Moffatt translation

I haven’t experienced all that much of James Moffatt’s translation (1922), but I have an heirloom printed copy and refer to it once in a while.  I suppose half of this volume’s value is that it was my granddaddy’s, but it seems that every time I come to Moffatt for comparison, he offers something uniquely helpful and communicative—almost like Phillips’s The New Testament in Modern English (1958), albeit a few decades before, and without as much picturesque expansion as Phillips.

Moffatt does a fine job with Philemon 6, for instance–where “participation” and “loyal faith” add apt elements before their time:

I pray that by their participation in your loyal faith they may have a vivid sense of how much good we Christians can attain.

Moffatt misses a verbal tie with the singular word “good,” as do most later translations, but I note that he stands out by capturing the delay in the dropping of the name Onesimus in v13 — just like the original.

There is a nicely provocative rendering of Romans 12:1-2, as well:

Well then, my brothers, I appeal to you by all the mercy of God to dedicate your bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated and acceptable to God; that is your cult, a spiritual rite.  Instead of being moulded to this world, have your mind renewed, and so be transformed in nature, able to make out what the will of God is, namely, what is good and acceptable to him and perfect.

There can be benefits to a one-man (non-committee) translation.  I’m also drawn to Schonfield’s Authentic New Testament (also 1958, and my copy of this one is also from Granddaddy Ritchie’s library), but Schonfield’s seems more iconoclastic.  Apparently, some copyright issues keep Logos/Faithlife from getting the rights to publish a Moffatt digital edition, but it would be nice to have it in my e-collection, so I hope they’ll pursue it.  In the meantime, it can be accessed here.

The above is an edited, expanded version of a comment I made in a Logos community forum I happened to find.  My actual comment is here.


A letter about Bible reading (2)

The first part of this unsent, hypothetical letter is found in the last post here.

In my last letter, we were talking about reading ancient scripture texts without much sense of what’s around them (“out of context”), and about the pitfalls of programs that don’t allow for deep, contextually aware reading.  Let me point to a spot in the Matthew-gospel as a detailed example of a more granular focus on a single book.

When Matthew has the word “coming” in 24:3, do we consider Matthew’s unique use of the Greek term “parousia,” and do we linger at the portrait he painted?  Many English Bibles render the word that way, but its meaning can go in more than one direction.  Some will rush off to 1Thess 4 and 1Cor 15 . . . but is Jesus really talking about the same thing Paul is in those other texts?  And/or is Paul always (or ever) referring to the “second coming” that a 20th- or 21st-century Christian seems to have in mind?  The word formula “second coming” has taken on a theological life of its own and is absent, per se, from the NT.  Perhaps Matthew’s concerns overlap some of that, or perhaps not.

We could then consider the prologue to John’s gospel, which is thought by some to have been composed after the rest of the book.  1:1-18 is in one analysis an intense section of standalone Christological poetry (and I’d say there are lots worse sections to read as standalone passages).  It does clearly connect, though, to the rest of that gospel.  Presumably you recall some of the other content of this gospel . . . there was the “water to wine” events and other signs, the blind man, the woman at the well, Nicodemus, the foot-washing, and the rest.  How rewarding to ponder the connections between the prologue and the rest!  The later-stated purpose—”to believe and have life in His name”—is most meaningful not cordoned off as a general, theological pointer-to-belief, or re-appropriated as a pulpit exhortation, but in its John-context!  Truly, nothing in literature should be considered to “stand alone.”  Every word has context.  (On this question, if you have more time, you might be interested in what I wrote here about “The Farmer in the Dell,” Paul’s letters, and context.)

Matthew’s “parousia “and Paul’s “parousia” and John’s “until I come” do not necessarily share the same referent.  So Paul is not Matthew, and Matthew is not John.  (Nor is any one of them Lindsey or Hagee or Casey, and that’s not beside the point.)  Each NT author wrote from a uniquely God-inspired vantage point, and in many cases to unique Christ-communities.  Accepting both God’s involvement and these “communicator” and “receptor” identifications doesn’t mean that all documents use a word identically—or even that each subcontext within a single document necessarily uses a word the same way.

And Greek is not English.  Sometimes, not even English is English!  Translation can involve both art and science, and it comes into play even within a single language.  Words are curious, sometime chameleonic characters, as is communication in general.  Decades and even centuries of Christianese and Christian publications have had impact on how we read and hear some words and expressions.  My mention of “parousia” is but one example, based on a single word.   Hundreds and maybe thousands more exist!  What is required of a conscientious reader?  To read responsibly and contextually, honoring God and the intent of the original document.

A holistic study of a single document such as Matthew will lead to questions not only about the coming/presence/arrival/parousia of deity, but also about such topics as these:

  • The Mosaic Law
  • Righteousness
  • The Jewish temple
  • The “kingdom of heaven” theme as traced throughout Matthew
  • “The end of the age” (a phrase unique to Matthew, occurring in two of the five “teaching blocks,” including Matthew 24—and notably appearing at the very end of the gospel, 28:20)

Few questions about what Matthew was attempting to say about the above topics will be addressed aptly without focused study of that single document.  It seems that Matthew has designed his gospel intentionally to connect some of these things.  On the other hand, John’s scope, purpose, and design are quite different from Matthew’s.  If we found a “Law” or “temple” in John, we would not want to assume the implication or meaning is the same as in Matthew.

But who can focus so sharply?  You can, and I can.  Responsible reading and interpretation may at points start to seem attainable only by academically trained scholars such as experts in biblical languages.  Not the case!  Yes, there are academic principles involved, and knowledge of biblical languages helps immensely, but there are so many tools available to any serious reader-investigator these days.  Diamonds await those of us who will simply read responsibly, carefully, contextually, and with an eye to an author’s intentions.

