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)

All About Bible Translations

stack-of-BiblesI think the best way to do figure out what a confusing passage means is to compare English bible versions. We have lots of them, and they’re usually good. Some have different goals, and they’re translated with these goals in mind.

In this post, I want to provide a brief overview of some common English bible translations that I think are helpful for Christians. Along the way, I’ll give some brief answers to common questions about bible translation. Here goes . . .

Why so many English versions?

There are many reasons. First, Christian translators and scholars are eager to always improve English translations; to fashion a new and better translation that speaks to the “common man,” and all sorts of other spiritual stuff. That’s good.

Also, Christian publishers want to market their own materials using their own proprietary translation. Who can blame them? It’s easier for Crossway, for example, to have its own translation, rather than potentially having to pay to use somebody else’s translation in the books it publishes. So, while the translators and scholars have noble goals, what’s even more true is that these scholars wouldn’t ever get the chance to fashion their new “ultimate” English versions unless a publisher thought it’d be worthwhile to sell the finished product.

Each major Christian publisher has commissioned and produced its own translation.

  • Zondervan has the NIV.
  • Crossway has the ESV.
  • Broadman & Holman have the CSB (formerly known as the HCSB).
  • HarperCollins has the NKJV; Thomas Nelson actually produced the thing, but it was bought by HarperCollins.
  • Tyndale House owns the NLT.

I could go on, but you get the point. But, the providential end result is that we have a lot of English bible versions. They’re usually all good. You should make use of them.

What are the differences between translations?

Generally, there are two issues readers should be aware of; NT textual basis and translation philosophy.

New Testament textual basis

There are basically three options for bible translators and scholars to use when it comes to the New Testament; (1) the Textus Receptus, (2) a Byzantine text, or (3) an eclectic text.

The Textus Receptus is a compiled, printed Greek text which began life in 1518 as an edited, printed compilation of perhaps a half-dozen Greek manuscripts containing the New Testament. The earliest of these dated from the 10th century. This printed edition was revised several times, but it continued to be based on very few Greek manuscripts. This is the first printed Greek New Testament, and its dominance lasted nearly 400 years. You can still buy a copy of one version of the Textus Receptus today, from the Trinitarian Bible Society. The KJV, NKJV and Modern English Version (MEV) are based on the Textus Receptus.

The Byzantine text platform is an edited, compiled, printed Greek text based on the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. However, most of these Greek manuscripts date from the Middle Ages, which means they aren’t very early at all. There are at least three printed, compiled Greek New Testaments based on the Byzantine text, all of them published within the past 40 years. There has never been a major English bible translation done from the Byzantine text, so don’t bother looking for one.

The eclectic (or critical) text is an edited compiled, printed Greek text based on a whole host of factors, from early manuscripts and later ones, too. It doesn’t strictly favor earlier Greek manuscripts or later ones, but in practice the earlier manuscript copies are often given more weight. It evaluates differences in Greek manuscripts on their own internal and external merits, and chooses the reading which makes the best sense. Different editions of this critical text have been published for over 100 years. Every major English bible translation (except the KJV, NKJV and MEV) is based on this eclectic text.

Some Christians passionately believe in the Textus Receptus, and the KJV whose New Testament comes from that Greek text. They may tell you all other Bibles are perversions. They’re wrong.

What are the differences between these different Greek New Testaments?

There are lots of spelling variations of different words, which are usually meaningless. There are lots of other meaningless odds and ends. The most striking differences are in (1) the longer ending of Mark, (2) the section from 1 John 5:6-8 which reads “and these three are one,” and (3) the story of the woman caught in adultery.

The Textus Receptus has all three of these. The printed Byzantine texts usually don’t count the “and these three are one” bit from 1 John 5:6-8 as being original, but have the other two. The eclectic printed texts don’t include any of these, because they aren’t in the earliest Greek manuscripts.

These are very complicated issues, and there are other less significant differences, but these are the most noteworthy. In fact, if you pay attention, I guarantee you’ll see notes in the margins of your Bible in the New Testament which read something like “other, later manuscripts include . . .” This isn’t a secret.

For some excellent information about this entire subject (which scholars call “textual criticism”), see these wonderful short lectures by Dan Wallace; look under the “textual criticism” heading.

Translation philosophy

It’ll be very challenging to write about this in a few paragraphs, but I’ll give it a shot. Modern English translations ran a whole gamut, from very literal to very free with their translation philosophy. This chart should make things clearer:

types-of-bible-translations

You may have been told that more “literal” translations are more accurate. You may have even been told that “thought-for-thought” translations are “liberal.” No. No. No. No.

