Thursday, December 25, 2008

"Happy Holidays!" - Bah, humbug!

Call me a Scrooge, but in my opinionated opinion, "Happy Hanukkah!" or "Happy Kwanzaa," let alone, "Happy Holidays!", shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as "Merry Christmas!" or used as a substitute.

Christmas is a true Holy Day, a commemoration of Christ's birth, the day God's Son became a human and began dwelling among us, an act(ion) He continues to do through His Holy Spirit.

Hanukkah, on the other hand, is a myth, a fable - or at least the "miracle" associated with it is. Unwilling and undesiring to make a popular military victory a holiday worthy of commemoration alongside the Biblical feasts and festivals, the rabbis invested the tale of the Maccabees' recapture of the Temple with a "miracle story" - in fact, several miracle stories, IIRC, the one about the flask of oil burning for eight days being the one that has survived. See, e.g., Bloch, Abraham P., The Biblical and Historical Background of the Jewish Holy Days (Ktav Publishing House, Inc., New York, 1978).

As for the true reason Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, you can read about it in the 10th chapter of 2 Maccabees, an apocryphal intercanonical work:

1 Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; 2 and they tore down the altars which had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. 3 They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they burned incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence. 4 And when they had done this, they fell prostrate and besought the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by Him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations.

5 It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Kislev. 6 And they celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the feast of booths, remembering how not long before, during the feast of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. 7 Therefore bearing ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. 8 They decreed by public ordinance and vote that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.
The account in 1 Maccabees Chapter 4 (considered to be more historically accurate than 2 Maccabees, and giving no explanation for the eight days) is as follows:
36 Then said Judas [Maccabeus] and his brothers, "Behold, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it." 37 So all the army assembled and they went up to Mount Zion. 38 And they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins. 39 Then they rent their clothes, and mourned with great lamentation, and sprinkled themselves with ashes. 40 They fell face down on the ground, and sounded the signal on the trumpets, and cried out to Heaven.

41 Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. 42 He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, 43 and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place.

44 They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. 45 And they thought it best to tear it down, lest it bring reproach upon them, for the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, 46 and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them. 47 Then they took unhewn stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one.

48 They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. 49 They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. 50 Then they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple.

51 They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken. 52 Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Kislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year [Seleucid Era; 15 December 164], 53 they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering which they had built. 54 At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals.

55 All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. 56 So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise. 57 They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and furnished them with doors. 58 There was very great gladness among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was removed.

59 Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev.
As for "Kwanzaa," it is a total fabrication, the 1966 creation of a former Black Nationalist. I would almost consider wishing someone a "Happy Kwanzaa!" to be an insult to their intelligence, akin to wishing an adult a "Happy Great Pumpkin Day!" Yet even Halloween has more validity than Kwanzaa.

The fact that Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa occur around the same time of the year is no reason to dilute or diminish the absolute uniqueness of Christmas by lumping it in with these other celebrations.

"Happy Holidays"?

No way!

"Merry Christmas!"

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Nightmare On El(ohi)m Street

[Note: I have never seen A Nightmare on Elm Street (except for a few minutes), nor the sequels. I really don't care for "slasher" flicks, or see their point (no pun intended). But I sort of know the plot, I think - i.e., this guy keeps coming after people (in their dreams?) and tracking or chasing them down and killing them, and there is no way to stop him or escape from him.]

I just finished reading the Torah in English and Hebrew (mostly English, but occasionally checking the Hebrew), using Richard Elliott Friedman's Commentary on the Torah.

In response to something on the Internet about keeping kosher, I said that it seems to me that just about all the commandments that are in the covenant that YHWH makes with the Israelites at Sinai, and again later as part of Moses's last address to them, are connected to dwelling in the land. This isn't restricted to just the priestly/Temple commandments (impossible even for Israeli Jews to keep in the absence of the Tabernacle/Temple), but includes all or most or at least many of the other ones as well. And failure to keep the commandments and the covenant results in God driving the Israelites out of the land, as well as sending upon them all the plagues and diseases of Egypt, and doing a whole bunch of other things that would make being Jewish a lifelong Nightmare on Elm Street - with YHWH playing the part of Freddie Krueger!

Call me a Jewish apostate (which I am), but it seems to me that Jews who don't live in Israel have no Torah requirement to keep the food laws or a myriad of other laws as well.

What think ye?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

WDJD (What Did Jesus Do?)

As someone has said:
It's not that we don't know enough about Jesus.

It's that we know too much!
If we had only one Gospel instead of four:
  • We'd know what Jesus did during the last week of his life, and the order in which he did those things.
  • We'd know what he said on the cross, how the thieves treated him, and if he took the drink.
  • We'd know who was at the tomb.
  • We'd know if the Last Supper was a Passover meal.
  • We'd know when he gave the various parts that make up the Sermon on the Mount (or was it on the Plain?)
  • We'd know if he healed Malchus' ear.
  • We'd know the right version of the Lord's Prayer.
  • We'd know what the words of institution were (maybe; there's still 1 Corinthians).
  • We'd know what he said in His Olivet Discourse, and where he said it.
  • We'd know if he had a long conversation with Pilate.
  • We'd know how many blind men he healed.
  • We'd know his genealogy.
  • We'd know if his ministry lasted just one year, or two to three.
  • We'd know how many times he cleansed the Temple.
  • We'd know if the centurion actually came and spoke with him, or if he only started going to the centurion's house.
  • We'd know the names of his twelve disciples.
  • We'd know how Judas died (unless that one Gospel was Matthew's).
  • We'd know who washed his feet with her hair, and whether she anointed his feet or his head, and whose house it happened in.
Or would we?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A New "Voice"

Thomas Nelson, Inc., has released The Voice New Testament, a new translation that has a unique style and format. Here is the promo info about the translation from the Voice blog:
Any literary project reflects the age in which it is written. The Voice is created for and by a church in great transition. Throughout the body of Christ, extensive discussions are ongoing about a variety of issues including style of worship, how we separate culture from our theology, and what is essential truth. At the center of this discussion is the role of Scripture. Instead of furthering the division over culture and theology, it is time to bring the body of Christ together again around the Bible. Thomas Nelson Publishers and Ecclesia Bible Society together are developing Scripture products that foster spiritual growth and theological exploration out of a heart for worship and mission. We have dedicated ourselves to hearing and proclaiming God’s voice through this project.

Previously most Bibles and biblical reference works were produced by professional scholars writing in academic settings. The Voice uniquely represents collaboration among scholars, pastors, writers, musicians, poets, and other artists. The goal is to create the finest Bible products to help believers experience the joy and wonder of God’s revelation. This is the first-ever complete New Testament in The Voice translation. Writers include Chris Seay, Lauren Winner, Brian McLaren, Greg Garrett, David B. Capes, and others.

