The Christian Standard Bible

Speaking of modern translations, the next major Bible translation is probably going to be the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). It is a complete replacement of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which is the Bible I have been preaching out of for the last three years.

It is too early to give a full review of the Bible since it hasn’t even been released yet. Still there is some helpful information on their website (http://csbible.com/) that allows us to make some educated guesses. There were several things I really liked about the HCSB, so let me try to offer some evaluation by comparison.

1.Easy to Read

The first thing I really liked about the HCSB was that it is incredibly easy to read aloud from. Preaching from Matthew often required me reading rather long sections of Scripture at a time and the natural writing style of the HCSB helped me read smoothly in a way that I felt listeners could follow and understand. This is also a very helpful feature when using the Bible with our youth or at the prison, where students are used to hearing shorter sentence structure and often do not have a Bible with them.

It appears that the CSB is trying to keep this same reading style. Their website offers a compare translations tool which demonstrates their easy reading stylescreen-shot-2017-01-27-at-9-20-42-am

In comparison with the ESV, the CSB is in my opinion easier to read. In comparison with it’s predecessor, the HCSB, this particular verse reads very similarly, with the exception of exchanging the number 70 with the word.

2. Distinctive

Another thing I liked about the HCSB was that it often offered a reading distinct from other popular Bibles. For instance, where many Bible used LORD, the HCSB used YHWH, and where many Bibles used Christ, the HCSB used Messiah.

Technically, these differences didn’t change the meaning of the verses at all. However, I thought they were still helpful because they challenge our minds to notice the importance of those words. For instance, though we may know that Christ is a title, it can be easy to treat the term as if it is no more significant than a last name. By substituting the Greek cognate Christ with Hebrew Messiah, the author’s connection of Jesus to the Old Testament just seemed more apparent. (For info on these stylistic changes see: http://thislamp.com)

The CSB seems to have dialed back on many of the features that made the HCSB distinct. I think this new version will read more like most of its competitors. Some pastors may like this as there will be less need to explain why one Bible says LORD and the other says YWHW. My fear is that reducing the need for explanation will also reduce comprehension.

3. Trustworthy

A third thing I liked about the HCSB was that I considered it to be a very trustworthy translation. I am not one to consider any translation as perfect, and I fully recognize that any translator or translation team can make mistakes. That said, the HCSB did an excellent job of translating the message of the original languages (Greek and Hebrew) into modern English.

Part of my trust in the HCSB is due to my own limited work in the Greek New Testament. But, admittedly, a great deal of my trust in the translation is due to the fact that I trust many people on the translation team. (The CSB has provided a list of all the translators for the original HCSB as well as a list of those working on the new CSB).

First, I appreciate that the translation is a product of a team effort, rather than the work of one man. I hope that the influence of multiple well trained minds will sharpen the final product. Second, I am especially happy to recognize and trust many of the names on this translation committee.

Perhaps the most important names on the list are the co-chairs of the translation oversight committee. Thom Schreiner is a very competent Biblical scholar and I consider his Romans commentary in the Baker series to be the best available. His work as both a Biblical and theological scholar (I say theological in light of his work with the New Perspective), clearly show both incredible expertise and a sincere devotion and service to God. I know less about David Allen, but I do know that he is a man of good reputation, especially in Southern Baptist circles.

I was happy to see my own Greek professor from seminary, David Alan Black, among the list of translators. He is a world class Greek scholar and teacher. Constantine Campbell was also on the list, and is well known for his work in Greek grammar, including the often challenging area of verbal aspect.

So, in light of the quality of the translators working on this project, I am confident that the CSB will continue in the tradition of the HCSB as a very reliable translation.


On a final note, in hopes that someone like Trevin Wax might read this, I would like to mention a few ways that I believe the CSB could improve the publishing options as compared to the HCSB.

One of the limitations of the HCSB, in my opinion, was the lack of print options. Especially in comparison with the ESV, I often found that people who would have preferred the HCSB translation opted for an ESV because of it’s published format. In light of that, here are some things I would like to see.

The Minister’s Bible – But not for ministers.

By far, my favorite Bible both for daily reading and for taking into the pulpit was my HCSB minister’s Bible (ISBN 978-1-43360-087-6). However, I wish this Bible was available without all the minister’s aides in the back.

I really liked that it was a single column Bible with a large very legible font. It seemed most of the other HCSB’s were two column Bibles with smaller font. Those that weren’t lacked some features that I consider essential for a daily use Bible. For instance, while I don’t care about having all the minister specific articles in the back, I do really appreciate having a fairly substantial concordance and maps. The Minister’s Bible did not include a cross reference guide, which was acceptable because I preferred the wide columns for note taking. However, cross references placed in the footnote section would be helpful.

The Greek-English New Testament

Crossway has published a very nice diglot with the Nestle-Aland on the left and the ESV on the right. It is superior to the old RSV because the font is very large and there is plenty of room in the margins. If the CSB could come up with something similar, that would be great.

The Apologetics Study Bible

Our church has a tradition of giving a Bible to our graduating seniors each year. Last year I gave out the Ultra-Thin Reference Bible (978-1586407223) and it was really well received. I would have liked to have given the Apologetics Study Bible (978-1433614859), but it was cost prohibitive. Is there any way to get a Bible like that, but cut the cost by about 50%?

The Latin Bible

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek, but for nearly 1,500 years it was read primarily in Latin. The story of the Latin Bible provides some interesting historical background that is particularly relevant for our conversation about modern English translations.

