Book Review: Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture

Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture by Jeffrey D. Arthurs
Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture by Jeffrey D. Arthurs

Arthurs, Jeffrey. Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: The Transforming Power of the Well-Spoken Word. Pap/DVD ed. Kregel Academic & Professional, 2012.

One can only applaud Jeffrey Arthurs goal: “My vision is to increase the quantity and the quality of Scripture reading in church services. We need to do more of it, and we need to do a better job of it” (pp. 11-12). Over the past 40 years I have heard some excellent reading of Scripture; but I have heard less than satisfactory reading, more often that I want to admit. Thus, I concur with the last part of Arthurs’ goal—we can and should always do a better job of public reading of Scripture. Arthurs’ book provides a valuable resource to address this issue. The book is well organized and easy to use for follow up and referencing.

As I read the book, while very helpful and encouraging, I kept sensing that it is directed to churches with non-liturgical worship. In several places, his analysis or suggestions reflect little or no awareness of the historical liturgical pattern of Scripture reading throughout the 2,000 years of church history that is still the largest portion of Christianity. Chapters 3 and 7, in particular, reflect this bias. At the same time, this bias is helpful for those in liturgical churches to reflect on the value of its heritage and even strengthen its resolve to continue such things.

He uses the concept of preparing and eating a meal (following Eugene Peterson’s simile) to examine the various aspects of public reading. The simile works well for this topic. In chapter 1 (“Building an Appetite”) Arthurs provides the Biblical foundation and historical continuity of the public reading of Scripture. Unless we see this foundation and historical awareness, we can easily dismiss the importance of the public reading of Scripture.

Chapter 2 addresses the importance of proper preparation for reading. This is more than quickly reading through the text. Rather, Arthurs includes spiritual, mental, and emotional preparation. This is followed by a making and using prepared script. At first this seems odd, thinking, “Don’t we read from the Bible?” As he illustrates, a separate sheet of the prepared text allows the reader to mark the text with highlights and special notations for reading.

Chapter 3 (“Inviting the Guests”) is geared specifically to non-liturgical churches by changing the church culture to accept and expand its public reading of Scripture. Certainly this is a laudable goal and an encouragement for those churches that have very little Scripture reading in worship.  For those already immersed in the culture of pervasive public reading of Scripture, this chapter reaffirms such need.

In Chapter 4 Arthurs addresses “Serving the Meal: Communicating through What We Look Like.” He addresses not just the voice (chapter 5), but posture, mannerisms, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact. The discussions of movement and “proxemics” (the use of space) while useful for general reading, are less helpful for liturgical churches (dictated by sanctuary design and history). Overall, this chapter is superb because it addresses those things that we seldom think about or examine; and it is immediately practical.

Chapter 5 (“Serving the Meal: Communicating with the Voice”) joins chapter 4 as critical for improving public reading of Scripture. As the quote from Mark Twain notes, this need includes clergy: “The average clergyman, in all countries and of all denominations, is a very bad reader” (p. 89). He uses the alliteration of six P’s to cover all aspects related to voice (projection, phrasing, pause, pace, pitch, and punch). Excellent resource chapter.

Chapter 6 (“Adding Some Spice: Creative Methods”) illustrates the difference between non-liturgical churches and solidly liturgical (for whom most of these items are already in place). Nevertheless, it is helpful for those within a liturgical tradition to review each of these and realize why we do incorporate them. For instance, his suggestions include:

Read passages other than sermon text: The lectionary readings include at least three readings (OT, Epistle, Gospel) plus a Psalm.

Let Scripture pervade entire service: The liturgical (Reformation/Lutheran) development has been exactly on this point.

Responsive readings: This is already done through the Introit (with Psalms).

Stand for reading: In liturgical services we stand for the Gospel reading.

Give listeners a response: That is built into the liturgical services (either spoken or sung responses).

I am glad to see Arthurs address group readings in chapter 7, as they can be very effective in special services. I would not see it as a regular Sunday morning feature of public reading. Thus, Christmas eve, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday would be appropriate.

In the accompanying DVD Arthurs demonstrates the key points throughout the text. This is helpful and gives the visual appreciation of oral reading. He demonstrates how even little non-verbal expressions can aid or hinder public reading of Scripture.

Arthurs is imminently qualified as a theologian and oral interpreter to address this important issue. He offers many valuable aids in helping congregations and individuals (pastors! and readers) improve public reading of Scripture. This is a book worth reading, reviewing, and learning techniques to deepen this critical aspect of worship.

