When God’s Approval Isn’t

Background on GW

I have written before about the God’s Word (GW) translation. This includes my background as serving pastor of three different congregations that were test congregations for checking readability, oral comprehension, etc. For the most part it is a very good translation, especially as it was being published from 1988 to 1992.

The interim published translation was called New Evangelical Translation (NET) first in 1988 and then 1992); it covered only the New Testament. From 1992 to 1995, when the entire Bible was published under the name God’s Word, the translation team shifted emphasis. The biggest change in the translation was to translate δικαιοσύνη as “God’s approval” instead of the previous “righteousness.” I protested that change during the testing phase (1992-1995), and I repeatedly have sent letters/emails since 1995. All to no avail.

The reason for the change was defended by the translators, noting that in contemporary usage “righteous” and “righteousness” had lost any semblance to its usage in the New Testament, so an alternative had to be found, and they chose “God’s approval.”

My objection to such a change was two-fold. 1) It is better to teach the concept of “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη). Since teaching would be involved in understanding “God’s approval” why not teach regarding the use of “righteousness.”

2) The GW translators retained “righteousness” in the Old Testament for the Hebrew,  צְדָקָֽה , LXX (Greek OT) using δικαιοσύνη. So the supposed advantage of “God’s approval” fails in this inconsistency. Notice how this is problematic when looking at NT usage of an OT passage.

Romans 1:17 God’s approval is revealed in this Good News. This approval begins and ends with faith as Scripture says, “The person who has God’s approval will live by faith.” (GW)

Notice that it quotes from the prophet:

Habakkuk 2:4 But the righteous person (וְצַדִּ֖יק) will live because of his faithfulness. (GW)

So, how does a learning student of the Bible make the connection with how GW handles “righteousness” in Habakkuk vs. “God’s approval” in Romans? It actually leads to more confusion rather than clarity, because it makes a distinction between “righteousness” and “God’s approval.” Now, notice that when translating δικαιοσύνη as righteousness in Romans 1:17 the translation removes the additional layer of confusion, actually aiding the student in understanding.

Here is the NET (1992) translation of Romans 1:17

For it reveals the righteousness which comes from God by faith to bring people to faith, as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Thus, my theological and translational concerns about God’s Word choices still stand, and why the 1992 NET was far better. But now I have come across a practical reason to not use “God’s approval” as a translation for δικαιοσύνη.

Practical Implications

In Bible class recently this confusion caused by the use of “God’s approval” came to bear in a very personal way. One person has been caring for an elderly loved one for more than a decade. For many years the care was demanding but the elderly family member was her usual considerate loving self.

But in recent months the demeanor changed, and the burden on the caregiver with little sleep over the past few months (up every 1-2 hours). This meant the caregiver was working on the thin edge of care, and occasionally began to respond with less than kind words and attitude. The caregiver felt a heavy burden, because God was obviously not pleased (God did not approve of the attitude displayed).

The caregiver then was reading the usual GW translation Bible for comfort but kept running into “God’s approval.” The more the phrase appeared the more demanding it became, the more condemning it felt. The caregiver had come to the conclusion that God was not approving of the words and actions of the caregiver, leading to serious questions about God’s lack of approval. The person knew about righteousness but could never connect it to God’s approval. Other problematic texts in GW: Romans 3:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9.

Notice that in the process, the supposedly more helpful translation “God’s approval” was no longer speaking God’s approval, but the very opposite; “God’s approval” was not “God’s approval” for this person. The Good News of righteousness was replaced by the demands of a righteousness, earning God’s approval through performance that was flawed. And that was overwhelming. Thankfully this person asked the right question about that in Bible class. After the explanation of what righteousness is and what it means in many contexts, the tears of joy and relief flooded this person, the fear of not meeting “God’s approval” was gone.

For this person, “God’s approval” could only be understood in light of righteousness that is a gift from God. Thus the person is righteous by faith, not by performance. Others in the class began to understand the challenge and problem with GW’s use of “God’s approval.” Thus, the title, “When God’s Approval Isn’t.”

So I had to teach the concept of δικαιοσύνη, righteousness for the good news to sink in. How much longer it took than if the person had read “righteousness” in the translation GW?

What Next?

Of course, I realize that changing GW is impossible now. Twenty-three years have passed since I first opposed the use of “God’s approval” and I have repeatedly done so for 23 years. And still no acknowledgment that there is even a problem with the translation choice, “God’s approval.”

Sadly all the good points of GW (oral comprehension, Old Testament translations, etc.) cannot compensate for this translation problem. For that I am sad.

