Northwestern University: a morality play for the church...

(by Tim) Sadly, reformed pastors identify less with those who live in rural communities and make their living as sheep farmers (what used to be called "shepherds") than with those who live in books and make their living as academics. So this story from today's New York Times is particularly instructive.

There's a big stink over a psychology prof at Northwestern University named J. Michael Bailey who's gored the ox of transexuals around the country. But before we get to Prof. Bailey and the transexuals, a few comments about the lesson Christians should learn from this battle.

For decades, freedom of religion and freedom of speech have been under a sustained attack and the content of the books we read, the sermons we listen to, and the Bibles we carry to church Sunday morning all bear witness to the attrition of these freedoms.

Speaking only of our Bibles, did you know that millions of Bibles used by evangelicals have had words deleted in order to avoid expressing incorrect opinions deemed to have the potential of being hurtful to women and Jews? Evangelical Bible scholars, linguists, translators, graphic designers, publishers, bookstore owners, and pastors all joined together to produce and sell Bibles that would not be vulnerable to charges of sexism or antisemitism. Many hundreds of times, the original Hebrew and Greek words were changed or deleted so the Bible would be less offensive to moderns...

To take just two examples, the Hebrew word 'adam' used by the Holy Spirit throughout the Old Testament to refer to both the male and female of the race was deleted and words less explicitly connected to the male of the species were substituted for it. God named the race, men and women together, 'Adam,' but finding God's usage offensive, card-carrying evangelicals who subscribe to the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture gagged God and replaced 'adam' with words they claimed were more culturally sensitive, more evangelistic, less open to misunderstanding than the word the Holy Spirit chose. And this same tactic was employed many hundreds of times across the text of Scripture. Every vestige of that "ancient patriarchal culture" that corrupted and misled Scripture's authors had to go so that Scripture would be able to communicate in our own utopian egalitarian age without being misunderstood.

Similarly, the Greek word 'Ioudaioi' used by the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John to refer to those who hated Jesus had to be changed or deleted in order to end the charge of antisemitism being leveled against God's Word. In a number of places, the Holy Spirit identified the group that hated and called for the persecution of Jesus "Jews," so prominent Jews attacked those places saying the Gospel of John expressed "antisemitism" and they publicly called for evangelical Bible publishers to tone down the rhetoric. Fearing the Jews, evangelical Bible scholars, translators, graphic designers, publishers, printers, bookstore owners, and pastors gave in to the extortion and the word was changed. No question that the text read "Ioudaioi." No question that 'Ioudaioi' means "Jews." No question that some places where Jesus is persecuted, the group doing the persecuting is identified as "Jews"--not "they" or "Jewish leaders." Nevertheless, out with the Holy Spirit's word and in with the word chosen by unbelieving Jews and the evangelical publishers who were their willing helpers. So the Hebrew word 'Ioudaioi' was changed to "Jewish leaders," or simply "they."

Throughout Bibles such as the New Living Translation and Today's New International Version, the Holy Spirit has been censored.Those who do not understand the terrible implications for the souls of Christ's sheep are culpable for their lack of understanding and ought not to be ordained or installed as officers in Christ's Church.

Those who do understand need to be on the watch for the next dogmatic intolerance that aims to silence the servants of God and the Word we proclaim.

Back, then, to Northwestern's J. Michael Bailey.

Bailey published incorrect opinions a couple years ago in a book he wrote about men who claim to be "transgendered." In The Man Who Would Be Queen, Bailey made the case that some men who claim to be "transgendered" aren't who they say they are. Whereas they claim nature made a mistake and locked a woman in a man's body, Bailey argued that some of these men are really guys who get sexual pleasure from posing as women. Then all Hell broke loose.

As you read the New York Times' account of this battle, a couple things are noteworthy.

First, Bailey's chief critic defends her actions with this statement: "Nothing we have done, I believe, and certainly nothing I have done, overstepped any boundaries of fair comment on a book and an author who stepped into the public arena with enthusiasm to deliver a false and unscientific and politically damaging opinion."

