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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is the meaning in the words?

At the end of a truly hectic January, in which I had deadlines for five papers, attended a conference in Chicago, and started as an Alameda County Planning Commissioner, I was asked by the interim pastor at last Thursday’s board meeting to consider being available to preach this coming Sunday. He’s in over his head, too, because he just finished candidating to become our permanent pastor — we called him on Saturday with a more than 90% vote of the congregation — and then Monday morning he took off to attend the denomination’s Midwinter Conference, where he will stay the week and take a class, and then may need to go on to Pennsylvania and visit a member of the congregation who is at her dying father’s bedside with her husband.

The passage that is up is I John 3:11-24. Not a passage for the faint of heart.
11This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. [NIV]

Going to the Greek doesn’t help. John is in a stream of consciousness mode and he’s speaking in the kind of extreme terms that Jesus did when He said things like this:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mat. 5:20-22 [NIV])
We run off looking for how to turn such statements into rules and miss the point that this is ultimately about us becoming more like God by spending time with Him, how important it is to do that, and how impossible to live any other way. But that’s the sermon.

Anyway as I began to think about this, I picked up a book by A. W. Tozer which I have found quite helpful when I ponder things in Scripture that don’t yield well to linear western thinking — The Knowledge of the Holy — and I ran across this passage:
For our soul’s sake we must learn to understand the Scriptures. We must escape the slavery of words and give loyal adherence to meanings instead. Words should express ideas, not originate them. We say that God is love; we say that God is light; we say that Christ is truth; and we mean the words to be understood in much the same way that words are understood when we say of a man, “He is kindness itself.” By so saying we are not stating that kindness and the man are identical, and no one understands our words in that sense. (p. 98, emphasis mine)
You may not believe us here at Better Bibles when we say that it’s the meanings that are important and that the words are only tools to get to the meanings. But will you believe A. W. Tozer when he says the same thing?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Neophyte's Serendipity

David is tempting me to have some fun, to lighten up a little. Here is a little puzzler in biblish or greekish and latinish.

1. Eleemosynary deeds have their incipience intramurally.

2. Male cadavers are incapable of yielding any testimony.

3. Deviation from the established moral code is the cachet of mere mortals, whereas absolution is numinous.

4. Dedication to necessitous chores without interludes of hedonistic diversion renders John a hebetudinous fellow.

5. Opting on the part of mendicants must be interdicted.

6. Eschew the implement of correction and vitiate the scion.

7. Pulchritude possesses solely cutaneous profundity.

8. The stylus is more potent than the claymore.

9. An individual with moronic proclivities and his pecuniary resources are disassociated with proclivity.

10. Refrain from truncating your rhinal protuberance out of malicious pique with your physiognomy.

Okay, that's enough for tonight.

The Best Bible?

Eddie passes on this story, originally from William Barclay which accounts for the dated choice of versions, but the principle still applies:

Four clergymen were discussing the merits of the various translations of the Bible. One liked the King James Version because of its simple, beautiful English. Another liked the American Standard Version best because it comes closer to the original Hebrew and Greek. The third liked Moffatt’s translation best because of its up-to-date words.

The fourth clergyman was silent. When asked to express his opinion, he replied, “I liked my mother’s translation best.” The other three expressed surprise and wanted to know what he meant. “Well,” he explained, “my mother translated the Bible into her everyday life, and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw.”

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More power, more danger

In general I like technology. I love being able to google into books that I have read and find a quote. It's fantastic and saves one heck of a lot of page-turning. But, the point is I DID READ THE BOOK. [Hey you! Stop shouting.] Okay, okay, I will. But shh, let me just tell the story.

The other day, on another blog, I was writing about the difference between ἡ ἀρχή and ὁ ἄρχων, suggesting that κεφαλή might be the former, but not the latter. However, I did not use the accents. [That's right, you used to think they weren't all that important, remember?] Okay, I admit that. I was wrong.

Anyway ... someone challenged me, and responded,

    Regarding the previous comment on the difference between αρχη/arche and αρχων/archon, they are indeeed the same word, only different forms. arche is the nominative singular (used as the subject), while archon is the genitive plural (possesive). Example usage would be something like this:

    Nominative singular: The ruler/αρχη/arche wrote me a speeding ticket.

    Genitive plural: The ability to create laws is the prerogative of the rulers/αρχων/archon.

Now, it happens that the genitive plural of ἡ ἀρχή is, in fact, τῶν ἀρχῶν while the genitive of ὁ ἄρχων is τῶν ἀρχόντων. So, you know, this is a very understandable error, right.

Well, I went and got my handy, dandy Greek primer and found that the article is taught in lesson 2, 2nd week of September, ἡ ἀρχή in lesson 3 and ὁ ἄρχων in lesson 13, which would still slip in before Christmas. Let's not talk about the fact that the "ruler" writing the speeding ticket was a female. [And when were female nouns taught in your Primer?] Lesson 3! ἡ ἀρχή is the prototypical, first ever, female noun taught in Greek.

Now, what I want to know is whether open access to software is causing more good or more harm.

I know, I love technological advances. In spite of all the problems with Google Books, when searching for a familiar quote in a book that I have read, I will take a book down off the shelf, google it, find the page by "searching contents" and then find the page in the real book.

Anyway, the upshot was that this debate was supposed to provide evidence that man is the authority over woman. The commenter really thought that the scriptures were saying that man is ὁ ἄρχων of woman, while I happily agreed that in the scriptures man is very possibly ἡ ἀρχή of woman. In other words, κεφαλή could be similar to ἡ ἀρχή but not ὁ ἄρχων. And, no, they are not the same word!

