by Mike Ratliff
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18 ESV)
With the posting of The Man Centered Gospel vs The God Centered Gospel yesterday, and the ensuing discussion with friends on this topic, it is apparent that God is showing us that the dividing line between genuine Christianity and that which isn’t is that the former is centered on God and His glory while the latter is on man centeredness and sees God in various ways that are incredibly short-sighted, unscriptural, and all rooted in the very lie that Satan used to deceive our parents in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). As we back away and examine things from this perspective it is an amazing thing to see how all of the apostasy and bad doctrine we have been examining for last several years has all been rooted in lies that feed from a man-centered view of God’s Word, doctrine, and Christianity as a whole.
God gave us something that is powerful and mighty in the hands of one who knows how to wield it. That something is the Word of God. The Christian skilled in God’s Word does not have to fear any man or evil spirit. I have stated here that I would love to debate certain so-called Christian leaders such as Rick Warren. I said that from the intention of basing all of my points in God’s Word alone for I know that my own knowledge and abilities are worthless, but with the Holy Spirit working in and through me and as I use God’s Word as He directs, none of His enemies can stand against that. You see, there is only one truth. There are no gray areas. Therefore, when I talk about using God’s Word, I am talking about it as it was written, not as men have mistranslated it for their own use or taken passages out of context in an attempt to make God’s Word say what it does not say as Rick Warren does all through his books. No, any debate like I was talking about, which, of course, since I am a nobody, will never happen, would have to be word-for-word directly from God’s very Word in context. I can see it now, the post modernists out there would be so bored that not one of them would last 5 minutes. They would all be running for the exits screaming for their paraphrases and man-focused books to spoon feed them supposed truths that are found no where in Sacred Scripture or their videos with their white board presentations given by those ultra-cool Acts 29 guys who contextualize everything instead of saying exactly what God’s Word says while relying on the Holy Spirit to Work through that as God promised He will.
What prompted this little tirade was an email I received today from NavPress. The email subject line was, “Paraphrasing tips, Bible study sale.” It contained a link to an article by Eugene Peterson who is, of course, the creator of the New Testament paraphrase, The Message. There is an Old Testament version of it out now too. Eugene Peterson’s mission, as he states it, is to get the message of the Bible into contemporary language so that everyone can understand it. As many of you know, one of my heros in the faith is William Tyndale who led the way in bringing the Bible into the English language. It cost him his life. Tyndale was by far the most advanced linguist of his time. His grasp of language was incredible. What he gave us in his translation of the Greek New Testament into English is still mostly with is in our modern day translations. However, let me say right now, that as I have studied Koine Greek more and more, and applied that into Biblical interpretation (Biblical exegesis) I have found that that is where we find the depth of meaning of God’s Word.
I came from a SBC background and have been in so-called Bible studies in small groups that were more about people giving their opinions about Biblical interpretation instead of what we have been discussing. That came to mind as I read Eugene Peterson’s article here. As I read it I was struck by his lack of firmness on Biblical interpretation. I study Greek nearly every day at some level and I never come away from it the way he describes in that article. I come away from it with a deeper sense of what God has said and what He is telling me to teach you. I get that from His Word as I meditate on those truths and then witness the incredible apostasy going on all around us. I compare the two and God gives me what to say from that.
I would like to compare a couple of passages from the ESV, The Message, and the Greek New Testament with a literal word for word translation into English. I think you will see that the closer we get to the original text, the more God centered everything becomes while the closer we get to the paraphrase form, the more man centered things are and there you have the very definition of what contextualization is.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18 ESV)
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. (John 3:16-18 The Message)
οὕτω γὰρ ἡγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται, ἀλλ᾿ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα κρίνῃ τὸν κόσμον, ἀλλ᾿ ἵνα σωθῇ ὁ κόσμος δι᾿ αὐτοῦ. ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται, ὁ δὲ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται, ὅτι μὴ πεπίστευκεν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ μονογενοῦς Υἱοῦ τοῦ Θεοῦ. (John 3:16-18 GNT)
Thusly for loved the God the world, so that the son the only born he gave, that all the one trusting into him not might be destroyed but might have life eternal. Not for delegated the God the son into the world that he might judge the world, but that might be delivered the world through him. The one trusting into him not is judged; the one but not trusting already has been judged, because not he has trusted in the name of the only born son of the God. (John 3:16-18 a word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
Okay, do you see some things in The Message paraphrase that seem a bit “over the top?” How about not relevant if one reads the Bible as he or she should, that is, with a God centered focus? If we read this passage with God at the center, that is, with what God has done, with what Christ has done and why, then would we ever come up with what The Message says in an attempt to “paraphrase” these three verses? That part about “God putting the world right again” just jars my consciousness. I don’t see that anywhere else in the New Testament. I see our Lord saving for Himself a people out of the world in Ephesians 1, but this world reclamation stuff is the very thing we hear from the Dominionists in the Acts 29 Network with their Missional push.
Notice also that, in the Greek, the focus is on God’s good work on behalf of those whom He is saving through the Son. These He is saving will not be judged, but those whom He is not saving will be judged. Notice also that Peterson’s paraphrase seems to say that guilt that will damn a person does not take place until a person disbelieves when he or she is introduced to the Saviour. That is found no where in Scripture. All are born dead in their sins, no exceptions.
Here is another example. We used this passage in last night’s post.
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25 ESV)
Earlier there were a lot of priests, for they died and had to be replaced. But Jesus’ priesthood is permanent. He’s there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25 The Message)
Καὶ οἱ μὲν πλείονές εἰσιν γεγονότες ἱερεῖς διὰ τὸ θανάτῳ κωλύεσθαι παραμένειν· ὁ δὲ διὰ τὸ μένειν αὐτὸν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα ἀπαράβατον ἔχει τὴν ἱερωσύνην· ὅθεν καὶ σῴζειν εἰς τὸ παντελὲς δύναται τοὺς προσερχομένους δι᾿ αὐτοῦ τῷ Θεῷ, πάντοτε ζῶν εἰς τὸ ἐντυγχάνειν ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν. (Hebrews 7:23-25 GNT)
And the indeed more are having become priests through the death to be hindered to stay along; the but through the to stay him into the age untransferable has the priesthood, from where also to deliver into the all complete he is able the one coming to through him to the God, always living for the to appeal on behalf of them. (Hebrews 7:23-25 a word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
Again, how this passage is read and interpreted depends entirely on whether you are doing so from a man-centered focus or a God-centered focus. The former will lead you the way Eugene Peterson went with the focus being on God saving those who come to Him through Christ and Christ is just sitting there speaking up for them. The ESV is quite a bit a better, but when you study the Greek it becomes clearer that this is talking about God saving people and those whom He saves come to Him through Christ who lives to intercede for them. They come because of that intercession. Our salvation is God’s good work in us. The Message makes this look like God is totally passive in the whole thing and man is the one who makes the sovereign choice. I pray you see the difference.
Soli Deo Gloria!