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(11 posts)

Paul’s Example: Slave of Christ

Tuesday··2008·06·03 · 1 Comments
Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. —1 Corinthians 4:16 When Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says we should follow his example, it behooves us to give attention to that example. Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; —Romans 1:1–6 In this passage, we see more than one important characteristic of Paul; but we need read only three words to find the first, and most important: he considered himself to be a slave of Jesus Christ. Of all the Bible translations on my shelf, not one renders this phrase as it should, with the word slave. The NASB, quoted here, comes closest, yet still softens the word to “bond-servant.” But the word used here (δουλος, for those who care) is correctly translated as slave. Paul did not think of himself as possessing any independence. There was no sense of self-ownership. He was owned by the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore had no rights to anything that the Lord himself did not grant him—and he was even willing to yield those rights, if doing so would enable better service to his master (2 Thessalonians 3). He was completely yielded to serving God in the calling he had been given. All of his own needs and desires were entirely subservient to his assigned task: preaching “the gospel of God.” Are you and I yielded to God as slaves? Do we think of ourselves as his property, serving him because he owns us, or is our service to him something that is ours to give to him? Paul said “I am the property of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and lived accordingly. Let us do the same.

The Purpose-Driven Life

In order to live the Purpose-Driven Life®, we must (according to the example of a certain Purpose-Driven® author) search several Bible translations to find the one that suits us best. So here you go: your purpose in six different translations. Take your pick, and go to it. 2 Corinthians 5:9 Wycliffe: And therfor we stryuen, whether absent, whether present, to plese hym. Geneva: Wherefore also we couet, that both dwelling at home, and remouing from home, we may be acceptable to him. KJV: Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. NKJV: Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. NASB: Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. ESV: So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Bibles I Like

