English style in translation

In my morning reading the text was Isaiah 6:1-7:9. I have read it many times. But today I read the text in the ESV. One verse stood out as awkward English.

Isaiah 6:11

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,

The bold words are the ones in question. It seems like something is missing, i.e. “cities lie in waste” or “cities lie wasted.” The exact same phrasing occurs in ESV at the following places:

Isa 33:8 

The highways lie waste;
the traveler ceases.
Covenants are broken;
cities are despised;
there is no regard for man.

Isa 34:10 

Night and day it shall not be quenched;
its smoke shall go up forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
none shall pass through it forever and ever.

Other English Translations

So I checked Isaiah 6:11 in other translations (none of ~30 translations I checked had what ESV has).

NAS (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered,
Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,

NKJV (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long?”
And He answered:
Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,
The houses are without a man,
The land is utterly desolate,

HCSB (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Until when, Lord?” And He replied:
Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants,
houses are without people,
the land is ruined and desolate,

NIV (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:
Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,

NET (Is. 6:11)

I replied, “How long, sovereign master?” He said,
Until cities are in ruins and unpopulated,
and houses are uninhabited,
and the land is ruined and devastated,

NLT (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long will this go on?” And he replied,
Until their towns are empty,
their houses are deserted,
and the whole country is a wasteland;

I have studied the issue of English in translation in many contexts. I think that translations such as God’s Word offers a good example; the translation team had a full time (qualified) English advisor. The task of this advisor was to examine both written and oral choices and offering editing changes. Any of the above translations provide adequate good English style for this text.

Recommendation

I would recommend that the ESV translation team revisit these three Isaiah texts to produce a more meaningful English rendition.

Posted in ESV, Hebrew, Languages, Personal Reflection, Translations | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Dogs and me

A little different focus today. This past week a couple of vivid memories of our dogs came to mind.

My life with animals and especially dogs was important when I was growing up. We lived on a farm, so cows, dogs, and cats, occasionally pigs and chickens. I love dogs, always have. I have never met a dog that wasn’t my next new friend.

Even the very first one, a German Shepherd, was my friend, and we played together a lot. When I was 3 (1952), I moved his chow bowl, and he didn’t like that. So he bit me on the upper lip. I still remember going to the doctor in town to get my lip sown. That is also why a moustache will never work for me, it’s a bare spot on my upper lip.

Sparky was our next dog. Sparky was almost the perfect, dog, my best friend ever. Great hunting dog, but he loved to play with us boys—a lot! In November 1959, my father and brother were away deer hunting for the week. Someone gut-shot Sparky, but didn’t kill him. My mother told me I had to shoot Sparky to avoid the continuing suffering and slow death. So as a 10 year old I discovered what it was like to lose a close pet, yes, even my friend. My heart still aches when I think of that day. It has been 57 years ago this past week, and feels like yesterday. I will try to find a photo of him.

Then we found a poor little dog, just a few weeks old, abandoned in the country. Lady became the soul mate of Sparky. Not a hunting dog, but the best companion, and despite her size, the best watch dog ever. She was the first dog my father ever allowed into the house. And we were all happy about that, even my father!

This is a photo of me with Lady in 1968.

This is a photo of me with Lady in 1968.

I miss all three dogs.

Because we have moved 28 times in the last 45 years, it was not practical to have a dog. But I sure wish I could find another Sparky or Lady.

How about you? Do you have fond memories of dogs, a special dog?

Posted in Personal Reflection | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Church in the Midst of Turmoil

In the midst of much public angst, fear, etc. over the past week, accusations have been flung at Christians, specifically Evangelicals, about what should be done, changed, etc. In this post I will address that topic. But more, there is much about what Christians say and do, especially relative to the elections and who is elected/not elected, than has been addressed.

Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical

I use all three of these terms, but not as identified by a church body or movement. That may cause confusion, so let me explore this a bit. When I teach hermeneutics (principles of interpretation) I repeatedly point out that one key is looking at the referent of a word, i.e. what is it referring to, pointing to.

Definition: catholic 

When the word is capitalized (Catholic) it refers to the church body that is headed by the pope and headquartered in the Vatican. In my references to that church body I use the fuller title, Roman Catholic Church (RCC).

