Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Things are not what they seem

This weekend I went to a wedding in Kingsburg, CA. That’s about 180 miles from my home in Castro Valley. The couple met at Berkeley Covenant Church.

She’s an MK from Colombia and a recent Berkeley grad. Born in Kingsburg, she grew up in Medellín where her father has been a Covenant missionary for over 20 years.

He’s a Berkeley graduate student in economics from Montreal and a PK. His father is the pastor of a French-speaking Mennonite Brethren church.

This weekend had more than its fill of things that didn’t fit our usual categories. For those of you not familiar with California, you’ll need a little background.
First, there were a LOT of Swedish settlers in northern California and the Central Valley. Kingsburg, about 10 miles south of Fresno on CA99, was one of the centers of that settlement. The Bay Area was, too. Berkeley Covenant, founded in 1903, was established as a missionary outreach to Swedish speakers. It was Swedish speaking until 1935. Only now, in the first decade of the 21st century, is the last generation of California native speakers of Swedish dying out. The last native speaker at Berkeley Covenant, now in his late 80’s, is from Kingsburg.

Kingsburg is very proud of its Swedish heritage, even piping Swedish music onto the streets of the downtown business district in honor of the centennial of the incorporation of the town. And Swedish symbols are everywhere — even at the MacDonalds.
The motel we stayed in had rooms that looked almost exactly like the medium price range rooms at the Covenant retreat center in northern California, Mission Springs, complete with the horse on every door.

All of this belies that fact that the area has a sizable Hispanic population. You hear Spanish everywhere. The local Catholic church has masses in both Spanish and English and plenty of Hispanic bilinguals attend the English masses. On Easter it was SRO at all the masses in an ostensibly Protestant stronghold. (11,000 population, 17 Protestant churches, including two Covenant congregations.) This is not unusual for the Central Valley, where conservative Christianity is strong in both evangelical and Catholic guises. There are even towns, like Escalon, which are reputed to have more churches than bars.
Back to the wedding. The whole affair was loaded with stereotype breaking features. The bride looks like a Swede from Kingsburg, tall and blonde. But in reality, because she grew up in Colombia, she’s Latin American. The groom, a Mennonite with a German last name, is French Canadian. Even personally, it seemed a bit odd to me to be attending the wedding of friends both of whose parents are younger than we are, but then the church can be like that. One can have easy cross-generational relationships through participating in various ministries.

There were unusual things about the service as well. It was jointly celebrated by the respective fathers. It was trilingual — mostly English, but some in French and Spanish. When they came to the part where his father, as the primary celebrant, asked, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”, her father answered that if his mother and father were willing to give him in marriage to their daughter, then he and her mother were willing to give her in marriage to their son.

A murmur rippled across the crowd.

The exchange of vows was unusual, too. His father began by cracking a joke, saying that vows would be exchanged in French and Spanish, and that they realized most of the guests wouldn’t understand one or the other sets of vows. “But,” he quipped, “you’ve heard these many times before, so just remember what they say.” Some muffled chuckles ensued. She said her vows in French, which she speaks fluently, administered by his father. He said his vows in Spanish, which he doesn’t speak, administered by her father.

I tell you all this to loosen you up for what I am about to say about categories and mismatches in the ongoing discussion of the Holy Spirit — or is that holy spirit?

The root of the problem is that the categories related to spirits and the Holy Spirit are different between modern church thought and the worldview of both OT and NT times. What we think of reflexively when we hear the words holy and spirit together is a familiar category, the Third Person of the Trinity. It’s clear that that is NOT what anyone heard in Biblical times.

In the Old Testament, God may have sent His Spirit to act in the world, but it was just seen as a part of Him, like our spirits are part of us. And there were other spirits that were understood to be holy as well, but my understanding of OT culture is too limited for me to go any further.

In Roman era Levantine culture, however, the understanding of Greek speakers both mirrored the OT understanding and was influenced by the Greco-Roman belief in supernatural beings that embodied abstract notions like love and war, compassion and anger, and holiness. Roman and Greek gods were often portrayed as embodiments of these notions. Amor/Eros and Mars/Ares.

