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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Since the Bible is not sufficient...

[Things have been quiet here at BBB so I'll try to shake things up.]

This semester at the Mozambican Bible Institute, my third-year students have been studying the Pauline epistles. What is different about this semester is that the day students and night students are studying all the third-year courses together. The day students are Christians and pastoral candidates with a long history of involvement in the church. The night students are for the most part pagans. We have journalists, school teachers, and shopkeepers all in this night course because they're hoping to get a degree. The mix of secular and saintly students is a recipe for excitement. It is the most stimulating course I have ever taught. Discussions range from hot to heretical. But they are never dull.

As part of the course, I paired the students up and asked them to make a short presentation to the class on difficult passages in 1 Corinthians. This led to some awkward moments such as when the attractive young lady from the night students was paired up with one of the male day students and their topic was Paul's instructions on couples abstaining from sex. In general, the students have done an excellent job even if by and large they haven't the foggiest idea how to exegete the text.

Last night was a good example of the exegetical problem. Two groups made presentations. The first group explained the passage where Paul instructs women to keep their heads covered (1 Cor. 11:2-16). The second group spoke on Paul's instructions regarding believers taking each other to court (1 Cor. 6:1-12).

Regarding disputes between believers, there were direct connections between the Corinthian and Mozambican situation. But the presenters on women's head coverings were pretty much flummoxed by this passage. They were able to make the connection between ancient culture and Mozambican culture and assert that "women normally have long hair." But they weren't really able to make any kind of exegetical leap and say something like, "In Paul's day, women covered their heads as a sign of modesty. The women in our churches should likewise dress modestly." Very few of the students have study Bibles and most of them are too busy to spend time hunting for information in the library. So they just have a bare bones Bible. And with obscure passages like this one they have to make guesses at how to apply the message. 

Which brings me back to the teaser in this post's title. Assuming that the average reader will misinterpret much of the Bible most of the time should we be looking for a better Bible: a Bible that disambiguates? The options are legion in the English speaking world, but step across the linguistic divide and you will find the majority of believers around the world using Bible society editions. Bible Societies like ABS have a mission that involves "producing materials that avoid endorsing or advocating any doctrinal positions."1 So they get the sixty six books and maybe a couple of maps. I'm thinking about those students in my third-year class. They are heading into society, some of them into pastorates, with a Bible that they do not understand. And yet a proper understanding of 1 Corinthians would be incredibly helpful in addressing the problems they will face in their churches. Since the Bible is not sufficient in this situation, what needs to be done?


1 from Mission Statement of the American Bible Society

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Monday, April 28, 2008

BW3 on choosing a Bible translation

I noticed that Ben Witherington has made available a lecture on choosing a Bible translation on his blog:

On Choosing a Translation

Listen and enjoy. And let me know what he says. Very few of us in the the 2/3rds world can do things like listen to audio and video podcasts.

Update 1: I apologize for my pathetic whining (see above).

Update 2: Thanks to my whining, however, Nathan Stitt provided a rundown on the video at his blog: Ben Witherington On Translations

Update 3: Apparently according to comments on Nathan's blog Ben is calling NKJV, NRSV and RSV "idiomatic translations." That's funny since Ben is an excellent writer of idiomatic English yet he doesn't sound anything like those translations. ;-)

Update 4: Um, duh. I didn't see Suzanne's rundown so I'm checking that out now...

Ben Witherington on Choosing a Bible translation

David asked for some notes from Ben Witherington's talk On choosing a Translation.

Ben opened with presenting the usual three different types of Bible translation.

Literal - NASB

Idiomatic - RSV, NEB, NIV, NRSV, KJV

Paraphrase - Message, NLT

He commented that you need to avoid sectarian translations or any translations that were promoting a particular platform, such as the Mormon or JW translations. Team translation is much to be preferred above a translation by one individual in order to ensure greater expertise and less bias.

He warned against using a paraphrase or more interpretive Bible for study although it may be useful for devotional purposes. He also was not in favour of overly literal translations.

In particular, Witherington did not recommend ancient English translations and he gave two examples of the difficulty which could be caused by this. One was of a young girl who wondered why God was an "awful" God, and the other was a mentally handicapped man who could not understand why the scripture said, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." "But I want him," he said. "Why shouldn't I want him?" So Witherington warned, "Do not rely on an ancient translation or even an updated ancient translation." He put great emphasis on the use of modern English.

His next point was that the Greek word anthropos means a "human being" or "humankind" and the translation that one chooses should follow this pattern. These would be the Inclusive NIV or the NRSV.

He then went on to discuss a variety of Bibles which one may prefer depending on the style of the liturgy. The more formal ones are the NEB, Jerusalem Bible or the NRSV. At the other end would be the Good News Bible.

I don't think he mentioned any more translations than these, except oh yeah, there was a taped segment of a chapter from the Aussie Bible. There is more on Nathan's blog. I certainly concur with many of the comments there. In sum, Witherington said to chose a translation that is as close to the Greek as possible, which means translating anthropos as "human being" (or an equivalent term) and not "man," and a translation in good modern English.

PS There is also a good post and a great thread beneath it here. What fun!

Friday, April 25, 2008

SENT, and how the Bible uses words in the normal way

Dr Webb Mealy, a "biblical scholar, translator and theologian" and a regular contributor on the Bible Translation e-mail list, is working on a scholarly translation of the New Testament called SENT: The Spoken English New Testament. His current drafts are available for review here, and he welcomes comments. (I have his permission to mention this.)

I am very interested in this project because it is an attempt to create something which as far as I know no one else has made at least since the time when KJV was translated: a more or less formal correspondence translation of the Bible (well, for now just the New Testament) into good quality contemporary English - not an artificial literary dialect but English as currently spoken. It is also one of the very few English translations which have been field tested, at least among readers of the e-mail list.

Webb is explicitly translating into American English, but even in this less literary register the difference between this and my British English is small, apart from the well known spelling differences. Therefore his drafts are much more easily understood here in England than are traditional formal correspondence translations in the Tyndale tradition. I do criticise the unnecessary and confusing italics, and the excessive use of footnotes giving allegedly literal readings (by which Webb usually means Tyndale tradition glosses). I would also prefer to see section headings rather than prominent chapter numbers. Nevertheless the actual text of this version has the potential of being one of the best Bible translations I have seen.

I have known about this project for some time, although I don't think it has been mentioned before on this blog. The real reason I am posting about it now is that I want to present here some words which Webb wrote to someone else, with a copy to me, in a private e-mail, and which I got his permission to post here. In these words he is responding to a mention on the e-mail list of how Epictetus used the Greek word peripateo, literally "walk", about general conduct, apparently much as the Apostle Paul did. Webb wrote:
I cited Epictetus just because he was handy. If you’ve studied the history of philosophy, you’ll know that he was famous for talking in everyday, simple language. Yes, he was a heathen. But that doesn’t imply that he gave the word PERIPATEW any particular unusual meaning. He used it the same way as the average Joe on the street. And so did Paul. Paul could talk about conducting yourself well or about conducting yourself inappropriately, because the word PERIPATEW just meant conduct yourself sometimes, when it didn’t mean “walk along”. There was nothing uniquely “Christ-centered” about the word PERIPATEW itself in Paul’s vocabulary.

