on silence

snowy meadow

After posting this quote from Bonhoeffer, I couldn’t keep it from running around in my mind:

We are so afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next in order not to have to spend a moment alone with ourselves, in order not to have to look at ourselves in the mirror.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word

What was true in Bonhoeffer’s day is infinitely more true in our American society today. Walking around the office or on the street, it’s rare to spy someone who isn’t on the phone, listening to music, or talking to somebody else. At people’s houses I often notice they leave televisions on when no one is actively watching–my children are as guilty of this as anyone–leaving the TV on while doing something else. And when was the last time you drove anywhere without the radio in your vehicle?

We surround ourselves with noise, even noise just for noise’s sake.

We can’t stand silence, even for a few moments…much to our detriment.

As Bonhoeffer points out, silence often begets introspection–something we tend to avoid in our superstar-obsessed society that demands we always look and act perfect no matter how far this diverges from reality. Christians are no better than secular society here, unfortunately. Somewhere along the line even Evangelical culture became obsessed with putting on a veneer of perfection no matter our true condition. Jesus had a term for this sort of thing–’white-washed tombs.’ Looking at ourselves and our souls in the mirror is an idea we simply cannot stand, because such an exercise necessitates admitting our flaws, weaknesses, imperfections, and sin. Our culture–even our Christian subculture–will have nothing of the sort because we are consumed with showing our (apparent) perfection, (seeming) success, and (the facade) of never-ending happiness.

Silence also begets waiting–also something we dislike in our society. We wait for nothing, even though those things that are most truly satisfying are often gained through patient waiting. Waiting, especially a Christian form of waiting, can take many forms: prayer, fasting, and contemplation to name a few. As a rule, Evangelical Christians have a pretty poor track record of these sorts of disciplines. We dismiss them as ascetic, outmoded, or legalistic. Perhaps we commit an even worse foul and write them off as “Catholic” (or “Orthodox”) and then fail to give them a second thought.

Here’s a hard truth. Silence, and its subsequent introspection and waiting, forms an integral part of the biblical witness and nearly 2,000 years of Christian practice. As uncomfortable as this reality might be to our culture of the instantaneous, we are much the poorer for our neglect.

Create silence. Take fifteen minutes–or ten, or five, or even one if that’s all you can bear at first–and be silent. Be silent before the mirror of God’s law and your own introspection. Wait patiently for God. Use this time to “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (Jas 4.8, ESV)

photo credit: Creative Commons | josef.stuefer via Compfight

the Lord…a strong refuge

The Castle of BelogradchikThe LORD is good,a strong refuge when trouble comes.
He is close to those who trust in him.
But he will sweep away his enemies
in an overwhelming flood.
He will pursue his foes
into the darkness of the night.

Nahum 1.7-8, NLT

 

photo credit: Creative Commons |Klearchos Kapoutsis via Compfight

the HCSB: great but not perfect

Movable Type galley. Galera con tipos móviles.In two previous posts (here and here), I touted the excellence of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, but I would be remiss to explicitly or implicitly suggest that the translation is perfect. As a translation, it is not perfect, but it is such an excellent version that its lack of widespread acceptance and use–even in light of the cult-classic status of the ESV–absolutely baffles me. Let me now offer four unsolicited, ‘big-picture’ suggestions for improvement of this already remarkable translation.  While I am working on a writeup dealing with translation recommendations of specific verses in the HCSB, I shall not get to that level of detail today.  Instead, these thoughts aim to serve is a high-level critique, suitable for consumption by everyone, not just those who want to dive into the details of language translation issues.

the name: HCSB1

OK, so this is probably not fair game because no established bible translation is going to change its name after nearly a decade of publication, but I lament that the publishers chose to name this translation the HCSB for three reasons:

  1. “Holman” — no matter how many times anyone says, “The HCSB isn’t a Southern Baptist bible,” having Holman in the name has forever wrongly linked the SBC and the HCSB, creating a theological bias that does not exist. It would be like Concordia publishing a bible that ‘wasn’t Lutheran’ or JPS publishing an Old Testament that ‘wasn’t Jewish’…except that the HCSB really is not a baptist bible!  Trust me on this, I went to Southern Seminary but am not baptist.  Even though, the HCSB does not have a denominational slant to it, I think it will forever fight an uphill (losing?) battle to convince folks of this reality.
  2. “Christian” — kinda goes without saying that a bible will be “Christian,” no? Why bother?
  3. “Standard” — in my opinion, the whole idea of a “standard” English bible died with the explosion of the multitude of bible translations the English language now enjoys. The RSV was probably the last true ‘standard’ bible.  Now, such a name is wishful thinking, at best.

Let this observation merely be a lesson to future English bible translation committees, not that we need one for the next 25 years or so given that we have the HCSB right now!

translation: “the name is Yahweh”

One of the banners at the top of the HCSB website proclaims, “The name is Yahweh. God gave us his personal name, which is why you’ll see it in the Holman Christian Standard Bible.” Translating the tetragrammaton (YHWH) as Yahweh instead of the traditional LORD was a bold move in bible translation, done previously to my knowledge only in the New Jerusalem Bible. It is also linguistically correct.  My last post pointed out the importance and benefit of this choice.

The first edition used Yahweh a handful of times. The 2010 update upped that to about 500 times. I’d love to see the translators use it consistently across the nearly 7,000 instances of YHWH in the Old Testament. There is no good case in my mind for translating YHWH as Yahweh sometimes and as LORD other times–if anything it only muddies the waters since most readers will not recognize that the Hebrew beneath these two translations is identical. “Pastor, what’s the significance of the difference here?” Reply, “Um, eh, um…there is none.”

editions: take a risk to create loyal fans, B&H

One of my favorite things about the ESV is that Crossway isn’t afraid to take a risk on editions that the ‘experts’ shun as unprofitable. Examples of ‘risky’ editions abound, including: the ESV Journaling Bible, the ESV Wide Margin (forthcoming), the Personal Size Reference Bible / Personal Reference Bible, and a host of single-column layouts. Crossway has also partnered with Baker/Cambridge to produce some stunning editions: wide-margin, Pitt-Minion, and Clarion layouts. While I have no idea about the sales of any of these individual editions, the overall strategy has worked.  ESV fans are some of the most incredibly-loyal bible version fans out there!  These are all rather niche editions that are probably not big money makers–I know because I’ve corresponded with folks in the publishing departments at B&H and Tyndale in the past and received that exact answer. No projected sales = no backing from management.  Pardon me, but Crossway has demonstrated the foolishness of this answer.

Here’s my question to B&H: since such customer responsiveness creates insanely-loyal customers and Crossway (another non-profit) is willing to take these risks, why not do the same with the HCSB instead of giving us a couple of very solid specialty editions (e.g., the HCSB Study Bible is an incredibly solid study bible for one) but repackaging the same few double-column, center-reference, red-letter editions over and over?2 Or how about this crazy notion, partner with Tyndale to create a parallel (facing-page, please) HCSB-NLT bible? I’ll buy a case, or ten!

editions part two: academic credibility

Another amazing thing Crossway has done with the ESV, which has created a great level of credibility in academic circles, is to partner with the United Bible Societies to create four amazing academic editions: a parallel Greek NT, a parallel Hebrew OT, and both NT and OT interlinear editions.

I would love to see the same thing done with the HCSB, especially the parallel/diglot editions.3 Looking to justify the gamble, B&H? Last I checked, the SBC had nearly 10,000 seminarians…how’s that for a great first publication run? How great would it be for this fantastic translation to be taken seriously (i.e., used regularly) in academic circles and not just SBC Sunday school materials?

Each of these ideas are mine, but I do not think I’m the only one that holds them.  In fact, I’ll bet that first case of HCSB-Hebrew/Greek diglots or parallel HCSB-NLT bibles that I’m not!


1 I’m really not sure why I bothered to list this, except to point out again, in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion that the HCSB is NOT a Baptist bible.
2 To be fair, the new text block in the most-recent HCSB reference bible is a thing of beauty. See my thoughts on it here. In addition, as I mentioned, the HCSB Study Bible is an incredible study bible that should enjoy much better sales than it currently does…I don’t have access to the sales history but it isn’t even in the Sept 13 top ten study bible list, seriously?! Especially unfathomable to me in light of the fact that the number one study bible is B&H’s KJV Study Bible.
3 I can almost see the visceral reaction of my Greek professors (one of whom is now the chairman of the HCSB translation oversight committee!) at the suggestion that we put diglots in the hands of seminary students.  I’m certainly not advocating these tools be used instead of the traditional Greek NT during Greek studies, but as one who has been in the post-seminary ‘real-world’ of ministry now for nearly ten years, I freely admit that my Greek / Hebrew skills will never be to the point where I don’t need some helps to read even though I read Greek / Hebrew several times a week.  A diglot is a much better tool (i.e., less of a crutch) than an interlinear.

photo credit: Creative Commons | Xosé Castro Roig

the HCSB: matters of style done well

shiny happy letters (reprise)

Every new bible translation adopts a particular ‘style’ or ‘feel’ to its English.  For the sake of consistency, translation committees are forced during their work to make many stylistic decisions that will affect how the English will read.  These decisions are compounded by the very nature of their work–translation–where a mechanical word-for-word translation of each individual word from Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek into English would result in an almost nonsensical translation that read more like a monologue from Yoda than any form of written or spoken English.

Now, when comparing bible translations, people tend to speak of formal vs dynamic equivalence.  I am not a fan of discussing bible translations in terms of equivalence because I honestly believe these comparisons are 1) misleading because no translation (bible or not) from one language to another truly presents a consistent word-for-word translation, as anyone who speaks more than one language will tell you and 2) often used pejoratively to discuss why other translations fall short of the one being touted.  More than this, these comparisons are both relative (i.e., there is no standard by which to measure equivalency) and, as a result, subjective (i.e., even the most well-intended comparison is ultimately done at the whim of the individual making the rankings).  There are better ways to compare and evaluate translations.

With that pet peeve in mind, let’s ask what sort of style did the Holman Christian Standard Bible adopt?  Here are a few of the general, stylistic choices the HCSB made that I think are right on the money…

‘Messiah’ vs ‘Christ’

Hopefully this doesn’t burst anyone’s theological bubble, but Christ is simply a Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah.  In other words, they are synonyms, even though we tend not to think of them that way.  We tend to think of Messiah in only Old Testament terms and Christ in only New Testament terms–wrongly creating a distinction without a difference.

How does the HCSB handle this?  It does not simply translate the Greek word ‘christos’ as either Christ or Messiah, but chooses how to translate it based on the larger context with a footnote at the first use in any chapter reminding readers why.  Based on the explanation in the footnote,  ‘christos’ used in a Jewish context is typically translated Messiah, whereas in a Gentile context it is translated Christ.  The best place to see this is the multiple speeches in the book of Acts.  One could probably find specific instances that fail to abide by the general rule–I have not taken the time to look at every single occurrence–but overall the decision so translate ‘christos’ in this fashion is both a helpful and accurate choice.

Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

– Acts 5.42, HCSB

‘Instruction’ vs ‘Law’

English translations traditionally translate the Hebrew word ‘torah’ as law.  Presumably, this is done because the oldest Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint or LXX) translated it this way.  The problem is that ‘law’ is not the best way to understand ‘torah,’ especially in Western society, where ‘law’ typically has a very cold, antiseptic connotation.  As the Dictionary of New Testament Background points out, “The word Torah is derived from the Hebrew [word] meaning ‘to guide’ or ‘to teach’ …as in Exodus 35:34 and Leviticus 10:11. Thus the more precise meaning of the noun would be ‘teaching’ or ‘doctrine’ rather than ‘law.’”

