Thursday, December 31, 2015

15 best blog posts of 2015

Are you counting down 'til midnight? Wondering how to stay awake for the rest of the evening?
Join me in re-living this year's highlights by re-reading some of my best blog posts from 2015.
Some of these had the most hits, while others are simply my favorites. It's been a good year.
Thanks for giving me over 13,000 reasons to write in 2015!

on the academic journey (and life in general)
Feb 20 - now is the time for no
July 18 - on being finite
July 9 - why bother writing a dissertation?

on finding beauty in the ordinary
Aug 23 - unforgettable day
Dec 8 - a beautiful thing

on life and ministry
May 19 - an unlikely blessing
Sept 15 - life in the middle of nowhere
Nov 16 - when you don't (think) you have what it takes

on parenting
May 11 - Best. Mother's Day. Ever.
Aug 7 - how I've failed my kids
Dec 11 - another beautiful thing

on the Bible
July 25 - bored by Leviticus or lost in Numbers? don't miss this
Oct–Nov - does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? (a 7-part series)

in loving memory
Mar 13 - a giant has fallen (tribute to Dr. Harry Hoffner)
Sept 7 - four things I inherited from Oma

Monday, December 28, 2015

what I'm reading


To a publisher it makes no difference whether I am a tenured professor or a newbie adjunct. If I have students, they want to get their books in my hands. That's good news for a bibliophile.

Zondervan leads the way in this "culture of generosity," but InterVarsity and Kregel are not far behind. I walked away from ETS/IBR/SBL this year with $534 worth of FREE books. I spent a grand total of $9.50, buying only the book on top of this stack. Some of these were free gifts to IBR members (2 from the lecture and 3 from the women's breakfast). Two are books I agreed to review for Academic Journals. Eight were given to me as potential textbooks for the Prophets class I'll be teaching at Multnomah in June. But get this: any professor who ordered FREE copies of books from Zondervan to consider using as textbooks was given their choice of another FREE book from the CounterPoints series. Really? A free book for requesting free books? Now you see what I mean about a culture of generosity.

You might insist that this is merely good marketing. I'm sure you're right (especially since I passed right on by publishers who were going to charge me half price for any books I didn't require students to buy). But for someone who is just starting out in this career, it's also a big boost. So thank you, publishers!

Monday, December 21, 2015

a Bible read-through like you've never SEEN before

I've already introduced you to the Bible Project videos -- the best set of videos on Bible books and Bible themes I've seen to date.

Now for the big announcement... [can I get a drum roll?]

Starting in January, you can join tons of other people in reading through the entire Bible with the help of these videos. Tim and Jon have committed to releasing all 36 remaining book and theme videos in time for you to watch them on your Bible read-through journey! Most people stall out on their Bible read-through by the time they get to Leviticus. But this time will be different. Now you have expert guides to walk you through this obscure book. The Bible Project video on Leviticus is so good, my seven year old says it's his "favorite," and he's watched it multiple times.

Tim and Jon have arranged the entire Bible into readings that will take 15–20 minutes per day, punctuated by videos introducing books and themes as you come to them. You'll end up with a rich course in biblical theology as you immerse yourself in the text.

It's all free. And you can get started right here.


Let this be the year you take the plunge. Join the community. Be transformed.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

on polishing brass and rearranging deck chairs

I wrote this piece in April 2012 as a follow up to this parable, but decided not to post it because it was too controversial. As a not-yet-employed academic and a missionary living by the generosity of friends and family, it's not judicious to go around ruffling feathers. But it's time. These are things that need to be said and need to be heard. And by now you've already seen my most recent post on the subject, so the damage has been done. So let's plunge right in . . .

---------------------------------------------

Titanic Sinking

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic got me thinking about some of the "pithy grabbers" about ships.

That's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?


Both sayings are getting at the same idea. We shouldn't waste our energy on something that is doomed anyway.

Unfortunately, both of these have been applied by well-meaning Christians to the very planet on which we live. For them, this world is a sinking ship. The idea of heaven so captivates their imaginations that they see no real value in developing sustainable agriculture or environmentally-friendly standards of living. They see public education, politics, and even scientific research as a waste of time. The only thing that matters to these missions-minded and rapture-ready evangelicals is "getting souls saved."

Now, before you throw rotten tomatoes at your screen, let me explain. I consider myself a missions-minded evangelical. My most recent post should make that obvious. But I do not agree with the subset of evangelicals who see this world as a sinking ship from which we are being rescued. I do believe in heaven, but my impression from the Bible is that heaven is a temporary place. ("What?!" you ask.) Heaven is not our final destination. It's more of an interim hangout for all those who have been reconciled to God but have died. [2015: After reading Middleton, I'm less sure it's even that.] The final destination, the real goal of the story God is writing, is the new creation. At the end of John's book of Revelation, where he is granted a vision of spiritual realities, he sees the new creation (a cubic arboreal city) coming down out of heaven. According to John's vision, it will be the place where all the redeemed live and worship the true king. The new creation will be much like this one, with streets and rivers and trees, only it will last forever. If you want to call that new creation "heaven" I won't argue with you, as long as you realize that it's on terra firma, not up in the clouds somewhere.


So what does this have to do with a sinking ship?


The mandate given to Adam and Eve to cultivate and care for the garden (Genesis 2:15) is still in effect. God's intention was that they would continue to extend the boundaries of that garden until it filled the whole earth. Our care for the planet is part of the role God has given to us until that time when he renews it all for eternity. Rather than expecting to be caught up to another dimension of reality, we can anticipate God's transformation of this world. And until then, it's our job to take care of it. Environmental concern is not for its own sake, but is part of extending his just rule in every place.

If there is a sinking ship, its name is Pride. Yes, to nurse our own pride is a wasted effort, because pride won't get us where we need to go. But the idea that "this world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through" can be dangerous. God is glorified when we give our best efforts to reducing pollution, cleaning our waterways, protecting endangered species, and anything else that ensures that our great-grandchildren will be able to enjoy God's beautiful and bountiful creation. In other words, keep on polishing that brass. This ship's gonna be around for a while!

If I've piqued your interest, here are a few resources you can check out for more on this subject:

I've said some controversial things here, and no doubt some of you disagree. My hope is to get us all thinking about how our theology affects the way we care for the earth as well as how we share the good news about what Christ has done for us. Getting saved is not so much a ticket out of here as it is permission to stay for a really long time . . . uh . . . like forever!

Monday, December 14, 2015

rethinking heaven

What if most of what you've ever believed about heaven wasn't true? What then?

Three and a half years ago I wrote a blog post in which I suggested that this was the case. You've never seen that post, because I got cold feet, deciding it was too controversial and not worth the risk.

Since then, a growing chorus of evangelical scholars has been calling us back to a more biblical view of the afterlife (for example, Old Testament scholar C. J. H. Wright and New Testament Scholar N. T. Wright -- and how can you argue with someone who is always "Wright"?). And none has articulated it more clearly and thoroughly than biblical theologian J. Richard Middleton. In fact, his book won the Word Guild Award for the Best Book in Biblical Studies in 2014, and was selected as the Baker gift book of the year for the Institute for Biblical Research annual lecture.

