Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Goat’s Milk and the Christian

Occasionally I hear someone say that they belong to a “New Testament Church.” The speaker usually means that the New Testament and not the Old Testament is their standard for faith and practice. Such a statement has both true and false implications. True, the New Testament teaches the beginnings, theology and practice of the Church. False, the New Testament does not reject the Old Testament’s applications and meanings for the Church.

Most Christians, including “New Testament Christians,” agree that the Old Testament provides a basis for much theology—creation, original sin, prophecies of Christ, etc. But “New Testament Christians” find little use for the Old Testament law and much of the prophets in their preaching and teaching. This could be because (1) they genuinely dismiss much of the Old Testament as sub-Christian or (2) they simply do not know how to deal with the clearly non-Christian elements found in the Old Testament. This second issue furnishes the focus of this article.

First, a shock treatment—Every part of the Old Testament, in particular the Law, since that is the locus of concern for many, can be taught and preached in the church in a manner that neither violates the historical interpretation of the Old Testament nor imposes sub- or non-Christian beliefs and practices on the Christian.

John Bright (The Authority of the Old Testament, pages 112-14) provides the key for Christians to understand and use the Old Testament personally or in ministry. The key “is to be found in the theological structure of both Testaments in their mutual relationships—that is to say, through the study of biblical theology.” To put the issue on the lower shelf, every law has an underlying reason for its existence; the primary point that transfers across the dispensational boundaries between the Old and New Testaments is the underlying theological reason. The law itself may be historically or culturally determined, and therefore changeable, but the theology remains consistent. For further discussion refer to my book, Shekels, Dollars & Sense, chapter 3, “Two Testaments; One Theology.”

Now to “Goat’s Milk.” “You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19; 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21). How do we interpret and preach this Old Testament text? How can it be used as a text for a Christian sermon with an application that is hermeneutically proper, theologically legitimate and practically useful?

Hermeneutically, every passage of Scripture must be understood in its own contexts. So our question, what historical, cultural, or religious context made this Mosaic injunction so important that it was repeated three times?

Historically, we remain in semi-darkness. Perhaps someday archaeologists will turn over the shovel in the right place and bring into the light the situation in life that precipitated this law. What does appear sure to most scholars, however, is that it had something to do with the religious practices of Israel’s pagan neighbors. This was first suggested by the Jewish scholar Maimonides (1195 AD) and still considered plausible today. Craigie states (Ugarit and the Old Testament, 76), “. . . it remains highly likely that the biblical text prohibits something central to the religion of Canaan and Ugarit.” If true the “something central” would most likely include their celebrated idolatrous worship.

Theologically, the Laws of Moses teach something about God’s Person. Tithing, for instance, concerns itself primarily with the transference of the divine character traits of justice, mercy and faithfulness into the life of God’s people. The 10% requirements are secondary matters. (See my book Shekels, Dollars & Sense)

So how does “You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” reflect on God? If such an activity was indeed idolatrous as suggested above, it would have been a pagan custom in honor of a pagan deity. For Israel this would violate the 1st and 2nd commandments, “You shall have no other gods before Me . . . . You shall not worship them or serve them” (Deuteronomy 5:7 and 9). This lies at the heart of the monotheistic faith of Israel and therefore fitting for a three-times-repeated negative command.

Practically, granting for argument’s sake the validity of the cultural and religious function of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, such an act by Israel would represent a violation of its covenant with God and place the nation in jeopardy of experiencing the curses of the Law instead of enjoying its blessings. In such a scenario, the practicality of the command is undeniable; fellowship with God is the vital issue.

But now we must relate this Old Testament command to the New Testament. Taking our lead from John Bright, we focus attention not so much on the details of the command itself that may be historically and culturally defined but on the theological understructure for the command—idolatry. The question then arises, “Was idolatry an issue in the New Testament, and if so, how did it display itself; what were its cultural or religious trappings?”

Numerous New Testament passages speak negatively about idolatry. 1 John 5:21, for example, states unequivocally, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” Or take the problem of eating meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. Idolatry in the Christian era did not include boiling a kid in its mother’s milk; it took other forms. And since idolatry in any form “replaces” God, the Old Testament edict carries a clear New Testament parallel and must be avoided. As in the Old Testament, spiritual fellowship with God stands in the balance.

Both boiling a kid in its mother’s milk and eating meat offered to idols equate to idolatry. The further question cannot be ignored, “What are today’s idols? Money, sex, power, material possessions? If anything stands between the Christian and God, it must be classified as an idol and John’s command applies as much to the Christian Church of the 21st century as it did in the 1st century, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”

In conclusion, I suppose that someone will comment, “Why bother going through this whole interpretive scenario? Why not just use 1 John 5:21 as the text for the sermon? I could give a number of reasons to justify using the Old Testament, but allow me simply to suggest that a sermon titled “Goat’s Milk and the Christian” with the text being “You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” would undoubtedly create interest and alertness in the pews. What a novel idea!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reading the Bible Can Be a Two-Way Dialogue

My students frequently ask, “How well do I need to know the original languages?” My answer—study the languages until you can “hear” the text speak and a two-way dialogue is established.

1 Corinthians 6:2 provides one small example of a two-way dialogue.

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? (New American Standard Bible, NASB)

οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἅγιοι τὸν κόσμον κρινοῦσιν;
καὶ εἰ ἐν ὑμῖν κρίνεται ὁ κόσμος, ἀνάξιοι ἐστε κριτηρίων ἐλαχίστων;

Four verbal clauses carry the thought (bold above): one perfect aspect (know, οἴδατε), one future, (will judge, κρινοῦσιν) and two presents (is judged/are you, κρίνεται/ἐστε). The perfect functions as a present (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 693), the future is predictive; and, in light of this, the first present (is judged, κρίνεται) can only be understood as futuristic, (see below), finally are you forcefully focuses the author’s question.

The first and last clauses speak to the Corinthians’ immediate situation; the two middle clauses use the future reality to reinforce the final question. Temporal chiasmos, “introverted correspondence” wherein the first and last and the two middle clauses interrelate, ties the verse into a powerful and complete package.

The two-way dialogue begins by noting all the textual data, without which two-way communication is next to impossible. Then, effortlessly the present time frame in the first and last clauses focuses the author’s point. Next, the two center clauses coordinate, being semantically locked together and assisted by the conjunction “and” (καί, which the NASB translators decided to leave out!) and the same verb in both clauses. This coordination means that the future will judge (κρινοῦσιν) “bleeds over” into the present is judged (κρίνεται) and is futuristic, an acceptable translation that touches on the future for the second present is “is going to be judged.”

The text itself speaks clearly and unequivocally. Can you “hear” it? How well do you need to know the original language? Asked differently, what will it take for the text to be able to get through to you? And, what is it worth to you to be able to dialogue with the authors of Scripture?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Marriage—an “Unhappy” State?

“When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken” (King James Version).

“When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken” (New American Standard Bible).

“If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (New International Version).

“When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken” (English Standard Version).

The above translations of Deuteronomy 24:5 may suggest that marriage generates unhappiness for the bride as seen in the bold font. The English Standard Version appears to be an exception. Further clarification appears needed.

Recently the Hebrew verb system has undergone a “revolution” of sorts (Waltke & O’Connor, Biblical Hebrew Syntax, 352-61 and 398-400). The key to this new understanding is the Piel verb stem. Previously the Piel was thought to intensify the verb meaning; now the Piel is understood to emphasize an activity that brings about a state of being. This redefined model of the Piel stem may solve the possible negative implication of Deuteronomy 24:5 and open up a completely different avenue of interpretation for the verse.

According to this recent reinterpretation of the grammar, if the Piel verb (שִׂמַּח) in this verse means that the husband is to put his wife in a rejoicing or happy state, what does that mean? What brings joy to the wife?

The wife’s status in the ancient world derives in part from her ability to have children and form a household. Roland de Vaux writes (Ancient Israel, I, 39), “Within the family, respect for the wife increased on the birth of her first child.” Numerous examples occur in Scripture of barren women and their emotional depression followed by great joy at the birth of their first child. Psalm 113:9 illustrates this point pointedly, “He [God] settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children” (New International Version). The husband of Deuteronomy 24:5 is to stay home for one year to produce a family. The literally translated clause preceding the words in bold confirms this, “He shall be free in the interests of his household . . . .”

