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The NIV Study Bible (Fully Revised Edition

The NIV Study Bible (Fully Revised Edition

(I’m writing as a #BibleGatewayPartner and a member of the #BGBloggerGrid. See note at the end of this post.)

When a book that I generally like undergoes a revision, I approach it with a bit of trepidation. Is it going to match the older edition? Will it be better? Or maybe it will lose all value.

The NIV Study Bible hasn’t been central for me personally, but I have interacted with it through many, many students who used it as they attended my classes. It’s the sort of book that kind of fades into the background simply because so many people have it.

I also haven’t lost my issues with study Bibles in general, in particular the potential that people become dependent on the interpretations of their particular study Bible, rather than actually reading the scripture, interacting with it, and also testing their interpretations against other streams. Having notes on interpretation so closely connected with the text of scripture can contribute to laziness.

So I’ll start with my standard recommendation: Use more than one Bible translation, and use more than one study Bible, taken from different perspectives. You can find one set of suggestions here.

That said, this study Bible is takes a balanced approach. By balanced, I don’t mean theologically. To some extent one’s theology will impact a study Bible. One has to write from a perspective if one doesn’t want to simply be confusing. What I mean by “balanced” is that it covers the various needs of a Bible student who may be working without a helpful teacher, and does so in good proportion.

Consider charts like the chart of covenants conveniently placed near the text on the covenant with Noah. This chart helps a reader identify broad themes through scripture and draw connections.

The spread with the chart on covenants.

This combines with a variety of other charts that will help a student get perspective. Again, because this sort of information must be from some theological perspective, a serious student should compare other Bibles as well, preferably written from other perspectives. But this material is solid, and it makes a good case for itself being part of regular plan for study.

Images are generally not just so you can feel good about a location, but are helpful to understanding the passage. Below is the tabernacle, conveniently place in the book of Hebrews. As I review my own study guide to the book of Hebrews I will doubtless recommend this as one option for study Bibles a group might use.

From the book of Hebrews, on chapters 8-9

At the same time, it is quite possible (and appropriate!) to disagree with a study Bible. On page 2161 there’s an article titled “Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?” with which I would take some issue.

Conservative evangelicals will find the commentary on Romans 1:24-28 and the verses following quite to their taste, as it says the passage is one that makes it clear that homosexual practice is sinful. Progressive evangelicals will not. This is a passage where a commentator is doomed to anger somebody. For purposes of review, I’m simply stating the viewpoint so readers can get an idea of where this study Bible stands on the spectrum of study Bibles.

A great feature of this Bible is that notes about background are clearly distinguished from those about application by color icons. Readers want help with application, but it’s important to realize that when you are applying scripture to modern times, you are that much further from the text itself. It’s good to know when you’re working with raw data (or as close to that as possible) and when someone is spanning the huge gaps of culture and time to tell you what you ought to do about it. Somewhere between these two are notes that talk about personalities or people groups, which are also clearly marked. These notes partake of both ideas.

I should note as well that charts, such as those I have praised also fall somewhere between background and application. This simply means whatever you do study, you need to study carefully. Be aware constantly of the human element in scripture, where God uses humans as communicators, and also in all layers of interpretation. Simply by suggesting a background text from the ancient near east that is related to a scripture passage one introduces the bias involved in that selection. Prayerful, open-minded, in-depth study is needed.

I can’t resist saying all of that, but if you want a conservative evangelical study Bible, this is an excellent choice. I’ll repeat my recommendation that you not depend on a single study Bible or commentary, but select sources that start from different perspectives.

Zondervan provided me with a free copy of this Bible in exchange for an honest review, for which I thank them. I will provide a link to purchase the Bible in its various editions below.

Link: Mounce on Translation and Verbal Inspiration

Link: Mounce on Translation and Verbal Inspiration

While I disagree with a number of minor points, the one major one being that I would not use the word “verbal” in describing inspiration, this is an excellent outline of how Bible translators think and the reasons behind that thinking. The author, William D. Mounce, responds in some cases to Grudem, but the article can be read on its own.

Read the complete article on Themelios.

