Mike Justice: Now he sees Jesus!

Mike Justice was one of my students at Dallas Seminary in the late 80s/early 90s. He passed into the Lord’s presence on March 8, 2019, at 63 years old. His memorial service was held today, March 23, at Lake Ridge Bible Church in Mesquite, TX. He died of heart failure, after two kidney transplants, multiple surgeries, procedures, and health problems for many years.

Michael Justice portrait-150x150  I’ve taught hundreds of students the rudiments of Hellenistic Greek in thirty-five years of graduate school instruction. Many have gone on for their doctorates; several are teaching at various institutes throughout the world and are truly exceptional scholars in their own right. Some of these students struggled with the elements of Greek; for others it came more naturally. For Mike, it was anything but easy. Yet, of this vast array of students, I would rank Mike among my top three.

Mike took his first four semesters of Greek from me. By the time first-year Greek was underway, Mike had already memorized the textbook—a serious tome called The Language of the New Testament by Eugene Van Ness Goetchius. He could cite not only what Goetchius said but where he said it—both page and section number. His Greek was impeccable. He would often go up to the board to help other students with their paradigms (and the students had to learn all the paradigms, including optatives, pluperfects, μι verbs, etc). Yet he had never studied Greek before. There were times in class when he would correct me, always very gently: “Professor Wallace, I believe that is on page 53, not page 55—and it’s the last paragraph on the page.” He was always right, too!

His sweet wife, Terri, has been in charge of the print shop at DTS for decades. It was good to see her and so many friends at the memorial service today (I had some difficulty finding a parking spot!). Their marriage was rock-solid, their love for the Lord inspiring. And in spite of Mike’s health issues, he never complained. In fact, he had a quick wit and a great sense of humor. Once when he got an ablation for his arrhythmia, in the recovery room he was told that the arrhythmia was now a thing of the past. He responded, “I’ve got rhythm? Who could ask for anything more!” (For you youngsters, that’s a line from the Gershwins’ hit song in 1930.)

Did I mention that Mike never complained? Well, he had reason to. Besides having a legion of health problems, Mike Justice was blind.

Adolescent diabetes was the ultimate cause; Mike’s eyesight began to degenerate during his college years and was gone by the time he got to seminary. He was the third blind student ever to get a Master of Theology degree at Dallas Seminary. (I’ve had the privilege of teaching Greek to two more blind students since then.) He made no excuses and buckled down to learn the material, memorizing it as he went along.

In second year Greek, the students had to diagram a portion of Philippians. Being without sight, Mike of course couldn’t do this. I told him it wouldn’t be fair to the other students for him to get a pass on this, but he couldn’t do this exact assignment. So, instead, I added hundreds of vocabulary words to his workload. He took on the challenge eagerly, cheerfully, and exceptionally.

Micah 6.8 was perhaps Mike’s favorite verse: “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Mike was the poster child for this verse. And he wanted to make sure that everyone in his world knew that Jesus Christ died for sinners, and rose from the dead as a guarantee of God’s acceptance of all who put their trust in him. For Mike, that trust has finally become sight. Well done, good and faithful servant!

 

 

Eulogy for Nayda Baird Wallace (November 11, 1929—January 30, 2017)

Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God

N.B. On January 30, 2017, Nayda B. Wallace moved from this dirty, painful, exciting, happy, tiresome, beautiful, depressing, ugly realm to her eternal home. On February 25, at North Creek Presbyterian Church, Mill Creek, WA, the family had a small service for her at which I was privileged to speak. Below is my eulogy.

Daniel B. Wallace

nayda wallacce

Preface
For every memorial service I’ve ever attended, I never felt that we showed adequate respect for the deceased. Especially for a person who has lived a long life—and who has touched so many lives in a truly remarkable way, the memorial service seems like a bit of a downer. I’m not talking about our collective grief, which is severe enough. What I mean is that it’s simply impossible to sum up the rich tapestry and beauty of such a person’s life in just a few moments. It almost seems like we’ve cheated that person out of the respect they deserve.

And here we are, remembering a woman, my mother, whose influence has been vast. I posted on Facebook the passing of Mom the day after she died. Three days later, there were nearly a thousand expressions of condolence, shared grief, and comments on how Mom affected them—either directly or indirectly. The fact that you all are here is testimony to your respect for her, and her impact on your life.

In a service like this, we can only give snippets, brief vignettes, glimpses-in-time of a life well lived. And that’s why it feels like we are cheating the deceased. But   we   can   remember. And I am reminded that there is an … ‘UNTIL’ …; there is more to life than what we experience in our short time on this old sphere. There is a day coming when we will see Nayda Baird Wallace once again, when we will join the great cloud of witnesses who have left this temporary abode for their eternal home. And we will exchange stories and memories, and we will freely speak the words of encouragement that we might not have been able to in this life.

Each one of us is a unique creation, a person crafted in the image of God. And God created Mom with an extra measure of compassion, creativity, wisdom, and desire to learn. She was also blessed with an overabundance of personality, making everyone feel welcome and special in her presence.

I’ve already shared a couple memories of my mother. Here, I want to add a couple more.

Mom and Dad always had the gift of hospitality. They are the most hospitable people I have ever known. I don’t mean they had lots of social events, big to-dos, or any cocktail parties! No, they were hospitable in a different way. I can hardly remember a time growing up when I didn’t share my bedroom with someone else. My brother, sister, and I each had our own bedrooms, but rarely were they absent guests. We had cousins, youth pastors, friends, missionaries, and foster children living with us at various times—often for several months or even years. Many of these people are here today to honor Nayda Wallace.

Combining her aptitude in common sense, skill in teaching, and love for the Lord, Mom instructed us in the rudiments of theology well. There was a time when I had doubts about my faith because of some fairly trivial matters. Mom reminded me that at the core of my beliefs must be Christ himself. On the periphery should be less important matters—and that a wise man knew how to tell the difference between essential matters and peripheral ones.

She would say, “Nail one foot to the floor inside the circle, where Christ is; let your other foot tap dance all it wants, recognizing that you can never get too far away from that inner circle.” Since that time, I’ve gotten a few years of theological instruction under my belt, but Mom was my first and my best teacher. And that simple yet vivid imagery—Christ at the center!—has been the bedrock of my theological thinking for half a century.

Nayda was the biggest believer in her children, always fascinated by what we did, always encouraging us to shoot for our dreams, whatever they may be. But Nayda Wallace was not perfect. None of us is—except the King himself. Her compassion was displayed in constant worry. Mom was, in fact, a major-league worrier—and she passed this gene on to me. She especially worried about her own children. She worried about our physical health, she worried about our mental health, and she worried especially about our spiritual health.

After awhile, she came to realize that her worry was the flip-side of a blessing from the Lord; the other side was compassion and trust in God. And after many years, she morphed from being a pining worrier into a prayer warrior. Yet, even early on, Mom constantly prayed that each of her children would come to know the Lord—and not just know him but truly embrace Jesus Christ as the most important person in our lives.

He is, after all, the sovereign Lord of the universe. There is nothing that happens to us that takes God by surprise. Not only that, but he is always good to his children.

Romans 8.18, 35–39
You might wonder if I’m being calloused, if I’m suppressing my own mother’s suffering toward the end of her life. Now, I would like to say that Mom did not suffer. I would like to say that. But it’s not true. The whole family prayed that she would not suffer—with tears and anxious pleading before the Lord. But our sovereign God did not answer our prayers the way we wanted.

Mom had good days and bad days. She especially had great difficulty breathing. Last May she was put in hospice care. My brother and sister and their families live in the Seattle area; they have done an amazing job caring for both Mom and Dad these past several months. Wally and Keri, I want to publicly express my profound gratitude to you, and your families, for all you have done for our parents.

