pursued by goodness (getting Ps 23 right)

You have a ways to go yet

This morning in church we read Psalm 23.

There is absolutely nothing even remotely odd about that.  After all, this is one of the most beloved and comforting psalms in the entire Psalter.  This morning our focus was on the first part of verse six, which is traditionally rendered:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life (Ps 23.6a, ESV)

This translation is well and good…except it is not nearly strong enough to describe God’s actions toward us.  Most English bibles have followed the tradition established by the KJV and translated the Hebrew word radaph (רָדַף) as ‘followed,‘ but a quick look at the standard lexicons shows that this word is more often understood aspursued.’  God’s actions here are better understood like this:

Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life (Ps 23.6, HCSB)

I don’t know about you, but being pursued feels a whole lot different than merely being followed.  God, in his goodness and faithful love, does exactly that–he pursues us…

Relentlessly.  Tirelessly.  Persistently.  Lovingly.  Mercifully.

Thanks be to God!

photo credit: Creative Commons | Samantha Evans Photography 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!

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

a couple of superb ESV editions

When not wrestling with Greek in the LXX and NT, I spend most of my English bible reading in three versions: the ESV, the HCSB, and the NLT.  Due to some of the difficult phrasing in the ESV and the fact that I minister mostly to folks who are younger and unfamiliar or turned off by its traditional wording, I spend the least amount of time in the ESV.  That said, Crossway keeps me coming back again and again because of the superb editions they publish–editions that sometimes fill a very specific reader niche and aren’t likely to be huge sellers but are nonetheless treasured by bibliophiles for various reasons.

Last fall, I picked up a copy of the ESV Single Column Legacy Bible for no other reason than its typesetting and layout.  Sounds crazy, I know, but the layout of this bible makes it an absolute dream to read.  Mark Bertrand did an excellent three-part series on this edition beginning with this post.  I highly recommend jumping to his site and reading the series to get a picture for what went into this edition.

Today I was in my favorite bookstore, picked up a copy of the recent ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, and fell in love with this new edition.  The layout is amazing–single column (obviously), super wide margins, and a creamy page color similar to that used by the German Bible Society in their Greek and Hebrew texts.  Best of all, as a chaplain who needs a bible that can be tossed in a rucksack and dragged all over creation for worship services, bible study, and counseling, it has the same hard cover and elastic flap similar to the original Journaling bible and Moleskine notebooks.  This bible may be the perfect chaplain’s bible!

I shall post some photos in the next couple days for you to get an idea of this great little edition.  Until then…

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:

TLSB

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

nlt_logo

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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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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