The HCSB breaks with the traditional translation of ‘torah’ as ‘law’ and instead rightly translates it ‘instruction.’  Though non-traditional, it is a superior translation.

How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the Lord’s instruction!

– Psalm 119.1, HCSB

‘Yahweh’ vs ‘LORD’

As mentioned previously, one of the innovations the HCSB translators made was to translate the Hebrew name YHWH into English as the Yahweh.  Typically, English bibles translate the tetragrammaton as LORD in all caps or small caps, a tradition that goes back to the style chosen by the KJV translators over 400 years ago.  The 1901 American Standard Version consistently translated YHWH as Jehovah, a translation now almost universally understood to be an incorrect rendering of the Hebrew.  The 1985 Roman Catholic New Jerusalem Bible translates YHWH as Yahweh throughout the Old Testament.

Recognizing that YHWH is a proper name, the HCSB translators decided to take a non-traditional route and translate YHWH as Yahweh, though not consistently or evenly.  I shall go into more detail about this inconsistency in future posts, but needless to say translating YHWH as Yahweh vs LORD is a huge and welcome change.  At the very least, when we read Yahweh, we instantly recognize that we are not reading about some ancient, nameless God.  At its finest, this translation style makes some passages go from nonsensical to wonderfully vivid.  For example, here how Moses and Aaron’s exchange with Pharaoh in the beginning of Exodus 5 is traditionally rendered:

Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness. ‘” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”

– Exodus 5.1-2, ESV

This sounds well and good, but Pharaoh definitely would have known who the Lord was, that is who was God.  In Ancient Egypt he, Pharaoh, was god!  This dialogue only becomes transparent and makes sense when we recognize that what we have traditionally (and wrongly) read as LORD is actually the proper name of the God is Israel.

Later, Moses and Aaron went in and said to Pharaoh, “This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: Let My people go, so that they may hold a festival for Me in the wilderness.” But Pharaoh responded, “Who is Yahweh that I should obey Him by letting Israel go? I do not know anything about Yahweh, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

– Exodus 5.1-2, HCSB

Read with Yahweh instead of LORD, this exchange makes complete sense.  Pharaoh had no idea who Yahweh was…just another god of one the nations around him, who he did not feel compelled to obey or worship.

Each of these stylistic choices goes against the grain of the traditional English bible translation begun by the venerable KJV.  While we should not easily dismiss church tradition for the novel and ‘better,’ we must recognize that our knowledge of ancient languages is always improving even while our own language is always evolving…two realities that require us to not become slaves to our translation traditions, especially when there are truly better ways to render the word of God into contemporary English.

photo credit: Creative Commons | Markus Mayer via Compfight

the HCSB: everything I hoped the ESV would be

The ESV is the bible translation I’ve always wanted and tried to love. I had one pre-ordered back in 2001 in hopes it would be the best bible in the English language. I had high hopes that it would “fix” the quirky wording of the updated NASB, address some of the concerns raised about NIV translation choices, and be the only bible I would use or need for years to come.

I used the ESV exclusively for many years–always wanting to consider it “the one” but never quite being able to do so. On the surface there is much to love about the ESV: endorsements from every Christian ‘rock star’ preacher / teacher / professor on the scene today; a multitude of incredibly well-done layouts / editions; second-to-none marketing; and a wonderful, non-profit publisher (Crossway) that does a tremendous job printing and distributing the word1. But as far as the translation itself, I’ve never gotten over the fact that it’s ‘essentially literal’ philosophy has given us a translation that is essentially identical to the RSV on which I was raised and hardly groundbreaking at all.

While the ESV has won a lot of accolades and advocates, there have been many criticisms leveled at it too. In 2007, Dr. Mark Strauss presented a paper at ETS titled, “Why the English Standard Version Should not become the Standard English Version.” In this paper, he presented approximately two hundred specific instances where the ESV could be improved and compared the ESV rendering against a multitude of other English translations. Unfortunately, in my opinion, he failed to consistently compare any translation against his examples except the TNIV, which has never won widespread acceptance.

This week, I took Strauss’ examples and compared them against the readings in the Holman Christian Standard Bible and concluded that, while not perfect either, I can say that the HCSB is everything I hoped the ESV would be. While that sounds like a strange endorsement, my point is this: instead of continuing to call for revisions / updates / etc. to the ESV’s awkward and archaic English, those concerned should instead take a look at the HCSB, where almost none of these common objections exist.

Here are some of the specifics, based on my analysis of Strauss’ categories. In the realm of “oops translations,” the HCSB correctly translated 100% of his seven examples. The HCSB also properly rendered 77% of the 43 missed idioms on his list. With respect to 18 lexical errors Strauss pointed out, the HCSB corrected 92% of the errors present in the ESV. Surprisingly to me, of the seven exegetical errors Strauss cites, the HCSB only got 50% right…something I shall have to look more into. The final category I compared was title collocational errors, which are a grammar mistake where speakers/translators use the wrong combination of words when constructing common phrases. Here the HCSB scored a respectable 73%. I did not even bother looking over Strauss’ list of archaic or poorly-worded English, because even its advocates will not argue the reality of the ESV’s less-than-modern English. Overall, the HCSB correctly translated 78% of the ‘problems’ Strauss has with the ESV. The 2011 ESV update has still not corrected / adjusted / addressed any of the issues Strauss raised back in 2007.

While few writers present such in-depth criticisms of the ESV, many suggestions and wishes routinely crop up among bloggers and writers. One of the most common wishes is for the use of ‘slave’ instead of ‘bondservant’ throughout the New Testament. Others have argued for translating the tetragrammaton / YHWH as ‘Yahweh’ instead of the traditional ‘LORD.’ Though by no means consistent with the latter, the HCSB incorporates both of these additional suggestions.

So, over against the ESV, the HCSB corrects a multitude of translation-related problems and incorporates routinely-expressed wishes that the ESV translation committee has consistently decided against. As if that weren’t enough reason to consider the HCSB a decidedly superior English translation, think on this…The HCSB is the only major English translation to properly translate John 3:16. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” This is not the KJV-influenced English rendering to which we are all accustomed. But, this verse is not about how much God loved the world (i.e., “soooo much”) but about what that loved motivated God to do for the world.

The HCSB is not without it’s faults. I’m drafting some thoughts on areas where I think the HSCB should continue to improve in future revisions–including some ideas that I think might help the translation score some much-needed traction and acceptance, which has been sorely lacking for such a great translation. With that in mind, however, I can confidently say that the HCSB…truly is everything I hoped the ESV would be…probably the best translation in the English language today.


1 Crossway’s responsiveness to customer feedback, production of some of the most wonderful editions / text layouts ever devised, and commitment to proclaim the gospel through the publishing efforts is one of the principal reasons I continue to purchase and consult the ESV…and a reason you should too!

new Holman Christian Standard Bible editions

After making significant updates to the HCSB in 2010 and releasing the superb HCSB Study Bible shortly after, B&H has started releasing some new HCSB reference editions featuring a completely redone text layout and greatly expanded textual and translation-related footnotes.  So far, both regular and large-print Ultrathin reference editions have been published with the new text block.  The main innovations of the new layout include:

  • sans-serif fonts throughout
  • book and chapter references in the bottom margin instead of the top
  • extensive footnotes for textual and translation-related issues

Below the photos are some thoughts about the new features.  If you’re looking for a review of the HCSB as a translation, Pr. Richard Shields has done a great job reviewing it at his blog: https://exegete77.wordpress.com/

Sans-serif fonts are pretty standard for the web (including this blog) and some e-readers, but a quick look through my library revealed that I have very few print books with this type of font.  To me, in a side-by-side comparison of two equally-sized serif (think Times New Roman) and sans-serif (think Arial) fonts, the sans-serif font appears larger.  Another benefit is that the quirky HCSB choice to bold-face OT quotes in the NT is not nearly as noticeable than in prior editions.  Personally, I think this is a good thing as I find the use of bold-print very distracting.  Overall, though somewhat novel for print editions, I find the sans-serif font extremely easy to read, even for long periods of time.

Book and chapter references are moved to the bottom margin in these bibles.  At first I thought this would be very difficult to get used to after decades of looking to the top margin for these references; however, it took me about five minutes to adjust.  As radical a departure from the norm as this appears, don’t overreact.  It works.

In my opinion, the most wonderful improvement in these new layouts has been the incredible expansion of the footnotes, as seen in a couple of the above pictures.  These notes are not interpretation or study bible-type notes but are exclusively related to textual issues (comparing difference manuscripts) or translation matters (alternate translation possibilities).  As nerdy and academic as this might sound, I find these notes extremely helpful.  The only other bible I have seen that even comes close to this level of detail is the NET bible.  B&H should be commended for this valuable addition.

These new layouts are fantastic.  If you are in the market for a new bible, the HCSB is a super translation, and these new editions are wonderful.  Many thanks to Jeremy Howard at Lifeway for providing me a copy of the large-print edition for review!

on approaches to bible translation

Prayer A Powerful Weapon

Last week, I posted a survey on languages and bible preference, which is still open by the way.  (If you haven’t spent the 30 seconds necessary to complete its four questions, I would greatly appreciate it.)  Soon after, I came across these thoughts on bible translation in the preface to a commentary on Romans by Fr. Lawrence Farley, a priest in the Orthodox Church in America serving at St. Herman’s Church in Surrey, British Columbia.  After briefly describing the two principle approaches to translation–formal and dynamic equivalence–he writes:

The English translator is faced, it would seem, with a choice: either he can make the translation something of a rough paraphrase of the original and render it into flowing sonorous English  or he can attempt to make a fairly literal, word-for-word translation from the original with the resultant English being stilted, wooden, and clumsy.

These two basic and different approaches to translation correspond to two basic and different activities in the Church. The Church needs a translation of the Scriptures for use in worship.  This should be in good, grammatical, and flowing English, as elegant as possible and suited to its function in the majestic function of the Liturgy.  The Church also needs a translation of the Scriptures for private study and for group Bible study.  Here the elegance of its English is of lesser concern.  What is of greater concern here is the bring out of all the nuances found in the original.  Thus this approach will tend to sacrifice elegance for literality and, wherever possible, seek a work-for-work correspondence with the Greek.  Also, because the student will want to see how the biblical authors use a particular word (especially St. Paul, who has many works included in the canon), a consistence of translation will be sought and the same Greek word will be translated, whenever possible, by the same English word or its cognate.

So, what do you think about Fr. Farley’s observations concerning the place of different translations in the life of the Church?  Do you agree that we would do well to utilize a more flowing, dynamic translation for public reading and liturgy as part of worship while resorting to a more literal translation for study?  It seems the desire of many (most?) of us is to find that one bible translation that is perfect (or at least suitable) for both worship and study.  In the ever-changing landscape of English bible translation, this quest is as elusive as it is ultimately frustrating.

What do you think of Fr. Farley’s advice?

photo credit: Creative Commons | abcdz2000

the real Evangelical disaster…

49 Van Ness

The great evangelical disaster is that evangelicalism has become synonymous with Republicanism rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

– Rachel Held Evans (read more)

Rachel’s post is right on target with respect to the wearying drone of Evangelicals who equate “conservative” and “Evangelical” with “Republican” rather than anything to do with theology or the Scripture.  Both the political right and left have long since abandoned any sort of Judeo-Christian ethic in their legislation.  If you don’t believe me, then you aren’t reading past their platforms to anything they’ve actually voted for.

