Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why So Many Bible Translations?

Making Sense of Different Bible Translations
Dr. Joe Alain, 2015

Early English Translations
The Latin Vulgate (Roman Catholic Version) was the main Bible used in the English church in Europe prior to the sixteenth century. During the sixteenth century there was an explosion of English versions of the Bible, due mainly to the following reasons: (1) The recovery of classical learning (especially the Greek language) during the Renaissance period, (2) The development of Gutenberg’s printing press (ca. 1540), and (3) The Protestant Reformation with its emphasis on the language of the Bible being in the tongue of the people, and the emphasis of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone).

The English translations of William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale stand above all the rest in the sixteenth century. The Authorized Version or King James Bible capped the series of translations begun by Tyndale (1611). Produced by a team of 54 scholars, the KJV became the Bible for English-speaking peoples for generations and a monument of the English language.

Why Is There a Need for New Translations?
            (1) Advancements in textual criticism.
Biblical scholars have so many more early manuscripts of the Bible that were simply not available to Bible translators before. And these new discoveries of ancient copies of Scripture have aided our understanding of the Scriptures (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls).

            (2) Our knowledge of biblical languages has increased. Since there are literally thousands of early Greek manuscripts of portions of the Bible, most modern translations are based on what is called a critical Greek text. What this means is that reliable and skilled biblical scholars have assembled these manuscripts into one text. Because not all scholars agree on the differing points of some specific passages, this explains why some translations differ at various points. A good translation will explain some of these additions, deletions, and differences in the margin or in a footnote in your Bible.

(3) The English language is continually changing. Words sometimes change meaning
over time and new words are continuing to come into common usage. Updating translations to reflect contemporary usage of any language makes it easier to understand the Bible’s timeless message. 

Why Translations Read So Differently from One Another
The challenge for Bible translators is that they are working with texts that are tied to ancient cultures that are vastly different from that of today. Each translator or team of translators must make a choice concerning how they will bridge the gap between the original language of the Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and the language that they are translating into (for us, English). The act of translation means that the translator will make judgments based on his or her understanding of the original languages and the language they are translating into. 

Three Theories of translation have been generally followed in bridging the gap between the original languages and the receptor language, in our case English.

Literal or Formal Equivalency (“Word Correspondence”). Following this process, the translator attempts to translate by keeping as close as possible to the exact words (Word Correspondence) and phrasing in the original language, yet still make sense in the receptor language (English). A formal equivalent translation will keep the historical distance intact at all points. This makes for a very good translation but sometimes it is disjointed sounding and awkward because of the differences between the two languages.

Dynamic Equivalency (“Functional”). Following this process, the translator attempts to translate words, idioms, and grammatical constructions from the original language into precise equivalents in the receptive language (English). This is considered a thought-for-thought translation. Such a translation keeps historical distance on all historical and most factual matters, but “updates” matters of language, grammar, and style. Meaning takes precedence over matters of structure and style.

Free (Paraphrases). Following this process, the translator attempts to translate the ideas from one language to another, with less concern about using the exact words of the original. Free translations, also called a paraphrases, are not technically translations and should not be treated as such. The Living Bible and The Message are representative of paraphrases.

Common Examples of Various Translations and Paraphrases

Dynamic Equivalent

The Message, Phillips, The Living Bible                                                                   

Practical Considerations
For Study, a good literal/formal equivalency Bible with the focus on biblical words is a must for Bible study but supplement with a dynamic equivalent translation like the NIV or NLT.

For Daily Use and study it’s good to have a literal/formal equivalent or dynamic translation with notes in the margin that reflect modern scholarship. Paraphrases are helpful for devotional reading and for clarifying difficult passages.

With so many excellent translations and resources available today, the Christian has a variety of great choices for both devotional reading and serious study.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"Free to Love" 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

“Free to Love"

Excerpts from a sermon preached on Sunday, July 5, 2015 at Hebron Baptist Church, Denham Springs, Louisiana by Pastor Joe Alain.

Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
More than ever, we are asking, “What does it mean to be free? Are there limits to our freedoms?” And “How do we balance our individual freedoms with the greater community and nation of which we belong to?” These are not always easy to answer. And when these issues get “messy, they sometimes end up in a court of law. As Christians living in these United States we have dual freedoms, we have freedoms as US citizens and because of the cross of Christ we have spiritual freedom from the tyranny and power of sin.

Exercising our Christian freedom can sometimes be “messy” because more often than not, we must be guided by principles rather than specific rules. In Christ we are free, but we are “Free to Love.” Life Application: Christians should practice their Christian freedom responsibly by considering others, building others up in Christian love. In using your freedom responsibly, you will be honoring God and helping to build up other believers, helping them to mature in Christ.

First Corinthians 8:1-13 deals with knowledge, love, idols, and the weaker Christian. What does it all mean for us today? How does this relate to the exercising of our Christian freedom?
In our text, there is a plea to . . .
1. Use your spiritual knowledge to build others up (8:1-3)
The immediate issue that Paul was dealing with was “food sacrificed to idols” (8:1). Animals would be offered as sacrifices in pagan temples. The meat from those sacrifices would be split up in three ways: (1) Some would be burned (usually the fat), (2) Some given to the priest, and (3) Some given to the person bringing the offering. Obviously, the priest could only use so much meat (they didn’t have freezers), so the excess meat would be offered in the local meat markets. Now, only the best animals were brought for sacrifices so that meant that usually the best meat was found in the markets. Christians had some questions about all this.
            (1) Is it acceptable to buy and eat meat from a sacrificed animal? Did the pagan god actually have an effect on the meat?

            (2) Is it acceptable to eat this meat as a guest in a friend’s home? Should you ask your neighbor where he bought the Sunday roast?

            (3) Is it acceptable to attend a pagan sacrifice and enjoy the meal? Believers were invited to banquets and some participated for social reasons. For us in South Louisiana, the question might be, is it ok to attend a “Mardi Gras” celebration?

Paul’s basic answer to all of this is not to deal specifically with a list of what’s right and what’s wrong, but to move beyond to the principle that spiritual knowledge (knowing the truth) should result in a more loving attitude towards others. The question really is not, “Can I do it?” But, “Should I do it? Will this be seen as something that could edify others?” “Knowledge puffs up [i.e., knowledge without thought of others leads to pride] while love builds up” (8:1). It’s possible for a believer who has misunderstood knowledge to be self-centered. However, knowledge properly understood leads to an attitude of love towards others. While knowledge may be self-centered, love is always other-centered.

People who have knowledge, who are maturing believers, who are stronger have a heavier burden of responsibility to bear. In Scripture, it is the strong who must care for the weak (Rom. 14-15). Five times the word “weak” is used in this passage (8:7, 9, 10, 11, 12). Gentiles (non-Jews) would have participated in sacrifices to idols prior to their coming to Christ. After salvation some would have found it difficult to forget those associations with their gods. More mature believers should show some sensitivity to the weaker believers in this area.

The mention of “love” in this passage is key to the entire argument and echoes the “Shema” in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. This passage is a very practical application of the Great Commandment, to love God and love one another (Matt. 22:37-40). So, this is a plea for sensitivity on the part of the Christian who has “knowledge,” over against the weaker believer who doesn’t. While freedom comes through faith in Christ, it is always governed by love. Paul says, “You who know are to love.” Use your knowledge to build others up.

2. Deepen your understanding of the character of God (8:4-6).
The mature are growing in their understanding of God’s character and world. They have learned some things about God and the world. They have learned some things that the weaker believers at Corinth need to learn as well. What have they learned?
            (1) They know that “An idol is nothing,” (8:4). The very word for “idol” means “no-thing,” “empty,” “vanity.” Idols are “no things.” Eating meat sacrificed to idols means eating food sacrificed to nothing. By the way, for those of you who have an I Phone, ask Siri what is 0 divided by 0. This is what Paul is saying. If an idol is a “nothing,” it doesn’t matter what you do with it, or how you pray over it, because by definition, the idol is a “no thing.”

            (2) They know “There is no God but one” (8:4). There may be many little “g’s” (gods) and little “l’s” (lords), but there is only “one Lord, Jesus Christ” (8:6). While the burden of sensitivity falls on the strong, the more mature believer, the weak need to mature in their understanding of the nature of God so that they too can experience freedom in Christ.

However, I don’t want to imply that as you mature and experience freedom in Christ that you will get to the place where there are not limitations. The limits (boundaries) of your freedom will be framed by exercising your freedom in love and based on your conscience. In other words, you could be a maturing believer in Paul’s day and still not feel comfortable eating meat sacrificed to idols, not because you don’t have “knowledge” or you don’t “understand,” but because of personal convictions. Your conscience won’t really allow you, and that’s fine, but because of spiritual maturity you realize that what your conscience tells you is not binding on everyone else. So while you don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols, neither do you condemn your brother who does or look down upon him as a lesser Christian. So while I’m free in Christ, my conscience informed by past experiences may limit the exercise of that freedom. And even if they do not, I still will be limited to exercising my freedom in love. So freedom is exercised in love and done with a clear conscience.

3. Exercise your Christian freedom with care (8:7-13)
Here is the heart of the passage. We are free, but free to love! The more mature are to consider “the weak” (8:9) in “conscience” (8:7). Believers are not to be “stumbling blocks” but “building blocks.” What does Paul mean by “stumbling block”? If my actions or my example lead someone else to violate their conscience, then they will experience “guilt,” something I certainly would not want a person to do. But even more dangerous, it may go beyond guilt to compromising with pagan idolatry (8:13). This is the kind of falling away or destruction that Paul has in mind.

Verses 8-10 (“if someone . . .”) provides a case study. It might go beyond eating the steak to participation in pagan idolatry. A careless Christian could lead a newer believer to fall away all together from the faith.  Let me share a personal testimony that parallels the point being made in this case study. I am completely free to drink alcohol but I freely choose not to drink alcohol for two reasons. First, I witnessed the destruction that happens firsthand when people abuse alcohol. My parents split up when I was young and while I’m sure there were other factors that led to the breakup, the abuse of alcohol was certainly a major part of the disintegration of their relationship. Aside from destroying a marriage and family, alcohol destroyed my Dad’s liver which hastened the end of his life sooner than it had to be. I too began early in my teenage years following in my Dad’s footsteps. I too was traveling down a dead end street. Fortunately, when I gave my life to Christ, He changed me, he set me free from the need for alcohol. Now, I experience a “high” and a “feeling” that no bottle could ever provide. I have in me through the Holy Spirit the joy of the Lord!

So drinking alcohol is not really an option for me on that one point alone. I’m free to drink alcohol, but my conscience doesn’t have a very good feeling about it. I’ve just seen too much destruction wrought due to its use. But second, I don’t want to participate in anything that could lead you to believe that a potentially destructive behavior is acceptable for a child of God. I love you too much to indulge in a behavior that I know personally robs people of life. I would never want you to follow my example if it leads you into sin and enslavement. The present danger is that my behavior could embolden a believer who has been set free from alcohol to drink again, and even worse, you might completely fall away. So my freedom is limited by my conscience and my love for others.   

You might be tempted to think, “What’s the big deal?” “Aren’t you kind of being extreme hear?” Loving others in the exercise of our Christian freedom is pretty important to God! When we exercise our freedom without love, which means without thought of others, we possibly sin against our brother or sister which in turn is a “sin against Christ” (8:12). So yes, it is a big deal.

At this point, I do want to inject a word about “Balance.” I don’t want to suggest that the stronger believers need to be paranoid or always pandering to the weaker believers, constantly giving up their freedoms in Christ. The weak do need to be maturing in Christ. What God is saying is that the stronger believers need to be sensitive and loving to the weaker believers (“for whom Christ died”) and the weaker believers need to move forward in maturity (“possess knowledge”) and be free from a legalistic version of Christianity that Jesus died to free us from.
The final word from Paul sums up the Christian principle (8:13, “Therefore”). Paul is saying,  “The exercise of my personal freedom in Christ is not worth it, if it ‘causes my brother or sister to fall into sin’” (8:13). “I am free, but I am free to Love!” Christian freedom properly understood, leads to serving one another in love (cf. Gal. 5:13).  

How then do we determine right from wrong? How do I know when there is no clear word in Scripture? Here are some questions to consider.
(1) Does my conscience accuse me or excuse me? What does my conscience tell me? Keep in mind, to be trustworthy and reliable, your conscience must be informed by the truth of God’s Word. Without God’s truth you and I will probably not get it right. So, be sure that your conscience is being informed with God’s Word.

            (2) What will my actions communicate to others intentionally or unintentionally? This requires “thinking through” issues. Some in Corinth (probably unintentionally) didn’t think about how their actions might effect their fellow believers.

            (3) Am I acting in love? If in the exercise of my Christian freedom my attitude is, “People need to grow up, or get over it,” I’m probably not acting in love because love considers others.

Exercising our Christian freedom can sometimes by messy because more often than not, we must be guided by principles rather than specific rules. In our Scripture and throughout the New Testament, we find that as Christians we are free, but we are “Free to Love.” Christians should use their Christian freedom responsibly by considering others, building others up in Christian love. When you use your freedom to love, you will be fulfilling the Great Commandment, to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.

“For His Glory, By His Grace!”

Pastor Joe
I thank my God every time I remember you.” Philippians 1:3

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Pandora's Box Has Been Opened!"

