The Christian and Prayer | The Voice 8.24: June 17, 2018

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The Voice

The Christian and Prayer

People closely identify Christianity and Christians with prayer. And yet, if most Christians were honest, they would admit they do not participate in prayer enough. Yet Christians should be a people at prayer.

In general, prayer involves making one’s petitions before God, a practice thoroughly expected of the Christian (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Timothy 2:8). The early church was active in prayer (Acts 12:5, 13:3). The Apostles embodied the importance of prayer; Luke took notice of their practice in Acts 4:24-31, 6:4, 16:25. Jesus Himself, even though He embodied the character of God and was God in the flesh, prayed to His Father often (Matthew 14:23, Luke 6:12, 11:1, 22:41-45, John 17:1-26).

Christians have many reasons to pray; these reasons are effectively modeled in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13 / Luke 11:2-4). Christians ought to honor God’s name and revere Him, showing proper respect in prayer conversation, and giving thanks for all the blessings with which God has blessed them in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-23, 1 Peter 2:17). Thanksgiving is important, for it contextualizes the Christian’s present difficulties in light of what God has already done and will do for them, and reinforces our hope (Colossians 3:15, 17, 4:2, 1 Peter 1:3-9). Christians should ask for God to accomplish His purposes through them and for the Kingdom of Jesus to be advanced; by necessity, Christians must seek to align themselves to the will of God in these matters, and they will need His strength to accomplish His work in the world (Ephesians 3:14-21). Christians do well to ask God for their basic necessities: God is not so preoccupied with the major issues so as to neglect our daily needs, and we should always remain cognizant of our dependence on God for all things, including the basics of life (Matthew 6:14-33, 10:29-31). Christians must not shy away from confessing their sins before God (1 John 1:9), “speaking the same thing as” what they have done, admitting wrongdoing and seeking to change their hearts and minds for the better to walk worthily of the Gospel of Christ. Christians ought to pray for strength to resist the temptations and schemes of the Evil One and of the powers and principalities over this present darkness (2 Corinthians 2:11, Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8). Intercession on behalf of others for their welfare, healing, comfort, sustenance, strength, etc. are always appropriate for Christians (Ephesians 6:19, Colossians 4:3, 1 Timothy 2:1-4); we ought to do so individually and collectively (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:14-17).

Christians will pray in different contexts for different reasons. Christians should maintain robust personal prayer lives; ideally, a Christian will orient their lives around prayer, as opposed to the other way around, testifying to their dependence on God for everything (e.g. Acts 3:1, 10:9). In the assembly Christians will pray to edify one another (1 Corinthians 14:14-17, 26). At meals Christians give thanks for the food they have received for its value and nourishment to the body (1 Timothy 4:4-5). In times of decision, grief, stress, or if driven for another reason, a Christian would do well to fast along with prayer, giving extra impetus for the need to pray (Matthew 6:17-18). Some prayer times are full of words; other times are better for more contemplation or meditation.

The Lord Jesus provided many other important exhortations regarding prayer. Christians must always remember what prayer is: communication with God: it must be meaningful; it must reflect the heart; it cannot be rote or empty ritual (Matthew 6:5-8). Anyone who prays to be seen by others has their reward; God will not hear anyone because they have droned on and on (Matthew 6:5-8). We must pray with confidence that God can and will accomplish what we ask; nevertheless, we must never imagine that prayer is a “one and done” experience, for we must persist and persevere in prayer (Luke 18:1-8, John 14:13-14).

Christians must be careful lest they allow their traditions and cultural expectations regarding prayer lead them to reject what may be good and profitable or becoming sterile. There is a time and place for spontaneous, personal prayer; there is also value and wisdom in considering the prayers prayed by people of faith throughout the generations. Praying a message written by another need not be empty of meaning; the one praying must own the meaning for him or herself. For that matter, a Christian can just as easily become guilty of rote, unthinking repetition in their “own” prayer as is possible relying on the words of others. Likewise, just because a Christian happens to pray for similar things in prayer does not mean the prayer is not meaningful; just as we tend to eat similar meals over and over again, and yet still find them nourishing, so it can be with prayer.

Christians do well to offer to pray for other people, individually and collectively, for their benefit (1 Timothy 2:1-4). There is power in prayer; the offering of prayer is not nothing. We are given the impression from Revelation 8:1-5 that the “seven trumpet” judgments are inaugurated on the basis of the prayers of the saints for justice to be done on the earth. We may not always understand how God answers prayer, yet God’s work on the earth is often activated by the prayers of His people.

And yet Christians are called to more than prayer. For Christians to just offer prayer and to believe the work is done is akin to telling a person in need to be “warmed and filled” but provide nothing to relieve their necessity (cf. James 2:15-17). Christians cannot imagine themselves as passive vessels who pray and then wait for God to do whatever He is going to do; Christians are active participants in the work of the Kingdom of God in Christ, and must diligently apply themselves to the practice of the faith while continually praying for God’s direction and empowerment to complete that work (Ephesians 3:14-4:1).

Prayer remains an extremely important aspect of the Christian’s life; we must always be in contact with “headquarters” if we will remain steadfast in the Lord and in His strength (Ephesians 6:10-18). Let us pray continually for the accomplishment of the Lord’s purposes, hastening His return, and living accordingly so as to obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Spirit for the Remnant | The Voice 8.23: June 10, 2018

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The Spirit for the Remnant

Joel had warned Judah and Jerusalem about a terrible invasion which proved imminent: a horde of “locusts” unlike anything anyone had ever seen would ravage the land, leaving nothing left but mourning and lamentation (Joel 1:1-2:17). They could have been actual locusts; they could be a reference to the marauding Assyrians. Regardless the land would eventually be made desolate; Judah and Jerusalem would be ravaged and then exiled. Joel had extended hope and promise for a future day in which YHWH would restore His blessings upon Judah and Jerusalem and they would obtain all they had lost and then some (Joel 2:18-27). Yet this hope paled in comparison with the promise to come.

After these things, Joel promised, YHWH would pour out His Spirit on all His people: their sons and daughters would prophesy, their old men would have dreams and young men would see visions, and even the servants would have the Spirit of YHWH poured out on them (Joel 2:28-29). Wonders would be seen in heaven and on earth: blood, fire, smoke; the sun would become dark and the moon would be turned to blood before the great and terrible day of YHWH (Joel 2:30-31). All who would call upon YHWH on that day would be delivered; on Zion and in Jerusalem would come those who would escape on the day of trial, the remnant called by YHWH (Joel 2:32).

Joel’s prophecy has generated a lot of interest, excitement, and speculation. Most interest has focused upon the middle section and the spectacular imagery of the sun going dark, the moon turning to blood, fire, smoke, and the like. People have looked to the heavens for the fulfillment of these portrayals, expecting some sort of eclipse or grand astronomical spectacle to herald the coming of the day of YHWH. But is that what Joel’s prophecy is really about?

Joel had already spoken of the sun and moon as being darkened before the coming of the locust horde in Joel 2:10; when given the burden of Babylon, Isaiah envisioned the coming of the day of YHWH against them with the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars (Isaiah 13:9-11). Later on in Joel the image of sun, moon, and stars as darkened on the day of YHWH will reappear (Joel 3:14-15). Jesus would appropriate the imagery as He described the impending day of YHWH against Jerusalem in Matthew 24:29 and Luke 21:25-26.

The darkening of the sun, the moon turning to blood, and the presence of smoke, blood, and fire heralded the Day of YHWH. Ancient people had a tendency to understand eclipses and other astronomical signs as portending calamitous events; YHWH thus spoke of calamitous events in terms of astronomical signs. Joel had already prophesied of a Day of YHWH against Judah and Jerusalem, possibly fulfilled in a terrible pestilence of locusts, possibly fulfilled by the Assyrian horde (Joel 1:1-2:27); many prophets foretold the terrible Day of YHWH against the Northern Kingdom of Israel at the hands of Assyria and the Kingdom of Judah at the hands of Babylon (cf. Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). They also expected a Day of YHWH against their oppressors: both Assyria and Babylon would experience their own collapse (cf. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nahum).

Amos was right: no one should look forward to a Day of YHWH; it is quite unpleasant business (Amos 5:18-20). Through pestilence, plague, famine, drought, and sword, thousands would die and many more would be displaced or cast into exile. The Day of YHWH would be YHWH’s judgment on His people or on their oppressors, and most would not remain unscathed. Only a remnant would remain; and so it would be for Israel after the ravages of Assyria and Babylon.

While the middle section of Joel’s prophecy is vivid in its portrayal, it proves consistent with similar messages within Joel’s own message and among the other prophets as well. Ultimately Joel’s promises at the beginning and end of this section prove more unique and powerfully compelling for future generations.

The remnant, those who would escape, would call upon YHWH and find deliverance in Him, finding refuge on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem; upon all of these YHWH would pour out His Spirit. Throughout the covenant between God and Israel the Spirit of YHWH had come upon only select people, generally the prophets. The situation regarding Eldad and Medad is instructive (Numbers 11:26-30): Eldad and Medad began prophesying in the camp, and when Moses was told of it, Joshua wanted Moses to forbid them, yet Moses wished that all of YHWH’s people were prophets, and YHWH would put His Spirit upon all of them. Joshua wished to uphold the status quo among the people of God; Moses yearned for all Israel to receive the Spirit of YHWH.

Through Joel YHWH gave hope; one day Moses’ desire would come to pass, and all the people of God would receive His Spirit, and find deliverance in Him. As Christians we have complete confidence regarding the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32: God accomplished it on the day of Pentecost in 33 CE, when Peter solemnly testified before Israel that the outpouring of the Spirit on the Apostles of Jesus is what Joel had prophesied (Acts 2:16-21).

The Day of YHWH would come upon Jerusalem forty years later, but its fate was sealed with Jesus’ and then Peter’s proclamation. The great transition had taken place; God had established a new covenant with Israel, and ultimately all mankind, through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:22-36, Hebrews 7:1-9:28). Jesus had set all men free from the curse of the Law and gave life in this new covenant (Romans 7:1-4, Galatians 3:10-14). Now, all who heard the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, put their trust in Him, confessed that faith, and repented of their sin could now call upon the name of the Lord in baptism and receive forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16). In so doing they would find refuge on Zion and in Jerusalem; not the physical places in Israel, but the spiritual reality in Jesus’ Kingdom (Hebrews 12:22-24). All who were baptized into Christ were baptized into the one Spirit of God, and received the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38-39, 1 Corinthians 12:13).

Joel’s famous prophecy became reality; Moses’ great desire had come to pass. The Spirit of YHWH would not fall only on a select few; all believers would have access to God in His Spirit, the down payment and earnest of their salvation, something denied to most Israelites (2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14, 2:18-22). Thus, in Christ, all come before God with equal standing and value; all could be priests to God in Christ, all maintaining equal citizenship in His Kingdom (Galatians 3:28, Philippians 3:21, Colossians 3:11, 1 Peter 2:3-9). The old covenant was in stone; the new covenant is in the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 3:1-18). May we all come to God in Christ, find salvation by calling on His name, and live in the Spirit of our God so as to obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rules, People, and Judgmentalism | The Voice 8.22: June 03, 2018

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Rules, People, and Judgmentalism

Ever since the beginning of mankind there have been rules. For the vast majority of time people have broken those rules. How people view the rules, people who break the rules, and their own violation of the rules looms large in religious discourse today as it always has. The New Testament gives Christians three different models: the Pharisees, the Gnostics, and Jesus.

The Pharisees are famous for their high valuation of the Law God gave to Moses; they were very much fans of the rules (Matthew 23:1-2). They sought to add a hedge around God’s laws, the Torah, to make it even more difficult to violate the rules; they sought to observe many rules with exact precision (Matthew 23:23). Yet in their zeal for the Law they set God’s people at naught. They condemned masses of people as unwashed sinners inferior to them in standing before God, since they had come to learn of the rules of holiness and sanctity (cf. John 9:34). They had difficulties separating out the rules from their interpretation and understanding of how the rules should work, and in the process condemned good, right, and holy deeds as somehow contrary to God’s purposes (e.g. Luke 13:10-17). They proved blind to their own hypocrisy: they commanded others to do mighty things they themselves would not do, violated commands on account of all the traditions and “hedges” they had built, and in their emphasis on little things missed the weightier matters of justice, faithfulness, and mercy (Matthew 15:1-9, 23:1-3, 23-24).

The Pharisees proved extremely zealous for God’s rules; in the process, however, they prioritized God’s rules over God’s people, and missed His important exhortation: God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). A major aspect of God’s rules involved loving one’s neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18). Beyond all this, what if God privileged His rules over His people? All of His people would be condemned as transgressors (Romans 3:1-20)! Jesus rightly chastised and condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and judgmentalism (Matthew 23:1-36).

Towards the end of the New Testament period a heresy developed that would later be known as Gnosticism. Gnostics tended to cast aspersions on the goodness of the creation, suggesting it was really a cosmic mistake, and envisioned salvation as freedom from the constraints and corruptions of the physical realm. Gnostics thus aspired to develop and cultivate the pure soul: some were moved to asceticism, denying all bodily desires (cf. Colossians 2:20-23), while others, believing the works of the flesh had nothing to do with the soul, committed whatever sensual acts they desired. John, Peter, and Jude have explicit condemnation for these latter types who would turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, acting as if sin was not really a thing or at least was not a thing that affected the select few (cf. 1 John 1:7-10, 3:1-4:6, 2 Peter 2:1-22, Jude 1:3-16). These Gnostics, therefore, were quite the opposite of the Pharisees: to them there was no real sin, no real law. They could do what they want without consequences. And the Apostles, in the name of Jesus, condemned them for such ungodliness and lasciviousness, affirming that Jesus did indeed live in the body and died to save us from sin, and anyone who would deny they had sin was self-deceived (1 John 1:7-10).

To this day there are some who wish to minimize or subvert God’s rules in order to justify sinful and ungodly behaviors; many others either tolerate or even enable them in these pursuits. The Apostles rightly sounded the alarm regarding such people: Christians are called to faithfulness in Jesus, avoiding sin and manifesting righteousness, and the ways of the flesh need no justification or rationalization (cf. 1 John 2:1-17). The Gnostics and their ilk were rightly condemned for their lawlessness, attempting to use Christian liberty to justify feelings and behaviors which ultimately prove unhealthy and damaging to people and are rightly condemned by God in Christ.

Jesus of Nazareth embodied God’s valuations of rules, people, and judgment. Jesus continually upheld and embodied the Law in His life, death, and resurrection (Matthew 4:1-11, 5:17-20, Luke 24:44). Yet Jesus married the letter of the Law with its spirit in purpose as established by God: God’s rules were made for and given to His people, not the other way around (cf. Mark 2:27). Rules came about because people proved sinful and needed guidelines; Jesus came as the ultimate display of God’s love, grace, and mercy, and through Him everyone has the opportunity to obtain forgiveness of sin and standing before God (Romans 3:23-27, Galatians 3:1-27, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, 1 John 4:7-21).

Contrary to the opinion of many, Jesus did affirm the impending judgment of God on account of sin, declaring the condemnation of Jerusalem and warning regarding the final judgment of everyone (Matthew 23:37-25:46). Everyone will be judged by what Jesus has said (John 12:48). And yet Jesus did not come to condemn sinful man, but to save him (Matthew 9:13): Jesus entrusted God with judgment and went about doing good for sinners (1 Peter 2:18-25). In all of time no one has been as righteous or as holy as Jesus of Nazareth (Hebrews 4:15, 5:7-8), and that very Jesus proved willing to eat and drink with sinners, to be touched by the unclean, and to extend hope for salvation to everyone, rich and poor, male and female, master and slave (Matthew 11:19, Mark 5:28-34, Luke 7:36-50, 19:1-10). Jesus’ love for sinners did not involve justifying their sin or enabling them to continue to wallow in transgression; He interacted with them to draw them near to Him and to the work of God accomplished in Him (Matthew 21:28-32).

Christians are called to follow the way of Jesus and avoid the temptations of the ways of the Pharisees and the Gnostics. Christians are called upon to uphold the integrity of what God has made known in Christ and in Scripture, and to contend for the faith delivered to them (1 Peter 3:15-16, Jude 1:3); Christians must strive to follow Jesus and live as He lived (1 John 2:3-6). And yet Christians must display love, grace, and mercy toward one another and their fellow man, recognizing the image of God in everyone, always cognizant of how their standing before God is not deserved but itself a free gift of grace and mercy from God (Galatians 6:10, Ephesians 2:1-10, 4:1-5:21, Titus 3:3-8). Christians must entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing good, knowing God will judge on the final day (1 Corinthians 5:13, James 4:11-12, 1 Peter 4:19). Christians thus recognize their fellow man as deceived by the Evil One and the powers and principalities over this present darkness, and thus strive to see him or her as human beings made in God’s image, corrupted by sin, but able to find redemption in Jesus (Ephesians 6:12, 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Christians must love people as God loves people; Christians must uphold God’s standards while confessing their own transgression and sinfulness; Christians must give space for God to render final judgment, and in the meantime find ways to try to save people and not condemn them. May we embody Jesus’ character in terms of God’s rules, people, and judgment, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Bible Translations V | The Voice 8.21: May 27, 2018

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Bible Translations, V: Dynamic Equivalence Versions

People have translated the Bible, in part or in whole, into other languages for over 2,000 years; throughout most of that time, “formal equivalence” has been the primary philosophy of Bible translation. Formal equivalence in translation comes about when a translator seeks to communicate the Bible into another language on a word for word basis. All of the earliest translations of the Bible into English followed formal equivalence standards; 19th and 20th century revisions to the King James Version maintained formal equivalence in translation.

Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century many translators began using a different philosophy of translation: dynamic equivalence. Dynamic equivalence in translation comes about when translators seek to communicate the Bible into another language on a thought for thought (or sense for sense) basis. Dynamic equivalence translations thus prove a bit freer in how they render individual words in an attempt to make the primary meaning of the text clearer for the English reader.

Much has been made about this distinction; many believe there is a firm and strong distinction between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. In reality, Bible translations fall on a spectrum between hyper-literalism (formal equivalence to the extreme) and free paraphrase (dynamic equivalence to the extreme). Most formal equivalence translations or versions of the Bible give some thought to rendering the text in a way to be understood; many dynamic equivalence translations still seek to communicate the text according to the words found in the original.

The most popular Bible in modern English is a dynamic equivalence translation: the New International Version (NIV), completed in 1978 and revised in 1984 and 2011. An “easy to read” version written at a third grade level, the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), was published in 1996; another revision, Today’s New International Version (TNIV) was published in 2005.

The New International Version was hardly the first dynamic equivalent translation to be published. In 1966 English Roman Catholics developed an English translation based on a 1956 French translation from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and the result is the Jerusalem Bible (JB); in 1985 the Jerusalem Bible was completely revised, disassociating entirely from the French and reliant only on Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, as the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), still in use among Roman Catholics today. In 1970 British Protestants developed a revision of the English Revised Version (RV) as the New English Bible (NEB); it was thoroughly revised in 1989 as the Revised English Bible (REB). In 1971 The Living Bible (TLB) was published as a paraphrase of the American Standard Version (ASV); a group of translators were later brought together to revise The Living Bible but ultimately came up with an entirely new version, the New Living Translation (NLT), in 1996. In 1976 the full translation of the Good News Bible (GNB) was completed; this translation is also known as the Good News Translation (GNT), Good News for Modern Man, and Today’s English Version (TEV). Other popular dynamic equivalence translations include the Contemporary English Version (CEV; 1995) and God’s Word (GW; 1995).

Dynamic equivalent translations, therefore, have proliferated since 1970, and have markedly contributed to the often confusing alphabet soup of Bible versions and translations available in English. Furthermore, not all dynamic equivalence translations are exactly the same: some, such as the NIV and NLT, maintain some allegiance to the formal equivalence philosophy; others, such as the GNT, CEV, and GW, are thoroughly dynamic equivalent in philosophy; and still others, such as the TLB, move toward paraphrase.

In general, dynamic equivalence translations can provide value in assisting the modern English reader in understanding the primary meaning and referent of a passage. Dynamic equivalence translations tend to be written at a lower grade reading level and are therefore more accessible to a wider swath of English speakers. For people who have little to no understanding of the Bible and the events described within it, for those for whom English is a second language, and for those who have challenges with reading comprehension, dynamic equivalence versions may provide assistance in understanding the meaning of the Bible. For those with greater understanding of the Bible and its message, dynamic equivalence translations can challenge presuppositions, forcing the reader to consider alternative ways of framing or translating the text. The reader may ultimately disagree with the translator’s decisions, but in the process may gain insight or appreciation he or she would otherwise have no opportunity to experience.

Many are incensed at the existence of dynamic equivalence translations, considering them as corrupt and motivated by a desire to advance false doctrines. The NIV, for instance, has been commonly reviled on account of its use of dynamic equivalence in translation (called the “Non Inspired Version” pejoratively by some). A common criticism involves the translation of Greek sarx, normally “flesh,” as “sinful nature,” and thus an allegation of Calvinistic influence (e.g. Romans 7:25). And yet “sinful nature” is what Paul is attempting to communicate with his use of sarx in many such passages; we can affirm that without affirming Calvinism, and it comes with the added benefit of not casting aspersions on the good creation which God has made. Most of the translation decisions made in the NIV and other dynamic equivalence translations can be defended according to the standards of dynamic equivalence even if they may not make the Bible reader or student the most comfortable.

Nevertheless, any reader of a dynamic equivalence translation must take great care with how they handle those versions and not put too much stock in how they read in any given passage since meaning is emphasized over specific form. Over-reliance on the wording of a dynamic equivalent translation may lead the reader toward fallacious reasoning not supported by the original text of Scripture, especially as it relates to inference. As an example, the CEV in 1 Timothy 3:2 speaks of officials as “faithful in marriage”; the original Greek reads “one woman man,” and so the ASV would have the bishop be the “husband of one wife.” To be the husband of one wife means to be faithful in marriage; yet the implications of being the husband of one wife go beyond mere faithfulness in marriage.

Dynamic equivalence translations are here to stay. If Christians are better able to understand the meaning of what God has made known in Scripture through dynamic equivalence translations, well and good. Christians may find it beneficial to explore dynamic equivalence translations and versions in order to have the Biblical text illuminated in ways they might not otherwise notice in formal equivalence translations. To these ends, dynamic equivalence translations may be good for personal reading, but not recommended for preaching and teaching. The reader does well to consult major formal equivalence translations (KJV, ASV, N/RSV, NASB, ESV) in any given reading or passage before drawing inferences or conclusions from any dynamic equivalent translation. May we all seek to come to a better understanding of what God has made known in Scripture to His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and Justice | The Voice 8.20: May 20, 2018

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The Christian and Justice

Lord YHWH of Hosts, the Creator of heaven and earth, founded the creation in justice and is enthroned on justice (Psalms 33:5, 97:2, 111:7). He is indeed the God of justice (Isaiah 30:18, Malachi 2:17). Justice involves the commendation of right conduct and punishment of wrong conduct. Injustice, by contrast, justifies and perpetuates wrong conduct to the expense of right conduct. In His wisdom, God has established the creation in justice: right conduct and a healthy concern for justice leads to the thriving of the creation and humanity its stewards; greed for unjust gain perpetuates oppression, misery, and the degradation of the creation (e.g. Hosea 4:1-4). Throughout time God has sought to uphold justice in His creation (e.g. Genesis 18:19, Jeremiah 4:2, Amos 5:24, Matthew 23:23). Man, as made in God’s image, maintains the capacity to live justly; unfortunately, man has also been corrupted by sin, and has a tendency to commit injustice and oppression when given the opportunity to advance his or her own interests (Genesis 1:27-28, Romans 5:12-21, James 5:1-6).

The Scriptures testify of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the promised King of Israel, who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). The prophets expected the Christ to reign in justice and righteousness (Isaiah 9:7, Jeremiah 33:15). In His life Jesus embodied God’s standard of justice, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God to the poor and oppressed and chastising the religious authorities for their injustice (Matthew 11:1-6, 23:1-36). In His death Jesus suffered the penalty for sin and transgression, satisfying the standard of justice and overcoming evil and sin (1 Peter 2:18-25). Jesus has been given all authority; God vindicated Jesus in His resurrection, ascension, and the fulfillment of all He spoke regarding Israel in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70; Jesus will return and all will stand in judgment before Him based on what He has made known (Matthew 24:1-25:46, John 12:48, Acts 17:30-31).

As the embodiment of God’s character and the fullness of God in bodily form, Jesus ought to be the Christian’s model in all things, including the pursuit of justice (John 14:6-8, Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:15-2:12). To this end Christians ought not take their own vengeance, but should give space for God to render justice; they must embody the pursuit of justice in their lives and interactions with others; they must not perpetuate, justify, or prove indifferent to injustice; and they must recognize the role of the state in establishing and maintaining justice, while proving willing to expose and critique whenever the state tolerates or perpetuates injustice and oppression.

The Apostle Peter insisted Christians follow the example of their Lord: as Jesus did not revile or threaten when He suffered and was reviled, but entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly, so Christians must entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Peter 2:23, 4:19). Paul encouraged Christians to a similar end in Romans 12:19-21. The impulse to be vindicated when wronged or oppressed is built into humanity, and it is good and will receive its satisfaction at the appropriate time; nevertheless, Christians are not to take justice into their own hands, but give space for the wrath of God. Christians are not to violently resist the evil person but can certainly take every opportunity to participate in creative nonviolent resistance to expose the injustices and oppression perpetrated on them and others on the earth (cf. Matthew 5:38-42).

Christians must resist all injustice and oppression, just as their Lord did. Christians primarily resist injustice in their personal lives and interactions with others. James encouraged visitation of widows and orphans in their distress because they had otherwise been neglected in society (James 1:27), reflecting Jesus’ concern for care for the least of those among them (Matthew 25:31-46). Christian observance of the life embodied in Jesus and displayed in various exhortations and household codes would lead to better treatment of humanity (Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:1-6:9, Colossians 3:1-4:7). Christians do well to stand up and support those whom society has forgotten, neglected, or marginalized, while providing the example and words of Christ to all.

Likewise, Christians must be on guard lest they justify, prove indifferent to, or actively participate in forms of injustice and oppression. James warned Christians against showing partiality based on social class and standing (James 2:1-10); Paul condemned the Corinthian observance of the Lord’s Supper on similar grounds (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). The earliest Christians tended to be poor and more likely to suffer injustice rather than perpetrate it; as Christians have gained wealth and social standing, great care must be exercised lest we find ourselves on the wrong end of God’s judgment against injustice. History is now littered with too many examples of people who simultaneously professed Christ while perpetrating systems which caused great abuse and suffering to others in order to gain profit and wealth. We should be ashamed of such hypocrisy and flee from it, lest the condemnation of James 5:1-6 becomes our own.

God has authorized earthly rulers and their agents to maintain justice on the earth (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18). If an earthly ruler desired to know what justice in the sight of God looks like, he or she would do well to consider Isaiah 1:17, Jeremiah 7:5-6, 22:3: show concern for the oppressed and marginalized, judge fairly, eschew bribery, and avoid shedding innocent blood. All states feature human rulers; all humans have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; all states thus fall short of upholding God’s justice (Romans 3:23; cf. Revelation 13:1-7). It is not the Christian’s job to judge the state; God judges in His good time. But the Christian must expose and critique the darkness in the state, pointing out where injustice is perpetrated and justified, how the wealthy use their influence to craft policy to benefit and advance their purposes to the harm of others, and to unmask the often less than sanctified justifications given for aggression against other states (Ephesians 5:11-13, Revelation 13:1-18, 17:1-18). Christians must prove as willing to challenge those who would ally with them as much as those who stand against them in these matters.

God remains the God of justice; He is also a God abundantly full of love, grace, and mercy, and stands willing to pardon, but continues to uphold righteousness and justice. As Christians we do well to embody God’s purposes for justice in Christ. We do well to uphold justice and righteousness while remaining humble, entrusting judgment to God, and seeking to find any means possible to show love, grace, and mercy to others so they would repent and be saved. We must resist all the extremes: we must not spend so much time concerned about injustice on earth that we forget about promoting the Gospel and guiding people to salvation, but we cannot sincerely love anyone’s soul if we prove utterly indifferent to (or, God forbid, actively perpetuate) the injustice or oppression they may suffer. We cannot focus on one particular form of injustice to the neglect of all others; we must never become affiliated or identified with any party or cause which embodies only a part of God’s purposes in Jesus while justifying a host of other forms of injustice. May we follow the Lord Jesus and seek to embody justice and righteousness in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Terrifying Invasion | The Voice 8.19: May 13, 2018

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A Terrifying Invasion

The Israelites faced the prospect of a debilitating, devastating invasion. Joel, son of Pethuel, was called to warn Israel to repentance.

All we know about Joel (“YHWH God,” or “one serving YHWH as God”; Joel 1:1) comes from the words of his prophecy; he seemed to prophesy to Judah (Joel 2:1, 3:1), and his message could be dated to any point between the ninth and fifth centuries BCE. Judah and Jerusalem did well to heed Joel’s prophecy whenever it was uttered, for much was at stake.

Joel envisioned a calamity to be remembered for generations: not one, nor two, but four successive invasions of locusts (Joel 1:2-4). This may not sound like such a catastrophe to us in the modern world, but the prospect of locust invasions terrified ancient farmers. They might look out upon a green field of crops: the rains have come at the right time; enemy invaders have been kept at bay. It looks like the family will be able to eat and survive another year. But then, in almost an instant, a cloud over the horizon: millions upon millions of locusts, devouring every green thing in their sight. Within a couple of days they would be gone and the crops destroyed; the farmer and his family would starve. And this is precisely the prospect Joel raised for Israel: a locust horde that not only tore down all the grains but also the fig tree, the grape vines, even the fruit trees, and there is nothing left for offerings or to eat (Joel 1:5-12).

In light of this Joel summoned Judah and Jerusalem to repent, for this disaster would be a day of YHWH, and it would cause great distress for everyone (Joel 1:13-15). There would be no more food for man or beast; the wilderness is burned; seeds have shriveled (Joel 1:16-20). All Joel could do was call to YHWH for aid (Joel 1:19).

Joel then saw the day had come: a trumpet ought to be sounded in Zion, for the horde has come, a day of YHWH against His people (Joel 2:1). The land may be as Eden before them, but it will become a desolation after them; they have the appearance of a frightful army with horses and war chariots, maintaining discipline, inspiring fear in all who see them (Joel 2:1-10). YHWH speaks and His army moved forward; it is the day of YHWH; who can endure it (Joel 2:11)?

Yet again Joel cried out for Judah and Jerusalem to repent, to return to YHWH with all their heart, rending their hearts and not their garments, for He may relent of this disaster coming upon them (Joel 2:12-17).

We are then told that YHWH did indeed have pity on His people (Joel 2:18). The land would receive its restoration; the people would receive back all the locusts had consumed (Joel 2:19-25). The people would not be put to shame again, and they would know that YHWH was their God in their midst (Joel 2:26-27).

Much is left unrevealed regarding this invasion of “locusts”: we do not know when it happened, if at all. The danger was very real, whether realized or not. Joel might have an actual army of locusts in mind; he also may have an army of men, perhaps the Assyrian army, in mind (Joel 2:20). If so, the Assyrians came through in 701 BCE and laid waste to Judah and besieged Jerusalem. The Assyrian horde was prophesied as an instrument of YHWH and His anger to judge Judah and Jerusalem for their iniquity (Isaiah 10:5-6, 28-34). Judah was left desolate; only a remnant remained (Isaiah 1:7-9). It was certainly the kind of calamity a father would tell his children, and his children’s children, and onward for many generations.

Joel’s horde of “locusts” would be seen again in a figure in Revelation 9:1-12: the fifth trumpet, or first woe, featured locusts coming forth from the bottomless pit, not to devour plants, but to afflict people with such great pain as to desire death, but death would not come.

Christians do well to meditate on both Joel’s warnings and his hope for restoration. Granted, we today may not believe we have much to fear in terms of locust invasions, yet Joel warned Judah about a coming day of YHWH. Days of YHWH are not pleasant and are not things to seek out (Amos 5:18). The day of YHWH is a day of judgment, some kind of devastation by natural and/or artificial means, be it a locust plague devastating the land which YHWH had blessed for Israel’s use, or a marauding army leaving nothing alive in their wake. It is never YHWH’s desire to visit upon His people such a day of judgment; it comes as a result of sinfulness and iniquity.

Joel wrote to the people of God to warn them about the judgment YHWH was about to enact upon His people. As Christians we cannot stress this enough: there are times when YHWH judges His people. These judgments may come from “natural” afflictions; they may come from the hands of enemies or persecutors; they may be more physical, or more spiritual. We should not enjoy those days; they are times of great distress, mourning, and lamentation. Yet they unfortunately prove necessary whenever the people of God grow cold, complacent, or compromised with the world. When the devastation ends only a remnant remains; yet from this remnant may come a new flourishing of faith and the advancement of God’s purposes.

While YHWH at times must judge His people, YHWH does not abandon His people or His purposes. After judgment will come a time of restoration, a flourishing just as YHWH promised. Those who humble themselves before YHWH may obtain it. Those who come out in the end know that there is but one God in the universe, and He is YHWH, the God of Israel. Those who trust in Him will not be put to shame. May we serve God through what He has made known in Christ, and obtain the victory in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Foundations | The Voice 8.18: May 06, 2018

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The Foundations

If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3)

As Jesus of Nazareth was concluding His instruction popularly called the “Sermon on the Mount,” He spoke directly to His disciples and the people about the type of foundation upon which they should build their lives. Those who hear the words Jesus speaks and does them are like a wise man who builds a house on the rock; those who do not hear, or those who hear but do not do them are like a foolish man who builds a house upon the sand. When the storm comes, the house built upon the rock will stand; the house built upon the sand will collapse, and its fall is great (Matthew 7:24-27).

Jesus understood the importance of foundations for humans in their lives. Our foundations are the very deeply held assumptions and beliefs which informs how we view the world. Everyone has these foundations and they are not established in a vacuum: they are informed by how we were raised, by our educational system, by our peers, and by society at large. From these foundations we establish what we believe is right and wrong and act accordingly; we establish expectations about life and how it will go and act accordingly.

While many aspects of these foundations are individual by nature and by necessity, societies and cultures have such foundations as well. They are informed by the views and efforts of the authorities of the day: possibly government figures, but more likely philosophers, educators, scientists, psychologists, theologians, and those who curate art and media. In these ways general expectations are laid down for how a given culture will view the world and various forms of thought and behavior.

Western culture has experienced profound changes over the past two hundred and fifty years in terms of how these foundations are laid and on what authority. Western culture was established on the Greek philosophical and Judeo-Christian theological/ethical/moral traditions. Now many are enamored with reason and science and have come to the belief that through rationalistic, “objective,” scientific analysis we can come to a better understanding of anything. On account of these trends the preacher and theologian have been discounted as having much of worth to say whereas the doctor, scientist, and other such “experts” are asked to weigh in not only on their areas of expertise but also in terms of ethical and moral questions. Many are actively attempting to establish a moral construction without reference to God. Meanwhile cultural forces are attempting to pick and choose which aspects of Judeo-Christian ethics and morality “make sense” and remain “relevant” for twenty-first century life while pejoratively dismissing the rest as “primitive” and “outmoded.”

In such an environment we must ask: what has happened to the foundations? What confidence can we have in our foundations? If God is not the foundation, what can be? All endeavors to establish a secular ethic or morality end up featuring relativism or utilitarianism or a mix of both: after all, if the ethic or morality is not grounded in God, what is ethical or moral is up to individuals or a cultural consensus of individuals. Those attempting to establish an “objective” understanding of metaphysics are running into the same challenges anticipated by their Greek philosophical forebears 2400 years ago: what really is the good, or the just? How can “the good” be objectively established? On what basis can we have confidence that we can understand “the good”? The best answer that can be given is that “the good” is to do what is in the best interest of the general welfare for the most people, which is a benevolent form of utilitarianism. Even then there can be no proof adduced for such a view; it only holds as long as people agree to hold onto it. Thus any form of secular ethic or morality ends up being “groupthink,” unable to be anchored in any “objective” reality, and subject to the caprice of the majority.

Such is why Christians continue to affirm the importance of foundations and to look beyond themselves for the foundation. Secularists may pejoratively dismiss the idea of God as the anchor and ground of ethics and morality, finding such a view insufficiently “objective,” but the revelation contained in Scripture gives the Christian no other alternative. The Bible is clear: God is, so all else can be. God is the Creator, the Beginning and the End; He did not just create us but also loves us, continues to sustain and uphold the creation by His power, and seeks the welfare of His people in covenant loyalty (Genesis 1:1-2:3, Psalm 136:1-9, Colossians 1:15-18, Hebrews 1:3). In God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Through His Word He created all things and sustains mankind (Deuteronomy 8:3, Psalm 33:6-9). There is no consideration of a distinction between the “physical” and “metaphysical” properties of God’s Word; the “metaphysical” informs the health and integrity of the “physical” (Psalm 19:7-11)!

To this end God’s ethics and morality are not portrayed in Scripture as just some nice ideas or some fixed arbitrary standard for us to follow but as much of the principles that uphold the creation as those of gravity or motion. That which is good is part of the structure of the universe; that which is evil corrupts, degrades, and causes disharmony and distortion in the creation (e.g. Hosea 4:1-3).

God’s Word is the foundation of the creation; thus it is right and appropriate for the words of the Word of God to be the foundation for what we think, believe, feel, and do (John 1:1-14, 18, Colossians 2:1-10). A Christian’s view of right or wrong must be informed, first and foremost, by what God has declared to be right and wrong, and only then applied to his or her particular context (Galatians 5:17-24). The way the Christian looks at the world is to be informed through the revelation of God in Christ; the philosophies of the world merit commendation or censure based on their consistency with the standard of God in Christ (Colossians 2:1-10).

Science may describe many of the mechanics but can never explain ultimate causes or reasons. Science cannot explain why something is reckoned to be “right” or “wrong.” All scientific and secular attempts to explore metaphysical questions, absent from a foundation in God, are destined to be myopic. God in Christ as the Creator of the heavens and earth and faithful in covenant to His people, enthroned upon love and justice, is the only way to truly make sense of the world in which we live and the lives we experience. Let us establish our lives on the Lord Jesus Christ and not the prevailing (and shifting!) secular consensus of the day!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Textual Witnesses of the OT | The Voice 8.17: April 29, 2018

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Textual Witnesses of the Old Testament

Christians recognize the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Bible, as the repository for the messages God communicated through the prophets to Israel (Hebrews 1:1). They understand the Hebrew Bible is described appropriately, for the Old Testament was primarily written in what is now called Classical or Biblical Hebrew (although sosme portions are written in Biblical Aramaic: Ezra 4:8-6:18, 7:12-26, Jeremiah 10:11, Daniel 2:4-7:28). Today we call the text of the Old Testament in Hebrew the Masoretic Text (MT), after the Jewish scribes of the first millennium CE who worked diligently to preserve the text as they had received it; the MT remains the primary witness to the text of the Old Testament, and Codex Leningradensis, an 11th century MT manuscript, is the basis for the vast majority of modern translations of the Old Testament in English.

The Hebrew texts we use as the basis for our modern translations were copied about a thousand years ago. Thanks to the recent discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls we now have copies of Hebrew manuscripts which date back a further thousand years. Yet even the Dead Sea Scrolls were copied between 1300 and 300 years after the original manuscripts were written. Yet by the first century CE the Old Testament had already been translated into at least two other languages; over the next millennium it would be translated into many more. Most such translations were made on the basis of some copy of the text of the Old Testament; scholars call the Hebrew texts which served as the basis for the translation of later texts their Vorlage.

We can maintain great confidence in our overall understanding of the Bible in Hebrew and of the faithfulness of the Masoretic Text; nevertheless, at many points the text seems confused, garbled, or used terms which we do not know how to translate effectively. In these places especially other textual witnesses will be consulted: perhaps their Hebrew text had a different rendering, or perhaps the translation indicates our ancient forebears were encountering the same difficulty. At many such points many Bible translations will note how various textual witnesses render a word or a phrase to provide the reader with a glimpse into the textual challenges surrounding the passage.

The Samaritan Pentateuch is the version of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, as used by the Samaritan communities in Israel to this day. The Samaritans used their own Hebrew script derived from what we now call “paleo” or “epigraphic” Hebrew which was used in Israel before the exile in 586 BCE; we do not know when it was composed or translated, but it most likely existed before the end of the second century BCE. The text of the Samaritan Pentateuch has been modified in many places for theological reasons, generally to emphasize Jacob and Mount Gerizim (e.g. Exodus 20:17). And yet in many places the Samaritan Pentateuch manifests an original Hebrew text akin to the MT but preserving different, and often more authentic, variants. The Samaritan Pentateuch will often agree with the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate against the Masoretic Text. The Samaritan Pentateuch has been used in textual criticism for almost two thousand years and for good reason.

The Greek Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and many other literary works of Second Temple Judaism. The Septuagint was most likely translated over a couple of hundred years before the time of Jesus by a variety of translators with different skill levels and philosophies. The “original” Septuagint (sometimes called the kaige translation) would also be later revised by Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. Some translation decisions by the translators are puzzling; some of their theological biases, especially against imagery portraying God in human terms (anthropomorphisms), are manifest. And yet the Septuagint, like the Samaritan Pentateuch, was translated from a Hebrew text related to but often distinct from the Masoretic Text. Its value was vindicated by the Dead Sea Scrolls; the DSS often agree with the LXX in the few variants it reflects from the MT. The Septuagint remains a powerful witness to the Old Testament.

The Aramaic Targum is a collection of paraphrases and explanations of the Old Testament written in Aramaic, the common language spoken by Jewish people throughout the diaspora. The most important targumim are Targum Onkelos (on the Torah/Pentateuch) and the Targum Jonathan (on the Prophets); they were developed over the first half of the first millennium CE. Various textual matters are discussed and described in the Targum as well as many rabbinic opinions about how the text is to be understood. The Targum stays closer to the MT than the Septuagint or Vulgate; its points of difference are therefore all the more important for consideration.

The Latin Vulgate is the Latin translation of the Old Testament and other works from Second Temple Judaism as preserved in the Septuagint. The Old Testament in the Vulgate used today was primarily translated by Jerome in the late fourth century; he translated it on the basis of the Masoretic Text in consultation with the Greek Septuagint and the Old Latin translations which had been composed before him. Jerome also explained many textual critical issues he encountered in his translation in his commentaries. The Vulgate is thus often cited as a witness in terms of its agreements, whether with the MT against the Samaritan Pentateuch and LXX, or with the LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch against the LXX.

The Syriac Peshitta is the translation of the Old Testament into Syriac, the language which formed out of Aramaic in Syria in the second century CE. The Peshitta was most likely translated out of Hebrew in the second century CE. It tends to serve as a textual witness in ways similar to the Latin Vulgate, as a further witness of a variant, adding weight or credence to one variant over another.

The Egyptian Coptic family of languages (Bohairic, Fayyumic, Akhmimic, Sahidic) provides another set of witnesses to the Old Testament. The Old Testament was translated out of the Greek Septuagint into Coptic, and the translation may date to the time of Christ. As translations of a translation the Coptic dialects are less frequently cited but can add weight to certain variants. Other textual witnesses include the Ethiopian Amharic, Armenian, and Old Slavonic translations, all of which date to the fourth century CE or later, are mostly translations of translations, and are thus more rarely referenced.

The value of translations of the Old Testament to its textual witness is disputed and contentious by its very nature: each translation is at least one step removed from the original text. Textual critics must assess what lay behind each variation from the Masoretic Text: is the difference because of the translator or the Vorlage? Did he misread or misunderstand the text? Did the Vorlage itself contain a spelling error or some other form of corruption? Is the translator trying to smooth out or rephrase the text to overcome its difficulties? Or is it the Masoretic Text which has become confused and these translators are more faithfully representing the original? These are the questions with which textual critics of the Old Testament must grapple.

We should be thankful for the many witnesses we have for the text of the Old Testament: while there are many points of disagreement in the rendering of words and phrases, they agree far more often than they disagree, and give us confidence in the overall integrity of the transmission process. May we come to a better understanding of God’s purposes in Israel in the Old Testament and find salvation in Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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 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