Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

scripture

March 23, 2010

Dig DeeperI have been a Christian for two decades now and cannot deny it—the Bible is a difficult book to understand. Sure there are parts of it that are so simple that even a child can explain them. But to know the Bible well, to know how it all fits together, to know how it applies to me all these years after it was written, requires dedication, hard work and skill. Though there are many books that teach how to dig into the Word and to learn from it, many do so in a way that is difficult to understand for new Christians or young Christians. Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach steps nicely into that void.

“This is a book to help you understand the Bible correctly. … We want to help you to dig deeper and find hidden riches in the Bible. We hope that parts of the Bible that previously seemed like gobbledygook will begin to make sense, and that bits that were clear already will become even more vivid and gripping.” They go on to say, “Most of all, we want to help you do all this for yourself.” While acknowledging the place of pastors and Bible experts, they want individual Christians to know that God has equipped them to understand the Bible on their own. And in this book they give them the tools they will need to begin to dig into the Bible on their own, mining its infinite riches.

June 10, 2009

I’ve always loved Acts 12. It is such a fascinating bit of writing—a little story in three acts, each of which fits so well with the others. I was reflecting on the chapter this morning and thought I’d share a little bit of that.

The chapter begins by describing the beginning of Herodian persecution against the church. Herod, the king, presumably to please his Jewish subjects, has the disciple James arrested and killed and then goes after Peter, having him thrown in prison as well. Knowing the popularity of these upstart Christians, Herod puts him under the care of four whole squads of soldiers. The first act ends with these words: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” This earnest prayer is no incidental detail, but something the author offers as a foreshadowing of what will come.

The second act tells how Peter was delivered by God through one his angels. Peter, half asleep, sees his chains fall off and quickly passes by the first and second guards before waking up and realizing what is happening. He hurries quickly to the church, to the gathering of people who just happened to be praying for him at that very moment. There is a delightful bit of comedy injected into the text when Rhoda, the servant girl, so excited to hear Peter at the door, runs to tell everyone that he has arrived without ever bothering to let him in. With the prayer meeting having come to a prompt end, the people belittle Rhoda, refusing to believe that Peter has actually arrived. And yet, because of Peter’s persistent knocking, they soon come to realize that Peter really has been rescued. Peter quickly tells his story and then disappears, presumably opting to lay low for a little while, knowing that Herod is going to be mighty displeased in the morning.

In the third act we return to Herod who has ordered the execution of the soldiers who allowed Peter to escape. We find him accepting worship as a god. His Creator is most displeased and strikes him down so “he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” Herod bookends this chapter, appearing as a cruel tyrant at the beginning and as a pathetic worm-eaten corpse at the end. He has gone from holding the power of life and death in his hand to being struck down by the Lord himself. It’s a pathetic end to a pathetic ruler.

Acts 12 contains a great little story, a great little vignette of life in the early church. Despite the miraculous (Peter being rescued, Herod being struck down) there is such a human element to it. We see the church in prayer, undoubtedly begging God for the life of their friend and pastor Peter. Yet when God answers their earnest prayers, they refuse to believe it. “You are out of your mind,” they told Rhoda when she tried to tell them that God had answered them. Two thousand years later we laugh at them, wondering why they would bother praying if they did not think God would bother to answer. And then we realize that we do little better; we realize how much effort we put into pleading for God to act and how little effort we put into seeking answers to those prayers. I trust the lesson was not lost on the early church. I trust they learned from it that God’s miraculous rescue of Peter was not in any way separate from their prayers. Those prayers, offered as they were even with little faithful expectation of an answer, were undoubtedly instrumental in God rescuing Peter from his imprisonment. God answers prayer, even when we ask with little faith.

It is worth noticing as well that Peter, as soon as he arrived, shared all that God had done. Peter, the object of all those prayers, wanted to ensure that the church knew that it was God who had acted with such power and in such an unusual way. “He described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Tell these things to James and to the brothers.’” He wanted this great act of God to encourage all of the believers. And then he departed and went elsewhere, surely a smart move for one who had just managed to slip away from four squads of soldiers who were now facing execution.

