May 04, 2006

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 1: Plan of Attack

There has been a lot floating around about the doctrine of inerrancy recently. I posted on this subject not long ago, responding to a post at World of Sven and a lengthy series at Chrisendom. Since then, there has been a second World of Sven post, and also a post from the No Kool-Aid Zone about just how important inerrancy is.

This is a problem that I've been thinking seriously about for some time. Actually, I started by asking the question "just why do I believe in the Bible?" then realized that the answer to that question would have a big effect on exactly what I should believe ABOUT the Bible. I do believe that there is good reason to accept Scripture as an authoritative source of divinely revealed truth. I haven't got all the kinks out of the arguments, so I'm hoping for a little help along the way, but what I propose to do is a five (or more?) part series laying out an argument for the authoritative nature of the canonical Christian Scriptures (we'll get into what counts as 'canonical' along the way). This may take me quite a while to get through, as I'm about to start finals, and still have one more term paper to write here in Athens, then will be moving back to the States on the 19th, but by breaking it into so many pieces, I hope to have manageable chunks and be able to keep working on it. Major influences on the arguments I'm going to make are Richard Swinburne's book Revelation (I posted my first response immediately after finishing it here) and a series of teachings on the subject by John Piper, which I downloaded from the Theopedia article on the inerrancy of the Bible. I hope to accumulate more sources along the way. In particular I'm planning on reading Calvin, the Westminster Confession, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy on this subject.

My plan for this series is outlined below. If I change my plan, I will update this post to reflect it. I will also link each post from here.

  • Part 1: Plan of Attack is the post you are reading right now, which outlines how the subject will be pursued.
  • Part 2: The Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth will argue in a manner based heavily on Swinburne that there is good reason to suppose that the life and teachings of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth represent a revelation of God to mankind. The canonical gospels will be used in the same way we use any other historical sources, but not assumed to be inerrant. The legitimacy of this usage will be discussed briefly.
  • Part 3: Jesus' Witness to the Hebrew Bible will argue, still treating the gospels as fallible historical sources, that part of the content of Jesus' teaching was that the Hebrew Bible as used in the original Hebrew (NOT the Septuagint, and NOT including the 'Apocrypha or 'deuterocanon') by the Jewish community in Palestine was also a revelation of God. How exactly he treated this revelation will be examined. One of the kinks arises here: it is difficult to determine the specifics of Jesus' theory of revelation, but an argument can be made that he accepted a traditional Jewish view which claims that the Hebrew Bible is divided into three sections (Torah, or Law, Neviim, or Prophets, and Ketuvim, or Writings - whence the ackronym "Tanakh"), each of which possesses a different degree of inspiration. This argument is troubling (for Evangelicals who see the whole Bible as equally inspired) but at this stage, I think, ultimately inconclusive. It may come back to haunt us in part 4 after we've established that the gospels are more than just historical sources and are forced to take every sentence of them more seriously.
  • Part 4: The Church's Witness to the Scriptures will examine the status of the Church as a divinely authorized authoritative herald of the revelation of God to man in Christ, using Jesus' own words in the gospels (still treated as mere historical sources at this point) to back this up. It will then ask just what the Church has witnessed about the Scriptures and the canon. The big problems come along here, as it is extremely difficult to determine just what the Church is and what it has proclaimed. For purposes of the argument, the Church is the continuation of the group Jesus founded when he appointed the apostles to spread his message, but which groups are continuous? The Bible's witness is, of course, decisive, since it tells us how Jesus and the apostles conceived of the Church, and it doesn't tend to support the idea of the Church being some specific hierarchy or institution, but it does support the idea that the Church is manifested in the world in the form of local gatherings of believers. There are groups that have at least SOME historical claim to continuity with the apostles (note that I'm not talking about the doctrine of apostolic succession as it is understood by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches) which have different canons and different views of what it means for a book to be canonical. However, there are certain books that all of the important candidates for this continuity agree are divinely inspired, and we can get a pretty good idea, from the writings of the apostles themselves and from Christian writers close to them what the true Church must mean when it declares a collection of books to be "God-breathed." All in all, I think this historical argument, when it has the others to build on, gets us very close to the view of (small o) orthodox Christianity, as I understand it, but it doesn't quite get us there. I'm hoping others will be able to offer improvements upon it.
  • Part 5: The Argument From Religious Experience will examine religious experiences connected with the Bible, and ask what they might tell us about its inspired status. I will necessarily focus on my own experience, but will try to keep my statements general enough that some other people out there will have had similar experiences so that the argument applies to them as well. This argument can serve as a verification of a canon once we've got it, but I don't think it is much help establishing a canon in the first place, because we can't experiment on each book individually. Of course, there are some exceptions. For instance, the canonicity of the Epistle of Jude is disputed, and I have had 'religious experiences' connected specifically with that book, which helps to make me more certain of its canonicity (though if I had the same experience with a book that, as far as the witness of the Church, was undisputedly NOT part of the canon, it wouldn't be enough for me to even consider the possibility of THAT book being inspired in the way that the canonical books are).

And that's the argument. If you have any suggestions of issues to deal with, directions to take, or sources to read along the way, please let me know. I expect to write part 2 some time in the next two weeks (before I leave Greece), but no promises.

Posted by kpearce at 02:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 02, 2006

"Three Persons, One Substance" - Paradox or Solution?

I seem to have opened quite the can of worms in my post on Church dogma the other day when I said:

There seem to be some clear (to me) cases of Christian dogma that are not obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture. For example, consider the formulation of the trinity as three persons (Greek hupostaseis and/or prosopa, Latin personae) in one substance/essence (Greek ousia, Latin essentia and/or substantia). This type of formulation is extremely common in the Christian tradition, and is derived primarily from the Chalcedonian Creed. However, I don't think we can say that it is obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture; that is, there is no reason to say that someone looking at Scripture by some particular method that did not include granting some authority to tradition would lead many people to come independently to this conclusion. What is in Scripture is this paradox: the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, the Holy Spirit is fully God, there is only one God. Any number of formulations of the solution could be compatible with the Scripture, but one in particular is generally believed to be part of Christian dogma.

There were many good responses to this, but the one I want to talk about is these few lines from vangelicmonk:
I would posit that the doctrine of the Trinity of three persons and one substance is not a solution for the paradox, but just a restating of what the paradox is from scripture. I don't think Orthodoxy has gone too far from that. Just a restatement that we mostly accept as mystery.

I think the danger comes to when we do try to explain that mystery. Like modalism where we say that the Father becomes Jesus and then the Holy Spirit. Or JW answer which is Jesus is not God but something else and the H.S. is just a power. In this particular dogma, when the mystery is tried to be solved, it creates problems.

Now let me be perfectly clear here: I absolutely do believe and am convinced that God exists as three co-equal and co-eternal Persons in a single Substance or Essence. It'sjust that I'm not always sure what I mean when I say that, and I've recently had some doubts about where that doctrine comes from. It seems to me, as I said, to be a clear case of Christian dogma, but what do we mean by it? Is it just a restatement of the paradox from Scripture?

As I see it, there are two ways that we can treat this statement. First, we can say something like "we know from Scripture that God is three in one sense, and yet one in another sense; let's call the concept under which he is three 'person' and the concept under which he is one 'substance.'" If we do this, we are doing nothing but restating the paradox from Scripture, as vangelicmonk says. However, we can't be sure that we are using the words 'person' and 'substance' in this context in the same way we use them in other contexts. This is perfectly ok with a lot of Christian thinkers. For instance, Thomas Aquinas thinks that when we speak about God we are always speaking by analogy. So, a Thomist could say some thing like: "when we say that God is three persons in one substance, we mean that there is some concept roughly analogous to the concept of 'person' as we ordinarily use it, such that if we consider God under that concept we will rightly state that he is three, but there is another concept, one roughly analogous to the concept of 'substance' such that if we consider God under it we will rightly say that God is one." (I'm not a Thomist, nor have I studied a lot of Medieval philosophy, so I'm not saying that a Thomist would say precisely that, but merely someone who agrees with Aquinas on this particular point could say that sort of thing.) Now, this makes a good deal of sense. Furthermore, the part where the threeness is analogous to 'person' can indeed be supported, to some degree, in Scripture: the Father and the Son are pictured talking to each other (e.g. in John 17) not in the way we talk to ourselves, but in the way we talk to others, and Jesus seems to speak of the Holy Spirit as though he were at least "roughly analogous" to a person in these latter chapters of John as well. There are other similar examples throughout Scripture. The concept of 'substance' is a much more difficult one; sometimes I'm not even sure I know what a substance (in the metaphysics sense, as opposed to the chemistry sense) is, but we can just go with it for now. So, perhaps we should say that a statement like the one above is a matter of dogma, but there is room for a great deal of disagreement as to just how good the analogies are. This seems like a very defensible position to me.

Alternatively, we could say that when we say that God exists as three Persons in one Substance we mean these words in the same way we mean them whenever we use them rigorously in this kind of metaphysical context (and statements about God are metaphysical statements). This needn't make any particular metaphysical system a matter of dogma (in fact, it had better not), it would simply say that if you are an orthodox Christian and you have a metaphysical system, your metaphysical system had better be able to account for this in its definitions of persons and substance. Now, the Bible doesn't use this kind of language (in fact, it doesn't even use English), so this couldn't possibly come from the Bible, and therefore can't be dogma under the Protestant idea, unless we think that Protestantism has room for saying that a disputable interpretation of Scripture can become dogma due to the authoritative status of the Church (that is, the true spiritual Church, not any particular hierarchy) as an interpreter, provided we realize that the Church continues to be less authoritative than the Bible itself. In this case, we might say that the formulation in English "three Persons, one Substance" was a matter of dogma, since all legitimate Christian communities that speak English affirm this (if, in fact, the broad, sweeping statement I've just made is true). Alternatively, of course, it could be that the Council of Chalcedon is an authoritative interpretation of Scripture, which might make its formulation, in the original Greek, a matter of dogma. I am of the belief that the word choice in the Chalcedonian Creed comes from Aristotle, so I hope eventually to go through Aristotle's Metaphysics and look at how each of the terms is used and see what meaning I can derive from Chalcedon on that basis, but I have no time right now, so let's assume for the sake of argument that the English formulation "three Persons in one Substance," where Person and Substance are used in precisely the same sense as in other metaphysical assertions, is a matter of dogma.

If this is the case, what we will do is proceed with an inquiry into the meaning of these terms by the methodology of analytic metaphysics (or some such) and then apply the results to doctrine. Note that, in this case, what the results have to be is not proscribed by dogma, but merely that if we get our metaphysics right with regard to other persons and substances, then we can apply the same definitions to God. It doesn't say under what circumstances our metaphysics is 'right.'

Now, I have argued previously that persons are in fact events, or, more specifically, connected series of mental states. A common definition of substance in metaphysics is "a center of causal power." Furthermore, I believe that God is atemporal, rather than merely everlasting. If we combine all three of these claims, we can get a very clear picture of God as Trinity: God, we will say, is a single center of causal power, existing in three separate eternal complex mental states. This is roughly analogous (here we go back to analogy) to three minds controlling a single body, but always agreeing on how to move it. God is only one set of causal powers, so it is a metaphysical impossibility that any Person of the Trinity should will anything by himself, without the other two. They must all will in unison. Since they cannot, metaphysically, act other than in unison, only having one set of causal powers, they are a single Being or Substance, but since there are three mental states, there are three Persons.

Now, even this detailed explanation doesn't really solve the mystery, it merely speculates on the meaning of three Persons in one Substance. I hope that it falls within the realm of orthodoxy, because I sort of tentatively accept it, and I would like to think that I am not a heretic, but it is certainly closer to wild speculation than to dogma.

The point that I'm trying to make is this: if God has in fact revealed that he exists as three Persons in one Substance, then he must expect us to understand something by the words 'person' and 'substance' in this context, and we should try to figure out what that is, as I did briefly above. If, on the other hand, God has revealed to us only that he is three in one, and we have simply plugged in the words 'person' and 'substance' as ciphers having no meaning external to the formulation in order to help us talk about it, then we should totally abandon this line of inquiry, because there is no way we can no anything about the internal nature of God apart from revelation. So this gives us basically three possible understandings of the formulation: (1) 'person' and 'substance' carry no external meaning into the formulat and are merely plugged in as a matter of convenience, (2) 'person' and 'substance' carry external meaning only by analogy to their ordinary usage, or (3) 'person' and 'substance' are used within the formulation in the same way they are ordinarily used outside of it. For each of these it is fair to ask whether the formulation is true under it, and also whether it is a matter of dogma under it. Each has problems.

Interpretation (1) can certainly be proven from Scripture, and is therefore certainly true and a matter of Christian dogma. However, if (1) is dogma and neither of the others are, then someone might refuse to say that God was "three Persons in one Substance," on account of the fact that it was misleading since these words had outside usages and we were here using them in ways unrelated to those outside usages. This person might wish instead to say that God was "three Wizboons in one Poobam" or some such, and we could not then consider this person a heretic. Does anyone else think this is a problem?

Interpretation (2) can be supported from Scripture, and I think the 'person' part can probably even be proven. However, I'm not sure the substance part can, but maybe I should ask someone who has a better idea what the heck a metaphysical substance is to figure that out. Besides this, you could still have someone insisting on saying that God was "three Wizboons in one Poobam" be orthodox, he would just have to acknowledge that a wizboon is sort of like a person, and a poobam is sort of like a substance. That actually doesn't seem that problematic to me, on the whole. I think interpretation (2) may be the best alternative.

I don't think interpretation (3) can be proven from Scripture, and the Scriptural support for it is very limited. However, it certainly doesn't contradict Scripture, and it may have the authority of the true Church behind it (though my Protestant ecclesiology makes that very difficult to determine).

So, to all of you who commented on the Church dogma post, and to all of you who didn't, which alternative do you take? Can the problems I've listed be solved, or are they not really problems? Or is there another alternative I'm not seeing?

Posted by kpearce at 03:46 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 18, 2006

A Quick Note on Church Government

Suzanne has posted some brief comments on my post on The Language of Athenian Democracy in the New Testament, wherein I have learned that the Exclusive Brethren denomination has used similar arguments for their decision not to name elders. I don't have time to deal with Church government in great detail right at the moment, but I do want to point out that I did not intend to deal with that question in my previous post on the 'democratic' nature of the Church. What I did mean to point out was that the early Church accepted everyone regardless of their worldly status, and, furthermore, that this worldly status was seen as being of no importance to one's status within the Church. We are all equal in our status in Christ. In fact the Greek concept of isonomia, or equality before law, which was regarded as the cornerstone of democracy, is very central to Christianity. All human beings are equal before God's law - equally condemned! However, we as Christians are likewise equally redeemed in Christ (Romans 3:23-24). None of us is less condemned without Christ, or more saved with him, than any other.

However, these 'democratic' concepts in no way undermine the idea of there being offices of Church government. The office of elder seems to have been around from the very beginning of the Church, and the office of deacon was appointed not long after (in Acts 6, I suppose). I do think that the New Testament uses elder (presbuteros) and overseer/bishop (episkopos) interchangeably. They come to mean two different things around the early third century, if I recall correctly. But the point is that the apostles themselves appointed people to these positions, and there is never any discussion of these people being chosen by a majority vote (although the people do put forward candidates for deacon in the passage in Acts, then have them confirmed by the apostles). I think the concept of electing spiritual leaders within the Church is contrary to Scripture but, as I said, I don't have time to make a detailed argument right now, so let me simply point out that the use of the words ekklesia and kerux is certainly not sufficient evidence to draw such a conclusion from, particularly in light of the evidence to the contrary, and I did not mean to suggest such a thing.

Posted by kpearce at 01:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 17, 2006

Biblical Inerrancy

Update (4/17/2006)
There seem to have been some errors in my post on inerrancy. (How ironic!) I would like to take some steps to correct these.

First: the Council of Nicaea did NOT proclaim that canon of Scripture. This is a widely circulated myth (google it, and see esp. this article). In fact, the canon of Scripture we have was never proclaimed by any ecumenical council, and several books continue to be disputed (see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Canon of the New Testament". I'm still working on what this means theologically.

Second: as you can see from the comments, there is some dispute about what is meant by inerrancy as opposed to infallibility. Based on a quick survey, it seems that many dictionaries define the two terms interchangeably, but those that distinguish between them give something infallibility if it is impossible that it should go wrong, and inerrancy if it does not actually go wrong. However, in popular theological discourse (including at least some writings of professional theologians - at any rate, according to Theopedia F.F. Bruce, et al., in their book The Origin of the Bible argue that the Bible could conceivably be infallible without being free of error, implying that inerrancy is in fact the stronger term) the terms are often used in ways similar to my definitions below. This does indeed confuse the issue immensely. Of course, for purposes of this post you'll have to just take these terms the way I've defined them. In the future, I'll be sure not to use them without explicitly deifining them, and work harder to make sure that I'm using them in the most precise and least misleading way possible.

Original Post (4/4/2006)
World of Sven's Theology and Biblical Studies blog is responding (with general agreement) to a six part series at Chrisendom arguing against the inerrancy of Scripture (both writers are believers, and Chris at least self-identifies as an Evangelical). Since I'm coming into this discussion late (after it seems to be over, in fact) I'm going to go through each stage of the argument in turn.

First, let me begin by saying that my view of Scripture is something that I've been thinking long and hard about recently, and I am seriously struggling with the question of why exactly we should believe in it, and what else we should believe as a result. To be more clear, it is quite apparent to me, from experience, that there is something unique, miraculous, supernatural about the text of the Bible, but I am reevaluating exactly how we should understand this. I think the best argument that I have heard for belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture is something along the lines of that given in Richard Swinburne's book, Revelation. I discussed a modified version, which corrected for what I see as ecclesiological errors in Swinburne, some time ago here. The thing that has led me to a serious reevaluation of my views is the fact that this argument necessarily also establishes the authoritative (infallibe?) character of at least some elements of Christian 'tradition.' Certainly it gives at least 'quasi-scriptural status' to the proclamations of the First Council of Nicaea (325 - this is where we have the Canon of Scripture first proclaimed; the Nicene Creed as we have it today was actually proclaimed at a later council, but an early form of it, with less detail on the Church and the Holy Spirit, was proclaimed here), and I'm not at all certain how much else tradition comes along with it. The further forward in history we go, it becomes more and more difficult to identify the proclamation of the true Church, and I'm not even sure what the status of that proclamation is.

Meanwhile, back on inerrancy. Chris seems to understand inerrancy in a fairly weak form, as simply saying that the Bible is always right about everything (see part 1). I would call this something like 'total infallibility,' and oppose it to (1) qualified infallibility, or (2) inerrancy. I understand qualified infallibility to mean that the Bible is never wrong about certain things (e.g. theology, salvation, ethics, etc.) but may be wrong about other things (e.g. history, science, etc.). I understand inerrancy to mean that the Bible (whether we mean the autographs, the Masoretic Text + Textus Receptus, the Septuagint + Textus Receptus, or something else) is exactly letter-perfect what God wanted to say (what, precisely, that means as far as the content and style is questionable, but certainly, from the perspective of the Christian doctrines on the character of God, it will imply total infallibility).

A further distinction, drawn from Swinburne, is needed: if God chooses to state things in terms of false cultural assumptions, he does not err, provided that the false assumptions are part of the form and not part of the content. For instance, when English speakers say "the sun came up," we do not state what is false, despite the fact that the sun remained stationary while the earth rotated. The 'flat earth' implications of certain Scriptural passages can be, in my opinion, dismissed in this way, as can the implications that one thinks with his large intestine or feels with his spleen.

Now, as long as this proviso is taken into account, I'm committed to either inerrancy or total infallibility (I presently accept the former, but wouldn't be terribly upset if some argument persuaded me to switch to the latter), so let me see if I can respond to the objections, at least in some limited form.

First, Chris, part 1: here Chris argues that inerrancy has not always been believed by Christians. He cites Origen and Luther, which isn't going to get him anywhere with me. Both say a lot of heretical things, in my opinion. Calvin certainly believed in inerrancy, or at least total infallibility. (Note: please do not assume from the fact that I think Calvin is a much better theologian than Luther that I am a Calvinist. I am not.) Let's look briefly at what some early Christians say.

First, there is the Apostle Paul. When he refers to 'Scripture' we can assume that he means at least the Hebrew Bible (in the original Hebrew, or in the Septuagint? It isn't clear). There is reason to suppose that he also views Luke as 'Scripture,' from 1 Timothy 5:18 where he begins "For the Scripture says," and proceeds to quote first Deuteronomy 25:4 and then Luke 10:7. I suppose it is possible that Paul and Luke are quoting a common source, but if so, that source is neither the Hebrew Bible nor the Septuagint. Since Paul accepted Luke as Scripture it is likely he accepted some other early Christian writings, but we have no way of knowing which ones. Paul then gives us 2 Timothy 3:16. This verse, however, does not state inerrancy. Rather, it says that Scripture is 'God-breathed' (Gr. theopneustos) and useful for various purposes. What exactly 'God-breathed' means is a difficult question, as the compound is an apparent coinage, and the verb pneo, from which it is compounded, simply means 'breathe' and has no deep spiritual connotations in ordinary Greek. So, all we can really say about Paul is that he believes Scripture and the Holy Spirit (pneuma is indeed derived from pneo) to be intimately related, and he believes Scripture to be sufficient for our spiritual needs.

