Do You Ever Leave a Translation Meaningless? (Hebrews 13:3)

~ Bill Mounce

I am reading a paper this week at the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. It is entitled, “Do formal equivalent translations reflect a higher view of plenary, verbal inspiration?” Because of my research, I am particularly sensitive to the claims of formal and functional equivalent translations and the relationship between words and meaning.

Heb 13:3 provides an interesting test case. The ESV (see also the NASB) writes, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body (ὡς καὶ αὐτοὶ ὄντες ἐν σώματι).”

“In the body”? What does that mean? In the church, the body of Christ? This is a good example of when a slavish following of the Greek produces meaninglessness. The CSB has, “as though you yourselves were suffering bodily.” See also, “as though you yourselves were being tortured” (NRSV), and “as though you too felt their torment” (NET).

The Greek lies out pretty nicely. The author is encouraging the recipients of the letter to remember two things, both indicated by genitive constructions, and both of which have modifiers introduced by ὡς.

τῶν δεσμίων
ὡς συνδεδεμένοι,
τῶν κακουχουμένων
ὡς καὶ αὐτοὶ ὄντες ἐν σώματι.

Everyone but the NIV translates μιμνῄσκεσθε with the simple “Remember.” The problem with this is that it implies the recipients are not currently remembering. I doubt that is accurate (although we are limited in our understanding of the historical background), and I think the NIV is correct to bring out its imperfective force, “continue to remember.”

I have no idea why the ESV, which values concordance so highly, did not keep the concordance of the two occurrences of ὡς, “as though … since.”

συνδεδεμένοι is a typical compound form with σῦν, the biblical author leaving out who the others specifically are, but contextually it is clear that the author sees a union between his recipients and those in prison.

Parallel to that is our phrase, ὡς καὶ αὐτοὶ ὄντες ἐν σώματι. Given the context, it is easy to see what the author is saying. They are “with” those in prison, and it is as if (ὡς) they are bodily (ἐν σώματι) suffering “with” them. Given the obvious meaning of the phrase, I am not sure why you would leave the meaningless phrase, “in the body.”

All translations are meaning-based; there is no such thing as a “literal” translation. (Come to ETS and find out why.) Even if it requires a little interpretation, as almost all of Scripture does, you still interpret so that the translation conveys something that has meaning.

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5 Big Things Missing from Modern Worship

~  Challies

I once paid a visit to one of the most mega of America’s megachurches. It’s a church whose pastor is well-known, a church known for its innovation, a church held up as a model for modern evangelicalism. I went in with as open a mind as I could muster. I left perplexed. I was perplexed not by what was said or done in the service as much as what was left unsaid and undone.

Since that visit I’ve had the opportunity to attend many more churches and, as often as not, they have been similar, missing a lot of the elements that used to be hallmarks of Christian worship.

Here are some of the missing elements of modern worship:

  1. Prayer
    That church I visited all those years ago was the first I had ever attended that was almost completely devoid of prayer. The only prayer in the entire service was a prayer of response following the sermon. “With every head bowed and every eye closed, pray these words with me…” There were no prayers of confession, of intercession, of thanksgiving. There was no pastoral prayer to bring the cares of the congregation before the Lord. This is a pattern I have seen again and again in modern worship services, with prayer becoming rare and minimal instead of common and prominent. Conspicuous by their absence are any prayers longer than 30 seconds or a minute in length.
  2. Scripture Reading
    Another element that has gone missing in modern worship is the scripture reading. There was a time when most services included a couple of lengthy readings, often one from the Old Testament and one from the New. But then it was trimmed to one and then the reading disappeared altogether in favor of mentioning individual verses as they came up in the sermon. But what of Paul’s command to Timothy that he devote himself to the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13)? In too many churches this element has gone missing. In too many churches the Word of God is almost an afterthought. If a worship service includes no prayer and no Bible reading, can we even recognize it as Christian worship? Already we do well to pause and ask the question: If a worship service includes no prayer and no Bible reading, can we even recognize it as Christian worship?


What Evangelicals Need Most To Read Revelation Well

There is a history of evangelical interpretation of the Book of Revelation. It lacks one thing and in its place has used flat-footed literal readings.

Some of them goofy.

When I was in college Tim LaHaye published a book on Revelation that was famous for its literalistic drawings of the beasts of Revelation. They were at best corny but other words would be more accurate. It is now called Revelation Unveiled. Bless his heart, but this is not how to read Revelation.

What many evangelicals (of this kind of reading) need is what Craig Koester, in Revelation and the End of All Things, sketches with utter clarity. (Check out also Ian Paul, Revelation.A good book on how theologians and others in the history of the church have read Revelation is called The Book of Revelation and is by Timothy Beal, and it’s a good and easy read.)

