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.

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.

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

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 ( 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 ( 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

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.