Spiritual Authority

Between 1984 and 2010, if you picked up an NIV Bible and turned to 1 Thessalonians 5:12, here is what you would have read:

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. (NIV1984)

In 1998, the New International Reader’s Version was published, which simplifies things for those who read on a more basic level.

Brothers and sisters, we ask you to have respect for the godly leaders who work hard among you. They have authority over you. They correct you. (NIrV)

In 2005, after attempts to revise the NIV generated controversy, Today’s New International Version was published as a separate version alongside the NIV.

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. (TNIV)

Now in 2011, the NIV has been revised, replacing both the 1984 version and the TNIV with a single version that incorporates many of the changes that were made in the TNIV.

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. (NIV)

Has there been a weakening of the “authority” language?  I’m not a New Testament scholar, so I cannot attest to which translation is best.  However, compare the NIV with these other translations, which are touted as being very accurate:

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction (NASB)

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you (ESV)

Now, you might argue that having “care for” someone is essentially the same as having “charge over” someone, and that the NIV still indicates spiritual authority.  But in an age of freedom and independence, are readers of the NIV going to read this verse as an indication that we have people over us, leaders whose word carries more weight than ours?

I’m a Protestant.  I believe in sola scriptura and the priesthood of all believers.  I have no desire to elevate pastors or elders to an undue level of authority.  I am still responsible before God for obeying His Word, regardless of what my pastor might say about this thing or that.  However, I’m worried that there is a high degree of individualism in the church that prevents people from recognizing spiritual authority. Most people have the idea that “we’re all equal,” and “it’s just between me and God.”  They might listen to their pastor because he studies a lot and is more knowledgeable than they, but they don’t really see him as being “over” them.  And yet, Scripture says that there are those who are “over [us] in the Lord.” (TNIV and NIV 2011 notwithstanding.)

What, then, does proper spiritual authority look like?  What are the bounds of pastoral authority?  How is it different on an interpersonal level compared to a communal (local church) level?


Chick Tracts

I like the idea of putting Bible doctrine and gospel messages in comic book style tracts. I haven’t read all of the Chick tracts, but I assume there are some that I could give to someone without any qualms. However, there are also some that I would never give to anyone. “Angels?” (about Christian rock) and “The Attack” (about the KJV Bible) are two that are utterly ridiculous.

All (or at least a lot) of the tracts can be read at www.chick.com. I looked at one about Mormonism, and all the claims are footnoted. Anyone who cares to investigate the claims can go to the LDS sources to see if they are taken out of context or come from legitimate LDS authorities or just random LDS adherants.

Let’s look at a couple specifics of The Attack.

He calls the Alexandrian Manuscripts “satanic.” You can argue that they aren’t as accurate, but to call them “satanic” is ridiculous. He says the Alexandrian Manuscripts “down-play the diety of Christ, the virgin birth, salvation by grace through faith, etc.” This is a bogus claim. The only way to support this claim is by taking isolated verses and comparing them to the KJV, with the assumption that if it doesn’t match the KJV it’s corrupted. This is circular reasoning. Every translation of the Bible I have seen affirms the diety of Christ, the virgin birth, salvation by grace through faith, etc.

He claims that the NASB “denies the virgin birth” by changing Luke 2:33. First off, the NASB doesn’t “change” anything. They simply translated the Greek word “pate?r.” If you want to argue that the word was changed in the version of the Greek manuscript they used, fine, but don’t blame the NASB translators for the change. It’s also false to say the NASB denies the virgin birth. If they were going to do that, they would also have changed Isaiah 7:14 (“a virgin will be with child and bear a son”), Matthew 1:18 (“before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit”), Matthew 1:23 (“the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son”), Matthew 1:25 (“but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son”), and others. If you want to be picky about calling Joseph Jesus’ father, let’s see what the KJV has in Luke 2:48. Mary says to Jesus, “thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” Mind you, this is the KJV, and Mary obviously knows that Jesus is not Joseph’s biological son, and yet she calls Joseph his “father.”

He goes on to accuse other Bible versions of being “corrupted” and “tampering” with Scripture for leaving out the Comma Johanneum in 1 John 5:7. He doesn’t bother to tell you that of the 8 Greek manuscripts that have these words, it was written in the margin by a later hand on four of them. That doesn’t speak well to it’s authenticity. (http://www.bible-researcher.com/comma.html)

Now that I think about it, his willingness to twist the truth and spread misinformation would cause me to have some qualms about handing out even some of the tracts that have only good content. I wouldn’t want someone to think that Chick Publications was a trusted authority on Biblical issues and be misled by some of their outlandish teachings.

I don’t mind someone defending the KJV as the “best” translation, but when they attack any other translation as satanic, they go overboard and lose their credibility.

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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