Middleton says we're not going to heaven for eternity. The Bible doesn't teach that. He is not even sure that we go to heaven in the meantime, while we're waiting for Christ's return. His careful reading of passages demonstrates why.

The future that awaits us is not a disembodied existence, with mainly harps and clouds. It includes food and drink, culture and government, creativity and fulfillment. It is in fact much like Spirit-filled life today, minus the sorrow. When Jesus returns we'll walk with him right here on this earth, transformed as part of the (re)new(ed) creation. Jesus' resurrected body is the "firstfruits" of this new creation, affirming the inherent value of the created earth and giving us hope that it can be re-made to overcome the effects of sin and death.

An idea like "heaven" isn't going to die overnight, especially given its well-entrenched history stretching all the way back to Plato. We can hardly talk about salvation without talking about heaven. Middleton's book aims to change that.

Middleton boldly says,
"Not only is the term 'heaven' never used in Scripture for the eternal destiny of the redeemed, but also continued use of 'heaven' to name the Christian eschatological hope may well divert our attention from the legitimate expectation for the present transformation of our earthly life to conform to God's purposes. Indeed, to focus our expectation on an otherworldly salvation has the potential to dissipate our resistance to societal evil and the dedication needed to work for the redemptive transformation of this world. Therefore, for reasons exegetical, theological, and ethical, I have come to repent of using the term 'heaven' to describe the future God has in store for the faithful. It is my hope that readers of this book would, after thoughtful consideration, join me in this repentance." (237, emphasis mine)
Now that's worth pondering. For a long time.

Middleton also says,
"In the present, as the church lives between the times, those being renewed in the imago Dei are called to instantiate an embodied culture or social reality alternative to the violent and deathly formations and practices that dominate the world. By this conformity to Christ—the paradigm image of God—the church manifests God's rule and participates in God's mission to flood the world with the divine presence. In its concrete communal life the church as the body of Christ is called to witness to the promised future of a new heaven and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13)." (175, emphasis mine)
It is striking how often this same point is now being made by respected evangelical scholars. It is a truth whose time has come, and which requires us to re-think carefully how we articulate the gospel. If Jesus didn't die for us "so that we can go to heaven when we die," then why did he die?

Watch out, church. If our generation can truly grasp this, the transforming power of the gospel will be released in profound ways, right here in our midst.

Friday, December 11, 2015

another beautiful thing

I sat in the Denver airport on my way home from Atlanta, waiting to board my plane with all the other travelers. Most stared at their phones. A few had books. Some sipped Starbucks.

An ambulance escorted by police vehicles arrived and parked outside the concourse, lights flashing, a reminder that all was not well in the world. People looked up. Stared. We watched as a woman was taken by stretcher to the ambulance. Long minutes passed before she was whisked away to the hospital. The drama over, I turned to check the screens. Why aren't we boarding yet? It's past time. The line of people exiting the jetway answered my question. Our plane had only just arrived. I settled in for a longer wait.

It was then that a quiet scene in the corner caught my eye. I had seen the pair arrive earlier, noticed the matter-of-fact way the father conversed with his young son, telling him that although their final destination was Sacramento, they would first land in Portland. The boy took it all in, asking questions until he was satisfied that he understood.

Now the father knelt on the carpet, facing his son. The boy was 4 or 5, and I soon realized the rest of us were invisible. He was alone with his Dad on the open sea, watching for land.

"Captain Qwibbles, has the fog lifted? Can you see anything?"
"I'll check right away, sir."

At this the boy went to the window and peered out into the depths, scanning for threats, looking for land. (When his breath steamed up the glass, he licked away the fog. I took a sharp breath, wondering what Dad would do. He must have seen it, but he never broke out of character.)

"Well?"
"There's a giant octopus coming toward us!"
"Prepare the men for action." At this the boy turned away from the window and got very busy. His preparations were urgent. Pointing, lifting, moving large objects through the air. His father stayed calm and engaged. If he had a phone, I never saw it. If he was stressed traveling alone with a child, he never let on. Now and then he would check the monitor to see if it was their turn to board. But the boy seemed entirely oblivious to his real surroundings (and therefore not at all restless because of the long wait).

The young couple sitting beside me were equally enthralled by this most unusual theater. The man turned to me and remarked, "I doubt anyone has ever had this much fun in the airport before."

I saw no bargaining, no bribes, no placating or pleading with the child to behave. There was no impatience, no temper on display. No boredom. No bravado. No superior and knowing glances at other grown ups in the room to validate his behavior. No "look at what a good parent I am." Simply a man, secure in himself, empty handed and calm, engaged with the imaginary world of his son. The boy had no need of an audience and had no idea we were there. Dad was his whole world, and he had his whole dad.

How. rare.

This ought to be normal, but I'm afraid it's not. And we all noticed.
That Dad was an inspiration.

He reminded me of Kameel, though they shared neither race nor occupation. Both men were fully present. Fully available. Fully secure in themselves. Both saw the immense value in another person, looked them in the eye, and let them know. Kameel was boisterous and loud, while this nameless father was calm and quiet, with no desire to attract attention. I saw Kameel at work in a successful career. I saw the other man between here and there, doing an ordinary job for which he'll never be paid. But both were right where they belonged, making the very most of the moment. Doing the most important thing in the world.

And believe me, it was beautiful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

a beautiful thing

Photo: Aviva by Kameel
The line wound its way out of the Mediterranean restaurant and wrapped around the corner. We took it as a good sign, and so we attached ourselves to the end and waited along with everyone else. The clientele were not just conference attendees, but locals, and no one seemed the least bit disturbed about the wait. Another good sign. Soon we found out why. A smiling hostess with a tray of samples worked her way down the line. "Lentil soup," she offered. "Try it. You'll see. It's good." The lilt of her accent told me that she would know, and her obvious joy in working there boded well. It was good.

Kameel Srouji (Photo: Aviva by Kameel)
Still, nothing could have prepared me for the personna behind the counter. A tastefully decorated wall had shielded our view of the food line until we rounded a corner just steps away. "Hello! Welcome to Aviva. How can I make you happy?" His booming voice filled the atmosphere with life, enthusiasm. His tall frame matched his voice. His sweeping movements made food service an art form. "Excellent choice. It's natural. It's fresh. It's delicious." The customer two ahead of us smiled his thanks and moved down the line. Again the voice boomed, "Welcome to Aviva. You're beautiful. I love you. I need a hug."

A hug? Doesn't that break some kind of food service code? Nevertheless, the businessman in front of us in line ducked around the counter into the kitchen area to hug the man who was larger than life. The chef's eyes twinkled. He lost no time in filling another plate. "Thank you. God bless you. Have a beautiful weekend."

I'm afraid I was a bit thrown, wondering if this was for real. (Is he saying "God bless you" because he heard that the Evangelical Theological Society is meeting next door? Did some study show that enthusiasm is good for business?) When I got to the cashier, I asked, "Is he always like this?" A big smile spread across her face. "Every day!"

Photo: Aviva by Kameel
The energy was palpable.
The food was delectable.

And so the next day, with another friend, I did my time in line again. Brittany had her kids along with her at the conference, and her mom came to watch them. So the five of us waited, tasted falafel, and rounded the corner.

The booming voice. "You came back! How can I make you happy today?" (How can he possibly remember me when he serves hundreds of customers every day? Is it because he looks every one of us in the eye and recognizes that we are made in the image of God?) I suspect so.

Brittany asked if there was something less spicy for her kids. "Ah! For the little ones. This one is on me. No charge. Tell me -- what do they like to eat?" He proceeded to pile a plate with falafel, shwarma, grilled vegetables, and hummus. "Your children are beautiful. Thank you for feeding them real food!"

Kameel's passion for food is obvious!
Photo: Aviva by Kameel
It is not every day that you meet someone who is happy at work, someone energized by their labor who does it with excellence. Kameel is one of those. And the entire restaurant pulsed with this life. It occurred to me then that people come to his restaurant for more than just calories. They pay for lunch and get love, kindness, affirmation. His passion for eating well and living well is contagious.

When I arrived home from Atlanta I was still thinking about Kameel. We found him online, smiling just the way I remembered. I also learned the source of his joy. Kameel is a Catholic believer from Nazareth, eager to share God's love with everyone he meets.

When we have the privilege of meeting someone who has "found their calling" in life it's a beautiful thing. In that moment we get a glimpse of God's creative and redeeming power at work in our midst. Kameel's passion rekindled my own passion to serve God wholeheartedly in my own corner of the world. Whether restaurant or classroom, office or farm, retail outlet or machine shop, when we're doing what we were born to do, and doing it well, He gets the glory.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:17)


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

the academic conference: why bother?

It's that time of year. Pumpkins and gourds replace watermelons and blueberries. Trees wrap themselves in robes of gold and red and yellow. Birds fly south. And Mom packs to go to ETS, IBR, and SBL. (For the uninitiated, I'm talking about the annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature).

My children hardly think it strange for me to pull out my suit jackets and chatter about all the great people I'm about to see. This was my 7th annual conference. My academic career has taken me to New Orleans, Atlanta, San Francisco, Milwaukee / Chicago, Baltimore, San Diego, and now full-circle to Atlanta. Although my children think this is normal, perhaps you're still scratching your head, wondering why anyone would voluntarily spend the time and money to sit for a week listening to academics read their research essays aloud to each other (horrors!).

Scripture and Theology in Global Context at ETS 2015,
(right to left) Gene Green, Emily J. Choge Kerama, Jules
Gonzalez, Raymond Aldred,  Sung Wook Chung (photo: C. Imes)
But really, what could be better than a ballroom packed with people who write commentaries and teach college courses in Bible and theology for a living? (Ok, it's true. We are not the hippest crowd you've ever seen. But just imagine the collective IQ!)

I have 5 BIG reasons to keep going back for more, and I share them here in hopes that more students in this field will take the plunge. It's worth every penny.

5. Cutting Edge Research with a Walking Bibliography - Before academic books hit the shelves or journals publish peer-reviewed articles, scholars test their ideas on their peers. At the annual meeting I get first dibs on these new ideas. What's more, I can watch the immediate reactions of other scholars. Meeting these people and hearing them talk invigorates my work and helps me remember what I've learned. Instead of a list of names, I see faces and hear voices and recall handshakes.
Christopher H. J. Wright,
author of The Mission of God,
at IBR 2015 (photo: C. Imes)
     At ETS/SBL I'm surrounded by my bibliography! I sit shoulder to shoulder with giants in the field and have opportunities to ask them questions I have always wondered about their work. Maybe someday when I'm all grown up I won't be so giddy about meeting "famous" people. But even now it's a thrill to walk the halls and watch the name tags fly by -- names of men and women whose work has shaped who I am and what I think. In my little corner of the (academic) world, these people are rock stars. (Human, of course, like you and me, but people who have set the course for my generation of biblical scholars and theologians). This year I rode the escalator with Walter Brueggemann, shook hands with Christopher Wright, and spoke with countless others whose books line my shelves.

4. Deep Discounts - Speaking of books, the book tables are every scholar's dream (and every spouse's nightmare!). All the latest publications in biblical studies are there -- as much as 50% off -- AND you can get your hands on them, check the table of contents or indexes, and stock up for another year of learning. Publishers are eager to see their books in the hands of this particular crowd (especially those who are currently teaching), so you can anticipate free books as well. This year, because I've just agreed to teach another class at Multnomah University, I spent a grand total of $9.50 and came home with 14 books. A new record!

3. Professional Experience - I didn't present a paper this year for the annual meeting, but I've given 7 papers at previous conferences. Each time I've been grateful for the scholars who took the time to listen to my ideas, ask penetrating questions, and offer feedback. It's a bit like being graded, in person, by a dozen or more people at once. That can be intimidating. But the discipline is worth it because it makes me stronger as a scholar. As an audience member, I'm learning how to ask better questions and make every conversation count.

2. Networking - At my first annual meeting in 2009, I didn't understand how important this was. My goal was to attend as many papers as possible. Veterans told me I should go to fewer papers and spend more time with people. I still didn't get it. Now I do. After 30 papers, my brain no longer tracks with the speaker. And even with 5 full days of conference attendance, there wasn't enough time to see all the people I wanted to see.
Second Annual IBR Women's Breakfast (photo: C. Imes)
     The annual meeting is where most schools conduct interviews for open faculty positions. It's also where publishers meet with aspiring authors to discuss book projects. Faculty mentors are meeting prospective PhD students. I am fully convinced that the success of my PhD applications was in large part due to positive connections at the annual meeting. Create your own interview! Find out who the decision-makers are and go out of your way to introduce yourself. Every year you attend you'll have a larger network of people you know and the conference will feel more like a happy reunion.
     Here's proof of the value of networking: In 2010 and 2011, I had dinner with the academic dean of an institution in the Portland area, hoping that this conversation would increase my chances of one day landing a job. We met again in 2012, but this time I noticed a shift in the conversation. The academic dean showed an inordinate amount of interest in my experience at Wheaton College, including the climate, schools for the kids, our church, etc. Eventually he admitted an ulterior motive. The following summer Marc Cortez and his family moved to Wheaton where he took a position on the PhD faculty. While I was thrilled for Wheaton, I wondered if my networking had been in vain. Fast forward to 2015, where I learned that Marc will chair my dissertation defense. Nothing goes to waste!

Colleagues from Wheaton College at our Annual PhD
Reunion (Photo: C. Imes)
1. Reunion - Over the course of the week I spent time with people I know from several schools I've attended, many of whom are now scattered around the globe. Add to that people I've met through job interviews, paper presentations, receptions and through mutual friends, and what you get is a marathon reunion of like-minded people from morning 'til night! At the heart of this for me is the "Blockhead" reunion, where all of Daniel Block's former and current students gather for a meal. This is the best network of all -- friends who share our mentor's legacy and who are each working in our corners of the world to introduce others to the captivating Word of God. It's a fabulous group of men and women on whom I have come to depend throughout the year -- a network of experts in various sub-disciplines who can guide me when I need it.