The husband is not simply to “stay home.” Rather the word translated above as home (בַּיִת) also refers to a household or family (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 108-110). He is given the right to carry on the family name by producing children before that opportunity is lost for him in warfare, and bringing his new wife into a state of happiness is a by-product of bringing children into the world. Thus, there is no “unhappy” state of marriage implied in Deuteronomy 24:5.

The translation of the English Standard Version in this verse eliminates the possible confusion about marriage as a reason for a negative emotional state of the wife, but it does create another interpretive diversion. The emphasis is placed on the husband’s happiness, on his emotional state instead of hers. Grammatically, the translators took the sign of the definite direct object (אֶת) to be a preposition, possible but highly improbable here (see Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 970), thereby throwing the issue of happiness back on the husband. This distorts the grammar of the text and quite possibly the sociological underpinnings of the verse. In this instance, the better direction for translators of all versions may be to translate the text literally and footnote the interpretive issues rather than simply accepting the possibilities of confusion by the readers or restructuring the grammar or paraphrasing the text.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Word Order—Does It Make Any Difference?

English Prose usually requires a fairly strict order of words in a sentence to communicate clearly. Greek can rearrange the words without confusing the meaning because the word forms and not their location dictate word functions. A Greek sentence communicates its emphasis and/or focus by word order, something that English prose can only do occasionally without sounding unnatural.

Typically the initial part of a Greek sentence will carry the greatest emphasis, next comes the last part of the sentence, and even the middle can carry the emphasis especially if it involves a contrast. Speakers indicate emphasis by vocal stress. In written English stress must be indicated by varying the presentation (underlining, italics, bold, etc.). Consequently English translations of the Bible frequently lose this emphasis or focus data. There is no such loss in the Greek New Testament. Written Greek sentences reveal stress by means of its word order, and without controversy what is stressed or brought into dramatic focus has great significance for the interpretation of the New Testament.

1 Peter 2:18 provides one of those opportunities in English where word order variation communicates well. It is also an example of a word order textual variation in the manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. For many people a “minor” textual variation such as changing the word order bears little importance; for adequately trained Bible interpreters, however, any and all textual data is important and must not be overlooked.

The word order variation in 1 Peter 2:18 affects the interpretation of a larger literary segment of the epistle. The following two alternative readings are adapted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The first is the NASB text as written; the second is the alternative reading based on the variant manuscript evidence. For reference the Greek is supplied. Note the italicized words that highlight the difference in word order.

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect
οἱ οἰκέται ὑποτασσόμενοι ἐν παντὶ φόβῳ τοῖς δεσπόταις

Servants, with all respect be submissive to your masters
οἱ οἰκέται ἐν παντὶ φόβῳ ὑποτασσόμενοι τοῖς δεσπόταις

The textual issue, and consequently the interpretation, concerns the location of the prepositional phrase with all respect (ἐν παντὶ φόβῳ). The first reading puts the primary emphasis on the forward-positioned participle “be submissive” (ὑποτασσόμενοι). It points the reader back to the command in 2:13 (“Submit yourselves,” ὑποτάγητε) and strongly suggests a similar imperative function for the participle. The phrase with all respect (ἐν παντὶ φόβῳ) that comes later focuses attention secondarily on the manner of submission to one’s master. Thus, the paragraph beginning at 2:18 emphasizes primarily what to do and secondarily how to do it. Such a focus or emphasis affects the interpretation of the text and should be reflected in preaching and teaching.

Fortunately the major translations selected the first option supplied above based on a clear and consistent evaluation of the manuscript evidence. However, not ignoring this “minor” textual problem helps the interpreter see an element of Peter’s style. The participles in 2:18, 3:1 and 3:7 (submit, submit, and live together respectively in the NASB) represent the author’s literary outline, each placed in the forward position and showing dependence on the command of verse 2:13. The latter two verses reinforce this focus by inserting the adverb in the same way (ὁμοίως) that has prior reference points.

It is possible, of course, to discover this “outline” without knowing about or studying this textual issue. However, working out this textual problem focuses attention on what would not normally be a question in the interpreter’s mind, namely, “What difference would the alternate reading make?” In this instance the difference points to the priority of submission in Peter’s mind, and oh yes, there is a right way to do it!

Is word order an important issue in Bible interpretation? A second question should answer the first, “Is the stress placed upon words in speech important in understanding a speaker’s message?” Without contradiction, for both questions the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Word Order—It Does Make A Difference! And it provides another excellent reason to learn to read the Bible in the original languages where the stress can be “heard”!

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Do You Take This Woman . . . ?"

Genesis 2:23 contains the first known song in history—a love song celebrating the union between Adam and Eve. This wonderful example of Hebrew poetry is next to impossible for any English Bible version to fully duplicate in translation because the poem revolves around the Hebrew sounds and word order, the latter which is lost in English translation.

The dictionary defines anemic as a lack of vitality and vitality as lively and animated in character. The key to the vitality in Genesis 2:23 is discovered in the sound repetition of the root words for bone (עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי), flesh (בָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי), and woman and man (אִיש/אִשָּׁה). Here English accommodates the Hebrew idiom well but with a weakened sound parallel between woman and man. But the most visible indicator of vitality is found in the three-fold repetition of the demonstrative pronoun typically translated “this” (זאת) which begins the song and begins and ends the second line of the song and seen in the bold Hebrew font.

זאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי
לְזאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקֳחָה־זאת


Note the bold words in the New American Standard Bible that reflect the Hebrew original:

This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”

As a demonstrative pronoun, Adam points to and enthusiastically celebrates his newly discovered companion. In rather stiff English consider this attempt to translate the Hebrew original with a focus on emotions:

This one, this time is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh;
Regarding this one she shall be called woman because from man she was taken, this one.

It is easy to envision Adam’s ecstatic response upon discovering Eve when he awoke. It is unfortunate that the English versions temper this enthusiasm by their understandably anemic renderings of a primary indicator of Adam’s emotions, the three-fold presence and positions of the demonstrative pronoun.

All may not lost, however, for the preacher or teacher who can and determines to investigate the text in the Hebrew original prior to preaching or teaching can bring out these emphases for the appreciation and delight of the hearers. For those who cannot or will not utilize the original text, keep reading these blog postings and commentaries that work with the original texts and feel free to share the nearly indescribable beauty of the Hebrew and Greek Bible with others.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Lost Emphasis in Salvation

“Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14, All translations are from the New American Standard Bible).

[Note: It is recognized that this posting contains difficult and perhaps unfamiliar language for those to whom the Greek of the New Testament is indeed “Greek to them!” However, every effort has been made to clarify and simplify the grammatical concepts, and the conclusions and application should be clear to everyone.]

The verb redeem (λυτρόω) used in Titus 2:14 clearly represents the middle voice. To explain and review (see David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek To Me, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 93-96):

 The active voice has the subject doing the action of the verb, “The man caught the fish.”

 The passive voice represents the subject being acted upon, “The fish was caught by the man.”

 The middle voice may be (1) an intensive middle, the subject acting alone or in his own interest, “The man, and he alone, caught the fish,” or “The man caught the fish for himself,” (2) a direct middle, “The man caught himself,” or (3) a reciprocal middle, with a plural subject, “The men caught one another.”

The translation and interpretation question in Titus 2:14 focuses on whether or not redeem (λυτρώσηται) can or should be given an English translation consistent with the force of the middle voice, and if so, what nuance should it have.

First, New Testament Greek frequently uses the middle voice even though it was in the process historically of being phased out in favor of using intensive and reflexive pronouns. Since this voice has definite and often important interpretive significance it should not be ignored. Except for the direct application of the middle voice in the New Testament, the English translations treat them as active voices, losing the middle nuance and occasionally hiding some theological truths in the translation. Such appears to be the case in Titus 2:14.

Second, eliminating the reciprocal middle since the subject is singular, and eliminating the direct middle because Christ did not redeem himself, this leaves a translation of the intensive middle as viable in Titus 2:14. Should we translate “He might redeem for Himself” or “He alone might redeem”?

Third, three “middle ideas” occur in this verse (bold font), “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” “Gave Himself” represents a direct middle idea using an active verb and a reflexive pronoun. “Purify for Himself” parallels an intensive middle idea using an active verb and a pronoun expressing personal self-interest (Dative of Advantage, Black, p. 53). This leaves redeem for the translator/interpreter to formulate adequate wording.

Did Jesus “and no other” redeem us, or did Jesus redeem us “in His own self-interest,” or both? The first suggestion is clearly true—Jesus alone is our Redeemer. Does the second translation have any validity? Was there any self-interest on Jesus’ part involved in our redemption? It would appear that at least three affirmatives could be given to justify this second translation—the glory of God, the wisdom of God, and the moral integrity of the earthly Body of Christ.

