Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jesus the Aleph-Tav? (Genesis 1:1, Revelation 21:6)

A few people asked me about the nature of the errors in this video (mentioned in my last post and also viewable as a youtube video). The content of the video can also be found (more or less) in posts here and here. The basic thrust of this bizarre claim: Jesus is the logos (John 1:1), which must mean written word; Jesus is the Alpha and Omega (Rev 21:6), which is a translation from Hebrew of Jesus the Aleph and Tav; the Hebrew word et (את, aleph tav) is an untranslatable word found in Genesis 1:1; therefore Jesus' claim that he is the logos and the Alpha and Omega is actually a claim that his name is את and is written in Genesis 1:1.

Here is a sampling of the linguistic errors in the video:

1) Logos (λόγος) and rhema (ῥῆμα) no longer have the distinct meanings of "word as idea" and "spoken word" - they are mostly synonymous by the time of the NT (see BDAG or another reputable Greek dictionary).

2) The speaker claims that logos must mean "written word" - simply not true. Using BDAG or finding the occurrences of logos in the NT and LXX is a quick way to disprove this mistake.

3) Jesus likely spoke all three languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek), although there is some debate on this (see Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, s.v. "Languages of Palestine" by M.O. Wise).

4) There is no evidence that Revelation is "spoken in Hebrew and written in Greek." If you are very familiar with both languages, you can recognize Greek that has been translated from Hebrew, as in the LXX or in the quotations of the OT in the NT. Those marks of "translation Greek" are not found in most of Revelation, except in the quotes and allusions to the OT.

5) The worst error: the Hebrew word et (את, aleph tav) is not at all "mysterious" or "untranslatable;" in fact, I remember learning its meaning during the second week of introductory Hebrew. It is a very common word used to identify the direct object (as well as a few other less common functions). English identifies the direct object by the noun's position in the sentence; languages like Greek, Latin and German identify the direct object by changing the ending of the noun; and Hebrew marks the direct object with the word את.
6) אֵת works roughly like our word "to" in the sense that it is very common (11,000 occurrences in the OT) and serves more of a grammatical function than a meaning function. If אֵת refers to the Messiah, then there are thousands of meaningless statements in the OT, like Gen 2:6 "a mist used to rise from the ground to water אֵת the whole surface of the ground" or Gen 10:8 "Cush fathered אֵת Nimrod..."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bad Interpretation and Erasmus

For a wonderful example of the nonsense that one can spout if one knows only a little bit of Greek and Hebrew, take a look at this video at Boulders 2 Bits. It's a bit long, but painfully and unintentionally funny. By the way, the author of Boulders 2 Bits is not promoting the views in the video!

It reminded me of a story that Erasmus told about some linguistic analysis that he heard that was almost as creative and tortured. You'll make the most sense of Erasmus' story if you know just a little bit of Latin.

"I met... another, some eighty years of age, and such a divine that you'd have sworn Scotus himself was revived in him. He... with wonderful subtlety demonstrate[d] that there lay hidden in [the letters found in the name of Jesus] whatever could be said of him; for that it was only declined with three cases, he said, it was a manifest token of the Divine Trinity; and then, that the first ended in S, the second in M, the third in U... those three letters declaring to us that he was the beginning, middle, and end (summum, medium, et ultimum) of all. Nay, the mystery was yet more abstruse; for he... split the word Jesus into two equal parts [and] left the middle letter by itself, and then told us that that letter in Hebrew was schin or sin, and that sin in the Scotch tongue, as he remembered, signified as much as sin; from whence he gathered that it was Jesus that took away the sins of the world. At which new exposition the audience were so wonderfully intent and struck with admiration, especially the theologians… ”

-Erasmus, In Praise of Folly, 1515 (and the picture is from that work)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

Miscellaneous leftover quotes from Erasmus on learning Greek:

“And, my dear Batt, I am very anxious that you should know Greek…”
-Letter to Jacob Batt, September 1500

“We can use Greek words when we wish our meaning not to be understood by all and sundry.”