These are my reasons for prioritizing the annual meetings. I realize it's expensive to go, but think about it: how much does a 3-credit class cost in seminary or graduate school? Over $1000, right? You can attend all three conferences (ETS, IBR, and SBL), stay in the conference hotels, and eat your meals out the whole time for less than that, all the while gaining a great deal more personally and professionally than you can ever get from one class. I call that a bargain!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

a time for hope

On this first Sunday of advent, I invite you to join me in a season of expectation. Our hope is grounded in the faithfulness of a God whose promises are not empty. As we look back on his great acts on our behalf in Bethlehem and at Calvary, we gain the confidence to keep hoping that he has more in store. "Peace on Earth" was assured in the manger, but its full realization awaits the consummation of his kingdom in days to come.

My friend Lindsay over at Kitchen Stool Discipleship has issued an advent challenge. I'll add to that a reminder that you can find a complete set of advent devotions for the whole family right here at the link on the right: Advent Tree Devotions. We've just begun our 4th time through the series. You are warmly welcome to join us!

Monday, November 23, 2015

friends of many colors

Anthropologists and missiologists sometimes use the term "Third-Culture Kid" (TCK) to describe those growing up in a culture that is not home to either of their parents. As a result they end up feeling like they don't fully belong in either culture, but are comfortable interacting with others from around the globe. I have often wondered if this label applies to my own children.

Though we've been missionaries for 13 years, all but 2-1/2 of these were spent in the U.S. Eliana was a wee thing when we lived and traveled overseas. But she has changed zip codes innumerable times. (Ok, that's an exaggeration, but she is attending her 9th school this year and living at her 10th address!) She's experienced living on the East Coast (South), in the Midwest, and in the Northwest, as well as the Philippines. And even when her feet are firmly planted on American soil, she has a magnetic attraction to other cultures.


How magnetic, you ask? Here's a list of the nationalities of some of her closest friends at each age of her life:

Age 2-3 - British, Filipino, Korean, American
4-5 - African-American
6 - Cuban and Japanese
7 - Indian
8-9 - Ethiopian, American
10 - Indonesian
11 - Filipino, African-American, Guatemalan
12 - Mexican-American, Filipino, Dominican
13 - Korean, American
14 - French, Brazilian

What is responsible for Eliana's multi-culturalism? Why is she more comfortable with nationalities other than her own? Why is her favorite class this year AP Human Geography?

Is it my own fascination with other cultures?
I'll never forget the day in 4th grade when Ana came home and told me she had made a new friend. She was apologetic because her new friend was white (!). That's when I realized that I had probably been too overt about my own quest for cross-cultural relationships.

Is it all the books we've read from around the world?
Many of those books are featured on my 'Best Kids Books' list to the right of this post. It started Eliana on a reading journey that continues today.

Was it living in the Philippines at a formative age?
This might have had the opposite effect. Eliana associated Tagalog with being pinched or otherwise harassed in the market. She refused to speak Tagalog, even when she understood it, and began to hate going shopping with me so I left her at home. On the other hand, "Nanay" was a beloved member of our family while we lived in the Philippines, and Eliana spent many happy hours with her. She also loved attending preschool with friends of many colors.

Or is it part of God's call on Eliana's life? Part of how he's wired her? Time will tell!

For now, I am thoroughly enjoying the journey.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Septuagint sneak preview

Would you like some guidance in reading the Greek Old Testament?

Many lexicons and reading helps only cover vocabulary found in the New Testament, making it challenging for students to make the jump into reading the Septuagint (the ancient translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek). Help is on the way!

Introducing the brainchild of Dr. Karen Jobes, expert in Septuagintal studies: Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader. This new resource is a companion to the Septuagint, focusing on selected passages to give students exposure to the vocabulary and translation styles exhibited by various books. Each chapter includes a brief introduction and relevant bibliography, glosses and syntactical notes on difficult or unusual words, a translation from NETS (the New English Translation of the Septuagint), and a chart highlighting New Testament citations.

Selected passages include Genesis 1–3, Exodus 14–15, 20, Ruth, 2 Reigns 7 [2 Samuel 7], Additions to Greek Esther A, C, D, and F, Psalm 21 [22], 22 [23], 99 [100], 109 [110], and 151, Hosea 1–3, 6, and 11, Amos 1–2, and 9, Jonah, Malachi, Isaiah 7 and 53.

CONTRIBUTORS:
Jesse Arlan
Kimberly Carlton
Hannah Clardy
John Coatney
Caleb Friedeman
Carmen Imes
Judy Kim
Jeremy Otten
Chris Smith

Yours truly created the chapter on the Decalogue (Exodus 20:1–21 // Deuteronomy 5:6–21) and helped edit the entire volume to bring all the contributions into stylistic conformity. It was a fun project! For an interview with Dr. Jobes about this book, click here.

Note: This guided reader does not cover the entire Septuagint. It is like a set of training wheels for intermediate students who want to gain the skills they need to continue reading on their own. Kregel hopes the book will be available early in 2016. Perhaps you know of a course at your school for which this book would be just right. Request your copy today!


Monday, November 16, 2015

when you don't (think you) have what it takes

A friend said it so beautifully, I couldn't help but share. She is beyond busy, faced with overwhelming needs and not enough hours in the day to respond. Myrto writes,

"It is always a sling and a few stones. It is always trumpets and a few ram horns. Let's face it, you have to get a bit ridiculous, a bit pitiful, a bit pathetic to fight the Lord's battles. Chariots, armors, weapons, anything that screams 'success' won't do. Only 'losers' recruited."
"The ministry is always small, weak, unpromising, always standing in the desert before the great giants in the land. Every year we have to take hold of our slings, pick up a few stones."

In ourselves, we lack. Whether time or money or education or creativity or courage, when we measure ourselves against the task that must be done, the deficit is painfully obvious.

But into this vacuum, the Spirit of God shows up, ready to work. He delights in our weakness, so he can demonstrate his strength. But still we must act. The stone doesn't sling itself, the wall doesn't build itself, the dissertation doesn't write itself, the children don't raise themselves...

Our part is to simply obey. To give our best. And then to watch as God transforms our feeble offering so that it becomes more than enough.

With Him you do have what it takes. You can count on that.

-------

p.s. I wrote this post weeks ago, before my NIV series was finished, and so I scheduled it to appear later. Now, on the night before it's set to go "live," I'm re-reading it . . . absolutely delighted at how God has done it again. He took my feeble offering, the fully revised dissertation that I submitted two weeks ago, and made something beautiful of it. I had given my best effort, honestly not knowing if it would be good enough. In the words of Dr. Block, "Congratulations on getting it to this stage. You have worked very hard, and it has paid off magnificently. Go out and celebrate." Needless to say, WE DID!


Thursday, November 12, 2015

drowning in new vocabulary?

A word of advice for students of biblical studies—

If the words you come across in your reading are missing from Dictionary.com and nowhere to be found in Webster's New World College Dictionary, try this slim volume co-authored by Richard and Kendall Soulen: Handbook of Biblical Criticism. 

It will orient you to all those words you've never needed to know . . . until now.

Words from halakah and hapaxlegomenon 
to paraenesis and Tannaim. 
As a special bonus, Soulen and Soulen include German terms common to biblical studies and even (drum roll, please!) names of people you'll want to know going forward.

