back to the basics: communication

For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand.

2 Corinthians 1:13

Yesterday I kind of tried what amounts to a thought experiment which I felt was over my head, but shared anyway, at my wife’s insistence. But today I’m back into my comfort zone, trying to work through things which are more or less clear to me. If we would seek to be faithful in what we do understand, surely God would help us understand more.

Communication to me is so very basic, and something I want to take pains to do. What’s at stake here is my own understanding, then along with that, the understanding of others. I’m not sure if this came from years and years of listening to the New International Version of the Bible being read, or if I preferred that version because of its emphasis on clarity and accuracy. Supposedly it gives up some accuracy for clarity, and depending on how you look at that, I suppose you can say that’s so, though I might try to argue against that. It really ends up being just what you’re looking for in a translation. I hope for retaining as much of the sense of the original as possible, but communicated in the way we speak and think. After all, it seems like at least most of the Bible was written in vernacular, the spoken language of those who received it.

But more important than any of that is just the priority of simply understanding, and not letting go until one does understand. Though I have to admit that along the way sometimes I’m still a bit puzzled at what’s actually being said. I am in Proverbs right now, and that’s certainly the case with a number of sayings there. But proverbs are often intended to be somewhat of a puzzle that we’re to turn over and over again in our minds, for more reasons than simply understanding them.

Understanding itself is definitely not enough. We then need to respond in faith and act accordingly. We need to ask how it applies to ourselves, and us together as God’s people.

There is the sense of mystery that should be honored. We need to realize that we’re not going to understand everything. Even though God makes his thoughts known to us, we will never plumb the depths of them, or fully understand and know as God does. And it does seem like God wants that to be a part of our faith journey now. Like Abraham, we go on by faith, even when we don’t know where we’re going, just what the future holds. Leaning not to our own understanding, but trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, submitting to him in all our ways. So when we don’t understand, which in some respects is all the time, we bow to the Mystery, to God.

In the meantime I’ll continue to try to translate God’s directives into my life, into my involvement in the community of Jesus, and in the world. I’ll keep working at that, because I often am at a loss. For the goal of hopefully following Jesus in this world with others, and being faithful to the good news. Beginning with myself. In and through Jesus.

receiving eternal life is not merely signing on the dotted line

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly. To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice because I know this will lead to my salvation through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all courage, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Philippians 1:12-20; CSB

I have been away from churches like this for decades, but there at least used to be the strong teaching, and I think it still holds sway in the minds of many evangelicals, to some extent it has in my own thinking, that once you’re saved through faith in Christ, you’re always saved. There’s no need to get into the weeds over that teaching here. What I want to highlight is what the King James Version, and here, the Christian Standard Bible translate more literally:

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice because I know this will lead to my salvation through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:18b-19; CSB

The Greek word, σωτηρία is more literally translated “salvation”, though in some contexts it might mean physical deliverance. Most translations do translate it “deliverance” or the like. But from what I’ve heard, Paul could well have had something else in mind here. Namely the salvation he wanted to receive from God when he would stand before God after this life in the great Day.

There is past, present and future salvation in Scripture. Like Karl Barth answered when someone asked him when he was saved, he pointed back to the time of the cross, Jesus’s death, whatever year that was (33 AD), or many of us would point to the time when we committed our lives to Christ, or for some, they don’t know when their faith began, but they know they have it now. God’s salvation is accomplished in the past act of Christ in Christ’s death and resurrection, and by faith we receive and enter into that salvation.

When salvation is spoken of, it is mostly, as I remember, present. God is at work in our lives to change us, indeed save from the present evil age. To save us not only from the penalty, but also the power of sin. To indeed save us from ourselves in our fallenness and brokenness. More and more into who we were created to be through the new creation in Jesus.

And salvation is future. Someday, in the great Day, we’ll be transformed into full conformity to Jesus, something which indeed begins in this life, but will be completed then. And that will be a vindication of what we were in this life. Not just what we had received as a gift, but how we lived as a result of that gift. Something we see expressed in Ephesians 2:8-10:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

Eternal life is not just about signing on the dotted line, and thinking we’re secure. That can end up being what Dallas Willard called “bar code Christianity,” thinking one is in no matter what, just because they once “asked Jesus into their heart,” or however they might describe their salvation experience.

