jesusandscriptureLogos Bible Software is offering another excellent book for their “Free Book of the Month” Promotion. Last year these were all out-of-copyright classics widely available on the internet for free. Last month they offered one of the Armchair Theologian series from Westminster John Knox Press, this month Steve Moyise’s Jesus and Scripture (SPCK, 2010), and printed in the US by Baker Academic in 2011. Moyise is a professor of biblical studies at the University of Chichester and has written a number of books on the use of scripture in Revelation and Paul.  This 140-page book is an excellent introduction to how Jesus used scripture, beginning in Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. There are a few text-boxes throughout the book that offer brief definitions / expansions on some technical/scholarly issues (What is Q? The Criteria of Authenticity, etc.)  While there is nothing ground-breaking in this little book, it is a very nice introduction to some of the problems of Historical Jesus studies, and Moyise is able to explain some difficult problems clearly and concisely.

After surveying the data in the Gospels, Moyise offers three chapters on various approaches to this material. The  minimalist approach to Jesus’ use of Scripture (represented by Geza Vermes, John Dominic Crossan, and Marcus Borg). These scholars tend to reject much of the Jesus tradition, beginning with the apocalyptic material (Son of Man sayings, etc). Crossan and Borg are well known for reducing the number of sayings of Jesus to a bare minimum (hence, “minimalists”). It is not that these writers seek to marginalize Jesus, but as Moyise says, “they believe that the Gospel writers diminished Jesus by making him the mouthpiece for their own egocentric claim that they are now the people that God will rescue from the imminent collapse of the universe” (91).

SteveMoyiseThe moderate approach (represented by James Dunn and Tom Wright) accepts far more of the sayings of Jesus as authentic, although there is an acceptance of the fact that some of the sayings have been “embellished” by later Gospel writers.There is also more acceptance of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet of some sort, so Jesus’ own self understanding is based on texts like Dan. 7 , Zech. 9–14, Ps. 22 and Isa. 40–55. Not to give away the conclusion, but Moyise places himself on the side of the moderates (120-1).

The maximalist approach (represented by Charles Kimball and R. T. France) assumes that the Gospels represent a reliable account of what Jesus said and did, and that Jesus’ use of Scripture was analogous to other Jewish teachers of his day. Kimball especially focuses on Hillel’s seven rules as a way to describe Jesus’ teaching.

As a bonus, Logos is giving away a very nice six book collection of “Jesus Studies” published by SPCK (Baker or Westminster in the US). Each book in that collection is worth reading. Head on over to Logos Bible Software, get the free Logos book, and enter to win the whole collection.

Bob MacDonald has just posted the 97th Biblical Studies Carnival at his blog, Dust. This is an impressive list of links of interest for biblical and theological studies, and includes several sing-along sections.  Well done, Bob!  Jim West his Avignonian Carnival at Zwinglius Redivivus, now with star ratings. Brian Small has a small collection of Hebrews Highlights for the month at Polumeros kii Polutropos, and Abram K-J from Words on the Word usually posts a Septuagint Soiree.

biblicalstudiescarnivalNext month’s carnival will be represent a brief unification of the Carnival as the Avignonian returns to Rome - Jim West  will host at Zwinglius Redivivus.  Feel free to send him nominations for the April Carnival before the May 1 Launch. The May 2014 (due June 1) is Jeff Carter at That JeffCarter Was Here. I would love to have some additional volunteers for the rest of the year, so contact me (plong42 at gmail.com) and we can get your blog scheduled to host a Carnival.

In other biblio-blogging news, Peter Kirby posted his quarterly list of top blogs. Although Reading Acts slips to #6 with the introduction of Jesus Creed to the list, I am happy to see Peter coming up with a very useful list every three months. This time he inserted a few Patheos blogs, although it is difficult to determine their ranking since they are all under the Patheos URL.  Jim West remains the #1 biblioblogger for the 4,300 month in a row. I notice that John Loftus is back on the list with Debunking Christianity.  I have seen a few times made the top ten, New Life, written by Marg Mowczko (MA, Macquarie University). She posts articles in Spanish and a few on equality of men and women in marriage and ministry translated into Urdu  and Sindhi in addition to regular English posts. Another international biblioblog to make the list is Observatório Bíblico, written by Airton José da Silva of Brazil. The Italian Bibbia Blog, written by Australian-Italian Richard Wilson, is also in the ten this quarter.  Kudos to Peter for making this an international collection!

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps more than any other New Testament book, the date for the writing of Revelation is important for interpreting the book. If the book was written in the 90s, then the immediate background for the book is persecution of Christians under Domitian. But if the book was written before A.D. 70, then the persecution in the background of the book is Nero’s backlash against Christians after the fire of Rome.

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' RobertiAnother factor is the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It is fairly obvious the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple are somehow related to the images in the book. For a preterist like Ken Gentry, the book of Revelation is revealing “what will happen soon,” and the soon-event is the destruction of Jerusalem. (See his Before Jerusalem Fell, for example.) For other preterists who do not feel the need to preserve Revelation as a book of prophecy, the fall of Jerusalem is in the background as a past event that provides a set of metaphors.

The majority of the early church assumed that it was under Domitian’s persecution that the book was written. Irenaues said that John wrote “nearly in our generation,” at the end of the reign of Domitian. All of the secular evidence for persecution under Domitian comes from after his reign. Pliny the Younger wrote a tribute to Emperor Trajan:

He [Domitian] was a madman, blind to the true meaning of his position, who used the arena for collecting charges of high treason, who felt himself slighted and scorned if we failed to pay homage to his gladiators, taking any criticism of them to himself and seeing insults to his own godhead and divinity; who deemed himself the equal of the gods yet raised his gladiators to his equal.

In 1 Clement 1:1, written in A.D. 96, alludes to “the sudden and repeated calamities and reverses that have befallen us.” 1 Clement 4-7 contains several references which might be taken as either referring to the martyrdom of Peter and Paul or the present persecutions under Domitian.

Since all of the sources describing Domitian as a megalomaniac who demanded worship as a god date from after his reign, some argue the later sources are painting the old emperor in a negative light (perhaps to paint Trajan in a good light). DeSilva disagrees, arguing instead that “Domitian valued cultic language as an expression of social and political relationships.” This language would have been imposed on the lower levels of society as a method of declaring loyalty to the state (“The ‘Image of the Beast’” TrinJ 12 [1991], 199).

I am personally inclined to retain the late date for the book and see the imperial cult as the potential background for many things in the book. I am not opposed to the destruction of Jerusalem as a possible background, but (for me) it does not have to be predictive of the event. There is no problem for John to be using a past event like Rome’s obliteration of the city of Jerusalem to talk about other, still future judgments.

What difference might it make to reading Revelation if the book is early (pre A.D. 70) as opposed to in the 90s?

While I have always thought of Jude as rather late (post 70 at least, if not in the 90′s), there are good reasons to date the book earlier. In his WBC volume on Jude and 2 Peter, Richard Bauckham argues that the letter is very early, perhaps as early as A.D. 50.  This reading is based on the use of Jewish apocalyptic style found in the letter.  He finds three elements of the book which lean toward the earlier date:  There is a lively hope for the return of Jesus (14-15).  Secondly, the style of the letter is a Jewish midrash which draws together texts from the Hebrew Bible to argue that the false teachers will face judgment at the Coming of the Messiah.  Finally, there is no hint of church offices in the letter – elders, deacons or bishops, nor is there any appeal to human authority.  The institution of the church is limited when the letter was written.

jude01One serious challenge to this early date is the nature of the opponent.  They seem to be libertine, or even antinomian, which has always made me think that the letter must therefore be written later, after Paul’s death at the very least.  But if the letter is written at the time of Paul’s first missionary journey and the controversy of which led to the Jerusalem council, the issue is quite a bit different from Galatians or James.  In Galatians, Gentiles are discouraged from keeping Law (Paul says “gentiles, your are not converting to Judaism”) and in James Jews are encouraged to continue keeping the Law (James says, “Jews, you are not converting away from Judaism.”)

