Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Personal Encounter (while reading the ESV)

I just wanted to share a brief encounter I had at a local bookstore cafe yesterday. I was sitting at a table, sipping my hot chocolate, listening to my I-Pod, while doing some prep work for the STB comprehensive exam that I will be taking in April. (BTW: David at Better Bibles Blog has an interesting post about today's generation and Bible publishing, which corresponds to my need to do multiple things at once.) Anyways, on my table were my new ESV w/ Apocrypha, Raymond Brown's Introduction to the New Testament, HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, my notebook, and a Catholic devotional book. Needless to say, a younger couple (maybe 5 years younger) came up to me on their way out to ask what I was reading. I told them that the Brown book was a good NT introduction. They then asked what I was studying for, which I told them was a graduate degree at a local seminary. Then they asked which denomination, at which I told them Catholic. At that point, they recommended, almost immediately, that I get some books by Wayne Grudem and John Piper. I told them that I was indeed familiar with their works, but had not read anything by them. At that point, they smiled, wished me a good day, and left.

So as they were leaving, I wondered why they decided to immediately recommend those authors. Did they just assume that since I was using an ESV that I would be well read in the works of Grudem and Piper? Or perhaps were they trying to steer me towards a more reformed theology? I am really not sure. In my line of work, I have had multiple encounters with other Christians, mostly Baptists it seems, who have tried to challenge me on Catholic theology. While I don’t personally set out to challenge other Christians on their beliefs, it has always struck me at how oftentimes I am looked on as not even being Christian, simply because I am Catholic. Now I am not suggesting that the couple I met yesterday had those thoughts, but some of those whom I have encountered certainly have acted and said as much.

For me, I am always ready to talk about my Catholic faith with those who are interested in listening. It’s not like I am ashamed to be Catholic or that I think there are some problems with Catholic theology. I don’t. I am a proud JPII Catholic and can defend my faith with the best of them. However, what is odd to me is that when I am sharing my experiences as a Catholic with a Protestant, it never occurs to me to regard them as anything else but a fellow Christian. Again, let me point out that I have some wonderful friendships with Protestants who don’t think this way, but I have run into a few, more and more recently, who have regarded me as being equal to a Roman pagan of the 1st century. Oftentimes in these situations, I feel as though I am being talked down to, as if I were a fourth grader.

I bring up this personal story in order to put this in context with the ESV. Is there a connection with those who primarily use the ESV and anti-Catholicism? I don't know to be honest, but it certainly makes me think about whether or not to use the ESV.


Esteban Vázquez said...

Congratulations, Tim, you have just been punked! Er, witnessed to. I meant to say "witnessed to."

While the driving force behind the ESV was (in my view, ill-informed) concern about inclusive language, it is also a fact that those so concerned are, by and large, "neo-Calvinists." These are also, therefore, the chief constituency of the ESV. Needless to say, the resurgence of historic Reformed proclivities (especially among younger) Evangelicals usually also entails a retrieval of classical Reformed ecclesiology with its polemic against the Papal church: to put it in the language of the Belgic Confession, that the Papal church is a "false church" in which the Gospel is not rightly preached, and the sacraments not rightly administered.

As far as I know, Grudem and Piper themselves have not published any polemical works against the Roman church, but needless to say, they are committed to the Reformation cause and share the main thrust of the Reformation's critique of its theology. Grudem, however, seems to make allowance for the existence of "true churches" within the structure of the Roman church (cf. Systematic Theology, p. 866); his main bones of contention are the "teaching[s] of prayers for the dead and justification by faith plus works, not faith alone" together with the canonical status of the "Apocrypha," all sanctioned by Trent (cf. ibid., p. 59).

Anyway, by directing you to Piper and Grudem, this undoubtedly well-meaning young couple likely meant to direct you to what they understand is a faithful exposition of true Biblical doctrine, which I'm sure they hope will correct you own, deficient belief, and hopefully bring you to a true church where Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered.

Timothy said...


Witty as ever!

To be honest, whenever I am engaged in discussions like these, I am just happy to leave the conversation without being told I worship Mary, or I believe in "working" my way to heaven, or being suggested to me that I am a member of "the whore of Babylon". If those things don't happen, I consider it a good dialogue!

Esteban Vázquez said...

Well, how typical of godless Papists like yourself to not want to hear the truth!