We don’t really know when the first Latin translation was made. Christians in Rome continued to read Greek well into the 3rd century.(1) But it is clear that several Latin translations where made and used within 100 years of the completion of the New Testament.(2) This again highlights the early church’s desire for people to be able to read God’s word in their native tongue as well as their belief that translations could accurately and meaningfully communicate God’s Word.

However, before long there were many Latin translations and often these translations appeared to be quite different from one another.(3) Many of these translations obviously lacked the skill of an experienced translator, and the differences between the many translations began to create some problems.(4) To address these problems, in 383 AD, Pope Damasus turned to the renowned scholar Jerome to produce a definitive Latin translation.(5)

It is interesting to note that Jerome, at first, turned down this request from the Pope. Metzger records Jerome’s response,

You urge me to revise the Old Latin version, and, as it were, to sit in judgment on the copies of the Scriptures that are now scattered throughout the world; and, inasmuch as they differ from one another, you would have me decide which of them agree with the original. The labor is one of love, but at the same time it is both perilous and presumptuous—for in judging others I must be content to be judged by all …. Is there anyone learned or unlearned, who, when he takes the volume in his hands and perceives that what he reads does not suit his settled tastes, will not break out immediately into violent language and call me a forger and profane person for having the audacity to add anything to the ancient books, or to make any changes or corrections in them? (6)

Jerome appears to understand how much controversy a translation of the Bible can create. His predictions turned out to be true. When one congregation heard that in Jerome’s translation “Jonah took shelter from the sun under some ivy, with one accord they shouted, “Gourd, gourd”, until the reader reinstated the old word lest there be a general exodus of the congregation!(7) To be sure, modern translators still face the same kinds of responses that Jerome feared roughly 1600 years ago.

Nevertheless, Jerome eventually agreed to take on the project. His Latin translation became known as the “Vulgate,” because it was written in vulgar or common tongue.(8) This, of course, does not mean that Jerome’s Vulgate was base, sloppy, or elementary. On the contrary, the Vulgate is widely considered to be both beautifully and expertly translated. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that it is a product intended for Jerome’s contemporary public audience. Jerome himself famously said, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”(9) The Vulgate, then, was Jerome’s attempt to give the public access to Christ.

As we continue to work toward an understanding of modern English translations, it is worth noting at Jerome’s response to critics of what was then considered a modern Latin translation. To those unwilling to consider any updates or revisions to the “Old Latin” versions, Jerome responded calling them “two-legged asses” or “yelping dogs”—person[s] who think that ignorance is identical to holiness.”(10) For his own part, he worked hard to insure that phrase did not indict him as well. Jerome. Unlike many other translators, he committed himself to years of study in order to become proficient in Greek and Hebrew.

The obvious quality of Jerome’s work won out over time. Bruce Metzger points out the lasting significance of this translation stating, “For nearly a thousand years, the Vulgate was used as the recognized text of Scripture throughout western Europe. It also became the basis of pre-Reformation vernacular Scriptures, such as Wycliffe’s English translation in the fourteenth century, as well as the first printed Bibles in German (1466), Italian (1471), Catalán (1478), Czech (1488), and French (1530).”(11)

Though the Vulgate was meant to be a Bible in the language of the public, time brought a sadly ironic twist Jerome’s work. The Vulgate began to be produced most often as highly ornate and very expensive books available only for the most wealthy.

[T]he clergy and the church used the Bible not as daily guidance to spiritual maturity but as an object to be worshiped and venerated. One needs only to view these magnificently decorated manuscripts to understand the mentality, the superstition, and they highly mystical makeup of the medieval Christ. Shepherd sums it up: “To translate the Latin Bible would have been to transform the whole frame of knowledge human and divine.”(12)

By 1401, as John Wycliffe’s English translation of the Bible gains popularity, the Church’s hatred for a vernacular Bible will become so intense that they will sign “De heretico comburendo,” promising death by burning to any heretic who tries to translate the Bible into a modern tongue for the common man.(13) The sad destiny of the Vulgate was that it not only ceased to be a translations accessible to the public, it’s venerated status denied average people the opportunity for their own “vulgata editio.”

The history of the Latin Bible can teach us several things as we consider modern English Bibles. First, it reminds us, as the Septuagint did before it, that Christians have historically believed in the importance of a Bible that people can access in their own language. As Jerome himself said, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.

The history of the Latin Bible also teaches us that not every translation is equally good. Some translators are better equipped for their task than others. Christians are not expected to believe that every, or for that matter any, translation of the original Hebrew or Greek texts are inspired in the same way the original was. On the contrary, just as some Latin translations were better than others, we can assume that some English translations will be better than others.

A third lesson that the history of the Latin Bible teaches us is that we, Christians, can be dangerously prone to resist change. Jerome faced great opposition in his task to get produce a translation for the common man. And as language changed, and Latin was no longer a language spoken by common people, Christians again protested any translation that might again put the Scriptures back in the hands of the public. Perhaps some modern English translations will be demonstrably inferior to older translations such as the KJV, however we must be cautious not to become so afraid of change that we prohibit the public from accessing God’s word in a format that they can understand.


