The Bible was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). God did not give His revelation to the Prophets and Apostles in English. That is why we need translations. Because language develops, new translations are needed as time goes by. It is refreshing to be able to read God's Word in the clear language of our time.
The attempt to translate the New Testament or the entire Bible into good present-day language is a matter that deserves our support, provided that new translations do not appear too often. It is well for each generation to become acquainted with a certain translation. A good translation may help to promote Bible reading and in that way be a good instrument for doing mission work.
Translators have a great responsibility. The Bible, with the threat of punishment, warns against adding anything to or deleting anything from the Bible. The translator must be especially careful and meticulous. Translating is not easy because it is extremely difficult to express only what and exactly what the original language says. But translators must earnestly try to do this. The pastor of a congregation must, in his teaching, be able to clarify the meaning of a translation on the basis of the original language if need be. In this way he sees to it that nothing is detracted from or added to the Word of the Bible.
In other words a translation must never be presented as the absolute revelation of God. God's Word must be sought in the manuscripts written in the original languages. A translation is an approximation. On the other hand the difficulty of translating must not be stressed too much. It has been possible, and still is possible, to translate the Bible so that through its words the matters pertaining to faith can be clearly understood. But especially when we are called upon to defend the teachings of the Bible we need the original languages.
"Truly I say to you, wherever the Gospel is preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her" (Mark 14:9). Thus spoke Jesus concerning Mary of Bethany after she had annointed Him with costly perfume of pure nard before His crucifixion.
However, there were those who did not see anything praiseworthy in Mary's act. They were indignant and remarked: "For what purpose has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denaris and the money given to the poor." And they scolded Mary. But Jesus defended her and said: "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For the poor you always have with you, and whenever you wish, you can do them good; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has annointed My body beforehand for burial."
What was it that was so special about Mary's act that it deserves to be spoken of throughout the world? Why were the others so indignant about it? Can we find anything comparable in present day life? Mary's act was so praiseworthy because it was motivated by love and respect for her Savior. Mammon had not made her its slave. On the contrary her deed indicated that she was its master and a servant of the Lord. Mary does not seek honor and praise for her deed. Only a person with true faith is capable of performing such a deed. Certain ones did not have such faith. That is why they were so indignant. Their hearts were attached to Mammon. They were not incensed because of the needs of the poor, but rather because Mary's act of love did not provide them with the opportunity to practice their greed and the money was beyond their reach. If they had truly wanted to help the poor they could have used their own money.
We find people like this today. They are opposed to giving money for the support of the preaching of the Gospel. Mission work to them means nothing more than offering aid to developing nations. But there is no Church without Gospel preaching, and a Gospel-preaching church helps the poor (1 Cor. 1:18, Gal. 2:10).
Where can we find Mary of Bethany today? She is so rare that this portion of the Bible is to be read wherever the Gospel is preached, so that people will get the right picture of the Christian sacrificial spirit and unselfish love. Yes, we can find Mary if we have eyes to see. She is the faithful Christian, often a poor woman, who may be criticized for everything from A to Z, but in the sight of God is a pillar of the Church.
The Apostle Paul writes: "All Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). A peculiar doctrine has been developed by some on the basis of these words. According to this doctrine of theirs all Israel according to the flesh will be converted and then all Jews will be zealous in doing mission work. However, the Apostle Paul says: "A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom. 11:25). It will be impossible to convert Gentiles after their full number has already been saved. After that time no Jews will be converted either, because then the end of the world will occur. The teaching that the Jews as a nation will be converted stems from the fact that Jesus' spiritual kingdom has been made into an earthly kingdom. Jesus Christ's kingdom will not be established here on earth in a visible manner. It is rather a kingdom of faith in human hearts. The Apostles were among those Jews who did successful mission work among the Gentiles. The Old Testament prophesies concerning them. We can no longer expect a new era. "It is the last time", writes John (1 John 2:18).
What Paul says about the salvation of all Israel has to be understood in the context in which he presents the matter. He has much to say about the position of Israel in his letter to the Romans, chapters 9:11. In these chapters Paul stresses the fact that Israel according to the flesh is not the same as spiritual Israel. Israel according to the flesh has indeed received much from God: the Covenants, the Law, the Prophets and the Son of God Himself, the Messiah.
But when Israel hardened its heart it remained under God's wrath. The Bible does not err in this matter, for the true Israel was the remnant that believed. Not all the Jews hardened their hearts, and this is how it will be at all times. Some branches have at times been broken off from the cultivated olive tree because of their unbelief, but when they are converted they are grafted back in again. While in the state of unbelief such people are "enemies from the standpoint of the Gospel" but from the "standpoint of the election they are beloved". All of Israel according to the flesh will not be saved, because this matter cannot be understood to mean that God's Word has failed, "for they are not all Israel who have descended from Israel" (Rom. 9:6). "It is those who are of faith that are the sons of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7).
- Come back. The ice is too thin.
- Don't try to scare me. Be quiet. The ice will carry me.
In the same instant the ice gives way and the man sinks.
The above incident illustrates how people often relate to matters pertaining to Christian faith. But the Christian faith does not want to frighten us with the threat of hell. It warns us so that we will not have to spend eternity there. "The Lord is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). Nevertheless many are traveling the road that leads to eternal damnation. "For the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it" (Matt. 7:13).
Such a warning is needed. Many apostates are convinced of this in their conscience, but they harden their conscience and travel their own way even though the future seems hopeless. They do not want to repent, neither do they want to hear of the possibility of being lost. They regard all warnings as an attempt to frighten them and regard love as hate. To placate their conscience people are ready to descend to the level of animals according to the formula: The tree decays where it falls. According to this a person does not have an immortal soul and a body that will be resurrected, he does not have to give an account to God and is not subject to judgment.
But Jesus says: "Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). And the Lord's Apostle says: "For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).
We have all merited God's wrath and condemnation. Let us not be proud. God is the Supreme Majesty. Let us rather humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. God is merciful to sinners for the sake of His Son. Jesus has borne God's wrath in our behalf. Believing in Him we have forgiveness for all our sins through grace. "God justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5). He credits us with Christ's atonement. Everyone who trusts in Christ Jesus is saved.
No one, who trusts in Jesus' name, will be ashamed. Not even you, who are now walking on thin ice. Jesus grasps hold of those who are drowning and places them on the road that leads to heaven. Everyone placed on this road is happy that he was warned. Those in the company of Jesus are not angry, they are thankful. Therefore do not accuse Christians of frightening you, but rather listen to your conscience and conclude: The ice is starting to crack. Leave the thin ice and come to Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Even death was unable to destroy this Way. Come, when the Holy Ghost beckons and draws you.
In recent times the battle which the enemies of the Christian faith are waging against the Bible has received much publicity. The battle is not something new. Only the people engaged in the battle have changed.
The church that adheres to the Gospel has always believed the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. The Lutheran Confessions speak of the Bible as the Book of the Holy Ghost and as God's Word. Martin Luther, referring to the Bible, said: "God cannot err." He based his remark on what the Bible says about God who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18, Tit. 1:2). Jesus said: "The Scriptures cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
The Church of God has always understood that attacking the Bible amounts to destroying the foundation from under the feet. For the Church which the gates of hell shall not prevail against is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).
Informed Christians and pastors cannot leave the Church unprotected against the attacks of the Bible critics. They defend the Bible because the love of Christ constrains them. If the Church gives in to the critics of the Bible, how can it then lead the rationalists to know the truth when their time of visitation arrives? And how could we permit the foundation of their faith to be taken away from the people? Going along with the opinions of men in matters of faith is lovelessness. Jesus says: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words, and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me" (John 14:23,24).
In this sinful world, admonition and love do not mutually exclude one another. The Law of God must be permitted to do its duty. It must set man before God as a lost and condemned sinner. Only then will the Gospel be acceptable to him. The same is true when someone rebels against the Bible. His own opinions of spiritual matters must be condemned and made worthless. Only then will he be able to hear when God speaks.
We must not try to understand our old Adam. It must be drowned through daily repentance in the water of Baptism so that the new man can come forth. The Bible says: "Reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth" (Tit. 1:13,14). But the Bible also says: "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4).
Only the very best athletes are eligible to participate in the Olympics, and only the winners receive a gold medal. In the Christians' Olympics too, only the winners are decorated with the laurel wreath of victory, but the participants are not the selected best, but are rather the lame and the crippled, the weak and the powerless, people without opportunities. To them God has given His own strength so that "they will run and not get tired, will walk and not become weary" (Is. 40:31). This strength is forgiveness of sins in the name and blood of Jesus. We, the weak, are urged to run our race in God's strength and to follow the example of the victorious athletes: "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win" (1 Cor. 9:24). In these spiritual Olympics every Christian is urged to win. Our opponents are not other Christians who threaten to take our prize. A prize has been reserved for every Christian. Our opponent is elsewhere, closer to us. It is our own sinful flesh, which tries to prevent us from believing in Jesus. Paul says: "I run in such a way... as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave" (1 Cor. 9:26,27). The original language pictures a prizefighter who jabs himself under the eye and makes his body his own slave. The Apostle was truly a superb fighter in the spiritual sense. He did not permit his Old Adam to win but conquered it. He kept his flesh in subjection with the fist of God's Law. His God-given body could not serve sin, but was the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle had to fight hard against sin so that he would not be rejected.
In like manner we too must confess that we are such great sinners "that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Rom. 7:18). Our Old Adam will not become good by trying to improve it. It must die every day and our new man must rise up in its place. In daily repentance the Christian appropriates the forgiveness of sins and the strength to lead a godly life, granted to him in Baptism. Living a Christian life means daily using the blessings that were given to us in holy Baptism. These blessings are forgiveness of sins, deliverence from death and the devil and eternal salvation. We receive these blessings through faith.
Our final destination encourages us to fight the good fight of faith. "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we, an imperishable" (1 Cor. 9:25). Everlasting, undisturbed life in heaven awaits Christians. This life is ours already now through faith because of Christ's merit. Now we fight to remain in faith.
Therefore we must be free of everything that would hinder our participation in the race, whether it be false doctrine or some sin that easily besets us, and compete according to the rules. Why don't you also enter these Olympics? The viewing stands are already filled with invited guests, angels and saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord. But there is room on the race track and the supply of gold medals is endless.
A man named Epaphras is mentioned a few times in the Bible. His name does not mean much to many Bible readers. He is, however, a notable hero of faith, a man of God, whose life experiences are intriguing and instructive.
Epaphras lived in the small city of Collossae. None of the Apostles had visited there on their journeys, but God had guided Epaphras so that he had the opportunity to hear Paul, likely at Ephesus. Upon returning to his native city, Epaphras began doing mission work. He preached the Gospel to all people. Through his sermons the Holy Spirit did His work and a congregation was born at Collossae. It was made up of all kinds of people: Slaves and free, Jews, Greeks, barbarians, Scythians, men and women, parents and children, employers and employees, the respected and the despised. A wealthy man by the name of Philemon also belonged to the congregation and had love for "all the saints". Epaphras proclaimed the Gospel faithfully as he had learned to know it.
When the congregation had been in existence for just a few years, it was threatened by the danger of false doctrine. Living in the proximity of the congregation were those who were not satisfied with the doctrine of Epraphas. They demanded the observance of the Sabbath and other Jewish days, they prayed to angels, boasted of their visions and put on a show of humility to win followers.
