John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB)
The current, official version of this blog is located at christianunityblog.net. For now, I am keeping this copy of the site online also, since so many google searches land here.
Moving to Wordpress!
I have been blogging on Blogger for years (and publishing via FTP to my personal domain.) Within a few weeks, Blogger will be turning off FTP publishing. So I’m in the process of migrating to WordPress.
I have redirected my domain "christianunityblog.net" to the new Wordpress blog. I will keep the old content here at http://rouses.net/blog/ since the search engines often bring people in through that URL, and many of the articles are cross-linked using the rouses.net/blog/ address. However, new content will go only to Wordpress at christianuntityblog.net beginning now.
If you've been accessing my blog through http://rouses.net/blog/, please update your links to http://christianunityblog.net. Thanks!
Dynamic Equivalence and the NIV: Flesh
Flesh is a prominent concept in the New Testament. The Greek word for "flesh" is σάρξ (sarx, Strongs #4561). It is translated 151 times in the KJV, and 149 of those times it is translated "flesh." However, since the NIV is translated based on the principle of "Dynamic Equivalence," decisions were made to translate many of these occurrences into something other than "flesh." Some examples:1. A person / persons
Mat 24:22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.2. The physical / biological body
Rom 3:20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Mat 16:17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.
Phm 1:16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.
Luk 3:6 And all mankind will see God's salvation.'"
Joh 17:2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.
Rom 11:14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.
1Co 10:18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?
Mat 26:41 "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."3. This physical life on earth
Act 2:26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,
Act 2:27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
Rom 2:28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.
Gal 4:23 His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
1Co 7:28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. Eph 6:5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.4. Human ancestry / descendants
Col 2:1 I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.
Heb 5:7 During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
Rom 9:5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.5. Sinfulness / worldliness
Rom 9:8 In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.
Joh 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
Joh 1:13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
Act 2:30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.
Joh 8:15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.6. Literal translation into "flesh"
1Co 1:26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
Col 2:18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.
2Co 1:17 When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, "Yes, yes" and "No, no"?
2Co 5:16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
2Co 10:2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world.
2Co 11:18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast.
Rom 1:3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David,
Rom 6:19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.
1Jn 2:16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.
Rom 7:5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.
Rom 7:18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
Gal 5:19a The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:
Col 2:11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,
Mat 19:5 and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'?7. Completely omitted
Joh 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
2Co 4:11 For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
Eph 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,
Eph 2:15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,
Eph 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Rom 4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter [ASV according to the flesh?]
Gal 4:13 As you know, it was because of an illness [ASV of the flesh] that I first preached the gospel to you.
In each of these cases, the translators were considering how to render the Greek word σάρξ. They made a decision, not based on the meaning of the individual word, and not based on grammar, but rather on the their interpretation of what was meant in context. In most cases, the choice seems quite reasonable and uncontroversial. In a few cases, however, the choice conceals some possible alternative interpretations, and may actually introduce doctrinal concepts that were not intended.
I could quibble with many of these choices. But to me, the most objectionable choice involves interpreting σάρξ as "sinful nature" in Romans 7-8, Galatians 5, and several other passages. "Flesh" does not mean "sinful nature." The Word became flesh (John 1:14) and yet was not sinful. To teach that our flesh is a "sinful nature" suggests that we have an excuse for our sin. It also suggests that our sin is inherited, passed down from Adam. It undermines personal responsibility for our behavior. The biblical teaching is that we are guilty because of our own behavior (not because of Adam and Eve) and that "the soul that sins shall die. (Ezek 18:4)
When the NIV translators rendered these passages, they attempted to rephrase them in words that sound more natural to modern ears. That's what Dynamic Equivalence does, and it is what makes this translation so readable and so popular. But it inherently means that the translators' doctrinal beliefs influence the translation. They render it according to what they
think it means.
The NET Bible is also a Dynamic Equivalence translation. However, in many of the above cases the NET translators chose to use a literal translation of σάρξ as "flesh." The NET Bible made a more conservative choice in some cases, resulting in a more literal translation than the NIV.
For careful Bible study, we need to know exactly what was said by the Holy Spirit to the original writer, not what the translator thinks it means. That way we can make our own judgment about what a passage means, given our understanding of the rest of scripture. If a Bible teacher prepares lessons based on a translation like the NIV, without verifying the text in more literal translations, he runs the risk of teaching in error, because the interpretation in the NIV may be in error.
