Category Archives: Bible Study

Behold Our God

 

In 2011 I was serving as the interim youth group minister at my local church. In order to inform the other youth workers and leaders on the direction and leadership that they should expect during my interim role, I called a meeting and a member of senior leadership attended also. One of the first items of business was to unify our usage of Bible versions and in doing so distance ourselves from the latest version of the New International Version (NIV), around which there had already been much debate over the neutering of language and shift to gender inclusive language. At the time, there had already been much discussion within our local body and broader evangelicalism concerning this latest version. I’ve written elsewhere about the differences in translations, including a brief background of translation philosophy to help determine which translation is right for you.

In my discussion of the translations, I was unprepared for the push-back I received regarding my stance against this latest version of the NIV and my pro-English Standard Version (ESV) usage in our youth group. It’s not a perfect translation, as none are, but my choice of the ESV was based on its literal translation philosophy and its level of readability. When doing exposition, it’s been my experience that the more literal translations (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV) are simply easier to navigate, closer to the original meaning, and easier to explain than more dynamic translations.

One particular area of pushback from the senior leader was an off-the-cuff comparison between the antiquated language that the ESV often uses and the more modern, contemporary language of the NIV, specifically as it relates to the ESV’s use of the word “behold.” The argument against the ESV, as I remember it, went something like this: “I seriously doubt that as you are driving around with your wife that you point something out to her and say ‘Behold!’ Instead, you say ‘Look!’” Senior leader for the win, as the kids say. FTW

That public rebuke aside, the content of the statement bothered me then and it bothers me now, particularly as I heard a statement recently by Dr. Wayne Grudem explaining the ESV’s use of the word “behold” over 1100 times. In regards to the abundance of usage he states “I love them.” In contrast, the latest NIV uses the word behold 1 time, in Numbers 24:17.

But what’s in a word, as the saying goes. Is there really that big of a difference between the words Behold and Look? Take the well-known passage from John 1:29 as an example comparison:

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 NIV

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 ESV

Interestingly, the word used here ide carries with it much more significance than merely a visual observation. HELPS Word Studies points out that this Greek imperative literally means, “Be sure to see . . . !,” i.e. “Don’t miss this! It is an observable, objective fact!” Additionally, Strong’s concordance and Vines Expository Dictionary imply that this word involves a spiritual perception, again not merely the outward sight with the eyes that the word “look” carries with it.

So then, is there significance in the ESV’s decision to use the word “behold”? Clearly there is. Behold is pregnant with meaning and intensity that the word “look” simply cannot convey. In the example above, the Apostle John is not merely saying “”Look,” as in visibly observe, “the Lamb of God”. He is calling attention to Christ that people should behold, literally to spiritually perceive and embrace the Lamb of God and pay attention to who He is and what He says.

Wayne_Grudem_Photo_2014Grudem comments on the ESV translation committee’s decision to retain the use of behold:

“I find one of the primary advantages of the ESV to be more literal accuracy in the details of a translation. This is evident in the ESV’s use of “behold” in Exodus 2:6, a word which the HCSB, NIV and NLT all omit. But it translates a word in the text, the Hebrew word hinneh. In earlier translations (KJV, ASV, RSV), the word “behold” was found many times. It was the common translation used for the Hebrew word hinneh in the Old Testament and the Greek word idou in the New Testament. Both words simply mean something like “Pay attention – what follows is especially important or surprising!” Early in our translation work on the ESV, our committee discussed what to do about “behold.” We realized that in some cases there was an alternative such as “look!” or “listen!” and in a few cases that was what we used. But in hundreds of other cases, neither “look” nor “listen” seemed quite suitable (as in Exod. 2:6 above). We also found that some modern translations had just decided to leave Hebrew hinneh and Greek idou untranslated in many places where “look” or “listen” did not seem to fit (the HCSB, NIV, and NLT simply fail to translate it here). But we believed that all the words of God are important, and we did not want to leave hinneh and idou untranslated.

After a lot of discussion, we concluded that there simply was no other English word that meant, “Pay attention to what follows because it is important or surprising.” But the word “behold” still carried that meaning in English. We realized that people didn’t often use the word “behold” in conversation today, but we also recognized that almost everyone knew what it meant. It was in people’s “passive” vocabulary rather than in their “active” vocabulary. So we decided to retain “behold” as the common translation that we would use for hinneh in the Old Testament and for idou in the New Testament. We were striving for literal accuracy in the details, and we recognized that these words conveyed meaning for the original reader, meaning that we did not want today’s readers to miss. Therefore readers will find “behold” 1,102 times in the ESV. Often it seems to me to add dignity and strength to important verses in the Bible, such as the following: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa.7:14 ESV)

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 ESV)

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. (1Cor. 15:51-52 ESV)

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20 ESV)

I have come to really enjoy the “beholds” in the ESV. They make me pay attention to what follows and ask why the author put emphasis here. And they seem to me much stronger than the great variety of alternatives that other translations use when they do translate hinneh or idou at all. For instance, in Revelation 3:20 (see above) other translations have a variety: “Listen!” (HCSB). “Here I am!” (NIV). “Look!” (NLT). It seems to me that “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” is much stronger, and more consistent.

