Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Bible translations: can we have confidence?

Bible translations: can we have confidence?

1.What makes a good Bible translation?
2. The ABC of Bible translations
3. Which is the best way of translating the Bible?
4. Some myths about Bible languages
5. The value of learning Bible languages
6. Three Bibles to avoid
7. Tips to help you read the Bible

Psalm 23 Authorised Version

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
      2     He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
            He leadeth me beside the still waters.
      3     He restoreth my soul:
            He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
      4     Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
            I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
            Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
      5     Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
            Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
      6     Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
            And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

 Psalm 23      The Living Bible
23 Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!
2-3 He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honours him the most.
Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.
You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You have welcomed me as your guest; blessings overflow!
Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.

Is one of these versions better than the other? The first one follows the Hebrew more closely. It retains the imagery of the original. The second one gives the sense of the passage and explains some of the pictures. The language of the first is archaic, but familiar, through its use in literature, and songs. There's even a Perry Como song, My Cup Runneth Over.
The Living Bible version is quite beautiful and was set to music as The New 23rd by Ralph Carmichael in 1969. 
We are fortunate to have lots of Bible translations, both those that closely follow the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek (misleadingly labelled literal ) and those that are written in good idiomatic English and may not always follow the form of the original. 
There are several very good English Bible translations. Some are better suited to particular situations, but many are valuable to read. Overwhelmingly, you can have confidence in the well-known, popular, and sometimes not-so-popular English translations. 

I love this photo! It has been used to remind us that a baby in the womb is already a person made in the image of God, but not yet visible and able to be cradled in your arms. It also reminds us of the great promises we have from God already, but not fully. We are already saved, we already are experiencing resurrection life, we already have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, but it's not yet fully ours and won't be until the renewed heaven on earth.
But also, it reminds me of the girl who kept going to the bathroom in the morning, and at other times, and who seemed to be putting on weight. Mum inquired:
Cheryl, is there something you'd like to tell me?
Cheryl said, shyly: Mum, I'm a little bit pregnant.

Some Bible translations are, too. Some promoters of certain translations tell us theirs are more reliable because they're literal. They say "We translate word-for-word, but those naughty translators do it thought-for-thought."

In our Bible study group, we were reading 1 Peter, and we came to 1 Peter 2:2 

In the NIV it says:
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good
The NIV is reputed to be a less literal translation. The NASB is reputed to be highly literal. Many people say that makes it the best of all the translations. But here's how it translates this verse:
like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
There are two curiosities here: they have not translated the word rendered "spiritual" in the NIV, but have added "of the word" to clarify that "milk" is a metaphor for God's Word. That's not a problem at all. But promoters of "literal" translations say that we should not add clarifying words, but simply translate the original. The job of a translator is not to tell us what the Bible means, but what it says. 

While we can have confidence in many English Bible versions, we should be wary of some of the marketing. Some is quite misleading. Some folk oversell their own, very good Bible version. Some have sold their Bible as special because of a particular translation quirk, then have removed that peculiarity in their updated editions.

יְהוָֽה This is the Hebrew name of God which came into English mistakenly as Jehovah and is now usually rendered as Yahweh. The Jewish people became squeamish about using the name of God and called it Ha Shem (the name) . When the Pentateuch (and later the rest of the First Testament) was translated into Greek, the translators used their word for "lord" which is the word


Most English Bibles have followed this, and usually render the tetragrammaton as LORD.
When the Holman Christian Standard Bible was published, they made quite a fuss about using Yahweh, rather than LORD. But, they only did this some of the time. In a revision, they increased the number of times the word is rendered as Yahweh, but not all 6800 odd times!
They also said that their Bible was superior, because they were translating the Greek word
which other versions typically translate with "servant" as "slave." They claimed that they were braver and translating more accurately. But not all versions do translate this word with "servant." And, it's complicated, because the word "slave" makes us think of African slaves who were so harshly treated in Britain and America and elsewhere. 