Some translations seek to render the Greek word order as closely as humanly possible, believing this is the best way to translate. The NASB is the best example. This translation is so faithful to the original word order, and is so fearful of making any interpretive decisions, that it reads a bit like cardboard. In some places, it is very difficult to understand.

Other translations seek to make things clear. They’re willing to sacrifice a nearly word-for-word equivalence in order to make the idea crystal clear. The NLT is the best example. A child can read this translation with no problem. I know adults with low reading levels who benefit greatly from this translation.

Which one is best? All of the above. Let me give you an example; look at these samples from a wide variety of translations. They march in order from more “word for word” to “thought for thought.” Pay particular attention to the portions I highlight and underline, and watch how the sense changes between translations, from rigid English to freer, looser and clearer English:

  • NASB: “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation,” (1 Pet 2:12).
  • ESV: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation,” (1 Pet 2:12).
  • RSV: “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation,” (1 Pet 2:12).
  • Mine: “Always keep your whole way of life pure among the unbelievers, so that as they speak evil about your pure way of life as though you’re criminals, because of your good deeds (which they’re watching) they might give honor to God when He arrives,” (1 Pet 2:12).
  • NIV: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us,” (1 Pet 2:12).
  • NLT: “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world,” (1 Pet 2:12).

I focused on three aspects of this sentence; (1) “Gentiles,” (2) “speaking evil about you,” and (3) “the day of His visitation.”

Gentiles

This word could mean “Gentiles,” or it could mean “nations” (i.e. pagan nations). How should it be translated? If you believe Peter wrote his letters to primarily Jewish Christian congregations, perhaps you’d keep “Gentiles” or “nations.” The terms have a particularly Jewish flavor to them, especially in light of the OT. A Jew would get it.

But, if you don’t believe Peter wrote to majority Jewish Christian congregations, how should you render it? Does “Gentiles” really do the trick? Is that what Peter was literally getting at? They could live like demons among Jews, but if a Gentile comes along – be good? Doubt it. Peter seems to be referring to “unbelievers.”

Should it be translated it as “unbelievers?” The NLT went with “unbelieving neighbors.” The NIV and NEB chose “pagans.” The NET went with “non-Christians.” Phillips chose “surrounding peoples in your different countries,” which is clearly an attempt to retain the “nations” sense of the Greek. Lattimore chose “the heathen.” Most other English translations, which are often more essentially literal than these, went with “Gentiles.” Which one is better? Which one is clearer?

I think we need to make a distinction between meaning and clarity. The rendering “Gentiles” or “nations” is more technically accurate. But, the translation “unbelievers” is (I believe) much more clear. If something is clearer, is it not, in reality, more accurate?

Note that, in the list of translations (above), the reference to “Gentiles” drops after the first few entries. That’s because translations that trend (more or less) towards “thought for thought” realize that “Gentiles” is meaningless to the uninitiated; thus you have options like “unbelievers,” “non-Christians” and “pagans.” They realize that Peter seems to mean “unbelievers.” Which one is best? Both of them!

Speaking evil

The Greek syntax is tricky here. The NASB renders it faithfully (“so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers”), but let’s be honest – that’s a really hard sentence to understand. What on earth does this even mean? I’d rather read an inter-office memo about break-room etiquette than this.

The NASB is deliberately not trying to smooth things out; they want to stick to a woodenly literal translation. In my own translation, it’s obvious I think Peter is saying these unbelievers are slandering Christians because of their holy life, so I translated it that way (“so that as they speak evil about your pure way of life as though you’re criminals“). I have grammatical reasons for doing this, and they aren’t important now.

The point is that, as you go down the list, you see a change from wooden literalness to a drive for clarity. You might not agree with the NLT here (“even if they accuse you of doing wrong“), but at least you know exactly what they think it means. The NASB leaves it to you to figure it out, which isn’t a bad thing.

The day of His visitation

What does that even mean? In the list (above) you see the different translation philosophies very clearly. The NASB rendered it faithfully from Greek, but didn’t try to make it clear. The NLT, on the other hand, went all in for one particular meaning (“give honor to God when he judges the world“), but that isn’t literally what the Greek says. It’s probably what it means, but it isn’t what it says. Which is best? Both.

Hopefully, this crash course in translation philosophy has been helpful to you. The point is that translations are different, and you can learn a lot by comparing a few good ones.

Which translations should you compare?

Here is the short list of the ones I use. You could use others, but I’ve found these to be very helpful. You can find most of them at biblegateway.com.

