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Bible Translations in a Nutshell

I often get asked this question: Which Bible translation is the best? This issue creates more polemics than you would believe. People become impassioned for or against certain Bible translations. I think we need to take a very balanced approach to this, understanding the “whats” and the “whys” of Bible translations.

All translations have their particular characteristic that makes them unique. Bible translations will distinguish themselves in two primary ways:

1. What underlying Greek text do the translation use? Is it the “Majority” or “Received” text (a group of late Greek text that primarily comes from the Byzantine area) or the Eclectic/Critical text (mixture of different types of manuscripts, primarily using the earliest text). The KJV, NKJV, and many older translations used the former, while the newer and more up-to-date Bible’s such as the NAS, NIV, ESV, NLT, NET, etc. use the latter. We should also use the latter since most believe that they represent the better manuscripts.

2. Bible’s also differ in purpose, all of which have their place. Was it written for study or reading? Was it written for the seminary or the church? When available, you should have a variety of translations for different purposes, but you must understand the differences. Here are the three translation methods:

  • Formal Equivalence: Translations that seek to translate word for word (although this is really impossible). Examples: NAS, KJV, ASV, ESV. Less readable, but better for study in contemporary languages. Why? Because they will usually attempt to make fewer interpretive decisions on any text that can be understood in many ways. This allows the reader to struggle through the options.
  • Dynamic Equivalence: Translations that seek to translate thought for thought. Examples: NIV, TNIV, NRSV, etc. Not quite as good for deep study, but usually better for reading and memorization. Dynamic equivalence translations make good pulpit or teaching Bibles.
  • Paraphrase: Translations that seek to use common language and idioms to get the basic point across in a very readable way. Examples: Message, Philip’s Translation, NLT, GNB, etc. While paraphrases are not good for study or memorization, they are very readable and cause you to read the text differently than you normally would. In this respect, they have great value.

Most of the translations can be found here at BibleGateway.

My suggestion is to have some of each. I recommend the NIV, ESV, NET, NAS, and the Message. The NET, in some ways, is the best of all worlds as it contains many study notes that explain when a passage should be translated differently. I guess the NET translation methodology could be called an eclectic (that is why I could not place it on the above chart–it may need its own category!). While I believe the NET is the best study Bible available on the market today, because of its unconventional translation philosophy, it is not very smooth in its reading and, therefore, does not make a good memorization or pulpit Bible.

Finally, what good would this post be without a chart?

81 Responses to “Bible Translations in a Nutshell”

  1. Michael,

    I think you may have made an inadvertent error in lumping the ASV in with the KJV and NKJV as all being translated from the Received Text.

    The ASV and English Revised Version (RV) do not use the Majority Text or TR but used the Critical Text of the day, strongly influenced by Westcott and Hort. (Indeed they were on the RV committee.) This occasioned the strong response to the Revised Version by John Burgon and other Byzantine text supporters.

    I also find the charts like the one above to be interesting since one translation will not always be more literal than another one that is translated using the same principles.

    There are a great many cases in which the KJV and NKJV are more literal than the NASB, especally the 1995 NAS update. I can only imagine that the NASB gets a higher grade due to the translators’ attempt to follow the original’s sentence structure whenever possible. It’s not hard to find NASB renderings that are in more idiomatic English than the KJV or NKJV. This appears to be more prevalent in the OT, where you will fairly often see a more literal translation in the NASB margin, and will find that translation in the NKJV text.

    I understand that the ESV revisers made it more literal than its RSV parent in some areas but maybe not overall. But I haven’t compared those translations nearly as often as I have KJV, NKJV and NASB.

  2. I personally love the .NET Bible because it will tell you directly when there are possible alternative ways to translate something or when the passage is very difficult to translate at all because of problems with the language and grammer. It also will tell you why they made the decision to translate it the way they did.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Good post. One minor correction, the NT of the ASV of 1901 was not based on the TR or Byz majority text. It was based on Westcott & Hort and Tregelles… only the second major English translation to do so (the first being the English Revised Version of 1881… but of course, that had W&H on the translation committee). No major English translation since 1881 has been based on the TR or Byz maj text, except the NKJV.

    I think it’s also important to consider the translating committee behind the translation. Obviously, the major translations have a large, competent, and diverse group of translators involved. Sectarian Bibles (such as the Joseph Smith Translation and the New World Translation) obviously suffer from the lack of a large, diverse, and competent translating committee.

  4. This is a good article, and I agree with most of the conclusions. I also appreciate the NET translation. Just a couple of comments:

    First, one thing I dislike is footnotes that claim or imply “the BEST manuscripts say…” I think the NET is especially good at avoiding that mistake; instead, it tells you which manuscripts include which reading, and why the given one was chosen. It’s hard to pick a “best” manuscript on any standard, and it’s certain that no manuscript is “best” at every passage. (It’s amusing that your article uses the phrase “the best manuscripts”.)

    Second, I really like the NET, and use it (and its online presence, net.bible.org) as a main resource. Its one problem, if I may say so, is its inconsistent translation level — sometimes word for word and sometimes dynamic.

