In his first inspired letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul says,
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV)
Fellow preachers, I propose to you that the best preaching ends up with people who are meeting with God and who are amazed with the power of God through the message delivered to them, more than they’re amazed at a messenger or deliverer. I am convinced that applicational expository sermon preparation is essential to the aims that Paul embodied with the Corinthians. The sermon we must prepare can then be defined as “public, biblical proclamation that derives its message exclusively from the intent of the author and conveys implications specifically for the life of the hearer.” In order to help us toward that end of applicational expository preaching, I want to encourage you with five sermon evaluation questions that will directly inform your preparation for the next sermon you are entrusted to deliver. I will then give you ten steps to better prepare to preach.
1. Is the sermon accurate?
Was what I preached accurate? Did I get the text right? It’s an uncomfortable question, but it is the right one because we are heralds of the King’s words. Exegesis and hermeneutics are not the disciplines of the ivory tower, but are the constant tools in the herald’s hands in every sermon preparation engagement.
2. Is the sermon authentic?
Did the text get me right? Did I deliver this, having been moved by the Spirit with the meaning of the text and its direct impact on my life? Or did I merely deliver a lecture or disperse content detached and disengaged from the Spirit-intended implications on life? As Mike Bullmore has often reminded me, God intended to say something and get something done with every text we preach.
3. Is the sermon articulate?
Did I make the meaning and implication of the text clear? Simple and clear do not necessarily mean simplistic or dumbed down. Nor do complex and complicated necessarily mean deep or sophisticated. Clarity is an often-overlooked aspect of preparation. Think deeply, connect dots relentlessly, and tie the knots of logic and reason as tightly as possible so that the hearer has every opportunity to understand and be affected by the Word of God.
4. Is the sermon accessible?
Did I make the text contextually attainable? Did I know my audience? While preaching, did I assess and adjust to the hearers' non-verbal communication from the pews? The preacher who merely delivers a speech is far less concerned with accessibility than the shepherd who is feeding the flock, the discipler who is discipling the hearers, and the evangelist who is evangelizing the crowd. If accessibility is prioritized the most underdeveloped listener can grab the truth of the text, and the most mature will be shaped further by the text they have perhaps encountered on various occasions. Illustrations, humor, applications, and even delivery style will be the watermarks of accessible sermons.
5. Is the sermon applicable?
Did I connect the dots from learning to living? Having been trained in a deeply exegetical and explanation-weighted preaching context, I’m terrified of Christians erroneously thinking that they’re growing merely because they know more about the Bible. Knowledge without love (application) ends up pumping pride (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1; 13:1-3). Be sure to actually bring the text to bear on the lifestyle of the hearer.
With those evaluation questions weighing in on your preparation, now we begin the step-by-step process:
1. Prepare your heart.
Start with prayer and permeate your preparation, guys. Preparing a sermon should be a rich and powerful aspect of your walk with Christ. You’re with him, and the Spirit is with you. If you’ll engage that way, he is as much involved in the prep as he is in the proclamation.
2. Examine the text.
Exegesis is the observation and examination of the text. Find and record all that you see in the grammatical, logical, theological, and contextual connection points in the passage. See John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (chapter 6) and learn to query the text thoroughly.
3. Compile the truth.
Sketch out the formation of the argument and the elements. Determine the primary truth or the big idea of the text. You can ask, “What is lost if this portion of the Bible is removed from the Bible?” So the implication of that text ends up becoming central to the big idea.
4. Organize the structure.
You have an exegetical outline by examining the text. You have an explanatory outline—what the text is saying—by compiling the truth. Now move into an applicational expository outline by connecting this text to the life of your hearers. That’s organizing the sermon structure from What? to So what? to Now what?—which personalizes it.
5. Inspect the framework.
This is the first time in preparation where commentaries should be used. Technical commentaries help answer technical questions. Expository commentaries help answer explanatory questions. Applicational commentaries help answer applicational questions. Devotional commentaries help answer the devotional questions of what you’re supposed to feel and believe and what’s supposed to happen. Inspect with commentaries; don’t plagiarize them.
6. Confirm the sermon.
Take the sermon to a meeting to get feedback about how best to bring it home in the context where you will preach it. One voice should talk about the connections in the text. One voice should talk about the verbiage and what is said and how words are used. One voice should talk about applicational elements in the text and how it can come home to hearers. Do not come to that meeting hoping to get a sermon. Come with a sermon that the meeting is going to help make better.
7. Color the sermon.
Add to the sermon sharp hooks and tight buttons. Sharp hooks are introductions that create the need to listen. Tight buttons are conclusions that close loops and send hearers toward response and life. Illustrations, commercial breaks to discuss a pertinent topic, humor, and quotations can all be used to further color the sermon.
8. Construct the notes.
I’m not going to tell you how I do my notes. Work and rework notes until you figure out how your brain works so that your notes serve you. You are not a servant of your notes. Your notes are a servant of your brain. They’re there to help your brain.
9. Consecrate the sermon.
Pray it hot. Linger with the Lord for boldness, for tenderness. Consecrate that sermon to the King and His agenda. Devote it to him. Pray through the big idea with him. Pray that you would love the people listening. Pray for boldness that comes from a vertical engagement in your preparation with the Word of the living God.
10. Proclaim the sermon.
Proclaim it. Preach it. No biblical preaching is devoid of teaching, but there’s plenty of teaching that is devoid of preaching. Preaching is a heralding ministry that finds its heritage in the prophets. So preach. We are not having a talk, and we’re not having a conversation. We’re not welcoming everybody into a conversation. We actually are spokesmen for the King. Manage post-sermon interactions and sensations carefully. You are not as good as your highest praise, and you are not as bad as your harshest critic. Just don’t believe either one too much.
Finally, I’ve got some resources that have shaped my life as a preacher and might do the same for you:
• Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson is the most influential. • Preaching by John MacArthur • Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I love, love, love that book. • Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell • Preach the Word by Ryken and Wilson • Grasping God’s Word by Duvall and Hayes • Between Two Worlds by John Stott • The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper • Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper • Famine in the Land by Steven Lawson
Adam is Senior Lead Pastor at Christ Church in Gilbert, AZ. He planted Christ Church in December 2012. He earned his M.Div. from The Master's Seminary and previously served on the pastoral staff of churches in California and Texas. Before training with Harvest Bible Fellowship and coming to Phoenix, he planted and was the lead pastor of Grace Church of the Valley in Kingsburg, CA. He and his wife Renee live in Chandler with their two daughters and a son. They are thrilled to be in the East Valley for the sake of Christ's fame.
Why the Puritans Canceled Christmas
By Nathan Tarr, PhD
In 1659, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony canceled Christmas. The purpose of this brief essay is to explore why they did so and what we—rightly looking forward to enjoying our Christmas traditions—can learn from their decision. We can work toward a helpful understanding of Puritan opposition to Christmas by reminding ourselves who the Puritans were, what they were like, and what was happening at the Christmas revelries to which they were opposed.
The term “Puritan” covered a motley crew of men and women, in both England and America, from the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries. It was perhaps not quite as broad as a term like “evangelical” is today, but it often carried a similar (and ironical) imprecision. Some Puritans, for example, focused almost entirely on political debates of the day. Others took church government as their primary area of concern. Still others were known for their intentional pursuit of piety. To say that “the Puritans” did any one thing—including canceling Christmas—is a bit like squaring the circle. It is hard to find a formula where everybody fits. We are focusing in this essay on the theological reservations that animated the Puritan discouragement of Christmas celebrations.
Some of us may not see a need to ask why the Puritans would take the step of canceling Christmas. Christmas is bright, and colorful, and filled with joy. Puritans being Puritans, of course, they opposed it for just these reasons. Were they not the well-known antagonists of delight, festivity, and fun? In a word, the answer is no. Scholars like Bruce Daniels, Leland Ryken and, more recently, Michael Reeves have done important work rehabilitating our imagination where the character of the Puritans is concerned. And more work is needed! The Puritans, in actual fact, took robust delight in colorful clothing, food and drink, art and instruments (if not in church), natural beauty, sport (though not on the Lord’s day), and marital sex. Their enjoyment of these and other of God’s good gifts resounds from their journals, letters, sermons, and even the accusations of their enemies. What was it, then, that they found so onerous about Christmas?
We begin to get an idea of their concern when, already in 1621, Governor William Bradford censured newcomers to the Plymouth Colony for taking Christmas day off from work. Nevertheless, Bradford wrote in his log, “If they made the keeping of [Christmas] a matter of devotion, then let them keep [it in] their houses, but there should be no gambling or reveling in the streets.” Taking Bradford at his word here, he is admitting a legitimate way to celebrate Christmas—in our homes, as a matter of religious devotion. He is also identifying the issue at the root of his resistance to the holiday, namely, a spiritually crass and socially disruptive celebration disconnected from the reason for the season.
Perhaps you are beginning to wonder at this point whether “Christmas” was something altogether different in 17th-century England (and New England) than it is in our experience today. That question comes from a good instinct! We should get the past clear before we critique it. So, if Puritans were not canceling carols, ginger bread houses, hot chocolate, and puppies, what kind of celebration did Puritan leaders believe we would be better without? We should imagine a scene less like setting up a manger and more like Mardi Gras. Known as "Foolstide," cross-dressing, heavy-drinking crowds would parade the streets singing bawdy songs and demanding entrance to upper-class residences. Those houses not sufficiently quick to open the door and provide the meat and drink demanded would be vandalized before the crowd moved on. Presided over by a Lord of Misrule, the street festival often took special delight in interrupting church services. It was a night neither silent nor holy. As Hugh Latimer wrote in the early half of the 16th century, “men dishonor Christ more in the twelve days of Christmas than in all the twelve months besides.”
Here was the heart of the Puritan aversion to Christmas as it was celebrated in their time. The social order was disrupted. Townspeople reveled in an excuse to “do what they lust and follow what vanity they will.” The devotion of true religion was ignored or antagonized outright. As a political minority, the Puritans resisted these expectations for decades, but to little cultural effect. Their convictions did not change when they found themselves in a position to influence policy. And so, in the colonies of the New World as in Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, the Puritans exercised their political power to cancel or curtail the irreligious celebration of Christmas.
In his The Battle for Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum has argued that the traditions marking our holiday season are relatively new and thus very different from those combatted by Governor Bradford’s prohibition on “reveling in the streets.” Even so, there is a caution in the Puritan stance that is worthy of our consideration. The most basic service that the Puritan example can perform is to (re)call our attention to the dual nature of our Christmas celebration. We enjoy this month both a cultural and a religious holiday. They happen at the same time, and are called by many of the same names, but they are very different. The cultural holiday is full of parties and candy, presents and decorations on everything from clothing to cookies. The religious holiday revolves around the myriad ways we consider afresh the news that God has come as our humble Savior and will soon return as our victorious King. The first celebration awakens the ache of acquisition. The second awakens the ache of advent.
Keeping these two holidays distinct in our hearts and minds is not easy, especially with mangers in front of malls and advent wreaths arriving from Amazon. But the Puritans thought it a safer course to cancel Christmas altogether than to risk confusing the holy truth of our Savior’s birth with self-focused, God-less frivolity. So how can we take steps to give both Christmases—the cultural and the spiritual—their proper emphasis in our lives? We should drink our eggnog, decorate our houses, and buy our presents, yes. But what would it look like in our families, and in our churches, to celebrate in a manner that makes it clear that Christmas, ultimately, is a “matter of devotion”? How does the way we engage the public holiday reflect the tempering of Advent’s truth? Each of us will, no doubt, answer these questions of priority and emphasis a bit differently from one another. The Puritans, as is often the case with examples from church history, do not give us the answer. But they do raise the question of Christian devotion. And being prompted to wrestle with such an important question is itself a gift.
Nathan Tarr (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology & the Doctor of Ministry Program Director at Phoenix Seminary. He has enjoyed many years of pastoral experience, first as the founding pastor of Christ Church in Knoxville, Tenn. (2005-2018), and then as the associate pastor of discipleship and missions at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. (2018-2020).
The Golden Age of the Church
As Westerners in the year 2022, we perhaps live in a golden age of studying church history. It seems every few weeks one publisher or another releases a new translation, reprint, or edition of a classic work. It is hard to imagine a time in the past when Christians had more access to the godly, life-giving books from those that came before them. We should learn from them—those so astoundingly devoted to taking every thought captive to the Word of God. Yet, we have to think about church history biblically.
The History of the Church Is Invaluable
Understanding church history brings about many benefits, four of which I will note. Firstly, church history reminds us that Christ’s church has prevailed since His life, death, and resurrection; and she will prevail until His return (Matthew 16:18). Second, learning from church history is an immense source of wisdom, clarity, and encouragement. We can turn again to the great books that have shaped the course of the church for centuries. We can still find comfort for our souls in the gospel insights of writers who remain mostly unmatched. Third, understanding church history provides an incredible ballast against the waves of fads and fashions in the life of the church. Fourth, church history can inculcate humility in us.
The late David McCullough, one of the most influential historians of the past century, said in his book The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For: “We’ve got to teach history and nurture history and encourage history because it’s an antidote to the hubris of the present—the idea that everything we have and everything we do and everything we think is the ultimate, the best.” This applies to the studying of church history as well. Few questions today have not already been addressed in some way by the church over the last two millennia.
There have been periods throughout the history of the church that stand as faithful correctives to our own day. Consider the Puritans’ diligent, intentional, and patient focus on the ordinary means of grace in corporate worship. They focused on the Bible as the typical means by which God draws sinners to himself and conform us into the image of His Son. Contrast that with the revivalism reemerging in much of the church today. The Reformers themselves, to call the wayward church back to purity of doctrine and practice, looked at both the Bible and past theologians who faithfully taught the Bible.
Church history is truly an invaluable source of encouragement. In the writings of those who have long been in the grave, we can find pastoral mentors. How did John Calvin think through and address a pastoral issue? How did Herman Bavinck understand the role of the people of God in the political realm? We can find great motivation to remain faithful and trust in God’s promises by reading George Mueller’s autobiography. We can learn from the godly pattern of rejoicing in the tender-care of Christ through the Letters of Samuel Rutherford.
The History of the Church Is Imperfect
Nevertheless, in our right and godly quest to humbly understand and learn from church history, there is a simple pit-fall we must always avoid: We ought not think that there was some past "golden age of the church." The most Christ-like pastors, the most faithful evangelists, the purest churches—all these still bore the marks of indwelling sin. Godly pastors, even on their best days, are still imperfect shadows of the Great Shepherd to whom they point. The healthiest church is a faint glimmer of the purified Bride. It is imperative that we hold these truths together: the greatest figures and the most sanctified churches in history were flawed, and we can learn from them despite their insufficiencies and even their moral failings.
God’s Word itself recounts history in a way that reminds God’s people of past generations' faithlessness, to encourage faithfulness in the next generation. Moses, in Deuteronomy, reiterates the covenant and provides covenant motivations for ongoing faithfulness. He encouraged covenant faithfulness by reminding the Israelites of their forefathers’ faithlessness and failure (Deuteronomy 1:26–30). His pointing back to sinful distrust from the past stirred up greater present trust in God’s promise to give His people the land.
No, the golden age of the church is not behind us, nor do we live in it now. Jesus implied as much in Matthew 18:15–20, when He instituted the practice of church discipline (binding and loosing). Jesus himself assumed that the local church would include those whose lives at times denied their gospel confession. Additionally, reflect on how many letters in the New Testament were written to address theological and pastoral issues. The apostles themselves did not live in an idealized era of the church.
Pastor, if Jesus assumes an imperfect church and the apostle Paul ministered to churches who approved of a wicked sexual relationship (1 Cor. 5), seasons of frustration and hardship in your church should not surprise you.
Augustine grumbled about distracted or noisy audience members who interrupted his sermons. Luther wrote the Smaller Catechism because of “the deplorable, miserable condition” of Lutheran churches he had visited. Many of the Puritans bemoaned the occasional faithlessness and hard-heartedness of their people. Examples like these abound throughout church history, and they remind us that the church has never been perfect.
Don’t allow your heart to yearn for a fictionalized version of the church’s past. Instead, protect your expectations for what the church is and should be. You have been called to be a steward of your flock—not a flock in 1550s Geneva, 1600s Oxfordshire, or 1880s London.
Yes, learn from the past. Grow as a shepherd. Learn from the scores of faithful shepherds who watched over Christ’s church before you—those men who “held firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:9). And yet, remind yourself that perfection has never been the mark of a faithful pastor or a healthy church. Walking in repentance and faith, seeking to grow in greater godliness and joy in Christ, and making clear who Christ is by our words and deeds—this is what we are called to.
The Golden Age to Come
Take heart, though: the golden age of the church is coming soon. The Lord’s return will usher in an eternal age wherein, as the classic hymn “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” observes:
…congregations never break up and sabbaths have no end.
For now, our Sunday gatherings are messy. Our victories, flawed foretastes of eternal joy. Imperfect shepherds will someday give way to reality. Then, Christ’s church will be presented to Him perfect and blameless—no longer merely declared righteous, but made righteous to enjoy Him forevermore.
Forrest Strickland (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is an Adjunct Professor of Church History at Boyce College and a member of Hunsinger Lane Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.
