What Kind of English? On Bible Translation (Blomberg)

Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions Blomberg, Craig L. cover image I’ve been interested in Bible translations ever since I learned the biblical languages in college and seminary some years ago.  I learned right away that translating the Bible is not so simple nor is it a straightforward black-and-white process.  A very literal translation of the Bible would not be understandable.  And just because a translation is “less literal” doesn’t mean it’s less accurate.  I’ve also learned that the smear campaign against the newer NIV was not always based on accurate information.  I’ve come to realize that some of the KJV-only arguments are neither defensible nor wise.  I also found out that the grand claims that the ESV is the best translation for accuracy and readability are a bit overstated and somewhat subjective.

Speaking of English translations, here’s a helpful excerpt from Craig Blomberg’s book, Can We Still Believe the Bible?  It has to do with a false dichotomy of English Bible translation:

Imagining that ‘we had both a time machine and a language translation machine,’ Wayne Grudem asks about Psalm 23:

‘Should our goal as translators be to use the time machine to bring David to New York City in 2011, give him the language translation machine so that he could understand and speak English, and then ask him to rewrite Psalm 23, but speaking as people would speak in New York City in 2011?  Should we tell him, ‘David, just rewrite your psalm and use twentieth-first [sic] century expressions’?  No, as a translator of Psalm 23, I would want to use the time machine to travel back to ancient Israel around 1000BC when David was writing Psalm 23.  I would want to use my language translation machine to translate David’s words into English and put them in ordinary English word order.’

Grudem then quotes the ESV for Psalm 23:1-3 as what the results would sound like.  Verse 1 reads, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’

But the choice can in reality never be an ‘either-or’; it can only be a ‘both-and.’  On Grudem’s model, into what kind of English should time travelers render the Greek or Hebrew they learn in the ancient world?  Elizabethan English?  Victorian English?  Pre-World War II American English? Modern Australian English? Colloquial English from the American South?  Urbanese?  Or the English that is most commonly used by the broadest cross-section of speakers internationally in the second decade of the twenty-first century?

Until this decision is made, time travelers can produce no English translations at all.  They must return to the world from which they have come.  And if the answer that is chosen to our question is that they should utilize the most common English used by the broadest cross-section of English speakers today, then something more like the NIV, NET, NAB, HCSB, or CEB than like the ESV, NKJV, or KJV is what results.

Today we do not normally say “I shall not want” when we mean “I will not lack anything.”  People unfamiliar with the history of translating Psalm 23:1 often have never even heard “want” used in order to mean “lack,” and they are far more likely to say “will” than “shall,” at least in the United States.  What is more, part of the argument for the ESV is that it preserves the more elegant style of more formal, old-fashioned English, especially in poetry (such as Ps. 23), and therefore should not always be written in ordinary English.  So Grudem’s imaginary time traveler isn’t really coming back to ordinary twenty-first-century America at all.

Craig Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? p. 116-117.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Giving the Text the Benefit of the Doubt (Blomberg)

After a cursory reading of two texts that seemingly contradict each other, many New Testament critics simply say the Bible has errors.  Their logic usually goes like this: “Mark said one thing, Matthew said another.  Both can’t be right.  Therefore, the Bible has errors and you’re foolish to trust it.”

But it’s not that simple.  Different authors use different methods and different words to write about the same thing.  Some NT authors spoke more generally, some more precisely, but it doesn’t mean they erred or contradicted one another.  Craig Blomberg wrote on this quite well in his essay, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism.” In this essay, Blomberg goes through a handful of seemingly contradictory NT texts and reasonably explains how they might be harmonized.  At the end of the article, he basically says that even if his explanations are wrong, the point is that there are plausible solutions to seeming contradictions:

“…When one has examined a large number of the apparent contradictions in Scripture and time and again discovered plausible solutions – at times even more than one plausible solution – it is only natural to reach a point where one gives the text the benefit of the doubt on the rare occasions of confronting seemingly more intractable problems.  These are the kinds of replies that are important to give a professor who asks a student, whether Bart Ehrman or anyone else, ‘Why not just admit that Mark [or any other scriptural author] made an error?’

I very much agree.  I’ve had it in my own experience when I thought two texts seemed to be contradictory.  I didn’t know what to think, so I studied the texts and read other authors’ comments on them.  Indeed, I found various reasonable explanations for the seeming contradictions.  I’m at the point now that when I see something in the Bible that seems to be contradictory, I believe the weakness is in my own mind and reasoning, and I give the text the benefit of the doubt.  And, of course, I believe that “the Lord’s word is flawless” (Psalm 18:30 NIV).  My mind, however, is not!