Regarding God’s glory, Jesus did all things including redemption to please and bring glory to His Father (John 8:29, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” and 17:4, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.”

Regarding God’s wisdom, Ephesians 3:10-11 states clearly, “that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Regarding the Body of Christ, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

It would appear that not only is Jesus Christ alone the Redeemer but that He, for Himself, or in His own interest, redeemed us. Thus, the middle voice can and should be communicated in English. Perhaps such a doubly-nuanced paraphrase of the middle voice could read “that He alone might redeem us thus fulfilling His own interests.” It may not sound good, but it does fit the theological implications of the middle voice.

Perhaps not without good reason, Christians apply salvation almost exclusively to mankind as its singular object. But if this middle voice is included in the discussion, the salvation of mankind is also done in God’s own interest. He has an agenda to which mankind’s salvation contributes. Christians would do well to break the bond of self-centeredness and become interested also in what God receives in salvation, benefits that are represented by this use of the middle voice.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Does God Care about Rover?

“A righteous person maintains continual regard for the life of his animal, but the compassions of the wicked are cruel.” (Personal Translation)

Wisdom literature is to be understood at least partially in the context of the Mosaic Covenant. The Jews were obligated to obey all covenant stipulations, and even the animals benefited from this arrangement.

Proverbs 12:10 contrasts one difference between a righteous person and a wicked one. The righteous lives in accordance with God’s covenant standards; the wicked disregard God’s rules. In this proverb, the recognition point for classification as righteous or wicked is the treatment of one’s animals.

The animals involved here are of the domesticated variety. This is clear from both the term used for “animal” and in the attached possessive pronoun “his”(בְּהֶמְתּוֹ). Although unstated, one point of covenant faithfulness perhaps underlying this proverb is Deuteronomy 25:4, “You shall not muzzle the ox while it is threshing.” If the ox provides service to its owner, then it is wrong to fail to provide for its physical needs. The righteous person will take proper care of his animal and feed it; the wicked will act cruelly and starve it. Also, in accordance with the proverbial genre, this cruelty is two-edged: if the servicing animal is mistreated its service to its owner will diminish, and the cruel person only hurts himself.

If God’s people are to reflect the character of God, then this seemingly minor animal proverb takes on spiritual importance. God does not mistreat His creation; God’s people should not do so.

This proverb can be applied in at least two ways: (1) how we treat animals, pets included and maybe especially so in our urban society, reflects something of how godly we are living. (2) The treatment of animals is used in the New Testament as a paradigm for how we behave towards fellow believers who serve God as pastors and Christian leaders (1 Timothy 5:17-18). In this 1 Timothy passage Paul uses the Jewish argument from the lesser to the greater to focus attention on how God’s servants are to be treated.

Does God care about Rover? Yes, I think He does!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Intercessory Prayer—A Matter of Life or Death!

Exodus 17:8-13 portrays the critical nature of intercessory prayer. The well-known story of Moses on the mountaintop lifting his hands towards God while Joshua and the Armies of Israel fight the Amalekites below may be applied in various ways, but the “Intercessory Prayer” application is a valid and enduring one.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11 parallels this event in the New Testament. Paul and his associates are on the battlefield as missionaries and they are losing (verses 8-9, New American Standard Bible, NASB).

8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;
9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; . . .

The pressures were greater than they were able to endure (“we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength”, καθ’ ὑπερβολὴν ὑπὲρ δύναμιν ἐβαρήθημεν) and they expected to die. In verse 10, however, Paul writes of their deliverance from death and of his confidence that God will continue doing so in the present and future.

who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, . . .

This deliverance possibility is expanded upon in verse 11 by means of a genitive absolute grammatical construction. The grammar of the text provides a striking parallel to the Old Testament story of Exodus 17.

A genitive absolute consists of a participle (verbal adjective) and a substantive (noun or noun substitute), both in the genitive case. The entire construction is grammatically disconnected from the main clause but is logically essential to that clause. Note the following NASB translation of verse 11 with the absolute clause in bold typeface (English does not distinguish the genitive case, but the clause is absolute being grammatically disconnected from the main clause.):

He shall continue to deliver [me] while you regularly help also on my behalf by prayer.

The Greek term for helping (συνυπουργούντων) answers the contextually-burning question of how Paul and his associates survived a burden too great for them to bear (verse 8). Consisting of a verb meaning to render service or work (ὑπουργέω), derived from a noun meaning work (ἔργον), and prefixed with two prepositions meaning underneath (ὑπό) and together with (σύν), this composite word paints the picture of the Corinthian believers sliding underneath the burden alongside the desperate missionaries helping to hold up its weight so that the apostles do not get crushed. In this context intercessory prayer is depicted as a life or death issue.

The disconnected nature of the genitive absolute construction parallels Moses on the mountaintop. As victory was assured for Israel on the mountain and not on the field of battle, so victory will be assured for Christians in the same distant arena—intercessory prayer.

Finally, because of the visual and audible nature of the Greek case system, the genitive absolute practically leaps off of the page as one translates the text. In English without visual and audible indicators it is easy to overlook the absolute construction and consequently miss the rhetorical and illustrative force of the underlying Greek text. Oh the beauty of the New Testament in all of its original glory!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Battle between the Sexes!

The battle between men and women constitutes one of the enduring conflicts of the ages. When did it begin? “With Adam and Eve,” say some Bible interpreters focusing on Genesis 3:16, “To the woman [God] said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” (New International Version, NIV) The last two clauses bear the brunt of this interpretation, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

The focal points for this “conflict” interpretation are the word desire and the English future tenses. Ron and Beverly Allen (Liberated Traditionalism, page 124) state that “the desire spoken of here is a desire to usurp [the husband’s] leadership. That is, in addition to pain in childbearing, the curse on the woman produces conflict between herself and her husband.” The future tenses suggest that the conflict will continue through time. In this view she wants to rule but he has the leadership role.

This interpretation, however, is not a foregone conclusion. The usurping of leadership idea attached to the word desire has to be transported into the text. The word simply refers to an urge, craving, impulse, longing (William L. Holladay, Editor, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament; Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon). The context must determine the reason for such feelings, and Genesis 3:16 speaks clearly about childbearing not leadership.

Furthermore, neither of the other two uses in the Old Testament (Genesis 4:7; Song of Solomon 7:10, English) states or implies a leadership conflict in their respective contexts. This is eminently clear in the Song of Solomon, “I belong to my lover, And his desire is for me” (NIV). The crouching animal in the imagery of Genesis 4:7 also has no innate aspirations for leadership but does have an inborn desire to satisfy hunger. To read a leadership conflict into this verse distorts the literary imagery. As in Genesis 3:16, the immediate contextual issue is the satisfying of a biological need.

Also, the imperfect form of the Hebrew verb to rule can but need not have simple future reference. The Imperfect of Obligation (Ronald J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline) is very possible here as it is in 4:7 where the same verb is so translated in the NIV, “you must master [have dominion over] it.” Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 are remarkably similar (3:16, וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ וְהוּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּךְ׃ and 4:7, וְאֵלֶיךָ תְּשׁוּקָתו וְאַתָּה תִּמְשָׁל־בּו׃—I had to remove two holem vowels because the program won’t display them accurately!) and the probabilities are high that the syntax of both verses is the same, the first reference setting the pattern for the second unless some textual clue makes a differentiation which is not the case in Genesis 4:7. The most natural idea that fits both passages equally well is that of obligation. The Genesis 3:16 clauses would then read, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he must have dominion over you.”

The broader context of Genesis 3:16 is Eve’s unintentional reversal of authority outlined by the order of creation as stated by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:13-14:

13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.
14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

(For an exegetical discussion of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 email me [dewretlind@gmail.com] for a Word formatted copy of my paper “How Childbearing Saves Women.”)

Genesis 3:16 provided the solution for the woman’s transgression. The woman by biological nature is the subordinate partner in the conception of children. Her innate need for children, the immediate context of the last two clauses of Genesis 3:16, moves her to sexually desire her husband, the dominant partner. This natural relationship should remind her of her subordinate role in the family structure.

An interpretive paraphrase of Genesis 3:16 may read like this: The woman’s inborn need for children means that she will desire her husband sexually who is the dominant partner and without whose cooperation children cannot be conceived. A “battle of the sexes” there may be, but Genesis 3:16 is not its source.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Present and Future—Out of the Past

Abraham deVries, “Ignorant Preachers,” Christianity Today, 1970—Every preacher and aspiring preacher, or for that matter, anyone passionate about knowing the Word of God, could benefit by reading or rereading this entire article. Here are just a few quotes introduced in bold font as to their themes.

Opening theme statement“Seminarians of the current and coming generations may well become the most ‘ignorant’ generation of preachers in the later history of the Church.”

Criticism of seminaries—“Making this language study optional implies, of course, that it is of only secondary importance in the training of the minister. Given that implication, the seminarian is understandably reluctant to subject himself to such rigorous courses.”

Justifications for diminishing the study of the biblical languages in the seminaries—“One line of reasoning given for making language study optional begins with the complexities of modern civilization and begrudges time devoted to study of Greek and Hebrew; this time might better be spent, it is said, in the study of sociological disciplines. Another line of reasoning is based on the ready availability of many translations and exegetical studies. Both these arguments rest . . . upon fallacies. The first fallacy is that extensive knowledge of man in his world is adequate for effective ministry. The second is that translations and exegetical studies are adequate for “rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Regarding the first fallacy—“Making man the locus of theology greatly diminishes the need for study of the Scriptures . . . . The Bible, then, is no longer ‘the only rule for faith and practice,’ . . . but simply another sourcebook for man’s quest of knowledge about himself. As a consequence, knowledge of the original languages, sufficient to enable one to interpret ‘lexically, syntactically, contextually, historically, and according to the analogy of Scripture’ . . . is no longer important.”

Regarding the second fallacy— “The assumption that the multiplicity of available translations gives one all the tools he needs for ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ is fallacious also. Translators suffer from the same vagaries of thought, the same occasional spiritual sloth, the same variations of belief and conviction that are the lot of us all. They take the Word, subject it to their own abilities and belief, and translate it into words and phrases adequate for them— but perhaps woefully insufficient for others.”

Dependence upon translations—“How can a preacher really know what the Scriptures say to the world today if he must always depend upon a translator?”

The Bible in the biblical languages, the original glory—“If we believe that God, who inspired the writing of his Word, will also illumine it to our hearts and souls and life, then obviously the first requirement for rightly dividing the word of truth is simply to know that Word, in all its original glory.”

Biblical languages and intellectual integrity—“The Church, the world, and the Kingdom will always be poorer for lack of able exegetes. Intellectual integrity should not allow men to preach, daring to be spokesmen for God, while willingly lacking first-hand knowledge of his Word.”

Rigors of study—“Coming face to face with eternal truth, in such first-hand experience, changes us. And when it has changed us and spoken to our hearts, we are ready to say, ‘Thus saith the Lord!’ We can then lead a congregation to feed on his Word. Then the immense value of those long hours of agonizing work with conjugations, declensions, and vocabulary drills becomes clear.”

Conclusion—“A potential preacher will not deliberately choose ignorance if he wants to become, as the Today’s English Version of Second Timothy 2:15 has it, a ‘worker who is not ashamed of his work, one who correctly teaches the message of God’s truth.’”

“Seminarians of the current and coming generations may well become the most ‘ignorant’ generation of preachers in the later history of the Church.”

When issues of concern don’t change for the better they usually get worse.

What was “prophesied” 40 years ago . . . .

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Parallel Passages--Be Careful!

Parallel passages are very helpful to the Bible interpreter for (1) assessing the background of a text, (2) providing fuller treatment of an event or discussion, and (3) clarifying difficult passages.

In the Synoptic Gospels parallel passages are misused when the interpreter fails to search out the individual author’s purposes. For instance, when all data on a given event are collapsed into one account, the individuality of the Gospels becomes invisible. Mark 1:38 and Luke 4:43 provide an excellent illustration of the individuality of the Synoptic Gospels and of the potential interpretation pitfall parallel passages can become when used indiscriminately.

Mark’s purpose in 1:21-45 is to show how Jesus’ ministry priorities were circumvented by the people around Him (see Wretlind, “Jesus’ Philosophy of Ministry,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 20, 4 1977). In brief, Jesus validated His messianic preaching by healing a demoniac and others. Being astonished with and excited about the good fortune of having such a Healer in their midst, the people of Capernaum sought to keep Him in town. The disciples were likewise enthralled about the prospects of “instant ministry success.” Jesus addressed the problem of priorities by “escaping” town in the middle of the night so that He could continue His primary ministry of preaching and His secondary ministry of healing, the latter validating the former. Verse 38 contains a play on the word translated in the New American Standard Bible “I came for” (ἐξῆλθον) which occurred initially in His “escape” at verse 35, there translated “left” (ἐξῆλθεν). Verse 39 clearly outlines the priorities Jesus sought and found: the participles “preaching” (κηρύσσων) and “casting out” (ἐκβάλλων) are strategically placed in the first and second positions in the predicate. In the original text, this is clearer and more dramatic.

Luke 4:43, however, does not relate this “escape” scenario played out by Mark. Luke’s purpose is more theological. In place of the Mark’s “I came for” (ἐξῆλθον) regarding Jesus’ departure from Capernaum, Luke pens the theological term “I was sent” (ἀπεστάλην) to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The scene in Luke focuses on God’s purpose for sending Jesus; the scene in Mark focuses on Jesus’ need to keep His ministry priorities aligned.

To collapse all data into one scene effectively distorts the purposes of both Mark and Luke. The careful interpreter will appreciate the uniqueness of each Gospel and seek to discover the different purposes the various authors sought to communicate. A useful tool for this process is a harmony of the Gospels such as Kurt Aland’s “Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum,” 3rd edition revised, for the Greek version and “Synopsis of the Four Gospels, English Edition.” Both of these and others are available from the American Bible Society website.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Let’s Play Obadiah’s Way!

The Old Testament writers loved to play with words, and it was easy to do. Instead of expanding their vocabulary by varying the sounds and spellings of words, the Hebrews often extended the range of vocabulary meanings by using words with the same sound and spelling. This is not completely foreign to English—Produce means “to make something;” produce means something to eat! In the Hebrew Bible this translates into numerous opportunities for double entendre, double reference, in various and sometimes unexpected places. Obadiah 1 illustrates the point but not with a double but a possible triple entendre!

The New American Standard Bible translation of the significant clause of verse 1 reads, “And an envoy has been sent among the nations.” Here the sound and spelling of the word envoy (צִיר) is the same as the word for a hinge/pivot as on a door (צִיר)and the word for pang/pain (צִיר). Each of these ideas reflects the contents of the book regarding Edom.

The first word, envoy, needs little explanation. The divine message about Edom arrives among the various nations by divinely-appointed couriers. It is a message of doom. Edom is to be attacked and sacked.

The second word, hinge/pivot, reflects a change in the status quo for Edom. The squeaking of the door on its hinges is the sound of enemies at the gates. Verses 5-8 expand on Edom’s changing national fortunes:

5 “If thieves came to you,
If robbers by night—
O how you will be ruined!—
Would they not steal only until they had enough?
If grape gatherers came to you,
Would they not leave some gleanings?
6 “O how Esau will be ransacked,
And his hidden treasures searched out!
7 “All the men allied with you
Will send you forth to the border,
And the men at peace with you
Will deceive you and overpower you.
They who eat your bread
Will set an ambush for you.
(There is no understanding in him.)
8 “Will I not on that day,” declares the Lord,
“Destroy wise men from Edom
And understanding from the mountain of Esau?

The third word, pang/pain, highlights the end result of the war proclaimed by the envoy—national annihilation. Verses 16-18 describe the impending doom:

16 “Because just as you drank on My holy mountain,
All the nations will drink continually.
They will drink and swallow
And become as if they had never existed.
17 “But on Mount Zion there will be those who escape,
And it will be holy.
And the house of Jacob will possess their possessions.
18 “Then the house of Jacob will be a fire
And the house of Joseph a flame;
But the house of Esau will be as stubble.
And they will set them on fire and consume them,
So that there will be no survivor of the house of Esau,”
For the LORD has spoken.

Double entendre, triple entendre—Hebrew words can pack a lot of baggage leading to frequent insights for the Bible student who is sensitive to the vocabulary of the Hebrew text. For those destined or determined to remain dependent upon English translations—stay tuned to this blogspot for more insights from the Bible in the original languages!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Antecedent Assumptions

A pronoun is a word used in place of a noun and that noun is called an antecedent. In Greek, a pronoun generally agrees with its antecedent in gender and number. That is, either masculine, feminine, or neuter in gender and either singular or plural in number. The italicized pronoun that/this in each of the following translations of Philippians 1:28 confirms the need to verify a pronoun’s antecedent instead of assuming it.


KJV
And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.

NIV
without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.

NRSV
and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.

NASB
in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too from God.

Each of the above translations is somewhat ambiguous and could lead to the conclusion that salvation is the antecedent for that/this. The demonstrative pronoun in this example is τοῦτο, neuter, singular. The expected antecedent, therefore, would be neuter and singular. It cannot be salvation, a feminine noun, or the term destruction, also a feminine noun. To further complicate the matter, there is no neuter singular noun in the context to serve as the lone antecedent.

The answer to this antecedent question can be found in A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, pages 704 and 729—the antecedent consists in the general ideas of the preceding contrasting clauses. In this case, two concepts are involved: destruction of the adversaries and salvation of the Philippians. Thus theologically, God acts both in destruction and salvation.

Failing to sufficiently analyze a pronoun as to its gender, number and antecedent, limits one’s grasp of the full meaning and theology of the text. A careful Bible interpreter must never make antecedent assumptions without checking all the relevant details. And to press the point of the value of knowing the biblical languages, many of the needed details are “invisible” in the English Bible.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Case of the Missing Nun (נ)

Not all variations in Bible translations invite theological debate. Using different synonyms for certain words, for instance, are certainly acceptable providing the English usages adequately reflect legitimate meanings inherent in the original words. Other translation differences, however, are more striking and demand explanations even if the theology poses no difficulties. Psalm 145:13 illustrates this type of translation variation.

At the present time the New International Version (NIV) Bible is prominent among evangelical Christians. One can count on its presence in church and Bible studies. Also one can count on the appearance of the missing nun (נ), which may cause some consternation.

In the New American Standard Bible (NASB),and many other translations, Psalm 145:13 reads, “Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Thy dominion endures throughout all generations.” The NIV reads, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.” One can easily see that the NIV in this verse is twice as long as the NASB.

The footnote found in the NIV reads, “This psalm is an acrostic poem, the verses of which (including verse 13b) begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.” Of the 22 Hebrew letters, in this Psalm only 21 are represented in the Hebrew Bible. The question naturally arises, “Has the transmission of the text accidentally or intentionally omitted the verse beginning with the letter nun?”

The textual apparatus of the Hebrew Bible gives the absent nun text as well as the manuscript support for reinserting it into the text: insert the nun strophe to agree with one Hebrew manuscript, the Septuagint, and the Syriac manuscripts. Compare verse 17 (my translation of the apparatus note). Upon comparing verses 13 and 17 it is easy to see that only the first word differs. Verse 17 begins with the tsade (צ) letter of the Hebrew alphabet (צַדִּיק, “righteous”), and the disputed text (13b) begins with the word “faithful” (נֶאֱמַן), producing a verse beginning with the letter nun ((נ)). After the first word in these two verses the texts are exactly the same.

What happened in the manuscript transmission of Psalm 145:13 is unknown. The Psalmist may not have included a nun verse; or the copyists may have inadvertently dropped the nun text out; or the copyists may have intentionally dropped out the nun text, although this is highly unlikely since there is no apparent reason why the text would be considered unsuitable.

But, evaluation must be done since the English Bibles differ on this verse and people will want some answer for this very-visible difference. First, the fact that the poem is intentionally acrostic favors an inadvertent omission. Although it is not unique to discover a missing letter in an acrostic poem (cp. Psalm 25, et al), the intent of the author surely began with the idea of representing each of the 22 Hebrew letters. Second, repetition is a common poetic feature so that the similarities between verses 13 and 17 are not unique. Third, the contents of the debated portion fits admirably both with verse 13b and 17, The LORD is
[ faithful/righteous] to all his promises and loving toward all he has made
.

Based tentatively on the above evaluation, the longer reading of verse 13 should be granted legitimacy. The only theological addition to the poem is an emphasis on God’s faithfulness. Surely no one can find fault with this inclusion!


Monday, May 18, 2009

A Wonderful Anachronism

Without question the language of the King James Version is outdated. In one linguistic situation, however, this is unfortunate for it avoided a communication problem of modern English. Even the New King James Version fails in its communication no doubt based on its desire to bring the Bible into modern English.

Modern English does not distinguish between the 2nd person singular “you” and the 2nd person plural “you.” You refers to both without distinction. The antiquated King James Version uses thee/thou for the singular and ye for the plural, thus recording the distinction that is clear in the original text of the New Testament.

To point out this difference some modern English translations insert a distinguishing term as in the New American Standard Bible rendition of John 4:48, “So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.’” People defines you as plural. Of course, the word “people” is not in the original text but this procedure works well as long as the translators are consistent. Unfortunately this is not always the case. These translators encountered the same problem at John 3:7 and 11 but failed to identify the variance in number:

“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

“Truly, truly I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness.”

The King James Version translators maintained consistency and thereby represented a clearer and more accurate translation at these points:

“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.”

O the wonderful anachronism of the antiquated King James Version!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Is This Promise from God a Failure?

“Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (New International Version, NIV), Proverbs 16:3

John was a sincere Christian who believed the word of God, every word. What a joy to discover Proverbs 16:3! This “blank check” would revolutionize his ministry for the Lord with the guarantee of success—not a Warrantee, “we’ll fix it when it breaks,” but a Guarantee, “it can’t fail because God cannot lie!” Encouraged by this promise and with big plans for changing the world, John committed to the Lord his burden for establishing a retreat center for embattled pastors. He worked out all of the plans and waited for God to fulfill His promise. He is still waiting. Has God lied? Is this promise simply biblical “pie in the sky?” Where is the success? Or, must he reinterpret success by saying that God is just “putting it off” until a more favorable time—a reinterpretation that in reality is a way of saying “It doesn’t work!” without impugning God directly.

John’s problem, although he is unaware of it, centers on his belief in the Word of God, in this case the NIV translation. What he needs to ask, instead of the above questions, is whether the NIV has presented the reader with the only interpretive option. If he asks the right people that question, people capable of evaluating translations based on the original languages, the answer will be “No, there is no divine promise in this proverb as suggested by the NIV translation.”

The problem with the NIV in this verse appears to be two-fold. (1) The verse has two clauses, an independent imperative clause, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do,” and a probable dependent clause of result. The NIV presents two independent clauses. (2) The connotation of the English word “success” has only a questionable counterpart in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew word כּוּן (in the Niphal stem) means “to be directed rightly” when used in moral contexts such as this one. Also, the translation of “plans” in the NIV is a derivative concept developed from the basic sense of “thoughts” (מַחֲשָׁבָה). The primary senses of these words make perfect sense.

The original Hebrew text focuses primary attention on independent imperative clause. The result clause plays a secondary role and does not represent a promise-like idea as suggested by the NIV translation. An acceptable translation of this proverb reads, Commit your works to Yahweh so that your thought processes may be directed rightly.

The point of the proverb is for the believer to demonstrate dependence upon God by inviting Him into the intended activity allowing Him to direct one’s thought processes. In other words, it is an invitation for a divine/human work operating within one’s mind. Once done, the believer must trust in those thoughts leaving the success outcome up to the sovereign God. James 1:5-7 (New American Standard Bible) represents a New Testament counterpart to this Old Testament proverb:

5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A “Perfect” Perusal

Although a portrait of Jesus Christ does not exist, most of the writers of the New Testament did know what He looked and sounded like. The shape of His face, the resonant quality of His voice—all were known to them. The use of the perfect aspect [traditionally called tense] in 1 John 1:1 confirms this statement.

Recalling a scene from the movie “Sleepless in Seattle,” the youngster tells his dad that he is beginning to forget what his deceased mother looked like. He closes his eyes in concentration, yet he still cannot fully outline her face. Time takes its toll. Were it not for photographs, eventually the young boy would be unable to picture his mother in his mind’s eye.

But this is exactly what is not happening in 1 John 1:1. John says that he and his fellow apostles have heard and can still “hear” [ἀκηκόαμεν] the timber of His voice. They have seen and can still picture [ἑωράκαμεν] His image in their mind’s eye. Time had not yet dimmed the image and the sounds of Jesus’ life on earth.

Ronald Ward attempts to catch the force of the perfect aspect in 1 John 1:1, “That which was from the beginning which still rings in our ears, the vision of which is still before our eyes . . . .” (Hidden Meaning in the New Testament, 50, italics mine). The Greek grammarian, A. T. Robertson, notes that “Some instances of the perfect [aspect] clamor for notice” (The Minister and His Greek New Testament, 100). He illustrates on page 101, “Once more in I Cor. 15:4 Paul employs a present perfect indicative [emphasizing the existing state] of the Resurrection of Jesus in the midst of a long list of aorist indicatives. . . . Paul undoubtedly means to emphasize the fact that Jesus is still risen by the present perfect. He is the Risen Lord, as is shown by the very [aspect] that is employed.”

Christians today, of course, cannot say what John said in 1 John 1:1. No one has seen and heard Christ directly. None can picture Him or create the sound of His voice in one’s mind. But this is only a temporal deficiency. When Jesus returns all believers can join John and speak in the perfect aspect forevermore! Today, however, Christians can still proclaim the risen Christ with confidence. The Apostle Paul has eternally validated this truth through his use of the perfect aspect, “Christ is risen!”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Sometimes things are not as they seem. Exodus 32:18 may seem unimportant on the surface, but appearances can be deceiving. Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments while Joshua was waiting part way up the mountain. The Israelites were at the mountain’s base having what appears to be a party. The poem of verse 18 (New American Standard Bible) is designed to produce an emotional response:

“It is not the sound of the cry [עֲנוֹת] of triumph;
Nor is it the sound of the cry [עֲנוֹת] of defeat;
But the sound of singing [עַנּוֹת] I hear.”

The emotion in this poem is communicated through sound and sense rather than images. The repetition of similar sounds, the Hebrew words in brackets, draws attention strongly to the last line demanding further contemplation of the word for “singing.” Singing reflects an emotional response, and in this case it is a musical response to something very bad. Sometimes things are not as they seem.

The ironic sense of the poem relates primarily to the word singing. Word-play is involved as evidenced by noting once again the Hebrew italicized terms in the above translation. The third word (עַנּוֹת) differs from the preceding two words by the presence of a dagesh (sound-hardening point). This same spelling, dagesh included, reflects two different words: singing and affliction (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 776-777). Here is the irony: The people are singing enthusiastically in a fog of spiritual affliction. Having made a “god” to lead them back to Egypt, they rejoiced thinking that a problem had been resolved. In reality they had entered the spiritual darkness of idolatry. Moses’ response can be paraphrased thus:

“This is not a sound in response to victory in war;
And this is not a sound in response to defeat in war;
This is a sound of enthusiastic singing by a spiritually afflicted people that I am hearing.”

But again, sometimes things are not as they seem. In the context of Israel, the irony clearly applies. They sang while sinning. They experienced an illusion of spiritual victory. In the context of Christianity, the irony may also apply. Have we ever sung, “All to Jesus I Surrender,” without having the slightest intention of doing so? How much of our worship is illusion? We must constantly evaluate our spiritual lives so that when it comes to worship things really are as they seem.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A “Misdirected” Translation

“But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38, New International Version and similar in the New American Standard Bible, NASB and many other English translations, bold mine)

Based on the English translations, the question arises as to the lexical difference between the English words “know” and “understand.” Webster says that to know is “to perceive or understand as fact or truth; apprehend clearly and with certainty” and to understand is “to grasp the meaning of.” Though overlap occurs between these English terms, the translations imply a difference in the depth of meaning, even if slight; and the interpretive focus of the verse ties to this difference.

Based on the Greek text, the question centers on the lexical differences between the words translated “know” (γνῶτε) and “understand” (γινώσκητε). Surprise! There is no difference. The terms have the same root and the same range of meanings. The only variation is in the aspect (formerly called “tense”) of the verbs. The first word (γνῶτε) is an aorist subjunctive whereas the second (γινώσκητε) is a present subjunctive. The difference is not lexical but syntactical. The translations have misdirected the meaning of the text, its interpretation and application.

This problem has existed since the early days of the transmission of the New Testament. Recognizing that the words translated know and understand have the same lexical meaning, the copyists of many New Testament manuscripts exhibited a variety of alternative readings—various changes to the grammatical form of the second word, replacing “know” with “believe,” and even omitting the latter word entirely. Clearly a perceived tautology, a redundancy, appeared to exist in the text by these copyists (see Metzger, A Textual Commentary, 198). However, tautology would in fact exist if the two words in question represented the same grammatical form, but they do not. There is a difference in the syntax of the verbal aspects that can account for an understandable duplication of the lexical meaning and lead to a clearer translation and interpretation of the verse as written.

The syntactical differences reflect the different functions of the aorist and present aspects. The aorist is ingressive meaning an entrance into a state of knowing; the present is progressive meaning a continuing to know. Here is a translation option that captures the essence of the meaning, “in order that you may come to know and continue knowing,” or as Abbott suggests (referenced in A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 850), “John employs the two forms with great deliberateness of ‘knowing’ and the development of it.” The difference is between “beginning and continuing to know” and not on “knowing and understanding” implying greater depth of knowledge.

The problem with the translation cited is that it causes one to raise the wrong question about the meaning of the text—“What is the difference between ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding?’” And asking the wrong question may lead to a wrong interpretation—“The listeners need to think deeper.” And the wrong interpretation may lead to a faulty application suggesting that there is a deeper level of meaning in the text.

In this passage Jesus invites his antagonistic Jewish listeners to begin to know Him and “continue travelling with Him,” so to speak, in confirming the fact that “. . . the Father is in Me and I in the Father (NASB),” a statement of deity stemming from John 10:30. Sadly, their response to this invitation was to try to seize and destroy Him.

A contextually proper and contemporary application for this passage would be for skeptics of Jesus’ self-proclaimed deity to begin to know Him by reading the Gospel with an open mind, and to continue adding to their knowledge, evaluating the weight of all the accumulating evidences regarding Jesus’ statement of deity, “. . . the Father is in Me and I in the Father.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Mosaic Ambiguity and A Translator’s Decision

Different understandings of passages in English Bibles are often based on different interpretations of the grammar of the text. Consider Deuteronomy 30:20 (italics mine):

“. . . by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life . . . .” (New American Standard Bible, NASB)

“. . . and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, . . .” (New International Version, NIV)

Pronouns stand “in place of nouns.” Consequently, a regular need for interpreters is to determine a pronoun’s antecedent, the noun it replaces. The NASB locates the antecedent for the Hebrew pronoun translated this (הוּא) in the preceding ideas of loving, obeying, and holding fast. The NIV traces the antecedent for the pronoun back to the word “LORD” and, therefore, replaces the pronoun in question with that word. Which interpretation is the more probable?

First, a Hebrew pronoun can legitimately have preceding ideas as antecedents. But the feminine pronoun is typically used (Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, paragraph 135p). The pronoun in Deuteronomy 30:20 is masculine.

Second, a Hebrew pronoun generally agrees with its antecedent in gender and number (Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, paragraph 145). Furthermore, for communicative clarity, a pronoun normally agrees with the nearest antecedent. Again, the pronoun in Deuteronomy 30:20 is masculine singular, and the nearest preceding antecedent is “him,” then “his,” and finally the noun “LORD.”

In this instance it appears that the NIV has the best reading based on the grammar. But is it the best interpretation in the context?

The context of the NASB translation is clearly on covenant obedience to God. Moses lays out the lifestyle that will insure national blessing. Verses 18-19 contain covenant language and support this view satisfactorily. On the other hand the NIV focuses on a personal relationship to God, the author of life and death and the blessings and curses imbedded in the covenant. Again, the contextual evidence is strong. Since both interpretations have contextual justification, the reading that also conforms closest to the grammar of the language must enjoy interpretive priority—in this instance the NIV.

By way of application, Moses draws primary attention to a spiritual connection with God, the Source of life and blessings, and secondarily to obedience to His covenant. To further the thought, it is possible to obey God’s rules without genuine spirituality. Isaiah 29:13 says as much and is quoted by Jesus speaking to the scribes and Pharisees, “You hypocrites!, Well did Isaiah prophecy about you saying, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me’” (Matthew 15:7). It would appear that a biblical principle exists: Genuine spirituality results in obedience to God’s will whereas mere obedience can exist apart from genuine spirituality.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Tense" Tensions

The New Testament is a Greek book written in the Greek language. The English New Testament is a translation from the Greek New Testament and therefore a secondary source for the New Testament. The importance of this distinction lies in the fact that the Greek and English languages do not communicate in the same manner. The different communication patterns come to the forefront when English tries to translate the Greek verbs. A. T. Robertson explains (The Minister and His Greek New Testament, pp.90-91).

The difficulty that modern men have with these [Greek] tenses is that they come to them from the standpoint of the translation into English . . . . Unfortunately the Greek tenses do not run parallel with our modern tenses. They correspond much more nearly to the tenses in the Sanskrit than to the Latin tenses, but they have their own genius and history. One must leave translation alone when he approaches Greek tense and understand it as Greek before he undertakes to translate it.


1 John 3:9 provides an example of the situation indicated by Robertson. It reads in three popular translations:

King James Version (KJV) - “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin. . . . he cannot sin.”
New American Standard Bible (NASB) - “No one who is born of God practices sin. . . . and he cannot sin.”
New International Version (NIV) - “No one who is born of God will continue to sin. . . . he cannot go on sinning.”


The problem here involves both language and theology. The doctrine of sinless perfection is spawned by the language of the KJV and the NASB in the bold font. The American Holiness Movement, for example, rigorously defends perfectionism (Dayton, “Perfectionism,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church). This theological aberration is countered in part by the broad tenor of Scripture and by specific passages that speak against the perfectionism doctrine, but ultimately the language issue must be addressed.

The language concern focuses on the Greek present aspect. (Instead of using the traditional label “tense” the term “aspect” is used for the Greek verb function.) Unlike English where the primary force of verb tense is time, the Greek verb primarily emphasizes the kind of action involved and time becomes a secondary matter. The Greek aspects are three: progressive, undefined and perfective. The present aspect found in 1 John 3:9 emphasizes the ongoing nature regarding sin. Therefore, the translations that best focus the progressive kind of action are the clearer and preferred translations.

To evaluate the above examples, the KJV does not emphasize progress in either of the two present aspect verbs (doth not commit sin. . . . he cannot sin); the NASB focuses the continuing nature of the first present aspect verb (practices sin) but not of the second (he cannot sin); the NIV happily reflects continuance in both instances of the present aspect verb (will continue to sin. . . . he cannot go on sinning).


Smalley (1, 2, 3 John, p. 171) explains the aspectual difference this way, “John concludes this section by reminding his readers that the true child of God is . . . opposed to sin . . . the spiritually reborn believer, being a member of God’s family, cannot as a settled policy act lawlessly” (italics mine).

In most sentences, the verbs highlight meaning and direction of thought. Therefore, supreme attention must be given to their interpretation and translation, and in that order. First, the interpretation of the Greek verb must be made. Then, and only then, can a translation into English be attempted.

To reemphasize, the New Testament is not English literature; it is Greek literature, and the conscientious Bible interpreter and expositor must not do his interpretive work apart from examining the Greek New Testament if for no other reason than to validate the translation of the English text under consideration. If he cannot read Greek, there are numerous helps available in the marketplace so that there is really no excuse for ignoring this vital interpretive issue.

“σπούδασον σεαυτὸν δόκιμον παραστῆσαι τῷ θεῷ, ἐργάτην ἀνεπαίσχυντον, ὀρθοτομοῦντα τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας.”

“Be conscientious to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed worker, rightly teaching the word of truth” (my translation).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Proverb with an Invisible “Punch” Line

Amphibologia refers to a figure of speech wherein one word has two meanings and where both are recognized and used in a passage (Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 804). This occurs in Proverbs 14:34. If, however, this figurative expression is not seen, the passage is truncated and the proverb remains negative. But if it is seen and understood, it leads to positive joy and praise! The verse is a three-line not a two-line proverb.

In the New American Standard Bible the words translated sin (חַטָּאת)and disgrace (חֶסֶד) each have two meanings (whether these meanings are based on the same or different Hebrew roots is immaterial since the spellings are the same). The first word means both (a) sin, the primary sense, and (b) sin-offering, the secondary sense. The second word means both (a) lovingkindness, the primary sense, and (b) disgrace, the secondary sense. Given these lexical facts the verse can be translated in four different ways, beginning with (1) the primary meanings, (2) the secondary meanings, and alternating between the primary and secondary meanings for (3) and (4).

1 Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is lovingkindness for people.
2 Righteousness exalts a nation, but the sin-offering is a disgrace for people.
3 Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace for people.
4 Righteousness exalts a nation, but the sin-offering is lovingkindness for people.

Of these four possible readings, only 3 and 4 make sense.

The problem with this verse is that the reader of the English Bible does not know that the words have these different meanings and that full interpretation depends upon these variations. A reader familiar with the Hebrew vocabulary and reading from the Hebrew text, however, initially reads the verse as seen in translation (1) using the primary meanings. Then, when this makes no sense he may try translation (2) using the secondary meanings with the same result. Finally, varying the primary and secondary meanings, he uncovers translation (3), the primary followed by the secondary meaning, and (4), the secondary followed by the primary meaning, both of which do make sense. However, since translation (3) leaves the passage as a negative proverb—who cannot but sin and hence only experience varying degrees of disgrace—he retranslates the passage as seen in translation (4) and discovers a startling truth. Although mankind sins, God has provided expiation, a sin-offering, whereby people can restore their relationship to God and experience the exaltation mentioned in the first clause!

The full three-line proverb reads:

Righteousness exalts a nation,
and sin is a disgrace for people,
but the sin-offering is lovingkindness for people.

What a marvelous Old Testament proverb with its “invisible” punch line! The grace of God exhibited in His lovingkindness by providing the sin-offering so that people might be rightly related to Him should and no doubt did issue forth in praise and joy. But this Old Testament verse also prefigured the New Testament exhibition of the grace of God centered in the coming of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice as God’s Sin-Offering (Romans 8:3) making it possible for people everywhere to become rightly related to God and possess the indescribably gracious blessing of eternal life! And there is nothing invisible about this truth!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tracking Down the Antecedent

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13, New American Standard Bible [NASB])

Recall that universally applicable dictum “The devil is in the details,” and revise it to read “Accurate interpretation and application are in the details.” It appears to be fashionable these days to diminish the exhausting nature of biblical interpretation as though certain exegetical processes are unnecessary. The end result of an emasculated methodology is a failure to see all of the details of the text under scrutiny, details that point to accurate interpretation. The only real solution for avoiding this blindness is an interpretive methodology that passionately refuses to ignore any process that looks for data in the text, no matter how “pedantic” the process may seem to the weary interpreter. Philippians 4:10-13 hammers this truth into stone!

A standard rule of Greek grammar is that a pronoun agrees with its antecedent in gender and number. Sometimes this “standard rule” does not seem to work out. Philippians 4:11 is a case in point where the prepositional phrase “in whatever circumstances” (ἐν οἷς) includes a neuter plural pronoun that has no clear antecedent in the context.

The pronoun in this apparent grammatical incongruity “connects w[ith] the situation described in what precedes under which circumstances = under these circumstances” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [BAGD], 727). In short, the antecedent is not a word but a situation.

The situation preceding Paul’s relative clause is want (literally, need, lack, poverty, ὑστέρησιν, BAGD, 1044). Therefore, the prepositional phrase literally means, “because of the circumstances of poverty . . . .”

The discovery of poverty as the antecedent for the pronoun helps explain other issues needing explanation in verses 12-13. First, the initial two clauses of verse 12, I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity (οἶδα καὶ ταπεινοῦσθαι, οἶδα καὶ περισσεύειν), repeats a conjunction usually translated as “and,” and does so in the above translation once while ignoring the first occurrence. This conjunction is placed second in its clause instead of its normal placement at the beginning of its clause affecting the understanding of the passage (note the bold words in the Greek text). Second, verse 12 consists of three repeated contrasts between poverty and excess with two summary phrases in the middle (in any and every circumstance, more literally in any and in all circumstances). Third, verse 13 necessarily connects with the preceding economic context but the NASB translation (and most others) seem to remove it to the periphery. This connection establishes itself strongly with the first word in the verse, a focus word, “all things” (πάντα, fully paraphrased “with respect to all the preceding economic matters”). The NASB translation “I can do all things” does not connect readily with verses 10-12 because “doing” is not a contextual concern for Paul.

Issue #1—Paul limited himself by the pronoun whatever circumstances (οἷς) to matters relating to poverty when actually he wanted to discuss a more extensive topic, all financial circumstances. The use of the “strangely placed” conjunction “and” (καὶ) carefully balances out the clauses (Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 1181), “We may indeed have καὶ [“and”] in both parts of the comparison, a studied balancing of the two members of the sentence” (italics mine). One can envision Paul laying down his pen and musing about how he would restructure his words, since erasing a papyri page was not an option!

Issues #2 and 3—The preceding conclusions open up the text further. Verse 11 contains three items that are expanded in verses 12 and 13. (1) Poverty circumstances are expanded to include “all economic circumstances.” (2) Learned is reiterated in verse 12 with a mystery religion term literally translated “I have learned the secret” regarding money matters (μεμύημαι, perfect aspect, “I have learned the secret and am living in the light of it”). (3) The favorite Stoic term “self-sufficiency/content” (αὐτάρκης, see posting titled “Money Matters”) is expanded in verse 13 by ἰσχύω, translated “I can do” in the NASB, but contextually it is intransitive, not requiring a direct object, and means to be strong (BDAG, 484).

Finally, these conclusions are confirmed by the presence of the introductory “not that” (οὐχ ὅτι) at verse 11 and the omission of the expected balancing term “but” (ἀλλὰ, see verse 17 for the full format). When Paul penned in whatever circumstances (ἐν οἷς) a number of internal changes were needed, and these changes resulted in the omission of the “but” clause. When understood, the above-mentioned grammatical and lexical changes illumine the text in a dramatic way and lead to far-reaching applications! To repeat, “Accurate interpretation and application are in the details,” and seeing all of the details requires an exhaustive methodology.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ouch!

”And Jabez was more honorable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him with sorrow.’ And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!’ And God granted him that which he requested. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 King James Version)

“. . . and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!, And God granted him that which he requested.”
(1 Chronicles 4:9-10 New King James Version)


The two bold translation portions above reflect different interpretations of the Hebrew grammar (the infinitive verb form with a pronominal suffix). The suffix, a 1st person singular personal pronoun, translates both as “me” and “I” in the above readings. The pronoun can be interpreted as the KJV translates it (the object of the verb form, “me”) and as the NKJV translates it (the subject of the verb form, “I”). The infinitive verb form can be justly translated “hurt,” “pain,” “grieve,” so this is not an issue in what follows.

In evaluating these translations, the KJV has the advantage of translating the verb actively in keeping with the sense of the Hebrew verb stem (Qal). The NKJV, however, translates the verb with causation that would normally be identified with a different verb stem (Hiphil). By using the text’s verb stem (Qal), however, the NKJV could still have kept the subject use of the pronoun, but it would have had to insert a direct object for the verb, such as, “that I may not pain [others]!” It appears that the NKJV translators conveniently used the causation idea to avoid inserting a word not in the Hebrew text.

A third interpretation possibility is that the author was being intentionally ambiguous so that both the object and subject ideas can be understood in the reading of the text. As in all such cases, the context becomes the deciding factor in selecting the preferred interpretation.

One reason why Jabez was highlighted by the chronicler was the fact that his life defied the “painful” implication underlying his name, “and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him with sorrow [ literally, pain].’” He became exceptionally honorable despite the public humiliation and reputation his name provided. Jabez did not want to experience pain (KJV, object) or pain others (NKJV, subject). These two ideas necessarily interrelate. Jabez knew that the acquisition of land belonging to a less-fortunate family (see Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, Vol. 1, pp. 166-167) could hurt others and consequently bring about the very thing he sought to avoid—living up to the negative reputation imbedded in his name and suffering the pain of societal rejection.

Given the possibility that the two interpretations of the Hebrew text interrelate, one could supplement the English translation to bring out the fuller meaning. Consider this alternative: “and that You would keep me from evil, so that I neither experience pain nor hurt others.” In that “God granted him that which he requested,” Jabez presumably lived a happy and respected life on his newly acquired property.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Biblical Interpreter & Occasional Queasiness

Exegesis (Bible interpretation) is the application of proper hermeneutics to the original text of Scripture for the purpose of declaring its intended meaning. All of the interpretation steps involved are designed to accomplish this goal. However, sometimes when all is done, the interpreter still scratches his or her head wondering why the conclusions arrived at seem less than final. Has all that there is to know about the text been discovered? This leads to the interpretation principle called “exegetical questioning.” If one can discover by questioning the text the particular area of uncertainty, he or she can potentially resolve the queasiness. Exodus 7:19 (New American Standard Bible) illustrates this process.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools, and over all their reservoirs of water, that they may become blood; and there will be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”

This passage seems straightforward, yet there is a vague something lurking in the background. Is this uncertainty related to the syntax? No, each term seems properly related to its context. Word meanings? Yes, and in particular the words translated “reservoirs of water” that appear to repeat what has just been said (tautology?), “their pools.”

A feminine form of the Hebrew word for “reservoir,” spelled מִקְוָה, occurs in the Old Testament only in Isaiah 22:11. It is not used in the Exodus passage. The masculine form of the word appears. Why? Being familiar with Hebrew vocabulary, the exact same spelling exists with another word meaning “hope” or “security,” something that would not have been true with the feminine word. Was this a purposeful word selection or merely a coincidence? To follow through on this further question: Is there any reason why the 1st plague upon the waters of Egypt should be an attack upon the Egyptians’ hope or security? This now becomes a historical question.

C.E. DeVries, writing in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, “Nile,” states:

It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the river for Egypt. The Nile touched nearly every facet of Egypt[ian] life and gave to Egypt[ian] culture many of its characteristic features. In ancient times the recognition of dependence on the river led to the deification of the stream under the figure of the god Hapi, represented as a well-fed man with pendulous breasts, bearing offerings of the products of the river.

Would the ruination of the waters of the Nile that fed most other fresh water sources cause the Egyptians to lose their sense of security and hope? Indeed yes! A survey of the numerous commentators shows that the conflict between Moses and Pharoah at heart is a conflict between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt. It would not be overreaching to conclude that Moses used the word מקוה (lit. “confluence [of waters”] and “hope/security”) to indicate both ideas, an Amphibologia (Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 804), a statement with two meanings both of which are true. This would then be an exceptionally powerful statement occurring as it does at the first plague.

Questions, questions, questions, leading to more questions! This is the nature of biblical interpretation! I am reminded of Sidney Greidanus’ pointed remarks (The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1988, p. 17):

Of course, interpreters understand texts only by asking questions and receiving answers. Asking the right questions is of crucial importance, for asking the wrong questions will undoubtedly result in receiving wrong answers. One of the weighty issues in hermeneutics is, therefore, how to ask the right questions.

Competent biblical interpreters must ever pursue truth, and often this means asking key questions and searching out the answers to those questions.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Paul’s “Strange Attitude”

A portion of Acts 16:17 reads as follows in three popular translations:

“. . . which shew unto us the way of salvation” (King James Version)
“. . . who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (New American Standard Bible)
“. . .who are telling you the way to be saved” (New International Version)

These translations agree on the meaning of the words, “the way of salvation” even though the New International Version modifies the words. One wonders, however, why Paul became so agitated. A seemingly helpful slave girl follows Paul and his associates crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God who are declaring to you the way of salvation.” Rather than seeing this as a problem, why not praise God for the “free advertisement?” As an evangelist Paul does appear to have a strange attitude!

The Greek text, however, allows an interpretation not permitted by the above translations. The key phrase, “way of salvation” (ὁδὸν σωτηρίας), consists of two nouns and no definite article (“the”). There are two ways this phrase can be understood. (1) It can be definite emphasizing quality, that is, focusing on the various characteristics of the words in question. The best that English translations can do here is to use the definite article that in English points to identity without emphasizing quality inherent in the Greek non-article usage. (2) It can be indefinite where English would insert the indefinite article “a” before the phrase and translate, “a way of salvation.”

Exegetically, the second option is the only one that meets the interpretive criteria of sense and history. The citizens of Philippi would not have understood “the way of salvation” as the only way of salvation preached by Paul. Historically there were many “ways of salvation” in Roman and Greek societies. The populace would naturally position Paul and his associates as another group of philosophers roaming the world peddling a brand of “salvation” unique to them, and one that merely provided another “salvation option" for people. In light of this, the indefinite article translation provides the better interpretive probability. As an indefinite phrase one can readily understand why Paul was so upset. To him there is only one way of salvation, and to be classified as “just another philosopher” proclaiming “just another philosophy” would hinder the progress of the true Gospel.

In this instance, some of the major translations should be reevaluated; but without looking at the Greek text, few would realize that another interpretive option exists. Such was not the case for the translators of the International Standard Version on this verse that correctly reads, “a way of salvation.”

On a practical level, Bible studies or sermons based on this verse could conceivably waste time needlessly trying to rationalize the strange attitude of Paul in Philippi, and probably coming up short of the truth. In our day, postmodern thinking has captured the minds of unbelievers and, not unlike the demon-possessed servant girl following Paul around, marginalized the absolute claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not “one alternative to salvation” but the only way of salvation. Paul’s attitude, it would seem, was not strange after all!