    -Wm

  5. What timing. We just went over this in our “Grasping God’s Word” class, a spinoff from the TTP Bibliology course.

    Where would you place Holman’s CSB? I think it has a similar translation philosophy to the NET bible. They call it “Optimal Equivalence” I believe.

  6. Nice article!

    I grew up with NASB; I was crushed when it largely faded from the scene. Zondervan’s updated NASB…dunno. I tried to go NIV like the rest of my church, but never felt comfortable with it. I’ve since moved into the ESV since it’s close to NASB without the awkwardness.

    That said, I keep NET handy!

  7. Michael,

    The NRSV was chosen as the required text by the Seminary I attended because it was a good translation in the formal equivalence camp, not in the dynamic equivalence camp as you mentioned. The exception to this is that it uses gender inclusive language when the context seems to imply that both men and women are being addressed.

  8. No love for the HCSB in your chart? I don’t think it’s the best translation, but I do think it is the most underrated.

  9. It is interesting to look at a verse like 1 Timothy 5:8 across translations. Here is first the NET and then the NRSV.

    “But if someone does not provide for his own, especially his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” NET

    “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” NRSV

    In Greek there is no masculine pronoun in this verse at all. However, all Bibles mentoned in this post have inserted three masculine pronouns, for which there is no basis. This leads some pastors to misunderstand and suppose that this verse is written for men. But Erasmus argued from the Greek that it was written to women, that widows were to provide for their families. Of course, the NRSV is accurate in demonstrating that there was no gender applied to the subject of this verse.

    I would have to say that the NRSV is better on a practical basis for pastoral use.

  10. I was surprised to see the HCSB missing from the list. This is the most recent translation from original languages. While it uses the critical text as it’s basis, it does include manuscript variants in brackets. And when they use the dynamic or ‘optimal’ approach, the literal translation is included in the footnotes.

  11. Here’s an article by Dan Wallace comparing several translations. It was a response to a pastor who wanted Dan’s input on which translation they should use at their church.

    http://bible.org/article/net-niv-esv-brief-historical-comparison

  12. I like this approach; more widely, a further question to ask is, “For whom is any translation best?” Someone grappling with English as second language wouid be better off with a smaller vocabulary. What suits an English speaking pastor in the study may not suit the visiting language student.

    And, ought we not to support societies providing the Bible in other languages? We English speakers are spoiled to bits with the choice we have.

  13. Leslie Jebaraj March 7, 2010 at 3:08 am

    @Sue: Thanks for the clarification. It was helpful.

  14. Leslie Jebaraj March 7, 2010 at 3:16 am

    @Susan: I too had found Dan Wallace’s article very useful.

  15. The shocking moment, is when believers discover that nearly different versions of the Bible, often say substantially different things. So which Bible is right?

    This happens in part, because nearly all the Bibles we read (unless we read Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic), are translations. While in turn, all translations – except the most literal, etc. – are partially, only interpretations.

    Between us and the original words, between us and God, are always the thoughts, ideas, subjectivity, of translators.

    So where, who, is God, actually?

    Then in turn, we have the problem that even the most “original” texts, in Greek and Hebrew, are themselves in turn, often translations of, edited compilations of, still earlier sayings and texts. All edited, compiled, inevitably, according to the personal ideas of translators and editors.

    One would hope, according to the theory of “Inspiration,” that the Holy Spirit would be guiding us all through these many potential errors. But though God (so far as we can tell, from our Bibles) promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us, he also told us that often the devils would often deceive us anyway. Even in our best ideas about what is good and true, and our ideas abourt what is from God and from the Holy Spirit, and what is not.

    So which words are truly inspired – and which ones are an illusion?

  16. Very helpful post, specially since there are so few standard webpages on this.

    I echo the feedback comment about second-language English speakers. This is an important area, and often overlooked. Vastly more people speak English as a second language as a first language. There are also large numbers of first-language speakers whose reading skills are quite limited, and for whom simple bibles are literally a God-send.

    To simplify down to a set vocabulary of words means sometimes redefining one word with several, or going with a word that while correct, has perhaps less depth of meaning. The NIrV is one of several that have attempted to cut down on vocabulary. The Easy-To-Read Bible is particularly simple and readable, from the World Translation Center. The Worldwide English version (NT only) is available online at the Bible Gateway. The Ledyard Bible is also easy English, though it has some very quirky ways of simplifying certain key concepts, and despite starting from very high view of scripture, some feel that this rather compromises the whole thing. It also uses capitalization for every possible reference to deity, which breaks up the reading and looks quite bizarre. This over-capitalization thing was, I believe, a 19th century affectation of supposed reverence. The KJV never had it, and most modern translations happily do not.

    Blessings

    Tony

    PS, you might want to correct the typo where the plural of ‘bibles’ has an apostrophe in it :-)

  17. The shocking moment, is when believers discover that nearly different versions of the Bible, often say substantially different things.

    Some people actually do believe this — they’re the ones that grew up reading a single version, and are shocked by a simple variance in phrasing. Anyone who actually studies the difference finds that the translations make only light differences in meaning. The real difference is in understandability — that’s not unimportant, but neither does it mean that the translations are “saying substantially different things”.

    So which Bible is right?

