Friday, December 12, 2008

Tithing Is Not About Money!

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglected the others." (Matthew 23:23, NASB)

What connection did Jesus see between tithing and justice, mercy and faithfulness? F. F. Bruce provides the following suggestion (The Expositor's Greek Testament, I, 282, slightly altered):

“The idea seems to be: [the Pharisees] made a great show of zeal in doing what was easy, and shirked the serious and more arduous requirements of duty.—[the justice, τὴν κρίσιν], righteous judgment, implying the love of righteousness, a passion for justice—[the mercy, τὸ ἔλεος], sadly neglected by Pharisees, much insisted on by Jesus.—[the faithfulness, τὴν πίστιν], in the sense of fidelity, trueheartedness. . . .”

This commentator apparently sees a peripheral connection between tithing and justice, mercy, and faithfulness. However, the historical basis for tithing would reject this in favor of a direct connection between these issues.

The Old Testament mentions three different tithes: one for the Levites as their inheritance instead of land, one for the poor as a social program of financial aid, and one for the people to finance a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for one of the three required annual feasts. These three tithes equate to Jesus' terms justice, mercy, and faithfulness respectively.

This historical understanding of the background of Matthew 23:23 is reflected by the Greek definite articles, the, used in the Greek text of Matthew 23:23 but not included in the English translation. The articles ask the reader to think in particular terms rather than general ones. Thus, justice is specifically tied to the first tithe, it is unjust to rob Levi of his inheritance; mercy, to the second tithe, the people of God are to be merciful to the poor in their midst; and faithfulness, to the third tithe, attendance at the annual feasts was required under the covenant and an issue of covenant faithfulness.

The conclusion of this study is that the connection between the tithes and the definite concepts mentioned by Jesus are hidden to the English Bible reader because the translations do not include the definite articles which could have been done, though awkwardly, in English—the justice (focus of tithe 1), the mercy (focus of tithe 2), the faithfulness (focus of tithe 3).

The conclusion of this investigation is that there is a very real connection between financial stewardship and justice, mercy, and faithfulness. The rest of the New Testament confirms this connection. In a significant way financial stewardship is really not about the money but about spirituality.

You can study this topic further by consulting: Wretlind, Dennis O. Shekels, Dollars & Sense, available at

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What! Another Translation?

To some people another translation of the Bible is just another translation too many. "Surely," the argument runs, "biblical scholarship has approached its zenith so that we can stop multiplying translations and confusing people." There is definitely some truth in this statement. If the reason for the translation is purely economic or just to have one's name attached to a translation, it is one translation too many. But there are at least three acceptable reasons for more English versions.

One reason is the English language itself. To the degree that existing translations fail to reflect modern usage another translation is in order. In this regard perhaps a new translation for the general populous every 20 years or so would be fitting. An illustration of this type of problem is the revised NASB (1997) rendering of Matthew 5:11 "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me." The previous edition completed in 1971 reads "Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Me." The word revile is a bit anachronistic today.

Another reason for a new translation is the status of the biblical text, the manuscripts from which translations are made. As scholars better understand the science of textual criticism and the biblical manuscripts they suggest changes in textual readings. When a significant number of broadly validated suggestions exist a new translation is in order. The present state of textual-critical theory and practice and manuscript evaluation, however, practically eliminates the need for new translations for this reason in the foreseeable future.

Third, a new translation is legitimate when new interpretations of a formidable number of passages gain scholarly consensus. Achieving such unanimity of interpretation is not easy which means, therefore, that the need for a new translation on this ground is rare. It is better to footnote these changes in subsequent editions until the volume of necessary adjustments becomes unacceptable. Galatians 1:13 and 23 in the NASB, NIV, NLT, and NKJV differ from the venerable KJV in their recognition of the tendential nature of the verb "to destroy" (ἐπόρθουν) and translating "trying to destroy" instead of the obviously inadequate "destroyed." Here scholarly consensus has apparently been achieved.

New translations are occasionally necessary and good. But before another one is made the reasons for it must justify the effort. Otherwise another translation is just another unnecessary and potentially confusing product.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Saving the Apostle Paul

Paul’s clearly affirms his need for salvation in Philippians 1:19, “I know that this shall turn out to my salvation,” he writes. But, what did he mean and how did he used the word salvation (σωτηρίαν) here?

Neither the Greek New Testaments by Nestle-Aland or the United Bible Societies indicates that Paul is quoting from the Old Testament here. However, the margins of both texts tie the words to the Septuagint reading of Job 13:16. The wording is exact. The exegetical question, then, is how, if at all, Paul’s Old Testament allusion, conscious or unconscious, affects the meaning of his stated need for salvation?

Interpreting quotations and allusions involves minimally (a) the source of the reference, (b) the interpretation of the reference within its own context, (c) the manner of the citation by the writer, and (d) the purpose for the inclusion. In Philippians 1:19 the source of the allusion is clearly Job 13:16. The meaning of Job 13:16 within its own context may be summarized thus: In response to an accusation of being guilty of sin before God by Zophar, Job argues that he is innocent and that if he could argue his case legally before God he would be acquitted. In the Job context, this shall turn out to my salvation (τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν) , is a statement of acquittal. The Septuagint (LXX, Greek translation of the Old Testament) term salvation (σωτηρίαν) represents the Hebrew word salvation (ישׁוּעָה) meaning victory and, in this legal context, victory is acquittal.

The manner of the citation is a direct quote from the LXX which is itself a good representation of the Hebrew precursor. Finally, the purpose for the allusion connects to the observation that Job’s and Paul’s experiences are somewhat parallel. Job was accused of sin by his “friend;” Paul is being attacked by “brothers.” Both Job and Paul claim victory.

Salvation in this context, then, is Paul’s statement of faith that his life now and in the future will exhibit genuine Christian character and never give way to sin and shame. Salvation here is the salvation of a victorious Christian life both in the present and when he stands before the Judge of all the earth.

Bible Translation--An exercise in "Failure"!

One of the most difficult questions I am asked as a minister and professor with competence in the biblical languages is this, “Which English translation is the best?” or “Which English translation should I buy?” The questioner, whether that a church member or a student, assumes that the answer should be relatively easy for one who can read the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts, and thereby be able to assess the merits of each English version. As in most serious questions, however, the answer is not easy. In this instance some of the difficulty lies in the fact that the questioner lacks, first, some understanding about the nature of the translation process and, second, how to assess the relative merits of any English translation.

Translation by its very nature is an exercise in failure. To be sure that failure is more pronounced in some translations than in others, but they are all failures. The failure most basically is tied to the fact that different languages are just that—different. That is, the communication pattern of the biblical languages is different from that of English and some of the data of these texts cannot pass over into the English translation. For example, Greek varies the order of words in a sentence according to the emphasis given to each word whereas English requires a regular order of words in a sentence, leaving the emphasis for spoken communication. Thus, in an English translation one cannot see the emphasis of the original text that is a major element of communication in every language. For another example, Hebrew often uses similar sounding words to communicate depth of meaning. English necessarily changes the sounds and removes the ability to see the full meaning of the original text. These and other kinds of problems exist in trying to translate biblical language texts into English. In short, no translation can transfer all of the data of one language into another language. Every translation, therefore, is an exercise in failure.

But there are degrees of failure, and the process of determining the “better” translation is related to this question, “Which translation transfers the greater amount of data from the original without adding to or detracting from the data of the original?” There are two elements in this question. The first, the degree of success in transferring data, requires an ability to read the original and compare the translation. The “best” translation will be the one that transfers the greater amount of the transferable data. The second part of the question, whether or not
extra-textual data is brought into the translation, also requires the ability to read the original and compare translations. Data which is “extra-textual” can consist of making the translation more explicit or less explicit in meaning than the original, adding words not found in the original without indicating that they are added by the translator, rewording the sentences to bring emphasis to an element not emphasized in the original, changing singulars to plurals and visa versa, using gender-inclusive terms where the original has gender-specific terms, etc. Translation philosophy strongly comes into play here as well. A formal equivalence or word-for-word translation philosophy generally tends to have high success in transferring the transferable data and low inclinations towards adding extra-textual data. A dynamic equivalent translation philosophy generally tends to have only moderate success in transferring the transferable data and a high tendency towards adding extra-textual data. In short, the “better” translation would be the one that follows a word-for-word philosophy. But all of this is complicated by the fact that any one translation may be classified as “best” in one passage and somewhat less successful in another.

Perhaps it can be understood now why the question of which translation is best is exceedingly difficult to answer. There is no one easy solution to this complicated problem. What the questioner wants to hear is an answer such as “NASB,” or “NIV,” or “KJV,” etc. What the questioner gets is an education. To persons without the ability to investigate the original languages for themselves I recommend that they use various translations in their studies enabling them to compare the English versions and to observe where significant differences lie. At least one of these Bibles ought to follow the word-for-word philosophy of translation such as the KJV, NKJV, or NASB. Beyond this the questioner can consult commentaries to determine which translation is “best” in a given passage.