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Nelson Study Bible Note Problems

Nelson Study Bible Note Problems

I’m not going to link to a specific edition on this, because there is no ISBN in the edition from which I’m working. It appears to be a match for this item on Amazon.com, and to be essentially the same notes as this item, though I cannot be absolutely certain. If you have a similar version, you can simply check your notes to see if they say the same thing as mine.

First, of course, I’m a bit prejudiced because I think the NKJV is one of the less useful translations. It is literal, but less readable than the ESV or the HCSB. I don’t call any of the major modern versions bad Bibles, but the NKJV is fairly low on my list.

What I want to comment on today, however, is the notes, part of Nelson’s Complete Study System. I used this Bible today for my lectionary reading. Each morning I read both the current week’s lectionary passages and the next week’s, thus giving me 14 opportunities to meditate on them. I use different Bible versions and also read the notes if I’m using an edition that has notes.

In my reading on Isaiah 42:1-9 today, I noticed this note in a “wordfocus” block:

. . .While ‘ebed can mean slave (Gen. 43:18), slavery in Israel was different than in most places in the ancient Middle East. Slavery was regulated by the Law of Moses, which prohibited indefinite slavery and required that slaves be freed on the Sabbath (seventh) year (Ex. 21:2)–and the Year of Jubilee–the fiftieth year (Lev. 25:25-28). . . .

Now there is certainly value in pointing out the slavery laws in Israel, and comparing them to those in the ancient near east. Notice, however, that if one reads on in Leviticus 25, there is something that is not mentioned in this little note, and it is significant.

44But as for your male slave or your female slave who are yours, from among the nations who are around you you may acquire both male slave and female slave. 45And also from among those who are [foreigners] living in your land and from those who are sojourning among you you may acquire them and from their clan that is with them which they bring forth in your land, and they will be your possession, 46and you may leave them to your sons after you to possess; they may enslave them permanently. Only with your brethren, the children of Israel, each person must not make his brother labor harshly.

The problem here is that the note implies that somehow Israel’s form of slavery was entirely benign, without mentioning the exception to the rule. Anyone from the nations around or from foreigners who were in their land could be bought and possessed permanently.

This is important because there are two ways of handling slavery passages in the Bible. The first is to try to deny the similarity between the slavery practices in the Bible and that in other countries or in more recent times, such as slavery in the United States. The second is to view the rules of slavery as a cultural accommodation, i.e. slavery was not good, but was not yet forbidden.

I take the second approach. My point about this note is that that the editors of these notes presumably take the opposite one, but that they gloss over a substantial element of the Israelite rules for slavery. This is one of the ways in which study notes can be deceptive, even unintentionally.

The second note comes on Psalm 40:1, in which it discusses the words translated “waited patiently” in the NKJV:

The Hebrew translated I waited patiently is literally “waiting I waited.” The emphasis of this phrase is not really on patience but on the fact that David waited solely on the Lord. . . .

I have to wonder where they got this interpretation. The phrase “waiting I waited” is simply not good English. It is formally equivalent to the Hebrew, but this is one of those cases where the literal translation does not suggest the right set of options to English ears. It is a Hebrew idiom of intensification. I WAITED! Now you may think of a few options, such as the intensity of the expectation, or the length of the wait, but the verbal structure itself does not specify who is waited on, or anything about how this person is the sole person on whom the Psalmist waits.

The context suggests that YHWH was the sole one in whom the Psalmist placed his hope, but the verb form suggests only the intensity of the experience. For modern American English, I don’t even like the word “waited” here, though the REB and the NRSV both use “waited patiently.” I would prefer the JPS Tanakh’s “I put my hope in the LORD.” They lose the intensification, but I think they catch the essence of the verb more clearly.

What I would hope to show from these examples is the danger of depending on notes, along with the value of looking at more than one translation. Looking at more than one set of notes is also a valuable hedge against incomplete or misleading notes.

Translations and Denominations

Translations and Denominations

When the RSV was first proposed one of the purposes for it was as an interdenominational translation, one that could be accepted by all Christians. That goal was unreachable as it happened. Today, with controversies over gender language added into the mix, it seems unlikely that we will attain to a “standard” Bible translation that can be accepted across all denominational lines.

Kevin Sam reflects on some of the differences in his post Denominations and Bible Translations. He doesn’t see a solution, but he does see some of the lines. Check it out!

New Bible Format

New Bible Format

The IBS is producing a new Bible, available in August, 2007, which will reorganize the books of the Bible, removing verse and chapter numbers. This is intended to provide a new and more original feel in reading the Bible.

I suspect that such a format will annoy some people, but I’ll say bluntly they should chill. We live with the constant tension between the Bible as a unity (a book) and the Bible as diversity (a collection). While verses facilitate conversations about the Bible and references to specific passages in other documents, they tend to first treat the Bible as a unity, and then chop it up into potentially unrelated pieces. They certainly distract from simply hearing the message.

At the same time the book order, which is in many cases arbitrary, keeps modern readers from getting their bearings in the historical context. While there are bound to be disputes over where various elements fit, the structure of this new Bible is a good start to starting to balance Bible study in the other direction–more toward hearing the message in its literary, cultural, and historical context.

I strongly commend the IBS on this effort, and look forward to having a physical copy in my hands as soon as it is released. In the meantime, check out their web site for this project, complete with sample books of the Bible, and a blog. Currently the staff there is blogging about why they would carry out such a project.

For those who use my participatory study method, this Bible will be particularly valuable in the overview reading portion of your study. It removes distractions and some of the elements of Bible reading that tend to make one feel that one has read more than one has. The TNIV is also simple enough in language to make it easy to read large amounts of text.

HT: radical renovation via TNIV Truth.

Book: God’s Secretaries

Book: God’s Secretaries

If you’re looking for a history of the KJV, you are likely to be disappointed by this book. There is a history, and considering the very sparse information on the topic, it’s a pretty good one, but it is concealed in the incredibly wordy prose of this ponderous document. Considering my own propensity for long words and complex sentences, I would suggest that I be taken seriously when I call someone else’s prose “ponderous.” Nicolson really likes the rich language of the KJV. He seems also to like much of the culture of Jacobean England, though he is capable of criticizing it.

There is a great deal here on culture and the feel of the times. There is very little on Bible translation and its characteristics. I would call it more of a story than a history, but then it is a story that moves so slowly.

Having said all of this about style, there is one characteristic that truly annoys me. Nicolson apparently belongs to that group of people who has decided that a particular literary style is better than any other, and who criticize anything else as inadequate. If one comprehends the Jacobean prose, and if one appreciates that sort of thing, then it will have the effects Nicolson credits it with. But that determination is subjective. I personally find the Revised English Bible a much better read. I like its sound better when read aloud, and I believe it is both more comprehensible and more faithful to the literary values of the source texts it purports to translate.

Nicolson holds that sometimes the KJV is more majestic than the source. If one assumes that majesty is the proper quality of all prose, then perhaps that’s a good thing. As a reader of the source texts in their original languages, I don’t feel the same way. And “feel” is the appropriate term. There are some objective values in literary quality–good proofreading, for example. But much of literary quality is a matter of taste.

I recall one of my professors who was a great fan of Dostoevsky. He also thought much of the science fiction I read was of poor quality and low literary value. Some of it was, some of it wasn’t. But under no circumstances would I recommend to anyone to read Dostoevsky at any time. I know that there are those literary folks who will regard my tastes as pedestrian and popular. They’re welcome to that opinion. I like what I like.

What I dislike is the notion that those who like something different than I do are somehow objectively on a higher literary level. The KJV uses a language that was already in the past when it was translated. I do believe it is of high literary quality, though I wouldn’t want all that many works written in that style. (I like but do not love Shakespeare.) On page 234, Nicolson quotes T. S. Eliot of the NEB, saying that it “astonishes in its combination of the vulgar, the trivial and the pedantic.” I like T. S. Eliot, but I disagree with him here.

If you choose to read this book, be prepared to cull the valuable material from the midst of the trivial and pedantic load of superfluous verbal baggage.

My numerical rating: 2.

TNIV and REB

TNIV and REB

I was interested in this post on This Lamp because of the reference in the last paragraph:

As an aside… Last Christmas, I went back to my home church for a worship service. I came across the same individual mentioned above who had been one of my mentors in college. He had just come from teaching a Bible study and was carrying two Bibles. He told me that he likes them both and gave up trying to choose one over the other. He carries them both to any study he leads or participates in. What were they? He was holding a TNIV Study Bible and a Cambridge text edition of the REB.

That wasn’t the main point of Rick’s post, but it caught my attention because I keep my Oxford Study Bible (REB) on the stand by my computer, and I carry the TNIV these days, along with my Greek and Hebrew. I really like to consult both these days whenever possible.

On the larger question of the post, the meaning of “pisteuw/pisteuw” in John 3:16, I don’t think we quite have the word. I can accept “have faith” as the REB reads, but I would like something that includes “trust.” Yet a phrase like “believes in and trusts him” is clumsy at best. Perhaps there is no perfect answer here.

