He made Himself nothing

What a sermon we had on Palm Sunday to introduce Holy Week!  Pastor Douthwaite preached on Philippians 2:5-8:  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

He made Himself nothing.

The word used there is the word ekenosen, which means He emptied Himself. Some Bibles translate it that way, and so its important to know what that means, and what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the Son of God left His godness behind in heaven when He became a man. It doesn’t mean He left His power and glory in heaven when He became a man. It doesn’t mean that when He was arrested and manhandled by the Roman soldiers, when He stood before Pilate, and when He hung on the cross, He was helpless and couldn’t do anything about it. He could have. Easily. The same Son of God who healed folks of every disease and sickness, who knew the thoughts and hearts of men, who could command all creation by His Word, whose glory shone in His transfiguration, and who had power over death – that is the Jesus of the Passion. The Son of God who willingly didn’t use all that power when it came time to save Himself. He made Himself nothing.

Yet perhaps we could go even farther than that, if that’s possible – He made Himself less than nothing. Taking upon Himself the sin of the world, He was the greatest sinner ever. Whoever you usually think has that title, the most evilest person you can think of, you’re wrong – it’s Jesus. He is the worst idolater, the worst unbeliever, the worst hater, the worst scoundrel, the worst murderer, the worst adulterer, the worst thief, the worst liar, the worst cheat, the worst everything . . . because He’s got all your sins and all my sins and all the sin of all the people out there, on Him.

Unfair? No. He took them. He wanted them. So that they would be on Him and not on you. So that they would be held against Him and not against you. So that He would be forsaken for them and die for them and not you.

He made Himself nothing.

The king becomes a servant. God becomes man. The One subject to none makes Himself subject to all. The author of life dies. The glory of God is hung on a cross.

Why? For you.

That’s what this day, and all this week, is all about. With all that you hear today, all that you hear this week, the thought to put in your mind is this: He did all this for me. For me. Not just for the world. For me. He made Himself nothing, to make you something. To make you a child of God. And that was worth it. For the Father, that was worth sending His Son. For Jesus, that was worth all the pain and agony and death. You were worth it. You may not be anything in anybody’s eyes; maybe not even in your own eyes. But you are in God’s eyes.

Maybe you think you’re nothing and that’s why you spend so much time trying to make yourself something. But there is simply nothing greater you can do or make yourself than what Jesus has made you: a child of God. That gives you more value than anything else in this world. And God has done that. He said it to you when you were baptized: You are now My beloved Son.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Palmarum/Passion Sunday Sermon.

The new Ten Commandments

British evangelist J. John has re-formulated the Ten Commandments in an effort to make them more relevant for today.  His effort is getting some good press, and some 600 churches in England have bought into the program.  This article tells all about it.  You do have to, literally, buy into the program, because the commandments are presented, discussed, and taught in a DVD program called Just 10 for Churches (not available, at least yet, in the USA, as far as I can tell).

The article linked above tells about the new commandments but doesn’t give a list of the entire 10.  So thanks to the SOWER blog for digging them out, giving the traditional version (with Protestant numbering) followed by the new formulation:

1. You shall have no other gods before Me…“know God”

2 You shall not make for yourself a graven image…… “catch your breath”

3. You shall not use the Lord’s name in vain……..“take God seriously”

4. Remember the Sabbath…………..…“live by priorities”

5. Honor your father and mother……………..…..“keep the peace with your parents”

6. You shall not murder………………… .……..….“manage your anger”

7. You shall not commit adultery………….“affair-proof your relationships”

8. You shall not steal……………………………..“prosper with a clear conscience”

9. You shall not bear false witness……………….….“hold to the truth”

10. You shall not covet…………..“find contentment”

via S.O.W.E.R.: New 10 Commandments?.

What do you think about this?  A dynamic equivalent translation with the virtue of putting the law in positive terms rather than all of those negative “thou shalt not’s,” thereby removing obstacles to evangelism and church growth?  Or an attempt to defang God’s Law by turning it into easy to follow self-help principles that turn Christianity into a different religion?  Or what?

Jesus notebooks?

