What are the Scriptures?
The New Testament speaks of the Old Testament as Scripture, for which the Greek word is graphe, meaning “writing.” The word bible comes from the Greek word for book. Holy Bible means the “Holy Book.” It contains sixty-six separate books (thirty-nine Old Testament and twenty-seven New Testament), written in three languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic), over a period of more than a thousand years, by more than forty authors (of varying ages and backgrounds) on three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe).
Authors of the Bible include kings, farmers, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, and scholars. The books of the Bible cover history, sermons, letters, songs, and love letters. There are geographical surveys, architectural specifications, travel diaries, population statistics, family trees, inventories, and numerous legal documents. It covers hundreds of controversial subjects with amazing unity. It is the best-selling book of all time and is now available in nearly three thousand languages.
The Old Testament was written on papyrus—a form of paper made out of reeds; the New Testament was written on parchment (prepared animal skins). Because both forms of documents easily degrade under hot and dry conditions, it is providential that we have so many copies of ancient manuscripts. The various chapter and verse divisions in the Bible were not part of the original books. A lecturer at the University of Paris created the chapter divisions in 1228. Its current chapter and verse divisions were not fully developed until 1551.
What Does the Scripture say about itself?
Some statements from Scripture about Scripture:
• Given by inspiration of God — 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19–21
• The very words of God — 1 Thessalonians 2:13
• All we need to know God — Luke 16:29, 31
• A perfect guide for life — Proverbs 6:23
• Pure — Psalm 12:6; 119:140
• True — Psalm 119:160; John 17:17
• Trustworthy — Proverbs 30:5–6
• Perfect — Psalm 19:7
• Effective — Isaiah 55:11
• Powerful — Hebrews 4:12
• Nothing to be taken from or added to — Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32
• For everyone — Romans 16:25–27
• To be obeyed — James 1:22
Some poetic images from Scripture about Scripture:
• Sweet like honey — Psalm19:10
• A lamp to guide our life — Psalm 119:105
• Food for our soul — Jeremiah 15:16
• A fire that purifies and a hammer that breaks us — Jeremiah 23:29
• A sword — Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12
• A seed for salvation planted in us — James 1:21
• Milk that nourishes us — 1 Peter 2:2
By its own declaration, the importance of Scripture can hardly be overstated. Here is the process by which we receive the Scriptures.
Revelation is a miraculous event whereby God reveals Himself and His Truth to someone and inspired them, through the power of the Holy Spirit to write down what He had to say—perfectly. This original copies are called the autographs.
Transmission occurred when the autograph was carefully copied by trained scribes so that other copies could be made available for people to read. According to Acts 17:11 the Apostles taught from these copies and the early church tested all of its teachings against these existing scrolls. Jesus himself taught from these copies, not the original manuscripts, and treated them as authoritative. (Matthew 12:3-5; 21:16, 42; Luke 4:16-21; 10:26) God’s people have always relied on manuscripts and these writings have proven to be accurate and trustworthy.
Translation is the result of people wanting to read the Bible but are not familiar with the original languages in which they were written. Teams of language theory scholars carefully undertake the painstaking process of translating the original language into the languages of other people. Today the bible has been carefully translated into nearly 3000 different languages. While the thought of translation may concern some people, the fact remains this is the only way to get the scriptures into the hands of the ordinary man. The first translation of the English Bible was initiated by John Wycliffe and completed by John Purvey in AD 1388.
Interpretation occurs when someone reads the Bible and determines the meaning of the verses they have read by the enablement of God the Holy Spirit who also inspired the writing of the Scripture. Each text of the bible has only one true interpretation and so we must be careful to read the truth out of the Bible (exegesis) rather than reading our beliefs and desires into it (eisegesis).
