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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Old Testament Saints? Ps. 51:11

Claude Mariottini has posted recently on the use of the upper case in the KJV. I will come back to this translation again later and post on some of the reasons why the KJV still holds a unique place in our society as a translation. I do not think it is because it is more accurate or without translator bias. Yet, for some reason, it has been "received" as no other translation has. The reasons are worth further treatment.

Tonight I want to puzzle through a slightly different level of translation bias that I have found in Psalm 51:11. My question is about the role of notes included a Bible edition. What is the role of notes in a translation? Can this be defined or is it up to the editor's discretion?

Here are the translation and notes of Ps. 51:11 from the NET Bible. These notes pose several different difficulties for me. First, they imply that David is the writer of this Psalm, in spite of the suggestion by many commentaries that the title and last two verses have been added.

But more problematic by far is the explicit statement that NT believers and OT believers have a different experience of God and his spirit. This actually makes the psalm into an historic piece of writing about a king whose experience of God we should not be interested in sharing.
    51:11 Do not reject me!

    Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me!

    sn [study notes] Do not take…away. The psalmist expresses his fear that, due to his sin, God will take away the Holy Spirit from him. NT believers enjoy the permanent gift of the Holy Spirit and need not make such a request nor fear such a consequence. However, in the OT God’s Spirit empowered certain individuals for special tasks and only temporarily resided in them. For example, when God rejected Saul as king and chose David to replace him, the divine Spirit left Saul and came upon David (1 Sam 16:13-14).

Let's now contrast this with the commentary of John Calvin,

    The truth on which we are now insisting is an important one, as many learned men have been inconsiderately drawn into the opinion that the elect, by falling into mortal sin, may lose the Spirit altogether, and be alienated from God. The contrary is clearly declared by Peter, who tells us that the word by which we are born again is an incorruptible seed, (1 Peter 1:23;) and John is equally explicit in informing us that the elect are preserved from falling away altogether, (1 John 3:9.)

    However much they may appear for a time to have been cast off by God, it is afterwards seen that grace must have been alive in their breast, even during that interval when it seemed to be extinct.

    Nor is there any force in the objection that David speaks as if he feared that he might be deprived of the Spirit. It is natural that the saints, when they have fallen into sin, and have thus done what they could to expel the grace of God, should feel an anxiety upon this point; but it is their duty to hold fast the truth that grace is the incorruptible seed of God, which never can perish in any heart where it has been deposited. This is the spirit displayed by David.

    Reflecting upon his offense, he is agitated with fears, and yet rests in the persuasion that, being a child of God, he would not be deprived of what indeed he had justly forfeited.
We cannot understand the role of the Psalms in the Reformation if we are not aware of Calvin's interpretation. For Calvin, this psalm can be the prayer of any believer, not only that of a particular ancient Hebrew king. There is no intrinsic dichotomy between Old Testament "saints," as those who have no indwelling and permanent spirit, and New Testament "saints" who have the permanent indwelling spirit.

In Geneva, the psalms were the hymnbook of the church, as they were of the early church. Many Christians made their own translations of the Psalms as a personal meditation. One particular such meditation is considered to be the first English sonnet series. The Meditation of a Penitent Sinner is thought to be the work of Anne Locke, 1560. Locke was a close friend and confident of both Calvin and Knox. She visited Calvin in Geneva and translated some of his sermons into English. In the back was found this Meditation. Here are the lines referring to verse 11.
    Take not away the succour of thy sprite,
    Thy holy sprite, which is myne onely stay,
    The stay that when despeir assaileth me,
    In faintest hope yet moveth me to pray,
    To pray for mercy, and to pray to thee.
    Lord, cast me not from presence of thy face,
    Nor take from me the spirite of thy grace.
I not think that the psalm would have inspired this poetry if the author had thought that the experience of the psalmist should be alien to a Christian.

My questions are not about whether or not the NET Bible note is accurate. I consider it to be one possible interpretation among many. My question is rather, what audience is such a Bible for? And is it valid to present only one interpretation in the "study notes" right within the text of the Bible?



At Fri Apr 04, 04:06:00 AM, Blogger codepoke said...

Great post. Great contrast. Thank you, Suzanne.

At Fri Apr 04, 05:30:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

And is it valid to present only one interpretation in the "study notes" right within the text of the Bible?

If it's valid, it's not very smart if you ask me. (Last week I attended a lecture by a Muslim "sister" who walked the audience through an interpretation of the Koran that argues that Islam produced the first feminists. No other perspectives were acknowledged as valid. But, neither a Muslim myself nor an expert in the holy book, I nonetheless very easily found later and elsewhere other different more believable interpretations, on the treatment of women as endorsed by the Koran, within Islam and without.)

At Fri Apr 04, 07:56:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

Wow - Suzanne, this is a clear maneuvering of the subtle knife. You are pointing to the essence of our ability to separate ourselves into our comfort zones at the expense of others on the 'periphery' of our understanding. May it never be! Or to use the 10-fold phrase concerning ultimate unity in Romans - God forbid that we should succeed. My own position is to take literally (!) the pouring out of Spirit on all flesh. So I prevent myself from considering my safety above that of others or my being-in against the being-out of others. There are plenty with whom I disagree and likely I also am disagreeable to many - but let it not be from an assumption like this. (And I include rats, dogs, donkeys, ladybugs and whales in 'all flesh' - is it not written that the lion shall lie down with the lamb and that the suckling child shall play at the adder's den?)

