Beatitudes in HCSB

In the Narrative Lectionary this is the year in which the Gospel According to Matthew is highlighted. One aspect of my preparation each week is to look at several translations (NAS, NIV, GW, HCSB, NKJV are the usual ones). This Sunday the text will be Matthew 5:1-20. Here is the HCSB translation of 5:2-10.

Then He began to teach them, saying:

“The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted.
The gentle are blessed, for they will inherit the earth.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled.
The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy.
The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God.
The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God.
Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

While this may be technically accurate, I stumbled through the reading. Even orally, it seemed awkward. Perhaps that is due to my 65 years of worship and Bible reading in which the KJV/RSV/NAS/NKV heritage was the traditional rendering of this text.

From a translation perspective, there is nothing technically wrong with the HCSB here. I do have two problems with the HCSB translation. The rearrangement of “blessed” to end of the first half of the sentences diminishes the impact of the repetition in each verse. It is difficult to see any pattern here. And from an oral reading perspective, it is awkward at best to read. It is just too jarring to the ear. Hence I did not use the HCSB for this Sunday’s reading.

This reads and sounds better.

Matthew 5:3-10
Matthew 5:3-10

Bible Review: Modern English Version – Pt 2

Read the first part of the review here. Obviously this review is very selective. I have read certain portions of MEV, and my wife and I have used it for devotional reading the past week. This is a preliminary review and deals with critical texts.

Translation base

It is good to remember the basis of the translation. From its web site:

The MEV is a translation of the Textus Receptus and the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the Masoretic Text, using the King James Version as the base manuscript.

The MEV is a literal translation. It is also often referred to as a formal correspondence translation.

The Committee on Bible Translation began their work on the MEV in 2005 and completed it in 2013.

Thus, the text critical issues for MEV are already decided. I think it is good to have translations based on TR; I have used NKJV often over the past 33 years (my Greek professor was one of the translators of the NKJV). So I will not address text critical choices in this review. Rather the focus is on the translation of the original language text used; in most cases I include the NKJV rendering because of the similarity of source and goal of translating. Note, too, that most of my comments regard the New Testament.

Old Testament

Exodus 20:24b

In every place where I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. (MEV)

Here is the Hebrew word: (אַזְכִּ֣יר) which is the hiphil form of the verb “to remember.” Hiphil normally has a causative sense. Here are other translations of the same text:

In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. (NKJV, without the sense of “causing.”)

in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you. (NAS, includes both remember and causative)

Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. (NIV, which is the same as MEV)

Wherever I choose to have my name remembered, I will come to you and bless you. (GW)

Build my altar wherever I cause my name to be remembered, and I will come to you and bless you. (NLT)

I find it interesting that the MEV translators desire to have “formal correspondence,” but do not follow that in this text, in fact following the NIV translation, which is inconsistent about translation approach. Even GW and NLT are more in line with “formal correspondence” than MEV in this text.

Psalm 32:1-2

One of the challenges of claiming to be “modern” is how to handle nouns and pronouns in a generic sense (“person”) or in a gender specific sense (“man” “he”). There is not space to address this issue in depth. My point here is that if the translation claims to be “modern” (i.e. 2013), then the question has to be asked whether the translation is in fact modern. It is noted that other translations struggle with this (NAS, NKJV)

Blessed is he
whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man
against whom the Lord does not count iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (MEV)

In v. 1 NKJV puts “is he whose” in italic, meaning that the underlying text does not have the pronoun, but is added for clarity. NAS does the same. NIV uses singular/plural mix with pronouns which can be confusing. NRSV changes everything to plural, which changes the sense of the text. I think the best translation is GW of this text.

Blessed is the person whose disobedience is forgiven
and whose sin is pardoned.
Blessed is the person whom the Lord no longer accuses of sin
and who has no deceitful thoughts. (GW)

Note, then, this is not a critique of the MEV per se, but every translation that desires to maintain a traditional approach to generic nouns and pronouns. Unfortunately most of the NAS/NKJV/MEV/ESV choices do not consistently handle this topic.

New Testament

Matthew 18:18

This is a text that is often loosely translated that can change the focus (including ESV, NIV).

[Jesus said:] “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (MEV)

[Jesus said:] “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (NKJV)

The focus here is on the future perfect passive verb form. This indicates that if something is done in the future (forgiving sins on earth), then those sins will have been forgiven in heaven prior to the declaration itself. Thus, it is the action in heaven that precedes the action on earth. Note how the NAS translates this:

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (NAS)

Thus, the MEV translation catches the future nature of the forgiveness, but the relationship of the “on earth” and “on heaven” timing is muddy.

