As a frequent reader, sometime participant, of BetterBibleBlog [Wayne Leman, host and primary author] and Bible-Translation list, the issue of Bible translation is center stage. Bible translation has been an interest of mine for 25+ years, and learning Greek and Hebrew spurred my continued interest. At one time or another I have translated all but two (small) books of the NT, and portions of the OT. I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I am concerned about good translations, especially for use in the Church and by the Church.
A couple of weeks ago on BBB, the discussion went to the relative merits of ESV and TNIV. I raised the concern about whether any translation makes for a good liturgical translation. What follows is an edited version of my comments.
Wayne Leman asked: “Liturgically the ESV is much better than TNIV.” How do you determine what is liturgically better? Does it have to do with one’s personal preference for an older form of English that sounds more dignified or sacred? Or are there some objective criteria by which we can measure liturgical quality?
I think this might relate to whether someone comes from a liturgical background. That is, the general Protestant Christian congregation (especially in western cultures) today is essentially non-liturgical. By that I mean that what was the liturgical form of worship for the past 1,500 years has not been retained among these congregations (this is not meant as a judgmental statement, but an observation). The historic liturgical form included spoken/sung responses (Kyrie, Alleluia, Gloria Patri, Te Deum, Nunc Dimittis, Agnus Dei, etc.).
Thus, part of the liturgical use of a translation relates to how the translation expresses and relates to these traditional musical/lyrical/rhythmic elements. This is both a translational and a musical process/evaluation. It is interesting that when the LCMS (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) had worked with the LCA and ALC on a new hymnal, eventually Lutheran Book of Worship LBW, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Psalm texts were translated specifically for the hymnal. However, when the LCMS pulled out of the project due to theological problems with the project itself, the LCMS couldn’t use those translated Psalms, and so settled for the NIV for the Psalms text — because it was royalty-free!
But this brings up another point — whose text is it? and what purpose does it serve? Dr. Theodore Letis has written about this in the book The Ecclesiastical Text. That is, the Church (not referring to a denomination) has traditionally been the retainer of the text, translator of the text, and especially the user of the text. In the last 100 years there has been a major shift from the Church to the Academic and parachurch organizations (publishers) who have taken over the role of translation and Bible “selling”. Sadly many in the parachurch groups do not have the liturgical heritage to evaulate whether a translation is good for liturgical purposes.
And finally, the liturgical text must have the oral/rhythmic quality that can only be heard and not just read on the page. This is a critical factor for any translation (and one which GW does well), but especially for a liturgical translation (which GW doesn’t do as well).
Wayne wrote: Ideally, we want a Bible that contains good quality English wordings … is highly accurate, and sounds good for public reading, including liturgical reading.
I would agree wholeheartedly with this statement. I suspect part of the problem with English word choices relates to whether a translation should use Latin-based words (“expiation”) or highly specific “church-language” words: righteousness, justification, grace, reconciliation, etc. Since I use the text within the context of the faith community, I believe that it is important to grow the believer into the knowledge of the faith. This is the point at which liturgy, translation, and catechesis come together. They become both faith expressions and teachers of the faith. Thus, an 80 year old great-grandmother and an 8 year old great-granddaughter can recite texts based on a common liturgical heritage (I have examples of the Lord’s Prayer), where small accomodations for language changes still allow the rhythm of singing/chanting/reading the same text.
I remember the struggle I had with God’s Word translation as it field-tested some translation choices. Obviously grace, righteousness, justification were at the top of the translators’ list of “alternatives”. They were correct in pointing out that many people in the test congregations misunderstood the words (our congregation at the time did quite well in understanding the meaning as related in the Biblical texts). The solution for the GW translation team was to use words that may or may not have been better: God’s approval instead of righteousness. However, that choice too may be misleading. And yet GW retained righteousness 130 times, and in several key OT passages (i.e., Psalm 4:1, 5; 9:8; 50:6; 97:2; Isaiah 1:27; 5:7; 9:7; 51:7, 8; 54:14; 56:1; 58:14) and then 1 Corinthians 1:30. My solution would be to continue to teach people so that they grow in the understanding of what is behind the translation whether TSeDiQ (צדק) or DIKAISOUNH (Greek: δικαισυνη). And by retaining righteousness there is a historic link — theologically and liturgically.
I don’t have a final answer about translations and liturgical use. But it seems that this is a critical factor that is often ignored by translation committees. I have read several books about how various translations were made, including the decision-making agenda on wording and the translating process. Not once have I read anything that relates to liturgical worship. To me, this suggests a major need for translators and liturgical churches. And who knows, perhaps the focus on a litrugical translation might avoid some of the traditional conservative/liberal splits that fracture churches and even translation committees.
My little plea is that translation committees m ake a concerted effort to examine the translation in light of and for liturgical use.
It might be surprising to some people that Jonah is really a mission book. Many years ago at seminary a returning missionary/Bible translator spoke about his work in the mission field. He then noted that when new converts wanted a book of the Bible translated, often the first one mentioned was Jonah. Let’s pursue that a little more and see if we can discover the reason.
In Jonah 1:1-2 God commissions Jonah with these words: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” Interestingly the LXX uses κηρυξον (“preach”), which the ESV follows, “preach against”. Such wording implies a very strong Law proclamation.
But Jonah has other ideas: But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. At the command to go to Nineveh, Jonah heads in the opposite direction; while there is doubt about the exact location of Tarshish, it is generally agreed to be in the western part of the Mediterranean Sea, most likely Spain. In other words, Jonah tries to flee as far from Israel/Judah as he can go.
It might be easy for us to criticize Jonah, but let’s remember the situation in which he finds himself. Nineveh represented the hated and feared enemy of God’s people. They would soon swoop down and conquer the northern 10 tribes (Israel), killing many, dragging many into captivity. Consider today if God told me to go the Al Qaeda headquarters and preach against it. What would my reaction be? Probably the same as Jonah’s.
But God does not let Jonah get away. For God’s prophet to speak God’s Word, he will first have to undergo the same as the people of Nineveh. God has to “preach against” Jonah. He does so by sending the storm, then allowing the sailors to throw Jonah overboard, and finally a great fish swallows Jonah. The Law is spoken in its harshest measures. Only an intervention by God can save Jonah – and that is what happens.
Jonah recognizes in the bottom of his despair – in the bottom of the fish – that apart from God’s steadfast love/covenant love (חסד) there is no hope. Ironically Jonah adds the phrase “those who pray to idols” forsake that very hope. Thus, Jonah is setting himself up against the Ninevites (who have the idols – chapter 3). That is, it is “good, right, and salutary” that Jonah, an Israelite would be shown grace, extended God’s steadfast love, and receive hope in the midst of no hope.
What Jonah forgot was something that happened early in the kingship of Israel, several hundred years before his time. Notice this critical passage: 1 Samuel 15:23, Samuel speaks to Saul: For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” Jonah fell into the same trap; he could not see that his rebellion was in the same category as the idolatry of Nineveh. Therefore, all are under the same condemnation, whether Jew or Greek (Romans 3:9-10).
Nevertheless, God’s grace rescues Jonah, leads him to renewed faith in God.
Sometimes we as forgiven, restored Christians might think that God will change his mind about what he wants us to do. “I have been forgiven, but surely God won’t ask me to do something that I have already refused.” But not so with God. In fact, 3:1-2 we find a repeat of 1:1-2, God’s commission to preach against Nineveh. This time Jonah responds in obedience (result of faith); he goes to Nineveh and preaches against the people. Only an intervention by God can save Nineveh – and that is what happens.
The results are stunning! The people hear the judgment against them and their city, they recognize their sin, and repent in sackcloth. Even the king publicly proclaims the changed hearts, in the desire that “God may relent and turn from his fierce anger” (3:9).
Given Jonah’s prior experience of terror under the Law and the refreshing new life in the Gospel, we might expect that Jonah would rejoice at such a response. Alas, Jonah does not. Rather, he is quite put out! “It is exceedingly evil” was how Jonah considered this new situation. Because Jonah was an Israelite, he knew the promises of God to God’s people. But the Ninevites? No way! They are people who cling to their idols (Psalm 115:1-6), and in Jonah’s mind meant that meant there were two classes of people: God’s people and “them”. The people of Nineveh were part of “them” and therefore could – should not! – receive the same “steadfast love/covenant love (חסד)” that is the heritage of Israel. God shows the same compassion to the “nations” (epitomized by Nineveh) as he does to Israel. The law of God and the grace of God are not hindered by barriers set up even by the strongest of nations.
So the pattern is:
Part 1: God commissions Jonah to speak against Nineveh
God’s first mission complete
Part 2: God commissions Jonah to speak against Nineveh
God’s heart of compassion demonstrated and second mission complete
Now through the lens of Jonah, let’s glance ahead to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus sends the disciples to “make disciples” of all nations (note also the “preach” aspects in Luke, Mark, harking back to the LXX use of the same word in Jonah’s context). In the past “nations” (Hebrew: GoYiM) would have meant “them” of Jonah’s experience, now the “nations” include Israel itself as part of the “nations” (Acts 1:8, “beginning in Jerusalem”). Everyone and every nation is the missionary target of the Good News.
Further, notice the promise in 28:20 “for I am with you always.” Jonah thought he could avoid the mission assignment by fleeing, not from Nineveh, but from God’s presence. It didn’t work; God was with him. So also, those who think that the Great Commission can be shuffled off to someone else forget that Jesus “is with them always”. No matter where they go, when they go, how far they go, Jesus is there, and the commission is in effect. Jonah becomes a precursor of both Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 12:39-41) and the Jesus’ Commission to the disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).
Jonah truly is a missionary book – for all of us!
In Sunday morning Bible class the last two weeks Samson (Judges 13-16) was mentioned in the context of missions (and diversity). I am not teaching this particular class. However, I found a significant theme related to the entire book of Judges.
The repeated cycle of blessings, judgments, restorations, in the book of Judges is well summarized in Judges 21:25 “every man did that which was right in his own sight.” As we read through the book, the problems arise when “every man did what was right in his own sight”, in a sense repeating the three-fold problem of Genesis 3:6 (And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes to look upon and beautiful to contemplate).
Samson becomes a miniature view of that cycle, but with some interesting twists in terms of God’s judgment. In Judges 14:3b we read: And Sampson said to his father, “Take her for me, for she is right in my eyes,” which is repeated in 14:7. Now in between those two verses, Samson is empowered by the Spirit of Yahweh to kill the lion. As an Israelite he was not to touch a dead animal (Leviticus 11:39-40), but if he did he was to offer sacrifices for his uncleanness. Also, note that Samson does not tell his parents about his encounter, and therefore leads them to be unknowingly unclean (Judges 14:6). On top of that, as a Nazarite Samson was not to have contact with a dead animal, which likewise causes even his parents or siblings to be unclean (Numbers 6:6-8). Samson compounds his problems when later he kills the Philistines (Judges 14:19), again empowered by the Spirit of Yahweh. However, when the Nazarite has contact with a dead person he is to shave his head (Numbers 6:9). Samson does neither (offer sacrifice nor shave his head).
And yet God accomplishes his cleansing purposes with Samson, but through the Philistines. While the Philistine woman “was right in his eyes”, the Philistines gouged his eyes out (Judges 16:21). And his hair was indeed shaved, by trickery (Judges 16:19), seemingly in retaliation of his own arrogance and his ability to deceive (Judges 14:12, 14, 18, 15:16).
And finally, after he suffers these humiliations, he is now where God can work his greatest work through him, that is, to bring judgment upon the Philistines themselves for their role in conquering some of the tribes of Israel.
So the structure of Samson’s episode is:
A: right in his own eyes
B: uncleanness not taken care of by head shaved
B’: uncleanness resolved by head shaved
A’: right in the eyes of God
Other ideas can be gleaned, but this was an key insight for me today.
To continue the thought of the previous post: the book by David Pao is Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, Biblical Studies Library, J.C. B. Mohr, 2000 (Baker Academic, 2002). The key point of his study relative to Acts 1:6-8 is the framework of Acts in light of Isaiah 49:6. This is the second Servant Song in Isaiah and focuses on the mission objective (Isaiah 52:13-53:12 focuses on the how):
he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
Notice that the Servant has two objectives: 1. restore Israel, and 2. be a light to the nations. When these are achieved, then salvation goes to the end of the earth.
In Acts 1:6, the disciples ask “Is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus does not rebuke them for their question, nor does he say that their theology is mistaken. Rather, their theology is incomplete. Jesus focuses the disciples on the two fold objective (Israel and the nations), and they will be guided in that objective by the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who guided him when he began his ministry (Luke 4:16-30). Their ministry will be begin in Jerusalem, then to Judea/Samaria, and finally to the end of the earth.
Pao notes that the phrase “to the end of the earth”, “the exact form of the phrase (with the singular εσχατου) appears only five times in the LXX, and twice in the Lukan writings, and nowhere elsewhere in ancient Greek literature not influenced by either Isaiah or Acts” (pg. 94). Thus, the mission outlined in Acts 1:8 is more than a geographic mission, rather a theological mission, and more particularly an Isaianic mission. Pao adds to this perspective by noting that Isaiah 49:6 is quoted in Acts 13:47. Barnabas and Paul had been commissioned by the church in Antioch, receiving the Holy Spirit for the mission ahead. The pattern of Barnabas and Paul (now Paul and Barnabas) has been to go to the Jews, but when they reject the message, to turn to the Gentiles, in fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6.
Now, what is interesting is that the restoration of Israel only happens as the second part (light to the nations) happens. And this bring us to Paul’s thematic phrase in Romans, “first to the Jews and then to the Greeks”. One can not happen without the other. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 11, when he writes:
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved;
Thus, Paul’s missional understanding in Romans parallels the missional understanding of Acts – and both reflect the Isaianic mission (“restore Israel, bring light to nations – and bring salvation to the end of the earth”).
As always this post leaves many unanswered questions and raises even more. It is not definitive, but a starting point for further investigation.
For the past few months in Sunday morning Bible study, we have examined the five passages that cumulatively flesh out the Dominical Mission for the Church (Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:44-53; John 20:19-31; Acts 1:6-8).
While each of these is distinctive in setting forth the mission of the Church, and each is uniquely suited to its particular writing context, they also share elements of mission. Here are a few of the most important elements:
Authority (of Jesus)
Extent (“end(s) of the earth”)
The study has helped clarify for many the framework for understanding Church, Mission, and the New Testament. One particular element of this study has intrigued me, namely Acts 1:6 in relationship to these topics, and specifically the Extent (“end of the earth”).
Acts 1:6 οἱ μὲν οὖν συνελθόντες ἠρώτων αὐτὸν λέγοντες κύριε εἰ ἐν τῷ χρόνῳ τούτῳ ἀποκαθιστάνεις τὴν βασιλείαν τῷ Ἰσραήλ
Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” ESV
Coming from an amillennial perspective, I have found few, if any, theologians in this school who have adequately addressed this verse. That is, concern about the accepting a bifurcation of Israel/Church that is symptomatic of premillennial theology causes many to either ignore or gloss over this verse and “get to the real meat in 1:8”. But what is the proper way to address this verse, in the context of Acts, Luke-Acts, or even broader, the New Testament? An insightful work by David Pao provides the basis for a solution.
Howdy. I am trying this blogger to see what kinds of thoughts I can scrape together. I have many interests, primarily theological, but also software, bluegrass music, and assorted odds and ends.