Sadly, the president of my seminary alma mater is the loudest voice in the room recently on this subject.

When will American Christians figure out that Christianity has everything to do with Christ and nothing to do with politics?

photo credit: Creative Commons | David Gallagher

A Church of Mercy

(cross-posted from simplyxian.com)

Protestants, especially conservatives and/or Evangelicals, are often hesitant to champion social causes or acts of mercy…typically equating them with the ‘social gospel’ of the early 20th century and its associated liberal theology. The connection, however, is clearly unwarranted and unscriptural.  Hopefully that incorrect connection will soon fade away into memory as more and more Christians get involved in reaching out to help those in need, as Jesus did.

Richard Stearns’ Hole in Our Gospel is a powerful antidote to this kind of thinking.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  You won’t be able to put it down, and then you won’t be able to get it out of your head.  Also, Jeremy Tate has just written a wonderful post of being a Church of mercy.  While I don’t agree with his conclusion that her consistent acts of mercy show the Roman Catholic Church to be the one true church, the example set by Catholicism in this respect is definitely humbling and worthy of others’ imitation.

read: A Church of Mercy

photo courtesy of stock.xchng

What Happens in Worship

Lutheran worship is primarily the proclamation of the gospel in Word and sacrament. As we gather together for worship, God speaks to us in his Word. Through the preaching of his law he crushes us with the stark and painful reminder of our own sin and unworthiness; he causes us to tremble at his holiness and justice; he speaks to us his urgent call to repentance. But in that same time of worship, a gracious God speaks to us words of full and free forgiveness. He points us to Christ and to the cross where his sacrifice paid the price of our sin, removed our guilt, and opened the door to heaven itself. In that same time of worship, we poor miserable sinners kneel side by side and receive the same body and blood that were given and shed for us. We commune with our God and with each other. In that same setting of worship, we witness how the power of the Holy Spirit, working through nothing other than his Word and simple water, creates new life and faith in the hearts of children and adults as they are baptized. And even when we join our voices to praise God in our words and songs, that praise is always focused on what God has done for us in Christ, adding our voices of gospel proclamation to the voice of the shepherd God has called to serve us.

If that is what happens in Lutheran worship, if the proclamation of the gospel and the preaching of Christ crucified is the center of what happens in our churches, then our worship services are not only times when God is nourishing the faith of believers; worship services also become a time and place where true evangelism and outreach take place. It is in that kind of Christ-centered and cross-focused worship setting that people hear not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. It is then that people receive something effective and lasting—not the passing emotional high that soon fades outside the church doors, not the hollow recipes for happiness, worldly success, or outwardly godly living.

Mark Schroeder

from here

simply, Christian (a new project)…or where have I been?

My absence around here has been extended, and I’m not apologizing because I’ve started working on something that really excites me–a new website/blog titled, simply, Christian.  Here’s what it’s all about:

simply, Christian is about choosing to live simply in midst of busyness in order to free our time, resources, and desires that we might focus on what is truly important and simply live.

It is about taking seriously Jesus’ world-changing, life-redeeming good news to address not only people’s spiritual condition but also their physical condition.  It is about daring ourselves to address the most pressing calamities that face humanity today in order to bring real, lasting transformation to others’ lives.  It is about making small changes in our daily activities that we might bring large changes to others, especially those…

  • who are orphans
  • who are affected by disease, especially HIV/AIDS and malaria
  • who lack clean water
  • who have not been shown mercy

It is about challenging one another to live simply, Christian.

My name is T.C. Judd, and these are my thoughts.  Of late, my life has been dramatically impacted in two completely different ways by two completely different writers.  With respect to simplicity, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits (and more recently, Everett Bogue of Far Beyond the Stars) has helped me to see the clutter and chaos that fills much of life and has challenged me to simplify.  With respect to living the whole of the Christian life, Richard Stearns, in The Hole in Our Gospel, brought to my attention the immensity of the social crises facing our world today and challenged me to make a difference.  Over time, I realized that the two blended well together–truly living a simple life (not a minimalist one, in my case) as a vehicle for truly living a Christian life.

So that, in a nutshell,  is what it is to live simply, Christian.

I’d appreciate if you’d head over to simply, Christian and check things out over there.  I’ll still be blogging here, though I expect the pace to remain slow for a while until I’ve gathered some momentum.

Book Review: The Voice New Testament

When I first heard about the Voice New Testament, I was excited and intrigued.  The idea of a rendition of Scripture written primarily to be heard excites me, because until very recently in history, Scripture was not read like a textbook but heard by the people of God during times of corporate worship.  At the same time, I was intrigued because the translation team included many individuals who were clearly qualified with respect to their academic credentials but who are not well-known as Bible translators.  Neither of these points is inherently good or bad–they just formed my initial reaction to hearing about the project.

After reading a great portion of the Voice New Testament, I concluded that there are two reasons I cannot recommend this translation / paraphrase (?) for study or general use.  First, the text contains many insertions within the biblical text of notes attempting to clarify the text’s meaning.  These are essentially footnotes embedded in the main body of the text.  Though italicized to indicate that they are not part of the text, their placement within the flow of the text could be misleading to readers, unintentionally elevating these comments to the same level as inspired Scripture.  The second reason I have against recommending the Voice is that, while billed as a dynamic translation, it really reads more like the Message, which I would consider to be a paraphrase versus a true dynamic translation (like the New Living Translation).  The translation team took lots of liberties with the text–ones I think go well beyond what is either needed or desirable to satisfy their charter of highlighting “the beauty of God’s communication to His people” to ensure “the voice of God is heard as clearly as when He first revealed His truth.”

In sum, while I admire the goals of the Voice, it is not a translation I can recommend.  If, in the future, a revision was made to address these concerns (and those raised by others), I would gladly revisit this edition, but until then I will not refer to it often in my devotions, preaching, or teaching.

You can find out more about The Voice on the publisher’s website (here) or on Amazon.com (here).

Book Review: Reading God’s Word Today

Reading God’s Word Today, by George Martin, is a clear, thoughtful, and eminently readable book on getting the most out of spending time reading Scripture.  Though brief (less than 200 pages), it is by no means short on substance.  Though written from a Catholic perspective, it is one of the few books, besides the Bible itself, I sincerely wish I could place into the hands of every Christian, Protestant and Catholic alike!

The book is divided into two parts, the first providing a model for how to read Scripture and the second focusing on how God reveals himself to us through it.  Martin is quick to point out that Scripture is to be read in the Christian life devotionally–that is, as part of the ongoing, daily conversation between the Christian and God.  The point to spending time daily in God’s Word is not to check off boxes on a reading plan or read through the entire Bible in x number of days.  Instead, we are reminded of the importance of taking our time meditating on the words of Scripture, mulling over them that we might not only understand what we read but that we might truly hear God’s voice speaking to us through them.  The approach Martin outlines is the classic, time-tested Christian practice called lectio divina (holy reading), which consists of four parts:  reading, understanding, listening, and praying.  The point, as he succinctly writes, “is to help Scripture ‘come alive’ for us.”

The second half of the book discusses the proper understanding of Scripture as the Word of God revealed to humanity.  Martin explores God’s use of inspired human agent in the process of divine revelation and how the Bible consequently revels God to us and recreates us, by the power of the Spirit, into his people.  In this section, he anticipates some common questions and objections about the origin of Scripture, discusses the necessity of understanding the background and cultural setting (especially of the Old Testament), and points out how the infant church was impacted by both Jesus’ teachings and the writings of the Apostles.

This little work is a very practical, wonderfully helpful book and a gift given to the body of Christ from Martin’s pen.  Every believer at every stage of their Christian life would benefit from reading this book…and then reading it again later on to be reminded of its great truths.  As a Christian, this book reminded me of the great treasure we have be been given by God in the Holy Scriptures–I read it, marked it, and re-read it.  As a chaplain, this is one of the books I hope to be able to make available to all I encounter from day to day, whether Protestant or Catholic.  As a parent, besides Holy Scripture and our Catechisms, I will definitely work through Reading God’s Word Today with my children that their understanding of God’s Word might be deepened.

You can purchase this book here.

I wrote this review of Reading God’s Word Today for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, the largest Cathlic store online. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.

I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Book Review: A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible

Just before Easter, Andrew Rogers at Zondervan was kind enough to send me a review copy of A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible.  This new bible consists of the previously-published Reader’s Hebrew Bible, edited by A. Philip Brown and Bryan W. Smith, and the Reader’s Greek New Testament (2nd Ed), edited by Richard J. Goodrich and Albert L. Lukaszewski, bound into one beautiful volume.  If you’re like me, and have been hoping for the day when these two wonderful works would appear in print together, you will NOT be disappointed.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Reader’s texts published by Zondervan, they include the Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments along with footnote definitions of all words appearing less than 100 times in Hebrew or 30 times in Greek (definitions of all words appearing more than 100 time or 30 times, respectively, appear at the end of each testament).  The critical apparatus of the original language texts is not included, so this Bible will not replace the standard critical editions for textual criticism work; however, that is not its purpose.  The intent of this Bible is to increase the reader’s ability to pick up the Greek/Hebrew texts and read without a continual need to refer to lexicons and look up unfamiliar vocabulary, and for this purpose the Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible excels!

The Greek New Testament text used is that underlying the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) New Testament.  There are places where this text differs from the main reading presented in the United Bible Society (UBS) text, based upon decisions made by the TNIV translators to utilize some of the multitude of textual variants detailed in the UBS text.  In each of these instances, the TNIV and UBS texts are listed side-by-side in a footnote for reader’s to compare.  The Hebrew Old Testament text comes from the Westminster Leningrad Codex, which differs from the standard BHS critical edition in only a handful of places (only 12 consonantal variations total).  The definitions used in the footnotes and mini-lexicons at the end of each testament are derived from the standard lexica–BDAG, Louw-Nida, LSJ, and Trenchard for the NT; HALOT and BDB for the OT.

As far as the mechanics of this Bible go, the leather used is very finely grained but very thin.  While I expect it to loosen/soften up with use, out of the box the cover is fairly stiff.  Overall, I would say the leather is of higher quality than that typically appearing as “Genuine Leather” in most contemporary Bibles but not nearly as nice as one would find in a high-end (e.g. Cambridge) Bible.  Only time will tell if this thin real leather will stand up as well as the more robust Duo-tone covers used in the separate volumes.  The pages are (thankfully) not ultra-thin and are gilded in silver, which nicely accents the black leather cover.  The binding of this nearly 2.5″ thick Bible is sewn (hooray!), so I expect to be able to get many years of use out of it before rebinding.  Also, there are two ribbon bookmarks (hooray!) and a typical complement of maps, which are located in between the New and Old Testaments. A standard Greek font (i.e., NOT italics like USB or the Reader’s Greek NT, 1st ed) is used that is slightly smaller than the font of the UBS or large-print Nestle-Aland texts but larger than that used in the standard Nestle-Aland edition.  The Hebrew font is larger than the standard size BHS but slightly smaller than the large-print BHS.  I find both fonts very readable.  The only concern I have about how the Bible was put together is that the cover has square corners versus the more typical rounded corners found on leather bound works.  It remains to be seen how well these will hold up through lots of use.

All in all, I highly recommend this Bible for anyone wanting to improve their ability to work in and enjoy the original languages of Scripture.  Whether just starting out as a student of biblical languages, a more advanced student coming to the realization that you cannot read large portions of Hebrew and Greek as easily as you want, or a seasoned pastor wanting to dust off those synapses you haven’t used since seminary, the Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible will make a fantastic addition to your array of language tools.

NLT Breakthrough to Clarity Contest and Giveaway

The great folks at Tyndale are having a contest, giveaway, sweepstakes with some AMAZING prizes available to those who enter.  In a word, WOW.  As if free paper copies of bibles wasn’t a fantastic prize for any believer, this contest really raises the bar…check out the details:

The New Living Translation Break Through to Clarity Bible Contest and Giveaway

Visit www.facebook.com/NewLivingTranslation and click on the tab that says “Sweepstakes”

Fill out a simple form, take a quick Bible clarity survey, invite your friends to join and you’ll be entered to win one of our exciting prizes.

With each fan number milestone a new prize will be given away.

Grand Prize

Apple iPad 64G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the fifth milestone
Retail Value: $829.00

2nd Prize  – Already awarded

32G iPod Touch and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the fourth milestone
Retail Value: $300.00

3rd Prize – Will be awarded when fan count hits: 3500

Kindle DX and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the third milestone
Retail Value: $489.00

4th Prize Will be awarded when fan count hits: TBD

Apple iPad 16G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the New Living Translation Fan Page hits the second milestone
Retail Value: $499.00

5th Prize Will be awarded when fan count hits: TBD

Apple iPad 32G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the first milestone
Retail Value: $599.00

Prize Eligibility – Recently updated to include more countries

Sweepstakes participants and winner(s) can be U.S. residents of the 50 United States, or residents of any country that is NOT embargoed by the United States, but cannot be residents of Belgium, Norway, Sweden, or India.  In addition, participants and winner(s) must be at least 18 years old, as determined by the Company.

Sweepstakes Starts

March 17, 2010 @ 10:24 am (PDT)

Sweepstakes Ends

April 30, 2010 @ 10:24 am (PDT)

Wait, there’s more!

Visit http://biblecontest.newlivingtranslation.com/index.php for a chance to win a trip for two to Hawaii!

Here are the details:

Choose one of six passages of Scripture from the New Living Translation and consider:
How do these verses encourage you to know God better?
What is God teaching you in this passage?
How does this passage apply to your life?

Submit your answer and you’ll be entered to win.

Just for signing up: Everybody Wins! Win a Free .mp3 download from the NLT’s new Red Letters Project. It’s the dynamic, new presentation of the sung and narrated words of the Gospel of Matthew. You win the download just for entering! Or choose to download the NLT Philippians Bible Study, complete with the Book of Philippians in the NLT.

Every day, one person will win the best-selling Life Application Study Bible!

The grand prize: One person will win a fantastic trip for two to the crystal clear waters of the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore in beautiful Hawaii.

“What’s in the Bible?” Giveaway Winner

In a bizarre twist, of the nearly 100 people that viewed the “What’s in the Bible?” Giveaway post…only ONE person bothered to comment!  That pretty well clinches it for smiley671, who will get the episode of her choice for her daughters to enjoy!  In the spirit of spreading the word on this great new DVD series, I am going to send BOTH certificates to her–one to choose from for her family and one to pay forward to a friend/church member/etc. of her choice.

May God richly bless your family and another fortunate family through this gracious gift from Tyndale and Phil Vischer!

For the rest of you readers…shame on you for not taking time to register a comment.  I checked the spam filter, you’re not there!  Free stuff for the taking and no one willing.  You have not because you ask not!

“What’s in the Bible?” Giveaway!

Yesterday I posted a review of Phil Vischer’s new project, “What’s in the Bible? with Buck Denver.”  Today, as promised, here’s a video teaser of this amazing new creation:

Also, here is a link to download some promised coloring pages for the younger viewers in your household…

But, I know why you’re all really here–FREE STUFF!  That’s right, courtesy of the fantastic folks at Tyndale House, I have award certificates for free copies of Episodes 1 and 2 of the “What’s in the Bible?” series.  Episode 1 is titled, “In the Beginning,” and covers…well…exactly what you might think, Genesis.  Episode 2 is titled, “Let My People Go!” and examines the book of Exodus.

How do you win?  Simple.  Just leave a comment to this post as to WHICH episode you’d like to have and WHY (don’t forget to include your email address, which will NOT be published for the world to see).  Get creative–funny or serious–and my fair and impartial, but sometimes moody, 13 year-old daughter will choose the winners, who will receive a certificate that you can redeem at your local Christian bookstore.

Piece of cake, right?  Let the games begin!  You have until midnight on Monday, March 22nd, to leave a comment.  I’ll announce the winner on Tuesday.

DVD Review: “What’s in the Bible?” by Phil Vischer and Tyndale

“From the man who made vegetables talk (and sing and dance and tell Bible stories) comes an engaging new series that walks kids through the entire Bible!”

One of the most memorable scenes in Tyler Perry’s movie “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” depicts of of Perry’s many characters, Joe, complaining about how boring the Bible is and pretending to fall asleep as soon as the Bible is opened.  As funny as that scene is, unfortunately its humor stems from just how close Perry’s depiction is to real life for many, many people.  Phil Vischer has long sought to change that sad fact, first through the wildly popular “Veggie Tales” and now through his new project, “What’s in the Bible?” His goal?  To “see the world’s most amazing book come to life for a new generation.”

As I sat down with my two children, ages 13 and 6, to watch the first two episodes on a preview copy Tyndale House so graciously sent me, I honestly had no idea what to expect.  Within minutes, we were all hooked! Unlike “Veggie Tales,” which is an animated series, “What’s in the Bible?” uses muppets, which is at once unique for children and a bit nostalgic for parents.  Visher has combined his characteristic side-splitting humor with a level of depth and teaching never before seen in children’s productions.  For example, not far into Episode 1: In the Beginning, my 6 year-old was rolling on the floor laughing to a singing pirate while my 13 year-old was learning from that pirate about the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) and why Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox believers have different numbers of books in their Old Testaments.  Later on in the same episode, Buck Denver and the other characters teach about some of the attributes of God (e.g., he is creative), the reasons God created us (e.g., to take care of the earth), and differing opinions about the age of the universe (old-earth and new-earth creationism).  There is no doubt that very few children will have had the benefit of being exposed previously to such a wealth of information about Scripture and God’s unfolding plan of redemption.  In short, “What’s in the Bible?” manages to be insanely funny while at the same time teaching at a depth that will doubtless make many parents blush as they learn alongside their children.

Lest my words lead you to think the material presented here is over the head of Vischer’s intended audience, let me assure you it is not.  All the teaching points presented are done so in manner and in such a way as to be understandable by children in the 8-12 year age range.  Younger viewers will be captivated by the music, muppets, and humor, even though they will probably not understand everything in the episodes.  Older viewers might initially be put off by the muppets, thinking them childish, but if they will give these episodes a chance, I have no doubt they will walk away knowing much more about the Bible than they did before.

All in all, the more times I watch these videos, the more I am amazed!  Phil Vischer has definitely hit a home run with “What’s in the Bible?”  I look forward to many more hours of going through the Bible with Buck Denver and friends!

Curious about “What’s in the Bible?” and want to find out more?  Check out the website www.whatsinthebible.com or www.tyndale.com to learn more.  You can also follow @whatsinthebible on Twitter or check them out on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/WhatsintheBible)

Stay tuned for more posts on Friday, including a video teaser, coloring pages for kids, and a chance to win one of two FREE “What’s in the Bible?” episodes (courtesy of Tyndale House)…be sure and check back then!

“Scripture Does Not Speak of Christ” by Pr. Peters

Our understanding of the Word of God (especially with respect to its reading as part of liturgy, public worship, and private devotion)  is absolutely paramount to our theology of worship, both corporate and private.  I have never read a short piece on the theology of the Word that is as succinct yet robust as this one by Pr. Peters on his Pastoral Meanderings blog.  I have republished this post below in its entirety, but please let the reader be reminded, these are Pr. Peter’s words and not my own…I emphasize that lest anyone give me any credit for this magnificent piece:

Scott Hahn, former Presbyterian now Roman Catholic, made the relevant point that Scripture does not speak of Christ but speaks Christ. Now this is not argument over terminology or semantics. This is the essential catholic confession — the Word of God does not speak of something the way, for example, I may speak of something I know or have an opinion about. Scripture is God speaking. When Scripture speaks, we hear the voice of God.

For most of Protestantism Scripture has become a book of rules to be followed, a set of principles to inform how we reshape the world, a set of practical tools to better your life, or a road map to lead you from here to eternity. But that is just plain wrong. Scripture is the voice of God. Scripture is the discourse of God in human words. This Word is powerful and can do what it claims and keep all its promises. This Word has the power to call and gather the Church.

On Sunday morning we often treat the Word of God as if it were nothing more than a book of wise sayings, some of which may be practical enough and pointed enough to make a small difference in the ordinary and mundane of our world. We treat so casually what is essentially the Voice of God who speaks to us and is speaking to us in Scripture.

We act as if the gems of Bible study were the hints or conclusions reached from that study — like a school child reads the encyclopedia for things he or she can use in a paper that is due tomorrow. Bible study is important because it is time with God, it is the conversation in which God is the speaker to us and we who have ears tuned in faith can hear Him speaking. It is not what we learn from Bible study but what we learn in Bible study as a people gather to hear every word and as a people who know that this every word is important.

Nowhere is that more true than in worship — the Word of God predominates not because we have found it useful but because it is Christ speaking to us. In this respect liturgy is the first real context for us to hear Scripture — everything else flows from this assembly and is not in competition with it or can substitute for it — as it was for those who heard Scripture first from the voice of the apostles.

This is what we need to rediscover – the urgency, the immediacy of God’s voice in our midst. In response to that voice, we come, we listen, we hear, and we grow. The distasteful practice of cell phones and watch alarms going off in worship is a sign that we have not understood that Scripture is God’s voice speaking to us — or surely we would shut those things off. The strange practice of people moving in and out of the Sanctuary as the Scriptures are read and preached is a sign that we do not understand that Scripture is God’s living voice speaking to us or we would find a way to fit our bathroom needs around this holy and momentous conversation in which God is the speaker and initiates the dialog that brings forth faith in us and bestows upon us all the gifts of the cross and empty tomb.

Instead of burying our faces in bulletins to read, we would raise our heads to listen. I am convinced that the reading of Scripture is heard differently than the reading of Scripture from a service folder page. We don’t listen to each other with our heads buried in a booklet. We listen to each other by looking at the point where the voice is coming from and by learning to tune out the distractions so that we might hear what is said. This is the discipline that is so missing on Sunday morning.

All because we think of Scripture as a vehicle that delivers something to us instead of the thing that is delivered — the voice of God speaking grace and mercy, conviction and condemnation, redemption and restoration, death and life… Wisdom!! Attend!!

Review: Glo bible software

Glo is bible software like you’ve never seen or experienced. Period.

As Nelson Saba, co-founder of the Glo project has put it, Glo is the bible “re-imagined for a digital world.”

In my more verbose words, Glo is a revolutionary piece of bible study software that makes use of a variety of stunning media to immerse users in God’s word like never before!  After just over a month of using the software…

System Requirements and Installation

The system requirements for Glo are pretty straightforward and typical for recently released software.  They are, according to the Glo website:

  • Microsoft Windows® XP, Vista®, or Windows 7 OS with lastest service pack installed
  • An internet connection
  • At least 18GB of free hard disk space
  • Dual Core Processor
  • 1GB RAM for Microsoft Windows XP, or 2GB RAM for Vista or Windows 7
  • ATI or NVIDIA video graphics card with Microsoft DirectX 9 support
  • DVD Rom Drive

I attempted to install Glo on two different systems with varying success.  The first system I tried was my older 2.0 GHz AMD system with 3 GB of RAM and Win XP.  Though not a dual core processor, Glo installed and ran with no problems whatsoever.  Some of the intense multimedia aspects of Glo bog the system down some (zooming around on maps and playing HD video), but it is nonetheless very usable.  I also tried to install Glo on a 2.5 GHz dual core system with 2 GB of RAM and Win XP with no success.  Immediately after selecting the option to install Glo, the software repeatedly hung up.  There is no telling whether or not there is something quirky with this particular machine or not…did anyone else have problems installing Glo?

Once started, the installation process itself takes a LONG time.  It took well over two hours to install completely, but given that Glo is installing over 3.5 hrs of HD video, over 2300 hi-res photos, over 550 virtual tours, and over 140 hi-res zoomable maps, it isn’t surprising.  Still, it seemed to take longer to install than in actually did because I wanted to dive in and use it!  Patience, friends.  Sit back and read some Job while you’re waiting (grin).

User Interface

The Glo interface is simple, intuitive, and visually appealing.  Everything in the program centers around Bible, Atlas, Timeline, Media, and Topical ‘lenses,’ which makes navigation and use very easy.  Perhaps the best way to describe the interface is just to demonstrate it:

The Experience

In short, Glo is incredible.  Of all the bible study software I regularly use, including Logos and Bibleworks, Glo is the only one that made my thirteen year-old daughter stop and ask, “What’s that?”  More than just stopping, she soon became engrossed with the pictures, videos, and maps that Glo offers.  I’m no expert, but if Glo can captivate a teenage girl and get her involved in bible study, I would call that a resounding success!

As great as this software is, however, there is still room for improvement, especially in the area of searches.  Glo comes with both NIV and KJV bibles (additional bibles are forthcoming, I believe), but there is no way to select only one or the other as part of a search.  Additionally, search results come back from both versions in no particular order (certainly not canonical order).  At first I tried to discern whether some sort of relevance aspect might be in use, but even one-word searches come back in seemingly random order.  In my mind, this quirk keeps me from being able to recommend Glo as one’s only bible study software.  If you know what passages you want to study, Glo is incredible, but if you need the ability to do even simple searches, Glo will frustrate you.  I hope future updates will address this problem.

I mentioned above that my computer is older and not the fastest in the world.  I would really like to try out Glo on a high-end computer system sometime and see how well it performs.  As I said, the lag I experience is a bit annoying but nothing I blame on the software and nothing that keeps it from being completely usable.

Conclusion

As I’ve said throughout, Glo is an amazing piece of software.  The media included in it is unmatched by any other tool I have ever used.  While the search capabilities are not robust enough for me to use as my only bible study software, the media alone is reason enough to recommend Glo to anyone.  If you have any Christmas money lying around that you weren’t sure what to do with, I’d definitely recommend this software.  I hope the Glo team will continue to refine this wonderful software and make it even better.  My thanks to Ken Keim of the Glo support team who was kind enough to send me a copy of Glo to review.

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My Personal Psalter Project

The Psalms have always been central to the worship, liturgies, prayers, devotions, and songs of countless Christians across the centuries.  In the Psalter one can find cries of joy and pain, brokenness and rage, helplessness and confidence.  In other words, the voices in the Psalms are real, very real, and in their heart-felt transparency lies a great deal of their popularity and importance.  They teach us how to pray, how to grieve, how to rejoice–i.e., how to live as believers in the real world with its ups and down.

Here’s how Luther more eloquently summed up the great value of the Psalms in the believer’s life:

Every Christian who would abound in prayer and piety ought, in all reason, to make the Psalter his manual; and, moreover, it were well if every Christian so used it and were so expert in it as to have it word for word by heart, and could have it even in his heart as often as he chanced to be called to speak or act, that he might be able to draw forth or employ some sentence out of it, by way of a proverb. For indeed the truth is, that everything that a pious heart can desire to ask in prayer, it here finds Psalms and words to match, so aptly and sweetly, that no man—no, nor all the men in the world—shall be able to devise forms of words so good and devout. (from Luther’s 1545 Preface to the Psalter)

I love to read from the Psalms each day, but still I long to be more familiar with them than I am.  With this in mind, I began my Personal Psalter Project earlier this week.  I purchased a Moleskine notebook and have begun copying, by hand, one Psalm per day until I have copied all 150.  I am copying them from the New Living Translation, which is my favorite translation, but am taking advantage of the luxury of a single-column setup to take advantage of my own formatting, using different levels of indention to really make the parallelism stand out (similar to what is done in the excellent Psalter layout in God’s Word translation).  In addition, the extra space gives me room to make notes about Hebrew/LXX vocabulary, alternate translations, or personal thoughts.

I will post additional thoughts, as well as some pictures, as this project continues.

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Review of God’s Word Translation–the New Testament (Part 3)

In this third post in my multi-part review of God’s Word Translation (GW), I will take a look at the New Testament as translated in GW.  If you are not familiar with GW, please read my first post on the history and philosophy behind GW and my second post on the Old Testament in GW.

Overall Readability

As mentioned in my review of the Old Testament, GW has achieved excellent readability–balancing contemporary English style without breaking significantly from traditional English translations.  What I said about the Old Testament holds true for the New in that I would place the ‘feel’ of GW (anecdotally) somewhere between the NIV and NLT.  One thing I have noticed by spending time with this translation over the past couple of months is the consistent use of simple word choice and sentence construction.  These facets are discussed in the “Guide to God’s Word Translation” booklet I received from Baker, and after reading large portions of this translation I appreciate what the translators were trying to accomplish.  Additionally, some of the English and Evangelical colloquialisms found in other contemporary translations are absent from this translation.   Far from creating a ‘dumbed down’ translation with respect to vocabulary and grammar, GW would lend itself very well to use in teaching the English language or in an ESL church context.  I hope GW will be able to find a warm reception and be put to good use in this area.

The Gospels

The narrative and dialogue of the Gospels reads exactly how one would expect these genres to read.  The flow is very good, interrupted only by section/pericope breaks common to most translations.  The style in the dialogue sections reflects contemporary English, for example, in its use of contractions and lack of repeating ‘verily’/’truly’ phrases (which are very good Greek but very poor English).  As in the Old Testament, poetic sections (primarily quotes from the OT) are formatted with multiple levels of indentation to show the Hebraic use of parallelism, effectively pointing out to English readers a poetic device we are largely unaccustomed to using.  As a format note, all the of the editions of GW I have seen are black-letter editions.  I do not think any red-letter editions exist, which for many of us is a stylistic bonus.

The Epistles

The language and grammar of the Epistles also makes for a very readable translation, even in the very lengthy sentences of Paul and difficult Greek used by Peter.  As is customary in many English translations, very long Greek sentences are made into more manageable English sentences.  As I’ve seen throughout GW, the translation team has done a very good job overall crafting an accurate and readable English translation.

Non-Traditional Wording

In my review of the Old Testament, I pointed out three areas, both good and bad, where GW broke with long-standing tradition in the realm of English bible translation.  There are more examples of non-traditional vocabulary choices in the New Testament, several of which are worthy of note, either positively or negatively.  First, let’s look at some of what I consider to be good changes:

  • Instead of ‘repent,’ GW consistently uses some variation of ‘change the way you/they think and act.’  While this is a verbose translation of ‘metanoeo,’ it accurately defines the Greek word in terms familiar to contemporary English speakers.
  • Instead of ‘verily, verily’ or ‘truly, truly’ throughout the Gospels, GW uses ‘I can guarantee this truth.’  In sections where Jesus says ‘amen, amen’ repeatedly it can sound a bit mechanical, but it’s an improvement over either of the traditional renderings.
  • In keeping with other contemporary English translations, GW translates the standalone use of ‘christos’ as ‘Messiah’ rather than ‘Christ.’  ‘Iesous Christos’ is still translated traditionally as ‘Jesus Christ.’  Even though Messiah and Christ are synonyms, I prefer to have ‘christos’ translated as Messiah to clearly link OT promise with NT fulfillment.

There are also a few choices made by the translators that I don’t like:

  • GW tends to translate ‘trespass’ (‘opheilema’) and ‘sin’ (‘hamartia’) as ‘failure,’ which itself I think is a failure.  In the typical usage of those with whom I interact, ‘failure’ connotes an unintentional shortcoming of my best efforts rather than intentional defiance or rebellion.  While ‘failure’ can denote ‘trespass’ or ‘sin,’ I don’t find it used this way.
  • Similarly to the NIV and NLT, GW translates ‘sarx’ as ‘sinful nature’ rather than ‘flesh.’  Lots of ink has been spilled evaluating this choice, and I won’t add to it other than to say I really don’t like it.
  • Instead of ‘grace,’ GW consistently uses ‘kindness,’ which only partly misses the mark.  God’s grace to us isn’t just kindness but his ‘undeserved kindness’ toward sinful humanity.  Simply using ‘kindness’ weakens the impact of God’s grace (‘charis’).
  • The most problematic vocabulary choice made by GW, in my opinion, is the use of ‘God’s approval’ instead of ‘justify’ (dikaioo).  Justification is more than just God’s approval, which itself connotes God’s positive reaction to some work on humanity’s part.  Justification is our acquittal from sin, God’s pardon of us (in Christ) in spite of ourselves.  Considering this translation was done by a team that maintains that a proper understanding of justification is key to salvation, this choice is a real disappointment to me.

Overall

The New Testament is well done overall.  As with the Old Testament, the narrative is clear, the dialogue contemporary, and the poetry well-presented.  I love the single-column, black-letter text, both of which create an enjoyable reading experience.  Also similar to the OT, some of the non-traditional wording choices are helpful but some, especially the translation chosen for ‘grace’ and ‘justify’ are poorly done.  In fact, this last item is probably the one thing that keeps me from recommending God’s Word without caveat.  Hopefully, the folks at Baker will take note of these items and revise the text, which would make this a truly solid, wonderful translation…not that it’s far from that mark today.

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Review of God’s Word Translation–the Old Testament (Part 2)

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In this second post in a multi-part review of God’s Word Translation (GW), we will take a look at the Old Testament as translated in GW.  If you are not familiar with GW, please read my first post on the history and philosophy behind GW.

Text Formatting

As far as I know, the text layout in all editions of GW is identical: single-column, black lettering with textual footnotes.  I have not seen an edition that includes cross-references, and the God’s Word Study Bible is the only edition I find in the catalog that includes them.  With respect to readability, this layout is fantastic. The single-column layout allows narrative text to read like a book instead of a technical manual and allows poetry to be formatted in such a way as to clearly bring out the parallelism so important and prominent in Hebrew poetry.  The only thing I find distracting are the section titles, but these appear in just about every edition of every translation, so this is nothing specific to GW.  Because of the choices made in the text layout, GW gets high marks for formatting and readability.

