Monday, February 1, 2021

Review of the New American Standard Version 2020

 I have spent a little bit of time in the New American Standard Version 2020 (NASB2020). The update from the NASB1995 is moderate. The update is definitely more colorful to read and much less "wooden" than NASB1995. I want to focus on the Big Story improvements in the NASB2020.

The NASB2020 reportedly introduced gender inclusive language in passages where gender inclusiveness is implied even though the classical language (Hebrew/Greek) is overtly masculine.

For example, In 1 Corinthians 1:10, NASB1995 reads

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no  divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.

The NASB2020 presents the same verse as

Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.

Notice that NASB1995's "exhort" has been replaced with the word "urge." Replacing "exhort" is probably an improvement because it is a little easier to understand. Notice also the addition of "and sisters" (italics original, showing that it is not in the original language) in the NASB2020 reading. It is obvious that the verse applies equally to men and women; but the original language applies it to men. Bravo, NASB2020. Unfortunately, the update is not consistent in its view of what is obviously gender inclusive. Consider 2 Peter 1:21. The update reads exactly the same as the previous NASB.

NASB1995 and NASB2020

for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

For comparison, consider how the NRSV (that does an excellent job with the gendered translation).

because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (bold text mine)

So, why did the NASB2020 revisers decided against "men and women" in this verse? Is it because women were never prophets? Perhaps the assumption of the revisers is that the passage is talking only about writers of the Old Testament. That assumption is not necessarily correct; but if your study source is only NASB, you may miss the possibility of the alternative interpretation.

I will go through the verses in the update that I think are remarkable. I will discuss the gendered pronouns first and then I will have some things to say about accuracy.

Gendered Language

Romans 16:1

NASB1995

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea

NASB2020

I recommend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea

These two readings are pretty close. NASB1995's "commend" is replaced with "recommend." I think that revision choice obscures the meaning of the verse. Paul is not telling the church in Rome that this lady Phoebe is a really good Christian and, since she is moving to Rome, the church should welcome her as a fine, upstanding person. No. Phoebe had traveled to Rome for some reason of her own and she was the carrier of the letter. She was going to read the letter to the church or, if someone else read it, she was available to answer clarifying questions about what the letter said. Since she is a fine, upstanding Christian; and because she personally knows Paul and his preaching, she is quite capable of answering whatever questions the believers in Rome might have. "Recommend" suggests that Phoebe is moving to Rome. "Commend" is Paul's way of emphasizing her credentials as a learned disciple. She was not moving permanently to Rome. More likely, she was visiting Rome on business. She carried Paul's letter to the Roman church as a favor to Paul.

"Recommend" damages the reader's understanding of Paul's meaning. Why would the revisers make this change? Maybe because "recommend" is easier to understand than "commend." Unfortunately, the two words have sufficiently different meanings in the context as to obscure the meaning.

Both translations use the word "servant" in describing Phoebe's relationship to the  church in Cenchrea. The Greek word, "diakonon," is the same (except for case) as "diakonos" in 1 Timothy 3:8. They are both gendered masculine. When it is applied to a woman, it, with near certainty, applies to an official capacity rather than a role. Grant Osborne (IVP Commentary) has this to say about the word as it appears in Romans 16:1.

Moreover, this is the masculine noun (diakonos), and if it did indicate a general “serving,” one would have expected the feminine diakonia.

So, translating the word as "servant" further obscures the capacity of Phoebe in Rome.

Another bizarre revision in NASB2020 appears in Romans 16:7 regarding the apostle Junia.

NASB1995

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

NASB2020

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsfolk and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding in the view of the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

This verse definitely needed attention in the update. Junia was definitely a woman. There are some Greek manuscripts who changed her sex to a man (Junias); but it is clear why there is a difference among the parchments about Junia's sex/gender. It would make little sense for a scribe to accidentally change Junias (a man) to Junia (a woman). One possible way the name may have accidentally been changed to a feminine version of the name is because nobody in that day named their sons "Junias" but "Junia" was a very popular name for girls. The more likely explanation is that "Junia" was changed to "Junias" because the scribe could not imagine a woman being an apostle!

NASB2020 correctly replaced NASB1995's "Junias" with "Junia;" but the revisers had the unknown scribe's problem of a female apostle. Thus, the revisers further "improved" the verse by taking away Junia's apostleship and instead reported that she is "outstanding in the view of the apostles." Indeed, the apostles in Jerusalem knew about Junia and respected her. Yeah. No. Junia was an apostle (an itinerant preacher) and she even spent time in prison for her preaching behavior. Both versions of NASB obscure this fact.

NASB2020 does not correct a gross flaw in NASB1995's version of 1 Timothy 3:1.

NASB1995 = NASB2020 (the same except for the italics)

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.

The word "man" does not belong in this verse. It should read as "someone" or "anyone." The word "he" also does not belong in this verse. There are no masculine pronouns in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. I realize that some may read the qualifications of the overseers and conclude that the candidates must be men ("husband of one wife"); but it should be up to the reader to draw this conclusion rather than for the translator to read that conclusion into the text and make their conclusion clear in the first verse. It is shameful, in my judgment, for a translation to lock a reader into a particular interpretation when the original text permits several interpretations.

A similar screw-up happens in 1 Timothy 3:8.

NASB1995

Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain

NASB2020

Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not insincere, not prone to drink much wine, not greedy for money

NASB2020 clearly improves upon NASB1995; but the word "man" does not belong in this verse! It is an example of bad translating.

The update did improve upon 2 Timothy 2:2 with respect to gender inclusiveness.

NASB1995

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

NASB2020

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.

NASB2020 wisely replaced "faithful men" with "faithful people." This improvement was probably safe since everyone today is in full support of teaching women as well as men about the Bible.

General Accuracy

Both versions of the NASB are highly accurate but neither is entirely trustworthy as a sole source for Bible study. In the Hebrew Scriptures, for example, the update did not take into account recent research (the past half-century or so) in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of examples of refrence to the Qumran parchments would definitely improve NASB2020's translation of (for example) 1 Samuel 10:27-11:1; 14:41 and Isaiah 40:6.

There are some other mistakes upon which I have stumbled, and there are certainly more than these two, I will mention in brief.

Romans 4:25, both versions

He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

To be blunt, this translation is incomprehensible. What does it mean? Why not just say "for" instead of "because of?" In rational thought, we may possibly translate the first "eis" as "because of" and the second as "for." Christian Standard Bible in its footnotes translates the verse that way. Common English Bible is pretty good here, but it is far from word-for-word in its translation.

He was handed over because of our mistakes, and he was raised to meet the requirements of righteousness for us.

New Century Version:

Jesus was given to die for our sins, and he was raised from the dead to make us right with God.

NET Bible:

He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.

There are other pretty good translations of that verse, including any that just translate "for" in both cases of the Greek word "eis."

First Peter 4:6 could be improved in both editions.

For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

This verse is confusing even in Greek. It literally says that the gospel was preached "to the dead." Some translations try clear up this verse by helpfully supplying language that implies the people heard the gospel when they were alive but they are now physically dead (NIV). "Those who are dead" may be people who died after hearing the gospel. It may also mean they were spiritually dead and were not able to respond to the gospel (a popular Calvinist view: "Dead means dead"). Any translation that translates the Greek noun (the dead) to a verb (are dead) cannot be justified by the Greek. Reconstructing the church context of the saying in the verse would be helpful; but so far it seems to be unrecoverable. NRSV in this verse is more literal in this verse; but we are still not helped much by it. I just think a word-for-word translation like NASB should translate this verse word-for-word.

Conclusion

NASB2020 will be one of my study resources. It has not lost its reputation as an accurate translation; but it is not suitable as a sole resource for Bible study.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Be of the Same Mind

Philippians 2:1-2

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

What does this mean? Too often, someone quotes this verse, slams her Bible and considers the case closed: We cannot be "one" if we believe differently on even one doctrinal point.

The agreement is about attitude. We are to be of one mind about affection, sympathy, selflessness, sacrificial love (like Christ). While doctrinal agreement is nice, this passage is not remotely about doctrine.

Jouette Bassler, "Notes on Philippians," New Interpreter's Study Bible:

Paul returns to the issue of unity, but now he emphasizes being of one mind (Gr. to auto phrone-te; lit., “set one’s mind on the same thing”; see Phil 2:5; 3:15, 19; 4:2), acting out of humility (Phil 2:8; 3:21; 4:12), and holding the needs and interests of others in high regard (Phil 1:23-26; 2:20, 25).

Marcus Maxwell, "Ephesians to Colossians and Philemon," Daily Bible Commentary, Hendrickson, 50:

The term Paul uses does not mean specifically intellectual agreement. He is not trying to get the Philippians to sign up to some sort of doctrinal statement of faith which will stifle thought and debate. It is rather about outlook, or mindset—a sharing of aims and goals, a common purpose.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Aspiration to be Number One

 Gen 33:8-9
Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”

Esau never aspired to be Number One. In fact, such aspiration is a character flaw. That was Jacob's problem.

Hosea 12:2-9

The LORD has an indictment against Judah,
and will punish Jacob according to his ways,
and repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he tried to supplant his brother,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed,
he wept and sought his favor;
he met him at Bethel,
and there he spoke with him.
The LORD the God of hosts,
the LORD is his name!
But as for you, return to your God,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God.
A trader, in whose hands are false balances,
he loves to oppress.
Ephraim has said, “Ah, I am rich,
I have gained wealth for myself;
in all of my gain
no offense has been found in me
that would be sin.”
I am the LORD your God
from the land of Egypt;
I will make you live in tents again,
as in the days of the appointed festival.

Hymn: Have You Ever Felt This Way?

 A new hymn:

Have You Ever Felt This Way?

Have you ever felt your faith break, declining underfed,
Like a stranger when you suffer to eat the widow's bread?
Have you felt the breath of God fill your ministry with zeal?
Could you run with royal horses that gallop for Jezreel?
Now scorned by kindred, confined in Horeb's ground,
You meet your God in a tender gentle sound.
God calls on you to go when you really need to stay.
Have you ever felt this way?

Have you sensed the strength of God when we follow his commands?
Has he found a work for you? Was he working in your hands?
Do the satisfied resist in the name of harmony
When you try to cure the wound as they treat it carelessly?
They worship God from their own combativeness--
To fit a privileged few for God to bless.
No brother waits. No sister abides to meet and pray.
Have you ever felt this way?

Did you ride a borrowed colt up to Zion in the spring
While the people shout "Hosana" and celebrate the king?
Did your tears for Zion bitterly suffocate your breath
When her citizens delivered the lovely city's death?
Then deeply sharing with those you gave your heart--
Such fellowship! feeling so much love it hurt!
Your closest friends desert when you go to die that day.
Have you ever felt this way?

link to the music: https://musescore.com/user/22014/scores/6522821

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Book Review: William J. Webb. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis.

William Webb's book, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals (IVP, 2001) really needed to be written. In the book, Webb systematizes many features of Hermeneutics that many of us have been using but never really had a basis for feeling confident that our methods are valid. Webb extracts the hermeneutical methods that tend to depend upon cultural context of the biblical text and examines the methodology and analyzes the effectiveness and validity of each method. After explaining each method, Webb applies it to the doctrines of slavery (usually), women (always) and homosexuality (usually).

The most useful method, in my opinion, is a method that Webb calls Redemptive Movement. Whenever the Bible talks about some doctrine, especially a doctrine about how God's people are supposed to treat others, we should ask ourselves what the culture was like in the context of the biblical saying. For example, the Bible has a lot to say about slaves and most of what it says somewhat turns our stomachs with respect to what our modern western culture thinks about the institution of slavery: We do not believe anybody has the right to own somebody else. However, if we look at what the Bible says about slaves, we see that God's expectation about how his people treat slaves is far more redemptive than the surrounding culture. In New Testament times, the rules about slaves is more redemptive than they are in Old Testament times and they are more redemptive than the social context of the New Testament text. Just examining the redemptive movement of the biblical doctrines surrounding slaves, we can see a movement towards total slave emancipation. The same is true for women. In the Bible, women gain more and more value as members of the faith community. So, when we observe the Biblical redemptive movement regarding women we can follow the trajectory to equal ministry value and roles for women as men within the faith community.

If we think about it, that is the whole method of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible says, "Do not commit adultry." You should know that the trajectory of that command points to the implied command to not lust. You know that we are commanded to not murder. Don't you realize that the trajectory of that command requires that we don't get angry with people either? Don't call people names either!

We should be able to apply the trajectory of the biblical commands, especially as they reveal the heart of God. We can examine the commands against their cultural contexts and see where they are going and be able to make the contemporary application which may not be directly addressed in scripture--but is given trajectory within scripture.

When Webb applies his hermeneutical methods to the morality of homosexuality, we see that the Bible is always more restrictive about homosexuality than is the surrounding culture. The Bible never is more accepting of homosexuality. It is always less accepting of homosexuality than is the cultural context of the times.

Another of the particularly interesting methods Webb calls "Breakouts." There may be a statement that looks like a command but we look for examples where the command is broken and the ones who break it are commended for breaking what we thought was a command. Those exceptions are called "Breakouts." For example, we believe the Bible forbids women from exercising leadership over men. However, we have many breakout examples such as Deborah, Huldau, Junia, Priscilla, etc. Either what we thought was a rule has a specific and obsolete context or it is not as much of a hard and fast rule as we thought.

Webb observes that several of the popular hermeneutical methods that Bible students employ are open to poor exegesis. For example, there is a popular exegetical method that Webb calls "Closely Related Issues" (162). Some teachers attempt to condone homosexual practices by comparing those practices with the Old Testament purity laws. For example, in Old Testament times, a man engaging in sexual activity during his wife's menstruation made him unclean for a period of time. Those cultic impurity laws have been abolished in the New Testament. Therefore, the Old Testament commands against homosexuality should also be abolished. The problem is, sex during menstruation and homosexual sex really are not closely related issues. One resulted
 in ceremonial uncleanness. The other resulted in stoning. In the Old Testament, activities that resulted in ceremonial uncleanness were not sins. Homosexuality was--in both testaments. This is an example of trying to make completely dissimilar issues related. Thus, the method is really poor and open to bad exegesis.

It is interesting that Webb's approach to the women's roles study concedes that there was a curse on the woman (women) in Genesis 3:16 and there is also an injunction against women teaching men in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Even with these concessions, Webb's cultural analysis leads to the equality of women in the church. I believe Webb is wrong in his two concessions; but I think he is clever to conceed them. It avoids arguments over the meanings of the two passages so that we can get on with the cultural and redemptive analysis of the Biblical text.

Webb is equally critical of complementarianism and egalitarianism. His criticism of egalitarianism seems almost token. He either mischaracterizes the egalitarian position or he refrences extreme approaches that tend to stray away from the biblical text.

This book will be a permanent addition to my personal library. It needs to be available for further reference.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Church of Christ Doctrine

Church of Christ doctrine is a meadow of sacred untouchable cows. They have not always been that way. The churches of Christ have been willing to adjust their thinking on numerous "doctrines" throughout its short history.

 1. The Churches of Christ were once universally tolerant of slavery. Churches appointed elders who were slave owners. Many preachers unabashedly advocated for the institution of slavery—race-based slavery! Today, most Christians believe it is a sin to own another person. The case for slavery is easy to make. It depends on a plain reading of scripture. Abolitionism is a difficult case to make. It requires a careful reading of scripture with a non-hermeneutical emphasis on God's character.

2. Amillennialism. The churches were almost universally premillennialist until the recent preaching of Foy Wallace and Jim McGuiggan. Those two change-agents moved the whole body of churches of Christ away from premillennialism.

3. Women's vote: The churches of Christ were universally against women voting on politics on the basis that (a) the man is the head of the household and (b) women are more easily deceived than men—as evidenced by Eve"s deception and Paul's mention of Eve's deception in several places. The church resisted the women's vote for decades after the right for the women's vote became law. The church slowly changed its view when it became abundantly clear that women are no more or less deceivable than men. Women are also equally able to excel academically as men. (An argument against the women's vote was that women were not able to achieve the level of academics that men can). 

The church has changed majorly in other non-doctrinal ways.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Genesis 32: Be afraid


Genesis 32:6-7
The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies,...

Sometimes fear is a good thing. Being fearless is a character flaw. Being afraid is a strength. It can keep you out of trouble.