Friday, December 31, 2010

Jesus Christ and “The Glory”

James 2:1 in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) reads, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.” The portion in bold font reads the same in the New International Version (NIV) but differently in the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), and the English Standard Version (ESV) where one reads the Lord of glory.

This article interprets the preposition of in connection with glory as seen in the KJV, NKJV and ESV, and evaluates the use of “glorious” in the NIV and NASB translations. Which, if any, satisfies the textual requirements, and how does this issue affect the meaning of the passage?

First, the Greek text of the affected portion reads: τὴν πίστιν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῆς δόξης. The noun “Lord” (κυρίου) appears only once but the KJV, NKJV and ESV sought to make sense out of the puzzling reading, “our Lord Jesus Christ of the glory,” by introducing “Lord” a second time, “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (KJV). This same problem presented itself to the translators of the NIV and NASB, but they chose to change the prepositional phrase “of the glory” into an adjective “glorious” presumably based on their understanding of the function of “glory” as merely descriptive.

The preposition “of” defines the function of the Greek noun within the sentence which is in the genitive case and which carries a general sense of description. However, at least 33 distinct nuances of meaning are embedded in this case (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 72). In James 2:1 the nuance of simple apposition accounts for the relationship between “our Lord Jesus Christ” (τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) and “the glory” (τῆς δόξης). Wallace describes simple apposition in these terms (Greek Grammar, 96, italics added):

It gives a different designation that either clarifies who is the one named or shows a different relation to the rest of the clause than what the first noun by itself could display. Both words thus have the same referent, though they describe it in different terms.

The translation with this simple apposition understanding reads like this, “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the glory.” Such an interpretation of the relationship between “Jesus Christ” and “the glory” would have helped the KJV, NKJV and ESV translators avoid the error of unnecessarily inserting words not in the original text, namely, the Lord. But what can one say of the NIV and NASB change from “the glory” (τῆς δόξης) to the adjective “glorious?” The presence of the definite article in the Greek text (τῆς, “the”) renders this translation unacceptable.

The definite article in Greek and English does not function in the same way. The Greek article has broader uses. Wallace comments (Greek Grammar, 209-210):

In terms of basic force, the article conceptualizes. In terms of predominant function, it is normally used to identify an object. That is to say, it is used predominantly to stress the identity of an individual or class or quality.

However, the absence of the article in Greek can render a noun indefinite, where English would use the indefinite article “a” or “an.” Or, it can give a qualitative aspect to a definite noun. Again, Wallace writes (Greek Grammar, 243-44),

A qualitative noun places the stress on quality, nature, or essence. It does not merely indicate membership in a class of which there are other members (such as an indefinite noun), nor does it stress individual identity (such as a definite noun).

When a definite but qualitative Greek noun is translated into English the definite article is typically used but in so doing the important qualitative nature of the original term is unfortunately hidden from the reader.

Returning to James 2:1, the word “glory” is preceded by the definite article. The noun points to something definite. The “glorious” translation as a descriptor of Jesus Christ could fit nicely with a Greek noun not preceded by the definite article. It does not fit with “the glory.” In other words, James is not attributing the quality of “glory” to Jesus Christ,” hence “glorious,” but he is identifying Him as “the glory.” Therefore, the NIV and the NASB do not accurately communicate the meaning of the original text. This, then, leads to the ultimate question, To what does “the glory” refer? Or, to incorporate the identification aspect of the phrase, How does “the glory” give a different designation to Jesus Christ?

The New Testament meaning of “glory” (δόξα) when used of God or Jesus Christ was discussed in an earlier blogspot to which the reader is referred (, and a conclusion bearing upon the present discussion follows:

The abstract English word “glory” as a reference to God, speaks of His “divine nature,” His self-revelation, those definable, and one might add measurable, characteristics revealed in Scripture. . . . To make definite “the glory of God” means to break away from the abstractness of the word “glory” and to reflect concretely on God’s attributes.

In James 2:1, the writer identifies Jesus Christ as God revealed. This identification gives tremendous theological and interpretive weight to the verse.

Three applications grow out of this study:

Grammatically, this discussion helps the Bible interpreter realize that “of” is a notoriously weak preposition capable of various nuances of meaning that must not be ignored (see Webster’s College Dictionary and Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Appendix B on “The Usage of the Genitive Case,” pp. 989-1002). Also, one should make a practice of comparing the English text to the Greek original whenever the English definite article (“the”) is encountered. One can never know whether the original text included it or not based on a reading of any English Bible, and both the presence and absence of the article is exceedingly important in the Greek New Testament!

Theologically, this blogspot posting encourages the Bible reader to augment the mysterious English word “glory” with deeper meaning when referring to Jesus Christ.

Practically, the present conversation reminds the student that the New Testament is a Greek book and that English provides a good but imperfect means for accessing its truths.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Heart of Worship

A present-day expression among evangelical Christians carries both excitement and exasperation—7/11 songs, 7 words repeated 11 times! The younger generation, for the most part, loves the “7/11’s” for the rhythm of the music and the repetition of the worshipful phrases. The older generation longs for the familiarity of the old hymns and the spiritual depth of the lyrics. To accommodate both generations, many churches blend the two musical patterns in the worship service.

Psalm 100, a “Thanksgiving Hymn,” contributes to the musical discussion, not by choosing sides, but by centering on the “heart of worship” that both musical styles can and should do more to elevate in worship.

This traditional Thanksgiving Psalm is technically classified as a Descriptive Psalm of Praise consisting of the following divisions (Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 131):

• Imperative Call to Praise, 1-4
• Reasons for Praise, 5

Psalm 100 is unique. The Call to Praise has 7 imperatives, the number 7 highlighting completeness, and this 7-fold Call to Praise is arranged chiastically, that is, with introverted correspondence as explained by Bullinger:

This is where there are two series, and the first of the one series of members corresponds with the last of the second; the second of the first corresponds with the penultimate (or the last but one) of the second: and the third of the first corresponds with the antepenultimate of the second. That is to say, if there are six members, the first corresponds with the sixth, the second with the fifth, and the third with the fourth. And so on (Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 374, italics his).

A number of details aid in recognizing the chiastic structure that highlights the center of the Psalm and the heart of worship (using the New American Standard Bible, NASB, for English reference):

• The 1st and 7th imperatives are near synonyms in this context (“shout,” הריעו and “bless,” ברכו).
• The 2nd and 6th likewise express synonymity (“serve,”/worship עבדו and “give thanks,” הודו, See Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, II, 639, Tate, Psalms 51-100 in the Word Biblical Commentary series, 536-37).
• The 3rd and 5th imperative verbs are the same (באו) though translated differently as “come” and “enter.”
• The 4th clause stands alone at the center and moves the outward expressions of worship inward, “know God.” Verse 3 provides internal motivation for meaningful worship and is clearly the catalyst in the Call to Praise.

The King James Version (KJV) of verse 3 follows:

Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

The New International Version (NIV) changes “and not we ourselves” to “and we are his.” The NASB agrees with the KJV but puts “His we are” in the margin. The difference centers on a textual problem.

The disputed clause in the text is “and not we ourselves” (literally “and not us,” ולא אנחנו ). The margin of the Hebrew text has ולו instead of ולא. These two readings sound the same and the difference consists of (1) a conjunction “and” (ו) plus the negative “not” (לא), KJV, and (2) a conjunction “and” (ו) and a preposition “belonging to” (ל) attached to the personal pronoun “Him” (ו), NIV, NASB margin. The textual critical data favor the marginal reading as does the immediate context where the following possessives appear, “his people” and “his pasture” (See Tate note 3b, 533-34). Divine creativity and ownership emerge as the central themes of the verse.

The interpretive difference between the two readings is not great but it is significant. The KJV translation contrasting the creator God with God’s people contains three ideas:

• God is the Creator
• God’s people are not creators
• God’s people belong to Him

The marginal reading has two ideas:

• God is the Creator
• God’s people belong to Him.

This latter reading is the more powerful statement, not being encumbered by an idea no one would have considered consciously—people creating themselves. Neither reading affects theological change, but they do affect the point and power of the poem.

The practical application of this Imperative Call to Praise with its central focus on verse 3 is the recognition that the worship of God is only as heartfelt and profound as one’s understanding of God’s character. Reflecting on the Person of God is the heartbeat of dynamic worship. His attributes need to be expressed in all worship music whether that be the “7/11” or traditional music categories.

Verse 5 outlines three reasons for praising God that do find expression in the contemporary worship music scene—Goodness, Lovingkindness, Faithfulness.

The goodness of God comes to the forefront in the chorus “God Is So Good,” repeating the few but comforting words that bounce around in one’s head. Also, the Hymn, “The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want,” revitalizes the soul with its familiar lyrics, “Goodness and mercy all my life Shall surely follow me.”

Lovingkindness as a divine characteristic becomes the focus in the contemporary rendition of “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” and the traditional Hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” Such musical meditations on God’s love elevate the emotions in praise.

Finally, God’s faithfulness resounds in the contemporary chorus “In That Day” when God fulfills His Word in the life of the believer, and in the ever-popular “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”

Speaking musically to God and one another in worship by “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 4:19) must involve both the mind and the emotions to achieve the “heart of worship.” Rather than complaining about the repetitions in the “7/11’s” or the “antiquities” of the music and lyrics in traditional hymns, worshipers need to focus attention on what the music says about God and revel musically in His attributes. Psalm 100 forcefully and beautifully captures this emphasis by focusing on the majesty of God around which to center the thoughts, clap the hands and tap the feet.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Go Figure!

Figures of Speech are generally associated with such matters as simile or metaphor—figures that are readily apparent to the reader. Other figures of speech, however, are not so easily seen, and these are better called Figures of Rhetoric (see Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible where both types of figures are discussed at length). If Figures of Speech focus on the meanings of words, Figures of Rhetoric focus on the argumentation of the author, although the two cannot be completely separated.

Philippians 2:1-2 provides a superb example of rhetorical argumentation. Four Figures of Rhetoric follows with their involved verses and conclusions about the interpretive values of these expressions. Supporting data have been purposely left out so as to spotlight the effects without detracting the reader with minutia. The writer encourages the reader to utilize the interpretive processes and evaluate these conclusions. See Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, 64-70, “Word Biblical Commentary” series, for some interpretive direction.

Asyndeton (v. 1) is the absence of connecting conjunctions used here in an explanatory sense wherein the 2nd clause further defines the 1st and the 4th clause further defines the 3rd, thus making the surface level of four-fold “if clauses” (protasis) two-fold. The interpretation reads like this, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, that is, if there is any consolation of love; if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, that is, if there is any affection and compassion” (New American Standard Bible, NASB, here and elsewhere, italicized words were added).

Hendiadys (v. 1d) ties the terms affection (tender mercies) and compassion into a single idea by transforming one of the two terms into an adjective, compassionate tender mercies. Both terms are plural in the Greek text.

Chiasmos (vv. 1-2) constitutes a reversal of the order of clauses following an A, B, B', A' pattern wherein the first two “if” clauses of verse 1 (A) are refocused in verse 2b, maintaining the same love (A'), and the second two “if” clauses of verse 1 (B) are revisited in verse 2a, being of the same mind (B'). Bullinger, 374, writes, “This is by far the most stately and dignified presentation of a subject; and is always used in the most solemn and important portions of the Scriptures.”

Symperasma (v. 2c) is a concluding summary. It gathers the author’s thrust in a single term, harmonious ones (NASB, united in spirit, one word in the Greek text, σύμψυχοι). This concluding summary will fulfill Paul’s joy (v. 2a). It is also the exegetical center of the verses leading up to 2:5-11, the famous “kenosis” passage. Verses 3-4 return to the emphases of verses 1-2 with further amplifications that are not taken up in this article.

In conclusion, someone is sure to ask, “Are those figurative expressions really there?” The only way to be sure is to test the hypotheses utilizing the interpretive processes. But one thing is absolute: if they are really there, they affect both the interpretation and the application! “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).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

“Resurrecting” an Image

Imagery represents a universal staple in poetry and Hebrew poetry is no exception. To consciously or unconsciously remove or disfigure images of a poem diminishes it. When translating Hebrew poetry errors of this sort sometimes occur because of the overwhelming desire to clarify God’s word, an admirable goal that sometimes leads to a mishandling of the Bible as written. Psalm 17:11 is one such passage. Consider these representative translations:

“They have now compassed us in our steps: they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth” (King James Version, KJV)

“They have now surrounded us in our steps; They set their eyes to cast us down to the ground” (New American Standard Bible, NASB)

“They have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground” (New International Version, NIV)

Of these translations the KJV is the least problematic—

• It uses the antiquated term “compassed” whereas “surrounded,” as in the New King James Version, is better.
• The phrase “in our steps” that begins the clause, an accusative of limitation (see Waltke & O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, p. 173), is ambiguous because of the preposition “in. ” Wording such as “With respect to our steps” focuses the subject well, although the term “steps” could be sharpened to “tracks” as the NIV suggests and the conclusion will demonstrate (see Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 30).
• Finally, the narrow-focused term “ground” may fit the context better than the expansive word “earth” (see Holladay, p. 28).

