Between 1984 and 2010, if you picked up an NIV Bible and turned to 1 Thessalonians 5:12, here is what you would have read:
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. (NIV1984)
In 1998, the New International Reader’s Version was published, which simplifies things for those who read on a more basic level.
Brothers and sisters, we ask you to have respect for the godly leaders who work hard among you. They have authority over you. They correct you. (NIrV)
In 2005, after attempts to revise the NIV generated controversy, Today’s New International Version was published as a separate version alongside the NIV.
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. (TNIV)
Now in 2011, the NIV has been revised, replacing both the 1984 version and the TNIV with a single version that incorporates many of the changes that were made in the TNIV.
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. (NIV)
Has there been a weakening of the “authority” language? I’m not a New Testament scholar, so I cannot attest to which translation is best. However, compare the NIV with these other translations, which are touted as being very accurate:
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction (NASB)
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you (ESV)
Now, you might argue that having “care for” someone is essentially the same as having “charge over” someone, and that the NIV still indicates spiritual authority. But in an age of freedom and independence, are readers of the NIV going to read this verse as an indication that we have people over us, leaders whose word carries more weight than ours?
I’m a Protestant. I believe in sola scriptura and the priesthood of all believers. I have no desire to elevate pastors or elders to an undue level of authority. I am still responsible before God for obeying His Word, regardless of what my pastor might say about this thing or that. However, I’m worried that there is a high degree of individualism in the church that prevents people from recognizing spiritual authority. Most people have the idea that “we’re all equal,” and “it’s just between me and God.” They might listen to their pastor because he studies a lot and is more knowledgeable than they, but they don’t really see him as being “over” them. And yet, Scripture says that there are those who are “over [us] in the Lord.” (TNIV and NIV 2011 notwithstanding.)
What, then, does proper spiritual authority look like? What are the bounds of pastoral authority? How is it different on an interpersonal level compared to a communal (local church) level?