Sorry to disappoint my readers all round the world

I was surprised at how long it is since I last posted here. Sorry if anyone has been waiting impatiently! In fact I have not disappeared from the blogosphere, as I have been quite busy commenting on other blogs. For example, I have commented on the Better Bibles Blog, about sanctification and normal English usage; on Adrian Warnock’s blog, about healing and the alleged link between feminism and homosexuality; and on the Daily Duck, about quantum theology! So if you are looking for more of my thoughts, try these links.

Meanwhile I have added to the sidebar of this blog a facility to search the TNIV Bible. I have also been monitoring the map of my readers, all round the world from Hawaii (one of at least 21 locations in the USA) to New Zealand, and even including one in Saudi Arabia – interesting! I know who some of you are. Perhaps others would like to introduce themselves by commenting here.

Redeemed and set free!

What does it mean for us Christians to say that we have been “redeemed”, that Jesus has provided “redemption” for us? There is an ongoing discussion of this on the Better Bibles Blog. I have made some comments there. Now I want to write something a bit less technical about it, so I am doing so here.

Eugene Nida, the pioneer of “dynamic equivalence” Bible translations like the Good News Bible (which was the main Bible in my church until last year), wrote in his 1977 book Good News for Everyone (p.74, as quoted on Better Bibles Blog):

The fact of the matter is that the terms “redeem” and “redeemer” have lost very much of their earlier significance in English. For many people “redeem” is associated more with trading stamps than with the biblical theme of deliverance and salvation.

Well, trading stamps have gone out of fashion since the 1970’s, at least here in the UK (it shows my age that I remember Green Shield stamps), but we still have all kinds of vouchers which we can redeem, which even have a “redemption value” (usually 0.001p!) printed on them.

But how does this relate to the Christian idea of “redemption”? In Ephesians 1:7 (TNIV) we read:

In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood…

Does this mean that the blood of Christ is like a voucher paid to someone as a purchase price for us? And if so, to who? This is indeed one line of Christian thinking on this subject, but the conclusion had to be the unsatisfactory one that Jesus’ blood was paid to Satan. Yes, we were slaves to Satan and we are no longer, but God did this not by making a business arrangement with Satan, but by defeating him and destroying his power.

But we are on the right track with the idea of Christians being set free from slavery. For the Greek word translated “redemption”, apolutrōsis, was commonly used in relation to the setting free of slaves. Sometimes a slave was freed because someone paid a price to buy the slave, and the Greek word for this price was lutron or antilutron, accurately translated “ransom” in Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45 and 1 Timothy 2:6 (TNIV and many other translations). In other cases slaves were set free by their masters without any payment being made, for example as a reward for faithful service, but the process was still known as apolutrōsis. And the same word was used for release of a prisoner, as in Hebrews 11:35, where there is no suggestion of any payment being made. So, although apolutrōsis is derived from lutron, it does not necessarily carry the idea of payment or redemption; it can just mean “freedom” or “release”.

So what should we make of this? The Bible certainly speaks of Jesus giving his life as a ransom (lutron or antilutron), Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45 and 1 Timothy 2:6. There is a similar picture in 1 Peter 1:18-19 (TNIV):

18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Here “redeemed” represents the Greek verb lutroomai, derived from lutron, and a better translation might be “ransomed” or “set free by a ransom”, something for which silver or gold might be used. But this cannot be understood as in any way literal, for Christ’s blood was not paid to anyone, nor did he become Satan’s slave taking the place of others – that would be a rather inadequate view of the Atonement. So, the idea of a ransom must be taken as a model of the underlying spiritual reality, and one which like all models of the Atonement should not be pressed beyond the rather limited scope given to it in the Bible.

Thus it is better to take the word apolutrōsis as meaning not “redemption” but “release” or “freedom”. This works well every one of the ten times that the word is used in the New Testament. I offer my own translation, modified from TNIV, of these ten occurrences in their context:

…because your liberation is drawing near (Luke 21:28).

…through the freedom that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24).

…as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the release of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

…our righteousness, holiness and freedom (1 Corinthians 1:30).

In him we have freedom through his blood… (Ephesians 1:7).

…until the release of those who are God’s possession… (Ephesians 1:14).

…with whom you were sealed for the day of release (Ephesians 4:30).

…in whom we have freedom, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:14).

…now that he has died to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:15).

…refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection (Hebrews 11:35, TNIV unchanged).

And similarly for some related words:

…because he has come to his people and set them free (Luke 1:68, lutrōsis).

…looking forward to the liberation of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38, lutrōsis).

…but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to liberate Israel… (Luke 24:21, lutroomai).

…who gave himself for us to set us free from all wickedness (Titus 2:14, lutroomai).

…but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal liberation (Hebrews 9:12, lutrōsis).

The only other occurrences of “redeem” and “redemption” in the TNIV New Testament are in Galatians 3:13,14, 4:5 and Revelation 14:3. In these places “redeem” represents a quite different Greek word group, agorazō and exagorazō, which mean “buy, purchase”. These words are also used of Christian “redemption” in 1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23, 2 Peter 2:1, Revelation 5:9, 14:4, where TNIV translates “buy” or “purchase”; also arguably Ephesians 5:16 where TNIV correctly interprets “making the most of”.

If “purchase” is acceptable in Revelation 14:4, it should also be used in 14:3 where it would be much clearer. This leaves Galatians 3:13,14 (the Greek word in v.13 is translated twice for clarity) and 4:5. In the latter case the reference is to freedom from slavery, but the Greek word has clear connotations of purchase. In 3:13 the point is that we were cursed and have now been set free from the curse. So I would suggest the following, modified from TNIV:

Christ set us free from the curse of the law… He set us free in order that… (Galatians 3:13-14).

…to purchase those under the law… (Galatians 4:5).

…the 144,000 who had been purchased from the earth (Revelation 14:3).

So we are left with a modified TNIV New Testament without the poorly understood words “redeem” and “redemption”, which to me would be great improvement. Similar changes to the Old Testament might also be beneficial, but I won’t go into that now.

As noted on the Better Bibles Blog, the Good News Bible (Today’s English Version), the Jerusalem Bible, the Contemporary English Version, the New Living Translation and The Message have mostly avoided the words “redeem” and “redemption”. But other recent versions like TNIV have, sadly, kept to a traditional wording which is poorly understood and misleading. As Christians we can claim to be redeemed, but how much clearer is this wonderful truth when we express it as “Jesus has set us free!”

It's never too late to say "sorry"

Another story from the BBC:

Sorry is often said to be the hardest word but Andrew Hawkins felt compelled to apologise to a crowd of thousands of Africans.

His regret was not for his own actions but offered on behalf of his ancestor, who traded in African slaves 444 years ago. …

It’s never too late to say “sorry”, or at least never so late that it is not worth saying. Individuals and nations may be trapped by the consequences of sins of past generations, even from centuries ago. Saying “sorry” releases those who say it, as well as those they say it to, and enables them all to move ahead in a positive and beneficial relationship. Andrew, who seems to be some kind of Christian, has realised this and set himself free from any kind of bondage to this slave-trading heritage in his past. And hopefully his actions, and those of the group he is part of, will help to extinguish the remnants of racism and promote full reconciliation between the descendants of slaves and the descendants of those who profited from slavery.

Second Coming insurance refused!

I don’t really intend this blog to be a collection of oddities. But I can’t resist linking to this one, about three sisters who tried to insure themselves to cover the cost of bringing up Christ, if they should conceive him by virgin birth for his Second Coming! This is what the BBC says, so I suppose it must be true, although I am asking a friend who works for them to check it out.

Of course these sisters have forgotten that the Second Coming will not be a repeat of the first one, not another child being born by virgin birth, but:

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

Mark 13:26 (TNIV©)

Walking on Water

Peter walks on waterAt the Revival Days conference I was at last weekend I felt some of the time that I was walking on water! Not quite in the literal sense, despite this picture of me taken at a nearby ford. But it was certainly a wonderful time of being close to the Lord and feeling his refreshing presence.

I mentioned this conference in my posting a couple of weeks ago on the Toronto Blessing. Yes, some of the Toronto manifestations were still happening. It is sad, perhaps, that Blogger does not support video clips, as I have a great one of some friends of mine rolling on the floor laughing in the Spirit – but then, although the conference venue had been declared a “Fear Free Zone (1 John 4:18)”, my friends might be a bit embarrassed to see this on the Internet.

But the focus of the conference was not on manifestations. In fact it was on God the Father’s love. The speakers (the two pastors of the church, who both happen to be women) encouraged us to reject a caricature of the Trinity, that the Father is the stern one, the Son is the loving one, and the Holy Spirit is the fun one! They reminded us that the Father is also the loving one, and that even if our earthly fathers were stern, or worse, and not loving, our heavenly Father is not like that. This led to some powerful prayer ministry for people who found it hard to experience the Father’s love because of past hurts.

For me this conference was mainly a time of confirmation of things which God had said to me before and encouragement to continue in the same directions. I am being led into serving him in new and deeper ways, and should expect to see signs and wonders. Who knows, I may really find I can walk on water – so that Jesus may be glorified.

The Duck Quacks Back

While I was away (and I still intend to report on that) the Daily Duck posted some interesting reflections on the God blog wars. It is sad that he felt left out of what seemed to be an in-house argument among Christians. I am not sure whether Christians should completely avoid disagreeing in public, which includes anywhere in the “blogosphere”, but if we do we must remember to do so in Christian love, and to remember that what we say needs to be helpful for non-believing readers like Duck. It was sad in a way that Duck could complain

There I was, in their midst for a whole week, and nobody tried to save me.

But I am glad that in response to my comment he wrote

Yes, you were.

But, sadly, he didn’t really want to be saved. Here is the comment (reformatted) which that was a response to:

Duck, thank you for this. But I must say I am surprised that you say that

nobody tried to save you.

I did! At least that was a major purpose of what I was writing. I was trying to show you that there is a way round the the artificial theological barriers which some people have erected. Such barriers cannot stand when they are not in the same place that the Bible has erected barriers, and especially when they are built across the door which God has opened into his kingdom. For, however much these people may rant in the pulpit or in the blogosphere, God has

placed before you an open door that no-one can shut

(Revelation 3:8 TNIV©),

or to change the door metaphor within the same chapter to one which is probably a bit more exgetically sound, he says

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me

(Revelation 3:20 TNIV©).

Meanwhile I am taking Duck’s advice (although I won’t be using the results in the way he suggests!) by adding a page view counter to my blog. In fact I am adding a cool system called ClustrMaps, which I found on Eddie Arthur’s blog, which shows not only how many hits I am getting but also where they are in the world. It will be interesting to see where they do come from.

Eddie Arthur on Bible Controversies

I remember Eddie Arthur as the most interesting of the teachers I had when studying in 1992-1993 to be a Bible translator, at the British SIL school, now ETP. Eddie now blogs regularly, and very interestingly, on Bible translation and on various other issues relating to the Christian life. I can especially recommend his latest posting All Together Now: Why Bible Translation is Important II. Indeed we should avoid unnecessary arguments about English Bible translations, and give higher priority to translations into languages which do not have any translation. The latter is still my main work. Sometimes I get a bit too involved in the former controversies, but only where I see basic Christian teaching and values under threat.

Quiet here, busy elsewhere!

I have been too busy posting and commenting elsewhere, as well as with real life, to post much on this blog this week. And from tomorrow until Saturday night I am away at a Christian conference, Revival Days which I mentioned in a previous posting. So things may be quiet here until next week – although I would welcome comments, and would not be surprised to receive some on my controversial posting about whether Hindus and Jews can be saved.

The discussion of “Did God kill Jesus?” continues on Adrian Warnock’s blog, and there are now more than 100 comments on one posting, including several from myself, and follow-up postings from Adrian. Some people have picked up on my suggestion in the long comment thread that another commenter was not “a theological heavyweight“. I think some people thought I was comparing her with myself, whereas I intended to compare her with teachers like John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones who had been quoted earlier in the discussion. Later in the comment thread I apologised for the misunderstanding.

Meanwhile on the Better Bibles Blog I have been posting on an interesting technical issue with the Greek New Testament text.

Next week maybe you will hear how my conference went, or however God leads me to post.

Can a good Jew or Hindu be saved?

Duck asked in a comment on my posting Models of the Atonement:

But what does it say about your theology that a good Jew or Hindu will be damned to eternal suffering but a bad Christian will be saved?

Well, I have not quite said this. First, I have not mentioned “eternal suffering”, and there is an ongoing debate among Christians over whether those who are not saved suffer for ever or are simply annihilated. I don’t intend to get into that debate now. But more importantly, by God’s standards there is no such thing as a good Jew (except for Jesus), or a good Hindu, or for that matter a good Christian. All people have done wrong things and fall short of God’s standards. As a result none deserve to be saved or receive anything good from God. It is God’s free gift, his “grace”, to offer salvation although it is not deserved. And this is his offer to everyone, including Jews and Hindus. But God doesn’t force anyone to accept this gift, and many people don’t. They are not saved because they reject the offer of salvation. That is not God’s problem but theirs – and yours, Duck.

I accept that there is an issue here about those of other religions, or none, who have never heard the Christian message. Just as Abraham was saved for responding in faith to what he had heard of God’s message, so also I believe that many who do not profess Christianity now will be saved because they have responded to the light about God which they have received, through God’s general revelation and to some extent through other religions. They are not saved by their other religions, but only through the death of Jesus Christ. But I believe they can be saved without explicitly calling on Jesus Christ, and certainly without changing their outward religious identity to become Christians. However, this is no excuse for those who do clearly hear the good news about Jesus and reject it.

This is a very brief summary of a very difficult issue!