(1) Bruce Manning Metzger, The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 30.
(2) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 30, states that Latin manuscripts were in North Africa during the 2nd century, with extensive quotes of a Latin Bible being found in works by both Tertullian (150–220) and Cyprian (200–258).
(3) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 30, states, “Since one finds numerous and far-reaching differences between quotations of the same passages, it is obvious that there was no one uniform rendering; some books were apparently translated a number of times, and no single translator worked on all of the books.”
(4) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 30, evaluates the early Latin translations saying, “The pre-Jerome translations in general lack polish and are often painfully literal.” Further evidence of the lack of quality in many of the Latin translations is demonstrated by Augustine who lamented, “Those who translated the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek can be counted, but the Latin translators are out of all number. For in the early days of the faith, everyone who happened to gain possession of a Greek manuscript [of the New Testament] and thought he had any facility in both languages, however slight that might have been, attempted to make a translation.”
(5) D. Brown, “Jerome,” in Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, edited by Donald McKim, (Downer’s Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2007), 567, Suggests, “Damasus was concerned about the vast number of differing Latin translations that were circulating at the time and wished to impose some order on them by introducing an accurate standard translation.”
(6) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 32.
(7) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 35.
(8) The Latin “vulgus” refers to the common people. The “vulgata editio” then refers to the edition prepared for the public.
(9) Taken from Jerome’s commentary on Isaiah as quoted at https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/ignorance-of-scripture-is-ignorance-of-christ-st-jerome/
(10) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 35.
(11) Metzger, The Bible in Translation, 35.
(12) Donald L. Brake, A Visual History of the English Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 36–7.
(13) Brake, A Visual History of the English Bible, 47

The Bible Jesus Used

Perhaps it goes without saying, but the Bible didn’t start as the Bible we know today. It was written over a vast span of time by many different authors. “According to the traditional view, the Old Testament Scriptures were produced from the time of Moses to the time of Malachi, that is, from about 1400 B.C. to around 400 B.C.” (1).  During this time the Bible, or more precisely the Old Testament, was written entirely in Hebrew.

However, while the Old Testament was written entirely in Hebrew, it was not written in the same forms of Hebrew. For instance, there seems to have been a substantial change in Hebrew grammar and script (how the letters are formed) between the time that Moses penned the Pentateuch and when Malachi finished his prophetic work (2). Unfortunately, we have no Hebrew manuscripts which were written before 400 B.C. (3). What we do have are manuscripts predating the time of Christ with uniform grammar and font. This suggests that by the time of Jesus, He and any other Jewish person who read a Hebrew Old Testament were not reading the original versions of the Old Testament. Instead they read versions with updated script and grammar intended to make the entire text more easy to read for contemporary Jews (4).

Another important clarification is needed at this point. Though it is true that Jews at the time of Jesus would likely have read from an updated Hebrew version of the OT, it is not necessarily true that this was the primary Bible they used. Instead, it appears that Jesus and His disciples were very familiar with a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and were more likely to reference this Greek translation than the original Hebrew when writing the New Testament (5).

This Greek translation is often referred to as the Septuagint (LXX). The history and development of the LXX is a complicated topic, however it seems clear that “the Pentateuch was originally translated in Alexandria around the year 250 BCE, and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures were translated within the following two or three centuries” (6). Like modern versions today, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek was met with some resistance, however, the translation’s influence in early Christian history clearly demonstrates that the early church not only accepted the translation but relied on them heavily (7). The fact that the New Testament authors regularly cite from the LXX clearly validates it as a reliable source.

It is impossible to prove any single motivation that led to the first Greek translation of Old Testament (8). Nevertheless, it seems undeniable that this translation was written to benefit people who did not know Hebrew. It is perhaps telling that this version of the Old Testament was translated into Koine Greek. Koine, which simply means “common,” was the Greek used for “commerce and communication” throughout the empire (9). Thus, the LXX effectively made the Old Testament accessible to people otherwise unfamiliar with the Hebrew language or religion.

Implications

Considering the nature of the Bible that Jesus read provides us several implications in our quest to evaluate modern English versions of the Bible.

One important implication is that knowing that they were reading from an updated version and a translation of the Old Testament did not erode Jesus’ or his disciples’ confidence in the Bible. It is Jesus who said in Matthew 5:18 that not one jot or tittle would pass away from the Law. And Paul, who often quoted from the LXX, said in 1 Timothy 3:16 that, “All Scripture is profitable for teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness.” These types of comments reveal that Jesus and his disciples did not think the changes found in the Hebrew updates or the Greek translation impaired the reliability or effectiveness of God’s word.

It is perhaps worth noting that this trust in the translation of God’s Word is quite different from some other religions, most notably, Islam. The following quote, taken from Wikipedia, reveals that Islamic teaching suggests that one can never confidently apprehend the meaning of the Koran in a language or form other than its original

According to modern Islamic theology, the Qur’an is a revelation very specifically in Arabic, and so it should only be recited in Quranic Arabic. Translations into other languages are necessarily the work of humans and so, according to Muslims, no longer possess the uniquely sacred character of the Arabic original.(10)

Christians, if they follow Christ’s example, think otherwise. There is nothing magical about the script or even the exact word choices of the original Biblical authors. Instead, the power of the Bible is in its ability to communicate God’s message to us. While word choice is an indispensable tool in communication, Christians since the time of Christ have clearly believed that different words from entirely differently languages can be trusted to effectively communicate God’s message.

This is great news for the English speaking Christian. If the Hebrew Bible could be updated and translated into Greek without losing its trustworthiness or life-changing power (Hebrews 4:12), this gives us reason to believe that both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament can be translated into our native tongue in a way that does not compromise the trustworthiness of the life-changing power of God’s message.

Of course, recognizing that the Bible can be reliably translated does not mean that every translation is equally accurate or helpful. Nevertheless, recognizing that Jesus himself, along with his disciples, relied on an updated and translated copy of the Old Testament gives us sufficient grounds to believe that we too could enjoy the privilege of reading the Scriptures in our native tongue.

