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Truth in Translation: Grading the Professor

   Not too long ago, this ministry received some emails regarding a small work that had been handed or otherwise recommended to them by members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The book was concerning to them for a couple of reasons: 1) It was written by a man claiming to be a biblical scholar who was, above all, a neutral observer and evaluated several translations to determine bias and fairness. 2) Among the translations he evaluated was the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and, despite finding some flaws with it, determined that it was among the best translations he reviewed.
   It is not surprising, then, that many Jehovah’s Witnesses have been offering this book to their Christian friends and family members. Many believers have been told over and again by reputable scholars that the NWT is not a good translation and demonstrates theological bias rather than biblical and linguistic scholarship. So, when a biblical scholar claims neutrality for the sake of historical truth and judges in favor of the NWT, it is hardly surprising to find such believers requesting information on such a work.
   The particular book is by Dr. Jason BeDuhn of Northern Arizona University and is called Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament. It is not intended to be a scholarly work, but rather a popular work which dispenses with the usual detailed argumentation and rigor demanded. He targets his audience those who have little to no knowledge of the biblical languages and culture.
   This blog article begins a series where I will examine and review the claims of Dr. BeDuhn in his book and discuss his approach, methods, arguments, and conclusions. I am not intending on reviewing every chapter of the book as some of the arguments seemed to be peripheral to greater matters of theological import (although I am sure to touch upon some issues briefly, such as gender translation).

   Dr. BeDuhn evaluates several translations and paraphrases of the New Testament intending to, in effect, grade their competency. He believes that he is qualified because he considers himself a biblical scholar and unbiased in his perspective. These are points he wishes to make abundantly clear in order to contrast himself with those who worked on the translations he reviews. The premise is that major translations are not made by biblical scholars but by reasonably competent committees with a vested doctrinal interest. Indeed, he states:

“With thousands of biblical scholars in America alone, you may think that biblical translation is mostly a scholarly enterprise. It isn’t. Although biblical scholars have been the key players in identifying the more accurate Greek text of the New Testament, most have never been involved in a bible translation project.” (BeDuhn, 9)

   Dr. BeDuhn then goes on to assert that the work of these biblical scholars is usually confined to specialist type projects focused narrowly on particular passages.
   By contrast, he tells us, “”Bible translation is usually undertaken by people with theological training who also happen to be reasonably competent in biblical languages.” (BeDuhn, 8)
   Note that biblical translators are not necessarily biblical scholars. Just what is a biblical scholar according to Dr. BeDuhn? A biblical scholar must possess three qualities in order to be considered a true scholar: Knowledge of 1) the linguistic content, 2) the literary setting of the work, and 3) the historical and cultural setting (BeDuhn, xvi-xix).
   Dr. BeDuhn believes that he is qualified because he considers himself to be a biblical scholar. Now, I am willing to grant Dr. BeDuhn the assumption of scholarship. I am a little hesitant to consider him to be a biblical scholar since I am not familiar enough with his works on biblical scholarship to be able to grant him such on his word. I did look into his background and his website to understand where he believes himself qualified.
   Dr. BeDuhn has his doctorate in Manichean studies. It is neither specific to nor specialized in New Testament. However, he does have a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. Thus, I am certain he has had at least two years of Greek training. And, I am aware of at least one Greek manuscript of Manichean writings that he may have worked on at the doctoral level.
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Greg Stafford on God’s Ignorance: God As Man’s Prophet

Regarding the creation of mankind, the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q10) asks “How did God create man?” And it answers the question by stating “God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures” (emphasis mine). And because we are made in the image of God, we are to image Him (as only man can), in all of our being. We tend to look at this section of Genesis (1-3) as man either obeying and disobeying God strictly in their ethic (how they live their lives).

But as God’s creatures, Adam and Eve were to be Yahweh’s servant with all their being. We are told that the greatest commandment is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (emphasis mine). This commandment, although not stated in Genesis was certainly Adam greatest commandment. And just as we are not to love and serve God in our own strength, according to our own dictates, Adam, again, was no different.

It is clear from the NT that part of the image that is being restored has to do with knowledge. What we know, how do we know it, etc. One picture of the Christian, is that he is as priest, offering up to God our own bodies (including our minds) as living sacrifices, and in doing so our minds will be transformed, to know God’s will. We are told in other places that we are to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2Cor. 10:5). In Eph. 4:22-23 Paul states “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” and in Col. 3:10 Paul continues this line of reason stating “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

If one of the goals of our sanctification is that we are “think God’s thoughts after him” as Cornelius Van Til stated, we can safely assume that in the garden, prior to the fall, Adam possessed the knowledge Paul speaks about in the above verses. The difference being, that Adam before the fall did not have to “take every thought captive,” this was a given. Adam, prior to the fall, was thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

Being made in the image of God, man was to be God’s prophet, priest and king. He was to rule over creation, he was to subdue creation and he was to proclaim the works and mind of the mind of his creator to the creation. After all, if Adam failed in any of these before the actual fall, we would have a pre-fall. But we know this wasn’t the case.

When we look at the teachings of Mr. Greg Stafford, we see the roles of prophet exchanged from man being the prophet of God, to God being a prophet for man. Mr. Stafford has established for himself (with the help of Jehovah’s Witness publications) that there is knowledge God is not aware of and can not know until man reveals it. After man says what he says, it becomes revelation for God, and now God can speak forth what Adam, a part from his image-bearing, has made known. Remember, Mr. Stafford has told us in the past, that when God commanded Adam to name the animals, God himself did not know what Adam was going to name them. God’s knowledge was limited to the free choices of man. God, now thinks man’s thoughts after him.

One important point to recognize here is that built into in Mr. Stafford’s theology, is a place for man’s autonomy. He (man) is a law unto himself. Before the fall, he can do things and say things without thinking God’s thought after him. Man, apart from God, makes decisions, which in the end, bind God and instead of man being the prophet for God, God becomes the mouth piece for man. Man becomes the final reference point and the the creator-creature distinction is blurred.

I can not say it better than Van Til at this point when he states “It is only when this point is carefully noted that the Christian and the non-Christian points of view are seen in their right relationship to one another. The two positions have mutually exclusive views of the ultimate reference point in predication” (Christian Apologetics, 2ed., 43).

[Note: The thoughts in this post are being developed for a paper I am currently writing for an apologetics class. When finished, Lord willing, I will post the paper on the blog].

The Watchtower Tightens the Leash on “JW Apologists” Once More

   Almost a decade ago I presented a paper at the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Orlando, Florida, on the topic of Greg Stafford and the relationship that exists between the Society and those who seek, outside of her official publications, to give a defense of her beliefs. Back in the 1970s the Watchtower Society disfellowshipped an early “Jehovah’s Witness apologist” for “running ahead of the brethren.” I said then that how the Society dealt with Stafford, who was not only publishing materials on his own, but likewise citing from the very publications the Society forbids its followers from reading, would give us insight into how they were going to deal with the broader issues presented by the growing impact of the Internet, cable television, and the greater availability of information. The Society has had to attempt to keep control over what information individual Witnesses are exposed to for the simple reason that cults have to do that. They have so often changed their teachings, altered their views, and then tried to cover these changes up, all while claiming to be “Jehovah’s only organization on earth,” that having an open policy on access to information would be self-detrimental. So having folks like Stafford out there doing their own thing would only serve to incite other Witnesses to start looking into “things” that they would rather just keep out of the sphere of notice of their followers.
   Since that time there have been conflicting signals coming out of Brooklyn. A few times they have “snapped the whip,” so to speak, holding a hard line on the whole idea of doing “apologetics” and putting up websites, etc., in defense of the Society. I noted earlier this year that Stafford had gone on an anti-Calvinism crusade, and had ended a period of relative inactivity with a bang. At the time I wondered if he had been given the “green light” so to speak by a contact in Brooklyn.
   Well, the September, 2007 Kingdom Ministry publication (known as the “KM” in Witness terminology) has tightened the leash yet once again. Here is the text that has just been distributed to all congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world:


* Does “the faithful and discreet slave” endorse independent groups of Witnesses who meet together to engage in Scriptural research or debate?–Matt. 24:45, 47.

   No, it does not. And yet, in various parts of the world, a few associates of our organization have formed groups to do independent research on Bible-related subjects. Some have pursued an independent group study of Biblical Hebrew and Greek so as to analyze the accuracy of the New World Translation. Others explore scientific subjects related to the Bible. They have created Web sites and chat rooms for the purpose of exchanging and debating their views. They have also held conferences and produced publications to present their findings and to supplement what is provided at our Christian meetings and through our literature.
   Throughout the earth, Jehovah’s people are receiving ample spiritual instruction and encouragement at congregation meetings, assemblies, and conventions, as well as through the publications of Jehovah’s organization. Under the guidance of his holy spirit and on the basis of his Word of truth, Jehovah provides what is needed so that all of God’s people may be “fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought” and remain “stabilized in the faith.” (1 Cor. 1:10; Col. 2:6, 7) Surely we are grateful for Jehovah’s spiritual provisions in these last days. Thus, “the faithful and discreet slave” does not endorse any literature, meetings, or Web sites that are not produced or organized under its oversight.–Matt. 24:45-47.
   It is commendable for individuals to want to use their thinking ability in support of the good news. However, no personal pursuit should detract from what Jesus Christ is accomplishing through his congregation on earth today. In the first century, the apostle Paul warned about getting involved in exhausting, time-consuming subjects, such as “genealogies, which end up in nothing, but which furnish questions for research rather than a dispensing of anything by God in connection with faith.” (1 Tim. 1:3-7) All Christians should strive to “shun foolish questionings and genealogies and strife and fights over the Law, for they are unprofitable and futile.”–Titus 3:9.
   For those who wish to do extra Bible study and research, we recommend that they explore Insight on the Scriptures, “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” and our other publications, such as those that discuss the prophecies found in the Bible books of Daniel, Isaiah, and Revelation. These provide abundant material for Bible study and meditation, whereby we can be “filled with the accurate knowledge of [God’s] will in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension, in order to walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing him as [we] go on bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the accurate knowledge of God.”–Col. 1:9, 10.

   It did not take long for Greg Stafford to comment on it. He analyzes the commentary (as he well knows, there is something called “Society speak,” and it has to be interpreted to be understood), and concludes,

Of course, I believe the Society is completely wrong in their views and in their application of texts to almost everything that they say in this Question Box, and I believe they are stifling growth and the defense of Jehovah’s name and other Bible teachings, or possibly attempting to insulate their followers from facts that they believe will create disloyalty to their organization. But Witnesses loyal to the Society cannot say that, and so those who go against their recommendations are running ahead or running along a different path than that recommended and walked by those whom they consider to be the anointed body of Christ, representing Jehovah’s will on earth today. Thus, such ones are not listening to those whom they consider Jehovah’s “faithful and discreet slave.”

   Stafford does not use a “normal” blog format, so you have to go here and scroll down to entry #925 for the source of this citation.
   In any case, we will have to keep our eyes on developments in this area. The Society is really between the proverbial rock and the hard-place on this topic. They really cannot insulate their people as they once did, but at the same time, they struggle to explain their history and the objections to their beliefs. We will see what develops.

Only True God

Here are a couple of responses to a recent blog post by Greg Stafford.
The first one is from Triablogger Steve Hays. The second post is from me.

Pay attention to the comment sections and add any additional information, if needed.

Doing Theology Live on TV with Call-Ins With Jet-Lag

   Many of you will recall that a few months ago I visited the saints in the UK and that the first evening of my trip I did a program on “Revelation TV” regarding the subject of predestination. You may also recall that my luggage did not make it to London for two days, so, I had spent most of the day letting them know the luggage was lost, and then going out and buying necessities. I had not slept on the flight over, so, I was doing the uber-jet-lag thing. Even had to borrow Justyn’s blazer for the program (it looks much better on Justyn–then again, anything looks better on Justyn).
   In any case, in the middle of the second hour (we had originally been scheduled to do only one) one of Jehovah’s Witnesses called the program. Now, you can hear the caller much more clearly on this recording than we could in the studio, that’s for certain. The text I was referring to is Revelation 7 (which I once mis-identify as Hebrews 7 for some reason):

Revelation 7:9-15 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude [NWT: “great crowd”] which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” 13 ΒΆ Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.

   The 1984 edition of the NWT has as a subject title to this section, “Great crowd identified.” For many years Jehovah’s Witnesses were taught that the term “temple” used in Revelation 7:15 refers only to the “outer courts” of God’s heavenly temple, i.e., the earth. But since 1998, this has been changed. In any case, Witnesses still make a distinction as to where the Great Crowd will spend eternity over against the Anointed Class (the 144,000). Jon Mitchell, a former Governing Body secretary, has addressed the rather complicated history of the Society’s many attempts to fit their theology into this text here. In any case, this is what I was referring to when speaking to Pete in this video: