I grew up at a church where the word “saved” was used a lot. “Are you saved?” someone might ask. Or a testimony might begin, “I was saved when I was 12 years old.” In that context “saved” meant that a person is going to heaven after he or she dies. Assurance of salvation then refers to the confidence people can have in knowing that they are going to heaven after they die. Now this is a perfectly good way and important way of using the word “saved;” but the more I read the Bible, the more I learn that the word “saved” and all the other words the Bible uses to talk about being “saved”—words like redeemed, forgiven, set free, justified, chosen, set apart, adopted, reconciled, glorified—reveal that salvation is far more than knowing that after death we will be present with the Lord.
I don’t have time or space to talk about all these images of salvation in the Scriptures. If you’re interested, I’ve written about this at some length with two colleagues (Dr. Rodney Reeves and Dr. Randy Richards) in a book entitled Rediscovering Paul (InterVarsity, 2007). It’s available in hardback, paperback and on Kindle.
Let me give an example or two from Paul. The apostle uses various metaphors or images to describe salvation; one of those is “reconciliation” (read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Reconciliation is a relational metaphor; it implies that every person is separated from God and at odds with each other. The solution to that problem is to be reconciled to God (and one another) through Jesus so that we can enjoy restored and healthy relationships with God and others once again.
But, if we are honest, we must agree that there is more wrong with us than this. Our plight is far more complicated and insidious than being at odds with God. In Romans 6-7 Paul acknowledges that not only do we commit sins (acts of rebellion and disobedience against our Creator), but that sin is a power that enslaves us and causes us to do things we don’t want (read Romans 6-7 carefully). If we are enslaved to sin and sin has power over us, what is the remedy? Well, what is it that any slave wants and needs? The answer is this: to be set free from sin and its power. In a word “liberation.”
Some people have asked why we translated Luke 19:10 this way in The Voice: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to liberate the lost.” Most translations render it “to seek and to save the lost.” Now, this is a good translation. But, what did Dr. Luke mean by “to save?” Did he mean that the wee-little man Zaccheus would be assured that he would go to heaven when he died? I don’t think that the issue. Well, what then?
First, look at any standard Greek dictionary and you’ll see the Greek word often translated “save” (sōzō) means to “rescue,” “liberate,” “heal,” “preserve from harm.” It is a broad, general word for salvation. Second, take a look at how Dr. Luke sets the stage in his Gospel for what salvation is. Jesus’ synagogue sermon in Luke 4:16-30 provides us with the foundational text. You remember the story. Not long after Jesus began his public ministry, he returns to his hometown in Nazareth and reads the Scripture during the Sabbath service (Isaiah 61:1). After he reads, he sits down and tells the audience that these words are fulfilled even as they hear them. What did Jesus mean? That the Spirit of God was on Him and had designated Him to be God’s representative to preach good news to the poor, to announce to those held captive that they will be set free, to bring sight to the blind, to liberate those held down by oppression. In a word to proclaim the jubilee of God’s grace! For Luke salvation was all about liberation. Go back and read the song of Zacharias (Luke 1:67-80) and the song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55). That is a key reason we used the phrase “the Liberating King” as an explanatory paraphrase in The Voice to describe Jesus’ role as God’s Anointed, the Messiah. What Zaccheus needed was to be set free from his love of money, forgiven for crimes committed against his people, and restored as a honored member of his community.
Salvation is more than knowing that when we die, our souls will go to heaven. As important as that is, that is only a part of what it means to be “saved.” Salvation means that
- one day death’s grip will be released and these lowly bodies—not just our souls—will be made glorious
- broken relationships will be restored
- sins will be forgiven
- sin’s power over us will be broken
- the outcast will be brought near
- the poor will be exalted
- the worn out, used up will be made new
- the orphan will be made part of the family
- the blind will see and the lame will walk
- the sick and dying will be made whole
- those who are not right will be made right with God
- those held in political prisons will be released
- creation itself will be liberated from corruption and decay
- the image of God in all humanity will be restored
Salvation is . . . all of the above!
One of the criticisms made of all contemporary, readable Bible translations is that they are “watered down” versions of God’s Word. Interestingly, the people who make those charges never give examples of how the new translations dilute the Scripture. Still that doesn’t stop them from making what amounts to a baseless accusation.
