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Five Things about Bible Study

Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

I don't often do top ten five lists. This is basically a list of things that most people might find informative about studying the Bible.

1. The Bible is meant to be read aloud. Historically, reading was very hard once upon a time. In Bible times, words were written in all caps with no spaces between words and no punctuation. This made reading VERY hard. You either knew how to read extremely well, or not at all. There was almost no in-between. In the fourth century, we have letters of people saying "hey, I saw a guy just staring at a piece of paper. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was reading. Isn't that crazy?" And so we know that before the fourth century, everything was read aloud.

More important than history, let's look at theology. God created through the use of his spoken Word. The creative, life-giving Word is something that we don't just read -- we can participate in God's creative Word. When we proclaim God's Word openly, all creation sings with us (this ties in to my view of the Psalms). And, truthfully, reading silently does not allow the rest of creation to benefit and rejoice with us.

And psychologically: when you read silently, you engage visual memory. If you read aloud, you engage your visual memory plus your aural [auditory] memory and kinesthetic [muscle] memory. No matter whether you're a visual, auditory, or hands-on learner, everybody will do better engaging all three rather than just one type of memory.

The Bible is meant to be heard. Reading aloud will also help you ask questions: "who is speaking here: God, or the prophet Isaiah?" "Was this spoken with sarcasm or irony?" etc.

2. The Bible is not naturally separated into chapters and verses. The person who made the chapter divisions, for the most part, did an outstanding job. As for verse divisions? It's been said that he marked verse divisions while drunk and riding a galloping horse. Take, for instance, Jonah 1:1: "And the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying..." Saying what? That's not even a complete sentence!

The basic unit of meaning in language is the sentence. That is the central level of meaning. Words influence the sentence, and the sentence influences the word even more. The paragraph or section influences the sentence, but the sentence is the central building block of meaning in language. SO, read the entire sentence. In fact, it wouldn't hurt to read the entire paragraph or (if you have time) the whole chapter.

3. It doesn't always come back to knowing Greek/Hebrew. Let me tell you one of the things you won't notice in your English translations: sometimes the original is ambiguous, and we have to make an either-or choice in translating. For example, Better Bibles Blog's Wayne Leman notes the difficulty of 1 Cor 7:36-38. Whose virgin is in question? Is it the virgin daughter of a father, or a young damsel that a man intends to marry? There's no way to translate this ambiguously into English without it becoming awkward English (see the ESV for instance). All communication is, by its nature, both vague and redundant. Strange, but true.

4. It doesn't always come back to knowing Greek/Hebrew. Jesus said that "this generation will not pass away until all is accomplished." But what did he mean by generation? You could go to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (which I would do, if I could afford the ten-volume set for $400), or you could just consider how the word "generation" is used in the English translation. It can refer to 1. a contemporary group of people (which is the same as our contemporary use), 2. people of a certain character type, which would be more like a "genus" than "generation." For a use of this, see Psalm 24:3-6 to refer to the "genus" of person who will ascend the hill of the Lord. 3. It has various, lesser meanings also.

5 It doesn't always come back to knowing Greek/Hebrew. If you want to know the main things that differ between the original languages and our translations, I'll cover that briefly. Firstly, Bibles are translated at about the eighth-grade reading level because that is all that most non-college folk can comfortably read at. College grads, on average, read comfortably at the tenth-grade level. Because of this simplicity, sentences are often cut in two to make for easier reading.

Secondly, translations tend to make things seem specific where there may be some ambiguity (this is hard to avoid, as the 1 Cor example shows). A bad translation choice will introduce ambiguity where it is clear in Greek/Hebrew. Sometimes, this can't be easily avoided either, though. "For there is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ." Jesus' maleness has nothing to do with His ability as a mediator.

So in short:
1. Read aloud, as much as you feel comfortable doing so. Read publicly with friends and family!
2. Read more than a verse at a time. John 3:16 has a different tone to it when you read it in context of the rest of John 3.
3. Read with reverent care. As long as you aren't reading the Cotton Patch translation or Conservapedia, then you are handling the genuine word of God. Treat it accordingly and do not disparage it for being a translation. Wayne Leman said it best:

Some people want absolute certainty about what each verse in the Bible means. Some people want to use a Bible version which they feel gives the correct translation for each verse. But we cannot have such certainties about every verse in the Bible. The biblical language texts are not always clear enough for us to know for sure what the biblical author’s intended meaning was. We must be content not to know some things for sure in this life. Personally, I think God wants to draw us to himself through life’s uncertainties. We can trust, I believe, that he is certain, that he knows total truth. If we try to find total truth anywhere other than in him (including in Bible translations which were done by teams who did their very best, but which cannot humanly know how to translate everything with certainty), we are going to be disappointed. But if we allow lack of certainty about some things, including things in the Bible, to draw us toward the One who knows far more than we do, we will find contentment in knowing enough of what we need to know in this life.

Mission Trip to Tuba City, AZ

Posted by Gary

Tomorrow morning I will leave town for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As I was typing this, I had to switch living arrangements for Wednesday to Saturday -- I just got a call saying that now would not be a good time for them to have guests. Fortunately, they found someone else who would be happy to let me stay. I know this guy indirectly; his sister is a good friend of mine.

So, on Saturday we will be heading to Tuba City, Arizona. It's a small Navajo and Hopi reservation with some truly wonderful people. Our goal is to do acts of service for the church and community, go door-to-door in small groups and pray with people, and put on a VBS for the kids.

Here's the promo video. I wear a white "Oklahoma Christian" hoodie throughout some of the pictures, and I'm also the fool balancing the ball on his nose.

Sorry that the opening is a bit corny.

Please keep this mission trip in your prayers. I won't be back until Christmas Eve or Christmas day, so no more posts or comments from yours truly until then.

Jimmy Carter to the Parliament of the World's Religions

Posted by Gary Labels:

Former president Jimmy Carter gave a speech on the status of women, and how religion interacts with women's status. In short, religion has been a malefactor, but may be used as a benefactor.

Most Bible scholars acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures were written when male dominance prevailed in every aspect of life. Men could have multiple sex partners (King Solomon had 300 wives and 700 concubines), but adulterous behavior by a woman could be punished by stoning to death - then, in the time of Christ and, in some societies, 2009 years later.

On this, I do have a problem. It's as if he's referring to the kings' time and the time of Christ contemporaneously, as if the Bible is a single document from one time, called "the time of the Bible." Since he upfront admits himself to be a layman, I can let misunderstandings like this slide without faulting him personally.

It is true that the kings had multiple wives, though that was certainly not scripturally encouraged. Indeed, one of the laws for kings specifically says that they must not have many wives (Deut 17:17). Their reason for having so many comes in part from treaties with foreign nations (yet another no-no). The more political Israel became, the less and less they looked like God's people, and the more and more they became a nation-state.

Part of Solomon's problem was that his first major act as king (internationally speaking) was to ally with Egypt and marry Pharaoh's daughter. Only after this did he ask for wisdom. See also 1 Kings 11:1-3.

In any case, the Bible as we have it does not and did not, as the "history of faith" would have it, allow for polygamy. Polygamy is associated with political alliances, and I daresay that neither thing was part of God's intention for His people.

I realize that devout Christians can find adequate scripture to justify either side in this debate, but there is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women: he never condoned sexual discrimination or the implied subservience of women. The exaltation and later reverence for Mary, as Jesus' mother, is an even more vivid indication of the special status of women in Christian theology.

Good stuff! I have nothing nitpicky to say here, it was just so good I wanted to repost it. I hold to the complementarian view that senior pastoral authority is intended for males, but I think Carter has in view here the idea of "all women serving all men," which he and I can agree completely is not biblical and does not reflect Christ at all.

It is clear that during the early Christian era women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers, and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

Again, this is a layman talking. Women were indeed deaconnesses (which are servants -- male deacons were likewise servants) and prophetesses. Women were also "apostles" in a general sense referring to messengers. Women could carry letters for Paul (and be of the same sort of apostle as Epaphroditus), and it wouldn't bother me if a woman had a hand in scribing a letter in the Bible. The idea that Aquila and Priscilla wrote Hebrews together is interesting to me, though it's nothing but speculation.

He then brings an anecdote from his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, which recently switched from an egalitarian view to complementarianism. I, personally, cannot imagine how female pastors felt when they became un-ordained, as it were. That's a sticky situation and I dunno just how that should've been handled. Perhaps a softer, slower transition that got female pastors into meaningful ministry positions, instead of suddenly firing them?

In any case, Jimmy goes on to use the same fallacious language of inferiority and qualification, which isn't necessarily the argument complementarians hold. He further indicts male church leaders for using scripture to their advantage. While this has certainly happened, this general indictment as if all or even most complementarian leaders are manipulative, is unfair.

He continues in the language of "rights," which truthfully, nobody has. God gave us nothing so unalienable that He has no authority over it. His language there is strongly American, though. God's sovereignty is absolute in that what He gives, He can take away. (This has little to do with the debate of women's status, and much more to do with my pacifistic arguments, I admit.)

So, in short: Carter is on the right track in calling for a change in the status and treatment of women. Women are special. Women are made by God "for man" in some sense. How to interpret that preposition is the tricky thing. Does it further intensify the likeness of woman to man, or is there some other meaning? Hmm.

Enough rambling. Carter did a good job, but overgeneralizes the complementarian stance, making no reference to those who very emphatically are against the subjugation of women that destroys self-actualization and even the dignity of making one's own choices about the body. I would support Carter, but grit my teeth over some of this.

On The Legalized Murder of Gays in Uganda

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

Uganda is considering a bill before their parliament that will make homosexuality an offense punishable by at least life in prison, at most by execution. John Mark Reynolds, a biblioblogger over at Evangel gave me first heads up about this. Jim West, the #1 biblioblogger (8 months running), also made some comments.

In short: imagine the registering of the Jews in Nazi Germany. And then their being exiled or killed simply for their religious and ethnic identity. Now apply that to gays, and you know what this is. This goes beyond simply not accepting homosexuality as legitimate sexuality. This is talking about imprisoning people -- killing them if they also have AIDS or are public personalities. Well-known figures caught in homosexual behavior -- broadly defined to include touching -- are to be executed.

If you are an authority figure of some sort (e.g. a school teacher) and you discover someone who is homosexual, you have 24 hours to report the behavior, or else you may be penalized with up to 3 years in jail.

Uganda is one of the areas in Africa that is having a very serious time dealing with AIDS breakouts. The infection rate is currently about 6-8%, according to one of the above articles.

Rick Warren, author of the Money Purpose Driven Life, has chosen to take a stance of neutrality, apparently. For a long time, I've not been impressed with exegetically because of his tendency to cite whichever Bible version's wording fit his point best. Now, however, I have lost respect for him as a pastor. Those who relied on his programs to stop AIDS through abstinence-only education have fallen flat on their newly-infected rear ends, and the pandemic is not losing any significant momentum.

This just in: Rick Warren has made a youtube response to the Ugandan pastors, almost in the form of a video epistle (an e-pistle, if you prefer). That link leads to a the script, but it also has a link to the actual video. Long story short: It sounds suspiciously like he was defending his reputation to an American audience, and not really addressing Ugandans at all.

Moving on: I would certainly prefer that the whole world chose total celibacy, because then the world would die out in a generation and Jesus would theoretically HAVE to come back. But that's not realistic. To withhold the information about condoms from people that you want to remain abstinent is like withholding information about salvation from people that you don't want to ever sin again. It's damning them to be cursed with an infection that could have been prevented. It's misguided idealism -- you might as well teach works-based salvation.

What would you do if you taught abstinence but chose to never mention condoms, and a former student came to you who got infected and then found Jesus? It would be your fault that the child is dying. Leaders bear some responsibility in the misdeeds of their followers. DO NOT WITHHOLD MEDICAL INFORMATION THAT MAY SAVE LIVES.

AIDS is a curse. Maybe not in the sense that God sent it to punish, but it is a curse in that it hurts. It separates people. And it kills. Jesus came to heal the afflicted, and He took care of prostitutes, too. "Give to everyone who asks," He said.

As says: "The Church of Uganda has said that it is studying the bill but does not yet have an official position. It added, though, that the church cannot support the death penalty and that it was “committed at all levels to offer counseling, healing, and prayer for people with homosexual disorientation.”

This frustrates me. Jesus = life. Serving Jesus = protecting life. This is unacceptable.


Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

Although I've already addressed this, I thought I'd bring it up again. Wayne of Better Bibles Blog, and even my old friend Sammie took a stab at it. She rightfully chooses the preference of being tasered to actually reading their website (Stephen Colbert mentioned Conservapedia and a segment on tasers in the same episode).

Several others have also brought the subject to public attention. So, what do you do with translations like this from Matthew 1:
Matthew 1:18f “The birth of Jesus Christ happened this way: His mother, Mary, was engaged to Jospeh, but before they were married, she became pregnant with the child of the Divine Guide. Jospeh was a righteous husband and thus did not want to publicly shame her, so he decided to divorce her privately.” [sic]

1:25 “And did not consummate the marriage until she bore her son, who Jospeh named Jesus.” [sic]

It's not a good idea to translate "to know" as "consummate." We can talk about a prostitute being raped all night then cut to pieces in the Bible, but we can't be explicit about legitimate sex between husband and wife. Come on. Seriously. Save euphemisms for making Song of Solomon singles-friendly.

The rest of their work is no better. For the sake of conciseness, they cut out words that are of theological importance (such as John the Baptist preaching a baptism of repentance). The obvious misspellings above are truly unacceptable in Bible translation. Granted, I once ran across a Koran translation that misspelled people as "poeple." It was my second page of ever reading the Koran, and I found a typo. God was watching over me, for sure.

Put simply, one does not just pick up a dictionary and magically become a scholar. It takes years and years of study of the Bible, other Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic literature, history (ancient), church history, theology, linguistics, and textual criticism. A bunch of amateurs are going to make a sub-par translation, for sure. They seek to cut out whatever scriptures they disagree with (regardless of textual evidence) and they want to add in conservative terminology that is foreign to the text. This is an abomination to the Lord, because it is a conscious perversion of God's word.

Of their ten guidelines, the only one I would like to see happen is "combat harmful addiction," which should not change the actual translation, but a footnote with "casting lots" could say "i.e., gambling." Although I would like to see translations on a higher reading level, the fact is most people who haven't graduated from college read comfortably at the 8th grade reading level. Graduates read comfortably at the 10th grade reading level. Poor education is an obstacle that can't be ignored. As such, vocabulary must be simple and sentences must be somewhat shortened or cut in two sometimes. There's no avoiding it.

Another thing there's no avoiding: no translation is "safe." None will ever be "perfect." There is no safe way, no hiding place in translation. None will ever live up to the richness of the original, and that's that.