Really. Don't throw in the towel just yet. Everybody starts out clueless in this field and gradually gets acclimated. This is my tenth year in graduate school, and I just consulted Soulen and Soulen this morning for clarification on a term I thought I knew but wanted to be sure. Enjoy the adventure!

Monday, November 9, 2015

does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? - part 7

In a time where questions of gender, identity, and sexual orientation are at the forefront of public policy and public discourse, it's understandable that gendered language would be a sore spot for Evangelicals. In this last post of the series, I'd like to share the two reasons why I applaud the NIV translation committee for their decision about gender inclusive language. Both are a matter of mission.
(1) One principle that guided the CBT (for the NIV) in their revisions is the international nature of the English language. It is no longer adequate to consider only patterns of English language usage here in the United States when deciding what best communicates the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek. People all over the world are speaking English and will be using our best-selling translation. Therefore it is imperative that we consider international patterns of English use when translating the Word of God. Some of the changes in the new NIV were made in this spirit.  
While the average American over the age of 40 might be comfortable with masculine pronouns in gender neutral situations, this is not the case worldwide, as people’s first languages exhibit a variety of grammatical norms. We dare not put stumbling blocks in the way of those around the world who are encountering Christianity for the first time. If a passage is directed to everybody, not just men, then it is increasingly important that we make that clear in our translation using gender neutral pronouns.
(2) The second factor to consider is (for me) closer to home. I am raising three children in a country where it has become bad taste to use masculine pronouns to address mixed groups. In most academic institutions, Wheaton College included, the use of masculine pronouns in written assignments to refer to humankind or a person in general is actually against school policy. People are certainly entitled to their own opinions about whether this is a good thing. Every generation brings changes to the English language that grammatical sticklers will not appreciate. But the point is that this is the reality in which we live. Our children are being educated in a context where they are not hearing masculine pronouns used generically. As a result, it does not sound natural to them—instead the Bible sounds archaic or misleading. Do we want to persist in using Bible translations that are confusing to them? We are losing young people in droves because they perceive that the church is out of touch. This is one simple adjustment we can make for the sake of mission.
If I thought that the Committee on Bible Translation had sold the farm, I would not embrace the new NIV. If I thought that they had capitulated to a liberal agenda, I would not encourage individuals and churches to "upgrade" their pew Bibles. That is not the case here.

Several years ago Wheaton College created a policy on gender inclusive language. It reads,
"For academic discourse, spoken and written, the faculty expects students to use gender inclusive language for human beings."
School administrators go on to explain the missional motivation for this policy:
"The college seeks to equip students for service in the world for Christ. Students need to be ready to communicate in that world. We want our students to succeed in graduate school, in the corporate world, and in public communication, all settings in which gender inclusive language for human beings is expected and where the inability to use such language may well be harmful to the Christian witness."
For me that's the bottom line. A good English translation of the Bible must be based on solid biblical scholarship and able to communicate that biblical truth effectively to the wider culture. In my opinion, the new NIV fits the bill.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? - part 6

Are you with me so far? I've attempted to answer a number of objections to the new edition of the NIV by explaining why scholars felt the translation needed updating. I've given some examples of how these principles have worked out in practice. I hope that it has been helpful.

Now we have come to the real rub: pronouns. In reality most of the other concerns raised about the NIV would apply equally to the 1984 version as to the 2011 version. The greatest controversy with the new NIV has revolved around gender-inclusive language. The outcry is actually a holdover from the Committee on Bible Translation's 2005 release, known as "Today's New International Version," which met with so much opposition it was pulled from the shelves. For the new NIV, the committee thoroughly reevaluated every verse affected by questions of gendered language, taking a more moderate approach.

I need to make one thing clear from the get-go: the NIV has not changed pronouns referring to God. As the Committee on Bible Translation explains,
"Nowhere in the updated NIV (nor in the TNIV, nor in any of the committee discussions leading up to either version) is there even the remotest hint of any inclusive language for God. The revisions solely surround inclusive language for mankind." (from "Updating the New International Version of the Bible: Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation," page 4, emphasis theirs)
However, in many places they have changed pronouns (and even nouns) that refer to people. "Forefathers" has usually been replaced by "ancestors." "Brothers and sisters" often appears where the text used to read only "brothers." The committee based their decision to do this on twin considerations:

  1. Concern for Accuracy. The translators wanted to be sure that when the original languages were intended to refer to anyone, regardless of gender, that sense was clearly conveyed in English.
  2. Concern for Communication. The committee asked Collins Dictionaries to undertake an extensive, independent study of recent publications (including sermons) in English in order to track patterns of language use over a 20-year span. They wanted to ensure that the finished translation would clearly communicate using current English idiom to avoid misunderstanding.

Here’s a simple example:
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; KJV).
Is Jesus speaking only to men? Is following Jesus something that only men are qualified to do by virtue of their gender? The KJV gives this impression to those who are not accustomed to generic use of masculine pronouns. As a result it miscommunicates the meaning of Scripture. The Greek does not use the word “man.” It simply has a generic pronoun (τις) that happens to be masculine in gender because first-century Greek was a gendered language where masculine pronouns were used in mixed gender situations.

The previous edition of the NIV recognized that this was misleading, and translated it according to the conventions of the English language in 1984:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (NIV 1984)
The new NIV, based on the Collins' research project, uses gender-neutral plural pronouns with a generic, singular subject. Grammatical constructions such as this one occur three times more often in current English discourse then the masculine singular forms once advocated by our middle school English teachers. Here's how it sounds in Matthew 16:24:
"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (NIV 2011)
Is this changing the Word of God? Is this twisting the Scriptures? Or is it ensuring that the current generation will be able to understand the Word as it was intended? I vote for the latter option.

I've tried to give you a sense for the considerations that motivated the translation committee. In my last post of this series, I'll tell you why I think this is critically important. Stay tuned!



Friday, October 30, 2015

does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? - part 5

Today I'm tackling the second part of an accusation against the NIV translation of the Bible. The first (which was part 4 of this series) addressed the issue of single words being changed, such as "Jehovah." What's more, some Christians are deeply concerned that the new NIV has removed entire verses from the Bible.

In a way, they are right. If you compare the KJV to the NIV, you'll discover that some verses have dropped out. But the important question is WHY?

Is this an attempt to take out statements that are uncomfortable or to water down the message of Scripture?

In a word, no.

Those who translated the Bible into English in the early 1600s did the best they could with what they had, but since then hundreds of other ancient manuscripts of the Bible have come to light, including those known as the "Dead Sea Scrolls." These manuscripts are much older than those available to the translators of the King James Version, sometimes by a thousand years, and in many cases they preserve a more accurate biblical text.
"The Shrine of the Book" at the Israel Museum,
where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed
Photo: D. Camfferman
The process of discerning which manuscript is better is called "textual criticism" (not because it's "critical" of the text, but because it's trying to determine the "critical" text). The goal of most textual critics is to reconstruct the oldest and most accurate text possible by identifying and removing any mistakes or later additions.

Those responsible for the translation of the NIV (the Committee on Bible Translation) want you to be confident that you hold in your hands the Word of God, not a text filled with well-intentioned additions— however "true" they may be. In some cases, a word, a verse, or even a whole paragraph was added to the text at some point in history in order to clarify the meaning or harmonize a text with a similar passage in another book. This is especially common in the Gospels, where multiple books recount the same event. Either by accident or on purpose, scribes would fill out the shorter text with details from the longer text.

The NIV translators carefully examined the manuscript evidence. In cases where a new (older) manuscript suggested that a verse was a later addition to the biblical text, they chose to eliminate it.

Here's an example:
Matthew 18:11 (NIV) - Photo: C. Imes
In the KJV, Matthew 18:11 says, "For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost."
In the NIV, there is no verse 11. Instead, a footnote reads, "Some manuscripts include here the words of Luke 19:10."
Sure enough, Luke 19:10 reads, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."
Luke 19:10 (NIV) - Photo: C. Imes
In other words, even without this statement in Matthew 18:11, no theology has been lost. The truth that Jesus looks for and saves sinners is still in the New Testament. In the cases where a verse does not appear elsewhere, it was never supposed to be there in the first place. Thankfully, no doctrines of consequence rest on those verses.

Ironically, as with this example, many of the "missing" verses listed by concerned readers are found elsewhere in the Bible. Think with me here. If the NIV translators were trying to change the Bible, they didn't do a very thorough job.

For Zondervan's answer to this question (a shorter version of what I've said above), click here.

I've saved the most controversial objection to the NIV for last. Stay tuned!


Monday, October 26, 2015

does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? - part 4

A few minutes trolling around online will produce dozens of websites warning you about the dangers of the NIV.

Here's a quote from one of my "favorites":
"Did you know that it was written by Zondervan and they are OWNED by Harper Collins, who also publish The Satanic Bible, and the Joy of Gay Sex. NIV has removed 64,575 words from the Bible including Jehovah, Calvary, Holy Ghost and omnipotent to name but a few . . . NIV has also removed 45 complete verses."
In my next post I will respond to the more serious charge, that the NIV "removed" verses from the Bible. But first let me set the record straight:
Zondervan chooses the binding and
style of the NIV Bibles they print,
but they are not involved in the
translation (Photo: C. Imes)
  1. Zondervan is a reputable Christian publishing house, fully staffed by evangelical believers, and it continues to produce some of the finest resources available for Christian Bible study today. Yes, it was bought by HarperCollins, a secular publishing house, but Zondervan retains full control of the editing process and employs believing scholars to do this work. The content of books published by the parent company in no way affects the quality or accuracy of Zondervan's publications. 
  2. Even so, Zondervan did NOT "write" the NIV, nor did they translate it. The work was done by a team of Christian scholars (the Committee on Bible Translation, or CBT) working under Biblica according to the wishes of the original translation team. Zondervan simply makes the CBT's translation available to the wider world, choosing the binding, the size and color of the font, and the formats in which it will be printed.
  3. If a word appears to be "missing" from the NIV, it has disappeared for one of two reasons. Either the translators felt that a different word would more accurately convey the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic text, or the translators determined that a word or words did not belong in the translation because the best ancient manuscripts did not include it
The word "Jehovah" is a good example. No such word exists in Hebrew. God revealed his personal name to Moses in Exodus 3:14. We can be confident that the consonants of that name are YHWH. (This is sometimes called the "Tetragrammaton," because it is made up of just four letters). However, scholars are not exactly sure which vowels were used to pronounce his name. Ancient Hebrew was written for centuries with only consonants. [Ths snds crzy bt w cn rd wtht vwls n nglsh s wll]. By the time helpful scribes decided to add dots and dashes to the Hebrew text to indicate the proper vowels (long after the time of Christ), pious Jews refused to pronounce God's personal name out of reverence. For that reason, when pious scribes added vowels to the name YHWH they deliberately used the wrong vowels so that no one would accidentally say God's name out loud. The vowels were intended to remind people to say "Adonai" (Lord) or "HaShem" ("the Name") in place of YHWH.

Some time ago, Bible scholars who did not understand this convention tried to pronounce God's Hebrew name by reading what they saw in the text -- the consonants YHWH, and the vowels meant to signal Adonai. The result was a nonsense word -- Yehowah, or Jehovah. Scholars since figured out their error, but not before hymns, churches, and even whole movements (like the "Jehovah's Witnesses") had employed the erroneous word. No one is absolutely sure how the consonants YHWH were to be pronounced. It might have been Yahweh. Another possibility is Yahu. We just don't know.

Exodus 3:15 (NIV)
Photo: C. Imes
Since the pronunciation is uncertain, most English translations have chosen to render the Tetragrammaton with four uppercase letters in English: LORD. Whenever you see that in your Bible, you can be sure that the Hebrew behind it is God's personal name, YHWH. If you see "Lord," then it's translating the Hebrew title that means "lord" or "master": Adonai.

So, did the NIV "remove" the word Jehovah from the Bible? Not exactly. They just chose to represent the Hebrew name YHWH in a different way. In my next post, I'll tackle the other part of this accusation -- that the NIV removed dozens of verses from the Bible.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? - part 3

In the first post in this series, I suggested that English translations need to be updated occasionally because some passages become ambiguous or misleading as the English language changes. In my second post, I gave an example from Psalm 1.

Today I'd like to approach the language question from another angle. Because not only does the English language change, but ancient languages change, too.

What?!?

Since the King James Version was first translated, whole libraries of ancient texts have been unearthed from the time of the Bible. In the past 100 years, "new" ancient languages have even been discovered! These texts are written in Akkadian, Ugaritic, Hittite, Phoenician, and other languages closely related to Hebrew. They are helping scholars understand the Bible better than ever before.

In the past, translators have often had to guess at the meanings of Hebrew words that occur only once or cultural concepts that seemed obscure. Sometimes they still do. But ironically, we understand the ancient world better now than ever before, thanks to these discoveries and the scholars who have devoted their lives to pouring over them. Hebrew dictionaries are getting better all the time. Now translators can compare with other texts and in some cases the meaning of a biblical term or concept becomes clear.

If you notice a significant change in a newer translation, there is a good possibility that this is why. Ancient copies of the Bible didn't come with a glossary attached. Translators have to work hard to understand the sense of a Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word and then search for a good way to say it in English.

Occasionally, a discovery will impact a passage that is known and loved by so many people that the translators are in a tough spot. Should they use what they now know of ancient languages to offer a better translation? Or will "changing" this verse make people suspicious of the new translation because it is different from what they know? Call this "pastoral concern" or call this "politics" or call this "good business." The fact is that if people won't buy it and read it, the best translation in the world is useless. The committee has had to make some tough calls, because sometimes some of the best-loved verses are most resistant to revision.

Take Psalm 23 for example. Though I grew up reading the NIV, I'm old enough to still have the KJV echoing in my head.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for thou art with me . . ." (Psalm 23:4a, KJV)
The old NIV updated the English only slightly by removing "yea" and "thou." Hebrew has no special pronouns for deity, so why use them in English when we no longer talk this way?
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me . . . " (Psalm 23:4a, NIV 1984)
But the new NIV "tampered" with something much closer to the hearts of many:
"Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me . . ." (Psalm 23:4a, NIV 2011)

What happened to "the valley of the shadow of death"?! That's the best part of the psalm!

If you look closely, you'll find that it's been moved to the footnotes, where it says, "Or the valley of the shadow of death." But the scholarship behind this shift isn't brand new. If you check the footnotes of the older NIV, you'll find that it says, "Or through the darkest valley." In other words, the translators have been aware of another way to translate this word since at least 1983. But perhaps they didn't feel we were ready for the change.

The Hebrew word behind this is צַלְמָוֶת (tsal-mavet). Can you find it in this picture of Psalm 23 from my Hebrew Bible? (hint: it's in the last line of Hebrew text, just above the number 2671.)

It's a compound word, and if you break it apart the two parts mean "shadow" and "death" respectively. But keep in mind that many compound words don't hold their meaning when you break them apart. Have you ever seen "butter" "fly"? Then you get my point.

In this case, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Septuagint, rendered the Hebrew צַלְמָוֶת as two words in Greek meaning "shadow" and "death." Perhaps their Hebrew was rusty and they didn't know this word. But now we do. According to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament צַלְמָוֶת  means "gloom," or "an impenetrable darkness." They attribute the translation "shadow of death" to "folk etymology."

(To complicate matters, The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew still considers that the word could mean "shadow of death." In other words, scholars are still working on this one. And each translation committee will have to use their best judgment.)

What grieves me about the misinformation floating around cyberspace about the NIV is that it is often based on fear rather than solid study. The good scholarly work of those who updated the NIV is rejected because people who are not trained to evaluate a translation blow the whistle. Their good intentions (protecting the Word of God) inhibit the majority from having access to the best translation possible. Do us all a favor. Don't be that whistle blower. Do your homework.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? - part 2

Last week I suggested that our English translations need to be updated from time to time because as our language changes, familiar biblical passages lose their ability to communicate. Here's a real example from a recent adult Sunday school class at our church. The passage "sounded right" to me because I've heard it all my life, but to a friend the wording was very misleading in English:

We were reading Psalm 1:
"Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers." (v. 1, NIV 1984)
A well-educated and spiritually mature man across the room spoke up. "I have never understood why the righteous are not supposed to 'stand in the way of sinners,'" he said. "Why shouldn't we try to keep them from sinning? Are we just supposed to let them self-destruct?"

It took a few moments for this to sink in. Finally I got it. He was reading this line with the English idiom in mind, "stand in the way," which means to block someone from getting somewhere or doing something. The Hebrew means something else entirely. It's saying that we'll be happier of we don't hang around ("stand") on sinner's avenue ("the way of sinners"). That is, we shouldn't choose that path ourselves.

The translators of the new NIV (2011) recognized the problem and made the meaning a little more obvious:
"Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers." (v. 1, NIV 2011)
As you can see they made a few other changes as well. Is this "tampering with the word of God" as some claim? Or is it facilitating a better understanding of that Word? In my opinion the Committee on Bible Translation is doing all of us a great service. In this case they are finding a fresh way to communicate the same Hebrew text in English with potential for greater understanding.

And their work is not over. Even more recently, I was reading Psalm 1 with my sisters-in-law at our annual beach getaway. When we got to verse 5, reading from the new NIV (which is identical to the old NIV), one sister was confused:
"Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous."
"Why don't the sinners have to be judged?" She asked. I stared at the text, trying to see it from her angle. Aha! She took "stand in the judgment" as a single action (="be judged"). I assured her that the wicked would indeed be judged. When that happens, they will not be able to stand up under it. That is, they will crumble under God's wrath. (For another possible example of this kind of "standing," see Psalm 24:3.)

For the record, this translation of Psalm 1:5 is a fine rendering of the Hebrew. Next time around, though, the Committee on Bible Translation could make this more clear in English. In the meantime, I recommend comparing more than one translation any time you're confused about what a text might mean (and even when you're not! maybe you should be!). Biblegateway offers free access to the Bible in dozens of English translations.

Aside from the NIV, which I use most often, another favorite of mine is the New Living Translation. Like the NIV, the NLT was translated directly from the original languages by top evangelical scholars. It is a more "dynamic" translation. In their own words,
"the translators rendered the message more dynamically when the literal rendering was hard to understand, was misleading, or yielded archaic or foreign wording. They clarified difficult metaphors and terms to aid in the reader's understanding." (from the Introduction to the New Living Translation
Here's a look at these two verses from Psalm 1 in the NLT:
"Oh, the joys of those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,or join in with mockers." (v. 1)
"They will be condemned at the time of judgment.Sinners will have no place among the godly." (v. 5)
The NLT clears up both of the questions my friends raised about Psalm 1 in the NIV, but one could argue that some of the poetic symmetry is lost (walk . . . stand . . . sit). In the end, I think English speakers are best served by using a combination of at least two translations. If you're not sure where to start, the NIV and NLT are both very good.

However, this 2-part post, long as it is, only addresses one factor in the need for new English translations—confusion with the current translation. Other factors come into play as well—factors controversial enough to make some people's blood boil. I hope to write about those in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 9, 2015

does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? - part 1

Have you heard that the new NIV distorts the Word of God? If so, you're in good company. Lots of people have heard this. Not having the tools to evaluate the arguments for or against a Bible translation (or lacking the time), many have decided simply to avoid any translation they've heard bad things about. And for many, that includes the NIV.

This saddens me. While someone might study the issues carefully and still conclude that the NIV is not a reliable translation (based on their own convictions), I think it's safe to say that most of those who reject it do so without understanding the issues well enough to make an informed decision.

It should not surprise you that I have an opinion on this matter. After 14 years of higher education in biblical studies, I have the tools to evaluate whether a translation is faithful to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Of course, my training doesn't guarantee that I'm right, but I hope it puts me in a good position to evaluate the issues. So perhaps you'd permit me to address this from my perspective. (Thanks, I'll take that as a 'yes.') Whether you trust my opinion is another matter. If you do, read on.

First, the facts. The NIV was first published in 1978, representing the work of a diverse group of over 100 Christian scholars from a variety of denominations and cultural backgrounds. Quoting from the preface to the latest edition:
"The work of translating the Bible is never finished. As good as they are, English translations must be regularly updated so that they will continue to communicate accurately the meaning of God's Word. Updates are needed in order to reflect the latest developments in our understanding of the biblical world and its languages and to keep pace with changes in English usage. Recognizing, then, that the NIV would retain its ability to communicate God's Word accurately only if it were regularly updated, the original translators established The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT). The committee is a self-perpetuating group of biblical scholars charged with keeping abreast of advances in biblical scholarship and changes in English and issuing periodic updates to the NIV. CBT is an independent, self-governing body and has sole responsibility for the NIV text. The committee mirrors the original group of translators in its diverse international and denominational makeup and in its unifying commitment to the Bible as God's inspired Word."
Let's be frank. Radical liberals and people known for wacky ideology do not get invited to join evangelical groups such as the Committee on Bible Translation. No. The committee is made up of best of conservative evangelical scholarship—men and women from a variety of denominational and cultural backgrounds who have spent years pouring over the Greek and Hebrew text, serving in church ministries, and achieving tenure in reputable evangelical institutions. Though no one is perfect, these are not the people your momma warned you about. Believe me. I've read their books. Heard them teach. Sat in their living rooms and prayed with them. These are godly men and women who love the church and who actively uphold the authority of Scriptures and submit their lives to its teachings.

