Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Butler

Went to see The Butler tonight. The movie is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, an African-American who served for some 34 years in the White House. Lest the cranky shut down and not listen, it is only loosely based on Allen's life.

Allen didn't grow up in Macon. His father wasn't killed as a child. He didn't have a son who was an activist, although he did have a son. He retired because it was time, not because he came to see his job as racially patronizing. Yes, yes, Reagan may have had geopolitical rather than racial reasons not to sanction South Africa over Apartheid.

What the movie does portray well is both the situation of black Americans in the middle part of the twentieth century and, implicitly, the benefits of white privilege in America. It portrays the powerlessness of blacks in the early part of the twentieth century in the face of injustice. It shows the ridiculous prejudice of the South and its stubborn insistence on segregation. It shows the obliviousness of whites who were in position not to worry about such things or who even got righteously indignant at "law breakers" like the activists who worked to make it impossible to be oblivious.

"White privilege" can be a difficult idea for a white person like me to grasp because it is not about something that seems "extra" to me as a white person. I may still struggle to pay my bills. I may still have all sorts of challenges of my own. White privilege has to do with how much harder it would be for me if I were black or of some other race in my same shoes.

When I walk into a store or down your average rural American street, I blend in. A Hispanic or a black might get a suspicious look in a similar store.  I might be watched, second guessed, profiled. Privilege is not so much about benefits I perceive as extra but about benefits I would definitely perceive if I were black or some other minority.

It is an amazing thing that even Christians can somehow convince themselves that they are standing up for right when "putting others in their place." No doubt many of those in the South thought they were justified in their anger toward troublemakers who refused to follow the rules and get to the back of the bus or use the right seats. It's not unlike the attitude today of some toward illegal immigrants who have broken the law in how they've entered this country. "We're right to tear their families apart because they're lawbreakers," as if Jesus and Paul were big on keeping the law.

The issues change, the attitudes don't.  A lot of state's rights talk today is the same old attitudes hiding behind different issues. Don't worry, our grandchildren will wag their heads at us too. The more localized the decision making, the more likely the exclusion and injustice.  The more people represented in the discussion, the more likely the fairness and evenhandedness.

I would have hoped that race would have disappeared as an issue by now.  In the year 2000 I might have said it was happening. But 9-11 and economic crisis have set us back.  People pull back into their cocoons when times are tough. Race seems as charged to me today as it has been since the 70s. I'm hoping it is just the last gasp before whites themselves become a racial minority.

I struggled not to cry as the movie ended.  It made me feel the pain of a good man in that era, in those situations. The specific characters in the movie were fictitious, but the people they represented were all too real.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Truth Sets Free (John 8:31-36)

Introduction
In the context of these verses, Jesus has just talked about how his opponents will know he is from God after they crucify him, after they "have lifted up the Son of Man."  In John 3:14, Jesus is lifted up like the snake Moses lifted up in the desert to heal Israel.

Engage
To be freed implies that you were not free before, and Jesus’ opponents resist his teaching that he will free them. They are the children of Abraham. They have never been slaves. Of course this claim in itself is not really true. Israel had repeatedly been enslaved over the centuries to various foreign powers, and they were under the thumb of the Romans at the time of Jesus. By the time of John they had destroyed Jerusalem—an irony that would not have escaped John’s audience. But the slavery Jesus has in mind is not physical slavery, but a slavery to sin, which is a failure to love one another (1 John 4:7-8). A slave is not yet a son.

Examine
The truth about Jesus sets people free. What is that truth? Certainly trusting in Jesus as Messiah brings eternal life (John 3:16; 20:31) and includes his atoning death, the bread and wine that gives life. Another truth is that Jesus authentically represented God the Father. To be a follower of Jesus is to follow his teaching, which is to follow the teaching of God the Father. But what is that teaching? What does it mean to be free from sin? Surely at least in part it means to be freed to love each other, to show love to each other. How hard it is to love others in our own power. How much freer the world would be if everyone showed love to each other.

Explore
Truth sets a person free to be sure. Such freedom is not always as comfortable as we dreamt it would be. Sometimes it is more comfortable to have the decisions made for us or not to know other possibilities. We may not want to know truths that are inconvenient to our current way of life. Truth can bring conflict, and truth can force change. We may not want to know about the person near us who needs help, because then we need to do something. We may not want to know whether we have cancer or whether our current way of living will likely lead toward future crises—including eternal judgment. But the truth now makes it more likely that we will avert future catastrophes.

Prayer
Father, as hard as the truth and the right may be, give us an unswerving commitment to it and to obey you no matter how uncomfortable the immediate consequences.

Quote
"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."  Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Mistake (Genesis 1:27)

I was looking at the Hebrew of Genesis 1:27 again tonight and noticed it's not quite as obvious as I thought.  I still think the normal interpretation is correct (i.e., that of the NRSV, NIV2011, NLT, Message), over against the ESV and HCSB. It just isn't as obvious as I was saying.

Here's the Hebrew (it goes from right to left):

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָֽאָדָם בְּצַלְמֹו
 in his image    the 'adam          God      and he created = "And God created the 'adam in his image"

בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתֹו
  him   he created    God    in the image of = "In the image of God he created him"

זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָֽם
them   he created  and female male = "male and female he created them"

Where I was wrong is that I thought the "him" of the second line was a "them," but the exegesis is still the same:

1. The "him" of the second line must include both male and female because the third line unpacks the second.

2. Therefore, the 'adam is not a reference to the person Adam or to "man" as a reference to males.  It is a reference to humankind in general.

It is difficult to bring this into English.  I still maintain the NRSV is the best rendition.  Languages like Hebrew have to pick a gender for the object of the second line, and since 'adam is grammatically masculine, "him" was the appropriate grammatical choice.  But in English, him means a male, even though in Hebrew it is not sexual here.

So I stand by my claim that by choosing to go with "him," the ESV and HCSB actually change the meaning into a masculine bias it did not have in Hebrew.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Notes on the Samaritan Mission (Acts 8)

Rather than give my full writing, I thought I might more put some notes here.

1. In Acts 8, at least the Hellenistic Jewish believers are scattered. They seem to be the primary target of Paul's (Saul's) persecution. Either they were causing more trouble than Peter and the original disciples or their community had a bigger issue with them than Jerusalem had with Peter.

2. No matter. God uses it for good. If the boundary between Aramaic and Greek-speaking Jews is crossed in Acts 6, the boundary between Judea and Samaria is crossed in Acts 8.  This is the second part of the prediction in Acts 1:8.  First they would witness the resurrection in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7). Then they would witness in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8-12).

Samaria was a different culture than Judea, and the people of each didn't really get along well with each other. Samaria's understanding of Israel's faith was a little different too. The word Jew comes from Judea.  It started to be used after some descendants of those who went as captives into Babylon and Persia returned to Judea.  Of course many remained in those far off lands too.

The Samaritans thus did not consider themselves Jews, even though they traced their ancestry back to the northern kingdom. They had their own distinct form of Israelite faith. They were more syncretistic. They had their own Pentateuch. For a long time they had their own temple.

3. The incident with Simon the sorcerer is interesting.  Later Christian tradition would see him for some reason as the beginning of all heresy.  He must surely have been someone of renown, someone Luke wanted his audience to know had been out-miracled and outclassed by Philip.

He was not quite a believer, the archetype of the stereotypical televangelist who is more interested in putting on a show and making money than truly following Christ.

Some are baptized in Samaria, but there is a problem. They have not received the Holy Spirit. Baptism means nothing if it is not authenticated by receiving the Spirit because it is the Spirit that makes one truly a Christian. The apostles Peter and John come up to lay hands on them so that they will receive the Holy Spirit and truly become part of the people of God. Luke may also want us to take away from this incident that Philip's ministry was subordinate to that of the apostles.

4. The content of Philip's preaching was the "good news of the kingdom of God" (8:12).  Notice that the gospel here is the coming of the rule of God.  Philip also preached the name of Jesus Christ, the one to be king on earth in that kingdom.

