Bias In Bible Translation?

What if God’s Word is too much altered by the culture wars it finds itself within?

Beth Allison Bar writes (sidenote: Patheos is the worst coded website in the whole world, right?! Friends don’t let friends on the ad-clogged, slow, Patheos! Lookin’ at you, D.G.) in “Deconstructing the ESV“:

…Samuel Perry (co author with Andrew Whitehead of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States) published a fascinating article in the Sociology of Religion Journal (Volume 81:1, pp. 68-92).  Titled The Bible as a Product of Cultural Power: The Case of Gender Ideology in the English Standard Version, Perry analyzed 16 biblical passages often used in the complementarian/egalitarian debates, comparing the ESV with the RSV.  He found that while 7 of the passages were mostly unchanged, the remaining 9 were altered in the ESV to support a complementarian reading. As Perry writes, “nine of these gender passages were changed and each was altered in the direction of favoring a more complementarian, traditional gender interpretation.” For example, the RSV describes Phoebe in Romans 16:1 as a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea; the ESV describes her as a servant.

That’s an interesting and important claim. Is it true that there is cultural bias that might affect the way we read the Word of God? Let’s look at several Bible translations of Rom 16:1 down through time.

King James Bible (1611)
I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:

New King James Version (1982)
I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,

American Standard Version (1901)
I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church that is at Cenchreae:

Revised Standard Version (1971)
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cen′chre-ae,

English Standard Version (2001)
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,

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Mozart and the Miserere

Here’s the ultimate “what’s so great about your fourteen year old?” challenge. As much as I enjoy the following story, the music itself is what slays me. I can’t imagine being prevented from hearing these harmonies! It makes me excited to think of celestial choirs. The below story is taken from here.

“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is widely considered to be one of the greatest musical geniuses to live. A child prodigy, who was excellent at playing music before even reaching the age of 10, Mozart has many interesting stories surrounding his life. One such story, being perhaps the most fascinating one, is the story of “Miserere Mei, Deus.” This song, translated as “Have Mercy on Me, O God,” was a song composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII in the early 1600s. It was written by a man named Gregorio Allegri, for use exclusively in the Sistine Chapel. It was played as part of the exclusive Triduum services around Easter Time. Thus, no one could reproduce it or play it anywhere else, as only the Sistine Chapel had access to the song.* It was forbidden to transcribe or play the music anywhere else, and doing so would result in excommunication. It remained a secret for nearly 150 years.”

Here’s one of my favorite recordings of the Miserere. Listening will help you appreciate the power of this story, and if you can’t listen to the whole thing, listen to the first 45″ and from 3:10 to 4:10.

“This is the point where 14-year-old Mozart comes in. While visiting Rome, Mozart went to the Sistine Chapel and heard the song. He was enchanted by the beautiful music. Later that day, Mozart went home and, amazingly, wrote down the piece entirely from memory. You may be thinking, what is so impressive about this? However, this shows how much of a true musical genius Mozart was. Transcribing a song is incredibly difficult, especially hearing it only one time. It is very easy to mess up similar sounding notes, and remembering the song from only one listen is also incredibly challenging. However, what I just told you was the difficulty of transcribing a normal song. What Mozart transcribed was Miserere Mei, Deus, a 15 minute long, 9 part choral song. Essentially, Mozart transcribed 9 different lines of melody, playing all at once for 15 minutes straight, from his own memory after hearing the song only once. Not only was he able to transcribe the song, but he also did it nearly perfectly in one try.”

“Mozart would go back a few days later to make corrections to his transcription. Eventually, it was discovered that he had made this piece. However, Mozart was never punished. Instead, the Pope summoned him and commended him for his immense feat of musical genius.”


*I have seen other sources suggested two other copies were allowed outside of the Vatican: for the Holy Roman Emperor, and for the King of Spain. But the main idea stands!

Black Bartholomew’s Day

Today is a grim day. Reformed Christians have no true “holy-day” except the Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10), nevertheless there are seasons and days that are important.[1] Today is one of those important days to me, and it is a grim day.

St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, 1572
On August 24th, 1572, the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre was in full effect. Begun the night before with the attempted assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, many of the wealthiest French Reformed Christians were in town for the wedding of Henry of Navarre. After a few days, as many as ten thousand were dead.

In Roman Catholic France, the Reformed faith was viewed as wicked and with suspicion, a foreign infection from Frenchman Jean Caulvin (John Calvin) inserting itself from Geneva. But despite the distrust of Protestant theology in Popish France, the Reformed faith was flourishing. In 1555, there were ten churches in all of France that held to Calvin’s Reformed theology. Just seven years later, there were 2,000 churches that were Reformed Protestant strongholds. These Reformed believers went forth boldly under that name “Huguenots.”

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A Dying Man’s Prayer

and make the death of thy Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption at the hour of my death

Samuel Johnson (b. 1709) is an interesting figure for a number of reasons, but I wanted to post a prayer he wrote in his dying days. Having held a variety of beliefs, and only coming around to biblical orthodoxy in his later years, to see him grapple with his beliefs and end in certainty on what the Scriptures say is gratifying to behold. As his positions on God, man, Christ, and the truth became more certain, his attending physicians noticed the change in his speech – about doctrine – and in his behavior. In the last week of his life, Johnson composed the following prayer:

Almighty and most merciful Father, I am now, as to human eyes, it seems, about to commemorate, for the last time, the death of thy Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer. Grant, O Lord, that my whole hope and confidence may be in his merits, and thy mercy; enforce and accept my imperfect repentance; make this commemoration available to the confirmation of my faith, the establishment of my hope, and the enlargement of my charity; and make the death of thy Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption. Have mercy upon me, and pardon the multitude of my offences. Bless my friends; have mercy upon all men. Support me, by thy Holy Spirit, in the days of weakness, and at the hour of death; and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jeremy Larson “Samuel Johnson and Presbyterianism” Pro Rege Vol XL, No 3 (March, 2012) p. 23.

May we all go to our final moment, before our eyes close, with such clear-sighted faith!

Solzhenitsyn: Live Not By Lies

From the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Center: On the day Solzhenitsyn was arrested, February, 12, 1974, he released the text of “Live Not by Lies.” The next day, he was exiled to the West, where he received a hero’s welcome. This moment marks the peak of his fame. Solzhenitsyn equates “lies” with ideology, the illusion that human nature and society can be reshaped to predetermined specifications. And his last word before leaving his homeland urges Soviet citizens as individuals to refrain from cooperating with the regime’s lies. Even the most timid can take this least demanding step toward spiritual independence. If many march together on this path of passive resistance, the whole inhuman system will totter and collapse.

— by Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney, The Solzhenitsyn Reader

There was a time when we dared not rustle a whisper. But now we write and read samizdat and, congregating in the smoking rooms of research institutes, heartily complain to each other of all they are muddling up, of all they are dragging us into! There’s that unnecessary bravado around our ventures into space, against the backdrop of ruin and poverty at home; and the buttressing of distant savage regimes; and the kindling of civil wars; and the ill-thought-out cultivation of Mao Zedong (at our expense to boot)—in the end we’ll be the ones sent out against him, and we’ll have to go, what other option will there be? And they put whomever they want on trial, and brand the healthy as mentally ill—and it is always “they,” while we are—helpless.

We are approaching the brink; already a universal spiritual demise is upon us; a physical one is about to flare up and engulf us and our children, while we continue to smile sheepishly and babble:

“But what can we do to stop it? We haven’t the strength.”

We have so hopelessly ceded our humanity that for the modest handouts of today we are ready to surrender up all principles, our soul, all the labors of our ancestors, all the prospects of our descendants—anything to avoid disrupting our meager existence. We have lost our strength, our pride, our passion. We do not even fear a common nuclear death, do not fear a third world war (perhaps we’ll hide away in some crevice), but fear only to take a civic stance! We hope only not to stray from the herd, not to set out on our own, and risk suddenly having to make do without the white bread, the hot water heater, a Moscow residency permit.