Underlying my whole thrust here is something I think of as a “differently high” view of scripture— a view that elevates (1) the book-level (single-document) context and (2) the inspiration of the author as he wrote a single document.  I tend also to downplay inter-document connections in the Bible as a whole.  (After all, the “whole” of the Bible is really a collection of single, whole documents.)  The connections found when comparing documents can be very real and meaningful, but they also tend to be overstated and unwittingly abused by those who are largely untrained, like you and me.  We do well to abide in one document at a time.

[ . . . ]

The above began as a draft letter to a person I’ve never met face to face.  I decided not to send it personally, but I thought I’d share it here, with much adaptation and expansion, since I feel this is broadly applicable.

What have I written that raises questions in your mind?

Does anything appear misleading or erroneous?

How would you conclude the letter?

A letter about Bible reading (1 of 2)

If I became aware that a person I knew was in a “daily Bible reading” program but was not growing from it, I might write something like this to him.

I pick up that you want and need more than you are getting.  Maybe you have the impression that “reading the Bible through” alone will offer you the best-quality picture of things, but I want to encourage you instead to apply your energies to reading and working on understanding single biblical documents.  I realize it can feel good to see a “daily Bible reading” project through to the end, but maybe next year you would consider something different.

You could read Galatians first, engaging with the details of its book-level context; then investigate the sharply focused design of Mark; then immerse yourself in the narrative of Genesis or one of the prophets.  In Galatians, you would gain new insight into what Paul said to one audience about freedom, and about justification, and about faith.  (Is “faith” in Galatians about trust, or about allegiant, faithful living for the Christ, or a combination, or sometimes one and sometimes the other?)  What connecting lines can be drawn from the core of Mark (8:22-10:52) to its bookends in chapters 1 and 16?  Whether it’s a gospel or a Pauline letter or a work of Hebrew history or prophecy, impressive themes and motifs can become apparent when one remains within a single book for an extended period of time!  And Galatians and Mark and Genesis or Zechariah seems like plenty for a year!  In slowing down and reading thoroughly, carefully, and investigatively, you will without a doubt end up getting more of the intended message of each unique book.

Although “daily Bible” or lectionary reading plans can offer seemingly good devotional experiences, those kinds of programs might also skew one’s sense of what’s been written.  Readers might whiz through and miss much, or they might get beef tips and gems but not a sense of the original cow or diamond mine as a whole.  For instance, the meaning of “keep in step with the Spirit” (or any other familiar snippet) can run deeper and richer when taken within its whole literary context.  A hand-picked verse might initially impress one as nicely inspiring, and it will have been cheap and easy to pick it, but often, a more expensive reading awaits.

Are beef tips tasty?  Yes, but you might find out they actually came from elk or bison, and that changes the perception and cost!

Is a gemstone valuable in itself, quite apart from the mine from which it came?  Yes, but if one encounters an unknown gem, he might think it was a diamond when it was really cubic zirconia.  Moreover, he might not even notice the gold and silver around the zirconia!

Perhaps even more to the point, the perceived value of an isolated thing—whether meat, a diamond, or a Bible verses—can be arbitrary.  This is especially the case, it seems to me, when the valuation has been based on forces outside the thing itself, e.g., the economy of the jewelry trade or a given theological dogma.

An individual reader’s biases morph into a lens through which he reads and interprets, coloring his or her perceptions considerably.  He might not only exaggerate or underestimate the value of a thing; he might not see it at all or might imagine elements that aren’t even present.  This can also happen when one does abide in deep study of a single document, but it’s less likely that one will stray from the original intent of the author/document if one is swimming in the waters of that one document.

All this matters a lot to me, and I know it does to you, too, so I want to take care to say communicate as well as I can—and also give you time to digest it.  I’ll write more in a couple days.

To elicit from Ecclesiastes (2)

[Find part 1 here.]

Can we who live now really connect with, and gain from, ancient-yet-timeless wisdom?  Ecclesiastes says it’s “not from wisdom” that we long for the former days.  In further contemplation of this ancient “wisdom literature,” another “contemporary” song comes to mind.  The song “That’s What Matters” on Rebecca St. James’s 1996 album “God” is of particular note since it originated with one so young.  Wisdom must not be entirely gained with age:  I think RSJ was barely 20 when she co-wrote and belted the words, “Don’t wait for a better day.  Be glad, and use the one you’re in.”  That is not only musically punchy but also spiritually and emotionally wise, and I ought to heed it.  Peter, Paul, & Mary asked, “Where have all the flowers gone?” and I presume they were commenting on the ubiquity of war more than yearning for generally halcyon days.  Regardless, when we recognize that things are not looking good right now, it probably doesn’t serve to spend much time either in the future or in the past.

The conclusion of Ecclesiastes, basically filling chapter 12, exhorts us to “remember the Creator”—to Whom the spirit returns when all is said and done in this life.  “Fear God and keep His commandments,” and that is about the size of it all, says the Teacher.

Here are some (non-copyrighted, I might mention) quotations from Jon Collins’s article in the periodical from The Bible Project, mentioned in part 1):

“Ecclesiastes can feel like nihilism—like nothing really matters—but, surprisingly, it doesn’t end there. Throughout the book, the teacher pauses to draw the conclusion that even though life is smoke, we still need to live it in a way where we can find joy…. Just because we do the right thing, it doesn’t mean that life will work out…

“… The hope at the end of all this is that one day God will clear away all the smoke and life will be as it is meant to be….

” Ecclesiastes is a reminder that even the best life comes with bangs and bruises, disappointments and depression.  Life can be well lived, but it can’t be controlled.”

