Bible Translations

Translation philosophy

Bible translations commonly adopt primarily one of two philosophies for determining the correct English translation of the Hebrew or Greek text. The first is “formal equivalence” or “word-for-word.” Here the translator takes each Hebrew or Greek word and attempts to translate it into the equivalent English word. An alternative approach is “dynamic equivalence” or “thought-for-thought.” In this case, the translator first attempts to determine the meaning of a complete phrase in the original language, then picks the English words that best convey the same meaning. The translators of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (and perhaps other translations) have opted to use “optimal equivalence” which might be explained as “as literal as possible, as free as necessary.”

I like the idea of “optimal equivalency.” The way I would phrase it is, “word-for-word as much as possible, unless it produces confusion.” I tried to think of an example where a word-for-word translation would create confusion, and although it’s not a great example, consider the following scenario: let’s say I’m translating the phrase “la bota negra” from Spanish to English. I look up each word in the Spanish-English dictionary, and I see that la=the, bota=boot, and negra=black. So the literal English translation would be “the boot black.” According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a boot-black is “a person who cleans and polishes shoes for a living.” However, anyone familiar with Spanish knows that the modifier (adjective) comes after the noun, whereas in English we put the modifier in front of the noun, so the correct English translation would be “the black boot.” This would be a case where a truly literal word-for-word translation would be a bad idea. Then, of course, sometimes a truly literal word-for-word translation isn’t even possible, because there is no one-to-one correspondance of the Greek or Hebrew word with an English word.

There’s also the issue that what is clear to one person might be confusing to someone else. Something that might be easily understood by an English major might be quite confusing to someone who struggled to graduate highschool. In that case, there is certainly a place for a variety of translations at different reading levels. Unfortunately, simplifying a translation can also require sacrificing some accuracy sometimes.

What if the original language is confusing? Should the translator take his best stab at the intended meaning, or leave it ambiguous so the reader can take it either way? This is a judgement call that the translator has to make, in part depending on how much confidence he has in his ability to interpret the true intent of the passage.

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(Also see “Once Saved Always Saved”)

God’s sovereignty does not violate man’s free will. Please understand this…it is very important. God does not force anyone to love Him or choose Him. Please do not let this all-or-nothing thinking be a stumbling block to the biblical principle of man’s total depravity or God’s sovereignty.

I’ve heard lots of objections to God’s sovereignty, usually with the assumption that it overrides man’s ability to choose. I’ve also heard God’s sovereignty explained away such that it’s really man’s choice and God just knows what will happen so He plans accordingly. I don’t recall ever hearing a good explanation of what Romans 9, Matthew 20, and the numerous other passages dealing with God’s sovereignty are really saying if you reject the notion that the choice originates with God, independent of man.

Another thing I’d like to reiterate, as a few people have already mentioned, is that God is the standard of righteousness, justice, and love. God doesn’t just decide what Right is, and then abide with His “rules.” Whatever God does–that, by definition, is Right. If God declared that green was holy and pink was evil, it wouldn’t matter that I think it’s arbitrary and stupid. I would still be sinning if I decided to wear pink anyway. If God decided to eliminate a race of people, it wouldn’t matter if it seemed heartless to us. The fact that God did it, and that alone, makes it Right.

Now, that doesn’t mean that God is inconsistent and contradictory. He has revealed His character to us, and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We know from the Bible that He is loving; He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He is very patient, pursuing His beloved even after we reject Him time and time again. Our understanding of salvation needs to be consistent with this.

Our understanding of salvation also needs to be consistent with the biblical principles that have been presented, indicating that man is depraved and does not seek God on his own.

Originally posted 7/15/2005 on

Perseverance of the Saints

Perseverance of the Saints is very much dependant on God’s Unconditional Election and Irresistable Grace. With regards to Calvinism vs. Arminianism, I’m not very interested in proving which of the two opposing views are correct. I believe the Bible gives indications of both, and I am more interested in reconciling the seeming contradictory concepts than picking one versus the other.

However, here are some of the common verses that indicate a Perseverance of the Saints:

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Bizarre ritual

Yesterday afternoon as I was driving home on a county road outside of town, I passed a field and noticed four people standing in the middle of the field, apparently wrestling with a cow. This seemed rather strange, so I pulled off the road onto a nearby driveway behind a barn, and observed them for a while. After struggling with the cow for a while, and apparently tying it up, it suddenly went limp. I happened to have a pair of binoculars in my car, so I pulled them out for a closer look at what was going on. There were four men, all dressed in robes. They had slit the cow’s throat, and were collecting it’s blood in a container. Then they smeared the blood on their faces, hands, and feet, and sprinkled some on their clothing. They cut the cow open and removed some of its internal organs, then began dismembering it, cutting off its head and legs. Certain parts they would wave in the air, and then place on a fire that they had started. I was pretty sick to my stomach, so I didn’t stick around to see what else they did. Does anybody know if this is a ritual that a particular group has, or was it most likely just four twisted individuals? Should I have told somebody about this?

Perhaps you would respond like some of these people responded:

“From my extensive study of many of the worlds religions, it seems you witnessed the act of four very messed up kids. This doesn’t sound like anything more than someone who has watched one too many gore movies.”

“Almost sounds like an OT sacrifice. Please note the word ALMOST. It also seems a little ‘dark lordish.'”

“It does sound like some kind of sacrifice…not OT though.”

“That’s disgusting. Sounds satantic to me.”

“My, this sound like some Old Testament ritual.”

“I would not have thought twice to call the cops…”

“It sounds a lot like a satanic ritual.”

What if I replaced “yesterday” with “3,500 years ago,” and replaced rural Indiana with the Sinai Desert; would that change your response?

“…they smeared the blood on their faces, hands, and feet, and sprinkled some on their clothing.”
Exodus 29:20-21 “…take some of its blood and put it on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. ‚Ķsprinkle it on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments.”

“They cut the cow open and removed some of its internal organs, then began dismembering it, cutting off its head and legs.”
Exodus 29:17 “Cut the ram into pieces and wash the inner parts and the legs, putting them with the head and the other pieces.”

“Certain parts they would wave in the air, and then place on a fire that they had started.”
Exodus 29:24-25 “Put all these in the hands of Aaron and his sons and wave them before the LORD as a wave offering. Then take them from their hands and burn them on the altar along with the burnt offering for a pleasing aroma to the LORD, an offering made to the LORD by fire.”

I think sometimes when people (including me) read the Bible, we read some pretty bizarre things without batting an eye. You’ve probably heard comments before to the effect that if the Bible were made into a movie, and Christians weren’t told that the script came straight from the Bible, many would think it should be banned. Why is it that our perception of the same stories is so much different depending on the source? How is it that something holy and righteous 3,500 years ago, would be viewed as satanic if it were observed today? Is there anything we should learn from this about ourselves or how we view God?

Some people believe that the last nine chapters of Ezekiel refer to the millennial reign of Christ, and that sacrifices will again be offered in the temple at that time. (There may be other passages that are used to support this idea, but this is the one I’m aware of.) The religious leaders of the day did not accept Jesus when he came the first time, because his ideas and practices were not consistent with the context in which they expected the Messiah to operate. How will we respond when Jesus returns, if he institutes practices that are unfamiliar to us, possibly even bizarre and shocking?

In thinking about this topic, I was reminded that evil is not the opposite of good, but rather a perversion of something good. We’re so used to the concept of “good vs. evil” that we tend to think of them as opposites, with good forces and evil forces struggling for superiority. However, Evil cannot exist by itself; without a knowledge of what is Good, Evil is undefined. The fact that evil is not the polar opposite of good can make it harder to identify. Since evil is in fact a twisted version of something good, our ability to recognize it depends on how twisted it is, and how familiar we are with the standard for Good.

originally posted 2/4/2005 on

Mark of the Beast

It’s not uncommon to hear Christians theorize about what the mark of the beast will be. Technological advances relating to personal identification are common suspects.

Orginally posted 2/22/2005 on

I don’t know how the mark of the beast will manifest itself, but I do think that someone who takes it will know that in doing so they are renouncing Jesus. We are essentially already a cashless society. Cash is available, but it isn’t necessary. When I swipe a magnetic code in order to buy something, does the fact that it’s on my body versus on a plastic card make all the difference in the world?

Some will reject any type of implantable chip whatsoever. I haven’t decided yet if that is evil or just the next wave of technology and convenience. If you decide that it’s okay, where else are you going to put it besides your forehead or hand? It wouldn’t be very convenient to have to swipe your knee or your shoulder to buy something. At amusement parks, concerts, etc. where they stamp your hand to show that you paid admission, they always stamp the back of your hand. Is that the mark of the beast?

The Flood

Not long ago I went through the details of the Flood account in Genesis to see how long it lasted. The total time from when the rain started until Noah exited the ark was 1 year and 10 days. The total number of days depends on how many days were in each month, and there is no authoritative source that can define with 100% certainty how months were measured in Noah’s day (or Moses’ day, since that’s when Genesis was written).

Assuming 30 days in each month, here is a table that shows each event described and the accumulation of days:

For a rough visual indication of the rise and ebb of the flood waters, see this diagram:

originally posted 3/22/2005 on