Books: Forged by Bart Ehrman is reviewed by Darrell Bock

In my previous post about Bart Ehrman’s book Forged, available here, I directed attention to Ben Witherington’s extensive review of Ehrman’s latest book. I should also have mentioned Darrell Bock’s serial posts on the same topic, available [link deleted due to malware report]. Bock is a well-known New Testament scholar at Dallas Theological Seminary and has authored commentaries on the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, along with many other fine books.

Bock and Witherington agree that Ehrman is not only wrong but also less than candid in his analysis. Ehrman claims than many New Testament books are not written by those who are reputed to be the authors. So, according to Ehrman, Paul did not write the letters ascribed to him and the same is true of Peter, just to pick two authors as examples. But Ehrman is not correct, as Bock and Witherington ably show.

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

 

The Sermon on the Mount: Approach to Interpretation

This post begins an occasional series on The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). After todays introduction, you may expect Bible exposition. I sometimes use the acronym “SOM” to refer to the Sermon on the Mount.

I am indebted to R.T. France for the idea of calling Matthew chapters 5-7 The Discourse on Discipleship rather than the more common title The Sermon on the Mount.[1] R.T. France correctly points out that Jesus was speaking to those who had responded to his preaching that the kingdom of heaven had drawn near. I will generally stick to the traditional title (The Sermon on the Mount), but Frances title would have been better.

How the Sermon on the Mount affects you

It is one thing to title Jesus remarks and quite another to figure out how they fit into the lives of Christians today. How did Jesus intend for us to interpret them? To answer that question is not easy! NT scholar Craig Blomberg says, Perhaps no other religious discourse in the history of humanity has attracted the attention which has been devoted to the Sermon on the Mount.[2] Out of this vast consideration, at least 36 different views have emerged on the sermons message.

Perhaps because Stanley Toussaint is a pastor as well as a New Testament scholar, I prefer his simpler overview of six viewpoints[3]:

1. The Soteriological [Salvation] Approach: People may receive salvation by governing their lives through the principles of the SOM. This idea was once popular among theological liberals, but it had been abandoned by 1980 for the simple reason that, if it were true, no one could be saved!

2. The Sociological Approach: Society would be ideal if guided by the principles of the SOM. This idea fails in that there is no evidence that Jesus was trying to modify society. Several famous people have tried to implement parts of the SOM, though not all recognized Jesus as the Son of God.[4] However, this world-system will be destroyed and replaced by God, not freshened up.

3. The Lutheran Approach: Toussaint calls it The Penitential Approach. This view holds that the purpose of the SOM is to make people conscious of their sin and drive them to God. But the Lutheran Approach does not recognize that the SOM is addressed to disciples; thus, he is speaking to people who have already repented and come to God. Jesus says they are salt and light (5:13-14). Still, the SOM does heighten awareness of sin, and that part of this viewpoint has merit.

4. The Millennial or Kingdom Approach: This view says that the way of life presented is applicable to the future Millennial Kingdom, in which Jesus will rule this world (Rev. 20:4). But, to say the least, it would be odd for Jesus to tell his disciples to pray for the coming of the kingdom (Matt. 6:28) when it was already going on. Why would disciples be persecuted and reviled (Matt. 5:11-12) in the future kingdom? Problems abound!

5. The Church Approach: Toussaint calls it The Ecclesiastical Approach. The idea here is that the SOM is the rule of life for the church. However, Toussaint correctly points out that the church is not mentioned until Matthew 16:18 and does not exist until Acts 2, following the resurrection of Jesus. So, even though this view is popular and promising, it has a timing problem in NT history.

6. The Interim Approach: The idea of the Interim Approach is that the SOM presents an ethic for the time preliminary to the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom. This concept improves upon #5 by eliminating direct dependence on the presence of the church. That said, SOM also applies to the church throughout the period of its existence. In fairness, I must add that Toussaint would not agree with my application of the SOM to the church and would say that I have modified the Interim Approach as he originally described it.[5]

So, I have used the Interim Approach as the interpretive grid for explaining the SOM, and have taken the position that the principles Jesus gives are directly applicable to the church, even though the church did not exist when Jesus first taught these ideas.

My next post will explain the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, a section often called The Beatitudes.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials prepared for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 153.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 93.

[3] Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1980) 86-94.

[4] Four men who tried to use SOM in whole or part: Leo Tolstoy, Karl Marx, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.

[5] Toussaint got the idea of an interim ethic from Albert Schweitzer and then modified it.

 

Books: Forged by Bart Ehrman is reviewed by Ben Witherington

Bart Ehrman’s new book Forged is getting lots of attention. I have not read the book, and don’t see the need after reading the detailed analysis by Ben Witherington of the Asbury Seminary faculty. [Use the links at Witherington’s blog to start at the beginning.]

Bart Ehrman is a professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. He has a doctorate from Princeton and worked for years with Bruce Metzger, a world-famous expert on New Testament manuscripts who died in early 2007. Ehrman has written many books, but none is a commentary on any book of the Bible.

Witherington is a well-known New Testament scholar, and he shows in detail why many of Ehrman’s conclusions are either seriously flawed or flatly wrong. So far, Witherington has posted six long blog entries. I advise you that these articles are both long and difficult for those who may not have a strong background in New Testament studies. Even then, sifting for nuggets is fun.

Witherington describes the likely effect of Forged by saying, “This book is likely to addle scholars and lay people all across the spectrum of belief.” He says that Ehrman seeks to prove that there is deliberate fraud going on in the Bible in that those who are alleged to have written the books in the Bible did not do so. In other words, Ehrman claims Paul did not write the Pauline letters, Peter did not write the letters that bear his name, and so on.

You will quickly get the idea of Ehrman’s book Forged from the subtitle: “Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.” This book is the latest effort by Ehrman, who claims to have once been an evangelical Christian, to discredit the Bible in every way he can think of. He has also written Misquoting Jesus (February, 2007) to attack confidence in what we know about the New Testament manuscripts used to translate our English Bibles.

Ehrman is well educated and even more articulate. He has the right résumé to gain a hearing in many venues — all the more so since he now vigorously attacks the Christian faith he once held. But Bruce Metzger died in 2007, so he is not around to rebut the claims his former associate now makes about the unreliability of the New Testament manuscripts.

Ehrman’s arguments are convincing and his conclusions are sensational when he speaks to people who are not his scholarly peers. But he does not fare so well when he deals with those who know their fields. Ehrman ran into a buzz saw at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2008 when Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary, a highly regarded expert in the textual criticism of the New Testament manuscripts, demonstrated that Ehrman spoke very differently around New Testament experts and then made extreme claims about the same subjects in public settings. It was a devastating demonstration of Ehrman’s two-faced approach!

Ben Witherington, the author of many New Testament commentaries, has the background to demonstrate how Ehrman ignores information contrary to his claims and makes many claims that are simply false. The question is: why does Ehrman do it? I admit that I do not know why. But it appears to me that Ehrman has figured out the shortest path to a big payday, and that lies in attacking Christianity by undermining confidence in the Bible. He scores a lot of appearances on TV, radio and at speaking engagements.

As I said, Ehrman seems convincing until someone like Wallace or Witherington systematically dismantles his arguments. At the end of the day, it is obvious that Ehrman has to know he is making poorly supported claims, but his goal is more important to him than the truth. He is doing a lot of damage to the faith of some Christians, and that is very sad. Just as bad, he is causing some who might investigate the claims of Christ to turn away.

My advice is to avoid all Ehrman’s books. Use the time you save to read the Bible that Ehrman constantly attacks. You will be glad for making that decision, but he will not be able to say the same when the bill for his actions comes due.

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

 

A short history of the Western Church — Part 3 (end)

If you have not read the previous segments of this history, I recommend you start at the beginning, here.

Note that as we approach our own times some readers will find that the history of their denomination or church may move away from that shown in this final segment. This segment was originally designed to help people in my home church– Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas learn our particular spiritual heritage.

At the end of the second segment of this history, available here, we paused at the beginning of the nineteenth century in America. That is where our story will resume below.

Religious change in America

After the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, our focus shifts to America, where Protestants prospered in a religiously pluralistic society in which they viewed denominations as voluntary organizations that believers create and join according to their convictions and preferences.[1] But immigration was rapidly changing the national mixture of faiths. Gonzalez says, The Catholic Church (which, at the time of independence, was a small minority) had, by the middle of the nineteenth century, become the largest religious body in the nation.[2]

We should not ignore the sad fact that one issue held back America and the progress of the gospel: slavery. Eventually this led to Civil War followed by an oppressive Reconstruction. Afterward the greatest wave of immigrants came. Davies notes, Europe lost 25 million emigrants to the USA in the last quarter of the century.[3]

Poisonous German ideas

As important as the flow of people across the Atlantic was the westward flow of ideas. The second half of the nineteenth century saw a burst of scientific and engineering triumphs as well as the spread of the theory of biological evolution. German scholars produced a stream of ideas that questioned the historical accuracy and reliability of the Bible: Jesus was just a great man, they said, and certainly could not have risen from the dead. Miracles either had a natural explanation or were just products of inspired imagination. There was enormous faith in man, his future and perfectibility.

Of these developments Gonzales says, Protestant Liberalism was an attempt to couch Christianity in the mold of those ideas, and gained wide acceptance among the intellectual elite of the United States.[4] Seeing this as a threat to the very core of Christian faith, an anti-liberal reaction developed that came to be known as fundamentalism. The fundamentals may be considered to include the following essential doctrines: the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the atonement of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the miracle-working power of Christ.[5]

The rise of fundamentalism

But fundamentalism did not arise in a vacuum. One driving force may be found in the fellowship and Bible teaching enjoyed by Christian leaders who met annually for 1-2 weeks at the Niagara Bible Conference, held mostly at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, from 1875 to 1900.[6] Such meetings have been widely copied over the years and often given the name the prophecy and Bible conference movement.

But fundamentalism had another strong support, the independent Bible institutes. Sandeen says, During the last two decades of the nineteenth century the unordained Dwight L. Moody [1837-1899] was the most influential clergyman in America.[7] From 1873-75 Moody presented evangelistic sermons to over 2.5 million people in England and Scotland. The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago was established in 1889 and has profoundly influenced evangelical Christianity in America. Across the country, in 1907, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles was also important.

Historian George Marsden has said that fundamentalism was rooted in the eighteenth century idea that truth is available and can be obtained through the inductive method — when used to analyze the Bible.[8] To this Marsden added the nineteenth century experience that combined individualism, revivalism, the centrality of the Bible, personal commitment and inward holiness. Finally, he summarized fundamentalism as an anti-modernist coalition that was resistant to religious and cultural change. [9]

Perhaps the most crucial publication of early fundamentalism was the Scofield Reference Bible, which emerged in 1909. It provided helpful notes and cross references along with the interpretive framework of dispensational modernism’s views about the different ways God had interacted with man through the ages, a system known as dispensationalism. C.I. Scofield (1843-1921), a Dallas minister from 1882-1895 and 1902-1907, was not famous before the reference Bible came out, but he certainly was afterward.

The modern church: World War I (1914-1918) to 1970

From the viewpoint of those who consider the Bible completely trustworthy and accept supernatural acts by God through Christ, the most notable Christian development following World War I was the degree to which American denominations struggled with the penetration of Protestant Liberalism into denominational seminaries. The Presbyterians and the Baptists experienced denominational splits over the matter, and the issue still simmers today.

However, Bible-believing Christians had new options. Sandeen says, Dissatisfaction with the denominations certainly grew stronger with the progress of Liberalism, but the really decisive factor seems to have been the development of nondenominational institutional structures which could function in the same manner as the denomination.[10] By this he means the Bible institutes and the new seminaries and churches that formed in loose relation to them.

One such seminary was Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) which began in 1924. DTS was formed by Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952), who had served from 1914-1923 on the faculty of the Philadelphia School of the Bible. DTS was founded as an institution centered on the Bible. The seminary stands in the stream of theology known as the Protestant Reformation, and within its American successor the early fundamentalist movement.

Sandeen notes that since 1950, the more moderate wing of the fundamentalist movement has called itself Evangelicalism and has manifested an unexpected vitality and appeal.[11]

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) 2:242.

[2] Gonzalez, 2:243.

[3] Norman Davies, Europe: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) 782.

[4] Gonzalez, 2:256.

[5] Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970)xviii.

[6] Sandeen, 134.

[7] Sandeen, 172.

[8] Cited by John D. Hannah, An Uncommon Union (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 43.

[9] George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).

[10] Sandeen, 240.

[11] Sandeen, xiii.


A short history of the Western Church — Part 2

In my previous post, I spoke candidly about the unfortunate ignorance of Christians in America in relation to the history of the church in the West. The Roman Catholic Church (abbreviated RCC) figures prominently in that history. Below is the second part of this synopsis of history.

The Reformation church — Luther (b. 1483)
to World War I (1914-18)

In his masterful history of Europe, Norman Davies has said, The religious revival, clearly visible at the end of the fifteenth century, was largely driven by popular disgust at the decadence of the [RCC] clergy.Europe was full of tales about simoniac bishops [bishops who sold a church office or preferment], nepotistic popes, promiscuous priests, idle monks, and, above all, the sheer worldly wealth of the Church.[1] This laid the foundation for a challenge to the RCCs grip on all religious power in western Europe. It was not long in coming.

In 1517 a young monk named Martin Luther (1483-1546) was driven to fury at the appearance in Germany of a friar selling paper certificates guaranteeing relief from punishment in Purgatory, that being a supposed place of temporary suffering after death to finish paying for sins committed in life (according to RCC theology). Luther nailed a 95-point protest against them to the door of the local church. That started a fire which has not yet been quenched.

The Protestant Reformation effectively began in 1517 as a protest against certain corrupt practices of the RCC. This quickly expanded into a much broader re-evaluation of RCC theology in relation to the explicit teaching of the Bible. Instead of finding spiritual authority based in the RCC and its pope, the Protestant reformers believed the Bible to be the paramount source of such authority (sola Scriptura, the Bible alone) and also looked to the early church fathers and early councils. Contrary to the RCC view that salvation required meritorious human works and infusions of grace from Mary and the church sacraments, the reformers looked to the Bible to discover salvation by Gods grace (sola gratia, grace alone) through a commitment of personal faith (sola fide, faith alone) exclusively in Christ (solus Christus, Christ alone).

John Calvin

Though the Protestant Reformation began with Luther and his followers, the next towering figure to advance the cause was a scholar named John Calvin (1509-1564). Davies says, A fugitive Frenchman, more radical than Luther, Calvin was the founder of the most widely influential branch of Protestantism.[2] His theological summary Institutes of the Christian Religion, appearing in 6 editions from 1536 to 1559, has powerfully influenced the development of Christianity in both Europe and America.

Davies discusses one of the effects of the Protestant Reformation by saying, Until the 1530s, Christendom had been split into two halves — Orthodox and Catholic. From the 1530s onwards, it was split into three: Orthodox, Catholic [RCC], and Protestant. And the Protestants themselves were split into ever more rival factions.[3]

Counter-Reformation: The RCC fights back

The reaction of the RCC to these developments was somewhat slow in developing, but in time demonstrated its ferocity. Protestant historians call this reaction the Counter-Reformation. The RCCs Council of Trent, from 1545 to 1563, combined both doctrinal definitions and institutional structures to meet the Protestant challenge. A brotherhood known as the Jesuits (formally the Society of Jesus) was formed in 1539, and they became the spearhead of the intellectual attack on the Reformation.

But this was not to be a peaceful clash of ideas, rather a deadly struggle. Charles V (15001558), Holy Roman emperor and king of Spain, took stern measures against the spread of Protestantism in the Low Countries (the modern Netherlands and Belgium). Gonzalez says, Tens of thousands died for their faith. The leaders were burned, their followers beheaded, and many women were buried alive.[4]

On St. Bartholomews Eve, 1572, more than 20,000 French Calvinists (called Huguenots) were murdered in a single day in surprise attacks throughout France. The RCC Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585) and king Philip II of Spain (1527-1598) each ordered a celebratory hymn of praise to God when they separately received the news of the massacre.[5]

Lows and highs: widespread wars and a Bible

These religious wars were capped by the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) which killed 8 million people in Germany and left the country a wasteland. But the bloodletting did not end until the civil war in England concluded with the overthrow of the monarchy by the Puritan forces under Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). One effect of the struggle in England was the emigration of thousands to the Colonies where they might worship as they chose without so much interference.

During the century of war (roughly 1550 to 1650) the King James Version of the Bible appeared in 1611. This English translation gradually became the most widely accepted and best loved of all. Along with Shakespeares plays, it has had a profound influence on the development of English language and literature.

Due partly to exhaustion, the religious warfare ended around 1650 and there followed a quiet period often called the Age of Reason. This period roughly extends from 1650 to 1789. After the Wars of Religion, one can see that the exercise of the Light of sweet reason was a natural and necessary antidote.[6]

INTERLUDE: If we look at the sweep of European events, we can see that the period of RCC dominance led to a corrupt and power-hungry Church. The Protestant Reformation broke the exclusive grip of the RCC and eventually led to the Religious Wars fueled by the Counter-Reformation. Then came a quieter period of recovery in which principles of humanism and reason (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) came to the fore. As we will see, these non-religious values yielded The Terror and the Napoleonic Wars. Human reason proved no better master than corrupt religion.

Revolutions and visions of the end

The fuse of conflict was relit in America as the Colonies revolted in 1775 and prevailed in 1783. Just as the new United States of America was ratifying its Constitution, French revolutionaries took the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789 beginning The Terror and the reign of the guillotine. The French Revolution plunged Europe into the most profound and protracted crisis which it had ever known. . . . For Europe as a whole, it provided an object lesson in the danger of replacing one form of tyranny with another.[7] This was the age of Napoleon (1769-1821). It ended at Waterloo on June 18, 1815, after millions were dead.

While the madness of The Terror raged in France, God was doing something astounding in William Carey (1761-1834), an Englishman known as the Father of Modern Missions. Though no one in his Baptist group had expressed concern for the unsaved in other lands, Carey inspired others to form the first missionary society and then left for India as its first missionary in 1793. Within five years he had learned Bengali and translated most of the Bible. Then he set up his own press to print it. Among many accomplishments, Carey edited translations of the Bible into 36 languages.[8]

Perhaps one of the most unanticipated effects of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars was the revival of interest in Bible prophecy. Ernest Sandeen states, The violent uprooting of European political and social institutions forced many to the conclusion that the end of the world was near.[9] This resulted in many conferences and publications among Christians in England. Among these were meetings by Christians who had taken the name Brethren and who gathered in the 1830s at Plymouth. In time their views would jump the Atlantic.

This history will conclude with Part 3.

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


[1] Norman Davies, Europe: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 484.

[2] Davies, Europe, 490.

[3] Davies,Europe, 495-6.

[4] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 2 vols. (San Francisco: Harper-Collins, 1984), 2:96.

[5] Gonzalez,The Story, 2:107; also Davies,Europe, 502 (“the Pope celebrated a Te Deum and the King of Spain began to laugh.”).

[6] Davies,Europe, 577.

[7] Davies,Europe, 677.

[8] The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 192.

[9] Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 5.

 

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.