Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Get Yer Bible Here!

It is time once more for my weekly Bible giveaway. As part of the Common English Bible Blog Tour, I can award one happy reader of this blog a free paperback copy of the CEB. If you want it, just comment on this post. Give me your name and mailing address, so that I can forward them to the publisher.
I promise that I will not publish your personal information.

First reply to this post gets it. There will be another giveaway next week.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Snuggly Swaddled

 Babies like to be swaddled. Who knew?

Okay, maybe you knew, but I didn’t. I don’t have children. I have never been responsible for the care of a newborn. Swaddling, to me, is an academic subject.

Apparently wrapping babies up snugly (snuggly?) in cloths soothes them. It warms them. Maybe it reminds them of the womb. Swaddling, with due caution of course, seems to be a good thing.

Mary knew.

She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. (Luke 2:7 CEB)

The knowledge of swaddling must have been passed down from mother to daughter, generation to generation, until it reached Mary of Nazareth. Despite the trying circumstances under which she gave birth to Jesus, Mary cared for him as best she could, swaddling him, comforting him, nourishing him, protecting him, loving him, and laying him down in a manger to sleep.

Jesus came into the world like every one of us: naked, helpless, needful of food, clothing, shelter, and love which Mary. and Joseph too I’m sure, provided.

The great scandal of the Christian faith is our proclamation that, in this tiny, dependent infant resting in a feed box, God has come to be with his people. And again, God is revealed to us in the helpless man, stripped, beaten, dying, affixed to a cross.

This is where humanity and deity, history and eternity, heaven and earth meet.

Not in great shows of power, not with muscle flexing demonstrations of might, but in a swaddled newborn our God has come to us.

Christmas blessings to you, dear reader.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Look At My Bible


For my participation in the Common English Bible Blog Tour I was given a copy of the CEB. I chose an edition that included the Apocrypha. Although the deuterocanonical books are not a part of my church's canon, I find them valuable and instructive to read. I have read the entire CEB New Testament and am now working my way though the Apocrypha. I'm in the middle of Sirach (you may call it Ecclesiasticus if you wish) at the moment.

Except for that business about DNA in 1 John 3:9, I very much like the CEB. (The CEB's translation of Wisdom of Solomon renders the same Greek word (σπέρμα "sperma") as "genetic character." This is better but still anachronistic.) The CEB is fresh, readable, and for the most part, clear.

The copy of the CEB that I was given is bound in black DecoTone (an imitation leather that I suspect is really pebble-grained vinyl. In former times it might have been called "leatherette." In other applications it might be called "pleather.") The thin pages are edged with silver. There is a sewn-in ribbon marker. Everything about this book says "Bible."

The text is set in two columns. The typeface is a readable 9 point serifed font. Headings are san serif. Footnotes are italicized.

At the back of the book there is a set of 8 color maps prepared by National Geographic. These are, honestly, some of the best looking Bible maps I've ever seen. There is, however, no index to the maps. An index would greatly improve their usefulness. (Are you listening CEB?)

The publishers of the CEB are giving away copies of the Bible through the blogs of participants in the Blog Tour. I have heard from the recipients of some of the Bibles I've given away. They tell me that the copy they received is a paperback edition which includes the 66 books of the Protestant canon (i.e. no Apocrypha). It sounds as if the typeface and page design are identical to the edition I received. Those beautiful maps are included.

If you would like to receive a free paperback copy of the CEB, just be the first to reply to this blog post. Give me your name and address. I promise I won't publish any identifying information. I need to forward your info to the publisher so that they can send you the Bible.

The image of the CEB at the top of this post was found at amazon.com.


Friday, December 16, 2011

The Sign of Immanuel


Many of the details of the story are lost to history, but this much seems clear. Around the year 732 BCE, King Pekah of Israel and King Rezin of Aram formed an alliance and marched against King Ahaz of Judah. In response to this threat, Ahaz, a descendant of King David, appealed for help to King Tiglath-Pilaser of Assyria.

The prophet Isaiah, a staunch supporter of the Davidic dynasty, was absolutely opposed to Ahaz’s plan to seek foreign support. The prophet confronted the King and declared that his enemies were destined to fail.

“Ask for a sign,” the prophet said.

The King piously demurred, “I will not test the Lord.” Many have questioned the sincerity of Ahaz’s piety. He never showed much attachment to the God of Israel.

“Then the Lord will give you a sign, anyway,” Isaiah replied. “An almah is pregnant...”

A what?

Almah is a Hebrew word which, according to a footnote in the Jewish Study Bible (p. 798-9) “denotes a young woman of marriageable age, whether married or unmarried, whether a virgin or not.”

