Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jewish New Testament and Jewish New Testament Commentary

My friend Christopher Skinner has kindly allowed me to reproduce his review of these two books.

The Jewish New Testament (JNT) and it's companion volume The Jewish New Testament Commentary (JNTC) by David H. Stern is a very valuable work in Messianic circles today. The authors intention is to restore the Jewishness of the New Testament and he has supplied a work which is very much needed. This short review is going to review both positive and critical aspects to this volume.

As an observation, The JNT is not a strictly literal translation and there is nothing wrong with that. Stern informs us that his approach to translation was that of dynamic equivalence. This approach aims to translate the thoughts of the writer rather than a word by word translation. Dynamic equivalence is also used by the NIV, The Message and The Life Application Bible. Those desiring a more literal-grammatical Messianic translation should check out the Hebrew Names Version (HNV) which is authored by a completely different party. The JNT and JNTC assumes knowledge of the Hebrew words and phrases such as Tanakh, Ruach HaKodesh etc which will make it more difficult for some readers, although it is worth doing some homework and receiving the blessing from reading it.

A strength of the JNT and JNTC is it's explanation and specific translation of the words usually translated "Jew" and "Jews". Various passages in standard translations of Johns gospel been used to justify anti-Jewish feeling in religious people. This has given ammunition to critics who charge the New Testament writers with anti-Semitism. In John 5:19, The JNT makes it clear that it is the Judean Jews (and not the Jews as a whole) which harassed Yeshua. The same is the case in his comments on 1 Thessalonians (where it is often dreadfully mistranslated "The Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus"). Stern's discussion of the famous words of the mob "His blood be upon us and upon our children" and Yeshuas prayer "Father forgive them" is both reasonable and sensible. Any believer who wants to stem the tide of theological antisemitism will find these volumes very helpful.

Another good feature of the JNT is the exposition of Pardes, the Rabbinic method of expounding the Tanakh as employed by the New Testament writers. Many standard evangelical commentaries are at a loss to explain apparent misquotes from the Old Testament (such as Matthew 2:15 "out of Egypt I called my Son"). Sterns understanding of first century Jewish interpretation is very helpful to the student of Scripture here. The Jewish context and background of the New Testament is brought out in many ways.

On the critical side, Stern allows his own theological bias to influence the resultant translation and this is evident in some places. This is most evident in his discussions of Torah observance and it's place today. His comments have very practical implications, especially in the areas of observing Intermarriage, Shabbat and Kashrut.

Stern believes that the Law of Moses is still effective and attempts to deal with his "problem passages" but, in my opinion, unconvincingly. My views on the law of Moses concur with that of The Association of Messianic Congregations which states that "The Law of Moses as a rule of life has been fulfilled in the Messiah and therefore believers are no longer under its' obligation or condemnation. While the Law of Moses is no longer obligatory for believers, the Law has much to teach us regarding a joyfully Jewish way of life. Both Jewish and non-Jewish believers have the freedom in Messiah to maintain any aspects of the Law of Moses which do not violate the entirety of the rest of scripture" 1. This clearly shows two different views amongst Messianic believers.

Sterns translation of Romans 10 verse 4 reads that "the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah". This brings out a meaning to the passage that fits very well into the wider context of Romans 10, and about the purpose of the Law. The standard versions (eg. NIV, KJV etc) read that "Christ is the END of the Law". Stern states that his translation is a correction of the mainstream versions here. In fairness, I believe both renderings of this verse are correct. The Greek word for "end" is "telos" and it can have both meanings - "goal" and "end". Vine's Expository Dictionary and Vincents New Testament Word Studies give both meanings equal weight, whilst Thayers Greek-English Lexicon gives the primary meaning as "end". Even if the primary meaning was "goal", as Stern believes in relation to this verse, an "end" is implicit as you don't carry on with something once the "goal" has been reached. Stern usually translates "telos" as "end" in numerous places (including Matthew 10:22, John 13:1 and 1 Cor 1:8) but insists that it exclusively means "goal" in Romans 10v4. This translation is favoured in order to preserve the doctrine of Torah observance. There is no reason for making Romans 10:4 an exception to the usual rule, nor is there any reason to restrict the term "telos" exclusively to "goal" in one verse. Stern states that the standard Christian theology based on this verse is anti-semitic but this accusation is extreme and unnecessary. Whilst Stern does a good job in fighting real antisemitism, he occasionally throws the accusation too easily and unfairly.

Overall, the JNT and the JNTC does a good job in achieving it's central aim - restoring the Jewishness of the New Testament. On peripheral matters he expounds the various different points of view before giving his own (and he does so in a way that is humble and not offensive to others who disagree). Such issues as this include the debates over spiritual gifts, eschatology, women in leadership, eternal security and the Calvinist-Arminian controversy. Most readers will probably disagree with some of his views on peripheral matters. The accommodation of different views adds value to a work of this nature as it serves to unite Jewish believers rather than divide. I hope the JNT and JNTC will have wide appeal.

335 comments:

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The Resurrectionist said...

About David Stern's Bad Translation:

From the Introduction of Stern's Jewish New Testament:
“For example, in other versions the Greek phrase upo nomon is usually translated "under the law". But because this rendering has been used to buttress anti-torah Christian theology, the Jewish New Testament spells out the meaning of these two Greek words in thirteen English words: "in subjection to the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism." – D. Stern

What is the result of Mr. Sterns new, previously unknown, translation of the term "Law"? His book of Galatians makes Paul into the Hero of the enemy he was (in fact) fighting against!

Let us look at Galatians 2:19.

The REAL New Testament says...

"For I through the Law - under the operations (of the curse) of the Law - have (in Christ's death for me) myself died to the Law and all the Law's demands upon me, so that I may (henceforth) live to and for God." - The Amplified Bible

The false "Jewish New Testament" says...

"For it was through letting the Torah speak for itself that I died to it's traditional legalistic misinterpretation, so that I might live in direct relationship with God."

What's the problem? While Paul clearly says that He is dead to the Torah, Mr. Stern tries to make Paul say that it was only a "misinterpretation" of the Torah which Paul has died to. And the implication which Mr. Stern wants to infer is that Paul (and so, every believer in Jesus) is still under an obligation to obey the "real" Torah.

The entire book of Galatians is distorted and perverted by Mr. Stern's false interpretation and that falsehood can be found throughout Mr. Stern's entire false translation.

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