Chris Pinto, host of the Noise of Thunder radio program and documentary film-maker is a man who, as of late, has become something of a self-anointed expert in the field of textual criticism and ancient manuscripts. The problem is that for someone who thinks of himself as qualified to determine the reliability of modern translations and their underlying Greek and Hebrew texts, every time Pinto opens his mouth he demonstrates that he hasn’t done his homework and that he doesn’t know what he is talking about. It’s a lot like that scene in the movie Mr. Mom when Jack Butler, played by Michael Keaton, is explaining the plans he has to renovate and rewire his house to his wife’s boss Ron, played by Martin Mull. Ron asked Jack if he’s going to make it all 220. Jack’s answer is one of the all time great movie lines. Here’s the clip:
In almost an identically comical blunder, Chris Pinto on the 24 August 2013 episode of his radio program demonstrated to anyone who has taken a college level introduction to Biblical Greek and understands even the basic tenets of textual criticism that he has no clue what he’s talking about. Even funnier is the fact that Pinto then uses his comically erroneous evidence as the basis for casting theological doubt on the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. Here is what Pinto said:
I will focus my comments on this portion of Pinto’s statement:
What nobody seems to want to talk about is that the ESV is based on the United Bible Society Nestle-Aland Vatican-supervised Greek text. That would be the only problem, right there at the beginning. OK, do you really want your Bible to based on something that has been supervised by the Vatican?
When a colleague of mine first played this quote for me, I asked him if it was a joke or if it was taken from a sitcom. When he insisted that it was legit and that Chris Pinto truly believes what he is saying my response was, “God help anyone who listens to this man.”
“220, 221 – Whatever it takes”
If Chris Pinto possessed the education or had taken the time to properly understand the field that he has deemed himself qualified to make such grand sweeping judgments about then he’d know that the Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, is not published by the United Bible Societies (UBS). It is published by the German Bible Society and the Institute for New Testament Research. Neither of which is supervised by the Vatican. As for the the UBS, they publish their own Greek New Testament and the scholars involved in its production come from a wide range of denominations and theological traditions which is a strength, not a weakness. The reason that this is a strength is because it provides a safeguard against theological bias.
For Chris Pinto to imply that the UBS Greek text is somehow tainted by a Roman Catholic agenda and that the Vatican is supervising its work and has to sign off on the UBS text is an ignorant and intentional mischaracterization of the UBS’ oversight committee and policies. Rather than putting forward meaningful evidence that demonstrates that Pinto possesses the knowledge and credentials to offer a substantive criticism of the texts that were employed by the translation committee of the ESV, Pinto instead played on people’s ignorance, fears and prejudices. These are not the methods employed by scholars but the tactics of propagandists and conspiracy theorists. It makes me wonder if Chris Pinto will begin casting doubt on the reliability of the Old Testament portion of the ESV because it heavily relied on the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, which as everyone knows, utilizes the work of Jewish scholars who do not even believe that Jesus is the messiah. It’s not hard to imagine Pinto saying, “you don’t want your Bible to be based on the scholarship of unbelieving rabbis, do you?”
Truth be told, Pinto’s methods are more akin to the same types of guilt by association arguments employed by the Roman Catholic inquisitors than they are to the methods employed by knowledgeable textual scholars.
The truth about the scholarship behind the ESV
The scholars on the translation committee for the English Standard Version reads like a who’s who of the most noted and celebrated living scholars that Protestantism has to offer and it is notable that no Jesuits or Vatican lackeys are listed among them.
The list includes such men as:
- Dr. J. I. Packer, ESV General Editor
- Board of Governors Professor of Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, Canada
- Dr. Wayne A. Grudem
- Research Professor, Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary
- Dr. Robert H. Mounce
- President emeritus of Whitworth College
- Dr. Vern Sheridan Poythress
- Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Westminster Theological Seminary; Editor, Westminster Theological Journal
- Dr. Clinton E. Arnold
- Professor of New Testament and Chair of New Testament Department, Biola University
These men have distinguished themselves in their respective fields of study when it comes to Biblical Greek and Hebrew and textual criticism. As for the texts employed by the translators of the ESV, here is what they have to say about them.
Each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text.
The ESV is based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd ed., 1983), and on the Greek text in the 1993 editions of the Greek New Testament (4th corrected ed.), published by the United Bible Societies (UBS), and Novum Testamentum Graece (27th ed.), edited by Nestle and Aland.
The currently renewed respect among Old Testament scholars for the Masoretic text is reflected in the ESV’s attempt, wherever possible, to translate difficult Hebrew passages as they stand in the Masoretic text rather than resorting to emendations or to finding an alternative reading in the ancient versions.
In exceptional, difficult cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, and other sources were consulted to shed possible light on the text, or, if necessary, to support a divergence from the Masoretic text. Similarly, in a few difficult cases in the New Testament, the ESV has followed a Greek text different from the text given preference in the UBS/Nestle-Aland 27th edition.
The footnotes that accompany the ESV text inform the reader of textual variations and difficulties and show how these have been resolved by the ESV Translation Team. In addition to this, the footnotes indicate significant alternative readings and occasionally provide an explanation for technical terms or for a difficult reading in the text.
Throughout, the Translation Team has benefited greatly from the massive textual resources that have become readily available recently, from new insights into biblical laws and culture, and from current advances in Hebrew and Greek lexicography and grammatical understanding.
This hardly sounds like the work of men who are taking their orders from the Vatican. If Mr. Pinto would like to continue challenging the texts utilized by ESV Translation Committee, I suggest that he provide us with real evidence and real scholarship and do more than make mere assertions about the Vatican’s alleged supervisory involvement in the UBS. After all, if the UBS Greek New Testament is tainted by Roman Catholic scholarship why doesn’t it contain passages supporting the perpetual virginity of Mary, prayers to the saints, indulgences, purgatory and the primacy of the Pope? What’s the point of having supervisory oversight of the UBS if you can’t flex that supervisory power to smuggle those Roman Catholic dogmas into the text?
Here is something for you consider: conspiracy theorists, propagandists and fear mongers never have to provide real evidence to back up their assertions. All they have to do is make assertions and imply associations in order to cast doubt and suspicion on those with whom they disagree. But, that’s not scholarship. That’s what the Bible calls, “bearing false witness”.
More examples to come in my next article.