Why New Bible Translations Matter: An Example

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Marlin Sommers

A Christian magazine recently asked readers to comment on why we need new translations of the Bible from time to time. English Bible translations are a subject dear to my heart, and I shared a brief response for that magazine. Here on the blog I would like to give a slightly longer explanation. While I am arguing that it is important to make regular use of a modern English translation of the bible, it should be noted that not all translations are equal. Some modern translations on the market are not well-suited to use as your primary bible because they employ a very loose and interpretive method of translation. But, with that caveat aside, I begin by diving into a fascinating difference between newer and older English translations.

First, compare these two translations of Titus 2:13 which were released less than fifty years apart.

ASV: looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (1901)

RSV: awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, (NT released 1946)

Does this passage speak of both the Father and of Jesus? Or does it speak of Jesus as our “God and Savior”? Older English translations seem to refer to both the Father and the Son. More recent translations of this passage explicitly call Jesus “our great God.” 

Of course, we don’t need modern translations to know that Jesus is a fully divine person of the Trinity.  But to see the phrase “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” is a glorious affirmation for the Christian, and it is quite jarring for those who deny the deity of Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have their own translation and do not include that phrase.

The story begins in the late 1700’s with Granville Sharp, an early British abolitionist and man of many interests.  In his day there were many unitarians who denied the Trinity and the deity of Jesus. Sharp endeavored to show that the New Testament affirmed the deity of Christ. One fruit of his study was a list of passages which he believed affirmed the deity of Christ much more explicitly than the current English Bible indicated. Titus 2:13 is a passage where Sharp’s interpretation stood the test of time, although it was not until the 1900’s that his insight was incorporated into our Bibles.

While most of us have no need to personally understand Sharp’s rule,looking at a few details  will help us appreciate his work, and the work of other scholars.Behind the nice, polished Bible translations we read lies a lot of detailed scholarly work.

Sharp’s rule concerns Greek phrases of a very specific form: Article noun1 kai noun2, where both nouns are the same grammatical case. 

For our purposes we can think of this as:

 “The _________________ and ____________”

For the rule to apply, both blanks must be filled in with singular nouns, which refer to persons but are not proper names. Think about it: Granville Sharp had to be a very observant person to pick up on a pattern that detailed!

Now for the upshot: Sharp’s rule says that when those detailed conditions are met, the phrase describes only one person. Thus the passage at the beginning of this post does not concern two persons (the Father and the Son), but one person Jesus, who is our great God and Savior. 

 Sharp’s rule is about biblical Greek, not about English. An English phrase like “the mayor and police chief” would likely refer to two different people. However biblical phrases like “the great God and Savior of us” (Titus 2:13) and “the God of us and Savior” (2 Peter 1:1) mean that the very same person is both God and Savior. 

Again, my point is not to make us all study biblical Greek (as cool as that would be!), but to help us appreciate detailed scholarship.  It took significant insight for Granville Sharp to discover this rule and tremendous work on the part of other scholars to verify it.

So, why do we need new English translations of the scripture from time to time? One reason is to incorporate the work of men like Granville Sharp. We should not need a commentary to learn that Paul referred to Jesus as “our great God and Savior.” That phrase belongs on the pages of our Bibles. 

Today, the King James Version is the traditional translation, but in 1611 it was the new translation, with various others on the market. In a preface, the  translators explained why we need new translations from time to time.  They emphasized that since the scriptures are supremely important, we must use supreme diligence to translate them as well as we can. A scholar should, in their words, “assay whether my talent in the knowledge of the tongues may be profitable in any measure to God’s Church” (§11, 11). This diligence, they say, leads to careful revisions of Bible translations. They give examples from ancient Bible translators and then note that regular books written in foreign languages “have been gone over again and again” by various translators. They conclude that the scriptures are much more worthy of our efforts at translation.

Now, if this cost may be bestowed upon the gourd, which affordeth us a little shade, and which to-day flourisheth but to-morrow is cut down, what may we bestow, nay, what ought we not to bestow, upon the vine, the fruit whereof maketh glad the conscience of man, and the stem whereof abideth forever?  And this is the Word of God, which we translate. (§12, 10-12)

The Bible is important: Study it! The Bible is important and scholars have worked hard to translate it well: take advantage of that and include good modern translations in your bible study!

Sources:

Wallace, Daniel. “Sharp Redivivus? – A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule” June 30, 2004. https://bible.org/article/sharp-redivivus-reexamination-granville-sharp-rule accessed 5/29/2020

The Translators to the Reader (Preface to the King James Version) https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Bible_(King_James)/Preface

“Granville Sharp.” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granville_Sharp accessed 5/29/2020

  1. This rendering is quite consistent from the mid-twentieth century onward. The RSV and NRSV offer a footnote suggesting the older rendering as a possibility, but most versions do not.
  2. I checked the online edition of the New World Translation hosted at www.jw.org on 5/25/2020.

10/11/20

When Good Men Do Nothing

When Good Men Do Nothing

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Chester Weaver

For over a thousand years good men did nothing. Maybe that is not quite saying it right. For over a thousand years good men could do no good publicly and prosper with the good. Their good prospered in non-public ways, in ways forgotten to history. Some men in all ages have found ways to do good, but their good has been lost to public sight. Only the Heavenly records will tell the private stories.

For you see, when good men do good, most people hate them for it. Think about Jesus Christ Himself. He could exercise Himself in public ministry for only 3 ½ years until the Jews had Him removed. Then He went down in Jewish history as a Pretender. The Romans who actually did the killing forgot Him. Josephus and a few others remembered snatches of Him, Josephus himself wondering if the man Jesus should even be called a man. Otherwise, history went silent.

Except for the people who did good. The good men we know as the Disciples became even better men after the Spirit came upon them. And so did quite a few others. We know the entire group as Believers, followers of the Way. These men continued to do good in every place they found themselves. And eventually they wrote the original story of the Good Man we know as Jesus Christ. We read four of those stories today in the four Gospels.