Make no mistake. Ministers of the Word and Sacrament who preach the Word of God faithfully concerning a whole host of matters addressed in its sacred pages are, in these United States and other nations around the world, under attack for promoting "politically damaging opinions." Consequently many of those ministers have learned their lesson and no longer use the word 'sodomy' in reference to homosexuality; no longer require that brides vow "to obey" their husbands; no longer plead with God, during the pastoral prayer, for an end to the slaughter of unborn children; no longer condemn the use of women as military combatants; no longer practice discipline for anything other than sins so blatant that not initiating discipline would render them shameless in the eyes of the congregation; no longer condemn the use of birth control by Christian couples wishing to avoid God blessing them with more children; no longer call men to lead and women to follow; no longer evangelize Jews or expose the heresies of Roman Catholics; no longer require those coming to the Lord's Table to be a member of a church, and thus in submission to that church's officers... We could go on at length.

What did we think the Holy Spirit meant when He warned us against pastors who have no shortage of sheep in their flocks because they've learned how to scratch their sheep's ears where they itch? If we've been keeping track, we would have noticed that we can't put this sin off on the mainline denominations any more. They're small and dwindling precisely because they've lost their touch at knowing where to scratch. So now, where are the pastors that all men are speaking well of?

Second, it would be hard to come up with a better description of one of the more trying aspects of the work of preaching than this description of Bailey's work by Ben Barres, a neurobiologist at Stanford:

Bailey seems to make a living by claiming that the things people hold most deeply true are not true.

"The things people hold most deeply true?" You know, the truths always being played in Borders, Barnes and Noble, and Starbucks like "there's no Heaven, no Hell below us, above us only sky."

And third, on the matter of how far these gentle people are prepared to go in silencing those who are politically dangerous, an LA "transgender advocate and consultant" named Andrea James "downloaded images from Dr. Bailey’s Web site of his children, taken when they were in middle and elementary school, and posted them on her own site, with sexually explicit captions that she provided." (James defended her actions by saying that) Dr. Bailey’s work exploited vulnerable people, especially children, and that her response echoed his disrespect."

Utterly, utterly despicable. May God judge her for this sin against the precious little ones.

By the end of the article it's clear the attacks against Bailey didn't quite carry the day. And yet, many of us serving the Church as pastors and elders wince as we read this statement found near the end of the article:

In October 2004, Dr. Bailey stepped down as chairman of (Northwestern's) psychology department. He declined to say why, and a spokesman (sic) for Northwestern would say only that the change in status had nothing to do with the book.

"Nothing to do with the book?" Sure, just like all those pastors' resignations being submitted every day around the country have nothing to do with the pastor's recent discipline of the woman who's a charter member of the church, nothing to do with the pastor's recent private rebuke of the rich man, and nothing to do with the pastor's recent sermon about the coming judgment and the eternity of Hell torments. No connection at all.

Men, we must take to heart the following exhortation of the Holy Spirit, and not allow fear to silence God's Word. We have a sacred trust and must desire, above all else, to be found faithful.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin... (Hebrews 12:1-4)

(Thanks, Dave Curell.)


I’m certainly not one to think commonly used lectionaries are inspired in their composition, but the Revised Common Lectionary, from which I preached last Sunday, lent itself to this very theme.

The gospel was Luke 12:49-56, where Jesus points out that he came to bring division and a sword. I chose to expound how such division arises by reference to the other Scripture appointed for the 11th Sunday after Trinity.

The Psalm appointed for last Sunday – Psalm 82 – is another one of those Asaphian compositions that upbraids the rulers of the earth, who are – by His express appointment – God’s ministers for punishing evil and rewarding good. Asaph lays into them for corrupting their mission and perverting the purposes God ordained for them.

The Old Testament lesson was from Jeremiah 23:23-29, where God, through Jeremiah, lays into the religious leadership for preaching their own dreams and imaginations rather than His word.