Second there are the early Patristics. (Note: I'm working from the book A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. David Bercott) Clement of Rome refers to some Scriptures being "true utterances of the Holy Spirit." (1.17) Justin Martyr says that the Holy Spirit "descend[ed] from heaven and use[d] these righteous mean as an instrument like a harp or lyre" to reveal the truth of God to us (1.276). This sounds an aweful lot like inerrancy (as opposed to either qualified or total infallibility) to me: the writers of Scripture are tools (presenting themselves willingly) used by God to present his Word. God uses, rather than ignores, their individual characteristics, but nevertheless he brings it about that his Word is written. Again, Athenagoras also uses the image of a musical instrument (2.132-133). The first clear statement of something like 'qualified infallibility' I have in my book is from the Muratorian Fragment (c. 200 AD) which says that although in the various gospels "different matters are taught us," the differences are not important because "all things are related under one imperial Spirit." (5.603) Hippolytus, a western writer of the late 2nd/early 3rd centuries, again uses the musical instrument metaphor (5.204). The Fathers have a great deal to say about Scripture, but what the above shows is that the sort of account of inspiration that leads to inerrancy is NOT new (although the explicit statement of something like inerrancy probably occurs for the first time fairly late). The early Christians (as early as the second century!) believed that the Scriptures were 'God-breathed,' and that this meant that the human writers were instruments with which God played the symphony that is Scripture. Every writer's individual character is used to good effect, but God is nonetheless the musician, the author, and the authority behind the end result.

In part 2, Chris claims that the Bible itself does not directly assert it's own inerrancy. I concede this point (see the above discussion of Paul). However, he never presents an argument for his claim that "it can be conclusively proved that scripture is not inerrant, and the bible's own witness to this is decisive!" He makes this claim again in part 6, but again fails to support it. I would be very interesting to hear this argument in more detail.

In part 3 of Chris's series, he points to a collection of alleged contradictions in Scripture. This is a topic exegetes have dealth with ad nauseam, so I'm not going to try here. Suffice it to say that nearly all of the issues brought up have, in my opinion, acceptable solutions, but the genealogical discrepancies are genuinely troubling to me. If one has strong enough reason to believe in inerrancy then the difficulties can be overcome. However, the solutions are sometimes convoluted enough as to require very strong reasons for inerrancy, so the objection is not something to be ignored.

In part 4, Chris argues that not all of the alleged errors/contradictions can be attributed to scribal mistakes. I concede. However, as I have said, I think that in general other solutions exist.

It seems to have been at this point that Sven jumped in. In Sven's post, two additional objections to inerrancy are brought up:

  1. "Most views of inerrancy and inspiration are a kind of scriptural Apolinarianism." What he means to say is that people often lose sight of the human element in the Scriptures, and the human element of the Scriptures is just as important to a Christian understanding of Scripture as the human element of Christ is to our Christology. I think that this is a legitimate concern, but applies only to sloppy formulations and sloppy thinking about the subject. Most Evangelicals I know affirm that God used the individuating characteristics of the human authors to bring it about that His Word would be written. This is not a doctrinal problem, but more of a 'devotional' problem; that is, it has to do not with the abstract formulations but with the thinking habits certain Christains get into.

  2. "Views of inerrancy do not arise in the biblical texts or the biblical period themselves, they arise from modernist dualism." This is similar to the claim from Chris's part 1 (see above). I think Sven's statements are helpful and bring up important points, but I have to take exception to his way of framing the issue. He begins with this: "By 'modernist dualism' I mean the Enlightenment worldview in which God (if he existed at all) was 'up there' in some transcendent sense whilst human beings remained 'down below', quite separate from the divine dwelling." This view has nothing to do with the Enlightenment. It comes from ancient (pre-Christian) Greek philosophy, and came to the fore in Christian theological disputes in the Greek East in the 14th century, long before the enlightenment. Thomas Aquinas also is 'guilty,' if it is in fact guilt, of this kind of thinking. However, what Sven says next, is that certain forms of inerrancy have been developed in order to 'divinize' Scripture in order to bring the divine to earth. From a Christian perspective this is seen to be ludicrous as soon as it is clearly stated. God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ in whom God is revealed to all, and Scripture is not a replacement for Christ (although depending on our reading of John 1 it may be identical with Christ in some very confusing sense). I do think Sven is right to say that the real revelation of God is Jesus Christ himself, but this view needn't undermine inerrancy.

In part 5, Chris argues that inerrancy promotes a generally low view of Scripture, because we view all revelation as propositional and cease to have a living encounter. I do not think this criticism is valid. The Protestant/Evangelical emphasis on propositional infallibility has quite likely had this effect, but that does not make the doctrine itself flawed. It may well be true that the Bible is propositionally infallible but nevertheless "living and active." The important - even critical - truth that this criticism does point to is that the Bible is not only a repository of propositional truth but rather a living encounter with God.

Finally, in part 6, the podcast, Chris sets forth the doctrine of Scripture that he accepts, which is the proclamation of the Second Vatican Council: "The books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures." I think Chris understands this passage as a form of what I have called qualified infallibility. He understands the word 'salvation' very broadly to mean not merely a path to heaven, but God's total rescue of mankind from corruption (that is, to include both salvation and sanctification). He also points out that Scripture is (as discussed above) more than merely a repository of propositional truth. He says, "these texts, then, need to be treated as an invitation to trusting belief in that to which they point." He also asserts that the inspiration of Scripture is not simply a statement about how the texts came about, but also has to do with what happens when individuals and communities of believers read the text and God speaks through it. Chris says that a high view of Scripture will mean that we trust that God speaks to us through the text, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we can analyze the Bible scientifically or philosophically by taking it apart piece by piece with our intellect and come to absolute truth in this way. He speaks repeatedly of "the God-givenness of a generally accurate text."

In general, these arguments have not had the effect of shaking my belief in inerrancy. However, I think it is important that we engage some of the issue brought up here. In particular, we must not limit our understanding of Scripture to its propositional value. It is a tool by which God reveals himself to individuals. It is not a dead thing, but the Living Word of God. However, I believe that one of the primary reasons God chose to reveal his Word in written form was to endow the revelation with a degree of obejectivity (see my previous post), and this will fail if it is not reliable as a source of propositional truth (at least as far as I can see). If Chris were right in his characterization of Scripture, it would not be clear to me why it was put in written form at all. Furthermore, I think that Sven and Chris both limit God too much in assuming that inerrancy necessarily eliminates the human element. God is quite capable of working with the human element to bring his Word into the world without error. There is a fine line to be drawn. Scripture is both human and divine in its content, and it is both a source of objective propositional truth and an invitation to and means of experience of the Living God.

Well, I think this post is more than long enough, but it hasn't begun to address the issue. I suppose that means that more posts on this subject will have to follow. I am not presently prepared to present my view as such (it is in flux to too large a degree), but I may soon be ready to publish some speculations. Stay tuned.

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April 13, 2006

Translation v. Transliteration: Hypocrites!

A repeated issue on this blog has for some time been the difference between translation and transliteration and the way that the vast majority of Bible translations have failed to actually translate a large number of critical words, simply writing out the original Greek words instead. One such example that I've been thinking about recently is the word 'hypocrite.'

Unlike the other words I've been discussing, this one was not first introduced into English in a Bible translation, but it remains the fact (or so I am convinced) that the English word 'hypocrite' does not have the same meaning as the Greek upokrites and this at the very least kills a very good metaphor (compare my post on 'talents'), and possibly even distorts the meaning of the text.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hypocrite as "One who falsely professes to be virtuously or religiously inclined; one who pretends to have feelings or beliefs of a higher order than his real ones; hence generally, a dissembler, pretender." Now, this isn't such a bad definition, but it's not exactly the one that I understand by hypocrite as a native speaker of English. I was always told a much simpler definition. "A hypocrite," I was told, "is a person who says one thing, and does another." Indeed, the dictionary on my computer defines hypocrisy as "the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which ones own behavior does not conform" and this is much more like the definition I am familiar with. Now, although this word was interoduced into English outside of the realm of Bible translation, it's English definition is taken directly from the Gospel of Matthew, and especially the Sermon on the Mount, and, as such, Jesus' words take on a certain emptiness in English. For instance, in Matthew 6:16, the HCSB reads "Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward!" Now, why should Jesus say "don't be LIKE the hypocrites" in this matter? Isn't this the very definition of hypocrisy? Shouldn't he just be saying "don't be a hypocrite?" Well, no, actually, in the Greek that's not what hypocrisy is.

The Greek word upokrites means an actor in a play! Jesus is speaking here in a really powerful metaphor, which the transliteration all but totally destroys. Suppose we translate these verses like this:

"But whenever you fast, don't become like the sad-faced play-actors..." (Matt. 6:16)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, play-actors! Because you travel around the sea and the land to make a single convert, and when he has become [converted] you make him twice as much a piece of junk* [as before]!" (Matt. 23:15)

* Lit. "son of Ge-henna," i.e. one who belongs to the Hinnom Valley, a garbage heap.

The list could continue. Perhaps the translation 'play-actors' could be made into smoother English, but I hope you get the point. Jesus' criticism in these verses doesn't have to do with the high moral standards professed but not lived up to, it has to do with general insincerity, and putting on a show. Jesus speaks in a vivid metaphor, saying that to the scribes and Pharisees "life is a stage." When we transliterate the work into English, we destroy this metaphor and, while we may get the general sense, we certainly miss the depth of what Jesus is getting at here.

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April 12, 2006

The Language of Athenian Democracy in the New Testament

So I've just given a presentation on the workings of the ancient Athenian ekklesia at the Pnyx, and I thought I'd use up a little precious time which I ought to use reading about Plato and Aristotle on the role of tragic theater in society discussing the appropriation of the language of the Athenian democracy by the early Church, including the authors of the New Testament.

There are two particular words I am thinking of here: ekklesia and kerux. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that these words are consistently translated one way in 'Bible Greek' and another way in 'secular Greek' when Bible Greek and secular Greek are the same language! In secular Greek they are "assembly" and "herald" respectively, but in New Testament translations they are usually "church" and "preacher." Now, these are perfectly ordinary words in the Greek, but their usage by the Athenian democracy was so prominent in the literary tradition of Greece that I cannot imagine that the Greek speaking Christians in the first century who first began to use these words didn't have classical Athens in mind, so let's start from the beginning and have a brief discussion of the history of these words, and what the choice of these words might tell us about the early Church's self-understanding and its message to the world.

Ekklesia is a compound of the prefix ek, meaning 'out,' and the noun klesis, a calling. In ancient Athens, this term was applied to the democratic Assembly of the people: the adult male citizens were 'called out' from all over the city-state to attend the Assembly and determine how the city should be run. How were they called? By heralds (kerukes), naturally.

Now, there are obvious reasons for the early Church to choose this language to describe what happened. 'Heralds' (i.e., preachers) went throughout the world to call us together, into the 'Assembly' (i.e. Church) of the saints. This Assembly does not, of course, deliberate on matters of foreign policy, or anything of the sort. But it is 'political,' in an unusual, other-worldly sense. This Assembly is composed of the citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Furthermore, although the idea of the Church being governed democratically is a post-Reformation invention and does not seem to have occurred in the early Church, there is something inherently democratic, as the Greeks understood democracy, about the Church: everyone is invited. Now the Athenians and the other Greek democracies invited a very limited 'everyone' to their Assemblies - excluding women, children, slaves, and foreigners - but they nevertheless considered it to be everyone, and were very proud of this. They were especially proud of their inclusion of the poor, since these were the ones the oligarchic city-states excluded. The early Church was inclusive to a degree never seen before, including also slaves, women, children and even 'barbarians' (in this time period, this meant those who lived outside the realm of civilization, where civilization is synonymous with the Roman Empire).

Also, we know from the description of Church meetings in 1 Corinthians 14 that just as the herald stood before the Assembly and asked "who wants to speak?" at every meeting, so at the meetings of the early Church just any citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven was permitted to share his knowledge and experience of God. This too is very 'democratic.'

There are other words for gathering in Greek, but the New Testament uses them rarely, preferring this 'democratic' language, and I think it does this for a reason. I believe that that reason is connected with all of the similarities just listed, but above all with the idea of being 'called out' from among the world into the Kingdom of God. Paul writes, "But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher [kerux]? And how can they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:14-15, HCSB) The Church (Assembly) has sent preachers (heralds) throughout the world to call everyone into the great Assembly (Church) of the citizens of the Kingdom of God.

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March 15, 2006

"Tradition as the 'Platonic Form' of Christian Faith and Practice in Orthodoxy"

I have just posted on my writings page a new essay, "Tradition as the 'Platonic Form' of Christian Faith and Practice in Orthodoxy." This served as my mid-term essay in my class on the Greek Orthodox Church here at DIKEMES in Athens where I am studying this semester. I have attached a short preface explaining the relationship of the views presented in my essay (realizing that the essay is supposed to explain the teaching of the Orthodox Church) to my actual beliefs and my reasons for deciding to publish the essay. Please post here with any comments or objections. If I edit the essay at any time in the future, I will document that here as well. The essay is located here.

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'Third Language' Idioms and the Goal of Translation

Wayne Leman is blogging on translation of Luke 1:34. He notes here that the ESV departs from strictly literal translation here and is more accurate as a result. What I find interesting in his note is that the idiom in the Greek of this verse is imported from Hebrew. Call this the use of a 'third language' idiom (Hebrew being a third language in addition to the source language - Greek - and the target language - English). In translations, should we treat third language idioms differently than source language idioms? I think that there is good reason to suppose that we should, for the same reasons I have argued previously that we should transliterate third language words, but this will depend on the details of our understanding of the purpose of translation.

Let me simply formulate my understanding of the purpose of translation, and if someone wants to dispute it I will defend it later. I take it that the purpose of translation is to reproduce as nearly as possible the total experience of native speakers of the original language for speakers of another language. Now there are many different aspects to the total experience of reading a text, and in practice a translator must often choose between them, because linguistic differences are such that reproducing one aspect more closely puts us farther away from another. The relative importance of the various aspects will depend on (a) the genre of the original work, and (b) the purpose and target audience of the translation. Now, what does this have to do with third language idioms?

The target audience of Luke is Greek and for the most part doesn't speak Hebrew. We can thus expect that to most of the target audience the use of this idiom sounded unnatural. According to LSJ this euphemism is used in three other Greek sources, one of which is Plutarch's Life of Galba, which is roughly contemporary. So it is safe to say that the idiom was well understood to Greek speakers, but was not part of their natural speech.

Can we reproduce this in English? Well, for those familiar with 'Bible English,' the literal translation "I do not know a man" does just this, but it would be unfortunate if those unfamiliar with "Bible English" didn't understand our translation. The HCSB's "I have not been intimate with a man," which one of the commentators brought up, has a similar effect on me, at least. It sounds slightly strange, and perhaps excessively modest, but is clearly understandable. The ESV's translation probably souds more natural to English speakers than the original did to Greek speakers.

Of course, because we are in the genre of history and what we are translating is a Bible which will be used for making doctrinal derivations, clarity/factual accuracy is the trump suit, and the proper feel is icing on the cake. (Please pardon my mixed metaphors - and be sure to use them to confuse your audience when writing in French so we can debate how to translate your third language idioms into German!) Treating third language idioms the same as source language idioms does not undermine the clarity/factual accuracy of a translation, but it does produce a substantially different total experience for the reader of the translation than the reader of the original, and this might be important in, for instance, translating poetry.

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March 02, 2006

Wayne Leman on ESV and HCSB

A while ago I posted some preliminary thoughts on evaluating the Holman Christian Standard Bible. At the time I was only able to look at a few NT verses, and I compared it to the NKJV and the Greek. Recently, Wayne Leman at Better Bibles Blog has posted a comparison of the HCSB with the ESV. Wayne's conclusion is that the two translations are very similar in terms of their degre of literalness and consistency, but the ESV retains the stylistic conventions of the Tyndale-KJV tradition, whereas the HCSB substantially departs from it. This departure is one of my favorite features of the HCSB in the verses I've seen so far (I haven't actually bought one yet, I've just been looking at various passages online, so I haven't used it for study or devotional reading). On the other hand, the ESV has put great emphasis on its suitability for liturgical use, the ability to follow along in the ESV during a reading of the RSV or KJV, and so forth. These may indeed be useful features, but it is my view that they lead mostly to "Bible English" that is quite unnatural and is misleading as to what the Biblical text really looks like in the original language (there's no such thing as "Bible Greek"! It's the same plain old Hellenistic/Koine Greek spoken by everyone else). I also think that reading a translation that is less closely connected with this tradition can make the text fresh again when we've been reading it for years already. Still, I do believe the ESV's claim to be more suitable for liturgical use (in churches that have true liturgy, rather than less "religious" public reading of Scripture or preaching) than the HCSB. Of course it's not clear how much this means to me, since my church, Calvary Chapel, doesn't have anything even vaguely resembling a liturgy.

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February 14, 2006

J.I. Packer on the NIV

Better Bibles Blog has a segment from Suzanne McCarthy's recent interview with Dr. J. I. Packer regarding Bible translations. In it, Dr. Packer states quite nicely the problem that I have always had with the New International Version:

[The NIV] is an in and out version, when a literal translation is clear they give you a literal translation. When they think they are confronted with a form or words which, if literally translated, or should I say, directly translated, wouldn’t communicate very well, without warning of what they are doing they go off into paraphrase.

The NIV tends to give up on any attempt at literalness whenever things get difficult, and this can be quite misleading. The problem is that the degree of interpretation done by the translators (and translators must always do some interpretation) and the degree left to the readers is not consistent, and so the reader cannot distinguish what the text actually says from what the translator thinks it means, and therefore can't determine how broad the range of possible interpretations is.

Of course, the problem could be solved by reading the NIV and the NASB at the same time, but I would like to think that there are some translations that are both readable and consistent. The NKJV is quite readable (for me) and consistent in its translation, but it is traditional to a fault and difficult for people not familiar with "church English." What I've seen of the ESV makes me think that it is even more extreme in these matters (whcih I think is a bad thing). As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I am continuing to evaluate the Holmann Christian Standard Bible. I still haven't spent enough time with it to know for sure what I think, but so far I like pretty much everything I've seen. I discussed my first systematic look at it here.

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February 10, 2006

Reevaluating Genesis

For some time now, I have been curious about the fact that, although I have been taught, and it always seemed to me, that the most straightforward interpretation of Genesis 1-3 was that God created the earth in 6 astronomical days (I never understood why they necessarily had to be 24 hour days, but whatever), many commentators, both Jewish and Christian, writing before the development of the modern scientific theories which Evangelicals often accuse of prejudicing intepreters, have adopted a "day-age theory" understanding of the text. Augustine and Nachminides are supposed to be good examples (I haven't read the primary sources). I also noted, quite some time ago, that in the flood narrative, the Hebrew term for "world" literally means "inhabited earth" (an article I read recently claimed that it could refer to a particular land, as in "the land of Israel" as well, but I'm getting to that), so that if the annual floods of the Tigris, Euphrates, and possibly the Nile were to rise to unprecedented heights in the same season, so as to join one another, a native speaker of the language who believed God was responsible for the weather might have uttered a phrase translated as "the flood covered the whole earth."

Now, to clarify, I have never been a "young universe" creationist. That is, I see absolutely no Biblical justification for the belief that the whole universe is merely a few thousand years old. The reason for this is that I have believed basically ever since I started looking at it that the first two chapters of Genesis contain not two but three creation narratives.

If you remember your high school (or perhaps middle school) English class, you will probably remember being taught that in writing essays you should begin your introductory paragraph with very broad statements and, over the course of the paragraph focus in to your thesis. This is precisely what I believe the beginning of Genesis does. The subject matter of the Bible is the relationship between God and man. The subject matter of the Torah is the relationship between God and Israel. Genesis serves as an historical introduction to these topics. Verse one I take to be the first account. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." That is, at the very beginning of time, before anything at all existed, God create everything that exists, ex nihilo. The first story deals with the creation of the entire universe. The next story, found in 1:2-2:3, is about the creation of the planet earth, the location where the action of the story is to take place. Interestingly, this account begins, in verse 2, with "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters." The first account is a creation ex nihilo account, but the second is an order from chaos story. This implies that the ex nihilo creation of the matter of the universe had already taken place when God began to form the planet earth in the second story. The third story, found in chapter 2, focuses further on the creation of mankind from the dust; that is, from the material of the planet earth. Later we get the history of the human race, and then we focus to the history of the Hebrew people.

