The Big No No at Mars Hill

Words vs Thoughts at Mars Hill

Stated vs Meant at Mars Hill

Words Carry Meaning at Mars Hill

Theological Jargon at Mars Hill

Not Receiving it at Mars Hill

When reading the final theological point that Mark Driscoll adduces to defend using the ESV at Mars Hill, I get the feeling that this was the goal all along. I’ll explain why shortly. But I think it’s worth pointing out that this whole thing was like a narrative building to the climax. Like Batman stopping Bane’s nuclear bomb in The Dark Knight Rises or Superman stopping Zod’s world engine in The Man of Steel.

Here’s the full text of the final theological point,


There is a great debate raging in academic circles about the language of gender and how it relates to biblical translation. The argument is commonly made that in generations past people used the word “man” or “mankind” to refer to humanity in general as an all-encompassing term that included both men and women. But, it is said, the understanding of these words has changed so that in the minds of the average person today it refers only to males and excludes females.

I would argue that the general assumption is not clear. It’s still common for people to understand words like “man” and “mankind” as a reference to both males and females. It is God who called the human race “man” in Genesis 5:1 (ESV, NIV, NASB, TAB, KJV, NKJV, HCSB) and not the “human race” (TM) or “human beings” (TNIV, NLT, CEV).

Psalm 8:4 serves as yet another practical example of the varying ways that differing translations take liberties with the clear text of Scripture regarding the issue of gender. The original text simply says “man,” yet some translations take the liberty to deviate from that: “mere mortals” (TNIV); “us humans” (CEV); “mere mortals” (TM); “human race” (NET); “human beings” (NRSV); and “mortals” (NLT).

We must be careful not to change God’s words in hopes that more people will be willing to accept them.

In its more insidious forms, the push for gender-neutral language is in fact a clear push against Scripture. Scripture, for instance, states that God made us “male and female” (Gen. 1:27). Consequently, in God’s created order, there is both equality between men and women (because both are his image-bearers) and distinction (because men and women have differing roles). This position is called complementarianism and teaches that men and women, though equal, are also different in some ways and therefore function best together in a complementary way, like a right and left hand (1 Cor. 11:3Eph. 5:22–33Col. 3:18–191 Tim. 2:8–3:13).

But those with a progressive agenda are seeking to eradicate the created distinction between males and females so as to validate new alternative lifestyles that are not acceptable according to Scripture. Translations such as the New Revised Standard Version accommodate this by wrongly translating “male and female” inGenesis 1:27 as the androgynous “humankind.” The New Living Bible translates it as the genderless “people.”

There are many reasons why all of this matters to Bible translation. First, there is pressure from some theological camps to change the masculine language that Scripture uses in favor of more feministic or gender-neutral language, which is not the language of the original text. Translations that use gender-neutral language include the NRSV, TNIV, NIV2011, NLT, NCV, GNB, and CEV.

Second, even more disturbing is the effort by some to feminize God. Perhaps the worst example of this is a recent translation released by a group of fifty-two biblical “scholars” called The Bible in a More Just Language. In an effort to remove what the group sees as unjust treatment of women and homosexuals, God the Father is now “our Mother and Father,” and Jesus is no longer the Son of God but rather the “child” of God. Satan, of course, is still referred to as male.

Theologically speaking, God does not have a biological gender because God is Spirit, without physical anatomy (John 4:24), and as a result is not a man (Num. 23:19). In using the word “he,” the Bible is not saying that God is merely a man, but rather that God is a unique person who reveals himself with terms such as “Father” when speaking about himself.

All Bible translation and teaching must include both accessibility to the reader and faithfulness to God the Holy Spirit, who inspired the writings of Scripture.

By way of analogy, John Calvin said that God uses terms such as “Father” to speak to us in baby talk, much as a parent uses words that their young child can understand in order to effectively communicate with them. Jesus said “Our Father” when he gave us our model of how to pray (Matt. 6:9–13). So referring to God as Father is not an antiquated oppression from a patriarchal culture, but an echo of the prayer life of Jesus. It is the predominant way God has chosen to reveal himself to us.

Third, we acknowledge that Scripture does infrequently describe God in terms that are more feminine in nature, such as a hen who cares for her chicks (Matt. 23:37). Nonetheless, such language is both infrequent and metaphorical, because God is no more a woman than God is a chicken.

God created mankind “male and female” (Gen. 1:275:2). We must not bend to the pressures of an androgynous culture that would oppose his created order and refer to men and women as anything less than simply “man,” as God does (Gen. 5:1). We must likewise not bend to the pressure to recognize God as someone other than “our Father” because that is the primary way he has chosen to reveal himself to us. In short, God the Father commands all who disagree with him on this point to repent of their nonsense rather than revise his name.

Before I get started I want to put my cards on the table. I am an egalitarian, not a complementarian like Driscoll. I could make this post about this ever divisive debate but I’m not going to focus on that. But let me also say that I’m not too keen on using feminine language–like “Mother” or “her”–to describe God. Both Driscoll and I agree that God is without gender. But this move seems to cut against the grain of what Scripture means when it says “Father” or “Son.” There is more than just mere gender going on in those terms and forcing both genders on God can undermine that. For me it’s a comfortability thing with the implications. Not a hard and fast conviction that I will die for.

Now, onwards and upwards.

I think Driscoll wrote these reasons to actually fire a shot in the gender debate more so than to just simply say that the ESV is the best available translation. Here’s why. Not in the first three points that Driscoll labors that we must keep the words or we lose Scripture. In this point it must be “man” or “mankind,” as opposed to “humans” or “human race” or “mere mortals.” As Driscoll says, “there is pressure from some theological camps to change the masculine language that Scripture uses in favor of more feministic or gender-neutral language, which is not the language of the original text.” (emphasis mine) His insistence on theological jargon. Scripture says some hard things that people won’t accept, the gender stuff being one of them.

But Driscoll has committed a cardinal sin. He uses the ESV to reinforce his theology. It’s an indoctrination move. He is a complementarian so he wants to use and advocate the use of a translation that will reinforce that position on gender. Anything that threatens this position is feministic, progressive and dangerous. It is not the Scripture that informs his interpretation and theology, but rather his theology informs his interpretation of Scripture. He is showing himself to operate backwards. And hence the use of a translation that insists on using masculine terms at all places.

I find this to be saddening. And I find this to be dangerous. It means that his preaching is about communicating not the Scripture but his own beliefs and importing them into his audience. The ESV becomes the tool to accomplish that goal. And I think the translation committee of the ESV wouldn’t like that. It’s a violation of what they are wanting to do. It’s a violation of what Driscoll has said in this article,

Practically, this requires that Bible translations be separate from and prior to Bible commentaries. A word-for-word translation (like the ESV) best enables this to occur by seeking, as much as possible, not to insert interpretive commentary into the translated text of Scripture…

The general problem with thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases is that their English interpreters include commentary that is not part of the original text and thereby mix Bible and Bible commentary. For the average reader, this is problematic because they do not know which parts of their Bible are from the original text and which parts have been added by commentators who were trying to convey their interpretation of its meaning. (emphasis mine)

The ESV has become, for him, commentary on the gender debate. Only he has masked this commentary with the commitment to reproducing the words of Scripture. It’s clever from a rhetorical perspective. He has laid a foundation to hide his read agenda. But ultimately, it fails. He is as guilty of translation as commentary as those he accuses.

For me, this undermines the credibility of his pulpit ministry. If he had stopped at the fifth point, it would have sounded like he was weighing in on the translation debate and where Mars Hill stands on the issue. But by moving on the sixth point, he reveals himself to be doing something harmful.

I like the ESV and would preach from it. I still read and study from it, as well as the NIV2011 and the NLT. More importantly I read the New Testament in the original Greek. If I was better at Hebrew I’d read the Old Testament in the original language too. But I don’t use a translation because it suits my theological agenda. I use it because when I read it, God speaks to me through his Spirit. And that’s the only reason to chose a specific translation, God speaks to you through it.

~ by hankimler on September 6, 2013.

One Response to “The Big No No at Mars Hill”

  1. That is a powerful insight in this last post.

    Typo: in 3rd paragraph from bottom, “read agenda” should be “real agenda”.

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