Well, all this because I followed a few links from this post and found graded word lists for learning Greek through software. I decided that I wanted to increase my fluency in Hebrew so I signed up for a course in the old fashioned way. Real people, real books, all that stuff, real literature, reading Psalms in Hebrew. I have a very mixed reaction to technology. I absolutely love it when it works for me, and I don't want to give up one iota of it. However, more power, more danger. It worries me sometimes.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Implied Information ?

I accidentally posted here and then removed it. It's on my bookshelf blog. Here is nice little puzzle instead. Psalm 84:5,
    Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    (A) in whose heart are the highways to Zion. (a)

    (a) Hebrew lacks to Zion ESV

    Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee;
    in whose heart are the ways of them. KJV

    Happy is the man who finds refuge in you,
    whose mind is on the [pilgrim] highways. JPS
There are some nice little puzzles to ponder. What did the ESV do with the "man? Why did they add "to Zion?" Why did JPS add "pilgrim?" These are not in the text.

Is it "heart" or "mind?" And "strength" or "refuge," "happy" or "blessed?" These are all literal translations. And I guess I have to ask if "those" which is plural, can have only one "heart?" - look at the ESV. Lots of questions here and I have probably missed some.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How does iron sharpen iron?

All 13 of the English Bible versions I have open in my Bible study program speak of iron sharpening iron in Proverbs 27:17. These versions include formally equivalent ones such as the NASB, essentially literal ones such as the ESV, and more idiomatic (dynamically equivalent) versions such as the NLT, TEV, and CEV.

English speakers commonly use the phrase "iron sharpens iron" to refer to the good affect one person can have on another.

But have you ever stopped to wonder what kind of iron is referred to in Prov. 27:17? It can't be iron ore, since there is nothing about the ore which is sharp. At least one of the kinds of iron referred to in this verse must be able to be sharpened. And some kind of iron must be able to sharpen it.

To me, none of the English versions I have consulted adequately express the action of iron on iron that is referred to in the Hebrew Bible. Note what the UBS Handbook on Proverbs says about the phrase "iron sharpens iron":
This line expresses the common human experience that a knife or other iron tool can be sharpened by using a file or some other iron tool.
Now that makes sense to me. How might a translation of the Hebrew of Prov. 27:17 be worded so that it more accurately and clearly communicates what the author of this verse was referring to? Or am I the only one who doesn't picture an iron sharpening tool sharpening some other iron tool when I hear the words "as iron sharpens iron"?

I'm looking forward to being sharpened by you, as we interact with each other in our comments.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Books of the Bible: TNIV

Here is a nice post about The Books of the Bible. I especially appreciated this comment.
    I remember one of my professors, Bill Murray (who had doctorates in both Greek and Hebrew) telling us about how most of the people who had issues with the TNIV had little or no understanding of Greek or Hebrew. From what I understood from him (i could be completely misrepresenting him), its not too different from the NIV, it even clears up a few things that the NIV chokes on, and, if its of any interest, he made it clear that he thinks the NIV is a superior translation of the Hebrew than most of the other mainstream translations (NASB/ESV).

    The bigger point that I was trying to make there is that there was a fairly large controversy surrounding the tNIV, but there weren’t many language scholars involved in the debate. Otherwise, though, this seems like a cool idea. If I had nine dollars to spend, i’d get one right now.

Its just a comment thrown into the blogosphere, hardly fair to copy it but I have. Does anyone know who the Bill Murray is that he is referring to?

The Bible in its Traditions

I don't always read Jim West's blog because he is apt to come up with some some very disturbing notions for my tender female soul. For example, he recently informed us that dogs don't go to heaven. I wanted to ask, "How do you know?" as I ruffled my pets' silky fur and velvet nose. In any case, that is my excuse for missing out on reading about this project.

This is something that I will most certainly want to follow. The Ecole Biblique de Jérusalem has a project called "The Bible in its Traditions." Here is some of what it entails.
    Our leading idea is to enable the reader to read the Biblical text along with the history of its reception. Behind this is our awareness of the importance of the role of the reader in determining the meaning of textsa role that has been much emphasized in recent hermeneutical reflection and literary criticism.

    The page itself is meant to show three things that are new to the Jerusalem Bible: First, the irreducibility of several versions of the same book (or of the same passage of a book); second, a greater awareness of the literary meaning of Biblical texts, besides their plain historical or doctrinal meaning; third, the new importance given to reception history in literary studiesthis matches up with the rediscovery of patristic commentaries in exegesis. As in earlier forms of the Jerusalem Bible, the new edition will also situate the Biblical text in its ancient context or contexts.

    In brief, we aim at producing a study edition of the Catholic Bible targeting a scripturally educated public. It will present the texts themselves in their diversity, framed by an enriched annotation divided into three main registers.

    1. The first, ‘Text’, will include all the notes dealing with the linguistic and literary description of the text, from points in textual criticism to more literary remarks.

    2. ‘Contexts’ will group notes dealing with archaeology, history, geography, realia or texts of the ancient world and cultures, relevant to the production of a Biblical text.

    3. ‘Reception’ will be the largest zone of annotation; it is to comprise the most important readings of the text throughout history, starting from intertextual echoes in parallel texts (in the canonical Bible, in Jewish tradition, or in aprocryphal works), and continuing to some of the most important readings, including the Church Fathers, medieval Latin and Orthodox theologians, Syriac and other Oriental writers and Protestant Reformers.