Four key words describe the vision of this project:
Holistic: considers heart, soul, and mind
Beautiful: achieves literary and artistic excellence
Sensitive: respects cultural shifts and the need for accuracy
Balanced: includes theologically diverse writers and scholars

We have taken care that The Voice is faithful and that it avoids prejudice. As we partnered biblical scholars and theologians with our writers, we intentionally built teams that did not share any single theological tradition. Their diversity has helped each of them not to be trapped within his or her own individual preconceptions, resulting in a faithful and fresh rendering of the Bible.

Features include: bronze, highlighted text; screenplay-like format, ideal for public readings and group studies; devotional commentary; and book introductions.
I saw a copy at Borders Books Monday, November 10, and again at Barnes & Noble on Tuesday, November 11. For some reason, neither of the two chain Christian bookstores (Mardel and Lifeway) have it; maybe Thomas Nelson is marketing it to the non-Christian bookstores and markets first. I didn't see it at Wal-Mart, Target, Sam's Club or Costco, either.

I was prepared to be skeptical of it after first reading about it at the Better Bibles Blog, and it didn’t help when the footnote to John 3:3 said (in reference to "birth for a second time"):
* 3:3 Other manuscripts read "from above."
According to Nestle-Aland 27, there are no textual variants for ανωθεν (anôthen = "from above," "again," "anew"), so the footnote should instead have read something like:
* 3:3 The Greek can also mean "from above." or * 3:3 Or "from above."
Interestingly, the footnote for John 3:3 in the downloadable PDF file of The Voice: The Book of John does in fact read: * 3:3 Or "from above." I wondered why the proofs that went to the publisher incorrectly changed this, so I emailed Thomas Nelson on November 12. They responded the next day:
Thank you for your note. We have done some checking and you are right. It seems that late in one of our last proofing passes a freelance editor made a change, I believe to bring the wording in line with other footnotes, and it was not caught by those of us that are responsible for the content of the footnotes. It is an error and we are going to correct it in the next printing. I am sure the error was inadvertently introduced, but the end result is the same.... Actually your note is the first about an error. We had many extra proofings and feel that the text is in very good shape. There are always errors, because we are only human. My understanding is that a second printing is being order (sic) now.
As a side note, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, who believe in Mary's perpetual virginity, aren’t going to be happy with the translation of Matthew 1:25a: "(though he did not consummate their marriage until after her son was born)." While I believe that this is probably what Matthew 1:25 means or suggests, in my opinion The Voice overinterprets the verse.

Another side note: Repeatedly reading "The Liberating King" for "Christ" gets as old and repetitious as hearing Henry Ian Cusick say, "I tell you the truth" (for "Truly, truly" - i.e., "Amen, amen") over and over again in the movie The Gospel of John. (And...The Voice also uses "I tell you the truth" to translate "Amen, amen.")

The Preface says:
The Voice is based on the earliest and best manuscripts from the original languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic). When significant variations influence a reading, we follow the publishing standard by bracketing the passage and placing a note at the bottom of the page while maintaining the traditional chapter and verse divisions.
Examples include Mark 16:9-20 (they also include the addition to Mark 16:8) and John 7:53-8:11. The introduction identifies the authors and commentators for the Gospels and the other books that have previously been published (e.g., Acts and Hebrews). For the entirety of The Voice, though, there is simply a list at the front of all the contributors and scholars, but their names are not connected to the books they worked on.

Despite my skepticism, I found The Voice to be quite captivating during my quick perusal, and I will likely purchase a copy. (I was disappointed, though, to see that the pages in the "leather bound" edition - more accurately the "1/3 leather + 2/3 fabric bound" edition - are glued, not sewn, so it may not be worth the extra buck$$.) I tend to agree with these positive comments from this reviewer:
1) The Voice is the most thoroughly readable translation I've ever experienced, more readable, even, than The Message. I'm not even kidding; I sat down and read fifteen chapters of Matthew's Gospel in one sitting, without stopping or realizing that I had read and digested that much material. It reads like a story, and the authors/translators have done a masterful job in capturing the narrative quality of Scripture. Before I knew it, I had been reading Scripture for an hour straight, and I didn't want to stop. I can't remember the last time I had such a powerful experience with Bible reading.

(In the second part of his review, he lists what he dislikes about The Voice.)
You can download The Book of John as a PDF file here.

So...Will The Voice become the Bible of choice for Emerging/Emergent Christians?

- - -

12-3-08: I ordered (and received) some leather bound copies of The Voice from, since the second printing is a few months off (per Thomas Nelson) and I wanted to read it, as well as give it at Christmas to some family members for whom the thought of reading the Bible (or even reading the Bible) might seem boring.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Church And Eucharist

Unlike Non-Sacramental Protestant (NSP) churches, the Eucharist (i.e., "communion") is of supreme importance to the Roman Catholic (RC) and Eastern Orthodox (EO) Churches, being central to the RC Mass and the EO Divine Liturgy. Regardless of what beliefs and practices about God, Jesus Christ, the Trinity, salvation, the Bible, prayer, Christian behavior, etc., that NSP churches have in common with the RC and EO Churches, their respective Eucharistic beliefs and practices separate and will continue to separate them.

In the RC and EO Churches, partaking of the Eucharist is as much an act or expression of one's union with the Church as it is an act or expression of being a member of Christ's body (and these churches may in fact view the two as being pretty much the same thing). RCs and EOs affirm, both in doctrine and in practice, that those who do not belong to these churches do not have the right or permission or ability to take the Eucharist in these churches, for such persons are not properly united to Christ such that they can partake of His body and blood. RCs and EOs are likewise not allowed to take communion with those who are not RC or EO, respectively. (And even though the RC Church and the EO Church have very similar Eucharistic beliefs and practices, RCs are not allowed to share communion with EOs, and vice-versa.)

Thus, in terms of their Eucharistic beliefs and practices, RCs and EOs do not treat or regard "other Christians" as full and equal members of Christ's body – i.e., as those who can share in their respective Church's and members' communion (κοινωνια) with the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:16). While this can probably also be said of some Protestant churches that have closed communion, in this post I'm primarily addressing the RC and EO Churches' Eucharistic practices and beliefs vis-a-vis the large majority of Protestant churches that simply require basic belief in Jesus in order to take communion.