I cannot control life in general; neither can I control others’ behavior—or its consequences in this life or the next.  What happens to others ultimately must not be my concern.  Here I recall the old³ Stamps-Baxter song “Tempted and Tried.”  I learned a regurgitatory distaste for the song as a child, but in recent years, more of it has begun to resonate for me.  “We’re oft made to wonder why . . . while there are others living about us, never molested tho’ in the wrong.”  I may not understand it “all by and by,” and that will be okay ultimately, but it doesn’t seem so okay now.  If anyone says, “Cheer up, my brother” to me, all twangy-like, I might just issue a tangy rejoinder, but there are two major truths for me here, stemming from the song and from Ecclesiastes:

  1. Things happen that don’t seem fair or make sense in this life.
  2. I can’t control that.

Collins spotlights the paradox between Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, noting that the axioms of Proverbs can seem to be contradicted by the philosophy of Ecclesiastes.  In sum, Proverbs seems to give wisdom maxims, asserting that if one does X, then Y will result.  “All hard work brings a profit,” for instance (14:23).  Ecclesiastes then presents another side of the coin, more or less acknowledging that things don’t always work out like the Proverbs suggest.  “Time and chance happen to them all” (Eccl 9:11).  Subordinate to God’s eternal purpose, some arbitrariness seems to be part of the cosmos.  Here I feel like getting the attention of all those who feel wise or helpful when they remark, “I believe everything happens for a reason.”  (Would my objection be “happening for a reason” in their minds?)  Nope.  Not everything.  In this life, some things just happen.

Leaving Proverbs in the dust again, it seems to me that more similarities exist between Ecclesiastes and Job, in terms of the ultimate import.  We are left, in both these cases, with this resounding message:  what’s left, when all is said and done, is God.  We are not Him, and we should fear/revere Him in awe.  Philosopher Slavoj Žižek offered, “The only thing we have to fear is fear of the dialectical misappropriation of counterrevolutionary bourgeois socio-antidisestablishmentarianism itself.”  Perhaps—in this life, at least.  But I’ll opt to pay more attention to the Teacher of Ecclesiastes.  Collins’s conclusion will serve as mine here:

“The answer to fear is to know what to truly fear.  There is only one thing in the universe worth fearing, and that is the creator of the universe.  And surprisingly, when you let that be your chief fear, you will find a life where fear loses its power.  A life without chaos is impossible, but a life connected to divine wisdom is a good life and a life that can be lived without fear.”

³ The song is less than a century old, which is not very old, all considering!

To elicit from Ecclesiastes (1)

I’ve been feeling the need for wisdom, so I naturally thought of the so-called wisdom literature of Hebrew scripture.  I’ve never been much of a fan of Proverbs (don’t laugh), so I bypassed that collection.  The other main canonical wisdom works—Job and Ecclesiastes¹—are more to my taste.  Now, I had just received a quarterly periodical from The Bible Project,² and the particular issue happened to be devoted to wisdom literature.  I gleaned some very good things from the periodical, and I’ll come back to a few of those.

A couple Saturdays ago, I spent a couple hours reading Ecclesiastes in a new-to-me version, The Voice.  This Bible had me hooked with the first line of the editors’ introduction:  “One of the most enigmatic books of the Old Testament, . . .”  Then “the teacher” of Ecclesiastes itself drew me in much further.  At the end of chapter 2, I was overwhelmed by the mounting up of all the things it’s possible to be enthused over.  No surprise if you’ve read it before, but no possibility turns out to be a lasting one!

Chapter 5 offers, “It is better to quietly reverence God” (5:2 and 5:8).  After trying to ignore the split infinitive, I thought of the proliferation of words in the worship music industry, which displays anything but quiet reverence.  Some contemporary worship leaders just won’t shut up.  (I have been one of those.)  I thought, too, of Matt and Beth Redman’s song “Let My Words Be Few.”  The song is not in my top 150—I never prefer such expressions as “in love with you” when referring to adoration of deity—but the song did come to mind since it stresses sparing words as we stand in awe.  You can listen here to Phillips, Craig & Dean’s version if you have the time—overlooking, of course, the irony of the fact that the “few words” message is carried by words!

Back to Ecclesiastes.  Chapter 6 mentions that it is better to have been stillborn (“an untimely birth” in the RSV, and a “miscarriage” in the NASB) than to live without the soul’s satisfaction.  The “study note” comment in The Voice version seeks to divert attention from the starkness of this “wisdom,” but I rather think the editors might be embarrassed at part of the philosophy here.  “Believers pray for a good life for all of God’s creatures,” they assert, as they amplify the comparison between (1) one who doesn’t find good in this life and (2) a child who never draws breath.  That does seem to be an emphasis of Ecclesiastes.  Still, I think it is wise to hold onto eternal values while attaining to the worldview of the Teacher.  When he says something so patently unpalatable as “it is better if it had been a miscarried birth,” it might be poetic hyperbole, but it also might bear the wisdom of a focus on the eternal life over the here-and-now.

Tomorrow:  part 2

¹ Some wisdom literature may be found in various Psalms.  My mother encouraged me to read Psalm 30 recently, for instance, and there was wisdom there for me.  The Song of Songs is classed here, as well, but I would say the category has then been morphed to “poetry,” not “wisdom.”  Among the influential wisdeom writings, we shouldn’t discount some of the “apocryphal” writings such as Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach.  These books were included in the Septuagint, which was the Greek version of the “Old Testament” in wide use around the time of Jesus.

² Editors-teachers Tim Mackie and Jon Collins of TBP have a “unified and linear” motif in their videos, believing that the Bible is a “unified story that points to Jesus.”  Personally, I am cautious about both the “unified” and the “linear” ideas, although there are clearly unifying elements and themes among the various documents, and although I certainly believe Jesus is central in human and redemptive history.  I don’t think these concerns play into the content of this issue of the periodical—or of this post on wisdom literature.

Dying and death

When I was in my twenties, a random adult Bible class ended up on a rabbit trail¹ about death.  I commented that I was not afraid of death but was afraid of dying.  An intelligent, hardened woman in her early 50s looked at me cross-ways across the table, apparently annoyed by the distinction I drew. 

My thoughts were not changed by the woman’s glare, and they have not really been altered since.  I still do not fear the death state, and I’m still afraid of dying . . . yet it depends on how the dying occurs and how long it lasts. 