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Twelve Rules for Promoting Harmony Among Church Members

From volume 5 of the works of Thomas Smyth (1808 – 1873), the following rules would help a lot of churches and Christians maintain the bond of peace. This advice is timely, even if it is around two hundred years old!

To remember that we are all subject ot failings and infirmities, of one kind or another
Matthew 7:1 – 5; Romans 2:21 – 23.

To bear with and not magnify each other’s infirmities.
Galatians 6:1

To pray one for another in our social meetings, and particularly in private.
James 5:16

To avoid going from house to house, for the purpose of hearing news, and interfering with other people’s business.
Leviticus 19:16

Always to turn a deaf ear to any slanderous report, and to allow no charge be brought against any person until well founded and proved.
Proverbs 25:23

If a member be in fault, to tell him of it in private, before it is mentioned to others.
Matthew 18:15

To watch against shyness of each other, and put the best construction on any action that has the appearance of opposition or resentment.
Proverbs 10:12

To observe the just rule of Solomon, that is, to leave off contention before it be meddled with.
Proverbs 17:14

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Witherspoon: The Spiritual Condition Is More Important Than Our Earthly Status

John Witherspoon (1723-1794) was a key Presbyterian minister during the Revolutionary War period in American history, and is regarded among the Founding Fathers. As the only active clergy to sign the Declaration of Independence, to sign the Articles of Confederation, approve the Constitution, and serve as Moderator of the General Assembly for American Presbyterians, Witherspoon established himself in sacred and secular history of this nation. He has an important treatise on the doctrine of being born again, or regeneration.

Witherspoon wrote movingly about preaching the Gospel to different socio-economic groups, especially the poor. Here is a longer passage, where after addressing the unique situation the Scriptures give to those suffering in poverty, he says:

But does not the Savior of sinners beseech you to be reconciled unto God? He entreats you to come unto Him that you may have life. He regardeth not the persons of men, but values a precious immortal spirit as much in a mean cottage as in a splendid palace. Your rags and nakedness can be no hindrance to your obtaining His favor. He counsels you “to buy of Him gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich, and white rainment that you may be clothed.”

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Pleased To Print His Gospel on Our Hearts

During a research project on a different topic, I was so encouraged by Calvin’s words here:

…we have not perfect faith, and we have not given ourselves to serve God with such zeal as we are bound to do, but have daily to battle with the lusts of our flesh; yet, since the Lord hath graciously been pleased to print His Gospel upon our hearts, in order that we may withstand all unbelief; and hath given us this earnest desire to renounce our own thoughts and follow His righteousness and His holy commandments: therefore we rest assured, that our remaining sins and imperfections do not prevent us from being received of God and made worthy partakers of this spiritual food. For we come not to the Supper to testify hereby that we are perfect and righteous in ourselves; but on the contrary, seeking our life in Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that we lie in the midst of death.

The Christian life is a long war, a constant struggle, and I need reminders like the above in zealous battle against sin, and encouragement when we stumble. It reminds me of the importance of godliness, and the need for Holy Communion.

Godly Grace
Some Christians seem to get through daily faith in an almost light, easy way. That has never been my experience. But I cannot begin to describe how hopeful and thrilling it is to be reminded that God has a plan for my unbelief; for my failings… for my sins. And His plan is to print His Gospel on my heart. As Philippians 2:12 – 13 reminds us, our Redeemer is even concerned for our desires and wants, to train our wills and ways in His holy obedience. So often, my best efforts to live the Christian life remind me that “I lie in the midst of death.” I see failure and destruction all around me. But when I lift my eyes off my own efforts, but His sovereign grace Christ enables me to see the shocking ways He is continually transforming me from within to conform to His holy law.

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Two Great Quotes

We had a funeral service today for a dear member, and two important quotes that were used in the service are worth remembering.