On the other hand, a translation like the NIV can make the scriptures more accessible to many people. People will read more if it is more enjoyable to read. But at the same time they may pick up the wrong idea on certain topics. It is therefore important for Bible teachers to make congregations aware of the areas where the NIV might take too many liberties with the literal words.
Dynamic Equivalence and the NIV
Shortly after my conversion in the campus ministry in 1976, I purchased my first copy of the New International Version of the New Testament (NIV). What a joy it was to read the scriptures in such an accessible, natural style! My prior experience was with the KJV and (to a lesser extent) the RSV. The NIV was so much easier to read and understand than those older translations. It made Bible study a real pleasure.
The NIV became the primary translation used in the campus ministry, and later in the congregations that these campus disciples started. For the past 33+ years, the vast majority of the sermons and classes I have attended have been taught from the NIV. It is the translation that "sounds right" to me. The scriptures stored up in my heart are from the NIV.
So I am not exactly thrilled with the need to point out flaws in that translation.
Easy readability comes at a cost. Simply translating each word from the original language into modern English (an approach known as Formal Equivalence
) does not result in an easy-to-read version. To improve readability, translators rearrange words and sometimes replace literally translated words or phrases with more familiar but different phrases, which in their judgment reflect the meaning of the original text. Therein lies the rub.
When translators start to apply their judgment about the meaning of the text, they invariably introduce their own doctrinal biases into the result. So the resulting text tells, not what the original writer said
, but what the translator believes that the original writer meant
. The translator is not only translating, but also interpreting. This style of translation is sometimes called Dynamic Equivalence.
In addition to the NIV, translations using Dynamic Equivalence include the Holman Christian Standard Bible and the New English Translation.
I am going to post a few blog articles pointing out some of the translation and interpretation decisions made in the NIV and in similar translations. Hopefully this will help readers develop an awareness of the effect of Dynamic Equivalence on a translation, and the need to include more literal translations in your study regimen.
Recently I've been teaching an online course on how to use the software tool e-Sword for Bible study. One class in the course was devoted to comparing the various translations, and explaining the differences. We began that exercise at Acts 8:37
Acts 8:37 appears in the KJV but is missing (or bracketed and discounted in a footnote) in most of the more recent English translations. The rationale for omitting this verse is that it is missing in most of the oldest Greek manuscripts that have been discovered since the KJV was translated, mainly from the fourth century AD. It appears in many Latin manuscripts from the 500's and later. The underlying assumption is that the older manuscripts are more reliable witnesses to the original.
I wonder whether that assumption is sufficiently certain to justify excluding the verse, especially in view of the fact that Irenaeus quotes
from Acts 8:37 in Against Heresies, in about 175ad to 180ad. That is at least 150 years earlier than the earliest manuscript we possess. So if the verse was added after the original writing, it was done very early -- early enough, in fact, so that a church leader as prominent and as well respected as Irenaeus considered it to be scripture (and apparently didn't expect his readers to have doubts about it either.) It is hard to imagine how that could happen so close to the original writing. Think about it: If you were around in the few decades between the apostles and 175AD, and you wanted to slip something into the scriptures, how would you do it? How would you convince church leaders, who have their own copies handed down to them, that your addition is really part of the inspired scripture?
A similar question can be raised about the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20).
The NIV claims
"The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." Note however that in revising the NIV, the TNIV makes the less bold claim
"The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." There is good reason for backing away from that claim. First, the earliest manuscripts are not by any stretch the most reliable, differing from one another more frequently than the later manuscripts. Second and perhaps more significantly, the highly respected witness Irenaeus quotes
from Mark 16:19 in Against Heresies:
Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: “So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God;”
Here Irenaeus removes all doubt about what his copy of Mark contained. At the time he wrote this (circa 175AD) he had no question that Mark wrote that in his gospel.
I don't know that these examples provide absolute proof that these passages were in the original text. But I think the evidence for inclusion is at least as strong as the evidence against. The oldest manuscript we happen to have today is not necessarily the most reliable -- especially in view of the testimony of even older witnesses.
The elders and ministry staff of our congregation like to choose a theme for each year. Of course our purpose and mission does not change from year to year, but having a theme helps to focus our choices for teaching and other programs throughout the year. When all our efforts are aligned with a given focus, we think we stand a better chance of making significant progress on the currently perceived needs.
Our annual themes need to contribute to achievement of our unchanging purpose and mission. Here is the closest thing we have to an official "mission statement" from our church web site:
We are a group of baptized disciples scattered over Gwinnett County, GA, and beyond who are committed to loving God, loving each other, and loving the lost. Our purpose is to obey the Greatest Commandment thereby fulfilling the Great Commission.
The Greatest Commandment, of course, comes from Jesus' teaching in Mat 22:35-40:
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Jesus answered the question with not one, but two commandments. According to Jesus, all the other commandments hang on these two. If we really fulfill these two commandments, the others will follow naturally. So these two commands summarize nicely our purpose as a congregation of Christians.
For 2010, we have chosen the theme, "Follow me!" This is the same call Jesus gave to Peter and Andrew (Matt 4:19), to Matthew (Matt 9:9), to the rich young ruler (Matt 19:21), to Philip (John 1:43), and to many others. It is the same call he gave to Peter after the resurrection (John 21:12). By following Jesus -- his instructions and his example -- we will fulfill our purpose in Christ.
So, what difference will it make, having "Follow me!" as our theme for the year?
For one thing, we are reorganizing our family groups into similar life situations based in part on the age of our children. For example, people who are raising preschoolers have a different set of needs and challenges from those who are raising high school students. We will be grouping people into peer groups and providing mentors, or shepherds, in each group to provide both spiritual and practical guidance specific to the needs of that group. In doing so we hope to help families more closely follow Jesus in their particular situations. And we hope to provide an outreach to the community from each peer group that will be better equipped to help those people with their real, felt needs. In short, we will be calling our members, their children, and our friends outside the church to follow Jesus.
In addition to providing new direction for our family groups, the "Follow me!" theme will be reflected in our bible classes, sermons, retreats, and other activities. We hope that this approach will cause each of our efforts to align with the others, so that the sum is greater than the parts.
Through the British Museum with the Bible
On our return from Sweden, we spent a couple of days in the UK. We devoted one inspiring but exhausting day to the British Museum. Our hosts in the UK provided us with a guide titled "Through the British Museum with the Bible".
With this guide in hand, we entered the museum and were taken back thousands of years.
There was so much to see! We saw relics from Ur of the Chaldeans (Gen 11:28-31, approximately 2600 BC, four or five hundred years before Abraham). We saw a clay tablet in cuneiform telling a pagan corruption of the flood account, with remarkable similarities to the biblical account (including a man instructed by a god to build a boat, to load his family and all types of animals on it; and sending out birds to see if land has emerged.)
We even saw the Rosetta Stone -- one of the most important archaeological finds of all time, enabling scholars to break the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
We saw a statue of Tuthmosis III, possibly the Pharaoh during part of Israel's slavery in Egypt, and another even more impressive one of Rameses II, who possibly was the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. (From the look of his statute, he certainly was overly impressed with himself!)
There were documents referring to Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. There were artifacts from Greece, Rome, and Ephesus -- more than can be recounted in a blog post.
But what affected me the most was the vast array of carvings from the Assyrian empire, recounting the conquests and the barbaric treatment of those they conquered.
These carvings, which once adorned the walls of the Sennacherib, king of Assyria, tell their history as the king wanted it to be told. Shown above is an Assyrian soldier beheading a conquered enemy soldier (far left), while other soldiers march on waving the heads of other victims. Other carvings shown in the book (which we did not find) show the Assyrians cutting off the hands and feet of the conquered soldiers and impailing their victims on a wall. Another wall-sized series of carvings showed in great detail the Assyrian siege and conquest of Lachish (2 Chron 32; Isa 36) and the brutal treatment of the conquered (including, apparently, skinning some of them alive. Since I have no picture I will refer you to this link
No wonder Hezekiah tore his robes, put on sackcloth, and poured out his pleas to the Lord in the temple! No wonder the people were terrified! And no wonder Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah! What a dreadful fate, to be conquered by the Assyrians! And that is what happened to Israel.
Also in the museum is the Taylor Prism, containing Sennacherib's own account of his seige of Jerusalem. Although he had always conquered and destroyed all the other cities he attacked, in the case of Jerusalem he curiously states only that he shut up Hezekiah in the city "like a caged bird," with no explanation for why he did not conquer that city also. (2 Kings 19:35-36)
I wish I had found the book a few weeks before our visit. There is so much in the museum that I would love to have seen, and perhaps I could have seen more if I had been better prepared. But what I did see was faith-building and inspiring. There is just something about seeing these actual physical pieces of evidence corroborating the biblical account, that gives a sense of strength and confidence. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend that you visit the British Museum and see the evidence God has preserved for us. It was an experience I will not forget.