Galatians 3:2: AKOE PISTEOS

Galatians 3:2: AKOE PISTEOS

Or should I make that AKOH PISTEWS? Note that a similar question can be asked in Galatians 3:5, but I will assume due to theme that one will give the same answer in both places.

Writing an exegetical article on this verse could be quite lengthy, but I agree with J. Louis Martyn in his commentary on Galatians when he says:

. . . Paul is not asking the Galatians which of two human acts served as the generative locus in which they received the Spirit, a decision on their part to keep the Law or a decision on their part to hear with faith. On the contrary, he is asking rhetorically whether that generative locus was

  • their act in becoming observant of the Law or
  • God’s message (akoh).

— page 288 [some punctuation/formatting including Greek rather than transliterated text is mine-HN]

The specific translation of akoh pistewj depends on two factors. First, should the word “hearing” be active or passive, in other words is the thing that generates the reception of the Spirit the act of hearing, or the content of what is heard, the message? The second is how does faith relate to the message. Is it a message that is faith, or is it a message that elicits faith? Martyn (op. cit.) Romans 10:16-17, where the message is much more clearly established as that which elicits faith, and the word akoh is also pretty clearly established as passive in intent.

So how do translations compare on this. Here are some examples, showing the variety on these two points:

  • TNIV – Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard. [This agrees with the NIV, which is surprising considering the accusations of Calvinist bias in the NIV translation.]
  • REB – did you receive the Spirit by keeping the law or by believing the gospel message?
  • NLT – Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ.
  • ESV – Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
  • CEV – How were you given God’s Spirit? Was it by obeying the Law of Moses or by hearing about Christ and having faith in him?
  • TEV – did you receive God’s Spirit by doing what the Law requires or by hearing the gospel and believing it?

I don’t see any translation that gets quite the nuance that I see in this passage, though perhaps I’m being a bit too tense. In this case, I think the NLT actually has the best translation with the CEV and TEV following very close after.

Of course, it’s hard for translations to get everything right. In this case, however, I think that formal equivalent translations, such as the ESV really leave the English reader hanging, because “hearing of faith” cannot possibly elicit the same semantic ranger as akoh pistews, with unfortunate results.

Amazon.com UnSpun Best English Bible Translation

Amazon.com UnSpun Best English Bible Translation

I discovered Amazon.com UnSpun (and wrote a bit about it here) and of course immediately located a list of the best English Bible translations. Here it is:

Update: I am going along with Peter Kirk as posted on the Better Bibles Blog and replacing this poll with the one he suggested.

I think it would be interesting to get the votes of many of the well-informed folks in the blogosphere to vote on this one and perhaps change the rankings a bit. I suspect that with the votes, there’s a great deal of simple name recognition involved in the current rankings.

So those of us who have nothing better to do than vote in useless polls–how about we give it a try? I notice the CEV and the TNIV, two of my favorites, are way down the list.

PS: Actually I would note that the CEV, TNIV, and REB were significantly improved in ranking by my votes.

Carrying the TNIV

Carrying the TNIV

I started carrying the TNIV recently. I had been using it only in electronic form to do some studying and comparison, but I decided to see how it would work as a “carrying” Bible. That means I take it to church, Sunday School, study groups, and I keep it at hand during my study time in the morning.

Since I study primarily from the texts in their original languages, that doesn’t mean that the TNIV has become my study Bible. But it does mean that I follow scripture readings in church with it, and that I will read from it as appropriate in various groups.

Now this isn’t a review, nor is it a statistical study, nor is it a careful comparison of the TNIV to its source languages. This is just a personal “feel,” a general impression I’ve gotten over the last two weeks.

This value of this version has been completely lost in the smoke of the controversies about it. There is no reason for this to be a controversial Bible!

I can easily follow scripture readings when my pastor reads from the NIV. I find many less instances in which a single translation choice tends to obscure other possibilities. I don’t think it leans substantially more toward the dynamic equivalence end of the scale than did the NIV. I have yet to find a significant theological point put in jeopardy by differences in TNIV renderings.

The single reason this version has come under criticism is the issue of gender accuracy. None of the other issues would come to the fore if it were not for that one. And the TNIV is not all that far to the “gender neutral” end of the spectrum. The problem is simply that the NIV has been the Bible for many conservative evangelicals, and a certain percentage of them object to gender accurate renderings. Everything else follows from that position.

I’ve written elsewhere about all those issues (search Threads or this blog for TNIV to see more information). Here I just want to give my impression, which is simply that if a certain small number of theologians who have “persecuted [the TNIV] without a cause” (with apologies to Psalm 119:161), and that if they had not done so, the TNIV would have taken an honored place amongst those versions that have helped advanced scriptural knowledge.

I hope that this can happen even now.