More good men joined the Way and we now have the history of the Early Church in the Book of Acts and beyond.

Unfortunately, the Way became too easy, so easy that entire groups of people joined en masse, bringing their badness with them. The Goodness and Badness were married to become the State Church for over one thousand years. That is the official story, the story we read. What we do not read (because it has been lost to written record) are the forgotten stories of men and women who did good wherever and whenever they could in common everyday ways. Who knows how many people did this? Multitudes most likely, numbers we will never know this side of Eternity.

Some names have been publicly remembered for good. People such as Benedict of Nursia, Catherine of Sienna, St. Francis of Assisi, and Peter Waldo, to name a few. We remember the public men such as John Wycliffe and John Hus. The latter two names took great risks with their good, Hus eventually paying for his risk with his life. The numerous Waldensians generously paid for their risks as well. The great fact to remember however was the light they kept alive, the candles they kept burning in the darkness. The lights were noticed; the lights encouraged many other lights to spring into existence.

And then, when Martin Luther came along, good men found a champion holding a large flaming torch. And he was not alone; men like Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin held their own flaming torches aloft. But alas the pressures of darkness dimmed those torches to shine only into a continuation of the State Church darkness. And then other good men were really put to the test. Would they as good men do what they needed to do with their calling?

Thus we have the story of good men doing what good men always do, insisting on Good regardless of the cost, and the Anabaptist movement was born. The good these men insisted upon was attacked by both kinds of state churches, Roman Catholic and Protestant. 

The story of how that good survived in a number of separate geographical locations is quite interesting to read. Imagine having a meeting of more than fifty leaders who gave each other the assignments to fan out through the darkness with their tiny lights, knowing the likely results of doing so! Imagine the character, courage, and wisdom of Michael Sattler! Such courage of these men, actually doing good, multiplied their tiny flames into a multitude of other tiny flames each lighting separate pockets of darkness in the locales where they lived and worked. Think of Pilgram Marpeck, inspired by the good which he personally witnessed, providing written encouragement while suffering the ravages of the storming darkness around himself. Think of Jacob Hutter who cared, cared so much that his good was soon squashed.

The stories of good men doing something five hundred years ago is quite inspiring and encouraging. The stories of good men doing something while being hidden in the darkness of the previous thousand years stirs courage in our own hearts today. We too, live in deepening darkness. We too, have a tiny light. We too, are presented with an opportunity to do something with the light that we have.

We need not seek fame and large-scale good which will be written in tomorrow’s history books. Every one of us lives amid the darkness of our own neighborhoods. Some of us live geographically close to pockets of deep, deep darkness. What happens when good men do nothing? The darkness simply deepens. What happens when good men carry a tiny candle flame into the darkness? A little bit of light penetrates that darkness. That tiny bit of light is HOPE to those chained to the darkness.

We must boldly walk into the darkness where we live, carrying aloft our tiny flame. This is the way good men do something. They do not set out to do great things. They are simply obedient to the call at their doorstep and God takes it from there. What will God do with tiny candle flames today? I do not know. I do know that the tiny candle flames penetrating the darkness five hundred years ago did break the powers of darkness to the point that we today enjoy freedoms guaranteed by law. The good men who did something five hundred years ago never lived to see the result of their good, the light of complete separation of church and state. What might God do yet with the tiny flames of men and women who insist upon proactively doing good in our world today? Plenty of darkness exists.

Sept. 1, 2020

My Ethics, Your Ethics, and the Dilemma Between

Anabaptist Perspectives, Uncategorized

Written by: Roseanne Bauman

Part 3

Most adults who have achieved a certain level of maturity have a well-developed set of cultural values and a preferred decision-making ethic, whether or not they are aware of those paradigms within themselves. I am no different. As a Christian professor at a secular community college I am comfortable with my established worldview. However, my current class of nursing students, who are foreign trained professionals from many countries around the world, are helping me reevaluate my paradigm. 

In a class on ethics I used as an example the timeworn question, “What would you do if someone asked you, as the nurse, to baptize their baby?” The scenario is that the baby is imminently dying and the parents are afraid the priest won’t arrive on time to baptize it, and the baby will not go to heaven, so they ask the nurse to baptize it quickly. Nurses are encouraged to assist people to carry out their religious rituals where possible. During the discussion, one of the students mentioned that they couldn’t really answer the question because they had no idea what baptism was! OK! Back up the bus! I have made an assumption out of my cultural background that everyone would understand this scenario. I am challenged daily to think about examples that can be used when the group’s cultural backgrounds are so varied.

You should have seen how shell-shocked these poor people looked after our class on spirituality, death, grief, and laws around consent and refusal to treat. In one two-hour span we wandered around religion, faith, death, questioning God, suicide, brain death, organ donation, what to do with a body after death, declarations of incapacity, powers of attorney, and DNRs. I think I have removed any doubt in their minds that Canadians are heathen! Oh, how I’d love to have time to hear all their perspectives on these things! Really, which option demonstrates care for a family member best? To tell them the truth about their medical condition, or to shield them from the truth and let their family make decisions? I vote for the most astute student who said, “If Canadians are so concerned about autonomy in decision-making, I would think they would at least keep their Powers of Attorney up to date!” The idea about family coming to view a body before it is removed to the funeral home just didn’t sit for some of them. The doozy of the day for me was “What is the difference between a spirit and a soul?” It would take considerable time to explore even a frame of reference that could be used to begin answering that one!

One of the differences in cultural values we teachers battle with all the time is working with students from more collectivist cultures.  What do we do when a concern for the group and cooperative achievement are more important than the competition and individual achievement our educational system is built on? It is easy for me with my cultural value system to say students who share work are cheating. I can even quote scripture to support my position ethically. However, this group challenges me to ask, is scripture not just as supportive of an ethic of putting the welfare of others ahead of individual achievement? Is my way really the high road?