So in NT era thinking there is no separate category for the Holy Spirit apart from a spirit of holiness and both distinct from a holy spirit. If, by the time of some of the manuscripts, the doctrine of the Trinity had started to gel to the point that some scribes copied in such a way to make some verses distinguish THE Holy Spirit from the other two, that doesn’t solve the problem for us. That’s post hoc and the issue remains. We have three categories where the writers of Scripture had one.

Recognizing the problem doesn’t solve it, unfortunately. It just gives us a way to address it. But it does serve to point up a serious problem floating below the surface in many of our discussions about translation.

The categories of 21st century Euro-American Christianity are NOT those of the NT writers. We make many, many translational — and even doctrinal — mistakes because we fail to recognize that that one very pervasive fact has a much deeper implication:
Words that are legitimate dictionary equivalents often don’t mean the same thing.


At Wed Mar 26, 08:58:00 AM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

For meditative purposes, this may not be a problem. See Metacatholic’s extended comment on my post about secret and mystery. But for the translator and theologian a clear consciousness of the cases is an absolute must.

I put this in Comments instead of in the post, because it distracts from the point I'm trying to make. But at the same time, I don't want the comment thread to go over that ground again and distract from the basic issue of the problem of anachronistic interpretation for translation purposes.

At Wed Mar 26, 11:48:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

So in NT era thinking there is no separate category for the Holy Spirit apart from a spirit of holiness and both distinct from a holy spirit...[which speaks to] the problem of anachronistic interpretation for translation purposes.

Suzanne, in her posts so far on the "holy spirit," has given examples of what translators of the Hebrew into the Greek had to do. This paves the way for NT era Greek speakers and writers.

Personally, I think these LXX translators, trying to match Greek words with collocated Hebrew words, were the ones who invented πνεύματι ἁγίῳ (as for Ps 50/51) for "holy" "spirit." The separate meanings of the two words are fairly stable from Homer and Hesiod (800 - 700BC) through Sappho (625 - 570) and through Dr. Hippocrates (460 - 377BC; from whom Plato and Aristotle get their biologies and from whom our medical schools derive the Oath).

The word πνεύμα /pneuma/ referred to "wind" that blows in nature and to "breath" in an animate body.

The word ἁγ* /hag--/ referred to "chastity" in women and goddesses or "purity" otherwise.

In Hippocrates' Fleshes, we find the following:

For example the fetus in the belly continually sucks with its lips from the uterus of the mother and draws nourishment and breath to its heart inside, for this breath is hottest in the fetus just at the time that the mother is breathing.

τὸ δὲ παιδίον ἐν τῃ̂ γαστρί συνέχον τὰ χείλεα μύξει ἐκ τω̂ν μητέρων τη̂ς μητρὸς καὶ ἕλκει τήν τε τροφὴν καὶ τὸ πνεύμα τῃ̂ καρδίη εἰσω:

and in Hippocrates' Oath, there is this:

Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion. But I will preserve the purity [or chastity] of my life and my arts.

Ὁμοίως δὲ οὐδὲ γυναικὶ πεσσὸν φθόριον δώσω. Ἁγνῶς δὲ καὶ ὁσίως διατηρήσω βίον τὸν ἐμὸν καὶ τέχνην τὴν ἐμήν.

Now, Hesiod in Work and Days (122-123) has this peculiar story of humans made by the gods of Olympus, humans who have died, been buried, and now roam around helping other living humans:

τοὶ μὲν "δαίμονες" ἁγνοὶ ἐπιχθόνιοι τελέθουσιν ἐσθλοί, ἀλεξίκακοι, φύλακες θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων,

they’re the pure "beings" inhabiting earth, warding off evils, and noble protectors of mankind,

But note that the word I've translated into English as "beings" is δαίμονες, and such "demons" are the ones that possessed people in NT times, the things that Jesus had to cast out. Hesiod intended no such thing for these dead people in his story.

Has anyone else found where πνεύματι and ἁγίῳ collocate in a text prior to the Septuagint?

At Wed Mar 26, 12:26:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

oops! in trying to get the English, I didn't include all the Greek in Hippocrates's Fleshes. here it is:

For example the fetus in the belly continually sucks with its lips from the uterus of the mother and draws nourishment and breath to its heart inside, for it is hottest in the fetus just at the time that the mother is breathing.

