Books: Love Wins by Rob Bell is reviewed by Darrell Bock

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is getting lots of attention out in the evangelical blogosphere. I have not read the book, and I don’t intend to do so after reading the extended reviews by Darrell L. Bock of the Dallas Theological Seminary faculty. Bock has posted seven long blog entries so far, and they are available [link deleted due to malware report at site]. If Hell and judgment are issues that trouble you, make sure to read Bock’s analysis.

The title Love Wins probably gives you the big idea. Bell emphasizes God’s love and mercy in Christ and generally presents a minimal picture of Hell or divine judgment. That is certainly what a lot of people would prefer to believe. Of course, the only problem is that God’s Word says otherwise!

While I don’t always agree with Bock on progressive dispensationalism or on philosophy of Bible translation — it’s like a gnat bothering a bull elephant — I really admire his ability to do biblical and theological analysis of a book like Bell’s.  Bock skillfully expresses his ideas in a way that reaches a non-seminary audience and does so using the Bible as his basis for disagreement or agreement.

In short, read Darrell Bock (both blog and books) but not Rob Bell.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Books: The Hand of God praised by Arnold Fruchtenbaum

It felt great when I got the following review of my new book The Hand of God from Arnold Fruchtenbaum (Th.M., Ph.D.), the founder and president of Ariel Ministries. Ariel Ministries was “created to evangelize and disciple our Jewish brethren.”

available at Amazon.com

Here is the review:
Most books today on the spiritual life deal almost exclusively on the New Testament and only rarely try to find some principles from the Old Testament. But the Old Testament saints were highly spiritual and obviously had a close walk with the Lord, and yet the New Testament was not available to them.
Mr. Barry Applewhite in his work The Hand of God has provided insightful portrayal of many principles of the spiritual life using almost exclusively the Old Testament and even historical segments of the Old Testament. Without denying the literal meaning of the text, and without ignoring what the Old Testament text itself is teaching, Mr. Applewhite has drawn out many fine spiritual principles that are still applicable to New Testament believers. After giving a basic survey of the Old Testament material, each chapter concludes with specific points of spiritual principles which are applicable to all believers.

I am happy to highly recommend this fine work and encourage everyone to get a copy of it and read and apply it for deeper spiritual benefits.

Yours for the salvation of Israel,
Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum
President and Founder, Ariel Ministries

Ariel Ministries may be found here.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

A short history of the Western Church — Part 1

Unfortunately, the Christian church in America is woefully ignorant of its history. This deficit in knowledge hurts Christian evangelism because we do not have any clear idea of what we are asking people to join, other than a faith-relationship to Jesus Christ. Jesus formed a community of faith (Matthew 16:18). English translations of the Bible use the word church to refer to that community, and the church has a history!

By church I mean the collection of all true believers in Jesus. The extent to which this group overlaps with the institutional Church (mark the capital letter C) has varied greatly. The Roman Catholic Church (abbreviated RCC) is the primary institutional Church for most of the history covered here. Also, this history focuses mainly on Europe, because that is the channel of our spiritual heritage in America.

Outline of church history

  1. The early church Day of Pentecost (33) to Council of Nicea (325)
  2. The political church Constantine (306-337) to birth of Luther (b. 1483)
  3. The Reformation church Luther (1483) to World War I (1914-1918)
  4. The modern church World War I (1914-1918) to 1970

Synopsis of church history

The early church Day of Pentecost (33) to Council of Nicea (325)

Several factors characterized the early church: persecution (usually to death), rapid expansion, and the struggle with heresies and secular philosophy.

Even though Jesus had been executed by Roman capital punishment, the Christian movement was initially too insignificant to get attention in Rome. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost in the year 33 resulted in a tremendous influx of new believers (Acts 2:41). But violent opposition soon developed as well. Many believers died for their faith, but the church grew even faster during persecution.

The Apostle Paul, having been falsely accused by the Jews, appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25:11), and that brought the message to the heart of the Roman empire (Acts 28:16, 31). The rapid expansion of the church and its failure to practice emperor worship brought it into early and frequent conflict with Roman authority. Persecution drove many Christians out of Jerusalem prior to its destruction by the Roman general Titus in the year 70.

