The NET Bible

The NET Bible (NET) As I’ve mentioned here before, while I use the ESV it’s not necessarily my favorite translation.  Sometimes the language in the ESV is dated (e.g. small in stature, impudence, merry-hearted, etc.).  Other times the grammar/syntax is quite coarse.  I was recently reading 1 Cor. 12:12-26 in the ESV with a friend.  After we finished reading, we both paused and noted how rough the translation was and therefore more difficult to understand.  And why does the ESV sometimes put the subject after the verb as in 1 John 4:17a: “By this is love perfected...”?  Anyway, back to the point: the ESV is a good translation, and I use it, but it’s not my favorite.  I also use other translations in my studies such as the NASB, the NIV, the CSB, the NLT, and the NET Bible.

Speaking of the NET Bible, I appreciate the translation notes this Bible includes.  I don’t always agree with them, but they are helpful in studying the text and translation in more depth.  For one example, thinking again of 1 John 4:17a (by this love is perfected…), here is the NET Bible’s translation note:

The referent of ἐν τούτῳ (en toutō – [by this]) here is more difficult to determine than most, because while there are both ἵνα (hina) and ὅτι (hoti) clauses following, it is not clear whether or not they are related to the ἐν τούτῳ. There are actually three possibilities for the referent of ἐν τούτῳ in 4:17: (1) it may refer to the ἵνα clause which immediately follows, so that the love of believers is brought to perfection in that they have confidence in the day of judgment. The main problem with this interpretation is that since the day of judgment is still future, it necessitates understanding the second use of the preposition “in” (second ἐν [en]) to mean “about” or “concerning” with reference to the day of judgment in order to make logical sense. (2) The ἐν τούτῳ may refer to the ὅτι clause in 4:17b, meaning “love is perfected with us … in that just as he [Christ] is, so also are we in this world.” This makes logical sense, and there are numerous cases where ἐν τούτῳ is explained by a ὅτι clause that follows. However, according to this understanding the intervening ἵνα clause is awkward, and there is no other instance of the phrase ἐν τούτῳ explained by a following ὅτι clause where a ἵνα clause intervenes between the two in this way. (3) Thus, the third possibility is that ἐν τούτῳ refers to what precedes in 4:16b, and this also would make logical sense: “By this—by our residing in love so that we reside in God and he resides in us—is love brought to perfection with us.” This has the additional advantage of agreeing precisely with what the author has already said in 4:12: “If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us.” Thus option (3) is best, with the phrase ἐν τούτῳ referring to what precedes in 4:16b, and the ἵνα clause which follows indicates the result of this perfection of love in believers: In the future day of judgment they will have confidence. The ὅτι clause would then give the reason for such confidence in the day of judgment: because just as Jesus is, so also are believers in this world—they are already currently in relationship with God just as Jesus is.

 Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).

If you haven’t used the NET Bible, it is worth checking out.  As with all translations there are strengths and weaknesses.  One thing we can be very thankful for is the fact that in English we have access to quite a few good translations.  In a good way, we should be taking advantage of that as we study God’s Word to grow in it!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Rome and Reading Scripture (Muller)

Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (4 vols.) It’s very hard for most  Christians in the West to imagine what it would be like if they didn’t have a Bible at home to read.  It’s even harder to imagine the church telling us not to read the Bible and not wanting it to be translated into common languages.  This was the very situation before the Reformation.  The Roman Catholic church neither wanted common people to read Scriptures nor did Rome want the Scriptures to be translated into the common language of the people.  Thankfully the Reformation happened!  Here’s a paragraph about this topic from Richard Muller’s PRRD volume on Scripture (volume two):

Against the Roman objections that lay reading of the vernacular Scriptures is detrimental to the life and teaching of the church and that such reading is hardly necessary to salvation, the Reformed respond that the problem of abuse in no way undermines the command of God to read and study the Scriptures.  …The reading of Scripture is enjoined on those who are able, for the sake of strengthening them in their faith and shielding them against the enemies of God. What is more, the Roman claim that the reading of the Scripture by laity breeds heresy falls short of the mark inasmuch as heresy is founded not on reading per se, but on mistaken reading—and the careful, informed, and reverent reading of Scripture will preserve the faithful from the errors of the heretics. As for the argument that “holy things are not given to dogs,” it is quite clear from the text (Matt. 7:6) that Christ does not here refer to the reading of Scripture and does not intend to designate the children of God as dogs—rather he means that the symbols of divine grace are not to be given to the unfaithful.

