Sunday, December 26, 2010
Symbols and words are not permanently tainted merely because they are used by another religion ("I know and am convinced in the Lord that nothing is unclean in itself..." says Paul in Rom 14:14, referring to meat sacrificed to idols). Cults misuse baptism and the Lord's Supper, but that does not mean we should no longer baptize or share in communion. When Solomon built the first temple for God in the Old Testament, there had already been pagan temples for at least two thousand years. The design of Solomon's temple even had some similarities to Egyptian temples. The fact that temples were used by other religions did not make it wrong to build a temple to God or to use the temple as a metaphor for God's people. There are lots of other examples in the Bible of using (or redeeming) terms and symbols from the pagan world. Paul quotes the poem "A Hymn to Zeus" in Acts 17:28. While astrology and the worship of stars is condemned in the Bible, stars are repeatedly used as symbols of Jesus, Israel, and the church - so it is OK for you to put a star on your Christmas tree.
Finally, celebrating Christmas is allowable because the Scripture gives us personal freedom in such matters. In 1 Cor 8-10, Paul tells Christians not to participate in idol feasts, because idol feasts involved acts of worship to other gods, and everyone knew such feasts were designed to honor other gods. But in 1 Cor 10:25-33, Paul says that Christians can eat meat that was sold in an idol market, because it is not an act of worship, and the meat is not permanently tainted. Paul also says that Christians have freedom to celebrate religious holidays or not according to their own conscience, and even warns us not to condemn others for their decisions in these areas of freedom (Rom 14:1-14, Col 2:16-17). The Bible forbids worship of other gods - but celebrating Christmas by putting up a Christmas tree does not constitute worship, especially when we do it in honor of Jesus.
"Do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking [or celebrating Christmas or not!], but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:16-17). The Christian life is primarily about living out the virtues of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. If Christmas is a good thing for you that leads you to think about Jesus, then enjoy it - but more importantly, make sure that your Christian life is primarily about things that really matter, not minor quibbles about Christmas.
The picture: The Nativity, by an unknown Ottonian, ca. 1025-1050.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Of course, you should probably take all of this with at least a little grain of salt, since legends tend to accumulate around saints and their remains - but I think I like Nicholas of Myra better than the fat man at the North Pole!
As good old St. Nick would say, Kala Christougenna!
Saturday, November 20, 2010
- Found a good sushi place today - best I've had since leaving Hawaii. Funny - they had a health warning posted about eating raw fish.
- The best part of being at these conferences, as everyone agrees, is spending time with people. I have enjoyed having coffee or meals with former students, former professors, and colleagues who teach all over the country. Kind of strange - I am only (ha!) 42, but I think I have at least 7 or 8 former students who are now professors.
- NT Wright gave a really good lecture near the end of ETS yesterday, and Tom Schreiner and Frank Thielman responded to him. They covered lots of ground, but several things impressed me. 1) All three were models of Christian civility, even in their disagreements with each other - something sometimes lacking in this debate. They emphasized their points of agreement (e.g. substitutionary atonement, Christ as the heart of the gospel, and others), and did not overstate their areas of disagreement. Wright was rather pointed as he addressed the crowd, asking them not to quote him out of context or allow false rumors about him to spread (he has taken a lot of heat, some of it quite unfair, in books and especially blogs). 2) Wright agrees that Paul teaches that sin and guilt transfer to Jesus (substitutionary atonement) but he doesn't think that Paul teaches that righteousness transfers to the believer (imputation of righteousness). However, I was surprised to hear him admit that there might be space for imputation as a trajectory in Paul's thought stemming from union with Christ. 3) I found myself persuaded by Wright's reading of the larger narrative of salvation (you can read his work on this, but it emphasizes the roles of Adam, Abraham, Israel and Jesus in God's plan), but in general I am still unpersuaded by how he reads it into particular passages in Romans and Galatians. 4) Wright is sometimes viewed as overemphasizing the role of works in justification, but in the conversation between the three, it became apparent that this difference might be more semantic than real. All three (along with most Paul scholars) recognize that Paul repeatedly emphasizes that we will be judged for our works, but that our justification rests solely on faith in Christ and his work.