The chapter closes with these familiar words: “the word of God increased and multiplied.” Have you ever noticed how often these words, or ones just like it, appear in Acts? Just a brief overview of the first chapters shows them in chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 12. In every case, Luke wants us to know that God continued to build his church. In times of joy and pain, times of peace and persecution, God built his church. All that God did was for his own glory and served his ultimate purpose of drawing a people to himself.

And this God, who acted so faithfully, so consistently, so powerfully, is the same God we serve today.

April 15, 2009

John MacArthur has kicked off a bit of controversy with his posts on Song of Solomon and, in particular, with his rationale for doing so—addressing pastors who, when preaching through the book, “employ extremely graphic descriptions of physical intimacy as a way of expounding on the euphemisms in Solomon’s poem.” In his first two articles he has singled out Mark Driscoll as one he considers a prime offender. This will be the last time the name Driscoll comes up in this article; I really do not want his name to sideline any discussion.

As I wrote in yesterday’s A La Carte, I think this is a discussion that we will all benefit from. I look forward to hearing what Dr. MacArthur has to say about Song of Solomon and a proper, biblical way of understanding, interpreting and preaching it. I think his long and faithful ministry has given him the right to speak out and speak up. We’d be foolish to immediately write him off as old and irrelevant and out-of-touch (as some are doing, based on what I’ve seen in blog comments). There is no need to be defensive here! The men he is writing against are all big boys and can handle what he says and the discussion that will ensue.

And already I have read some interesting discussion. For example, Erik Raymond gave me some things to think about when he gave two reasons that he is uncomfortable with all the talk of sex coming out of evangelicalism today. Here is what he wrote:

1. The emphasis upon sex has become so strong that it has begun to sound like our message. The danger here is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is regrettably assumed, neglected or forgotten. When many evangelicals begin to ride the waves of media popularity and are given a platform to speak, they sound more and more like sex coaches than ministers of a message. Somewhere along the way that which is of first importance gets shelved.

2. Most of the way in which these pastors handle the text is just flat out troubling. Often times we are given a reading of a verse or a section and then the pastor launches off into sexual advice and counsel. And when there is something that is legitimately debated among Bible teachers the issue is not dealt with responsibly (in my view) but rather quickly. The text then, which has not been adequately unpacked within its context, is then made prescriptive for the Christian.

I have listened to a couple of sermons of the kind MacArthur is reacting against—sermons which tend to look at Song of Solomon line-by-line, expressing how each metaphor, each poetic device, describes a particular part of the body or a particular sexual act. I have been bothered by such sermons for two reasons. The first lines up with what Erik wrote above: the poor handling of the text. Turning Song of Solomon into a how-to manual that describes or prescribes certain acts is to miss the point of the book. As MacArthur says, “It is, of course, a lengthy poem about courtship and marital love. It is filled with euphemisms and word pictures. Its whole point is gently, subtly, and elegantly to express the emotional and physical intimacy of marital love—in language suitable for any audience.”

The other reason is one for which I’d be interested in feedback. Song of Solomon is poetry and as such, should not be treated, exposited, in the same way as prose. Not too many people would disagree with this. It strikes me as well that Song of Solomon is substantially different from other kinds of biblical poetry. If we compare one of David’s Psalms to Song of Solomon we see that they are tangibly different. So while it may make sense to progress line-by-line through Psalm 119, interpreting each line, it seems to me that Song of Solomon does not give itself to this kind of interpretation. Song of Solomon is an expression of wonder, an expression of joy, an expression of mystery. Or that’s certainly how it appears to me. I don’t think we are supposed to understand it in a word-by-word, line-by-line sense as we might the book of Romans.

MacArthur quotes a few lines. They are worth reading just for the beauty of the poetry and the creativity of the imagery:

A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up.
Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates
With choice fruits, henna with nard plants,
Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
With all the trees of frankincense,
Myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest spices.
You are a garden spring,
A well of fresh water,
And streams flowing from Lebanon.”
Awake, O north wind,
And come, wind of the south;
Make my garden breathe out fragrance,
Let its spices be wafted abroad.
May my beloved come into his garden
And eat its choice fruits!”

