By Bob Allen
Roger Omanson, who except for teaching eight years at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary devoted his career to Bible translation with the United Bible Societies, died April 30 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 68.
Omanson, who earned his Ph.D. at Southern Seminary, lived in Ghana from 1975 to 1979, while he worked with African translators in Togo, Benin, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Niger. He moved to Jeffersonville, Ind., to teach New Testament studies at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., from 1979 until 1986. He returned to the United Bible Societies, a worldwide association of Bible societies formed in 1946, working out of Louisville as an inter-regional translation consultant in South America and West Africa.
While teaching at Southern Seminary, Omanson was one several professors mentioned during a 1986 visit by the SBC Peace Committee in a discussion of writings that concerned conservative members of the group appointed to try to head off a schism in the nation’s second-largest faith group during the period today known as the “conservative resurgence.” Others on the list included Joseph Callaway, Eric Rust, Kenneth Chafin, Alan Culpeper, Glenn Hinson, Molly T. Marshall, Paul Simmons and seminary President Roy Honeycutt.
A Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood article on the SBC gender debate footnotes a Review and Expositor article by Omanson in 1986 stating, “Only through a selective reading of the New Testament can one use Scripture to deny women leadership in the church.” Omanson said New Testament verses that forbid women to teach men or have authority over men in the context of worship had “local and temporary significance,” using the analogy: “When a parent tells a five-year-old ‘never’ to cross the street alone, another adult recognizes that such a command does not apply directly to him or her. But that adult will be reminded to exercise caution when crossing a busy street.”
Omanson authored books including UBS handbooks on the books of Esther, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings and Second Corinthians. In 2006 Omanson published A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament, an adaptation of an earlier study by Bruce Metzger, a biblical scholar and longtime Princeton Theological Seminary professor who died in 2007. In 2000 Omanson edited I Must Speak to you Plainly, a collection of essays honoring Bible translator Bob Bratcher.
Bratcher worked for the American Bible Society and translated The Good News for Modern Man, a New Testament in modern vernacular in the mid-1960s and later added the Old Testament in The Good News Bible released in 1971. Bratcher, a long-time active member and Bible teacher at Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, N.C., died in 2010 at age 90.
More recently Omanson was issue editor of the spring 2011 issue of Review and Expositor on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
Operating in more than 200 countries and territories, the United Bible Societies is the biggest translator, publisher and distributor of the Bible in the world. The organization also is active in areas such as literacy training, HIV and AIDS prevention and disaster relief.
Survivors include his wife, Kay; daughter Cara Combs of Las Vegas and son Aaron Omanson of Mishawaka, Ind.; and four grandchildren. He is also survived by his father, two sisters, a stepson and stepdaughter and many nieces and nephews.
A memorial service for Omanson is scheduled for 2 p.m., Saturday, May 9, at Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church in Louisville, Ky. A reception will follow. The family requests that expressions of sympathy be made to the endowment fund of Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church, where Omanson served on the board of trustees and recently received the congregation’s Distinguished Service Award.