Bible scholars, including those of the conservative variety, often talk about an oral tradition and its role in the composition of the Gospels.  But we now know that in the ancient world disciples recorded their teacher’s words in notebooks.  So says Michael F. Bird.  (You can check his footnotes.):

It was quite common among literary elites of the Greco-Roman world to take notes (hypomemata, commentarii) as an aid to learning.[3] Greek gnomai (sayings) and chreiai (short story) collections provided short anthologies largely for didactic purposes.[4] The poet Martial recommended that persons carrying his poems on journeys should use a membranae, or note book for its convenience.[5] In Mediterannean schools of rhetoric, orators often used notes and hearers of speeches often took notes to capture the gist of the delivery.[6] The notebook was regarded as a good alternative to the wax tablet.[7] The notes of lectures could even be published. Arrian in fact published an account of the lectures of his teacher Epictetus, saying: “[W]hatever I heard him say I used to write down, word for word, as best I could, endeavouring to preserve it as a memorial, for my own future use, of his way of thinking and the frankness of his speech.”[8]

In the Jewish context, Birger Gerhardsson identified rabbinic evidence for the use of notebooks or “scrolls of secrets” to aid in a pupil’s memorization of their rabbi’s words.[9] Though roughly criticized as reading later perspectives back into the first century, the thesis of Jewish notebooks has more going for it. Martin Jaffee has plotted the use of written sources in the redaction of the Mishnah well before 200 CE.[10] The Qumran scrolls provide first century evidence of short prophetic testimonia collections (11QMelch) and halakhic collections (11QTemple) that were used in the community. Jacob Neusner proposes that Jewish communities often used a large body of manuscript material, teachers’ notebooks, preachers’ storybooks, exegetical catenae and florilegia to maintain its traditions.[11]

Early Christian testmonia collections, which provided a short extract of important Old Testament passages, were most likely used by Christians very early on, certainly by the time of Justin and Irenaeus.[12] In the early second century, Papias’ Exposition of the Logia of the Lord was a collection and commentary on the sayings of the Jesus.[13] We find a reference to a “book” and “parchment” in 2 Tim 4:13, which might specifically designate a “notebook.”[14] Graham Stanton infers from the Christian “addiction” to the codex: “Even before Paul wrote his first ‘canonical’ letter c. AD 50, followers of Jesus were accustomed to use the predecessors of the codex-book format, various kinds of ‘notebooks’. They used them for Scriptural excerpts and testimonies, for drafts and copies of letters, and probably also for collections of traditions of both the actions and teachings of Jesus.”[15] The tradition known to source critics as “Q” may have started out as a note book of Jesus’ sayings.

The constant shadow of proto-Gospel theories in solutions to the Synoptic problem suggests at least the possibility of early notebooks/extract/digests about Jesus before AD 70. According to C.H. Roberts, in the early church: “No doubt the oral tradition was reinforced as it was in Judaism, with notes.”[16] Thus, it is highly probable that notebooks were used by Jesus’ own disciples and by later adherents in the early church to assist in memory retention by functioning as an aide-mémoire.

via The Jesus Tradition and Notebooks « Euangelion.

An inside perspective on the Islamic-friendly Bible

You probably missed the comment on the Islamic-friendly Bibles post last week by David Harriman, who worked for the missionary agency that put out the translation in question.  (I continue to be amazed at who all reads this blog.)  He offered an insider’s perspective that I wanted all of you to see:

Dear Gene,

For 18 years I served as director of development/director of advancement for Frontiers, the ministry which produced this  Turkish translation of Matthew.  While I believe the workers behind this project have good motivations, I also believe they effectively rendered the text compliant with Islam.  While the volume in question thankfully included a properly-translated Greek to Turkish Interlinear, the purpose of the contextualized translation–and the related footnotes–is to cast a specific “Muslim friendly” meaning upon the text itself.

This translation, and others produced and advised by Wycliffe, SIL, and Frontiers, have been the subject of a recent petition organized by Biblical Missiology:  http://www.change.org/petitions/lost-in-translation-keep-father-son-in-the-bible

The petition Fact Check document (http://biblicalmissiology.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/LostInTranslation-FactCheck.pdf) shows how even the footnotes to this Turkish translation fail to properly convey Christ’s ontological Sonship:

“The focus of our concern is the text of the Matthew translation, not the Greek-Turkish interlinear. In the Matthew text, “Son” is rendered as “representative” or “proxy,” and “Father” is translated as “protector” or “guardian.” However, “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God” should be translated literally in the text, with explanation provided in the footnotes—and not the other way around…

“One example will illustrate the problems with the Turkish translation. At the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:17, “Son” is translated as “representative” in the text. In the footnote to this verse, “Son of God” is defined in several ways, such as “God’s representative,” “the king, Messiah,” and “God’s beloved monarch.” The note incorrectly says the term “is synonymous with the title of Messiah.” Jesus is portrayed only in kingly terms, with no recognition of his divinity or actual Sonship. Needless to say, such explanations have the effect of obscuring the full and true meaning of “Son” and “Son of God,” even if the terms are translated correctly in the footnotes.”

To get a sense of how Christian witness to and among Muslims has changed profoundly in recent years, I would encourage all Patrick Henry students to read the following article by former Muslim Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund:  http://barnabasfund.org/Recent-Changes-in-Christian-Approaches-to-Islam.html

Patrick Sookhdeo’s piece shows the organic relationship between the ideas and assumptions behind certain interfaith dialogue approaches (such as the Common World and related Yale Response), and “insider movement” approaches to work among Muslim.

David Harriman

In correspondence with me, Mr. Harriman adds this:

I work with a lot of former Muslims and they are outraged by this approach to translation.  What you have, actually, is the spectacle of Western translators (actually, only a couple of highly-committed advocates, but who are acting with the support of senior WBT/SIL leadership) attempting to tell native speakers of Arabic, Turkish, and other languages what their languages actually mean.

There are other translations that are actually far worse — one is an Arabic translation of the Gospels and Acts in which Father is not rendered literally, in any instance, and in which Son, Son of God, and Son of Man is redefined by paratext and footnote.  Similar to the footnote I noted on your blog, the commentary portion of this volume (advised by SIL, but funded by Frontiers) describes Christ’s Sonship as metaphorical.

An audio “Stories of the Apostles” volume is in fact far worse than this — Son of God is translated “Caliph of God” — Caliph of course referring to religious/political rulers of Islam who defended and promoted Islam by force; “saints” is replaced with “umma”; Islamic honorifics like “upon him be peace” are used after the mention of Christ’s name (an Islamic prayer for the dead).  This audio “Bible” produced by WBT/SIL is still online, BTW.

The Jimmy Carter Study Bible

Zondervan has published a study Bible based on former president Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school notes:   :

Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer turned president turned globe-trotting humanitarian, now has another line to add to his business card: Bible commentator. Last week Carter published a Lessons from Life Study Bible, with the subtitle Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter.

With many Democrats embracing the language of faith in recent years in an attempt to win back so-called values voters from the Republican column, Carter’s intense faith life is a good reminder that hardly all Democrats are new to the pew.

Since he returned to Plains, Georgia, from Washington after losing his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Carter has taught Sunday school at the local Maranatha Baptist Church, “about 685 times so far,” he says.

His notes in the new study Bible pull from years of Sunday school lessons. “Like the disciples, we should not be proud, seek an ascendant position or argue about who’s the greatest among us,” he notes in reflecting on a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus’ followers are debating who among them is the greatest. . . .

Christian publishing house Zondervan compiled the study Bible, which combines Carter’s teachings and notes with the New International Bible Study Bible.

via Jimmy Carter Publishes Study Bible, Discusses Faith-Filled Life – National News Story – WCVB Boston.

Here is the editorial description at Amazon:

The NIV Lessons from Life Bible takes Mr. Carter’s years of teaching Sunday school lessons at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, GA, and meshes them with the text of the NIV Bible. Through ‘In Focus’ articles, ‘Bible in Life’ notes, in-depth studies and insightful observations and reflections, President Carter’s teachings in this Bible provide fresh insights for you to study and contemplate. Features: * The full text of the clear, accessible NIV translation * Foreword by Jonathan Reckford, International CEO of Habitat for Humanity * Bible in Life notes: short, application-oriented notes on particular verses * In Focus Articles: longer articles on particular topics * Short prayers of application on select passages * Reflections: brief one-sentence sayings and quotations by Jimmy Carter * Presentation page

Why?  Who would buy this?  Is there reason to think that the former president has any special knowledge about Scripture?  I also would not buy a Ronald Reagan Study Bible.  To look to a politician as our expositor of Scripture gives me major cognitive dissonance.

