Friday, August 30, 2013

We've create a new blog!

It is called The New Benediction Project.

This site is beginning to generate so many technical difficulties that we decided the best solution was to move to a new blog with a new look. The old blog will still be there for reading and reference for as long as Blogger allows us to keep it here. But new posts will be posted over there.

Here's the link.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Guilt, Shame, Regret…and Grace Part Five

Guilt, Shame, Regret…and Grace
Part Five
Bob Rakestraw
August 5, 2013
“The Benediction Project”
(This is the fifth and final entry in a series on guilt, shame, regret and grace. The series began April 1, 2013)
Someone has wisely said, “Speak kindly to everyone you meet, for each one is probably carrying a heavy load.”
The more we move along on this journey of life the more we see the wisdom and truth in this saying. A heavy load is a burden—something difficult to carry. Whether we think of our own life or the lives of those we know well, we have all experienced and/or seen this matter of burdens. We understand burdens not only as a concept or idea; we understand them personally.
Some people carry more than one burden and some burdens are heavier than others, but we almost all (perhaps all) carry some weight around with us. I am thinking primarily of adults, but unfortunately, large numbers of teenagers and children are weighed down as well. Furthermore, I am thinking here not of burdens as physical weights, even though the material aspects of life can surely be burdensome. I am referring instead to the mental, emotional, psychological, social and/or spiritual concerns that tend to weigh on our minds, pull down on our spirits and keep us from a positive and kind attitude to others.
When two people meet or do business together, which frequently happens several times a day, each one (usually) tries to be as cordial as possible to the other. This is a good thing, and is not the same as being phony. It helps to lighten and brighten the atmosphere where we are, and makes life a little bit easier for everyone. Yet the burdens stay with us, even though they may be hidden.
Many of the burdens people carry have to do with guilt, shame or regret, or perhaps two or all three of these. In the previous postings in this series I have tried not only to explain each issue, but also to point out God’s remedy for each of these burdens. With each one, God’s remedy can be summed up in the word “grace”—the most important word in the Bible except for the names of God. (This is my personal opinion, but I believe a great many Bible-believing theologians and students of scripture would agree.)
Definitions and discussions of God’s grace usually focus on his free, unmerited favor toward us because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because Christ the sinless one died willingly for us in our place, and took upon himself the burden and guilt of our sin, the Father welcomes and forgives all who come to him in repentance and faith. If we have trusted Christ as our Savior and Lord, our guilt, shame, regret and the ugliness of all our sin is now forgiven—forever. God remembers it against us no more!

The above concept of grace is totally biblical and truly liberating. It is the answer—above all other answers—for the billions of people on earth who are trying to get free from their burdens and the sufferings of this life by man-made religious systems and rituals.

However, the truth of grace as God’s “unmerited favor” is only part of the biblical teaching on grace. There is another huge aspect of grace that is so closely entwined with the nature of grace as favor that neither can properly be considered without the other. This second aspect of grace is the power or energy of God on our behalf.

Our thinking of grace as favor and grace as power offers us two perspectives—two vantage points—from which to “see” into the one deeply loving heart of God. While our vision and comprehension of God will always be incomplete, because he is infinite and we are finite, God has revealed much to us in his written word about his heart of grace.

As we read the following scriptures (all from the NIV 2011) we may be inclined to think of grace as a “substance,” especially when the text is focusing on grace as power. I have done that at times as I have tried to grasp this truly amazing and mysterious concept. Yet grace is not something tangible. It is not a substance or a thing. It is rather, the very presence of God himself living and flowing within us and allowing us to experience his face shining upon us, his mercy consoling us and his power strengthening us for each task and situation we face.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).” The scripture writer refers to the merciful, favorable nature of God’s grace, but then puts a special emphasis on grace as the power within us to accomplish what we need. It is good to see someone’s smiling face directed toward us and to sense their merciful spirit, but without the actual strength at work on our behalf the person’s favorable attitude is not very helpful. The same writer of Hebrews adds later, “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace… (13:9).

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (I Corinthians 15:10). John Wesley wrote that when the word grace is used in the Bible with the idea of power or energy, we can just as easily read the “Holy Spirit” in its place.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

“And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:33).

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’” (James 4:6). This reminds me of a wonderful old hymn that includes the words, “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater.”

