Monthly Archives: November 2013

Which Bible is Best? (Part 2)

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. . . contined from yesterday.

I’m mostly concerned with Bibles for study, where a word or phrase might make a real difference. If you just want to read the Bible, almost any of them are good. They all get the major issues right, overall. I say almost, because there are two exceptions: Bibles driven by the theology of an extreme sect, and translations distorted by political agendas.

Unacceptable Bibles

Most of the Bibles that intentionally and materially mistranslate the original manuscripts have such a small readership that you will never hear of them. There are two, however, that are widespread. The “New World Translation”, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, is fairly popular. And, actually, it is a very good translation except for one thing: the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not consider Christ to be God, and they reflect that belief in their New Testament. Without going into a lot of detail, for that reason the NWT is not acceptable for Christians.

Similarly, the newest (2011) NIV translation (and even moreso, the TNIV of 2005, which was so flawed that it has been retracted by the publisher) is driven by liberal political considerations and goes too far in trying to make the Bible gender-neutral and generally not insulting to modern secular sensibilities, to the point that it cannot be considered a translation of the Bible at all.

An Example of Translational Issues

To illustrate the difference between “reading Bibles” (dynamic equivalent translations) and “authoritative Bibles” (literal translations), let’s look at 2 Peter 1:20. First, the King James and ESV, which are more literal interpretations:

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”
(KJV)
“knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.”
(ESV)

Do you see the ambiguity? You cannot be certain whether Peter is saying a) that the people who wrote the Bible did not base their writing on their private interpretation, or b) an individual’s interpretation of the Bible is not Scripture, i.e., we should not talk about our own interpretation of a passage as if it is the word of God. This ambiguity is part of the Bible. It occurs in the original Greek and, if a person or group is studying the passage, they can and should consider both options — it is good fuel for research, meditation, and group discussion.

Now let’s look at the same passage from two dynamic equivalent translations, the NIV (New International Version 1984) and the ISV (International Standard Version):

“First of all, you must understand this: No prophecy in Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” (ISV)

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.” (NIV 1984)

Each of these resolves the ambiguity for us — but in opposite ways! The ISV interprets the verse as meaning we should not consider our (or other people’s) interpretations as “prophecy of Scripture”. The NIV, on the other hand, interprets it to mean that the original authors were not writing their “own interpretations”. (And yes, I chose this verse because of the irony. Both the NIV and ISV might be said to be representing their “private interpretation” to be Scripture, which is exactly what 2 Peter 1:20 is telling us not to do.)

Bottom Line

Since I set out to make a recommendation, I’ll go ahead and do it. If you just want a Bible to read, you can pretty well just pick one that you like, although I’d stay away from the New World Translation and any NIV published in 2005 or later. If you want a Bible to study, I’d recommend the King James/Authorised Version (KJV) (although the antiquated language is a minus for many people), the New King James Version (NKJV) (not the 20th Century King James), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), or the English Standard Version (ESV). The ESV is somewhat more readable than the NASB and is my personal main Bible.

You might also consider the wisdom of getting a study edition. Study editions tend to be big and heavy — I have the ESV Study Bible in my lap at this very moment, and at over 2700 pages it is heavy enough to be called a “blunt object” by the police — but they are wonderful resources, especially if you want to dig into a particular passage.

As I have said, I love both the J.B. Phillips New Testament and The Message, but they must be considered paraphrases, not actual Bibles.

If you are Catholic, the New American Bible is also a good choice, and is what you will probably hear read at Mass. There is a Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version, but for my personal taste, it has the drawbacks of the KJV’s difficult language without the authenticity.

Which Bible is Best? (Part 1)

bible_left_250The issue of which Bible to read just confuses the dickens out of most people. So they read a translation of the Bible by sheer happenstance. A friend likes a certain Bible; or they get a Bible as a gift; or they were raised with a certain Bible. But if you are reading this, you are probably interested enough in reading the Bible to make an informed — and better — choice.

We won’t get too technical, but you do need to understand about translations, even if you don’t want a new Bible.

Accuracy vs. Readability: Types of Translations

Nobody can translate any foreign language into English absolutely literally. Some interpretation is unavoidable, because languages do things differently. For example, neither Biblical Greek nor ancient Hebrew even have an indefinite article (“a” or “an”), but nobody is going to read an entire book in English that reads “I put collar on dog man had in truck.” Furthermore, Greek has one word that can means both “and” and “but” (and also “then” and some other words); a translator is forced to interpret the meaning from the context. We don’t want to read “I like spinach and not carrots.” Not to mention, it is outright incorrect.

Literal Bibles

That said, some Bibles try to present the text in a manner as close to literal as possible. These Bible are harder to read and might sound awkward at times, but they are more accurate. If you want to study the Bible, you will want a more literal translation.

The most literal Bible is the NASB (New American Standard Bible), and it is really good. The King James or Authorised Bible is considered a literal translation and is preferred by many people, despite the archaic language, for its general accuracy and strong sense of poetry; but it is a hard Bible to read. The ESV (English Standard Version) is slightly less literal than the NASB and is my personal first choice, as it flows very nicely but retains a lot of integrity to the “actual Bible”, i.e. the Hebrew/Greek original.

Dynamic Equivalent Bibles.

Bibles that interpret more heavily, attempting to convey the meaning of a passage in more idiomatic (i.e. “normal”) English, are called “dynamic equivalent”. They try to take the meaning of a passage, written in Greek or Hebrew, and express the meaning in English, while keeping it as similar as possible to the original.

To make the difference more clear, a Frenchman would say “J’ai faim”. The literal interpretation of this would be “I have hunger”, which is understandable but clumsy English. It is not “idiomatic” English. A dynamic equivalent translation would be, “I am hungry.”

The example might make someone say, “no contest, dynamic equivalent is way better.” But there is a downside, because the Bible is complex and theological, and when someone translates it by dynamic equivalence, they necessarily impose their own ideas on the text. Such a translation can never be neutral. Every dynamic equivalent translation get hundreds of little things wrong, which is not such a big deal when you’re just reading it quickly, but can become extremely important if you are studying a passage closely.

As an example, in the NASB, John 18:37 reads:

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

But in the NIV, the most popular dynamic equivalent Bible, it reads:

“You are a king, then! ” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Notice the little differences, not just of language, but also of meaning. “For this purpose” in the NASB can be read as saying that part of Jesus’ purpose in being born is to be a king. The NIV removes this ambiguity — incorrectly. It makes up the reader’s mind on the issue for him (and actually, in this specific instance, they probably got it wrong). There are also fundamental theological distinctions between being “of the truth” and “on the side of truth”, and also between having a “purpose” for being born rather than a “reason”.

Paraphrases

There are also some Bibles that stray so far from the original language, in order to make the meaning clearer in modern English, that they cannot even be called “translations”. They will completely change the words, if they think it will convey the meaning more vividly. While most of these do not merit consideration, two of them are actually excellent books: The Message , which is wildly modern to the point of using slang, and The J.B. Phillips New Testament, which reads like an erudite 20th-century novel and is, actually, a wonderful way to read the New Testamant. But you would not want to study either of them as authoritative (something their authors, themselves, emphasize.)

To be continued . . .

Bad Habits

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When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’

And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.

Matthew 12:43-45 (ESV)

Today’s Scripture, in addition to the primary message about keeping God in our hearts, implicates a lot of more practical issues. I imagine many readers, myself included, have had struggles with a serious bad habit, one with real impact on our bodies and minds. I lost about 60 pounds at one point in my life and, although 10 of them come back from time to time, they always go away again. With God’s help, the evil spirit left and did not bring seven friends more evil than itself.

I can’t tell you Jesus really had addictive behavior in mind when He spoke his teaching about evil spirits in Matthew 12, but if we think of our bodies as God’s temples, it is not a big stretch. Our bodies are a gift. The reason God gave us this gift (at least in part) is for it to be a temple, to house his Holy Spirit.

The word “saint” comes from the Greek word hagios, which means “consecrated to God”. The New Testament repeatedly enforces the notion that, once we have accepted Christ, we become saints. 1 Peter 2:9. We are a body of people set apart for the Lord, “a holy priesthood,” the inheritors of God’s kingdom. And we may certainly find implications of holiness in the care of our bodies. I frankly do not know how Biblical are “The Seven Deadly Sins”, but greed, gluttony, and sloth are almost 50% of the list. Compare Paul’s words in Ephesians: “For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12), or “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” (Ephesians 5:3).

The first lesson is this: Never feel guilty, for Christ’s sacrifice abolished guilt. If Christ has made us righteous before the Father, how can we possibly second-guess him and judge ourselves guilty? We may regret a past action — even something as small as that jelly doughnut we simply couldn’t resist — and the world may extract a penalty for our behavior. But guilt is not a Christian emotion. We have God’s permission to let our guilt go. It is part of his gift to us in Christ Jesus.