    Essentially all of them. BUT… Although your point is actually to dismiss all possibility of translating the Bible in any way that communicates the inspired meaning, I think your question can be turned around to improve Bible translation. In the past, translation was out of necessity accepted to be an art: something that people could get very good at, but no one person could ever understand completely, and no team could do better than a skilled person. We’ve started to turn translation into a science, and the next generation of Bibles is starting to emerge that benefits from the beginnings of that science.

    In the meantime — and I expect that it’ll be a long time — the correct way to read the Bible is to study it. If you skim, in any language including the original, you’ll read your preconceptions into it.

    More later.

    -Wm

  18. all translations – except the most literal, etc. – are partially, only interpretations.

    You forgot to add that all reading involves a process of interpretation. One could throw up one’s hands and give up (as the deconstructionists did), except that contrary to your claim, this doesn’t actually hurt anything except in the presence of a deceptive translator or a hasty reader.

    Then in turn, we have the problem that even the most “original” texts, in Greek and Hebrew, are themselves in turn, often translations of, edited compilations of, still earlier sayings and texts. All edited, compiled, inevitably, according to the personal ideas of translators and editors.

    All of them? Often? Do you have any clue what you’re speaking of? The only possible source you’ve got for that is the Q theory — the idea that the Gospels _might_ be compiled from an earlier document we call ‘Q’ written (one theory says) in Aramaic. And there’s no hard evidence for that; it’s mere speculation. Furthermore, that’s not the majority of the text, not even enough to be “often”, even if it’s completely true (again, no hard evidence). And even if it IS true, the people who used it were (if there’s ANY validity to the Bible at all) talking to the people who witnessed the sayings.

    One would hope, according to the theory of “Inspiration,” that the Holy Spirit would be guiding us all through these many potential errors.

    This isn’t anything like a “theory of inspiration”. Inspiration relates to the original uttering of prophecy, not to its carrying to later generations. Your claim the the Holy Spirit protects the Scriptures from corruption during their passing from one person to another is an interesting (and not new) claim, but is quickly and objectively disproven by textual corruption (a different problem).

    -Wm

  19. Dear All,

    This is a good book in this regard http://www.amazon.com/How-Choose-Bible-Version-Introductory/dp/1857924967

    This is written by Robert L Thomas

    Prayers
    Renju

  20. Tank:

    You’re thinking mostly of the New Testament; how about the Old?

    The narratives of the OT cover a period, some say, of roughly 6,000 years; others say much longer. From Adam, to Moses, ending around the time of Jesus or slighly after. So how did those in say, 1,000 BC; then 800 BC, then 60 BC, know of what happened in the earlier days, say 1,500 BC? Most likely, from intermediary texts, which they then copied – and/or edited, or culled – to hand on to the next generation. Texts were occasionally even re- translated back and forth; from Hebrew to Greek and Syriac? and so forth; but more than that, copied, and culled or edited. For thousands of years. A time when many errors, changes, might have been made. Not only through translation.

    Many strange things can happen to texts in 6,000 of transmission: some texts are lost; some are burned; other times false old texts are created. Or old forgotten texts are said to have been suddenly rediscovered (as the Deuteronomy texts were said to have been rediscovered in the temple, by priests?). Because of the many destructive things that can happen in the historical transmission of ideas, today, many theologians, scholars, might therefore use the concept of “inspiration,” hoping that it protected not only the original utterances, but also the many, many hundreds of generations of scribes and others who carried, copied, edited the text.

  21. Brett, you’re right that our knowledge of the authorship and provenance of the OT texts is, to say the least, bad. I think (vague memory) that the earliest textual evidence we have is the Dead Sea Scrolls, although there’s written Hebrew text showing the same beliefs from earlier (they found an engraved stone).

    If you meant to use the concept of “preservation” (rather than “inspiration”), I’d agree with that; yes, I do believe that the scriptures are preserved by God, although it’s clearly not a simple utter protection from any possible error; rather, it’s a preservation through a “remnant” of faithful people. This accepts the fact that there will be deterioration, often widespread, but never total destruction or irrevocable loss. The restoration will usually take a lot of work, though. Now, this is an article of faith, and (admittedly) when looking at the OT there’s no solid evidence for it (but some indirect, and the doctrine itself is built on both promises and historical claims).

    On the other hand, the evidence for it is _far_ better than the evidence for your claim, that “much” of the text is brought to us through “translations”. In fact, the generally agreed oldest book in the OT is Job, and its largest sections are Hebrew poetry, and due to their poetic nature are fairly likely to be in the original language. The book of Daniel includes sections in Aramaic, but although that’s a late addition compared to the rest of the OT text, it does provide an illustration that the scribes would rather copy multiple languages than translate.

    Again, your main point here was that the OT might possibly contain much more corruption and loss than the NT, and although I admit that’s possible by the rules of evidence, I don’t concede that means you can claim that “much” of it comes to us through multiple layers of translation. There’s just no basis for that claim at all, and some evidence against it.

    -Wm

  22. Actually, Form Critical and Source issues or pre-canonical texts are irrelevant to the Church’s belief in preservation, since prophets were given to supplement and steer the text in the right direction. The text was in the process of being molded by God for the purpose of Christian Canon. The issues for us are post-canonical, i.e., text critical issues, which I would say all teach the same thing, but in different words, in different places, or in repetition.

