The End of Everything

Here is my rendering of the next passage in my journey to translate and teach my way through the Book of 1 Peter:

Now, the end of everything has now drawn near, so be sensible and self-controlled for the sake of [your] prayers. Above all else, always keep [your] love for one another constant, because love always covers many sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. To the degree that each [of you] has received a gift, use it to serve one another, like good servants of God’s multifaceted grace. If someone speaks, [do it like he’s speaking] God’s [very] words. If someone serves, [he must do so] from the strength that God always supplies, so that God will be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him [belongs] the glory and sovereignty for ever and ever! Amen (1 Peter 4:7-11).

These is some very good advice! Actually they’re a series of commands, which flow from that enigmatic statement at the very beginning:

1 pet 4

Here are some questions to consider from the passage:

  1. What is the “end of all things?” What is Peter referring to? How does this relate to the list of commands in this passage?
  2. Why should Christians be sensible and self-controlled? Where else in this letter did Peter say something similar about how your behavior is linked to how God hears your prayers?
  3. What does Peter mean when he says “love always covers many sins?”
  4. What did “hospitality” look in Peter’s day, in his culture? What does it look like, today, in our culture?
  5. Why does Peter call God’s grace of bestowing gifts to Christians as “multifaceted,” or “manifold” or “varied?”
  6. What are some of the gifts the New Testament identifies believers have?
  7. Who does Peter want you to use your gifts for? What does this tell us about the congregation being a local community of believers?
  8. What does Peter suggest about how gifted you are in a particular area?
  9. What kind of “speaking” is Peter referring to?
  10. Where does the strength come from to serve others in the church? What does this tell us about motivation for service?
  11. What is the reason and motivation for Christians to use their spiritual gifts for each other?

I’m looking forward to going through this passage over the next few weeks.

“Let it Go” and Bible Translation Philosophy

Many people are looking for a “formal equivalence” translation of the Bible, even if they don’t use that nerdy term. They want a Bible that translates the Greek and Hebrew into English as accurately as possible, following the original intent of the original words as closely as possible. That’s good.

But, how do you do this?

People have different philosophies of translation, and we see that in Bible translations. Some folks try to stick very close to the structure of the original language (e.g. the NASB), while others try to catch the flavor and meaning, even if they have to use a bit of creative license (e.g. NET, NEB, NLT).

Some well-meaning pastors and bible teachers passionately defend a “formal equivalence” translation philosophy. I get what they’re saying, but I don’t agree. But, first, here’s a good definition so we understand what we’re talking about:

Formal equivalence: a theory of translation that favors reproducing the form or language of the original text, not just its meaning. In its stricter form, this theory of translation espouses reproducing even the syntax and word order of the original; the formula word for word translation often implies this stricter definition of the concept.

Leland Ryken, Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009; Kindle ed.), KL 186-188.

I like this definition. It has good motives. The main drawback is that this kind of translation philosophy will often produce cardboard English; a stilted, artificial, and extraordinarily formal text. That’s why the NASB isn’t very elegant.

I could go on … but I have an example for you. It’s not a Bible verse; it’s something entirely different. I want you to watch (and read) the subtitles for Disney France’s official version of the mega-hit single “Let it Go,” from the movie Frozen. The subtitle function in YouTube uses a formal equivalence translation philosophy when it renders the French lyrics into English. Listen, and tell me what you think!

You know the real lyrics to this song; they’re colloquial and make intuitive sense. When we speak and listen, real meaning isn’t so much in the individual words, but in the vernacular words, phrases and contemporary context which shapes and gives meaning to this speech.

You either know or hate this song. But, I know you’ve heard it. Read the subtitles, and learn what a formal equivalence translation philosophy can do to a poetic work. Here’s a preview of the first chorus:

Liberated! Delivered!
I will never lie again
Liberated! Delivered!
It’s decided! I’m leaving!
I left my childhood in Summer
Lost in winter
The cold is my price for freedom

Consider why some pastors, translators and bible students are less than sold on a full-throated, formal equivalence translation philosophy.

