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.

Jesse Arlen
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 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!