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 467–468.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The “Permanent Text” of the ESV: A Soft Critique (Updated)

(NOTE: On September 28 Crossway issued a retraction statement on the Permanent Text.  You can read it here.)
Perhaps you’ve heard the news about the ESV: the recent update will be the last.  This past summer (2016) the ESV made 52 changes and the publisher and translation oversight committee have declared that it will never again be changed.  They are officially calling it the Permanent Text of the ESV Bible.  The website says it will remain “unchanged throughout the life of the copyright, in perpetuity.” This way, they note,
“People who love the ESV Bible can have full confidence in the ESV, knowing that it will continue to be published as is, without being changed, for the rest of their lives, and for generations to come.”

I realize it is very difficult to update a translation.  Most of us probably don’t realize the amount of time and energy it takes to translate and update an entire Bible.  The ESV teams are to be commended for the hard and excellent Christian work they’ve done in the past 15+ years.  They’ve given Christ’s church a solid translation for which we should be thankful.  I seriously mean that.

I do have to admit, however, that I’m quite disappointed the ESV translation is now frozen.  I realize one reason to freeze the text was (probably) to prevent it from being “liberalized” in the years ahead.  But I don’t believe that making a translation “permanent” is a great idea for these reasons (in no particular order):

1) What if future archaeological finds include new manuscripts and/or other artifacts that shed new light on Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek?  I’m not an expert at these things, but I know that archaeologists and scholars are hard at work in these areas, so it won’t be surprising if their findings impact Bible translation (either in manuscript evidence or new language insights).  Making a Bible translation permanent means it will not change even if there are helpful archaeological and scholarly contributions to the field.

2) What happens when the English language changes in twenty or thirty years?  Some of the ESV grammar and syntax is already wooden and dated.  In the years ahead as English morphs and transforms, the ESV will sound even more wooden and dated.  As one Themelios reviewer noted back in 2004,

The language [in the ESV] is not archaic in the sense of preserving vocabulary items no longer understood, or obsolete forms like thee and thou. But in its syntax it is certainly not modern either, and the long sentences in for instance Luke 1:68–79 are not at all easy to read aloud well.

The Preface claims that ‘the ESV is equally suited for public reading and preaching, for private reading and reflection, for both academic and devotional study, and for Scripture memorization’. Such an (over-) ambitious claim on the one hand inevitably limits the potential readership to those who are already committed and well educated Christian believers, and on the other hand virtually excludes ESV from use by the less educated and by unbelievers—that is to say by the large majority of the population.

If this was true – or even partially true – in 2002, wouldn’t these issues be even worse in 2034 or 2044?   (As a related side note, I’m disappointed that Numbers 11:17 – where the Holy Spirit seems to be called “it”- is forever sealed in the ESV translation.)

3) The language of “Permanent Text” sounds a bit too lofty.  I realize the publisher and committee probably didn’t mean to convey this idea, but to me it sounds slightly “KJV-Only-ish.”  No translation of the Bible is perfect; even those of us who are conservative Christians should be wiling to tweak a translation if there are compelling reasons to do so.  It’s not necessarily a liberal move to revisit a translation.  Freezing the text makes it sound like “We’ve arrived.” I hope and pray people who use the Permanent Text of the ESV won’t implicitly or explicitly adopt an “ESV Only” mindset.

I’m calling this critique a “soft” one because I’m not throwing the ESV out, nor am I going to tell people not to use it.  I’m not at all anti-ESV.  I will still use it, quote it, and I do still appreciate it as a faithful and good translation of Scripture.  However, I believe a “Permanent Text” will mean a “Dated Text” in not too long a time.
(The above quote was taken from David J. Clark, “Review of The Holy Bible: English Standard Version,” Themelios 29, no. 3 (2004): 62.)
Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Dated Language In The ESV?

