Thinking Out Loud

April 1, 2014

New Type of Audio Bible Will Revolutionize Bible Sales

I located this earlier today at a book industry website:

Parallel Audio Bible

 

Audio Product Will Appeal to a Wide Range of Bible Readers

Every once in awhile, in addition to writing the news here, we get to make the news! Such is the case today as we unveil a product that I’ve been working on for nearly 12 months: The Parallel Audio Bible. Using technology that has sat idle since the days of quadrophonic sound, the PA Bible uses four distinct voices — two male and two female — each speaking the text at the same time. You simply — as you would at a social gathering, or in the church lobby — lock on to one speaker and within seconds, your brain automatically tunes out all the others, just like it does after church when Mrs. Forthright is exchanging some exceptionally juicy gossip about the choir director.

Furthermore, this advanced technology allows us to produce customized combinations so that we can take orders for which ever audio combination you desire. So…imagine a family heading on a long car trip: Mom likes the ESV, the teenage son likes The Message, the preteen daughter likes the NLT and Dad is an NIV guy. You simply start the audio playing and everyone is satisfied simultaneously. (Channel assignments may require an adjustment in who sits where, and who ends up driving. If your preteen daughter is not licensed, some audio rewiring of your car may be necessary.)

The audio is available on CD, mp3, and because of general industry acknowledgement of its resurgence, vinyl records. (Note: Vinyl LPs may be incompatible with some car audio systems.) Stores wishing to carry the product will appreciate the automatic shipment program, where product will be shipped each time another edition of the 118 possible combinations is manufactured; and will especially appreciate the extra discount made possible by a non-returnable policy.

So don’t be the last one in your market to offer this product. Sign up today!

Parallel Audio Bible — Many Translations, One Product

(Note: Due to varying text lengths between translations, this product is not available in The Amplified Bible or The Voice.)

March 25, 2014

Be Wary of Surveys, Studies, Statistics

cartoonkjv

Last week a number of Christian websites, blogs and media outlets ran with a story about a research study at the — deep breath — the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis; with the primary takeaway that the King James Version of the Bible is the most-read in the United States and therefore most-popular English Bible translation.

My reaction when I read this, summarized at Christianity Today, was “What have these people been smoking?” Alas, the study was based in Indianapolis, not Colorado or Washington.

As someone who has devoted a lifetime to various aspects of Christian publishing, these results are so completely counter-intuitive. I guess all those Gideon Bibles in the drawer underneath the motel telephone are getting used after all. Maybe now the King James Only movement can stop campaigning and say, “We rest our case.”

But the study has to do with what version the survey group claimed to be reading. In a library, the book most-read might be the dictionary. Among our aforementioned motel guests, it might be a telephone directory. If they survey dentists’ offices, it might be nondescript magazines from 2007. None of these things turn up on the bestseller lists because nobody is interested in what people use for reference, people want to know what items in print are of significant interest that they cause people to part with their money to obtain them.

Personally, I think time spent follows money spent. I think the sales data, which in most parts of the English-speaking world still supports the New International Version as the top English translation, is of greater interest. I also have a hard time believing that the majority of searches at BibleGateway.com have KJV set as their default.

Has the KJV greatly influenced English and North American culture? Absolutely. We celebrated that in 2011, recognizing the 400th anniversary of the translation that has outlasted most others in the past two millennia. It’s often quoted and my own online searches often revert to KJV because that’s how I memorized the verses as a child.

But it’s time to move on. Studies like this one — all 44 pages of it — only confuse the central issues.

Furthermore, the study is biased in several places. On the topic of where respondents find help and clarification in their Bible understanding, choices are clergy, commentaries, study groups, electronic media and the internet. I’m sorry, but my go-to resource if a passage is muddy is to use other translations. As one person taught me a long time ago, “Let the translators do the work for you.” That’s also the point behind parallel Bible editions and sites like BibleGateway, BibleHub, Biblios, etc.