The NASB takes second place in acceptability—

• The phrase “have now surrounded” translates well. This translation, however, uses the ambiguous “in our steps.”
• The phrase “set their eyes” could be taken as metaphorical especially in light of the following purpose-oriented infinitive “to cast us down.” However the phrase should be translated literally using “directed” or “fixed” (Holladay, p. 368) to eliminate any misunderstanding.
• The verb נטה does not mean “to cast down” but “to incline or bend towards” (Holladay, p. 235-36; Brown, Driver Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, pp. 639-41). Such a translation removes the purpose idea interpreted by the NASB (“to cast down”) and removes the necessity to add “us” to the last clause.
• The preposition “to” (ל) focuses the direction or fixation of the eyes (Williams, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline, p. 48).

The NIV places last in this series of translations—

• The paraphrase “they have tracked me down” captures the initial imagery but replaces “our” with “me,” a weak textual solution based on the principles set forth in The Text of the Old Testament, pp. 111-119, by Ernst Würthwein.
• The last clause is the biggest problem with the NIV. The clearly metaphorical translation,“with eyes alert,” instead of the literal, “they have set [fixed] their eyes,” is far too paraphrastic to enable the reader to understand the overall imagery.
• The verb נטה does not mean “throw.”
• The purpose idea, “to throw,” required because of the metaphorical translation “with eyes alert,” and the extra-textual insertion “me” combine to dismantle the biblical image.

A translation that “resurrects” the image follows—

With respect to our tracks, they have now surrounded us; they have fixed their eyes on the ground.

The picture is that of Saul and his forces searching for David and his men in the wilderness intently examining the ground for their tracks and possible location. They were successful according to this verse, and verse 12 both justifies and carries this image further with its stalking lion illustration.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Love and “Conventional Wisdom”

The verbal interchange between Jesus and Peter found in John 21:15-17 undoubtedly served as a catharsis for Peter’s threefold denial at Jesus’ trial. It also demonstrates Jesus’ characterization of Peter as a “rock.” Unfortunately, however, the English translations of this text either hide or interpret unfavorably Peter’s responses to Jesus’ questions. The issue centers on the word “love” seen in bold font in the following translation from the New International Version (NIV).

15”Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

The NIV translates this famous interchange different from other translations such as the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible by adding “truly” to the text of verses 15 and 16, words that do not exist in the Greek text. Why did the translators choose to add it? What does the addition imply?

To answer the first question, the verbs for “love” in the Greek text vary according to the following threefold scheme:

Jesus — agapao (ἀγαπάω)
Peter — phileo (φιλέω)

Jesus — agapao (ἀγαπάω)
Peter — phileo (φιλέω)

Jesus — phileo (φιλέω)
Peter — phileo (φιλέω)

The NIV translators apparently sought to distinguish between Jesus’ word “love” in the first two exchanges from that of Peter. Therefore “truly” was inserted without endorsement from the Greek text. The legitimacy of this interpretation involves the second question.

To answer to the second question, the addition of “truly” seems to communicate that Simon’s simple response, “I love you,” implies a lesser degree of love, a love that fails to equal Jesus’ word for love. The two words for love appear to be understood by the NIV translators in hierarchical terms wherein Jesus’ word rises higher on the ethical plane than that of Simon. Such an understanding may enjoy the benefit of “conventional wisdom” regarding the words for love, but it falters under close examination.

In the Greek language at least four different words for love existed, all of which are translated “love” in English. Two of these words constitute the primary burden of this article. It is frequently affirmed that agapao (ἀγαπάω) represents the God-kind of love whereas phileo (φιλέω) a human-kind. However, this analysis does not fit passages such as John 5:20 (NIV), “For the Father loves (using phileo, φιλέω) the Son,” or John 16:27 (NIV), “the Father himself loves (using phileo, φιλέω) you.” An understanding of the uses of these words based on relationships instead of on a higher or lower ethical plane resolves this difficulty admirably and is completely consistent with the lexical meanings of the words (see Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition).

The Greek nouns for love based on relationships follows. (Verbs from the same roots mirror the meanings of the nouns.) For the sake of completeness all four Greek words for love are included.

eros (ἔρος) — The relationship between an individual and his/her own need—focused on oneself. This word does not occur in the New Testament.

storge (στόργη) — The relationship between an individual and his/her relatives—focused on family/marital relationships. In the New Testament it occurs only in a compound word (Romans 12:10, philostorgos, φιλόστοργος).

philia (φίλια) — The relationship between an individual and his/her acquaintances—focused on friendship. The verb form is φιλέω (phileo).

agape (ἀγάπη) — The relationship between an individual and any other person regardless of the nature of that relationship—focused on others. The verb form is ἀγαπάω (agapao).

These are not ethical or qualitative differences. Each is perfectly proper and devoid of ethical classification as a higher or lower degree of love. Each can be used properly for the same “love event” depending upon the perceived relationship.

Once this relationship-focused description for the “love words” is applied, notice the major interpretation difference discovered in John 21:15-17.

Under the traditional “ethical paradigm” it has been fashionable to accuse Peter of failing to love Jesus with a divine-kind of love. He settles for a lesser human-kind of love to which Jesus Himself with subtle sarcasm acquiesces in the third interchange. To avoid this conclusion some scholars have claimed that John uses the two verbs for love interchangeably without distinction in sense. Carson writes (Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd edition, 53, italics his), “In any case, my point is that it is rather strange to insist on a semantic distinction between the two words for “to love” in this context, and not on small distinctions between other pairs of words in the same context.” But why would a competent scholar neglect these other “small distinctions”? Carson’s argument evaporates.

Under the “relationship paradigm,” however, Peter steadfastly refuses to accept the possible implication, based on Jesus’ use of agapao (ἀγαπάω), that a broken relationship exists. He stands undeterred in declaring that his love for Jesus continues on a friendly basis. In the third interchange, Jesus agrees and thereby brings closure to problem of Peter’s denials, and Peter lives up to the steadfastness implied by his name, Rock.

The interpretation problem of John 21:15-17 involves minimally three matters: (1) the English language that has difficulty in clearly distinguishing between the different words for “love,” (2) the English Bible translators who introduce interpretations into the passage implying that they exist undisputed in the Greek text, and (3) the Bible interpreters who ignore word variations on the basis of assumed synonymity.

Regarding this third point, a consistent interpretation methodology must give first priority to the biblical author’s word choices and approach the study with the expectation that similar but different words reflect different nuances of meaning unless it can be unequivocally proven otherwise. Moule stated (An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, 198), “The safest principle is probably to assume a difference until one is driven to accept identity of meaning.” In the case of John 21:15-17 synonymity has not been proven.

Other passages involving the word phileo (φιλέω) with Jesus or God the Father as the subjects are Matthew 10:37; John 11:36; 20:2; Revelation 3:19. It should be clear that phileo (φιλέω) is not a lesser “human-kind” of love.