I get the feeling ... that you think words somehow become special, extra-significant containers, full to the brim with meaning built up of all the contexts around the several scriptural uses of them, whenever writers of the scripture use them. The TDNT and TDOT projects have been roundly criticized for that sort of thinking, which creates a fundamentally different hermeneutic for texts in the Bible than for any other kind of communication. But if we teach Christians that the Bible needs a special hermeneutic, fully understood only by those experts who have made the tens of thousands of minute connections between all the individual elements, then there is the danger that people will be able to get away with anything whatsoever in their teaching, and lead people astray. By having zillions of connections, and an extensive pool of possible contexts for every text, a teacher has the option of going in virtually any direction he or she wishes in order to arrive at an authoritative-sounding interpretation for the uninitiated. The irony is that the folks who subscribe to this sort of philosophy are deeply concerned about wrong doctrine and error—but by creating a massively flexible custom hermeneutic for the Bible, they teach their followers that you can’t critique somebody’s interpretation of the Bible by the ordinary rational tools we all hold in common—you have to take their word for it that this huge EVERYTHING-CONNECTS-TO-EVERYTHING system is required in order to understand any specific passage. Few lay people can stand up self-confidently against the presumed expertise of the person who claims to be able to connect every single verse in the Bible to every other single verse, so people typically lay down their God-given common sense and let themselves be spoon fed. The imposition of this kind of a system is practically guaranteed to result in error and deception, or at the very least, in massive distraction from the true weight of the holy text.
These are important observations which need to be remembered by all Bible translators and all exegetes. Some of the thoughts I have about this are off topic for this blog, so when I have time I will bring them up on my own blog. I will end this post simply with Webb's thoughts.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Is this faithful translation?

Proverbs 27:6 in several versions is worded as:
Faithful are the wounds of a friend
I suggest that the word "faithful" is not faithful translation because it is not faithful to the grammar of English. In English an animate, volitional being, such as a person or a horse, can be "faithful," but a wound cannot be. (UPDATE: The word "faithful" in this context means 'trusted'. We can trust friends when they tell us something that hurts us. A translation that is faithful is one that is accurate, true to the original, trustworthy. We can trust it.) Some English versions do translate this clause into grammatical English, including these:
Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts (NRSV)
The blows a friend gives are well meant (REB)
Translation requires that we be faithful both to source languages as well as target languages. Too many English Bible translations do not sufficiently follow the rules of English which have developed over many centuries by speakers and writers of English. As such, these translations are not faithful translations, at least not to the language they are being translated into. Good quality vibrant literary English can also be grammatical English used in English Bible versions.

Oh, that there be more Bible translation committees where the scholarship for quality English is as high as that for quality understanding of the biblical languages! Oh, that more Bible translation committees might receive training in Bible translation principles before beginning to translate the Bible into English. We require this of people translating into the so-called minority languages of the world. Surely speakers of the majority languages of the world are just as worthy of having their Bible translators trained in how to translate.

And that's what this blog is about, helping people understand how we can have better Bibles.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Where angels fear to tread

Since there seems to be a buzz at the moment (see here, here, and here) about the value of learning the original languages — something that I highly recommend, by the way — I interrupt my posting on inerrancy issues to give my two cents as a linguist on the matter of learning a dead language. Since the reasons and benefits have been outlined already I want to warn about a particular kind of pitfall, which far too few are aware of. And if you are aware of it, will help you get the most out of even a minor investment in Greek and Hebrew.

When I was in high school many, many years ago, the language I studied was Latin. (That should give you a good idea of just how long ago that was.) Some time in the fourth year, when we were reading Vergil and doing translation exercises, I noticed that no one’s translations sounded like anything we would normally say. Instead they sounded rather more like the English of the Bible and the the Prayer Book. (I was raised an Episcopalian.)

And it bothered me.

Now, given that it was forty years ago, I’m a little fuzzy on the details of how the next thing happened, but somehow during that school year I ended up with a different Latin dictionary. And, lo and behold, my translations started to sound different. I remember very vividly that they sounded more modern. I don’t remember for sure if Miss Lang gave me better or worse grades for them. But they were much more satisfying. And since I ended up with A’s in Latin, she couldn’t have given me grades that were too bad.

As you can imagine from my recounting this experience decades later, it was an ah-ha moment for me. I got an early glimpse into just how centrally important reference materials are to the student of a dead language.

But even with that it wasn’t until March of 1995 when Geoff Nunberg, doing his semi-regular piece on Fresh Air, reviewed the release of an album of Elvis songs in Latin, that the full implications hit home. (The piece can be found here.)

A short version of Prof. Nunberg’s review goes like this. He pointed out that we tend to think of Latin as a kind of polite, vaguely British exercise. (He called it Edwardian.) That view is possibly best epitomized by Winne Ille Pu (Winnie the Pooh in Latin — and, yes, I still have the copy I got in the 1960’s when it first appeared). But this is really not a true picture of Romans at all. We have lost sight of the fact that Romans were Latin, as in Latin lover and Latin America. Prof. Nunberg’s review pointed out that Elvis’s lounge songs translated into Latin do remarkably well, because the songs are, well, Latin.

This, of course, set me off re-thinking all of my classical education.

Suddenly Cicero’s Cataline orations sounded to me like the DA in Palermo bringing charges against a major Mafia don.

Caesar seemed like just another ego-obsessed Latin American dictator.

I started to hear Latin in my head sounding like it was spoken by the characters in Mediterráneo.

Why am I telling you this?

Because the thing about learning dead languages is that there is no corrective for misleading views of what the meanings, implications, and worldview are. If you study German and go to Germany, your mistakes are quickly apparent. There’s a lot of “Oh, so THAT’s what that means”. But not so with Greek and Hebrew. We have to supply the corrective ourselves.

That’s why I was so mad at Mel Gibson. He completely blew his chance to show us what it was really sounded like in The Passion of the Christ.

Aramaic from that era should have sounded like Arabic, both in having the pharyngeal sounds that make Arabic sound strangled to our ears, and in having a wide range of intonation. There should have been no Latin to speak of. Everyone in the Eastern Empire was speaking Greek as the lingua franca. And the whole thing should have been louder and much, much more emotional.

Keep this in mind as you study Greek or Hebrew. You can learn enough to read the Bible without a pony and still hear the KJV in the back of your head. You can read the Greek and still come away thinking in terms of twentieth century theology.

No, these writers were Jews, Italians, and Greeks. Much more Levantine. Much more animated and rougher around the edges than we take as proper in our churches nowadays.

Don’t get me wrong. There are great rewards for the investment in learning Greek and Hebrew, but the biggest lesson to learn is not how to parse the verb forms or how to recognize apparently odd uses of singular agreement with neuter plurals.

The biggest lesson is to learn how to let the text speak for itself, lest you think you’re hearing the original but you end up where angels fear to tread.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Double Jeopardy

Two recent posts are a must read. Maybe they were written for me. I don't know - but thank you, Iyov and Henry.

First, Henry has put his tender thoughts on Youtube, Why I hate the KJV. Thanks, Henry! I loved seeing you hold your old Bibles.

And Iyov writes Why I don't like the ESV. Thank you, Iyov. Of course, the ESV is not a translation but a revision in order to meet the recently created language orthodoxy policies. (Of course, the KJV was a revision also, of the Bishop's Bible to meet other ends.)

My latest problem with the ESV is that it is the project of the same people as support the CBMW. This group denies that women are made in the image of God. Bruce Ware said,
    "Man is the image of God directly, woman is the image of God only through the man… Because man was created by God in His image first, man alone was created in a direct and unmediated fashion as the image of God, manifesting then the glory of God in man, that is male man…
Last time I looked Genesis 1 was still in the Bible,
    So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Gen. 1:27.
But one has to assume now that some people believe that "man" means only the male. Therefore, the phrase "in his own image" refers only to the preceding "man" and not to the following "male and female." Or maybe woman is created in the image of God as mediated through Adam. I guess that's it. In any case, there is, according to Bruce Ware,
    a God intended priority given to the man as the original image of God


I want to end on a light note and thanks to Steve I can,

א צאתהוליצ פריעסת אנד א ראבבי פינד תהעמסעלועס סיתתינג נעכת תו עאצה ותהער ונ א לונג חוורנעט אנד סו אפתער סומע העסיתאתיונ סתארת תו תאלכ תו עאצהותהער. אפתער דיסצוססינג תהע שעאתהער אנד ספורתס, תהע פריעסת תורנס תו תהע ראבבי אנד סאטס תהאת הע תהווגהת ית שאס ראתהער סתראנגע תהאת עה שאס נות אללושעד תו עאת פורכ, אנד אסכעד הימ שהעתהער הע עוער האד.