What is that? Imagination. This Book of Revelation sets afire the imagination and should be turning us off to literal pictures. No one yet has sketched Aslan well, or Lucy Pevensie or Bilbo Baggins or Gollum. Movies mostly ruin the books and the images and what we have learned to see in reading the books.

Revelation was written for imaginations not for sketch artists. Enough with that.

Asking Who is Who is the wrong question. Instead, let the Book take you where it goes — flying beasts and wild things smoke and incense and more beasts and wild things and plagues and God’s wrath and judgment so the fury of justice take over. It’s an autostereogram or a kaleidoscope or something in Disneyland.

Want to read a book that takes imagination seriously for Revelation? Try Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder.

It takes imagination to see justice coming when evil owns the keys to the doors. Revelation tells us about that.

And Empire. And Babylon. And Rome. And the Bride of Christ.

The fifth cycle of visions begins where the previous cycle ends, with a triumphant song of praise rising from the assembly of the faithful. As cascades of harp sounds flood the heavens, the saints sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, celebrating God’s lordship over the nations. The followers of the Lamb sing beside a fiery sea of glass after conquering the beast, much as the people of Israel sang beside the sea after their liberation from pharaoh (15:2-4). Yet before the heavenly singers have finished, John warns that the end has not yet arrived, for the beast still rages on the earth (15:1). Therefore, just as God sent plagues upon pharaoh and his allies in order to liberate Israel from bondage, God s angels send plagues upon the beast and his allies in order to liberate the world from his tyranny (16:1-21). A number of the plagues in this fifth cycle — painful sores, water turning to blood, darkness, frogs, and hail—are similar to the plagues that fell on Egypt, and their purpose is also similar: to move the ungodly to repent and to liberate the faithful from oppressive powers.

The best thing you might need to do to read Revelation well is to throw away your Scofield Notes and your dispensational charts, turn your back on all those rapture date arguments, and spend time with JRR Tolkien or JK Rowling or CS Lewis, or maybe some Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner. Instead of pointing from Revelation to some current event, let the Revelation take you to another world … so you can understand this world’s evil as God conquers evil.

How to Sabotage a Bible Study

by Greg Morse, Content strategist,

My dear Globdrop,

You “regret to inform me” that your patient’s small group has laid down their forks, spoons, and gossip (momentarily) and have begun to read the Enemy’s book more consistently. Before you knew it, they began to trade meal time for “Bible time” and this makes you quiver, does it? Nephew, it was my suggestion.

You seem to forget that we never fear a man just because he reads a Bible. Some of our most useful vermin, having dedicated their lives to it, are snuggly tenured in religious departments across the country. Remember, we do not mind the Bible hobbyist, the hypocrite, and the text-twister. All goes awry, however, when the humans understand the Enemy’s word, treasure it, believe it, obey it, and are led through it to him.

Our war efforts are hindered not only by allowing real soldiers to wield his book but also by keeping the toy soldiers from playing with it. Every week, we get the privilege of witnessing the group as they frolic about with the very blade of our Adversary. And as they slash each other, they do our work for us. No, my dear Globdrop, the solution is not to shut down such Bible studies, but rather, to join them. And after joining them, to lead them.

How to Destroy Any Bible Study

Nephew, as you seek to lead your first study, the greatest mistake you can make is to let them read Scripture unsupervised — we risk losing them every time the book is open. That invites their Ghost to do his dreadful work. Never be lax on this point.

Now although the Enemy’s Son insults us — calling us birds in his parable — we do love to devour his word from their hearts. But this can be quite troublesome as it usually requires some weeks’ labor with only moderate returns. It remains far easier to prevent his word from ever truly being planted in them to begin with. This we can deliciously do in their — excuse me, our — Bible studies.

To this end, I now instruct you.

1. Ask great questions.

Convince them that the proper question for all Bible study is either: “How do you feel about the text? What did you get out of it?” Or, our favorite: “What does the text mean to you?” Oh, I nearly fall from my seat waiting to hear their answers! Joanne feels like the Enemy was a tad harsh with his mother at that wedding. And look, Darrin is getting much out of the text! No doubt he is receiving a wonderful sense of annoyance from our idea that Paul was a bit of a sexist in his letter to young Timothy. And to James, “God is love” means that it is of little consequence whether or not he stops sleeping with his girlfriend.

Let them commune with their feelings and opinions while the Enemy’s book lies open on their laps. Make the apostles’ teaching the occasion to tell stories about how tough their week has been or to soapbox about whatever makes them most passionate. Never let them be confronted with the words of Moses, Isaiah, Paul, John, Peter, or, through them all, the Enemy himself.

2. Convince them that there are no wrong thoughts about a verse.

When someone does speak up about what they think the author meant, never let it be questioned. Baptize all interpretations as equal. One of my subjects articulated it well just the other day when, unable to bear the momentary silence, she blurted out, “Guys, this is a safe place to share your thoughts on the passage. There are no wrong answers here.” Precisely.

When all thoughts count, all opinions (however ridiculous) matter, when they are cut off from the accurate interpretations handed down from the past, they become a church unto themselves constituted by that emotional fragility (pride) that will make correcting another’s thoughts higher treason than heresy. Globdrop, when all interpretations are correct, none truly is.

3. Keep the Bible study merely that: a study.

Bring the Enemy’s word out to be dissected, examined, and (if at all possible) critiqued — but make sure to divide the three strands. They must never read devotionally, theologically, and ethically all together. Keep them to one lane. If your man tends towards a theological bent, give him a heavy head, a shriveled heart, and uncalloused hands. Make him the first to debate, the last to worship, and the first to excuse himself from service.

If devotional, make him sentimental but shallow in his understanding and ignorant to any further application. Let him be deeply affected by his personal devotions but never enough to think too hard or to take the Enemy’s commands too seriously.

And finally, if ethically inclined, let him build his social-justice house without any real love for the Enemy. Let him imagine that he does wonders to advance great causes in the world, all while leaving behind the most significant command: love the Enemy with his all. And his highest mission: Make disciples of all nations. “Lord, Lord did we not . . . ” is one of the most satisfying refrains for our Father Below to overhear just before the patients are placed before us for good.

4. Cause them to love the promises while ignoring the commands and warnings.

Let them tell each other indiscriminately: God will never fail you! You are his child! God will always be there for you! God has forgiven you and will continue to do so with every failure, no matter what! (Now, of course, do not let the real children believe this.)

Hand out divine promises to all like free popsicles. While the adulterer licks on his Grace-Grape freezie and the unrepentant drunkard slurps on Strawberry Steadfast-Love, never let them realize the fatal error. Cause them to skip over those terrible themes like repentance, new birth, killing sin, and the Enemy’s wrath when the group inevitably wanders upon them in the text. Let them smile at the warnings and filter every uncomfortable text through “Love,” all the while reserving the conditions for other people. Presumption, dear nephew, presumption.

5. Lead them anywhere but to the Enemy himself.

Never slack on this point. If you recall stories from your great-grandfather, Lord Barkmare, the Pharisees had terrific Bible studies until the Enemy almost spoiled things: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40).

Let the mice free in the labyrinth of theology, current events, or ethics but never let them adore him, follow him, treasure him, go to him and find life. All it takes is one sight and your patient may be lost forever.

So, Globdrop, encourage your prey to bring his Bible this week — we will be reading Philippians 4:13 through the lens of human athletic achievement. But never lose sight of your man. Watch whether yours is the sort who will bleed for it, die for it, storm our gates with it. If he seems to be such a man, tempt him to hit the snooze button in the mornings, fill up his calendar in the evenings, and then continue to gently guide him through our midweek, delightful group Bible study.

Your Expectant Uncle,

Colossians 2:8 Does Not Condemn Philosophy

Some well-meaning but very misinformed Christians discourage the study of philosophy on the basis of a verse in Colossians chapter 2. In Colossians 2:8, the apostle Paul wrote: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ.” This verse has become the chief proof-text for anti-philosophy Christians. In fact, even the famous reformed preacher John MacArthur argued against philosophy using this text. In The MacArthur Study Bible, he wrote “You know what philosophers are? They’re doodlers with words instead of pencils. They just make a whole lot of verbal squiggles. Colossians 2:8 says this: ‘Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy.’” Unfortunately, this verse has been majorly misinterpreted.


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Scripture Gives Us Many Reasons to Be Happy


When someone says, as many have, “Happiness isn’t in the Bible,” it’s not even slightly true. Even in versions that don’t frequently use the words happy and happiness, the concept is conspicuously present, not only in its many synonyms (see here and here), but in words such as contentmentpeacedelight, and dozens of others in every translation.

Consider this verse: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (Micah 7:18). Such a passage may not seem to be about happiness, yet if we understand its meaning, won’t we be flooded with happiness?

“Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made known his salvation” (Psalm 98:1-2). There are no joy-related words in this verse, yet doesn’t it make you joyful?

Consider the lame man who leaped and praised God (see Acts 3:1-10).His story won’t appear in a study of words related to happiness, but he was obviously overwhelmed with happiness.

“We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). No word for happiness is mentioned here, but how does it make you feel to know that Jesus is your advocate, your defense attorney? Can you imagine Jesus standing between you and your accuser, Satan (see Revelation 12:10)? The thought makes me smile, rejoice, and praise God.

Every passage that mentions our redemption; our new nature in Christ; and God’s love, grace, and mercy also makes a profound statement about our grounds for happiness.

If Kids Don’t Understand Why Miracles Don’t Discredit The Bible, Their Faith Will Be Easily Crushed