- Craig Keener discussed his new book on the historical Jesus. Lots of good stuff (about 800 pages), but in the presentation, he emphasized 1) Studies of ancient biographies show that biographers were relatively bound by their available data despite authorial purposes and biases. He showed how the three biographers Suetonius, Tacitus and Plutarch all had significant overlap in the details of their account of the Roman emperor Otho. Keener suggests this should affect our view of the biographies of Jesus (the gospels). 2) Studies of memorization prove that both ancient and modern cultures regularly preserve vast amount of information by memory alone, and that very little changes in the memorized material over generations. The first of the gospels was written within 40 years of the events, and relies on even earlier memorized material, demonstrating that there is no reason to believe that lots of extraneous material crept into the memorized data about Jesus.
- On Friday night, I went to the Institute for Biblical Research. This year, they started giving away the traditional free book to members only, so it looks like I finally need to apply for membership! NT Wright was again the speaker. I won't try to summarize his paper here; its content about Jesus' message of the kingdom might be revolutionary in many of our churches (which was his point), but is almost commonplace among evangelical gospels scholars. Still, Wright managed to present it in a compelling and even entertaining manner. Ditto for his respondent, Michael Bird.
- Favorite quote/anecdote of the week: Tom Wright told about being stuck in traffic in London. The cabby saw his clerical collar (Wright was a bishop until recently) and said (imagine a good Cockney accent) "You anglican bishops are having quite a row over women bishops, aren't you?" Wright agreed. The cabby weighed in, "Well, the way I figure it, if God raised Jesus from the dead, then the rest is all rock'n'roll, i'n't it?" Wright said that quote became the main text of his next Easter sermon.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
- I had grits for breakfast. Of course, this obligated me to quote Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny to my friends: "Sure I've heard of grits. I just never actually seen a grit" and "How could it take you five minutes to cook your grits when it takes the entire grit-eating world twenty minutes?"
- Celebrity Alert: I saw Darrel Bock going down the escalator. I have it on good authority that some of his friends call him "Dome of the Bock" because of his vast forehead. This, of course, in contrast to my own thick, wavy hair.
- Christian Book Industry Bailout Alert: I haven't bought any more books today, but it will be hard to avoid if I go back into the exhibit hall.
- Last night's plenary session (for some reason, half the people say plee-nary and half say plenary, but that's not important right now): Tom Schreiner gave a brilliant lecture responding to Wright's view of justification. It was incredibly well-organized, strongly argued, and very gracious. Schreiner's basic points: 1) Wright is a gifted scholar who has contributed immensely to NT scholarship, but his view on justification needs correcting. 2) Wright thinks justification is fundamentally about ecclesiology (the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God), but Schreiner showed that the terms related to justification are constantly used in soteriological passages to communicate the granting of right moral standing. 3) Wright doesn't believe in imputation of righteousness, but Schreiner worked through several texts showing that Paul taught it. 4) Wright believes that "works of the Law" refers not to all Law-keeping, but to the use of certain laws (circumcision, diet, and holy days) as Jewish boundary markers. Schreiner showed numerous passages in Paul where this definition just cannot work. (I probably missed something there, but you can read Schreiner's paper in a few months). Looking forward to hearing Wright speak tomorrow.
- Danny Hays presented a paper this morning on how the story of the Ethiopian eunuch's conversion (Acts 8) alludes to the story of another Ethiopian eunuch in Jeremiah 38-39. I was interested in this story because of a project I am working on about allusions to the OT in Luke-Acts. I had noticed the reference to Jeremiah, but could not figure out what Luke was doing with it. Hays had a great explanation. Hays spent several years in Ethiopia, and has an interest in Africans in the Bible (he's also co-author of a great undergrad hermeneutics textbook).