תהע ראבבי רעפליעד, ’שעלל, שהענ י שאס א סמאלל בוט, י דיד ינ פאצת תאסתע א סמאלל פיעצע ופ באצונ.’

’שהאת שאס ית ליכע?’ אסכעד תהע פריעסת.

תהע ראבבי רעפליעד: ’נות נעארלט אס גווד אס סעח.’

Tip: This starts in the upper left right* corner and is in English typed on a Hebrew keyboard. There have been through the ages many transliterations of this sort. I don't use this keyboard but it looks fairly straightforward.

*I must be somewhat dyslexic which is why I found this so easy to read.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why felicity isn't just truth in disguise

The proposal to start thinking about inerrancy, or something akin to inerrancy, in terms of the linguists’ notion of felicity seems to have generated a bit of a buzz. I had wanted to post on belief vs. trust next, but the comment threads seem to demand a deeper delving into what felicity is.

So here goes.

At first approximation, as I said before, felicity is like sincerity. A speaker using language in a way that is consonant with his or her beliefs and in ways that are appropriate to his or her position in society and his or her position in the situation with respect to the speech act can be said to be speaking felicitously.

It turns out that as obvious as all that seems, there are surprisingly many details and those details can make an significant difference if we are looking to build a theory of inerrancy.

The classic cases are complex — those in which one of the participants has a privileged position and is acting officially in that position — the jury giving a verdict, the pastor marrying a couple, an accused person entering a plea.
We find the defendant guilty of murder in the second degree.
I pronounce you husband and wife.
I plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
In each of these cases, not only does the general situation have to be appropriate, but the utterer has to be the appropriate person acting in the appropriate way at the appropriate point in the unfolding ritual.

The full specification of felicity in these complex cases constitutes the filling in of all the appropriates. In the case of the wedding, the man and woman have to have been licensed to be married and have to have given their verbal consent to marry one another. The utterer has to be licensed to perform marriages, and has to say the utterance at the right time in the ceremony.

Felicity in the kind of communication that is analogous to a written text, rather than in formal or ritual contexts, is simpler. The speaker (author) is obligated to provide only information that he/she believes to be valid and that he/she has sufficient reason to believe in its validity. (I’m knocking myself out here to avoid the term true.) We generally refer to violations of felicity as lying, although actual lying is more complex. (Isn't everything?)

Since our grasp of the world is one which has many holes, we constantly hedge our assertions to help maintain felicity.
I think John was there last night.
John seemed to be drunk.
The alleged bank robber was apprehended last night.
In fact, there many languages which, by convention, require speakers to mark just how good their evidence is for a particular assertion. Failure to do so correctly is tantamount to lying. Ottawa (a variety of Ojibwe) is like that:
Esban maa gii-yaa. ‘There was a raccoon here. (I saw it.)’
Esban maa gii-yaadig. ‘There was a raccoon here. (I saw evidence to that effect.)’
Esban giiwenh maa gii-yaadig. ‘There was a raccoon here. (Someone told me.)’
Now besides hedges there are two other ways that felicitous communication can deviate from truth in the strictest sense.

First, the quality of information the speaker (author) is passing on need only be sufficiently accurate for the purposes of the communication. Notice, in particular, that it doesn’t have to be fully true in every detail. We all certainly know people who say:
I'll be there at 3.
but don’t show up until 3:10 or 3:15. We don’t leap on them as having lied (or in this case promised infelicitously). (OK, in some situations people are stricter than in others, and the strictness of interpretation is culture-dependent. In Latin America there's a lot more slippage in assertions about time than in, say, Holland.)

Second, we leave a lot of stuff out if it’s irrelevant.
Father: What did you do today?
Son: Oh, I went to school.
Interactions like this are the subjects of jokes because the amount of information the father thinks is relevant is more than the amount of information the son thinks is relevant. But even were the son to meet the father’s expectations, the amount of detail he would leave out is enormous — the route taken to school, stops made along the way for traffic control devices, order of classes, stops at his locker, exact books carried to which classes, what chance encounters there were with friends in the hall, what notes were passed in class, ... I could go on. But you get the idea. There is a parameter of relevance. If he got caught passing a note in class and sent to the principal, then THAT would be relevant, and felicity demands he communicate that information.

Now what happens when there is a dramatic asymmetry between what one of the interlocutors knows or understands and what the other does. Then these two parameters: precision of utterance and omission of content play a much bigger role. The possessor of the greater amount of information is allowed to simplify and even withhold information without being charged with being infelicitous.

We encounter this kind of asymmetry most commonly in situations of teaching or in lectures or presentations by experts.

So if you ask a chemist how benzene is structured, she’ll probably talk to you, as a non-specialist, about its ring structure and maybe about double bonds, and maybe draw the standard picture.But she probably won’t explain about the complex orbitals the electrons share above and below the plane of the molecule. These omissions and the fact that the double bonds indicated by the three little lines in the standard picture aren’t exactly double bonds don’t count as infelicitous communication.

Of course, just how much must be present and how much gets left out is governed by conventions of individual languages/cultures. Some cultures allow much more dramatic deviations from exact “truth” than we do. But the fact about asymmetric communication is true of every culture I know anything about at all.

Well, you may have already figured out where this is going.

If we believe that Scripture is inspired, then there are two sources of felicity that need to be accounted for. First, the author himself, and second the source of the inspiration, i.e., God. But notice that the conventions of asymmetrical communication means that God can be communicating to us without telling us everything and even dumbing things down and still be communicating felicitously.

God doesn’t have to tell us the truth — in the narrow platonic sense — to be felicitous. He just has to see that the writer He is inspiring gets point of the communication accurate.

This is what gets us out of having stand on our heads theologically to deal with “misquotes” from the LXX or questions about whether Jesus’ parables were true stories, while at the same time obligating us to the virgin birth, the miracles, the teachings, and the resurrection. These latter are all points of the text, which felicity does require to be accurate.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Against thee, thee only

I want to drop a note about the importance of emotional engagement with the text. I am not going to claim that a Christian will make a more faithful translation, but only remark that the affective domain contributes to one's performance of a task.

Do we love the words we are translating? Do we love whoever wrote these words? Do we love those we are translating for? And those we are translating with? Is there a bond of affection and a fellowship of mutual regard?

One of the things that some of us love about the King James Bible is the use of terms like "loving-kindness" and Carl has echoed this in his translation of 1 Cor. 13.

I received an email today asking about the Pagnini Bible so it has inspired me to remark on the affective domain in Pagnini's translation, and how it has influenced the KJV and contributed to certain emotionally charged passages.

Here is Jerome's translation from the Hebrew and Pagnini's for Ps. 22:1a,
    Deus, Deas meus qaure dereliquisti me, Jerome

    O God my God, look upon me: why hast thou forsaken me? D-R.

    Deus mi, Deus mi, utquid dereliquisti me, Pagnini

    My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? KJV
And Psalm 51:4,
    tibi soli peccavi et malum coram te feci Jerome

    To thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before thee: D-R.

    tibi tibi soli peccavi et malum in oculis tuis feci Pagnini

    Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: KJV
I don't want to squabble about which is more literal, closer to the Hebrew. I think Pagnini's is somewhat closer, but that is beside the point. The details that he has added to the text change the emotional loading of these passages. I am not able to say whether these subtle changes can be attributed to an earlier commentator or not. However, they have influenced our English textual tradition ever since.

Look at Luther's translation of Psalm 51:4,
    An dir allein habe ich gesündigt

    Against you alone have I sinned
And Alter's,
    You alone have I offended
Well maybe these guys thought that Pagnini's repetition was an unnecessary affectation. We really don't know. But we do know that translators as individuals leave their mark on the text. We translate out of our love of words and language and expression and God. We can never, as translators, completely prevent our own personality from affecting how we translate. If we are emotionally engaged with the text then that will come across in ways that are peculiar to us.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Justification and felicity

This post is really a question for Richard Rhodes, partly in response to his posts The 800 pound Gorilla and The itch that inerrancy scratches. But I am writing it as a separate post because I think it might get a bit long for a comment, and because others might be interested in this topic.

Over the last few days on a private mailing list for Bible translators there has been some discussion (mainly between David Frank and myself, and I have David's permission to post about this) of the word in Paul's letters usually translated "justify" being used as a performative. That is, it is being used in the same way as when a judge declares a defendant not guilty: that is not so much a statement that the defendant did not commit the crime as a declaration that he or she is legally treated as innocent and will not be punished. On this interpretation, when Paul writes that God justifies us by faith, he does not mean that God says we have not sinned, but that God is declaring that we will legally be treated as innocent and will not be punished.

One objection sometimes made to the Reformed Evangelical doctrine of justification (here to be distinguished from the understanding of Paul's teaching associated with the New Perspective on Paul) is that it teaches that God says that Christian believers have not sinned although in fact they have - which implies that God is a liar, as in 1 John 1:10. But, as David Frank pointed out to me, if justification is a performative one cannot say that it is a lie. Indeed, even if an unjust or corrupt human judge were to declare not guilty a defendant who he or she knew was in fact guilty, one would not call that verdict a lie.

This of course agrees with what Richard wrote in the gorilla post:
In the 1960’s, after the posthumous publication of John L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, the philosophical and linguistic worlds became aware that the notion truth only applied to a portion of language.

In short, it makes no sense to talk about whether utterances like the following are true or false:
And although none of the utterances Richard listed are in fact performatives, it also makes no sense to talk about whether performatives are true or false.

Richard goes on to introduce the concept of felicity, which does apply to all kinds of utterances. He also makes the claim that
Scripture is fully felicitous communication.
Presumably he would suggest that a fortiori all utterances of God are fully felicitous.

But what does it mean for a performative utterance to be felicitous? This is where my question to Richard comes in. In fact there are three questions, but the important one is the third one.

First, if someone who in fact has no authority to do so, who is not a judge, presumes to pronounce a perpetrator not guilty, that would be an apparently performative utterance which actually fails to perform, in that it has no legal effect and fails to protect that person from punishment. Would it be reasonable to say that the pronouncement is an utterance which is not felicitous?

Then I return to the unjust or corrupt human judge who declares not guilty a defendant who he or she knows is in fact guilty. Would that verdict also be an utterance which is not felicitous? After all, although it is not in itself an untruth, it is based on untruth and deception. Of course this verdict is felicitous in the common sense of the word for the defendant (not for the victim), but is it felicitous in the technical linguistic sense?

And now at last for my real question. If God declares me not guilty, or righteous, although he knows very well that I have committed many sins and am in fact guilty, is his declaration an utterance which is not felicitous? Again, it is felicitous for me in the common sense, but what about the technical linguistic sense?

If this verdict is not felicitous, then either we have to accept that God can and does make infelicitous utterances, or find some other interpretation of Paul's language about justification, such as that of the New Perspective on Paul, according to which justification is not just a declaration of not guilty but a real change in the person's status and actions.

The relevance for this for Bible translation is that, if translators cannot use a traditional word like "justify" whose precise meaning is not well known to their readers, they need to know what alternative to use. Should it be something like "declare not guilty"? Presumably it should not be "say that ... has not sinned". But perhaps, following the New Perspective on Paul, it should be more like "make not guilty". What does anyone think?

Beating a dead metaphor

Here's an email I received from one of the readers of my Lingamish blog [Some details removed]:

Dear Friend in Christ, Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! I have been going through the studies at your web site, and I am deeply inspired with all of the teachings and studies thereon like Bible studies, sermons, children's sermons and other teaching materials on our Web site. This is such a wonderful studies you have arranged for all the nations, in the long run of your service for the nations of the all the world. I am from [a politically/religiously repressive country] where it is difficult to have Radio and TV channel for preaching purposes. They would not allow us to do that here; the Satan has real strong hold over everything. I often say that we are living in the land of the enemy. Friend, I humbly request you to expand your outreach your program in [a language] and [another] language. [...]I would ask you to pray and share it among the brethren. I would offer my services for being translator, recorder and distribution/sales. I pray that your consideration will have His mark over your decision. May God bless you abundantly! May His perfect will be done! Grace and Peace be with you, all brethrens. Yours brother in Christ, [Name removed]

Notice anything wrong here? While you can only applaud this man's desire to translate my witty blog into the languages of his home country, I can guarantee that the result wouldn't be anything like my blog. It is entirely possible that this isn't just some devious huckster trying to flatter me and then make a buck. Maybe he did read my blog and see nothing but spiritually uplifting "Bible studies, sermons, children's sermons and other teaching materials." But the truth is he missed the point. He didn't get the joke.

And if the joke's on him, I'm afraid that the same can be said of some of us Bible bloggers who have been blogging ourselves blue in the face on 1 Corinthians 9:27. If the first rule of the Hippocratic Oath is "Do no harm" then the first rule of translation should be George Orwell's: "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous." Yet most of the suggestions I'm seeing so far are barbarous. And  barbarous for the simple reason that they're mixing dead metaphors.

The word in question is this one: ὑπωπιάζω. (hupopiazo) This word has a fantastic etymology: hupo-op-piazo "hit under the eye." Unfortunately we only have two occurrences of the word in the New Testament:

For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” (Luke 18:4-5, NRSV)

So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:26-27, NRSV)

The reason this word gets used in such different contexts is that the word is a dead metaphor, or "semantically bleached" (I've always wanted to use that phrase on a blog). And further proof of this is that Paul collocates it with "body" which would really be strange: "I hit myself on the face my body." Finally, this is just a small word in a big mixed metaphor that rambles through chapters 9 and 10 and includes slavery, boxing, athletic training and yoga. Well, maybe not yoga. But I hear John Hobbins found some yoga in this passage so it must be there.

This is one of those cases where we as translators just have to laugh at ourselves and say, "Gee, I don't really know how to bring in the meaning of ὑπωπιάζω into my translation, but I can at least make sure I don't say anything barbarous." And that is what English translators have been doing far into the distant past when they all walked around wearing powdered wigs. KJV and all the rest simply say "discipline" and who am I to contradict such an illustrious crowd?

For another example of Paul's use of mixed metaphors, see 1 Timothy 1:18-20.

Well, this is my first ever post on BBB and I deserve a good beating for it I'm sure. But right now I'm hungry so I'm going to head over to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Adam's rib

Addendum: In supporting a contrasting interpretation of Gen. 2:20-22, I am not attempting to prove that this is the only way to interpret it or even the best way, but merely suggest that it is one way. There are simply times when there exist two opposing interpretations and we don't know which is right. I think we have to live with that. It changes how we view inspiration and the perspicacity of scripture, of course.

Here are two other examples,

Gen. 3:16b
    Your desire shall be for[f] your husband,
    and he shall(Q) rule over you."

    f) Or against
Heb. 11:11
    Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

    By faith Abraham, even though he was past age - and Sarah herself was barren - was enabled to become a father because he F47 considered him faithful who had made the promise.
I think we have to have a category for passages whose meaning we simply can't resolve.


Original Post

Peter has picked a difference with the Inclusive Bible. Here is the translation for Gen. 2:20b-22 HT Iyov's blog,
    But none of them proved to be a fitting companion, so YHWH made the earth creature fall into a deep sleep, and while it slept, God divided the earth creature into two, then closed up the flesh from its side. YHWH then fashioned the two halves into male and female, and presented them to one another.
I believe that the power of the English translation is so strong that the reader, even a reader who knows Hebrew well, has difficulty seeing past the typical Tyndale-KJ tradition to the original. Here is a more literal translation of this passage structured on the Tyndale-KJV tradition,
    but for earth creature (adam) there was not found an adequate protective companion for it.

    21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon earth creature (adam), and it slept: and [God] took one of its sides, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

    22 And made the side, which the LORD God had taken from earth creature (adam), a woman, and [God] made her come to the earth creature.

    23 And earth creature (adam) said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, (isha) because she was taken from Man (ish).

    24 Therefore shall a man (ish) leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

This is the bare bones of the passage. Here is what I notice first off.

1. "Fitting companion" is perfectly appropriate for ezer kenegdo, although "adequate protective partner" is closer to the use of the word elsewhere.

2. Adam is best described as a neuter "earth creature" since we do not know what it means beyond that. All else is conjecture. There is no reason to translate grammatical gender.

3. "Side" is a more appropriate translation than "rib." There is no information that this meant the literal rib.

4. There is no male (ish) until after woman (isha) has been taken from ish. It only says "from" not "out of."

5. This is the only translation that makes sense of why man and woman are "one flesh." Surely man does not miss one rib so much that he cannot feel whole without it. It is his "other half" that he misses so much.

I find that the Inclusive Bible rendering for this verse varies from the Hebrew in minor ways, but not as much as the Tyndale-KJ tradition. In fact, it is only by reading translations that vary from our favoured tradition that we can get new insight into the original text.

Now we can understand the force of the word "cleave." Man is not seeking to put his rib back in place, to absorb woman back into himself, but to attach himself back onto to his other half. It all makes so much more sense. Please tear this apart if I have misunderstood the Hebrew.

I suppose some may see this as a knee jerk reaction but there is a long tradition which argues for an androgynous earth creature. Don't be put off by the title - there is a good pedigree for the kind of interpretation which says that man and woman are two sides of earth creature, not a man and a lost rib.

The Inclusive Bible

Iyov has rather surprised me with his review of The Inclusive Bible. This is a complete new translation of the Bible (Hebrew Old Testament, deuterocanonical books, and New Testament) with detailed study notes. What surprised me was Iyov's generally positive reception of this Bible, although it is a dynamic equivalence translation with gender-inclusive language, two features of translations which Iyov has repeatedly attacked in the past. It seems that in Iyov's thinking these negatives have been counterbalanced by the Jewish-friendly rendering of divine names and the fact that
this translation is unabashedly liberal.
It is not really fair to evaluate a translation on the basis of just a few verses. But, since all I have read is the short passages quoted by Iyov, I will do just that. Here is the Inclusive Bible's rendering of Genesis 2:20b-22:
But none of them proved to be a fitting companion, so YHWH made the earth creature fall into a deep sleep, and while it slept, God divided the earth creature into two, then closed up the flesh from its side. YHWH then fashioned the two halves into male and female, and presented them to one another.
This gives a flavour of how this version avoids specifying the gender either of God or of the first human being. I consider this to be a reasonable translation option, considering that in the Hebrew text neither being is assigned natural gender, only grammatical gender which is arbitrary.

But I must take issue with this translation for inaccuracy in implying that the first human was divided in a purely equal way into male and female. This may reflect oriental mythology, but not the biblical text. In the Bible it is clear that the woman was taken out of the man, that there was not full equality here.

If this is how this Inclusive Bible handles matters like this, I have to say that it is not an acceptably accurate translation. This goes beyond inclusive language, into distorting the message of the Bible by making it reflect a generally inclusive philosophy. This is a distinction which Iyov does not seem to have noticed in his enthusiasm to endorse this Bible, rather than TNIV and NRSV which put translational accuracy before inclusiveness.

There is a lot more to Iyov's review which I have not covered here, so read it for yourselves.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The itch that inerrancy scratches

No one so far seems to have noticed that a theory of inerrancy based on felicity is setting the bar very low. Felicity is the null assumption for any communication and particularly for historical texts. If we find a papyrus letter from a Roman soldier stationed in Syria to his father in Egypt, written in Greek, we assume that he meant what he said in the body of the letter, that both he and his father spoke Greek, and that he really was stationed in Syria, and so on. You pretty much have to be living in George Smiley’s world, not to assume felicity in a text.

So whatever the itch is that inerrancy scratches, felicity doesn’t do it.

So what is that itch?

From where I sit it looks like this.
• People want to believe in the right thing.

• Truth is the guarantee that something is the right thing to believe.

• If the Bible is all true, then it must be the right thing (also vice versa).

• Besides, if the Bible is all true, then it’s a moral failing not to believe it, because it is a crucial operating assumption of our society that we agree to believe in everything that is true.
So the task becomes finding reasons to ascribe the abstract quality of truth to the Bible.

And that’s the misstep.

Looking for pre-existent truth runs afoul of almost all modern (and post-modern) thinking. Since Kant we have known, in one form or another, that the perceiver plays an important role in ascertaining what is true. In an even more interesting development of thought about epistemology the chemist turned philosopher, Michael Polanyi, in his book, Personal Knowledge, shows that, not only does judgment and art underlie received scientific fact, but even the society of thinkers on a topic plays an important role is determining what counts as true.
(If you doubt Polanyi’s point, just look around in theological circles.)
And what he’s talking about isn’t mere philosophy. He’s talking about the kind of science that has given us lots and lots of things we can (and do) trust every day of our lives. We drive cars and fly in airplanes. We buy foods at the store with confidence that they are safe and take medicines with the confidence that they will have the effect that the doctor wants. All of this is brought to us as the ultimate end product of assuming a platonistic world and invoking Aristotlean logic. All highly useful.

And I’m not willing to give up any of it.

But that doesn’t also mean that I have to apply low value understanding of truth to texts, if I know better.

It’s fine that we know that engineering works perfectly well on models of Newtonian physics, but that doesn’t obligate us to insist on Newtonian physics for all our thinking about physics in general.

The problem for us in the inerrancy discussion is that even if cutting edge thinkers for the last two centuries have given up on Plato and his belief in the pre-existence of reality, Euro-American society as a whole hasn’t. And that includes all the parts of Christianity that I’ve had contact with.

Most folks continue to believe that there is a large variety of absolute facts out in the world that are utterly independent of people. We, as a society, act as if our perceptions and categories were derivative of realities that exist independent of us and our society. And, believe me, if you live in a monolingual society dominated by a single culture, you can go a very long way believing this. We use the word true to ascribe trustworthiness to these assumed realities.

But then does this apply to text? and particularly to literature? Do texts have to be platonically true to be of interest?

Does Jane Austen suffer any because her texts are not true accounts of verifiable events?


When people say, “Fiction can be truer than fact.”, they mean exactly that. Good fiction can lay bare deeper truths about the way things are, often better than even the most factually accurate historical account. In history, we do not know what those people were thinking. At best we can infer. In fiction we can read their thoughts off the page.

Giving up on ascribing platonistic truth to Scripture actually allows us to stop imposing a double standard. As it is we not only think that truth implies a validity to imperatives — read commandments — we say that, or at least act like Matt. 5:30
If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (NASB)
has a different validity than Matt. 5:43-44.
You have heard that it was said, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matt. 5:43-44)

If you start with felicity, it forces you to admit that you have to look elsewhere to figure out such things.



But then it’s a mistake to think that there is anything about Christianity that is safe.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The 800 pound Gorilla

After several weeks of blog chatter about the firing of a professor at Westminster over his book on inerrancy, a metadebate has broken out between Alan Lenzi, who calls for a moratorium on the topic, and John Hobbins, who says that’s not a real option.

Emotionally, I’m with Alan on this. I’d rather not talk about it. If you’ve followed any of the comment threads to my posts, you should know that I find the contemporary practice of theology not only tedious, but unhelpful and often utterly misleading.

But, if you are talking into the blogosphere about Bible translation, inerrancy is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. It does no good to try and ignore it. Inerrancy underlies the persistent belief that a more “literal” translation is a better translation, most recently found here (but read the post by Suzanne and the comments here).

Several times commenting on various blogs, I’ve leaked pieces of my view on inerrancy, only to have them misunderstood in various ways. So I’d like to take a whack at it in a place where I can have the space (and time) to fully articulate my view.

Most statements about orthodox view on inerrancy center around a notion of truth.
“[T]he view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1987, p. 142).’
So that’s where I’ll start — with the notion of truth in general.

In the 1960’s, after the posthumous publication of John L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, the philosophical and linguistic worlds became aware that the notion truth only applied to a portion of language.

In short, it makes no sense to talk about whether utterances like the following are true or false:
Thank you.

What time is it?

Take out the garbage.
Instead there is a more abstract notion originally called HAPPINESS (now generally referred to as FELICITY) which applies to all language.

At first approximation, if you use language sincerely then it is FELICITOUS.
If you mean please when you say please,
if you mean thank you when you say thank you,
if you do not know what time it is and you honestly think that someone knows (or can easily come to know) what time it is when you ask them what time is it?,
if, when you tell someone take out the garbage, you are in the right kind of social relationship with them and believe that they are physically able to do so,

then the respective utterances are FELICITOUS.
Truth is just a part of the special case of felicity for simple declaratives. If you say
John came in at twelve last night.
you must believe it to be true to be uttering it felicitously.

So part one of my statement of belief about inerrancy is that
Scripture is fully felicitous communication.
Looking at it this way has many interesting implications which I will take up in later posts.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Participle Theology

I haven't completely recovered from pronoun theology but now I have been introduced to "participle" theology. I am eternally baffled by these things. What should I make of these two posts?

Here the ESV Bible blog quotes Niel Nielson who claims,

The English Standard Version translation preserves the grammar of the original Greek, presenting [1 Peter 5:7] as a subordinate clause as follows:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

By faithfully rendering the grammar of the original, the ESV enables the reader immediately to see that there is a close connection between humility and getting rid of our anxiety. In fact, the reader is instructed to demonstrate true humility before God by casting all anxieties on him. Worry is pride, a refusal to acknowledge who God is and who we are.

But in another part of the blogosphere, Dan Wallace writes,
    There’s a myth foisted on the Christian public about the meaning of the Great Commission (Matt 28.19-20). It goes something like this: “In the Greek, the word translated ‘Go’ is really a participle and it literally means, ‘as you are going.’ But the words ‘make disciples’ are an imperative in Greek. That’s the only imperative in these two verses.

    Therefore, the Great Commission is not a command to go; rather, it is a command to make disciples as you are going, or make disciples along the way.” The exposition based on this understanding of the Greek text then attempts to salve the consciences of the congregation, permitting them to do nothing about the lost if it at all means going out of their way.
Read the rest here.

This is the ESV translation of that verse. It uses a syntax common to most translations, translating a participle followed by an imperative as two imperatives.
    Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Matt. 28:19.
The ESV blog should be very careful not to give the impression that translating a Greek participle into an English participle has theological import. I am not sure that they were doing that, but they need to make sure that they are not encouraging people to do exactly what Wallace is so concerned that people not do.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Waits out storms

There is no one right way to translate μακροθυμεω. However, "patient" may be too bland, and "suffers long" somewhat opaque. "Slow to anger" is a solution which uses the same term as is used in the Old Testament for how the Lord deals with his people. He is "slow to anger." It is not a passive expression, but alludes to strength and feeling. This passage exhorts us to have love for others of the kind that God has for us. There is another option, however.

Last summer when we were discussing 1 Cor. 13, Carl Conrad sent me his translation of this chapter, remarking that this is not a "literal" version, and definitely involves a distinctive interpretation of the Pauline text in the context of an interpretation of 1 Corinthians as a whole. Although this translation has been used at a wedding ceremony, he expressed some reservations about this.

I Corinthians 13: A Version
1.  Unless I make my voice show loving-kindness,
the eloquence of orators
and even lyric ecstasy of angels
is meaningless babel.

2. Whatever powers I may have—
to proclaim God’s will on the issues of the day,
to probe secrets of the cosmos and wisdom of sages,
to overcome any obstacle with boundless trust in God,
they are utterly worthless
unless they serve loving-kindness.

3. I might be
a peerless philanthropist
or ready to die for the right cause,
but doing good
—without loving-kindness,
is labor spent in vain.

4. Loving-kindness waits out storms;
it is good-hearted and not jealous;
it isn't egotistical, and doesn't put on airs.

5. It doesn't become ugly,
doesn't try to get its own way,
doesn't lose its temper,
and doesn't hold a grudge.

6. Loving-kindness isn’t pleased
when someone gets hurt;
what really thrills it
is integrity winning out.

7. Loving-kindness rises to meet each occasion;
it is absolutely trusting,
full of hope,
withstands every challenge.

8. Loving-kindness will always have a role to play.
But someday great issues will no longer matter;
someday eloquence will have nothing to say;
someday throbbing angelic ecstasy will be hushed;
and someday profound insights will be irrelevant.

9. Our deepest insights, after all,
are always biased;
even our visions of the issues
are colored by our time and place.

10. But when the fullness of time comes,
our biased insights
and matters that seem to us important
will lose their importance.

11. A child has its own way of talking,
its own way of seeing right and wrong,
its own way of thinking.
An adult must think and act in grown-up ways.

12. We are like children now:
our images of each other are at best distorted;
when we grow up,
we will look each other in the face.
My clearest visions now are skewed;
when we are fully grown,
we shall see and understand each other
with the wholeness of authentic selves.

13. So there are these three things that outlive life itself:
trusting loyalty,
sure expectation,
and loving-kindness;
and of them all,
the one that counts for most is loving-kindness.

—CWC; August 6, 1988, revised

Long in the nose

Or "long in the nostrils" and as a verb "lengthen your nostrils." Well, Lingalinga wants us to take a stab at translating this as a verb.

Update: Peter adds some thoughts. And in response to a question, I cannot find references to makrothumeô in classical Greek - it appears to be from the LXX.

My preceding post on Psalm 103 was partially tongue in cheek, but also a reflection on the fact that Hebrew poetry uses gender, concrete metaphor and other features of language in ways that cannot be translated into English so the study of Hebrew is very rewarding.

However, I also wanted to point out what has been mentioned before on this blog, that "long in the nostrils" is the underlying metaphor for "slow to anger" in English Bibles. This occurs in Ex. 34:6 and Ps.103:8 among other places.

This expression was translated into Greek as μακροθυμεω which is found in 1 Cor. 13 as "suffers long" or "is patient." But it is the same expression.

It is regrettable that there has never been enough sensitivity to the Septuagint to translate these two corresponding expressions, one from Greek and one from Hebrew, with the same English word. I have not seen this phrase cross-referenced with the Hebrew Bible either although I may have missed it.

I am not mourning the loss of the literal translation for these expressions - to a certain extent both "slow to anger" and "suffers long" are literal. What is lost here is that Paul is describing love in terms of the Hebrew Bible. This passage is not in contradistinction with the Hebrew but is a reiteration of the Hebrew scriptures.

So why not use "slow to anger" in 1 Cor. 13:4. "Love is slow to anger." Love is slow to anger, love does not keep track of wrongs, doesn't this remind us of Ex. 34:6 and Psalm 103? Love waits a long time before getting angry, love forgives, love hopes and love endures.

Psalm 103 cont.

Mike carries on the conversation on 1 Cor. 13, asking some of the same questions I did last summer. I was basically trying to keep the structure, but it was impossible to keep the verb forms at all times.

Mike also comments on Gender Blog's assessment of the TNIV. There is an interesting discrepancy between the two lists.

Since some still promote the notion that there is such a thing as a literal Bible whixh translates word-for-word, I thought I would do a rough critique of Psalm 103 in the NASB. It is still considered by many to be the most literal Bible available.

1. First, at least 6 feminine pronouns in the address to the soul are completely omitted by the NASB translation. The gender aspects of this psalm are not treated faithfully and universal truths are hidden.

2. The four different words for " human beings" in Hebrew are all translated as "man" in the NASB. This is especially destructive of the true sense of this psalm since enosh, verse 15, is the word used in the Messianic expression "son of man" in Daniel. The connection to this term is obscured.

3. The reference to the Spirit is also obscured. Ruach is translated as wind in verse 16.

4. While beni is faithfully translated as "sons" in the "sons of Israel" thus maintaining the truth that the sons represent all the people, in verse 13 the same word is translated as "children" thus obscuring the meaning of the text, that fathers have womb-like feelings for their sons.

5. Body metaphors are not translated literally. In verse 8, the evocative poetic features of the Hebrew are obscured by translating "long of the two nostrils" as "slow to anger." This has serious repercussions as the careful student of the English Bible will not be able to compare 1 Cor. 13:4 with this phrase. The scripture truth that "love is long in both nostrils at once" is no longer clear.

6. In verse 5 the word "vulture" has been transposed into "eagle" which is very likely reflective of the geopolitical origins of the text.

7. Participles have been turned into finite verbs throughout causing one more loss of fidelity.

It is a clear measure of God's providence that the NASB update comes after The Message in sales. I wonder if that reflects its level of literalness.

My recommendation is that people should be prepated to study Hebrew and make their own translation of this wonderful psalm.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hen Scratches April 8, 2008

Lots of nifty stuff that you won't want to miss.
  • Ben Witherington and A. J. Levine on Paul and women. I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet, but I will.
  • Dan Wallace and Bart Ehrman on text criticism. Wallace offers, "we can certainly get back to the essentials of the faith, if not always the particulars." Now if we could only decide which were which.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Psalm 103

I am going to break again from the discussion of the spirit and come back to that later. In response to Lingamish's post on 1 Cor. 13 I want to post Psalm 103 with notes. (I had my last Hebrew Psalms tutorial this afternoon so I will just share a few thoughts.)
    1Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name.
    2Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and do not forget all his benefits—
    3who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
    4who redeems your life from destruction,
    who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies,
    5who satisfies you with good as long as you live
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
This first section is all addressed to the self. "You" is in the feminine since the soul/self is feminine. The inflections are feminine in other psalms also where Zion or Jerusalem are addressed. The Psalms don't seem as masculine when I read in them Hebrew as they do in English.

    6The Lord works vindication
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
    7He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
    8The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
    9He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger for ever.
    10He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
    11For as the heavens are high above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
    12as far as the east is from the west,
    so far he removes our transgressions from us.
    13As a father has compassion for his children,
    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
    14For he knows how we were made;
    he remembers that we are dust.

The language here is very reminiscent of 1 Cor. 13.

    15As for mortals, their days are like grass;
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
    16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
    17But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
    on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children’s children,
    18to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.

Mortals here is enosh, a word for humans which emphasizes our frailty.

    19The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.
    20Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    obedient to his spoken word.
    21Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
    his ministers that do his will.
    22Bless the Lord, all his works,
    in all places of his dominion.
    Bless the Lord, O my soul. NRSV/ KJV

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Holy Spirit — reprise

For the past week or so, I’ve been thinking about the Holy Spirit issue. Suzanne started us off in the Psalms asking about whether it is appropriate to capitalize the phrase or not. That led me to ponder about the categories that were around in the culture of the time. But being the linguist that I am, I began to wonder about whether there was direct textual evidence that the writers of the NT knew about the person of the Holy Spirit, or whether our understanding is by implication.

This is not a small matter to me because, as many of you know, I think we have fallen into a trap of reading theology into the text instead of letting the text speak to us directly. The question of the Holy Spirit seemed like a really good test case. Here’s what I found.
GEEK WARNING — what you are about to read is for serious Greek geeks. I will stay away from technical language as much as is possible, but this is a warning to fasten your linguistic seat belts and keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times.

GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD— if all the linguist’s detail isn’t your kettle of fish, I hereby give you permission to skip to the end and read the conclusion.
The various phrases that have been translated as Holy Spirit all contain two key words in Greek:
ἅγιος ‘holy’ (an adjective)
πνεῦμα ‘spirit’ (an noun)
They appear together either with the adjective first or with the adjective second:
ἅγιον πνεῦμα
πνεῦμα ἅγιον
This is typical of Koine adjectives. They can occur either before or after the noun they modify. Classical Greek grammars say the adjective normally comes first, but by the time of Roman era Koine the normal order is noun followed by adjective. (This was also recently noted by Mike at ἐν ἐφέσῳ.)

For example the phrase φωνὴ μεγάλη ‘(a) loud voice’ occurs 38 times in the NT, only three of which are in the order μεγάλη φωνή. And πνεῦμα ἅγιον occurs 78 times in the NT in that order. ἅγιον πνεῦμα only occurs 11 times. The order noun + adjective is the most frequent even in the LXX.

And if you have multiple modifiers then they all go after the noun. (Revelation is great for examples of this.) This is a very good indication of what the neutral order is.
δράκων μέγας πυρρός ‘a big, red dragon’ (lit. ‘dragon big red’)
βύσσινος λευκὸς καθαρός ‘clean, white linen cloth’ (lit. ‘linen-cloth white clean’
θρὶξ ξανθίζουσα λεπτή ‘a thin, yellow hair’ (lit. ‘hair yellow thin’)
Clearly the order noun + adjective is the normal case in Koine.

The question then arises, what is the difference between the neutral order (noun + adjective) and the other order (adjective + noun)? The standard answer seems always to be that the other order is “emphatic”, whatever that means.

But, at least in the case of ἅγιον πνεῦμα and πνεῦμα ἅγιον, there is a very interesting fact. There are eight instances in the NT with the order ἅγιον πνεῦμα and seven of them are possessive genitives and have the article.
There are 17 total instances of possessive genitives with ἅγιον and πνεῦμα in either order, 10 with the article and 7 without.
My considered opinion is that there is no meaning difference, or at least not what most people would think counts as meaning. I believe that it is simply that the fronted adjective sounds more “high-falutin’” because it harkens back to Classical Greek. The fact that it occurs almost exclusively in a single construction suggests that it’s not a matter of meaning difference at all, but just a marker of style.

Now let’s explore the second way factor we need to know about to interpret the phrases with ἅγιον and πνεῦμα. That is the presence (or absence) of the article, ὁ.

Combining the presence or absence of ὁ with the word order there are four possibilities, and it’s important to look at these features together because they interact as shown in the following table.


fronted modifier


πνεῦμα ἅγιον

ἅγιον πνεῦμα


τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον

τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα

Either order of noun and adjective is possible with or without the article, but if the order is noun + adjective and the article is present, then the article must be repeated before the adjective.

So the question about the meaning of τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον comes down to what the meanings are that are associated with the presence of the article.

There are many ways in which the Greek article ὁ functions like the English article the. In rough approximation it refers to an entity that the author believes the audience can uniquely identify.

One way that a referent is uniquely identifiable is because the entity was introduced earlier in the text. A clear example can be seen in the beginning of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:
19 ἄνθρωπος δέ τις ἦν πλούσιος καὶ ἐνεδιδύσκετο πορφύραν καὶ βύσσον εὐφραινόμενος καθ' ἡμέραν λαμπρῶς — (The rich man is introduced with no article (≈ a in English). ἄνθρωπος τις ‘a certain man’)

20 πτωχὸς δέ τις ὀνόματι Λάζαρος ἐβέβλητο πρὸς τὸν πυλῶνα αὐτοῦ εἱλκωμένος — (The poor man is introduced. πτωχὸς τις ‘a certain poor man’)

21 καὶ ἐπιθυμῶν χορτασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τοῦ πλουσίου ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ κύνες ἐρχόμενοι ἐπέλειχον τὰ ἕλκη αὐτοῦ — (The rich man is referred to with the definite article, here τοῦ.)

22 ἐγένετο δὲ ἀποθανεῖν τὸν πτωχὸν καὶ ἀπενεχθῆναι αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀγγέλων εἰς τὸν κόλπον Ἀβραάμ — (The poor man is referred to with the definite article, here τὸν.)

ἀπέθανεν δὲ καὶ ὁ πλούσιος καὶ ἐτάφη — (The rich man is referred to with the definite article again, here .)
Often, however, the way an entity is identifiable is because the entity in question is a readily identifiable part of the world around us, like the sun, the clouds, the streets, the city. There are several such examples in this passage.
21 καὶ ἐπιθυμῶν χορτασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τοῦ πλουσίου ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ κύνες ἐρχόμενοι ἐπέλειχον τὰ ἕλκη αὐτοῦ (the dogs, which presumably roamed the streets of the city, not unlike many Third World cities today.)

22 ἐγένετο δὲ ἀποθανεῖν τὸν πτωχὸν καὶ ἀπενεχθῆναι αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀγγέλων εἰς τὸν κόλπον Ἀβραάμ ἀπέθανεν δὲ καὶ ὁ πλούσιος καὶ ἐτάφη (the angels and the bosom of Abraham)
Note, however, that not all languages make the same choices regarding which of the things that are “around” get definite articles and which don’t. Hence, we say God, without an article but in Greek one says ὁ θεός. A related choice of this sort that is different between English and Greek is that many abstract nouns take definite articles in Greek, but not English
τὸ αγαθόν ‘good’
ὁ πονηρός ‘evil’
The last way that an entity can be treated as uniquely identifiable is if it is in a frame that is activated by some other word or phrase in the preceding context. If so, you can refer to it with a definite article, both in Greek and in English.
For those who don’t know what a frame is, a simple example should suffice.
A man walked into a restaurant. The maitre d’ seated him and handed him the menu. The waiter took his order and brought a plate of bread to the table.
In this example, you get to say the maitre d’, the menu, the waiter, the table, because once you mention restaurants, the frame of a restaurant is brought to mind, including all the things you find in the prototypical restaurant, like maitre d’s, menus and tables, waiters, and so on. In fact frames also include the kinds of things you expect to happen and in what order, but that’s too far afield for the purposes of this post.
In the Luke passage there are frame related definite articles.
20 πτωχὸς δέ τις ὀνόματι Λάζαρος ἐβέβλητο πρὸς τὸν πυλῶνα αὐτοῦ εἱλκωμένος (Well, it’s really the gate of his house. Rich men live in houses nice enough to have gates.)

21 καὶ ἐπιθυμῶν χορτασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τοῦ πλουσίου ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ κύνες ἐρχόμενοι ἐπέλειχον τὰ ἕλκη αὐτοῦ (Those who eat sumptuously, eat at tables, and there is so much food that scraps fall to the ground, and beggars are dirty and have sores.)
There is much more to the use of the article in Greek, but this is the outline, and it provides all we need to know to tell from the text itself what the writers of the NT thought regarding the Holy Spirit.

For the folks who are skipping to the end, here’s the conclusion:

The writers of the NT must have been referring to an entity that they believed to be “around” when they used the definite article in passages like Acts 15:8
καὶ ὁ καρδιογνώστης θεὸς ἐμαρτύρησεν αὐτοῖς δοὺς τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον καθὼς καὶ ἡμῖν

And God, who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us. (NET)
because it has no antecedant — no prior mention — to set up the use of the definite article, unless it (He) was a known entity in their conceptual world. Hence it is perfectly appropriate to think from the wording of passages such as this, that the Holy Spirit is a known entity in the mind of the author (here Luke), which he expects his audience will be able to identify.


• There is one quirk in the use of definite noun phrases in Greek which I haven’t seen discussed in the Koine grammar books. Many instances of noun + adjective as the object of a preposition or as a complement of an adjective lack the article even if they are understood definitely. This post has been technical enough. A full discussion of that issue will have to wait for some other time.

• If you look in the grammar books for word order help with nouns and adjectives, they don’t tell you much. For example the Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek just mentions it in passing (pg. 125). David Allen Black in It’s Still Greek to Me (quite a good book in spite of it being a little glib in presentation) only says:
The attributive adjective can usually be recognized by the article that precedes it: τὸ ζῶν ὕδωρ, “the living water.” Frequently the adjective follows the noun: τὸ ὕδωρ τὸ ζῶν, “the living water” [literally, “the water, the living”] (John 4:11). The meaning is the same, but the later position is emphatic. Occasionally the attributive adjective is used without an article ὕδωρ ζῶν, “living water” (John 4:10). In such constructions the noun also does not have the article. (pp. 59-60)
and he’s got it backwards, noun - adjective is the normal (unmarked) order. Adjective - noun is the special order, as we showed above.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

All Israel will be saved

Several posts recently by Loren here, here and here and Iyov, have drawn attention to differing interpretations of Romans 11:25-26,
    25 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.

    And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
    ‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer;
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’ NRSV
I was brought up a dispensationalist and I was specifically taught that God was the sun around which two planets revolved - Israel and the church. I don't recall how this tension was mediated in detail. I do know that I was rather shocked when I realized that not all Christians held this belief. I have no idea if other dispensationalists hold this belief. It is all "wheels within wheels" for me.

Deborah Goodwin writing on Herbert of Bosham describes his hermeneutic on the eschatological hopes of the Jews in her central chapter. Herbert of Bosham, living in the 12th century, is the first Christian exegete to comment on the Latin Psalter which Jerome translated from the Hebrew. The church had exclusively used Jerome's Psalter as translated from the Greek Septuagint up until this time. Herbert learned Hebrew from working with a Jewish scholar and brought Rashi's ideas into the Christian tradition.

Goodwin discusses the cultural and linguistic climate of the 12th century, as well as Herbert's own dialogue with and reception of Jewish exegesis and a literal interpretation of the Psalms. In one particular passage, Goodwin writes about Herbert's commentary on Psalm 80, especially the last verse,
    Turn again, O God of hosts;
    look down from heaven, and see;
    have regard for this vine,
    the stock that your right hand planted.
    They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
    may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
    But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
    the one whom you made strong for yourself.
    Then we will never turn back from you;
    give us life, and we will call on your name.

    Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Goodwin cites Herbert's commentary on the final verse,
    Because this captivity [is] worse than the others, the names of God [increase] in intensity; the change [conversio] of Israel, dispersed until the twilight of the world, is prayed for.
Goodwin then explains,
    The "twilight of the world" (vespera mundi) is usually named by Christians as the time when the conversion of the Jews to Christianity might be expected. It signifies the 'end of days,' when the mysterious prediction of Romans 11:25 will be resolved; "the fullness of the Gentiles will come in, and so all Israel will be saved."

    But Herbert's characterization of the Jews' "conversion" in verse 20 (19) suggests he understood the term differently. The conversio or change as he describes it is prayed by the Jews, who are presently experiencing their worst 'captivity.' They pray to be re-gathered from their dispersion. The return from scattered Exile to the land of Israel is a feature of Jewish eschatalogical expectation. (Goodwin pages 193-194)
Goodwin maintains that Herbert believes that the messianic hopes of both Christians and Jews will be fulfilled. It is sometimes hard to tell if this is what Herbert really believed or if this is how Goodwin chooses to see it. However, she has ample evidence that Herbert worked with a Jewish interlocutor to read Hebrew, used Rashi's notes, and promoted the literal sense of the Psalms. One cannot help but wonder if Goodwin is not specifically using this book to comment on the Prayer for the Jews. This would not be a detraction for me. It is, in any case, an excellent treatment of the issue.

The citation which inspired the title of the book is Zech. 8:22-23
    Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.' RSV
Goodwin shows how Herbert's understanding of this verse colours his interpretation of the Psalms.