The common question that arises at this point is: “Is the Bible to be interpreted literally?” The answer is yes. There are plain-literal and figurative-literal portions of the Bible. We begin by assuming the plain-literal meaning and if that seems to go contrary to the larger view of scripture or seems absurd we then go with a figurative-literal interpretation. The figurative-literal Scripture teaches truth in a poetic way and often uses the words “like” or “as” to tip us off that figurative language is being used. But, when figurative language is being used, it is still communicating a literal truth. [For example, in the poetic Song of Songs, the man says to his beloved “you have doves’ eyes.” In this figurative language, the man is communicating a very literal truth. He likens her eyes to doves, which come in pairs, and when their tail-feathers flutter they appear like eyelashes. Doves have just one faithful mate throughout their lives, possibly indicating that her eyes are focused on him alone. [The dove is also a symbol of peace and purity, alluding to her virginity.]
Application happens when we take what we learn from the principles of the Bible and make changes in our thoughts and actions through the Holy Spirit’s empowering grace so that our lives becomes compatible with the Bible. There are a seemingly infinite number of applications for a text of the Bible. The Word of God has one interpretation and a thousand applications. For example the Bible says that we should love one another and the applications for that principle alone are endless.
· In this five-step process (Revelation/Inspiration --> Transmission --> Translation --> Interpretation --> Application), we see how God speaks to us and cares deeply about our lives.
· We also see how the chasm between God and us is graciously filled by God’s revelation, which is more accurate and true than our human speculation (e.g., religion and philosophy).
· While the first step (Revelation/Inspiration of the autograph) is the only one that is guaranteed to be perfect, the other steps are indeed accurate. We must be increasingly careful as we move through the steps, however, because the opportunity for error increases at each step.
· Lastly, the third step of translation is incredibly important because that is what we depend on for the learning and living of our Christian faith.
A great preacher was once asked, “Which bible translation should I read?” His response was profound, “the one you will read.” We should never be divided over the issue of Bible translation. Certainly we should never discourage people from enjoying the translation that best helps them in understanding God’s word and growing in truth. However, I would be amiss as a pastor to not help people in their choice of translation. There are two kinds of Bible translations.
· First, there are informal translations. Without getting into a lot of technical terminology these are basically paraphrases—bibles that endeavor to take the thought and interpret the thought and then translate it. This type of bible may be a good devotional tool but certainly would not be the choice for scholarly study or theological accuracy. Some of these bibles are: NIV, CEV, etc…
Informal translations fall into two categories.
There are those that are “thought for thought” translations. This is also known as dynamic equivalence. This is an attempt to convey the meaning of the passage not the words. In this endeavor these translations include words and/or thoughts that were not in the original text in an effort to give the same meaning that the reader of the original languages would have had. These are subject to some degree of subjective interpretation by those who were involved in the translation process.
There are also paraphrase or corrupted translations. Paraphrase translators do not feel bound by to the original meaning. In the case of paraphrases they are, at times, more concerned with capturing the poetic or narrative essence than the meaning. In the matter of corrupt translations the text is altered to promote an addition or heretical doctrine or a unique theological position as is the case of the Jehovah Witness New World translation.
· Secondly there are formal translations. These are translations where the interpreters took the word in the original language and word for word translated and brought in over into another language. Some of these bibles are: ESV, NKJV, ASV, NASB and the KJV.
I am not making a doctrinal statement but I do want to encourage you to consider using the NASB as your primary study tool. I am not saying that the NASB is only good rendering and therefore all other translations are evil. I am saying that for the purpose of doctrinal integrity and preaching and teaching I believe that the NASB is the best choice.
Having the best possible translation of Scripture is important because it helps us to hear God most clearly and therefore know Jesus most intimately. The importance of the Scripture cannot be overstated.
Six Theological Reasons why I choose the NASB
1. The NASB upholds the truth that the Scripture is the very words of God not just the thoughts of God.
This point is inextricably connected to the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration, which upholds the belief that God the Holy Spirit inspired not just the thoughts of Scripture but also the very expressions, words, and details.