I also know from decades of anecdotal experiences with teaching people about Bible translations that many people simply don’t know the names of any of them, and if asked, will answer “King James” or worse, “Saint James” because that’s the only answer they can give. Furthermore, the study has been widely criticized for not allowing the New King James Version (NKJV) as an option. The surveyors also showed a rather glaring ignorance for their subject matter by referring to The Living Bible (sic) instead of the New Living Translation (NLT), the version that is currently number one in the bookstore market where I reside.

…But then, here’s the thing. Just days after publishing a news story on the study, the same website, Christianity Today, released Three Ways to Recognize Bad Stats. Ed Stetzer suggested:

1. Be Wary of Statistics in Promotions
2. Be Wary of Stats that Cannot be Verified
3. Be Wary of Stats that do not Line up with Reality

It is the third category in which I place the Bible reading study. I would also like to propose a couple of friendly amendments to Stetzer’s article:

4. Be Wary of Stats Backed by an Agenda

Too many studies, surveys and statistical compilations are presented by people or groups who have predetermined the outcome they wish to see.

5. Be Wary of Stats Designed to Invoke Fear

There are two reasons why people do this. Some rally the troops by suggesting there is a common enemy we face in order to galvanize support for a particular ministry that can stem the tide and reverse the situation. Sadly, some Christian research firms do this in order to sell survey data. If it bleeds it leads. This is best seen in the tension between Barna Research’s David Kinnaman and sociologist Bradley Wright, the latter titling one of his books, The Sky is Not Falling.

I should also say that I don’t fault Christianity Today for the confusion, especially since they write me a weekly paycheck for the Wednesday Link Lists. In the former case, they are simply reporting the study, and writer Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra possibly plays her hand by saying, in the 4th paragraph, “The numbers are surprising;” and then links to a 2011 CT story by — wait for it — Ed Stetzer reporting on the NIV’s dominance. In the latter case, Stetzer is simply being pastoral, warning the CT-readership flock that they can’t believe everything they read.

 

Note to KJV-Only trolls: This is not the blog you’re looking for. Comments will be deleted.

 

March 11, 2014

Comparing The Voice, The Message and The Living Bible

Bible translation issues

This is an article about three specific Bible versions, but has more to do with the form of each; the purpose is not to delve into specific translation issues associated with the use of words, phrases, sentences or the doctrinal implications of different translation practices.

Defining Terms

reach outThe Living Bible refers to the Bible originally begun in the 1960s by Ken Taylor to give his ten kids a better understanding of scripture at their suppertime family devotions. It is an English-to-English simplification of the ASV. This is not the same as the New Living Translation (NLT) though there is obviously shared history. The Living Bible is currently available for purchase in only two editions, a padded hardcover and an imitation leather anniversary edition. Anything else currently offered for sale is an NLT.

The Message BibleThe Message refers to the Bible written by Eugene Peterson beginning in the 1990s to help people not knowing the original languages a better feel for the dynamics and nuances of Biblical passages. It is Hebrew-to-English and Greek-to-English, so it is a translation (regardless what anyone tells you) but a translation that uses American colloquialisms and a conversational reading style.

The Voice BibleThe Voice is the most recent of the three and was developed over the last ten years by the Ecclesia Bible Society, and while it is also a translation, the translators worked with stylists (poets, playwrights and musicians) to create something that blended traditional approaches and some radical departures in form.

Similarities

All three Bibles were quickly embraced by people looking for an alternative, fresh take on the text, and therefore each has impacted a different generation. Similarly, all three were roundly criticized by traditionalists and conservatives as taking too many liberties or not being “Bible enough.” Some people simply have an automatic aversion to new translations, or are influenced by church leaders who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in all things.

All three were released in stages; The Living Bible began as a series of smaller books, Living Letters, Living Gospels and Living Psalms and Proverbs being three examples; The Message Old Testament came out as a series of four hardcover books; The Voice issued a variety of editions consisting of individual Bible books and two music CDs.

Completed versions of all three came out in 1971, 2003 and 2012 respectively, and all three spread in popularity through word-of-mouth recommendations.