  I’ve been using the ESV for around thirteen years.  I generally like it because there are many strengths in this translation; it often makes good sense of the original languages behind the English.  However, there are also a few weaknesses.  One weakness I’ve noticed is the fact that some of the language in the ESV is dated or somewhat uncommon.   I found a few instances of this while preaching through Luke’s Gospel.  Here are some examples (note the underlined words):

Luke 11:8 – “because of his impudence
Luke 19: 3 – “he was small in stature
Luke 20:9 – “a man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants”
Luke 20:47 – “for a pretense make long prayers”
Luke 21:11 – “famines and pestilences
Luke 21:34 – “weighed down with dissipation
Luke 22:14 – “he reclined at table

These words/phrases aren’t impossible for everyone to understand.  But they do contain dated language, words and phrases that regular American English-speaking people rarely use.  I have lived in four very different areas of the United States, and I have almost never heard people using these words or phrases in conversation or common writing.  In fact, sometimes when reading Scripture in a group setting we’ve had to stop to explain the meaning of words and phrases like this in the ESV.

In case you’re wondering, many of the words/phrases in the ESV that I’ve listed above are found in slightly older translations like the RSV (and to some extent the ASV).  Also in case you’re wondering, impudence means rude or harsh, small in stature means short (in height or years), let it out means loan or lend, pretense means the act of pretending, pestilences means plague-like diseases, dissipation means careless living (possibly because of drunkenness), and recline at table simply means sit down to eat.

I’m not saying we should throw out our ESVs.  But I am saying that it’s helpful to use several translations when reading and studying the Word.  Other translations I’ve come to appreciate include the NASB, the NIV, the HCSB, and the NET Bible.  The NLT has also come in handy; we use it at home to read Scripture’s stories to our kids, and I’ve given it to a few Christians who don’t have a deep grasp of the English language.  I have also use the NLT when preaching/teaching in a nursing home or jail setting where people aren’t familiar with Scripture and/or the English language.

For those interested, here are the words some other translations used for the verses I’ve listed above:

Luke 11:8 – “because of his shameless persistence” (NLT); “because of his friend’s persistence” (HCSB)
Luke 19:3 – “being a short man” (NET); “because he was short” (NIV)
Luke 20:9 – “[he] leased it to tenant farmers” (NLT); “rented it out to vine-growers” (NASB)
Luke 20:47 – “for appearance’s sake” (NASB); “for a show” (NIV)
Luke 21:11 – “plagues” (HCSB, NLT, NET)
Luke 21:34 – “carousing” (NIV, HCSB, NLT)
Luke 22:14 – “sat down together at the table” (NLT); “reclined at the table” (NASB)

If you run into a tough word or phrase in the ESV (or whatever translation you use), go to a few different translations to help make sense of it.  There is no perfect translation, but there are enough good ones out there to help us better study and know God’s Word, which is what we want to do as Christ’s disciples.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Inconsistencies in KJV Only Reasoning

Baptist theologian James White’s book, The King James Only Controversy, is a great resource for those who want to study this topic.  I’ve referred to White’s book on this blog more than once, showing how the militant KJV only logic is neither historically nor logically sound.  Here are two more examples of this.

First, White notes that many militant KJV only advocates are opposed to textual footnotes and alternate readings in the non-KJV translations.  However, this position is unhistorical, since the 1611 KJV had a total of 8,422 marginal notes.

The 1611 KJV Old Testament marginal note breakdown is as follows: 4,111 notes express the more literal reading, 2,156 give alternate translations, and the rest give other notes.  The New Testament breakdown is as follows: 112 marginal notes express a more literal reading, 582 give alternate translations, the rest give other textual notes.  Here’s how White summarizes: “KJV Only works are filled with attacks upon the modern translations for noting that certain verses are not found in ancient manuscripts or that some manuscripts read differently, yet you will search these works in vain for the same denunciation of the KJV’s textual notes.  The inconsistency speaks volumes” (p. 123).