“Pandora’s Box Has Been Opened!”
(Thoughts on the Supreme Court Decision (June 26, 2015) to legalize same sex marriage)

Excerpts from a sermon preached on Sunday, June 28, 2015 at Hebron Baptist Church, Denham Springs, Louierpts from a sermon preached on Sunday, June 28, 2015 at Hebron Baptist Church, Denham Springs, Lnt to "ecalime church has thsiana by Pastor Joe Alain.

In classical Greek Mythology, Pandora was the first woman on Earth. Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create her. So he did, using water and earth. According to Hesiod, when Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. When Epimetheus and Pandora got married, Zeus presented the newlyweds with a jar that he said to not open. Out of curiosity, Pandora opened the jar, releasing death and many other evils into the world.

When I first received a news alert this past Friday morning about the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage, my heart sank. Like many, I too thought that this was very much a likely outcome, but seeing it in print took me back. I felt sad, distraught, and then angry because of the great harm that people made in God’s image will experience as a result of this encouragement to abandon historical and biblical values. My first thought was that Pandora’s Box has been opened. “What have we done,” “What have we unleashed on our nation that will impact negatively future generations?” The government’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens, to protect life, not sanction actions that will destroy its citizens. Pandora’s Box has been opened! “What will be next?” Polygamy? Why not! On what basis will the government withhold that “individual freedom”? Or what about one day taking an animal or a droid as your spouse? We laugh at this but we’re not all that far from these scenarios.

The Devolving of Man
Man in his wisdom thinks he is evolving but apart from God he is devolving! Romans 1:21-22 describes are current plight. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” On Friday, “Love didn’t Win.” It’s not love that won, it’s narcissistic behavior that won. What we said is that “We love ourselves and we love our sins. And no one will get in the way of fulfilling our fleshly worldly desires, no matter the costs to family or society, not even God will stop us!”

Welcome to first century Rome where everything goes! In Rome there was little regard for human life or biblical norms of sexuality. Unwanted children could simply be thrown out, discarded, sacrificed. We’ve already accepted the normalcy of child sacrifices in our culture, that’s what we’re doing by killing babies in the mother’s womb. Rome also had an “anything goes” view of morality, all under the guise of “personal freedoms, no one’s getting hurt.” Homosexuality was rampant, even among some of the emperors. Rome fell like most ancient world powers because of their pride, unholy and ungodly practices, and because of their apathy. Most powerful nations throughout history that have fallen have fallen from within.

“A date which will live in infamy,” is how FDR, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. And not to detract from that great tragedy, let me add that June 26th will also take its place in history right along with the day of the Roe v. Wade decision, January 22, 1973 legalizing abortion, as dates that will live in infamy.

The Limits of Individual Autonomy
What men have said is that they know better than the creator God. Man has believed the oldest lie, that you really are your own God! “Did God really say?” the serpent asked Eve (Gen. 3:1). One of the key expressions in the court’s decision given by Justice Anthony Kennedy to redefine marriage (which is what has happened) is “personal autonomy.” Just how far as a society do we want to push the envelope of “individual autonomy”? Do we not limit our autonomy for the greater good of our culture to some extent? Do we not sacrifice some of our autonomy to live at peace with one another in our society? Or do we simply not worry about the impact of our actions upon anyone else? Try living completely autonomously dictated solely by your wishes. It doesn’t work, society cannot operate in that way. Individual autonomy is “never absolute.”

Individual autonomy without any kind of moral base will lead to the justification of anything and everything. Autonomy must be balanced with moral law. Even nations that do not have a Christian world view understand this truth, that there is a moral law, a sense of “oughtness,” a sense of right and wrong. “I’m free” but my freedom must be exercised from some kind of moral foundation. Otherwise, we descend into chaos. The consciences of many today are “seared” (1 Tim. 4:2). What that means is that as you continue to turn away from truth, your conscience begins to excuse you rather than accuse you. And you find that you plunge deeper and deeper into sin and consequently, farther away from God.

Far from God is how Paul described the condition of those who persists in their turning a deaf ear to the voice of God. Three times Paul says that God “gave them over” to their sinful desires (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). In verse 28 it says that “God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.” The truth is that God will let you have what you want but when you get it you will not want it! Why does God let us go on in this state? Does He hate us? No, He loves us but He loves us too much to violate our freedom. God wants us to love Him freely, not because we are forced to love Him. It seems to me that we are rapidly approaching life as it was represented in the closing words of the book of Judges in the Bible. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25). When there is no king of your life, you in effect become the default king and the results are always tragic.