Another thing I find challenging is communicating with students who are working from a whole different set of communication rules and power structure expectations than I am. When a student says to me, “Do you know who I am? I could purchase your entire college if I wished to!” am I to understand that the proper response is to grant the student the desired grade or credential based on wealth and position? Or what about students who understand an assigned grade as the first offer in a bartering process? I am no good at bartering grades! And what about the remainder of the class who don’t know they should barter? I have an ethic about treating all students as equally as possible! Or what about a student who begins with flattery and ends with begging and prostration on the ground before me to obligate me to give them what they want since they have so honored me? Relationships ought to trump some arbitrary rule about a passing grade after all! Isn’t God’s economy all about loving people? Oh, where is the well-developed “one-size-fits-all” paradigm I thought I had now?

As I navigate this world that is opening my ethnocentric eyes a bit, I still refer to God’s Word to help me decide what is right or wrong, but I am a little quicker to assess whether or not my initial responses are perhaps purely culture bound. I am a little more open to considering where my views originate and to let that inform my interactions. And I am happy to discuss what is going on when I am confused. I want to see what I can learn.

Aug. 16, 2020

Who Is My Neighbor?

Who Is My Neighbor?

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Roseanne Bauman

I teach a nursing class made up of nurses, midwives, and doctors who were trained in  Egypt, Nepal, Romania, Korea, the Philippines, India, Columbia, Sudan, China, Taiwan, Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia, Bangladesh, Iraq, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and Iran. They speak 30 languages other than English among them. They vary in years of experience from 1 to 20. Some have immigrant status and others are international students. Some have not worked in healthcare for many years.

I am a believer in grabbing hold of and maximizing teachable moments. If a question is asked, helping someone find the answer will be the most prime teaching opportunity you’ll ever get. Someone is wondering, listening, and paying attention. It works vastly more effectively than the teacher asking the questions. However, it doesn’t take a class long to figure out their teacher works on this principle and they begin to maximize the opportunity to ask questions! Particularly when they are isolated in a new language and culture. As a result, we have vigorous discussions about many things. What is a washcloth and what is its purpose? Do Canadians use alcohol to prevent pressure sores? What about water beds for patients in hospital?  Why doesn’t Canada sell antibiotics over the counter the way many countries do? Why aren’t you ordering an eosinophil sedimentation rate with a white blood count to check for infection? Why would anyone put more than one sheet on a bed? Are the energy boosters at the 24-hour convenience store for the elderly to help increase their energy levels? What is the difference between white and red meat? Is a person with no religion a free spirit? And those are just the medical and nursing questions! I agonize over how to re-socialize these people into Canadian culture and yet honor their vast experience and unique reality. How do you teach someone the “right way” to do a thing in Canada without suggesting what they did before was the “wrong way”? What sort of arrogance proposes that my way is more “advanced” than theirs?

This week the class went to a long term care facility to begin their “hands on” practice. I asked them what their impression was and most said it was very strange, this concept of putting all your elderly in one place. They feel so sad for them that there isn’t more family involvement. When encouraged to think about possible advantages to the system, someone thought it’s a very good idea for those whose families neglect them! It seems that the nursing home concept is generally a shocking idea for cultures who value family and elders and count it a privilege to care for them in their own homes. Here’s another puzzler, have any of you considered how bizarre it is to allow overfed sassy felines to live in the nursing home when they would do nicely for the stew pot? We must look so insane to these people sometimes!

As my students begin to venture out into the “real world” of Canadian healthcare, I face new challenges as the “buffer zone” too. Imagine that you are elderly, have a little difficulty seeing and hearing, and need assistance with your most personal body functions. Then, without your consent or knowledge, some stranger you can’t understand at all comes and clumsily attempts to help you. How disconcerting is that? In your own home no less! Now imagine that you are a staff member trying to help this new Canadian learn how things are done, but it’s so difficult to communicate! Now imagine that you are new, scared, feeling demoted and devalued (because you were a respected professional in your own country) and you can’t even get someone washed and dressed before they say “Get out! I don’t want you! I can’t understand you!” And last of all imagine that you are the teacher and it’s your job to keep everyone happy so that students can be successful in their learning and so that the nursing home will accept students in the future (otherwise your boss will be unhappy). We are not racist, we say, but we prefer to associate as little as possible in our personal lives with those who are not like us. It takes too much effort to try to understand them and work with them.

What was my biggest challenge this week? A meeting I called with a student and two personal support workers (PSWs) at the nursing home to try to clarify an issue. Obviously, there was an issue. The PSWs were quite upset, the student was quite upset, and in leading the conversation I discovered that clearly each party considered the other to be in the wrong. Both sides insisted they had communicated well with the other side, but there was no follow through. Sigh! I talked about the difficulties of communication with accents and so on, but I was in a bit of a bind. What, after all, is a person to do when she needs to advocate for a student who may be experiencing racial discrimination while she harbors doubts in her own heart about that student’s performance? This distinguished gentleman, who bows to me sometimes, was deeply hurt at them tattling to me instead of speaking to him. Can’t say as I blame him! In the staff’s defense, they probably didn’t even catch what he was saying when he told them that; his accent is so hard to decipher. Jesus taught us in the parable of the good Samaritan that loving our neighbors means showing mercy to those around us who are in need. Our neighbors are any and all persons who cross our path. It gets tougher when our neighbors are on opposite sides of a conflict! We ended up leaving the work issue basically unresolved since we couldn’t untangle it sufficiently, and instead focused on making a specific plan for the next class that I hope everyone understood clearly. I pray for the love, patience, and endurance to continue working with my multicultural neighborhood. It’s messy, it’s bumpy, and usually there is no road map, but the Lord loves us all and will help us love each other.

Aug. 9, 2020

From Every Nation, Tribe, and Language

From Every Nation, Tribe, and Language

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Roseanne Bauman

Part 1

I am a nursing professor at a community college in Canada. Currently I am privileged to teach a class for foreign trained medical professionals whose credentials are not recognized in Canada. This nursing class fast tracks them into the Canadian healthcare system so that they can begin working in the field and networking their way to where they wish to go. Let me introduce you. There are 25 students. 12 are nurses or midwives, and 13 are doctors. We have 18 countries of training represented, with no more than three students from any one country. Does this qualify as diversity?

