Edifying Words on Gender and on Civility

Edifying words from theologian Alastair Roberts:

Much of the discourse on gender issues in all quarters has pitted men and women against each other, treating men and women chiefly as competitors or opponents, rather than as loving collaborators. Our differences, I am convinced, should not be seen primarily as differences from each other, but as differences for each other. Both men and women need the space and means to thrive—something that requires recognizing our differing strengths and giving us both the space to play to them—and both sexes can benefit from the thriving and strengthening of the other sex.

I really like that. My wife did, too.

Shifting gears… I liked this from Alastair, too, and I kind of needed it today. He was talking about how people treat Jordan Peterson (and I have seen it), but I’m trying to apply it to how I treat my own enemies. They’re out there.

Strawmanning and carelessly rejecting the work of someone who has made a profound difference in many people’s lives, while it may play well with your own party, is only going to lead to knee-jerk reactions against you by those who aren’t. It is easy to play the partisanship game, but if we are truly to make our society a better place, we need to start trying to win people, not merely win ideological battles against grossly caricatured opponents.

Peterson’s advice to set our own house in order first before we try to change the world is valuable and it applies to all of us in this area. We all need to learn how to think and engage calmly and non-reactively. We all need to seek out sane and reasonable people who disagree with us and to forge charitable, generous, receptive, and attentive conversations with them. If you don’t believe that such people exist, you aren’t looking very hard: there are plenty of them out there. We need to stop playing zero sum games. We all need to learn how to care much more about our neighbours who disagree with us and to consider how we could pursue a good that we could hold in common with them. While we may not care for certain of their viewpoints, it is imperative that we care for them.

This is so hard to do, especially given that some enemies really are malicious—listen to the way David talks about them in his prayer in Psalm 17:

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
my deadly enemies who surround me.

They close their hearts to pity;
with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
They have now surrounded our steps;
they set their eyes to cast us to the ground. (Psalm 17:8–11 ESV)

And then there’s what Paul says, in several places, about his theological enemies. Here’s just one, where he warns Timothy against “certain persons” who desire

to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

I’ve met these people online. I’m not going to succeed at being civil by pretending that such people don’t exist. But I’m not going to succeed by placing everyone in the “wicked-arrogant-violent” category either. By God’s grace I wish to listen well enough (Prov 18:13) to discern who belongs in which category—and whether I myself ever stumble into arrogance. I think, too, that if love “believes all things” as Paul says (1 Cor 13), I’m going to err on the side of assuming good will in people.

God help us all in this social media world.

Wow. Just Wow.

Wow—from an evangelical literary review that looks promising:

I’m wondering if perhaps “fundies” have advantage in our emerging justice culture that others don’t have. Fundies grew up knowing that what they watched and where they went had moral importance. Fundies understand from an early age that entertainment is never just entertainment, and that mindlessly consuming anything is probably mindlessly consuming something bad. Fundies are well acquainted with putting moral demands on the world around them. They are usually scorned viciously for it. But doesn’t it feel like the fundies were ahead of the curve? I mean, when you live in a post-CTE, post-Weinstein, post-Nassar, post-Woody Allen era, might not the fundies have a lesson to teach about what life is like when you realize you can’t think deeply and enjoy heedlessly at the same time?

Just wow.

This supports what I’ve been saying to both of the people who will listen: American Protestant Christian fundamentalism, for all its faults, has something to offer to the body of Christ—and we who have been shaped by it ought, if possible, to strengthen what remains so we can keep giving those things. (What many fundamentalists don’t seem to recognize is that other Christian groups also have important things to offer to the body of Christ, too. But that’s another topic for another day.) I am abidingly thankful for the unshakeable impulse fundamentalism gave me, an impulse to check the Parental Advisories on a movie before I watch it. It’s been many years since I watched a movie for which the “sexual content” section on Focus on the Family’s Plugged In Online went beyond a line or two. My wife can tell you that this has meant many, many movie nights spent in a fruitless search with many rejected candidates. Many “movie” nights end with our watching an episode of the Dick Van Dyke show (and we just skipped one of those, too).

