Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 6:5-6

[NOTE: This post is one of the most important to appear on this blog in relation to what God is like!]

The ruined earth

How many times have you heard someone say about their sin, I wasnt hurting anybody but myself? But the truth is that all sin hurts God!

How does God feel about sin? What will God do in reaction to the pain which sin causes him? How will God comfort himself concerning the pain caused by human sin?

One thing about being God is that you never have to explain yourself! Yet Gen. 6:5 does exactly that; it explains why God decided to destroy the world he originally created. Clearly, God does not provide this explanation as a matter of obligation but to inform his servants of his motivation and character. God takes sin so seriously that he will ultimately destroy those who carry it out.

Victor Hamilton does an excellent job of summarizing our two verses:

Here, first of all, is what God saw (v. 5), then how he felt (v. 6), then what he intends to do (v. 7). What God saw was both the intensiveness of sin and the extensiveness of sin. Geographically, the problem is an infested earth. Note that in Gen. 6:5-13, the earth (Hebrew haarets) is mentioned eight times.[1]

In Genesis 2:16-17 we found a pattern of a general observation followed by a specific exception. The Lord first said (2:16) the man could eat from every tree in the Garden of Eden. Then came the specific exception that the man must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:17). The same pattern occurs in Genesis 6:5-8, in which God condemns the evil of all humankind (6:5) and then introduces the specific exception — Noah (6:8).

Genesis 6:5

But the LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time.
(NET Bible)

Point of no return

Recall that in Genesis 1:31, God saw all that he had made and it was very good. By this point (6:5), the picture has totally changed to evil! This state of affairs is the direct result of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Here is the result of falling into the knowledge of good and evil: Evil becomes dominant, and the good is ruined by the evil.[2] Ruined is the operative word for this section of Genesis.

The word translated by NET as inclination primarily means something made into shape, like a pot fashioned by a potter, and then secondarily means inclination, which is an idea shaped by the mind.[3] Good things were fashioned by the mind of God, but evil things were the creative product of pre-flood humanity. In what may be a fitting description of the effects God saw, the apostle Paul describes the depraved mind (Rom. 1:28) of those who refused to acknowledge God, and he further describes them as contrivers of all sorts of evil (Rom. 1:30). That last phrase in Paul fits nicely with the second half of Genesis 6:5.

Wenham correctly says, Few texts in the OT are so explicit and all-embracing as this in specifying the extent of human sinfulness and depravity.[4]

Genesis 6:6

The LORD regretted that he had made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended.
(NET Bible)

Underneath this verses clearly-stated meaning lies a world of theological reflection. For centuries the church held that God was incapable of feeling emotions; some Christian scholars still take that position today. Those interpreters take the view that this verse is a case of anthropopathism, meaning the ascription of human feelings or passions to God.[5] The idea behind anthropopathism is that God cannot actually feel emotions such as we experience — a doctrine called impassibility — but the only way we can comprehend him is to act as if he is like us in this way. Moreover, to assume the Bible contains just-pretend sections opens Pandoras Box for deriving the meaning of any biblical text.

I believe that God feels emotions just as the Bible describes them, and we also have such emotions because we are made in his image.[6] The NET Bible clearly takes the same view in its translation and Notes for Genesis 6:6; you should read those notes.Hamilton says, Verses like this remind us that the God of the OT is not beyond the capability of feeling pain, chagrin, and remorse.[7]

Remember that in Genesis 5:29 it was predicted that Noah will bring us comfort, using the verb N?M (the unfamiliar symbol ? sounds like the last two letters of the Scottish word loch). That very same verb is used in a different sense in Genesis 6:5 to say the LORD regretted making humankind.

Hamilton observes, It will be noticed that there is a polarity between several of these meanings; thus, N?M means both be pained and be relieved of pain.[8] Sometimes, when we feel pain, that pain can be relieved when it moves us to take action. That is exactly how God will soon relieve the pain he feels about humanitys pervasive sinfulness — he will take decisive action.

To make sure we get the point, the author of Genesis adds a second clause to describe God: he was highly offended (Gen. 6:6b). The verb in this clause is used to express the most intense form of human emotion, a mixture of bitter rage and anguish.[9] Wenham adds that Dinah felt this after being raped (Gen. 34:7) and so did Jonathan upon learning that his father Saul planned to kill his best friend David (1 Sam. 20:34).

When God feels such emotions, the status quo is headed for a reversal! Yet Gods mercy and kindness lead him to allow 120 years before the torrential rains begin to fall.