Will there be long-term pain?  Morphine? 
Will there be aloneness or memories shared with friends?
Will there be recovery through the miracles of modern medicine, followed by worsening conditions? 

I hear about intense pain, and I have my own sporadic pain.  When I see stories on Netflix that involve physical pain,² I sometimes wonder how I will die.  Despite impressive storytelling and videographic techniques, though, a certain distance exists between TV/movies and real life.  Last fall, when my father was hospitalized for a month and then died, I thought with new intensity about pain and “palliative care,” hospice care, dying, and death.  I haven’t spent enough time with medical ethics and philosophy to gain the right to delve too deeply here, but I might just delve anyway.

Since the first humans, death has been a part of life on this terrestrial ball.

Both mystery and science are involved in death.

Some may fear (or be “spooked” by) death, whereas others may take death almost stoically in the course of medical duty.

Some may irrationally live as though death will never occur, and others may rationally long for it.

I take death as not-final, but, clearly, there is a final aspect to it.

Often, when I leaf through a local newspaper, I notice the death announcements.  Is there anyone I know, or a relative or friend of someone I know?  Whose funeral is going to take a coworker out of the office?  Funerals and other memorial events help the living to acknowledge and process the passing of those they have known and loved.  Here, in a brief post, I shared a thank-you note from a family acquaintance after my mother and I attended a funeral for his mother.  This is but one indication of the meaning that funerals can have.  Funerals, of course, are not for the dead but for the living.  Funerals are a common feature of existence, but they do not always have the same “personality” or viable connection to God and the eternal.

I’ve been to some really good funerals in my days, and I’ve seen programs from others that were probably just as good.  During my college days, significant funerals included Lou’s and my grandfather’s.³  Years later, a funeral in SE Tennessee honored Kathryn, who was something of a mentor to my parents; another memorialized the father of Carolyn, an even closer friend for more years.  I distinctly remember the casketed bodies of good people like Sybil, Bob, and Henry.  I’ve had the honor of contributing to funeral music in song (leading and/or singing) for probably three or four dozen funerals.  All told, for three+ decades or so, I figure I gained a pretty good sense of one type of church funeral.  Among the top ten funerals of my life (an odd phrase, I know) occurred last fall, effectively beginning a new focus on death for me.  Among the best elements of this memorial time was the minister’s message.4  He apologized only briefly for reading the entire raising-Lazarus pericope (John 11), following that with “but it’s worth it” . . . and proceeding to show not only effective oral reading but also good insight.

The oh-so-human narrative of John 11 is quite provocative and “real.”  The minister made mention of multiple, real-life aspects that might be ignored by the casual reader.  For instance, the grave did stink, just as Martha predicted it would.  (Such facts can escape those of us who are more comfortable with theology and/or churchianity than with living in the shadow of the Rabbi.)  It was doubtless a horrible odor.  It was death inside that tomb—a tomb I have supposedly seen personally, according to the tourist-targeted sign (but I don’t hang my hat on the sign’s veracity).  Imagination and thoughts about the story run wild.  This was a very special relationship, and it shows not only Jesus’ human connections but the Son of God’s divine power.  For my money, the Lazarus5 story is more apropos of funerals and memorials than Psalm 23 or the notion of “many mansions.”  In John 11 the reader finds a belief in resurrection and life that meets even the deepest, most personal grief where it sighs.  Actually, such belief does better than meeting grief.  It ascends from human grieving with hope.

I am always, always stimulated and enriched by spending even the tiniest amount of focused time in any one of the gospels.  I know a good deal more about Mark and Matthew than Luke, but not nearly enough about any of the gospels.  There will always be more riches to mine!  John seems more philosophical to me than the others, even as it simply encourages belief in the incarnate One.  It makes sense, then, that John’s thoughts of life and death would draw me in.  I note that Mark’s gospel uses the word “life” 4x; Matthew, 7x, and Luke, 5x.  By way of comparison, John’s gospel uses ζωή | zoe—the word typically translated “life”—36 times (spread throughout, in 11 different chapters, from 1 to 20).  This word count alone suggest at least a motivic, if not thematic, focus within John’s particular gospel portrait.  (The word “death” is used almost the same number of times in each of the four canonical gospels.)  Surely, along with an appropriate consciousness of death can also come a deeper awareness of eternal life.

During the next few weeks, I want to offer various thoughts about death and dying.  My thoughts range from the preeminence of the Kingdom of God to the Hippocratic oath, and from euthanasia to the Passion of Jesus, and from life insurance to music.  I would be honored to hear from readers on this topic, as well.

Find other posts on death and dying here, beginning with my father’s death notice here and a tribute to caregivers here.

¹ Such meanderings can be rewarding, instructive, and memorable, but they occur too often when the stated goal is “Bible study.” 

² I do avoid “action” films built around gratuitous violence.

³ It was reported, in connection with my grandfather’s death, that his last words were “Lord Jesus, be merciful.”  Such a statement strikes me as an entirely appropriate utterance.  I imagine the words as something of a humble reflex born out of lifelong devotion, not a desperate prayer.  If nothing else, an appeal to Jesus shows faith.

This is a remarkable statement me to make, really, given my general aversion to formalized ministerial roles.

5 Lazarus, by the way, is one very strong candidate for the title of “the one Jesus loved,” and also a candidate for having written at least portions of this gospel we know as “John.”


Interesting translation questions in Philemon 6-10

In returning to Philemon for two different purposes lately, I’ve been engaged again in the deep study of this absolute gem of a letter.  I’ve been reworking my own translation basted on expanded knowledge and senses of the letter as a whole.  Below are some translation-oriented matters that have particularly intrigued me in Philemon verses 6-10:

6 – The expression “partnership/fellowship of faith”—which has so many possibilities that it can make your head spin.  At issue here are the numerous ways to understand the genitive case of the noun “pistis,” most often translated “faith”—and also the range of meaning of both nouns individually.  “Partnership” (koinonia) can also be “fellowship” or even “contribution.”  Although financial concepts do appear in this short letter to Philemon, I rather feel the sense here is more strongly tied to joint effort.  I am aware, for instance, of the notable greetings and concluding phrases about fellow-workers and fellow-prisoner.  The primary sense of the word “koinonia” here is the work together, the partnership.

Although I am intensely aware th ese days of the NT word “pistis,” insofar as I can tell, I did not come to this passage with a prejudice over whether “pistis” implies mental assent, trust, fidelity (or some combination of the three) in this passage.   For the present, however, I’ve ended up with the translation “faithful partnership,” which does lean in an atypical direction, along the lines of author Matthew Bates’s suggestions.  (See this post on my Subjects of the Kingdom blog for more on Bates’s book Salvation by Allegiance Alone and the translation of πιστις | pistis.) 

6 – The beginning of v6.  Just before the expression “partnership” and “faith” appears the word “hopos.”  The import of this word is a trifle difficult to narrow down.  Traditionally, the words “I pray” have been supplied by translators.  (One must supply something in order to have the verse make sense in English.)  “I pray that …” is not the only possibility, however.  “Hopos,” the lead word, is not nearly as common as its cousins “hina” and “hoti,” which head many clauses in Greek, and which usually mean something along the lines of “in order that” or “because.”  The question here is whether “hopos” serves more of an adverbial function (how the next thing relates to the former) or a conjunctive one (joining the two in a different way).

In the BDAG lexicon, a conjunctive sub-type is proposed as a possible fit for Philemon 6.  In this sub-type, the word “hopos” essentially replaces an understood infinitive.  Accepting this possibility, and reaching back to include the main verb in v4, one comes out with

“I thank God …, (v4)
hearing of your love …, (v5)
and I want to ask that….” (v6)

Why not simply stick with the traditional understanding that Paul is continuing his prayer in v6?  Well, because I suspect Paul is moving toward asking something of Philemon instead of God here, and he might be intentionally engaging in a bit of ambiguity.  Supplying a verb such as “to ask” can leave both possibilities open.

6 – The word “epignosei.”  This word can mean knowledge or full knowledge but seems in the context of Philemon to move in the direction of recognition or awareness of “every good thing.”  This expression is used twice in the letter—intentionally so, I’m persuaded.

7 – The word “splangxna.”  This interesting word is most often translated “heart,” and it is discursively significant within the Philemon document.  The thing is, this is a plural word, and it’s exclusively used in the plural in the NT.  Clearly, though, it cannot be translated “hearts” in many instances.  At issue here in Philemon are both linguistic and psychological concerns, i.e., how the ancients and we understand the source of human emotions.  The King James had “bowels,” which does a nice job with the plural but is obviously ill-advised in our age.

Personally, I’m moving away from “heart”—or I want at least to consider something different—because I feel that “heart” has been co-opted, becoming a kind of Christianese slang that could lead a reader down a rabbit trail instead of communicating to us what Paul was communicating to Philemon.  I am wondering about translating the plural word splangxna (which, by the way, I understand is diachronically etymologically connected to the English word “spleen”) as “affections.”  In Philemon, we would have

  • “the affections of the saints have been refreshed through you” (7)
  • “I am sending him back to you—the object of my (brotherly) affections” (12)
  • “revive my affections in Christ” (20)

At this moment, I like the “affections” option in v7 and v20, but not so much in v12, because it’s hard to make that phrase sound non-homosexual in English these days.  If we leave v12 as “heart” while rendering the other instances otherwise, though, the verbal connection is lost in the English translation.

7/8 – The parallel use of the verb “exo.”  This verb means “to have” and which appears in two distinct tenses in verses 7 and 8.  Regardless of the particular type of of aorist Paul intended in v7, the present participle form of this same verb in v8 seems to indicate some measure of heightened emphasis.  In other words, his saying “I have great boldness to command you” is stronger in some way than “I have great joy and consolation” above.

9 – The unusual (to me, at least) sequencing of words ὢν ὡς (ōn hōs). I think this expression is idiomatic.  The two words are (1) a being verb and (2) a particle of some kind—a conjunction, or a preposition, or an adverbial particle.  Taken together, we might translate “ōn hōs Paulos” simply as “This is I, Paul.”  In the mid-range context, Paul appears to be revealing himself, or self-identifying, as an old man and a prisoner—all for the sake of influencing Philemon’s future behavior.

9 – The word “presbutes,” often translated “elder” or “old man.”  “Presbutes” is used only twice in Paul’s extant writings.  Once in Luke makes a total of three instances in the NT.  I wondered whether the RSV rendering “ambassador” might be a viable one in Philemon 9.  A cognate of “presbutes” is used in Eph. 6:20, also juxtaposed with the prison (a different word for “chains” there than in Philemon).  The range of meaning of “presbutes” in non-NT literature does include “ambassador.”  Still, I’m not persuaded that it means “ambassador” here.

10 – A verb that roughly means “to become the father of”  How can gennao be translated in a way that comes across both smoothly and meaningfully in English?  Is “became my son” (switching the agency from the producer to the one produced, and converting the verb to a passive sense) sufficient to do Paul’s expression justice?

Parts and passages

Parts & passages are two exciting factors in my life.

There are few things that energize me like working with musical parts for ensemble music-making and scripture passages for Christian study.  One could easily extend the word “passage” to the musical.  One could just as easily also discuss “parts” of verbs and paragraphs and documents that occur within scripture passages, but for ease, I’ll confine myself to musical parts and scriptural passages since those two have once again surfaced as things that keep me going.  (Phew.)

