Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bruce Waltke drives me a little nuts... again

(Yes, yes; probably more of a "putt" than a "drive.")

Full disclosure.
Many don't think that you can have spirited disagreements with someone, and still cherish enthusiastic admiration for him. I can. I do, for Dr. Waltke.

Waltke is a towering Old Testament scholar. He has a high view of the authority of Scripture, and is first-rate in his possession and use of the tools of academia. His commentary on Proverbs may well be the best one ever written. If you listen to his lectures—and I recommend that you do—you gain the impression of a man who humbly and ardently loves the Lord and His Word. The church will be indebted to him for decades to come, or centuries, should the Lord tarry.

You're waiting for the "but." Here it comes.

But he says things that sometimes just drive me a bit batty. I have already ranted about Waltke's bizarre (and, to me, non-sensical) dance with "Yahweh" in his otherwise-breathtaking Proverbs commentary. Well, now he's rattled my cage again.

I'm in the process of listening through Waltke's lectures on preaching Proverbs, given at Dallas Theological Seminary, as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lecture speaker. They're thought-provoking, challenging, deep, as you'd expect.

But in the course of the first lecture, Dr. Waltke jarred me a few times. First, he said that "all translations" except the JW's New World version "are faithful and adequate." He clarifies that he means that "all translations lead their audience to faith in Jesus Christ, into sound doctrine, and never into heresy." He then said that a congregation can respond to any passage of Proverbs using any English translation.

This in itself was fairly dizzying to me, especially coming from a Hebrew scholar. Why study Hebrew, then? Just trust the experts. Every argument I've used when teaching Hebrew is smashed to the ground, if Dr. Waltke is saying, "Just trust the translators. They're experts. You're a novice."

Then Waltke did go on to allow that not all translations were equal as to exegetical accuracy or fluency. One begins to relax — except that he immediately states that he thinks the best translation is the TNIV! Yes, that's right; that bastard child of political correctness, which (as I've read the saga) never should have been published. This is a model translation, to the good Doctor (who, himself, was involved in its translation).

Now, honestly and sincerely, such is my respect for Dr. Waltke that I thought I should probably give it another look, and see if I was missing something. I didn't get very far. In Proverbs 16, the first two verses' singulars (in Hebrew) are changed to plurals, to avoid offending radical feminists. Same with verse 9. Same with verse 20. I could go on, and on, and on.

This is a very trendy fad, and I know an advocate could make himself look very sophisticated in browbeating down a simple reader such as myself. But as one who advocates verbal plenary inspiration, and who knows enough Hebrew to know that the authors could have used plural numbers if they'd meant to, I can never imagine being convinced that the pluralization of singulars arises from fidelity to the text of Scripture.

Nor would Dr. Waltke be impressed by my refusal to acquiesce. He speaks dismissively of "novices" (like me, I suppose) and their insistence on more literal renderings, and expresses some horror at pastors who dare to correct established translations. He sniffs that he's never heard a pastoral correction that hadn't been rejected by committee. Waltke further expresses agreement with Erasmus' objection that Luther's break with Rome would put a Pope in every pulpit.

Think that one over for a moment.

I suppose that, if anyone has earned a right to an elitist attitude, it would be a man like Bruce Waltke. I say that without sarcasm. As I wrote, and will likely say every time I write of him, Waltke is a towering scholar, and doubtless a seasoned brother in the Lord, worthy of deep respect. If I had achieved half of Dr. Waltke's accomplishments, I fear I'd be impossible to live with.

But this dismissive attitude concerns me. I'll go ahead and anger some of my friends by expressing aloud my curiosity as to whether this played any part in Waltke's move from dispensationalism into covenantalism. I've read Waltke's article in the S. Lewis Johnson Festschrift. Inherent in CT is a contempt for those who insist on thinking that the OT is not a codebook, that God actually meant what He said to His original audience, and that He spoke to be understood. If we think all these prophecies about Israel are really about Israel, we're just not being deep and nuanced enough. We need the magisterium to explain them down to us.

For my part, I respectfully decline the offer. If the Bible is that deeply coded, that in need of expert re-writing, then it is not as it represents itself (God's true and perspicuous word to man), and I want no part of it. The perspicuity of Scripture played a major role in my conversion. If I'm to give that up, my reason for becoming a Christian will also be undone.

Oh, and one more thing: Waltke does yet something else about "Yahweh" in these lectures. He doesn't use "Yahweh" or "Lord" (as in the commentary); he says that YHWH means "I AM," so he says "I AM" every time the text says "Yahweh." I didn't know many argued today that YHWH actually means "I am." If Waltke says it, there must be some good reason for it, and I'd like to read it.


JackW said...

"Waltke further expresses agreement with Erasmus' objection that Luther's break with Rome would put a Pope in every pulpit."

So THAT is where that came from, I thought it was Ray Stedman.

From my experience I think he was right. If you don't have an Elder ruled church, it's being ruled by a pope where Jesus is not the head, but just the figurehead.

Pastor Steve said...

Uh oh. Here it goes. An elder rule discussion from a post on perspicuity. That sounds about right.

On topic, I'm thankful for the incite on Waltke since I just purchased his Proverbs commentary. My pastor had him at Trinity and really praised him, but few of us are perfect. And moving from dispensationalism to covenantalism? That just ain't right. Although if you start to blur the literalness of translation, why not blur the literalness of prophecy too.

JackW said...

You're right Elder Steve ... sorry.

Pastor Steve said...

Jack, I'm not saying you're wrong on church polity, but I also don't think having a single pastor lead a church necessitates a pope like dogma. Anyways...hope I didn't come across as to harsh in my earlier post. I can do that sometimes.

LeeC said...

Thats some pretty major stuff there Dan. No way am I denigrating his past contributions, but thats a scary, scary place where hes standing now IMHO.
Once you cast aside the perspicuity of Scripture, and the principle of the clearest interpretation you can make a text say just about whatever you want.

Not neccesarrily. You could also have a star chamber of deacons with the authority of elders.

DJP said...

I hope that it comes across, Lee, that I too am not denigrating any of Waltke's many wonderful contributions, past and (hopefully) future.

I just have these strong disagreements with him.

And don't tell anyone I said this, but the Bible never says a church needs more than one elder!

LeeC said...

Don't worry Dan, it certainly was clear your appreciation for what he has done.

As to the other, I dunno. Explicitly perhaps, but the case is very strong for a plurality in that Elders plural is always used. I was in one very strong debate over having a required amount of elders once. My stance was that the Bible refers to elders in the plural consistantly, but to make a hard rule for some set number opens you up to making elders to fill a quota and falling short on thier qualifications.

Pastor Steve said...

Dan, since you quietly continued down the elder path, I would be interested in a post on that topic if you are so inclined. It seems that this is a growing debate in baptist circles (at least the small one I travel) brought on by the practices of good men like MacArthur and Dever.

DJP said...

As the kids say, "I'll get right on that."


Pastor Steve said...

Not that I am a "trecky", but I always cracked up when Captain Piccard said, "Make it so."

donsands said...

What makes such a scholar and seasoned man of God, be so indifferent. I don't get it. It just don't seem right.

DJP said...

Pastor Steve—would you please drop me an email? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Here! Here! To all who humbly learn what they can and show respect when they disagree. The body of Christ is made up of such as these.

Daniel said...

"all translations lead their audience to faith in Jesus Christ, into sound doctrine, and never into heresy." ...Why study Hebrew, then? Just trust the experts.

I stumbled on your blog from a post at freerepublic, but I just had to comment on this.

Many atheists have asked me why so few Christians know enough intricacies of the Bible to answer their objections. My answer is that is because they only have to know enough about Christianity to satisfy their faith. I think God did this for a purpose, because not everyone can be a Hebrew or ancient Greek scholar, and may have little time for such thought beyond their own day to day survival.

