Friday, September 30, 2005

Wrapping up Homosexuality and Christianity

In the last several posts I have tried to run through the biblical witness on the topic of homosexual sex as best I could. Here is an attempt to place that witness into a flow.

I would say that there are at least two primary reasons why things are prohibited in Leviticus and the other codes of the Pentateuch. One set of reasons has to do with holiness, purity, and impurity. The other relates to social consequences. In my opinion, sexuality is a particularly powerful intersection of these two domains, one of the reaons why the New Testament does not seem to alter its stance very much on sexual purity issues.

The lines of purity and impurity change on many issues between the OT and the emergent NT church. For example, Mark says that Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). Paul says in Romans 14:14 that no food is unclean in itself but if you think it is unclean, then it is unclean. I suspect originally, many of the reasons for the purity rules had to do with setting boundaries between Israel and the surrounding peoples (rather than health, for example, an explanation that fits suspiciously with a modern worldview). These boundary lines may have seemed more arbitrary in the time of Christ, and it is interesting to see a Jew like Philo trying to find a philosophical reason for the Jewish abstention from pork (to him it relates to the virtue of self-control).

But Paul changes none of the lines of clean and unclean when it comes to sexuality. Homosexual sex, sex with a prostitute, sex with one's step mother, these things meant defilement to him.

I have argued a number of things in my posts, which I will now summarize:

1. It is the unanimous position of all Scripture--at least insofar as the topic is discussed--that homosexual sex is sinful and defiling. 1 Corinthians 6:9 says that "homosexuals"--in the sense of those who habitually practice same-sex--will not inherit the kingdom of God along with any number of other types of offender.

2. The biblical authors do not directly address matters of "orientation." Their comments have to do with those who might habitually and constantly engage in homosexual acts, not those who have desires on which they never act. Modern "homosexuals" and ancient "homosexuals" are groups that overlap but that are not exactly the same. For example, ancient homosexuals were likely married and had children, even though they favored their own gender sexually.

3. Since Paul believes all sins imply a destiny of death for all, homosexual sex has the same consequence as any other sin before coming to Christ.

4. Even after a person comes to Christ, it is not clear that homosexual sex is ultimately more displeasing to God than other sins like adultery, greed, or lying. It is a sin, but not a "double-sin."

At this point a more knowledgable soul would speak of the attitude of the Christians of the ages on this topic. I do not have this knowledge. However, informal discussion with Dr. Chris Bounds suggests that my hunch is correct: throughout the centuries the overwhelming majority of Christians have never looked favorably on homosexual sex. That is not to say that post-Victorian English and American Christianity today may emphasize the sinfulness of sexual sins more than other Christians in other times and places. I have a hunch that this latter statement is true, but lack the expertise either to confirm or deny it.

It seems ununsual to be able to speak of such a continuous and common position on an issue within Christianity. I believe that there is such a thing as development in understanding within Christianity--we can discern it on a number of subjects as we move from the OT to the church of the creeds (e.g., the afterlife, the essence of God and His anointed one). But there seems to be little if any movement within Christianity on the the matter of homosexual sex.

It seems to me the implications would be quite remarkable if the church were to reverse its position on this issue. It might call into question any host of near unanimous positions throughout the centuries. At the very least, I think it would require Christians to overhaul and rethink Christian views of sexuality across the board as it relates to purity and defilement.

I do not wish to dismiss the struggle of many within Christendom who sincerely wrestle with these issues. I know some genuinely find their experiences and sense of the character of God and Christ incompatible with the consensus of Scripture and the church on this matter. They would argue for a change in viewpoint because of developments in the modern understanding of sexuality and the body. They might argue that more fundamental principles of Christianity play themselves out differently given these understandings. It seems to me that the implications of such an argument would be staggering across the board for historic Christianity, demanding a fundamental revision. Would what was left even still be Christian?

Then there are others who call themselves Christians who dismiss any authority of Scripture or the church without struggle, indeed speak of Scripture and tradition with disdain. Many of these have gladly stepped out of the flow of historic Christianity. They have rejected in part or whole the historic foundations of the "apostles and prophets," which I might somewhat loosely connect to Scripture and tradition. We might call them "sociological Christians" because their bodies belong to social groups that call themselves Christian. Indeed, they probably do connect themselves in some way to some element of Christian history or tradition. What a word means is how it's used, and no one can stop such individuals from using the word "Christian" of themselves.

But it is clear at the same time that this use of the word "Christian" is out of continuity with the use of the word in the last 1900 centuries. Such individuals have thus invented a new use of the word that contradicts the way the word has been used for almost two millennia--and that on the most fundamental level. In that sense they're really part of a religious off-shoot of Christianity. And since they hate so much about Christianity in its historical essence, we have to wonder why they continue to call themselves "Christian" at all? Why continue the linguistic tradition, the signifier, when you have abandoned the substance or the signified?

There's no shame in saying you can no longer call yourself a Christian because you have come to disagree with its historic tenets. And I don't think that there is shame for those who believe themselves to be a prophetic movement within the church. There are some who respect Scripture and the church but believe that God is leading the church to a position they believe is more Christ-like. I respect these individuals deeply. To me the shame is in those who pretend like they are Christians when in fact they are haters of Christianity. The shame is on those who act as if they are the true and enlightened Christians because they disdain everything that has come before them.

My very human and very fallible thoughts... May God lead His church into truth despite our failings!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Homosexuality 5: Summing up the New Testament

I end my trek through the Scriptures with two final references to homosexual sex in the New Testament:

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: "Do you not know that he unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? You don't err, do you? Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor those who have homosexual sex nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor the abusive nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And some of you were these things. But you were washed; you were sanctified; but you were justified by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

Let us first explore the 1 Corinthians 6 passage. The two references of greatest interest to us are the terms I have translated as "male prostitutes" (malakoi) and "those who have homosexual sex" (arsenokoitai).

The word malakos basically means "soft," and there is legitimately room for some discussion of what Paul specifically has in mind. Given its apparent connection with arsenokoites, the word that follows, it seems to have some connection to homosexual sex. Unfortunately, there are no other biblical passages that might shed light on its precise meaning for Paul. There are two occurrences in the Septuagint and two in the gospels, but they simply mean "soft."

All in all, the explanation I have found most persuasive is that it is a reference to the "passive" partner in homosexual sex as a particular type of person. It thus has a sense of effeminacy in the sense of regularly taking the "female's role" in sex. Although we might think of other contexts for such a person, a "male prostitute" surely comes close.

(I apologize for the crassness of this language--I'm only trying to identify the meaning of the text.)

The word arsenokoites is intriguing. Its appearance here and in 1 Timothy 1:10 is the first known use of the word in all surviving Greek literature, leading some to believe that Paul himself coined the term. I personally think this unlikely. The argument I find most persuasive is that this verse is actually composed from the Leviticus 18 passage. In Greek, Leviticus 18:22 reads:

"And with a male (arsen) you will not lie a woman-like bed (koite)."

You can easily see how Jews might have referred to the content of this verse by the shorthand arseno-koites. An arsenokoites is thus someone who lies with a man as a man lies with a woman. By the way, I notice that one word that appears over and over in the Greek of Leviticus 18 is aschemosyne ("shamefulness" or some such, translating the Hebrew word "nakedness"). This is the very same word that Romans 1 says men with men were "working." Romans 1 thus evokes images of Leviticus 18 in its discussion of male-male sex. Thus one cannot simply reject Leviticus because it appears in the OT--Paul clearly implies that its teaching on this subject continues into the new covenant. One can of course disagree with Paul also, but it is not simply a matter of Leviticus.

It thus seems likely that, in some way, Paul condemns the behavior of those who might either be prone to submit themselves to the passive role in homosexual sex (male prostitutes?) or who are prone to take the active role in homosexual sex (NIV: "homosexual offenders").

Again, let us try to be as precise as possible about what Paul might be thinking. I believe that Paul is referring to activities, not to characteristics a person might have apart from having sex. For example, I don't think for one minute that malakos simply refers to some man who is effeminate. I insist that Paul means someone who is taking the "female" role in sex.

Second, I don't think getting drunk once got you on this list as a drunkard. I don't think that committing adultery once and then truly repenting got you on this list as an adulterer (I say this without minimizing the serious sinfulness of committing adultery even one time). I really believe that Paul is speaking of people who habitually got drunk or habitually had homosexual sex. Again, I do not thereby mean that a single instance of greed is not a sin. But I think Paul is targeting repeat offenders in this list. You can repent for one sin, but in my theology, you have to wonder how repentant a person truly is when the "dog keeps returning to his vomit" (speaking of all the sins equally here).

And here let me remind you all that I am an Arminian and do not believe the Bible teaches unconditional salvation. Paul is speaking to Christians at Corinth in these verses, and he tells them that people with certain behaviors (including them) simply will not be included in the coming kingdom of God. He includes those who habitually participate in homosexual sex on the list, but does not indicate it is any more condemning than adulterers or drunkards.

Here let us call seriously into question those who think that homosexuality is a "double sin." I have heard some suggest that homosexuality is twice as bad as adultery because it violates two rules at once: 1) sex outside of marriage and 2) same-sex sex. I find this argument peculiar.

