“It is possible to posses your birthright in isolation but you will only become a person of destiny in the context of community.” -Arthur Burk-
It appears that a dearth of publications have been hitting the shelves apart from a generous dose of scrutiny, and I am tired of seeing the church fall off the cliff because it was exhorted to believe something that was not true or dubious at best. We fall for stuff only to get hoodwinked in the process by weak scholarship and shoddy writing.
HOLY ROAR: SHODDY WRITING THAT ASKS FOR NO EDITORIAL HELP
Recently, worship leader Chris Tomlin, Darren Whitehead “sort of published” a book, titled “Holy Roar” pertaining worship that deals with several words that are recognized as related to praise in particular. I say “sort of published”, because the book:
- only relied on Strong’s concordance for its reference of the meanings of words,
- printed all the Hebrew backwards (for reference, Hebrew is written right-to-left instead of left-to-right.
- made the book avaliable by publishing it through a organization that appears to be little more than an accounting firm, which as a result of #2 above, does not appear to have been thoroughly edited by anyone familiar with biblical languages.
THE PASSION “TRANSLATION”: WEAK SCHOLARSHIP? WE CANNOT TELL.
Similarly, though not in an identical vein, Brian Simmons is in the process of working through translating The Passion Translation. There is a problem with that word “Translation”; the Passion does not even come close to being one, and reads more like a paraphrase.
The issue for Simmons’ work is that it appears to be governed by weak or incomplete scholarship. A couple of elements speak to this issue.
ONE TRANSLATOR OR MANY? WE CANNOT TELL
First, we cannot tell if the Passion is a single-author work or the work of a group of people. In response to the question, “How many translators are working on The Passion Translation? Is this a single-author translation?”, the site responds:
“Although Dr. Simmons is the lead translator of The Passion…, he is part of a team that gives oversight and accountability to the translation project within the historical missionary translation tradition. “
“Lead translator” implies a team.
Single-author translations have deep, historical roots. In the early church Jerome composed the Latin Vulgate; during the Reformation Martin Luther translated the original biblical languages into German; William Tyndale’s English translation later impacted the King James Version. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries there have been many single-person translations, including the translation of J. B. Phillips, J. N. Darby’s Darby Bible, The Complete Jewish Bible by Dr. David H. Stern, Robert Young’s Literal Translation, Kenneth Wuest’sThe New Testament: An Expanded Translation, The Kingdom New Testament by British New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, a translation of the New Testament by American philosophical theologian David Bentley Hart, and more.
The above paragraph, however, appears to be couching The Passion as a single-author translation. So which is it?
Others such as the New International Version, the New Living Translation, the New American Standard, the English Standard Version, and the New Revised Standard Version list the group of people assigned to translate that particular version. However, neither Broadway Press’s website nor The Passion Website list any such group.
By comparison, the lack of disclosure of the team while the claim there is a team lands dishonestly.
And there is a long history of the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement and ministers shelving issues or hiding from reality rather than allowing themselves to be held accountable and deal with the issues.
Second, the way the Passion handled the Song of Solomon is maddening.
There is a long twin tradition that pairs the interpretation of types analogies and shadows in the Song of Solomon alongside the sexual, intimate, and erotic.
Paul addressed the binary between Christ/Church and husband/wife in Ephesians 5…what applies to the one applies to the other. There are principles that apply in the closeness of marriage that apply to our relationship with Christ.
And then there are those that do not.
Any bible translation that purports to be a bible translation that:
- substitutes “breasts” with “pure faith and love resting over your heart” (Song 4:5),
- substitutes “neck” with “inner strength” (Song 4:4),
- substitutes “myrrh” with “suffering love” (Song 4:6-that is gross commentary given there is so much more wrapped up in myrrh than suffering love),
- substitutes “[the king’s] chambers” with “his cloud-filled chamber”, and
- Misses the references to the acts and agents of sexual love and instead subs in references to the tabernacle.
is not a translation in even the loosest form of the word.