In saying this I am not thereby saying that the RC and the EO Churches are wrong, but am only pointing out that their Eucharistic practices and beliefs are tied not simply (as is the case in many NSP churches) to the communicants' response to the question: "Who is Jesus?", but also to the questions: "What is the Eucharist?" and "What is the church?" Because of this, I think a person's view of the Eucharist should be an important factor in their decision to become or remain RC, EO or NSP. For example, if a person believes that:
  1. the bread and wine do or must become the Real body and blood of Christ (i.e., there is a change in the bread and wine),
  2. one's growth in salvation and/or reception or increase of grace includes the regular preparation for and act of eating and drinking the Real flesh/body and blood of Christ via the blessed Eucharistic elements,
  3. an apostolically-traceable ordained priesthood is a required component in authorizing and overseeing and effecting the sacramental change in the bread and the wine, whether by the priest's pronouncing the words of institution (RC Church) or by the priest's calling upon the Holy Spirit to effect the change (EO Church),
then he (or she) will have to be in either the RC Church or the EO Church, for he believes that he needs the above to be saved and to be in the Body of Christ. (Or if not the RC Church or the EO Church, one of the so-called "Oriental" Orthodox churches, if one accepts or doesn’t have a problem with their non-Chalcedonian Christology.) While I think it's possible to believe in points 1. and 2. without believing in point 3., to be RC or EO one must also believe and accept and affirm point 3., for in these churches the mystery (sacrament) of the Eucharist is not separable from the mystery of the priesthood.

A Question: If Christianity from the beginning (i.e., from the time of Jesus and the Apostles) has clearly and unarguably always believed and taught and practiced points 1. and 2. above as a central doctrine and practice of the faith, can or should Non-Sacramental Protestantism be called "Christian"? I.e., can a "Christian" group which ignores or rejects something the earliest Christians (including Jesus and the Apostles) believed and taught as a central doctrine and practice of the faith really be said to be "Christian"? (I don't include point 3. because I don't think it is a requirement for believing points 1. and 2., or automatically follows from them, though history shows that this is how the church's Eucharistic practices and beliefs developed for the majority of Christians.)

Note that I am not saying that this is in fact what Jesus and the Apostles believed and taught, but only asking a question about what to do if this is in fact the case.

(I suspect that the RC Church and the EO Church teach either that this is in fact the case or that the church was led by the Holy Spirit to come to understand that this is what Jesus and the Apostles meant - and hence believe that their Church's teaching is the True Teaching of the Eucharist.)

For a book that says much of what I currently believe about the Lord's Supper, see Come To The Table: Revisioning the Lord's Supper by John Mark Hicks © 2002 Leafwood Publishers, ISBN 0-9714289-7-2. Though I find the book unnecessarily repetitive, Hicks confirms some of the main ideas I had concluded after much study of the relevant Biblical texts and the history of the Liturgy and the Eucharist. For more on Hicks and this book, see Thursday, December 01, 2005 Reflections on Come to the Table -- No. 1 (December 2005 archives) and Monday, August 08, 2005 Eschatological Table (August 2005 archives) at his old blog FWIW, I had arrived at my thoughts and conclusions before I came across Hicks' book, which I serendipitously found during a visit to Half Price Books 10/21/08.

Monday, August 25, 2008

President Bill Clinton On The "Real Presence" In The Eucharist

Mark 14: 22 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." 23 Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Woman In The Pulpit (Part 2)

I went this morning to see and hear Jackie Roese give her first sermon at Irving Bible Church.

(See my previous post: A Woman In The Pulpit: "Lions And Tigers And Bears! Oh, My!")

You can listen to it here (no longer at this link).

It was part of the church's current series in which the various leaders are sharing their dreams and visions for IBC - i.e., what it can and should be.

Jackie's text was John 4:7-37, and she used it to discuss how the church, like Jesus with the Samaritan woman, should not regard people, no matter how sinful or ritually or physically unclean they are, as those we are to avoid or protect ourselves from. (The woman had five husbands - which meant she presumably had experienced the rejection and devastation of five divorces - and was now living with a sixth man, plus Jews considered Samaritans to be unclean half-breeds.) Rather, we should fight for the heart for our King, and take Him and the Gospel to the poor and wounded and ravaged and outcast of the world.

She said that Evangelicals hadn't always been so withdrawn from culture, and that in the 19th century they had been instrumental in ending forced prostitution and child labor. However, during the 20th century Christians and the church decided to retreat from engagement with the world to "protect" themselves.

She shared about her own abusive childhood and how she came to faith in Christ due to the love and efforts of a person who was not afraid to get close to her, despite her profligate and sinful lifestyle. She also shared a bit about the results of the decision she and her husband made to let the world into their home - both the negative effects on their own children and home (their kids are more worldly than she would like them to be, and her house is always dirty and smelly and in need of cleaning and lots of febreze), and the positive effects on the kids they reach (protecting and feeding kids who have abusive parents and no food at home, and seeing some of them come to Christ).

All in all a good message. I'm not sure that its delivery by a woman made any difference in its effectiveness, either positive or negative.

And... lightning did not strike the church.

Speaking of which: It is a BIG church. The worship center/sanctuary is a large auditorium with a balcony, a large stage, and two screens for video. The music, though loud, was not uncomfortably so. They have a hamster-tube (McDonalds-style) play area for little children. The entire structure is like a fancy airport terminal or upscale mall - they even have a lounge in back with a Starbucks coffee bar, complete with a huge espresso machine, and nearby on the walls they have these giant Magritte and Dali paintings:

It seems to have lots of "emerging church" touches, both in its decor and in the language used in its magazine.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Woman In The Pulpit: "Lions And Tigers And Bears! Oh, My!"

(Note: We live in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and used to attend Denton Bible Church, so this story impacts friends and people we know.)

Also see A Woman In The Pulpit (Part 2).

Woman's turn in pulpit at Irving Bible Church generates buzz, beefs

10:09 PM CDT on Friday, August 22, 2008

By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

Irving Bible Church will have a woman preaching Sunday for the first time in its 40-year history, a move that has caused alarm among fellow conservative evangelicals in North Texas and beyond.

The church's elders – all men – spent 18 months studying the Bible, reading other books, hearing guest speakers and praying. They concluded that despite "problem" passages, the Bible doesn't prohibit a woman from instructing men in theological matters.

Jackie Roese [Facebook], the church's teaching pastor to women and a doctor of ministry student, will preach at all three services to a projected 3,500 people.

"We're pumped," said the Rev. Andy McQuitty, senior pastor and one of the elders who invited Mrs. Roese (pronounced "Reese") to take a turn in the pulpit. "She's an eminently qualified and gifted preacher."

While mainline Protestant churches have long had women in the pulpit, many Southern Baptist and nondenominational Bible churches strictly abide by verses such as 1 Timothy 2:12. There the apostle Paul says, "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

The Rev. Tom Nelson of Denton Bible Church said his friends in Irving are on "dangerous" ground.

"If the Bible is not true and authoritative on the roles of men and women, then maybe the Bible will not be finally true on premarital sex, the homosexual issue, adultery or any other moral issue," he said. "I believe this issue is the carrier of a virus by which liberalism will enter the evangelical church."

Mr. Nelson added that his church's recent sermon series on the Bible and gender roles came in part because of Irving Bible Church's conclusions about women and preaching.

