elder qualifications: comparison of translations (1)


Have you ever witnessed someone attempt to translate or interpret one language into another? It’s a telling sight, isn’t it? No matter how fluent the interpreter, one thing becomes quickly obvious to all who are witnessing the work: a great many words simply don’t have a one-to-one correspondence in meaning in another language. After all, we’re not talking about number here, but words.

Consequently, what might be conveyed well in one language by a single word might require several words in another language. Similarly, what is said in the language being rendered might legitimately be communicated several different ways in the receiving language. The danger, of course, in all translation from one language to another, is that something can (and will) be lost in translation. A nuance of meaning might unintentionally be slighted, stressed, or over-looked. The meaning a word has in one context could accidentally be substituted for its meaning in another (a great many words have two or more meanings). Etc.

All of this is obvious when watching two people converse to each other through means of an interpreter. The interpreter – a qualified and adept one, at any rate – will regularly be forced to hesitate or pause as they consider all the possibilities open to them for translation. Choices must be made and those choices frequently demand something on the order of “compromise” in the off-loading of all the freight a word carries in one language onto the word(s) of another. The person receiving the translation – a thoughtful and honest one, at any rate – will always bear this in mind and will allow for a bit of “play” in what they’re receiving. They know better than to expect everything to be perfect or “tight” because if for no other reason, there is that common lack of one-to-one correspondence in words, etc.

Now if the translation work is being done between living people and a question arises as to how best to render something, the translator need only pause and ask the person being interpreted to run that by the translator again, rewording the matter. In that rewording, the translator receives a fuller understanding of the meaning that was intended to be conveyed. Often, it’s in this second shot at grasping what was meant that the light bulb turns on in the translator’s mind and they’re then enabled to offer an interpretation.

However, the work is much more difficult if the translation is not between living people in immediate contact with each other and where query, exchange, and clarification can take place. Let’s suppose that in place of a conversation between two people and an interpreter we have instead one person reading the writing of another in a different language. If there’s a question as to meaning or if clarification is longed for, that’s just too bad, for the one who wrote the material is not available to ask. The interpreter will simply have to do the best they can with the knowledge they have within themselves or available to them from others, but not the original author. Naturally, the translator – a good one, of course – will likely come close to capturing the intended meaning, but there will, of necessity, be some loose ends, as it were.

Now let’s compound the matter even a bit further. Let’s say the translator is not only working to interpret a written piece in a foreign language and the author is not available for contact, but that which was written was penned numerous centuries ago, in an entirely different culture, and coming from a totally different world view. Further, the language used is now a “dead” one, that is, it has not been written or spoken by a people for many centuries. Perhaps needless to say, but say it we will, such a translator’s task just increased in difficulty exponentially.

Now with all of that in mind, I say all of that in order to say this: it’s precisely in this last scenario in which we find seated those who serve as translators of the the writings we’ve come to know as the Bible. Their work is not at all easy. Put several of such scholars in a room together working to translate the same portion of text and quite often several different views as to what would be the best way to “say it” will come forth. On occasion, they will not even be able to come to total agreement as to what was intended by the original author, much less on how to best convey it, for interpretation is inherent to translation, you see.

This leads us to make three observations:

1. We all owe those who translate the Scriptures an tremendous debt. Thank God for the work of Bible translators everywhere!

2. Our understanding of the Biblical languages grows as time goes by. Since we cannot ask the original writers what they meant, we stand on the work of scholars who have studied these languages and each generation that follows has carried our understanding forward just a bit. This knowledge dramatically increased not only in terms of the base with the discovery numerous manuscripts in the 19th and 20th centuries, but also took off in terms of speed with the advent of the computer.

3. Students of the Bible do well to compare quality translations with each other and learn not just from one, but from them all. This is something nearly any English-reader of the Bible can do with ease for their are a number of good translations available. And in light of preceding point (2), we would only needlessly and greatly handicap and hinder ourselves by limiting our reading and study to translations that were created decades, perhaps even centuries, ago.

Imagine, for example, what an uproar there would be, and rightly so, if suddenly your children’s school decided to use only American history and science textbooks written one hundred years ago! Such would be unthinkable, but when it comes to Bible study, many readers of the word of God limit their encounter with Scripture to translations produced several decades, a full century, or perhaps even several centuries ago. We can do better and the best place to start would be with (1): thank God for the work of Bible translators, including, and especially, those of modern times!

Starting tomorrow, I want to lead by example, as it were and at the same time, do a bit of your homework for you. I’ll do this by comparing several of the texts of the New Testament directly related to the work of elders, laying the wording of several translations alongside each other, without comment, for easy comparison. In that comparison, you’ll notice both continuity and variety, giving evidence of, in the receiving translation (English) of different possibilities or wording (synonyms), nuances (shades of meaning), development (increased understanding of the original text), and adaptability (replacing words that have changed their meaning or dropped out of use with current and contemporary terms).

We’ll begin, in tomorrow’s post, with the best known texts: 1 Timothy 3.1-7 and Titus 1.5-9. After that we’ll take a look at texts not as well known or as frequently consulted (1 Timothy 5.17-22, 1 Peter 5.1-4, etc.).

questions on elders: why “supervisor?”


The clear majority of English translations render the word episkopos in 1 Tim. 3.1-2 and Titus 1.7 by means of one of two words: “bishop” (ASV, KJV, KNT, NAB, NRSV, Phillips, REB) or “overseer” (ESV, HCS, NASB, NCV, NIV 2011, TNIV).

Other renderings exist, but nowhere near in number to the use of the word “bishop” or “overseer.” For example: “church leader” (Good News), “church official” (CEV), “elder” (NLT), “leader” (The Message), and “presiding elder” (NJB).

But, we need not ask “With what rendering am I most familiar?,” but, “What does the word episkopos actually mean?” Surely the Spirit of God, working with the apostle Paul’s spirit, had good reason for this word choice, and if so, what might it have been?

To answer that question, lend your ear to Dr. Everett Ferguson, a long-time professor from years past at Abilene Christian University. Dr. Ferguson is a highly respected and internationally recognized scholar whose special expertise is in early church history. He is easily one of the finest scholars who has ever lived to stand within the heritage of Churches of Christ in modern times, having few true peers in his field within our heritage. In commenting on the way the word episkopos was commonly used outside of Scripture in New Testament times, Dr. Ferguson says it was:

“… used … for various kinds of managers, foremen, supervisors, and inspectors. It could refer to state officials with various civic functions, to supervisors at sanctuaries … to construction foremen, and in an educational context to tutors. … In a religious sense it could be used of the gods, who exercised providence and watched over compacts. … Whereas ‘elder’ emphasized more the age, experience, and judiciousness of the leaders of Christian communities, ‘bishop’ [episkopos] emphasized the more active side of their work in managing affairs, guarding the group, and directing activities.” (The Church of Christ, pp.322-323)

And so, when Paul spoke of church leadership and selected by the Spirit’s guidance the word episkopos to describe their place and purpose, he was simply choosing to use the word commonly understood by all in his time for someone who watched over others, guided their efforts, and generally supervised what all a group of people did.

In light of this fact, and if the conveyance of the original meaning of a foreign word in terms commonly utilized and understood today is the objective of translation, then it could easily and well be argued that the Common English Bible‘s choice of rendering the word episkopos with the word “supervisor” is, refreshingly so, the most accurate and truly communicative rendering of all the choices available to most English readers in the United States today.

No doubt, all too many people in the everyday, workday world have had the troubling experience of working under an unqualified or destructive supervisor. At the same time, a great many have been blessed with the joy of working under well-qualified and constructive supervision. If our experience has been primarily with the former, we ought not allow such experience to rob a very helpful word of its true meaning. Surely, the author of Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul, would be the first to agree.

* For more on the use of the word episkopos, as well as other words used directly in regard to the function and role of church elders, note an earlier post of mine on Feb. 2 of this year.

more on The Kingdom New Testament (KNT)


In yesterday’s post I shared some excerpts from N.T. Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (HarperOne, 2011). Today I’d like to share a few random observations regarding this fine work.

* The binding is a quality hardback which lies flat at any opening except for the first few pages. No softcover or electronic version is available yet.

* The text appears in a very readable single-column format.

* The only notes, footnotes, or comments are headings for the Biblical text. All of the headings appear in the side margins rather than within the text, a practice reminiscent of times gone by, and one, frankly, I find very helpful.

* Obvious OT quotes appear in italics.

* As to textual variants, know that both long and short endings to Mark’s Gospel are included and John 7:53-8:11 is included in the text without note, comment, or formatting in regard to its authenticity.

* The inclusion of 39 simple, black and white maps is a real plus. As you might guess, 35 of the 39 relate to Acts. The maps do not appear together in one place, but are scattered throughout the Biblical text, wherever they might be of most practical use. There is an index to these maps near the front of the volume. All of the maps, save one, include a scale of miles in both miles and kilometers.

* The preface is six-and-one-half pages of “classic Wright” (i.e. – crystal clarity laced with insight and wit). Lovers of Wright will not be disappointed. For example, take the opening sentence: “The first thing that happened in the life of the church was translation.”

* This work is a translation. In Wright’s words: “It’s a translation, not a paraphrase. I have tried to stick closely to the original. But, as with all translations, even within closely related modern English languages, there are always going to be places where you simply can’t do it word for word. To do so would be ‘correct’ at one level and deeply incorrect at another. There is no ‘safe’ option: all translation is risky, bit it’s a risk we have to take.”

* As to why yet another English translation of the New Testament, Wright says: “… translating the New Testament is something that, in fact, each generation ought to be doing. This is a special, peculiar, and exciting point about the very nature of Christian faith. Just as Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, our bread for each day, we can never simply live on yesterday’s bread, on the interpretations and translations of previous generations. … Inherited spiritual capital may help you get started, but you need to do fresh work for yourself, to think things through, to struggle and pray and ponder and try things out … a new translation … is a key tool for that larger task.”

The bottom line: the Kingdom New Testament has certainly found a permanent place in my Biblical studies library.

the CEB and the KNT


The past couple of weeks I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s rendering of the New Testament entitled The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (KNT). As I read I’ve been comparing it with the Common English Bible (CEB), my go-to Bible. In short, I like what I see in both and encourage you to pick up copies of both. Following are some snippets from each for your comparison.

  • It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matt. 5:31-32 CEB)
  • It was also said, ‘If someone divorces his wife, he should give her a legal document to prove it.’ But I say to you: everyone who divorces his wife, unless it’s in connection with immorality, makes her commit adultery; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matt. 5:31-32 KNT)
  • This is why the Human One* is Lord even over the Sabbath. (Mark 2:28 CEB) [footnote reads “Or ‘Son of Man'”]
  • … so the son of man is master even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:28 KNT)
  • Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you. (Luke 17:21b CEB)
  • No: God’s kingdom is within your grasp.” (Luke 17:21b KNT)
  • When the centurion saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “It’s really true: this man was righteous.” (Luke 23:47 CEB)
  • The centurion saw what happened, and praised God. “This fellow,” he said, “really was in the right.” (Luke 23:47 KNT)
  • I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion,* who will be with you forever. (John 14:16 CEB) [footnote reads “Or ‘Advocate'”]
  • And I will ask the father, and he will give you another helper, to be with you forever. (John 14:16 KNT)
  • Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 CEB)
  • “Turn back!” replied Peter. “Be baptized – every single one of you – in the name of Jesus the Messiah, so that your sins can be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the holy spirit.” (Acts 2:38 KNT)
  • On the first day of the week, as we gathered together for a meal, Paul was holding a discussion with them. (Acts 20:7 CEB)
  • On the first day of the week we gathered to break bread. Paul was intending to leave the following morning. He was engaged in discussion with them, and he went on talking up to midnight. (Acts 20:7 KNT)
  • God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness* for faith,* as it is written, “The righteous person will live by faith.” (Rom. 1:17 CEB) [first footnote reads “Or ‘faith’; second footnote reads “Or ‘faithfulness'”]
  • This is because God’s covenant justice is unveiled in it, from faithfulness to faithfulness. As it says in the Bible, “the just shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:17 KNT)
  • Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood. (Rom. 3:25a CEB)
  • God put Jesus forth as the place of mercy, through faithfulness, by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his covenant justice, because of the passing over (in divine forbearance) of sins committed beforehand. (Rom. 3:25 KNT)

  • So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature. (Rom. 12:1-2 CEB)
  • So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s. What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is – what is good, acceptable, and complete. (Rom. 12:1-2 KNT)
  • I’m introducing our sister Phoebe to you, who is a deacon* of the church in Cenchreae. (Rom. 16:1 CEB) [footnote reads “Or ‘servant'”]
  • Let me introduce to you our sister Phoebe. She is a deacon in the church at Cenchrae. (Rom. 16:1 KNT)
  • Now, about what you wrote: “It’s good for a man not to have sex with a woman.” Each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband because of sexual immorality. (1 Cor. 7:1-2 CEB)
  • Let me now turn to the matters you wrote about. “It is good for a man to have no sexual contact with a woman.” Well, yes; but the temptation to immorality means that every man should maintain sexual relations with his own wife, and every woman with her own husband. (1 Cor. 7:1-2 KNT)
  • … but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. (1 Cor. 13:10 CEB)
  • … but, with perfection, The partial is abolished. (1 Cor. 13:10 KNT)
  • God isn’t a God of disorder but of peace. Like in all the churches of God’s people, the women should be quiet during the meeting. They are not allowed to talk. Instead, they need to get under control, just as the Law says. If they want to learn something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is disgraceful for a woman to talk during the meeting. (1 Cor. 14:33-35 CEB)
  • … since God is the God, not of chaos, but of peace. [new paragraph begins] As in all the assemblies of God’s people, the women should keep silence in the assemblies. They are not permitted to speak; they should remain in submission, just as the law declares. If they want to understand something more, they should ask their own husbands when they get home. It’s shameful, you see, for a woman to speak in the assembly. (1 Cor. 14:33-35 KNT)
  • I wish that the ones who are upsetting you would castrate themselves. (Gal. 5:12 CEB)
  • If only those who are making trouble for you would cut the whole lot off! (Gal. 5:12 KNT)

  • The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy,drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. (Gal. 5:19-21a CEB)
  • Now the works of the flesh are obvious. They are such things as fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, bursts of rage, selfish ambition, factiousness, divisions, moods of envy, drunkenness, wild partying, and similar things. (Gal. 5:19-21a KNT)
  • Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Eph. 2:10 CEB)
  • This is the explanation: God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for the good works he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel. (Eph. 2:10 KNT)
  • Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. (Eph. 5:18-21 CEB)
  • And don’t get drunk with wine; that way lies dissipation. Rather, be filled with the spirit! Speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and chanting in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks for everything to God the father in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah. [new paragraph] Be subject to one another out of reverence for the Messiah. (Eph. 5:18-21 KNT)
  • He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross. When he disarmed the rulers and authorities, he exposed them to public disgrace by leading them in a triumphal parade. (Col. 2:14-15 CEB)
  • He blotted out the handwriting that was against us, opposing us with its legal demands. He took it right out of the way, by nailing it to the cross. He stripped the rulers and authorities of their armor, and displayed them contemptuously to public view, celebrating his triumph over them in him. (Col. 2:14-15 KNT)
  • … we could have thrown our weight around as Christ’s apostles. Instead, we were gentle with you like a nursing mother caring for her own children. (1 Thes. 2:7 CEB)
  • … though we could have imposed on you, as the Messiah’s emissaries. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her own children. (1 Thes. 2:7 KNT)
  • A wife* should learn quietly with complete submission. I don’t allow a wife* to teach or control her husband.* Instead, she should be a quiet listener. (1 Tim. 2:11-12 CEB) [first and second footnotes read “Or ‘a woman'”; third footnote reads “Or ‘a man'”]
  • They must study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed. (1 Tim. 2:11-12 KNT)
  • This saying is reliable: if anyone has a goal to be a supervisor* in the church, they want a good thing. So the church’s supervisor* must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, sober, modest, and honest. They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching. They shouldn’t be addicted to alcohol or a bully. Instead they should be gentle, peaceable, and not greedy. (1 Tim. 3:1-3 CEB) [footnote reads “Or ‘bishop,’ ‘overseer'”]
  • Here is a trustworthy saying: if someone is eager for the work of overseeing God’s people, the task they seek is a fine one. The bishop must be beyond reproach. He must not have more than one wife. He must be temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, a good teacher. He must not be a heavy drinker, or violent, but must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not in love with money. (1 Tim. 3:1-3 KNT)
  • In the same way, servants* in the church should be dignified, not two-faced, heavy drinkers, or greedy for money. (1 Tim. 3:8 CEB) [footnote reads “Or ‘deacons'”]
  • In the same way, deacons must be serious-minded, not the sort of people who say one thing today and another tomorrow, not heavy drinkers, not eager for shameful gain. (1 Tim. 3:8 KNT)
  • In the same way, women who are servants* in the church should be dignified and not gossip. They should be sober and faithful in everything they do. (1 Tim. 3:11 CEB) [footnote reads “Or ‘wives,’ omit ‘who are servants'”]
  • The womenfolk, too, should be serious-minded, not slanderers, but temperate, and faithful in all things. (1 Tim. 3:11 KNT)
  • Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in* the life he has given to us?* (James 4:5 CEB) [first footnote reads “Or ‘jealously longs for'”; second footnote reads “Or ‘Doesn’t the Spirit that God placed in us have jealous desires?'”]
  • Or do you suppose that when the Bible says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit he has made to dwell in us,” it doesn’t mean what it says? (James 4:5 KNT)
  • Baptism is like that. It saves you now – not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ … (1 Pet. 3:21 CEB)
  • That functions as a signpost for you, pointing to baptism, which now rescues you – not by washing away fleshly pollution, but by the appeal to God of a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. (1 Pet. 3:21 KNT)
  • My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 CEB)
  • My children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone does sin, we have one who pleads our cause before the father – namely, the Righteous One, Jesus the Messiah! He is the sacrifice which atones for our sins – and not ours only, either, but those of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 KNT)
  • Favored is the one who reads the words of this prophecy out loud, and favored are those who listen to it being read, and keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev. 1:3 CEB)
  • God’s blessing on the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and on those who hear them and keep what is written in it. The time, you see, is near! (Rev. 1:3 KNT)

Incidentally, Scot McKnight has a fine post today on the KNT that you’ll want to be sure to read. His comments speak to the task of translation as a whole and include some renderings of note from the Sermon on the Mount in the KNT.