For example, the biblical theme of “walking” with God begins early in the book of Genesis. There we discover that whole generations, such as Noah’s, as well as whole cities, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, did not walk with God. But Genesis is careful to make note of those people who did walk closely with God, such as Enoch (5:24) and Noah (6:9). Likewise, in the New Testament we are told to also “walk” in a manner worthy of God and some translations say this exactly in places such as 1 Thessalonians 2:12 (KJV, ESV, NASB, NKJV, HCSB). But other translations take the liberty of instead saying we should “live lives” worthy of God (CEV, NIV, NLT, TNIV). This point is significant because the Bible repeatedly declares that the very words of God are important, not just the thoughts they convey, as the following examples illustrate:
· Exodus 19:6
· Deuteronomy 32:46-47
· Proverbs 30:5-6
· Matthew 4:4
· Luke 21:33
· John 6:63
· John 17:8
· 1 Thessalonians 2:13
· Revelation 21:5
· Revelation 22:18-19
2. The NASB upholds this: what is said must be known before what is meant can be determined.
Before we can interpret the meaning of Scripture, we must first accurately understand the message of Scripture. Or, to put it another way, only after knowing what Scripture says can we understand what it means. Practically, this requires that Bible translations be distinct from and prior to Bible commentaries which was the mindset behind the removal of the apocryphal from the KJV in 1885. A word-for-word translation best enables this to occur by seeking, as much as possible, to not insert interpretive commentary into the translated text of Scripture; rather, it lets the text breathe as a living word and speak for itself. The general problem with thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases is that their English interpreters include commentary that is not part of the original text and thereby commingle Bible and commentary. For the average reader, this is problematic because they do not know which parts of their Bible are from the original text and which parts have been added by commentators who were trying to convey their interpretation of its meaning.
3. The NASB upholds the truth that words carry meaning.
Some scholars will argue that thought-for-thought and paraphrase translations do not change the meaning of Scripture but just the words of Scripture in an effort to clarify the meaning of Scripture. But this reasoning is fallacious because meaning is carried in words. Therefore, when we change the words of Scripture we are changing, to some degree, the meaning of the Scripture.
For this reason, when we handle other important documents we do not take the liberty to change their words. For example, an attorney is not free to change the words of a signed contract, a husband is not free to rewrite his vows of promise after his wedding, and a public notary is not free to make alterations to the words of a signed legal document. We would be rightly worried if such liberties were taken with our personal affairs and we should be even more worried when such liberties are taken with God’s affairs. In this way, word-for-word translations like the NASB, KJV, ESV are following the directives of 1 Corinthians 4:6, which admonishes us to not to think of men above that which is written and Proverbs 30:5–6, which warns, 5Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. 6Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
4. The NASB upholds the theological nomenclature of Scripture.
One of the more popular arguments for thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases is that people do not understand the theological nomenclature that Scripture uses to express doctrinal concepts. The reasoning follows that words like “justification” and “propitiation,” which the original text of Scripture used, should be replaced with more modern vernacular that people can understand. To illustrate this point two examples will be helpful.
First, one of the central debates of the Protestant Reformation was how a sinful person is justified before a holy and righteous God. This issue was so contentious that people died over it and Christianity split over it; it is not a trivial matter. Romans 3:24 is one of many places where “justification” is spoken of in the original text of Scripture. An examination of various translations, however, shows how the word is sometimes omitted altogether:
• (KJV) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
• (ESV) justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . .
• (NASB) justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus . . .
• (NIV) justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
• (TNIV) justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
• (NKJV) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.• (CEV) God treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins.
• (TM) Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
• (NLT) Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
Some of these translations (CEV, TM, NLT) would perhaps not be problematic if they were presented as commentary on Romans 3:24. But they are simply unfit to be the biblical text of Romans 3:24 because they do not say what God the Holy Spirit said through Paul and the uninformed reader has no way of knowing that they were reading commentary instead of Scripture.
