The right words from the right Bible

In biblical translation classes, there’s a saying: “There is no translation without interpretation;” it’s a way of acknowledging that whenever a disputed passage is up for translation, you’re not likely to going to go against your biases.

But one group — one with an American origin — is in a unique position: their interpretations are based on a specific translation.

The group? The Jehovah’s Witnesses. The translation? The New World Translation.

The Witnesses go back further than the existence of the New World Translation, which their organization — the Watchtower Society — publishes. But many of their doctrines or teachings that stand in opposition to orthodox Christianity are best supported by the New World Translation.

For example, their Christology is supported by the NWT’s rendering of John 1:1-2:

1 In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. 2 This one was in [the] beginning with God.

Compare this to the Authorized Version, which many Witnesses used before the NWT was widely available:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God.

Likewise, the NWT is used to support their teaching that Christ was killed on a stake rather than the traditional cross; in fact, the NWT says he was impaled. See John 19:14-25a:

14 Now it was preparation of the passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews: “See! YOUR king!” 15 However, they shouted: “Take [him] away! Take [him] away! Impale him!” Pilate said to them: “Shall I impale YOUR king?” The chief priests answered: “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 At that time, therefore, he handed him over to them to be impaled.

Then they took charge of Jesus. 17 And, bearing the torture stake for himself, he went out to the so-called Skull Place, which is called Gol´go·tha in Hebrew; 18 and there they impaled him, and two other [men] with him, one on this side and one on that, but Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate wrote a title also and put it on the torture stake. It was written: “Jesus the Naz·a·rene´ the King of the Jews.” 20 Therefore many of the Jews read this title, because the place where Jesus was impaled was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, in Greek. 21 However, the chief priests of the Jews began to say to Pilate: “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered: “What I have written I have written.”

23 Now when the soldiers had impaled Jesus, they took his outer garments and made four parts, for each soldier a part, and the inner garment. But the inner garment was without a seam, being woven from the top throughout its length. 24 Therefore they said to one another: “Let us not tear it, but let us determine by lots over it whose it will be.” This was that the scripture might be fulfilled: “They apportioned my outer garments among themselves, and upon my apparel they cast lots.” And so the soldiers really did these things.

25 By the torture stake of Jesus, however, there were standing his mother and the sister of his mother…

Then, there’s the teaching that Christ was raised as a spirit person, based on the NWT’s rendering of 1 Peter 3:18:

Why, even Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous [person] for unrighteous ones, that he might lead YOU to God, he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit.

For comparison, again, here’s the Authorized Version:

3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

The examples go on.

Many Jehovah’s Witnesses will adamantly demand that the NWT is the most accurate translation of the Bible ever rendered. That the most accurate translation ever rendered exactly affirms their teachings is not lost on them.

So, what great biblical scholars translated the NWT?

No one knows.

The translation committee was anonymous at their request, though some have hazarded a guess at who it could have been.

You can read the NWT online at the Watchtower Society’s website.


Gimme that Old Time Religion

Looking for luck in all the wrong places

Appalachian religion is a hard thing to decipher, and the more you try to untangle the different associations of Regular, Old Regular, Old-Time Regular, Old Primitive, Old-Time Regular Primitive, Old-Time Regular Particular Primitive Baptists, etc., it gets very confusing. And that’s just the Baptists, nevermind the old circuit churches, the various forms of Pentecostalism, the mainline churches that made inroads there, the Mennonites and other Anabaptists and the religious associations that sociologists have only been able to label “mountain churches.” The hillbillies are not as doctrinally unified as a quick glance would have you believe.

But there is one area where you do see some homogeneity, and that’s in folk superstitions. And while it may be funny to point to some of them and think they are the imagination of isolated hillbillies, from personal experience I can attest that these beliefs were exported from the mountains to the Gulf South, though by my lifetime they were mostly mocked by old and young alike.

Here are a few examples:

If a bird flies in the house, death follows.

Hang your boots on the wall with toes pointed toward the wall is a sign of your death.

 If a rooster crows near the back door, company’s coming.

To keep the Devil away, throw salt over your left shoulder.

Never give a knife as a gift; it will cut friendship.

Misfortunes come in threes.

Small ears indicate a stingy personality.

If you rock a cradle empty, you will have babies a’plenty.

To take the last piece of pie, biscuit, or from a plate is a sign that the girl will be an old maid.

Marry in green; ashamed to be seen. 
Marry in brown; you’ll move into town. 
Marry in blue; you’ll always be true.
 Marry in yellow; ashamed of your fellow. 
Marry in black; you’ll wish yourself back.


You can chalk superstitions up to pagan syncretism or to acceptable forms of folk religion, but at their core — while one may be tempted to dismiss them as “old wives tales” — superstitions are religious beliefs. It’s fairly obvious how practices that supposedly ward off witches, hobgoblins and ghosts have religious connections, but even folks customs related to “luck” have their spiritual aspect. While mountain folk may not have had the classical education of their European forebears, what are the practices for luck (a vaguely defined concept at best) other than ways to avoid the Fates? The people throwing a pinch of salt over their shoulders may not have believed three Greek crones with beards were hanging over them, planning their eventual demise, but many of these practices were certainly an attempt to steer clear of an unavoidable predestination to a certain end (or, in some cases, to encourage it). Why else would you cover your mouth and say the Lord’s Prayer after sneezing other than to prevent your soul from leaking out?

And while most people have dismissed these practices as silly (many of them are silly), they still linger in the American subconscious, not because people are afraid of witches and ghosts anymore, but because — even in a culture that has gulped down postmodernism like cheap beer — there is a great sense of fatalism these days. Just listen to the nightly news, and especially the news commentators. The difference is that, thanks to their skepticism, people don’t have anything to use to fight that feeling anymore.

Running — or driving — the good race

For fans of stock car racing, this Bible is a must-have. It features commentary and testimonies from some of racing’s most famous names, as well as full-color action photos of some of racing’s most famous faces.


Featuring exciting and inspiring full-color inserts with photos of and insights from stock car racing’s finest personalities, the NIV Thinline Bible: Stock Car Edition is sure to be a motorsports fan’s favorite Bible. Motor Racing Outreach, a ministry to the world of motorsports, has partnered with Zondervan to create this Bible designed to delight race fans. MRO brings testimonies and photographs of the popular race personalities with whom they work on a daily basis—the drivers, the pit crews, the media spokespeople, and others associated with the world of racing. Combined with the complete text of the New International Version and offered in two innovative and cost-effective bindings, this title will make a wonderful gift for the true racing fan.

Source: Zondervan.

Niche Bibles are a fairly recent phenomenon in the grand scheme of things, but they embody a certain pragmatism in American religion that has become more and more pervasive in the last couple of generations — becoming all things to all people means creating a Christian/religious market that will cater to their tastes. In the past, that meant adapting hymns to fit the meter of saloon music. Now, it means getting NASCAR drivers to write devotions for a study Bible.

The effectiveness of this is, of course, a matter of debate.

Praise him with tambourine and dance

Seen (on a car bumper) from the narrow road

Bumper stickers were at one time a popular part of revivalist culture, akin to having a quick tract or other witnessing tool on the back of your vehicle. With a bumper sticker, you could tell someone to repent, where you stand (and where they should stand) on hot-button socio-religious political issues or just let them know that yes, you are, in fact, a born-again, fire-baptized, tongues-speaking, holy-rolling, unapologetic Child of God.

And of course, you need to warn them about your possibly erratic (non-)driving.

For the most part the Christian bumper sticker industry has dried up (except for very sincere or very ironic uses), but tonight I found a gallery of pictures that take the Christian bumper sticker to a whole new level.

Here are a few:

These come from the website Watchman Gospel Signs: Effective Tools for the Burdened Watchman.

Here’s the description of the service from the site:

Have you lost all shame for the Lord and His words? Get ready for lots of heads turning your way! We can help you turn your vehicle into a billboard on the move.

This lettering consists of durable vinyl stickers that we will mail to you and you can affix to your vehicle or other substrate yourself (unless you want to drive to Oregon so we can do it for you). They will already be laid out and spaced correctly so that you will be able to put them on your vehicle neatly with a minimum amount of skill or tools required. (We will enclose simple application instructions with the signs to help guide you through the process.) Just choose your message, call us with your dimensions, and we will take it from there.

A Christian t-shirt is only as big as its wearer. Having stickers like these on your car is like having a traveling billboard.

Easy Riding on the Highway to Heaven

I got a copy of this for free a couple of years ago from the Christian Motorcyclist Association tent at a Harley-Davidson rally I was covering. Nice folks, very evangelical, cool bikes.

Hope for the Highway -- NIV Bible for Bikers


Get in gear to reach out to the motorcycle (biker) world with this handy, pocket-sized Hope for the Highway NIV New Testament. Developed by Biblica, in conjunction with the Christian Motorcyclists Association, this starts off with a full-color photo essay of motorcycling and four powerful faith stories of motorcyclists/bikers who found Christ. Full-color gospel presentation also included. Targeted to both men and women.