Simmons misses half the point. Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 pertaining to marriage between husband and wife is that he draws parallels between that reality and the reality between Christ and the Church; it is a both/and relationship that is read in the text, not an either/or.
Simmons makes the case for one interpretation, the typical, at the expense of the other, the textual, while both are critical to the work of reading Song of Solomon.
OTHER CONCERNS WITH THE PASSION:
I have some other concerns with The Passion Paraphrase (calling it what it is):
1. Competent, conservative, evangelical, Bible-believing, full-gospel scholars and preachers are not lacking to vet the work Simmons does, yet he provides no such list of scholars who could even recommend this work.. I think of Gordon Fee, Craig Keener, Jack Hayford, Craig Keener, Ben Witherington III, Grant Wacker, Ben Aker, Jim Hernando, Joe Casteberry, Roger Cotton, and others.
2. Simmons argues that various scholars have made single-author translations, such as Martin Luther, J.B. Phillips, N.T. Wright, etc. However, the lion’s share of these authors have had the majority of their works vetted in the context of community repeatedly. Simmons on the other hand is a relative unknown to the Church outside of Charismatic/Pentecostal circles.
3. “And adopting the same stringent guidelines used through his missionary work, including teamwork and accountability, his work has been theologically reviewed by professionals such as Greg S. Greig (Ph.D.), Jeremy Bouma (Th.M.), and others.” Neither of these is a known scholar, and the first is unknown to Google.
THE OVERARCHING THEME
There is a single problem that both Holy Roar and The Passion Paraphrase are missing: community. These works are not being done in the context of the community that is designed to bring each to a place of excellence.
Church, we JUST got done celebrating a reconciliation with our community. We cannot reconcile with the community that wants to live in non-reality and isolation.
This is not the season for isolation but for community.
We cannot have community if SUPERSTAR LEADERS OF THE FAITH have such a high and huge platform that they are incapable of asking for help from garden-variety, bread-and-butter believers who are competent to handle the Hebrew Text, let them know that “hey, you aren’t handling the Scriptures right”,or “there is more to this passage than just the clouds of the temple”, or “for crying out loud, your freakin’ Hebrew is backwards”, “the only reference you cited for your Hebrew is Strong’s Concordance?!”
I am not sorry to say this. Song of Solomon saved my second marriage before it started. Before I got married the first time around, I had a man-to-man conversation with a mentor, Joe Castleberry, who is the President of Northwest Unversity in Seattle, Washington, and the man who taught me Greek. He told me what Song of Solomon was really about.
He explained that the references to “hands dripping with myrrh” and “aloes” and sachets of myrrh was designed as a set of principles to help a couple in the bedroom. He recommended to me G. Lloyd Carr’s commentary on the Song, and gave me the best marriage advice any man ever got. And I have used that advice and revelation (hello, Teacher) to walk out that aspect of my marriage. NOTE: for those of you who think by this point that I am obsessed with sex, just stop.
There is a deep affection woven into the Song that Simmons failed to capture because the community that should have been holding him accountable for the whole depth of the text either did not want to or was not allowed to; we have the textual proof that they didn’t. Tomlin and Whitehead got so much wrong because they didn’t want to collaborate with anyone who could have caught the EMBARASSING mistakes of grammar. I will cite from Unsettled Christianity, the blog of a friend of mine who is a Teacher:
On page 118 in the conclusion, the authors have a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. meant for discussion within a group:
“Worship at its best is a social experience with people of all levels of life coming together to realize their oneness and unity under God. Whenever the church, consciously or unconsciously, caters to one class, it loses the spiritual force of the ‘whosoever will, let him come’ doctrine, and is in danger of becoming little more than a social club with a thin veneer of religiosity.”
This is a very important thought that we will revisit at the end of this post. On to the Hebrew…kind of.
First, it must be confessed, that the Hebrew is all wrong in this book. I mean orthographically. 100%. Wrong. All of it. This is embarrassing for Bowyer and Bow, the book’s publisher. It is common for pastors to be unfamiliar with BH and simply copy and paste from their favorite Bible software (Logos in this case, as indicated in the Notes section of the book). But, I find it unforgiveable in the publishing world to print a book meant to introduce English speakers to Biblical Hebrew concepts and yet print 100% of the Hebrew words completely backwards! There is not one Hebrew word in this book that is typeset or printed correctly. One can only assume that Bowyer and Bow did not arrange for a proof-reader who is competent in Biblical Hebrew. This is unprofessional and sloppy. I’m sure there are students who would have loved the chance to proof-read a Chris Tomlin book for free. Now imagine all the young or hip Christian readers who will take this book to their local tattoo artist and get incorrect Hebrew inked backwards onto their bodies. While the MLK quote is enough to justify the price of the book, this mistake is enough to justify a full refund.
The reason these books are horrible is that they are not done in the context of community. There was no one to catch the mistakes Tomlin and Whitehead made, and Simmons, with a PhD from Wagner Leadership Institute, may not have felt like he needed any help. How many people do you know in the Apostolic and Prophetic Movement that feel like they need any help? I rest my case.
The problem is that, so many marriages, which is the root of community, are lacking two things together.
1) a healthy understanding of how deeply Christ loves them.
2) a healthy understanding of the principles in Song of Solomon that help govern our behavior in the bedroom.
And we are not taught that because we think its way better to spiritualize everything. For crying out loud, we call the interpretation that sees Christ in everything the “spiritual” interpretation. And we hunt for Christ in the Song of Solomon AT THE EXPENSE of seeing that, as men, our hands should be dripping with myrrh.
And “let him kiss me with the kisses of his MOUTH for your love is better than wine”.
I mean, come on. Seriously? Marriage and sex in marriage is supposed to be a two person worship service of G-d Most High, where we advance in our birthright as a couple, and I am sick of translations that sanitize breasts out of the translations and remove the effective and virile metaphors from the text in favor of explaining via overnarrow interpretation what we think myrrh means. Such poor translation mangles the text and causes us to miss out on our birthright in sexual expression as married couples.
The Song was meant to not just be this grand allegory of Christ and the church. It was also meant to be our sex manual.
65 other books, and you don’t think G-d didn’t go out of his way to PROPHESY THROUGH THE MOUTH OF THE EXHORTER-SON-OF-A-MERCY SOLOMON the right way to handle sex?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
Translations are meant to be done in community. If the word says “breasts”, you translate “breasts”. If the word discusses bodily exploration, then you engage with your covenant spouse in those things.
But enough with the dishonest, sanitized, Charismatic garbage that is done apart from our community.
And enough with the mishandling of the biblical languages, because we are afraid of an editor catching an embarrasing mistake.
I started this blog post with a quote from Arthur Burk. The point was we were designed to walk as part of a community or a series or set of communities. That is the way we walk into our destiny. Like Tomlin and Whitehead needed an editor to catch their mistakes, and like Simmons needed an actual team that was known to the church to produce an actual translation instead of a paraphrase that maquerades as a translation but is not a translation, so we need a community to take our birthright to the best expression we can take it on all points.
Husbands and wives, the metaphors and types of Song of Solomon are social keys to possessing the sexual dynamic of your birthrights as married couples….
And let me close with a verse from Mark that pertains to this whole post.
FOR THIS CAUSE shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
Emphasize those first three words. Your marriage has a cause. Your life together has a cause. Your expressions in the bedroom have a cause, a purpose, a reason, and a design. And your Bible, darn it, was translated from the original tongues for a reason. And You do not need a gaudy Charismatic paraphrase that really is one part paraphrase and one part interpretation to tell you how to translate terms. What you need is the Holy Spirit, and the Son, and the Father themselves who were designed to be your Interpreters all along.
So, bottom line, go possess your birthright, and go read the text in a way that conveys the many layers of what is written there, not some man’s single interpretation.