little tiny choices in translation that they make. And then it starts making sense of why so many people, why complementarianism is so rampant and why patriarchy is just a normal thing and we feel like it's God-ordained. Well, when you have an agenda that wants to make it seem like complementarianism and patriarchy is God-ordained, you can do that because people just read the Bible and take your word for it as a translator, without a whole lot of criticism.
That's a little bit scary to me, actually, that, that was, that blew me away a little bit.
Kyle: Yeah. Cause you know, it's right there in the text.
Randy: Yeah. That's all you’ve got to say.
Kyle: The complementarianism is baked into it. And if you don't know anything about the history of these things… I mean, a lot of Christians, I hope this doesn't sound condescending, but I think it's really true.
A lot of Christians, I don't think, realize that the text they're reading is even translated. Right? You kind of grew up reading it in English and you just assume, okay, that's the Bible. Uh, when people go to seminary, it can be kind of, [01:03:00] uh, startling to learn that not only was this not written in English, it was written in languages that nobody speaks anymore, right? They’re, they're dead languages, at least in the versions that they were written in.
And so you have to rely on the expertise of scholars who spend their days doing what you call drudgery, right? Things that just seem mind-numbingly dull, poring over these ancient manuscripts, trying to parse, you know, is this that letter or that letter, and how should we translate this here? Uh, we have to rely on their expertise to even get the text in front of us to begin with.
And that's not even beginning yet the process of interpreting it. I mean, it's, it's, it's started to interpret it already, right? Because there's interpretation built into the translation, but you know, even to just get the texts in front of you where it's accessible to any average English speaker, all of this expertise went into that just, you know, decades and decades of scholarship that we don't have any access to.
I remember hearing a, another textual critic named Gordon Fee say one [01:04:00] time, when people think about it and realize that they have to rely on someone to even have an English text, they’re not necessarily bothered by that, and yet they're very bothered by the idea that someone would be tampering with the interpretation of that text, not realizing that that's been going on the whole time. Like, you know, you, you have to rely on an expert to have the text in the first place. What would ever lead us to the idea that we don't also have to rely on an expert to tell us what it means? This is, this is something that a lot of evangelicals, a lot of Protestants, are very uncomfortable with.
And so one of the things I loved about what Scot was saying there is that no, I mean, there's, there's some hard stuff in there. It's not easy to understand. It's not the sort of thing that the average hearers at the time would have even understood. It requires knowledge that most of us don't possess to, to read this thing well.
Elliot: That's often where it's been for me is I recognize that it was translated, but it's been translated by experts and I'm not an expert, so who am I to question? And really it starts at a very basic level. Like my [01:05:00] pastor who says that this is the translation I should be reading, or certainly the biblical scholars who did this translation.
I just, it's, it's, I've often kind of separated myself from that responsibility. Cause like I, I'm not qualified at all to do what they obviously put in the work to do.
Randy: Yeah. I mean that, that story of, of Scot being in the car with Grudem when they got the rights to the RSV Bible or whatever it was, that first of all, that's just incredible that he was in the same car, but it's my, it's a thing that ticks me off about this a little bit since reading Beth Allison Barr's book and in this conversation, this, this rub that some Christians will give to saying, I mean the whole ESV Bible was written as a response to the TNIV and the gender inclusive nature of the translation and saying, ah, the Bible is not gender inclusive.
It just blows me away that some people in 2021 in America are willing to get cranky and angry about somebody putting a “brothers and sisters” instead of just “brothers.” That [01:06:00] just blows me away. I mean, it, honestly, it makes sense of the statistics. It, to me, that, those kinds of silly straw man arguments about “you can't have ‘brothers and sisters’ in there, it's gotta be ‘brothers’ because that's the way Paul said it” or whatever. It just tells me, of course younger people are walking away from the, from the Christianity. Of course. Like who, who wants to read an ancient text that's only written to roughly 50% of the readers who, because they’re male? Like, if we’re that stuck in the mud, that we can't put a “and sisters” in there and we think that that’s sacrilege and that that needs to be completely put a lid on, that's, that's the kind of thing that irrelevant people groups talk about and argue about, to be honest with you.
Kyle: Yeah, of course, you know, their, their rejoinder to that would be “well, if we, if we let in that kind of liberal bias there, then we're going to end up letting it in somewhere else, and where does it stop?” It's this slippery slope kind of thing, “before you know it, feminism has taken over Christianity and we've lost the [01:07:00] essence of Pauline theology” or something like that, you know, trying to think like, you know, somebody like Grudem would think. Of course, people like Scot and other New Testament scholars have made the case, convincingly, that many of those decisions, like people, you know, on the board of the TNIV made to, to include gender neutral language, it's, it's not less faithful to the text; it's more often than not more faithful to the text. But, but that's, it goes back to my point, which was deciding whether or not it is more faithful to the text is not the job of the average reader of the Bible. It's not my job, it's not your job; it's the job of people with PhDs. Right?