I’m not holy because of the things I don’t do. Asceticism ≠ holiness. But I certainly wouldn’t be holy, wouldn’t be obeying the principles of God’s word, if I trained my conscience to accept ignoring Eph 5:3 in my entertainment choices:

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.

It’s possible for Christians to deny the good gifts of God in culture by withdrawing from legitimate pleasures in entertainment media. But me and Andy Crouch don’t see that problem very often. It’s also possible for fundamentalism to become legalism, for personal standards to be applied Pharisaically to others, for us to practice our righteousness before men instead of before God, for us to claim biblical support for “standards” that we made up. Caveat lector.

But it’s also possible to so privatize the application of Scripture that I’m unwilling to call a spade a spade, particularly when that spade is practically nude and parading around for the world’s viewing pleasure and yet Matthew 5:27–30 is still in my Bible I just checked. I’m abidingly thankful for the power fundamentalism instilled in me to truly not care when the cool kids were all watching something I knew I shouldn’t enjoy. When people are being entertained by sins Jesus died to eradicate, I don’t fear vicious social scorn or the charge of legalism nearly as much as I fear the Lord. (I say this before God in good conscience, sadly aware of the times when I have failed.) This is my fundamentalist heritage.

One of The Most Profound Things Any Reader Has Said to Me After Reading My Book

A reader of Authorized wrote me:

I have found it interesting on the topic of italicized words in the KJV to notice the difference in the number of italicized words in the “original” 1611 KJV and the KJV of today. Using Mark 5 for instance, I believe the count is something like 20 in today’s KJV and 6 in the 1611 KJV (two of which are not even italicized in today’s KJV…“Talitha cumi”).

I responded:

As far as italics go, I felt like I never heard anyone give the other side, the “cons” of italics. And I began to feel like none of the “pros” I always heard were really pros.

One of the most profound things any reader has said to me after reading my book was this: “If my over-arching goal is to understand what God said, it changes everything in the versions debate.”

Loyalty to italics privileges “accuracy”—as sort of a disembodied reality—over understanding.

I’ll add: for every claim I’ve heard that the italics (in any Bible translation, not just the KJV) are beneficial, I hear zero stories showing that they aid understanding. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be there; not at all. Because I read Greek and Hebrew, I find them beneficial every once in a while.

But what are the italics doing there if they’re only helping scholars, and only helping them every once in a while? What they seem to do is make some lay readers feel safer, more confident that the translators aren’t putting one over on them. And that’s a bad place to be when reading a Bible translation. Simply put, all Christians—even Bible translators—have to trust other Christians when they read the Bible in translation. No one is such an expert that he or she can do without any help from others. Even the people who can read Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic fluently rely on specialized studies from scholars who’ve studied individual words.

If the very nature of the Bible is such that almost all Christians have to read it in translation (because very few people are fluent in all the biblical languages), and if the Bible never warns us to watch out for “bad” translations, and if the KJV translators themselves draw attention to the poor quality of the Septuagint translation (and they do in their preface) and yet the NT authors used it, maybe we can all lighten up a bit and be open rather than skeptical when evangelicalism’s top experts make and endorse a Bible translation.

Indeed, we have good reasons to trust our Bible translators; they’re not trying to adulterate the Word. These are the same people who are teaching in our best seminaries, writing our best books, and offering the best defenses of sound doctrines like inerrancy.

One of the most important messages I can send out to the faithful Christians filling church pews is that all the major evangelical English Bible translations are trustworthy.* There is no conspiracy to mistranslate or remove or obfuscate God’s words. I can disagree with individual translation decisions in all of the existing English Bible translations and yet say with confidence that they are all trustworthy, and all excellent tools for understanding God’s words.

The balance is off when we care more about having the words of God than about understanding them—like a kid who doesn’t follow baseball but wants to collect every last card for the 2003 Mets roster.

*I have far less expertise in Catholic and mainline Protestant translations, but in my experience it’s hard to really mess up a Bible translation unless you do so on purpose (I’m looking at you, New World Translation). If all we had were the New American Bible (Catholic) or the Common English Bible (Mainline Protestant), I think we’d still have reason to be incredibly grateful.

A Few Lessons I Learned about Learning

I recently had occasion to reflect on what I concluded about teaching from my own years sitting under it. As I enter more teaching roles, I have to ask myself, “What makes for good learning?”

  1. Learning is ultimately a mystery, because so little of what I do, so little of what I think I know, is traceable to “aha” moments. Nonetheless, teachers who applied appropriate methods really were more effective, particularly when it came to writing tests. Just because learning is a mystery doesn’t mean there’s no connection between the skill of a teacher and the learning outcomes of his or her students.
  2. Instead of aha moments, my education was, I think, a long initiation into a conversation that started long before I came along and will continue long after I’m gone. The initiation taught me the kinds of arguments and evidences that count as contributions. It taught me which voices were most important in that conversation both now and in the past. It also taught me where to go to look for their contributions. I know intuitively when someone is playing by the “rules” of the biblical studies game—but only because I listened and listened and listened for years. I’ll add that listening to the expositions of my long-time pastor, who was himself “in the game,” also had an immeasurably impact on me.
  3. A lot of things I was taught—and faithfully regurgitated for tests—didn’t really sink in until later, sometimes years later. As I began to see this, I began to think that education is about building connections among the things one learns at the base of Blooom’s taxonomy (1. remember, 2. understand). Peers played a key role here: friends who had made those connections slightly before I was able to were able to lead me to see them because they could easily remember what it was like not to know them. The “curse of knowledge” made it difficult for some teachers to bring me along at points. They couldn’t remember what it was like to be as ignorant as I was!
  4. Back to writing tests: I did feel that the teachers who had clear ideas of what kinds of skills I needed by the end of the course were better at measuring the outcome of their instruction. And those who worked up the ladder of Bloom’s taxonomy rather than staying on the lowest rung were better, too. Thankfully, I had a lot of good teachers.
  5. I do think that D.A. Carson was right when he said his students don’t remember what he taught them so much as what he was excited about. Therefore, I am certain that my students in the future will remember things about my wife, KJV-Onlyism, Stanley Fish, and ultimate frisbee.

Endorsements for Authorized

My new book is out in all major print and digital formats.

I’ve been trying to pick a moment when it was “born”… Was it when my favorite seminary professor said, “You prefer the Textus Receptus? Fine. Make a new translation of it”? Was it when my long-time pastor called the KJV an “impediment” to Bible study? Was it when I watched thousands of kids at a Christian camp memorize a verse I knew they didn’t understand? Yes, it was all those things. But the one moment when the real kernel of the book crystalized in my mind was when I realized that the word “halt” in 1 Kings 18:21 meant something different than I had always assumed. I quickly discovered that other long-time KJV readers had made the same perfectly natural mistake. I stumbled onto the concept of “false friends,” and then I started to see them pretty much any time I read a KJV passage of any length. This was something the Christian world needed to know about.

A few other links of interest:

Interviews

Reviews

Endorsements

Here are some trusted names in the area of Bible translation and theology who saw at least some value in the book. Regular readers of this blog will be shocked to find that several of them noticed humor in my writing; I really broke the mold to write this book. was shocked to get these endorsements. I’m grateful to the Lord and to these men.

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“This lightly written and frequently amusing book gently hides the competent scholarship that underlies it. For those who are convinced of the superiority of the KJV, whether for stylistic, cultural, pedagogical, theological, or traditional reasons, this is the book to read. Mercifully, Dr. Ward does not pummel his readers or sneer at those who take another position. Patiently, chapter by chapter, example by example, he makes his case—all of his work geared toward fostering more and better Bible reading. Highly recommended.”

D. A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL)

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“Mark Ward’s Authorized: the Use and Misuse of the King James Bible is a very cogent, concise, clear, and helpful book on the subject of Bible translations. It is full of information about how language changes and doesn’t change, and it is full of wisdom about how Christians should respond to these processes. Ward argues that we should find virtue both in the old and the new, both in ‘formal’ translations and in ‘functional’ ones. His argument is firmly based in the presupposition that Scripture is God’s word, and that we need it for our salvation and for living the Christian life. And he follows his own advice: he writes in the vernacular—to contemporary readers, in an ‘I-you’ dialogue. So the book is useful, both for beginning Bible students and for linguists. Particularly, it has the potential to gentle our arguments about translations, to reconcile factions, and, to that extent, to unify the church.”

