Lutheran-Protestant Differences

This basics elements of this post originally appeared in April 2012. It was part of a series on “Searching for a Church.” I have modified it to fit the context of Sasse’s quotes and the distinction between Lutheran and Protestant in the two previous posts.

The caveats

This part of the search takes a while. It is one thing to hear a good sermon on Sunday or a good short series of sermons. It is another to determine whether the church covers all key doctrines or whether these are more hobby-horse sermons. What makes this more complicated is that you have to be there and dig into both the sermons and the official teachings of the congregation or denomination.

So, in one sense you are becoming a focus of the church’s ministry (or you should be!) unless the church doesn’t want to deal with you as part of the ministry and only as “members” (whatever that might mean). This is a catch 22 situation. As you and your family become (unintentionally) integrated, it can be difficult to leave if you discover the teaching of “the faith” doesn’t measure up.

This part of the search also involves your own growing in the “the faith.” That is, you study the Scriptures in a more consistent manner. You don’t just pick a few favorite passages, but wrestle with some of the more challenging texts (1 Cor. 11:23-29; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 3-8, John 14-17, etc.). At this point a critical text to keep in mind is Acts 17:11

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true  (NIV)

Thus, no matter what the credentials of the pastor, the size of the congregation, or popularity of the ministry, every pastor ought to welcome questions about Scripture. And you can ask, not to trick someone or “win an argument,” but rather in humility to see whether what you hear and see in the church is consistent with Scripture. I can’t stress this enough: humility is critical in this whole process, in your own study of Scripture and in your testing of the church’s teachings.

Two Questions to Start:

There are always two questions to ask a group or an individual to find out whether it is even worth pursuing.

1. What is most important? [Material Principle]

It’s amazing how easily this question is glossed over in many churches today. The Bible is very clear on this point, but the answer to this question can be summarized as:

justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

justification by grace (alone) through faith (alone) in Jesus Christ (alone)

See the following Bible passages:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 NIV)

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24 NIV)

The list of passages goes on and on: Philippians 3:9; John 14:6; Acts 2:36; Acts 4:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 2:16, etc.

Unless that is stated up front by the group and is consistently the center of everything else in teaching and ministry, then the group does not reflect the most important thing, and hence is not Lutheran in confession.

Regarding this question, when we examine other confessions within the Christian church, we discover that most churches would not necessarily disagree with the response to the first question [Material Principle]. Rather the disagreement is whether that statement is the top priority, and they may disagree with the means by which that is accomplished.

Within Protestant churches, some follow Calvin, as summarized a century later in the Westminster Confession (1647)

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Other Protestant responses could include those by Zwingli (divine causality), or Methodism (holiness or the perfected person), or Pentecostals (maturity in speaking in tongues). And the list goes on.

2. What is the source for #1? [Formal Principle]

For Christians, the answer ought to be “the Bible.”

Scripture (alone)—the Bible

But don’t be too quick to jump on this answer. Why? Because over time it will surface that the real answer might be “The Bible and reason.” In other words, the real stance might be: “I accept the Bible as long as it makes sense to me.” Or ask yourself whether faith is so narrowly defined that it does not apply to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ as the Bible does.

Have they (we) restricted it to mental capability? The answer to such a question may indicate that the Bible is no longer the source, but rather my own reason. So, if a group claims the Bible is the only source for doctrine and faith, very good. But look closer at how this is practiced in preaching and teaching.

Using Reason: Ministerial Use

Even further, we have to look at how reason is used with regard to the second question about Scripture alone. For Lutherans, we use reason in a ministerial way, that is in service to the Scriptures. Thus, we use reason in all its fullness, using all the tools that are available, including new archaeological discoveries, lexicons (dictionaries), manuscript finds, etc. The stopping point for Lutherans is at the point at which Scripture declares something that our reason struggles to believe. Ministerial reason tries to understand all that is involved, but if no solution can be found, then we say that Scripture has the last word, not reason.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this limit is the Lord’s Supper. How can Jesus’ body and blood be present in the the Sacrament of the Altar. Our reason would want us to get out a microscope to confirm that it is true. Yet, as Luther told Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, “But the text says, ‘This is my body’ ” (paraphrased). So reason is a tool, but always stops short when there is a contradiction between what the text says and what reason deduces.

Using Reason: Magisterial Use

In that same Marburg discussion, Uhlrich Zwingli (1483-1531) used reason but in a magisterial (judging) way. That is, when he could not comprehend using ministerial (serving) reason, he moved to magisterial reason to sit in judgment over Scripture. Thus, Zwingli’s response to Luther’s declaration was in essence, “But that doesn’t make any sense that his body and blood were actually present.” To get around this contradiction, Zwingli claimed that the communicant (the one receiving) would ascend to heaven to get benefits. The bread and wine were only signs of something (the “real benefit”) that was happening elsewhere not in the elements in the Lord’s Supper. So not only did Zwingli sit in judgment with magisterial reason, he even used it to devise a non-Biblical solution.

Interestingly, the Roman Catholicism formalized this same position. The source of official teaching includes four sources:

1 all the canonical books of the Bible (including the Deuterocanonical books)

2 reason

3 the tradition of the Church (formalized reason over a period of time)

4 the interpretation of these by the Magisterium (official teaching authority of the Church through the pope and bishops).

Accordingly, for Roman Catholicism, these four sources constitute the complete and best resource for fully attaining to God’s revelation to mankind. Thus, within Roman Catholicism, sacred scripture and sacred tradition as preserved and interpreted by the Magisterium are both necessary for attaining to the fullest understanding of all of God’s revelation.

Distinguish between what is important and not important?

So how do we decide what is or is not important? What is the role of baptism relative to what is most important? What about the role of women? (NB: even phrasing this question this way reveals much about the church) What about end times? It can be very confusing.

As I wrestled through this process I came to realize that there were distinctions between doctrines, some very important, and others less so. At the time I didn’t have resources to formally sort this out, but as it turned out, I followed much the path that Franz Pieper had articulated in his Christian Dogmatics. And I discovered that this process was used by Christians for many centuries, that is, to distinguish Fundamental Doctrines vs. Non-fundamental Doctrines vs. Adiaphora (“things indifferent”).

Fundamental Doctrines:

These concern the foundation of the Christian faith. Saving faith (as “the faith”) includes the following:

Knowledge of sin and consequences of sin (Luke 24:47; Isaiah 66:2; 57:15; Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Luke 4:18, etc.)

Knowledge of the Person of Jesus Christ, i.e. true God and true Man (Matt. 22:42; 16:13-17; 1 John 1:1-4; Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 12:3, Matthew 28:18-20, etc.)

Knowledge of the work of Jesus Christ, not as an example, but rather the Mediator who gave Himself as a ransom for all to take away the sin of the world (1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 1:29; 1 John 3:8; etc.)

Faith is in the Word of Christ, the external Word, not an internal “feeling” (Mark 1:15; Romans 10:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13, etc.)

Belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead and of eternal life for all believers in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, 54, etc.)

If the above are not believed and taught, then the person/group is not Christian. It is that simple.

There are two secondary fundamental doctrines, that support the above, namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The difference is that while these are built on the above foundation someone can believe or teach wrongly on either topic and yet be Christian. This is critical in two ways. We may disagree on these two topics but we cannot then claim that those who disagree are not Christian. On the other hand, we cannot just accept something to avoid digging further, claiming “it doesn’t matter because I’m Christian.” Doctrine does matter. If Scripture teaches something on these two topics we cannot dismiss it as unimportant (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 16:17; 2 Timothy 1:13-14, etc.).

Non-fundamental Doctrines:

Pieper writes about this classification very well:

Non-fundamental doctrines…are those Scripture truths which are not the foundation or object of faith in so far as it obtains forgiveness of sins and makes [people] children of God, but with the faith of those who have already obtained the forgiveness of sins should and does concern itself. (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 1, pp. 91-2)

The knowledge of non-fundamental doctrines serve faith, and include topics such as: the Antichrist, doctrine of angels, end times theology, etc. However, the denial of or errors regarding non-fundamental doctrines can endanger saving faith, i.e. approaching the end times in such a way that faith in Christ is weakened rather than strengthened.

Adiaphora (“Things indifferent”)

These are things which God has neither commanded nor forbidden. In Christian freedom we can make choices on either side of the topic, but always with concern for the weaker believer (i.e. Romans 14:13-18). Examples include: to be vegetarian or not, to drink alcoholic beverages, what day to worship, etc. These can raise all kinds of additional concerns, which means caution, love, and humility inform and guide our freedom in these matters.

One other topic: Law and Gospel

Understanding Law and Gospel and the proper distinction between them is essential in terms of reading Scripture rightly. Over the past 30 years I have found that once people come to grips with this, many other pieces fall into place (not in the sense of “making sense” but rather consistent with Scripture itself. This deserves a separate post, but just a note on it (and a Law-Gospel Handout):

Law: Tells us what we are to do or not do, and threatens punishment when we fail. It can only condemn, accuse, threaten (in doctrinal terms). “I” am the subject of the Law.

Gospel: Tells us what Jesus Christ has done for our salvation, 100% his doing, nothing I can do or even believe to change that. “Jesus” is the subject of saving work, and He is always the object of saving faith. Gospel never condemns, never accuses, but always comforts, forgives, renews, restores, and builds faith in Jesus Christ.

Much more could be written but this is at least a good starting point. It gives a road map to make sure that we do not make a “shipwreck of our faith” (2 Timothy 2:16-18). As we work our way through the above process, we also look at how this is working itself out in the congregation. Correct doctrine is to be consistent with a Spirit-led, God pleasing ministry among the people and in outreach. So that is the next focus.

