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Everything is in a Word

September 16, 2006

Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. Mt 8:8

The Lord gave the word; great was the company of those that published it. Ps 68:11

Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth. Jn 17:17

I am fortunate. When the holy Spirit of God seized my dead spirit from the ashes of sin, I knew I had made no decision, that it had all been made for me. My only “decision” had been to undertake the challenge of reading the Bible through in a year. I got to Genesis 1:4 and realized something: surely this must be the Word of God. I read my Bible through in six months. This was the first time I was to read the Bible I had kept for more than 30 years; the one book that had survived some 30 moves while unnumbered boxes of books did not.

I conked out during the various battles of David, time after time, making myself go back to get at least a gist of what was going on, finally deciding I’d catch it next time. I knew I would be reading it again, and again, and again, for the rest of my life. I read through all the genealogies of Chronicles with fairer interest, as I read all the names on the Viet Nam Memorial Wall, just because I felt they were there to be read and I owed them at least that much. It turned out that in Chronicles, unlike the Wall, many connections appeared and relationships stood out as the books wondrously revealed the history of God’s people, now my people.

The first version I read through was the King James. It was not hard, but I had trouble with ephods and emrods at first, though context settled the dust. The next time I read the NASB and found it very wooden, and I didn’t like the quotation marks. I went on to read the other formal equivalents over the next few years. Now, having studied New Testament Greek, I reject the NASB for mistranslation I consider significant and agenda-driven, one it shares with the NKJV and ESV: the translation of kai in Re 7:1 ff as “then,” instead of “and,” implying that John’s visions were sequential rather than cumulative. The ESV has a cute take on Rahab in He 11:31–she gave the spies “a friendly welcome.” Sort of a Mae West scene. I appreciate the JND as a competent translation, but the bracketing becomes invasive. I look forward to a reprinting of the 1901 ASV without the bleed-through paper and the pale, small print.

Right on the cusp of Formal-Dynamic is the NIV (not the TNIV, which is kindling). My favorite human thumbprint there is at Esther 3:15, where the couriers on their swift steeds take off “spurred on by the king’s command.” I stopped reading the NIV at that point. I have only read the so-called formal equivalents, leaving the “dynamic equivalents” to more dynamic people. I’m stodgy about language.

My pastor has made the radical observation that the Bible is not a Gospel tract, but a manual for Christians. So, enter The Message Bible, translated, or written, or whatever you prefer to call it, by Eugene Peterson. Surely The Message qualifies as a Gospel tract. It was originally written to engage students taking Dr. Peterson’s Spiritual Theology class who were evidently “stirring their coffee” during his teaching of Galatians. According to its publisher, “The Message strives to help readers hear the living Word of God—the Bible—in a way that engages and intrigues us right where we are.” Unfortunately, the Bible was not given to man to “engage and intrigue” him, but to reveal God’s will and the history, law, and plan for salvation therein. It was not given to keep man “right where he is,” but to convict and sanctify him.

Professor Peterson was also a pastor. His flock, evidently, was in trouble. According to the publisher, “Peterson’s parishioners simply weren’t connecting with the real meaning of the words and the relevance of the New Testament for their own lives.” Of course they weren’t if they were unregenerate. The Bible has no meaning and relevance to the lives of non-Christians. The problem wasn’t the translation of the words; it was with the transformation of the souls.

The publisher further asserts, “The original books of the Bible were not written in formal language. The Message tries to recapture the Word in the words we use today.” Were the highly educated Paul and Luke not using formal language? And Peter! Do the Petrine epistles reverberate in fisherman slang? I’m sorry, I have to reject this premise as simply too embarrassing to discuss.

And, from the version’s author himself: “I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.'” Exactly: Two groups of people; neither of them Christians. Professor Peterson, notwithstanding his good intentions, did not produce The Message Bible for Christians. Perhaps some others will read it and become engaged and intrigued right where they are. Nothing will hinder the Spirit’s work if God’s elect start with The Message. I think it better that they get used to the idea early on that sanctification takes work, and that study–not intrigue and engagement–of the Word of God is the duty of every Christian.

But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” 1 Pe 1:25. Amen.


Victorbravo said…
Wow, from volcanos and lakes to an informed review of Bible versions.I’m glad we have the Hebrew and two versions of the Greek as well. It helps keep us from being too intrigued with any one group’s rendering.
10:15 AM  
Mrs. B said…
Yes…or rending.
12:31 PM  
Mike Pitzler said…
Aren’t seques those lawnmower-like scooters? Isn’t the whole information-explosion thing about non-sequetors? Doesn’t Jean Enerson laugh at the Lakefair clowns and lament the latest murder in the same breath?Modern times require highspeed connections and new technology. I use BibleWorks to compare 15 English and 3 Greek translations on every verse that puzzles me. I’ll even look in Tischendorf’s apparatus occasionally, even though I don’t read Latin.Sometimes I disagree with the 1901 ASV, and agree with Douay-Rheims and in just seconds I’m looking at Tyndale’s 1534 NT.

I talked to a Christian born in Morocco and he says most Muslims can’t read the Qur’an in the original Arabic even if they speak modern Arabic. The gap is much wider than us and Shakespeare.

I dragged a ‘Bible As Literature’ Bible around for years, occasionally reading from it, until I took my wife’s Ryrie Study Bible to work and read the Gospel of Matthew and God converted me and Chuck Smith persuaded me to read the New King James and then Tom Lyon convinced me to study Greek and that the American Standard was the best if you don’t read Greek.

Why not study Greek? What could be more important? Monday Night Football? Oprah?

4:24 PM  
HZ said…
I know almost nothing about Greek and Hebrew and admire you immensely: I love the KJV and ESV translations because my husband tells me they are taken from good manuscripts, and because though I am sure they are not without human error both preserve a sense of the Bible as competently written by personalities in an ancient time and not on the grand mish mash ‘See Spot Run’ level of today’s dumbed down English. When Ruben talked about buying me an ESV I looked up the Psalms in it: many versions seem to me to mutilate the beauty of the Psalms and I probably read those and re-read them more than anything else. But unfortunately I am not informed enough to judge on much other than my husband’s recommendations and my own sense of the writer’s voice.
6:55 AM  

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