Another measure of the controversy is that Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, has removed himself from a team of regular guest preachers at Irving Bible Church.

The Dallas seminary, which supplies pastors to Bible churches around the country, has long had close ties with Irving Bible Church. But Dr. Bailey said that he and his wife, Barby, were amicably distancing themselves for "personal convictions and professional reasons."1

'Moral concern'

Outside Dallas, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a conservative evangelical group, plans to publish an editorial describing Irving Bible Church's decision as "a matter of grave moral concern."

"Taking this step has kind of rattled a lot of people's cages," Dr. McQuitty said, though he noted that only a few Irving members had left as a result.

The elders decided to study the issue of women in ministry after getting questions from members about what was permitted by Scripture. Ultimately, the elders produced a 24-page position paper (no longer at this link), posted on the church's Web site.2

Among their findings is that the Bible offers examples of women teaching and leading "with God's blessing." Another is that some verses restricting women's roles "were culturally and historically specific, not universal principles for all times and places."

The elders note that Bible verses have been used to justify slavery and that few conservative evangelicals abide by verses requiring women to cover their heads.

'An ethic in progress'

According to the elders, the Bible presents "an ethic in progress leading to full freedom for women to exercise their giftedness in the local church."

But the elders also concluded that their office "seems to be biblically relegated to men." So Mrs. Roese will preach at Irving Bible Church under the authority of an elder board that will continue to be all male.

That's fine with Mrs. Roese, who noted with a laugh that she already works for her husband. Steve Roese is the church's executive pastor.

Mrs. Roese is a seasoned women's conference speaker who has preached to churches in the Northeast.

She said she has had much encouragement from women and men in the church but is aware of the controversy caused by the elders' decision to have her preach.

"There are great theologians in the conservative evangelical world who come down on both sides," she said. "I do want us to be loving in our disagreement. There's something powerful in that."


Elders of Irving Bible Church spent 18 months studying the question of women in ministry, including whether women should be allowed to preach. Their key conclusions:

•The accounts of creation and the fall (Genesis 1-3) reveal a fundamental equality between men and women.

•Women exercised significant ministry roles of teaching and leading with God's blessing in both Old and New Testaments.

•Though the role of women was historically limited, the progress of revelation indicates an ethic in progress leading to full freedom for women to exercise their giftedness in the local church.

•Key New Testament passages restricting women's roles were culturally and historically specific, not universal principles for all time and places.

•Though women are free to use all of their giftedness in teaching and leading in the church, the role of elder seems to be biblically relegated to men.

SOURCE: Irving Bible Church

1 Mark Bailey has posted a clarification of his and DTS's position.

2 I find it interesting that in the 24-page Irving Bible Church paper (no longer at this link), including the bibliography, the elders/authors never cite or mention WOMEN IN THE CHURCH: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (Editors) (Baker Academic), a book which is perhaps the most detailed current exegetical study on the relevant passage, and one which critiques the egalitarian arguments of the Kroegers and others. I am not saying that Köstenberger and Schreiner are right and IBC is wrong, just saying that this is one book the elders at IBC probably should have engaged with and included in their bibliography, and it appears they didn't. It's not like they wouldn't have known about the book. The second edition came out in 2005, ten years after the first edition, and the editors and contributors are well-known Evangelicals.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"This Is My Cracker; This Is My Grape Juice"

Remembrance® Box of 210 Prefilled Communion Glasses
Double-sealed and disposable, individual Remembrance® wafer and juice sets combine modern convenience and purity with a taste for tradition. The elements are prepackaged, with both wafer and juice in a single two-part container. Communion participants peel back one seal to remove the communion wafer. A second seal under the wafer is then removed for juice. Remembrance® cups are designed to fit standard communion ware. Box contains 210 ready-to-use cups.

For many Bible-believing Evangelical Protestants, the only two church sacraments (or, more properly, "ordinances") are baptism and communion, both of which they regard as being primarily symbolic (i.e., they don't believe in baptismal regeneration or in Christ's Real Presence in the bread and the wine, whether spiritually or by transubstantiation or consubstantiation, etc.).

It strikes me as kind of odd, though, that while they often insist that baptism be done by immersion because immersion better portrays or symbolizes identification with Christ's death, burial and resurrection than sprinkling does (plus, "immerse" is the meaning of baptizô βαπτιζω, and immersion was the original and early practice), when it comes to communion, instead of observing the Biblical and historical practice of everyone partaking from one broken and distributed loaf (1 Corinthians 10:17: "Because there is one loaf, we the many are all one body, for we all partake from the one loaf."1), they are perfectly fine with everyone getting an individual tiny factory-formed cracker (or oyster cracker, as is done at a large church we used to attend) and an individual thimbleful of grape juice (i.e., it's not even wine, or wine mixed with water, like Jesus and the disciples and the early Christians used, let alone a shared cup).

What the faith???

Thus, while insisting on keeping a meaningful and proper and Biblical practice and symbolism for baptism, when it comes to communion they don't seem to think twice about discarding the Biblical practice and obscuring or obliterating the one loaf/one cup (= one body of Christ) symbolism.
1 A textual variant adds: "and the one cup."

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Take One Tablet For Three Days...

When David Jeselsohn bought an ancient tablet, above, he was unaware of its significance.

July 6, 2008
Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection

JERUSALEM — A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

The tablet, probably found near the Dead Sea in Jordan according to some scholars who have studied it, is a rare example of a stone with ink writings from that era — in essence, a Dead Sea Scroll on stone.

It is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate.

Still, its authenticity has so far faced no challenge, so its role in helping to understand the roots of Christianity in the devastating political crisis faced by the Jews of the time seems likely to increase.

Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the stone was part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day.

“Some Christians will find it shocking — a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology — while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism,” Mr. Boyarin said.

Given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding all Jesus-era artifacts and writings, both in the general public and in the fractured and fiercely competitive scholarly community, as well as the concern over forgery and charlatanism, it will probably be some time before the tablet’s contribution is fully assessed. It has been around 60 years since the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered, and they continue to generate enormous controversy regarding their authors and meaning.

The scrolls, documents found in the Qumran caves of the West Bank, contain some of the only known surviving copies of biblical writings from before the first century A.D. In addition to quoting from key books of the Bible, the scrolls describe a variety of practices and beliefs of a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus.

How representative the descriptions are and what they tell us about the era are still strongly debated. For example, a question that arises is whether the authors of the scrolls were members of a monastic sect or in fact mainstream. A conference marking 60 years since the discovery of the scrolls will begin on Sunday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the stone, and the debate over whether it speaks of a resurrected messiah, as one iconoclastic scholar believes, also will be discussed.

Oddly, the stone is not really a new discovery. It was found about a decade ago and bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector who kept it in his Zurich home. When an Israeli scholar examined it closely a few years ago and wrote a paper on it last year, interest began to rise. There is now a spate of scholarly articles on the stone, with several due to be published in the coming months.

