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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Preface to Pastor Chris' Paraphrase of Proverbs Devotion

My first Bible paraphrasing project was a study of Gospel passages about the birth of Christ. The Birth of Christ was so rewarding I wanted to do another. I chose the book of Proverbs for my second project for several reasons.

First of all, Proverbs is quite a bit longer and more challenging than the birth narratives of Christ. This paraphrase of Proverbs is at least eight times longer than The Birth of Christ. However, the challenge is more than just the length. The witty, symbolic, and poetic meanings in Proverbs are far more difficult to translate than the narrative stories of Christ’s birth. Yet, having already successfully accomplished the easier project, I wanted something more challenging.

Second (and most important), I need more practical wisdom in my life. Wisdom is more than education. It’s more than book knowledge. It’s far more than knowing things. Wisdom is even more than knowing right from wrong. I have known wise people who were not very intelligent (and perhaps a few who were not even very noble). Yet, a truly wise person seems to have an uncanny ability to do the right thing in the right way at the right time. Who wouldn’t want more of that kind of wisdom? Proverbs teaches it and we can grow in this wisdom as we spend time with God while we read, study, and live out the Proverbs in these pages daily.

There is a third reason I chose the book of Proverbs. The book has a nice symmetry that lends itself to daily devotion. My friend, Tom Kazniki (who has since passed away), was the first person to point out to me the symmetry in Proverbs. There are thirty-one chapters in Proverbs and thirty-one days in most months, making a natural rhythm to read one Proverb each day of the month. That was Tom’s daily devotion. I have followed his pattern as I studied Proverbs over the last year.

A Word About Translations and Paraphrases
I should add a short explanation about the difference between a Bible translation and a Bible paraphrase. A good translation starts with the most ancient and accurate copies of the biblical manuscripts available in the original languages and then carefully evaluates the differences and translates them into English (or whatever language is desired). Emphasis is on accurately translating the words and meanings of the original authors into English. A translation is far more accurate and reliable than a paraphrase. The struggle of the biblical translator is that words and phrases from ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic do not always translate directly into English. For instance, Jesus and his father Joseph are called carpenters. In the original Greek, Mark 6:3 calls Joseph a 'tekton'. A tekton is a builder, usually of houses. Most houses today are made of wood so it makes sense to translate 'tekton' as carpenter. But in Jesus day, a builder of houses usually worked in stone or mud and there wasn't much wood around with which to work. So maybe it might be better to say Jesus and Joseph were stone masons, but that doesn't really get it either. And this is just one of the easy translation problems. The work of translators can get really, really tricky. Add to this that other languages use words in different orders than the way we use them in English. For example:
  • In English, the verb follows immediately after the noun.
  • In German the verb at the end of the sentence comes.
  • Appears the verb in Greek at the beginning of the sentence.
So, translators can't translate the Bible word for word from the original language to English or we wouldn't be able to understand it. Translators have to strike a balance between making the translation as accurate as possible and as readable as possible. Modern translations fall somewhere between two ideals. There is the word for word translation, which tries to keep everything as literal as possible and sacrifices readability for accuracy. On the other end of the spectrum is a thought for thought translation, which tries to translate the thought or idea and sacrifices word accuracy for readability and to make the passage easier to understand.

With a paraphrase, the author takes a translation of the Bible and puts it into his or her own words. The author of a paraphrase usually does not start with the Bible in its original languages--Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. It is more common for a paraphrase to come from an English translation that is rephrased into the author's own words. My process was to compare a passage from Proverbs in several English versions (NRSV, NASB, KJV, NLT, NIV, and YLT) and then rephrase the passage according to how I would say it in my own words. Often, I looked up the meaning of the original Hebrew words my Strong’s Concordance to better understand what I thought the author was trying to say so I could try to put that in words that make sense to us today. However, a paraphrase does not do the more difficult and scholarly work of studying all the most ancient fragments, manuscripts, and copies of the Bible that exist in their original languages and translating the Bible into English. Therefore, a paraphrase is not as accurate as a translation. A paraphrase can be helpful in seeing the Scripture from a different perspective or shedding more light on a passage, but we should never rely on a paraphrase to replace or change the meaning of a passage. A translation is just more accurate and reliable than a paraphrase in almost every aspect. Furthermore, the risk of a paraphrase is that it can introduce the author's own ideas, perspectives, theology, and bias into the Scripture.

The New Living Translation is one of my favorite translations of Scripture. I value it’s thought-for- thought style for easy reading and understanding. Furthermore, the creators of the NLT compiled an impressive and diverse team of translators to guard against theological bias into their version. However, for this project, I chose to feature the New American Standard Bible (NASB) because it is a strict word for word translation that seeks to render the original passages as literally as possible. The NASB’s translation style leads to one of the most accurate translations of the Bible, but it can also make passages more difficult to understand for the contemporary reader. The NASB was the logical choice to parallel my paraphrase. You can read a very accurate and reliable Bible translation in the left column and look to my paraphrase to shed more light in the right column.

I would like to make several acknowledgements. First of all, I want to thank my Lord, Jesus Christ, who continues to lead and speak to me as I study His Bible. His Word is alive and powerful. I am blessed every time I dig deeply into it. My journey through Proverbs has been no exception. It has brought me closer to Christ as I walked with Him through Proverbs every morning.

Second, I am thankful to the congregation of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. Their support enables me to earn a living as I pursue the Lord and share His guidance with as many as I can. What a blessing and privilege to do something I love and live out my calling as a child of God and a minister of the Gospel. Working as their minister gives me the time and encourages the discipline needed to complete projects like this paraphrase. I am very grateful.

I also want to acknowledge the many people who read my daily paraphrase postings on social media. Their words of affirmation spurred me on to continue and expand my work, knowing my own discoveries were an encouragement to others as well. It brought me joy to share my personal journey with a wider community of faith.

Finally, I want to acknowledge my amazing wife who’s honesty, love, and support are a deep blessing and constant encouragement. The thoughts, prayers, and paraphrases in these pages were mostly written early in the morning after we both had a cup of coffee. We would sit together on the couch of our living room together for a few minutes to start the day. Then, I would begin my study as she went to get ready for work. Dressed in her nursing scrubs, she would head off to the hospital NICU to serve her tiny little patients and their parents as I typed on the computer. She is a blessing to so many and especially to me.

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