Well, my vacation is going nicely. My kids are behaving like etiquette geniuses and having fun at the same time, my wife is happy, and I am well-rested in spite of having forgotten my pillow at home.
However, I am not over the TNIV thing I posted last week. Three things have kept it stirred up in my mind, and I’ll list them in order of relevance to this particular post:
 least relevant, I attended a round-table discussion on the Emergent Church this week which included Chris Seay and Doug Pagitt, and while I found Chris more appealing than Doug in terms of “authenticity” (whatever that means), I think his view that evangelical circles have (in his words) “reduced the book of Romans to 4 propositions” is a bit shallow and a LOT more ungenerous than anything anybody in the watch-blog circles have ever said about Emergent theology. (take your grief to the meta) This relates to TNIV only in the fact that Seay and Pagitt both agree that the Bible needs a 21st-century “retelling”.
 The very same day, I witnessed Rob Bell in a taped message give Zondervan a big “high five” over TNIV because it’s now the Bible his church hands out in hard-cover before every service. Particularly, he is ecstatic over the translation of Eph 2:14-16 (which we will get to in a moment). And he said specifically to encourage the TNIV folks: “the critics never changed the world.” (note to self: don’t think about the Reformation when you think about Rob Bell saying this)
 Most relevant to this blog post, in the meta from last week’s post (which Brad from Broken Messenger called “incredibly balanced, reasonable and insightful”), one of the pro-TNIV guys said, “There isn't a language that is more worthy of translation than another. All that I'm hearing is that English of 40 years ago is better than today's; God likes it better, so change is bad.” (he can thank me for cleaning up his typos at his convenience) Because this view really underscores the problem in this debate, I want to use it as a spring board from the rest of what I have to say today.
There’s one common thread in all of these events which troubles me: the idea that somehow language is so dynamic and so transitive that it is somehow inconsequential even if it is monumentally necessary in the Christian life. To underscore this point, let’s look at the passage in Ephesians 2 which Rob Bell has brought to our attention, but first let’s look at it in KJV just as a starting point in English:
8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.Let’s face it: the KJV English is a kind English which is simply not used anymore -- but it is still readable by literate people (of which I hope all of you are). But KJV renders the Greek to say three things here (at least): first, man’s works do not save man, but Christ’s works do; second, God has created works for us to do because God has created us to do good works; third, the method by which God created us for good works is by making new men of us in Christ – and here when I say “men” I certainly mean “a new mankind” in the sense of “a new kingdom of God; men who are under God’s authority in obedience”.
11Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
The NIV renders this passage in this way:
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.What we can seem more clearly (because the NIV is written in contemporary English) in this rendering is that Paul is here speaking of the division the Law created among Jews and Gentiles as demonstrated by the division in the Temple between them. (if you want to read about the way that enmity was manifested in Ephesus, read Acts 19) Paul is saying plainly that there is a wall between the Jews and the Gentiles which Christ removes – that what separates the Jew from the Gentile in the Law is abolished by the work of the cross.
11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
You know: Dunn and Sanders notwithstanding, okay? I am not reducing the whole Gospel down to the removal of enmity between Jew and Gentile, but let’s agree that this particular passage says that this is part of the big picture. The way in which it says that, however, is the basis for my complaint today.
John Gill says this about v. 16:
by which "body" is meant, the human body of Christ, which the Father prepared for him, and he assumed, and that in order to make reconciliation for his people; and is said to be "one" body, because it was in one and the same body, which he reconciled both Jews and Gentiles unto God, and in or by one sacrifice of that body; reconciliation being so effectually made by it that there is no need of a reiteration: or the sense is, he reconciled them into "one body"; into one mystical body, the church, of which he is head; and this he did "by the cross", that is, by his blood shed on the cross, or by his suffering the death of the crossThink on that, now: Gill’s view is that Christ’s body is the “one body” which makes reconciliation by its sacrifice, and that there is now “one body” in the spiritual sense of the church. Amen, right?
Both senses are present in the passage: that Christ’s body was the sacrifice which was offered which reconciles the differences, and Christ’s body in the church is now united as one man is united in himself and does not quarrel with himself. The cultural distinctions are overcome and satisfied; the sin/law distinctions are overcome and satisfied; those distinctions are because two “men” are made into one “man” in Christ Jesus.
Nobody’s arguing yet, right? Let’s then represent TNIV in this passage:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.Let’s be clear about something: the main point – that Christ’s death satisfies the legal demands which separate the Jews and Gentiles is, unquestionably, left in tact. No question: the blood of Christ is clearly the means by which those who are outside Israel are brought near. Kudos to the TNIV for not destroying the Gospel.
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
The question is this: does it convey all the meaning both the NIV and KJV convey in this passage which Gill was able to perceive a couple of centuries before my small brain tried to grapple with this passage? The answer, as we read this passage, is “no”.
See: I would agree that it’s one kind of translation – even a valid kind of translation – to render v.15b as “to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace”. Why? Because that’s the general sense of the work of Christ in this passage: the overcoming of national/racial/cultural barriers which then makes the Jew and the Gentile into one new kind of people which is not like the old people. (and brother: that deserves a blog post or two in and of itself)
But the way by which Christ does this is not just by somehow erecting the cross: He does this by being the King and establishing the nation by means of his own one body. In one sense, Christ’s defeat of sin is the abolition of cultural barriers; in another sense, as this passage conveys, Christ is establishing His own nation or kingdom in one body, which is his own body.
That sense is completely lost in TNIV. The idea that Christ is creating merely a “new humanity” -- as if the problem was evolutionary -- is simply sub par. Mere humanity is not the issue: the headship of God and of Christ, and man’s obligation to God to be under His authority, is the issue. And TNIV simply doesn’t say anything to that end here. In fact, by reducing “one man” to “a new humanity”, TNIV eliminates the matter of federal headship from the text altogether.
So in that, it’s hard to imagine that my complaint is that KJV English is a better mode of the language than 21st-century English. My complaint is not that somehow the idiom of the language is sufficient or insufficient. My complaint is that the reading of the NT that comes from TNIV obliterates theological layers of meaning – when it is unnecessary. You know: if TNIV wanted to use gender-inclusive language in this passage, it could have said this in 15b: “to create in himself one new human family out of the two, thus making peace”. It could have said, “to create in himself one new nation out of the two, thus making peace”. Either of those would have been completely adequate to convey the force of the original metaphor.
You have to ask yourself: why choose such a soft and inadequate rendering when far better contemporary renderings were plainly available? That’s not about the limits of the modern reader: that’s about the limits of the translators.
I’m going back to vacation. You people try to keep yourselves out of trouble while I’m out of pocket. I’ll turn this van around right now, a swear ...