Of greater danger to the faith than death were the inroads of Greek philosophy. In certain instances we are still struggling with accommodations made to shape the Christian faith into a philosophically-pleasing package during this early period. For example, the idea that God has no emotions entered Christian thought during this period.

The political church — Constantine (c. 274-337) to Luther (b. 1483)

The Roman emperor Constantine (c.274-337) brought an end to most persecution and favored Christianity above all religions. While this was a positive development, it also brought about many changes. Under imperial favor, church life became much more formal and church buildings more monumental. One may reasonably say that from this time until Luther challenged the established order in 1517, the church became entangled with political power. The true church was overshadowed by the institutional Church, which was often a major element of regional political power. This is still true today in some ways.

Of course, all great changes produce a reaction. The popularization of Christian faith (both professed faith and true faith) under Constantine caused some believers to retreat from the tumult. This led to a tremendous increase in monastic movements and their monasteries. They still exist.

Heresies, councils and Augustine

Many heresies plagued the church during this period, including Arianism and Pelagianism. In short, Arianism taught that God the Father was greater than Jesus or the Spirit, and Pelagianism taught that man could achieve salvation by worthy human works. The church rightly rejected these views during councils held in the fourth century. These councils also reached a final consensus concerning the exact books recognized by the church as inspired by God, now collected for us as the Bible.

Augustine (354-430) of Hippo, in North Africa, was the most influential theologian of this period. His views became the theological foundation of both the RCC and later the Protestant Reformation (see below).

Rome fell to the barbarians in 455, and one historian credits the barbarian invasions of Europe for bringing about the great upsurge in the authority of the Bishop of Rome, now known as the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.[1] A second factor that led to this result was the fall of other Christian centers in Africa and the Middle East to the invading Moslems during the seventh and early eighth centuries. There is no doubt whatever that the RCC was the only dominant religious institution in Western Europe until the sixteenth century.

Eastern church and western church split apart

While most Christians in America fit into the stream of Western Christianity, it should be remembered that Eastern Orthodox Christianity, originally centered in Constantinople (on the European shore of the Bosporus in modern Turkey), developed in parallel with the RCC. A formal split occurred in 1054, after a long accumulation of theological and political differences, and the Eastern Orthodox Church is still powerful today in its historic regions.

Characteristics of medieval Christianity

The two focal points of medieval Christianity were monasticism and the papacy.[2] During much of this period the RCC popes were totally involved in matters of political and financial power, while many of the monks had withdrawn from such worldly matters to devote themselves to lives of contemplation and service. For example, Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) founded the Franciscan order under a rule that its members could own nothing. Other monastic orders took less stringent vows.

John Wycliffe (c.1329-1384) was a man ahead of his time. Almost 200 years before the Protestant Reformation roared onto the stage of history, the Oxford-educated Wycliffe advocated many of the same reforms in RCC theology and practices that would later be advanced by others. Wycliffe taught that the Bible was the only authoritative guide for Christian faith and practice. Perhaps the contribution for which he is best known is the idea that the Bible should belong to the people, not to the Church and its priests, and that the Bible should be in the language of the people, not Latin. Influenced by Wycliffe’s views, his followers completed a translation of the Bible into English by about 1392.

Part 2 will cover the period from the Protestant Reformation to World War I.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.


[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 2 vols. (San Francisco: Harper-Collins, 1984), 1:242.

[2] Gonzalez, 1:301.

 

NIV 2011: How much paraphrase is too much?

Some popular English Bible translations do a better job than others in maintaining fidelity to the original text of Scripture. As you know, the Old Testament was recorded in biblical Hebrew (except for a few parts of Daniel and Ezra written in Aramaic), and the New Testament was recorded in Koine Greek.

In my view, the following principles should be applied to Bible translation:

  • Idioms have to be paraphrased to make any sense at all.
  • Ancient writing style which does not involve idioms should be translated without paraphrase; just allow us to listen to an ancient conversation!
  • Biblical metaphors should be translated rather than being “clarified” by replacing the figure of speech with its concrete meaning; such replacement is paraphrase, not translation.

