The Voice Bible: Reading Revelation

I blogged about the new Bible translation from Thomas Nelson, The Voice Bible earlier this week, and promised to get back to it after reading it devotionally for awhile. I was a little surprised at the number of responses I got, so I am going to do an update today.I read through the first half of the book of Revelation to get a better feel for how The Voice works, because this is the book I have most recently taught and it is very fresh on my mind.

First, I want to remind us all of an important factor: with every Bible translation or edition, we must learn to read/use it the way the editors intended it to be used if we are to get the most out of it. The quick way to do this is to read the preface to the translation, although most of us dread doing this, fearing we will be overwhelmed with arcane, boring minutia. The editors of The Voice explain their system well, so if you are intending to use this Bible, you should invest 30 minutes in reading what they have to say.

This brings out several intended features for The Voice. We may not like what they have done for various reasons (including our stubbornness), but I think this major project deserves the respect that goes beyond knee-jerk reactionism. For example, if you notice that The Voice goes beyond the literal translation “brothers” to give the inclusive (and more inline with the author’s intention) “brothers and sisters,” and you immediately dismiss it as liberal deviancy, stick with your current translation.

As with each book in the Bible, The Voice editors begin Revelation with a meaty introduction from their writers. For Revelation, this includes some historical background, but mainly has a summary of the book (almost a précis), giving help for the 21st century reader. We also notice a color scheme unlike anything I have ever seen in a Bible translation. We find many things in a bold, sans serif font that is a light brown color. It looks something like this. This font is used for added headings for the sections. In Revelation, it is also used for words that have been inserted to tell the reader who the speaker might be in a quotation. For example, Revelation 5:9 looks something like this:

Then they sang a new song:

Four Living Creatures and 24 Elders:
You are worthy to receive the scroll: … (etc.)

I find this to be helpful. Another way this special font is used is for an occasional insertion of an interpretive note inline with the text (not a footnote). For example, after Revelation 1:16, The Voice has this comment:

The Son of Man is none other than the
risen Jesus shining in glory, moving
among the lampstands.

As I said before, The Voice sometimes feels like a study Bible on steroids, but I happen to agree with this comment, and I like the fact that it is unmistakably presented as something other than the words of the text.

Overall, I will admit that reading The Voice in the book of Revelation brings an excitement to the text that I find missing in meticulously literal translations. I think we should feel excitement when reading this book, for it is the grand book of worship and a narrative drama unlike anything else in the Bible.

Let me leave you with one last observation,The Voice’s translation of the first part of Revelation 6:16:

They pleaded with loud suicidal requests to the rocks and mountains.

The Voice’s method remains transparent, they want the reader to know the word “suicidal” has been added. There is no Greek word behind it (I’m not even sure what that Greek word would be, autophoneuo?). Do we, the readers, need to be told that what follows (a quotation identified as from People of the Earth) is suicidal in intent? Perhaps not, but it is a request to be put to death. My desire for literal translation squirms within me, but I will admit I like this verse. The editors identify their addition with the italics, they are not trying to fool or trick me.

More to come on The Voice.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

“The Voice” Translation: What is it like?

I recently received a copy of The Voice Bible, a new English translation from Thomas Nelson. This translation has received hype in the mainstream media because of its abandoning of some traditional English renderings. For example, The Voice does not have “Jesus Christ,” but prefers “Jesus the Anointed” or “Jesus the Anointed One.” This is because of The Voice’s desire to translate rather than transliterate, a move I applaud.

As I begin to read, I notice another feature that may be of interest. The editors of The Voice have chosen to include many words that go beyond a literal word-for-word translation from the original texts. They have used an old technique to communicate this to the reader: words not in the original text appear in italics. The Voice seems to be very careful about this, and you will find an italicized word or two in high percentage of verses. As a completely random sample, I notice that 12 of the 18 verses of Ecclesiastes 1 have at least one italicized word, 66%. I have no idea if this ratio holds for the entire translation, but I would estimate that the total might be above 50%.

There is an important difference, though, between The Voice‘s use of italicization and what we might see in most editions of the King James Version and in the print editions of the New American Standard Bible. The NASB Preface explains its policy this way, “ITALICS are used in the text to indicate words which are not found in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek but implied by it.” In technical terms, this means italicized words are used to fill in elliptical expressions, such as when the verb from one sentence is implied to serve as the verb for the next sentence. The Voice editors go beyond this limited scope in many cases. Let me give you an example from Psalm 8:3, 4:

When I gaze to the skies and meditate on Your creation–
on the moon, stars, and all You have made,
I can’t help but wonder shy You care about mortals–
sons and daughters of men–
Specks of dust floating about the cosmos.

Notice that “and all” and “and daughters” are within the flow of the sentences. “And all” goes beyond the literal intent of the verse, but does seem to capture the summary of “Your creation” from the previous line, and therefore we could see this as justifiable. To add “and daughters” to sons communicates the intent of the original text, which was not designed to exclude women. Both of these italicized additions are variations on what the NASB might do.

But this is not the case for Specks of dust floating about the cosmos. These seven words are created wholly by the translators as an interpretive help for the reader. They have no antecedent in the original Hebrew text. It is somewhat troubling to me that this expression imports a modern cosmology that would not have been shared or even understood by the original readers or the author of this psalm. The idea of “floating about the cosmos” sounds more like Carl Sagan than King David.

So what are we to make of this? I think The Voice is a bold experiment in Bible translation, truly unlike anything I have every seen before. There is a difference, though, between “this is what the Bible says,” and “this is how we think you should understand what the Bible says.” The Voice editors have crossed this line. It will be welcomed by some for its freshness and contemporary tone. Many readers will like is, as many have enjoyed Gene Peterson’s The Message. But I don’t expect it to be a favorite of scholars or be used in Bible College classrooms.

I am planning on reading out of The Voice for my own personal devotions for a couple of months. I will blog about that experience down the road.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

A Chronocentric Reading of the Bible

I have just finished teaching a class on the book of Revelation, my first in five years. I love teaching this wonderful book, full of theology and worship, but I am always bewildered by the literature that has made its way into print concerning the book of Revelation. In my five year period, this has increased exponentially due to web sites and blogs like this one.

There are four major ways to interpret the book, and you must know which of these you are using as you approach Revelation because the strategies will determine outcome in several cases. For those of you who are Revelation buffs, these are well known: the Preterist Interpretation, the Idealist/Symbolic Interpretation, the Historicist Interpretation, and the Futurist Interpretation. All of these have variations, but these are the four basic approaches, because they represent reading Revelation as past event (Preterist), events in process (Historicist), events yet to come (Futurist), or events not tied to history (Idealist). From a historical perspective, this exhausts the possibilities.

When interpreting the Bible, many students are eager to answer the question, “What does it say to me?” I’m glad they are looking to the Bible to speak into their lives, for there is no more important role for the Word of God. But it really isn’t that simple. When we interpret carefully, we should first ask, “What does the Bible say?” This means putting the text in the context of the original audience, trying to understand what it meant to the first readers. Once we have determined that meaning to the best of our abilities, we are ready to ask, “What does what the Bible says mean to me?” Lest we fall into semantic mumbo jumbo, about the Bible “saying,” “speaking,” “meaning,” and “having significance,” we need keep these two steps in order, no matter how we phrase them.

