John Stek remembered

I just learned that John Stek passed away last week. I had the privilege of being able to interact with him about English Bible translation a number of times over the years. He was always a gentleman and a scholar.

Click here and here and here to learn more about this Bible scholar who spent so much of his life studying the Bible, teaching it, and translating it to English. John was a member of the NIV and TNIV Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) for nearly 45 years.

9 thoughts on “John Stek remembered

  1. John Hobbins says:


    Thanks for this. I remember being at Calvin, at an SBL meeting, when a firestorm broke out against TNIV, still in the planning stages. It was that famous contrarian, James Barr, who ripped into the project.

    But TNIV lives on, and has been a blessing to many people. Its same general approach to translation has found a continuation in NLT. There are plusses and minuses to the translation approaches of all the major schools, but the NIV-TNIV-NLT-NLT2 stream has found a foothold, justifiably, alongside others.

    It is worth citing the table of contents of Stek’s Festschrift, which Esteban is promoting on his blog. The range of Stek’s admirers is a token of Stek’s generosity.

    Hearing God’s Word through a Good Translation
    Kenneth L. Barker
    General Editor, NIV Study Bible, Lewisville, Texas

    3. The New International Reader’s Version: What, Who, How, and Why
    Ronald F. Youngblood, Professor of Old Testament
    Bethel Theological Seminary West, San Diego, California

    4. The Textuality of Narrative: Syntax and Reading the Hebrew Bible
    Barry L. Bandstra, Professor of Religion
    Hope College, Holland, Michigan

    Part Two — Exegesis and Interpretation

    5. Grave Reflections on Genesis 35:16-29: From Text to Application
    William T. Koopmans, Pastor
    Cephas Christian Reformed Church, Peterborough, Ontario

    6. David and Nabal: A Paradigm of Temptation and Divine Providence
    J. Robert Vannoy, Professor of Old Testament
    Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, Pennsylvania

    7. 2 Kings in the Pulpit: One Leper or Two?
    Arie C. Leder, Professor of Old Testament
    Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

    8. Job 32-37: Elihu as the Mouthpiece of God
    Al M. Wolters, Professor of Religion and Theology and Classical Studies
    Redeemer College, Ancaster, Ontario

    9. A Close Reading of Psalm 13: Daring to Ask the Hard Questions
    Carl J. Bosma, Associate Professor of Old Testament
    Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

    10. Proverbs 10:1-16: A Coherent Collection?
    Bruce K. Waltke, Professor of Old Testament Studies
    Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia

    11. Proverbs 10:1-22: From Poetic Paragraphs to Preaching
    Calvin Seerveld, Senior Member in Aesthetics, Emeritus
    Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto, Ontario

    Part Three — Hearing the Word in the Church

    12. The Necessity of Narrative Imagination for Preaching
    John Bolt, Professor of Theology
    Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

    13. Seeking God through Preaching
    Cornelius Plantiga, Jr., Dean of the Chapel
    Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan

    14. Application in Preaching Old Testament Texts
    Sidney Greidanus, Professor of Homiletics
    Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

    15. Samson: The Riddle and the Reason
    Roy M. A. Berkenbosch, Campus Minister and Dean of Students
    The King’s University College, Edmonton, Alberta

    Bibliography of John H. Stek
    Paul Fields, Theological Librarian
    Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan


    Arie C. Leder (ed.), Reading and Hearing the Word: From Text to Sermon. Essays in Honor of John H. Stek (Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary/CRC Publications, 1998). 260 pp.

  2. Theophrastus says:

    John incidentally raises an interesting question: since the NLT1 (1996) preceded the TNIV (2002, 2005), why was the TNIV singled out for extreme criticism? The criticism of the NLT has been muted compared with that of the TNIV.

  3. Wayne Leman says:

    why was the TNIV singled out for extreme criticism? The criticism of the NLT has been muted compared with that of the TNIV.

    That’s an important question, Theo., one which an increasing number of analysts have been asking. The answer, I think, has to do with the status of the NIV among evangelicals. As the RSV and later the NRSV became the Bible of mainline denominational churches (which belonged to the NCC), the NIV became the standard Bible of evangelicals (of course, there are many evangelicals within mainline churchs, as well, but I am referring to “official” pulpit and pew Bible versions). Evangelicals felt “ownership” of the NIV. There has been a few rumblings of discontent among fundamentalists and some of the more conservative evangelicals over the years about the lack of some formal equivalence wordings in the NIV. But when some of the most vocal of the conservative evangelical leaders (Grudem, Southern Baptist seminary and convention leaders, et al) saw what seemed to them capitulation of the NIV translation committee toward “demasculinization” of the masculine nature of biblical language in a British revision of the NIV, that pushed them over the edge and they went public in a big way. Then when the TNIV was published they really got fired up and they began a campaign against it which has been quite successful.

    The NLT, OTOH, was not considered a “real” Bible, one to be used as a study, pulpit, or pew Bible by most evangelical gatekeepers. As someone in the know said of the NLT vis-a-vis the tumult re: the TNIV, “The NLT is under the radar.” And I think that Tyndale is content being under the radar. Of course, it means that they have had to work to earn the respect of evangelicals, but that has been happening. Today there is an increasing number of evangelical churches which even use the NLT as their pulpit and pew Bibles. Part of NLT’s being under the radar has been its history, since it begain as a paraphrase which sold millions of copies and introduced many English speakers to the Bible for the first time in a way that they could understand it, to its status today as a true translation. Some still think of the NLT as a kind of upgraded paraphrase, so it doesn’t get the same scrutiny as any revision of the NIV or NASB would.

