Archive for March, 2011

ABC Extra – Jesus Likes It When You’re Humiliated

No one likes to be humbled.  After all, being humbled is, well, humiliating.  Being humbled wounds your ego.  Being humbled shatters your pride.  Being humbled can even make you question your competence.  But although being humbled is not an enjoyable experience, Jesus says it is a good – and sometimes even a necessary – one.

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we studied the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14.  Jesus ends His parable with this thought:  “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (verse 14).  This one, seemingly simple, statement is worth pondering.

First, it is worth noting that Jesus’ statement concerning humility and those who are humbled and exalted does not prima facie show it self to be apparent in the lives of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The Pharisee, who haughtily “thanks God that he is not like other men” (verse 11) and the tax collector, who cries out, “God, have mercy on me, the sinner” (verse 13) do not depart from the temple any more visibly humbled or exalted than when they came in.  In fact, it is reasonable to suggest that they did not feel any more humbled or exalted than when they came in.  The Pharisee leaves still secure in his own righteousness.  And the tax collector leaves probably still struggling with guilt from his past misdeeds.  However, regardless of how things may appear to outsiders or even feel on the inside for the Pharisee and the tax collector, something radical happened spiritually:  the Pharisee has been humbled and the tax collector has been exalted.  Jesus says so.  Thus, it seems possible for a person to be humbled or exalted in God’s Kingdom and not even know it.  And so, even when we feel humiliated by the world, we trust that, through faith, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).  God exalts His people, even if hiddenly.

The second thing worth noting is that, in God’s Kingdom, exaltation comes in and through humiliation.  The Greek word for “exalt” is hypso.  This word is taken up by the apostle Paul in his famous hymn from Philippians 2:8-9: “Being found in appearance as a man, Christ humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name.”  Here the word for “exalted” is hyperhypso, the prefix hyper- intensifying the thrust of the verb.  In other words, Jesus is not just exalted, He’s hyper-exalted!  But notice the route He travels to arrive at such exaltation:  He humbles Himself and becomes obedient unto death – even death on a cross.  Thus, exaltation for Jesus involves not just a lofty heavenly perch, but a humiliating death.  Jesus Himself speaks similarly when He prophesies, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).  Again we find the word hypso, this time translated as the phrase “lifted up.”  In the Gospel of John, to be “lifted up” does not mean to be lifted up in exaltation on throne, but to be lifted up in humiliation on a cross.  Humiliation is exaltation for Jesus!

So what does all this mean?  It means that in the Kingdom of God, humiliation and exaltation are closer than we think.  Indeed, we find exaltation in humiliation.  This truth should lead us to humble ourselves in service to our God and to others.   Consider:  Who is it that needs your strong hand?  Or who is it that needs your gentle words?  Who is it that needs your time in companionship?  Or who is it that needs your prayers for healing?  These tasks may seem menial and humble, but these are exactly the kind of tasks to which we are called.  For in such humble service, we are exalted – not in the way the world views exaltation, but in the way God grants exaltation.  And that’s the kind of exaltation we want anyway.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

March 28, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra: Not So Neighborly

When I moved to Austin in 1996 to go to college, I was a scrawny seventeen year-old. As I settled into college life, hung out and ate Top Ramen in our 1950’s rundown dorm, and turned eighteen, I felt the need to “bulk up.” After all, I was on my own now. And I was eighteen so I was a “man.” And so, I hit the gym with one of my buddies. Almost immediately, my eyes darted to the bench press. “This is exactly what I need!” I thought to myself. “I’ll be benching a couple hundred pounds in no time at all.” Of course, I needed to start with a little less than two hundred pounds. After all, I hadn’t bulked up yet. And so, I lugged four twenty-five pound plates onto the bar for a mere one hundred pounds. “I’ll just lift this to get warmed up,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t even lift the bar. So, I switched out the plates and reduced the bench press to eighty pounds. Still no dice. Finally, I tried fifty. This, I managed to lift. But I also forgot to put the pins on the ends of the bar. And the plates quickly came crashing down.