Islamic-friendly Bibles

Many missionary groups in Islamic countries are using Bible translations that avoid offending Muslim sensibilities, getting rid of phrases such as “the Son of God” and “God the Father.”   All in the name of church growth.  And yet Christians in these countries, beleagured as they are, are strenuously objecting to these translations.  Mindy Belz of World Magazine reports:

A team of translators with Frontiers helped produce the disputed translation of Matthew in Turkish, and SIL said some of its consultants helped at certain points in the process. Sabeel Media, a partner organization of SIL, published the translation in August 2011, printing it in book form and posting it online. In the Turkish Matthew, the “alternative form” for “Son of God” is something along the lines of “representative of God,” according to Turkish speakers, and “God the Father” has become “great protector.” A footnote explains the alternate terms: “According to the Jews, ‘God’s Son’ means ‘God’s beloved ruler’ and is equivalent with the title ‘Messiah.’”. . .

The translators emphasize their desire to promote evangelism. Bob Blincoe, the U.S. director of Frontiers, cited in an email lack of growth as one reason for the translation: “The big problem is that church planting among the tens of millions of religious Muslims in Turkey has not been successful; it has not even begun.” Turkey is 99.8 percent Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook. Turks estimate that their country has about 5,000 Christians now, but when Bocek became a Christian in 1988, he was one of a total of 80 Protestants in the country. “One significant barrier may be the existing translation of the Bible,” Blincoe wrote in an email: “These are paraphrases that help a conservative Sunni Muslim audience know what the Bible really says.” . . .

Thomas Cosmades, a Turkish Christian who translated the New Testament into Turkish from the original Greek, mailed a letter to Frontiers at the end of 2007 after he saw a copy of the Turkish Matthew. (Several hundred were printed before the official publication in 2011). Cosmades died in 2010, at age 86, just after he published a new edition of his New Testament. In his letter he wrote that he was “highly disquieted” by the paraphrased Matthew and proceeded to analyze the debatable phrases in detail.

“This translation is not seeking to emphasize the value of the incarnation,” he wrote. “Should the trend continue, who knows where it will lead the coming generation? If Athanasius of old would have encountered such departure from biblical Christology he would have placed these redactors far below the Arians.” . . .

The Pakistan church at large may not know about the debate, but the Pakistan Bible Society (PBS) does. After 20 years of work together, the Bible society and SIL are parting ways over the issue, which is a blow to SIL because now it must operate without the imprimatur of the premier local publisher. SIL said in a statement that the decision not to work together on one project was mutual, the result of “translation style differences,” not just the debate on divine familial terms.

But the general secretary of the Pakistan Bible Society, Anthony Lamuel, wrote in a letter on Jan. 26 that the issue of altering terms for target audiences was central in the decision, and added that such translations have resulted in the “water downing” of Christian concepts: “We the Pakistan Bible Society will not promote experiments with the translation at the cost of hurting the church.”

A woman working on another translation project in Central Asia, who asked for anonymity for the sake of her work, said the debate on the “Son of God” issue in her translation team has deadlocked their project and stirred confusion among local believers who don’t have a Bible in their own language as a reference: “It has eroded their faith in the authority of the Word of God and in us as foreigners who are supposed to be the ‘teachers’ but can’t seem to agree on some basic truths of who Christ said he was. … Sadly it raises doubts and endless discussion, wasting a lot of time.”

Anwar Hussain, the head of the Bangladesh Bible Society, has been at the forefront of efforts in his country the last few years to repel Bible translations from various groups that change divine familial terms. Hussain grew up Muslim, and when he professed Christ as a young man, his family cut ties with him. Edward Ayub, another Christian of Muslim background, is the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh and—alongside Hussain—has vigorously opposed the translations. “I want to die for the Bible,” not a misleading translation, Ayub said. “The harm they are doing now for the church will be long-lasting.”

via WORLDmag.com | Translation battle | Emily Belz | Feb 25, 12.  (Subscription required to read full text.

What connections do you see between this particular tactic on the mission field and the church growth movement here?


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