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)

Or:

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…

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Shared Memories

We recently returned from a long (5,762 miles to be exact) trip over 25 days. Much excitement at TAALC National Convention, even more with family afterward. And many shared memories.

Shared memories are bonds that tie together family, friends, even communities. It’s really nice when you can remember, relive, laugh, or even cry with someone who was there.

Shared Memories Lost

Our mothers are 87 years old, live about a mile apart. They have known each other for 47 years, since my wife and I started dating. So there are many shared memories. But there are also aspects of their lives not shared. My wife has those memories with her mother, and I have others with my mother.

But it dawned on me (I know, I am slow!) that when my father died in 1991, many of my mother’s shared memories became only her memories. Yes, there were friends around to reflect on that, and family (the three of us brothers and grandchildren) to tell the stories to. But the loneliness of the death of a spouse emphasized the shared memories, especially the changes. The same happens with a divorce or severe disability. It’s not that the relationship is denied but the shared memories become a thing of the past.

What struck me this year was that most of my mother’s friends have died and most of the family members of her generation are gone. Thus, the shared memories for my mother are hers, and hers alone. The loneliness increases.

Yet, as her son I can bring back shared memories of the past 65 years that she may have forgotten. Likewise she can refresh my hazy memory of special or unique events, and even more everyday events that hold a special place in our memories.

Shared Memories and Worship

This caused me to think about church and shared memories. I love being part of a liturgical church and serving as pastor because the basic form has been consistent since the New Testament era. The musical forms have changed, but the structure is the same.

Such a heritage allows shared memories that are not time bound. Thus, as one generation passes and another comes on the scene—not unusual to have 4 or 5 generations present in worship on any given Sunday—the faith expressed still reflects the shared memory.

Why is that? Because the shared memory starts with Jesus Christ, not with us. As Jesus comes to us (as he promised)

  • in Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20): The invocation in worship (“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) brings to mind our own Baptism into Christ (Romans 6, 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3). The shared memory of the worship community is Christ-focused from the beginning words. Note that the invocation does not begin with these words “We make our beginning in the name of the Father…” To do so changes Baptism to our action, to making worship dependent on us, and we call God into our presence. Our shared memory becomes what we make it, not what Jesus has made it and continues to make it.
  • in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-27 and Gospel accounts): Again, note that we do this “in remembrance of him” not in a vague way, but in a tangible way: Jesus gives his body and blood in the feast, for the forgiveness of sins. The share memory is not determined by the worship community, but by Jesus himself.
  • in the Word (John 5:24; Matthew 28:18-20): Jesus establishes the community (through the Holy Spirit working) and Jesus is the center of all discussion (1 Corinthians 2:2). This does not mean we don’t talk about all that God has revealed in his Word, but it does mean that Jesus cannot be “one of many” topics, rather the center about which all revelation makes sense. The shared memory of the original disciples becomes the shared testimony on Pentecost, and continues today with everyone who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Shared Memories in the Word

One of the greatest challenges in maintaining the shared memories as Christians is the great variety of English translations. It is relatively easy to keep the shared memories using KJV/NKJV/NAS/RSV/ESV. But what happens with the advent of GW/NLT/NET, etc. when the shared vocabulary is no longer there. Part of that relates to a shared cultural background in which the Biblical language and imagery had influenced society.

We don’t live in that kind of world today, no matter how much people (pastors, theologians, etc.) want to protest against it. We face a situation in which it is not just a breaking of shared memories but even of breaking shared language.

Shared Memories and Continuity of Faith Expression

I have beat the drum of “continuity of faith expression” for years. That is, in worship and translations, can we have 7 year old, 18 year old, 45 year old, and 80 year old understand with a common faith expression?

Obviously I favor translations that speak to today’s people. So I find myself torn, using accessible and faithful translations, while maintaining continuity of faith expression. This is not something I made up, but is a very real problem. For congregations that are long established and average age of worshipers is 55, then this is less of a problem. But what of the next generation?

In and beyond all this is the need to maintain the shared memories of Jesus Christ within the community. How is that done in your ministry? In your church? In your denomination? What challenges do you face with regard to shared memories?

Rethinking HCSB

Over the past 3-4 months I have been reflecting on translation issues especially related to HCSB. This hasn’t been systematic study, but percolating ideas as I encounter the texts.

Yahweh or LORD?

I had posted previously (three years ago) about the HCSB sporadic use of Yahweh as a translation of the Hebrew יְהוָה֙. At the time I suggested that HCSB translators adopt Yahweh consistently throughout the Old Testament.