A different version of same argument was made around 500 years ago when the language of the church was Latin and the Scripture read in mass was The Vulgate. “If people want to read the Bible,” they said, “let them learn Latin. Don’t put the Scripture in the language of the people.” The Bible, they thought, was too important to be rendered in a tongue as banal as English. You see, in those days English was considered a vulgar language, the language of the masses. Important documents were written in Latin. The language spoken in the English court was French (in those days France and England were getting along). If a member of the aristocracy spoke to a peasant about spreading fertilizer in his field, he spoke English. But if he spoke to an equal, he used a proper language like Latin or French. No wonder people objected to having Scripture in so common a tongue.
A similar dynamic is at work today. English may no longer be considered a vulgar language, but there are elites among us who think we need to keep Scripture in a form which makes it hard to reach. Some apparently prefer the sound of “Biblish” to English and think others ought to prefer it too. But when you study the Scriptures carefully, you realize the language of the New Testament was “common Greek.” It wasn’t written in some highfalutin tongue spoken only by the pretentious. It was the way people spoke in the market, at home . . . essentially, where people lived. Apparently, God wanted the Bible to be in a language where the most people could get it, read it, understand it, and live it.
I learned a long time ago that the smartest people around are those who can take complicated language and hard concepts and teach them so that others can understand. But the true intelligentsia may not be those leading graduate seminars in the elite universities; they are likely to be found teaching 4th graders in public schools or middle-schoolers in Sunday School. Just because translation committees have put the Bible on a shelf that people can reach does not mean it is watered down; it means that more and more people will be reading, paying attention, and living it.
This is why we did The Voice.
“A story is a way to say something which can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say it.” –Flannery O’Connor
I thought I’d revisit a post I wrote back in 2011 because it received a number of comments and continues to be relevant. I was inspired recently by a statement Flannery O’Connor made about “story.” She was a gifted southern writer whose stories continue garner attention.
We received a question on our Voice Facebook page from one of our fans.
Question: “What is propositional-based thought and how does it apply to us?”
The fan is referring to the introduction in one of The Voice products where we observe that people do not respond to propositions as well as they respond to stories. This, of course, is nothing new. People have been telling stories for thousands of years. Humans are hard-wired to tell stories, remember them and pass them along to others.
Not long ago when people were sharing “the gospel,” they would boil it down to a set of manageable propositions:
1. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
2. But you are a sinner separated from God.
3. Christ died for your sins and helps to bridge the gap between you and God.
4. So put your trust in Jesus to be saved and you .
Now these propositions are true, but they make little sense when isolated from the greater story of God’s plan and purpose for the world and us.
Let me illustrate it this way. Here are some lines from one of the greatest films of all time (Casablanca 1942):
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
“Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.”
“Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’”
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world and she walks into mine.”
“If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not on it, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon and for the rest of your life.”
Now these are some of the most memorable lines in the film. But without the rest of the story you have no clue what it going on. They might punctuate the story, remind you of the story, illustrate the story, but they are no substitute for the story itself.
Imagine deciding whether or not to marry someone based on a resume. You might say, “Well, he looks good on paper.” No. We would never do that. On a first date you don’t exchange resumes or give a list of your strengths and weaknesses (you don’t, that is, if you expect a second date!). No. You sit down over a good meal and begin to tell your story. You talk about where you come from, what you love to do, what it was like to be the older brother or sister in a family of four, or whatever is unique to your own story. This is how we woo a potential partner and how we make friends, by telling our unique stories to those willing to listen.
God did not give us a list of propositions to follow. He could have, but he didn’t. Instead he gave us 66 books that detail an amazing story of love and redemption. Thomas Nelson has created The Voice Bible because they recognize the power of stories to tell the truth and call us into a new life.
by David B. Capes
I’m working on a book entitled The Story of the Voice. Thomas Nelson will publish it in spring 2013. It will tell the story of how the Voice Bible came to be, talk about the people and the process, and discuss some of the translation decisions we made. As I was researching for the book, I came across a paragraph in a book by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss entitled How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth (Zondervan 2007). It is a terrific book, one I highly recommend if you interested in Scripture.
First, let’s talk about idioms. Every language has them, some more than others. English has a lot. Hebrew and Greek, the major biblical languages, have them as well. They present one of the greatest challenges for translators. So what is an idiom? Here is the definition given by Fee and Strauss: “an expression whose meaning cannot be understood from the combined meanings of the individual words.” If a person stays too late, he might say before he goes: “I need to hit the road.” Now native English speakers will know exactly what that means: “I need to leave now.” But a person who is taking each word literally might ask, “Why do you need to hit the road? What has it done to you?”
I remember one of the first idioms I came across while studying Greek. In Mark 1:32-34 the writer says—if we read it literally—that Jesus healed “those having badly.” Now you might be able to figure out what that means but that would certainly not be the way we’d say it. The Greek idiom “those having badly” means “those who were sick.”
Here is a paragraph which is a lot of fun (if you are a word-geek like me). How many idioms do you see?
My career has seen better days. I was skating on thin ice at work, scraping the bottom of the barrel, and ready to say uncle. The boss and I did not see eye to eye, and he told me to shape up or ship out. There was no silver bullet. It was a safe bet that I was going to sink or swim. Nobody could save my bacon. My smart-aleck colleague was a stick-in-the-mud and a snake in the grass who would sell me down the river as soon as shake a stick at me. I could smell a rat, so I steered clear of him. I had one slim chance. It was a shot in the dark, but if I could keep a stiff upper lip, stick to my guns, and sail close to the wind, I would get a second chance. The saving grace was that at the last minute I got a second wind and was saved by the bell.
Now don’t look too deeply for any great meaning in that paragraph. It only illustrates how many idioms we use on a regular basis. Those of us who translated The Voice had to be aware of the Greek and Hebrew idioms. We had to figure out how in English to express their meaning to our modern audience. Often you can figure out what an idiom in another language means, but you have to think about it. It is often like a riddle.
So now it’s your turn. Can you think of an idiom you have heard in English? Do you have a favorite? Have you ever used an idiom (in English) and had a non-native speaker look at you as if you had lost your mind? By the way, how many idioms have I used in this blog? If you have a lot of time on your hands, rewrite the paragraph above and say plainly what each of the idioms mean. See if you can do it. It is harder than you think.
The first 3-D film I recall seeing was Avatar (2009). I sat down in the theater with a big, icy Dr. Pepper at my right hand, a big, steaming bag of popcorn at my left, and a big, clunky pair of 3-D glasses wedged onto my forehead. When the movie began, I slid the glasses over my eyes and for the next 171 minutes I was caught up in an amazing bit of science fiction, driven by stunning visuals. I watched as bugs and bits of debris seemed to hang in the air between me and the screen. I flinched more than once as objects appeared to fly in my direction.
Somewhere in the middle of the movie, I slid the 3-D glasses up and looked at the screen with my naked eyes. What I saw was a series of hazy images layered over top of each other, rimmed in blue and red. I realized, “I have no clue how this works.” But that didn’t bother me. I just slid the glasses back down over my eyes and everything became crystal clear again.
The New Testament gives us the gospel in 4-D. Four distinct stories—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John–tell essentially the same story but they do so in ways that are quite unique. From the outside it may appear a bit hazy, but with the right tools everything comes into focus.
Other Bible translations seem to flatten out the Gospels. Mark reads like Luke, Matthew like John, and the distinct voices of the different evangelists (the Gospel writers) are lost in translation. Experts in the New Testament can guide you to the particular themes of each Gospel, but people without a guide are left with a rather flat story that seems fuzzy around the edges.
With the Voice New Testament we have tried to recapture the authentic voice of the original authors. We did that by making a series of strategic decisions. Let me give you two examples. Since Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel, it made perfect sense to assign a large part of the work to a person with a Jewish background. Since Luke represents the most universal and sophisticated Gospel, it seemed right to assign much of the effort to a well-educated, articulate member of the translation team. As a result, the Voice New Testament contains Gospels that don’t sound and read the same. In other words, we get a better picture, a 4-D image of Jesus.
About 1800 years ago a Christian named Tatian tried to make one Gospel from the four. It was called the Diatessaron (literally, “through the four [Gospels]”) and frankly it never caught on. For lots of reasons the Church preferred the four traditional Gospels to Tatian’s single story. Today, I think the same dynamics are in play. The Jesus who lived then and lives today is no one-dimensional character. The four Gospels in the Voice New Testament provide us with a rich portrait of the most interesting person who ever lived.
Perhaps you saw or heard of the movie “The Invisible Children” released a few years ago about Joseph Kony. Kony is the self-appointed, charismatic leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerilla army waging war in several central African states especially Uganda. He has been accused of abducting children and turning them into sex-slaves and soldiers. Approximately 66,000 children have been stolen from their families and turned into soldiers and over 2 million people have been displaced by Kony’s guerilla tactics. The International Criminal Court has indicted Kony for crimes against humanity. You can seen the movie on YouTube.
In the aftermath of Kony’s scourge and attack on children ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries) has been working to bring healing to Africa.
Dr. Karl Benzio established the Lighthouse Network in 2003. It is known around the country as the premiere Christian addiction and mental health referral service. It is a non-profit organization with a simple mission: to give people guidance through the storm’s of life. So when people are dealing with drug or alcohol addiction or any kind of psychological or emotional troubles, they turn to the Lighthouse Network.
Dr. Benzio believes that the war is not over until the children of Africa are healed. So he and other associates were invited by ALARM to Gulu, Uganda this past summer to work with those traumatized by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. When I heard about the effort to bring help to the poor and powerless in Africa, I called Dr. Benzio and asked them if there was anything we could do. He told me that they needed Bibles to give to the 50 mentors whom they would train to work with the children. Well, I put in a call to Blake Aldridge at Thomas Nelson and asked: “Is it possible to get 60 Bibles into the hands of Dr. Benzio and his staff before they leave for Africa?” Blake went to work and made it happen. Thomas Nelson donated and shipped 60 copies of The Voice New Testament to the Lighthouse Network for its mission to Uganda.
In July Dr. Benzio and seven other associates traveled to Uganda to work with these dear people. As they went, they carried with them the love of God, the skills they possess as gifted counselors and therapists, and The Voice New Testament. In a few weeks I’ll share with you some images from Africa from their mission. You will see for yourself the faces of the innocent who bear uniquely the image and likeness of God. They shared hope and healing with over 480 children and many more adults there dedicated to making their country whole again.
This will not be the last trip for Dr. Benzio and his troop. They will go again and again until the job is done and the children of Africa are healed. My hope is that next year they will take even more copies of The Voice New Testament with them. If you’d like to help the effort in Africa, go to their website and help the children.
I’m often asked whether The Voice is a word-for-word translation or a thought-for-thought translation. That phraseology has become a standard way of delineating the more formal from the less formal translations. I wrote about this more thoroughly in a book called The Story of The Voice. It was released in spring 2013 by Thomas Nelson.
The categories are themselves problematic. To state the question as an either-or implies that there is a strict dichotomy between a word and a thought. It assumes there is little to nothing in common between them. In fact that is not true in the slightest. When you think about it, every word is a thought expressed. People can keep a thought to themselves; but when they speak, they have expressed something they have thought. We’ve all laughed at someone who speaks before they think because what comes out is nonsense. For those who know only one language the point is hard to illustrate but consider what it means to translate one word into another.
Take the Spanish word más. What does it mean? Well, you get a Spanish-English dictionary (assuming your target language is English) and look up más. What do you find? You find the English word “more.” So más means “more.” Well, not exactly. Más means what English-speaking people mean when they say “more.” That is quite a different thing. Spanish people don’t think “more” and say más. They think más and say más. “More” might be equivalent to más in meaning, but a Spanish-speaking person doesn’t hear más and think ”more.” Are you confused?
How about this? Have you ever searched for the right word to express a thought? As people get older sometimes they have trouble coming up with the right word. It could be a word they know well, a word they’ve said thousands of times, but for some reason at that moment they can’t come up with it. You’ve heard people say “it was on the tip of my tongue.” What was on the tip of their tongue? The right word to express what they were thinking. It is very frustrating for people to have thoughts they can’t express clearly.
We’ve all had the experience of thinking only to discover we are “talking to ourselves.” We try not to do that out loud too much or people might think we have lost it. In fact in some languages the word for “think” means essentially to talk to yourself. Leaving aside for a moment that some people are more visual thinkers than others, thoughts do arise from our conscious minds and are expressed in words.
My point is that there is no strict dichotomy between a word and a thought. Every word is a thought expressed. Those who distinguish strictly between a word-for-word translation and a thought-for thought translation exaggerate the difference and are trying to privilege one over the other. Generally, the word-for-word translations are considered superior to the thought-for-thought. But every translation team has to wrestle with words, their meanings, and the thoughts behind them. Unlike Islam, the Christian tradition has never held that God’s Word is inspired only in a specific language. Though we urge ministry students to read the Scriptures in their original languages (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic), we do not regard these texts as somehow more inspired than Luther’s German Bible or King James’ English Bible or any other translation. God can and does speak through the words of the Scriptures whether they are in Mandarin, Dutch, Swahili or English.
So when people ask the question: “is The Voice a word-for-word translation or a thought-for-thought translation?” Say, “yes.”