Why Your Student Ministry Needs Theology Proper and Church History
If you take a look around most student ministry series, conferences, and curriculum you’ll see one word that consistently pops off the page—“apologetics.” The teen years are full of questions, debates, and crises of faith. So naturally the defense of the faith is a common subject.
Apologetics are good and important; this is not meant to denigrate the field. But I think we’ve gotten the cart before the horse in student ministry. In our desire to answer every niche question we are missing opportunities to teach the big truths of our faith with clarity, which would filter down into the apologetic assurance we were seeking to begin with.
In the age of TikTok, Instagram Reels, and relentless public assault against the Christian worldview, students can easily become overwhelmed with a litany of questions about creation, the Old Testament law, gender, specific texts, moral failings of Christian leaders, and much more. We could conceivably spend every discipleship meeting and student gathering just addressing these questions. While this could be helpful to a point, we would really just be giving students a quick fix to problems that require much deeper thought. In student ministry, we must resist the temptation to defend the Christian faith with 1-minute soundbites. I think most student ministries would do better to focus on theology proper and church history, which would in turn produce students who know the faith they seek to defend.
The Importance of Theology Proper
In my experience, GenZ has a harder time with the morality of God than determining whether or not there is one. How do we reach the student whose burning question is not “does God exist?” but rather “is God good?” The answer is through theology proper. Theology proper is just the study of who God is. When we spend more time teaching about the Trinity, God’s attributes, and His work in the world, students naturally develop the instincts needed to handle other apologetic questions.
But teaching students theology proper is difficult. Topics like the Trinity, aseity, and transcendence cannot be adequately covered in a couple of lessons. To understand such deep and complex topics usually requires exposure over the course of months and years. As students begin to understand these topics, they provide categories that actually aid apologetic efforts by grounding answers in God’s nature, instead of treating each question as a horizontal talking point. I’ve never seen a student caught up in the beauty of the Godhead suddenly abandon their faith over a niche intellectual argument.
Now, many of my more apologetically minded youth workers may say this strategy is not a step away from apologetics, it’s a step from pop-apologetics to real, good apologetics. They may be right. Even so, I’d wager everyone could do with more meditation on God’s nature and work–while some could do with a bit less opportunity for conflict. Theology proper offers a win-win.
The Importance of Church History
Much like theology proper, church history may not seem like the most invigorating topic for student ministry. After all, debating the age of the earth or talking through the newest celebrity deconstruction story might make for much easier marketing to get students in the room (and that does matter). But church history is one of the few tools that forces our students to look beyond their cultural moment and see the bigger picture of what God has done and will do through His people.
Church history teaches students that the controversies today do not represent existential threats to the faith. The church has weathered wars, theological debates, cultural upheavals, complete reformations, and consistent persecutions without collapsing or ceasing to exist. Knowing these stories helps students take what seem like world-changing conflicts and put them in proper perspective. The biggest issues facing the Church often change, shift, or even vanish. Knowing this helps students doubt their doubts and take more seriously their faith that has lasted throughout the ages.
Teaching church history also allows us to be honest with students about the past. GenZ is keenly aware of the sins of past generations; They notice every time Christians sweep our own dirty past under the rug out of ignorance or fear. Being open about our failures and flaws yet still telling God’s story will tear down apologetic barriers and situate them in God’s big story.
Theology proper and church history aren’t easy to teach—and they certainly aren’t quick or flashy—but they are worth it. As it turns out, if you’re a youth worker and you’re tackling theology and church history well—you’ll actually be doing great apologetics.
If you don’t feel equipped yourself in these areas, then invest in good books like Church History in Plain Languageor The Story of Christianity. Consider also systematic theologies like Wayne Grudem’s, John Frame’s, or Millard Erickson’s.More than just reading, invest in solid seminary training. In fact, Phoenix Seminary has made all their Church History 1 and Old Testament 2 course lectures available free of charge.
Our students will face doubts and concerns regarding their faith. If we want them to defend the faith instead of walking away from it, we should ensure they really know what they’re trying to defend. Are you providing the easiest answers, or the right ones?
Will Standridge serves as the preteen and student pastor at Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. He received his B.A. from Boyce College and M.Div. from SBTS. Will blogs frequently about student ministry philosophy. He is married to his high-school sweetheart, Kendyl.
Why Are There So Many Translations of the Bible? Dr. Peter Gurry
Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Gurry about the various translations of the Bible.
Topics of conversation include:
A history of the English Bible
The most popular English translations used today
The translation spectrum from literal to paraphrase
The five questions a translator must answer when deciding how to translate from the original text
Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.
Brian Arnold (00:18):
Have you ever walked into a Christian bookstore looking for a new Bible, and you go to the Bible section and there's tons of different options? And you start to look at all the different Bible translations and ask yourself the question—why do we have so many different translations? Is there one that's better than another one? Which one maybe gives me the most accurate reflection of the original text? Which one's the easiest to read and understand? Well, if you have ever had those questions, we want to answer that for you today. Here to help us understand Bible translations is Dr. Peter Gurry. Dr. Gurry is assistant professor of New Testament at Phoenix Seminary. He's the co-director of the Text and Canon Institute, and he serves as an elder at Whitton Avenue Bible Church here in Phoenix, Arizona. He holds a PhD from Cambridge University, and he teaches courses on Greek Language and New Testament Literature. Dr. Gurry has written multiple books, including Myths and Mistakes, and one coming out soon called Scribes and Scriptures: The Amazing Story of How We Got the Bible, which is co-authored with another Phoenix Seminary professor, Dr. John Mead. Dr. Gurry, welcome again to the podcast.
Peter Gurry (01:23):
It's great to be back.
Brian Arnold (01:24):
So our big question today is this—why are there so many translations of the Bible? So let's actually just kind of set the historical context, right? The Bible's written in three different languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, which were the languages that the people spoke at the time. God was speaking in a language he wanted people to understand. Since then, the Bible's been translated into other languages as well, including English. So maybe even go back all the way to the 14th century and tell us a little bit about the translation of the Bible into English.