Jude might give witness to some people who took Paul’s gospel of freedom from law to an extreme and lived a life that was not bound by law at all.  These libertines are not really an issue in Acts 15, but they are in Philippians, perhaps in 1 Thess 4, and certainly a problem in Corinth and Romans 6.  That Paul has to answer the objection, “should we sin that grace may abound” implies that someone was in fact sinning so grace might abound!

What made me wonder is the fact that Jude seems clearly Jewish – it is a midrash constructed from various texts from the Hebrew Bible. If Jude is writing to Jewish Christians who have antinomians in their midst, it seems like these might very well be Jewish Libertines not Gentiles. If that is the case, then Paul’s gospel of freedom from the Law for Gentiles might have had some traction among Hellenistic Jews which led to a rejection of the Law. Perhaps this is the source of James’ concern in Acts 21, that some think that Paul has rejected the Law.

The opponents in Jude  misuse the grace of God as a license to sin. These seems to be the key problem Jude needs to address. The teachers seem to have been antinomian, a perversion of the gospel which argues that those who are saved are somehow “beyond” the law, so that they can behave however they want without consequence. Antinomianism was a serous problem at the end of the first century and lead to a bad reputation among the Romans, who heard rumors that all Christians enaged in strange sexual rites as a part of their worship.

ritual-feast-04Jude 4 describes the sin of the opponents as ἀσέλγεια, a word which has the sense of abandoning the restraints of socially accepted behavior, almost always sexual sin. (Only 2x in the LXX: WisSol 14:26, “sexual perversion”, 3 Macc 2:26 uses the word to describe the sexual excess of the Greek king of Egypt; cf., T.Levi 23:1, “lewdness.”)

Some of Jude’s biblical illustrations for these opponents are sexually oriented as well. The fallen angels (Gen 6:1-4, 1 Enoch). The sexual nature of the sins of the angels in Gen 6 is more clear in the 1 Enoch version, perhaps explaining Jude’s use of the more legendary form of the story. Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 14) were legendary for their sexual sins, it is possible that Jude has general sexual excess in mind rather than homosexuality.

Taken along with Jude’s reference to the opponents being “blemishes” on the church’s love feasts, it is likely that these teachers were using church meals as an opportunity for sexual debauchery. While this sounds completely alien to the later church, in a Greco-Roman context this makes more sense. Greco-Roman banquets were known for not only over indulgence in good food and wine. A good meal was often followed by sexual encounters with prostitutes.

Paul dealt with this very problem in Corinth where was a problem with gluttony, drunkenness and going to prostitutes at private banquets (1:Cor 6:12-20). The issue here is attendance at banquets given by the rich elite of the city. There is plenty of evidence concerning the types of things that went on in a Roman banquet of the first century from contemporary writers.

Plutarch described the combination of gluttony, drunkenness and sexual immorality that were a part of the “after-dinners” as he calls them. There was an association between gluttony and sexual excess, as is seen from the well known saying reported by Plutarch, “in well-gorged-bodies love (passions) reside.” The writer Athenaeus said tat the goddess Cypris (Aphrodite) does not visit the poor, “in an empty body no love of the beautiful can reside.” Plutarch also said that in “intemperate intercourse follows a lawless meal, inharmonious music follows a shameless debauch.”

If this is the background for the opponents in Jude, then once again we have evidence for an earlier date to the book, and perhaps another indication that the problems were caused by people, perhaps Jews, failing to challenge their pagan world with their new faith. I suspect that this is one of the more applicable elements of the book of Jude.  These “Christians” are using their religion to promote behaviors which would even shock the Romans.

Jude makes use of at least two books that were not considered to be inspired by the Church or the Jews. In v. 9 he alludes to the Testament of Moses and in vv. 14-15 he quotes 1 Enoch.

Bauckham points out that besides the direct citation of 1 Enoch 1, the writer knows 1 Enoch 1-36 and perhaps sections later in the book. 1 Enoch was popular at Qumran and there may be allusions to the book in Revelation as well. This section of 1 Enoch is an expansion of the story of the Nephlehim and the Giants a found in Genesis 6. Jude does not allude to that plot line at all, but rather to the rather generic statement that God is coming to execute justice on ones who have rebelled against him. In the context of 1 Enoch, this is the angels who have intermixed with humans and created “the Giants” and taught humans all manner of sin.

Michael and SatanThe reference to the archangel and Satan discussing the bones of Moses does not appear in the Testament of Moses, although it is likely that the words Jude uses are quoted from the lost ending to that book. Richard Bauckham has a considerable excursus on the sources for Jude 9 which includes a catalog of all of the variations of this story in Jewish and Christian sources as well as a list of references to the Assumption of Moses, a lost book usually confused with the Testament of Moses (Jude, 2 Peter, 48, 67). Bauckham concludes that the Assumption is a re-worked version of the Testament (76). There are a number of Christian sources that seem to have known the story in detail, and a few pre-Christian Jewish sources contain disputes between the devil and an angel over various events (Isaac’s sacrifice, for example).

That Jude would allude to these Jewish texts is a good argument for the circulation of the book within Jewish communities in Judea, perhaps in the “near diaspora” communities. We know that 1 Enoch appears at Qumran. Although the Testament of Moses has not been found among the DSS, it is not unlikely that this is evidence for an early date and Jewish Christian context for the book.

The common way to explain Jude’s used of these texts is to say they are simply “illustrations of truth: similar to a pastor using a commonly known story, film, or T.V. show as a sermon illustration. Jude is not trying to tell his readers that these books are inspired and worthy of inclusion in the Bible, but rather using texts that they are already familiar with in order to make a point. The reference to Enoch is a bit touchy, since it says Enoch in fact prophesied the Lord’s return – although one could argue Jude is saying the popular book of Enoch says this, rather than “historical Enoch.”

It is possible that Jude uses these texts because they are popular with the false teachers. In my post on Jude’s use of the Hebrew Bible I commented that Jude alludes to the wilderness tradition frequently, perhaps his opponents used the wilderness tradition and a book like 1 Enoch in their own teaching. The allusion to the Testament of Moses may be appropriate since the event took place in the wilderness and the end of that period of Israel’s history. The Qumran Community immediately comes to mind, since they are in the wilderness, not far from Nebo and made use of 1 Enoch. But Jude seems to imply the opponents are a perversion of Christian teaching, so perhaps they are a Essene like group which has accepted Jesus as Messiah.

In any case, Jude is turning their own favorite books around on them to show that they are heretics. Jude’s purpose is to combat a false teaching which has “smuggled” itself into the church.

What are the implications of Jude’s use of these sources?

Jude alludes to a number of stories from the Hebrew Bible. Jude rarely quotes the Hebrew Bible, but he alludes to key events which ought to be familiar to his readers. For example, in v. 5 alludes to the Exodus, v. 6, the Giants in Gen 6, and in v. 7 to Sodom and Gomorrah. He mentions the names of characters to invoke their stories as well. In v. 11 he lists Cain, Balaam and Korah as examples of rebellion against God.

In each of these cases, Jude wants the reader to hear not just the event or name, but to recall the whole story. To what extent does Jude expect the listener to hear the names and events as shorthand for the whole story? The story of the Exodus is common, but Baalam might not be as well known, and Korah is far more obscure. He is expecting a great deal out of his congregation by alluding to these stories.

It is significant that the majority of these examples come from the Wilderness traditions of the Hebrew Bible. The wilderness period was sometimes used in the prophets as an prime example of the rebellious nature of Israel. From the earliest history, Israel struggled to remain faithful to God. Jude makes use of this tradition much like the prophets did, drawing analogies from the first generation to describe his opponents.