MacArthur says it right, I’m sure, when he says “Let’s face it: overall, the Song is about as far from explicit as the writer can get.” Had the author wanted to be explicit, he could have done so. Instead, he wrote in poetry, in metaphor, carefully crafting a poem that is full of mystery. “Song of Solomon is incredibly beautiful precisely because it is so carefully veiled. It is a perfect description of the wonderful, tender, intimate discovery that God designed to take place between a young man and his bride in a place of secrecy. We are not told in vivid terms what all the metaphors mean, because the beauty of marital passion is in the eye of the beholder—where it should stay.” To remove the veil is to remove the beauty!

So here is what I am wondering. Don’t we do damage to the Song of Solomon when we seek to interpret and explain every line? To use an old cliche, don’t we miss the forest for the trees? Isn’t it better to leave some mystery in the Song, understanding themes but ultimately finding satisfaction not in drawing a one-to-one comparison between metaphor and act, poetry and body part, but rather in seeing it as one man’s attempt at expressing the joy, the wonder and the mystery of sex and sexuality? Isn’t the very reason he had to use poetry was that prose just couldn’t express the wonder? The beauty and the mystery of the Song go hand-in-hand. To remove one is to remove the other.

November 21, 2008

Memorizing Scripture Together

The “Reading Classics Together” effort has taught me that blogs (even this blog) can offer a kind of excitement and accountability by community that helps me do things I wouldn’t otherwise have the discipline to do. And from what I hear, it works for some of you, too. Many of us would never have read Owens or Edwards or Pink if we had not had the crowd accountability we’ve found here. This has been the reason for the success of the “Reading Classics” program, I’m sure. Shared enthusiasm means that more than one person will be reading a particular book and shared accountability means that more people will continue reading a book. It has worked well!

Today I’d like to introduce a similar effort dealing with Scripture memorization. But just like “Reading Classics” isn’t quite an easy book club dealing with short, simple, modern books, I don’t think this “Memorizing Scripture” effort will be exclusively dedicated to memorizing short and isolated verses. Instead, I’d like to focus on longer passages—whole Psalms, poems, portions of prophecy and maybe, just maybe, entire books (Colossians, perhaps?).

Don’t freak out yet.

I have a terrible memory. Memorizing comes to me only with great effort so I will be—will need to be—moving through these passages at a reasonable pace. I do not intend to try to memorize Psalm 119 in a week (or a month, for that)! But over time I would like to challenge myself and others to commit to memory lengthy portions of the Bible. I am convinced that we can do it, if we do it together.

So here is what I propose. For those who are interested in working on only verses or short passages (still a good and noble goal) I will provide a weekly verse and will post it on this site every Sunday. This will coincide with the verse my church has committed to memorize that week. But I will also be progressively working on larger portions of Scripture and I’ll post these larger passages as well. That way you can commit to individual verses, larger passages, or both. In any case, you’ll be memorizing Scripture and that can only be a good thing!

I plan on sending out weekly emails (every Sunday) to remind you of the commitment and to tell you about the new verse. If you’d like to participate in the program, I ask as well that you sign up for these emails (though you certainly do not have to if you don’t want to). And then, beginning on Sunday, we’ll get memorizing Scripture together.

Are you in?





July 07, 2008

Imagine, for a moment. You wake up one morning and, as you stumble downstairs to grope for the coffee maker, you notice that the front door of your house is wide open, the brisk morning air blowing into the room and clearing your mind just a little bit. You stare at the door for a moment to process the fact that it is open. Your first thought, of course, is for your family. You race upstairs and throw open the door of your son’s room. He is lying peacefully asleep. Breathing a prayer of thanks you cross the hall, opening the door to your daughter’s room. Her blankets are in a heap beside the bed, her nightlight on, but she is nowhere to be seen. Frantically you search the house, calling for her, begging her to answer you. But she is gone.

Before you can pick up the phone to dial 911, it rings. You answer it before the second ring and discover that it is a reporter from a local newspaper. He awoke this morning to find a strange package on his front doorstep. Opening it, he found that it contained a warning that someone had taken your daughter. A letter detailed a series of steps you would have to take if you ever hoped to see her alive again.