Note: Thanks to Kregel Academic & Professional for the review copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

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Anniverary—42 years

Today my wife and I celebrate 42 years of married life.

February 20, 1971
February 20, 1971

That year, the high temp was 10°, and we stood in the snow banks for photos, then that night it got down to -40° (temp, not wind chill).

In the mean time we have moved 28 times, traveled in most states except Alaska, and five in the northeast. We adopted two boys. Now we have a wonderful daughter-in-law, five delightful, loving grandchildren, and one great grandson.

God has been good. Thank you, Lord.

Hebrews 4:15 and NIV

One of the readings for our midweek service is Hebrews 4:14–16. While we currently use HCSB for Scripture readings, I like to see how other translations handle the text. I remember that NIV 1984 didn’t do a bad job on the text. So tonight I was reading NIV 2011 and noticed something that sounds “almost right.” But in reality NIV 2011 makes a dramatic change.

There are two changes, but the one is not as critical (italic), so I will address that one at the end. But the second one, at the end of the verse is the most important.

Sin or Sin?

οὐ γὰρ ἔχομεν ἀρχιερέα μὴ δυνάμενον συμπαθῆσαι ταῖς ἀσθενείαις ἡμῶν, πεπειρασμένον δὲ κατὰ πάντα καθ᾿ ὁμοιότητα χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας.

NIV 2011

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we areb—yet he did not sin.

NIV 1984

or we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

NAS 95

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

ESV

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

HCSB

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.

At first glance “yet he did not sin” seems no different than “without sin.” But NIV 2011 has narrowed the definition of sin to be only actions. In the process, the translation falls short of the Biblical understanding of sin, as a totality, to include our sinful old self (original sin) as well as sinful actions.

So it raises the question based on the NIV 2011 whether Jesus fully satisfied the penalty for sin, or just for sin actions, i.e. individuals acts that are identified as sin.

I have not seen any reasoning by NIV translation team why this change was made. Certainly it is not any easier to read or understand. Regardless of the reason for the change, the doctrinal change is significant.

Sympathy vs. Empathy

The minor change was from “sympathize” to “empathize.” The Greek word is συμπαθῆσαι. BDAG provides “sympathy” as the only translation. The word is also used in Heb. 10:34 “You suffered along with those in prison” (NIV 2011). Louw & Nida offer this for 10:34 “It is, however, possible to interpret συμπαθέω in He 10:34 as referring primarily to sympathy rather than actual sharing or suffering” (Louw & Nida). Michaelis wrote in TDNT, Vol. 5,

A compound of syn and pathos, sympathes refers to a person who is affected by the same suffering, the same impressions, the same emotions as another, or who undergoes identical trials, and finally “sympathizes” with this other person who is in some sort of trouble, has pity.

One English dictionary attempt to distinguish between the two is:

Empathy: when you understand and feel another’s feelings for yourself

Sympathy: when you have compassion for someone, but you don’t necessarily feel that person’s feelings

While we can distinguish them this way, it does not necessarily help in determining which is the better translation for the Greek. In one sense, many people do not attempt make that distinction in every day speech.

There does not seem to be any rationale for the change in the NIV 2011. I tend to favor “sympathize” as the translation.

Layout issues in HCSB

As I have used HCSB for personal devotions and our congregation is using it in the bulletin for Sunday readings, it has proven to be an acceptable translation. However, I have been disappointed with the layout issue in poetry.

It seems that there are really two problems. 1) with a double column format, the width of the columns is necessarily small. Thus, not many words can be put on the same line. Obviously typeface choice, size, and weight of the fonts make a difference. It would seem that especially in poetry sections, a single column format would be better.

2) The second problem is actually more troublesome. Indentation in HCSB is inconsistent and does not help the reader understand the text or even read the text. Here is a sample from Zechariah 10:6-7.

Zechariah 10:6-7 HCSB
Zechariah 10:6-7 HCSB

Notice that the entire v. 6 and the first two lines of vs. 7 are all left aligned, with no indentation. The double column format does not help at all in this case. Also, the lines are very inconsistent with regard to length. That combination leaves the reader with no visual clue as to the relationship between the main verbs/nouns and subordinate thoughts.

For instance, in v. 6 what is the relationship (and emphasis) between strengthen, deliver, restore, have compassion? Visually there is no clue. In v. 7, would it not make more sense in the second and third lines to read like this?

and their hearts will be glad

as if with wine.

I have found that such a layout and formatting issue makes for much harder oral reading. But even in devotional reading I find it tiring; I have to go back and reread the text to see if I understand the thought pattern and structure.

Recommendation

I would strongly recommend that the HCSB and editorial staff look again at this problem of double column format and especially line indentation and relationship of patterns of thought. At best it can lead to confusion, at worst it can lead to a wrong “reading” with wrong emphasis because there are no clues how to relate that.

(I should note that other double column translations do not have as much of a problem because they employ indentation and better line breaks.)

Sugar and other things

In about four hours I will mark eight days without conscious sugar. I say conscious, because sugar seems to be an additive in everything. Basically I have not had candy, pie, cake, cookies, etc., and the biggie CHOCOLATE in eight days. Last April I had the last of any soda/pop (whatever you want to call it). So this is my next step.

Overall, it has gone well. Day five was the hardest, just because my habits of study, reading, and computer work were associated with having one of the forbidden items around, like CHOCOLATE! I did have a slight headache that afternoon, but nothing like I have experienced in the past.

I like juice, and have been drinking lemonade (from frozen), which has some sugar in it. But the good news (bad news?) is that in the last month I seem to have become allergic to lemonade. So that may not be a problem giving up. Although I sure do like the taste of it.

So what is next?

I think I can focus on heaven and begin dreaming of the day when this world passes away, and all its temptations. And there in heaven will be: something like this cake, just waiting for me. I can eat five pounds of it, and not gain a single pound. Better than now where I smell this and gain three pounds.

Do I have a goal for all this? Yep, feel better. Lose some weight (not telling how much), walk regularly, and enjoy life more.

Genesis 40-41 HCSB

Genesis 40:19, 22

Gen. 40:19 In just three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from off you—and hang you on a tree. Then the birds will eat the flesh from your body.”

Gen. 40:22  But Pharaoh hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had explained to them.

The footnote gives the alternate translation for “hanged” as “impaled.” NIV 2011 also opts for this translation in the text itself. I think in the traditional translations, the use of “hanged” has been so ingrained that at first glance it seemed a little odd to translate תָּלָה as “impaled.” But upon further investigation, the footnote makes sense.

As I looked at a few sources, I found that this sense of “impaled” makes some sense, even though several references are much later than the time of Moses. In TWOT the author references at least thee ancient pagan nations (Egypt, Persia, and Mesopotamia) and their use of impaling.

Since Herodotus (History, 3.159) indicates that impaling was a common method of execution in Persia (see also Ezr 6:11 ASV and RSV), perhaps תָּלָה עַל עֵץ, traditionally rendered “he hanged on a gallows/tree,” means rather “he impaled on a stake,”

 The same notion underlies Gen 40:19, 22; 41:3, reflecting Egyptian practice. A somewhat similar sense underlies Lam 5:12 reflecting Mesopotamian practice. (TWOT, para. 18613)

Other passages where “impaled” fits is Ezra 6:11 (even NAS95 uses “impaled”). One wonders why there is not a footnote then for Genesis 41:3, which is the same context as the original text above.

At first glance in checking other passages, HCSB seems inconsistent in translating this word. Then looking at the context, it appears that “impale” is used when the context is one of the three pagan nations, and “hang” is used for Israelite contexts (Deuteronomy 21:22, 2 Samuel 4:12; Joshua 8:29; Joshua 10:26). However, if that were the case, then HCSB did not follow that pattern in Esther 7:9 (“hang”) and Lamentations 5:12 (“hang”), which clearly take place in the pagan nations..

So, the footnote makes sense, and perhaps the text and footnote could be reversed, and update 41:3 to reflect the same.

Missing Emphasis

Genesis 41:29 (28–30 for context)

HCSB 28 “It is just as I told Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt. 30 After them, seven years of famine will take place, and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. The famine will devastate the land.

NAS95 29 “Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt;

What is missing is at the beginning of v. 29. In Hebrew, the word הִנֵּ֛ה “ calls attention to the following noun.” In the older translations (and still in NAS95) the word “behold” (or occasionally “look” but which seems weaker, see HCSB Gen. 31:51) is used to function in this way. See also,

Genesis 15:15

HCSB When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch appeared and passed between the divided animals.

NAS95 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.

Genesis 31:51

HCSB Laban also said to Jacob, “Look at this mound and the marker I have set up between you and me.

NAS95 Laban said to Jacob, “Behold this heap and behold the pillar which I have set between you and me.

Genesis 22:7

HCSB Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father.” And he replied, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

NAS95 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Genesis 34:21 (follows a noun to emphasize it)

HCSB “These men are peaceful toward us,” they said. “Let them live in our land and move about in it, for indeed, the region is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as our wives and give our daughters to them.

NAS95 “These men are friendly with us; therefore let them live in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters in marriage, and give our daughters to them.

Note that in each case, HCSB does not translate the Hebrew word, whereas generally NAS 95 does; and when it does translate the word, it does so with “look” or “indeed.” While “behold” is not commonly used in contemporary English, the role the Hebrew word plays is important, emphasizing the following in some way. To not translate הִנֵּ֛ה in any way seems to miss that point. “Look” does not seem to carry the emphatic role of הִנֵּ֛ה and suggests a visual action, which is not necessarily intended in the Hebrew. “Indeed” could work in certain contexts.

Bottom line: I have not found an adequate translation for הִנֵּ֛ה that is still understandable in contemporary English. In my mind I still prefer “behold” over nothing in the English text.

The Ten Words: HCSB and GW

As I have been reviewing both translations over the past seven months, I have found many good things about the translations. Interestingly, where I tend to disagree with one, the other does an admirable job. But reviewing Exodus 20 the past few weeks, I find that both HCSB and GW disappoint, specifically in how the verbs are translated. Here are some thoughts about that.

I will not include the entire text of 20:2-17, but the specific wording of the verbs (and I am not paying attention to how they are numbered, because the text doesn’t tell us). The Hebrew verbs in each case are Imperfect, except 20:8 which uses the Infinitive Absolute, and 20:12, which uses the Imperative.

Ten Commandments
Ten Commandments (Photo credit: glen edelson)

GW

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of slavery in Egypt.

3 “Never have any other god.

4 Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water.

5 Never worship them or serve them,

7 “Never use the name of the Lord your God carelessly.

8 “Remember the day of worship by observing it as a holy day.

12 “Honor your father and your mother

13 “Never murder.

14 “Never commit adultery.

15 “Never steal.

16 “Never lie when you testify about your neighbor.

17  “Never desire to take your neighbor’s household away from him.

 “Never desire to take your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his donkey, or anything else that belongs to him.”

HCSB

2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.

3 Do not have other gods besides Me.

4 Do not make an idol for yourself,

5 You must not bow down to them or worship them;

7 Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God

8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy:

12 Honor your father and your mother

13 Do not murder.

14 Do not commit adultery.

15 Do not steal.

16 Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 Do not covet your neighbor’s house.

Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor

Both translations give only a negative view of the commandments. Why is that critical?

1) Notice that I included 20:2 in both translations. That is a statement of Gospel: What God does for the saving of His people. What follows is a description of how “delivered people” live. Thus, it is a positive description of how they live.

2) These are not technically the ten “commandments” according to the usual understanding, but rather the “ten words.”

Exodus 24:28 And he wrote on the tablets the words ( הַדְּבָרִֽים) of the covenant, the Ten Words ( הַדְּבָרִֽים).

3) Notice that these are translated as straight imperatives, and rather strongly at that.

4) The Imperfect can be translated as an imperative, which it is in this case (see below).

Thus, both GW and HCSB give only one side of the ten “words”—negatively. And I think that does not do justice to the text, the use of the Imperfect, and the context of 20:2.

The Solution?

How should they be translated in light of each of these considerations? I suggest that the older form English future translates the Hebrew Imperfect rather well, and retains an element of command behind it: “You shall not…” (still evident in NAS, NKJV, NIV 2011, ESV, etc.). This appears to be the best option for translating this section of Exodus 20. Here is the translation from NAS 95.

NAS95

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol,

5 “You shall not worship them or serve them;

7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,

8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house;

you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Extending the “words”

Thus, the question really becomes “How do the words/commandments function? Notice that when someone sins, that person no longer is living as a “delivered person.” Thus, the positive impact of the “word” (commandment) of Exodus 20 changes, and the word functions in a condemning way. Often this is designated the 2nd use of the Law. So as a person is convicted under that 2nd use of the Law, the person is led to repentance (1 John 1:8-9). The solution to that predicament under the Law is forgiveness in Christ. Now the question for the person becomes:

“Now that in Christ I am free from sin, guilt I never want to be under that condemning Law again. But how can I please you, Lord? Not to earn Your favor, because I already have your favor.”

Now, the original intent of the Ten Words becomes significant. They describe how a forgiven person in Christ lives. And so, the Law functions as a description of life in Christ, much as the Ten Words/Commandments function in Exodus 20.