Epaphras was the pastor of the congregation and saw to it that everything happened in decency and order. However, he felt it necessary to get an apostolic confirmation for his doctrine. Therefore he set out to visit Paul, who at that time was a prisoner in Rome. The long journey was a difficult one. Epaphras became ill and was imprisoned in Rome, but he nevertheless accomplished his mission.
Paul wrote a letter to the congregation at Collossae in which he says: "You heard (of it) and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf" (Col. 1:6,7) The Christians at Collossae had in holy Baptism received the Lord Jesus, in whom "all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Col. 2:9). Their own works and worship services could not add anything to this. In Christ we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Salvation is a free gift. The Apostle himself told the Collossians that their faith was the right faith and that they should remain steadfast in it.
The example of Epaphras teaches us how important the purity of the Gospel is. Working diligently to preserve it is a worthy cause. A faithful missionary and shepherd of souls will make sure that he proclaims the "grace of God in truth".
As God's children we strive to keep the good conscience we have received through faith in Christ. It is not always easy to maintain a good conscience. The world is deceitful and we are weak. For this reason the Savior gives us this advice: "Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16). These words speak about keeping a good conscience in the midst of the deceitful world.
Dr. Luther speaking about this topic says: "It is shrewd teaching and living, if there is no flaw in our conscience when the world and the wolves condemn us and kill us. - Being innocent is teaching and living without a desire for glory or revenge regardless of what people are like, good or bad."
The world seeks to deprive us of a good conscience. First the world tries to get us to fall into sin so that we ourselves will feel that we have lost our good conscience. The other way is more subtle: The world tries to turn us away from God's Word and Commandments by trying to convince us that it is wise to act differently.
In warning us the Savior urges us to be shrewd but to be innocent at the same time. He wants to say: Do not be naive in relation to the world, but be wise. Know where the world is trying to lead you. The world tries to make the innocent guilty in order to cover its own faults. Watch, "beware of men".
But perhaps you ask: Who is wise enough to understand all the wiles of the unbelieving world? We all lack wisdom. For this reason our Savior offers us another word of warning: "Be innocent." When we cling to God's Word and do not engage in scheming, strife or evil, we will be safe.
The exhortation of Jesus, "Be as shrewd as serpents", has often been used in the wrong way. It has been used to defend some sin of neglect, or some activity in the church that is contrary to God's Word. But Jesus' exhortation does not offer support for a defense of sin, for in defending sin innocence is lost. The Apostle Paul writes: "For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you" (2 Cor. 1:12). There is a difference between fleshly wisdom and that wisdom, which when used, permits innocence to survive.
Therefore let us strive with fear and trembling and remember that we have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. Our conscience has been cleansed with His blood, and we can cleanse it each day with God's grace. Christ absolves the penitent sinner and grants him the joy of salvation.
God often grants us times of visitation during our lifetime. At such times He especially draws us to Himself. We have a troubled conscience. We know that things are not right between God and us. Fortunate is he who gets proper help during such a time of visitation.
When sin becomes a reality to our conscience, we cannot find peace by artificial means. At such a time trying to convince ourselves that our guilt is not all that great does not help. We feel wretched. We do not want to be comforted by explanations. Fortunate is he who finds comfort in Christ.
A person convinced that he is guilty in God's sight finds it difficult to believe. To him it seems absolutely impossible that God could be merciful to him. He is ready to believe that Jesus' blood covers the sins of all other people. But to believe that his own sins are covered, this is just impossible! But believe, even then! Christ has done everything in your behalf. Your sins were laid on Him. "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world", said John the Baptist pointing to Jesus. You too turn to God's Word and behold the suffering Christ, behold how He has risen from the dead and attained the victory! Do not doubt. Atonement has been made for your sins.
Our sins are indeed great, but do not think that they are greater than Christ. "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom. 5:20).
Matters pertaining to faith will become clear to a person troubled by his sins, if he can speak to an understanding pastor and in addition to receiving counsel, can also hear the comforting words of absolution.
