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True Grit 2010 (A Review with Comparisons to the 1969 Version)

Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. Her performance is the unexpected surprise of this movie. Too bad the promoters of this film didn't have the decency to add her name to the movie poster.

After seeing an advance screening of the Coen brothers' True Grit earlier this week, I reflected upon other good movies I've seen this year. 2010 wasn't necessarily a stellar year, but there were some good films (Inception, The Social Network). Nevertheless, I can say without reserve that True Grit is easily the best movie I've seen in a very long time.

No movie is made in a vacuum, and that's especially true of any remake. But it's even more true of True Grit. This movie had haters from the moment that Joel and Ethan Coen announced they were making it. The original 1969 True Grit is not only associated with American icon John Wayne, but the movie became his only Oscar win in a career that spanned four decades. The True Grit character Rooster Cogburn is practically synonymous with John Wayne. Try to name Wayne's character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or The Shootist. I realize that the hardcore John Wayne fans among you can do that, but most who are reading this cannot.

But let's be honest: the 1969 True Grit was flawed. John Wayne read Charles Portis' 1968 book and immediately started pushing for a movie staring himself as the federal marshal. While the Duke's portrayal is laudable, the screenplay was hastily written, and some of the other primary roles were poorly cast.

It's no surprise that Glen Campbell is still better known for his singing than his acting. His portrayal of La Boeuf in the original movie becomes painful to watch as he delivers his lines with all the expression of a teenage actor in a bad high school play. Supposedly, Glen Campbell was selected for the role so that there could be an opening theme for use as a popular song on the radio promoting the film. Of course, it could have been worse. Originally, Elvis Presley was considered for the role. While I enjoy Presley's music much better than Campbell's, I can't imagine he would have been a a suitable choice either.

And clearly, Kim Darby, while a better actor than Glen Campbell, was simply not right for the role of 14-year-old Mattie Ross. Darby was actually 22 at the time. And while they tried to make her look much younger, she's never quite right. While she certainly captures Mattie Ross' determination, Darby does so with a little too much perkiness at times. She's simply not ever somber enough. And her boyishly short haircut, in retrospect forty years later, seems extremely out of place for a western taking place in 1880.

The Coen brothers have insisted that they weren't attempting to remake the 1969 film as much as they were actually making a new adaption of Charles Portis' original novel. Regardless of which movie version is better remembered decades from now, the Coen brothers have undeniably made a much closer adaptation of the book. From the beginning of the novel to the end, True Grit is the story of a little girl seeking to avenge her father's death, to bring justice to the man who struck him down. The book tells the story in retrospect from a Mattie Ross who is much older, remembering the events that she fell into when she was no longer quite a child, but also not quite yet a woman.

In the 1969 movie, Mattie is only the focus of the story until she meets marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn. In that version, once John Wayne steps into the frame, the movie is clearly his until the final scene. While filming, he even told the crew, "This is my show; you're just along for the ride!"

The Coen brothers, however, stay true to the Portis' original source material. Everything in the movie is from Mattie's perspective. Young Hailee Steinfeld, who literally just turned 14 last week, delivers an absolutely remarkable performance as Mattie Ross, as if the character had simply stepped out of Portis' book. She every bit looks the part, from her long, braided hair to her ankle length black dress (Kim Darby's version of the character wore gaucho-style pants, I suppose for easier horseback riding). Steinfeld captures the spirit of Mattie Ross, somber and determined to bring her father's killer to justice. I don't believe I even saw Steinfeld smile until about 2/3 into the movie. She is very much the biblical ‏גֹּאֵל הַדָּם/"avenger of blood" (see Numbers 35:9-34 or the Wikipedia entry for "Goel") bent on securing her family's financial stability and bringing justice to her father's murderer. And while little Mattie Ross is looking for someone with "true grit" to help her track down her father's killer, Steinfeld's portrayal demonstrates to the audience that it is really Mattie who has the most grit of any of the characters.

Matt Damon portrays Texas Ranger La Bouef much better than his predecessor in the role. Although this won't be considered Damon's most memorable part, he has enough acting experience to keep the portrayal authentic, even if I did feel that his Boston accent may have briefly slipped through once or twice.

Certainly Jeff Bridges has seen a renaissance in his acting career recently. His portrayal of Rooster Cogburn will continue to give momentum to his recent acclaim. Surely, it would be intimidating to most actors to even consider taking a role so closely associated with John Wayne. I thought about this long and hard, and I really can't imagine anyone from today's crop of actors besides Bridges who could have pulled this role off. However, when we first see Bridges as Cogburn testifying in "Hanging Judge Parker's" courthouse, his delivery of dialogue was so very slurred that I wondered if he was going to be mostly unintelligible throughout the entire movie. Fortunately, though, having seen the 1969 version recently, most of his lines were familiar, and this allowed me to adjust my ears to Bridges' dialect.

There is a striking feeling of authenticity to the settings, props and dialogue throughout the entire movie. Careful attention has been given to every detail, much more so than the earlier version. Most of the actors' lines are taken straight from Portis' own novel. The particular and sometimes peculiar phrasings seemed to wash delightfully over me as I sat still waiting to hear every word of every sentence spoken. In fact, much of the dialogue that was also used in the first movie, simply makes more sense in the 2010 version of True Grit. The newer script has a much greater cohesiveness than the previous version.

Of course, while the unique dialogue seemed perfect for a Coen brothers movie (which I cannot adequately explain, but many of you will understand), there were a few times that the particular tone and enunciation seemed a bit more reminiscent of O Brother, Where Art Thou? than True Grit. Surely this was a directing decision, but it may have been a bit overplayed at times. Yet those who are familiar, know that the movies made by the Coen brothers tend to carry a style of humor that is never overt, but yet almost always subtly present in nearly every scene. Portis' novel contains a great amount of humor, especially in the dialogue of the exchanges between the characters, and this is simply better captured in the 2010 version of the movie than in its predecessor.

I won't give away the ending of the new version, but I will tell you that it's different than that of the first movie. The Coen brothers stay true to the novel. The 1969 version may have stayed more true to a certain actor's ego (no disrespect intended).

Although Kathy and I saw this movie for free, I would gladly pay to see it in the theaters again (something we rarely do anymore with the high cost of movie tickets). If you're one of the ones who feels as if it's almost an act against the sacred to remake this film, I urge you to set aside your cinematic piety. Westerns these days are few in the theaters, and good westerns even more rare. The 2010 version of True Grit is a welcome addition to the genre, even if it is a story we've been told before.

True Grit arrives in theaters nationwide on December 22.


Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1: Some Quick Thoughts

I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at a midnight showing last night (this morning) with a friend of mine. I'm not so into Harry Potter that I'd normally be a candidate for a midnight showing of this series, but I'd got through teaching at 10 PM, and I'm normally wired afterwards, so I agreed to go. This morning, another friend of mine asked me on Facebook what I thought of the movie. What is below is a slightly modified adaption of what I wrote this morning.

I was struck while watching the movie how very different it "felt" from earlier movies. I don't mean that as a criticism, and I don't believe it's different just because the characters/actors are older. This installment not only had a very different tone and setting(s) from the previous movies in the series, it also had a very distinct directing style that was different from all the previous movies. I can't remember if a handcam has ever been used in any of these movies before, but if so, it's never been used as much. It was fairly pervasive in the outdoor scenes. Along the lines of all this, it's undeniable that the style of this movie has been influenced by the Twilight films. Parts of the movie very much felt like a Twilight movie.

The Harry Potter movies, like the books (which I stopped reading after the second or third installment), have always grown increasingly darker, but obviously, this movie was the darkest of all. Early movies always had a certain element of whimsy, but there was very little of that this times around. A couple of scenes were quite scary to me, even as an adult. And knowing how popular the books and movies are with children, I'd wonder about the wisdom of letting a child see this movie, regardless of his or her level of maturity.