When the word is not capitalized (catholic) then it carries the basic sense of “universal.” Historically catholic referred to the universal Christian church, that is believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of location or affiliation. It also meant that the Christians were identifiable by the confession they publicly professed.

I am catholic, in that I confess the Christian faith, and as articulated in the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian).

Definition: orthodox

Like catholic, when Orthodox is capitalized it refers to a specific church body (or a group of church bodies: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.). When the word is not capitalized, orthodox carries the basic sense of “straight praise” (literalisticly) which came to refer to “straight doctrine.”

I am orthodox in that I confess the true, straight Christian doctrine (and praise/worship that reflects such) proclaimed in the Bible (as as expressed the creeds of the Christian Church.

Definition: Evangelical

Again, when capitalized the word, Evangelical refers to a movement within the last 100+ years. Most of the rhetoric of the past 60 years about “Evangelicals” is used in reference to a conglomeration of people from various Reformed, Calvinist, and other Protestant backgrounds.

When not capitalized, evangelical has the historic meaning “gospel.” Interestingly, in Germany since the time of the reformation the Lutheran church was and still is known as the evangelische kirche, the gospel church.

I am evangelical as an expression historically meaning “gospel.” I adhere to the confession of the Gospel in all its purity, as articulated in the Book of Concord 1580.

Confusion and Caution:

These three words can also be used in a social science way. That is, it might refer to many groupings of people who have the social identification as such, but are not theologically included in the terms. Thus, when each is used in social way, then they might include Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc. However, when used in their historic theological understanding, the words do not apply to them.

I do not write this to cause problems but to note that using a word like “evangelical” (in a social construct situation) includes these groups which are not necessarily theologically accurate. For instance, I will never include these groups because I use the terms in their strictly theological sense.

Ministry in a Changing Social/Political Arena

What happens to the message of a Church/pastor when the social, political, economic situation drastically or subtly changes? The answer depends on how the terms above are used, socially or theologically? Sadly many churches/pastors don’t make that distinction. Is it any wonder that those outside the Church are confused when trying to provide an answer, demand changes?

Background:

With the election of Donald Trump as President, many are questioning how the Church can/should be changed or exhorted to respond. First, I would like to approach this from a secular standpoint. I served in the U.S. Navy 9½ years active duty and 4 years reserve. I served under four different presidents: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan.

In fact, my final processing interview (May 1973) took place when the Watergate investigation was reaching its peak. I was asked how this changing environment would affect my service in the Navy. I answered that my oath is to defend the country and the Constitution. If the President were impeached, then the VP would serve. It would not change my service at all. Thus, over the next decade, changing presidents didn’t affect my work, my commitment to the Navy, the nation, or relationships with family and friends.

So what is the Church to do?

So when the Church is called out now for not addressing the current hot points, I think I need to follow a similar path as a pastor. Note that most of these calls are for Evangelicals to change, or become what the Church should be, etc. My first response is: I am not part of the Evangelical movement, never have been, even though I am evangelical.

Second, I have pastored at the time of five different presidents (Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama). Over the past 34 years, my focus as pastor has been on proclaiming the Gospel as historically understood. That means that much of my ministry is to and with people who are broken, abused, outsiders, etc. I began using the term “fringe ministry” to summarize this approach, which I think reflects Jesus’ ministry. Not once did the national climate affect the message or my ministry.

From that perspective, I do not have to change church bodies. I do not have to reinvent myself for the current situation. It is not because I am insensitive to what people are experiencing. Rather it is because I have been in the trenches of what people are experiencing: brokenness, abandoned, abused, neglected. The Gospel I proclaim is not a new social construct, in fact, to be Gospel, it cannot be.

What many, or most, people do not realize is that my ministry has even happened. It has not received public acknowledgement. And for that I am extremely thankful. Such public notice could easily close doors to ministry to the broken, abused, forgotten people, not open doors. I have seen God work changes in peoples’ lives that demonstrate exactly where God’s heart is, and therefore where my heart is.

Church and ministry do not change for anyone or any political, economic condition. I think we can learn from our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world: that even extreme, true (not artificial) persecution allows the Church to still be the Church. No president, no congress, no political platform can change that.