Mark 13:34 (word choice)

For the Son of Man is like a man leaving on a far journey who left his house and gave authority to his servants and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. (MEV)

The question is how to translate the Greek , θυρωρῷ. Is “porter” an appropriate modern translation? Other translations use “doorkeeper” (NKJV/NAS/HCSB, etc.). For me, “porter” no longer has the sense that is indicated by the Greek. As my wife and I were reading this a couple nights ago, the only thing that word brings to mind is Johnny Cash’s song”Hey, Porter” referring to one working on the train. And that song is 60 years old. Not very modern.

Ephesians 2:8 (so also vs. 5)

The question here is how to translate the present/perfect tense of the combination, ἐστε σεσῳσμένοι  (“you have been saved” or “you are saved”). The perfect can indicate that something which has happened in the past is still in effect. Note how there is considerable variety in translation this verse; in other words, which is emphasized: past action or the present reality?

For by grace you have been saved through faith (MEV/NKJV/NAS)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (NIV)

For by grace you are saved through faith (NET)

For you are saved by grace through faith (HCSB)

We need to be aware of this, and perhaps the best translation might be:

“you have been saved—and you are still saved.”

Ephesians 1:3-14 (sentence structure and length)

In the Greek, Paul wrote one sentence, 202 words (using NA-28). In the NA-27/28 editions it divides the section in four sentences. Note how English translations handle the sentences.

Number of sentences in the translation of Ephesians 1:3-14






14 NLT

18 GW

The issue isn’t really about translating specific words. But how does sentence length and structure aid reader in understanding the underlying Greek? And even more, how does this work in an oral context (reading, preaching, teaching)? I have read about average sentence length for oral reading is about 30 words (or less). At the time that Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address the average sentence length was 57 words. Even four sentences for 202 words is 50+ words for each sentence.

Is sentence length crucial to proper understanding? Absolutely. How do translators then handle sentence structure to ensure understandability of the text itself. The question for translators is: how can the translation maintain the sense of the original language text in a comprehensible manner in contemporary English? This is a problem for all formal equivalence translations.

Ephesians 5:21

The issue here is the placement of this verse relative to the preceding or succeeding paragraphs. MEV/NKJV/NAS/ESV place this verse as the conclusion to the preceding section. One challenge is that the NA text does not include the verb in 5:22. Thus, the obvious choice is to go back to the verb of 5:21 and continue that. For MEV and NKJV this is resolved by using TR, which includes the verb.

But for other translations, there are three textual variants. Some (including TR) have υποτασσεσθε in 5:22 (or another variant: υποτασσεσθωσαν). While those two textual variants have about equal weight, there are a two major manuscripts, 𝔓46 B, that omit the verb totally.

So, part of the problem is if there is no verb, where does the sentence belong in the context. Many translations have 5:21 as the concluding thought of the preceding paragraph (NAS/ESV/HCSB). On the other hand, NIV/GW/NLT keep it as a separate thought, but connected structurally to next section.

Other texts

1 John 1:9

I like how MEV translates the ἵνα clause:

 πιστός ἐστιν καὶ δίκαιος, ἵνα ἀφῇ ἡμῖν τὰς ἁμαρτίας καὶ καθαρίσῃ ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσης ἀδικίας

“He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (NAS and NLT)

Notice that God’s faithfulness and righteousness/justness consists in forgiving and cleansing. Compare how NIV gives a false sense of this: “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” as if there is a third element, separating God’s faithfulness and righteousness from forgiving and cleansing.

Matthew 26:26-28

and parallel texts regarding the Lord’s Supper are consistent with the Greek text and traditional renderings.

Acts 2:38-39

is well done, again consistent with NKJV/NAS/ESV renderings.

Romans 3:21-26

again consistency with NKJV/NAS/ESV. The issue of sentence length and understandability comes into play in 3:23-26 which is all one sentence:

For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith, in His blood, for a demonstration of His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins previously committed, 26 to prove His righteousness at this present time so that He might be just and be the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus. (MEV)

One last comment and that has to do with maps. There are only 8 maps, but the common mistake is repeated here from many other Bibles. The maps themselves are too small and text size is even smaller than normal. Note on this image that the margin around the map is useless, wasting space and not contributing to the legibility. And three of the eight maps do not have that border, and there is no logical reason for why it is included, not included. The second image is enlarged and so is much more readable than the original Bible.

Map too small with large border
Map too small with large border
Map enlarged and still difficult to read
Map enlarged and still difficult to read

Concluding thoughts:

I would encourage the MEV translation team to extend its assistance to the reader. That is, MEV should include footnotes where NA and TR differ. NKJV does this, and it helps students of the Bible who do not have access to NA text.

While I have some concerns about specific word choices and sentence length in a few cases, overall MEV is a solid translation. If I were to serve as pastor of a congregation using MEV, I would have no problem with it. In fact, I like MEV better than ESV. It has a familiar cadence of the KJV (i.e. Psalm 23) and would be well received in a liturgical environment. For the most part a very useable and reliable translation.

I will continue to read this translation regularly, and we will continue in our devotional readings. That will give us a better sense of the translation and translation choices.

Bible Review: Modern English Version part 1

MEV Thinline Reference published by Passio, with the MEV ©2014 by Military Bible Association.

This is the first of two posts regarding the Modern English Version Bible. In this post I will examine the external issues (cover, typeface, paper, etc.) In the next post I will examine portions of the translation itself.

From the web site :

The MEV is a translation of the Textus Receptus and the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the Masoretic Text, using the King James Version as the base manuscript.

The MEV is a literal translation. It is also often referred to as a formal correspondence translation.

The Committee on Bible Translation began their work on the MEV in 2005 and completed it in 2013.



The color is officially: Cranberry Leatherlike. The color is a blend between a true red and brown (photo shows it more brown than in real life). I like the color because it is unique among all my Bibles, easy to spot.

The cover has a nice feel for a lower end synthetic product. The band shown on the left side is also on the back of the cover. When I first picked up it, the raised designed caused me to wonder whether that was a good decision (constantly feeling that design whenever you pick up the Bible to read). But after a few minutes, I didn’t really notice it, and the raised design wasn’t irritating as I originally expected.


1.2 x 6 x 9.8 inches (1.2 lbs)

1184 pages

Overall a good size, easily handled, comfortable to use (except font size)


I have two concerns about the print: the print quality (and size) itself and paper quality. The print is small, even for a Thinline bible. The size works okay with the black text, but with the red text, it is distracting.

MEV with some bleed through
MEV with some bleed through
Red text more difficult to read
Red text more difficult to read

I am not a fan of red letter Bibles, but I own a few and have reviewed many more. I’m not sure if it is the typeface, font size, color of red used, or the paper weight, but I found this red letter text very difficult to read. My guess is that the typeface is acceptable, but the paper, and maybe the text color are the problem areas. If I used this Bible publicly (teaching, preaching), it would be a challenge.

Note on the close up of both the black text and red text photos, there is significant bleed-through, the black text is at least readable, the red text far less so.

MEV Black text bleed-through, but readable
MEV Black text bleed-through, but readable

But it is worse with the red letter text:

MEV Red letter text and bleed-through
MEV Red letter text and bleed-through

Surprisingly it looks better in the photo than it does in real life. But notice the dense bleed-through in the lower right corner, as well as the center column references.

Final thoughts: Physical aspects of MEV Thinline Bible

The cover is well done and feels comfortable. I like the typeface choice. A little larger font size and the difference in readability would be significant. A second factor is the paper weight choice. I realize this is a Thinline edition, but the bleed-through is the worst I have noticed in all Thinline Bibles I have reviewed/used.

Book Review: Invitation to Philippians

Sunukjian, Donald R. Invitation to Philippians: Building a Great Church Through Humility (Biblical Preaching for the Contemporary Church). Weaver Book Company, 2014.InvitationPhilippians

I read many books. I try to find ones that will enhance what I know, broaden my perspective, or teach me something new. Unfortunately, this book did none of those things. The series title, ”Biblical Preaching for the Contemporary Church,” suggested to me that there would be helps for those preaching to dig into the book, in this case, Philippians. Instead it was a series of sermons based on Philippians.

At first reading the sermons might appear generally okay. He offers the key thoughts of the letter in each sermon. Taken overall, he covers what Paul highlights (but there is a subtle and seductive shift, see below). The reader has to keep in mind that this is a survey of the letter, not an in-depth study. As such it might work as an introduction for the congregation to engage in further discovery of the riches of Philippians. It didn’t seem to encourage the congregation to take a further look into Paul’s letter.

One challenge of reading a sermon vs. hearing a sermon is the difference in style. I appreciate the comments in the Preface, “But I have tried my best to retain their oral flavor—I’ve wanted them to still sound close to the way we talk. This means there will be incomplete sentences, colloquial and idiomatic language, and other features of the spoken word.” P. 7) In this case the author succeeded and he is to be commended.

There are some legalistic, yet inconsistent problems in the book.

That’s one way you can be confident that people are committed to the work of the Lord—their homes are available. (p. 7)

You can be confident that God is at work in someone when you see that person stand up for the truth and willing to take the heat for it. (p. 8)

You can have confidence that God is in people’s lives when they give their money. (p. 9)

There are too many counter examples in real life to use these as the criteria “that God is at work.” But even worse, sanctification becomes the criteria of the Christian life, even above justification. Perhaps the following quote best demonstrates the trend toward moralism:

The answer is: The more love we have, the better choices we will make and the better people we will become.” (p. 16)

This confuses Law and Gospel and highlights sanctification over justification. And then he contradicts himself in Chapter 10, “The Christian Subculture: Righteous of Rubbish.” He wrote:

What is this tragedy that occurs if we let someone impose their rules and regulations on us, pressuring us into their spiritual lifestyle? What is the harm, the damage we suffer when we begin to think that following someone else’s codes will make us more righteous in God’s eyes? (p. 77)

The corrective he offers is really the same with a different coating:

What defines you as belonging to God is not some external behavior. What defines you is the internal presence of the Spirit of God. He’s totally changed everything about you and has become part of your life…. You’re pleasing to him not because you belong to a particular party, but because you act justly and fairly and mercifully toward all those around you. (p. 79)

The author leaves the listener/reader in a predicament. It’s not what we do, but what we do that matters? I think this misses the entire thrust of what Paul wrote in 3:1-9. Note how the author bring this chapter to a conclusion.

And this brings him finally to the great damage, the great harm, the overwhelming tragedy that comes if you let someone else define what you need to do in order to please God and be righteous in his eyes. (p. 82)

Going back to his criteria/standard by which the people should live “the better choices we will make and the better people we will become.” Sadly, the author leaves the confusion, and his criteria/standard reflects exactly what he is urging them to avoid.

Another problem I had with the book was the overuse of illustrations. In some cases, illustrations seemed to take at least half of the sermon. I appreciate the need for and value of illustrations, but this seems a little over the top. For instance, in Chapter 8, “Working out the Working in,” the first three pages are devoted to one illustration. In this case, I have to ask, does this help point to the main issue, or is it the main issue?

I wanted to like this book. I have spent considerable time over the past couple years studying Philippians. Yet this book is a disappointment. Overall, I don’t think the book offers enough for me to recommend it, especially in light of the strong legalistic yet inconsistent approach to the Christian life. The confusion of Law and Gospel is evident throughout. In the process the author has subtly changed the focus of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

I received a copy of this book from Cross-focused Books for an unbiased review.

My grandmother

My grandmother. On January 6, my grandmother would have been 105 years old. That amazes. She died in 1984 (age 74), but she seemed much older for most of what I remember of her (from 1952-1984). Although she was young when she did many things, she seemed old by the time she was 45 years old.

Some basic information. She was born in 1910, got pregant when she was 14, married soon after, had her first child when she turned 15, had another child (my mother) when she was 17, and divorced by the time she was 18. But there is far more to the story of my grandmother. Here is excerpt from my mother’s book, My Life in the Minnesota Northwoods.

I believe the simplest way is to go back to the early part of 1910 when my mother, Gladys May Brown, was born January 6 in Richardton, North Dakota. Her parents were Joseph and Jennie Brown, known to me as Grandpa and Grandma Brown. Grandpa Brown farmed, but different than today’s farmers who tend to stay in one place, when there was a crop failure or they were burned out, he would move the family to a new location to start over. In fact, during the years when Mom was growing up, he had moved the family from place to place in North Dakota and Wisconsin. Mom had two older brothers, two older sisters, four younger sisters, and two younger brothers. Poor Grandma was only 37 when she died giving birth, and the baby died also. Looking back I can’t help but think: it is no wonder she died so young, already having had eleven living children.

My grandmother on the far left (1916)
My grandmother on the far left (1916)

When Mom was about 18 months old she contracted what the doctors called white fever. Her mother massaged her arms and legs several times a

My grandmother in 1911
My grandmother in 1911

day because they didn’t know what else to do for her. This proved to be the best thing for her recovery. Even with this massage therapy she still had to learn to walk all over again. In later years after we heard about polio the doctors said this is what she had, because they used to call polio—white fever. Although according to the doctors she could still be a carrier of other childhood diseases, she developed an immunity to those diseases. Because she had to learn to walk again, and even then not too well, she stayed in the house to help her mother care for the younger children as the family grew. This proved to be a good thing because in the years after their mother died, all the younger children, especially the twins, looked up to Mom as a mother.

Like so many farms, theirs was overrun with rats. One time when Mom and some of the other children were sleeping on the floor, Mom was bit on her left cheek by a rat. This scar never bothered her until about 1968 when she was on her way to California to spend the winter. Before she left on that trip, the scar had begun to bother her. The doctor told her to rub it with castor oil. Having no castor oil, she decided to use mineral oil which caused the scar to grow. She became alarmed, so they returned to Grand Rapids in case it would mean surgery. After using castor oil, as she was supposed to have done all along, it was soon back to normal and never flared up again; it remained only the raised scar.

My grandmother holding my mother in 1927
My grandmother holding my mother in 1927

My grandmother became a grandmother at age 36, great-grandmother at age 54.

My mother relates many other stories about my grandmother (and other ancestors), but this little vignette provides enough to know that my grandmother lived a hard life, a full life, and indeed could seem old at age 45. As I write this I am 65, and wonder do I have the same kind of background? In some ways, yes. But nothing like the what she faced.

Happy birthday grandma!