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.

Thoughts on 2020

Well, 2020 has been a garbage year. I am ready to turn the page on this year and start a new one, but there isn’t much hope that this coming year will be any better, at least not the first half or so. Even this post, two sentences in has gone off the rails; my goal was to attempt a ‘best things’ lazy year end post. I just got an email from a buddy who posted his ‘favorite things’ of the year, it was a top 10 in multiple categories. I was sitting here just trying to come up with three things I’ve posted that would be worth celebrating. 

Is hard to think of those things right now. We have had 9/11 level of deaths every day since the election (when it was supposed to magically go away, accord to ‘conservatives’), over 20,000 people died this past week (Merry Christmas), a little more than one in 1,000 Americans have died since March (and the ‘all lives matter’ crowd is quick to point out it is only the old and those with pre-existing conditions). All this, and that only has to do with Covid, which far too many people I know still downplay or straight out deny exists, including a distressing (and depressing) number of Christians. Similarly, those same people agree/support delusion of a president who, without any evidence or basis in any facts, has frequently claimed ‘fraud’ or ‘rigged’ election. He has been so busy doing this he hasn’t even mentioned the Christmas day suicide bomber/terrorist(?), who, luckily didn’t kill anyone but himself. Half of the SBC has seemingly gone insane in fear, and care more about denying racism than heterodox views of the Trinity.  This is also the year that school was canceled in my area for a hurricane and snow, within about two weeks from each other. 

It has been an exhausting year.  It has been bad for me on almost every level, mentally, emotionally, spiritually (though I’ve had some encouragement lately), physically. I sleep only a few hours a night, which would be cool if I was too tired to do something with my waking hours. Often I feel like I can’t go on. I might have to go full on crazy with big outlandish New Year’s resolutions just to shock the system. On top of the actual tragic events related to Covid (oh yeah, there is also a new more contagious strand now), this disaster of a president, the civil unrest around racial issues, WordPress updated to a new editor system and for me, it is just trash. It is clunky, has odd spacing, and randomly highlights things I’m not working on. Worst of all, you have to search around to find the ‘classic’ editor, just to link to your own site. You might be think that I just don’t know what I’m doing, that is obviously the case (this much should be clear by now), but that hasn’t stopped me before. To add to that, even our Christmas Eve service, which was a big outside production so we could space out and have open air, was cancelled due to weather. I am deeply concerned with the future of the church and the attendance after things are back to normal. Many people have not come back in person, even though they can. Unfortunately, some of those were planning to come to our outdoor service. I have some hope that more will return next year. 

So, here is my attempt, in no particular order to point to three things of 2020 that I enjoyed, which is as close to ‘best of’, as I can probably get to right now:

  1. Why not start with something still related to Covid. Working for the Government, I never had the opportunity to ‘shut down’ or quarantine for a time (I first went back to the office in early April). However, not much else was happening in the world, so most of the time, I just need to log on and check some things for those first few weeks. I attempted to start a ‘covid dairy’, it wasn’t very good, and was a much more appealing exercise when this was supposed to be temporary (in the short term sense). So, I would log on around 6:00 am and work for a few hours, this was back when the Nuggets took two naps a day, so I would then spend the morning with Sprout (going back to work after lunch). I wrote it about it here. I will certainly always remember the time, we logged 8-10 miles a day walking and exploring. She was about 5.5 at the time, so who knows. At one point she told me about a dream she had about driving a car, then told me her top five ‘musics’ (basically genres-ish). You can listen to here playlist here
  2. Our church started an incredibly ambitious sermon series of preaching through the entire Bible in and year and asking the the congregation to read the entire Bible in a year.  A spin off of this was that we started a video series of panel discussions called ‘that stuff in the Bible’, in which we discuss some of the wild, strange, or hard parts of the Bible. I was on the first panel, which of course (being in Genesis) was a discussion on the age of the Earth and evolution. I usually don’t do things like this, as I hate being in public view. I have terrible anxiety for these things, such that I basically didn’t eat that day or sleep the night afterward. However, I am proud of it and I think it turned out pretty well. Please watch it here
  3. I am really struggling for number three. I don’t have anything I can link to or post. I guess I will kind of cheat and tease something that will come later. I formed an idea for a project a few months ago and have been steadily working on it since. As I’ve alluded to in the past few posts, it might mean the end of MMT, but only insofar as it is a new chapter and time to move to something else. It should be fairly comprehensive, and we haven’t figured out all the aspects yet. Hopefully, there will be a few test runs soon to make sure it is worthwhile, and then a launch planned in March. If you never see that, then it failed to get off the ground, but some of the content will likely be ported over here, so either way, I hope to expand what I’m doing in some capacity, after a listless half decade of being a fake theologian.

That is it. That is all I have for 2020. Better luck next year.

We aren’t in Psalm 88, darkness is not my only companion, there is One who will pull us from the pit. 

Age of the Earth Discussion Video

Watch me and friends from church discuss the age of the Earth (I’m the one who was freeze framed with my eyes closed):

I’ll point out for those curious, this was not meant to be a debate, but instead a discussion of general positions people hold, and which positions we hold in particular. There was so much more all of us wanted to say, but as you can see from the length of the video, we already failed our 45 minute hard stop. It seemed like every question and tangent could have been its own hour long discussion. 

As you can see, I’m not the best speaker, and apparently my mom was correct in that I cannot sit still and fidget too much. So I wanted to clarify or expand on a few things here. Like I said, this wasn’t a debate, so we didn’t really interact with each other’s positions that much, but this is my site, so I can do what I want. 

I thought that there would be a little more on the Literary Framework Interpretation, so I kind of cut it short, but it works better as a visual anyway. The main argument is that we have a symmetry where God creates ‘realms’ so to speak, and then fills those ‘realms’, then as Ruler of all and uncreated, He rests on the seventh day (which also establishes the Sabbath, which we didn’t get much into). It looks something like this:

Creation KingdomsCreature Kinds
Day 1: LightDay 4: Luminaries
Day 2: Sky/WaterDay 5: Birds/Fish
Day 3: Land/VegetationDay 6: Land animals/Man
The Creator King
Day 7: Sabbath

For people who are interested in a non-literal, chronological reading of Genesis 1, I think this a good understanding. Of course, and I thought we’d talk more about literal vs literary, very few people actually have a literal view. If they did, they would have to believe that there is a dome above the Earth (the firmament) that separates the waters from above. Very few people believe this anymore. Martin Luther was adamant that you had to have this view, while Calvin was a little more understanding that conception of cosmology has changed (though he was still a strident geocentrist).

I think that is something we have to wrestle with if we try a truly literal view from Old Testament cosmology. This was the debate around Galileo, that the Earth simply could not revolve around the sun. Why? Because the Psalms and Job said that the Earth is fixed on its foundation and cannot be moved. This is even attested to in the New Testament where we learn that the plan of salvation goes back to before the foundation of the world.

That is what changed my position, as I tried to state in the video. Nothing about science, but by learning about Ancient Near East cultures and their cosmology. Understanding Genesis in its place and world, helps you to understand the purpose.

As for evolutionary science, I don’t really care. If something came out tomorrow and all of sudden all scientist agreed that evolution was wrong all this time, that would not change my interpretation of Genesis. However, as it stands now, someone’s feeling or opinions are irrelevant to the science of evolution, it is established fact (for now, I suppose it could change). However, I maintain that this isn’t the point of Genesis and so to reiterate, I’ll end with the J.I. Packer quote I read last night:

I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and I maintain it in print, but exegetically I cannot see that anything Scripture says, in the first chapters of Genesis or elsewhere, bears on the biological theory of evolution one way or the other.

Book Review: The Bible Tells Me So…

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Medium length, easy read (Enns is an academic, but writes for a popular audience)

Summary
In some ways it is a little difficult to summarize this book. This is one of his few books that is written entirely for popular audiences, and he uses a unique form/structure, so it bounces around some. If you are familiar with Enns, there won’t be too much new here. For the most part you are getting some higher criticism, difficult passage in the Old Testament (as in, both things we just don’t like and unclear Hebrew), Jesus reinterpreting the Old Testament and changing the Law (because he is God), and Paul doing the same (in light of the resurrection).  The first chapter is autobiographical and touches on the subtitle of the book, but the following chapters mostly fit into the above outlines.