Nevertheless, it remains the case that what I have labeled the second account, the account of the creation of the earth, uses the phrase "Evening came, and then morning: the first day" in 1:5, and similar phrases in several other places, and this is what led me to suppose that there must be six astronomical days; that is, that the earth must rotate about its axis 6 times during the course of the whole creation. However, there is the problem that the counting of days begins before the creation of the sun in vv. 14-18. This can be solved simply by pointing out that the text of the passage can support a reading on which God merely places the pre-existing sun, moon, and stars in the sky, making them visible to (yet to be created) people on earth and appointing them as time keepers. On the other hand, I once read that Nachminides said that the Hebrew word for "evening" had originally meant "chaos" (because darkness is associated with chaos), and "morning" had meant "order," so that these lines should in fact be read as "there was chaos moving to order, and it was one time-period." This can solve the difficulty of there being days before there is a sun, or at least before the sun is visible from earth.

Now, recently I read two more interesting articles. The first was from the blog Higgaion, which I found through Biblical Studies Carnival II. The article is entitled "Why I Am Not a Creationist". In this article, Christopher Heard, who, according to his profile, is a professor of religion in Oak Park California (doesn't say what school), makes six points in an argument that the creationism current in Evangelical circles is bad Scriptural interpretation. I will deal briefly with each of his points.

"1. Creationism depends on genre confusion." This argument I have heard before. The claim is that the first chapter of Genesis is "a highly structured ... theological paean to God." Now, I don't know anything about semitic paeans, but I do know something about songs with theological content today. For instance, when I was in Sunday school as a child, we learned a song that began "In the beginning, God made the sea / And the forest filled with trees / He made the mountains up so high / And on the very top He placed the sky." Now, one mights ask whether God made the mountains before or after the trees, whether the sky is the sort of thing that one can "place" (since it is not really an object per se), whether it makes sense to talk about the sky being "above" anything, since we are really talking about space and there is not an absolute "up," and so forth, but none of these questions has any bearing on the "truth" of this song. The song is "true" in the sense that God really responsible for the creation of the things named, regardles of how or in what order He went about it. However, I suspect that the genre conventions for a semitic "theological paean" do involve rather more direct literal truth than the genre conventions for Sunday school songs (particularly this one, which was, in fact, about the reason for the creation of the hippopotamus), such that we can probably still expect Genesis 1 to be at least a "poetic account" of real events, whatever that means. I have heard people claim that there is no difference of genres within the single book of Genesis, and I don't read Hebrew so I can't adequately evaluate the conflicting claims, but I suspect that there is a genre difference between chapter one and the rest of the book, although chapter 2 probably belongs to the same genre as the parts of the book that are verifiably historical. In short, I really don't feel qualified to evaluate this claim or its consequences without first doing a great deal of study on the Hebrew language and early semitic cultures ... maybe some day ...

"2. The Bible tells multiple creation stories." I've heard this one before too, and never thought it was very important. I do not see Genesis chapters 1 and 2 as being contradictory at all, but Professor Heard makes a new and interesting point that I had not seen before. He believes that Psalm 74, beginning in verse 12, is yet another creation account. I think this is probably just another version of the order-from-chaos account found in Genesis 1:2-2:3, but I don't know what to make of large portions of it, especially the stuff about Leviathan. Hmm.

Points 3-5 are intended to show, collectively, that the Biblical creation stories are similar to Babylonian and Egyptian accounts, and what the readers are really supposed to notice is the differences, which mostly have to do with the type of deity involved. I agree that this is the most important point being made by the Biblical accounts of creation, but am not at all convinced that this completely invalidates any attempt to glean other truth from them.

"6. Biblical creation texts seem perfectly comfortable with the idea of intermediate agents/causes in God's creative activity." I like this point. Look, for instance, at Genesis 1:24 where God commands "Let the earth produce living creatures." The earth produces the living creatures, at God's prompting. Why, then, is the Biblical text taken as precluding any use of naturalistic operations on God's part?

The second article I read recently was "Young Earth Creationism: A Literal Mistake" by Dick Fischer (HT: Sun and Shield). This article overblows some of its points and comes up with some consequences that I find theologically untenable (as, e.g., that Adam and Noah literally existed, but not all human beings alive today are descendents of this bloodline), but he makes two important points that I want to examine. His overall argument is that a straightforward, literal interpretation of Genesis is actually incompatible with young earth creationism.

His first point regards literal 24 hour days. The first point people always make to this is that Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 seem to suggest that we needn't take this literally. I would respond to this by asking about the "there was evening and there was morning" portions, but he answers this objection to. Psalm 90:6 talks about grass growing in the morning and being cut down in the evening. This is, of course, not literal, and some commentators have thought that "morning" was used for a general period of growth, and evening for a period of decay. Furthermore, Genesis 2:4 says "This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." If we take the word "day" in the literal sense of the English word, then one 24 hour day must be equal to six 24 hour days, which is, of course, impossible.

The second interesting point is that some of the discussion of Eden actually sounds like it is talking about irrigation. In particular, the term sometimes translated "mist" in Genesis 2:6 sometimes means "fountain." The area described is a desert with fertile river valleys, but very little rain (between the Tigris and Euphrates), so the text could be describing the local situation there where the land was watered by irrigation and annual floods, but received no rain.

Increasingly it seems to me that the Genesis account is not intended to say what it has been made to say. Also, I have been unable to find any evidence of anything like young earth creationism prior to about 1850. This would seem to indicate that it is not part of historical Christian belief, but rather a reaction against certain modern anti-Christian influences. Today its wide acceptance among Evangelicals is probably due to the threat posed by the Neo-Darwinist philosophy of people like Richard Dawkins, which is indeed hostile to Christianity, but goes far beyond the actual scientific theory of evolution.

Christianity does, of course, insist that God created the world. Furthermore, it seems that, although man himself was formed from the earth, and woman from man, rather than ex nihilo (Gen. 2:7, 2:22), God "breathes the breath of life" into the man, and this, certainly, tells us that Christians must hold that something unique happened at the creation of the first man, which did not happen with regard to the animals. I certainly have yet to be completely converted to having no qualms about accepting evolutionary theory as presently understood by science, but through the considerations listed above, I am beginning to see that there really is no good reason to suppose that Christianity requires belief even in the limited form of young earth creationism that I had previously accepted (as I had often said, "the earth as we know it today was formed by God from chaos six to ten thousand years ago" - this is nothing so radical as the position Fischer argues against, but still somewhat troubling). This is something I intend to continue to evaluate critically, as I am still uncertain as to exactly what it is we are supposed to understand as the message of the early chapters of Genesis. In particular, it still seems to me that because of the way Christian theology draws lessons from history it is necessary that the story of Adam and Eve and the garden records a real event (though perhaps not completely literally) through which sin entered the world, and that all human beings alive today are their descendents.

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February 07, 2006

How Did Early Christians Interpret 1 Corinthians 11:10?

1 Corinthians 11:10 is a rather controversial verse. The classic KJV renders it "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels," but the NKJV team seems to have determined, quite correctly, that this doesn't make any sense to modern speakers of English, and so gave the modern rendering, "For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." HCSB, a translation I've recently been evaluating, gives the translation, "This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head: because of the angels."

Aside from the whole "because of the angels" thing not making much sense, the word "symbol" is rather strange. The original KJV rendering is very literal (except that it says "power" whereas exousia is more properly translated "authority," as the modern translations do). As you can see, it just says the she ought to "have power on her head." There is no separate word for symbol, nor does the LSJ lexicon record any usage of exousia to mean a symbol of authority. It just means authority. It has been suggested that this means that the woman should have authority or control over her head (not that this helps us make sense of the "because of the angels" part, but it's not any worse than anything else). LSJ says that in ancient Greek it was standard to express this idea by putting the object of authority in the genitive case, rather than by using the preposition epi. However, it does record that epi is sometimes used with the verb form exousiazo in precisely this way, and the use of special cases for this sort of thing is a feature that was beginning to drop out of Greek in the first century (it has completely dropped out of modern Greek - there is no dative case, and the genitive is used only for possession), so it is only natural that we would begin to see things like this popping up. I would hazard a guess that this usage is quite common in Byzantine Greek, but I don't know where to even begin to look for evidence of that. So, this interpretation of the passage seems as good as any (indeed, it is better than most).

Now, to the occasion of this post: one way to arbitrate between different interpretations of passages in dead languages is to see if we can find out how native speakers of the language who lived near the time of writing understood them. This is, of course, not infallible, and not as good as evidence from the author himself, but clearly native speakers from near the time are in a better position to interpret the text than we are.

Today, I was reading the canons of the Council of Gangra (c. 340 AD) for my class on the Orthodox Church, and I came across Canon 17, which reads, "If a woman, from supposed asceticism, cuts of her hair which has been given her by God to remind her of her subjection, and thus renounces the command of subjection, let her be anathema." Now, I find this very interesting. The council of Grangra seems to have been concerned, as you can see even in this little snippet, with combating the excesses of asceticism. Whether this text is useful to us in interpreting and translating 1 Corinthians 11:10 will depend on a number of issues:

  1. Was the council's belief that a woman's hair was "given her by God to remind her of her subjection" based on an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:10?
  2. Were the members of the council who made this interpretation native speakers of Greek?
  3. Had there been a substantial shift in the usage of these Greek words between the Paul's writing c. 40 AD, and the council c. 340 AD that might have led to a misinterpretation?
  4. Might the council have intentionally misrepresented the meaning of the text?
  5. How similar is the use of language in the discussion in this canon to the discussion in 1 Corinthians?

I'm sure there are more questions to be asked here, and I, in general, do not know the answers. However, this document may shed some light on the early church's understanding of the meaning of Paul's interpretation of head coverings. A far-reaching tradition like this may also be part of the reason for modern translations choosing the interpret it has "a symbol of authority on her head" rather than "authority over her head." Of course, the decision of one local council is my no means definitive. We must look at the NT language itself (as we have) and also at whether there are opposing interpretations, or whether the early church was in general agreement with the council's findings. It would also be nice to have the Greek text of the council's canons, but I haven't been able to locate it online. At any rate, I do think that the writings of early Christians who clearly understood the language better than we do can be quite useful in interpreting this difficult verse, but there is a great deal of additional research is needed before we can have an interpretation anywhere near definitive.

Posted by kpearce at 01:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

Tying Up Some Loose Ends: Greek Musterion in the New Testament

I've been meaning for some time to write a post tying together two topics that I had previously discussed. The items in question are my discussion of translation and transliteration and my suggestion in this post that Pagan religion might have had an influence on the New Testament's mode of expression. The common tie? The word "mystery."

This word, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is first attested with the definition "A religious truth known or understood only by divine revelation; esp. a doctrine of faith involving difficulties which human reason is incapable of solving" in the Wyclif Bible of 1384. The same Bible introduces the meaning "A hidden or secret thing; something inexplicable or beyond human comprehension; a person or thing evoking awe or wonder but not well known or understood; an enigma." There does exist one usage of the word in poetry prior to this time, but it appears that the word has expanded to its present meaning primarily from this point; that is, it was transliterated into the language from the New Testament. You can see how much the meaning of the word has changed. It has virtually no religious connotation today. Now, there are two questions here that have a bearing on translation: first, do the OED's early definitions correspond to the meaning of the Greek word in the context of the New Testament? Second, does the present-day meaning of the word mystery correspond to its usage in the New Testament?

In fact, the original Greek word musterion is also a religious word (note that it is also the root of the word "mystic"), and it is here that we intercept the question of whether and how the New Testament's mode of communication was effected by Greek Paganism. In the previous post, I suggested that the resemblance of Luke's account of the Emmaus road to certain Greek myths may have been intentional, but I didn't have enough background to explain exactly how. Musterion is, in fact, a much better example. Let's look first at its usage in Greek Paganism.

A detailed discussion of this issue is found in the book A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (online edition at Perseus), under the heading mysteria. I recommend reading the article, but I will present the important core ideas. The Greeks had many "mystery cults," as classicists often call them. The closest modern equivalent to the mystery cults of which I am aware is Freemasonry (it is in fact a very close equivalent). The "initiates" of the mystery cults would watch a sort of ritual drama which was intended to reveal truth about the universe through allegory and symbolism. These were supposed to reveal divine truth directly from the relevant god. The truth could only be learned at a particular shrine (the most famous being that of Eleusis) and communicating it was forbidden. There were various mysteries at different shrines where people of different ages and genders went. For instance, at one shrine young girls, ages 5 to 12, I believe, "played the bear for Artemis." No, we don't really know what that means. Only a few, like Eleusis, were open to all Greeks. Some of the mystery cults had multiple levels, each of which had different "mysteries" (remember, these are rituals and/or dramas that are intended to reveal truth to the initiate) at different levels of initiation, as, indeed, the Freemasons do.

There are a handful of cases in classical Greek literature where the word is used to speak of "secrets" more generally, but these are so rare that they ought to be taken metaphorically. It may be that the metaphor was "dead" by the time of the NT so that no reference is intended. It may also be that a new definition cropped up in between. I simply don't have the information on which to judge this. However, the word musterion itself was a relatively late development in Greek religious language (at any rate, Homer uses different words for similar things). Furthermore, we know that the word was still in use in this meaning in the first century, so even if it had acquired a more general meaning, the phrase "I reveal to you a mystery," often used by Paul, said in a theological context, would almost certainly bring the Greek mystery cults to the minds of Greek readers, and all of Paul's epistles except Romans are addressed to Greek cities.

Now the question is: why? What is the meaning and purpose of this Pagan reference in the New Testament? To examine this, let's look at the New Testament's use of the word.

20 of the words 27 uses in the New Testament occur in the Pauline epistles; 3 are in parallel passages in the synoptic gospels (Matt. 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10) where Jesus speaks of the "mysteries" of the kingdom of heaven being revealed to the disciples; the remaining 4 are in the Revelation. The usage in the gospels and Revelation are straightforward: in the gospels the word refers to special knowledge revealed only to Jesus' disciples, in the Revelation it refers to the interpretation of symbolic or allegorical content. Paul's usage, however, is slightly more complicated.

Paul's "mysteries" seem to be doctrines of Christianity. He identifies the following as mysteries:

  • "that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Istrael will be saved." (Romans 11:25-26)

  • the gospel (apparently as a whole - Romans 16:25-26 [those verses are located at 14:24-26 in some texts], Ephesians 6:19. See also the summary of the Gospel at 1 Timothy 3:16.)

  • "[God] purposed in Hmself that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:9-10)

  • "that the gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel." (Ephesians 3:3-7)

  • The "marriage" of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32)

  • "Lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

Only one of these (the "marriage" of Christ and the Church) has an obvious symbolic/allegorical interpretation, so Paul apparently does not, by musterion mean, generally speaking, the correct interprettation of religious symbols/allegories. Fortunately, Paul gives us substantial hints at his meaning in Ephesians 3 (see also Romans 16:25, Colossians 1:26) when he says (vv. 5) that the mystery "in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets." We see, then, that just as in the Greek religious context, Paul is talking about truth that is revealed supernaturally to certain people at certain times, but not part of general human knowledge. Is Christianity, then, a mystery cult? Certainly not! The mystery was not revealed in former times, but it has now been revealed by the Spirit, and Jesus gave us special instructions as to what to do with His secrets: "Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops" (Matthew 10:27, cf. Luke 12:3). I conclude, therefore, that the New Testament's use of this word implicitly sets up a contrast between Christianity and the Pagan mystery cults: whereas the Pagans carefully guard their mysteries, the Christians are eager to announce them from the housetops! God's revelation, once given, is given to all mankind. All are welcome and invited to come and learn the mysteries of God. You need not go to any particular location or perform any particular ritual: we, the Church, will come to you to teach you the mysteries God has revealed to us.

This creates something of a difficulty for the translator, because modern audiences do not have familiarity with these kinds of religious "mysteries." As I mentioned, we have some secret societies that resemble the mystery cults, but modern religions tend not to work this way (although Mormonism does have some rituals that are open only to higher-level members of the church). As such, we do not have a term for this. The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to use the word "mystery" to refer to a mystical ritual, but this isn't quite right for Paul's usage either. Mystery is the word used in references to these things in writing about Greek culture and religion, so if the target audience of a translation is made up of hellenists, then keeping the word mystery is appropriate. Also, many "church people" have been taught the Pauline meanin of mystery as something that had never before been revealed to mankind, so this audience, although it doesn't catch the implicit contrast with Paganism, does get the correct meaning. But what about translations for more "mainstream" audiences? Is there a good translation of this word for that context, or is the best we can do something like the HCSB's "bullet notes?"

Posted by kpearce at 04:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 09, 2006

The Holman Christian Standard Bible

I am considering switching my primary Bible translation. For some time, I have been using the New King James Version, which I favor for its formal equivalence translation philosophy and its English style. However, I am increasingly reevaluating my opinion of it as I begin to look more at the original Greek of the New Testament and to question some of the principles of translation theory that I had previously believed. The points on which I am becoming dissatisfied are as follows: (1) the NKJV is incredibly hidebound to the Tyndale tradition, so that mistakes made in translations long ago persist to the present (see here) and it has failed to keep up with the changing meaning of words over time, especially those words that were introduced to the English language by transliteration of Bible words (see here). (2) More literal can sometimes mean less accurate, and this does sometimes occur in the NKJV: phrases are translated literally from the original in ways that are ultimately misleading to modern readers. (3) The NKJV often uses words that are now technical terms of theology in places where the original uses everyday language (the original uses everyday language pretty much everywhere. The leading contender for a new Bible translation for me is presently the Holman Christian Standard Bible. In this post I intend to examine the HCSB's translation of three verses in which I believe most translations make mistakes due to their reliance on tradition. I will look at (a) whether the HCSB corrects the mistake, (b) the literary style and English grammar of the HCSB, and (c) whether the HCSB lives up to its "Optimal Equivalence" translation philosophy.

Matthew 25:26-27

NKJV: But his lord answered and said to him, "You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest."

The problem: Greek okneros does not ordnarily mean "lazy." This translation is the result of a change in Latin leading to the Vulgate's translation, Latin piger meaning lazy. In fact, the original means timid or hesitant.

HCSB: But his master replied to him, "You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest"

Is the problem fixed? No. HCSB uses the same word as NKJV.

Does the HCSB render the passage in good English? Yes. I particularly like the use of contractions in this context, as it gives a less stilted sound to a passage that is definitely not stilted in the original. The langauge here is natural and flows well.

Does the HCSB follow its stated translation philosophy? Sort of. HCSB ignores the Greek idiom which uses two verbs for the master's response and is rendered in the NKJV by "answered and said." However, since this is just the standard idiom in Greek it may be appropriate to convert it to the standard idiom in English which uses only one verb. Still, the passage could have been rendered more literally without loss of accuracy or flow by a phrase like "in response, his master said." The HCSB makes the right decision in rendering kurios master rather than lord here. I also like the rendering of the phrase "You evil, lazy slave!" as an exclamation. The rendering of "if you knew that I reap ... with the bankers" as a single conditional is an unnecessary change in the structure of the Greek. Rather than "if you knew ... then you should have" it ought to say, "You knew that ... Therefore you should have," which is perfectly good English. I conclude that in this passage, contrary to its stated translation philosophy, the HCSB alters the structure of the original language text more than is necessary for purposes of accuracy and readability.

John 3:16

NKJV: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

The Problem: The NKJV rendering suggests the reading "God loved the world so much that ..." whereas the most natural reading of the Greek is "God loved the world in such a way that ..." This was discussed on Better Bibles Blog last month.

HCSB: For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Is the problem fixed? Absolutely! The HCSB rendering is much more accurate than the NKJV.

Does the HCSB render the passage in good English? Sort of. The use of explanatory "for" is rather unusual in contemporary English. Other than that, the passage sounds good to me.

Does the HCSB follow its stated translation philosophy? Yes. The only difficulty is the phrase "one and only." The Greek monogenes, traditionally translated according to its etymology as "only begotten" is difficult in contemporary English, partially since we don't have the word "begotten." The most straightforward reading of this word in context is "unique," which is what the HCSB is trying to get at with "one and only." However, we know from the ancient creeds, particularly the Nicene Creed's "begotten, not made," that the early church read this etymology as having theological significance. However, I am content to leave this kind of significance in the hands of theologians and commentators who speak Greek. Based on these concerns the HCSB translators have included a "bullet note", but these notes don't seem to be included in the online version I'm working from, so I don't know what it says.

1 Corinthians 11:10

NKJV: For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

The problem: The most natural reading of exousian echein epi tes kephales, here translated "have a symbol of authority on her head" is "have authority over her head," as Peter Kirk pointed out in the comments on this Better Bibles Blog post.

HCSB: This is why a woman should have [a symbol of] authority on her head: because of the angels.

Is the problem fixed? No. HCSB takes the same unnatural interpretation as the NKJV.

Does the HCSB render the passage in good English? Yes. The sentence is perfectly natural English with good grammar and style. It is difficult to interpret, but so is the Greek, in this case.

Does the HCSB follow its stated translation philosophy? Yes. The HCSB's interpretation of the touto at the beginning of the passage as looking ahead to tous aggelos is well supported by the grammar, and I can't think of a better way to render that relationship in English. I am quite satisfied with the structure of the English sentence here. I believe an interpretive mistake is made with regard to the exousia phrase, but if we grant the HCSB translators their interpretation, then they have rendered the passage correctly according to their translation philosophy.


Out of 3 points:
HCSB scores 1 for correcting mistakes of traditional translations.
HCSB scores 2.5 for English style and grammar.
HCSB scores 2.5 for following its stated translation philosophy.

I conclude that my informal and unscientific survey of these three passages is not enough to justify a switch from NKJV to HCSB at this time, but the HCSB continues to look like a fairly good overall translation. I agree with the HCSB's stated translation philosophy, and my survey does indicate that HCSB does an overall good job following it. Does anyone have suggestions for other verses that should be considered in this way, or other translations I should perhaps be looking at?

Posted by kpearce at 12:04 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 30, 2005

Are Linguistic Facts Theologically Significant?

Gerald at iustificare has recently been doing a series on the theological consequences of "gender neutral" Bible translations. Gerald holds that the use of "male-representative language" - that is, the use of male terms to designate mixed gender groups - is significant to the Bible's view of God. Commentors (primarily the authors of Better Bibles Blog) have repeatedly pointed out that the male-representative language found in the Bible is simply the normal way of saying things in Greek and Hebrew. Gerald acknowledges this, but continues to believe that male-representative language is theologically significant, and therefore should continue to be used, at least in Bible translations intended for the "Biblically literate." In his final post on the subject, he says,

It is best to translate the original language’s idiom into something that makes sense in the target audience’s language, even if the original idiom is not preserved, as long as the original idiom does not have inherent theological significance that would be otherwise lost.

The question I am interested in here is, does the original idiom ever have "inherent theological significance"? Is it possible that the ordinary way of expressing things in Greek or Hebrew - something the original author would not have given a second thought to - could have theological significance? I am initially inclined to answer that it does not have any significance, but let's take a moment to examine the reasons why it might.

Firstly, according to the theory of inspiration I hold, God has designed the entire course of history in such a way as to bring it about that the individuals who wrote down the Scriptures would write down the Living Word of God. Might this extend also to the very languages in which the Scriptures were communicated? That is, might God have acted in such a way as to bring it about that the grammar and idiomatic language of Greek and Hebrew were such as to communicate theological truth?

This position is in fact not uncommon with regard to the Hebrew text. Orthodox Jews, especially Kabbalists, believe that even the decorations on the pages of the Torah (as opposed to the Nevi'im or the Ketuvim, which are at lower levels of inspiration) have theological significance, and Jesus seems to endorse this view at Matthew 5:18. I have also seen material claiming that the shapes of the letters and the pictograms they developed from may be important. Furthermore, Kabbalists attach a great deal of importance to the Hebrew number system, which uses the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, claiming that some kind of knowledge can be gained by interpreting the letters as numbers. Some commentators have claimed that this is what John is referring to at Revelation 13:18. Perhaps the most common claim of this kind on the part of Christians is that the fact that the Hebrew word elohim looks like a plural presages the later revelaton of the Trinity.

It is rare to see claims quite so strong as these about Greek. However, I have often made the similar claim myself that one of the reasons God chose to become incarnate at the specific point in history he did was the usage of Koine Greek as a universal language. Greek is a spectacular language for discussing abstract truth with great precision, and Koine retains much of the precision of Attic while being far more accessible to ordinary people (as opposed to only Athenian aristocrats with a great deal of education).

Experienced translators will often say that a person who reads too much into the structure of a statement, a dead metaphor, or a word whose meaning has changed over time so that it is no longer related to its etymology commits the etymological fallacy. In these cases, the author and his intended audience may not even aware of the information the translator or interpreter is reading into the text, and so it is incorrect to attribute the view to them. I am particularly prone to this fallacy in interpretation, because I have made formal study only of Attic and Homeric Greek and come to the New Testament from this background of language hundreds of years older. However, it is important to note that reading information into etymologies is not always fallacious. For instance, Plato, especially in his later works, is always aware of the etymologies of the words and dead metaphors he uses, and will nearly always play on them later, so it pays for translators and intepreters to pay attention to this kind of information in reading Plato. However, this is not the case with ordinary language. For instance, most contemporary English speakers do not consider what a word or phrase means in the Shakespearian corpus before they utter it. Most English speakers neither know nor care what the word meant to Shakespeare, and so it would be incorrect to use information about that to interpret a speaker's words.

There are few, if any, cases in the Bible where an author appears to make intentional use of etymology. In fact, the only one I personally am aware of is Ephesians 3:14-15 where Paul makes reference to "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ from whom the whole family ... is named" (the Greek for father is pater; family is patria).

But if God was active in the structuring of the Greek and Hebrew (and also Aramaic, I suppose) languages to communicate his truth, mightn't there be some etymological significance of which even the authors were not aware?

Secondly, might some of the things we take for mere linguistic facts reflect assumptions of the author which are actually part of the message of Scripture? I recently discussed the difficulty of separating linguistic facts from cultural assumptions here. (See also the Better Bibles Blog discussion here.) Gerald's claim seems to be of this sort: he thinks that the authors of Scripture had some substantive beliefs about gender roles which caused them to use the male-representative language they use, and that if we translate these assumptions out, we will be lose some important content.

Thirdly, the authors might be more aware of the lingusitic facts than we give them credit for, and they might intend our reading to be informed by the etymologies of the words and idioms and the structures of the phrases. I find this hard to believe from an author like Matthew who doesn't seem to me to have a very good grasp of the Greek language, but it wouldn't surprise me in Paul or John.

What are we to conclude from these thoughts? Well, the first thing I would say is the response I give to the "Bible code" guys: it may be that there are deeper levels of meaning, but we can be more certain about the surface meaning of the Biblical language, interpreted in a simple and straightforward way. This is definitely a source of theological truth. Furthermore, there is enough material just in that to occupy us for the rest of our lives. It is absolutely imperative that this message - the meaning that is immediately present on a basic reading of Scripture - be available to all people in such a way that it doesn't require them to learn a language different from their vernacular.

But might there be a use for translations that maintain these idioms and uses more strictly, creating, in a sense, a new dialect of English that exists in between standard English and the original language ("Bible English")? This, in my opinion, happens to some degree in the NASB, and I can imagine more extreme versions. (Note that this is distinct from what is called "Church English" or "Chistianese," dialects that are commonly spoken by Christians to one another.) The only problem I see with this idea is that it may ultimately be misleading to people who are not familiar with the original languages. Because the idioms and metaphors used do not make sense to the readers, they may take the wrong meaning from them. This problem could be fixed by including extensive footnotes that look something like a background commentary. At some point, however, people who see deeper meanings in the etymology and grammatical structure of the original languages just need to learn the original languages, because English is not equivalent to them in these areas, and translations that reflect these linguistic facts while at the same time accurately rendering the surface-level meaning of the text become impossible.

Posted by kpearce at 05:37 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 25, 2005

Meditations on the Incarnation

It is officially Christmas in the Eastern timezone! (We'll conveniently ignore, for the moment, the fact that I am currently at my parents' house in the Pacific timezone.) This being as it is, and since I have no classes and therefore time for blogging, I thought it would be appropriate to post some thoughts on the miracle of the Incarnation.

We will all, I'm sure, be hearing the story of the birth of Christ read from Matthew's or Luke's Gospel in the near future (most likely, in fact, we'll all be hearing Luke's account of the birth of Christ and the events preceding it, and Matthew's account of the visit from the Magi). These stories are wonderful, traditional, and inspirational (and also, importantly, TRUE). However, these are, in important ways historical accounts of the coming of Christ, and as such, at least for me, they fail to impart the true magnitude of the event. They are tip-of-the-iceberg Ernest Hemingway types of accounts and it requires long hard consideration for us to even begin to understand their import. On the surface, Matthew and Mark tell a simple story of a peasant girl giving birth to her peasant son in a barn in a backwater province of the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Other children have been born in barns in backwater provinces. Sure, Matthew and Luke record various signs and portents surrounding the birth, but history claims the same for such figures as Alexander the Great. What is so special about the birth of this Jesus of Nazareth fellow?

For years, I believed that Christmas was greatly overemphasized in the church. I often stated quite explicitly that Christmas was important only insofar as it was a necessary prerequisite for Easter. I no longer believe this; I believe that this event of the Incarnation is deeply meaningful in its own right, independent of the further important events in the life of Christ. This realization could, I'm sure, have been made by a deeper reading of Matthew and Luke in the broader context of Scripture, but, for me, it came through John's account. He writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word become flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)

As often in the Johannine literature, we have a beautiful glimpse of what is really happening behind the scenes. Matthew and Luke give us neat factual narratives of events that took place in Roman Judea 2,000 years ago, but here, here in John, is where we find the meat of the matter. The Word became flesh.

There is something very unusual about God, logically. John expresses this in his bold statement, "The logos was God." Logos, "word," in Greek is the intelligible content of speech. A proposition, if you will. A statement, a truth, a story, a message. It is the content, the meaning. The Meaning was God. And the Meaning became flesh. Huh?

The Scholastics expressed something like this when they said of God things like, "his essence includes existence." Or they sometimes explained that you and I represent the instantiations of essences, but God - God is His essence. God is something deep, something logical. He has His existence in the realm of logical truth, God exists the way 2+2=4. And yet ... personal. He is no mere abstraction. He is at once the Deep Truth of the universe and a person (or three), a living entity actually existing in the world, existing as you and I do, only infinitely more so. The logos was God.

Here is a highly exalted picture of eternal glory that is positively unimaginable! "He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him." And so the Word, the logos, the Meaning, the Rational Principle brought the world into existence, and brought the world to order. Christ was that Word God spoke in the beginning when He commanded, "let there be light!" And the Word of God is effective, it is potent, it is irresistable. And there was light. "And the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it."

The word "comprehend" here is like the English word "grasp." We speak of "grasping" a message or a truth, to mean that we understand it, but this use is figurative. Really the word means to grab hold of something, and so here. The word here also possesses a definitely hostile sense. This is expressed by the NKJV footnote which gives the alternative translation, "overcome." The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. It completely fails to grasp the situation taking place around it. It can't get a grip. It has no way to work against, to react to, this light. The darkness is baffled.

Long lay the world
In sin and error pining
'Til He appeared
And the soul felt its worth

The thrill of hope!
The weary world rejoices!
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn!

The word became flesh, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father. And the darkness was baffled.

In the beginning the Word was God. In Him was life and that life was the Light of men. And the Word became flesh. And the darkness was baffled.

Not only is the Eternal Word - this logical construct, this eternal truth, this deep organizing principle of the universe, the meaning of all things - not only is this Word a Person, but this Person became a Man. And we beheld His glory. Not just glanced at, but beheld, gazed upon, stared at. John writes as an old man, remembering. "We, my fellow disciples and I, we for three years were looking, gazing intently, at His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth!" The Eternal Word became human, and moved in with us. The darkness was baffled.

I once heard a pastor giving a Christmas message refer to something Robert Lewis Stevenson said as a child. The story is that the young Stevenson saw the lamp-lighter out the window of a home in London and exlaimed, "Look! A man poking holes in the darkness!" The darkness was baffled. The glory of God came down to earth and rested upon a Man, a Man full of grace and truth, a Man who, little did we know, was the Eternal Word of God - God Himself. What could the darkness do? How to react? How much darkness does it take to extinguish the light of a single lamp? And here, not a lamp, not a hole poked in the darkness, but a tear, a rip, and suddenly, all heaven breaks loose upon the earth. "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!'" And the darkness trembled, quivered, and gave way.

And so the Light was born into the world. "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him." Suddenly, in that instant, the Creator, the Sustainer of the world, the Eternal Word, the Meaning of it all, was here, among us, in the form of ... What? A baby? In a barn? In a backwater province of the ancient Roman Empire? The illegitimate son of a poor carpenter from Galilee?

And so the story has its meaning. And what a meaning it is! "The thrill of hope" indeed. The God who saves, here among us, humbling Himself to be the least among us, although He was before us and is eternally, completely, necessarily. And one day that baby would be the sacrifice for us, that sin might be punished to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law. He bled and died. And so, once for all, the darkness perished.

Merry Chrismas.

Posted by kpearce at 01:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 24, 2005

Where Do Languages End and Cultural Assumptions Begin?

Better Bibles Blog has a discussion of the wording of Luke 2:40 in various Bible translations. The NKJV, the translation I normally use for devotional reading, etc., reads, "And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him."

The BBB discussion centers on the fact that "filled with wisdom" is not very natural English (neither is "strong in spirit," for that matter, but the translations being discussed are all from the Alexandrian text family, which omits "in spirit"). "The grace of God was upon him" is not very natural English either.

I agree with all of these statements, but some of the discussion in the comments has me asking a new question: where do languages end and cultural assumptions begin? Peter Kirk suggests that we get rid of the word grace, replacing it with favour (or favor, as we Americans usually spell it), because the word grace in English has come to be defined by Pauline theology, and the meaning here is not the same. There's also some discussion (in the main post, not the comments) about the CEV rendering "the grace of God was upon him" as "God blessed him." This is not necessarily wholly accurate, as Tim pointed out. Furthermore, "blessed" is still church English.

At some point, I think, we are no longer translating from one language to another; instead, we are transposing the content from one set of cultural assumptions to another. Now, I hold that this kind of transposition is good, but clearly not the job of a translator. Richard Swinburne argues, in his book Revelation, that if a speaker of another language says something that translates as "animals must breathe deforeonated air to live," and he says this because he believes that oxygen is air with the "foron" removed (when in fact there is no such things as foron), his sentence is still true, provided that there's some way we can pick out the referent of "deforeonated air" as being identical with the referent of our word "oxygen." The same will hold for the Bible - it's statements may be expressed in terms of false cultural assumptions and nevertheless be true, so long as the cultural assumptions are the means of communication, and not its content. This means that interpreters of the Bible must attempt to separate the text from its cultural assumptions. But should translators?

Now let me state that I don't think there are any false cultural assumptions in this verse. (What would those be?) What I'm saying is simply that language and cultural assumptions, and in particular standard cultural thought patterns, have enormous influence on one another (in both directions!). As a result, it may not always be possible to render a phrase in natural English while remaining accurate simply because English speakers don't think that way. One example, I think, may be this phrase "the grace of God was upon Him." We can't eliminate grace/favor from the translation of this verse, but English speakers simply don't think that way. We don't think of grace being upon someone. We might say, "and God favored him," but, as Wayne pointed out, this sounds to English speakers as though God favored him over someone else, which is not the point of the verse. I think the "natural English" way to render this phrase is simply "God was pleased with him," but this rendering is, in my opinion, shallow by comparison to the Greek (but then, it is my opinion that English, despite the enormity of its lexicon, is a shallow language compared to Greek). Even though God's favor toward Jesus is not undeserved, as the standard definition of grace would have it, there is definitely a deep meaning to the use of the word grace here. It implies that God the Father isn't merely pleased with Jesus, but is actively benefiting ("blessing") him. Evidently, Greek speakers thought of favor or grace as something one bestows upon others, approving of them and deciding to benefit them. English cannot actually render this full meaning, but only explain it, and to render only part of the meaning is inadequate.

Does Greek have an underlying cultural assumption or thought patter to do with "grace" being something substantive that rests upon a person? Or is this merely empty idiom? Is any idiom really empty, or do they come from tacit assumptions of the culture that develops them? If idioms come from tacit cultural assumptions, it is indisputable that they continue to be in use after those cultural assumptions die. Does that mean we should ignore the literal content of idioms, or might there still be some significance? Personally, I love finding cases where we are able to come up with a good idiomatic English translation that has both the same meaning and the same etymology as the original, but these cases are few and far between. In most cases, rendering idioms literally makes the translation not merely difficult to understand, but positively misleading.

The big question in the present case, however, is at what point these sorts of things cease to be merely linguistic differences and become substantive differences in content. Does a person reading a Bible translation devotionally or liturgically need to know that Greek phrases this in such a way as to imply that something substantive was given to Jesus (indeed, were Greek speakers even consciously aware of this?), or is this something needed only at deeper levels of interpretation? Clearly this phrasing in the language does lead speakers to think in this way. Is this type of thinking integral to the New Testament's mode of communication, or can we abstract away from it?

I don't necessarily have the answers, but I'm sure more extreme cases for this question could be found. These things begin to make me a little nervous at this point, because I fear that translations seeking to eliminate these kinds of underlying assumptions in order to communicate more naturally to English speakers may alter the text to an unacceptably great degree. It is very difficult to distinguish content from cultural assumptions and cultural assumptions from linguistic apparatus, and I would hate to have any actual substantive content removed from a translation due to its being mistaken for a mere linguistic difference.

One last note on this verse: I would like to see the first clause (before the participle) translated more literally; I think the progressive/repeated aspect of the two verbs and the passive voice of the second verb may be significant. This more literal rendering would be something like, "The child was growing and being strengthened." I don't know whether the original text would have left Greek speakers asking "being strengthened by whom?" as this translation would leave me asking (although in this case the answer is obvious), and I actually kind of doubt that it would, since this seems based on the limited degree of "feel" I have for the Greek language to be simply the most natural way to say what is being said, but I think the implication (whether it was on the surface or only a kind of underlying assumption for Greek speakers) that Jesus was strengthened by some agency outside himself may be important to our interpretation. Again, is this merely linguistic, is it a tacit cultural assumption, or is it part of the substantive content of the verse? I don't know, but in this case I'm pretty sure it would be better to preserve it in the translation. So, in light of that, here's my proposed (amateur, in a few minutes) translation of the whole verse: "The child was growing and being strengthened [spiritually], and gaining wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him." My Greek professor would chide me for leaving that participle as "general circumstance." I actually think that if the word pneumati is legitimate then the participle could be of means: he "was growing and being strengthened spiritually by gaining wisdom." However, if pneumati is not legitimate that wouldn't make as much sense to me. It could be temporal, since the participle is in the present, and we could give it a reading like "and all the while he was gaining wisdom," which I think sounds pretty good in English: "The child was growing and being strengthened, and all the while he was gaining in wisdom." But then maybe I just like phrases like "all the while" for the same reason I like to use whence as a relative pronoun: because too much of the stuff I read is either old or stilted or both, and besides, things like that just sound neat. At any rate, the point is that there are many factors to balance in translation, and it requires a lot of work in all cases, and is impossible in some cases, to get them all right at once.

Posted by kpearce at 02:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 06, 2005

"Talents" in Matthew 25

Peter Kirk has a post on Better Bibles Blog concerning the TNIV's decision to render the Greek word talanton as "bag of gold," instead of the traditional "talent." This is another translation vs. transliteration issue, so let's go back to the Oxford English Dictionary and look at some more etymology.

The word talent is first attested in 893, in the usage which is the proper interpretation of this verse: that is, it was transliterated (not in a Bible translation!) apparently from the Latin talentum, to mean a certain measurement of weight. Most of the cultures of the ancient eastern Mediterranean world had a measurement of weight known as the talent, and from very early times large sums of currency was measured in talents of gold or silver (as early as Homer we have discussion of a talent of gold). Unfortunately, in many cases we don't know how much a talent weighed (as in the Homeric case). Eventually, the word came to be used as a sum of money far more often than a measure of weight (as the use of "pound" in England, for instance). The usage of talent as a sum of money in the ancient world is first attested in the same work that has its first use as a weight, in 893.

Now, ordinarily, it is perfectly correct, and better than any alternatives, to use the ancient names of weights, measures, and sums of money, footnoting some equivalent. This is especially true with sums of money, since the value of our currency fluctuates so much, and so no estimate can remain correct for long. As a result it is common, for instance, to see the Greek word drachme transliterated (usually spelled "drachma" in English), with a footnote that this was one day's wages for manual labor. In classical Athens (c. 5th cent.), the drachma was worth 6 obols, and the talent was worth 6000 drachma (yes, that's over 16 years' wages - the lowest paid full-time employees in our society make around $20,000/year, so we can think of the Attic talent as nearly $330,000). That was 57.75 pounds of silver. (The above information on the Attic talent is from the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek lexicon.)

Now, as I said, ordinarily, for a translation, rather than a paraphrase or "transculturation" (like the Cotton Patch Bible), I would support transliterating and footnoting, because we're never going to get it just right. But in this case something funny happened: the usage of this word in the Bible altered it's every day meaning. I've discussed this phenomenon before. The Bible is (or at least was) so widely read and refered to by English speakers, that it's usage of words has sometimes altered their meaning, and this has sometimes had the effect of importing interpretations and/or theological assumptions into Bible translations. In this particular case, around 1450, the word talent began, according to OED, to develop the meaning "Power or ability of mind or body viewed as something divinely entrusted to a person for use and improvement: considered either as one organic whole or as consisting of a number of distinct faculties; (with pl.) any one of such faculties." This meaning developed out of an interpretation of this passage! Today, this etymology is not something English speakers think of when they hear the word "talent." It is, in fact, a "dead metaphor." What I mean by that is that, centuries ago, the actual meaning of the English word "talent" was "about 60 pounds of silver," or something along those lines, and a metaphorical sense of the word developed based on Jesus' parable. Today, this metaphorical sense is the only definition of the word talent for English speakers who are not students of ancient history and/or literature. As a result, transliterating in this case can be misleading to those who are new to studying the ancient world.