The reporter begins to read the letter, but you shout, “I don’t have time for this! Just give me a summary!” Or do you? Of course not! It would be ludicrous for you to do anything but ask him to read the letter slowly and with dead accuracy. You would not want the summary but would want to hear and understand and ponder the kidnapper’s every word. You would not want his understanding of the kidnapper’s demands, but would want to hear the words yourself so you could come to your own understanding. Only then might you ask for his understanding of it. You would want to know, study, understand and follow every detail of that letter.

Words, it seems, are important. This applies not only to series of words, but to individual words. We see the importance of words all the time in legal documents, recipes, love letters, interviews and quotations. Think of a courtroom. Even if you have never been involved in a court case, you may have seen cases tried on some of the court shows like People’s Court or Judge Judy. Maybe you took time off work to watch the O.J. Simpson trial. When a lawyer or judge asks a person to recount the details of a case, does he allow the person to provide a summary, or does he dig deeper and demand the exact words and phrases that were used? It is not enough for a person to testify that “the defendant threatened my life.” The judge will demand to know the exact words the defendant used. Did he say, “Give me your purse or I’ll kill you?” or did he say, “Give me your purse or else…?” In either case there was a threat, but only one can be accurately shown to be a threat against the person’s life. The other was merely interpreted to be so. In this instance it may or may not be the case.

Whether following instructions to find one’s daughter or standing before a court in an attempt to put an assailant in prison, individual words play an important and even crucial role. It strikes me as odd, then, that though we place such importance on individual words in so many areas of life, we are so willing to read translations of the Bible that, in many ways, are mere summaries of the actual words. If we agree, and I’m sure most of us do, that there are no words more important than those written in Scripture, why do we read versions of it that make a mockery of the words that were breathed out by God?

Consider just a couple of quick examples. Romans 13:4 discusses the role of civil government. The authorities, says Paul, have the right to “bear the sword.”

But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (ESV) The word translated as “sword” is machaira and means “sword.”

But consider this passage in some less-literal translations:

But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong.” (NLT)

If you do something wrong, you ought to be afraid, because these rulers have the right to punish you. They are God’s servants who punish criminals to show how angry God is.” (CEV)

But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it.” (The Message)

Noticeably absent from these three translations is the word “sword.” The translators have seen fit to provide what they feel is the main idea of the passage, that the civil authorities have the right to punish those who do wrong. But this is a verse that has long been used to discuss the Christian view on capital punishment. It is an important verse in this context and in others. But in these three translations there is nothing to discuss, for the “sword” has been removed and punishment, which may be imprisonment, fines or community service, among other things, has been substituted. This same word is used in Acts 12:2 where we read of the murder of James the brother of John. In this passage the NLT speaks explicitly of a sword, while the CEV suggests one with the words “cut his head off” and The Message speaks of “murder.” In either case, the translators have, in this second passage, translated a word in a way that is inconsistent with how they have translated it in another passage. They have done so in order to interpret and not to make a more clear translation.

Let’s look at a second example. A standard translation of Psalm 32:1 might read as follows: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (ESV) This translation is not a transliteration, or direct translation of word position, punctuation, and so on, but is a readable translation that attempts to translate each word that is in the original language. Now let’s look at a few translations from less-literal versions of the Bible.

Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be—you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean.” (The Message)

Oh, what joy for those whose rebellion is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!” (NLT)

Our God, you bless everyone whose sins you forgive and wipe away.” (CEV)

What has become of the word “covered?” It has been replaced by “wiped clean,” “put out of site,” or “wipe away.” But is “covered” not one of the words God breathed out and wrote in His book? Should we, as the reader, not have access to that word? Conversely, “fresh start” is foreign to the text and is provided as an addition to the passage without alerting the reader that these are not God’s words, but the translator’s.

Consider even the words of Solomon, written to his lover, describing her unsurpassed beauty. “Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.” (ESV) The Message renders this, “…like a flock of goats in the distance streaming down a hillside in the sunshine.” Note that addition of “sunshine.” The author may claim poetic license, but the fact is that he has added a word that is foreign to the text. The New Living Translation adds a small amount of interpretation, suggesting that her hair falls in waves. “Your hair falls in waves, like a flock of goats frisking down the slopes of Gilead.” If I were to write a love letter to my wife, do you think she would want it word-for-word, or does she merely desire access to the content of my thoughts? Again, translators have interpreted rather than translated.