For the new realization and relief for this caregiver, that the person is righteous before God, not having to worry about God’s approval any more. In Jesus Christ, His righteousness has been accredited to the person’s account. And for that everything the person does is pleasing in God’s sight because of Christ’s work. God’s approval is not earned and no longer the cause of fear, discouragement, despair.

Nothing but joy and celebration when the good news truly becomes  good news.


Evangelism Study Bible — not

This Bible is of mixed value. I had high expectations, but was disappointed with the result. There are some very good things, and then there are some serious concerns.2662 cvr CC.indd



One of the best features: the footnotes. Sadly many Bibles have footnotes that are just barely legible (i.e. ESV Global Study Bible). In contrast, Kregel provided remarkably readable footnotes in this edition. The center column notes are a little small but still readable.

The Bible is well designed from the paper (no significant issues with bleed through; the accompanying photo highlights the bleed-through but in real life not that bad), background color for special articles (pleasant faint gray that makes the articles standout without jarring contrast), font choices (right choice for Biblical text, footnotes, special articles, and center column), which complement each use. The binding is solid and would appear to hold up well over time. Cover design is very attractive without being distracting or off-putting. Typographical error in footnote p. 1296 (right column, 2nd and 3rd line are repeated).Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.54.44

Well done to Kregel for the design and look of this Bible.

Translation choice:

Some may not care for the NKJV, but I think it is serviceable for this kind of Bible. There is a familiarity with the translation. As stated in the Introduction, this is “designed to be a study and training resource that will equip and encourage believers to share the gospel.” Thus, the choice of NKJV will work for many in that purpose.

Articles vary in quality

Included are some articles and notes that I find acceptable. I have only noted a few here:

Article on Matthew 9:9-13, “Don’t lose contact with non-Christians.”

Article on Matthew 11:28-30 “Inviting people to a relationship, not to regulations” (p. 1063)

Article on Matthew 13 “Illustrations: valuable tools for evangelism” (p. 1064)

Article on Philippians 2:1-11 “The only way up is down” (p. 1305)

Some concerns:

One article I found helpful was on humility relative to Numbers 12:3 and Moses’ humility (p. 148). I think this article accurately reflects the text about Moses, and by application the attitude of any believer in Jesus Christ.

But there many lists throughout this Bible about “steps” or “action items for evangelism” that could be helpful. My underlying concern has to do with whether some of these lists are faithful to the Bible text. In other words, taking sections out of context to apply to evangelism might seem helpful, but does it reflect the text? I think the article regarding 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 on Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple (p. 442) is an example that isn’t supported by the text itself. I don’t have a problem with the list that is provided in the article. However, I don’t think that list is sustainable by the text nor does it reflect the importance of the temple and the dedicatory prayer within God’s work in pointing ahead to Christ.

Not good:

Imported theology and downplaying the Biblical text:

My major concern with this Evangelism Bible is the footnotes and special topics. A little background on why this is so important to me. I have been involved in evangelism efforts for 40 years and have been training congregations since 1979, and pastors and congregations since 1989. Evangelism is critical for the Christian and the Christian church. I am always looking for good resources to help in this work of the church. Sadly I find this Bible does not help true evangelism, despite its stated goal.

There are central texts that deal with evangelism and yet they are downplayed and even changed. This has to do with theology.

Footnote on Matthew 3:6

“Later New Testament baptisms symbolized a believer’s identification with Christ following Him in faith” (p. 1049)

Thus, the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 has this footnote:

“baptizing them” “Christ commanded that those who trusted Him as Savior should be baptized. The New Testament teaches that baptism is not a part of or necessary to become a Christian. It is, however, the first step of discipleship” (p. 1089).

This approach continues in Acts 2:38:

be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. “Baptism is a public testimony of the inner reality of forgiveness. It is a testimony to our salvation, not a means of salvation (p. 1198).”

Romans 6:3-5 footnote:

“Some scholars believe it refers to spiritual baptism. By faith we are joined with Christ. Others believe that Paul meant water baptism is a public announcement believers make when they identify themselves with Christ in His death and resurrection. Though it isn’t necessary for salvation, water baptism furnishes a picture of what happens spiritually to Christians.” (p. 1244)Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.55.41

The same kind of note is made with Ephesians 4:5 (p. 1299), when Paul states there is “one baptism.” Based on the footnotes above and here, the reader of this Bible isn’t sure if there is one baptism (or which one) or two baptisms. So again, rather than the Gospel being something that is assuring through Word and Baptism, the Gospel is left uncertain, and part is considered unnecessary. The Biblical text does not support any of these footnotes—that is a theology imported to the text .

On the contrary, 1 Peter 3:21 clearly states that “baptism now saves you.” So in this Bible the great Commission is changed from God’s saving work (through His Word and Baptism, Matthew 28:18-20) to humans taking at least half of the Great Commission away from God making it their work.  Interestingly the article at the bottom of the page discussing the Great Commission has no word about baptism. Even worse, a fable is used to note that God has no second plan. (p. 1089) (see accompanying photo of the article).


I think from a design standpoint this Bible deserves praise and well done to Kregel. From a theological perspective evangelism, this Bible falls short. I am disappointed to say the least. In good conscience I can not recommend this Bible for evangelism work.

Ex. 14 and ESV

In my daily reading (today Exodus 13-14, using ESV), I came upon an unusual rendering in two places in Exodus 14.

And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. (Exodus 14:4 ESV)

And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”  (Exodus 14:18 ESV)

I don’t remember that kind of translation (bolded text) in others (NAS, HCSB, etc.). So when I looked at the Hebrew I saw this: וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה, which is a Niphal form of the verb כבד, often translated as “to be heavy” or “glory.” But the Niphal form typically has a more passive sense of the verb, which the ESV does not suggest by its translation.

HALOT includes several options under the Niphal form of the word with some references.

1. to be considered weighty, to be honoured Gen 34:19; Num 22:15; Dt 28:58; 1 Sam 9:6; 22:14; 2 Sam 23:19, 23; Is 3:5; 23:8f; 43:4; 49:5; Nah 3:10; Ps 149:8 1Chr. 11:21,25,

2. to enjoy honour 2 Kg 14:10; 2 Chr 2519; to be held in honour 2 Sam 6:22

3. to behave with dignity 2 Sam 6:20

4. to appear in one’s glory (God) Ex 14:4.17; Lev 10:3 Is 26:15 Ezk 28:22 39:13; Hg 1:8

5. glorious things Ps 87:3; —Pr 8:24

In the Lev. 10:3 and Isaiah 26:15, ESV provides a more appropriate translation of the Niphalfor of כבד:

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. (Lev. 10:3 ESV)

But you have increased the nation, O LORD, you have increased the nation; you are glorified; you have enlarged all the borders of the land. (Isaiah 26:15 ESV)

I checked the LXX translation of the Hebrew and saw that it, too, carries the passive sense of the Hebrew. ἐνδοξασθήσομαι “I will be glorified” (future passive)

ἐγὼ δὲ σκληρυνῶ τὴν καρδίαν Φαραω, καὶ καταδιώξεται ὀπίσω αὐτῶν· καὶ ἐνδοξασθήσομαι ἐν Φαραω καὶ ἐν πάσῃ τῇ στρατιᾷ αὐτοῦ, καὶ γνώσονται πάντες οἱ Αἰγύπτιοι ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι κύριος. καὶ ἐποίησαν οὕτως. (Exodus 14:4, LXX)

So, it seems that ESV leaves a little to be desired in its translation of וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה in Exodus 14.

Just some early morning thoughts on the text. I probably have missed everything; that happens because I am old, slow, and confused, but at least I’m inconsistent.

Sermon March 15, 2015

The Gospel reading and sermon text for today (Narrative Lectionary):

Sermon: Matthew 25:1-30

Text: HCSB

[Jesus said:] 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 
10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible. 
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take olive oil with them. 4 But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’

7 “Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 
8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

9 “The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’

10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.

11 “Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’

13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

14 “For it is just like a man going on a journey. He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one—to each according to his own ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately 16 the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. 17 In the same way the man with two earned two more. 18 But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’

21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’

22 “Then the man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’

23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’

24 “Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’

26 “But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.

28 “‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Forgiveness in the Church

How does the Church live together day in and day out? It isn’t programs, musicians, leadership, spiritual giftedness. Rather the Church lives and breathes in the environment of forgiveness. There is no short-cut, not a handy bypass to avoid dealing with sin. Ignoring sin will foster an atmosphere of approval of sin. Refusing to forgive leads to arrogance, on the one hand, and the desire to cover sins, on the other. No, dealing with sin can be done in no other way than through forgiveness. It means dealing with sin, not to “win” but to “win the brother” — that is, to restore the brother or sister to the fellowship. Thus, this process is for the purpose of restoring relationships. It means forgiving, even in the midst of a crises. It means letting God have the first word and the last word.

