Monthly Archives: October 2013

Two Words: A devotional in the guise of a complaint about Bible translation

I love to discover and read unusual translations of the New Testament. Well not too unusual. A good example would be the great classicist Richard Lattimore’s translation. Lattimore’s translations of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are almost canonical among readers, only recently rivaled in stature by the translations of Robert Fagles.

When I discover a new translation I often look immediately to Ephesians 1 to get a feel for the translation strategy. I’m not sure why I do that; my preferred translation, the NASB, published just the year before I was converted, has perhaps the worst, most complex, obtuse translations of the chapter available. The marginal readings barely rescue it from infamy. If I were to choose a translation based on Ephesians 1 alone I would never use my own Bible. Yet, it was the only true evangelical alternative at the time.

Nevertheless I still prefer the NASB, with some alterations, to the ESV, until you get to that abomination in verse 10, mostly because of two words that the NASB includes when describing God’s loving predestination of His chosen ones to adoption, two words that the ESV inexplicably drops, two words that are in the Greek as embarrassingly exposed by the ESV Reverse Interlinear Bible. Those two words are “to Himself”

In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the [good pleasure] of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:4-6 NASB)

ἐν ἀγάπῃ, 5 προορίσας ἡμᾶς εἰς υἱοθεσίαν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς αὐτόν, κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ, 6 εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ ἧς ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ. (Eph 1:4-6 BGT)

In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:4-6 ESV)

Those who might wonder about my alteration of the NASB’s insipid “kind intention” to “good pleasure” or my placement of “in love” with the sentence of verse 5 when the New Testament Greek so obviously has the comma before verse 5 can find my explanation in a previous blog post: “Where Does ‘In Love’ Belong in Ephesians 1:4?”

This passage is enveloped in divine love: God’s love for those whom He has chosen as He contemplates predestinating them to adoption and His love for His beloved Son, whom He intends to make the head of both heavens and earth, an intense, white hot love. In the middle is a reference to the pleasure of God, yet again delighting in His chosen ones. It would almost seem that any additional expression of God’s love for us—yes, we can know that we have been chosen though we can never know that we have not—would be gratuitous, an unnecessary hyperbole. And yet, in the Greek and accurately translated in the NASB are two additional words “to Himself,” God predestines us to be adopted “to Himself!” These two words have always been a big bear hug to me, God reaching out to me and drawing me to Himself. How can anyone respond to such an expression of love except with love?

It is a shame that the ESV dropped these two words!

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A Brief Meditation on Eph 1:11

Eph 1:11

also we we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will

This is a brief meditation on this one verse, especially on the final phrase, “who works all things after the counsel of His will.”

The verse occurs within an extended outburst of praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s thoughts are filled with the glory and overflowing majesty of God. Yet, he never explicitly defines God for us — not in the way systematic theologies or confessions of faith do. He presupposes a common understanding of God, probably because instruction about the nature of God was a part of his evangelistic teaching. Two brief sermons we have from him in Acts to the Gentiles draw out the implications of the Jewish/Christian view of God as creator. (see his sermon at Lystra in Acts 14 and to the Athenians in Acts 17.) We can only assume that these offer a glimpse into his constant practice. On occasion he appeals to the character of God in an ad hoc manner in the course of making an argument, reporting a prayer, or exhorting his readers. Often these are in the form of short relative clauses, such as this one, which we may tend to overlook but which are rich in information about the nature of God. We ought to linger over them.

What does this phrase, “who works all things after the counsel of His will,” tell us about God?

1. God is personal.He has motives, thoughts, purpose.He has a will and mind.He is not an impersonal force, principle or law.He is not a universal energy.

2. God is rational.He acts rationally.He has reasons for what he does.He chooses a purpose and acts to fulfill that purpose. He is not arbitrary or irrational.

3. God is consistent. He is not inconsistent and changeable. He does not waver from his own purpose.He is faithful.

4. God is active.Not passive.He works.He acts within time though he transcends time.One day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.His eternity doesn’t mean just a long time.He exists outside of time; both time and space are His creation.However, He is somehow still able to truly act within space and time.

5. God is independent.He is not constrained by anything outside Himself.His will is the ultimate explanation for all things.He sets His love on Israel because He loves them. This does not mean He is arbitrary; it means the explanation for His actions are within Himself. He is absolutely free.

6. God is sovereign.He is sovereignly powerful over all things.Possible exceptions — random events or chance; acts of the devil and demons; the free, responsible acts of human beings; my own sins — are found not to be exceptions in the Scriptures.

How should we respond?

We lose if we hold to a truncated view of God.Currently, some authors are arguing that these points are mutually exclusive:God can’t truly be personal in the sense that He can enter into a genuine relationship with His creatures unless He also limits His sovereignty and foreknowledge. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians by itself refutes this claim. Chapter 1 presents a beautiful picture of three motives of God coinciding: His zeal for His own glory, His intense love for the Son, and His passionate determination to bless His people. That is the majesty of the gospel and the source of all comfort — God is both absolutely sovereign and a resolutely gracious Personal Father.

Assurance.Even though “we have obtained an inheritance” is in past tense, our full enjoyment of this inheritance and consummation of all the promises of God toward us are still in the future.But Paul grounds our assurance of the future on the very character of God.He gives us two reasons for being sure: God’s working all things for us and the Spirit’s work within us (see following verse).The ground of both of these is the very nature and character of God.

Comfort.The corollary to God being rational, active and sovereign over all things, is that every thing that happens has a reason.I do not understand those who find it more comforting to believe either that some things happen purely by chance or that God’s knowledge and power are somehow limited.The issue seems to be a question about the character of God.We need to trust in God’s kindness, goodness, wisdom, power, grace, first.Then, we can trust that a good and gracious, all-wise, all-powerful God has his own good reasons for letting some things occur. Somehow the explanation for these things can be reconciled with His goodness though we ourselves cannot reconcile them.This is far more comforting to me than to think that God is either too weak or too stupid to prevent calamity.

Purposeful activity.We glorify God and fulfill His purpose for us by imitating Him. We may be tempted to think God’s sovereignty over all things would lead us to be passive, or diminish our significance as “real causes.”But this is philosophy, not Christian revelation.We were created in His image — to image Him forth. We, therefore, fulfill His purpose for us, we worship Him, when we set goals and fulfill them, when we work. Work is worship

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Reading and Citizenship

An old one from 2004.

Evangelical Christians of all people ought to be most committed to searching out and studying primary source material.

 

We believe that the authority of scripture necessarily implies an approach to biblical interpretation that seeks to discover the meaning of a text in the Author’s intent and not in the reader’s response. It is not satisfied with secondary sources, but instead seeks to enter into the mind of its Author. The meaning of the text transcends its readers’ immediate thoughts and experience. It is something to which we aspire to attain, to comprehend, rather than something confined to our ready-made subjectivism. Study of the text requires painstaking, self-suspicious effort.

 

Beyond the Bible’s authority as the word of God, our call to pursue sanctification also demands a rigorously careful interpretation of scripture, and implies a specific philosophy of interpretation. “Unity in the faith,” that is, a common understanding of doctrine, is a measure of our Christ-likeness and is an important aspect of our growth in conformity into his image. Seeking doctrinal unity remains a constant duty for us as long as we live. There is just one right faith, not a multitude of equally valid “faiths,” and just one valid interpretation of scripture. If there were a number of “faiths” then we would be urged to unity in spite of faith and not in it. (see Eph 4:13 in context.)

 

But our sanctification is never complete in this life; neither is our understanding of scripture. Perfect agreement in the Church is unattainable. Nevertheless, our responsibility stands: we are called to devote ourselves to continual, earnest dialogue with others about the meaning of the text. This dialogue ought to characterize our interactions with each other in small groups and in worship services. It is an integral part of the body life of the Church. We are called, literally, to “truth it” with one another in love. (Eph 4:15, Greek)

 

Even though we can affirm some of the very same premises postmodernists use to argue for the “death of the author” and to posit a reader-response theory of the meaning of a text – the impossibility of perfect objectivity, our propensity toward self-justifying distortion, the problem of discerning another’s intent – we cannot follow them in their desperate abandonment to radical subjectivism. We believe the concept of divine revelation implies the efficacy of the Author’s communication. And we assert that the Holy Spirit guides us into the truth by enabling us to understand what is “out there” in the text and by progressively liberating us from the cognitive effects of our innate sinfulness.

 

Unfortunately, we are often, in our popular preaching and in our Bible study, in such a rush to apply scripture that we act as though the meaning of the text is “what it means to us, today,” that is, its meaning consists in its existential, subjective, contemporary significance rather than its objective, historical meaning. We skip the toil of studying grammar, idiom, rhetoric, historical and logical context, flow of argument, and so on, in order to make the text personally relevant, ignoring that this in itself often puts the lie to our confession of the unique authority of scripture. We define relevance for ourselves rather than letting scripture define it for us.

 

Christians are, in a sense, given a philosophy of the interpretation of texts: the importance of the author’s intent, the responsibility to interact with primary sources, the community’s role in continual refinement of our understanding, the assertion of the possibility of valid interpretation even though perfect interpretation is unattainable.

We ought to apply this philosophy of interpretation in our exercise of responsible citizenship, as well. All of us ought to read “The 9/11 Commission Report” and the Supreme Court’s opinions in “Lawrence v. Texas” before voting this year.

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