Surely he was taking up our weaknesses, and he was carrying our sufferings. We thought it was because of God that he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted, but it was because of our rebellion that he was pierced. He was crushed for the guilt our sins deserved. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
– Isaiah 53:4-5 (EHV)
How often do you have days where you just feel off? Maybe there’s a lingering pain in your back, or your brain feels foggy, or there’s simply a lingering sensation of “something’s just not right” in the back of your mind. I think we’ve all experienced days like this, some of us more frequently than others. When we experience the pain or inconvenience that comes along with being human, it angers us. We feel sorry for ourselves. We feel that we deserve better.
“So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned.” – Romans 5:12
We live in a fallen, sinful world. Because of this, things don’t always turn out the way we would like. People hurt one another. Tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes cause destruction. Every so often, a new pandemic claims the lives of thousands and shakes the world economy. But it hasn’t always been this way. This isn’t how God created it to be.
I think there is a tendency for us, if we are honest with ourselves, to claim innocence when it comes to the fall of creation. After all, Adam was the one who got us into this situation, not me. If only he hadn’t acted out in disobedience, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.
Yet Adam was given a specific role by God: as the first man, he was the head of the entire human race. In Adam’s fall, the entirety of mankind with him. Whether or not we personally would have committed the same original sin is a moot point: we are bound to him in the fact that we share our human nature with him. We are told that sin entered the world through Adam, but death spread to all of us because all of us sin.
However, this very same principle of headship – the one that caused all mankind to fall – is the same mechanism by which God would choose to redeem us.
“For as in Adam they all die, so also in Christ they all will be made alive.” – 1 Corinthians 15:22
Scripture tells us that Jesus is the second Adam. Jesus was the one who would reverse the curse that Adam had brought upon the world. In order for Jesus to be the second Adam, he had to be a man. Not just in appearance, but in nature. When Jesus became incarnate, he became one with us in our humanity. But therein lies the paradox: humans die. By taking on human flesh, Jesus would also have to die the death of a man.
Jesus is God, but God can’t die.
But God did die, in Jesus.
This is the mystery of all mysteries. All of the other unfathomable aspects of the Christian religion point back towards this one. The notion that the Eternal Creator of the universe could and would die the death of a sinner is foolishness to the world, but it is the foolishness of God. And the foolishness of God is wiser than man.
However, before Jesus could make his atoning sacrifice on the cross, he had to become one with mankind in our sufferings. And I think this part of Jesus’ life is often overlooked: Jesus didn’t only suffer on the cross – every waking moment of his life was spent suffering with us.
In the incarnation, Jesus took on human nature – our sinful human nature – all while being without sin himself. And living in a sinful fallen world has its consequences. Indeed, the Eternal God experienced bug bites and headaches. He felt the sting caused by the death of friends and family. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept because he knew it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Jesus was there in the Garden of Eden before the fall. He understood and experienced the perfect design of God’s creation. He was fully acquainted with a world where death didn’t exist. Every day of his life on this earth was tempered by the knowledge of how far this world had fallen.
And he endured this all that he might redeem humanity from the curse of sin. Jesus’ atoning work was accomplished at the cross, but his redemptive work began long before that: not only did Jesus bear our sins in his death, he also bore our sufferings in his life. As the one who took up our weaknesses, Jesus offers true rest for the broken, sick, weary, and dying.
As we humbly and reverently contemplate the mercy and compassion of Christ this Good Friday, reflect also on the sufferings you experience in this life. Thank God that you are counted worthy to share in the cross of Christ, having been crucified and buried with him in your baptism. Rejoice in your sufferings, knowing that Christ has freed you from them – eternally.
Anyone who has spent a good amount of time shopping for a Bible knows that there is no shortage of Bible translations available today. There are hundreds of English Bible translations available today, and I outlined some of the most popular translations in my post “Bible Versions and Translations.”
Upon recognizing the fact that there are hundreds of English translations, the logical question(s) in response would be, “Why are there so many? What can hundreds of translations offer that a single unified translation can’t?” While this kind of question warrants much more than just a blog post, I will outline the reasons here.
Ultimately, God inspired the text of the Bible as the original writers were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Peter 1:21 ESV) While the Word he has given us is perfect and inerrant, and the Greek and Hebrew words written by the Prophets and Apostles do not contain human error, there are difficulties and issues that come along with text transmission and translation. I focus here mainly on the New Testament, because that is the center of most of this debate:
1. There are different text “types” that differ from one another. As with any ancient document, we do not possess the original copy of the manuscripts. However, in the case of the New Testament, we have so many early copies that we can know with great accuracy what the originals said. Despite this, early New Testament text collections from a city like Alexandria differ slightly from the texts found in Byzantium. There has been a great amount of debate over which text type is closest to the original manuscripts. Because of this, different Bible translations are based upon different text types. This is why a translation like the ESV omits a portion of 1 John 5:7 that can be found in the KJV. In this case, there is little to no evidence that the longer reading found in the KJV is accurate to the original text.
The King James is based on a text type known as the Textus Receptus. However, as more evidence was discovered to suggest that the Textus Receptus contained certain errors, other scholars saw it necessary to produce translations that used a more reliable text. This is one of the reasons there are so many translations.
2. Language is dynamic and unpredictable, and can quickly become antiquated. This is why you’re less likely to encounter a congregation using the King James Version today than you would be 100 years ago. Both the King James and The Good News Translation are written in the same language of English, but render the same words very differently. For instance, see the differing word use between the two in Acts 21:39 –
KJV – But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.
GNT – Paul answered, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city. Please let me speak to the people.”
The King James uses certain words that would not be used in English communication today. The GNT uses “an important city” instead of “no mean city,” uses “please” rather than “I beseech thee,” and uses “let me” instead of “suffer me.”
It seems rather obvious that the average new convert to Christianity would have a difficult time understanding some of the wording found in the KJV. In terms of being able to communicate God’s Word to modern people, newer translations like the GNT are very important. I think it’s important for translators to maintain the balance of using modern language while still preserving some “theological” sounding words that are necessary to accurately communicate Christian truths. For instance, some people have advocated for replacing words like “grace” and “justify” from the Bible with more common English phrases like “undeserved love” and “make righteous.” While this may be warranted in some contexts, theological words like “grace” carry far more history, connotation, and nuance than modern equivalents like “undeserved love.”
The dynamic nature of language has led some to go so far as paraphrasing the Bible, retaining the “meaning” of the words while using modern phrases and deviating from the original wording of the ancient text. The popularity of paraphrased Bibles has contributed to the large number of Bible translations.
3. Societal norms and values change, which leads to “updated” translations. This one goes hand-in-hand with point 2. As cultural expectations shift, the change eventually is reflected in our language. The most glaring example of this phenomenon is the recent trend of Bible translators using “gender inclusive” language. For instance, the New International Version, originally published in 1984, was edited an re-released in 2011 with updates in language and inclusivity. Many of these changes amounted to words like “brothers” being changed to phrases like “brothers and sisters” in hopes of sounding more inclusive to females.
Some of these changes may be warranted, such as when the original text actually is meant to include both genders, but there are times when the change is questionable. For instance, see the change in Acts 6:3 between NIV 1984 and 2011 –
NIV 1984 – “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them.”
NIV 2011 – “Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them.”
We know from historical context and the rest of the New Testament that women would not have been involved in the choosing of the men as described here. The change here appears to be for no other reason than political correctness. Whether or not these “updates” are warranted, these kinds of changes are another factor that leads to more and more Bible translations. Well-established Bible translations are constantly being edited and re-published for reasons like this.
4. Translator bias finds its way into many translations. As with any two languages, there is not always a one-to-one correspondence between Greek words and English words. There are times when the immediate context of the verse does not adequately inform the correct translation, and the translator must look to the rest of Scripture for clarity. However, this becomes increasingly problematic when the translator does not hold to a “Scripture interprets Scripture” philosophy. Pastor Jordan Cooper, in his review of the Modern English Version, emphasizes this point well –
There is one place, however, where the MEV completely mangles a text: 1 Peter 3:21. The text reads: “Figuratively this is like baptism, which also saves us now. It is not washing off the dirt from the body, but a response to God from a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The text is now completely incomprehensible. The first half states that baptism saves, but the second states that it is a human response to God for cleansing the conscience. Compare this to the NKJV which states: “There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
In the NKJV, baptism is part of what constitutes a good conscience toward God. In the MEV, it’s a response of having a good conscience. The first half of this text demonstrates where the MEV is a much easier read than the NKJV, but the second half is theologically incomprehensible, and grammatically confusing. [Full article here]
In this case, the translator of the MEV had their personal convictions influence the way they translated the text. Because the translator does not believe that baptism actually is effective for regeneration, they translated the text in a way that downplays baptism’s significance in the spiritual wellbeing of the Christian.
Biases like these can be found throughout the most controversial texts of the Bible. Some translators unfortunately refuse to let the text speak for itself, instead importing their own convictions into the translation of the text. If you want to see more examples of this, compare translations of verses like 1 Timothy 2:12 that outline the roles of men and women. Some translators will soften the clear message of these verses to make them more appealing to readers who don’t hold to traditional stances on the roles of men and women.
The amount of denominational bias in translations is what leads many to undergo their own translation of the Bible. However, in crafting a new Bible translation, the same kind of bias occurs once again in different forms, and so the cycle continues. This is one of the many reasons it is helpful to have access to multiple translations when studying a portion of Scripture.
If you look back at the four point I listed, they all have something in common. All four of them have to do with the imperfection of mankind:
Humans have made mistakes in copying the original manuscripts.
Humans, unlike God, change often. So does our language. This causes issues when we are trying to convey unchangeable truths with a changeable tongue.
Human nature is selfish. When certain things in the Bible aren’t stated the way we expect them to be, we naturally want to change it.
Humans constantly seek self-gratification. If we believe something about Scripture, we will want a translation of Scripture to articulate that same belief back at us. This leads to bias in translation.
Nevertheless, God is gracious to His people and has promised to preserve His Word, telling us that it will never be lost, despite the sinful humans hands that handle it so often. Take heart and listen to God’s promises:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35)
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24-25)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (1 Timothy 3:16-17)
There is no shortage of religious denominations in America. According to most estimates, there are upwards of 200 reasonably sized Christian denominations alone in America.
The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) website contains an impressive amount of information about the religious makeup of the United States. Despite the increasing influence of secularism in America, Christians still make up about 70-80% of the American population, with the exact number depending on how “Christian” is defined. Here’s a chart of how other religions stack up:
American Christianity can typically be divided into smaller groups based on common beliefs. Most broadly, Christians can be thought of as being either Catholic or Protestant. Based on fairly recent estimates, there are about twice as many Protestant Christians in America than there are Catholics. Using information from ARDA, I created a map of the United States that shows if there are more Catholic or Protestant Christians in each state:
As you can see, the vast majority of states (42 of them) have more Protestant Christians than Catholics. Only 8 states, all situated on the upper East Coast, have more Catholics than Protestants.
The Protestant Christian category can be further subdivided into Mainline Protestants and Evangelical Protestants. The Mainline Protestant category would include, for example, certain Reformed churches like the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Episcopal Church. This category also includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Many of these churches are more theologically liberal than their Evangelical Protestant counterparts.
The other category, Evangelical Protestant, is typically composed of various Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican, and some Reformed churches. This category would also include the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Most churches in the Evangelical category are known for being theologically and socially conservative.
Broken down into percentage, about 60% of Protestants belong to Evangelical churches, while the other 40% belong to Mainline churches.
There are a few other religious groups that have a strong showing in America, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Judaism, and Islam. Using information from ARDA, I created another two maps that show the largest and second largest denominations in each state:
Only two non-Christian religious groups show up on these maps –
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons (although they are widely considered by many to be just another Christian group, their vast theological differences from historical Christianity are enough, in my mind, to consider them far outside of the Christian Church.) Looking between both of the above maps, it’s obvious that the Mormon Church has a great foothold in the Westernmost states, and, interestingly, Hawaii.
Orthodox Judaism, which is the second largest religious denomination in New York
You might note that even in many states that have more Protestants than Catholics, the Catholic Church is still the largest single denomination. This is because Protestantism is so divided into different denominations and the number is split between them.
On the first map, it can be easily seen that the Southern Baptist Convention is the most prominent religious group in states around the “Bible Belt,” a region that is well-known for Evangelical Protestants with social conservatism.
On the second map, it’s also apparent that Lutheranism has a good showing within the Northeastern Midwest in the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is very prominent in these states, and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod is the second largest denomination in Nebraska, only behind the Catholic Church.
The United Methodist Church has an impressive number of adherents in the middle of the Eastern portion of America, and is actually the denomination with the most adherents in West Virginia.
In Maryland, Alaska, and New Jersey, non-denominational Christians were the second largest “group.” I put them on the map because I thought it was very interesting that there were that many Christians without a denomination. If non-denominational Christians aren’t considered for this map (due to the fact that they are, as per their name, not a denomination), then the second largest group in Alaska is the Mormon Church, the second largest in Maryland is the United Methodist Church, and the second largest in New Jersey is Islam.
Here’s an interesting factoid: During the process of gathering information for these maps, I visited all 50 states’ Wikipedia pages to look for summaries of their religious demographics. Out of all of the 50 states, Vermont’s page was the only one that did not contain a section on religious demographics. In fact, the words “religion” and “Christian” do not even appear at all on Vermont’s Wikipedia page.
Although many of the more mainstream groups within American Christianity have abandoned some of the most basic Christian Biblical principles, we still ought to be thankful that the vast majority of Americans at least identify themselves as Christians. It is our mission as followers of Christ to live out our vocations and contribute to the things that make this nation great.