But in the ancient world, slaves could be in charge of households, and could be treated relatively benignly. In Romans 1:1 and other places, the NASB translates δοῦλος as "bondservant" -a servant or slave who willingly becomes indentured in this way.  This is closer to the meaning than "servant" or "slave."

This marketing was a factor in people using the HCSB. It's interesting to read a Bible which reminds you that LORD is really a substitute for the name God calls himself. This translation is also worth investigating, because they have some different renderings of familiar verses, which makes you stop and think. 

The HCSB has been warmly commended by people like Con Campbell, a Greek scholar [in both senses] who has taught at Moore College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity school. I enjoyed reading the whole of this version in The Mission of God Study Bible. I've enjoyed reading a few study Bibles, but am glad that when I began systematically reading through the Bible that I started with unadorned Bibles, and read study Bibles later. There's lots of different themes in the Bible, and it was useful to trace the theme of the mission of God through its beginning in Genesis and climax in Jesus and then continuing on through his disciples as it says in Acts 1, where Luke says that his Gospel is "about all that Jesus began to do and teach," implying that Acts now tells us about how this continued.
Here is John 3:16 in the HCSB

For God loved  the world in this way:  He gave His One and Only  Son,  so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

And here is a passage in Exodus, which is referred to over and over throughout the rest of the First Testament, but strangely, not at all in the New Testament. In Exodus 34:5-7, God reveals himself to Moses

The LORD came down in a cloud, stood with him there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh. 6 Then the LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed: 

    Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth,  7 maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin.  But He will not leave the guilty  unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. 

You would find this Bible hard to find today, because it has been updated and is now known as the Christian Standard Bible, or CSB. It's very good, but it was quite odd when they removed the word Yahweh and reverted to LORD, and changed "slave" back to the more usual "servant," especially after all the fuss they made about it. The CSB is closer to the NIV than other versions. It's well worth reading, but at times a bit American, as in Psalm 2:

      1 Why do the nations rage 

      and the peoples plot in vain? 
      2 The kings of the earth take their stand, 
      and the rulers conspire together 
      against the LORD and his Anointed One: 
      3 “Let’s tear off their chains 
      and throw their ropes off of us.” 

Some people think the version of the NIV we use in our church goes too far with gender inclusive language, and prefer the CSB, because it is a little more conservative.

Here is Luke 9:23-26

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels...

This rendering has been criticised for being shy about using masculine language, and using the plural, thus taking away the challenge to the individual of following Christ. (But, defenders say that this is the way people speak, now.)


Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it. 25 For what does it benefit someone if he gains the whole world, and yet loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and that of the Father and the holy angels...

Critics of this more traditional rendering, which preserves the original gender of the words and the singular, say that masculine language makes people think the passage only applies to men, or makes women feel like they are not included. 

Forty years ago, when I studied theology, we were told not to worry about the masculine language in the Bible because "the men embrace the women." 

Traduttori traditori
Translating from one language to another always involves compromise. It is an art and a science.

I never said she stole my money. 
(from a police notebook)

Or consider Lewis Carroll's


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son
   The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
   The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
   Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
   And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
   The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
   And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
   The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
   He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
   Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
   He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.

How would you translate the newly-invented words like galumphing and chortle? The order of words would need to change in some languages because they put the subject at the end of the sentence. Or the verb comes after the noun.

If you were translating the Bible, how would you deal with figures of speech? Would you preserve the original and translate "literally" because of your respect for the Bible as God's Word, or would you consider that the most important thing is to get the meaning across?

There's a new colleague at work, who speaks English but it is her second language. She's been helping you to arrange a surprise party for another colleague. However ...
You: Natalya, unfortunately someone's spilled the beans!

Natalya: Oh, that's a shame. I'll go and clean it up.

You: No, no, no. What I mean is someone's let the cat out of the bag!