To close this five-part series, I leave you with some remarkable words from the apostle Peter. Whether our burden pertains to guilt, shame, regret or some other matter that weighs heavily upon us, hear these words from “the God of all grace.”

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:10-11).

Monday, July 1, 2013

Guilt, Shame, Regret…and Grace

Guilt, Shame, Regret…and Grace
Part Four
Bob Rakestraw
“The Benediction Project”

(This is a follow-up to the previous posting, in which we began to consider “regret.”)

We have all experienced regret, and perhaps are still suffering from this very painful condition of heart and soul. We may struggle with regret because we have done or said harmful things to others, or did not do or say the helpful things we should have. The apostle Paul had some initial regret over the doing of good, as we saw in the previous posting, and this was good regret. But what if we have regret over the doing of harm, and the committing of sin against God and others. How could we not possibly regret such things? 

Wouldn’t we be terribly calloused if we said, “I don’t regret having sold addictive drugs to young people. God has forgiven me and I live with no regrets. After all, I’ve heard people state their philosophy of life as ‘No regrets,’ and they seem to be happy.” 

People might say such things as “I made some poor choices,” or “I did not intend to offend anyone,” or, the most evasive of all, “mistakes were made,” but rarely do we hear “I regret” or (even more scarce) “I was wrong” or “I sinned.” 

It is true that regret for wrongdoing is, for people of conscience, difficult to live with. The starting point for help is, without hesitation, to come to our merciful Lord and ask him for forgiveness of those things that have grieved God and harmed others. Ask him, as I often do, to search your heart and show you the sin—past or present—you may not even be aware of (Ps. 139:23-24). 

Then we need to do or say whatever we can to help right the wrong. This is often no longer possible when, for example, the person we hurt has died. But if we can acknowledge our wrongdoing and our regret for it, and do what we can in specific ways to improve the lives and spirits of those we harmed, we should do so.  

One specific matter concerns decisions and decision-making. You may say, even after many years, “I regret that decision.” In some such cases you may not have asked God for guidance, either because you never thought of it or because you were in a place of rebellion against God. In other cases you may have asked God to lead you, but you already had your mind made up before. 

In situations such as these God does not berate us nor keep bringing up the past to torment us, but he does want us to acknowledge our failure and seek him with our whole heart in the future. It may not be possible to undo some poor decisions, but God has ways of turning ashes into beauty when we choose to live in faith and obedience from this time onward.    

There may be cases when you sincerely asked God for the wisdom to make the right decision and then chose what you believed was God’s will. But as time passed after your decision you found yourself thinking “I regret that decision.” You may have thought this, and perhaps still do, about such major matters as your choice of a marriage partner, your decision (consciously or subconsciously) to follow a certain philosophy of parenting, your heavy borrowing for an enjoyable but not very practical college education, or your too “day-at-a-time” attitude about pursuing the advanced schooling that you, for years, have wished that you had pursued. 

In such situations, when you sought God in submission to his will, open  to his direction, you are not pleasing God if you say, “I regret that decision.” The epistle of James (1:5-8) makes it clear that if we ask God for wisdom as I just described, we are to trust completely that the decision we made was the one God had for us.  

As you pray and make a decision in such situations, you are to do so with full confidence in the Good Shepherd who leads his sheep, knowing that your choice will be God’s choice. This is true even if you have some “fuzziness” about your choice at the time you make it. 100% certainty is not always present, but you should never move ahead with any serious doubt.  

Once again, there may be times—sometimes painful times—when, some time after you made a decision while seeking God’s will, you begin to feel that you made a bad choice. It is my conviction, based upon personal experience and over 50 years of Bible study as a seeker of truth, that you did make a right decision. (See also I John 3:18-22; 5:14-15.) 

Think of it: if you met the conditions of James chapter one and asked God for the wisdom to choose rightly, why should you dishonor him by doubting that he did what he said he would do? He knows we are very imperfect and that our motives may be somewhat mixed even when we desire them to be pure. He does not look for perfection in us but for a heart that yearns for his will, for his glory above all.  

Today, much of what we are and who we are is the result of our past decisions. None of these decisions can be re-decided, unless it concerns some choice made so recently that the consequences of the decision have not yet taken effect. Whether our choices were made while we were seeking God or not, we must move forward. In the former case, with regard to a specific decision, we are to live with the confidence that God did guide us. In the latter case, we are to repent once and for all of our failure to seek God wholly and ask him regularly for the “joy of the Lord” which will be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

Monday, June 3, 2013

Guilt, Shame, Regret…and Grace Part Three
Bob Rakestraw
“The Benediction Project”

(This is the third in a series on guilt, shame, regret and grace. The two previous postings considered guilt and shame.)