I asked them today, just for fun, what languages they speak, and wrote them on the board. I thought I was familiar with a few of the major languages in the world. I guess it depends on how you define “major”. This group of 25 persons speaks 30 languages among them! No wonder I don’t hear many non-English conversations going on at break time. There isn’t a whole lot of overlap in languages. When the name of a country is the root word for the name of the language, I can sort of spell it, and some like Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Urdu, etc. I’ve previously encountered, but they were helping me spell out names of languages I have already forgotten! The trouble with them spelling for me is that I can’t decipher b from d, p, t, or v in their accents. They were intrigued by the fact that my first language was not English either. You know how you feel when you’ve just had a telephone conversation with someone you can barely understand at all because of their accent? Multiply that by 25 or so persons with at least a dozen varieties of such accents who talk all the time, and you will know why I come home very tired every day after work! I find myself being stretched in every way. My internal thesaurus grows daily as I run through lists of synonyms attempting to locate the one English word familiar to the student, in order to translate the concept they are having difficulty with. My ability to guess the meaning of an entire sentence based on the two or three words I understand is growing, as is my awareness of culture-specific words. I had quite a time trying to describe jello to someone who wasn’t familiar with the substance, let alone its name!

Marking papers has to be about my least favorite part of teaching, but in this group, it is an adventure. Did you all know that churches are profitless organizations? Someone describes an organization as profitless and I am left to wonder just how I would even begin to explain why it is  nonprofit instead of profitless! Also, how does one explain that certain words they hear used in common language are unacceptable in professional papers? Swearing means making a solemn promise; cursing means calling bad things down on someone; what do I call these “bad words” so they can understand? And do I list examples? After a time of reading papers written by persons with so many languages of origin, my neck has had a workout along with my brain! You remember those kaleidoscope toys where you turn it just a bit and you get a whole new design? Well sometimes I read and reread and correct grammar and reread again trying to understand what I am looking at. And sometimes I turn my head just a bit or shake it to try to rearrange my thoughts to what I am seeing. Are you laughing? Admit it, you have opened your mouth when feeding babies to try to get them to open their mouths! That’s just as profitless as turning my head in an effort to read papers! First prize for creative writing goes to the lady from South Korea who has correctly spelled English words in nearly correctly structured English sentences – and I still can’t figure out what she is saying most times! I am learning to think creatively and use lots of imagination.

This group inspires me as I see them lay aside patriotism, ethnocentrism, culture, politics, religion, and even sometimes historic values, in order to all learn how to be nurses in Canada. Yes, my students represent opposing sides in political battles, most of the major world religions, possibly different castes, and for sure various places in the age-old hierarchy of nurses and doctors, but at the moment, they are unified in their anxiety about midterm exams coming right up! I am very pleased with how they mingle and work together across genders, races, etc. It’s probably largely due to having no one like themselves in the class, but it’s nice to see. If only we in God’s global family could be so unified in kingdom work! 

As I hear personal stories bit by bit from these people I am saddened by what some of them have experienced to bring them to my country and  what some of them are faced with in this “developed multicultural country”. I find myself pondering why I make choices the way I do. Am I being influenced by Canadian culture, healthcare culture, professional culture, Mennonite culture, Swiss-German heritage, Christian values, or is there something that is unique to me? Just how many ways are there to view a thing anyhow? I have never before shared so much of my own experience in a transcultural lifestyle as I do now to help these students get a sense of how to have your own set of values which may be counter to the prevailing culture, and yet function within that culture.

On the matter of common sense, or reason, or intuition, or whatever, I am becoming an humbler person and learning that even those sorts of things are often very highly personal and culture-bound. I realize at times when I am promoting a perfectly sensible idea that I may well be the only person in the room who thinks that idea has any merit!
I am celebrating the opportunity to work with this very unique and very gifted group of people who demonstrate such courage to be learners in a new environment. I pray for humility to learn from them and to show Christ’s love in my dealings with them. And I dream about this verse in Revelation 7:9 “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” 

Aug 1, 2020

“But You Will Just Die”

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Marlin Sommers

Since I did not live on campus, I spent time between classes in the Grove City College commuter student lounge.  One day my friend Brenda was speaking of her dislike for the military. She was responding to some callous young men. I started to push this conversation just a little bit. Brenda protested that, even if war is necessary, killing is certainly something to sadden one, not for one to glory in. Many of the young men took a brutally callous approach, and Brenda was pushed on the implications of her aversion to violence. What if someone is attempting to rape or kill you? She stood firm. It is not right to kill; besides, she would be in a better condition to die than the attacker. 

The reactions were interesting. Some dismissed her as sissy, out of touch with the reality of enemies. Others argued that God respects life, so we must be willing to protect innocent life by taking the life of the aggressor. Another friend, Michelle, took this position, arguing that one who tries to take the life of another forfeits his own right to live. In general, the reaction to Brenda was decidedly consequentialist; possible bad consequences supposedly showed that Brenda was wrong. “We need to protect ourselves, don’t we?” “Wouldn’t your life do more good in the world, if you survive, than the life of the guy who is trying to kill you?” “He is probably a jerk anyway.” I was quite taken aback by the blatant use of such reasoning at this Christian school.  

Brenda was not against hindering the attacker from his purposes, but she insisted that she must not kill him. Michelle tried to talk some sense into her. “But you will just die,” she said. I broke in, quoting Jesus, “He who would save his life will lose it.” Michelle pounced on this: “that’s a misinterpretation, it’s talking about spiritual life, not literal physical life.  Misuse of scripture, Marlin.”

Of course, I should sometimes save my literal, physical life. If a train is coming down the track, I had better get off, and usually I should steer clear of people who intend to shoot me. But there are some things that I, as a follower of Jesus, cannot do to save my life. Some things I must avoid, even if it means I “will just die,” and killing people is one such thing.