Peter Gurry (01:57):
Sure. So from pretty early on, the Bible's been translated into other languages. The earliest Bible translation is what we call the Septuagint, which is the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek. And then once Christianity comes along, the New Testament—along with the Old Testament—gets translated into other languages like Latin and Syriac and various other languages as well. So if you want to fast forward to the fourteenth century, we have a few English translations before that, translations of the Bible, but they're very piecemeal. They're only a little bit here, a little bit there. Or in one case, it's a translation of the Bible, but it's just English words written on top of the Latin words. So you can't really even read it left to right, because it's following the Latin order. But then a guy by the name of John Wycliffe comes along and John Wycliffe is a professor at the University of Oxford, and he begins to write a lot. And he has various criticisms of the church of his day.
Peter Gurry (02:48):
And one of them is that he thinks that people ought to have the Bible in their own language. And that leads to what we call the Wycliffe Bible. It's not certain whether John Wycliffe himself actually translated any of it, but he certainly encouraged it and was a fan of the idea. But in any case, by the end of the 14th century, we end up with two translations of the English Bible. They're both Wycliffe translations, one is a revision of the other one. And it's in old English, so if you were to try to read it today, it would be very hard to read because both the vocabulary and the spelling and the syntax is very old.
Brian Arnold (03:21):
Yeah, I had to read Wycliffe—just in other treatises—in the original, and it is quite challenging.
Peter Gurry (03:25):
Brian Arnold (03:26):
It's like reading Chaucer.
Peter Gurry (03:27):
It's like Chaucer, that's right. Yep. So don't think, you know, Shakespeare. We are way beyond Shakespeare here. Think Beowulf, right? Just that kind of English. Yeah.
Brian Arnold (03:35):
Right. Or Chaucer, like I had mentioned. Yeah. And then, right after Wycliffe, you get somebody like Tyndale. And his story is quite remarkable.
Peter Gurry (03:45):
Tyndale's story is remarkable. So Tyndale—fast forward, Tyndale is also a student at Oxford. So the movement that kind of follows John Wycliffe, known as Lollardy is still in the air at Oxford University at the time. But the Bible is not the core of the curriculum at the time. But Wycliffe really gets a taste for the Bible there. And after he graduates, he becomes a priest and starts preaching back in his hometown. And it's there that he starts to really see—the people need the Bible in their own language, and they need to be able to read it. And so he goes to London, hoping to get the approval of the Bishop of London there to translate the Bible and sell it. But the Bishop will not see him. And he realizes after about a year that not only can he not get approval from the Bishop of London, but there's nowhere in England at all that will be a home for him to do what he wants to do.
Peter Gurry (04:33):
So he leaves for Europe, which is the home of Martin Luther at that time. And Luther just a few years before that had nailed his 95 Theses to the door at Wittenberg. And so reformation is in the air. And in 1522, Luther translates his famous Bible into German, the New Testament into German in 1522. And Tyndale, then, is partly inspired by Luther. And he translates the Bible for the first time into English from Greek. So his English New Testament comes out in 1526, and among the things that make him so significant are that his English translation becomes a foundation for all subsequent English translations. So when you read something like, "Let there be light," that is Tyndale you're still reading there
Brian Arnold (05:15):
And there's some other...what are some of the expressions that Tyndale uses that we just take for granted?
Peter Gurry (05:19):
So Tyndale is...remember, the first time that the Bible is going into English from Greek. And he has a real good sense for the Greek language, and also a very good sense for the way the man on the street speaks. So he invents terms like godly, scapegoat, atonement. He's the first one to use the word atonement for theological purposes. And he's the first one that brings the name Jehovah into English, trying to get what he sees in Hebrew into English. So it's really remarkable.
Brian Arnold (05:47):
And it's the heart of Tyndale, I think, that means a lot to me. That he wants the plowboy to know the Bible. So before, a lot of people—you've got Latin masses that are happening, and so people are disconnected. So they don't have a Bible. The printing press is just brand new. So not only do they not have a Bible, but what they have—even in churches—is in Latin. And so you can imagine how disconnected people have...all they have is the kind of ritual aspects of the Christian faith. But once the Bible's put in the vernacular of the people, that's where reformation breaks out, revivals break out. Because God's Word, in the hands of people, is like a lion unleashed.
Peter Gurry (06:22):
Right. And that's what the Reformers all, I think, universally recognized. They saw that for true reform to happen, the people had to know the Bible too. It couldn't be limited to the priesthood. And that is something that theologians had argued before. There was quite a lot of resistance to the English Bible, as listeners probably know. Wycliffe was not burned at the stake, but his bones are exhumed after he dies, and burned. And then Tyndale, of course, is famously strangled and burned at the stake. And one of the concerns that theologians had about having the English in the vernacular, was that it would take the Bible away from the clergy and give it to the people. And that you would lose that distinction between the clergy and the people. And that's actually part of what the Reformers, I think, wanted to do. They actually, like you said, wanted to unleash the Bible among the people.
Brian Arnold (07:06):
Okay. So we get from Wycliffe, then we get Tyndale. What, 50, 60 years after Tyndale, you're going to get the King James Version. Which kind of begins to standardize some of—
Peter Gurry (07:17):
Yeah. So what's important is, between Tyndale and the King James are actually a number of really important translations. So you have translations like the Geneva Bible, which is the main precursor, and various revisions. You have the Bishop's Bible, which is actually the foundation for the King James Bible. You have about a half dozen or so English Bibles besides Tyndale's that come out in the intervening period. And if you read the preface to the King James version, the translators themselves say their goal was not to disparage all the translations that had come before them. They're very clear in saying—the translations that have come before us are good ones. And we hope to make one good one out of many good ones, or one singularly good one out of many. And that really, I think, was both their goal and their great accomplishment, was they did exactly that.
Brian Arnold (08:01):
But wasn't part of their anticipation that there would be subsequent Bible translations?
