Gutenberg Bible What is the Bible and how do we use it? 

This is a recurring thread in this blog.  See prior discussions here and here.  The question comes up again in light of the announcement that the editors and publishers of the most popular version of the Bible (NIV) plan to issue a new revision that has conservatives stirring.

The world’s most-popular Bible will undergo its first revision in 25 years, modernizing the language in some sections and promising to reopen a contentious debate about changing gender terms in the sacred text.

The New International Version, the Bible of choice for conservative evangelicals, will be revised to reflect changes in English usage and advances in Biblical scholarship, it was announced Tuesday. The revision is scheduled to be completed late next year and published in 2011.

The history of manuscript transmission and interpretation is fascinating and far beyond the scope of a blog post.  For a brief introduction, I suggest the Wikipedia article on Bible Translations.  Equally fascinating are the differing attitudes toward the Bible as blogger Cathy Lynn Grossman notes in her Faith and Reason blog on

How much this matters to you may well depend on how you see the Bible.

The number of people who say they believe the Bible is "the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word" has bumped downward from four in ten adults in 1984 to fewer than three in 10 (27%) in 2008, according to Gallup surveys of 1,000 U.S. adults.

Half of Americans say the Bible as "the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally." And one in five call the Bible "an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man."

In the recent debates at the ELCA convention over LGBT issues, the fundamental disagreements stemmed from differing attitudes toward scripture.  Questioning negative gay Bible passages is a rejection of the authority of scripture argued some conservatives.  No, there are “deeper streams” of interpretation that are more instructive than the “clobber” passages countered the progressives.  Both sides claimed Biblical warrant for their positions.

What is ironic in the current debate over the revisions to the NIV is that this is a fight amongst conservatives and not a liberal/conservative split.  The NIV editors are an independent group of conservative scholars and translators formed in 1965 to create and revise the NIV, and the publisher is Zondervan, an Evangelical publishing house and a Rupert Murdoch company.

It seems that honest scholarship that reveals nuanced shades of gray makes many evangelicals squirm even when the scholars are their own.