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

 


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 273.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 6:5.

[3] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) yetser, form, intention, q.v.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 144.

[5] anthropopathism. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. 20 Oct. 2008..

[6] Occams Razor: all things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.

[7] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 274.

[8] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 275, fn 5.

[9] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 144.

Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 2:24-25

Genesis 2:24-25

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family. 25 The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed.
(NET Bible)

First Family

Any counselor can tell you that the relationship with in-laws is one of the greatest stressors on many marriage relationships. Knowing the relative priorities of these relationships can save you a world of heartache.

But who has the wisdom and authority to set those priorities? What priorities have been set? What is the nature of the husband-wife relationship?

Genesis 2:24 is very familiar to many Christians who have heard some form of it used in wedding ceremonies. However, a Bible student must always be aware that the interpretation of such heavily used verses may have been shifted away from the original meaning toward a contemporary adaptation.

To begin understanding what the verse is saying, consider Gordon Wenhams historical input:

The traditional translation leaves suggests that the man moves from his parents and sets up home elsewhere, whereas in fact Israelite marriage was usually patrilocal, that is, the man continued to live in or near his parents home. . . . On marriage a mans priorities change. Beforehand his first obligations are to his parents: afterwards they are to his wife.[1]

The uniting of the man and woman is a powerful bond. The NET Bible Notes say, In this passage it describes the inseparable relationship between the man and the woman in marriage as God intended it.[2]

The NET Bibles shift from one flesh (KJV, ESV, RSV, NIV 1984, NIV 2011) to a new family seems to replace a powerful metaphor of marital unity with a much weaker abstraction. The semi-poetic nature of Genesis 1-11s language resists the incursion of such anachronistic language. Further, the Hebrew word for family does not occur here. Since the language here is figurative rather than idiomatic, there is not adequate justification for replacing the metaphor (one flesh) with the paraphrased abstraction (a new family).

Genesis 2:25 gives us a last, idyllic glimpse at the unaffected happiness of the man and woman in the Garden of Eden. The environment did not require clothing, and there was no other reason to have it; unfortunately, there would be a reason before long. Wenham says, They were like young children unashamed at their nakedness.[3] The man and woman are together with nothing to hide from one another; that too would soon change.

Victor Hamilton explains that the significance of nakedness changed over time: With the exception of this verse, nakedness in the OT is always connected with some form of humiliation.[4] In Genesis 3 we will find out why.

The verb used for the phrase they were not ashamed needs clarification due to cultural differences between us and the ancient Israelites. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says, [The English phrase] to be ashamed stresses the inner attitude, the state of mind, while the Hebrew means to come to shame and stresses the sense of public disgrace, a physical state.[5] With our current cultural stress on individualism, we find it less natural to think of shame as a public status rather than a private feeling.

With sadness we look back to a lost Eden that we might have inherited. But our sorrow gives way to joy in knowing that we can regain all that was lost and much more through faith in Jesus Christ.

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


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 70.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 2:24.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 71.

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 181.

[5] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody, 1980) 1:97, bosh, to be ashamed, q.v.

 

Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 2:21-23

Genesis 2:21-23

21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the mans side and closed up the place with flesh.
22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23
Then the man said, This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called woman, for she was taken out of man.
(NET Bible)

A really big moment!

In 1970 an obscure Australian student said, A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.[1] Really? If true, that would mean it is good for woman to be alone, even though we already know it is not good for man. That seems an unbiblical conclusion, to say the least!

God was not compelled to create the man and woman for close companionship with each other. Why did he do so? How does Gods creative intention affect us in our attempt to please him?

The deep sleep which God brings upon Adam (Gen. 2:21) occurs rarely in the Bible, and it is not well understood. The standard Hebrew lexicon says it is not only an unusually deep sleep . . . but also a sleep which marks an event as one of the high-points of the actions of Yahweh.[2] The creation of woman is one such high point; others are the making of a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:12), revelations from God to Daniel through an angel (Dan. 8:18, 10:9), Jonahs sleep during the great storm (Jon. 1:5), and a famous encounter of David and Saul (1 Sam. 26:12). The mystery remains as deep as the sleep. But in Genesis 2 we can understand why Adam needed deep sleep!

The NET Bible bravely deviates from saying God used one of the ribs (KJV, ESV, RSV, NASB, NIV 1984, NIV 2011) from the man to make the woman (Gen. 2:21b). Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton says, Gen. 2:21 is the only place in the OT where the modern versions render this [Hebrew] word as rib.[3] They do so due to the power of the King James Version in setting peoples expectations in familiar passages. NIV 2011 only had the courage to put the correct translation in a footnote.

Instead of following the pack, NET offers he took part of the mans side and closed up the place with flesh. In support of this choice the NET translators say: Traditionally translated rib, the Hebrew word actually means side. The Hebrew text reads, and he took one from his sides, which could be rendered part of his sides. That idea may fit better the explanation by the man that the woman is his flesh and bone. The argument is convincing.

Using a verb suitable for a potter, God fashioned Adam from the earth (Gen. 2:7). In Genesis 2:22 the language figuratively shifts to that for a builder when God literally builds Eve from the tissue taken from Adam. Then, in what must have been an unforgettable scene, God presents the woman to Adam.

In Genesis 2:23 — Then the man said, This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called woman, for she was taken out of man — Adam sounds awestruck, does he not? By expressing his words in poetry, the author captures the emotion of the moment. The phrase at last conveys Adams relief in finding his companion from the vast array of life he has examined.

Concerning the phrase bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, Hamilton says:

[The phrase] speaks not of a common birth but of a common, reciprocal loyalty. Thus when representatives of the northern tribes visit David at Hebron and say to him, we are your bone and flesh (2 Sam. 5:1), this is not a statement of relationship (we have the same roots) but a pledge of loyalty (we will support you in all kinds of circumstances).[4]

The next important issue is whether the fact that the man names the woman means he has authority over her. We agree with the NET Bible Notes, which answer no:

Some argue that naming implies the mans authority or ownership over the woman here. Naming can indicate ownership or authority if one is calling someone or something by ones name and/or calling a name over someone or something (see 2 Sam. 12:28; 2 Chron. 7:14; Isa. 4:1; Jer. 7:14; 15:16), especially if one is conquering and renaming a site. But the idiomatic construction used here . . . does not suggest such an idea.[5]

The reader is already aware that almost every verse in the early chapters of Genesis is awash with thorny issues of interpretation and theology. We have only begun to face the challenges of this amazing book!

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


[1] Irina Dunn, a student at the University of Sydney (Australia) in 1970.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) tardemah, deep sleep, q.v.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 178.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 180.

[5] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 2:23.


Exposition in Genesis 1-11: Genesis 1:29-31

Genesis 1:29-31

Then God said, I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground everything that has the breath of life in it I give every green plant for food. It was so.
31 God saw all that he had made and it was very good! There was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.

God finds satisfaction in creation

The Bible shows that God is concerned about every aspect of our existence. Nowhere is this more obvious than when God made humanity and created an enormous food supply to sustain them. With regard to food, drink, and clothing, Jesus said, Your heavenly Father knows that you need them (Matt. 6:32).

So, what will it take for us to focus on the goodness of God in providing for our needs? What will it take to pull us out of the mad scramble for material wealth and the security it allegedly provides?

The Old Testament writers use various means to emphasize ideas, and one of the most common is to use the word hinneh meaning behold, see.[1] Curiously, the NET Bible translators say the word means Look, this is what I am doing![2] and yet they represent it with now in the phrase I now give. This is under-translation; when the Bible emphasizes something, the translation should contain the emphasis in the text, not in the margin! For example, the ESV has Behold, I have given you . . . and the RSV, NASB and KJV do the same. In the NIV the word hinneh is not translated at all! NLT wins the prize with Look!

Someone will say, Are you making too big a deal out of this? Perhaps, but the identification of food looms large at my house. Nobody wants to be called to the very first supper by a whisper. :-)

God speaks to the man and the woman (you plural in Hebrew) in verse 29; animals will be addressed in verse 30. Wenham cites another scholar who documents other [non-biblical] texts to show that there was a widespread belief in antiquity that man and the animals were once vegetarian.[3] While Genesis 1 does not forbid eating meat, the practice is not explicitly mentioned until Genesis 9:3, after the fall into sin (Genesis 3) and the flood (Genesis 6-8).

Genesis 1:30 defines the food supply for all animal life on earth. Note carefully that humankind has been separated from all the rest of life on earth. That is fully in keeping with the fact that man and woman are the only portion of the living creation made in Gods image. We have already seen that when God speaks things happen immediately. So, Genesis 1:31 finishes with the words It was so. Unfortunately, a time will come in the great story of Genesis when God will speak and it will not be so, but that will be addressed in another post.

Genesis 1:31
God saw all that he had made — and it was very good! There was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.

Once again the NET Bible buries the emphatic hinneh (behold, see, look) in a marginal note; the only remnant of its emphasis is in the exclamation point. In contrast, the ESV says, And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Gen. 1:31a, emphasis added). Wenham says of this use of hinneh that it is suggesting Gods enthusiasm as he contemplated his handiwork.[4]

The problem of evil in the world is well-known, and the issue has been extensively discussed. Those who do not know God look upon a world filled with instances of evil and ask how God could possibly be good. Genesis explains that what God made was very good to the point of arousing his enthusiasm, so the cause of evil must be found elsewhere. Later in this , Plano, Texasstudy we will see where.

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


[1] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson, 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) hinneh, behold, see, q.v.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 1:29, fn 5.

[3] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 115, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 33.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 34.

 

Good Posts about Hades/Hell/Gehenna at Bible.org

Michael H. Burer of Dallas Theological Seminary’s New Testament Department has [link deleted due to malware report at site] some interesting and educational articles about the meaning of various Greek and Hebrew words that relate to the afterlife (words translated into English as Sheol, Hades, Hell, Gehenna, etc.). I suggest you take a look at them.

It is also encouraging to see that the scholars involved with the NET Bible are constantly striving to make the translation and its Notes better. That’s exactly what we would want Bible translators to do! In this case, he liked one of my suggestions.

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

Choosing a Study Bible

Among the most important choices a Christian makes is selecting a Bible translation for daily study. You may be saying, “I thought they were all the same.” No, and that is why you need more information!

To discuss different translations, you will need a key to their abbreviations. The year shown is the year of first publication as a full Bible.

ESV                      English Standard Version (2001)

NET                      New English Translation (1996)

HCSB                   Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004)

NIV                       New International Version (1978)

NASB                   New American Standard Bible (1963)

KJV                      King James Version (1611)

The Crux: What Type of Bible?

The English Bible is found in two forms: translations and paraphrases. First, we will describe paraphrases and then translations.

Bible Paraphrases

One dictionary says a paraphrase is: “A restatement of a text or passage in another form or other words, often to clarify meaning.”[1] Clarity is certainly the main goal of a Bible paraphrase, but you have to understand the original text correctly in order to paraphrase it. If everyone saw the same original meaning in a Bible verse, there would be no need for commentaries; there are tens of thousands of them!

We usually want things that are easier to understand, so what is the limitation of a paraphrase? New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace says, “If the translator’s interpretation is correct, it can only clarify the meaning of the text; if it is incorrect, then it can only clarify the interpretation of the translator!”[2] If the translator’s interpretation is correct, you get a paraphrase of God’s Word; if not, you get a paraphrase of the translator’s word.

One of the most popular paraphrases is The Living Bible. It first appeared in 1971 as the literary effort of Kenneth N. Taylor. Taylor initially wrote The Living Bible for his children, never intending it for serious study, yet it achieved great popularity.[3]

Another widely distributed paraphrase is The Message, the effort of Eugene H. Peterson. The full Bible as paraphrased by The Message became available in 2002. One notable scholar considers The Message even freer than a paraphrase, calling it devotional literature.

So, the two most popular paraphrases are each the product of one man. Further, we note that some question exists as to when clarification becomes invention. Compare these paraphrases with a translation for one of Jesus’ statements in the Sermon on the Mount:

PARAPHRASE: Matthew 5:3 (The Message) “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

PARAPHRASE: Matthew 5:3 (The Living Bible) “Humble men are very fortunate,” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.”

TRANSLATION: Matthew 5:3 (English Standard Version) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

You will notice immediately that the two paraphrases are quite different. If you had not been told they were paraphrasing the same verse, you might have guessed otherwise. Paraphrases have their uses, but serious Bible study is not one of them. You need an accurate Bible translation.

Bible Translations

Here is a reasonable definition: “Translation is the interpreting of the meaning of a text and the subsequent production of an equivalent text, likewise called a ‘translation,’ that communicates the same message in another language.”[4] In our case the Bible was recorded in Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament), with a few chapters in Aramaic (Old Testament). Producing an equivalent text in English is what results in our Bible translations.

We all want a Bible that shows fidelity to the original text and clarity in our language because we want to know exactly what God has revealed to us. So, what is the challenge? Wallace says, “Idioms and colloquialisms in a language need to be paraphrased to make sense in another language.”[5] In addition, some translations attempt to distinguish themselves by incorporating a measure of paraphrase to enhance readability. The degree to which this paraphrasing is done leads to some debate.