Here it is (if closed captioning isn’t already on, turn it on) …

A Word About Bible Translation Philosophies

montoyaIf you’re a Christian who has paid attention, you’ve probably heard strong opinions from Pastors or other Christians about various English Bible translations. Maybe you’ve heard the NIV is a “liberal translation,” because it’s “gender-neutral.” Perhaps you’ve heard the NLT is a paraphrase. And so it goes.

There’s nothing wrong with the major English Bible translations. I don’t care which one you read and use; KJV, ASV, RSV, NIV, NRSV, NEB, REB, NASB, MEV, LEB NET, Phillips. Take your pick. In the end, most disagreements come down to what you believe about (1) translation philosophy and (2) which printed, Greek New Testament text is the best. I wrote a long article about bible translations a while back to briefly address some of these concerns.

Today, I want to talk about translation philosophy. If you ask an informed Christian, she’ll probably tell you there are two camps:

  1. Formal equivalence, or “word for word” translations. This approach tries, as much as possible, to retain the original word order in Greek and Hebrew.
  2. Dynamic equivalence, or “thought for thought” translations. This philosophy seeks to convey the meaning of the word or phrase, and isn’t as tied to the original word order.

This is all wrong. Wrong. Not right. Wrong.

Most Christians in America aren’t fluent in a second language, and haven’t studied languages. I understand, and I’m not blaming anybody. But, the result is that Christians who say these things are usually repeating what others have told them. They often really don’t know what they’re talking about. This kind of argument works best as an abstraction, as a pie in the sky philosophy. When you put the fancy ideas away, and actually try to translate a Bible passage yourself, life gets tough.

Here’s a simple example …

What does “bless” mean?

The Apostle Peter is wrapping up his discussion of the so-called “household” or “station codes,” and he wrote this to sum up every Christian’s responsibility to live in a holy way in a pagan world (1 Peter 3:8-12). Here’s one excerpt from that section:

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind. Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing (1 Peter 3:8-9, RSV).

Tell me, what on earth does “bless” mean, in this context? I want you to explain it to me. I want you to consider the context, consider why the phrase repeats in the same sentence, and tell me what “bless” and “blessing” mean. I’m waiting …

Still waiting.

Well, I’ll go first. Here’s one thing you should always remember:

  • There is no such thing as a “literal meaning.” Literally (heh)! 

Every word and every sentence depends on context for clarity. Words have tons of different meanings, but the context tells you which meaning is right. You already know this, instinctively. You don’t even realize you know it, but you do.

Think about the word “tons” (which I conveniently put in bold so you’d see it). What is the “literal meaning” of that word? You don’t know, do you? You’re thinking on it now, and you’re realizing it all depends on how the word is used, aren’t you? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says:

  • The word could refer to a metric unit of weight, or
  • It could mean a large quantity of something, or
  • Various quantities of storage capacity for maritime shipping

So, there is no literal meaning for a word or phrase – context is everything. Now, when you look at a dictionary, you get what linguistic nerds call a gloss. This is a generic definition that covers a lot of ground, but doesn’t even begin to explain the word well. For example, you could say the gloss for the word ball is “a rounded mass or shape.” But, that really doesn’t tell you much. There are tons of ways (see what I just did!?) to use the word ball in the English language.

  • “George and I went to the ball last night! He looked so handsome in his tuxedo!”
  • “We left the kids at home last night, and went out on a date. We had a ball!”
  • “Hey, Jeff, wanna play some ball with the guys this Saturday?”
  • “For the last time, Sherri – you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball! What’s wrong with you, lately?”

When you come to the Greek participle εὐλογοῦντες, the normal gloss means bless. Yay. How wonderful. What on earth does this mean? Well, when you consider how the word is used in the New Testament and contemporary Greek writing, you have two basic options:

  1. It can mean something like “be kind.”
  2. It could also mean “to invoke God’s blessing upon.”

Which one is it, here? Because Peter goes on to say Christians were called to inherit blessing (i.e. “divine favor”) from God, it makes sense to understand the participle to have the same sense, here.[1] That is, it seems Peter is using the term “bless” in the same way both time he uses it, in 1 Peter 3:9.

