Psalm 34:8

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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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Lost and Found

Have you ever lost something that you treasure? Maybe it was a family heirloom. Maybe it was a gold coin that you put in a “safe place” so you wouldn’t lose it, but you lost it because you forgot where the “safe place” was. If you’ve been around church for very long, you’ve heard the three parables that Jesus uses in today’s Bible reading from Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and the Lost Son.

I think we have named these parables incorrectly. The parables aren’t about what was lost, but rather the seeker who doesn’t stop seeking until what was lost has been found. With each story, Jesus says that there’s a party once what was lost was found. It’s a cause for celebration! Whether it’s a celebration in the neighborhood, in Heaven, or around the backyard barbecue pit, everyone celebrates with the person who found what was lost. Perhaps these parables should be named The Searching Shepherd, The Searching Woman, and the Searching Father.

Leaving ninety-nine sheep may seem pretty foolish. Think about it. What if while you’re looking for the one lost sheep, several of the other sheep wander off? Then you have to look for all the other lost sheep. You’re only down 1% of your original flock. Why not just count your losses? Why risk running into the bear that’s enjoying its fresh lamb chops? You still have ninety-nine sheep that need to be tended to. Yes, it seems pretty foolish to leave the ninety-nine. Unless you’re the one lost sheep. Once you find the sheep, you have to share the joy; it’s uncontainable and it doesn’t seem like the joy is complete until you share it!

You lose one of your ten silver coins. Where did you leave it? Maybe your other pocket? No, it’s not there. Maybe in a mug in the cupboard? No, it’s not there either. Where could it be? You’ve lost 10% of your coins. Ten percent of your savings. You’ve got to find it! So you turn on the lights and open the blinds. You make an excuse to rearrange the furniture so you can vacuum up the dust bunnies and look for that lost coin. And when you find it, you want to share your joy with your friends and family! You have to share the joy; it’s uncontainable and it doesn’t seem like the joy is complete until you share it!

One of your sons runs away from home, taking a third of your assets with him. (The older son gets a “double-portion” when you die, so the second son gets a third) You’ve just lost half of your offspring. This hurts a lot worse than losing one percent of your sheep. This hurts a lot worse than losing ten percent of your assets. You still have your older son who works alongside you. He never complains about the hard work he does out in the hot field.

Then one day, as you scan the horizon — just as you’ve done every day since your younger son left — you see something moving toward you. Is it a deer? Maybe a bear? As whatever it is comes closer you squint a little more to try to figure out what that is. And then… Could it be? No, it can’t be! Surely your mind is playing tricks on you. No, it’s HIM! It’s your long-lost son! You’ve searched the horizon every single long day since he left, longing for his shadow to grace your property again. You drop everything and run toward him. It’s been years since the last time you ran. So you huff and puff, gasping for breath as you get closer. He looks a little skinnier than when he left. His clothes are very worn and dirty. Wow, you’ve never seen him with a beard, and man, is his hair shaggy! And just before you get to him, it hits you. It’s so strong it takes your breath away. You’ve never smelled such stench ever before! Ever! Oh, it’s horrible! He must not have bathed in months! In addition to the nose-hair-curling BO, he smells like … pigs! DISGUSTING! There’s nothing nastier than pigs! You raised him to be better than this!

But despite all of the disgust you feel, despite all of the disgust you smell, your heart melts as he falls at your feet. You throw your arms around him and give him the biggest bear hug ever! He’s home! He’s finally home! Your lost son has been found! He starts mumbling, asking something about coming back as a servant. What? How could you ever treat him as a servant? He’s your son! He’s always been your son. And he’ll always be your son! You shout to your servants! “We’re having a party! You, go grab the family ring! And you, go kill the best-of-show steer!”

One of your servants whispers something in your ear that rips away the celebratory mood. So you set out looking for your older son. You’re just as intent to find him as you were to find your younger son. As he angrily shares his heart you discover that he too was lost. He was right beside you all these years, but he was so far away. Your work is cut out for you. You have to build relationships with both sons to restore both of them back to their rightful place in your family.

Application

That’s your Father’s heart! Maybe you rebelled and sowed your wild oats. Or maybe you sulked your oats in bitterness as you watched other people experience God’s blessings. Regardless of how, just like all of us, you rebelled. But your Father has been waiting. Not passively waiting, but actively waiting. Actually, He pursued you in your rebellion. It may seem like you ran so far away. He may have seemed to be so far in the distance. But He never lost sight of you. And He’s ready to restore you to your rightful place as His son or daughter.

Repent. Come back.

And watch Him celebrate!

