The Third Week in Advent

What's ahead in the Bible readings
The Third Week of Advent
December 13 to 19, 2018

Bible Review: Holy Bible: New Living Translation

The most important thing to know about the New Living Translation (NLT) is that it does an excellent job of making the text understandable to modern English speakers, while maintaining fidelity to the original text. Here are a few examples of ways they have made the text understandable:

  • Ancient weights and measurements, like cubit and ephah, are translated into American equivalents, with a footnote that gives the original text

  • denarius is translated as the normal daily wage.

  • Israelite ways of measuring time differed from our o'clock system; the translators used our modern method

  • When the actual meaning of a name is clear, the meaning is included in parentheses within the text. For example, Genesis 16:11 is translated as “You shall name him Ishmael (which means God hears)”

  • Sometimes they have chosen to illuminate a metaphor. For example, in Song of Songs 4:4, “Your neck is like the tower of David”, they translated “Your neck is as beautiful as the tower of David”

  • Where “brothers” is clearly intended to apply to all believers, “brothers and sisters” is used instead.

  • Theological terms that aren't in wide use today are translated in a way that renders their meaning. For example “justification” is translated as “made right with God.”

Male pronouns are consistently used to refer to God.

The introduction has many more notes explaining translation decisions which are of interest to Bible geeks like me.

I have mentioned before the two broad categories of translation, word for word (formal equivalence) and thought for thought (dynamic equivalence). The translators here are forthright about their approach. Whenever a literal translation yielded a clear and accurate English text, they used that. When literal renderings are hard to understand, misleading, or yielded foreign or archaic meanings, they used thought for thought.

The first few pages have a Welcome to the Bible! section, one on How to Know Jesus Personally, and a table to major events (unfortunately in Biblical order) with page numbers and chapter and verse references. Welcome to the Bible and How to Know Jesus Personally are the only overt evidence of the Evangelical origins of this translation.

Here is the Sunday Gospel Lesson from the NLT:

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don't just say to each other, ‘We're safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God's judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots from the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

The crowds asked “What should we do?”John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

Even the corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”.

He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”

“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don't extort money or make false accusations. Be content with your pay.”

Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know if John might be the Messiah. John answered their questions by saying, I baptize you with* water; but someone is coming who is greater than I am—so much greater that I am not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.** He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into has barn but burning the chaff with never ending fire.” John used many such warning to announce the Good News to the people.”

*Or in   **Or in the Holy Spirit and in fire.

New Testament Gospel Lessons: John the Baptist

All of our Gospel lessons this week concern John the Baptist. On Saturday, we hear the story of John's birth. This reading comes immediately before the Benedictus, also called Zechariah's Song, which we read in place of the Psalm during the time of preparation for the week that ends today. On Sunday, we find John speaking with some force to his followers. When they ask him what they should do to repent, he says, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise,” warning us not to count on our material blessings for salvation. This statement the essence of John's message. On >Wednesday, Jesus compares the crowds' reaction to John to their reaction to him. The last sentence bears some explanation. It reads “Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” God's feminine aspect is often spoken of in the bible as Wisdom. The Greek and Roman goddesses of wisdom were also female. So I understand the sentence to say that God is vindicated by those who are followers of the Holy One.

Canticles from Isaiah

Our canticles in Preparation and Reflection come from Isaiah. Both canticles reflect joy at the presence of God. The Reflection Canticle is about an idealized kingdom arising from the stump of Jesse. Jesse, of course, was David's father. This idealized land has often been refereed to as the Peaceable Kingdom. Edward Hicks, an American artist, created a number of paintings on this theme, including the one you see here.


Hebrew Scripture Lessons from the Twelve Prophets: Zephaniah, Micah, and Restoration

Our Sunday Hebrew Scripture, from Zehphaniah and our Wednesday Hebrew Scripture, from Micah, both promise a time of restoration. Notice this sentence from the Sunday reading:

The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.

No human is king over Israel, the Lord is King over Israel and over us. The Saturday Amos reading starts with “The eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth.” Many scholars think it originally ended there. The rest of the reading, which offers hope of restoration, these scholars say, was added by later editors. Either way, we have the scripture as it came to us and are entitled to the message of hope.

Hebrew Scripture Reading from the Twelve Prophets: Amos

Our Hebrew Scripture readings during the time of preparation are all from the Prophet Amos. In the Thursday reading, he seems to be saying that Israel is no different than other nations. He mentions three cities that have been captured by the Assyrians, asking why Zion (Jerusalem) is any better than they are. On Friday, he warns against those who “trample on the needs, and bring ruin to the poor of the land” and then mentions various portents of doom, including the land trembling.

Individuals, Not Nations

This trembling resonates with the Tuesday reading from Numbers, in which Korath challenges Moses. In the end, Korath is swallowed up by an earthquake. The two readings from Numbers during the time of reflection are important because they point to God punishing individuals rather than the entire nation. This idea clearly doesn't hold throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, but it does come up again and again.

I hope that the readings this week bring a blessing into your life. And I hope that you share my joy that the Lord is coming soon. Thank you for being part of the Lectionary Readings community.
Mike Gilbertson

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Selections from Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings copyright © 1995 by the Consultation on Common Texts.

Unless otherwise indicated, Bible text is from Holy Bible New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All right reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are from Holy Bible: New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Image credit: The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, via Wikimedia Commons. This is a public domain image.