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Proof of what is unseen

The ESV Scripture Journal: Old Testament Set

Mark Ward

I was just at the Shepherds Conference representing Lexham Press; I stood all day in the book tent. I had many dozens of conversations with pastors from all over. I also saw/met dozens of graduates of my alma mater: my table was a bit of a pilgrimage site. (I also sold out of all 50 copies of Authorized, and received a great gift from the Lord: a number of stories about where my book has gone and what by God’s grace it has done.) I didn’t get to go to a single session, because the book tent was never empty. During any given service, a third of the attendees are asked to sit out, and many of them cycle through the tent.

(One quick note: the volunteers from Grace Community Church amazed me. Their happy smiles and generosity were in abundant evidence. And there were 900 of them. Thank you, brothers and sisters—you really encouraged me.)

The biggest and clearly the hottest book table was Crossway’s. They had a huge section dedicated to books, and a huge one dedicated to Bibles. What they are doing really is incredible. They just don’t make any significant missteps in those Bibles. The typography, the bindings, the formats—they’re all so well done. The NASB table was right across from us, and though they had an interesting new preacher’s Bible designed by MacArthur himself, the number and beauty of their editions was obviously far behind those of the ESV. (It is largely for this reason that I tend to use the ESV myself.)

And one of the newest treasures they had over at the Crossway Bibles table was the Scripture Journal. Crossway sent me an Old Testament set to review (naturally, they did not ask me to give a certain opinion).

The set comes in a beautiful box:

But you’re not supposed to just take Instagram photos of the slipcase. Crossway told me you’re supposed to take off the top and pull out the books inside. For note-taking. Huh.

This is what you’ll see:

Open one of the “books,” and you’ll get a beautiful, versified setting of whatever book you’re reading/studying, along with a full page of notes, lined and ready for your Pigma Micron Pen.

There’s really just nothing bad about this set. No, it’s not leather-bound—but would you want it to be? It would be double the width. And your point is not taking it to church (probably?) but working in your home study. The binding is a durable black paper instead.

Now, wait a minute… It wouldn’t be so bad if you did take a volume to church. If your pastor is going through Psalms, as mine recently was (excellent sermons!), or Isaiah, as my previous pastor did, and if he sticks close to the text (as both my pastors did!), then taking the right volume along for notes might be ideal. This set could bring lifelong value to you. Imagine page after page like this filled with good exegetical thoughts, applications, illustrations for future use…

I’ll be straightforward here and say that I am too tied to computerized notes for this beautiful set of Scripture journals to work for me. I made an abortive attempt just two months ago to take all the many sermon notes I’d taken on paper over the years (approx. 1997–2002) and digitize them. But it was a massive chore, and my app stumbled over the size of the resulting PDFs. I wasted an hour or two of work. It could seriously take me a week to do it right, and I’d still have images and not digital text when I got done.

Since 2002 or so, since I got my amazing, beloved Palm IIIxe (later supplanted by an iPod, then an iPhone and iPad), I have been a rigorous taker of electronic notes. For my calling and gifts and bents, digital is better. *

But if that’s not you, if you’re like one of the many pastors at the Lexham booth at Shepherds Conference who told me, “I’m a paper guy,” then you just cannot go wrong with the ESV Scripture Journal: Old Testament Set. Bravo, yet again, Crossway. Keep up the fantastic work!

* FWIW, I use the lean and mean NVAlt for my Bible notes (originally taken in BibleWorks—I’ve been too busy to move them to Logos’ new system). I use the amazing Ulysses not just for all my writing but for all my book notes—I harvest highlights from all Logos and Kindle books.

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Cheapening the Western Musical Tradition: Some Thoughts Inspired by Theodore Gioia and Andy Crouch

Mark Ward

Theodore Gioia in the L.A. Review of Books:

In the mass-media era, the general public primarily experiences classical music through detached snippets of larger pieces extracted to lend their symbolic power to a commercial agenda. Artists and advertisers dissect classical works into short melodies — quotable passages severed from their original context — assembling a menu of musical leitmotifs to bolster their message with a desired tone, mood, or association. Like artificial flavoring for the ear, these symphonic excerpts infuse scenes with the synthetic emotion of choice. Need a touch of European elegance? Mozart will make that minivan commercial suddenly suave. Concerned a slow sequence leaves your audience snoozing? Wake them up with the “William Tell Overture” for instant adrenaline. Does your pancake promo lack punch? Reroute Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” from Valhalla to the International House of Pancakes.

The artistic consequences of such practices are devastating. Conscripting Wagner’s Valkyries as pancake saleswomen necessarily lowers their impact at the opera house. Some pieces are quoted so often that their secondary associations overtake and cheapen the original music. Carmina Burana exists as a permanent musical cliché. Orff’s “O Fortuna” evokes only kitsch; under which circumstances can a listener now have an authentic encounter with that choral-chanting calamity?

Such a sound-bite culture negates the definitive value of classical composition: the extended development of complex musical themes. Extended musical forms allow the listener to appreciate the subtle interplay of motif and movement — and it is exactly this nuanced appreciation that quote-clipping nullifies. There is a two-part mechanism to extract and transplant a tune: detach a 15-second theme from a 45-minute symphony (where it functioned as an integrated part in an organic whole) and attach it to an alien subject. Uproot “O Fortuna” from a Latin cantata, so it can be grafted onto a Domino’s Super Bowl spot. These transplants produce jarring mashups that trigger another insidious side effect: by always quoting works out of the context the public forgets that they have a context. The spectator forgets that “O Fortuna” could be glorious in its original context because it’s absurd hyping Domino’s Pizza. In sum, in the remix media ecosystem, famous compositions degenerate from serious music into decorative sound, applied like wallpaper to lay a poignant surface over banal intentions.

Sometimes I marvel that the Western classical tradition lives on at all. But it does. There are people—I think and hope there will always be people—who feed on that tradition, who look to it for aesthetic nourishment. I have been working for years to be one of those people; I wouldn’t say it has come naturally.

Andy Crouch, in his excellent book, Culture Making, ties the Western classical tradition to the creation blessing/mandate of Genesis 1. I think he is right: the tradition we have been handed is the result of God’s blessing humanity with the impulse to take the raw elements of creation and make them into something refined, something that makes life better for humanity. I love the way he puts it in his sequel book, Playing God:

Thousands of years after Genesis was written, we can see in a way its first readers could never have imagined just how much capacity these human image bearers had to fill the earth—just how much power was ultimately available to them, coiled in the physical elements’ chemical and nuclear bonds, and emerging from the incredible complexity of the human mind and the fecundity of human culture.

The comparatively unrefined musical traditions out there, such as folk music or (dare I say) the musics of other cultures, may certainly have their place. They uncoil certain pleasing elements of God’s creation. But it would be a deeply, deeply impoverished West, a West we wouldn’t recognize, that had never reached the level of refinement seen in what we call “classical” music. Higher doesn’t mean better in some universal sense. It is “better” to play folk music at a folk festival. But it is still “better” for a culture to have a refined, high level of art than for it not to. Because of the creation/cultural blessing/mandate (!). Let us not squander our tradition. Let us, as Crouch urges, conserve it and build upon it.

One more thought: Camille Paglia, that feistiest of writers, has said that it’s not hard to determine the “canon” of Western art: just look at who was the most influential. Surely some quality works were overlooked, and indeed some classical composers such as Vaughan Williams have taken folk melodies and built them into beautiful symphonies. But we should not be on a perpetual quest to find the overlooked pieces of musical or literary or visual art if that quest makes us devalue and ignore the mainstream of the Western tradition, those works that have released the most fruitfulness in others.

The fall is woven throughout all traditions: influence does not equal virtue (Playboy has been influential). But by God’s common grace, cargo-truck loads of beauty are available in the Western tradition, and I’m grateful.

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Wisdom from Peter Williams on Textual Criticism

Mark Ward

Peter Williams is a treasure. These lectures contain some absolute gold, and they give me that lovely feeling of being right, of being validated by someone smarter than oneself. Indeed, some of his key points are things I have come to realize on my own—though he states them so much better, and he bases them on greater quantities of nerdy gumshoeing in primary sources. (For example, he went digging in Erasmus’ Annotations in order to show that he was aware of a huge number of textual variants that we know about.)

Here is a point that I have made, and one Randy Leedy has kind of made, too:

I would say, when we’re involved in the Greek New Testament at Tyndale House, we’re only editors. My job is not to restore a Greek text that God hasn’t chosen to give us. My job is to use the manuscripts that God has given us to do the best job of presenting [a printed text] to people. But when I present it to people, I say, “This is my editorial decision; I’m not saying that I’m infallible at this point.” And if you’re a translator or an interpreter, you’re explaining the Bible to people, it’s exactly the same. That’s all you are: your job is to do what a scribe does. A scribe tries to pass on as well he can; your job is to pass on as well as you can.

Here’s the related point Leedy made:

My own weaknesses as a reader expose me to far more significant misunderstanding than the manuscript differences do, so by far the greatest problems that God must overcome in order to talk to me are within me, not within the transmission process.

This is all a corollary of the overall viewpoint of those who use the critical text: the differences between the major options out there are not nearly as significant, doctrinally speaking (actually, they’re not doctrinally significant), as the fallenness and finiteness of interpreters. Leedy makes a positive point: Christians of every conceivable theological perspective write theological books in which they cite Scripture texts (John 3:16; Rom 5:8) without specifying which translation or text readers should look it up in. I could say it negatively: there were plenty of theological problems before 1881, the year of the release of the first critical text.

Williams then makes another comment that draws together threads in my own thinking. I’ve seen this, too:

It’s an interesting thing that people nowadays have more doubts about the text of the New Testament than they’ve ever had. And yet the gap between our earliest New Testament manuscripts and the time of writing is getting smaller and smaller. So, in other words, the amount of doubt is inversely proportionate to the amount of evidence!…

He makes then a wise comment that I hadn’t thought of, surrounding a thought I did have. What I did realize some time ago is that challenges to the Greek New Testament which claim that it suppressed other variants that didn’t support the “orthodox” party are asking today’s orthodox to prove a universal negative. There is simply no evidence that substantially different versions of the Greek New Testament ever existed. Check out how Williams responds to unbelieving critics. I found this very helpful:

There’s always going to be a gap. Even if I had a photo of Moses coming down the mountain with the tablets from God, you could always say, “What did he do before he came around the corner?” There’s always a gap. People can always say, “What happened before the earliest thing?” But what I want to say is, “Look, I cannot prove that there’s been no change. I don’t need to prove that there’s been no change, because that’s a proving a negative, and you can’t prove a negative like that. I can say that there’s absolutely no reason to believe that there has been change. And I can also say that based on everything we know about transmission, if we extrapolate that back—rather than say, “Before our earliest witnesses, everything was very different”—we see a huge amount of stability. What skeptics want us to do is say, “You’ve got all that evidence for centuries of stability, but just before your earliest witness, someone did something really mischievous.” And the thing about that is that they’d have to be really clever and really well financed in order to do something so mischievous that they could mess things up for future generations.

That last one is something I’ve thought, too—how exactly is someone supposed to change the Greek New Testament without leaving any evidence that another version existed? This party would have to have utterly immense money and power—and the faith of every last professing Christian who had any part of the Greek New Testament in his or her possession. Observe how angrily the ancient congregation responded when a Latin translation changed the word for “gourd.” There’s no way you could get away with large-scale changes of a sacred text used by people spread over a huge geographical area.

Listen for yourself.

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The Authorized Documentary

Mark Ward

The Authorized documentary ships today. It’s the culmination of a lot of work, and I pray that its message will be persuasive and spread widely.

Here’s that message: we should all read the Bible in our English, not someone else’s. The “false friends” in the otherwise beautiful and valuable KJV—the words and syntax and punctuation that we still use today but use differently than they did in 1611—mean that modern readers simply cannot know what they’re missing if the KJV is their only Bible.

I’m not saying that anyone should throw the KJV away. I certainly haven’t. I use it every day. But I don’t insist that others use it, or use it exclusively. We have many good English Bible translations, all of which are useful for Bible study.

In the documentary I just say all this in funnier and more entertaining ways. You can watch for free during a 14-day free trial—and make sure to check out the other stuff on Faithlife TV. My kids enjoy Torchlighters, for example.

Click here to watch the 45-minute show!

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Is the KJV the Most Concordant English Bible Translation?

Mark Ward

A friend and reader who has good training in linguistics wrote to ask me to evaluate a claim she found in an article online. Here’s what the writer said (and I won’t link to it because I don’t want to seem to be critical of this writer in particular—hers is a very common viewpoint, and the rest of her post is really quite good):

TIP: The King James Version is a great one to use for this kind of studying! Though this version uses older English and can be a bit hard to understand if you are not used to it; when translating the Hebrew and Greek words the KJV is the most (though not entirely) consistent in using the same English word each time that Greek or Hebrew word is used. Thus, it is a lot easier to see patterns in word usages as you study! I love to see patterns and themes throughout God’s Word!

After reading this paragraph and sharing it with me, my friend asked me,

I don’t know Greek or Hebrew, so I have no idea how accurate this is, but I’m curious. What do you think of this? I thought I remembered that…friends in seminary used a different translation (NASB maybe??) in their Greek classes for glossing. In addition, from a basic linguistic point of view, I can imagine why it would not be a good idea to always translate a Greek/Hebrew word into the same English word throughout the Bible—lack of semantic equivalence across languages, of course, and the fact that languages and dialects each have unique semantic maps, etc.

Here’s my response:

What she’s talking about is “concordance.” It’s part of what causes the KJV to be considered generally among the more “literal” translations—although, as you know, “literal” is a very slippery term. And I would definitely not say that the KJV is the most concordant of the major English translations.

Here’s how I’d respond to someone who claims that the KJV is the most concordant English Bible translation:

1. You’re perfectly right that, from a linguistic point of view (and shouldn’t that be the main point of view of a translator?), perfect concordance is not a good idea. But she doesn’t say the KJV is entirely consistent in this regard. She recognizes implicitly that concordance can be useful for a certain angle of Bible study but is not utterly required.

