Mary and Joseph had no guest room available

Luke 2:4-7
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (TNIV)

This kind of reminds me of the time during my 20s during university in Ontario. I was coming back home for the summer. I decided to drive instead of fly. I also decided to drive through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan instead of going through northern Ontario. I remember being young and naive. I didn’t book ahead for a hotel room. I just drove till I got tired and then looked for a place to stay. I was sure I could find a motel with rooms available. So I drive by the Motel 6 and I see the sign: “No Vacancy”…next, Super 8 Motel: “No Vacancy”…next, EconoLodge: “No Vacancy”…Rodeway Inn: “No Vacancy”. It was getting really late. It was past midnight and I was getting very nervous. The motel night attendant tells me that all the hotels and motels in town are booked solid because of heavy travelling this time of year. She tells me some people end up sleeping in their cars through the night. So that’s what I decided to do. I had no choice. It was summer time and the temperatures stayed in their 20s through the night. It wasn’t the most comfortable sleep but at least I got some rest and started on my journey the next morning.

That night, I felt a little like Mary and Joseph. No place of physical comfort to lay my head and rest. I rested where I was, in my car and slept…a little frightened…a little uncertain of my safety. I had no bright lights to light my path… No angelic hosts to guide me, and I prayed that God would protect me.

TNIV Reference Bible, Renaissance Fine Leather

I want to thank Zondervan for the wonderful promotional copy of the TNIV Reference Bible in the Renaissance fine leather edition. And I also must say thanks to TC Robinson at New Leaven for his correspondence with Zondervan to get some of us pastors signed up for this outstanding gift.

When I opened the box, and looked at the fine black leather, I blushed and thought that this was even better than I expected…and it truly was. When I lifted the leather bible out of the box, I felt the soft and supple leather almost melded into my hand, and right away, I knew that this was a very fine bible indeed. The hand-crafted leather bible is not just any old leather, but it’s thick and soft leather, and it feels just fabulous. Everything about the bible is classy…not just the box and design but also the silver gilded edge. It is something I would cherish and be proud to carry around church. It is also a great bible to preach from the pulpit with because the soft leather is so comfortable that it droops and curves to the shape of my hands. Ah…a wonderful feeling. Okay, this is all beginning to sound like idolatry, and idolatry is a sin, so I will just say that it’s a great bible indeed.

One thing that bugs me is when I see nice leather bibles that have a glued binding. Doing that doesn’t make sense. The binding in the TNIV Reference Bible Renaissance edition looks like it’s Smyth-sewn rather than glued. How I can tell is when I open up the bible, the pages lays flat. Not many bibles are Smyth-sewn today and I have to give kudos to Zondervan for this quality feature which cannot be overlooked. Smyth-sewn binding allows the bible to last longer. And there are two ribbon markers.

The cross reference is also an important feature in this bible. I’m a cross reference user and prefer this in my bible because I do study and research and find it very useful. I would say that it’s a must-have for me. Another important reference feature in this bible are the Topical Ties. It’ a topical reference system. You can think of it as something like the Thompson-Chain Reference system, but basically, it does the same thing. There are 700+ Topical Ties and they are located at the bottom of the page. Together with the cross-reference system and the Topical Ties, this TNIV Reference Bible is one of the best reference bibles out today.

The text is in single column which is perfect. I used to prefer double columns but now I find the single column easier to read. I don’t know why but it just works better for me. The text is in black, no red lettering.

The TNIV is a great translation and is my favourite mediating translation. (FYI, mediating sits in between formal and dynamic). It is easy to read and it is accurate. It is now more accurate than the NIV because the editorial committee has made many improvements. It is also gender-inclusive, just like the NLT and the NRSV. I’m one of these people who can accept gender-inclusive language but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea so I don’t push it.

Thanks again to Zondervan for producing an excellent translation in the TNIV, and a bible of superb quality and craftsmanship.

Missio Dei: we are sent out by God to be a missional church

Missional. This new hip word that first came onto the Christian scene ten years ago is now misunderstood and being misused. I used to associate the word “missional” with evangelism or seeker-sensitive, but apparently, this is incorrect.

The missional movement can be traced back to a book written by six authors, edited by Darrell Guder ten years ago. Alan Hirsch’s article in the lastest edition of Leadership Journal that defines missional. According to Hirsch, we must maintain the integrity of this word for the sake of the survival of Christianity in the West. I agree. We Christians in the west have resorted to attraction; that is, our church model of reaching out to the culture and drawing people into the church, no longer works…or did it ever work? We end up becoming too much like the culture of the world and eventually become overtaken and engulfed by it. Then, the church will have lost its usefulness and is no longer being the church that Christ has called us to be. We, the church, have failed and have not truly fulfilled our calling as a missional church.

So what is missional? The doctrine of mission Dei is the sending of God. We, the church, are actually the “sent” people of God. We, the church, are the instrument of God’s mission in the world. However, we have often thought of it being the other way around—that is, we’ve thought of the mission as an instrument of the church, but this is incorrect. To be missional means that we, the church, are sent into the world. People do not come to us…we go to them. This way of thinking about being missional is different from the hopeless attractional model of church.

In the past, I have fallen for this and am guilty of trying to be attractional. This does not work and has never worked, and I think we are slowly getting the picture. Churches that have been doing evangelism and have the correct posture of truly being missional have seen and will see increasing numbers come into the church. Why? Because live breathing Christian believers are actively bring them into the church. Churches that fail to carry the proper posture of missional will be in for a big surprise because they will wonder why there are no new people being brought into the church, and their memberships are in decline.

Another point is that this missional theology applies to the entire life of the believer. Hirsch says that “Every disciple is to be an agent of the kingdom of God, and every disciple is to carry the mission of God into every sphere of life. We are all missionaries sent into a non-Christian culture. This is very important. God is a missionary God who sent his own son into the world; therefore, we also ought to carry the mindset that we are sent into the world.

We can no longer expect to look like the world and expect the world to come to us. We must go into the world to be agents of the kingdom of God. Let’s go to it and be the missional church that God has called us to be.

Reading the bible from the New Living Translation 24/7

Thanks to Laura Bartlett at Tyndale House Publishers who sent me the new 24/7 A One Year Chronological Bible to review.

Upon first opening the package from Tyndale, I was surprised by its small size. It is the same height as my pocket bible except it’s a lot thicker, about twice as thick as my pocket bible. It has about 2200 pages. It comes in both paperback and hardcover. I have to say that the design of the front cover is quite attractive. I like the hip design of the two fishes on the front and back cover. It’s post-modern and it would definitely appeal to this generation. Its small enough that it wouldn’t take up a lot of space in the office and it would be something that you could read during your lunch break.

As I was first scanning through its pages, I felt that the 24/7 bible did not appear like a traditional bible; and it isn’t. The beautiful watermarks of twelve historic Christian symbols are what make this bible stand out from the rest. If you like art, these watermarks on each page will liven up your day. I really like the design because these classical pictorial watermarks add a unique flavour to each page for each day. For example, there’s the crown of thorns, the dove, the cup of the Last Supper, the basin and bowl, the lamb and the cross, the seven lampstands, plus more. There is a new symbol for each month. An artist was commissioned by Tyndale to create new woodblock prints just for this bible. I think it’s a wonderfully creative idea. That’s what makes the pages beautiful.

On the inside, the text is written in single column format, which is awesome. The font is about 8 or 9 so if the print was just a tad darker, it would have been easier to read. So next printing, please make the print a little bolder. At the back of the bible, there is a daily reading guide which shows the daily sections of texts for each day. Each day varies as to the variety of passages. For example, on January 3, the Genesis and 1 Chronicles readings alternate 7 times so that you won’t feel that you’re reading an endless chunk of the same genre of scripture. On April 6, the reading is only Judges 19-22. On November 5, the readings alternate between all four gospels eleven times.

If you want to read the bible according to the order of biblical events, then this would be a good way to do this. The introduction states: “This edition of 24/7 contains the entire text of the New Living Translation, arranged in the order the events actually occurred. This unique viewpoint allows you to read the whole Bible as a single story and to see the unfolding of God’s plan in history.”

The New Testament begins on September 24 with Mark 1. I don’t think 99.9% of regular bible readers could read the bible straight through without also reading from the gospels. If you’re like me and have always wanted to read the bible in chronological order but also fear that you have to read the Old Testament until September before getting to the New Testament, then you have to come up with a solution. I will also read a bit from either the gospels or the epistles. That’s the plan.

There’s still room for the ESV to improve

Tim gave a well thought-out comment in a previous post ESV can become better. I am posting his comment here, particularly because he felt that he wasn’t heard on another blog mentioned below. It was a response in my post that the work invested into the NRSV was much greater than the work invested into the ESV. I still stand by this, however, I really like Tim’s comment. He said:

I think it’s a little unfair to expect there to be another revision so soon after the last one. Let’s not forget, they brought out the revision relatively quickly after the ESV first came out and that is to be commended. I feel very strongly that they do listen and that another revision will happen. If they didn’t listen then the first revision wouldn’t have taken place would it?

People say that the NRSV is a good version, and I echo that, as I like it. But I couldn’t understand why there were not that many sales. I asked this question on BBB, that if it was the version recommended by scholars and academics why did it consistently do poorly in the sales rankings, to be told that the reason was probably because not many scholars and academics bought it. Bit of a smart**** answer and not the one I was actually looking for, so I did a little rooting around myself…..

It’s clear to me that where a translation is concerned it becomes an attempted balance between style and substance. Such a balance is going to, by its very nature, be almost impossible to strike as many people have their own ideas of what ‘perfect’ English actually means. I tried to demonstrate this on BBB, failed, and instead had people jumping to conclusions and making assumptions about my comments, and getting it wrong […]

I believe Tim’s view is valid and is felt by many other ESV readers whose sentiments do not resonate with those who favor gender-inclusive language. I don’t know what the solution is to this but I think both views are valid. Neither is wrong. For some, gender-inclusivity in the bible translations do speak more clearly and directly to them. For others, gender-inclusivity in translations is unnecessary because they read and interpret the bible with gender-inclusivity in mind but would prefer to leave the technical definition of the masculine in tact. I believe there are many readers out there who would agree with both views too.

The AV (1611) was itself a revision (even then the language was considered a little dated), and went through numerous revisions after it was first released. But for all its faults, it brought millions to Christ. Yet there are many who would make fun of others for still using it. How out of date was the Septuagint when the apostles were quoting from it? To my mind it isn’t the version that matters but whether you read it and use it, that does. As someone else (I cannot remember who) said, use the version that sings to your heart. I use many versions, and although my favourite is the Wycliffe Bible that is purely for stylistic reasons and its historical value. Firstly it can be considered the first shot fired in what led to the Reformation. Secondly, as an Anglo-Saxon buff, it interests me for the language it uses and is a link between Anglo-Saxon and our modern English.

When I think of some translators I am put in mind of the priesthood of old (before the Reformation) which maintained that no-one was allowed to read the bible unless it was one of the ‘approved’ versions. Only the priesthood held the ‘secret knowledge’ that enables others to understand it properly. Well that’s rubbish. And regardless of how perfect the style is, it isn’t going to be much worth if no one wants to read it, is it? The ESV tends to fly off the shelves around here, and that is a big plus. It doesn’t matter what version it is, nor how perfect the English within it. What matters is whether people buy it and use it. And on that score the ESV is doing well. So, if you can’t have both then what’s it to be, style or substance? I know what I’d rather choose.

Personally, I do not agree with Tim on this one. We need both style and substance in bible translations. If a translation lacks one or the other, it needs to be improved. If one loves style, there are many out there who are not Anglo-Saxon buffs and cannot even begin to read the Wycliffe Bible or even the King James Version. The ESV still has room to improve on its style and substance. I am confident that Good News Publishers and future revisions will be working on improvements in the ESV. In the end, there is lots of room for the ESV, and even the NRSV to improve.

How many people did the shepherds tell about the angelic appearance?

God sends an angel to speak to the shepherds:

They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (NLT)

This story is extraordinary. What makes this story extraordinary were not just the magnificent appearance of the angel and the hosts of heaven singing the “Gloria.” It was that they believed the angel’s story and told it to other people. They could not hide it to themselves. After the angel had left them, they quickly move to look for look for Jesus in a manger. After finding him, they revealed to others what the angel had told them.

Here’s what we do not know exactly. Should we assume that with evangelistic zeal, they went on to tell everyone words from the angel? Or, were the people they told only Mary and Joseph or can we assume that they told more people? It depends on the translation.

Various translations assume that the shepherds told everyone, including the TNIV, NLT, and Message. These translations suggest an evangelical zeal of telling everyone.

But the GNT suggest that they only told Mary and Joseph, which does not indicate an evangelistic outlook.

The NRSV and ESV do not say how many people they told. So which is it?

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (TNIV)

After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. (NLT)

Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. (Message)

When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said. Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. (GNT)

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (NRSV)

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (ESV)