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Monday, October 31, 2011

Righteousness - convinced of it

Yesterday my pastor based his message on this passage, which quotes Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit, from the New Living Translation:
But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. - John 16:7-11 (NLT)
Verse 10 ("Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more.") caught my attention, because it seemed subtly different in the New American Standard version I was reading:
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. - John 16:7-11 (NASB)
It occurred to me that the NLT makes explicit something that the more-literal NASB leaves you to figure out: that Jesus meant that the Holy Spirit's lesson about righteousness is that it is available because Jesus made it available by going to the Father. But as I read it, it seemed to me that what Jesus meant was that because He was the model of perfect righteousness while He was on Earth, when He left and that perfect model was gone, the Holy Spirit would have to reveal perfect righteousness to people instead! This seems to be the way the ESV Study Bible leans:
"Because I go to the Father means that Jesus will no longer be in the world to teach about true righteousness, and so the Holy Spirit will come to carry on that function, through illumination (v. 13) and through the words of believers who bear witness to the gospel." (ESV Study Bible)
Both of these statements are true: 1. Righteousness is only available because Jesus provided it; and 2. The Holy Spirit reveals that availability to us. Which did Jesus mean? Well, I still think in context it makes more sense to assume that Jesus meant that He wasn't going to be around to show us righteousness, so the Holy Spirit would have to take up that job. The NLT (which, by the way, I generally do enjoy reading because it's very comfortable English) doesn't leave you that option. It assumes that it knew what Jesus meant, and in this case, I disagree. Does it mean that the New Living is not a valid translation? Of course not! But it does highlight why it's a good idea to take a look at a number of translations and commentaries when you're studying the Scripture. Sometimes the insight in one version is different than the insight in another. Isn't it a blessing that we in the English-speaking part of the world have such a wealth of great information about the Bible available to us?

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