In addition, now I actually notice “behold” from time to time in contemporary English, whether it be in a shop window with a sign that says “Behold: New low prices!” or an ad on TV that says something like, “Behold! The new Honda sedan!” This example also shows one reason I don’t put too much stock in statistical counts of word frequency such as the Collins Word Bank that was used by the NIV translators. No doubt it would show “behold” to be uncommon in modern English. But if we ask, “How did they say it back then?” we find the need to use “behold” quite frequently, because there is no other single word in English today that means, “Pay attention—what follows is important or surprising.”[1]

If that’s not compelling enough, then perhaps the song below might help (excuse the ad at the beginning). Though far from inspired Scripture, the use of behold certainly carries the same emphasis that the ESV translators were trying to convey.  After all, what would it sound like if the chorus were, “Look, our God”? Not quite the same resounding emotion.

 

[1] http://www.waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/The-advantages-of-the-ESV.pdf

The Deity of Christ in Hebrews 1:8

 

The book of Hebrews stands as a beacon in the night shining forth the superiority of Christ above angels, Moses, the Levitical priesthood, other priests (namely Melchizedek), the priestly ministry, including its location, covenant, tabernacle, and sacrifice. Without question, if one wants to understand more deeply, more convincingly who Christ is, they needn’t turn too far away from Hebrews to find Him fully on display.

However, there remain those who are not only unconvinced by the Christology of Hebrews, but those who have taken its words and distorted it to fit their own agenda. One particular group is the Jehovah’s Witness. In their translation ( I use that term loosely, as you will see), known as the New World Translation, the biblical truths of Christ are distorted in order to mask Christ’s deity in seeking to establish Him as a mere man, created in the image of God like other men though having His origin as a spiritual being. Without going into detail regarding their beliefs, they make it clear that 1) They deny the Trinity and 2) They deny the deity of Christ. This was made crystal clear to me during a recent encounter I had with several of them.

One particular verse where this biblical distortion becomes evident is Hebrews 1:8,

“But of the Son he says,

‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,

the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’”

The passage above is in clear reference to the Son from its context in Hebrews and it gives great insight into the intra-Trinitarian conversation between the Father and the Son by quoting a passage from Psalm 45:6. If you knew nothing of the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witness, if you knew nothing of the Old Testament use of the New Testament, or nothing of the biblical languages, you would still be able to observe what is being said in the verse and the grammatical manner in which it is being said. It is crystal clear that the Son is the One to whom this statement is directed. Likewise, it is crystal clear that this passage calls the Son, God, a point of fact that the Jehovah’s Witness denies.

Additionally, the grammar of this sentence should be clear, namely that the subject of the sentence is “throne” in the first part and “scepter” is the subject of the second phrase as the author of the Psalm develops a parallelism with the two kingly objects, throne and scepter. God, as used in this verse, is what’s known as the vocative, i.e. to Whom the sentence is addressed. From our usage in Hebrews it is clear that this is addressed to the Son. This seems straightforward enough, right?

Well, not for the translators of the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation. In order to hide this clear indication that Christ is God and thereby divine, being distinct in person but the same in essence as the Father and Holy Spirit, the “translation” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses distorts the grammar of the passage by saying:

“But about the Son, he says: “God is your throne forever and ever, and the scepter of your Kingdom is the scepter of uprightness.”[1]

At first glance, it may not even seem to be a big deal that the NWT translates this passage differently. But, when you understand that their philosophical understanding of Christ is radically different than orthodox Christianity, then it becomes of the utmost importance to understand what is being communicated in their “bible”. When asking the Jehovah’s Witness about the difference in this verse, their comments are typically centered around similar statements such as “Jehovah is your rock”, “Jehovah is your shield”, or that Christ’s authority proceeds from the Father and that this is simply a better way of saying that. Those statements in their given biblical context may be true, but that is simply not what is being communicated in this passage. As was pointed out earlier, the subject of the first part of this phrase is the throne and of the latter, the scepter. In the NWT the subject is changed to “God”, to avoid the vocative use of God that appears in the original Greek and that is made evident in formally equivalent English translations, such as the ESV quoted above. Again, this may not seem like a big deal, but it actually serves to undercut the assertion being made that Jesus is God. Yes, as a David-like King, Christ derives His authority (throne/scepter) from the Father that is clear from the statement, “of the Son he says”. But much more is being communicated and that is that this King, is none other than God-incarnate, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

This is not simply a matter of grammar and punctuation; it is deception for the purpose of distorting the divine nature of Christ. Like their forefathers who promoted the heresy of Arianism, the Jehovah’s Witness have drastically deviated from orthodox Christianity and have created for themselves another Jesus. The Apostle Paul warns of those who proclaim another Jesus in 1 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed,” all the more reason to be diligent in studying the Word of God to recognize and correct those who do such things.