To illustrate the agapao (ἀγαπάω) “relationship paradigm” in other portions of the New Testament consider the following: Matthew 5:44 (NIV), “Love your enemies”—agapao (ἀγαπάω) must be the verb of choice where interpersonal antagonism exists. Ephesians 5:28 (NIV), “Husbands ought to love their wives”—Likewise agapao (ἀγαπάω) is invoked in a husband/wife relationship placing the love obligation upon the husband—love cannot be withdrawn when marital tensions arise.

Other love passages in the New Testament could be included but these serve to establish the moral of this posting—“Conventional wisdom” is not always conclusive wisdom!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hendiadys and Amphibologia—A Hope-Filled Future

Jeremiah 29:11—“I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an end and expectation” (King James Version, italics mine). The marginal reading of the italicized portion says, “to give you an expected end.” The Revised Standard Version renders the phrase “to give you hope in your latter end,” and puts in the margin “Heb., a latter end and hope.” Figurative language and word order supplies the basis for a proper understanding and translation of this verse.

The figurative language involves the figure of speech called hendiadys meaning literally one idea expressed by two nouns connected by “and.” Bullinger explains Jeremiah 29:11 this way, “‘to give you the end, yes—the end you hope for’: i.e., the end which I have promised and on which I have caused you to hope and depend. All this, and more, is contained in and expressed by the figure Hendiadys” (Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 661). The Brown, Driver, Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, p.876, amplifies this passage, “i.e. by hendyadis [sic], the hoped-for future.”

The New International Version (NIV) gives a translation that appears not to recognize or appreciate the language of the original Hebrew text, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (italics mine). To arrive at this two-issue focus, hope and future, the NIV translators felt the need to reverse the order of words found in the Hebrew text, a situation that should have signaled to them that something was not yet understood.

The New American Standard Bible parallels the NIV by translating a two-issue focus as well, but in this case the order of words does not reverse, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (italics mine). Again, the figurative expression is not recognized or if recognized was not translated. In the hendiadys seen in this text the main idea, future, is modified adjectively (in English) by hope. “To give you a hope-filled future” captures the force of this divine purpose statement.

There is more than hendiadys here, however. There is also amphibologia, where a word has two meanings and both are true (Bullinger, 804). In this case the Hebrew words for hope (תּקוה) and cord (תּקוה) are identical in every way. The scarlet cord was used by Rahab to signal the Israelite warriors to keep her safe when they attacked the city of Jericho (Joshua 2:18, 21). To Rahab the cord represented literally a hope-filled future. Likewise, in Jeremiah 29 the promise of Yahweh denotes a hope-filled future for the chastened people of God—a promise upon which to hang their hope as they endure their 70 years of punishment in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10).

Hendiadys and Amphibologia—two figurative expressions used in Jeremiah 29:11 giving God’s people something positive to hang on to as they face the future.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Glory Be!

What constitutes the “the breadth and length and height and depth” of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:18? That question concluding the previous posting finds an answer in this article.

The center of Paul’s prayer begins in verse 16 and colors the entire prayer. But the focal point has become clouded to the point of being invisible to the reader of the English Bible. That focal point is the phrase “according to the riches of His glory” (New American Standard Bible, NASB). Four interpretation issues will be examined briefly: (1) the word order, (2) the word “glory” (δόξα), (3) the definite article (“the”) before “glory” in the Greek text, and (4) the force of the preposition “according to” and its object “riches.” The conclusion will trace “the glory of God” throughout the prayer and end with the primary practical application.

(1) Word order constitutes an important aspect of biblical interpretation. Word order helps define emphasis and focus. In Paul’s prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21 the focus begins and ends with the glory of God (verses 16 and 21).

The use of the primary verb in verse 16, correctly translated “grant” in the NASB, completes the verbal idea with its infinitive complement “to be strengthened.” Normally such an infinitive appears in close proximity to the primary verb, but in this instance the prepositional phrase, “according to the riches of His glory,” intervenes. The placing of this phrase at the front of the sentence should cause the reader to reflect on “the riches of His glory” throughout the prayer. Unfortunately readers of the English Bible rarely reflect on the rhetorical importance of word order in the Greek New Testament.

(2) The Greek word “glory” (δόξα) changed its meanings over time, and for the New Testament the significant change occurred with the translation of the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint). Note Kittel’s remarks,

When the [Greek] translator of the OT first thought of using δόξα for כּבוֹד [the Hebrew word for “glory”], he initiated a linguistic change of far-reaching significance, giving to the Greek term a distinctiveness of sense which could hardly be surpassed. Taking a word for opinion, which implies all the subjectivity and therefore all the vacillation of human views and conjectures, he made it express something absolutely objective, i.e. the reality of God (Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, II, 245, TDNT).

The reality spoken of by Kittel is the “divine nature” revealed in creation and in God’s subsequent actions (TDNT, 244). The Scriptures represent a prime source for that reality and without this self-revelation from God very little about the “divine nature” would be understood.

(3) The abstract English word “glory” as a reference to God, speaks of His “divine nature,” His self-revelation, those definable, and one might add measureable, characteristics revealed in Scripture. This is especially true when the definite article accompanies the term as it does in Ephesians 3:16. Robertson writes, “Whenever the Greek article occurs, the object is certainly definite” (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research,756, ATR). To make definite “the glory of God” means to break away from the abstractness of the word “glory” and to reflect concretely on God’s attributes. Perhaps a paraphrase such as “the riches of the revealed attributes of God” could capture the required concreteness and lead readers to think in definitive terms.

(4) God’s self-revelation occurs in a “measureable” context. The preposition “according to” (κάτα) functions as a “rule of measure” (ATR, 608) with its object “the riches of His glory.” The primary term “riches” in the prepositional phrase foreshadows the “measurement” language in verse 18, “the breadth and length and height and depth.”

In summary, Paul prays that the Ephesians might be strengthened to expand their comprehension of the “inexhaustible” dimensions of God’s character. And those divine attributes transcend the bounds of the human mind to fully capture, as the reference in verse 19 to one of those attributes openly declares, “the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (NASB).

In conclusion, the “glory of God,” His self-revealed essence, can be observed throughout the prayer. Verses 16 begins the theme and verse 21 ends it with its reference to “[the self-revelation of God] in the Church.” The “divine nature” should be evidenced within the individual as seen in verse 17, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” and in the corporate body of the Church as prayed for in verse 19, “that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Note the “measurement” concepts and their relationship to Ephesians 2:22, the Church as “a dwellingplace of God in the Spirit” (NASB).

Finally, the “inexhaustible riches” of God’s self-revelation asserts itself also in verse 20, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us . . . ” (NASB). The overriding focus in this prayer is on God’s glory, His self-revealed immensity. Unfortunately this focus recedes into a dimly-lit background in commentaries and sermons.

