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Sep 1, 2017

Hi! This is NE series number 005C. The C at the end of the number stands for Comments. So I assume that you have already listened to the NE-DBRP_zero-zero5 podcast where I read the portions in the NET that we will discuss here, or that you have your digital or paper copy of the NET Bible open, so that you can read the verses and footnotes being discussed. All my podcasts are hosted at

Main discussion points:

  • God calls it ‘my rainbow’. Gen. 9:13
  • Were Canaan’s descendants black?
  • The earth was divided in Peleg’s time.
  • Job 5 contains beautiful and quotable truth in the mouth of even Eliphaz.
  • Look, we have investigated this, so it’s true. Job 5:27
  • Main topic: Relative strengths and weaknesses of the main Bible translation types


First a few miscellaneous comments:

*Did you notice that God calls the rainbow ‘my rainbow’ in Gen. 9:13?! See the interesting footnote in the NET there. The Hebrew word means ‘bow’ and does not have the word ‘rain’ attached in the word like the English ‘rainbow’. The Hebrew word was used both for arrow-shooting bows and also to describe bow-shaped objects. Experts speculate as to whether God intended for people to think that His rainbow would be capable of shooting arrows at his enemies. To me, that doesn’t fit so well in this context.

Let’s consider that God called the rainbow ‘mine’. This is striking because God doesn’t often refer to objects he created in this world as ‘his’. God often refers to ‘my people’ in the OT. Yes, the cattle on a thousand hills are His. But He doesn’t frequently refer to other of his created objects as his possessions— which of course they are. We’ll never determine why he explicitly expressed possession of rainbows. Let’s just remember that our almighty God wanted us to think about Him and his promise whenever we see a rainbow. These days various worldly causes have hijacked the rainbow as their emblem. That logo doesn’t really belong to them! Let’s not give in to those groups and stop using pictures of the rainbow to remind us of the things rainbows are supposed to stand for. As God’s people, that symbol is ours!

*Were Canaan’s descendants black?

No! There is very unfortunate history for Americans concerning the last part of Genesis 9. If you do an Internet search using my question above, there are Wikipedia articles and so many other links. This short Youtube (linked) seems to have it right:

The locations for the descendants of Canaan are listed in Genesis 10. They are not spoken of as living in Africa. The Bible speaks of dark-skinned people of African descent with respect. It speaks of them as powerful warriors, and in the NT mentions some of them as leaders within the early church.

Here are a couple of lessons we can take away from this:

  • Beware when anyone starts using the Bible for promoting political agenda. Always ask the question: Is some one-sided agenda or personal gain being pursued that is clouding a true and unbiased interpretation of God’s Word?
  • Curses and blessings in the Bible spoken by a father or patriarch regarding his sons are considered prophetic. The true descendants of Canaan really did become cursed. God says that they deserved the punishment they eventually received when God helped Israel to take over the promised land. For all of us who are parents, we should be aware that any curses we utter over our children might become prophetic. This is true especially when children hear the curse when it is uttered. Let’s bless them instead!

*The earth was divided in Peleg’s time. (Gen. 10:25)

The division meant happens in the next chapter.

*Job 5 contains beautiful and quotable truth in the mouth of even Eliphaz.

The middle of this chapter 5 even includes a verse that Paul quoted more than once. Just because Eliphaz said it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t memorize and quote these verses! But— especially when we think back to chapter 4, isn’t this an amazing feature of this book!

*Eliphaz’ last words to ‘comfort’ Job were, “Look, we have investigated this, so it’s true. [So listen to this//Hear it], and apply it for your own good.” Job 5:27

I think the author wanted the readers to chuckle at that point! What could have been very comforting words to Job just a few verses above were ruined by Eliphaz’ last words! And this is one place where he spoke complete falsehood. Just because someone has made some effort to study something, doesn’t mean that he has found the right answers or can be trusted.

*The major topic for today’s podcast: Relative strengths and weaknesses of the main Bible translation types:

I think that every believer ought to have two main types of Bible translations, and having another one positioned between the two types is also helpful. The two main types are literal translations and meaning-based translations.

The advantage of literal translations is that they give you a word-for-word view into the _form_ of the original. The disadvantage of literal translations is that they cannot give you the _meaning_ in clear and natural English.

The advantage of meaning-based translations is that they give you the _meaning_ of the text in clear, natural English. The disadvantage of meaning-based translations is that they cannot mirror the word-for-word _form_ of the original text.

Unfortunately, this distinction is important, but not well understood among Christians in general. Seminaries ought to teach this to all preachers, but they don’t. So let me repeat…

Let’s take an example outside of the Bible: In 1991 Saddam Hussein speaking through his foreign minister Tariq Aziz said that a war against Iraq would be the “mother of all wars.” That was undoubtedly a literal translation of what Saddam said in Arabic. The thing that bothered me and still bothers me is whether anyone asked what that was supposed to mean. Because it was foreign-sounding, the phrase became famous, even to today. But in Arabic, does that simply mean ‘the biggest war ever’, or (following a metaphor on the word ‘mother’) it could mean ‘this war will spawn many other wars’. That last meaning is significantly different from the first one. I hope that (after the chuckles died down) President George H. Bush would have asked someone to find out what Saddam actually meant by the phrase. Did anyone give him a meaning-based translation?

Every believer should have a literal and a meaning-based Bible translation. Meaning-based translations are not the same thing as a paraphrase, like The Message. The NET is neither literal or meaning-based, but an example of an in-between translation. The word literal means basically a word-for-word translation. Meaning-based translations are called many things. I don’t like calling them ‘dynamic equivalent’ or ‘functionally equivalent’, but those are two other ways people describe them.

A well known literal translation in use in many churches today is the ESV (English Standard Version). My church here in Arkansas uses it. Literal translations outnumber Meaning-based translations. Two meaning-based translations that I recommend and have recorded are the NLT and the GNT. It is significantly harder and takes more time to produce a good meaning-based translation than to make a word-for-word translation. Expressing the meaning intended by the author is not a matter of guesswork.

Speaking of guesswork, in the worst Sunday school class I have ever visited, the people were holding maybe 5 different Bible translations and no one had done any preparation. One after another they were saying, “Well I think it means this:” “Oh, but mine says this:” It seemed to be normal there for everyone to share their thoughts without any basis in the context of the passage, or taking other Bible passages into account, and the most Oprah-esque comment wins. Please, let’s use different translations intelligently, having some idea of their relative strengths and weaknesses. Please don’t bring the paraphrase called The Message to a Sunday School class.

Important things that we want in a Bible translation include accuracy (also called faithfulness), clarity, and naturalness of expression in the target language. If you read the Preface to the ESV, you will find (being a literal translation) that the translators gave a lot of emphasis to word for word accuracy. They worked hard to choose the words that matched best with the meaning of the words in the Hebrew and Greek. That’s what you want in a literal translation. Note, there is not much emphasis in that document about clarity or naturalness in English. Often there is much more to conveying the meaning and receiving the meaning than what is found at the word level. On the other hand, a meaning based translation is about giving you the meaning in clear and natural English, and you won’t find anything about word-for-word accuracy in the Preface to those versions.

Our ‘mother of wars’ example is a type of figure of speech called a metaphor. There were some choice figures of speech in the readings for day number 5 in our calendar from Job 5.

Job 5:15

15 ESV But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth
and from the hand of the mighty.

(two figures of speech)

The NET adds a few words to fill out the grammar, but is essentially a literal translation:

NET 15 So he saves from the sword that comes from their mouth, even the poor from the hand of the powerful.

Thankfully, NET supplies a footnote that explains what that figure of speech means. But in my podcasts I can’t stop and read the footnotes every time such things happen. So my translation is in meaning-based style. I dropped the figure and went straight for the meaning:

PCF 15 But God saves the poor and helpless from the cutting words of the powerful.

Note that the advantage of the literal translation is that you get to enjoy poetic and figurative language. And experienced readers of Scripture will grow in their ability to understand such things. Note that the advantage of the meaning-based translation is that you will enjoy the direct impact of the meaning. Another helpful thing is that you can use the meaning-based translation to check out whether or not you got the right meaning from the literal translation.