I thought I was strong. But I wasn’t nearly as strong as I thought. A similar thing happens when many of us think about our righteousness and goodness. Most of us like to think of ourselves as “good people.” I was recently reading an article by Dr. Neal Mayerson, founder of the VIA Institute on Character. In his article, he noted what psychologists refer to as an “actor-observer bias.” This refers to the tendency that we all have to excuse our immoral behavior by appealing to circumstantial reasons that we had to act the way we did. In other words, we think we’re good. But we’re not nearly as good as we think. And when we are confronted with our own immorality, we try minimalize and rationalize it.

The “actor-observer bias” comes out in our text from this weekend from Luke 10 when an expert in the law approaches Jesus with a question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25)? Rather than responding to his query directly, Jesus instead prods this so-called “expert” to answer his own question. And so the expert does. He gives his take on the requirements for eternal life. You must “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Jesus is impressed: “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Notably, the Greek word for “do” is in the present tense, denoting a continuous action. So it’s not just that this expert in the law is to love God and his neighbor once. Or even regularly. It’s that he is to love God and his neighbor continually – as in constantly. And no matter how highly the expert in the law might think of himself, this is something he cannot do. This expert in the law may think he is good. But he’s not nearly as good as he thinks. Indeed, Jesus’ subsequent parable makes this sobering fact all too clear.

In His Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus relays the story of a man who is mobbed and robbed as he is traveling the steep trail which leads down the side of a mountain from Jerusalem to Jericho. Indeed, in the first century, this road was well known as a haunt for thieves and thugs. Being beaten unconscious and left for dead, a priest passes by and sees this man, clearly in need of assistance. But probably due to concerns for ritual cleanliness – for, according to Old Testament law, to touch a dead person would render one ceremonially “unclean” for a whole week – he passes the man by. The same thing happens with a Levite, also probably out of concerns for ritual cleanliness. It is a Samaritan – a person from a nationality despised by the Jews – who stops and helps this man.

In our day, we like to think of ourselves as the Samaritan. “Surely!” we think to ourselves, “If I someone half-dead on the side of the road, I would help.” But alas, this is merely our own “actor-observer bias” rearing its head. If you don’t believe me, consider these scenarios:

  • Have you ever failed to stop to help someone with car trouble because you were in a hurry?
  • Have you ever not picked up the phone because your caller ID told you who the person on the other end of the line was and you didn’t feel like talking to them?
  • Have you ever lied and told a panhandler, “I don’t have any change” simply because you didn’t want to get into a discussion with them?

If you have ever done any of these things – or a whole host of other similar things – then perhaps you are not as helpful as you think you are.

Finally, when we read the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we are called to think of ourselves not as the Samaritan, but as the priest and the Levite. Helmut Thielicke, the rector of the University of the Hamburg in the 60’s and 70’s, explains the parable like this: “The point of the parable is that we should identify ourselves with the priest and the Levite and repent” (The Waiting Father, 167).

So who, then, is the Good Samaritan if he is not us? The early church fathers thought he was Jesus. Origen says unequivocally, “The Samaritan was Christ” (Homilies on Luke). How did they arrive at such a conclusion? They knew that all of us failed to continuously love God and our neighbor. Thus, only Jesus can play the part of the Samaritan. This does not mean, however, that we are not invited to follow in our Savior’s footsteps. Jesus’ admonition at this end of His parable, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) makes this clear enough. We are called to love our neighbor by being a neighbor. We are called to help others.

So be a neighbor to someone in need today. After all, before you were called to become a neighbor to someone else, Christ became your neighbor on the cross.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

March 21, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Some Thoughts On Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”

I was curious, so I checked.  It’s number one in Amazon’s “Religion and Spirituality” section and number three in Amazon’s overall list of the top 100 books.  To say Rob Bell’s newest opus, Love Wins, has made a splash is like saying our recent recession was an economic hiccup.  Both are understated.  Because of its meteoric rise to the top of national book sales, the pastors at Concordia feel it is important to address what Rob teaches in this book.  Here is what you need to know upfront:  Concordia’s pastors do not believe that Love Wins presents true biblical or Christ-centered doctrine.  In fact, we believe it presents false doctrine that is dangerous and confusing, leading people away from Christ rather than toward Him.  If this is all you want or need to know, there is no need to read the balance of this blog.  If you want to know why we believe this book presents false doctrine, read on.