In each case below, you will find the Greek or Hebrew text followed by five English translations: English Standard Version (ESV), New English Translation (NET), New International Version (NIV 2011), Christian Standard Bible (CSB), and New Living Translation (NLT). In general, this order measures the tendency to paraphrase, with ESV doing so the least paraphrasing and NLT doing so the most. NET, NIV 2011, and CSB are all about the same in terms of tendency to paraphrase. That is a move to a more literal position for NIV 2011 in comparison to NIV 1984. I consider that a real improvement!

In the examples below, the underlined Greek text is idiomatic, and I have bold-faced the portion of each English translation that tries to express that idiom.

Idioms (must be paraphrased for comprehension)

BNT Matthew 1:18 ??? ?? ????? ??????? ? ??????? ????? ??. (????????????? ??? ?????? ????? ?????? ?? ?????, ???? ? ????????? ?????? ?????? ?? ?????? ?????? ?? ????????? ?????.

A raw translation would be “have in the womb.” The Greek phrase is an idiom: “?? ?????? ????? be pregnant” BDAG-3, the standard Greek lexicon.

ESV Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

NET Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

NIV 2011 Matthew 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

CSB Matthew 1:18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

NLT Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.

BNT John 2:4 [???] ????? ???? ? ??????·?? ???? ??? ???, ?????; ???? ???? ? ??? ???.

The Greek phrase is idiomatic. A raw translation might be: “What to me and to you?” [NET Bible Notes]

ESV John 2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

NET John 2:4 Jesus replied, “Woman, why are you saying this to me? My time has not yet come.”

NIV 2011 John 2:4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

CSB John 2:4 “What has this concern of yours to do with Me, woman?” Jesus asked. “My hour has not yet come.”

NLT John 2:4 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

COMMENT: Oddly enough, NLT is the only English text that retains Jesus’ question about the relevance of this situation to both Mary and Jesus by combining them in the pronoun “our.” All the others focus only on Jesus.

BNT John 10:24 ????????? ??? ????? ?? ???????? ??? ?????? ????·??? ???? ??? ????? ???? ??????; ?? ?? ?? ? ???????, ???? ???? ????????.

A raw translation might be “Until when do you raise our soul?” The Greek phrase is an idiom. “to keep in a state of uncertainty about an outcome, keep someone in suspense, fig. ext. of [meaning] 1.” BDAG-3, the standard lexicon.

ESV John 10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

NET John 10:24 The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

NIV 2011 John 10:24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

COMMENT: NIV 2011 adds the words “who were there,” but why? Only the people who were there could surround Jesus, so why add those words? On the positive side, NIV 2011 substitutes “Messiah” for “Christ.”

CSB John 10:24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and asked, “How long are You going to keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

NLT John 10:24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Ancient Style (leave it alone!)

WTT 1 Kings 2:10 ???????????? ?????? ????????????

ESV 1 Kings 2:10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.

NET 1 Kings 2:10 Then David passed away and was buried in the city of David.

COMMENT: NET takes out the more metaphorical idea of “slept with his fathers” and replaces it with the sterile contemporary euphemism “passed away.” The Hebrew original maintains the continuity of David with his ancestors, but the NET takes it away. How does that make matters better? It is hard to believe such measures were necessary to help a contemporary audience understand that David had died when the same verse says he “was buried”!

NIV 2011 1 Kings 2:10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David.

COMMENT: This substitution of “ancestors” for “fathers” is the result of NIV 2011’s use of new research on English word usage. This is a good change.

CSB 1 Kings 2:10 Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.

NLT 1 Kings 2:10 Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the City of David.

COMMENT: In reference to this verse, NLT has the following misguided boast in its preface: “Only the New Living Translation clearly translates the real meaning of the Hebrew idiom ‘slept with his fathers’ into contemporary English.” (Introduction to NLT, page xlii). This is what software developers call “turning a bug into a feature”! What a selling point!

BNT Romans 13:4 ???? ??? ???????? ????? ??? ??? ?? ??????. ??? ?? ?? ????? ?????, ?????· ?? ??? ???? ??? ???????? ?????· ???? ??? ???????? ????? ??????? ??? ????? ?? ?? ????? ?????????.