Overall Readability

In my opinion, GW has achieved very good readability without sacrificing readability or breaking markedly from traditional English bible translations.  While there are certainly places in every translation where one could suggest stylistic revisions for one reason or another, overall GW is a comfortable read falling somewhere in my totally unscientific scale of readability between the NIV and the NLT.  In other words, someone familiar with the NIV or translations leaning more toward ‘formal equivalence’ may find that GW sounds more ‘familiar’ than the NLT.  This isn’t necessarily good or bad, merely my attempt to place GW in the context of versions many readers are more familiar with.  If you are curious to read several passages from GW side-by-side with other versions, check out Joel’s series of reviews on his blog.  Since he has provided so many examples, I do not intend to provide more.

Narrative

The narrative in GW reads as one would hope narrative would–smoothly.  While I haven’t read through all of the OT in GW, I have enjoyed what I have read.  Consistent with its goal of readability without oversimplification, the narrative portions sometimes shorten sentence length over what is found in the original languages, though translators have aimed not to shorten sentences for the sake of shortening them if such edits compromise or blur their meaning.  The narrative also tries to avoid piling up clauses or prepositional phrases, both of which create more difficult reading.

Poetry

One of the most important literary devices in Hebrew poetry is parallelism (see this great Wikipedia article on Biblical Poetry for a primer on the subject).  Especially over against rhyme, meter, rhythm or other devices that are not readily apparent in any translation from Hebrew to English, understanding parallelism helps provide significant insight into understanding the significance of the Psalms, songs, and some prophetic sections in the Old Testament.  The poetic sections of GW are one place, in my opinion, where the editors have really made good use of the additional real-estate allowed by having a single-column format.  The wider, single-column layout allowed editors to use multiple levels of indentation to group together multiple parallel phrases nested within a section of poetry.  While this indentation is not original to the Hebrew, it definitely allows English speakers whose poetry uses parallelism less than rhyme to easily (and visually) see its structure and better understand its meaning.  I have seen no other single-column layout that so effectively utilizes indentation to organize and present poetry.  This is one area where GW really shines!

Non-Traditional Wording

In its attempt to remove easily misunderstood technical language (see my first review), GW breaks with translation tradition in some places.  This is more apparent in the New Testament, as we’ll see, but there are several important areas where non-traditional wording is used in the Old Testament.  One significant departure from traditional English translations is the use of ‘instruction’ as the translation for the Hebrew ‘torah’.  While ‘instruction’ is almost the universal lexical definition of ‘torah,’ most English translations routinely translate it as ‘law,’ and even non-technical commentaries are quick to point out this important difference.  Making this change was an excellent choice.

Another traditional phrase appearing in the Old Testament is “Lord of Hosts” (‘Yahweh Sabaoth’).  Here ‘hosts’ is a reference to angelic beings, i.e. the hosts of heaven.  It is an archaic phrase that few Christians are truly familiar with and even fewer, if any, non-Christians would implicitly understand.  GW has chosen to translate this phrase “Lord of Armies,” which I think is unfortunate, as there is no explanation that these armies of the armies of heaven and not the armies of men or earthly politics.  There is room for significant misunderstanding here, in my opinion, and translating this “Lord of Heaven’s Armies,” as the NLT has done, is a much better choice.

A final non-traditional translation choice was made in Deuteronomy 6.4.  This verse, commonly known as the ‘shema,’ is an important part of daily prayer for the Jews.  Traditionally this verse is translated as, “Hear, O Israel:  The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (ESV), which serves to emphasizes the unity of God.  In the context of a polytheistic culture and God’s constant warnings against worshiping other Gods, Dt 6.4 is better understood as Israel’s ‘pledge of allegiance’ to Yahweh.  As such, GW (similarly to the NLT) translates this verse, “Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God.  The LORD is the only God.”  Again, in my opinion, this was an excellent choice by the translators.

Overall

Overall, the Old Testament of GW is very well done.  The narrative is crystal clear and the poetic sections are wonderfully presented.  While not all aspects of non-traditional word choices are necessarily more helpful than traditional English renderings, in two areas at least, I find the changes refreshing and, quite honestly, more accurate.

Stay tuned for our look next time at the New Testament!

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Review of God’s Word Translation–History and Philosophy (Part 1)

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The folks at Baker Books were kind enough to send me a couple editions of God’s Word Translation (GW) to read and review.  This translation has been around for over fifteen years, but until getting picked up by Baker in 2008 hasn’t gotten much exposure or widespread publicity.  Because of that, my intent is to look at this translation across several posts to try and give it a thorough review for those who may not know much about it or even have heard of it at all.  My reviews will take a different approach than Joel Watts’, who is also in the process of writing several reviews of GW on his blog.  If you’re interested in seeing how GW compares to other translations (in parallel), be sure and check out his fine series.

History

Technically, the translation known now as GW had its beginning in 1982, when God’s Word to the Nations Bible Society formed to update a translation known as An American Translation, which was translated by a small group of conservative Lutheran scholars.  Over time, this work took on a new direction and ended up being a completely new bible translation–still translated primarily by this core group of Lutherans but utilizing reviewers from a variety of Christian backgrounds, including Baptists, Presbyterians, and others.  After several revisions and continual work, God’s Word was introduced to the marketplace in 1995.  Since then, the text has remained unchanged and publishing has passed from World Bible Publishers to Green Key Books (2003) and finally to Baker Books (2008).  [More information and history can be found here]

Translation Philosophy

(Note: The quotes from the following two sections come from the pamphlet “A Guide to God’s Word Translation”)

The translation philosophy espoused by GW is called Closest Natural Equivalence (CNE).  In an area where most of the debate goes back and forth between literal v. dynamic equivalence, form v. functional equivalence, or word-for-word v. thought-for-thought translation, CNE seeks to satisfy three related goals:

  1. Provide readers with a meaning in the target language (here, English) that is equivalent to that of the source language
  2. Express that meaning naturally, in a way that a native English speaker would read or write
  3. Express the meaning with a style that preserves many of the characteristics of the source text

hebrew-detailAs a point of comparison with other major bible translations, while not calling their translation philosophies CNE, both the New Living Translation (NLT) and Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) use similar approaches.  Why this approach?  Quite simply, there are concerns with either of the predominant two paradigms that make some sort of mediating position not only necessary but desirable.  Regarding the former, literal translation philosophy:

Form-equivalent translations adjust the grammar and syntax of the source language text only enough to produce a reasonable recognizable and understandable English translation.  Form-equivalent translation results in an English text that is a combination of English words, some English syntax, and some Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek syntax.

In other words, as my one of my Old Testament professors used to say about the NASB and the ESV, “Great Hebrew, terrible English.”

There are also pitfalls with taking a solely dynamic approach to translation:

While function equivalence theory of translation has the proper focus [of accurately conveying meaning in the target language], in practice it has produced English translations that have lost some of the source texts’ meaning.

In sum, the goal of CNE as advocated by GW, NLT, and HCSB is to maintain the delicate balance between a rigidly-literal rendering of the text that fails to communicate clearly in English and a highly-dynamic rendering that omits characteristics of the source language that are important to the meaning of a given passage.

Technical Theological Language

One important question translation committees have to wrestle with and answer is how they will approach translating words associated with theological concepts.  Typically, English translations use the traditional renderings that have been used for centuries, some going back so far as to be borrowed from Jerome’s Latin translation of the bible (the Vulgate):

While these words continue to be used by theologians and even by many Christians, the meanings that speakers assign to them in everyday use do not match the meanings of the Hebrew or Greek words they are intended to translate. The words have become jargon–words with specialized meanings often poorly understood by nonspecialists.

As Ed Stetzer pointed out on Twitter recently, “If you can learn to order at Starbucks, then you can learn theological language at church.” I completely agree, and while I would suggest that retaining words like covenant, justify, propitiation, righteous, and others in our theological teaching, preaching, and discussions is a good thing, it is difficult for me to suggest that retaining these terms in a bible translation is helpful considering how differently these terms are used in contemporary language (if they are used at all!).

The GW translators did not make this decision arbitrarily but based upon research in local congregations:

 

To determine how English speakers understand a few key theological terms, God’s Word to the Nations Bible Society undertook a survey of churchgoing lay people.  Of five theological terms tested, no term was understood correctly by a majority of the respondents.  That is, a majority of the respondents did not give a definition that matched the primary meaning of the underlying Greek word…The survey results for covenant (40 percent gave acceptable answers) were better than for the other words included in the bible society’s survey.  For instance, only 10 percent of the respondents gave a correct meaning for the Greek word dikaioo when asked to define justify.

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In theory, I am totally at ease with the decision to use words more easily and correctly understood by contemporary English speakers.  I will examine and evaluate some of the specific usages in GW in future reviews on the OT and NT, because I find some weaknesses in the words chosen in some places.

So we’re off and running on our look at God’s Word Translation!  Over the course of the next few reviews, I will begin to take a look at the details of this translation, including formatting, word choice, translation style, etc.  Hopefully this is enough to whet your appetite to come back and read more about this relatively unknown translation.

Wesley on Biblical Languages

Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake, as every Minister does, not only to explain books which are written therein but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of everyone who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretense? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David’s Psalms, or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?

— John Wesley, “An Address to the Clergy,” in Works X:491.

(HT:  Gary Manning)

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Bonhoeffer on Church Growth

hillsongI’m no expert on the theology of the Church Growth Movement (or whatever clever moniker it goes by these days), but I can’t help but be disappointed at the continual emphasis on church growth (i.e., numbers) that is so rampant within Evangelicalism.  Everywhere you turn there are books, seminars, web sites, blogs, etc. dedicated to the next big thing (read ‘gimmick’) that will draw folks in.  Some have argued that the phenomenon of the ‘mega-church’ is on the wane, something I haven’t noticed around Houston, but regardless of whether this may be the case, the infatuation with growing larger churches continues continues to infect much of American Christianity.  At it’s core, I suspect the whole thing is largely about self-centered ‘pastors’ trying to build congregations, buildings, and programs to compete with the size of their own egos.

For those, however, who may be truly and sincerely trying to grow the size of their congregations for the glory of Christ and to really reach out to others with the gospel, one thing still jumps out at me from all the ‘experts’–church growth happens because of something we do.  That something may be related to preaching style, worship style, small groups, large groups, men’s groups, women’s groups, children’s church, Sunday School, or (insert issue of interest here).  Whatever it is, even as we ‘give God the glory’ for the increase of our congregation, at the core, that growth is understood to result from our work, our efforts, our programs, our gimmick.

Bonhoeffer disagrees.  He realizes, rightly, that Christ promised to build his church.  Such growth is his work, not ours.  As he writes:

If is not we who build. [Christ] builds the church.  No man builds the church but Christ alone.  Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.  We must confess–he builds.  We must proclaim–he builds.  We must pray to him–that he may build.

We do not know his plan.  We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down.  It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction.  It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.

It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church:  you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me.  Do not meddle in what is my province.  Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough.  But do it well.  Pay no heed to views and opinions.  Don’t ask for judgments.  Don’t always be calculating what will happen.  Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge!  Church, stay a church!  But church, confess, confess, confess!  Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are.  Christ builds.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from No Rusty Swords, as cited in TDP, p. 841)

Review: Cambridge Pitt Minion NLT Reference Bible

Last week, the folks at Cambridge bibles were kind enough to send me a review copy of the recently-released Pitt Minion NLT in beautiful black goatskin leather.  I’ve never actually owned or even had the pleasure of looking through a Cambridge bible, but I’ve read of their almost legendary reputation for being all-around top of the line editions.  After just a few days with one, I can say without reservation, if you are looking for a magnificent compact edition of the NLT you can treasure for years and pass on to your children, look no further…here it is!

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Cambridge Pitt Minion NLT

Layout

For those unfamiliar with the Pitt Minion layout, it is a compact bible that fits comfortably in your hand and reminds me of the bible I often saw on my grandmother’s night stand.  Though this edition is the up-to-date 2007 edition of the NLT, everything about it is beautifully reminiscent of bibles from years past.  Here is how it stacks up in size against the ESV Personal Reference Bible and the NLT Slimline Reference Bible:

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NLT Slimline Reference Bible (bottom), ESV Personal Reference Bible (middle), NLT Pitt Minion Bible (top)

Binding

As one would expect from a high-end bible (the list price for the goatskin edition is $129.99 / $93.59 on Amazon), the binding is Smyth-sewn, which allows it to lay flat right out of the box and ensures there will be no worries down the road with pages coming unglued or whole chunks coming loose as the binding becomes brittle.  As you can see, after just one week of moderate use, it lays wonderfully flat, even when opened to Genesis 1.  From this shot you can also see the beautiful art-gilded, red under gold pages–another touch of elegance from years gone by:

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Opens flat right out of the box

As if laying flat wasn’t indication enough of the ‘limpness’ of the binding, you can see how it flows beautifully around my hand when held:

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Limp binding drapes over the hand

Oh yes, did I mention it was goatskin?  Beautiful and soft to the touch.  Not as supple and smooth as the Premium Calfskin ESV editions that Crossway has published, but certainly soft and pleasing to the hand.

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Readability

As a compact bible, the text is small, as you would expect.  The copyright page says the typeface is 6.75 point.  In contrast, the ESV Personal Reference Bible is set in 7.4 point type and the NLT Slimline Reference Bible in 8.0 point type.  That said, even with the smallest typeface of these three comparable editions, the Pitt Minion is by far the clearest and most readable of the three.  Here is a comparison between the NLT Slimline (left) and Pitt Minion NLT (right):

NLT Slimline Reference Bible (left) vs. Pitt Minion NLT (right)

NLT Slimline Reference Bible (left) vs. Pitt Minion NLT (right)

…and here is a comparison between the Pitt Minion NLT (left) and ESV Personal Reference Bible (right):

Pitt Minion NLT (left) vs. ESV Personal Reference Bible (right)

Pitt Minion NLT (left) vs. ESV Personal Reference Bible (right)

In my opinion, the ESV Personal Reference Bible has a better layout–I’m a huge fan of single column layouts–but the two columns of the Pitt Minion allow for a more compact edition that gives up nothing in overall readability with its smaller but perfectly clear font.  In general I am not a fan of red-letter editions, but it somehow seems appropriate in the Pitt Minion because of its classic feel.  Fortunately, I haven’t seen any type offset between black and red lettering, and the dark red ink is neither too bright nor too pink to allow for easy reading:

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Red-lettering is dark, clear, and aligned well

Features

The cross-references and footnotes in this edition are the same as those found in the NLT Study Bible and Holy Bible: Mosaic NLT.  Unfortunately, the Hebrew/Greek word study notes from those editions didn’t make it into the Pitt Minion.  I find those a nice touch to the other editions, as they point out places where impo rtant original language words are used and provide nice, succinct definitions of words that pastors/teachers often emphasize.  The Dictionary/Concordance is the usual 100+ page edition that has thankfully become the standard in recent NLT editions.  It’s more lengthy than that found many other bible editions and is quite helpful if you don’t have a full concordance or electronic search at your fingertips.

One of my favorite features in the Pitt Minion NLT is the maps.  As I’ve confessed before, I’m a complete cartophile, and this edition doesn’t disappoint!  The maps are the same Moody Bible Institute maps found in Crossway’s ESVs but with the added bonus of more than twice as many as Crossway includes.  There are a total of 15 maps, including many that are extremely helpful for OT study, and an eight-page map index.  Fantastic!

Summary

In case you haven’t picked up on the general tenor of this review, I absolutely love Cambridge’s Pitt Minion NLT!  If you’re ok with the small print, I can think of no better quality, compact edition of the NLT that you can enjoy for many years.

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The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB)–A First Look

It’s finally here!  As hoped, my copy of The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) arrived yesterday from CPH, so I thought I’d take a few minutes and discuss my first impressions.  This is by no means a thorough or critical review of the contents of the notes, etc., just a few of my first thoughts on some of the features of this highly-anticipated release.TLSB

TLSB size–Those familiar with the Treasury of Daily Prayer will notice that TLSB has almost the exactly same dimensions as TDP.  This means that, proportionally, it is a bit more ‘squarish’ than most books, but I confess that I really enjoy its proportions aesthetically.  As wide as the pages are (nearly 7″), I much prefer the hardback binding to a very floppy leather…I can almost hear some of you gasp as that!

TLSB text–The TLSB uses the English Standard Version (ESV) bible, and though the copyright page lists a 2001 copyright from Crossway, a cursory check of the changes between the 2001 and 2007 versions (from Rick Mansfield’s blog) reveals that this is indeed the updated 2007 version of the text.  While not a huge deal, it frees Laban’s children from the oversight of his goats (ha, ha) and spares the rest of us some awkward renderings that were improved in the update.

TLSB fonts–I’m not exactly sure what font size is used, but the print is perfectly readable, even with the bit of bleed through that is common to just about every bible.  The font size of the main text is approximately the same of that used in the NLT Study Bible (to cite a recent example), but the TLSB print is more crisp, clear, and readable.  The font of the notes is quite a bit smaller but still clear and easy to read.  This is a red-letter edition bible, which I am not fond of for either theological or practical reasons, but the red lettering is also crisp and easy on the eyes.

TLSB book outlines–I’ll probably show a bit of my bent toward being an egghead here, but the outlines presented at the beginning of each book are superb.  Some bibles present half-hearted outlines that paint so broadly as to be less-than-helpful.  Until now, the gold standard in my mind were the outlines shown in the Reformation Study Bible, but I can say without hesitation that TLSB has the most thorough outlines I’ve ever seen in a study bible.  They go at least three levels deep (sometimes four) and are a tremendous help for getting feel of the overall structure and flow of the books.  Fantastic!

TLSB drawings–Anyone who has seen any of the preview/promo material has probably seen the examples of Schnorr’s engravings that precede every book in TLSB.  As classical representations of biblical events, I happen to like them, though I suppose some will think otherwise.  CPH was fortunate enough to secure permissions to use several of Hugh Claycombe’s line drawings of the Tabernacle, the temples, Jerusalem, Jesus’ route through Passion Week, etc.  If you’ve used the NIV Study Bible, you’ll recognize these drawings immediately.  I personally think they are some of the most helpful illustrations of their type to appear in recent study bibles.

TLSB maps–This is the single lackluster area I’ve noticed so far in TLSB.  The color maps appear in the front, interestingly, and are relatively few and devoid of much detail.  The consistency of the in-text maps varies widely from other similarly bland ones (e.g., Jesus’ ministry in the gospels on p. 1584) to some wonderfully detailed and helpful ones (e.g., Assyrian exile of Israel, p.609).  As a complete cartophile, I treasure great maps but find nothing to get too excited about here.

TLSB articles and charts–The in-text articles and charts are definitely a strong-point of this bible!  The articles cover a wide range of topics, from the primarily doctrinal to the primarily application-focused.  Those I have read are well-done, concise, and very helpful in addressing the concerns raised (including alternate viewpoints) by each topic.  Charts are similarly well-done, thorough, and helpful.  More to follow on these in future reviews.

TLSB book introductions–While I haven’t had the opportunity to read many of the introductions, I have been pleased with those I have looked over.  The introductions do not hesitate to deal with matters of historical higher criticism; discuss form, genre, and literary devices where helpful; include large excerpts from Luther’s introductions, and provide a wealth of other helpful introductory information.  One of my favorite features is the substantial definitions included in the “Key Terms and Phrases” sections before the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Pauline Epistles.  Given the sometimes challenging language of the ESV, I think this offers great insight into some ‘churchy’ theological terms that may be used differently in Scripture than in everyday language.

These ‘few’ thoughts have gotten pretty long, and I haven’t even mentioned the TLSB introductory materials–articles on how to read the bible (hermeneutics) and understanding Law and Gospel; lectionaries; a two-year reading plan; and the text of Luther’s Small Catechism.  All this, and a more in-depth review of the content of the study notes will have to wait for another day!

After just a few short hours, I can say without reservation that, in TLSB, CPH has provided an amazing resource that will serve to edify, strengthen, and nurture the church of God for many years to come.  My heartfelt thanks goes out to all who contributed!

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New Bibles Coming Soon: The Lutheran Study Bible and Mosaic NLT

As I type this, the FedEx website tells me that my copy of The Lutheran Study Bible is on the truck for delivery this afternoon.  With many others, I’ve long looked forward to see what gems this new ESV-based, distinctly Lutheran work has in store.  From the preview material that CPH has been steadily pumping out for several months, it doesn’t look like anyone will be disappointed!  According to its forward:

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The Reformation started from a man studying the Bible: Martin Luther. It grew from an educational setting: Wittenberg University. As these facts show, biblical studies and Christian education had the greatest importance for early Lutherans. Everywhere the Reformation spread, Bible reading and Christian education followed. Lutheran congregations, schools, missions, colleges, and universities still place great importance on study of Holy Scripture.

But there is another, perhaps even more important, factor binding the Lutheran Church to the careful study of Scripture, something that distinguished the Lutheran Reformation from other movements–its beliefs about God’s Word.

Mosaic

On a similar note, I received confirmation yesterday from Tyndale that a review copy of the Mosaic NLT bible is on its way as well.  I’ve been very excited about this project since learning about it from one of its editors, Keith Williams (@KeithWilliams).  Though I’ve wrestled with the NLT at times since adopting it as my primary translation last year, it’s still my translation of choice and doubtless will be for many years to come.  While Tyndale has been more tight-lipped about the exact contents of Mosaic, what I have seen so far looks fantastic.  I’m particularly excited that Tyndale has chosen this blog as one of the stops on the Mosaic Blog Tour.  October 2nd is the currently scheduled date, so be sure and check back.  There will also be a contest to give away a copy to one lucky reader!

Until then, I plan to review both of these promising new offerings…coming soon!

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Justification in the NLT–A Final Look

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Over the past few months, I’ve been musing here and there about the way the NLT presents the doctrine of justification, especially in the Pauline epistles.  To be precise, I have been working through my understanding of the way the NLT presents the causality (i.e. by/through faith) versus the instrumentality (i.e. because of faith) of justification.  Two recent exercises have led me to believe that, on the main, I’ve been making a mountain out of a molehill.

First, I finally spent some time reviewing the notes and articles in the NLT Study Bible for the passages I listed in previous posts.  Most notably, I read through the article titled, “Righteousness By Faith,” which appears in Galatians.  This article unequivocably articulates the doctrine of justification by faith and says, “There is nothing people can or need to do. Only Christ could do—and has done—what must be done to make people acceptable to God. So we should simply receive his gift, gratefully thank him for what he has done for us, and trust in him” (emphasis mine).

Second, I talked with friends, co-workers, church members, and members of my Guard unit about the readings as presented in the NLT.  Essentially, I asked them to explain to me their understanding of the passages.  Though anecdotal, without exception, the people I talked to were able to articulate justification by faith because of Christ’s work on our behalf.

In sum, I am coming to think that my anxiety about how the NLT presents justification stemmed from my desire for more precision than the average reader brings to the text.  ‘By,’ ‘through,’ and ‘because’…for many folks, though not all…are essentially synonymous terms in the everyday usage of the language.  In preaching or teaching through the few passages where the NLT says ‘because of faith’ I will continue to be careful to articulate the instrumentality of faith over against the causality of faith in justification.  Will I be driving home a point that some or many will think is unnecessary?  Perhaps.  If it avoids confusion for anyone, however, it will be worth it.

Many continued thanks to the NLT team for a fantastic translation that I have used as my primary preaching and teaching bible for over a year now…with absolutely no regrets!  May God continue to use this translation to build his church!

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Justification in the NLT–A Broader Look

It has been over two months since my initial post on my struggles with justification by faith as presented by the New Living Translation, Second Edition (NLTse) in the book of Galatians.  In that time, I have broadened my reading to include most of the other NT references to justification traditionally rendered ‘by faith,’ as opposed to the NLTse rendering ‘because of faith.’  Specifically, I narrowed my list down to following 17 main occurrences (37 if you could numerous repetition in Heb 11):

  • Rom 1.17OpenBible
  • Rom 3.28
  • Rom 4.16
  • Rom 5.1
  • Rom 9.30
  • Rom 9.32
  • Rom 11.20
  • Gal 2.16
  • Gal 3.7
  • Gal 3.8
  • Gal 3.11
  • Gal 3.22
  • Gal 3.25
  • Gal 5.5
  • Heb 10.38
  • Heb 11.3 ff (20 total occurrences in chapter 11)
  • Jas 2.24

Of these 17 verses, the NLTse translates 12 of them ‘by faith,’ in agreement with the traditional Protestant understanding that by the instrument of faith we grasp hold of the justifying work of Jesus Christ, the cause of our justification.  The other five, however, are translated ‘because of faith,’ making our faith–not Christ’s work–the effective cause of justification.  For the statisticians and fellow engineers among us, that comes out 71% overall.  Looking book by book, which I think is fair way to approach it given the way books were assigned and translated by the translation team, this comes out to 75% for Romans, 57% for Galatians, 100% for Hebrews, and 100% for James.

Interestingly (to me anyway), none of these passages were changed from the original release of the NLT to the NLTse…unless I misread something in my quick study.  It surprises me that a doctrine as central as justification by faith would not receive more scrutiny by the translation and review team, especially where the NLT has departed so dramatically from every other major translation, historic or contemporary.  Let me restate my original three concerns:

  1. Again and again, the NLT translates the Greek preposition ἐκ as “because” where it is traditionally rendered “by” in almost every other English translation through the last 400 years
  2. Intentionally or not, the NLT reading makes faith causative in justification, i.e. we are justified because of our faith, instead of understanding faith as the instrument by which we receive Christ’s merits, i.e. justified by means of our faith.
  3. The NLT reading opens the door to the synergistic idea that our faith is itself meritorious, a “good work” that is at least partly responsible for our salvation.

I still love the NLT and use it as my primary preaching and teaching bible.  It speaks the language of the folks with whom I live and work–at NASA, in the Guard, and in my neighborhood.  I am concerned, however, about how justification is sometimes presented.   Does anyone else share my concerns?  Is anyone cautious about the NLT for these reasons?  Has it ever been discussed to edit these passages in future releases?

I’d love to know!  I’d love to discuss it!

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Walther on Justifying Faith

One month after writing my initial post on the topic of justification in Galatians as presented in the NLT and ESV, I came across this reading by C.F.W. Walther this morning.  For those who may not be familiar with Walther, he was one of the founders and first president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (see here for more).  Specifically, Walther addresses the question of justification ‘because’ (NLT) or ‘by’ (ESV et al) faith…the initial issue that got me writing in the first place.  In this sermon, he points out a common misconception of justification–in his mind–and counters with his understanding of the biblical teaching.  He says:

Many think that a person is righteous before God through faith and nothing else, since faith is a good work and a glorious virtue.  They maintain that a person makes himself acceptable and pleasing to God by his faith, which cleanses his heart, unites him with Christ, and brings forth the fruit of good works.

It is true that faith has all of these glorious qualities, but it is false to say this makes a person righteous before God.  Scripture never says a person is righteous before God because of or on account of his faith.  Instead, he is righteous through faith.  Faith, then, is not the cause of our justification but only its instrument.  It is the means by which we receive righteousness from God.

Faith does not make us righteous before God because it is such a good work and such a beautiful virtue.  Precisely the opposite is the case.  As [Romans 4.16] informs, faith makes a person righteous before God because righteousness can be obtained solely by grace.
(from God Grant It:  Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther, pp. 574-5)

Walther, then, understands justification in the traditional Protestant sense, as “the means by which we receive righteousness from God” not the reason we are considered/declared to be righteous.  I’m still struggling with the NLT rendering in Galatians and reading from my ESV a bit more these days.

Has anyone given this any more thought since last time? (crickets…grin)

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Justifying Faith? Luther on the Bronze Snake…

My recent post on justification by faith in Galatians has sparked some good conversation here, on Twitter, and via email…but it all begs the question, “What is this justifying faith in Christ?”  Not surprisingly, Luther asks and answer the question beautifully, illustrating it with the bronze snake in the wilderness:

Some people imagine that faith is a quality that sticks to the heart on its own, with or without Christ.  This is a dangerous error.  Christ should be placed directly before our eyes so that we see and hear nothing apart from him and believe that nothing is closer to us than Christ.  For he doesn’t sit idly in heaven but is continually present in us.  He is working and living in us, for Paul says, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2.20).  He also says that you “have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3.27).  Therefore, faith is an unswerving gaze that looks on Christ alone.  He is the conqueror of sin and death and the one who gives us righteousness, salvation, and eternal life.

This is beautifully illustrated by the story of the bronze snake, which points to Christ (Jn 3.14).  Moses commanded the Israelites, who had been bitten in the desert by poisonous snakes, to look at this bronze snake with an unswerving gaze.  Those who did so were healed, simply by steadily gazing at the snake alone.  In contrast, others who didn’t obey Moses looked at their wounds instead of the snake and died.  So if you want to be comforted when your conscience plagues you or when you are in dire distress, then you must do nothing by grasp Christ in faith and say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who suffered, was crucified, and died for me.  In his wound and death, I see my sin.  In his resurrection, I see the victory over sin, death, and the devil.  I see righteousness and eternal life as well.  I want to see and hear nothing except him.”  This is true faith in Christ and the right way to believe. (26:356)

Amen.

Take that, all who accuse Luther of disparaging the Old Testament (grin).

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Justification in Galatians–Struggles with the NLT

Bible page photoLet me start by saying I’m a huge fan of the New Living Translation and have used it regularly, even if not as my primary bible for teaching/preaching, since shortly after its debut in the mid-90s.  Yes, even after pre-ordering my ESV back in 2001 (my primary bible for almost seven years), being shunned by ESV-only seminary types for years at Southern, and feeling indecisive about the whole formal v. dynamic equivalence bit…I still loved the NLT so much so that toward the end of last year I switched to it exclusively for preaching and teaching and relegated my ESV to the #2 spot.

(Perhaps I’ll write sometime about the reasons I made the jump, but that’s another post for another day.)

Today I write because I’m troubled by how the NLT renders some key verses on justification in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  By way of background, I should say that I’ve always looked to Galatians as ‘the’ treatment on justification by faith in the bible and, with Luther, I view justification as ‘the’ doctrine by which the church stands or falls.  With that in mind, my heart sank when reading through Galatians this weekend and realizing that the NLT makes faith the cause of our justification as opposed to the instrument of our justification.  Here is an excerpt from Galatians 3, the NLT in parallel with the ESV (the emphasis, of course, is mine):

New Living Translation (NLT) English Standard Version (ESV)
1 Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.
2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
4 Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain?
5 I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith
6 In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” 6 just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness?
7 The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God. 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.
8 What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, In you shall all the nations be blessed.
9 So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith. 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Some thoughts…

  1. Again and again, the NLT translates the Greek preposition ἐκ as “because” where it is traditionally rendered “by,” as shown in the ESV (NB, almost every other translation, contemporary or otherwise, follows the ESV here)
  2. Intentionally or not, the NLT reading makes faith causative in justification, i.e. we are justified because of our faith, instead of understanding faith as the instrument by which we receive Christ’s merits, i.e. justified by means of our faith.
  3. The NLT reading opens the door to the synergistic idea that our faith is itself meritorious, a “good work” that is at least partly responsible for our salvation.

So how does this stand in relation to a Reformational understanding of justification by faith?  Here are some excerpts from classic Systematics texts or confessions in the Reformed, Lutheran, and contemporary Evangelical veins (again, the emphasis is mine):

  • Louis Berkhof (Reformed):  “Scripture never says we are justified dia ten pistin, on account of faith.  This means that faith is never represented as the ground of our justification.”
  • Wayne Grudem (Evangelical): “Scripture says that we are justified ‘by means of’ our faith, understanding faith to be the instrument through which justification is given to us, but not at all an activity that earns us merit or favor with God.”
  • Book of Concord, Epitome of the Formula of Concord (Lutheran): “We believe, teach, and confess that faith alone is the means and instrument whereby we lay hold of Christ, and thus in Christ of that righteousness which avails before God, for whose sake this faith is imputed to us for righteousness”

It would seem here that the NLT’s translation is at odds with the traditional, Protestant understanding of God’s means of justification.  This saddens me a great deal and surprises me, given the NLT translation team for Galatians (one of whom I studied under at seminary and who I know firmly believes in justification by faith).

I’m looking for some interaction here, good readers…talk to me!

  • Do you think I’m making much of nothing?
  • Is my reading of the NLT not a plain, straightforward reading of the translation?
  • Is the NLT’s rendering here a deal-breaker for teaching justification by faith?

Update (6.3) — after being prompted by several of you, I emailed Dr. Tom Schreiner, who was on the NLT translation team for Galatians.  Part of his reply is included in the comments here.

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Worthless Things

I love it when my daily lectionary readings come together and really punch me in the chest!  This morning’s Psalter reading (from BoC) and Gospel reading (from LSB) did just that…and it was awesome.

In Psalm 119, I read:

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.  (Ps 119.37, ESV)

That line was enough to get and keep me thinking about the worthless things of the world that so often entice us away from what is truly important.  Surely we could all provide a litany of these sorts of things that almost continually threaten to pull our attention away from Christ and his kingdom.  Quite honestly, I was driven to repentance over all the times that I wander, pursuing these worthless things instead of clinging to Christ–and pleaded with God for grace to focus more on him than the world.

Then in Matthew, I read:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Mt 4.1-11, ESV)

No sooner was my prayer uttered than it was answered in this account from the life of Christ!  Here he faced temptation to chase after what are clearly ‘worthless things’:

  • Necessary (but mundane) necessities over which Christ has taught us not to worry
  • Spectacular and miraculous manifestations, which can actually be sinful tests of God
  • Personal glory and honor, which clearly is wrong when sought out, esp. through sinful means

To beat the temptations of these worthless things, Jesus relied continually on the Word of God to focus on the revealed will of God.

Sure, it’s simple.  Sure, we’ve heard this countless times.  Sure, we know these things to be true…

…and yet, like all the blessings of the God in Christ Jesus, we cannot hear these words too often.  Thanks be to God for his grace!

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