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The Apologetics of Hebrews – Can You Defend a Dead Church?

The Apologetics of Hebrews – Can You Defend a Dead Church?

In Hebrews 2:1-4 I believe the author of Hebrews provides a basic apologetic outline, and I think it’s a very useful one to follow. After the first two verses, which start from a platform that was already accepted by the audience, the author emphasizes the importance of the decision. If he is right in what he says, the decision is critical in an eternal sense. The elements are these: 1) It was delivered by the Lord, 2) Affirmed by the testimony of those who witnessed, 3) Given divine witness through (a) signs and wonders and (b) the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Looking first from the viewpoint of process, this argument, and indeed the general argument of Hebrews, is based on ground that will be accepted by his audience. They believed that the Torah was firmly established, and many, at least, believed that it was delivered by angels. Throughout the book, we have this focus on sourcing material from the Hebrew scriptures. Those who argue a simple supersession should pay attention to the form of the argument. At the same time as the author argues that Jesus is greater than, he also argues that the revelation in existing scripture is great and should be honored. Too often we fail to found what we have to say on what we already hold in common, when that can be supported.

The first element of his argument has two parts, the words spoken by Jesus, and the affirmation of those words by witnesses. For someone who tends fideistic like myself, this is a bit of a rebuke. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus spoke, or that there were those who heard. I’m even optimistic that we can get a picture of Jesus from the gospel record. But I tend to ignore that part of the argument and go straight to the experiential second part. This argument says that the faith is founded on historical realities, and that this is worthy of our attention.

The second element of his argument again consists of two parts, the signs and wonders that follow the gospel, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, delivered as God wills. I’m of course more comfortable here, as my experience (in particular) has much to do with experience (in general).

I was reading this from The Learning Bible (CEV) this morning, and saw that their note refers these signs and wonders (semeiois kai terasin) refer to past events (from the viewpoint of the readers), such as the exodus from Egypt. I would disagree. That is an element either of the first part, or more properly of the commonly accepted foundation of the Hebrew scriptures. Rather, this is the miraculous events/signs that followed the apostles as we read in the book of Acts, for example. It was by acting on behalf of his apostles that God affirmed their witness of Jesus, both in terms of the truth of the stories they told, and in terms of its continued relevance to those who heard.

The second part is the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is, I believe, the life of the church. We can see how critical this is in 1 Corinthians 12-14, for example, and I see this as a loose, but nonetheless real point of connection with Pauline theology.

It’s this last point that I think is the most important in the church today. I believe all these elements should be part of our apologetic, yet having a faith that truly takes hold of hope and makes it possible for one to live differently is, I think, the most important element, and is also the key point of Hebrews. If the church does not show evidence of the gift of the Holy Spirit I think that all the other elements will tend to fail. It is sort of like one builds a machine to accomplish a particular task, explains the science behind it, then the technology that goes into producing the device, and then finally applies the power. But the machine doesn’t accomplish the task.

By “evidence of the Holy Spirit” I don’t mean speaking in tongues, as many in the pentecostal movement believe, but rather in terms of bringing people together and empowering new life in the one God has anointed forever. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 14, we can do without speaking in tongues; it doesn’t build the church. But we can’t do without building.

Subjectively Evaluating, Well, Stuff

Subjectively Evaluating, Well, Stuff

J. K. Gayle links to me in a post regarding the notion of “canon.” There’s a good discussion going in the comments as well. Let me note in passing that the label “personal canon” grates on me a bit. Let me be clear that I’m not saying it’s bad; I’m referring to my reaction to it. I observe that it is often quite descriptive.

In the same post, he refers also to a canon of essays, and to the biblical canon(s), besides my sort of personal canon of Bible translations. I have dabbled in both of those areas myself, though I’m much less qualified (by virtue of reading) to comment on a canon of essays for educational reading than I am on the canon of scripture.

In fact, I have made a bit of a personal journey regarding the biblical (and extra-biblical) canon. I grew up Seventh-day Adventist, and the SDA church affirms 66 books of the Old and New Testaments as do most protestant organizations. But SDAs, in addition, grant authority to the writings of Ellen G. White.

Many SDAs will likely object to this characterization and make the claim that they base all their beliefs on the Bible, but in my own experience, I encountered many people who placed Ellen White’s writings above the Bible. If there was a dispute about the interpretation of a Bible passage, Ellen White’s interpretation settled it for them. In cases where Ellen White was clearly wrong, they would insist that what Ellen White said was, in fact, what the Bible meant.

In addition, in areas on which the Bible is silent, they would accept Ellen White’s word as final in many areas, just as much as if they had read it in the Bible. So in practice, Ellen White’s writings became part of the canon of scripture.

So why don’t Seventh-day Adventists want to admit just how they use the writings of Ellen White? It’s this matter of canon. People in other organizations who make lists don’t include Ellen White, and if you want to be included by those people, you can’t violate the list. Other groups depart from Christian orthodoxy more than do SDAs, but they also claim to adhere to the lists.

When I returned to a Christian denomination some years after I left Adventism, it was  United Methodist congregation. Now Methodists affirm the same 66 books that SDAs affirm, but in general their theology is much more friendly to the extra-canonical books, and I personally tend to use a canon that includes the apocrypha. For what it’s worth, this is much easier to do if you are not too much of a literalist.

So whether I like the sound of “personal canon” all that much, it applies to me in some ways.

Similarly, while not dealing with essays, I have previously argued (here and here) that lists of great literature may not be as great as their advocates suggest. So I’m on this subjectivity bandwagon in all three of those areas. All of which leads people to trot out phrases like “post-modern morass of subjectivity.” So do I see any standards at all?

Let me go back to Bible translations. I maintain that different translation approaches convey different information from the source to the receptor language, or my help to communicate different things between the author of the source and the reader of the receptor. So there are aspects of the source texts of the Bible I can get from a formal translation such as the NRSV, but at the same time there are things that this misses. There are other things I can get from the CEV or even from The Message.

Enter the term “paraphrase.” Now to translation theorists, “paraphrase” has a rather precise meaning, but in common discussions it has become a pejorative for translations that are considered too loose to even be considered real translations. Thus someone might say: “The Message is not a translation, it’s a paraphrase.” I’ve heard this sentence or its equivalent regarding any of the dynamic or functional equivalence translations, in which case the speaker defines “translation” as something like a formal equivalence translation.

In practice, again, what takes a translation across the line, or puts it beyond the pale, may be quite variable. For example, is converting measures to modern units translation, paraphrase, or commentary? If you think that’s an easy issue, consider the measurements for Ezekiel’s temple (start in Ezekiel 40) and consider how that passage would read with precisely converted measurements. In that case one would substitute conveying an accurate idea of the distances involved for potentially conveying the symbolic meaning of the numbers (if any), or the fact that the numbers are round numbers.

What I’m trying to illustrate here is that there is a range of different translation options, and while we might what to define what is and what is not translation, there is a range of activities that may be called translation, and what we’re doing is setting boundaries. There are things we can definitely say are not translation. For example, I am not now translating any text. I’ve seen efforts by Greek students that could not be regarded as translations.

It’s not that just anything is a translation. Rather, there are many different methods that fall into the loose category “translation” and many different needs that might be fulfilled by those various approaches.

I think we have way to great a tendency to make the claim, inadequately supported, that a certain translation is wrong and should be something else. I hear it from the pulpit quite often, and generally my opinion is that the claim is incorrect. Sometimes the translation is disputed, and there is good evidence, and good names, on both sides. In many cases, the preacher is just plain wrong. (If I might say what I have said many times before: If you don’t actually know Greek or Hebrew don’t base your sermon on making claims about how verses should be translated.)

But having used the phrase “just plain wrong” regarding a translation, you now know that I think a translation can be wrong. Frequently, however, the just plain wrong translation is actually an alternative with substantial support.

Being subjective about that which is subjective, such as people’s preferences or how people understand something, is just realistic. Trying to pretend objectivity when the topic is subjective just results in silliness. Or it could result in domination of others, as in the claim that everyone “ought” to use a particular Bible version, be that the KJV, ESV, or any other personal choice.

Literature is even more subjective. I loathe lists of books that I really must read in order to be truly literate or truly educated. In general, I’ve read quite a lot of the names on them, but that doesn’t make me like them any better. The most interesting thing about those lists is the good books that aren’t on them. That’s sort of like the things that aren’t conveyed by the favorite translation of the folks who like to advocate just one style.

Want my subjective advice? Read stuff from different lists. Use different lists. Read Bible books that aren’t in your personal or your church’s canon. Use the literature lists to find more stuff that interests you. And if you’re like me, and can’t stand certain pieces of “great” literature read something else.

It’s fun.


NLT for Academic Study

NLT for Academic Study

Chris Heard asked via Twitter whether the NLT was suitable for academic study.  T. C. Robinson has given an answer:

Concluding thoughts: The NLT, New Living Translation, is simply too loose to be considered a serious academic Bible.

While I have some sympathy with this point, I have to ask just what the definition of “serious” and “academic” are in relation to a particular Bible translation.  Most of my teaching has been of lay people, and thus I’m probably not looking for a serious academic Bible however those labels are defined.  Nonetheless it seems to me that this is too broad an answer to a question that needs a bit of definition.

For example, what are these serious academic students doing with the particular Bible?  If they are doing exegesis suitable for scholarly publication, or perhaps for training in order to do scholarly publishing, then I would argue that no translation is sufficient to the task.

On the other hand if they are doing a survey type of study, the NLT might be a quite workable option.  I would especially recommend it for reading whole books.  I should note here that even when teaching lay people I’m in the habit of asking for such shocking things as reading of an entire book, and not the book of Philemon.  Try Ezekiel or Isaiah.

In reading a whole book I find such translations as the NLT, CEV, TNIV, and a few others quite helpful.  Personally, I like to read a book through in several versions as I follow the 12x reading recommendation I learned from my mother.  I find it difficult to maintain concentration when reading something 12 times from the same version, so I’ll use a variety.  For that purpose, the NLT is certainly helpful.

I also find the NLT very useful in comparison with my own translations.  Normally if I’m going to preach or teach a text I will do a written translation of my own.  I then like to compare that translation to a range of versions.  Normally I prefer to teach from an English version which is available to my class, provided there are not too many variations in the way I read the text.

I don’t know whether I agree with T. C. or just how I’d answer Dr. Heard’s question.  I have a hard time conceiving of recommending any single English translation for serious academic study.  But perhaps I’m thinking of something other than what was intended in the question.

Psalm 50:3 in The Message

Psalm 50:3 in The Message

One of my criticisms of The Message is that it tends to blunt the force of many scriptures, making them more palatable than they are.  Now don’t get the idea that I’m a critic of The Message in general.  In fact, I think it makes a great contribution to the literature available for rapid reading and overview.  Many of its expressions are quite beautiful.

As one might expect, some of those are beautiful–and inaccurate.

Psalm 50:3 is one such case.  Here it is from The Message:

Our God makes his entrance, he’s not shy in his coming. Starbursts of fireworks precede him.

That’s nice, cool, and contemporary.  But is it accurate?  In this case, I think, far from it.  I could debate whether “not being shy” adequatey expresses what the Psalmist means when he says God will not be silent.  But that would be a longer post.

Let’s just compare to the NRSV:

Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.

My question is whether “starbursts of fireworks” adequately conveys the “devouring fire” thing.  I don’t think it does.  The idea of fireworks today conveys celebration, joy, excitement, and beauty.  In this case, I think the fire says something both about God’s power and about what he is going to do with it.

I think this one could be translated in contemporary language but more accurately.  Perhaps it would be less beautiful, but more accurate.

Take the CEV for example:

Our God approaches, but not silently; a flaming fire comes first, and a storm surrounds him.

It lacks some of the zing, but it’s clear and natural contemporary English.  And it’s fairly accurate.

Comparing Study Bible Introductions to Luke

Comparing Study Bible Introductions to Luke

A few weeks ago I began looking at the new NLT Study Bible, and indicated that I would use it and then comment as I went along rather than writing a review as such.

Introductory Comments

Since I’m looking at the manuscript for a new study guide to Luke that that I intend to publish, I decided to compare this study Bible with a few others that I consult regularly to see which was best suited for certain purposes. In this case, my primary purpose is making a recommendation to readers of the study guide who are generally expected to be serious lay Bible students, but not Biblical scholars.

Some of the things I look for include coverage of the critical data, particularly the traditional critical methodologies of form, source, and redaction criticism. In Luke, we would look for some discussion of the synoptic problem. Of course we’re looking for the history behind the book, the date it was written, authorship, historical background, and some chronology. I would generally expect to find most of this in a mainstream scholarly study Bibles such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible.

All of that can be interesting information, but lay readers are likely to want to get to the meat of the matter–for them, at least–and look at some applications. Here we look for discussion of overall themes and application of the material to a particular community. In this area also we’ll find the greatest variety of material. An edition may include devotional thoughts on the text, going beyond direct application to reflection.

Finally there are the “extras,” maps, illustrations, charts, and cross-references. I list “cross-references” as an extra simply because almost all study Bibles have some, and there is quite a bit of variation in how these are done. I’m not going to get into much detail on that in this post.

I’m going to leave the NLT Study Bible until last, since it is the focus here, and first write a little bit about each of the other Bibles to which I compared it.

The Learning Bible (CEV)

I frequently recommend this study Bible to new students, because it provides an introduction to some of the serious themes of Bible study with a minimum of pain. Some people might call both the CEV, on which this study Bible is based, and the style of the notes “dumbed down.” I would disagree. “Dumbing down” is a pejorative phrase that gets applied to a variety of materials, including material that is clarified for non-specialists. Writing for non-specialists always appears a bit weak to those more specialized in the field.

The Learning Bible introduction to Luke includes material on authorship and date. It discusses sources in a very general way, but does not go into detail on critical issues. (There is some additional information in the introduction to the gospels as a group.) It spends the greatest amount of time on themes in the book. While it doesn’t get generally devotional, it does provide notes on application both in the introduction and in the early text of the book. There is very little chronological information.

In terms of extras, there are extensive illustrations, carefully selected cross-references and a variety of notes with icons indicating the general category. The editors clearly made a serious effort to make this Bible user friendly. The one downside to that effort is that all of the material and its layout result in substantial volume, not likely one you’ll carry to church with you. It’s easily the largest of the study Bibles I’m comparing here.

The Oxford Study Bible (REB)

This is one of my personal favorites, both because I like the REB translation style, and because I find the notes helpful for the type of study I do quite frequently. You will find substantially more discussion of critical and textual issues in introductions and in the notes here, while you will find less application. Themes that are discussed are more purely exegetical and less in terms of application to the community. I find almost nothing in the notes that is devotional.

In the case of Luke, there is little in the introduction to Luke on critical issues, but this is again covered more in the introduction to the four gospels together. There is less discussion of themes, the outline is less thorough than the one in the Learning Bible, but the notes are more detailed, and there is no effort to limit vocabulary. Illustrations are generally nonexistent, except for a few maps in the back, and there is very little on chronology in the gospels.

I should note here that one would not expect any study Bible to be strong in all areas that I have laid out in my introductory remarks. Such a Bible would require multiple volumes. Different study Bibles are suitable for different purposes.

New Oxford Annotated Bible

I include the New Oxford Annotated Bible, not because it is one I use that regularly. (Note that I link to the more current third edition, but I’m commenting based on the 2nd edition that I have on my shelf.) I generally prefer my Oxford Study Bible. Rather, it is the required Bible for those studying for the United Methodist ministry, at least in our conference. (I’m not really well enough acquainted with the system to comment more generally, though I’ve gotten the impression this is pretty widespread.)

In some ways it is more comprehensive than the Oxford Study Bible. It’s joint introduction to the four gospels is more extensive, and it discusses themes in more detail in the introduction to Luke. It discusses critical issues in some detail for the lay reader. It also includes more information on chronology. In general, however, I would make the same comment on the notes that I make on the Oxford Study Bible–they don’t get too much involved in application to the community as such. I personally like it that way. I’ll make my own applications, thank you very much! But for those who are looking for a shorter path to sermon outlines, it will not be as helpful as a couple of others.

Holy Spirit Encounter Bible

You may think this one is out of place in this list, and you’re right. I wanted to include a Bible that displayed the kind of devotional material that none of these other Bibles do. If you lead study groups or teach Sunday School classes, you will likely encounter students who use such Bibles. They are not bad in themselves, but I do believe there is a danger of imbalance in the themes of scripture.

The Holy Spirit Encounter Bible approaches everything with the question of how this relates to the Holy Spirit. If you used this for a single study, looking for the Holy Spirit in scripture, that could be useful. Just avoid using such a Bible as your regular reading Bible.

It should be no surprise that the introduction to Luke in this Bible includes no outline, no discussion of when the book was written, the character of the author, communities to whom it was addressed, or any critical issue. In fact, the introduction is titled “the HOLY SPIRIT in Luke” which follows a pattern used for all the books.

Rather than notes in a variety of categories or reflecting backgrounds, you find in the first few chapters of Luke several “Holy Spirit Encounter Moments,” two “Anointed by the Holy Spirit” inset boxes, one on John the Baptist and one on Elizabeth, and finally a “Holy Spirit Encounters” page that is not even related to the passages in which it is situated, but rather refers one to 1 Corinthians 12.

Now these things are not bad in themselves, but it reflects the directed, devotional approach of the Bible. A study Bible that emphasizes one theme should not be used as a regular study Bible, nor should it be used alone, because it points to the theme chosen by the editorial board, and not to the themes emphasized by the authors of scripture.

(Note that while this sounds a bit hostile, I have actually enjoyed studying a number of things in this particular Bible. I’m cautioning, not warning away.)

New Interpreter’s Study Bible

I purchases this Bible only a couple of months before I received my copy of the NLT study Bible. I was hopeful that it would have some of the theological notes that I’m used to finding in the Interpreter’s Bible or the New Interpreter’s Bible, both of which I value in their own way.

I expected essentially a New Oxford Annotated Bible with a little more theological reflection. I was wrong. This is not like either of the two “Oxford” Bibles I mentioned. It focuses on serious theological reflection. Of course, consider the word “serious” in the context of the space they have available. Nonetheless I think that for the available space, this is the best theologically oriented study Bible I have encountered.

There is much more discussion of themes. Such references are there are to critical issues come in that context, but they are really few and far between. Outlines are more detailed than any of the editions I have discussed previously. There is some material on chronology and on these broader themes in the material in the back, but if you go straight to the book of Luke (or another book), you’ll dive straight into theological themes and some application.

Despite, or more likely because of the reduced emphasis on some of the more traditional critical methodologies, literary issues receive more discussion. If I were trying to prepare a sermon and didn’t have time to dig through mountains of history in order to make up my mind, this would provide me with the shortest path from scripture to major points in my sermon outline, while still being faithful to good scholarship and theological reflection.

It is based on the NRSV, which is not my favorite, but it is not a bad version, especially for those accustomed to the KJV tradition. It is also not designed for the casual student. One should not assume that the vocabulary is light, or the treatment superficial just because it is less technical in the historical and critical sense. It is shifted from critical and historical issues to more serious theology.

NLT Study Bible (Finally!)

I finally arrive at the study Bible that got me started writing this. All in all, the NLT Study Bible is in many ways a pleasant surprise. It’s not another “light” study Bible. It’s not a devotional Bible. Ignore the hype on the cover–it’s not a revolutionary breakthrough. At the same time, it is good.

The layout is better, but note that you will get less information packed onto a page. My New Interpreter’s Study Bible manages to get much more packed into its pages, but it does so at the expense of readability. Nonetheless, for me, the NISB would win.

When I turn to the introduction to Luke, I see a map of the region in which the story takes place, a short bullet point style outline of the book. The introduction is divided up into friendly headings that lets you find what you want quickly, and there is room to add notes in the margin. The contents are a blend of the historical, literary, and theological, along with a bit of devotional here and there.

Rather than having chronology separated in an article in the back (NISB, for example), there is a brief timeline on the right hand side of the page. The theological approach is evangelical, but not extreme. The date cited for Luke’s writing is 65-80 AD (they use AD, not CE). The description of authorship references both written and oral sources, but also eyewitness accounts.

The notes are also a mix of background, theology, and application, and again the layout of the Biblical text, cross-references, and notes is quite user friendly.


Overall, while my personal study habits will not be altered by much, I will find time to consult this Bible, and I also expect to recommend it to quite a number of Bible students who are perhaps beyond the Learning Bible, but don’t really want to get into something like the Oxford Study Bible or the New Interpreter’s Bible. I will also recommend it to evangelicals who might find constant disagreement with their study Bible to be distracting. The NLT study Bible is a good addition to the Bible edition market.

I will continue my discussion of this Bible after I have used it some more in my personal study.

What is the Best Bible Version?

What is the Best Bible Version?

There a teacher’s saying that there are no bad questions, except the ones you don’t ask. There’s another saying that says that once you know the right question, the right answer will follow. As with many one liners, these two seem to clash.

On the front of my book What’s in a Version?, I have printed the line, “The best Bible version is one you read.” That saying suffers from the same problems as any one liner. It may quite easily be construed in ways that would make it quite false.

On the other hand, such sayings do have the value of making us think a little bit about our assumptions, and even a question you might evaluate as “bad” may well help you understand an issue as you analyze the question.

Every time I have been at a show or a teaching event at which I have used or displayed my book, I’ve heard the question “What is the best Bible version?” That’s even after they look at the cover of my book. If I point to the line on the cover they’ll laugh and say, “Yes, but what is really the best version?” That question is, in a sense, a bad question. It doesn’t really have a very good answer, and that’s because of things that are lacking in the question. But it can lead us to think profitably about the question.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t say what the “best” version is without asking just what the version is to be used for. For example, if you want to read extensively for pleasure and to get an overview, then I might recommend an easy reading version, such as the CEV, because it is easy to read rapidly. Yet if I were personally going to read for an extended period of time, I wouldn’t prefer the CEV. I’d more likely use the REB, or as an intermediate point, the NLT.

For rapid reading, I would regard all three translations as adequately accurate in the way they convey the general story, but they differ in style and vocabulary. Some people find the CEV very attractive. Attention has been paid to style and to how it will sound when read orally. But other people find its shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary tedious. The REB is music to my ears and to my mind, yet I find that most people to whom I read passages don’t hear the same thing I do in it.

So which of these translations is best? I go back to the line on the front cover of my book: The best Bible version is one you read–especially in this case.

No translation conveys all meaning from the source to the target language. To simplify that, when you read the Bible in English, no matter what English version you use, something will be missing over what might be received by a person reading in the source languages. (Another point that should be mentioned here is that different amounts are conveyed to the reader in the source languages depending on language and other skills.)

Here are some things that a translator might try to convey:

  • Style of the original writers
    Hebrews is written in a substantially different style of Greek than Mark, 1 John, Revelation, or Galatians, and each of those four examples differs from one another. Translations tend to obscure these stylistic differences. The CEV, for example, is aiming at an easy reading level, and will break up long, complex sentences in the Greek of Hebrews in order to make them easier to read, thus losing much of the sense of literary style in the book. At the same time, the intended audience of the CEV will probably get more of the sense of the book than they would if it was translated into a style of English that matched the elevated style of the Greek. A translator has to choose. What to you convey? What do you leave behind?
  • Literary devices
    If you want to get an argument going about translation mention literary devices. In this case I use the term broadly. In translating Hebrew poetry do I want to convey the style of Hebrew poetry, i.e. make an English representation of the structure of the Hebrew, or do I want to provide English poetry with a similar impact to that of the source? Personally, I’m happy to have translations that try for either option or a variety of compromise approaches, but the translation will be quite different depending on how one answers this question.
  • Form and vocabulary
    This issue was discussed extensively by the KJV translators. Do you want to have a single English word always represent a particular Greek or Hebrew word? How about a limited subset? This question lies somewhere near the foundation of the dynamic equivalence/formal equivalence debate.

That is just a very basic start at looking at the various questions. Every translation I have read or studied includes passages I wish were translated differently, or makes choices I wish had been made differently. Yet nearly every one has some quality I can appreciate as well.

To answer the question in the title, requires that one consider these questions, and consider the audience as well, without knowing who will read, for what purpose they will read, and under what circumstances they will read, I can’t even take a stab at saying what Bible version will be best.

The final step in choosing a good Bible version should always be to read from it under the circumstances for which you are choosing it. The best test of a tool is whether it performs the intended task.

I have complaints about

Revisiting Acts 17:26

Revisiting Acts 17:26

Yesterday I blogged about the HCSB of Acts 17:26, and in particular the portion that reads something like “made of one ______”. The KJV reads “blood” which is one of the textual variants, while the HCSB says “man” which apparently does not occur in any of the ancient manuscripts.

Since I read these lectionary texts daily for two weeks, today I encountered it in a different version, this time the TNIV, surely not one that could be accused of supporting anything like “male representation”, and it also read “man” in this case.

I’m not at home right now, so just looking at the immediately available Bible versions, I see the following:

  • REB reads “from one stock”
  • NRSV reads “from one ancestor”
  • CEV reads “from one person”
  • ESV reads “from one man”
  • TEV reads “from one human being”
  • God’s Word (GW) reads “from one man”
  • ISV reads “from one man”

I think that’s enough to see that most of the versions break where I would expect, with the exception of the TNIV. I wonder what their justification is here. It seems to me that since a number of ancient scribes appear to have provided options, but none thought of “man” here, it is unlikely that ancient readers would have understood this to refer specifically to the one man as human ancestor.

I’d be interested in comments on the reasoning behind the use of “man” in this verse.

Dynamic Range: Breaking Bread and the Eucharist

Dynamic Range: Breaking Bread and the Eucharist

This post is based on Acts 2:42 and 46. In the NLT of Acts 2:42 the phrase breaking of bread, admittedly a bit less than meaningful in modern English, is translated as sharing in the Lord’s supper. The NRSV reads “breaking of bread” but a note in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible suggests “Lord’s Supper,” and the New Oxford Annotated Bible has a note suggesting “Eucharist.” (These are in the study notes, not translator’s notes. The NLT does not have a note.

I’m questioning the validity of this translation for the time in question. We might well ask just what this activity consisted of at the time, and whether “Lord’s Supper” or “Eucharist” will suggest the right idea to modern readers. Personally, “Lord’s Supper” brings up my youth as a Seventh-day Adventist, and celebration of the Lord’s Supper which happened every quarter and was a longer church service than normal. It would be hard to fit that concept in which an activity carried out daily.

Eucharist is even more formalized and I would suggest that what is practiced in modern churches is very different from what would have happened at this time. I’m aware this wasn’t suggested as a translation but rather as a study note, yet even so is not the modern English reader misled?

Most likely this breaking of bread was a common meal by which Christians offered fellowship. It is unlikely that there was much ritual beyond what would be normal at a Jewish meal. The thing that was special about these meals was the offering of fellowship. I’m having a hard time replacing “breaking of bread” with something useful, but I’m thinking of one of these:

  • sharing a common meal
  • eating together as a sign of fellowship
  • commemorating Jesus and their fellowship by eating together

Perhaps, however, the CEV has the best of it, however, with “They also broke bread . . .”

Reading from the NIrV

Reading from the NIrV

The New International Reader’s Version never got much traction, especially here in the United States, but I do have a copy, and I chose to do my lectionary reading from it this morning. That kind of reading is helpful in getting a quick feel for a version. I can ask myself how I would teach this passage if I were using this particular version. Because the lectionary includes a variety of types of passages, I get a feel for how it will read.

This version is to some extent aimed at the same readers as the New Life Version, about which I blogged a couple of days ago. Those for whom English is a second language should do well with this version, as should children, and those working on their literacy. Christian programs designed to teach reading could use this as a reader.

It pretty much reverses the comments I made on the NLV. First, it is much more even in its style. This probably results from committee work, and from the fact that it is the revision of an existing version. One person will have a hard time matching a committee in terms of making the style even. Of course, one should note that a committee will never produce the likes of The Message either, while one man did!

The NIrV uses very simple syntax. Let me quote a couple of verses from 1 Samuel 16 to illustrate:

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you be filled with sorrow because of Saul? I have refused to have him as king over Israel. Fill you animal horn with olive oil and go on your way. I am sending you to Jesse in Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it. Then he’ll kill me.”

The LORD said, “Take a young cow with you. Tell the elders of Bethlehem, ‘I’ve come to offer a sacrifice to the LORD.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice. The I will show you what to do. You must anoint for me the one I point out to you.” — 1 Samuel 16:1-3

Now you’ll also notice that unlike the NLV, the NIrV uses some of the somewhat technical terms, “anoint”, “elders”, and “sacrifice.” The NLV avoids all of these. The NIrV answer to the problem of this sort of vocabulary is a dictionary provided in the back, at least of my edition. Many Christian I encounter cannot understand the problems with these words that seem common to them. But if you grew up in church, you actually speak a “church” dialect. Even many unchurched people in the United States grew up with this church dialect. Versions that aim for readers whose English is at all weak, or who are not part of the church community already, have to take such issues into consideration.

This type of simplified syntax, and partially simplified vocabulary works better in some types of passages than others. I was reading lectionary passages for Lent 4 and 5 of cycle A this morning. Let me list the passages in the order of how effective the NIrV translation was. I’m considering here public reading, preaching or teaching, as well as conveying the intention of the passage as it was written. Any Bible translators reading this will almost certainly be able to predict this list if they know the eight passages.

  1. 1 Samuel 16:1-13
  2. John 9:1-41, John 11:1-45
  3. Ezekiel 37:1-14
  4. Romans 8:6-11; Ephesians 5:8-14
  5. Psalm 23, Psalm 130

Basically, the simplified syntax is quite effective in narrative portions. I wouldn’t mind preaching from those passages at all using this version. It is a little bit less effective in the gospels, and that difference is accentuated because it is the gospel of John which is somewhat subtle in vocabulary and symbolism. Normally, I think a passage from the prophets would be difficult to work with in this simplified of a version, but Ezekiel 37 is narrative in form, and it’s actually quite effective there. The epistles lose something in translation. Paul is writing complex, and the translation is simple. Finally, such simplified syntax does very poorly in poetry, though the NIrV does break out poetic lines unlike the NLV.

All of these differences are not faults of the translators or translation; they are simply facts of life. When you translate poetry, for example, you can translate either the literary quality and nuances, to whatever extent possible, or you can stick with the intellectual content. The NIrV, quite understandably, sticks with the intellectual content. You can’t write great poetry with simplified syntax and vocabulary.

There was one really awkward wording, and I’m not sure exactly how I would explain it in teaching. I’d probably simply give my own translation and explain from that. It’s in 1 Samuel 16:5, where Samuel tells the elders of Bethlehem, “Set yourselves apart to him . . . ” I’m not sure what that would mean. I know what the Hebrew means, but I don’t recall heard “set apart to ___” unless the blank was verbal.

Overall, I maintain my initial impression. This version is a good version for outreach or for use by anyone who is working on reading skills in English. Though there are a number of good alternatives, such as the CEV, NCV, or the TNIV. The last of these is not quite a simplified as is the NIrV, or at least that is my impression.