While some of these traditions are obscure to us, they were likely well known by Jewish congregations. Paul alludes to the wilderness in 1 Cor 10, Jesus also creates an analogy between his own ministry at the generation in the wilderness (John 6 especially). The fact is that these stories turn up in a number of Jewish sources as examples of rebellion against God. Much of this literature either pre-dates Jude or is contemporary to the letter. “Probably this Jewish schema had been taken up in the paraenesis of the primitive church and used in the initial instruction of converts: hence Jude can refer to it as already well-known to his readers” (Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 46-47).

Jude used texts from the Hebrew Bible to create a typology. He is evoking the memory of a story or event from the history of Israel and drawing out some implication which applies to the situation of the churches he is addressing. Balaam is therefore analogous to the opponents of the church in some ways, but not in every way. Jude’s approach to scripture is not unlike that of the writer of Hebrews. Usually described as a midrash, Jude combines scripture and interprets the scripture as applicable to the present situation of false teachers having “slipped in unaware.”

Perhaps a better way to describe Jude’s technique is to compare the letter with the Habakkuk commentary from Qumran. This style, known as pesher, placed interpretations from the Community’s teacher in between lines of scripture. This sort of running commentary was intended to interpret the text of Habakkuk as applying to the Community’s current situation.

If Jude can be rightly described as a kind of either midrash or pesher, then this can be used as additional evidence of an early, Jewish Christianity as the background to the letter.  This observation will be beneficial in understanding the theology of this letter – keeping these images in mind, what is Jude saying about his opponents?

Douglas Rowston described Jude as “the most neglected book in the New Testament.” Perhaps because the letter is so short, or possibly because of the book’s close relationship to 2 Peter, the book is rarely preached on, and few people turn to the book in devotional reading. It is, however, an important witness to the way the early church responded to false teaching. While the book is brief, it is a very “dense” book, in that nearly every line is packed with allusions to the Old Testament or laced with colorful metaphors to described the false teachers.

Book of JudeWhy do many scholars deal with 2 Peter along with Jude? One factor is the is the similarity between the two letters – virtually the entire book of Jude appears in 2 Peter, with the exception of the two allusions to non-biblical books. For this reason scholars wonder if Jude used 2 Peter, or vice versa, or if both letters used a third source, perhaps a standard statement against false teachers who abuse their freedom in Christ.

Another major problem with the book is authorship. The author of Jude identifies himself simply as Jude, brother of James and servant of Jesus Christ. There are eight New Testament persons with the name Jude (Greek, Judas, or Hebrew, Judah), but the most likely is Jude the brother of Jesus. This has been the assumption of most Bible readers until relatively modern times. Since the rise of historical criticism, Jude is usually identified as a pseudonym or simply as another Jude other than the brother of Jesus.

Bart Erhman, for example, is confident that the “historical Jude” did not write this short letter (Forged, 189). Several lines of evidence inform this opinion. First, the writer is living in a later period when the church is well established and false teachers need to be “rooted out.” While this is certainly a major theme of Jude, it is also true of Galatians, which is almost universally accepted as both early and authentic.  Second, vss 17-18 urge the readers to remember the predictions of the apostles “as if they lived a long time ago.” That seems to me to be a judgment about what “remember” means. Paul tells his readers in 1 Thessalonians (another early and usually accepted as authentic letter) to remember how he was when he was with them (2:1-12) and in 1 Corinthians he passes along two traditions from the apostles,  the Lord’s Supper (11:13-26) and the resurrection appearances (15:1-8). Third, Ehrman questions whether a “lower-class Galilean peasant” like Jude could even write, let alone write good Greek in a persuasive rhetorical style.  This is the standard sort of thing to say about Peter and the two brothers of Jesus and simply ignores evidence that implies Galilee populated with slack-jawed yokels unable to read or write, nor does it do justice to the even an illiterate person could get a letter written for them in any number of ways.

Yet the evidence is thin that the Jude who wrote this short letter was the brother of Jesus. This is in part because we know absolutely nothing about the brothers of Jesus other than James.  Karen Jobes points out that we know from 1 Cor 15:7 that Jesus appear to his brother James after the resurrection, so “possibly he appeared to others in this family as well” (Letters to the Church, 237). That is certainly possible, but not necessary from 1 Cor 15. There is a strong tradition that Jude was not only a follower of Jesus after the resurrection, but that he became a leader in the Jerusalem church after the death of his brother James. Eusebius says that the grandsons of Jude were alive during the reign of Domitian and were brought to Rome under suspicion of fomenting rebellion. The emperor questioned them but realized they were not rebels at all, but rather simple farmers (H.E. 3.20).

If Jude was the brother of Jesus, why does he not say so in his letter? Why use the title “servant of Jesus?” The fact that Jude and the other brothers of Jesus were unbelievers until after the resurrection, the title “servant of Jesus” can be seen as a humble acknowledgment of Jesus’ Lordship.

Bibliography: Douglas J. Rowston, “The Most Neglected Book in the New Testament, NTS 21 (1975): 554-563.

Blomberg-Banner

Blomberg, Craig. L. Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2014. 287 pages, pb.

Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe in Bible? blog tour continues here at Reading Acts with Chapter 3, Can We Trust Any of our Translations? Visit the Can we Still Believe website for the rest of the schedule as well as a chance at a free copy of the book as well as the “grand prize” of five books from Baker Academic.

Since I teach undergraduate Greek and Hebrew in a Bible College, I am often asked what the “best Bible translation is.” Unfortunately this is sometimes an attempt to pick a fight, since my questioner has already decided that the KJV is the only Bible inspired by God, or that the TNIV is a liberal attempt to emasculate the church, etc. Everyone who teaches the Bible in Church or a Bible study dreads the phrase “but in my Bible it says….” Everyone has a smart phone has access to dozens of translations at any given time, and sometimes they shuffle through the translations until the find one that says what they want it to say. Why are there so many English Bible translations?

The third chapter of Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible? concerns just that question. Blomberg is well prepared to comment on translation methods. He has served on the Committee for Bible Translation since 2008. This group is responsible for the revisions of the NIV resulting in the NIV 2011. He served on the NLT translation committee for Matthew and he was one of the reviewers for the ESV New Testament as well as a reviewer for the HCSB as well.

Blomberg’s main point in this chapter is that all major Bible translations are sufficiently faithful to the original Hebrew or Greek text so that the reader is able to learn the foundational truths of Christianity accurately (85). This true for any translation, including historically important translations like the Vulgate or the KJV or modern translations like the ESV, NLT and NIV. In order to support this contention, he makes six comparisons of an older translation and a newer one for the eleventh verse of the eleventh book (1 Kings, Song of Solomon, Micah, Acts, 2 Timothy and Revelation). This results in three Old and three New Testament examples and a variety of genre (prose, poetry, narrative, prophesy, epistle and apocalyptic). By compared translations, Blomberg concludes that there is little difference in meaning between an older translation and a new one. Even Bibles with distinctly different translation methods are not wildly different. So why are there so many different translations?

Translation Methods

Blomberg gives two extremes in translation method. First, some translations use a “formal equivalence” method of translation. The goal is to accurately translate the meaning of words into a target language. While this is sometimes described as a “literal” translation, there will always be some freedom for the translator to adapt the biblical language to English grammar and style. As any beginning Hebrew or Greek student knows, word order in the original languages is sometimes radically difference than English. No English translation preserves that word order, nor would it want to! Examples of this method include the KJV or the ASV, although the ESV is Blomberg’s primary example.

Can We Still BelieveSecond, the other extreme is “dynamic equivalence.” This is an attempt to translate “thought for thought” in order to make the meaning clear in the target language. This type of translation will break long sentences into smaller ones, attempting to make the thought of the original writer clear in the target language. This means that some of the subtle nuances will be lost, but the goal is a readable, aesthetically pleasing translation. Blomberg’s main example is the NLT for this method.

A third way seeks to use the best of both of these methods while avoiding their faults. This has come to be known as “optimal equivalence.” All Bible translations fall somewhere between the two extremes, translations that use this method attempt to accurately translate the meaning of the text and preserve the clarity of the original writer’s thought.  Both the NIV and the HCSB attempt to take into account the meaning of the text without sacrificing clarity.

Blomberg uses James 2:1 as his example verse in his discussion of translation method. In each case, the meaning is clear even if it is expressed slightly differently in each case. He concludes that none of the major translations fail to communicate James’ thought (100). The differences in English translations have no bearing at all on our confidence in the original Greek text. The differences are in method and style chosen by a translation committee. Blomberg himself has served as a translator or reviewer for translations in each of these three categories. One method is therefore not “better” than the other, even if someone prefers the NIV over the ESV or the NLT over the HSCB.

Problematic Translations

But not all translations are accurate. Blomberg includes a short section on “versions to “treat with caution.” He begins with two extremes. First, one ought to use caution when using a Bible translated with a “concordant method.” This is an attempt to create a word-for-word translation with no regard for idioms or syntax. This sometimes means that the same Greek word is always translated the same without regard for context.  Second, one ought to be cautious using paraphrases. He mentions The Message in particular since it is the most popular paraphrase available today. A paraphrase attempts to express a given verse in a striking, memorable way in order to give the reader a new way of looking at a familiar text.  “Serious study, teaching and preaching must never use (a paraphrase) except by way of illustration” (103).

Translations that are produced to support a particular doctrinal bias ought to be avoided. The New World Translation famously mistranslates John 1:1 to support Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine and the Joseph Smith Translation makes arbitrary additions and modifications to the text. Blomberg includes Gen 9:21-24 as an example. The verses are modified to conform to 1 Nephi 13.26. There is “no shred of historical evidence these portions were ever removed from the Bible” (104).

Inclusive Language in Translation

Finally, Blomberg addresses inclusive translation of masculine pronouns when humanity is in view. For American English translations, this has been a contentious issue since the NIV was updated in 2005 (TNIV) or 2011 (NIV 2011). He offers the example of Proverbs 17:15: “He that justifieth the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (KJV). Clearly the “he” in this verse refers to any person regardless of gender. The NRSV rendered the verse “One who justifies…” and other modern translations use some other non-gendered pronoun. The 1984 revision of the NIV was nearly the only modern translation that retained the masculine pronouns for clear generic statements.

Blomberg offers a short history of that controversy which resulted after a British gender-inclusive NIV was released. A meeting of translators in Colorado Springs resulted in a set of guidelines for preserving masculine pronouns even when the context supported an inclusive pronoun. But when the Committee for Bible Translation began to work on the revisions that would result in the TNIV, they could not work within the guidelines. Instead, the NIV (1984) remained in print and the TNIV was released with a flurry of propaganda for and against the translation. Some scholars responded with scathing condemnations of the translations in journal articles or books, some scholars defended the decisions in other articles and books. The controversy was not limited to pronouns, since the TNIV chose to translate diakonos as “deacon” instead of “servant” in Romans 16:1, even though it referred to a woman, Phoebe. This was seen as letting church practice (ordination of woman) dictate a translation.

The NIV 2011 represented the next step in the evolution of the translation. If there was “any hesitation that a given masculine term in a given context might refer to males only, gender exclusive language was reinstated” (111). One complaint against the TNIV was that singular pronouns were changed to plurals, or that third person pronouns were changed to second-person pronouns. When a text read “he” but obviously meant “all humans regardless of gender,” the TNIV translated the singular “he” with the plural demonstrative pronoun, “those” or “you.” These changes were revisited in the NIV 2011 and only about two-thirds of them were retained, many in a “very different and limited way” (113). In fact, the changes that were made attempt to translate the original into a contemporary English style as demonstrated by the Collins Dictionary database. This database tracks English usage shows that what used to be called a “generic masculine” is most often expressed today with a plural pronoun (they) even with a singular antecedent. Yet changes from the TNIV to the NIV 2011 did not stop the Southern Baptist Convention from condemning the translation and producing their own translation (the HCSB).

This section could be read as a defense of the NIV 2011 because Blomberg serves on the Committee for Bible Translation. But his goal is not to defend the NIV 2011 (although he does answer some of the false statements made about the translation). Rather, Blomberg wants to show that all modern English translations are in some ways “gender inclusive” and it is inappropriate to force a text that intended to address all people (Prov 17:15, for example) to use a masculine singular pronoun. To do so would in fact distort the meaning of the original text (99).

Conclusion

This chapter has two major emphases. First, Blomberg compares Bible translation methods in order to show that there are some translations that are more “formal” or literal, in order to emphasize meaning, and others that are more “dynamic” in order to achieve clarity. All translations fall somewhere along that scale. Second, Blomberg gives insight into the inclusive translation controversy and provides a defense for inclusive translation like the NIV 2011. While this section may reflect some frustration with false information and propaganda, Blomberg offers a reasonable overview of the issues involved. A topic missing from the chapter the reading level of a translation. Some translations use limited vocabulary and shorter sentences in order to render the text more accessible to people with limited reading skills.

One thing that is challenging in this chapter is Blomberg’s observation that there are so many Bible choices for English readers. Some languages only have the older translation and a single modern translation. Perhaps the reason for this is that Bibles are money makers for publishers. The motivation for another Bible translation may not be clarity or doctrinal fidelity, but profits for the publisher.

Anyone who teaches the Bible in church, college or seminary is often asked what Bible translation is “best.” As Blomberg shows in this chapter, any of the major translations available at Bible bookstores today is accurate and will be sufficient for a Christian for both doctrine and practice.  There is no perfect translation, but compared side-by-side, all major translations faithfully render the Hebrew and Greek of the original within the guidelines of that particular translation.

NB: Thanks to Baker for kindly providing me with an advanced review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Third John is a letter thanking Gaius for his hospitality in accepting several traveling teachers sent by John to Gaius’ church. 3 John calls these itinerant teachers “strangers” who ought to be given hospitality in “a manner worthy of God.” Like 2 John, this is more of a “note” than a letter, likely filling a single small sheet of papyri (v. 13). It is possible that this letter was delivered by Demetrius as a kind of “letter of introduction” indicating that he in fact has the blessing of John the Elder.

Pompeii_family_feast_painting_NaplesDidache 12 gives instructions on how a church ought to handle a traveling teacher. If a person visits the church and “comes in the name of the Lord,” he is to be welcomes. But, the writer warns, he ought to be examined to find out if he has true insight. If he “merely passing through,” the church ought to assist the teacher, but only if he stays no more than a day or two. If he is a genuine prophet, he is “worthy of his food,” the church ought to share with him and help him with his ministry (13:1-3)

One of these teachers was apparently refused by Diotrephes, another believer in the church. Diotrephes’ behavior is condemned by John as being “un-brotherly.” Gaius is praised for his kind treatment of another teacher, Demetrius, who probably was the deliverer of this letter. We have no idea why Diotrephes refused a teacher. Perhaps he examined him and judged him unworthy to teach. It is also possible that shabby treatment of Demetrius is a reflection on John’s authority – Diotrephes disrespects John as the elder / bishop and therefore refused to give hospitality to his representative. Jobes suggests that Diotrephes is “on the side of the antichrists,” although this cannot be proven conclusively (Letters to the Church, 445).

This letter gives us an insight into how the small house churches of the first century functioned, and to some extent the problems with a house church. An individual could see the church as very much their own and “run things” far too autocratically. Diotrephes is free to make decisions about who may speak to his congregation, trumping John’s authority in this case. There is no “committee of elders” in the church to discuss and decide the matter. The idea of a “church board” is very much a modern congregational church invention.

John the Elder clearly believes has authority over this church and authorized teachers to visit the churches from time to time. He expects his elders to accept the teachers and give them proper hospitality when they visit. Perhaps we can describe him as a “bishop,” but if the tradition of equating John the Disciple / Apostle with John the Elder is correct, this might be an example of apostolic authority.

This teaching on hospitality in Third John also is difficult to apply in a modern context.  I suppose it might be “applied” by being kind to traveling missionaries when they visit your church, but I think that is a rather limited application.  There is a rigorous “testing” of the visiting teacher implied by this letter – how does that work in a modern context?

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Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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