The solution may be simply to footnote and, because the word comes up so often, hope everyone will figure it out. I'm not completely satisfied with this solution, because it ruins the immediate effect. Given the context, one cannot help but think about talents in the everyday sense, and this is not what Jesus is saying at all (or rather, it is not part of the story of the parable - it certainly is part of the meaning of the parable).

Another solution might just be to write "6000 drachmas." I think this is the one I'm in favor of. This isn't anachronistic, and it won't be misinterpreted. Some people might not know what a drachma is (we'll give them a footnote), but they will not be likely to think it means something it doesn't, or to lose the meaning of the parable. This is also a good translation because there wasn't a 1 talent coin (have you ever seen a coin that was 60 pounds? Would you like to carry that around in your pocket?). If you wanted to give someone a talent, you would coin it out as 6000 drachmas.

A third solution is to do what the TNIV does and give it meaning in terms of weights of metal. I think that by just saying "bags of gold" we may be losing a lot of the meaning. For one thing, when Jesus' audience hears "talent," they probably think "more money than I have," rather than "lots of shiny metal." We are no longer used to using precious metals as currency, so we see these as two separate things.

Finally, one could give a dollar amount. A talent was a nice round sum that was well beyond the reach of most of the audience, and in the context just exactly how many days' labor would earn you a talent is not very relevant, so I would propose rounding it off and translating "one talent" as "one million dollars." This would leave the sense very well intact, and produce much the same effect that Jesus' words would have had on the original audience. The cons of this approach are that it is terribly anachronistic and America-centric, and for these reasons may not come off as very serious.

What does anyone else think? Which of these is best? Or should we use something else altogether?

Posted by kpearce at 03:07 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 28, 2005

Can The New Testament Be Both Influenced By Plato and Inspired by God?

The God Or Not Blog Carnival is a cool idea. It happens once or twice a month. For each carnival, there is a theme and the carnival host selects an approximately equal number of posts on that theme by atheists and theists for inclusion. The theme of the December 12 carnival is miracles. I have dealt substantially with miracles on this blog in a general way already, and so I've decided to post on applying my views to one very specific miracle which is central to the claims of Christianity and especially Evangelicalism: the inspiration of Scripture.

The story so far: nearly a year ago, I posted on what I referred to as "Christian naturalism". In this post I argued for a view that I continue to hold quite strongly: the view that traditional monotheists should not believe in exceptions to the laws of nature, as this would undermine the constancy of God. This, of course, creates a problem for miracles. I addressed that problem briefly in that post, but dealt with it more precisely in a recent post on Leibniz's discussion of efficient and final causes. In that post, I showed how the efficient/final cause distinction could be used to differentiate the miraculous from the mundane. I argued that the distinction was purely subjective, so that every event could be viewed as either miraculous or mundane depending on the disposition of the observer.

In the latter of these two posts, I briefly mentioned that fellow Christians, especially Evangelicals, with whom I have discussed this tend to be especially uneasy with my application of this theory to the inspiration of Scripture. This is the issue I intend to discuss here.

In Donald Bloesch's book, The Essentials of Evangelical Theology, he says, "the Bible is not partly the Word of God and partly the word of man: it is in its entirety the very Word of God and the very word of man" (vol. 1, p. 52). He goes on to say that, "inspiration is both conceptual and verbal, since it signifies that the Spirit was active both in shaping the thoughts and imagination of the biblical writers and also in guiding them in their actual writing ... The divine activity does not supersed the human but works confluently with the human so that the Scriptures are the joint product of both God and man. The writers are not to be thought of as simply the pens of the Holy Spirit ... but as partners with the Spirit so that the end product can be attributed to coauthorship" (p. 55).

Like Bloesch, I believe that, from one perspective, it is the case that the writings which came to be included in the Christian Bible came about in precisely the same fashion as any other books: that is, human authors sat down and wrote, and when they wrote they had particular views, thoughts, current issues, and so forth in mind which they wished to address. Their thoughts were influenced by those that came before them. I think, for instance, that it is clear that the theory of the self contained in the Pauline epistles must have been influenced by Plato's Republic (compare Paul's division into pneuma [spirit], psuche [soul], and sarx [flesh] with Plato's division into the philosophos [wisdom-loving], philotimos [honor-loving], and philochrematos [money-loving] psuchai [souls]), and the Johannine literature must have been influenced by Heraclitus (compare the use of logos [word]), although this influence may have been indirect (it has been suggested that it may have come through Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher who lived from about 20 BC to about 40 AD). However, this does not undermine inspiration. The Holy Spirit was active in shaping their life experiences so that their beliefs, ideas, thoughts, intentions, etc. would be such as to write down the Word of God, and also in imparting ideas to them at the time of writing.

Christians often seem to assume that if they Bible is inspired by God it must have come from nowhere - that is, it must have fallen from the sky (in the King James Version, of course), or the human authors must have experienced a sort of divine possession in which they did not write anything that they wanted to write or that they would have thought of, but merely "channeled" God's word in a highly supernatural way. Now, clergy, theologians, and others who have devoted a great deal of time to serious study of Scripture, tend not to take views that are so extreme as all of this (and I'm exaggerating even the popular view here), but they still seem to think that if the New Testament was influenced by Greek Pagans this would undermine its spiritual authority. But why should it?

Those who believe in the truth of the Christian Scriptures believe that Pauline Christianity is an accurate representation of Christ's intentions for the Church. What is the chief thrust of Pauline Christianity? It is nothing other than the God of the Hebrews reaching out to the Gentile (in that time, primarily Hellenistic) world. I do not mean to say that this is the only thing Christianity is about, or even the core of the message, but the idea that God has taken action to reach the whole world and not only Israel is certainly the thing that Paul was most surprised by and continued to be most excited about. We often talk about, for instance, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as being a symbolic action based on prophecy in the Hebrew Bible in which Jesus declared himself to be Messiah. Now, in light of the thrust toward reaching the Greeks, consider the story of the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Remind you of Greek mythology? How often do Greek gods disguise themselves as mortals, enter a home, and make their identities known only after eating dinner? The meaning of this story in light of Greek myth is outisde the scope of this post (and really beyond my knowledge - I don't know my mythology very well), but my point is, doesn't it make perfect sense that in the same way Jesus takes symbolic actions to reveal himself to the Jews, he would take symbolic actions to reveal himself to the Greeks?

If, then, Christianity can be influenced by Greek Pagan religion in this way, why should it not be influenced by the likes of Plato? If Plato is right about something (and can someone as smart as Plato possibly be wrong about absolutely everything?), or provides a good vocabulary for speaking in very precise terms about an issue important to Christianity, why shouldn't God use Plato's writings to form the views of the authors of Scripture in order to bring it about that they write down his word?

The objection that Scripture can't be inspired if it has outside influcences is essentially the same as the objection that the parting of the Red Sea wasn't a miracle if it had a naturalistic explanation, and this is simply false. A world in which physical laws were broken ad hoc would be a world unworthy of the Christian God. Why should the miracle of inspiration of Scripture be any different? Are there not "laws" about the ways human beings come to knowledge and form opinions, just as there are laws about how physical objects behave? Couldn't God construct the circumstances in the lives of the authors of Scripture in such a way that their words would coincide with his? And wouldn't this be a much greater miracle than his using his unlimited power to override the free will and individuality of the Biblical authors in order to "channel" his thoughts through them?

According to the definition I gave previously, if the Bible is the living word of God it should be easy for those who have been affected by it to see the miraculous nature of its inspirtation: its effect on us is clearly miraculous, in so far as it changes our lives by drawing us into relationship with God. This is its final cause, and it is immediately apparent to those who have had this experience. It's efficient causes, however, require extensive historical research and literary study to ascertain. In this sense, the Bible is a very miraculous collection of literature.

Finally, a word on use of miracles as proof of the existence of God: David Hume argued that we are never justified in believing a miracle has occurred. I'm undecided as to whether his reasoning is valid, but it is based on his (in my view, flawed) conception of miracles as exceptions to the laws of nature. Suppose we concede Hume this point. On my view, no such miracles occur anyway. But "miraculous" (in my teleological sense) events can still be accepted as proof of the existence of God. When the world seems to manifest purpose where humans have none, there may be a miracle. If many such events occur, such that the world appears to have a direction, a purpose, an intention, this may be evidence for God. Furthermore, as to the miracle of the inspiration of Scripture, we can be justified in believing it is inspired and hence miraculous because of a strange series of coincidences surrounding it (consider, for instance, the detailed discussion of the conflict between the Ptolemy and Seleucid dynasties at the end of Daniel, and consider the fact that the book of Daniel was translated from Hebrew into Greek decades before said conflict occurred. Consider also the events surrounding the foundation of the Christian church, and the various miracles reported in that connection). But all of these things require detailed historical analysis and there is a great deal of uncertainty about them. More immediately there is, along the lines of the argument from "religious experience," the fact that the text of the Bible has impacted the lives of millions in ways that are in line with the effects the God depicted in the Bible would want to bring about. There is a sort of inherent purposiveness to the Christian Scriptures that exceeds the purpose and planning of the original authors and compilers and reaches forward to present day circumstances the authors and compilers could not have had any knowledge of. This, above all, is evidence for the miraculous nature of Scripture, and if it is miraculous then it serves as an argument for God. Don't understand what I'm talking about? Go read it.

Posted by kpearce at 11:29 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

November 13, 2005

Translation vs. Transliteration

Note about this post: it's long, and the interesting stuff is at the end, so feel free to skip ahead. The beginning of the interesting part, which is not as long as the (comparatively) boring part, is marked with a boldface note like this one.

Transliteration is the practice of taking words from one language, written in one alphabet, and putting them in another language with another alphabet. Bible translators often choose to transliterate words and thus create new words in English, instead of using existing English words with equivalent or nearly equivalent meanings (sometimes because they don't think English has a nearly equivalent word). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the following words entered the English language through (or at least are first attested in) translations of part or all of the Bible in the years indicated:

  • Angel - 950
  • Apostle - 950
  • Christ - 950
  • Evangelize - 1382
  • Evangelist as agency noun of evangelize (it was previously used only to refer to the authors of the four Gospels) - 1535
  • Messiah - First appears in the West Saxon Gospels, date unknown

These are just a handful of words I thought to look up.

Transliteration is often a good thing, depending on the word, the intended audience, etc. In particular, when translating a technical term whose meaning is given almost entirely by the context, and not by any pre-conceived meaning the audience has, transliteration may be a good idea. On the other hand, the word does have some pre-conceived meaning, either because it already existed, or because it has a recognizable etymology (people don't just make words up from nowhere!) and if that can be duplicated in the translation it's generally a good idea. Then there's the question of the purpose of a translation. If, for instance, one is translating the fragments of Heraclitus, and the intended audience is academic philosophers/philosophy students, then transliterating words like logos, kosmos, etc. may be a good idea. Another alternative is to do what the Irwin and Fine volume of selections from Aristotle that I have do and indicate the word by a subscript (for instance, when ousia is translated "being" or "essence", the word is followed by a subscripted o). Yet another alternative is to pick an English word that is a close equivalent of the original language and use the word always and only to translate the one single original language word, and note it in an introduction.

Of these, only the last is appropriate for a translation intended for casual reading by non-scholars (in my opinion). Of course one might argue that in the case of the Bible we (Christians) should all be "scholars," not in the sense of going to school for it, but in the sense of studying it seriously, and I would agree. However, there is a need for more casual Bible reading as well; for devotional reading, and reading aloud in a church service, for instance. Now the last option, the one appropriate for casual readers, is not always possible. Imagine, for instance, if the English "word" was only used to translate logos. How many other terms for "word" does English have? Do we then (over-)translate rhema as "thing said?" What about epos? What about all the cases (there are a lot of them) where the translation "word" doesn't make sense to an untrained English speaker, as when logos actually means argument, speech, story, etc.? You can mark it off as a technical term with some type of capitalization or typeface, but that won't come across when read aloud.

So what do we do? We translate logos all sorts of different ways, depending on what is most appropriate in the context, to convey the same meaning to English speakers. Now, in a serious study Bible we might write transliterate logos in the first place (I believe there exists a translation that does this, but I don't remember which one), or we might affix a subscript l to indicate the word (or you could memorize the Strong's numbers for all your favorite words, and get a Bible that has those).

Now, in the case of something that was a coinage at the time of writing, as euangelistes (announcer of good news, aka evangelist) seems to have been in the NT, or agape (love) seems to have been in the Septuagint (in both cases the verb form already existed), it might be good to transliterate - but we're still not creating the effect that the original readers experienced, so it might be better to coin a new English word with a similar etymology (as Peter Meinek's translation of Aristophanes' Clouds, a play parodying Socrates which was written and perofmred within Socrates' lifetime, coins the term "Pondertorium," and another translation, I'm not sure which one, coins the term "Thinkery").

There are two cases where I am an enthusiastic supporter of transliteration: the case where the original author transliterated a word from a language different than that of the text, and the case of proper nouns. You would think both of these would be followed by translators almost all the time, but they are not. For instance, the words hAidos (=Hades) and geena (=Gehenna) are both translated "Hell" (with or without capitalization) in most New Testament translations, which is confusing because Hades is not the same as Hell in the New Testament (rather, it is equivalent to OT Sheol, another proper name normally translated "the pit" or various other strange things instead of transliterated). As for the second case, most New Testament translations translate Aramaic words like maranatha and raca instead of transliterating (the NASB is an exception to these - it transliterates a lot).

Note: the interesting stuff starts here.

Several of the words mentioned above are NOT technical terms in the original language, but ordinary words used with more or less ordinary meanings. They may have developed technical meanings, but these meanings were not contradictory to their original meanings. Almost all of them had English equivalents to begin with (the exceptions are of course Christ and Messiah, which could be translated "anointed one" or "chosen one," but are not really equivalent and were definitely theological terms). The word for "angel" was just the normal everyday word "messenger." The word "apostle" meant "ambassador," or "emmissary." Now in the introduction to The Source New Testament (which I did finally get my hands on, although not the version with the lexical notes), Ann Nyland says she has "chosen to translate rather than transliterate many words, not following the usual tradition of Bible translation." This, I think, is a good idea, as words like angel have become technical terms in English when they were not in Greek. However, I can't imagine her justification for deciding to translate christos while still transliterating apostolos into apostle. Today, we think of the word "apostle" as referring specifically to the Twelve, and only after Pentecost (before that they are usually called "disciples"). In fact, the word means, according to LSJ, "a messenger, ambassador, envoy." I have never seen this word translated. It is always transliterated (of course, before The Source I had never seen aggelos (angel) translated either, so a step in the right direction). I don't understand the reason why not. I suppose tradition/habit is one reason - if you talked about Jesus' twelve ambassadors no one would know what you meant - but Dr. Nyland doesn't care about that part, and she still didn't translate apostolos. Is there something I'm not getting here? Why is apostolos a better candidate for transliteration than logos - or, in Dr. Nyland's case, even a better candidate than christos? How many non-Greek speakers read the word "apostle" and know that it means, literally, "one sent forth?"

On a side note, I very much appreciate Dr. Nyland's translation in Matthew 5:22, where the NKJV's "hell fire" becomes "Burning Garbage Pit Gehenna" (capitalization original).

Posted by kpearce at 09:10 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 12, 2005

Leibniz on "Efficient" vs. "Final" Causes in Physics: Its Application to God, Science, and Miracles

So I'm taking this class on Leibniz this semester (for those of you who may be unfamiliar, that is Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the 17th century philosopher/scientist/mathematician, and the "other" discoverer of calculus), and I was reading his Discourse on Metaphysics today and came across this fantastic passage in section 19:

Moreover, it is unreasonable to introduce a supreme intelligence as orderer of things and then, instead of using his wisdom, use only the properties of matter to explain the phenomena. This is as if, in order to account for the conquest of an important place by a great prince, a historian were to claim that it occurred because the small particles of gunpowder, set off by the contact of a spark, escaped with sufficient speed to push a hard and heavy body against the walls of the place, while the little particles that make up the brass of the cannon were so firmly interlaced that this speed did not separate them, instead of showing how the foresight of the conqueror enabled him to choose suitable means and times and how his power overcame all obstacles.

The heading of this section is "The Utility of Final Causes in Physics." Now Leibniz, like me, sees no conflict between an event's being "miraculous" and its being explainable in terms of physics: as in the case of the conqueror, both explanations are correct, but only one is relevant. Leibniz borrows from Aristotle the terminology of "efficient" and "final" causes (Aristotle has two more types of causes, "formal" and "material," which are not relevant here). Today, we use the word "cause" to refer only to what Aristotle and later philosophers, including Leibniz, called the "efficient cause." The "final cause" is the purpose of a thing or event. For instance, the final cause of this post is (in part) to be read.

Now, for anyone who, like Leibniz and like myself, is a theist, the world is full of final causes. There are reasons why things are as they are. God has a design for the world. Leibniz, in this passage, tells us that it would be ridiculous to believe in God and not see final causes throughout the world. He also says, in a nearby section, that it is silly for those who study final causes of things to ridicule those who study their efficient causes, and vice versa. Both explanations are correct, but in a given situation one may be more relevant than another.

A while back, I wrote a post on Christian Naturalism. In it, I argued that Christians should not believe in exceptions to the laws of nature. This then leaves the problem of how to deal with miracles. In that post I said "A miracle is an event in which the 'higher functions' of the divine consciousness, i.e. the part equivalent to the conscious functioning of the human mind, that makes plans and designs regarding human lives and the like, are more apparent than the 'lower functions' which are the laws of nature. To put it more simply (but less precisely) a miracle occurs when the laws of nature conspire together to acheive some intelligent end." (Yes, the "conspire" language was in part a reference to Stephen Hawking's "Chronology Protection Conjecture.") Using the language of Aristotle and Leibniz I can now state this more precisely.

The difference between the "miraculous" and the "mundane" is purely subjective. A miracle is an event in which the "final cause" - the divine purpose behind it (or at least a part of that purpose) - is more readily apparent to the observer than the "efficient cause" - the physical laws which require that the event occurs. In this way, there is no contradiction between belief in the miraculous and naturalism.

A brief note on a related topic: I apply this same doctrine to all miracles, but one in which I have gotten very negative responses is in its application to the revelation of the Christian Scriptures. I believe that these are miraculous in precisely this sense: what came down to us turned out (not by any accident, but by divine purpose) to be the Living Word of God. This does not, however, mean that it was not produced in precisely the same way as any other work of literature. Therefore it is consistent with belief in the inspiration of Scripture to talk about the influence of earlier non-inspired writers (e.g. Plato, Philo of Alexandria, or Heraclitus) on the authors of Scripture, as I often do. I believe that the Scriptures are miraculously inspired, I just don't believe that they were inspired "in a vacuum" as it were, independent of the surrounding thought patterns. Where previous writers were correct, or almost correct, or provided good terminology for discussing a subject, God used their writings to bring it about that the authors of Scripture would write down the Living Word of God.

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September 06, 2005

Using Classical Greek Resources to Study the New Testament

A post on the Logos Bible Software Blog (HT: Better Bibles Blog) recently argues for the use of classical Greek resources, specifically the LSJ lexicon, in the study of the New Testament. As I have said before, I am personally of the opinion that this is critically important if we are to properly understand the NT, and especially if we seek to emancipate ourselves (as far as it is possible) from theological bias in NT studies.

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August 31, 2005

Ecclesiology in Swinburne's Revelation

I've just finished reading Richard Swinburne's Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy, in which he strives to create a rational foundation for belief in (a particular understanding of) "the Christian revelation" (which, on Swinburne's account is not exactly equivalent with the Bible, but we'll get there). The beginning of this book is very good. Swinburne argues forcefully that if the God of traditional Western monotheism exists, then there is good reason to expect that He would reveal Himself to mankind, and, of course, if we have an a priori expectation that there is probably a revelation out there somewhere, then much less evidence is required to identify some specific item as that revelation than if we had a view of the world which makes such a revelation unlikely (note that Swinburne establishes the authority of the Bible on the basis of the existence of God, not vice versa). However, as one moves on further in Swinburne's book, into the specifics of his theory of revelation, his statements become increasingly problematic (read: false). Swinburne's departure from sound doctrine is not due to flawed philosophical reasoning, but rather to correct reasoning from a false premise. The departure occurs at a very definite point and comes from a very definite cause: the horrible ecclesiology assumed, not argued for, in chapter 8. Some hints of this problem occur earlier, but so far as the course of Swinburne's argument is concerned he does well up to this point, but as soon as he allows this false premise to enter he departs from the "straight and narrow" and the rest of his argument, following this premise, moves him farther and farther away.

Now, let us be clear here: this is not so much a (theologically) liberal/conservative dispute as a Roman Catholic/Protestant dispute. Swinburne does ultimately allow some rather liberal conclusions about the proper interpretation of Scripture, but these are well argued for (I do not know the Roman Catholic tradition well enough to tell if they are established or if he is omitting crucial evidence) and stem from proper conservative Catholic doctrine.

The crucial assumption is this: that the Church is an earthly institution, with a unified human authority structure, with buildings, meetings, etc. Since Swinburne's argument shows that Jesus of Nazareth (whose life and teachings are taken to be the "original Christian revelation") established the Church and that the resurrection, which Swinburne takes to be God's "signature" on the revelation (I like that part, by the way - Swinburne argues that, just as human beings sign letters so others will know they are legitimate by performing and action easy for the real author but impossible or nearly so for others, God would authenticate His revelation by performing some act which is easy for Him but impossible for anyone else. This act was the resurrection of Jesus. Again, Swinburne establishes the authority of Scripture from the resurrection as an historical occurrence, not vice versa), validated the church as the body God had appointed to interpret the revelation. Swinburne does have arguments which show that, due to the culture- and language-specific nature of human communication, a once-for-all revelation would be likely to have an interpreting body to make it accessible for future generations, and the New Testament itself does seem to have such a conception, but we are getting to that. Now, because of Swinburne's ecclesiological assumption, it becomes necessary to find the church (or churches - he leaves open the possibility that due to splits there may be more than one) which is the true successor of the Church which Jesus founded with His twelve disciples, i.e. the one that has true apostolic succession, and to believe the teachings of that church. Of couse, apart from Swinburne's (in my view false) assumptions about the sort of Church Jesus founded, why should there be such a church, in our modern sense which gives us options like (to name a few) the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, Calvary Chapel, or some combination of the above. Why should we suppose that ANY of these are the sort of thing meant by "the Church" in the New Testament? All of the Protestant denominations can be traced to founding by a distinct human individual. Nothing recognizable as the Roman Catholic Church existed AT LEAST until the Council of Chalcedon gave (honorary only, according to the Eastern Orthodox Church) primacy to the patriarch of Rome (later called the Pope) over the other patriarchs in 451, and probably not really until the Great Schism permanently separated it from the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1054. It is my view (based on my limited knowledge) that, although I do not believe in apostolic succession per se, if any modern institution church has a legitimate historical claim to it it must be the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, once again, I see no reason to suppose that that is at all the sort of thing that the "one holy catholic [i.e. universal] and apostolic Church" of the Nicene Creed is.

As I suggested previously, the Bible has a different view of the ekklesia, or Church, which it often refers to as "the Body of Christ." Firstly, the word itself has the primary meaning "assembly," but more particularly it is etymologically related to kaleo, "I call". It is "the assembly of the called." In the Athenian government, it was the assembly of all citizens, which was called together by the town crier. In this case, it is the assembly (gathering together) of all those who have responded to God's call to the world. It may very well be significant that the early believers used this word rather than the word "synagogue" (Greek: sunagogos), which also means "coming together" but did not have the idea of being called or chosen in its connotation (note that ekklesia is cognate with the English "eclectic"). Take into account Jesus' own words in Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered together [Gr. sunegmenoi, from the verb form of sunagogos] in My name, I am there in the midst of them." THIS is Jesus' concept of the Church. Furthermore, we know that in the first century new believers were inducted into the Church by baptism (see e.g. Acts 2:38-39), and in Paul's discussion of baptism he says, "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13), and that body is clearly the Church in Paul's thought. That is, Paul identifies the members of the Church as those who have received the promise of baptism "with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:16), and this is not a matter of membership in some specific earthly institution. After all, consider the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). What earthly institution did he join? After baptizing him, Philip disappeared! Did he even know about the (lower c) church in Jerusalem, or anywhere else?

Now, as to Swinburne's assertion that the Church is the interpreter of revelation, this is true, but not in the way he thinks. Paul says, "These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). The Church is just that group of people that is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16 teaches that the Holy Spirit testifies to each believer that he is a "child of God", i.e. a member of the Church), and, therefore, just the group of people capable of understanding and interpreting "the thing of the Spirit of God," which includes the Bible. Also, John 16:13, which Swinburne cites to this effect on the last page of his book, specifically discusses the Holy Spirit guiding us into "all truth." Thus the putative revelation, the Bible (which Swinburne says is merely a correct interpretation of the true revelation, the life and teachings of Jesus - let us concede that point, as I simply don't think its worth arguing about, provided "correct" is understood strongly enough), actually tells us what the interpreting body will look like, and therefore if such a body exists and the revelation is legitimate then the body will be the proper interpreter.

What does that mean? Baptists have traditionally affirmed the right and responsibility of each believer to interpret the Bible for himself within a community of believers, and I think this is the correct direction to take. The Bible is, primarily, a tool by which God the Holy Spirit reveals the same truth to different people at different times in different ways, but the tool is public because of the dangerously subjective nature of individual revelations. Thus the Holy Spirit makes special revelation to each individual in the Church, but He does so through a public tool which admits to a degree of objectivity so that there is a means of distinguishing the true revelation of the Spirit from the wishful thinking or invention of the individual. It takes time to learn to hear God's voice and follow Him as our Shepherd (John 10:27), and in order to do this we need "training data", so to speak, for our "spiritual sense" - that is, we need well known, public examples of things that God has said so that we can learn to discern his voice from our own (or that of the devil). Thus the Bible contains the revelation which is universally applicable, communicated in such a way that it can be properly interpreted only with divine guidance, but nevertheless admits to publicly verifiable analysis. This is what it means that the Bible can only be properly interpreted by the Church. Swinburne may even be right that it is the Church's status as interpreter of the revelation which came in the life and teachings of Christ, signed by God with the resurrection (but do not read either Swinburne or myself as claiming that this is the SOLE purpose of the resurrection - God never does anything for only one purpose), that tells us that the canon of Scripture is a further revelation (or correct interpretation of the original revelation, or whatever).

It follows then that an individual currently outside the Church seeking to understand the Christian revelation, must consult the Church. But how does one find the true Church? Jesus tells us "you will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:16), and this is clearly the central criterion. Swinburnes other criteria, continuity of organization and purpose, are also important. Swinburne says that one criterion is in fact that the true Church will have sound doctrine, continuous with the teaching of Jesus, but since we are, in this case, attempting to find the true Church in order to figure out what Jesus taught, this is only helpful for what little we can determine by normal historical inquiry, without treating Scripture as a revelation. Clearly the modern Church will in some sense "look like" the Church in the first century. However, if the central definition of the Church is "the gathering together of those called out of the world by God and filled with the Holy Spirit" then the primary characteristics will be those the Bible associates with this change, which includes "signs following" (Mark 16:17-18), power to witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8), changed lives (see esp. the change from the frightened disciples before Pentecost, to the fearless preachers after), and, above all, the "fruits of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23). This is the crucial mark of the true Church, the gaurdian of the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is not a human institution, nor need it have a central human authority structure; only Jesus Himself is its head (Colossians 1:18).

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August 29, 2005

Christos as a Proper Name in Matthew

So I was looking at the Greek text of Matthew 27 today (for those of you who have not read my posts on these subjects before, I have been studying classical Greek at Penn for two years now and have been taking some time on my own to look at the text of the NT), and I noticd that Pilate twice (vv. 17, 22) identifies Jesus of Nazareth with the phrase, Iesous hos legomenos Christos, "Jesus, who is called 'Christ.'" The reason I thought this was curious is that it lacks the article (equivalent of the English word "the"). My first intuition was that if the article was added, that is, if the phrase was Iesous hos legomenos hos Christos, then the phrase would be "Jesus, who they say is the Appointed One," and I wondered, at first, if perhaps Pilate, being Roman, didn't really understand what all this "Messiah" stuff was, and was using christos not substantively, but simply as an adjective attributed to Jesus, in which case the correct translation would be "Jesus, who is called 'anointed,'" with a "whatever the heck that means" implied by the context. However, my intuition may very well have been based on English rather than Greek (English "Anointed" vs. "the anointed one"). To research this point, I used the Greek Lexicon to find all the occurences of christos in Matthew (I ignored occurrences of the phrase "Jesus Christ", assuming that that was a different case than the one I was interested in). The result was somewhat surprising. Christos occurs without the article and without the name Iesous immediately preceding or following it only four times, and three are in the phrase Iesous hos legomenos Christos (two of these are uttered by Pilate in chapter 27, the third is at 1:16, in the genealogy). The fourth usage is in 26:68 where Jesus is addressed as Christe, the vocative case of Christos. The surprising conclusion that I have come to is that Matthew is using Christos (in his own mouth in 1:16, and in the mouths of Romans in the other three cases) as a proper name of Jesus.

Perhaps this is not surprising to some people. The reason it surprises me is that I was always taught that Christ was not part of Jesus' name, but rather a title.
In fact, Matthew does not seem to use the word always this way, but sometimes seems to treat it as a surname, just as Peter was a surname of Simon Bar-Jonah. Surnames in the ancient world were primarily meaningful (in the Bible, usually very deeply meaningful) nicknames used to distinguish between people with the same first name. For instance, in a few texts of 27:16, Barabbas's first name seems to be Jesus as well, so that Pilate is asking, "which Jesus do you want me to release - the one who is called 'Barabbas', or the one who is called 'Christ?'" (As for the significance of the name "Barabbas", it happens to look suspiciously similar to the Aramaic for "son of my daddy." I don't read Aramaic, but it has been guessed that this may have been a name this bandit/insurrectionist went by to hide his identity.)

What effect does this have on translation? Well, I would suggest, first, that where Christos is used as a proper name it should always be transliterated (i.e., rendered as a proper name, "Christ" with a capital C, in English translations). Second, it seems that we can identify some cases where it is not used as a proper noun. For instance, both Matthew 22:42 and 24:5 are obvious cases where it is not a name, but a title. In these cases we should probably NOT transliterate, but render the word as "the Appointed One" (a rendering I was convinced of by my interaction with The New Testament in Plain English Blog) or something similar. Of course, the meaning of the name Christ should be footnoted at its first use in a given book. Note also that, since this is a blog post and not a dissertation, I haven't looked at the uses of the word in the rest of the NT, let alone all of early Christian literature, so I couldn't say just yet whether this should be extended to the rest of NT translation, or if it only applies to Matthew.

Anyway, for those of you who read this far in expectation of some kind of theological point, I don't really have one, I just ran across this today and thought it was interesting. I also thought that if I posted it and I happened to be greatly mistaken in this matter, someone would be good enough to tell me.

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August 14, 2005

The Cotton Patch Bible, Online

I first heard of The Cotton Patch Bible years ago from a pastor who found it most entertaining, but I had never been able to look at it until today. Better Bibles Blog has a link to where the Cotton Patch Bible is now available online! For those of you who are not familiar with it, the Cotton Patch Bible is a paraphrase written in Souther (US) English vernacular. Jerusalem has been replaced by Atlanta, Bethlehem by Gainesville, GA. Tons of fun. Enjoy!

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August 13, 2005

2 Timothy 2:2 - Conclusions (or Lack Thereof)

Last week, I posted on the translation of the prepositon dia in 2 Timothy 2:2. I want to thank everyone for all the responses and the links (particularly the links from Better Bibles Blog and Thanks to lengthy email discussions with commenters John Kendall and Stephen C. Carlson, (which I apologize for my limited participation in and late response to), I think that a basic understanding has been reached on which both translations can be seen to be justified (which is what I had hoped for; I didn't particularly want all of the major translations to be wrong). The usage of dia to mean "in the midst of" does in fact have other evidence, but all of that evidence is questionable. About five sources are routinely cited (including notably Philo's epistle to Gaius, 187, and Plutarchs Moralia 338F), and several important lexica (including a tiny note that I missed in LSJ at the end of A.I.3 of the entry) do list this meaning.

That said, I must still favor the interpretation of dia here meaning "through" because of two points. (1) Occam's Razor. The existence of the "with" meaning of dia is an unecessary postulate based on all the evidence that I can see, so we are justified in throwing it out. (2) The Vulgate. The Latin Vulgate translation, which was written at a time when there were still native speakers of the language walking around, translated the relevant portion "quae audisti a me per multos testes," and the Latin per also normally means "through." However, we are in much the same position with the Latin, as, according the Lewis and Short, per does occasionally mean "with," and again I suspect the references they cite are questionable and this is one of them.

In sum, the "with" interpretation makes sense in the context, but the lexicographic evidence for it is weak. It seems likely to me that this was a questionable decision made by the Geneva Bible (which, by the way, renders it "among many witnesses") and accepted without enough questioning by future generations of translators.

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August 06, 2005

Translation of 2 Timothy 2:2

This summer, I've been leading a weekly Bible study here at Penn. Two of us in the study read classical Greek (the other one is a senior majoring in linguistics and reads a truly absurd number of languages for someone still in undergrad - or, indeed, for anyone), and we often take time to pick apart the original text, and compare the various translations that people bring (mostly NIV, NKJV, ESV, and occasionally NLT). This past week, Steven and I were rather perplexed by the way in which the standard translations have chosen to render 2 Timothy 2:2, and had some difficulty connecting the translations to the Greek. NKJV renders this verse, "And the things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." The relevant portion, "the things you have heard from me among many witnesses," is rendered almost identically by the other translations. NIV: "the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses," ESV: "what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses." The trouble is that the Greek seems to suggest a reading more like "the things which you have heard from me through many witnesses." That is, the Greek appears to say that Timothy heard these teachings from many witnesses who came from Paul, rather than that he heard them from Paul himself. The following is my (mostly failed) attempt to make sense of this. Because some technical discussion concerning Greek grammar and the meanings of the two prepositions is necessary in the discussion, the non-technical portions, excluding this introductory paragraph, are in bold print to facilitate easy skimming to help those who are not familiar with Greek grammar understand the basics of the translational issue without getting lost. Also, for those who don't know Greek (yet) but nevertheless care about the technical details (and have some time on their hands) I have tried to give some basic definitions of the terms that should hopefully be enough for you to follow.

There are two prepositions in this phrase, para and dia which are translated "from" and "among", respectively, in the NKJV. The basic meaning of para is beside, and with a noun or pronoun in the genitive case, as here, it would ordinarily mean "from the side of," however, LSJ notes an idiomatic usage with the verb akouo, as here, in which it sometimes specifies the person from whom a thing was heard (see LSJ s.v. "akouo". This usage is not noted in the entry for "para" as far as I can see). No difference in meaning is noted. However, para, because it means "from the side (i.e. the general vicinity) of" is clearly weaker than the other prepositions listed as far as the assertion of the origin of the thing heard. The phrase ha ekousas par' emou alone would clearly be properly translated "the things which you heard from me" (i.e. "the things which you heard me say"); the trouble comes in interpreting dia in a way that makes sense.

The object of dia is also in the genitive, which would ordinarily mean "through" in the sense of space or time, but is also used fairly frequently with the meaning "by means of," so the most obvious interpretation of this fragment in isolation is "the things which you heard from me through (i.e. by means of) many witnesses," with the implication that witnesses came to Timothy bringing Paul's words. These may have been the messengers that Paul sent bringing letters such as the present one, or other travelling preachers (there were a lot of these in the Christian community of the first century) who had heard Paul preach and reported his doctrine. The relative weakness of the preposition is an argument, albeit not a very strong one, in favor of this interpretation.

Some commentaries do note this as an alternative rendering. For instance, John Gill suggests the interpretation above. He also suggests a second alternative reading, which also interprets the preposition as meaning "by means of," on which the many witnesses are Moses and the prophets and these were the means by which Paul exposited the things that Timothy heard, so that the witnesses are indirectly the means of Timothy's hearing. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown suggest that the literal reading should be "through many witnesses," to be interpreted as "with the attestation (or intervention) of many witnesses." The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge also briefly notes this as a possible interpretation.

This is all lovely, but the question remains, where does the standard translation come from? Steven and I at first thought it might just be a paraphrase: that someone (possibly the Geneva Bible, which seems to have this interpretation) had decided that "through many witnesses" didn't make sense in English and decided that what was meant was "among many witnesses." But how does one get "among" from "through"? My next guess was that, in order to make sense of the passage, some translator had decided to ignore the prepositon. In the absence of the preposition dia, pollon marturon would probably be best interpreted as a partitive genitive. This would yield the reading "the things which you have heard from me, being just one out of many witnesses," which might be rendered into better English with the NKJV's reading. However, this does not explain the NIV/ESV "in the presence of," and besides, where does a translator get off just ignoring a word, even if it is only three letters?

Robertson's Word Pictures gives us a much better hint. It suggests that this is a legal idiom meaning "supported by many witnesses". For this usage of dia, Robertson cites Plutarch, but he does not give a specific reference, and this usage is not listed in LSJ under either dia or martus, nor is it listed in Moulton's "Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised" (a NT specific reference) or any other lexicon I have access to. Somewhat more helpfully, Robertson lists other references in the Pauline epistles where he says the word is used in this same sense. These are 1 Thessalonians 4:2, 2 Corinthians 2:4, Romans 2:27, and Romans 14:20. The 1 Thessalonians reference does not appear to be related to the issue at hand. In 2 Corinthians 2:4 NKJV translates dia as "with," however, I think that the text is better interpreted as saying that Paul was writing "through many tears," and I don't understand why it has not been rendered in this way, as the very literal rendering "out of much afflication and anguish of heart I wrote to you through my tears" is perfectly idiomatic English (though note that the text says "many tears," not "my tears." I have taking this slight liberty with the passage because I'm trying to make a point that good idiomatic English could have kept the word "through" very easily, and I don't think that "through many tears" sounds like something produced by a vernacular speaker of contemporary English, while I think that "through my tears" does). Once again, all three translations are united on this questionable interpretation that is not supported by the standard lexica (although in this case the reading is supported at least by Moulton). In Romans 2:27 the word is again translated "with," and again I think "through" is a better rendering ("will he not judge you [to be] a transgressor of the law through [i.e. according to] the written [law] and the [covenant of] circumcision?"). In Romans 14:20 "with" is probably a good translation of dia, but I think the literal meaning "through" still stands. The idea, I think, is that the man continues eating it right through offense, i.e. he doesn't stop because of it.

As you can see, Robertson does little to support the standard translation, and we are back where we started, and I still don't understand why this verse is translated the way it is. Kenny's Excruciatingly Literal Amateur Translation Attempt (KELATA) on this verse is the following: "The very things which you heard from me through many witnesses, these things commit to faithful people, whatever people will be competent to teach even others." Does anyone out there know why he major translations render it the way they do?

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July 27, 2005

The Source New Testament on Gender Roles

Better Bibles Blog now has more excerpts from The Source New Testament, this time on the contentious subject of gender roles. Dr. Nyland's last book was subtitled "The Campaign to Control Gender Translation in Bibles," and in her BBB interview she asserted that "most people do not want to know what the Greek .... really says" in "the women passages." These comments, combined with her background as a lexicographer, and the new archaeological research she has access to, made me very interested in what she had to say here.

Before I dive into an examination of these passages, a word about my (lack of) qualifications: I am entering my third year of undergraduate education at Penn. I am majoring in computer science, philosophy, and classical studies, the latter with emphasis in Greek language and literature. As such, I have had three semesters of Attic prose (the Greek of classical Athens - Koine, the Greek of the New Testament, is generally seen as a much simplified form of this dialect), one semester of Homer, and one semester of formal linguistics (syntax). I've also been reading the NT in the Greek on my own time (when I have any) for the last two years. I've covered most of Matthew, all of Ephesians, and most of 1 Timothy so far (I expect to finish Matthew and 1 Timothy and get through 2 Timothy by the end of the summer). Other relevant areas of study include Roman history (I'll be taking Greek history this semester) and ancient philosophy. The reason I bring this up is that I think it is relevant to how the things I am going to say should be interpreted: I do read Greek, and I hope I have something to contribute to this discussion, but I am at least ten years of study away from being anything like an authority in the field. I have spent a few minutes comparing Dr. Nyland's translations to the Greek; she, in addition to having a Ph.D. in this area, spent six years, and most other modern translations involve teams of Ph.Ds, DDs and Th.Ds and periods of study that long or longer. That's my disclaimer. If you are still interested in my analysis, read on.

One of the general trends of Dr. Nyland's translation of these passages is her use of the term "be supportive" for hupotasso, traditionally translated "submit." This word is from the prefix hupo (which often means under - this is where we get the English prefix hypo, as in hypothermia, being "under" healthy body temperature) and the verb tasso, "to array troops for battle." Accordingly, the original meaning of this word, according to LSJ, the standard Greek lexicon in classical studies departments, "to place, or arrange, under." This is used in the Greek historians in a military sense, as the root word suggests: "to arrange troops under [a commander]." In the interview Dr. Nyland commented that interpreting word based on their etymology is "a big mistake in Greek." While many Greek words have meanings which are not obvious from their etymology (for instance, virtually ever Greek prefix can in some cases be used to make a word emphatic, rather than to actually change its meaning, and sometimes the totality of a compound word has a meaning which is completely unrelated to the meaning of its parts), I have to disagree with her. Here it is clear that the early usage of the word was related directly to its etymological components, and Plutarch, who was contemporary with the NT (he lived from 46 to 120AD) continued to use the word in its military sense (I don't have access to the Greek text of Plutarch, but LSJ cites Life of Pompey 64, and I assume they mean the phrase which my English translation renders "[Brutus] put himself under [Pompey's] command"), so this usage was not wholly obsolete. This fits perfectly with Paul's ongoing military metaphor, to form a picture of the family as a "platoon" in God's army, in which the husband is the commanding officer. In the middle voice (the middle voice is a quirk of Greek - different words mean different things in the middle which are not necessarily related to their meanings in the active and passive voices in the same way in all cases. Every use of hupotasso in the passages cited is in the present, and in the present tense the middle and passive forms are homonymous, so we have no way of knowing which is which), tasso, the root, can mean "to fall in order of battle." So if the military metaphor were to be preserved, and the word was interpreted as being in the middle voice, the passages could be rendered "wives, organize yourselves for battle under your husbands;" or, if passive, "wives be commanded by your husbands." These translations are probably too strong and may overemphasize a metaphor that Paul may not intend here (though I think he does, since he uses it repeatedly, and this section of Ephesians feeds into the "whole armor of God" section). In light of Ephesians 5:21, which instructs believers to "submit to one another in the fear of the Lord" (the next section of the book is, I think, intended to address the obvious questions, "how does that work? What kind of army has every soldier commanded by every other soldier?), and based on the types of relationships this word is applied to, translators decided on the weaker "submit." One virtue of Dr. Nyland's translation is that it emphasizes the purpose of the submission: the husband does not dominate the wife as though this, domination, were the objective. Rather, the wife (and the rest of the family; see Eph. 6:1, etc.) submits to the husband in order that the whole family might have clear leadership as it goes through the "battle" of life, and in order that the husband might have support from his "soldiers" in the "military operations" he chooses to undertake. I kind of like the differing perspective, and I think she makes a good point but, to someone who was not familiar with the more traditional translations, I think Dr. Nyland's rendering could be misleading.

I think her rendering of Colossians 3:18 is interesting. LSJ does give the traditional meaning of "to be fit or proper", but cites ONLY THE NEW TESTAMENT as authority on this. The Septuagint uses the word to mean "to belong, appertain." However, Dr. Nyland's translation, "to be connected" is by far a more common usage of the word in the classical Greek corpus. Very interesting.

Her translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 is a paraphrase. The meaning she gives may very well be correct. However, she is giving the MEANING. It is my belief that wherever it is possible a translation should have exactly the same degree of ambiguity and confusion as the original text would have had to the original readers. Here, context was necessary in order to get a precise understanding of the meaning. This context, where it comes from outside Scripture and is not part of our modern cultural context, could be included in a footnote. The phrase "I most certainly do not grant a woman to teach that she is the originator of man" is very interesting, but I can't see it in the text. The text says "I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to tyrannically dominate a man" (yes, the word traditionally translated "usurp authority" literally means "to be a tyrant"), and unless there is some funny grammar going on here that I don't understand, it just can't be read her way. The NT typically uses very simple grammar, and the simplest, most obvious reading of the grammar is the one above. Paul does not specify the content of what the woman in question is teaching.

I strongly agree with her rendering the text in 1 Timothy 3:11 as "the female deacons." There is no possessive pronoun there, nor even an article, so an interpretation as "likewise the women also," meaning the women who are deacons, is much more likely than "likewise the wives also," meaning the wives who are deacons. Plus, Romans 16:1 uses the female form of the word deacon (Greek masc. diakonos, fem. diakona) in reference to a woman named Phoebe. The NT appears in many places, particularly in the earlier writings, to use the word loosely, refering to all who serve in the church and not just those who fulfill some specific office for which there are requirements, but I nevertheless strongly favor the position that, in light of these considerations, 1 Timothy 3:11 is a reference to female deacons.

1 Corinthians 11:4-12 is translated very similar to traditional versions.

I really want to get my hands on a copy of this book, but it's pretty expensive and there are other things higher on my list of desired Bible study tools. I may break down and buy it soon, but for now I put in a request to the Penn library to buy it. If anyone reading this is affiliated with Penn, do me a favor and put in a request for this book here. The information you need for the request is available at the publisher's web-site here.

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July 26, 2005

More on The Source New Testament

A list of verses, with comparison to the TNIV (apparently chosen as a point of comparison because both eschew the use of gender-indefinite masculine pronouns and sometimes use singular "they"), is now available from Better Bibles Blog here. A few short reactions: The Source translates less literally than the English translations that I ordinarily use (NKJV and NASB), which attempt to go so far as even to reproduce the sentence structure of the original language (this attempt sometimes fails completely due to differences between Greek and English grammar and sometimes, especially in the NASB, leads to sentences that can be misleading and bear little or no resemblance to English as written by educated native speakers). This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the passages posted generally convey the meaning well. Particularly in Rev. 3:20 she does MUCH better than TNIV, although she is forced to depart from the Greek (literally "I will dine with him, and he with me") in order to do it. The translation "we will have dinner together" is much more idiomatic English and is both gender inclusive (which the original language text is, because Greek indisputably DOES have a gender-indefinite masculine pronoun) and avoids the singular "they" (which I hate, despite linguists' insistence that it's been around for some 700 years - English is already faced with a paucity of pronouns without confusing the singular and plural in gender indefinite cases, as we have already reduced ourselves to a single second person pronoun. It's getting increasingly difficult to communicate with any precision in this blasted language!) She does lose a little of the strength of the emphasis on mutuality, but one cannot possibly convey the feel of the Greek perfectly in an English translation. If a single translation of a passage conveys the entire meaning of every word, as the Amplified Bible attempts to, it will lose the flow, as the Amplified Bible does (the Amplified Bible is a good tool if you need a quick look at the different possible meanings of a verse - not so good for casual reading).

Her modification of Hebrews 2:6 is probably unnecessary and is not so concise as the more traditional renderings (it also uses the abstract noun "humanity" whereas the Greek literally says "what is a man"). The reason I say it is unnecessary is that when defining Greek words we very often say that anthropos (the word here) is "man as opposed to a god or an animal" and aner (the other Greek word for man, which also means husband) is "man as opposed to woman," and everyone seems to understand what we mean (as far as I can tell), so using man in the context doesn't seem to me to be at all misleading. But this is splitting hairs (ha! watch me start a sentence with a conjunction in the middle of a discussion of grammar!).

I also really like her use of more standard translations of Greek words, as in the use of paideuo in Heb. 12:7, although I am interested to know how she renders elencho (reprove, censure - NKJV renders it as rebuke) and mastigoo (whip, scourge) to ensure that the idea of discipline remains intact (paideuo, unlike didasko, very frequently has a moral component; it is not instruction in some particular field of knowledge but comprehensive education in order to make you a complete person. Here this moral education is clearly intended in the context, hence the traditional translation). As for rendering adelphoi, brothers (or siblings, if you prefer; it is the same word that would be used for a group of siblings of mixed genders, although it would not be used for an entirely female group), as "fellow believers," I'm undecided. That's obviously what it means, and using brothers in that way sounds awefully "Christianese" today, but I'm still not sure, I guess because it is reporting what the Bible means rather than what the Bible says.

In sum, I remain intrigued by this translation, and will be looking into it further.

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Breaking Translation Traditions

I blogged earlier on how the tradition of English language Bible translation has sometimes led to inaccurate renderings of the Greek New Testament (I assume this affects the Hebrew Bible as well, but I don't read Hebrew). Wayne Leman of Better Bibles Blog has been talking recently about a new translation called The Source New Testament which was made by a sole translator, Greek lexicographer Dr. Ann Nyland of the University of New England, Australia. Today, Wayne has an interview with Dr. Nyland in which she makes an argument similar to mine, though much more compelling. Where I happened across a single case of a word translated in the New Testament in a way that departs strikingly from its meaning in all other classical texts, including even Josephus, Dr. Nyland argues that the entire field of NT lexicography is some hundred years out of date, and has refused to incorporate the information garnered from the latest archaeological finds.

I must confess to some skepticism as to her interpretive conclusions. I don't happen to have my Greek handy at the moment or the time to go over it, but I certainly plan on looking closely at the passages she references in the interview to compare my NT lexicons with LSJ and whatever else I can find in search of support for her conclusions. Of course, I don't have access to all these unpublished papyrii and her conclusions are based on six years of work whereas I intend to spend maybe an hour or two.

Whatever the case, I am very excited about the possibility of a NT translation by a classical Greek lexicographer, and would very much like to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, it is rather expensive and has to be shipped from Australia (alternatively, there is an electronic download available with lots of DRM that costs almost as much as the paper edition). I suspect, however that the lexical aids included make the buy worthwhile and I may be ordering soon. I am in fact far more interested in the new lexicon she says is in progress, but it appears to be a few years off still.

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May 14, 2005

How Old Bible Translations Affect New Ones

I'm a fan of the New King James Version. It's a solid, accurate, literal translation of the original languages into standard English as written by today's educated native speakers. It flows well, and it accurately represents the original. But it has a problem. The problem is that, as the name suggests, the NKJV is heavily influenced by the history of English language Bible translation. This doesn't sound so bad, but there are a couple of serious problems with it. The first is that the King James Version of the Bible (aka the Authorized Version of 1611) was one of the first major literary works in modern English (Shakespeare notwithstanding), and is perhaps the most widely read book in the English language. Before it, Wyclif, Tyndale, the Bishops' Bible, etc. were all widely circulated, and the KJV was based on all of these, just as the NKJV is based on the old one. I don't mean to insinuate that the original texts were not consulted; they were (with the exception of Wyclif, who didn't read Greek or Hebrew and translated from the Vulgate instead - we'll get to that later). What I do mean to say is this: these editions form a tradition of Bible translation which has a prevalent and lasting influence to this day. Furthermore, they have been so widely read that the decisions of translators have actually altered the English language. To understand this, think of the English word "soul." According to EtymOnline this word was in use with the meaning "person" or "individual" as early as 1320 (which is, incidentally, around the time Wyclif was making his translation). It had some connotations of immortality in its etymological history, but these were as much cultural background as part of the actual definition of the word. The translators decided (correctly) that this word was a fair parallel of the Greek ψυχη (or, in Wyclif's case, the Latin anima). Centuries later, this word has an almost exclusively religious meaning. It is no longer the "self" or "consciousness" (and as a result is no longer equivalent to the Greek), but has some "otherwordly" connotation. A friend of mine reported that a friend of his he had been witnessing to once complained to him, "you only care about my soul," as though there were some her distinct from her soul, a concept completely foreign to the meaning of the Greek word.

The second problem, is that Bible translation has become, in some cases, a rather "inbred" field, where scholars look at only the work of other Bible translators, ignoring the broader work of scholars of classical Greek. The occasion which precipitated this post was a word, οκνηρος, occuring in Matthew 25:26 which the NKJV translates as "lazy." According to LSJ, the standard lexicon for classical Greek used among secular scholars, the word means hesitant, timid, or "shrinking back from" doing something. The only example LSJ gives (and keep in mind that LSJ is based on the entire classical Greek corpus, including the NT) of a usage like the one in the NKJV is an obscure reference to a philosopher called Hieroclitus who wrote in the fifth century AD. In the context, hesitant or timid actually makes more sense than lazy. Why then this translation?

I checked other translations as well. Every one I had lying around (KJV, NAS, NIV, ESV) had something roughly equivalent to the NKJV rendering; none said anything about timidity or hesitancy. The same translation was suggested by my theological lexicons (Strong, Zodhiates, Moulton). I thought at first this error (if it was an error) might have propagated down from Wyclif, but it turns out it goes farther than that: it originates in the Latin Vulgate. The word used there, "piger," means precisely the same thing as these English translations, and, interestingly, Hieroclitus is pretty much contemporary with Jerome, so this may be Jerome imposing the Greek of his day upon an earlier text. I am slightly hesitant in this criticism, because all of the earlier uses of the word that I found are Attic, dating some 500 years before the NT, so whether the usage 500 years before or 400 years afterward is more representative is something of a quandary. However, every usage of this word in the NT (the other two noun uses are Romans 12:11 and Philippians 3:1; the verb form is used at Acts 9:38) is perfectly compatible with the classical definition, and so it is not clear why this departure was made, except for reasons of tradition.

All this is to say that I really want to see a translation of the NT that isn't afraid to part ways with the tradition of English language translation and find the closest English word possible, regardless of what Wyclif or Tyndale or the KJV or the NIV did, and regardless of what St. Jerome did. The way that the Bible has shaped the English language and the way that previous translations have shaped new translations and theological lexicons requires radical departures in order to make the text fresh and prevent us from bringing our theological prejudices with us in our reading.

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May 07, 2005

The Future of This Blog

In case you hadn't noticed, this blog has been awefully sparse for the past few months. I had an extremely busy semester and not much time for blogging. It is now summer (that is, the spring semester of school is over), and working 40 hours a week and having Saturdays and Sundays off and not taking work home in the evenings is sounding restful. So, in this post I'd like to give some idea on what sorts of things will be influencing my topics over the course of the summer, and then comment briefly on a few issues I missed.

  • This summer I'm going to try to dive back in to some serious intellectual Bible study. I'm currently in the middle of studies on Isaiah and John the Beloved (covering his life and the four books that bear his name, but probably not the Revelation), so I'll be working (and perhaps blogging) on those.
  • I'm going to try to read as much of the New Testament in Greek as I can. I've gotten through about 4/5 of Matthew already (over the course of the last year), and I'm hoping (optimistically) to make it to the end of the gospels by the end of the summer.
  • At present, I have a list of philosophers whom I dislike without ever having read. This is bad. I'm going to try to eleminate it by reading them all. The names on the list are Wittgenstein and Hegel (for whom I have a mild distaste) and also Nietzsche (whom I rather despise). So I will be reading Wittgenstein's On Certainty and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, and probably also something by Hegel (haven't determined what as yet).
  • I'm also going to try to eliminate what I see as some important holes in my knowledge of philosophy by reading Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and Locke's Second Treatise on Government (and probably the first while I'm at it).

I may be blogging on any or all (or none) of these things over the course of the summer. Now, here (as promised) are the important issues I missed:

  • Terri Schiavo: This was a complicated issue; I don't think it was nearly as cut and dried as most of the Evangelical bloggers I read seemed to. We can't keep people alive on life support forever, it just doesn't make sense. If they are really gone, we have to let them go. On the other hand, removing a feeding tube is much different than turning off a heart and lung machine. The big issue, I thought, was that her "husband" fathered children by another woman while she was in the hospital. This, I think, should have invalidated the marriage leaving her in the custody of her parents. I don't believe that the ends ever justify the means - I am a non-consequentialist - and so I must condemn the actions of the Republicans in Congress on this issue as they flagrantly disregarded the Constitution.

  • Pope Benedict XVI: What a great guy. I'm enthusiastic about the new Pope. He seems solid. From what I can tell, he takes Scripture seriously and views the Church councils as a tradition of Biblical interpretation rather than an independent authority. Good stuff.

  • Beth Stroud (momentarily) Reinstated: (See the great interview at WesleyBlog). What a mess. I can't understand why there is any question about this. If an individual who claims to be a Christian and is a member of the church is unrepentant about sexual practices that do not conform to Biblical standards we are required by Scripture to excommunicate him (see 1 Corinthians 5). In fact, this is one of only two cases where the New Testament contains explicit instructions to excommunicate an individual (the other being Titus 3:10-11, "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.") This is a paradigm case for Scriptural excommunication. Note, however, that excommunication is rarely, if ever, practiced properly. Jesus views it as a way of motivating people to repent, not as unlovingly excluding them (Matthew 18:15-20). The point is for the Church to show quite clearly that it does not condone the individual's actions, and in so doing to hopefully motivate the individual to repent, at which time he is to be admitted back into the Church, preferably to a celebration along the lines of the Prodigal Son. Why is this not being practised? a) People don't read the Bible, and b) people don't believe the Bible. The Church needs to start taking Scripture seriously again and practicing what it says.

I think those are all the critical things I've missed. Hopefully I can keep up on events as they happen from now on (at least for the rest of the summer)!

Posted by kpearce at 02:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 26, 2005

"Feminism is Demeaning to Women:" Some Remarks on Christianity, Feminism, and Gender Roles

I recently asserted parenthetically, without any real explanation, that "I think feminism is demeaning to women." I also referred to "this 'Christian feminism' crap." Well, I finally succeeded in generating some contentious dialog, which has motivated me to offer some explanation, to make sure I'm not being misread here. So, in case you're wondering, this is what I really think:

Firstly, I do not, as one comment suggested, think that either gender can truly be said to be inferior to the other. This sounds obvious but, like I said, somebody thought that I believed this, so it needs to be cleared up. Neither, however, are men and women the same. In fact, they may be so different from one another that comparisons between them don't even make sense. If this is the case, then one couldn't say they were "equal" either. Is an apple better than an orange? The response would, of course, be better for what? Different people receive greater pleasure from one than the other (please don't construe that as a remark about "sexual preference!"), one is harder to smash than the other, one is more difficult to peel, etc. They are both fruits, they are both edible, they have many characteristics in common, but to say that one is better than the other, or even to say that they are equal, doesn't make sense without qualification.

What do I mean by qualification? One might say "an apple tastes better than an orange". This would at least be a sensible remark. One likewise might say "an orange is more nutritious than an apple." This makes sense as well. What if someone says "apples grow on apple trees better than oranges do"? We can graft an orange branch onto an apple tree (maybe - I've never seen this done, but I have seen a green apple branch grafted onto a red apple tree, so that the single tree produced both types of apples - remember, I'm from Washington. Where better to see strange sights related to apples?). The apples might grow better than the oranges. But would this be a deficiency in the orange that it doesn't grow as well on an apple tree as an apple? Certainly not. The apple probably won't grow too well on an orange tree either.

So what's the point? The point is that if you insist on comparing men to women (which I'd rather not do at all if I can avoid it) you must qualify your remarks, because the differences between men and women are undeniable and positively enormous. We're interested primarily in the implications for Christian theology and the tension between certain tenets of Christian theology and feminism (and also the reason why someone such as myself might assert that feminism was demeaning to women). Some remarks on this subject have already been made in "A Philosophical Discussion of the Fall of Man and the Regeneration of the Holy Spirit", p. 16, which asserts that what I call the "irrational impulse" is stronger in women than in men, and this is part of God's design and a good thing (this is not to insinuate either that men do not behave irrationally or that it is good for women to behave irrationally. Women have a stronger irrational impulse, but it is nevertheless the intention of God that it should be in subjection to the rational mind. See ibid. esp. sect. 3). More on this momentarily.

There are two texts that are used more than any others in Christian discussions of gender roles. They are usually used by opposing sides in a debate. I wish to use both of them and show that they fit together perfectly. The first is Galatians 3:28, which reads, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This is a wonderful statement of spiritual truth. It is not meant to comment on our present position in the world, and it emphatically does not nullify said positions. This is clear from Ephesians 5:21-6:9 which begins by urging us to "submit to one another in the fear of God," that is, urging everyone in the church to submit to everyone else, and then goes on to discuss specific relationships and how that submission should play out in practical situations. Those relationships include husband and wife as well as master and slave, both of which are among the distinctions apparently abolished by Galatians. Romans 9-11 also discusses the benefits of belonging to "Israel according to the flesh," another group membership Galatians apparently nullifies. For these reason, this passage must be referring to spiritual truths about our position in Christ, rather than anything related to the organization of the present world.

The second passage is 1 Timothy 2:11-15:

Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not decieved, but Eve, being quite deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless, she will be saved in child-bearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.

This passage has been troubling for many people for a long time. Some parts of it are difficult, but I don't think it's as difficult as it's made out to be. Let's start at the beginning. "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission." I don't see any reason to dispute the translation. What I would say, however, is that v. 8, which uses the word "aner" meaning man as opp. woman, rather than "anthropos," man as opp. animals, is clearly applicable to women as well as men (they too should be "praying everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or doubting"). This suggests that some of what is said here is simply dealing with the problems at hand. Apparently in Timothy's church the men didn't pray enough (or as much as the women) and had short tempers and little faith, so Paul directs this exhortation to them, rather than to the women, simply because they had a problem with it and the women didn't. Easy enough. On to verse 12.

Kenny's Excruciatingly Literal Amateur Translation Attempt (KELATA, from the Majority Text) is as follows: "But for a woman to teach I do not permit, neither to exercise authority over a man, but to be in stillness."

Note a few things: Some translations say "over her husband." This is wrong. There is no possessive pronoun or definite article before "andros," hence it just says "a man." Now, it could be translated "a wife ... a husband," but this is unnatural because the lack of pronouns or articles would make it refer to ANY wife and ANY husband, rather than specifically couples married to each other. "To teach" and "to exercise authority" are both present infinitives. The normal infinitive in Greek is not the present, but the aorist. The use of the present tense is to give the action progressive/repeated aspect. To overtranslated this one might say "I do not permit a woman to be in the habit or position of teaching or exercising authority over a man." As has been indicated above, and as is suggested by the Ephesians passage, I do believe that men and women have been given different positons in this present world, and that part of this includes that it is not right for a woman to be in the habit or position of teaching or being in authority over adult men within the Church. Furthermore, the Ephesians passage says that husbands and wives both ought to submit to each other, but in different ways: The wife submits by, after giving her input in the decision-making process, allowing her husband to make the final decision. The husband submits by considering his wife's wants and needs before his own in making these decisions.

The next section begins with the word "gar", which implies that it is explanatory (this is a very common word in Greek and is usually rendered "for" in English, which is why the explanatory usage of "for" is far more common in Bible translation than in mainstream English). Paul is claiming that the distinction made above is due to tendencies toward different types of sin in men and women. On this, see the previously cited portion of my essay.

The last verse is perhaps the most confusing and abused portion of this passage. KELATA: "But they will be saved (or preserved) during child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with temperance (or chastity, soundness of mind, self-control, etc.)."

MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: I have translated "dia tes teknogonias" as "during child-bearing" to avoid confusion. This phrase CANNOT MEAN "by means of child-bearing." The NASB and other translations have given this as "through child-bearing," which is correct, but only if through is interpretted in the sense of travelling through. That is, this is a promise that God will keep them safe during child-birth, a very real worry of women at this time. "Saved" is probably not meant in the spiritual sense, but in a purely physical sense. Beyond that clarification there's not much to say about this verse, as there's not much other room for misinterpretation.

So that's pretty much my position. Why, then, do I think feminism is demeaning to women? The following line of thought has a long history in the Judeo-Christian (with emphasis on the "Judeo" part) tradition:

In the creation story, each thing God creates is a higher expression of his wisdom, power, and artistic talent than the last. Plants and animals, for instance, are far more complicated and amazing than the sun and the moon (although all are beautiful). Man (the species) is the culmination of the creation week, God's highest expression. He then rests on the seventh day. But the creation of man (the species) is not complete. Adam is alone, and "it is not good that man should be alone" (Genesis 1:18). He is by nature social and, in particular, meant to be in society with woman. So God creates Eve, his companion. After every day of creation, God said "it is good," but one thing was left undone, one thing was not good: Man (the gender) was alone. Eve, then, is the "crown of creation." She completes this divine Utopia. Furthermore, she, as the very last thing created, is the highest possible expression of God's artistic ability, the most beautiful and complex creature in all the world. The greatest gift given to man-as-species is to be in relationship with God. The greatest gift given to man-as-gender is that God says to him "here is the greatest of all my creations. Take care of her." Any ideology that denies this is demeaning to women.

Now, as Anastasia pointed out in a comment to the previous post, not all forms of feminism are necessarily demeaning in the way that I mean. Many merely want to secure for women the treatment they deserve. But most contemporary feminism is concerned with downplaying the differences between men and women. Both men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), with emphasis on different positive characteristics. Any ideology that downplays the differences between men and women not only demeans both, but also hinders our understanding of the nature of God. One illustration of how the most obvious unique virtue of women - mothering - has become underappreciated as a result of feminism is how one term after another, housewife, homemaker, etc. fell out of "politically correct" usage, because these were considered to be demeaning to women, as though the duties of mothering children and managing a household were not fit for a human being worthy of our respect. I don't mean to imply that women can't do other things well, they certainly can, but for millenia women have performed these tasks with great success, and modern feminists have tried to say that in so doing they have not benefitted the human race so much as the men working outside the home. I strenuously object to this idea. Fortunately, in recent years the pendulum has begun to swing back and the term "stay-at-home mom' has, in a new sort of feminism of which I can whole-heartedly approve, become once again a PC term, and full-time mothering is once again considered to be an occupation worthy of our respect.

Posted by kpearce at 06:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 21, 2005

TNIV: The Neutered International Version

World Magazine's Blog and Wesley Blog are reporting on the impending release by Zondervan of the TNIV ("Today's New International Version"), a "gender-neutral" update of the NIV. Discussion about such an edition has been floating around for years, to a wide variety of responses. WorldMag's reader comments are positively virulent. Shane Raynor (author of WesleyBlog) sounds less than enthused, but thinks that the way today's young people have learned to speak English may actually have necessitated this sort of translation. I'm overall inclined to agree with Shane, but I'm none too happy about it, and am concerned that it could add fuel to the fire of this "Christian feminism" crap that's been floating around (I think feminism is demeaning to women. More on that some other time). Furthermore, the number of ambiguities necessitated by translation from Greek to English and the mismatch between the two languages (for instance, the English verb system is very simple and primarily concerned with time - when the action took place - whereas the Greek verb system is extremely complex and primarily concerned with "aspect" - whether the action occurred just once, or repeatedly, and whether it has been completed or is still continuing) is already bad enough, and this sort of attempt at "gender neutrality" exacerbates the issue. For example:

Revelation 3:20, NKJV: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me"
TNIV: "I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me."
Kenny's Excruciatingly Literal Amateur Translation Attempt (KELATA)*: "You see, I stand [lit. stood - aorist to emphasize simple aspect] at the door and I strike [the door]. If anyone should hear My sound and open the door, I will even ["even" lacking from many manuscripts, incl. Textus Receptus] enter in for Myself ["for Myself" translates middle voice of verb. Significance of the middle voice is uncertain in this case] and I will dine with him, and he with Me."

The problem here is that the text of the verse is emphatically singular and pluralizing the pronouns, in addition to not conforming to the rules of standard English grammar, changes the sense of the passage! Of the verses available at, this is the only place where the meaning has been unnacceptably confused, but because this pattern is followed throughout the translation I have no doubt that other problems of this nature exist. "Feminist revisionist grammar" (the use of feminine pronouns as gender indefinite) is a pet peeve of mine, because according to the rules of standard English it changes the meanings of sentences to imply that all of those the sentence describes are female (e.g. in standard English the sentence "When a driver comes to a stop sign, she must stop before entering the intersection." implies, even takes for granted, that all drivers are female). However, in this particular case even THAT would be better than what has been done. The point of this verse is that, even in a church full of people who are not following God, if even ONE believer invites Christ in, he will have fellowship with Him. This meaning is destroyed by the introduction of plural pronouns.

That said, the TNIV does correct some problems. The Greek word for man as opposed to woman is "aner". The Greek word "anthropos" is the word for man as opposed to an animal or God, and traditionally Bible translators have also rendered this as "man," but in contemporary English "human" is a more accurate (if less smooth) translation. Likewise, contemporary English does not retain the custom of using the name of an entire people group when referencing only the leaders of that group. This was common in the ancient world, and continued until at least as recently as Shakespeare who constantly used the names of countries to refer to their kings (e.g. "Norway" is a name used to refer to Fortinbras in Hamlet). Because we no longer speak in this way, and the authors and original audiences of the New Testament did, there may be cases, such as John 9:22, in which the term "hos Ioudaios", literally "the Jews", refers specifically to the political leaders of the Jewish nation (who just coincidentally happen to also be the religious leaders in this case). A literal translation would be better off to footnote this, as it is an interprettive issue and it is often difficult to tell whether a specific verse is refering to the Jews in general or only their political leaders, but a translation intended for people who have not studied the Bible before may be better off to go ahead and make the interprettive call.

In conclusion, I never liked the NIV much to begin with. It slips back and forth between literally translating the text and paraphrasing, and the lack of sufficient footnotes makes it impossible to tell which it is doing in any particular place without consulting a text or another translation. When I want a paraphrase, I'll get a real one like The Message or the NLT (which upset me by calling itself a "translation" right there in the name - it is based on "The Living Bible" (TLB) which used to say "paraphrase" in rather large letters right on the cover). When I want a translation I'll pull out my trusty NKJV, or perhaps NASB. If I really want to know what's going on, I'll learn the original language (I'm working on Greek right now, Hebrew and Aramaic to follow eventually). However, the NIV has proven useful and edifying to a wide variety of believers, and it doesn't lead to any substantial doctrinal problems, provided it is interpreted in community with people who use a wide variety of other translations. My biggest aversion to the TNIV is that it encourages bad grammar, creating further ambiguities in the English language, a language which is my primary form of communication. This, however, is a small matter next to the question of adequately communicating the Word of God to the widest possible variety of people. The TNIV clears up some common misconceptions about Christianity and Judaism and Christianity and gender. At the same time, it creates some new confusion, and paraphrases more often than the original NIV. All translations have both pros and cons, and as such I think that the TNIV does have something to contribute to the world of Bible translations. Therefore, you will not find me protesting it; but neither will you find me using it.

* Translated from The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, ed. Hodges and Farstad

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December 21, 2004

Christian Naturalism

I've been talking about miracles a lot lately, and the subject has also come up in an otherwise excellent essay I was reading, "On Being a Christian Academic" by William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig unfortunately makes the mistake of assuming that several philosophical doctrines (e.g. platonism in philosophy of mathematics) are clearly repugnant to Christianity, when, in fact, they may have Christian interprettations. To this end, I am writing today about miracles and, in particular, my own view; a sort of Christian naturalism. By naturalism I do not mean materialism (my metaphysics, at present, is neo-Berkleyan in nature, and as such I believe not only that minds exist non-physically, but that the physical exists only insofar as these minds perceive it). Nor do I mean the denial of a "first philosophy" ontically prior to natural science (this sort of move is patently ridiculous, despite its current popularity. A sound metaphysics and philosophy of science are needed in order to interpret scientific evidence, and so natural science is clearly dependent on them). What I do mean, is the belief that every occurence in the physical world is governed by a set of fundamental laws to which there are no exceptions. This has been argued from a purely secular philosophical perspective countless times, so I will not repeat these arguments. Rather, I will argue from Scripture in favor of this view, and then provide a theory of miracles based upon it.

First, the Bible: In Genesis 8:22, God promises, "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night, shall not cease." The sun and the moon and the constancy of their orbits are frequently used in Scripture as illustrations of constancy (see, e.g., Psalm 72). In fact, this kind of constancy and naturalism is what distinguishes the Biblical account of creation from the Pagan myths preceding it; in the Biblical version, rational explanations are available. The sun and moon are lamps God placed in the heavens, not gods themselves. Every living thing is made to reproduce after its own kind. Everything is regular, orderly, and predictable.

This is not to be construed as an argument for deism, or the autonomy of nature. God didn't just set nature in motion and leave it to do what it wanted. Rather, this is an illustration of another Biblical truth: The constancy of God (see, e.g., Numbers 23:19, Malachi 3:6). The God of the Bible is rational. He is not haphazard, unreliable, or random. Everything He does is for a purpose as part of some greater plan. If one defines a "miracle" to be an exception to the laws of nature, then certainly a miracle is, by its very definition, an argument for the supernatural generally - but it is an argument against the Judeo-Christian God. A God who causes exceptions to the laws of nature He set forth is not the kind of constant and changeless God the Scriptures describe.

What are these laws of nature? The doctrine that there are inviolate laws of nature follows directly from the constancy of God and the utter dependence of the creation upon Him. The laws of nature are observed regularities in the simplest aspects of the will of God. God wills force to be equal to mass times acceleration. All the time. (Well, actually we now know that this is really just an approximation for objects within a certain range of sizes in the same inertial frame or some such nonsense - I don't know, ask a physicist. But that's beside the point). God wills matter to be equivalent to an amount of energy equal to the mass of the matter multiplied by the square of the speed of light. All the time. He is constant. He doesn't change His mind about these things ("God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind." - Numbers 23:19).

What's a miracle, then? A miracle is an event in which the "higher functions" of the divine consciousness, i.e. the part equivalent to the conscious functioning of the human mind, that makes plans and designs regarding human lives and the like, are more apparent than the "lower functions" which are the laws of nature. To put it more simply (but less precisely) a miracle occurs when the laws of nature conspire together to acheive some intelligent end. These sorts of miracles are a definite argument not just for the existence of a spiritual being in general, but for the existence of the God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

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July 27, 2004

"A Philosophical Discussion of the Christian Doctrines of the Fall of Man and the Regeneration of the Holy Spirit"

I've just posted a new paper to my writings section. The name of the paper is "A Philosophical Discussion of the Christian Doctrines of the Fall of Man and the Regeneration of the Holy Spirit". This is a first first first draft (not yet seen by anyone but me) so any input would be much appreciated and can be posted here or e-mailed to me. That goes for any kind of feedback, whether on form or content. As before, I'll post my responses here and if I alter the paper in any way I will make note of that here. Check it out here (PDF format).

Major influences of this paper: The basic idea that all human desires are basically good and implanted by God but have been twisted onto improper targets as a result of the Fall has probably been around for a while, but I got it from John Eldredge. I have read and highly reccomend his Wild at Heart and Waking the Dead. He has also written at least two other books I have not read, The Journey of Desire and The Sacred Romance

The idea that the irrational components of the human mind are productive and even essential if and only if they are in complete submission to the rational mind originates from Plato, and especially the Republic. I make no apology as a Christian for the influence of Plato upon my thinking as Platonic thought also seems to have influenced the New Testament's use of langauge. Notably, the Platonists were the first to associate the Greek word λογος (logos) with God.

Other than that I hope that the paper pretty much speaks for itself. Hope someone somewhere is crazy enough to enjoy it!

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November 29, 2003

The Theory of Pauline Exceptionalism

So I was working on my term paper for Jewish Law class, and I was reading this rabbi giving a comparison of ideas about natural law (i.e. moral ideas which can be discerned by reason) between traditional Christianity and traditional Judaism - actually mostly just between Thomas Aquinas and Maimonides, Christian and Jewish philosophers of the middle ages, respectively. I was struck by Aquinas' representation of the Jewish Law, and I can't believe how Aquinas (who was too heavily influenced by classical Greek philosophy anyway, and so prone to certain theological errors) and so many other Christians seem to misunderstand this.

The primary reason for the misunderstanding seems to be the Apostle Paul's statements about Law and how he rejected the Law when he came to Christ. However, this was the exception and not the rule, and a careful reading of his letters will reveal that even Paul admitted that this ought to continue to be an exceptional case rather than it being the norm for Jewish believers in Jesus to reject the Law. In fact, Paul was an exception to a number of general rules in early Christianity, and I believe that realizing this can help us to better understand the teachings of the New Testament without taking away from the divine inspiration and authority of the New Testament. You may be familiar with the Theory of American Exceptionalism in political science, which says that the political situation in the United States is so different from any other country that it cannot be used to study worldwide political trends. It is my assertion that, similarly, the Apostle Paul's life is so different from the life of the average Christian that, while there is much to be learned from it and much to be imitated, there are certain areas in which it would be foolish and contrary to Scripture to suggest that every Christian should behave as Paul did. I shall call this the Theory of Pauline Exceptionalism.

First a simple and easily demonstrable example of this theory in action, and then we shall proceed to the Law. This exception is in regard to the privileges accorded to apostles. Paul himself writes: "Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?...Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the alter? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things that it may be done in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one." (1 Corinthians 9:4-7, 13-15) Paul insisted on denying himself the privileges which he says the other apostles were rightly given. He says to others that it is their right, but takes none himself.

Now, proceeding to the Law: Paul was formerly a Pharisee. Some sources I have read insist that he had formerly been a member of the Sanhedrin, but I am highly skeptical of this claim due to his relative youth at the time of his conversion and other similar issues. However, Paul did study under Gamaliel, a very respected Rabbi of his day, and Gamaliel was a member of the Court. Paul was working his way up within the party of the Pharisees, and had studied the Law extensively and practiced it scrupulously. After his conversion, Paul realized that the Law had become an idol to him. Before meeting Christ on the Damascus road, Paul had not been a worshipper of God, but a worshipper of the Law. In order to follow God, Paul was forced to renounce the Law - indeed, to renounce Judaism. This was because Paul took great pride in his Jewish heritage and his obedience to the Law, so much so that he had become self-righteous, thinking himself better than others. This can be seen throughout all of Paul's discussions of the Law, especially in Romans and Galatians.

It is clear from the New Testament and Church history and tradition that in this matter Paul was again an exception. Particularly, James bar-Joseph, the oldest of the Lord's brothers, continued to follow the Law so carefully that his epithet "the Just" was given not by Christians but by the non-Christian Jews of his day. He was also called "James of the Camel's Knees" because he spent so much time praying in the temple that his knees became calloused like the knees of a camel.

Peter also continued to follow the Law at least in some degree. We see in Acts 10 that Peter was reluctant even to enter the house of a Gentile, or to eat with him, because this was prohibited by the Oral Law as it existed at that time. God sent Peter a vision commanding him to go into the house of a Gentile to preach the gospel, and Peter did so. Incidentally, there is no such regulation in Jewish Law as it exists today. This story shows that Peter did continue to be concerned with following the Law even after he followed Jesus.

Paul does not discourage this. In fact, he might be said to encourage it. 1 Corinthians 7:17-20 reads, "Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And thus I direct in all the churches. Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called." Paul often uses circumcision as a metaphor for the keeping of the entire Law, and this must be the sense of this text, since no man who has been circumcised physically can later become uncircumcised again. Therefore verse 18 is read as "Did anyone follow the Law before he became a Christian? Let him continue to follow the Law. Did anyone not follow the Law before becoming a Christian? Let him not begin to follow the Law on account of Christ."

Interestingly, Paul's teaching on the subject of Gentiles being circumcised and following the Law very nearly follows the Rabbinical teaching on the subject. In the Jewish Law, if a man goes to a rabbi and asks to be converted to Judaism, the rabbi must turn him away on three separate occasions before agreeing to perform the conversion. This is because to convert to Judaism, which is what Paul means by being circumcised, is to make a covenant with God that you will obey all of the commandments given in the Law, and breaking a covenant with God is no laughing matter. Paul actually goes a step farther, but on the same rationale, and forbids Gentile Christians from converting to Judaism. This is because the incentive to convert is gone. The purpose of converting to Judaism was to enjoy a closer relationship to God on earth. It is not, in the Jewish view, necessary in order to enter the "world to come". In New Testament theology, there no longer exists a "holiness barrier" between God and man. A man is made holy by the sacrifice of Christ, and that sacrifice alone. Following the Law cannot make him holy any longer. Being holy by Christ's sacrifice, a Gentile no longer need convert to Judaism to enjoy a close relationship to God, as he is already made holy apart from the Law. This is why Paul says "if you become circumcised Christ will profit you nothing" (Galatians 5:2). To convert to Judaism would be to trust in the Law to bring you closer to God, rather than trusting in Christ.

The situation is different, however, for one who is born Jewish, or who has converted to Judaism before becoming a Christian. The New Testament does recognize Israel's special status with God as continuing to the present time and for the duration of this world. The Abramic covenant was an "everlasting covenant". For the Jewish Christian, the Law is no longer an obligation. Following it is reccomended, but not required. Following the Law separates the Jew from the Gentile world. It is a reminder of his heritage and the status he has with God. Even Jesus saw the need to put the Gentiles in their place occasionally, as is seen when he tells the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:26 and Mark 7:27, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." Likewise Paul says in Acts 26:20 that he preached the gospel in "all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles". Similar statements are found throughout the New Testament. It is clear that the New Testament sees Israel as coming first, and recognize the continued special status of the Jewish people. For this reason, the New Testament does not advocate any Jewish person renouncing the Law or his Jewish heritage if he becomes a Christian. It does, however, give one - and only one - example of a situation in which this was necessary, and that is the highly exceptional Apostle Paul.

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November 07, 2003

"According to the Majority Text..."

A new post, by popular demand! Ok, so actually it was just my neighbor Melody ( check here)...

Anyway, I got my Greek New Testament in the mail the other day. I wouldn't say I can exactly read it. "Decipher" would be a better word. Roughly fifteen minutes per verse, with a dictionary. Still pretty impressive for half way through my first semester of classical Greek, I think. The insane Greek curriculum here has students reading Plato in the third semester, Homer in the fourth.

Ok, back to the New Testament. I actually wasn't planning on buying it. I just was curious and wanted to waste some time so I went to look and see how much the text I wanted would cost me. Now, I happen to favor the Majority (Byzantine) Text (check over here), and virtually all modern scholars favor the Alexandrian Text (aka the Nestle-Aland/United Bible Society text, from which essentially every modern translation is derived), and the Greek Orthodox Church uses the Textus Receptus (from which the King James Version was translated). Because of this situation, it turned out that the Majority Text had been out of print since the year I was born! Fortunately, its publisher, Thomas Nelson, still had it in stock. Since I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to find it again, I went ahead and ordered it.

So why go to all the trouble of finding this particular text, rather than just using the Alexandrian Text like everyone else? Well, first of all, it must be understood that in reading the Bible in English translation principles are FAR more important than choice of text (which is why I study with the New American Standard Bible, even though it's New Testament is based on Nestle's Novum Testamentum Graece, an Alexandrian Text, and it's Old Testament is based on Kittel's Biblia Hebraica and the Dead Sea Scrolls when there is no real rational reason to use anything other than the Masoretic Text). According to the preface to the New King James Version of the Bible (which is an excellent basic introduction to textual criticism) "fully eighty-five percent of the New Testament text is the same in the Textus Receptus, the Alexandrian Text, and the Majority Text" and most of the disagreements do not actually effect translation, being differences in spelling or word order (the latter is much less significant in Greek than in English).

That said, there are a few significant differences, such as 1 Timothy 3:16, where the ommission of a theta-omicron and the addition of a rough breathing mark in the Alexandrian Text changes the phrase "God was manifested in the flesh" to "Who was manifested in the flesh". With regard to differences even this small, I think it ridiculous that translators rely on a small number of manuscripts (hundreds) found only in a small geographical area (Egypt) rather than an enormous number of manuscripts (thousands) found all over the Roman world.

So, that's my random babbling for today. I hope it meets with your approval, Melody.

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