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Distinguishing Ideology and Linguistic Differences

Distinguishing Ideology and Linguistic Differences

I located a post on Bible translations through the Methodist Blogs Weekly Roundup (for which I thank John the Methodist for his usual good job). The post is Ideology in Translations, but while I certainly believe ideology is involved in translations, I don’t see a battle of liberal vs conservative ideology here, and I also see some potential problems in the understanding of the linguistics involved.

Conservative Seminarian points to the NIV translation of Genesis 2:19 “had formed,” rather than “formed” as it is in many translations, and seems to believe that this is evidence of bias in the translation committees:

The difference is that the second one seems to have a time order contradiction to the Genesis 1 story (God made man, then the beasts), while the first one switches the verb tense slightly to make it fit (God made man, and had already made the beasts).

Now, the professor admits that “had formed” is within the semantic range of the verb (יצר). But apparently, it is invalid to use that even though it makes the most sense within the text.

. . . [snip]

Now, the question is, doesn’t this make his determination of the verb form actually the one that has a theological axe to grind? The NIV committee seems to have simply chosen the tense of the verb (of the range of valid choices) that makes the most sense within the text. He wants to choose the one that makes the least sense, which just so happens to coincide with what he likes about the way the Hebrews collected scripture.

Now I’m not writing this to beat up on Conservative Seminarian. I congratulate him on choosing to attend a liberal seminary and to learn better to defend his point of view. I also congratulate him on challenging any notion his professor might have that he responds to this topic without any ideological concerns. But the references that he provides also argue this largely on the basis of ideology, taking an apologetic approach. Now there’s nothing wrong with an apologetic approach where appropriate, but it works much better when the problems are correctly identified.

The translations cited here, NIV and NASB, are both very conservative translations. In fact, quite a number of conservative translations support the position of the NASB. A quick list gathered from my Logos software includes CEV, TEV, ASV, ESV, KJV, The Message, NCV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, YLT. Note that the TNIV continues the NIV translation, and Darby also supports it. From my bookshelves let me add that the JPS Tanakh and HCSB support the translation “formed” while God’s Word translation uses “had formed.” Now please don’t count these versions in order to determine which is the best translation. The question is this: Why do quite a number of conservative translations, such as the NLT, NKJV, ESV, and NASB, not take this easy option, and translate with something that “makes the most sense within the text?”

There is another problem. One cannot simply take the semantic range of a word and choose whatever particular gloss one prefers in a particular context. One must consider the syntax involved. Now I’m not going to get into the technical details. One of many excellent sources on the topic would be Paul Jouon’s A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, Part Three: Syntax, pp. 389-396. The syntax here–a sequence of uses of the “wayyiqtol” form of the verb–is normally used in Hebrew to portray a series of events in sequence. It is not impossible for the sequence to be broken, but this is not normally the way it would be done. The normal procedure would be to interrupt the sequence with a simple perfect, and then continue with the consecutive presentation until the next break in time.

There is one excellent way to alter the translation here, and that is to alter the pointing of the Hebrew text, preserving the older consonantal text, but altering the vowel pointings. Thus one could, simply by changing the vowels, produce the past perfect (English term) meaning here, and create the good order. I would note that there is a certain amount of difficulty with that option, in that the next “wayyiqtol” form “brought” would normally also be translated past perfect, which doesn’t fit nearly as well. But it is a workable option.

And here is the ideological catch. I’ve expressed my ideology in the sentence above, in which I see the vowel pointings of the Hebrew text as having less authority than the consonants. There are many people who would disagree with me, including Orthodox Jews at least. Many conservative scholars are very hesitant to alter the pointing and word spacing of the Massoretic Text without stronger evidence than the fact that it fits better. What they are doing, in fact, is being faithful to their ideology of the sacredness of the text, and putting their best effort at providing an accurate translation of the text they have in front of them ahead of further theological considerations.

What is clear, I think, from the list of translations on each side of this issue, is that this is not a liberal/conservative issue, however much some particular professor may portray it in that way. It is a linguistic issue on which one’s ideology can impact in a variety of ways.

Finding Good Role Models for Girls in the Bible

Finding Good Role Models for Girls in the Bible

A post by Peter Kirk over on Speaker of Truth, titled Deborah and a woman from Bethlehem, and some interesting comments made there suggests to me some more writing about my favorite topic: the SHARING stage of Bible study. (For an outline of my method, see The Participatory Study Method. Some of the foundation for this is contained in my essay Interpreting Stories.)

The difficulty I address in my main essay on interpreting stories is the fact that the Bible writers do not present only heroes, and do not gloss over the weakness of their characters. In modern storytelling we tend to prefer clear villains and heroes, and I find that most of the time when Christians recommend a book or a movie, that is one of the characteristics. We like to have people in our stories that fit in well with either “I’d like to be just like him/her” or “I hope he/she gets it in the end!”

But that’s precisely what the Bible doesn’t give us. Often we take our lead in retelling Bible stories from Hebrews 11, and make them all into heroes in retelling their stories. But we should consider the goal of the author of Hebrews before we decide that this is the one and only, or even the best, way of retelling these stories. His point here is to focus totally on faithfulness. No matter what has happend, no matter what the weaknesses, the one key is to remain faithful to God throughout. And in that characteristic, all of the heroes mentioned in Hebrews 11 are truly heroes. But if you look at their broader stories as told in scripture, they come out as very human, with weaknesses and failings. In fact, they make very suitable examples.

This leads me to a key point: Heroes can be destructive as well as challenging. The Proverbs 31 woman is a good example. There are some women out there who are encouraged by the way in which their role is honored in that passage. Others live in misery because they can’t live up to what they see as the Biblical standard on a daily basis. Jesus is an excellent and challenging example to us, but I find myself relating to Peter a lot better sometimes. Jesus may have been tested in all ways as I have been, but it was “without sin.” Jesus walked on the water; Peter took a plunge; I’m more like Peter! Now don’t get me wrong here. I believe in asking “what would Jesus do?” on a regular basis. But I also believe that there’s a reason Peter is in the Bible. When I try to walk on water and find myself in an unplanned deep sea dive instead, I can look back and say, “Peter was a leader amongst the disciples, and he had bad days too!”

So role models don’t always have to be heroes in the sense that we use that term in modern times. As far as I can see, the Bible never whitewashes its lead characters. We can learn both from their good decisions and from their bad. The most important thing to note is that just because a Bible character does something, even if that character is a good person, does not mean that we should do likewise.

Now let’s connect this to the simple issue of role models for girls. Anyone who can count can tell that there are less overt examples of female role models in the Bible than there are male. Because of that we tend to look carefully for the few really good role models that there are, and this can lead us to whitewash certain people even more. Some would say that the scarcity of female role models in scripture simply indicates that women are to be less active. But I would simply ask if everything that was common behavior in Bible times should be regarded as normative. There are many things we do not follow as norms today, including the fairly common occurrence of plural marriage, arranged marriages, forbidding marriage between Jews and gentiles, absolute monarchy, and on and on. Just because it happened doesn’t mean it’s a model for now.

In addition, there are hints that more may be going on behind the scenes. For example, we have Huldah the prophetess who suddenly pops up in 2 Kings 22:14. Why would a group of leaders go to her with a question if she hadn’t already been exercising the prophetic office? So here we have an indication that women may have a public role, though in the patriarchal society their role was limited in scope.

“But,” says some reader, “You still leave us with few role models for women!” And you are right. Now, I’m going to get to my point. The scriptural basis for this is found in Psalm 78, which I regard as an excellent charter document for religious education:

1(A Wisdom Song by Asaph)
Open your ears to my instruction
Turn your ears toward the the words I speak.
2I will open my mouth in a teaching song.
I will speak hard sayings from ancient times.
3Words which we have heard and known,
and our ancestors have told us.
4We will not hide them from their children,
speaking YHWH’s praises to a later generation,
His strength, and the wonderful things he has done.
5And he raised a testimony in Jacob,
and set instruction in Israel,
Which he commanded our ancestors
to teach to their children.
6So that the later generation might know,
The children to be born would rise up,
and teach them to their children.
7That they might set their hope in God,
And might not forget his mighty deeds,
But might observe his commands. — Psalm 78:1-7 (TFBV)

Grab your favorite “easy reading” Bible version and read the whole chapter. The story of God’s activities has not stopped. We are responsible to pass that story from generation to generation and in turn, “put our trust in God” which itself will add to the story, just as the Psalmist is adding to the story through some of the incidents he relates.

So my suggestion is to start your search for role models in the Biblical stories, but don’t stop there. My first set of sources is actually in the apocrypha. How about Susanna or Judith? Again, you need to read all stories with due consideration for the weaknesses of any human example. But even more than this, you need to continue through Christian history and into the present, telling the stories of faith.

When I first returned to the church after my 12 years of “wilderness wandering” after graduate school, and started teaching, I was looking for this type of story. I found that the idea of telling our own stories about how God has worked in our lives was a bit foreign to the congregation of which I was a member. Stories of faith were about people in the Bible, and maybe on good days about people a few generations back, but never about today.

So I got on the phone with my mother. Why? Because my mother told us stories of faith in her own life. Lots of stories of faith. When I wondered whether God could or would work in our lives, I wasn’t merely, pointed to the red sea or Elijah on Mt. Carmel or the resurrection, though my parents believed and taught those stories. I was referred to things in our own present life. So I asked my mother to write them down so I could use some as examples. She did, and the result was the booklet Directed Paths, stories of her life as a missionary nurse along with my father, who was a missionary doctor. As I write this my father is in intensive care after surgery, though the prognosis is good. He’s 85 years old, and as my mother and I talked before the surgery, all we could say was that if this was God’s time to take him, we knew that he had run a good race. I can say the same thing of my mother. But the key thing here is that she told me about God’s work in her life. Because she testified, she can serve as a role-model of faith.

Now I publish the booklet I mentioned above, and I won’t deny that I’d love for you to buy and read it, but that isn’t the point of bringing it up. What you need to do is look at your own life, and the lives of your parents and other family members, discover those stories of God’s working, and tell them. Do what my mother did and make yourself a part of the ongoing story of God, in a sense part of the Bible story. You can find sources in the Bible, in the history of the church and communities of faith, and finally in the history of your own family. This is sharing and becoming a part of the story. If you don’t share it, you can’t be part of it. You’ll find that there are more and more stories of people that girls can use as role models as time moves forward.

Of course, then there’s the hard part:

11But they conquered him by means of the blood of the lamb,
and by means of the testimony they spoke,
And they did not love their lives even up to death. Revelation 12:11 (TFBV)

We commonly quote the first two lines, but the last one is a bit harder. Getting to be a part of the story can involve hardship and can even involve death. My mother’s story includes a time of running for our lives in the middle of the night, and a time when I nearly died as a child due to circumstances involved in her ministry. I know of missionaries overseas and here at home who have lost more. But there are plenty of stories to work with.

Become a part of the story!

Genesis 6:5-8: Cause of the Flood

Genesis 6:5-8: Cause of the Flood

I’m trying to take this passage in smaller chunks than I usually do so that I don’t end up with so many incredibly long posts.

We’ve been watching the deterioration of the human race throughout these chapters. Genesis 3 gives one view of the start. Chapter 4 carries that story forward. If viewed in conjuction with Genesis 11, Genesis 5 hints at the problem. Genesis 6:1-4 again expands on the theme. Alden Thompson, in his book Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God? titles his second chapter “Behold it was very good – and then it all turned sour” in which he discusses this theme. (Bias warning: Alden Thompson was one of my undergraduate professors and I publish his book.) However one debates the details of Genesis 3 and the nature of the first sin, one thing is incredibly clear. Genesis presents a clear picture of increasing separation from God and from God’s will.

Thompson says,

To summarize the argument of this chapter, we can say that God did create a good world. In this world he placed free creatures. They chose to rebel and align themselves with the Adversary. His attacks on God set the stage for demonic rule, a rule which a freedom-loving God chose to allow as necessary evidence in the cosmic struggle between good and evil. The Old Testament gives ample evidence of the impact of the demonic rule. At the same time, however, it testifies to God’s patient interest in his own people, a people through whom he hoped to demonstrate to the world that there is a God in heaven who is the source of everything good. God had much that he wanted to show and tell his people. As soon as they were ready, he passed on the good news. The tragedy was that they were so seldom ready. Yet God was still willing to watch and wait. That is the glory of the Old Testament and the glory of our God (pp. 31-32).

Now I’m extremely interested in the broader topic of God’s commands for violence, and with moral issues that are raised by stories like the flood, but that is not the focus of this passage, so I’m going to try to stick more to what this particular passage says first and then discuss these broader implications in another post. I believe that the paragraph I quoted above is a good summary of the message here. Let’s look at the scripture passage:

5And YHWH saw that the evil of humanity was great on the land, and the whole thrust of human thought was only evil continually. 6And YHWH was sorry that he had made humanity on the land, and it made him sad in his heart. 7And YHWH said, “I will wipe humanity which I created from the face of the ground, from human beings to cattle, to creeping things, to the birds in the sky, because I’m sorry that I made them!” 8But Noah found favor in the eyes of YHWH. — Genesis 6:5-8

There are several points to see in these verses. Let me break them out into bullet points:

  • The total deterioration and evil of humanity
  • God’s sorrow, leading to his statement that he’s sorry (or repents) that he’s made them
  • The universality of the proposed punishment or cleansing
  • The favor that Noah found, later attributed to Noah being found righteous (Genesis 7:1)

Modern theology is concerned with two things that the text does not emphasize, first the violent and massive destruction that God carries out here, and second with God repenting or being sorry. But as far as the story is concerned, God is not to be questioned as to his cause–it’s assumed to be an adequate reason for the destruction. Further, God’s “repentance” is a common feature of the Hebrew scriptures, and does not cause the Bible writers the type of discomfort it seems to cause us.

In addition, this is a good summary of the gospel (if we can deal with the destructive God issue), the good news about God: Big trouble is coming, God offers grace, people are saved.

One note: The Hebrew word nicham won’t give much help to those who are uncomfortable with God’s repentance or God being sorry. It does mean what it appears to mean, and it appears frequently with reference to God in Hebrew scriptures. Thus I’m going to leave the two issues–God’s repentance and God’s violence–for further discussion, as I think that the solution to the two problems is quite similar.

Psalm 104

Psalm 104

I’m planning to do some posting on translating and transforming Hebrew poetry over the next few weeks, so I want to start with a couple of links to my existing work on Psalm 104. I did a considerable study of the structure of this Psalm in graduate school. I’m not in a position to repeat the work I did then or even to reaffirm it, but I’m planning to work from the text that I prepared for that paper, and build from there.

Here are the major links:

The translation was prepared for technical purposes and not for general reading. The actual translation without the notes follows.

(1) Bless the Lord, O my inmost being!

0 Lord, my God, you are very great;
You are clothed with majesty and splendor.

(2) He spreads out light like a covering;
He stretches out the heavens as a tent.

(3) He fills his upper chambers with water;
He makes the clouds his chariot;
He travels on the wings of the wind.

(4) He makes the winds his messengers,
Fire and flame his servants.
(5) He established the earth on its foundations;
It shall not be moved forever and ever.

(6) The primeval ocean covered it like a garment;
The waters stood over the mountains.

(7) Prom your rebuke they fled;
From your thunderous voice they rushed away.

(8) They went up to the mountains, down to the netherworld chasms,
To the place which you appointed for them.

(9) You set them a limit which they cannot transgress;
They will not return to cover the earth.

(10) He sends forth springs in the wadis;
They flow between the mountains.

(11) He makes all the beasts of the field drink;
He makes the onagers shatter their thirst.

(12) Near them (the streams) the birds of heaven nest;
Among them the ravens give forth their voice.

(13) He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
From the fruit of his work, the earth is well supplied.

(14) He brings forth grain for the animals;
And grass for those who serve man.

He indeed brings grain from the earth;
(15) And wine which gladdens the heart of man.

He indeed makes their faces shine with oil;
And bread, which strengthens the heart of man.

(16) The trees of the Lord have plenty;
The cedars of Lebanon which he planted,

(17) Where the birds make their nests;
As for the stork, her house is among their tops.

(18) The high mountains are for the mountain goats;
The rocky places are for the coneys.
(19) He made the moon for appointed times;
The sun knows when to go down.

(20) It darkens, and becomes night;
In it creep all the beasts of the thicket.

(21) The lions roar for their prey;
They seek their food from God.

(22) The sun rises, so they may be gathered,
So they may lie down in their dens

(2)) Man goes forth to his work,
And to his labor until the evening.
(24) How marvelous are your works, O Lord!
You made them all wisely.
The earth is full of your created things.

(25) This sea, great and wide across,
In which are uncountable creatures,
Living things, both small and great —

(26) There the ships travel;
Leviathan which you made,
Plays in it.

(27) All of them look to you,
To give them their food on time.

(28) You give to them, so they may gather;
You open your hand, so they may be satisfied with good.

(29) You hide your face, and they are disturbed;
You bring their breath to an end,
And they return to their dust.

(30) You send forth your breath, and they are created;
So you renew the face of the ground.
(31) Let the glory of the Lord. be eternal;
Let the Lord rejoice in his works —

(32) He who looks at the earth, and it trembles;
Who touches the mountains, and they smoke.

(33) I will sing to the Lord while I live.
I will sing to my God while I continue to exist.

(34) Let my song be pleasing to him,
I will rejoice in the Lord.

(35) Sinners shall be removed from the earth,
And the wicked will be no more.

Bless the Lord, O my inmost being!

I’ll be working from that basis on my various presentations of the content of this Psalm in different forms.

See also my recent note on Hebrew Poetry.

Brief Thoughts on Hebrew Poetry

Brief Thoughts on Hebrew Poetry

A few days ago Wayne Leman blogged about translating Hebrew poetry, and referred to an article by Philip C. Stine Biblical Poetry and Translation. The article is really excellent, and nothing I’m about to say here is intended to criticize that article as such.

I’ve been very interested in translation of Hebrew poetry, but I think successful translation ranges from difficult to effectively impossible. The two translations I think do the best job into English are the Revised English Bible, and New Jerusalem Bible. One key feature of the NJB is the use of the Yahweh rather than “the LORD” for the name of God, which would obviously make it unacceptable to orthodox and conservative Jewish readers. In poetic terms, however, I think that helps just a bit.

Referring to James Kugel, Stine says:

In fact, he examines many traditional classifications of biblical parallelism, including the categories of Lowth, synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic, and finds them wanting. The ways of parallelism are numerous and varied, and the intensity of the semantic parallelism established between clauses might be said to range from zero perceivable correspondence to near perceivable differentiation.

Now this is a good point, and one that a couple of my professors made to me when I was in graduate school back in 1979-1980, though perhaps not so clearly as Stine has done. The problem is that in order to teach this material to Bible students a bit of terminology is necessary. One can’t just say, even to beginning Hebrew students, that there is “some relationship” between the clauses. Nonetheless, a number of errors result from oversimplification. One of these is the idea that one can determine the definition of an unknown word by finding it in parallel with another term. Now such parallelism can contribute to our understanding of a word, and can give us a starting point in studying it, but it doesn’t determine it, as some people think it does. Without knowing the meaning of the word, the very thing sought, one cannot be certain what type of parallelism one is dealing with.

So let me just suggest here that the terms synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic are quite useful. Like any labeling system, they oversimplify. Indeed, any system of labels is by nature less complex than reality and is provided precisely to allow such simplification. In order to improve accuracy, however, students should be taught that the actual parallelism will lie along a line from complete parallelism of thought to either complete opposition or through a synthetic combination.

Now translating this is much harder, and comes back to the issue of how much interpretation the translator should do, and how much should be left to the modern reader. I’ve been playing around with this before, and commented in Reading Psalm 46, in which I also link to a couple of “transformations.”

Hebrew parallelism does not have the same effect on English readers as it presumably did on readers of the Hebrew original. Thus I would suggest there is room for a broad range of translation possibilities, from a version that copies the poetic forms from Hebrew into English, to ones that might take the thought and express it in an English poetic form. I believe Bible translation and exposition would benefit from more transformations, re-presentations of Biblical material not only in new languages, but in new and/or different forms.

One further note on Stine. He goes through the problems of defining poetry, and that’s a standard problem with Biblical material. Without a solid, understandable definition it’s hard to discuss what is poetry and what’s not, and how to deal with it. I think the problem with this definition is precisely the same as the problem with labels for types of parallelism. We are putting a small number of labels on a continuum–synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic on the one hand, poetry and prose on the other. But poetry and prose do not exist in well defined pockets in real life, and thus our labels will be problematic. On encountering a Biblical passage one might ask, “Should this be presented divided into lines, or paragraphed?” rather than asking whether it’s poetry or prose. Whether it’s technically poetry or not, if it presents well in defined lines, it might be best to present it that way.

Genesis 6:1-4: Sons of God and Human Beings

Genesis 6:1-4: Sons of God and Human Beings

These four verses provide a rather unusual interlude, coming between the genealogy of the patriarchal line in chapter five, and the story of the flood that truly begins in verse 5. I’m attributing them to the redactor who combined the J and P sources of the flood, though I think they work better with the P source. This is not the standard interpretation. The reason I suggest it is that:

  1. The style is neither that of J or P, despite the use of YHWH as the divine name.
  2. The instance of YHWH could well be the work of the redactor.
  3. The J source has explained the presence of evil in the world through the fall of chapter 3 and Cain’s sin of chapter 4.

I could easily be wrong about all that, but it’s just a quick suggestion. Now to the interpretation.

Wherever it started, this passage fits quite well into the final form of the story, giving us a reason for God’s action in sending the flood.

1Now when human beings began to get numerous all over the land, and they gave birth to daughters, 2the sons of God {or “sons of the gods” or “divine beings} saw the daughters of the human beings. They saw that they were good looking, and they took wives for themselves from whomever they chose.

There are three major suggestions for the meaning of “sons of God.” Before I list those, let me note that the translation could be “sons of the gods” as well, and that this would present the option of “divine beings.” The three major options are:

  1. The sons of the gods are divine beings such as angels. (The New Bible Commentary)
  2. The sons of God are the descendants of Seth and followers of God (Matthew Henry)
  3. The sons of God are human beings who are possessed by or under the control of demonic powers (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)

(Commentary listings are just examples. There may be many more commentators who hold the same position.

If the “sons of the gods” are divine beings, then the “sons of men” should be translated “human beings” or something similar, as I have done. If they are the descendants of Seth, then the “sons of men” would be the Kenites or descendants of Cain. If you take the third option, that they are human beings controlled by demonic forces, you would reverse the situation in option three, and in terms of physical form, at least, the sons of God would be the Kenites, while the sons of man would be the descendants of Seth.

I think that the best parallel to the use of the term in this passage is Job 1:6, in which it is clear that supernatural beings are intended. In this case, the marriages between these supernatural beings and the human women result in ancient heroes and the “nephilim.” At the same time, wickedness increases, with very little in the way of limitations, because people live for so long. The long lives, as noted in chapter 5, help with passing on the patriarchal tradition, but this long life also allows some pretty incredible planning for evil.

3Then YHWH said, “My spirit will not always work among human beings, considering that they are flesh. Their lifespan will be 120 years.” 4There were giants {Nephilim} on the earth in those days, and also after the sons of God went to the daughters of the human beings and bore children by them. These were heroes, the famous men of ancient times.

God quickly reminds everyone that he is the one that is in charge. There’s to be a reduction in the lifespan, but don’t miss the way it happens. God withdraws his spirit, his breath of life.

(29) You hide your face, and they are disturbed;
You bring their breath to an end,
And they return to their dust.

(30) You send forth your breath, and they are created;
So you renew the face of the ground.

Psalm 104:29-30 (from my paper Psalm 104: God, Creator and Sustainer

It’s easy to forget as we rebel against God that all life, and even all existence depends on him. So rebellion against God, while it may seem to be a liberated way to live, is actually simply the way to death. As we look at the flood, we will want to consider this option of God withdrawing himself, and at the same time withdrawing his protection.

Capitalization and Translation

Capitalization and Translation

One of the categories on which I rate trnslations for my Bible Version Selection Tool is on capitalization of divine names. This has resulted many times in people asking me if I’m not being a bit nitpicky in making an issue of something like that.

Wayne Leman has posted about Psalm 2 and his arguments illustrate my point well. Comparing Acts 13:32-33 with Psalm 2:7 in the NET, Wayne comments:

Notice that the NET translators, theological conservatives who believe that Jesus is God’s Son, the promised Messiah, uppercase “Son” in Acts 13:33, but not in Hebrew Bible passage which this verse quotes, Psalm 2:7. I personally believe that the NET translators have translated accurately in each passage and indicate appropriately authorial intent with this differing typographical notation.

Wayne also shows a list of translations that, he says, “Christianize” the Hebrew Bible in this verse. Included among them are the NIV, NASB, ESV, HCSB, and GW. All of this is accomplished by means of the capitalization–something that is a choice of the translators and can be merely stylistic, or can, as in this case, be very meaningful. The choice whether or not to capitalize any pronouns referring to the deity is, in itself, stylistic. But if one chooses to follow that practice, then a verse like Psalm 2:7 cannot be neutral because whether you capitalize certain words or not, it will be taken as an indication of your interpretation.

Now the indication that I give in my selection tool doesn’t test this level of detail, but it can give you an idea. And I think that the better choice in modern English is to lose the capitalization of the pronouns throughout.

Wayne concludes:

Better Bibles should use the least amount of “interpretive translation” necessary for conveying the original meanings of the biblical authors accurately to translation audiences.

I couldn’t agree more.

Isaiah 24

Isaiah 24

I used Isaiah 24-27 over on Threads from Henry’s Web as an illustration for use of the various critical tools. In addition, current events in the middle east have predictably started a great deal of discussion of end time events, and of apocalyptic literature.

As I discussed in those earlier posts, many see Isaiah 24-27 as a sort of mini-apocalypse. If one looks at related literature, I would suggest it is quite logical to see these chapters as an early form. As we go through them, we will see many elements that are alluded to in later literature. It will be helpful to use these chapters as a starting point for understanding the various Biblical passages related to the end-times.

Chapter 24 Composition

I’m going to be brief in discussing the critical issues in each chapter, both because I discussed the critical tools earlier, and because I prefer to get to exposition as quickly as possible. For more information on critical issues, I suggest Isaiah by Brevard Childs as a balanced approach.

Chapter 24 is in two basic sections: 1-13, which is an oracle of judgment, and 14-23, which is a prophetic disputation. In this, I’m accepting both the traditional division of the chapter, and the particular analysis of Seitz as cited by Childs (op cit). These identifications should suggest something about how we understand the passage. Grabbing any single verse, for example, could be dangerous. In the judgment oracle, we are getting only one part of the picture. We will have promises of blessing in later pictures. No single element gives the complete picture. In 14-23, we have a dispute, so we have two views. The question that is asked poetically is this: Is God really going to do this?

Draft Translation

So here is my draft translation with some commentary. Note that this is a draft translation. I use it to hang comments. You should always study from a translation produced by a committee to avoid theological biases–even or especially my theological biases–or simple errors.

Isaiah 24

1Take note! YHWH is devastating the land,
and laying it waste.
He twists it,
and scatters those who live there.

Note carefully that the starting point here is a clear statement that God is the one who is bringing judgment. We will discuss why God is bringing judgment as this section of Isaiah (24-27) goes forward, but there is no attempt to pretend that there is any other cause for the destruction. God’s sovereignty is strongly affirmed in apocalyptic literature, as in prophetic literature generally. At the end of the chapter we’ll see this again, as our author or redactor regards “God is going to judge” as a sufficient answer to the question of whether anything good can really come out of the destruction.

I’m translating Hebrew ‘erets as “land” throughout. While I think there is a broader focus, the starting point of the imagery is the destruction of Judah. Other lands are brought in, but we are not talking cosmic destruction of earth as a planet here, but the devastation of inhabited countries.

I will use color coding to indicate allusions to this passage in other apocalyptic literature, with red text indicating an allusion as indicated in the UBS IV Greek New Testament, and blue text indicating concepts that I believe appear in later literature.

2Here’s how it’s going to be:
As with the people, so with the priests;
As with the servant, so with his master;
As with the maid, so with her mistress;
As with the buyer, so with the seller;
As with the creditor, so with the debtor;
As with the one who receives interest, so with the one who pays.
3The land will be completely deserted,
Totally plundered!
For YHWH has given his word.

The destruction is nationwide and indiscriminate. One of the regular questions about God’s judgment was asked by Abraham with reference to Sodom and Gommohra: Will you truly sweep away the righteous with the wicked (Genesis 18:23)?

The answer in this case is yes, and at the end of verse three we have the reaffirmation that YHWH is the one who is doing all of this.

4The land decays mournfully!
The land dries and dwindles!
Those who were important diminish.
5The land is defiled under the rule of those who live there.
Because they have violated the covenant,
Altered the statutes,
Put aside the eternal covenant.
6That’s why a curse has consumed the land,
Those who live there have felt their guilt,
That’s why those who live in the land are burned up,
And those remaining are few.

Note the beginning of verse 6: “That’s why a curse has consumed the land.” The author doesn’t have a problem with regarding judgment as an act of God and at the same time the result of the actions of the people that bring an inevitable curse upon them.

7The new wine is crying,
The grapevine is withered,
Even joyful people are sighing.
8The joyful sound of timbrels stops.
The sound of those who shout for joy ceases.
The harp’s joyful sound cuts off.
[Revelation 18:22]
9No one sings as they drink wine.
The beer is bitter to those who drink it.
10The deserted city is shattered,
All the doors are and windows are barred.
11In the streets people mourn over their wine.
All joy becomes dark,
The land’s mirth is gone.
12What remains in the city is desolation,
Destruction has smitten the gate.
13For this is the way it will be
in the midst of the land,
among the people:
Like shaking an olive tree, [Revelation 6:13, though the allusion is weak]
Like the gleanings when the grape-harvest is over.

[The “time of trouble” or tribulation.]

The oracle of judgment is unrelievedly bitter, and does not make any promise of restoration or blessing. The start of this scenario is dark.


Now we come to the prophetic dispute. To clarify what’s going on, I’m going to put one side of the dispute in normal text, and the other in italics.

14These will raise their voice!
They will shout!
At YHWH’s majesty they will cry out from the sea!
15So glorify YHWH in the east,
Among the islands of the sea the name of YHWH.
16From the farthest parts of the earth we hear songs.
Splendour to the righteous!
But I said, I’m vanishing! I’m vanishing! Woe!
The treacherous have dealt treacherously;
Indeed, the treacherous have dealt very treacherously.
17Terror! The pit! The Snare!
They’re all after you!
18Here’s what’s going to happen:
One who flees from the fearful sound will fall into the pit.
And the one who comes up out of the pit will be caught in the same.
For the windows in the heights are open,
and the foundations of the earth tremble.
[Looks back to the fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven in the flood, Genesis 7:11]
19The land is completely shattered.
It’s totally wiped out!
It has been shaken vigorouoshly.
20The land will stagger like a drunkard.
It will sway back and forth like a temporary shelter.
Its trangression will lie heavy on it.
It will fall, and won’t rise again.

21This is what will happen that day:
YHWH will punish the high host in heaven,
And also the kings on the land.
22And they will be gathered together
as prisoners are gathered together in the pit.
They will be locked up in prison.

[Devil bound for the thousand years, Revelation 20:1-3]
And they will be punished many days later.
[End of the millenium, Revelation 20:7-10]
23Then the moon shall be abashed,
and the sun ashamed,
for YWHW of hosts will rule in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
And glory will be before his elders. [Revelation 4:4]

As we move forward through chapters 24-27 we will see more types of literature, but already we have at least two concepts that are common in apocalyptic. These are the starting point of divine judgment and the expectation of ultimate resolution by God. The final verses of chapter 24 serve to emphasize the inevitability of God’s final victory by framing it as part of a dispute.

Resources for Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible

Resources for Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible

I’ve just located a wonderful series of blog entries on Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible online through my own complete laziness and the hard work of someone else! (Hat Tip: Suzanne McCarthy at Better Bibles Blog in her entry Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Suzanne’s entry is worthwhile itself for its list of resources.)

This series covers textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible in much more detail than I have here and with excellent references. I’m sure I’ll go on popularizing the material, but Tyler Williams at Codex has now provided something to which I can refer those interested in spending a little more time. (I’ve found that the attention span of most church members on textual criticism is somewhere between a paragraph and a page, for which I don’t blame them, even though the topic fascinates me.

In any case, the series begins with Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible – An Introduction (TCHB 1), and the most recent entry is The History of the Biblical Text. I list them this way, because if you start with number six, you will find links to all the previous entries. If you’re just interested in the basics of what textual criticism is and why we need to do it, you can just read the first article. The interevening articles are excellent–just follow the links.

A Story of Three Prophets

A Story of Three Prophets

This is a follow-up to my post Information or Conversation, and it would probably be a good idea to read that entry first.

One element of God’s method of revealing himself to people is that he chooses specific people to accomplish specific missions. I want to look at the time of the exile, and three of God’s messengers, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Now there will be those who accept a later date for Daniel and will question my using him in this part of the story. Let me simply state that I do believe that the stories of Daniel, though not likely the entire book, date from the time of the exile,were later written down and collected in what we now have as the Aramaic portions of Daniel. For more discussion see Dating the Book of Daniel.

At the time of the exile there were three distinct situations, three distinct groups of people to whom God needed to communicate his message. The first was the people of Judah who were rapidly heading toward exile and destruction. The second group was those who were already exiled and living in Babylon. The third was the Babylonian court, both the Babylonian king and officials for whom God had a mission, but also the exiles who were living in a state of privelege and facing the temptation to compromise away their faith.

The inhabitants of Judah were living in a dreamworld of security, based on the belief that the presence of the temple, and thus God’s presence, protected Jerusalem no matter what. The exiles in Babylon generally felt abandoned by God and either waited expectantly for their soon return or began to simply give up. At the same time the king of Babylon took the view that he was favored of the gods because of his successes, and those who lived in his court faced the constant danger of compromise of their principles in order to gain power and favor and even permanence in their new situation. Any of these attitudes presented a barrier to God’s plan.

God’s response was not merely to protect the facts. The facts were that the exile would be long but temporary, and that in the end the people would return. Jerusalem would be destroyed, but it would be rebuilt. Nebuchadnezzar was a great king and conqueror, but he also was limited and temporary and the way to success for the Jewish young people who found themselves there was faithfulness, not compromise. But even if they suffered for their faithfulness, the consequences of compromise would be even deeper.

Those were the facts, but God still needed messengers. None of the audiences actually wanted to listen, but there were ways to make things clear.

For Judah, there was Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Not only one who could speak the message, but one who could weep the message, whose very life symbolized God’s love for Judah and his unwillingness to give up his people. God’s sorrow was expressed in the form of a prophet who spoke, suffered, cried, and was ignored, but who never gave up, who kept speaking until there was nothing left.

Ezekiel was himself an exile, capable of understanding the situation of the exiles. His inaugural vision (Ezekiel 1) reassured Ezekiel that God was still with the exiles, that in spite of judgment there was hope. The message became a part of Ezekiel. But the presentation was different from that of Jeremiah. Ezekiel was not allowed to mourn his own wife’s death (Ezekiel 24:15-27). Both his visions and his methods of expression were powerful and creative.

Daniel was one tempted to compromise in the court of the king. He had every opportunity to go over to the side of the winner, and to accept Nebuchadnezzar as the once and always king of the world. But he stood quietly for God and for faithfulness to his message.

Three messengers with similar messages, but different audiences, and different means to present that message–God involved in the daily activities of human beings, a microcosm of God acting in the flesh.