Bible Translations

Bibles

Who ever thought that buying a Bible would be an overwhelming experience? You just go to the store and grab one, right? Well…no. You go to the store and you have to choose between this translation and that translation, between this study Bible and that study Bible. It’s more difficult than it should be.

So if you are looking for a new Bible, which translation should you choose? I thought that if I shared with you about the translation process and the differing methods used, it would help you make a more informed decision.

Some Translation Difficulties
As you know, the sixty-six books of the Bible were not written in English. The original authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote in three languages: Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. With the exception of a few words, the entire New Testament was written in Greek. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but small sections, such as Daniel 2-7, were written in Aramaic. And, to make things even more complicated, there is a Greek version of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint (symbolized LXX).

What we are dealing with today entails the translation of these original texts into other languages, such as English. On a surface level, it sounds like a somewhat simple task as long as someone knows both Greek/Hebrew and English. But, for several reasons, it’s more difficult than you may think. First of all, we do not have any original autographs of the biblical books. What we do have, though, are thousands of copies. But, secondly, what arises when these books are copied are variants (scribal errors). The original Greek documents were written in all capital letters with no spaces in-between words. The original Hebrew documents were written with consonants only, no vowels. Both of these things made it difficult on the scribe to produce perfect copies. Besides making errors, some scribes even added short notes to give later readers clarity.

All this being said, when a translator sits down to work, he/she doesn’t do so with the original/perfect text produced by someone such as Moses or Paul. Instead, they may sit down with twenty differing copies of a certain book. I should mention that the variants only compose a small percentage of the text, but nevertheless, they do present translators with a difficult task.

Another thing that should be mentioned concerning translation difficulties is the evolution of language. Not only were the biblical documents written in other languages, they were also written thousands of years ago. Over that span of time the Greek and Hebrew languages have evolved and changed. So it’s not enough to know modern Greek or Hebrew, you have to know the ancient languages.

There are other issues that could be mentioned, such as differing cultural idioms and the technological advances we have experienced, but the point is clear: there are many difficulties when it comes to translating the Bible.

The Translation Process
Anyone who is bilingual knows that translating a phrase or sentence is challenging, much less an entire letter or book. Why? Because each language has its own rules of grammar. Each language uses a different sentence structure. And, maybe the most difficult part of translating (and the reason we have so many versions of the Bible) is that each word in a given language does not have a one-to-one correspondence in another language. For example, the simple Greek conjunction καί (kai) is usually translated “and,” but can also mean “also/even/but/indeed.” So when a translation is to be produced, a method has to be determined.

Some translators prefer a word-for-word (formal equivalence) method, while others opt for what they call a phrase-for-phrase or thought-for-thought (dynamic equivalence) method. In all reality, most English translations available today combine these two methods. Take for example the explanation in the introduction to the Holman Christian Standard Bible, which uses what is called the “Optimal Equivalence Method”:

“Optimal equivalence starts with an exhaustive analysis of the text at every level (word, phrase, clause, sentence, discourse) in the original language to determine its original meaning and intention (or purpose). Then relying on the latest and best language tools and experts, the nearest corresponding semantic and linguistic equivalents are used to convey as much of the information and intention of the original text with as much clarity and readability as possible. This process assures the maximum transfer of both the words and thoughts contained in the original” (HCSB, Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2004, vii.).

A good example of a thought-for-thought translation is the New International Version (NIV). The translation committee for this project stated that they have “striven for more than a word-for-word translation.” Furthermore, they explain, “Because thought patterns and syntax differ from language to language, faithful communication of the meaning of the writers of the Bible demands frequent modifications in sentence structure and constant regard for the contextual meanings of words” (NIV, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, xii.).

On the other hand, what is regarded among scholars as the most literal translation of the Bible in the English language is the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The translators of this project worked hard to maintain the Greek and Hebrew sentence structure when bringing the text into English. Yet even they admit that, “When it was felt that the word-for-word literalness was unacceptable to the modern reader, a change was made in the direction of a more current English idiom.” But, “In the instances where this has been done, the more literal rendering has been indicated in the notes” (NASB, Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1995, iii.). This is why it is so important to look at the footnotes.

Whenever you get a chance, look at the introduction or foreword to your Bible, whatever version it may be, and see which method of translation was used. This is also something to pay attention to when purchasing a new Bible.

A Word About Paraphrases
Besides English translations, there are also English paraphrases of the Bible. A couple you have probably heard of are The Message Bible (MSG) and the New Living Translation (NLT). The main goal of a paraphrased Bible is to make it easy to read. Although the publishers of the NLT call it a “translation,” it is, in my estimation, a paraphrase. While they understand that “The goal of any Bible translation is to convey the meaning and content of the ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts as accurately as possible to contemporary readers,” they also admit that their translation is “easy to read and understand” and good for “devotional reading” (NLT, Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica, 2004, A15.). These paraphrases are basically thought-for-thought translations on a grand scale. They are more focused on conveying the original meaning to a contemporary English audience than getting all the grammar correct.

There is nothing wrong with reading a paraphrased Bible, especially if the language in an NASB or KJV Bible is difficult for you. A paraphrase is great to use if you are setting out to read through the Bible in a year. At the same time, you need to be careful when studying a specific verse or word. Because paraphrases are geared toward contemporary understanding, we shouldn’t develop any theological stances from them. But, truth be told, we shouldn’t develop a theology based on an English word from any translation. Theology and doctrine should be derived solely from the original languages and sentence structures. Paraphrases are useful, but I wouldn’t advise teaching or preaching from one.

Translation vs. Interpretation
Because of all the aforementioned challenges and difficulties that come with the translation process, it is almost impossible to translate a text without also interpreting it in some way. What do I mean? On a word-for-word level, since not every Hebrew or Greek word has a perfect English equivalent, translators have to make a choice. What English word or words do I use to convey the meaning of this Hebrew word? A good example is the Hebrew word חֶסֶד (chesed). English Bibles translate it in various ways, including “faithful love” (HCSB), “love” (NIV), “steadfast love” (ESV), “loving kindness” (NASB), “faithful deeds” (NET), and “unfailing love” (NLT). Obviously the general meaning can be determined, but you can still see the number of ways it has been translated. In fact, in the KJV alone this word is translated twelve different ways (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H2617&t=KJV)!

On a thought-for-thought level the same issue arises. How do I convey this ancient Greek phrase into English and not influence how a reader will understand it? In making these decisions, not only is the Bible translated, but it is also interpreted.

Chapters, Verses, and Subtitles
Even though I think this is pretty common knowledge, I want to take a second to touch on it. The chapter and verse divisions in our English Bibles, or any Bible for that matter, are not original. The biblical authors did not subdivide their work. Chapter and verse divisions were added much later to help congregations find a certain phrase or sentence within a given book.

The subtitles and paragraph divisions that almost all Bibles have are also later additions. In order to save space on their papyri, biblical authors did not put spaces between their words, sentences, or paragraphs. Neither did they use subtitles within their books.

Although the subtitles and chapter divisions in our English Bibles are mostly accurate, they can be misleading at times. Sometimes it is hard to determine whether a certain phrase or sentence should be connected with what comes before it or after it. An example is the paragraph comprised of 2 Peter 1:12-15. Commentators debate whether it concludes vv3-11 or if it introduces vv16-21. When Peter says in v12 that he will always remind his readers “about these things,” do “these things” refer to what he has just said or what he is about to say? Can you see the difficulty?

There are also a few strange situations with chapter divisions. In the HCSB, chapters such as Galatians 4 and 1 John 3 begin in the middle of a paragraph. This suggests that those who added the chapter division felt there was a break in thought, but the newer translators disagreed.

In order to avoid these issues, try to pay minimal attention to these divisions and subtitles and remember that they are not original to the text. If you just can’t ignore them, they do print Bibles with no verse divisions and no subtitles and you might look into purchasing one.

Concluding Thoughts
Let me be clear: I have not written this to discourage you. I don’t want you to go away from this thinking, “Man, is what I’ve been reading even a Bible? Is it even anywhere close to what Paul or King David or any of the other biblical authors wrote?” Though each translation differs from its counterparts in certain ways, and though none are perfect, all have had a great amount of scholarly thought and effort put into them.

Instead, I have written this to inform you. I want you to understand how the Bible you read every day came about. I want you to be amazed that we can read biblical texts that were written so long ago. I want you to have a good working knowledge of Bible translation the next time you go to purchase a new one.

And in the end, no matter which translation of the Bible you use, I pray that every time you read it you are challenged and you are changed!

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Eschatological Confusion Part 6: Review and Conclusion

Eschatology

Well, now that we’ve looked at several end-time issues, it’s time to wrap up our study of eschatology. Let’s take a second to remember all we’ve discussed and then tie it all together.

In Part 1 we introduced the series with an overview of the issues.

In Part 2 we focused on the rapture. The three options for the timing of the rapture are pretribulation, midtribulation, and posttribulation. After examining the biblical evidence, we determined the rapture will most likely occur after the tribulation.

In Part 3 we discussed the millennial reign of Christ. The three positions for this event are premillennial, postmillennial, or amillennial. As we saw, choosing between these options is tough.

Hell and eternal punishment were dealt with in Part 4. The Scriptures, and especially Jesus, seem to describe hell as a place of literal and eternal punishment, opposed to those who see it as metaphorical or believe in annihilationism.

Finally, in Part 5 we turned our attention to the Book of Revelation. It’s prophecies can be interpreted according to one of three views: (1) Preterist; (2) Futurist; or (3) Idealist. Because Revelation is apocalyptic literature, the best way to interpret it is according to the futurist and idealist approaches.

Having identified and studied the main issues surrounding the end of times and eternity, the question is, “Now what?” What do we do about it? What do we take from it?

No matter where you stand on any of the issues, the main point of it all is this: Jesus Christ will return. And, as the apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 4:7a, “The end of all things is near.” Not only is He coming, but He’s coming soon. Peter followed up that statement with a “therefore,” meaning, “Here is what you do since the end is near…”

“Now the end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and disciplined for prayer. Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7-11; HCSB)

In light of Christ’s imminent return, Peter gives his readers four exhortations:

1. Be serious/clear-headed and disciplined for prayer.
Peter calls believers to be sober and alert and to devote themselves to prayer. This is in line with what Jesus said concerning His return in Luke 21:36, “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”

2. Maintain an intense love for each other.
A previous HCSB translation reads “keep your love for one another at full strength.” Believers need to be constantly stretching their love far and wide. Why? Because love covers a multitude of sins. If we love one another, we will overlook one another’s faults.

3. Be hospitable…without complaining.
Believers have always been called to take care of and meet the needs of others. But this is especially true in light of the end. And whatever we do for others, we better do it with a smile on our faces.

4. Use your spiritual gift(s) to serve others.
As believers, we receive gifts by the grace of God. The key here is to USE your gift(s). Think about it: if you give someone a birthday or Christmas gift, you don’t want them to sit it on their shelf and forget about it, you want them to use it. The same is true with God. He wants to see us using the gifts He has graciously given us. So having these gifts is not a privilege, it is a responsibility.

You might have noticed that each of these four things has to do with our relationship with God and with others. We need to pray to God and we need to use the gifts He has given us to love, serve, and be hospitable to others. And remember, all of this is prefaced by the fact that “The end of all things is near.”

So as believers, what do we do with all we know about eschatology? We don’t need to worry about it. We don’t need to argue about it. Instead, we need to be focused on praying and on serving others.

In conclusion, my prayer is that through this series your thoughts surrounding the end of time have been enlightened and enhanced. And as always, even if you disagree with my eschatological stance, my hope is that you have been challenged and changed by it all!

Eschatological Confusion Part 5: The Book of Revelation

Revelation

I think it goes without saying that no book in the Bible has been subject to a more varied interpretation than the sixty-sixth one: Revelation. Those in Christian circles either love it or fear it. They either read it all the time or not at all. But those who have read it (including myself), or have at least tried to, most likely lack a complete understanding. Therefore in Part 5 of this blog series entitled “Eschatological Confusion” we will turn our attention to this mysterious book.

Background
The name of the book is taken from its opening verse: “The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave Him to show His slaves what must quickly take place…” The word translated “revelation” is the Greek word ἀποκάλυψις (apocalypsis), from which we derive the English word apocalypse. According to BLB, the word means to disclose previously unknown truth, or literally to lay bare or make naked (click on this link to see the lexicon: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G602&t=HCSB). So right from the start we know that in this book God is going to reveal truth to those who read it about events that will soon take place.

We can gather more important information from the rest of 1:1 and into v2: “He (Jesus) sent it and signified it through His angel to His slave John, who testified to God’s word and to the testimony about Jesus Christ, in all he saw.” A man named John was used to record this revelation, a revelation which he “saw.” This means he had a vision, or several visions, of these events. In fact, the book of Revelation states fifty-four times that John “saw” something. But who was this John? Was he the same John who authored the gospel and the three short epistles? Some say it was a different John, yet the bulk of recent scholarship suggests that it was indeed John the apostle, who had already penned four other New Testament books. The second century church father Irenaeus considered John the apostle to be the author of Revelation. This is important because Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was a contemporary and a friend of John the apostle.

Interpretation
When it comes to the interpretation of this book, several things must be kept in mind. First of all, these visions were seen and this book was written at the end of the first century AD (ca. 95). Secondly, this book was addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor, which were located within the powerful Roman Empire. When we combine these two facts, we understand thirdly that these people were under the reign of the emperor Domitian, who advocated and practiced the persecution of believers. John references this persecution in 1:9, where he states, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation…” It is referenced again in 2:9 in the letter to Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty…” As with any other book of the Bible, we must always keep the situation of the original audience at the forefront of our minds when interpreting it.

Though not an exhaustive list, the fourth and final thing to keep in mind when interpreting Revelation is its genre. The sixty-six books of the Bible are composed of several different genres, such as narrative, poetry, prophecy, and epistle. The book of Revelation is a combination of three different genres. First of all, it is an apocalyptic book (remember, the word revelation comes from the Greek word meaning apocalypse). Apocalyptic literature, both inside and outside the Bible, uses numbers, symbols, and figurative language to convey its message. For this reason, it cannot and should not be interpreted literally. And though these symbols and figures may be frightening, it should be understood that apocalyptic literature was actually written to give hope. This book is not attempting to terrorize its readers with nightmares. Instead, it was written to give hope to those experiencing trials and tribulations (then and now).

This book also falls under the genre of prophecy. As we already saw in 1:1, the book was written to disclose things that will soon take place. Also, in 1:3 we read, “Blessed is the one who reads and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy…”

Thirdly, Revelation also contains epistolary features. 1:4-8 introduces the author and audience and includes a standard greeting, such as the letters of Paul. Also, the entirety of chapters 2 and 3 contain seven letters, one to each of the churches of Asia Minor (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea).

All of this information (including the author, audience, date, genres, and purpose of the book) should be plenty to get anyone on the right track when it comes to interpreting Revelation. Now, with all of this in mind, let’s look at three ways this book has been understood historically.

A Preterist View
A preterist interpretation of prophecy suggests that the events prophesied have already been fulfilled. So those who hold to a preterist view of Revelation believe that every single prophecy in the book has already occurred. But with all the events that still seem futuristic to most, how do they see them as already fulfilled? First of all, they date the writing of the book earlier than 95 AD. This allows them to say that all the prophecies were fulfilled within the first century and experienced by the original audience. Secondly, they look to the Jewish historians Josephus and Suetonius and see several events they recorded as the fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies. Even when it comes to the new creation of chapters 21 and 22, those holding to a preterist view say we are already experiencing it.

In favor of this view is the statement in 1:1 that these events must quickly or soon take place.

A Futurist View
It should be mentioned from the start that there are differing degrees of this approach. Some futurists say that none of the events spoken of in Revelation have been fulfilled, while others say some have and some have not. Understanding that this book was addressed to first century Roman residents, it would be difficult to see everything in the book as future. At the same time it is hard to deny that most of the events do seem still in the future, especially the events of chapters 19-22 concerning the return of the Lord, the judgment, and the new creation.

An Idealist View
This view takes to heart the fact that Revelation is apocalyptic literature. Interpreting it as such, those who adhere to this view see the events as mostly symbolic and as an attempt to lift the spirits of persecuted believers. Instead of looking for the fulfillment of each and every prophecy, the idealist steps back and takes a very wide-angled view. When this happens, Revelation can be summed up in one statement: Christ, and therefore believers, have secured the victory!

Where Do I Stand?
I am a huge advocate of interpreting biblical texts the way the original audience would have understood them, always taking the genre into consideration. When it comes to Revelation, this leads me to believe that a combination of the futurist and idealist approaches are the best way to go. I have no doubt that, even though 1:1 does mention things happening quickly, some of the events prophesied have yet to be fulfilled. At the same time, I don’t look for the fulfillment of every single stroke of every single letter. Revelation is best understood when a broad approach is taken. We don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. We don’t want to get bogged down in the details and miss the main point of the book. And what is that? The fact that Christ has triumphed over Satan, evil, and death and that believers will one day share in that victory for all eternity. According to 22:5 the saints will reign with Him “forever and ever.”

Conclusion
Revelation teaches us what the rest of the Bible has already taught us: God is a God of love and justice; He saves those who are His and sends His wrath upon those who are not. Only in the end, these things will happen on a grand scale and will last for all eternity. Those who are His will live with Him in the new creation, while those who are not will be in anguish.

My prayer is that with this information and guidance, you will no longer be afraid to open up the book of Revelation. And when you do, may you be challenged and may you be changed!

Christian Relationships

For the past few months I have been teaching through the letter of 1 Peter. I have been taking it slow and really delving into the Greek language and syntax, something I call teaching “seminary style.” I believe it has been very rewarding for myself and the church. It just goes to show that when you rush through a chapter or a book there is a lot you might be missing.

What is fascinating about 1 Peter is the way the first two and a half chapters can be outlined (1:3-3:12). After a brief introduction in 1:1-2, Peter goes on in 1:3-12 to explain to his audience how great their salvation is. He assures them that their “new birth into a living hope” (1:3) guarantees them of their salvation, which is “imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading,” and being “kept in heaven” for them (1:4)—no person or thing is ever going to take it away.

But guess what? With great privilege comes great responsibility. Peter goes on in 1:13-3:12 to explain to the believers three different relationships they have as a result of their salvation. First of all, in 1:13-21, they have a relationship with God, their Savior. In 1:15-16 Peter says that believers are to be holy in all their conduct. Why? Because God said so. More than once in Leviticus He said, “Be holy because I am holy.” In light of our salvation, we are to live holy lives in the sight of God.

Along the same lines, 1:17 commands believers to conduct themselves in fear. And all throughout 1 Peter, fear refers to a healthy fear of God. The fear of God is sometimes a confusing subject, which stems from the fact that it covers two extremes. On the one hand, to fear God means to honor Him and respect Him and be in awe of Him. But on the other hand, it does carry the idea of literal fear. Why should we be afraid of God? Because He is our judge (1:17); He is the One who holds our destiny in His hands. That in and of itself will make us honor Him and live in awe of Him, so you can see how the two extremes fit together.

So we see that the privilege of our salvation comes with the responsibility to live a life pleasing to God.

Secondly, in 1:22-2:10, Peter discusses a believer’s relationship with other believers (specifically their local church gathering). The main command is found in 1:22, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” And if a group of believers truly loves one another, then, as commanded in 2:1, there will be no wickedness, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, or slander among them.

In 2:9a Peter reminds believers of who they are. As a group, as a church, as a local congregation, they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession.” And then, in 2:9b, with his “so that…” statement, Peter gives us the reason for this. Why, as a group, are we God’s chosen people? “So that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”

Here we see that the privilege of our salvation comes with the responsibility to love other believers and join them in praising God.

Finally, in 2:11-3:12, Peter addresses believers’ relationships with outsiders, those considered pagans, those who are not believers. He begins in 2:11-12 with an introductory statement commanding believers to “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles (non-believers), so that (purpose statement) in a case where they speak against you as those who do evil, they may, by observing your good works, glorify God in a day of visitation.” In this we see two things: (1) Our conduct needs to be outstanding and God-fearing whether we are among believers or non-believers, and (2) The goal of that conduct toward outsiders is so that they might observe our lifestyle and glorify God as a result (including their salvation.)

From 2:13-3:7, Peter goes on to give three specific examples. The first is a citizen’s relationship with the government. I know lots of people have a difficult time dealing with our current US government. Let me tell you something: It is no worse now than it was for Peter’s audience living in first-century Rome under the authority of Caesar and his client kings. And Peter’s command to believers is to submit to their government, even specifically to Caesar the emperor/king (3:13). Why should believers submit to pagan rulers, whether back then or still today? “For it is God’s will that you, by doing good, silence the ignorance of foolish people” (3:15). As God’s people we are to submit to our governing authorities. The only case in which this command is to be broken is when the government contradicts the word of God. When that becomes the situation, we should say with Peter and the apostles: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

The second example is within the master/slave relationship. The situation Peter has in mind is a believing slave under the authority of an unbelieving master. Peter commands slaves in this situation to submit to their masters (2:18), even if they are mistreated and are suffering. Why? Because by doing this they will be following the example of Christ, who also suffered unjustly (2:21-25.) Also, based on the introductory statement in 2:12 (see above), the intended result is for the master to observe the slaves behavior, understand that it is because of his relationship with Christ, and be converted.

The last example involves the husband/wife marriage relationship. In 3:1 wives are commanded to submit to their husbands. Once again, the situation Peter has in mind is that of a believing wife and an unbelieving husband. Why should a Christian wife submit to her unbelieving husband? Once again Peter has a “so that…” statement: “so that…they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live, when they observe your pure, reverent (God-fearing) lives” (3:1-2). In a similar fashion, husbands (believing husbands, that is), should show their wives “honor” (3:7). Why? Because both husbands and wives are “co-heirs of the grace of life.” Even though the Bible prescribes that the husband is the leader of the marriage and the family, both husband and wife stand on equal ground when it comes to Christ. Both are in need of His grace. They are co-heirs of eternal life.

In 3:8-12 Peter summarizes our relationships with outsiders, commanding us not to repay “evil for evil or insult for insult” (3:9) but to instead, as Jesus said, “Bless those who curse us.” In fact, Peter says that as believers we were “called for this” (3:9). Once again, it all goes back to the fact that no matter how we have been treated, our responsibility is to treat people in a manner that points them to Christ.

In this case, we see that our salvation comes with the responsibility to live our lives in a way that others, especially non-believers, can easily tell that we serve Christ and strive to please Him with every step we take and every word we speak.

When you think about it, that is a pretty good way to look at our relationships as believers. First of all, we have a relationship with our Savior. Because He has graciously saved us, He has expectations of us. We are not saved to sit around, we are saved to serve Him. Secondly, we have relationships with other believers. Fellow believers need to love one another earnestly and treat each other with respect. And finally, we also have relationships with those who are not part of the body of Christ. Our main goal when it comes to them is to see their repentance and salvation.

I know this might be a lot to take in, but take a second to think about it. I’m sure it won’t take you long to identify relationships you have that fit into these categories. And once you identify them, compare the way you handle those relationships with the way the word of God instructs us to. How do they match up? What may need to be changed? May we be challenged and may we be changed by God and His word!