The blogs and reviews of Rob’s new book are legion, and so my goal in this blog is not to try to break through the cacophony of clamor surrounding the book’s release.  That’s a far too ambitious – and, I might add, unrealistic – goal.  But neither do I intend my review to simply be another voice added to the many shouts either celebrating or decrying Rob’s book.  Instead, my review is more of a personal sort.  I am a pastor.  And already, I am receiving questions from people I know and love about Rob’s book.  And I am concerned.  I am concerned about Rob.  I remember him in his earlier years.  To this day, I have never heard a finer sermon on Leviticus 16 than the one he preached.  And the picture he painted of Ephesus, the Roman emperor Domitian, and John’s Revelation still grips me – and gives me hope – every time I think about it.  In fact, I still have a copy of that sermon…on cassette tape!   I’m having a hard time understanding what happened to Rob theologically.  I am concerned about him.  But I am also concerned about the people with whom I am talking.  The people who are questioning.  The people who are confused.  The people who are wondering, “Is this book true?”  If this is you, then I mean this blog for you.  And though my words may be pointed, they are not meant to be vicious.  Rather, they are written in love and a concern for the truth, for “love rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).  And I believe that, finally, the truth will carry the day.  For I, like Rob Bell, believe that love wins.

Deconstructing theology is dangerous business.  And yet, it’s something people – especially so-called “postmodern” thinkers – love to do.  After all, it’s fun to pile on top of certain theological presuppositions and assertions and expose the discontinuities in them, especially if these presuppositions and assertions are widely regarded as traditional and orthodox.  And it is this is this deconstructionist method that Rob employs in Love Wins. Consider this quote:

Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is, the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell.  God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever.  A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.

If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities.  If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we could contact child protective services immediately.

If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good. (pages 173-174)

The logic seems, well, logical enough.  If God loves us and wants salvation for us, how could He abandon his pursuit of us upon our deaths and consign us to eternal torment?  That’s not a loving God!   Therefore, goes Rob’s argument, God must allow people the opportunity to repent (though he never uses the word) even, perhaps, after death.  Or at least that’s what he tantalizingly infers!

But let’s apply Rob’s same deconstructionist enterprise to his own argument.  Rob solves the difficulty of the God who pursues us in the life and judges us in the next by appealing to God’s generous love – a love generous enough to allow for our free will, now on earth and then in eternity:

To reject God’s grace, to turn from God’s love, to resist God’s telling, will lead to misery.  It is a form of punishment, all on its own.

This is an important distinction, because in talking about what God is like, we cannot avoid the realities of God’s very essence, which is love.  It can be resisted and rejected and denied and avoided, and that will bring another reality.  Now and then.

We are that free. (page 176)

So, Rob says I am free – free to “trust God’s retelling of my story” (page 173), as he puts it, and free to reject it.  And not only am I free to trust and reject now on earth, but “now and then,” even into eternity.  On the one hand, this is quite an enticing prospect because it allows me to trust in God’s retelling of my story even after I die.  So if I mess it up here, I need not worry.  I get another shot at trusting God on the flipside.  It is important to note that Rob’s concern here is fundamentally a therapeutic utilitarianism.  The kind of God who would do something as psychologically stressful as consigning people to an eternal hell simply won’t work!  Indeed, Rob states this explicitly: “This is the problem with some Gods – you don’t know if they’re good, so why tell others a story that isn’t working for you” (page 181)?  The problem is that Rob’s version of God and the gospel doesn’t work either!  After all, what happens if I mess up on the flipside?  What happens if I trust God’s retelling of my story in this age, but then use the generous freedom that Rob claims love requires to reject God’s retelling of my story in the age to come?  Do I slip the surly bonds of heaven and wind up in a hell of my own making?  And what if I trust in God’s retelling again?  Is it back to heavenly bliss?  And then what if I reject it…again?  And then trust it…again?  Am I stuck in a vicious volley between heaven and hell for all eternity?  That certainly doesn’t sound very “heavenly.”  In fact, that sounds like what I struggle with right now!  That sounds like Paul’s exposition on every Christian’s age old struggle:  “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).  Where’s the hope in that?