Unique Characteristics

Today it’s hard to think of The Living Bible as radical, but several publishers rejected it, so Ken Taylor created Tyndale House Publishers and released Living Letters with a whopping print run of 2,000 copies in 1962. A year later, Billy Graham endorsed the project and gave away many times that number on his crusade telecasts. While sometimes a publishing company will work to fill a void by creating a Bible, this is a Bible that created a publishing company. By today’s standards, Taylor’s work wasn’t all that controversial, but his decision to render the Psalms as prose rather than poetry is one of the features that was later undone in the creation of the NLT.  Taylor was fortunate to have predated the internet; today bloggers would be lining up to dissect every jot and tittle, but at the time, it was a simply matter of you either liked it your didn’t. Tyndale House today publishes Randy Alcorn, Francine Rivers, James Dobson and the Left Behind series.

I once read an interview where Eugene Peterson was surprised when churches started using The Message as part of Sunday liturgy. He envisioned the project having more personal application. Besides taking a straight-forward, in-your-face approach to many Biblical images and narratives, The Message originally came to market sans verse numbers; the only allusion to them being guides at the top of the page where chapters cut across several pages. Later editions added verses numbers in varying degrees, but even today, the most numbered editions tend to group three or four verses together which is, in many respects, more consistent with what’s needed to render the English equivalent to the original texts. There are some among the Christian community who are more than willing to totally dismiss the project, but reading some of Peterson’s more recent writing helps me appreciate his clout as a Bible scholar that he brought to this project. The Message is published by NavPress, the book division of The Navigators discipleship ministry.

The Voice Bible in many respects honored the work done by the KJV translators in retaining two of their strategies. First, where words were added to the text they were set in italics to show that they were not to be found in the original languages.  Second, the aforementioned stylists were added to the mix to work with translators to bring about a finished product that sometimes goes out of its way to try to find new ways to restate old things (i.e. rendering Yahweh and Elohim as “Eternal One.”) But The Voice’s most unique contribution to the world of Bibles is its use of dramatic script (play) form wherever there is any type of dialog (see page sample image.) The Voice also borrows from The Amplified Bible in its application of word meanings in the italicized sections, and because of its desire to produce a dramatized script, what would normally be introductory or supplementary notes are embedded in the text between verses so as to give a type of stage direction. Unfortunately, The Voice also suffered at the hands of a vocal internet community that was as willing to pounce on a new translation as King-James-Only-ites were to decry the NIV. Trade distribution of The Voice is handled by Thomas Nelson.

Bible Translation Continuum

Why It Matters

It has been said that a religious group that does not impart its sacred writings to its children is one generation away from extinction. We live in an ADD-plagued, media-saturated, Biblically-illiterate world. Over the years publishers have tried to encourage new readers with everything from devotional Bibles to Biblezines. A kids edition was issued with a faux fir cover for girls and a lockable metal chest cover for boys.

Still, sometimes we need to address the translations themselves; to rethink the base texts on which creative editions can be based. Furthermore, the language itself is ever changing, always evolving. Just as the radio industry once offered a choice of a half dozen or so formats (pop, country, classical, progressive rock, etc.) today’s cultural fragmentation means there are now dozens of different types of music channels. Similarly, the days of all of us at small group Bible study reading from the translation are probably over.

So while the last few years have also brought us The Expanded Version, the HCSB and the ESV, which would appeal to former Amplified, NKJV and NASB readers respectively, we also need the creative vision of those willing to boldly go where no translation has gone before.

Ken Taylor, Eugene Peterson and the people at Ecclesia represent that kind of vision. Nobody is forcing anyone to read a particular version — people who dislike one of the above tend to dislike all three — but just as some visionaries said forty years ago that “it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people,” today we might add that “it takes all manner of translation styles to reach all types of people.”

Comments not directly on the specific topic of this article will not be printed. If you’ve come to this article with an agenda please comment elsewhere.

February 13, 2014

Creation Debates: What Matters Most?

Where did Cain get his wife, and why did he need to build a city? And c’mon, the thing about Eve being taken from Adam’s rib? You don’t believe that do you?