The above article and quote by Craig Blomberg are found in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


Disciples and Stewardship: Give Without Expecting Anything Back

Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions (New Studies in Biblical Theology) “…[T]he Bible’s teaching about material possessions is inextricably intertwined with more ‘spiritual’ matters.”  So writes Craig Blomberg in his helpful Bible survey of money, wealth, and possessions: Neither Poverty Nor Riches (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999).  Specifically thinking of Jesus’ teaching and parables about wealth/possessions, it’s important to note that stewardship is a big part of being a disciple (cf. Mk. 12:1-2, Lk. 12:16-20, Lk 16:1-13, etc.).   In the Gospels “Jesus is not crucified for his teaching about material possessions, but the controversies with the Jewish leaders that become increasingly pointed include items of stewardship as one prime arena in which they do not please God” (Blomberg, 145).

Here’s one of the summary statements Blomberg makes at the end of his survey:

“A necessary sign of a life in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship.  Ultimately, one’s entire life should be dedicated to God, but a particularly telling area for determining one’s religious commitment involves one’s finances.  The wealthy but godly patriarchs and kings of the Old Testament are, without exception, said to have shared generously with the poor and needy.  Old Testament laws mandated tithes and taxes to support ‘full-time religious workers’ as well as to aid the otherwise destitute.  One of the most frequent refrains of Torah, Psalms and Prophets is God’s concern for the ‘widow, fatherless, alien and poor’, a concern which should lead his people to ruthlessly avoid every form of exploitation and seek ways to meet the genuine needs of the marginalized and to address the causes of their misery.”

“In the New Testament, Luke and Paul enjoin generous almsgiving, while Jesus simply presupposes the practice, most notably in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:1-4).  James and John agree that someone who is aware of his Christian brothers’ or sisters’ material needs, is in a position to help, and fails to utterly do anything, cannot be saved (Jas. 2:14-17; 1 John 3:17-18).  Peter and Paul are particularly consistent in their challenges to the Greco-Roman system of tit-for-tat reciprocity in the giving and receiving of gifts.  Both build on Jesus’ own command rooted in the Old Testament jubilary theology to lend (or give), ‘without expecting anything back’ (Luke 6:35).

Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches, p. 244-5.

Shane Lems


Commentary List on James’ Epistle

I’ve spent the past few months preaching and teaching through James’ epistle, which was quite the faith-strengthening and repentance-increasing endeavor.  Since there are dozens of commentaries on James, I couldn’t use them all.  Here are the ones I’ve used to some extent, with a brief review of each.

1) Craig Blomberg and Mariam Kamell’s Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: James.  As I mentioned before on this blog, I do highly recommend this commentary.  The layout is great, the exegetical discussions are understandable and level-headed, and the scholarship is superb.  As with all commentaries, there are parts you may disagree with, but overall this is one of my favorites since it includes an exegetical outline and application section of each part of the epistle.

2) Anthony Selvaggio, The 24/7 Christian.  This would be a good book to use for a Bible study group going through James’ epistle.  It is written for average parishioners, so if you’re looking for exegetical depth and scholarly discussion, you won’t find it here.  The structure was a bit bothersome (since it was half topical and half chapter by chapter) but Selvaggio has some great pastoral theology sections that are gospel centered.

3) J. A. Motyer, The Message of James.  I really like this shorter commentary.  Motyer has a broad knowledge of Scripture, so his comments are full of allusions and cross references.  The layout is straightforward and the commentary is not deeply academic/scholarly, but it is very solid and helpful.  Motyer’s writing style is unique, so I had to read some sections a few times, but I wouldn’t want to have gone through James without this commentary.

4) Daniel Doriani, James. This is a commentary from a Reformed perspective which aims at applying the biblical message.  In my opinion, this commentary was hit-and-miss.  Some sections were very helpful as far as exegesis and application, but others weren’t as much.  To be honest, I didn’t get much preaching help from this commentary that wasn’t in my other commentaries.  If you get (or have) any other non-technical commentaries on James, you probably won’t need this one.

5) Doug Moo, James (in the Tyndale Series).  This is a good commentary, but very brief – almost too brief.  Though I didn’t use it every week, I did find some helpful parts scattered throughout – Moo is a fine NT scholar.  Sometimes, however, the brevity took away from the usefulness of the commentary.  I do recommend it, but remember it is brief and not overly technical.

6) Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James (in the Anchor Bible series).  This was one of my favorite commentaries on James.  I especially liked his lexical and grammatical discussions.  He would explain each phrase grammatically, using a wide variety of sources, from the early church to modern-day scholars.  I didn’t like the format (no footnotes – the notes were in the text, which makes for cumbersome reading), but I do highly recommend this resource if you study James in-depth.  One more note – the introduction is quite long (about 40% of the book!).

7) R. Kent Hughes, James.  This one was sort of like Doriani’s (listed above) though I liked it better than Doriani.  It’s hard for me to explain why, but I ended up using Hughes much more than Doriani.  The only quibble I have with Hughes’ commentary is that there were so many stories and anecdotes I ended up skimming those, since they didn’t always bolster the commentary sections.  Still, I do recommend this commentary.

8) Robert Johnstone, The Epistle of James.  This one isn’t really a commentary.  Instead, it is something like a series of lectures or sermons on James’ epistle.  The chapters I did read where somewhat helpful (though remember this is from the 19th century).  One reason I didn’t use this book for every single sermon was because of time: the chapters take some work to read through.  I do recommend it though, if you have some extra time and if you can find it for a decent price.

9) Ralph Martin, James (in the Word series).  I used this one on and off.  I realize it is a standard and solid commentary on James’ epistle, but I didn’t use it all the time.  I found out that using Johnson and Blomberg, along with the other ones, were enough for my purposes.  And to be honest, the formatting on these Word commentaries makes them a burden for me to read because the text is all smashed together and the notes are in the text (rather than footnotes).  Still, the content is solid, and if you need a technical and solid commentary, you’ll want this one.

10) Thomas Manton, James (in the Crossway Classics series).  I really enjoyed this commentary.  The content was great and the layout was very orderly – it’s easy to read.  This was one of my favorites; in fact, it is devotional enough that it is a joy to read just for pleasure!  I also wrote a few notes in the back cover for when I study and preach on other topics that James covered.  You need this book to get the solid Puritan exegetical/practical emphasis in your studies and preaching.

I also used Calvin and Matthew Henry, which are also quite good (of course).  From time to time I also used The Ante-Nicene Fathers’ scripture index, but I didn’t find much there that was overly helpful.

Feel free to comment on the above or add your own favorites.

shane lems

The ZECNT Blog Tour: The Epistle of James

Click to see a larger image of James by Craig L. Blomberg, Mariam J. Kamell
 Zondervan kindly sent me a review copy of their new Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: James, so I’m taking part in their blog tour today (12/15/10) by giving some feedback on this commentary. I have been using this commentary quite a bit as I preach and teach through the epistle of James, and so far I’ve really appreciated it.  Here are some more details.


1) The format is outstanding.  The footnotes are clear, the outlines are handsome, the section breaks are helpful, and all around this commentary is a pleasure to read, right down to the clean Greek font.

2) I love the thematic outlines and the more detailed exegetical outlines.  The thematic outlines gives the reader a big picture of the book, while the exegetical outline highlights detailed parts of each verse/sentence, indents and all.  This commentary, of course, also includes notes on Greek grammar, vocab, and syntax.

3) The depth of scholarship is superb.  I’m glad to see that Blomberg and Kamell have done much research in literature about James. 

4) The book also contains great indexes – Scripture, author, and topical.  I enjoyed the article at the end that gives an overview of the theology of this epistle.


1) Sometimes the application sections were a little cheesy and (in my opinion) didn’t seem to arise from the text itself.  Several times the references to gays, lesbians, and American politics struck me as out-of-place. 

2) Sometimes it seems as if the authors went out of their way to discuss the “gender wars.”  I was reading some part of the commentary, and out of nowhere a tiny discussion of gender would pop up in a footnote.  It wasn’t offensive, but it seemed as if there was something going on behind the scenes, as it were, (though I could be reading into it too much).

All in all, I appreciate this commentary and do recommend it.  Of course, no commentary is perfect; they are all written from a certain perspective and for a certain purpose.  I don’t agree with every sentence of this book, but overall, this one is solid and biblical. It is a good one for students of the Word who want a clear, straightforward, textual discussion of the book of James.  I’m glad it is on my shelves, and (again) I thank Zondervan for letting me be part of their tour.

shane lems

sunnyside wa