    4. The top left corner of each page will present the reading proposed by the exegetes in charge of the book as a result of all preceding notes.

    We envisage two forms of publication, one on paper, the other online. Obviously the latter makes available possibilities of presentation and consultation that cannot be envisaged with traditional means of publication.

Jim has posted an update here. I am sure this is old news but just in case you haven't seen it yet.... It sounds as if it will be the definitive annotated text. This is indeed what we have been looking for.

Friday, January 18, 2008

BLB Translation Glimpses

I’ve recently published Glimpses into the Translation of The Better Life Bible, which is a compilation of the Translation Glimpses from my monthly newsletter during the seven-year translation process. This 42 page booklet (8.5 x 11) provides insight into how I translated more than 30 terms, including:

Eternal Life
Kingdom of God
Son of God
Son of Man

It also provides insight into nearly 30 other aspects of translation, including:

Adapting the translation to a particular audience
Focus and flow
Sacrifice and martyrdom in Jesus’ day

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NET Bible blog

The NET Bible website got a new look about the same time that we got a new year. There are several new blogs now as part of the updated website. Visitors to the BBB will want to visit the NET Bible blog hosted by Dr. Hall Harris, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and Project Director and Managing Editor for the NET Bible. Hall has already had several interesting posts since his blog was born:

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Weaker Vessel

I had more than one response to the post on the weaker vessel. It certainly can be taken in different ways. Let's look more closely. 1 Peter 3:7,
    οἱ ἄνδρες ὁμοίως
    συνοικοῦντες κατὰ γνῶσιν
    ὡς ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει τῷ γυναικείῳ ἀπονέμοντες τιμήν
    ὡς καὶ συγκληρονόμοις χάριτος ζωῆς
    εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐγκόπτεσθαι τὰς προσευχὰς ὑμῶν

    Likewise, ye husbands,
    dwell with them according to knowledge,
    giving honour unto the wife,
    as unto the weaker vessel,
    and as being heirs together of the grace of life;
    that your prayers be not hindered.

    Likewise, husbands,
    live with your wives in an understanding way,
    showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel,
    since they are heirs with you of the grace of life,
    so that your prayers may not be hindered.
I don't personally find these two translations all that different. The KJV is definitely more literal. "Give honour to the wife as to the weaker vessel." The preposition is left out in the ESV. Does it make a difference?

There have been times when this was interpreted to mean that women were morally weaker or intellectually lesser than men. There are those who preach this gospel today, that women lack "logical analysis" and are not fit to be the "moral guardians." But, we are not concerned with this. We want to know what the author intended to say.

The term for vessel, σκευος, is used in several places so we can look at a few more examples.
    But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Cor. 4:7

    If a man [anyone] therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. 2 Tim. 2:21
So from this, we can see that both men and women have "vessels." Both men and women have "earthen vessels." We are both of us mortal and vulnerable. We can equally be sanctified and suited for God's use.

So, as "vessels," we are instruments of God. As humans we have "bodies" of clay. We are Adam. However, in some way, women are weaker in their physical being than men.

Not in longevity, not in endurance, not in many ways. I am sure that sometimes men just look at women and say, wow, I wish life were that simple. I think sometimes, life is very straightforward for women. Grow up, make friends, sit and drink tea, raise you brood, and you don't have to ask the heavy questions like what is life all about anyway. 'Cause women know what life is all about. (I'm kidding!)

But, most women don't mind admitting that they are physically weaker. That doesn't mean women can't do most things men do, but not everything. And the average women cannot compete in hand to hand combat with the average man. So ... men have to honour this. I don't think it is any more complicated than that.

Both men and women have weak bodies, in some ways women's bodies are weaker. No argument from me.

There are three ways to read sexism in the Bible.

A God intends women to exercise their gifts in fewer arenas than men. Not sexist, just God's sacred design.

B Sexism was put into the Bible by the scribes or translators.

C Sometimes authors of scripture have sexist presumptions, like "A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike." And how about men, eh?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hen Scratches: Jan. 13, 2008

I haven't gone away - just trying to have a life, as they say. I have noticed a few blog posts, nothing new, just the same old chestnuts, but for what its worth ...

1. Jews, Judeans, Israelites?

Michael Bird discusses Jesus the Israelite by John H. Elliot, who wants a word with us,
    It is time finally for interpreters, Bible Translators, and commentators to cease and desist. Jesus and the Jesus movement (with all its various movement groups) have their roots in Israel, not ‘Judaism’. They were , in the nascent period, predominantly ‘Israelites’, not ‘Jews’; 'Galileans,' not 'Judeans; 'Nazoreans' not ‘Christians’. They belonged to the House of Israel, not ‘Christianity’ (p. 148).
But before we get too worked up and inspired by all this, let's see what someone else has to say about Elliot's article. Gervatoshav, (sorry, didn't feel like keyboarding Hebrew today) is a blog by David Miller, of Briercrest. David has built up quite a bibliography on the topic.