What I mean to show in these examples is that anything other than an essentially literal translation of the Bible may work to subtly undermine the Christian’s confidence in the Scriptures. This is a topic that I cannot adequately cover in only a small article and I do realize there are complexities I have not considered. But on the basis of these examples I would urge you to consider this matter on your own. As Christians, people of the Book, we need to have confidence in our text. What basis do we have for our faith if we cannot have confidence in the Bible? We cannot overestimate the importance of ensuring that what we study is the clearest, best, most accurate translation of God’s Words that we can possibly find.

March 18, 2008

Gods Problem by Bart EhrmanBart Ehrman is a New Testament scholar who chairs the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has both an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary where he studied under the renowned scholar Bruce Metzger. Though he formerly considered himself a Christian and even pastored a church, he is now an avowed agnostic. Much of Ehrman’s career has been dedicated to attempting to prove that history has been incorrect in suggesting that it was heretics such as Marcion who were responsible for tampering with the original texts of the Bible. He suggests and attempts to prove that it was those who professed faith in Christ who sought to change the Scripture to force it to adapt to their beliefs.

February 04, 2008

I love language and the English language in particular. While I have always enjoyed using words and studying language, I found that my love of English was forged during the time I spent studying other languages, primarily those from which English is derived—Latin, Greek, and to some extent, French. I also studied linguistics and, of course, the English language itself. I came to love understanding how people use words to craft ideas. There is a good reason that people continue to study Shakespeare in high school despite increasingly antiquated language. Shakespeare was a master of the language, a master word crafter, and it benefits anyone to learn from his example. The same is true of Dickens or any other number of authors. What I learned is that words are important. Who would want to read a modern translation of Shakespeare? We would be left with nothing but a second-rate story. And an author’s words are important. That may come as no great surprise and may even seem obvious, but the translators of dynamic equivalent translations would have to disagree, at least somewhat, as their translation philosophy proves that they feel ideas are more important than words.

Whenever I take the time to read the Bible slowly and meditatively, and this is particularly true of reading the Old Testament, I am struck by the beauty of the language as it is translated in the English Standard Version, my translation of choice. While I do not know how to read Hebrew, I often hear people speak of the poetic nature of the language which leads even the prose to have poetic qualities. It seems to me that the ESV does an admirable job of capturing that. The same cannot be said of all Bible translations. I have come to love the little literary devices, the metaphors and phrases used by the ancient writers and find that they add so much to the reading of the text. Without a translation that accurately rendered these sayings we would lose so much of the flow and meaning of the text.

There is so much beauty in the prose of the Old Testament and I am thankful to have access to a translation (and to several translations, really) that accurately renders the metaphors and phrases used by the original authors. Let me provide you with a few examples. I am going to use the ESV as my standard essentially-literal translation. I do this not necessary to indicate that it is superior to the others within the category, but simply because it is the translation I use for my devotional and study work.

Let’s begin with 1 Kings 2:2 where King David gives his final wishes to his son Solomon. The ESV renders this “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man.” The other essentially literal translations agree with this translation as the NASB, KJV and NKJV are all very similar. There are two constructs here that I feel are essential to the text. “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” and “show yourself a man.” Let’s see how several other common translations render this particular verse:

  • “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man.” (NIV)
  • “I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man.” (NLT)
  • “My son, I will soon die, as everyone must. But I want you to be strong and brave.” (CEV)
  • “I’m about to go the way of all the earth, but you—be strong; show what you’re made of!” (Message)

As we see, the NIV renders the verse in a way that is consistent with the original text. The NLT deviates a little bit, expanding the meaning of “the way of all the earth” to “where everyone on earth must someday go.” It also says, “be a man” rather than “show yourself a man.” The CEV further interprets the verse, removing any sort of literary device in both parts. The Message does a little better, maintaining the first half of the verse but removing the “show yourself a man.”

What is lost in the NLT and the CEV is the metaphor “the way of all the earth.” It is an important term, beautifully poetic, and surely one that is worth some time in meditation. There is a depth of meaning to that phrase that is clearly missing in words like “I will soon die, as everyone must.” Readers of the NLT and CEV have no access to this phrase and miss out on the wonderful opportunity to meditate upon it and learn from it.

Another example comes only one verse later. 1 Kings 2:3 continues David’s instruction to his son. David exhorts Solomon to follow God and “walk in His ways.” The ESV translates the verse as “…and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.” Let’s see how other translations render “walking in his ways.”

  • …and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go,” (NIV)
  • Observe the requirements of the LORD your God and follow all his ways. Keep each of the laws, commands, regulations, and stipulations written in the law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go.” (NLT)
  • Do what the LORD your God commands and follow his teachings. Obey everything written in the Law of Moses. Then you will be a success, no matter what you do or where you go.” (CEV)
  • Do what GOD tells you. Walk in the paths he shows you: Follow the life-map absolutely, keep an eye out for the signposts, his course for life set out in the revelation to Moses; then you’ll get on well in whatever you do and wherever you go.” (Message)

The term “Walking in his ways” is a wonderful metaphor for living a life that honors God. We seek to emulate Him by following carefully in the footsteps of God. I am reminded of a song by the Smalltown Poets, “Call me Christian,” where they sing, “As a boy I’d put my steps / In my brother’s bigger tracks / To match his stride / And just like that I follow Jesus / Jesus is my guide.” That type of imagery is absent from the New Living Translation as well as the CEV. The Message is quite close and the NIV is, once again, accurate.

Moving along we come to 1 Kings 2:9. David asks Solomon to exact revenge against Shimei, a man who had cursed David. “Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” The metaphorical phrase here is “bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” Again, this is a wonderfully descriptive phrase that has more meaning than simply “kill.” Yet several translations provide only this meaning.

  • But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.” (NIV)
  • But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” (NLT)
  • Now you must punish him. He’s an old man, but you’re wise enough to know that you must have him killed. (CEV)
  • But neither should you treat him as if nothing ever happened. You’re wise, you know how to handle these things. You’ll know what to do to make him pay before he dies.” (Message)

The NIV does a good job, only changing Sheol to grave. The NLT writes about a bloody death. This seems to miss the point for the verse is not primarily concerned with the mode of death, but with the reason for the death. The Message misses the mark altogether. Neither the NLT, the CEV or the Message see fit to render the word “grey” or “hoary” (as the King James renders it). Is that not a word God placed in the text? Is it not an important word? I do not understand why they would knowingly remove a word God saw fit to include.

One of the most beautiful and oft-repeated phrases in the Old Testament is found in 1 Kings 2:10. “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.” Several essentially literal translations render “slept” as “rested” but the meaning remains the same. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says of this verse, “The picturesque phrase rested with his fathers beautifully describes David’s death and suggests that his activity did not cease forever. Indeed, the bodies of all believers who die simply ‘rest’ until they are resurrected to live with God and serve Him eternally.” David entered a temporary rest as he, along with the rest of Creation, awaits the final consummation. Here is how other translations render that verse:

  • Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David.” (NIV)
  • Then David died and was buried in the City of David.” (NLT)
  • David was king of Israel forty years. He ruled seven years from Hebron and thirty-three years from Jerusalem. Then he died and was buried in Jerusalem.” (CEV - combines verses 10-11)
  • Then David joined his ancestors. He was buried in the City of David.” (Message)

The NIV remains consistent with the text. The NLT and CEV say simply that David died. The Message extends the verse by saying that David joined his ancestors, something that is a bit of a stretch but at least somewhat true to the meaning of the verse. The NLT and CEV do not allow their readers to see the beauty of “resting with his fathers.” Instead, David simply died. What a tragic loss! Readers of these translations will not see any hope beyond the grave. They will not know that David has gone to be with his fathers and that he is merely resting. Once more, are these not words that God deliberately placed in the text? Should readers not have access to them?