On the one hand, I do think that post-justification sins are not all the same in terms of their consequences--I do think there are bigger and lesser sins post-conversion. I have claimed in a previous blog entry that before we come to Christ all sins may as well be the same. But I view sin after faith in quasi-relational terms. So not every "sin" against my wife damages my relationship with her to the same degree. All "sins" against my wife damage my relationship with her, but not all sins damage it to the same extent.

Let's say I forget our anniversary. I have done her wrong, I have "sinned" against her. I didn't intentionally forget, so I don't think she would divorce me. Of course repentance is in order. On the other hand, if I were to have an affair (intentionally seems the only option here), our marriage might have difficulty surviving without a lot of grace from God.

In the same way, some sins damage our relationship with Christ more severely than others. If I neglect to pray or worship Him for a couple weeks because I am pre-occupied, I am prepared to call that a sin (I don't wish to go down a rabbit trail of psychoanalysis of intentionality here). But I think the damage can be repaired (in me, not in God) quickly. But if I curse Christ and burn the Scriptures because an emperor is threatening to behead me, perhaps the relationship would be severed immediately with Christ (and at some point I may find myself unable to repent, cf. Heb. 12:17).

I do not believe that an act of homosexual sex in itself is automatically more disruptive to one's relationship with God than an act of adultery. While it is uncomfortable to pursue the line of thought, someone might at this point ask how a situation involving a selfish affair done in vengeance to one's spouse might compare in disruption vis-a-vis God to a situation of (sinful nonetheless) homosexual sex that involved sincere and exclusive affection. I know some might question whether the latter is possible.

Where the "levels of sin" come into play with regard to this topic, in my opinion, is in repetition. In my opinion, the people in 1 Corinthians 6:9 are "repeat offenders."

This entry is getting long, so I'll postpone some thoughts on purity and impurity with regard to sexual categories ancient and modern. But I want at least to present my sense that the "double sin" perspective fails because--at least this is my understanding--Paul did not consider the act itself of having sex as what defiled when you had sex outside marriage. What defiled was the particular context in which you were having that sex outside of marriage. Having sex with a prostitute and having sex with someone of the same sex defiled because of the inappropriate venues in which you were having said sex.

It is a small distinction but nevertheless one that I think has significant consequences to this discussion. Paul believed that you should only have sex within marriage because all other venues of having sex defiled you. Pop Christian thought today believes that all other venues of having sex defile you because you should only have sex within marriage. Although this distinction may require some work, it implies that homosexual sex is a single act of defilement, not a double defilement.

My comment on 1 Timothy will be brief:

1 Timothy 1:8-11: "Now we know that the Law is good if someone uses it lawfully, since we know this fact: the Law is not in place for the righteous but for law-breakers and the unruly, the godless and sinners, the unholy and profane, father and mother-killers, murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice homosexual sex, slave traders, liars, perjurors, and if there is something else that is opposed to sound teaching according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, a gospel with which I have been entrusted."

This is a peculiar view for Paul, for he basically equates the Law with the 10 commandments in the specific sins he mentions. Other letters in the Pauline corpus speak of the Law in relation to boundary markers like circumcision and holy day observance. In any case, in relation to the 10 commandments arsenokoites appears either in association with adultery or perhaps covetousness.

I'm not sure that this passage adds much new to our discussion, although one might argue that this list is more severe than the one in 1 Corinthians and thus that homosexual sin is more severe in degree than some other sins (but note that lying is on this list as well).

Summary: Paul considers homosexual sex to be sinful and indeed, if one does not repent and if it persists, it can disbar one from the kingdom. But Paul does not consider it a "double-sin" and he probably does not consider it a worse sin than adultery, persistent greed or lying.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Homosexuality 4: Romans 1

I jump to the New Testament into Romans 1, the main NT text relating to this issue.

In Romans 1:18-3:20, Paul is building toward the conclusion he reaches in chapter 3, variously captured in 3:9, 20, and 23. Paul concludes that all human beings are "under sin" whether they would be Jew or Gentile.

In building toward this conclusion, Paul begins with some general comments in Romans 1 with which his audience would readily agree. These arguments seem particularly targeted at a person who might consider him or herself a "Jew" and "boast in God" (2:17). "You know the will of God and approve of things that are excellent revealed from the Law and have become convinced that you are leader of the blind, a light of those in darkness..." Whether Paul has in mind a person who is ethnically Jewish or simply a conservative Gentile Christian is not important for our purposes (the answer is not as clear as one might think). But the person Paul has in mind is someone who thinks they might boast about their knowledge of the law.

To set up such a person, to catch him or her in hypocrisy, Paul presents a number of sins in Romans 1:18-32 that such a person might readily rail against. While Paul never mentions Gentiles explicitly in these verses, he invokes the two most stereotypical Gentile sins: idolatry (1:23) and sexual immorality, homosexual sex in particular. This is a sting operation--not that Paul doesn't believe these things are sinful--it is just they are not the point that he is really working toward. His real purpose is to show that anyone who might boast in their own righteousness stands just as condemned as anyone else, just as subject to the wrath of God as anyone mentioned in Romans 1.

These facts lead us to our first observation. Before a person comes to Christ, all sins have the same effect and are thus, for all intents and purposes, the same. Some of you will know that I do not believe that all sins are of the same consequence after we come to Christ. But before we are justified by faith, all sins may as well be equal: they all imply that we lack the glory God intended for us (3:23). Similarly, we are all just as easily and freely justified by the blood of Christ (3:24). For all intents and purposes, homosexual sex is no different from any other sin when it comes to the time before we have faith in Christ. When we come to Christ, this sin is forgiven just as much as any lie we might have told or any stealing we might have done or any hateful word we might have said.

Romans 1:18-32 itself presents a process of abandonment by God with a resultant deterioration into darkness and shame. We might capture the train of thought as follows:

First, the wrath of God is against all human ungodliness (1:18). Paul plays out this general statement in the rest of the chapter.

The starting point for such ungodliness among most humans is as follows. While the invisible things of God should be clear to everyone (his eternal power and divinity), humanity has not glorified God or given Him thanks accordingly. They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie (1:23). They worshiped idols and images rather than the true God. This comment alone makes it clear that Paul primarily has Gentiles rather than Jews in view in Romans 1.

Three "He delivered" sections follow. Paul implies that in response to the Gentile's failure to acknowledge God as God, in response to human idolatry, God lets a process of deterioration take place. God abandons the pagan world to several consequences:

1. Therefore, God delivered them to the desires of their hearts. This involves dishonoring their bodies among themselves (1:24) and worshiping the creature rather than the Creator (1:25). It is possible that Paul then plays out these two comments in the rest of the chapter. In other words, 1:24-25 seem a kind of general statement whose particulars appear in the rest of the chapter.

2. So 1:26-27 play out the first comment: Gentiles dishonored their bodies among themselves. 1:26 says God delivered them to dishonorable passions. Paul then enumerates female and male homosexual sex. 1:26 speaks of women exchanging the natural use for that beside nature (para physin). 1:27 then speaks of males leaving the natural use of the female and burning toward one another, "males among males doing the shameful."

3. 1:28-32 then play out the second comment on "exchanging the truth of God for a lie" from 1:25. God delivered them (1:28) to a worthless mind. What follows is a list of vices that Paul considers "worthy of death" (1:32).

OK, now that we have presented the basic thrust of this chapter, what might it contribute to the matter of Christianity and homosexuality?

First of all, it seems clear that Paul believes homosexual sex of both the male and female kind to be shameful, dishonorable, and unnatural. Paul is not speaking of same-sex rape or pederasty or violence. He is speaking of a man doing with a man what a man "naturally" does with a woman. Paul's language here evokes images of Leviticus 18 and 20. We might also mention that this is the only reference in the Bible to female homosexual sex.

Some have argued at this point that the connection between idolatry and homosexual acts points to male temple prostitution as what Paul has in mind. Their argument is thus that Paul is only condemning homosexual sex associated with a pagan temple here and not something like a monogamous homosexual relationship. This argument seems highly unlikely to me. For one, I'm not sure how common male-male temple prostitution was in the ancient world, in fact if it even existed at this time. I have serious doubts about how prevalent such a practice was. I could be wrong, but I don't think homosexual sex was considered honorable in most of the Roman world even by pagans. Ancient Greece may have been the exception a few centuries previous under certain circumstances, but I'm not sure how prevalent this acceptance was even in Paul's day in Greece. I could be wrong, but I don't think Romans 1 gives us nearly the kind of evidence we would need to conclude Paul was thinking of homosexual sex at a temple.

Second, Paul considers such desires the consequence of the Gentiles' failure to acknowledge God properly. Because the Gentiles do not acknowledged God as God, God has abandoned them to these desires. It is probably significant to note a slight strangeness to this train of thought, for Paul makes it sound like the entire pagan world, as a consequence of their idolatry, ends up engaged in homosexual sex. The reason this is significant to note is because it reveals that Paul is not thinking of the small segment of the human population that we today would classify as homosexual. His argument is about the whole world, and the failure of the whole pagan world to acknowledge God as God has lead, for one thing, to sexual shame.