John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando)

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“This is hands down the most interesting, educating, delightful and understandable work that I’ve read on the question of which English Bible translation to use. In addition to being factually accurate, it’s unusually balanced. I found the first chapter, on potential losses from jettisoning the KJV, to be as compelling in its arguments as the chapters following and making the case for multiplying translations. It’s charitable—I can’t imagine any reader, no matter what his position on the issue, feeling abused or slighted. And it’s pleasurable—rarely the case with an academic work. But truly, this one’s a page-turner.”

Mark Minnick, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies and Church Ministries, Bob Jones Seminary; senior pastor, Mount Calvary Baptist Church (Greenville, SC)

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“Mark Ward’s book on the King James Version is first of all a delightful book to read. I had a hard time putting it down once I started it. Another virtue of the book is that Ward grew up loving the KJV, and thus we have a friendly criticism of its use today instead of an attack from an outsider. Ward is convincing in arguing that the KJV should not be one’s primary Bible today since it is too antiquated for contemporary readers. In fact, he shows that the KJV translators would agree with that assessment, for they were excellent scholars who desired to translate the Bible into the vernacular. As Ward says, there is no need to dispense with the KJV altogether, and the best practice is to use a number of translations, and thankfully we are blessed with many fine English translations today.”

Tom Schreiner, professor of New Testament interpretation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)

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“Ward combines good writing and common sense to explain why English speakers today should both appreciate the KJV and benefit from excellent modern translations.”

Andrew David Naselli, associate professor of New Testament and theology, Bethlehem College & Seminary (Minneapolis)

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“Just because you know all of the words in an old sentence of English doesn’t mean you know what they meant when they were written. Mark Ward shows us, with a light but authoritative touch, that if we want the Bible to speak to us the way it did to those alive when it was written, we must adjust the vocabulary with meanings only scholars can make out—a revelation of a new kind.”

John McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics, Columbia University; host of the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley

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“This volume by Mark Ward is everything a book should be that deals with a controversial topic like the abiding value of the King James Version. It is engaging, readable, often humorous, and clever in its arguments. Most importantly, it is accurate in its facts, balanced in its presentation, and irenic in tone. I would highly recommend it not only for those involved in the KJV-only debate, but for anyone with an interest in Bible translation.”

Mark L. Strauss, university professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary San Diego

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“Can anything useful still be said on the use of the King James Version? Yes, and Mark Ward has said it. Mark focuses on those gaps between Elizabethan and contemporary English that are hard to spot and therefore cause confusion for today’s readers. He writes with compassion, humility, sympathy, clarity, and good humor about a topic that can still spark heated arguments. Authorized makes a contribution, even if a late one, to discussion by avoiding the topic of Koine Greek textual criticism and focusing on something every reader of the KJV is supposed to know: English.”

Kevin Bauder, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Minneapolis)

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“Authorized is a little book that packs a punch. It deals with a common issue in a helpful, humorous, and respectful way. It is worthy of any Christian’s time.”

Tim Challies, author and blogger

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“Mark Ward has done a superb job of handling a complex and sometimes delicate subject. He provides a wealth of information about the history, translation strategy, and current usefulness of the King James Version (KJV) for present-day Bible readers. He also makes a compelling case, for those of us who are native English speakers, that the best way for God to speak to our hearts is through a Bible version written in our true heart language—contemporary English. To suggest that a contemporary English Bible is better equipped to speak to the hearts of contemporary English speakers is not a denigration of the KJV; it is just sound logic. Mark Ward’s book clearly shows that the ongoing disputes about of the translation of Scripture into English, while generally driven by sincere motives, are often based on an oversimplified view of an incredibly complex process. As a Bible translator and teacher of future Bible translators, I will certainly recommend this book to any of my students who have questions or are interested in learning more about the King James Version.”

Dave Brunn, author of One Bible, Many Versions and International Translation Consultant at Ethnos360