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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Response to Mark Driscoll: Common words for uncommon ideas

This post follows on the same topic as the two preceding ones here on BBB.

I have added a comment to the Mars Hill church blog post which contains Mark Driscoll's explanation for why their church will now use the ESV. I thought it would be helpful to share my comment here, as well:

Pastor Driscoll noted:

“Furthermore, even the greatest of communicators were known to be hard to understand when they spoke God’s truth. For example, some of Jesus’ teaching was declared to be a “hard saying” by His hearers (John 6:60). Jesus also taught in parables, knowing that His teaching would not be readily understood by all his hearers, but only those with “ears to hear” (Mark 4:10–23).”

Very true, but Pastor Driscoll has confused two different matters. Jesus did not speak in technical religious jargon which we find in the ESV and similar English Bibles. Instead, Jesus used plain-speak, everyday language, the language of the field and fishing. It was not Jesus’ words that were hard to understand. It was the thoughts he was conveying with those words that threw his listeners. Jesus didn’t use complicated, rare words when he told the parable of the sower and the seeds. But even Jesus’ disciples often didn’t catch Jesus’ meaning. It wasn’t a problem of vocabulary, as Pastor Driscoll seems to be saying in his article, but, rather, lack of ability to understand the application to people’s lives.

Nicodemus fully understood Jesus’ words when Jesus told him he needed a second birth. Nicodemus’ response lets us know he understood those words. But Nicodemus wasn’t on the same spiritual wavelength with Jesus. He didn’t understand the *concepts* (thoughts) behind the words. He didn’t know how to be born again.

Let’s not encourage people to use Bible versions which use words less familiar to English speakers than were the words used in the original Biblical language texts for their audiences. It is accurate to translate the Bible to ordinary English words which are the equivalent of the ordinary words Jesus used when he taught.

We erect artifical barriers to the work of God when we encourage people to use Bibles which are not of the same kind of language as that used by the Biblical authors. The Biblical authors did not use the word “propitiation.” Instead, they used a common word hilasmos. Biblical authors did not use a rare word like “justification”. Instead they used a very common, ordinary word dikaiosis to communicate what English Bible translators are hoping to communicate with the theological term “justification.” John the Baptist did not tell his audience to “repent” (Matt. 3:2). Instead, we have the Greek translation of what he said in his Semitic language as being metanoiete which was a very common word which meant “change your mind.” That’s what God wants from us sinners, he wants us to change our thinking and our ways. He wants us to stop sinning. God inspired his Holy Word which was written in words which were, on the whole, ordinary, everyday, good quality language. But English translators have made things more complicated by using uncommon, rare, often obsolete words. I think this must make God sad.

Jesus did not consider it his mission to teach people the meanings of words. He simply taught people. And he used words they already understood. It’s not necessary to use “Christianese” when we evangelize or even in our Bible studies with fellow Christians.

People need to be able to understand the words of the Bible, just as they understood the words that were spoken by Jesus, Paul, and others in Bible times. Then we need dedicated Bible teachers like Pastor Driscoll to help people understand the concepts behind those words, again, just as Jesus had to explain the meaning of his everyday language parables to his disciples.

Please note that I am *not* suggesting that every word in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament was common or easy to understand. BBB commenter Anonymous is right to point out that we don't always know exactly what those words were. There is uncertainty over what the actual words were in some text passages.

Not all of the biblical language texts are of the same literary genre or complexity. Some texts are written in straightforward everyday language. Others have greater literary sophistication. Paul's epistles are written in more complicated language than are the Greek translations we have of the teachings of Jesus.

But I want to focus on the matter of overall vocabulary used in Bible translation. I still find very few technical religious terms in the original biblical texts. And I think we have not been fair (or even accurate) if we translate ordinary source text (biblical) words with uncommon, obsolete, or jargon terms in English. It is here where I disagree with Mark Driscoll.


At Sun Jan 07, 07:09:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

One of your best, Wayne. Amen.

At Mon Jan 08, 10:39:00 AM, Blogger daniel reed said...

It doesn't look like your comment got posted to the Mars Hill Blog {insert snide remark here}.

Anyway, thank you for this. It's really enjoyable, informative, and engaging.

What English translation do you personally use, Wayne?

At Mon Jan 08, 11:17:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Daniel asked:

What English translation do you personally use, Wayne?

I use several, Daniel, depending on what the need is.

I like the CEV best overall. It has the best English for the most number of English speakers.

I refer to the NRSV and NET Bible to check accuracy.

My wife and I like to read The Message in our personal devotions and our Bible reading together.

For several weeks I have been carrying a new large print NLT to church with me. Of the "major" translations available today, I would consider the NLT the best, given all purposes for which a Bible version is used in a church and personal use.

I have never had the opportunity to use the NIV much, so I have not grown attached to it. But if I were attending a church which used the NIV as its pulpit Bible, I would be happy. I would encourage such a church to upgrade to the TNIV which is even more accurate.

At Mon Jan 08, 12:35:00 PM, Blogger daniel reed said...

Thanks! That eliminates some of my [admittedly lame] excuses for not picking up one at all.

At Mon Jan 08, 12:37:00 PM, Blogger daniel reed said...

By the way, did you see my comment on the Flight to Egypt post? I was a little late in getting to it, but I'd love to hear your feedback.

At Mon Jan 08, 02:54:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Daniel, you have now given away your own identity by claiming a named comment, as well as because Wayne named you. So it would be helpful for our discussions if you always gave your name when commenting, by logging into Blogger. Otherwise we might confuse you by mistake with another Anonymous who has commented here prolifically in the past, and refused to reveal his identity.

At Mon Jan 08, 03:18:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

"It doesn't look like your comment got posted to the Mars Hill Blog".

Don't take it personally, Wayne. Nor did mine, nor did anyone else's. For the record, mine was as follows:

Please see the comments I have made on my blog Speaker of Truth about Pastor Driscoll’s theological justification for using ESV and, more positively, about his comments on gender language about God.

At Mon Jan 08, 03:22:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Daniel asked:

By the way, did you see my comment on the Flight to Egypt post? I was a little late in getting to it, but I'd love to hear your feedback.

Yes, I did read your comments there, Daniel, as soon as you posted them. I appreciated them. Not many people do as thorough an evaluation of the text as you did, so it gladdened my heart (to use some older speech!).

It doesn't matter if a comment is late. I get email notice of any comments put on any posts, regardless of the date of the post.

Thanks for each of your comments.

At Tue Jan 09, 11:58:00 AM, Blogger daniel reed said...

Daniel, you have now given away your own identity by claiming a named comment

Sorry, I don't think I follow - I don't think I've ever posted here as anonymous. I claimed a comment for which I was logged in with the same username I'm using now (didn't I?).

Anyway, I'll make sure to stay logged in. I think there may have been some weird anomalies with the Google/Blogger/Blogger Beta changes.

Not many people do as thorough an evaluation of the text as you did, so it gladdened my heart

Thank you. That's very kind of you.

At Tue Jan 09, 01:28:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Daniel, your previous comments on this post were appearing as "Anonymous", but now your name has reappeared. Probably a blogger glitch. Sorry for the confusion.

At Wed Jan 10, 01:50:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I see VoxPop has now closed comments on the posting, without posting any of the ones which were submitted for moderation. Rick Mansfield was justified in writing the following in a comment on his own post on this subject:

It's also worth pointing out that a number of responses were made on Driscoll's/Mars Hill's blog and they have not been allowed; nor have trackbacks such as the one created for my post. The fear of open discussion on Driscoll's/Mars Hill's part says a lot as well.

At Mon Mar 26, 06:02:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Jones said...

Thanks for your posts on Bible versions.

I have read / heard from many on the word for word side lately, and it is refreshing to find another perspective.

I don’t know where I stand on this one though. I think the correct answer on this question in the last selection, “all of the above.”


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