I like Bibles, some more than others. Here is the which and the why. Wycliffe New Testament (1385) This was the first English translation (Middle English, to be precise) of the New Testament Bible. My interest in the Wycliffe is historical. I want to maintain ties to the important people and events of the past that helped lay the foundation for the church today. John Wycliffe, the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” and his Bible are certainly among the high points of church history. I don’t actually have a Wycliffe New Testament in any form, but I hope to have one eventually. Since I probably won’t be affording the two million or so that an actual, hand-scribed copy is worth, I’ll have to settle for a facsimile edition. I might even get an updated-spelling edition, like this one. Geneva Bible (1560) Like the Wycliffe New Testament, the Geneva marks an important point in church history, and connects us to some of the greatest theologians the church has known. During the oppressive reign of Queen “Bloody” Mary, many Reformed believers took refuge in Geneva, Switzerland. There, led by Myles Coverdale and John Foxe, and under the protection of John Calvin, fugitive theologians produced the Geneva Bible. The Geneva Bible was a first in several ways: First chapter and verse divisions. First Roman style typeface (the King James, produced fifty-one years later, retained a Gothic Blackletter style). First marginal study notes. William Shakespeare quotes hundreds of times in his plays from the Geneva translation of the Bible. The Geneva Bible became the Bible of choice for over 100 years of English speaking Christians. Between 1560 and 1644 at least 144 editions of this Bible were published. Examination of the 1611 King James Bible shows clearly that its translators were influenced much more by the Geneva Bible, than by any other source. The Geneva Bible itself retains over 90% of William Tyndale’s original English translation. The Geneva in fact, remained more popular than the King James Version until decades after its original release in 1611! The Geneva holds the honor of being the first Bible taken to America, and the Bible of the Puritans and Pilgrims. It is truly the “Bible of the Protestant Reformation.” (source) Unfortunately, the Geneva was never updated (until just recently) as the King James was, and went out of print. Now, a new version of the 1599 Geneva, published by Tolle Lege Press with updated spelling, is available. Those are translations I like for their historical value. The following are those that I would actually carry to a Bible study (the Tolle Lege updated 1599 Geneva almost makes it into this group, but not quite). Authorized Version (King James, 1611, final revision 1769) The King James Bible is not one for which Protestants should feel any great historical affection. It was produced as an Anglican antidote to the Geneva Bible. However, it is, I believe, a superior translation, and certainly a superior literary work. When the King James finally overtook the Geneva in popularity, it made a place for itself in church history that cannot be ignored. It was my preferred Bible for years, until I discovered Reformed theology, church history, and the Geneva Bible. And contrary to popular opinion, I don’t find it difficult to understand. It is not written in Old English, as some believe, or even Middle English*. It is written in modern English, the same language we speak. Yes, some of the language is antiquated (and some of the spelling in the 1611 edition can make reading it a bit awkward at first), but any difficulty with it is easily overcome with a little effort by any reasonably literate person. That, by the way, goes for the Geneva Bible as well. New King James Version This is a good translation, but it completely fails in its attempt to “retain the beauty of the King James” while updating the language. I suspect it was produced, at least in part, as a bone to the King James Only crowd, and it hasn’t pleased them at all. This is not to discourage you from using it. It’s a fine translation in modern, up-to-date English. I’ve used it, and if you’re using it and like it, that’s just fine. Of course, when we talk about good translations, the question we have to asks is, translation of what? All the translations above are based on the best manuscript evidence available at the time, but archaeology has since given us older manuscripts. By and large, this is not a major issue (except to a small but loud cult of poorly educated nuts); the Geneva and KJV remain trustworthy translations in general. However, the older manuscripts confirm what Calvin already suspected, that some passages included in the Byzantine text are apocryphal (Mark 16:9ff; John 7:53–8:11), and others are incorrect (the “Johannine comma,” 1 John 5:7–8; “book/tree of life,” Revelation 22:19). Which brings us to the last two on my list, both based on the newest manuscript evidence. New American Standard Bible This is the Bible you should use for serious study if you’re going to rely solely on an English text. It is the most literal translation available and, especially since its 1995 updating, is perfectly readable. English Standard Version While my Reformed brethren have been convulsing in paroxysms of rapturous delight over the ESV, I’ve never gotten fashionably excited about it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good translation; I encourage anyone who likes it to use it, give it away, and promote it. I just don’t see the necessity of another translation. The NASB has everything the ESV claims to have. I like it better than the NKJV, because (in addition to the textual problem) it isn’t claiming to retain the language of a great literary work while, um, . . . not. But it reads just a little like the NIV, which you will not find on this list. Anyway, I have a couple of study Bibles in the ESV, and I like them, use them when I want the notes they contain, and have even given a few copies away. These are all essentially literal, or formal equivalent, translations—the only kind I will use. * Old English is a language you would not recognize at all, more closely related to Old Norse or modern Icelandic than English. Middle English is the language of Chaucer and Wycliffe. Click here for a comparison of the languages.

All the Words

If we really believe in the inspiration of Scripture, it will dictate our theory of translation. All the words of Scripture are breathed out by God for purposes only he fully understood. He put the words there so that we could use them to probe deeper into the meaning of Scripture and even to construct arguments or to answer arguments yet to be invented in the future. But some of these words of God are simply deleted from dynamic equivalence translations. Unless our theory of translation seeks to translate all the words (in some way or another), we will leave out things that we don’t know we are leaving out, and we will leave out part of the meaning of Scripture. Are only some words of Scripture breathed out by God? —Wayne Grudem, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 32–33.

Psalm 51, more or less

Wayne Grudem offers an example of the editorializing found in dynamic equivalence translations of the Bible: Generations of Christians have identified with David’s famous words of repentance in Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me (Ps. 51:10–11, ESV). All essentially literal translations include the same elements of this prayer: a request for a “clean heart” (or a “pure heart”) and a right spirit from God, and a plea that God not cast the person from his presence or remove his Holy Spirit. But look at The Message on this passage: God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. On first reading The Message on this passage people might think, “How creative!” “How Catchy!” “What an interesting way to put it!” But then we realize: creating new ideas is not what translators are to do. We have no business creating things God did not say. Why should anyone think it right to invent new metaphors that God did not use (“Don’t throw me out with the trash”) and omit clear wording that he did use (“Cast me not away from your presence”)? This kind of material belongs in sermons; it does not belong in a book that says “Bible” on the cover. Are only some words of Scripture breathed out by God? —Leland Ryken, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 44–45.