Of course, in the context where Jesus was ministering, the Roman authorities were good examples of what Asaph rebuked, and the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes were good examples of what Jeremiah rebuked. Indeed, Jesus had just been pronouncing woes on these religious leaders in the preceding verses of Luke’s gospel.

When Jesus came to rebuke the crowds as hypocrites for discerning the weather, but not discerning the times, it is clear (in light of the Psalm and OT lesson) that they should just as easily seen where Jesus and his ministry were headed. The Romans had already made abundantly clear what they would do with Messianic pretenders. And, Jesus rebuked the religious leadership as the sons of those who murdered the Prophets. What else was Jesus supposed to provoke, if not division concerning his identity and mission, and opposition from civil and religious leadership alike, leading to his execution?

The New Testament lesson appointed for last Sunday was Hebrews 11:29-12:2, which includes those grisly verses about the faithful who suffered mocking and flogging, and chains and imprisonment, stoned to death, sawn in two, killed by the sword; going about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented, of whom the world was not worthy. That, of course, is our lot, and it’s our lot because it was Jesus’ lot and we follow him.

So, when we read about the dastardly doings at Northwestern, or the fairy-tale Bibles churned out by the ostensibly Christian publishing industry – why are we surprised? That’s the kind of stuff Jesus encountered, and before Him it is as old as Jeremiah 23, as old as Psalm 82.

Were it not for the resurrection, it could give any faithful Christian the willies. No wonder the author of Hebrews urged his readers to keep their eye on Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith.

Thank you, dear brother. I look forward to seeing you soon, Lord willing.

Amen. Thanks, Tim.

Pastor Neimoller comes to mind, does he not?

Can you cite some examples of the verses changed to protect against charges of anti-semitism. I think I know, but I'm never sure if it's the translation or me.


Tim -- wow, a post I wish that I had written.

Let me ask something along these lines regarding the state of Bible translation in English. First, I would recommend Leland Ryken's the Word of God in English to anyone who wants to receive a serious introduction to what is at stake in the arena of Bible translation.

But here's my question: if we can agree that making the Bible a partner with other agendas -- like political correctness and other ideologies -- in rendering a translation is not just bad but sinful, what do we do with translations like NIrV and CEV which use a restricted English vocabulary for the sake of a particular audience (readers below the 4th grade)? Is that also a godless pursuit, or is that delivering a translation with an evangelical objective?

I ask because I am considering whether there's enough "bible" in these "bibles" to represent them as God's word. You Baylys are smart guys, so I'll ask you. :-)

Dear Kamilla and Frank,

Examples of changes to ‘Ioudaioi’ can be found here:

Also here’s an article I did for Banner of Truth's web site back in 2002 that addresses these issues:

Then, of course, this whole subject index on this blog:

Concerning simplified versions of Scripture like the Living Bible, the Message, the NIrV, and the CEV, we have to distinguish between simplification, on the one hand, and bowdlerizing, muting, or gagging the Holy Spirit at points of cultural sensitivity, on the other hand. And of course, both must be distinguished from exposition.

Exposition is at the center of the worship of the People of God, and much of the current movement into neo-orthodoxy that these gender-neutered and anti-semitism-abhorring translations represent is a rather insidious movement of the work of exposition from Bible studies, commentaries, and sermons through translation directly to the page of Scripture. Put simply, this means that instead of pastors telling us what the text “really means” in corporate worship, scholars tell us what it “really means” directly in the text of Scripture. So translation becomes exposition and academics, the high priests of the western world, replace men set apart to church office by the laying on of hands and prayer in the interpretation and application of the Word of God.

But what about new believers, newly literate adults, and the simple?

I’d suggest we label such non-Bibles something other than “Bible.” I don’t know what, exactly, but it shouldn’t be hard to come up with a label recognized across the world that observes truth in advertising by making a clear distinction between simplified non-Bibles and the real thing. And the word ‘paraphrase’ has come to mean something too close to ‘translation’ to do the job.

