The Word for today: Romans 8:1-17
Some of the precepts and concepts of the kingdom of heaven are, at first, difficult to comprehend. So thank God that some of our Bible versions do a great job of making things easier to understand.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw The Living Bible. I think it was in 1974. I was working as a counselor at Camp Kenan on the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Another one of the counselors was what we then called a Jesus Freak. He had this dark green vinyl-bound Bible that was distinctly unlike any Bible I’d ever encountered. No thees, no thous. King James was turning over in his grave, but people were buying it by the millions (1).
You can still purchase a Living Bible today, or you can buy its descendant–The New Living Translation. I recommend both titles without reservation. I read and quote them often.
But (you saw that coming) you should eventually avail yourself of what are called “standard” Bible translations–like the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, or the king of them all–King James.
Eventually you should become conversant with the words–such as justification, redemption, righteousness, sanctification, propitiation–that you will encounter in “standard” versions. Such words are so packed with meaning that, when understood, they carry more force than the explanatory words used by the paraphrased versions.
Let me illustrate with a sentence I read today in the newspaper:
“Down to their final strike in the ninth and 10th, the Cardinals won Game 6 on David Freese’s 11th-inning homer off Mark Lowe.”
Those few words, when made understandable to the uninitiated, would sound something like this:
The St. Louis Cardinals of the National Baseball League were just one throw (from a “pitcher” on the “pitching mound”) away from losing the 4th game of a best-of-7 series against the Texas Rangers, their rivals from the American Baseball League.
This series of games (known as the “World Series”) is the culmination of the professional baseball season in the USA. Thus if the Cardinals had failed to hit the final ball thrown in the ninth “inning” (the last regularly-scheduled opportunity to score a “run” by touching all four “bases” in diamond formation) then the Rangers would have won the championship there and then.
But when David Frees, a Cardinal “batter” (so-called because he attempts to strike a ball with a thick wooden stick called a “bat”) hit a ball, thrown by Ranger pitcher Mark Lowe, over a fence so far away that batters seldom reach it, it meant that the Cardinals had extended the series to a seventh game, and still had a chance to become the “world champions” of 2011.
The instant crack of the bat, the ball tracing indelible memories as it arcs through the flood-lit St. Louis night…gets lost in translation!
It’s like trying to explain a punch-line to a person who doesn’t “get it” in the first place. The intuitive flash of humor engendered by comic timing and inflection gets lost in the explanation.
In the same way, it becomes difficult for a Bible teacher to proclaim that “The theme of Romans is the righteousness of God; and the theme passage is 1:16-17,” when the New Living Translation renders it this way…
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes – Jews first and also Gentiles. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. (Romans 1:16-17/New Living Translation)
There is technically nothing wrong with that rendition, but unless you know how the phrase is rendered in a standard translation, it can leave you with the impression that God thinks you’re alright, you’re OK.
Here’s the same passage–the theme passage of Roman–as rendered in a “standard” translation:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17/New American Standard Bible)
The Holy Spirit in Romans 1:16-17 isn’t saying that we’re OK in God’s sight. What He’s teaching is that God mistakes us for Jesus!
It is a far cry from “makes us right” to “the righteousness of God is revealed.” But it’s not a long time until Christmas. So I hope you start dropping hints, to friends and family, that a “standard” Bible makes the perfect present–
because a grand slam should never sound like a single.
(1) In 1972 and 1973, The Living Bible was the best-selling book in America. By 1997, 40 million copies of The Living Bible had been sold.