Overcoming Inadequacies of Words Commonly Used in Bible Translation and Teaching (Part 2 of 3)

This is a guest post by Daniel Boerger. He and his wife Brenda worked on the Natqgu New Testament in the Solomon Islands. He is the translator of the Interpreted New Testament, available in print, ePub, Kindle, and free on Android.

II. B. What is Biblical Worship? At its Core it is Not Any Particular Action or Manner of Action, or Form.

Many biblically literate Christians will immediately answer, “It is worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23‑24 NASB But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”) But despite this being an important biblical truth, it is not a definition of what worship is. It is merely an truth about the manner in which God’s people should worship. It does not define what worship itself is.

There are 178 occurrences of forms of the word “worship” (i.e. worship, worships, worshiping, worshiped, worshiper, worshipers) in the New American Standard Bible, so I trust that is approximately true of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.

Just over 50 percent of the time, these words occur with nothing in the immediate context to clarify what the word means.

About 27 percent of the time, the worship word is in the immediate context of words and phrases indicating that the worshiper was physically prostrating himself (i.e. bowing low, falling (face down) on the ground, bowing before something, falling at the feet of someone, etc.).

About 16 percent of the time, the worship word is in the immediate context of words, phrases, and sentences indicating that the worshiper was serving God or a deity.

About 7 percent of the time, the worship word is in the immediate context of words, phrases, and sentences indicating that the worshiper was offering sacrifices of some kind to God or a deity.

About 2 percent of the time, the worship word is in the immediate context of words and phrases indicating that the worshiper was offering praise to God.

The above percentages total 102 percent because a few of the occurrences overlap and were counted twice.

In four passages (Genesis 47:31, Judges 7:15, Nehemiah 8:6, and 2 Chronicles 20:18) the biblical text indicates that the people involved were “bowing in worship,” suggesting that the bowing was an integral part of their worship. Bowing, in all the passages where it is associated with worship, indicates a posture implying and expressing a total submission and pledge of obedience to God’s will. It was the most common visible means of expressing an inward attitude of worship.

In the biblical cultures, worship was such a basic concept that people didn’t need a definition spelled out in Scripture as to what it was, because they all knew what it was. The only explicit definition of worship in Scripture is found in Romans 12:1. (NASB) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 

Romans 12:1 indicates that true spiritual worship is serving God by means of self-sacrificially offering your life in complete obedience to him.

I rendered the second part of this verse in The Interpreted New Testament (TINT) this way: Offer yourselves, your bodies, and everything you do to serve God—following his holy will in all things. Do this as your sacrificial offering to him. For this is the essence of true spiritual worship which pleases him.

My own summary definition of biblical worship is: to offer, pledge, or swear fealty to God (or to a false god)— which is a formal committing of your life, will, and resources to him in total submission, service, loyalty, faithfulness, and obedience, promising him your highest ultimate allegiance above your own desires and above all other authority or commitments.

How is this different than modern definitions? Biblical worship is something so special it is properly reserved for God alone (Deuteronomy 6:13; Daniel 3:28; Luke 4:8; Revelation 19:10; 22:8). It is never appropriate to worship other people or authorities. This is because it is a pledge of ultimate submission of your life in obedience above all else to whatever you are worshiping.

The Scriptures command us to give due honor and praise to people (Romans 12:10; 13:7). So these acts, in and of themselves, cannot be the core of what worship is.

The actions we commonly think of as worship can be means of expressing true worship. We are commanded to meet together regularly for corporate times of worship and we are commanded to praise and adore God (1 Chronicles 23:30-31; Psalm 104:35; 106:1, 48; 113:1; 117:1; 135:1-3 and many other places). So we can do these things in submission to God’s commands and in that submissive obedience we are genuinely worshiping God. But we can also do all these things that we think of as worship without being truly submitted to him because we are reserving our highest allegiance to our own desires in defiance of God’s will. Many people go through the motions without genuinely worshiping at all. This is false worship, which God detests (Isaiah 1:10-17; 29:13; Matthew 15:7-9). And yet many people doing these things think they are worshiping God and pleasing him in what they do because they have an inadequate understanding of what true worship is—even though they may realize that they are not fully submitted to him.

True biblical worship can be done anywhere, anytime, with anyone, or even alone—this is at least part of what it means to worship “in spirit” (John 4:24). Any act of obedience and submission to God’s will is an act of worship. It is not just the acts of corporate gathering at a worship service or singing songs of praise. The modern definition of the word leaves out the core meaning of what biblical worship is—i.e. complete submission—and focuses way too narrowly on certain outward means which can be either acts of true worship or acts of false worship, depending on one’s heart attitude. At least part of the meaning of worshiping “in truth” (John 4:24) is being truly repentant and wanting to submit to God’s will in all things. But the modern definition misleads many into thinking that certain outward actions are, in and of themselves, true worship and pleasing to God, when that is not the case at all if their heart attitude is wrong. Therefore, the modern word “worship” is, on its own, an inadequate translation of the biblical concept which misleads many to the detriment of their spiritual lives.

Overcoming Inadequacies of Words Commonly Used in Bible Translation and Teaching (Part 1 of 3)

This is a guest post by Daniel Boerger. He and his wife Brenda worked on the Natqgu New Testament in the Solomon Islands. He is the translator of the Interpreted New Testament, available in print, ePub, Kindle, and free on Android.

General Introduction

Most English speakers today are “biblically illiterate.” By that I mean they lack any significant knowledge of biblical history, and/or biblical cultural norms, and/or theology – all of which are necessary in most passages for an accurate understanding of what the Holy Spirit and the original Scripture writer intended to say.

Even for a short historical narrative passage—in which the actions or events that happened may seem perfectly clear to any reader—the significance or implications of those actions or events is often not communicated, even though they would have been obvious to Jewish readers a couple of millennia ago. Sometimes modern readers are not even sure if what happened was good or bad —from God’s perspective or even sometimes from the perspective of persons involved in the narrative. Most modern readers will interpret any Scripture passage in terms of their own cultural standards, values, and worldview; and in so doing they may totally misunderstand the basic intended message, significance, and implications of the passage.

Much of the proper contextual knowledge needed to understand the Bible in general can be gleaned by becoming familiar with large portions of it. But this takes a lot of time, effort, and motivation—which is largely lacking in most people today. Therefore, most Bible readers today misunderstand many things that they read.

Unfortunately, Bible illiteracy is high today even among regular church attenders. The percentage of church goers who have the historical, cultural, and theological background to understand any given Bible passage accurately is quite small. Most church attenders are very dependent on pastors or other Bible teachers to enable them to properly understand a passage, so the only understanding they gain (unless they do a lot of Bible reading and studying on their own) is what they get from a pastor in a sermon or in a group Bible study or class. Learning what is needed to properly understand the Bible from only listening to sermons and attending group Bible studies takes years. But if a Bible translation were designed to communicate the basic meaning and implications of every passage such that any biblically illiterate reader could properly understand the basic intended meaning without being misled by their own cultural standards, values, and non-biblical worldview, a serious Bible reader could acquire an accurate understanding of at least the basics of the Bible within months instead of years.

Study Bibles can assist the motivated Bible student in their understanding of Scripture. But many of the notes in a typical study Bible are geared towards the serious Bible student and they assume a minimal level of knowledge that biblically illiterate readers lack. Study Bibles often do not provide simple basic information which a biblically illiterate reader needs. And many Bible teachers and pastors also seem to lack understanding of which basic information such biblically illiterate listeners are lacking. So they teach about the Bible using words and Scriptural figures that are often communicating either zero or wrong meaning to their listeners.

This article provides just one example of how a simple common Bible word is often misunderstood such that the message people receive concerning this word is not exactly what the Bible or a pastor intends to convey. And there are many such Bible words, multiplying the amount of misinformation that is conveyed in a typical Bible teaching and in reading a typical translation (whether a literal translation, or even in meaning-based translations like the New Living Translation).