Second, another argument given by White is to ask the KJV only crowd this question: “Which KJV?” (p. 124-125).

“The KJV carried by the average KJV Only advocate today looks very different than the edition that came of Robert Barker’s press in 1611.  Not only do many printings of today’s KJV lack the marginal notes and references, but the form and the wording of the text has undergone change over time.  Editions with textual changes came out as soon as 1612 and again in 1613, followed by editions in 1616, 1629, and 1638.”

“Does the modern edition of the KJV differ significantly from the 1611?  That depends upon how one defines significantly.  For the general audience seeking merely to understand the KVJ’s textual tradition, no – most revisions have dealt with small matters of spelling, punctuation, etc.  But for those who assert the KJV’s absolute inerrancy, the question looms large: which KJV?  Note some of the changes that have taken place over the years as indicated by Scrivener: ‘The LORD’ to ‘the LORD thy God’ at Deuteronomy 26:1; ‘Manasseh’ to ‘the children of Manasseh’ at Joshua 13:29; ‘seek good’ to ‘seek God’ at Psalm 69:32; ‘inherit God’ to ‘inherit Gad’ at Jeremiah 49:1; ‘Thou art Christ’ to ‘Thou art the Christ’ at Matthew 16:16; ‘there is no man good, but one’ to ‘there is none good but one’ at Mark 10:18; ‘approved unto death’ to ‘appointed unto death’ at 1 Corinthians 4:9; and ‘hath not the Son’ to ‘hath not the Son of God’ at 1 John 5:12.”

“Are these changes important?  Surely they present a sticky problem for the radical KJV Only proponent.  How are textual changes like this to be handled? How can one determine the ‘right’ reading, when the KJV is made the absolute standard?  Of course, the non-KJV Only believer has recourse to Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.  But once a person has invested the English translation with inspiration itself, that route is no longer a consistent option.”

White makes other solid arguments against the KJV only position in this book.  I realize that probably not all of our readers are interested in this topic, but if you’ve wrestled with this or discussed this with somebody, I highly recommend it: The King James Only Controversy.

shane lems
hammond, wi

KJV Only-ism and Circular Reasoning

  At the outset of this post, I want to be clear: I’m not against the KJV.  However, for various reasons I am against the KJV Only mindset.  Here’s one reason: because it is based on circular reasoning.  I appreciate James White’s discussion:

“Over and over again, KJV Only advocates accuse the new translations of changing this or altering that.  They say the NIV deletes this or adds that.  It is vitally important to make sure we see through this kind of argumentation before we begin the work of examining many specific differences between the KJV and modern translations.  We wish to think clearly and honestly about this topic, and to do this we must point out the most fundamental error of the KJV Only position.”

“A circular argument is one that starts with its conclusion; that is, you assume the point you are arguing for right from the start, and then ‘prove’ it by using it as your basis.  …Circular arguments are, by nature, irrational.”

“KJV Only books, articles, and tracts share this common feature.  What is the writer’s bottom-line assumption?  That the KJV is the only true English Bible (maybe the only true Bible in any language!), the standard by which all others are to be judged.”

“This can be seen by looking at the terminology employed.  ‘See how the NIV deletes this passage….’ ‘Note how they have changed God’s Word here to say….’  ‘Here they have altered the text to say….’  In each case the KJV Only advocate is using circular argumentation.  How?  The assumed standard is the KJV.  Why is the KJV the standard?  Why not the Geneva Bible, or the Bishop’s Bible, or the Great Bible?  Could we not choose any one of these earlier English translations and then make up page after page of comparisons showing how the KJV altered this or changed that?  As long as we allow the AV defender to determine the grounds of the argument by assuming the KJV to be the standard of all others, we will get absolutely nowhere.”

“The KJV must stand up to the same standards as any other translation.  It cannot be made the standard by which all others are judged; it must take its place as one translation among many so that it can be tested just as the NIV or NASB or ESV.  In some places it may well excel; in others it may lag behind.”