Orange is the New Blue
In our current situation what has happened is that five Supreme Court justices have taken it upon themselves to redefine the historical institution of marriage which predates the founding of our country and every civilization. It’s as if nine persons looked at a cloudless sky and four said it was blue and five saw orange so they took a vote to say that the color of the sky is the color orange. Actually, the five saw a rainbow, but it wasn’t the rainbow of Genesis 9:12-17. By the way, I’m thinking about starting a “Reclaim the Rainbow” campaign (lol).

In all seriousness, returning home this past Saturday (6/27/15) from central Louisiana, I witnessed a beautiful rainbow over Baton Rouge. My first thought in seeing this wonderful event in nature was not “gay pride,” but pride and awe over our loving and faithful Creator. According to Genesis 9:12-17, the rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant, a covenant of great hope to save and preserve life, a covenant that we understand finds fulfillment in the New Testament in Jesus Christ. Jesus has come to bring us life and life to the full (Jn. 10:19). He brings lasting hope, light and love. The rainbow reminds us of God’s faithfulness and mighty power to save. I chose to “Reclaim the Rainbow” not to disparage any group of people, but because I’m not ready to concede the beauty of the rainbow as the primary symbol that it is, a symbol of lasting hope and life in Jesus Christ.

In what occurred in this decision, we’re not talking about the creation of “civil unions,” which would have been one way out of the moral morass that has been created. A civil union would not redefine marriage, it would simply allow persons to legally partner with whoever they wish. But some same sex couples do not want a civil union, they want to be recognized as married couples. They want to redefine marriage. They want to call what’s blue, orange.

Our Diminishing Religious Liberties
Many Christians who have much more knowledge than I do have expressed in very thoughtful ways how this decision is going to call into question the religious liberties that churches have enjoyed for over 100 years. The Wilson-Gorman Tariff  Act of 1894 is the first legislative action that guarantees that non-profit organizations are tax exempt. Legislation since then has only affirmed, expanded and clarified churches as tax exempt. But what will happen in the future when churches and there ministers refuse to perform marriages for same sex couples? It’s only a matter of time before there will be a “test case.” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., in his dissent, saw a broader threat from the majority opinion. His words may be prophetic. “It [the decision and their arguments] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” Justice Alito wrote. “In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

Wake Up Call
If there ever was a wake-up call for the church to be the church, it’s now! For too long, we as conservatives have put our hopes on the political system. Every time we are disappointed because political leaders are limited in their abilities to make change, and politics really cannot change people’s hearts. I’m reminded that it was Ronald Reagan, one of the most politically conservative presidents in recent memory who appointed Supreme Court Justice Kennedy!

The church must start living like the church and stop playing church. I don’t mean that we need to “stand up” and shout down people. I mean we need to “stand up” by living out this Christian faith with all our heart and soul. Is our home glorifying God? Is our marriage what God wants it to be? Are we serious about our Christian faith? Are we passing the torch of faith to our children, to our neighbors, to our world? In the church today we are too often focused on getting our needs met and not really being concerned about living and sharing our faith to a broken and sinful world. We have to get our house in order and really start taking our Christian faith seriously. We have to model biblical values and a God’s “better way” in our own lives.

Here’s Hope!
There is a silver lining in all of this. After Pandora opened the jar unleashing the evils, she hastened to close the container, the one beneficial item that escaped was "Elpis" (usually translated "hope"). What hope has been unleashed in all this? It is that the light shines the brightest in the darkest of nights. When it gets dark outside, the church is able to come together and shine brightly. We are the light of the world. We have the message of hope, of truth, of life. We have the message of Jesus who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn. 14:6). And while the thief comes to rob, kill and destroy, Jesus has come to give us life and life more abundantly (Jn. 10:10). And when lives come up empty and they will because sin never satisfies, the real church of the living God will be there with the truth of Jesus that sets people free and brings real hope and life.
The Psalmist asked a probing question, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). The very next verse says, “The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord is on his heavenly throne” (11:4). And “the Lord is righteous, he loves justice” (11:7). What can the righteous do? The righteous can know that God is still God, He’s still on His throne, and He still desires to bring His righteousness, His true love to all people. We can look up, we can pray, and we can be light in a darkened world, bringing real and lasting “hope.”

Let me encourage you who are here today and who are struggling with sin. To the one who is enslaved by habits of destruction, sins of the mind and flesh, God says that I will wash you clean, I will give you a new heart! “If anyone is in Christ, he or she will be a new creation, the old will pass away, and the new will come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Listen to the description of believers prior to Christ and what God in Christ has done from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV. What He has done for us, He will do for all who turn to the Lord!
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Praise God for His saving grace, for His washing us clean, for making us new!

For His Glory, By His Grace!

Pastor Joe