Later Michelle told me that she thinks the context of Jesus’ words about saving or losing one’s life is talking about spiritual life. Perhaps we misunderstood each other’s points. I don’t know. At any rate, context is the place to turn. In Luke 9 we see Peter confess that Jesus is God’s Christ, the Messiah. Immediately thereafter, Jesus begins emphasizing the suffering that will go with being the Messiah. He will not only suffer but also be rejected by the religious leaders and killed, though he will be raised from the dead. The same pattern of suffering, but ultimately being rescued, will apply to his disciples.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

To lose one’s life for Jesus’ sake is to take up the cross and identify with Jesus even in his suffering and rejection. One must not try to save his life by downplaying his connection to Jesus or backpedaling from what Jesus said. Jesus lost his life in the full literal sense, as do some of his disciples. Disciples will share the cross and human rejection with Jesus. They will also imitate the costly love of Jesus. 

A little further on in Luke we see Jesus warning the crowds: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27) Hate for one’s children, or for one’s life does not, of course, mean animosity or a lack of affection toward them. Rather, it is the settled disposition that neither wife nor life will keep one from making disciples’ choices.

We must circle back to the original question. Is killing in self-defense the kind of saving one’s life that Jesus warned against? If it is inconsistent with the way of Jesus, then it is an anti-Christian attempt to save one’s own life. On the other hand, if it is consistent with the way of Jesus, then I was indeed misusing scripture.

What does the way of the Master say about violence? Jesus’s life and death are the paradigm. Jesus refuses to be the violent Messiah that many wanted.  Jesus anticipates his own suffering. He puts down Peter’s sword and does not call twelve legions of angels to his aid. Finally, at the cross Jesus prays for God to forgive those who killed him. The disciple Stephen prays similar words when he is executed by stoning. 

Injunctions to not resist an evil person, to settle lawsuits against us on generous terms, to overcome evil with good, and so forth, fall into pattern as part of a cross-shaped life in imitation of Christ. Peter explicitly says that Christ’s example of submitting to the cross shows us how to deal patiently with beatings and harsh treatment (1 Peter 2:19-23).

The classic objection to this view of cross-bearing and enemy love is that such nonresistance is naïve and irresponsible. Don’t we need violence to restrain evil? Don’t we rest in peace because violent men man the trenches? Is this not mere idealism unsuited for real life and encounters with real evil? These concerns have weight and they animated that conversation at Grove City College.

But, if the ethic of the cross were only for spiritual matters like securing our atonement, and not for our life in this world, why did Jesus emphasize the need to count the cost of discipleship and renounce all? Many in the room thought they could draw a definitive conclusion from the possibility of “just dying.” Their conclusion looks anything but obvious once we grasp the self-giving love of Jesus. Jesus was raised from the dead, and we will be as well. The disciple will not wish to save his life at the cost of his assailant’s life. 

July 3, 2020

Revisiting the Lord’s Table – Again and Again

Revisiting the Lord’s Table – Again and Again

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Stephen Byler

Jesus took bread, and after blessing it, broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; 1x this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  

With these words, Matthew records the historic moment when Jesus instituted a simple but profound meal that has been a central practice of the church for the past 2,000 years. While its practice has a myriad of applications in terms of who participates, what the actual food components are, and how often it is shared, no one denies its significance as central to the mission and message of Jesus.

The practice of bread and cup is still a significant part of life in the Anabaptist church. As with most traditions, it’s easy to merely see this from inside our denomination’s long habit of practice. We rarely take a moment to step back and have a look at its place in the history of salvation, the life of the church over the past two thousand years and even its place in the Anabaptist denominations. The way in which it is practiced feels “normative” to us and seldom comes under scrutiny.

For a large segment of Anabaptist churches, the Lord’s supper is served in a specifically designed service two to four times per year. It often follows some form of examination: for some a quite formal, full-length service days or weeks before, and for others a more abbreviated segment of a service. Common to most is preparation that emphasizes the serious nature of this event. 

What has been debated throughout Anabaptist history is who comes to the table. Is it for the local church only? For the local church and visitors from the same family of churches? Is the table open to all believers? Terms have been coined to describe the various practices such as open, close, and closed. These views represent something of the polity of the church and also often represent the congregation’s perspective on navigating the challenging terrain of holiness and unity.

What has received relatively little attention is the role of this event in the life of the church. No one disputes the significance of the supper as a three-fold reminder: the historic death of Jesus, our personal salvation through this work of Jesus, and anticipation of His return when we will share this meal with Him again in the newly redeemed world. It clearly is a reminder. 

Much energy has been invested in the role of discipline and discipleship to the point that many feel some deep sense of dread and foreboding (fear) coming to the table, rooted in a concern that they may be “eating and drinking unworthily” and come under the judgment of the Lord. This is a real possibility but likely not for the reasons many fear.

Over the past years, I have become increasingly more aware of the centrality of the table to the work and message of Jesus. It seems as though revisiting this central rite of the church is long overdue: revisiting its purpose, role, and practice, not only in biblical study and theological significance, but also in frequency of practice. We would do well to revisit it with careful attention.

The frequency of practice is in need of attention. One of the earliest Anabaptist confessions, the Schleitheim confession of faith, has  a section called “Congregational Order” in which believers are urged (section 1) to “Meet at least three or four times a week to exercise themselves in the teaching of Christ.” Section seven informs them that “the Lord’s supper shall be held as often as they are together.”* Maybe a very Anabaptist thing to do would be to increase the frequency with which we come to the Lord’s table together to remember the central message of Jesus’s death and resurrection. It seems apparent from the Gospel of John that Jesus also intends for this meal to be a reminder of how we are sustained on our earthly pilgrimage.

The most common objection I hear is that increased frequency would diminish the significance and importance of communion. I would argue that the very nature of the meal is intended to be one of frequency – this was not a meal of festival, such as rib-eye steak and lobster, but rather one most central to human existence: bread and wine.

Second, rather than seeing the meal as a rare and special event, it seems to have closer correlation to the family dinner. This is a meal that is at the very center of healthy family life – physically and emotionally. Our hearts should leap with anticipation when we hear the voice of the pastor say, “Come to the table of the Lord. The bread and wine are served,” just as we do when we hear the welcome voice of the cook at the end of a long day, “Dinner’s served!” 

The table of the Lord deserves to be revisited for its theological significance to twenty-first century church life. It deserves to be revisited so that the Jesus of the table will nurture and sustain us in our wilderness journey as the manna from heaven. Maybe we should revisit it again and again.

1x 1 Cor. 10:16; [John 6:53]
* https://anabaptistwiki.org/mediawiki/index.php?title=Schleitheim_Confession_(source)#Congregational_Order

June 1, 2020

Studying the Word of God

Studying the Word of God

Anabaptist Perspectives

Written by: Frank Reed

The Bible waits to be mined for its treasure. God intentionally hid some of these treasures so that they are only obtained by those who really desire Him and seek  His truth. Those who seek, find; to those who knock, the door to the Scriptures will be opened. Frank’s method of Bible study can be adapted and used by any diligent seeker of God’s truth. Get started; try your own hand. Discover what can be found.


“Study to show yourself approved unto God…”

Bible study is one of the most intriguing experiences of the life of a believer. The Bible is the written Word of God. When we read and study the Bible, we experience the voice and Spirit of God that gives life to us.

Bible study can be a chore but does not have to be a chore. It can be the most amazing joy of your life.


Some terms may be helpful to begin:

Revelation – God disclosing Himself in Scripture and in nature.

Inspiration – God’s moving in persons to write Scripture.

Illumination – God opening the human heart to understand Scripture.

Exegesis – the process of discovering and extracting the content of Scripture.

Eisegesis – to impose one’s own beliefs upon the text (this is very wrong).

Graphe – The written text of the Scripture – All Graphe is given …

Logos – The Word spoken by God – Jesus is the Logos of God.

Rhema – The Sword of the Spirit is the Rhema of God.

Guidelines for interpretation of the Scripture

  1. Determine the natural, actual, intended divisions of the text of Scripture.
    • Note repeated concepts, words, and themes.
    • Deal with the text in those groupings.
  2. Derive the outline from the text.
    • Take care not to impose an artificial outline on the text.
    • Message is frequently found in the structure.
  3. Perceive the text as God speaking to you.
    • Receive the message with a sense of awe.
    • Lay aside preconceived notions and presuppositions.
    • Use a Bible that contains text only; do not use “study Bibles”.
  4. Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read.
  5. Pray for the direction of the Holy Spirit in this study – I Cor. 2:9-16.

Study in small groups of people who have been reading and meditating on the passage for a week.

Use a white board or paper to outline the passage and make a chart or diagram of the verses.

Read the passage in several different versions of the Scripture.

The Tools

  1. The Scripture text
  2. A concordance
  3. Note paper and pencil 
  4. Vine’s book of Bible words

The Process

  1. Observation – What does it say? 
    • Read very carefully, and read often.
    • Give full attention – turn off distractions, be quiet…
    • Ask questions: who, what, where, why, when, how,…?
    • Is the passage teaching, exhortation, prophecy, prayer, …?
    • Make a list of observations; those expressed and those implied.
    • Organize observations into an outline or diagram showing relationships between the ideas in the passage.
  2. Correlation – What other Scripture passages relate to this one?
    • Use a concordance or references to find related passages.
      • This will give a balanced picture of the passage studied and (hopefully) prevent “proof texting” and errant (wrong) interpretations.
    • Record the cross references in your notes or in Bible margin for future use.
  3. Interpretation – What does it mean?
    • Ask – “Why is this passage in the Bible?”
      • “What does God want us to learn from this passage?”
    • Summarize the passage in one sentence – include all key elements.
  4. Application – What does it mean to my life/What impact should it have on my life?
    • Write the application(s) in form of exhortation, commitment, prayer, Psalm, doctrine, instruction, etc…

Notes

  • Give adequate time to observation before attempting other steps
  • Begin to listen to lessons and sermons with an ear for what step of the process the teacher is emphasizing (without being judgmental).
  • Be careful in your personal study to give appropriate time and attention to the parts of the process.
  • Realize that the Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture and can open your heart to truth. He wrote the Bible and now He lives in each believer.
  • Do not jump to interpretation without having completed observations, 
  • Do not hasten to application without having thoroughly studied interpretation.
  • When presenting a lesson do not woodenly move from step to step.
  • Organize the presentation into a smoothly flowing message.
  • Do not force “pet illustrations” into passages where they do not serve to explain the text. Do not “proof text.”
  • Do not force artificial outlines on the text.
  • Allow the text to produce its own outline.
  • Look for structure in the text. 
  • Do not bring your own structure to the text. Outlines are useful – BUT…resist the urge to always have a three-point alliterated outline
  • Use a “text and concept” approach to presenting the message – What it says and how it applies.
  • See Methodical Bible Study by Robert A. Traina  1952/1980 
  • ISBN 0-9601396-1-3

Personal note:

Bible study has been the greatest joy of my Christian life.  The knowledge that the Holy Spirit, the author of the Word, lives in me and speaks truth and love to me through the Word, gives unspeakable joy and blessings that cannot be taken by any circumstance of life.  It is also a steadying influence of daily life and in times of difficulty.

I have seen people of all ages enjoy and easily grasp Bible Study. In fact, sometimes the least experienced persons see the most profound concepts and truths in the Scripture. God’s Spirit can and does reveal truths to His children according to His will.

The Anabaptist beginnings were based on the study of the Scriptures. Their study directed them to the beliefs that they adopted that differed from the Catholic and Protestant teachings and understandings. For us to continue today as faithful Anabaptist believers means diligent Bible study for all of our lives and especially in our Church gatherings.

Bible study fills your mind with wonderful information which provides content on which to meditate throughout the day. During times of lesser stimulation, your mind can recall the scripture and enjoy the rumination on truth instead of being focused on the problems of the day. This process of truth brings health to mind and body. 