An angel of the Lord directs Philip on a path where he runs into a eunuch from Ethiopia. This is another boundary crossing, since this person was seriously and permanently unclean on the basis of the OT. This is part of God doing away with the purity boundaries of the OT. Kings sometimes made those who watched over their harem eunuchs so that they had a guy in charge, but they didn't have a guy in charge, if you know what I mean.

Baptism was a part of the message. When Philip explains the spiritual interpretation of Isaiah 53, the eunuch seeks out water. We should assume he also received the Holy Spirit.

5. You might notice that Acts 8:37 is missing. It is not in the vast majority of manuscripts.  Some well intentioned copyist must have added it thinking that Philip would have made some sort of confession of faith at this point. It is possible that Acts was used in the second century as a kind of blueprint for how the church was supposed to operate.  As such, someone arguably created a version of Acts with a lot of extra details.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Driscoll and the ESV 6

I've been responding to the 6 reasons Mark Driscoll says Mars Hill uses the ESV. Bottom line: None of them bear up to the barest of examinations. He basically doesn't know what he's talking about.

Throughout, I have affirmed the ESV as a pretty good formal equivalence translation.  I've also suggested that on the few occasions where its biases come out, they are not Wesleyan-Arminian.  That's why I've suggested the NIV2011 is still probably the best translation for Wesleyan churches to use.

I debate whether I should have written in such a sarcastic tone.  I don't know. I don't expect Driscoll to read or even hear about these posts.  I promise I would have been the model of courtesy if he or any of his friends had engaged me. My point was not really to attack Mark Driscoll but to give you just a hint of how flimsy his understanding of the Bible is. Why? Because I don't want his thinking to infect my part of the Christian world.

Previous posts include:
1. The letter kills, the Spirit gives life.
2. All translation involves interpretation.
3. Stay out of semantics; keep your day job.
4. Driscoll likes big words.
5. It was translated for the elect.

Now his final point:
6. The ESV is complementarian.
Now we hit pay dirt.  All the rest of that stuff, all the theorizing?  Smoke and mirrors.  The final point is the real point.  Let me tell you a story.

There are differing versions of the origins of the ESV.  Obviously there was talk of it before the Colorado Springs guidelines that opponents said Zondervan violated when it came out with the TNIV. A sizable group opposed Zondervan coming out with a translation that used "brothers and sisters" where the Greek read "adelphoi," and when Zondervan published the TNIV, it lost the support of fundamentalist America.  This is the real reason the ESV is enjoying so much political support.

Regardless of how long the ESV was in the works, it has only taken the place Driscoll's church and others are giving it because of the backlash against Zondervan over "inclusive language." Driscoll himself corroborates this in his last point. In his last point, he connects together versions like the NIV2011 and the NLT with the extreme The Bible in a More Just Language, which intentionally tries to change the meaning of the text.  Suffice it to say, the NIV2011 and NLT are dramatically different from this revisionist version.

First, let me address the "brothers and sisters" debate.  Perhaps "brothers" is a more formal equivalence translation.  The reason I debate even this statement is because in patriarchal languages, you use the masculine plural if there is a male in the group, even if most of the group is female.  That is to say, "brothers" can actually refer to a group that is technically "brothers and sisters." For that reason, "brothers and sisters" is at least a legitimate dynamic equivalence translation of the masculine Greek "adelphoi."

Here is an important point. The NIV, NLT, NRSV have only translated adelphoi as "brothers and sisters" when they believe women were also being addressed. So is Paul only addressing the men in the Thessalonian church when he tells them to flee sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4)?  Only when these translation committees believed women were also being addressed did they include the sisters or the mothers.  They did not see themselves making the Bible more inclusive but as bringing out an inclusivity that was already there.

Now I respect those who prefer a translation that does not do this sort of thing.  But I do think the more dynamic sort of translation is probably more effective at communicating the biblical meaning to people today than the older approach.

However, once again, Driscoll seems off in his interpretations.  Take the Hebrew word 'adam.  It certainly can be used of a male, but the best reading of Genesis 1:27 seems to include women in it.  Here's a straightforward translation of the Hebrew: "And God created the 'adam in his image. In the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them."

The "him" in the second clause seems to include both male and female, because the third clause unpacks it as including male and female.  And the "him" in the second clause is expanding on the 'adam of the first clause. Therefore, the best translation of 'adam in this verse seems to relate to all humans, both male and female--all humankind.

And why is it so important to Driscoll in Psalm 8 that 'adam only refer to men? Surely it is because his misguided theology doesn't have room for women leaders. Surely it is because it is important to him that God have only subjected the earth to men, not to women as well.

Sorry Charlie, the command to rule the earth in Genesis 1:28 is in the plural, given to both male and female from the previous verse. (At this point you should here the swirling sound of Pac Man when the little fellow dies, indicating the failure of Driscoll's apparent attempt to cut women out of the dominion of the earth).

You can see why I don't think the ESV is the best translation for Wesleyans. It's subtle biases rub against our grain, not to mention accuracy.  We're a denomination that believes that sons and daughters prophesy (Acts 2:17), that Priscilla may have taken the lead in instructing Apollos (Acts 18:26), that Phoebe was a deacon of the church of Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1), and that Junia was quite possibly an apostle like Barnabas (Rom. 16:7).

The Greek word anthropos is just as generic as 'adam, maybe even more.  1 Peter 3:4 says that a woman's adornment should be the hidden anthropos of the heart.  Clearly it isn't saying women have a little man inside of them.  The word itself means "person."

These are reasons why the TNIV translators considered it "gender accurate" rather than "gender neutral" or "gender inclusive."  They intended only to translate generically when that's what the Bible actually meant.  In that respect, it is the ESV that has more likely screwed up the gender connotations by making them sound less inclusive than they were.

The ESV is a pretty good formal equivalence translation, but not quite ready to be crowned king of the universe.

Are you chosen to understand? 5

Almost done watching Mark Driscoll jump the shark on the ESV... I'm wondering if his church has had just about enough of his noodle whippings.

Previous posts include:
1. The letter kills, the Spirit gives life.
2. All translation involves interpretation.
3. Stay out of semantics; keep your day job.
4. Driscoll likes big words.

His fifth point is:
5. Scripture isn't always easy to understand.
I believe there is a touch of Driscoll's 5 point Calvinism hiding in this one.  Not everyone is predestined to "have ears to hear" and therefore there's no point in trying to make the Bible as clear as possible, because God has just made some people seed to be eaten by the birds. Notice how he words the first couple lines: "God loves the whole world... and we should seek to reach as many people as possible" (italics mine).  Subtext--God himself is not trying to reach everyone, although we should because we don't know who is predestined.

This undertone is mixed with other comments: "There’s no doubt that we should make every effort to have the Bible translated in words that as many people as possible can understand. But we must also be careful not to cross a line where we change God’s words in hopes that more people will be willing to accept them." That doesn't sound too bad in itself, but he's just plain wrong in where he thinks the line is, as we've seen in the previous posts.

So does translating "justify" with "put us in right standing" (the Message) cross the line? Not in the slightest. IMO this is an excellent translation that makes the sense of "justify" really clear.  Are modern translations avoiding "propitiation" because they don't like the idea of God's wrath? I seriously doubt it. And, like I implied in the last post, "propitiate" contradicts Driscoll's earlier desire only to translate what it says and to leave the interpretation to commentaries.

In the end, I don't think Driscoll really means it when he says, "we should make every effort to have the Bible translated in words that as many people as possible can understand." His approach is filled with the theological orientation that says, God will enable a lucky few to reach up to him rather than that God tries to reach down to everyone. By contrast, God's revelatory principle is the incarnation principle. Revelation is God reaching down to us, meeting us where we are and moving us along. It is not God bringing us up fully to where he is.

God has always "dumbed down" the message--our human minds are not capable of understanding him fully or on a completely literal level.  God would rather people understand something rather than nothing. His normal operating mode is to speak to us like children who can only understand the barest amount.  The only full revelation of God is Jesus Christ.  Anything else is idolatry, setting up an image of God in our minds.

Driscoll Likes Big Words 4

The ESV is a fine formal equivalence translation with the occasional low-Calvinist dynamic translation. Mark Driscoll, however, wants to crown it king of the universe and discourage you from using the NIV or the NLT.  I think you should use multiple versions if you don't know Greek and Hebrew, and that it's perfectly fine to use dynamic equivalence translations.

My previous posts include:
1. The letter kills, the Spirit gives life.
2. All translation involves interpretation.
3. Stay out of semantics; keep your day job.

His fourth argument is
4. The ESV uses theological nomenclature.

Basically, the ESV uses big theological words you should know like "justification" and "propitiation." Driscoll objects to translating the word "justify" with the NLT's "declare us righteous" or the Message's "put us in right standing."

Really?  Does Driscoll really think that we will always be able to find one word in English that corresponds to each word in Greek?  Shall I critique the ESV for using the word "guarantee" to translate the Greek word arrabon in 2 Cor. 1:22 and Eph. 1:14?  The KJV's "earnest" would be better, and fits Driscoll's fetish for archaic words.

But frankly, the NIV does a great job of unpacking the agreed meaning of this Greek word: "a deposit, guaranteeing..."  Unless you want to use the word "earnest" (which the ESV apparently didn't want to use), it's going to take more than one word to get the meaning as much into English as possible. It's really hard to believe Driscoll could really think you're usually going to be able to translate one word for one word. Is he really that linguistically incompetent?

And does he really think that the translation, "propitiation," is any less interpretive than "put us in right standing"? Frankly, there's more agreement among scholars on "put us in right standing" as the meaning of "to justify" than there is on "propitiation" as a translation of the Greek word hilasterion.  I personally think the NLT's "sacrifice for sin" and the NIV's "sacrifice of atonement" are much less interpretive translations than the ESV's "propitiation."

I like "theological nomenclature" too.  I'm delighted to see people learn it.  But like God "I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words" in theological nomenclature.

P.S. His use of proof-texts is just atrocious. What is 1 Corinthians 4:6 about, not to go beyond what is written? It sure doesn't have anything to do with translation philosophy. And does he really think Proverbs 30:5-6 is about translating word for word? A word from the Lord is something bigger than a single word.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Driscoll Linguistic Confusion 3

This is now my third post burning Driscoll's hermeneutic in effigy. Again, the ESV is an excellent formal equivalence translation with a few Reformed edges.  I don't recommend it for Wesleyans, but it's a fine translation if you're a Calvinist. I'm attempting to excoriate Driscoll's arguments for why he thinks the ESV should stuff your NLT or NIV down the toilet.

So far:
1. The letter kills, the Spirit gives life.
2. All translation involves interpretation.

His third reason he thinks the ESV is the best is because...
3. Words carry meaning.

I was a little puzzled at what he was arguing here.  Was he going to mount a sophisticated argument against deconstruction, which holds that words do not have stable meanings and that the meaning of texts is inevitably uncertain?  If so, I do believe that words can have stable meanings when we know the context in which they are used.

Was he going to mount an attempt to undermine Wittgenstein and the sense that the meaning of a word is in the way it is used?  Was he going to argue for the picture theory of language Augustine had?  That would have been foolish, because a few simple examples would have unraveled that attempt.

Was he even going to argue against the likes of card-carrying conservative evangelical D. A. Carson and pooh-pooh the very notion of word fallacies like
  • the lexical fallacy (which supposes that all instances of a word carry around some root meaning), 
  • the etymological fallacy (which supposes that the history of a word in some way tells you the meaning of a word today), or 
  • the overload fallacy (which reads too much ideology into an individual instance of a word).
Carson's pretty scary.  I think he would have lost.

Nah, nothing that sophisticated.  I think he's just sayin' that the meaning of a sentence somehow adds up the meanings of the individual words, such that if you try to translate thought for thought instead of word for word, you've changed the meaning.

Is that what he's really saying, because that's just plain dumb? Let me give you a word for word translation of Galatians 3:17: "covenant having been ratified by the God the after four hundred and thirty years having come to be Law not nullify into the to cancel the promise." You can't really recapture the emphasis of this sentence in English because you pretty much have to put the object after the verb: "The Law [that] came into existence after 430 years cannot nullify a covenant that was ratified by God with the result that it cancels the promise."

That would be a pretty good formal equivalence translation, with some words added even there. Notice that it's impossible to come up with a good translation without moving the words around, adding some to make the English flow and taking away a couple others.

Now how about this as a dynamic translation: "The Law of Moses, which did not exist until 430 years after God made his promise to Abraham, cannot cancel that promise." Have I changed the meaning by adding words like Moses and Abraham?  Or have I actually clarified the meaning that was already there?

Basically, Driscoll seems to be making a fool of himself here. Paul Ricoeur has in fact argued against the deconstruction I mentioned above by suggesting that meaning is more a matter of sentences than individual words. The meaning of individual words is slippery in themselves. What does the word "fire" mean?
  • Ready, aim, fire!
  • You're fired.
  • Come on, baby, light my fire.
  • Fire!
  • Is that a fire?
It is the sense of word collections, coupled with the likely context each sentence assumes, that equates to a sense of the meaning. Driscoll's way out of his depth on this one.

Driscoll Shark-Jumping 2

OK, I couldn't wait till tomorrow.  Mark Driscoll has, in my opinion, gone too far in trying to make the ESV the new KJV of evangelicalism.  He has six reasons why his church uses the blessed ESV.

In a previous post, I was a bit mocking of the contradiction of saying God is obsessed with the precise wording of the Bible and yet using an English translation at all, let alone one that does not represent the wording most Christians have used in worship throughout church history. Let's call that post, "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

In his second point, his eminence tells us all not to use dynamic equivalence translations like the NLT or the Message.

2. What it says comes before what it means.
Driscoll is saying that commentaries should unpack what the Bible means but that a translation should try its best to render the text as it is.  A translation that tries to stick fairly closely to the sentence structure of the original is called a formal equivalence translation.  One that tries to render the thought in idiomatic English is a dynamic equivalence translation.  A free translation or paraphrase is one that is very free in trying to translate the basic thoughts in equivalent categories in the target culture.

Again, don't get me wrong. I myself prefer formal equivalent translations like the ESV and RSV. But for preaching, I prefer a translation that brings out the message the sermon is about. It should be a both/and, not an either/or.  Even among formal equivalence translations, it is good to use more than one.

There are two rubs here.  The first is that all translation involves interpretation.  It is impossible simply to translate "what it says" and leave the "what it means" to the interpreter. A translation often has to choose to go one way or another. That's why it is good to use more than one if you do not know Greek and Hebrew.

In fact, it is with fiendish delight that I notice Driscoll contradicting himself on his #6, where he compliments the ESV for translating in a complementarian way.  So take Romans 16:7.  The NIV2011 gives us exactly the kind of translation Driscoll is talking about: "Greet Andronicus and Junia... They are outstanding among the apostles."  No doubt he prefers the ESV's version: "Greet Andronicus and Junia... They are well known to the apostles."

The ESV wants to make sure you don't think Junia, a woman, was an apostle.  Accordingly, the ESV has given us a "dynamic" translation that is possible, but it does exactly what Driscoll is condemning the other translations for--doing the interpretation for us.

Physician, heal thyself.

The more important rub is that the NT authors wouldn't know what the heck he's talking about.  As I mentioned in the last post, the NT authors felt entirely free to change the wording of OT texts they were quoting because it was the spirit rather than the letter of Scripture that they were interested in.  A free translation like The Message is a far better example of how the NT authors used the OT than the ESV.

I came across one such passage this afternoon in John 7:38: "Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them."  The problem is, what text is Jesus/John quoting???  The best suggestion I've heard is Isaiah 55:1--"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters."

Yep, you know what you're talking about, Mark.  Jesus sure was preoccupied with a literal translation, wasn't he?

Driscoll Jumps the Shark on the ESV (part 1)

Mark Driscoll occasionally has some good things to say, I believe. But in general, I think of him as someone whose overall effect on American Christianity is more negative than positive.  Today, however, I would like to talk about him being the occasional idiot.

Before well meaning Wesleyans read his recent, almost "ESV only" rant, I want to make my position clear. You see, when some well-meaning Wesleyan takes up his ideas, I'll be very civil in my disagreement.  But since I don't know Mark Driscoll and it isn't an issue in my circles--and I want to keep it from being one--I feel quite free to mock his nonsense with all the gift of satire you know me to possess.

Now don't get me wrong.  The ESV is a pretty good translation for the most part, I think.  It is not a Wesleyan-preferred translation, because of Driscoll's #6 (complementarian). But in most places it is a very good formal equivalence translation.  I like formal equivalence translations myself, not because they are the best translations but because I personally like my translation to be as close a window into the original languages as possible. In other words, I use them to slack off reading the Greek and Hebrew itself.

In any case, here are Driscoll's 7 reasons why Mars Hill uses the ESV.  P.S. I kept thinking of "KJV only" people as I read this.  Of course he has the same spirit as those people.  He's just a twenty-first century version.  I think of these sort of people as conservative in their ignorance.  They try to hold on to as much of the ignorance of the past as possible, while only becoming just as much more enlightened as reality forces them to. The next generation of them will mock Driscoll, but maintain the same attitude in relation to whatever the issue is then in the future.

1. ESV holds that the Bible is the literal words, not just thoughts of God.
I had a talk with a former KJV only person a couple weeks ago.  Funny, he brought up these sorts of verses. I pointed out Galatians 5:14 where Paul says the Law is fulfilled in one word--"Love your neighbor as yourself." A word, in this context, is an entire thought, as we would expect in an oral, non-literate culture (rather than a literary one).

There is an inevitable circularity to arguments like these from people like Driscoll and Piper. This verse means what words mean in my twentieth century vocabulary so that I can tell you what they mean today. But these weren't words written in twentieth century English. Their meanings come from what words meant in the ancient Hebrew and Greek used at the time and place when they were written down, informed by their socio-cultural context (such as the fact that it was an oral culture). This is why NT Wright was able to give John Piper a thorough spanking on justification some time back. Piper insists on defining Paul using Calvin's sixteenth century definitions to words instead of those the Jews were actually using two thousand years ago.

Everything we know about the way both the biblical authors and the copyists of biblical texts operated suggest that it was the spirit of the text that they were interested in. Listen to Matthew's paraphrase of who knows what verse in Matthew 2:23.  The words of the prophets, plural, somehow suggest that Jesus will be born in Nazareth?  Nazareth didn't exist at the time.  The sentence structure is a little like Judges 13:7, but that's talking about a Nazirite, something completely different. A word similar to Nazareth is used in Isaiah 11:1, but read that verse and see if Matthew 2:23 comes across as paying close attention to the word-for-word like Driscoll is talking about.

In short, Driscoll has NO IDEA what he is talking about.  An actual examination of the way the NT interprets the OT undermines his claim here so seriously that he runs the risk of causing a faith crisis in the lives of any in his congregation who ever go on to do serious study of the Bible. As is typical, he makes his points by his modern definitions of the Bible's words, but he does not look at what the Bible actually does with those words, which is where their real meaning is revealed.

More to the point, if the wording is that important, he'd better stop using an English translation altogether. He should go like the Muslims and only read the Quran in Arabic. If the individual words are that important, then ANY English translation mucks it up.

And why isn't he arguing for the text of the King James then?  If the word-for-word is that important to God, why did God allow Christians to use the "wrong" text for fifteen hundred years?  The ESV is based on the older manuscripts, not the majority of manuscripts.  The ESV implicitly does not assume that God preserved the exact text of the Bible in the worship of believers for over a 1000 years.

I'll tell you why. It's because that's not the social group in which Driscoll is located or its issues.  In his inherited tradition, the KJV thing isn't an issue, but complementarianism is. He supports the ESV ultimately because of the politics of the ESV's creation.  All the rest is smoke and mirrors, arguments invented after the fact to maintain as conservative an ignorance as possible.

More to come tomorrow...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Devotion for Day (Time for Decision)

More from my devotional on the symbols of John, the week on Jesus as the bread of life.

Scripture: John 6:60-71

Introduction
After Jesus has told the crowds that he is the bread of life, many of those following him turn away. The idea of eating his flesh and blood—availing oneself of his death—was apparently something they would not believe.

Engage
Matthew and Mark have a turning point where Jesus’ ministry goes from a more public phase to a phase where Jesus is more isolated with his disciples. This change happens after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. If John has such a turning point, it is here, when many of those following him turn away. The sticking point seems to be eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood, perhaps a symbolic allusion to his atoning death. What will they then do with his resurrection, especially when they are confronted with its reality in judgment? John uses the language of God’s will to express this mystery. He “has given” ultimate faith to some.

Examine
In its symbolism, it is possible that much of the imagery in John is meant to mirror the current situation of John’s community. On a previous day, we saw that John’s community (probably at Ephesus) had experienced a split (1 John 2:19). The group that left was probably Docetist, the group mentioned in yesterday’s devotional (see 1 John 4:2). And if Jesus did not come in the flesh, then he did not die for sins, which might explain some of 1 John’s comments on those who deny the need for cleansing (e.g., 1:8, 10). This incident in John 6 may allude to what happened in John’s own community, with some leaving because they could not accept Jesus in the flesh.

Explore
At some point, we may face a crisis that will either draw us closer to God or reveal that we do not have the faith to follow him fully. Especially in Christian leaning countries, it is easy to be a Christian. We may like to think we are picked on, but we have no idea what it really means to be persecuted for our faith. In fact, sometimes Christians can bring on conflict because they themselves are unnecessarily provocative. But crises often reveal our true hearts. Those who abandon God in a crisis are often simply revealing how their heart had always been. Others respond like Jesus’ core followers: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Prayer
Father, give us faith to follow you not only in the easy times but in the hard times as well.

Sidebar
“God our Savior… wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3-4
______________________
Sidenotes--I have been increasingly impressed at how much John uses predestination and election language throughout.  Arminians like myself take this as "after the fact" language.  It is not language used to predict but to explain why so many do not believe. Such language becomes harmful when it is used to exclude potential believers.

So as I've said before, we have to live like anyone can be saved, even if you are someone whose theology, like John Calvin, believes that God has mysteriously decreed who will be saved. But this is also a reminder that the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition is not by nature a fundamentalist tradition that feels compelled to take this language literally, just as we don't take OT passages literally when they say God sent evil spirit on people (e.g., 1 Samuel 16:14-23; 18:10; 19:9; 24:1). We would say more precisely that God allowed it to happen (e.g., 1 Chron. 21:1; James 1:13).

Friday, August 23, 2013

Devotion for Day (The Bread of Life)

Passage: John 6:41-59

Introduction
The initial reaction to Jesus’ announcement that he is the bread of life is grumbling. “You’re not so special, and what you’re saying doesn’t make sense to us.” Jesus does not seem worried whether they accept him or not.

Engage
Some struggled with how Jesus could have come down from heaven. Wasn’t he born to Mary and Joseph? Others in John’s late first century context struggled with the idea that he had truly become human at all. The Gospel of John walks this middle path between the two extremes. Yes, Jesus was “born of water” like all other human beings. He really had flesh and blood like the rest of us. Yet he also came down from above. He shared the glory of our Father in heaven before the world began (17:5). Christians believe both affirmations are essential. Jesus has the same substance as us, yet Jesus also shares the same substance with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

Examine:
Some in the Roman Catholic tradition have read these verses as an allusion to the elements of communion literally becoming the body and blood of Jesus in some way—“unless you eat the flesh… and drink his blood” (6:53). Jesus’ death probably was in view, but the vividness may have been directed at an early false teaching called Docetism. Docetists believed that Jesus only seemed to be human, that he was really a spirit being that had disguised himself to look like us. They thought matter was evil and thus that Jesus could not have been sinless if he had flesh. John consistently undermines this way of thinking (e.g., 1:14). Our bodies may be weak but they are not inevitably sinful in themselves.

Explore
It is hard to watch someone whom you once thought was an equal grow to prominence. “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy? I remember him when he was running around playing with sticks.” None of us will ever see any of our childhood friends grow up to be the Son of God, but we may very well have friends who go on to experience a prominence greater than our own. It is easy to get jealous—which we often mask by criticism or grumbling. Of course, the rising star can also get arrogant, which is just as inappropriate. In all these things it is important to recognize that our praiseworthiness depends on what we do with what God has given us, not on what we have.

Prayer
Father, free us from jealousy toward those with greater status than we have or who are more gifted at something than we are.

Sidebar
“There should be no division in the body, but… its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Cor. 12:25-26

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Implicit Theology of Using Translations

If you're interested, a quick glimpse into one discussion in one of my classes:

 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pastoral Care Conference


Some of the presenters include:

Everett Worthington, Jr., Keynote speaker (two sessions), Prof. of Counseling at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Matthew Bloom, Assoc. Prof. Mendoza School of Business, Notre Dame University - Investigating Pastoral Well-being and the Well-lived Pastoral Life
Virginia Todd Holeman, Prof. of Counseling, Asbury Theological Seminary - Developing a Ministry with Brains: How to Tame an Anxious Brain
Laverne K. Jordan, Dean of Social Science and Humanities, College of Adult and Graduate Studies, Colorado Christian University - A Stress Prevention Model for Healthy Functioning in Ministry
Michael Sytsma, Licensed Professional Counselor and Ordained Minister in Special Service by The Wesleyan Church-Standing Sexually Whole & Holy in a Broken World
Mike Driscoll, Chaplain and Director of Pastoral Care, St. Elizabeth Medical Center-Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace:  Francis of Assisi’s Advice for Clergy Wellness
Michael Jordan, Dean of the Chapel, Houghton College-Neuhaus, Nouwen and Me:  Forging a Sustainable Pastoral Identity of Fragility and Confidence
Headley, Anthony, Professor of Counseling, Asbury Theological Seminary- Clergy Well Being:  John Wesley and Priorities in Ministry
Mike VanKampen, Director, Alongside- The Sabbath-Life:  A Pattern for Pastoral Health
Sandra A Metz,  Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist- Unfinished Business:  Increasing Relational Insight and Well-Being Through Family Systems Awareness
Merrill T. Reese, Assistant Professor, Regent University- Caring for the Caregiver:  Compassion Fatigue, Burnout in the Ministry
Steven Cappa, Associate Professor of Counseling, Colorado Christian University- Happy, Healthy Clergy:  7 Lifestyle Practices for Enduring Wellness
Sheryl Busby M.A. – Relational Isolation of Pastors

If you could forward this to anyone you think would be interested in clergy care issues, please do so.  We appreciate your support in this worthy first-time initiative.

I am glad to answer any questions you might have. Hope to see you there!


Blessings,
Ken 

The Work of God (John 6:25-29)

A morning devotional
_____________
Introduction
Most of John 6 relates to the theme of the spiritual food that Jesus has provided. After feeding the five thousand, Jesus first withdraws, then walks on water to join his disciples on their way across the Sea of Galilee. Soon the crowds follow them all to Capernaum.

Engage
After searching around, the crowd who ate the loaves and fish find Jesus. They are seeking more earthly food, like Jesus gave them before.  But Jesus wants to give them eternal food.  Like he offered the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus has a better water to give them than earthly water. He has a better food than earthly food. They should work to get this food. How do you work for this food? You do not work in the normal sense for it, like you would at a job to get wages. You work for this food by believing that Jesus is the Christ.

Examine
The question of whether we get right with God by faith or by works is a question that has surfaced and resurfaced throughout Christian history. On the one hand, it is always questionable to read one person's thoughts into another person's words. For example, even if you do not know about Martin Luther, there’s a good chance his arguments with the Roman Catholic Church over faith and works has influenced what you think about the topic, if you have any prior conception about the subject at all. But Jesus in John is saying something much more basic--eternal life is not something you have to work hard to get. All you need is to put your trust in Christ.

Explore
The crowds in John are not seeking Jesus for the right reasons. They are looking to get their fill of earthly food. Jesus has a much more significant food to give and they are completely blind to it. How many of us do religious things for superficial reasons? How many people go to church to keep up appearances? Some may go for the business contacts. Still others try to keep up the appearance of looking like a good person so that others will praise them or to help them succeed at getting the things they really want. God wants us to look beyond the surface to the things that truly last, to trust in the permanent rather than the temporary.

Prayer
Jesus, drive us to look for nourishment that is deeper and more lasting than anything we can see with our eyes, spiritual nourishment that truly fills.

Sidebar
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

Sunday, August 18, 2013

8th Grade Biology Textbook

I was helping my son with his 8th grade biology homework tonight and came across this fun paragraph:

"Science aims to be objective, but scientists are humans too. They have likes, dislikes, and occasional biases.  So, it shouldn't surprise you to discover that scientific data can be misinterpreted or misapplied..."

I was fine with the paragraph so far.  Then the thrust of the paragraph changed.

"... by scientists who want to prove a particular point.  Recommendations made by scientists with personal biases may or may not be in the public interest.  But if enough of us understand science, we can help make certain that science is applied in ways that benefit humanity" (Miller & Levine, Indiana Biology, 14).

I thought to myself, "Gee, I'm sure glad we can depend on the scientifically astute Indiana legislature to sort out the personal biases of those stinkin' subjective scientists.  We would hate for them to hurt humanity with their so called 'scientific knowledge.'"  

P.S. Those last couple sentences should be read with the following tone.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

More Ross Hoffman Stories

Tomorrow afternoon is Ross' viewing in the sanctuary of College Wesleyan Church in Marion from 1-4.  Then the funeral is Monday there at 1pm.

I was trying to think of stories about Ross from the trip to Turkey that perhaps I hadn't shared, and I welcome Dave Ward and Keith Drury to add theirs here.  Ross and Karen went to Greece with Keith several years ago, so some may like to share stories from those adventures too.

Ross loved people.  The highlight of our trip for him was not so much the archaeological sites or following the path Paul took.  It made no sense to him--and may not make any sense to many of you--that Keith, Dave, and I wanted to follow the long path of Paul north from Antalya (Attalia) up the mountains to Antioch of Pisidia (Yalvach) only to come back down again the other side through mountains to Tarsus.  You see, Tarsus was only a few hours down the coast from Antalya.

Ross wasn't really too interested in mounds of dirt in the middle of fields--which is the current state of Colossae, Lystra, and Derbe, all places we visited.  What he cared about was the people.  Probably the highlight of the whole trip was having chai (tea) with Memesh and his wife near the mound of Lystra.


Memesh took us all over the site, exclaiming with distinct hand motions things that only Dave Ward seemed to understand.

In Cappadocia, we found a baklava place with another garrulous proprietor.  Ross was in his element and had a wonderful time talking to the owner, who was pretty good at English. I don't know how many different kinds of baklava we sampled, including spinach baklava.  I think most of us agreed that we would have been fine to stick with the "normal" kind. As we left, we remarked that we would have to remember where that place was if we ever came back.

Stay away from the green ones
Early in the trip, Ross was also quite struck by Troas, of all places (there are only tall weeds over random stone--although we did jump a fence to get in).  He wanted to put his feet in the water that Paul had crossed heading west to Greece.  It was a really special moment for him early in the trip.

Ross looking south toward Troas
I've mentioned how good Ross was at bargaining with hotel owners for our room rate. One of our best hotel experiences was at Hierapolis, where Ross skillfully maneuvered the owner into the cheaper rate for the more expensive rooms. We had a great dinner too.

Notice Ross desperately trying to connect to the internet on his iPad
waters flowing down from the natural springs of Hierapolis
There were also the fun personality differences on a trip like this one.  Ross is a planner.  In his perfect world, he would have known exactly where we were going to stay each night for the whole trip. Frankly, we had a couple nights of wasteful driving around (including one down a suspicious alley in Izmir) that no doubt justified the concern. By contrast, on these sorts of trips, Keith likes to see where we end up and find something on the spot.

The last morning, as we were driving to Istanbul, Ross was unusually quiet.  When we got to Istanbul, it was clear that finding parking and a hotel were the top items on his agenda. After we found parking, he disappeared for a few minutes with Dave only to return with his usual exuberant personality back in place. He had found an incredible hotel whose roof looked out on this--and at an unusually good price. :-)

Aya Sofya
Ross and I paired up to go through Hagia Sophia (above) together and he took lots of pictures. We paired up a couple times to see things Keith and Dave passed on.  We went through the terraced houses exhibit at Ephesus together.  I lent him a book on Roman engineering after we got back. After Hagia Sophia, Ross went to the palace in Istanbul alone--and took lots of pictures. 

Ross in Hagia Sophia
Here are some pictures that stood out to Ross in the palace:


Here are some other pictures he took:

Random wedding in the ruins of Sardis
Bag lady at the side of the road :-)
Here are some more great memories:

Just after arriving in Istanbul
Pergamum
Baptismal pool, Church of St. Mary, Ephesus
South of Troas
Out of order, Sardis
Library of Celsus, Ephesus
Lake Egedir
Great, great memories...

Spirit Birth (Devotional Entry)

A day from a devotional on "The Symbols of John" I'm trying to finish.  It's like the other six devotionals I've written down on the right (with 3 more already written and in the shoot on the Sermon on the Mount, Mark's Passion, and Jesus' parables).
________________________
Scripture Passage: John 3:1-8

Introduction
As the wine replaced the water, so Spirit birth is a more important birth than birth of water. We are born of water when we are born to our mothers. But we are born from above when we are born from the Spirit.

Engage
Jesus compares the person who has trusted in him to someone who has been born a second time with a spiritual birth. You will not gain eternal life, John is telling his audience, simply to be born an Israelite. As a teacher of Israel, Nicodemus should have known that. Since God is a Spirit, his true children are born of the Spirit. So also John’s audience needs to be born of the Spirit. If they believe that Jesus is the Christ, they can have eternal life (3:16). If they receive God’s Word come from above, God will give them the right to become the children of God (1:12). If they believe in the power of his name, they can have life in his name (20:31).

Examine
John may have a double meaning to his phrase, “born again,” a double entendre that we cannot translate very well into English. The word anōthen in Greek can mean “again,” but it can also mean “from above.” To be born of the Spirit is indeed to be born a second time, so it makes good sense to think Jesus is saying that Nicodemus needs to be born again. Yet at the same time, spirit is the stuff of heaven, where God dwells. God is a Spirit, as we will see in John 4. So to be born of the Spirit is to be born from above. John has put Jesus’ words in a way that would help his audience see both meanings.

Explore
The Spirit blows where he wants. In natural birth, it is easy to see who the parent is.  You knew a child was an Israelite child because you knew the parents. Spirit-birth is not like that. "God has no grandchildren," in that respect.  It is those who believe who experience birth from above, and earthly parentage is no certain indicator. Repeatedly, John urges us to believe that Jesus is God come to earth. John urges us to drink the wine of his blood and be born again. Where does the Spirit want to blow? He wants to blow into our lives. He wants to make us his children. He wants to give birth to a life in us that will never end.

Prayer
Spirit, blow into our lives today, whether to give us birth for the first time or to give us strength to face another day.

Sidebar
"Prevenient grace brings the first desire to please God, the first dawning of light about his will, and the first slight and passing conviction that we have sinned against him."
Paraphrase of John Wesley, "On Working out Our Salvation"

Friday, August 16, 2013

Early Christian Opposition 1

My study in Acts continues...
_______________
On the Day of Pentecost, prayer led to the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brought purity and power. The purity was the cleansing that came from sins being forgiven. The power was both the power to heal and perform miracles, yet also the power to witness to the resurrection with boldness.

Two other consequences quickly followed the expression of such power. First, many individuals came to believe in Jesus. But it will be no surprise that opposition also followed quickly...

But it was not until Stephen that a believer died for his or her faith. Stephen was one of the seven men that took leadership in the ministry to Greek-speaking (Hellenistic) Jews. In Acts, we never see him distributing food to widows, although he certainly may have done so. What we find him doing is presenting the gospel with power in the Greek-speaking synagogue of Jerusalem.

Why did Stephen's preaching end in his death, while the apostles' preaching did not?  Perhaps opposition to the good news about Jesus was stronger among the Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem. Maybe the way Stephen preached it was more offensive than that of Peter and the apostles. After all, even after Stephen was stoned to death, the apostles managed to stay in Jerusalem and continue their ministry (cf. 8:1). It is Philip and apparently the Greek-speaking evangelists who have to flee the city for their lives.

On the one hand, it is possible that Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem were more traditional in some ways than Aramaic speakers. After all, these are individuals who had moved to Jerusalem from far-away places. They may have valued Jerusalem and its traditions more than those who were born there and might easily have taken it for granted. [1] The apostle Paul may very well be a case in point.

But Stephen’s sermon also seems a little more edgy than Peter’s in some ways. For example, Peter and John worshiped at the temple. We have no record of them saying anything against it. Even almost thirty years later, the Jerusalem church still seemed to be fully engaged with the temple (Acts 21:23-26).

By contrast, the climax of Stephen’s sermon is the fact that God does not live in buildings made by hands (7:48). Something about the temple triggers Stephen's indictment of Jerusalem's leaders as "stiff-necked people" (7:51).  We remember Jesus throwing the money-changers out of the temple.  Stephen may be thinking of that event too, since it is here that he indicts the leaders for putting Jesus to death. Perhaps he is also hinting that the Jerusalem leaders were using the temple as an excuse to act unrighteously. [2]

Many have pointed out the similarities between Stephen's sermon and the New Testament book of Hebrews. Abraham living as a stranger in the land (Acts 7:6) reminds us of Hebrews 11:9. In fact, Stephen's whole sermon might remind us a little of Hebrews 11, the faith chapter that shows us the heroes of Israel as models of faith.

Acts 7 and Hebrews share in common the idea that the Law was mediated through angels (Acts 7:53; Heb. 2:2). They share an interest in the wilderness tabernacle. They share a sense that Moses followed a pattern when making it (Acts 7:44; Heb. 8:5). They share a sense that the earthly sanctuary, made by human hands, is inferior to heaven where God really dwells (Acts 7:48; Heb. 9:24).

These are fairly unique features among the sermons of Acts. One scholar went so far as to say that the author of Hebrews might have been a Hellenist like Stephen. [3] But it is more likely the other way around.  Acts is more likely portraying Stephen like the author of Hebrews, perhaps even with the sermon we call Hebrews in mind. Nevertheless, there must have been some similarity to spark the connection.

Those listening to Stephen go crazy.  They mob him, take him outside the city and stone him to death. Acts surely wants us to hear an echo of Jesus in Stephen's prayer not to hold it against them (cf. Luke 23:34). The apostle Paul is there too, although he was going by the name of Saul at the time. He apparently does not throw stones himself but he facilitates the event.

The good news, even though it is good, will always face opposition.  It will face opposition from those who are jealous of its success.  It will face opposition from those whose wrongdoing it indicts.

Of course "description is not prescription" in the portrayal of Acts.  Stephen is rather confrontative in his approach, and it got him killed. Just because Stephen was confrontative does not necessarily mean that we have to be. There is more than one way to present the good news, and Stephen's is not the only way. There is a time to confront wrongdoers, but it is also possible that some personalities enjoy doing it a little too much.

[1] I grew up three miles from the Atlantic Ocean, but mostly went to the beach when we had guests come to visit from up north. The guests could never understand how someone who lived so close to the ocean did not visit it all the time. I suspect that many of those who grow up near famous tourist sites could attest to the same dynamic.

[2] As in the days of Jeremiah, were they thinking God would protect Jerusalem, even if they lived unjustly (cf. Jer. 7:1-11)?

[3] William Manson, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Historical and Theological Reconsideration (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1951).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Dear Man: Ross Hoffman

A beloved brother in our church and university community passed away last night in a freak accident. My Turkey compatriot Ross Hoffman was working in a trench in his yard when the wall collapsed in on him.

Ross on far right
Ross was an ebullient sort of person. It's no coincidence that he served the university for a long time in development.  He loved people, was optimistic, and was the kind of guy who would stand faithfully with a person till the very end.

I think I first got to know Ross through some close friends of my parents, Marceil and Kenny Bostic. Marceil just passed away a couple weeks ago at 95.  To say she was a fan of Marion College (IWU's old name) is an understatement.  By the way, Terry Munday stood by her side from the time when she was a spunky woman calling all the shots till she had lost practically all her friends and strength to time.  She had long since gone from being a donor to a dear friend of his. He wasn't even working for the university any more, and he was taking care of her almost daily.

That's the kind of person Ross was too. They don't make development people like that any more. He had a natural optimism that was hard to bring down. President Barnes put him in charge of a think tank at IWU in the old days where he guided the discussion of the most strategic thinkers in the university to brainstorm its future course. In Turkey, we were reveling at the fact that this group wasn't on any organizational chart, that it had subordinates sometimes and not their superiors in the chain of command. It was, in other words, wonderfully lateral in nature, an embodiment of the kind of innovation and pragmatism that contributed to those years of immense success at IWU.  And Ross was right there at the center of it.

Then he had the idea of taking over Pro Prints, a business here in Marion that will make about any kind of sports gear, T-shirt, banner, etc.  When we were in Turkey, Ross was on Skype each night keeping a key project going... and of course talking to his wife, Karen, who was with their daughter Jolie and their new grandchild at the time. Again, he was the kind of guy who was willing to take a chance and throw everything into it to make it work, because he believed in it.

I didn't really know Ross very well, though, until we went to Turkey for 10 days. He had been trying to get Keith Drury to go for years, and I'm so glad it worked out. Ross and I were the internet junkies on the trip.  The night near Ephesus where he and I sat out in the motel hall with iPad and laptop to get internet reception was typical. It was a little one hall motel behind a gas station, with no where to park because of a wedding going on.

And Ross took pictures.  In fact sometimes he took pictures when I wasn't sure people would want their picture taken... women in carts, people at weddings, caves at Cappadocia with signs saying not to take pictures. :-)  We teased him when he thought our best bet for good directions to a hotel was "young, modern looking women."

And he was the connoisseur of getting a hotel room. Keith and Dave Ward forced me to go with him on more than one occasion so they could watch me squirm as Ross skillfully bargained with hotel managers over the cost of a room for the night. At Nicaea we went through about four hotels till Ross' showdown with an equally skillful manager who looked to be running all the shady business deals of the city.  We ended with a very reasonable rate at one of the best hotels along Lake Nicaea.

I especially enjoyed Ross talking about his discussions with his son Logan over theology.  Ross came from relatively conservative Baptist roots, I believe.  Meanwhile, Logan grew up Wesleyan here, studied ministry at IWU, and did his MDiv at Princeton. I could see they had great dialog together. Ross really appreciated Logan's insights and was even changed by them. It says something when a father can engage his son on such a deep level. Logan and his wife are ministering in New Zealand right now.

Pray for Logan, his sister Jolie, and of course Karen, Ross' wife. Pray for Jason Ewer too, who was in the trench with him when it collapsed. Jason was only covered to the waist and is okay.

It is the great mystery of life that you can be having a conversation with someone one moment, and they be gone the next.  The finality is jolting. It doesn't compute with our minds, the irreversibility of it.  So we cherish his memory down here and hope to see him again in eternity. It was a testament to how dear a soul Ross was that a cadre of dozens of people assembled at the hospital last night, long after he was gone.  He is already dearly missed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

History of the New Testament Text

I had a great time last night in Colorado Springs with the Passages exhibit that Steve Green of Hobby Lobby has been putting together over the last few years. The exhibit is truly breathtaking if you’re someone who likes the history of the Bible.

New additions this time included the microfiche of the Bible that went to the moon on Apollo 14 (they tried to get it there with Apollo 13. But as you know, they never made it down to the surface). They also have the original scribbled text of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which the woman who wrote it jotted down in the dark in the middle of the night. That is in addition to all the manuscripts and early printed Bibles. Amazing stuff if you’re a person like me.

And I got to talk about manuscripts to a popular audience that loves manuscripts. That’s gold for someone like me. I have to think that, as ancient manuscripts go, I have to be one of the more entertaining speakers. Some people laughed at my jokes… others looked like that old man at the wedding in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

In any case, something coalesced in my mind as I prepared for last night that, for some reason, had never really clicked for me about the most likely scenario for how the early manuscript traditions developed in the first few centuries. I’ve always glazed over at the mention of “Alexandrian,” “Western,” “Caesarean,” and “Byzantine” textual traditions. But here is my current “coalesced” understanding.

1. The Original Texts (the “Alexandrian” tradition)
The NT books were written at varying places and times. After their authors began to pass from the scene, they were shared within the network of early believers. This copying immediately introduced not only normal types of errors in copying but the dynamic I mention in #2 below. However, one strand of copying, often associated with the Egyptian city of Alexandria, was apparently more meticulous about preserving the text as it stood.

The two most famous manuscripts of this sort are Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, which perhaps date from the early 300s. Nevertheless, the basic reading of these manuscripts have more or less been corroborated by even more ancient papyri that have surfaced in the last century. In my mind, what confirms the more likely originality of this “tradition” is the fact that its readings more consistently correspond to the readings that seem more original when you apply common sense to the variations among all manuscripts. If its readings are more original, it is generally easier to account for how the other readings might have arisen in copying.

2. The “Western” Texts
Ancient texts were “oral documents.” Most people were illiterate in the ancient world and we can easily suspect that the vast majority of Christian assemblies in the year AD100 did not have a written copy of the Bible. The books were read aloud and almost certainly more recited than read from a scroll in the earliest days in most house churches.

The evidence suggests that the message of the biblical texts was far more the point of bringing Scripture into worship times than reading the precise original wording. The result is what I like to think of as the “Eugene Peterson effect.” That is to say, the text was paraphrased in the interest of communicating the message as clearly as possible. Textual scholars, somewhat derogatively, sometimes call this period of textual transmission in the early second century the “wild” period, but this betrays anachronistic values. The purpose was clarity in the message, like Eugene Peterson’s famous translation, The Message.

3. The Byzantine Tradition
After Christianity became a legal religion there was a movement toward standardization in the 300s and early 400s. It is in this period that we get the Trinity, the New Testament canon, the Vulgate in Latin and, arguably, the origins of the Byzantine tradition in Greek. This is the clean, standardized text that Christians would use in worship all the way to the late twentieth century.

4. The Modern, Eclectic Text
Although the Greek text used in all modern translations but the New KJV roughly coincide with the "Alexandrian" text, it is really an "eclectic" text in which the translators and editors have gone verse by verse, making decisions variation by variation.  It thus would have readings from all of the so called traditions above.

So there you have it… much clearer than I remember hearing it from Bob Lyon in Textual Criticism class in seminary. But then again, I was probably dozing off.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Religious Language and Misunderstanding

I don't know if I really understood where an anonymous commenter was coming from yesterday, but our exchange sparked some thoughts that were meaningful at least to me.  I believe that it can be very difficult for what I might call "evidentiary" thinkers and "religious" thinkers both to communicate and understand each other.

Wittgenstein, a mid-twentieth century philosopher, suggested that religious language was a special kind of language game, one that had an internal logic and coherence but did not really refer to supernatural realities at all.  That is to say, he didn't actually believe Christians were talking about God as a real being outside ourselves.  He believed that this language worked for Christians whether there was an actual God or not.  A key indication of this claim to him was his sense that no amount of evidence would be sufficient to convince a religious thinker that his or her core religious beliefs were false.

I don't fully agree with Wittgenstein, but he may have captured an element of truth.  It may very well be the case that many Christians use religious language at least  partially in this way.  I have observed, for example, that some Christians--even pastors--pray in a way that sounds more like they are talking to the congregation or themselves rather than to some Being with an objective existence beyond the church walls. And some people talk of belief in God as if it were a matter of personal choice rather than something that is either true or false.

I'm calling this way of thinking "religious thinking."  It is leans heavily toward a non-evidence or non-referential type of thinking that is largely non-falsifiable on the basis of external evidence or attack.  A lot of political thinking is of this sort too, especially when it comes to a rabid Democrat or Republican. Their ideas are not about what can be demonstrated, but data is used to reinforce what is already believed.

Evidentiary thinking, in this context, is thinking that can be modified on the basis of engagement with the data of the external world.  Ideas can be measured against the "real world," including whether a set of ideas seems to work in predicting outcomes or whether excuses and rationalizations regularly have to be made.

Religious thinking often involves a set of interpretations of scriptural texts.  These interpretations may have little relationship to the actual meaning of those texts, but nevertheless function within the overall language system of the group in question.  They have an internal logic rather than a referential one.

In the contemporary church, you may find evidentiary thinkers and religious thinkers sitting next to each other in the pew.  The evidentiary thinkers may find it very difficult to figure out what is going on or what exactly the preacher is saying.  The pastor may be using words in a way that is quite difficult for them to penetrate, like the sermon is speaking a foreign language (of which "Christianese" is a part). Meanwhile, the religious thinker may think the evidentiary thinker lacks spiritual depth, is like the seed that fell on the path and was snatched by the birds, or is even predestined to be damned.

An evidentiary thinker completely outside a religion may find its adherents unintelligible (e.g., Richard Dawkins).  Such individuals can speak condescendingly to the religious, completely unaware of the profound way in which religious language functions within a religious community. Unaware of their own assumptions, such individuals ignorantly try to throw a mountain of data at the religious, like the person that stupidly tries to communicate to a foreign speaker by shouting louder in English.

The only way to communicate to a religious thinker is to enter into his or her own language game, just as the only way to communicate to an evidentiary thinker is to speak the language of evidence. The most effective way to change a faulty religious language is to enter it and set it upon itself by demonstrating incoherence. The most effective way to change an evidentiary thinker is either to provide counter-evidence or uncover unexamined assumptions (such as the untenable assumption that anyone can evaluate evidence objectively).

But as it is, these two types of thinkers more often than not just talk past each other.  Of course, religious thinkers from differing "religions" also talk past each other.  We see this dynamic in the lead up to every presidential election...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Are the Ancient Manuscripts of Acts Reliable?

Delighted to give a presentation on Tuesday night at Passages in Colorado Springs.  Most of the paper is really on which manuscripts of Acts are most reliable.  If you're in Colorado Springs and don't have anything to do Tuesday night at 7pm...

Here's the paper's train of thought.

1. Nothing to worry about
  • Despite the sensationalism of some like Bart Ehrman, even he isn't really too worried about whether we pretty much know what the original text of the New Testament actually said.
  • I'll review the basics of our situation in regard to manuscripts
2. Better question - Which textual tradition is more reliable?
  • The one in all our Bibles ("Alexandrian" text)
  • One that is 10% longer, the so called Western text?  It's not really in any translation out there, so everyone can relax.  KJV and NIV fans alike will pretty much be on the same page on this one--the Alexandrian one.
3. The most famous variation - Acts 8:37
  • Not in modern translations, not because some conspiracy to take it out but because it isn't in the "oldest and most reliable" manuscripts.  In this regard, the NIV is based on manuscripts that are about 700 years older than the KJV used (Actually, it wasn't even in the text of the manuscripts Erasmus used to compile the Greek behind the KJV.  It was in the margin of one of them and Erasmus figured some copyist had carelessly omitted it). 
  • Best explanation is that it was added out of the sense that the Ethiopian eunuch would have made some verbal confession of faith at his baptism.
4. Lesser known Western interpolations
  • Omission of "strangling" and addition of the Golden Rule in Acts 15 to the list of things the Gentiles need to do.  In general, some (clearly Gentile) reviser has universalized what was originally a list about table fellowship between Jew and Gentile believer.  Big clue.
  • Addition of details about Paul's detainment at Caesarea in Acts 25.  This material further exonerates Paul and perhaps added details of Paul's legal process that seemed reasonable to the copyist.
5. Where does the "Western" tradition come from?
  • Some variations are like all the variations in the New Testament.  There was some freedom felt in the earliest church to clarify the biblical texts when copying them.  We can make sense of this phenomenon in that these were "oral texts," texts meant to be read aloud to Christian assemblies in worship. In some contexts, the goal was apparently more clarity than preservation of exact wording.  The Bible was God's living word, not an artifact. I do this sometimes when I am reading the Bible to my children, paraphrasing the text to help them understand. Eugene Peterson did this on a much more extensive scale than we are talking about here in The Message.
  • The text of Acts has a strand of revisions that are unlike what we have in relation to any other NT book.  One explanation is a very educated, early second century, Gentile reviser who clarified the text somewhere on a quite significant scale. This position is at least superior to the alternatives: 1) that Luke made two versions (Leclerc at first, Blass, Strange) or 2) that the Western text was original and the Alexandrian a shortened version (e.g., Clark).
  • Finally, the most significant manuscript of the Western tradition, Codex Bezae, may have added another layer of variations that were particular to it and passed on from it.  Bezae dates to around AD500.
6. Conclusion
I put a lot of faith in scholarly consensus, especially those that have stood for as long as this one has. The consensus is at least that the Western is not original. We should welcome the occasional outlier like W. A. Strange to keep us honest.  But usually these consensuses hold.  For further reading, see Peter Head's excellent treatment of this issue. The current majority probably does not see a single editor for the second bullet...

I might add that working on this paper confirmed in my mind that my own church, The Wesleyan Church, might be intentional about guiding a small cadre of biblical and theological students to be our "reference works" in Bible, theology, and church history.  These would be individuals "on call" when we get into contemporary issues.  For example, when my denomination looks at issues like divorce or alcohol or homosexuality, we really need experts in Scripture, theology, and church history as part of the input. 

The number we need of such scholars is relatively small.  There is a sizable minority of individuals whose personalities are interested in these areas but who are not necessarily gifted in them.  Thus the benefit of coaching a few who are truly gifted (and objective) with the mechanics, yet who are also Spirit-filled and local church loving.

But we do need a few, a small number, that are actually experts in Greek, Hebrew, textual criticism, critical scholarship, the history of interpretation, contemporary theology, historical theology, philosophical theology. We need them on retainer for when we are talking doctrine and ethics as a denomination. None of our schools is in a position to train scholars on this level or are likely to be so for the foreseeable future.

Where are good places for this very small number to train?  I continue to think that the British schools are quite good and faith-friendly, places like St. Andrews, Edinburgh, King's College-London, Durham... We have a Nazarene connection in Manchester.  Asbury now has a PhD in Biblical Studies. Duke will do, although it's not really training so much these days in historical exegesis.

Something at least someone should be thinking about, I think...