“But we must be careful to avoid making the basic error of setting up one translation as the standard over all others.  Our standard must always be found in the question, ‘What did the original author of Scripture say at this point?’  We first must be concerned to know the words of Moses and David and Isaiah and Matthew and Paul; the words of the KJV translators may be important, but they cannot take precedence over the words that were the direct result of divine inspiration” (emphasis mine; p. 167-169).

White is exactly right.  When it comes to Bible translations, we are being illogical if we start with the presupposition that a certain translation is the only perfect one.  Some KJV-Only advocates carry this argument out to its ugly and logical end when they say the KJV is even superior to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts(!).  And here’s another case where fundamentalism and liberalism end up holding hands: they say the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are not trustworthy.  Obviously this is not a historic Christian belief!

Later I’ll come back to White’s book, The King James Only Controversy.  For now, let me say I highly recommend it for those of you who are KJV Only people and for those of you who aren’t.  White is clear, kind, logical, biblical, and convincing in this outstanding resource.

James R. White, The King James Only Controversy 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009).

rev shane lems

Erasmus, the Greek NT, and the KJV

Front Cover One of the big names in the history of the Greek New Testament’s transmission is Desiderius Erasmus (d. 1536).  Our readers might know him as the man whom Luther debated in his excellent Bondage of the Will.   Something not quite as well-known is the fact that the NT in the KJV stands largely on Erasmus’ edition of the Greek NT.  The story goes like this (which is a summary of Bruce Metzger’s discussion on pages 100-103 of The Text of the New Testament, 3rd ed.).

For the benefit of the church, Erasmus essentially wanted to publish a Greek New Testament along with his own Latin translation of it.  This, however, was more difficult that he thought it would be since he had a hard time finding proper manuscripts of the Greek NT.

Because Erasmus couldn’t find a single Greek NT manuscript, he used several.  The primary manuscripts he used were from (roughly) the twelfth century.  In fact, since he couldn’t find manuscripts for some parts of Revelation, he translated the old Latin Vulgate back into Greek.  These Latin-to-Greek translations, of course, have not been found in any old Greek manuscript; however, they still appear in many (all?) editions of the KJV and NKJV (i.e. certain words Rev 17:4, 22:16—21.  See also Acts 9:6).

When his work was finished – or nearly finished – someone pointed out to Erasmus that his Greek text didn’t contain the Trinitarian statement in 1 John (5:7-8 – ‘The Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  And there are three that bear witness in earth.’).  Here’s how Bruce Metzger discusses this fact.

“Erasmus replied that he had not found any Greek manuscript containing these words, though he had in the meanwhile examined several others besides those on which he relied when first preparing his text.  In an unguarded moment Erasmus promised that he would insert the ‘Comma Johanneum’,’ as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage.”

“At length such a copy was found – or was made to order!  As it now appears, the Greek manuscript had probably been written in Oxford about 1520 by a Fransiscan friar named Froy (or Roy), who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate.  Erasmus stood by his promise and inserted the passage in his third edition (1522), but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to confute him” (p. 101).

“…Thus the text of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament rests upon a half-dozen miniscule manuscripts.  The oldest and best of these manuscripts (codex I, a miniscule of the tenth century, which agrees often with the earlier uncial text) he used least, because he was afraid of its supposedly erratic text!  …Subsequent editors, though making an umber of alterations in Erasmus’ text, essentially reproduced this debased form of the Greek Testament.  Having secured an undeserved pre-eminence, what came to be called the Textus Receptus of the New Testament resisted for 400 years all scholarly efforts to displace it in favour of an earlier and more accurate text” (p. 103).

To read the rest of this fascinating story of the Greek NT’s transmission, you’ll have to get Metzger’s book.  Be aware that it is not light and easy reading; it is a seminary level resource (and even dry in some places).  However, if you want to be knowledgeable in this area, The Text of the New Testament is one book you’ll have to get.  It is worth the effort.  (Note: I saw there is a fourth revised edition of Metzger’s book.  I’m not referring to that one here – I’m referring to the third edition.)

shane lems