  4. John Hobbins says:

    I concur with Wayne’s comments. I would also point out that the non-acceptance of “gender-sensitive” translations was and is part of a larger pushback, and reaction against, more liberal elements within Christianity which are seen by more conservative and more orthodox Christians as surrendering key tenets of the faith.

    Something similar has happened among Roman Catholics. “Gender-sensitive” translations in that context have not found acceptance either. Conversations with Eastern Orthodox friends leads me to think that similar reservations are widespread in that branch of the Christian family.

    It must be noted carefully: it’s not so much the translation approach that causes problems. It’s the broader ideology the translation approach is presumed, rightly or wrongly, to vehiculate.

    Depending on how this comment thread goes, I may post about this further on my blog.

    The other fascinating parallel involves what has happened in Judaism in the last century. As documented by Daniel Sperber of Bar-Ilan University, a reaction against anything new set in among Orthodox Jews in response to the whole-scale adoption of Gentile mores by other Jews.

    As Sperber shows, the Orthodox Jewish halakhic reaction has not been friendly to women.

    Please note: one must be careful to distinguish communal norms and communal ethos.

    It’s possible for a community to be a very welcoming place to women one woman at a time – note how many women from more liberal backgrounds become evangelicals and orthodox Jews, respectively – and, at the same time, keep and even strengthen limitations on them with respect to defined, traditional roles.

    Furthermore, it’s possible for people to prefer a translation like TNIV quite apart from any of this.

    As for NLT, most people I know who prefer NLT1 or 2 to other translations prefer it for reasons that have nothing to do with its “gender-sensitive” translation technique. Rather, they simply enjoy a translation that is written in natural, clear English. Unlike translations in the KJV-RSV-ESV stream, all of which calque the diction of the original wherever possible.

    Conversely, most people I know who prefer ESV to other translations prefer it because it stands within the Tyndale-Geneva-KJV-RSV tradition they are familiar with from the KJV or RSV. The culture wars are not the determining factor for them.

  5. Theophrastus says:

    Well, that’s an interesting set of speculations John (albeit, mostly anecdotal), but tangential to the question I raised: why the different treatment of the TNIV and NLT? You were there at the “firestorm” and I was not; did anyone there notice the disparity? Did you raise your voice?

  6. John Hobbins says:

    The firestorm I witnessed at Calvin College occurred in the early 1980s, when TNIV was in the planning stages, and NLT had not even been conceived. Leading the charge against TNIV in that context was a liberal, James Barr. Though one might counter that there is no such thing as a liberal Scot. . . .

    I was knee high to a grasshopper at the time, and was still forming an opinion of my own, though I admit that Barr, as usual, was a persuasive attack dog.

    For the rest, Wayne I thought already explained why NLT meets acceptance whereas TNIV does not. NLT is treated as a paraphrase, albeit a relatively accurate one, but as such not a serious candidate to replace NIV and now ESV as a pew or pulpit Bible. See Craig Blomberg’s remarks on Rick Mansfield’s blog, which go further: NLT should not be used as a stand-alone translation for personal and group study either.

    TNIV, on the other hand, was promoted as a replacement to NIV, a standard pulpit and pew Bible. Inevitably, that meant it was and is subject to a great deal of scrutiny – and paranoia and pushback and reaction – hence my anecdotal observations.

    That meant it became a symbol in the culture wars, indeed, a symbol of the losing side of a culture war as it played itself out in vast areas of evangelicalism. Even where the TNIV side of the culture war won, as in the CRC (slowly but surely, of course, as befits a denomination which has an organic relationship with its past) – Stek’s denomination – I’m not so sure TNIV was widely adopted.

    To the extent that TNIV hasn’t been adopted even in evangelical settings that have embraced the ordination of women, a contributing factor has been the perception that TNIV’s gender-sensitive translation approach was a capitulation to political correctness. Perceptions, of course, are neither true nor false at a basic level. They just are. Political correctness, of course, is a deadly ingredient in a religious setting.

    To make a long story short, TNIV was perceived as a Trojan horse by those convinced that fidelity to Scripture means taking a stance against the ordination of women. (I am simplifying greatly.)

    Many thought that TNIV vehiculated that kind of change, and they can point now to what has happened in the CRC as proof their perception was accurate.

    That being the case, southern B’s like Rick Mansfield who promote TNIV, in a denomination that is by and large hostile to the ordination of women and is complementarian in various shades not just in terms of ministerial roles, but more generally, stand out as a bit anomalous.

    NLT, furthermore, protects itself in such a setting by translating in Gen 3:16 “and you will desire to control your husband.” This makes Genesis into a sort of prophecy of modern day feminism as perceived by traditionalists. Oy vey. The text says nothing of the sort, and even though I treasure my NLT and my NLT Study Bible, in a sense this mis-translation is a deal-breaker for me. ESV, thankfully, did not adopt this mis-translation.

    So far as I know, the only other person who has had the courage to be forthright on NLT’s mistranslation of Gen 3:16 is Suzanne McCarthy. Suzanne and I disagree on a lot of things, but we stand foursquare on that one.

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