Modern Cloister: Commentaries

Modern-Cloister-NEW

This week on the Modern Cloister, we discussed commentaries – what they are, why you should use them, and a few recommendations to get started. I wrote a little about the topic years ago, so not the best, but the outline is good. You can listen to the episode below, or find it on our YouTube page. Hope you enjoy it, as always, let me know any we left out or what you like to use. 

 

Solus Christus (Christ Alone) Modern Cloister

What do we mean when we talk about the doctrine of Christ Alone or "Solus Christus"? Join us as we explore this Sola, which centers on the fullness of Christ's work alone for salvation and His uniqueness as Savior. We also dive into how this belief shaped the thinking of the Reformers, how it influenced the history and development of the church, how it should impact us today as believers, and how it must be reclaimed for the sake of the gospel.  For a brief background on the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of the Reformation, which introduces the  Five Solas, we invite you to listen to our episode What led to the Reformation? Then, make sure to check out our conversation on Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) and Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) and Sola Fide (Faith Alone). If you're new to the Modern Cloister, check out our first full series on community via the links below and listen to our introductory episode to learn all about the "why" behind our podcast.  Welcome to the Modern Cloister A History of Christian Community The Decline of Community The Future of Community The Impact of COVID-19 on Community Remember to rate, review and subscribe to be the first to get our newest episodes! And connect with us to share your thoughts and feedback at moderncloister@gmail.com. 
  1. Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  2. Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  3. Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  4. Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  5. What led to the Reformation?

Modern Cloister: Study Bibles

Solus Christus (Christ Alone) Modern Cloister

What do we mean when we talk about the doctrine of Christ Alone or "Solus Christus"? Join us as we explore this Sola, which centers on the fullness of Christ's work alone for salvation and His uniqueness as Savior. We also dive into how this belief shaped the thinking of the Reformers, how it influenced the history and development of the church, how it should impact us today as believers, and how it must be reclaimed for the sake of the gospel.  For a brief background on the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of the Reformation, which introduces the  Five Solas, we invite you to listen to our episode What led to the Reformation? Then, make sure to check out our conversation on Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) and Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) and Sola Fide (Faith Alone). If you're new to the Modern Cloister, check out our first full series on community via the links below and listen to our introductory episode to learn all about the "why" behind our podcast.  Welcome to the Modern Cloister A History of Christian Community The Decline of Community The Future of Community The Impact of COVID-19 on Community Remember to rate, review and subscribe to be the first to get our newest episodes! And connect with us to share your thoughts and feedback at moderncloister@gmail.com. 
  1. Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  2. Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  3. Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  4. Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  5. What led to the Reformation?

We are continuing our Study the Bible Series over at the Modern Cloister. Catch up by listening to our first episode on Translations, and check back in next week when we discuss commentaries. You can find my post on Study Bibles here. Let me know which Study Bibles you use or any that I left out. 

On Study Bibles

Almost six year ago, I wrote a post called, Why You Need A Study Bible, which was much shorter than anything I write now, but the point still stands. I think that having a study Bible (or two) is crucial for someone wanting to take the next step in Bible reading. Simply put, the Bible can be difficult to understand. Not the basics – our sinfulness, the death & resurrection of Christ, and God’s redemptive plan for humanity – those are clear. However, the Bible was written thousands of years ago across more than thousand years of time, to different cultures in different languages. So, in wanting to get a better understanding of some of the intricacies of the writings, there is probably no better first step than reading the Bible with good study notes.

Study Bibles are technically nothing new, arguably the Geneva Bible, published in 1560, was the first of what we’d consider a study Bible. Of course, most people couldn’t read or afford any books, so they really didn’t take off in the post WW2 era. A plain ‘reader’ or ‘thinline’ Bible is going to be about 1,000 pages and have nothing else other than a few translation notes. Study Bibles will range from 1,500 to almost 3,000 pages and will include cross references, intros to books (or categories – wisdom, gospels, etc. – or testaments), maps, photos, reconstruction/drawings, articles, reading plans, and, of course, study notes.

The biggest impact to the size/depth is going to be those notes, which can range from a few sentences at the bottom of the page that might only cover a section or chapter to verse by verse exposition that can take up more than half the page. Similarly, book intros can be a paragraph or two to multiple pages, and the range for articles seems to be about 20 to 100, with length varying wildly depending on the study. 

I just pulled up ChristianBook.com, went to Bibles, then to the Study Bibles category. It says they have 2,053 for sale. Now, this doesn’t actually mean there are over two thousand study Bibles, there is certainly an amount of duplication, due to ‘studies’ being offered in different translations (if you haven’t thought much about the different translations or have questions/want recommendations, read my post on it here or listen to the Pod for more information), different bindings (hardcover, fake/real leather, etc.), and font sizes (compact, ‘comfort’ – which is just standard, large, and for Nana – giant). Also, some listed as such are not really true study Bibles, more on that below. All told, I would venture a guess of over 100 individual study Bibles, I can think of about 30-40, and I own about a dozen (with hopes of only buying two or three more). So, let’s jump in to some broad categories in which the studies can be grouped, pros/cons, and some recommendations. 

Topical – Archeology/Bible Backgrounds, Apologetics, Complete Jewish

This is an interesting category, as it is obviously varied, and is probably the smallest. That is my Apologetics Bible in the picture. This was the first (well, co-first) study Bible I bought for myself when I first started trying to read/understand the Bible better and started look into translations. The pros and cons for these types of studies are the same – they are narrowly focused. Almost all the articles and the majority of the focus of the study notes are going to be on the topic. 

For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend this as your first/only study Bible. It is better to have a broader understanding. The exception would be if a particular topic just really excites you/someone you know and you use it to jump into deeper study. Finally, these types are typically going to be more scholarly, which can put them on the larger size (usually around the 2,000 mark, give or take a few hundred). 

Life Stage – Mens/Womens, Teens/College, etc. 

This category rightly gets a great deal of criticism, especially for become so narrow and niche, that it can be hard to get past what seems like a simple marketing ploy. I think that can be fair, one answer as to why publishers fire out new study Bibles every year is simply – because people buy them. However, I wouldn’t throw out the whole group, though maybe offer one caution, that if it has more than one modifier, it is probably too narrow/over marketed and may not be beneficial. I’d also recommend doing your research, as some aren’t actually study Bibles (more on that below). 

That said, some mens/womens Bibles can really function as a great starter Bible. The ‘Every Man’ in the picture is the other study Bible I bought when I first started studying the Bible. I’m not entirely sure why I bought this one, it might have been because it was NLT, and I was looking for one of those. Some of the articles are about being a man/husband/brother/father, but there are others as well. The intros are about a page each (and include estimated time to read the book), and the study notes are good section by section (or chapter by chapter) information with a pastoral feel. There are similar books for women. If all the articles/notes are about being a man/women, I’d put it in the topical section above and would likely recommend against it. 

A quick note on the teen/college, these are almost always reformatted (usually shortened/simplified) versions of general study Bibles (see next section for more info), usually with a different set of articles or verse call out that will focus on the life stage. Ignoring for a moment that too many of the articles/write-ups are going to be about sex/dating, I’d highly recommend these, especially the teen versions. In full transparency, Mrs. MMT and I both had the Teen Life Application Study Bible, which I’m fairly certain I never read. Just like I’m fairly certain I never used my Collegiate Devotional, pictured above. For college age, I’d recommend just a more general mens/womens, if the person doesn’t have a study Bible. The college ones can be a bit more marketed and often weaker on the study notes.

The strength of this category, when done correctly, is that it really functions as great way to wade into study Bibles. As I mentioned, the notes are going to be more concise and broadly applicable. For comparison, both my Collegiate and Mens in the picture above are around 1,500 pages. So, you get that extra info, but far more compact which is helpful in a daily reader or to carry around. 

General – Reformation, Quest, ESV, Biblical Theology/Zondervan, Life Application

This is probably what most people think of when they think of a study Bible. Obviously, these will be broader than the topical ones listed above, but also, much more in depth than some of the mens/womens one. Though the range is still quite large, generally speaking, these will be larger than the other types. Most are going to be in the 2,000+ range, but some will push or exceed 3,000. Bibles like Quest, Reformation, or Life Application will be on that smaller side and are great starter options. Reformation stands out a bit among that group, as it is pretty narrowly focused (while not quite topical, there will be an overriding focus on ‘Reformation Theology’). However, if you are already somewhat knowledgeable in theology, or want a more narrow focus, this one is great. I made the mistake of buying the hardback, which I wouldn’t recommend. They other issue is that it is only published in ESV and KJV. If you are truly starting out with your study in the Bible and theology, Quest/Life Application are highly recommended as they their focus in their articles and other call outs will be about asking questions or high to apply scripture in your life. I would put this subcategory as the best overall place to start with a study Bible. These come with great overall notes and articles, good depth, but not quiet as overwhelming as some of the larger ones can be. 20210702_183221

When looking around, most translations have their on study Bible (ESV, NASB, NIV, NJKV). Zondervan owns NIV, but also publishes one as a house. Crossway has essentially done this with ESV. If you enjoy a particular translation, then getting that branded study is probably a good bet. All will have multiple authors and include pretty much everything you’d expect/want in a study Bible. 

The ESV Study Bible and the Zondervan (now renamed Biblical Theology, from my understanding, they are the exact same, just rebranded, so if you can find an old Zondervan for sale, it will cost about half), stand out for being quite massive (see picture above, compared to the Quest and a regular Bible). As far as I know, these are the two largest study Bible that exist. 

Two other notable options are academic study Bibles, published from universities. One is the Oxford, the other ie Baylor. I believe you can only get them in NRSV (though the Oxford also comes in Anglised, which is probably the best selling in the world). I have the Oxford, which is ecumenical and the standard for many denominations, including most mainline and the Catholic church. If you are used to evangelical style studies, it may seem overly scholarly and lacking in pastoral reflection. I am not as familiar with the Baylor (but it is on my list), but I believe it leans more towards the scholarly level. 

As I mentioned above, Quest/Life Application and Reformation are all great options and good ones to start. I have heard good things about for the NIV and would recommend that as well. I am not as familiar with NASB and NKJV, but based on the translation philosophy/issues, I probably would not recommend them, though I have heard a few good things from NASB. They are likely too narrowly focused. That is my main issue with the ESV as well, it is not one I would recommend (an unpopular opinion with my fellow evangelicals), and as noted in the translation post, I do not like the translation and typically try to avoid it. If you want a massive study Bible, go for the Zondervan/Biblical Theology one. It is more broadly evangelicals and will give you a better erray of articles (from most of the same writers) and with a better translation. If you are not evangelical or want a more scholarly option, go with the Oxford. Unfortunately, they do not publish nearly as many Bibles as the others, so they are most expensive, and springing for the leather instead of the hardcover is very expensive, but probably worth it in the long run. Finally, if you are Methodist/Holiness, you might want to try out the Wesley Study Bible (has his ’44 sermons’, but still a collaborative effort on the notes/intros), and similarly, if you are Southern Baptist, check out the CSB Study Bible from Lifeway (license holder for the CSB), which is the publishing arm of the SBC.

Celebrity Preacher – Ryrie, Scofield, MacArthur, Jeremiah

I would recommend against all of these for various theological reasons, but I’d also recommend against any single author study Bible. The biggest benefit of study Bibles is that you get commentary notes and articles from many people (usually over 50), many of whom have expertise in various subject throughout the Bible. You will miss something as one person cannot be an expert in the Ancient Near East, Hebrew Poetry, Greek Culture, etc. Now, most of these preachers are going to consult commentaries they way they do to prep for sermons, but it isn’t quite the same. It is for this reason that you are also going to get the most narrow theological stance and least amount of Biblical understanding. I would recommend against getting one of these, unless you already have a few and then agree almost completely with on of their stances. 

Not actually study Bibles – Systematic Theology, Creeds and Confessions, ‘patriot’, most Devotional 

There are a few options sold under the ‘Study Bible’ heading that aren’t really study Bibles. This is neither good nor bad, they are just marketed incorrectly. When I say the Systematic Theology one, I was expecting similar to the ‘topical’ above – short but solid study notes, and a focus on theology. Instead, it is a regular Bible with about 30 articles about theology. Kind of cool, if you looking for a regular reader and want some articles, but probably not the most economical option. This is the same with the Creeds and Confessions, which is a regular bible with various creeds and Reformed confessions as an index. For some reason, ‘Good Bless the USA’ and fake articles about American history were put into a Bible, this should certainly be avoided, for myriad reasons other than the lack of study notes. Similarly, when devotionals or popular Christian self-help books become best sellers, they often merge their daily devotions or summaries of the books into a Bible. Again, no study notes or intros, so this isn’t really marketed correctly. Finally, the Sportsman Bible (kind of my list, awaiting a better translation) doesn’t even offer articles (related to the Bible, there are, however, ones on treestand safety), but is waterproof and floats, which is cool, but not helpful for study. 

I’ll wrap up with a few helpful tips in deciding what you may want to pick: first, make sure it is a good translation and one you like, most studies are licensed to publishers, which are also the licenses holders or partners with the study Bible; second actually pick up the book and look through the pages (or use the view in your browser) and get an idea of the extent of the notes, is it too little that you fear it might not be helpful or too many that may be overwhelming; finally and probably most helpful, most have an about the series section (usually three to five pages), read it and see if that is your focus and what you want out of a study Bible. 

Hope this helps, leave any questions/comments below or let me know what you use and why. 

 

Studying The Bible: Translations

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The Modern Cloister is back with a new mini-series with help on picking Translations, Study Bibles, and Commentaries. We start it off with Translations, which is based on a post I wrote last year, cleverly titled – On Bible Translations

You can listen on the player below (if you are coming to this later, you may have to scroll), or on your favorite podcast platforms. If you prefer YouTube, we have a channel there, and you can listen to this episode here.

As always, we’d love to hear any thoughts or questions. 

Solus Christus (Christ Alone) Modern Cloister

What do we mean when we talk about the doctrine of Christ Alone or "Solus Christus"? Join us as we explore this Sola, which centers on the fullness of Christ's work alone for salvation and His uniqueness as Savior. We also dive into how this belief shaped the thinking of the Reformers, how it influenced the history and development of the church, how it should impact us today as believers, and how it must be reclaimed for the sake of the gospel.  For a brief background on the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of the Reformation, which introduces the  Five Solas, we invite you to listen to our episode What led to the Reformation? Then, make sure to check out our conversation on Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) and Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) and Sola Fide (Faith Alone). If you're new to the Modern Cloister, check out our first full series on community via the links below and listen to our introductory episode to learn all about the "why" behind our podcast.  Welcome to the Modern Cloister A History of Christian Community The Decline of Community The Future of Community The Impact of COVID-19 on Community Remember to rate, review and subscribe to be the first to get our newest episodes! And connect with us to share your thoughts and feedback at moderncloister@gmail.com. 
  1. Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  2. Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  3. Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  4. Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  5. What led to the Reformation?

On Bible Translations

Most people either think too much about which translation of the Bible to use or don’t think about it at all; I fall into the former group. In High School, I pretty much only knew of two translations – the New International Version, which seemed to be a standard, and then the old King James. Sometime in college, I also found out about the New Living Translation. I don’t think I dug into the differences or philosophies of translations until around my mid to late 20’s, when I started trying to take studying the Bible seriously. I assumed the best thing to do was to get the ‘most accurate’, which actually the original languages, but most people mistakenly believe is the ‘most literal’. This led me to the New American Standard Bible, which I rarely used after reading. I was also my foray into Study Bibles (more on that in a later post), specifically the Apologetics Study Bible, where I ended up with the Holman Christian Standard Bible (they have since dropped the Holman). I actually really liked this translation, but the truth is, I only ended up with it because it was cheaper than some of the others. Joining a PCA church in 2012, the standard seemed to be the English Standard Version, which is what my current church uses exclusively. A few years later (with a few more study Bibles) and I realized, I don’t really like the ESV. So, right now, I’m in the market for a new (non-study) Bible, and I’m unsure which translation I may buy. I’ve also considered writing a short series on Bible study, one on translations, Study Bibles, and Commentaries; so I guess now is as good a reason as any.

You may have some awareness, as I did years ago, that some some translations are more literal and some just try to give the general idea (there are also paraphrase, but I get into that later). The terms most often used are formal equivalence and dynamic (sometimes called functional, because alliteration helps to confuse people) equivalence. People also like to call this word for word vs. thought for thought. Now, there really is no such thing as literal, as Greek/Hebrew word order doesn’t match English, or sometimes words do not have a clear translation (which is why there are so many). So, some work is needed to make it readable. The readability is often the reason given for moving from word for word. There is also the issue of idiom. If I said ‘his nose was red’ or ‘their teeth will be clean’ or Samaritans don’t share pottery with Jews, you probably don’t know what that means in English. Now, if I said, ‘her belly was enlarged’, you might realize it means pregnant. So, how should translate the idiom ‘literally’. You could use the old language, you could try a more modern one, like ‘with child’ (which just sounds weird), or maybe ‘she was showing’. Or just say pregnant.

Two other issues in translation are reading level (compare to grade level) and what I’ll call churchyness (or using poetic/odd/archaic language, just because it ‘sounds’ right). Grade level is an important consideration. If you have a middle-schooler, someone who doesn’t like to read, or someone who’s first language is not English, something like the NASB or NRSV, 11th and 10.5, respectively, might not be helpful (let alone the King James). Similarly, if you find the Old Testament confusing, trying the NLT (6.5) may be helpful. I think this is an often overlooked matter when people do look for translations and ‘readability’. Though, generally speaking, the more thought for thought, the easier it will be to read. Churchyness would is typically going to fall into the idiomatic issues I mentioned above, like ‘with child’, others include – lead us not into temptation, or valley of the shadow of death, or darkness is my only companion – when those are more familiar or ‘sound right’, while not being the best translation. These are the issues that come with translation of any kind. I found this chart here, which also has other valuable charts and comparisons.

Briefly, I want to hit a few stats for you, then go into what I consider to be the five main translations, and then two other popular ones that are just bad, and you probably shouldn’t use them. Like many things, the answer to which is the most popular translation will vary depending on who (and how) you ask. In my moderately reformed world, ESV is about all there is. However, it is rarely used outside of the US. If you asked English speakers, my guess would be that NRSV would be by far and away the most known, as it is authorized by the Catholic and Anglican churches; as well as just about the only translation used in scholarship. For America, The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University and Purdue University asked American’s which Bibles they read and it found King James was first at 55%, NIV (19%), NRSV (7%), New American Bible (6%), The Living Bible (5%) as the top five with all others equaling about 8%. I am skeptical about the methodology, but that is beyond the scope of what I want to discuss here.

My main focus is American Evangelicalism, which is also the group that uses the widest variation, so I will give you a few stats from them. That National Association of Evangelicals asked their members for their preference, and the top five were the NIV (39%), NASB (20%), ESV (13%), NKJV (9%), and NLT (7%), with all others being under 2%. Thom Schreiner has an interesting article about the change from 2011 to 2020, as reported by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. The NIV and KJV reamined 1 and 2. The NLT moved from 4 to 3, the ESV moved from 5 to 4, the NKJV dropped from 3 to 5. Other notes in the top 10, the H/CSB stayed at 6 both times, the Reina Valera (RV, a Spanish language Bible) went from unranked to 7, which is kind of cool, and the NASB dropped from 7th to 10th.

You’ll notice below my big five doesn’t necessarily line up with the most used, but I will explain why in each, and then hit on two others that are worth noting. However, all seven are in the top lists (depending on definition). In each section, I will list the acronym, link to the Wiki article, which is actually pretty good for history and overview, then the reading level, then I will jump into why the translation is important and my general thoughts. Since this is how so many people think in terms of how to pick, I will start with the most word for word and move to the most thought for thought.

New American Standard Bible (NASB, History, 11) – This is the most word for word of the 25 or so most popular translations (there is one or two more ‘literal’, but they are hard to find and you won’t see them published from major groups or used in any study Bibles). I’ve heard this is considered the ‘academic’ version for conservative scholars. This translation can be valuable for study, especially if you are trying to get to the most literal version. However, as an everyday reader or devotional, I think it would be tough. It is a hard read (rated hardest to read from one site I found), and has the second highest ‘grade’ rating of all major translations (King James is higher, more on that below). It is generally considered a good version for conservative Evangelicals.

English Standard Version (ESV, History, 7) – This is the one I have the most familiarity with and the one that seems to be gaining in popularity the most. They refer to themselves as ‘essentially literal’. It seems that they are almost as word for word as the NASB, but tries to keep some of the churchyness of the King James. For me, that makes it even clunkier to read than other translations. I don’t like archaic language mixed with literal approach. The readability suffers from this approach, though the level isn’t that high.

Outside of that, my major issue is the amount of harmonization that occurs in the translation (which is kind of the opposite of ‘literal.’ I won’t go much into it here, but if you compare something like Kings vs. Chronicles, or Paul’s conversion accounts in the ESV to other translations, you’ll notice that it doesn’t match often. This is because the translators specifically chose to change the meaning from the Hebrew and Greek for theological reasons or for fear of ‘contradictions’ in the Bible.

This is considered a good version for people who are moderately reformed. People will also point positively and negatively that it is good for complementarians. It is also a common choice in conservative Evangelical churches.

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, History, 10.5) – I am probably the least familiar with this version, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it in a church setting. I do have one copy and have to say, I think it is the best in terms of readability. It is a little more thought for though than the ESV (both versions are revisions to the RSV of the 70’s, with something like 96% agreement between), but still ‘essentially’ literal. It also drops old idioms and uses modern English. It is often attacked for being ‘liberal’ due to be being the standard in Mainline denominations and academia.

It is the also the only major version that was ecumnical in the translation committee, having ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ Protestants, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish members. Due to this, it is pretty straight reading (in some ways more ‘literal’ in the sense that it may be closer to the actual words of the text) because there was no dominating theological bent (this also explains it’s use in academia). It is famously criticized for translating ‘young woman’ in Isaiah. However, that is what the Hebrew says. Interestingly, the LXX (pre-Christian Greek vision of the OT) translates to virgin in Greek. But if you are truely after the most accurate, then ‘young woman’ seems to be what the text calls for. I won’t get much into the ‘gender language’ issues here (nevermind, a few notes below).

I’ve read more than a few people say they wish the ESV was just a reorientation of the theological bend of the NRSV, because, well, they wanted a conservative translation, but also because it has superior readability. This versions is generally considered good for everyone except conservative Evangelicals (not that it is bad for us), though you can find quite a few conservative study Bibles that use this text (though not nearly as many as the ESV or King James).

New International Version (NIV, History, 8) – Many consider this to be the true mid-point on the word for word and thought for thought spectrum. It is a little newer than the NASB, but with far superior readability, which was why it because the stand replacement of the King James in most Evangelicals circles. While they harmonize Paul like the ESV, there are at least footnotes explaining the original Greek. They do not harmonize Kings/Chronicles, but instead note the apparent contradictions, which I find to be a far better treatment than simply change the words of scripture out of fear. They do make a few odd choices, especially in Timothy regarding the husband of one wife, which the translate as being faithful to one’s wife. I guess the translation committee considered this to be the thought (interestingly the NRSV says married only once). This is considered a good translations for conservative Evangelicals, but with broader theology than the ESV.

New Living Translation (NLT, History, 6.5) – I was actually a little surprised to see this make so many top five list. I actually really like it. It is the newest (including updates) of the ‘living’ or ‘modern’ English, though I believe it is an older translation than all the above. It is probably the premier example of a thought of thought translation, it is certainly the best one, in my view. At a sixth grade level, it is also one of the simplest to read and usually ranks as one of the easiest to read. It is great for middle/high schoolers and new Christians. I actually use it often for Old Testament readings, and I recommend it to people trying to read the prophets or Job. They also have a few of my favorite OT scholars, at least one of whom is an expert in Hebrew poetry. Relatedly, as they aren’t going word for word, they have more leeway to be poetical in the Psalms and Wisdom literature. You can find many good study Bibles that use this, but not many in depth or scholarly ones. People seem to be torn whether this is considered good for study or not, but most people find it valuable for devotion or day to day reading. You won’t like it if you want ‘literal’ or disagree with the translation philosophy. It is generally considered good for conservative Evangelicals, and like the NASB or NIV, there isn’t a particular theological bend.

I want to briefly mention two other versions that I think you should avoid, the King James and the Message. First, the King James (KJV). I was surprised to see how popular this still is. It is a version to avoid for two reasons – the language is hundreds of years old, and it is not based on the best available copies. The grade level is actually 13, because you are essentially reading Shakespeare’s English. I know that is the appeal to some people, and if that is you, then this might be a good supplement, but updated language is needed. Not only do some of the words not exist anymore, but in some instances words have completely different meanings than they did, rendering the text inaccurate. There are also many mistranslations due to lack of knowledge of the original languages, especially Hebrew (there are Unicorns in the Psalms). Some KJV only people will tell you that it is based on the best text. This is patently false, and no scholars agree; no other translations use the Greek text used (all the above use the same as each other, as this is the consensus among everyone except KJV only people). There are so many better options, please choose one.

The Message is not a translation, it is a paraphrase and one not meant to be scholarly or accurate in anyway. Paraphrase is well past the thought for thought concept. No scholar or pastor would recommend using this as your everyday reader, not even the translator. You are basically getting one guy’s thoughts on how to paraphrase what he things one verse means to him. If you are curious, it is written at a third grade level. I have heard a few people say this could be helpful in study, but only if viewed/used as something like a commentary. It is not an accurate example of the Bible. If you don’t like reading or are looking for a simple version, please do not choose this, use the NLT.

Hope this was helpful. I’d love to hear from anyone on which versions they prefer and why.

You can see the chart below for more translation philosophy/comparisons. You can also go here and here for more comparisons/summaries of different translations. I did go too much into the ‘gender neutral’ controversy, mostly because I think it is pretty overblown. For one, people were really mad in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but even the ESV uses some ‘gender inclusive’ language now, so, to some extent it has blown over. I’m fine with ‘brothers and sisters’ when it is a group, especially as we know it was read to everyone, and even within some letters there are specific call outs to men, and then also to women’. Something like teach your ‘children’ instead of ‘son’, also makes sense in light of modern English. I don’t have that particularly liberal, and more to the point, find the harmonizing mentioned above to be more egregious. I won’t say any more about that, but Bill Mounce has a good article on it, plus a note on literalism.

Edit: I forgot to mention another issues I have with literal or churchyness, using old measurements. I cannot understand how or why, in modern English, we’d use cubits and baths instead of feet and gallons (or meters and liters, for the rest of the world). Similarly, saying the 6th hour, instead of around noon. Those on the more word for word side should at least translate in footnotes, i.e. ‘9 feet’, not ‘a cubit is roughly 18 inches’; the worst are those that give no conversion metrics. Thought for thought versions tend to translate to modern measures and footnote the original.

Book Review: Learning to Love the Psalms

Learning to Love the Psalms

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Medium read (can get slightly technical), moderate length (250+)

Summary: Godfrey takes a different approach than most books on the Psalms. Instead of looking into categories of Psalms, he studies them in their original five ‘books’, and looks for similarities within each ‘book’; plus he breaks out the final five Psalms and treats them separately from the other five books.

There are no chapters in  this book, but there are seven broad sections. After a large intro section that includes chapters introduction the Psalms, poetry, difficulties, speakers, and structures, there are the five sections (one each on the five ‘books’), a section on the final five Psalms, and a short afterward. Each section has chapter on the structure and character of the ‘book’, followed by a mini-commentary on six or seven of the Psalms in the ‘book’. The final section has a brief intro chapter, then reviews each of the last five Psalms. 

My Thoughts: He has attempted a relatively difficult task in trying to find the original reason for the groupings in each book. I appreciate what he has done, and I think his work is the best I’ve seen that doesn’t use the typical category/genre, but I remain unconvinced. It is a fascinating way to try to study the Psalms and as modern western people, we really want a reason for the layout of the Psalms. He makes the most compelling argument I’ve seen, but as I said, I’m not entirely convinced. 

The other oddity of this book is his mini-commentary on numerous Psalms. These just didn’t land correctly. Some were a little academic, some were devotional, others were likely draw from sermons (as they point to Christ in our life now, in an application way), the remaining was a mix of all these. While they were mostly good, and all educational, the inconsistency bothered me. This could have been an editorial decision, to lay out his notes this way, but it should have been a bit more focused. 

For these reasons, this book would not be the first I would recommend if you wanted to start a study on the Psalms. That being said, the intro section was quite valuable. The chapter on difficulties in the Psalms was particularly valuable. Likewise, the chapter on ‘recurring themes’ functioned as a mini-lesson with a different take than the most usual genre discussions. The structure and character chapters are interesting, but how much you gain from those will be dependent on how strong you find his overall argument. Outside the intro, the final five Psalms section is probably the best, as it is a very clear division and we know much of how these particular Psalms have been used throughout history. Overall, a good book, written well, and if you are looking to dig into the Psalms and are purchasing multiple books for your study, this is one to put on your list. 

 

 

 

On Inerrancy and Literal Interpretation.

