ESV can become better

I haven’t been around the blogosphere for a while but I’ve been catching up on what’s going on at Better Bibles: Wayne Leman finished posting a series of posts on a paper by Mark Strauss: Why the English Standard Version (ESV) should not become the standard English version: How to make a good translation much better. It’s also available in PDF. I don’t think this should be seen as being critical against the ESV but rather, I think this is the type of constructive criticism that can make our bibles better.

The ESV can do so much better so Crossway should pay attention. I think Crossway has great opportunity to improve this great translation and make it so much better. If the translation team takes advice such as this, the ESV will surely become even more popular than it is now. It was be known as one of the great modern translations for a long long time. The enormous work done by the NRSV was a huge improvement and can be called a genuine translation. But the ESV has not done nearly as much work on it as the NRSV translators. So the ESV, there’s still room to improve.

Why do Christians have to suffer?

Voice of the Martyr reports:

[China Aid Association] CAA has received reports of intensified religious persecution in Beijing, Heilongjiang, Yunnan and Shangdong provinces. In Beijing, Pastor “Bike” Zhang Mingxuan and his family members have been evicted from their home, beaten and arrested. In Heliongjiang province, one city called Yichun recently banned all house churches, CAA reported. In Yunnan province, some house church members were attacked right after the Olympics. In Shandong province, Pastor Zhang Zhongxin was sentenced to two years of re-education through labor, and after the Olympics his appeal was denied, according to CAA.

Meanwhile, CAA has learned that 29 house church leaders have been serving time in labor camps and prisons in Henan province since July 2007. They are accused of being “evil cult” members. One leader was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, which is the harshest sentence against a house church leader in recent years, besides Pastor Zhang Rongliang, who was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in 2004, for allegedly “attempting to illegally cross the border and forgery of an official document,” CAA added. VOM Report on China.

On Nov. 12, two sisters were killed and their mother wounded by a gang of Islamic extremists in the Al Qahira section of Mosul, Iraq, according to [Voice of the Martyrs] VOM contacts. The gunmen shot one of the sisters as she was waiting for a bus outside their home. They then stormed into the home, killed the other sister and injured their mother. A bomb placed by the assailants at the entrance of the house detonated as police arrived on the scene, injuring several officers.

This incident is the latest in a series of attacks on Christians that have occurred in Mosul, in recent weeks. Since October, more than seven Christians have been killed and more than 200 families displaced. The Christian community in Iraq is estimated to be 3 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people, or about 800,000. Some Christians believe they are being targeted in an effort to wipe out the Christian community’s economic activity and drive believers from the area. Since 2003, Christian leaders, churches and businesses in Iraq have been targeted by Islamic extremists. As a result, many believers have fled. VOM report on Iraq.

If God is a loving God, then why does he allow suffering? If God is omnipotent, then why does God not stop all the pain and suffering? Is God still sovereign even with all the pain that goes on? Does all suffering happen as a result of human wrongdoing? No but it happens even if there is no fault on anyone’s part. If so, then do we just accept it? Is it just a fact of life, a dimension of our lives here on earth? Is there a connection, or is there no connection between suffering and human wrong-doing?And is there an explanation? Atheists would say there is no God. Christian scientists would say that suffering is unreal because it is merely a way of thinking. Or is God just a malevolent God who is let loose and Satan just roams the world and has a free reign to wreak havoc? Does God enjoy seeing us humans suffer here on earth?

Despite the pain and suffering, I believe that the heart of God would also suffer along with us in our pain. If God is suppose to be God, then who are we to judge what is just and unjust? Our human temptation is to judge and be a judge, like in the Garden of Eden. We want to be like a god. Okay, so Christ died at the cross and suffered on our behalf. Then Christ knows our suffering and pain, our injustices and wrongs done against us. Then how can this hurt us? If Christ is omnipresent with us in the midst of all our pain and suffering, then can suffering hurt us? If Christ is for us, then who can be against us? Christ will give us the strength to carry our cross.

Pope Benedict on St. Paul’s Justification by Christ’s love

In November 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said in St. Peter’s Square in one of his series of lessons:

“Luther”, said the Pope, “translated this as ‘justified by faith alone’, … yet before returning to this point it is necessary to clarify which is the ‘Law’ from which we have been freed and what are the works that do not justify us. In the community of Corinth there already existed an opinion, that crops up again throughout history, to the effect that it is the moral law, and that hence Christian freedom means freedom from ethics. … Obviously this is an incorrect interpretation. Christian freedom is not debauchery, … it is not freedom from doing good“. (“St. Paul: Justification by Christ’s love”, Vatican Information Service)

Amen. I agree with him. It light of scripture (and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) signed by signatories from the Lutheran World Federation and Roman Catholic Church), it is good to hear Pope Benedict affirm the doctrine of justification, which Lutherans and Protestants of the Reformation know as the cornerstone of our faith. The most chief article, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession states:

“Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:21-26] and 4[:5].”

Pope Benedict obviously has no hang ups about doing good works. In fact, he encourages it. I like that because that is what St. Paul the Apostle meant to explain in his Epistle to the Romans. As children of God who have been redeemed by Christ, we have been set free from the requirements of the law. At the same time, we are not free from doing good works, but we are not bound by good works either. I also premise this by saying that good works ought to come from a voluntary basis out of our love for God and not out of compulsion. That is the good fruit we are called to bear (Rom. 7:4; Eph. 5:9; Col. 1:10).

“Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4, RSV).

“(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:9-10, ESV).

“so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10, NRSV).

The holy Pontiff concludes in this articles saying:

“Being just simply means being with Christ, being in Christ, that is all. The other precepts are no longer necessary. … For this reason Luther’s ‘sola fide’ is true if it is not placed in opposition to charity, to love. Faith is looking at Christ, trusting in Christ … conforming to Christ. And the form of Christ’s life was love. … We become just in communion with Christ Who is love. … Justice is defined in charity”.

“We can only pray to the Lord to help us believe”, Benedict XVI concluded. “Thus belief becomes life, unity with Christ, transformation. … And transformed by His love, by love for God and mankind, we will truly be just in the eyes of God”.

Hat tip to Tim at Catholic Bibles

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2000), 39-40.

Obama’s faith in Christ

The interest in President-elect Barack Obama has not simmered yet. I think we all want to learn more about the new President. The conversations around the blogosphere prove it. Peter Kirk at Gentle Wisdom found an interesting link through another blogger (hat tip: John Meunier) of an interview with Barack Obama at Belief.net.

The article is called “Obama’s Fascinating Interview with Cathleen Falsani.” Have a read. It’s very interesting.

ESV Study Bible and the ESV translation

Thank you Michele Bennett of Crossway Publishing for sending me a review copy.

In this rather lengthy post, I will speak about what I have found to be the main features of the ESV Study Bible, and then in the second half of this post, I will give my opinion about the ESV translation itself. I know there have already been numerous other bibliobloggers in the blogosphere blogging about the ESV Study Bible (ESVSB). I will finally add mine opinion of the it here today.

1. The features of the ESV Study Bible:

The more I read the ESV Study Bible, the more I like it. If you’re looking for a good study bible, the ESV Study Bible is definitely one of the best available. The study notes and the overall feel of it will make it one of the all-time great study bibles. With over 20,000 study notes and 50 articles, it is a heavy-duty study bible, and it also looks and feels like one too. With 2,750 pages, it is one of the thickest study bibles out there, if not the thickest. The ESV Study Bible is the biggest of them all. It is also the most comprehensive I’ve seen. The quantity and quality of study notes is comparable to its two major rivals, the T/NIV and NLT study bibles. The introductions for each book are excellent. They are scholarly and are based on up-to-date scholarship. The contributing scholars for the ESV Study Bible are top-notch evangelical scholars. The wide variety of scholars from many denominations makes this study bible ecumenical. The scholars who have contributed the study notes, articles, and the ESV translation itself, are from a variety of denominational seminaries, theological schools, and universities. They come from a variety of denominational backgrounds: Baptist, Reformed, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, Pentecostal, and many and various evangelical seminaries (their names can be seen here).

In my opinion, the big name on the editorial oversight committee is J.I. Packer, the Theological Editor. The other names on this committee are C. John Collins, the Old Testament Editor, and Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Editor. The editorial committee is covenantal in theology. It is not surprise me that this committee leans more toward covenantal in theology. Well, the majority of the readership of the ESV translation is covenantal or reformed; so why not? Will dispensationalists find this study bible overly covenantal? I don’t think so. There are some dispensationalists on the list of study note contributors but they are the minority. In recent years, I have found that my own theology moving from an Arminian dispensational outlook to more of a covenantal one. So now, I can appreciate both theological views. I can say that it is not as covenantal or reformed as the ESV Reformation Study Bible. So if you’re a dispensationalist, you’ll still like this study bible and appreciate its value.

In the ESV panel discussion, Dr. J.I. Packer, the theological editor, spoke about the ESV Study Bible being a useful tool for catechesis (or oral instruction). I have wondered what makes it a good tool for catechesis. If someone could enlighten me on this one, I would appreciate it.

One thing that separates the ESV Study Bible from the rest of the other study bibles is the physical quality of the bible itself. It has a very good quality binding because it is Smyth-sewn rather than glued. This makes it much longer-lasting, and it allows the bible to lay flat when you’re at the beginning of Genesis or at the end of Revelation. Most study bibles out there only use the cheap glue binding, including the NTL Study Bible, NIV Study Bible, New Oxford Annotated Bible, and HarperCollins SB. The ESV Study Bible, however, is Smyth-sewn and reinforced with some glue to make it more durable. So kudos to Crossway for providing a good quality binding. I think Crossway has really improved on the quality of some of its bibles. One pet-peeve I have about bibles is that when you open up the bible, and the pages at the seam crinkle-up. The pages near the seam in this bible seem to crinkle, and I don’t know why. Open one up and you’ll see for yourself. Maybe someone can explain to me why this happens?

The layout is very attractive. It is easy on the eyes. Personally, I like the lines that separate the header, the study notes, and the side columns. I find this easier on the eyes and it gives the appearance of a clean-cut layout. Crossway has also provided quality high-opacity French bible paper and a very nice print job. I like the dark arial font for the study notes and the dark serif font for the biblical text. It provides a good contrast and it makes it easier to read. The font size is also a good size. I don’t have to use a magnifying glass to read it. I also like the single column format. I was accustomed to double columns but I have slowly become accustomed to reading wide single columns. Moreover, the abundance of white space around the text makes it easier and quicker to read, especially if you’re a speed reader (which I’m not).

This is one of the only bibles I’ve seen with so many full-color maps and illustrations within the pages of the bible texts. No other bible has come close to what the ESV Study Bible has done in providing relevant maps that are in such magnificent colors and detail. It has certainly set the bar in this area. Not only are these color maps placed in each of the book introductions, but they are also placed within the pages of the main texts to provide the readers with an historical place where the story was situated. The regions, nations and cities are concurrent to the period of time when the characters and stories took place. It’s really well done.

I have to say that I’m a cross reference user and prefer bibles that have cross references. I don’t know about most people, but when I do indepth study into the text, I actually use cross references to find relevant and comparable scripture verses. I have found that the cross references are in the ESVSB is sufficient and comparable to other bibles; plus there is a concordance in the back.

The numerous theological articles in the back of the bible reflect an evangelical perspective. They are quite readable, even for beginner Christians. It’s a nice addition. Perhaps these theological-biblical articles were what J.I. Packer was referring to when he spoke about the ESV Study Bible being a useful tool for catechesis? Also, in the past, I’ve wondered what it was like during the time period in between the OT and NT. Some historical and scholarly articles are appropriately placed in between the Old Testament and the New Testament to explain in a compact fashion: the time between the testaments; the Roman Empire and the Greco-Roman world; Jewish groups at the time of the NT.

2. The ESV translation:

As far as the translation itself goes, I see the ESV translation becoming ever more popular in the future. It is popular in covenantal Baptist and Reformed churches, but it is also becoming more widely used in Lutheran congregations. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) has switched their new hymnal from the NIV to the ESV translation. For some Lutherans, the previous switch from the RSV to the NIV, and now to the ESV, is sort of a return to the Tyndale RSV-style language. For those who are used to the old RSV, they will find the ESV an easy transition. I don’t think Crossway wants to market the ESV as an ‘updated RSV’ but it really is kind of like an ‘updated RSV’ since much of the text is identical to the old RSV. In fact, maybe Crossway could have renamed it the RSV2? The difference between the two is in its updated and conservative biblical scholarship, and easier to read punctuations and some modernized grammar. Overall, it still reads very much like the RSV. When I was reading from the ESV aloud, many thought I was reading from the RSV. In certain passages, the difference between the ESV and RSV is only slight. There is even less of a difference between the KJV and NKJV.

Even though some have debated the accuracy of between the ESV and the TNIV, there is really not much to debate about because the ESV is still a very accurate and scholarly translation. If we want to debate the accuracy of the ESV, we will also have to debate the accuracy of the RSV. Some may accuse the ESV being a step back from the RSV, but I don’t think so. I acknowledge that the RSV is one of the best translations ever translated into the English language and in many ways, the ESV has improved over its predecessor. Personally, I really like the NRSV, TNIV and NLT translations because they are gender-inclusive and highly accurate. The ESV is also gender-inclusive, but to only to an extent. That’s the criticism. The level of gender-inclusivity in the ESV is somewhere in-between the TNIV/NRSV (which fully use gender-inclusive language) and NIV/RSV (which mainly use masculine language). We can come to two possible conclusions concerning this issue of moderate use of gender-inclusive language:

1/ It is inconsistent; or
2/ It is ‘playing it safe’ and not ‘going over-board’.

Personally, I think both points of view are legitimate. Personally, I do prefer gender-inclusive language because it fits the context of the audience to whom the writers were originally writing to. However, technically speaking, the gender of the pronouns (i.e., he, him, his) are mostly masculine because that’s how gender was used in Greek writing.

The ESV translation is already a very successful translation but I believe it will become even more popular. In the near future, it will become head-to-head rivals with the NIV and NLT. I predict that the ESV will become one of the great modern translations of all time. I am not just saying that but I really believe it. Crossway has put together great study bible with a great translation to go along with it. Good job Crossway!

November 11 is Remembrance Day: "Lest We Forget"

Lest we forget. November 11, 2008 is Remembrance Day in Canada in honour of our Canadian veterans who died in the service of our country. I’m way too young to remember any of this but I appreciate what the veterans have done to protect and secure our freedoms. I have seen many senior veterans dressed in their uniforms and proudly tell their stories. I remember my 2nd grade school teacher Mr. Sage tell us his story in the trenches. He broke down into tears telling our class. I didn’t know how to appreciate his stories back then but I do remember his heartaches and even the tears he shed while telling them. He and many others like him suffered and died in combat for the freedoms we have today. I appreciate and thank them for their loyalty and their service to country. God bless them and their families.

I’d like to show off some proud moments of our little-known Canadian history. I’ve seen all 14 of these are historical minutes on video but these three here are my favorites.

Osborn of Hong Kong | Valour Road | Home from the Wars

The young Canadian men and women sacrificed their livelihood, love and safety of home to defend the rights and freedoms we have today. So I want to express my appreciation and thanks for these men and women today. (picture: Victoria Cross, Canada’s highest medal of honor.)

Why I am a Christian today

Why am I a Christian today? Luther’s Small Catechism from the Third Article of the Creed answers this one for me.

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the Last Day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

This is how I understand the theology behind this. The Holy Spirit unites me to Christ independent of any cooperation from my unrenewed human nature. This means that only God can illuminate my understanding of his word so that I can believe. It is only God who enables me to see God’s excellence and unsurpassing beauty. Due to my human nature, it is impossible for me to come to Christ on my own, no matter how hard I may try. My own hardened resistance and stubbornness wants to do everything on my own without God; but it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit who regenerates me so that I am born again.

Do you believe you came to Christ on your own power? Why are you a Christian today?

My hope in the days ahead | Post-election posts

1. Due to some busy-ness in my school work and final exam, I have not been able to blog as much as before. I do miss blogging with my network of biblioblogger friends who keep me informed and my intellect in active mode. Very shortly, the next few weeks marks the end of my seminary days, and new days ahead as an ordained pastor. I am really looking forward to the future because I hope to be ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada…God-willing.

2. In the future, I will be doing more reviews, including the ESV Study Bible. I am more impressed with this study bible each day I use it. John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry is currently doing a series on the comparison of the Psalms between the NLT Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible. I am following this but I wish my Hebrew was better.

3. I wish we Christians can be more thoughtful than knee-jerk reactionary partisans (myself included). I like some of the posts some of us bibliobloggers have been blogging about after the election. David Ker briefly left his blogging sabbatical and posted an interesting election-related post on “Why American Christians look so stupid and what you can do about it.” I also found John Hobbins, Peter Kirk, and Doug Chaplin with interesting posts on the post-election.

Barack Obama is the new President-elect: Congratulations!

Tonight’s election victory belongs to Sen. Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. It was an overwhelming victory, and it was truly an historic day for the nation of the United States of America. Obama won the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania earlier in the evening; this gave a strong indication where the country would be heading in terms of the election results. Obama also took the west coast states of California, Oregon and Washington. Even coming into the election ahead in the polls, I personally did not expect such a landslide victory; well, it turns out that it definitely was a landslide. Obama won 338 and McCain won 156 of the electoral college votes.

With President-elect Barack Obama taking the Oval Office in the White House, I think he will introduce a new and positive image of America domestically and internationally. Perhaps this will correct the negative international image that America has had under the Bush Administration. America has had a negative image outside of the United States; and it was primarily due to the unpopular war on Iraq.

But that aside, President-elect Barack Obama will be well liked by much of modern America, particularly by the younger generations, whites and non-whites, alike. The younger generations do want to see postive change in society, including myself. Though I am personally conservative in my worldview, including my politics, I do think Obama will bring a new freedom and a new way society perceives itself. This will affect a new way of doing public policy and politics for the United States. It will also affect how other nations treat the United States. I perceive that there will be a new hope and also a bright light that will come to the people in this nation. May God bless the new President, Barack Obama, and may God bless America!

Election Day November 4, 2008 will be an historic day

This election on Tuesday, November 4, 2008, is slated to make history because Americans may be electing their first African-American president, if Barack Obama continues to hold the lead in this race. Many people are expecting Obama to win this election, unless McCain pulls a last minute win.

So far, one day before Election Day, Sen. Obama is still in the lead by about 7-10 points over Sen. John McCain, depending on pollsters. I think it is very likely Obama will be the next president of the United States. From what I’ve seen on television news, the line ups for early voting are long. Many people want to make sure they get their votes in, and it shows many people are really excited about this election. This might even be the biggest voter turnout in recent American history. It’s good for the democratic process. So get out there and vote tomorrow.