My first goal is to convince Bible translators (and pastors and Bible teachers) by example that simply translating a word from the Hebrew or Greek text into its closest English equivalent is often not sufficient to accurately communicate the meaning intended in the biblical context. My second goal is to suggest possible ways of filling in the meaning gap in a Bible translation or when teaching about this example word. Perhaps future articles will provide further examples of Bible words that similarly do not communicate properly today.

I. Overcoming Inadequacies of the Word “Worship”

In deciding whether to use any modern word to translate a word in Scripture, one must consider the meaning of the word in modern usage. If it doesn’t mostly match up to the meaning in Scripture, then it will usually communicate the modern meaning rather than the biblical meaning to the majority of Bible readers, and it will always communicate misleading aspects of meaning to biblically illiterate readers.

II. A. What Does the Word “Worship” Mean to People Today?

Dictionary definitions of “worship” are: (I took these from a couple of different online dictionaries, combined them and edited them, but they will not totally match any one dictionary.)

Transitive Verb

  1. to honor or show reverence for a divine being or supernatural power,
  2. to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion; to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing)

Intransitive Verb

  1. to perform or take part in or attend a worship service or an act of worship
  2. to render religious reverence and homage, as to a deity
  3. to feel an adoring reverence or regard

Noun

  1. reverence offered to God, a divine being, a sacred personage, a supernatural power, or to any object regarded as sacred; also: an act of expressing such reverence
  2. a form of religious practice with its creed, ritual, or liturgy; or a formal or ceremonious rendering of such honor and homage (e.g. They attended worship this morning.)
  3. extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem

Synonyms: Verb adore, adulate, deify, honor, glorify, idolize, revere, reverence, venerate

Synonyms: Noun honor, homage, adoration, adulation, deification, hero worship, idolatry, idolization

Among most church-attending Christians today, the above definitions are what they think of as the meaning of “worship.” Additional common meanings of this word are “to sing songs of praise and adoration to God, or to come to God in prayer.”

While there is overlap between these definitions of worship and the biblical meaning of worship, there are significant problems, and if this isn’t immediately and clearly obvious to you, then your own default understanding of biblical worship is, in my opinion, deficient.

The Adversary in Job

In a recent Christianity Today article, it talked about how the word “satan” in Hebrew is a word that means “accuser,” or “adversary,” so “the satan” is a title, not a name. Thus, many Old Testament scholars believe that “the satan,” in the book of Job is not actually Satan, the devil, that we find in the New Testament.

Among those scholars is August Konkel, the author of the notes for the ESV Study Bible. He had his notes changed by the editors to say that “the satan” is indeed Satan, contrary to his views and his commentary on Job.

But before we start writing angry letters to the editors of the ESV Study Bible, we have to understand what they were working with. In the ESV text itself, “the satan” is translated as “Satan.” So the translation itself already made the determination that “the satan” was Satan. Would it make sense to have study notes that contradicted the text of the Bible itself? That would be problematic.

The ESV is not alone in this. English Bible translations have translated “the satan” as “Satan” ever since Wycliffe translated the first English Bible. You can view all the translations of Job 1:6 on Bible Gateway and see that the vast majority translate it as “Satan” (CSB, NASB, NET, NIV, NRSV) or “the accuser, Satan” (NLT, cf. Amplified, God’s Word, The Message, REB). These translations exclude the view that the accuser is not Satan.

Putting aside the theological question of whether “the satan” is indeed Satan or not, I think it would be more transparent and accurate to the Hebrew text to translate “the satan” as “the accuser” or “the adversary” in English Bibles.

This would not exclude the view that Satan is the accuser in Job. For example, most identify the serpent in Genesis with Satan, but we don’t need to put “Satan” into the text of Genesis. A footnote could be added that “the adversary” is “the satan” in Hebrew, and that some identify “the adversary” with Satan.

So what translations do that? Very few. The Common English Bible (CEB), Complete Jewish Bible (CJB), Jewish Publication Society (JPS 1985), the Modern English Version (MEV), and Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) have “the Adversary.” The Voice has “the Accuser.” The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) has “the satan,” replacing “Satan” in the original NAB. The Tree of Life Version also has “the satan.”

How would you translate “the satan” in the Book of Job? Would you keep the traditional rendering of “Satan”? Would you translate it “the accuser” or “the adversary”? Would you add a footnote? If so, what would it say? Comment below.

Psalm 119, part 4

This is part 4 of Douglas Van Dorn‘s translation of Psalm 119. Also see part 1, part 2 and why acrostics, and part 3 and other acrostic translations.

Doug Van Dorn preached through all 150 Psalms in 88 sermons at the Reformed Baptist Church of Northern Colorado from 2016-2018. As he preached through them, he made acrostic translations of all the acrostic psalms: Psalm 9-10, Psalm 25, Psalm 34, Psalm 37, Psalms 111 and 112, Psalm 119, and Psalm 145. The acrostics are included with his sermon notes.

It should be noted what a difficult endeavor this is. As we saw in the last post, he joins a handful of people who have done acrostics for all the Psalms. Some others were only able to complete one, and we don’t know the number of people who gave up on acrostics halfway through a Psalm translation, but note Psalm 25 in the Passion Translation, where the first letters of verses 15-22 spell RSTUVWYZ.

So we come to the end of Van Dorn’s Psalm 119 translation. Note especially verse 164, which Van Dorn translates as “Unwavering, seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.” In his sermon on Psalm 119, he notes the many references to time of day in the Psalm. He notes that some commentators divide the Psalm into eight parts to correspond to eight times during the day to read the Psalm. If you do this, verse 164 is close to the the end of the seventh part. Pretty cool, huh?

Here’s a chart:

And here is the final part of Van Dorn’s Psalm 119 translation. Read it, recite it, meditate on it, and enjoy it.

Christianity Today Cover Story on Bible Translation

The cover story for the most recent issue of Christianity Today is called When A Word Is Worth A Thousand Complaints (and When It Isn’t), and it’s about Bible translation. It covers several issues, including “the Satan” in Job, “virgin/young woman” in Isaiah 7:14, the TNIV and gender inclusivity, the ESV Study Bible editors overruling the authors of the study notes, and how Bible translations are reluctant to depart from tradition.

It’s a fascinating and informative article, well-worth reading.

Psalm 119, part 3, and Other Acrostic Translations

This is part 3 of Douglas Van Dorn‘s translation of Psalm 119. Read it, recite it, meditate on it.

And we are going to answer the question: What other acrostic translations are there into English?

We know there have been literally hundreds of Bible translations into English, ranging from the entire canon to just the Old or New Testament, or just individual books or portions of them. So how many of those did acrostic translations?

Surprisingly few. And not even the translators who are especially sensitive to poetry. Take Robert Alter, professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at UC Berkeley, who literally wrote the book on The Art of Biblical Poetry, and translated the entire Hebrew Bible with the stated goal of bringing the features of the Hebrew text to the English reader. Did he preserve the acrostics? No, no he did not.

So who did? The first acrostic translations in English were Psalms of Sir Philip Sidney and the Countess of Pembroke. Poor Sir Philip died after translating the first 44 psalms, and his sister, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, completed it, using English acrostics for Psalms 111 and 119 (but only for the first line of each eight-line set). They were completed in 1599, but remained unpublished until 1823.

The first collection of Psalms in English preserving all of the acrostics is The Psalms Chronologically Arranged, written by anonymously as “Four Friends,” but known to be C. T. Arnold, F. E. Kitchener, S. Philpotts, and A. W. Potts. The first edition appeared in 1867, and the 1870 edition added other biblical poetry, including Lamentations 1-4 in acrostic.

The only complete Bible that consistently incorporated acrostics was the one by Ronald Knox, an English Catholic who translated the entire Bible from the Latin Vulgate in the 1940s. He used acrostic form for all of the biblical acrostic poems except for Psalm 9-10.

Brenda Boerger, a Bible translator in the Solomon Islands, translated the Psalms into both Natügu and English and used acrostics in both, as well as other poetic forms. Some of her acrostic psalms can be found in two academic articles: Extending translation principles for poetry and biblical acrostics (1997) and Freeing Biblical Poetry to Sing (2016), both available online. Her full Psalter translation can be purchased directly from her at brenda_boerger at sil.org.

Some other resources on acrostics in translation, including some more acrostic translations:
William Binnie’s The Psalms: Their History, Teachings, And Use (1886) translates Psalms 111 and 112 in full as English acrostics, and Psalms 37 and 119 in part.
The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) has an English acrostic for Psalm 25. The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019), though, replaces it with a non-acrostic from the Revised Grail Psalter.
Timothy Wilt’s Alphabet Acrostics: perhaps the form can be represented (1993), with a Psalm 111 English acrostic.
Paul Raabe’s Translating for Sound (2000), with a Psalm 111 English acrostic.
The EasyEnglish Bible (2001) has English acrostics in Psalms 9-10 and Psalm 145.
Roelie van der Spuy’s Hebrew Alphabet Acrostics – Significance and Translation (2008). It includes his Psalm 111 Afrikaans acrostic and a Psalm 111 Dutch acrostic from Iver Larsen, who has contributed to this blog.
Bob MacDonald has translated much of the Hebrew Bible (2008-2020), including Psalm 112, Psalm 119, Psalm 145, Proverbs 31, and Lamentations 14 as acrostics, following the sounds of the Hebrew alphabet.
Dru Brooke-Taylor’s Metrical Psalter (2010, 2015, 2020) includes a Psalm 111 English acrostic in Book 5A.
M.J. van Eijzeren’s M.A. Thesis ‘Halbnachts steh’ ich auf’. An Exploration into the Translation of Biblical Acrostics (2012). The most detailed history of acrostic translations I’ve encountered.
George van Popta’s An Alphabetic Acrostic on Psalm 119 (2017).

And that brings us to part 3 of Doug Van Dorn’s Psalm 119 translation. Doug has translated all of the acrostic psalms (2016-2018). More on that in the next post.

Psalm 119, part 2, and Why Acrostics?

This is part 2 of Douglas Van Dorn‘s translation of Psalm 119. Read it, recite it, meditate on it.

And we are going to answer the question: why acrostics?

So, why did the biblical writers arrange some of their poetry based on the Hebrew alphabet? Well, they didn’t tell us, and they’re all dead now, so we’ll never know for sure until we get to heaven and ask them. But that, of course, doesn’t stop us from speculating on that, and other things, like the meaning of “Selah” in the Psalms.

The two prevailing answers are 1) to aid memorization, and 2) to emphasize completeness, i.e. Psalm 119 is telling us about delighting in God’s law from A-Z, or Proverbs 31 is telling us about the noble woman from A-Z. These, of course, are not mutually exclusive.

Personally, I favor 3) because it’s really cool, and 4) because it make it more challenging to write, and who doesn’t like a challenge? I mean, can’t you imagine the Psalm 119 author saying to the other psalmists, yeah, that’s good, but take a look at this 176 line acrostic masterpiece!

Why do you think they wrote in acrostics? Comment below.

And without further adieu, here is part 2 of Doug Van Dorn‘s Psalm 119 translation.

Psalm 119: An Acrostic Translation

In Bible translation, most translators prioritize translating the meaning over the form. That is to say, they produce a translation that conveys the meaning of the biblical text, but aspects like the grammar, or word order, or sentence divisions are generally not preserved as they are in the original texts.

In the Old Testament, many Psalms, as well as part of Proverbs 31 and most of Lamentations, are acrostic poetry. That is, each line or group of lines starts with a particular letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and it proceeds in the order of the alphabet. But this element of poetry is generally not conveyed in English translation.

Pastor Douglas Van Dorn of Reformed Baptist Church of Northern Colorado has made a poetic translation of Psalm 119 that preserves the acrostic with the English alphabet, and has kindly granted permission for it to be shared here.

Below is part 1. Read it, meditate on it, and comment on it below.

Better Bibles blog is back!

After a several years hiatus, the Better Bibles blog is back and ready to discuss issues regarding Bible translation.

So what’s been going on in the world of Bible translation in the last several years? Quite a lot, actually.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible was revised in 2017 to become the Christian Standard Bible, and has just undergone another revision for 2020.

Conservative Lutherans in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and Evangelical Lutheran Synod completed the Evangelical Heritage Version in 2019.

John MacArthur and his staff at the Master’s University and Seminary are working on a revision of the New American Standard Bible entitled the Legacy Standard Bible. The New Testament is due out 2021.

Speaking of the New American Standard Bible, they just released a new revision called the NASB 2020. The decision to call it “2020” is not looking good, given all that has happened this year, but they’re sticking to their guns.

Also, several one-author Bibles have been completed. Professor Robert Alter finished his translation of the Hebrew Bible in 2019. In 2018, so did John Goldingay, calling it the First Testament. David Bentley Hart published a translation of the New Testament in 2017.

Speaking of Robert Alter, in 2019 he also published a book called The Art of Bible Translation. Also in 2019, William Barrick of the Masters Seminary published Understanding Bible Translation: Bringing God’s Word into New Contexts.

The Bible continues to have enduring relevance today, and translators continue to find new ways to present the text to contemporary readers.

MEV: Clear, Reverent, Accurate, or Meh?

The newly announced Modern English Version of the Bible (MEV) is described on its website as “Clear, Reverent, Accurate”. But James McGrath is unimpressed, calling it The Meh Version. Indeed there seems to be little new here, as far as one can tell from the few samples given.

The MEV is also described on the website as “The most modern word-for-word translation produced since the King James tradition within the last 30 years.” If that sentence is typical of the logic and grammar of the MEV, then it is certainly neither clear nor accurate. Well, what exactly are they claiming? If by “most modern” they mean “newest”, well, I guess that is true, but it tells us nothing about the quality.

Looking a little more closely, I found the following:

The MEV is a translation of the Textus Receptus and the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the Masoretic Text, using the King James Version as the base manuscript.

The MEV is a literal word-for-word translation. It is also often referred to as a formal correspondence translation.

The Committee on Bible Translation began their work on the MEV in 2005 and completed it in 2013.

CLEAR: Literal translation (word-for-word, not thought-for-thought), with capitalized references of God. Historical facts and events are expressed without distortion. At the same time the translation is done in such a way that readers of all backgrounds may understand the message that the original author was communicating to the original audience.

REVERENT: Every effort is made to ensure that no political, ideological, social, cultural, or theological agenda is allowed to distort the translation.

ACCURATE: The Scriptures are accurately translated without loss, change, compromise, embellishments or distortions of the meaning of the original text.

THE VISION: TO ACCURATELY COMMUNICATE GOD’S WORD ANEW, WITH BEAUTY AND CLARITY FOR PEOPLE EVERYWHERE

However, one of the testimonials is as follows:

It was with great enthusiasm that I took on the request to update books from the 1611 King James Bible with the modern English vernacular …

Another one:

A new, precise update of the King James Version has been glaringly necessary. …

So which is this, a translation of the named Greek and Hebrew texts, or an update or paraphrase of KJV?

I’m sorry, but I agree with McGrath’s “Meh”. If you want a modern language literal translation of the same base texts, the World English Bible is probably a better bet – and is in the public domain. But no doubt the publishers of MEV will make quite a lot of money with their nicely presented printed editions like their SpiritLed Woman Bibles. Sadly Bible translation, at least in English, now seems to be not so much Christian ministry as business.