I am not familiar at all with Dr. Waltke, but from your description it seemed like he was talking from a pragmatic approach for the many rather than to the few who have the time and brainpower to delve into the original untranslated text. I don't believe what Dr. Waltke is suggesting that if you want to do an in-depth study of a narrow passage that knowing something about the original language is unnecessary. I think he is objecting to the idea that one should be always second-guessing the translators in everyday Bible reading. Or that preachers should give their congregations that idea.

DJP said...

There's a lot of truth in what you say, Daniel, and thanks for sharing it.

But in this series, Dr. Waltke is speaking specifically to seminary students, and specifically in the context of sermon preparation. I agree that not ever Christian needs to learn Hebrew and Greek; but I equally emphatically insist that every pastor does. Given what Waltke says, it's hard not to imagine pastors or seminarians asking, "Why bother?"

Daniel said...

That's really hard to imagine that a well respected scholar would discourage others from learning. I really hope that he meant to simply caution against giving your congregations the wrong idea about their Bibles.

However, a friend of mine came back from Fuller with stories about how the lecturers were teaching that the Bible wasn't really true. So I guess anything is possible.

LeeC said...

You can hear wierder stuff thn that coming out of Fuller. Trust me. I live down the street from there, and two of my co-workers are big Fuller advocates with their pastors from there.

They have so many misconceptions. :-(

Blogger won't let me delete my own profile. said...

The comments that suggest Waltke is weak on inerrancy are going way too far and Dan, your comments on Proverbs 16.1-2 seem to miss the point of a dynamic translation. In this particular instance I don't see why it matters that these singulars are changed to plurals...

DJP said...

As to the former, you'll have to be more specific. Until then, I still agree with me.

As to the latter, simple: it isn't what the text says!

Once we start down the road of saying that this or that that is actually a feature of the text is irrelevant, we begin wandering from any reasonable application of a belief in plenary, verbal inspiration. Hebrew and Greek writers knew perfectly well how to use both singular and plural. We must respect their choices.

Particularly in this case: the motivation is an ungodly social trend. Such a disease should never have an impact on translation. Never!

Blogger won't let me delete my own profile. said...

Disregard my former comment.

I am only trying to figure out if what you're saying is that: (1) in this passage the singulars cannot be translated as plurals or (2) that in no circumstance can a singular in Hebrew or Greek be translated as plural in English.

It sounds to me like you're asserting the latter which infers that English grammar and Hebrew grammar utilize the same rules and methods of communication and thus should be translated as such.

Please clarify because I don't think you mean to say this, not because I know you but because I don't know how it is possible to come to this conclusion with a knowledge of any language, let alone Hebrew or Greek. By this criteria you would be renouncing any adn every translation because even the NASB and ESV must translate dynamically at some points. It would be absurd to list every instance that "literal" translations do this.

My bottom line/point/question(?) is: The TNIV has its problems, but how do singulars and plurals factor in (esp. in light of epistolary plurals, literary plurals, etc. etc. and all the other concepts involved when translating ANY language into another)?

My problems with the TNIV surround all the egalitarian "politics," and if that is your problem, I understand. What singular to plural has to do with it, I'm not sure. Isn't "mankind" implied anyway?

Again, this is not coming from a defender of the TNIV.

DJP said...

Let's stay with the specific I raised, shall we?

In passage after passage, the TNIV perverts the perfectly-comprehensible singular into a plural, for no other reason than falling before feminist "concerns." In my read-through of Proverbs in Hebrew, comparing with TNIV, verse after verse contains the note, "TNIV pluralizes to fit its agenda," simply because they don't wish to use the perfectly pellucid "He who," or the like.

As again in Psalm 1. There is no textual reason to ignore the psalmist's wording and translated the singulars as plurals. Yet the TNIV does.

DJP said...

PS - by "contains the note," I mean I made that note in my BW8 notes editor.

dannyiselin said...

The real evolutionary controversy with Waltke (sorry, but his voice is a dead ringer for the voiceover of Elmer Fudd!!!in the Looney Tunes cartoon series of the 50s)is his theological one from dispensationalism to hoity toity elite Calvinism. Try plowing through his efete OT Theology (2ndry writer Charles Yu)to see what I mean.