There is nothing extraordinary about an almah being pregnant. But, let’s finish Isaiah’s prophesy:

The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel. He will eat butter and honey, and learn to reject evil and choose good. Before the boy learns to reject evil and choose good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned. The LORD will bring upon you, upon your people, and upon your families days unlike any that have come since the day Ephraim broke away from Judah—the king of Assyria. (Isaiah 7:14b-17, CEB)

Exactly what in this constitutes the sign is not entirely clear. It may be the pregnancy, the birth, the name or the child’s diet. What is clear is that, in a few years time, the threat posed by Kings Pekah and Rezin will be gone, but Ahaz will face a greater threat, the Lord’s anger for his alliance with Assyria.

Translation is an art, not a science. If translation were a science, babelfish would work better. The fact is, a word in one language may not have an exact equivalent in another language.

The Septuagint is an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. It was compiled beginning in the third century BCE and ending in the second or first century BCE. When the New Testament, which was written in Greek, quotes from the Hebrew Bible, it uses the Septuagint translation.

At Isaiah 7:14, the Septuagint rendered the Hebrew word almah with the Greek parthenos. In the New Testament era parthenos definitely meant “virgin.” The Gospel of Matthew quotes the Septuagint version of this verse in reference to the birth of Jesus:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “ Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. ” Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:
      Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
      And they will call him, Emmanuel.
     ( Emmanuel means “ God with us. ” )
                         (Matthew 1:18-23, CEB).

Some English versions of the Bible (e.g. the English Standard Version and the Holman Christian Standard Bible) translate almah at Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin.” This makes the Hebrew Scripture accord with Matthew’s use of it. This seems to me an illegitimate translation strategy. It removes Isaiah’s prophecy from its historical context and makes it seem as if Isaiah’s oracle was only a prediction of Jesus’ miraculous birth. It is a dishonesty in the service of doctrine.

I prefer the strategy adopted by the CEB and the New Revised Standard Version (among others), translating almah as “young woman” at Isaiah 7:14 and allowing Matthew’s quote from the Septuagint to speak for itself. Matthew’s use of Old Testament prophecy has more to do with typology than prediction anyway.

Some will argue that translating almah as “young woman” undermines the doctrine of the virgin birth. It doesn’t. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both state clearly that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin. What gets undermined is a false notion of what constitutes prophesy and fulfillment in the Bible.

The picture of King Ahaz and Gandolfi's Painting of Joseph's Dream were both found at Wiki. As a participant in the CEB Blog Tour, I was given a copy of the Common English Bible, and I am able to give a copy of the CEB away each week. Watch for your opportunity to win a free paperback edition of the CEB next week.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Who Wants A Bible?

As a participant in the Common English Bible "Thank You-Come Again-I Promise" Blog Tour, I can give away a copy of the CEB once each week for three months. I've been reading, and enjoying the CEB.

So, first reply to this post gets a free, handsomely bound copy of the Common English Bible.

Just say "I want it" and give me your mailing information. I promise I won't publish your address!

StoryGuy? Are you out there?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Steamrollers and DNA


The Living Bible (1971) is a paraphrase of the Christian Scriptures by Baptist preacher Ken Taylor. Taylor based his paraphrase on the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV) translation. Dynamic and highly readable, The Living Bible became a bestseller. I suspect that it has actually been read by many people who might otherwise find the Bible difficult and intimidating.

I remember, years ago, discovering an anachronism in Taylor’s text. In the forty-first chapter of Job, the Lord, speaking from a whirlwind, describes the mythical monster called Leviathan. Here is Taylor’s rendering of verse 30:

His belly is covered with scales as sharp as shards; he drags across the ground like a steamroller! 

For comparison, here is the ASV text on which Taylor based his paraphrase:

His underparts are like sharp potsherds: He spreadeth as it were a threshing-wain upon the mire.

Even though there were no steamrollers in Old Testament times, I think that Taylor’s paraphrase is an improvement on his source. What the heck is a threshing-wain anyway? Because The Living Bible is a paraphrase, Taylor’s anachronism doesn’t trouble me. I find the theological biases of The Living Bible much more bothersome than the appearance of modern heavy road construction equipment.

When I went googling to find Taylor’s steamroller reference, I stumbled across another biblical steamroller. This one is found in Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Peterson calls his work a translation because it was made from the original languages. Like The Living Bible, however, The Message is highly interpretive and idiomatic. I like it a lot, but prefer to think of it as an English paraphrase made from the Greek and Hebrew texts.

Peterson's steamroller shows up in Daniel 11:22, which describes a “contemptible” ruler, probably Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Here is Taylor’s rendering:

He'll come in like a steamroller, flattening the opposition. Even the Prince of the Covenant will be crushed.

And for comparison, here is the same verse from my go-to Bible, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV):

Armies shall be utterly swept away and broken before him, and the prince of the covenant as well.