Understanding the significance of this passage from Hebrews as a testimony to the Divine nature of Christ will go a long way in the conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness. Their translation is simply indefensible. Be aware that there will be attempts to refute this, but largely they will be unaware of the translation inaccuracy and their own religion’s attempt to mask the deity of Christ. Be patience and confident in the power of God’s Word and proclaim the deity of Christ at every turn.

Update 4/30/2015: In reading Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses by Ron Rhodes (2009, Harvest House Publishers), the author concedes that “God is your throne” is grammatically possible in the Greek, but as shown in the post above is contextually invalid (pg. 93).  Further evidence that the context is in favor of this reading can be found in Psalm 45:5 of the Septuagint (Greek OT) which includes the phrase “Thy weapons [arrows], Oh Mighty One, are sharpened”.  Read in combination with  verse 6 from the post above, “Thy throne, O God” reveals additional Hebrew parallelism between the verses (Rhodes, 95).  I didn’t include this in my original post because I think most faithful English translations recognize the grammatical structure within verse 6 that holds the tension between the subjects “throne” and “scepter” and the discussion of Christ’s Kingship, “O God”, in Hebrews 1 and that is easier to work through if you lack knowledge of the Septuagint.

[1] New World Translation, 2013. http://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/nwt/books/hebrews/1/

A Holy Hatred of Sin

 

Holy Hatred[1]

(Thomas Brooks, “The Crown and Glory of Christianity,
or, HOLINESS, the Only Way to Happiness”, 1662)

“I hate every false way.” Psalm 119:104

Where there is real holiness, there is a holy
hatred, detestation, and indignation—against
all ungodliness and wickedness.

A holy man knows that all sin strikes . . .
at the holiness of God,
at the glory of God,
at the nature of God,
at the being of God,
at the law of God—
and therefore his heart rises against all sin.

He looks upon every sin as a grieving of the Spirit,
as a vexing of the Spirit, and as a quenching of the
Spirit; and so nothing will satisfy him but the ruin
of them all. He looks upon every sin—
as a dishonor to God,
as an enemy to Christ,
as a wound to the Spirit,
as a reproach to the gospel,
as a moth to his holiness—and therefore
his heart and his hand are against every sin.

He looks upon every sin . . .
as that Judas who betrayed Christ;
as that Pilate who condemned Christ;
as those soldiers who scourged Christ;
as those spears which pierced Christ.
He looks upon every sin as having a hand in the
death of his Savior—and therefore he cries out,
“Crucify them all, crucify them all!”

Look! as every lion has his den, every dog his kennel,
every swine his sty, and every crow his nest—just so,
every unholy person has one sin or another, to which
his heart is engaged and married; and that sin will
undo him forever!

As Lysimachus lost his earthly kingdom by drinking
one draught of water—just so, many lose a heavenly
kingdom by indulging some one sin or another.
One flaw spoils the diamond,
one treason makes a traitor,
one wrong turn brings a man quite out of the way,
one leak sinks the ship,
one wound strikes Goliath dead,
one Delilah betrays Samson,
one broken wheel spoils the whole clock,
one dead fly spoils the whole box of ointment.

And as one bastard son destroyed Gideon’s seventy sons,
(Judges 8,)—just so, one predominant sin is enough to
destroy the soul forever. As by taking one nap Samson
lost his strength, and by eating one apple Adam lost his
paradise—just so, many men, by favoring one sin—lose
God, heaven, and their souls forever! He who favors any
sin, though he frowns upon many—does but as Benhadad
—recover of one disease and die of another; yes, he takes
pains to go to hell. Sin favored—always ends tragically.

Sometimes you shall have an unholy person
angry with sin, because it has . . .
cracked his credit, or
clouded his honor, or
hindered his profit, or
embittered his pleasure, or
enraged his conscience, or
exposed him to shame here and hell hereafter;
but never because . . .
a righteous law is transgressed,
a holy God is dishonored,
a loving Savior is afresh crucified,
or the blessed Spirit grieved.

A holy heart rises against sin because of its defiling nature.
An unholy heart rises against sin because of its damning nature.

A holy man is most afflicted with the evil which is in sin.
An unholy heart is most afflicted with the punishment which is due to sin.

A holy person hates sin because it pollutes his soul.
An unholy person hates it because it destroys his soul.

A holy person loathes sin because it makes against God’s holiness.
An unholy person loathes it because it provokes God’s justice.

A holy person detests sin because of the hell which is in sin.
An unholy person detests sin because of the hell which follows sin.

A holy heart abhors all sin.
An unholy heart is still in league with some sin.

[1] http://www.gracegems.org/07/03/hatred.html