Tuesday, April 27, 2021

A Passionate Mistake

Have you wondered about the Passion Translation?

These days new English translations of the Bible are popping up all the time, and it can be hard to keep up. If you're not trained in the biblical languages, it can be hard to tell whether a new translation is good or not. When I study a passage in the Bible, I like to compare several translations and even the occasional paraphrase to try and get a sense of what the text means before I look at any commentaries. Should I add the Passion to my reference shelf?

The Passion Translation of the full New Testament was released in 2017 (he's still working on the OT). Unlike most Bible translations today, it is the work of one man, Brian Simmons. The project's website says Simmons is a linguist who "co-translated the Paya-Kuna New Testament for the Paya-Kuna people of Panama." He used the usual New Testament source materials (the Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th edition) plus the Syriac Peshitta (written in Aramaic) because, he says, scholars are coming to realize that there was an earlier Aramaic version of most of the NT books before they were translated into Greek.

And it turns out most of the preceding paragraph is false.

YouTuber and pastor Mike Winger employed several respected NT scholars to critique the Passion Translation. He asked them to write papers on their findings, then he interviewed them about their work. He also did some digging into Simmons' background. The papers, the interviews, and Mike's account of his own work on this new version can be found on his website. I encourage you to listen to the interviews and/or read the papers, but you can get a sense of how things are going by listening to any one of the interviews. (The one with Darrell Bock is a good interview and the shortest.)

But as a public service, I wanted to give a brief illustration that will summarize Winger et al's findings.

In Bible translation, there are different approaches. Some strive to deliver a word for word (people usually say "literal" or "formally equivalent") translation of the ancient language and let commentaries explain difficult terms and idioms. Some try to transmit the meaning the author was trying to get across with less concern for the actual words used (sometimes called "functional equivalence"). And some try to deliver the emotional impact that the original would have had to the original audience even if that means adding some material (ie, paraphrases). (Of course, all translations do all of these things, but they all tend more toward one approach or another.)

Now to the illustration. In German, there is a phrase "du bist eine lahme ente." It literally means "you are a lame duck". But it's an idiom for "you are a dull, boring person." We might say such a person is a "wet blanket." Let's apply this to some modern translations:

NASB: You are a lame duck.
NIV: You are a dull, boring person.
Message: You are a wet blanket.
Passion: You are such a wet blanket I would have gouged my eyes out by now if the Lord hadn't activated in me a spirit of patience.

My additions are intentional. Winger's band of scholars largely agree that the Passion "Translation" is better called a paraphrase and that when it adds "explanatory material," it is generally inserting Simmons' particular brand of charismatic theology. When it isn't doing that it is ... adequate. Where it's not altogether too original it's nothing special.

So should you read the Passion Translation? I can't answer that for you, but I can tell you that I won't be adding it to my collection.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Enemy

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Rom 7:21).

God wants us to live holy lives, and we hopefully want to live holy lives, but we are opposed in that by the threefold enemy of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

“The world” isn’t the people around us. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12). DeYoung says, “The world stands for everything that opposes the will of God. In its simplest form, this means ‘the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions’ (1 John 2:16 mg.).” The world is the force that “makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange.”1

The scriptures repeatedly warn us against loving the world (eg, Matt 13:1-12, 1John 2:15). The world is very good at getting its hooks into us and, at best, rendering us useless to the work of the Kingdom. We must beware the “deceitfulness of wealth” (Matt 13:22) because, as the demons know, “prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him.”2 The best defense against loving money is to give away as much of it as you can. Then give away a little more. As Lewis put it, “the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”3

We also must be on guard against all the other ways it can influence our thinking. By “renewing your mind” (Rom 12:2), by filling it with scripture, we can “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and ... take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2Cor 10:5). We have to choose carefully what we set before our eyes: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness” (Luke 11:34-35).

The flesh is that evil we carry around with us, the fallen nature that is still a part of us. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom 7:18-19). Even though we’re saved, we’re still plagued by lust, jealousy, anger, and everything else that we were tempted to before. As Wormwood put it, “All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still our our favour.”2

We have to make the daily (maybe hourly) decision to not follow those temptations: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24). We put off our old self by, through the power of the Spirit, choosing to follow him instead of the flesh (Rom 8:1-13).

Also, how we deal with the world can affect our flesh. A common metaphor is that there are two dogs fighting within us, one on the side of sin and one righteousness. The one that wins is the one you feed. Flesh that is regularly fed by the world will have a stronger hold us. If we starve the flesh and feed the righteousness that wants to grow within us, the fight will go better for us.

Our third enemy is the devil. Some will scoff, “How can you believe in a literal devil in the 21st Century?!” I believe in the devil because Jesus does (eg, Luke 10:18). So did his apostles who warn us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1Pet 5:8). We don’t believe he is really the guy in the red suit with the pitch fork. No, Satan “masquerades as an angel of light” (2Cor 11:14).

I doubt most of us have to deal with devils on a regular basis. The world and the flesh cause us enough trouble that demons aren’t required. But those who are serious about holiness and especially serious about doing the Lord’s work will probably find themselves under demonic attack. If you do, your first, second, and third steps should be prayer. The same Spirit who cast out demons in the 1st Century can certainly drive them away today; call on him. And “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Eph 6:13-18).

Dealing with the world, the flesh, and the devil is hard. It requires that you make up your mind in advance that you will resist them. But that is not possible apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. “In this threefold conflict, there is nothing but defeat and failure in the path of the Christian should he not pursue the way of faith or dependence upon the Spirit of God. The child of God must ‘fight the good fight of the faith.’ His responsibility is not to war with his enemies in his own strength, but rather to maintain the ever triumphant attitude of faith.”4

For more on how the world, the flesh, and the devil attack us, I recommend CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.

1 Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in our Holiness
2 CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, emphasis in original
3 CS Lewis, Mere Christianity
5 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology

Part of Christianity 101

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Errors

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith ... not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:8-10).

Do we have to earn our salvation or not? After the last entry, I worry that it would be easy to come away with the idea that you have to be good enough to be saved. Let’s look at two mistakes it’s far too easy to make.

On the one hand, it’s natural to think that you have to be good enough for God to accept you. Those tests in 1John like “if we keep his commandments” (2:3) or if we do not “continue to sin” (5:18) sure sound like we have to be obedient enough to merit salvation. And this is a strong urge of human nature.

But we are saved by grace through faith “not by works, so that no one can boast.” No one will be able to stand before God and talk of the deeds they did to warrant salvation, and no one will be able to compare themselves to anyone else because we will all appear before the King, not as high-achievers but as pardoned criminals.

For some it’s the fear of not being good enough. For others it’s about pride — they want to contribute to their salvation. Every other religion in the world tries to tell you how to earn salvation (of one kind or another), and it’s not unusual for this to creep into Christian thought — it’s part of our fallen nature. And there are those who try to wear their “good works” like a merit badge for all to see. This is legalism, “the attitude that the law is to be obeyed for its own sake”.1

To these people, Paul says, if righteousness could be gained through works, “Christ died for nothing” (Gal 2:21). Boice says, “We cannot be saved by grace and grace plus works all at the same time.”2 Works cannot save; do not trust in works, because if you are trusting in your good deeds, you are not trusting in Christ.

Don’t worry about not being “good enough.” We shouldn’t be flippant about sin, but we’re never going to be good enough. Tozer says:

“How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with. He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud, tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is.”3

The other natural error, called antinomianism, takes everything we’ve been taught about grace and how good deeds don’t save us and says, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Rom 6:1). In other words, should we not worry about sin at all since we’re saved by grace? I like the way the KJV renders Paul’s response: “God forbid!” In Christ we have died to sin; we cannot live in it any longer (Rom 6:2). Even though we are not saved by good works, we are saved for them. We were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Boice says, “This is stated in such strong language ... that if there are no works, the person involved is not justified.”2 But the good works are the fruit of justification, not the cause of it.

A form of this has become terribly common in recent decades. People believe God wants us to be “nice,” and beyond that he really doesn’t care what we do. “Nice,” of course, is watered down as much as possible: Don’t kill people, don’t steal anything big, give a dollar to the occasional homeless person, and God doesn’t care about your sex life, language, or self-absorption. God, in this view, just wants us to be happy.

God does want us to be happy, but he knows holiness is required for true happiness. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And the scriptures warn us, “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).

Good works cannot save. We cannot “clean ourselves up” enough to warrant salvation. God saves us just as we are. But he does not leave us just as we were. He saves us so we can be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). Don’t fall into either trap. “Instead of living in fear that you might mess up and slip from God’s grasp, get on with loving and serving Him with all of your being, and He will minister assurance to your heart.”4

If you would like to spend some time meditating on the Christian road between legalism and antinomianism, I think Galatians 5 is the best one-stop shop. Just realize that “circumcision” stands in for any kind of works-righteousness.

1 Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine
2 James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith
3 AW Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
4 Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On

Part of Christianity 101

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Holy Saturday and the Second Advent

On Good Friday, hope died. At least, that's the way it must have seemed to Jesus' followers. They had been absolutely sure he was the promised Messiah, the one God had anointed to free Israel and set everything right. Then he died.

He'd tried to tell them, but they couldn't understand. He had to die. His death was necessary to set everything right. Sin had to be atoned for, and he had to triumph over the grave. But they couldn't see that far ahead. They were caught between Good Friday and Easter, between the cross and the resurrection. Their sins were paid for; they only waited for death to be defeated.

We're stuck between Easter and the rapture. Death has been defeated, but we wait for it to die. The war is won, but the battle still rages.

The US Civil War ended when the Confederacy surrendered on May 9, 1865. The last battle of the Civil War occurred on May 12, 1865. Why the discrepancy? The war was over, but not everyone was ready to lay down their arms. They wanted to keep fighting, even though they knew their cause was lost. Our war is the same. The end is decided, but the battle still rages, the enemy determined to do a little more mischief.

It's been nearly 2000 years. People scoffed at the Lord's promised return in Peter's day; it's no wonder we can begin to wonder if it's ever going to happen. We must keep reminding ourselves, "the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2Pet 3:9).

But the day is coming. "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever" (1Thes 4:16-17).

"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1Cor 15:58). Whether it’s enduring persecution, hard labor for the gospel, or the long, slow work of holiness, it will all be worthwhile because we will be raised to be with Christ. As the saying goes, the work is hard, the hours are long, and the pay is low, but the retirement benefits are out of this world.