But in practice I am beginning to rethink this. It seems that the connection with the Septuagint (LXX) where κύριος is used for both יְהוָה֙  (YHWH) and אֲדֹנָי֮  (Adonai) would be strengthened. Further, the quotations in the NT follow the LXX, so there would still be a problem.

It seems that the better solution is to retain LORD as the consistent translation of God’s name. I think some kind of footnote could be used to indicate the difference between LORD and Lord. Obviously that does not help an oral reading, but the greater good would seem to be served by using LORD.

Contractions

I know that several translations (NLT, GW, HCSB) use contractions because “it is accepted English.” Originally I wasn’t opposed to the use of contractions. But as I reconsider this point, I realized that contractions work well when reading (by yourself). But with oral reading, contractions seem a little awkward. I also realized if the text has a contraction, when I read orally, I will use the non-contracted form without even thinking about it. So I will read, “I cannot” not “I can’t.”

Therefore, I would recommend HCSB consider replacing all contractions. I don’t think (notice you are reading this from a screen, not reading out loud to someone!) there is any benefit of using contractions, especially for an oral text.

4 Translations: “You got rhythm” Part 2

In the last post I looked at NIV 2011 and ESV regarding oral reading and public use in worship. Now I turn to HCSB and GW. As a starting point, I want to provide the introduction to the previous post:

So far in this discussion about the four translations we have examined word choices, sentence structure, “meaning,” etc. But another critical aspect of translation usage for a congregation involves memorization and liturgical use. Let’s be clear, all four translations can be memorized and can be used in liturgical worship. There is nothing special or unique about them. Some might be easier to memorize, some hard. But all can be memorized.

There are actually several parts to this whole memorization issue: broader scope, familiarity from the past, and “feel.”

For both of these translations, I include visual layout because they affect the oral reading of the text, one negatively, the other positively.

HCSB and GW Design/Layout

I have almost developed a love vs. not-so-loved sense about HCSB. There are many things to commend it. But in this particular area of oral suitability, it is actually a visual stumbling block. Obviously oral readers should practice reading the texts before standing in front of the congregation; sadly many do not. This is not a translation issue but rather an editorial and design layout issue.

HCSB Sample
HCSB Layout: Isaiah 64

HCSB follows the NKJV in layout (two-column pages) for poetic sections. In the process, the choppiness of the layout leads to many short phrases on different lines. See this example in which many lines have between two to five words, and that makes it difficult to read silently and orally.

 

 

 

 

In contrast, GW design layout favors a very good approach to oral reading, and even personal reading. Notice in the photo, how the single column allows the reader to follow the entire pattern and sentence structure visually. For me, that has been one of the best features of the GW translation.

GW Layout Design: Isaiah 64

 

 

 

HCSB and GW Texts

HCSB falls on the more traditional side in many texts, but avoids the reverse order of words that plagues ESV; GW is more innovative in its approach to some texts (that is not necessarily a negative criticism). I am using the same verses that were used in the NIV 2011 and ESV post

After these events, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great.(Genesis 15:1 HCSB)

Later the Lord spoke his word to Abram in a vision. He said, “Abram, don’t be afraid. I am your shield. Your reward will be very great.” (Genesis 15:1 GW)

Both translations offer acceptable contemporary English. The slight difference is that HCSB uses some contractions, but often not in direct discourse by God, whereas GW tends to use the contractions often. From an oral reading standpoint, GW is more consistent. Even in more formal settings, contractions are not uncommon, and contractions certainly do not change the text meaning.

How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! (Psalm 1:1 HCSB)

Blessed is the person who does not follow the advice of wicked people, take the path of sinners, or join the company of mockers. (Psalm 1:1 GW)

Both HCSB and GW avoid the ESV problem, but they also the improve the second phrase as well. ESV and NIV 2011 have “stands in the way of sinners.” But in current English usage, the ESV/NIV 2011 rendering has more of a blocking sense, “get in the way of someone” whereas the text is referring to “following the way that sinners take.”

But HCSB translates the word אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי as “happy” rather than the traditional rendering “blessed.” “Happy” suggests something internal that is sensed because of circumstances, whereas “blessed” seems more focused on the external reality declared by someone outside the circumstances, namely God. “Happy” also seems more limited to a feeling dependent on what happens, rather than the “blessedness’ regardless of what happens. GW keeps the word “blessed” which reversed the predecessor translation (Beck’s Bible) which had “happy.”

Next consider Isaiah 22:17, where ESV especially had the awkward “seize.” These two translations avoid the awkward phrasing, but perhaps a little too much.

Look, you strong man! The LORD is about to shake you violently. He will take hold of you, (Isaiah 22:17)

Look, mighty man! The Lord will throw you out. He will grab you. (Isaiah 22:17 GW)

Here the HCSB translation seems weaker than the Hebrew, עָטֹֽה. According to BDB, it carries the sense of wrapping or enclosing (and HALOT follows somewhat the same sense), and parallels the previous “violently.” Looking at the other three translations, they supply a stronger word, even GW has “grab” which is more than “hold.”

Looking at another passage which the ESV mangles, let’s see how these two translations render the passage:

But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. So He became their enemy and fought against them.(Isaiah 63:10 HCSB)

But they rebelled and offended his Holy Spirit. So he turned against them as their enemy; he fought against them. (Isaiah 63:10 GW)

Again both translations offer a readable text for the second part of the verse. It might be interesting to see how or whether people see a difference between “grieved” and “offended” in the first part of the verse. In the last decade or so, “offended” can most often be seen as “hurt feelings” which is not often interpreted as a big deal, as expressed in “If I have offended you, I’m sorry,” which is clearly not an apology, and different than this particular Biblical text.

Regarding split quotations in speech, HCSB has its own share of these. Thus, while it doesn’t have as much as ESV, it still does in other texts.

 “Who are You, Lord?” he said.
“I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6 HCSB)

Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?”
The person replied, “I’m Jesus, the one you’re persecuting. Get up! Go into the city, and you’ll be told what you should do.” (Acts 9:5-6 GW)

In this text, HCSB splits the verbal response, whereas, GW moves the indicator phrase “the person replied” to the beginning, and so that the response is complete in itself. Again, this doesn’t change the meaning, but in oral reading it would be easier to follow GW than HCSB.

In looking at Matthew 15:16, we see that HCSB and GW offer a good translation that is more accurate than the NIV 2011.

“Are even you still lacking in understanding?” He asked. (Matthew 15:16 HCSB)

Jesus said, “Don’t you understand yet? (Matthew 15:16 GW)

Interestingly HCSB translates καὶ as “even” whereas most translations would use “also,” or in this case subsume it under “yet” (as does GW).

The last text is where NIV 2011 had “all who make spoil of you I will despoil.” Both translations provide a good parallel structure and verbal connections without resorting to odd or out of date language.

Nevertheless, all who devoured you will be devoured, and all your adversaries—all of them—will go off into exile. Those who plunder you will be plundered, and all who raid you will be raided. (Jeremiah 30:16 HCSB)

That is why everyone who devours you will be devoured, and all your enemies will be taken away as captives. Those who looted you will be looted. Those who stole from you in war will have things stolen from them. (Jeremiah 30:16 GW)

Conclusions?

Since this is only a cursory look at the four translations in very limited selections, I do not propose that this is the definitive guide for translation choice based on oral readability. However, just from the few examples given, and much more in actual use over the past few years (except NIV 2011), I can say that these are indicative of the translations in total.

ESV remains a solid translation, but from an oral reading and public worship use, it is the most difficult of the four translations. Despite some recent electronic changes, the basic flaws noted here remain. For me the surprising one was NIV 2011. For years I had heard how people praised the NIV for its readability, even if they did not approve of the translation as a whole. However, I suspect readability for many making that claim has to do with private (silent) reading; and so the claim may have been true. But as I have listened and read orally the NIV, and now NIV 2011, I find that its oral sense can be a stumbling for readers and listeners.

HCSB is a solid translation, and I think in many cases better than ESV and NIV 2011. But the layout design and some sentence structures do hinder its oral presentation. GW has from its inception been a translation with always an eye on readability, and especially oral comprehension. The design layout for GW is by far the best thought out among all translations, not just these four.

And what about memory work? My sense is that if the majority of the congregation comes from a traditional background, then ESV would be the choice. For those in the tradition of the last 30+ years with the NIV, then NIV 2011 makes sense. Even the HCSB is close enough to the KJV tradition that it might be acceptable, but would take some work on some familiar passages. GW is the most different of these, so memorizing is possible, but there would not be any confusion about “Is this NAS, NKJV, ESV?” This translation makes sense in the environment in which most of the congregation and its surrounding mission field is unchurched background. There is nothing to compare. The challenge for those memorizing GW is if the person moved to a new congregation in which a more traditional translation is used.