Bible is neutral in gender, but God is not neutered of gender

We know what a gender-neutral bible is like (TNIV, NLT, NRSV), but what would a gender-neutral God look like? Such a God would be neutered. In other words, we would have an emasculated God. But the God I worship is one I know as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And I do hope that’s how it will stay in the bible. As a supporter of gender-neutral translations, I do not deny that there is a liberal feminizing agenda out there. Yes, this kind of ultra-feminized language does exist in some sectors of Christianity. I have heard some Christians refer to God as “Mother God”. Personally, I cannot handle this language of a feminized God. I prefer to stick to “Father God”. I don’t think I could ever see God as being female. To refer to God as a “she” is just too radical for my conservative taste. Theologically, I do not see any grounds for a “Mother God”. What would the implications be with a “Mother God”? It would mean the end of the trinity, as we know it. There would no longer be a Father-Son-Holy Spirit. Could we have a Mother-Daughter-Holy Spirit? The ultra-feminists view could probably work with that but not conservative evangelical Christians. This radical feminist tendency toward feminizing God is too radical, not only for theological conservatives but also for theological liberals. Our church is definitely not ready for a “Mother God”. It’s just too radical, let alone unscriptural. (picture: Shield of the Trinity)

The TNIV: still timeless truth in today’s language?

I was informed about a new blog that calls itself the TNIV Truth. The blogger, who we now know is Wayne Leman, is hoping that the truth about the TNIV gets out there because there has been a lot of criticism about the translation. Like him and others, I also feel that the TNIV has taken overly heavy criticism from other “brothers and sisters.” Why can’t we all get along? I do feel bad about the onslaught of critique toward the TNIV. Its translators are accused of embarking on a liberal social agenda of feminizing the bible, which I am sure does not exist. Both the TNIV and NLT translation teams are still conservative. The names on the translation teams and where they are associated are evangelical. It is difficult to accuse the TNIV of having a left-leaning social agenda. It still renders some definitions of terms in a traditional way. Here is an example where the TNIV has continued using a traditional translation. The TNIV’s use arsenokoitai (Greek: “lying with men”) is rendered in a traditional non-gender neutral way. Note: the Greek use of arsenokoitai in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 is can be translated as “lying with men” (from Scott-Liddell lexicon); but if we use a gender-neutral approach, one could translate this as “lying with men and women”. Both the TNIV and NLT have kept the use of the term “homosexuality” rather than using it in a gender-neutral term like “sodomite” (RE: 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10). If we assume a gender-neutral approach, then the NRSV’s translation of “sodomite” might also be the gender-accurate translation because it is not necessarily a male-on-male act of sodomy. This is only one example where the TNIV and NLT have continued using a traditional approach in translation.

New Living Translation (2nd edition): perhaps the best-reading translation available

Bible readers might not yet know that the New Living Translation now has a second edition, the NLT(2004). Tyndale’s first edition in 1997 was very good, but the 2004 edition, which I’ll call NLT2, is even better. The new improved quality caught my attention recently. Thanks to Tyndale House marketing for offering to send me their preview booklet (now that’s proactive marketing). The NLT2 is very nice to read, so much so that I have found the Scriptures exciting to read again. It’s almost like reading a new book. Personally, I feel that it is so good that, recently, I have been reading the NLT2 more than any other translation. It is quite apparent that its linguistic styling makes the reading of the text flow smoothly, even more so than the first edition. I compared the NLT(1997) with the NLT(2004) and found a vast amount of revisions. Try doing a side-by-side comparison, and you’ll notice the improvement in the crispness, clarity, and understandability… and if you’re into biblical scholarship, accuracy as well. Tyndale’s bible translation team continues to use top evangelical scholars so I think we can trust it for accuracy and the newest updates in the world of biblical scholarship. It a much higher readability than older dynamic-paraphrase versions, e.g., Good News Translation (GNT), Contemporary English Version (CEV), Living Bible (LB), New English Bible (NEB). And it definitely flows more smoothly than the more formal translations, e.g., T/NIV, ESV, NASB, N/KJV, and N/RSV. As a kid, I read the Good News bible for personal devotions but I predict that the NLT2 will be the next great bible for kids (if it’s not one already). The NLT2 is also a bible for the Gen-Xers and Millennials because it speaks their language.

In comparing gender-neutral/inclusive translations, the NLT2 will be a good stiff competitor to the TNIV. I wouldn’t be surprised if the NLT2 continues to gain a bigger readership than it already has; moreover, it may even keep potential TNIV purchasers at bay. The TNIV is a really great translation and I use it for study amongst other translations. But if readers compare the NLT2 with the TNIV for ease of readability, I predict many will be quite impressed with the NLT2. The new generation of bible readers who prefer the TNIV would do so because they may already be familiar with the language of the NIV and/or want a translation less dynamic but not as formal as the NASB, ESV, NKJV, or NRSV. Let’s keep in mind that the NLT2 is meant to be a dynamic translation. It will win over some, but not all, NIV readers. To date, the NIV has gained such a large readership in the evangelical world that its fortress-like stronghold on the bible market may have seemed impenetrable, but given the NLT2’s new improved quality, the NLT2 has real potential to breakout of its current status of “alternate translation to the NIV.” Who knows? It may even have the potential to compete head-to-head with the NIV as the first bible of choice?

The first baptismal pool

This baptistry of the Lateran was built in the 4th century in Rome. It was one of the first public baptistries built by Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity. Historically, Christian converts were baptized once a year on the eve of Easter. People in droves were baptized by immersion in this octagonal shaped pool. When you look up at the dome inside (which itself is supported by 8 columns), you’ll see an image of the dove of the Spirit in the center. Some baptistries built after this were very large and could hold many baptisms. Before Constantine, baptistries such as this one did not exist. In fact, Christians lived could only live out their faith in secret and were regularly fed to the lions as a game-sport or were burned alive. (Thank God for the working of the Spirit upon political leaders). Before Constantine Christians were likely baptized in secret. It might also be possible that the practice of water baptism was not ritualized like it is today. One thing for sure is that the method of baptism, as a ritual in the post-Constantine period, was done by immersion. It was only in the 6th century that baptism by sprinkling was used with the baptismal font. After the 9th century, infant baptism slowly became popular and fewer baptistries were built.

Sin is a virus, but Christ is the remedy

Human sin seems to rear its ugly head day-in and day-out—everyday! Somebody help rescue us from this virus that we can’t shake off! It’s in front of us, behind us, to our left and to our right. We can’t get away from it. It’s like a viral infection we can’t sem to shake off. It’s everywhere, and it seems to follow us wherever we go. We human beings also seem to attract all kinds of sins like a magnet, e.g., gossip, quarreling, jealousy, anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance, disorder, unforgiveness, sexual sins are just a few (2 Cor.12:20-21). We all contract this sin in the same way that Adam and Eve first contracted sin, and it leads to many other sins, and it spreads like a virus. We were born in sin no differently than the first man and woman were. We are born in sin and are naturally curved in on oneself.

The reformer, Philip Melanchthon (Luther’s sidekick), says in the Augsburg Confession that “all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God.” As a result, our natural human inclinations, without the grace of God in our lives, are that: we do not love God, are ignorant of God, despise God, lack fear and trust in God, hate and want to avoid the judgment of God, are angry at God, and despair the grace of God. The only remedy is that God grants all of us grace and forgiveness so that we can be free from the consequences of our sin. Jesus Christ is this remedy.

Today’s Evangelicals: still "sold out" for Christ

I was surprised to hear the term “fundamentalist” used by some people to describe evangelicals. Most evangelicals do not even know what a fundamentalist is. It is actually a pejorative term that should not be used to describe evangelicals. Today’s evangelical churches have no resemblance in form and style with the evangelical churches of the 1960s or 1970s. Today’s Evangelicals have become “mainline” Christianity. The old mainline churches have lost their place of primacy to the evangelicals as the shapers of mainstream society.

In my experience of being a blend of pentecostal-evangelical-Lutheran, I kind of have my foot in both worlds and am familiar with both worlds. Post-modern evangelicals have a very acute understanding of what the post-modern world is about. They feel they are called to engage the world, e.g., social, political, financial. The New Evangelicals would repudiate separatism and anti-academia. The New Evangelicals do not want to return to the good ol’ days of Little House on the Prairie and Leave it to Beaver. In fact, they have no idea what it is. The new generation of evangelicals see themselves as post-modern, missional, prophetic, theologically-minded, and desire to make the practice of their faith and theology relevant to today’s post-modern age.

In today’s post-modern evangelical churches (or meeting places as some call it), their worship music, language, culture, and ways of speaking are so post-modern that one might even have to look twice to differentiate it from post-modern culture. I am not saying that the post-modern evangelicals condone a lax moral lifestyle. They definitely do not condone sinful lifestyles. Style must be differentiated from substance. Today’s evangelicals want to live out their lives “sold out” for Christ but they have the style of the post-modern culture. I think this is very Pauline, i.e., “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor.9:22, TNIV). As missional Christians, aren’t we all called to carry out the Great Commission?

Salt and light in the world

After my wife came back from BreakForth in Edmonton, AB, I noticed in her a renewed passion for God and spiritual things of the Lord. It made me reflect and ask: “How much of what we learn in the classroom is really useful in the real world?” What I am learning in seminary does seem far away from the average layperson in the church. Sure, academic learning is useful for the mind; it does builds understanding. But in the real world of congregational ministry, is the theory/theology I learn going to really impact the average layperson? Perhaps to a certain extent pure knowledge may help them but to genuinely influence a person, one ought to have some spiritual depth within. An empty vessel is just an empty vessel. An empty vessel has nothing to offer others. It is only out that which comes from the abundance of one’s spiritual depth that will impact a person. People don’t care about how much we know. They care about how much we love and care about them.

As we ask God to fill us with more of the Holy Spirit and become more like Christ, and shape us more into his image, we will be more useful in the service of God. The Spirit calls each of us to be in a closer relationship with the Lord. As we connect with others, others will sense a spiritual depth within us and will cause them to become more hungry and thirsty for the presence of God. When our own spiritual “cup” is full, God’s presence will overflow out of its abundance. In this way, we may be the salt and light in this world. God calls the church to be in mission for others. The purpose and mission of the church can be empowered as each of us become like salt and light.

Impossible bible translation

The linguistic challenge is only one aspect of the difficulties inherent in bible translation. There are other aspects that would make anyone dizzy trying to understand why bible translation is not so simple, or black and white. All we can hope for, in any translation, is something that comes closest to the originally intended meaning. The fact is, there is 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 (…and thank God for the richness in our diversity!) For example, if one were to translate English into Swahili, the Swahili language may not even have an equivalent word in existence to fully and perfectly express the particular idea that one wants expressed in English. Each language has its own unique and particular nuance that cannot be fully expressed in another language. For instance, Greek has 4 different words to express the 4 types of “love”, whereas, English only uses the one word: “love” to express all the various types of love. To get around this difficulty, translators must apply dynamic equivalence, but we would lose out on some of its formal equivalence. Furthermore, words in the original language may be completely out-of-date and can no longer be understood by today’s translators. The meaning in words are in constant and dynamic change; therefore, all translations should stay current in their use of various terminologies and phraseologies.

Most translations are excellent and reliable for use in the pulpit, in bible study, personal study, and public reading. It’s really just a matter of personal preference. The various translations available range from formal equivalence (word-for-word translation from the Greek & Hebrew) to dynamic equivalence (idea-for-idea translation). Each translation philosophy is valid in its approach to achieve the originally intended meaning of the biblical writers. 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, we may lose some accuracy in the writers’ intended ideas. Vice versa, if we go for dynamic equivalence, 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. This is true for all modern languages in the world today. Even if we were to learn the original biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew, we would still not know for certain their originally intended meaning. Those who know how to speak 2 or 3 languages fluently will know what I am talking about. If you only know English, try asking someone who knows several languages and you may be enlightened and surprised. The more I learned about the difficulties involved in bible translation, the less I became certain that 100% accuracy was possible.

We have to commend bible translators for trying their best to give us good reliable translations in the English language. Imagine the difficulties for bible translators who are translating the bible into the hundreds of languages in the world today. There are thousands of other languages still left untouched. These translators are doing God’s work to further the kingdom of God on earth today. They work quietly in the background and need our prayers and support. Often, we forget about the people working in the world of bible translation and we often take for granted our English bibles that are so easily accessible to us in this part of the world. We don’t know the difficulties and challenges inherent in this sort of work. We may make claims regarding our exclusive and personal preferences about why we prefer one translation over another. However, we should not criticize the various translations or make over-confident claims that one translation is “the one, and only, true word of God”. I hope I have not caused anyone to doubt the reliability or the authority of God’s holy and inspired word. I just hope that the average person become informed about these real-life difficulties that are inherent in bible translation. We can hold sure that God’s written word, together with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, will faithfully guide all peoples into the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ–today and tomorrow. (Note: Wycliffe Translators is just one of many organizations around the world doing bible translation).

Can the Orthodox doctrine of sin be post-modern?

I have come across an alternative view of original sin which I find very compelling. The Eastern Orthodox view of sin is a little different from how Luther and Calvin saw original sin. The Reformers saw our human nature and essence as so thoroughly corrupted and damaged (total depravity) that it cannot be recognized by our human technical reason but only from logos Word and through ontological reason. This Evangelical view has been my view for a long time. But the reason I find the Orthodox view of sin compelling is in its starting point. Orthodox theology seems to view sin more in terms of a relationship than judicially (i.e., right and wrong). Holiness is still a virtue. Original sin is seen from the viewpoint that humanity has stopped being hungry for God and for God alone. It considers humanity’s failure to be hungry for fellowship with God’s Spirit. In other words, we humans have stopped seeing our whole life as a fellowship with God. It is not that sin has less to do with disobedience and unrighteousness; it does not condone sin in any way way shape or form. It emphasizes our relationship with God while not making light of sin–which is what evangelicals would agree with too. Guilt is not seen as being inherited, rather, human beings are born into an environment where doing evil is easy and doing good is more difficult. This view seems to make a lot of sense for those who do not see how human beings have inherited sin from our ancestors Adam and Eve. This doctrine of sin could potentially be repackaged as a post-modern view because it’s a way to view sin that is more understandable (perhaps you could say it is contextual to our post-modern generation). Perhaps our evangelical view could also incorporate our traditional view of sin with this Eastern Orthodox view of sin. It might also help contribute to a stronger sense of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Total depravity is not the only way to help us rely on God, but also, knowing Christ relationally can also help us to not trust in our own power, will, intellect, etc.

What is original sin?

Today, as I was teaching my Sunday School class on today’s lesson from Luke 3:14-17 and 21-22 on Jesus’ baptism, which led to our own baptism, and eventually onto the elusive topic of original sin. Many Christians do not seem to really understand what original sin really is and have never really moved beyond our Sunday School understanding of “Sin”. Many have a rather naive understanding of original sin, i.e., Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and became corrupted by their sinful fleshly desire to be like God. However, it goes much deeper than this contemporary view that has been made popular by the cartoon image of Adam eating the apple. Our view on sin ought to be deepened and expanded. I was a little surprised the kids in the class were able to grasp the concept of concupiscence or original sin. But I really shouldn’t be so surprised because kids have much intellectual capacity than we generally give them credit for. In the Sunday school classes of our churches, we ought to draw deeper from the wealth of the Reformers like Luther and Calvin, and also Augustine. That is why I appreciate seminary education and the opportunity to put it to use in my congregation. Perhaps I will talk a little about original sin here on this blog.

The Reformers, Luther and Calvin, saw one’s guilt of original sin being washed away after baptism; however the immaterial element and essence of sin still remains. This immaterial element may be seen as concupiscence. Simply put, concupiscence is the “leftover” base human desires that cannot be erased, which can be witnessed in our natural inclinations of the flesh. It remains indelibly marked as part of our human nature. After baptism and spiritual regeneration, this inner inclination toward evil is still seen as sin; it never disappears (until the day of full redemption). Sin will pop up sooner or later…no matter how hard we may try to hide it. (Unfortunately, many of us try to hide it and work hard at hiding it too). Luther agreed with Augustine that in baptism, our “Sin” (in the singular) and “sins” (in the plural) are forgiven but this immaterial element of sin still remains within us, which explains why we still continue to commit sin. Luther described the person in sin as being “curved in on oneself.” An existential theologian, Paul Tillich, described concupiscence in a creative way. Tillich says that humans have removed one’s center from the divine center, and has made oneself the center of oneself and the world. This creates a void, which makes one seek for abundance, and the temptation is to seek for unlimited abundance. This desire is called concupiscence.

TNIV and ESV: new bible translations–Part 2

The ESV translation is a very good translation that has not yet been noticed by many in the mainstream bible-reading community. Much of the text is very similar to the RSV, and many parts of it have even remained RSV word-for-word. (Try doing a parallel scripture search and you’ll see the striking similarities). The ESV translators (ESV blog) have made many corrections and improvements over the RSV due to more current scholarship and discoveries; the same goes for the TNIV (TNIV blog). I think many will like the ESV’s dual benefits of literalness and its readabilty, fluidity and beauty of the English language. It is much more readable than the literal New American Standard (NASB). Those who use the NASB for indepth study may find they will really like the ESV for its readability. The ESV is also more literal than the TNIV, which is a more of an idea-for-idea (dynamic) translation Its word-for-word literalness brings it closer to the original Hebrew/Greek than the TNIV, and yet it reads more smoothly than the NASB. So now that the ESV has come around, it just might become a favorite translation for many. Its readership is slowly becoming more familiar with the evangelical crowd but I don’t see many displayed yet on the shelves of Christian bookstores. It seems like it is gradually becoming the standard amongst many Reformed readers and churches. And the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church almost switched over entirely to the ESV but decided to stick with the NIV. Mainliners who read the RSV might also find an easy transition over to the ESV since it uses the RSV as sort of a platform. I predict that in the long-term, there is a bright future for both the ESV and TNIV. Both versions are the work of solid evangelical scholars; and both versions have been endorsed by many well-known figures. For December 2006, the ESV ranks in the #5 position, and the TNIV is #7 . For the current top 10 rankings, check out the CBA website. And for more in-depth discussion of various translations, check out the Better Bibles blog. You will find other blogs talking about their favorite translation. Blogger Adrian Warnock is a huge fan of the ESV and has extended discussions about it on his blog archives in 2005.

The case, for and against, bible’s use of gender-inclusive language: TNIV vs. ESV

In evangelical circles, the debate between the Today’s NIV (TNIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV) is being fought by its translators and supporters. The ESV and the TNIV are the latest new translations created by Good News/Crossway and the Int’l Bible Society. Though the ESV is a literal translation, it does use some gender-inclusive language throughout but is not nearly as gender-inclusive as the TNIV. The ESV translators wanted to remain faithful to the intended meaning of the original biblical languages. Dr. Wayne Grudem, editor and a translator of the ESV, said on an interview with James Dobson (Focus on the Family), that the TNIV changed 3,600 male references into gender-inclusive references. On the other side of the debate, the supporters of the TNIV believe that references to he in the original Greek language was actually intended to refer to both genders. This could very well be true. It is reasonable to assume that during the time of New Testament writers, a male-dominated patriarchal society neglected to address women directly, even though they may have truly intended to be referring to both men and women. It would be hard pressed to think that the apostle Paul did not intend to speak to women. The TNIV’s rationale for using gender-inclusive language is to correct this imbalance so that scripture speaks to the originally intended audience, which would include both men and women. Today’s postmodern generation expects to be treated equally and respectfully. Either way, both rationales are legitimate. Both sides make a very good case either for, or against, their philosophy of translation. We should look past the differences to see that both sides are doing our bible reading community a favor. I am not polarizing the issue of gender-inclusivity; in fact, I am trying to depolarize it by recognizing the benefits of both philosophies regarding gender-inclusivity. One side is preserving and protecting the traditional meaning of the Holy Scriptures, and the other side, is making sure that the Holy Scriptures speak with relevance and is properly directed to an ignored sector of the writer’s intended audience.

On both sides of the debate, all translators do want to be true to scripture, whether to the originally intended meaning (i.e., ESV, NIV, NASB), or to the originally intended audience (i.e., TNIV, NRSV). While both sides fight it out, I will sit at home, and try to enjoy all my bible translations, the ESV, NIV, TNIV and NRSV. It is no secret that there is also the financial motivation to grab a bigger market share, which is why they are battling it out. Zondervan, now owned by HarperCollins, is a huge company that has deep pockets and can do hugely powerful marketing campaigns; they publish numerous other bible versions other than the TNIV/NIV. GoodNews/Crossway, on the other hand, is much smaller; the ESV seems to be the only translation they publish.

Have a Merry Christmas.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus who came to save the world and give a fresh start to all. Christmas is not about shopping at the malls for presents, buying and opening gifts, being with friends and family, a white “snowy” Christmas feeling, or even about singing Christmas carols. It is simply about the birth of Jesus Christ. No matter how we consumerize Christmas and hide the season behind a Santa Claus, reindeers, presents, or multi-colored lights, when it all comes down to it, and at the center of it , Christmas is about Jesus Christ. Have a Merry Christmas and a great new year in 2007.

Preaching that moves the heart and soul

Sermons preached from the pulpit are sometimes heard loud and clear, but most sermons are heard most loudly when it is done softly in the power of the Holy Spirit. Preaching empowered by the Spirit moves the heart and the soul to action, repentance, and submission to Jesus Christ. Dry intellectual-type of sermons like this overly-theological stuff on my blog doesn’t do much for the soul either. Finding the right balance is tricky sometimes. Perhaps a preaching style with a combination of John Wesley, Charles Finney… and Veggie Tales might work? (photo: Rev. John Wesley, a revivalist preacher)

Why does society seem void of common sense?

How do we return back to some common sense? Secular society has become a God-less society rathering than a God-blessed society. It has rejected the logos, which makes possible our ability to grasp and shape reality, therefore, one’s technical reasoning becomes empty, and prone to corruption. Without the “revelation” from the logos, modern society cannot grasp values, meanings, structures and processes. Through modern philosophy’s rejection of classical reason and the logos in return for empty technical reason, society cannot possibly “reason” without the insight of “revelation”. Our modern secular philosophy has rejected classical reasoning (or ontological reason) in the classrooms. Theologians like Paul Tillich would likely say that we need to return to using classical reason in the classrooms. It’s easier said than done. Our secularized public university system has rejected religious philosophy and has “cleaned out” all concepts of the logos word in the name of emancipation–“freedom from religion” instead of “freedom of religion”. How tragic! How do we return to some common sense? We need to make incremental changes in the classrooms of society, and through prayer for our nation (and hope we don’t caught for praying publicly in a public place!). (photo: U.S. Supreme Court; Canadian Parliament)