Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Good Confession? (1 Timothy 6:12,13)

Let's have a look at 1 Timothy 6:13 from the viewpoint of a new believer who has only a limited knowledge of the gospel story. Let's read it in the TNIV, although ESV, NIV, RSV and NRSV are very similar:
... Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate ...
So, we have a picture of Jesus in court before Pilate, in the witness box. If we know anything of the story, we know that he was answering serious charges brought against him. So we read on:
... made the good confession, ...
What does this mean? If the defendant in a court case makes a confession, that can mean only one thing: he acknowledges his own crime and effectively changes his plea to guilty. Is this what Jesus did? Well, if we have read the gospels we probably think he did not, but this verse seems to teach that he did. Of course we might be confused about what might make his confession "the good confession" - but perhaps only that he did the right thing. So, we probably conclude that this verse teaches that Jesus pleaded guilty and accepted that he deserved to be put to death.

The problem, of course, is that in modern English the word "confession" is rather negative and used almost only of acknowledging some kind of wrongdoing. Even in church contexts, while we sometimes speak of a "confession of faith" such as the Westminster Confession, we are more likely to think of confession as acknowledging one's sins. When someone says something positive, they are more likely to use the word "profession" (so "profession of faith"), "affirmation", or even "assertion".

The issue is made more complicated in that the same Greek words "good confession" are used in verse 12, not of Christ but of Timothy and presumably referring to his profession of faith, probably at his baptism.

What are the alternatives? NLT simply has
who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate,
which seems fine, except that it loses the link with "confessed so well" in verse 12. The Message also loses the link with its otherwise good dynamic equivalent
who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn't give an inch.
Similarly JB Phillips's rendering is good:
who fearlessly witnessed to the truth before Pontius Pilate,
but loses the link with verse 12.

The Good News Translation (TEV) has
who firmly professed his faith before Pontius Pilate,
and CEV has
who openly told Pontius Pilate about his faith.
These last two seem much better at first sight, but introduce an extraneous theological issue in stating that Jesus Christ had faith. This was denied by Thomas Aquinas, so it is surprising to find the same issue in the New Jerusalem Bible:
who witnessed to his noble profession of faith before Pontius Pilate,
so saying the same as TEV in higher level language.

So I am driven back to the original Jerusalem Bible as the most satisfactory rendering I can find:
who spoke up for the truth in front of Pontius Pilate,
which links satisfactorily with its rendering of the end of verse 12:
when you made your profession and spoke up for the truth,
although I don't see why they didn't use "profession" in verse 13 as well.

11 Comments:

At Thu Sep 22, 11:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Let's have a look at 1 Timothy 6:13 from the viewpoint of a new believer who has only a limited knowledge of the gospel story."

I don't think it's reasonable to demand that Bible versions we use in church should be made under such limitations. People who do not even know the meaning of the word "confession" in this context are not likely to understand much of anything in the Bible.

Paul certainly didn't write this letter to someone who had a limited knowledge of the gospel.
He wrote it to one of his disciples, not a clueless "seeker." And the same is true of the entire New Testament.

 
At Thu Sep 22, 01:58:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

In reply to "anonymous": It is true that Paul wrote 1 Timothy to one of his disciples. But this is not true of the entire New Testament. John's gospel is explicitly written to seekers. Most of Paul's letters were written to churches, all of which would have included many new believers, and some, e.g. in Thessalonica, were probably only months old when Paul wrote to them.

As for the Bible today, it is promoted and sold for reading by seekers. Whether or not that is a good idea, it is important that materials provided for seekers are appropriate for their use. If they are to be presented with material not originally written for them, it needs to be presented in a form which they understand.

I agree with you that People who do not even know the meaning of the word "confession" in this context are not likely to understand much of anything in the Bible. The problem is that this is probably true of the majority of church members today - if by "the Bible" we are thinking of modern formal equivalence versions like ESV. For the language used in these versions is at too high a level for most adults to read with understanding. If you disagree, I suggest you survey some church members.

 
At Thu Sep 22, 04:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter wrote: It is true that Paul wrote 1 Timothy to one of his disciples. But this is not true of the entire New Testament. John's gospel is explicitly written to seekers.

John's gospel presumes a knowledge of the Old Testament in many places. Internal evidence reveals that it was not written for people who were ignorant of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Most of Paul's letters were written to churches, all of which would have included many new believers, and some, e.g. in Thessalonica, were probably only months old when Paul wrote to them.

Yet it is undeniable that the letters were written to believers and disciples, and not to unbelievers. A good deal of background knowledge is presumed in all of them.

As for the Bible today, it is promoted and sold for reading by seekers. Whether or not that is a good idea, it is important that materials provided for seekers are appropriate for their use. If they are to be presented with material not originally written for them, it needs to be presented in a form which they understand.

I agree that modern seekers need what is appropriate for them. This is where preaching and teaching come into the picture. And many books have been written for them.

I agree with you that People who do not even know the meaning of the word confession in this context are not likely to understand much of anything in the Bible. The problem is that this is probably true of the majority of church members today - if by 'the Bible' we are thinking of modern formal equivalence versions like ESV. For the language used in these versions is at too high a level for most adults to read with understanding.

In my experience, the people who actually read and know their Bibles tend to be KJV-readers! The archaic language of the KJV can cause problems, of course, but people who really want to read the Bible are not fatally hindered by difficulties of its language. The really fatal problems are lack of interest and motivation, and lack of a supporting church culture. Fundamentalist churches are very effective in overcoming these problems, and that is why the KJV is still the most read version, despite all of its linguistic difficulties. But I have never met a regular bible-reader (male or female) who reads the NRSV, despite the fact that I have spent years teaching in congregations where it is the "official" Bible. Think about it.

If you disagree, I suggest you survey some church members.

I don't need to make surveys. I have over ten years of experience teaching the Bible to ordinary people in real-life ministry, week after week. And I suggest that you stop trying to adapt the Bible for purposes that it was never intended to serve. The Bible is not an easy book, it is not self-explanatory, and it was not written to dummies or unbelievers. People who want to read it can understand it tolerably well even in the King James Version, if they have the appropriate guidance from pastors and teachers.

 
At Thu Sep 22, 05:08:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I agree with your point about NRSV. It is the worst of both worlds, for it is not easily understandable and is not used in churches where Bible reading is strongly promoted.

Don't forget that my original imaginary reader of 1 Timothy was not a seeker, but "a new believer who has only a limited knowledge of the gospel story" - so, people more like the Thessalonian church when Paul wrote to it. So it is a red herring here to discuss seekers' needs.

But I continue to dispute your claim that people who really want to read the Bible are not fatally hindered by difficulties of its language. Perhaps "fatally" is going too far, but I am certain that there are many people with a real desire to read the Bible who find formal equivalence versions so hard to understand that they quickly become discouraged. Some persist, of course, and come to know the Bible very well. But many more give up on regular Bible reading, or restrict it to a few well-known passages, or perhaps skim-read passages and then read notes on it - meaning that they are not really reading the text, just someone's devitional thoughts about it.

 
At Thu Sep 22, 11:15:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

The point that isn't being mentioned is that GOD is the one that who gives understanding.

You can have PHDs and still not understand the Word. In contrast, you can be very poorly "educated" and understand quite a bit of the Scripture once you are born again.

...plenty of Scripture to back this concept.

P.S. What is with the anonymous comments?

AMDG

 
At Fri Sep 23, 07:53:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I agree that God gives understanding of the difficult spiritual concepts in his Word. But understanding of the meanings of ordinary words in the English language like "confession", although ultimately coming from God of course, is something which is normally learned in the ordinary human way. Someone who understands "confession" only in the sense "acknowledgement of guilt" will not suddenly miraculously learn that it means something different as soon as they are born again. They can learn it in church, of course, and they may do so, but how many churches actually teach this non-standard meaning of "confession", and how often?

PS I too am glad to see that now "This blog does not allow anonymous comments." I would welcome further comments from our former "anonymous", but would also like to know a bit more about his or her identity.

 
At Fri Sep 23, 08:24:00 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Yeah, my point was that the depraved man will not even understand the "basic" points in the Scripture.

I live in a region that is mostly catholic and the meaning of "confession" is shrouded with what the catholic church teaches on about it.

The point of the original articles is a good one.

AMDG

 
At Fri Sep 23, 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Most church members, if they do any Bible study at all, study single or several verses devotionally, and almost never get into its contextual meaning(s).

Thanks for some good in depth, thought provoking posts.

 
At Sun Sep 25, 06:27:00 AM, Blogger Trevor Jenkins said...

Joe raises a fundamental issue with his comment Most church members, ... study single or several verses devotionally, and almost never get into its contextual meaning(s). However, he doesn't go far enough in my opinion with the comment.

What passes for "study" with many seems to be nothing more than reading some prominent preachers blessed thoughts on an individual verse. There is one such scheme here in Britain know as "Every Day with Jesus" but commonly referred to as "Every Day with Selwyn"; Selwyn Hughes being the compiler of the notes. The Bible text is read only to support the homily. The reader does not engage with the actual Bible text or context. A case of can't see the wood for the trees.

It seems that reading the text has fallen out of favour of late. T C Hammond (evangelical and Anglican clergyman) said Read the Bible in great dollops. (Hammond wrote the IVP book "In Understanding Be Men", which is still in print nearly 60 years on.) Without such reading then individual verses we deal only in proof-texts or mis-interpreted and heresy ensue.

Perhaps such insular Bible "study" should be replaced with Bible reading. I believe that if people read the text in those great dollops then they would appreciate it more and that would propel them into worthwhile study.

 
At Mon Sep 26, 06:50:00 PM, Blogger son of abraham said...

Peter wrote: "I would welcome further comments from our former 'anonymous', but would also like to know a bit more about his or her identity."

I refer you to the blog rule:

"Comments on blog posts should focus on issues not personalities."

 
At Mon Oct 03, 06:54:00 AM, Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

If a trendy, dynamic equivalent is desired, perhaps something like "who spoke truth to power before Pontius Pilate." See "Speaking Truth to Power Cost His Life" (Apr. 2003) for an example.

I'm concerned, however, that this rendering may well appear dated within 10-15 years, much as a translation that said "Do you dig the good news?" would appear today.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home