And the people with PhDs have formed a consensus—this is something that Scot was pointing to—of what the overwhelming majority of the text says, and that consensus supports, you know, all the standard translations, including to a great degree the ESV with minor changes here and there that are often motivated by, uh, [01:08:00] identifiable kinds of agendas.
And so, you know, my job as a non-expert reader is to look at the consensus of the experts, see what they have agreed is the most reliable representation of this text, and to approach the places where they disagree with a little bit of humility and say, “They don't even know for sure. They haven't formed a consensus about that part. And so I'm not going to either.”
And this, this goes back to what, you know, Pete Enns goes on about all the time—we’re going to have him on the show soon—which is let the Bible be the Bible. Let it be an ancient text. Let it be what it is. Let it be difficult. I love that Scot said, I think, you know, my job as a translator is partially to make the text seem foreign, because it is. Right?
Randy: Yeah. That was interesting.
Kyle: It really appeals to the Kierkegaard in me; our job as scholars, our job as theologians, our job as [01:09:00] pastors even is not to make this thing easier; it's to represent Christ or in this case to represent the textual history of this book that’s about Christ. So. Yeah. I like that idea; it's, uh, not what you would hear every day. And it’s not necessarily comforting, but.
Randy: Yeah. And I, I do want to also say, you know, sometimes I've heard that these conversations can be a little bit deflating for—this is a terrible thing to say—but the “average Christian,” you know, the average un-seminarian, um, Christian, who's just trying to do a Bible study or read the Bible like, “well, I can't read the Bible on my own.”
First of all, you can, like, there is beauty in a, in a common reading of the scriptures. There is the Holy Spirit who I think is inspiring. I think this idea of inspiration of scripture is an ongoing, active thing that the Holy Spirit is inspiring us in the moment all the time.
Also, there are so many tools right now. If you are doing a Bible study, you should be getting a commentary or two to really see what the experts are [01:10:00] saying, because there are so many resources out there right now that any of us can open up a commentary, do a little reflection and say, wow, this is what some experts think and this is what other experts think.
And this is, when ex-, when experts say “I don't know,” those are the ones that I trust, really, to be honest with you. But I just want to say there are resources and tools out there.
Kyle: Or when they tell you what other experts who disagree with them have said, right? That's a mark of trust.
Randy: You can, as I study the scholars, you know, for my sermons, none of my stuff is original, it's all based on what scholars have said and experts have said, and I, cause I know I'm not an expert, but I can tell the good experts. It's the ones who, who lay all the arguments out and then say, here's what I, humbly say here's what I think, or in some cases say, no one knows, but here's the best guess, here's the best argument. That's a good expert. That's a good scholar right there.
What's interesting as well, something that struck me is, as Scot was talking through all of these levels, these complexities of biblical translation, as he was talking, he was almost making, [01:11:00] almost convincing me that this translation process of the Bible makes it so that it's unreliable, like, as he was talking, I was like, wow, it almost seems like you're making a case that the Bible really shouldn't be held as authoritative or reliable. But then he kept talking and he almost went the other way, where all of a sudden he starts talking about thousands, and then he said 20,000, 30,000 manuscripts that we have, and almost all of them agree, and there's just these tiny little bit of words that they don't agree on and that's where the argument’s happening. As he, as he brought us deeper into the world, then all of a sudden it felt like, oh, wow, this is, this is a reliable process that's trustworthy and that doesn't sound crazy. It doesn't sound completely agenda-based. That was pretty fun.
Kyle: Yeah. Yeah. It's nice to be reminded of that. I mean, you can kind of get lost in the deconstruction weeds sometimes and forget that, you know, we, we have really good reason to think that the text in front of us is the text that was written and that it attests to a real historical person and to, you know, the genuine testimony of people who were interacting with that person.[01:12:00]
That's, that's nice to hear. It's nice to be reminded of that. Yeah. To, to the person who wonders “Well, can't I just have a simple Bible study? Why does this have to be so difficult?” that you referenced: yeah, on the one hand, you can, right, and there's lots of good translations you could use. They named several of them in the interview.
There's lots of good commentaries intended to be accessible that you could use. But, uh, also I think I wouldn't be fulfilling my role as the resident liberal if I didn't point out that maybe we don't need that many Bible studies. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if there were fewer Protestant Bible studies, right?
If at the end of the day we decided, “Huh, maybe I don't have access to the amount of information that I need to have to do the kind of thing I wanted to do to this text. Maybe I should just decide to not do it, and to approach the text in a different way.”
Randy: Interesting. Okay. So what's a different way?
Elliot: So, well, just to, to spin on that, maybe, maybe it's not ultimately about [01:13:00] understanding this text and discussing it as deeply as we possibly can in some living room setting; maybe it's about applying the pieces that we understand and actually getting, getting out and out of our groups, out of our cliques.
Kyle: Yeah. There are many, many uses of scripture. Perhaps this is something we should have somebody on to talk about specifically. The standard Protestant evangelical use of scripture that occurs in a Bible study, the kind of Bible study that I grew up in and that you probably grew up in, is one use of scripture. And it tends to have some pretty narrowly defined aims. And I want to put forth that perhaps it is not the best use of scripture, and perhaps it's not the most humble use of scripture. There are much more ancient uses…
Elliot: But don't you want to know what it means to me?
Kyle: Exactly, right? Where we, where we sit around and we decide what it means together.
Elliot: Yeah, please.
Kyle: Yeah, I'm not going to say there's no value in that. I think sometimes there is with the proper strictures in place, but there are much more ancient and a much more liturgical uses of [01:14:00] scripture that you don't need the kind of expertise to, to perform those practices, that you, that you kind-of force yourself to need when you do this evangelical Bible study thing.
Randy: Oh man. One of my favorite things to do in college was to bring the big, beautiful insight on the scripture, the Bible study, and have the eyes go wide open. And I'm pretty sure I got a girlfriend that way, I mean, lay off.
Kyle: Right? Yeah. “Did you know that, you know, this Greek word in the context meant this thing?” Yeah. Um, give me, let me give you one quick example, just very simple, is the ancient Lectio Divina practice, right? You don't need to know anything about original languages or the historical critical method or any of the debates amongst experts about, you know, where this text type came from and which one's more reliable. You just look at the phrase and you contemplate the phrase.
Randy: Yup. Yup.
Kyle: And you try to meet Jesus in the phrase. That's a use of scripture that's ancient that many Christians have found value in that doesn't require any kind of expertise, and there's no, [01:15:00] like, “gotcha” moments, in that process right?
Randy: Yeah that’s so good Kyle. Yep. I would highly recommend, if you're thinking about studying, starting a Bible study, Lectio Divina as your method of getting your way through it, or at least a supplemental way. Highly recommend.
Let's, let's land this puppy, huh?
Randy: I thought, I wish we could have ended it when we were saying how it is encouraging that this process actually is fairly reliable. We never, we don't usually, well, it's just good to end on a positive note. How do we spin that?
Kyle: Sorry that I, um, had to shit on that.
Randy: Do you agree that that might be a fun…
Kyle: No I’m kinda, I'm kinda insistent that the critical comment follows that positive, encouraging comment.
Randy: Okay, okay, okay, alright.
Kyle: It is my role to shit on things.
Elliot: I know. That would be a different podcast entirely, wouldn't it?
Randy: Well, maybe we don't have to try to spin it; we just end it.[01:16:00]
Well, I'm so grateful we had this time with Beth Allison Barr and Scot McKnight, two experts talking about biblical translation. I mean, that's just good Bible geek stuff, and it's spaces that we love to hold on this podcast. So if this is your first time you've listened, welcome to the community. We hope you check out their interviews that we did just with Scot and his daughter, Laura, or with Beth Allison Barr and many other episodes and interviews.
And we've had a lot of fun coming up. This is our last episode of season 1 of A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. Coming up in season two—there’s going to be no break, don't worry about it—but coming up, we're going to have some fun interviews. We're going to start out with Pete Enns, which I'm super excited about, and we're going to talk about all sorts of fascinating things that all of us think about, whether it be the end of reason and the beginning of faith and thinking like Soren Kierkegaard, whether it be talking about reparations and race and racism in America or LGBTQ issues, or all sorts of [01:17:00] things, abuse in the church. We're excited to hold this space with you. It's a privilege for us to be just present with you and voices in your journey. And we'd love to hear back from you as well. So, boys, here's to season 2. Cheers.
Elliot: Thanks for listening to A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please rate and review the podcast before you close your app. You can also share the episode with friends or family members with the links from our social media pages. Gain inside access, extra perks, and more at patreon.com/apastorandaphilosopher. We're so grateful for your support of the podcast. We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, this has been A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. [01:18:00] .