Because it is the nature of a paraphrase to be vivid and interpretive, I don’t object to the steamrollers in The Living Bible and The Message.

New Rule: From now on, the appearance of a steamroller in a version of the Bible immediately qualifies that version as a paraphrase.

As a participant in the Common English Bible “Thank You-Come Again-I Promise” Blog Tour, I will soon receive a free copy of the Common English Bible (CEB). I have also been able to give away a free copy of the CEB to a reader of this blog each week for the three months of the tour. So far, I have given away 3 copies of this newly published translation. I would not take part in the blog tour if I didn’t actually like the CEB. There are translations out there that I would not help to promote.

I have been reading the New Testament in the CEB translation. I started a few weeks ago at Matthew and am now poised to begin Revelation. I have had occasional quibbles with the CEB’s translation choices, but that is par for the course. And my quibbles have only been quibbles. Overall, I have found the CEB New Testament to be a clear and lively translation from the Greek.

Last night I read the Johannine Epistles and was surprised to find an anachronism in 1 John 3:9:

Those born from God don’t practice sin because God’s DNA remains in them. They can’t sin because they are born from God.

Just to be clear, DNA was unknown in the first century when 1 John was written. DNA was not discovered until 1869, and its double helix structure was not described until 1953. DNA in this verse is a glaring anachronism.

A footnote in the CEB offers “genetic character” as an alternative to DNA.

For comparison, here is the same verse from the NRSV:

Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God's seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.

The NRSV’s “seed” is a rather literal translation of the Greek word σπέρμα (sperma). This word has a range of meaning that, according to the Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich Lexicon, includes “seed of plants....descendants....genetic character, nature, disposition.”

I think that 1 John is saying that Christian believers have undergone an ontological change. Their sinful nature has been replaced by God’s sinless nature. This change goes right down to their very marrow, their seed, their DNA. The CEB’s anachronistic translation brings this meaning out in a powerful and striking way. It is clearer and more vivid to a modern reader than the NRSV’s more literal “seed.”

But it is an anachronism, and probably better suited to a paraphrase than to a translation.

What do you think? Are anachronisms permissible in translations if they accurately render the meaning of the original text, or should that kind of interpretation be left to preachers and the writers of footnotes?

I am not a gambling man, but if I were, I would bet that the second edition of the Common English Bible will not include DNA in 1 John 3:9. The pictures of the steamroller and DNA were both found at wikipedia.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The CEB Doesn't Sound Biblical


One of my favorite movies of recent years was the Coen Brothers’ take on True Grit. If you have seen the film, you know that the characters, all of them, have an unusual way of speaking. They don’t use contractions. Instead of “I’m” they say “I am.” Instead of “won’t” they say “will not.” This quirk of dialogue was taken over directly from the Coen Brothers’ source material: the novel True Grit by Charles Portis. It is almost as if Portis’ typewriter was missing the apostrophe key.

This curious speech pattern gives the Coen Brothers’ movie a strange quality, an alien gravity. It is almost biblical and that is appropriate in a story replete with religious themes and images.

I heard somewhere (I wish I could find a reference) that people living in Arkansas in the 1870s, the movie’s setting, actually spoke this way. They learned to read from the King James Bible and that version of Scripture stamped its mark on the patterns and cadences of their speech.

I was taught long ago to avoid the use of contractions in formal writing. (Is blogging formal?) Everyday speech is another matter. I had a friend in high school who did not use contracted forms in speaking. It was, frankly, a little weird.

What I’m saying is this: English spoken today without contractions sounds biblical and odd. But that’s not right. The Bible was not written to sound odd. It was written in the everyday language of its first readers. Granted, some of the Scriptures are more formal than others, some more poetic, some more dialogic, but all of the Scriptures were intended by their writers to be read aloud and, I think, to sound right.

In ancient times all reading, even private reading, was done aloud.

The recently published Common English Bible is replete with contractions. A page from the CEB website notes:
The Common English Bible is the only translation to extensively use contractions where the text warrants an engaging conversational style (not used in divine or poetic discourse).

No translation is perfect, of course, but the CEB has much to commend it. One of the things I like about it is that it doesn’t sound strange. It reads like normal English. Dare I say that it doesn’t sound “biblical?” When read aloud, the CEB sounds right.

A sample verse from my daily Bible reading:
Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. (1 Peter 1:8 CEB)

As a participant in the Common English Bible “Thank You-Come Again-I Promise” Blog Tour, I can give away a Bible a week for three months. First person to reply to this post gets a free copy of the CEB. Just say “I want it” and, after I reply, send me your address. I’ll forward your information to B and B Media, and they will send you your Bible.

The picture of Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin in
True Grit was borrowed from this website.