2. On another topic which has had too much exposure already, sorry, I read a comment about how women are weaker than men. 1 Peter 3:7. Funny, I couldn't remember that being in the Bible. I tried to find the translation which stated this "fact." Ah, the NASB.
    You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman;
Oh, la, la. So much for that literal version. The rest aren't much better,
    the weaker partner TNIV
    their weaker nature HSCB
But, thankfully,
    the weaker vessel ESV
σκευος - equipment. instrument or container, therefore your body or even a certain part of your body, as in your equipment. (my paraphrase) Well, it sounds better from the French dictionary, (le corps, les parties sexuelles)

So, it has a slightly different meaning in three different contexts,
    showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel 1 Peter 3:7 ESV

    that each one of you know how to control his own body 1 Thess. 4:4 ESV

    for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name Acts 9:15 ESV
In the KJV each one of these was translated with "vessel." That was useful, but I don't think that the lack of concordance in the ESV bothers me. It seems to make perfect sense, even if it fudges a tiny bit. However, it is immeasurably better than the choices of other translations - oh, let's just leave that word out!

How does this sound for literal sense, if not literary sense,
    showing honor to the woman as the weaker instrument 1 Peter 3:7

    that each one of you know how to control his own instrument 1 Thess. 4:4

    for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name Acts 9:15
Of course, there are some things that we just don't want to read from the pulpit, so we say "body" instead of "instrument." I don't have any quibble with that. But I do protest a translation which declares that women have the "weaker nature" rather than the "weaker body."
    showing honor to the woman as [having] the weaker body

    that each one of you know how to control his own body
3. On a far cheerier note,

John has a birthday, and Kevin has a new baby. Beautiful pictures, Kevin! I almost forgot to ask Dave to say "hi" to the penguins for me.

Friday, January 11, 2008

False friends I

From the early 70’s until we left for California in 1986-87, we belonged to the The Word of God Community in Ann Arbor. There were many good things about TWOG and there were some problems, but that discussion is for another time and another place. Some time around 1979 or 1980, the following joke made the rounds in the Community.

The difference between the Pope’s understanding of what transpired and Moishe’s may help shed some light on some crucial mistakes in the way people think about Bible translation.

Everyone who has ever taught or studied related languages is familiar with the concept of false friends, even if they don’t know the term. They are forms that sound (or look) alike, but do not have the same meaning:
Sp. embarazada [‘pregnant’] ≠ Eng. embarrassed [Sp. ‘avergonzado’]
Sp. dirección [‘address’] ≠ Eng. direction [Sp. ‘rumbo’]
Sp. compromiso [‘promise’] ≠ Eng. compromise [no exact match]
Sp. éxito [‘success, hit’] ≠ Eng. exit [Sp. ‘salida’]

Fr. préservatif [‘condom’]≠ Eng. preservative [Fr. ‘conservateur’]
Fr. blesser [‘wound’]≠ Eng. bless [Fr. ‘bénir’]
Fr. issue [‘exit’]≠ Eng. issue [Fr. ‘édition’ (publication); ‘problème’]
Fr. actuel [‘current’ (time)]≠ Eng. actual [Fr. ‘vrai, véridique’]
These lists could go on. There’s even a section of a website dedicated to false friends.

There is something terribly deceptive about similarity in linguistic forms. The connection between sound and meaning for a fully fluent speaker is so close to instinctive that we assume that linguistic symbols have some inherent connection to their meaning. Unless we are fully attentive, we forget the most basic insight of 20th century linguistics:
The connection between the form of linguistic symbols and their meaning is arbitrary.
Let me interject at this point that as attractive as it may sound to translate “transparently” or “faithfully”, the very idea that there is anything at all to be gained from matching anything about the form of the original is logically bankrupt, precisely because it is based on the utterly false notion that the relation between linguistic symbols and meaning is NOT arbitrary.
But back to false friends.

False friends are also found in Scripture translations.

English has a word mystery, borrowed from Greek. Bible translators for centuries have happily read Greek μυστήριον and translated mystery. All twenty-seven times it appears in the NT, the KJV translates it mystery.

But in fact there are two senses to μυστήριον that English clearly distinguishes, ‘secret’ and ‘mystery’ (I’ve mentioned this in passing before.) A secret is something that only some people know. It is hidden from other people, but it is not hard to understand. A mystery is something that is so hard to comprehend that even if you are told about it you probably won’t understand it.

Newer translations, including some “faithful equivalent” translations, get some of these passages right, but not always. So we are still misled into believing that there are things about Christianity that are hard to understand, but which are not. (Hard to accept, maybe, but not hard to understand.)

Some of this stems from a cultural misunderstanding.

Roman era Greek society was filled with secret societies, almost certainly a reaction to the anonymity that goes with urbanization. Too many modern commentators, Christian and New Age alike, misapprehend these, failing to recognize that, because they were a reaction to the impersonalness of the city, they were probably a lot more like the Elks and Masons than like Shinto or Hinduism. Paul was happy to treat the nascent church as just such a society. When you come into the Community of the Way, you learn the secrets that outsiders don’t know. And part of the job of the leaders is to pass these secrets on to the new folks. This is really clear in I Cor. 4:1.
4:1 οὕτως ἡμᾶς λογιζέσθω ἄνθρωπος ὡς ὑπηρέτας Χριστοῦ καὶ οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ

Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. (KJV)

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (ESV)

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (NASB)

A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and managers of God's mysteries. (HCSB)

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. (TNIV)
No, no. These are not mysteries. They are just the secrets of the Christian community.
This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of the Messiah and as those entrusted with the secrets God has revealed. (TNIV, modified)
Christianity is filled with teachings about the way things are that aren’t hard to understand at all, from Jesus’ parables to Paul’s basic theology. Take, for example, Rom 11:25.
οὐ γὰρ θέλω ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν ἀδελφοί τὸ μυστήριον τοῦτο ἵνα μὴ ἦτε παρ' ἑαυτοῖς φρόνιμοι ὅτι πώρωσις ἀπὸ μέρους τῷ Ἰσραὴλ γέγονεν ἄχρις οὗ τὸ πλήρωμα τῶν ἐθνῶν εἰσέλθῃ
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. (KJV)

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers:[a] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (ESV)

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mysteryso that you will not be wise in your own estimation--that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; ... (NASB)

So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: a partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (HSCB)

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not think you are superior: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, ... (TNIV)
Come on. This is not hard to understand. It is simply something that insiders need to know, lest the Gentile believers start to think that, because God seems to have turned His back on the Jews, they can, too. (How sadly true that worry turns out to have been!) A better translation would be something like:
I do not want you to be unaware of this secret, brothers and sisters, or you might think that you are smarter than the Jews: Israel has been hardened in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, ...
It’s even the case that there are things which we assume are hard to comprehend because the translators made a choice to spin them as mysterious rather than simply a new piece of previously unknown information. Take 1 Cor. 15:51:
ἰδοὺ μυστήριον ὑμῖν λέγω πάντες οὐ κοιμηθησόμεθα πάντες δὲ ἀλλαγησόμεθα

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, ... (KJV)

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, ... (ESV)

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, ... (NASB)

Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, ... (HCSB)

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— (TNIV)
Particularly egregious is The Message.
But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I'll probably never fully understand. We're not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. (The Message)
Once again what Paul is saying is not hard to understand. Once you grok that those who have died will be raised bodily, it’s no stretch to get that those who happen to be alive when Jesus returns will be given the same kind of renewed bodies as those who have died. This is just another insider’s secret.

I’m sure that by this time there are many of you squirming, in part because μυστήριον is a technical term in theology—a separate problem altogether—and in part because there are things about Christianity that ARE hard to understand.

Granted, but ...

The historically consistent choice of translators to gloss μυστήρια preferentially as mysteries rather than secrets, unless forced by the context, is a false friends mistake. It leads us to think that far more of Christianity is about things we can’t understand than it really is.

We’re in the same bind that Moishe and the Pope are. The Scripture says one thing and we hear another.


The passages containing the 28 instances of μυστήριον in the NT (including a variant, Rom. 16:25) are listed below:

Mat. 13:11 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὅτι ὑμῖν δέδοται γνῶναι τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν ἐκείνοις δὲ οὐ δέδοται

Mark 4:11 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς ὑμῖν τὸ μυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὰ πάντα γίνεται

Luke 8:10 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν ὑμῖν δέδοται γνῶναι τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ τοῖς δὲ λοιποῖς ἐν παραβολαῖς ἵνα βλέποντες μὴ βλέπωσιν καὶ ἀκούοντες μὴ συνιῶσιν

Rom 11:25 οὐ γὰρ θέλω ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν ἀδελφοί τὸ μυστήριον τοῦτο ἵνα μὴ ἦτε παρ' ἑαυτοῖς φρόνιμοι ὅτι πώρωσις ἀπὸ μέρους τῷ Ἰσραὴλ γέγονεν ἄχρις οὗ τὸ πλήρωμα τῶν ἐθνῶν εἰσέλθῃ

Rom 16:25 τῷ δὲ δυναμένῳ ὑμᾶς στηρίξαι κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιόν μου καὶ τὸ κήρυγμα Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν μυστηρίου χρόνοις αἰωνίοις σεσιγημένου

1 Cor. 2:1 κἀγὼ ἐλθὼν πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἀδελφοί ἦλθον οὐ καθ' ὑπεροχὴν λόγου ἢ σοφίας καταγγέλλων ὑμῖν τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θεοῦ

1 Cor 2:7 ἀλλὰ λαλοῦμεν θεοῦ σοφίαν ἐν μυστηρίῳ τὴν ἀποκεκρυμμένην ἣν προώρισεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων εἰς δόξαν ἡμῶν

1 Cor 4:1 οὕτως ἡμᾶς λογιζέσθω ἄνθρωπος ὡς ὑπηρέτας Χριστοῦ καὶ οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ

1 Cor 13:2 καὶ ἐὰν ἔχω προφητείαν καὶ εἰδῶ τὰ μυστήρια πάντα καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γνῶσιν καὶ ἐὰν ἔχω πᾶσαν τὴν πίστιν ὥστε ὄρη μεθιστάναι ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω οὐθέν εἰμι

1 Cor 14:2 ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ ἀλλὰ θεῷ οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ μυστήρια

1 Cor 15:51 ἰδοὺ μυστήριον ὑμῖν λέγω πάντες οὐ κοιμηθησόμεθα πάντες δὲ ἀλλαγησόμεθα

Eph 1:9 γνωρίσας ἡμῖν τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν αὐτοῦ ἣν προέθετο ἐν αὐτῷ

Eph 3:3 ὅτι κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν ἐγνωρίσθη μοι τὸ μυστήριον καθὼς προέγραψα ἐν ὀλίγῳ 3 4 πρὸς ὃ δύνασθε ἀναγινώσκοντες νοῆσαι τὴν σύνεσίν μου ἐν τῷ μυστηρίῳ τοῦ Χριστοῦ (2X)

Eph 3:9 καὶ φωτίσαι πάντας τίς ἡ οἰκονομία τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ ἀποκεκρυμμένου ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων ἐν τῷ θεῷ τῷ τὰ πάντα κτίσαντι

Eph 5:32 τὸ μυστήριον τοῦτο μέγα ἐστίν ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω εἰς Χριστὸν καὶ εἰς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν

Eph 6:19 καὶ ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ ἵνα μοι δοθῇ λόγος ἐν ἀνοίξει τοῦ στόματός μου ἐν παρρησίᾳ γνωρίσαι τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ εὐαγγελίου

Col 1:26 τὸ μυστήριον τὸ ἀποκεκρυμμένον ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν γενεῶν νῦν δὲ ἐφανερώθη τοῖς ἁγίοις αὐτοῦ 27 οἷς ἠθέλησεν ὁ θεὸς γνωρίσαι τί τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς δόξης τοῦ μυστηρίου τούτου ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ὅ ἐστιν Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης (2X)

Col 2:2 ἵνα παρακληθῶσιν αἱ καρδίαι αὐτῶν συμβιβασθέντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ καὶ εἰς πᾶν πλοῦτος τῆς πληροφορίας τῆς συνέσεως εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ Χριστοῦ

Col 4:3 προσευχόμενοι ἅμα καὶ περὶ ἡμῶν ἵνα ὁ θεὸς ἀνοίξῃ ἡμῖν θύραν τοῦ λόγου λαλῆσαι τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ Χριστοῦ δι' ὃ καὶ δέδεμαι

2 Thes 2:7 τὸ γὰρ μυστήριον ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται τῆς ἀνομίας μόνον ὁ κατέχων ἄρτι ἕως ἐκ μέσου γένηται

1 Tim 3:9 ἔχοντας τὸ μυστήριον τῆς πίστεως ἐν καθαρᾷ συνειδήσει

1 Tim 3:16 καὶ ὁμολογουμένως μέγα ἐστὶν τὸ τῆς εὐσεβείας μυστήριον ὃς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι ὤφθη ἀγγέλοις ἐκηρύχθη ἐν ἔθνεσιν ἐπιστεύθη ἐν κόσμῳ ἀνελήμφθη ἐν δόξῃ

Rev 1:20 τὸ μυστήριον τῶν ἑπτὰ ἀστέρων οὓς εἶδες ἐπὶ τῆς δεξιᾶς μου καὶ τὰς ἑπτὰ λυχνίας τὰς χρυσᾶς οἱ ἑπτὰ ἀστέρες ἄγγελοι τῶν ἑπτὰ ἐκκλησιῶν εἰσιν καὶ αἱ λυχνίαι αἱ ἑπτὰ ἑπτὰ ἐκκλησίαι εἰσίν

Rev 10:7 ἀλλ' ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῆς φωνῆς τοῦ ἑβδόμου ἀγγέλου ὅταν μέλλῃ σαλπίζειν καὶ ἐτελέσθη τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς εὐηγγέλισεν τοὺς ἑαυτοῦ δούλους τοὺς προφήτας

Rev 17:5 καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ μέτωπον αὐτῆς ὄνομα γεγραμμένον μυστήριον Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη ἡ μήτηρ τῶν πορνῶν καὶ τῶν βδελυγμάτων τῆς γῆς

Rev 17:7 καὶ εἶπέν μοι ὁ ἄγγελος διὰ τί ἐθαύμασας ἐγὼ ἐρῶ σοι τὸ μυστήριον τῆς γυναικὸς καὶ τοῦ θηρίου τοῦ βαστάζοντος αὐτήν τοῦ ἔχοντος τὰς ἑπτὰ κεφαλὰς καὶ τὰ δέκα κέρατα


For any of you who might not infer it, the nattily sweatered man telling the joke in the video above is Rich himself. -- W.L.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

translating pisteuw

The Greek word pisteuw is one of the most important, as well as common, words in all of the New Testament. Yet English Bible translators differ on how they translate it. Some translate it as "believe"; others as "have faith". There are other translation possibilities as well (such as "trust" mentioned by Psalmist in a comment on the first version of this post).

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is about the healing of Jairus' daughter. In Luke 8:50, Jesus tells Jairus (in translation):
Don't be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed. (NLT)
Don't be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed. (NIV, TNIV)
As you can see, these two translation wordings are identical other than for how they translate the Greek command, pisteuson. Like the NLT, these translations also use "have faith": REB, CEV. The following versions use "believe": KJV; RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, ISV, GW, NCV, HCSB.

Which translation of the Greek command do you prefer and why? What factors do you think English translators should take into account when deciding which English word(s) to use to translate the Greek word?

Feel free to register your preference in the new poll in the blog margin, as well as comment on this post.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

causal "for" in English Bibles

In my preceding post I asked how you use the English word "for." I was hoping to get input on whether or not "for" is still used by English speakers for a causal meaning. You did not disappoint. Thanks for your comments and especially thanks for commenting on whether or not you use "for" when others might say "because" or "since".

A few days ago I noticed that I do not express a causal relationship with "for," when it is used as a conjunction. Instead, I use the word "because," and, less frequently, "since." For instance, I would say:
I did not go to work today because I'm sick.
but I would not say:
I did not go to work today for I'm sick.
I checked with my wife and she says that she does not use "for" as a causal conjunction either.

I *think* that a majority of English speakers today likely do not use causal "for" in either their speech or writing. But much more field testing and observation needs to be done to feel confident about this hypothesis.

If my suggestion is true, then most English Bibles are out of step with current English usage. For example, most English Bibles begin Isaiah 9:6 with "for": KJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, REB, NIV, TNIV, HCSB, NLT.

Similarly, most English Bible versions begin Ephesians 2:8 with "for": KJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, REB, NIV, TNIV, NET, HCSB, TEV.

I have not found any English version begin either verse with "because" or "since.

In Genesis 2:23 the versions are mixed with regard to the causal conjunction used for explaining why the woman was called woman. The NRSV and several other versions have "for":
for out of Man this one was taken (NRSV)
for from man was she taken (REB)
for she was taken out of man (NIV, TNIV, NET)
for she was taken from man (HCSB)
Several other versions, including the KJV, use "because":
because she was taken out of Man (KJV, RSV, ESV, NASB)
because she was taken out of man (TEV, NCV)
because she was taken from ‘man.’ (NLT)
because she was taken from man (GW)
It seems to me that more study of current English language usage and the distribution of causal conjunctions in English Bibles needs to be made before any strongly supported suggestions for causal use of "for" can be made for English Bible translators. It does seem to me, however, that the decreasing use of causal "for" in English needs to be noted by English Bible translators as one of several widespread language changes occurring among English speakers today.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

What for?

I'd like to get your input on ways that you use or have observed others today use the English word "for". Here are three uses of "for" that quickly come to my mind (there are others, my minds, but uses!):
  1. "For" is widely used to indicate that something is done for the benefit of someone else. For instance, I can say, "Peter created a website for me." This means, of course, that not only did Peter create a website but he made it for my benefit. Perhaps I asked him to make it for me.
  2. "For" is commonly used in phrases which indicate duration of time, such as when someone might say, "I practiced the piano for thirty minutes."
  3. "For" is used in some phrases such as "for example, "for instance", and "What for?"
Please listen to your own speech or observe your writing and/or that of others around you and list any other current uses for "for" besides the three I have just listed. Feel free to include your observations in comments to this post. Thanks.

When we get enough data, I want to refer to it in some comments about translating the Bible into current English.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

ERV: Easy to read version (revised )

I have found a new version of the Bible that I can read with delight. It is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the more literary kind of Bible that some have been discussing. And yet, is it? It is not like the New Living Translation, which adds significantly to the text. It is, in fact, surprisingly literal.

The footnotes are careful and explanatory. At SIL, translators are always taught to look for both a model and a base (source) Bible translation. Of course, the base/source should really be the Greek New Testament. Otherwise, it should be a very literal Bible like the NASB, the RSV or the NRSV.

However, what about a model? Often the Living Bible was proposed as a model. But we have just seen that the NLT inserts words into the text to assist in clarity, and in some cases to promote a particular interpretation of the Bible. In the Easy to Read Version, available here, fewer words are inserted into the text.

Here is 1 Cor. 7:7 which I blogged about recently.

I wish that all were as I myself am.
But each has a particular gift from God,
one having one kind and another a different kind. NRSV

But God has given each person a different
ability. He makes some able to live one
way, others to live a different way. ERV

But I wish everyone were single, just as I am.
But God gives to some the gift of marriage,
and to others the gift of singleness. NLT

I wish that all of you were like me,
but God has given different gifts to each of us. CEV

It is clear that making a translation readable does not mean that you have to add words to the text. The ERV is a Bible which, along with the CEV, might respectably provide a model for translation into a minority language. The limited vocabulary makes it ideal for working in a language that has not had a previous Bible translation.

I was particularly interested in the history of the ERV. It was developed first for the Deaf, since the Deaf have a more restricted repertoire of English vocabulary and grammatical structure than oral speakers of English.

The ERV is available to download.

Friday, January 04, 2008

the Baptist is in

The Baptist is in. But should he be?

OK, this is not another blog post reflecting on the win of Mike the Baptist in the Republican caucases in Iowa last night. Instead, I'd like us to reflect on the wording of John 1:6 in the NLT:
God sent a man, John the Baptist
There is a footnote on "the Baptist" noting that the underlying Greek "a man named John." What is gained in the NLT by adding "the Baptist". Clarity is gained. I remember as a child reading John 1 and feeling some confusion about which John was being introduced. There is no birth narrative to introduce this John, son of Zechariah, as there is at the beginning of Luke. The Greek of John's gospel does not introduce John as John the Baptist, as Mark does (1:6) or Matthew (3:1).

Recently I have been thinking that instead of debates over Bible translations being framed with claims such as "this translation is better ...", it would better to discuss the pros and cons of specific translation decisions and approaches. Let's do that here.

Clarity is gained in the NLT inclusion of "the Baptist" in John 1:16. But what are the downsides of adding "the Baptist" when it is not in the Greek text?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The gift of singleness

I have been off reading some of the other blogs, the blogs I don't usually write about: for example, Solo Femininity, which has morphed into Radical Womanhood.

First, here are a few thoughts on Carolyn McCulley's book, Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? . Being single as a lifelong circumstance is something most adults are uncomfortable with, so I have immense sympathy with her writing. I also applaud the change in name. Woman is no longer defined by her marital status.

However, I would like to share just a couple of things that I think could make being a single woman more problematic. In McCulley's book she discusses contentment while you are waiting, and states,
    The groom couldn't complete the task that God called him to do without the help of his bride, God's provision of a helpmate. The bride couldn't help without knowing her groom's task. Page 65.
McCulley expresses some reserve regarding this interpretation of the scriptures but she falls short of pointing out that it is not scriptural. In fact, she quotes a similar sentiment on page 94,
    She was created to be a helper suitable for him, to complement him, to nourish him, and to help him in the task God has given him.
The core problem then is that in this view man is given a "task" by God and woman is not. I am not sure if this is entirely fair of McCulley's current writing. However, the main thrust is obvious. Men are given a task and women spend their singleness waiting to see what kind of task they will be called to help with.

