Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bad translation snares a good Bible teacher

Listening to a favorite preacher I'm having a problem with his use of one of the modern translations.

He's quoting Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 and instead of "the world was without form and void" he says "the world BECAME shapeless, empty and dark" and goes on to make much of how this supposedly reflects the fact that God doesn't make anything that isn't perfect, and how its becoming ugly and dark shows the entrance of sin into the world. Sort of as a parable of what was to come later.

But that point is pretty strained it seems to me, and the translation "became" isn't supported in any Bible version I have easy access to. All those at Blue Letter Bible, for instance, say it WAS without form and dark. The NIV, however, does have one of its famous footnotes at this point, saying it could possibly mean "became." Yeah, and Strong's has "become" as one of the possibilities too. So we're all made translators these days.

Why isn't it respected that eminent scholars and translators chose "WAS?" Why is the ordinary Christian given this option to translate the Bible over the experts who did so already? Especially the KJV scholars who were head and shoulders above the translators of any subsequent version, certainly above Westcott and Hort according to Dean Burgon who ought to know. So the ordinary preacher is given all this power to make judgments he's in no position to make, even if he learned some basic Greek in seminary. If Westcott and Hort's Greek was on the schoolboy level, as Burgon judged it, why should any pastor think his is any better than theirs? (This favorite Bible teacher I'm talking about did not go to seminary or Bible school, just for the record).

And then I have to ask why this Biblically grounded and highly spiritual teacher would go with a footnote anyway -- unless he's using a translation that's not on Blue Letter Bible's list. In any case it leads him into some questionable reasoning: God makes everything perfect so it MUST be that it was sin that brought the void and darkness at the beginning of creation. I'm afraid this is probably a case of his LIKING the idea of a certain kind of perfection, defending God's honor as it were, but really leaning to his own understanding. Happens all too easily to the human race. And the situation in which we're all invited to make our own decisions about what God really said certainly plays into this human weakness.

I dunno. Other explanations for the pre-world formlessness occur to me that don't challenge God's mastery. Anything in the first stages of existence might be describable as formless and void. How about the blastocyst stage before the embryo takes shape? In fact how about the early embryo itself, that doesn't yet show the form of the creature it is going to become? In fact I also think of stages of cooking, simple chemical operations. The first stages are pretty formless before the egg in a sauce thickens it or a cake emerges from the batter. I'm sure the same thing is true in chemistry in general. Or how about the example of the formless lump of clay before it becomes pottery? The biblical image of the Creation is of the Holy Spirit brooding over this unformed earth to bring it to birth, which even the human creator imitates in making something from unorganized material.

As usual, just because he has spiritual sense and basic Biblical knowledge, this preacher is able to go on to make valid points about the effects of sin and especially the sin of pride, even spiritually powerful points, but in relation to the Bible it's more of a rescue operation than a true building on the word of God, but of course the preacher who doesn't have Biblical grounding or spiritual sense has no hope of getting on track at all.

Is the Todd Bentley Healing & Revival Circus With Real (Bad) Angels and Tattooed Man breaking up?

I haven't done a post on the Todd Bentley supposed "revival" that's been going on in Lakeland, Florida for the last few months, but intended eventually to put up some links to other discussions of the phenomenon. Andrew Strom and Scott Johnson and a few blogs I check in on from time to time have been keeping tabs on this "outpouring" of anything but the Holy Spirit.

Now I get an email from a friend quoting J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine, on his apparently rather sudden disillusionment with that "revival," brought about by the breakup of Bentley's marriage. It's a touchingly even painfully honest assessment of the charismatic mentality that sucks believers in the spiritual gifts into outrageously false spectacles like the Todd Bentley show:

. . . this week, a few days after the Canadian preacher announced the end of his visits to Lakeland, he told his staff that his marriage is ending. . . .

Why did so many people flock to Lakeland from around the world to rally behind an evangelist who had serious credibility issues from the beginning?

To put it bluntly, we’re just plain gullible.

From the first week of the Lakeland revival, many discerning Christians raised questions about Bentley’s beliefs and practices. They felt uneasy when he said he talked to an angel in his hotel room. They sensed something amiss when he wore a T-shirt with a skeleton on it. They wondered why a man of God would cover himself with tattoos. They were horrified when they heard him describe how he tackled a man and knocked his tooth out during prayer.

But among those who jumped on the Lakeland bandwagon, discernment was discouraged. They were expected to swallow and follow. The message was clear: "This is God. Don’t question.” . . .

Why didn’t anyone in Lakeland denounce the favorable comments Bentley made about William Branham?

This one baffles me. Branham embraced horrible deception near the end of his ministry, before he died in 1965. He claimed that he was the reincarnation of Elijah—and his strange doctrines are still embraced by a cultlike following today. When Bentley announced to the world that the same angel that ushered in the 1950s healing revival had come to Lakeland, the entire audience should have run for the exits. . . .

Why didn’t anyone correct this error from the pulpit? Godly leaders are supposed to protect the sheep from heresy, not spoon feed deception to them. Only God knows how far this poison traveled from Lakeland to take root elsewhere. May God forgive us for allowing His Word to be so flippantly contaminated.

A prominent Pentecostal evangelist called me this week after Bentley’s news hit the fan. He said to me: “I’m now convinced that a large segment of the charismatic church will follow the anti-Christ when he shows up because they have no discernment.” Ouch. Hopefully we’ll learn our lesson this time and apply the necessary caution when an imposter shows up.

This is a great start, certainly for his own spiritual health, and we can hope the same for some of his readers as well, but I'm sure he hasn't yet appreciated the half of it, the tenth of it, when it comes to the problems with the charismatic movement. So much of it is riddled with out-and-out demonic manifestations and corrupted discernment that he hasn't yet seen, all we can do is pray that God will continue to open his eyes, but hope for the movement itself has pretty flimsy supports. Grady still thinks it's just a matter of Bentley being "corrected" by loving Christian leaders (some of whom themselves are rightly under suspicion by the discerning), but all the signs are that Bentley is not even remotely Christian to begin with.

Even while appreciating any honest self-appraisal from this camp, knowing how hard-won it has to be, one might nevertheless want to say "I told you so" or "It's about time" or "Too little too late" as Andrew Strom did in his blog a couple weeks ago:

It may be too late, because a great deal of damage has been done by this false revival already, and the fact that Bentley's own camp may be dispersing will probably not stop its galloping career across the world.

It did cross my mind that perhaps the breakup of the Lakeland dog and pony show could be thanks to Scott Johnson and friend who went there not too long ago and spent much of their time praying against the evil in it.

More to come on this subject I'm sure.