The first problem is the meaning of the word “sectarian.” Sectarian is perceived as a very negative word. A search sectarian thesaurus includes synonyms like fanatic, bigoted, and schismatic. The word is so loaded that it would be good to avoid the word when speaking of one another. But even if “sectarian” is used in its mildest sense “belonging to a particular denomination,” it would be untrue to say that the translation of our project will be sectarian.
The main reason that our translation will not be sectarian is that our translators are not sectarians. They are confessional Lutherans. They understand that while it might be sectarian to translate the Bible, “Jesus said this is my true body,” it is not sectarian to confess, “This is the true body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The translators understand the difference between presenting a Lutheran understanding of Scripture in a confessional statement and importing that interpretation into the words of a translation.
What if we translate 1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ?” Though this translation beautifully reflects the biblical Lutheran understanding of Communion, it would not be a sectarian translation. It would accurately produce the meaning of the Greek text. It would be the translation of the King James Version that the whole English-speaking Protestant church used for 400 years. Our translation is not a “go it alone” project. It rests on the foundation of centuries of Bible translation including the work of Luther, Tyndale, the King James Version, and recent Bible scholarship of Lutherans and non-Lutherans. In the Old Testament it often utilizes the best Jewish scholarship on the Hebrew text.
What determines whether or not a translation is sectarian is not how many people produced it or how many people use it or how theologically diverse its translators are or how many reviews it has, but how faithful it is to the divinely intended meaning of Scripture. The Vulgate, which was used by millions of people for many centuries and which was the Bible that nourished Luther, was sectarian when it translated the first gospel promise, “She [Mary] will crush the serpent’s head.” When Luther revised the Vulgate and translated, “He [Christ] will crush the serpent’s head,” his one-man translation was not sectarian but truly catholic (“catholic” means holding to the doctrine Christ entrusted to the whole church). The Formula of Concord is not sectarian. It is catholic and ecumenical because it promotes the unity of the church by faithfully confessing the content of Scripture. The same would be true of a translation made by confessional Lutherans. A translation made by confessional Lutherans would not be “a Lutheran translation” which introduced a Lutheran bias into the text. It would be a translation by Lutherans which honestly set forth the meaning of the text.
We are not intending that our translation will be labeled as a Lutheran translation or that it will appeal only to Lutherans.
For a fuller discussion of this topic read below “A ‘Lutheran’ Translation?? Pitfalls and Potential”.