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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Sponsored

March 23, 2015

Sponsored

Graphic
By Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

The below article is adapted from Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (Moody Publishers.)

The world has shrunk remarkably in the space of a few decades, creating new possibilities and questions for the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul spent his life sailing around the Mediterranean world visiting churches, sometimes arriving waterlogged or snake-bitten. Now we can fly halfway across the world in ten hours, rarely experiencing anything worse than a bit of turbulence. 

This is a gift. But what we do with this gift matters.

The rise of short-term missions (STMs) has left church leaders, missionaries, and organizations asking important questions about trips to low-income communities:

How well are we stewarding the billions of dollars invested in STMs each year? What are the potential positive and negative effects of STMs? 

Short-term trips to contexts of poverty, whether in the US or around the world, can be done in a way that blesses the communities they visit, avoids doing unintended harm, and leads to lasting change in team members’ lives. But doing so involves reframing the purpose of our trips, shifting away from an emphasis on directly engaging in poverty alleviation.

A Different Sort of Trip

Poverty alleviation is typically a long-term process, not something that can be broken down into ten-day pieces and projects. Poverty is rooted in systems, choices, and relationships that reach much deeper than a shortage of things like food, housing, or clothing. As a result, in the vast majority of cases, short-term trips are not appropriate or effective vehicles for engaging in poverty alleviation. 

We need a different definition of what “success” looks like for short-term trips to materially poor communities.

In fact, rather than focusing on the trip itself as the primary element of success, we need to deliberately situate short-term visits as one piece of a larger undertaking. When properly designed, short-term trips are an opportunity to learn from, encourage, and fellowship with believers in the context of long-term engagement with God’s work, focusing on understanding His body and our role in it more fully.

What would this type of trip look like? Consider the following video clip:

Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions: Haiti from The Chalmers Center on Vimeo.

As you reflect on what reforming short-term trips might mean in your context, consider the following principles:

  • Be Intentional with Training: The Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of change, and He has used short-term trips to change many participants’ lives. That is a beautiful thing. But we should be intentional about supporting the change process through our approaches. Quality pre- and post-trip training can guide participants as they craft healthy expectations for their visit, as they learn how to effectively bless the people they meet, and as they consider their role in God’s work in the world.
  • Prioritize Time for Learning, Fellowship, and Encouragement: We should live life alongside our brothers and sisters while on trips, learning from their experiences, worshipping with them, and spending time with local leaders. Instead of focusing on projects or tasks, we should explore how God is working and how the Church is already engaged in loving its neighbors. 
  • Engage for the Long Haul: What happens after participants return home is typically the biggest factor in whether a trip was “worth it.” We need to communicate to participants that they have a responsibility to steward the visit well, particularly in light of the financial resources invested in the trip. Debrief meetings provide time to reflect on the trip and set concrete, realistic goals for how participants can convert the experience into lasting engagement in their own communities and around the world. 

When done well, a short-term trip itself is just one piece of a broader, long-term journey of learning and action. Through this type of transformation, the local body of Christ—on both sides of the short-term trip equation—can share the hope of Jesus Christ’s work more effectively.

We have been given an enormous gift. What will we do with it? 

Learn more about or purchase Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions.


Steve Corbett is the co-author of When Helping Hurts and Community Development Specialist for the Chalmers Center at Covenant College. He is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College. 

Brian Fikkert is the co-author of When Helping Hurts and Founder and President of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College. He is also a Professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College. 

Photo credit: Ryan Estes

Sponsored

March 16, 2015

Sponsored

Sponsored
This sponsored post was prepared by Dr. C.J. Williams, Professor, Old Testament Studies, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary

To open the Bible is to step into a world in which shepherding, farming, swords, and plowshares were the stuff of everyday life.  The Gospel message is affixed to such images by way of parable and metaphor, but it is not fossilized in ancient culture.  If anything, the ancient imagery of the Bible serves as a reminder of how enduring God’s Word is.  I still look forward to the day when nations will beat their swords into plowshares, and I know this ancient promise remains, even if the ancient technology does not.