Once again, here is Peter’s argument – consider which usage best fits the context:

Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary ——–, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a ——–.

Is Peter telling them to be nice to hostile unbelievers? Or, is he telling them to invoke God’s favor upon these hostile outsiders? Christians have been called to do this, whatever it is. As a result of God’s calling, Christians will obtain … whatever this is. It seems obvious the second option is the one we want; to invoke God’s divine favor.

But, how should we translate it? Should we render it as bless? 

The rendering “bless” is standard Biblish in our Christian vocabulary. It’s meaningless. You’re used to seeing it, because it’s comforting and familiar. But, does the word bless here actually communicate anything at all? What does it mean?

We’ve just found out that, in this context, it means a Christian shouldn’t return insult for insult, or evil for evil. Instead, the Christian should ask for God’s favor on the offender. So, perhaps we should just translate it that way! This is what my translation looks like:

You must not make it a habit to repay evil for evil, or insult for insult. But, instead, you must always repay by asking for God’s favor on the person, because you were called to all this, [and] as a result you’ll obtain God’s favor!

We shouldn’t be captive to glosses that don’t explain what the word actually means. Deliberate ambiguity isn’t a virtue when the context is rather straightforward.

Some critics would say my translation philosophy here is dynamic equivalency. I reply – I love you, but you really don’t know what you’re talking about.[2] A dynamic equivalency translation would actually go one step further, and ask the question, “what does it mean to ask for God’s favor on the person?” The answer, I believe, is to pray for the person’s salvation. So, a true dynamic equivalent translation would render this something like, “you must always repay the person by praying for his salvation …” So, there.

In this context, the participle εὐλογοῦντες means “to invoke God’s blessing upon” someone. This isn’t a tenuous interpretation; it’s pretty straightforward and I can make a very, very good case for it. Shouldn’t a translation seek to bring this across?

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Bill Mounce, the author of the most popular first-year Koine Greek textbook in America. He wrote this in a short article, entitled “The Myth of Literal Translation:”

May I encourage you not to be deceived by this idea of choosing an English Bible so that you can see the underlying Greek structure. You will be led astray on every verse. If you want to get that close to the Greek, I know of a couple Greek textbooks that will help you get there (grin). If not, then understand that all translations have to smooth out the Greek to make it understandable English, and read it with that in mind.

Keepin’ it real

I could say a whole lot more, nuance my position a bit, and offer up all the appropriate caveats about translation philosophy.  But, I won’t bother here. I’ve said enough to make my point, and any theologians reading this already know what those caveats are anyway.

Let’s recap:

  1. Don’t take a simplistic stance on a Bible translation philosophy – it’s complicated.
  2. Most Pastors or leaders you listen to either never learned Greek, or have allowed themselves to forget most of it. Even if they use it, many of them don’t do much beyond word studies. It’s very rare to have a Pastor who actually does translation himself, and can interact with exegetical commentaries and argue syntax in  meaningful fashion. So, the chances are the person who’s giving you information about bible translation philosophies is well-meaning, but really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
  3. There is no such thing as a “literal meaning” of a word. I mean that literally. Get it?
  4. A bible translation shouldn’t be afraid to ignore a gloss and render the clear meaning of a word or phase, if the context is clear and straightforward.

So, don’t be afraid of the NLT. Don’t be afraid of the NIV. Don’t be afraid of the KJV or the RSV. They’re good translations.

Notes

[1] Actually, there is real disagreement about how to translate the last bit of 1 Peter 3:9, but I won’t bother to go into that here!

[2] Any interested Christian should read Leland Ryken’s book, Understanding English Bible Translations – An Essentially Literal Approach. With some caveats, I appreciate his approach to the issue and agree with his “essentially literal” philosophy.

My Translation of Micah 5:1-3

The prophet Micah wrote a wonderful prophesy about Jesus Christ, the One who would come forth for God to be the ruler par excellence in Israel. I’ve spent some time translating the passage from the Septuagint; the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which Jesus and the early Christian used. I plan to write a bit about this passage soon. For now, I’ll just leave you with the translation.

There are some differences from the English translation in your Bibles, because they’re translated from Hebrew, not Greek. The verse numbers from the Septuagint are also different, sometimes. This is one of those times. In your English Bibles, this passage will be Micah 5:2-4. Here, it’s Micah 5:1-3:

Micah 5(1-3)You can find more of my pitiful translations from the New Testament, the Septuagint and an ancient creed or two here.

Real Advice for a Messy Life

messyLife is messy. The Apostle Peter understood that. And, because he wrote what God wanted him to write, that means God understands it, too.

In theory, a Christian shouldn’t marry a non-Christian. Doesn’t always work out that way. Never mind why it doesn’t – we can all agree that, sometimes, it doesn’t happen that way. What if one person becomes a Christian when she’s already married? Should she pack up and hit the road? Not at all.

These are the gritty questions of real life. Life is messy. Life is hard. Life isn’t neat and tidy. As I said, Peter understands that. He has some practical advice for us on that score (1 Peter 3:1-6; from my own translation):

In the same way, you wives must submit yourselves to your own husbands, so that even if some are being disobedient to the word, they might be won over without a word by your way of life when they see your holy conduct, along with your respect towards God.

Don’t let your beauty be simply external, like the braiding of hair and wearing of gold, or putting on [fancy] clothes. Instead, let your beauty be [from] the inner person, from the heart, through the immortal [character] of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which is very precious in God’s eyes. Because this is also how the holy women from the past who hoped in God made themselves beautiful – by submitting themselves to their own husbands. That’s what Sarah did; she obeyed Abraham by calling him, “Sir.”

You’ve now become her daughters! So, do what’s right and don’t fear any husband who is intimidating.

Why does Peter call the Christian spouse to stay in the relationship? So that the believer might win the unbeliever to Christ. He tells the Christian not to lord it over the spouse, not to be filled with self-righteousness. He tells the believer to be patient and, if necessary, not say anything at all – to let her Christ-like way of life and holy conduct speak for itself.

There’s much more to be said. I’ll get there in Sunday School . . . in about two months or so!

Following the Leader

follow leaderYou household slaves:

Always submit yourselves to [your] masters in a very respectful way; not only to the good and kind, but also to those who are cruel. Because God is pleased if, because a man is mindful of Him, he endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.

Here’s why I say this – how is it to your credit if, when you slaves are committing sin and being roughly treated, you endure it? Instead, this is favor with God: if, when you’re doing right and suffering, you endure it – this is why you slaves were called to salvation!

You see, even Christ suffered for you slaves to leave behind an example for you, so you’d follow in His footsteps. He didn’t break God’s laws, and no lies were found in His mouth. Although He was viciously insulted, He didn’t insult [them] back. Even though He suffered, He never threatened to make them suffer in return. Instead, Christ kept entrusting [Himself] to the One who judges right.

He Himself carried our sins in His body to the cross, so that we believers would first be freed from the power of these sins, and then live for righteousness. By His wounding you were healed. What I mean is that, like sheep, you were wandering away, but now you’ve been returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

  • 1 Peter 2:18-25 (my translation)

They’re Watching . . .

Dear friends:

I’m begging you – because you’re foreigners and temporary residents here, keep far away from the worldly lusts which are doing battle against the soul.

Always keep your whole way of life pure among the unbelieving nations, so that as they speak evil about you as though you’re criminals, because of your good deeds (which they’re watching) they might give honor to God on that day when He returns to judge the world.

Submit yourselves to every human authority for the Lord’s sake, whether to [the] emperor as one who governs, or to [the] officials who are being sent by him to punish evildoers and praise those who do right.

Because this is God’s will, that by doing right you’d silence the ignorant slander of foolish men — like freed slaves, and not like those who’re wearing this freedom like a cloak of wickedness, but like God’s slaves.

Respect all men. Love the family of believers. Always have fearful reverence for God. Always respect the Emperor.

  • 1 Peter 2:11-17 (my translation)