ESV Romans 13:4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

NET Romans 13:4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.

NIV 2011 Romans 13:4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

CSB Romans 13:4 For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.

NLT Romans 13:4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.

COMMENT: This verse displays the NLT’s pride in removing metaphors that they believe are “difficult for contemporary readers to understand” (NLT preface). Apparently some of us are considered so ignorant as to think the authorities were going to pat us on the back with the sword. So, the paraphrase had to make it crystal clear that the intent was punishment. Of course, the sword finds little use in 2011, so it had to go too. Calling this a “translation” is a real stretch. [Just to be clear, the Greek words for have, power and punish do not occur in the Greek text.]

In conclusion, I do not argue that any of the changes shown above affect doctrines of Christian faith. But paraphrasing biblical texts that are not idiomatic is an undesirable translation practice. If the translator believes more “clarity” is needed, put it in a footnote!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

NIV 2011 and Perfection

The new NIV 2011 shows its value in the insightful translation of Philippians 3:12, but it shows no improvement in Matthew 5:48.  In Philippians 3:12, the Greek verb in question, teleio?, is frequently — and wrongly — translated as if it involved some form of perfection. It is my contention that the concept of perfection presented in other translations of Philippians 3:12 came not from the Bible or from Greek and Hebrew but from philosophy. Christian theology has a long history of saying that God is perfect, and that has led to the contention that those who become mature in Christ are being made “perfect.”

The original basis in the Bible for this idea of “perfection” seems to come from Matthew 5:48. Next I will analyze that verse.

Matthew 5:48

For Matt. 5:48, NIV 2011 offers, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In Matthew 5:48, the English word perfect simply does not fit either the underlying Greek adjective (teleios) or this context. So, how did we wind up with a misleading English word in so many translations?

Perfect (Matt. 5:48) was the English word chosen by William Tyndale in the very first English translation of the New Testament (1526) based on the Latin Vulgate. Tyndale did not have a Greek New Testament to guide his work because they were not published in Europe until 1534.[1] About 85 percent of Tyndale’s popular English translation became part of the Authorized Version, which we call the King James Bible, and the translation perfect in Matt. 5:48 was part of that incorporated material.

Bible translator William Mounce explains the second factor that often prevents English translation improvements: “The argument [in the translation committee] was, ‘This is such a well-known verse that we can’t change it.’”[2] [Mounts was not speaking here about Matt. 5:48 in particular or about NIV 2011.] Such forces against change are strong in the Sermon on the Mount!

New Testament scholar Craig L. Blomberg puts us onto the right plan for Matt. 5:48 when he says, “‘Perfect’ here is better translated as ‘mature, whole,’ i.e., loving without limits . . . . Jesus is not frustrating his hearers with an unachievable ideal but challenging them to grow in obedience to God’s will — to become more like him.”[3] The key idea here is completeness, or loving without limits. God’s willingness to love even his enemies sets the example for the disciples of Jesus. Just as the Father is whole and undivided in his love, so must Jesus’ disciples be!

The interpretation just given makes sense out of the word therefore (Matt. 5:48a). Verse 48 is a conclusion based on what has been taught previously. The Gentiles and tax collectors love their own kind (Matt. 5:46-47), but we must look to God for our model of love, not our peers.

In spite of the fact that virtually all modern commentators agree on what has been said above about the correct interpretation of Matt. 5:48, it is not hard to find someone who teaches sinless perfection as the command of Christ. But that idea is very hard to reconcile with the prayer Jesus taught his disciples in which they pray for the forgiveness of the debt (of sin) between themselves and God (Matt. 6:12). Why would a perfect disciple need to ask forgiveness? Even stronger are John’s words: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8, ESV).

I need to address a potential criticism. Someone might claim that I am teaching that God is not perfect. Far from it! The Bible amply demonstrates that God needs no improvement or development. What I do say is that the concept of God’s perfection or our own perfection as disciples is not what Jesus was saying here. Instead, he was holding up God’s character as the example of love for his disciples to follow. God loves the just and the unjust, and so must we.

Philippians 3:12

BNT Philippians 3:12 ??? ??? ??? ?????? ? ??? ???????????, ????? ?? ?? ??? ????????, ??? ? ??? ??????????? ??? ??????? [?????].

The standard Greek lexicon, BDAG-3, offers this definition for the bold-face Greek verb teleio?:  ”to overcome or supplant an imperfect state of things by one that is free fr. objection, bring to an end, bring to its goal/accomplishment.” Happily, this is the definition used by NIV 2011 in Phil. 3:12. Compare the following translations (“2011” is NIV 2011, and NIV is the 1984 version):

ESV Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

2011 Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

NIV Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

NLT Philippians 3:12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.

I congratulate NIV 2011 for making this improvement in Philippians 3:12 and hope that they will eventually fix Matthew 5:48, though I’m not holding my breath!

[1] The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 3, S.L. Greenslade, Ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1963) 61.

[2] William D. Mounce, Greek for the Rest of Us (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) 38.

[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 115.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. Material on Matthew 5:48 presented with permission of Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas, which originally commissioned the work.

NIV 2011 — The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

—Before describing some issues I have with NIV 2011, I want to say that NIV 2011 is one of the top three English translations now available. It may even become my favorite, though currently I am using it in conjunction with the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New English Translation (NET). Time will tell as I translate more passages and compare NIV 2011 to the others in many types of biblical texts.

Before I begin, here is what The Committee on Bible Translation humbly says in the preface of NIV 2011:

The committee has again been reminded that every human effort is flawed — including this revision of the NIV. We trust however, that many will find in it an improved representation of the Word of God, through which they hear his call to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and to service in his kingdom.

I have found both flaws and improvements in NIV 2011, but more improvements! Critiques, such as this one, may also be flawed!

The Good

Corrections to NIV 1984

I am ecstatic with the decision to replace “sinful nature” (NIV 1984) with “flesh” (NIV 2011) as the translation of the Greek noun sarx in most places. Primarily this affects Romans (e.g., Rom. 8:5) and Galatians and greatly influences our understanding of sin’s influence within both believers and unbelievers. Concerning the old translation “sinful nature,” The Committee on Bible Translation says: “This expression can mislead readers into thinking the human person is made up of various compartments, one of which is sarx, whereas the biblical writers’ point is that humans can choose to yield themselves to a variety of influences or powers, one of which is the sin-producing sarx.”[1]

Since I have been warning against that compartment-model for years while watching people look down to see “sinful nature” right there in their NIV Bible, I am delighted with this change.

Another favorable trend is the decision to make NIV 2011 a translation that puts fewer interpretations into the biblical text and leaves the burden of interpretation on the reader where it belongs. The sarx decision falls into this category, but another sad case within NIV 1984 is the one I will use to illustrate a positive correction made by NIV 2011.

In John 18:36–37, Jesus is being interrogated by Pilate, or so Pilate believes. The crucial point comes when Pilate, the Roman governor, exclaims, “You are a king, then!” (John 18:37a). When Jesus answers we see two different translations:

“You are right in saying I am a king.” (NIV 1984, John 18:37b)

“You say that I am a king.” (NIV 2011, John 18:37b)

There is simply no possible way to get the NIV 1984 translation from this Greek:

σὺ λέγεις ὅτι βασιλεύς εἰμι. (John 18:37b)

First, I congratulate the NIV 2011 team for fixing this error, which not only failed to represent the Greek but was also blind to the political situation in which Jesus spoke to Pilate. For Jesus to explicitly admit that he is a king of any sort would be to agree with the charges brought by the Jewish leaders that he was setting himself us as a king in opposition to Caesar (Luke 23:2).

How did this mistake occur? Obviously, I was not there, but I suspect that it involves the translation theory employed by the NIV — an approach known as Dynamic Equivalence (“DE” from here on), sometimes also called functional equivalence. The Committee on Bible Translation says, “The NIV tries to bring its readers as close as possible to the experience of the original audience[.]”[2] Clearly, the key word is “experience.” The big problem is that we have no way of knowing exactly how the original audience experienced the Word; we have to guess.