Let me give a very simple example from Paul’s writings before I tie this to the book of Revelation. In Ephesians 6:5-9, Paul give instructions for his readers concerning the relationships between slaves and masters within the household. What is the Bible (Paul) saying here? Basically, we are being taught that in a Christian household, a Christian master and a Christian slave must treat each other as fellow Christians. This does not erase the slave/master relationship, but transforms it through the common lordship of Christ. This is the primary teaching in all of the household codes of Ephesians 5 & 6. But many have wanted immediately to jump to apply this to a modern setting. Since we do not have household slaves, it is assumed that these teachings should apply to the employer/employee relationships in the workplace. Employees should work cheerfully no matter what their tasks, for they are working “as to the Lord.” Employers are not given too many things to consider, just “stop threatening” your workers. Of course this interpretation is fallacious on many counts. Employees are not slaves. The workplace of a factory or the Walmart is not the household. There is no assumed Christian bond of faith between an employee and her employer. We want desperately for this text to speak to our situation, to speak to us directly, but it just doesn’t do that in any direct sense.

So what does this have to do with Revelation and its interpretation? I think that two of these major interpretations are guilty of what I would call “Chronocentrism.” Egocentrism is a self-centered reading of the text, that it speaks primarily to me. Chronocentrism is similar, but assumes the text is speaking primarily to my time (“chronos”).

A futuristic reading of Revelation, whether dispensationalist or not, assumes that from the beginning of chapter 4 until the end of the book, Revelation is giving prophecies of the future, none of which were fulfilled during the time of the original readers. Ironically, though, while denying any historical value to the originally intended audience, futurists always see these prophecies being fulfilling in their own lifetime. I have never read a futurist interpretation of Revelation that says we need to wait another 1,000 years for the dramatic events of the end of time to take place. THE FUTURE IS NOW! Chronocentrism in all its glory!

Likewise, historicists interpret Revelation as the unfolding of the history of the church and of the world. Historicists may find Muhammad, various popes, and Martin Luther in the text. But I have never read a historicist interpretation that says, “We’re about half-way through.” Instead, the end of Revelation corresponds with the present day. THE END IS NOW! Another triumph for chronocentrism!

I don’t know if the idealists are much better. While not chronocentric, they deny historical value for all readers, past and present.

This is why I prefer a “Preterist” reading of the book, because it allows Revelation to have had a relevant message to its first century audience. I am not, however, in the camp of the “Neo-preterists,” a recent group that wants to deny a future resurrection and future return of Christ.” But that discussion is for another blog.

Today, may we be saved from unnecessary egocentric and chronocentric readings of the Bible, no matter which book.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Bad Religion: Ross Douthat’s Take on American Christianity

Regular readers of this blog know that I have been reporting on the new book by Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. In the last post about this, I gave Douthat’s heroes of “Good Religion” from the 1940s and 1950s: Reinhold Niebuhr, Fulton Sheen, Billy Graham, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In this post I would like to lay out Douthat’s take on what happened to American Christianity in the 1960s and 1970s. He identifies five major factors (what he calls “catalysts”) that caused the very quick disintegration of the American Christian consensus from the immediate post-war period.

First is what Douthat labels “political polarization.” By this he means the increasing identification of certain streams of American Christianity with a certain political ideology. Eventually, this became wedded to America’s two-party system so that mainline Protestant and African American churches were aligned with the Democratic party, and conservative or evangelical churches were aligned with the Republican party. For Douthat, the culmination of this was the presidential candidacy of Christian ministers from both sides: Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Pat Robertson.

Second, are the “debates surrounding the sexual revolution.” By this, Douthat is referring to a radical shift of American sexual morés based.on the introduction of the contraceptive “pill.”. As Douthat puts it, “By separating sex from procreation more completely than any previous technology, … the birth control pill also severed the cultural connection between Christian ethics and American common sense.”

Third, Douthat tracks the rise of a “global perspective as the lens through which more and more Americans viewed their world.” What he means by this was the turning of America from a Western, European perspective to look at cultures throughout the world. This included the embrace of Eastern faiths such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Added to this was a re-examination of the implications of the Holocaust, a genocide carried out against European Jews by a supposedly Christian nation. Douthat describes this as “a persistent sense of embarrassment about Christianity itself.” This trend led to an America defined by “relativism, individualism, and pluralism,” where historic Christianity no longer had a place of privilege or honor in national affairs, or in the lives of most citizens.

Fourth, Douthat notes the inability of American Christians to deal with “the religious consequences of America’s ever-growing wealth.” Douthat quotes the observation of John Wesley, “wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion.” Collateral damage for this trend was a decline in religious vocation. As Douthat puts it, “Entering the ministry had always involved sacrifice, but the scale of that sacrifice grew considerably steeper during the 1960s and ’70s.”

Douthat’s fifth catalyst was “the element of class.” The elite of American society increasingly rejected the beliefs and moral practices of Christianity. “All Serious People understood that the only reason to pay attention to traditional Christianity was to subject it to a withering critique.” This was the in some ways the culmination of the first four catalysts:political polarization, rejection of Christian morality, spiritual globalization, and the extraordinary wealth of Americans. The elites now seemed to say, “it wasn’t just that the faith of Peter and Paul, Charlemagne and Aquinas, Luther and Erasmus, John Winthrop and George Washington suddenly seem anachronistic. It was something more devastating than this. Among the tastemakers and power brokers and intellectual agenda setters of late-twentieth century America, orthodox Christianity was completely déclassé” [fallen from a high status to a low status]. The result was a shift “away from institutional religion and toward a more do-it-yourself and consumer-oriented spirituality.” This led to the heresies of the current religious landscape in America.

I will do one more blog on this to outline what Douthat sees these current heresies to be, and then give some comments about his entire project. If you are interesting in reading more Douthat, check out his blog at ross douthat evaluations.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

The Church Today

Today, I want to give you four short things about the church which might be used in sermons:

The church should see itself not so much as a big tent, but as a grand parade.  (John Thomas)

The church is a little like Noah and the residents of the ark. It may be crowded and a little smelly inside, but it is better to be on board than not. (Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove)

Just when the church adopted a business model, the culture went looking for God. Just when the church embraced strategic planning (linear and Newtonian), the universe shifted to preparedness (loopy and quantum). Just when the church began building recreation centers, the culture began a search for sacred space. Church people still think that secularism holds sway and that people outside the church have trouble connecting to God. The problem is that when people come to church, expecting to find God, they often encounter a religious club holding a meeting where God is conspicuously absent. (Reggie McNeal)

These churches were discovering a new vitality and level of effectiveness as their congregations made the shift from “serve us” to “service.” (Eric Swanson)

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Bad Religion, part 2

I am still reading a fascinating new book, Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. I posted on this a few blogs back, and would like to unpack the book a little more this morning. As mentioned, Douthat is the new conservative voice on the New York Times op-ed pages. For example, this morning his column appeared in the Omaha World Herald (a critique of President Obama’s current campaign strategy). I read and enjoy his columns because he is unlike most of the über-conservative columnists who start with the premise that our President is evil or an idiot, then scrounge for their daily reasons why (Krauthammer? Sowell?).

But back to the book, Bad Religion. The title itself makes me ask the question, “What is Good Religion for Douthat?” He gives a preliminary answer in his lengthy first chapter, “The Lost World.” In this section, Douthat promotes four individuals from the post-World War II era as examples of “good religion.” He is an honest evaluator, so he knows that all four had faults, weaknesses, blind spots, and personal failings. Yet the four represent societal and cultural movements that were strong in this period, and which were contributing to a resurgent Christianity.

Douthat’s first hero is the great neo-orthodox theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, Douthat celebrates his “quest to make orthodox theology relevant in the academy and in the halls of power alike.” Niebuhr is not read so much these days. I first encountered him thirty years ago while working on my master’s thesis. Niebuhr (along with Karl Barth) called for the abandonment of the idea of essential human goodness and progress, and called Christians to come to grips with the sinfulness of mankind and of society.

Douthat’s second hero is Fulton Sheen, the Roman Catholic bishop who mastered the new technology of television broadcasting to promote a “genial confidence in the underlying theological coherence of the Catholic faith.” Sheen’s straight talk, winsome style, and wide exposure were partly responsible for the possibility of electing a Roman Catholic as President (JFK), an idea that would have been unthinkable a few generations before.

