Oxford University Press, perhaps the most prestigious English language Bible publisher (although far from the largest), brought out The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version on September 11. After “more than five years of steady work,” the editors, according to Oxford University Press Senior Editor for Bibles Donald Kraus, sought “to expand the richness and deepen the expressiveness of a text that is already very familiar to many readers.” The text is a revision, or perhaps better, a distortion, of the already politically correct New Revised Standard Version.
It must be rather humiliating to the editors who worked steadily for five years to have produced the same product that a college newspaper editor armed with a manual of politically correct “inclusive” language could have generated in a few weeks. The NRSV sought to make all references to human beings unisex and was even reluctant to admit that Jesus Christ was a man. Thus it edits one of the classic confessional statements of Scripture, which speaks of “One mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” to read “One mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human” (I Timothy 2:5), Although this is not, strictly speaking, a gross mistranslation, it does change the nuances and suggests unorthodox views: “Between God and men” reflects the familiar idea that individuals must come to God in repentance, becoming disciples and being baptized, whereas “humanity” might suggest universalism, the redemption of all humans qua humans. Perhaps the more dangerous error insinuated by dropping the noun “man” and substituting the generic “human” in adjective form is not a loss of the reality that Jesus was a man (male of the human species), but a loss of the fact that he was a real, historic, individual human (man), not a generic human. “Christ Jesus, himself human” instead of “the man Christ Jesus” adulterates the biblical and creedal confession that the Son (the second Person of the Godhead, according to Christian doctrine) not only “became flesh,” but also was “made man,” a complete human being, and as it happens, for whatever reason it may have pleased God, one of the male sex.
Nevertheless, the NRSV retained traditional language for the deity Himself and did not venture to edit the words used by Jesus in addressing God in the most familiar of all Christian prayers, known as “the Lord’s Prayer” and “the Our Father.” “Our Father” becomes “our Father-Mother,” a grotesque distortion of the words of Jesus and one that can hardly be considered anything else but blasphemous. The expression “Lord” is used in the Hebrew Scriptures as the normal way to refer to the sacred Name, the Tetragrammaton YHWH, in order to avoid the danger of taking that Name in vain. It is also used in the great confession of the first Christians, “Jesus is Lord.” “Lord,” however, must be dropped from the newest (per)version of the Bible because, according to the editors, it suggests a ruling class of lords, which of course our modern democratic world cannot accept. To be consistent, of course, one would also have to reject God Himself, in order not to have to acknowledge Him as “Ruler of All.” Oxford’s substitute, “All-Highest,” is also inferior, suggesting an attribute or a quality rather than the personal God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Affirmation of “diversity” of all kinds requires such idiocies as the elimination of “the right hand of the Majesty on
high” (Hebrews 1;3), for the suggestion that the right hand is a place of honor might upset left-handed people (this left-handed editor, until his consciousness was raised, was not upset; in fact, he is not upset even now, no doubt an indication that he is so insensitive that he cannot even recognize derogatory insinuations that apply directly to him). “Darkness” must also be eliminated, for it might be offensive to dark-skinned people. (Will this rehabilitate the term “darkies,” which up until now has been considered a bit condescending, to designate African-Americans?) What is lost, of course, is the love of the personal God, especially as it is expressed in the mystery of divine election: “Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated” (Malachi 1:2f, cited by Paul in Romans 9:13).
According to Kraus, the editors sought to produce “a version of the biblical text that will enlarge the reader’s vision of the great human community.” Perhaps it docs so, but the purpose and power of the Bible as actually written is “to make thee wise unto salvation” (II Timothy 3:15). The Gospel, according to Paul, “is the power of God unto salvation, to every one who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Paul was referring to the Gospel as proclaimed and taught by Jesus and His disciples, not to the twisted texts produced by Oxford. It is interesting to observe that although earlier heretics such as the Gnostics of the second century could have derived considerable benefit by changing only a few words in John’s Gospel, they did not do so: they gave their own interpretation to the words as they stood, but did not change them to suit themselves. Perhaps they had too much reverence for the actual texts, or perhaps they knew that too many people knew the texts too well to permit distorting alternations to get by.
Oxford University Press and its editors cannot escape the charge of intellectual dishonesty. To “translate” a text so that it says what you want it to say, not what the authors wrote and meant, is dishonest and intellectually irresponsible. The late Paul Tillich, certainly no fundamentalist, warned about making verbal or conceptual idols to suit individual tastes. To change the words of Jesus and call God by names of one’s own choosing, names evocative of things specifically prohibited in Scripture such as goddess worship, is blasphemous. It is dangerous to forget that—at least in the words of the Bible as hitherto known—”God will not hold him guiltless who taketh his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).
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