The primary practical application growing out of this prayer lies in the critical need for the people of God to expand their understanding of God’s greatness through diligent study of the Bible wherein He has revealed Himself. If this rings true, a final application question may be: Why are there so few Christians in Sunday School or adult education classes in evangelical churches where the Scriptures are taught? It would appear that Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers needs a fresh emphasis in 21st century American evangelicalism.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What a Difference “And” Makes!

Word Studies constitutes one of the most popular Bible interpretation processes. By “word studies” one usually means evaluating the historical meaning of words as it changes through time or at a particular juncture in time or both. Obviously the interpreter cannot do this for every word in the text so a choice must be made about which words need in depth study. However, at some level every word needs to be studied. Every word plays a role in the author’s communication. No word can be ignored or interpretive error will arrive unannounced and often unknowingly. Ephesians 3:18-19 illustrates the importance of every word, even the words most commonly neglected for in-depth analysis.

The essential verse portions from the New American Standard Bible and the flow of thought can be outlined accordingly with the conjunction “and” (τέ) inserted appropriately:

“that you, . . . 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and (τέ) to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge . . . .”

that you, . . . may be able
to comprehend [the dimensions of something]
and (τέ)
to know the love of Christ

The presence of “and” creates two parallel but separate infinitive complements for the verb translated “may be able” —parallel in that they both complete the meaning of the verb but separate in that each has a different direct object. The first infinitive, “to comprehend,” has as its object “what is the breadth and length and height and depth;” the second, “to know,” has “the love of Christ” as its object. If “and” were absent, the second infinitive could be understood as epexegetical or appositional, that is, further explaining or restating the first infinitive idea. This occurs in some English translations and popular theology.

Consider the International Standard Version, “you will be able to understand, along with all the saints, what is wide, long, high, and deep — 19 that is, you will know the love of Christ . . . .” By translating the conjunction τέ as an appositional conjunction and rendering it “that is,” verse 19a effectively restates verse 18.

The New International Version reads like this, “that you, . . . 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love . . . .” Without translating “and” as appositional, the NIV openly and periphrastically accomplishes the same transfer of meaning.

Notice the New King James Version, “that you . . . 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge . . . .” Here a different method of creating an English appositional interpretation occurs—by not translating the conjunction at all! As such it departs from the time-honored King James Version that does contain the conjunction “and.”

At this point two interpretation questions need to be asked. First, can τέ function appositionally and be translated “that is” or exhibit some other form of apposition? Second, what contextual data explains the measurement language serving as the object for the first infinitive if the “love of Christ” cannot represent that object?

With regards to the first question, neither Robertson (The Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 1179), nor Danker (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition, 993) include an appositional function for τέ (“and”). This appositional use, however, does exist for the most frequent Greek conjunction regularly used by Paul and commonly translated “and” (καί, see Robertson, 1181; Danker, 495). Consequently, if no other meaningful rational for the presence of τέ in the text can be established, the appositional use must be viewed as a last resort, and then only with serious reservations.

Concerning the second question, the measurement language of verse 18 may be referring to: (1) the dimensions of love, or (2) the measureable concept or concepts in the earlier portions of Paul’s prayer.

Regarding view (1), “love” occurs before and after the infinitive “to comprehend.” However, the mention of “love” in verse 17 clearly serves to set the spiritual basis for one’s ability “to comprehend” whatever verse 18 references. It does not serve as its object or explain the measureable concept. Also, and most importantly, the presence and use of the conjunction “and” (τέ) at verse 19 effectively separates “the love of Christ” as the sole measureable object of comprehension in verse 18. As Robertson further states, τέ (“and”) introduces “something additional, but in intimate relation with the preceding” (page 1179, italics mine)

This leaves view (2) to be developed. What constitutes “the breadth and length and height and depth” of which Paul speaks? A forthcoming posting will examine this phenomenal aspect of Paul’s prayer. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What Does “That” Mean?

Ephesians 3:14-19 records a prayer of Paul for the Ephesian Christians. In translating this prayer the English uses the ambiguous word that for the Greek conjunction ἵνα. This conjunction is ambiguous because it could introduce an object clause, a purpose clause, or a result clause. The interpretation of the overall prayer changes with the function of the conjunction. The issue at hand, therefore, is important.

Clearly the first that clause in verse 16 is an object clause of an implied verb for praying. Less clear the New International Version (NIV) adds the conjunction “and” and a verb of praying at verse 17. It also transposes the conjunction that from the beginning of verse 18 in the Greek text to the middle of verse 17. These changes make the second that clause also an object clause and a second prayer request. The use of that in the NIV at verse 19, however, remains ambiguous.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) maintains the same sequence of clauses as the NIV by adding “and” at verse 17 and transposing that from verse 18 into verse 17. The outcome of both the NIV and NASB translations creates two parallel object clauses and two petitions from verses 16-19a.

The final that clause at verse 19b remains ambiguous in the NIV where the translators inserted a dash, but the NASB appears to introduce a purpose clause at this point. The King James Version (KJV) translates ἵνα simply by that in all three occurrences.

For the knowledgeable Bible student, one indicator that a translator’s interpretation may be suspect is the felt need to supplement the translation by adding words or phrases that are not in the original text. In both the NIV and the NASB this has been the case here. A key interpretation question must be asked: Can the text be understood as is apart from adding words not found in the original text? If so, that translation must be given first interpretive priority.

The text as it stands makes good sense when all three that clauses are seen as object clauses. In addition, the second and third that clauses are not separate requests but can be understood as expansions or clarifications of the initial request of verse 16 by adding details. The asyndeton, that is, the absence of conjunctions in the Greek text such as “and,” supports this interpretation. Bullinger (Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 138) calls this “Explanatory, when [clauses] explain each other.” This can also be called epexegesis “where what is added is a working out and developing what has been said” (Bullinger, 398).

An interpretive paraphrase reads like this: “. . . that [God] would grant you to be strengthened with power according to the wealth of His glory . . . ; that is, that you may be able to comprehend . . . [the immensity of God] and to experience the love of Christ . . . ; that is, that you may be filled with the fullness of the divine being.” In this paraphrase the insertions of “that is” reflects one way in which English communicates appositional or explanatory statements. Of the above-mentioned translations, the KJV is preferred in this passage.

To be sure, this interpretation of the sometimes ambiguous that (ἵνα) clauses is only one available option, but it does have the important advantages for the interpreter of (1) acknowledging the principle of authorial clarity—the writer wrote to be understood, (2) coherence—all elements fit together as is without requiring supplementation, and (3) implementation of the logical principle of “Occam’s Razor”—The translation/interpretation that requires the least number of hypotheses for a view to become viable is most likely to be correct. Ephesians 3:14-19 develops Paul’s prayer using three interrelated object clauses, and the driving focus of the prayer is that the Ephesian Christians would be filled “to all the fullness of God.”

Friday, April 30, 2010

Blessed Togetherness!

Psalm 133 is an ascent psalm to be sung while going up to Jerusalem at the three required yearly festivals designated in the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Refusal to make the pilgrimage invited national disaster; obedience resulted in national blessing. Verse 1 is vital to a correct interpretation of this Psalm.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (New International Version, NIV)

Two Hebrew terms in this verse are not translated by the NIV, הנּה and גּם. These words affect the interpretation of the Psalm and its application.

The Hebrew interjection “behold!” (הנּה) makes an important point—it draws the hearers’ attention to the coming statement much like pointing a finger (Harris, Archer, Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 220, TWOT; The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 243, BDB). The NIV’s exclamation point may be an attempt to reflect the Hebrew term, but it does not exactly parallel it. The English exclamation point focuses the hearer primarily on the emotion tied to the statement whereas the Hebrew word focuses the hearer primarily on the content and secondarily on the emotion. This is an important interpretive element in the text.

The adverb גּם is also critical to the interpretation. Syntactically it represents an addition and is to be translated also or even (BDB, 168-69; Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 61-62). The adverb coupled to the following noun (יחד) focuses the covenant idea of physical togetherness at the required festivals. Individual worship is good but the divine mandate requires community worship. As the pilgrims see the community gathered in obedience to the divine law, they can take courage. The nation is living in obedience to God and, therefore, in a position to experience His covenant blessings (cp. verse 3b).

Finally, the translations would do better to rephrase the term unity as well since the Hebrew word יחד means “together, of community in action, place, or time” (BDB, 402; TWOT, 859; Holladay, Lexicon, 132). The ethical concept of unity so prominent in the English word is not the primary Hebrew idea in יחד if it exists at all. A paraphrase which captures the full force of verses 1 and 6 reads like this:

“Look! How good and how pleasant it is when the nation gathers at the designated place and time in obedience to God’s Covenant requirement.

Because there and then Yahweh has commanded the Covenant blessing.”

The illustrations in verses 2-3a highlight community togetherness and portray promised spiritual and national blessings.

This interpretation of the Psalm contradicts the typical ethical-oriented sermonic application—“Let’s all get along!” As a message for a congregation in conflict Romans 12:18 fits the situation with greater clarity and directness, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (New American Standard Bible, NASB).

The application growing out of this Psalm as interpreted, however, focuses on a different peril—a lack of commitment to the Christian community demonstrated by absenteeism in church. Hebrews 10:24-25a represents a New Testament parallel to Psalm 133, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (NASB). This divine command cannot be obeyed by absenteeism.

Of the two application directions Psalm 133 can take, ethical unity or togetherness, the latter represents the Hebrew text best and provides a necessary community-oriented activity for accomplishing the former! May there be “Blessed Togetherness!”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Big Ideas in Small Words

The Greek grammarian A.T. Robertson wrote, “All language was originally pictographic. The picture was first seen and then the effort was made to describe it . . . . Prepositions are essentially words of location employed to help out the meaning of the oblique cases . . . . One cannot afford to slur over the prepositions in the sentence if he wishes to understand the Greek New Testament” (The Minister and His Greek New Testament, page 43).

1 Timothy 1:19 suggests an intriguing picture using a preposition translated in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) as in regard to (περί). Grammatically, this preposition used with the objective (accusative) case primarily has spatial reference and is translated around. Although historically it began to take on a more general reference notion (i.e., NASB), in the New Testament period the spatial concept was still the most prominent function with the accusative. See Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition, pages 797-98. Since usage determines function the question needs to be asked, “Is a spatial idea possible here?”

The NASB translation of 1 Timothy 1:19 reads, “keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.” The interpretation takes a dramatic twist when the spatial concept is applied to the prepositional phrase and translated “around the faith” (περὶ τὴν πίστιν). In this instance the phrase expands the pictorial visualization of the maritime picture imbedded in the verb translated “shipwreck” (ἐναυάγησαν). “Faith” can represent a harbor into which the ship sails, but for safe passage the pilot must navigate around the obstacles that could sink the vessel. In the context of 1 Timothy, rejecting a good conscience is one of those obstacles.

The relative pronoun “which” (ἣν) grammatically identifies the conscience (συνείδησιν) as its antecedent. English translations frequently demonstrate difficulty in clearly defining the referent of pronouns. The New International Version is a case in point as Guthrie points out, “In the next clause, NIV has rejected these, but the Greek relative is singular and refers directly to conscience” (The Pastoral Epistles, 78, bold mine to point out the issue at hand).

Adding further data to strengthen this point, the chiastic development of the verse points to the same conclusion. Lund offers this definition, “Chiasmus (or chiasm) is a term based on the Greek letter chi (χ) which refers to an inverted parallelism or sequence of words or ideas in a phrase, sentence, or any larger literary unit” (Chiasmus in the New Testament, vii). Bullinger quotes Bengel who says that “its employment is never without some use: viz., in perceiving the ornament and in observing the force of the language; in understanding the true and full sense; in making clear the sound interpretation; in demonstrating the true and neat analysis of the sacred text” (Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, page 374). In 1 Timothy 1:19 the chiastic arrangement of words are: A = faith, B = conscience, B' = which (conscience), A' = faith. The composition adds emphasis to the central position the conscience plays in regards to the faith.

The pictorial representation in this verse stands out in bold relief when the preposition is given a spatial translation/interpretation. Those who reject a good conscience may founder in the harbor of faith. Guthrie comments again, “Since a nautical image is introduced it is possible that Paul is thinking of conscience as a stabilizing factor which when rejected renders the ship unstable” (Ibid.).

In this instance, the spatial concept not only makes good sense but adds drama to the imagery suggested by Paul’s expressive term “shipwreck.” Not infrequently in the Bible there are “Big Ideas in Small Words.”

Saturday, April 3, 2010

“Mirror, Mirror . . . “

If “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” it is too bad that so many Bible commentators and translators apparently see so little! This state of affairs probably exists because few scholars these days spend time in the original texts of the Bible—Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek. Too much time is spent reading and commenting on what people say about the Bible and too little time is given to reading and meditating on the primary source for the Bible.

Proverbs 9 exemplifies some “hidden” beauty. The author crafted this chapter from the standpoint of a “mirror reading” regarding two kinds of women. Verses 1-12 focus on the woman called “wisdom;” verses 13-18 on a “foolish woman” [כְּסִילוּת, Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 161; Armstrong, Busby, Carr, A Reader's Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 539, “stupidity”].