Anyway, I'm just glad that such types seldom know what "Eastern Orthodox" means, and are content to know that we're not under the False Prophet riding the Beast who leads the Whore of Babylon.

Biblical Catholic said...

The ESV has a reputation for being a 'Reformed' (i.e. Calvinist) Bible.

I have seen on many blogs people saying things like 'they shouldn't call it the English Standard Version, they should call it the 'Reformed Standard Version''

In my opinion, this criticism is unfair.

The reason why the ESV appeals to Calvinists is because it uses the kind of formal theological language that tends to be avoided in many contemporary translations. Calvinists are people who tend to prefer the use of formal theological language, and they tend to prefer to literal translations because they believe in the 'plenary' theory of inspiration (i.e. that God inspired the Biblical writers even down to the exact words that they chose) and thus they prefer translations that attempt to preserve as much of the original wording as possible.

Finally, if you look at the list of translators and editors of the ESV, you will see that many of them are well known Reformed theologians.

So there is really no question that Calvinists have gravitated towards the ESV.

However, as far the ESV actually being biased....

Let's be honest here: 94% of the wording of the ESV is word for word identical with the 1971 ESV. The RSV is, I think we can all agree, an ecumenical non-sectarian translation.

The RSV is to this day STILL the only English translation that has been authorized for use in the liturgy by each of the 3 branches of Christianity, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.

There is simply no way that the 6% of the text that they chose to change could possibly shift the translation from being ecumenical and non-sectarian to being biased in favor of Reformed theology.

There really aren't all that many Bible verses anyway that can really be 'slanted' towards one theology or another by a translator, at least not so far as the translator is honest and not resorting to just making things up.

As far as this couple, they may have been attempting to 'witness' to you, or they may have simply have wanted to say something that sounded intelligent, and not knowing about any other theologians, thought that someone who was interested in theology would be interested in their works. It may have been entirely innocent.

In the same way, I have had people suggest to me, when they saw me reading a book on theology or Bible that I read a book by Philip Yancey or Charles Colson.

Hard to say what their intent might have been.

Timothy said...


Very true about the RSV. It is still, in many ways, the most ecumenical Bible out there. Although, the NRSV comes pretty close, particularly with the recent decision by the Vatican to allow the Canadian Bishops conference to use a version of the NRSV for Mass up there. (Although I have still yet to see any information about any changes that were made for the lectionary.)
Will the ESV ever reach the level of acceptances like the RSV? Probably not in my opinion.

And in regards to my encounter, I certainly don't hold any animosity towards the couple. In many ways I appreciated the fact that they come up to me. I actually enjoy being able to talk about the Faith in public, outside of the Churches. Some people feel that religious discussions in the open can be wierd, but I think we need more of it!

Kevin A. Sam said...

Tim, another possibility is that they might have thought you were an Catholic-evangelical/protestant. There are many out there who are or were influenced by evangelicals.

I don’t mean to poke a hole in your theory but I do know that Lutherans and Anglicans also read the ESV. The MS-LC Lutherans have switched to the ESV for their new service book. Not all protestants think this way but I do know many do. I used to think this way before I ever understood what a Roman Catholic truly was so I have to confess on behalf of all the ignorant protestants out there.

Moreover, many are even more ignorant of what an Orthodox Christian is (I also apologize to Esteban for this ignorance). I’m ashamed of our ignorance and I apologize. However, hopefully, I may be, I do see an increasing knowledge of RC’ism in all protestants and evangelicals.

Timothy said...


Thank you for your insights. And your point about the ESV's use in the Anglican and Lutheran churches is well taken.

Also, I do want to reiterate that many of the Protestants I talk with and do ministry with are not like the anti-Catholics I mentioned in the post. The overwhelming majority treat me like another brother in the Lord.

Likewise, I do think there is some better understanding in the Catholic church about our Protestant brothers and sisters. No matter how long it takes for there to be true unity in the Body of Christ, I think it is essential that, at the very least, we regard each other as fellow Christians. I think most do!

Anonymous said...

Timothy, I too know the bias against the Roman church, being that I live in Alabama, where relatively very few Catholics reside. I used to also have such an understanding of Roman Catholicism until I began to watch EWTN and reading the cathechism several years ago. I am not Roman Catholic but Anglican, considering myself an Anglo-Catholic. The Anglican church carries a tremendous stigma in my area also, many calling us "closet Catholics", so I understand exactly how you feel. I do however feel the spirit of ecumenism is slowly bringing the branches of Christainity closer together. Until this happens we will all have to remain tolerant and pray "that we all may be one".