Jesus said in John 6:63 that the words He speaks are Spirit and Life. Scripture is such a huge treasure and untapped source of blessing. It will change your life to invest time in God’s Word. God bless you as you include diligent Bible Study in your life as a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.  

Business as Stewardship

Business as Stewardship

Anabaptist Perspectives

Part Two: Entrepreneurs as Servant-Managers

Written by: Marlin Sommers

A business person should steward his business abilities and roles. Stewardship is not limited to managing profits that may be gained through business. In Part 1 of this blog I sketched an overall vision for acting as a servant-manager in business. This second part reflects in a bit more detail on some aspects of the stewardly role of business. I reflect on job creation, on business investment in general, and conclude with a few words about the steward mindset in business.

Job Creators as Servant-Managers 

Some entrepreneurial types are tempted to think that everyone could or should be an entrepreneur. According to this line of thinking no one should need to depend on someone else creating a job for them, because opportunities for profit abound. Anybody prepared to put in the effort should be able to start their own business. But this line of thought, if taken to its natural extent, obscures the fact that job creation is a needed service in society. There are a variety of reasons why it is often good for one person to create a job and another person to work that job. Thus, the entrepreneur stewards his job creating ability for the sake of people who work for him. 

One way to define a job would be as a position that allows one to work for pay. In the big picture, work provides the link between the resources that God provides us and specific human needs. For example, God made cows, while humans tend and milk them. The general principle of compensation for work is that the workers should get a share of the good produced by their work. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul unpacks this with a variety of examples. One who is plowing should have hope of a share of the crop. One who tends cattle should get some of the milk. The worker must get a portion. Of course, we don’t always want a literal portion of what we produce; most people building pallets don’t want their wages paid in pallets. Someone laying block can hardly carry home a portion of the wall as his reward. Generally, we do such jobs with the expectation of payment in money.

The smallest scale of business is the solopreneur—the entrepreneur who works by himself and creates his own opportunities to work for payment. But businesses of size rely on entrepreneurs creating jobs for others. Perhaps an electrician hires an assistant to help him complete the work he has contracted to do, or at a larger scale, a business person engages a dozen people to build pallets. In all these cases it is business skills and business roles that ensure the venture is able to provide a “share of the crop” for the business person and all other workers.

Creating jobs for others is a needed role because not everyone should be a solopreneur. Some things in life cannot be done without larger scale businesses. No one working by himself will successfully manufacture cars, for example. Even with simpler tasks, a larger business with a division of roles is often advantageous. Further, some people need jobs they can simply plug into. Perhaps resources are limited, or there is a short time frame and starting a business is not a good option. Others need the freedom that comes with being able to leave work and spend the rest of their life energy on non-business pursuits. Finally, business and entrepreneurial abilities are unevenly distributed, and those especially gifted in those areas, should steward them for the sake of all. Not every business person needs to have employees, much less a large number of employees, but for some this is a calling. Seeing people that need jobs is a motivator to start or expand a business, though acting from pity without a good sense of the business situation is a recipe for trouble.

Investment as Stewardship

Active business investment requires access to resources as well as business connections and entrepreneurial savvy. Creating jobs often means significant investment in machinery and infrastructure. Successful businesses will generate a return on this investment, but the path to the return is much more involved and hands on than passive investments like buying publicly traded stock. Business investment means putting money on the line to put people to work utilizing available resources to produce something of value. The stewardship-minded investor has an eye for the concrete good that will be accomplished through the investment, not just for the abstract ideas of “compounding returns” derived from mutual funds.

Just as an entrepreneur with sufficient business wisdom can be motivated by other people’s need for jobs, so also business investment can be motivated by the needs of the community. Perhaps there is a need for a mechanic shop, a grocery store, or a sawmill. The investor may rightly act out of this sense of need, but again acting out of pity without a good sense of the business situation is a recipe for trouble. The wise investor who is called to invest in a community or place will discern what sorts of investments are viable and helpful. He will also be open to the possibility that some needs should be met through avenues other than business.

Some businesspeople are called to break ground for other businesses. Many industries work best with networks or businesses. For example, to make good use of forest resources, there will likely be businesses specializing in logging, transport, sawing lumber, or making paper, building furniture etc. as well as businesses dedicated to selling and servicing equipment used in the various parts of the timber industry. A business person with a strong vision may see untapped potential for new industries in the resources available in a given region and be able to break ground that opens the door for a network of businesses to spring up. We might think of this as one of the most advanced business roles, one suited only for a few, but one with great potential to benefit many people.

It’s a Mindset

What does this look like in specific business practices and arrangements? I won’t say much about details here because this is not a business textbook, nor am I qualified to write a business textbook. But there is a mindset that goes with thinking like a steward about your business roles and opportunities. Certain goals and aspirations fit naturally with a servant-manager mindset. 

For one thing, many businesses should aim to create multiple positions within the company that allow employees to exercise significant skills and to earn compensation that can amply sustain a family. This is not a criticism of tiny or one person businesses, but an aspiration for those called to be servant-managers of job creation. They are not motivated simply by carving out a good income for themselves, but also care deeply about creating good jobs for other people. Similarly with business investment, the steward investor cares about his own returns, but he also cares about other people’s opportunities to invest and own capital. His goal is that his investment does good and not harm for the community. 

The business steward has a keen eye for risk and profit potential and develops his skills in the various aspects of business management. However, his motivation is not to find the easiest path to the most lucrative returns. A small town business person might  gain more wealth easier if he took a well-paying corporate job and invested heavily in the stock market, but his town would be poorer for his absence. If his true calling is that of an entrepreneur, he will aspire to actively use that capital to create good jobs and utilize available resources.

A COVID-19 Economy and Stewardship.

A COVID-19 Economy and Stewardship.

Anabaptist Perspectives

Note: This is a bonus post Marlin Sommers wrote in response to current events. The second part of the “Business as Stewardship” post will be released next week.

Factories, Gardens, Giving, Guns: A COVID-19 economy and Stewardship.

Jobs have been lost, hours have been cut, and businesses have closed. So far, the economic impact of COVID-19 is enormous. The scale and duration of the slowdown remain to be seen. It hangs not only on the course of the virus, but on the course our various governments take to fight the virus. 

Like any economic difficulty, a COVID-19 economy highlights the need to steward our resources, whether those resources be meager or vast. Hard times can actually clarify our understanding of basic Christian economics. Let’s consider four themes:

  1. Prepare to Share
  2. As Public Health Allows, Maintain Fundamental Productivity and Invest for Good
  3. Lend Righteously
  4. The One who Takes the Sword Will Perish by the Sword.
Pictures used with permission by: Anabaptist Covid-19 Response

1. Prepare to Share

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,” we are instructed; “for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). Sharing resources with others should be the most obvious stewardship response. It is both a constant biblical theme and an obvious response to seeing people forced to leave their jobs and stay home.

Social distancing requires unemployment to be effective. After all, the goal is to minimize physical proximity and not all jobs can be done remotely. Governments attempt the tricky task of dividing work into essential and non-essential categories so they can keep some people home while others maintain food production and other essentials. Thus some people work feverishly while others can’t work their job. 

Trimming “non-essential” work is not all bad. For the most part, it’s a good thing if people cook more at home and buy less at restaurants. The trouble is that instantly shutting down restaurants deprives many of a means of paying for essential goods and services. We who still have our jobs, or who have significant assets, need to help shoulder the burden they face, whether through organizations or through direct giving. After all, their job loss is for our sakes.

Government action helps distribute the burden of COVID-19 unemployment across society, by providing unemployment compensation, welfare programs, and “stimulus.” We should not resent such government actions, or what they might cost us in taxes. On the other hand, we should not expect the government to eliminate the need for us to share.


2. As Public Health Allows, Maintain Fundamental Productivity and Invest for Good

The ability to share depends on the availability of resources and resources depend on work. Gifts of money will not feed the world if agriculture ceases. Planting, tending, and harvesting must go on. Neither will giving money feed people if supply chains and distribution networks are out of commission. (COVID-19 is unlikely to harm our supply chain, but the possibility is worth reflecting on.) Sustaining food, medical care, and communication requires a vast network of businesses—everything from manufacturing tractor parts, to driving fuel trucks, to IT and accounting. These can temporarily be shut down in strategic areas, but by and large they must go on.

We need to creatively sustain fundamental infrastructure and production capacity in our sphere of influence. Factory and shop owners should proactively think about how to safely keep up key production and about possibilities for repurposing their setup to meet urgent needs that may arise. The same holds true at the household level. Gardens deserve extra energy in a time when production and supply chain disruption are possible. If we can’t go about our normal work, we would do well to use opportunities to increase household production of various sorts and to scrounge and repair items that we would otherwise replace. Such work provides a little margin against possible economic shutdowns and can reduce, at least a little bit, dependence on the generosity of others.

Creative employment should be sought. While those with wealth must be willing to simply give to those in need, hiring them, when possible, has obvious advantages. The trick is putting people to work without subverting public health regulations. This is easiest to do if you can address actual shortages and essential needs. Otherwise creative thinking is in order. Can you hire somebody to revamp a website or software system remotely? Can you hire a neighbor with a chainsaw to cut firewood on your land or to do a bit of culling and thinning for “timber stand improvement”? Can you have a tenant maintain or improve the rental property they occupy? Think outside the box, but don’t expect creative employment to eliminate all need for giving.

A forced pause from daily activity is a good time to think long term. What can you do, or have someone do that will pay off in the future? Can you do proactive maintenance with materials already on hand? Can you learn new skills or study new topics? Can you invest in a project with a future payoff? It might be a good time to put up the fencing that has been sitting in the barn for years.


3. Lend Righteously

Strikingly, the Mosaic law commands lending and forbids interest. While we are not under Torah, and some forms of interest can be godly, we should attend to the principle behind the command. The principle is intensified in the New Covenant, with constant exhortations to share our possessions and the instruction to lend expecting nothing in return. The gospel puts our principle and assets at risk, to say nothing of interest. Lending things, whether vehicles, tools, or money is a stewardship principle for hard times.

Why is interest so abominable in the Old Testament? Largely, because interest and collateral enabled those with money (or grain) to acquire others’ productive assets. Creditors could claim fields, houses, vineyards, and even the people themselves as slaves. In difficult times, the righteous wealthy will help others keep their dwellings and means of livelihood. The unrighteous wealthy will see an opportunity to buy homes and businesses for cheap, turning homeowners into tenants and business owners into employees. Far from seeing need as an opportunity to force others to sell cheap, Christians are willing to liquidate some of their own assets. Of course, no such urgency applies to helping someone keep a vacation home, pleasure boat, or sole ownership in a business empire.


4. The One who Takes the Sword Will Perish by the Sword.

Recent events have spiked sales of guns and ammo. People want to protect themselves and their stuff. This is, of course, a fundamentally non-Christian response. We would rather give away our last food than shoot someone trying to steal it. 

COVID-19 is unlikely to plunge America into a worst-case economic scenario. Those usually result from war or (very) bad governance.  But perhaps the little bit of panic we see with a COVID-19 economy can get us to think about how we would respond. Wars, famines, and economic devastation happen regularly, even if they are far from current American experience.

So, what would happen if the American food system and distribution channels fell apart? If true disruption lasted very long people with stashes of supplies could quickly face bands of men with guns, and cattle would often be stolen out of fields. In many parts of America gun fights would become frequent. Engaging in a gun fight to protect your stuff is not only anti-Christian, it is also likely to get you killed by a gun. Proactive Christians would instead work to establish alternative market channels for food, give as needed, and seek to peacefully maintain breeding stock and productive capacity. But, where that is unsuccessful, they will accept joyfully the plundering of their property (Hebrews 10:34).