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…

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.

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–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.

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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And the Winner Is…

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If you entered my Holy Bible: Mosaic giveaway contest you had a fantastic opportunity to win a copy of Mosaic and odds that you’ll never get in Vegas or in the lottery!

So…fanfare aside, the winner of my giveaway is @martyrologist! Thanks for your thoughtful comment and mention/link on Twitter.  To the others who entered, I wish I had copies to give to everyone, but there are still many contests in work and other opportunities to win.  Check Mosaic’s blog for tour dates and locations!

Holy Bible: Mosaic Giveaway!

In case you haven’t figured out the pattern yet, everyone hosting a stop on the Mosaic blog tour also has a free hardback copy of Holy Bible: Mosaic to give away, courtesy of Tyndale!  The contests are hosted individually by the various bloggers, and each contest is as unique as each of us.  Here are the ‘rules’ for the contest here at Taking Thoughts Captive:Mosaic

  1. Comment on this post, telling my how you think the Mosaic will deepen your walk with Christ and how you anticipate making use of its unique features in your family/congregation/parish/ministry/etc.
  2. Link to my review of Mosaic on your blog and/or mention it on Twitter.  (If you tweet about it, my handle is @st_polycarp…be sure to let me know you mentioned/linked to the review)

You can comment up until midnight next Tuesday, October 6th.  I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday!  Be sure and leave your email addy on the comment form, or I won’t be able to contact you if you’re the winner.  If you don’t win here, check out the other blogs on the Mosaic tour for another opportunity!

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Holy Bible: Mosaic (NLT) Q&A with David Sanford

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As part of the Mosaic blog tour running through the end of November, I was fortunate enough to get a copy of Holy Bible: Mosaic (please check out my review here) and have the added bonus of hosting a Q&A session with David Sanford, who served as the General Editor for Mosaic at Credo Communications and contributed to the meditation for Christmas, week 1.

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T.C.:  Tell us a little about yourself–faith background, ministry involvement, writing/publishing involvement, etc.

David Sanford:  I come from a long line of atheists. While I was growing up my father would lecture me: “There are no rules. Don’t obey anyone. Don’t even obey me.” When I decided to become a sold-out follower of Jesus Christ at age 13, however, I discovered my extended family did have a long-standing rule: You can’t be a follower of Jesus Christ. I began to experience my father’s disfavor, anger, and ridicule. My paternal grandparents disowned me. Not quite what I expected, to say the least.

At that point, I opened my Bible and began reading. Imagine encountering Scripture’s most famous stories for the first time, without any clue what happens next. That was my experience reading God’s Word cover to cover for the first time. By the end of Genesis chapter 44, for instance, I expected Joseph, Prince of Egypt, to tell his armed guards to slaughter his brothers–men who had betrayed their own flesh and blood years earlier. Instead, in the first three verses of chapter 45 Joseph barks at his guards, orders them to leave, reveals his true identity to his brothers, and then forgives them. I instantly started weeping. How could I have guessed? I’d never seen that kind of love.

A decade later, two days before I wrapped up my final exams at what is now Multnomah University, God opened up the door for me to go to work for John Sloan, one of the most respected and successful Christian editors of our generation. Nearly twenty-eight years later, I still love my calling. All told, I’ve seen nearly 400 books and Bible projects published. My wife, Renée, is my witness: My all-time favorite project is the brand-new Holy Bible: Mosaic.

T.C.:  How did Mosaic have its beginning?

D.S.:  Like most book and Bible projects, it began with a dream. Actually three dreams. I had the original vision. Tyndale’s Director of Bibles and Reference (Knox Group), Kevin O’Brien, had a similar dream. When we started talking, we both had an amazing “Aha!” moment. I had an initial detailed written proposal, but hearing Kevin’s dream helped flesh it out further. And then his colleague Keith Williams, one of Tyndale’s Bible and reference editors, joined us and shared his vision, which we incorporated, as well. Add nearly a dozen contributing editors, more than fifty writers, dozens of artists and hundreds of writings from every part of the Church around the world over the past 20 centuries, and voilà!

T.C.: What was your favorite moment / memory during the creation of Mosaic?

D.S.:  Definitely getting the first copy hot off the press. Until then, everyone had seen only pieces. The finished product far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Some contributors danced. Others cried. It was that moving. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.

T.C.: The quotes, etc. used in Mosaic range the spectrum from Mennonite to Eastern Orthodox, including many outside the realm typically accepted or read by Evangelicals (doubtless Mosaic’s prime ‘audience’).  What advice or encouragement would you give readers when reading from sources unfamiliar to them (at best) or from groups they may have been told are explicitly ‘wrong’ about matters of faith (at worst)?

