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Friday, February 16, 2007

"sons of God" poll

(UPDATE: I have removed this poll from the blog. I confess to feeling frustrated that I have not been able to word the poll adequately to do a decent field test for the words "sons of God." I will leave up this post and anyone is welcome to continuing discussing the poll and the words "sons of God," however you wish to discuss them--no limits this time from me about how you "normally understand English that is spoken or written." If you have suggestions for how the poll could have been worded better, I would very much appreciate that. Feel free to comment on anything else that could have been improved about the poll. If we, together, can come up with a better way to word the poll, that would be good and I can put up a revised poll. Thank you to each of you who answered the poll so far.)

There is a new poll in the right margin of this blog. It is green and is introduced by these words:
As I normally understand English that is spoken or written, I would understand the words "sons of God" in some translations of Matt. 5:9 to refer to:
Please note the words "As I normally understand English that is spoken or written." These words are key to how anyone should respond in this poll. Think of it this way: In your everyday, normal English, what does the word "sons" mean to you? Does it only refer to males, or can it include females, as well. For instance, if you have several children, let's say, two girls and one boy, can you address them all by calling them "sons"?

Our normal, everyday, ordinary understanding of English should be the same as how we understand the longer phrase "sons of God," other than that whatever "sons" means to you would reference God as parent, rather than someone else, such as yourself. Our understanding of the word "sons" should not, as far as I know, be affected by the fact that we are testing a phrase from translation of a verse from the Bible. English Bible versions are written in English, which, we would assume, is the same English language that we understand in our language encounters outside of the Bible.

So, if you answer that the word "sons of God" only means to you "male believers" you are answering that the English word "sons" only refers to male offspring of someone. If you answer that "sons of God" refers to both male and female believers, then you are stating that for you the English word "sons" includes both male and female children.

If for some of you the word "sons" changes meaning when we add the prepositional phrase "of God" to it, that is a very important linguistic phenomenon, and we want to know about it. If this is the case for you, please do state that in Comments to this post. If you can, please give us some background information, explaining how the word "sons" changes meaning for you. Perhaps you can tell who taught you that the word "sons" can change meaning. Any kind of background information like that would be most interesting as we study both the biblical languages and English to try to find out the most appropriate (including accurate) ways to translate biblical language words to English.

There are no right or wrong answers in this poll. Feel free to answer honestly as you understand the word "sons" and its meaning in the phrase "sons of God."

We can deal in another post whether or not the English word "sons" is an appropriate translation for the Greek word huioi of Matt. 5:9. That is not the issue in this poll. In this poll we are only testing what "sons of God" means to you, as you understand the English language.

If you believe that there is anything flawed about how the poll is worded, please note that in the Comments to this post also. I always want to improve my polls.

21 Comments:

At Thu Feb 15, 07:54:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

I'm sorry, Wayne, but I just cannot answer the question. To me, sons of God means what it means - nothing more, nothing less. The question of whether it not the phrase is inclusive to women pales in moments against the larger question of what it means to be a son of God. Is one a son by decision, or by destiny? Is one a son by works (of peacemaking) or without them?

I grew up on the KJV, so I am used to "children" in that verse, and I don't know why anyone would substitute "sons," but whatever. It takes two seconds to figure out that women are included, and years to answer the other questions.

 
At Thu Feb 15, 09:37:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, this would have been better if you had included some context. Without the context we have to rely on either our memory of the rest of this verse in other versions or else look it up, probably in a translation. And since most versions have "children of God", by remembering or looking up this version our understanding is affected.

I also wanted to give an "other" answer, but there is no such alternative. The wider context is "they shall be called sons of God", or something similar. Now it is clear to me that "they" is male and female peacemakers, who are I suppose assumed to be believers. But "sons of God" is a name that they will be called, not a reference to any people; unless of course it is understood as a reference to Jesus, i.e. he is saying "you will be called by the same name that I am". Perhaps I should have answered that "sons of God" doesn't "refer" to anyone at all.

 
At Thu Feb 15, 10:39:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Codepoke wrote:

I'm sorry, Wayne, but I just cannot answer the question. To me, sons of God means what it means - nothing more, nothing less.

I wish I knew what meaning that is for you, sir, but I cannot. Would you be willing to tell me? I really would like to know what the phrase means for people.

 
At Thu Feb 15, 10:46:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter wrote:

Wayne, this would have been better if you had included some context.

I tried to Peter, but the polling service allowed me only a certain number of letters to put in each box. It cut me off when I went over the limit, so I had to make the introduction shorter than I wanted. But I put the reference in so that anyone could check the context in any Bible that they want. In this case, it's perfectly fine for someone to check the context in an English Bible. It's also fine for anyone to look up the verse in the Greek N.T.

I simply would like to know what meaning people get for "sons of God" in this verse. And it really doesn't matter whether the phrase is in context or not, for the purposes of this poll. I actually could have simply asked: "What does the word "sons" mean to you, as you normally speak and write English?" That is the same answer I'm trying to get with this poll, except that here I've added "of God".