Eternal life involves no less than following Jesus all the way. No turning back, and doing so together with others, through our love, help, and prayers, just what Paul was alluding to here. In and through Jesus.

a simple look at the translation of the Greek word transliterated hyperecho in Philippians 4:7

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

In the great promise on avoiding or dealing with anxiety, I like the New International Version‘s translation of the Greek word transliterated hyperechotranscends. I used to not care much for it. Surpasses, though is not a word we use that often. And in this context, to me it is confusing. The peace of God surpasses our understanding. What does that mean. In our thinking it might mean it simply bypasses it. What it really means, if we think about it more, is that it is greater than our understanding. And we could say, above and beyond it. Even the idea from the New Living Translation that God’s peace exceeds anything we can understand, while helpful, still is not quite satisfying to me, when trying to make sense of this.

So the NIV‘s “transcends” I end up finding helpful, after all. It has the idea to me of above and beyond. So that we’re to live in that peace when our understanding fails, believing that God is in it, and that we can trust him. Which is at the heart of what the promise in Philippians 4:6-7 is all about. In and through Jesus.

the myth of the sinful nature

In some Christian circles the idea of the Christian having two natures, is held as fact. And although the most popular translation among evangelicals, and my own preferred translation, the New International Version in its 2011 revision changed the translation of sarx from “sinful nature” to “flesh” in those passages in Paul which refer to the human propensity to sin, it still retained “sinful nature” in the two instances of sarx in Romans 7. It seems arguably to me, that “sinful nature” should have been scrapped altogether.

It seems that strictly speaking, the problem is indwelling sin, not the flesh itself. The problem with the flesh is that it is unable in and of itself to resist sin. And that’s because the flesh by itself was never meant to overcome sin. Humans are meant to be in union with God, so that the flesh overcomes sin by the Spirit from the Father through the Son.

This is a big study, debated among theologians, and certainly not resolved in a post like this. A study of Romans 7 and 8 is especially key in trying to come to some conclusion in this. As for me, I think the weakness of the flesh is completely due to the lack of human dependence on the Spirit through Christ’s death and resurrection. But maybe the flesh in itself is sinful, indwellling sin corrupting it, which is why one must make no allowance for its lusts. Whatever the case, I’m glad for the change the NIV did make.

clarity of meaning and Bible translating

There is a new generation which has what I consider a mistaken idea about translating the Bible, scripture, the word of God. There evidently is the idea that because scripture is the written word of God, that it must be unique in the way we translate it. Actually this is all a bit more complicated than I’m making it to be. Yes, there are different kind of translations of scripture, and they all have merit, from the Contemporary English Version to the New American Standard Bible. But as Dave Brunn points out in his most helpful book, One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal?, there are languages on earth (he translated scripture into one of them) which in form and manner of speaking are completely different, not in the family of languages in which both English and Koine Greek reside. To translate scripture into such a language is to end up taking pains to communicate the meaning clearly, and of course that opens up more than just translating, even when one is trying to strictly adhere to the text of scripture, by which I mean trying to be as true to its wording and message as possible.

If I’m translating English into any one of the languages in the family of English such as German or French, I will have to make all kinds of adjustments with reference to word order, how verbs are used etc. Languages even in the same family (here, Indo-European) simply are different in a number of ways, and the differences are not straight line or predictable. Add to that the unique figures of speech which are present in any language and one will find that translating is not a mere word for word transference, which strictly speaking in itself is not at all possible, that is if one really wants to translate.

Of course it isn’t wrong to want a version (notice I’m avoiding the word “translation” right now) of scripture which is more true to the wording of the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. The translations that aspire to this which are popular today, such as the English Standard Version, don’t even come close really to rendering the English into the word order and sound of the original. Though they may come closer to that, than say a translation like the New International Version. That being said there are times when actually the English Standard Version makes an interpretive translation, leaving a literal word for word translation behind. And interestingly enough in a number of those cases, the New International Version is actually more “literal,” both retaining the original wording without loss of meaning. Go to the book cited above for a good number of charts which show this and include perhaps the most literal translation of scripture used today, the New American Standard Bible, which does the same thing.

There is absolutely no substitute for learning Hebrew and Koine Greek, and learning to read scripture in those original languages in the editions we have from scholars. That being said, take any number of faithful translations of scripture, including all of those cited in this post, and you have a faithful rendering of scripture, indeed you have the inscripturated word of God. The precedent of that is right in scripture itself when biblical writers quote the first translation of scripture, the Septuagint, as the word of God, which happens a number of times in the New Testament. No one has to feel in the least bit slighted. Scholars have done well in translating scripture, and any follower of Jesus can in essence know God’s word as well as any scholar.

The best translation of scripture? Well, as one scholar told me, best, or actually something like, “most accurate for what?” But as another Christian said, something like: “The best translation is the one you use.” And so let us go on reading scripture both ourselves and together as church. That the Spirit may speak God’s word to us anew and afresh, as we live together in Jesus for the world.

the church is key

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

We live in a day and time when people like Jesus but dislike the church. And church roles along with denominational numbers are dwindling. Once upon a time when you were born you were baptized as a Christian, the law of the state. Hopefully you would be a person of faith, but much dependence came to be placed on the sacraments. You were a sinner, but as long as you would confess to the priest and receive the sacrament, you were a member of the church in good standing. Of course there were the monasteries where folks committed themselves fully to obedience to Christ through scripture and tradition. Only a select few would come to be canonized as “saints.”

Most churches fell in line with this arrangement, but by and by there were a few Christians who would question it. Of course scripture was to be read only by those well trained in the tradition. They in turn would hopefully teach the people what the people needed to know. So attempts at reform had to come from within those so trained. Most diversity was well safe within the tradition.

There came the time when breakaway from tradition became more and more. This coincided with the time of the Renaissance when knowledge began to flow, people were returning to the original sources. And most important, there was the drive by key individuals to translate scripture into the language of the masses, so that it might be read by all. The result of this is not hard to predict. And cracks within the institutional church were a precursor to change ahead.

Enter the Reformation and streams around it. Also restoration movements which were not content with reforming the church, but wanted to start from the ground up to build a New Testament church. This latter development sometimes erred in not taking tradition seriously enough, but they had a Berean spirit by which they were not content to simply follow tradition, but wanted to search the scriptures for themselves to find the truth.

Fast-forward to today. Strangely enough there is something of a turn and move back toward the Great Tradition. At the same time the Great Tradition itself appears to be more open, the faithful having access to scripture as well.

The church has often in trying to reach the masses, taken on popular culture to a fault, and has sometimes become little better than the church of the Great Tradition they left, by making a minimum standard of requirements for membership in good standing. In a day when people regularly move from one church to another, they make their appeal to people where they live. This gets complicated, because we are indeed called to become all things to all people that by all possible means through the gospel, we might see some come to Christ. But what can easily get lost in the shuffle here is the call to make disciples or true followers of Christ.

The point I want to end with today is simply that the church itself is Christ’s body. It is the church as spelled out in definition, description and detail in the New Testament. The church in the world is key to God’s ongoing work of calling people into his kingdom in and through Christ. The church consists of those who have faith and are faithful in and through Christ, those who are “in Christ,” and therefore members of his body. Our calling in Jesus is both with regard to that body, and to the mission to which that body, the church is called to in the world. But in order to understand this, we have to keep turning the pages of scripture in our reading, study, meditation and prayer. And we are in this, yes together as the one body, for the world.

on translating scripture

Sometime back I wrote a post interacting with the thought that there ought to be a new translation of scripture which somehow is in our language, the way we speak, but preserving the differences in the various styles found in the copies of the original writings which we have. So that one could see the stylistic differences between all the writers and writings.

Since then I’ve rethought this some, and I have to say that I have my doubts that there can be a translation which can seriously reflect the styles of the originals, but match anything we do in our English language. Often in translating from one language to another there is no match to say it in just the same way. Or form. But now we get back into philosophy of translation.

A good philosophy of translation (and I can only write in a basic way concerning it) should want to get as much of an equivalence in content and impact across to the receptor language, as was the case in the original language. And in translating, if one wants to really understand the meaning of  the original in depth, it would seem that footnotes would be required to make a decent start.

The New Living Translation (NLT) attempted to show the differences in the various styles of writing in scripture, but according to one of its translators, it was limited in what it achieved. One might say that a faithful translation is bound to get something of the differences across, but that is likely only so in content, and not so much in style.

I recall watching Douglas Moo, the chairperson of the Committee on Bible Translation which oversees the New International Version of the Bible, saying that the NIV tried to keep the form wherever possible, as long as the meaning was not lost.

I think scripture needs to be translated as William Tyndale wrote: so that the plowman can read it. The idea that it needs to keep something of the way of speaking of the original I think is problematical.

Theologically, scripture as God’s written word should come across in something of the same way as did God’s Incarnate Word, Jesus. Jesus came and lived with the people in a specific culture. And Jesus was just as human as any of them. He became one of them, one of us. And Jesus communicated, albeit God’s truth, in language and ways that were clear, even though the Spirit is needed to give understanding. It is not that the words themselves were obscure in meaning, or form. There is no such thing, I want to add, as some Holy Spirit language which our Bibles should mirror. The real language of the Holy Spirit is incarnate in a translation of the Bible in which anyone who can read the language can understand what is being said, even if the meaning makes little or no sense to them.

And so, to end this somewhere, I think the New International Version (NIV) (for me, being the best example of this) and other translations like it are the ideal. A translation that reads well, and yet does not water down the meaning in its essence from the original. And just as importantly, the meaning is communicated naturally in another language.

If there is a translation that is done seeking to bring across the stylistic differences, well and good. That will be a niche translation. But for the church we need a translation that like Jesus gives us God’s word in our own heart language, from God’s heart to ours. And to all the languages of the earth.

do we really need another translation of scripture?

Yesterday I posted on the thought that how we translate scripture could improve, the idea of better reflecting the differences in the nuances of the languages and various biblical writers. This is in the tradition, I believe which began with Tyndale to the King James Version, and was challenged and influenced by missionaries seeking to translate scripture into the language of those who did not yet have it. In that process we arrive to what we have today. Albeit some differences remaining in translation philosophy. The goal is to get God’s word into the hands of everyone who can read, so that they can understand scripture in their own language. And for those who can’t read, so they can hear and understand it.

So on the one hand whatever advances we can make to do that better both honors scripture, and should help the reader, of course realizing that God’s word can only be understood through God’s Spirit, indeed helping the church to understand, actually giving the church a common understanding of the gospel in it.

On the other hand, if anything, we might do well to have less translations than we have. It was attributed to Billy Graham these wise words, something like the following: “The best translation of scripture is the one you use.” There are so many good, faithful translations of scripture. I could list a few of them here, but won’t. Bible Gateway is one great resource to sample a good many of them.

Much has been learned through linguistics, and we do well to try to think through how we might better translate scripture, the written word of God. Of course there’s always the need for revisions, given the changes in language, plus the ongoing discoveries which help us better understand the meaning of words in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. When I say us here, I refer to scholars and translators, including people like myself who are simply amateur enthusiasts with a special interest in this.

I will continue for now to use my NIV as my primary Bible, and I am not even expecting a translation in my lifetime which will replace it for me. There well might come one, and I’m open to that. But God’s word comes to me wonderfully loud and clear, so to speak from the NIV. And of course we’re richly blessed to compare other translations on passages (again, see Bible Gateway).

We should not become unsettled by the quest of scholars and linguists to think on how we might do better in translating God’s word. In the meantime we’re again, blessed. There is no one in our English speaking world who can’t read scripture written in an accurate, accessible way in a good number of translations.

I am thankful to God for the reading I heard from the Bible Experience this morning, the devotional reading I’m trying to practice in my life through N.T. Wright’s translation of the New Testament, and my ongoing reading of the NIV. With some reference at times to my Greek New Testament, as well as to Bible Gateway. I am blessed along with the rest of us. As together we seek the Word himself, Jesus, in whom we live and whom we follow together in this life to share and live in God’s good news in Jesus to the world.

do we need a new translation of scripture?

A while back, Scot McKnight wrote a piece on his blog, Jesus Creed about N.T. Wright’s new translation of the New Testament, entitled The Kingdom New Testament. Scot suggested that Tom Wright does better than anything he’s seen, translating scripture in a contemporary way while bringing out the nuances of the Greek. With the idea that it would be good to have a translation of scripture in which the differences in writing style between the various human authors would be evident.

Coming from Scot, who has been an advocate of the NIV for years (TNIV when it was out) was a bit shocking for me. Probably since the 1970’s I’ve been in the NIV (except for a time when we were in the Vineyard during which I was using the NLT myself, not that church then, for the record).

I have read criticisms of the NIV as being something of a flattened Bible. I didn’t understand that well then, but I think I better understand the criticism now, the idea being that every book is translated the same. The philosophy of the NIV has been adeptly carried out, indeed perfected through revisions. I have long appreciated how the NIV maintains accuracy while being eminently readable. In my view the NIV did what needs to be done in getting the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek writings of scripture we have into the language of the people. To me that means good grammar, and communication of the thought of scripture, words meaning nothing more than the thoughts they convey.

To this day the NIV remains, in my view unmatched in what it does. But to get something of the differences in style between the biblical writers, one might go to a more literal translation such as the ESV or what I’d prefer over that, the NASB. But when one does that, then one loses a translation that brings the biblical text over into good English. (Interestingly, not all of scripture is thought to be good grammar in terms of the language in which it was written. Does that mean we would want to duplicate that when translating?)

I myself want to be open to this idea, since I so much respect Scot McKnight, who more than any other scholar overall, and perhaps I’d put him and N.T. Wright together in this, has helped me in my understanding of scripture and the story in it, along with the fulfillment of that story in the good news of King Jesus. And it makes sense to me, though I think to most people this wouldn’t matter much, my guess. And the popularity of the NIV might well trump any attempt to get another translation to be received by the church which better reflects the diversity between the human writers.