In another post I have criticized the assumption by The Committee on Bible Translation that the original hearers experienced instant clarity when they heard God’s Word for the first time in their own language. To give us the same alleged experience in 2011 (or 1984), as the principles of DE require, means that strong measures must be taken to remove ambiguity and make everything crystal clear. When Jesus made his ambiguous response to Pilate about kingship, that simply would not fit the DE mold, so Jesus was edited to make a more definite statement about kingship. This is a kind of “clarity” we do not need in Bible translation!

All this was done in good faith with the best intentions, and I am not saying anything negative about the motivation or spiritual integrity of those involved in the process. But when good-hearted people employ a flawed approach, this is the result. NIV 2011 fixed the error.

Updated Pronouns

Another positive development in NIV 2011 — and this one is subtle when you read the biblical text — is the use of a careful linguistic analysis to update the use of English pronouns to match current English usage. For example, Mark 4:25 now says, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (NIV 2011). Older grammatical style, such as used in NIV 1984, says, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Mark 4:25).

Another example of the pronoun changes may be seen in James 2:15–16, which NIV 2011 presents like this: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” See how the italicized pronouns have changed by looking at NIV 1984: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15–16).

Those of us who have seen a few more revolutions of the earth around the sun may wince at this grammar, but it is futile to fight linguistic shifts.

The Bad

The following remarks are based on Matthew 28:1–10, describing the miraculous events surrounding the discovery of the empty tomb and a climactic meeting with the resurrected Jesus. Read the NIV 2011 translation here.

The Greek particle idou occurs 62 times in Matthew’s Gospel and is generally untranslated by both NIV and NET. NIV gives no explanation of this practice, but NET says, “The Greek word ἰδοὺ (idou) has not been translated because it has no exact English equivalent here but adds interest and emphasis.” Perhaps one of my readers can explain how idou can “add interest and emphasis” when it is not translated into English!

The Greek particle idou is difficult to translate, but that is mainly true when the translator is trying to make everyone talk in a suburban-America-in-2011 dialect. No one in my hometown will say “behold” or “see!” this week. Of course, these biblical events did not occur in my hometown this week! So, why should they sound as if they did?

BDAG-3, the standard Greek lexicon, defines idou by saying: “prompter of attention, behold, look, see. Like (Hebrew hinneh) it sometimes serves to enliven a narrative . . . . with emphasis on the size or importance of something (frequently omitted in translation, but with some loss of meaning).” You can guess that I really like that “loss of meaning” phrase! That neatly summarizes my whole point.

Here are two things to consider:

  • The events being described are the most exceptional in all human history.
  • DE promises us that it will deliver the same impact that the original listeners would have felt; that is its alleged genius. How can they possibly punt on conveying the enlivened feeling of emphasis that idou is designed to create? I thought this was exactly where we might expect some help by the paraphrasing nature of DE principles.

That is the case for dialing up the temperature of the text in Matthew 28:1–10; idou is used four times in this brief span, which is an exceptional frequency. The amazing events taking place are exactly the point of the passage. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Soldiers keel over in a dead faint, earthquakes pop, and an angel descends from heaven and takes dramatic action. The angel uses idou twice in emphasizing his words to the women, and then the resurrected Jesus appears! We cannot ho-hum our way through this scene. Our familiarity with what happened has dulled our senses!

The Ugly

Adding or Subtracting Words

It is pleasing to say that NIV 2011 has very little to put into this category. Generally, a problem I have with English translations based on the dynamic equivalence (DE) philosophy is that they unnecessarily add words that are not in the Greek text of the New Testament or they covertly fail to translate words that are in the Greek text. The NET Bible does a marvelous job giving notes about the instances in which they have done one of these two things, but NIV 2011 leaves the reader in blissful ignorance.

Consider Romans 8:34, which NIV 2011 presents this way: “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Where did the italicized words come from? Certainly not from the Greek text of the New Testament! This is the kind of perverse result that DE can produce.

It can be argued that the above addition is harmless. I do not think that is the case. Is “no one” theologically true? Consider the trial and crucifixion of Jesus: God was certainly for him, but that did not prevent his legal condemnation by Pilate and his religious condemnation by his enemies. It is difficult to see how “no one” is an accurate description for that situation. What Paul is saying in Romans 8:34 is not that “no one” will condemn the Christian; he is saying that their condemnation will fall away or be refuted by the divine mercy we enjoy through union with Christ. Adding words creates a problem.

Foreclosing Possible Interpretations by Making Interpretive Choices

Remember that DE translations seek to make everything really clear, even things that are murky. Consider Genesis 6:3, which says, “Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.’” As an alternative to “mortal,” NIV 2011 offers “corrupt” in a marginal note.

God is speaking about his disgust over  the violence and sin rampant in the world before the flood of Noah. The issue is the meaning chosen for the Hebrew word translated “mortal” by NIV 2011. The Hebrew noun here is bashar, and you may look high and low in the standard Hebrew lexicon, but you will not find “mortal” as one of the lexical choices in its field of meaning. So, how did we get “mortal”? By interpretation! In picking that one, the translators rejected others that may be preferable.

From the array of possible meanings for this verse, the translators selected one and then created a novel meaning for bashar to match. That is allowable, even necessary, in cases where a Hebrew word is rarely used and its meaning is less certain. But bashar occurs 294 times in the Old Testament and 33 times in Genesis alone, so its range of lexical meaning is well established.

The safest path is to put a basic meaning for bashar into the biblical text and put the various possible interpretations into a marginal note or footnote. The safe choice for bashar in Gen. 6:3 is “flesh,” a meaning firmly established in the standard Hebrew lexicon and the one chosen by the ESV for this verse.

Of course, the safe choice “flesh” leaves the reader wondering what sense of that word is meant. Some possibilities are “mortal,” “corrupt” or “ruined.” Which one is right? [I personally prefer “ruined” because of Gen. 6:12.] To answer that question is hard work and may leave you wondering if you have taken the word correctly — that is, you may wonder whether you have selected the right sense. But here is the difference: at least you know there is a question here and some uncertainty in meaning.

But I have already said that DE translations of the Bible abhor uncertainty and ambiguity. They are eager to confront each of these interpretive questions and resolve them with a clear, scholarly choice and to put that choice directly into the translation rather than in an explanatory footnote. Now the reader does not have to wonder or work. The reader doesn’t know!

It amazes me that Christians are so laid back about this practice. If I told the Christians here in Texas that the state government had made these interpretive choices for them in preparing their English Bible translation, they would surround the capital in short order!

What is the solution to this problem? Use a more literal translation like the ESV alongside NIV 2011. Consult both in doing your Bible study. If you can do so, add the NET Bible into the mix. Be willing to think and pray in moving closer to God through study of his Word.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.


[1] “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation,” page 8.

[2] “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation,” page 1.

 

Hard Sayings (John 6:60)

More than once Jesus’ disciples threw up their hands and said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6.60). Have you ever said something similar when you encountered a bracing section of the Bible?

Actually, we silently protest the hard sayings of Jesus more easily than his disciples. We open our Bibles in the privacy of home, and we have complete control over what we select to read or what we choose as fit for reflection. After all, Jesus is not physically there speaking to us about the things we need most to hear.

So, when our eye falls on something tough that Jesus said, like “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54), we start scanning for something more cheerful to brighten the day. Over time we get to know the soothing parts of the Gospels, but the hard parts are like a forbidding land our feet hesitate to enter.

Jesus knew his disciples were grumbling about what he had said and that some had even turned back. You might think Jesus would try to reassure his disciples to keep them in the fold, but you would be wrong. Instead, he challenged the Twelve by saying, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67). No spin control. No soft words from a media consultant.

Peter responded to the challenge with frankness, “Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Peter speaks to us down the centuries. He says there is no turning away from the hard sayings of Jesus, because they are the words of eternal life. And he reminds us that to turn away from Jesus’ words means to turn away from Jesus himself.

How do we proceed? I recommend this spiritual discipline for the next month: spend time studying the Bible verses you like the least. Pray about them, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all the truth. You may find this to be a hard saying. So be it.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.