I think it is safe to say that all of us have done some things we now regret doing. We wish we had never done them. Also, we have said some things that we regret saying. Furthermore, we regret not doing certain things and not saying certain things that we should have. As with guilt and shame, regret can cause great harm in our lives unless we learn to understand it and deal with it properly.

The word regret can be either a noun (“Does the prisoner show any regret”?) or a verb (“I regret that I said that.”). As a noun it has the idea of sorrow, remorse, or a troubled feeling over what has happened, especially if we were responsible. As a verb it means to feel sorry or remorseful over something, especially one’s own words or actions. Whatever it is one regrets, it is usually spoken of with negativity or disappointment: an angry outburst, cheating on one’s taxes, not making an important phone call, or even regret that we could not stay longer nor attend a friend’s wedding.

The Bible seldom uses the word regret. It is not found at all in the King James Version and occurs only four times in the New International Version. Second Corinthians 7:8-10 contains the fullest discussion of our topic, and deserves our consideration.

The apostle Paul had written a previous letter to the believers at Corinth, one that had caused them sorrow. (This was probably not the epistle of 1 Corinthians.) He wrote, “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (NIV 2011, italics added).

Paul writes that it is possible for us to regret, at the moment, the necessity of having to do something (because it will hurt someone for a while), but not regret the action itself once we see the good results from the action.  Paul also writes of two kinds of sorrow and commends the Corinthians for having the first: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

This last verse strikes at the heart of our topic: there is a good, beneficial, godly form of sorrow (probably the key element of regret) and a bad, destructive, worldly form of sorrow. Worldly sorrow is not deadly because sorrow is a wrong thing in itself; it is deadly because it is so inwardly focused that it does not look to God in repentance and hope. Worldly sorrow, entwined with worldly regret, led Judas to hang himself. He was filled with remorse, not repentance, and he died in his sin (Matthew 27:3-5).

It is essential to realize that godly sorrow may have (and sometimes should have) a strong element of regret in it. Paul said that godly sorrow “leaves no regret,” not that it “involves no regret.” He had just written that he did regret having to write the letter—he felt sorrowful that he would cause sorrow—but it was sorrow that, in the end, “leaves no regret.” One admonition from this line of thought is that when we believe we should offer constructive criticism, we should not let the sorrow and regret of the moment keep us from doing the right thing. If we do hold back, we may experience more regret—long lasting regret with sad consequences for others and ourselves—than we would by offering the correction that was needed.

(In our next posting we will consider this matter of regret further.)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Guilt, Shame, Regret…and Grace Part Two
 Bob Rakestraw
“The Benediction Project”

 Many people, whether religious or not, struggle with guilt, shame or regret. Or they struggle with two or possibly all three. These are closely related and intertwined, and are such major issues that, if not dealt with properly, will hinder and maybe even destroy one’s stability and success in life as well as one’s peace of mind and will to live. In the previous posting we considered guilt. In this article we focus on shame.

Shame is generally understood as an unpleasant emotional reaction by a person to an actual or presumed negative judgment of him or her by others, resulting in self-depreciation in relation to the group. (This definition and certain other insights in the first part of this essay are from the article, “Shame,” by R. L. Timpe, in Baker Encyclopedea of Psychology, edited by David G. Benner, 1985.
Shame involves an objective act and a subjective feeling of the person. The objective act violates some social convention (which may or may not include a violation of God’s law in the thinking of the person) and, as a consequence, leads to the subjective feeling of condemnation and derogation. When we feel shame we experience it as a wound to our self-esteem, a painful feeling or sense of degradation aroused in us by the consciousness of having done something unworthy of our previous idea of our own excellence.

 Some examples may be helpful. If a piece of our clothing becomes loose and exposes part of our body inappropriately, or if we begin to eat our meal too soon among high society, where everyone is expected to wait until the ringing of a certain bell, we experience shame. We have committed a sort of “social transgression.”

 Guilt and shame are related but not the same. Some maintain that guilt follows transgression of prohibitions, whereas shame follows one’s failure to reach his or her goals or ideals. A similar view is that guilt arises out of wrongdoing, whereas shame comes from inferiority. I find these distinctions helpful in thinking about the two concepts.

 If I break God’s law of neighbor-love by shouting angrily at an innocent person in the company of others, I will feel (I hope) both true guilt, because I will know I did wrong in the eyes of God, and shame, because I will be aware that I offended not only God and the one I wrongly accused, but also because I violated societal expectations and (perhaps most painful of all) I violated my own ideals and expectations of myself.

 Shame may be either beneficial or harmful. Just as guilt feelings may help us or hurt us, so feelings of shame may benefit us (leading us to apologize, for example, in front of a group) or damage us (as in the case of parents shaming their children for spilling their milk or getting their clothes dirty).

In the Bible we read about Adam and Eve, who, as created, “were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25, NIV 2011). Immediately after they sinned they obviously felt some kind of shame because they made clothes for themselves (Genesis 3:7-11). This kind of shame, while not something God originated at creation is, in itself, not a bad thing. It is actually good to have an inner sense of modesty and propriety. It is also good to have a sense of shame over our sins.

If we experience a feeling of shame it is important to consider whether the shame is due to a violation of God’s will or of social customs or of our own expectations of ourselves, or all three.  In the first case we also have (or should have) feelings of guilt, and thus need to confess our sin to God and ask him to take away our sin and our shame. In the second case we need to apologize to others if and when that is necessary and then try to learn from the situation.

The third case is often the most difficult to deal with. And it is here where Satan and his forces may work very hard to destroy us, or at least ruin our effectiveness as servants of Jesus Christ.

In this case we feel that we have let ourselves down and failed to live up to our own expectations of ourselves. It is very painful to admit to ourselves that we are not as good as we thought we were, especially when others come to know this about us (or we assume they know this about us).

Another huge aspect of this third source of shame is when there are ongoing—perhaps permanent—negative consequences, particularly in the lives of others, due to something we may have done. A person who killed a pedestrian while driving, or a parent who tried to train properly his or her now-adult child, who now lives a life of crime, is a prime candidate for Satan’s assaults.

Whether it be guilt feelings or shame feelings that rob us of joy, peace of mind and the ability to do our daily work well, we need to know that, if we have trusted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we may experience true and lasting liberation from the heartsick condition and downward spiral of guilt and shame.

If we have sincerely confessed (literally, “said the same thing about” as God) all known wrongdoing, from long ago or more recent times, and have accepted God’s complete forgiveness (1 John 1:5-2:2), then we now stand before God clothed in clean garments. Any feelings of guilt and shame we may still experience are from the evil one.

Satan is said to be “the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night” (Revelation 12:10). In the book of Zechariah we read of “Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.” The very next words, from God himself, are, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan!” And then God said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you” (3:1-5). We also may say, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan. You are a defeated foe through the blood of the Lamb!” (Colossians 2:13-15). And then we can hear and cling to the words of our Lord to us:

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth.… In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says the LORD your Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:4, 8).

Monday, April 1, 2013

Guilt, Shame, Regret…and Grace  Part One

Bob Rakestraw
April 1, 2013

 “The Benediction Project”

Not long ago a friend told me that the area of her biggest spiritual struggles concerns matters of guilt, shame and regret. She has been a faithful follower of Jesus Christ for many years, knows her Bible well and has a close daily walk with God. She is not living a defeated life, but the evil one knows how and when to bring certain issues to her mind in order to rob her of the joy and peace of the Lord.

As I thought of her remark I thought of my own struggles in these matters, and those of others I know or have known. Probably all of us have dealt with guilt, shame and regret at certain times in our lives, not necessarily all at the same time but quite possibly so.

The more I thought about this realm of the Christian life the more I realized—from long experience and decades in the scriptures—that these matters deserve far more attention than they receive in Christian preaching, writing and conversation. In fact, I recall thinking previously,  often, that this cluster of issues is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons for keeping sincere Christians from serving Christ more actively in  their churches, their neighborhoods and even in their homes. That weapon is the enemy’s constant whispering in our ears such accusations as: “you are not living as you should in order to serve God in an active way—you would be a hypocrite; you have sinned so much in the past that you are not qualified to teach, preach, pray, witness or be in any other way, in front of others; forget any thoughts of teaching your children about really knowing and following God by holy living, as you have been such a poor example to them.”

I believe that by considering these matters biblically, though briefly, we may come to live as “more than conquerors through him who loved us,” for “we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes” (Rom. 8:37; 2 Cor. 2:11).

The word “guilt” will be considered first. Here I am going to do something I have never done before in almost six years of writing these blog postings: I am going to quote extensively, verbatim, from an expert whose presentation I could never improve upon. Dr. S. Bruce Narramore is the author of the article “Guilt” in Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology, edited by David G. Benner, 1985. Here are his valuable insights.

Guilt can be used either as a judicial term referring to violation of a law or to designate an emotion that follows judging oneself in violation of a standard. The first usage refers to an objective state or condition. When individuals break a civil law, they are objectively guilty whether they feel guilty or not. The second usage refers to a subjective experience. People may feel guilty even though they are not legally guilty.

“Objective and subjective guilt can be further divided into two types. Objective guilt can refer to one’s condition in relation to either a human law or to God. In reference to God all persons have been judged guilty (Rom. 3:23 Isa. 53:6) whereas only some people are guilty before human law. Subjective guilt can be divided into self-condemning emotions called neurotic guilt (false guilt, punitive guilt, or simply guilt feelings) and love-based corrective feelings variously called true guilt, ego guilt, existential guilt, or constructive sorrow.

“Much confusion has been created by the failure to distinguish among these four types of guilt. Theologians have sometimes been alarmed by psychologists’ efforts to eliminate neurotic guilt feelings because they were not aware that psychologists wanted to replace these punitive feelings with healthy love-based moral motivations. Similarly, some psychologists have viewed Christianity as a neurotic guilt-inducing religion because of its stress on humanity’s guilt before God. Not realizing the difference between objective and subjective guilt, they assumed that the concept of guilt before God meant that people should experience punitive feelings of guilt.  Unfortunately, some Christians have also failed to differentiate between objective and subjective guilt and have assumed that since they are objectively guilty before God, they should experience feelings of guilt.


Guilt in the Bible. Although the Bible has a great deal to say about humanity’s objective guilt before God, it has surprisingly little to say about punitive feelings of guilt. In fact, not one of the three Greek words translated as guilt in the New Testament refers to the subjective experience of guilt feelings. They refer instead to our objective condition of guilt before God or to being under judgment or indebted to another person. This fact and the scriptural teaching on the atonement has led some (Bonhoeffer, 1955; Narramore, 1984; Thielicke, 1966) to conclude that guilt feelings are not a divinely ordained type of motivation. Since Christ has already paid for the believer sins and made us acceptable to God, there are no grounds for continuing to punish and reject oneself by feelings of guilt (Rom. 8:1).

“Since the believer’s sins have been paid for by Christ, any further self-punishment can actually be seen as a form of self-atonement, which is ultimately based on a rejection of the efficacy of Christ’s atoning death. From this perspective guilt feelings are seen as legalistic efforts to satisfy the demands of conscience apart from Christ. This perspective is supported not only by biblical teachings on justification and forgiveness but also by John’s explicit statement that ‘we shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him, in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things’ (1 John 3:19-20).


“Whereas punitive guilt feelings are a self-centered form of punishment designed to atone for one’s failures, constructive sorrow focuses on the damage done to others and the desire to make things right. Feelings of guilt are focused more on past failures, whereas constructive sorrow is oriented toward future changes. And feelings of guilt are based on anger, whereas constructive sorrow is motivated by love. Paul wrote of this type of motivation when he spoke of the sorrow that is according to the will of God ‘that produces repentance without regret in contrast to the sorrow of the world that produces death’ (2 Cor. 7:8-10).


“For Christians this constructive sorrow (or true guilt) is encouraged by God’s loving care and provision. Before Paul wrote of a godly or constructive sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7:8-10, he reminded the Corinthians of a number of God’s Old Testament promises (2 Cor. 6:16-18) and then wrote, ‘Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (2 Cor. 7:1). His appeal was not to avoid the pain of guilty condemnation, since that issue was already settled. Instead it was to respond in love to the work of God. It is this positive motivation that is the biblical alternative to guilt feelings.”

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Which Bible Translation?

Which Bible Translation?

Bob Rakestraw
“The Benediction Project”


Until Jesus returns, Christians will continue to make new translations, versions, revisions and editions of the Bible. (For the purposes of this essay I am using these terms more or less interchangeably, even though they have different meanings in academic studies.) On the one hand this is a good thing, in that it shows the great interest in and respect for the Bible. It also may indicate (and I hope it does) that those responsible for these new versions believe that as language changes and recent archaeological discoveries cast new light on the ancient biblical manuscripts and languages, we should be reading, studying and meditating in the most accurate Bible in our language.

On the other hand, since the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, many publishers—religious and otherwise—want a piece of the financial pie regardless of the message of the Bible. There are other motives as well for producing a new version, not the least of which are ideologies and agendas (such as how to render faithfully the original languages with respect to both male and female readers), and commitment to certain translation principles (such as literal, paraphrase or somewhere in the middle).

Every Bible version worthy of its name should have as its overarching goal the honoring of God. Second to that should be the producing of a Bible that is as faithful as is humanly possible to the intentions of the original writers as these may be discerned by careful study today.

Not every Bible version on the bookstore shelves or online sites needs to be in your personal book collection, no matter how “essential” or “indispensable” its promoters say it is. Such a requirement would take a good chunk of our income regularly and probably force us to build or buy more bookshelves. I’d rather have one or two excellent translations than eight or ten that are not of the highest quality.

Before I go on, however, I want to put your (possibly troubled) mind at ease. Whichever Bible version you have been using, in whatever language, as long as it was produced with God-honoring intentions, you will not be led astray if you are searching sincerely for God’s truth. The Lord said in the book of Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (29:13).

Throughout the millennia, God’s people all over the world have yearned for the Bible in their own language, since most people on earth do not know the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek in which the Bible was written. Many hundreds of translations, therefore, have been made in many (I hope all, very soon) languages, to meet this longing for God’s word. Some of these translations were not well done by today’s scholarly criteria. Yet multitudes have read them and have come to salvation through the Christ presented in their pages. And they have learned how to live the life of the Spirit as God intends.

For example, the Bible of the early church for most Christians was the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek that is, except for the Pentateuch, not a high-quality piece of workmanship. As an illustration, the writings of the prophets are often rendered in paraphrase (a free-flowing departure from the original in order to make the meaning more clear, yet which often changes the original intention of the writer). Yet this was the Bible Jesus used when he referred to the scriptures in Greek, and this is the main Bible the Spirit of God used to “turn the world upside down” through his followers!

 Another example is from the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. The Bible that God used to show Martin Luther the way to peace of mind and salvation through faith in Christ alone was an inferior translation known as the Latin Vulgate. And yet the Reformation—ignited by Luther—was another turning of the world “upside down.”

It is far more important to read and meditate in the one not-so-great Bible translation you may possess, with a heart open to hear and follow all of God’s truth, than to have a half-dozen excellent translations you never use or which you use only for intellectual pursuits. Ideally we will have both: an excellent Bible translation and a heart and mind yearning for God and his truth.

To conclude this much-too-brief introductory piece I want to mention the versions that I recommend and use most. My favorite by far is the New International Version, copyright 2011. I highly recommend the 2011 edition because it is a significant improvement over the earlier editions of the NIV. The same is true for a study Bible: the best is the NIV Study Bible, 2011 edition. I intend, as far as I know now, to use this study Bible as my main Bible for the rest of my life. I know two of the three editors well, and think highly of them and the third editor. You will always benefit by consulting this version, as well as the Study Bible notes (over 20,000 of them), even if you do not use this version as your preferred one.

Two other versions that I recommend are The New Revised Standard Version (a very accurate, reasonably literal translation) and the New Living Translation (also accurate and very readable, but using paraphrase more). If you use the NIV Study Bible (2011) and the NRSV (latest edition) for studious work, and the NLT (latest edition) for situations when an easier-to-read translation is preferred, you will likely do well for years to come.

There are many other worthwhile Bible versions and study Bibles on the market, and I think it is good for you to become familiar with as many of them as possible. But do not feel compelled to purchase every new, “must-have,” Bible version that comes on the market. There will probably be a new “indispensable” version within the next few years! We do not need more Bible versions, especially in the English speaking world. Revisions, of course, are beneficial as language changes, but the many millions of dollars spent every year to produce and advertise new Bible versions in English would be much better used to support the translation and distribution of God’s word where little or no Bible exists in the language of the people.

And remember always that our trust in and obedience to the scriptures is far more important than certain details of translation that do not affect the overall meaning of a text. May the grace of God be with you!