Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Book Review: "The Clear Word"

There have been a number of religious denominations who have produced their own translations or paraphrases of the Bible. Most of these have been biased towards the particular doctrines of the denomination producing it. Possibly the worst is the The Clear Word published by Southern College Press at Southern Adventist College which is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

It was originally written as a devotional exercise by the author, Jack Blanco. It was originally published with the title The Clear Word Bible but is now called The Clear Word with the dropping of the word Bible presumably a response to criticism that it contains more than just a direct paraphrase of Scripture. In my view, this is disingenuous as The Clear Word is presented in precisely the way any other Bible is presented - chapters, verses, double columns.

Although The Clear Word is not officially published, or endorsed, by the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, it is distribted by Review & Herald publishing and sold by Adventist Book Centres which is an official publisher of the denomation. However, the variations on the original Clear Word are published by the official publisher, Review & Herald, as can be seen by browsing the items at the online AdventistBookCenter.com (just do a search for "clear word").

If you would like to have a look at some sample pages of The Clear Word, you can check it out at Amazon.com. As you will see, it is impossible to differentiate it from any other Bible (version or paraphrase). So, despite the subtle deletion of the word "Bible" from the title, it is a Bible however you look at it. And despite the fact that it might not have been officially endorsed by the Seventh-day Adventist denominational authorities, it is being published, distributed, and promoted in such a way that, for all practical purposes, it is endorsed.

The Clear Word comes in a range of formats including giant print, The Clear Word for Kids, The Easy English Clear Word, the New Testament as audio, and pocket-sized editions.

Here is how the online Adventist Book Centre describes The Clear Word:

For everyone who hungers for a clearer understanding of God’s Word and a richer devotional experience.

Imagine how much more you would get out of the Bible if the meaning of every passage were crystal clear. Compare the same text from the King James Version and The Clear Word.

"Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way" (Psalm 119: 36, 37, KJV).

"Turn my heart toward your law more than toward accumulating riches. Help me not to desire worthless trinkets, but give me more desire for your word" (Psalm 119: 36, 37, TCW).

The Clear Word lets the power of ancient texts come through today. As the meaning of Scripture becomes more transparent, you see more of God’s grace. His love shines through even in difficult Old Testament passages. The Clear Word has renewed the devotional lives of thousands of people. Let it renew yours. Now available in the popular two-column format with the text in paragraphs.

There are a number of things to notice here:
  1. The purpose of The Clear Word is to increase understanding of the text and enhance devotional experience.
  2. It is implied that the meaning of every Bible passage has been made crystal clear.
  3. A comparison is made between a text in the King James Version and The Clear Word making it clear that The Clear Word is a Bible.
  4. The Clear Word allows the power of the original texts to come through, making the text more transparent, allowing certain characteristics of God to come through better than other translations or paraphrases, particularly in Old Testament passages.
  5. Thousands have had their devotional lives enriched by using The Clear Word.

What are we to make of these claims?

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with creating a devotional commentary on the Biblical text. There have been an incredible number of Bibles produced in recent years, all emphasising various aspects of Christian spirituality and which are useful for enhancing our understanding of the text. For example, one I have in my collection is The Knowing Jesus Study Bible. It is a 'one-year study of Jesus in every book of the Bible'. It contains the New International Version text. In addition, it contains comments and short articles on the text that are consistent with the theme. The important thing to notice, though, is that these comments and articles are clearly distinguished from the biblical text itself. There is no possibility of confusing the biblical text itself with what is additional commentary. Here is a section of The Knowing Jesus Study Bible which illustrates this:

Notice how the commentary is clearly separated from the text with its own title (which is consistent throughout the Bible). Now, compare a page from The Clear Word:

The yellow-colored section is a paraphrase of the original text of Genesis 3:21 (although the original text doesn't mention the type of skin God used). The green-colored text is additional commentary which is not in the original. There is nothing to indicate that this is additional material. A person unfamiliar with the text of Scripture and who is reading The Clear Word would have no way of knowing that this material is not part of the original text. This brings us to the next point.

Thirdly, The Clear Word is completely biased toward Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. And these doctrines are presented in the same way as the illustration above, that is, they are integrated with the text of the Bible as if they are part of the Bible itself. Here's one of the worst examples of this:

Daniel 8:14 reads:

And he answered him, "For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state." (NRSV)

Here is how it reads in The Clear Word:

“After two thousand, three hundred Prophetic days (or, two thousand three hundred Years), God will step in, proclaim the truth about Himself, and restore the ministry of the sanctuary in heaven to its rightful place. This is when the judgment will begin, of which the cleansing of the earthly sanctuary was a type.”

The green-colored material has been added to the biblical text and reflects SDA doctrine on the sanctuary. Now compare Daniel 9:24-27:

“As soon as you started praying, God asked me to come and help you. So now I’m here to give you the help you need. You are dearly loved by God and by everyone else in heaven. So listen carefully to what I have to say. I’ll explain to you how you and your people fit into the vision and into the explanation I gave you earlier. “Seventy prophetic weeks have been allotted to your people and to Jerusalem—each day representing a year. This comes to four hundred and ninety years. This period is the first part of the two thousand three hundred year prophecy I told you about before. These four hundred and ninety years have been given to your people to stop their rebelliousness, repent of their sins, accept God’s offer of salvation, do what is right, and reach the high level of morality He has in mind for them. Before this period ends, the Messiah will come, the vision and the prophecy will be confirmed and the Heavenly sanctuary will be anointed. “This prophecy has nothing to do with the end of the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity that you’ve been studying about and the time for your people to go home. What you need to understand is that when a Persian king commands the rebuilding of Jerusalem, that’s the point in time when the two thousand three hundred year prophecy will begin. Seven weeks, or forty nine years later, the city will be rebuilt in spite of great opposition. “Sixty-two weeks or four hundred and thirty-four years after the city is rebuilt, the Messiah will come and be anointed, the one whom you and your people have looked forward to for so long. These two periods of seven weeks, and the sixty-two weeks I just entioned, make up the sixty-nine weeks. This means that one week or seven years are left of the time allotted to your people. During this week The Messiah will carry out his mission and lay down His life for all people. A few years later, Jerusalem and the temple will both be destroyed. War, destruction and desolation will come in on the land like a flood. These things have already been decreed. “It’s during this week that God through the Messiah will ratify His covenant, and extend one last call to His people. But in the middle of that week, just three and a half years into his ministry the Messiah will be rejected by his own people and allow Himself to be crucified. That’s when the ancient sacrifices and offerings will come to an end. His followers will offer God’s mercy to Israel for another three and a half years to complete the eventieth week. But the rulers will again reject God’s offer of mercy, and this is what will bring about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple that I mentioned to you above. Those who would destroy the city and the temple, will also come to their end.”

Once again, the text has been added to and/or changed. The black text above is the text of the New King James Version (NKJV) and the bold green text is what has been added or changed in The Clear Word. This manipulation of the Bible text is an absolute travesty! And examples could be multiplied over and over. Here's just one more:

Deuteronomy 5:3, in describing the giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel, states:

The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. (KJV)

Here it is in the popular New Living Translation:

The Lord did not make this covenant long ago with our ancestors, but with all of us who are alive today. (New Living Translation)

It is pretty clear that God did not make the covenant with the ancestors prior to their sojourn in the desert but with the very people there on the day the Ten Commandments were given. Notice how The Clear Word renders this text:

It wasn't only with our ancestors that He made a covenant, but with us and with all who are alive today.

The Clear Word implies the exact opposite of what the Bible actually says!

How can a Christian use a Bible that distorts the original text so much? And, remember, there are versions of this Bible for children who will be fed this and grow up thinking that what they have heard is actually in the Bible!

Fourthly, the promotional material for The Clear Word (as quoted above) suggests that it makes the meaning of the Bible 'crystal clear'. On the contrary, it distorts the Scriptures and makes the Bible say whatever is consistent with SDA doctrines.

Fifthly, the blurb above claims that 'thousands have had their devotional lives enriched by using The Clear Word. It is not clear how this is known, but even if they have, it is being enriched by a Bible that distorts God's Word. Why not have your devotional life enriched by reading a Bible that attempts to remain faithful to the original meaning of the text. No Bible translation is perfect, but at least they have as their intention to translate or paraphrase the actual meaning of the text without "integrating" extra-biblical material or ideas.

When The Clear Word was first published as The Clear Word Bible, the editor of Ministry magazine, a journal produced by the Seventh-day Adventist Church for pastors, wrote a letter outlining his reservations about this publication. You can read this letter here. It is encouraging that those within the denomination are uncomfortable with this project. One of the issues he points out is the degree to which The Clear Word incorporates material from the writings of Ellen White, the prophetess of Seventh-day Adventism. Despite the official pronouncements that her writings are not equivalent to the Bible, The Clear Word assimilates teachings from these writings which, for all intents and purposes, makes them equivalent. There are no footnotes indicating the sources of the additions and modifications to the text of Scripture.

Thinking Christians should resist efforts like The Clear Word because they do not draw a clear distinction between the Bible and its interpretation. To forget this distinction is to move towards a position for which our interpretations of the Bible become God's Word along with the arrogance that our interpretations are the only right ones. The Clear Word is an example where this line has been crossed over. My advice is to stick with your favourite translation or paraphrase but make sure you know what is the Bible and what isn't. So this is one book I do not recommend.

Related Links (provision of link does not imply agreement with all the contents)

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