A while ago, I wrote a review on Five View on Biblical Inerrancy, which is a book I cannot recommend enough. It had been on my list for quite some time, and I just never got around to it. I really wish I had read it earlier, because the mainstream Evangelical framework for reading the Bible is shaped by Inerrancy far more than you may think. It isn’t even really just inerrancy, but instead, the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. The issue with this statement is that it isn’t as natural as it appears to be, and doesn’t just defend the Bible, it pushes a very specific hermeneutic framework and interpretation. Specifically, what some call ‘literalistic’ or ‘literalism’. This is the overly literal view of scripture, that is taking it ‘literally’ even when the text may not call for it. 

That was the defensive cry I heard most of my Christian life, ‘I take the Bible literally.’ It was supposed to be a short, definitive statement about your Biblical beliefs. I certainly took the statement seriously, but it wasn’t until I was probably 30 that a pastor asked me, ‘how do you take poetry literally?’. Depending on how you count it, between a quarter and a third (or even more) of the Bible is poetry. I had never really thought about that; and of course, most of the poetry is in the Old Testament, which is usually skimmed or skipped by Evangelicals. 

It seems that the fight over ‘literal’ mostly comes as a response to the overwhelming evidence of the fact that the universe is billions of years old and that evolution is true. Some defenders of the Chicago statement, which is Mohler in the book, point out that the statement says, ‘rightly interpreted,’ which gives room for different interpretations of chapters/verses such as Genesis 1. However, it goes on to say that science cannot overturn scripture. I can’t think of a clearer signal to say, you must interpret Gen 1 (please don’t ask about Gen 2, which doesn’t match creation order of Gen 1) as straight literal than that. Mohler can act like a politician and point to the statement, but when see a book/article/podcast/video with something like this in the title- ‘are science and the Bible in conflict?’, you know exactly what they are talking about. So, embedded in the statement is the interpretive framework. For good reason, Mohler’s article was criticized by all the other authors for arguing inerrancy of his interpretation. 

But he wasn’t really wrong, in a sense, as he is only conveying the message of the statement. The issue for us today, is how the statement was used and pushed and trickled down to all of us in the pews, because it tied a particular view to inerrancy, and inerrancy was view as protecting the Bible, and even more so, God himself. As Mohler points out, when the Bible speaks, God speaks. This is absolutely true, I believe this, as do most Christians, but you can see through the simple flow of thought, that if you don’t interpret passages a certain way, then you don’t believe in God. It looks something like this: a particular interpretation – that interpretation as implied by the Statement – inerrancy as a concept – the writers who were inspired by God – God Himself speaking – the goodness, omnipotence, etc of God; so that a particular interpretation equals belief in God. I don’t know if this was the original intent of the authors of the statement or just how it ended up being abused. 

The damage of literalism cannot be overstated. It is something I really wish people cared more about, unfortunately, it often seems that people have to leave the Evangelical work entirely, before they can say much about it. Or maybe they left because of it, and then write about it. The biggest problem, is it really is fear based. Fear is a pretty big motivator for most people, but it appears to be the easiest way to get Evangelicals to move on something. We’ve seen this in politics, with devastating effect, for decades, but rapidly accelerated over the past five or so years. We see it in the attack on public school and education in general. But our fear for the Bible and God is not necessary. We can’t protect them, nor need we to do so. When we try, we end up putting them in small boxes of protection that leads us to weak faith. 

Fighting for a particular view of inerrancy comes from the fear that if one thing is ‘wrong’ then the whole Bible is wrong, and we need to throw it out. To me, that is an incredible weak faith. There seems to be a fear that if you admit that ancient writers believed the world was covered in a dome, that we have to abandon the resurrection. As if we should only believe God if the Bible is written and read like a factual report coming in from the AP wire. To not admit the different (non-modern) views of the authors, or that scribes could err seems ridiculous. Especially, when we know there are essentially typos (actually, transcription) errors in our manuscripts. Look at 1 Thessalonians 1:7 for example, about half say infant, the other half says gentle; clearly one of them is an error (though it really doesn’t change much, see my study notes here). Other prominent examples included the longer ending of Mark or the extra few lines of the Lord’s Prayer, both of which have since been thrown out in most translations.

That brings us to the ‘autograph’ argument, which says the Bible is inerrant in the original documents. It is used in some ways as an argument against in perceived errors or contradictions. We can just wave them away and say that out there, in some unknown (and unfindable) document rest the fix to all that ails. It, again, is just a reach for the hope that God must have, at some point, given us a perfect (in our modern sense) document. We know that it is not perfect, and even if we were given something that was, you would still have to question why God would allow it to become ‘corrupted’. Right? This is another error in thought that comes from literalism, that the book was just handed to us and God isn’t really involved anymore and allowed issues to happen so that we, in some senses, most not really know what is happening now. Alternatively, isn’t it possible that God used imperfect people, who existed in a world different than our own, but then actually intervened in the millenia so that we have a Bible today that pretty well reflects the original writing?

Of course, the other issue is that some ‘errors’ aren’t really errors, or conflicts.  Is the Bible in error or in conflict with science the world was created in a literal, 24 hour, six day sequence? No, because, that isn’t what the Bible is trying to say in Genesis 1. But that is really the problem with literalism, we’ve put ourselves into a tiny box that leads to odd interpretations or readings or understandings of part of the Bible. The sub-title of one Enns’ books points to the problem well: Our obsession with defending the Bible has left us unable to read it. I want to talk about a few specifics, then probably wrap up.

I was thinking about this yesterday while listening to a sermon on Proverbs at my church service. He points out what Proverbs is (are), that they are wisdom, not promises. That was probably a shock to some people, but as he rightly pointed out, how many children have been ‘raised as they should go’, but left the ‘path’? I know people in the fundamentalist world that have this transactional view of God, if I do X, God should do Y. However, if we read the Bible as a collection of different genres (still, all inspired by God, that is not something I doubt/reject) with different purposes, we might not need a preacher to explain that wisdom poetry is not a literal, transactional promise. However, this is the clear consequence of  ‘taking the Bible literally’. 

I’ve said/written much on Genesis and the age of the Earth/evolution question over the last few months, which I won’t repeat here, you can go watch this video and/or read the notes underneath. I will point out that the overly literal (again, in our modern western version) has had two negative impacts. One is that people will just leave the church altogether, they go to college or read a book and see the fact of evolution and then throughout the whole Bible, because that is the weak faith with which they’ve been conditioned. Second, they reject science in some whole disciplines. Of course, all of us believers reject some level of science, but we have a name for that – miracles. Science says you can’t be born of a virgin, yeah, we know, thank God for the Incarnation. Science says you can’t be resurrected, again, yeah, that is why it is a big deal that Christ did come back to life. That’s not what I’m talking about here, it is the rejection of whole disciplines (biology, geology, etc.). Unfortunately, it is another step in that line that causes so many issues, not just rejection, but conflict. Seeing the ‘other side’ as against you, or evil. Evolution is a lie and only told by atheistic scientist out to get you and even worse, your children. Which inexplicably leads us to reject other forms of science (or be susceptible to conspiracy theories related to them) such as climate change or (currently) pandemics/vaccines. 

Interestingly, one oddity from literalism, is that it actually reduces belief in the miraculous. This isn’t always the case, but it pops up now and then, where someone will want to defend a point by explaining how it can happen naturally, to show that it could be ‘literal’, but in a way that downplays God’s involvement. I’ll give two types of examples. One is Jonah and the what? Fish? Or was it a whale? It has to be a whale, right, because you couldn’t live inside a fish. I find this to be a strange line of thought. Of course you can’t live in a fish, but also, a plant can’t grow up in a few hours that is big enough to give a man shade, not can it shrivel enough to no longer provide shade from a worm ‘attack’ in a few hours. Jonah says all these things happened, I take it be actual events with God’s intervention. Another example is natural but literal ways that things like the 10 plagues could have happened (blood in the river caused all the frogs to leave then they died and had swarms of bugs) or the walls of Jericho falling (could it have been some sonic acoustic weapon from the horns?). 

We see instances like this in a way with Revelation, especially the ‘Left Behind’/Dispensational view. Remember, we have to take the Bible literally, so when it says hornets attacked, then they must have, it can’t be apocalyptic imagery, it must be literal, so clearly, those are fighter jets. Wait, what? Is it literal or no? Yes, it is literal, things are attacking, by John didn’t really know (erred?) what he was seeing, they are jets or attack helicopters. 

Some of those last few are amusing, but the worst is when we just straight up change the text. Two quick examples, the mustard seed and one wife. Jesus says the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds. Well, it isn’t. If the Bible must be ‘without error’ in a modern literalist sense then we have a problem. The solution, well, learn to read the Bible in historical context, right? No, our translations will just add ‘of your’ to the text. Paul tells Timothy an elder should be a man of one wife, but we don’t want context and to ackwonwled that polygamy existed, so…let’s just change that to be ‘married’ or ‘faithful to his wife’, neither of which is what the text says. I said two, but also, go read Acts and Paul’s conversion stories, most translation change hear to understand in the last instance; again, despite the actual text. We are literally (in the actual sense) adding words to the Bible to protect the … Bible? We should probably take literally what Revelation says about adding or taking away from the book. 

This ended up being a lot more about the problem of literalism than inerrancy, I should probably change my title. However, the two (in the modern, American, evangelical context) have become nearly synonymous. Unfortunately, the word inerrancy has become nearly meaningless. People use it to mean too many things, or too narrow a thing (literalism) that discussions have almost become worthless. Often this causes people to jump around, redefine it, or use other words like inspired or authoritative. Some treat those words as synonymous, and we go around the circle again. I had no idea this issue came pretty much all from the Chicago Statement. It has greatly influenced my life, in mostly negative ways, where I feel like after years of thinking I knew the Bible pretty well, I’m having to actually study and learn basics in my 30’s. Add all this up, and I don’t think I can call myself an inerrantist. The word inerrancy is too lied to a hermeneutic (let alone a political ideology) that I don’t fully support and often find problematic. Maybe that puts me on the outside of current evangelical thought, but I think I’ll stick with inspired. As Bird points out in the book, this is the word use both by the Westminster and London Baptist confessions. 

 

 

Critical Race Theory vs. Eternal Subordination of the Son

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been making the Christian Twitter rounds the past month or so, a few months after making the right-wing politics Twitter rounds. I don’t have a great deal to say about CRT, mostly because I don’t think it much matters. Some people in my world are quite panicked about it, and I’m honestly a little unsure where all their fear is coming from. CRT is an academic theory used by some academics, sometimes, in some subjects as a tool of criticism. You can find a good summation of CRT here, from John Fea, who is an Evangelical Christian that works as a Historian at a conservative Christian College. He explains it as used by academics and points out someone else’s definition, in which I believe most people would agree with at least one or two of the points. 

I personally think he is being too charitable to the theory, however, maybe that is the problem. Maybe he is exactly right. The problem comes from when an academic exercise becomes ‘popular’, but at that point it loses all meaning. I feel like at this point, CRT has become one of those things were you ask 10 people to define, you’ll get 10 different definitions. Even more problematic, the far side of the democrats/left have weaponized it in the ever escalating war of identity politics. Of course, predictably, the far side of the republican/right (and far too man Evangelicals) have then responded with their typical cowering and fearmongering. Somewhat famously now, all six presidents of the SBC seminaries have written a joint declaration condemning CRT. I find it odd to see so many serious academics (mostly theologians) fear a secular academic theory that has noting to say about theology, Biblical studies, Greek/Hebrew, etc. Surely they know better. The truth of the Gospel is eternal, while CRT will probably be replaced by a new more ‘interesting’ theory in, what?, 10 years at the most. 

In some sense, we’ve been here before. Luckily, we didn’t run in fear, but instead adopted it and found it wanting. That is what happened with ‘Higher Criticism’ (also called Biblical Criticism) of 150 years or so, ago. It was the trendy thing, also out of the Frankfurt school, to attack the Bible, partly based on Enlightenment ideas, Schleiermacher, and a mix of archaeology/geology. Most academic Christians (seminary professors) adopted many of the ideas, found some useful, and rejected/disproved the other aspects. However, we didn’t cower, and where would Biblical studies be today without it? We’ve grown so much in our knowledge and proof of the Biblical truth since then. 

I’ll quickly say something about two other things related to CRT before moving on. First, while CRT is overrated, I think we should pay attention to intersectionality. That is a theory that is a race to the bottom in the turtles all the way down sense that I believe will have a far wider impact than CRT. I couldn’t seem to find a good link, but Albert Mohler’s podcast interviewed a guy, maybe back in the summer (June-ish) that really dove deeply into the topic. He was a British guy, I believe, and while he leaned a little too heavily on the familiar boogeyman of Marx, his explanations and real life examples were wild and fascinating. Second, wokeness. Woke is a nonsense term that has no meaning. It is similar to CRT in a sense, except it has no background or standing in academia. It is just a lazy twitter meme that vaguely means you support every changing far left politics (or sometimes it just means you don’t think black people should be shot by the police). The ‘concept’ if you can call it that, is so devoid of meaning and substance that it seems unnecessary for theologians to even address.

Which brings me to Owen Strachan, who a few months back, had a bizarre sermon/chapel speech where he stated that anyone ‘woke’ must be excommunicated. Again, woke is too ill-defined to even sense of what he is saying. But this is my main issue and the reason I want to write this – Strachan believes in the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). This is Semi-Arianism (at best) and does not comport with the Nicene Creed. ESS means that all persons of the Trinity are not equal, that the Son (and Holy Spirit?) are subordinate to the Father. Historical orthodox belief is that the Son gave up His equality in His condescension and incarnation, but now reigns again, co-equal with the Father. Full Arianism believes that the Father created the Son and Holy Spirit, meaning they were lesser beings. This was condemned as hearsay over 1,500 years ago (I do no believe Stachen et al supports Arianism). He isn’t alone the recently problematic Grudem also supports ESS. For a good article go here, Carl Trueman thinks that this may come from an odd defense of complementarianism (which is clearly Biblical without needing to rely on ESS), a timeline on the arguments with many links for a pretty deep dive, Michael Bird describe in a video the issue and then his thoughts

This was a few years ago, so why bring it up now? Because it made maybe a ripple in Christian Twitter to the tsunami of fears related to CRT. Maybe a tenth of the ink (pixels?) were spilled in defense of the orthodox view of the Trinity than was used for an opposition to the secular academic theory. Which matters more? Your doctrines of the Triune God or a social argument? My guess is most of those in your pews have never even heard of CRT, and if they have, it wasn’t in the true academic sense (see above). You know what else they don’t know – that God chooses those whom He saved before the foundation of the world (50% Evangelicals disagree), that God saves you, you don’t earn it (52% disagree), and most frighteningly about a third reject the Deity of Christ. Read these two surveys for stats and sadness. 

So, what is my point? I am deeply saddened and distressed that these leaders (some of home apparently don’t hold orthodox views) send so much time letter politics drive their message with their congregations don’t know Biblical basics or even the simple Gospel. 

*An addendum of sorts, I’ve been playing around with this article for about 10 days, unsure if I would even post anything (I actually stated on my last post that I likely wouldn’t post anything again). However, this has blown up even more on Christian Twitter/Bloggersphere, so I felt compelled to post, but with an edit here and a rework of my ending (which I guess I’ll just delete and end here). Many black pastors/professors have spoken out against the SBC statement on CRT. Many of them do not support CRT, and have written against it, but their arguments seem to fall into to camps. One right-wing political ideology is driving this, which seems pretty self evident, and two, that many fear that this blanket condemnation is a just a way to avoid any discussion of race, by then calling it CRT. This seems a bit hyperbolic, but then Twitter kind of proved it to be true. 

Edit – Like I said, I’m pretty done with politics. I don’t believe this post is about politics. I see it is a plea for our leaders not to fear the world and to do a better job pastoring their flock. Again, I can’t say this enough, who cares about the 10% or so that have even heard of CRT (and already rejected it), when half of your congregation doesn’t believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light and that no one comes to the Father except through him? Why do we spend so much time arguing about a secular, liberal, academic theory when orthodoxy regarding the Trinity is now longer settled?

Of course, many people who attack me for being political because I say things that doesn’t fit their political view. If I say transgenderism is incoherent and dangerous, people say ‘amen’, when I say Metexas claiming he will fight to his last drop of blood to defend a conspiracy theory and Trump is clearly Caesar worship, people say ‘I don’t like when you get political, stick to book reviews.’ You can tell what people truly worship by what you are not allowed to criticize. 

Discussing politics is exhausting, though, and I’m done, even though I can predict what will be written over the next four years. After four years of only the government can protect us and Romans 13, Christians will write endless articles about when/why/how to defy the Government. Then when republicans when again in 2024 (which I think they will if they take back the center, which I think the far left will easily abandoned with their nonsense) and we’ll all be about Romans 13 again. We’ve got to stop putting politics first and letting it drive our theology. I’ve retweeted a few things from people about CRT and most (not all, you know who you are) of the criticisms are the ‘hurr durr why don’t you think the Bible is truth/reject the Bible, you are the real racist, DEMOCRAT (clever, I know)’. Most things I’ve seen are intellectually lazy or disingenuous, at best.  So, if you read this and you have some brilliant thoughts on the evils CRT or want to no read anything and just ignorantly ask why I support it, keep it to yourself. However, if you have thoughts on ESS (either for or against), I’d love to hear them. Also, also love hearing any studies or classes or anything your church is doing to help educate your congregation on the basics of Christianity. Feel free to let me know. 

Edit 2 – If you don’t think people are overreacting, check out this tweet from a few weeks ago when Jared Wilson (a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) said something about race as it related to Jonah and Peter/Paul, and the reactions he received.

Final Edit – Our sermon from this past Sunday (last Sunday of Advent) was from Isaiah 9 and our preacher discussed some of the current political issues (of sorts). I will post it when the audio is available, please listen if you have time because he rocked it, and I think it is a good reminder to all of us.