Figures of Speech in the Bible (Bullinger)

 The text of Scripture, like other texts and writings, contains many figures of speech.  The Bible is not a textbook or manual that uses wooden propositions that are always literal and bland.  When you read recipes or the instructions for your daughter’s new bike, you’re not going to find many figures of speech.  You’ll just get plain words that give bare information you need to finish a task.

Scripture, however, is full of all different kinds of writing, speech, reports, emotions, commands, propositions, explanations, stories, and so forth.  When reading the Bible it’s good to remember that it’s not a dry textbook or straightforward instruction manual!  I’ve been going through one resource that is meant to help Bible readers read the Bible better: Figures of Speech Used in the Bible by E. W. Bullinger.  Although this book is just over one hundred years old, it is a helpful tool for learning about the different figures of speech in Scripture.  This resource will help the reader better interpret Scripture and it’ll help those who translate Scripture to think about the figures of speech in translation.

I have to admit Figures of Speech isn’t the easiest book to read.  It is somewhat dated and it does contain many linguistic terms that are new to me. But for the most part, it’s not too tough to understand what Bullinger is getting at.  The book contains three main sections: 1) Figures of speech that involve the omission of words, 2) Figures of speech that involve the addition of words, and 3) Figures of speech that involve the change of words.  There are a few appendices that talk about things like the use of the genitive case and Hebrew homonyms, for two examples.  At the end of the book, there are helpful indexes so you can look up words, Scripture citations, and subjects.

Here are a few examples of the figures of speech Bullinger explains:

Epizeuxis: or, Duplication – The Repetition of the Same Word in the Same Sense.  When the word is repeated in close and immediate succession, no other word or words coming between, it is called GEMINATIO, pronounced Gem-i-nā´-tio, which means a doubling, duplication, a re-doubling.  …It is a common and powerful way of emphasizing a particular word, by thus marking it and calling attention to it.  Examples: Gen. 6:17 – and behold, I, even I, bring a flood of waters upon the earth.  Gen. 7:19 “And the waters prevailed exceedingly.” Here, as in other passages, the doubled adverb is used for a superlative. מְאֹד מְאֹד (meōd, meōd), greatly, greatly. 

Pleonasm; or, Redundancy   When more Words are used than the Grammar requires –    Ple´-o-nasm. Greek, πλεονασμός (pleonasmos): from πλέονάζειν (pleonazein), to be more than enough. …The figure is so called when there appears to be a redundancy of words in a sentence; and the sense is grammatically complete without them. … But this redundancy is only apparent. These words are not really superfluous when used by the Holy Spirit, nor are they idle or useless.  …Gen. 1:2.—“And darkness was upon the faces of the deep,” i.e., upon the deep. But how much more forcible and emphatic the expression becomes by the pleonasm. … Gen. 11:8.—“So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth:” i.e., all over the earth.

Anyway, it’s hard to give great examples that are properly formatted here on the blog.  Bullinger goes into much detail for every figure of speech and gives tons of examples from Scripture of the figure of speech he’s discussing.  If you’re interested, I suggest going online and looking through some pages of the book.  I don’t agree with all of Bullinger’s interpretations and divisions/descriptions, but the book is for sure helpful in getting the student of Scripture to think about the figures of speech in the Bible.  It’ll help us read the Word better for sure.

Here’s the Amazon link to the hardcover or paperback of Bullinger’s Figures of Speech and here’s the Logos edition.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

The New Living Translation

Slimline Center Column Reference Bible NLT (Red Letter, Bonded Leather, Black)  (This is a slightly edited repost from June 2010)

Along with quite a few other translations of the Bible, I’ve been using the New Living Translation for over ten years now.  Though it is not necessarily my favorite translation, and though I’ve seen some weaknesses in the translation, there are certain aspects of it I appreciate.  For example, I like the modern language – this is a good translation to use for those not accustomed to detailed grammatical phrases, older language, and unfamiliar vocabulary.  Sometimes I use the NLT in a prison setting, nursing home, or when I preach at a funeral or other events where the people are not familiar with biblical language.

I also like the NLT for OT narratives and Gospel narratives.  However, I’m not as excited about the NLT in some of the Pauline epistles, because smoothing things out too much can take away from the tighter constructions and thoughts.

The NLT marketing hasn’t saturated the evangelical world nearly as much as the ESV has, but there are good names behind it. In case you’re interested, here are some scholars and teachers that worked on the NLT Bible translation team.

OT: Daniel Block, Gordon Wenham, R.K. Harrison, V. Phillips Long, Bill T. Arnold, Ray B. Dillard, Al Wolters, Mark Futato, Doug Green, Richard Pratt, Willem VanGemeren, Joyce Baldwin, and Douglas Gropp (just to name a few).

NT: Greg Beale, F.F. Bruce, Craig Blomberg, Don Hagner, Darrell Bock, D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, Tom Schreiner, Moises Silva, Klyne Snodgrass, and Robert Mounce  (just to name a few).

