Bible Translations IV | The Voice 8.16: April 22, 2018

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Bible Translations, IV: 21st Century Revisions

The 20th century was a time of great tumult, change, and transformation in general, and it was especially so in terms of Bible translations in English. At the beginning of the century the American Standard Version was released in a world defined by the King James Version; by the end of the century, while many still used the King James Version, many other translations had been developed and were widely used. The work of attempting to provide Bibles that make good sense of the Hebrew and Greek texts while remaining comprehensible to modern English speakers remains in the 21st century; the two newest translations of the century, the English Standard Version and the Christian Standard Bible, represent two different means toward that end.

In 2001 Crossway Books released a new revision of the Revised Standard Version called the English Standard Version (ESV). The ESV used an “essentially literal” philosophy of translation but consciously sought to render the Bible’s text into good, clear modern English idiom and grammar. Throughout the twenty-first century the ESV has gained in popularity, and for good reason: its reading level has been brought down to a more manageable level for the Bible student (8th grade level), and the text is rendered in clear, concise English, more easily understood than many other formal equivalence versions, and the ESV has been distributed freely online and in many Bible programs.

The original rendering of Malachi 2:16 in the ESV raised many eyebrows (“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence”); it is a defensible translation of the text, but has been revised in later editions. Its use of “wife” in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is interpretive and inconsistent at times. Its confessional leanings are not strongly manifest in translation but prove striking in the ESV Study Bible and similar resources, and ought to be used with appropriate caution. Nevertheless, on the whole, the English Standard Version strikes a good balance between faithful rendering of the Hebrew and Greek texts and rendering the meaning of the text in clear, 21st century English; it provides great benefit in personal study and works excellently in preaching and teaching.

In 2004 the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) was released, published by LifeWay through the Broadman & Holman Publishing Group. The HCSB would be revised in 2010; its most significant change featured the use of the transliteration of the Divine Name (Yahweh) as opposed to the traditional replacement of LORD in many places. In 2017 a new revision of the HCSB was released, entitled the Christian Standard Bible (CSB); among its revisions was a return to the traditional use of LORD for YHWH.

The HCSB manifested some major shifts in Bible translation. It was the first translation named for a Bible publishing company; while its translators may have been cross-confessional, the HCSB itself was commissioned and published by the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Furthermore, the growing popularity of the dynamic equivalent, or “thought for thought” philosophy of Bible translation, led the translators of the HCSB toward a philosophy which they called “optimal equivalence,” their attempt at “balancing” between formal equivalent and dynamic equivalent translation methods.

To this end the HCSB/CSB provide some fresh and compelling translations of many passage that can help the reader get a good sense of what the author attempts to convey; many times the “optimal equivalence” philosophy works. The HCSB and CSB maintain a 7th to 8th grade reading level and are also presented in concise, clear English.

And yet “optimal equivalence” can manifest the same difficulties as “dynamic equivalence”: the more the translators attempt to interpret to bring out meaning, the more the doctrinal and theological biases of the translators become manifest. For years many have criticized some of the translation decisions of the dynamic equivalent New International Version (NIV), especially in passages like Psalm 51:5:

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

How much more, then, in the HCSB and CSB?

Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.

Thus the HCSB proves as or more dynamically equivalent in certain verses than many dynamic equivalent translations. There is value in the dynamic equivalence approach, assisting the reader in English to better understand the core meaning and perhaps some nuances of the original which are difficult to render while maintaining the standard of formal equivalence. Nevertheless, the moment a translation departs from a strong commitment to rendering the original word-for-word, the reader must become careful in his or her inferences drawn from how the text reads; the inference might seem valid based on how the text is rendered in such a translation but prove less sustainable based on the way the Hebrew or Greek are rendered in a more literal way.

The HCSB and CSB provide benefits to those who would read it. The reader does well to remember that the translators returned to many conventions in the CSB away from the HCSB on account of reader criticism, and would do well to compare the HCSB and/or CSB to renderings in the ASV, NASB, and/or ESV for comparison. The HCSB and CSB would be good for reading and personal study; while many are beginning to use them in preaching and teaching, uncritical use in proclamation is unwise.

The work of translation and revision will no doubt continue as the 21st century progresses, and it will likely follow the paths trod by the ESV and HCSB/CSB. May we seek to use such translations to come to a better understanding of what God has made known in Christ and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and Marriage | The Voice 8.15: April 15, 2018

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The Voice

The Christian and Marriage

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

For the Christian of any time and place, marriage must go back to the beginning, the first man and the first woman.

God made both the man and the woman in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). In this way neither men nor women are inherently superior or inferior to each other; they are equally created in God’s image, and in Christ maintain equal ability to stand before God, equal worth in the sight of God, and are joint-heirs of the grace of life (Galatians 3:28, 1 Peter 3:7). A husband is not inherently better or worse than his wife, and vice versa; cultural attitudes to the contrary are wrong, sinful, a cause of great distress and grief (especially to women), and ought to have no place among Christians.

While God made both man and woman in His image, He created the man first, and then the woman out of man and for man (Genesis 2:1-23). On this ground Paul set forth roles for men and women in Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1-16, 1 Timothy 2:11-15). Men and women have equal worth and standing, and yet men and women are different. In the beginning their differences did not lead to conflict or disharmony, but proved complementary, and it can be so to this day. While no doubt certain aspects of what people think it means to be a man or woman come from cultural expectations, “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics do reflect actual differences between the genders. Men lack things which women supply; women lack things which men supply. It was not good for man to be alone; woman was made for him, and so men and women continue to have the desire to join together to become husband and wife.

A man clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). From the beginning the impulse toward sexual intercourse was designed to be directed and confined to the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. The sexual drive is powerful in humans, a yearning not only for physical but also mental and spiritual connection; divorcing physical pleasure from the mental and spiritual connection anesthetizes the latter and leads to a debased, dehumanized sexuality (1 Corinthians 6:18). Paul quoted Genesis 2:24 and then related it to Christ and the church in Ephesians 5:31-32; Jesus declared the man and woman are no longer two, but one flesh in Matthew 19:4-5. God is one in relational unity, and desires for people to be one with Him as He is one in Himself (John 17:20-23); those of old spoke of this unity as perichoresis, mutual interpenetration without the loss of individuality. We can perceive perichoretic relational unity in a musical performance, yet it is especially manifest in the marital relationship. The man and the woman become one flesh; they remain two people, but one flesh. A man and a man cannot become one flesh, neither can a woman and a woman; no substantive intimate union is present.

Paul made much of the association between Christ and the church and husband and wife in Ephesians 5:22-33. Mutual submission in reverence to Christ proves necessary to make any relationship function, including between husband and wife (Ephesians 5:21). The church submits to Christ because Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:23-25); in a similar way, the wife is to submit to her husband, and the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:22-25). The husband is to treat his wife as his own flesh, just as Christ takes care of His body, the church (Ephesians 5:26-30). In interpersonal terms, the husband must love his wife, and the wife must respect her husband; ideally, according to the example of their Lord, unconditionally (Ephesians 5:33). Such exhortation is widely derided and ridiculed in the modern world and caricatured in its worst possible light. We do well to note how Paul provided no justification for spousal abuse or coercion: husbands are not authorized to demand or compel submission from their wives, and one does not show love to one’s one flesh by beating or otherwise abusing it. The husband will be held accountable to God for his household as its head (Ephesians 5:23); as the one accountable, he ultimately bears the responsibility, and to that end is granted a measure of authority, and, as Christ the church, love his wife, sacrifice, and suffer for her. The wife will be held accountable for how she submitted to her husband and his leadership (Ephesians 5:22-23, 1 Peter 3:1-6); she should give it freely, without compulsion, and maintain trust and respect in her husband. Women need love; men need respect; women communicate in terms of love; men communicate in terms of respect. For this reason women must respect their husbands, something not intuitive once the husband proves disappointing or insufficient in some respect; likewise, husbands must love their wives and live with them in an understanding way, not intuitive once the wife proves disappointing or insufficient in some respect (cf. 1 Peter 3:7). The marriage relationship is not held together by perfect performance, but the willingness to display love, respect, grace, and compassion despite performance, just as it is with God and mankind, Christ and the church.

Having quoted Genesis 2:24, Jesus set forth that a husband and wife are no longer two, but one flesh, and drew the appropriate conclusion: what God has joined man is not to separate (Matthew 19:4-6). God designed the marriage covenant to remain for life (Romans 7:1-4), not unlike the covenants made between Himself and mankind. Man ought not separate what God joined by becoming one with other flesh, committing sexually deviant behavior in adultery, homosexuality, and such like (1 Corinthians 6:13-20, Galatians 5:19). Man ought not separate what God joined in divorce (Matthew 19:9); an exception is granted for those who divorce their spouse for sexually deviant behavior, yet this is an exception, not the rule. Marriage relationships go through trial; it is far harder to endure the trial if one imagines there is a way of escape. A commitment as intimate and holy as marriage ought not be trifled or dispensed with freely or offhandedly.

God’s exalted view of marriage is under continual cultural and social pressure. It does not sit well with our highly individualistic ethos and the elevation of personal happiness as the ultimate goal of life. And yet marriage remains good and holy (Hebrews 13:4); there is a beautiful picture of love, devotion, grace, and mercy in a long lasting marriage which has endured the difficulties of life and has overcome its trials. Weddings manifest superficial beauty; a marriage maintained in sickness as well as in health, for poorer as much as for richer, and in distress and trial as much as success and victory is beautiful through and through.

It is not good for man to be alone; marriage is good, and honorable, but there will be difficulties, and it does require diligent effort. Marriage can lead to the greatest distress and pain, and yet it can also provide some of the greatest love and comfort that mankind can know. May we honor marriage and uphold God’s purposes for it, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Revelation | The Voice 8.14: April 08, 2018

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The Revelation (Apocalypse) of John

John was in exile for the faith. God granted him a compelling vision which would encourage Christians in their faith: what they were experiencing was consistent with the challenges of the people of God before them. Jesus would have the victory.

Revelation, also called the Apocalypse (Greek apokalupsis, “unveiling”), is the twenty-seventh and final book in modern editions of the New Testament. While Revelation is written in the form of a letter, it generally is placed in its own category of “apocalyptic.” The author identifies himself as John (Revelation 1:4); while some have speculated regarding potential other authors, most ancient witnesses consider John as the same person as the author of the Gospels and Letters bearing that name. The specific audience is identified as the seven churches of the Roman province of Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Revelation 1:4, 11). The dating of Revelation is a very controversial matter and often considered determinative for interpretation: some favor an early date in the 60s, others somewhere in the 70s or 80s, and others a late date in the 90s. The text itself does not provide any explicit reference; if the date were so decisive for interpretation we would expect God to provide it, and He has done no such thing. Internal criteria can be understood as favoring either an early or a late date depending on interpretation. Irenaeus, who interacted with men who had seen John in the flesh, claimed John saw the Revelation in the days of Domitian (Against Heresies 5.30.3); Domitian reigned from 81-96, and this evidence would favor the late date, as does most evidence from early Christian witness. In the first few hundred years of Christianity many had questions regarding Revelation’s place in the New Testament canon, less on account of its origin and more on account of its use and abuse by heretics; such a concern is well placed, for not a few false prophets have been deceived by doctrines of demons and have led many others astray on account of their views regarding and emphasis on Revelation. A long treatise would be required to sort out various forms of interpretation regarding Revelation in general and the millennium of Revelation 20:1-6 in particular. For our purposes we understand Revelation to be a vision God gave to Jesus to give to John using imagery consistent with what had been made known through the prophets and Jesus to encourage the Christians of Asia Minor in the late first century to obtain the victory of Jesus in faith in the face of the Roman menace.

Revelation begins as a letter to the seven churches of Asia written by John while in exile on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:1-9). John saw Jesus in terms of the Ancient of Days and one like a Son of Man, and Jesus told him to write what he saw to the seven churches; Jesus began to explain the meaning of the images John saw, suggesting to the reader that whereas John sees the images as described in Revelation, their meaning involved something quite different and more familiar (e.g. candlesticks/lampstand as churches, Revelation 1:10-20; cf. Daniel 7:1-14). Jesus began with specific messages for each of the seven churches, speaking both to them as individual congregations in a specific context and suggesting each as a representative type of congregation (Revelation 2:1-3:22).

John was then summoned up and was granted a vision of the heavenly throne scene, reminiscent of what was seen by Isaiah and Ezekiel (Revelation 4:1-11; cf. Isaiah 6:1-9, Ezekiel 1:1-28). God has a scroll with seven seals, and only the Lion of Judah, the Lamb, Jesus, was worthy to open the seals (Revelation 5:1-14). As the first six seals are opened four horsemen come forth; martyrs are commended and told to wait; great terror comes upon the people of earth (Revelation 6:1-17). In an “intermission” John saw faithful Christians on earth sealed by God while God in Christ was praised by Christians and the heavenly host surrounding His throne, and the blessed state of those departed faithful Christians was pronounced (Revelation 7:1-17).

The opening of the seventh seal introduced the proclamation of seven trumpets: the first five trumpets bring forth judgments on the earth (Revelation 8:1-13). The final three trumpets were also known as the three woes: one brought forth tormenting locust creatures from the abyss, the second brought forth an army of plagues among mankind, an intermission in which John is given a scroll to eat to continue to prophesy, the measurement of the temple representing the faithful people of God, and the proclamation, death, and resurrection of God’s two faithful servants, and the last woe is not described; instead, praise is rendered to God as if the third woe had come to pass and now reigns over all for eternity (Revelation 9:1-11:19).

Revelation 12:1-20:15 seems to present a second “cycle” parallel to Revelation 6:1-11:19, for John saw a woman giving birth to the Christ child who was protected from a dragon, identified as Satan; Satan and his forces fought against Michael and his forces, and were defeated and cast down to the earth; Satan attempts to persecute the woman, but was hindered; he raised up a beast (embodiment of Roman power in the Emperor) and a second beast, a false prophet (embodiment of Roman pagan religion), who spoke blasphemies, overpowered the majority, and made war on the saints (Revelation 12:1-13:18). John then saw Jesus and the faithful saints, and three angels gave pronouncement regarding what would come to pass: a harvest of the faithful and a judgment against the wicked, envisioned as a judgment of seven bowls of God’s wrath poured out on the beast and his people (Revelation 14:1-16:21). John is then introduced to Babylon the whore and her condemnation: her condition is described in ways reminiscent of Rome; judgment was made against her, and he heard the lamentation of many peoples regarding the downfall of Babylon but also the exaltation in heaven over her fall and the impending marriage supper of the Lamb and His bride; in the final “Armageddon” Jesus defeated the beast and the false prophet (Revelation 17:1-19:21).

John was shown a period of thousand years, or a millennium, in which Satan was bound and Christians reigned (perhaps the period since the downfall of paganism; Revelation 20:1-6). After the millennium Satan is loosed to deceive the nations for a time, and then came the final judgment: Satan, his minions, and those not found in the book of life were cast into the lake of fire, the second death (Revelation 20:7-15). John then saw the eternal fate of those whose names were in the book of life in the new heavens and the new earth: he was shown the bride of the Lamb, the faithful people of God, glorified, as a city coming down from heaven encrusted with jewels, in which God dwelt with His people, and provided for them; the scene included a river of life and trees of life, reminiscent of Eden (Revelation 21:1-22:6; cf. Genesis 2:1-23). John ended the Revelation with concluding exhortations assuring Christians of what would come to pass, warnings about altering what is said in the prophecy, and an appeal for the Lord Jesus to return quickly (Revelation 22:7-21). Thus ends not only the Revelation to John but revelation itself; the New Testament is thus concluded.

Christians do well to handle the Revelation of John with care, seeking to understand it in terms of what God has made known in the rest of the New Testament, and not vice versa. Yet Revelation ultimately can provide great encouragement for the Christian: God is faithful, God will have the victory, and we can share in the new heavens and new earth, but only if we remain faithful and overcome in Jesus. Amen! Lord Jesus, come quickly!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Authenticity | The Voice 8:13: April 01, 2018

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Authenticity

“Authentic” has become one of the new buzzwords of the twenty-first century; it would seem that everyone, everywhere is on a quest to manifest greater authenticity. People yearn to find their true, authentic selves, they search for authentic experiences, and they want to exist in spaces which value authenticity. Authenticity in relationships is highly valued.

This desire for authenticity represents an awareness of how much of life seems fake, contrived, or forced. People easily feel controlled or manipulated in various ways; they seem to become what they would rather avoid. They will believe or do all sorts of things in order to be loved, accepted, or welcomed into a group. Meanwhile, people put on pretense and pretend to be things they are not; such acting is exhausting. All of this reveals a deep, profound anxiety: people fear rejection of their true selves and so put on the pretense of being someone else or go along with the expectations of others. People would like to be accepted while remaining authentic to themselves; in practice they value the former over the latter. Thus people die inside, overwhelmed by hurt, insecurity, alienation, anxieties, and fear, pretending to have everything together, and convinced everyone else has everything together, thus reinforcing feelings of inadequacy. In a world that looks more like “reality” television every day and of “fake news,” people yearn for what is real and to be real about life.

To this end, a desire for authenticity is not unwarranted. Jesus denounced the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, for they put on the pretense of being one way, but acted in quite another (Matthew 23:1-35). The Greek word for “hypocrite” originally referred to an actor, and many indeed go through life putting on an elaborate act, pretending to be something other than they truly are. Such acting and hypocrisy are not unique to the world; Christians often succumb to the pressure of putting on a righteous appearance so as to measure up to the rest in their “holy huddles,” never willing to expose any possible deficiency lest their sanctity and standing before God would be up for questioning. Masquerades such as these are effective tools of the Evil One, keeping many in bondage to pretense, often blind to reality, self-deceived (cf. 2 Timothy 2:26-3:9, Hebrews 3:12). God desires to heal people from their pain, distress, anxiety, fear, inadequacy, shame, and such like (1 Peter 2:24, 5:16-17). Christians are called upon to confess their sins to one another, not to pretend they are without sin (James 5:16).

Authenticity, therefore, maintains value. God would have His people manifest authenticity and sincerity, to love without hypocrisy, and speak and live truthfully (Romans 12:9, Ephesians 4:29). Christians cultivate trust among one another and with people in the world through their faithfulness, generating trust on account of honesty and life without pretense. God has loved and accepted us despite our performance and has given of His Son for our redemption (Romans 5:6-11); Christians who trust in God’s love and acceptance find in Him the strength to love and accept others despite their performance. In a sin-sick world people yearn for honest conversation, acceptance without pretense, and an acknowledgement of the difficulties and complexities of life; people can find satisfaction for such desires in Jesus and ought to see it manifest in His people.

And yet, for too many, the goal of authenticity goes well beyond, believing that in finding the “true self” one will be able to locate true satisfaction. Authenticity is thus considered the end, and not a means to an end: if I can find my true self, so the thinking goes, I will come to a place of confidence and rest. I will be everything I am supposed to be. If I can just get past pretense, I can be great.

Let none be deceived: it is important to understand who we really are. We do well to recognize our strengths and identify our weaknesses; we must appreciate how God has made us who we are and dedicate ourselves to serving God in the Kingdom of Jesus according to our abilities (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 1 Peter 4:10-11). Nevertheless, our “true self” is far from ideal; our true self is really often rather ugly (cf. James 1:22-25). Ironically, searching for our “true selves” as some kind of ideal proves insincere and inauthentic, because all of us have deficiencies, flaws, inadequacies, unhealthy coping mechanisms, eccentricities, etc., which we do not really want to associate with our “true selves.” We want to think of ourselves as well-informed even if we prove quite ignorant in many respects; we want to think of ourselves as fair-minded and non-judgmental even though we prove susceptible to tribalistic thinking and judge others for the same inadequacies we would rather not see in ourselves. Our “true selves” are on display when we think no one is looking, and very few people prove content with what they find in those circumstances.

Therefore, while authenticity and sincerity in understanding who we are and what we are about are essential for character and virtue, they prove insufficient to manifest quality character or virtue. We must strip ourselves of our self-deceptions and pretenses about who we really are; it is not as if God is ignorant of our true condition (cf. James 1:22-25)! Ascertaining our “authentic self” then provides a basis upon which to cultivate greater virtue, trusting in God in Christ, submitting to His purposes, praying for strength to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, and developing the habits which facilitate the manifestation of those character traits (Galatians 5:22-24, Ephesians 3:14-21). Yes, God loves each and every one of us, and will accept us as we are: God does not at all intend to keep us there, but would have us grow to become ever more like Him in His Son (Romans 8:29).

Authenticity is therefore an important means to an end, but it is not an end unto itself. We do well to manifest authenticity and sincerity in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; we must recognize who we are, for better and for worse, and we should stop pretending to be what we are not. Yet just being what we are will never be sufficient, for we are weak and prone to sin (Romans 3:23); we must strive to greater trust in Jesus and manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, dependent on God’s strength and provision, manifesting sanctification through greater development of virtue in Jesus. May we trust in the Lord Jesus and be conformed to His image so we may obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Bible Translations III | The Voice 8.12: March 25, 2018

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Bible Translations, III: 19th and 20th Century Revisions

For over three hundred years the King James Version was the Bible in English. By the nineteenth century many Greek manuscripts had been discovered which preserved more authentic and faithful readings of the original than the Textus Receptus Greek text base of the KJV; English as a language had undergone many changes. In 1870 the Church of England in Canterbury commissioned a revision of the King James Version in light of new textual evidence and understanding of Hebrew and Greek, leading to the 1881 Revised Version (RV). From the Revised Version, and especially its American counterpart, the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901, all further modern translations would flow.

The major difference between the Revised Version and the American Standard Version involves the Divine Name, rendered “LORD” in the RV and “Jehovah” in the ASV. They both represent substantially the most literal translation designed for use within the churches; in many places in the New Testament a person familiar with Greek can essentially see the Greek text in the RV/ASV since it tends to replicate Greek sentence structure and grammatical peculiarities. The RV/ASV maintain the literal strength of the KJV and are based on more ancient Greek manuscripts. Like the KJV, the RV/ASV are no longer copyrighted, and can be freely quoted without fear of compromising copyright law.

The main strength of the RV/ASV is also its weakness: it is a wooden translation of the text, more “translationese” than English in many places. Its intentional use of archaic language is understandable in its context (to sound more like the KJV familiar to all English-speaking Christians) but a hindrance to understanding. The vocabulary of the RV/ASV is set at a high school age reading level. The use of “Jehovah” as the Divine Name in the ASV is unfortunate (YHWH is more accurate), although it does help to differentiate God’s name from the title “Lord.” Until recently it was hard to obtain access to the RV/ASV: the RV is only published as a part of a RV/KJV interlinear, and the ASV is only in publication as a New Testament by Star Bible. Only now with the prevalence of Bible software have the RV and ASV become more accessible.

The Revised Version and/or American Standard Version are quality Bible versions which ought to be consulted in any significant study of Scripture, especially involving semantics and discussion about language and phraseology. They represent great study versions, but their limited access in publication, archaic language, and wooden translation make them difficult primary versions for preaching and teaching.

In the 1930s the copyright holder of the American Standard Version recognized the value and importance of a revision to that text to modernize its language and incorporate evidence from new findings, particularly the Dead Sea Scrolls. This led to the creation of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) in 1952. The Revised Standard Version, and its later revision of 1989, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), would become the standard Bible of mainline Protestantism and within the community of scholars; in its day the RSV proved to be the first version to seriously challenge the hegemony of the KJV among English speaking Christians.

The RSV and NRSV are quality formal equivalence (“word for word”) translations which generally maintain faithfulness to the Hebrew and Greek texts while presenting them in more recognizably modern English. As with all later offshoots of the ASV the RSV and NRSV return to “LORD” as opposed to “Jehovah;” the RSV maintained archaic forms of address for God (“Thou, Thee,” etc.); the NRSV modernized them. The NRSV alone of all versions has incorporated an addition to the text of 1 Samuel found in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-gilead (1 Samuel 10:27 NRSV).

This reading has explanatory value and power regardless of what one may think of its placement in terms of canon and theology. The translation of the Hebrew prophets in the NRSV is of exceptionally high quality, effectively capturing the nuances of the message of the prophets.

The translation of ‘almah as “young woman” rather than “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 in the RSV prompted much controversy, as did the mandate for gender-inclusive terminology in the New Testament of the NRSV. The strong acceptance of the RSV and NRSV within mainline Protestantism and its prevalence among scholars led to great suspicion and skepticism of those versions within Evangelicalism. The gender-inclusive terminology in the NRSV often borders on the ridiculous (e.g. “friends” for “brethren,” Galatians 6:1, etc.). While the RSV and NRSV have more modernized English and better English style than its forebears, they still are translated at a twelfth grade reading level.

Despite their reputations the Revised Standard Version and New Revised Standard Version remain quality English translations of the Scriptures and are worth considering in study. The elevated vocabulary and adaptations with gender neutral language can hinder them from effective use in preaching and teaching.

By the 1960s many within Evangelicalism desired a revision of the American Standard Version which would remain theologically conservative, rather literal, and yet more modern in idiom. The Lockman Foundation thus developed the New American Standard Bible (NASB; also known as New American Standard Version, or NASV), published in 1971. In 1995 the Foundation published an updated version, the New American Standard Update; the update, sometimes called NASU or NASB95, has essentially replaced the original, which itself is now often known as NAS77.

The NASB is as advertised: it is the most literal of the modern offshoots of the ASV but in more modern language. It does not incorporate gender inclusive language, and its translation does not provoke concern regarding theological liberalism. The NASB usefully italicizes English words added to the translation not explicit in the original Greek and renders quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament in small caps. The NASB95 handles the future perfect of Matthew 16:19 accurately.

Yet, as with the ASV, so with the NASB: its commitment to literalism means its English style and structure often prove awkward. It maintains a twelfth grade reading level and thus proves inaccessible to many. Its theological commitments occasionally get in its way, as with depersonalizing Azazel as the “scapegoat” in Leviticus 16:8-10, and speaking of a father and not a betrothed prospective husband in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38.

The New American Standard Bible remains a high quality Bible version, valuable for study, and often used in preaching and teaching. May we use all such versions to come to a better understanding of God and His purposes in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and His Brethren | The Voice 8.11: March 18, 2017

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The Christian and His Brethren

God loves you; you are special in His sight, for He made you, and He sent His Son to die so that you might receive the forgiveness of sin and a share in eternity with Him (John 3:16, Romans 5:6-11).

Such is a familiar message, not only to Christians, but also to many people in the world: this is the presentation of the Christian message which has gained the most traction in the Western world over the past few generations. Millions have heard it; millions have even accepted its message to some degree or another, “got saved” with a prayer, and carried on with their lives.

Presenting the Gospel as God’s love and care for a person as an individual is not wrong, but it is certainly incomplete; therefore, its results have not borne the kind of fruit God intended from the beginning. God absolutely loves each of us as individuals, and we are all valuable in His sight; yet God’s purpose has never been to save each of us as individuals in some kind of vacuum. God has delivered us from bondage to sin and death not only to be reconciled to Him but also to one another (John 17:20-23).

God expects the Christian to see him or herself as part of a greater whole: the church, the people of God. At no point in the New Testament is the salvation of the individual Christian envisioned as an end unto itself: Christians are saved to begin jointly participating in Christ with fellow Christians (1 John 1:7). Christians are invited to see themselves as the people of God, the recipients of the promise made to Abraham, having obtained standing before God through faith in Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:1-12, Ephesians 2:11-22). Eternity is pictured in terms of God having glorified the heavenly city, the Bride, new Jerusalem, that is, the church, the collective of the people of God (Revelation 21:1-22:6).

Christianity, therefore, cannot be reduced to a mere individual journey in spiritual development. Any message which would promise individual salvation without any reference to connections and associations with fellow believers is not the good news of Jesus of Nazareth; to suggest a person could be a Christian without the church is to deny the one coherent, connected body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:4-6). If people walk away from hearing a message believing that a quick prayer can solve all their problems so they can get on with life, they have entirely missed what God has sought to do in Jesus.

God’s eternal purpose in Jesus is to display His manifold wisdom to the powers and principalities in the church (Ephesians 3:10-11). Thus, in the church, people who would otherwise be separated and alienated from each other are made into one man through their faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:11-18). The mystery of the Gospel involves the inclusion of Gentiles as full participants in the Kingdom of God (Ephesians 3:1-6). God has given gifts to His people so they might work to equip one another and build one another up in their faith (Ephesians 4:7-16).

And so in the New Testament emphasis is placed on the Christian’s responsibility to “one another,” or to his or her fellow Christians, their brothers and sisters in Christ. Christians will be known as disciples of Jesus by their love for one another (John 13:35); John’s wonderful description of love in 1 John 4:7-21 drives home the imperative to love one another. At some point in every New Testament letter the Apostles provide encouragement and exhortation regarding how Christians treat one another.

Christians thus unapologetically prefer and prioritize one another (Romans 12:10). Christians do so not because they have no care or concern for their fellow man, but because fellow Christians are recognized as fellow members of God’s house (Ephesians 2:18-22). Family bonds have privileged all others throughout time and place; such is thus true for the Christian and his or her spiritual family in Jesus (Galatians 6:10). If we do not take care of one another, why should anyone in the world expect us to take care of them? Instead, when unbelievers see Christians taking great care of each other on account of their shared identity in Jesus, they testify to their love for one another, and may find it a compelling reason to serve the Lord Jesus!

Christians prefer and prioritize one another because of their shared faith and confidence in Jesus (1 John 1:7). The church displays God’s manifold wisdom to the powers and principalities because within it all the worldly barriers of division are broken down in Jesus (Ephesians 2:11-18). Christians are therefore not to rebuild what God tore down in Jesus. Christians hail from all sorts of nations, ideologies, cultures, comforts, and preferences; Christians must not be deceived by the powers and principalities into thinking less of their fellow Christians or to divide into various sects on account of these differences (Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 4:1-23). Christians must discern truth from fiction, human philosophy from divine decree, and uphold both the truth and the value of fellow Christians, even though they may not share the same cultural heritage. The church should never be as divided as the world; “Christendom” has all too often reflected the world and not not Jesus with all of its divisions and fractures.

Christians strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Unity in Christ comes from the work God has accomplished in Jesus and through the Spirit: we have been made one body in Him, baptized into one Spirit, reconciled from all that alienated us from God and each other (Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 12:13). We must prove as willing to strive to maintain the unity God has designed for us as we are to defend the truth which He embodied in Jesus (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). While unity without truth is a lie, truth without unity is contrary to the very nature of the God who is truth and one in relational unity (John 14:6, 17:20-23). God has joined us in Christ; what God has therefore joined man ought not separate.

Christians will be saved in and as the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Christians partake of the Lord’s Supper to embody the communion we share as fellow members of Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). None of us are sufficient in and of ourselves; we need each other, just as different body parts need one another for the healthy functioning of all (1 Corinthians 12:12-28). To be one we must be around each other; hence the need for frequent assembling (Hebrews 10:24-25). We must care for each other, strengthening each other, building up, caring, rejoicing together, weeping together, sharing in life together (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:11-16).

Do Christians live up to their calling? No. We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Such is not a failing of God’s purposes in Jesus: we have been created to share in life together. Accepting alienation and isolation as the way to go is to capitulate to the forces of darkness in the heavenly realm. May we instead uphold God’s purposes in Jesus and seek to be one with one another as God is One in Himself, and share in the glory of the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jude | The Voice 8.10: March 11, 2018

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The Letter of Jude

He would have rather written an encouraging letter regarding their shared faith; nevertheless, many false teachers had infiltrated their ranks, justifying immorality, denying the Lord. Such people always had existed among the people of God; they all would share in the same condemnation, as Jude set forth in his letter to his fellow Christians.

The letter of Jude is the twenty-sixth book in modern editions of the New Testament; it is often categorized among one of the “catholic” or universal letters or epistles. The author identifies himself as Jude, brother of James (Jude 1:1); this James is generally believed to be James the Just, the brother of the Lord, elder in Jerusalem, and author of the letter of James, and so Jude would also be the brother of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 13:55, Acts 21:18, James 1:1). The Scriptures reveal nothing else about Jude. Many in scholarship consider the letter of Jude as a pseudepigraphal work of the second century; while the letter was reckoned among the disputed books in early Christianity, many early Christians testified to its legitimacy, particularly Clement of Alexandria (Comments on the Letter of Jude; also featured in the Muratorian Canon). The letter provides no information about the location of its author or its specific audience beyond those called loved in God, and kept for Jesus (Jude 1:1), but according to historical accounts Jude’s family remained in Palestine for at least three generations after him (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.19-20; his great-grandson Judah Kyriakon as an elder in Jerusalem, Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 1); thus Jude may well have remained in Palestine, and wrote to Christians in his association or in general. No date or time reference is found in the letter of Jude, but it is most likely to be dated between 70 and 90: the text betrays no continued existence of the Temple or its services, and seemed to reflect Gnosticizing tendencies among some of the disenchanted, likely consistent with Palestine in the post-destruction period. Of all the New Testament authors Jude proved most conversant with apocryphal and pseudepigraphal traditions, alluding to and explicitly quoting the Book of Enoch and referring to the Assumption of Moses (Jude 1:6, 9, 14-15; cf. 1 Enoch 1:9); whether he considered these entire works to be inspired and profitable cannot be decided with any degree of confidence, but these particular allusions have certainly received full affirmation as legitimate, and we do well to respect the judgment of the brother of the Lord in these matters. Jude wrote to encourage Christians to stand firm in the faith which had been delivered to them and resist those in their midst who taught and lived in ways contrary to its message.

Jude identified himself as the slave of Jesus and brother of James, and spoke of his audience of Christians as called, beloved by God the Father, and kept for Jesus; he then provided a slightly modified epistolary greeting, speaking of mercy, peace, and love (Jude 1:1-2). Jude immediately set forth his reason for writing: he wished to speak about their common salvation, but felt compelled to write to encourage them to contend for the faith delivered to the saints once for all (Jude 1:3).

Jude then condemned false teachers who had gained entrance among the Christians (Jude 1:4-16). Their condemnation was foreordained; as ungodly men, they turn the grace of God into lasciviousness and deny the Lord Jesus (Jude 1:5). Jude rehearsed God’s judgments of the past: unfaithful Israelites perished in the Wilderness; angels who sinned were cast into prison; Sodom and Gomorrah gave themselves over to sexually deviant behavior; in a similar way these false teachers defile the flesh, despise authority, and revile glorious spiritual beings (Jude 1:6-8; cf. Genesis 6:1-4, 19:1-29, Exodus 14:1-Deuteronomy 34:12, 1 Corinthians 10:1-12). Yet even Michael the archangel refused to revile Satan, but pronounced God’s rebuke on him; these false teachers revile things they do not understand, and what they claim to understand they abuse in sensuality (Jude 1:9-10; a reference to the Assumption of Moses, based on Deuteronomy 34:6). Jude pronounced woe on the false teachers, speaking of them in terms of Cain, Balaam, and Korah, decrying them as stumbling blocks in their assemblies, self-serving leaders providing no profit to others, unstable, about to be destroyed, their shame manifest, condemned by Enoch in prophecy, gossips, slanderers, showing favoritism to their own ends (Jude 1:9-16; cf. Genesis 4:5-14, Numbers 16:1-35, 22:1-24:25, 31:16, 1 Enoch 1:9).

Jude then encouraged his fellow Christians based on what they heard from the Apostles (Jude 1:17-23). The Apostles foretold the coming of such ungodly, sensual false teachers (Jude 1:17-19; cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-4, 6:1-10, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 2 Peter 3:3). Christians, nevertheless, were to build each other up in their holy faith, pray in the Spirit, keep themselves in God’s love, and look for the mercy of Jesus unto eternal life (Jude 1:20-21). Christians should have mercy on those who doubt; some were to be saved from the fire, and others they should have mercy with fear, hating the corruption of the body (Jude 1:22-23). Jude concluded with a declaration of praise of God in Christ (a doxology), glorifying God as the Savior who can guard Christians from sin and make them stand in His presence in cleanliness and joy, and who deserves majesty, dominion, and power from before time until forever (Jude 1:24-25).

Jude’s letter may be short, and full of parallels with 2 Peter 2:1-22, yet has been cherished for its exhortations. To this day Christians must contend for the faith, given to them once for all by the Apostles; they must be on guard against those who introduce worldly influences; and yet judgment is to be rendered by God, and it is for Christians to encourage one another and do all they can to rescue those who have fallen prey to the doctrines of demons and the forces of the powers and principalities over this present darkness. May we contend for the faith and be strengthened in God’s love and Jesus’ mercy and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Ritual | The Voice 8.09: March 04, 2018

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Ritual

We can imagine the scene: a dark wood. Men and women stand around wearing cloaks; strange words are uttered. Perhaps some sacrifice is offered. Or perhaps it is in an old church building with a priest wearing elaborate clothing and rehearsing the same act as has been said for thousands of years. Maybe we think of a secret society and its induction ceremony, giving initiates the secret knowledge passed on for generations.

Such things come to mind when we think of rituals. “Ritual” comes to us with a primarily religious origin: “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” “Rite” is a synonym of ritual, and is often used to describe the historic liturgical order of the mass in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches: the Latin Rite, the Byzantine Rite, etc. These masses remain highly formalized, featuring specific and consistent formulas, acts, and other behaviors by certain individuals wearing antiquated garments. For generations many were spoken in languages not known by the majority of the population.

Ever since the days of the Reformation many Westerners have reacted to the excesses of ritual and formalism in Christianity and have sought to excise ritual from faith and life. They have proven extremely successful: “ritual” is immediately associated with “superstition” in modern society, and superstitions have been widely condemned as fanciful, against reason, and a hindrance to enlightenment and human progress for at least 250 years. Iconoclasts against various forms of ritual remain in both religious and secular contexts; ritual is often communal, after all, and we now live in the ultimate Age of the Individual.

Even though modern man looks askance at what he or she would deem “superstitious ritual,” modern life is highly ritualistic. Self-help literature glorifies the development of habits, and what are habits but set patterns of behavior, and therefore personal rituals? How many sports fans and players develop elaborate ceremonies or maintain certain patterns of behavior on game day? Why do we still have graduation ceremonies or wedding ceremonies in which people wear antiquated clothing and perform specific and consistent formulas and acts? Why do we still feel compelled to go to funerals and participate in set grieving practices? All of these speak to the continuing power of ritual in life.

Christians have often been skeptical of ritual, thinking of rituals primarily in terms of the high church liturgical tradition, and perhaps as too physical and not nearly spiritual enough for their faith. Even though “ritual” gets a bad reputation, very few are willing to go so far as the Quakers and completely spiritualize important practices of the faith, and for good reason.

Christianity is in fact defined by two powerful rituals: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or communion). Baptism is a ritual cleansing: Peter insisted that baptism was not designed for the removal of dirt from the flesh (1 Peter 3:21). The English word “baptism” all too obfuscates the concept and thus the importance of the ritual nature of the act: “baptism” is now defined as a religious ritual in English, whereas in Greek baptizo could refer just as easily to the washing of clothing and the washing of the body. Some fear that calling baptism a ritual would deaden its power and diminish its effectiveness, but it does nothing of the sort: it brings into relief how the action is defined by its purpose. We “baptize” our bodies and “baptize” our clothing and “dip” and “wash” many things for many reasons; none of these have the power or importance of being baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sin (Acts 2:38). There is no spiritual power or physical property of the water which provides this cleansing and conversion; it is all by faith and trust in the working of God (1 Peter 3:21). While baptism has many spiritual elements it is done physically and in the body for good reason: the physical act of baptism provides a clear line of delineation for us in our lives. In baptism we die in Christ to be raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-7); in baptism we put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). In baptism we have a sign, a visible demonstration, and a declaration of commitment manifesting our submission to the covenant God has made with all mankind in Jesus, a ceremony and a ritual act to consecrate ourselves to God’s purpose, and all for the same reasons why we continue to insist on having some kind of formal ceremony dedicating a man and a woman together to become husband and wife. Baptism speaks to the power of ritual.

The Lord’s Supper is a ritual meal: Jesus inaugurated it in the midst of one of Israel’s prescribed rituals, the Passover, and performed certain actions and declared certain words which were not merely said and done once, but were handed down and continued for years (Luke 22:7-23, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). As a ritual meal the Lord’s Supper is not designed to satisfy hunger, for none will feel physically satisfied by a little unleavened bread and fruit of the vine; Paul encouraged those who were hungry to eat at home (1 Corinthians 11:34). We may eat unleavened bread and drink grape juice on other occasions, but such is not the Lord’s Supper; we come together on the Lord’s day, the day of His resurrection, and we give thanks to God for the particular bread before us so as to represent the Lord’s body, and the grape juice as the Lord’s blood, and in so doing manifest our unity in Jesus (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 11:23-26, Revelation 1:10). The spiritual elements of the Lord’s Supper are manifest, and previous claims of the physical transformation of the elements certainly literalized the metaphor; nevertheless, for good reason we continue to share actual unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, for the Lord’s Supper in its ritual reinforces the delineation of our lives made in baptism, confirming us as fellow members of the covenant, and physically displays our unity in the faith as we share in the elements of the Lord’s Supper together (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 11:27-31). When we assemble to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week we draw closer to the events of Passover in the first century than we were on the Tuesday of the previous week, an idea ludicrous according to modern conception of time yet very real according to what God has made known in Christ and Scripture, for we in a sense re-create the “upper room,” communing with Jesus, just as Israel would re-create the night of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage in the Passover (cf. Exodus 12:1-28).

It remains possible for rituals to become cold, formal, empty proclamations; Christians must be on guard against such tendencies. Nevertheless, as meaning seeking creatures, humans need rituals to define who they are, with whom they are in association, and what life is all about. God has made us this way, and has established appropriate rituals within the faith in Christ to provide that identity, association, and meaning. May we seek to follow the Lord Jesus in all things and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Bible Translations II | The Voice 8.08: February 25, 2017

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Bible Translations, II: The King James Version and the New King James Version

The King James Version (KJV)

In 1604 King James I of England (VI of Scotland) summoned the Hampton Court Conference. As a result of difficulties ascertained with previous English Bibles, the Bishops’ and Great Bibles, it was decided to facilitate the creation of a new English version based on the Bishops’ Bible in consultation with the Tyndale translation, the Great Bible, the Coverdale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, and the Geneva Bible, as assessed by Biblical scholars in Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster. The collaborative work would be completed by 1611, and would become known as the King James Bible or the Authorized Version. The original work contained the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament; most editions today omit the Apocrypha. The King James Version is a formal equivalent, or “word for word,” translation.

The KJV proves faithful to the original Greek: no other popular version is as literally translated as the KJV. In many cases the literal translation will be difficult to understand and can lead to confusion in understanding the meaning; in other cases, the literal feel of the translation will help a reader come to a better understanding of the original.

The KJV text is also very pleasing to be read due to the antiquity of its language; its Elizabethan English is nice to hear. The KJV was the Bible in English for almost four hundred years and remains popular to this day. Its influence on English language and literature is hard to overstate. The KJV can still be used in almost any church to this day without causing consternation.

While the Elizabethan English is pleasing to the ears, it can be difficult for modern English speakers to understand. The English language has changed significantly over the past three hundred years, and so many of the phrases used in the KJV prove obsolete and even confusing. Most readers will have to first “translate” the KJV into more modern English for understanding, and then seek to understand what the text is attempting to say; it is not at all God’s will for people to doubly “translate” His words so that they can be understood.

At times the translators of the KJV came to incorrect conclusions about the reading of certain words, especially in Hebrew; our understanding of Biblical Hebrew is stronger today than it was four hundred years ago. Some attempt to fiercely defend the integrity of Erasmus’ Textus Receptus, the Greek text which served as the basis for the KJV, or the “Majority Text,” the Greek text one would get by following the majority reading of all manuscript evidence; such people will generally strongly accept the KJV and how it renders the New Testament. Nevertheless, over the past four hundred years we have discovered many ancient manuscripts of the Greek New Testament which preserve variants more authentic to the original; many words and phrases were added within lines of Scripture in the 1,500 years of copying the New Testament, and these additions are clear when examining the older copies. The most egregious example of such differences can be seen in what is frequently called the Comma Johannem, 1 John 5:7:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one (KJV).

And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth [New American Standard Bible (NASB)].

The vast majority (in fact, all but one copy, and that one has been questioned) of Greek texts follow the NASB reading of this verse; the Textus Receptus contains the addition; and so the KJV contains the addition, and has been a source of contention ever since.

We must be clear: such variations make up a small percentage of the text. One can come to an effective knowledge of what God has made known in Jesus by reading the KJV, and many Christians have glorified God in Christ with knowledge only of the KJV. Nevertheless, when in deep study or in discussions about spiritual things dependent on exact readings of texts, it is important to recognize how these distinctions may affect interpretation, and to consult with more modern versions and the critical apparatus of Greek texts when necessary to come to a good understanding of the differences among the texts.

The KJV is a solid version, and is good for any serious Bible student to have in his or her library. It has earned its renown. For Christians today, however, the language is extremely antiquated; even if the Christian can come to a good understanding of its English, it will prove to be a stumbling block when attempting to convey the Word of God to others. Likewise, variations in manuscripts and understanding of Biblical languages demands that any deep study of the KJV would require consultation of a modern version like the ASV, NASB, ESV, and/or NRSV.

The New King James Version (NKJV)

In 1975 some Biblical scholars met in Chicago and Nashville to establish a set of guidelines by which the King James Version could be revised to update its language and grammar to conform to modern English while maintaining the literalism and style of the original. They did consult with the most recent edition of Biblica Hebraica for the Old Testament, along with discoveries from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint, but also made reference to the same ben Hayyim Hebrew text used by the King James translators; for the New Testament reference to the Textus Receptus was maintained. The work was completed by 1982 and became known as the New King James Version (NKJV), a formal equivalent (“word for word”) translation.

In general the translators succeeded in their efforts: the NKJV maintains the literal translation and style of the KJV, but its language has been updated so as to be more readily understood by the modern English reader. Some of the infelicities of the KJV translation of the Old Testament are corrected. Nevertheless, since the NKJV is still based on the Textus Receptus, it suffers from the same difficulties as the KJV in terms of manuscript evidence; the NKJV even follows the KJV in 1 John 5:7. Yet most editions of the NKJV do maintain one strength: they will often provide the Nestle-Aland/UBS text readings in the notes when they diverge from the N/KJV reading, providing the reader with the ability to make an immediate comparison and to be able to immediately recognize the points at which the texts diverge.

Many Christians have moved from the KJV to the NKJV, since it maintains the feel of the KJV but with updated language. Its English is still relatively elevated, at around an eighth grade reading level. For those who wish to remain close to the KJV and its tradition, the NKJV will work well. Yet any Christian who would use the NKJV would do well to consult the notes about the readings of the NU-Texts, and consult other versions as necessary.

Other versions have come about in the same tradition, like the 21st Century King James Version and the Modern King James Version, which are akin to the New King James Version in many ways. May we use such translations to come to a better understanding of God’s purposes manifest in Christ and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and Proper Perspective | The Voice 8.07: February 18, 2018

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The Christian and Proper Perspective

It is one of the great conundrums and challenges of “Christendom” today: how can so many sincere people read the same book, ostensibly confess the same Lord, and yet come to such radically different conclusions about all kinds of doctrines and practices? All sorts of answers can be given, and many have merit. One such answer with great explanatory power involves perspective. How much thought is given to perspective, or frame of mind, when the Scriptures are approached? What are we attempting to accomplish with our exploration of Scripture and our claim to follow Jesus in all things?

Perspective can be a pernicious matter. We all have our perspectives based on our fundamental operating assumptions which we have developed through various influences: our parents and families, our education, our culture, etc. Everyone has a perspective, and everyone seems equally convinced their perspective is the best or right perspective. And yet all of our perspectives are flawed to some degree or another, for we are all human, continually fall short of the glory of God, and tend to be spectacularly bad at recognizing our blind spots (cf. Romans 3:23).

Yet we should not be driven to despair: we can grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ despite our flaws (2 Peter 3:18). But to do so effectively requires the Christian to do all he or she can to maintain a proper perspective in all things.

To this end humility regarding perspective always proves essential. God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9); we are finite creatures and can only understand so much. God has made known to us some things regarding Himself and His purposes: they are sufficient to equip us to seek His will, but they do not provide a complete understanding of all things (Deuteronomy 29:29, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Hebrews 1:1-2). We will always know far less than we can imagine; what we do learn ought to display our lack of understanding all the more. Just because something God has made known does not make sense to us does not make it untrue. We must be careful lest we make a god out of our own minds and our ability to understand, and attempt to force God and His ways to fit into a box of our own creation and imagination. Not a few heresies have arisen because people attempted to make fully human and rational sense out of the mysteries of God.

Let God be found true and every man a liar (cf. Romans 3:4): we must ground everything we believe in what God has made known in Jesus and in Scripture (John 14:6, Hebrews 1:1-3). To this end Paul encourages Christians to say and do all things in the name of the Lord, since we are always subject to His authority (Romans 6:14-23, Colossians 3:17). Yet our obedience must be not merely in pretense but also in truth: it is not enough to simply assert “the Bible says…,” but to demonstrate the truth of the claim in ways consistent with the context and in light of all God has made known in Jesus. We must be careful regarding both tradition and iconoclasm against tradition. A given concept, doctrine, practice, or structure is not made hallowed over time: just because some people claiming to follow Jesus have believed, taught, or practiced something for a few hundred years does not make it true or right. On the other hand, people have been reading the Bible and have attempted to follow Jesus for almost 2,000 years, and the odds that we today could discover a concept, doctrine, or practice which is truly grounded in Christ but missed by everyone over that time is impossibly remote. If we cannot find any precedents for an idea, belief, or practice in “Christendom” over the past two millennia, the difficulty is more likely with our own perspective than that of those who came before us. We do well to explore the heritage of Christianity lest we fall into the same heretical traps as did some who came before us. The voices of the past challenge our perspective: we do well to pray for wisdom to discern where we can find the failings of the perspectives of those who came before us, but also to be confronted with our own biases and presuppositions by them in turn.

God has made known His purposes in Christ; we can know how to be full of good works (2 Timothy 3:14-17). To this end Paul affirms that whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Far too many wish to reverse the statement, and approach authority as if whatsoever is not of sin is faith: as long as something is not condemned, it is acceptable. The New Testament upholds no such teaching; it may be the worldly definition of freedom and liberty, but it is not consistent with God’s purposes. Far too many innovations and deviations from God’s purposes were initially justified by the claim that “God never said we cannot or should not.” The Christian does well to approach all things by first asking if it is right, and then to ask if it is profitable (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:23). If both can be answered in the affirmative, strong ground exists to move forward. If they cannot be answered in the affirmative, the Christian must ask him or herself what would motivate the desire to proceed.

Christians must acknowledge the influence of worldly thinking so they may trust in God in Christ to overcome it. Paul exhorted the Colossians to be rooted in Christ, not the philosophies of the world (Colossians 2:6-10). All of the “-isms” of the world may contain some truth and wisdom, but all of them maintain elements contrary to God’s revealed purposes in Christ. Throughout time well-intentioned people have sought to “baptize” various worldly ideologies to fit a Christian mold, from Platonism to modern capitalism and nationalism; time has exposed the folly of all such endeavors, often to the harm of the witness of the faith. We must make Christ the ground and foundation of the way we approach the world, and not try to make Jesus fit what is commendable, or condemned, within the world.

The Christian is not the judge; God is (Romans 14:10-13, James 4:11-12). Nothing is right or wrong because the Christian thinks it is right or wrong; the experience of a Christian or someone whom he or she loves does not change the revealed will of God on any issue. We must own our perspectives as our own and give diligence lest we pervert the purposes of God in Christ because of our own inadequacies, insecurities, projections, or desires. Likewise, nothing is right or wrong merely because it is the opposite of what those with whom we disagree believe or practice. Sin is always crouching at the door, looking for an opportunity to seize us in rebellion against God’s purposes, hardening the heart to go in its own way and not after the ways of God. We do not know better than He; may we humbly submit to His purposes in Christ, and be ever careful with how we understand His purposes in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry