God’s Reliable Word

“The law (rule and instruction) of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony (witness) of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple…” (Psalm 19:7).

One very popular Evangelical preacher in America recently said, “Christianity does not exist because of the Bible.” He then offered what he called a ‘grown up’ version of Christianity to those who feel less-than-confident about the Bible. Outside of the Christian community, scholars and critics are loudly casting doubt upon the Bible. The barrage of skepticism and ridicule has left many Christians and non-Christians alike with little (if any) trust in the reliability of the Bible.

Amid all of this, many faithful Christians are simply naïve in their own understanding about the reliability and credibility of the Bible. Many try to hold and defend unwarranted views, and this can cause even more fear and frustration.

The faithful translations of the Bible we have today are indeed trustworthy.

Even the most skeptical researchers admit that 99.5% of the original New Testament text is clearly recorded in our Bibles. Furthermore, the tiny number of lingering uncertainties are all documented in any modern English translation, and they have no impact whatsoever on any doctrine or historical fact of Christianity.

The vital point we must remember is that 100% of the original New Testament text is in our Bible, but a very tiny portion of it is either in the main text or in the footnotes. Since we are not sure which variation is original, each possible rendering is included, and the most likely rendering is placed in the main text.

Simply put, we have 100% of the original New Testament, we have honest and trustworthy renderings of the original Scriptures in our Bibles today, and there is no uncertainty about what the Bible intends to teach.

The Unique & Priceless Word

“With my whole heart I seek you, [God]; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:10–11).

It seems that most Christians already believe the Bible is the word of God. They understand that God has revealed Himself through human means in the form of this written word. This sets the Bible in a unique category, to be sure, but it also seems that many of those same Christians who think so highly of the Bible also treasure it very little.

The psalmist’s prayer exposes a common laziness among Christians in America today. The psalmist seeks God “with his whole heart” and “stores up God’s word in his heart.” Such religious devotion is foreign to most modern Western Christians, and it is often viewed as legalistic. And yet, this reverent commitment is the basic approach to godly growth throughout the Bible and Church history.

Those exemplary believers in the Bible and those spiritual giants of history all had a deep appreciation for God’s word, and they showed it by their devotion to it. Christians today would do well to follow the model set before us. The Bible is truly God’s word, and as such, it deserves our utmost attention and effort.

May God give us a hunger for His word, and may we be deeply satisfied by the bounty.

Still More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s

This is the third installment of my series “Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.” Pastorally, these kinds of questions arise frequently, but I think Christians are often a bit embarrassed to ask them. So you know, you are not the only one who wonders about these things… There are many others who do too.

Anyway, here is a couple more Bible translation Q’s and a couple more simple A’s.

1) What is the best Bible translation today?

This is a hard question to answer… for a few reasons. First, assuming you are interested in an English translation, there are several good ones to choose from. Each has distinctive features that contribute to the overall value of the translation. It is hard to say that one is ‘better’ than another, simply because they each aim at different targets. While every faithful translation is the most valuable book you could own, they are not all the same, nor do they seek to be.

Second, your own personal perspective is going to have an impact on the Bible translation that suits you best. If you grew up with the King James Version (KJV), and you memorized passages and familiarized yourself with your Bible, then you may find it a bit frustrating to move away from that translation. On the other hand, if you are new to Christianity, and you are not familiar with the Old English dialect, then the KJV could be a barrier to growth in understanding. Your life experience, your education level, your willingness to learn, and your spiritual maturity may all factor into the answer I might pastorally give for which Bible translation is best for you.

Third, new material, better scholarship, and even higher levels of technological advance are major reasons for the explosion of Bible translation in the 20th and 21st centuries. This means that there are advances in Bible translation being made at warp speed (comparatively speaking). Many pastors, theologians, and average Christians are finding that multiple translations and digital forms of textual comparison and critical analysis are a great way to dive deeply into the biblical text.

I like the English Standard Version (ESV) for personal reading, memorization, and preaching. I find it to be a faithful and accessible translation. I think the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a great translation for study, but it can sometimes be not-so-smooth in its readability. A newer Bible on the scene is the NET Bible. I like this one for higher levels of study and sermon preparation because it includes a plethora of translator’s notes beneath the Scripture. This way, the reader can not only see what the translators believe is an accurate translation, the reader can also get a quick defense of the rationale behind the text.[1]

2) What is a Study Bible? And, aren’t they all the same?

In short, a Study Bible is a book containing both the biblical text and some interpretive commentary, definitions, and even articles. The best Study Bibles include book introductions that answer basic questions of authorship, dating, audience, purpose, genre, structure, and specific theological features. Additionally, Study Bibles will sometimes insert a brief article on an especially foundational or complex or lofty idea. All of this can be a great help to the reader.

Of particular interest to many Study Bible readers is the commentary on the bottom of each page. Numerous scholars have contributed to or personally compiled notes for use in a Study Bible. With ease, the reader can find the footnote number beside a difficult-to-understand word or passage and match it with the interpretive note below. It is like having a Bible scholar beside you as you read the Bible, except you don’t have to feed him or listen to him ramble on and on and on… about the stuff you are less interested in learning about at the moment.

Study Bibles are not all the same, and this is my first of two cautions regarding Study Bibles. Only the word of God is inerrant and completely trustworthy, so you must place your trust in Bible teachers carefully. Furthermore, keep in mind that even the best Bible teachers have areas of greater and lesser familiarity. Not only should you be thoughtful about the teachers you trust, you should also know that whoever you trust (even if he or she is awesome) is not going to get everything perfect. Most of the recently published Study Bibles, aware of this reality, have included notes from many contributors – each an expert in a different field of study. I like the ESV Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, and the Gospel Transformation Bible (each having different strengths).

My second caution to those who treasure Study Bibles (as I do) is to always remember that Scripture stops when the notes begin. I have met and talked with many Christians who have diligently read their Study Bibles and greatly benefitted from the interpretive notes. However, some of those have proved themselves unable to accept any counter-interpretation to the one they read on the bottom of their Study Bible page.

It may well be that the contributor to your Study Bible is a wonderful exegete, and he or she may have marvelous insight, and the interpretation you see there may sound quite convincing to you, but it is (at best) an educated interpretation of holy Scripture. Faithful Bible students will do well to humbly submit themselves to quality Bible teaching, and they will do better still to humbly submit themselves to the word of God itself. Only Scripture, God’s holy word, is capable of perfection on every count.

I hope that these brief answers have been a help to you. As I mentioned above, this is the third post in a series. Be sure to check out “Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s” and “More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.”

Also, let me know about your Bible Translation Q in the comments below. I’d be glad to try and help.

Thanks for reading.

 

[1] I once was a fan of the New International Version (NIV – 1984 edition), but I no longer recommend using the NIV. Here is another post I made to briefly explain why: “Is the NIV Good or Bad?

More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s

I recently posted a couple of answers to some common questions regarding Bible translation, but I realized that there are several questions along this line of thinking that I’d like to address. Neither my first post nor this one (nor any further post in this series) is designed as an exhaustive address. Instead, I am trying to offer simple answers for common and basic questions.

For more thorough information on this subject, I have compiled a handful of resources, which I recommend to the interested reader. See my list of books and articles, titled, “Pastoral Counsel on Bible Translation Questions.”

If you are looking for a simpler and shorter answer to some basic questions, then here are a couple more for you.

1) Is the Bible in my hand the word of God?

When someone begins to think about the possible or actual errors a translation might have, it is likely that they will wonder if the translation is trustworthy at all. While this does seem to be the logical progression, it is not where the analytical progress should end. A multitude of questions will further impact one’s answer to the main question here.

Just how many textual variants are there in my translation? If one word out of every 1,000 is questionable as to whether it is original, then the reader may be quite content that the message is getting through loud and clear. It is quite encouraging to note that the textual variants among the biblical manuscripts and the resulting translation issues are minuscule.

Do any of these variants impact the message of the biblical text, or are they dealing with lesser content? The reality of variants does not necessarily mean that there is any variation in the message and/or content. In fact, it is often noted that the textual variants we do see among biblical manuscripts and translations are almost all inconsequential. This means that even those words or verses that translators still question almost never have anything to do with the actual message of Scripture.

Does my Bible have anything missing? This is the assumption that often causes the most grief among Christians. People assume that a textual variant means that they do not have the complete word of God. However, this is simply not the case. If we were putting a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle together with 3 or 4 pieces missing, we would have a big problem. But, if we had 107 pieces, then we would still have work to do, but the situation is not dire at all. This is the case with the biblical text. We are not missing anything, but we do find extra pieces sometimes.

These are just a few of the questions we should ask before we dismiss a translation of Scripture. When some translation errors are known, it is cause for further investigation, but we need not fear that God’s word is no longer available to us. In fact, we may have great confidence that the word of God is exactly what we have in our hands – if we have a faithful and accurate translation of the Bible.

2) How do I know if I have a faithful and accurate translation of the Bible?

Let’s all take a deep breath… You do not have to be an expert in ancient languages, or in Church history, or in textual criticism to know if your translation of the Bible is accurate and faithful. Nor can anyone live very long as a hyper-skeptic. If you assume everyone is wrong (or, worse, malicious), then what will you eat for lunch? You have to trust at least several restaurant employees, the grocer, the transporter, the manufacturer, the harvester, the farmer/rancher, and a host of other people along the way.

If we are willing to acknowledge that credible translators are generally trustworthy, that they tell the truth about their methods and intentions (which we should be willing to do), then a helpful place to begin is the preface of your Bible translation.[1] Each translation of the Bible on my desk right now (NET, ESV, NIV, and CSB) has a section at the beginning (titled “Preface”), where the translators explain their methodology and purpose behind their particular translation. This gives the reader the opportunity to know and understand some of the basic background of the Bible in their hands.

Additionally, some research can be done on any translation of the Bible by simply surfing the web for articles and websites that will further one’s knowledge of the who, the what, and the how behind it. Scholars (and especially Bible scholars) love to speak and write about academic things, and it should not be hard to find more information than you want about the scholarship undergirding your translation.

Allow me to make one more note on this question, and this is more important than everything else I have said earlier. One cannot overestimate or overstate the importance of the local church and the combined resources of many local churches.

If you do not have a pastor, you should drop everything and find a way to attach yourself to a good one. If you do have a pastor, then you should ask him about Bible translations and his recommendations. He will likely be overjoyed that you care about this and that you desire his input.

If you cannot get in touch with your pastor, then you don’t actually have a pastor, and you need to (as I said before) drop everything and find a way to attach yourself to a good one. A pastor is responsible for the care of your soul, so if your pastor is inaccessible, then he and/or you have a wrong impression of what a pastor is.

If he doesn’t know about translation issues, then give him time to research it. It may have been a while since he studied these issues, or he may not be aware of textual critical issues just yet. A good pastor is always learning, and he and you will both benefit from his research. If he doesn’t feel capable in this area, he may point you towards quality resources, and this too will benefit you. If he doesn’t care about or avoids translation issues, then find another pastor.

Furthermore, bring this topic up with your small group or Sunday school class. You might be surprised to learn that there are others who have the same questions you do, and you might even learn that someone in your group can be a good help.

All of this is to say that faithful Bible translations come from and are maintained by faithful communities of Christians. The Church, the body of Christ, is the pillar and buttress of truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and the biblical text is that which we are to uphold and preserve and pass on, so that others may do the same.

There are still another couple of questions that I have not yet addressed, so I will post another addition to this series very soon. Look for “Still More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.”

Don’t forget to add your Bible translation Q in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

 

[1] While there are numerous trustworthy English translations, there are also deep concerns regarding the fidelity of other translations. Some translations make intentional adjustments, which are unnecessary and potentially damaging (such as the “Today’s New International Version of the Bible” or TNIV). Some translations make ideologically-motivated adjustments, which are theologically erroneous and heretical (such as the “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures” or NWT). This is why I said, “credible translators are generally trustworthy… they tell the truth about their methods and intentions…” One should seek credible sources of scholarship, and the help of a pastor and church family is greatly recommended.

Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s

One of the benefits of expositional preaching (preaching through books of the Bible) is the inevitability of stumbling upon some topic you would have otherwise neglected. Recently, at FBC Diana, I attempted to explain why there are a couple of verses missing in some translations of John chapter 5.[1] This is not a topic that I would have chosen out of the blue, but I think it is an important one nonetheless.

I also realize that discussing something like this can cause some heartburn for many Christians, so I’d like to offer a brief encouragement. When I first became exposed to textual criticism (the study of the compilation and transmission of a text), I admit that I too was quite intimidated.[2] The whole area of study felt strange to me, and I struggled with several aspects of the discipline. However, I have come to appreciate the honesty and solidarity such a discipline produces when one practices it appropriately.

If you will allow me, I would like to present my encouragement in the form of direct answers to several common questions.

1) Why do people think they can change the Bible?

Translators do not set out to change the Bible (at least not usually). Translators endeavor to make the original text in the original languages accessible to contemporary and language-specific readers. In other words, they want to make the words of the prophets and Apostles known to a particular people group.

English-speaking people cannot usually read or understand Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, so translators seek to do the hard work of translating the text for them. The very act of translating from one language to another will inevitably lead to some (at least minor) variation in vocabulary. Figures of speech and poetic phrases only further complicate the matter.

So, translators do not maliciously change the Bible. But, they do seek to make the best use of the resources they have by translating the words of the Bible in a way that makes them understandable and faithful to the original text. This is a task of great value, and it benefits all Christians everywhere.

2) Doesn’t Jesus warn us about taking anything away from the Bible?

Well, yes and no… The warning of Jesus, in Revelation 22:19, specifically refers to the prophecies found in the book of Revelation. I think the warning may also apply to the broader text of the Bible too, and it is never a good idea to reject any words from Christ. Therefore, yes, we ought not to take anything away from the biblical text.

However, this is not what translators are doing when they remove some portions of previous translations of the Bible. Let me explain.

In the portion of Scripture we recently covered at FBC Diana (John 5:3-4), we saw that later translations of the Bible either noted the textual variant (telling the reader that the verses were not part of the earliest biblical manuscripts) or they excluded the verses altogether. But the translators did not “take away from the Bible.” Instead, they sought to include only what the Bible originally included, and exclude what the original biblical text did not include.

Since Bible translation began, each generation of translators has had to compare translations with the best available evidence for the original content. This has always caused translators to add to and subtract from previous translations, but they do not add to or subtract from the biblical content itself. The question we should ask is not, “Why did they remove that from my Bible?” Instead, we should ask, “Was that portion removed because it was included in my translation of the Bible in error?”

Translators do sometimes remove verses or portions of them from previous translations, but this is never an attack on the biblical text itself. Translators are simply seeking to make the original text known, and keep the unoriginal text from getting in the way.

This post is already longer than I intended, so I will pick up with some more questions on a later post. Look for “More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.”

Please comment with your Bible Translation Q. I’d be glad to try and help.

Thanks for reading.

 

[1] For an academic address of this issue regarding the specific text, see Gordon Fee’s “On the Inauthenticity of John 5:3b-4

[2] For a very basic introduction to textual criticism, see my own brief article titled, “A Simple Introduction to Textual Criticism

Christians Don’t Need the Bible?

Yesterday, I overheard a conversation between a handful of friends. A table full of ladies (in their late 20s and early 30s) were talking loud enough for the whole room to hear, so I was not eavesdropping. As a matter of fact, I would have preferred to avoid hearing the dialogue altogether. The interaction centered on their relationships with one another and at least a couple of other ladies who were not there to contribute.

As a Christian (and particularly a pastor), I was interested in the strong spiritual nature of their banter. Their vocabulary sounded Christian, but the apparent meanings of the phrases and words they used were much more pagan and mystical than biblical. Most concerning to me was the fact that they never once cited a passage of Scripture or even alluded to the Bible.

Not one Bible story or example was offered for consideration. No quote from Jesus was mentioned. No biblical principle was called upon to undergird any personal application. The whole conversation was devoid of the objective authority of the Bible, and yet there were many authoritative statements and claims made.

Once they finished and departed, I resisted the urge to apologize to everyone else in the room for the eccentric display of pseudo-Christianity. The reason I felt compelled then (and feel the same now) to distance myself from this version of Christianity is because I believe it is often silly, usually lazy, and frequently dangerous.

Whatever one believes about specific applications of biblical truth, the very minimum standard of Christianity is a submission to Christ as Lord; and Jesus Christ cannot be separated from His words. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments [or instructions]” (Jn. 14:15). Jesus also said that the way a Christian grows in unity with Christ is through the word of God (Jn. 17:17).

There is a foolish notion afoot today. Many think that some kind of Christianity can be experienced and cultivated apart from the Bible. Of course, Christians will not usually say this; but their utter neglect of the Bible speaks loud and clear. Many Christians do not have even a general ability to reference biblical grounds for what they say or why they believe the way they do.

Sentimental spirituality is not admirable, and it is a poor substitute for genuine (biblical) Christianity. Only a familiarity with Jesus’ words will cause a person to grow in real intimacy with Jesus Himself.

Has God not made the effort to reveal Himself on the pages of Scripture? Do we believe the Bible is God’s word? Have we any ability to know about Jesus Christ (and, therefore, truly know Him) without the biblical record?

Of all the people in the world, Christians should be the most biblically literate. In times gone by, Christians spoke with a vocabulary that came directly from the Bible. Words, themes, and illustrations in everyday language were directly drawn from the Scriptures.

May God rid us of our laziness, and may we hunger and thirst for the words of our God. And since the Bible is more accessible today than ever, may we be diligent in our use of this marvelous gift of God – His Word.

Bible Page to My Life in 6 Questions (Part 2)

In a previous post, I laid out six questions that I believe will help the average reader move from what’s on the page in the Bible to personal life application. If you have not yet read that post, I strongly suggest you begin there (Click Here to see it).

The goal of Bible reading is always life application. The Bible is a book that seeks to inform and affect. God is not interested in merely telling us stuff; He is interested in telling us stuff that will change the way we think, speak, and act.

Below, I have implemented my six questions for moving to life application and with the first verse of the Bible. Follow along with me, and see how you might move from Bible page to your own life application with these six questions.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

1. Who are the author and the audience?

Moses is the author, but his information is coming from what must be direct revelation from God. Only God can know the origins of the “heavens and the earth,” since He was the only conscious thing there to witness it.

The audience is the people of God, who are being led out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. These people are formed by the promises of God (especially to Abraham [Gen. 12]) and sustained by the promises of God as they trustingly follow God’s man (Moses).

2. Why did the author write what he did?

Of course, we might simply answer “because God told him to.” But we are interested in considering the situation into which Moses wrote, so we must think more deeply than mere platitudes. The Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt, and the common religious systems of the ancient world included a number of gods. Each geographical location and even the occurrences of the natural world (like storms, rivers, and stars) would have its own assigned deity.

The Hebrew people needed to know and trust the true God over against the many gods of the people they encountered. Unlike these false gods, the true God is the creator of all things and sovereign over everyone.

3. What is the author talking about before and after the passage I am trying to understand?

Well, there is nothing before this verse, but there is much after. From Genesis 1:2 through Genesis 2:3, Moses is recounting God’s creation of everything. There is order, power, creativity, beauty, functionality, purpose, priority, and a host of other things we might observe in this opening scene from Scripture. All of these will add to our perception of who and what God is, since God Himself is the primary focus of the context here.

4. What is the “big truth” the author is getting at here?

God is the creator. This may initially seem quite simplistic, but truths don’t get any bigger or more foundational than this. We may certainly see more and learn more from the passage (and the context), but we must start here. Note: You will see below that the depth of this ‘big truth’ is much greater than one might imagine.

Note: You will see below that the depth of this ‘big truth’ is much greater than one might imagine.

5. What does the rest of the Bible teach about the “big truth” of this passage?

The rest of the Bible corroborates and expands this ‘big truth.’ God is most certainly the creator of everything, and there is not even the slightest conflicting statement in the Bible. Just a sampling of the passages that also speak to this ‘big truth’ are Job 38-41; Isaiah 44:23-24; John 1:1-4; and Colossians 1:15-17.

6. How does this “big truth” of the Bible speak to my own circumstances?

Now, this question requires some introspection. You must observe and consider your own circumstances in order to proceed. The applications here are limitless, but here are some examples of personal application.

If I were having difficulty trusting in God’s power to be my help in a time of great distress, then I might take wonderful comfort to remember that God is infinitely powerful in creation. He is powerful enough to create all that is, and He is powerful enough to help me in my time of need.

If I were wondering if God really knows anything about me and my situation, then I might note the profound reality that God has intended to make Himself known to me. God did not have to reveal Himself to Moses, to Abraham’s descendants, or to me through this biblical record… But HE DID! This means that God is interested in me; He wants me to know Him, and He is even giving me tangible evidence that this is true (the material, tangible evidence is the Bible in my hands).

If I were struggling to understand how I am to view the Bible’s authority, then I might hear the weighty assertion made here. The Bible makes a claim to tell humans the very nature of all origins – “In the beginning, God…” This means that the Bible is either true or not true, but it cannot simply be a good book. If it is not true, then it has no real value at all (though some might argue that the literary contributions are some value by themselves). But if it is true, then it has an ultimate claim on all of my life and every other human life. In this opening verse, the author is claiming to speak on behalf of God about the creation of everything. This is no small statement.

This sort of application to various circumstances could continue, but you likely get the point. My hope is that you will find great joy and marvelous delight as you discover more and more about the God who created all things as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. I also hope that these simple questions will be a benefit to you as you read, understand, and apply God’s word to your life each day.

*Thanks for reading. Please let me know if this article was a benefit to you in the comment section below.