The exercise of dominion over the earth demands that we build, explore, create, and discover.  In a word, it demands technology.  Like most things, however, technology can be used for good or for evil, so we must always think carefully about the ends to which we apply it.  Ever since the Tower of Babel was built, technology has been both a source and expression of human pride.  On the other hand, Solomon’s Temple and Hezekiah’s Tunnel depended on the best technology of the day.  The same World Wide Web that opens up new vistas for the spread of the Gospel has also brought pornography into millions of homes.  Technology can be a dangerous force or a true blessing; the key (as with all things) is to bring it under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

In only twenty years or so, our everyday experience of technology has grown by leaps, so that computers, smart phones, social media, and email are standard parts of our daily routine.  Life is faster because of such things, but such speed has its downside.  For instance, we use many technologies in everyday life to save time, but we rarely ask ourselves – save time for what?  Is it so that we can redeem our time in some way for God’s glory (Eph. 5:15), or just waste it more creatively?  Still, I suspect that many of our time-saving technologies have only made us busier, sometimes to the detriment of our spiritual lives.  

It is not too much to say that social media have become a cultural distraction from real life, even an obsession.  It is rare to go anywhere and not see someone furiously talking with their thumbs, or “Facebooking” with any free moment.  Staying in touch is easier than ever, which is a blessing, but have social media made us more social, or less? Have they made our relationships any deeper or more meaningful?  Spending hours on social media is a sure sign that a useful tool has been turned into a distracting master.  In light of all this modern communication technology, Henry David Thoreau’s nineteenth century critique of the post office brings a smile to my face: “For my part, I could easily do without the post office.  I think that there are very few important communications made through it.  I never received more than one or two letters in my life that were worth the postage.”  One can’t help but wonder how many of the seven trillion text messages sent last year alone were “worth the postage”.  Proverbs has something to say about a “multitude of words”, and it’s not good (Prov. 10:19).

In any case, one of the greatest daily challenges a Christian faces in the modern world is to think clearly about his or her use of any technology.  Does it help you achieve good ends in your heavenly calling and service to Christ, or is it an avenue of distraction and temptation?  Would Jesus look on and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

The word “technology” conjures images of what is complex and intricate; our lives reflect the same image in this technological era.  But the Bible, so steeped in the simplicity of another time, reminds us that living faith depends on something timeless and simple, namely, the grace of the living God.  And our fathers in the faith – shepherds, farmers and fishermen – remind us that a faithful life need not be a complicated one.  Along with them, we still rejoice in the promise, and look forward to the day, when we will beat our swords into plowshares.  Until then, it is good to embrace the Gospel message in all of its glorious simplicity, and live our lives accordingly.

Sponsored

March 09, 2015

Sponsored

Sponsored

Hi, my name is Matt. I’m a pastor, and I also run a small business called Mere Agency. You may have heard of MereChurch.

I know many other bi-vocational ministers, those who aren’t able to be paid enough by their congregation to meet the needs of their family, and so need to take a second job to make ends meet. Many of them wish things were otherwise. I’d like to offer three avenues to joy in bi-vocational ministry.

1. Embrace all your vocations as from and for God.

Vocation simply means “calling” and refers to all the things God calls us to do. Notice the plural “things.” This is crucial. In fact, most of us are at least bi-vocational. You probably have 4-5 callings. Husband, father, pastor, businessman, these are my main four.

Be comforted by one implication of God’s sovereignty: the roles you find yourself right now are your calling. Embrace that “second job” with the same reverent awe that you would the ministry work, because God has called you to it. Think Colossians 3:23.

2. Reject the oppression of dualism

The reason we find it difficult to think of our “secular” tasks (writing code, checking groceries, digging ditches, changing diapers, cleaning the house) as important as ministry work is not because of the teaching of the scriptures, but rather because of Aristotelean dualism. Aristotle taught that some activities in life (namely: mental / intellectual pursuits) were “more human” than others (physical labor). Aristocracy and slavery were the result.

This idea was pulled into the church by Eusebius, and the clergy/laity split was born. Today this dualism oppresses the consciences of many who desire to live a sold-out life for Jesus.

This split should be rejected. Every task can be a holy, kingdom building, God pleasing task. Ministry work does not occupy a categorically more important role in the Kingdom of God.

Yes, Gospel ministry is critical, and every Christian has Gospel ministry as part of their vocation. But only a vast minority are called to make their living from full-time engagement in it.

3. Learn make the best use of your time

A bi-vocational work life can be exceedingly stressful. The oppression of dualism, combined with physical strain on our time and energy, are huge sources of strain for a bi-vocational minister as we try to get all the good things done.  Thus, the Scriptures exhort us to make the best use of our time.

Most good business and productivity thinkers out there will clue you in to the 80-20 rule: 80% of our effect is produced by 20% of our effort.  Everyone must be aware of this, but for the bi-vocational minister, it is absolutely crucial.

You have heard that the enemy of the best is not the bad, but the good. We must carefully examine our life and our work and determine where our greatest effect comes from, and, in faith, learn to say “no” to the good things that get in the way of the best. You have been given a limited amount of time, and two domains to steward.  Because of this, you must learn to have a plan and a process for all of your tasks. Tim has some excellent posts along this line on this site.

Work relentlessly, restfully.

As I have pursued the above three disciplines, I have found an immense amount of vision and joy in running a business, designing, and writing code for many different kinds of businesses and organizations. It is possible to have peace and joy in the midst of the hustle of life as we understand and work in all of God’s callings on our life.

I’d like to close by sharing with you one of the products of these vocations: MereChurch: simple, powerful websites for The Church. Stop by and say hello.

Sponsored

March 02, 2015

Sponsored

By E. Ray Clendenen

President Obama is famous for repeating some variation of the phrase, “Let me be clear.” There has been some discussion of what he means by this. Some suggest it marks a “sound bite” or a “take-away” for reporters. Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of “The Argument Culture,” sees the phrase as potentially working on three levels: “I’m pointing to the point I want you to listen to, I’m pointing to the interpretation that I want you to have, and maybe there’s something there on the meta level, where I’m saying something about me as a person, that I’m being clear,” she says. Others suggest that the subtext is “I’m running an open, honest government.” He is asserting and defending that he values transparency (see Andy Coller, “Dissecting President Obama’s Favorite Phrase,” Politico 2010).

But what do Bible translations mean when they claim the virtue of “clarity”? For example, the preface to the ESV states, “The ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text.” The meaning of “clarity” here in connection with weighing the original languages is perhaps expounded in the next paragraph that states, “Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.” I would propose, then, that the ESV’s use of “clarity” is somewhat like what I have called “faithfulness” (see my last blog, “Faithfulness in Bible Translation”). 

In translation work, it is common to find an editorial comment that a word or phrase has been “supplied for clarity.” This is also found in edited editions of letters. It means that in the opinion of the translator or editor the meaning of the original text without the addition (i.e., a literal rendering) would be ambiguous, misleading, or obscure to the intended audience. “Clarity” in this case means lucidity, the quality of being easy to understand or unambiguous. For example, in Genesis 8:13 the ESV translates literally: “In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth.” The English reader is left wondering what year 601 is in reference to. For the sake of clarity, the HCSB adds a note at that point: “= of Noah’s life.” The NET, on the other hand, translates “In Noah’s six hundred and first year” (see also NIV, NLT), and a note reads, “the word ‘Noah’s’ has been supplied in the translation for clarity.” 

A lack of clarity in this sense may also result from translating an idiom literally, even though English readers will not likely understand it. For example, in the ESV Numbers 31:6 says that Moses sent Phineas to war “with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand.” Timothy Ashley’s commentary on Numbers proposes that the “vessels” referred to were the anointed furnishings of the tabernacle, probably including the ark. The idea that all this plus the trumpets could be “in his hand” is ludicrous. The phrase “in his hand” was an idiom meaning they were “in his care” or were his responsibility. So the HCSB translates, “in whose care were the holy objects and signal trumpets” (similarly the NET, NIV, NLT, etc.). 

Another example is Psalm 1:1, which in the ESV praises the man who “walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” Although perhaps preserving the beauty of the King James, without an explanation this would be rough going for a modern Bible reader. I have never heard anyone say they were walking in the counsel of someone; to stand in someone’s way is understood today very differently from what the psalmist intended; and to sit in someone’s seat is equally misleading. Therefore, in the interest of clarity, most modern translations unpack these idioms rather than just reproducing them, as in the HCSB: “who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers.”

While striving to be faithful to all the meaning in the original text, a Bible translation must also strive for clarity in its language. Otherwise, we produce translations that fail to communicate, forcing readers to depend on a scholarly clergy who holds the “keys of interpretation.” The apostle Paul had rather “speak five words [in the church with] understanding, in order to teach others also, than 10,000 words in another language” (1 Cor 14:8-9). I believe he would urge us to let our translations sound the trumpets of alarm or encouragement from Scripture clearly. We should apply Yahweh’s instruction to the prophet Habakkuk, who was to “write down this vision, clearly inscrib[ing] it on tablets so one may easily read it” (Hab 2:2).

Sponsored

February 24, 2015

Sponsored

The truth of Scripture is meant not only to be studied—it’s meant also to be sung.

What the people of God believe shapes the way we worship, and how we worship shapes how we practice our faith. Church musicians and lyricists who have crafted hymns with deep biblical content and soul-stirring arrangements have been of inestimable importance in passing on the faith once delivered to the saints.

It was Martin Luther who said, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” In line with the Protestant Reformation’s concern for worshipping God in spirit and in truth, we are grateful to announce a unique music project that is one of the highlights of Ligonier’s decades in ministry—Glory to the Holy One.

Glory to the Holy OneGlory to the Holy One is an album of sacred hymns and choral works written by Dr. R.C. Sproul and set to music by Jeff Lippencott, an award-winning composer whose compositions have been featured in film and television. Recorded in esteemed venues around the world, the new project provides the church with an offering of that which is good, true, and beautiful in the Christian faith.

Good theology sung well renews our minds, comforts our souls, and encourages us in the work of the kingdom. Our generation must recapture the church’s historic conviction that its anthems and hymns are not indifferent matters. And it is our responsibility to show the coming generations what good theology looks like in song.

Now available on CD and iTunes, Glory to the Holy One features lyrics drawn from Scripture and a lifetime of theological reflection. Our hope is that this project will show how beautiful music and the deep truths of God’s Word can be combined to exalt the Lord and edify His people.

Visit GlorytotheHolyOne.com for a free MP3 download and to stream samples of the full album.

Sponsored

February 16, 2015

Sponsored

Books
by Barry York

At the heart of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is learning from Him. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32).

As a new professor at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (RPTS) in Pittsburgh, I came eager to help the students learn the ways of Jesus at this institution that honors highly the Word of God.  Yet what has humbled me the most in my short time here is how much Christ is teaching me.  RPTS is a place where not only students but professors learn.  

Please let me share with you three of those lessons.

The students here have incredible life and ministry situations that instruct me in the way of the cross.

After the very first class I taught, one of the staff persons here took a picture of the students and me.  However, two of them had to be left out of the photo.  Why?  They come from a nation that is hostile to the gospel.  Their identity must be protected.  How humbling to be teaching men who will be making sacrifices for the gospel I had only heard or read about previously.  

Lessons of the cross are being pressed upon me daily.  I have not yet heard my homiletics students from this communist country fail to mention suffering in their chapel sermons.  In teaching church planting and discipleship, men from other cultures speak of hundreds of conversions they have witnessed and I wonder as I listen if we need to trade places between lectern and desk!  Some international students are university professors who are already more educated and gifted than I am.  They are unknowingly schooling me in Christ’s ways as they treat me with love and respect.  

The varied background of the seminary community is teaching me to exercise the love of the Triune God. 

When we gather each morning for chapel, I am amazed at the diversity of students I see: the man from Singapore leading our singing; the couple from India preparing to church plant; the African American women from nearby who want to serve their churches more knowledgeably; the Haitian student beaming with smiles as he greets us; the men from Asia whose wives and children, living nearby, come each morning to worship with us.  In addition, I see brothers preparing to serve in other NAPARC congregations, Baptist pastors who love the commitment to God’s Word here, and students from a variety of non-denominational churches.  Chapel has become a slice of the heaven we will enjoy where all the tongues and tribes will be represented!

With so many different backgrounds represented here, being at RPTS has reminded me of the importance not only of doctrine but of love.  Again and again, I am being taught while I teach to be patient with those who differ, to seek to patiently correct those I believe are wrong, and to appreciate what God is doing in different places in His vineyard.  

The challenging changes in the academic landscape are stretching me to use new tools and approaches in education.

Seminaries have had to adapt to the changes technology has brought to education.  According to Pew Research, 89% of four-year public colleges and universities offer online classes. Whether a seminary will provide online education is almost not a question anymore, and with its developing distance learning program RPTS is no exception.  Also, increasingly students are not wanting merely training in orthodoxy, but orthopraxy.  They want not only their heads addressed but their minds and hearts involved.

Consequently, I have had to learn many new skills in being a teacher.  Becoming accustomed to being recorded and providing online resources over educational platforms for our growing number of distance education students has been a new experience.  Corresponding with students across the nation and even in different lands whose faces I may have never seen has been unique.  Turning some classes such as homiletics or mercy ministry more into workshops with a strong emphasis on assignments being done in local congregations has stretched me, but both students and their instructor are learning more about His kingdom.

Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29).  At RPTS, I’m feeling his yoke and its lightness in a whole new way.  We invite you to come and learn with us.

Sponsored

February 09, 2015

Sponsored

The Bible is a book. It may be called a collection of books compiled into one majestic volume. As a book it is designed to be read. In this respect it is like all other books. But in important ways, the Bible is not like any other book. It is the Book of books. We customarily call this book the Holy Bible. Its holiness is found in its otherness. It is a sacred book because it transcends and stands apart from and above every other book. It is holy because its ultimate Author is holy. It is holy because its message is holy. And it is holy because its content is designed to make us holy.

The Bible is an inspired book; that is, it is “breathed out” by God (2 Tim. 3:16). It is inspired in a way that reaches far beyond the inspiration of human artists. The Bible offers more than brilliant insight, more than human sagacity. It is called “inspired” not because of its supernatural mode of transmission via human authors, but because of its origin. It is not merely a book about God; it is a book from God. Therefore, the true church confesses its trust and confidence that the Bible is the vox Dei, the veritable “voice of God.”

The Bible is a normative book. The church has rightly declared that the Bible is the “norm of norms, and without norm.” A norm is a standard, a measuring rod by which things are judged. We may use many lesser standards to regulate our lives, but all such regulations must be subordinate to Scripture. To be the “norm of norms” is to be the superlative norm, the standard by which all other norms are measured. The Bible is not simply “first among equals”; other standards have no parity with it. As Jesus is exalted as King of kings and Lord of lords, so we submit to His Word as the norm of norms, the standard of truth, and the one infallible rule for the people of God.

God is the Lord of heaven and earth, and He alone is able to impose absolute obligation upon His creatures. He does this through the written Word. The Reformers of the sixteenth century recognized this unique authority of the Bible, expressing it in the motto sola Scriptura, “Scripture alone.” The Reformers did not despise other authorities or deny the value of tradition and the creeds, but they distinguished the singular authority of the Bible, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

God calls every Christian to pursue righteousness. Our trust is to be childlike, but our understanding must be mature. Such trust and understanding require study of God’s Word. The authentic disciple meditates on it day and night. Our goal is more than knowledge; it is wisdom, the fruit of inward and outward obedience. It is our prayer that the Reformation Study Bible will aid students of the Bible in their understanding of Scripture that they might walk wisely before the Lord in all wisdom.

The Reformation Study Bible is so called because it stands in the Reformed tradition of the original Geneva Bible of the sixteenth century. In modern Geneva, Switzerland, a memorial wall has been built and dedicated to the sixteenth-century Reformation. This International Monument to the Reformation is adorned with statues of the great leaders John Calvin, Theodore Beza, William Farel, and John Knox. Surrounding these figures is the phrase Post Tenebras Lux—“After darkness, light.”

The light of the Reformation was the light of the Bible. Luther translated the Bible, which in his day could be read almost exclusively by professionals who knew Latin, into everyday German that could be read by ordinary people. John Wycliffe and William Tyndale translated the Bible into English. Yet there was substantial opposition to these efforts in England. Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536, and later, the Reformation was suppressed during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553–58). The Roman Catholic Mass was enforced, services could not be conducted in English, and priests were forbidden to marry. Two hundred eighty-eight people were burned alive, including the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.

These persecutions drove exiles from Britain to the European Continent. Many of the most capable scholars among them came to Geneva. There they undertook the task of preparing a new translation of the Bible in English. This new translation, the Geneva Bible, was published in 1560 and was carefully designed to be accurate and understandable. It was the first English Bible to use verse divisions, as “most profitable for memory” and for finding and comparing other passages. It included study notes explaining Scripture based on the interpretative principles reclaimed during the Reformation.

The Geneva Bible was the most widely used translation in the English-speaking world for a hundred years. It was the Bible used by John Bunyan, Oliver Cromwell, John Knox, and William Shakespeare. Though the King James Bible was published in 1611, it did not supplant the Geneva Bible until fifty years later. It was the Geneva Bible that the Pilgrims and Puritans carried to the shores of the New World. It was used by many American colonists who read it, studied it, and sought to live by its light.

Since the Geneva Bible was published, a multitude of English translations and study Bibles have appeared. This present volume intends to return to the clarity and power of that important translation. By presenting a modern restatement of biblical, Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes, the Reformation Study Bible aims to carry on the legacy of the Geneva Bible in shining forth the light of biblical Christianity, which was recovered in the Reformation.

The Reformed tradition understands biblical Christianity as “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This faith, we believe, is expressed in the ecumenical creeds common to all Christian traditions, together with the Reformation distinctives that are the result of accepting the Bible as the supreme and only infallible authority for faith and practice. We believe that these ecumenical creeds and the Reformation confessions provide the church with a full-orbed summary of the doctrine of Scripture. The words of the Bible are true, and its message is powerful. It conveys the infallible promise of God, its Author, that it will not return to Him empty but will certainly accomplish His intended purpose (Is. 55:11).

From the Introduction to the new edition of the Reformation Study Bible, written by Dr. R.C. Sproul, general editor. Dr. Sproul is also the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries.

RSBNew from Reformation Trust. The new edition of the Reformation Study Bible has been thoroughly revised and carefully crafted by 75 theologians and pastors from around the world under the editorial leadership of R.C. Sproul. Pre-order by February 18 and receive free shipping anywhere in the continental U.S. Visit ReformationStudyBible.com.

Sponsored

February 02, 2015

Sponsored

Tabletalk magazine exists to help Christians grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. It meets Christians where they are, whether young or old in the faith, and it takes them deeper. Tabletalk helps to provide Christians with the tools they need to dig down into the depths of God’s Word and the theology of God’s Word in order to be faithful to God’s Word—and thus to worship God in all of life. 

January 26, 2015

Sponsored

by E. Ray Clendenen

Although not as versatile as some words (such as run), the word faithful can mean different things in different contexts. It can refer to “loyalty,” the quality of always acting in the best interests of someone else. It can also refer to “consistency” or “predictability,” always acting according to certain principles or in a certain manner (like the Yellowstone geyser, Old Faithful). Or it can refer to “strength,” “stability,” and “reliability,” as exemplified by a foundation, a bridge, or a person like “Stonewall” Jackson. 

Sometimes faithful can refer to “obedience,” the quality of a servant who follows the instructions of his master. Or it can refer to “truthfulness” or “accuracy,” the quality of being in accord with reality, the facts, or an original. For example, a movie can be measured on being “faithful to the book,” or a witness in court can be measured on whether his testimony is “faithful to the facts.”

Any of these meanings can be said to apply to something that is trustworthy. But it is the last usage described above that applies most naturally to Bible translations. According to Proverbs 12:17, “The faithful (Heb. ʾemunah) witness tells what is right, but a false witness speaks deceit” (see also v. 22; 14:5). And Proverbs 13:17 warns, “An unreliable messenger falls into trouble, but a faithful envoy brings healing.” A faithful messenger fulfills his responsibility to the master to represent him appropriately and to convey accurately the message entrusted to him. As such, the master can trust him, but so also can his audience. What they hear from the faithful messenger is the message intended by the master, as if the master had delivered the message in person. 

The apostle Paul has in mind such messengers when he instructs Timothy, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful (pistos) men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). In a similar vein, the Jews, Paul said, had been “entrusted (pisteuo) with the very words of God,” being expected to guard and transmit them faithfully (Rom 3:2). 

In the case of a Bible translation, of course, the messenger must convey the master’s message in another language. This prohibits the use of the same words and requires that the focus be on the same message, bridging different linguistic realities. Certainly, faithfulness in Bible translation demands that the words used in the translation be as close as possible in meaning to the words used in the original language text. 

Translation is never “word-for-word,” however popular that phrase might be. Simply put: the problem is grammar. Although English, Hebrew, and Greek all have nouns, verbs, prepositions, and other grammatical features, they behave differently in the various languages and are found in different order in a clause. Translators must work hard at determining what syntactical forms in English most accurately reflect what was intended to be conveyed by the Hebrew or Greek syntax. 

One final issue of translation faithfulness that must be considered is the tension between faithfulness and tradition. For example, when the King James Version was done, the Hebrew word nephesh was understood to mean “soul” in almost every case (it occurs there 443 times). However, for the last several decades, Old Testament scholars have recognized that nephesh rarely means “soul.” The NIV (2011) renders it “soul” only 72 times, and the HCSB uses “soul” only 33 times. In Genesis 2:7, for example, the KJV “man became a living soul” is rendered by most contemporary translations as “man became a living being.” 