Dumbing Down the Bible

Dynamic equivalence translations of the Bible, according to Leland Ryken, not only assume illiteracy in their readers, but also ensure that readers remain at a low literacy level. Further assumptions about modern readers fill out the picture of what I call a naïve readership. Dynamic equivalence translations regularly assume that contemporary readers struggle with figurative language, so that, in the words of one translation, “at times we have chosen to translate or illuminate the metaphor” (NLT). Incidentally, translating the metaphor is exactly what equivalence translations do not do; they do not translate the metaphor but remove it from sight. Not only is figurative language said to be beyond the ability of modern readers, but so is the ability to enter the ancientness of foreignness of the biblical world. In the preface to the NIV, we read that the translators based two of their renderings on the premise that “for most readers today the phrases ‘the Lord of hosts’ and ‘God of hosts’ have little meaning.” An unstated and perhaps unrecognized assumption in all this is that readers cannot be educated beyond their current abilities—to me a naïve and untenable premise. If this were not the operating premise, translation committees would not fix their translation at a lowest common denominator of reading ability and comprehension. In effect, “easy reading” translations ensure that readers will remain at a naïve level of comprehension, even if the translators would disavow that this is their aim. This, then, is one way in which dynamic equivalence translations are naïve: the translators producing them assume an audience with minimal linguistic and theological ability and then produce a translation adapted to the assumed needs of the audience. Essentially literal translations are not naïve in this sense. They expect from their readers what we as a society expect of educated adults and even bright teenagers in other areas of life. The reply to the charge of elitism is simple: essentially literal translations make the Bible neither more nor less difficult than it was in the original. Faithfulness to the original is the goal of essentially literal translation; catering to the assumed wants and needs of the modern reader is the goal of dynamic equivalence translations. —Leland Ryken, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 64–65.

They could have said it that way

Literate readers are not the only ones insulted by dynamic equivalence Bible translations. In the urge to relieve allegedly inexpert readers from the need to make interpretive decisions, and to guard readers from misinterpretation, dynamic equivalence translator overlooked one important thing: in the overwhelming number of instances where these translators believed that they need to change, explain, or clarify the original, the original authors could have said it that way and chose not to. The psalmist had the linguistic resources to say (in Ps. 78:33) that God ended the days of the wicked “in futility” (NIV) or “in emptiness” (REB) or “in failure” (NEB) instead of saying that “their days vanish like a breath” (RSV, ESV, NRSV). At the heart of the dynamic equivalence experiment is the attempt to fix the assumed inadequacies of the Bible for modern readers. This maneuver is not an example of sophistication as opposed to naïvete; it is instead and unwarranted affront to the original authors (an extension of the “what the author was trying to say” fallacy that has become so prevalent). —Leland Rykend, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 68. And let’s be clear: the “original author” receiving this “unwarranted affront” is none other than God himself.

The Cost of “Readability”

Wednesday··2008·08·20 · 1 Comments
If I relay a message inaccurately, does it matter how plainly I speak? Several ideas ordinarily cluster around the charge [that essentially literal translations are obscure or opaque]. One is the assumption that whenever an English translation is difficult or unclear, the fault can be assumed to lie with the translation and its philosophy rather than being a property of the original text. Related to this is the assumption that when a colloquial or modernized translation is judged by reading tests to be more easily grasped by the population at large, this means that translations that require a higher reading level are obscure. It is my belief that all modern translations are accessible to a lower reading level than traditional translations are. Not only has readability been elevated to a status all out of proportion to its legitimate place, but it has also been misrepresented. I have moved among people for whom readability is apparently the primary aim of English Bible translation, an error reinforced by advertising for what I will call “easy reading Bibles.” I will state my critique of the readability fallacy very succinctly: what good is readability if what the reader reads is not what the original text of the Bible says? If it is not what the original text says, the so-called readable translation has actually removed the Bible from a reader, not, as it is claimed, brought the Bible close to the reader. —Leland Ryken, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 73–74 [bold type added].

Necessary Difficulty

Thursday··2008·08·21 · 3 Comments
While practitioners of dynamic equivalence translation attempt to remove difficulty from Bible reading, Ryken points out that difficulty is, and always has been, a natural quality of Bible study. Over against the claims of a naïve modern audience that is in a special position in finding the Bible difficult, I incline to the view that there is much in the Bible that is inherently difficult and technical. Surely Anthony Nichols is correct when he writes, “One cannot escape the fact that the Bible contains many concepts and expressions which are difficult for the modern reader. There is no evidence that they were much less so for the original readers. They, too, had to cope with technical terminology, with thousands of OT allusions and Hebrew loan words, idioms and translation must have been very strange to them.” In a similar vein, Wayne Grudem pictures the situation thus: “Lest we think that understanding the Bible was somehow easier for first-century Christians than for us, it is important to realize that in many instances the New Testament epistles were written to churches that had large proportions of Gentile Christians. They were relatively new Christians who had no previous background in any kind of Christian society, and who had little or no understanding of the history and culture of Israel. The events of Abraham’s life . . . were as far in the past for them as the events of the New Testament are for us!” —Leland Ryken, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 74–75. Is it so unreasonable to expect difficulty in the study of an infinitely difficult subject? And if the difficulty is removed, has not the subject, by and large, also been removed?

The Bible for Dummies?

During the last week, I’ve been sharing some excerpts from Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation. In Chapter 3, What the Reader Wants and the Translator Can Give: First John as a Test Case, C. John Collins demonstrates how dynamic equivalence translators, in their efforts to make the Bible easily readable and to translate the message, rather than the words, of Scripture, actually lose the message along with the words. The case he makes is quite good, but as it takes us to the outer limits of my ability to follow Greek, I’m not going to try to share it here. I will leave it to you to pick up the book and sort it out for yourselves. What I would like to address, in an otherwise good chapter, is the idea that different types of translations, including dynamic equivalence translations, might be appropriate for different contexts. Collins distinguishes three different uses that might call for different translations: (1) a Bible for church; (2) a Bible for family reading, which includes children, and personal study; (3) a Bible for the uninitiated. . . . these different contexts might be best served by different translation philosophies. What kind of translation might suit these various contexts for the English reader? —C. John Collins, Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation (Crossway, 2005), 93–94. So far, so good; but then he continues: The third category of translation is the one for outreach. Here we might indeed prefer a Bible version simpler than the ecclesiastical one; but if we use such a version, we should explain to people that its purpose is introductory. —Ibid., 94. Collins goes on to emphasize the need for disciples to be challenged intellectually to better things, quoting C. S. Lewis: “[Christ] wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head”—which is quite correct. However, I seriously doubt the wisdom of using second rate translations “for the uninitiated.” My objections are: It has the potential to create confusion, and undermine confidence in the Word of God. What are we saying if we give a Bible one day, only to return later with another, better Bible, explaining that “some of the stuff in the first Bible we gave you isn’t quite right, but this one can be trusted“honest”? It diminishes the role of the Church in the proclamation of God’s Word. The Word of God is not meant to stand alone, outside of the Church. That is not what we mean by sola Scriptura. In addition to simply being read, it is to be explained and taught. Some of it is difficult. That is why we have pastors—preachers, teachers, shepherds—as well as congregations of mature believers: to disciple the young and immature. We are not simply to hand out Bibles and hope for the best; we are to preach it, teach it, and live it out among our neighbors. In the same vein, but far more importantly, It fails to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating God’s Word. God chose the words he wanted us—all of us, simple and wise—to read. If God doesn’t intend for us to receive the word independent of teachers, it is even more true that he does not intend for us to receive it independent of himself. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14). No matter how simple the translation, none of us can understand it adequately unless we are filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will make the Word understood, if we bring it accurately. This particular point seems to contradict everything I’ve read in this book so far. In addition to these objections, I can’t help remembering and repeating Leland Ryken’s words from the previous chapter: “what good is readability if what the reader reads is not what the original text of the Bible says?” Accuracy has got to come first, regardless of the target audience.