 


(1) Ellis R. Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism: a practical introduction. (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1994), 37.
(2) Bruce Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbraums, 1990), 17. Waltke states, “From the Amarna correspondence, Ugaritic texts, and other evidence, we can infer with reasonable confidence that before the Amarna period (ca. 1350 B.C.E) Hebrew possessed final short vowels, which would have differentiated cases with nouns and distinguished various prefix conjugations. The grammar preserved by the Masoretes, however, represents a later period, after these vowels have been dropped.”
(3) Waltke, 16, claims, “No extant manuscript of the Hebrew Bible can be dated before 400 B.C.E by the disciplines of paleography or archeology (even with the help of nuclear physics).”
(4) Brotzman, 42, states, “In summary, the Old Testament text was updated in several ways during the period from the writing of individual books until 300 B.C. Books initially written and copied in an archaic script were later copied and transmitted in the square script…. The spelling of the Old Testament text was also upgraded throughout this stage by the introduction of vowel letters.
(5) Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 5, explain, “The Greek OT, not the Hebrew Bible, was the primary theological and literary context within which the writers of the NT and most early Christians worked. This does not mean that the NT writers were ignorant of the Hebrew Bible or that they did not use it. But since the NT authors were writing in Greek, they would naturally quote, allude to, and otherwise use a Greek version of the Hebrew Bible.”
(6) Jobes and Silva, 13.
(7) Referring to the Jewish resistance of the Greek translation, Jobes and Silva, 19, state, “It is also likely that the Greek translation of the Pentateuch did not enjoy universal favor among the Jews. The much later, minor talmudic tractate Sopherim states: “It happened once that five elders wrote the Torah for King Ptolemy in Greek, and that day was as ominous for Israel as the day on which the golden calf was made, since the Torah could not be accurately translated” (Sopherim 1.7).” Nevertheless, the Greek translation of the OT was still the dominant version for the early church as Jobes and Silva, 7, explain, “[T]he Greek, not the Hebrew text, was the Bible used by the early church fathers and councils. As Christian doctrine on the nature of Jesus and the Trinity developed, discussion centered on the exegesis of key OT texts. Because most of the church fathers could not read Hebrew, exegetical debates were settled using the Greek OT.”
(8) Jobes and Silva, 21, list common theories regarding the motivations for the origin of the LXX including (1) Ptolemy initiated it to complete his library or to access the law code of the Alexandrian Jews, (2) the Alexandrian Jews initiated it for liturgical, legal, or educational purposes, or (3) the Jerusalem Jews initiated it to influence Alexandrian Jews or, more broadly, to influence the Greek world.
(9) David Alan Black, Learn to Read New Testament Greek, 3rd ed. (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 1, states, “It was largely a descendent of Attic Greek that was adopted as the official language of the Greek empire after the conquests of Alexander the Great, which accounts for its use in the New Testament. This new world language has been called the “Koine,” or “common,” Greek since it was the common language of everyday commerce and communication.”
(10) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quran_translations, cited 12/24/2016.

Using Modern English Translations of the Bible

I am going to attempt a new series on the blog discussing modern English translations of the Bible. Before I start, let me explain what sparked this littlescreen-shot-2016-12-23-at-3-49-13-pm project.

In the last year I have been approached 3 separate times with questions regarding modern English translations. The first time, a year or so ago, a student in our youth group forwarded a post to me warning against the New International Version (NIV) (I included a picture of the post she forwarded). Over the last two weeks, while leading a Bible study at the boy’s center, I have been approached by a handful of people complaining about the use of translations other than the King James Version (KJV). One employee even told the kids that they would be better off throwing their modern translations away than reading them because they are a perversion of the only “authorized” English Bible. The third, unrelated incident, involved a member of my church asking questions about the reliability of our Bibles after being challenged by a group of Mormon missionaries who came to his home.

Given these three incidents, I feel that it is important to address why I believe that Christians can and should trust the reliability of most modern translations. I hope to craft a message to deliver at church on a Sunday night, however, sermons do not lend themselves well to citing sources and providing loads of historical data. I hope to use this blog as a sort of endnotes and logical connections that will lead to a more concise and helpful case for the use of modern English translations of the Bible. Hopefully, as a fringe benefit to the study I will be able to provide some helpful advice for choosing a Bible translation for you or your children.

Among my goal for this exercise is to capture the spirit of Galatians 5:1

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Of course, Paul wasn’t referring to modern English Bible translations when he penned this verse. Instead he was referring to the belief that we must keep the OT law, particularly by being circumcised, in order to be right with God. Yet, though the topic is different, I am confident that Paul’s reply would be the same. Christ’s death has made us free and no particular translation stands as a standard of true or false faith. Of course different translations have different strengths and weaknesses and it only helps us to understand their differences. However, we must be careful not to create a yoke of slavery in an area where God himself has given us freedom.

Should We Kill Babies?

The title sounds crazy, I know, but let me explain.

Yesterday I got a call from a friend who is pastor in Virginia. He was asked a very interesting question by an atheist whom I suspect was trying to poke holes in the Christian’s thought process. It has turned into a fun little exercise, so I thought I would share.

The question went something like this:

Christians believe that children who die before the age of accountability go to heaven. Christians also believe that we shouldn’t abort babies in the womb because they already have a soul and are valuable to God their Creator. However, if aborting a child would guarantee that they go to heaven, then wouldn’t Christians be morally obligated to abort all babies in the womb because it would guarantee they get eternal life?

I suspect the question was asked more as a gotcha than a legit question. But nonetheless, I thought it might be helpful to try and tackle the question. So if you are interested, let’s try to work through this together.

The Age of Accountability

Let’s start by thinking through the presuppositions. What is the age of accountability and is it true that children who die before that age automatically go to heaven? I don’t want to spend too much time here, so let me direct you to articles by John Piper and John MacArthur for a little more information. But essentially the age of accountability refers to the age in which a person becomes aware of their sinfulness and need for forgiveness. Many Christians believe that before that age God extends mercy to the young or impaired to exempt them from the penalty of their sins in light of their immature state. While the Bible doesn’t address the age of accountability directly, there is sufficient evidence, some of which was highlighted in the two articles linked above, for a Christian to believe that God offers instant heaven to anyone unable to comprehend their sinful state due to age or mental impairment.

The Value of the Soul

The second part of the argument is that abortion is immoral because a baby in the womb already has a soul. This is an astute observation and I agree with the premise, but perhaps it deserves a defense. Most of us recognize that the moral weight associated with killing depends on what is being killed. No one bats an eye when I swat a fly or drop ant killer on a hill in my front yard. If I were to kill a puppy, most of us would feel a sense of loss or sadness in a way that we don’t feel at all with the death of a fly. But if I were to kill another person, especially a baby or young child, we would rightly feel that an evil had been committed that is wholly incomparable to the other two. Why is that?

The root of the answer is that humans are created in a way that is distinct from all of the rest of God’s creation. We are the only ones created “in God’s image.” In Genesis 9, after the flood, God instructs Noah that it is okay to kill and eat plants and animals, but it’s not okay to murder people. God explains in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image.” In other words, murder, in Noah’s day, was a capital offense, and the reason it was such a big deal was because humans, unlike plants and animals, are made in God’s image.

So a person is valuable, ultimately, because they are created in God’s image. Interestingly, however, there seems to be a connection between being created in the image of God and having a soul. One website points out, “repeatedly in the Bible, people are referred to as “souls” (Exodus 31:14; Proverbs 11:30), especially in contexts that focus on the value of human life and personhood or on the concept of a “whole being” (Psalm 16:9-10; Ezekiel 18:4; Acts 2:41; Revelation 18:13). In fact, because of this, it is perhaps more accurate to say that humans are a soul and have a body.

The next step in this puzzle is to determine when someone gets a soul, or when their life becomes worthy of protection because they are created in God’s image. Unfortunately we are not given a direct answer to this question in the Bible, but we are given enough information to reason that souls exist inside their mother’s womb. For instance, Exodus 21:22–25 give us what is perhaps the first fetal homicide law.

When men get in a fight and hit a pregnant woman so that her children are born prematurely but there is no injury, the one who hit her must be fined as the woman’s husband demands from him, and he must pay according to judicial assessment. If there is an injury, then you must give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, bruise for bruise, wound for wound.

That is, if a woman gives birth and both the woman and children survive, then only a fine is applied. However, if the woman gives birth and she or the children die, then the capital punishment God described to Noah in Genesis 6 applies. And we assume that the reason applies as well, the child who dies in labor is a soul who bears the image of God.

Another striking piece of evidence is found in the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth found in Luke 1:39–45. In the story Mary is carrying Jesus in utero and Elizabeth is also carrying her son John in utero (this child eventually becomes known as John the Baptist). When Mary walks before Elizabeth, her son John leaps for joy inside her womb. The capacity for this baby in the womb of his mother to recognize his Messiah and be moved for joy is evidence that the baby inside the womb is not merely a collection of cells, but the presence of a soul capable in some way of recognizing the God who is knitting him together.

Thus, in light of the evidence listed above, the premise that a child in utero bears a soul which is valuable and should be protected is true. While those outside of the Christian faith might argue else wise, Christians are bound to this conviction.

Do Aborted Children Go To Heaven?

Based on the two premises listed below, the Christian has every reason to believe that the souls of aborted children are in heaven awaiting their glorified bodies.

Should Christians Kill Babies to Send them to Heaven?

So far we have accepted all of the premises of the argument. Should we therefore accept the argument that we are morally obligated to abort all babies in order to guarantee that they go to heaven? The answer, as you might have guessed, is “no!”. Let me explain.

The basic argument is that we are morally obligated to do a bad thing in order that a good thing might be accomplished. This sort of moral reasoning is often called consequentialism, that is the merits of any action can only be judged according to its consequences. In more simple terms, consequentialism is the belief that the ends justify the means.

Christians can never hold to this kind of ethical reasoning. We can never be consequentialists. The Bible literally forbids it. Romans 3:8 instructs us, “And why not say, just as some people slanderously claim we say, “Let us do what is evil so that good may come”?  Their condemnation is deserved!” Paul makes a similar point in Romans 6:1–2, “What should we say then?  Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply?  Absolutely not!” Christians are clearly forbidden to do evil in order that good may come.

But, one may ask, is it really evil if good comes? How can we know what is evil and what isn’t? For the Christian this answer is rather easy. Christians discern good and evil primarily in light of the revealed will of God, not according to an arbitrary hierarchy of goods. That is, Christians are not given the freedom to decide if murder is evil, they must accept that it is evil because God has told us or shown us it is.

Atheists, obviously, do not think that God is the ultimate source for all moral standards. Further, atheists generally hold that there is no ultimate source for right and wrong. Instead right and wrong exist, for many atheists, on a giant sliding scale of comparisons. Something is only morally right or morally wrong in comparison to the amount of good or bad possible had we chosen a different course. This is why many atheists are consequentialists. They believe that if an action brings about a consequence they like, it is a morally good action. If it brings about a consequence they don’t like, then, obviously, it is morally bad. The more they like the consequence, the greater the moral good. The less they like the consequence, the worse the evil.

The point I am trying to make here is that the argument that we should kill babies in order to assure they go to heaven only makes sense in a non-Christian’s worldview. The question, should Christians kill babies in order to assure that they go to heaven, will only seem to pose a moral difficulty if we try to reason the problem using a decidedly non-Christian ethical system.

The Turning of the Tables

I introduced this article with a little bit of speculation. While I do not know the person who raised this question, I was told he is an atheist. I suspect, for that reason, there is a good chance that this question wasn’t intended as an honest attempt to understand moral reasoning from a Christian perspective. Instead, I think it is likely that he intended to show that Christianity is inferior to atheism because it creates a morally untenable world.

The irony, in my opinion, is that the question has actually demonstrated that his atheism has presented morally untenable world. In all fairness, he doesn’t believe that dead babies go to heaven, so his consequentialist view won’t lead him to kill babies in hopes that they will go to heaven. Nevertheless, the application of a consequentialism could easy lead to many decisions that most atheists would find morally appalling.

Christians obviously disagree with consequentialism, but if pressed, so do many atheists. For instance, a good number of atheists are against torture, but wouldn’t torture be a moral requirement if we believed that through it we could save lives? Or, consider Reba McIntyre’s song “Fancy;” selling your own daughter as a sex slave sounds pretty bad, but aren’t we morally obligated to do so if it can save them from a life of poverty? Christians, as previously discussed, should say, never do evil in hopes that grace might abound. The consequentialist, on the other hand, says the action is not evil and and is actually morally good, when it results in an agreeable situation.

Personally, I think the most damning example for consequentialism is historical reality of its effects during the Third Reich. Many Germans recognized of Hitler’s tactics were unsavory, but the consequentialist reasoning goes, if the end was wealth and political freedom for the German people, then perhaps the ends justified the means.

Someone may object arguing that the ends that Hitler fought for weren’t sufficiently good to justify the means. The problem for the atheist or consequentialist is that they have already denied any objective standard that could be used to prove that Hitler’s desired end wasn’t good enough. Perhaps a consequentialist might say that Hitler’s holocaust was morally bad because the end he desired was never attained. Had a free and prosperous German state been finally achieved, then who would have the moral authority to say it was wrong? To that I can only hope that the average reader will agree that the holocaust was self-evidently bad regardless of what end could have resulted from it.

Thus, it is my conviction that the Christian perspective not only better explains why we shouldn’t kill babies, it provides the only objective system able to show that killing babies is necessarily wrong regardless of the ends that it would achieve.

Ethical Systems and How We Vote

This week I saw two articles (1, 2) by Norm Geisler (a Christian Ethicist) explaining why he is going to vote for Trump. And that reminded me that my own ethics professor, Mark Liederbach, contributed to an article explaining why he cannot vote for either Trump or Hillary. The thing that struck me the most is that having studied a little bit about the ethical systems these two men espouse, I should have been able to predict exactly how they were going to vote way back in 2005 when I first learned about their systems. In fact, this whole exercise suggests to me that the decisions we make in any given circumstance are not decided by the circumstance itself, but by the ethical systems we are already committed to when we face the circumstance.

So, the purpose of this post is to try to review the four major ethical systems (as I remember them from a class I took 11 years ago) and apply them to the current election. If I am messing this up, or misremembering portions, I hope someone will correct me.

Ethical Systems and Moral Dilemmas

First, when I am talking about ethical systems, I am really only thinking about a small part of a bigger ethical framework. The topic I am concerned with here is how to resolve moral dilemmas. That is how do I choose between two options when both options seem bad. In this election the moral dilemma is, how can I vote for Trump or Hillary when neither candidate is what I would consider a good candidate.

There are basically four options (or at least I only remember 4): Moral Relativism, Graded Absolutism, Conflicting Absolutism, and Non-Conflicting Absolutism. Let’s go through them one at a time.

Moral Relativism

Moral relativism should maintain that moral dilemmas are only an illusion. For a moral relativist decisions can’t be good or bad in a vacuum, they are only good or bad in relation to the other options. There are different versions of moral relativists, but the most common (again if my memory serves) is consequentialists. They would argue that a decision can only be judged as good or bad based on the consequences it brings, and then only in comparison to the consequences of the other options.

For instance, killing someone may or may not be a bad thing for a moral relativist. If we can show that not killing the person would have led to worse results the the killing was actually a good thing.

Moral relativism is often criticized by on two fronts. First, especially in the case of consequentialism, our ability to discern between good and bad in any given situation is dependent on our ability to predict the outcome of our decision. The problem, obviously, is that none of us can predict the future, so the best we can ever do is guess whether our decision is morally good or bad.

The second major criticism is particularly relevant for Christians. Moral relativism suggests that things that God calls evil may be good in certain contexts. While God condemns murder, divorce, pride, and greed, the moral relativist can only suggest that those things may be wrong in certain contexts. This sort of moral ambiguity seems incompatible with the moral certainty which accompanies the decrees of God.

Concerning the election, it is impossible to predict how a moral relativist will vote because it is impossible to predict how they might imagine the future. However, a good example of a consequentialist argument often favors Hillary Clinton. The argument goes something like, “Donald Trump is often reactionary and vindictive. If we elect him as president a possible consequence is that his rash nature could lead to a nuclear war. Therefore, because the potential consequences of electing Trump are so extreme, we are morally obligated to elect the safer candidate: Hillary Clinton.”

Graded Absolutism

Graded absolutism is the position that Norm Geisler holds. Graded absolutism has some similarities to relativism, but it probably more helpful to start with their differences, and the biggest difference is in the word “absolutism.”

Graded absolutists, unlike relativists, do believe that there are some moral absolutes out there. Perhaps it is more accurate to say there is a single moral absolute, that is it is always right to do what God calls is right and it is always wrong to do what God calls wrong.

The problem comes when we face a moral dilemma, or we are forced us to choose between two things God calls wrong. The graded absolutist would argue that while its true that God calls thing right and wrong, it is not true that things are equally right and wrong. For instance, it is wrong to lie and it is wrong to murder, but the graded absolutist would argue that God doesn’t think of these two as equally wrong. So when faced with a moral dilemma our task is to choose the “lesser of two evils.”

Graded absolutists would argue that this is what Rahab did for the two spies. She was faced with the dilemma of reporting the two spies, which would have led to their execution, or lying to the soldiers. Rahab chose to lie and the graded absolutist would argue that she did a good thing because, though lying is wrong, its not as wrong as being party to the execution of the two spies.

Most christians, I suspect, are graded absolutists. But it is probably worth pointing out that the theory has some flaws. The most prominent flaw is that there is no objective standard that we have to discern God’s graded scale of right and wrong. God tells us that murder is a sin and that lying is a sin, but there is nowhere that the Bible tells us that murder is a more grievous sin than lying. We may assume that to be true, but we have little objective proof that our assumptions of God’s scale are reliable.

If you are a graded absolutist, your arguments regarding the election are likely to sound somewhat similar the relativist, but there may be a slight difference. Where the relativist is likely to argue from possible consequences of the election, the graded absolutist is more likely to point to perceived objective differences in the positions of the candidate. For instance, a graded absolutist is likely to say something like, “Because Donald Trump uses filthy language and appears to brag about assaulting women, he is morally wrong. Because Hillary Clinton advocates for the expansion of the genocide of roughly 1 million babies per year she is morally wrong. And because genocide is a greater offense than filthy language and sexual assault, voting for Donald Trump is the morally good thing to do.”

Conflicting Absolutism

I don’t know if there are any living conflicting absolutists, but I believe I remember Dr. Liederbach saying that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a historical example. The conflicting absolutist rejects the idea that it may ever be morally good to choose the lesser of two evils. If we are faced with a dilemma where we are presented with only two evil choices, and we choose the lesser of two evils, we have still chosen evil and we are still morally implicated for our decision.

In Bonhoeffer’s case, he recognized that he had an opportunity to contribute in an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler. He believed on one hand that it was morally wrong to murder, but on the other hand it was morally wrong to stand idly by while Hitler massacred 6 million Jews. In the end Bonhoeffer chose the lesser of two evils and joined in an assignation attempt against Hitler. However, simply because he chose the lesser of two evils, he did not believe he chose something good. Instead, he believed his actions made him subject to God’s judgment, so he confessed his sin of attempted murder and begged for God’s forgiveness.

The argument against the conflicting absolutist position is that it assumes that we may be faced with decisions in which we have no choice but to sin. However, this is problematic for the Christian particularly because Jesus was tempted in every way as we were, yet was without sin. Thus, it seems, we must assume that it is possible to find a way out of apparent moral dilemmas without actually sinning.

If you are a non-conflicting absolutist, I assume that you will be persuaded by the same sorts of arguments as the graded absolutist. The difference won’t be in the decision you make, but in the spirit in which you make the decision. The graded absolutist will vote for their candidate believing they did something morally good. The non-conflicting absolutist will attempt to do their best to limit evil, but will do so brokenheartedly recognizing that their best efforts not only implicate the society that gave us these two options, but us as members and participants in that society.

Non-Conflicting Absolutism

Dr. Liederbach was a non-conflicting absolutist (NCA). NCAs believe, like relativists and graded absolutists, that there aren’t any actual moral dilemmas, only apparent ones. Yet, like conflicting absolutists, NCAs agree that the decrees of God are absolute and we incur guilt if we break them regardless of the circumstances. Thus when faced with a choice of the lesser of two evils, the NCA says we must look for a third way out in which we are able to avoid any evil and side with good.

Perhaps the most common critique against this position is that it is naive. Sometimes there is no good option, and certainly no perfect option. We are fallen people living in a fallen society, and real life means that sometime we must try to make lemonade out of lemons.

The NCA is the person who will say “Never Trump” and “Never Hillary.” Both are flawed candidates and therefore to stand behind either of them or to support either of them would cause us to share in their guilt. The NCA is most likely to either refuse to vote in this election, vote third party, or write in a candidate that they believe to be a good option.

The critique against these options, not voting or writing in a candidate, is that it is unclear that either actually achieves the moral good they are seeking. Is a person absolved from moral guilt if they don’t try to stop the greater evil simply because they didn’t want to incur the lesser evil? Bonhoeffer didn’t think so. Further, especially with regard to elections, is there ever a candidate who is morally good enough? Shouldn’t we all be writing in Mother Teresa or our Sunday School teachers?

Conclusion

My conclusion is that I don’t have a conclusion. I think each system has its strengths and weaknesses. I also think the clash between the systems can open our eyes to view the moral landscape of our decisions from a larger perspective. Still I think it is a fun exercise and hopefully helps us all to understand both how we do and how we should process our moral decision making.

Also, it is been a while since my ethics class so feel free to correct any mistakes.

Reading the Psalms as Literature

What must be said, however, is that the Psalms are poems, and poems intended to be sung: not doctrinal treatises, nor even sermons. Those who talk of reading the Bible “as literature” sometimes mean, I think, reading it without attending to the main thing it is about; like reading Burke with no interest in politics, or reading the Aeneid with no interest in Rome. That seems to me to be nonsense. But there is a saner sense in which the Bible, since it is after all literature, cannot properly be read except as literature; and the different parts of it as the different sorts of literature they are. Most emphatically the Psalms must be read as poems; as lyrics,  with all the licences and all the formalities, the hyperboles, the emotional rather than the logical connections, which are proper to lyric poetry. They must be read as poems if they are to be understood; no less than French must be read as French or English as English. Otherwise we shall miss what is in them and think we see what is not. — C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

51Sn5CsOICL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This is an important point that can be made about any part of the Bible. We must always interpret the Bible in light of the genre of literature it is using to communicate to us. The Psalms, by nature of their poetic genre, remind us that they are not merely meant to be studied and parsed; they are meant to be experienced.

That is, when reading the Psalms we need allow ourselves to follow their emotional cues. In Psalm 6, for instance, I must begin not only by recognizing David’s conviction of sin and the emotional pains that brought it, I must join David, allowing the Psalm to convict me of sin to the point that my whole body is in terror and I cry out, “How long, O Lord.” And as I continue through the Psalm, begging for mercy and placing my hope in the faithful love of God, I must allow the Psalm to move me as it did David. I must allow my hope to be restored because, I need to shared in David’s hope that, “The Lord has heard the sound of my weeping, the Lord has heard my plea for help, and the Lord accepts my prayer.”

The Psalms, by virtue of their poetic form, are instructing us that merely understanding the words of the poem is an insufficient form of interpretation. Instead we must strive to enter into the experience of the Psalms, sharing in the fears and hopes, sorrows and joys, and even the conviction and restoration of the Psalmist.

Meditation and Prayer

1565639456_992939Meditation fits the soul for supplication. David [in Psalm 5] first mused and then he spoke with his tongue. Nay, to assure us that mediation was the mother which bred and brought forth prayer, he calls the child by the parents name, “Give ear to my word O Lord, consider my meditation.” Meditation is like the charging of a piece and prayer the discharging of it…. Meditation is the best beginning of prayer and prayer is the best conclusion of mediation. — Charles Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon wrote this paragraph concerning the opening of Psalm 5.

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.  My voice shalt thou hear in th
e morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up. — Psalm 5:1–3

In spite of the fact that most modern translations have opted for words like “groaning” instead of “meditation,” I think Spurgeon rightly teaches us that our morning pr
ayers will be more thoughtful, effective, and in line with the will of God, when they flow from a thoughtful mediation on the Word of God.

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Broadus’ 9 Reasons to Preach from the Bible

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BroadusAfter covering the necessary qualities of God’s messengers, John Broadus, turns to the content of God’s message. He claims,

The message which the Christian preacher proclaims is a given message. He does not have to create it. It has been revealed. Every basic idea which the Christian preacher needs has been given to him. To be sure, he must interpret, apply and illustrate, but he does not have to invent. Indeed, he must not invent. In the Scripture he has his core message. In a real sense, preaching is giving the Bible a voice.

Broadus gives 9 reasons that the Christian preacher should use the Bible as his “source material.”

  1. Using the Bible separates the homily from public speaking. “Preaching is not just a public speech; it is not a person making a talk; it is a person sharing a message from God.”
  2. Using the Bible gives the preacher relevant material. Broadus claimed that a preacher who relies on his own good ideas for sermon material will soon run out of good ideas. He quotes Dr. Halford Luccock to provide a helpful illustration.

    In those days quite a number of young Apolloses, on graduating, having become men, put aways such childish things as texts and Bible stories. In the pulpit they lived amid the immensities and starry galaxies. But after a while, when the little long-suffering congregation had heard their sermon on “The March of Progress” (for progress was marching in those days) and the one on “Science and Religion” and the one on “Pragmatism” (for pragmatism was going big then), like the prodigal son, they began to be in want. Then they came to themselves and said, “In my father’s Book are texts enough and to spare.” And they said, “I will arise and go to the Bible.”

  3. Using the Bible saves the preacher time in sermon preparation. “He does not waste time looking for subjects or scanning sermon books. . . . It is amazing how much time is saved because a preacher can go to work on a text Monday morning.”
  4. Using the Bible causes the preacher to grow in grace and knowledge. “As a person delves deeply into Scripture to give others spiritual food, he feeds his own soul.”
  5. Using the Bible adds variety to preaching. “The Bible discusses a myriad of theological and ethical ideas. . . . Contrary to the idea that the use of Scripture limits one’s preaching, just the opposite is true. It enlarges the scope of any pastor’s teaching.”
  6. Using the Bible allows the preacher to handle difficult topics in a tactful way. “Little good is to be done if dealing with hard issues should degenerate into a contest of minds between the minister and his people. If, however, in the natural course of unfolding the meaning of various passages of Scriptures from the pulpit these unpleasant questions inevitably open up simply because the Bible has something to say about them, then the offense becomes the offense of the Bible and not that of the minister.”
  7. Using the Bible helps the congregation remember the sermon. “When a preacher uses the Bible, the people have an association which helps them to remember the sermon.” (I would add to this that, hopefully, the sermon based on the Bible’s message will also help the congregation remember the Bible.)
  8. Using the Bible provides the preacher with a note of authority. “The preacher is not sharing his own ideas. He is declaring God’s message. He is herald. He has been sent by the king. He has the authority of ‘thus saith the Lord.'”
  9. Using the Bible pleases the Lord. “It has been suggested that [a sermon] should be offered to [God] before it is shared with the people. It seems that the biblical offering would be the most acceptable. For the preacher to stand in God’s stead and speak for him is most pleasing to God.”