For full disclosure, I have used Mounce’s introductory Greek grammar for a number of years before I switched to Dave Black’s. Dave is one of my authors. Links to the two books are below for those interested. (Two different stores as I don’t yet have the February 5 edition available for my Aer.io store.) The third book is about Bible translation by some unknown author.

Notes on Terms and Language Teaching

Notes on Terms and Language Teaching

Dave Black comments some on linguistics and teaching biblical languages in a post today. (Check out the linguistics conference coming up!)

The difficulty is the difference between teaching someone a language in a classroom and in discussing and describing that language in some detail as a linguist would want to do. Both the framework and the deeper understanding are good and proper goals, though there is often a conflict between the two. When do you teach what?

Dave covers a good selection of points from the debate over verbal aspect. There are problems with words like “punctiliar” or even “progressive” in terms of verbs. There are also problems in mapping the tense system (and the word “tense” itself) when teaching. But these issues are part of the problem of linguistics generally.

Consider a label like “tree.” What do I mean by the word tree? Is the plant growing in my yard that is three feet tall a tree, a weed, a plant, or perhaps a bush? It might, under the right circumstances be called any one of those things. A simple, singular label is necessary to communication, but at the same time, a singular, simple label is also a cause of problems. For example, if I say to my wife, “We need to throw that tree out,” I may mean that a potted plant has grown very large, and I’m using tree hyperbolically to refer to it while demanding its exit forthwith. On the other hand, I could be referring to a shoe tree that’s worn out and should be discarded.

This is why the line, “it’s just semantics” is so often lazy. When someone is playing rule book lawyer with the language, it’s quite appropriate to point out that one is expecting more of language than one is likely to get from it. We get along with ambiguity all the time. The problem comes in when we decide to be picky, or when we accidentally manage to use just the wrong word at the wrong time, meaning one that is almost right, but that can lead one off into a completely different semantic range than intended. But semantics is precisely what “it” is, and what it always is. It is about meaning. What did you expect? So it’s semantics. The word “just” is a bit oddly used. Bad semantics!

What I try to do is very quickly introduce students to the idea that labels are shorthand. When I use the term “punctiliar,” I point out that this is a shorthand label. Why don’t I change the word then? Because my new shorthand label will also pick up unnecessary connotations, and then I’ll have to explain how it applies. Further, the student is doubtless going to see the word “punctiliar” in commentaries (as Dave points out), and he or she needs to know its intention, and even how to understand the potential fallacy. Commentaries are quite capable of containing incorrect linguistic information.

It’s easier for me, because I teach by ones and twos, not by large classes of seminarians forced to do their required courses. I had that experience as a graduate student when I tried to tutor marginal or failing Greek students. They wanted me to get them past the test. I wanted to help them understand. Conflict! But those students I have taught since have come to me because they want to learn and understand, so I take the time.

My conclusion is that no matter how you label it, you’re going to have to make sure students understand how these labels we call “words” work. Even if you take a living language approach, and try to get the students to understand the language as naturally as possible, you’re still going to have to help them understand linguistics if they’re going to translate those words and ideas into their own language for the benefit of those who haven’t learned a foreign language. I’d almost, almost, prefer to teach a student linguistics over teaching that student Greek or Hebrew. If I had to choose, that is. Which I don’t.

(Featured Image Credit: Adobe Stock #126360408. Not Public Domain)

Linguistics Conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Linguistics Conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Re: Linguistics and New Testament Greek: Key Issues in the Current Debate

It’s more than a year away, April 26-27, 2019, but this conference looks like about the most fun you can have on a seminary campus without breaking the rules! I see several names I know, some well, and one Energion author, Thomas Hudgins, who will be talking about Electronic Tools.

I’m already planning to be there. Maybe we can meet!

 

Mounce on Translating Every Word

Mounce on Translating Every Word

I used to use Bill Mounce’s introductory grammar in teaching Greek, and I appreciated his attention to linguistics, though I generally wanted more. (I’ve switched to Dave Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek for those rare occasions when I have the opportunity to teach Greek. I’m probably prejudiced as Dave is a friend and I publish the Spanish translation of that book, Aprenda a leer el Griego del Nuevo Testamento.)