My faith is so grounded in scripture, that I’ll continue on doing what I do, but simply being open to a better way of doing it, should that appear down the road. I certainly don’t have the learning to work at such a venture, or even to think well in terms of how that might play out, though maybe this will push me to at least get into my Greek New Testament more. Douglas Moo who is the chairperson of the Committe on Bible Translation which is responsible “for overseeing the text” of the NIV, wrote me that such a goal is difficult at best, if not well nigh impossible. He seems to hold that it is. Scot McKnight knows it is hard, but holds to it as possible, seeing something of that in N.T. Wright’s translation. It is interesting that an earlier preface to the NIV (1983) states that the translation wanted to bring out the differences in style of the biblical writers (see the ninth paragraph) . But such a thought is not to be found in the preface of the current 2011 NIV.

Stay tuned.

a take on the NIV 2011

As one who cares less and less about the controversies swirling around among Christians, and specifically Protestant evangelicals, I here offer my take on the NIV revision, now available online, and to be released in book form in March of 2011. I do so not yet having read through this Bible. And understanding some basic changes made. And not as one who used to avidly follow and mark such changes (as occurred in the 1984 revision of the 1978 edition).

Most of my years as a Christian, the NIV has been my primary Bible. When the TNIV came, I switched to it. And now the TNIV along with the NIV 1984 are to be phased out by the NIV 2011. Initially it was a struggle for me to change from the NASB to the NIV. Not sure why I ended up doing so, except to say that I much like both the accuracy as well as the good English (in my view) employed by the NIV. It is what I think good translations of scripture need to be: faithful to the original, while naturally rendered in the receptor language. So I probably adhere more to the NIV translation philosophy than any other. Of course no Bible translation is perfect, and all have their issues for those who study such matters.

By and large I think this new edition of the NIV will pass through without a blink. Changes made are not going to make all TNIV readers such as myself completely happy. Chief in that right now for me is the change from “humankind” in the TNIV to “mankind” in the NIV 2011. There may be other issues as well. But I’m happy to see some of the gender changes retained in the name of gender accuracy. While significant improvements have been made, as should be done so in any ongoing revisions. The NIV is particularly well suited to this (see below), because its work goes on  in seeking to improve in light of scholarship in uncovering more sources to help us understand what may be the closest reading to the original, as well as understanding language and more precisely what a word might have meant. Of course translation itself is quite an art and science, and it gets even more complex in view of trying to be faithful both to the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts, as well as to the church’s interpretation of them over the years.

My take now on the NIV 2011. I am basically enthusiastic about it. I’m glad there is one NIV again. And when translating scripture, we need to take into account the people and culture into which that scripture is translated. So that, given the culture in America, this revision, which is to a degree a compromise (as I now understand it) between the NIV 1984 and the TNIV, should end up being acceptable to readers of both. The controversial aspects of the TNIV have been largely, and I think in essence removed. Although certain aspects of improvement in regard to gender have been retained. While improvements over the TNIV have been made in that regard, such as changing “brothers and sisters” to “brothers” in places where it is likely that only males are referred to. By and large that term means what I understand by the old word, “brethren”: the family of God.

I myself wish that the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) which is behind the NIV would consider translating the Apocrypha to be put in the back of certain editions of the NIV for people like me, who do not equate them with the 66 books, but esteem them as so many in the church over the centuries have done. They certainly deserve a good reading. Yet at the same time I think I can guess in part the CBT’s reluctance to do so. The work of the NIV is related, as I understand it, to the translation of God’s word into languages worldwide.  It is a guide as translators work from the originals as formulated by scholars. To translate the Apocrypha may confuse young Christians, and also may make the churches look elsewhere for their Bible. What good is translating if one’s translation is not received? And I think the CBT is solid in seeing the 66 books alone as inspired scripture. Just the same, I still wish they would do so, confining it only to special editions (even as was true from what I understand in all the original 1611 KJV Bibles).

Simply put the NIV 2011 has my “Amen!” I think it’s a good move, and hope it does well, since I think it is all in all the best English rendering of scripture available today. While at the same time we can thank God for other fine translations of scripture available in English. And in the words of Billy Graham, “The best translation of the Bible is the one you use.” So use whatever translation of scripture you love and are used to. As we all seek to grow into conformity to the Word to whom the word points- Jesus, in and before the world.

NIV 2010 at Bible Gateway

About this revision on the official website

Comparison of NIV, NIV 1984, and TNIV (HT to Mark Stevens)