To be honest, I’m not really married to a specific translation.  I try to do most of my work out of the original languages, though I do tend to gravitate around the NET Bible, the NASB, NIV, and the ESV.  I occasionally look at the KJV, but I’m not at all a Majority Text guy.  Furthermore, the archaic English grammar and stiff translation/interpretive method of the KJV can be pretty frustrating – try reading a long OT narrative from the KJV out loud to people who never speak or read this type of old English.  You get a few puzzled looks as you’re stumbling through the odd grammatical phrases and you end up having to translate old English into modern English!  (As a side note, I’m not one who thinks that archaic grammar is somehow more reverent than everyday grammar.)

When people ask about translations, I always say two things: (1) don’t make your favorite translation a litmus test of orthodoxy.  That’s a toxic position that prohibits true biblical unity and peace. (2) I also say use a few different translations in your reading – some “word for word” (NASB) and some “thought for thought” (NIV, NLT) and some in between (ESV, RSV).  Remember that every translation makes thousands of interpretive decisions as they translate the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic into English (or other languages).  All translations of Scripture are also interpretations of Scripture.  There is no truly literal translation!

Looking back at the last 20 years of my Christian walk, I noticed that my Bible reading time has increased when I purchase a new translation because I want to see how they translated my favorite passages.  This leads me to read more of it and it becomes an enjoyable reading experience for me, especially when I see from the original language why the translation team chose the words and phrases they did.  It increases my knowledge of the Word!

But back to the NLT.  All in all, while I don’t think the NLT will ever be my primary translation, I do think it is valuable to have on my shelf.  I like it and recommend it.  It is a decent translation to consult when doing textual work, biblical studies, and as I said above, reading the Word to people who are unfamiliar with it.  If you’re not familiar with the NLT and have been wanting to check out a different translation, you may want to check it out!

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

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

He Gives to His Beloved, Sleep (NET)

 As I’ve mentioned here before, the NET Bible has been a helpful resource in my Bible studies.  Even though I might not agree with every single translation choice or footnote wording, the NET Bible is one that I use daily.  I especially like the translators’ notes which explain why they chose the translation they did.  The notes also explain legitimate alternate translations.  For one example, as I was studying Psalm 127 this morning, I noticed that the Hebrew in verse 2b is not overly simple.  The last phrase of the verse is something like this: “for/thus he gives to his beloved sleep” (כֵּ֤ן יִתֵּ֖ן לִֽידִידֹ֣ו שֵׁנָֽא).  Different translations use different words for this phrase.

The NET Bible translates it like this: “Yes, he can provide for those whom he loves even when they sleep.” Here’s the helpful footnote the NET Bible gives for this phrase in Psalm 127:2b:

Heb “he gives to his beloved, sleep.” The translation assumes that the Hebrew term שֵׁנָא (shena’, “sleep,” an alternate form of שֵׁנָה, shenah) is an adverbial accusative. The point seems to be this: Hard work by itself is not what counts, but one’s relationship to God, for God is able to bless an individual even while he sleeps. (There may even be a subtle allusion to the miracle of conception following sexual intercourse; see the reference to the gift of sons in the following verse.) The statement is not advocating laziness, but utilizing hyperbole to give perspective and to remind the addressees that God must be one’s first priority. Another option is to take “sleep” as the direct object: “yes, he gives sleep to his beloved” (cf. NIV, NRSV). In this case the point is this: Hard work by itself is futile, for only God is able to bless one with sleep, which metonymically refers to having one’s needs met. He blesses on the basis of one’s relationship to him, not on the basis of physical energy expended.

Again, I like the detail and explanation given.  It helps me work through the text and learn more about what the Psalmist is teaching about work, rest, and God’s gracious provision.  Without God, we toil in vain.  But with him, our work is not meaningless.  Or, like Paul said, “in the Lord our  labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

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

The “Bright Light” of Romans (Tyndale)

Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures In 1526 William Tyndale published a preface to his English translation of Romans.  The year before (1525), his English translation of the New Testament was printed in Worms.  [It was, of course, smuggled illegally into England, where church leaders quickly labeled it as a heretical work overflowing with false teaching.  In time, many of his translations were confiscated and burned.] Below is the opening paragraph of Tyndale’s preface to the book of Romans.  In it you will find some echoes of Martin Luther’s preface to Romans:

Forasmuch as this epistle is the principal and most excellent part of the New Testament and most pure evangelion, that is to say, glad tidings, and that we call gospel, and also is a light and a way unto the whole Scripture; I think it meet that every Christian man not only know it, by rote and without the book, but also exercise himself therein evermore continually, as with the daily bread of the soul. No man verily can read it too oft, or study it too well; for the more it is studied, the easier it is; the more it is chewed, the pleasanter it is; and the more groundly it is searched, the preciouser things are found in it, so great treasure of spiritual things lieth hid therein. I will therefore bestow my labour and diligence, through this little preface or prologue, to prepare a way in thereunto, so far forth as God shall give me grace, that it may be the better understood of every man: for it hath been hitherto evil darkened with glosses and wonderful dreams of sophisters, that no man could spy out the intent and meaning of it; which nevertheless of itself is a bright light, and sufficient to give light unto all the Scripture.

William Tyndale, Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures, ed. Henry Walter, vol. 1, The Works of William Tyndale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1848), 484.

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

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

Circular Reasoning and KJV Only-ism

  (This is a slightly edited repost from February, 2013.)

One reason I do not buy into the KJV Only logic is 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 his; 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!

I highly recommend White’s book for those of you who are “KJV Only” 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).

shane lems