In a blog post, Mounce discusses the question of whether one needs to translate every word of the Greek text into English to be faithful to get inspiration and inerrancy of scripture. As one who doesn’t believe “inerrancy” is a good word to describe scripture, I find the question especially interesting. It illustrates the reason why I don’t like the inerrancy debate. So often, despite any efforts by scholars who use the word carefully, inerrancy leads to this sort of distorted question. Mounce correctly points out that the word is not necessarily the correct bearer of meaning to try to translate. Mounce suggests the meaning is found “more at the phrase level,” though I would say that meaning is found at a variety of levels, and that the ideal translator would convey the meaning expressed.

In this case, however, the “ideal” translator is more “ideal” in the sense of being “not real.” No translator can convey everything. If a truly master translator, for example, conveys the precise emotional feel of a Psalm, he or she is very likely to obscure the history. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, does an outstanding job of getting the punch of a parable’s message, and the result is beautiful, almost ideal. Well, until you realize that you’re losing both the historical connection, and also in some ways the possibilities inherent in the story form itself. This is not a criticism of The Message. I love it. I like to read it. But by accomplishing some things, the translator of necessity fails to accomplish some others. Therein lies the value of multiple translations.

Therein also lies the value of sharing one’s thoughts. It is imagined that someone like me, who reads the text in the original language, has somehow truly attained and truly understands. But over and over, I read and translate a passage for myself, and then I read it in other translations and find enrichment because those translators chose different options than I did. Sometimes I’ll say, “No, I think my way is better,” while at others I might correct what I did. Sometimes I just find that the other ways of expressing the meaning round out my understanding, while I can’t really find a translation that conveys the whole.

You can check out some books from Energion Publications on inspiration here.

 

Galatians 2:16 – A Problem in Translation and Theology

Galatians 2:16 – A Problem in Translation and Theology

I wanted to write a quick note here as this relates to my study tonight, as well as illustrating quite a number of translation problems. Here is our text, with CEV (NOT CEB) to the left, NRSV in the center as a “literal” comparison, and NLT to the right. I’m copying the NRSV notes as they highlight the issue.

CEV

But we know that God accepts only those who have faith in Jesus Christ. No one can please God by simply obeying the Law. So we put our faith in Christ Jesus and God accepted us because of our faith.

NRSV

yet we know that a person is justifiedd not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.e And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ,f and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.
Notes: d. Or reckoned as righteous and so elsewhere. e. Or the faith of Jesus Christ. f. Or the faith of Jesus Christ.
(The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ga 2:16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

NLT

“Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”

Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Ga 2:16). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

If you look at notes e & f which are identical, you’ll see the problem. The Greek text can justifiably be translated either as “faith in Christ,” that is, our faith directed to Christ, or as “the faith of Christ,” Christ’s faithfulness to us. That’s not an insignificant difference. The NRSV does well here by translating one way and footnoting another. The problem is that people rarely read footnotes. In a Dynamic Equivalence (or functional) version the translator is obliged to make a choice. You cannot clearly express the meaning of the original in a new language if you have not understood it. Having understood it (you think), there is always the possibility that you have misunderstood it.

This is another important reason why I urge people who study the Bible in translation to both use more than one and also to read translator’s footnotes. They can be critical.

(See MyBibleVersion.com for some comparisons.)

Study Your Bible in English

Study Your Bible in English

Study Bibles Galore!
Despite My Dislike, All These Bibles were within Arm’s Reach of My Desk

That is, study it in English if English is your native language, and when your knowledge of biblical languages isn’t up to the task. Face it. For most people, even those who have some study of biblical languages. Different levels of study of the languages provide different levels of benefits. But for most people, the best idea is to study the Bible more carefully and thoroughly in the language they actually know.

There’s a sense among people in the pews that knowledge of Greek or Hebrew provides some sort of magic key. This even affects pastors, who want to look up a particular Greek or Hebrew word in order to spice up their sermons or  to find the real meaning of a text. The problem is that looking up a particular Greek or Hebrew word and then wielding that definition like an axe, chopping chips out of the text, more often misleads than enlightens.

For laypeople, the approach is often to find “the meaning of the Greek” through a commentary, or even worse through a concordance such as Strong’s. A correspondent once sent me a complete translation of a verse derived from glosses (single word or short phrase translations of a term) in Strong’s, in which not one single word was translated correctly in the context. One could, however, track the English words back through the concordance to a Greek word which did, in fact, occur in the verse.