Repetitive verses in each section justify the “mirror” concept: verse 4 is repeated in verse 16; verse 3 replicates verse 14. Beyond simple repetition lie conceptual parallels as well. Wisdom invites the naïve to a meal (verse 5); the foolish woman likewise suggests the naïve eat her meal of stolen water and secretly-eaten bread (verse 17). Wisdom celebrates a long and happy life (verse 11); the foolish woman entertains death (verse 18). Sid S. Buzzell (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 923-25) outlines these parallels nicely. Though not as clear see also Duane A. Garrett in The New American Commentary: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 113-16.

The “transition point” between verses 1-12 and verses 13-18 signals most clearly and beautifully the “mirror reading” for those looking at the Hebrew text. The author has a clear expectation that the reader will compare and contrast the two women. The last word of verse 12 and the first word of verse 13 “leap off the page:” תשׂא/אשׁת. Fold the former word over the top of the latter to see the “mirror reading.” Artistic beauty in poetic composition reveals itself here! What a shame that so few students of the Bible ever see it!

The Bible is a work of art. Artistic achievement and beauty displays itself magnificently, but often only to the pathetically few who read it in the original languages. May Proverbs 9, and תשׂא/אשׁת in particular, be an incentive to search for other elements of beauty scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments. Numerous other “incentives” can be discovered in the preceding postings that began in 2008.

Friday, March 26, 2010

“Why Study Biblical Languages?” Redux!

A primary goal for studying the biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages is to demonstrate their necessity for understanding and appreciating the Bible in all of its original glory. For some, this will not be needed; for others, definitive proof will be required. These postings, that began on December 4, 2008, prove that a working knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek enhances one’s ability to “rightly divide the Word of truth.” Logic alone, however, can serve the same purpose. The following quotation is taken from The Expository Times:

“If the Bible is what we profess to believe it to be, it is worth the effort to read it in the original. One who made it his life’s work to interpret French literature, but who could only read it in English translation, would not be taken seriously; yet it is remarkable how many ministers of religion week by week expound a literature that they are unable to read save in translation!”

One essential and often-ignored fact must begin this discussion: The Bible is Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek literature; English is the means whereby the English-speaking world accesses it, and is, thereby, a secondary source for the Bible. Another undeniable truth is that every translation of the Bible is interpretation, and interpretations may be good or bad. Furthermore, it is impossible for any translation to transmit all that the original languages say because languages do not communicate in the same manner. Consequently, in evaluating translations one can only speak of varying degrees of loss, and no translation consistently maintains its degree of loss. Some passages are excellent; others less so.

These postings, at the very least, show how a working knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek can: (1) reveal truths unrecoverable by any translation, (2) clarify obscure passages of the English Bible, (3) open up new interpretive possibilities for understanding the text beyond those that the English translations offer, and (4) aid in evaluating between competing English translations/interpretations. Welcome again to the educational and exciting world of Biblical Languages and Bible Translations!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

“Why Should I Study Hebrew?” Answered!

The Scenario

Consider one example of why the study of Hebrew can save your image as a Bible teacher and possibly your Bible study group. Imagine yourself leading the home Bible study with members of your church and you ask someone to read Hosea 7:13:

Woe unto them! for they have fled from me: destruction unto them! because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me” (King James Version, KJV).

All is well until someone else notes that instead of reading though I have redeemed them (KJV), his New International Version (NIV) reads I long to redeem them. Then another member adds to the developing confusion, “Why does my version say ‘I would redeem them’” (New American Standard Bible, NASB)? It becomes instantly clear that you, the study leader, are asked to arbitrate between these different readings since the interpretation of this verse affects (1) the temporal context for the passage, (2) the interpretations attached to the differing times communicated by the versions, and (3) a practical application of the passage to those present.

The Solution

If you have a working grasp of Hebrew grammar and syntax you realize that the first issue involves the grammatical form and the meaning of the imperfect aspect of the word translated “redeem” (אֶפְדֵּם). The English past tense reading of the KJV reflects a Hebrew preterite, the imperfect verb form with the conjunction attached (technically called the waw consecutive) that focuses the time on the past. However, The Hebrew text does not contain this conjunction and therefore a modal aspect expressing the mood of the verb agrees better with the grammar, whether a mood of a desire as seen in the NIV or of a condition as found in the NASB. (For a brief review of the syntax and other options see Ronald J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline, 2nd edition, 33-34.)

The interpretation issue flows from the grammar and syntax analysis. The preterite reading of the text (KJV) refers the verse to the past salvation experience of Israel at the Red Sea. On the other hand, a modal translation reflects Israel’s present and future opportunity for God’s deliverance if they meet His requirements (NIV or NASB). In this latter sense, the verb פדה backs away from the soteriological (salvation-oriented) idea of “redeem” to the more general idea of “deliverance” (see Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 289).

Finally, a practical application you could present your group relates to the existing life situations instead of the past. God’s desire and ability to save from distressful circumstances should motivate one to be obedient to His requirements. You thus justify the NIV and NASB in this passage.

Of course, all of this depends upon your ability to read and interpret the Bible from the standpoint of the Hebrew text. Without this ability, you and your Bible study members float aimlessly on a sea of speculation and confusion. Unfortunately, you will not be alone!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Case of the “Hanging Nominative”

Designation defines the basic function of the nominative case in the Greek New Testament. It is most commonly thought of as the case of the subject. One rarely looks to the nominative to discover some important exegetical point. However, John 1:12 contains one such exegetical nuance discoverable in some translations but hidden in others.

John 1:12 in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) reads, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” The relative clause translated “as many as received Him” represents a nominative plural clause that should function as the subject of an independent clause. But another subject “He” is inserted in the following independent clause. The initial nominative clause is left hanging without a connection to the main clause.

The New International Version of this passage says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” It changes the initial subject nominative to an indirect object dative,” to all who received him.” This has the effect of eliminating the hanging nominative subject of the NASB and the Greek text.

Although it may be advantageous for readers of the English Bible not to encounter a hanging nominative, there are reasons why writers used them. One possible use is for emphasis or focus. Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 86, writes
Since the independent nominative [hanging nominative] is in sense, though not in grammar, linked to an element in another clause, this construction quite possibly is used to draw attention to an item in the main clause which would be otherwise overlooked. The independent nominative may also serve as a topic marker or shifter which does not become grammatically entangled in the main construction.

See also Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 52.

In John 1:12, the writer emphasizes that, although Jesus’ own people did not receive him, those who did could become children of God. The hanging nominative appears to have the rhetorical effect of focusing the readers on those who did believe. A translation that captures this is, “But as for those who did receive Him . . . .”

The interpreter must be careful when translating not to ignore or distort the emphasis in the original text since emphasis is a powerful medium of communication and interpretation. If it is possible to transfer such emphasis into the English translation, the translator is duty-bound to do so.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Job and His English Interpreters

Every now and then I come across a Bible verse where translations of English Bibles display remarkable and confusing contradictions. Job 13:15 represents a dramatic example. Notice the following:

“Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope” (Revised Standard Version, RSV)
“Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (New American Standard Bible, NASB)
“God might kill me, but I cannot wait.” (New Living Translation, NLT)
“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (New King James Version, NKJV)

Is Job’s statement a declaration of certain death, possible death, no hope, hope, impatience, unbelief? A variety of interpretation issues are involved in unraveling this apparently contradictory and confusing array of translation options. Syntax, word study, textual criticism, and context are necessary elements in deciphering Job’s exclamation.

The first issue to resolve is the textual problem to establish the most likely wording of the verse. The Hebrew text presents two options, one in the text itself and the other in the margin. The different choices create very different translations. The RSV and NLT translate the second clause in negative terms whereas the NASB and NKJV give positive readings. Obviously a textual decision needs to be made.

This textual problem involves similar sounds of the two readings, a common problem in the transmission of ancient manuscripts. The text contains the negative “not” (לא) while the margin substitutes a preposition with an appended personal pronoun (לוֹ). The Jewish editors of the Masoretic text, the preferred Old Testament manuscript used by scholars, placed in the margin what they considered to be the original reading. This reading is also found in the text of numerous other Old Testament manuscripts. The NASB and NKJV followed this ancient textual critical decision. The RSV and NLT chose to stay with the reading in the text. The present discussion accepts the marginal reading as original and the one that appears to accord best with the context.

Syntax refers to the relationships between words in a sentence and includes a variety of meanings for the different parts of speech (see Ronald J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline, for a review). In the above translations the verb in the initial clause communicates either a simple future idea (RSV), a concession (NASB, NKJV), or a possibility (NLT). In the second clause, the verbal idea is viewed as either an ongoing but uncompleted mental activity (RSV, NLT) or a simple future declaration (NASB, NKJV). Each of these interpretations is possible, but each cannot be correct.

The first word study issues involved the initial particle seen in the Hebrew text (הן). This could be a demonstrative interjection, “behold” (RSV), or a conjunction used in combination with a Hebrew verb (יקטל) to communicate a concession or a condition (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 243; John E. Hartley, The Book of Job, 221). The NASB and NKJV translators apparently chose this latter option. In contrast Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, p. 497, says that “the meaning see is no doubt preferable” in apparent agreement with the RSV. Again, both possibilities cannot be right.

The second word study matter concerns the Hebrew verb יחל translated as waiting (NLT), hoping (RSV, NASB) and trusting (NKJV). When this verb is followed by the preposition ל, “for,” as in this verse, the resultant meanings are “to wait for” or “to hope for” (see William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 133, and Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 403-04). In this instance, since there is a close semantic connection between “waiting” and “hoping,” the choice will depend upon how the context affects the sentence. The “trusting” terminology of the NKJV, though close in meaning to waiting or hoping, has a different perspective. The major dictionaries do not include this sense for the word used (see also Harris, Archer, Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, I, 373-74).

As in any interpretation, the context of the passage in question plays a determinate role in sifting through various options. Often one enters the realm of probabilities instead of certainties. The interpreter must now examine the context of Job 13:15 as a guide through the maze of syntax and word study differences.

Does the context suggest that Job expects God to kill him? It does not appear so. Job wants an opportunity to present his case before God and is convinced that he will be vindicated (verses 15 and 18). He may lose his case and be killed, but he firmly believes that he will be exonerated. Therefore, the probability appears greater that the NASB and NKJV with their “concession” statements should be given priority in interpretation.

Regarding the second syntax issue, the ongoing mental state of waiting/hoping or a future expectation, the broader context of verse 15 would point to a future idea. Job wants to present his case and wait for the verdict from God. The verdict will follow his defense; therefore, the future idea is more probable and so translated in the NASB and NKJV. (See Hartley, The Book of Job, 221-23, for a different interpretation of the context.)

The difference between “waiting” and “hoping” relates to the above tentative conclusion. If the resolution of Job’s contention with God follows his defense, “waiting” for the condemnation or vindication becomes the point at hand with “hoping” coming in as a weak second. Therefore, the NLT seems to “carry the day” in this matter.

In an attempt to capture all of the interpretive conclusions, the following translation is tentatively offered: "Though He may kill me, I will wait for Him." The English translation that most closely approximates this rendering is the New American Bible, “Slay me though he might, I will wait for him.”

Here is my paraphrased interpretation of the verse: “Although God might find me guilty and kill me after I make my defense, I will wait for His verdict, but I am confident that He will find me not guilty.” Such an interpretation coordinates well with the preceding desire on Job’s part to argue his case before God (verses 3 and 13) and with the following context where he knows that he will be vindicated (verse 18).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Entering into Old Testament Theology

“For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26, New American Standard Bible)

This segment of Peter’s sermon carries enormous historical importance. On the surface one could conclude that salvation is a product of right living with belief lurking somewhere in the background. However, from the perspective of early Judaism, Peter was not preaching to unbelievers but to believers, to Jews who live under the Mosaic Covenant and considered the people of God. Belief was assumed. The issue for the Jews was not encouragement to believe but exhortation to obey the divine mandates for righteous living.

For Jews as for Christians turning from one’s wicked ways is not a once-for-all decision but a regularly revisited response to God’s revealed will. The Greek text of Acts 3:26 clearly makes this assertion. The term translated “bless” (εὐλογοῦντα, “providing with benefits”) is a present active participle denoting a continuing activity of grace on the part of God. Also, the word “turning” (ἀποστρέφειν) is a present active infinitive with iterative force, “by periodically turning each of you from your wicked ways.” From the theological standpoint, this verse is a statement of sanctification not of initial salvation.

This interpretation can confuse those with a purely New Testament perspective on spiritual matters. The New Testament presents a highly individualistic theology. The Old Testament, on the other hand, revolves around “corporate solidarity,” the perspective that views corporate Israel largely as a saved entity (see H. Wheeler Robinson, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel for further discussion of this very important perspective). This means that most of the Old Testament speaks in terms consistent with how God deals with His redeemed people. Peter’s theological outlook in his Acts 3 sermon is essentially an Old Testament message and verse 26 is identified more with the Old Testament theology than the New.

From the viewpoint of grammatical/historical exegesis, Peter’s theology in Acts 3 must be interpreted in the clear light of 1st century Judaism before Christian preaching had distanced itself from its Jewish roots. As a practical application, both the Old and New Testament people of God lived and do live under the same mandate to “turn from [our] wicked ways” and live holy lives.