The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves.
He will rejoice over you with gladness.
He will be quiet in his love.
He will delight in you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 (CSB)

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Count the cost of following Jesus

Once again, Jesus teaches that His disciples must count the cost to be His disciple in today’s Bible reading. It seems to be a recurring theme. I’ve said it many times, if you see words or a concept repeated in the Bible, it’s probably pretty important and you need to take note of it.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26–27 (CSB)

Jesus begins this section with a figure of speech called hyperbole. Hyperbole is an exaggeration that’s not intended to be taken literally.[1] Jesus uses it to compare how much His disciples must be willing to give up to follow Him. A few chapters back, Jesus’ invitation to follow Him was met with, “Ok, but first I need to ….”

No, Jesus told us to put His Kingdom and His righteousness first. (Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31)

First.

Remember when Jesus called Peter, James, and John after their monster fish catch. No, they didn’t catch a monster fish. They had a monstrous catch of fish. (See my devotional on Luke 5) Instead of taking two boatloads of fish to the market, they left the fish. They left the nets. They left the boats. Compared to the value of following Jesus, nothing was of any value. (Philippians 3:8)

When you think about it, based on the very definition of the word, it’s impossible to say, “No, Lord.” If He is truly Lord, you have to say, “Yes”. If you say, “No”, then He isn’t truly Lord. Everything that Jesus says about following Him emphatically states or implies that if someone wants to follow Him, He must be seen as “Lord“. There is no other option!

Application

Oftentimes, I have heard people say something like, “I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was x years old. But I accepted Jesus as my Lord when I was y years old.” A few days ago, I referred to a comment one of my seminary professors made about knowing Jesus as Savior and then later knowing Jesus as Lord: You can come to Jesus as Savior and later come to know Him more as Lord, but you cannot come to Jesus as Savior and reject Him as Lord.

How about you? Do you know Jesus as your Lord? Or do you know Him merely as Savior so you can have “Fire Insurance” (so you can go to heaven when you die)?

Uhm… I’ve read through the Book a few times, and I’ve never seen anything about a concept of having “fire insurance”. You either come to Him on His terms, or you don’t come to Him at all.

[1] Source: Dictionary.Com

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Knocking on a door

Our Bible reading for today includes a parallel passage from Matthew 7:22-23. In that sad story, Jesus reminds us once again, that not everyone will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, including many who think they have “eternal security”.

In the preaching of cheap grace, preachers often invite their hearers to “ask Jesus into their hearts” or “pray the sinner’s prayer” and/or be baptized and they can be assured they are saved. Yet, only God knows who is and who is not saved!

Our church will be wrapping up a sermon series on the book of Acts in a few weeks. So far, in the first two-thirds of the book, no one has been urged to “invite Jesus into your heart” and no preacher has told anyone to “pray a sinners prayer”. Despite what a preacher or a revivalist told you, those concepts — not just the words — are foreign to the teachings of the New Testament. So what does the teaching of the New Testament say about salvation? That’s a great question!

From Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2) through the conversion of the Samaritans (Acts 8) through the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 16) through the conversion of John the Baptizer’s disciples (Acts 19), the appeal is always, without exception, “Repent!” And yet, that word — and that concept for that matter — is rarely heard today.

What does it mean to repent? It means to change your mind, to change your way of thinking, to turn from your way to God’s way. Yes, repentance can be expressed in a prayer, but prayer is not necessary for salvation any more than baptism is necessary for salvation (and it isn’t). Unless you repent, you will perish. (Luke 13:5)

The main takeaway from the preaching in Acts to the teaching in Jesus’ ministry and in the epistles, a call to salvation is a call to die. (Luke 9:23) Not everyone will be saved; only those who place their faith in Jesus Christ will be saved. And not everyone who thinks they are saved is saved.

Jesus emphasizes that the Homeowner (God the Father) decides who gets in through the narrow door and that once He closes the door, it’s too late. There are no second chances. As we’ve seen before, salvation isn’t about doing good things and not going bad things. Salvation is about knowing and being known. (Luke 13:25 CSB, John 17:3) It’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Salvation is about knowing and being known.
It’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Application

You may think that you’re saved. On what basis? If God were to ask you why you should be allowed into heaven, how would you respond? If your answer begins with, “Because I…”, you need to go back and revisit the message of the Gospel. Salvation is all about what Jesus did, not you. If you’re saved because of something you’ve done or not done that balances out to be good enough, let me remind you that, all you brought to the equation was the sin that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary.

Spend a few minutes today looking at your salvation. What evidence do you have that you are indeed saved? What fruit demonstrates that your faith is rooted in a relationship with Jesus Christ? The people in Matthew 7:22-23 and Luke 13:25, 27 thought they would be rewarded for their behavior. They were wrong. What about you?

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