The Beautiful Cross

The crucifixion, which ended with the triumphant cry, “It is finished” (Jn 19.30), was the offering of the all-sufficient sacrifice for the atonement of all sinners.  The Man on the cross was the Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world to carry them away from the face of God.  The salvation of the whole world once hung by those three nails on the cross on Golgotha.  As the fruit from the wood of the forbidden tree from which the first man once ate brought sin, death, and damnation upon the entire human race, so the fruits of the wood of the cross restored righteousness, life, and blessedness to all people.

On account of this, the cross is both holy and blessed!  Once nothing but a dry piece of wood, it was changed, like Aaron’s staff, into a green branch full of heavenly blossoms and fruit.  Once an instrument of torment for the punishment of sinners, it now shines in heavenly splendor for all sinners as a sign of grace.  Once the wood of the curse, it has now become, after the Promised Blessing for all people offered Himself up on it, a tree of blessing, an altar of sacrifice for the atonement, and a sweet-smelling aroma to God.  Today, the cross is still a terror–but only to hell.  It shines upon its ruins as a sign of the victory over sin, death, and Satan.  With a crushed head, the serpent of temptation lies at the foot of the cross.  It is a picture of eternal comfort upon which the dimming eye of the dying longingly looks, the last anchor of his hope and the only light that shines in the darkness of death.

— C.F.W. Walther (quoted in Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 622)

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Adoption and Baptism: A Real-Life Illustration

Last night, my son and I were enjoying our nightly ritual of reading books and bible stories before bedtime.  The bible story we were reading was the birth of Jesus–yes, he’s in the Christmas spirit early–and we paused at the end on a picture of baby Jesus lying in a manger, surrounded by animals, Joseph and Mary.  As a good young boy is wont to do, he started asking questions:

“Who is that?” he asked, pointing at the baby.

“Baby Jesus,” I replied.

“Isn’t he God?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“And when he got big, he died on the cross, right?” he asked, pointing to his baptismal cross on the wall.

“Yes, you’re right,” I said.

“Why did I get baptized?” he asked again, stream of consciousness kicking into high gear.

“That’s a great question!” I told him.

At this point, I had to come up with an illustration of what baptism is all about and what God does in baptism.  For those who don’t know, we adopted our son from Ukraine a little over two years ago, when he was three.  Though he doesn’t remember a lot about when he was “a tiny baby,” he remembers many details about our initial visits at the orphanage, our days of playing with him in the orphanage before we could bring him home, and the adventurous trip back to Texas.  With those things in mind, our conversation continued…

“Remember when Mommy and I came to get you in Ukraine?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied.

“You were very little then, but we still loved you.  Could you have found us and come home all by yourself?”

“No way,” he said with a laugh.

“Well baptism is kind of like that. God comes to get us when we can’t come to him.”

“Oh!” he said as his eyes lit up with understanding.

“And now, you’re our son, right?” I asked.

“Yes, Daddy.”

“And just like you’re our child, you’re God’s child, because he came to get you just like we did.”

He paused for a minute and then said, “Jesus loves us a lot, right, Dad?”

“Yes he does,” I said with a smile. “Yes he does.”

The whole conversation was a joy, but it was most fantastic to watch my little one, who had never heard the name of Jesus just over two years ago, connect the dots in such a way as to realize–quite tangibly, since he remembers his baptism–how great is God’s love for us!

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Review of God’s Word Translation–the Old Testament (Part 2)

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In this second post in a multi-part review of God’s Word Translation (GW), we will take a look at the Old Testament as translated in GW.  If you are not familiar with GW, please read my first post on the history and philosophy behind GW.

Text Formatting

As far as I know, the text layout in all editions of GW is identical: single-column, black lettering with textual footnotes.  I have not seen an edition that includes cross-references, and the God’s Word Study Bible is the only edition I find in the catalog that includes them.  With respect to readability, this layout is fantastic. The single-column layout allows narrative text to read like a book instead of a technical manual and allows poetry to be formatted in such a way as to clearly bring out the parallelism so important and prominent in Hebrew poetry.  The only thing I find distracting are the section titles, but these appear in just about every edition of every translation, so this is nothing specific to GW.  Because of the choices made in the text layout, GW gets high marks for formatting and readability.

Overall Readability

In my opinion, GW has achieved very good readability without sacrificing readability or breaking markedly from traditional English bible translations.  While there are certainly places in every translation where one could suggest stylistic revisions for one reason or another, overall GW is a comfortable read falling somewhere in my totally unscientific scale of readability between the NIV and the NLT.  In other words, someone familiar with the NIV or translations leaning more toward ‘formal equivalence’ may find that GW sounds more ‘familiar’ than the NLT.  This isn’t necessarily good or bad, merely my attempt to place GW in the context of versions many readers are more familiar with.  If you are curious to read several passages from GW side-by-side with other versions, check out Joel’s series of reviews on his blog.  Since he has provided so many examples, I do not intend to provide more.

Narrative

The narrative in GW reads as one would hope narrative would–smoothly.  While I haven’t read through all of the OT in GW, I have enjoyed what I have read.  Consistent with its goal of readability without oversimplification, the narrative portions sometimes shorten sentence length over what is found in the original languages, though translators have aimed not to shorten sentences for the sake of shortening them if such edits compromise or blur their meaning.  The narrative also tries to avoid piling up clauses or prepositional phrases, both of which create more difficult reading.

Poetry

One of the most important literary devices in Hebrew poetry is parallelism (see this great Wikipedia article on Biblical Poetry for a primer on the subject).  Especially over against rhyme, meter, rhythm or other devices that are not readily apparent in any translation from Hebrew to English, understanding parallelism helps provide significant insight into understanding the significance of the Psalms, songs, and some prophetic sections in the Old Testament.  The poetic sections of GW are one place, in my opinion, where the editors have really made good use of the additional real-estate allowed by having a single-column format.  The wider, single-column layout allowed editors to use multiple levels of indentation to group together multiple parallel phrases nested within a section of poetry.  While this indentation is not original to the Hebrew, it definitely allows English speakers whose poetry uses parallelism less than rhyme to easily (and visually) see its structure and better understand its meaning.  I have seen no other single-column layout that so effectively utilizes indentation to organize and present poetry.  This is one area where GW really shines!

Non-Traditional Wording

In its attempt to remove easily misunderstood technical language (see my first review), GW breaks with translation tradition in some places.  This is more apparent in the New Testament, as we’ll see, but there are several important areas where non-traditional wording is used in the Old Testament.  One significant departure from traditional English translations is the use of ‘instruction’ as the translation for the Hebrew ‘torah’.  While ‘instruction’ is almost the universal lexical definition of ‘torah,’ most English translations routinely translate it as ‘law,’ and even non-technical commentaries are quick to point out this important difference.  Making this change was an excellent choice.

Another traditional phrase appearing in the Old Testament is “Lord of Hosts” (‘Yahweh Sabaoth’).  Here ‘hosts’ is a reference to angelic beings, i.e. the hosts of heaven.  It is an archaic phrase that few Christians are truly familiar with and even fewer, if any, non-Christians would implicitly understand.  GW has chosen to translate this phrase “Lord of Armies,” which I think is unfortunate, as there is no explanation that these armies of the armies of heaven and not the armies of men or earthly politics.  There is room for significant misunderstanding here, in my opinion, and translating this “Lord of Heaven’s Armies,” as the NLT has done, is a much better choice.

A final non-traditional translation choice was made in Deuteronomy 6.4.  This verse, commonly known as the ‘shema,’ is an important part of daily prayer for the Jews.  Traditionally this verse is translated as, “Hear, O Israel:  The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (ESV), which serves to emphasizes the unity of God.  In the context of a polytheistic culture and God’s constant warnings against worshiping other Gods, Dt 6.4 is better understood as Israel’s ‘pledge of allegiance’ to Yahweh.  As such, GW (similarly to the NLT) translates this verse, “Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God.  The LORD is the only God.”  Again, in my opinion, this was an excellent choice by the translators.

Overall

Overall, the Old Testament of GW is very well done.  The narrative is crystal clear and the poetic sections are wonderfully presented.  While not all aspects of non-traditional word choices are necessarily more helpful than traditional English renderings, in two areas at least, I find the changes refreshing and, quite honestly, more accurate.

Stay tuned for our look next time at the New Testament!

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All Saints’ Day?

For many Christians, especially those whose traditions do not observe the church calendar, the mere mention of “All Saints’ Day” sounds eerily Roman Catholic or taboo.  But what exactly is this feast day (i.e., church celebration) all about?  I have found no better short explanation than that in the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

This feast is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesss with which we are surrounded (Heb 12.1).  It holds before the eyes of faith that great multitude which no man can number: all the saints of God in Christ–from every nation, race, culture, and language–who have come ‘out of the great tribulation…who have washed their robes and made them white in the allsaintsglassblood of the Lamb’ (Rev 7.9, 14).  As such, it sets before us the full height and depth and breadth and length of our dear Lord’s gracious salvation (Eph 3.17-19).  It shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died with Christ Jesus have also been raised with Him (Rom 6.3-8).  It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire Church catholic [i.e., ‘universal church’ not ‘Roman Catholic church’]–in heaven and on earth, in all times and places–in the one Body of Christ, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Just as we have all been called to the one hope that belongs to our call, ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Eph 4.4-6).  And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an eschatalogical focus on the life everlasting and a confession that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Rom 8.18).  In all of these emphases, the purpose of this feast is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb 12.2-3).

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