Peter Gurry (08:05):
They did. And they're quite clear in the preface that they realized—this is not the last word on Bible translation. In fact, I think they probably could not have imagined that their translation would last as long as it has.
Brian Arnold (08:14):
And it's still going pretty strong today. It is probably one of the most purchased Bibles, even in English today.
Peter Gurry (08:20):
It is the second best seller, in terms of Bible translations, in English. And it is, by some metrics, the most read Bible. At least when people self-report reading the Bible, they report reading the King James more than any other translation.
Brian Arnold (08:30):
We can think of the great ministries like the Gideons, who placed the Bible everywhere, and placed it there in the KJV, how many people's lives have been changed and impacted for Christ that way. So I think lot of people are going to be wondering—if it's the second most purchased one, what is the most purchased?
Peter Gurry (08:45):
Well, last time I checked it was the NIV.
Brian Arnold (08:47):
Peter Gurry (08:48):
So I forget...about maybe 30 or 40 years ago or so, the NIV overtook the King James.
Brian Arnold (08:53):
Okay. I just must say this. I was just in a conversation with Dr. Wayne Grudem, who was the general editor of the English Standard Version, who I think...it seems to indicate that the ESV maybe has surpassed the NIV.
Peter Gurry (09:07):
It could be. Last time I looked...it depends probably on who you talk to.
Brian Arnold (09:10):
Yeah. It's hard to get data on this.
Peter Gurry (09:12):
How you measure.
Brian Arnold (09:12):
Yeah, that's right. That's right.
Peter Gurry (09:13):
Mine are coming from the Evangelical Press Association of America.
Brian Arnold (09:16):
Okay. Well, mine's coming from a professor at Phoenix Seminary. And it really behooves us to say that, you know, the ESV, which basically is coming out of Phoenix Seminary, is the most widely used Bible version in English. Well let's get a little bit practical, in terms of translation techniques. So, you know, I'm looking at Bible Gateway, even right now, and it's amazing how many different translations there are. Things that I...you know, people have never heard of, probably. Like the Jubilee Bible. You know, some people listening might not have heard of the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Or you have the New English Translation Bible, the New International, the New American Standard. So many different translations. Put those on a spectrum for us, and how we talk about those.
Peter Gurry (10:01):
Sure. So the spectrum that's usually used to help people think through the differences in translations is the spectrum from, say, paraphrase to literal. And so on the far end of literal you might think of the King James or the New American Standard. Those are typically very literal. ESV is on that side too. On the far other side, you get paraphrases, like The Message or the New Living Translation are on that side as well. And then somewhere, if you want to think of it as the middle, are things like the NIV, the New International Version. And some other ones that could be in there too. I think in some ways that's helpful, but it's not the most helpful way to think about translation, because there's so many other choices translators face, besides just—how do we get this word from Hebrew into English? There are decisions, for example, like—who is our audience?
Brian Arnold (10:47):
Let's talk about...let's actually just enumerate them. There's five kind of decisions that you've talked about in the past, that you say—these are kind of the five decisions. So the first one—
Peter Gurry (10:57):
Yeah, the first one is—who's the audience? And to my mind, that's the big one every translator has to answer. Who am I doing this for? Obviously that starts with what language you're doing, right? If your audience is in France, you're doing a French translation. But people may not be aware, especially those of us in the U.S., because we're such a big country. But if you're doing an English translation, it doesn't stop by saying "English," because then you have to think about—is it American English or is it British English? Right? So listeners may not realize, but most modern English translations have both an American version and what we call an anglicized version. So the ESV, for example, if you buy it in England, you're getting the anglicized version. They've not only changed the spelling, but in some cases they may have changed the wording as well. Because it just doesn't work over there the way it does here. So audience is the first big question that everybody has to answer,
Brian Arnold (11:39):
You know, I want to pause right here and just say that some of the kind of battles that people can get into over Bible translation seem to say that one is superior to the other, in that if it's like a wooden, word-for-word, almost like an Amplified Bible, where it's just basically the Greek or Hebrew word coming straight over, and you can almost hardly not make sense of it—it's somehow better, because it more accurately represents the original language. Where something like The Message has been drug through the mud in terms of being too loose. How do you help counsel people through that?
Peter Gurry (12:11):
So I advise people to try to read the most literal translation that's still understandable to them. So at one point I stopped using the NASB myself, because it was too awkward. But if somebody says, well, the ESV is still too literal, the CSB and the NIV really works better, I say, go for it. For somebody who's a brand new believer, has never read the Bible, I think something like the New Living Translation may be ideal. To give you even a different category, a different audience—the NIV, back about a decade after it was first released, was revised into what's called the New International Reader's Version, which was specifically designed for young children and people who didn't speak English as their first language. So what did they do? They took all the sentences in the NIV, and without necessarily going back to the original, they just tried to shorten them and use shorter words. So I'll give you example. The Lord's prayer is, you know, "Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. May your kingdom come. May what you want to happen, be done on earth as it is done in heaven." Which to any of us who grew up on the King James, sounds awful. That is not the Lord's prayer!
Brian Arnold (13:12):
I'm like, the word "art"—which I never use, besides drawing pictures—is not in there.
Peter Gurry (13:17):
That's right. But imagine if English is not your native language. A word like "art" doesn't make any sense. Neither does "hallowed." What in the world does "hallowed" mean, right? Or take Psalm 23. The original NIV said "he makes me lie down in green pastures." Right? Okay, that's Psalm 23. But the NIrV says, "he lets me lie down in fields of green grass." Which again, is terrible, as far as English goes, right? But if you think about it, that's much more helpful to somebody who doesn't know English well, than the word "pasture", which is not a common word in English.
Brian Arnold (13:44):
Peter Gurry (13:44):
And not a word that a new English speaker is likely to know.
Brian Arnold (13:48):
And I love the question, beginning with—who is the audience? And really, the objective is to get the Bible, God's Word, into something that is understandable for people, so that they can meet God.
Peter Gurry (13:58):
Brian Arnold (13:59):
And know him and love him, right?
Peter Gurry (14:00):
Brian Arnold (14:01):
So that's the first question. The second question is what?
Peter Gurry (14:03):
It's—will it be a fresh translation or a revision of a former translation? And listeners may be surprised to find out that the vast majority of translations in English have not been fresh, brand-new translations from the original languages. They are, rather, revisions of previous English translations, that refer to the original languages to see where to revise them. So, to take an example, the King James, the very famous King James, is not a fresh translation. The translators did not sit down with their Greek and Hebrew Bibles open and start with...and just go from there. No, they started with the Bishop's Bible, and their instructions were to use all the English translations that were available. That they found helpful. So there are places where the King James is borrowing heavily from Tyndale. There are places where it's following the Bishop's Bible. There are places where it's even following the Douay-Rheims Bible, which was the Roman Catholic Bible of the time. So most of them are revisions, not brand new ones. If I can give you an example. The ESV, okay, is not a brand-new translation. It is a revision of the Revised Standard Version, which is—
Brian Arnold (15:04):
That "R" is pretty important there, right?
Peter Gurry (15:05):
Yes. Which is a revision itself of the American Standard Version, which is itself a revision of the King James Bible, which, as I said, is a revision of the Bishop's Bible, which is itself a...so you get the picture, right? It's much easier for a translation team to start with something that's already done and revise it, than to start from scratch. The Bible is a big book, and it is a lot of work for a group of people, or even certainly an individual, to sit down and translate it from scratch. So they almost always start from a previous translation.
Brian Arnold (15:36):
Peter Gurry (15:37):
Okay, so third, then, is the question—what text will the translators translate? As we've talked about before on the podcast, we have thousands of manuscripts of the Bible, and they don't all agree, because they were copied by hand. And so translators...the first decision they have to make is—what text are we going to translate? So if I can give you a couple examples—in Mark, chapter one, verse 41, pretty much every English translation says that Jesus gets "compassionate" before he heals a man. But the NIV, the 2011 version of the NIV, says that he gets "indignant" before he does it. Why? Because there is one manuscript from the fifth century that, in Greek, has Jesus becoming "indignant". There are also a few Latin manuscripts as well. I happen to think this is a very bad decision on the part of the NIV translators, but nevertheless it illustrates the point that translators have to decide which text they're going to translate before they do. In Genesis—
Brian Arnold (16:27):
Do you know why they did that in that text?
Peter Gurry (16:29):
Yeah, because there was a very influential article came out several decades ago arguing for that reading. Arguing that it was the more difficult reading, and I think that—
Brian Arnold (16:39):
Which, can we just say for those who don't know textual criticism, the difficult reading is often the right reading. Because a later scribe's going to try to make it an easier...they're going to try to smooth over some of the rough edges.
Peter Gurry (16:49):
That's right. We're trying to distinguish the author from the scribe. And we know that scribes tend to make a text easier. Whereas authors are...say whatever they want, <laugh> if I can put it that way. <Laugh>
Brian Arnold (17:00):
My editors have never allowed that. <Laugh>
Peter Gurry (17:02):
Yeah, well, that's true. So that gives you an example. If I give you one more, in Genesis 4:8, the English Standard Version says that Cain spoke to Abel, his brother, and then they're in a field and he kills him. Whereas the Christian Standard Bible follows the evidence of several ancient translations, including the Septuagint, so that Cain says to his brother "Let's go out to the field." And then they go out to the field. So in the ESV, you don't find out what he said. He just says...he just speaks to him, but we don't know what he says. Whereas in the CSB, because they're following the Septuagint, you find out what he says, and he says, "Let's go out to the field." So not earth-shattering, but still the translators have to make a decision.
Brian Arnold (17:40):
It's a good reminder for people to remember that there's a lot of texts kind of behind this. I mean, this is the field of textual criticism, where you're trying to reconstruct the original text, and that's a complex thing. We had Dr. Gurry on a while ago to talk about those kinds of issues. They're important. But let's go on to number four then.
Peter Gurry (17:58):
All right, so number four is—how will the translators handle culturally-specific terms? And this is where we get into that question of...where I think a better way to think about the spectrum of translation philosophies or options is rather than thinking literal to less literal, think—how much has the translator tried to bring the Bible into the modern world, or into the world that they're translating for? Okay? So here's where I always like to give a quote from Luther, okay? Luther, in translating the Bible into German, had to deal with lots of difficult Hebrew idioms. And at one point he says, "I really wanted to use kind of German that the mother uses when she's on the floor playing with her children." Right? But to do that, he says, "I wanted Moses to sound so German, that no one would know he's a Jew."
Brian Arnold (18:40):
Yeah. That's a problem.
Peter Gurry (18:41):
That sounds like a problem. And it is a problem. But at the same time, Luther, in his typical fashion, he kind of hits the nail on the head in terms of the difficulty, right? Maybe we don't like his solution, but at least in terms of identifying the problem, he nails it. Because the question is—how are we going to bring the Bible into our world? So think about—not just the Hebrew words and Greek words and what they mean—but all the cultural terms and cultural assumptions that are in the Bible. So things like a leviathan, a kinsman-redeemer, a legion, a centurion, right? Or names for diseases and animals, plants, peoples, and places that don't have immediate meaning to us today—how is the translator going to handle those? It's not as simple as saying—well, what's the English equivalent for that? It's a question of—how do we bring the Bible's world into the world of our reader that we're aiming for? And that, again, gets us back to the question of—who's the audience?
Brian Arnold (19:25):
And people want...if they want more of a literal translation, they kind of want to see stadia in there, or some sort of measurement.
Peter Gurry (19:32):
Brian Arnold (19:32):
But then how does that really connect, right?