About Those “Missing Verses”

A few days ago on Facebook, concern was expressed over “missing verses” in modern Bible translations. The following is my response. (It was a quick response. I will happily accept correction* if I have erred in any of the details or omitted any indispensible facts. The general point, however, stands.) I’m glad to see you thinking about this. I considered the same questions myself, probably at about your age. These are important issues, and we need to have good answers for them. I think it’s very unfortunate that most Christians don’t give them much, if any, thought. The question I eventually had to ask, and that you should be asking, is, How do I know these “missing” verses are actually missing? How do I know they aren’t actually additions to the text? Isn’t adding to Scripture is just as bad as subtracting from it? The answer is found in the science of textual criticism (TC), the process by which scholars judge the authenticity and accuracy of texts. Some of what you might have heard or read from “King James Only” (KJVO) advocates probably dismisses TC as an ungodly practice, but that fails to recognize the fact that the KJV is also a product of TC (KJVO proponents are, in general, very poor scholars, no matter how many honorary “doctorates” they boast, many scoffing at the legitimacy of scholarship itself). Dismissing TC fails to understand how we got the texts and translations we now have, including the KJV. The KJV New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus (TR), which is based on the text compiled by Erasmus, first published in 1516. Erasmus drew from the very limited selection (about a half-dozen, vs. the 6,000 we now possess) of Greek MSS available to him at the time. To these he applied TC to determine which were the most accurate. However, he didn’t have Greek MSS of the entire NT. Those he lacked, he drew from the Latin Vulgate, and translated them back into Greek. Let that sink in for a minute: the KJV consists in part of passages whose oldest source is a Latin translation. But Erasmus was a competent textual scholar (in other areas, not so) who did the best he could with what he had, and produced a good text upon which our earliest English translations (most notably, the KJV) and Luther’s German translation are based. Time passed, and older MSS were discovered. These MSS added to the pool from which textual critics drew, enabling them to produce more accurate texts. Hence, we get translations that “omit” verses not found in the oldest MSS. However, they cannot rightly be called “omissions” if they were never there in the first place. There is a lot more to be said about this, especially about the “original” MSS (e.g., we actually possess no true originals, only copies, which is why TC is necessary), but this is a good start, and probably longer than you wanted to read. Note well, I’m not saying any modern translation will do. Paraphrases (The Living Bible, The Message, etc.) are not translations at all, and therefore, not Scripture. “Dynamic Equivalent” translations (NIV, etc.) are of varying quality, mostly bad (the original NIV was accidentally pretty decent—later incarnations not). “Essentially Literal” translations (NASB, ESV) are the ones to trust. In short, contra KJVO propaganda, those “missing verses” are not part of a liberal conspiracy or satanic plot to undermine God’s Word. They are the product of the best textual scholarship, which seeks to transmit God’s Word as accurately as possible—just as Erasmus, in his day, did. On this subject, here is how John MacArthur handled Mark 16:9–20. (The applause at the end is not usual at Grace Community Church. After forty-three years of preaching, MacArthur had just finished his verse-by-verse exposition of the New Testament.) If, like me, you find audio/video too time-consuming, the transcript is here. * Corrections from those who understand the issues involved, that is. I’m not interested in engaging with serious KJVO advocates. I know too well what a fool’s errand that is.


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