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Textual Emendation in Isaiah 49:7

Textual Emendation in Isaiah 49:7

The JPS Tanakh of Isaiah 49:7 reads, in part:

Thus said the LORD,
The Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One,
b-To the despised one,
To the abhorred nations,-b . . .

Note b reads: Meaning of Heb. uncertain. Emendation yields “Whose being is despised / Whose body is detested”; cf. 51.23.

I noticed this first when I read this in Hebrew, and found that I was not able to produce a translation that I found satisfactory. I remained in doubt. So I looked it up in a few translations. Note also that the reading adopted in the JPS text is itself an emendation.

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In Memory of Dr. Brevard S. Childs

In Memory of Dr. Brevard S. Childs

For those who do not read scholarly works it may seem strange to feel bereaved when someone whom you have never actually met dies. I discovered via Levellers that Dr. Brevard S. Childs has passed away. He will be missed in Biblical scholarship, and though I never met him, I am deeply sorry that he will no longer be on the scene.

I encountered his writing first in his wonderful commentary on Exodus, and then in his even more enlightening commentary on Isaiah, both in the Old Testament Library. He manages to bring a balance to Biblical criticism that allows one to enjoy discovering some of the history of the text, but yet leaves one able to wrestle with the canonical form. He wrote with a great interest not just in the historical understanding of each text, but also in how those words had echoed through the communities that read them and passed them on.

I cannot be more personal, as I only knew him through his work, but the depth, breadth, and balance of his scholarship has been a breath of fresh air in my reading.

R.I.P. Dr. Brevard Childs, 1923-2007. (See the obituary at Yale Divinity School.)

Isaiah 27: Accomplishing Redemption

Isaiah 27: Accomplishing Redemption

I’ve been at this series on Isaiah 24-27 for some months now. It’s taken so long mostly because I’ve been working at it slowly as I have time, and not because my series is that in-depth. The thing that has struck me in studying the passages for this series is the richness of the material. The amount of material I find that ends up only as an entry in my notes or an underlined passage in one of my reference sources is quite astonishing. In this chapter I will cite a few translations that in themselves provide creative suggestions for translation difficulties in this passage.

I would suggest reading this chapter in several translations and trying to follow the logic through the chapter. Very often we don’t in Isaiah, because in many of these poetic passages it is hard to make sense of what’s going on in context. But I would suggest that there is a context, that the combination of the verses and passages is not accidental, but because of the literary style of the text, and the fact that so much is written in poetry it’s simply difficult to follow that logic.

The basic logic that I see in this text is the move from a people who are not definitely on any side. They might be faithful to their God and then again they might not. We have almost a precursor to the concept of the remnant as presented in 2nd Isaiah (chapters 40-55), in which only a small portion of the people are faithful, and the whole is to be reduced to that remnant who then bring restoration.

This theme occurs often in apocalyptic literature. The good guys and the bad guys have to be separated and clearly distinguished. As a result it is very, very right that God destroys the bad guys, and it is also imperative that God avenge the good guys. This theme has guided my translation in a couple of places. Theology should follow translation rather than precede it, but translation is impossible without sense, and if you compare several different translations of this chapter you will see quite a difference in the sense that is portrayed. A sparse Hebrew text leaves us to fill in the holes based on our understanding, and that is not an easy task.

Places where this passage is quoted in the New Testament are indicated by red text and allusions are indicated in blue text with the reference in {braces}.

(1) On that day —
YHWH will take vengeance with his sword,
harsh, great, powerful,
On Leviathan the slithering snake,
On Leviathan the slimy snake.
He will kill the sea-dragon.

The critical thing to note about this portion of the text is that its use of Leviathan and “sea-dragon” or “sea-serpent” indicates that we’re talking in the language of creation-myth, and thus also in the language of eschatology. In scripture God’s creative power is also his authority and power to destroy and to recreate. By starting out to state that the sea-dragon will be killed on that day, the writer tells us the setting is eschatological.

I take this indication as definitive. I believe there is enough indication that the chapter is a unity. True, it is made up of individual elements from various sources, but they have been combined into a unified whole. By opening the next section with the same phrase “on that day” the writer tells us that the pleasant vineyard and the slaying of Leviathan are tied together. This means that the vineyard, the abandoned city, and YHWH’s actions as told in verses 12 & 13 should all also have an eschatological setting.

(2) On that day —
“There’s a pleasant vineyard,”
Sing for it!
(3) “I YHWH watch over it.
I water it as needed.
Lest harm come to it,
I watch it day and night.
(4) I have no anger.
Oh that I had thistles and thorns,
I would come against it in battle,
And burn it all together.
(5) Or instead it could seize my protection,
It could make peace with me.
It could make peace with me!
(6) In coming days Jacob will put down roots,
Israel will blossom and bloom,
And will fill the face of the earth with fruit.

There are several questions in this passage. Are the thistles and thorns a defensive wall? Are they part of the vineyard? Is YHWH attacking the enemies of the vineyard, or is he threatening to attack the vineyard?

In my view, the eschatological sense, and also the parallels with the vineyard of Isaiah 5 indicate that the thistles and thorns are themselves part of the vineyard. YHWH wishes that his vineyard was either one thing or another. This calls to mind Revelation 3:15, and God wishing that the people of Laodicea were either hot or cold. In this case, he wishes that he either faced thistles and thorns, against which he could vent his wrath, or that on the other hand his vineyard would make peace with him. God’s anger is spent, but he still does not have the desired result.

Notice, on the other hand, the NCV translation of this passage:

I am not angry.
If anyone builds a wall of thornbushes in war,
I will march to it and burn it.
But if anyone comes to me for safety
and wants to make peace with me,
he should come and make peace with me.”

That is taking the thornbushes in quite a different sense than I have, and I have some difficulty comprehending how “I am not angry” fits in with the rest of the passage. This is simply one of many options. The NCV translation can certainly be justified linguistically. I’m just not certain it can be fitted properly into the context. On the other hand, some might accuse me of bending the evidence in order to fit a patter with my own translation.

Again compare the JPS Tanakh:

There is no anger in Me:
If one offers Me thorns and thistles,
I will march to battle against him,
And set all of them on fire. –Isaiah 27:4

That’s a third option, and there are more. I’m not going to try to exhaust the options either here or in the abandoned city. There are simply too many.

(7) Has he been struck with the same blows
as the one who struck him?
Has he been slain in the same way
as the one who slew him?
(8) With measured acts you contended as you sent her away,
Speaking harshly like the east wind.
(9) So in this way only will Jacob’s guilt be purged,
In this will all the results of his sin be turned aside. {Romans 11:27b, LXX}
When all the stones of the altar are shattered like limestone,
When sacred poles and incense altars no longer stand.

Reformation is the only way in which things in Judah can be made right. Forgiveness is tied to repentance, and repentance means changing one’s life. God has exercised judgment on his people. He has now exercised judgment against those who oppressed Israel. But after all has been said and done, the only thing that will result in a new people is for them to turn from their idols and to become totally God’s possession.

(10) For the fortified city stands alone,
An emptied pasture,
Abandoned like the wilderness.
Oxen graze there.
They lie down and eat her branches.
(11) When her cuttings are dry and break off,
Women come and light them on fire.
Because it is not an understanding people,
So their maker will not have compassion,
The one who formed them will show no mercy.

The key issue in this passage is whether this is Jerusalem or the “other city” that stands against it, Babylon in apocalyptic imagery. I believe this is the opposing city. The dominant expression about Israel in this entire chapter is hope, though there is the desire for repentance and for them to become fully reconciled to their God. The other city is the one that will be completely destroyed. In later apocalyptic, of course, that “other” city would be portrayed receiving a much more explicit judgment.

(12) It will happen on that day —
YHWH will beat out the people like grain, {Matthew 3:12}
from the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt.
And you will be gleaned one by one, Israelites!
(13) It will happen on that day —
The great shofar will be blown,
and those who are lost in the land of Asshur,
and those who are scattered in the land of Egypt
will come and worship YHWH,
on the Holy Mountain in Jerusalem. {Matthew 24:31}

Verses 12 and 13 to me confirm the remainder of my interpretation of the chapter. Compare verse 12 to the preaching of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:12, separating wheat from chaff, so that the wheat can be saved and the chaff burned. Besides the scattering, however, there is an ingathering, as people are brought from all corners of the earth to return to God’s people in their home.

As I see it, and as I have translated it, Isaiah 27 serves as a “little apocalypse” portraying the world at its end, when God is stepping in to do judgment.

The Clear Word Bible: Reversing the Meaning

The Clear Word Bible: Reversing the Meaning

Update (12/28/06): There’s a good review of the Clear Word Bible on Thinking Christian titled Book Review: “The Clear Word”. This review goes into much greater breadth and depth on this book that is not even truly a paraphrase of the Bible.

Since I regularly come to the defense of various Bible translations some folks may be wondering what would annoy me about a Bible translation. Amongst the generally available translations, I really do think that the vast majority are generally accurate. Readability varies widely. A number of passages in The Living Bible concern me, and generally I don’t recommend the acknowledge paraphrases for serious study, though I do recommend dynamic equivalance translations for such study, though some people still call them paraphrases.

But the Clear Word Bible, paraphrased by Jack Blanco, and published by the Review and Herald Publishing Association seems to cross the line in some instances. My problems with this translation are not due to Seventh-day Adventist doctrine, but rather to Blanco’s apparent softening of the text.

Many of the notes are explanatory. For example, Matthew 20:16, which reads literally, “Thus the last shall be first, and the first, last” becomes:

That’s the way it’ll be when God’s harvest ends. The last will be first, and the first will be last. Many are called to work for God, but not all of them can be saved. Some of God’s workers gladly do what they can with no thought of pay. Others work very hard for God but think only of what’s in it for them.

This is clearly beyond even paraphrase or a cultural transposition, such as the Cotton Patch Bible. It’s substantial commentary added to the text. To be fair, Blanco does indicate in the preface that this is a paraphrase and that it should not be used “for in-depth study or for public reading in churches.” It is difficult to limit what people do with paraphrases, however, as many tend to view them just as another Bible unless they have some knowledge of translation. Few people think about the specific use of a Bible–they just like them or they don’t.

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Reflecting on the Flood

Reflecting on the Flood

In a previous post I commented on the two flood stories, so instead of covering each and every point of the flood story again here, I’d like to reflect just a bit on the story of the flood. I’ll resume my verse by verse commentary toward the end of Genesis 8.

The flood story is a very troubling story to many people. Those who regard it as a historical account have to deal with the complete absence of evidence that any such event ever happened though see below on just what the flood involved. I comment on the various views on the meaning of Genesis 1-11 here.

But it’s not merely as a historical event that the flood story troubles many people. If one is to take the story seriously in any sense, it presents us with the picture of God deciding to wipe out everyone alive. God is sorry that he created humanity, and so will wipe them all out at once. Noah and his family will be the sole survivors. This one is almost more troubling as a myth than as history.

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The Camp and the Cloud

The Camp and the Cloud

Yesterday and today I wrote devotionals for my wife’s devotional list that drew lessons from the movement of the cloud and fire over the tabernacle in the wilderness. These devotionals are not truly exegetical exercises, but rather draw on the approach I call “listening to the conversation.” The command here is clearly directed to Israel at a specific time and place. There is no direct application. At the same time we can draw lessons by looking at how God deals with people. For this post I’m presenting the scripture once, and then combining the two devotionals.

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Isaiah 26: Praise and Lament in Trouble

Isaiah 26: Praise and Lament in Trouble

Update: I forgot to tag the places the New Testament quotes (none in this case) or alludes to this passage.

In my series on Biblical criticism I discussed the division of Isaiah 24-27 into various segments and discussing their form. In that article I suggested taking Isaiah 26 as a unity even though it would be the longest single segment in Isaiah 24-27.

Other commentators suggest dividing the chapter after verse 6 into a song of praise while verses 7-21 are a community lament. I see the two parts of the chapter as inextricably tangled together. Isaiah 24-27 appears to be a confused portrayal of the end times, but it is intentionally confused–what appears confused to us is intentional.

Our desire as Christians is to get a roadmap, to find out how to avoid trouble, and how to come out fine in the end without too much fuss and bother. But “fuss and bother” is a characteristic of final events. You have a time of conflict in which there will be moments of triumph and joy, and moments when one needs to hide.

18Woe to those who are anxious for the day of YHWH,
Why do you want the day of YHWH?
It’s a day of darkness and not light!
19It’s as though someone flees from a lion,
but a bear meets him,
so he goes into his house,
leans his hand on the wall,
and a snake bites him!
20Is the day of YHWH not darkness rather than light?
Is it not gloom without any gleam of light?

–Amos 5:18-20

This rather negative view contrasts with the joy that is expected on the day of the Lord, the day when God comes to redeem, but also to avenge. There are two reasons for this mixed description. First, the day of the Lord is joy for those who are ready and waiting, but not so joyful for those who are not. Second, the end does not come in any scriptural description without some conflict and trouble. This is not the place to go into any detail on pre-trib vs. post-trib arguments, but I think this passage hints at a situation in which the good spent some tense times along with the bad. It is certainly not a “proof passage” on this point; it simply hints on a less precisely laid out final time of conflict.

Translation and Notes

1In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah.
We have a strong city,
Salvation set in walls and outworks!
2Open the gates!
So a righteous nation may enter,
One that keeps justice.
3The mind that depends,
You will keep totally peaceful,
Because he trusts in you.[Philippians 4:7]

4Trust in YHWH forever,
For in YH YHWH is an eternal rock.
5For he has humbled the inhabitants of a lofty place,
An inaccessible city.
He will overthrow it,
He will cast it down to the ground.
He will make it reach the dust.
6Feet will trample it,
The feet of the humble,
The steps of the poor.

This is the song of praise, but in leads into the destruction of evil, which in turn leads into the lament of the following verses. The lament in turn ends on what, from God’s people’s point of view at least, is another high point.

Some commentators have been concerned that the great city has already been destroyed in chapter 25, but that is part of the lack of clear chronological sense of Isaiah 24-27. The intent is to portray the time of conflict, and the feelings of God’s people, both positive and negative during that time.

7The way of the righteous is level.
You prepare for them a straight path.
8Indeed in the path of your justice
We wait for you YHWH,
Your name and for your reputation,
is our deepest desire.
9My soul longs for you in the night,
My spirit within me keeps watch for you,
Because just as your judgments hold sway in the land,
So do the inhabitants of the earth learn righteousness.

Here again is the key to the day of the Lord. God asserts his rule and his justice. For some people that’s a good thing, for others, it is not so good. God’s true people wait anxiously for God’s justice, even though there may be great trouble along the way.

10When the wicked receive grace,
The don’t learn righteousness.
In a land of upright people he acts unjustly,
And has no fear of YHWH’s majesty.
11YHWH, though your had is lifted up,
They don’t see it.
Let them see your zeal for your people,
And be ashamed.
Let the fire of your anger consume them. [Hebrews 10:27]

There is a certain emotional conflict about the end times in that while many are being saved, God’s people know that others will be destroyed. God’s people have cried out for justice throughout history. There is the essential tension between God not wanting anyone to perish, and God’s unwillingness to allow sin to persist.

The apparent absence of God’s judgment gives sinners permission to carry on whatever they’re doing.

12YHWH will accomplish deliverance for us,
Indeed all our accomplishments are things you have done!

This is a tremendous statement of the gospel message. We really have done nothing. Even what we appear to have done is God’s activity in us.

13YHWH our God,
Other lords besides you have ruled us,
Still we praise your name.

I like this little note of repentance. “We’ve run away Lord, but we’re back. You’re the only one who matters.”

14Being dead, they cannot live;
Being shades, they cannot rise;
Therefore you punished them,
     destroyed them,
     eliminated all memory of them.

My translation is a bit different from what you will find in most versions based on Waltke-O’Connor’s grammar. It seemed strange to be talking about the dead in this verse and how they cannot rise when we have an affirmation of resurrection at the end of the chapter. What this verse actually refers to is those “other lords” who have ruled Israel. They are actually dead, unable to do anything. God has wiped them out.

15You have added to the nation, YHWH.
You have added to the nation.
You have been glorified.
You have expanded the borders of the land.

Note the turn to a description of God’s blessing.

16In trouble they called to you, YHWH.
They poured out their prayer as you corrected them.
17Like a pregnant woman who comes near to giving birth,
She writhes, she cries out in her pains, [John 16:21]

Thus were we from before you, YHWH.
18We were pregnant, we writhed,
But we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought forth salvation on earth,
Nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.

And here is another statement of God’s grace. Every human effort has failed, has accomplished nothing. They are like giving birth to wind. Yet when God steps in there is salvation.

19Your dead will live,
My corpses will rise.
Wake up and sing!
Those who dwell in the dust.
Like drops of light is your dew,
And the earth will bring forth the shades. [Ephesians 5:14]

20Come my people! Enter your chambers!
Close your doors after you.
Hide for just a moment,
until wrath passes over.
21For look! YHWH is going out from his place,
To repay the iniquity of the land’s inhabitants on it.
The land will reveal its blood,
And will no longer conceal its slain.

We end with two affirmations: 1) God will bring new life, an early affirmation of the resurrection, and 2) The land is going to reveal the iniquity that has been done in it, allowing final justice.

On the first point there has been some debate about whether this resurrection refers merely to the restoration of the nation or whether there is a resurrection of the dead involved. I believe the latter, largely because of the contrast to the dead gods/lords who will never rise again.

On the second, note that the sacrificial system had many cases in which a sacrifice was to be offered when someone realized their guilt. The things that are concealed must be revealed so that justice can be done, whether for atonement or for punishment.

Gail Riplinger and Isaiah 26:3

Gail Riplinger and Isaiah 26:3

This is in the “I just couldn’t resist” category. Stating that Gail Riplinger’s “New Age Bible Versions” is poorly researched is to cast aspersions on shoddy research everywhere. Today as I was preparing a post on Isaiah 26 for this blog (which will be in the next entry), I recalled her use of Isaiah 26:3, so I took a quick look on the internet to see if there was anything more recent.

(There’s no particular reason to actually track Riplinger’s work in any detail. The errors are too widespread and pervasive to merit serious discussion.)

For those who may not be aware, in a chart (she loves charts) on page 455 of my edition (identified as 5th printing) Riplinger quotes the first part of Isaiah 26:3 in the KJV and the NASB. She then supplies a period where there is actually a comma in both versions. This prevents one from noticing either that the verse is only half quoted, or that the point of her chart is completely destroyed if the entire verse is quoted.

Her claim is that the NASB is saying that it doesn’t matter who one trusts in, that it is the steadfastness of mind that results in peace. She goes so far as to claim that people would not seek psychologists so much if the translators of the NASB had not translated as they do.

Now look at the two translations of the full verse, side by side:

NASB KJV
“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace,
Because he trusts in You.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

Now notice that the claim that the “steadfastness of mind” is somehow presented as adequate for perfect peace is completely false. The fact of dependence on God is made clear by two factors: 1) God is the one who keeps the person in perfect peace, and 2) the reason for the peace is that the person trusts in God. Of course these very plain statements are removed in Riplinger’s deceptive chart.

Now on the internet today I find her response to White. This isn’t terribly recent, but it just caught my attention. The response is just as deceitful as the original:

White hopes his readers are as weak in grammar, syntax and theology as he is. He tells easily noted outright lies, which only the “simple” (Rom. 16:18) will swallow. He begins his lambast, storming:

“[T]he rest of the verse actually contains the ‘key words’ she alleges are missing!…This kind of actual miscitation of the modern versions is rampant throughout the text of her work.”

If White can find the missing words “on thee” in that verse in his NASB, I’ll give him $1 million dollars. He is lying, the rest of the verse does NOT “actually contain the key words she alleges are missing!” His accusations fall under the category of “false allegations” (not “fair comment”) in the courts.

Actually, as I’ve pointed out, those words are there. But Riplinger apparently believes that by blustering and using strong terminology she can intimidate people into missing them. Of course they are not in her chart. But they are in the NASB.

After ranting about psychology in the church (you can read the whole thing here), Riplinger continues:

One cannot pretend, as White does, that because the words “in Thee” are a part of the next subject (he), verb (trusteth), and prepositional modifier (in Thee), that they have any grammatical connection to the earlier sentence and its syntax. The KJV has BOTH “on thee” in part one AND “in thee” in part two. The NASB omits one, thereby changing the meaning. White misses, not only the grammatical differences and hence the factual differences here, but he misses the basic biblical distinction between the heart, which trusts in God, and the mind which thinks on God. The “because” phrase tells WHY it works; it does not tell WHAT works.

Considering how much she rants about White’s English comprehension, Riplinger should perhaps study a bit of literature herself. In poetry, words can pull double duty, but even that is not the point here. The NASB correctly translates the Hebrew phrase “in you” precisely the number of times it occurs. It carries additional freight in this verse because of the Hebrew parallelism, but that is very clear in any of the major versions.

This is a case of misrepresentation, and that misrepresentation is stubbornly maintained down to the present by Riplinger. James White is correct in his analysis of the passage.

Note: Updated 3/30/08 to place blockquotes around this section. I respond to the issue of italics elsewhere. These words are quoted.

The KJV uses italics when the theological sense of a verse demands the insertion of English words to accurately complete a Hebrew thought. It is the only translation that is honest in this way. Both the NIV and NASB insert 1000’s of words, but give the reader no clue as to which words are inserted. One NIV editor’s article “When Literal Is Not Accurate” gives expression to the frequent use (6000 in the NIV) of such insertions.

The veracity of the italics in the KJV have been proven true to such a degree that this author feels no need to pick them out and set them apart as uninspired. The ten words in italics in 1John 2:23 have since been vindicated by ancient manuscript discoveries. Note the following ‘miraculous’ coincidences:

* The italics of Ps. 16:8 are quoted by Paul in the Greek text of Acts 2:25.
* The italics of Is. 65:1 are quoted by Paul in the Greek text of Rom. 10:20.
* The italics of Ps. 94:11 are quoted by Paul in the Greek text of 1 Cor. 3:20.
* The italics of Deut. 25:4 are quoted by Paul in the Greek text of 1 Cor. 9:9.
* The italics of Deut. 8:3 are quoted by Jesus in the Greek text of Matt. 4:4.

I miscited nothing; my allegations regarding the NASB’s omission are true. White’s wrong again.

Update 3/30/08: Note that even though I did not respond here at the time I wrote this post, this issue of the use of italics, and the very suggestion that the italics are quoted in Greek is ludicrous.

Pseudo-Polymath Series on Genesis

Pseudo-Polymath Series on Genesis

I’ve been intending to mention this since last week’s Christian Blog Carnival came out, but I’ve been distracted. Mark Olson at Pseudo-Polymath has started a series on Genesis from a philosophical perspective. The first entry is Reflections on Gensis: Chapter 1, and he has now posted the second entry, Reflections on Genesis: Chapters 2-3 (part 1).

Right now I only want to make one comment and mention a couple of my own related posts. At the end of the first entry, Mark says:

However, Kass suggests that scientific views evolution may deny the intelligibility and primacy of species (the separation noted in Genesis) and the importance and uniqueness of man. And in that sense it might be in opposition, but I’m not expert enough on evolution to know how notions “kind” and “species” which arise from Genesis are denied by evolutionary theory.

I’d simply like to link to two of my previous posts that may relate; Design, Direction, and Evolution and An Evolutionary View of Kinds.

Isaiah 25: Protection in the Midst of Trouble

Isaiah 25: Protection in the Midst of Trouble

This is a long delayed continuation of my series on Isaiah 24-27, an early apocalypse. To get the background, look back at my entry on Isaiah 24 and possibly even follow the links there to my material on this topic on Threads from Henry’s Web.

For those who may not want to follow the links back, let me summarize. Isaiah 24-27 is a section of Isaiah dealing with some variety of eschatological events. Its language is rooted in the judgment that Isaiah has proclaimed on Israel and Judah, but it looks beyond that. Many interpreters regard it as confused and disorderly, but it is actually similar to later apocalyptic literature in that regard. It gives word pictures of various places and attitudes as God’s judgment falls on the land, but also as God’s people are delivered.

I like to apply the metaphor of the theme ride to this, such as I use in my study guide to Revelation. Think of yourself as riding on something like Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride. You will pass through various scenes of the pillaging of a town by pirates, but it is not a sequential presentation. You may find various elements portrayed simultaneously that might have happened sequentially. Isaiah 25 is much like that.

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