Because you live here, you could see, every week, how Mom was progressively getting worse…

I couldn’t. And I simply wasn’t prepared in my last visit. She had been moved to a nursing home a couple of days earlier. Her breathing was labored. She didn’t even have the strength to sip water from a straw. She was barely conscious. The day after I returned home, Wally called me to tell me that Mom had passed. The first thing I did after the phone call was to thank God that Mom was no longer suffering. And then, I broke down and wept.

Many of you have been through the shock of seeing your loved ones die. I don’t think we can ever prepare for it, even though we know it is inevitable—for all of us.

But Mom’s suffering is over now. One passage of Scripture keeps coming to mind as I think about my mother’s passing: Romans chapter 8, verse 18:

For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.

The apostle Paul did not write these words to downplay our suffering as though it didn’t matter. If anyone knew what suffering was, Paul did.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, written less than two years before he penned these words to the Romans, he documented the kind of suffering he had already endured—and he had ten more years of suffering to undergo before he would die as a martyr under Nero’s reign. Here he spoke of the many times he was put in prison, his countless beatings, and that he was more than once near death:

“Five times,” Paul says, “I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers…; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” [2 Cor 11.23–27 (ESV)]

And yet, Paul could speak of all this as his “momentary light affliction”—an affliction that, as he declares, is “preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” [2 Cor 4.17]. The man who was no stranger to almost unbearable suffering could call it ‘momentary light affliction’ in light of the resurrected life that he was to enjoy.

How would Paul know about such future glory? … For onething, he believed the good news about Jesus Christ—his encounter with the ascended Lord on the Road to Damascus changed him forever. For another, as he tells us earlier in Romans 8, the Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirits that we are God’s children. The Spirit works in our hearts to constantly reassure us that we belong to Jesus Christ. And third, Paul also had a near death experience.

In 2 Cor 12, he told the Corinthian believers that, as he put it, “he heard things too sacred to be put into words” [2 Cor 12.4]. He spoke of ascending to heaven, although he did not know if it was in the flesh or in the spirit.

He was reluctant to even mention the event, using the third person to describe his own near-death experience that had taken place fourteen years earlier. He begins by saying, “I know a man in Christ…” and never indicates that he was that man. Yet there is a consensus among those who have studied the life of Paul in his Greco-Roman setting that he was speaking of himself. And although he was not sure whether this was in the spirit or in the body, he was sure of this heavenly encounter.

Now, near-death experiences have been studied for a long time. More than one medical doctor has written about them, and one MD even wrote about his own near-death episode. Well over 100,000 of these events have been documented.

They are of two types: in one, the individual goes to a dark place, a place of void, even a place of terror and torment.

In the other, the person travels to a quite different locale. And there is a stunning similarity to their reports. There are six features that are almost invariable—regardless of when and where they occur.

  1. The experience is too wonderful to put into words.
  2. An overwhelming sense of peace and joy occurs.
  3. The memory is vivid and remains razor sharp even years later.
  4. There is a great reluctance to speak about it.
  5. The person senses an out-of-body experience.
  6. There is certainty of its reality.

It’s remarkable that Paul’s own episode—nearly two thousand years before near-death experiences began to be studied—has all of these same characteristics.

And so he can tell the Christ-followers in Rome—with the triple assurance of his faith in Jesus Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit within him, and his own near-death event—that “the present sufferings are not even worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.”

And frankly, if Paul had never had that experience, his assurance of eternal life would be every bit as great. What his near-death incident added was a revelation to him of the things “too sacred to be put into words.”

Paul’s exclamation—that our present suffering doesn’t hold a candle to the bright light of our future glory—should be our constant mantra, our daily battle cry—to press on, to strive, to live for our God far beyond what we ever dreamt we could do.

Mom understood this. Eight years ago she wrote an email to me in which she relayed that she was getting weaker and weaker. She felt as though she could no longer contribute meaningfully to anyone’s life. She felt useless. She was deeply discouraged.

Toward the end of the letter, she said that there was one thing she still could do: pray. And that gave her strength to face each day, to trust the Lord, and to press on. She prayed for her children, she prayed for their spouses, she prayed for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she prayed for her friends, she prayed for the country, and she prayed for the world. Mom’s own suffering brought her closer to the Lord whom she longed to see face-to-face.

It has been said that the change in a person’s life when they put their faith in Christ is far greater than the change that takes place when they die. And that is certainly true. Paul tells us that before we trusted Christ as our Savior, all of us were dead in our sins. The change that happens when we repent of our sins and embrace Jesus Christ is nothing less than the transformation of a spiritual corpse into a living soul.

And Jesus told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Martha, do you believe this?” [John 11.25–26]

Nayda Wallace certainly did! She had the firm conviction that God would keep his word to her, that her salvation was more secure than Fort Knox, that the most important relationship in her life would last forever. Mom wholeheartedly agreed with Paul when he concluded the eighth chapter of his magnificent letter to the Romans with a hymn of assurance:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom 8.35–39]

Several months before Mom died, she wrote her own obituary. This is the obituary that was published in the newspapers. I only added the details of her passing. She wanted to make sure that everyone of her descendants—both by blood and by marriage—would be listed. And her concluding paragraph was this:

The most important thing in Nayda and Beecher’s life has been the one, permanent, eternal relationship that anyone can have. They know their Savior, Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead that he might free us from our bonds of sin and redeem us for himself. Nayda’s greatest joy would be to see all of her family and friends come to faith in Christ.

Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe?” Her answer was YES. Jesus asked Nayda Baird Wallace, “Do you believe?” Her answer was YES. Jesus asks you, today, “Do you believe?” What will your answer be?

 

 

How New Is the New Testament?

A wonderful volume appeared late this year, and it’s one you’ll want to put on your Christmas list: How New Is the New Testament?: First-Century Judaism and the Emergence of Christianity, by Donald Hagner (Baker Academic).

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The mature reflections of a seasoned and dedicated NT scholar, Hagner’s How New Is the New Testament? offers a straightforward assessment of the current climate of NT studies with reference to its Jewish roots. Hagner traces the historical see-saw between continuity and discontinuity throughout church history and offers compelling evidence that the pendulum has swung too far toward continuity in recent decades. He takes the reader on a fast-paced tour, from Matthew through Revelation, on what is really new in the NT. The author virtually unties the Gordian knot between the New Perspective on Paul and the old perspective, though he comes down, in all essentials, on the side of the old perspective. Hagner weaves a rich and complex tapestry of OT promise and NT fulfillment, the backside of which tapestry has been occupying exegetes for too long. The panoramic view of the NT presented here, written by a first-class Neutestamentler, is beautiful in its simplicity and compelling in its cumulative argument.

 

 

The Battle Cry of the Reformation and the Surrender of Greek and Hebrew

One of the great ironies and unnecessary casualties of the Protestant Reformation is shaping up in America today. The battle cry of the Reformation was ad fontes—“back to the sources!”—which meant going behind Jerome’s Latin Vulgate and reading the original Greek New Testament. This was coined by Erasmus, the man responsible for publishing the first Greek New Testament in 1516. He was a Roman Catholic priest who was swimming against the current of much of 16th century Catholic scholarship. It was especially the Protestants who latched onto Erasmus’ Greek New Testament. During his lifetime, over 300,000 copies were sold! A few years after his death, the Council of Trent banned many of his writings.

The Reformers also went beyond the Vulgate and translated the Bible into modern languages.

Reformation

Now, half a millennium after Luther nailed his theses to the door of the great Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, theological seminaries are on a rapid decline. Greek and Hebrew continue to be casualties. Genuine study of the biblical languages is being replaced by “Greek/Hebrew appreciation” courses—a euphemism for anything but deep appreciation, or nothing at all. Bible software, which can be an absolutely amazing tool for profound study of the original languages, has too often become a crutch. Rely on it enough and it becomes a wheelchair. One really needs to get immersed in Greek for a couple of years before being able to profit fully from Bible software that deals with the Greek.

Evangelical churches are frequently seeking pastors who have amazing speaking abilities, but who can’t exegete their way out of a paper bag. This is hardly what the Reformers had in mind. Listen to Luther:

In proportion as we value the gospel, let us zealously hold to the languages. For it was not without purpose that God caused his Scriptures to be set down in these two languages alone—the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New in Greek. Now if God did not despise them but chose them above all others for his word, then we too ought to honor them above all others.

And let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages.

It is inevitable that unless the languages remain, the gospel must finally perish.

Melanchthon was more to the point:

Those who advise inexperienced young students, training for ministry, not to study the languages ought to have their tongues cut off.

More positively stated, Erasmus said this in the preface to his Novum Instrumentum—the Greek New Testament published in 1516:

These holy pages will… give you Christ… they will give him to you in an intimacy so close that he would be less visible to you if he stood before your eyes.

In a role reversal from the 16th century, Roman Catholic graduate schools are doing incredible work in the biblical languages. I applaud this endeavor at these institutes, but grieve for what is happening in the conservative Protestant tradition. MDiv and ThM programs are shrinking at an alarming rate. And those that are remaining strong have often sacrificed the biblical languages on the altar of student enrollment.

The Reformation deserves better than this. Our churches deserve better than this. And, above all, Jesus Christ deserves better than this.

To those who are thinking about committing their lives to a lifetime of service in the Church, and especially to a ministry of the Word, I urge you to take the high road. Don’t shortchange your education and don’t shortchange your flock. Log time—significant time—learning the languages. Go to a seminary that is strong in Greek and Hebrew. And when you get into ministry after your theological education, do not measure the success of the church by the size of the congregation but by its depth of devotion to Christ and the Word.

Pope Francis, The Lord’s Prayer, and Bible Translation

Pope Francis recently suggested on Italian television that the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Do not lead us into temptation” (Matt 6.13; Luke 11.4), “is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.” He added, “It is Satan who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.” He argued that the verse should be rendered, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

A myriad of implications arise from the pontiff’s statement. Among them I list just three: (1) Have translations of the Bible gotten this verse wrong for 2000 years, only now to be corrected? (2) What is the nature of translation? (3) Do we have the right to change the wording of the original because it seems to contradict what Scripture says elsewhere?

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Matthew 6 in Codex Sinaiticus

(1)       Have translations of the Bible gotten this verse wrong for 2000 years?

Jerome’s Vulgate—the version that has been the official Bible of the Catholic Church for centuries—reads here ne inducas nos in temptationem: “Do not lead us into temptation.” Perhaps intentionally, but certainly ironically, the pope said in his interview, “ti induce alla tentazione satana è quello ufficio di satana.” That is, Satan is the one who induces or leads us into temptation, not God. He used the Italian equivalent to Jerome’s Latin (‘inducas’ means ‘lead’ or even ‘induce,’ as the English cognate suggests), but seems to deny what the Vulgate plainly says.

In 1979, the Nova Vulgata became the official Catholic translation (after Vatican II, it follows the Greek and Hebrew more closely), yet it too says ne inducas nos. So, the pontiff is not only going against modern translations but even his own Vulgate.

Other translations also read “do not lead us into temptation” or the like (e.g., “lead us not”): KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, ESV, HCSB, NET, WEB, Lutherbibel, Nouvelle Edition de Genève, Reina Valera. Others have “do not put us to the test,” “do not bring us into hard testing,” or “do not subject us to the final test” (NJB, TEV, REB, NABR; the NJB and NABR are Catholic translations).

It may be surprising, however, to discover that a few modern translations come close to Pope Francis’s version. The New Living Translation (2nd edition), a Protestant Bible, has “don’t let us yield to temptation.” The Nouvelle Version Segond Révisée, another Protestant translation, has “ne nous laisse pas entrer dans la tentation” (“do not allow us to enter temptation”). The Nuova Riveduta of the Sacra Bibbia, an Italian Protestant work, reads “non ci esporre alla tentazione” (“do not expose us to temptation”). The NLT and SEGR both accent what might be called the passive or permissive will of God (i.e., “don’t let us”) rather than the active (“don’t lead us”); the Nuova Riveduta seems to be halfway between ‘lead’ of the standard translations and ‘let’ of the outliers.

Nevertheless, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus that “do not lead us” or the like is how the text should be rendered. (We will examine the Greek shortly.) But the few that have gone against the grain—and have been on the market for many years—have not created nearly the reaction of Pope Francis’s latest provocation. Perhaps this is due both to the fact that the pontiff said this and that it stands in direct contradiction to the Vulgate and other Catholic versions. But this leads us into the question of translation philosophy.

 

(2)       What is the nature of translation?

There are two broad theories of translation today—formal equivalence and functional equivalence. Formal equivalence means that the translation attempts to retain the wording and syntax of the original language as much as possible. Functional equivalence means that the translation gives a higher priority to the semantics of the original, bringing out the force of original text regardless of how it is worded.

Brief history of English translations

Both of these have pros and cons. On the one hand, it is a myth that a so-called “literal” translation is more accurate. Many believe that the King James Bible is the most literal translation available. But even the original preface of the KJV noted that the translators’ objective was as much literary quality as it was accuracy. The Authorized Version is probably the only literary masterpiece ever produced by a committee—and it’s a translation no less! If it were extremely literal, this accolade would never have been made about the KJV.

In fact, the Revised Version of 1885—the first English translation done by a committee since the KJV (or AV) appeared in 1611—was done by a committee of British and American scholars who wanted to replace the King James with “King Truth.” But the translation was not palatable because it was too stiff, hardly readable, downright ugly. Ironically, the RV was difficult to read not because of archaisms as much as because of slavish literalism. The sales were awful, and the American Standard Version of 1901 was something of a reaction to it by the Americans on the RV committee. This is still wooden English, though an improvement over the RV. (The NASB has followed in the train of the RV and ASV.)

But in 1952, the Revised Standard Version appeared. Its understated elegance and good English made it memorable. It truly was a revision in the line of the King James Bible. The ESV and the NRSV have continued this formal equivalence philosophy with simplicity, understated elegance, memorability, and accuracy. As Bruce Metzger, the chairman of the NRSV translation committee, stated, the objective followed by the NRSV translators was to “be as literal as possible, as free as necessary.”

Other translations have followed a more functional equivalent philosophy. The NIV and New English Bible were the first major English translations in the last three centuries to break completely from the Tyndale-Geneva-King James chain. The New English Bible (now, Revised English Bible [REB]) is much more of a functional equivalent work than the NIV, and it is also much more elegant and memorable than the NIV. But the NIV (and its revision, the NIV 2011) is both very accurate and very readable. It has become the most popular Bible translation in any language in history. And yet, even the NIV reads “do not lead us into temptation” in Matt 6.13.

All translation is interpretation

It is important to recognize, however, that all translation is interpretation. The reason is that the syntax and lexical mapping in one language never match exactly that of another language. The context determines the meaning. A so-called “word-for-word” translation is quite impossible for anything more than a short phrase or sentence. In this passage, for example, the word translated “temptation” is the same word that is elsewhere translated “testing.” Interpretation is required; translators cannot simply leave the word to allow for both meanings since “temptation” has connotations of sin while “testing” does not. However, in this passage there is good reason to see πειρασμός (peirasmos) as bearing the force of temptation, as we will see below. But the point is that an interpretation of the text is already done in even the most formal equivalent translations of this passage. In one sense, the pope’s rendering is an interpretation of an interpretation.

Many on the functional-equivalent side of the translation debate are determined to clear up all ambiguities in the text, to make everything crystal clear. Some of these translators have little training in exegesis. Typically, the less training they have in the original languages and biblical studies, the more they assume that the Bible is perfectly clear everywhere; it just needs to have the proper functional equivalence to bring out its meaning. But this is terribly naïve.

Students in seminary often come into the program thinking that once they get some Greek and Hebrew under their belts the interpretive issues will simply disappear. The reality is that study in the original languages in some places will expand on the interpretive possibilities, in others shrink them. But most importantly, such training will replace a misinformed list of options for one that is better informed and at least has some validity.

Ideally, a translation should give the readers of the Bible in their own language the same interpretive options that a reader of the original will have. And this means that it is important for readers of the Bible to struggle with the same, often intentional, ambiguities found in the original text.

When the NET Bible was in beta-mode, we field-tested it on the Internet. Comments were welcome; hundreds of thousands poured in. Some professional translators committed to functional equivalence argued with our rendering of ἐν Χριστῷ as “in Christ.” They pointed out that this hardly communicated anything in English and that it was difficult to grasp Paul’s meaning of his favorite phrase (he uses it 73 times). They noted correctly that Paul uses ἐν Χριστῷ in a variety of contexts and in a variety of ways. And they wanted us to reflect those nuances in every place. Their view was in line with what Lady Oppenheimer wrote in her book Incarnation and Immanence ([1973], p. 17): “Christians have a great deal to say about the ways in which people can be related to God and to each other, and many of the things they wish to say take for granted the possibility of certain sorts of close relationships which are not on the face of it compatible with common sense.”

We rejected their input on this point and decided to keep the translation “in Christ.” Why? Because we believed that the modern English reader should have the same semantic options as the original reader. Close analogies to this sort of language are not to be found in Greco-Roman literature. This means that Paul’s original readers had to work hard to get at the apostle’s meaning, ultimately coming to see the rich tapestry of “in Christ” as deeper and richer than any functional equivalent could provide. In this instance, we felt that clearing up the ambiguity of the text would rob the modern reader of the joy of discovery and the value of thinking deeply about Scripture.

There are times, however, when retaining the original ambiguity does not help the modern reader. In such cases, interpretation is required of the translator. In Rom 3.22 the NET translators felt that translating διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as “by faith of Jesus Christ” was simply too ambiguous. This is exactly what the KJV has here, and it communicates poorly what the meaning of the original is because it does not interpret. Although one or two scholars have suggested that πίστις Χριστοῦ means “faith of Christ”—that is, the faith that Christ himself had—this is not a popular view. The two leading options are either “faith in Christ” or “the faithfulness of Christ.” How could they be so disparate? The reason is due to one lexical and one grammatical problem. πίστις lexically can mean faith or faithfulness. And the genitive Χριστοῦ can be subjective or objective. If objective, Christ is the object of πίστις (and hence, “faith in Christ”); if subjective, Christ is semantically the subject (“the faithfulness of Christ”—that is, that he is faithful). Leaving the text as “faith of Christ” hardly allows for either of these interpretive translations. The ambiguity in English is not the same as it is in Greek. In this case, a more literal translation ends up being the worst translation. The only real choice here is for translators to commit to one interpretation since leaving it neutral actually gives the wrong impression of the meaning to the English reader.

So then, should translation be formally equivalent for functionally equivalent? Neither one is adequate. Faithful equivalence is really required—faithful to the meaning of the original. If this can be accomplished by following a somewhat formal equivalent (since a completely formal equivalent is quite impossible), fine. But Greek and Hebrew are structured so differently that to force both of them into one kind of translation model is a one-size-fits-all mentality that simply won’t work.

On the one hand, there are hundreds of places when formal equivalence simply doesn’t help the English reader understand the interpretive possibilities of the original text. Yet that is the goal of formal equivalence. As we have said, the reality is that every translation is an interpretation. The question is how much we should try to interpret in any given place.

On the other hand, functional equivalence translations often take liberties with the text by offering a less-likely or even an illegitimate rendering, and they frequently make the text clear for a reader who could, in their own native language, figure out what the author is talking about. Some of the most stunning prose in the Bible is full of figurative language that to reduce it to its referential meaning is to destroy its beauty, thought-provoking nature, connotative force, and lingering memorability.

The Lord’s Prayer and translation

The pope’s rendering certainly is on the functional-equivalent side rather than the formal-equivalent side. But does that make it illegitimate?

In this instance, the bishop of Rome has taken many liberties with the text, both linguistically and contextually, thereby robbing the modern reader of seeing the connections that Matthew himself has laid out.

Not only is the Greek in both Matt 6.13 and Luke 11.4 textually certain (variants for “do not lead us into temptation” are trivial amounting to minor spelling differences), but the syntax is clear. The verb in the petition “lead” is an aorist active subjunctive (εἰσενέγκῃς); with the negative particle, “do not lead” is the idea. The pope wants it to mean “allow” which speaks instead of God not permitting something rather than him actively leading us. And the pontiff seems to have assumed that the Greek “lead into temptation” means “permit to fall into temptation.” Several lexical, syntactical, and interpretive shifts are seen here.

The broader context of Matthew’s Gospel may give us a clue as to why the Lord said, “Do not lead us into temptation.” Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, we are told that he “was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4.1). The Greek text indicates that the purpose of the Spirit’s leading Jesus into the wilderness was so that he would be tempted by the devil (“to be tempted” [πειρασθῆναι] is an infinitive of purpose, giving the purpose of the Spirit’s leading). Mark words this even more starkly: “Immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness” (Mark 1.13).

Evidently, there is a sense in which Jesus was delivered into the hands of the evil one, by the Holy Spirit himself, to be tempted. But the Greek here makes an interesting point about who is responsible for what. Two passive verbs are used in Matt 4.1— ἀνήχθη (“he was led”) and πειρασθῆναι (“to be tempted”). The agents are listed with identical prepositions: ὑπό. This is the preposition used especially for ultimate agent. It is rare to see ὑπό followed by πνεύματος (“Spirit”) in the NT (only five passages). Doing so here, Matthew shows that the Spirit is not subordinate to the devil but is the agent ultimately responsible for leading Jesus into the wilderness, while the devil is the ultimate agent of the temptation. The Spirit is not responsible for that. The Spirit did not tempt Jesus, but he did lead him to be tempted. The balance is intentional: leading into temptation is not the same as tempting. God the Holy Spirit led Jesus into temptation, but he did not tempt him. Wrestling with the implications of this requires more than a little reflection.

Although Satan’s purpose was to destroy Jesus before he ever went to the cross, God’s purpose in using Satan was painted on a broader canvas. God tests; Satan tempts. The Son of God went through similar testing as the children of Israel in the wilderness. They were there for forty years; he was there for forty days. Where they failed he succeeded.

Further, the temptation that the Lord faced was the ultimate temptation—the offer of the entire world on a platter. Jesus can ask the disciples to pray that the Father would not lead them into temptation and that God would deliver them from the evil one precisely because Jesus himself faced the ultimate temptation by the evil one. Whereas the Spirit led Jesus to be tempted, Jesus asks the Father not to lead his disciples into temptation; whereas Jesus was delivered over to Satan for tempting (testing from the Father’s perspective), Jesus prays that his followers will be delivered from the evil one. It is precisely because of Jesus’ substitutionary death and life that this prayer can be recited today by Christians with the full assurance that God will answer us.

Pope Francis’s translation, however, subverts all this: “do not let us fall into temptation.” The original text speaks clearly of God leading, not permitting. To tamper with the wording misses the connection with the Lord’s temptation.

 

(3)     What does the original text really mean and do we have the right to change it in translation?

 The pope makes a good point that our heavenly Father does not tempt us. And yet, he argues that point from a theological construct derived elsewhere in the Bible (see James 1.13). “Do not lead us into temptation” does not mean that God tempts us; the petition is for God’s protection from the evil one, as the rest of Matt 6.13 says.

 Further, the notion that we can change the wording to fit the meaning that we find somewhere else might actually be doing a disservice to the biblical authors’ intentions. The Bible is full of paradoxes, figurative language, jolting imagery. To simplify and pacify such language cuts off the legs of its literary and even spiritual power.

At bottom, what the pontiff is doing is interpretation—but interpretation that removes the tension and paradox from the text, is not true to the force of the original, and buries the connection to Jesus’ temptation. Better to leave the text alone and allow God’s people to experience the joy of discovery of the meaning of Holy Writ.