Serendipity Bible: very helpful for small group study

I have been using the Serendipity Bible in my personal and small group studies quite frequently. I have found it to be a very valuable resource because it has been making it easier for me to lead bible studies with questions straight out of the same bible without flipping through pages and booklets. It asks the readers engaging questions to help leaders guide small groups into meaningful conversation about the passage. In each of the lessons, there are meaningful questions to engage the reader to think about how the passage relates to their own lives. This is a bible power-packed with 30,000 questions organized into 200 relational bible study lessons, which are also organized into 60 Felt Needs courses and 16 topical study courses (see PDF). It is primarily geared to leaders who lead group bible studies, but it is just as appropriate for personal study. In my personal opinion, it does not seem to be as widely used as it should be, so I thought I’d inform small group leaders out there about this great resource. I would recommend it to any bible study leader or those considering starting up a small group study, and also for those who want to go deeper in personal study. You will not go wrong with making an investment in this bible. It began with the New International Version (NIV) translation but now includes the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It has been published by Serendipity House for 20 years and has been owned by Lifeway since 2002. It is available in both a hardcover and bonded leather.

Even though it is primarily marketed to the evangelical market, it is just as invaluable to evangelicals in mainline churches who use the weekly lectionary and hold regular bible studies. There are studies in Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospel lessons for each of the lectionary readings of the week—from years A to C. In Lutheran circles, the Lutheran Men in Mission Ministry (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) has asked Serendipity to publish a version of this bible. It is called Master Builders Bible for Men (NIV) and is available through Augsburg Fortress. It is almost virtually the same in content except for the cover. Our men’s bible studies have been giving it away for free to all the men who attend our men’s breakfast on Saturday mornings. It’s a great way to encourage and enable regular devotional bible reading. It is so well-liked that I have seen women using this bible that’s labelled for men”. In the past, it was also available in New American Bible (NAB), however, I do not know if it is still available today. The Catholic version was marketed as the NAB Catholic Serendipity Bible by Zondervan.

Translation equivalence

Wayne Leman at Better Bibles Blog is blogging about translation equivalence. It’s a good post about the difficulties in translating from one language to another. He uses examples of real life modern languages to illustrate this. In his first post on this series, he gives great examples like:

When Spanish speakers want to learn the name of a person, they ask that person, “Cómo se llama?” A literal translation of the Spanish is: “How do you call yourself?” (or even more literally, in the Spanish word order, “How self you call?” But neither of these literal translations is what we English speakers say to someone to learn their name. The translation equivalent we use is, of course, “What’s your name?” In the Cheyenne Indian language the translation equivalent is, “Nitonshivih?” literally, “you-how-named?”

This really makes a lot of sense because it shows how difficult it is to translate the original source language into English or any other language. Here’s an example that hits home to me. In English, when you want to find out how someone is doing, you ask them: “How are you?” But in Chinese, you would ask: “Ni how ma?” Literally, it would be translated as: “Are you good?” In English, these two ways of asking the same thing in two different languages are very different. When translating from Greek into English, how could a literal translation do the proper job? It is absolutely impossible.

Wayne made another good point in saying:

Anyone who has studied a language beside their own knows that many wordings between the two languages do not match up word for word, or even the same words in different orders. To speak or write a language well, it is necessary to express concepts in that language the way that social conventions have determined those things are worded in that language. To be a fluent speaker of a language you must follow the syntactic and lexical rules of that language. To translate properly, we need to match equivalent form-meaning composites…

He is absolutely right because each language has its own unique and particular nuance that cannot be fully expressed in another language. Other than dialects that are similar to one another, there is probably not one language that can be perfectly translated into another language because each language is limited by its own vocabulary, grammar, and cultural-linguistic uniqueness.

The implications on accuracy in bible translation is huge. Some people may claim that formal equivalence (word-for-word translation from the Greek & Hebrew) is the most accurate but these claims are invalid. And some people also claim that dynamic equivalence (idea-for-idea translation) is the most accurate, but these claims are also invalid. If we go for formal equivalence (e.g., NASB, ESV), we may lose some accuracy in the writers’ intended ideas. Vice versa, if we go for dynamic equivalence (e.g., TNIV, NLT), we may lose some precision in the writers’ intended “technical definition”. There are pros and cons that go with each translation philosophy so we must allow for some “give-and-take” if we choose to go with one particular translation that is predominantly governed by one philosophy. Words and/or ideas expressed in the original language can never be 100% perfectly expressed in another language because that second language may not even have an equivalent word available.

So if we are looking for the most accurate translation, there is no such a translation. If you find one, please let me know. I would never look to just one translation for “accuracy.” Personally, I think one should have a dynamic translation in one hand, and a formal translations in the other.

Bible sales ranking for March

Here is the rankings for bible sales for the month of March from CBA.

BIBLE TRANSLATIONS – Based on Dollar Sales
1 New International Version
2 King James Version
3 New King James Version
4 New Living Translation
5 Holman Christian Standard Bible
6 English Standard Version
7 New American Standard Bible update
8 The Message Eugene Peterson,
9 Today’s New International Version
10 New American Standard

BIBLE TRANSLATIONS – Based on Unit Sales
1 New International Version
2 New King James Version
3 King James Version
4 New Living Translation
5 English Standard Version
6 Holman Christian Standard Bible
7 The Message
8 New American Standard Bible update
9 Reina Valera 1960 (Spanish)
10 Today’s New International Version

It looks like TNIV dipped a little from last month but the ESV and HCSB are holding steady in the middle of the pack.

Living Bible: predecessor to the New Living Translation

I’m a fan of the New Living Translation (NLTse). It’s actually my second favorite translation after the TNIV. A few days ago, an elderly lady in my bible study told me she was reading from the Living Bible. I was suspicious so I clarified it with her later and learned that she was actually using the NLT Life Application Bible. I was surprised when she said “Living Bible” because I don’t know many, or anyone, in fact, who reads the Living Bible. I never got into reading the old Living Bible because, maybe, I was just too young. I consider it before my time and so I plead generational ignorance. Since I don’t own a Living Bible, I went to pick one up from the church bookshelf yesterday–one with the old green cover on it. I wanted to compare it with the New Living Translation (NLT1) to see if there were any similarities between the two. I found many passages that were very similar. The translators of the NLT have done some editing so there are many passages that are different too, but notice the uncanny similarities; many are the same–word for word.

Acts 24:1-6

Living Bible (1971)

1 Five days later Ananias the High Priest arrived with some of the Jewish leaders and the lawyer Tertullus, to make their accusations against Paul. 2 When Tertullus was called forward, he laid charges against Paul in the following address to the governor:”Your Excellency, you have given quietness and peace to us Jews and have greatly reduced the discrimination against us. 3 And for all of this we are very, very grateful to you. 4 But lest I bore you, kindly give me your attention for only a moment as I briefly outline our case against this man. 5 For we have found him to be a troublemaker, a man who is constantly inciting the Jews throughout the entire world to riots and rebellions against the Roman government. He is a ringleader of the sect known as the Nazarenes. 6 Moreover he was trying to defile the Temple when we arrested him.

New Living Translation (1996)

1 Five days later Ananias, the high priest, arrived with some of the Jewish leaders and the lawyer Tertullus, to press charges against Paul. 2 When Paul was called in, Tertullus laid charges against Paul in the following address to the governor:”Your Excellency, you have given peace to us Jews and have enacted reforms for us. 3 And for all of this we are very grateful to you. 4 But lest I bore you, kindly give me your attention for only a moment as I briefly outline our case against this man. 5 For we have found him to be a troublemaker, a man who is constantly inciting the Jews throughout the world to riots and rebellions against the Roman government. He is a ringleader of the sect known as the Nazarenes. 6 Moreover he was trying to defile the Temple when we arrested him.

The work on the paraphrase was done by Kenneth Taylor, a Baptist layperson at Moody Press. His intention was to create a simple bible for children to read. He also founded Tyndale House Publishers in order to publish his Living Bible paraphrase. Taylor passed away in 2005 and built a publishing house that now later produced one of the most widely used easy-to-read translations in the New Living Translation. Tyndale reports it has sold more than 40 million copies sold. He received some theological training at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary but was not an expert in Hebrew or Greek. (Would this qualify some of us to write paraphrases too?)He kept the American Standard Version (1901) in front of him while he worked on the paraphrase. Later, he claimed that he had a team of Greek and Hebrew experts scrutinize the paraphrase but did not name any of the team members in the 1971 Revision Committee. The New Testament was first published in 1967, then later, the Old Testament in 1971.

It was evangelist Billy Graham who helped to popularize the Living Bible. Thousands of copies were distributed at Billy Graham’s crusades. Now it was marketed as a bible for adults, and not just kids. When the Living Bible was being distributed at Graham’s crusades, the New International Version (1973) was just beginning to get published. I remember seeing the Living Bible marketed with a modern contemporary cover with “The Way” in big letters and faces shown peering through it (as on picture). That was cooler than the old green cover. Somehow, it never attracted me towards opening its cover even though it does look interesting.

Due to complaints and recommendations to Tyndale House, they commissioned a revision by 90 evangelical scholars to revise and publish the New Living Translation (1996). Some of the accusations against the Living Bible were that it was created with a bias against the Reformed teachings of predestination of the elect, and the irresistible grace of God. Another criticism against the Living Bible is that it was a dumbing-down of the bible in the English language. If the LB was considered a dumbing-down, then what about others like Eugene Peterson’s Message bible? Personally, I like easier-to-read translations but not paraphrases. I think bibles like the NLT does a great service to the bible reading public. If daily newspapers can be written at a grade 6 level, then why not God’s written word?

I want to credit Michael Marlowe for some source material that I borrowed from. I also found Rick Mansfield of This Lamp had also previously blogged about the Living Bible.

I’ve been tagged for a bible meme

Robert Jimenez, from Wierdthinkers tagged me with the Bible meme. (I usually don’t do these meme things but here it is).

1. What translation of the Bible do you like best? Today’s New International Version (TNIV). Then in second place comes the New Living Translation (NLTse).

2. Old or New Testament? New Testament

3. Favorite Book of the Bible? Romans

4. Favorite Chapter? Romans 7

5. Favorite Verse? (feel free to explain yourself if you have to)

  • Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2, TNIV)

6. Bible character you think you’re most like? Timothy, I think.

7. One thing from the Bible that confuses you?

Many things from the book of Revelation including ElShaddai’s interest in preterism.

8. Moses or Paul? Paul

9. A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don’t get?

The bible has so many stories where they kill the bad guys but if it was done today, they might be charged for genocide by the United Nations. Just because the bible says it, does it make it right?

10. Coolest name in the Bible? Quartus (Rom. 16:23). Sounds like a cross between Curtis and “quarter”.

Now, I’m suppose to tag five other people:

I tag: Suzanne McCarthy of Suzanne’s Bookshelf, Joe Myzia of Blaugmenting, Peter Kirk of Gentle Wisdom, Rick Mansfield of This Lamp, and Jeremy Pierce of Parableman.

Ancient-future: does the future really lie in the past?

In the emerging church, some people have been rediscovering the ancient church. I consider myself evangelical, but not emerging, but have also discovered the past, and have been reading a little of some of the early church fathers like Iranaeus, Basil, Clement, Origen, Tertullian, etc. The emerging church movement should be more careful about completely buying into the historic past and thinking that the past has all the answers for the future. Looking into the past is not necessarily a key to discovering the truth for the present and future. The early church fathers had much theological debates about the trinity, the creeds, the eucharist, the persons of Christ and Holy Spirit, and many more issues. They all said some things that could be seen as being heretical today. Our newfound romanticized notion of the past is not necessarily as rosy as it seems. The early church fathers all fought over issues to the bitter end but could never come to any conclusive agreements.

With this being said, should we assume what the early church fathers taught was the gospel truth? No, certainly not. If we did, we would never be able to come to any theological conclusions on any issue because the church fathers never did themselves. Today’s new found enthusiasm for the patristics is wonderful, and it does help give us a deeper and richer sense of the history, apostolicity, and universality of the church, but it doesn’t necessarily give us any real solid answers. Does the future really lie in the past? It does and it doesn’t. The past is the past. I agree that it is good to study historic Christianity but doing so doesn’t carry more merit than any other academic discipline that looks back into its history. History is also full of mistakes—even grave mistakes. History should be read for the purpose of learning about past mistakes, but also for learning about what worked right. This is why the study of the early church fathers should never be seen as some sort of rediscovery of some long lost secret truths. History has shown that it can just as easily make bad mistakes as the present and future.

This search into the historic past in the use of icons, lectio divina, and etc. is nice but we must keep in mind that it is only one way of expressing spirituality; and it doesn’t necessarily work for all people either. In looking at it from the other side of the fence, many Christians who come from liturgical traditions like Anglicanism or Catholicism have also found that their traditional forms of liturgical worship have not satisfied their search for higher spirituality either. That is why they turned to evangelicals and/or charismatics for a taste of an alternate spirituality. We should realize that lectio divina or stations of the cross, and other ancient forms of spiritual practice are not the only ways and means to experience spirituality.

Each style of spirituality has its own unique value. Evangelical spirituality also has a rich spirituality. In recent decades, however, evangelical and pentecostal megachurches have gained a bad rap for being marketplace-driven, following the latest fashions, being success-driven and program-oriented, etc. This has hampered the richness in evangelical spirituality rather than helped it. This is one of the reasons for the rise in the emerging church. This megachurch phenomena is really a very recent trend in evangelicalism and dates back only to the last 20-30 years. It is not representative of early evangelicals in the 19th and 20th centuries. Before this time, early evangelicalism was known for genuine piety, humility, deep spirituality, and small-time church-ianity. It would be a shame for evangelicals to lose this kind of humble spirituality. If evangelicals forget about their own history, evangelicals will leave behind a rich history and spirituality. Each style of Christian expression has its own unique flavour of spirituality. And each style brings with it a wonderful way to express and experience spirituality, including the Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed, Anabaptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and etc. Why do you think the church continues to discover new forms and styles of worship? The Holy Spirit is constantly showing the Christian church, in each generation, new ways of worship. So I think there is hope for the future. (From left to right: Saint Basile-the-Great, Saint John Chrysostom, and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus; Tertullian of Carthage)

Erasmus’ influence on evangelicalism

Erasmus of Rotterdam was the first great religious humanist. He translated the Textus Receptus and was hugely influential in the philosophy of the 16th century reformers. His ideas of the “freedom of the will” introduced new liberating ideas into the center of the Reformation in Geneva, Switzerland and Wittenberg, Germany. You could say that his ideas even shaped many of the ideals of today’s evangelical theology. Due to Erasmus’ huge influence on Zwingli, religion is now understood as something spiritual and internal (i.e., faith is personal in each individual). Moral and ethical reform now becomes an important part of the believer’s life (i.e., being born again; regeneration by the Holy Spirit). Jesus is now someone we imitate (WWJD—What Would Jesus Do?). The early church fathers are valued (e.g., Origin, Jerome, etc.). Religion’s purpose is to inculcate piety within the believer. The philosophy of Christ becomes a philosophy from which we live by (i.e., Christians do good works). The life, morals, and doctrines of the church needed to be reformed. Religious education becomes an important component in the life of the believer and the church (i.e., biblical knowledge, Sunday school). These are all vital parts of the Reformation and have influenced evangelical theology. His belief in returning back to the original sources (ad fontes) lent itself to the humanist ideals of having access to the original Greek texts and also being competent in understanding the original Greek. Out of passion and conviction, Erasmus translated the New Testament into Latin (1505, 1516, and 1520 CE). If it wasn’t for Erasmus, we might not have the bible, as we know it today. We might not have had Luther and Calvin either, which means we wouldn’t have Ulrich Zwingli and Philip Melanchthon, which means we also wouldn’t have evangelical Christianity. We owe a lot to Erasmus.

Reclaim the goodness of humanism

Humanists have gained a bad reputation from us Christians who tend toward a conservative Christian worldview. We quickly label certain groups and people on the left-of-center as “humanists,” e.g. ACLU, John Dewey, Richard Dawkins, Bertrand Russell, and Gene Roddenberry, and etc. (I am a Star Trek fan so I’d have to give a cheer for Gene Roddenberry). The new term of “secular humanism” is used in anti-religious philosophy for the affirmation of humanity without reference to God. It’s a glorification of humanity without God in the picture. Thus, today, the word has strong secularistic and atheistic overtones because secular humanists do not believe in having an absolute moral code. The term “humanist” carries the assumption that a person subscribes to a belief in humanism so they are labelled as “secular humanists.” We have often used the word “humanists” in the wrong sense, including myself. So who were the humanists who were originally known as humanists? Humanists in the 14th-16th centuries were very religious. These early humanists were a diverse group and cannot be pigeon-holed into one single philosophy. Humanism was a movement of the Renaissance, which rose up as a reaction against scholasticism. It was out of an anti-scholasticism that the Christian Reformation arose in the 16th century. Humanism during the Renaissance wanted to return back to the original sources (ad fontes) and renew the church, not destroy it. The term “humanists” referred to those educated in the Greek and Latin classics. They were the literary scholarly types who were well-versed in Latin studies and pursued eloquent speech. Their desire to return back to the original sources was what triggered the Reformation of the 16th century. They felt that scholasticism was stale and did not provide the answers to the truth (which is not unlike how today’s post-modernists feel). Thus, came Erasmus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Philip Melanchthon (picture above), and Ulrich Zwingli. Good thing Luther returned to the original Greek and Hebrew and translated the bible into his modern day language of German. Today, we, as 21st century Christians, can and should rightfully reclaim the goodness of humanism.

Was it Paul or a man in Christ who was caught up in Third Heaven?

I was reading 2 Corinthians 12:2 (vv.1-7) the other day and noticed that the New Living Translation (NLTse) was the only major translation that rendered it the way it did–quite different from the other translations. The NLT made a big change in how it interprets this verse. In other translations, the one who went to the third heaven was the man in Christ whom Paul knew for 14 years. But in the NLT, Paul is now speaking about himself who went to the third heaven. Moreover, the NLT translators had to change the rendering of the rest of the passage in order to make it it sound uniform; otherwise, there would be a glaring difference. I only posted v.2 but you should also read vv.1-10 to see the recomposition between various translations.

I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. (NLTse)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a man was caught up to the third heaven. (NASB)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. (TNIV)

I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven 14 years ago. Whether he was in the body or out of the body, I don’t know; God knows. (CSB)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. (ESV)

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. (NRSV)

οιδα ανθρωπον εν χριστω προ ετων δεκατεσσαρων ειτε εν σωματι ουκ οιδα ειτε εκτος του σωματος ουκ οιδα ο θεος οιδεν αρπαγεντα τον τοιουτον εως τριτου ουρανου (NT Greek)

This brings up a lot of questions in my mind:

  • in the Greek, ουκ οιδα means “do not know.” When Paul says that he doesn’t know if this man was in the body or out of the body, it could still be Paul himself.
  • What is the justification for making Paul the person who went to the third heaven?
  • One could say that the “thorn” was given to Paul because of the revelation. Does it make sense that Paul should boast about the vision of this man?
  • Paul said he heard things that cannot be expressed and it should be kept secret. Could Paul be this same man who heard secret things? And if so, then, why would Paul say “I know this man” when he is the man?
  • And why would Paul say: “I will boast about a man but will not boast about myself”?
  • Was it simply because Paul wished to remain humble by not boasting about himself?
  • In reading Paul’s words in this context, it does makes sense that this man was Paul himself.
  • If the NLT’s translation is correct, should the translation in this passage be adjusted to such an extent in order to make the entire passage fit this unconventional interpretation?

In reading Paul’s words in this very different context, it also seems to make sense that this man could also have been Paul himself. But if the NLT’s translation is correct, should the rendering of this whole passage be adjusted to such an extent just to make it fit the new interpretation?