The freedom that love brings is only good if it is exercised with the sovereign prerogative that God has.  In other words, love without God’s sovereign prerogative is impotent.  It cannot do what it desires.  It cannot, to use Rob’s book title, “win.”  And indeed, love that allows this kind of freedom isn’t even really love.  For it simply allows us to do what we please.  Who actually loves like this – even here, even now?  Love demands that when you see a child chasing his ball onto the interstate, you curb his freedom and tug him back.  Love demands that heaven is an age when we are not only free to live with God, but have also been tugged, or, more biblically, “chosen” by God (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14).  Love and freedom are not synonymous nor are they inextricable concomitants of each other.  That is why God does away with people who persistently demand their freedom.  For they cannot demand their freedom to God without demanding their freedom from God.  These are the people who go to hell.

To allow me the eternal freedom to trust or reject God’s retelling of my story is only to allow me the eternal opportunity to make myself unspeakably miserable.  And I’m not sure that’s a good opportunity. Because I already know what I’d choose…again and again and again.  For I’m not truly free.  I’m a slave to sin.  And so I will always choose wrongly.  As the Reformers put it, “We are unable to stop sinning.”  I will always fall for the illusion that freedom from God presents rather than the joy that freedom in Christ brings.  This is why God coopted my slavery to sin and set me free, only to make me a slave again, this time to righteousness – not out of some sort of sinister divinely wrought determinism, but for the sake of Christ:  “Having been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18).  This is the good news – that God does not leave things up to us.  No, He loves us far too much to do that.  And so He conquers sin, death, and the devil, and gives us His righteousness, apart from and in spite of our terrible choices.

Whatever so-called “problems” and questions Rob Bell may try to solve and answer in his book, he only succeeds in creating more problems and begging more questions.  Not only that, but he finally replaces the good news with something that is neither good, for it leaves us in an eternal state of struggling against our own wills, nor is it news, for this struggle is much older than any twenty-four news cycle.  So, whatever supposed “problems” my “traditional” story of the gospel may have (which I am not convinced there are problems, just paradoxes), this I know:  When it comes to a love that is broad enough to allow me my own, dangerous freedom, “the good news is better than that” (page 191).

March 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm 6 comments

ABC Extra – Jesus Isn’t Gentle (At Least Not All The Time)

Even if you’ve never specifically articulated it, you have at least a general impression of Jesus. “Jesus is loving.” “Jesus was a good man.” “Jesus accepts all people no matter where they’re from or what they’ve done.” These are but a few of the most common impressions of Jesus. Even our hymnody seems to endorse these types of impressions. As a child, I learned to sing: “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child. Pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to Thee.” Yep, this is Jesus: He’s meek and mild.

As I’ve grown older and have spent more time reading the Scriptures, the impression of Jesus as meek and mild that I had as a child has been challenged. More often than not, in the Scriptures, Jesus doesn’t seem all that meek and mild. In fact, in some instances, Jesus doesn’t even seem nice! Indeed, we encountered one of these instances in this past weekend’s ABC.

In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus shares with His disciples what I like to call “The Parable of the Parable.” He tells His disciples a parable which describes what happens when He tells a parable! “A farmer goes out to sow some seed,” Jesus begins. “Some falls on a hard path, some falls on rocky soil, and some lands in the nearby thorn bushes. And none of these seeds last. They either do not sprout at all or they sprout and quickly wither. But there is some seed that falls on soft soil. And this seed germinates and grows up to be healthy, full, and whole.” As I mentioned, this parable describes what happens when Jesus tells a parable! There are some people who out and out reject His teaching while others get carried away by the rocks and thorny trials of this world. Some, however, not only hear and understand Jesus’ parables, but believe them. They are the soft soiled ones who take Jesus’ parables to heart.

Sadly, Jesus warns that many will not take His parables to heart: “To those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:11-12). These are some biting words! Jesus says that to those on the outside, He intentionally speaks in coded parables, lest these outsiders actually understand Jesus’ message and believe in His mission! This certainly doesn’t sound nice. This doesn’t sound like a gentle Jesus, meek and mild!

In His words, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, where God gives the prophet a similar mission of veiling God’s Word and message, lest people understand and believe: “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” There is no ambiguity in God’s commission to Isaiah. Isaiah is to specifically and deliberately “make the heart of the people calloused.” That is, he is to turn people away from God. What a strange – and harsh – mission for a prophet!

The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament from the third century BC, translates Isaiah 6:9-10 like this: “You will be ever hearing, but never understanding; you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving. This people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” Take careful note of the difference between the two versions. In the Hebrew text of Isaiah 6, Isaiah is specifically charged with hardening the hearts of the people. But in the Greek translation of this text, the hearts of the people are already calloused long before Isaiah begins his ministry. So which one is it? Is it Isaiah who callousing the hearts of the people? Or do the people who hear Isaiah come with already calloused hearts, ready to reject his message?

Actually, it’s both. Long before Isaiah arrives on the scene, the people of Israel have been busy callousing their hearts through their rebellion and carousing. Isaiah paints a bleak picture of Israel’s spiritual condition in his opening chapter: “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him” (Isaiah 1:4). Israel is already calloused. Thus, Isaiah is called only to callous hearts through his preaching which are have already been calloused by sin. This, then, is God’s warning to sinners: “If you callous your hearts by sin, I will callous your hearts in judgment of that sin.”

This, therefore, is finally what Jesus is doing in His parables. He speaks of hiding the meaning of His parables from “those on the outside” not because He hates these people or wants to see them consigned to damnation, but because they have already chosen to be on the outside, apart from Jesus. And so now, Jesus is simply giving these sinners what they want – what they demand. He is callousing their hearts through His parables.

The portrait of Jesus as purely meek and mild is surely inaccurate. In Jesus’ “Parable of the Parable,” we learn that Jesus most certainly allows people to fall under the judgment they deserve and desire. And yet, this is not Jesus’ final will. His will is that these people would indeed “turn and be forgiven,” even though He knows that some will not.

This, then, is Jesus’ invitation to you: Do not be calloused! By the Spirit’s strength, instead, be soft soil. Have a tender heart! Receive and believe God’s Word…and watch it grow in you – even unto salvation.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

March 14, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – So Many Translations, So Little Time

This past weekend, we reflected further on the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture in part two of our series “Inspire!”  In an effort to better understand the Bible we read, in ABC, I talked about some of the different philosophies which undergird different Bible translations.  I identified three different major types of translational philosophies:

  • Word-for-word translations seek to translate the ancient Hebrew and Greek of the biblical text word-for-word into English as far as possible.  They also try to translate the same Hebrew or Greek word consistently throughout the Scriptures, even when the context of a given verse might encourage a different translation of that word for the sake of style and ease of reading.  Indeed, word-for-word translations can often read clumsily since Greek and Hebrew syntax and sentence structure can vary widely from English syntax and sentence structure.
  • Thought-for-thought translations seek to take phrases or even sentences from the Hebrew and Greek biblical text and translate them according to the intent of the biblical authors using smooth, readable English.  This is helpful for understanding, but can also lead to misunderstandings because sometimes the biblical syntax, no matter how convoluted and confusing it may appear, is important to understanding the argument of a biblical writer.
  • Paraphrases consult other English translations of the Bible, along with some Greek and Hebrew texts as well, and then they paraphrase these other translations into contemporary, readable English.  Paraphrases are dangerous because they often explicitly, and sometimes even recklessly, reflect the theological biases of their paraphrasers.

With this brief review of translational philosophies in mind, I wanted to offer a couple of additional thoughts with regard to translating Scripture.

