With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

September 4, 2008 at 12:01 pm (Ancient Languages, Church, Theology and the Bible) (, )

Yesterday and today, I read over Doug Mangum’s series of posts comparing the new ESV and NLT study Bibles. Of particular interest to me was the third and final part in the series, where Doug compared the study notes of the two Bibles. In the course of his post, Doug pointed out several notes where he felt that the ESVSB over-theologized based on the Hebrew grammar. I scanned the Book of Jonah, available for viewing online, myself, and felt he was fairly justified in his points of contention with several of these notes.

When Doug ended with the statement, “what I’ve seen so far leads me to think it will be a worthwhile addition to the study bible market,” it started me thinking about whether or not I would say the same thing. I am in agreement with Doug in that I would be interested to see how the rest of the study Bible turns out (and certainly before making any bold judgments on the overall quality of the ESVSB – which I wouldn’t do based on one excerpt). However, considering the notes of the ESVSB brought this thought to my mind: in general (not speaking now of the ESVSB specifically) can a study Bible that makes theological or hermeneutical claims based on the Hebrew grammar, and on closer inspection, it turns out these claims are flat out wrong (or at least highly tenuous), really be considered “worthwhile”?

My problem is this: those of us who know the Biblical languages (or in my case, Hebrew and Aramaic, Greek to be added in this coming school year) have a great responsibility toward those who do not. There is enough self-perpetuated ignorance among lay people as it is, without those who have training in Biblical languages to be spreading more of it around. To me, this is almost unforgivable. Consider the general audience of study Bibles: the average Bible-minded Christian who doesn’t know Hebrew or Greek, and really has no resources to look up something a study Bible says about the language to verify its accuracy.

When it comes to interpretations based on the English, at least the lay person has English resources, if they so chose to utilize them, to look up and see if the information being given has some credence. However, when a claim is made based on the original language, what further resource does the lay person have? They are left with basically two options: trust that the person writing the study notes knows what they are talking about and accept what they say, or try to find someone personally who knows the languages to verify it with them. Since there are, sadly, hardly a glut of people running around in local churches who have a handle on Hebrew and Greek, most are left with option one. There is the option of looking in commentaries by people who know the languages to see if they say something similar, but ultimately it’s the same idea: they can’t know for themselves.

Therefore, I repeat what I said earlier: those who know the languages have a great responsibility. We cannot afford to be careless in our statements based on Hebrew words or grammar. There are hundreds of thousands of people depending on the accuracy, diligence, and scholarship of study tools to get it right. I, of course, realize that we are all human and we all make mistakes, nor do any of us have unlimited knowledge, and some are further down the road of understanding the languages than others. Obviously, there will always be some enterprising person who will make something of nothing regardless of how careful one is. However, to the very best of our ability and knowledge, when we are dealing with educating lay people (which study Bibles, among other tools, ultimately purport to do), we must be very careful in how we use the biblical languages to add theological meaning to the text.

Of course, ultimately, this would all be solved if every Christian would learn the Biblical languages. I am in full agreement with my husband there.

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History of the Exegesis and Reception of Genesis: Seminar

August 31, 2008 at 4:41 pm (Books, Education, The Floppy Hat™, Theology and the Bible) (, , , )

Well, I’m as registered as I can be for my HDS class this fall (it’s limited enrollment, and apparently I won’t know for sure if I got in until the week class starts, though the prof thought it was likely I’d get a place). I just ordered my text books off of Amazon. They basically consist of a bunch of commentaries, ancient to new, on Genesis. What could be better!? The Genesis section of my library just more than doubled with the addition of the following, and I’m thrilled about it:

  • Genesis: Interpretation by Walter Brueggemann
  • Homilies on Genesis and Exodus by Origen (Author), Ronald E. Heine (Translator)
  • Augustine: On Christian Doctrine by D. W. Robertson
  • Saint Augustine on Genesis: Two Books on Genesis Against the Manichees and on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis : An Unfinished Book by Saint, Bishop of Hippo Augustine (Author), Roland J. Teske (Translator)
  • On Genesis by Bede (Author), Calvin B. Kendall (Translator)
  • Calvin’s Bible Commentaries: Genesis, Parts I and II: by John Calvin
  • Ramban Commentary: Genesis by Charles B. Chavel (Author), Narhmanides (Author)

The only book I couldn’t find was the following:

  • St. Ephrem the Syrian: Selected Prose Works, translated by Joseph Amar and Edward Mathews.

It appears to be out of print, and I can’t even find used. If anyone knows where I might get my hands on a copy let me know! I’ve tried several of the major used book stores online, but I could be missing something!

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Jeremiah 3:9

July 29, 2008 at 10:08 am (Ancient Languages, Theology and the Bible) (, , )

Thanks to everyone who posted a comment on my previous post regarding what Harvard class I should take. I appreciate the input! There’s still time, if anyone else wants to comment. 🙂

I was translating Jeremiah today, and I ran across this problem in 3.9:

וַתֶּחֱנַף אֶת־הָאָרֶץ

Here’s the problem: how to translate? You see, the vowels clearly indicate that this is a Qal. (Alas, the vowels didn’t really copy and paste properly. Just take my word for it.) Unfortunately, the Qal definition of this verb is something like, “to be defiled.” This is a problem because there is a direct object marker after the verb indicating that the noun “the land” is the direct object of the verb. So, what it literally says is “she was defiled (DO) the land.” Obviously that makes no sense. The stative definition can’t take a direct object. At first I thought, okay, perhaps the DO is really the preposition “with,” as per the end of the verse, “and she committed adultery with the stone and with the tree.” Unfortunately, “she was defiled with the land” really doesn’t make sense in context. The land didn’t defile Israel, Israel defiled the land, which is clearly stated properly elsewhere. So, we either have two options: remove the DO marker and thus we are able to make “the land” the subject so that it reads, “the land was defiled,” or, change the vowels on the verb to make it a Hiphil, which would make it read, “and she defiled the land,” which obviously makes much more sense, and also fits the context better, since here we are primarily focused on Israel’s actions, not the land.

After consulting BDB I see that I am not (of course) the first to notice this problem, and BDB lists both options for resolving this. My question is, is there really a textual problem here? Did the Masoretes mess up the vowels on the verb, or include an extra DO marker? Or, is this some sort of poetic thing, where they just liked the way it sounded regardless of what we say the “definitions” should be?

Of further interest is that apparently this phrase is not in the LXX, though I’m not sure about the other versions. (BHS has a textual note but I’m not entirely sure what it means!)

This would be interesting to put some further study into, but, today I must forge on ahead in my translation.

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Jesus and Men

April 26, 2008 at 9:26 pm (Church, Theology and the Bible)

By now, Calvin is used to my rants about Mark Driscoll, and closely related, the whole, “make the church and Jesus more manly” movement. I think the author of this Christianity Today article summed up my thoughts on the matter nicely, and without all the vitriolic comments I would like to contribute (which would be un-Christlike for a man or woman, might I add).

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when something is going in the wrong direction, so people swing to the opposite extreme and come up with ideas just as bad (or worse) that they claim are the “true” way. Yet, it seems to be human nature to make these gigantic pendulum swings. The biggest life lesson my parents taught me that has most blatantly stayed with me and even helped me in my chosen career, is that usually the best option is somewhere in the middle. (Of course “middle” is all in one’s point of view, but the principle still remains!)

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Women, Justice, and Jeremiah (WIGU, Part 7)

April 14, 2008 at 6:23 pm (Education, Theology and the Bible)

There are three topics lately that have sparked some interest in me. The first stems partly from a conference Calvin and I (and Adam and Jen) attended the week before last, The Other in Second Temple Judaism. Calvin has already posted about it here and here. Susan Ackermann, who was on the panel of three ladies that gave some closing thoughts on the conference, stirred things up a little by noting how in all the papers that had been given at the conference, not one was about woman as the “other.” She commented that back when she was an up and coming scholar, it was almost assured someone would have talked about that. Further, she said that some might take this to signify that the idea of woman as “other” has died down, because women have finally found their place in biblical scholarship. Then she gave her opinion that she wasn’t so sure about that.

Now I’m not a self-proclaimed feminist like Ackermann, but some of her comments, as well as those of Adela Collins, interested me. When I look at biblical scholarship (say, when I’m browsing the faculty for an Old Testament department at a university), to be sure there are one or two women sprinkled in there. But by in large, the majority of biblical scholars are still men. One of the big things with “feminist theology” is, of course, that the religious history of Judaism and Christianity has been dominated primarily by the opinions and interpretations of men. And, while I take issue with some of the theology of Mark Driscoll (as Calvin recently posted on), I do believe that men and women are different, and certainly view the world differently. So this interested me. I can’t say exactly how yet, but it did.

The second topic that I’ve been thinking about for a more lengthy period of time is the Old Testament and justice. Mostly, this is because of the Global Biblical Justice class I am taking this semester with Dean Borgman. The prophets have become more interesting to me as the voice crying out against injustice, as well as the Exodus as a liberation theme. So, once again, I don’t know where I’m going with all that, but it’s been something on my mind as an interest.

As far as Jeremiah goes, I’m planning to do a Readings course in Jeremiah and Lamentations (with some historical background from 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles thrown in) this summer. (For those who don’t know, that basically means translating – in my case, Jer. 1-15, Lamentations, and the appropriate historical sections). I’m terribly excited about it, because Jeremiah has always fascinated me. I read through Jeremiah again recently, and the way that the prophet’s heart and soul seems to go into his message, even if it tears him to pieces to have to preach it, is captivating. Perhaps after this summer I’ll have a better idea in what direction I want to take that.

So, there are three topics that have been floating around in my head recently, so I’m just getting them out there, in this “journal” thing I’m doing. Egads, some people must take me for such a liberal, here I am talking about feminist and liberation theology. I really don’t know enough about either to jump on any bandwagons (and I’m not given to jumping on bandwagons anyways), so don’t be worried.

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To Swear, or not to Swear

June 9, 2007 at 2:15 pm (Church, Ministry, Theology and the Bible)

An interesting read over at TallSkinnyKiwi on using offensive language.

Pay close attention to the 3 categories of historically offensive language: Premodern, modern, and postmodern.

Calvin is always bugging me about swearing, because I’m a prude who can remember using the “sh” word and the “f” word (as we used to call them in elementary school) once each in my entire life. I guess by TSK’s categories these would fall under modern offensive language, “harsher” forms of bodily or sexual functions. What can I say, my parents trained me well and I see no reason to start saying words I’ve never said before now just because I can.

On the other hand, I’m come to realize as an adult that words are just words and mean different things in different cultures. However, we should also give thought to the idea that offensive language changes with the times, and certain words just don’t hold the same offensive weight that they used to, while other words have moved into that category. What is it, after all, that makes a word a “swear word”? It’s offensive to people. There are certain words that TSK brought up that I would never consider using that my grandma may have without a second thought when she was little. I’m caught in somewhat of an intergenerational taboo because I was raised by a) Christian parents who are b) very modern and yet c) I also grew up in an increasingly postmodern world where other words were ingrained in me by the school system and the media to be wrong, as well to some extent by my parents who were smart enough to accept the changing society around them as they aged.

What this means is growing up, all three categories were off-limits, though the third less than others. The third became more off limits as I aged and became increasingly more a part of society myself, and the first two less off limits as I realized that they really weren’t offensive to quite as many people.

Still, while I may let loose the occasional idiom of “a snowball’s chance in hell,” just because I think it’s aptly descriptive of a situation, I felt the blog post was thoughtful in that as Christians, the most important thing to remember when it comes to words: is their offensive and hurtful power. The old saying may go, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but we all know that it’s entirely false. We could use no “swear” words whatsoever, and yet deeply hurt someone, or we could drop a now benign word that our peer wouldn’t think twice about, but still offend a grey hair we’re in a conversation with. We say all things in love, never speak any word out of malice, spite, or hatred, sensitive to showing the love of Christ to all, ready to adapt to the situation at hand, giving up our verbage preferences temporarily if necessary.

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Debating Calvinism (James White, Dave Hunt)

May 8, 2007 at 9:13 pm (Books, Theology and the Bible)

I don’t know why I read this book. I wanted to pluck my eyeballs out by the time I had finished. I only forced myself to complete it because I started it. I guess I thought it would be helpful in my understanding of Calvinism, but if anything, it only made me remember why I despise systematic theology so much.

I digress. As my title suggests, the book I refer to is Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views, which was basically a written debate between James White and Dave Hunt.

I could have blogged as I read the book, but I probably would have been too overly harsh on the authors – both of them – had I done this, so I waited until I was done, gave myself a few weeks to digest, calm down, and hopefully give a calm general overview of the book rather than give a point by point scathing review (er, other than my introduction of course).

The Problems with the Book

Problem #1: James White is an eloquent (Baptist variety) reformed systematic theologian to the T (get it, to the T? anyways…) and Dave Hunt isn’t an Armenian. I was hoping for a debate between a Calvinist and an Armenian so I could understand both systems better. Instead, mostly it was James White espousing his views, Dave Hunt attacking Calvinism in return, and then James White telling Dave Hunt how ignorant he was for not understanding/believing the Truth.

Problem #2: James White is theologically educated, Dave Hunt is not. This should be self-explanatory. I think Dave Hunt just has it in for Calvinism, which is why he wanted this debate. I think it is a sincere effort based on serious concerns he has, and I don’t want to demean him in any way.

Problem #3: This was really the major killer. Both James White and Dave Hunt acted like children throughout the entire book. Seriously. “You’re wrong.” “No, you’re wrong.” No, you’re wrong!” “Your momma!” “Oh yeah, well your momma…and your Bible verse too!” Okay, so maybe not in so many words, but quite honestly they were barely civil to each other. I just didn’t feel the love.

Problem #4: They talked past each other, and did exactly the same thing that the other said the other did. I.e, “You take your pet verse(s) and interpret the verses that don’t agree with the verse(s) you like best in light of your pet verse(s).” “No I don’t, you do.” And then they both do.

My Problem

Which leads me to my problem. I hate systematic theology. Because they both did that very same last thing. And then (James White especially, since he actually had a systematic theology) fill in the holes with principles drawn from the favorite verses, etc. etc. Proof-texting abounded on both sides. I despise proof-texting. Not that Dave Hunt was any better. Granted, I knew I was picking up a book that would use systematic theology, and thus would make me want to pluck my eyeballs out, I just think I had forgotten how much ST rankles my nerves. This is not a slam against either author personally, just a comment on systematic theology. Systematic theology, well, systematizes the Bible and theology.

Side Rant Having Nothing to Do with the Book Review

YOU CAN’T DO IT. Theology is fluid. It’s complex. It’s contradictory. That’s because God is complex, and sometimes seems a little contradictory. You can’t cage him. You can’t put walls around him. The instant you do, you’re bound to discover something that doesn’t fit into your neat little package. And so you’ll be forced to bend it, twist it, shove it, until you fit that square into the circle puzzle hole. And in doing so do great injustice to those very things you just wanted so desperately to understand. It is a sincere effort, but in our human limitations it just falls short.

Back on Track

On the upside, I did gain one item of interest from reading this book. I have been bluntly informed by James White that if I am not a Calvinist, I could not possibly believe in Penal Substitutionary Atonement, because this is a view of the atonement that goes hand-in-hand with the system of reformed theology. I in fact did not realize this before, but after reading his rational argument, I do see how this makes sense. I think this was meant to convince me to be a Calvinist, because most Christians believe in penal substitutionary atonement without even knowing it, “Calvinist” or not.

I, of course, refuse to submit so easily. Since I’m not a Calvinist, I guess I can’t believe in the penal substitutionary view of the atonement anymore. I’m currently exploring other options. Any thoughts?

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My Theological Worldview

May 5, 2007 at 2:28 pm (Personal, Theology and the Bible)

Hey, so this was sort of fun, I stole the idea from Dr. Q who stole it from…etc. etc. What I find really interesting is how Charismatic/Pentecostal got so high up on the list….and right next to Reformed Evangelical! Well, I’ve always been a mutt.

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don’t think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern

82%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

64%

Neo orthodox

61%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

46%

Reformed Evangelical

46%

Roman Catholic

36%

Classical Liberal

36%

Modern Liberal

32%

Fundamentalist

11%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

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The Modern Lament Psalm

October 23, 2006 at 9:34 pm (Song Lyrics/Poems By Me, Theology and the Bible)

Calvin and I just recently picked up Skillet’s newest albulm, “Comatose,” which I think just has some excellent lyrics. But one song in particular interested me, because after pondering the lyrics for awhile, I decided that it sounded very much like a lament Psalm. Now you might think, “Sure, alot of hard music sounds lamenty in nature,” but I mean really really, this one sounds like a lament Psalm, put in modern words, even down to some parallelism (though keep in mind it is a song), the intense emotion, some metaphors you’ll see used in lament Psalms, and some very interesting thoughts you don’t see used in Christian music too often, directed at God…

Observe:

Falling Inside the Black
by Skillet – Comatose

Tonight I’m so alone
This sorrow takes ahold
Don’t leave me here so cold
Never want to be so cold

Your touch used to be so kind
Your touch used to give me life
I’ve waited all this time,
I’ve wasted so much time

Don’t leave me all alone
Cause I barely see at all
Don’t leave me alone I’m

[chorus]
Falling in the black
Slipping through the cracks
Falling to the depths can I ever go back
Dreaming of the way it used to be
Can you hear me
Falling inside the black
Falling inside falling inside the black

You were my source of strength
I’ve traded everything
That I love for this one thing
Stranded in the offering
Don’t leave me here like this
Can’t hear me scream from the abyss
And now I wish for you my desire

[chorus]
Falling in the black
Slipping through the cracks
Falling to the depths can I ever go back
Dreaming of the way it used to be
Can you hear me
Falling inside the black
Falling inside falling inside the black

Don’t leave me alone cause I barely see at all
Don’t leave me alone

Now I’m not entirely certain whether or not the song is supposed to be about someone who has gotten themselves into this situation because of sin/backsliding, or just they are just going through a hard time (that may be somewhat up to the intepretation of the person listening). Given the theme of the album as a whole, which I had the opportunity to hear the band talk about in person – the overwhelming number of Christians who are apathetic/not living for God and need to turn back to him, it could be meant to be about someone who has gotten themselves into the situation of being far away from God by walking away and now they feel it’s “too late” and are crying for God to return to them. Irregardless, the lament Psalm theme still works, as it’s about separation from God.

Now, observe some themes from Scripture. Obviously the whole feeling alone and sorrowful thing is there:

Tonight I’m so alone
This sorrow takes ahold
Don’t leave me here so cold
Never want to be so cold

Ps. 6:3, 6
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping

Ps 13:1-2
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

And then the words of utter desperation and abandonment, paying special attention to the wondering if God can hear the cry:

Falling in the black
Slipping through the cracks
Falling to the depths can I ever go back
Dreaming of the way it used to be
Can you hear me
Falling inside the black
Falling inside falling inside the black

Ps 22:1-2
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

Ps 28:1a
To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,

Then there is the eye metphor:

Cause I barely see at all

Ps. 6:7a
My eye wastes away because of grief;

Ps. 31:9
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.

But even more fascinating:

Don’t leave me here like this
Can’t hear me scream from the abyss

Ps. 6:5
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?

Ps. 28:1b
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.

Elements that talk about when God used to be near, but now he is far:

Your touch used to be so kind
Your touch used to give me life

Dreaming of the way it used to be

Ps. 77:1-9
1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2  In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
7 “ Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”

And finally, this line:

I’ve traded everything
That I love for this one thing
Stranded in the offering

I don’t know as there’s a direct correlation to a verse, but the direct accusation of God “stranding” the person in their offering of love to him, is very bold for Christian music and Christians, though not so bold for the writers of the Psalms, and I haven’t even touched on Job, so I thought I’d throw it in there, ’cause I think it relates.

Anyways, so I admit maybe I’m overanalyzing, but I just really liked this song because it sort of reminded me of the lament psalm…a modern one. ‘Course, I guess it’s in the category of Psalm 88 since there’s no, “God will save me after all” caption at the end. 😉

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A Different Language…in a Different Language

July 30, 2006 at 10:32 pm (Education, Theology and the Bible)

You know…it occured to me tonight as I was studying further in my cantillation book, that trying to learn how to cantillate is like learning to read a different language, in a different language. After all, when one learns how to “read” music it’s like learning a new language. Well, not only have I learned a new language (Hebrew) but I am learning the musical notation system associated with it. It’s learning another language, in a different language. It’s quite a challenge, but I am making slow progress. (Slow because I don’t reguarly study it, not because I’m a dunce). However, this is one of the things I can do profitable with my time this year rather than sitting around moaning that I’m not in seminary. After all, where would I find the time to learn to cantillate while in seminary? Not only does it help with my pronunciation and force me to keep up on my reading skills, but I’m getting a nice refresher course in the accent marks.

And, on top of that, I’m thrilled to find a way to merge my love of singing and my love of Hebrew.

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