Words do not have singular meanings. It is more accurate to say they have fields of meaning, sometimes called semantic ranges. I look out the window in front of me and I see a number of things that I would call “trees,” yet they are not identical. Some are larger, some are smaller. At some point there is the transition between “bush” and “tree,” and “bush,” again, covers a range of items. The actual boundary is set by usage. Now that I live in Florida, I have to realize that Floridians call things “hills” that northwesterners would call mounds or bumps, while there’s nothing in easy range of here that a northwesterner would call a mountain.

If you have the time and inclination to learn the biblical languages, by all means do so. But if you don’t, what can you do?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Don’t just go to the most literal translation you can find. People often believe that by using the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, or something similar, they are getting closer to the source language. In one way, these versions do get you closer to the original, an I don’t have a problem with using any of them. Just don’t assume that they take care of getting you closer to the original.
  2. Instead of #1, choose 3 or more translations. Try to find translations that are committee translations and represent different theological backgrounds. For example, the NASB, NIV, and NLT are all done by evangelical translation committees. They represent three different approaches to translation, but their committees are all conservative. The NASB is formal, the NIV is a kind of compromise version, while the NLT is dynamic or functional. (There are many more differences in approach to translation. Check my site mybibleversion.com and/or my book What’s in a Version?.) On the other hand, the NRSV is quite formal/literal while the Revised English Bible is quite functional/dynamic, yet the committees involved are from mainline denominations and thus more liberal. I recommend choosing your three translations to represent different theological traditions and different styles of translating. For protestants, I’d recommend including the New American Bible or the New Jerusalem Bible, which are translated by Catholic committees. The NAB is probably a bit more literal/formal than the NIV and the NJB is dynamic/functional like the NLT or REB.
  3. Instead of spending your time looking for glosses to Greek words in a concordance like Strong’s, spend more time studying relevant passages in English. Don’t find a gloss and then force it into all the verses. Rather, study each passage and look for definitions from the context. I mean definitions of the English words provided by the English context in your English Bible. So if you want to know what the “church” is, don’t worry about the definition of ekklesia in Greek. (Dave Black wrote some good notes on this the other day. If you read what he wrote about the Greek words carefully, you will see some of the difficulties in doing this sort of study unless you are very well versed in the language.) Worry about the definition of “church” (and related terms like “body of Christ”)  in English verses. How does Paul view this in Ephesians 4, for example?
  4. In order to keep from getting stuck with the work of just one committee, compare those translations. While the formal translations may be closer to the form of the Greek or Hebrew, you may not correctly comprehend what that form means. Try the options in one of the dynamic/functional versions. Then listen to the context. Many, many misinterpretations are produced by deciding what a word in the original language is suppose to mean and then forcing the verse to fit that meaning. Ask instead whether the definition you have in mind truly fits. In English, for example, the word “car” might refer to an automobile, the part of an elevator you ride in, or one element of a train. You wouldn’t take the elevator-related definition and force it into a passage about automobiles, would you? Don’t do it to the biblical text either. Consider words like “salvation,” which may refer to a moment of new birth, a continuous process of God’s work in the believer, or the eventual salvation from final death, among other things.
  5. Don’t be afraid of surface reading. Surface reading is a good starting point for study. I like to read an entire book of the Bible through before focusing on a section. That’s harder to do if we’re talking Isaiah or Ezekiel, but for most of the New Testament it’s not that hard. It’s a bit like standing on a mountain looking across a forest before trying to hike through it. You can read rapidly and you don’t need to understand everything. That’s what your later study is for.
  6. Don’t be intimidated. Those of us who read the languages also make plenty of mistakes. We’re subject to all the same human biases. I thank the Lord for the opportunity I’ve had to learn and for the gift of reading the Bible in its original languages. But none of that work gave me the right to lord it over others or to demand that they accept my view because of my study.

Above all, I encourage you to study the scriptures for yourself and listen for God to speak to you. It is the privilege of everyone, not just of clergy or scholars. Many people have given their time and some have even given their lives so that you can have that Bible in your own language. Make the most of it!