D.S.:  When you talk heart-to-heart with many evangelicals, you hear a growing longing to be connected to the whole Church (with a capital C). As well, for the past 15 or 20 years there’s been a growing recognition that the historic branches of the Church share what Rex Koivisto, Ph.D., author of One Lord, One Faith, calls “the core of orthodoxy.” Furthermore, we’ve finally recognized we have much to learn from each of those branches. Not because those branches offer something new or different, but because they have so many areas of strength. When we draw from the best of the Church, it’s marvelous. That’s why the name, Mosaic, is so fitting for this Bible and the values it expresses. Still, if anyone is still nervous, I can assure them that all of the writings included in Mosaic are rock-solid biblically and theologically.
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T.C.: What is your vision / hope for how Mosaic will be received and used?

D.S.:  The Mosaic Bible features two parts. The last 1,000 pages is the Bible itself, without interruption (except small icons to point out Scripture readings). The first 340 pages feature six-page “weeks.” Each lists Scripture readings, artwork, and writings tied into a specific week and important theme within the Church calendar. I use the term “Church calendar” somewhat loosely, however, since we’ve merged the best parts of various historic calendars into 53 “weeks.” Unlike other Church calendars, Mosaic has an extra week for Easter (since Resurrection Sunday moves around from year to year). Like other Church calendars, Mosaic begins with Advent (repeatedly click the top right corner at http://bit.ly/4qnUFs/). Of course, you can start reading Mosaic anytime. Just visit www.HolyBibleMosaic.com to find out where we’re at in the Church calendar that week. Then jump in. You’ll be hooked almost immediately.

T.C.: You wrote the meditation for Christmas, week 1.  How did your participation, preparation, and study for this particular devotion affect your walk with Christ?

D.S.:  I’ve spent months overseas trekking through the Amazon, Andes, Alps, Sahara, etc. Making my way across part of the Sahara was the closest I’ve come to seeing what life might have been like at the time of Christ. If I’ve learned anything overseas, it’s how to wait. I’m probably the only guy in America who thanks God for the privilege of waiting at a red light or thanks God for the joy of standing in a long line at the post office. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on what it means to truly wait versus giving into the “faster!” mentality in the Western world. I’ve also gone back to the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation and asked myself, “What does God want me to understand about waiting?” It turns out God’s Word has a lot of say about the subject. From Genesis 3:15 on, we find Adam and Eve and millions of other believers waiting and waiting and waiting for the Promised One. By the time of Jesus Christ, most people had given up. But a few never gave up hope. And against all odds, God kept his promise at just the right time. We always think “now” is the best time. That’s rarely the case.

T.C.: What is your favorite work of art featured in Mosaic?  Why?

D.S.:  There are scores of wonderful works of art in Mosaic, so it’s next to impossible to pick a single favorite. One of my favorites, however, is the oldest work of art, dated c. A.D. 380. It’s a beautiful Christian mosaic picturing two fish and small loaves of bread. The mosaic is amazingly well preserved. It reminds me of the boy in John 6:8-9 who offered his sack lunch to Jesus. With those five small barley loaves and two fish in hand, Jesus gave thanks to his Father and then feeds the multitudes. I remember hearing my first sermon on that Scripture passage when I was a teenager. I went to a very conservative evangelical church that didn’t believe in prophecy today. But one Sunday the senior pastor, Dr. Lowell C. Wendt, stopped in the middle of his sermon and gave a prophecy. In that prophecy, he said that I would feed multitudes with the Word of God. I’ll never forget that experience. Some thirty-three years later, I believe Mosaic is part of that prophecy come true. What a joy to work on it with some many dedicated brothers and sisters in Christ. Many are now praying that we’ll have the opportunity to create more Mosaic-style Bibles.

T.C.: Given the vast possibilities to draw materials from for the weekly meditations in Mosaic, how did the team go about narrowing the field and deciding what to use?

D.S.:  My hat’s off to managing editor Beyth Hogue. She helped our large team identify what historically important biblical themes should be covered during Advent (4 weeks), Christmas (2 weeks), Epiphany (6 weeks), Lent (5 weeks), Passion Week, Easter (7 weeks), and Pentecost (28 weeks). In turn, those 53 themes were divided up by Beyth among the large team of writers and contributing editors and artists and artistic directors who oversee large collections. In a sense, everyone knew what pieces they were contributing to the mosaic. But we had no idea how well all those pieces would fit together. Then Keith Williams did the final editorial piecing and polishing. The end result is a completely new kind of Bible.

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Many thanks to David for answering my barrage of questions and sharing his personal insights on the development, vision, and hope for Mosaic!  He has graciously agreed to correspond to anyone with further questions and can be contacted at david[at]credocommunications[dot]net.  Further information about Mosaic and the blog tour can be found at the Holy Bible Mosaic website.  Also stay tuned for a Mosaic giveaway contest hosted here beginning today here!

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Holy Bible: Mosaic (NLT) — A Review

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Over the past few months, my anticipation has been growing regarding the release of the Holy Bible: Mosaic (New Living Translation).  Since I heard of the concept from Mosaic‘s general editor, Keith Williams (@KeithWilliams), I have developed high hopes and high expectations for what I wanted this bible to be.  Last week, I graciously received a review copy from Laura Bartlett at Tyndale and have been pouring over this bible ever since.  After a week with this work I can sum up my review in a few works:  My expectations were not only met, they were far exceeded!

Opening this bible for the first time, it is readily apparent that it is neither a study bible nor a devotional bible in the traditional sense.  All the devotional material is contained in the first 350 pages, preceding and completely separate from the biblical text except where cross-referenced by marginal notes.  I confess, I really like this approach to devotional material.  One of the stated goals of Mosaic is to offer ‘the complete text of the Bible without interruption’–a goal it has achieved with this unique approach to separating devotional material from the biblical text.

The devotional material that makes up Mosaic is structured into weekly meditations ordered to follow the church year.  For those of us in liturgical traditions, this approach is instantly recognizable, but for those in other traditions, the introduction offers a short explanation of the form, function, and purpose of the church calendar.  Each meditation has its own theme with scripture passages drawn from, but not rigidly tied to, the Revised Common Lectionary.  While centered on scripture, each meditation presents readers with approximately six pages of beautiful artwork, quotes, hymns, poems, prayers and space to write down their own reflections.  The materials presented in these meditations are drawn from the entire spectrum of Christianity, from the 1st century to the 21st century and from Mennonite to Eastern Orthodox.  As stated in the introduction, all this is ‘designed to bring you into contact with the global, historic church as you engage with God’s Word.’

As an Air Force chaplain, Mosaic offers me a unique treasure beyond that obviously offered in the Word of God.  The written material in these meditations lends itself to use not only individually but corporately for worship, devotion, study, and pastoral care.  In addition, the materials are drawn from all regions of the world, which allows me an instant connection with the people our troops will be working with and living among–and if we cannot broach the language barrier, the artwork in Mosaic, also drawn from all cultures, can create a powerful visual connection with members of any culture and ethnicity.  While I will have several study bibles in my office / tent / chapel, Mosaic will be the one bible I will have in my hands or in my rucksack at all times!

DeluxeI will not endeavor to offer a review here of the text of the New Living Translation (2nd ed, 2007 text) itself.  Others have done such reviews in painstaking detail.  I shall only point out that, through the last ten years,  I have gone from the NASB to the ESV to the NLT as my primary text for preaching, teaching, and pastoral care.  The details of this bible’s textual layout, however, warrant a few words.  Mosaic is a typical two-column layout with one of the most extensive center-column cross-references I’ve seen in a NLT edition.  In addition to scriptural cross-references, there is also a basic word study cross-reference listing of 100 important Hebrew and Greek (200 total) words with expanded definitions, usage, and other information just before the over 100-page dictionary/concordance.  The margins of Mosaic are just under an inch (top, bottom, and outside), which isn’t much room for extensive notes but which provides a small writer like me enough room to make a few notes.  Mosaic is also a black-letter edition, so there can be no complaints about Tyndale’s historically rose or pink-looking ‘red-letter’ editions.  The font used in Mosaic may be a bit small for some, but while smaller than that used in some other bibles I have, it is wonderfully crisp, clear, and easily and most readable of any NLT edition I own.

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend Mosaic for anyone looking to grow deeper in their walk with God, be challenged to see Christianity beyond their own denominational or ethnic boundaries, or anyone looking for a fine edition of the New Living Translation.  Tyndale has given us a great resource in Mosaic, and I thank them not only for their tremendous efforts but for the opportunity to review it!

Note:  I am participating in Tyndale’s Mosaic blog tour on Friday, October 2nd.  More details can be found at:  www.holybiblemosaic.com Stay tuned for a Q&A with Mosaic‘s General Editor at Credo, David Sanford and a Mosaic giveaway!

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Mosaic NLT Released Today!

The blogosphere is abuzz with the news that Tyndale’s newest NLT, Holy Bible: Mosaic, releases today!  For those like me who have anxiously been waiting, this is great news.  For those who may not have heard or read about Mosaic, here is the brief description from its website:Mosaic

Holy Bible: Mosaic is about helping you encounter Christ in a deep and authentic way, through insight from every continent and century of the Christian Church. Historical and contemporary art and writings from across the globe offer a depth of Scriptural wisdom and understanding as you read and reflect on God’s word.

Mosaic is arranged so that every week has variety of content for reading and reflection. Each week follows a theme appropriate to the Church season (such as Advent, Easter, etc). The content included for each week includes full-color art; Scripture readings; a historical reading; a contemporary reading; a prayer, creed, hymn or quote; and space for reflection.

Tyndale has much more information on the Holy Bible: Mosaic website (http://www.holybiblemosaic.com)

As with other bloggers writing about Mosaic, I will be spending some time with Mosaic and writing a review in the days to come.  Additionally, this blog will be one of the stops on the Mosaic blog tour–currently, I’m scheduled for October 2nd.  Finally, courtesy of Tyndale, I will be giving away a free copy of Mosaic via a contest I will be beginning in a few days!  If you can’t wait to try and win one…jump on over to Amazon, do some early Christmas shopping and get a copy for yourself!

Until all these kick off on this website, I encourage you to check the Mosaic blog for the schedule of blog stops and check out the first stop (and blog-a-thon) at The Church of Jesus Christ!

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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