Are "Literal" Bible Translations Necessarily Better Bible Translations? D. A. Carson Answers

One of the points often mentioned in discussions of Bible translations is the principle that a more literal translation philosophy necessarily accords better with the doctrine of verbal inspiration of the Bible. In other words, if we believe the very words of Scripture are inspired, then we should desire a translation that stays as literal as possible while still rendering readable English. It is this principle that often causes people to prefer translations like the ESV, NASB, KJV, or NKJV over less literal translations like the NIV, HCSB, NLT, or NET. D. A. Carson disputes this principle:

In a recent article Iain Murray, editor of The Banner of Truth, defended the King James Version (KJV) against the New International Version (NIV) largely on the ground that the former attempted a more literal translation, and this he alleged, was more in keeping with the doctrine of inspiration. It is a fair assessment, I think, that says the KJV is more literal than the NIV, although, as I have indicated, I doubt very much if that should always be taken as a compliment. But why a literal translation is necessarily more in keeping with the doctrine of verbal inspiration, I am quite at a loss to know. For example, if I may refer again to an illustration I have just used, to translate "Haben Sie niches gefunden?" by "Have you nothing found?" would scarcely be more honoring to the German author than "Haven't you found anything?," even though the latter translation is certainly less literal than the former. The Holy Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture equally inspired the syntax and idioms. Ultimately what we want is a translation that means what the original means, both in denotation and connotation. Even if one objects to Eugene A. Nida's famous expression "dynamic equivalent," because it can lead to all sorts of freedoms with respect to translation, it ought to be obvious that to some extent every translation, from anywhere on the spectrum, is necessarily involved again and again with finding the "dynamic equivalent."

From D. A. Carson's The King James Version Debate, A Plea for Realism (Baker, 1979). He goes on to argue that if that principle were true (that more literal=better translation) then the logical conclusion would be that we ought to all use the NASB, which is very clearly the most literal of the popularly available translations. And very few people who have made this argument to me have been advocating the NASB.


John Frame on the First Commandment

The first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me."

Quote from
The Doctrine of the Christian Life: A Theology of Lordship, pg. 423-424:

It is remarkable that theological errors, including errors about God's being and actions, are often reflexes of movements in the secular culture. For example, the concept of libertarian free will has dominated philosophy (both process and analytical schools of thought) in the late twentieth century. Process theology and open theism followed in the wake of that movement. Secular feminism made great gains in the general culture in the 1960s and 1970s. Following that, theologians tried to show that they could be feminists too. Today there is a trend in theology to say that the scripture blesses homosexual relationships, following the secular movement toward homosexual rights. To a distressing extent, new theological movements follow fashionable secular trends. When a position become popular in secular politics and culture, it seems quite certain that some theologians will discover that position in the Bible and church tradition.

At this point, the first commandment becomes especially relevant. One must ask, Who or what are we worshipping: the God of Scripture or the fashionable trends of secular culture? In my judgment, for example, the Bible clearly declares homosexual activity to be sinful. Others have argued differently, and I try to take those arguments seriously. But I cannot help but feel that some are resolving these issues, not on the basis of honest exegesis, but rather because a pro-homosexual position is required in some circles for academic, political, and cultural respectability. It seems almost too coincidental that theologians began to question the traditional exegesis of these passages in the wake of the secular gay rights movement. I do agree that secular ideas may legitimately move Christians to reconsider their exegetical findings. But in my judgment the pro-homosexual exegesis of these passages is so unpersuasive that it is hard to take as anything other than a cultural reflex.

In many ways, Christians have an easy time in the modern West. For the most part, we aren't asked to die or suffer physically for our faith. But God does call us, on occasion, to hold unpopular beliefs. Can we not even do this much for Jesus? And if not, can we really claim to love God with all our heart? At this point, our theology becomes a first commandment issue. It is a question of whether we value cultural trends more highly than God.


C. S. Lewis on Marriage Vows

C. S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity, in his chapter on Christian Marriage (3.6):

To this someone may reply that he regarded the promise made in church as a mere formality and never intended to keep it. Whom, then, was he trying to deceive when he made it? God? That was really very unwise. Himself? That was not very much wiser. The bride, or bridegroom. or the ‘in-laws’? That was treacherous. Most often, I think, the couple (or one of them) hoped to deceive the public. They wanted the respectability that is attached to marriage without intending to pay the price: that is, they were impostors, they cheated. If they are still contented cheats, I have nothing to say to them: who would urge the high and hard duty of chastity on people who have not yet wished to be mere honest? If they have now come to their senses and want to be honest, their promise, already made, constrains them. And this, you will see, comes under the heading of justice, not that of chastity. If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.


Carson on the Sermon on the Mount

D. A. Carson from his EBC Commentary on Matthew 7:28-29:

The central point is this: Jesus' entire approach in the Sermon on the Mount is not only ethical but messianic—i.e., christological and eschatological. Jesus is not an ordinary prophet who says, "Thus says the Lord!" Rather, he speaks in the first person and claims that his teaching fulfills the Old Testament; that he determines who enters the messianic kingdom; that as the Divine Judge he pronounces banishment; that the true heirs of the kingdom would be persecuted for their allegiance to him; and that he alone fully knows the will of his Father.


Luther on Romans 1:17

Our church will celebrate Reformation Day this coming Sunday, October 31st. I'll be preaching on Romans 1:16-17 as a part of our new series on the book of Romans, God's Grace to Sinners Like Us. Here's Martin Luther's famous quote on 'the righteousness of God' in 1:17 and how God gave Luther eyes to see this biblical truth.

The quote is from Luther's work known as his Autobiographical Fragment, written in 1545. I've merged a couple of different translations in the interest of clarity since I plan on reading it aloud as part of my message on Sunday.

… For I hated the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’, which according to the use and custom of all the doctors, I had been taught to understand philosophically, in the sense of the formal or active righteousness by which God is just and punishes unrighteous sinners.

Although I lived an irreproachable life as a monk, I felt that I was a sinner with an uneasy conscience before God; nor could I believe that I had pleased him by the satisfaction I could offer. I did not love—nay, in fact, I hated this righteous God who punished sinners, and if not with silent blasphemy, then certainly with great murmuring. I was angry with God, saying, “As if it were not enough that miserable sinners should be eternally condemned by original sin, with all kinds of misfortunes laid upon them through the Old Testament law, and yet God adds sorrow to sorrow through the Gospel, and even brings his righteousness and wrath to bear on us through it!” Thus I drove myself mad, with a desperate and disturbed conscience; persistently pounding upon Paul in this passage, with a parched and burning desire to know what he could mean.

At last, God being merciful, as I meditated day and night on the connection of the words, namely—‘The righteousness of God is revealed in it, as it is written: the righteous shall live by faith’—and there I began to understand the ‘righteousness of God’ as that by which the righteous man lives by the gift of God, namely by faith. And this sentence, “the righteousness is revealed,” to refer to a passive righteousness, by which the merciful God justifies us through faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ At this I felt myself straightway born again and to have entered through the open gates into paradise itself. From that moment the whole face of Scripture was changed…

And now, in the same degree as I had formerly hated the word ‘righteousness of God’, even so did I begin to love and extol it as the sweetest word of all. Thus was this place in St. Paul to me the very gate of paradise…

After Sunday, you can find the audio of this message, along with many others, on the 'Sermons' page at our church website.


Advice on Preparing (Re-Preparing) for Ministry

Via The Resurgence, (HT: Justin Taylor) R. C. Sproul gives advice on preparation to young men who plan on entering pastoral ministry. What I noticed about his answer is that it likely applies just as well to someone already in ministry who feels they a lacking the power of the Holy Spirit, or just not accomplishing anything of lasting value.

They have to get in the Word. They will only be as good in the pastorate as their mastery of the Word of God. That’s what people really need. There may not be many people who really want it, but its what they need.

I think there’s a huge need for pre-ministry preparation. In addition, even just two years out of a great seminary and college experience, the need for continual growth and learning is apparent in my own life. Here’s the video: