Lou: I hear you saying that James gives us a picture of what happens in our lives when we are truly willing to listen. But here’s another question. Trust sounds like something we have to do. But according to the Bible, doesn’t God do it all? Isn’t faith itself a gift from God?
Graham: It is certainly described in that way in the Bible. “Faith is a gift of God” (Eph 2:8, see also Romans 12:3). This is so important that it is a large part of the next chapter in this book: “God’s Way of Restoring Trust.” In fact, God gives us nearly everything, I believe. He gives us life. He gives us minds to weigh the evidence. He gives us the evidence. He gives us the freedom. He gives us everything except one important piece, He does not cast the vote. If in this great war, God were to manipulate us so we would vote the way He wanted, Satan would cry foul.
God does not win this great controversy by “stuffing the ballot box” through the gift of faith. If faith is the decisive thing, you have the question, “Why does He put faith in some and not others?” If faith is the decisive thing, there’s no responsibility. A person could say, “I don’t have faith. You know why? God didn’t give me any.” But the decisive thing is that God gives us everything, but He doesn’t cast the vote. That’s up to us. That is what freedom is. That’s where responsibility is. And I like it this way. It’s a little scary, but would you want it any other way? As I mentioned, we’ll go a little deeper into these things in the next couple of chapters.
Lou: The question has come up, Graham, how do you decide what translations to use? Are you just picking out the one that says it the way that you want it?
Graham: That’s a very fair question. I have more than a hundred and fifty different English translations and when I prepare a presentation like this, I have versions all over the table and the floor. It’s true that I am looking for what I want, but what do I want? I always begin with the original. I have taught biblical languages for years: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. What I want is a version that will be as neutral as possible.
In the previous chapter, for example, I mentioned Romans 8:3. Some versions translate it, “God sent His Son as a sacrifice for sin,” or “to atone for sin.” Those are very interpretive. The Greek of Romans 8:3 just says, “He sent His Son concerning sin.” So I chose two versions that expressed the original idea in a neutral way. One was, “He sent His Son to deal with sin.” That’s beautifully neutral. It lets the reader decide how He dealt with it. The other version said, “He sent His Son to do away with sin.” If I can’t find a translation that is truly neutral, I use several to show the various possible meanings. In the chapter where we discuss the Bible (Chapter Five: “The Record of the Evidence”), we’ll go into that in more detail.
Lou: All right. But what if I only have one? You say you have a hundred and fifty. I have maybe twenty or thirty, and I don’t think my wife is going to let me buy enough to catch up with you.
Graham: Unless your one translation is one of the really extraordinary ones, like the New Testament Revised by the Spirits, or the New Testament Translated From Numerology, you should be OK. Any of the mainline versions are very trustworthy, if you read the Bible as a whole. If you make everything depend on a single verse, on the other hand, what if the comma is in the wrong place? It is safer to put many passages together. But the safest approach of all is in reading the Bible as a whole. When you approach things that way, almost every version is dependable.
Lou: Here’s a question that can be related to the earlier chapters of this book. What did Jesus mean when he told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:4, 9). A lot of people say things like “I’m a born-again Christian.” What does that mean?
Graham: Nicodemus himself even asked what it meant. Notice that Jesus did not say “you must be forgiven” or “you must be justified” or you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Rather “born again” is more like what David said in the fifty-first Psalm. “Born again” means having a new heart and a new spirit (Psa 51:10), to be changed from a rebel to someone who can be trusted, to be changed from a stubborn person (who is unwilling to listen) to someone who loves, trusts, and admires God. To experience all of these is like being born all over again. And that’s why Jesus used such a dramatic picture.
That’s also the meaning of being converted. You turn around and go the other way like you sometimes do driving a car. Being converted means to turn around and go the other way. It is a change from being stubborn and rebellious to someone who is humbly willing to listen, love, trust, and admire. Someone who does not want to miss a single word of what God may be saying. One way to describe this kind of change is “being born again.” I think that Jesus was chiding Nicodemus for being a little slow to pick up on something that he should have known very well.