Douthat’s third hero is Billy Graham, a man who almost single-handedly was responsible for creating the Evangelicalism we see today. Graham struck “a delicate balance between Evangelical rigor and openhanded ecumenism, … between warnings about God’s justice and promises of God’s all-encompassing love.” Douthat attributes Graham’s success to his great ability, but also to his willingness to work with mainline Protestants and Catholics in his revival crusades. He also points out that Graham rejected the racism of his Southern upbringing, refusing the request of the city fathers of Little Rock to hold segregated revivals in their city.

Douthat’s fourth hero is Martin Luther King, Jr. Douthat is upfront about some of King’s flaws, seeing him as “a reckless adulterer whose academic work was partially ghostwritten.” But Douthat emphatically states that “no subsequent marriage of Christian faith and political activism has come close to matching [King’s} ability to use the language of Scripture to break down ideological barriers and transcend partisan debates.” It is often forgotten today that King was an ordained Christian minister who preached in a church almost every Sunday. The current version of King has divorced him from his Christian background and principles.

Douthat is well-read and a good student of history, so his accounts are full of interesting tidbits that he uses to characterize the spirit of the 1950s for Christian America. For him, a signal event took place in 1958, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower led a parade of choir members and religious leaders from New York City’s Riverside Church to the site of the new headquarters for the National Council of Churches. Eisenhower laid the cornerstone for this nineteen story building, paid for by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The stone had been excavated from the site of ancient Corinth, making the event seem almost biblical in its significance. This building was intended to be the “Protestant Vatican” in the thriving city that served as the capital of the world with the headquarters of the United Nations not too far away. (It has recently been rechristened the “Interchurch Center.”) A few pages later, however, Douthat points out that this same Eisenhower remarked that American democracy depended on “a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

More to come on my analysis of this book as it moves to characterize and critique current trends in the church, and then to offer its look at the future.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

If a Tree Falls in the Forest …

“To be is to be perceived.” So said the famous Irish philosopher, George Berkeley, considered by some to be the greatest of the British Empiricists. Berkeley claimed that existence required perception. The negative implication of the theory was that if something was not perceived, it had no real existence.

Berkeley’s views were popularized in the twentieth century by the philosophical riddle, “If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Many versions followed, such as, “If a tree falls in the forest and hits a mime, does it make a sound?”

“If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” The philosophical riddle has often been pronounced as having no satisfying solution, a true conundrum. Yet George Berkeley, upon whose thought this question is based, would have been confident that there was indeed an answer. Berkeley was a man of powerful intellect, but he was also a man of deep faith. He was trained as a clergyman. His abilities were evident, and he was appointed the Dean of Derry, a comfortable position with a generous yearly stipend. In 1725, Berkeley left this position and its income for a project that was his passion. He wanted to found a college in Bermuda to train missionaries for the evangelization of the North American continent. This never materialized, although Berkeley spent many years working for it and exhausted his personal fortune. In  1734, he re-entered the establishment of the church and was appointed to be a bishop in his native Ireland. He was one of the most celebrated thinkers of his time who could have had a teaching position at any university in Europe, yet he gave his last years to the service of the church.

In 1866, over one hundred years after his death, a small group of visionaries founded a new city on the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay to be the home of a great university. The chose to name it “Berkeley” in honor of this Irish man of faith.

But back to the question, “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Berkeley would have answered “Yes, of course, Yes!” The idea of there being no one to hear the tree fall was preposterous. This was because Berkeley believed that God was always present. God was the Grand Perceiver, the one who presided over his creation and sustained it with his presence. No tree could fall without God’s notice. As Jesus said:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.And even the hairs of your head are all counted.So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.   Matthew 10:29-31

May we always be aware that our loving God is always with us and hears our voice whenever and wherever we cry out to him.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College