We do not have to depend - nor should we - solely on our own private study of the Bible, but we can make use of the help which the congregation of believers can give us. Jesus has not bound us to unfaithful shepherds, but has warned us concerning them. We can with a good conscience join a congregation where God's Word is proclaimed in its purity. Such proclamation will help us to believe, and the pastor of such a congregation will gladly help troubled souls to know Christ.
"For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things" (1 John 3:20).
Where can I find grace that will cover my sins? Where can I get balm to heal the wounds that my sins have caused in my conscience? Is there help available for me, or must I always bear the burden of a bad conscience and suffer the pain of the wounds caused by my sins.
Are these questions that you are asking?
I can with joy tell you that help is available. Our Savior, speaking to troubled souls like you, says: "Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).
But surely you are not thinking: "This is true when it comes to just ordinary sinners, but my conscience is not clean. It has been tarnished by some especially abhorrent sins. Even though how I try, I cannot forget my transgressions. They always rise up to accuse me." If this is how you feel, you have no reason to despair. Many have had identical thoughts, but have nevertheless found peace when they have come to know God's grace.
A person by nature thinks that he must first cleanse his conscience in order to be able to believe. When his conscience, despite all his efforts to cleanse it, remains unclean and continues to accuse, he despairs. But Christ's Gospel is not a message of despair, but one of joy.
Jesus once bore our sins. Everyone's sins! All the sins of all people. He bore even those transgressions that weigh heaviest on your conscience, those that you cannot forget and which always return to accuse you. He also bore those sins which we have not even considered to be sins, and was forsaken by God because of them. He also atoned for those sins that especially trouble your conscience. Specifically for these sins He earned forgiveness.
Your heart cannot by nature know this. That is why it continues to accuse you. But God is greater than your heart and knows all things.
In His sight your sins are many times greater, much more abhorrent, and have deserved a much more severe punishment than you can feel in your conscience. Also in this respect He is greater than your heart and knows all things.
But God also knows what Christ has done for you. He knows that Christ has paid the full price for our sins. He accepted this sacrifice by raising His Son from the dead. God has been appeased in His heart. He does not have to seek atonement from your heart in order to forgive you. He is above your heart. He has been reconciled to you in His own heart for Jesus' sake. This is the basis of your salvation.
Do not therefore seek permission to receive forgiveness from your own heart, but rather go before the highest court of justice, before God Himself. In His own Word He assures us that He is merciful to sinners for Christ's sake. You can be at peace. If your heart condemns you, God is greater. In order to believe, do not listen to the voice of your heart, but rather listen to the voice of God.
Perhaps you still want to know: How can I get a clean conscience?
That which has been done, we cannot undo. We cannot be free of our evil nature in this life. But nevertheless we can attain peace of conscience. We cannot attain it by our own works. We cannot attain it even though how hard we try to improve our life, though how hard we strive and pray. All of these are our own works and cannot bring us peace. But still we can find peace of conscience. Not by our works, but through the forgiveness that Christ has earned for us. Everything is by grace, that wonderful, free gift of God. God tells us in His Word: "Jesus Christ... is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). We can be sure of forgiveness on the basis of this promise. God cannot lie. When God, the highest court, pardons us for Christ's sake, a lower court, our conscience, cannot change this ruling, but must submit to the decision of the higher court.
Do not therefore first seek peace from your own heart in order to believe, but believe in Jesus Christ and you will find peace.
Although your sins have slashed deep wounds into your conscience, remember that Jesus was wounded for your sake. While He was forsaken by God, He suffered in His heart the pain caused by sin, because our sins had been charged to Him. "With His stripes we are healed", says the Bible (Is. 53:5). Peace with God has been earned for us by Jesus once and for all. In order that our hearts can remain at peace, let us cling to the gracious promises of God's Word. Through them we can pacify our conscience, knowing that God is greater than our heart.