Peter Gurry (19:34):
So the translations that try not to translate it, let's say, by keeping the kind of monetary or measurement units from the original, almost always have a table at the back of the Bible with a table of weights and measures. So that you know—how long is a cubit?
Brian Arnold (19:49):
Peter Gurry (19:51):
Because I have no idea. Right? You and I have no idea.
Brian Arnold (19:53):
Yes. That's right. Or like Matthew 18, where you've got this punishment based off of a monetary amount. I always had to do the conversion, so that people can understand when you're preaching it, what that means.
Peter Gurry (20:04):
Yeah. So take that example—the Living Bible, which was a big deal back in the sixties and seventies, said that this guy owned...let's see, let me see if I have...10 million dollars. Right? And then the other, the second servant, owned 2,000 dollars. Well, that's great. The problem is—that doesn't work in Britain. It doesn't work in Australia. It doesn't work anywhere outside of the United States, and it doesn't really work today anymore.
Brian Arnold (20:24):
Peter Gurry (20:25):
Because the numbers have changed as well. See? So translators have to think about that. Do we go really specific into the culture we're translating into? In which case, it may be outdated very soon. Right? And may limit our audience. Or do we try to use something generic? Like the one...you know, sometimes they'll say something like he owes 30 days wages for the second servant, you know, that kind of thing.
Brian Arnold (20:45):
Yeah. I mean, I'm just going to wear my theology on my sleeve for a moment. The two words that have never been translated, that I wish they had, is baptized <laugh>, which means immersion. Right? And deacon, which means servant, because those two can become problematic in theological disputes. But let's move on. So number five—
Peter Gurry (21:03):
Number five is—how much will the translation explain itself? So we've already hinted at this with things like the table of weights and measures in the back of most Bibles. But at various points, the translators are going to try to explain their work to their readers. The most obvious way this happens is in footnotes, which lots of Bible readers may not read, but they should. But it also comes through things like headings, the titles of books, if there's an introduction to the book, if there's study notes. Are there pictures, if it's for a children's Bible, for example? All these sorts of things have been around, almost from the very beginning of Bible translation, and they're designed to help readers understand the Bible better. And they're, again, a way for the translators to explain their own work. Probably the most famous example this, or the most extreme example of this, is what's called the Net Bible.
Peter Gurry (21:47):
You can find it online at netbible.org. It's the first Bible ever made freely available online. And they got tons and tons of feedback from readers online. And that led them to put in all kinds of footnotes in the Bible. And so they ended up with over 60,000 translators notes, explaining virtually every decision that they made. Sometimes the notes are overwhelming, but I'll tell you, the people who love that translation the most—other Bible translators. Because they have to make the same decisions, and they really like to know why somebody else made the decision they made <laugh>. Yeah. So it's very popular with Bible translators.
Brian Arnold (22:19):
It's a sacred task. And I want that to lead us to maybe an overarching question. For somebody listening to this and saying—I'm building my entire life and theology and eternal hope off of this book. Can I trust it? Because it sounds like man, there's a lot of steps between God inspiring one of the biblical authors, who then wrote it, and then we've got manuscripts, and then into translation. Are we losing...is there too much lost in translation as we might say?
Peter Gurry (22:45):
Right? No doubt some things are lost in translation. The question is—how much is lost? Is so much lost that we don't know the message of the Bible? And that's where we'd say—no, not at all. If you're reading well in English, you are getting most...almost all of the message right. There's nuances that you're missing. There are things...just like we would say—look, if somebody was studying Dostoevsky, the famous Russian novelist, right? Would they say—because I've read it only in English translation, I don't know what The Brothers Karamazov is about? Of course not, right? But what we would say is—man, if I really wanted to become an expert on Dostoevsky, I couldn't just keep reading him in English alone. Do you see? So what I'd say is—the Bible in English is more than enough for what we need to follow Christ, to know what our theology ought to be. But for those of us who are called to be leaders of the church, we need to usually be those who are trained in the languages, so we can get behind the translations and know why the translators have made the decisions they have.
Brian Arnold (23:39):
So go to seminary.
Peter Gurry (23:40):
So go to seminary.
Brian Arnold (23:40):
Phoenix seminary, in particular. That's right. That's right. Okay, let me ask you just really quickly—what translation do you use? And then what is a resource that we can encourage people who might be interested on this topic to read more on?
Peter Gurry (23:53):
Sure. So, personally, when I use an English Bible, I use the English Standard Version. I like it quite a bit. There's no English translation that is perfect in my mind, not even the ESV. So there's places where I think it's wrong, and I wish they had made a different decision, but I recognize that it's a good translation and it's very good. I recommend it. As far as resources, I would love for people to visit the textandcanon.org, our website, where they can click on the articles tab and filter by all of our translation articles, and find a number of articles that are really helpful to appreciate better the work that translators have to do. I think that's a big burden of mine is to help people realize what a task it is, and how thankful we should be for how many have done it for us.
Brian Arnold (24:33):
And what I always want to move into as we close here is—pick one and read it.
Peter Gurry (24:38):
Brian Arnold (24:38):
Right? Don't just debate Bible translations and things like that. Actually pick it up, read it, be transformed by it, and get other people into it.
Peter Gurry (24:46):
That's right. We always say—the worst translation is the one you don't read.
Brian Arnold (24:48):
That's right. Good final word. Dr. Gurry, thanks for joining us.
Thank you for listening to Faith Seeking Understanding. It means so much to us that this content is helping you grow in your understanding of the faith. I want to take a moment to tell you about our new online learning experience at Phoenix Seminary. Over the last year, we've been creating what we believe to be the highest quality of online courses for ministry training. If you're called to train for a lifetime of faithful service, but can't join us on campus, I'd like you to invite you to join us online. Take courses featuring some of the guests you've heard on Faith Seeking Understanding, including Wayne Grudem, Mike Thigpen, Steve Duby, myself, and more. Learn more about Phoenix seminary online, and even access the entire online lecture content for my church history course at ps.edu/online.