- Nicholas Piotrowski presented a paper on an allusion to Ezekiel 36 in Matthew 1:21. Among other interesting claims, Piotrowski suggests that the Ezekiel allusion contributes to an "end of Exile" theme in Matthew; that is, some Israelites viewed themselves as still in the Exile, and Jesus ended that.
- You can see by my choice of lectures that one of my special interests is how the New Testament uses the Old Testament.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
- I helped keep the Christian academic book industry afloat by buying two books, The Heresy of Orthodoxy and Keep Your Greek. I bought the second book primarily because of the title of ch. 2: "Burn Your Interlinear: The interlinear is a tool of the devil, designed to make preachers stupid." Amen!
- Celebrity Alert: I met Bill Mounce while signing in at the hotel.
- Another Celebrity Alert: While I was glancing over Wayne Grudem's new book on politics and Christianity, Grudem walked by and said "Buy it! Buy it!" I bet he didn't know he would be quoted.
- I just listened to my friend Ken Berding present a very good paper arguing that the proper translation of Rom 8:27 should be "and [the Spirit] who searches hearts knows the [believer's] mind set on the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to God's purposes" instead of the traditional translation: "and [God] who searches hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to God's purposes."
- Darrel Bock, Gordon Johnston and Herb Bateman gave a presentation of their book, Jesus the Messiah. It covers how OT messianic texts were understood when they were first written, how they were understood by readers in Second Temple Judaism, and how they were understood by the authors of tne New Testament. Bock used the imagery of a puzzle: OT passages that contained limited information about the Messiah, or only hinted at the Messiah, are the separate puzzle pieces. Jesus put the pieces together in ways that were not anticipated by many before him.
- A student, Jonathan E. Parnell, gave a good presentation of how Piper and Wright differ in how they read the Bible, resulting in different views. Wright emphasizes (overemphasizes, according to the presenter) the Jewish conceptual framework, allowing it to be more significant than the text itself, while Piper uses background information, but allows the text to dominate. One respondent pointed out that Piper allows broader theological concepts to dominate over the text.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
"For there are some secret places in the Holy Scriptures into which God has not wished us to penetrate more deeply and, if we try to do so, then the deeper we go, the darker and darker it becomes, by which means we are led to acknowledge the unsearchable majesty of divine wisdom, and the weakness of the human mind."
-Erasmus of Rotterdam, preface to On the Freedom of the Will, 1524.
Monday, August 16, 2010
If you already like Wright, you will enjoy this article. If you are skeptical about some of Wright's ideas (as I am), you will see a bit of Wright's admirable heart and observe that he is quite a bit like Lewis.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Monday, August 2, 2010
A rebel opposes authority simply because it is authority. A rebel flaunts traditions simply because they are traditions.
People who view Jesus as this sort of rebel emphasize that he publicly broke Sabbath traditions and consorted with outsiders such as tax collectors and prostitutes. But does this sort of rebel image really fit Jesus? As I read the Gospels, it seems clear to me that Jesus was not opposed to all authority or all tradition. Rather, he sought to overthrow one sort of authority and replace it with another. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) carefully - Jesus rejects the authority of the scribes and Pharisees, but he replaces it with his own authority and the authority of the Torah. Jesus was not opposed to all traditions, but only to those traditions that prevented genuine obedience to the even older tradition of the Law.
Why does this matter? Because it seems to me that a certain class of Christian routinely skewers authority and traditions and uses the excuse that Jesus was a rebel. Before we begin to flaunt Christian traditions by swearing or smoking pot (for example), we need to ask if that sort of rebellion is really anything like what Jesus did. Jesus broke bad rules and replaced them with "greater righteousness" based on love for God and neighbor.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Here's Shoebat's basic claim: When John wrote about the famous "number of the beast" in Rev 13:18, he actually wrote in a Muslim symbol and an Arabic phrase, not a Greek number. Shoebat said he discovered this by looking at the symbol for 666 in the 4th-century manuscript Vaticanus. When he turned the letters sideways, he saw the crossed swords of Islam and the Arabic phrase bismillah, meaning "in the name of Allah."
There are multiple problems with this claim.
1) It is yet one more example of our obsession with 666 and the Antichrist. Every few years, some radio prophecy teacher makes another claim that they have identified who the Antichrist is - Ronald Reagan, the Pope, Prince Charles, Barack Obama. Frank Fasi is my favorite candidate (initials FFF, and F is the 6th letter of the alphabet). It is difficult to take these claims seriously, especially when they are not based on the way numbers worked in the first century.
2) John tells us four times that he is referring to a number: "the number of his name... calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man, and his number is 666." We need to listen to the author: if he says that 666 is a number, then we should agree that it is a number, not an Arabic phrase.
3) Shoebat says that he found the symbols in the 4th century manuscript Codex Vaticanus. This is incorrect. Codex Vaticanus is from the 4th century, but it is missing the book of Revelation and several other books due to damage. A 15th century manuscript was added in to the end of Vaticanus to replace the missing material. This is very important, because it means that the supposed Arabic phrase is not found in the earliest manuscripts of Revelation, but only one late medieval manuscript.
4) Anyone who spends much time reading Greek manuscripts can recognize that the symbol in the picture is indeed the Greek number 666. Greek did not have separate symbols for numbers, so it used letters. In this case, χξς (chi xi stigma) is one of the standard ways to write 666 (chi = 600, xi = 60, stigma = 6).
5) The scribe who wrote this particular manuscript followed a pattern that proves that he was writing a number. Like other scribes, he put a bar above the letters to indicate that they were functioning as numbers. He also switched his "font" - he wrote all of his normal text in the more ancient majuscule font (all caps, essentially), and all his numbers in the later minuscule font (lower-case, kind of like cursive). This miniscule script was not even used until the 5th century, so there is no way that John would have used it in his original. In the script used in the first century, John would have written it something like this:
This is what the number looks like in another early manuscript, Codex Sinaiticus. The entire number is written out as a word (ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ, hexakosioi hexekonta hex), like writing six hundred sixty six instead of 666.
So Shoebat is basing his idea on a manuscript written 1400 years after Revelation, in a style of script that didn't exist until 400 years after Revelation.
6) In order for his theory to work, each letter has to be turned sideways, and the bar that symbolizes "number" also has to be turned sideways and read as an Arabic letter. The bar also has to be arbitrarily placed third from left, since it is actually a bar above all three letters. It is almost impossible to believe that John wrote intentionally in Arabic in a Greek manuscript, then turned each letter sideways, moved one letter above the other three, altered each to look more like Greek letters in a script that would not yet exist for four centuries, called them numbers, then expected people to figure it out. Even if it were possible, Shoebat has only given us evidence (sort of) that a 15th-century scribe did this, not that John did it.
7) All early interpreters of Revelation thought it was a number. Some scribes wrote out the whole number, and others commented on the symbolic nature of the number.
8) Most scholars of Revelation (i.e. professors and authors of scholarly books on Revelation) believe that 666 is an example of gematria, the ancient system of calculating the numerical value of a person's name. Shoebat opposes the gematriacal interpretation because he says gematria was used in witchcraft. But this is not a good reason to reject gematria in the Bible. Although gematria was used in later times in magical incantations, so have many other things, such as the name of God, Jesus, and the angels of the Old Testament. In general, gematria in the first century and earlier was more of a word game, and not associated with magic.
Shoebat also opposes using gematria because, he says, "God is not the author of mysteries." This is also not a good objection. Revelation is filled with mysterious symbols, and it uses the word mystery four times. Shoebat's interpretation is much more mysterious than many others! And actually, gematria was not that mysterious. Since every Greek and Hebrew letter was equivalent to a number, any one who spoke those languages in the ancient world could calculate "the number of their name" (gematria) without effort.
The standard ancient interpretation still holds up well: 666 is the number of Nero's name. Other details in Revelation also point to Nero. John is thus saying that the final evil leader will be someone much like Nero (who was already dead when John wrote). This evil leader will persecute Christians, conquer nations, call for worship of himself, and not follow even his own ancestral religion.
Even if one rejects the standard ancient interpretation, Shoebat has not given any real evidence for his claim. The particular way that a 15th-century scribe wrote the number tells us nothing about how John wrote the number.
It's important to remember that 1 John says that there are many antichrists (1 John 2:18, 2:22, 4:3): anyone who opposes the truth about Jesus is an antichrist. In that sense, many empires throughout history have been "antichrist" and Islam is sometimes "antichrist" when it suppresses the Christian message and persecutes Christians. But Rev 13:18 does not tell us that Islam is the antichrist.
Andrew and Elizabeth (5), pretending to be superheroes:
Andrew: My guy is kinda like Iron Man, but he shoots lava out of his hands, like this: WHOOSH! BAM!
Elizabeth: My superhero is like Iron Man too, but her helmet covers up her hair so bad guys can't tell she's a girl. And she wears a skirt that comes down to here, and boots that come up to here.
Caleb (7), watching cool reflected lights: Wow! It's so exciting! It's like one of those dinko parties!
Me: Like what?
Caleb: You know, with the ball with mirrors on it.
Me: You mean a disco ball?
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Monday, May 31, 2010
The phrase in question is ὁ Χριστὸς τὸ κατὰ σάρκα ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων θεὸς εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας. Here are the two possible translations, with some English translations that (more or less) follow this option.
1) Christ according to the flesh who is over all, God blessed forever (or "who is God over all, blessed forever"). KJV, NASB, NIV, NLT, ESV, NET, HCSB, NRSV.
2) Christ according to the flesh. God who is over all [be] blessed forever. RSV, CEV, NAB
Option 1 typically includes a comma, but the comma does not affect the meaning. Option 2 requires a period between κατὰ σάρκα and ὁ ὢν. It is legitimate for translators to insert periods where necessary, since ancient manuscripts used minimal punctuation. But it is important to note that no ancient manuscript inserted a period at that spot. The manuscript above is typical: there are punctuation marks after "promises" from Rom 9:4, and after "amen" in 9:5, but none after "according to the flesh" (line 4, fifth letter in the photo).
In favor of option 2: Although Paul elsewhere makes statements about the deity of Christ, he never does so in these words, equating Χριστὸς (Christ) with θεὸς (God). Elsewhere in the NT, the phrase "over all" and "blessed" (εὐλογητὸς) are used with reference to the Father, not the Son.
In favor of option 1: the phrase ὁ ὢν ("who is") is a participle phrase functioning as an adjective. Everywhere else in the New Testament and in the LXX, this phrase modifies a noun that precedes it. I cannot find any example of ὁ ὢν modifying a noun that follows. That means that ὁ ὢν must modify Christ, not God, resulting in "Christ... who is God." There are a few examples of other adjectival participles (i.e., not εἰμι) modifying a noun that follows, but they are quite rare.
I favor option 1 for three reasons.
- Translation decisions should rely heavily on original grammar, and the grammatical support for option 1 is much stronger than for option 2.
- The only real argument for option 2 is that Paul doesn't elsewhere use this kind of language to refer to Christ. But Paul often makes unique statements that have no exact parallel elsewhere in his writings. It is illegitimate to exclude a translation only because "it doesn't sound like Paul." If Paul wants to emphasize that Christ is God, it is only natural that he would use language that he has elsewhere used for God.
- Option 1 best makes sense of the context. Paul is expressing his anguish that so many of his fellow Israelites, who had the patriarchs, the Scriptures, and Christ himself, have rejected Christ. Paul emphasizes who they are rejecting: Christ who is Jewish in his humanity, but is also God over all, blessed forever.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I received my M.Div. from Talbot, and I was an adjunct professor there while I was doing my Ph.D. work at Fuller. I am excited about the prospect of joining a faculty team that I have highly respected since I was a student. We are all looking forward to living near my wife's family. For our younger children, the best thing about the move is that we will live near Disneyland!
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
In the Bible, we also switch between various genres: poetry, wisdom, historical narrative, biography, epistles, apocalyptic literature, parables, and so on. I developed a handy-dandy chart to help guide readers through the various genres of the Bible. Unfortunately, the chart doesn't work well in blogger format, so you can access it here as a pdf (the pictures above are just snapshots). Feel free to make a copy if it helps you with your Bible reading.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
What Dr. Claude pointed out that I was not aware of was that Jehovah was not used as a transliteration of YHWH until 1278 in the work of a Spanish monk.
Of course, you all immediately saw the significance of that date: If Jehovah was not in use during the 11th century (the first Crusade), then there is a mistake in one of the final scenes of the otherwise inerrant and inspired Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. One of the clues to avoid the traps protecting the Holy Grail involved stepping on the letters in Jehovah to avoid falling to certain death. My faith in Steven Spielberg is now destroyed forever.
Monday, February 22, 2010
I came across some good quotes on the nature of Bible translation as I was preparing to lecture on the subject for my Bible Interpretation classes:
“If one translates a verse literally, he is a liar; if he adds thereto, he is a blasphemer, and a slanderer!” (Rabbi Judah, b. Kiddushin 49a, quoted in HTPAT, Fee and Strauss)
“Let them not drag me into court if the text does not agree with the original word for word, for, try as you may, it cannot be done.” (Erasmus, Apologia 170:20-1)
"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." (Preface to Sirach, ca. 200 BC)
“I must let the literal words go and try to learn how the German says that which the Hebrew expresses… Whoever would speak German must not use Hebrew style. Rather he must see to it – once he understands the Hebrew author – that he concentrates on the sense of the text, asking himself, “Pray tell, what do the Germans say in such a situation?” … Let him drop the Hebrew words and express the meaning freely in the German he knows. (Martin Luther, commenting on translating the Old Testament into German, quoted in HTPAT, Fee and Strauss)
And we can't omit the Italian proverb "Traduttore traditore" ("the translator is a traitor.")
The picture: Acts 15:22-24 in Codex Laudanius, a parallel Greek/Latin manuscript, 6th century. Note the scribal correction in the line fourth from the bottom: the original says etaran, but the corrector changed it to etaraxan (they troubled). Also note the faint lettering in the background, which is probably text on the other side of the page that has bled through.
Monday, February 8, 2010
After the first three weeks of the beginning Greek class, 20 percent of the students are unfortunately conked, casualties of the masculine nouns of the first declension. Others are DOA thanks to the pronoun autos. They find that the autos monster can mean three altogether different things ("him/her/it/them," "-self," or "same"), depending on both its case and its position in a sentence. Students do withdraw from an introductory Greek class before they taste Plato or the Gospels, these bored, annoyed, and exhausted ninteen-year-olds, those very prospects who you once hoped would go on to Thucydides—and perhaps be one of the 600 each year in America who still major in Classics. They slide now across the hall to squeeze into the university's over-enrolled Theory of Walking, Rope Climbing, and Star Trek and the Humanities, which will assuage and assure them that they are, all in all, pretty nice kids, classes that will offer the veneer of self-esteem but will guarantee that they will probably lose what little sense of real accomplishment they had carried within to begin with. You can nearly hear those doctors of therapy, those professors of recuperation at the lecture-hall door: "Come on in, you wounded Greeklings. It's not your fault. They had no business subjecting you to all that rote; we do things a lot differently here. Relax, sit back, breathe deeply, and tell us how you feel."
The picture: First column of the Gospel of Luke, from codex Sinaiticus (ca. AD 350).
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Friday, January 8, 2010
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
A wordle of the book of Acts. I fed in the text of the NASB, then did a find and replace to get the most common verbs in the same tense. Like all wordles, the size of the text shows the relative frequency of the word in the text. From wordle.net.