Finally, I’m not much on the need for such Bibles in the first place. We already have Bible story books.

Then too, we worship the God of the word, and we must repent of our faithless dumbing down of the souls under our care such that we no longer evangelize souls to the Church and Scripture as we evangelize them to the Cross.

I suspect today’s effort to rob every ploughboy of the Word of God, supposedly because it’s too difficult for him to understand, has a lot more to do with the sloth of the ploughboy's parents and those of us called to preach and teach him the Word than with the ploughboy’s intellectual limitations.

To build on what Tim is saying regarding these good questions, the Ethiopian eunuch needed someone to explain Isaiah to him, not someone to dumb down or change Isaiah.

Furthermore, has anyone out there ever met a ploughboy who couldn't understand the Word if he wanted to? I've met more than one ploughboy with a pretty sharp knowledge of Scripture. On the contrary, a ploughboy's only barriers to understanding it are the same barriers I have (pride, lack of interest, lack of diligence, listening to bad teachers on TV/radio, etc.)

Tim and Frank,

Thanks for the links, Tim.

I am wondering, since Frank brings up Ryken's book about translation - are either of you familiar with the forthcoming Literary Study Bible using the ESV? It is edited by Philip and Leland Ryken and focuses on the literary forms used. It sounds like a worthy project.

I agree, Tim, about the (non)need for dumbed down translations and the dumbing down of souls. Isn't the culture already dumbed-down enough? I was never fond of the NIV and then I found out it was geared to an 8th grade reading level. Hmmmm. I think the proliferation of translations and niche study bibles muse be in inverse proportion to the actual amount of time they are used. I'm so confused (in a way) by it all that I have four stdy bibles on my shelf and am using none of them at the moment. I've gone back to simply reading the good old NASB my mother gave me when I went off to college.

I may get the Literary Study Bible if it is at a reasonable price. What do you recommend in terms of study Bibles?


I am not sure I'd call that a Freudian slip, but I "muse" apologize once again for my bad typing

Bad fingers, Bad!


Adam, Tim, Kamilla:

I think that it's one thing to say, as Tim did, that exposition is at the center of the worship of the People of God, and another to be concerned about "dumbing down". After all, isn't "exposition" "discourse or an example of it designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand"? Wouldn't a less-charitable description of "exposition" be "dumbing-down the message so somebody can get it"?

On the one hand, I really hear and feel the concern to distinguish between what the NLT does and what the NASB does and explain that to people; and again, in my personal teaching and public exposition I am urgent to teach from a -formal- translation for the sake of putting people in the center of God's message insofar as a translation can do that. But while we have a high regard for the sufficiency of scripture which drives us to a formal methodology in translation, can our high regard for sufficiency also not cause us to accept that there are circumstances where the authority and intention of God's word superintends the process and the medium of its going-forth?

Here's what I mean by that: for a millenium, the Vulgate was the standard "common" translation. Are we willing to say that this example of subjective translation of God's word corrupted God's word so badly that no one was saved after this text became the liturgical standard? Did the Vulgate supplant God's word or in some way cause God's word to return to Him void?

I think that's a very immediate question when we are considering this issue. I realize we are in a fight against the liberalization of the text. I think there's a real irony in the fact that TNIV demonstrates a much more consistent methodology than MSG, but in doing so actually does -more- harm to the text because of its posing as objective scholarship. But there is also the question of how we conceive of "sufficiency" for the text in translation.

My thanks for letting me air this out here. It's kind of you to respond and think on these things with me.


Is exposition a dumbing-down of the message. I hope not! It should be a magnifying of what’s really there. A paraphrase by nature dumbs-down to the degree that it reduces the complexity of the original text to a few simple concepts. A faithful exposition on the other hand should magnify and enhance the complexity which can be seen in the translation (and sometimes in the biblical languages). Expositions that dumb-down are worse in my mind than paraphrases. A paraphrase—or any translation for that matter—dumbs-down by necessity; it’s the nature of the task. An exposition enriches or it is no exposition at all.



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