“I couldn’t make much out of it when I got it,” said David Jeselsohn, the owner, who is himself an expert in antiquities. “I didn’t realize how significant it was until I showed it to Ada Yardeni, who specializes in Hebrew writing, a few years ago. She was overwhelmed. ‘You have got a Dead Sea Scroll on stone,’ she told me.”

Much of the text, a vision of the apocalypse transmitted by the angel Gabriel, draws on the Old Testament, especially the prophets Daniel, Zechariah and Haggai.

Ms. Yardeni, who analyzed the stone along with Binyamin Elitzur, is an expert on Hebrew script, especially of the era of King Herod, who died in 4 B.C. The two of them published a long analysis of the stone more than a year ago in Cathedra, a Hebrew-language quarterly devoted to the history and archaeology of Israel, and said that, based on the shape of the script and the language, the text dated from the late first century B.C.

A chemical examination by Yuval Goren, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University who specializes in the verification of ancient artifacts, has been submitted to a peer-review journal. He declined to give details of his analysis until publication, but he said that he knew of no reason to doubt the stone’s authenticity.

It was in Cathedra that Israel Knohl, an iconoclastic professor of Bible studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, first heard of the stone, which Ms. Yardeni and Mr. Elitzur dubbed “Gabriel’s Revelation,” also the title of their article. Mr. Knohl posited in a book published in 2000 the idea of a suffering messiah before Jesus, using a variety of rabbinic and early apocalyptic literature as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. But his theory did not shake the world of Christology as he had hoped, partly because he had no textual evidence from before Jesus.

When he read “Gabriel’s Revelation,” he said, he believed he saw what he needed to solidify his thesis, and he has published his argument in the latest issue of The Journal of Religion.

Mr. Knohl is part of a larger scholarly movement that focuses on the political atmosphere in Jesus’ day as an important explanation of that era’s messianic spirit. As he notes, after the death of Herod, Jewish rebels sought to throw off the yoke of the Rome-supported monarchy, so the rise of a major Jewish independence fighter could take on messianic overtones.

In Mr. Knohl’s interpretation, the specific messianic figure embodied on the stone could be a man named Simon who was slain by a commander in the Herodian army, according to the first-century historian Josephus. The writers of the stone’s passages were probably Simon’s followers, Mr. Knohl contends.

The slaying of Simon, or any case of the suffering messiah, is seen as a necessary step toward national salvation, he says, pointing to lines 19 through 21 of the tablet — “In three days you will know that evil will be defeated by justice” — and other lines that speak of blood and slaughter as pathways to justice.

To make his case about the importance of the stone, Mr. Knohl focuses especially on line 80, which begins clearly with the words “L’shloshet yamin,” meaning “in three days.” The next word of the line was deemed partially illegible by Ms. Yardeni and Mr. Elitzur, but Mr. Knohl, who is an expert on the language of the Bible and Talmud, says the word is “hayeh,” or “live” in the imperative. It has an unusual spelling, but it is one in keeping with the era.

Two more hard-to-read words come later, and Mr. Knohl said he believed that he had deciphered them as well, so that the line reads, “In three days you shall live, I, Gabriel, command you.”

To whom is the archangel speaking? The next line says “Sar hasarin,” or prince of princes. Since the Book of Daniel, one of the primary sources for the Gabriel text, speaks of Gabriel and of “a prince of princes,” Mr. Knohl contends that the stone’s writings are about the death of a leader of the Jews who will be resurrected in three days.

He says further that such a suffering messiah is very different from the traditional Jewish image of the messiah as a triumphal, powerful descendant of King David.

“This should shake our basic view of Christianity,” he said as he sat in his office of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem where he is a senior fellow in addition to being the Yehezkel Kaufman Professor of Biblical Studies at Hebrew University. “Resurrection after three days becomes a motif developed before Jesus, which runs contrary to nearly all scholarship. What happens in the New Testament was adopted by Jesus and his followers based on an earlier messiah story.”

Ms. Yardeni said she was impressed with the reading and considered it indeed likely that the key illegible word was “hayeh,” or “live.” Whether that means Simon is the messiah under discussion, she is less sure.

Moshe Bar-Asher, president of the Israeli Academy of Hebrew Language and emeritus professor of Hebrew and Aramaic at the Hebrew University, said he spent a long time studying the text and considered it authentic, dating from no later than the first century B.C. His 25-page paper on the stone will be published in the coming months.

Regarding Mr. Knohl’s thesis, Mr. Bar-Asher is also respectful but cautious. “There is one problem,” he said. “In crucial places of the text there is lack of text. I understand Knohl’s tendency to find there keys to the pre-Christian period, but in two to three crucial lines of text there are a lot of missing words.”

Moshe Idel, a professor of Jewish thought at Hebrew University who has just published a book on the son of God, said that given the way every tiny fragment from that era yielded scores of articles and books, “Gabriel’s Revelation” and Mr. Knohl’s analysis deserved serious attention. “Here we have a real stone with a real text,” he said. “This is truly significant.”

Mr. Knohl said that it was less important whether Simon was the messiah of the stone than the fact that it strongly suggested that a savior who died and rose after three days was an established concept at the time of Jesus. He notes that in the Gospels, Jesus makes numerous predictions of his suffering and New Testament scholars say such predictions must have been written in by later followers because there was no such idea present in his day.

But there was, he said, and “Gabriel’s Revelation” shows it.

“His mission is that he has to be put to death by the Romans to suffer so his blood will be the sign for redemption to come,” Mr. Knohl said. “This is the sign of the son of Joseph. This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning. To shed blood is not for the sins of people but to bring redemption to Israel.”

English Translation of the Tablet:

Translation (Semitic sounds in caps and\or italics)
Column A
(Lines 1-6 are unintelligible)
7. [… ]the sons of Israel …[…]…
8. […]… […]…
9. [… ]the word of YHW[H …]…[…]
10. […]… I\you asked …
11. YHWH, you ask me. Thus said the Lord of Hosts:
12. […]… from my(?) house, Israel, and I will tell the greatness(es?) of Jerusalem.
13. [Thus] said YHWH, the Lord of Israel: Behold, all the nations are
14. … against(?)\to(?) Jerusalem and …,
15. [o]ne, two, three, fourty(?) prophets(?) and the returners(?),
16. [and] the Hasidin(?). My servant, David, asked from before Ephraim(?)
17. [to?] put the sign(?) I ask from you. Because He said, (namely,)
18. [Y]HWH of Hosts, the Lord of Israel: …
19. sanctity(?)\sanctify(?) Israel! In three days you shall know, that(?)\for(?) He said,
20. (namely,) YHWH the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of Israel: The evil broke (down)
21. before justice. Ask me and I will tell you what 22this bad 21plant is,
22. lwbnsd/r/k (=? [To me? in libation?]) you are standing, the messenger\angel. He
23. … (= will ordain you?) to Torah(?). Blessed be the Glory of YHWH the Lord, from
24. his seat. “In a little while”, qyTuT (=a brawl?\ tiny?) it is, “and I will shake the
25. … of? heaven and the earth”. Here is the Glory of YHWH the Lord of
26. Hosts, the Lord of Israel. These are the chariots, seven,
27. [un]to(?) the gate(?) of Jerusalem, and the gates of Judah, and … for the
sake of
28. … His(?) angel, Michael, and to all the others(?) ask\asked
29. …. Thus He said, YHWH the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of
30. Israel: One, two, three, four, five, six,
31. [se]ven, these(?) are(?) His(?) angel …. 'What is it', said the blossom(?)\diadem(?)
32. …[…]… and (the?) … (= leader?/ruler?), the second,
33. … Jerusalem…. three, in\of the greatness(es?) of
34. […]…[…]…
35. […]…, who saw a man … working(?) and […]…
36. that he … […]… from(?) Jerusalem(?)
37. … on(?) … the exile(?) of …,
38. the exile(?) of …, Lord …, and I will see
39. …[…] Jerusalem, He will say, YHWH of
40. Hosts, …
41. […]… that will lift(?) …
42. […]… in all the
43. […]…
44. […]…

Column B
(Lines 45-50 are unintelligible)
51. Your people(?)\with you(?) …[…]
52. … the [me]ssengers(?)\[a]ngels(?)[ …]…
53. on\against His/My people. And …[…]…
54. [… ]three days(?). This is (that) which(?) …[… ]He(?)
55. the Lord(?)\these(?)[ …]…[…]
56. see(?) …[…]
57. closed(?). The blood of the slaughters(?)\sacrifices(?) of Jerusalem. For He said,
YHWH of Hos[ts],
58. the Lord of Israel: For He said, YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of
59. Israel: …
60. […]… me(?) the spirit?\wind of(?) …
61. …[…]…
62. in it(?) …[…]…[…]
63. …[…]…[…]
64. …[…]… loved(?)/… …[…]
65. The three saints of the world\eternity from\of …[…]
66. […]… peace he? said, to\in you we trust(?) …
67. Inform him of the blood of this chariot of them(?) …[…]
68. Many lovers He has, YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of Israel …
69. Thus He said, (namely,) YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of Israel …:
70. Prophets have I sent to my people, three. And I say
71. that I have seen …[…]…
72. the place for the sake of(?) David the servant of YHWH[ …]…[…]
73. the heaven and the earth. Blessed be …[…]
74. men(?). “Showing mercy unto thousands”, … mercy […].
75. Three shepherds went out to?/of? Israel …[…].
76. If there is a priest, if there are sons of saints …[…]
77. Who am I(?), I (am?) Gabri’el the …(=angel?)… […]
78. You(?) will save them, …[…]…
79. from before You, the three si[gn]s(?), three …[….]
80. In three days …, I, Gabri’el …[?],
81. the Prince of Princes, …, narrow holes(?) …[…]…
82. to/for … […]… and the …
83. to me(?), out of three - the small one, whom(?) I took, I, Gabri’el.
84. YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of(?)[ Israel …]…[….]
85. Then you will stand …[…]…
86. …\
87. in(?) … eternity(?)/… \

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Song Of Christ's Redemption According To Irenaeus

...Irenaeus, like all the ancient writers, uses a variety of scriptural images in interpreting the Cross. It is connected with his picture of man's salvation as a rescue operation from captivity.... This redemption is achieved by Christ's victory over the which the Temptations play a vitally important role as the scene of the triumph of the second Adam's obedience. Combined with this thought, however, is the interpretation of Christ's blood as a ransom paid to the devil for the release of his prisoners.... Irenaeus, however, does no more than glance in that direction. His conception of the reconciling work of Christ is much more complex and profound than any theory of mere transaction. A good modern summary of it is afforded by Newman's well-known hymn, "Praise to the Holiest in the height." - Christian Theology in the Patristic Period - III Melito and Irenaeus by G. W. H. Lampe in A History of Christian Doctrine, edited by Hubert Cunliffe-Jones with Benjamin Drewery, pp. 48-49
Praise to the Holiest in the height
by John Henry Newman

Praise to the Holiest in the height,
And in the depth be praise;
In all His words most wonderful,
Most sure in all His ways.

O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.

O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.

And that a higher gift than grace
Should flesh and blood refine,
God’s Presence and His very Self,
And Essence all divine.

O generous love! that He, who smote,
In Man for man the foe,
The double agony in Man
For man should undergo.

And in the garden secretly,
And on the Cross on high,
Should teach His brethren, and inspire
To suffer and to die.

Praise to the Holiest in the height,
And in the depth be praise;
In all His words most wonderful,
Most sure in all His ways.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Christian Tradition and The Early Church

I have just finished reading all five volumes of Jaroslav Pelikan's The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. My reaction could be summed up in Jerry Garcia's words: "What a long, strange trip it's been."

Pelikan defines "Christian doctrine" as " What the church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches, and confesses on the basis of the word of God." The books in the series are:
  • Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)
  • Volume 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700)
  • Volume 3: The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300)
  • Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700)
  • Volume 5: Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (since 1700)
I don't think I can overstate the value of this series for broadening and deepening one's understanding of what Christians believe, teach and confess, and why. For the many who don't know the history of Christian doctrine, or church history in general, reading these books will be both a valuable education and an eye-opener.

If I could fault Pelikan at all (and who am I to do so?), it would be for totally ignoring the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Unless I missed it, they don't even get so much as a single sentence in Volume 5 (or anywhere else in the series), even though they arguably have been the most influential force(s) in Christianity in the final decades of the 20th century, both in the United States and worldwide, simultaneously unifying the church and dividing it (and not always along denominational lines). Volume 5 was published in 1989, and the Pentecostal Movement in the United States began in 1901-1906 and the Charismatic Movement in 1960 (and in his book Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution: A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First, Alister McGrath shows that the Pentecostal Movement had its counterparts in other countries at the same time), so Pelikan's omission is puzzling to me, as the attendant beliefs about the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and the believer can indeed be considered a development of Christian doctrine, even if not done in a creedal or conciliar way (though the doctrinal statements of various Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations can probably rightly be regarded as what they "confess," as well as what they believe and teach).

Focusing more on history than on doctrine (though in some senses the history of the Church is the history of doctrine), a great one-volume book on the first 1,000 years of the Church is The Early Church: The story of emergent Christianity from the apostolic age to the dividing of the ways between the Greek East and the Latin West (Revised Edition) by Henry Chadwick (The Penguin History of the Church 1). One should at least know what preceded the Reformation before moving on to or from Luther and Calvin and their descendants, and this is a great way to fill in one's knowledge gaps.