In 1 Kings 2:12 Solomon has assumed his father’s throne. In fact, according to an essentially literal translation, “Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established.” While the meaning of the phrase “sat on the throne of David his father” is clear, meaning that Solomon succeeded his father as ruler, there is an interesting sense of continuity in the original words. Doing more than simply replacing his father, Solomon actually assumed his throne. This may seem a small distinction, but I feel it is important nevertheless. It is similar to verse 3 (above) where David exhorted Solomon to walk in God’s ways. Now Solomon is sitting on his father’s throne. Let’s see how other translations have rendered this verse:

  • So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.” (NIV)
  • Solomon succeeded him as king, replacing his father, David, and he was firmly established on the throne.” (NLT)
  • His son Solomon became king and took control of David’s kingdom.” (CEV)
  • Solomon took over on the throne of his father David; he had a firm grip on the kingdom.” (Message)

Once more the translations are varied with the NIV being most literal and the CEV straying furthest from the text. The NLT, CEV and Message see fit to explain the verse while the NIV, along with the essentially literal translations, leave the words as they are. Through reading a literal translation we can picture Solomon ascending his father’s throne and taking over his responsibilities. This imagery is foreign to the dynamic equivalent translations.

Examples multiply as I read the Bible. I love these little literary constructs and love to think about them. They offer more than meets the eye and there is reward in doing the work of understanding them. I’ve also found that they provide wonderful “teachable moments” where I can ask my children what they might mean. They require thought and meditation.

I am grateful that I have access to such a solid translation of Scripture. While I do not know Hebrew, I still have access to an accurate translation of the author’s original words, complete with the phrases, words and metaphors that set one author apart from another. I have access to the full meaning, or as close as I can come without access to the original language, of what was written so long ago. I simply can’t understand how anyone would be satisfied with anything less.

September 19, 2007

Yesterday I received a question from a reader of this site. The question was simple: “Is Scripture study required of Christians? Is it actually discussed in the Bible?” As I wrote an answer I felt that it might be valuable to think it through carefully and even to share the answer.

I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of Scripture is far less than encyclopedic. However, I am quite sure that if you were to read the Bible cover-to-cover you would not find a direct command from God saying “Thou shalt read the Bible daily.” However, as we will soon see, neither would He need to give Christians such a command.

When I think about this question I am led back to the question of assurance of salvation—whether or not a Christian can be certain that he is saved. I think I am led this way because the Bible is so central, so integral to the Christian life, that to feel no love for it, no desire to study it, must be a sign of spiritual malaise. I would certainly never say that a person who does not want to study the Bible or who does not enjoy studying the Bible is not a Christian. But I would venture to say that the Christian life is so dependent upon Scripture that a person who has no regard for the Bible and who shows little interest in it would have good reason to seriously consider his salvation. Such a person would do well to examine his soul to see if he really has come to know the Lord.

Let’s look to just a few reasons why we, as Christians, should desire to know and study the Bible.

The first reason is that God draws an undeniable link between our knowledge of the Bible and our ability to live in the way He desires we live. In the book 1 John the apostle writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:3-5). How are we to know how Christ walked and how are we to imitate Him if we do not study the record of His life? How are we to be obedient to Him but by studying the rule He has given to direct us? The Bible is the primary means God uses to teach us about Himself and to challenge us by the Holy Spirit. “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13). So to be people who are obedient to God and who do His will, we must first know His will as given to us in the Bible.

The second reason is that God tells us that our desire to learn about the Bible and its doctrine is a sign of spiritual health. In 1 John 4:6 we read, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Those who are truly saved will long to be taught the Bible by skilled teachers and by the spiritual authorities God has placed in their lives. They will long to know the Word of God.

The third reason is that the Bible sets us free to glorify and enjoy God. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The truth, as we learn it in the Bible, gives us freedom to honor God through our lives. It sets us free from legalistic attempts to please God and frees us from our false views of God. It sets us free to know God as He is and to worship Him as He is.

In the face of this testimony, knowing that the Bible is so central to the Christian life, does God need to command us to study it and treasure it? No! Christians should be drawn to the Bible the way a baby is drawn to his mother’s milk. It is the Bible that feeds us, that nourishes us, and that equips us as saints that bring glory and honor to God. As Simon Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” When we wish to live in a way that pleases God, we must turn to Him and He has revealed Himself in the Bible. A spiritually healthy Christian will read the Bible and will want to read the Bible.

Now I’d like to make a rather practical observation. Desiring to know and to study the Bible does not necessarily mean that we will always be overflowing with enthusiasm to do so. When we say that we desire to study the Bible we can mean two things. We can mean that we spring out of bed in the morning eager to rush to a comfortable chair and spend some time drinking in the Word of God. Though I think all Christians long to be like this, the sad fact is that very few are. However, even if we do not have an overflowing passion of this nature, we can still desire to read the Bible in a less passionate (but no less sincere) way, knowing that the Word feeds us, that it tends to our souls, and that we would be remiss to ignore times of Bible study. Even on days when our hearts are not pounding with excitement as we turn to our Scripture reading, we can still desire to read the Bible.

My encouragement is not to wait until your heart longs for nothing more than to study the Bible before you open the cover of the Book. Rather, commit today to beginning to take time every day to read it. Ask God to give you the discipline to do so. Commit to spending even just a few minutes reading its words and a few minutes more to seek ways you can apply it to your heart. God will speak to you through His Word and show you the infinite, eternal value of studying the Bible.

April 20, 2004

I recently read an article (which alas I can no longer find) that described a search the BBC made for the Loch Ness Monster. They swept Loch Ness from end to end, back and forth for several days using some of the world’s most sophisticated sonar equipment. After a complete, thorough search they concluded that there is simply not a monster living in the Loch. To provide an idea of how the myth of the Loch Ness Monster continues to grow despite the evidence that it does not exist they performed a little experiment. They rigged up a system so that they could raise an object from under the water far out into the Loch. They would then speak to the tourists standing by the shore to ask them what they had seen. They elected to use a section of fencing as the decoy object, purposely choosing something that looks absolutely nothing like Nessie. They waited for bus full of tourists to pull up and once the bus was unloaded they raised the fence a few feet out of the water. There was great excitement on the shore and sure enough, when they interviewed people after the fact, the majority of them described seeing something that looked just like the Loch Ness Monster.

The people who led this study concluded that this was a type of Pareidolia. Pareidolia is “a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct.” (Skeptics Dictionary) Other examples of this are seeing Mother Teresa in a cinnamon bun or seeing the face of a man on the moon. In the case of the people gathered at Loch Ness, they saw something vague and yet were able to describe it in detail. The detail was fabricated by their minds based on what they already imagined the Loch Ness Monster to look like.

Certainly the people who saw a section of fence being raised from the water did not expect to see a fence – they expected to see a monster. Many of them had traveled from other countries for the express purpose of visiting Loch Ness to see if this monster existed. So when the object came up from the water their minds allowed them to see what they wanted to see. Had they been expecting to see a Volkswagen Bug emerging from the water I have little doubt that their minds would have allowed them to believe that is what rose from the depths.

What we see in this rather extreme example is the value of objectivity. Had the people visiting Loch Ness been objective they would have seen nothing but a section of wet fencing material. They would have seen the reality in all its simplicity.

How often do we approach the Bible with the wrong attitude? How often do we approach it with our own agendas in mind? Homosexuals approach the Bible determined to find proof that their lifestyle is not only acceptable but condoned by Scripture. So when they read that John was the apostle that Jesus loved, they see support for their lifestyle. When they read about the love between Jonathan and David they see them as homosexual and allow it give license to their own immorality. Often people on both sides of various debates misuse Scripture in this way. Take, for example, the issue of women in positions of leadership in the church. Proponents of both sides will eschew objectivity, approaching the Scriptures determined to prove their point. When we approach the Bible determined to prove what we already believe we will more often than not find our proof, even if we are wrong in doctrine.

We need to approach the Bible objectively, asking God to reveal His truth to us through His Word. We need to lay aside our presuppositions and biases so, if necessary, we can allow God to change and mold us. We need to allow the Bible to show us what a given passage really means, not necessarily what it means about the debate we want it to prove.

John Calvin once warned against treating the Bible like a ball that we bounce around at will. It is the Word of God and its teachings can be rightly learned only by the most impartial and objective study of the text. And that means being impartial and objective even about the parts we may not like, for often God’s ways are at odds with our human preferences.