The second lesson is this: How hard is it to pray about a habit that we believe is harmful and ask that the Holy Spirit guide us? And, if it is God’s will that we improve some habit we consider “bad”, that he help us overcome it? He has promised that He will. If you do not know it, and you have some problem in the nature of a personal habit, read 1 Corinthians 10:13 until it becomes second nature to you.

Christianity in Ethiopia

ethiopian_crosses

Ethiopia is one of the most fascinating countries in the world, historically speaking, but especially in its unique Christian heritage. The Christian church there dates to the 1st century A.D., only a few years after Christ’s resurrection: the Bible recounts that Philip converted an important Ethiopian court official, a eunuch, in Acts 8:26-38. According to the Christian historian Nicephorus, Matthew the Evangelist journeyed there to preach and convert after his early efforts in Judea. In the fourth century, a missionary named Frumentius (Saint Frumentius) traveled there and, around 340 A.D. (almost the same time as Constantine), convinced the monarch to declare Christianity the state religion.

It is the only pre-Colonial church in sub-Saharan Africa, and has remained, with immense effort and faith, an island of Christianity in a sea of Islam. The country’s population of Christians is estimated at 60%. The Ethiopian Church, with @ 45 million members, is the largest Oriental Orthodox church; there are also about 14 million Protestants and half a million Catholics.

One charming tradition is that every baptized person, upon confirmation, buys a personal cross to wear: silver if possible, or wooden for the very poor. They are ornate and handmade. The variety and beauty of these crosses defies description. (A selection is pictured to the left.)

Once again, we remember with praise and humility how vast and varied is Christ’s church, outside the English-speaking world. There are almost as many Christians in Ethiopia as there are total Protestants in the United States!

Rest for Your Soul

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We are getting into the holiday season already — how fast time flies! I’m sure some of you (like me) have already started thinking about Christmas presents, Thanksgiving dinner plans, perhaps parties or family gatherings. Perhaps you feel, as I do, some element of dread or anxiety in addition to the wonderful celebrations of God’s love for us that give us so much joy.

But God has given us a way to simply dissolve away the stress. He has given us the words that show us the way; for example, the line from Psalm 65 — “Find rest, oh my soul, in God alone” — and again, right on this page, a line from our memory verse, Matthew 11:28-30 — “you will find rest for your souls”

These words can so easily slip our mind when we are focused on a task. Let’s all agree that we will not lose a great benefit of our belief: The ability to find peace in a chaotic and unpeaceful world. It is a miracle cure and so easy to do! Close your eyes for 30 seconds and just think or pray the words, “Find rest, oh my soul, in God alone.”

If you do this ten times a day — which at first blush sounds ludicrous — that is a total of five minutes. If you do it thirty times a day (!!) for 15 seconds, that is 7 1/2 minutes.

People spends hours each week and thousands of dollars solving anxiety problems; but the best treatment is free. Once our faith has reached a certain point of maturity, peace is ours for the asking. Those of you who have prayed through a great tragedy, or a great anger, to the point where you felt that glorious peace from the Holy Spirit, will know exactly what I mean. And if you don’t, it is a wonderfully rewarding goal to set.

Dry Bones, Zombies, and the “Son of Man”

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When I was listening to the music for today – George Yount and the Cathedral Quartet singing “Dry Bones” – a light went off in my head. The quote from Ezekiel 37 has been nagging at me for weeks, for some reason, and it took a song that we put up as a bit of silly fun to really make the connection between Ezekiel and Christ. There is a lot of what you might call crypto-prophecy in the Old Testament, and this is one of the best examples. Ezekiel gives us an early model of what the Messiah would ultimately be and do, even though it is not directly as a messianic prophecy.

I realized that Ezekiel calling on the Lord to turn the skeletons into living people was exactly how I feel about having Christ in my life, and having the Holy Spirit breathed into me. I’m not talking about an academic recitation of the many times Christ says “I am the life”, but a real personal, emotional experience of becoming someone new and more alive.

Moreover, Jesus often referred to himself as the “Son of Man”, something that my Bible study group has been talking about in connection with John 9 recently. It really connects him even more closely with Ezekiel and the dry bones story.

You can easily think in terms of people who have not found God as lifeless skeletons, who become fully alive, who realize their own humanity only by the breath of God that comes from the Holy Spirit. I wonder if the popularity of zombies — in books, movies, tv, etc. — has something to do with the increasing prevelance of atheism in the world. People are searching for meaning in life and realize they are missing something important, and yet, they reject Christianity. They are like zombies who seem to be wandering aimlessly, searching endlessly for something but not even knowing what it is they are searching for.