Within the last couple of weeks, I did a little re-arranging of two parts for a brass band, with the permission of the conductor.  The aim was to help the balance of the group—and, by extension, the tuning and tone quality, too.  I found myself energized by examining the scores for settings of She Moved Through the Fair and The Lost Chord, thinking about octaves, players, and instruments . . . and how it would sound for two players to play a section instead of three, or perhaps to drop out the tenor horns on a few notes since the range was more extreme than for the flügelhorn.  I settled on a few changes and wrote in the changes.  The biggest change was inserting a tacet for my own flügel part some of the time during the softer sections.  We barely had the opportunity to rehearse the re-arranged parts, but they came out a little better than they would have otherwise.  Considering and working through those things animated me.  I was also glad to have a flügelhorn part I could practice and improve on:  an arrangement of Shepherd’s Hey. 

Roughly during the same time period, while other things have seemed lackluster or simply haven’t gotten done, some New Testament passages have intrigued me, leading to other activity of the brain, the computer, and the soul.  I’ve reworked a translation of Philemon, focusing now on verses 6-10, and I plan to share the whole again in the future.

A Bible class last Sunday got me to ruminating on Paul’s use of a certain Greek word that appears in Colossians 2:8 (“elemental spirits”).  That same word appears twice in Galatians, and cognates also appear in four other places in the same letter.  If I ever get around to it, I’ll speculate publicly about this word and its possible structural significance within Paul’s discourse for the Galatians.

See here for a previous post on isolated verses and other short texts and whether they “stand alone” or should be considered in context.  (Spoiler alert:  they should never be assumed to stand alone!)

Because of other things tugging at me, I haven’t spent as much time with a Matthew study program as I would like.  Certain passages in Matthew 10, 13, 24, and 28 have piqued my interest in terms of

  • “the end of the age”—a phrase unique to Matthew, occurring in two of the five “teaching blocks,” including Matthew 24, and also appearing at the end in 28:20
  • God’s presence (another possible translation of “parousia”) and the Jewish temple
  • the “kingdom” theme as traced throughout Matthew

Parts and passages.  There are worse things to be intrigued and energized by!


Al’s advice

Scrolling way, way down in a poorly formatted e-newspaper, I found a gem.  Get out your jeweler’s light, and trace the all the facets of this, appreciating its shining beauty and value.

Christian friend,

So easy to take a scripture not meant for us and claim it, as if God meant it for everyone everywhere at all times.

For example:

 “Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”” Joshua 3:5 NIV

Does God do amazing things?

Of course.

But is that what this passage is saying to everyone?

No.  It’s a promise to the Jewish people as they entered the Promised Land.

Ripping it out of context and applying it to yourself today is not only poor language/exegetical skills, it could lead to frustration and loss of faith.  Many days are ordinary, with the Lord at work, subtly, behind the scenes.

I used this example because have never heard someone claim it.

But what if the passage is famous?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Is this as general a promise as we’ve made it out to be?  Is it true of God and us all the time (think of all the judgment & discipline passages)?  What do Jeremiah 29, and the passages around it, indicate?  Are there other similar promises?

It may indeed be a general promise, but have we done our “due diligence”?

Let us use scripture carefully, brother & sisters.

Be blessed.

– Al Schirmacher

Soon, and for the first time ever, I might be able to say that I visited a church building solely because of a statement (oral or written) by a single preacher, pastor, or other church leader!  – Brian

Xposted: 2 Kingdom glances

Here are two links to last week’s postings in a 3-part “Kingdom Glances” series on my Subjects of the Kingdom blog.  These two, as well as the final installment yet to come, are all duly connected to the kingship of Jesus the Christ.

The Divine Conspiracy (the sequel)

King Jesus (a 1992 song)

Coming on Wednesday morning:  the 3rd and final glance in this series.  The first two were important to me but might have seemed more like mere references or historical curiosities to others.  I earnestly believe that faithfulness/allegiance to the kingship of Jesus are, or at least should be, significant to everyone.  And the installment yet to come will speak in some detail about some key language of Christian “faith”—which, as it turns out, is often the language of allegiance.

I sincerely hope you will look for this and read it on Wednesday.


Textual transmission (and the transmission of a text about that very thing)

An interchange of comments on another blog amounted to a text-critical look of a modern text that was about textual transmission!

A thoughtful blogger was probing the notion of God’s providence/guidance in the transmission of scriptures.  I don’t share his particular concerns in this area but do greatly appreciate his transparent questions.  We will come back to those, but I will first share a passage from the 2nd edition of Dr. Neil Lightfoot‘s book How We Got the Bible:

The New Testament books have been handed down to us by means of thousands of copies.  Although God inspired the New Testament writers, he did not miraculously guide the hands of copyists.  Textual or Lower Criticism seeks to counteract inevitable scribal errors and recover the true form of the text.  Many mistakes in the manuscripts crept into the text unintentionally, and are difficult to detect.  Other textual modifications were made intentionally, usually by a well-meaning scribe, and these do not stand out so clearly. . . .

– Neil Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, 2nd ed., pp. 65-66 (chapter 5, “The Text of the New Testament”)

I have resisted the urge, perhaps as a well-meaning scribe myself, to delete a superfluous comma above.  I’m also paying attention to edits made by the author.  On the aforementioned blog, Londoner Steven Colborne had shared the following version of the passage from the 3rd edition of the same book:

It is a fact that the New Testament text has been transmitted to us through the hands of copyists.  It is also a fact that, since these hands were human, they were susceptible to the slips and faults of all human hands.  It is not true, therefore, that God has guided the many different scribes in their tasks of copying the Sacred Scriptures.  The Scriptures, although divine, have been handed down through the centuries by means of copies, just like any other ancient book.

– Neil Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, 3rd ed., pp. 95-96 (chapter 9, “Significance of Textual Variations”)

In the course of an interchange with Colborne, I discovered that Dr. Lightfoot’s chapters were apparently renumbered in the 3rd edition, perhaps with new material inserted, and that the passage Colborne quoted had been moved from the end of a chapter to the beginning of the succeeding chapter.  I’m intrigued by the emendations Lightfoot made.  It’s quite a different pot of parsnips, actually, in the new version!  It seems to me that the later edition is more emphatic in this area, using the expressions “it is also a fact” and “it is not true.”  Although the passages are not entirely parallel, I’d say bit of extra emphasis also exists in the latter on the human “copyists”—who appear where the “copies” (the inanimate product) had formerly appeared.

Speculative commentary
I might speculate on the reasons that led to these changes. . . .  Was an anti-intellectual bent developing among churchgoers (that I also saw represented in comments by two or three of Colborne’s other blog readers)?  A few years down the road, in view of developments in “Christian” culture, Lightfoot might have felt a heightened need to support the academic reality here:  sound text criticism does not always consist in disbelieving fabrications by liberal theologians; some of it is quite scientific, dealing largely with empirically derived data.  (In my view and presumably in Lightfoot’s, text criticism can support faith!)  Too, the Lightfoot passage would naturally have needed different emphasis when it became the lead-off verbiage of a new chapter.  In any event, the variants do exist, and it is clear, based on papyrology and etymology and linguistics and paleology and other -ologies, not to mention Textual Criticism, that human errors were involved in transmission.  Calling them “variants” might ease the tension, but the reality remains, and Lightfoot rightly calls attention to it.

For my part, I very much like Lightfoot’s “susceptible to the slips and faults”; I find that phrase suggestive of God’s open interaction with His humanity.  On the other hand, I’m not so sure about Lightfoot’s assertion that “it is not true . . . that God has guided the many different scribes in their tasks of copying.”  In context, that statement seems to affirm the “dictation theory” with respect to the original manuscripts, even as it denies God’s direct influence on the copyists.

Now for the deeper questions . . . .
The crux of the problem, for many including Colborne, rests in philosophies and theories, including the view that the divine will always subsumes the human will.  Underneath that lies a theory of how scripture was conceived and produced.  One who subscribes to an absolutist position on sovereignty¹ will be required to think that God specifically caused scribal errors to occur.

I, on the other hand, must ask why God would dictate (double entendre intended) the existence of such errors instead of miraculously preserving the original papyri, vellum, etc.  It seems to me, rather, that God simply created a human environment in which minor errors would naturally occur.  Humans went to great effort to preserve texts and transmit faith, and while I would say God was involved in that process, I would not go so far as to express confidence that He oversaw it a la today’s buck-stops-here managers, who not only have but exercise the power to override by correction—and even to hire outside vendors if no capable party can be found in-house.  God’s sovereignty, for me, is not sacrificed if copyists were allowed to make errors along the way.  Since the errors/variants do exist, I am left with at least these options:

  1. God caused the errors, or
  2. God allowed the errors, or
  3. A great many conscientious scholars have concocted nonexistent errors

Perhaps it’s my own limited sight, but I cannot conceive of divinely caused errors.  Some might opt for #3 or even #1, but #2 is the only one for me, and it speaks volumes about the nature of God and how He views humanity.  The thesis of Dr. Gary D. Collier in his book Scripture Canon & Inspiration is quite pertinent here:

The Bible is an act of faith, by people of faith, in pursuit of a conversation with God.  (p. 38)

Please read that another time or two.  Perhaps you stumble over the notion of a thing’s being an act.  Viewing the above wording more metaphorically (not in a literalist, stickler-y manner, as is more natural for me) allows one to hear the crucial message, though, in all its richly expressive symbolism.

Might we consider that . . .

. . . the Bible is the result of many acts of faith, so it becomes, in a sense, an “act of faith” itself?

. . . the “people of faith” are not literally possessed by faith but are governed by it?

. . . these faith-filled people do not “pursue” conversation physically, like a racing chariot driver who wants the Hebrew slaves back?  Instead, these people choose to do many things that lead to the writing, copying, dissemination, preservation, and translation of the texts we label as “scripture,” all under a sometimes-perfectly-pleased, always benevolent God.

All the above are my somewhat weak attempts to draw out the human elements in the production of scripture, none of which are intended to deny the divine ones.  In a comment on his blog, Colborne offered a further demurrer, commenting that if God allows a human element in the creation of scripture, that deprives the texts of their authority.  I prefer a posture of inquiry on this point, not thinking I really have it solved, but appealing to Collier’s more interactive notion, in which I would say the interplay between God and God’s people becomes authoritative in a sense.  I admit that this initially sounds weaker than most evangelical “inerrancy” statements have it.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m on board the “sola scriptura” train—although the most popular ride, over hill and dale, sometimes feels bumpy for me after it switches over onto a traditionally sanctioned bit of track.

To read Colborne’s posting in its entirety (it’s not long), go here.  I find non sequiturs in it (not at all characteristic of his writing, and probably not so in his analysis, based on his view of the will of God).  Specifically, I disagree . . .

. . . that the sovereignty and providence of God require Him to have been directly involved in text transmission
. . . that any involvement of God in text transmission would necessitate that He controlled the hands of scribes
. . . that God’s sovereignty requires that he intends for us to read certain words (as opposed to translated or paraphrased renderings) as scripture²
. . . that my confidence in God’s providence necessarily dissipates if I find Him to have built in some allowances for chance

I have over several months found Colborne to be more logically oriented than I, and I take him to be my intellectual superior.  He is typically patient and gracious, too, so I’m confident that he will support my right to differ on points here.  I’m also confident that neither Colborne’s theory nor my own constitutes the final word on text transmission or God’s providence!

~ ~ Postlude  ~ ~

Neil Lightfoot affirms that “Textual Criticism is a sound science” (p. 66, 2nd ed.).  What I know of Textual Criticism tells me his affirmation is on target.  That doesn’t mean Lightfoot’s wording can’t be off base at times, or that he won’t misuse a comma or say “all of these things are not X” when he really means “not all of these things are X.”  Nor does it mean that text critics won’t have jumped to a false conclusion here or there through the years.  (Incidentally, I started to quote Lightfoot from memory, and I had “solid science” in my head instead of “sound science.”  That would have been a copyist error, but I don’t think it would have altered the import.)

What we have is impressively well-attested texts, but we can still learn from the likes of new discoveries of ancient fragments, continued research into text “families,” and new insights that connect things for us.

¹ Here, I do not intend to “implicate” Colborne in particular, but I suspect he would not react negatively to the adjective “absolutist” with respect to his view on divine sovereignty and human will.

² I have dealt with the issue of translation from language to language in multiple prior postings.  It is an important one for any inerrantist of any shade to grapple with.

  • Here is a posting, now three-quarters of a decade old, in which I’m not all that fond of my tone.  I would still stand by the advice given.
  • Here is a far more brief, on-point posting that include this quotation:  “If you know more than one language, you know that it is impossible to translate a long string of text word-for-word.”

Odd observations for Easter: “God” in the NT

Now would you kindly think nothing odd
About my use of quotes around “God.”

British writer Lynne Truss has aptly proclaimed that “proper punctuation is …  the sign of clear thinking.”  I think I was thinking clearly (this time, at least) when I put quotation marks around “God” in the title of this post.  Here, “God” is a word used as a word, and that usage needs quotation marks, as my father the English teacher taught me.  (I hope that no one clicked out of this post because s/he thought I was going pantheistic or was unsure about whether God figures in prominently in the NT.  Although I will never comprehend God, I don’t think I’m too confused about the referent of the word “God” in the NT.)

Now, to the point and to my higher purpose:  to draw attention to the use of the word “God” in the pages of our New Testaments, following Larry Hurtado, a noted academic and specialist in Christian origins and texts.  Hurtado notes,

The great NT scholar, Nils Dahl, famously wrote an article on “the neglected factor in NT theology,” which was God!  He acutely observed that there were oodles of books on almost every other topic in the NT, but a scant number on “God.”

How interesting that God would be neglected in New Testament theology studies!  In a book of his own, Hurtado attempted to “map the contours” of “God discourse.”  In other words, he inquired how the texts we have appear to refer to God—in the “world full of gods” of the 1st century CE.  As a good biblical and historical scholar, he would attempt to avoid theological presuppositions and worrying about ramifications of anything he might uncover, simply investigating the texts.  In the next excerpt, on one level, Hurtado does deal in theology, but he is primarily making observations based on the textual evidence.

I judge that the discourse about “God” in the NT is “triadic” shaped, with “God” (often further specified as “Father”), Jesus, and the Spirit all prominent.  More specifically, I contend that in the NT writings “God” is so closely linked with Jesus that any adequate discourse about “God” must include adequate reference to Jesus.

I myself don’t find the Spirit nearly as prominent as the other two (see word counts in footnote below¹), or quite as delineated as most find them, although the Spirit is present.  Perhaps Hurtado’s sense of the relative weight of certain passages comes into play here.  The notion that Jesus shares in “divine glory and rule” surely connects to the Kingdom (kingship) of God as well as to the distinctly Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is God.  While the Holy Spirit of God acts in Acts and appears elsewhere, the story are more about Jesus as teacher, deliverer, and risen Lord and King.

Also, remarkably, the divine Spirit “of God” (or “Holy Spirit”) in some texts is now also identified with reference to Jesus (e.g., Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11; Philippians 1:19; Acts 16:7).  This must surely be a consequence of the NT claim that God has exalted Jesus to share in divine glory and rule.

The discourse about “God” in the NT is triadic in shape, but, interestingly, the worship-pattern (emph. mine  -bc) is dyadic.  That is, “God” and Jesus are invoked, prayed to, reverenced in worship, etc., whereas the Spirit doesn’t figure in the same way.  – L. Hurtado

I’ll bet oodles of evangelical Christians would be surprised at the “dyadic” bit in the last paragraph.  I’m not.  To date, my textual examination in this sphere has not been systematic or in any way scientific, but I’ve found the same absence of examples and suggestions of Spirit-worship.  Years ago, I stopped singing a couple of 3rd stanzas such as “Spirit, We Love You; we worship and adore You.”  I do not seek to downplay the action of God’s Spirit in the world as portrayed in Acts and other places; on the other hand, I do wish to shine a spotlight here on the lack of what we could have been termed a “triadic worship-pattern.”

Find Hurtado’s complete post here, and please feel free to comment here (or there).

Today, tomorrow (Easter Sunday), and beyond, consider Jesus’ willing, intentional, God-ordained sacrifice.  Then consider that God is presented as having raised Jesus, (see Hurtado’s prior post Jesus’ Resurrection: Act of God).  May we worship God the Father and God the Son, all the while seeing such expressions as “Spirit of God,” “Holy Spirit,” and “Spirit of Christ” with new clarity.

¹ Word counts in the NT (based on Greek root-word searches, except where noted):

Son of God—122
Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus—224 (Gk. phrase searches)

Total Father/Jesus/Son/Christ references:  >3,200

Spirit (includes other uses of pneuma as breath, wind, etc.)—408
Holy Spirit—23
Spirit of God—3
Spirit of Christ—2
Spirit of His Son—1
Spirit of Jesus (Christ)—2
Spirit of (your) Father—1

Total # of Spirit references:  430 (at least seven of which refer to breath or wind, not deity)

Based on the above, most Christians would assume that there are as many as 415 instances of “Spirit” that refer to a 3rd God-being.  (I do not assume that.)  See for example material presented here:

How would one describe the Indescribable?

Garrett et al on “trinity”

Software will find instances of words near other words.  These stats are interesting, but I don’t suggest that they are the only way to “slice and dice” the verbiage:

  • “Spirit” NEAR (“God” OR “Holy” OR “Jesus” OR “Christ”)—366
  • (“Jesus” OR “Son” OR “Christ”) NEAR “Spirit”—101
  • (“Father” OR “God”) NEAR “Spirit”—150

One must decide for oneself how many different entities are referred to in some passages.  In any event, the “Spirit” references appear far less frequently than Father or Son/Jesus/Christ references.