Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, November 24

ETS Day #2

ETS is now over and many of the people have move on to Boston to attend IBR (Institute of Biblical Research) and then SBL (Society of Biblical Literature), which is the largest of the three organizations. SBL is the least friendly of the organizations toward evangelicals and therefore perhaps our greatest opportunity for engagement in a non-evangelical theological culture.

Daniel Wallace gave an amazing plenary lecture of issues relating to the Greek text of the New Testament. Dan is a leading textual critic and is president of CSNTM (The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts). He started by discussing postmodern intrusions into NT textual criticism, and moved to how people are collaborating on text critical issues (e.g., www.codex-sinaiticus.net/en/). Perhaps most interesting was Dan’s discussion of the work that remains and the role that evangelicals must play.

CSNTM (www.csntm.org) is committed to the photographing, cataloging, and analysis of unknown Greek manuscripts. (The Greek Orthodox church has given Dan unprecedented access to many of their ancient libraries.) CSNTM is an example of how evangelicals must become involved in this work. The church needs to hear from us about textual issues and not just from scholars of other theological positions. Dan’s conclusion is that it is better for the church to live with a little uncertainty about the text than with a false certainty based on incorrect text critical assumptions. I would really encourage you to browse www.csntm.org and to support them financially. (Disclosure: I have no direct connection with CSNTM other than Dan is a life-long friend.)

The second plenary meeting was C.E. Hill’s discussion of the New Testament canon. He showed how the concept of canon was tied directly with the church’s sense of the authority of divine revelation and emphasized that the church did not have the right to select certain books but rather to recognize those writings that were self-authenticating. After all, he concluded, Jesus’ sheep hear his voice.

It was great to see the first volume of the new Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament come out, written on James by Craig Blomberg and Mariam Kamell. I am part of the board that helped design the series and will do some of the editing. The series is written for people with one to two years of Greek (and perhaps have even forgotten much of what they learned). It is built around sentence flows; each biblical book is laid out in a graphical way that shows the relationship among the ideas, the flow of the author’s thought. It is breaking new ground.

But hands down the paper that engendered (pun intended) the greatest response was Mark Strauss’ paper on entitled, “Why the English Standard Version Should Not Become the Standard English Version: How to Make a Good Translation Much Better.” Let’s start with disclaimers: Mark was not part of the original TNIV team but has been used by Zondervan as one of their most eloquent spokesmen and is now a member of the CBT (Committee for Bible Translation). I am the New Testament Chair of the ESV, and Mark and I have been good friends for many years, and are both on the board for the Zondervan commentary series mentioned above.

While the content of the paper was helpful, I am afraid that it only increased the gap between the two “sides” of the debate. There has been a lot of hurt and damage done toward people on both sides of this debate (e.g., someone shot a bullet through a TNIV and mailed it to the publisher), and I got the feeling that Mark was getting tired of being attacked. I would be tired if I were in his shoes. He kept saying that the ESV has “missed” or “not considered” certain translational issues. While I am sure they were not intentional, these are emotionally charged words that do not help in the debate. They are in essence ad hominem arguments focusing on our competence (or perceived lack thereof) and not on the facts. He was not in the translation meetings and does not know if we in fact did miss or did not consider these issues. Time and time again Mark said that if we made a change then we would have gotten it “right.” This, of course, is not a helpful way to argue because it implies there is only one “right” way to translate a verse. His solution appeared to be that we should adopt a more dynamic view of translation, and then we would have gotten it right. The solution to this debate is to recognize that there are different translation philosophies, different goals and means by which to reach those goals, and the goal of the translator is to be consistent in achieving those goals. In all but one of his examples, our translation was the one required by our translation philosophy.

Mark invited us not to argue with him after the paper but to engage in the debate next ETS, so I am going to break my decades of silence at ETS and will read a paper about why we did get it right for our audience. The inside story of the ESV and specifically our translation guidelines have never been told. And when done, I will invite Mark to write this blog next year.

Much of ETS is about connecting with old friends and making new contacts. I was glad to be able to meet with John Coe, the director of theInstitute for Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary. I am learning that there is an entire field of study related to how we grow up in Christ, a field sadly ignored by much of Protestant thought. How can students think they are trained in how to lead Christian community if they doesn’t know the process by which God transforms them into the likeness of his son?

Accordance 8 and the latest version of BibleWorks were also officially released. It was a good conference and I am looking forward to next year’s in New Orleans.