“… I am paying scant regard to my very health as I help my friends; I compose for some, read to some, correct for others, and meanwhile read, compile, emend, and compose on my own account, and practise my Greek which in any case is very difficult.”
-Letter to Jacob Batt, 1500

In Epistle 23 (I am unsure of the date), Erasmus signed his name on a letter in Greek rather than Latin - a practice just about every Greek student does at some point.

The picture: Title page of the Complutensian Polyglot, 1522. Erasmus' printer heard that the Polyglot was about to go to press, and so Erasmus rushed to finish his first edition of the Greek New Testament. As a result, Erasmus' first edition is one of the few print Bibles riddled with typographical errors.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Most Popular Post: Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman

My blog normally gets twenty to thirty hits per day. But in the last week, I have received more and more hits, until today, there are over 150 hits (according to Google Analytics).

It turns out that almost all the new hits are basically the same profile: someone googles "Nicodemus vs. the Samaritan woman" or some variation, and for some reason Google lists my post on that topic in first place.

So here's my question: are there always a hundred people per day googling about comparisons between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, and Google just recently noticed my blog post on that topic? Or is there some reason that hundreds of people suddenly became interested in this comparison? Maybe the passage came up in some church's lectionary cycle? A new documentary on Jesus that talked about Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Romans 7 - Christian or Pre-Christian?

Today in my undergraduate class on Paul's letters, we talked about the "I" in Romans 7:13-25. Those of you who have done some study in Romans will know that throughout Christian history, there have been several opinions about what Paul meant. The two main options are 1) Paul is referring to his own experience as a Christian, and therefore the general Christian experience; or 2) Paul is referring to the experience of a pre-Christian Jew trying to obey the Law.

Here are some of the reasons that I gave in favor of option 2:

1) This passage is an answer to the question "Did that which was good [the Law], then, become death to me?" Paul is not interested here in discussing the current Christian struggle with sin. He is interested in explaining how the OT Law was used by sin to bring death to pre-Christians (this is related to "the law of sin and death").

2) Paul knows that Christians struggle with sin. But he discusses this in Romans 8:10-14 - and he has a very different take on the struggle there.

3) Every phrase that describes the "me" of Rom 7:13-25 is used to describe non-Christians or pre-Christian Jews elsewhere in Romans; further, each of those phrases contradicts what Paul says about Christians in Romans.

7:14 "I am fleshly, sold into bondage to sin." Compare to 7:5, "we were in the flesh;" 6:18 "we were freed from sin;" 6:20 "we were slaves to sin;" 8:9 "you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit."

7:16 "I agree with the Law, that the Law is good." (often used to assert that Paul is talking about Christians.) Compare to 2:17 "If you call yourself a Jew and rely on the Law...;" 7:4 "You died to the Law."

7:19 "I practice the very evil I do not want." Compare to 6:14 "Sin will have no mastery over you."

7:23 "a different law... making me a prisoner of the law of sin." Compare to 6:22 "but now, freed from sin and enslaved to God;" 8:2 "For in Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death."

Finally, I argued that Paul's theology in general does not support the interpretation that 7:13-25 refers to the Christian struggle with sin. Paul's normal approach to the Christian struggle is this: because of our union with Christ, we are saints; we have transferred from death to life, from sin to righteousness, from Adam to Christ, from Law to grace, from Law to Spirit. The way to deal with ongoing sin is to recognize that sin is inconsistent with our new identity in Christ, and to act in accordance with that new identity. We are dead to sin, so we should act dead to sin.

If option 1 is correct, Paul is presenting the Christian struggle in a way that he never presents it anywhere else in his letters: he is saying that we are still sinners by nature, we are still slaves to sin, we are still trying to keep the Law, and we are still under the law of sin and death.

This is the opposite of what Paul says in the next chapter: we are not in the flesh, we are in the Spirit, we are under no obligation to the flesh, and we can put the deeds of the body to death by the power of the Spirit.

That, my friends, is good news.

The picture: The Apostle Paul, in Entschuoldigung by Matthias Flacius Illyricus, 1549.

Eutychus Allusion in Jane Eyre

I enjoyed this allusion to the story of Eutychus in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. (The story of Eutychus is found in Acts 20:7-12; see this post for more information.)

"The Sunday evening was spent in repeating, by heart, the Church Catechism, and the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of St. Matthew; and in listening to a long sermon, read by Miss Miller, whose irrepressible yawns attested her weariness. A frequent interlude of these performances was the enactment of the part of Eutychus by some half dozen little girls; who overpowered with sleep, would fall down, if not out of the third loft, yet off the fourth form, and be taken up half dead. The remedy was, to thrust them forward into the center of the school-room, and oblige them to stand there till the sermon was finished. Sometimes their feet failed them, and they sank together in a heap; they were then propped up with the monitors’ high stools."

By the way, it is interesting to note that readers of Jane Eyre in the nineteenth century would not have been at all surprised that the girls could recite the catechism, as well as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

The picture: movie poster for the Masterpiece Theater adaptation of the novel, which my wife and I enjoyed.

Baptism Pictures

Nathan, our second son, was also baptized in October. Baptizing him is Pastor Mike Kai, Pastor Mark Peterman, and me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

“I knew in my time... a Grecian, a Latinist... who... perplexed and tormented himself for above twenty years in the study of grammar, fully reckoning himself a prince if he might but live so long till he could certainly determine how the eight parts of speech were to be distinguished, which none of the Greeks or Latins had yet fully cleared: as if it were a matter to be decided by the sword if a man made an adverb of a conjunction. And for this cause is it that we have as many grammars as grammarians; nay more, forasmuch as my friend Aldus has given us above five, not passing by any kind of grammar, how barbarously or tediously soever compiled, which he has not turned over and examined; envying every man's attempts in this kind, rather to be pitied than happy, as persons that are ever tormenting themselves; adding, changing, putting in, blotting out, revising, reprinting, showing it to friends, and nine years in correcting, yet never fully satisfied; at so great a rate do they purchase this vain reward, to wit, praise, and that too of a very few, with so many watchings, so much sweat, so much vexation and loss of sleep, the most precious of all things. Add to this the waste of health, spoil of complexion, weakness of eyes or rather blindness, poverty, envy, abstinence from pleasure, over-hasty old age, untimely death, and the like; so highly does this wise man value the approbation of one or two blear-eyed fellows.”

-Erasmus, In Praise of Folly, 1515.

The picture: Folly Mounting the Pulpit, by Hans Holbein the Younger, in In Praise of Folly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rowley on Biblical Languages

"One who made it his life's work to interpret French literature, but who could only read it in an English translation, would not be taken seriously; yet it is remarkable how many ministers of religion week by week expound a literature that they are unable to read save in translation!"

- H. H. Rowley, Expository Times, LXXIV, 12, September, 1963, p. 383

Thanks to Anumma, who drew my attention to this quote on the Pyromaniacs website.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wesley on Greek

“Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake, as every Minister does, not only to explain books which are written therein but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of everyone who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretense? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David’s Psalms, or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?”

— John Wesley, “An Address to the Clergy,” in Works X:491.

When students finish taking Greek from me, I always appeal to their budget: if you stop reading Greek and using it for exegesis, you just wasted $2500 (the cost at our school for 12 credits of Greek/exegesis) and countless hours in class and studying. Don't lose your investment!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Baptism Pictures

Josiah, our oldest son, was also baptized in October. Baptizing him is Pastor Mike Kai, Pastor Mark Peterman, and me.

Baptism Pictures

In October, four of our boys were baptized.

Here's Caleb (age 6), who was very excited about getting baptized. Pastor Mike Kai, Pastor Mark Peterman and I did the baptism.

We may need to baptize this foot again some day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Haleakala Slide Show

Here's a slide show of our Haleakala trip. Thanks to Rich, who put all our pictures together and made the slide show. There's some background music to the slide show, so turn on your volume if you want. You can also look at all the pictures on Flickr.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Picture from Haleakala

We just got back yesterday from our three-day back-packing trip through Haleakala National Park.

Here's the first photo - all packed up and ready to start the hike. We are at about 10,000 feet at the Summit parking lot, about to go down the Sliding Sands trail into the crater. In the background are several observatories. Left to right: Me, Nathan, Josiah, Daniel (the Mannings), Bryan, Bradley, Rich (the Fewells). Rich and I did this hike together with our friend Aaron Johnson 23 years ago.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Haleakala Trip

This weekend is a backpacking trip! All of us (me, my three oldest boys, my friend Rich, and his two boys) will be flying to Maui this weekend to backpack through Haleakala National Park for three days. Whenever cell phone reception is good, Rich will be posting photos and audioblogs directly from the crater to his blog - be sure to go there to see the pictures, starting on Saturday, Oct 11.

Martin Luther on Greek

"Insofar as we love the gospel, to that same extent, let us study the ancient tongues. And let us notice that without the knowledge of languages we can scarcely preserve the gospel. Languages are the sheath which hides the sword of the Spirit, they are the chest in which this jewel is enclosed, the goblet holding this draught. Where the languages are studied, the proclamation will be fresh and powerful, the scriptures will be searched, and the faith will be constantly rediscovered through ever new words and deeds.

-Martin Luther

The picture: Portrait of Martin Luther, Cranach the Elder, 1535.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

Erasmus, commenting on the efforts of theologians to interfere with his publication of an edition of Jerome:

“Certain… distinguished theologians… adjured the printer by all that is holy not to allow any admixture of Greek or Hebrew; these two languages, they said, are fraught with peril and there is no good to be got out of them; they were designed solely to satisfy idle curiosity.”

-Erasmus, Letter to Maarten van Dorp, 1515.

The picture: Erasmus, by Quentin Matsys, 1517.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

“…still I must scrape together from each and every source a small sum of money to clothe myself and to buy the complete works of Jerome… and a Plato, and to get together some Greek books, and also to pay for the services of a Greek tutor. My mind is burning with indescribable eagerness… to acquire a certain limited competence in the use of Greek, and thereby go on to devote myself entirely to sacred literature…”

-Erasmus, letter to Jacob Batt, December 11, 1499

The picture: Erasmus' self portrait, in his commentary on the works of Jerome, 1516.

Friday, October 2, 2009

ben Sirach on Translation

"You are urged therefore to read with good will and attention, and to be indulgent in cases where, despite our diligent labor in translating, we may seem to have rendered some phrases imperfectly. For what was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same sense when translated into another language. Not only this work, but even the law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books differ not a little as originally expressed."

-Sirach Preface

This could well be the plea of all Greek and Hebrew students for mercy from their profs as they grade translations on tests.

Scot McKnight on the "The Evangelical Flip"

Take a look at Scot McKnight's new post on the Evangelical Flip. Here's a representative quote:

"So let me say this: (too many) evangelical leaders have become too enamored with management skills and techniques and have neglected the nitty-gritty of soaking themselves in the great texts of the Old and the New Testament."

What do you think?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Erasmus on Greek

“[Theologians] are dogged everywhere by the nemesis that waits for those who despise Greek; here too they are subject to delusions, half asleep, blear-eyed, blundering, producing more monstrosities.”

-Erasmus, Letter to Maarten van Dorp, 1515.

The picture: Folly, marginal drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger, in Erasmus' In Praise of Folly, edition of 1515. Although Erasmus did not join the Reformers, this work satirized (among other things) abuses of the Catholic church. Its popularity may have even contributed to the Reformation.