Another example:

16 ESV So the poor have hope,
and injustice shuts her mouth.

The NET again is very literal:
NET 16 Thus the poor have hope, and iniquity shuts its mouth.

Note that ESV is better with ‘injustice shuts her mouth’. In English abstract concepts are better understood when they are referred to as ‘her’. (Sorry ladies. This is just the way our language works. Remember, ‘wisdom’ in Proverbs is a ‘her’ also.) NET has ‘iniquity shuts its mouth.’ Does an ‘it’ even have a mouth? Or would iniquity be a lion or some other beast? This is all very foreign to the way we speak in English, but would have been perfectly clear to the Hebrew reader. I want podcast listeners to experience similar clarity, so I translated:

PCF 16 So at last the poor and helpless find their hopes fulfilled, while evil people are silenced.

In a literal translation the perceptive reader will have reactions like,

Huh? People don’t have swords in their mouths.

Huh? I didn’t know injustice is female or that injustice has a mouth!

In the same chapter, verse 23: Huh? How can a person have a pact with the stones of the field? (See episode’s episode notes for my translation of that one.)

[23 NET For you will have a pact with the stones of the field,
and the wild animals will be at peace with you.
//PCF God’s blessing will extend even to not being bothered by large stones in your fields
or by wild animals attacking your flocks.]

The Biblical era readers would not have had these ‘Huh’ reactions. Those readers very seldom had a ‘Huh, what was that?’ reaction. The original readers would not need NET’s footnotes.

Biblical era readers would know if a place name was referring to a river, a region or province, or a mountain. A meaning-based translation can slip in the word river or valley before a place name and it helps today’s readers. This is called supplying implicit information. An OT author didn’t need to write down whether Ephraim was considered a friend or enemy in his time, because all his readers knew. Today’s readers don’t know this, so it helps us if the translation explicates what in the Hebrew was left implicit by the author. I mentioned the name Ephraim in particular, because in the Old Testament that tribe went from being a part of Israel, to becoming a tribe of enemies of Judah, and finally Ephraim became a generic name for all the Northern tribes at war with Judah.

Many times such implicit information will be found in the NET’s footnotes. But one of the difficulties with a multiplicity of footnotes is that continually needing to refer to them takes away from the impact of a Bible translation. When it takes a long time to figure out the meaning of a verse, the impact of that meaning dissipates. A meaning-based translation aims at producing the same reaction in today’s readers as was received by the original readers. Without having to resort to footnotes, the Word of God went straight to their hearts and they felt joy, or sorrow, or hope, or the desire to repent. That’s the kind of straight-to-the-heart reaction that I want also for listeners to the Daily Bible Reading podcasts. How will the podcast benefit people if the reaction is “Huh? What was that?”

As we saw above, the NET was quite literal on the two verses I highlighted for you, but I said that it is neither a literal translation nor a meaning-based translation. Again: A literal translation like the ESV tries to maintain the word-for-word style of translating, but that method cannot always make the meaning clear. A meaning-based translation goes straight for the meaning, but doesn’t mirror the form of the original text. The NET and the popular NIV are in-between translations. In other words, any time the NET translators felt that a literal translation was too difficult or misleading, they switched to a more meaning-based way of translating. The advantage then of in-between translations like the NET and NIV is that they are easier to understand than consistently literal translations. But the disadvantage of in-between translations is that the reader will not know if the verse he is looking at was translated literally, or in a more meaning-based style. [Say that again.]

This is one reason why, if you use the NET or NIV, you will want two other translations, one from the left and one from the right of the in-between Bible translation (so to speak). I always place the literal translations on the left in charts, by the way.

One of the verses that came up in our readings for day number 5 is Mark 4:24. This happens to be a verse I often share all over Indonesia to compare our meaning-based translation with the text of the standard Indonesian Bible (which is very literal in style).

Mark 4:24 ESV And he said to them,”Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.

The NET is again literal here:
NET And he said to them, “Take care about what you hear. The measure you use will be the measure you receive, and more will be added to you.

In one of my presentations in Papua province, I read the literal Indonesian translation of Mark 4:24 first (which comes across quite like what I just quoted) to a group of about 20, and like I normally do, I asked the rhetorical question, “Well what does that mean?” Normally people don’t answer me when I ask that. But that one time a woman did. She said, “Oh, that means that the more money we give to the Lord the more we will receive from him in return.”

Ouch, that was wrong! And it was embarrassing for me to have to say so.

In Indonesia there is a lot of false teaching going on regarding prosperity, and this is just the kind of verse false teachers latch onto.

Remember that Jesus’ spoke verse 24 while he was teaching using parables and explaining his parables to his disciples.

Here’s a meaning-based translation:
24 PET Then Jesus said to them again, “Each of you must save the things I’m teaching you in your hearts. Because however much you endeavor to understand My teachings, in the same measure also God will add to your ability to understand them. In fact, He will add even more insight.

Wow! Would you like to have more insight! There’s both instruction and a promise for you here!

Note that a literal translation of Mark 4:24 shows you an accurate word-for-word picture of the original text, and it is important that when we do serious study of  the Scripture that we look at a literal translation. But note that a person using the same translation but not engaged in in-depth study but just hurriedly doing his quiet time in the morning before going off to work— if they don’t jump to a wrong conclusion, would likely get that ‘Huh. What’s that?’ reaction. ALL false cults based on Christianity— including the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism, were developed based on one literal translation— namely, the King James Version. Literal Bible translations always will include hard verses that can be twisted by false teachers. No cults have ever sprung up from a meaning-based translation. Now after their formation, one of the aforementioned cults made their own Bible translation in order to put their particular spin on God’s Word. That’s just plain dishonest and evil.

The NET is a wonderful in-between Bible translation! One of the things I like about it is that a person using the footnotes will gain a lot of understanding about Biblical languages and the things that were in the minds of the translators. This is a treasure! In my Youversion app, the NET Bible is full of yellow highlights— which is the color I use for verses that are exceptionally well translated.

I remember when we were in the Orya translation program, there was some reason that I wanted to make a recording of a chapter. I think it was probably for a Christmas program. We had gone over the text carefully. Boas said, “Oh yeah, that chapter is all fine now.” So I printed out 25 copies, and sat down with him to record it. There with the microphone in his hand, he started to read, but quickly stopped. “Uh, we would never say it that way. How about if I read it this way?” “OK” I said, and inwardly I thought, “No big deal. We’ll just change this one verse.” But it didn’t turn out to be just one verse. That kept happening, and in the end one-third of the verses were changed. I threw out the 25 printed copies. I hated to do that because we were living out in the jungle, and paper and printer cartridges weren’t cheap or easy to come by. Without exaggeration, I can say that all missionary Bible translators who have ever tried to record portions of their ethnic language translation work have had similar experiences.

It has been interesting to me that the same thing happens when I read the NET. Prior to recording episode 5, I went through the readings and picked out the verses I thought should be tweaked a little to help podcast listeners who just listen without visually seeing the text— like the verses in Job mentioned above. But I had only found one or two verses in Mark 4 that I thought needed a little help. Then with the microphone in front of me, oh my … the parable of the sower!

I have already told you in a previous podcast that a translation should follow the grammar of the target language, right? So listen to this and see if you spot a problem:

Mark 4:3-6 NET “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have sufficient root, it withered.

I’m from Kansas originally. Maybe you from the city wouldn’t catch what I hear in this. Seed is a collective singular noun. So seed (like sand) is an ‘it’, even though in this case there are plural grains of wheat in ‘it’. But when seed sprouts and comes up, it is no longer called ‘it’, but plural sprouts and plural shoots, that eventually become plural stalks or plants.

I read the parable like this:
Other seed fell on rocky ground where it did not have much soil. It produced sprouts that quickly became visible, because the soil was not deep.

6  When the sun came up [the sprouts were//it was] scorched, and because [they hadn’t really taken root//it did not have sufficient root], [they//it] withered.

If the first ‘it’ was singular seed, then it makes no sense to say that ‘it’ did not have sufficient root! Wheat seed (singular collective) never is spoken of as having ‘sufficient root’. Grains of wheat don’t ‘wither’. And thorns don’t choke seed. Thorny plants can choke out the little wheat shoots (plural).

What happened to me is the kind of thing that happens any time people try to read a literal translation out loud. Things pop out that don’t become obvious when you read silently. I challenge you to try this out! Take a chapter in the ESV or even the NET, any chapter, and read the whole thing out loud. How many times do you find something where you say, “Hmm. I would never say it that way”? I’m just pointing out: Naturalness is not a strong point of literal translations.

So you will find that I always am tweaking the translations I read in podcasts to make them more understandable, and this will often move them from being literal to more meaning-based. Now, my pastor (whom I love and respect) gave me a book containing essays written by five famous men entitled Translating Truth, subtitled “The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation.” Wayne Grudem leads the list of authors, and the forward is by none other than J.I. Packer. The book shamelessly promotes the ESV. The meta-message of whole book again and again is “the ESV is the best translation.” But no one ever seems to get around to saying, “Best for what audience?” Or asking, “Best for what purpose?”

The ESV could well be the very best translation for people like the translators. They are seminary profs who are happy to spend two hours delving deep in research on a single verse. It is not the best translation for the stressed single mom, just about to rush out of the house for the day’s work and wanting to grab God’s Word for her day. The last this she needs at that time is, “Huh? What’s that?” It’s not the best translation for youth group. I started these podcasts with my grandchildren in mind, and even my great grandchildren. Some time in the future I expect that one of them will leave the Lord, and then in his distress through the gracious help of the Holy Spirit, I hope he will think, “Perhaps it would be good to find out what grampa would say to me.” A person just turning to the Lord is not in a place where he/she will do deep digging. Such a person needs is a translation that immediately makes sense.

For those I haven’t yet convinced, I think that the main Indonesian Bible translation provides a good longitudinal study of what happens when large body of Christians only have one good literal Bible translation. Indonesian Christians have had their main Bible since 1974. It was a good literal translation. Everyone should feel thankful to the Indonesian Bible Society because this Bible has been useful and helpful to the body of Christ. But since 1974 the Indonesian language has changed in many ways, and the Bible Society has not acted responsibly in revising that Bible. In 1985, the Bible Society released a translation of the Good News Bible into Indonesian. But unfortunately, that meaning-based translation was never promoted. Stores that sell Bibles almost never stock it. It also has not been revised. Here are some things that happen over a long time when a body Christians only have access to just one literal Bible translation:

  • The difficult language reflecting the form of the Greek and Hebrew discourages people from reading their Bibles.
  • Preachers tend to teach from stories in the Bible, as they are easier to understand. Paul’s letters are neglected.
  • People tend to base Bible teaching on 1-2 verses rather than a longer passage.
  • Sharing the Gospel and discipling new believers is made much more difficult. Pastors who plant new churches have told me this again and again.
  • Daily devotional magazines (like Our Daily Bread) are very popular in Indonesia and more often read than the Bible itself. People get one verse and a two paragraph story.
  • In 20 14 (in connection with promoting our Plain Indonesian New Testament) I surveyed 800 seminary students in two provinces. Only 40% claimed to have read the whole New Testament, and only 25% claimed to have read the whole Old Testament. If so few seminary students have read the whole Bible, imagine what would the figures would be for the average person in the pew!
  • I save the worst for last: Having access only to one hard to understand Bible translation leads to the erosion of respect for God’s Word.

These things do NOT glorify the Lord!

Never in all human history has there been such wonderful access to a stunning variety of Bible translations in English. It is a blessing to see God’s Word in stereo, seeing both the form of the original in one translation, and being impacted by the meaning in another. Learn how to use both types, and maybe even the in-between NET also.

I close with reading Mark 4:23-25 in the PET:

23 Then Jesus said to them, “What are those ears of yours for!! Listen (to what I just told you)!”
24 Then Jesus said to them again, “Each of you must save the things I’m teaching you in your hearts. Because however much you endeavor to understand My teachings, in the same measure also God will add to your ability to understand them. In fact, He will add even more insight.

25 So for the person who has the ability to understand My teaching, God will increase that ability even more. But for people who don’t try to remember and understand My teaching, God will take that ability away from them.”

May the Lord bless you ‘real good’— making you the kind of people that He gives more and more to.