Many a Christian apologist and evangelist can be seen standing above their opponent—either physically shouting down at people or intellectually snubbing one another in arrogance veiled in defending the truth. Too often, apologetics and evangelism are done in a tone and posture that is inconsistent with the Gospel and the God that they proclaim. Is this the only way to do evangelism? Is this the only way to engage a skeptical world with the good news of Jesus? What do I mean by this?
Apologetics, rather than being a place where we meet non-Christians in their doubts, is a place where we merely proclaim the truth of the Christian faith. Attached with this can be an attitude of, “We are right, you are wrong. Believe what we believe.” While objectively we can say, this is a true statement, it fails to capture the nuance and complexity of human life, especially viewed from the angle of common grace.
Every year, I work through a slough of books; some are good, some are great, some are poor. Outside of reading the Bible, reading good books is one of the primary ways that my affections are cultivated for Jesus. Furthermore, reading good books not only cultivates my relationship with God, it helps me make sense of the world that we live in, gives me language for the emotions that I am feeling, and stimulates my intellect in a way that only books can. Without further adieu, here were my favorite books in 2020 (in no particular order).
Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund
For many Christians, Ortlund’s latest book will be on their best of list for 2020. In fact, World Magazine called Gentle and Lowly “the most accessible theology book of 2020,” which is no surprise to me at all. Dane Ortlund does an amazing job of combining both theology and practice in a book that is both warm and pastoral, while also retaining its challenging and convicting tone. I found myself awestruck of God’s love for me in Christ as I turned from page to page. This book drained my highlighters as I could not stop underlining the nuggets that seemed to be endless. If you are to read one book in 2021, please pick up this book.
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman
Carl Trueman does an excellent job of showing the progression of thought that has taken place since the 19th century to the present cultural moment. How did Western society move so radically to be a culture dominated by sex and a progressive interpretation of sex? For those who have been completed confused by the drastic cultural changes surrounding sex, look no further than Trueman’s book for your answers. Carl Trueman is both scholarly and approachable in this slightly intimidating book. Furthermore, I found the tone gentle, compassionate, and understanding; there was never a hint of condescension or arrogance. While for the average reader, this book may be challenging in its philosophical arguments, it is nevertheless one of the most important books of our age.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
One of the greatest gifts of 2020 was the release of the broadway musical Hamilton on Disney+. My children can testify: the soundtrack has been playing all year long. As a history buff myself, I found Chernow’s work fascinating, engaging, and inspiring. For those who are interested more in the life of Hamilton, you will not be disappointed by this lengthy but enjoyable read of his life.
1 Peter by Karen H. Jobes
As I preached through 1 Peter this year, I found Karen H. Jobe’s commentary so helpful. In fact, I found it so helpful that I would recommend laymen to read the book as devotional content. Jobes, like any scholar would, dives into the weeds of academia at times, but the majority of her commentary is spent in rich, Christ-centered content that would encourage any Christian. For those preaching through 1 Peter soon or for those looking for book that will help you take a deeper dive into one specific book, Jobes’ commentary on 1 Peter is the one for you.
The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson
Peterson models the type of pastor that I want to be: gentle, compassionate, humble, present. Peterson’s book gave me freedom to admit one thing: to pastor and to write are two sides of the same coin for my calling. Peterson shows through his own life how he was called and formed as a pastor. One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.
The Care of Souls by Harold Senkbeil
Senkbeil’s work on pastoral ministry is by far one of the best books I’ve ever read on the calling of a pastor. In an age where pastors are busy building their platforms and the pastorate is filled with celebrities rather than shepherds, this work is undervalued in a culture that does not value pastoring as it used to. What should a pastor be doing week-in and week-out? Caring, praying, discipling, encouraging, visiting. Senkbeil hit it out of the park with this one.
In last few months, several members of Coram Deo (the church I pastor) have asked me about a Facebook post that has been floating around. The post accuses various modern translations and their publishers for removing verses from the Bible. If you haven’t seen it, I have attached a picture of the post, which has been shared 26,000 times:
On the surface, it is shocking. Would Zondervan and Crossway really remove Bible verses because it does not fit their agenda? Should we stop reading the ESV/NIV translations because of this? Is it even true? Many questions such as this have been asked of me of late and I thought I would explain what is going in the textual differences.
Textual criticism is not a phrase that gets thrown around in common Christian circles very often but it is incredibly important when understanding the textual differences that we see in different translations of the Bible. As Christians, we believe the Bible is God’s word, literally, breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). At the same time, the Bible was written by human authors and then transmitted through human copyists. As humans, we are fallible and prone to error, even when our intentions are correct.
In order to preserve the accuracy of the original text, copyists took painstaking efforts to keep the text as pure as possible. But with any human effort, errors are a natural occurrence. For example, in grade school, we used to copy definitions from the back of textbooks onto sheets of paper. From time to time, we would either skip a line, repeat a word, or miss a punctuation mark. This is natural as our eyes glance from the textbook to the notebook. You probably also remember copying large chunks of text and accidentally repeating words or entire lines, forgetting key words, or misspelling difficult words.
The same is true in copying texts of Scripture. At times, a copyist would be transcribing a text like we would with a textbook open, glancing back and forth between the text and the writing. Other times, someone would be reading the text out loud and they would copying down what they heard. In both cases, small textual errors would develop as people would spell words wrong, repeat words or lines, or omit punctuation marks. Contrary to what secular theologians would assert, the number of key errors in the biblical text is incredibly small, less than 1%.
It is the job of a translation committee to gather these various manuscripts (which are dated from various time periods) and assess which ones display the most accuracy. This is done through multiple ways, such as finding the most difficult translation, finding the oldest manuscripts, and a host of other complex solutions. When we read this Facebook post then, is it right to claim that Zondervan and Crossway are leading a crusade against the Bible they publish?
MISSING VERSES AND UPDATED MANUSCRIPTS
Again, one of the ways translators choose the most accurate text is by date. For example, we all would intuitively understand that a copy of a text written in the 3rd century is probably far more accurate than one copied in the 13th century because there is a larger gap between when the original text was written and when it was copied. In other words, the more time that elapses in the copied manuscript, the more likely it is prone to error (a bit simplified but lets work with it for now). How does this impact the Facebook post in question?
The author of the Facebook quote claims that the KJV is superior to the ESV and NIV in accuracy because it has not removed the verses in question. In order to understand why these verses were removed, one has to understand the previous statements regarding textual criticism. You see, the KJV was translated and built off an outdated manuscript system, namely, the Textus Receptus. This manuscript system was developed by Erasmus in the 16th century, which was a Greek translation of the Latin Vulgate. At the time, these were the most updated manuscripts they possessed.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, we now have over 25,000 manuscripts (comprised of various Greek, Latin, and Syriac/Coptic translations). Simply put, the more data, the more accuracy. Furthermore, we now have manuscripts that date very early in comparison to its publication, compared to the Textus Receptus that used relatively outdated manuscripts (in today’s standards). Because of simply the amount of data now available through the thousands of manuscripts, translators have seen that previous translations did not provide the most accurate translation due to the manuscript deficiency that they possessed.
WHAT ABOUT THE MISSING VERSES?
This leads us to finally deal with the problem at hand: where are the missing verses? If you were to open up the ESV or NIV translation to Matthew 18, you will notice that there is no verse 11, it simply goes from verse 10 to 12. You will also notice that every modern translation provides footnotes where verse 11 should be. Most translations will indicate that due to a lack of manuscript accuracy, these verses have been removed. The verses are missing because they were most likely not included in the original writing at all, which is demonstrated by textual criticism with updated manuscripts. The verses are still included in the KJV because it is still built on an outdated manuscript system.
Be not afraid, there is no coverup or theological conspiracy to undermine the accuracy of the Bible. On the contrary, the men and women who sit on translation committees for the majority of modern translations are godly, wise, and Bible-loving people that want to translate the Bible into vernacular English in the most faithful way possible. So for those questioning whether or not you should be using the ESV or NIV, you can have all confidence that God’s word is being preserved and sustained through the diligent and faithful work of translators in the 21st century.