2. And yet, how could she know the KJV is the most concordant translation? This is a question I find I repeatedly want to ask people (I rarely get to!). If you can’t read Greek and Hebrew, you have to take someone else’s word on this question. The NASB is indeed generally regarded (by the people the KJV translators would call “the judicious”) to be literal than the KJV, but we’re talking about thousands of words here in all kinds of contexts: it would be really hard to nail this one down. I doubt anyone has ever done the stats; how could they? It would be extremely detailed and lengthy work. People speak so confidently about the superiority of the KJV, making all kinds of claims, from the milder (like hers) to the extravagant. But not a few are unprovable. And they cite the ether. Really, they are repeating ecclesiastical legends.

3. And I can say that because the KJV translators themselves deny adhering to a concordance theory of translation. In their preface, “Translators to the Reader,” which is a goldmine for responding to all types of claims for KJV superiority, they write,

Another thing we think good to admonish thee of, gentle reader, that we have not tied ourselves to a uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe that some learned men somewhere have been as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not vary from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there be some words that be not of the same sense everywhere), we were especially careful, and made a conscience, according to our duty. But that we should express the same notion in the same particular word, as for example, if we translate the Hebrew or Greek word once by “purpose,” never to call it “intent”; if one where “journeying,” never “travelling”; if one where “think,” never “suppose”; if one where “pain,” never “ache”; if one where “joy,” never “gladness,” etc.; thus to mince the matter, we thought to savour more of curiosity than wisdom, and that rather it would breed scorn in the atheist than bring profit to the godly reader. For is the kingdom of God become words or syllables? why should we be in bondage to them if we may be free? use one precisely when we may use another no less fit as commodiously? (xxxiv)

Concordance provides one useful tool for Bible study. But it can also obscure the meaning of the text, at least a little. Once again I’m driven back to recommending that people use multiple English Bible translations in their study. A combination of literal/concordant/formal and dynamic/functional and then paraphrastic translations are all helpful for understanding what God said.

At least the KJV translators thought so:

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgement not to be so sound in this point. For though “whatsoever things are necessary are manifest,” as St Chrysostom saith, and as St Augustine, “In those things that are plainly set down in the Scriptures all such matters are found that concern faith, hope, and charity”: yet for all that it cannot be dissembled that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from loathing of them for their everywhere plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by conference, and never scorn those that be not in all respects so complete as they should be, being to seek in many things ourselves, it hath pleased God in his divine providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain), but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence, and if we will resolve, to resolve upon modesty…: it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret than to strive about those things that are uncertain. There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once (having neither brother nor neighbour, as the Hebrews speak), so that we cannot be helped by conference of places. Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts and precious stones, etc., concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgement that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something than because they were sure of that which they said, as St Jerome somewhere saith of the Septuagint. Now in such a case doth not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatise upon this or that peremptorily? For as it is a fault of incredulity to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgement of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore as St Augustine saith, that variety of translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded. (xxxii–xxxiii)

Does that help?

God bless your service for him.

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Review: Ember Rising

Mark Ward

Ember Rising (The Green Ember #3)Ember Rising by S.D. Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved it. So did the kids. (And the illustrations, by my respected friend Zach Franzen, were also excellent.)

For a good while I was thinking that this book is The Benedict Option for kids—and for adults who dutifully read Dreher’s hot-title-of-2017 but whose affections were not fully engaged by his more prosaic approach (which I did find helpful—this is not a criticism). Ember Rising, by contrast, engages the heart with a stirring story. In this story there is a real evil, real danger, real pain. And, more importantly, real hope and real joy. I felt the story showed respect to the feelings and thinking of kids: it avoided cloying, no-fall-ever-happened saccharinity; and yet it didn’t over-burden the kids with darkness. The characters are well drawn, with personalities the kids could draw from. Captain Moonlight, Weezie, Helmer, Picket, Emma, Heather, Jacks—with the minor, partial, possible exception of Captain Vitton and Dr. Zeigler, no one was cartoonish, a common flaw among kids’ books. And even those exceptions read as real within the overall narrative. By avoiding cartoonishness elsewhere, the book allows readers to enjoy its virtues.

My seven-year-old girl understood the cliffhanger ending, which also read as real: prices must be paid by the good guys, even when their cause is righteous. But the Mended Wood is coming, and they will be vindicated.

I said that for a good while I drew parallels between this book and the Benedict Option. And I think they are certainly present. The good citadels are enclaves of the preservation of good rabbit culture. But I came to think as I neared the end that the book’s sights are set on something higher and bigger than the future, post-dark-secular-age renaissance of the West. I think the Mended Wood is the New Earth.

But, in a way, the Mended Wood can be both the restored West and the restored planet. The glory and honor of the nations will enter the New Jerusalem. That includes the West, right? Maybe the Green Ember series will be some of the literary glory entering that future city. I’m that excited about it.

Highly recommended.

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