Splitting the last book into two parts clearly had some element of profit involved, but at the same time, fans have often complained that too much from the books is left out in the movies, so I'm certain that many fans will be quite happy for events to slow down. How close the movie stayed with the book, I have no idea, but the film definitely seemed to feel less rushed than previous installments. Although the ongoing camping scenes became a bit tedious after a while, it was difficult to follow how much time had elapsed at various points until someone would mention that "months" had passed by since some previous event.

I think I may actually have an ear infection at the moment in my right ear, so it may have been my own hearing, but many of the British accents were so thick, especially in some of the early conversations, that I had great trouble keeping up with dialogue in some places. I don't know if that was just me or not. I felt like I'd be too much of an old man to constantly ask my friend, "What'd he say?" so I just figured I'd see it again with Kathy later.

Overall, my feelings toward the movie are positive, but 20 minutes in, I wished I'd seen the previous movie again before this one. For those who aren't strong Harry Potter devottees, I'd recommend reviewing at least the sixth installment before this one. I should have.


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The New Rules of Flying

I still remember my first airplane flight. I was about ten years old. It was with Delta. A window seat. A 737, I think. The pilot gave me a pin in the shape of golden wings.

As I grew older and realized I was never going to get a Jetsons-esque flying car of my own, no matter how far I traveled in the future by growing older, I understood that our flying cars were instead more like flying buses. I might not get my own flying car, but the flying bus was still a convenient and quick means of getting wherever I need to go in a very expedient manner. And because I don't travel for a living, until recently, flying was still an enjoyable experience.

But those days are now gone. Not only will I never get my flying car, now I don't even want to ride the flying bus anymore.

Those of you who've been reading this blog since 2003 know that I'm neither an alarmist nor an extremist. I play it pretty middle of the road. I've never called for a boycott of anything, and my convictions about extremely divisive issues I've mostly kept to myself. But in light of recent events, I feel compelled to agree with a growing national sentiment that the Transportation Security Administration of the US Department of Homeland Security is out of control.

By now the following is old news:

  • The TSA has installed over 380 full body imaging scanners in over 68 airports in the United States. Many more are to come. There are two problems with this. The majority of these scanners use an x-ray technology known as "backscatter." Some studies show that backscatter scanning is safe. Other studies indicate very different results. Look, there's a reason why the dentist gives you a lead shield to cover yourself before getting your teeth x-rayed: overexposure to x-rays can lead to cancer, including a higher risk of leukemia in unborn children. The second issue, fortunately, is not a risk to one's health, but it is a risk to one's privacy. These full body imaging scanners virtually unclothe the individual going through the machine. We are told that the person viewing the passenger is in another room and does not actually see the person. But obviously, the images are associated with your ID, and there's no set indication as to how long these images are being kept, where they're being kept, and who has access to them.

  • Last week, airline pilot unions began recommending that pilots "politely decline" the use of full body scanners. Of course this begs the question—if the pilots are advised not to subject themselves to what could be dangerous radiation, why should the rest of us?

  • If one "politely declines" the full body scanner, the individual is forced to undergo a full "enhanced" pat-down by a TSA representative. This involves a total stranger touching you with the front of his or her hands in places that previously should be known only to a physician or a spouse. The TSA representative will likely place his or her hands inside your clothing and no part of your person is off limits.

If you've been living in a cave and are unaware of all this, there are thousands of recent articles and reports of this on the internet. Here is one from a reputable source: "Screening Protests Grow As Holiday Crunch Looms." The entire article is worthy of your time, but pay special attention to these parts before you fly during the holidays:

On Nov. 1, screeners began using a far more invasive form of procedure for all pat-downs — in which women’s breasts and all passengers’ genital areas are patted firmly. Since that change happened to coincide with the accelerated introduction of the body scanning machines, many fliers began expressing their dismay on blogs, fanning anti-T.S.A. reactions.

A traveler named John Tyner, for example, posted a detailed account of being detained at the San Diego airport when he tried to leave after declining a body scan. Mr. Tyner recorded the encounter, in which person who appeared to be a T.S.A. screener insisted that he undergo a “groin check.” That account, and that indelicate term, quickly went viral.

I’m getting a lot of questions about the new security regime, including some pointed ones from women. Do the imagers, for example, detect sanitary napkins? Yes. Does that then necessitate a pat-down? The T.S.A. couldn’t say. Screeners, the T.S.A. has said, are expected to exercise some discretion.

This issue became personal for us on November 6, when I saw Kathy off to the airport for a conference she was attending. I had already expressed my concerns to her in regard to the scanners, so she opted for the "enhanced" pat-down, not realizing how invasive it would actually be. There was no curtained room, but in the middle of the security area at the Louisville airport, the TSA employee touched her in ways that in any other context would be considered wholly inappropriate, tantamount to sexual harassment. The TSA employee ran her hand inside my wife's sweatshirt and repeatedly in the cleavage of her breasts. Yes, the employee conducting the pat down was female, but does that actually matter anymore? [Note: I've offered a correction and clarification of this incident below in the comments. Please read that, too, for the full story of what took place.]

This is an extreme and outrageous invasion of privacy. If you travel by air, you have the choice of subjecting yourself to potentially dangerous radiation or the humiliation of being searched in ways that have previously been reserved for criminals and victims of inappropriate sexual contact. There's no "good" choice here.

Many will argue that such extreme measures will save lives. Terrorism will be prevented. Really? No one seems to be certain that any of these stricter measures would have prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the now-infamous "underwear bomber" from boarding an airplane. These measures certainly wouldn't have prevented the bombs hidden in toner cartridges a few weeks ago.

Where do we draw the line? In an essay written in the spirit of Jonathan Swift last week, one of my students suggested that the only logical next step for the TSA to take is to simply require all airline passengers to fly completely in the nude. I guess that would work, right? It would certainly save lives.

Look, barriers in the middle of interstates are designed to prevent vehicles from crossing into opposing traffic. Yet, accidents of this kind still happen. So why not construct twenty-foot walls in the median? That would certainly save lives, and perhaps no one would ever cross the median again! Studies have proven that a speed limit of 55 mph saves fuel and reduces fatalities, so why do we insist on having limits at greater speeds? We do this because there's an invisible line of risk that we're willing to cross for the sake of convenience. But we know when to stop. We don't build 20 foot high safety partitions on the highway. We don't allow cars to drive at 120 mph. We understand that's crossing too far over the line.

And that's exactly what the TSA has done. They've crossed the line in potentially dangerous and decidedly invasive ways.

There's already a call for November 24, 2010, to be "National Opt-Out Day" [warning: graphic "backscatter" images can be seen at linked website] in which travelers on the busiest travel day of the year respectfully decline the invasive procedures being called for by the TSA since November 1. The organizer has stated the reasons for this protest on his website (emphasis added):

It's the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government's desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an "enhanced pat down" that touches people's breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner.  You should never have to explain to your children, "Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it's a government employee, then it's OK."

The goal of National Opt Out Day is to send a message to our lawmakers that we demand change.  We have a right to privacy and buying a plane ticket should not mean that we're guilty until proven innocent.  This day is needed because many people do not understand what they consent to when choosing to fly.

Honestly, I don't know if any of this is going to help. These body imaging scanners have been paid for and there are another 700 or so on order. This is a juggernaut that will be very difficult to slow down, let alone stop. But that doesn't mean we have to sit still for it. Therefore, I'd like to propose...

  1. If possible, opt out completely. That is, don't fly if you don't have to. Air travel has been a wonderful convenience, but it's no longer worth the effort, the risk, or invasion of privacy. Trains, cars, and busses—there are other alternatives. Plus, alternatives will hit the airline industry—which has stayed pretty mum on the new security rules so far—right where it hurts.

