Tag Archives: Bible translations

Homosexuality, the Bible, 1946 and all that

I’m just going to say it, no holds barred:  one of the shallowest objections to traditional Christian sexual ethics is that “the Bible didn’t even use the word ‘homosexuality’ until 1946.”  I’m gobsmacked that people actually get taken in by this special sort of tomfoolery.  I know a lot has been written on this canard already, but it can only aid the cause of truth to get one more voice sharing the facts.

Here’s the thing:  it doesn’t matter that the Bible didn’t use the word ‘homosexuality’ until 1946.  The point is completely irrelevant.  Let me illustrate with other phenomena.  Consider:

No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘evolution.’  Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about Darwinian macro-evolution?

No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘transgender.’  Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about the transgender ideology?

No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘racism.’  Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about that?

Christians understand that the Bible’s relevance is not bound up with the use of an exact word.  It would be juvenile to take a word designating a topic (any topic), check an online concordance and, failing to find the word mentioned, conclude that the Bible has nothing to say on that topic.  The classic example is the Trinity.  Imagine someone checking a concordance for any mention of the word ‘Trinity’ in the Bible and, not finding it there, concluding that the doctrine of the Trinity is not in the Bible.  No, the word isn’t there, but the concept or doctrine certainly is.  Christians realize that, to do the Bible justice, we have to take the totality of its witness — that goes far beyond the usage of individual words.

Language is always in flux.  During our family worship, we take turns reading from the Bible.  My wife and kids read from the ESV while I read from the KJV.  I’m always surprised at how words change over the centuries.  For example, the KJV uses the word ‘corn’ in several places.  When we think of ‘corn,’ we think of the crop developed from maize.  It’s a New World crop — it didn’t grow in Israel in biblical times.  However, the KJV simply used the word ‘corn’ to describe any type of grain.  The English language has changed and Bible translations change with it.  Today there’s no corn in modern English translations.

While language changes, biblical truth does not.  Bible-believing Christians didn’t suddenly start seeing homosexuality as a problem in 1946.  Nor did Bible-believing Christians wake up one morning in 1946 and decide that they needed to have a Bible translation that supported their views.  History matters and history testifies that Bible-believing Christians have consistently maintained that homosexuality is contrary to God’s will for humanity.  Let me give two examples to illustrate.

The Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1563 for the teaching of children in the German-speaking region known as the Palatinate.  Lord’s Day 41 deals with the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.”  Someone might read Lord’s Day 41 and note that it makes no mention of homosexuality.  But you shouldn’t conclude that Reformed churches therefore have no problem with homosexuality.  Answer 109 says that God “forbids all unchaste acts.”  One of the biblical proof-texts is 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, a passage which has traditionally been understood to refer, in part, to homosexual behaviour.  Zacharias Ursinus was the main author of the Catechism and he wrote a commentary on it — actually lectures to his seminary students.  While the Catechism addressed to children understandably avoids this subject, his commentary definitely discusses homosexuality.  He speaks of it as being “contrary to nature.”  Homosexuality, according to Ursinus, is a heinous sin and an abominable transgression.  True, he doesn’t use the word ‘homosexuality’ — he couldn’t because it didn’t exist yet!  Nevertheless, the concept is there.

You can see the exact same thing in John Calvin’s commentary on Romans 1:26-27.  Again, Calvin doesn’t use the word ‘homosexual’ and neither should you expect him to.   Yet he still speaks of “the dreadful crime of unnatural lust” and of a “filthiness which even brute beasts abhor.”  Calvin found what we call ‘homosexuality’ to be contrary to God’s will, even though he didn’t use the word itself.  Were he alive today, he would no doubt find it ludicrous that some would argue that the Bible has anything other than condemnation for such things.

What Christians need to learn today is another important word:  revisionism.  In an effort to make homosexuality acceptable to Christians, progressive sorts are constantly trying to revise our theology and history.  This revisionism ought to be self-evidently anti-biblical.  In other words, it isn’t true to the Scriptures.  However, it can appeal to those who, for whatever reason, wish for a happy union between Christianity and homosexuality.  It appeals to those who think:  “Wouldn’t it be nice if our Christianity wasn’t so counter-cultural?”  Yet:  let no one join together what God has put asunder.


ESV for “Joe the Bus Driver”

I’ve been reading Leland Ryken’s biography of J.I. Packer.  Ryken mentions several times Packer’s involvement with the English Standard Version.  Packer served as the general editor of the ESV (and apparently still does).  In chapter 14, Ryken points out that Packer’s writing was almost always directed to a general audience.  This extended to his work on the ESV as well:

I will add that Packer’s concern for the ordinary reader surfaced strongly during the deliberations of the translation committee of the English Standard Version.  The utterance for which Packer became best known was “Joe the bus driver.”  Packer championed the cause of Joe the bus driver when the committee considered lexical alternatives for the English language rendering of a Hebrew or Greek word.  He wanted the rendition that would be most clear to Joe. (J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life, 196).

Sometimes you’ll hear folks talking about how the English of the ESV is too difficult, especially when compared to the NIV.  The anecdote illustrates that the production of the ESV was sensitive to this concern.  Did they succeed?  Well, you could see this chart produced by Zondervan (publisher of the NIV).  The Canadian Reformed Committee for Bible Translation (which I served on till recently) did its own research into this and found something similar to Zondervan’s conclusion.  You can find that report over here.  I’ll be the first to agree that the ESV is not perfect, but which Bible translation is?


FRCA Synod 2015 (1)

Synod Baldivis 2

The Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) is being held presently in Baldivis, Western Australia.  It opened on Monday with an evening session.  The only newsworthy item during that session was the election of the moderamen.  Rev. Stephen t’Hart is the chairman, the vice-chairman is Rev. E. Rupke, and the clerks are elder D. Bonker and Rev. Carl Vermeulen.

Tuesday’s sessions had a bit more of interest.  There was a decision regarding Bible translations.  The ESV has been judged suitable for use in the worship services.  The 2011 NIV continues to be disallowed, and the 1984 NIV is to be phased out by July 2018.  On another topic, there were a couple of rounds of discussion regarding the Book of Praise.  This has been sent to a committee for further discussion and drafting of a recommendation.

One observation:  it appears that Australian synods work a little differently than Canadian synods.  At the beginning of a Canadian Reformed synod, several advisory committees are immediately appointed and the material is divided up between them.  The Australians apparently only appoint advisory committees if they’re needed — that is, if it soon becomes apparent that there is no unanimity amongst the delegates on a particular matter.  This means that more time is spent at the Synod meeting together as a full body.


Coming Up: FRCA Synod 2015

Since I soon hope to be taking up a call in their midst, I’m taking special interest in the upcoming Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA).  Like the CanRC, the FRCA has a synod once every three years.  This year’s synod is being convened by the Baldivis FRC and it’s scheduled to begin on Monday June 22.  In this post, I’ll review some of the items of interest on the agenda for this synod.  If this was a CanRC synod, I might venture to offer a prognosis as well.  However, because I’m still rather out of touch with the FRCA, I dare not make any predictions as to how things might go, nor editorialize all that much.

Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ)

For many years, the FRCA have been discussing fraternal relations with the RCNZ.  The major obstacle in establishing a sister-church relationship has been the relationship of the RCNZ with the Christian Reformed Church of Australia.  The lengthy report for this upcoming synod can be found here.  To summarize, the RCNZ/CRCA relationship changed to such a degree that the deputies no longer feel it should be an obstacle.  The recommendation is to proceed to establishing full ecclesiastical fellowship/a sister-church relationship.

Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated)

Several of the sister churches of the RCN are deeply concerned about their direction.  On their part, the FRCA has sent a letter of admonition.  Since then, the situation has not improved, in fact, quite the opposite.  The question is:  what to do now?  Two alternatives are presented in the report (the report begins on page 90, the recommendations begin on page 100).  The first alternative is to sever the relationship completely.  The second is to suspend the relationship and continue to interact with the RCN.  The FRCA Synod will have to decide which alternative to follow, or perhaps to take a somewhat different direction.

Bible Translations

From what I understand, most of the FRCA uses the New King James Version.  However, the two congregations in Tasmania have been long-time users of the NIV.  The 2011 edition of the NIV has raised many concerns around gender-neutral language.  A committee was appointed to examine the 2011 NIV, as well as the ESV as a potential alternative.  However, because of various circumstances, the committee wasn’t able to work together to produce a report.  There is a report going to this Synod, but it’s only authored by one of the committee members.  The report affirms that the problems with the 2011 NIV are significant.  It also speaks favourably of the ESV.  But what can a Synod do with a report signed by only one committee member?  I hear that proper ecclesiastical ways to address this are being sought by the churches and may be sent to Synod.  There should be a way out of this quandary.

Seminary Training

Till now the FRCA has sent its seminary students to the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton.  The FRCA also supports CRTS financially.  However, there has been some talk of having at least some of this theological training done “down under.”  The Deputies for Training for the Ministry were mandated to investigate whether the first year of training could be done in Australa, either through distance-learning, or through other means.  Their report concludes that this is not feasible and the status quo should be maintained.  Is that the end of the matter then?  No.  At least one church (Rockingham) has interacted with this report by advocating a different approach:  they’re proposing to set the wheels in motion for a full-fledged Australian Reformed seminary, and sooner rather than later.  It will be very interesting to see what Synod decides on this point.

Book of Praise

Finally, there’s the question of the Book of Praise.  For many years, the FRCA and CanRC shared a common songbook.  The Australians simply used our 1984 Book of Praise.  However, in the last number of years, the CanRC have come out with a new edition of the Book of Praise.  Among other things, it has revised wordings of the Psalms and some new hymns.  From the sounds of it, the FRCA especially don’t feel the compulsion to add any new hymns and they also have some other misgivings.  This puts them in a bind.  The 1984 Book of Praise is out of print, yet the 2014 Book of Praise is not completely acceptable.  The report of the Deputies for the Book of Praise can be found here.  The Deputies surveyed the churches and found that more churches are in favour of an Australian Book of Praise than are opposed to it.  They ask the Synod to recognize that and then, if the churches request it, that new deputies be appointed to execute it.  In other words, if one or more churches takes the initiative upon reading this report, things could be moving forward towards a uniquely Australian edition of the Book of Praise.

This Synod will be faced with some tough decisions.  May the LORD grant the delegates the wisdom they need to do their work in a way that pleases him and serves the good of his church.


Synod Carman 2013 (4)

Synod Carman 2013 -- photo courtesy of Rev. D. Boersema.

Synod Carman 2013 — photo courtesy of Rev. D. Boersema.

As Phil Robertson would say, “Now we’re cooking with peanut oil.”   There are several very interesting items in yesterday’s Acts.

Synod made a decision about Bible translations.  The ESV is now the recommended translation in the Canadian Reformed Churches, having supplanted the 1984 NIV.  Synod refrained from recommending the NIV2011 for use or testing in the churches.  However, the Committee for Bible Translation was tasked with doing further study of both the NIV2011 and the ESV.

There were a number of decisions pertaining to the Book of Praise (with more to come).  One of the decisions was in regard to the Abbreviated Form for the Lord’s Supper.  I predicted that the recommendation of the Committee would be followed and the words “For the Second Service” would be dropped.  It didn’t happen.  The Synod decided to keep the words, citing as grounds the fact that the Committee still needs to interact with the reasoning of Synod Smithville 1980.

But the biggest surprise of all has to do with women voting for office bearers.  My prognosis postulated that the status quo would prevail.  I was wrong.  Many churches appealed the decision of Synod 2010 to leave this matter in the domain of local churches.  Synod 2013 was persuaded by the arguments presented and has overturned that decision.  A 180 degree turnaround is rare in the Canadian Reformed Churches, but that’s what has happened here.  Let me give the full text of the recommendations that were adopted:

4. Recommendations
Synod decide:
4.1 That Synod Burlington 2010 erred on church political grounds in its decision to leave the matter of women’s voting in the freedom of the churches.
4.2 That Synod Burlington 2010 erred in stating that the exegetical sections brought forward in both the majority and minority reports are “hardly relevant or decisive for the matter of women’s voting”.
4.3 That the churches should return to the voting practice as it officially was before 2010,  namely, male communicant members only voting.

This decision doesn’t affect our congregation in Providence, but I can think of some who will not be happy with this.  This issue is not over, not by far.