On the other hand, in some passages the KJV tradition is considered so familiar that many translations succumb to the temptation to continue the traditional translation even though it is difficult to make sense of it. Such is sometimes the case with Psalm 1:1—“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (KJV). What does a contemporary English speaker make of “walk in the counsel of the wicked,” or “stand in the way of sinners,” or “sit in the seat of scoffers” (see ESV, NASB). 

Finally, the phrase “I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever” in Psalm 23:6 (KJV) is literally “I will dwell in [or “return to”] the house of the LORD to length of days.” The phrase “length of days” occurs 21 times in the Hebrew Bible and clearly refers to the length of a person’s life in almost every case (the exceptions are Psalms 21:4 and 93:5). So, the HCSB translates this phrase as “I will dwell in the house of the LORD as long as I live” (see also NET, NRSV).

One would expect a faithful Bible translation to convey the message of the original texts even when it differs from the message that readers have come to expect. All of this is part of what it means to be a faithful Bible translation.

Dr. Ray Clendenen serves as Senior Editor of Bible and Reference Publishing at B&H Publishing Group in Nashville, Tennessee.

Sponsored

January 19, 2015

Sponsored

The Plate

By Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

You could see the panic rising in his eyes.  As the collection plate moved ever closer to him, indecision tightened its grip on his heart.  In his hand was a wad of cash, and, as he ruffled through the various bills, one could almost hear the question that echoed in his head.  “How much should I put in the plate”?  After years of being a deacon in a number of churches representing different denominations, I have seen this scenario played out regularly.   Suddenly, as the pastor announces the collection of the offering, the struggle begins, almost as if it were a surprise that there would be a collection during worship. 

Our pastors diligently prepare every week for worship.  They spend hours reading the appointed text, consulting commentaries, writing prayers, and selecting appropriate music.  Dr. Dennis Prutow, Professor Emeritus at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, notes in the introduction to his book Public Worship 101, “There is a great privilege the people of God have of drawing near to God in corporate, public worship.  In corporate, public worship, God is pleased to draw near to His people to renew His covenant with them and to assure them that they belong to Him and that He is indeed their God.”

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb. 10:19-22).

Just as the pastor has prepared for the Lord’s Day, the flock needs to prepare for the feeding that the shepherd is to deliver.  The people need to open their ears to hear the spoken Word of God and draw the incredible joy that comes from the confidence in the knowledge of adoption into His family.  

Attitudes about and attention to the stewardship of His things varies greatly amongst Christians.  Some arrive to worship prepared, check written or cash counted, ready for the return of His bounty in our lives to further the work of the church in His kingdom.  Other Christians give the topic little thought, randomly giving as they remember.  I even know of a person who routinely placed an empty envelop in the collection plate so that those watching might think he was giving.

What are some things that we might consider as we think more intentionally about the stewardship of His things?

  • Are you encouraged in your spiritual growth and trust in God as you give to the work of His kingdom?
  • We recall that God is the owner of all things, and He has entrusted those things to our care and attention.
  • When we are focused on God and His things, our priorities are changed from our self-focused desires and toward His kingdom.  We no longer neglect His works in the pursuit of our own ambitions.
  • Reflect upon the great and mighty things He is doing in the world.  Globally, people are coming to faith in Christ, lives are being transformed, and He is being glorified.
  • We are reminded to be joyful in our giving.  We are in His presence in our acts of stewardship during worship.

Practically, we can be thinking of many things in our stewarding responsibilities.

  • How are you preparing your children to worship God with tithes and offerings?  At some point, a child needs to move beyond being given a coin to put in the basket.
  • Have you thought about the things the Lord has entrusted to your care and how you will honor Him when you are called home - your Last Act of Stewardship?
  • How well do you know the organizations that you support financially?  Are they well-run and responsible, or are they working against His kingdom?
  • Are you supporting the works of your own denomination or church?

Matthew 25 and Luke 19 record for us the parable of the talents.  On the day of the settling of accounts, will the Lord make that pronouncement we so desire to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant”?  Be faithful in the little that He has placed in your control.

Learn more about Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary at RPTS.edu.

Sponsored

Pages