Anonymous said...

Sadly, many Protestants still
view Catholics as non-Christian idol worshippers. Doesn't matter
that the Temple had cherubims,etc
by the mandate of the LORD.

We have one head pastor (shepherd), Christ's Vicar on Earth, the Pope who on matters of faith and morals may speak infallibly. Whereas the rest of Christendom has a multitude
of pastors and denominations
who speak infallibly, but who are somehow not in agreement. Hmm?
I wonder? Isn't Satan the author
of Confusion? Didn't Jesus wish that we would "be one."

I've seen Protestants enshrine
(idolize) their pet doctrines,
pastors and self-made theology.
But because these idols are not physical, they don't realize
they are entertaining a form of idolatry in their minds, hearts
and spirits.

I actually feel for our separated brethren, even though they exasperate me. Many of them
reject Catholic Theology out of hand. Shouldn't they test our
spiritual propostions like you would test anything else?
But if St. Bosco's visions are correct, perhaps we needn't worry. I believe he said that two pillars would guide the Church through the
coming storms -- Jesus, the Summit of our Faith, present in the Eucharist and mankind's "single solitary boast," Mary, the Mother
of God will continue to get us through the ages. Much of the rest of Christendom will follow,
even if they don't understand all
that's spiritually going on.
But then again who does?

Mockery, misunderstanding and persecution are the lot for us Christians in this world. Thankfully it's been mild for us Christians in America.
But if it were ever to get bad,
my take is that the Church Christ founded would be the first to
have problems. (Judgement begins in the House of the Lord) And we would be the first to get out of trouble. I fear that the purgation
of persecution will kick-off
a great wave of Christian unity.

In the end, however, it must be the LOVE we have for each other that will unite us and be
a beacon for the world. The world
must once again know we are Christians by the love we have for one another. As Bishop Sheen said"
win an argument lose a soul."
Yes, we should defend our fath with biblical exegesis and apologetics. But for the Christian
smarty pants (in our Church and others) I make a habit after talking with them as I'm leaving I say this this blessing: "May
Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, True God and True man
bless and keep you my brother(sister). And I mean it! I even say it to Jehovah's Witnesses!
I can't help myself ;)
I also will introduce
myself as a Christian. Invariably
the question will arise where I go to Church. Gleefuly, nay mischeviously, I suggest you reply
with a similiar answer like St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church. :)
Another good tool is hand them a
Catholic Cheat Sheet with a list
of Catholic Doctrines with
scripural references to back-up the doctrines.

Emilia said...

I have a copy of the Gideon's ESV and I did find one verse that I think lens Calvinistic: "he PREdestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will" Eph 1:5
In the NABRE and the NRSV we only have "destined"
That being said, I am plenty aware that predestined is an actual term in the bible that is present in both Protestant and Catholic translations, but there are favorite passages that Calvinists turn to and one of them is in Ephesians, although I am sure that the passage is in chapter not chapter 1.
Anyway, IMO in the places where predestined is used I don't think it is in the Calvinistic sense. Though granted I don't think I have examined all the places where predestined pops up, I think some one once said that the first occurrence of it is in Genesis?

Emilia said...

Uh, my grammatical errors and missing words!
What I meant was, "leans Calvinistic," and the chapter in Ephesians that I think contains a classical Calvinistic proofread text is chapter 2.

Rob Stening said...

I know I'm late to the party but thought I'd contribute an anecdote. Some time ago I contacted Crossway regarding the bulk purchase of some ESV's for my then-church (I had to twist the pastor's arm to choose something other than KJV). Eventually the pastor changed his mind about getting pew bibles at all so it fell through, but Crossway put me on their routine mailing list. (Not that I ever consented to that, but whatever).

The latest mailing list item I've just got from Crossway includes the teaser for an article "The Church's Central Role in the Coming of the Kingdom of God" by Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung. The teaser reads "It's not to any government, nor to any king or pope or any other ruler, but rather to the church [...] that the keys of the kingdom of God are given".

Although I'm a Protestant, when I read that, the pope reference struck me as unnecessary and obnoxious. This suggests to me that anti-Catholic tendencies can be found not just among the users of the ESV... but also it's publisher.