Forgiveness is not the same as saying, “Oh that’s okay.” No, the reality of sin is that it is destructive of people, relationships, and especially relationship with God. When we as Christians face sin, it can be unpleasant. But, forgiving sin is restorative, it is the mending of broken relationships, and it is foremost the bringing together the forgiven sinner and the God who forgives.


Who are you to forgive?

You will often hear something to this effect: “Only God can forgive sins.” Or “Who do you think you are to forgive sins?” But Jesus says the opposite. Tomorrow our Gospel reading is Matthew 18:15-35 (also basis for the sermon)—see below. The theme is forgiveness; namely, Jesus tells us how to deal with sin: in love confronting the person about the sin (not attacking the person). When the person repents, we forgive the person, freely, even as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).

We do not forgive on our own authority but on the authority of Jesus himself. Note in 18:18

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.

In other words, the forgiving we do is done on the basis that it has already been forgiven in heaven. We are not in control, but rather declaring what God has already done.

Also he says in 18:20

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

Note that 18:20 is often taken out of context and used to apply to any and every gathering of Christians—except forgiveness. However, in this context, Jesus’ promise to be there with us is in the forgiving of sins. Let’s not ignore the central aspect of the Christian life: forgiveness of sins. Let’s not downplay the role in the gathering of Christians. Let’s not pretend we are super pious by claiming “I would never dare take the authority to forgive sins.” Indeed, Jesus says the very opposite. We fail to live in Christian community when we do not confront sin (with the Law) and forgive (sin (the Gospel). And it isn’t self-appointed, it is Jesus’ description and commission of Christian living.

The text is Matthew 18:15-35 (NAS)

[Jesus said:] 15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 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.

19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.

26 “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

28 “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’

34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

May we live together in community based on the forgiveness of sins!

”Testament” or “covenant”

We began our Lent observance on Ash Wednesday, which leads to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The central place of the Lord’s Supper within the worshiping community is highlighted throughout Lent and culminates in Maundy Thursday. I serve a congregation that celebrates the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, every service, which reflects the importance of it among God’s people, and especially for our people.

As Lutherans we confess the Lord’s Supper that in it we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, a teaching that is different from Protestants(the bread and wine are symbols/representatives of the body and blood, which are not present).

One issue related to the Lord’s Supper is how to understand διαθήκη (diatheke) and how to translate it, whether “testament” or “covenant.” As I have been reflecting on this heritage of theology, some history of translation is helpful. In 1963 William Beck published his NT translation called An American Translation (AAT), but popularly know as Beck’s Bible (Beck died in 1966, but his OT was published in 1976 with two scholars [Schmick and Kiehl] finishing his work). In 1963 I was a freshman in high school, and our church began using Beck’s NT for Sunday School. Rather different than KJV for understandability!

Regarding this topic, the KJV used the word “testament” for διαθήκη. In 1986 the process of revising AAT began. Soon, the project became known as God’s Word to the Nations. I remember the “testament/covenant” issue that faced the translators of God’s Word to the Nations (GWN, 1986-1988), later New Evangelical Translation (NET 1988-1992), and eventually God’s Word (GW 1995).

I had the privilege of serving congregations from 1987-1995 that were testers for GWN, later NET, eventually GW. In 1992 there was a change in translation direction, much to my frustration about translating specific words in context. So when it was finally published as God’s Word (GW 1995), I opposed several of these changes because I thought they weakened the translation and changed the focus of the underlying Greek. Beginning in 1992 I had written repeatedly over the years  to ask that the GW translators revert back to the 1992 NET renderings.wine-sacrament

Several critical changes: (original refers to the NET; change refers to the GW move in 1992-1995).

διαθήκη original: “last will and testament” changed to “promise”

χάρις original: “grace” changed to “good will”

ἅγιοι original: “saints” changed to “holy people” or “God’s people” or “believers”

This article explains the reasoning for using “testament” in the NT rather than “covenant” as a translation of διαθήκη.

Translating διαθηκη in NET

Here is the NET (New Evangelical Translation) of Matthew 26:26-28

While they were eating, Jesus took bread and gave thanks. He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat; this is My body.”

Then He took a cup and spoke a prayers of thanks. He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you. For this is My blood of the last will and testament, which is being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

So, what is the significance of translating διαθήκη as “last will and testament” (or “testament” as in KJV)  rather than “covenant.” I think it becomes clear in Matthew 26:26-28 (and parallels and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) regarding the Lord’s Supper. It is also why when speaking the words of institution, I use “testament” (and occasionally “last will and testament” —with explanation) not “covenant.”

Regardless of this discussion, in the Lord’s Supper Jesus offers his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. For that we rejoice.



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