  1. NASB. Extraordinarily literal. This is the most literal version in English today. It’s a favorite for preachers who prefer very close exposition and study. This means it’s not a pretty translation, but it is accurate.
  2. KJV. More literal translation. Old-fashioned, beautiful. May be hard to understand.
  3. RSV. More literal translation. Revision of the old ASV, which in turn was a revision of the KJV. The old standard for mainline Protestant denominations in the middle of last century. It retains “thee/thou” when bible characters address God. It’s normal English, but has an indescribable air of elegance. It’s beautiful. This is the translation I use.
  4. ESV. More literal translation. A revision of the RSV. Elegant, modern English. Very solid choice.
  5. NKJV. More literal translation. A 35-40 year-old revision of the KJV. Modern English. Clear. Solid choice.
  6. CSB (Christian Standard Bible, formerly HCSB). Literal translation. This is a completely original translation, commissioned by the Southern Baptists. It’s a good choice. It was completely revised and the update launched last year.
  7. NIV. Trends towards thought-for-thought. About 40 years old. Probably the best-selling English Bible of the last few decades. If you want clarity, combined with a commitment to stick close to the Greek text, this is it.
  8. NET (New English Translation). Thought for thought. This is not a well-known version. Produced by a team of scholars largely concentrated at Dallas Theological Seminary. It was produced for free distribution on the internet. This is an extraordinary translation, and any Christin who reads it will find it beautiful, accurate and enriching. I love this translation.
  9. NEB (New English Bible). Thought for thought. This is a mid-century British translation. It isn’t well known today. It’s a very nice translation, and their choices are often bold and striking. I like it.
  10. Phillips. Thought for thought. John Phillips was an Anglican preacher who started his own translation of the New Testament in the London underground, during the Blitz in World War 2. He later completed the entire New Testament by the mid-1950s. His translation is excellent, thought-provoking, and rewarding. He aims for clarity for the reader.
  11. NIrV. (New International Reader’s Version). Thought for thought. This is a sub-set of the NIV, designed specifically for children. My 7-yr old son uses it. It is a very good, very simple and very accurate translation. My son reads his bible aloud during our family devotions, and I am always impressed with how the translators got the meaning across in simple prose, in a way that is faithful to the Greek text. This is a very good translation.
  12. NLT. Very thought for thought. This is probably as far as you can go without falling off the cliff into paraphrase. This is a very free bible version, which makes extraordinarily bold translation choices. You may not agree with the NLT, but you’ll always know what the translators thought the phrase meant. They aimed for clarity, and they achieved it.

Should you use a paraphrase, like The Message?

No. Paraphrases are completely unnecessary, and are very nice incubators for heresy and foolishness. There are plenty of thought-for-thought translations on the market (e.g. NLT, NrIV) that are very, very, very easy to understand.

A translation actually considers the original language, the grammar, the syntax, and renders it faithfully. A paraphrase is one guy’s restatement of a passage in a deliberately simplistic manner. It’s not anchored to the actual words of Scripture, so it’s very dangerous to count on a paraphrase.

For example, this is how The Message renders 1 Peter 2:12:

Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.

Pardon me while I retch. Unbelievers are not “natives.” Peter said these unbelievers are slandering Christians, making them out to be criminals and evildoers. That is completely gone. Poof. They don’t have sin; they have prejudices. There is no mention that these unbelievers are watching the way you live your life. God is reduced to the guy at the party who made a pizza run, and will be cheered when he returns (“Dude! Where’s the pepperoni!?”).  Eternity, coupled with God’s righteous and wrathful judgment on Satan and all who refuse the Gospel, is reduced to “the celebration.” Eternity is now a frat-party.

This is foolish, unnecessary, and cheap. You don’t need a paraphrase, and you don’t need The Message.

Wrapping Up

So, what’s the point? If you read something in your bible, and you’re confused, I want you to reach for a different bible translation. Don’t ask Pastor Google or Pastor Bing, or even (heaven forbid) . . . Pastor Yahoo. Just look at another bible translation. Have a short list of go-to comparison translations, with a whole spectrum of translation philosophies. Keep a NLT, ESV and NIV handy, for example.

For some more on all this, see this wonderful article by Mark Ward, entitled “Which Bible Translation Is Best? All the Good Ones.”

You don’t need to know Greek or Hebrew. You have a whole host of good resources in English bible translations. They’re each different. They each have different translation philosophies. But, they’re all good. Use them, use your brain, think about the text, and it’ll become clear.

Happy studying. Ciao.

Holy Priests, Lego Bricks & Jenga

 

legos

Christians are individual building blocks, little Lego bricks. We’re each being called by God, and placed into the corporate spiritual temple or household that is God’s kingdom, His family, and His church. We’re each essential, and we’re each important. Don’t believe me? Pay Jenga sometime, and then you’ll get the analogy.

In 1 Peter 2:4-10, the apostle gives us a wonderful passage about what a local church is, and what we ought to think about it. People ought to think about it. The word “church” can also be translated “congregation,” and I think we should start using that term. The “church” isn’t the building; it’s the people. The people in a congregation are your spiritual brothers and sisters, united in Christ by repentance and faith in His Good News.

More on this in a week or so. For now, read the passage and think on these things.

My Translation of 1 Peter 2:4-10

Because you came to Him, (the living stone who’s been rejected by men, but in God’s sight [is] chosen [and] precious), even you yourselves, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood; to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ. This is why God says in Scripture,

Look! I have placed in Zion a stone, a cornerstone; chosen [and] precious – the one who believes in Him will never, ever be ashamed of it.

This means the honor is yours, you who believe! But to those who don’t believe, He’s “the stone the builders rejected that’s become the head cornerstone,” and “a stone to stumble on and a rock that offends them.” These builders are stumbling because they’re rejecting the message. Actually, they were destined for this.

But you believers are a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – God’s own people. The purpose of all this is so you’d announce the wonderful things God did, who called you out of the darkness [and] into His amazing light. You used to not be a people, but now you’re the people of God! You weren’t given any mercy, but now you’ve received mercy!

Questions for 1 Peter 1:1-2

I’m preparing to work through 1 Peter 1:1-2 this coming Sunday, for Bible study. The best way to teach through a book is to outline the entire thing to understand the flow of the argument, and then teach those units of thought individually. In my own outline, I kept 1 Peter 1:1-2 separate from vv. 3-9. Here are some good questions to ponder from this passage:

1 pet 1 (1-2)

  1. What is the overall point of 1 Peter 1:1-9? Why do you think Peter spends so much time emphasizing God’s grace in salvation? Is he trying to teach systematic doctrine, or does he have another point?
  2. What does Peter mean by “chosen?” How does this tie into his main point in the next section (1 Peter 1:3-9)? What difference does this make for your life?
  3. What does Peter mean by “resident foreigners . . . the diaspora” How does this tie into his main point in the next section (1 Peter 1:3-9)? What difference does this make for your life?
  4. Why does Peter emphasize Christians are “chosen according to God the Father’s plan?” Is he specifically trying to teach doctrine, or does he have another reason?
  5. How does God actually carry out His plan of choosing? Who is the agent who gets this done?
  6. What does Peter mean when he wrote that you are chosen “by the Spirit’s sanctification?” What is sanctification? How does this tie into his main point in the next section (1 Peter 1:3-9)? What difference does this make for your life?
  7. What are the two purposes, or results, of God’s choosing His people? That is, once the Spirit sanctifies a person, what happens next?
  8. What obedience is Peter talking about? How does this tie into his main point in the next section (1 Peter 1:3-9)? What difference does this make for your life?
  9. What “sprinkling” is Peter talking about? What does he mean? How does this tie into his main point in the next section (1 Peter 1:3-9)? What difference does this make for your life?

The translation above is mine; here are the detailed notes. No matter which Bible translation you use, you’ll still be able to answer these questions!

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee, and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

From The Book of Common Prayer (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007), 832-833.

Every Man Who Believes is Justified

I’ll be preaching from Acts 13:13-43 next Sunday. This is perhaps the longest of Paul’s sermons that God preserved and recorded for us. It is a summary of God’s grace and mercy toward the nation of Israel, Jesus’ advent, ministry, rejection, execution and resurrection.

It concludes with a stirring call for everybody (Jew or Gentile) to repent and believe in the Gospel. Paul promised that any person who does believe will be justified by God, set free from slavery to sin, adopted into God’s family and declared righteous in His eyes.

Here is my own translation of Paul’s conclusion:

acts-1338

If you are still rejecting the Gospel, please read and learn about it here.

Going Too Far . . .

Sometimes, the quest to simplify the Bible in translation can go too far. Here is a bit from D.A. Carson on the limits of functional equivilence in Bible translation:

Functional equivilence must not be permitted to mask the development of and internal relationship within salvation history. Suppose, for instance, that a tribe has a long tradition of sacrificing pigs but has never so much as heard of a sheep. Is it in that justifiable to render John 1:29, “Look, the swine of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” I would argue stronly for the negative, not only because of the importance of historical particularity . . . but because of the plethora of such alusions preserved in Scripture across the sweep of salvation history.

In what sense could it be said that Jesus ‘fulfills’ the Old Testament sacrificial system if that system typically sacrificed lambs at Passover, all the while proclaiming that pigs are ceremonially unclean, whereas Jesus is portrayed in John 1:29 as a swine? How then will John 1:29 relate to Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the fourth servant song, or to images of the warrier lamb in the Apocolypse (e.g. Rev 5:6)? Shall we change all such references to pigs (“We all, like swine, have gone astray . . .”)?

Now that is a funny example.

  • D.A. Carson, “The Limits of Functional Equivilence in Bible Translation,” in The Challenge of Bible Translation, ed. Glen Scorgie, Mark Strauss and Steven Voth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 101.

Some Thoughts on the NET Bible

net-bibleAbout six months ago, I stopped using the KJV for my personal devotions. I’ve preached from the King James for several years, but the time had come when I felt its shortcomings outweighed its strengths. I’d used the NET Bible for several years for comparison purposes. Among “normal” Christians, this translation is not well known.

The NET Bible was produced by a team of scholars centered around Dallas Theological Seminary. The translation’s purpose was “to answer the global need for a Bible translation that can be distributed without cost on the internet and be freely used in ministry.”[1] The finished version was released in September, 2001. The editors explained their translation ended up “somewhere between the two extremes”[2] of formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence.

I’ve used this Bible for six months. I’ve done my private devotions with this translation. I’ve preached from this translation. I’ve compared it to my own rough translation of the entire book of Philippians from Koine Greek. I really like the way the editors and translators handled the New Testament. A lot. I think it is a stunning achievement.

Notes on the NET

But, I am sometimes uncomfortable with the way the NET Old Testament translates poetry. In many cases, I believe it destroys the poetic structure of the text. It is dangerous to make sweeping statements about translation choices, so I’ll provide two concrete examples:

Jeremiah 5:5 (NET)

Jeremiah 5:5 (RSV)

I will go to the leaders and speak with them. Surely they know what the LORD demands. Surely they know what their God requires of them.” Yet all of them, too, have rejected his authority and refuse to submit to him. I will go to the great, and will speak to them; for they know the way of the LORD, the law of their God.” But they all alike had broken the yoke, they had burst the bonds.

Notice the RSV translates what the text actually says. The yoke has been broken. The bonds have been burst. Now, look at the NET. The translation eliminates the imagery and bluntly tells you what the imagery means. Yes, it is true God’s authority has been rejected and they refuse to submit. But, consider the picture of a yoke being put on the Israelites, to guide them and govern them. Consider the allusion of the bonds which tie us to our sovereign God. Poetry is special because of the imagery it creates in your head, the picture the words paint to make the point. The NET has destroyed that here.

Jeremiah 4:4 (NET)

Jeremiah 4:4 (RSV)

Just as ritual circumcision cuts away the foreskin as an external symbol of dedicated covenant commitment, you must genuinely dedicate yourselves to the LORD and get rid of everything that hinders your commitment to me, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. If you do not, my anger will blaze up like a flaming fire against you that no one will be able to extinguish. That will happen because of the evil you have done. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your doings.

The NET, in its zeal to make things clear for the reader, has butchered this command. You can see how much longer it is than the RSV. It abandons the command “circumcise yourselves to the Lord,” which is a phrase rich in Biblical allusions (cf. Jer 9:26; Deut 10:16, 30:6; Rom 2:28-29; Col 2:11, etc.). Instead, the translators sought to explain what it means.

The reader cannot ponder what it means to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart,” because the command has been taken from him. Interestingly, the NET translates this allusion in Rom 2:28-29. However, because the allusion is not translated here in our passage, the English reader might not ever connect the dots in his mind.

Now, to be fair, the NET Bible is infamous for its footnotes. It has over 60,000 of them. In every single place I’m aware of where the translators drop poetic imagery, they have a footnote which tells you all about it. Every single time. Good for them. I’m still not comfortable with it.

There are other examples, but the point is made. I think the NET Bible sometimes does a poor job with poetry. Its desire to help the reader understand the text is commendable. However, in carrying out this mission the translation sometimes destroys allusions and poetic imagery which I think ought to be retained, even at the expense of temporarily puzzling the reader.

What Now?

I’ve decided to check out another translation, and settled on the RSV. This never was a popular translation with fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals. I read one particularly hysterical contemporary review which made me chuckle. I’ve heard this was a very literary, very polished and very good translation. I’ve read Leland Ryken confess he was a “closet” RSV admirer for many, many years.

I recently rescued an old hardback RSV from the booksale cart at my local library. It cost me $0.25. Not a bad deal. I opened my RSV and took a stroll through Jeremiah 4-8, which I had just read in the NET. I was impressed. This looks to be a very literary and very polished translation. It is written in deliberately stately, slightly formal prose. It is certainly not colloquial, but it also isn’t antiquated (e.g. “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” KJV, Lk 2:49).

I have high hopes for the RSV. I think I’ll try it out for a few months. I know the ESV was a revision of the RSV, which itself was a revision of the ASV, which was based on the English Revised Version, which was a revision of the KJV. Whew, what a mouthful! So, I suspect I may eventually end up with the ESV as my standard translation. I want to settle on something and use it forever.

Regardless, though, I’m really looking forward to the RSV. I like its slightly formal, stately and majestic prose. It reads very well, and sounds dignified without being archaic. It should be fun.

Notes

[1] NET Bible, “Preface to the Reader’s Edition,” 5.

[2] NET Bible, “Principles of Translation,” 1425.

Gospel or Good News?

dictionaryIs the Word “Gospel” Gospel?

The English word “Gospel” has a tortured and convoluted history. I don’t know this because I’m a genius. I know this because I looked at the Oxford English Dictionary. Behold where it comes from:

  • It started out as the Greek εὐαγγέλιον
  • Then it morphed into the Latin evangelium
  • Then Old English translated this as “godspel”
  • We now have it as “gospel”

Why should you care? Well, it matters when you read Jesus saying something like this:

Mark 1:15 He said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!”

The word almost all English translation translate as “gospel” here is the Greek τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ, or “the gospel.” What does this word mean?

Hopefully, you can see the rendering “Gospel” really doesn’t tell you anything at all. The word is useless, in and of itself. It descended from the Old English rendering of the Latin, which in turn was descended from the Greek. The only place in this chain where we really have primary contact with the true definition is in the Greek – because the Old English, Latin and Modern English renderings are just derivatives from the Greek, not the actual definition itself.

So, what on earth did Jesus mean when he commanded everybody to believe in τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ? He meant they must believe the “good news.”

Who Cares?

If we translate terms consistently throughout the Bible, you can see connections easier. I stumbled across a perfect example this evening during my Bible reading:

Isaiah 52:7-10 How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains the feet of a messenger who announces peace, a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen, your watchmen shout; in unison they shout for joy, for they see with their very own eyes the LORD’s return to Zion. In unison give a joyful shout, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the LORD consoles his people; he protects Jerusalem. The LORD reveals his royal power in the sight of all the nations; the entire earth sees our God deliver.

The Israelites will go into exile because of their sin. Life will be terrible. It will be hard. They’ll be punished for their sins. But, all hope is not lost. God will deliver them. Enemies will be vanquished and trampled in the mud. The tables will be turned. Because of the new and better covenant, peace, justice, holiness and righteousness will reign in all God’s people and on all the earth. The Israelites will be rescued from their exile, and led back to their own Promised Land by Yahweh Himself.

In our passage, Isaiah gives us a picture of a special messenger from God. The messenger races over the mountains toward them. He has news! He has a message! What is he bringing?

He is bringing good news.

We just saw that phrase somewhere before, didn’t we!? Interesting. How do you suppose the Greek translation of the Old Testament which Jesus and the apostles used translated this word for “good news?”

I’ll bet you can’t guess it! They translated it as εὐαγγελιζόμενος, which is the exact same Greek word (in different form) which Jesus used in Mark 1:15, when He commanded Israelites to believe in the “good news.”

Connecting the Dots

Jesus is called elsewhere the “messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3:1). He is the messenger who will bring word about God’s new and better covenant. In Isa 52:7, He is also the “messenger” who will race across mountains to the Israelites bearing the message of peace (compare the angel’s Christmas message to the shepherds). He comes preaching “good news.”

Coincidence? I think not. Now do you see why “good news” might be a better translation than “gospel?”

Commentary on Romans 8:1-4

This is a short commentary I wrote after doing some exegetical work on Romans 8:1-4. That detailed work can be found on my “Bible & Creed Translations” page. This is not a terse, exegetical commentary. It has been deliberately written for normal people, but it is based on some thorough exegetical work.

—————————-

1

Therefore, [there is] now no punishment to those in union with Christ Jesus,

Paul begins the passage by drawing an overarching conclusion (“therefore”) from everything which has come before. In light of:

  1. the fact that “since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Rom 5:1),
  2. the fact that through Jesus “we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand,” (Rom 5:2),
  3. the fact that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us,” (Rom 5:5),
  4. the fact that “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom 5:8),
  5. God reconciled sinners to Himself despite the fact “we were enemies,” (Rom 5:10),
  6. the fact that those who have repented and believed the Gospel have been reconciled to God (Rom 5:11),
  7. the fact that, just as sin entered the world by one single transgression, “so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people, for just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous,” (Rom 5:18-19),
  8. the fact that those in union with Christ have been freed from slavery to sin, and have been made slaves for righteousness (Rom 6:17-18),
  9. and despite the fact that every single Christian who has ever lived still struggles with sin every day of his life (Rom 7),

something fundamental has forever changed in a person’s life once they become an adopted son or daughter of God. Maybe the best way to understand “therefore” here is to understand Paul writing something like, “therefore, the conclusion of the whole matter is this!”

This is the sum of the matter – “there is now no punishment to those in union with Christ Jesus.” Something has changed. There used to be punishment in store for you, but now there is not. There used to be the promise from the Lord that He would mete out flaming fire upon you, who refused to obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thess 1:8), but now there is not.

If you are a Christian, it means your name was written in the Lamb’s book of life from before the foundation of the world. You were elected, selected and chosen by God, for reasons only He knows, to be a recipient of His great mercy, love, grace and kindness.  You have been united to Him by repentance and faith in Christ. You are in union with Christ, and therefore there is now no punishment for you.

Why not?

2

Because the law of the life-giving Spirit, in union with Christ Jesus, has liberated you from the law of sin and death.

This “law of the life-giving Spirit” is a rule of life which governs your heart and mind. It is the divine influence and help from on high, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, who rules in a Christian’s heart and mind now that the kingdom of darkness has been banished from within you (cf. 2 Cor 4:3-4).

This is in complete contrast to the “law of sin and death” which used to rule and war in your body, controlling your thoughts and actions, motivating and impelling you to do nothing but seek after your own lusts and desires. You used to present your body to sin as an instrument to be used for unrighteousness (Rom 6:13); now that has all been changed and flipped on its head.

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (Rom 6:19).

Your entire being has changed. You have changed. You have been given spiritual life. You have God’s Holy Spirit within you, and your heart of unyielding stone has been replaced by a soft heart of flesh (Eze 36:24ff); a heart sensitive to the things of God, motivated and impelled by His holiness and driven by a thirst for righteousness. You love God, and therefore seek to keep His commandments (Jn 14:15).

This rule of life comes from the “life-giving Spirit.” It is He who brings life to the spiritually dead. But, He does not do it alone. He does it “in union with Christ Jesus.” All three Divine Persons of the Trinity work together to accomplish a sinner’s salvation, sanctification and eternal glorification. It is the Apostle Peter who proclaimed to the crowds on Pentecost that Christ dispenses the Spirit to His brethren;

 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear (Acts 2:32-33).

Think about the word “liberation.” It implies that you were enslaved to someone or something. You were powerless to fight against it. It dominated you. It controlled you. It consumed you. It exercised unrelenting control and mastery over your heart, soul and mind. Now, Paul is not speaking about actual slavery in a worldly sense. But, if you go one step further to the spiritual sphere, things are suddenly very clear.

People are born enslaved to their lusts, desires and wickedness impulses. People are, by nature, children of wrath (Eph 2:3). People belong to the kingdom of darkness, and must be transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col 1:13). When a sinner repents and believes the Gospel, he does so only because the life-giving Spirit, in union with Christ Jesus, has liberated him from the law or rule of sin and death in his life.

The Spirit is the One who performed the action here. He liberated you. You did nothing. It is an act which was accomplished at a specific point in time, and as a result, you entered into a new state. There is now no punishment for you. You have been liberated from the law of sin and death. The Spirit did this, dispensed by the Son, according to the good pleasure of the Father’s will. The Spirit and the Son did it all, because it was predestined by the Father. Salvation is liberation from the domain of darkness.

How have Christians been set free?

3

For [God did what] the law could not ever do, because it was weakened by the flesh. God sent His own Son as like a sinful man and, regarding sin, He imposed judgment against the sin while He was in the flesh,

Because God acted while we were helpless. Because God had determined to act in eternity past, despite knowing every wicked and sinful thing you have done, are doing, or ever will do.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:4-7).

In short, “[God did what] the law could not ever do, because it was weakened by the flesh.” The law could never perfect anybody; it could only prove our own weakness. The law could never atone for sins; it could only forgive, as it were, on credit in light of the coming Messiah who would taste death for every man (Heb 2:9). As Paul wrote elsewhere,

 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing! (Gal 2:21).

The law, while inherently holy and good, was weakened by our sinful flesh. Therefore, God acted. He sent His own Son in the state or condition of being like a sinful man. Christ was not a sinful man, but He was made in the form or likeness of one. He was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit specifically so He would not be contaminated by the curse of sin.

As the chief angel Gabriel told Mary, “Therefore [that is, in light of Jesus’ miraculous conception] the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God,” (Lk 1:35). Jesus is holy precisely because He is not tainted by sin, yet the Scriptures still affirm “for we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin,” (Heb 4:15).

It should also go without saying that, if God sent Jesus in the form or likeness of sinful flesh, to be as like sinful flesh and identify with all the frailties and limitations of wicked men, that the Son was pre-existent. He did not spring into being at His birth in Bethlehem.

What did Jesus do? Simple. “[R]egarding sin, He imposed judgment against the sin while He was in the flesh.” While He was in the flesh; that is, while Jesus was incarnate on this earth as the God-Man, He imposed judgment against “the sin.” He defeated sin. He conquered sin. “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God,” (2 Cor 5:21).

What is “the sin”? Many English translations do not translate the article “the,” because many times it is not necessary to do so. In this case, however, it is important. In this case, “the sin” is basically a synonym for “the curse.” Jesus imposed judgment against “the curse” of sin and death, against the penalty of the fall, against the sentence which God imposed on all humanity in the Garden of Eden so long ago. That curse has been broken, rent in two, and shattered into thousands of pieces. Jesus imposed judgment against the very curse, against the very “sin” which has bound men, women, boys and girls from all over the globe into slavery to the law of sin and death since the events from Genesis 3.

Jesus did this. You did nothing, you do nothing and you cannot do anything. He performed the action of this verb, and He did it at a particular point in time in the past. He did it during the incarnation, through His perfect and holy obedience to the law and His voluntary and willing torture and death for His people’s sake. This is what theologians call the active and passive obedience of Christ. He actively obeyed the law and fulfilled God’s perfect standards of righteousness and holiness for His elect. He also passively allowed Himself to be arrested, tried, tortured and then executed for His children’s crimes, in their place, as their true substitute.

Jesus did this. He imposed judgment against “the sin” while He was in the flesh. Praise the Lord for the Son’s faithfulness! But, why did He do it? What was the purpose?

4

so that the requirement of the law would be fulfilled among us who are not living according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Jesus did this for a very specific reason; “so that the requirement would be fulfilled . . .” What requirement is Paul talking about? He’s talking about the requirement that Christ be perfect and holy in our place, as our substitute. Remember, if righteousness could come by the law, then Christ died for nothing. Paul also wrote:

 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified (Gal 2:16).

So, Jesus, the Son of God, fulfilled the requirement of the law perfectly, and He did it for all the ones whom God has given to Him. If you are a Christian, then Jesus did this for you. If you are not a Christian, but you repent of your sins and believe the Good News He suffered and bled and died to bring to you, then He did it for you, too.

This requirement is not fulfilled among everybody. It is only “fulfilled among us who are not living according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Paul is not saying that we fulfill the requirement by living our lives according to the Spirit, as if this was a statement about a Christian’s obligation.[1] He is stating a fact, not a condition. Here is what Paul is saying:

  1. if you have repented of your sins and believed the Gospel,
  2. then there is now no punishment in your future, because you are in union with Christ Jesus
  3. this is because the law of the life-giving Spirit, together with Christ Jesus, has liberated you from the law or rule of sin and death in your heart, soul and mind. How is this possible?
  4. It is possible because God did what the law could never do, because its usefulness was weakened by the flesh. Therefore, God sent His own Son in the very likeness of sinful man and, concerning sin, His Son imposed judgment against the curse of sin and death while He was in the flesh!
  5. Jesus did this so the requirement of the law would be fulfilled among those who live according to the Spirit – but what does it mean to be living according to the Spirit?
  6. It means to be controlled, governed by, ruled over by and influenced by God Almighty, who sent Jesus to live a perfect life, die a sacrificial death, and rise again to defeat and impose judgment on the curses of sin and death, and who then sent the Spirit to give you new life.

In short, Paul is saying Jesus fulfilled the requirement of the law for those who are controlled and governed by the Spirit, who are Christians. This is a statement about status; “those who are living according to the Spirit” = those who are saved. Jesus did this for the elect; for those whom God has given to Him.[2]

The verb is passive here, which in this instance means the action is done to the recipient. The recipient does nothing at all. The recipients of this grace are “us . . . who are living according to the Spirit.”

Notes

[1] For example, William Hendrickson wrote, “The purpose and result of Christ’s work of redemption was that His people, by means of the operation of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and lives, should strive, are striving, to fulfill the law’s righteous requirement. Out of gratitude for and in response to, the outpouring of God’s love, they now love God and their neighbor,” (Romans 1-8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980], 248).

See also Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 303-304. Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 404-405 also seems to take this view.

[2] John Calvin observed, “They who understand that the renewed, by the Spirit of Christ, fulfil the law, introduce a gloss wholly alien to the meaning of Paul; for the faithful, while they sojourn in this world, never make such a proficiency, as that the justification of the law becomes in them full or complete. This then must be applied to forgiveness; for when the obedience of Christ is accepted for us, the law is satisfied, so that we are counted just,” (Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans [Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010], 283).