A quote attributed to Otto von Bismark in various forms goes something like this:
I have about made up my mind that laws are like sausages — the less you know about how they are made, the more respect you have for them.
Some of the variants include:
  • If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.
  • Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made.
  • Laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made.
  • Laws are like sausages. You should never see them made.
  • Laws are like sausages. You should never watch them being made.
  • Law and sausage are two things you do not want to see being made.
  • No one should see how laws or sausages are made.
  • To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.
  • The making of laws, like the making of sausages, is not a pretty sight.
After reading the above books, the reader might feel tempted to add "church doctrine" or "church history" to "laws" and "sausages."
"The history of the Church us in many ways very disconcerting." - A History of Christian Doctrine, edited by Hubert Cunliffe-Jones with Benjamin Drewery (Introduction, p. 16)
This is another book I'll probably recommend after I finish reading it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Εγω ειμι ο ων (Exodus 3:14) - Part II

ויאמר אלהים אל משה אהיה אשר אהיה ויאמר כה תאמר לבני ישראל אהיה שלחני אליכם׃

And God said unto Moses, אהיה אשר אהיה (I will be who/what I will be; I am who/what I am): and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, אהיה (I will be; I am) hath sent me unto you.

Greek Septuagint:
και ειπεν ο θεος προς Μωυσην Εγω ειμι ο ων (I am the being [one]/I am he who is)· και ειπεν Ουτως ερεις τοις υιοις ισραηλ Ο ων (the being [one]/he who is) απεσταλκεν με προς υμας.

Latin Vulgate:
dixit Deus ad Mosen ego sum qui sum (I am who (I) am) ait sic dices filiis Israhel qui est (who is) misit me ad vos

(To understand the background of the questions I pose here, please first read my previous post on this passage of Scripture.)

From The Christian Tradition, 1 The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), by Jaroslav Pelikan:
Although the axiom of the impassibility of God did not require conventional biblical proof, one passage from the Old Testament served as the proof text for Christian discussions of ontology: "I am who I am" - the word from the burning bush. To Clement of Alexandria it means that "God is one, and beyond the one and above the monad itself"; to Origen, that "all things, whatever they are, participate in him who truly is"; to Hilary it was "an indication concerning God so exact that it expressed in the terms best adapted to human understanding an unattainable insight into the mystery of the divine nature"; to Gregory of Nazianzus it proved that "he who is" was the most appropriate designation for God; to Theodore of Mopsuestia it was the mark of distinction between the Creator and all his creatures; to Philoxenus of Mabbug it was the divine way of "expelling the tradition of polytheism"; to Augustine it proved that "essence" could be used of God with strict propriety, while "substance" could not. From these and other sources, such as On Divine Names of Dionysius the Areopagite, the ontological understanding of the passage passed into authoritative summaries of Christian doctrine, namely, the Orthodox Faith of John of Damascus in the East and the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas in the West. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to speak of "a metaphysics of Exodus," with which a church father such as Clement of Alexandria sought to harmonize his Christian Platonism. - p. 54

Origen may also have been the first church father to study Hebrew, "in opposition to the spirit of his time and of his people," as Jerome says; according to Eusebius, he "learned it thoroughly," but there is reason to doubt the accuracy of this report. Jerome, however, was rightly celebrated as "a trilingual man" for his competence in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and Augustine clearly admired, perhaps even envied, his ability to "interpret the divine Scriptures in both languages." The testimony about the knowledge of Hebrew by other church fathers - for example, Didymus the Blind or Theodore of Mopsuestia - is less conclusive. But it seems safe to propose the generalization that, except for converts from Judaism, it was not until the biblical humanists and the Reformers of the sixteenth century that a knowledge of Hebrew became standard equipment for Christian expositors of the Old Testament. Most of Christian doctrine developed in a church uninformed by any knowledge of the original text of the Hebrew Bible. - p. 21

  1. To what extent did the translation of ehyeh asher ehyeh (אהיה אשר אהיה) as Egô eimi ho ôn (Εγω ειμι ο ων) and ego sum qui sum, as well as the translation of the second ehyeh (אהיה) as ho ôn (Ο ων) and qui est, influence subsequent developments in theology about the nature of God - e.g., being, simplicity, essence, energies, the Trinity, etc.?
  2. To what extent did such developments possibly diverge from the revelation of God as expressed by the Hebrew text and as given in the Hebrew Bible?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Εγω ειμι ο ων (Exodus 3:14)

ויאמר אלהים אל משה אהיה אשר אהיה ויאמר כה תאמר לבני ישראל אהיה שלחני אליכם׃

And God said unto Moses, אהיה אשר אהיה (I will be who/what I will be; I am who/what I am): and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, אהיה (I will be; I am) hath sent me unto you.

Greek Septuagint:
και ειπεν ο θεος προς Μωυσην Εγω ειμι ο ων (I am the being [one]/I am he who is)· και ειπεν Ουτως ερεις τοις υιοις ισραηλ Ο ων (the being [one]/he who is) απεσταλκεν με προς υμας.

Latin Vulgate:
dixit Deus ad Mosen ego sum qui sum (I am who (I) am) ait sic dices filiis Israhel qui est (who is) misit me ad vos

Noting what seemed to me to be a difference in meaning between the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh (אהיה אשר אהיה) and the Greek Egô eimi ho ôn (Εγω ειμι ο ων) for God's name in Exodus 3:14, I posed a question to the B-Greek list (for this post I have slightly revised my comments and edited the responses):
Are there any thoughts about whether the Septuagint rendering of God's name as Egô eimi ho ôn in Exodus 3:14 accurately translates the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh? I.e., is something lost or changed, and/or is something added? (And perhaps gained - i.e., just because a Greek rendering may add a nuance or clarification that the Hebrew doesn't or can't express doesn't automatically mean that the translation into Greek has wrongly added something to the text.)

Some of my thoughts:
  • If the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh means "I am who/that I am," then the Greek (Egô) eimi hos/ho (egô) eimi might be more accurate - but there would be the problem of deciding whether to use the masculine hos ("who") or the neuter ho ("that"/"which"); the Hebrew asher (who/which/that) is not gender-specific, and Hebrew has no neuter gender, only masculine and feminine genders. For the Greek translator to have to pick either hos or ho means having to make a translation and meaning choice that is not necessary in the Hebrew. Is the LXX reading perhaps because there is no literal Greek equivalent to the Hebrew that can maintain this ambiguity re: whether the name is referring to God's Who-ness versus His What-ness? (The choice of the masculine ho ôn instead of the neuter to on (το ον) suggests that the LXX translator favored God being "He Who Is" ("The Being One") over "That Which Is.")
  • If ehyeh asher ehyeh means "I will be who/what I will be" - which may be supported by the nearby uses of ehyeh in "I will be with you" in Exodus 3:12 and 4:12,15 ("I will be with your mouth") - then the Greek (Egô) esomai hos/ho (egô) esomai may be more "accurate." Interestingly, the LXX only uses esomai in 3:12; it says "I will open your mouth" in 4:12,15. However, ho ôn is repeated in 3:14 as God's name.
Did rabbinical or Greek philosophical traditions influence the LXX rendering of Exodus 3:14? Because of the identification of Jesus with ho ôn in this passage, as well as the use of this phrase in the halo of icons of Christ, the LXX rendering has had a significant impact on church history, theology and worship.
One respondent wrote:
No, it really isn't totally accurate. The Hebrew has the imperfect (prefix form) of the existential verb twice and would more accurately be translated "I will be who/what I will be." I think I'll leave the Greek to your own efforts. It would almost seem that the LXX was translated under some Platonic influence.
and I replied:
Richard Elliott Friedman chooses "I am who I am" and Robert Alter chooses "I will be who I will be." Both discuss the other's choice, and Alter also discusses using "what" instead of "who." Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (The Living Torah) goes with "I will be who I will be," and in his notes refers to Rambam's Moreh Nevukhim 1:63 (1200 A.D.) when he says that the name "denotes that God has absolute existence" (and also refers the reader to the Septuagint), and that He is outside the realm of time (Rabbi Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforna, 1567 A.D.). Thus, it appears that the Hebrew imperfect need not be translated with the future, according to these Jewish/Hebrew scholars, and the concept of ho ôn may not be Platonic (or maybe Rambam was a Platonist?).
Another responded:
I don't think that your question can be dealt with in purely linguistic terms. Even if I point to Parmenides' discussion of the verb eimi with its insistence that this verb be understood solely in the existential sense, not in the usage as copula, how will that help? Or to Plato's discussion, in the dialogue, Sophistês, of whether to on (and Plato there doesn't use ho ôn but to on-- usually conveyed as "Being") can be devoid of life, how would that help in terms of language usage itself?

I might suggest that you read a classic little work of Thorleif Boman entitled Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek--it was originally published back in the '50s of the last century and I was surprised just now to find that it is still in print and in a paperback edition (Amazon: It was back in the '50s while I was beginning graduate work that I read it. It is an interesting read (as I recall) but it has been both highly praised and damned and pronounced "dated." It has a chapter comparing the Hebrew verb hayah with the Greek verb eimi.

For my part, I haven't ever seen a discussion of the question here raised that did anything more than a superficial probe of how the Greek translation expresses the Hebrew original of the Masoretic Text. I tend to doubt whether the question can be resolved by any approach that could be called in any way "scientific."
One respondent raised the text question:
It seems reasonable that the LXX reflects a different underlying text which would've included the Tetragrammaton in the ho ôn position, the Hebrew being perhaps simply ehyeh YHWH ("I am YHWH"), which was simply literally translated egô eimi ho ôn. ho ôn is certainly a passable translation of YHWH - "He Is" - and is likewise understood thus in patristic texts and iconography.
And this reply came:
While it is not impossible that the LXX had a Vorlage different from Masoretic Text, I see no good reason to think so. Instead, a number of facts suggest that the translator had the same text (as MT) in Ex 3:14, but that he interpreted/exegeted his source text:
  1. The expected reading, esomai hos esomai, would have been quite grammatical.
  2. ehyeh asher ehyeh produces two unique Hebrew-Greek equivalences:
    • ehyeh = egô eimi, and
    • ehyeh = ôn
  3. the third occurrence of ehyeh in 3:14 is brought into line.
Therefore, what we have, it would seem, is a deliberate move away from the source text, i.e., a piece of exegesis. Why he exegeted the way he did is not certain, but a reasonable guess is that he intended to personify the Greek philosophical phrase to on ("being").

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

God Most High

Moses was high on drugs: Israeli researcher
Mar 4 08:07 AM US/Eastern

High on Mount Sinai, Moses was on psychedelic drugs when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments, an Israeli researcher claimed in a study published this week.

Such mind-altering substances formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times, Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy.

"As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don't believe, or a legend, which I don't believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics," Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.

Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the "burning bush," suggested Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.

"The Bible says people see sounds, and that is a clasic phenomenon," he said citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to "see music."

He mentioned his own experience when he used ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic plant, during a religious ceremony in Brazil's Amazon forest in 1991. "I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations," Shanon said.

He said the psychedelic effects of ayahuasca were comparable to those produced by concoctions based on bark of the acacia tree, that is frequently mentioned in the Bible.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

2000 Years of Christ's Power

I bought this book yesterday, based on a brief skimming (which impressed me), and as I have continued to read it, I am even more impressed; in fact, I also bought Part Two, which covers the Middle Ages prior to the Renaissance and the Reformation (Part Three - which I'll likely also buy). I recall having seeing these for sale at an Evangelical Theological Society meeting.

For a simplified (due to its intended audience) and easy-to-read, but accurate (as far as I can tell), survey of Church History, this seems to be one of the best I've found. From the back cover:

This book was born out of the author's deep conviction that today's Christians can benefit enormously from learning what God has done in the past. The mighty acts of Christ did not come to a halt soon after the events recorded in the book of Acts. In every century since the first, the Almighty has been at work and believers can trace his footsteps by studying the way that Christians of a previous generation faced the challenges that confronted them.

It is intended that this will be the first in a series of four volumes [Note: This Revised and Updated edition now says that there will be five volumes], which will cover the History of the Church from the earliest days up till modern times. Pastors and preachers will undoubtedly gain much from this series, and those who already have an interest in Church History will find the four (sic) books useful additions to their library. Nevertheless, the series is written in a style that will appeal to the non-specialist and any modern Christian will find it challenging and stimulating to be introduced to men and women who loved and served the same Savior that he loves and serves. This volume deals with the age of the Early Church Fathers and includes, together with many more, the stories of martyrs such as Blandina and Polycarp, theologians like Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo and preachers like John Chrysostom.

Nick Needham is a Londoner by birth and upbringing. He studied theology at New College, Edinburgh University, where he specialized in Church History. He also taught a course at New College on the life and works of the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, at the same time completing his PhD thesis on the nineteenth-century Scottish theologian Thomas Erskine of Linlathen. He then taught Systematic Theology at the Scottish Baptist College in Glasgow for several years before spending a semester in Nigeria at the Samuel Bill Theological College, where he taught Church History. At present he is the assistant pastor of a church in north London. He is on the editorial board of the Foundations magazine and a trustee of the Evangelical Library. [Update: After a period as assistant pastor in a church in north London, he moved to the Highland Theological College, Dingwall, where he teaches Church History. He recently accepted a call to a pastorate in Inverness.]