At Fri Apr 04, 09:13:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Wow - Bob, you write the way people tell me I write. (My cat and dog don't much understand it but we allow them both in the house at the same time).

And you've made me ask: What did the Hittite community, and I'm thinking about any daughters or sons of Uriah, believe about Psalm 51, and it's title and last two verses? Could Bill O'Reilly have them on his show with David, Bathsheba, the NET Bible note writer, John Calvin, and Ann Locke for a "no spin zone" roundtable discussion about the biases now in translation that are helped along by commentaries? Or (maybe a more serious question) did Jesus bring up Psalm 51:11 on the road to Emmaus as he was running through how the Prophets and "Moses" spoke about Him?

At Fri Apr 04, 09:51:00 AM, Blogger Iris said...

Good and informative post. This is the reason I do not make frequent use of the NET Bible as the standard for our students. It just gets very interpretative (especially in the translator notes) in some really interesting places. Because of its "free" status on the net, I would love to be able to just use it as our standard text. Can't do it -- not unbiased enough.

At Fri Apr 04, 03:42:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I suspect this is standard dispensationalist theology, as taught at Dallas Theological Seminary which is the home of the NET Bible. For such people not only is the Old Testament irrelevant because it is before Christ, also the gospels are irrelevant because they are before the giving of the Holy Spirit, and even Acts and the epistles are selectively irrelevant because they are from before the end of the apostolic age when the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased. So they are left with just Revelation as their authority, plus the parts of the epistles which they choose to accept.

Sorry that this is not exactly theologically neutral! If it is not fair, please can someone explain how.

At Fri Apr 04, 04:45:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I was brought up a dispensationalist! You hit the nail on the head, Peter. A dispensationalist cannot pray the Lord's prayer since it was given before the spirit.

At Fri Apr 04, 06:32:00 PM, Blogger solarblogger said...

Most of my Bibles have both translators' notes and annotations. The annotations seem to vary a lot, and people generally allow more leeway there. But the translators' notes are often so brief that a reader has an idea what the alternate reading is, but no way of choosing among them, apart from personal preference. I would rather have less room given to annotations, and be given a little more to help me to know what supports one reading rather than another. No reader probably chooses a variant reading on the basis of the translators' notes alone. Though seeing a variant in the notes can alert a reader to go consult another source if there are questions.

I think a bit of leeway is generally given in what kind of annotations you provide. But I would be careful that whatever I decided, the reasonable expectations of the reader of other versions of the Bible would not lead them to false conclusions. Even if they opened up to a random page without reading any notes to the reader.

I wonder, for instance, how many readers who haven't been instructed know that the introductions to particular Psalms are part of the original text, while the subheadings are modern additions. Even without instruction, it might be easier to discern this from some Bibles than others.

At Wed Apr 09, 06:26:00 AM, Blogger Daniel Goepfrich said...

Peter and Suzanne,

Those comments are an extremely unfair characterization of the dispensational belief system.

For clarification, dispensationalism simply acknowledges that, although God doesn't change, His methods in working with people have changed and are clearly distinguishable in different periods of human history.

Specifically, a person is considered "dispensationalist" if he/she:
1 - follows a consistent, literal interpretation of the Bible
2 - sees a clear distinction between Israel and the Church
3 - understands that God's ultimate purpose in the world is solely His own glory

I am a dispensationalist and believe none of what you mentioned. Of course I can pray the Lord's Prayer - but I'm not going to do it mindlessly and repetitiously just because it's in there.

I don't consider any of the Bible irrelevant. I preach and teach the OT as well as the NT. But the fact is, when dealing with church issues, of course you have to use the NT, because the church wasn't around until Acts 2. However, I do concede that not every section is applicable to everyone at all times. For instance, my 4-year-old needs to know that Jesus is coming back, but not every detail of eschatology.

Many of the epistles deal with issues that churches are still facing today. That's why we spend so much time there - they are immediately applicable, but not to the exclusion of the rest of the Bible as you stated.

I hope this helps.


At Thu Apr 10, 12:09:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I don't think I said anything beyond what the NET Bible notes have stated. I certainly don't want to be unfair. There are certain things about dispensationalist teaching that I view very positively. My only point is that the NET Bible presents a narrow view in many places.

At Thu Apr 10, 05:11:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Daniel, as I wrote in a previous comment, "If [what I wrote] is not fair, please can someone explain how." So I am not surprised that someone, you, thinks it is "extremely unfair". Thank you for your attempt at explaining how. I need to look at this things in more detail than I have time to right now.

At Thu Apr 10, 05:53:00 AM, Blogger Daniel Goepfrich said...

Suzanne and Peter,

Thanks for responding. I'm not at all trying to be a jerk or argumentative, just honestly respond to Peter's question about how it's unfair.

Suzanne, I must be missing it, but I don't see anything like what you said in the NET notes of the Lord's Prayer. In fact, it specifically says, "It serves as a model prayer for disciples..." Nothing about being given before the Spirit.

Peter, thanks for your willingness to look into it when you have the time. I was just trying to show that standard dispensationalism is not as kooky as some extremists make it out to be.


At Sat Apr 12, 01:32:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


So sorry that I didn't notice this earlier. No, the Lord's prayer comment has nothing whatsoever to do with the NET Bible. Sorry about the confusion. Like any belief, dispensationalism is quite varied. That is something I was taught as a child, long before the days of the NET Bible.

Once again, sorry for the mixup.

Really my only point is that the NET Bible sometimes presents only one specific interpretation, and not what most commentaries would say about a passage.


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