Seminary Ramblings

Updates from life at seminary

The Helpfulness of a Footnote

It was around 3 o’clock on a Monday afternoon and there were still two long hours of class to go when my professor exclaimed, “Don’t you just love reading a good footnote!?” Judging by the blank stares he got from those around the table, it seemed that not too many of us did. I think most of us were rather more excited to get out of class and eat some dinner than we were to revel in the glories of the footnote. But while footnotes in most books may strike 99% of readers as boring, those in the Bible, while they can also be boring, can on occasion also be extremely helpful.

Continuing this series of posts on Bible reading and translation, I want to explore a footnote that is in several English versions of Romans 6:6. In taking this seemingly mundane expedition, I’ll hopefully be able to give you a taste both of the usefulness of footnotes in the Bible and also of how you can see things in a more literal translation that a more dynamic translation may hide from view.

Romans 6:6, a case of a good footnote

We’re more than a third of the way through his letter and Paul has just finishing a heady exposition of world history as the history of two humans, Adam and Jesus Christ (Rom 5:12-21). Now he has turned in 6:1 to counter the objection that God’s free grace means we should continue to live in sin. Then in 6:5-6 he writes the following (ESV translation):

For if we have been united with him [Jesus] in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

Now in both the ESV and NASB there is a curious footnote to the word  “self” in verse 6. The ESV note reads, “Greek man“. In other words, the Greek literally reads, “We know that our old man was crucified with him….”

“So what?” you may say. This is a seemingly small detail, yet does it carry any importance? Well, let’s review what Paul has said up to this point. As I noted, in the immediately preceding context, Paul has drawn parallels between Adam and Christ, specifically between Adam’s disobedience and Christ’s obedience. Note the language he has used in doing this though:

“There, just as sin came into the world through one man…” (5:12)

“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (5:17)

“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinner,s so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (5:19)

In fact, in 5:12-21 I count Paul using the term “one man” 9 times, not to mention several more uses of the plural “men.” What’s more, each of these usages is either of Adam or Jesus. While it might make sense to designate Adam, the first human being, as the “one man”, isn’t it striking (even strange) that in 5:17 above Paul goes out of his way to say “the one man Jesus Christ.” He could have just as easily said, “…reign in life through Jesus Christ” without adding “one man” in there.

But Paul is emphasizing the parallels here! He is emphasizing two humans in history and the historical acts of disobedience (by Adam) and obedience (by Christ), and the results that followed from these acts. All of which gives us some very helpful context when we get to 6:6.

As a reminder, here in 6:6 Paul says “We know that our old man was crucified with him [Jesus]…” Is not possible, even probable, given that Paul has been repeatedly using the words “one man” and making an argument explicitly based in history, that when he talks about the “old man” in 6:6 he is continuing to talk about the “old Adam”? If so, this is somewhat different than the “old self”, especially as we usually understand the term “self” today. What’s more, it’s all in a footnote!

So what?

For most readers, I suspect we would see Romans 6:6 and say that Paul is telling us that our old sinful nature, our old way of life, our old bad habits, were crucified with Christ. These kinds of conclusions are the natural interpretation since we most often use the word “self” in phrases like self-discipline, self-esteem, self-improvement, and self-acceptance. Our old “self” has died, now we get to have a new way of life, a “new self”. But if our idea about the “old Adam” is correct, then what Paul is saying is both more historical and more radical than this. What Paul is saying in Romans 6:6 is that in Christ and in his crucifixion, the entirety of us which lived “in Adam” was crucified. Doug Moo is quite helpful on this in his commentary:

Many popular discussions of Paul’s doctrine of the Christian life argue, or assume, that Paul distinguishes with these phrase between two parts or “natures” of a person. With this interpretation as the premise, it is then debated whether the “old nature” is replaced with the “new nature” at conversion, or whether the “new nature” is added to the “old nature.” But the assumption that “old man” and “new man” refer to parts, or natures, of a person is incorrect. Rather they designate the person as a whole, considered in relation to the corporate structure to which he or she belongs…the “old man” is what we were “in Adam”–the “man” of the old age, who lives under the tyranny of sin and death (Romans, pg. 373).

The upshot of all this is twofold. First, as John Stott put it, “what was crucified with Christ was not a part of me called my old nature, but the whole of me as I was before I was converted.” In other words, conversion is not cleaning up our old act or continuing on with life but bringing God into it. Rather it is something much more radical. It is the entirety of our ourselves dying and being resurrected. It is the whole of our old man who lived “in Adam” being crucified, and then an entirely new man who lives “in Christ” being resurrected. Conversion is not an inner reformation to a now “religious” life, but a crucifixion and a resurrection.

The second implication lies in how this crucifixion and resurrection takes effect in our lives by faith and by conscious effort, and is not something known by “experience.” We see this several verses later. After expounding on our death and resurrection with Christ for a few more verses, Paul goes on in 6:11 to say, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In other words, while he has taught us in v. 6 that our old man actually did die, along with its propensity to sin, now he says in v. 11 that we must consider (or “reckon” or “impute”) ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. In other words, our old life is actually gone. But from our perspective we may not always feel it is gone; we must realize its ‘gone-ness’ in our own lives by considering or thinking of ourselves in this way. We must say, “Sin, you feel pleasurable right now, but I am dead to you. I am not who I once was. I am a new person in Christ Jesus and live to God now. I will make every effort to consider myself as God has already declared to me to in fact be.” As Doug Moo says, “what we were ‘in Adam’ is no more; but, until heaven, the temptation to live in Adam always remains” (pg. 375)

I’ll leave you with a glorious statement by Martyn Lloyd-Jones on what it looks like in practice to act out the implications of Romans 6:6 and 6:11. While we often base our entire spiritual lives on our experience or how we feel God to be, Paul’s teaching about “considering/reckoning” in Romans 6:11 points in an entirely different direction. Here is Lloyd-Jones.

We are told to realize, and to hold before ourselves and in our consciousness constantly, something that is already true of our position or status. It is not an exhortation to us to do anything with regard to sin, but to realize what has already been done for us with respect to our relationship to sin. It is an exhortation to us to remember what is already true of us; it urges us to realize what has already happened to us as Christians, those of us who are joined to the Lord Jesus Christ. And what is true of us is that we are already in an entirely new position and standing with respect to sin.

This is something which we have to believe solely because the Word of God teaches it. You do not ‘experience’ your position, you are told about it and you believe it. That is what justification by faith alone means. We have this Word of God which tells us that this is God’s way of salvation; and we have nothing but the Word of God. As we have seen, we have all got to do what Abraham did, as the Apostle has already reminded us in chapter 4. We must just take the bare Word of God, believe it, submit to it, and act upon it. That is what we have to do with this statement.

Bible Translations: Which One and Why?

I promised in a previous post that I would write something about Bible translations and translating, and this is that post.

Let’s start with an obvious fact. Nowadays we have an absolutely huge number of Bible translations available in the English language. Off the top of my I can think of the NIV, ESV, NRSV, RSV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, NET, CEV, HCSB, and…….you get the point. What I’d like to reflect on for a moment is how the contemporary proliferation of Bible translations may be affecting our approach to the biblical text itself. In particular, does the sheer quantity of different translations encourage us to pick and choose the one that’s our favorite (not necessarily a bad thing), with little regard to its accuracy (a bad thing).

Bible Translation Theory: A Few Basics

First off, if you’re unfamiliar let me briefly explain the basics of Bible translation theory. Most often, Bible translations are spoken of as falling somewhere along a spectrum of formal to dynamic equivalence. Formal equivalence is a more “word for word” equivalence with the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Greek text of the New Testament, while dynamic equivalence is usually defined as “thought for thought” equivalence. Thus formal equivalence tends to a more literal rendering, while dynamic equivalence tends toward a more interpretive rendering.

What needs to be recognized up front, however, is that no translation is, strictly speaking, entirely “literal.” This is because, as anyone who speaks or reads more than one language can attest, it is often impossible to translate from one language into another strictly literally. What takes three words to say in English may take one to say in Chinese,and what Greek may express by means of an idiom would make little to no sense if rendered literally into English. Therefore both pure adulation and pure disdain of translations is a futile exercise. All translations are relatively more or less literal, but none is or ever can be perfect.

Translations: A Few Considerations

With these qualifications in place, I do believe that we can speak of the relative merits of one or another translation in relation to each other. In doing this, the point I want to draw out is that the more dynamic the translation, the more interpretive decisions are being made for the reader (and which the reader is usually unaware are even being made). Let me take one example of a term that many are familiar with. If you read an NIV printed before 2011 (when there was a translation update), in the New Testament the term “sinful nature” shows up relatively frequently in Paul’s letters. For example, Galatians 5:13 reads “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” However, what the NIV (prior to 2011) renders “the sinful nature” is in fact a translation of the Greek word sarx“, which literally means “flesh.” So Paul more literally says, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh….”

I point this out as an example of where a more dynamic rendering has made rather large decisions for the reader that they are then not free to make themselves. The decision is simply this, when Paul uses the word sarx (“flesh”), what he means by it is “the sinful nature.” Now, in general I love the NIV, but I simply point this out as what is seen by many (myself included) to be one of the more infamous missteps of a contemporary translation. While sarx may mean something like “sinful nature” in some places, this is certainly open to debate, and rather than allowing the reader the deserved confusion over the word “flesh” (preserved in the ESV and NASB for example), decisions are made in advance for the reader.

Now you may be thinking, “I never would have wondered at the use of the word ‘flesh’ or been able to figure what it meant even if I did.” And that’s ok; in fact that may even be precisely the point. The Bible is not easy to read and I don’t think we do ourselves a service by relying on extremely dynamic translations for the majority of our Bible reading (here I am thinking more of translations like the CEV, some parts of the NLT, or a paraphrase like The Message). While we may have trouble understanding what the Bible is saying, that is what good Bible teaching is for, not what translation is for. In other words, it’s best to learn how to understand the Bible by pastors and elders “teaching the word” as is their specific duty (1 Tim 3:2), rather than having translations do the interpreting for us.

Let me sum up: all translation is interpretation to some degree, as one language never cleanly passes over 100% into a different language. For our Bible reading though, it is best to not rely too much on translations that do lots of interpreting for you, because they are less translations and more interpretations and in places can very arguably obscure the sense of a text (as the old NIV arguably did with “sinful nature”).

Bringing it back to where we started, my concern is that the wide availability of numerous translations makes us never even consider these things, but rather just pick a translation whose English we like or which is “easy to read.” We should, however, give some thought to what degree the translation is reading is faithful to the biblical text. To that end, here is a chart giving the relative “literalness” of most major Bible translations:

 

translations(Note: I think the KJV and NKJV should probably be to the left and not the right of the ESV. But the general picture is alright.)

In my next post I’ll give a test case of how very good many Bible translations are, and point out in particular how helpful those pesky little footnotes in your Bible can be.

Why do we read the Bible so little?

The Bible is undoubtedly America’s most owned and least read book. The average American household owns three Bibles; a quarter of American homes own six or more (see here). One of the true tragedies, however, is how little the Bible is read among the evangelical Christian population. Almost every evangelical has their opinions about this or that in the Bible and has heard stories about Jonah, Moses, or Elijah; very few have ever actually read those stories for themselves though.

Now in saying that us Christians nowadays do not read the Bible enough, I am not saying two things. First, I am not saying that I am exempt from this charge. Second, I am not intending to set up a new legalism where we say believers need to spend X amount of time reading the Bible every day. I wholeheartedly repudiate such a notion. In fact, I am concerned that too often the evangelical idea of a “quiet time” gets turned into a spiritualized form of “God only loves me if I have a quiet time” legalism. More on that later though.

What I do want to focus on is the phenomenon of Bible reading and how it may relate to Bible publishing. Confused? Let’s clear up what I mean.

In an interesting article, former Bible publisher Ben Irwin has written about the modern proliferation of Bible versions and Bibles in general. The first point he tackles, and the only one I’m going to comment on is the idea of the “commodity” or the “niche” Bible. Think things like age specific Bibles (Teen Study Bible; Girls Life Application Study Bible; The Boys Bible), topic specific Bibles (The Apologetics Study Bible, The Archaeological Study Bible), and what the marketing world would call “interest group” Bibles (Comic Book Bible; The Soldier’s Bible; and even the Firefighter’s Bible). Nowadays we have a thousand different versions of the Bible and are reading it less than ever. This leads Irwin to ask, “What if the proliferation of Bibles is part of the reason we’re reading scripture less?”

Now I’m not against “niche” Bibles and I know that they have done a lot of good. What I am concerned about however, is how the “niche” Bible may be affecting our attitudes toward the Bible itself. In particular, is this phenomena of the “niche” Bible subconsciously turning us into consumers of the Bible, much like we consume fashion trends or movies based on our own interests and preferences? Does having a “Firefighter’s Bible” actually counter-intuitively lower how much we read the Bible?

More pointedly, do niche Bibles subtly encourage us to read the Bible to focus on our felt needs, rather than focusing on what the text of Scripture actually says and means? Does it reinforce our trend to read the Bible looking for immediate application without first putting forth any effort to understand what the text is actually saying?

While I don’t think there are definitive answers to these questions, I do think they’re worth considering. In particular, I am especially afraid that the sheer quantity of versions of the Bible that we have today does encourage us to read the Bible as a sort of self-help manual, written to solve all my problems and assuage my felt needs. If I’m not getting what I want out of Bible A, that’s fine, I can just go to Amazon and order Bible B. After all, this one has notes just for me.

At the end of the day though, this kind of Bible reading will never satisfy. In won’t satisfy because the Bible was not written directly to me (though it was written for me), and it does not always directly address my pressing felt-needs, like “How do I get a job?” or “Why doesn’t my boss like me?” Thankfully, however, the Bible does something much better. It tells us of a story bigger than our own little lives and it beckons us to be swept up into that story; a grand story of God redeeming all of creation through his Son. And it’s not that the Bible doesn’t deal with our needs. Rather it’s that it redefines our needs and shows us our true needs, in turn leading us to true “abundant life” through becoming disciples of Jesus (John 10:10). At the end of the day, that is the kind of Bible that is worth reading; that is the kind of Bible that will make all other books pale in comparison.

(Note: this is the first in a series of posts where I’ll be dealing with topics Bible-related. In future posts I’ll deal with the proliferation of Bible translations and how that is affecting the way we think about the Bible, and I’ll also give some thoughts on The Message and what it means to build our Christian life upon the possible quicksand of highly-interpretive translations.)

Evangelicals and History: An Uneasy Relationship

Evangelical Protestants have an uneasy relationship with their past. To put it more bluntly, they have an uneasy relationship with the past, because they are not sure if there is such a thing as their past. To be sure, they are not entirely ahistorical. They love to quote Edwards, Spurgeon, Luther, and the like; however, these men all lived within the past 500 years. In America historians trace Evangelicalism’s roots to the First and Second Great Awakenings. However, that does not take the movement back even 300 years. Does not the history of Christ’s church extend for nearly 2000 years?

What of Bonaventure, Aquinas, Cyprian, Ambrose, Gregory of Nyssa, Catherine of Sienna, Anselm, or Thomas Bradwardine? What of the entirety of the Middle Ages? Do evangelicals have no legitimate claim to this era; is it entirely the property of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy? Or can Evangelical Protestantism rightly stake a claim in this territory; can it rightly and in a historically justifiable manner trace its own narrative all the way through 2000 years of tangled and messy ecclesiastical history?

I believe it can. What’s more, I believe it must. While the question does not trouble many evangelicals, if evangelicalism and evangelical Protestant doctrine is only several hundred years old, should that not make it immediately suspect? Why should we believe something that…..young? While we live in a day of constantly shifting fads, I for one do not wish to stake my life on a religious fad that is simply a product of my own historical and cultural location. Moreover, should not we evangelical Protestants wish to be part of a story that extends for thousands of years; a story filled with good and evil, tragic mistakes and great victories, rather than a truncated narrative only invented rather recently in America? I for one want to be a catholic Christian in the small-c sense of that word; a Christian who traces his lineage through the whole scope of our 2000 years of history.

In the 19th century, Anglican turned Roman Catholic John Henry Newman famously wrote, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” I disagree. To be deep in history is to become a catholic Protestant, a Protestant who sees themselves not only as a product of the 16th century, but as an heir to the entire history of Jesus’ church.

In the following weeks I’ll be writing a series of posts aimed at helping us recover some of that past.

A Thought on Theodicy

“The suffering of the guiltless, which is the primary problem of life for those who look at history from the standpoint of their own virtues, is made into the ultimate answer of history for those who look at it from the standpoint of the problematic character of all human virtue.”

-Reinhold Niebuhr, Faith and History: A Comparison of Christian and Modern Views of History (London, 1949), 161.

God in Suffering

In an age of “name it and claim it” theology where God becomes our tool to accomplish our own worldly desires, we need words like Luther’s which thunder against any and all forms of triumphalism. Here is Luther, from his explanations of Theses 20 & 21 of the Heidelberg Disputation (1518).

 

Because humans misused the knowledge of God through works, God wished again to be recognized in suffering–to condemn wisdom concerning invisible things by means of wisdom concerning visible things, so that those who did not honor God as manifested in the Divine works should honor God hidden in suffering…Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does one no good to recognize God in Divine glory and majesty, unless one recognizes God in the humility and shame of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise, as Isaiah (45:15) says, “Truly, you are a God who hides yourself.

So, also, in John 14, where Philip spoke according to the theology of glory: “Show us the Father.” Christ forthwith set aside his flighty thought about seeking God elsewhere and led him to himself, saying, “Philip, he who has seen me has seen the Father.” For this reason, true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ…

This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18), for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said.

A Short History of Student Missions

A fantastic short video on the history of the modern student missionary movement. Historically accurate, spiritually inspiring, and above all humbling. Show it to your friends.

Everyone else is an expert on the present; I wish to file a minority report on behalf of the past.
-Jaroslav Pelikan

Feeling excited for the opportunity to dive back into some history this spring and feeling like I may want the sentiment of that quote to be my one minor contribution to the church.

Singles and the Church

As a young and single person, I am frequently caught up in conversations about singleness, dating, and the opposite sex. In fact I frequently initiate these types of conversations myself. Young and single people love to talk about relationships, and particularly about the possibilities of being young and not so single. Paradoxically, while our culture is delaying marriage to ever-older ages, the zeal of so many young singles to find a spouse (or at least a significant other) seems unabated. Indeed, any person granted a week to listen to the conversations of some young single people might be forgiven if they conclude that this demographic suffers from relationship idolatry.

Single people can even form entire friendships around jointly lamenting the woes of singleness. While you might not have a lot in common with another person, anytime a conversation wanes it is a surefire panacea to simply bring up the topic of relationships. Everyone is interested in talking about that and everyone has something to say about it.

I bring this up because lately I have been reflecting on singleness, the church, and how being in the church should transform our experience of singleness. The way I currently see it, the struggle singles often feel is the tension between two different biblical threads. On the one hand singles may read this biblical statement and feel a sting:

            Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (1 Cor 7:27)

On the other hand they read this and can be just about waving their hands in the air in agreement.

            It is not good that man should be alone. (Gen 2:18) 

The single Christian’s reaction to the first statement is likely enough to be a dour look, their reaction to the second often more closely resembles that of fans of the winning team in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl.

On the one hand the Bible tells us it is good to be single (in light of the fact that we are living in the last days), on the other hand it also tells us that even before the fall men and women were meant to live life together. Indeed, the Genesis passage even tells us that it is not good for male and female to not have each other. This leads to a seeming conundrum, which Tim Keller puts well:

 How can we claim that long-term singleness is a good condition in light of the [the previous argument] that males and females are in some ways incomplete without the other? The answer is the same. It has to do, again, with our hope in Christ and our experience of Christian community. Just as Christian singles find their “heirs” and family within the church, so do brothers find their sisters and sisters find their brothers. (The Meaning of Marriage, 199)

 When I read this quote from Keller I was intrigued. Christian community, the church in other words, should provide singles with an analogous level of “completeness” that the marriage relationship between a man and a woman brings. That is, Christian singles can rightly experience a sort of fulfillment of the verse “it is not good that man should be alone” in the church. Keller then goes on to say:

 Of course it is less intense than in marriage. And yet the more corporate experience is not a poor second to marriage, since in marriage you are put together with just one member of the opposite sex. Marriage does and should somewhat limit the extent of friendships you have with others of the opposite sex. In Christian community, however, singles can have a greater range of friendships among both sexes. (201)

 So Christian community for singles provides a kind of more widely dispersed form of what marriage brings in a focused intensity. I suspect that this actually resonates with the experience of many single Christians. That is to say, aside from a few rare people, it seems to me that most singles don’t love to hang out exclusively with members of the same sex. Sure, that is where they are and perhaps should be spending most of their time, but if they were to never talk to a girl (for guys) or a guy (for girls) that would seem like a bit of an impoverished existence.

After all, who hasn’t experienced how a good friend of the opposite sex can often provide a helpfully different perspective on an issue or even (dare I say) make a social situation feel more “complete.” This is (hopefully) not because they are being used as a surrogate boyfriend/girlfriend to fulfill an unfulfilled romantic longing, but rather because God has divinely created each sex to in some sense find completion in the other.

While this is all still a bit of a gray area to me, all I am suggesting is this: the church rarely adequately teaches singles that it is in fact healthy to have cross-gender relationships. The church thus fails to do at least part of what it is uniquely capable of doing; providing a place where people find spiritual siblings in the household of God to live life with together.

What I am not suggesting is that cross-gender friendships will ever be the same as or a replacement for same-gender friendships. Indeed, I think Genesis 2:18 would not bear this out. Neither am I suggesting that cross-gender friendships should be conducted in exactly the same way as same-gender friendships. That would be neither wise nor respecting of the differences that God has made males and females with. I am simply intrigued by the idea that the church can be the place where “it is not good that man should be alone” finds its fulfillment for those who are single.

Good Guys and Bad Guys: Who are we?

In his climactic seventh and final woe against the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus tells them the following:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. (Matt. 23:29-31)

What I believe Jesus is essentially saying is this: scribes and Pharisees, you take it for granted that you are on the side of the good guys. When you read your Old Testament, you always place yourself in the story as one of the good guys and not one of the bad guys. And what I want you to know is this: the very fact that you assume you are one of the good guys shows that you in fact are not. The fact that you read the indictments of the prophets and always see yourselves as being in the righteous and obedient remnant shows that you in fact are hypocrites and a brood of vipers. Do not assume so quickly that you would do the right thing if given the chance. Do not assume so quickly that you are better than others and always heed the voice of God.

And so the question for us is this: When we read the Old Testament, do we always place ourselves on the side of the good guys, or do we see ourselves in the unfaithful wife Gomer, in Aaron building the golden calf, in the wilderness generation grumbling how much better it would have been to stay in Egypt? If we too quickly assume we always would have done right, we may in fact be witnessing against ourselves that we are doing wrong.

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