First, it is important to note that Bible translating is more of an art than a science.  Oftentimes, people will ask me what the best translation of the Bible is. The fact of the matter is, there is no one translation that I can recommend wholeheartedly as the “best” because, finally, Bible translating is an art!  This means that there are some translations of the NIV that I prefer while, in other places, I prefer an ESV or an NASB rendering.  In a couple of instances, the old KJV still carries the day for me!  This is why, rather than simply recommending a single translation, I encourage people to compare several translations, giving the benefit of the doubt to the word-for-word translations over the thought-for-thought ones, and then consulting a commentary to shed further light on the text.

Second, it is important to note that there is no such thing as a “literal” translation of the Bible.  Whether it is a word-for-word or a thought-for-thought translation, every translation involves some level of translator interpretation, especially when an ancient biblical text is especially ambiguous or when its idioms are unintelligible to the modern reader.  The example I gave in ABC last weekend comes from Acts 20:37 where, after Paul says his farewell to his beloved Ephesian congregation, and with much weeping and sadness, the Ephesians, according to a word-for-word translation of the Greek, “were throwing themselves upon the neck of Paul.”  Whoa!  I know the Ephesians were sad to see Paul leave, but they didn’t have to try to break his neck!  But this misunderstands the idiom.  Even the NASB, considered by many to be the most faithful word-for-word translation available, translates this verse, “They embraced Paul.”  And indeed, this is an appropriate translation.  For even if the NASB does not translate woodenly the ancient idiom, it does faithfully reflect the author’s intent in using the idiom.  Thus, to find a “literal” translation is neither possible nor is it always necessarily helpful.

Finally, I want to say a word about the use of inclusive language in many of today’s more recent translations.  There is a move afoot to replace traditional translations of words like “brothers” or “men” with more gender inclusive language like “brothers and sisters” and “people.”  Though this is certainly fine in some places (e.g., Matthew 5:19 in NIV 2011:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” rather than in NIV 1984: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”) it is dangerous in others.  One prime example comes in Psalm 8:4-6.  Consider the translation of NIV 1984:

What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; You put everything under his feet.

Here the Psalmist extols how God has made humankind the crowing glory of His creation and how He has given them dominion over the earth.  Notice that the Psalmist describes humankind collectively using the masculine singular pronouns “him” and “his” (see italics above).  In NIV 2011, because the Psalmist is referring to humankind collectively, the translators opted for the more generic plural pronouns “them” and “their.”  Two problems arise with this translation.  First, the Hebrew of the Psalm employs masculine singular pronouns.  Thus, it may behoove us to translate the pronouns as singular collectives since that is the way the Psalmist wrote his Psalm!  Second, the preacher of Hebrews picks up on the masculine singular pronouns of this Psalm and applies these pronouns to Jesus:

There is a place where someone has testified: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.”  In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:5-9)

Thus, the preacher of Hebrews sees this Psalm as referring not only to humankind generally, but also to Jesus singularly!  The Psalmist, writing some 1,000 years before Christ, prophecies concerning Christ!  To discard the masculine singular pronouns, then, in favor of more generic plural inclusive pronouns, obscures the Messianic character of this Psalm.  And that is a tragedy.  For Christ is the center of the Scriptures.  Thus, I tend to caution people against translations that commit themselves to inclusive language at the expense of Greek and Hebrew grammar and syntax.

So where does all this leave us?  To use a phrase coined by President Reagan, we should “trust, but verify.”  I advise people, with few exceptions, to generally trust the translations they read and not worry about missing a huge theological theme because of a faulty translation.  Reading any major translation, you will still discover the gospel that Christ has come to die on a cross in your place for your sins apart from anything you do.  No major doctrine of Christianity is compromised by any major translation.  However, I still encourage people to verify confusing or disputed passages by consulting other translations, commentaries, and their pastor.  This can help bring clarity and orthodoxy to some sticky passages.

So get to reading!  The people have God have spent a lot of time translating the Word of God.  And they’ve translated it so that the Word of God can be read and believed by you.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Krueger’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

March 7, 2011 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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