  23. Hodge, that’s a pleasant idea, and I’d like to believe it… But does it have any support aside from being a nice idea? The Bible says that “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved…” It doesn’t say that scribes corrected the text to produce the correct opinion.

    It also brings up the disturbing conclusion that although the NT says Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness, Abraham either didn’t actually exist or didn’t believe in anything similar to the promised God-provided sacrifice we read about.

    -Wm

  24. Wm,

    Well, since all of it is speculation anyway, I’m not sure why you want “support” for it. What support is there that there are pre-traditions that mold the text in the first place? There is simply theory based on observations that could be taken in a few ways. I think that there is evidence that prophets correct the text from within the book of Jeremiah itself, where the first prophecy undergoes revision in the second. I think there is evidence between the synoptics in both the OT and the NT, telling us that Scriptures can be molded to form the final canon, even in producing another book altogether (I would say the same thing for 2 Pet and Jude). So I think there is plenty of support, but in the end it’s a matter of faith and what the Church has always believed. Many in the Church from beginning believed the Jewish tradition that Ezra had to rewrite or fill in what was lost of the Scripture after the Exile. Whatever one believes about the process of the text, it has no implications for the Church’s canon. What does are presupps that interpret that data.
    Finally, I have no idea what Abraham’s existence has anything to do with what we’re talking about. Abraham’s existence is based on belief. period. There is no evidence that negates his existence, although we could say there is more that establishes it. The reason why people don’t believe Abraham existed is because they see the literary uses of the stories surrounding him as fabricated to further the story. That’s a non sequitur. This same idea was applied to David (ya know, before the Tel Dan and Mesha Inscription that is). But this point has to do with interpretation, not transmission or construction of the text, so I don’t get your point here in relation to what we’re discussing.

  25. There is evidence that when Jesus quoted the OT, he quoted from the Greek Septuagint version of it. In effect, Jesus was using a translation.

  26. All thse questions interrelate though: the question is, how do we get the text we have today. And/or, is it reliable. I am suggesting that clearly many historical processes were involved. Many of which involved interpretation. In some cases, different languages were involved. In other cases, at least literary interpretations were. Indeed, one prophet would interpret earlier ones.

    Did these various interpretations accurately reflect the earliest statements? Or did they even add to – and even improve – them? Going beyond interpretation … to include additions, improvements?

    It is tempting to go with “God’s progressive revelation,” and suggest that the historical record or provinance is almost irrelevant; it is only the final message is what counts.

    But to be sure, surely any good theology, must describe reality; must be based on real History; what really happened. The same way that science is no good, unless it describes what really happened. To suggest that Christianity might be “true” therefore, whether the history it describes is right or not? Seems like a stretch.

  27. “Did these various interpretations accurately reflect the earliest statements? Or did they even add to – and even improve – them? Going beyond interpretation … to include additions, improvements?”

    I’ll reiterate, this is irrelevant. It is irrelevant because whether or not the interpretations or molding of the Scripture accurately reflects something often has little to do with what it teaches. Secondly, it is irrelevant to bring up the development of the text or its translations to support or reject what is simply a matter of belief. If God is the One bringing the text about to its final canon, then it is really irrelevant how He did so, or whether it’s the same as the original message to the specific group that was addressed in its historical Sitz in Leben. The question for the individual is “Is the text in front of you inspired by God?” How it was put together, since God can be involved in the process either way, is therefore irrelevant.

  28. Hodge:

    Well, I’m glad you raised this opinion; in fact, this is the most important idea, the pillar of the religious community of our time.

    To be sure though, in one sense, I don’t think you could say that 1) the Bible might be true today, even if all the history it claims to narrate is false however; since the Bible committs itself to that history and says it is true. If that history is not true, then a major part of the Bible is false, even by its own standards.

    Still, ignoring that, 2) today, many people – probably most educated believers, and most ministers – secretly think thatwe can get around this. Most today secretly think that the BIble might not be historically, factually true; and yet it is somehow true “spiritually.” Its “history,” its promises of miracles, might be false; but all that matters, many now feel, is that the Bible does however tell us important spiritual things. Like how to have “faith.” And that is real, and valuable, they say.

    That is to say, the Bible’s history might even be entirely fiction; but just like fiction however, the Bible has a kind of truth. Even if the facts are false, the essential message might be true.

    This indeed is the common opinion; in fact probably this is the main pillar that holds up modern Christianity. So it would be useful to ask whether this secret but massively important opinion, is really true.

    Maybe someone would like to ask this question indeed: is this, the primary assumption of educated Christians in our time, honest and right? Could the 1) history of the creation of the Bible be full of errors; and 2) could the history narrated within the Bible be false; and yet the Bible still be “true” in its 1) current or 2) spiritual message?

    I would briefly submit that it cannot be: a spirituality that is based on factual misstatements, a false history, and even lies, is following a false spirit.

    An honest and good spirituality, cannot be based on factual lies.

  29. 25. Brett on 08 Mar 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    There is evidence that when Jesus quoted the OT, he quoted from the Greek Septuagint version of it. In effect, Jesus was using a translation.

    Lee Martin McDonald in his book The Biblical Canon (get the Third edition, third corrected printing) writes:

    “The importance of the LXX from a canonical perspective is not only that it was the Bible of the early Christian church and cited more than 90 percent of the time by the NT writers when quoting the OT, but that it also differs considerably from the Hebrew text in several important passages….”

    Some scholars go as high as 95-97%.

    As for Jesus specifically, versus the entirety of the NT, one might find that Jesus quoted more from the Hebrew text than the other OT writers did. But I haven’t done the comparisons/research to see to what extent Jesus’ words conform to the LXX text vs. the Hebrew text.

  30. Brett,

    I’m sorry, but your reply evidences a modern rigid understanding of historiography. I believe that the events in the Bible are historical, but are they described as one would describe an accident in a court of law? Mainly not. They are often described using patterns of thought that reflect the culture in order to communicate to that culture. This “either it’s hard history or it’s false” dichotomy is woefully inadequate to address what we find in literature in general, not to mention literature, while using history, has theology and ethics as its primary intent.
    We’re straying from the original post though, so I will only say that your rigid dichotomy is one I’ve seen many times, and it never leads to faith simply because it misunderstands faith’s object in the first place. Perhaps, if Michael does a post on this topic, we’ll discuss this some more. Take care.

  31. Eric:

    Thanks for your useful information; in fact, I don’t have a quick reference at hand to specific information about Jesus. If you find any sometime, be sure to add a note here.

    Thanks.

    Hodge:

    Can we really separate faith and spirituality, from any and all factual basis? Should we allow ourselves to have faith in things which seem factually false? Does that Bible itself REALLY call for THAT massively popular kind of faith?

    “By their fruits you shall know them.”

  32. Brett:

    If you can read NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew, at least with some ability, create a three-column table with side-by-side:

    a) Jesus’ quotes of the OT – b) Hebrew text – c) LXX text

    Use an interlinear if necessary – though if you can’t read Greek, you may need Brenton’s LXX (available free online in various places) or the online free NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint), since interlinear LXXs are few and far between, though the Apostolic Bible might be one such, IIRC.

    We’re not talking about a lot of quotes here.

    Or, get Beale’s/Carson’s Commentary on the NT use of the OT (I have it in Logos only) to see how they compare Jesus’ OT quotes with the Hebrew and Greek sources:

    http://www.amazon.com/Commentary-New-Testament-Use-Old/dp/0801026938

    By doing a word-by-word or quote count and categorization, you’ll be able to see pretty easily if Jesus’ quotes lean toward the Hebrew text or the Greek text without having to read/research all of them, I suspect.

  33. Brett,
    Quick illustration of what Hodge is saying. This is from Mark 4:30-32

    He also asked, “To what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use to present it? 4:31 It is like a mustard seed that when sown in the ground, even though it is the smallest of all the seeds in the ground – 4:32 when it is sown, it grows up, becomes the greatest of all garden plants, and grows large branches so that the wild birds can nest in its shade.”

    You probably recognize this passage as the Parable of the Mustard seed. According to this passage the mustard seed is “the smallest of all the seeds in the ground”. One question. Is this true? As surprising as it may be to some this is actually false. The mustard seed is not the smallest seed, rather the orchid is. So how do we handle this? There are a few different ways to approach it. One might be to simply say the Bible is wrong here so it is unreliable and should not be trusted at all. Another might be to persist in believing the mustard seed is the smallest seed even though it can be visibly shown to not be. The last option, and the option me and Hodge both take, is to recognize different categories of knowledge in the Bible. There is knowledge the Bible is trying to convey and then there is the background knowledge the Bible is using to convey it (the language itself, cultural norms and beliefs, etc.).

    We must recognize that the chief purpose of the Bible is for God to communicate with people and He sometimes uses cultural and societal norms among the people He is speaking to to aid in effective communication. With the mustard seed imagine if Jesus had stopped to explain that 1000’s of miles away their was a plant called the orchid and the Kingdom of God was like the orchid seed….Everyone would’ve just been confused!!! So instead he used incorrect background knowledge to communicate theological truth. The mustard seed was in fact the smallest seed that those He was speaking to…

  34. I think Hodge might be making an even stronger claim than that.

    But in any case: the Bible makes many, many factual claims and promises. Are they true or not?

    Or, if we start discounting many apparently factual errors or false promises in the Bible, as mere hyperbole, or metaphor, or as relative, culturally bound statements, then … how long before we’ve effectively discounted/disproven most of the Bible? Moving on to another different “faith” than a biblical one.

    Some might accept this. But once you’ve done that, shouldn’t you be more honest about it? Rather than claim to believe the Bible, wouldn’t it be better, more accurate, to say we sort of, half believe?

    Isn’t it hypocritical to defend a faith you yourself only half believe in? And if you’re being hypocritical, then … how good is your new, updated morality and spirituality after all?

    I guess I see a place for this kind of updated/compromised Christianity. But ultimately, faced with the awareness and theology you propound, more and more people today are not willing to make THESE compromises. And are simply …walking away from it all. As apparently, the only honest thing to do.

  35. Moving on to another different “faith” than a biblical one.

    Abraham put his faith in God, and it was credited/reckoned to him as righteousness/justification.

    The “faith” that is the “biblical one” – i.e., the faith that the Bible attests to and calls us to, a faith like Abraham had and acted in accordance with – is faith in God. Who speaks and acts in many and various ways. To limit “biblical faith” to holding or holding onto a narrow and strict view of how one is to interpret and apply a book – which is only one way God acts and speaks with respect to us – is to be a bit constrained in one’s thinking and in one’s “faith,” methinks.

    You search the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and they witness concerning Me, and you don’t wish to come to Me to have life….

    Just sayin’. :)

  36. Brett,
    1. I see no hypocrisy in saying that the Bible is infallible in matters of faith and practice, but may use cultural understandings that are false in order to communicate theological truths. In fact I would say that this fact is self-evident to anyone who reads the Bible and takes the study of it seriously. The mustard seed example above is just one of numerous examples of this. The Psalms for instance bleed of Ancient Near Eastern Cosmology. The question that must be asked is “does God accommodate Himself to culture” in order to convey Truth and accomplish His plans. The answer from God Himself is “Yes”. Just look at the divorce laws he gave in the OT Law and then see Jesus’ commentary on them in Matthew 19:3. He gave those laws there not because they were the ideal, but because the people’s “hard hearts”. Or for that matter just look at the language. God chose Koine Greek, which just like every other language is a finite human construct, to describe Himself, an infinite transcendent God. Just God using human language is almost scandalous in the accommodations God had to make to reveal Himself. We must always remember that the chief purpose of the Bible is God communicating with humanity in a manner in which we can understand, and if false background knowledge aids in doing this then God will use it.

    2. I think your way of thinking about things is reversed. Christianity as a religion properly understood is Christocentric, not Bibliocentric. We are saved by our belief in Christ, not the Bible. Now don’t think I am saying that the Bible isn’t important, isn’t the Word of God or anything like that. I’m just making the point that the object of our faith is not the Bible as you seem to imply. Our faith is in Christ. The Bible is of utmost importance because it helps us to know Christ and tells us about Him and what He desires from us, but it is not where my faith lies.

  37. 3. As to your assertion that once you’ve said the Bible is wrong in one area then you start a slippery slope whereby you question all of it. This is ultimately a logical fallacy. It’s like saying that because I’m wrong about the temperature outside I’m also wrong when I tell you my age. Being wrong on one thing doesn’t make someone or something wrong on everything.

    The second thing that needs to be said about this is what’s been said earlier. One must read the Bible with the proper hermeneutic and recognize that the Bible contains different “Categories of Knowledge”. Broadly the first one is “Background Knowledge”. This is knowledge that preexists in the culture into which the Bible is speaking. It includes things like language, understandings of how the universe works, cultural traditions, etc. Then there is a second category of knowledge which is Truth that God is communicating. The first category of knowledge can be wrong because it does not come from God. It is knowledge of human construct. God simply uses this knowledge (for instance linguistic knowledge – Jesus spoke Aramaic, not some made up language) to communicate the knowledge He is seeking to impart. Whether or not this background knowledge is scientifically or factually accurate is irrelevant to the Truth of the matter it is being used to communicate. I think a good way to think about it is to think of Jesus’ parables. Does it effect the Truth being communicated if the events depicted in Jesus’ parables never really occurred and they are just stories (which in fact they are – thus their called “Parables). Of course not!!!. The reality of the story has nothing to do with what is being communicated. The meaning of the Parable of the Mustard seed is not affected by whether or not the mustard seed is actually the smallest seed. It’s irrelevant to the message of the parable.

  38. 1) The fact is, if the Bible can be wrong about one thing, it can be wrong about another.

    2) If GOD/Christ speaks in different ways to different peoples, then it is clearly possible he is speaking to even you, in a way different from the way he will speak to others, or another time.

    3) The attempt to divide the Bible into two parts – matter of fact, vs. matter of faith – does not seem entirely sustainable in the larger BIble itself.

    4) NOr does Jesus seem to firmly make this division.

    Therefore, you have a faith you say, based on a Christ. But Christ himself is largely known to us today, from the BIble. A Bible that does not support you. Or that you do not support?

    Are you following a False Christ?

  39. 1) The fact is, if the Bible can be wrong about one thing, it can be wrong about another.

    You write that as if it’s a bad thing. :?

    2) If GOD/Christ speaks in different ways to different peoples, then it is clearly possible he is speaking to even you, in a way different from the way he will speak to others, or another time.

    A comparison of GJohn with the Synoptics seems to be an example of this. As Charlesworth, I think, suggests, if all we had were the Synoptics and then sometime in the last century we discovered GJohn, what would we do with it? Consider it a Gnostic Gospel? Or what?

    I haven’t had my usual dose of coffee this morning, so I may be a bit out of sorts. :D

  40. ERIC:

    Probably GJohn in fact, would have been rejected. While indeed to this very day, it is somewhat degraded in scholarship, for that reason; as a nonsynoptic.

    But I guess my point is, even if we allow somewhat contradictory voices as possibly speaking for God, then how adamantly however, should we defend them? Knowing that they are somewhat contradictory, and probably therefore, can’t all be entirely true?

    Even allowing for variations and tweaks in translation.

  41. I was going to stay out of this for the sake of coherence with the original post, but had to jump back in this once.

    Myth, science, cosmology, etc. are all apart of language and communication. It is not that God got some things wrong. It is that He is using the concepts, myth, science, cosmology, etc. in order to communicate theological and ethical truths about who He is, what He has done, who we are, what needs to be done for us, etc. etc.
    What you are in essence proposing is that God not use language and the conceptualizations that make it up in order to communicate with humans. Essentially, therefore, what you are chiding Christians for doing is believing that God must use human language in order to communicate with humans; or to put it more plainly, you are suggesting an absurdity where God must use YOUR contemporary understanding of myth, science, cosmology, etc. (in other words, YOUR language and conceptual world) to communicate to people who would not understand it. Ergo, in order to allow God to inspire and create an inerrant Word to man, He must not use communication to do so. So God cannot communicate if He is to communicate with what you consider to be technical accuracy. This is utter nonsense, and hope you think further on it, and escape the trap of fundamentalism, whether it takes upon itself the guise of Christianity, agnosticism or atheism.

  42. 1)Why didn’t God begin to develop a new language, more appropriate to his nature? In fact we seem to see this, to some extent: speaking of “faith” and so forth. And yet even these special new concepts, seem to fall short.

    2) In any case, this means the old pronouncements are inaccurate; so why pretend to follow them today? Is that honest?

    3) And once you no longer follow the old ideas today – then how do you know that your “new” version is correct? What is your quality control? How do you know that your “modern” concept of Christ is the right one?

    4) Note too the Bible often said that God’s words don’t change, and so forth; that his commands are “eternal” etc..

    So how can you be sure that own relativistic modern/postmodern concept of God, Christ, is the correct one?

    5)These ideas all pertain to the problems of translation actually; this is why we have “DYNANMIC EQUIVALENCE” type translations in fact. But the famous problems with these forms of Historicism, are a) how we can be sure that we really fully understand the old words, in their original sense; so that we can translate them accurately into modern language. And b) indeed, many literary critics suggested that it is always almost impossible to generate modern exact equivalents, of what the old words said … or were trying to say.

    So that the whole related project of, for example, of trying to update, restate in modern paraphrase, the old words, does not work. Said literary theory, years ago.

  43. “1)Why didn’t God begin to develop a new language, more appropriate to his nature? In fact we seem to see this, to some extent: speaking of “faith” and so forth. And yet even these special new concepts, seem to fall short.”

    A. Because language is based on concepts, and even if the concepts are false, the purpose of language can still function accurately. If you say to your kid, “What a beautiful sunrise,” your concept is false, but your language and purpose of communication is accurate.

    B. If language must accurately describe and assume omniscience then human language is impossible. Hence, again, you ask of God to either communicate using His omniscient accuracy, and therefore, not to communicate at all.

    “2) In any case, this means the old pronouncements are inaccurate; so why pretend to follow them today? Is that honest?”

    No, it’s not honest. It’s dishonest. It pretends that all language is scientifically specific and even omniscient in order to be accurate in its communicative purposes. This is being deceived and deceiving. None of your language presently reflects this sort of accuracy because it is humanly impossible, and frankly, completely unneeded.

    “3) And once you no longer follow the old ideas today – then how do you know that your “new” version is correct? What is your quality control? How do you know that your “modern” concept of Christ is the right one?”

    What old ideas are you talking about? Do you think the Bible is trying to communicate pure history and science? I do follow the “old” ideas gained from the Bible; and those ideas have always been theology and ethics. Do I follow the Scholastics in trying to figure out everything else with the Bible and reason? No. That’s not a break from the old. It’s a break from the Scholastics.

  44. “4) Note too the Bible often said that God’s words don’t change, and so forth; that his commands are “eternal” etc..”

    Yeah? His commands are eternal. I’m not discussing His commands. I’m discussing the linguistic package in which He delivered them.

    “So how can you be sure that own relativistic modern/postmodern concept of God, Christ, is the correct one.”

    Well, my concept is the one held by the Fathers, Reformers, etc., gained from the Bible. I believe that their concept of Christ is correct, and that I am correct in seeing the historical Christ as the Christ of faith. I simply don’t limit communication of Christ to test tubes and scalpels.

  45. 1) If I say the sunrise is beautiful, and it is not, then what accurate thing have I conveyed? According to the LInguistics subdiscipline of Pragmatics, you might indeed say that I never intended to speak of the sunset at all; but merely intended to say something reassuring to my companion. Still, if teh sunset is not beautiful, there is an element of untruth in my speech. Language is not just its pragmatic affect; the factual concepts, it direct, referential denotations, are also important.

    2) Among the “ideas” I refer to, I include theology and morality. And how do you manage to get through all the difficulties of language, to know THEM directly and perfectly; these “old” things that you yourself say you DO understand.

    3) How do you know that the Fathers and Reformers, who wrote hundreds, even thousands of years ago, were correct? And /or that you understand them correctly?