There are seven chapters – I’ll take door number three; God did what?!; God likes stories; Why doesn’t God make up his mind?; Jesus is bigger than the Bible; No one saw this coming; and The Bible, just as it is. The last chapter is a mostly summary and concluding remarks. Each chapter is broken into short (usually just under 5 pages) writings on anecdotes or individual passages form the Bible.

My Thoughts
If you never read any of Enns, this book could be a good places to start. If you have read most of his other books, maybe pass. Alternatively, if you want a summary of this book and response you could read Longmen’s Confronting Old Testament Controversies. You do get a little bit more of the his life story in the first chapter, but I was expecting more on the subtitle. I thought there were be more a thesis regarding our hyper focus on arguing/defending the Bible, and then the impact of that on how we read it. I agree with the former, and was really hoping on my insight on the later. However, often the subtitle and sometimes in the the title are written by the editors/publisher. I might have passed if I had know how small a part of the book this idea was.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I really like Enns as a writer, his style is short and funny. Everything is very readable, almost like a large compilation of blog posts (but better/more organized). There are points with which I disagree, and some of his translation seem a little too lose, making them lead more to the point he is trying to make than a stricter/better interpretation. It wouldn’t be a the top of my list, but if you’ve read a good bit about OT issues/problems/’contradictions’ or the way Jesus/Paul change/reinterpret them and you are still looking for something, this would be a good option. He has an appendix of notes and further reading from people who agree and disagree with him.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

thessalonians_

Today, I’m continuing my ramblings on Thessalonians. See my Intro, 1 Thess 1-2:121 Thess 2:13-3:131 Thess 4:1-12, and 1 Thess 4:13-5:11.

There is a good deal of content packed in to Paul’s concluding remarks in this letter (read the verses here). We have a rapid fire thoughts coming out in short burst of related material, especially in verses 12-22. It is almost like Paul was running out of paper and was just trying to get some points out, even if he couldn’t add commentary. verses 23 & 24 are typical Pauline benediction, 25-27 he gives instruction, and in 28 we have his usual sign off.

12 & 13
Paul gives instructions to the congregation on how to react to the elders/leader so the church. Who are theses people? Those who labor among you, those who are over you, and those who admonish you. The word translated ‘labor’ here in Greek means, well, labor, it was the actual word for people who engaged manually with work. Being a pastor/elder is not a Sunday only job. Paul also reminds them they are spiritually over them and responsible for them. Admonish is a clearly negative word but was often associated with the positive, to teach. The call to the congregation is to respect and acknowledge those over you and be at peace with everyone.

14
Idle or undisciplined was usually a military term and refers to people who were disorderly or listless, not necessarily just lazy. I do not think it refers back to those who didn’t work, from earlier in the letter. Fainthearted and weak are meant spiritually, not physically. Stott sees them as those who struggled sexual, as earlier in the letter, though others consider it broader as people who are younger or less mature in their faith. Of course they will fail, as we all do, so Paul command patience with them all.

15
Evil here is probably better translated ‘wrong’. It is a common refrain in Scripture (Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 3:9, Matthew 5:43-33, Proverbs 25:21, etc.) that we still struggle with, or completely ignore as a church today.

16-18
We move from our obligations to elders/pastors, and other believers, to our response to God. Unlike the previous few verses which are just difficult, these are impossible – joy, prayer, and gratitude are just not things that we can do always, continually, and in all circumstances. In some ways, this is another great reminder of the blessing of grace. However funny it may sound now, joy was countercultural at the time among the Greeks, especially Stoicism, yet it should be characteristic of Christians.

Luckily, the word ‘continually’ (adialeiptos) was often used hyperbolically; Paul elsewhere (Roman, Ephesians, Colossians) tells us to preserve in prayer. Then again, the point here may be that prayer is an ongoing/always thing, not just during the set hours of prayer that was the custom among Jews and other religions at the time. We can pray directly to God whenever we want, and without the need of a priest. Giving thanks was also something done at certain times and usually by priest, and typically for specific events – holy days, harvest, births, etc.; but the point here is we should give thanks in all circumstances, good, bad, or mundane (our daily bread).

19-21
It appears the Thessalonians might have had the opposite issue of the Corinthians, in that instead of putting too much emphasis on gifts, they might have been rejecting them. They apparently did not like having a prophetic voice. It is funny to think that we still have these opposing issues today (Pentecostal vs. Reformed). Paul tells them to allow the Spirit to move and speak in people, but not accept it blindly, but to test it against what we know from scripture and to keep/hold on to what we know to be good and true.

22
Resist all forms of wrong is pretty straightforward. This verse makes me think of a fairly common salutation in the South when leaving friends or family that you will not see again for a while – y’all be good.

23 & 24
The usual benediction where Paul asks Christ to bless and keep us holy.

25
Paul often ask for prayers, but again this is not common in other religions or cultures where only the priest can pray to God for you. Here, Paul is command them to pray for him and the other leaders; as all Christians can pray, and all Christian need prayer.

26
This is another thing that sounds weird to us, and a fun verse to point out to people who say they ‘take the Bible literally’. What seems to be happening here is a call for equality as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Typically one would kiss the hand of the person with the higher status, but instead we are all called to kiss each other on the cheek (as sign of equals). Apparently this lasted for a while and across genders, until it was curbed a few centuries later for ‘abuses’.

27 & 28
It wasn’t uncommon for Paul to ask for the letters to be read to all, as his instructions are for all in the church. He follows that instruction with another one of his typically signs offs, asking for the grace (blessing and peace) of Christ to be with us all.

 

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11

thessalonians_

Today, I’m continuing my ramblings on Thessalonians. See my Intro, 1 Thess 1-2:121 Thess 2:13-3:13, and 1 Thess 4:1-12.

Once again we have a section that whose purpose may show that 2 Thessalonians was actually the first letter (see my intro for more). In 2 Thess 1:5-12, Paul tells the Thessalonians about the second coming of Christ in judgement. In that letter, we are told that Christ will be revealed from heaven. The word is apokalypsei, obviously the word from which we receive the modern English word apokalypse. Paul in 1 Thessalonians (and elsewhere) uses a different word for Christ coming, one that is more triumphal. Likely, the original letter caused the Thessalonians to have two questions, first, if we will greet Christ as he returns, what about those who have died until he returns? Second, when is he coming? These are the last two major points covered by Paul in this letter and what we’ll look at today.

4:13-18
Three times in the this five verse response Paul tells the Thessalonians that those asleep will come first. I think that is a clear indication (and I haven’t seen a commentator who thought otherwise) that Paul is responding to a concern the Thessalonians had regarding the coming of the Lord. It is also worth noting that ‘asleep’ as a euphemism was pretty common in Greek and Latin literateture. It is pretty well attested to in other writings and we shouldn’t make a theological point (such as soul sleep) from Paul’s use of the word.

So clearly, those who have already died will for some reason or another precede us. It says the dead will rise first, perhaps this is because the dead have already spent time in heaven with Christ and returning with him to initiate the New Heaven and New Earth that will come after the final judgement.

The word used here for Christ return is parousia; which means arrival or visit and it was often used for royal or official meetings. A visiting dignitary or returning triumphal king would ‘arrive’ and officials from the city would come out of the gate and welcome him, bringing him back into the city. What Paul is trying to get a across is that while Christ’s return means judgement for the world, it would instead be a  glorious return for us.

Meeting in the clouds would be where we greet Christ and return to Earth. Clouds are often considered the meeting place between human and divine in ancient literature. Likewise, we have Daniel writing of the Son of Man coming on the clouds.

Now, the return will be something like celebratory process, it will be a quick and sudden event. The ESV says  we ‘will be caught up’, the Greek word here is harpagismoetha, which has the connotation of a sudden event such as ‘snatch’ or ‘take away’. The more common word used is harpazo from which we see the Latin word rapio, from which we have our English word rapture.

It is beyond the scope of this study, but I think it is important to know the real meaning of the words used here. An entire ideology, and one with an oversized influence on modern American Christianity, has come up around this word which fairly clearly does no mean what certain people represent it to mean. The main point for now is that the event is sudden and transitions to Paul’s next answer regarding the time of Christ’s return.

A final note on this section, the word Paul uses for ‘rose’ in verse 14 isn’t his typical word used and the structure of the sentence makes it seem as if this might be some early creed among Christians. He may have just used a different word, too, but it isn’t uncommon for early writers to display writings that appear to be known sayings or creeds.

5:1-11
It seems a little odd that Paul writes that he doesn’t need to write anything, and that they already know, then spends 10 verses writing to them what they seem not to know. Again, this is likely something he touched on in his first visit, but after his letter concerning judgment in Christ’s return, they must have been nervous. As it is, Paul ends the section above and this one with the command to encourage one another.

Paul uses a few metaphors to explain the unexpectedness before moving on to tell us how we should act. The word for sleep in this section is different than the one above, and had the meaning more of negligence. Similarly, sober could connote thinking clearly. As fun as day-drinking a napping are, they rarely mean that we are working or acting in an expectant manner. From the other content of the letters to Thessalonica, it appears that some of them might have expected the return to be imminent and were therefore nor working or behaving in the manner they should.

Using light and darkness as good and bad is fairly common, and builds with our wakefulness and sobermindedness, for us to remain diligent in our life as we wait on the Lord. As in other letters, Paul uses the metaphor of armor. Interestingly, Paul touches again on faith, hope, and love. Here he says these three things are our amour as we wait for Christ return, and in 1 Corinthians, we are told that after Christ’s return, those attributes will all remain.

To wrap things up before his final conclusion/instructions/benediction, he reminds them that they are not destined for wrath, as other, but have been destined for life and salvation through Christ who died for us.

A final note on this section, verse 3 might have been an actual saying at the time. Both Diodaus and Siculus have written the phrase ‘comfort in peace, security in war.’ Now, this could be just Paul using two of the same words and it is just a coincidence, if he is saying you will have neither comfort or security, neither peace nor war, but final destruction. However, if it is a play on a known phrase (which was not uncommon in writings at the time), then it is another reminder of Pual being a real person and a real time. It doesn’t have some super spiritual meaning or any great theological point, this phrase anyway, but I like this reminder. It connects me back to this ancient book written in a langauge I don’t know during a time I don’t understand.

So, as Paul says, encourage each other. Whether we are alive or dead, those in Christ will live again and have eternal life. We don’t know when he is coming, and generation after generation has passed without his return, but we continue on. It will come suddenly, or we may die before he does, either way, we encourage each other in our future hope.

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

thessalonians_

Today, I’m continuing my ramblings on Thessalonians. See my Intro, 1 Thess 1-2:12, and 1 Thess 2:13-3:13.

It is kind of funny to read Paul, in what we have labeled the fourth verse, say ‘finally’, and then go on and write almost everything anyone every quotes or teach from the letter. I think it is a good reminder that this is a real letter from a real person in history. The letter was a personal one from a pastor writing to his flock. That encourages me, that personal connection. I believe that among the many ways we fail to read the Bible, one of them is to read it for what it was. We’ve cut up this letter to be five verses, and most people skip through the first three verses and read/study verse four and the first half of five, before the salutation.

For Paul, this letter was one of encouragement and longing to be with this congregation, with then a few notes that I believe were questions raises after his first letter (which we call Second Thessalonians, see my intro for more). However, we mostly skip the first part, and then jump into the three theological issues – aspects of a Christian life, the Second Coming, and the Day of the Lord. I’m going to look at the first one today, and next week (hopefully) look at one or both of the second two.

Verse 4:1-12
There are there parts to the section – sexual immorality, brotherly love, and work.

1
He asks and ‘urges’ the Thessalonians to do what pleases God. The term here for please is one used for civic servants serving a Council.

2-3
Paul again reminds them that this is what they told them before they left them and then gets to what he has been leading up to, that the will of God (that which pleases him that he started in verse 1) and one of the things needed for their sanctification is to abstain from sexual immorality. The word for sexual immorality is porneia, and general means all forms of sex that were not between a husband and wife. In some instances, the meaning could be restricted to adultery. This word has been subject to a lot of debate, especially recently as we continue to expand the actable sexual ethic, but that is a little beyond the scope here.

4-6
This is a tricky verse to translate. The ESV says ‘each of you know how to control his own body’, with a footnote that says ‘or how to take a wife; Greek – poses his own body.’ The two words that cause issue are skeous and ktashai. The former means vessel or implement/tool and is what we see translated as body or wife. It is the same word Peter uses when referring to Husbands and Wives in 1 Peter 3:7. It appears the words most common use was a tool that was used for a purpose, but with the understand of vessel, often meant, metaphorically, a body. Apparently, it can rarely mean penis (because, what doesn’t?). I personally find this funny and somewhat compelling for no reason than we still basically have this advice in the world today – ‘keep it in your pants’.

Ktashai means to procure or acquire and in classical Greek had a meaning that ranged from proficiency (music, sports, etc.) to dominion (servants). There is not much support for something like, control/mastery of passions (that is, lust/sexual immorality). So, there comes a translation question of whether Paul is telling people to learn to control themselves (to avoid immorality) or is he saying to go get a wife (to avoid immorality). In some sense, it doesn’t much matter, if the exhortation is to avoid sexual immorality (and we know it is, because of verse 3). However, the context does matter, and gives us a maybe a little insight into what is happening among the Thessalonians.

Either sentiment would not be out of line with what Paul has said elsewhere. He tells us it is better to get married to keep sinning, and in 1 Corinthians 7:3 he says, because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have one wife and each woman her own husband. I lean towards this as Paul’s meaning here. In the culture at the time, it was perfectly acceptable for a man to have sex with another woman (even if he was married) and wasn’t even considered adultery if the other woman was married, because then no man was harmed. This is why Paul points out, Gentiles who don’t know God and why he says that no one should harm or transgress a brother. Now, that might contradict what I said earlier about favoring the translation of ‘get a wife’, because if married men are committing adultery, then maybe we should translate to mean to control your self (or keep it in your pants).

So, you can see where in the end, maybe we get to the same point, but there are some ambiguity as to how we get there. It is important to note that historically, ‘control your vessel’ was the primary understanding.

If ‘avenger’ stuck out to you a strange word because we don’t use it much today, it is a strictly legal concept. The word ekdikos meant an offical who punished those who violated the law.

7-8
God calls us to holiness, not impurity (sexual immorality) so whoever ignore that, ignores God.

9-10
I find this a strange section, he basically says, ‘now to brotherly love, I don’t have anything to say, because y’all do it; but try to do it some more.’ Apparently, the Thessalonians were doing a good job in brotherly love and caring for one another, and others. He even mentions in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 that those in Macedonia (of which, Thessalonica was the capital), though were extremely poor, gave extremely generously.

As a quick aside, ‘taught but God’ is Theodidaktio, which would have stuck out against the Epicurean autodidaktio (self-taught), and it is another reminder that Paul is writing against very real philosophies that competed for attention and thought in the world, much as we do today.

11-12
This last little section is fascinating, but I won’t spend as much time on it now, but dive back in when I get to 2 Thessalonians 3. Paul tells up to aspire to live quietly, I like Stott’s take that this means to ‘make your ambition to have no ambition.’ He tells us to ‘mind our own affairs’ and will again point this out in 2 Thessalonians 3 when he says to not be busybodies. We read this today as probably meaning gossip, but as Wannamaker points out, these phrases has unmistakable political connotations. To keep meant to rest, which Philo contrast with the public life. Green says, ‘we can safely assume that Apostle is calling people to avoid or stay out of public/political affiars.’

This blew my mind? I always thought he were being told to work and not gossip, which is fairly straight forward. Avoid public affairs? I work for the government and speak on behalf of citizens to a city council. Maybe I got a little more hyped than you did reading, but that isn’t quite the whole story of what is going on here. However, I won’t get into that now, keep going with me as I try to make it through both letters and will pick this back up towards the end.

 

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

1 Thessalonians 2:13-3:13

thessalonians_

Today, I’m continuing my ramblings on Thessalonians. See my Intro and 1 Thess 1-2:12.

Chapter 2, Verse 13
In this verse, Paul is referring back to his actions earlier, especially in 6 and 7, where he tells them they came without flattering speech or seeking greed and power. He acknowledges that the Thessalonians didn’t accept it as mere words of men, but as from God.

14-16
He contrast their reactions with that of the Jews. The Jews did not accept the Gospel, and only on that, the rejected Christ himself, to the point of killing him, just as they had the prophets before them. Even now, they hinder Paul and the apostles from spreading the work.

17
Most translations read, ‘we were taken away from you’. The word translated for taken away is aphorphanisthentes. You might recognize our modern word orphan in there. However, the word has a broader meaning, it was just children who lost parents, but also parents who lost children. The later context is likely how Paul is explaining the way he feels about being a part from them.

18
Interestingly, here he says that Satan has blocked him from seeing the Thessalonians. We don’t know exactly to what Paul was referring here. THe word used for stop comes from a military term, in which, to stop an advancing army, soldiers would destroy the road, so that there would not be an easy way to pass. For whatever reason, he is unable to visit them again, and he considers this the work of Satan. He doesn’t always attribute hardships to Satan, but sometimes attributes reasons things happen to God, even if they are negative.

19-20
He rhetorically asks them the question who will be their crown and then answers that it is the Thessalonians, saying that when Jesus returns, they will be the crowning achievement of their ministry. He even repeats himself again in verse 20 to drive the point home.

Chapter 3
Some commentators have put all of Chapter 3 together with verses 13-20 in Chapter 2 as one big apology (in the classic sense) for his not coming to see them. I think that makes sense in light of verse 3:1 starting with ‘therefore’ which reaches back to some previous thoughts. So, Paul is saying that while he in Timothy and Silas were in Athens, hearing about the troubles of the Thessalonians, and as they are a crown in his ministry, and as he (Paul) was blocked by Satan from visiting them, he could no longer stand to think of them alone or to find out how they were doing and finally sent Timothy to check on them.

I think this Chapter especially lays out the reason to believe that 2 Thessalonians was actually the first book, as I mentioned in the intro. It would seem to make sense that they established the church there, had to leave, heard of what was happening and sent Timothy with a letter (2 Thess), then Timothy reported back to Paul and Silas, from which they wrote the second letter, which is 1 Thessalonians.

1-2
Paul can longer resist and send Timothy to check in on them, and also to ‘strenthen and encourage them in faith.

3-4
These verses are hard to hear, or really to even understand, as a Christian in modern American. He tells them they shouldn’t be concerned that they are suffering and being persecuted, because Paul told them this would happen. He points out again, ‘we kept telling you in advance that you were going to suffer affliction’, and reminds them that they shouldn’t be surprised that it happened. Our current level of persecution is limited to someone saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas. I wonder how successful our churches would be, how many people would actually show up on Sundays, were our pastors to warn us that affliction is coming, and it be true. If it caused actual risk or pain to go to church, how many would we lose? Somewhat ironically, in places today that are persecuted, where there is real risk, the church is thriving and growing, not sitting fat and happy as here in America, or withering away as in other parts of the ‘Western’ world.

5
He repeats again his anguish and fear as to what was happening in Thessalonica.

6-8
However, the report is good. Timothy finds that they are holding strong and longing to see Paul as much as he longs to see them. This comforts him and he tells them we can now ‘really live’, if they continue to stand firm.

9-13
Paul ends this section with a long prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving; thanking God for answering their prayers for the Thessalonians and asking that they will increase in and abound in love (for each other, and for all people, just as they are loved).

 

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

1 Thessalonians 1-2:12

thessalonians_

Check out my intro to 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Today I’m posting my note for 1 Thess 1-2:12.

1 Thessalonians 1
It is kind of funny. Every commentary begins with an explanation that greetings were common in antiquity. Immediately I have two thoughts. First, while very liberal Christians or Atheist may dispute Pauline authorship, I don’t think anyone disputes that it was written in an ancient form. Second, how is that different? Do we not start letters with introductions now? Granted mine typically start with “Y’all” or “Dear Jackass,” (reason 873 I could never have been an Apostle). I guess you have to start your commentary somewhere, look what I just did. Not much to say about the intro, other than Paul merges Christian and Jewish themes by writing ‘grace and peace’. Most Greek letters would say ‘greetings’, which is similar to the work for Grace, so it was a little play on words, and of course Jews often began/ended letters with ‘peace’ (shalom).

The remainder of the chapter is a long, heartfelt thanksgiving which also (per Green) points out all that Paul will later discuss in the letter itself – how the Gospel came to them and their conversion, the character of the messengers, the results of the conversions, the suffering all endured, their mission, and finally, their final hope).

In verses 2-3 they tell the Thessalonians of how they pray for them often and remember the work they have done. In v.4 the another reason for thanks comes as they know that the Thessalonians are among those called by God. With v.5 Paul points out that the gospel came as word from him to the Thessalonians, but was also confirmed and strengthened with the Holy Spirit.

Verses 6-10, shows the Thessalonians becoming ‘imitators’ of Paul (along with Timothy and Silas) as well as the Lord, which lead to them becoming models to other Christian communities in the area (Macedonia and Achaia, and beyond), so that now others further away report back to Paul the behavior of the Thessalonians.

We can also note that in v. 6 Paul says they did all this in ‘much affliction’ and v. 10 shows us a direct and clear belief in the resurrection of Christ, through the power of God, and the coming judgement.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Chapter 2 starts off with a reference back to the thanksgiving of chapter 1, why was it not in vain? Because the Gospel spread through Thessalonica and they are now examples to all in the region. Paul is thankful it was not in vain, as he had already suffered in Philippi and were ‘shamefully treated’ but they dared to speak regardless.

Verses 3-6 are something of an apologetic. Paul is laying out what their message and actions were not. The message does not come from error or impure motives with an attempt to deceive (v. 3), nor did they come with flattery or greed (v.5) or seek glory and position among the people (v.6). Why? What is the point of all this? It is important to remember that in the ancient near east and classical culture, there was nothing unique in what Paul (Timothy & Silas) were doing. There were many traveling preachers (like Jesus himself) and philosophers who went from town to town speaking their thoughts and beliefs in front of crowds. Now, these people need to eat, so they need money, and some made more than others, and if I were doing this, I’d certainly try flattery. We see how affected that is today with the Prosperity Gospel. However, the seek neither money nor position, though they could as Apostles (Paul writes in Timothy 5:17 that Elders are worthy of double honor, especially those who preach/teach).

So what did they do instead? Verses 7-12 say they did not make demands (or become a burden) but were like a mother caring for children and shared themselves as well as the Gospel (v. 7 & 8) and they they worked day and night (v. 9) and, like a father to his children, exhorted them to walk in a manner worth of God (v. 10 & 11). It is interesting in a literary sense that Paul compares himself to both a mother (actually, trophos, a wet nurse, but a feminine and motherly act, nonetheless) and a father. The overall point being, they did not act like the typical traveling speaker, but instead worked and lived among the Thessalonian, helping, encouraging, and teaching them.

*There is an odd textual variant of note here in verse 7 as well. Paul says they were ‘gentle’ (per ESV, NASB, HSCB & KJV) among them. Now, if you are (for some reason) using my notes along with your Bible, you might possibly see the word infants (or perhaps children; NIV, NET, & NLT) instead. The word in question is different by only one letter – epioi (gentile) and nepioi (infant). Manuscript evidence seems to indicate the reading of infant, but gentle seems to make more sense here – a woman can act gently during nursing, but if you’ve ever seen an infant eat, it can be pretty savage, which doesn’t seem to fit the point he is trying to make. The commentaries seemed split as to the correct reading, but the explanation I feel best about is that there was a scibal error that added the n, and that text happened to be copied more than the other and here we are. It doesn’t change anything major about his overall feelings and actions, but it is a good reminder that the Bible wasn’t handed to us by Christ himself.

That’s it for this week, I’ll try to do better next time.

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)