The most famous translation of all time is the King James Version of 1611, a product of scholars from Oxford and Cambridge. Due to the passage of time and the discovery of thousands of additional biblical manuscripts, the need arose for fresh translations; all languages change over time. The English Standard Version (2001) is a successor in the tradition of the King James Version. Other notable translations include the NET Bible (1996), the New International Version (1978 and 2011), the Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004), and the New American Standard Bible (1963). We have already mentioned the New Living Translation (1996).

Because of their greater fidelity to the biblical text, translations are the right tool for a Bible student or growing Christian.

Notes to the Max

Contemporary study Bibles have an amazing amount of information in the notes at the bottom of each page. They usually contain maps, diagrams and charts at various locations.

Since some translations (ESV, KJV or NASB) emphasize transparency to the original text, they do not put much interpretation directly into the translation. For such translations the notes are a great help in bridging the historical and cultural gap between us and biblical times. For example, John 18:28a (ESV) says, “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters.” The ESV Study Bible has a long note to tell you all about the Roman governor’s quarters at Herod’s old palace or a possible alternate location.

By contrast, the NIV says, “Then the Jewish leaders led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor” (John 18:28a, NIV 2011, emphasis added). Note the words in italics. The word “Roman” is not in the Greek New Testament here, but it appears in the NIV 2011 translation as a clarification. Similarly, “they” (ESV) has been changed to “the Jewish leaders” (NIV 2011) to make certain you know who took Jesus to the palace, but the words “Jewish leaders” do not occur here in the Greek text. The NIV Study Bible — available at this writing only for NIV 1984 — also has a long note to tell you what is going on in this scene.

In relation to resource materials provided along with the translation, the ESV and NIV study Bibles differ in two significant ways. First, the NIV Study Bible has a concordance about double the size of the one in the ESV Study Bible. On the other hand, the NIV 1984 needs a much bigger concordance since it uses a much greater variety of words to translate individual Greek or Hebrew words, and that makes concordance research more complicated. [Note: A concordance is an alphabetic list of words used in a specific translation matched to a list of the Bible verses where that word occurs. A concordance is essential for doing word studies without special Bible software.]

The second significant difference is that the ESV Study Bible contains a large number of articles (e.g. “The Character of God” and “Marriage and Sexual Morality”) dealing with many subjects at greater length than notes allow. These materials are not replicated in the NIV Study Bible.

For those intrepid few who cannot get enough about the linguistic matters that underlie our English translations, the NET Bible First Edition is a must-have. This Bible has a unique set of Translators’ Notes that justify the translation. These Notes can be technical in relation to original languages, but they are a great help to understanding the original meaning and options for translation. The NET Bible has fine maps but few charts and diagrams and no concordance. Still, it is unique. The NET Bible and all its Notes may be downloaded free at www.Bible.org, and I recommend you do that.

Recommended Study Bibles

I recommend the following study Bibles according to your need:

ESV Study Bible published by Crossway Bibles (2008)

The ESV emphasizes transparency to the original text over clarity in English. The ESV Study Bible has outstanding notes, maps, and concordance along with good articles. It gets my vote as the best general-purpose study Bible available in May 2011.

The NIV Study Bible, Updated Edition published by Zondervan (2008)

The NIV 1984 emphasizes clarity in English, so it has more interpretation in its translated text than either the ESV or the NET Bible. The NIV Study Bible has outstanding notes and maps along with a sizable concordance. It is also a sound choice for a general-purpose study Bible. It seems reasonable to expect that a revision using the NIV 2011 text will be available sometime in 2011. That will be an upgrade!

NET Bible, First Edition [with over 60,932 Notes] published by Biblical Studies Press (2005)

The NET Bible takes a middle position between the NIV and ESV on the balance between transparency to the original text and clarity in English. The NET Bible is highly recommended for those interested in the Translators’ Notes. It also has unique maps based on earth-satellite imaging.  Available at www.Bible.org .

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] “paraphrase.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 22 Nov. 2008. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/paraphrase>.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, “Choosing a Bible Translation,” Bible Study Magazine (Nov. & Dec., 2008) 24.

[3] More recently the New Living Translation has replaced the earlier paraphrase with a widely accepted translation done by a team of scholars.

[4] “Translation.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 Nov 2008, 09:08 UTC. 23 Nov 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Translation&oldid=252537344>.

[5] Wallace, “Choosing a Bible Translation,” 23.

 

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.