The Wartburg Project

May 8th, 2015

8. Is the EHV Bible sectarian?

Updated October 16, 2019

We can’t imagine why anyone would say that. Maybe because the translators are Lutherans. But that does not make them or the translation “sectarian.”

The first problem is the meaning of the word “sectarian.” Sectarian is perceived as a very negative word. A search for the word sectarian in a 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 EHV translation is sectarian.

The main reason that the EHV translation is not sectarian is that our translators are not sectarians. Our translators are confessional Lutherans, but they all understand that it would properly be understood as a denominational slant if we translated Jesus’ words about the Lord’s Supper, ‘This is my true body and blood.” They understand that the duty of a translation is to say no more than the text says: “Jesus said, ‘This is my body.’” The translators understand and observe the difference between presenting a Lutheran understanding of Scripture in a confessional statement and importing that interpretation into the words of a translation.

If the EHV translates 1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ?” is that translation sectarian or Lutheran? Though this translation does agree with the Lutheran understanding of Communion, it is not a sectarian translation. It accurately produces the meaning of the Greek text. Communion was the translation of the King James Version, which the whole English-speaking Protestant church used for 400 years, despite different ideas about the nature of the Lord’s Supper.

The EHV 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 alike. In the Old Testament it often utilizes the best Jewish scholarship on the Hebrew text. We receive help and suggestions from many non-Lutherans.

Non-Lutheran readers have told us they do not perceive EHV as sectarian. When Lutherans hear the EHV read in church, most of them to do not recognize it as having a Lutheran background. It fits comfortably into the family of contemporary Evangelical translations. Many listeners do not even notice that a different translation is being used.

Very many Bible translations were begun by a specific group and achieve wider usage based on their quality, beginning with Luther’s pioneering work and continuing to the very recent CSB, which originated as a Baptist translation. 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 in Genesis 3:15, “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 same would be true of a translation made by Lutherans today. The very definition of a “Lutheran,” that is, a Luther-like translation, is that its goal is to say everything the text says, but no more than the text says. A translation made by confessional Lutherans would not really be “a Lutheran translation” if it introduced a Lutheran bias into the translation. The EHV is a “translation by Lutherans,” which honestly set forth the meaning of the text, a translation that other users will recognize as fair.

We are not intending that our EHV translation will be labeled as a Lutheran translation or that it will appeal only to Lutherans. We hope that Lutherans will be the minority of users. Our name is not the Lutheran Heritage Version but the Evangelical Heritage Version. Evangelicals will recognize it as a translation that builds on the heritage of English Bible translation that strives to preserve the best of the past and also to offer new insights.