Many people, however, both men and women, are able to become absorbed in a challenging or demanding task or mission from which they derive a great deal of fulfillment and pleasure. If this is one reason why some people at my age seem to be okay with remaining single, another is that they have already had one primary relationship and it has been either extremely unsuccessful and disillusioning, or intensely painful to lose a beloved partner through death, and they simply do not have the intention of investing in another relationship. The opinions I hear on this vary a great deal according to the individual. Most, but not all, still hope to find a partner.

The reason why some of the greats were single is up for grabs in my mind. It could be total absorption with their task, or it could be that they had had their one relationship and were not prepared to have another, especially one that would be culturally acceptable.

So singleness, in my view, is seen by most, but not all, as a difficulty. It has greatly varying significance in a person's life. It is also simply a circumstance in which a person is placed. Paul said he knew how to be content in all situations. We don't know why he was content with his singleness but there are many logical reasons. I am happy to leave it at that.

However, I do not think that singleness was given to him as a "gift" in the same way that "tongues" is a gift. I don't think that someone who badly wants an intimate partner can simply pray for the "gift of singleness." Or maybe they can. What does the scripture say about this?

This is the problematic verse, 1 Cor. 7:7
    Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. NASB

    For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. KJV

    I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. ESV

    I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. RSV

    I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind. NRSV

    I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. NIV

    But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. But God gives to some the gift of marriage, and to others the gift of singleness. NLT

    Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others. The Message
First, it is remarkable how much more literal the NRSV is than any other version. There are a lot of different translation issues here. Is this about a "spiritual gift" or a life circumstance that God has given? Is this a particular gift special to this person, or just a particular gift? I think we can dispense with the idea that anthropos means men, and not people.
    θέλω δὲ πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἶναι ὡς καὶ ἐμαυτόν
    ἀλλὰ ἕκαστος ἴδιον ἔχει χάρισμα ἐκ θεοῦ ὁ μὲν οὕτως ὁ δὲ οὕτως
Gortexgrrl (not me) in her review of McCulley's book, writes,
    McCulley's misinterpretations of 1 Cor 7:7 occur because she overlooks the Greek word "idios" preceding "charisma" (grace gift), a common mistake among Christian singleness writers who use Bibles that translate the word as "own". Idios is more correctly translated as "particular" or "peculiar". It's the root of the English word "idiosyncratic", and the French word "idiot", which means "peculiar one". In speaking of this "idios charisma" or "idiosyncratic grace gift", Paul was referring to something much more unique than the either/or status of married or single. He accentuated his point about uniqueness by using a Greek expression still common today: "hos men houto de hos houto", most closely translated in the NASB as "one in this manner, and another in that." It's a figure of speech! "This" and "that" are non-specific: "this" does not mean marriage and "that" does not mean "singleness".

    As much as he recognized the advantages of singleness at that time of "present distress" v.26, we have no reason to believe that he saw it as a gift or calling. (Nor is McCulley's reference to verse 17, also regarded as non-specific by most Bible scholars, a strong argument for it.) Whatever was his peculiar gift that allowed him to proceed on such a perilous mission alone, Paul probably didn't quite understand himself.

    The Living Bible of the 70's was arguably the first to mistranslate 1Cor7:7 to mean that "God gives to some the gift of singleness and to others the gift of marriage", and later, "The Message". With these late 20th century biblical revisions, rogue doctrines on singleness have proliferated throughout the Christian world.

    The never-married, later disgraced Bill Gothard taught millions who attended his Basic Youth Conflicts seminars that singleness as a gift and a calling, using the terms interchangeably, with the underlying assumption of divine assignment or "rhema". Into the 80's and 90's there may have been some softening attempts that stressed "gift" over "calling", but the two remain inextricably linked. Obviously, this is damage control because there has been damage done. Ellen Varughese in "The Freedom to Marry" wrote at length about Christian singles immobilized in their intent to pursue marriage without any clear "word from the Lord", having been taught to view their default singleness as "God's plan" for their lives, rather than as something that could be caused by individual or generational sin.

    From its biblically specious roots to the careerism of Christian singles writers who keep passing it on, "the gift of singleness" does not have an honorable history. It has become a thorn in the side of a generation of surplus Christian women that dismisses their collective grief and allows leaders to hide behind sermons about sovereignty and contentment instead of addressing the sinful causes of this epidemic, such as the flight of men from our churches (as well as teachings that have sown seeds of doubt, ambivalence, and complacency towards pursuing marriage).

    We do not need to call singleness a gift to effectively encourage spiritual essentials such as gratitude and contentment, or to honor those who have devoted themselves to celibate service (and wouldn't need the flattery of calling it a gift, if indeed their service is sincere). Even if you take the strictest view on sovereignty, there are plenty of things that God has given that are not considered gifts. When was the last time you heard the Ten Commandments referred to as a gift?

    Let's all send "the gift of singleness" to the Christian lexicon trashbin, and work together to persuade church leaders to do the same. We can begin by appealing to the editors of The Message and other modern translations to restore translations of 1Corinthians 7:7 so that they once again conform more closely with the original Greek. If we care about the future of the church, we will need to restore the ordinariness and universality of marriage enjoyed by previous generations of Christians by putting the emphasis back on God's revealed will about marriage, which puts the onus on human volition and agency. And we will once again give singles exactly what they have been lacking: a wholehearted blessing to pursue marriage.