So what is the Church to do? In my case, exactly what we have been doing in the past. Thus, I speak Law to expose sin, but most importantly I speak Gospel to bring forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, hope in Jesus Christ. And the Church responds in caring for others as well.

Posted in Biblical studies, Law and Gospel, Ministry, My church, Personal Reflection | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Framework: Two Kinds of Righteousness

One of the key insights that Luther and others highlighted is this topic. In their study of the Scripture they saw that Scripture talks about righteousness in two different ways: righteousness before God and righteousness before people.

Coram Deo (before God) refers to the righteousness that a person has before God, most commonly called, “passive righteousness.” In other words the person’s works before God do not add one drop of righteousness before God. Our righteousness is entirely Christ’s righteousness, which is received as a gift by faith.

Coram mundo (before humans) refers to the righteousness that a person has before people, most commonly called, “active righteousness.”

Kolb and Arand in their book, The Genius of Luther’s Theology, note:

This view [two kinds of righteousness] provided the theological assumptions for everything they had to say about the relationship between God and the human being. This distinction between the two kinds of righteousness is one of the elements we can describe as the “nervous system” running through the body of Christian teaching as these reformers thought of the public teaching of Scripture. (Kolb/Arand, p. 25)

The implications for such an understanding is fleshed out even more.

The distinction between the two kinds of righteousness allowed the reformers without qualification to extol the gospel by removing human activity as a basis for justification before God. At the same time, it clarified the relationship of the human creature to the world in which God had placed him or her to live a life of “active righteousness” for the well-being of the human community and the preservation of the environment. The two kinds of righteousness, however, are not inseparable from one another. The passive righteousness of faith provides the core identity of a person; the active righteousness of love flows from that core identity out into the world. (Kolb/Arand, p. 26)

Lest we think this is a 21st century reading back into Luther, in our Prolegomena class I assign the students to read Luther’s 1535 Commentary on Galatians. Thus, the student reads the primary source to see that Luther does in fact address the two kinds of righteousness from the beginning of the commentary. And they see how he does that. One example from Luther’s introduction to Galatians:

Therefore I admonish you, especially those of you who are to become instructors of consciences, as well as each of you who individually, that you exercise yourselves by study, by reading, by meditation, and by prayer, so that in temptation you will be able to instruct consciences, both your own and others, console them, and take them from Law to grace, from active righteousness to passive righteousness, in short, from Moses to Christ. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 26, p. 10)

Kola and Arand present an expansion of what Luther means by the two kinds of righteousness:

Although Luther labeled the way we are to relate to God as passive righteousness, this dimension of our personhood also assumed a variety of other names, such as “Christian righteousness,” “divine righteousness,” or “spiritual righteousness.”

The reformers also used a rich and varied vocabulary to highlight the various activities and aspects of human life that constitute righteousness in the web of mutually constitutive human relationships. These include “human righteousness,” “civil righteousness,” “political righteousness,” “ceremonial righteousness,” “righteousness of the law,” “righteousness of reason,” “carnal righteousness,” and similar expressions. (p. 29)

Implications

Passive righteousness in Scripture

As we read the Bible we begin to discover that sometimes the text will emphasize the passive righteous of God. For instance,

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith… (Philippians 3:8-9 NAS)

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NAS)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; (Romans 3:21-22)

Active righteousness in Scripture

Now in our relationships to others we see that Scripture talks about what we do in those relationships. Paul gives an extended discussion of this in Romans 12-15, as be begins that section with the words: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God…” (Romans 12:1), where passive righteousness precedes active righteousness. The active righteousness of Christians shines through in their good works.

[Jesus said:] “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, 20

Negatively regarding the works we do for others and their value before God.

This you know, my loved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)

Positively the active righteousness benefits others. Note that James is saying that the active righteousness before others is informed and shaped by the passive righteousness of faith from God.

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit corphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27)

Resources:

Kolb, Robert and Arand, Charles P. The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians Chapters 1-4 (Editor: Pelikan, Jaroslav. Luther’s Works, Concordia). (2007).

Posted in Biblical studies, Doctrine- Systematics, Ministry, Pastoral Formation, Seminary | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Framework for Lutheran Theology

Theological Prolegomena—the name of our one our seminary courses. That’s a mouthful. So what is it? Crudely translated: “Forward to Theology.”

As I began developing the courses for our seminary my focus was on the core courses in the four areas of theology (exegetical, doctrinal, historical, practical). But as we received interest from people leaving non-Lutheran backgrounds who wanted to study with us, I realized that there was a component missing in the curriculum. That is, they were attracted by many aspects of Lutheran theology, but they retained their old framework of thinking. That is, Lutheran theological topics were stuffed into a framework that couldn’t effectively embrace Lutheran theology.

Thus, Theological Prolegomena was birthed into our seminary curriculum. In our syllabus for the course, here is the overview of what is Theological Prolegomena.

What does it mean to be Lutheran? That question causes much confusion. Some think that it means to follow Martin Luther. Some think that it is inappropriate to even ask the question, assuming that the real question should be about “Christian.” Some think that it refers to denominations. And still others think that it means to be “Protestant” with a few, minor doctrinal differences from all other “Protestant churches.” But each of these miss the point of the question.

This course looks at the underlying thinking that sets the foundation for understanding Martin Luther, but more importantly for understanding those who confess the Christian faith in this unique way. That is, one cannot take the theology of another movement and adjust a few things and become Lutheran. Rather, the foundation of thinking affects every doctrine, and even how to approach the Scriptures, doctrine, and theology. Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians (Luther’s Work) gives the student a primary source related to the topics covered in the course.

But to be Lutheran is more than studying some of Luther’s writings. It involves a shift in how we view God, how we view humanity, and the relationships developing out of those two views. In fact, we do not follow Luther, rather we confess the faith as Luther and Melanchthon and Chemnitz, and a whole stream of others have done throughout the centuries.

Defining Terms

We start with these statements that guide our study of theology.

Material Principle: What matters most?

Justification by grace through faith

Formal Principle: What is the source for determining Material Principle?

Bible

Then we look at three commons terms used in the history of the Christian Church. Sometimes the words have been narrowly defined or applied. But we discuss these terms as they developed in the early church, and as historically applied to Lutherans.

Catholic: “universal”

If the word is not capitalized. Sometimes you will see Church catholic and it means the universal church (all believers in Jesus Christ). If the word is capitalized then it is narrowly referring to Roman Church headed by the pope.

Orthodox: “straight praise” ———> “straight doctrine”

Again, this is used two ways, in the general sense of “straight doctrine,” namely everyone who teaches the “straight doctrine of the Christian Church.” In a narrow use of a church body then it applies to many of the eastern churches, i.e. Greek Orthodox Church.

Evangelical: “Gospel”

In the broad use the word refers to those throughout the centuries who have maintained a proper understanding of the Gospel. In the contemporary environment, the word has been associated with a very narrow segment within the Protestant churches. Interestingly the Evangelische Kirche is the name that refers to the Lutheran churches in Germany.

Thus, as Lutherans we identify ourselves as catholic, orthodox, and evangelical. 

Confessional Phrases

How often have I heard this statement: “I am Christian first and Lutheran second”? Far too often! And worse, such a statement is not even accurate. Rather the statement should be:

“I am a Christian who confesses the faith as a Lutheran” (how we confess)

In other words, we are catholic, orthodox, and evangelical Christians who have publicly stated what we believe the Bible teaches, definitely given in the Book of Concord: Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (compiled in 1580).

Some might object and say, “We just believe what the Bible teaches.” Our response to that is, “Okay, what does the Bible teach?” The instant a person answers the question, she or he has given a public confession of what the Bible teaches. Our answer to that question has been in place since 1580 (some documents are earlier) when the entire Book of Concord was accepted.

Thus, we find two phrases repeated in our confessions that reflect all the above:

“The Church has always taught”

“We believe, teach, and confess”

By those phrases, we as Lutherans publicly confess that what we are stating in the Book of Concord is what the Christian Church has taught since the time of the apostles up to the present time. That is why the first three documents in the Book of Concord are: Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed. We are not changing what the early church taught. We are not some spinoff of many, but rather we confess the faith as it has been passed on from the beginning of the Christian Church.

Posted in Pastoral Formation, Biblical studies, Doctrine- Systematics, Ministry, My church, Seminary | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

English translations and word choices

Some translation oddities

Reading the daily lectionary, I have found some odd translation choices in terms of English usage in some different translations. The following readings come from today’s (Sep. 21) readings. With earlier readings from other days I noticed other odd or awkward phrasings. My goal is not to extensively deal with each text, but look at the English word choice and style used to translate the Hebrew.

Nehemiah 5:6-7 

Hebrew: וַיִּמָּלֵ֨ךְ לִבִּ֜י עָלַ֗י, roughly “my heart was counseled upon me.”

NAS  I consulted with myself

ESV I took counsel with myself

NRSV After thinking it over

NAB After some deliberation

HCSB After seriously considering the matter

NIV  pondered them in my mind

NET I considered these things carefully

NLT After thinking it over

GW After thinking it over

Lutheran Study Bible using the ESV has this alternative in a footnote: “mulled over in his mind what to do” (p. 745).

NAS and ESV maintain the Hebrew sense, but in the process provide an awkward/unusual rendering in English to do so. Most of the other translations adapt the thought into common English usage.

Nehemiah 6:16

Hebrew: וַיִּפְּל֥וּ מְאֹ֖ד בְּעֵינֵיהֶ֑ם, roughly “their eyes fell greatly”

NAS  they lost their confidence;

ESV  fell greatly in their own esteem

NRSV (so also RSV-RCC) fell greatly in their own esteem

NAB our enemies lost much face in the eyes of the nations

HCSB lost their confidence

NIV lost their self-confidence

NET they were greatly disheartened

NLT they were frightened and humiliated

GW lost their self-confidence

Note that ESV/NRSV/RSV-RCC use an odd way to express the Hebrew text. Most of the others show the reflexive (Niphal) sense, with “lost confidence.” NAB is unique in that the focus is not their own eyes that matter, but the eyes of the nations.

Psalm 55:19 

Hebrew:  יִשְׁמַ֤ע ׀ אֵ֨ל ׀ וְֽיַעֲנֵם֮, roughly “God hears and will afflict them”

NAS  God will hear and answer them (footnote: “afflict them”)

ESV (so also RSV-RCC) God will give ear and humble them

NRSV God…will hear, and will humble them

NAB God…will hear me and humble them

HCSB God…will hear and will humiliate them

NIV God…he will hear them and humble them

NET God,…will hear and humiliate them

NLT God…will hear me and humble them

GW God will listen. The one…will deal with them

Most translations offer a readable and understandable English rendering of the Hebrew. But notice ESV and RSV-RCC “God will give ear.” Aside from the original RSV and now lately ESV, I have never heard the use of “God will give ear.” My first humorous thought is “how many ears does God have.” With some practice, a reader might catch what is written. But what of an oral reading (i.e. in worship), will that communicate clearly and easily?

Concluding Thoughts

This is not an academic exploration but a simple look at translation choices and how that fits the register of understandable (and primarily oral) English. Over the past several years as I have reviewed translations, I have found that ESV is problematic in this specific area. And it follows the RSV, NRSV, and RSV (RCC) pattern. This also makes me more aware of how I preach and teach and at what level (vocabulary, etc.) I do so.

Hope to explore more on this topic.

Posted in ESV, GW, HCSB, Hebrew, Languages, NAS, NIV 2011, Old Testament, Translations | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Update on HCSB

Over the past 5 years I have reviewed, studied, and made recommendations to the HCSB translation team. WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) had formed their own committee and review team for suggestions to the same translation team. And soon HCSB will change… for the better. Earlier this summer B&H Publishing announced the changes.

March 2017 CSB launch

That is the scheduled time for the latest updates. Here are a few notes about this update (combining B&H and WELS items):

Name is changed to: Christian Standard Bible

Major revision of text, plus two confessional Lutheran scholars were added to the translation oversight committee

Adopted many of the recommendations submitted by WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod)

Removed Yahweh from the Old Testament, using LORD (as almost all other English translations have done)

All of these are significant improvements for CSB. I can’t wait to receive the new translation. Once it is in hand I will offer more comments about the updates.

Thank you to B&H Publishers for this effort.

Thank you to WELS for offering valuable input on the translation.

Posted in Biblical studies, HCSB, New Testament, Old Testament, Translations | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments