Saturday, July 23, 2011


“Translations are like wives; the more beautiful they are, the more apt they are to be faithful; the more faithful they are, the less apt they are to be beautiful.”
Attributed to Edward Fitzgerald, translator of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. 

I know the above quote sounds sexist to our 21st century ears, but I believe it gets the point across.  (Of course, my wife Uni is an exception, both beautiful and faithful.)

I have received many questions regarding Bible translations, a few in just the last few days, so I feel I need to say a few things on the topic.

It seems that nowadays we are flooded with a plethora of new Bible translations, as well as updated older ones.  Add to these the specialty Bibles – Bibles with notes which relate to a particular theological or social or occupational perspective.  And no Bible teacher or preacher who is of any worth can get along without a “study” Bible with his or her notes to guide the reader.  And, of course, each of these specialty Bibles is published in a number of translations.

It’s confusing and, I fear, discouraging to many readers.  So what do we do?  Where do we begin?  How do we know which ones are best?  And what about my dear old KJV?

The Septuagint

Well, first of all, we should note that translation is not a new phenomenon.  The Bible was being translated before it was completed.

To my knowledge, the earliest translation of the Hebrew Old Testament is the one known as the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX).  This was a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek.  There are different theories and accounts of it origin, but we do know that it was completed by the second century B.C.  That’s 200 years earlier than the events of the New Testament and its writing.  The LXX is important to us for a number of reasons.
n  We have manuscripts of the LXX that, until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) in 1947, were hundreds of years older than any existing Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament (known as the Masoretic Text).
n  The LXX sometimes agrees with, sometimes disagrees with the Masoretic Text.  In some of those areas of disagreement it agrees with the DSS.
n  The LXX was frequently the text quoted by the writers of the New Testament which was written in Greek.
n  The theological terms, even the names of God, used in the New Testament, are the terms and names used in the LXX.
n  While we cannot claim that the text of the LXX is inspired, I believe that its use in the New Testament gives legitimacy to the use of translations.

The King James Version

As far as our dear old KJV, this is the Bible I first read (MY BIBLE).  I read it at least a dozen times and have quite a few portions of it committed to memory.  But I no longer use it except for occasional reference (I have a copy of the original 1611 edition on my desk) for the following reasons.
n  It is one among many translations and was so even in its own day.  Though many refer to it as “the Authorized Version,” it was authorized by an English King, not directly by God.
n  The language, though it may sound majestic, is simply archaic.  The Bible was originally written in the language of the people who could read it at that time.  The New Testament especially, was written in koine or common Greek, the language that ordinary people spoke.  And the KJV was written in the language spoken by the English speaking people of its day.
n  It was translated from later Hebrew and Greek texts, the texts that were available in its day.  Since then many older manuscripts have been discovered.  These are the texts from which most of our modern translations are made.
n  The NKJV, though a quite accurate translation, uses the same old texts that the original KJV was translated from, and sometimes sacrifices readability simply to keep the “feel” of the KJV.

Modern Translations and Paraphrases

Even though I do most of my study in the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, I also use English translations.  My favorite is the New American Standard Bible (NASB) which I first met forty years ago.  I still believe it is the most accurate translation available.  It is getting a bit old and has been updated, but many find it stiff.  It was the Bible used in the Bible Study Method classes I taught at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, because of its accuracy and because we wanted every student to be reading from the same text.

I also use the Jewish Publication Society’s edition of the Tanakh and I am currently reading the New Living Translation.

I believe that much of the frustration felt by many is the question, “Which one(s) can I believe?”  If I can be a voice of hope, I can confidently say that when it comes to the basic truths of the Gospel, no translation will lead us astray.  There are, as far as I know, no “conspiracies” to deceive us as some die-hard King Jamesers would have us worry about.

One of the most important considerations to note is that translations could be placed along a line from the extremely accurate to the extremely paraphrastic.  For purposes of study, I believe that we should look to the more literal translations, even though they may not be easy reading.

Use the paraphrases for rapid reading.  Many read like novels.  I would cautiously recommend them for first-time readers.  Paraphrases often attempt to replace ancient Hebrew or Greek idioms with the idioms that are more easily understood by the modern English reader, and we should remember that while this may aid in our understanding of obscure ideas, it can also introduce ideas that are foreign to the context.

Here are a few of the translations I am familiar with, from the most literal to the most paraphrastic.
n  The New American Standard Bible.  It is still, I believe, the most accurate, though it’s growing old and weary.  One of its best features is that it attempts to consistently translate each Greek or Hebrew word by the same English word.
n  The Holman Christian Standard Bible.  I have not read this one, but my wife Uni has.  We have had many discussions on its merits and it seems in most areas to be as accurate as the NASB, but with a bit more updated language.
n  The Revised Standard Version.  The RSV never received acceptance with evangelicals, because of a perceived “liberal bias” though it is quite accurate.  Though it too is getting dated; the New RSV should bring it up to date.
n  The New King James Version.  This one has its own unique problems (see above).
n  The New International Version.  The NIV is extremely popular, reads well and is quite literal, though its smoothing out of rough texts can cause some misunderstandings.
n  The New Living Translation seems to be an attempt at bridging the gap between a paraphrase and a translation.  It is easy reading though and has clarified a few matters for me.
n  The Good News Bible was popular back in the 70’s, but seems to have disappeared.  It was translated using the concept of “Dynamic Equivalence,” the use of modern English idioms for ancient Greek or Hebrew ones, sometimes with humorous results.  I love it.
n  The Living Bible is a one man paraphrase and, as far as I know, makes no claims at being a translation.
n  The Message is a popular paraphrase and is apparently easy reading, but the reader should beware and compare it with more literal translations.

The above comments are not meant to be scholarly, but come from my own experience reading, translating and comparing, as well as attempting to be of help to those who read.  I believe I have a fair knowledge of both the Hebrew and Greek texts and have been reading and studying the Word for well over a half a century.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


“Dad, I just LOVE LOVE LOVE teaching.  It is so much FUN!!  I never knew!!  Well, that’s not quite true – I knew you and many others love it but I didn’t know I would love it and think it was such a blast.  And such a learning experience for me.

Do you still think it’s fun?
Was it always fun when you taught at college?
Which is more fun:  Bible studies, Sunday school, college, whatever?
I would imagine anything where people WANT to be there is better than when they HAVE to be there.”

Sherry, I’m so excited that you’ve discovered the gift and joy of teaching.

I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me questions like this before, so I’ll take advantage of the opportunity to ramble a bit.

Yes, teaching is still fun, though I feel that “fun” is too mild a word to describe the feeling.  I’ve done many, many things in my life, but teaching is the one thing I’d rather do than anything else (well almost anything).  I think I experience a real high when I teach.  I can’t explain it, but one of the closest feelings I can compare it with is reaching the top of a long steep hill on my bike and then tearing down hill at 40 to 50 mph.  In both, there is the possibility of crashing, but so far none of my crashes have been fatal.

As far as which is more fun, teaching at the Bible college was the most, perhaps because of the amount of time I got to spend at it.  Imagine doing what you love for hours at a time, day after day – and I got paid for it!

For years, the College of Biblical Studies provided free tuition to anyone for the three-hour credit Bible Study Methods’ class.  It was a great draw for new students as well as a ministry to the Christian community of the Houston area.  And for years, I was the principal instructor for the class.  I usually taught at least three classes a semester and the classes often numbered in the 60s.  I actually had a few of over 90 students.  Of course, as you can imagine the dropout rate was quite high.

Most of the students were older adults, “churched” people, and some were quite knowledgeable, but most had at best a patch-work knowledge of the Scripture.  It was exciting to see the changes in the lives of so many.  I could almost see the light bulbs flashing on over their heads as they dug in to study the Bible on their own for the first time.  I strongly suspect there even may have been more than a few conversions.

I also taught New Testament classes (my major when I attended seminary) and theology, as well as ethics, spiritual life and Greek.  Teaching helped clarify my thinking in all these areas.

As far as teaching Bible studies or Sunday school classes, I enjoy them all, though to me what makes teaching most exciting is when I have young or untaught students who are eager not only to absorb information, but to think it through on their own and see how it applies to their lives.

To me probably the greatest compliment I ever received was from a student who came to me after class and said,
“I’m on to you – I know what you’re trying to do to us!”
“What?” I said.
“You’re trying to make us think?”
“Oh, darn!  You are on to me!  Sshh!  Don’t tell anyone else.”

Another area, which you didn’t mention, was mentoring.  I can honestly and sadly say that I had no teachers in elementary or high school who inspired me, though there were a few in college and seminary.  Perhaps that was because I was older when I went on to college and had myself been teaching for many years.

But I had plenty of mentors – men who took the time to give me “on-the-job training,” who could say, “This is how you do it.” and then show me.  There were engineers and preachers, and of course, especially my father-in-law.  And they taught me to do the same with others.

Another area of teaching is preaching.  While teaching is a gift and has always seemed to come naturally, what is known as preaching, in my case, had to be learned in a classroom.  Actually what is called preaching today is, I believe, really lecturing with a little exhortation thrown in.  Though I believe I learned to preach reasonable well, I have always felt uncomfortable doing so because of the lack of immediate feedback.

Anyway, congratulations on your newly discovered gift.  Gifts are given to be enjoyed!  Enjoy it!

See also:

Saturday, July 9, 2011


On the Friday evening news I saw what at first appeared to be a frightening scene:  huge crowds of wildly shouting demonstrators on a street in some city in Syria.  The commentator told us that they were demonstrating around the limousine of the American ambassador as it made its way through the city.  But they were not throwing rocks!  They were throwing flowers!  They had smiles on their faces, not angry scowls, as we are used to seeing.  Apparently our State Department had come out on their side in their struggle for freedom – some simple statement of support.

Later that evening (Friday, July 8), I watched a segment about the birthday of the new nation of South Sudan, which had been struggling for its freedom for over 50 years.  There were clips giving a brief history of the struggles.  One clip concerned the peace agreement brokered between the North and South ending their civil war.  There among all the African leaders stood America’s then Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

Scenes like these raise genuine American pride in me.  I am proud of people like our Secretaries of state and our ambassadors who seek peace and freedom in other nations.  Of course, I recognize that they are working for America’s advantage, but they also seem genuinely concerned for that of those to whom they represent America.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:20:  “So then we are ambassadors for Christ, as of God entreating through us, ‘we are urging you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.’”

In the devotional, Our Daily Bread for July 14 (I read ahead), Dennis Fisher made the following comment on this verse:  “The ambassador must be a skilled communicator with both the country he (or she) represents and the one to which he goes.  The effective Christian serves as an ambassador for the King of kings to this world.”

I wonder, do we?  Do I?

I am usually impressed by America’s ambassadors and our Secretaries of State when I see them interviewed or consulted on the news.  These people are smart – they know their stuff.  They know not only the people and country they represent – the USA – but also the country to which they are representing the USA.  (Yes, I realize there have been some colossal failures.)

Again, do we?  I know of many Christians who somehow feel they are to isolate themselves from the very ones to whom we are sent as ambassadors.  Many of us, I fear, are more like the young people who work the kiosks at the mall.  They sit on their stools facing away from the people passing by, texting, reading, eating, talking among themselves.  Aren’t they supposed to be selling their stuff to me, or least trying?  It’s so refreshing to meet the occasional young woman or man who smiles and seems interested in those about them.

Paul was a man who knew and cared about those to whom he had been sent as ambassador.  Even when confronting, as he did in Athens, people of a culture quite alien from his own, he could speak in their terms, even quote their authors (see:  TO AN UNKNOWN GOD).  I can only conclude that he had taken time to get to know about them, even to do a little advance homework and reading.

So, are we genuine ambassadors for Christ?  Do we care about the people to whom He’s sent us enough to get to know them, to be interested in and concerned about their thoughts and dreams?  Or are we just kiosk kids, just killing time to get through the day, oblivious to those around and their potential?

Friday, July 1, 2011


A week or so ago, I grabbed an old two-CD set entitled, “Hank Williams’ 40 Greatest Hits,” popped one in my car’s CD player and have been playing them alternately since.

I love Hank!  I love to sing along with him as I drive.  I believe I know all forty of these songs (and many others) by heart.  As I listen and sing, memories come swarming into my consciousness.  One of the great perks of old age is the ability to relive portions of my life that songs evoke.

Occasionally we read of some Christian writer or speaker telling of how their conversion was influenced by an atheist or pagan philosopher or author.  Often it’s a classical thinker whose arguments or logic unintentionally pointed that person to Christ.  Sometimes questions are raised that only find their answer in Christ.  The other day I saw a reference to G. K. Chesterton and how Bertrand Russell had led him back to Orthodoxy.  A recent article in Christianity Today was entitled, “Ann Rand Led Me to Christ.”  So I think I need to give some credit to Hank.

I grew up on country music.  The Grand Old Opry was on the radio every Saturday night, and country music (it was known as “hillbilly music” in those days) was regular fare.  Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff and others whose names I can’t recall, but the greatest, of course, was Hank Williams.

He first came to my attention with “Lovesick Blues” in 1949.  I was 12 years old and struggling with raging hormones and pre-teen crushes.  His songs of unrequited love had appeal to me and to my peers:  “Wedding Bells,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You.”  We seemed to identify with his struggles even though ours were not quite the same.

Hank’s songs weren’t all about love, requited or otherwise.  Hank was a man in conflict and many (most) of his songs seemed to come out of his own experiences.  He had come from a church-going home (his mother was an organist) and knew the gospel.  He sang gospel songs and even composed a few -- “I Saw the Light,” “House of Gold.”

I had first heard the gospel from a rural school missionary when I was in the second grade; I knew that Jesus died for me and that all I needed to do was believe in Him.  But apparently the missionary, Mr. Hartsema, was not permitted to give an invitation or deal with us personally, so I didn’t respond.  Or maybe I did …

Anyway, the only gospel music I heard was on the country stations and Hank sang some good ones.  But he also sang songs of inner personal conflict – “Lost Highway,” “Lonesome Whistle.”  I suppose they could be considered simply part of his blues’ repertoire, but they were a real expression of his life and were fast becoming an expression of my life, as I had started “Honky-Tonkin’” early on in my teens.

Hank was only 29 years old when he died.  The cause of his death was given as a coronary, but it was known that he had begun a slide years earlier, triggered by his heavy drinking combined with pain pills (taken for a back injury acquired at age 17 while rodeoing).  He had been fired by the Opry and divorced by his first wife Audrey.  I was just short of 16 when this happened and by this time was well on my way to following his example of rowdiness.

What happened to Hank was a jolt.  Here was a man only 13 years older than I was, a man who had, it would seem, everything going for him, and who died so young.

Perhaps a few lines from his song “Lost Highway” best express the reality of his life and what it told me:
            “Now boys don’t start your ramblin’ around,
            On this road of sin, or you’re sorrow bound.
            Take my advice or you’ll curse the day
            You started rollin’ down that lost highway.”

The conflict between bowing to the Lordship of Christ and following the demands of my own desires and my peers’ desires continued with me for a few more years until finally I clearly put my faith in Christ and turned my back on the Lost Highway.  Hank didn’t “lead me to Christ” but he did show me that I had to make a choice, which he seemed unable, or for some reason, unwilling to make.  I have often wondered if Hank ever did respond to the “Light” before he left this world.

Anyway, I still enjoy riding in the car next to Uni with Hank blaring out of the speakers, just like we did more than a half century ago.  And I still like to sing Hank’s songs to her:
            “Say hey, good lookin’,
            Whatcha got cookin’?
            How’s about cookin’ somethin’ up with me?”

Thanks, Hank!