So, what is everybody so worried about?

In a word? Change. Change is hard, especially when it touches things we hold dear. We care deeply about the Bible. We have been warned that evil people will try to distort the Scriptures. And so we're on guard. When someone comes along and says they have an improvement on the Bible we've been reading all our lives, it's natural that we should feel defensive. But while it's a good thing to be cautious and "test" what we hear, let's put away our guns. There's no sense shooting at each other.

What's wrong with the Bible we have?

In a word, change. The English language is changing faster than ever and its spoken by people all over the world. There are more English speakers outside the United States than inside it. The growing challenge is to ensure that an English Bible translation communicates well to those from a variety of cultures and those even of our own culture with no church background.

Growing up in church, we have become accustomed to the lilt of certain phrases, but we need to become rigorously self-critical. What does this actually mean? Often, we don't know. We've just been hearing it all our lives, and so it "sounds right." More importantly, what does this communicate to someone new to the faith?

In my next post, I'll share a recent example that illustrates the need for updated Bible translations.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

life in the middle of nowhere

Does life have you doing circles in the desert?

If so, you're not alone. And God hasn't given up on you.

Last week, the summer edition of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Alumni Magazine, Contact, was released. It includes the devotional I gave at the Gordon-Conwell Alumni Breakfast at SBL last November, as well as a write-up of Anne Doll's phone interview with me, where we talked about how to make it in grad school as a family of five.

For those of you who are "in between," waiting to step into a season of fulfillment, this devotional is my gift to you, the fruit of my own desert wanderings. Here's a snippet:
In those "in-between" places, we are faced with many questions. We are no longer certain about who we are. We are not sure how God is leading, or even if he's leading. In our desperation to restore a sense of order to our lives, we're always in danger of adopting the wrong narrative. But God has us right where He wants us. He has lessons to teach us that can only be learned in a state of dislocation. Lessons about who we are. About who He is. And how He's calling us to be in the world. 
Read the rest here. You can find my contribution on pages 30–33.

Friday, September 11, 2015

a scholar's prayer


My Desk (Photo: C Imes)
For those whose desks, like mine, have been swallowed by dissertation research . . .
For those in the throes of writing a book or an essay . . .
For those laboring over a new language or a new discipline . . .
For students just starting out in academia . . .

I invite you to pray this prayer with me. You can find it in full at InterVarsity's blog for Women in the Academy and Professions, but it applies just as well to men.

May He be glorified by the works of our minds!
Lord, 
as a new day dawns,
I offer thanks for the privilege of learning —
For the time, the mental acuity, and the resources at my disposal. 
Thank you for the delight of discovery. 
These are precious gifts... 
Let me love the truth 
more than I love what I have thought or said or written. 
Grant me the courage to confront falsehood, even in myself, 
to defend an unpopular position, 
or to surrender a cherished opinion found wanting...
For the rest, click here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

four things I inherited from Oma

Today would have been my paternal grandmother's 95th birthday. Oma was a strong, stubborn, and independent woman, yet wholly convinced of her need for a Savior. Because her death in 2014 coincided precisely with our family's move to Oregon, many of her possessions found a place in our new home. From teacups to cabinets and doilies to delft, most rooms in our house hold a piece of her legacy. In honor of her birthday, here are a few of the most valuable gifts she bequeathed to me:

1. The Quest for Information


My library on Oma's shelves (Photo: C. Imes)
Oma was not a scholar, but her coffee table was always stacked with books, magazines, and newspapers in English and Dutch. Her TV was always set to an international news channel. These shelves, now filled with my own books, once held hers. Though she immigrated from Holland to Canada as an adult and never lost her thick, Dutch brogue, Oma learned English so well that she could beat any native speaker at a game of Scrabble.

2. The Rhythm of Hospitality 

Oma's well-used teacups (Photo: C. Imes)
Having people over was no big "to-do" for Oma, it was simply a part of life. I spent many a Sunday afternoon at Oma and Opa's house, having tea and cookies before the noon meal and visiting with out-of-town guests. The meals were not exotic, and I don't recall ever seeing Oma flustered in the kitchen. The solid predictability of the menu (meat, potatoes, gravy, beans, cauliflower, and apricot sauce) matched the steadiness of her demeanor. Mealtime was not a culinary exhibition, but a time to gather for conversation and to read the daily devotional and pray.

John and Barbara (Brinkman)
Camfferman, 1949
3. The Determination to Stand for what's Right

Naturally, I knew Oma only in the last half of her life, when the settled rhythms of gardening, housework, volunteering, and Sunday services defined her week. Her early years were half a world away, on a farm in the Netherlands lovingly known as "Kalf 20." She walked to school over bridges and past windmills, milked cows, biked everywhere on top of the dikes, and in the winter ice-skated on frozen canals. By the time World War 2 erupted, she was in her 20's. Her mother had already died, so she kept house for her father and siblings. The rest of her energies she devoted to the Dutch Resistance. I doubt she felt brave. She just did what had to be done — carrying messages past Nazi soldiers by hiding them, rolled up in the handlebars of her bicycle. When stopped and questioned, she lied, heart pounding inside her chest. By the grace of God, she was never caught. After the war ended, she helped with relief efforts, proudly wearing the orange arm band that identified her as a member of the Dutch Resistance. (The royal "house" in the Netherlands is known as the "House of Orange," which explains both the color and the word embroidered on the band. It's a patriotic symbol.)

4. The Impulse to Write


Letter from Oma to her family back home in Holland
shortly after her move to Canada, 1949
It wasn't until after her death that I recognized what should have been as plain as the Dutch nose on Oma's face: she was a writer. My parents unearthed box after box of letters she had received over the years from siblings and cousins and in-laws across Canada and back in Holland — letters written in response to her own. A niece of hers began assembling the correspondence between the Brinkman siblings during the years just after WW2. Oma married a dashing Dutch soldier who had been stationed in England and they quickly immigrated to Canada where they could start a new life together. Letters flew from one side of the ocean to the other with regularity. In addition to letters, year after year Oma kept a diary, with brief notes about each day (the weather, visitors, anything unusual). During the war she wrote more extensively, leaving behind a treasure of information about life in the Netherlands under the Nazi regime as well as Brinkman family history. In the last two years of Oma's life, she felt the growing urgency of getting her story down in writing. Dozens of drafts of her life story, highlighting the war years, were tucked in boxes and drawers.

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Oma would have been the first to tell you that she and I are very different. She was not an academic, and other than a brief stint as a school bus driver and a house cleaner, she was never employed outside the home. I have never been through a war, and I am no longer a member of the [Dutch/Christian/United] Reformed Church that was her spiritual home throughout her 93 years of life.

All the same, if you look through the "house" that is my life, you'll see her influence in almost every room. I'm sure I inherited more than my fair share of her stubbornness, and I plan to keep filling her shelves with books and her teacups with tea, to stand for justice and truth in the face of evil in my generation, and to keep writing. For writing is the most tangible legacy we can leave to our children. Thank you, Oma, for leaving me yours.