The King's Version: N.T. Wright's New Testament

HarperCollins has announced:

N.T. WrightThe King’s Version

A Contemporary Translation of the New Testament

By N. T. Wright

On Sale: 9/27/2011

No more details are given, but Timothy of Catholic Bibles speculates that

it will simply be the New Testament translation he did for the For Everybody series of commentaries published by Westminster John Knox Press.

Well, there is hardly a need for yet another English New Testament translation, but it will be fascinating to see what Wright comes up with. But why the title “The King’s Version”? Who is “The King” here? Not Wright, I hope. But I guess this is just a marketing ploy. Thanks to Eddie Arthur on Twitter for the link.

Enjoying Christian music is not worship

Sam NortonChurch of England rector Sam Norton writes:

it is possible to appreciate religious music (or art or whatever) in such a way as to gain some benefit from it, even spiritual benefit – but this is not the same as worship. I think I would want to describe the difference as being between a consumer of religiously flavoured produce and being engaged in a conversation with something other than our own desires and perspectives. It is the latter that counts as worship, not the former.

Indeed. Perhaps this is the real story behind the controversy last year when Sam “sacked” his choirmaster, which reached the Daily Mail.

It is easy for someone like me to say Amen! to sentiments like this when directed at traditional church music, which is probably what was called “a substitute” for religion by the non-Christian professor Sam quoted. This is surely the kind of music which Sam’s old choir loved to sing, so different from Sam’s preferred Leonard Cohen.

But the same point also needs to be made about modern Christian music. It is easy to attract young people with no church background to Christian concerts and even “worship” services if the style of music and the atmosphere are right – and if enough money has been spent on high-tech audio-visual equipment to give an apparently authentic rock concert or disco experience. But listening to or singing along with such music is in itself no more worship than is listening to or singing along with classical oratorios.

So what should the church do?

First, I would say, it needs to provide an appropriate style of music for its congregation, or for the one it wants to attract. That, I suspect, was the problem Sam had: the music that his 100-strong congregation liked was not appreciated by the rest of his parish’s population of 7000. I’m not sure if they preferred Leonard Cohen! My own current church, Oasis Warrington, is seeking to reach unchurched young people, and so it offers a service with a rock concert atmosphere, and music from Hillsong and Abundant Life. That works in getting a good number of the 200,000 people of Warrington through its doors, but would probably not go down well in Sam’s village.

However, the important part starts once the people are inside the building, and have stayed through the opening musical selection. This is when the message needs to be put across that religion or being a Christian is not just about enjoying the music. That can be done in many ways – even by firing a director of music who has lost the right perspective. But it is probably communicated most clearly in the preaching of the gospel message, without compromise on its content although its form needs to be adapted to the congregation.

Anyone who visits Oasis Warrington to enjoy the music, and perhaps hoping to be moved in a vaguely religious way, will before the end of the meeting be challenged to something quite different, to giving their whole life to Jesus Christ in true sacrificial worship. The same should be true, whatever the style of music, at every church.

Gandhi and Rob Bell, newfrontiers and Hell

Phil Whittall, who blogs as The Simple Pastor, is the leader of a newfrontiers church. But in many ways he is very different from the face of newfrontiers presented on the blogosphere by Adrian Warnock, lover of Puritans and scourge of egalitarians. For one thing, Phil is an Arminian. For another, he seems much more interested in simple living and treating the earth responsibly than in strident theological debate.

Mohandas Karamchand GandhiSo it was something of a surprise to read the first part of what Phil wrote, in answer to a provocative question by Rob Bell, on Is Gandhi in hell?:

I guess the answer to that question depends on what you think should happen to racist, sexual pervert who believed in reincarnation. For that, according to a new biography of Gandhi is exactly what he was.

Phil continues with quotations giving evidence for these claims, although he was no more racist than anyone in his time, and I’m not convinced on the “sexual pervert” claim.

This sounds like what Adrian might have written, as a way of defusing the reaction to his probable “Yes” answer. After all, to many people, even many Christians, Gandhi is one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century, and it would be a real shock to be told he is in hell.

But then Phil turns the tables on Adrian and those who think like him, and gives a true Christian answer to the question:

as Rob Bell insists we don’t know for sure what has happened to Gandhi so be wary of definitive statements as if we are the ones who judge. … God’s grace can reach someone who is a racist, pervert and believes in reincarnation and save them to the uttermost. Whether it has or not, time will tell.

Royal Wedding Bargain: Kate Middleton Jelly Bean, £500

Kate Middleton jelly beanThe Independent reports that the Kate Middleton jelly bean is expected to fetch £500. This piece of confectionery (that’s how you spell the word, Independent editors!) is supposed to resemble next week’s royal bride. And its owner Wesley Hosie,

a trainee accountant, said he plans to sell it for £500.

Well, I don’t think he will ever get past being a trainee if he lets this go for a mere £500. Souvenir sellers are expecting to rake in hundreds of millions of pounds, mostly from selling mass-produced rubbish. Surely someone with more money than sense will pay a small fortune for this unique jelly bean.

I think it’s the newspaper, not the owner, suggesting that the jelly bean is sold on eBay. That is probably where it will go for its proper value. But if the owner is prepared to part with it for £500, then I suggest someone with a bit of sense as well as money snaps up this bargain – and then sells it on eBay at a handsome profit.

Meanwhile the wedding I am looking forward to is not William and Kate’s.

Last Supper April Fool

The BBC reports today research by Colin Humphreys of Cambridge University which concludes:

The Last Supper was therefore on Wednesday, 1 April AD33, according to the standard Julian calendar used by historians.

Humphreys has even managed to get a book published on the subject, by no less than Cambridge University Press. And there is a detailed article about it on the university’s Research News website.

Thanks also to Dave Faulkner who first alerted me to this.

Leonardo da Vinci's representation of the Last SupperSo who is this Colin Humphreys? A historian? A biblical scholar? No, a “metallurgist and materials scientist”. In fact he is Sir Colin Humphreys CBE FREng, Professor and Director of Research at the Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy. Impressive credentials for a scientist. No doubt he is a leading world expert on gallium nitride, “probably the most important semiconductor material since silicon”. But what would he know about the Last Supper?

The whole thing looks like an April Fool. As Humphreys clearly isn’t a fool, I suspect that this time the BBC and the Cambridge University Press have been fooled.

But at least something good could come out of this folly. The BBC article reports that

Prof Humphreys believes his findings could present a case for finally fixing Easter Day to the first Sunday in April.

If this book helps us to move away from the stupidity of this year’s very late Easter, then it will have done a service to us all.

Or could this be another case of The spoof that wasn’t?

Reigning with Christ: the Millennium in Ephesians?

A comment on my post Left Behind Preachers led me to an interesting discovery about the Millennium. I put forward some tentative ideas about what this was in my post The Marriage of the Millennium: not William and Kate. In clarifying my thoughts about this I was led to look at Ephesians 2, and find in there what looks like teaching about the Millennium.

The Heavenly ThroneThe main Bible passage about the Millennium is found in Revelation chapter 20. Here is part of it:

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

Revelation 20:4 (NIV 2011)

Compare this with what Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus …

Ephesians 2:4-6 (NIV 2011)

Note the clear parallels here. Believers who were dead are then raised up to life and seated with Christ. In Revelation they are explicitly seated on thrones and reign with Christ. In Ephesians this is only implicit, but the implication should be clear: in biblical times to be seated implied some kind of throne as there were no chairs for common use; and in Ephesians 1:20-22 the risen Christ, seated at God’s right hand, is reigning, and so the ones enthroned with him are reigning with him.

The Ephesians passage is clearly intended to apply to us Christian believers in the current church age. It teaches that we live in two realms at the same time: our visible lives on earth; and our hidden spiritual lives with Christ “in the heavenly realms”.

The passage in Revelation is commonly taken, at least by the more literal-minded evangelicals, to refer to a literal period of 1000 years, after the return of Jesus, when he will reign as king on earth, and believers will reign with him. But the passage doesn’t actually say that. In fact there is no mention in it of the earth. It is only after this, in chapter 21, that we read of the Lamb having his throne on the new earth. Also the thousand year timescale should not be taken too literally, as

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

2 Peter 3:8 (NIV 2011)

So, given the close parallels, I don’t see any clear reason to take these two passages as referring to different situations and periods. And if they do refer to the same period, the Millennium is the same as the current church age.

Maybe my discovery is not actually new, and in fact what I am saying is a standard part of amillennialist thinking, i.e. the idea that there is no literal Millennium. But it is new to me.

Now the idea that Christians are reigning with Christ now, in the church age, is a controversial one. Indeed it has been ever since New Testament times when Paul ironically wrote to the Corinthians

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!

1 Corinthians 4:8 (NIV 2011)

BreakthroughThe problem for the Corinthians was that they were only grasping one side of the Christian life. They wrongly thought that they were living in the fullness of the life of the kingdom of God. But as it is, in some words which I quoted in a 2006 post here from the book Breakthrough: Discovering the Kingdom by Derek Morphew,

Christians are people who have met Jesus, and to meet Jesus is to meet the end. We have been taken out of this present world and already live by the powers of the age to come. Yet at the same time we live in this world. We are caught in the tension between two worlds, but the power, reality and values of the kingdom determine our lives rather than the standards of this world …

If we could escape from this world and live completely in the kingdom, it would be great. If we could forget about the kingdom and live only in this world, things would be safe. But neither is possible. We will continue to be part of both kingdoms at the same time. Our lives are disturbed in a most wonderfully upsetting way so that we can never see anything in quite the same way again.

Royal wedding day rapture?

Prince William and Kate MiddletonIt’s not yet eleven o’clock in the morning, and already today six people have found my post The Marriage of the Millennium: not William and Kate with the search string

rapture of jesus’ bride is same day of marriage of prince william and kate middleton.

Does someone know something I don’t? Have we got just a few days to prepare ourselves for the Rapture? No, I don’t think so, although we should be ready just in case:

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Matthew 24:44 (NIV 2011)

I hope William and Kate will be rapturously happy on their wedding day. No doubt many others will be in raptures of excitement at the spectacle. But I will not be waiting around for any more literal rapture.

Left Behind Preachers

The RaptureIf there is a Rapture, who will preach to those left behind? Surely not many churches will be empty the following Sunday. Few congregations will have been 100% raptured, and others will very likely join them to find out what is happening.

Archdruid Eileen offers a preview of that situation in at least one church this Sunday, where the pastor is away at Spring Harvest:

Take the people at Drayton’s chapel. In  his absence, his deacon – Mr Obadiah Zebulun – is preaching. He doesn’t often get the chance, and he’s made the most of it.

The pastor of my old church in Essex is currently leading a mission trip to Israel, so the church’s Facebook page announced last night that

Next week is Holy Week and we’re kicking things off tomorrow with a sermon from our very own Easter Bunny

– followed by the name of the lady in question. I give no links here to spare her blushes.

Now I wouldn’t suggest that that godly lady would not qualify for the Rapture. I’m not so sure about the fictional (I presume) Deacon Obadiah Zebulun. But, if there were to be a Rapture, it would surely be most unfortunate if the left behind congregation members, who would be in serious need of spiritual guidance, were instead forced to suffer the lengthy rants and bad exegesis of second rate preachers who were not even born again.

I still wouldn’t want to be raptured – I would prefer to be left behind. Or, more to the point, I hope that when difficult times come none of God’s people are raptured, but all are left behind to minister to unbelievers at the time of their greatest need. We can rely on God to be with us through the worst of times, although that might not protect all of us from suffering and martyrdom. Surely there will be faithful witness to the truth about God right up to the end.

Why is Easter so late this year?

A Roman Period tomb with a rolling stoneEarly in 2008 I asked Why is Easter so early this year? That year Easter fell on 23rd March, one day later than the earliest possible date according to the current calendar. This year, 2011, it is more than a month later, on 24th April, one day earlier than the latest possible date. It will not fall on that latest date until 2038, and the previous time was 1943. So this may be the latest Easter in my lifetime.

The basic reason for the late Easter is that its date is tied to the phases of the moon. As I wrote in 2008, the dates each year, as recognised by the western churches,

are determined by complex calculations which go back to the 6th century: Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon on or after 21st March, supposed to be the day of the spring equinox.

This year the relevant full moon dates are Saturday 19th March and Monday 18th April. The former was before the spring equinox, so the Easter full moon is on 18th April – and the Easter celebrations have to wait nearly a full week until the following Sunday.

This late Easter is again causing difficulties with school holidays, at least here in the UK. Here in Warrington the holidays are finishing this weekend, and then children are back at school for less than a week before their four day Easter break. But a friend living here who is a teacher in a nearby borough only starts her school holidays today, because that area has chosen to tie its holidays to Easter. That would be very difficult for her if she had children at school in Warrington.

Another undesirable side effect of this late Easter, again in the UK, is that it falls only one week before the May Day bank holiday weekend. This year the situation is made even worse by the extra royal wedding bank holiday on 29th April. This leaves only three working days between two four day breaks. It is hardly surprising that some companies, e.g. Toyota, have taken the opportunity to close down for those three days and take a break for nearly two weeks. That is not a good way to stimulate our struggling economy.

Meanwhile Ekklesia reports that Work continues for a common date for Easter:

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches has urged Christians to give this year’s celebration of Easter a clear ecumenical profile and to work for a common date of Easter for the future, noting that this year it falls on the same day 24 April for both eastern and western traditions.

“In a world divided by poverty and violence, it is important that we are one in our witness to the crucified and risen Christ in actions as well as in words,” said the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.

As is clear from another Ekklesia article, it seems that the problem is with getting agreement from the Orthodox churches. In principle, it seems, they are happy to move to a common date, although they would prefer a moveable date to a fixed one. But in the politically and religiously volatile environment of eastern Europe it is difficult to get these churches to come to a formal agreement on anything.

We can only hope and pray that eventually churches will agree on a common date which makes sense for everyone – and enjoy our break at the end of this month.

Literal Bible translations: crutches for bad teachers?

ESV BibleT.C. Robinson, at New Leaven, quoted Daniel Doleys writing about why he moved back to teaching from the ESV Bible. I was being a bit mischievous when I commented:

This guy is simply showing that he doesn’t understand how language work[s] and doesn’t understand the ESV. … I’m sorry to say this, but by returning to ESV Daniel is simply helping himself continue to teach and preach badly.

Of course I didn’t write anything like this without explaining my reasons, which I have omitted in the quotation above. And in a further exchange of comments with Daniel I accepted that the example he had given was not really one of bad teaching.

Nevertheless, I would claim that literal Bible translations like the ESV are often used as crutches by bad preachers and Christian teachers.

First I need to explain what I mean by “literal Bible translations”. Henry Neufeld has rightly objected to a misuse of the word “literal”. As this word is so often abused it might be better not to apply it to Bible versions, and use the more technical term “formal equivalence translation”. But that would confuse many people – and make the title of this post too long.

Anyway, I am referring here to versions at one end of the translation spectrum: ESV, NASB, RSV, KJV, NKJV and some others which are classified as more or less “literal” or “formal equivalence”. The Good News Bible, CEV and NLT are among those at the other end of the spectrum, “meaning-based” or “dynamic equivalence”. NIV is somewhere in the middle.

Now I certainly don’t want to claim that all preachers and teachers who use literal translations are bad. Some of the very best preachers use versions of this type. But there are also many bad preachers and teachers out there. And many, not all, of them prefer literal translations. There are at least two reasons why:

First, preachers can simply explain the passage and pretend they have preached a sermon. Sadly it is common for pastors, especially less well educated ones, to reject meaning-based Bible translations because they would be left with nothing to say. These preachers have been used to reading a Bible passage from a version which their congregation does not understand clearly, because it is written in unnatural and perhaps old-fashioned language, and then spending a long time explaining its meaning. Maybe this is all there is to the sermon, or there is only a token attempt to apply it to the hearers’ situation. But if the meaning is clear when the passage is read from the Bible, as it surely should be, then there is little or nothing left for the preacher to say.

Second, and this is what I was getting at in my response to the New Leaven post, literal Bible translations encourage teachers to focus on unimportant details while missing the broader flow of the text. Daniel Doleys’ example about the phrase “in the eyes” in Judges can serve as an example here. Daniel complained that NIV was inconsistent in its translation of this phrase – but seemed to have failed to notice that his preferred ESV is also inconsistent. But should such phrases be translated consistently? If the meaning and context is the same, preferably yes. But part of the argument for literal translations is that each word in the original language should be translated consistently even when the meanings and contexts are different. Some bad teachers want this because they love to discuss how specific words are used with some kind of semi-mystical meaning through the Bible or a part of it – without taking into account that these words are perfectly ordinary ones like “eyes” used in many different ways.

Now I accept that there is a place for looking in detail at how each original language word is used in different senses and contexts within the biblical texts. But this kind of study should be done from the original language texts, and the results should be shared among biblical scholars. Only bad preachers try to impress their regular Sunday congregations with insights of this kind, supposedly based on an original language word but often in fact mainly derived from translations and concordances in English, or whatever else their mother tongue might be.

So it is perhaps not surprising that most ordinary congregation members prefer meaning-based translations while their pastors try to persuade them to use more literal ones. After all, the pastors don’t want their flocks to understand the passage too clearly, or they might feel redundant!

What is the answer here? Preachers and teachers need to realise that there is much more to a good sermon than exegesis, explaining the meaning of the text. They may have to do that, of course, whatever translation they are using, but they should make that task as simple as possible by using a clear and natural Bible version. They should also realise that finding themes and connections between texts, while fascinating for scholars, is rarely helpful for general congregations. The heart of a good expository sermon must always be applying the Bible passage to the needs of the hearers. And the best translation to use is the one which makes that task most effective.