To set the record straight

This week on Facebook I have in more than place come across a sister of the faith making an assertion that I feel needs correcting: that the NIV translation of the Bible was edited by Virginia Mollenkott who, because of her liberal feminist views and lesbian orientation, has caused the NIV translation to incorrectly represent the meaning of the text.

This lady is calling Virginia Mollenkott a ‘liberal sodomite feminist’, and saying she has taken out of the NIV the references to sodomy found in the King James version of the Bible, thus perverting the translation away from the interests of accuracy. 

My concern today is not to challenge anyone’s personal morality – neither Virginia Mollenkott’s nor my friend's on Facebook.  Both these ladies are Christian, and their morality and the expression of it is between them and their Lord, it is not mine to criticise or judge - so my Bible tells me.  I do have strong moral views about sexual relationships, and I believe that the right place for me to express those views is in my own life and behaviour.  I believe in the necessity of challenging or preventing sexual activity that is oppressive or abusive – rape, sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults, that kind of thing – and it makes no odds to me whether that abuse is gay or straight.  But I do not see gossip in a public place about the private and intimate personal relationships of others as appropriate conduct for a Christian woman.

But I am writing to correct two misconceptions/inaccuracies being spread by this gossip.

The first is the description of Virginia Mollenkott as a sodomite.  If she is indeed lesbian, then it is overwhelmingly unlikely that she is a sodomite.  Sodomy is a sexual act involving anal penetration, usually between two men, sometimes perpetrated by a man upon an animal.   I have no personal experience of lesbian sex, but I should be acutely surprised to discover that it involved such an act.

The second inaccuracy is the suggestion that Virginia Mollenkott is personally responsible for the editing of the NIV.  Here is a quotation from its preface:

“The translation of each book was assigned to a team of scholars.  Next, one of the Intermediate Editorial Committees revised the initial translation, with constant reference to the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.  Their work then went to one of the General Editorial Committees, which checked it in detail and made another thorough revision.  This revision in turn was carefully reviewed by the Committee on Bible Translation, which made further changes and then released the final version for publication.   In this way the entire Bible underwent three revisions, during each of which the translation was examined for its faithfulness to the original languages and for its original style.  All this involved many thousands of hours of research and discussion concerning the meaning of the texts and the precise way of putting them into English.  It may well be that no other translation has been made by a more thorough process of review and revision from committee to committee than this one.”

My husband (who, you will be relieved to hear, does not participate in anal sex) was heavily involved in the production of the UK edition of the NIV, and tells me that the process is accurately described in the preface, the translation being the product of editorial input from hundreds of scholars – not the work of one woman.

Could it be that this thorough, careful and accurate translation of the Bible resulted in a text that has disappointed some of the cherished and hardened prejudices of some of the faithful?  Even if that is not so, and even if the word sodomy had been introduced to every other page, it still would offer no comment on the lifestyle of Virginia Mollenkott as a lesbian – though a few heterosexual men looking virtuous at the side of their wives on a Sunday morning might have cause to be feeling a little shifty.  We would never know, would we?

The preface to the NIV ends:
"We offer this version of the Bible to him in whose name and for whose glory it has been made.  We pray that it will lead many into a better understanding of the Holy Scriptures and a fuller knowledge of Jesus Christ the incarnate Word, of whom the Scriptures so faithfully testify."
To that I say, "Amen!"