If you tell Natalya solemnly that someone has told Erica about this surprise party, you get the meaning across, but you've lost something, too.

Idioms quiz

No tener pelos en la lengua                          (Spanish)
(To not have hair on the tongue)
1.     To be generous
2.     To be infectious
3.     To be happy
4.     To be frank 
Wo sich die Füchse gute Nacht sagen          (German)      
(where the foxes say goodnight)
1.     Somewhere you go often
2.     Somewhere exciting
3.     Somewhere scary
4.     Somewhere in the middle of nowhere 
Casser le sucre sur le dos de quelqu’un       (French)
(to break sugar on someone’s back)
1.     To pat someone on the back
2.     To talk about someone behind their back
3.     To welcome someone
4.     To tease someone

Avere il dente avvelenato                            (Italian)
(to have the poisoned tooth)
1.     To gossip
2.     To be upset
3.     To lie
4.     To have toothache

Schwein haben                                             (German)
(To have a pig)
1.     To have a stroke of luck
2.     To be confused
3.     To be greedy
4.     To have an idea

Avoir la gueule de bois                                (French)
(To have the wooden face)
1.     To have bad teeth
2.     To be upset
3.     To be a bad actor
4.     To be hungover

 Echar agua al mar                                       (Spanish)
(To throw water in the sea)
1.     To do something brave
2.     To do something pointless
3.     To say goodbye
4.     To do something fake

Den Bock zum Gärtner machen                  (German)
(to make the goat the gardener)
1.     To dream
2.     to go mad
3.     to be asking for trouble
4.     to change your mind

In bocca al lupo                                            (Italian)
(in the wolf’s mouth)
1.     Mind the gap!
2.     Good luck!
3.     Watch out!
4.     Happy birthday!

Tomber dans les pommes                      (French)
(to fall in the apples)
1.     To fall in love
2.     To lie
3.     To faint 
4.     To harvest

Tener un humor de perros                          (Spanish)
(to have a mood of dogs)
1.     To be in a bad mood
2.     To have an argument
3.     To be in a good mood
4.     To be loyal

Avere le mani in pasta                                 (Italian)
(to have one’s hands in pasta)
1.     To be powerful
2.     To be a good cook
3.     To be busy
4.     To be messy

Student: I don't understand figures of speech, sir: they tie me up in knots!

2 John NKJV
Greeting the Elect Lady
The Elder,
To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:
Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
Walk in Christ’s Commandments
I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received a commandment from the Father. And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.
Beware of Antichrist Deceivers
For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.
Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.
John’s Farewell Greeting
12 Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.
13 The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.

2 John The Message
1–2     My dear congregation, I, your pastor, love you in very truth. And I’m not alone—everyone who knows the Truth that has taken up permanent residence in us loves you.
                Let grace, mercy, and peace be with us in truth and love from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, Son of the Father!
4–6              I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father. But permit me a reminder, friends, and this is not a new commandment but simply a repetition of our original and basic charter: that we love each other. Love means following his commandments, and his unifying commandment is that you conduct your lives in love. This is the first thing you heard, and nothing has changed.
Don’t Walk Out on God
       There are a lot of smooth-talking charlatans loose in the world who refuse to believe that Jesus Christ was truly human, a flesh-and-blood human being. Give them their true title: Deceiver! Antichrist!
8–9              And be very careful around them so you don’t lose out on what we’ve worked so diligently in together; I want you to get every reward you have coming to you. Anyone who gets so progressive in his thinking that he walks out on the teaching of Christ, walks out on God. But whoever stays with the teaching, stays faithful to both the Father and the Son.
10–11            If anyone shows up who doesn’t hold to this teaching, don’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil ways, making you his partner.
12–13            I have a lot more things to tell you, but I’d rather not use paper and ink. I hope to be there soon in person and have a heart-to-heart talk. That will be far more satisfying to both you and me. Everyone here in your sister congregation sends greetings.

Read Micah 1:10-16 in NIV (or any other regular version)

Weeping and Mourning
      8 Because of this I will weep and wail; 
         I will go about barefoot and naked. 
         I will howl like a jackal 
         and moan like an owl. 
      9 For Samaria’s plague is incurable; 
         it has spread to Judah. 
         It has reached the very gate of my people, 
         even to Jerusalem itself. 
      10 Tell it not in Gath; 
         weep not at all. 
         In Beth Ophrah 
         roll in the dust. 
      11 Pass by naked and in shame, 
         you who live in Shaphir. 
         Those who live in Zaanan 
         will not come out. 
         Beth Ezel is in mourning; 
         it no longer protects you. 
      12 Those who live in Maroth writhe in pain, 
         waiting for relief, 
         because disaster has come from the LORD, 
         even to the gate of Jerusalem. 
      13 You who live in Lachish, 
         harness fast horses to the chariot. 
         You are where the sin of Daughter Zion began, 
         for the transgressions of Israel were found in you. 
      14 Therefore you will give parting gifts 
         to Moresheth Gath. 
         The town of Akzib m will prove deceptive 
         to the kings of Israel. 
      15 I will bring a conqueror against you 
         who live in Mareshah. 
         The nobles of Israel 
         will flee to Adullam. 
      16 Shave your head in mourning 
         for the children in whom you delight; 
         make yourself as bald as the vulture, 
         for they will go from you into exile. 

The footnotes give some help, but it is so much more vivid in The Message

Don’t gossip about this in Telltown.
                        Don’t waste your tears.
                  In Dustville,
                        roll in the dust.
                  In Alarmtown,
                        the alarm is sounded.
                  The citizens of Exitburgh
                        will never get out alive.
                  Lament, Last-Stand City:
                        There’s nothing in you left standing.
                  The villagers of Bittertown
                        wait in vain for sweet peace.
                  Harsh judgment has come from God
                        and entered Peace City.
                  All you who live in Chariotville,
                        get in your chariots for flight.
                  You led the daughter of Zion
                        into trusting not God but chariots.
                  Similar sins in Israel
                        also got their start in you.
                  Go ahead and give your good-bye gifts
                        to Good-byeville.
                  Miragetown beckoned
                        but disappointed Israel’s kings.
                  Inheritance City
                        has lost its inheritance.
                        has seen its last of glory.
                  Shave your heads in mourning
                        over the loss of your precious towns.
                  Go bald as a goose egg—they’ve gone
                        into exile and aren’t coming back.

There's lots of different kinds of love. This video mentions four of them. But it is not true that the Ancient Greeks had four words for love - they had plenty more than four.
It's a myth that a word in Greek = a concept
Sometimes a word is only used in one sense. The English word defenestrate really only means to throw someone out the window.
The Yiddish word farpotshket means "irreparable damage caused to something by trying to fix it!"

Both First Testament and New Testament writers use language similarly to us. The one word often has a range of meaning, and sometimes those meanings are not connected. 

Let's look at the way the Hebrew word אהַב  and the Greek word ἀγαπάω  are used in Genesis. If you wanted to study what Genesis tells us about love, and decided to look up a concordance, (Strong's, Young's or Cruden's?) you might be disappointed. The word love doesn't turn up till Chapter 22, where God says to Abraham:

'Take your son, your only son, whom you love- Isaac- and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you.' 

Here, in the Greek version of the First Testament, we have the word ἀγαπάω used of a father's love for his son.
Later in Genesis, we read about Isaac’s love for Esau, linked with his love of meat (cupboard love), Jacob’s romantic love for Rachel, his fatherly love for Joseph, and Shechem’s “love” for Dinah - leading him to rape her! The same  word is used, because, the biblical languages use one word with several meanings, just as we use one word with a variety of connotations.
But there isn’t a single passage in Genesis which mentions God’s “love” for his creation! However, there is plenty in this book of fifty chapters about God’s care and grace and provision and faithfulness - attributes of a loving God. God graciously provides clothes from animal skins for Adam and Eve, after they sin and become aware of their nakedness. He cares for Hagar, even though she is not the mother of Isaac, the ancestor of Jesus. He looks after Joseph when he was mistreated and provides the ark for Noah and family, rescuing them from the flood.
And what about this worrying story of commanding Abraham to sacrifice the son he loves? Here, we see a picture of God’s love for us in sending His son, whom he loves, to die for our sins. And we see God’s love for Abraham and Isaac in providing a ram to be sacrificed instead of Isaac.
Looking up the number of times the word “love” occurs is interesting, but it doesn’t tell us everything the Bible says about the concept of love. Looking up the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek words for “love” is also of limited value, because it doesn’t help us with passages where the concept of love is spoken about without using the label “love.”

Although Genesis nowhere speaks of God’s “love,” it is found throughout the book, as we read the beginnings of God’s plan to rescue us from the consequences of sin, through his plan for a new Adam to crush the head of the serpent who led us into sin and estrangement from our God.
If we wanted to read what the Bible says about love, we might naturally turn to 1 Corinthians 13, because we know it uses the word ἀγάπη repeatedly, and everyone knows that the special kind of love is called ἀγάπη. But the New Testament uses other words as synonyms for this word, and also uses the wonderful word φιλαδελφία which seems to mean "brothers and sisters of Christ, and of one another."
13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 

This passage does have a lot to say about love, but sometimes the Bible teaches us about a concept without a word that is associated with that concept. Consider Genesis 45:1-15
45 Joseph could no longer keep his composure in front of all his attendants, so he called out, “Send everyone away from me!” No one was with him when he revealed his identity to his brothers. But he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and also Pharaoh’s household heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But they could not answer him because they were terrified in his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please, come near me,” and they came near. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt. And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting. God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
“Return quickly to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: “God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me without delay. 10 You can settle in the land of Goshen and be near me—you, your children, and your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and all you have. 11 There I will sustain you, for there will be five more years of famine. Otherwise, you, your household, and everything you have will become destitute.” ’ 12 Look! Your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin can see that I’m the one speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all my glory in Egypt and about all you have seen. And bring my father here quickly.”
14 Then Joseph threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. 15 Joseph kissed each of his brothers as he wept, and afterward his brothers talked with him. 

Here we have Joseph's love for his brothers, his love for his father, his special love for his brother Benjamin. We have God's love for Israel in sending Joseph to preserve their family. We have God's love for us, because this is part of God's plan to preserve this line until Jesus is born. But the word love doesn't get a look in.

If I want to find out what the Bible has to say about love, a concordance will be of limited value. What I really need is to read, not a book classifying words about love, but the Bible itself.
Ecclesiastes 12: ESV
Remember Your Creator in Your Youth
12 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.
Fear God and Keep His Commandments
Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.
11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. 

Ecclesiastes 12 NLT
Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly.
Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint.
Remember him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets; before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire. Remember him before you near the grave, your everlasting home, when the mourners will weep at your funeral.
Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
Concluding Thoughts about the Teacher
“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless.”
Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. 10 The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly.
11 The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.
12 But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.
13 That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. 14 God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. 

What is puzzling in the ESV version? Does the NLT clarify things? How does explaining a metaphor or figure of speech spoil it?
Most translations don't attempt to explain the "the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern" Why don't they? What do you think they mean?

Can I learn to read the Bible languages?
There has never been a time when it was easier to learn Hebrew and Greek, not to mention Aramaic.
There are wonderful free resources available on the internet. 
It's not easy, and requires commitment.
But why would you want to?

1. It gets you closer to the Word of God. Would you rather read a translation of your father's letter to you, or read the letter itself?
2. It helps you to understand the English versions we have.
3. It gives you respect for the folk who have translated God's Word for us
4. It means that Bible scholars and translators are called to account. But, be careful. Don't be a First Year student who arrogantly says all the translations we have are wrong, when you don't know what you're talking about.
5. Luther said that if we lose the Bible languages we will lose the Gospel. The church needs people who can read God's Word in the original languages. 
6. The church needs Bible translators.
7. If people learn Spanish to read Don Quixote and German to read Goethe, wouldn't a Christian learn the languages the living Word of God appears in?
8. If you want to study the Bible, you will soon see the need to be able to follow the argument in Bible commentaries and other resources. 

Learning any language at all will improve your understanding of English, and will help you in reading any book, including the Book of books.

Don't learn biblical languages to find out what the Bible really says!

A girl was upset when she read If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters- yes, even their own life- such a person cannot be my disciple. (Lk. 14:26 NIB)

So she decided to go to Bible college, learn Greek and find out what the Bible really says. In her NT Greek language classes she learn how to read the Greek alphabet, learnt how to look up a lexicon [why call it a dictionary when you can call it a lexicon and sound rool cool!]

She looked up her BDAG and was eager to read the entry for μισέω
where she read “to have a strong aversion to, hate or detest”
In other words where the English version says if you don’t hate your father and mother and relatives and even your own life, you can’t be his disciple. But what the Greek really says is if you don’t hate your father and mother and relatives and even your own life, you can’t be his disciple.
How disappointing! What’s the point of learning Greek and Hebrew if in the end they say the same as the English!
But, she discovered something to help her sort this out when she was attending another class at college – hermeneutics. Here she learnt about reading the Bible in context, about allowing the Bible to be its own interpreter, and comparing one biblical passage with another.

She learnt about a figure of speech which Julia Gillard calls HYPER bowl: hyperbole! And in her NT classes, she learnt that Jesus sometimes deliberately says something shocking to make us think and to make us decide whose side we are on. Are we really his followers, or only when it’s easy?

Tips for reading the Bible
1. Read it with someone else. Who said you have to have a personal quiet time, all alone? Reading alone is fine, but there's something wonderful about reading God's Word together
2. Read it aloud. It was meant to be read aloud. Read it to someone who might not read God's Word, if you don't give them a hand.
3. Read it in different kinds of Bibles. If you usually read the ESV, try reading the CSB for a change. If you usually read the NIV, why not try the ESV? See 
4. Read a whole book of the Bible. You could start with the short ones.
5. Read a Gospel frequently. J I Packer There's a need for constant meditation on the four Gospels over and above the rest of our Bible reading. Gospel study enables to keep both our Lord in clear view and to hold before our minds the relational frame of discipleship to him. The doctrines on which our discipleship rests are clearest in the Epistles, but the nature of discipleship itself is most clearly portrayed in the Gospels. We should never let ourselves forget that the four Gospels are the most wonderful books on earth.
6. Try a Reader's Bible. These Bibles remove the verse numbers, the chapters and chapter headings, but do have some helpful paragraphing.
7. There's something to be gained by reading a paraphrase, from time to time, if you don't make it your only Bible. Have you read Kel Richard's Aussie Bible? 

Which are the better Bible translations?
The ones done by a multidenominational committee are often better. This includes the bulk of the popular translations:
CSB, ESV, NLT, NIV, for example.
Translations done by an individual sometimes don't have the checks and balances, and sometimes have an agenda. Some of them are interesting to read, but you might need to be more wary.
Some Bibles often seem to have a lot of extraneous material added to them. I've noticed this with NLT, which is why I prefer an unadorned pew Bible than a Bible for men, the Spirit-filled Bible, the Bible for teenagers, etc.
Study Bibles
I've enjoyed The ESV Study Bible - it's a big one, and took two years to read the lot.
The NIV Archaeological Study Bible
The Reformation Study Bible
The ESV Archeology Study Bible looks good.


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