Martin Luther
In Letter no. 1610 to Justus Jonas the Elder (29 June[?] 1530, WA Briefe V, p. 409, ll. 21-23), Luther reminds us of our ability to hold our lives together, in comparison to trusting the Lord with our lives. The well-known quote (as found in the History of the Reformation) goes as follows: “I have had many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have been able to place in God’s hands I still possess.” It is a beautiful reminder of our hands versus the Lord’s. Especially in conjunction with John 10:28 – 29 (“no one can snatch them out of my hand… my Father’s hand”), the consolation of having our most precious gifts – and lives – in God’s hands is a precious truth.

Steve Pershino of Liber Locorum Communium has the original mix of Latin and German: “Ich hab ihr viel in manu mea gehabt, und all verloren, nicht eine behalten.  Quas vero extra manus meas in illum reiicere hactenus potui, adhuc habeo salvas et integras.” Here is the PDF Werke at archive.org.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The amazing survivor of the horrors of Russian communism, Solzhenitsyn is well known for his quote regarding the line between good and evil passing through every heart. I had assumed the quote was from his stirring Harvard commencement address, but it is actually from his magnum opus that he wrote in 19, The Gulag Archipelago. Here is the quote in context:

It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil…

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

I like the insight that Annie Homquist drew from this quote:

What strikes me most about these words is that Solzhenitsyn had every right to be a “victim.” In fact, his regular persecution gave him a much bigger claim to victimhood than the “victims” of modern culture have.

Yet Solzhenitsyn refused to claim that victimhood. He refused to blame race, or class, or gender, or political party for the evils in the world that were afflicting him. Instead, he took time to examine his own heart and recognized that he was just as much at fault for the evil problems in the world as were his persecutors.

I wonder how much the noise and confusion in today’s world would be solved if we each did the same as Solzhenitsyn. Instead of pinning the problems and chaos in our world on those of the opposing political party, or those who don’t agree with our opinions on race or gender, and then painting ourselves as the victim, what if we first recognize the part we have played in making the world and ourselves what they are?

Forgotten Lesson of Good and Evil” Fee

So much of our world – and many within the Church – are confused about being a victim, and Solzhenitsyn gives an account that gives moral strength and clarity in confusing times.

The Problem of VP Pence

Mike Pence’s presence on the Trump ticket has always been confounding to me. How someone who refers to his own wife as “Mother” can stand by the Stormy-Daniels-hush-money episodes is bewildering to me. How a Manhattan narcissist could select an Indiana governor, beleaguered by passing RFRA legislation, befuddles me.

I was especially thrown for a loop when, impeachment looming, so many conservative (and especially Evangelical) supporters preferred to see Trump come through unscathed in Jan 2020, instead of seeing impeachment as a gift that removed all the troublesome aspects of the Republican ticket (namely, POTUS himself) and put Pence in the Oval Office. This would give you all the conservative policy and judges, without the narcissism and bad tweets. But almost unanimously, the circles I traveled in preferred a dumpster fire to a sputtering candle.

Now that Pence has refused to monkey with the electoral ballots, a portion of Trump’s supporters show their true feelings for the VP.

video of Trump riot chanting “hang Mike Pence” inside the US Capitol

Now a thoughtful critic might say, “If this administration has taught us anything, words are cheap. Don’t take the mindless chanting of the mob as worth very much.” To which, I agree, and yet they brought visuals:

Do I really believe they would have lynched or executed the VP? No, because I doubt their resilience, but not because I believe in their sanity or moral character.

It is clear that on Jan 6th, 2021, VP Pence did the right thing in certifying the electoral ballots and calling for the National Guard. We will undoubtedly learn more good that he has done to be a preserving and sanctifying presence in the White House administration.

But this episode reveals what those who voted for him (admittedly, a perhaps small minority) really thought of him. His presence in this administration will continue to be a closely scrutinized and problematic issue for the movements of conservativism and Evangelicalism for decades to come. As Michael Horton recently wrote in “The Cult of Christian Trumpism,” anyone who fails to “touch not the Lord’s anointed” will fall into the wrath of the cult. Pence’s behavior, and subsequent treatment, might be the most recent proof of this truth.