I Cor. 13:12

  • For now we see through a glass, darkly… (KJV)
  • We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist… (Message)
  • Now we see only a dim likeness of things… (NIrV)
  • Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror… (NLT)
  • Now it is like looking in a looking-glass which does not make things clear… (Weymouth)

Tuesday night we listened to two very different podcasts, both discussing the question of origins, a topic which has been on many peoples’ minds much because of the debate that took place last week between Ken Ham, a young-earth creationist and Bill Nye, an evolutionist from the scientific community. The word Genesis means beginnings and the question of “how we got here” has intrigued humans throughout history.

Genesis 3:21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”

The first podcast — Bruxy Cavey, Theology After Party #7 — introduced the idea that Adam was somehow an intersex person. For some of you this may be a new word, but think of the word hermaphrodite which is less commonly used, and you’ve got the idea. Bruxy, a respected pastor teaching a course at Messiah College suggested that God basically removed the femininity from Adam and left him entirely masculine. Bet you never heard that before, right?

Genesis 4: 17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.

The second podcast — Phil Vischer episode #89 — has an idea you might have heard, namely that Adam was simply one among many and that this answers the question of how the earth became populated so quickly and how Cain would have built a city and who would live and work in that city. So far as that goes it makes sense, but it raises more theological problems than anthropological problems, the least of which is the introduction of sin and death into the world, especially in the way we understand this taught in Romans.

It can be bewildering to consider all these things, and given all the discussions that have been taking place online in the past week, it’s possible you’ve found yourself in the middle of one on topics similar to this, or been asked the kind of question in the opening paragraph, above.

Perhaps it’s better to ask, what is our Genesis? Where does the story begin for us if we’re “seeing through a glass darkly” when it comes to the big-picture origins of life?

I love how Mark opens his writing, and it’s significant because Mark is considered the earliest (first written) among the gospels:

  • The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (NIV)
  • The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here (Message)
  • Here begins the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. (Living Bible)

We don’t know fully — and will never know — what happened in the days, years or eras that followed God’s proclamation “Let there be light;” but can know the author of creation personally, even if he doesn’t let us in on all his secrets, or help us unravel the vast number of theories that both believers and non-believers have concocted to attempt to explain things.

Here are two verses that should be part of your answer to people ask you (I Peter 3:15) about the origins of life; here’s where our story begins:

John3:19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world…

Col. 1:16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

February 4, 2014

Want to Own the Most ‘Literal’ Bible?

Bible translation

The answer to the above question is, ‘No, you don’t.’ You simply would get nothing out of each sentence. It’s like those words on the puzzle pages of newspapers where you’re given a quotation and asked to put the words in order. Mean you if what I know.

I was thinking about this yesterday reading an article about Bible translations. By that I mean currently existing translations. I tend to nod off during some discussions on translation history, because I’m not really a history guy, and because I consider it sufficient to know that Eve was tempted by a Septuagint in the garden.

So every once in awhile I check out Kouyanet, the blog of Eddie and Sue Arthur, who work for Wycliffe and admittedly don’t write very much about English Bibles. Still, even if you don’t understand everything, if you have an interest in something it’s good to immerse yourself in what other people are talking about, even if you feel like a car wash attendant in a room of automotive engineers.

Anyway, they recently linked to this article, Lost in Translation by David Shaw at the website of The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches in the UK, and while I personally found the whole article informative, I thought I’d give you a short word-bite from near the end:

…Some argue that because God inspired the words of the original texts that we should try to translate on a word-for-word basis as much as possible. While there is some truth in this, it’s also a rather naïve view of translation. After all, what’s the best translation of “Au revoir”? Well, “Goodbye”. We’ve translated two words with one word, but that’s a good thing because we have clearly conveyed the meaning. To take a biblical example, borrowed from Rod Decker’s excellent brief review of the ESV (see the further reading section below) here’s a word for word ‘translation’ of 2 Corinthians 6:12:

“Not you are being restricted in us you are being restricted but in the intestines of you.”

Of course, that won’t do. And it proves that any translation will have to rearrange and change words in order to convey the meaning. The KJV reflects a more standard English word order but still doesn’t make much sense:

“Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels.”

The ESV moves further away from the Greek word order and imagery:

“You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.”

That makes more sense but the nature of the ‘restriction’ isn’t clear. Enter the NIV, which says:

“We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us.”

