Matt. 18 mercy, binding, and loosing

Daily reading today is Matthew 17-20. Here are some thoughts on MEV translation.

Matthew 18:33

οὐκ ἔδει ⸂καὶ σὲ⸃ ἐλεῆσαι τὸν σύνδουλόν σου, ὡς κἀγὼ ⸄σὲ ἠλέησα

MEV: Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, even as I had pity on you?

Note that same Greek word in a parallel construction is translated two different ways. NKJV does the same as MEV.

NKJV: Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?

Consider other translations

NAS: Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?

NET: Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?

ESV: And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?

HCSB: Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?

NIV: Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

GW: Shouldn’t you have treated the other servant as mercifully as I treated you?


Other uses of the same word (“have mercy”) in Matthew in MEV:

5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy

9:27 “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

15:22 Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David

17:15 Lord, have mercy on my son

20:30 Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David

Every occurrence of ἐλεέω in MEV in Matthew is translated as “have mercy.” It is even more strange then, in this passage (18:33) that it be translated two different ways, and neither consistent with the way it was translated throughout the book. Since the intent of the entire pericope (Matthew 18:21-35) is the parallel response between the master and the unforgiving servant, it would make better sense to translate the word the same way in this context (“have mercy”) especially within the same sentence.

Matthew 18:18

This verse has been a sort of litmus test. How do we translate the future perfect passive participles?

ἔσται δεδεμένα (bind)

ἔσται λελυμένα (loose)

The MEV translates as simple future passives, as do most other translations

MEV 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

NKJV 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

HCSB I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.

(with footnotes: earth will be bound… earth will be loosed. The text version catches the passive sense and prior action by God, “already done”)


ESV Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

(with footnote: Or shall have been bound . . . shall have been loosed, which indicates future perfect passive)

NIV Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

(with footnote: Or will have been, in both uses, which indicates future perfect passive)

I think NAS offers a consistent translation of the verb forms:

NAS Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

What difference does this make?

In one sense it doesn’t seem to make much difference. As we explore the options, notice that most translations offer a future passive sense (“will be bound” “will be loosed”). Such a translation makes the authority rest on the person making the declaration. “I declare it… it will be done.”

Looking at NAS (and ESV and NIV with footnotes) the the focus of authority resides with God and His prior action, not the person making the declaration. In essense, when the person declares “it is bound,” he or she can do so because “it will have already been bound in heaven (by God) prior to the declaration.” Likewise, when the person declares “it is loosed” he or she can do so because “it will have already been done in heaven (by God) prior to the declaration.” It is God’s prior authority and declaration that is being announced, not the individual’s own authority. The person announces God’s already determined response.

This frees the person making the declaration from being the source of authority. And it let’s God Word be determinative.


Psalm 11 Who sees whom?

As I was reading devotionally yesterday I came across Psalm 11 (MEV), which I have included to see the context.

1 In the Lord I seek refuge;
how do you say to my soul,
“Flee as a bird to your mountain,

2 for the wicked bend their bow;
they make ready their arrow on the string,
that they may treacherously shoot
the upright in heart.

3 If the foundations are broken,
what can the righteous do?”

4 The Lord is in His holy temple,
His throne is in heaven;
His eyes see,
His eyes examine mankind.

5 The Lord tests the righteous,
but the wicked and one who loves violence
His soul hates.

6 Upon the wicked He will rain
coals of fire and brimstone and a burning wind;
this will be the portion of their cup.

7 For the righteous Lord
loves righteousness;
His countenance beholds the upright.

Hebrew (Psalm 11:7): כִּֽי־צַדִּ֣יק יְ֭הוָה צְדָק֣וֹת אָהֵ֑ב יָ֝שָׁ֗ר יֶחֱז֥וּ פָנֵֽימוֹ׃

I didn’t think much about it until I read it in NAS as well. The challenge was Psalm 11:7 (“His countenance beholds the upright” MEV and “The upright will behold His face” NAS). Who is the subject of the sentence (doing the action) and who is the direct object (receiving the action)? It depends on which translation you use.

God is the subject, “upright ones” are the direct object and hence “His countenance beholds the upright” (MEV joins KJV, NKJV, KJ21, REB)


People (“upright”) are the subject and God is the direct object and thus: “The upright will behold His face” (NAS joins most modern translations: ESV, NIV, HCSB, NET, etc.)


Some textual observations

Robert Alter (The Book of Psalms) offers this as an explanation for why he favors the second translation:

With the wicked disposed of in the previous verse, the psalm ends on this positive note of the upright beholding God—even as God from the heavens beholds all humankind. In the Hebrew, the noun is singular and the verb is plural; presumably one of the two (probably the verb) should be adjusted. The Masoretic text reads “their face,” with no obvious antecedent for the plural, but variant Hebrew versions have “His face.” (p. 34)

Leopold in his commentary (Expoistion of the Psalms) offers a different view of the data and favors the first option.

Since the whole emphasis lies in what God does and is, and that alone constitutes the solid basis of comfort, we have translated the last clause: “His countenance beholds the upright,” implying that same watchful care that was stressed above. The words could have been translated: “The upright shall behold His face.” But panemo, which equals panaw, His countence, being plural, can readily take the verb in the plural, yechesu, which is easier to construe than to regard the singular yahsar as a collective plural and so make it the subject of the verb. (p. 128)

As both authors note, the text is not as clear or simple as we would like. As I reflected further, I noticed that in Psalm 11:4-7, the emphasis on God’s actions, especially as He “examines mankind” (v. 4) and “tests the righteous ones” (v. 5) [God is the subject]. The wicked receive the crush of God’s disfavor (vv. 5b-6), and then the Psalm ends with a return to the “righteous ones.” The subject is God in vv. 4-6. It makes sense now in v. 7 that the same God who examined and tested the righteous now looks upon the righteous (“upright”) [same Hebrew word: צַדִּ֪יק [tzaddiq] used in v. 5 and v. 7.] without any judgment.

So What?

At this point I find that either option can work, but the first option (“His countenance beholds the upright/righteous”) seems more consistent with the flow of the entire Psalm. I think it also reflects the Aaronic benediction (Num. 6:24-26), specifically v. 25: The LORD make His face shine on you.”

An another point in favor of the first option is the application. What is more comforting? To look upon God’s face or to have God look upon us? From the prospective of God looking at examination of us (v. 5), it carries more weight that God looks again at us with no judgment attached.

Further study…

MEV Further Thoughts

Large Print MEV

Almost two years ago I purchased an Modern English Version (MEV) Bible. Then I provided serveral posts about the translation itself. See: MEV Part 1, MEV Part 2, MEV Readability. One of my criticisms was the size of the print: small print size is not exaggerating. I could not use it on a daily basis.

So two weeks ago I purchased the Large Print MEV. What a difference in reading! It is readable even in low light environments. I have been reading it every day for 10+ days.  The size of the Bible is not a burden to carry. I could also use regularly in teaching/preaching without the size or weight being a problem. My preference is a single column text, but MEV does not come with it. But I will happily read this large print Bible.

The bleed through seems less of a problem, not being a distraction at all (it looks worse in this photo than in real life). I also noticed that the red letter in this font works well. I am not a fan of red letter editions due to readability problems. But this is one of the best red-letter choices (font design, size, and red color choice). The paper color is a faint off-white, which makes reading easier.

MEV view of red letter text
MEV view of red letter text

There is one drawback to making it as large print, the editors removed all cross references (see above photo). In an ideal world, a little smaller print with those retained would be best. But that is a technical publishing issue.

Now that I can read it easily, I am reading it daily for devotional reading. But I am also reading to see if there are any translation issues. One stuck out immediately (reading John 1-3).

Translation Choice: Only or Only-begotten

The Greek word, μονογενής, had been traditionally translated as “only begotten” (KJV, NKJV, NAS) while many more contemporary translations have used one of the following translation choices: “one and only son” or “unique son” or “only son” (NRSV, TSV, NIV, NET, HCSB, NLT, GW).

BDAG (2000) offers this about the divided view of which is the best translation choice:

μονογενὴς υἱός is used only of Jesus. The renderings only, unique may be quite adequate for all its occurrences here

[Several scholars] prefer to regard μονογενὴς as somewhat heightened in mng. in J and 1J to only-begotten or begotten of the Only One, in view of the emphasis on γεννᾶσθαι ἐκ θεοῦ (J 1:13 al.); in this case it would be analogous to πρωτότοκος (Ro 8:29; Col 1:15 al.)

NET has an translation note:

Or “of the unique one.” Although this word is often translated “only begotten,” such a translation is misleading, since in English it appears to express a metaphysical relationship. The word in Greek was used of an only child (a son [Luke 7:12, 9:38] or a daughter [Luke 8:42]). It was also used of something unique (only one of its kind) such as the mythological Phoenix (1 Clem. 25:2). From here it passes easily to a description of Isaac (Heb 11:17 and Josephus, Ant., 1.13.1 [1.222]) who was not Abraham’s only son, but was one-of-a-kind because he was the child of the promise. Thus the word means “one-of-a-kind” and is reserved for Jesus in the Johannine literature of the NT. While all Christians are children of God, Jesus is God’s Son in a unique, one-of-a-kind sense. The word is used in this way in all its uses in the Gospel of John (1:14, 1:18, 3:16, and 3:18).

Since MEV follow the KJV text base and generally its translation choices, I discovered it wasn’t as clear-cut as I thought.

μονογενής in MEV

The Greek word appears 9 times in the NT. I am comparing MEV choice in translation to NKJV since they share a common heritage

Luke 7:12 

NKJV: a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother;

MEV: a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother

Luke 8:42

NKJV: for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.

MEV: for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.

Luke 9:38 

NKJV: saying, “Teacher, I implore You, look on my son, for he is my only child.”

MEV: saying, “Teacher, I beg You, look upon my son, for he is my only child.

John 1:14  

NKJV: and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

MEV and we saw His glory, the glory as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:18 

NKJV  The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

MEV  The only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known

John 3:16 

NKJV For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,

MEV For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son

John 3:18 

NKJV because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

MEV because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God

Heb 11:17 

NKJV he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son [Isaac],

MEV he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son [Isaac]

1 John 4:9 

NKJV  God has sent His only begotten Son into the world.

MEV God sent His only begotten Son into the world

The two that stuck out in mind are John 1:14, and 18. Why change in those two verses to “only Son” and yet in John 3:16, 18 use “only begotten Son”? It would seem that when dealing with the same author and there are four verses that deal with the same concept, and Greek word, why not translate all four the same way “only begotten” as in NKJV, or “one and only” as in most modern translations.

I would question both NKJV and MEV in translating Heb. 11:17 as “only begotten.” It would be more consistent with the translation decisions in the Lukan passages listed above.

More Thoughts

Overall, I am still impressed with the translation choices. Even a small change in John 1:14 seems like a positive using “and we saw His glory” rather than “and we beheld His glory.”

Modern English Version: Layout and Readability

I have considered Bible translations for the past 30 years. Obviously solid translations handle issues in all these areas: words, phrases, syntax, linguistics, etc. Another area that is important to help the reader (silently or orally), which is not a translation issue per se, is the layout of the translation. I think God’s Word translation has the best layout design of any translation (including using only one column). See here for a discussion of layout, aural connections, and readability be sure to read comments).

We see the changes in layout over the centuries with the manuscripts, the move from all capital letters with no spaces between words, to small letters to spaces between words. The story of the birth announcement to the shepherds looks a little different in the two ways ( had to add breaks in the first example in order to display properly in the blog):


In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ cthe Lord.

Layout and design do make a difference, and that has been an issue especially noticed in the print era.

Contemporary layout issues

For more formal equivalence translations, I like NAS and NKJV (much better than ESV) and have used both translations in readings this past year and for sermons. However, both use a layout scheme that can be confusing for reading. In poetry sections, both translations use capital letters to begin each line, regardless of the preceding punctuation (if any punction). And neither translation uses indentation to help the reader. Note this example from NKJV for Psalm 49. NAS has the same problem.

NKJV Psalm 49





As I have been reading and using MEV, I noticed almost immediately the different layout that MEV uses with regard to each of these problematic areas. Here is the same Psalm 49 in MEV. The lack of capitalization and the indentation makes it easier to read and follow with the eyes.


Another layout issue

Despite the better layout of the MEV, there is a problem with the layout, in terms of paper weight and bleed-through (NKJV has same problem). Notice in the both photos that the print from the other side shows through. Keep in mind, that it appears worse in the photo below than in real life. But with MEV’s smaller font size, the bleed-through becomes more noticeable. Here is an enlarged view of the same MEV passage.


Some thoughts on MEV

I will have more comment son MEV translation this coming week. Overall, I can say that I am very pleased with it. My wife and I have used it for our nightly devotional reading the past two weeks. Further, we will use MEV for our readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There is a familiarity with rhythm and cadence. At the same time MEV has improved some of the words choices (better than NKJV).


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.