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The Matrix Bible?

"The Matrix?"

I recently expressed my consternation at the New King James Version’s rendering of  part of Isaiah 49:1 which a colleague had quoted in an email.

The LORD has called Me from the womb; From the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name.

Having looked into it I found that matrix is the Latin word for the womb, but I don’t know what the NKJV team were thinking when they used it as a revision for the KJV’s use of ‘bowels’ !  I suppose it was probably before the science fiction film came out, but at that time the word matrix for most people conjured up images of difficult maths lessons rather than anything to do with the womb.

Here’s my response to the question which followed  – “Which translation do you believe is the best?”:

It is a good question and one that I am asked fairly often when I express my opinions about Bible translation. It is actually hard to give a simple answer since different translations have advantages and disadvantages. I believe that good translation involves paying attention to three criteria – accuracy, clarity and naturalness. These three are not easy to balance correctly, but I would say that some of our English translations do a much better job than others.

Hopefully, clarity and naturalness speak largely for themselves but accuracy isn’t so obvious. Just because the form of a translation is more like the original language (Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic) does not mean that the translation is more accurate. For example it is well known that Paul used some very long sentences in his writing with lots of connecting words holding the phrases logically together (there was no punctuation used at the time). Some have therefore translated using similarly long sentences, but by doing so have made something which is very difficult to read and so obscured the meaning. The problem is that English speakers don’t usually speak in this way, so we find such sentences hard to read aloud or listen to with understanding. To translate what Paul says accurately we need to do our best to decide what he meant his readers to understand and attempt to get our English readers to grasp the same meaning as far as possible. Since English generally conveys meaning using shorter sentences and phrases to indicate the logical relation between them, we will do better to follow the usual English style rather than the Greek style. That being said, someone studying the Bible using a meaning based translation may miss certain aspects of the original languages which are still apparent in a translation which stays closer to the Greek form.

Personally I think we can benefit greatly by looking at multiple translations using different translation philosophies if we are doing in depth study, but for day-to-day reading and public reading in church I think we are better served by the best meaning-based translations. In the our office we are currently reading through the whole Bible in the New Living Translation. In most places the translators have done a good job of making the Bible easy to read and comprehensible, which is more than can be said of many translations.

I personally don’t accept the arguments of those who insist on the King James Version as the only legitimate translation in English. Even in its somewhat modernised forms such as the NKJV, I have less confidence in what I am reading as being close to what God gave through inspiration because of the limited number and quality of biblical manuscripts used to produce Erasmus’s ‘Received Text’ on which they are based. That said, I don’t think there are any areas where significant doctrine is greatly affected.

I do find modern form-based translations such as the ESV, NASB etc. helpful when used alongside of other translations as an aid to understanding the form of the original languages, but I don’t think they should become the standard adopted by evangelicals. I wrote about this a few months ago.

I spent quite a few years using the New Living Translation as my main Bible after having been brought up largely on the NIV and still frequently use both, but I mostly use the NET Bible (Bible.org) as my main Bible text. I find that switching to a new version from time to time helps me keep thinking about what I’m reading especially in familiar passages. I particularly appreciate the NET’s extensive notes on translation issues – though it does make it very fat and heavy to carry. These days I mostly read the Bible online or on my phone which lets me compare several translations.

The question of which translation one uses has become something of a shibboleth for some evangelicals which is a shame. In the end, the best Bible is the one you can read, understand and apply.

Of course much ink both physical and virtual has already been spilled on this subject and not all of it usefully, but if you want a starting place to find more articles and books on the subject you could try this page on the useful biblicalstudies .org website.

I also hope that many of the people who like me express strong views about English Bible translation will apply some of their passion and concern to meeting the needs of the millions of people in the world who don’t have any of God’s word in a language they can understand. This is from Wycliffe UK‘s site:

How many languages have Scripture?

2,479. Of these, 451 have a complete Bible, another 1,185 have the New Testament. 843 others have at least one book of the Bible.

How many languages still need translation?

In addition to more than 1,300 active projects, work needs to begin in over 2,200 languages.

How many people have no Scripture?

200 million speak these languages where translation still needs to begin.

In how many languages have Wycliffe been involved in the completion of a New Testament or Bible?

759. Over 107 million people speak these languages.

How many countries are affected by the work of Wycliffe?

Almost 100. This includes work among people who live outside their traditional homelands.

These figures are up to the end of September 2009 and come from Wycliffe International.

Burning Bibles for Halloween!

Amazing Grace Baptist Church in North Carolina are planning an alternative to Halloween. Of course lots of churches have been doing that for years, but this one is a bit different. Here’s the announcement from the church’s website:

Halloween Book Burning Has NOT Been Cancelled!

Burning Perversions of God’s Word

October 31, 2009   – 7:00 PM – Til

This event is not open to the public. Only our members and those by special invitation from the pastor are welcome. All others are tresspassing, this includes the media.

Great Preaching and Singing

We are burning Satan’s bibles like the NIV, RSV, NKJV, TLB, NASB, ESV, NEV, NRSV, ASV, NWT, Good News for Modern Man, The Evidence Bible, The Message Bible, The Green Bible, ect. These are perversions of God’s Word the King James Bible.

We will also be burning Satan’s music such as country , rap , rock , pop, heavy metal, western, soft and easy, southern gospel , contemporary Christian , jazz, soul, oldies but goldies, etc.

We will also be burning Satan’s popular books written by heretics like Westcott & Hort , Bruce Metzger, Billy Graham , Rick Warren , Bill Hybels , John McArthur, James Dobson , Charles Swindoll , John Piper , Chuck Colson , Tony Evans, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swagart , Mark Driskol, Franklin Graham , Bill Bright, Tim Lahaye, Paula White , T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn , Joyce Myers , Brian McLaren , James White, Robert Schuller, Mother Teresa , The Pope , Rob Bell, Erwin McManus , Donald Miller, Shane Claiborne, Brennan Manning, William Young, Will Graham , and many more.

We are not burning Bibles written in other languages that are based on the TR. We are not burning the Tyndale, Geneva or other translations that are based on the TR.

We will be serving fried chicken, and all the sides.

If you have any books or music to donate, please call us for pick-up. If you like you can drop them off at our church door anytime. Thanks. 828-648-0213

Shame no one else is invited, I’m sure the fried chicken will be great! However, I wouldn’t bank on finding much evidence of God’s amazing grace among those who gather for the bonfire. Let’s pray that some of them will read and understand their King James Versions at least, and realise that their bonfire is giving off much more heat than light to a world that is dying for lack of the knowledge of God. Sadly they are merely bringing ridicule to God’s name and fuelling the fires of unnecessary divisions among God’s people.

Eddie Arthur points us to a good post by Pastor Matthew that unfortunately these people will probably never read.

Stirring the waters – can you trust your Bible text?

Textus ReceptusMy father-in-law usually reads from the New King James Version and we have had a few discussions over the years about this. Largely I think it is because he grew up using the King James Version rather than a strong commitment to the Received Text. These days I usually avoid returning to the issue because he’s a a godly man, a great father-in-law and he often cuts my grass for me, but I think I’m going to have to pick up the discussion again this week.

Yesterday my father-in-law was leading our church service and gave a children’s talk in which he referred to the angel stirring the waters of the pool of Bethesda. He didn’t read it out but here’s the text from the NKJV:

3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. (John 5:3-4)

Realising I hadn’t heard this story since I was small and questioning whether I believed in angels healing people in that sort of way I tried to find the reference by searching the Bibles on my phone for verses with ‘angel’ and ‘water’ in them, but the search came up blank. Checking further in the excellent net.bible.org site, I see that most modern Bible versions omit the verse because it only appears in late manuscripts and often with an asterisk indicating the scribe’s doubts to its originality. The NKJV does have a footnote:

John 5:4 NU-Text omits waiting for the moving of the water at the end of verse 3, and all of verse 4.

But I’m afraid that just isn’t good enough. My guess is that my father-in-law didn’t notice this footnote, but would be very concerned to be teaching children something which has most likely been added to the scripture, so I’m going to stir the waters again. I hope he’ll still cut my grass sometimes!

Let me clarify that I am not suggesting that this throws into question the authority of Scripture. I will defend biblical inspiration of the Scriptures as originally given but am concerned that translations are not always in line with what God inspired. Textual variations are mostly small, but I recommend you compare a few reliable versions and if possible consider the original language text if you really want to study the Bible well.

My friend Eddie Arthur recently pointed out a helpful response to those who advocate the exclusive use of the original 1611 King James Version, which also deals with the question of the Received Text.  I would also want to follow Eddie’s lead in pointing out that while many people spend hours arguing about the merits or problems of our many English versions 200 million people in our world don’t have a single word of Scripture in their language. That’s why Eddie is director of  Wycliffe Bible Translators in the UK.

Prayer – Stop talking and listen!

One of the things I remember learning in Bible college is that the Holy Spirit dwells in the church as well as in individual Christians. Of course this doesn’t lead to infallibility in any church any more than it does in individuals, because our perfection is yet to come. In my tradition at least, I think we have sadly de-emphasized the importance of the gathered church listening to the Holy Spirit. Of course we have sermons and Bible studies, but so often we seem to be looking for intellectual learning rather than listening to God.

prayer bookA couple of times in our prayer meetings recently I have tried to encourage a more conversational style of prayer which involves much more listening and not moving on from one subject to another too quickly. I came across some very helpful principles along these lines in a book called Prayer: Conversing With God by Rosalind Rinker. I haven’t read the book yet, just a few snippets which are on Google Books. When those present have followed the principles it’s been a real blessing with a special sense of God’s speaking to us as we have prayed.

Since starting this post I’ve found out a little more about this book and its author. Rosalind Rinker went to China as a missionary in about 1926 when she was 20 years old and remained there for about 14 years.  In 1945 she joined the staff of Inter Varsity Fellowship in the U.S. and wrote this book in 1959. She died in 2002. I was most shocked to find that not only is the book well known but in October 2006, Christianity Today Magazine published its list of “The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals” (over the past 50 years). Rinker’s Prayer: Conversing with God was voted number one on that list by CT‘s editors. How many people have recommended this book to me? I guess it’s time to buy a copy and read it.

The Cussing Calvinist?

If you haven't heard of Mark Driscoll before, he's an interesting guy who will provoke your thinking. The NY times have just written an article about him and the church in which he ministers in Seattle. You may be a bit shocked by the first paragraph, but remember that he isn't the first person to have provoked some shock among the religious establishment. Remember that this article is written by the secular press who usually have a strong anti-Christian agenda. Here'a a paragraph to whet your appetite:

 God called Driscoll to preach to men — particularly young men — to save
them from an American Protestantism that has emasculated Christ and
driven men from church pews with praise music that sounds more like
boy-band ballads crooned to Jesus than “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
What bothers Driscoll — and the growing number of evangelical pastors
who agree with him — is not the trope of Jesus-as-lover. After all, St.
Paul tells us that the Church is the bride of Christ. What really
grates is the portrayal of Jesus as a wimp, or worse. Paintings depict
a gentle man embracing children and cuddling lambs. Hymns celebrate his
patience and tenderness. The mainstream church, Driscoll has written,
has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a
“neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . .
would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”

God-forsaken Suburbia

BSECEddie Arthur just posted a helpful link to J R Woodward’s primer on Missional church. Glancing through the huge list of links I came across a useful paper by Todd Hiestand called  The Gospel and the God Forsaken: The Challenge of the Missional Church in Suburbia.

Although Todd is thinking about suburbia in America I think it speaks equally well to the UK context. If you like me are facing that challenge, do read the full paper – it isn’t very long. Here’s how he summarises the challenges which the church should be bringing to life in the suburbs:

There are at least four main ways the default suburban lifestyle needs
to be challenged. First, we need to speak out against the suburban
value of extreme individualism and call Christians back to community.
Second, we need to deconstruct the value of consumerism in way that
leads instead to sacrificial living. Third we need to question the
suburban value of safety and comfort and judge it against the call of
the gospel. Finally, we need to understand how our individualism and
consumerism lead us to neglect the hurting and needy people in our
neighborhoods and cities.

And here’s a taster from the challenge to deconstruct comfort:

Uncritically accepting comfort and safety affects more than just our
personal discipleship and mission. It also has great impact on the
mission of our community. Church communities seeking to maintain and
find comfort for their members will quickly lose the mission they
started with. In his book Exiles, Michael Frost claims:

Timidity squashes our missional impulse. It causes us to
withdraw from any grand sense of purpose for fear of upsetting the
delicate balance of conflicting egos currently residing in each church.
Christians surround themselves with fellow churchgoers, so that their
church’s only goal is to maintain equilibrium. Such timidity and
anxiety leave the church as nothing more than a retreatist, frightened,
ineffective organization.

Is it safe to ask questions?

What would happen in your church?

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A Few Words Before Second Lunch

secondbreakfast_smallHobbits, I understand, frequently enjoy a ‘second breakfast’. One of the ‘perks’
of crossing the Atlantic at this time of day is ‘second lunch’. Sorry I
haven’t written much for a little while, I hope to correct that
somewhat over the next few days whilst I’m in the United States.

At the moment I am somewhere in the sky between Greenland and New York, so I’m typing this offline using Microsoft OneNote and will cut and paste into an email and the blog when this evening finally arrives. If
you haven’t yet come across OneNote, let me recommend it to you.
OneNote is a excellent piece of software which helps me remain
marginally less disorganised than I would otherwise be. One way of
getting it is as part of the three licences which come with the good
value Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition.

For the past few years I have travelled with Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow,
but this year the cheapest option was to take the Continental flight
direct from Bristol. To be honest I would rather fly with Richard
Branson – this Boeing 757 doesn’t even have screens in the seat backs
let alone the choice of a dozen different films on demand. Well, at
least I’ve managed to catch up on some unfinished reading and you are
hearing something from us at last.

I’ve just finished reading Total Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis. Others have already written helpful reviews
so I won’t attempt another one myself, but I do recommend it if you
care at all about how your church can best help believers to mature in
their faith and effectively communicate the good news of Jesus to a
world which would rather ignore him.

I will be posting more here about what I’m doing and learning in the US over the next few days, but
let me conclude this missive with some news of the rest of the family.
Please pray particularly for Margo and all five children during this
next week while I am away. We are currently having our boiler replaced
so they’ll be without hot water for a few days too.

Margo does a fantastic job looking after us all, but doesn’t get much time to herself or as much appreciation as she deserves.

Hannah has just passed 12 weeks old so obviously demands quite a lot of
attention, but it is great to see her beginning to smile and pay
attention to what is going on around her.

People
are constantly surprised to learn that Eliana won’t even be three until
July, she is into everything and talking about it. She recently tried
redecorating our lounge as well as herself with a green ink pad, which
was a bit horrifying, but it mostly seems to have washed off.

Luke
just turned 5. He is still trying to get to grips with the hard task of
learning to read and write. He enjoys school but still gets very tired.

Emma and
Christopher are in the middle of GCSE exams at the moment. Emma is
taking French & German a year early and Christopher is taking about
10 more subjects, having completed his French last year. I had fun
helping him revise Maths, I now understand several things which I don’t
think I really did when I took my O levels about 30 years ago!

A somewhat disappointing second lunch snack
box has just arrived so that’ll be it for now. Keep checking the blog
for news over the next few days, I won’t send everything out by email
in case you get tired of hearing about techie stuff.

Hannah Grace Shaddick

{mosimage} Hannah Grace was born today at 7.50am only 50 minutes after we arrived at the hospital. She weighed 6lb 11.5oz (just over 3Kg). Margo and Hannah were both able to come home this afternoon. Both are doing very well. As you can imagine our other children are all very excited at having a new baby sister. It was great for me to come from the hospital and lead the service in church this morning.

Apologies for not letting you know before that our move went well – it took weeks to get our phone and internet reconnected! Our new address is 124 Oaktree Crescent, Bradley Stoke, Bristol BS32 9AB and our phone number is 01454 610840. We have also found a new seven seater car which we should be getting later in the week – its a Kia Sedona.

Thanks for all who have been faithfully praying about all our changes. The Lord has truly granted us grace upon grace!

On your marks, get set…

Our new house

Our new house

Apologies for the long gap between blog entries. Just a quick scribble to let you all know we are moving on Friday (8th February). We are moving ourselves with a hired van and help of friends from church and work so we hope it won’t take too long and that nothing and no-one gets damaged.

The new house has fewer rooms but they are bigger, so hopefully there is scope for a soon to be family of seven to live without any further loss of sanity. Paul is looking forward to not having to coax certain teenagers into the car every morning because they will be much closer and able to walk.