Has this made more significant changes to words of the original? Certainly. But doesn’t this also convey the meaning more clearly and effectively than the other options? Just from this example we can see that every translation has difficult decisions to make, but the great advantages of the NIV – its accessibility and clarity – still stand.

That’s just a sample passage to whet your appetite to finding more reading on the topic of translation.  I hope it resonates somewhere in the intestines of you.

Intelligent comments welcomed, but if you’re an NIV-hater or KJV-onlyist, please resist the temptation.

 

November 29, 2013

Test Your King James Vocabulary

This appeared two weeks ago at Stuff Fundies Like and seemed a perfect Thanksgiving holiday diversion. (And proof of why we need new translations.) Gather the family and see how you do.  Leave your score at SFL where this appeared under the title KJV Vocab Test. (Not sure why there’s 49 and not 50!)

Let’s do a vocabulary test! See how well you can do on your own without reading the verse and post your score in the comments. All references are taken from the King James Version.

1. wen (Lev 2:22)

2. victuals (Mat 14:15)

3. vestry (2 Kings 10:22)

4. upbraideth (James 1:5)

5. unction (1 John 2:20)

6. trow (Luke 17:9)

Bible 37. tow (Judges 16:9)

8. surfeiting (Luke 21:34)

9. sundry (Heb 1:1)

10. suborned (Acts 6:11)

11. stomacher (Isa 3:24)

12. sop (John 13:26)

13. sod (Gen 25:29)

14. slow bellies (Titus 1:12)

15. scrip (Luke 9:3)

16. provender (Gen 24:25)

17. privy (Acts 5:2)

18. pottage (Hag 2:12)

19. peradventure (2 Timothy 2:25)

20. penury (Luke 21:4)

21. paps (Luke 11:27)

22. Osee (Romans 9:25)

23. offscouring (1 Co 4:13)

24. nitre (Pro 25:20)

25. murrain (Exodus 9:3)

26. mess (Gen 43:34)

27. meet (Mark 7:27)

28. mazzaroth (Job 38:32)

29. marishes (Eze 47:11)

30. listeth (John 3:8)

31. let (Rom 1:13)

32. kine (Gen 41:2)

33. jangling (1 Timothy 1:6)

34. inditing (Psa 45:1)

35. husbandman (Joel 1:11)

Bible 536. holpen (Psa 86:17)

37. hoary (Job 38:29)

38. heady (2 Timothy 3:4)

39. hart (Psa 42:1)

40. haply (Mark 11:13)

41. habergeon (Exo 28:32)

42. gainsay (Luke 21:15)

43. gaddest (Jer 2:36)

44. fuller (Mark 9:3)

45. flux (Acts 28:8)

46. execration (Jer 42:18)

47. euroclydon (Acts 27:14)

48. earing (Gen 45:6)

49. crisping pins (Isa 3:22)

This list came from elsewhere on the Internet but I haven’t been able to find the original source. If it’s yours please let me know and I’ll be happy to give you credit.

 

How about the phrase “cleanness of teeth” from Amos 4:6 for # 50?

November 15, 2013

Bible Translation Families

Bible Translations

Although we tend to classify Bible translations as fitting into one of two categories — formal correspondence and dynamic equivalence — or a third category which is a combination of the other two; today, I’d like to propose a different way of understanding what is currently on the market in terms of clusters.

Contemporary

These are versions that read the same as other products people would be reading (magazines, newspapers, blogs) and are currently gaining traction.

  • New Living Translation (NLT) — Though Tyndale Publishing House lacks Zondervan’s expertise when it comes to marketing, and tends to get mired in an obsession for One Year Bible editions which scramble the text order, the translation itself continues to catch on with readers.
  • Common English Bible (CEB) — A recent attempt to offer something in modern language that specifically targets the mainline Protestant market.
  • New Century Version (NCV) — Its simplified reading level allows you to read faster, and pick up macro-themes. Though it’s also the International Children’s Bible, it reads and was written for adults.

Denominational Niche Versions

Some may object that the first one in this list sees broader usage, but for the most part, these editions are associated with the denomination named.

  • English Standard Version (ESV) — Reformed, Calvinist
  • New American Bible (NAB) — Roman Catholic
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) — Baptist
  • New King James Version (NKJV) — Charismatic, Pentecostal, Conservative Evangelical

Popular

Some versions are now simply famous for being famous. The translations have become so familiar to users and are used so widely in various types of churches that this widespread use eclipses any unique features.

  • New International Version (NIV) — You could argue that without Zondervan’s aggressive push to see “a Bible for every age and every stage,” there wouldn’t have been the push-back of the King James Only movement. In 2013 (and as you’ll see again in 2014), HarperCollins Christian Publishing continues to offer creative ways to get people engaged in the scriptures. For the record, Zondervan — or parent HarperCollins, or Rupert Murdoch — doesn’t own the NIV, but licenses use of it from Biblica aka the International Bible Society.
  • New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) — Despite the above, the Mainline Protestant market continues to perceive the NIV as an Evangelical product, and therefore gravitates to New Revised. The translation philosophies are actually very similar. Also available in a Catholic edition that is widely used.
  • King James Version (KJV) — It’s been 402 years; enough already!

Unique Alternatives

Some versions offer a creative approach that simply sets them apart, including the first two here, which could equally land in the Contemporary cluster above.

  • The Voice — Puts the Bible in a dramatic script format, and adds some additional sentences to clarify the story.
  • The Message — A translation (please don’t say ‘paraphrase,’ it’s neither accurate nor applicable) that uses conversational English and (in the original editions) strips out verse numbers.
  • The Amplified Bible — A Bible that saves you running to a Hebrew or Greek dictionary by offering additional shades of meaning for key words.
  • The Expanded Bible — A more recent version that uses a similar approach to the Amplified.
  • New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) — A Roman Catholic Bible which has an English edition that was translated directly from its French counterpart.
  • New Interational Reader’s Version (NIrV) — An NIV broken up into smaller sentences with a limited vocabulary. Marketed mostly to children, an adult edition is available for people for whom English is a second language. Quite different from the NCV which is also marketed for kids.
  • The Living Bible — The forerunner of the NLT, this was officially superseded by it; a small but loyal following keeps it in print. This one is a paraphrase, in this case of the RSV which preceded the NRSV.
  • J. B. Phillips — As radical as The Message when first released, unfortunately, this was only a New Testament. Still frequently quoted.
  • Jewish New Testament — Although a complete edition of both the Jewish Old Testament and New Testaments is available, I mention the NT here because seeing the Hebrew names and terminology makes for interesting (and most contextual) reading.

Academic

  • New American Standard Bible (NASB) — Although once forecast to be for the North American English market what the NIV became, the NASB, through its more rigorous following of the formal correspondence translation method, is a more difficult read. It’s a reliable workhorse of a translation, often found in Bible Colleges and Seminaries, but not so frequently quoted in books or sermons anymore.  If you write your own Bible translation, this is the one they’ll compare with you with, verse-for-verse.

Lost in Translation

A few editions that filled a void in the market at one time, are still available, but not so often talked about.

  • Good News Translation (GNT) also known as Today’s English Version (TEV) — A production of the American Bible Society that served mainline Protestants, Evangelicals and Friday night youth groups well.
  • Contemporary English Version (CEV) — The Bible Society’s attempt to replicate its success with the Good News Bible a generation later. It was not hugely popular at the time, but it is surprising how often it will turn up quoted by pastors and authors, even if most of us don’t own a copy.
  • God’s Word (GW) — A project begun as an attempt to complete the Beck translation, which served as a style guide. Many of the earliest contributors were Lutheran, but the Bible is seen as interdenominational Evangelical.

It’s important to remember that phrases like “Key Study Bible” and “Life Application Bible” refer to specific editions, some of which are offered across several translation platforms.

I recommend owning at least one Bible in each of the first four clusters. If you’re buying a Bible for someone as a gift, remember that your personal favorite may not be the best Bible for them.  You can preview all the translations named here (except the one from Messianic Jewish Publications) at BibleGateway.com

Comments from KJV-only advocates will be cast into the sea of forgetfulness and remembered no more.

