Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Pastor and Bible Translations

Except in certain very conservative Christian circles, the KJV is no longer the exclusive Bible of the English-speaking church. Despite sales numbers, it is probably no longer even the primary Bible of the English-speaking church. That means that in most congregations, there are perhaps as many as half a dozen different English translations being read by the people in the pews. In the PCA, my own denomination, here is the likely scenario: some few of the oldest members are still using the KJV. The adults are probably using either the ESV or the NIV. Some are using the NIV2011. Some of the younger members may be using the New Living Translation (NLT) or the Contemporary English Version (CEV). Perhaps some of the children are using the New Century Version (NCV) which is aimed at younger readers. Given this variety, what is a pastor to do?
It doesn’t really matter which version the pastor uses, though some congregants will follow his lead on Bible choice. But the pastor should find out which translations are being used in his congregation; and he should familiarize himself with them. By this, I do not mean that he should look up a few of his favorite passages in them to see what the translation does. Nor do I mean that he should do an exhaustive comparison of the translation with the original Hebrew and Greek. Pastors, by and large, have neither the time nor the expertise to do that.
In what follows, I presume that the pastor is reading the Bible annually. I suggest that he find out which versions the people in his congregation are using. Then, over a period of several years, use each one of those versions as his reading Bible for the year. By the end of the year, he will be intimately familiar with it. For example, if the pastor is using the ESV, but the majority of his congregation is using the NIV1984, probably his first year he should spend reading the NIV1984. He then moves through, in subsequent years, the other versions that are being used. Who knows? In this process he may even find a translation he prefers to the one he had been using.
Another thing that the pastor should do is have a variety of translations to read and consider in his sermon preparation. This would not even involve any expense, as there are several online sites that offer a variety of English versions free.
I have, over the years, read through a good number of the English translations available, including some of the more obscure ones. I have learned something from each one, and I have benefitted from each one.
I would make one other suggestion. Take the time to read Mark Ward’s little book Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. Even if you have never read the KJV, it is a wise and useful survey of the issues related to Bible versions.




Friday, February 16, 2018

A Note on Psalm 145:13b


In the KJV, Psalm 145:13 reads: Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations. In the ESV, the verse reads: Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.

Notice that the second sentence in the ESV is absent in the KJV. The NASB follows the KJV, while the NIV and the New Living Translation agree with the ESV. The question is twofold. Where does this line come from? And, is it a legitimate part of the biblical text?

The answer to the first question is as follows: The additional line is found in the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. It is also found in the Hebrew text of Psalms from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), one medieval Hebrew manuscript, and in the Syriac version. It is not found in the vast majority of medieval Hebrew manuscripts.

The answer to the second question is more difficult, and the following comments constitute my summary of the arguments.

Arguments in favor of the originality of the line:

1.      Psalm 145 is an acrostic psalm. That is, each line (verse, in this case) begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. Verse 1 (after the title) begins with aleph. Verse 2 begins with bet, and so on. However, there is no nun (n) line in the standard Hebrew text, making it an incomplete acrostic. The line in the LXX, the DSS, the one Medieval Hebrew manuscript, and the Syriac supplies this “n” line, making the acrostic complete.

2.      All other verses in the Psalm are one line long, whereas this verse, with the second line, is two lines long. A copyist could have inadvertently skipped this second line in his copying, and copies made from that copy would not have included the line.

3.      The fact that the line is found in one medieval manuscript, the DSS, and two ancient versions makes a case for the originality of the line.

4.      The line fits well with what follows in the Psalm, making a transition in the thought from what precedes to what follows.

5.      Though the second part of the line (“and kind in all his works”) is also found in verse 17, such a repetition is occasionally found in the Psalms.

Arguments in favor of omitting the line:

1.      Almost all Hebrew manuscripts, after the DSS, do not include the line.

2.      The Psalm could have intentionally been an incomplete acrostic. There are other examples in the psalms of such incomplete acrostics.

3.      The LXX is not always an accurate translation in the Psalms.

4.      The Syriac translation in general shows a fair amount of influence from the LXX. Hence, it is not always considered a separate textual witness.

5.      An early copyist, noting the missing “n” line could have supplied it, explaining its presence in the DSS copies and in the one medieval manuscript.

6.      The second part of the line, “and kind in all his works” is also found in verse 17, perhaps indicating part of the source for some copyist seeking to complete the acrostic.

I don’t think the arguments in either direction are compelling, leaving it a matter of judgment on the part of translators. It should be noted, however, that prior to the 1950s, no translation team had access to the DSS manuscripts. The NASB, the NKJV, the NET Bible, and the Lexham English Bible are, to the best of my knowledge, the only post-1950s translations that do not include the line.

The NET Bible adds the following note: Psa 145 is an acrostic psalm, with each successive verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. However, in the traditional Hebrew (Masoretic) text of Psa 145 there is no verse beginning with the letter nun. One would expect such a verse to appear as the fourteenth verse, between the mem (‌ם) and samek (‌ס) verses. Several ancient witnesses, including one medieval Hebrew manuscript, the Qumran scroll from cave 11, the LXX, and the Syriac, supply the missing nun (‌ן) verse, which reads as follows: "The Lord is reliable in all his words, and faithful in all his deeds." One might paraphrase this as follows: "The Lord's words are always reliable; his actions are always faithful." Scholars are divided as to the originality of this verse. L. C. Allen argues for its inclusion on the basis of structural considerations (Psa 101-150 [WBC], 294-95), but there is no apparent explanation for why, if original, it would have been accidentally omitted. The psalm may be a partial acrostic, as in Psa 25 and Psa 34 (see M. Dahood, Psalms [AB], 3:335). The glaring omission of the nun line would have invited a later redactor to add such a line.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

On the Church and Bible Translations

Mark Ward recently published a significant book on the KJV: Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. He draws attention to the problems created by the changes in the English language over the past four centuries, as those problems easily lead to misunderstandings of what the KJV is saying. This is often the case even for highly educated people who think they are invulnerable to such misapprehensions.


For about three and a half centuries, the KJV was the Bible for English readers. It was the pew Bible for churches that had pew Bibles. The phraseology of the KJV was often familiar even to those who had not read the Bible much. It was the Bible not only of English-speaking Christians but the Bible of the English-speaking church. The English Revised Version (1885) and the American Standard Version (1901) were intended as updates and replacements of the KJV, but neither made any significant headway either among individual readers or in churches.

Modern English versions began to appear in the early part of the twentieth century. James Moffatt produced a translation that achieved some popularity among Bible aficionados (C. S. Lewis recommended the New Testament of it somewhere, and it remains in print), but it was never intended to be used as a church Bible. Faculty at the Universities of Chicago and Toronto produced a modern English version about the same time as Moffatt, titled The Complete Bible: An American Translation, but it never received any wide use. To my knowledge, it has not been reprinted since the 1940s. It might have worked well as a church Bible, but never was used as such.

The big change began with the publication of the Revised Standard Version in the 1940s and 1950s. The New Testament appeared in 1946, the Old Testament in 1952, and the Apocrypha in 1957. This translation was done under the auspices of the National Council of Churches. It was widely and quickly adopted by mainline Protestant denominations. The church I grew up in (UPCUSA) had RSV pew Bibles, and we were given RSV Bibles in second-grade Sunday school (in 1971, the church gave its graduating high school seniors copies of Good News for Modern Man). The Hymnbook, a hymnal produced as a joint venture by several Presbyterian denominations in 1955, used the RSV text for the Psalms responsive readings that were printed at the back of the hymnal.

Conservative churches continued to use the KJV until the mid-1970s, when the NIV first appeared. The generally conservative tone of the NIV, its relatively easy readability, and its heavy marketing made it quickly the go-to translation for evangelical churches. In the last twenty years or so, things have changed. Crossway got permission to use the RSV as a base text and a translation committee produced the English Standard Version. About the same time, with funding from Lifeway, a translation committee produced the Holman Christian Standard Bible. This has recently been updated as the Christian Standard Bible. It serves as the base text for Sunday School literature for the Southern Baptist Convention. Five of the mainline denominations put together a translation committee that produced the Common English Bible, which is now used as the base text for their liturgical and Sunday school materials. Independent evangelical churches use generic Sunday School material, most of which is keyed to the NIV.

Most churches no longer have pew Bibles. So, the following situation is found in the American church: mainline churches use the NRSV (the 1989 revision of the RSV) or the Common English Bible. Southern Baptists (and perhaps other Baptist conventions) use the Christian Standard Bible. Conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches likely prefer the ESV. Most evangelical churches use the NIV. There is no longer a single Bible translation used by all English speakers. In any given Protestant/Evangelical congregation, there may be five or six different versions being used by the congregants. At some level, this variety of translations can be helpful, as different translations can bring out different nuances of the original languages. But at another level, it is a real loss to the church. We no longer, as it were, speak the same language.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Sin and the Prophets


It may be simply my impression and nothing more. But it seems that modern evangelical discussions of sin focus on what sin has done to us. The cultural factors of addiction, pornography, climate change, and the recent news items about the prevalence of sexual assault have tended to focus our ideas of sin on the awfulness of the way humans treat one another and the planet we occupy. This explains in part the prominence of “brokenness” in our considerations of sin. This is certainly an important aspect to the doctrine of sin. The relationship between Adam and Eve was damaged, broken, if you will. Without the restraining work of the Holy Spirit, our treatment of one another would be far worse than it is.

The problem with this approach to the doctrine of sin is that it appears to make of sin something outside of us, some external evil influence that does damage to the soul in the way that mustard gas damages the lungs. This view finds its expression in the bumper-sticker theology of “Hate the sin. Love the sinner.” It separates the sin from the sinner. But this is not the biblical doctrine of sin. The biblical doctrine has it that “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” Sin is not some external force or power, but a part of our character, an innate corruption of soul. Adam fell, and we are fallen, and that fallenness expresses itself in all aspects of our lives.

A further difficulty with our modern conception of sin is that we see the effects of sin as primarily horizontal. Dr. Nassar’s abuse of the gymnasts under his care was a profound offense against them. Sex trafficking is a profound offense against those who are its victims. But sin, biblically defined is not exclusively, or even primarily a horizontal offense. It is primarily an offense against God. It is this truth that seems to be lacking in many modern discussions of sin. It may be mentioned, but the profundity of the offense appears really to be ignored.

It is for this reason that most moderns seem to be uncomfortable with the biblical prophets. They spoke much about sin, but not in our terms. They were concerned with the horizontal affects of sin. But they were far more concerned with the vertical effects of sin. They were profoundly aware of the depth of offense their sin, and the sins of their people, brought against God. Sin, in the prophetic view, was an abomination against God. It was a stench in his nostrils.

We don’t share that view. We understand that the being of God is not affected by our sin. God is complete and perfect within himself. But we think, therefore, that sin has no effect on God. The prophets understood how wrong that is. So, they depicted sin in the most awful categories, with the ugliest, most repugnant images they could set out. They understood how ugly and repugnant a thing it was to offend against the thrice-holy God. We need to regain their understanding, or we will continue to redefine sin until is means only that which we find offensive.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Pastor and His Commentaries


Since part of the work of the pastor is to preach the biblical text, commentaries can make up a large part of a pastor’s library. There are pertinent questions to ask relative to commentaries: Which commentaries? And When? The second question is easier to answer.

When to Buy

My recommendation is that you hold off on buying commentaries on a particular book until you are ready to begin preparing to preach that book. My reasoning is as follows: first, new commentaries are always coming out. That means that what is a really good commentary now may be superseded five years down the road. For example, the two top-rated commentaries on Genesis on bestcommentaries.com are those by Gordon Wenham and Victor Hamilton. Both are a generation old. Hamilton was published in 1990 and Wenham in 1987. There are seventeen commentaries on Genesis listed as forthcoming, with several of them being candidates to replace Wenham and Hamilton. If you are not planning on preaching on Genesis any time soon, you are better off waiting to buy.

Second, for most pastors, commentaries can be a significant part of the budget. You need to ask yourself if you can afford to have several thousand dollars’ worth of unused books sitting on your shelves.

To sum up: my recommendation on when to buy commentaries is shortly before you are ready to begin preparing a series on a specific book of the Bible.

Which to Buy?

You’ll get different advice from different people on this. My approach is minimalistic. I recommend that you buy no more than five commentaries on any particular book. You should have one technical commentary based on the Hebrew or Greek text of the book. You should have one somewhat less technical commentary that deals with selected matters related to the original languages and that goes through the book passage by passage. A third commentary should be expositional, not necessarily dealing with the original languages, but explaining the movement of the book. A fourth commentary should be a pre-critical commentary, which would generally be any pre-1850 commentary. My rationale for this is that those commentaries are coming to the biblical material from a different cultural setting, and therefore with a different set of questions to ask of the text. This can make the pastor aware of some of the breadth of issues that the biblical text addresses. A good source for identifying these commentaries is Spurgeon’s Commenting and Commentaries (http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/misc/c&c.htm). Reading Spurgeon’s comments on the various commentaries is an education in itself. Many of these older commentaries are now available online at archive.org. A fifth commentary can be something of a duplicate of one of the other four.

My own sense is that when you move beyond this minimum, you find yourself reading material that has already been covered in another commentary.

What Not To Buy

Don’t buy sets. The quality and usefulness of the commentaries in a set vary from one author to another. Commentary sets look nice on the shelf, but you end up with books you never use.

Don’t buy older commentaries that are available online. Yes, I know, that set of Keil & Delitzsch, or of Calvin, can look nice on the shelf. But they are available free online. Commentaries are for consultation and you will not be reading much at a time, so reading them online should not be too difficult.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Some Thoughts on Preaching


Three disclaimers: First, I don’t consider myself to be any better than average as a preacher. Second, aside from the preaching I hear at the church I attend, and the occasional conference, I don’t listen to much preaching. Third, no one has ever hired me to teach homiletics. Nonetheless, I’ve heard a lot of preaching over the last forty-some years, and I try, in my exegesis classes, to give the students some instruction in how to preach the passages we deal with.

Some preachers seem to be confused about some basics. A sermon is not the same thing as a theological lecture. Some preachers don’t seem to understand that, because their sermons focus exclusively on pouring out information about the text, more like a commentary than a sermon. A sermon is the explanation and application of a particular passage/topic/doctrine of Scripture. As such, the two key elements are the clear explanation of the text and the direct application of its message. It is not an exclusively intellectual exercise, but is intended to get to the heart through the head.

On the other hand, a sermon is not merely a means of moving the emotions of the congregation. Some preachers don’t understand that, as their sermons seem to focus on moving the emotions almost in a way that seems manipulative. Instead, both the head and the heart of the hearer must be involved.

Sermons are less about rhetoric than they are about connecting the text to the listener. I know that sounds vague, so an illustration might help. A number of years ago, I heard a sermon at a conference. It was clear that the preacher understood his text. He didn’t miss the main point. It was well-organized and clear. The preacher had obviously worked hard on the sermon. It was a rhetorical tour de force. But it was emotionally cold. It had not connected with the audience, and I heard very few commendations of the sermon afterwards. Another year, another conference, a different preacher. This time, the preacher had been assigned a topic common in Reformed theology. If you were to go to sermonaudio.com, and search for this topic, you would find many sermons on it. Most of them would use the same primary texts, and the outlines would be interchangeable. This man took a different approach. He didn’t take one text, he took many (sort of like the Book of Hebrews) and he came at the topic from an entirely unexpected angle. He, too, had clearly worked hard on the sermon. As with the other, it was well-organized and clear. The difference was that it was emotionally warm. By taking a different approach, coming at the topic from an unusual direction, he had made the topic clear, fresh, and applicable. He also, I think, had a clearer sense of his audience than the first speaker. I heard some complaints (from professors) about the approach he had taken. But I heard many more commendations of the message.

My own sense is that pastors, on the whole, spend less time in prayer and meditation over their sermons than they should. The sermon only begins with the exegesis of the passage or topic. It is brought to flower by being the subject of much reflection, much prayer, and an intimate knowledge of the congregation.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

On Pastoral Praying


Hundreds, if not thousands of books have been written on prayer. Countless sermons have been preached on prayer. But the reading of books on prayer makes no one a praying man. The essence of prayer is in the praying. As Nike says, “Just do it!” It doesn’t matter how articulate the prayer is. What does matter is the praying itself.

All Christians must be pray-ers, but the pastor especially must be a man of prayer, and this in two aspects: in private and in public. The private prayer of a pastor also has two aspects. There is first his praying for himself and his family. This prayer is the essential foundation to any other prayer. The man who prays for himself prays out of a sense of need, out a knowledge of his inability and his unworthiness. The man who does not pray for himself, whatever his claims to the contrary, thinks he does not need prayer. But a man must also pray for his family. To do this adequately, he must know his family—their needs, their cares, their concerns, their fears, and their frustrations. Many pastors have sacrificed their families to their ministry, thinking the latter to be more important, but the family must come before the church or the ministry. It is one of the essential qualifications for the office.

The second aspect of a pastor’s private prayer is prayer for his church. These prayers must not be vague and general. There are of course, general concerns and cares that are reflected, for example, in Paul’s prayers for the churches. But it does little good to pray for the growth in grace of John Doe if the pastor is not aware that John Doe’s wife is threatening divorce, or that John Doe fears that he will lose his job. This sort of information the pastor only knows if he is indeed pastoring the flock. In addition to the prayers for the individual congregants, there is prayer for the congregation as a whole, for its growth, for its strength, for its unity.

The pastor’s private prayer is fundamentally a matter of discipline. He must set apart time for the exercise of prayer, and that time should be regular. I make no prescriptions as to when, or where, or how long; only that it must be done, and done regularly.

The pastor’s public prayer is a matter of preparation. In the Puritan period in England, there was a great deal of debate between those who preferred the set prayers of the Book of Common Prayer, and those who argued for extemporaneous prayer. Both sides had a point, but the points got lost in the heat of the debate. Public prayer, the pastoral prayer that forms a part of public worship, should be planned. It need not be written out ahead of time, but the pastor should have carefully thought through the themes and points of the prayer before he prays. Many pastors are particularly weak on this. There are three books, then, that I recommend for pastors as they consider the public prayers of the church. The first is Samuel Miller, Thoughts on Public Prayer. The second is Matthew Henry’s A Method for Prayer. This is available as A Way to Pray, edited by O. Palmer Robertson, and as A Method for Prayer, edited by Ligon Duncan. The third is Hughes Oliphant Old’s Leading in Prayer. All three of these are excellent resources for the pastor who desires to improve in his public praying.