I suspected that some people might want to answer "Other" but for this poll I decided that that could distort the responses. I'm hoping that people can answer based on the answer that comes closest to the meaning they get for the test phrase.

It's really not meant to be a difficult poll at all. Someone who has never been to church or never read the Bible should be able to guess at one of the meanings given in the list of poll options. This poll does not require any prior knowledge of the Bible.

Gotta quit. I need some sleep. We leave in the morning too fly to a conference in Kansas. Maybe we'll see the yellow brick road and the Wizard of Oz! :-)

 
At Fri Feb 16, 06:05:00 AM, Blogger Rey said...

It's a toughy since there's several answers.

To me, Sons in Everyday English means males. So if I carried that over it would be Males of God--but contextually that doesn't vibe with me.

I can't even say that it's All Believers because it doesn't sound like a statement of belief rather of action in direct relation peacemaking.

In Matt 2:9 I read it more as Like-Minded (with God) Administrators of God's Kingdom.

 
At Fri Feb 16, 06:28:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

So, lets apply the same 'logic' to something else and see if it stands up.
Mat 8: 20 refers to 'Son of man', by applying your logic that the words are to be considered on there own and not as a phrase this would make Jesus 'just' the son of a man and in so doing rob the text of its actual meaning.
Also the concept that the Bible should be 'easy' to understand, as a guideline to translation, doesn't match up with what we are told in the Scriptures themselves.
Apostle Peter clearly states that some of what the Apostle Paul wrote was "... hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures."
Nothing there about simplifying what was written.
In fact here is a challenge for you Wayne, show me in Scripture where it says that we should aim to simplify the Word so as to make it instantly understandable to anyone who picks up the Word and I will concede your point.
If you cannot then maybe, just maybe, you should consider changing your approach.

 
At Fri Feb 16, 07:16:00 AM, Blogger Rey said...

I don't think Wayne was suggesting that Sons of God is going to get one blanket definition everytime its used because he specifically specified one text else he would have had Angels up on that list too.

 
At Fri Feb 16, 08:11:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Glenn commented:

Also the concept that the Bible should be 'easy' to understand, as a guideline to translation, doesn't match up with what we are told in the Scriptures themselves.
Apostle Peter clearly states that some of what the Apostle Paul wrote was "... hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures."
Nothing there about simplifying what was written.


Glenn, I have said nothing about the Bible being easy to understand either in the original or in translation. The Bible has many things which are difficult to understand, when when we look at them, most of them are conceptual not linguistic. The words and syntax, however, can be expressed in translation just as clearly (no more, no less) as it was in the original biblical language texts.

Here's an example:

"That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels." (1 Cor. 11:10; RSV)

That happens to be a fairly literal translation of the Greek text. It is also linguistically clear. The words are commonly used by English speakers and the syntax is natural English syntax. When we read that verse we don't have to ask what the words or syntax mean. BUT none of us knows for sure what the words "because of the angels" is referring to. We don't know what concept Paul is talking about. It is that kind of difficulty that Peter refers to when he writes that there are things in Paul's writings which are difficult to understand.

You continued:

In fact here is a challenge for you Wayne, show me in Scripture where it says that we should aim to simplify the Word so as to make it instantly understandable to anyone who picks up the Word and I will concede your point.

I am glad to accept your challenge, Glenn. And I find no place in Scripture which says that we should simplify it for any reason, including to make it instantly understandable. Nor have I claimed that this is what we should do in translation. I'm sorry that I wasn't clearer in my own writing in my post so that that could be understood better.

Again, I am *only* talking about linguistic clarity in translation being no more and no less than linguistic clarity in the original biblical texts. I am *not* talking about conceptual clarity, nor am I claiming that the original texts were always even linguistically clear. I am just advocating that our translations of those texts not be obscure or more difficult to understand because we have not translated them using standard English words, syntax, and word combinations.

If you cannot then maybe, just maybe, you should consider changing your approach.

Again, I would like to leave us with the challenge to translate using the kind of language which Jesus used when he spoke to people. He is my example when it comes to how to use language to communicate. Even in his parables, which people could not understand *conceptually*, Jesus used ordinary, everyday words and syntax.

OK?

 
At Fri Feb 16, 11:42:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Fri Feb 16, 11:47:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Fri Feb 16, 11:54:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

I don't understand the restriction to "believers" in three of your answers. If, as you state above in response to Mr. Kirk, you are interested in the phrase aside from the specific contest of the Sermon on the Mount, then I would think that each person, having been created in the Divine Image, and having had spirit breathed into him by God, is a "Child of God", regardless of religion.

Do you consider my reading beyond the pale? (Pun intended, in the sense of palus)

 
At Fri Feb 16, 08:16:00 PM, Blogger codepoke said...

Curse lost comments.

I'm not retyping it. It was pretty useless anyway.

Bottom line:
My opinion of the meaning of that verse is not going to help you decide what the best common interpretation of that Greek word might be. A) My grammar is pretty non-standard, so I'm a poor sample. B) The difference is not significant.

The law of diminishing returns says that once things get simple enough, making them simpler is not going to help. I think we all "get" sons of God. I agree that it should be children of God, but we get it. The hard part is figuring out the questions I asked before.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 07:48:00 AM, Blogger Dave said...

Wayne, I didn't see anything wrong with the original poll. It's a simple question. Interpretation of the poll answers or the theological content of that interpretation is irrelevant to the clarity of the question.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 01:08:00 PM, Blogger Glennsp said...

I think the main problem was that it was so very obvious in your post that you were trying to make sure that the only answer to give was the one you wanted.
Hence your post became very convoluted trying to cover all the bases and therefore very obvious as to its intent.
It should therefore be no surprise that the poll failed and had to be withdrawn.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 02:28:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Glenn wrote:

Mat 8: 20 refers to 'Son of man', by applying your logic that the words are to be considered on there own and not as a phrase this would make Jesus 'just' the son of a man and in so doing rob the text of its actual meaning.

No, not by my logic, Glenn. There are several reasons why not:

1. Since you capitalized "Son", I assume that you are referring to the title Jesus used for himself. That is a title which was first found in the book of Daniel and then Jesus applied it to himself. We do not know the meaning of that title, with certainty, so many people feel that it is best left untranslated, except for translating the individual words in the prepositional phrase.

2. The name is "Son of Man" which is a different linguistic construction from "sons of God." In "sons of God" the first word is plural, rather than singular. And the parent is God, a specific entity. "Son of Man" is also different in that it is using the word "man" very differently from if Jesus called himself "Son of a man." The latter would mean that Jesus had a human father but there are several Bible passages that state that he did not (I believe those passages to be true).

There is in the Hebrew language a common noun phrase which is often translated as "son of man" and in the plural "sons of men". These refer, respectively, to 'a person' and 'persons.' It is very important to note that these are common nouns, not proper nouns or titles. We do know what these phrases mean in Hebrew, so they can be accurately translated to English. We do not know for sure what the title "Son of Man" meant in Hebrew, so we do not know for sure how to translate it to English.

OK?

 
At Sat Feb 17, 02:37:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Glenn wrote:

I think the main problem was that it was so very obvious in your post that you were trying to make sure that the only answer to give was the one you wanted.

Actually, Glenn, I wasn't trying to get only one answer. I was trying to find out what understanding people have of the phrase "sons of God." I very much want to know if people understand it to include females, as they normally speak English. Where my poll was flawed is that I did not do an adequate job of helping anyone who has different meanings for "sons of God," one for Bible contexts and one for other contexts, give their answer for each one. And as you pointed out, my attempt to clarify that in my post came across as convoluted, so it was better to delete the poll than continue to use a flawed poll.

Would you (or others reading this) have ideas for how I might more accurately test what meanings people have for the phrase "sons of God"?

Do you think, for instance, that it would help to provide different contexts for the term, where the context might influence the meaning for some people.

Thanks for any help you can give.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 02:44:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anonymous asked:

Do you consider my reading beyond the pale?

No, I don't, Anon. As I stated in my post, there are no right or wrong answers. My poll was simply flawed. I tried hard to word it to avoid problems that some of my other polls have had but I was unsuccessful. I'm willing to try again, but I am going to have to do even more thinking about it to make it a better poll. And I am about out of ideas to improve it, having thought a great deal before I posted that version of the poll. I would really welcome input from blog visitors how the poll could be improved to find out if some people understand the word "sons" to include females, and, if they do, in what particular contexts.

Several people began answering the poll indicating that they had a gender-inclusive meaning for the phras "sons of God" but my poll was not worded clearly enough to satisfy me that the answers were based on how people "normally speak and write English." I further confused the poll by including the biblical context which could tilt many people toward a biblical meaning of the phrase rather than toward the meaning they might have as they normally speak and write English.

So the poll was flawed, as written, and needs to be redone before it is posted again.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 02:46:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Rey wrote:

It's a toughy since there's several answers.

To me, Sons in Everyday English means males. So if I carried that over it would be Males of God--but contextually that doesn't vibe with me.

I can't even say that it's All Believers because it doesn't sound like a statement of belief rather of action in direct relation peacemaking.

In Matt 2:9 I read it more as Like-Minded (with God) Administrators of God's Kingdom.


Thanks, Rey. You have just given additional reasons why the poll, as written, was flawed. I will continue trying to think of a better way to word the poll and I hope that others will give ideas which will help there be a better worded poll.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 04:23:00 PM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Wayne, I would suggest that you cannot remove the phrase 'Sons of God' from its biblical context and that to try and do so is artificial.

 
At Sat Feb 17, 08:31:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Glenn responded:

Wayne, I would suggest that you cannot remove the phrase 'Sons of God' from its biblical context and that to try and do so is artificial.

Please explain further what you mean, Glenn. The Greek phrase huioi theou of Matt. 5:9 was used by Greek speakers and authors before it appeared in the Bible. It had a meaning before it appeared in the Bible. Are you suggesting that it changed its meaning when it appeared in the Bible?

 
At Sun Feb 18, 05:35:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Yes I am, or rather I am saying that in the context of the Bible it has a specific meaning.

 

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