September 27, 2013

Sin: Don’t Even Think About It!

tempting

 

On Tuesday I was speaking with someone who is heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, and it actually turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking. Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written in the comments, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5.

This translations also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

The Voice puts its “You have heard…” sections in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

 

 

image: Toon Pool

June 25, 2013

In The Days of King James

I have never been a reader of history books, be they Canadian or American history, or even world history. The middle and high schools I attended were the product of experimental education theories, and I actually have no history credits in high school itself, and my middle school history notes would fill about 16 notebook pages. As a result I have a reading deficiency which fortunately does not extend to fiction or biography, but does impair my knowledge of church history.

God's SecretariesSo when I picked up the book God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible a 2005 HarperCollins title by Adam Nicholson a few days ago, I didn’t realize I was going to finish it, or I might have made more notes.  Still there are few things I remember the next morning worth noting, especially given the strange Bibliolatry which surrounds this version in the 21st century.

The Translators were highly motivated by the prestige the project would bring. Climbing the ecclesiastical ladder was as important then as now, and also brought with it political ramifications to more than a few of them. Being a Translator (always spelled with a capital T) meant being part of an exclusive echelon of pastors and theological professors. Like today’s megachurch pastors, they were religious superstars.

Politics guided certain aspects of the translation and what did — or in this case what mostly didn’t — get included in marginal notes.

The Christian community included several different streams. Although the Translators were ostensibly working for the state church, the Church of England, it was against a backdrop which included Roman Catholics and Puritans.

The King, for all his failings, was astute theologically. There was more Biblical literacy back then, and the King was capable of engaging a variety of Bible themes. When was the last time you heard Queen Elizabeth discuss doctrine? Perhaps today advisors to the monarch encourage keeping a safe distance from topics that could be divisive.

However, once it was initiated, the King distanced himself from the day to day workings of the project.  There is no evidence that the King interfered once the work was underway.

There is no hint of inspiration included in the mandate given to the Translators. This is important because today there are some marginal groups that use the KJV exclusively and insist that the translation team rested on an inspiration that was secondary or even equal to the original Biblical writers. “There is no hint of inspiration, or even of prayerfulness, no idea that the Translators are to be in the right frame of mind. [Instead] There are exact directions, state orders, not literary or theological suggestions…This is a job to be done…” (p.72)

While literacy increased greatly in the 17th century, priority was given to how the Bible sounded when spoken aloud, not how it communicated when read quietly to oneself. They prized ornamental language, however this had one drawback…

The King James Bible was considered outdated on the day it was published. We often complain about the older language of the KJV being difficult to follow, but from day one the same complaint was heard; the Bible was considered to be using language that was 60-70 years out of date.

The preface to the original KJV doesn’t quote itself. It’s interesting that there are references in the preface to verses from other translations. In one spot, this affected the verse numbering system used, which means the citation referred to in the introduction is very difficult to find in the Bible it is introducing. It is as though the translation team did not have confidence in the product on offer, a fact confirmed by the following…

Many of the Translators continued to preach from existing versions after completion of the project.  Initial acceptance of the project was minimal to say the least.

Nonetheless, the King James Bible was considered a great achievement for both the 17th century church and the nation itself. “…It is easy to see it as England’s equivalent to the great baroque cathedral it never built…”

The King James edition of the Bible was published containing the Apocrypha. I know this is old news to some of you, but it’s interesting to mention it again in light of who currently most uses and reveres the KJV today.

The Translators did not view the KJV as guided by the principles of formal correspondence. They would be very surprised to see the current classification of their work among formal equivalence translations since their goal was dynamic equivalence. What we call formal equivalence was a Puritan value they were seeking to avoid.

The King James Bible of 1611 was, depending on who you ask, about 80% identical to the Tyndale Bible. Although the Lutheran pastor was unable to finish his Old Testament, and worked in exile and was eventually martyred, it’s clear the Translators held William Tyndale’s work in high esteem as they drafted the KJV.

Because of the original KJV was consider an update of an existing work, there is nothing of what we would call today “Library of Congress Publication Data.”  This means there isn’t an official record of its publication since it was considered an update of an existing work. Today, that’s almost — but not quite — like saying the book wouldn’t have been assigned an ISBN.

The authority of scripture did not negate the need to work out the details of ordinary living. “The difference came in deciding on the lawfulness of religious behavior and belief that were not mentioned in the Bible. If something wasn’t mentioned, did that mean God had no view on it? Or if it wasn’t mentioned, did that mean that God did not approve of it?” (p. 123)

Would the Translators be surprised to see their edition still on bookstore shelves today? Yes and no. I think they would be surprised to see the extreme cult following that has surrounded it, especially among those who claim that salvation cannot be found in any other translation.

It’s also doubtful that those same KJV-Only leaders would be aware of the history I just finished reading. The story frequently refers to Lancelot Andrewes, director of The First Westminister Company (one of six translation teams) who ought then to be revered as a saint by those who hold the KJV in such high esteem. But how many of those who claim the King James edition’s exclusivity have ever heard his name? Perhaps the truth would get in the way of the agenda.

The beauty and majesty of the KJV are unique. It has served us well enough for 402 years. For this writer however, perhaps it’s time now to move on…

June 3, 2013

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Jesus

Jesus A TheographyThere are two things that are immediately striking about the book Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (Thomas Nelson, 2012). The first is the sheer scope of the work. While some books clearly are the product of a two week writing break, others earn to be called a “labor of love,” or earn the phrase, “represents the culmination of a lifetime of ministry.” This book fits into the latter camp and is the product of two authors who have spent untold hours in deep study of God’s word.

As a reviewer who prizes “rich text;” this is one of the richest books I have ever read, and any critical remarks I might make should be seen in the light of what is generally my highest recommendation. Truth be told, I have read about two thirds of this book out loud with my oldest son. While it slowed the reading time, it allowed me to process the material more fully, at the rate of half-a-chapter per night.  It also enhanced my appreciation of the final chapters which I read normally.  Jesus is definitely a book that delivers your money’s worth. You can’t read this book and not have a clearer picture of the Bible’s grand narrative.

The second thing that is immediately striking is the word theography in the title. The idea is that in trying to present the over-arching story of the Bible, most things printed are biography moving, as the authors say, “from womb to tomb.” The idea here is to look at Christ before and after the incarnation. This is an ambitious goal, and the two chapters most representative of this ambition were the only ones that disappointed, though I am continually interested in accessing books which deal with Christ before the manger — the pre-incarnate Christ — and deal with what the second person of the Trinity was doing before that Bethlehem morning. Ditto Christ’s present activity seated at the right hand of God.

This is a small matter however in a book where each page is full of illuminations, and in particular comparison passages where one aspect of what the writers call The First Testament is unmistakably linked to another in The Second Testament. Sometimes the insights simply involve a different way of expressing a familiar dichotomy; thus Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial is referenced as “Judas’ kiss and Peter’s kiss-off.”

There is also a trade off between the benefit of having two people craft the book who are already established and respected authors, and the tendency of the book to repeat itself in many places. Perhaps readers like me simply need to have some truths drilled in a little deeper.

The sixteen chapters of Jesus: A Theography break down the Christ story into chronological sections emphasizing the spiritual significance of every aspect of His life and ministry. This is truly a book like no other. I’ve seen some dissent online concerning the use of selective Bible translations to make a certain point fit, but we followed up in various texts from the various footnotes — there are 1,835 of them — and don’t feel that any verses were overly stretched to make a point. The authors have also gone out of their way to make dogmatic statements on any theological point which is contentious, making this a book for all Christian readers.

…To someone who mostly reads Christian fiction, I suspect that all doctrinal books look alike, but Jesus: A Theography is a volume like no other. This definitely fits in my top ten list of books I would want to be stranded on an island with. While not every reader will agree with every point this is definitely a book worth owning, underlining and filling with bookmarks. 

An excerpt from the book appears here at Christianity 201.


Jesus: A Theography is a book I truly wanted to read. When no review copy was forthcoming by the publisher after several requests, I purchased this copy with real money. TNI, you owe me one!

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