    4) Is it by faith? But how do you know that your faith is faith in the right idea of Jesus? And not in a false one? By following this or that Church? God told us there would be many to come even in his “name,” and yet be false after all.

    How about those who call themselves Christians, and believe by faith … but who faithfully arrive at a different sense of God than you do? How again, do you know they are wrong, and you are right?

  46. My point is that it is not a sunrise. The sun doesn’t rise. The earth is turning, not the sun. If you say that the sunrise is beautiful to your kid, you have communicated accurately what you wanted to, using mythological language. You wanted to have him experience the picture he saw before him and share it with you as beautiful. You were not attempting to convey that the sun literally rose. If you had used scientifically accurately language, you would have failed to communicate, and your purpose would be thwarted. If you had sat there explaining to him the precise and literal language, you would have ruined the opportunity to sit and experience the moment (since the moment would now be gone) with him. Thus, your purpose would be thwarted. What you have proposed is that all language before yours is incapable of communicating anything accurate unless it is bled of the conceptual world that makes it up. In other words, only the modern mind can communicate something true. No thanks.

    “the factual concepts, it direct, referential denotations, are also important.”

    The factual concepts are important if you are intending to communicate physical scientific knowledge. They are not important at all in communicating other forms of knowledge.
    Referential denotations are important, but have nothing to do with what we’re talking about, since fiction and myth can discuss truth with these as well.

    “2) Among the “ideas” I refer to, I include theology and morality.

    Then your argument is confused, as you are seeking to debunk what is intangible through its tangible linguistic clothing. You can’t refute what is meant to have a theological purpose by seeking to say its language isn’t historically or scientifically accurate. That’s the whole point. It’s not meant to be in the modernistic sense to which you want to restrict it.

  47. “How do you know that the Fathers and Reformers, who wrote hundreds, even thousands of years ago, were correct? And /or that you understand them correctly?”

    A. Because they have contexts in which they can be understood as well.

    B. Because all interpretation of text and life has faith in it. I believe I understand. I could be wrong. You could be wrong that you understand a contemporary author, or your own mind for that matter.

    C. I also believe that God preserves the truth in and through His people, so I don’t believe Christianity is lost. The divine element is also a factor.

    “Is it by faith? But how do you know that your faith is faith in the right idea of Jesus? And not in a false one? By following this or that Church? God told us there would be many to come even in his “name,” and yet be false after all.

    How about those who call themselves Christians, and believe by faith … but who faithfully arrive at a different sense of God than you do? How again, do you know they are wrong, and you are right?”

    How do you know if your faith has placed itself in the right object? You don’t. That’s why it’s faith. I think that reason can confirm it, but ultimately that is what faith is about for everyone, Christian, Jew, Agnostic or Atheist.

    Your final question really is getting into anther topic. I believe that there is an orthodox line and logic that can be followed in order to come to the idea of an orthodoxy and to the right community, but that will have to be for another day.

  48. 45. Brett on 11 Mar 2010 at 3:47 pm #
    How about those who call themselves Christians, and believe by faith … but who faithfully arrive at a different sense of God than you do? How again, do you know they are wrong, and you are right?

    What does “believe by faith” mean? Isn’t that a tautology? Isn’t that like saying “eat by eating” or “swim by swimming”? “Faith” is merely the noun form of the verb “believe” when it comes to Biblical Greek (and I believe Hebrew, too).

  49. Hodge,
    I think you and me have found one thing we firmly agree on, the absolute absurdity of trying to treat the Bible as if it were a 21st Century History or Science textbook. One should not be surprised at the confusion that is wrought by trying to apply 21st Century standards to something that was written in a 1st Century culture with the understandings of that culture in mind.

  50. But the BIble itself insisted that it was indeed, accurate by ANY standard: it was the absolute, holy word of God. According to its own testimony.

    Should we always follow faith? What if I meet a devil worshiper, who has faith in Satan? Will you say to him, “that’s your faith; it is good because it is faith. Go with it”

    And if you are not certain about faith, then why be so admant about it? What if your faith is wrong? what if you are following a false CHrist? The more you follow it, the worse off you will be.

    Keeping these problems in mind, those persons who are occupied with translating the Bible, believe that we must try to root ourselves in some standard outside raw belief. While indeed, God and the Bible often claim to be known not just through faith, but verified by facts.

    So let’s check the facts. ANd if they don’t confirm your faith …? Then your faith should change.

    The BIble clearly says hundreds of times, that many people will be “decieved,” even in their “faith,” by “false prophets,” false “scriptures,” false or bad churches, bad priests, and so forth.

    To have total faith in your faith therefore, is not biblical; and not wise.

    The Bible by teh way, often defended the exact “word”s of God; Jesus said he would not change a dot of it, an “iota.”

    It is for this reason, that scholars and others attach far more importance than you do, to studying ancient texts – and attempting to translate them accurately.

    Using in part, science and reason. God did not emphasize just faith: “COme let us Reason together” said God.

    The intangible often puts on tangible clothing; even human flesh. So that it can be better known. To deny this, is to turn your back on the incarnation itself; God made flesh.

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