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Translations

Translation Continuum
(c) Copyright 2019 RC Beaman
The Translation Continuum

Jesus talks about faith in today’s Bible reading. In response to the Disciples’ request for Jesus to increase their faith, He says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6 (CSB) But is that what Jesus said?

Whenever I bring up the question of the way a Bible verse should be translated, please hear me clearly that I believe that the translators of the modern English translations have done a fantastic job of faithfully communicating God’s Word from the original language to modern English. But different translations depend on different translation goals. Some translations aim to translate the words faithfully, other translations aim to translate the thoughts faithfully. Most translations fall somewhere between these two “extremes”.

I posted a larger version of my translation continuum. You’ll see the terms “Formal Equivalence” on one end of the continuum and “Functional Equivalence” (also called Dynamic Equivalence) on the other end. Formal Equivalence aims to faithfully translate the Bible in a “literal”, word-for-word way. Functional Equivalence aims to faithfully translate the Bible in a less formal, thought-for-thought way. Neither “Formal” nor “Functional” translation philosophy is “better” than another; they just have different purposes. So to best understand the Bible, it’s often helpful to read and study from a variety of translations, preferably from a different translation philosophy.

There are a few English translations that truly are “literal” translations. But trust me, these translations are very difficult to read because they translate words in the order they appear in the original language. For instance, to translate a familiar passage, John 3:16 literally, you would read,

“Thus for he loved the God the world so that the son the only begotten he gave, in order that all the believing into him not they shall perish but they shall have life eternal..”

How awkward!

As you can see from my translation continuum diagram, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is probably the most popular modern translation on the “literal” end of the translation continuum. Another popular modern translation on the “literal” end of the continuum, but not quite as “wooden” and thus, more readable is the English Standard Version (ESV)   Near-paraphrases would fall on the other end of the translation continuum. The Message could be called a near-paraphrase. The Living Bible (LB) was truly a paraphrase rather than a translation.

I often use the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) in my devotionals and in my preaching. The CSB translators aimed at creating an “optimal equivalence” to be as formal as possible, while making it as readable as possible.

It’s a slight difference, and I don’t want to split theological hairs, but the ESV does a better job of communicating Jesus’ comments on mustard seed faith in Luke 17:6. It reads “faith like a mustard seed” rather “faith the size of a mustard seed”.

Jesus’ emphasis is not on the size of your faith, but rather the character of your faith. The context of the Disciples’ request for an increase of their faith supports the translation, “faith like a mustard seed”. Yes, a mustard seed is small, about the size of the sesame seed on your hamburger bun. But it doesn’t stay small for very long. The mustard bush can be as large as ten feet high! And Jesus rightly points out that it’s large enough for birds to build their nests. (Luke 13:19)

Acknowledgment: A friend pointed out the mustard seed character vs. size one morning after Sunday School. Thanks, Don!

According to The CSB Study Bible, the mulberry tree is known for its extensive and deep root system and they could live for several hundred years. So for a mulberry tree to be uprooted would be a tremendous task! It couldn’t be done with a small, dormant faith, but it could be done with a dynamic, growing faith like a mustard seed.

Application

Do you merely have a small faith? Or do you have a growing faith?

As the Disciples did, ask God to grow your faith. Now, note that in asking God to grow your faith, you will be challenged in your faith. Remember that accomplished sailors get their experience from sailing in both calm and rough seas. And the only thing that was ever produced by very rare storms is a dry, scorched desert!

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The Hebrew Tittle

Take a look at the two Hebrew letters on the left. If I had not highlighted the difference, do you think you would have caught it? It’s small. Almost unnoticeable. But that tiny difference between these two letters can make a big difference! The letter on the left is R and the letter on the right is D. That one tiny stroke makes a different letter. Similarly, one tiny stroke makes the difference in the English letters E and F. And dealing with those tiny strokes in Hebrew is why I began to wear glasses!

Jesus gives us a word picture in today’s Bible reading. He says that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” Luke 16:17 (KJV)

We rarely use the word tittle anymore. Modern translations use “stroke of a letter” instead of tittle. The difference between the Hebrew B and D and the difference between the English E and F is called a tittle.

Jesus says that it’s more likely for heaven and earth to fall apart than for God’s Word to be corrupted. “Ah”, the skeptic would say, “but there are differences in the Bible’s manuscripts!” The skeptic is correct. As we compare manuscripts and scrolls of the Bible, yes, there are some small differences. There may even be some tittles added or missing when you look closely. But, I would add that those small differences are virtually insignificant.

Thanks to the abundance of manuscripts, scholars can go back and recreate the original texts with a very high degree of certainty. When they compare the manuscripts against each other, they can easily determine slips of the pen that a scribe made. Those uncrossed t’s, undotted i’s, as well as the extra or missing tittles are easily recognized. And you know what? In “all of these mistakes”, not a single Bible doctrine is affected by the mistake.

You may have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In November 1946, a young shepherd was throwing rocks into caves in the area of Qumran, Jordan and heard pottery break. He went inside the cave and found several pottery jars with scrolls rolled up inside. Over the next few years, more scrolls were discovered. As scholars studied the scrolls, they found some of them to be Old Testament Scriptures and were almost 1000 years older than the oldest scrolls known to exist. When they compared the Dead Sea Scrolls to the oldest scrolls they had, scholars discovered the differences to be minuscule.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrated God’s sovereign hand in preserving His Word over the centuries.

Application

God’s Word can be trusted, in part, because God has preserved His Word for His people. Given that God cares so much to preserve His Word for His people, I can’t state too strongly the importance of studying His preserved Word. God’s people have literally bled and died trying to get God’s Word into your hands.

If God can preserve tittles over thousands of years, don’t you think that He can handle the smallest details of your life? Spend a few minutes today thanking God for caring about the little things. And thank Him for the little ways He cares for you.

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Jesus is tempted
Image Source: Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

In today’s Bible reading, we get a glimpse of the secret to Jesus’ success in His ministry. It’s very easy to look at Jesus in His temptation and say, “Well, that was Jesus; He’s the Son of God! I can’t measure up!” Of course, we can’t measure up. But Jesus didn’t give in to temptation because of Who He was. He didn’t give in to temptation because of His secret. So what was Jesus’ secret?

Look at Luke 4:1. “Then Jesus left the Jordan, full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” (CSB)

Did you catch that? We often think that the Devil leads us into temptation. And a quick read through today’s reading could lead someone to believe that. But Matthew (Matthew 4:1) brings out that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for the very purpose of being tempted.

And look at Jesus’ secret after successfully resisting temptation. “Then Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread throughout the entire vicinity.” Luke 4:14 (CSB)

Jesus’ secret was that He was full of the Spirit and He was led by the Spirit. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:18 to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit and he tells us in Romans 8:14 that God’s kids are led by the Spirit. Paul further tells us, “I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16 (CSB)

Application

Jesus’ secret to not giving in to temptation is the same secret available to you: Be filled with and walk by the Holy Spirit. What does that look like? It looks like submitting to His leading. I mentioned a few days ago that the results of being filled with the Spirit and letting God’s Word abide in us are the same. So my takeaway is that being filled with the Spirit is reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, and memorizing God’s Word. It’s letting God’s Word operate in and through us.

Are you purposefully reading, studying, and memorizing God’s Word on a regular basis? I’m not talking about reading and studying God’s Word on Sunday. You eat more than one day a week, right? Shouldn’t you eat God’s Word just as regularly as you eat food? (Matthew 4:4, Acts 17:11, Joshua 1:8, Proverbs 22:17-18 )

If you don’t have a plan to read the Bible, join me! This year, I’m using the 5x5x5 Bible Reading Plan from the Navigators. You can download a copy here. This plan goes through the entire New Testament over the course of a year (Can you believe we’re halfway through already?!). It only takes about five minutes a day, five days a week. The Bible App will even read out loud the day’s Bible reading for you while you brush your teeth or drive to work. “I don’t have enough time” won’t cut it for an excuse!

Please download the plan or the Bible App (or both) and read through the New Testament (in a translation you can easily understand) with me through the rest of the year. I promise that if you will do this, your life will change!

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diamond

Today we begin reading through the letter Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus. Ephesians is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I know I said that when we began Romans earlier, but these two books are my favorites. There is so much wealth in the book. And Chapter One absolutely lights me up!

It’s difficult to read this chapter without a sense of excitement as Paul adds thought after thought after thought without taking a breath to finish a sentence as he reflects on the multifaceted blessings we have in Christ.

It reminds me of looking at a diamond with a magnifying glass under a bright light. If you move the light just a tad, you see facets you didn’t see before. And with every note about one facet Paul describes, another one appears in all its brilliance.

Application

When was the last time you stopped to just bask in God’s presence? No distractions. No background music. Just spending time worshiping God and letting His Word wash over you. That’s the kind of feeling I got when I read this a few minutes ago.

Take a few minutes to re-read Ephesians 1. Read it slowly. Read it again in a different translation; if you normally read a more “literal” translation, try it with a less “literal” translation (or vice versa). What differences do you see? As you read and re-read the chapter, what is one thing that you haven’t seen before? What’s another thing you can praise God for?

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Adam and Eve are tempted

Paul continues developing his thoughts on justification by grace through faith in today’s Bible reading. He says, “So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is justification leading to life for everyone.” Romans 5:18 (CSB)

Each of us is responsible for our own sin, yet each of us inherited a fallen condition from our first parents (specifically the First Man, Adam) because of one act of disobedience: eating the fruit from the one tree that God had warned against eating.

But that wasn’t the end of the story! Another Man, also called “the Second Adam”, brought righteousness through His one act: sacrificial atoning death on the cross. And in His death and resurrection, He reconciled the broken relationship between God and His people, whom He relentlessly pursues through covenant throughout the rest of the Bible.

As much as sin, death, and judgment followed the one act of Adam’s disobedience, how much more did the one act of Jesus’ obedience bring life, righteousness, and forgiveness. In fact, Paul uses this phrase how much more four times in this one chapter. And counting his final parting shot, “where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more.” Romans 5:20 (CSB), Paul drives home his point a fifth time!

Application

There is no sin you have ever committed — or ever will — that will ever be so massive, so horrendous, that God’s grace cannot overcome. If you’ve ever felt that you’ve blown it and that you’ve done something God can never forgive, rest assured, you aren’t that powerful! You aren’t that bad. You haven’t surprised God. God’s plan to redeem Adam’s descendants didn’t arrive as Plan B. God planned redemption from before He spoke, “Let there be light.”

Wherever there is sin, there is even more grace. God’s grace is free for the taking from an unconditionally loving, reconciling God.

I love how Eugene Peterson translated Romans 5:20-21 in The Message Translation:

Sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.

That’s good news! That’s the Gospel!

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