God Blessing Bible Translations (White)

 I’ve mentioned James White’s helpful book on the King James only controversy here before.  I was recently thinking about Bible translations so I picked up this book again and found a helpful section on how God blesses translations of the Bible.  Thankfully in our day, we have many good translations and we don’t have to be “married” to one since all have some strengths and weaknesses.  Here’s how White put it when responding to a question that implied since the KJV has been blessed more than other translations we should use it alone:

God has indeed blessed the KJV, for which we can all be very thankful.  And I do not doubt for a second that he will continue to bless those who read it and obey it.  But God blessed the Septuagint too.  And the Vulgate.  And translations in dozens of different languages.  God has blessed the NASB, and the NIV, and many others.  God blesses those who seek his will and follow it.  Those who find his will in the NIV are just as blessed as those who find it in the KJV.  Limiting God’s blessing to a particular translation is historically untenable and spiritually dangerous.

Well said! I’m thankful for the KJV, but I’m likewise thankful for the NASB, the NLT, the [H]CSB, the NIV, the ESV, the Geneva Bible, and so forth.  I’m also thankful for the men and women who spent so much time and work to get good translations published.  I’ve been blessed by reading the NLT, by studying the NASB, by consulting the Geneva Bible, and by memorizing parts of the NIV.  I consider it a major blessing to have these helpful translations available!

The above quote is found on page 302 of The King James Only Controversy by James White.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


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

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

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

Resources on Preaching/Teaching Joshua

Following Andrew’s helpful post on study resources for Zechariah’s night visions, I thought I’d summarize different resources I’ve used while preaching/teaching through Joshua.  Going through this OT narrative has been an enjoyable endeavor, even though the tribal allotments in the last part of the book have been challenging.  To note ahead of time, most of the commentaries below weren’t too strong on the tribal allotment texts of Joshua.

 [For the record, I do think the tribal allotments should be preached, not skipped (cf. Acts 20.27 & 2 Tim. 3.16).  Matthew Henry (one resource worth using) mentions this in his commentary on Joshua 13ff.  He says we shouldn’t skip this section of many names/locations, because “where God has a mouth to speak and a hand to write we should find an ear to hear and an eye to read!”]

First, I’ve been enjoying Richard Hess’ TOTC on Joshua.  He is brief, to the point, and has done his geographical and ANE homework.  Hess also takes time to compare the OT themes to NT ones, which are often insightful.  This is an inexpensive commentary that really should be on your shelves if you study Joshua.  It is one of my favorite resources for the book of Joshua.

David Howard’s NAC on Joshua is another good one.  Howard deals well with the thematic aspects of Joshua; he also has great little excurses on words and details of the book.  Using Howard’s commentary has made me notice things I would have missed without it (i.e. the positive aspect of the Transjordian tribes’ altar in ch. 22 – though I haven’t made my mind up on that episode yet!).  I do recommend Howard’s commentary; it is pretty much exactly what I was looking for in a commentary.

 Another one that has been helpful at times is L. D. Hawk’s commentary in the Berit Olam series.  Hawk takes a sort of literary or narrative approach, especially focusing on the different boundary themes in Joshua.  Because he takes this approach, it doesn’t read like a “normal” commentary.  It is a unique commentary, and helpful because it is unique.  Hawk’s wasn’t my favorite, but I’m glad I have it.  You can see a sample of it following the link above.

Dale Davis also has a brief commentary on Joshua which has been quite helpful.  This is a good one that gets right to the point and helps especially for preaching themes and Christian application.  The low-cost of this one and the quality of it makes it one that a person really should get when studying Joshua.

In the Eerdmans’ Two Horizons OT Commentary series, J. Gordon McConville and Stephen Williams teamed up to write a theological commentary on Joshua.  The actual commentary section is only about 70 pages long.  The rest of the book is a discussion of the major themes of Joshua, along with a dialogue between Williams and McConville on the text and its theology.  I appreciated this, but was expecting it to be better; many times it seemed like the theological discussion just hung out there with no conclusion or applicatory points.  FYI, I found that it was helpful to read this “commentary” before I preached through Joshua so I could reference it more quickly and efficiently by making notes in the back cover.

I appreciated Francis Schaffer’s Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History.  This one reads sort of like a bunch of lectures that were delivered in an intermediate Bible class in college.  I’m not criticizing the commentary for that; I liked this approach for the most part.  Schaffer (like Davis above) is not afraid to utilize the NT and bring the text to bear on the Christian life.  I do recommend Schaeffer’s commentary.  His was one of the more enjoyable Joshua commentaries to read.

In the Anchor Bible commentary, Robert Boling and G. E. Wright cover Joshua (Wright died before this was finished; Boling was involved in its completion).  I used this commentary at first – the Hebrew textual notes are detailed and helpful.  However, I ended up consulting it infrequently because it required too much time and labor to extract anything helpful.  After awhile, reading about the corrupt text of certain parts of Joshua gets more than a little annoying.  If you’re going to do a deep study of Joshua, you’ll want this.  If, however, you’re simply preaching/teaching through it, you may want to spend your money elsewhere.

Another one that wasn’t my favorite is the Marten Woudstra commentary on Joshua in the NICOT series.  The commentary is evangelical, solid, and straightforward, but it is quite dry.  It is a “bare” or “plain” commentary on the stories and text of Joshua; there were very few insights in this commentary one couldn’t get from studying the text him/herself.  I’m selling mine on Amazon since I probably won’t use it again.  [I realize this is a subjective (side) note, but the NICOT and NICNT formats (fonts and layout) are very ugly and outdated, in my opinion.]

I also used Donald Madvig’s commentary on Joshua found in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary.  It is very brief, and helpful only in the sense that it gives the reader a concise summary of the text with a few Hebrew notes.  I got the whole set for a great price, so I did use this commentary and usually found it worth consulting in my studies.

Another one I used from time to time is J. M. Boice’s commentary on Joshua.  To be honest, I wouldn’t spend more than a few bucks on this one (I’m borrowing it).  Every now and then Boice is pretty helpful in the “application” department, but overall it isn’t worth reading because it borders upon moralism from time to time.

Calvin’s commentary on Joshua is fun to read.  As with most of his commentaries, reading Calvin is a devotional exercise.  His comments are usually brief, so it is an easy resource to consult when studying Joshua.  I think Calvin even cracked a joke in this commentary while he was discussing the tribal allotments.  He basically said, “Geography is my weakness.  You’ll have to bear with my childish comments on the land!”

I’ve also found the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, the IVP Bible Background Commentary on the OT, the ESV Bible Atlas, and my Bible dictionaries (ISBE, Oxford, and Zondervan) to be helpful.  For the Hebrew text, I used the standard BDB, HALOT, and Waltke/O’Connor.

Finally, since the stories of Joshua build so much upon the Israelite’s years in the wilderness, I’ve used several commentaries from Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy as well (i.e. Duguid).

Feel free to comment below if you wish to discuss these commentaries or add some that you’ve appreciated.  There are others; I didn’t have time, energy, or cash to use any more!

shane lems

Quick Review of the ESV Bible Atlas

 I’ve spent quite a while looking through my ESV Bible atlas, so I thought I’d give a quick review. 

First of all, it is a great resource.  The maps are attractive and helpful – and there are many of them.  There are also quite a few nice color charts and pictures of different Bible regions, giving the reader a small insight into the geography, culture, agriculture, economy, climate, and character of OT/NT history and lands.  The text is thorough; reading thorough it would be a solid intermediate introduction to biblical history and geography. 

There are four main parts – first, an introduction and overview of the biblical world.  Second, in about 250 pages the authors (Currid & Barrett) talk about the historical geography of the biblical world (including the intertestamental period).  Third, there are about 50 pages of excellent regional maps (i.e. Egypt, Gilead, Palestine, Philistia, etc).  Finally, in a 50 page appendix/index, there are timelines and king charts as well as the indexes to find what you’re looking for in the atlas (i.e. town names, weather, mountains, etc.).  [By the way – maybe someone else could help here – are some of the maps in the ESV Bible atlas the same as in the ESV Study Bible?  I’m guessing they are, but I don’t have the ESV Study Bible, so I’m not sure.]

Here are a few weaknesses.  I realize some are minor, but they did stick out for me.  First, the book is huge and heavy.  It only fits on a few shelves I have; it is bigger than the old ISBEs.  Second, I could be wrong here, but the binding doesn’t seem so solid.  I won’t be surprised if the thing falls apart after a few years (again, I could be wrong, but the spine does feel weak).  Third, the CD is nice, but it is little more than a storage disc for the maps in the book (as a plus, I’m glad they are printable).  Fourth, finding a topic (city, river, or land area) isn’t as easy as it should be.  For example, if you want to find Bethany, you go to the index and it says 12-8, which means you have to find chapter 12 and then map 8.  I wish they’d have given the page number instead.  Finally (and this is really minor), the foldout map isn’t anything too spectacular, so don’t get your hopes up there.

Again, I don’t want to sound overly negative; this is an outstanding atlas and I highly recommend it.  In fact, I’m using it right now as I study Joshua 14 and the land that Caleb received as his inheritance.  I’m sure if you get this atlas you’ll be satisfied despite some minor weaknesses. 

The Crossway ESV Bible Atlas (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).

shane lems