  2. Arrive at the airport even earlier. Before 9/11, we were told to arrive at the airport an hour before our flights. After 9/11, we were told to arrive two hours before our flights. Now, thanks to "enhanced" pat-downs (regardless of whether you opt out or not), it's going to take even longer to get through security.

  3. Always opt out of the body scanners. Do it especially on November 24, but really you should opt out every time you fly. Opt out for safety reasons. Opt out on principle.

  4. Understand that opting out of body imaging requires you to undergo the humiliation of "enhanced" pat-downs. According to the TSA, especially in light of the recent incident with John Tyner, once you begin the screening process, you must complete it or potentially face legal consequences.

  5. Be polite, but don't stand for inappropriate contact. You're not a criminal for wanting to fly, and you shouldn't be treated like one. If you are touched in any manner that is inappropriate, be certain to write down the TSA employee's name and file the appropriate harassment report. Of course, because the TSA holds ultimate power over you while you are in security, you might find it more opportune to file any harassment report after you've arrived at your destination.

I realize that terrorism is a very real problem in the world. But in response, do we risk our health? Do we risk our privacy? Do we risk civility? When and where do we draw the line, and say, "Enough is enough"?


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Obvious? Maybe Not: Why the HCSB and NLT

Over on Ancient Hebrew Poetry, John Hobbins has written an insightful analysis (that I highly recommend) of Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 in the updated NIV. See "A Review of the New NIV of Qohelet 11:1-2." Incidentally, I agree with John's assertion that Eccl 11:1-2 in the updated NIV is more interpretation than translation.

In the introduction of John's post, he mentioned my post from a couple of days ago regarding my initial thoughts about the updated NIV. Following that mention, he referred to the fact that I stated that I had moved on from the TNIV, and that now my two primary translations were the HCSB and NLT. Then John wrote this:

What Rick never explains is why he makes primary use of HCSB and NLT. It ought to be obvious: he is Southern Baptist. For the same reason, a United Methodist might make primary use of NRSV and CEB; a Roman Catholic, of (say) RSV and NAB. The sociological reasons for choosing one Bible over another tend to go undiscussed. But they are often determinative.

Initially, I began writing what you see below in the comments on John's website. However, because I can sometimes be a bit longwinded, I decided to move my response here to This Lamp.

Here is how I began my response:

John, actually, I have explained why I currently make primary use of the HCSB and NLT before in other posts. My initial take on the updated NIV was already long enough and rehashing this other issue would have been too far off subject.

However, to say that my choices for the HCSB and NLT are merely (obvious was the word you used) because I am Southern Baptist is a bit reductionistic, and frankly, I feel, sells my preferences, and perhaps me, a bit short.

I've been a collector and student of Bible translations before I ever studied biblical languages. Initially, I thought that perhaps after studying Greek and Hebrew, my interest in English translations would wane, but that was not the case. In fact, it increased because I found that I had a better understanding of why particular translational choices were made. My most valuable M.Div level class in the nineties was the elective I took on textual criticism taught by John Polhill, which gave me further tools for understanding translators' choices.

Most of my personal study of the Scriptures takes place on a computer—usually in Accordance, but increasingly in BibleReader on my iPad. I like using Accordance because I can have the original languages side-by-side with my own translation of the text as well as all the standard English translations. Sometimes I throw in Luther's German Bible, too, because I want to see how a phrase reads in the German (although I don't claim any great skill in German, I'm usually interested enough to look up what I can't work out on my own).

The English translations I favor tend to go through cycles, rising and falling like investments on the stock exchange. Four years ago, I created a "Top Ten" list based more on my print collection than what I have access to electronically. Recently, I updated that list to better reflect where I am now. Yes, there are more Protestant Bibles on that list, but not exclusively so. And yes, about half tend to be rooted more in Evangelical use, but there tends to be more of these kinds of translations to begin with. All things considered, I believe I have a more eclectic of a list than one might have predicted.

Nevertheless, it's important for me to point out that I do not begin with translations in my study of the Bible.

Study of the scriptures, for me, begins with the original languages, although admittedly my Greek is still better than my Hebrew.  My study of the Bible is currently focused over three areas: (1) I am still working on my dissertation which focuses on Paul's "prayer wish" in 1 Thess 5:23-24; (2) I teach a weekly Bible study at church and occasionally find opportunities to preach; and (3) sometimes like many of us, I become interested in a subject or a passage, and I study it for no other reason than the fact that I am simply interested.

When I speak about "primary Bible translations" and my own preferences these days, I am primarily referring to what I use publicly. I have two regular public audiences: my church and the classes I teach as an adjunct for Indiana Wesleyan University. Any exposition I do at church is fresh. My presentations at IWU do not require new preparation, although I do try to review my previously used material and tweak it now and then as I see fit.

My choice of Bible translation is something I consider very seriously. And while not an exact and always division, currently I use the NLT a lot with my college students and the HCSB a lot at church.

Forty to fifty individuals attend my weekly Bible study at church on any given Sunday (I'm actually taking November and December off to focus on finishing my dissertation). I spend on average about six hours in preparation to teach one of these studies. If I had unlimited time in my week, I can assure you I would spend longer. I enjoy it. It is my best worship of the week. Yet when I've compared notes with other Sunday School teachers at church, I find that most of them do not put this much time into their lessons. And that's fine.

For many years, I carried my Greek New Testament to church every Sunday. I tried to be inconspicuous about it. It's not that I was ashamed of it, but I never wanted to come across as showy in these kinds of habits. Sometimes, I also carried my Hebrew Bible, and occasionally I carried my LXX, too. I used to carry an entire bag with me to church every Sunday with my laptop (for teaching) and a stack of books. Now, it's conveniently all on my iPad, so I'm much less weighed down. My pastor preaches from the NLT (partly my influence I admit, but not exclusively), and I enjoy following along with the Greek or Hebrew text as well as I can on my iPad.

For whatever reason, I've still chosen to teach from English translations in a church context. Maybe this is a lack of confidence on my part, but maybe it is also a recognition that I'm not going to instantly produce a translation on my own in a few hours that's as polished as one for which a group of people have spent years.

Everything above, John, has been a longwinded route to come to my respectfully intended rebuttal to what I realize was a minor point in your post. For me, when I began talking about the HCSB and NLT as preferred translations, it's primarily in the context of public use, public proclamation.

I like to say that I still see the scriptures from an "Old Testament" perspective—that is the idea that God's Word is not something stale and stagnant, but living—just as the writer of Hebrews expressed it: "The word of God is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, piercing so deeply that it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it discriminates among the purposes and thoughts of the heart” (Heb 4:12, REB).

This belief alone makes me take translation choice very seriously.

On one hand, I want a translation that accurately reflects the original languages (who doesn't?). On the other, I want a translation that communicates the biblical writers' meaning in a way that is not just clear, but also in a manner that seems natural.

I hear you, John, when you say you would prefer a common Bible more closely rooted to the Tyndale/Geneva tradition. I understand that and even value that tradition. But I don't use Bibles in that tradition in public. For those who have never heard the scriptures before, or are at least are unfamiliar with them, I want the language to sound contemporary. I want it to sound as natural as possible. Because I believe the Bible is "alive and active," I don't want newcomers to to hear God's word fully in their language and not the language of a century ago (or four centuries ago).

The church is more important to me than the academy. Church has played a central role in my life since (my mother tells me) I was two weeks old. I love the church, and I love the people in the church. But I often notice that people in the church are so used to doing the same church routines over and over again that on some level, their faith has lost real meaning for them. The Bible has lost real meaning. So sometimes, I believe it's important to hear the Bible in a "new way." That is, to hear the same familiar passages in unfamiliar words—not the words of the Authorized Version or even a later revision in the same tradition. Rather, I want these people to hear God's word fresh.

As for the HCSB, I do not use it only because I'm Southern Baptist. This does play a small part in that our Bible study curriculum uses the HCSB, so there's a nice connection. But for years (decades), I used translations that were not the same as the one found in the curriculum. In fact, I know of only two other individuals at my church who use the HCSB. It's heavily in the minority at my Southern Baptist church. As already mentioned, my pastor preaches from the NLT. But the majority of the Bibles I see carried by members in my church (and I do look for such things) are 1984 NIV Bibles. And then a few KJV or NKJV and a few NLTs. No ESV at all that I've ever seen.

And I don't keep up with what other Southern Baptist churches are using, but I can only guess that we are not that unique. If I were a betting man, I'd wager that the NIV is still quite dominant in Southern Baptist churches, for better or worse. And I would guess that the NIV and KJV numbers combined trump all current use of the HCSB.

No, I use the HCSB because I'm impressed with the accuracy and boldness of the way that the translators let the original text be itself without apology. So, John 3:16 is changed for sake of accuracy, in spite of the fact that no doubt a "new" reading turns off a lot of people steeped in traditionalism.

Recently, Michael Horman wrote an article for Biblical Archaeology Review, "Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?" Horman rightly points out (para. 2) that most English translations of the Bible never mention beer. I'm fairly positive that when he wrote that assertion, the HCSB was probably not on his radar. But if you run a search for beer in the HCSB, you'll get 25 hits in the Old Testament and one in the New (which is quoting the OT). That's because the HCSB translators were honest enough to translate ‏שֵׁכָר as beer as it should be translated. And consider that faithfulness to the text in light of the fact that Southern Baptists have been associated with teetotalism since at least the Prohibition Movement!

These are the kinds of issues for which I choose to teach from the HCSB at church. That doesn't mean that I like all of the HCSB's translational choices. While the updated NIV has mankind in Gen 1:26-27, the HCSB has the even worse choice, man. Yet for me the positive value of the HCSB's technical accuracy overrides these other issues. And this technical accuracy is achieved while the HCSB, stylistically, is still considered a median translation, between formal and dynamic equivalencies. As I continue to say, if I study a passage first from the original languages, I reserve every right to correct it on the fly when I read from it in public.

My answer regarding the NLT is even simpler. The NLT has the most natural-sounding, conversational-level English I've heard from any Bible version that is still considered an actual translation and not a paraphrase. Plus the more contemporary gender-related translation choices in the NLT help me mentally balance the more traditional choices in the HCSB. Where I find the NLT to be of less use is in poetic passages and Wisdom Literature.

For almost two decades, I taught and preached primarily out of the NASB. I was under the mistaken assumption for many years, even after studying biblical languages, that "literalness = accuracy." Then, one day in 2005, while teaching a half-year study on Romans, I realized that I was spending more time explaining the language of the NASB than explaining the meaning of the Bible. At that point, I began considering other versions for public use. Since I had copies of all of them already in my collection, it was pretty easy to experiment.

I settled on the HCSB by the time I posted my first "Top Ten" list. However, within a year, I moved to the TNIV, wanting to go slightly further to the right on the dynamic scale. From there I went to the NLT, which I still genuinely like in the right context. But I found it to be weak in poetic sections as I've already said. Too many beautiful metaphors of the Hebrew were "flattened" down to just their basic interpretational meaning in English.

While teaching a study at church from the Psalms, I grew frustrated with the NLT and went back to the HCSB. In doing that, I not only rediscovered the HCSB, I found myself amazed at how well it handled the Psalms. Now I've come full circle. I use the HCSB in some public contexts and the NLT in others. And occasionally, I even use something else. I feel plenty of freedom to do that.

But none of these decisions ever come quickly. And I certainly didn't base my choice on my denominational ties (plus, it should be remembered that half of the HCSB translation team is not Baptist). The fact that I am Southern Baptist may have put the HCSB in front of me a bit easier, but since I have always collected translations, I would have found it regardless. And now that the HCSB is in an updated edition, too, I've found it to be an even better choice.


Review: Game Change by Heilemann and Halperin

Heilemann, John, and Mark Halperin. Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.

Kindle: $9.99
Paperback: $16.99
Hardcover: $27.99
Audio: $26.45

"This [expletive] would be really interesting if we weren't in the middle of it" —Barack Obama, September, 2008 (Kindle location 6590)

If you're a longtime This Lamp reader, you know that I don't cover politics much anymore. When I first started my blog, back in 2003, I intended political analysis to be a regular feature in the midst of other topics. But I've found that politics is often so divisive that I've chosen in most instances to steer clear and remain mostly apolitical on this site. In fact, this review is the 70th post I've written since moving my blog to WordPress, and today, I actually had to create the "Politics" category.

Following this week's election, I can sympathize with you if you're absolutely sick of politics—who isn't? However, if you can push party loyalty aside for a moment, I'd like to recommend, Heilemann and Halperin's extremely fascinating Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime. Truth be told, the name John Edwards ought to be part of that title, too, since he is a significant "cast member" in the book, but obviously, the title was too long already.

The book focuses on the 2008 United States presidential election and the campaigns and events leading up to it. One of the key themes explored in the book relates to the "unexpected" nomination of Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate. If anyone had been making predictions for the 2008 Democratic nominee anywhere from 2004 to 2007, Hillary Clinton would have been the assumed choice.

Of course, I don't believe Hillary Clinton is electable (I also didn't think McCain was electable), and according to Heilemann and Halperin, neither did a number of key members of the Democratic party. Concerned with Clinton's uncertain chances of winning had the Republicans nominated a younger and more charismatic individual, these key Democrats, who were publicly offering their support for Clinton, were maneuvering in the background to find someone else who was not only charismatic, but also had less historical "baggage" (read baggage as concern over what new scandals Bill Clinton might bring to the White House).

It would be many months before the Clintons gained any awareness of the incipient betrayal of Hillary by her colleagues in the Senate. And then it would hit them like a ton of bricks in the their psychic solar plexus. The Clintons saw themselves as the party's de facto First Family. As the patrons of two generations of Democratic politicians for whom they'd raised stacks of cash, providing aid and comfort on the path to prominence. As the only Democrats in recent memory who had demonstrated a consistent capacity to win national elections. As revered and beloved figures. They were blind to the degree of Clinton fatigue in their world and deaf to the conspiracy of whispers. They had no idea how fast the ground was shifting beneath their feet (Kindle location 758-763).

Heilemann's and Halperin's writing throughout the book remains lively with vivid imagery as seen in the paragraph above ("psychic solar plexus," "deaf to the conspiracy of whispers"). The book is very much a page turner because even if you vividly remember the election from two years ago, you don't know it in this kind of detail. John Heilemann, national political correspondent and columnist for New York magazine, and Mark Halperin, senior political analyst for Time magazine, based this book on over 300 private interviews of the persons involved in the campaigns of the chief figures of the book.

There have been criticisms that perhaps Heilemann and Halperin went too far, that perhaps they betrayed too many confidences in writing this book. I cannot answer that criticism, but I can say I've never felt like I had more of an inside view of a significant historical event than before reading this book. When I first heard of Game Change, I thought it would probably come across as the kind of sensationalistic yellow journalism one finds in supermarket tabloids. But it really doesn't read that way at all. Well...for the most part it doesn't. Whether I really needed to know that John McCain liked to participate in daily briefings in his boxers is questionable, but overall, the book does not spend a lot of time on that kind of information.

Game Change contains no footnotes which has raised some eyebrows, but at the same time, there's been very little said to counter its claims. Sarah Palin has said that if someone wants to really know the truth about her campaign with McCain, her book Going Rogue tells the whole story. Yet, I have not heard from her any specifics for which she disagrees with what was described in Game Change. This is also the book that led to Harry Reid apologizing for remarks that he made theorizing Obama was electable because he was "light skinned."

If you feel strong emotional bonds to any of the politicians in the 2008 presidential election, this book is not for you. No one comes out all that clean. Obama probably comes out the best in the book, but his lack of experience is fully explored. Hillary comes off a bit paranoid, and her husband mildly racist at times. McCain seems quite eccentric and quirky (and a bit of a potty mouth as are most in the book) and Palin, quite a bit in over her head. John Edwards comes across as a bit of an egomaniac at times with ambitions far beyond both his abilities and his morals.

Really, though, do politicians ever come out squeaky clean? Do any of us come out spotless if someone is given an insider view?

When the story in Game Change narrows to the two primary candidates, Obama and McCain, two positive aspects of their character caught my attention. While there were certainly a few jabs back and forth, the rhetoric between McCain and Obama never reached anywhere near the negativity and ugliness of the recent 2010 elections. In 2008, McCain was quick to defend Obama against accusations by his supporters that Obama was a Muslim or un-American. I wish we had that kind of magnanimous spirit among more politicians these days.

McCain was also unwilling to criticize his running mate although many of the members on his campaign team were doing just that, and in some cases, leaking statements to the press. In the end, I, like a lot of people, believe Palin was a major factor in McCain's loss, and there are hints in the book that he was aware of problems with Palin. But whether McCain regretted choosing Palin as his running mate, I have no idea. He certainly never voiced that opinion if he did come to privately regret his decision.

As for Obama, his campaign seemed to be more difficult when he was running against Hillary Clinton for his party's nomination than when he was running against McCain for the presidency. There were obvious hard feelings felt by the Clintons toward Obama, evidenced not just in the primaries but also in the begrudging eventual and seemingly half-hearted endorsement that Clinton finally gave to her former rival.

Thus, it is all the more amazing that Obama asked Clinton to be his Secretary of State. The book reveals that she turned him down multiple times, and he all but begged her to be part of his cabinet. She would have been easy to write off and ignore, but he took a higher road and deferred to her greater knowledge of the political system and experience with world affairs. The book ends with this banding together of two formal rivals

Again, if you are a strong loyalist to any of these individuals, or even if you have an insurmountable hatred for one or more of them, this may not be the book for you. However, if you can push aside your political predispositions and look at 2008 as a most amazing year in the political history of our nation, I highly recommend Game Change as a most fascinating read.

I read Game Change in the Kindle app on my iPad, but it is also available in paperback, hardcover, or audio formats. Click link below.


The Updated NIV: Some Initial Thoughts

As promised, the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) released the "2011 edition" of the New International Version, Monday, on Print copies are expected to follow by March, 2011.

This post is not a full review, but just as the title says, merely some initial thoughts. I doubt I would even attempt a full review until the text is "finalized" in print form or at least until I have a copy in Accordance where I can make better comparisons with both the 1984 NIV and the 2005 TNIV.

Almost immediately on Monday morning, I had emails asking me what I thought about the new NIV update and if I was going to post something here on This Lamp. My time has been so short lately (as evidenced by only one short post last month) that it's taken me three days simply to write this. I haven't had time to read a number of your thoughts and reviews on other sites, and I apologize for that. I realize none of us live in a vacuum. But perhaps, this allows me to simply write, without outside influence, the post that I would have uploaded Monday morning had I had more time.

I highly recommend that readers take a look at "Translators' Notes" released by the CBT for details regarding the decisions made in the new edition of the NIV as well as examples of distinctions from the original NIV and the TNIV. I will interact with some of this content below.

Here are a few observations I immediately noted:

  • The 1984 NIV and the TNIV have both been pulled from BibleGateway. The only translation now available is the updated NIV. I will be very interested to see if publishers of the NIV will be disciplined enough to follow suit and discontinue any new printings of the 1984 NIV once print editions of the update are released in 2011. Update: the 1984 NIV and the TNIV are now back on Bible Gateway.

  • Speaking of which, except when needed for comparison, the new revision is simply being called NIV. Elsewhere in the Translators' Notes, the CBT refers to new edition as "the updated NIV" only when comparing the revision to the original edition. "Updated NIV" appears 21 times in the Translator Notes.

  • The copyright on BibleGateway is dated 2010, but the Translators Notes still refer "Updating the NIV for 2011" and "the English of 2011" (p. 2).

  • When the CBT first announced its intentions regarding the NIV (and the retirement of the TNIV) in 2009, statements were initially made that the 2011 edition of the NIV would be the first revision to the NIV, completely ignoring the 1996 "Inclusive" NIV and the 2005 TNIV (The TNIV preface begins with "Today's New International Version [TNIV] is a revision of the New International Version [NIV]"). Those statements were later toned down, and in some cases disappeared from some of the statements that were in print. The Translators' Notes do refer to the TNIV in many places, but it is said that the TNIV was "separately published" (p. 2). I'm not certain exactly what this means other than the fact that there seems to be an effort on at least a subtle level to distance the updated NIV from the TNIV. There is no mention of the NIV revision released only in the UK in 1996.

The greatest challenge a new or revised Bible translation faces is acceptance. There's no real point to having a translation of the Bible if it's not going to be used. There's always a fine line between distinguishing a new translation or revision from the past while not going so far out on a limb that potential adopters are turned off. People have their pet verses, and if a new translation doesn't word these verses exactly to their liking, often the new version of the Bible is not given much consideration afterwards. And, of course, one of the most common verses affected by this not-always-fair-evaluation method is John 3:16. Most people who have not studied New Testament Greek look at John 3:16 not on the basis of how well it conforms to the Greek, but in regard to whether or not it veers too far from the traditional wording they knew, usually from the King James Version.

I look at John 3:16 in a new version, too, but not for the same reason. I always hope that it corrects traditional wording and communicates to a modern audience what the words that the gospel writer originally intended. When William Tyndale translated οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον as "For God so loveth the world..." (adapted by the KJV translators as "For God so loved the world...), his rendering was perfectly acceptable for his time. But for today's audience, the meaning is wholly misunderstood.

People tend to read this verse as "God SOOOOOO loved the world..." but that's not what it means. The word οὕτως, which is translated as the so in John 3:16 does not mean the understanding I described in the previous sentence. It means "referring to what precedes, in this manner, thus, so" (BDAG). Therefore, it's not that the traditional rendering is incorrect. Tyndale intended his use of so to be understood in this regard, but today it's almost always misread.

Every time a new revision of the NIV is released (and remember the 2011 edition is not the first revision; there have been two before it), I always hope that John 3:16 will be corrected from its potential to be misread. However, it remains untouched in this new version. Incidentally, the HCSB and NET Bible get it right, while the NLT actually reinforces the misreading!

Retaining the traditional reading: updated NIV
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Getting it right: HCSB & NET Bible
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (HCSB) For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NET)

Making it more confusing: NLT
For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

As I already suggested, the Translators' Notes are worth reading on your own. I'm not going to rehash issues like translating κατάλυμα as "guest house" instead of "inn" in Luke 2:7 since this was first introduced in the TNIV and I wrote about it four years ago. There are a number of significant issues that could be discussed, but I believe the real question that everyone was interested in on Monday related to how the updated NIV handles the gender issues for which some criticized the TNIV.

Most of these issues never had anything to do with complementarian vs. egalitarian debates, let alone"feminist" issues. Rather, these translation choices have to do with how well the biblical writer's intent is translated into English. These are simply communication issues. I want the biblical message to be clearly heard by all in the manner the original writers would have wanted it to be heard. To me this should not be political or even theological, but should come from a desire to clearly communicate God's revelation in a different language to a different culture.

Retaining the Singular They

Honestly, I'm surprised. I felt that one of the compromises the CBT would make would be to remove the use of the so-called singular they—that is, when a third person plural pronoun is used as a singular to incorporate both male and female genders. With all the nonsense that went on in the criticisms of the TNIV, I felt the singular they was the only true controversial translation choice—and that wasn't because I actually find the singular they to be controversial, but only because it had never been used in a major Bible translation.

The CBT has stated:

Singular ‟they,” ‟them” and ‟their” forms were widely used to communicate the generic significance of pronouns and their equivalents when a singular form had already been used for the antecedent (p. 6).

I accept the need of the singular they, even though I still mark it in the freshman writing classes that I sometimes teach (my goal is to have students think about the connections between their words at early levels of writing, but I always discuss this issue in detail with them).

And while singular theys can be a good solution for an inadequacy in the English language, they can still be tricky in their own right. Consider the NIV's history for Revelation 3:20—

NIV 1984
TNIV 2005 NIV 2011
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

 Note that the very real awkwardness of the close proximity of them and they in the TNIV. The updated NIV is an improvement, but I can't help still "hearing" it, and that might just be me. I accept the idea of a singular they, but it still can be awkward at times, and I usually can't help noticing it.

The type of improvement found in Rev 3:20 is found in numerous places. For instance, the everyone of Romans 2:6 (he in the 1984 NIV) is now each person in the updated NIV, giving emphasis upon the consequences of sin for each individual. Everyone is also singular, but each one seems to emphasize that a bit better.

In some cases, the CBT chose to move from a singular they back to a generic he. The reasoning for this is not explicitly stated by the CBT in the Translators Notes. The notes refer to Job 31:29 in which my ememys' [plural possessive]...them in the TNIV reverts back to the singular my ememy's [singular possessive]...him in the updated NIV. Here I can speculate that the change was made since ‏שַׂנְאִי is singular and more than likely any enemies of Job would have been male (but would a female enemy be out of the question?). However, why the switch back to a generic he in Rom 14:22?

NIV 1984
TNIV 2005 NIV 2011
Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by what they approve. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves._________

ἀδελφοί retained as brothers and sisters

In most cases, ἀδελφοί has been retained with the correct rendering brothers and sisters when the writer had both genders in view. This understanding of ἀδελφοί is fairly well established and something that even the ESV acknowledges in many footnotes to the text (making one wonder why the ESV translators don't simply put the more accurate phrase in the text).

There are a few interesting changes I stumbled across, though. In 1 John 4:21 one another of the TNIV has now been changed to the more accurate brother and sister, better reflecting the singular accusative ἀδελφὸν. And the (needlessly) controversial wording of Hebrews 2:17 takes a departure from all of its predecessors, creating a solution that perhaps will not be the target of so much misunderstanding:

NIV 1984
TNIV 2005 NIV 2011
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way... For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way

A few steps back?

I actually consider myself to be fairly conservative, but as I've described before, what really changed my mind about gender renderings in Bible translations was the day years ago when teaching Genesis 1 to a group of teenagers, a young woman raised her hand and stated, "Mr. Mansfield, I never knew women were made in God's image, too." I looked at her in disbelief; I assumed she was kidding. But she said, paraphrasing the first part of Genesis, 1:27, "All I've ever heard was 'Man was made in God's image'—not women." After realizing she was serious, I polled the rest of the class, only to discover that at least a third of them thought the same thing—both male and female students—but mostly female.

This is why I say this is not a political or a theological issue; it's a communication issue. The masculine universal Man will always have the potential to cause some misunderstanding; a more inclusive word—which does no damage to the faithful rendering of the original languages—will not ever cause the kind of misunderstanding that I described in the paragraph above.

And while I admit that mankind will cause less confusion than man as a universal, I still believe the usage of the former is a step backwards.

NIV 1984
TNIV 2005 NIV 2011

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Consider how other contemporary translations have chosen to avoid the masculine universal and translate ‏אָדָם— humans (CEV, GWT ) human beings (REB, TNIV, Message, NLTse, TEV), humankind (NRSV, NET, NETS), people (NLT1).

Again, I still don't like it, but admittedly mankind is better than the NIV's man. Nevertheless, the updated NIV employs man as a universal, too.

NIV 1984
TNIV 2005 NIV 2011
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Jesus answered, "It is written: 'People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

For some NIV users, this will not be any big deal. But for those who used (and still use) the TNIV because of the way that verses like Gen 1:27 and Matt 4:4 are handled, I doubt the updated NIV will be seen as a fitting replacement.

σάρξ/Flesh/Sinful Nature

Much of what has been changed in the updated NIV comes as no surprise. This change, however, was unexpected:

Most occurrences of ‟sinful nature” have become ‟flesh.” Especially in Paul, sarx can mean either part or all of the human body or the human being under the power of sin. In an effort to capture this latter sense of the word, the original NIV often rendered sarx as ‟sinful nature.” But this expres- sion can mislead readers into thinking the human person is made up of various compartments, one of which is sarx, whereas the biblical writers’ point is that humans can choose to yield themselves to a variety of influences or powers, one of which is the sin-producing sarx. The updated NIV uses ‟flesh” as the translation in many places where it is important for readers to decide for themselves from the context whether one or both of these uses of sarx is present (p. 7).

Look, I realize that the NIV's rendering of σάρξ as sinful nature had been problematic in some circles. However, the English flesh is equally problematic because outside of church, English speakers today do not use the word flesh in the way Paul used the word σάρξ two millennia ago. Flesh is insider language, not necessarily representative of the spirit of the Κοινή Greek in which the New Testament was written. But I have no doubt that this, like the move to use man and mankind, were concessions by the CBT to appeal to certain elements in Evangelical Christianity.

Restoring Messianic Allusions

I know some of you will think I'm contradictory here, but I do appreciate one of the particular "steps back" that the CBT made regarding the updated NIV. Again, the issues I've raised above, are nothing more than communicative issues to me. This one that I'm about to briefly mention really is theological.

In my initial review of the TNIV six years ago, I suggested that when it came to Old Testament prophecies and allusions to Christ, the theological importance of the passage should trump the desire to make a passage gender inclusive. I used Psalm 34:20 and John 19:36 as my example. Many of you disagreed with me strongly on this issue. And I understood the argument against me before I even made it:

The use of inclusive language blurs the prophetic nature of the passage. In my opinion, the choice to alter a verse like this is a distraction and brings unnecessary criticism to the TNIV. I've heard the opposing viewpoint--that an Old Testament passage needs to be treated in its own context, and I respect that. But I also read the OT as a Christian, and it's exactly these kinds of verses that root Christ throughout the Scriptures. I'm also aware that many quotations are slightly different anyway because most often the NT writers tend to quote the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew Scriptures; but again, I would leave such passages alone if I were running the committee.

Well, I haven't taken the time to run a thorough examination, but I can at least note that Psalm 34:20 in the updated NIV has restored "their bones" to the original "his bones. I believe that's a change for the better, but I know some of you will disagree with me, and that's fine.

How about my predictions?

When the NIV 2011 was first announced last year, I made a set of predictions. Let's see how I did.

(1) Get your TNIVs while you can as they will become more difficult than ever to find.
Well, that was pretty much a freebie. I have no insider knowledge about Zondervan's print runs, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that no new TNIV edition was printed after the 2009 announcement was made. And TNIVs aren't totally impossible to find yet. I've seen some of them in the Sale bin at the local Christian bookstore.

(2) The 2011 NIV will be more gender inclusive than the ESV, but less so than the TNIV.
Nailed that one.

(3) Say goodbye to the Singular They.
Definitely wrong on this one. Honestly, I'm still a bit surprised.

(4) Regardless of how much the progress of the TNIV is compromised in the 2011 NIV, it will still be controversial.
Only time will tell on this one, but what I said in 2009 bears repeating:

The CBT is simply not going to satisfy some of the detractors out there. That crowd actually dislikes the NIV, too. The TNIV was simply their excuse to rail and promote "other" translations. Most of these folks will do the same thing to the 2011 NIV. However, if Zondervan can get Lifeway and other CBA stores to carry the 2011 NIV where the TNIV was forbidden, they will have at least made some progress.

(5) As we wait for the 2011 NIV, expect the 1984 NIV to keep on selling.
Again, I've got no insider information (after the TNIV was killed, Zondervan quit contacting me altogether—really). However, I wouldn't doubt that the NIV still sells quite well. And the updated NIV should continue to sell as well, too, thanks to its keeping of the same name.

Final thoughts (for now)

The updated NIV is many things. It's a correction to the NIV; it's in some ways a step backwards from the progress of the TNIV (with a few exceptions); it's by nature a compromise; it's a course correction. And it also represents the hope of Biblica/IBS and Zondervan (not to mention Hodder & Stoughton) for the continued opportunity to sell millions of Bibles.

I honestly don't know if the updated NIV will appeal to all the people who treasured the TNIV. And I'm not intending to sound ugly with this, but I'm not certain that any of its handlers care. TNIV users were a clear minority, although I primarily blame its handlers for their lack of promotion (and their inability to wean themselves from the NIV cash cow) for that fact.

Even I have moved on. I went back to using the HCSB, especially in its recent update. In reality, the HCSB is even more conservative than the updated NIV, but as I always say, I reserve the right to "correct" it on the fly as I read it in front of an audience.

If I can make another prediction, I'm certain the updated NIV will be just fine. The average consumer and church member in the pew doesn't even keep up with this stuff. They'll (that's a singular they) walk into a store and simply buy the NIV they (that's another one) see on the shelf. That's what the NIV's handlers are hoping for. It's now incumbent on them to stick to their guns and quit printing the 1984 NIV. If they don't, the NIV will eventually fade, although not probably in our lifetime.

I'm still undecided, but I'll try to keep an open mind. I've only been able to make a cursory look. I'll have to read it in its entirety. In the past, I would have said that I need to get a print copy to do a proper evaluation. These days, I'm content if I can simply get a copy on my iPad.

Hardcore TNIV users may not be satisfied. They may end up using the NRSV or the NLT or something else altogether. I doubt many will follow my lead in making the HCSB their primary translation (my secondary text is the NLT). But that's the beauty of translation choice.

And for what it's worth, there's also nothing wrong with sticking with the TNIV or even the original NIV if either of those are the translations from which you best hear God's voice.

One more thing: be certain to check out the detailed computer generated analysis that Robert Slowly has created, comparing the updated NIV to the original NIV and the TNIV— "NIV2011 comparison with NIV1984 and TNIV."


2011 NIV Going Online November 1

In case you haven't heard, the 2011 NIV is going online on November 1, although print editions will not be available until March of next year.

Read today's press release.

Coincidentally, I used the TNIV last night in my deacon charge because it was the only translation I had that I felt rendered the particular texts I was using correctly. It was the first time I'd used the TNIV in well over a year. I'll be interested to see how the 2011 edition shakes out.


Highlights from the 2010 Accordance Users Conference

I know that while my posts have been infrequent lately, the most recent entries have primarily related to Accordance in one way or another. I promise that I will add a bit more diversity back to This Lamp very soon. I have a long lists of topics to write about, including a number of long-promised reviews.

As I write this, I'm sitting in a service center getting an oil change and the tires rotated on my wife's PT Cruiser. We put about 2200 miles on it last week driving from Simpsonville, Kentucky, to Mesquite, Texas, with a couple of brief stops in Louisiana to visit family—and then back! The main purpose of this trip was for me to attend the first-ever Accordance Users Conference, which met from September 24-25.

The Accordance Users Conference was designed to be distinct from the normal training seminar (of which I've led three or four myself in the past). While attendees could certainly learn to use Accordance better as in a training seminar, the Users Conference was chance to see a variety of specialized presentations on numerous topics. The timing of the conference also coincided with the release of Accordance version 9, and the upcoming iOS version of Accordance which was publicly demonstrated for the first time.

Two scheduled speakers were unable to attend. Martin Abegg had a family emergency, and Joe Weaks was ill. Abegg had been scheduled to deliver an address on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Roy Brown, the creator of Accordance and president of Oak Tree Software, filled in for him adapting a presentation he had previously presented on the subject in Israel.

Is Accordance for Academics Only?
Most of the time, attendees had a choice between "heavy" and "light" sessions—or technical and non-technical or requiring biblical languages and not requiring biblical languages.

I tended to gravitate to the so-called "heavy" sessions, but I have to admit that this was partly because I was also in the back grading papers and there was more room for this in the larger room. One supposedly "lighter" session I did attend was David Lang's "Sermon Prep Workshop." It was not that I thought Greg Ward couldn't teach me anything new in his concurrent "Original Languages Workshop," but I was more intrigued to see what David would present.

Here's why: often I hear a bit of faulty wisdom out there saying that Accordance is better for academics while Logos is better for pastors. The truth is neither of these assertions is valid. Logos can be used for academic biblical study and pastors can use Accordance for sermon prep. And people do both with each platform every day.

David, admitting he doesn't preach sermons every week, chose to create a conversation with people in the session—most of whom were pastors—regarding how they use Accordance in their preparation. Lots of good ideas were shared. This led me to an idea for a similar session that perhaps the organizers could implement for next year's conference.

I know from the Accordance training sessions I've led as well as from the Accordance forums that many pastors use Accordance intensively in their sermon preparation. I believe it would be a great idea to bring in a pastor for next year's conference who is both an experienced Accordance user as well as a seasoned preacher to demonstrate his actual sermon preparation workflow to attendees interested in the subject. Something like "Using Accordance for Sermon Preparation: 7 Basic Steps" or something similar might be helpful for those who preach regularly.

Daniel Wallace and the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
On the evening of the first day of the conference, Daniel Wallace gave us a presentation relating to his work with The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. Wallace and his team have been traveling the globe making high resolution photos of priceless, ancient manuscripts before they are lost to history due to age and deterioration. Using high res photography and, in some cases, ultraviolet imagery, the team has been able to create better images and see text more clearly than ever before. The detail in the images Wallace showed us was truly remarkable. And the high res photographs are going to be invaluable for text criticism over the old microfilms that were the only resources some scholars have had to work with. Moreover, in the process of photographing known manuscripts, the CSNTM team has discovered over 70 previously uncatalogued New Testament manuscripts in the last 8 years.

As an aside, this work is fairly expensive. The cost to preserve one page of a unique, handwritten page of the New Testament is $4. The average cost of one NT manuscript is $2200. The CSNTM is a worthy cause for your donations regardless of your theological leanings or background.

In conjunction with Dr. Wallace's presentation, Roy Brown announced that there is currently in the works a project to bring many of the high resolution images taken by CSNTM to Accordance, much as has already been done with the Dead Sea Scrolls Images module. I got a sneak peak at the Sinaiticus images that will be made available. Between that and other tools already available such as the digitized Codex Sinaiticus modulealready available, Accordance users are increasingly able to do their very own textual criticism beyond the resources text critics had available a century ago.

A History Lesson
At the beginning of the second day of the conference, David Lang presented attendees with "A Brief History of Accordance." This was a fascinating session for anyone such as myself who enjoys history of technology, but it was also interesting to hear the history of Accordance development from much of the early "wild west days" which led up to the sophisticated features we have in v. 9 today. I've been using Accordance since version 3.5 (I think) in 1998, but I didn't know all of the background stories.

David is a master presenter who knows Accordance and its history, perhaps only second to Roy Brown himself, but sadly, the brief history was simply too brief. Thirty minutes turned out to be too short of time for this subject, especially with audience comments and question. For next year, I recommend giving this subject a full hour, perhaps titled "A Not So Brief History of Accordance"—and with more screenshots from the early versions, too!

It's a Mobile World
Much of Saturday's emphasis centered on Bible software in the mobile space. Scott Knapp, Oak Tree's primary iOS developer, gave the first ever public demo of Accordance for iOS. Participants were given a look at an early beta and feedback was invited. When the final product is released this Fall, it will be a universal app (meaning it will be optimized for both the iPhone/iPod Touch and the iPad).

As an unexpected bonus, Scott announced that all attendees at the Accordance Users Conference would become part of the beta program. And before you ask (because others began asking immediately after I mentioned this on Twitter last Saturday), no, being at the conference in spirit doesn't count. :-)

Accordance was not the only Bible software with a presence at the conference. Drew Haninger, CEO of OliveTree Bible Software, joined us for a panel discussion I chaired on "The Impact and Future of Mobile Bible Software." This was a "big picture" discussion on the history and current state of mobile Bible software as well as projections for what the future might hold. Although our discussion focused primarily on Apple's iOS, we also referred to Android and Kindle, among others, a number of times, too.

From left to right: Drew Haninger (OliveTree), Scott Knapp (Accordance), Mark Allison (Accordance), Rick Mansfield (Me)

Olive Tree's Drew Haninger shows us the "first" mobile Bible.

The panel discussion on mobile Bible technology was very enjoyable to participate in. Certainly, this is where the focus of my technology interests currently lie. In fact, I originally considered showing up at the conference with only my iPad in hand, but the fact that I needed to grade papers (which I cannot currently do on the iPad) and with the release of Accordance v. 9, I lugged my MacBook Pro along, too. Nevertheless, I suggested to Drew that we ought to consider a mobile Bible technology podcast because there is certainly lots still to discuss.

Also, for those of you who know what I'm talking about, Drew showed me a very quick look at "Project Glacier." I'd like to tell you more, but I'd have to kill you afterwards. But just be patient—it looks awesome.

Syntax Rules!
Admittedly, Accordance was not the first Bible software program to the table with syntax tagging, as many will acknowledge the extremely interpretive nature of assigning syntax to words and phrases in a biblical text. Nevertheless, since users kept asking for it, Oak Tree recently made available the beginnings of its syntax modules for both the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Bible with the promise (specifically made at the conference) of more to come. To see screenshots of Accordance syntax in action, see my previous post.

Robert Holmstedt delivered a paper, "Understanding and Using the New Syntax Searching Capabilities in Accordance 9" which offered a detailed look at both the philosophy behind Accordance's approach to syntax as well as practical and even very specific searches that can be performed. A copy of the paper can be downloaded from Holmstedt's public dropbox folder (if that link becomes broken in the future, let me know).

Besides the mobile technology panel, I also participated in the final session, "Ask the Accordance Experts," which was supposed to help round out any remaining "how to" questions regarding Accordance. I was very flattered to be the only non-company (although I have done contract work for Oak Tree in the past) member of the panel. Unfortunately, almost immediately the discussion became a forum for some attendees to voice suggestions (or complaints) about various elements in the user interface. While the Oak Tree employees surely appreciated the suggestions, this was not the actual intended focus of the session, and as one idea spurred another, we never fully got back on track. Thus, I had little to offer in this session. Perhaps next year, a separate session could be offered—perhaps on day one—for suggestions and feature requests. These are certainly important, but I imagine a number of users could have better benefitted from the final session if it had proceeded as originally intended.

The Accordance Users Conference seemed from my perspective—as someone who is both a user and a "sometimes" insider—to be a great success. The sessions were diverse and targeted every skill level. An untold number of fascinating conversations took place both during and in between sessions. It was great to meet many folks in person whom I'd only corresponded with online before.

I hope that this becomes an annual, or at least a regular event. When the next one is announced, I strongly encourage you to make plans to be there. It was truly an experience that cannot be simulated by the internet or even at one of the Accordance training conferences (as these are different in purpose) held throughout the year.

One more thing: A number of people have asked me if the sessions were recorded. I don't know the answer to that, but if I find out, I'll post information here.

Update: David Lang has written "Reflections on the Users' Conference" which you should read, too. Although note that he adds a possessive apostrophe to Users which I don't for the same reason I don't add an apostrophe to Mens Room Boys Choir [edit: better example]. ;-)



Accordance 9: Major New Features Screenshots

Accordance 9 won't see official release until Monday, but Oak Tree has begun sending out download links for those who have already paid for the upgrade. This post does not offer an exhaustive overview of new features, but hits a few of the big highlights. For more details and for other new features not mentioned here, go to the "New in 9" page at the Accordance website.

Click on the images below for a full-size view.

Zones: changing the way you work in Accordance. See here: the HCSB, Greek NT, and Word Biblical Commentary in parallel (top left); my personal notes (bottom left);The concept behind the new Accordance "zones" is not new to Bible software; it's been around for a long time. But sometimes different software of the same kind will follow different use philosophies, and that was certainly the case in the past with the way Accordance works. In previous versions of Accordance, biblical texts, commentaries, and notes could be in the same window (or on the same tab), but not modules of a different kind—such as the Greek New Testament and BDAG together. Yet the reality is that if you were to use physical texts, you might certainly place a Greek New Testament and a lexicon right beside each other. And there were ways to do this in previous versions of Accordance, but usually it meant manually aligning two separate windows beside each other if the user didn't want to go back and forth between two tabs. This is certainly Oak Tree responding to how users want to use Accordance for their work and study.

Searching in Accordance now offers results in context.Accordance has always been lightening fast in its searches, but in the past, searching through large numbers of texts could take a while. If, on a rare occasion I decided to do a true "Search All," I knew that I should really go do something else while the query was being processed. Further, the results list wasn't all that helpful. If a particular title returned multiple hits, I had to actually open that module to see what they were one by one.

In Accordance 9, search results of large numbers of files are not only fast, but displayed in their context. In the example above, I've created a group called "Journals" in which I've added 11 volumes of the Theological Journal Library, the entire Biblical Archaeology Review collection, and a beta of the upcoming Journal of Biblical Literature. This represents literally hundreds of thousands of pages of text. As I hit the search button, I looked at the second hand on my watch. I had the final results shown above in less than 10 seconds.

Even better than the quick results is the new contextual results list which you see in the right pane of the window. Note that I've selected JETS on the left. The results show me an issue by issue breakdown with my results in the full context of the paragraph that it occurs. See that in the results above, two different issues are represented, and when I scroll down I see many more.

Easy Install makes adding new modules easier.

I can't offer an accurate screenshot of the process without making a purchase, but now, if I buy a new Accordance module from the website, it will immediately be added to the list in the Easy Install window allowing me to download the file directly. Oak Tree has been offering downloadable modules for a while, but not for everything and never this integrated into the software. The list of files I have in the window below doesn't seem to be quite complete as it only goes back to 2005 (I've been using Accordance since 1998), but I believe it will be of most use in obtaining new titles from this point forward.

Syntax diagram for the BHS
Syntax diagram for the Greek NT

Accordance 9's new syntax modules offer graphical representation of the syntax of a biblical text. The cross highlighting feature that was available between tagged original language texts and keyed translation texts has been applied to the new syntax module. If you move your mouse over a word in the Greek or Hebrew text, it is also highlighted in the syntax window and even the corresponding word in a keyed translation. If you forget what an abbreviation for the syntax window means, running your mouse over it will reveal it's definition in the Instant Details window.

I started writing this post this morning, but didn't have time to complete it until this evening. In the intervening time, Timothy Jenney has posted a new video podcast offering an overview of some of these features and more. This video can be viewed in iTunes, YouTube, or on the Accordance podcast page.