Controls the Bible?
It's a bothersome question. After all, we do want a Bible that is trustworthy. We hope for a translation that is dependable, as accurate as possible, one that will not deliberately mislead us. But, would we want a translation we can control?
Apparently, some do. Al Mohler, Southern Seminary president, recently endorsed the SBC Holman Study Bible in opposition to the TNIV Bible saying: "This is an important thing for Southern Baptists to do, if for no other reason than that we will have a major translation that we can control."[i] Does that mean that, should the translators suggest a translation that is not in agreement with the private interpretation of certain significant leaders, we would have ways of "fixing that?"
A recent issue of Christian Ethics Today printed a lecture by William Hull of Samford University titled "Learning the Lessons of Slavery."[ii] He reminds us of a time in the South when the Bible was used to justify slavery and all who opposed were branded as "liberals." He offers a word of caution. "Beware of preachers who try to substitute the Bible for Christ because they cannot control Christ but can control how the Bible is interpreted from their pulpit, which is often in accordance with the power structure of the church."[iii]
The idea of "substituting the Bible for Christ" illustrates one of the troubling factors in the 2000 revision of the SBC Baptist Faith and Message statement. The 1963 BFM statement says, "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ." These words were deleted in the 2000 BFM statement. The latter substitutes, "All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is himself the focus of divine revelation."
The change is subtle but serious. Certainly all Scripture is a testimony to Christ, but, according to the 2000 BFM statement, Jesus Christ must not be considered the "criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted." Those who defend this deletion say it is necessary because some misguided interpreters have abused it.
To be more specific, Ken Hemphill calls the Christocentric language "a loophole . . . used by some unprincipled Baptist scholars (moderates) to ignore difficult texts which they do not believe to reflect the character of Jesus."[iv] This is another way of saying there are Baptist scholars out there whose interpretation of scripture we cannot control. These misguided interpreters, claiming Jesus Christ to be the criterion by which they interpret Scripture, are not coming to the same conclusions proposed by those currently in leadership of the SBC.
What is the solution to this dilemma? It is twofold. First, you remove Jesus Christ as the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted. Second, you encourage a translation (the SBC Holman Study Bible) that can be controlled by the SBC leadership.
One question remains for us. What has happened to the principle of "soul competency" that Baptists treasured over the years? I remember how thrilled I was to learn that Baptists believed in the "priesthood of the believer" and the right of each believer, under the Lordship of Christ (the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted), to read and interpret Scripture for himself or herself. Is it still possible to believe that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the believer "into all truth?"
Perhaps that helps us understand one other deletion. The 1963 BFM statement contains these words: "Baptists are a people who profess a living faith. This faith is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Therefore, the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ whose will is revealed in Holy Scriptures." These words were deleted in the 2000 BFM statement. So, as Baptists, we may now relax. We have a Bible we can control. The only problem remaining is how to control Christ.
_____________________this link to: "Mohler, Draper: TNIV controversy makes HCSB translation even more important", By Michael Foust