One difficult interpretive issue comes from Paul's comment that such people were working the shameful "and receiving the punishment among themselves that was necessary because of their error" (1:27). What punishment did Paul have in mind?

Many turn at this point to something like AIDS or venereal diseases as the punishment "in themselves." But no mention is made of physical consequences. Such a line of thought fits suspiciously with the way we in a medically, scientifically oriented culture think--it seems anachronistic. Given Paul's honor-shame world, I think the most likely answer is that the action itself is so shameful that it is its own punishment. In other words, might we dynamically translate the statement something like the following: "men with men working the shameful and thus receiving among themselves the punishment of disgrace necessary given their error." I am not 100% certain of this interpretation, but it seems the one most likely given the way Paul's world thought.

Third, we cannot detect in Paul's argument here any sense that homosexual sin is worse than the viceful individuals he mentions later in the chapter. Indeed, it is those with vices in 1:29-31 that Paul speaks of as worthy of death--people like slanderers. There is nothing in the chapter to lead us to believe that Paul meant to emphasize the homosexual sinners of 1:26-27 as being worse than the others in the chapter. Indeed, if Paul were giving a downward spiral--and I don't necessarily think he is--then the sinners at the end of the chapter would be worse than those in the middle.

To summarize: Paul considers homosexual sex of all kinds not only as sinful, shameful, and unnatural, but he sees it as a consequence of a failure to acknowledge God as God. However, Paul is not writing about a specific group of people like homosexuals--a modern category--he is making a universal argument about Gentiles as a whole and homosexual sex as the kind of thing that results among pagans who do not believe in God. Sexual sins of this sort are common to all non-believers in general, not just a particular group with a certain orientation, because Gentiles are pagan and idolatrous. Finally, Paul gives us no indication that he considered homosexual sex as more sinful or a greater object of God's wrath than the other sinners at the end of the chapter.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Canonical Version: Psalm 2

Since we know I won't translate the whole Bible, I feel free to skip around. I wanted to do a few "messianic psalms" now and again, as well as passages of special interest to New Testament authors. I suppose most of what we might call messianic psalms were originally royal psalms of one sort or another. But in the canonical version, they are mostly about Christ:

Psalm 2
Why have the nations neighed [chomping at the bit, as it were]
and the peoples prepared for vain [endeavors]?
They lined up side by side [for battle], the kings of the earth did,
and the rulers gathered together in the same [place]
against the Lord and against His Christ

Let us break their bonds
and let us break off their yoke from us.
The One who dwells in the skies laughed loudly at them,
and the Lord mocked them.
Then He will speak to them in His wrath
and in His anger he will throw them into confusion.

"I was installed as king by Him
on Zion, His holy mountain.
announcing the decree of the Lord,
The Lord said to me, 'You are My Son,
I today have given you birth.
Ask from Me, and I will give to you the nations for your inheritance
and the ends of the earth as your possession.
You will shepherd them with a rod of iron,
as a vessel of pottery you will smash them.'"

And now, kings, understand:
Learn, all you who judge the earth.
Serve the Lord in fear
and rejoice at him with trembling.
Cling to [your] discipline, lest the Lord be angry
and you perish from the righteous way.
Whenever His wrath should burn quickly,
blessed are all those who have placed their faith on Him.

There are a number of potential meanings these words could take on. Interestingly, the Greek leads us away from some of the easier messianic readings of the Hebrew (e.g., "kiss the Son"). However, I think Paul might have easily seen in the last stanza the final judgment and justification by faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Homosexuality 3: Sodom and Gomorrah

I do not think this passage is really very relevant to the topic at hand, except that it likely presupposes the attitude of Leviticus 18 toward homosexual acts. But I do not think that Genesis 19 portrays the men of Sodom and Gomorrah as homosexuals. The homosexual acts the men of Sodom wish to commit probably are meant to illustrate their impious nature, but homosexual sex is not the focal sin of this passage.

We can see the nature of Sodom's sin by comparing Genesis 19 to Judges 19 where a very similar story appears. In that story, a Levite and his concubine find themselves traveling and needing to stay in a city for the night. The Levite is faced with a choice between staying in Benjamin, Israelite territory, or in Jerusalem, which at that time was still Jebusite. So he stays in Gibeah, a Benjamite city, in the home of a virtuous old man who offers him lodging.

We stop here to inform ourselves of the nature of ancient virtue in relation to hospitality of this sort. To entertain strangers was universally considered a sacred duty, as Hebrews 13:2 reflects. I know our knee-jerk response to taking hospitality so seriously is usually one of "you have to be joking." Such values seem trivial to our modern cultural viewpoint. Nevertheless, this reaction comes from a lack of awareness of ancient culture as well as a lack of awareness of our own glasses.

The Greek story of Baucis and Philemon in Ovid's Metamorphoses is an excellent case in point, a story that reverberates in the story of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13. In this story, the gods Zeus and Hermes disguise themselves as humans and go around among humanity (cf. Heb. 13:2 here also). An elderly couple finally welcomes them in after wholesale rejection by the rest of the region. After the gods have revealed themselves, they destroy everyone in the region except the elderly couple, whom they reward. The reason is the impious inhospitality of the region toward strangers.

So when Abraham runs out to welcome the three angels to his house in Genesis 18, it is not because he recognizes them as angels. Indeed, in accordance with custom he doesn't even find out their business until after he has fed them. In short, Genesis presents Abraham as a virtuous man, a man who entertains strangers according to the sacred duties of hospitality to strangers. We notice that this story occurs right before the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and is likely meant to contrast Abraham's hospitable virtue with Sodom's opposite impiety.

Back to the story of the Levite and the concubine in Judges. We note that after the old man of the house refuses to allow them access to the Levite, they give them his concubine, whom they rape to death. Notice that this is not a homosexual activity. In short, the central sin of these men in Judges is their abominable behavior toward strangers, and strangers of their own people nonetheless. From our perspective, their violent rape of the concubine is also a massive sin, although Judges does not highlight this element of the story. These men were not homosexuals, for they went on to rape the concubine. They were rapists--violent, faithless men.

So when we return to Sodom and Gomorrah, the original connotations of Genesis viewed the despicable way they treated strangers as the focal sin they committed. The fact that they wished to do so by way of homosexual acts likely compounded the impiousness in the Genesis text (cf. Jude 7). But it is highly dubious to consider these men "homosexuals" in any modern sense. Presumably they had wives and children. From our perspective, they are violent rapists. We should think of them more in terms of the stories you sometimes hear about men in prison rather than in terms of modern homosexuality.

A careful reading of the Sodom and Gomorrah story confirms this line of interpretation. For example, if these men were homosexuals, why would Lot offer them his daughters (19:8)? Given the usual stereotype of Sodom as a city of rampant homosexuality, wouldn't Lot have known he was "barking up the wrong tree" to offer them his daughters? And Lot himself makes it clear the focal point of the problem with their plan is: "they have come under the protection of my roof" (19:8). This is very similar to what the old man of Gibeah says to the crowd there in Judges 19:23.

The gospels confirm these connotations to the story in Matthew 10:15 and Luke 10:12. In both passages, Jesus tells his followers that it will be worse for the cities that reject them than it will be for Sodom on the day of judgment. Other cities that rejected Jesus are mentioned in both contexts. In short, if we read these passages in context, the sin of Sodom that Jesus focuses on is not sexual, but its behavior toward God's messengers.

As a consultant, I conclude that the Sodom and Gomorrah story does not contribute much to the question of Christianity and homosexuality other than its general Israelite sense that homosexual acts are abominable.

Homosexuality 2: Leviticus 18 and 20

The two classic OT texts on the issue of homosexuality are Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13:

Lev. 18:22: "With a male you will not lie from the lyings of a woman. It is an abomination."

Lev. 20:13: "A man who lies with a male from the lyings of a woman, they both do an abomination. Dying they will die. Their blood is upon them."

These verses both appear in the "holiness codes" of Leviticus. The first appears in a chapter we might dub, "everything you want to know about how not to have sex" (Leviticus 18). The second appears in a related chapter that extends the discussion of "abominable behavior" to punishments.

1. Let us first identify what these verses are about and what they are not about. First, it seems overwhelmingly clear that these passages have at least some form of male homosexual sex in view. The idiom "from the lyings of a woman" seems a clear reference to sexual activity. No comment is made on female homosexual activity.

2. However, let us also note that these verses have no concept of what we today call a homosexual "orientation." The idea of an orientation seems by all accounts a rather modern conception (roots in 19th century diagnoses of homosexuality as a medical condition and then expanded in the 20th century as a psychological orientation). It is doubtful that any biblical author understood homosexuality in any terms other than sexual activity.

When the Bible refers to matters homosexual, it is thinking about sex, not lust toward the same sex (which Christians can address under the heading of lust in general). We think of homosexuals as a psychological type of person; they thought of homosexuals as people who had sex with people of the same gender. The Bible thus has nothing directly to say about what we might call a "celibate homosexual." The biblical authors were not thinking of such a person in any of their indictments of matters homosexual.

3. There is nothing in the context of these two passages to suggest that homosexual rape or some similar act of violence is in view. Indeed, Lev. 20:13 implicates both men in the abomination and consigns them both to death. Passages in Deuteronomy absolve a wife from guilt when some man commits adultery with her 1) if she screams in town or 2) if she is in the country on the presumption that she screamed and no one was there to hear her. While these are different parts of the Pentateuch from the verses in question, no clause of this sort appears here. In short, these verses most likely imply consentual sex between two males.

Further, the context of both verses is very general rather than situational. These passages are laying down sexual activities that are categorically abominable according to the holiness code.

4. Let us now address arguments made against the relevance of these verses to today by those who might yet consider the New Testament authoritative. The line of argument usually runs something like the following: there are many other verses in Leviticus that hardly any Christian applies to today. The chapter in between these two verses, for example, forbids sowing a field with two different kinds of seed or wearing a garment with two different kinds of thread woven together (Lev. 19:19). Almost everyone wears polyester without a second thought, so why are so many Christians fanatical about homosexual sex, the argument goes.

Further, very few Christians today would put homosexuals to death any more than they would stone a disobedient son (cf. Deut. 21:18-21). So almost all Christians already acknowledge implicitly that God has "loosened" the rules on these things somewhat and that not all of these laws are binding on Christians today. So Christians are inconsistent when they focus on one of these rules when they are ignoring so many others, the argument goes.

Here as a consultant I should make a few comments. It seems that as historic Christians, the Jewish Scriptures only become Christian Scriptures--the "Old" Testament--in the light of the New Testament and the invisible and universal church that flowed thereafter. The key question for the Christian appropriation of the OT is thus, "How does the NT appropriate these laws and or commandments?"

Here the answer seems fairly clear. While writers like Paul and Matthew do some serious shifting of the OT's meaning and priority, they do not shift any of the sexual prohibitions of the OT. As far as we can tell, Paul did not change the binding character of any of the sexual prohibitions of Leviticus 18. Indeed, it seems more likely than not that Leviticus 18 gives us the basic content of what Paul meant when he referred to porneia, "sexual immorality." As a consultant, I would note that these observations imply that any change in the Christian view of homosexual sex requires a substantial and fundamental alteration of its view of practically all sexual activity.

We conclude that while the idea of "homosexual orientation" was not on the map of Leviticus, its text enjoins a strict prohibition on male, homosexual sex. I say this dispassionately and without negative feeling, simply stating the position of this text.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Canonical Reading for the Day: Genesis 1:9-13

And God said, "Let the water under the heaven be gathered together into one gathering [synagoge] and let the dry ground appear." And it came to be accordingly. And the water under the heaven was gathered into their gatherings and the dry ground appeared. And God called the dry ground, "Land," and the collections of the waters he called, "Seas." And God saw that it was good.

And God said, "Let the land sprout fodder for food, sowing seed according to its kind and likeness, and [let it sprout] fruit-making tree making fruit, whose seed is in it according to its kind upon the land. And God saw that it was good. And it became evening and it became early morning, the third day.

Homosexuality and Christianity 1

For various reasons, I want to explore the issue of homosexuality and Christianity occasionally over the next few weeks, days, or whatever it turns out to be. I want to take the role of a "consultant" to Christianity on this issue and discuss matters of the biblical text, the beliefs of the church, as well as matters scientific and experiential. I am of course more qualified to talk about the biblical text than the other categories, but perhaps others can help me on any point of deficiency.

It seems to me that the place to begin is to distinguish matters of people, made in the image of God (cf. James 3:9), from questions of morality, truth, and ethics. Christians are to love their neighbors (e.g., Matt. 22:39; Romans 13:8-10; etc...). But they are also to love their enemies (e.g., Matt. 5:43-48; Luke 10:29-37). That leaves no one that a Christian can legitimately hate--at least not biblically. The groups that go around protesting Billy Graham because he advocates loving gays, groups who usually hold signs outside stadiums that say what God is going to do to @#$% [insert pejorative reference to homosexuals], are thus out of the will of God, at least as Jesus reveals it in the gospels. Any interpretation of Scripture someone might use to justify hatred of individuals is unchristian.

As a consultant on this issue, therefore, I can confidently say that Christians must love homosexuals. Indeed, Christians must also love those who express hatred toward homosexuals! But they must denounce and strongly reject the attitude and message of those who hide behind Christianity as an excuse to hate humans created in the image of God. Christians should pray for God to convict homosexual-haters and lead such individuals to repentance, lest they ironically find themselves in hell fire for being "murderers" (cf. Matt. 5:21-22).

There are also any number of curious ideas you hear tossed about in relation to this subject. As a consultant, I would suggest Christians should call these seriously into question before they discuss biblical and Christian traditional matters. For example, it is massively inappropriate to equate homosexuality with pederasty or child molestation. As far as I can tell, equations like this one reflect a rather massive lack of knowledge and awareness about homosexuality. You have to wonder if a person who would espouse something like this idea had ever met anyone who is a homosexual. There may be child molesters who prefer children of their own sex, but this is a type of child molester, not a type of homosexual.

Secondly, in my life I have not known too many people who are gay, but I think they would all either laugh or get very frustrated with the idea that they somehow "chose" to be attracted to people of the same gender. If anything, the more common story is one of a person who struggles deeply with their attraction (in a more open climate today, this may be changing; I don't know). I hear such struggles are particularly strong when such individuals grow up in Christian circles. You hear stories of people wrestling for years with guilt for their attractions to the same sex. They often go through long periods of repressing or denying such desires. Most give into their desires eventually, at least that is my impression.

If we were to speak of a choice, the choice seems more the choice to act on such desires rather than a choice to have the desires in the first place. And there is the choice of "coming out of the closet" or not. Of course, I'm sure there are people we might call "experimenters," who try homosexual sex to be edgy or cool or to experiment (see Madonna). However, on the whole it would seem as ridiculous to say most people choose to be attracted to the same sex, as it would be to suggest that heterosexuals chose to be attracted to the opposite sex. That is not to preclude the possible existence of a pool of people who are more "in the middle" and could under certain conditions be pushed one way or the other. These are not matters of my expertise, but my amateur attempt to describe the situation.

Finally, I don't know what combination of genetics and environment might combine to make a person attracted to the same sex rather than the opposite sex (I am not a scientist, but I don't think I am saying anything debatable if I assume that the default result of genetics is usually heterosexuality). I imagine that there is no single gene or environmental factor but probably a combination of things that vary even from one individual to another. However, as a consultant, I should remind us all that even if a person were "born" with a predisposition to a particular sexuality, this does not thereby automatically imply God's sanction of it.

The current state of the world is not fair. Some people are born to great advantage and others to extreme poverty and destitution. Where they are born does not imply God's favor or disfavor. And here let me make it known that I am an Arminian consultant, not a Calvinist-Reformed one. The view of God that sees Him predestining the fate and fortunes of everything that happens in the world seems incoherent if it also claims that God is love. It seems incomprehensible that God loves "the world" if he has consigned the majority of it to destruction in such a way that it could not have been otherwise.

Accordingly, we should not assume that because something happens in the world, it is thereby God's "first choice" for what should happen in the world. We should not assume that God planned the tsunami or Katrina. We should not assume that God designed Down's Syndrome. I will not say definitively that He never plans or designs such things. But it is not at all clear to me that He does. For whatever reason, God seems to let a good deal of the world procede by the normal, operating rules of cause and effect. He can and does intervene at times, but perhaps most of the time, He doesn't. He will set everything aright at the end of time.

Christians refer to the current state of the world as "fallen." That means that the official Christian position on the state of the world is that it has a lot of aspects that are not the way God wants them ultimately to be. Accordingly, although a person may not "choose" to have a homosexual orientation, that does not automatically solve the question of legitimacy from a Christian point of view.

And so, with such prolegomena out of the way, our next stop will be the Old Testament... sometime...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Version Evaluation 6: New Living Translation

The New Living Translation is, without a doubt, my favorite dynamic equivalence translation. A dynamic equivalence translation aims to translate "thought for thought" rather than "word for word." Even here, dynamic can go off the Richter to where the translation blurs into the application of Scripture. What I mean is that the Bible was written to ancient audiences and most directly meant to address their situations. In that sense, a dynamic equivalence translation, in aiming at translating thought into contemporary thought, becomes a kind of commentary, much as the Aramaic Targums that not only translated the OT into Aramaic, but often paraphrased in a way that became commentary.

FD Scale (formal or dynamic): 4
I'll give it a four because I can imagine a translation that would be even more dynamic than the NLT. Nevertheless, it is very dynamic. Like the NRSV and TNIV, it uses "brothers and sisters" for "brothers."

As an example of its dynamism, take Romans 3:25, that I would translate formally as follows: "whom God put forward as an atoning sacrifice, through faithfulness, by his blood, to demonstrate His righteousness because of passing over the transgressions that had occurred previously."

Here is the NLT's rendition of this "thick" verse: "For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times."

This translation is a wonderful illustration of a dynamic equivalence translation. See how what is part of one, ongoing sentence in Greek has become three sentences for just this part of the Greek sentence alone! And rather than choose between two alternative translations for the word I translated as "atoning sacrifice," the NLT gives both and then some: 1) taking punishment and 2) satisfying wrath. These are highly debatable interpretations--but it is much clearer than "atoning sacrifice" or the KJV's "propitiation" or the RSV's "expiation."

As usual the danger of a dynamic equivalence translation is that if it is on target, the text will be clearer than ever. But if the translation is off interpretation, the text will be more misleading than ever.

HC Scale (historical versus "catholic" text): 1
I'll go ahead and give it highest original text marks, although it doesn't put the material before 1 Samuel 11 in the main text. But it follows the Dead Sea Scrolls at Deuteronomy 32:8, which it dynamically translates well as "angelic beings" rather than "sons of God."

Drift: 3
As a dynamic equivalence translation, it is no surprise that theology plays a significant role in translation. My quote of Romans 3:25 gives off signals of penal substitution, for example, as an interpretation of Jesus' sacrifice, the idea that Christ took our punishment. While there is truth to this line of thinking, the current overemphasis on some punishment having to be exacted somewhere by God makes the verse come off differently than I think it did originally.

Philippians 2:6 simply says that "Though he was God..." and Colossians 1:15 creatively translates: "He existed before God made anything at all." These are not bad translations by any means, even if they are very interpretive.

Youth Scale (readability): 1
I think the NLT is very readable, almost as readable as you can get without becoming a paraphrase.

I think it's a winner.

Canonical Version: Genesis 1:1-8

You can be sure I won't follow through with this one, but I've been wanting to read the Septuagint anyway, so I thought every once and a while, in a quasi-devotional way, I might post some translations from the Septuagint. I don't plan on spending too much time on it, just as I feel like it for a few minutes every once and a while. So while a class was taking a test, I came up with this:

The Canonical Version

The Law
Genesis

In the beginning, God made the heaven and the earth. But the earth was invisible and un-constructed, and darkness was above the abyss, and the Spirit of God was going over the water.

And God said, “Let light come to existence.” And light came to existence. And God saw the light, that it was good. And God separated between the light and the darkness. And God called the light, “Day,” and the darkness he called, “Night.” And it became evening and it became early morning: day one.

And God said, “Let a foundation come to existence in the middle of the water and let it be separating between water and water." And it came into existence accordingly. And God made the foundation, and separated between the water that was under the foundation and the water above the foundation. And God called the foundation, “Heaven.” And it became evening and it became early morning: second day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What would a Christian Translation look like?

The question of a Christian translation is an intriguing one. Here I mean a text that reflects the beliefs and practices God has led the church to have rather than the original meanings or texts, which in terms of the OT were "pre-Christian" and in terms of the NT were "pre-orthodox."

What text of the OT would you use? The early Christians did not largely read the Hebrew Bible. Even Paul relied primarily on the Septuagint. I've already mentioned that the Septuagint is what the Greek Orthodox Church considers its OT and not the Hebrew Bible. Would a Christian Bible therefore be a translation of the Septuagint?

On the other hand, if I were Roman Catholic, this question would be easy--an English translation of the Vulgate would be the ticket. So here is the conflict. For the majority of the church's history, the Vulgate has been the Bible of the West. But the Septuagint has been the Bible of the East arguably for even longer!

So I think if I were to make a Christian translation of the OT, I would follow the Septuagint for two reason: 1) it was the OT of the NT and the NT is what makes the OT Scripture and 2) it probably has been the OT for the longest in Christendom, even if the Vulgate may have outrun it in numbers in time. At any points where the NT might have a variant reading, I would follow it.

By the way, that includes the deuterocanonical books, which while they probably should not be accounted equal canonical status to the other books, were considered on a second tier by most Christians throughout history and were variously drawn on by various NT authors.

So what of the New Testament? I would follow the "catholic" text that is largely that of the King James Version. I would include the ending of Mark and the woman caught in adultery in John 8 and Acts 8:37. I'm not sure about the extended reading of 1 John 5:7-8. I think I would include it because 1) it approaches a trinitarian statement and 2) it was in the Vulgate for the bulk of Christian history.

So let's get started translating :) The Canonical Version, translated by Ken Schenck

Version Evaluation 5: English Standard Version

I want at the outset to say two paradoxical things about the ESV. First, it is a pretty good formal equivalence translation. If it had come out fifty years ago under different circumstances, it might even be my favorite translation. But I don't like "it"--not the text itself, but what it represents. I have its text available to me through my Bible software and I believe you can access it online. But I have no intention of ever buying one.

J. I. Packer in an online article describes the origins of the ESV, which came out in 2001 I believe. He says it grew out of dissatisfaction with the RSV and the NIV. In part, I agree here. I agree that the style of the RSV is sometimes lacking and that the NIV is often less literal than I would prefer.

But the "efficient causes" of the translation derived from the erroneous Dobson pact of ignorance and perversion called the "Colorado Springs Guidelines." It is this pact that Dobson's group says Zondervan violated when they made the TNIV. Also, the inaugural group of scholars considered the RSV's translation of the Old Testament "unchristian" and sought to correct it in relation to several prophecies (like Isaiah 7:14 that I have already mentioned). This is nothing less than well-intentioned confusion on these scholars' part, the Achilles' heel of any true scholarship that might exist at Wheaton and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

The ESV translators took (with permission) the 1972 edition of the RSV and revised it in the light of the original languages. With this background, let the evaluation begin:

1. FD Scale (formal or dynamic): 1
The text is very formal in most places, more literal than the RSV in some instances. Some of the texts I have criticized in the NIV appear in their formal form in the ESV:

Colossians 1:15: "firstborn of all creation"
Philippians 2:6: "though he was in the form of God"
1 Corinthians 7:27: "Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife."

But it does go slightly dynamic for 1 Cor. 7:1: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" rather than "it is good for a man not to touch a woman."

One thing that I laugh about a little is that the grunt translators of the ESV--not those who egged on the ESV but those who actually did the work--actually did a slight bit of inclusivizing in their translation. J. I. Packer bemoans that the ESV of Romans actually eliminates "man" two or three times and has "brothers and sisters" in its footnotes even though it goes with "brothers" in the main text. He writes that "apart from these few places, the changes of the ESV are a distinct improvement upon the RSV." J. I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, these men have a "zeal without knowledge."

Again, I cannot criticize the overall interpretive moves of the ESV too much. It bugs me that the ESV translates anthropos as "man" when the word is really broader in connotation than that. "What is man that you are mindful of him..." "The Sabbath was made for man..." It is really legitimate to translate these as "What is a human being that you pay attention...," etc. Yet I know the original authors and audiences had a male bias. They probably were thinking primarily of the men, even though women may have been included as an afterthought.

Of course by tampering with the translation of certain OT texts that the NT read prophetically, the ESV deviates from its formal equivalence philosophy. It's translation of these texts is theologically driven and thus less formal than the RSV. But I will mention this under drift.

2. HC Scale (historical or "catholic" text): 2
While it is a little better than the NIV in its use of Dead Sea Scroll insights, it is largely the same. At Deuteronomy 32:8 it has "sons of God" which represents the better text. But it does not include the new material before 1 Samuel 11, and it's note at Mark 16:9 sounds much less conclusive than the NIV.

The NIV at Mark 16:8 reads, "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20."

And of course, no textual scholar worth his or her muster believes these verses were original.

The ESV's wording is much more political but, however, softer on those who might be troubled by such issues: "Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include Mark 16:9-20." Try all of the earliest manuscripts.

3. Drift: 2

I'll give it a 2 for low drift, principally in the way it harmonizes its translation of the Old Testament to fit with New Testament interpretations. On the one hand, if it did this intentionally and consistently, it might be the right way to go. In other words, if the translators were to say, "Regardless of the original meaning, the Christian meaning of these texts is the way we're translating them." In that sense, the critics of the RSV are right--the RSV translation is more original but not the "Christian" way of reading the texts.

But in fact the ESV translators are just confused. They confuse the New Testament interpretation of the OT with the original meaning of the OT. On this they are just confused. The New Testament authors read the OT Scriptures spiritually, not in context. They really weren't very concerned about reading verses in context. And contrary to the ultra-modernist ESV translators, those out of context readings are not thereby less authoritative.

Isaiah 7 originally had a young woman and an earthly king in view. The Septuagint translators (inspired?) rendered the Hebrew 'alma in Greek with a word that meant virgin. So Matthew's Greek Bible was all set up to see a prophetic word relating to the virgin conception (an Spirit- inspired interpretation).

Youth Scale (readability): 2
It's pretty readable as a formal equivalence. It is probably more readable than the RSV or NIV. But obviously less readable than the NLT or Message.

Version Evaluation 4: New Revised Standard Version

I should have evaluated the Revised Standard Version before the New Revised Standard
... but I didn't want to (I'll somewhat do them together here).

FD Scale (formal or dynamic): 2
I'll give it a 2 because it follows the dynamic practice of using "brothers and sisters" for "brothers" when a biblical author put brothers but really meant both. In this sense the RSV was a little more formal than the NRSV (I would give the RSV a 1 on this one), except insofar that anthropos really meant "person" rather than "man" (see my evaluation of the TNIV).

I probably would still give the NRSV a tie to the English Standard Version in terms of the best formal equivalence translation (maybe I'll change my mind one way or another when I dig into the ESV in more detail).

HC Scale (original text or "catholic" text of the church): 1
I would say that the NRSV is admirable in its incorporation of insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls. In all the instances where I mentioned a failure on the part of the NIV/TNIV tradition, the NRSV incorporates the insights into the text rather than the footnotes.

By the way, I just have to laugh when I see the TNIV putting these things in the footnotes. For over a hundred years from the 1700's to 1800's textual scholars printed the "textus receptus" or what I'm calling the "catholic" text as the main text, even though many of them knew full well that it wasn't as original. They printed variations from the newly discovered and far more ancient manuscripts in the footnotes. It wasn't until Westcott and Hort that the textus receptus was placed in the footnotes in deference to the older manuscripts that were being discovered.

Now the TNIV and NIV are doing the same thing. OT scholars who surely know that the Dead Sea text is better in some of these instances only put its readings in the footnotes to appease their market. I laugh at the observation, not at Zondervan. I think I understand markets. And of course, it is not entirely clear that we should aim at the original text anyway. For example, the Septuagint text was arguably the OT of the apostles--should we follow its text of the OT, like the Greek Orthodox Church does?

Here's Deuteronomy 32:8-9, as in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, and now the NRSV:

"When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods, the LORD's own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share."

Incorporation of Dead Sea stuff gives it a 1 point shift from the RSV, that I might give a 2 for since it did not incorporate these insights.

Drift (1)
I would say that the NRSV doesn't drift much at all, at least for our current state of understanding. Here are a few of its "straight-up" translations:

Genesis1:1-2: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters."

Philippians 2:6: "who, though he was in the form of God..."

Colossians 1:15: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation..."

1 Corinthians 7:1: "It is well for a man not to touch a woman..."

7:27: "Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife."

Psalm 8:4-5: "what are human beings that you are mindful of them... Yet you have made them a little lower than God..."

The RSV was much the same in its lack of drift. Of course the RSV got a lot of flack in the 50's when it came out for translating Isaiah 7:14 with "young woman" instead of "virgin." But it was simply giving the original meaning of the verse. Matthew's use of this passage followed the Septuagint, which has a word that distinctly meant "virgin." So I think I would give a 1 to the RSV as well. I might note that neither ventures to change anything in the light of the "faithfulness of Christ" debate over Romans 3:21 and Galatians 2:16--no doubt this will have to wait until Metzger is no longer on the committee :)

Youth Scale (readability): 2
I'll give the NRSV the same rating here I gave the TNIV for the same reasons. The RSV was less readable in more than one way (3).

I find no fault in the NRSV, although its use of "brothers and sisters" for "brothers" means that I can't "cheat" as well off of it as I could the RSV. When I didn't feel like translating from the Greek or Hebrew, the RSV was my main port of call. With the NRSV, which I don't fault for it, I cannot be sure that a singular hasn't been changed to a plural to make it inclusive or that gender factors haven't altered the original some. But I suppose I would do the same if I were one of their translators. As David Riggs has said at my whining, "What are you using the English for anyway? If you want the original, use your Greek."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Version Evaluation 3: Today's NIV

FD Scale (formal or dynamic): 3 (half and half)
I wrestled a little with this one. On the one hand, I gave the NIV a 3 because of a number of places where its translators (and they would deny it, by the way) let their theology interfere with their translation. The TNIV does correct a few of these (see "Drift" below).

But at the same time that the TNIV gets just a little more formal at some points, it becomes just a little more dynamic in others with its "gender accurate" approach. On the one hand, in some cases this move actually makes it more formal! For example, the Greek word anthropos actually refers more to a person than a male. In this sense, a translation that translates this word as "person" is becoming more accurate. When the TNIV says, "the Sabbath was made for people," it is being more accurate than the NIV's "The Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27).

However, the TNIV at other points goes dynamic in this regard. To translate "brothers" as "brothers and sisters" captures Paul's meaning dynamically--it is legitimate for a dynamic equivalence translation. However, it is a move away from formal equivalence. The same applies to translating "fathers" as "parents." Perhaps parents is really what Paul means, but this is a move toward dynamic equivalence.

So I leave the TNIV at 3. Let me say, however, that this is a 3 with much more integrity and intentionality than the 3 of the NIV!

HC Scale (historical text or catholic text): 2
While the TNIV is aware of insights gained from the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the few prominent instances I looked at, it has not incorporated them into its rendition of the text. By the way, this fact alone is ironic and reflective of what is still a conservative orientation to this translation. This is ironic because the NIV got lambasted when it came out for the way it followed the original text and deviated from the KJV, "catholic" tradition. Now it is following a reactionary stance toward the textual criticism of the Old Testament.

I assume it does this so it won't draw any more fire from conservative groups than it already has. So it continues to translate Deuteronomy 32:8 as "according to the number of the sons of Israel," when the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint both have the much more likely "according to the number of the sons of God." It relegates to a footnote the very helpful transition text that originally appeared between 1 Samuel 10 and 11.

Turn to 1 Samuel 10; read the last few verses; and see if this addition makes the train of thought easier to follow:

[current 1 Samuel 10 ends] "Now Nahash king of the Ammonites oppressed the Gadites and Reubenites severely. He gouged out all their right eyes and struck terror and dread in Israel. Not a man remained among the Israelites beyond the Jordan whose right eye was not gouged out by Nahash king of the Ammonites, except that seven thousand men fled from the Ammonites and entered Jabesh Gilead. About a month later [begin 1 Samuel 11] Nahash the Ammonite..."

Drift: 3 (noticeable drift)
I'll give it a slight improvement over the NIV for drift. So 1 Cor. 7:1 now reads "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." Notice that this is still a somewhat dynamic rendering of "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." But it is the right dynamic equivalent this time, as opposed to the misleading NIV rendition: "It is good for a man not to marry."

And the TNIV at least improves 7:27: "Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife." It's still a cop-out, since Paul is talking about someone who's divorced, but it's a lot more accurate than "Are you unmarried..."

Nevertheless, the TNIV doesn't tamper with Christology and monotheism. Philippians 2:6 and Colossians 1:15 remain evangelical/orthodox, as does Deuteronomy 32:8 and Isaiah 7:14. In all these cases, the TNIV sticks with a translation that does not raise any questions about whether the text was pre-orthodox, as many of you know I believe it was.

Youth Scale (readability): 2
It really isn't that much different than the NIV on this one (I gave it a 3), but I'm going to stake a claim here. The next generation, especially the women, notices and will increasingly notice language that is gender one-sided. When you say "man" these days, it means men, not men and women any more. Brothers means just the guys, not the guys and the girls.

I know that the biblical world was male-preoccupied. That means that even when they included women, it was usually an afterthought. Paul, did you mean to include the sisters here where you just said brothers? "Oh yes, that included the women too." Versions like the TNIV, NRSV, and NLT give us God's perspective in their translation of these instances. It is accurate to what the original author's meant, even if it is slightly more dynamic. I would claim it makes these versions more readable to that extent.

So while the TNIV is less formal in its use of "brothers and sisters," it is at the same time, more readable and, in a very real way, more true to the Christian message.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Version Evaluation 2: New International Version

FD Scale (formal-dynamic factor): 3 (in the middle)
To me, the NIV is somewhere in between a formal and a dynamic translation. On the one hand, it doesn't alter the sentence structure of things much or give "brothers and sisters" for "brothers." But largely because of the drift factor below, it does give its own dynamic rendition at a number of points. For example, it has "It is good for a man not to marry" where the Greek has "It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (1 Cor. 7:1).

HC Scale (historical-catholic text): 2 (in the middle)
Actually, the NIV follows modern canons of deriving the original historical text. It is thus far more original in its wording than the "catholic" text of the KJV. But since the NIV did not yet take into account developments in our knowledge of the OT text that came from the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, I'll put it in the middle.

Drift (degree to which theology affects translation): 4 (theology affects translation significantly)
A 4 probably isn't fair, since most of the time theology doesn't affect the translation. However, the evangelical theology of the NIV translators is so evident in so many places that the 4 is meant to communicate that fact.

Here are some examples of this theological drift in addition to the example I gave above. In 1 Cor. 7:27-28, later in the same chapter, we have "Are you unmarried, do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned..." The Greek reads, "Are you loosed from a wife, do not seek a wife, but if you do you have not sinned..."

Then we have Isaiah 7:14, "The virgin will conceive..." The Hebrew almost certainly meant, "A young woman will conceive..." The NIV of Philippians 2:6 reads, "Who, being in very nature God" where the Greek reads, "Who being in the form of God." The NIV of Colossians 1:15 reads, "firstborn over all creation," the Greek could mean that, but reads less interpretively "firstborn of all creation..."

Youth Scale (readability): 3 (in the middle)
While the NIV was a massive improvement in readability over the KJV, teenagers today still find it difficult to understand at times. Part of this is the fact that the Bible was written to address ancient situations in ancient categories, so that's no surprise. In other words, the more a translation tries to render the original meaning, the more foreign it is bound to seem.

The NIV is clearly not one of my favorite translations, even if it is the evangelical baby. In my opinion, the TNIV is a vast improvement in many ways.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Schenck Version Evaluation 1: King James Version

Clay Knick, UM pastor from Pennsylvania, asked me what English versions I use and recommend, so I thought I would start posting a few thoughts on versions. In general, I use different versions for different contexts. Much to be preferred of course is to read from the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, but this is about English translations.

Here are the categories I'm going to use:

Formal or Dynamic: On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being mega-formal and 5 being mega-dynamic. I'll reserve 6 for paraphrases. This scale is basically about whether the version tries to stick fairly closely to the original wording and sentence structure or whether it tries to reproduce the basic concepts in contemporary thought patterns.

Historical or Catholic: On a scale from 1 to 3, does the translation follow the most original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts or does it largely follow the text that became somewhat standardized in the church, particularly after the fourth century? One follows the original; three follows the "catholic" text (I'll admit some fiendishness on my part in using this terminology).

"Drift" Factor: On a scale from 1 to 5, to what extent do contemporary worldviews or theological concerns (e.g., evangelical theology) find their way into the translation? One has little; five has a lot of imposition of contemporary concerns.

Youth Groupability: On a scale from 1 to 5, to what extent will your average teenager be able to follow the version, with 1 giving not a chance and 5 suitable for the kindergarten class.


And now, The King James Version
FD Scale: 1 (very formal)
The King James follows the original wording and sentence structure very carefully. It is perhaps only trumped by the late 1800's American Standard Bible in formalness.

HC Scale: 3 (very catholic)
The KJV traces its ancestry to the Textus Receptus whose origins were ultimately the Greek edition compiled by Erasmus in the late 1400's. Erasmus, a Roman Catholic who debated Martin Luther on the sufficiency of the Scriptures alone, compiled this New Testament from about a dozen medieval manuscripts, the earliest of which dated to the 900's. It is thus the "text catholic" that Erasmus followed. And of course, the original 1611 version of the KJV included the Apocrypha.

Drift Scale: 1 (not issues driven)
I am not completely certain, but I am not aware of any real places where the KJV translated a certain way in the light of contemporary debates. I can't think off the top of my head of any places where such issues intruded to any major effect unconsciously either.

Youth Scale: 1 (not helpful to youth)
I have to agree that your youth group is going to miss most of the message of the Bible with the KJV without an aweful lot of explaining.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Most Interesting Thoughts of the Teaching Week

I don't know if I'll keep it up, but I thought I would list a few thoughts, new or old, from my week of teaching.

1. The first is a quote from Mary Douglas' Purity and Danger that I have long found profound: "Dirt is matter out of place." Students in my honors NT classes read a chapter this week in the New Testament Introduction of David deSilva of Ashland Theological Seminary on cultural background to the NT. deSilva used Douglas' construct in relation to how we have purity concepts in our world. He mentioned homeless people as an example of individuals whom society views as "unclean" because they are "out of place." People don't belong lying down asleep in front of a store.

I used my own example of how you wouldn't like someone eating with their toes even if they had scrubbed and washed their feet so well that they were far cleaner than the normal hands. I mentioned in my regular NT Survey that in fact the Levite and the priest in the Parable of the Good Samaritan were actually obeying the Bible in avoiding the mugged man, given the level of uncleanness he potentially held in store.

2. My intertestamental class remains perhaps my favorite subject that I teach. Yet I have mixed feelings about the way in which it can take away the innocence of a person. On the one hand, the paradigm we use to read the biblical texts is often quite different from the way we would read or think about any other text. In particular, we are not programmed to read them as documents created in the course of normal events and contexts of history. We process their content by different rules than we do other texts.

But Protestant students have no defenses up against normal reasoning when it comes to 1 Enoch, Tobit, or the story of Ahiqar. At some point, some will realize how vastly the criteria of what is appropriate or inappropriate belief changes depending on whether they are dealing with one or the other. To be consistent, they either have to start thinking about these intertestamental books in some of the same ways they do in relation to the Bible or they will have to accept that scholars by and large aren't part of a conspiracy to destroy faith, that the majority of scholars usually believe what they do because it is the most likely conclusion given the evidence as it currently stands.

This thought leads me to ponder where, if anywhere, evangelical scholarship should go. There are any number of issues where we are in the minority and we are the ones with the presupposition that keeps us from following the evidence to its logical conclusion. But evidence isn't always stacked up toward the right verdict of course. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. So I maintain the boundaries as I perceive them, and wait for a prophet to come along and tell me what to do with the unclean stones (see 1 Maccabees).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Three Cheers for the Summit Speaker

I feel a bit guilty for emphasizing relatively minor peeves with the Summit speaker's comments the first day. I was actually very positive about that chapel. He's upped the ante of any chapel speaker from here on out. When people are waiting a half an hour ahead of time to get into a voluntary session that is bound to go way over an hour... something's going on.

And I heard that last night's talk was amazingly nouveau-revivalist in its "altar call." I heard that he had people take a stand if they wanted to commit to Christ for the first time after telling everyone that there would be no eye closing and everyone would be looking at them. He had them stand for a good long while (again, after a warning) and had them leave the chapel ahead of everyone else to give their info to the Dean of the Chapel for follow up discipleship. In short, he had major confession and commitment going on. I heard that big guys were crying in repentance before it was all over. It was like a modern version of an old time camp meeting-- without the baggage.

Yes, it's definitely the current "if you don't have passion about it, what's it worth." But there's nothing wrong with that... especially if you don't belittle the commitment of those who are silent and steady... and wholly committed too.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Jesus Movement Versus Christianity

I had a thought as I was reading Coach Drury's great summary portrait of how many emergents (for lack of a better term) are preaching Jesus (www.drurywriting.com/keith). By the way, I don't want anyone to think I'm mega-down on the emergents. For example, I've really liked what little I've read of McLaren so far, and I just think McManus is a little out of focus--I think I'd really like Mosaic.

But it occurred to me that, in a way, this focus on Jesus the revolutionary isn't actually a view of Chrisitanity as a religion--it isn't actually a "Christian" view because it stops with Jesus before God raises him from the dead! It's like Charles Sheldon's "What would Jesus do?" I'm not sure that Sheldon actually himself believed that Jesus was divine. Rather, he saw Jesus as the greatest moral example to emulate. In a similar way, some emergent portraits see Jesus as a model for us to emulate as a revolutionary of sorts.

But these portraits are only half the story--and they're not the most "Christian" half. For it is not until God raises Jesus from the dead that we have full Christianity. Jesus before the resurrection is a prophet, but he is not yet functionally a priest or a king. And of course all the New Testament documents--including the gospels--are post-resurrection and thus, Christian.

You cannot appropriate the New Testament books as Scripture and limit your perspective on Jesus to this pre-Christian form. By the way, I am not saying that Jesus himself or most of the NT authors thought they were starting a new religion--they saw themselves as part of the old religion we call Judaism. But whatever we call their form of religion, it was not what it was apart from the resurrection and all that it signified. And ultimately, the view that Jesus was God would require a "parting of the ways" from the religion of the Jewish Scriptures.

As Kevin Wright commented in response to the previous post, the association of a church with a state has often had negative consequences. And I must admit that I am not really too fond of bureaucratic ecclesiastical structures. But I don't think Constantine is the ultimate culprit for a process that has repeated itself over and over again under certain conditions. And I think there are equal dangers to a "confederate" church that has no real accountability to any visible authority. And of course, the generation after the apostles always seems to move in the direction of structure.

Whatever Happened to Religion?

Summit Week began in chapel here today. It's IWU's version of spiritual emphasis week at other schools. If I understand correctly, the speaker brought his own praise group. The presentation was really done professionally, although I must be getting old--it was way too loud for me. One prof actually stayed outside in the stairwell until after the music part of the worship.

I kept thinking of Irwin McManus' The Barbarian Call throughout the service. It was a "be a revolutionary" type tone to the message... nothing wrong with that. I chuckled to myself that instead of the old Byzantine icons on the screen he should really take a picture of Mel Gibson running on the warpath from Braveheart in a kilt and transpose the face of Jesus on it. Funny how every generation paints Jesus in its own image.

But the thing that kept jumping out at me was the way he used the word religion. Like so many emerging leaders today, he used religion in utterly negative terms. Like McManus, Jesus came to start a revolution, not a religion. For these types, following Christ is hyper-individualistic and church structure and organization is anathema. Russ Gunsalus remarked after the service, "Didn't Jesus say something about on this rock I will build my church."

Fifty years ago, if a person "got religion," it meant they became serious about following God. They cleaned up their life and started to live differently. But the same word today increasingly means an empty, hypocritical, passionless form of faith without sincerity or power.

The talk this morning was about conviction--committing deep to Christ. It was a good talk for sure. But as a watcher, I note that the revolution is a religion. It's not a group of individuals all just doing their own thing apart from each other. It is a body that works together in its revolutionary activity. We work out our salvation together with fear and trembling, not as isolated individuals.

It's true that Jesus didn't start a religion. God started the religion before the foundation of the world. Jesus fulfilled it and will bring it to completion at his return.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Emergent Cathedral Service at College Wesleyan

I was asked a few weeks ago to coordinate a liturgical service at College Wesleyan Church every Sunday morning. It's a fun idea, although after our first Sunday, I'm pretty tired.

The nature of the situation instantaneously created some different dynamics. So the sermon is piped in from the main sanctuary at exactly (or so I thought) 9:30. "Ready or not, here I come!" And since a service follows at 10:30, I ended up planning to have the "table" before the "word," a quite unorthodox way of going about it.

Then there is my theology and personality, which plays "God fearer" to the circumcised Jew--in other words, I strongly appreciate the high church tradition but don't share its theology entirely. I also don't like it when "personalities" are up front in a worship service. I prefer choirs, special music, and praise bands to be in the back or balcony--out of sight so we can focus on God.

The result was a brain child that would be 1) morning prayer (20 min) + 2) a Eucharistic service (10 min) + 3) just in time for Steve Deneff (30+ min). Readers and officiant would lead from the back so that the only time a person was forward was during the Eucharist. Even then, I (at least this week) followed the Anglo-catholic practice of turning toward God during the consecration of the elements--not to emphasize me as priest but God as the focus in distinction from me. In a retroactive theology, I have decided to have the candles lit ahead of time to symbolize the idea that Christ was there before we even arrived (quite unorthodox, but I don't want an acolyte and you can, after all, figure out some significance that works for just about anything if you try hard enough :).

I spent yesterday fine tuning some old morning prayer material I had and then did the folding and stapling this morning (with a last minute dash to Marsh for the wrong kind of bread--I thought the bread would already be there :)

I think it went pretty well, and I'll put the liturgy as it turned out on my website later today (www.kenschenck.com). But unbeknownst to me, Deneff altered his format to try to accommodate us. He started about 4 minutes early to try to give us 6 or 7 minutes after the service for communion. Then when you factor in the 9-11 video tribute at the beginning and an introduction to the service I felt like I needed to make since it was the first Sunday... we barely finished prayers before Deneff started. So we ended up celebrating the Eucharist afterwards anyway, and I think we'll continue on in that fashion.

All in all, a good day. The Lord's Prayer, the Eucharist, The Apostle's Creed (for today, we'll do the Nicene Creed the first Sunday of every month), a prayer of Chrysostom... a good day.

But Drury thinks what we have here is really an emergent service more than a timeless liturgical one. Oh well. I can live with it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Dobson and Academic Convocation

Today was academic convocation at Indiana Wesleyan and James Dobson spoke. He was initiated into the IWU World Changers Society and given a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Some students on campus had considered some sort of silent protest at his coming, something along the lines of "Dobson does not represent all Christians." But Dobson really didn't say much that was really protestable. It was a fine chapel talk.

If I were to sum up his talk, it was basically that people of college age today feel like they don't know what the real meaning of it all is. Dobson spoke of dead ends in the search for meaning--success, power, and money. He invoked things like evolution, relativism, and a lack of belief in absolute truth as a recipe for meaninglessness. In contrast, he spoke of some existential moments in his own life where he saw more clearly than ever what the real goal of life is. He summed it up as to "Be there" in heaven. Make sure that when the great reunion takes place in heaven, you are there. He punctuated these points with interesting stories.

Like I said, it would have made a good chapel. Is Dobson a world changer? Yes, I think he qualifies. Should we give him an honorary doctorate (16th, I think)? It seems fair enough that an institution like IWU would, since he does represent the values of the vast majority of the campus, its faculty, administration, and trustees.

So I have one basic criticism. He was not an appropriate speaker for an academic convocation. Why? Because his talk was neither profound nor academically inspiring.

What I would like to see in a speaker at an academic convocation is someone who says to me, "This is a place to learn." I recognize that, in ultimate terms, our eternal destiny trumps any earthly or intellectual concern. Saving souls is ultimately far more important than an education. But it is not the defining function of a university. By definition, education is the defining purpose of a university, and I suppose that means the defining purpose of a Christian university is to educate in a Christian way. Otherwise, we would just be another church.

I don't ask for much. I recognize that we are more about basic training here than about any real depth of scholarship. But it might be nice every once and a while to bring someone to campus who makes students think, "Wow, so that's what a scholar looks like." I'd like to have an intellectually stimulating speaker occasionally who would showplace academic excellence.

It wasn't today.

To illustrate, Dobson invoked the banal rhetoric of "relativism" today. What is relativism? Dobson says, "the idea that there are no rights and wrongs." Survey says, "wrong." That's moral nihilism. And of course he does the usual pop glide into the question of absolute truth. Sloppy again. You've moved from a matter of ethics to the field of epistemology.

Then let's talk about the fallacy of false alternative. Either you think it's okay to murder someone or you're a moral absolutist (the term he was looking for)? Frankly, most of the time the Bible takes a position I might call universal ethics with exceptional circumstances (although Paul is actually relativist on Sabbath observance). That's not relativism, even when it is correctly defined. And even Dobson is relativist on some matters. If he retains anything of his holiness background, then he believes in personal convictions. What are personal convictions? They are matters of personal relativism in which you believe God requires something of you that he doesn't require of others (like not wearing a wedding ring).

So what does the catch phrase "relativism" really mean in the Dobsonian language game? It alludes to a set of values that are a part of Dobson's Christian subculture. When the smoke clears, all he is basically saying is that it is wrong to take a relativist position on an issue he wants you to agree with him on. He doesn't care if you are a relativist when it comes to hair length on women. But he will call you a relativist if you say that in your family you think it's okay for the woman to be the leader on spiritual issues.

In short, it is a meaningless power word meant to dissuade you from disagreeing with his values without actually providing any evidence or substance that might actually convince you. It implies that God is against your values on an issue without providing any basis for it at all. It's like saying, "you can't hit me because I'm wearing glasses," but it's "you can't believe that because it's relativist." But since all Christians are relativist on some issues, the question is not whether Christians are ever relativist--it's on what issues are relativist and what are not.

Please, please bring someone sometime who is more than a high school thinker. Show me someone who makes me feel guilty for being a professor because I'm so stupid. I know about lots of them. I fear that the reason evangelicals are sometimes pegged as mediocre scholars is because, well, most of us are. I can be better than that. Anyone at IWU willing to move with me to the next level?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Summer Begins!

With my Asbury grades now turned in, my summer can at last begin! I know you're thinking, "What are you going to do with your summer, Ken?" Well, I think I'll sleep in till 8 tomorrow if my kids will let me. And I may just do the same on Monday.

Then of course the Fall semester begins on Tuesday. I should probably work on my syllabi the weekend before then.

Hurricanes, Global Warming, and Gas Prices

I am numb at the thought of New Orleans right now. I don't really want to see the devastation and desperation or think about it. It's so bad.

Is global warming playing a role in the wave of new and improved hurricanes we're seeing these last two years? I almost guarantee you that your answer will be strong either way... and that you don't know what you're talking about, either way. People will either strongly deny that there is such a thing as global warming or strongly affirm that there is. But since the scientists debate whether global warming is a factor in the hurricanes--and they know the data and equations--there's no way you or I can speak with authority on the matter.

Your position on global warming has become a matter of religion in many American religious circles. It is becoming part of American cultural Christianity among certain conservatives in particular. While I personally don't agree with Wittgenstein on religion totally, on subjects like this one he is right that many, many people form their religious beliefs without any view to truth. In other words, you couldn't change someone's mind no matter how much evidence you offered them one way or another. As such, I throw it into the hopper I call "yet another example people can use to argue that religion makes people stupid."

So I don't know if global warming is having any influence on the current hurricane patterns. I guess it has now been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that humans are part of the global environmental equation--that the conditions of the atmosphere cannot be explained fully on the basis of natural variation. But that's a pretty broad and general conclusion at this point. It's far from showing we're responsible for a global warming trend or that consequently warmer waters in the Atlantic Ocean are responsible for more violent hurricanes with longer durations.

So what's my point, other than that religions of all types have a tendency to make people stupid. My point is much broader and side-steps questions of global warming

If
1. Burning gas certainly doesn't help the environment and pollution clearly creates at least a much more unpleasant environment. Go to someplace where they don't have any emission standards and are heavily industrialized. Mexico City comes to mind.

2. We're going to run out of fuel one day anyway.

3. Our oil dependency is money in the pockets of that part of the world where our greatest enemies live and our gas bill supports terrorists financially one way or another.

Logical conclusion: We should be working to wean ourselves off oil dependency and toward alternative technologies.

Now here I have to wonder who would object to anything in this line of reasoning. I can only think of two groups: 1) those who profit financially by the consumption of oil and 2) those who are willfully or unwillfully stupid for one reason or another.