Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking a new look at Scripture

My Bible translation of choice for many, many years has been the New International Version. I always felt it was a solid translation, using modern language to accurately reflect original meaning. For a time, it was the choice for most of evangelical Christendom.

But then came the controversy. In 1997,the NIV's publisher, Zondervan, attempted to revise the translation with a view towards political correctness. The publisher south to make the NIV gender-neutral by often getting rid of "man," "he," "brothers," and so on -- a seeming attempt to pander to the political left. The evangelical world reacted violently. As WORLD Magazine pointed out recently, the NIV was then the most trusted Bible in America, with slightly over a 50 percent of the market share. Many evangelicals felt betrayed when a small committee seemed to secretly made changes that appealed to feminists. WORLD Magazine, which broke this story, took to calling this "new and improved" translation the "Stealth Bible."

Zondervan reacted to these waves of negative publicity, and put the plans to edit the NIV on hold. Eventually, the publisher tried to have its cake and eat it too -- an advertising campaign began pledging to maintain the NIV as it was (as if some outside force had started the trouble), but then Zondervan published the new translation as a separate edition -- a gender-neutral TNIV (the T standing for "Today's"). The result was really a failure in both instances. The TNIV did not sell at all, and the NIV's market share is now probably less than half what it was in 1997. I guess it was sort of like the new "Coke." It doesn't pay to mess with success.

But now, in late 2010, WORLD Magazine reported that Zondervan has released online a new NIV, after spending a year preparing the way. This time Zondervan was open about its plans. This time its affiliated "Committee on Bible Translation" reached out to critics and solicited their input. This time the "Stealth Bible's" leading critic, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), praised "significant improvements." Partly because of those better processes and results, there's little fire this time.

Of course, there are criticisms of the new translation -- but I don't want to look at that. I want to look at a revision the 2010 edition of the NIV made that actually makes the meaning of one of the most beloved verses in the bible clearer -- at least to me.

The verse I speak of is Philippians 4:13. Back when I first became a committed Christian back in the 1970s, the Bible translation of choice among my peers was the New American Standard Version of the Bible. In that version, the verse read:

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

My Christian friends and I, in our youth and exuberance, all claimed this as a mantra of triumph and victory – we can do ALL things. Just believe. It will happen! Not some things, or most things – but ALL THINGS!

The former NIV translation was a little more subtle, but still very useful for those of us with “name it/claim it” inclinations.

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

The new, 2010 release of the NIV makes what appears to be a pretty radical change.

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

“All this?” What does it mean by “this?”

Even when put in the context of the passage, the original NAS translation can’t possibly mean victory and the ability to overcome in any circumstance. At least not in the way I have perceived "victory" and "overcoming." The context is Paul explaining the need to content in any circumstance. Verse 13 sums up the passage – we can indeed come to the point where we are content in all circumstances, even what appears to be dire, awful circumstances, through Christ who strengthens us.

Indeed, the original language also implies it. It literally means “all things” but implies a collective concept. When it says "all," it means "all," as in "some of all types," not just the thing upon which I am focusing in the here and now. In connection with the other verses around this one, it means "all things that are pleasing to God". What we can do (in the context of verse 13), the "all " that this verse encompasses, are the things that Christ empowers us to do. We can’t do it on our own – it’s not our strength. The Amplified Version says that “I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses inner strength to me, [that is, I am self sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency].”

So what Philippians 4:13 is really talking about is contentment in Christ, and needing strength from Christ in order to be content, not carte blanche to overcome difficulty. We used to use that verse to as a prayer to command the spirit world to give us what we perceived God wanted us to have – victory, health, success, prosperity etc. When what it really means is we are willing to be content in whatever God has for us.

Boy do I have a long way to go to come to grips with that. But it certainly makes more sense than me trying to quote the verse at the sky, demanding that God prosper my business, and then being angry at him when I don’t see results on my timetable. I need to grasp the concept that God wants me to be content with the little I currently have, and he’ll give me the strength, ability, and inner fortitude to be self sufficient in THAT, and that alone.

And that revelation, to me, is worth the concept of discovering it in the midst of this new translation.

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