“Incomplete” Lutherans

The book, Here We Stand: Nature and Character of the Lutheran Faith, reflects Sasse’s battle against the Protestant attempt to present a unified statement of faith against the Nazi movement in Germany in the 1930’s. From the Protestant view, all movements coming out of the Reformation would be best combined, even if there was no acknowledgement of the theological/doctrinal differences. Karl Barth was the major proponent of such a declaration (eventually the Barmen Declaration). 51ljQIsee0L._SL500_SL160_

One area of interest was (and is) how the Reformation is viewed historically and theologically. For many, the Reformation includes many strands of equal importance: Lutheran, Reformed, Calvinism, etc. And yet is that how we as Lutherans understand the Reformation?

The Accusation against Lutherans

Sasse presents the general Protestant view of the Reformation, which is a skewed view as if the “Lutheran Reformation” was incomplete, didn’t go far enough. That still is a problem today, perceiving the Reformation through the lens of the general Protestant perspective. Sasse lays out the accusation against Lutherans this way.

This is the accusation that we Lutherans overestimate our reformation by thinking of it as the Reformation of the church, and by thinking of our church as the church of the Reformation. In truth, however, the Lutheran Reformation is only the beginning, and only a part, of the Reformation as such. There were other Reformers in addition to Luther, and besides the Wittenberg Reformation there were, of course, others—such as the Zürich and the Geneva Reformation. The Reformation is made up of all these reformations put together. Luther’s new insight of faith is not the “Reformation faith” until it is supplemented by the insights of faith which the other Reformers contributed. Inasmuch as the Lutheran Church has overlooked or forgotten this, and has isolated itself from the other churches of the Reformation, it has slipped into a false relationship both to the Roman Church and to those other Reformation churches. It has not remained sufficiently apart from the Roman Church, and it has not realized that, for better or worse, its fate is intimately bound up with that of the other churches of the Reformation. Thus the Lutheran Church has taken its stand in an uncertain middle position between the other two. It has not found its way entirely out of Catholicism. It still needs to be drawn from the limitations of its narrow horizon to an experience of the whole Reformation—the whole Reformation in the double sense of a complete and radical reform which has its roots in obdeience to God’s commands and consequently triumphs over Catholicism, and of an inclusive reform which does not limit itself to Luther’s teaching alone.

This is the accusation which is lodged against our church by all the other Protestant churches—the charge which has been made incessantly for the last four hundred years, especially by our sister church, the Reformed. (Sasse, Here We Stand, pp. 85-86)

Yes, I still hear and read of such charges against Lutherans. Yet as Sasse begins to deal with this accusation, he rightly addresses the problem from the perspective of “The Reformation and the Confessional Problem” (pp. 86-96). And from there he addresses “the Lutheran and Reformed churches” (pp. 97-109).

Sadly even some Lutherans do not want to address the issue of what it means to confess the faith. In today’s world, such a stance is critical. To take a confessional stance does not mean that we follow Martin Luther himself (as often assumed). Rather, we confess the faith as Luther did and as the Christian church has from the very beginning. “Justification by grace through faith in Christ” (or expanded: “justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone”), is not one of many doctrines, but rather the chief article of faith, the center of all else. The other “alone” statement is “Scripture alone.” (I will post more on these topics in a future post).imgres

Note, too, that taking a confessional stand does not mean arrogance, pride, haughtiness, verbal attacks, personal insults. None of those are from the fruit of the Spirit and do not reflect what our confessional documents desire. Rather, it means that we take seriously what it means to “believe, teach, and confess” the faith. And we take seriously the confessional documents (the Book of Concord) which repeatedly claim, “The Church has always taught.” There is for us as Christians who confess the faith as Lutherans the continuity with the Christian church through the ages, not an independent movement disentangled from anything prior to 1517.

Lutherans within Christianity

Many times people do not understand what it means to be Lutheran, especially in light of the Reformation, the gulf between Lutheranism and Catholicism and between Lutheranism and Protestantism. Sometimes we look like Roman Catholics, but sound like Protestants. Liturgically Lutherans and Roman Catholics are similar in format and style. One can easily move liturgically between them. The gulf in many ways is greater between Lutherans and Protestants.sasse01

The following quote from Hermann Sasse shows how he regards the situation in 1938. I think the last two sentences are excellent.

This explains why the differences and contradictions within Protestantism means so little in the eyes of the Reformed Churches. From their point of view, all the churches which arose out of the Reformation were essentially one in their opposition to this false church of the Middle Ages. The more recent concept of “Catholicism” as an antonym of “Protestantism” is a typical product of Reformed thought. The Lutheran Church has not the slightest theological interest in this antithesis between Catholicism and Protestantism. It does not know to which side it belongs. If only there were a clear-cut contradiction between true and false doctrine in the antithesis! But this does not happen to be the case. For there are heresies in Protestantism which are just as dangerous as those of Catholicism. Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical [Lutheran] church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Athanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical [Lutheran] church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation. (Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand, Augsburg Publishing House, 1938 orig., p. 102)

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: MEV – 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: MEV 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.