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Posts that relate in some way to my books. Excludes administrative posts and most reviews of other people’s books.

How Bible Translation Should be Done

How Bible Translation Should be Done

J. K. Gayle has a couple of posts on translating the Psalms that are really quite helpful.  The first one I read, which is actually the second, is The Difficulty of Psalm 90, in which he discusses some thinking and feeling that may be generated by hearing the Psalm and the first one, which I read second, various poet translators turning around Tehillim 90, which provides several translations with different approaches and characteristics.

I personally find some things I like and some I don’t like so much in all of these translations, which is not a criticism of any of them.  I really appreciated the chance to read them all side by side.  And as much as some of this material deserves comment, that’s not my purpose in writing this post.

Probably the most difficult question I’m asked when I am teaching is this:  What is he best Bible version?  I find that terribly difficult, and I annoy people who ask it all the time.  They think it deserves a simple answer.  I should be able to point them to the one best version, and they can just go use that one.

But instead I ask them what they’re going to use it for, how they approach studying the Bible, and something about their own study and background.  What’s the best Bible version?  The simple answer, which I put on the cover of my book, is:  The best Bible version is  he one you read!

I usually get by for that one for a few minutes until some bright person wonders just which Bible version they will actually read, and then we’re back to the starting point.

Now I haven’t always been this way.  When I was in college I could have given you the simple answer, and I would have been satisfied with it.  I would have recommended a mostly literal version.  In those days that probably would have been the NASB.  But then I did some more studying and I became concerned with comprehension.  That made things much harder.  Now in those days there were many less options available, but I was also concerned with how I would translate in my studies.

It seems that over the years I have become so much less knowledgeable on this subject.  At least I can no longer provide a single, definitive answer to the question, and my response seems to get longer every time I try.  When I hear a preacher say, “What the Greek really says is …” I cringe, not just because he’s probably wrong, but because he’s probably missing so much even if he’s right in some sense.

The problem is that translation always loses something, and I suspect always adds something to a text.  Now I’m not going to start claiming that all translations are equal.  There are wrong translations, but there are many partially right translations.

One of my own early problems was checking translations purely on propositional content.  Is a translation of a parable or a poem correct because it contains the same set of propositions?  Is a clear translation of a parable more correct than an obscure one, irrespective of how clear the parable is in the first place?

The problem is that we often translate as a means of conveying information about the Christian religion.  But just as I’ve found over the years that simply knowing the cognitive content of my faith is far from sufficient, so I have come to learn that the cognitive content of a translation may be much less than adequate.  When I left graduate school I was quite well acquainted with Christian doctrines and very well acquainted with the Bible.  I was referred to as “the human concordance.”  I knew what was there.

At the same time I left the seminary with that knowledge I also left the church.  I returned in a church pastored by a man who knew no Greek and Hebrew at all, but who did know Jesus.

I was again reminded of this same issue in a different form when I was discussing with my former student Geoffrey Lentz.  (Geoffrey was my student when he was high school age.  He has since graduated with an MDiv from Duke.)  We were discussing sermons, and I expressed my distress with that particular genre of speech.  (I am occasionally invited to preach, though not by tense clock-watchers!)  I commented that I found it very hard to really cover a subject in 15-20 minutes.  He said to me, “I regard a sermon more as poetry than prose.”

How’s that for student teacher reversal?

I think it’s the same point.  The content of faith and spirituality is not simply cognitive.  There can be a variety of ways to express it.  It can be felt as well as known.  It can be expressed in many ways.  Often our best translations of the propositions of faith can suck the life right out of it.

Or so it seems to me in the growing ignorance of 30 years since I graduated.

More on Florida HB31 and Inspirational Messages

More on Florida HB31 and Inspirational Messages

I wrote about this before, and commented that it seemed to accomplish nothing–nothing, that is, except to possibly encourage some school boards to tangle with the federal courts.

That version, however, has been replaced in committee. I’m going to do something I don’t usually do, and put in a “tear line” so this won’t get too long, as I intend to quote both versions of the bill in full:

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Who Do You Need to Be/Read to Understand the Bible

Who Do You Need to Be/Read to Understand the Bible

J. K. Gayle takes on John Hobbins’ question.  Not precisely answers it.  He takes it on.

I have this post on my list of posts I want to respond to, but I haven’t yet had time.  Let me simply state that there are few forms of writing to which I react more negatively than universally required reading lists–and I have even written a few myself.  There are lists of things you have to read to be a good American, to be literate, and so forth.  Considering the amount of good reading available, I find such lists pretty arrogant (yes, including any ones I’ve ever written).

I think I will write more on this, but I wanted to call attention to the two approaches here.  In this case, I think I’ll come out sounding more like J. K. Gayle when I do write.

Experiencing Resurrection

Experiencing Resurrection

Adrian Warnock issued a 10 day empty grave challenge, asking Christian bloggers to write about the resurrection at some point before Easter. Even though I have yet to read his book (I’ll get to it sometime!), I thought I’d take him up on his challenge.

Now the fact is that my experience differs from Adrian’s in that I have found that most churches I have attended tend to be pretty happy about the resurrection, but much more likely to neglect the cross. They have generally been quite happy to discuss the resurrection without any concern for why it was necessary. Unfortunately, however, I believe that if one neglects the cross one can hardly fully understand the resurrection.

A song from my youth, Henry de Fluiter’s Homesick for Heaven:

I’m homesick for heaven, seems I cannot wait,
Yearning to enter Zion’s pearly gate;
There never a heartache, never a care,
I long for my home over there.

I may seem to be deviating from the topic, but I grew up with this concept. A desire for the coming of God’s kingdom is a kind of standard in Christian discourse. We want to go to heaven, with the obvious subtext “not too soon.”

Now I had always thought that I really was homesick for heaven. But it took the time when my son was sick and death was threatening to teach my what homesickness really meant. I am aware that I bring up this one incident constantly in discussing, but living through the death of a child is an event that will change your life for better or worse.

But the experience that I relate to the resurrection is not death, but an earlier time in our experience. James had gone through surgery to remove one lung, and was in intensive care. Prior to the surgery I had committed to teach a series each Sunday for a month at a church about 2 1/2 hours away, at least as I drive. The pastor told me he’d understand if I canceled, but he wasn’t going to withdraw the invitation.

Saturday night I stood by James’s bed side and dithered as to whether I could make it. James was trying to say something to me, but was muffled by the tubes, so I came closer so I could hear. He said one word to me: “Go!”

I went. On those trips I was sustained by the music of the kingdom. I recall in particular one song, “Singing with the Saints” —

I’ll be be sitting at the throne with an angel band,
Shoutin’ hallelujahs to the great I am
If you think it’s a dream, well it ain’t
I’ll be singing with the saints.

I played that music loudly all the way. One of those Sundays–I don’t think it was that first one because James was able to talk to me–my wife Jody tried to call me on the cell phone as I drove and I didn’t hear it ring. When I did notice the call and called back they were shocked that I had missed the call due to the music. You see, I very rarely listen to music that loudly.

But in that experience there were moments when I sensed I could feel the grass of the fields of heaven. I felt a homesickness for that land that I had never felt before. I understand that others whose view of life and whose faith (or lack of it) differs from mine. I know that they too endure great difficulties and come through them. But for myself, it was that part of my faith, not particularly the future hope, but the moments experiencing eternity here and now that sustained me. I realized that I was a native of that kingdom for just a moment. As St. John Chrysostom said of the patriarchs:

What then? Did they mean that they were “strangers” from the land that is in Palestine? By no means: but in respect of the whole world: and with reason; for they saw therein none of the things which they wished for, but everything foreign and strange.

Before that I only thought I was homesick.

I’m reminded of a quote from Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, p. 37:

…The Eucharist has so often been explained with reference to the gifts alone: what “happens” to bread and wine, and why, and when it happens! But we must understand that what “happens” to bread and wine happens because something has, first of all, happened to us, to the Church. It is because we have “constituted” the Church, and this means we have followed Christ in His ascension; because He has accepted us at His table in His Kingdom; because, in terms of theology, we have entered the Eschaton, and are now standing beyond time and space; it is because all this has first happened to us that something will happen to bread and wine.

In worship we are not merely commemorating historical events, or looking forward to future events, but we are experiencing our true homeland. When we truly get a taste of that true homeland it changes who we are and the way we look at the world.

When we study and meditate on the resurrection, I believe it should take us through that journey. We cannot do so without Good Friday and Silent Saturday. The first reminds us of the nature of evil and of the hardships we all encounter. It reminds us of the price of the kingdom. Silent Saturday is that time of waiting. Victory doesn’t come in an instant, but requires patience and determination. Easter Sunday is the victory of the kingdom.

An Inconvenient Truth on Israel and Palestine?

An Inconvenient Truth on Israel and Palestine?

Brian McLaren links to this article at the Huffington Post. It may be inconvenient, but is it truth? (I guess I need to tell my readers that I often like what Brian McLaren has to say, but then there are these moments.)

I’m also opposed to those who think Israel is always right. But there is some weird thinking that goes on in deciding who is oppressed and who is the oppressor in various circumstances. Here in America we threw a multi-year temper tantrum after a few thousand deaths. We decided it was alright to invade Iraq over this, which oddly enough had nothing to do with that terrorist attack. I’ll note that the international community generally supported us in Afghanistan, which did have something to do with it, yet quite justifiably (in my opinion) were more reluctant to do so in Iraq.

Yet Israel is supposed to just take it. Israel’s enemies, in general, negotiate on the basis that Israel has no right to exist at all. Laying aside all arguments over the validity of Zionism, ask yourself whether it is reasonable to expect the Israeli government to negotiate on the basis that it has no right to exist.

I think there are many things that the Israeli government has done that are not good. I don’t believe our policy must be attached to Israeli policy. We can be independent. I don’t support unilateral extension of settlements. The issue I have here is with making Israel the exclusive bad guys.

Yet at the same time we need to recognize reality on both sides. Israel faces a much greater terrorist threat than we do, and many of those terrorists would not be satisfied unless Israel ceased to exist. Your actions in your own defense might change if you faced such a threat.

Just look how ours changed when we faced a proportionally much smaller threat.

Two Notes on the Authorship of Hebrews

Two Notes on the Authorship of Hebrews

The first is an interview at Euangelion with Andrew Pitts regarding his forthcoming essay on Hebrews (in a collection).  It discusses the authorship and proposes Paul as the author, but in a speech rather than a letter, and Luke as stenographer, which he differentiates from an amanuensis.  I didn’t get a completely clear picture of the difference.  In modern English usage a stenographer would have as little freedom in production as would an amanuensis, or so it seems to me.  But that is just a quibble about word choice.  Pitts is clearly proposing that Luke had more to say about the language than would a simple amanuensis.

I personally find the idea of having both Luke and Paul involved to be a very interesting proposal, though I would tend more toward Luke as the writer (composer) based on things he had learned from Paul, thus explaining some differences in vocabulary and theology.  Ken Schenk comments with some useful notes, and I think Andrew Pitts dismisses his position as a strawman too quickly.

All of that, of course, is from someone (me!) who really is unconvinced by any hypothesis.  I refuse to go beyond “the author of Hebrews” because I simply don’t think any proposal gets above the background noise level.

The second post is from J. K. Gayle, who finds Pitts dismissal of the proposal that Priscilla might be the author a bit too quick.  I would agree that other authorship proposals are dealt with rather briefly and summarily in the interview, but it is, after all, a blog post.  I would hope some more effort was made in the book, which I have not read.  Hopefully I’ll lay hands on it when it is released.

I previously reviewed Ruth Hoppin’s book Priscilla’s Letter and remained totally unconvinced.  I think the problem is evidence and not the desire of some to dismiss one particular author or another.  There simply isn’t enough written evidence for any of the proposals (Barnabas, Apollos, Priscilla, for example) to make a valid judgment. The primary attraction for Luke, I think, is that we have lots of literature with which to compare the book, and Luke demonstrates some of the skills displayed in the text of Hebrews.

I would be quite delighted to believe that Priscilla wrote the letter, or to believe that the problem was thoroughly solved, but I don’t see that at this point.

St. John Chrysostom: The Law a Shadow

St. John Chrysostom: The Law a Shadow

I thought this was one of the most beautiful ways I have heard this expressed:

“For” (he says) “the Law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things”; i.e. not the very reality. For as in painting, so long as one [only] draws the outlines, it is a sort of “shadow” but when one has added the bright paints and laid in the colors, then it becomes “an image.” Something of this kind also was the Law.  (Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews 17.5)

Again, credit CCEL.

Origen: Stumbling Blocks in Scripture

Origen: Stumbling Blocks in Scripture

The following is from Origen, On First Principles, 4.1.15.  All emphasis is mine.  (Also from CCEL.)

But since, if the usefulness of the legislation, and the sequence and beauty of the history, were universally evident of itself, we should not believe that any other thing could be understood in the Scriptures save what was obvious, the word of God has arranged that certain stumbling-blocks, as it were, and offences, and impossibili­ties, should be introduced into the midst of the law and the history, in order that we may not, through being drawn away in all directions by the merely attractive na­ture of the language, either altogether fall away from the (true) doctrines, as learn­ing nothing worthy of God, or, by not departing from the letter, come to the knowledge of nothing more divine.  And this also we must know, that the principal aim being to announce the “spiritual” connection in those things that are done, and that ought to be done, where the Word found that things done according to the history could be adapted to these mystical senses, He made use of them, concealing from the multitude the deeper meaning; but where, in the narrative of the develop­ment of super-sensual things, there did not follow the performance of those certain events, which was already indicated by the mystical meaning, the Scripture interwove in the history (the account of) some event that did not take place, sometimes what could not have happened; sometimes what could, but did not.  And sometimes a few words are interpolated which are not true in their literal acceptation, and sometimes a larger number.  And a similar practice also is to be noticed with regard to the legislation, in which is often to be found what is useful in itself, and appro­priate to the times of the legislation; and sometimes also what does not appear to be of utility; and at other times impossibili­ties are recorded for the sake of the more skilful and inquisitive, in order that they may give themselves to the toil of investi­gating what is written, and thus attain to a becoming conviction of the manner in which a meaning worthy of God must be sought out in such subjects.

The more things change, the more they are the same!  We discuss these same sorts of things today.  The more I read Origen, the more I like him!

Church Sign: An Eye for an Eye

Church Sign: An Eye for an Eye

An Eye for an Eye church sign
An Eye for an Eye Church Sign

At first glance, this is a good sign for a Christian.  After all, Jesus replaces “an eye for an eye” with “Do not resist the one who is evil” (Matthew 5:38-39).

But I think it illustrates the way we fail to understand certain phrases as they were intended.

“An eye for an eye” or lex talionis was originally also a way to keep the whole world from going blind.  It was intended not to mandate revenge, but to limit it.  Modern Christians understand it as some sort of command to mass mayhem, and are thankful that Jesus overruled it.

But in fact Jesus simply moved us further along the same path.  Limiting revenge was good.  Forgiveness was even better, though in justice we still find some value in the idea of proportional penalties.

This sign demonstrates a quite frequent response to the Old Testament, and in many cases to other things that are old.  In seeing the New Testament as good, these Christians have to see the Old Testament as bad.  It is almost as though there was no grace for thousands of years and then suddenly at the appearance of Jesus God’s grace came into being.

But in fact the grace that Jesus taught was also taught in the Old Tesament, with the teaching accommodated to time and place.

So yes, I think Jesus improved on the attitude of “an eye for an eye.”  But “an eye for an eye” was, in its time and place, also a forward looking measure of justice.