τὸ δὲ παιδίον ἐν τῃ̂ γαστρί συνέχον τὰ χείλεα μύξει ἐκ τω̂ν μητέρω̂ν τη̂ς μητρὸς καὶ ἕλκει τήν τε τροφὴν καὶ τὸ πνεύμα τῃ̂ καρδίη εἰσω: γάρ θερμότατόν ἔστιν ἐν τῳ̂ παιδίω, ὅταν περ ἡ μήτηρ ἀνα-πνἐη:

(By the way, the Supreme Court of the U.S. considered Hippocrates, then rejected his antiabortion views, when making the Roe v. Wade ruling. But that's off topic for this post; feel free to leave a comment on that at my blog linked here in these parentheses.)

At Wed Mar 26, 02:21:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Kurk, the examples you quote are all hagnos, not hagios. I learned these as two separate words, although no doubt related etymologically. At what point did hagios become a separate word with a separate meaning?

I have a collocation of pneuma and hagios that is probably older than your LXX Psalms, in Isaiah 63:10,11 LXX. The words appear separately in the even older LXX Pentateuch, but not I think together.

At Wed Mar 26, 03:30:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for finding the collocation in Isaiah 63:10,11. Is there any history of LXX that shows Isaiah translated before Psalms?

On your first point, R. C. Trench in Synonyms of the New Testament deals with both hagnos and hagios together, showing their differences but saying they "may very probably be different forms of one and the same word," and he turns to how Latin picks them up as the same in translation (page 168). Then Glen Warren Bowersock and Oleg Grabar in Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (page 494) suggest that "In postclassical Greek hagnos was restricted to poetical usage and replaced by

At Wed Mar 26, 04:56:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Concerning hagios and hagnos, they don't seem to be synonymous in the New Testament. The former is used only in religious contexts. The latter appears to mean "pure" or quite often "chaste", with no specifically religious meaning. The verb hagnizo is used of temple purification ceremonies in a way different from hagiazo, suggesting that the former represents the Hebrew root ṬHR (first letter tet) whereas the latter clearly corresponds to Hebrew QDŠ.

As for LXX dating, I accept that this is uncertain. But I did find this older work suggesting that Isaiah was the first LXX book to be translated outside the Hexateuch, implying that the Psalms were translated later.

At Thu Mar 27, 09:14:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

unusual things about the service as well. It was jointly celebrated by the respective fathers. It was trilingual...
and that they realized most of the guests wouldn’t understand one or the other sets of vows. “But,” he quipped,...
I tell you all this to loosen you up for what I am about to say about categories and mismatches, in the ongoing discussion of the Holy Spirit — or is that holy spirit?

Rich, I just wanted to acknowledge what a fantastic post this is! It's rare to hear of such an experience as yours, and we appreciate your sharing it with us. It is funny, and your application to language for translation is serious.

A related question I have is how the Greek-Jewish Corinthians would have understood Paul's use of pronouns with "holy spirit" and "body/ies."

In 1 Cor 6:13 he's started in with the singular τῷ σώματι (i.e., "body")

but he switches to plural for both "bodies" and "you" in 15: τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν

then switches back to singular "body" with plural "you" in 19, when he brings in the "Holy Spirit":
τὸ σῶμα ὑμῶν ναὸς τοῦ ἐν ὑμῖν ἁγίου πνεύματός ἐστιν

any ideas as to why? and how these unusual collocations might have sounded?

At Thu Mar 27, 01:09:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

The difference between 1 Cor. 6:13 and 15 is the difference between generic and specific. He uses singular σόμα in the generic context. But σόματα when he's talking about individuals' bodies making up the Messiah's body. Verse 19 is trickier. I think it is to be read distributively ('each of your respective bodies'), but I'll have to check with someone whose Greek syntax is better than mine. (I don't have any tool for pulling up plural possessives of singulars easily to check for myself.)

Also on the topic of the use of the word σόμα in the NT in general, I've been thinking about Paul's use of σάρξ and σόμα (almost interchangeably) to mean what we mean when we say 'human nature'. That's a by-product of the fact that until quite recently people were not particularly self-aware. (Thank you, Dr. Freud.) As a result people didn't much talk objectively about themselves, as if there were options. That's why ethnocentricity and imperialism were the norms of the even the most enlightened until very, very recently.

I learned this while working with Native Americans. At some point I recognized that they weren't particularly introspective. In fact, they weren't introspective at all. It wasn't just one or two, it was almost everyone. Then I noticed that it was also true in their mythology and then I noticed that Scripture ran that way too. So Paul is swimming upstream trying to convey ideas about personal moral responsibility and particularly that one can, by God's help, change.

The most introspective pre-modern practice is meditation, but I haven't figured out about meditation in Roman era Mediterranean Greco-Roman culture. There must have been some, it's too much a piece of human nature not to have been around. None of the standard references (e.g., Jeffers) even address it. Any help would be appreciated. There is, no doubt, some of it around in Scripture being talked about as prayer.

At Thu Mar 27, 02:31:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

You've given lots to think about:

Verse 19 is trickier. I think it is to be read distributively ('each of your respective bodies')

Yes, the syntax is huge. In the post, you'd made the point that "when we hear the words holy and spirit together [then it today] is a familiar category." Paul's writing a very odd clause that not only collocates these two Greek words in a weird (LXX-ish) way but it also has some other strange features:

>When he so delays the verb ἐστιν, isn't there a strong appositive effect in the two noun phrases? Do English translations really emphasize this well enough by "your body is...," with the linking verb interrupting things?

>With respect to distributive plural "you" and singular "body," the Latin (Vulgate) makes it plural "membra vestra templum est" as do the English Tyndale and Weymouth: "your bodies are"

>But the repetitive plural pronoun, only the Latin disambiguates the plurals of the Greek: "vestra" and "vobis"; and yet, and yet, Paul's embedded ἐν ὑμῖν right smack within ναὸς τοῦ [ - - ] ἁγίου πνεύματός is never emphasized in any translation I can find.

>Now I just have to ask: Do you think Paul has read any of Aristotle's Rhetoric? His great performance on Ares' Rock (aka Mars Hill) aside, there's this to consider. Aristotle has this early sentence in the treatise on rhetoric: "οἱ δε περι μεν ἐνθυμημα των οὐδεν λεγουσιν, ὁπερ ἐστι σω̂μα τη̂ς πιστεως"

(On native Americans and introspection, weren't Cherokee Elias Boudinot and Pequot William Apess exceptional? Both men are Christians, critical of the anglo Christianity, aware of the Scriptures, and aware of themselves within the context of very different cultural world views.)

At Fri Mar 28, 12:05:00 AM, Blogger tc said...

I love those California shots.

At Fri Mar 28, 01:02:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...


I'm not so sure that this is that odd a sentence structure in context. (Notice all the sentences in earlier verses with forms of εἶναι at the end.) I'll have to think about it. Again, my knee-jerk reaction to the details of information flow and the neutral word order in subordinate clauses is tainted by the fact that I learned Latin first. Ditto preposed modifiers. (Mike at ἐν ἐφέσῳ recently raised that question, but only half-answered it.)

You've hit on something that I need to talk about -- maybe when I talk about Paul's use of σάρξ and σώμα. I have for some time now thought that Paul is "wrestling" with the language to express the insights he has. There is this theory out there in the Church that God had the NT written in Greek, because Greek was the perfect language. (The linguists roll their collective eyes.) I think he was making it up as he was going. (Now all the theology police will pounce.)

I'm not at all challenging the notion that Scripture is authoritative. Nor am I challenging that it is inerrant, if you conceive of inerrancy in terms like the Scripture is exactly the way God wants it to be. Rather I'm challenging the idea that Scripture is platonic. That all the pieces fit together neatly. That when Paul uses the word σάρξ he sometimes means physical body (Rom 1:3, 3:28, 4:1, etc.), but frequently means 'human nature' esp. in phrases like κατὰ σάρκα and ἐν (τῇ) σαρκί.

At Mon Apr 07, 07:26:00 AM, Blogger eclexia said...

Although I can't contribute anything really to the bigger point being made in this post, I want to say that every part of the wedding sounded beautiful and lovely to me. Thanks for telling about it--you put a smile in my day. Not the least of my enjoyment was taking in your affirmation of the delight and richness of cross generational friendships. That fit nicely as a little insert in your bigger description of the cross-cultural elements present in the wedding.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home