Another example is 1 John 2:2. “… and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” In the NIV and NRSV these verses do not say propitiation at all, but rather “sacrifice” or “atonement.” The RSV and NEB, translate ilasmos as “expiation” instead of “propitiation.” These latter two translations change the entire meaning of the verse. Propitiation speaks of the penalty for sin whereas expiation deals only with cleansing. There can be no cleansing unless first the penalty is paid. While the doctrines are related the greater weight of meaning falls toward propitiation. These two terms are distinct and to confuse them is to make a key theological error.
The question needs to be answered: why should we stop with only some theological words that the average person does not understand? The sad reality is that we live in a culture that has very little biblical knowledge and many if not most of the central words that Scripture uses are not understood by the average person. But lack of common knowledge does not lessen importance. My point in all of this is that words open up worlds of new truths, much like a link on a website takes one on to an entirely new page. Therefore, if people do not know the words of Scripture, we should not give them new words that close off new truths. Rather, we should teach them the old words of the original text, literally translated into English, so that a new world of truth can be opened to them.
Because we love the people God entrusts to our care, we who preach and teach Scripture should strive to explain the words that they do not understand so that they can fully appreciate what God is saying to them through His Word.
5. The NASB upholds the complementarian nature of gender in Scripture. (vs. egalitarian)
The average Bible-reading Christian is probably unaware that there is a great debate raging in academic circles about the language of gender and how it relates to biblical translation. The argument is commonly made that in generations past people used the word “man” or “mankind” to refer to humanity in general as an all-encompassing term that included both men and women. But, it is said, the understanding of these words has changed so that in the minds of the average person today it refers only to males and excludes females. I would argue that this general assumption is inaccurate. For example, one of the most widely known feminist icons of our era is Madonna. Curiously, in defense of the mock-crucifixion she staged at the end of each concert during her $193.7 million-grossing 2006 Confessions tour, she said she struck the pose “to encourage mankind to help one another and to see the world as a unified whole. I believe in my heart that if Jesus were alive today he would be doing the same thing.” The two striking things about the quote are that Madonna is apparently unaware that Jesus is alive today and that she referred to the human race by the masculine pronoun “mankind.”
Although there is nothing wrong with translating “humanity” instead of mankind this illustrates my point that it is still common for people to understand that words like “man” and “mankind” are a reference to both males and females. It is God who called the human race “man” in Genesis 5:1 (KJV, ESV, NIV, NASB, TAB, NKJV, HCSB) and not the “human race” (TM) or “human beings” (TNIV, NLT, CEV). Additionally sometimes man is man and woman is woman and to use gender neutral terminology would be an offense to the text.
Psalm 8:4 serves as yet another practical example of the varying ways that differing translations take liberties with the clear text of Scripture regarding the issue of gender. The original text simply says “man,” yet some translations take the liberty to deviate from that markedly:
• (KJV) What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
• (ESV) What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
• (NASB) What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?
• (NIV) What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
• (TNIV) What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
• (NKJV) What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?
• (CEV) Then I ask, “Why do you care about us humans? Why are you concerned for us weaklings?”
• (TM) What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
• (NLT) What are mortals that you should think of us, mere humans that you should care for us?
It must be pointed out that, in its more insidious forms, the push for gender-neutral language is in fact a clear push against Scripture. As previously written it is an action that violates the very text itself. For example, Scripture states that God made us “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). Consequently, in God’s created order, there is both equality between men and women (because both are His image-bearers) and distinction (because men and women have differing roles). This position is called complementarianism and teaches that men and women, though equal, are also different in some ways and therefore function best together in a complementary way, like a right hand and left hand (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22–33; Colossians 3:18–19; 1 Timothy 2:8–3:13). This is different from the egalitarianism of those who promote a feminist and/or homosexual agenda that strives to eradicate the created distinction between males and females in an effort to validate new alternative lifestyles that are not acceptable according to Scripture.
· Translations such as the New Revised Standard accommodate this by wrongly translating “male and female” in Genesis 1:27 as the androgynous “humankind.”
· The New Living Bible translates it as the genderless “people.” There are many reasons why all of this matters to Bible translation.
First, there is pressure from some theological teams to change the masculine language that Scripture uses in favor of more feministic and/or gender-neutral language that is not the language of the original text. Translations that use gender-neutral language include the NRSV, TNIV, NLT, NCV, GNB, and CEV.
Second, even more insidious is the effort by some to feminize God. Perhaps the worst example of this is a recent translation released by a group of fifty-two biblical “scholars” called The Bible in a More Just Language. In an effort to remove what the group sees as unjust treatment of women and homosexuals, God the Father is now “our Mother and Father” and Jesus is no longer the Son of God but rather the “child” of God. The hidden irony (or perhaps agenda) of this work is that Satan is still referred to as a male.
Theologically speaking, God does not have a biological gender because God is Spirit, without physical anatomy (John 4:24), and is therefore not a man (Numbers 23:19). In using the word “He,” the Bible is not saying God is merely a man, but rather that God is a unique person who reveals Himself with terms such as “Father” (a male distinction)when speaking about Himself. By way of analogy, John Calvin said that God uses terms such as “Father” to speak to us in baby talk, much like a parent uses words that their young child can understand in order to effectively communicate with them. Jesus said “Our Father” when he gave us our model of how to pray. Therefore, referring to God as Father is not an antiquated oppression from a patriarchal culture, but an echo of the prayer life of Jesus. It is the predominant way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.
Third, we acknowledge that Scripture does infrequently refer to God in terms that are more feminine in nature, such as a hen who cares for her chicks (Matthew 23:37). Nonetheless, such language is both infrequent and metaphorical because God is no more a woman than God is a chicken.
In conclusion, God created mankind “male and female” (Genesis 1:27; 5:2). We must not bend to the pressures of an androgynous culture that would oppose His created order and refer to men and women as anything less than “male and female,” as God does (Genesis 5:2). Furthermore, we must not bend to the pressure to think of God as someone other than “our Father” because that is the primary means He has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His Son Jesus Christ. Simply, God the Father commands all who disagree with Him on this point to repent of their nonsense rather than revise His name.
Four Practical Reasons why I, as a called pastor, use the NASB
1. My pulpit is theologically oriented
Biblical living can only flow out of correct biblical doctrine therefore when preaching doctrine a word for word translation helps insure theological and doctrinal accuracy.
2. My pulpit exists to teach people what they may otherwise not know
In 1 Timothy 3:2 God said that pastors must be “apt to teach.” Practically this means that people do not merely need a good Bible translation they also need a good church with good teaching and preaching. One of the things we learn from the Trinitarian nature of God is that truth rests most surely in loving Christian community. As a result, Christians who sit down alone with their bibles and do not go to church are missing out (Heb. 10:25). We all need to have Christian friends with whom we examine and apply the scriptures and God has given the church pastors to help people understand the parts of scripture they find confusing.
3. My pulpit must support and not weaken the trustworthiness of Scripture
Like all pastors who love God’s Word I need to be able to read the English translation to the people and tell them with confidence that they are hearing what God, through the original author, actually said. When I have to tell people that their translation is not accurate I wince because I fear that I may be weakening their trust in the Bible. What I do not want is people putting their Bibles down or reading them halfheartedly because they are uncertain of its accuracy. What I do want is for people to continually enjoy their Bible and read it in faith and with confidence that God is speaking to them through it. For this to occur I must preach from a translation that is accurate and does not require clarification and correction.
4. My pulpit is precedent-setting for the life and doctrine of our people
In 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul tells Timothy to “take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt save thyself, and them that hear thee.” As a teaching pastor I am not just looking out for my own life and doctrine but also for those who are following my example and teaching. I face a greater judgment than the average Christian and therefore it is imperative that I be as careful as possible in my teaching and living. A word for word translation is a wonderful gift that assists me to be more effective in this area.