Translations and Apostasy
Staying the Course
Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith . . .
And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
Christian pop culture has been abuzz the last few weeks about a former pastor and a well-known song writer walking away from the faith. The unspoken narrative is that you must deny science and self-evident facts about the world and nature in order to walk out the faith. We reject that idea altogether. When you dig down into the spiritually concrete realities of sin, spiritual death, mortality, and man’s conscious understanding of good and evil, you find that the Gospel is nothing short of brilliant.
Troubling Trends and translations
This morning one of the pastors of our church based his sermon on the Message translation, which is actually a loose paraphrase. Back in the 1980s, virtually all preachers reached for their trusted King James Bible. The NIV was on the bookshelves of Christian stores (there were actually standalone Christian bookstores back then), but it was virtually non-existent in Full Gospel churches.
The later 1980s, the 1990s, and 2000s saw a slew of new translations come on the market: NLV, NLT, TNIV, VOICE, WEB, LITV, MSG, HCSB, CEV, NCV, MEV, NET, and the ESV. These new translations, aside from the ESV, were dynamic, prioritizing the “meaning” of the original Hebrew and Greek phrases over the words themselves. While dynamic equivalence is good in theory, it is more vulnerable to the translators’ subjective interpretive and theological biases.
Take Romans 1:16–17, for instance. Here are five translations—an interlinear; a word-for-word; and the three popular dynamic translations.
For not I am ashamed of the good news, for [the] power of God it is unto salvation to everyone believing, both to Jew and to Greek, for [the] righteousness of God in it is revealed from faith unto faith, as it stands written, “but the righteous one by faith shall live.” (Interlinear)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (NLT)
I am proud of the good news! It is God’s powerful way of saving all people who have faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. The good news tells how God accepts everyone who has faith, but only those who have faith. It is just as the Scriptures say, “The people God accepts because of their faith will live.” (CEV)
It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.” (MSG)
There are three things that the interlinear translation brings out that lose their meaning as the translations drift from word-for-word to dynamic equivalence. First is Paul’s “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” The heart of the Gospel involves Jesus’ self-humiliating death on the cross. The dynamic translations obscure or even lose the fact that the heart of our Gospel involves the Word-made-flesh being humiliated by his own creation. Second, the “righteousness of God” is a Pauline term of art describing God’s own rightness or righteousness in effectuating redemption for everyone who believes, not our righteousness to legally stand before him. Finally, the quote of “the righteous one by faith shall live” is Habakkuk’s prophecy about a Savior and identification in redemption. It wasn’t a prophecy about faith versus works.
This morning’s sermon in our church drifted off from the Word the same way you see the Message translation does here. You wonder how far afield the translations and preaching can go before they are no longer spirit and life.
We reconfigured our podcast feed and posted The Promise of the Father, a message about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We plan to do a series of messages on the baptism because of the dearth of messages on the subject. We plan to upload our next message at the end of the week.
eBooks in the Works
We have reviewed and re-edited Spirit Led, a book about being led by God’s Spirit. We’ve done the same with our short Bible study called, What Faith Is. Look for these titles on the site sometime in the next couple of weeks.