They found King David’s Palace! (Maybe)

mideast_israel_king_d_joneIn the last few weeks there have been a number of articles written about the discovery of King David’s palace and John D. Currid has added one more to the mix. He has written a short article about this discovery that highlights some common realities of archeology itself. In the world of archeology, it is common for archeologists to engage in speculation about the significance of a new discovery when there is very little physical evidence to support those speculations. Most archeologists make it clear when they have entered the realm of speculation but because their speculations often embody the most spectacular aspects of their discovery, it is the speculation that is most frequently reported. Often by the time these speculations have made it through a reporter’s filter, they often taken on the allure of true fact. When new discoveries are announced, we also hear from the critics in the field who raise their doubts about the legitimacy of any speculation, and sometimes even the legitimacy of the physical evidence itself. Frequently, the most ardent opposition comes from those automatically reject any claim that appears to support the narrative of Scripture. Some who work in the field of Ancient Near Eastern archeology have developed a strong an anti-Bible bias that colors almost everything they publish. For these scholars, overwhelming evidence is required before any discovery that supports the narrative of Scripture is acknowledged; and even in the light of overwhelming evidence they sometimes still refuse to acknowledge discoveries that give support to the biblical narrative. When a news of a new archeological discovery breaks, we are often find ourselves trying to filter between fact and fiction that comes to us from two opposing sources. Some of it is overly optimistic and some of it is overly pessimistic but rarely do we hear much about the middle ground and usually it is upon that middle ground where the truth can be found. John D. Currid’s article is one of the few that tries to find that middle ground and is worth a look.

 

Addendum:

Here is a good article written by Luke Chandler, one of the members of the excavation team at Khirbet Qeiyafa. It includes many of the details that are not covered in recent news articles and is a good source for those who want to know more about this particular discovery.

 

Psalms 127

11QPSa-col-IVA song of ascent[i] for Solomon

 

If the Lord does not build the house,

those who build it toil in vain.

If the Lord does not protect the city,

its guards watch over it in vain.

In vanity you rise up early and do not rest until it is late,

eating the bread of great toil.

Certainly the Lord gives his beloved sleep[ii].

 

Behold sons[iii] are an inheritance from the Lord;

the fruit of the belly is his reward.

Like arrows in the hand of the mighty warrior

are sons born in one’s youth.

Happy is the man with a full quiver

His sons will not be ashamed when, at the gate[iv], they speak[v] with his enemies.

 


[i] This Psalm is unique in that it is titled as a song of ascent but it doesn’t speak of a pilgrimage. The sense of the ascent in this Psalm may be in reference to ascending the steps of God’s house i.e. the temple built by Solomon. If so the progression of the Psalm begins with the building of God’s house and the protecting of the city and then moves to the building of a man’s house and the protection of his home.

[ii] Some of suggested that this might be better translated as the Lord provides while we sleep but that reading is difficult and it seems the sense being communicated is that we need not be anxious because the Lord will provide for our needs.

[iii] In Hebrew all nouns are masculine or feminine and masculine plural nouns are often used inclusively to refer to groups of mixed gender. In this example, the word בנים (sons) can refer to “sons” or it can refer to “children” i.e. a group of sons and daughters. It is the context alone that allows us to determine the intended meaning of the author. For example, if we read “You are to circumcise your sons on the eighth day,” it would be clear that the meaning referred only to male children. In this case, the meaning of the word is determined based on the context of the last verse. In ancient Israel, women had no legal rights to conduct official business nor were they permitted to fight in war. Because the last verse of this Psalm specifically addresses these roles, it makes it difficult to suggest that this instance had an original gender inclusive understanding. This is why versions like the 1984 NIV, NRSV, NET which almost always translate בנים (sons) as “children” have translated it as “sons” in this verse. It is important to note that lack of a reference to daughters in this verse does not suggest that daughters are any less valuable or any less of an inheritance or reward from God, it is simply not a topic that was addressed in this Psalm.

[iv] The city gate was the place were business and legal matters were conducted.

 
[v] This may be an instance of the rare verb (דבר ii)  meaning “destroy, drive away” rather than the common verb (דבר i) meaning “to speak”

 

Review: One Bible, Many Versions

onebiblemanyversionsMany of issues addressed in Dave Brunn’s new book are things that I wish every Christian knew about bible translation and at points I found myself almost cheering for Brunn as he began his explanation of the bible translation process. He does a wonderful job explaining many of the challenges bible translators face and masterfully demonstrates how similar answers to those challenges have often been chosen by translators who have embraced very different translation philosophies. Before reading Brunn’s book, I had already read several reviews which admittedly had shaped my expectations and so I was surprised to find that I was initially agreeing with him far more than I had anticipated. However, as I continued to read, I soon realized that my original expectations were not as far off as I had thought. While Brunn explores aspects of bible translation that I wish every Christian understood, too often he stops short in his explanations and leaves the reader with an impression that is not entirely accurate. I would like to explore some of the places were I believe Brunn’s explanation falls short.

 

The meaning or words

Brunn does an excellent job explaining how a single word in the biblical languages can have many different meanings in English, he explains how the meaning of words in different languages are almost never identical and how words used in translation seldom perfectly convey the meaning of the original language. One of the myths held by many Christians is that the bible they use is a  “word for word” translation and Brunn does an excellent job illustrating why a true “word for word” translation would be impossible to produce. Unfortunately, Brunn also significantly overstates the ambiguities that bible translators face when determining the meaning of a given Hebrew or Greek word. One of the ways in which these ambiguities are amplified in his book results from his failure to explain the difference between lexical meaning (the meaning of a word as defined in the dictionary) and actual meaning (the meaning of a word in real a sentence). In every language, grammar, context, and form almost always limit the meaning of a word to a small subset of the possible meanings found in the dictionary. For example, if we look at the lexical meaning of the English word “saw” we find multiple meanings.

saw – noun, a tool used for cutting; noun, a proverb; verb, to cut; verb (past tense of) to see; verb, to move back and forth.

But if I were to use this word in the following sentence:

“I saw a man using a saw to saw wood.”

I would find that each instance of the word “saw” in this sentence is limited to exactly one meaning. Grammar and context prevent any misunderstandings about what meaning was intended in each of the three specific instances where this word is used. While the lexical meaning of the word “saw” has at least five different possible meanings, the actual meaning of each instance of “saw” in this sentence has exactly one possible meaning. While context and grammar do not always eliminate all but one choice, as they did in this example, a word’s actual meaning is almost always limited to a small subset of its lexical meaning.

 

The limits of dynamic equivalency

After demonstrating why “word for word” translations are impossible, Brunn does a good job of showing why every translator must adopt a “meaning for meaning” methodology to some extent. However, he fails to adequately explain the boundaries that should constrain the translator. One of the stated translation goals of many English translations has been to leave interpretation, as much as possible, in the hands of the reader. By striving to interpret as little as possible, the translator avoids introducing his own sectarian biases into the text. Brunn rightly points out that in some circumstances this goal is truly unattainable (which is something every translators understands) but he then concludes, wrongly in my opinion, that if it can be shown that an interpretive choice must be made for the reader in any circumstance then it is acceptable to do so in every circumstance. Rather than cautioning the translator to avoid introducing their own interpretations into the text, he opens the door wide open for this practice with very little being said about practical boundaries. While I am sure that, in practice, Brunn recognizes that there are boundaries that should not be crossed, he does a very poor job communicating those boundaries in his book. To illustrate why it is important for a translator to avoid overly interpretive translations, I offer the following “translations” of Hebrews 6:4-6. The first interpreted according to Reformed theology and the second interpreted according to Arminian theology.

The Reformed version

It is impossible for those who appeared to have once been enlightened, who have pretended to taste the heavenly gift, who have fooled us into believing that they have shared in the Holy Spirit, who may even have themselves thought they had tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. (Heb 6:4-6)

The Arminian version

It is difficult for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who are now falling away, to be brought back to repentance. While they continue to rebel, they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. (Heb 6:4-6)

While these “translations” might legitimately reflect the interpretations offered in commentaries, neither of these “translations” belongs in any bible. Both of these translations are overly interpretive and resolve theological debates that are not resolved in the text itself. While either of these interpretations might reflect the meaning of the text as it is understood by the translator, offering either of these translations in a version of the bible would be crossing lines that should offend us all; it should offend us even if we happen to agree with the interpretation offered.

 

Philosophical differences

Brunn makes almost no mention of the philosophical differences related to understanding language itself that have shaped the different translation theories he explores. While it is true, as Brunn aptly demonstrates, that people who hold very different philosophies about language can come to the same conclusions about the meaning of a particular text, understanding those philosophical differences helps one understand why they frequently come to very different conclusions about meaning. At the heart of this difference are questions about the beginning of language itself i.e. did language originate with God and are there common ideas expressed through language that transcend culture or did language originate with man and is every idea constrained by the experiences of the culture and/or individual? Eugene Nida, considered the father of the Dynamic Equivalent translation theory holds strongly to the latter position. According to Nida, words do not have any inherent meaning, they are simply symbols used to communicate ideas and no two speakers associate the exact same ideas with the same symbols. Nida says that he does “not believe in truth apart from experience and cultural experience.” Here is an excerpt from Nida’s lecture where he attempts to explain the process of communication to his students.

“Now he [i.e. the source, or initiator of communication] has to, in order to express that, to communicate it, to select from his own background, mind you, he selects from his background, those particular symbols which to him best represent that experience and he then puts them together in the way in which he has learned to put them together.  Now this is a very important point because his use of symbols depends entirely upon his experience and background with those symbols.  No two people ever have the same background; therefore, no two people ever mean exactly the same by the same symbols!  This is discouraging for communication, isn’t it?  Nevertheless, this is really the way it operates and unless we’re aware of this fact we can get tied up in all kinds of misunderstandings.”, lecture that Nida gave in 1962.

And in a lecture at Asbury Theological Seminary in 1994, Nida suggests that there are no absolute truths that can be determined from Scripture. His position is typical of many evangelical postmodern theologians who accept the existence of an absolute truth but reject the idea that anyone other than God can know anything at all about that truth.The assumption is that if one does not have an infinitely perfect understanding of truth then they cannot have any assurance that anything they believe is true and because none of us can have infinite and perfect knowledge, we are all left without any hope of being able to determine truth at all. While Nida, in theory, affirms the existence of an absolute truth, in practice he leaves us with nothing more than theological and moral relativism. Here is an excerpt from his lecture at Asbury.

Yeah, but if you, you cannot define God how can you then have an absolute?  Only God himself is absolute.  I’ve had people say to me, “God couldn’t have done that because it’s contrary to Scripture” meaning, contrary to their interpretation of the Scriptures.  And God is the only absolute.  And once we try to get an absolute out of a variety of cultures we’re just kidding ourselves because all of those are contained within culture and therefore, every one of them is limited.  And if you’re going to put a bunch of limited things together you’re not going to come out with something that is unlimited – an absolute.  So, add up as many as you like.  But it’s not going to be completely supracultural.

I believe it is important to understand the philosophical assumptions held by the leading proponents of this translation theory and to understand how those assumptions have affected the underlying tenets of the theory itself. By recognizing the underlying philosophical assumptions, we can better understand why there are frequently very different choices made in translations produced by those who have adopted these principles compared to those who have not.The practical rejection of absolute truth combined with a belief that words are merely “symbols” that are associated with ideas only in the mind of the speaker/author has opened the door to translation practices that have begun to challenge Christian orthodoxy itself. The recent Turkish translation which translates “Father” as guardian and “Son of God” as “God’s representative” or the Malay translation that translates “Yahweh” as “Allah” are good examples of how far astray a translation can go when we accept the philosophical propositions that are foundational to the Dynamic Equivalent theory of translation. To be clear, I am not suggesting that everything encompassed in Dynamic Equivalent theory is itself wrong or that every translator who has adopted Dynamic Equivalent translation practices has accepted these underlying philosophical assumptions. Much of what is called Dynamic Equivalency today has been a part of translation for as long as their has been translation and, as Brunn points out, it would be impossible to translate without accepting the validity of some of these ideas. Unfortunately, he does not address any of the underlying philosophical questions that are wrapped up inside the modern theory of Dynamic Equivalency and that is where the biggest disagreements exist.

 

Are all versions equal?

One of the areas where Brunn and I most strongly agree is in regards to the wealth that English speakers posses because we have been so richly blessed by having access to so many good English bible translations. One of the questions I am frequently asked is “Do you need to know Hebrew and Greek in order to understand Scripture?” and my answer is always, absolutely not! Because there is such a wealth of bible translations available in English, English speakers can gain valuable insights into the text just by comparing a number of good English translations. Unfortunately, this is also where I think Brunn and I disagree most. Brunn leaves the impression that each translation is an equally valid representation of the original text and that is a proposition I do not accept. While I agree with Brunn that there is no such thing as a perfect translation and that each translation has its strengths and weaknesses. I also recognize that the original authors of Scripture intended to communicate specific meanings in the words they chose and a translation that communicates that intended meaning more accurately is better than one that does not. When two translations communicate very different meanings for the same text, at least one has miscommunicated the meaning intended by the author. By using multiple English translations, an English reader can more easily identify texts that presented challenges to the translators but this does not mean that an English reader should accept every meaning found in each bible translation as valid, rather these differences should indicate areas where more study is needed when seeking to understand the biblical text. When we compare multiple bible translations, we usually find that there is general agreement about the meaning of the text. When one version diverges from that general agreement far more frequently than do others, it should be treated with much more caution. If one version presents a very different meaning for a given passage in Scripture, then the translators of that version should be able to articulate a very strong objective argument that explains why so many other translators have misunderstood the text that they alone have understood. In the absence of that explanation, it is typically best to assume that the meaning conveyed by the majority of translations is the meaning the author intended.

One additional area where English speakers are truly blessed comes from the accountability translators face because there are so many English speakers that read the biblical languages. If the translator of an English version of the bible veers to far from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek texts, there will many people who understand these languages that will begin to raise the alarm. Unfortunately, people groups that have only one translation of the bible also seldom have this kind of accountability. There are seldom any text books available in these languages for students wishing to learn the biblical languages and even the translators themselves seldom have sufficient training in the biblical languages that would enable them to work directly from the original texts. Often the barriers preventing the kind of accountability we have for our English translations are almost insurmountable. When the translators of bibles intended for these remote people groups accept the underlying tenets of Dynamic Equivalent translation theories (as most have been taught to do) it sets up the perfect storm for potential abuses in translation with almost no accountability when a translator goes astray. Frightening translation choices, that would have raised alarms long ago if any English translator had ever attempted them, have survived almost completely undetected for many years in some languages. When comparing translation theories, I believe it is helpful to understand what is being produced in languages that lack the accountability that typically keeps the English language translator in check. There, more than in English, the fruit of each theory is revealed.

 

How accurate are Brunn’s examples

Most of the time Brunn’s examples are very accurate but occasionally his examples demonstrate his own misunderstanding of the biblical languages. For example, when he argues that the Hebrew word BRK means both “bless” and “curse,” he fails to recognize that there is much more involved in this example than just simply the meaning of the word; the challenges in this passage have been the subject of many articles in journals of the Biblical languages. Ironically, the verse he chooses to illustrate his point is the one verse (out of the four in the beginning of Job) where the meaning of “curse” is most frequently disputed by Hebrew scholars, some believe that Job’s wife may have gotten a “bad rap.” Sometimes his examples are a little bit of a reach. For example when he argues that one “word” in another language can often mean much more than an English word, he fails to mention that one “word” in many languages is frequently the equivalent of an entire phrase in English because pronouns, prepositions, verb conjugations, etc.. are prefixed, suffixed, and/or infixed together to form what appears to be one word to those who do not understand the language. Some of his examples really demonstrate the structural differences between languages rather than the idea that a single “word” in these languages really means much more than words do in English. On the whole, most of Brunn’s examples are very good and the most common difficulty arises from what he has not said rather than what he has said.

 

Conclusion

Brunn’s book has a wealth of good information that would be helpful to anyone wanting to understand more about the process of bible translation and it has an abundance of examples that help illustrate the points he is making. Unfortunately, his book overemphasizes the ambiguities that translators face and provides almost no information that describes how these issues are typically resolved. Because information about bible translation that would bring balance to the topic is frequently not discussed, this book often leaves the impression that the meaning of the original text is almost unknowable and that every attempted translation is equally valid. At times, Brunn hints at the idea that there are boundaries that translators should not cross but unfortunately he never really discusses these boundaries and ends up leaving the impression that, if these boundaries exist, the line is very, very blurry. I do wonder whether Brunn would accept the legitimacy of the translation practices of many who see his book as an endorsement of the troubling translation choices that have made?

Addendum 8/3/2013: After publishing my review, I have had the opportunity to dialog with David Brunn and he graciously answered many of the questions I have raised. His responses can be found here. I would encourage all to read his response. 


Notes:

  1. “Dynamic Equivalency” is an older term and most recent discussions about translation use the term “Functional Equivalency” in its place; however, “Dynamic Equivalency” is the term understood most easily by those who don’t frequently read about translation practices.
  2. Finding translators who are willing to invest their life learning the languages of the many people groups that do not yet have a bible, often under primitive conditions in remote locations is a huge task. Requiring these translators to also learn Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew would make this task nearly impossible. My statement about the lack of language skills was only a statement of fact and not itself a criticism. I am concerned about the methodology that is used by many of these translators because it does allow for a little too much latitude in translation and when combined with limited knowledge of the original languages and, as is too frequently the case, a limited understanding of Christian theology and history, it has opened the door to some very troubling translation practices.

Does it really all come down to “SEX?”

bratAsk three parents the question “Are boys easier to raise than girls?” and you will likely get three different answers. So who’s right?  They all are, they are simply recounting their own experiences and because every child is different, the experiences of their parents will be different too. However, if we ask a thousand parents that same question, it is likely that the trend will lean towards boys being the easier sex to raise. Christianity Today published an article by Courtney Reissig entitled “Why do we keep saying boys are easier?”  that explores this perception but, unfortunately, in this article she jumps to some very unwarranted conclusions. Courtney contends that by voicing the opinion that raising girls is more difficult, we are engaging in “anti-girl rhetoric” that portrays girls as being less valuable than boys. The premise of her article is based on several wrong assumptions that I would like to explore here.

Does equality require that everything be the same?

Our modern culture too often accepts the premise that equality is achieved only when the outcome is exactly the same. However, this is not the biblical picture of equality. God did not create us to be identical, he created us to be equal. Yes, there is a difference. He has gifted each one of us very differently (Ro. 12) so that together we can we can use our gifts and abilities to build each other up and support each other. But our value does not come from our gifts, or our abilities, or our sex, or our race, or anything else we see, our value comes from God alone and is a reflection of his love for us. It is this truth that is echoed in these words from our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  True equality never results from the pursuit of “sameness,” far too often the pursuit of “sameness” results in inequality and injustice.

Is being easier to raise equal to having higher value?

While Courtney rightly raises concerns about cultures where women have been, and continue to be, devalued, she wrongly assumes that anyone who suggests that raising girls is more difficult also believes that girls are less desirable and/or less valuable; the connection she makes here is entirely unwarranted. Some of the most difficult things in life are also things that are the most prized. Paul even describes the Christian life as being like one who endures difficult training in order to win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24-27); the difficult path is often the path we are compelled to take and not the one we should avoid. As a father of four girls and two boys, my own experience tells me that, in general, raising girls is a little more difficult. Even before puberty, the life of a girl can often be an emotional roller coaster with higher peaks and deeper valleys than experienced by most boys. A girl’s whole world can come crashing down in a matter of seconds because of an unkind word, an unmet expectation, etc… Girls tend to need more time to talk things through than do boys and almost always have much more to say about everything. They are at times more winsome and at other times more hurtful with their words, and they themselves are more easily hurt by the words of others, words that would hardly raise the eyebrow of the typical boy. However, this doesn’t mean that daughters are less valuable or less desirable, it just means that they are different (just as God intended them to be). God has blessed me with four daughters (and two sons) and there is not one I would trade in for another of the opposite sex. The reason that many say that raising girls is more difficult is because it, like many stereotypes, is generally true; however, raising girls is also a blessing that only a fool would trade away for a chance (by no means a guarantee) at an easier path.

Does it really all come down to “SEX?”

Courtney rightly rejects the “double standard” condoning sex outside of marriage for boys but rejecting it for girls but she is wrong about this being the core issue, it is not.  Many who believe that raising girls is often more difficult than raising boys are just as appalled with this kind of double standard as she is. The existence of this “double standard” is not the basis for their conclusions; it is not even a consideration. While it is true that dealing with an unplanned pregnancy will be more difficult with a daughter (even when the boy takes full responsibility), I personally can’t recall a parent ever suggesting that they would prefer to have a son because of this potential difficulty.

Raising girls, like raising boys, is a wonderful gift to be celebrated and enjoyed but it truly is different and recognizing those differences is not “anti-girl rhetoric.”  We can love and cherish our girls just as much as we love and cherish our boys without denying the realities involved in raising them. We do not need to pretend that the challenges are the same in order to prove that our love is the same.

The failure of the local church

“The best kept secret of mission agencies in our day—speaking ever so broadly–is that the mission force is less equipped for service than the people they serve.” Rollin Grams

Earth boyRollin Grams has written a good article (The loss of Mission)  that outlines some significant problems within evangelical missions today. Tragically, many of the issues he raises are spot on but relatively unknown to those in the churches that have funded these missionary endeavors for decades. Ultimately, the responsibility for many of the failures he outlines in this article lay solely at the feet of the local church which has, for far too long, closed its ears and eyes to problems that it needed to address decades ago. Many of these problems laid the foundation for for some of the most divisive and heartbreaking battles that have erupted within mission organizations in the last few years.  By ignoring these issues for so long, the church has allowed them to grow into the monsters that we are facing today. Here is an outline of the issues addressed in Rollin Grams’ article, it is an article every Christian should read!

  1. Denominations have, by and large, lost the vision for mission.
  2. Independent churches cannot hold the vision of mission by themselves—they cannot hold it intelligently, adequately, accurately, efficiently, or appropriately.
  3. Local churches have lost the vision for mission.
  4. Many churches think that overseas exposure trips are mission work.
  5. Many churches do not want to meet with their missionaries or get to know them well.
  6. Many churches like to collect missionaries like exotic, salt-water fish.
  7. Many churches like to define what the mission should be.
  8. Most mission agencies have lost the vision of mission.
  9. Missionaries have little understanding of the mission of the Church and little training to accomplish this mission.
  10. The approach to financing missions is disconnected to the mission of the Church.

It is time for each of us, as part of the body of Christ, to again become intimately involved with the missionaries we send. Only then will we begin to understand the tragic failures of the past and then hopefully, in repentance, we will seek to bring godly correction so that the Gospel message will not be hindered.

 

Psalm 125

11QPSa-col-IVA song of the ascent

 

Those who trust in the Lord are like the mountain of Zion,

It is not shaken, forever it stands[i].

As[ii] the mountains surround Jerusalem,

the Lord surrounds his people now and forevermore.

The rod[iii] of the wicked will not touch[iv] the inheritance of the righteous

Otherwise the righteous might reach towards iniquity.

The Lord will do good for those who do good and whose hearts’ are upright

But the Lord will lead away those turning[v] to their perversion with all[vi] who act wickedly.

Peace be on Israel.

 


[i] The word picture in Hebrew is of a mountain that sits forever but in English we think of something that endures as standing not sitting.

[ii] The word “as” is not in the Hebrew text but the comparison is implied.

[iii] Or scepter

[iv] Or “rest on”

[v] 11Qpsa   reads “crookedly YHWH will lead away all who act wickedly” (את כל פעלי און עקלקולות יוליכם יהוה).

[vi] 11Qpsa “with all acting wicked” (את כל פעלי און), MT (את פעלי האון).

Should We Expect Unbelievers to Act Like Christians?

This was a question that was debated in my own church before and after the 2008 elections. On the ballot that year were two significant initiatives i.e. Prop 4 which required parental consent for minors seeking an abortion and Prop 8 which was an amendment to the California constitution that defined marriage as union between one man and one woman. To the dismay of many, our church said very little about either of these propositions and did not take an official stand on either issue. The heart of the debate about how the church should respond to these initiatives was focused on questions about whether we should we expect unbelievers to act like Christians in regards to the moral issues addressed by these ballot initiatives. Russell D. Moore raises many of the same questions in his recent article that were raised in the discussions that ensued after the 2008 elections in my church. In seeking to answer these questions, he begins where I believe every Christian should begin i.e. by looking to the examples we have been given in Scripture.

 


Should We Expect Politicians to Act Like Christians?

Recently I was asked whether John the Baptist lost his head for expecting a lost politician to act like a Christian. John, you’ll remember, was executed for telling Herod that it was not lawful for the king to have his brother’s wife.

This is an important question, not simply for understanding the background of this particular text. Christians often shrug off questions of public ethics because we say, “Why should we expect lost people to act like Christians?” I once heard a prominent preacher say that it didn’t matter to him if his neighbors went to hell as prostitutes or as policemen; it only mattered that they were going to hell.

In one sense, this is a good impulse. After all, Jesus never acted shocked or appalled by the behavior of the lost people. Jesus spoke with gentleness to the lost sinners around him, but with severity at religious leaders, hiding their sin behind religiosity and using their positions to serve selfish interests.

And the apostle Paul wrote that he didn’t judge “outsiders” but instead that it is those “inside the church whom you are to judge” (1 Cor. 5:12). The gospel didn’t come to achieve a society of morally straight people unreconciled to Christ.

But, if all that’s true, why does John persist in calling out this obviously unregenerate political leader for his sexual behavior? John isn’t incidental to the biblical story. Jesus calls him the greatest of the prophets.

Obligation of a King

This wasn’t really a question of merely personal behavior by an outsider. Herod was clearly a pagan internally, but he held an office instituted by God, an office with obligations for obedience to God. The rulership over Israel, after all, wasn’t the equivalent of the queen of England or the president of the United States. Israel was a covenant nation of priests. The king was to be of the house of David, and he was to model the line of Christ.

In the same chapter of Deuteronomy that the apostle Paul quotes to speak of internal church discipline, the law lays out the qualifications for king. He shouldn’t use the office to serve his appetites for things or for sexual gratification (Deut. 17:17), but ought to meditate on the Word of God and act according to it “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left” (Deut. 17:20).

Not Merely Private Morality

This was a question of public justice, not merely of private morality. Herod’s sin was multifaceted. Yes, it was a private act of sexual immorality, taking as his own a woman he shouldn’t have. But Herod was acting not just as a man but as a ruler.

Herod, of course, was a puppet king, acting as a client of the Roman Empire. He couldn’t have provided what he offered in his sexually ignited boast of giving Herodias’s daughter “up to half my kingdom” (Mk. 6:23). Herod didn’t have the same power as David, but it was the same principle at work. David’s taking of Bathsheba was more than just an immoral use of his private parts, but an immoral use of his public office.

We can all see what this means, even apart from divine revelation. One of the good things the feminist movement has brought to us is the way we deal publicly now with sexual harassment. An employer who pressures an employee for sexual favors isn’t just an immoral person; he is misusing power. When the CEO sleeps with an intern, his offense isn’t just against God and his wife, but is also an unjust abuse of power.

In line with all the prophets before him, John spoke out against the powerful misusing their privilege to exploit the vulnerable. Think of Daniel telling Belshazzar that the “writing is on the wall” for his prideful kingdom’s fall or Isaiah speaking truth to power to those who “rob the poor” and “make the fatherless their prey” (Isa. 10:2). Think of, after John, Jesus’ brother James denouncing the landowners who exploit workers with unjust wages (Jas. 5:4-6).

Judging Outsiders

John risked his neck to speak on this question not just to Herod as king but also to Herod as a man. Paul doesn’t “judge” the pagan outsiders, that’s true. He means that there is no means of holding those outside the church to the accountability of church discipline. But the church can still discern between good and evil. Even as Paul calls out the sin of the church member in Corinth, he compares it to the moral climate of the “pagans” on the outside (1 Cor. 5:1).

Jesus deals gently with tax collectors and sinners. He doesn’t, as he does with the religious leaders, call them whitewashed tombs or turn over their market tables. But he doesn’t refuse to speak to their sin. When he meets the woman at the well, he isn’t shocked by her serial monogamy, but he doesn’t leave it unquestioned either. He asks her, “Where is your husband?”

Those outside the church aren’t our battlefield but our mission-field, that’s true. We shouldn’t rail against them as though they are somehow different than we are, apart from God’s mercy in Christ. But the gospel is to be pressed on all creatures, on every human conscience. And the gospel is a call not only to faith but also to repentance. God now “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed,” (Acts 17:31), Paul preached at Mars Hill.

We then speak to lost people not only of the historical truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and not only of his grace and mercy in receiving sinners. We also call them to turn from sin, and to agree with God that such sin is worthy of condemnation. Without this, there is no salvation. We speak then, as the apostle did to a pagan ruler, about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25).

Still Accountable

Our lost neighbors might be “pagan” in the sense that they are not part of the community of God, but they are still accountable before God. Their consciences are embedded with a law. John wasn’t the first to say to Herod that he couldn’t have his brother’s wife; this was hardly new information. Herod’s conscience already told him that much, and pointed him to his accountability on the day of judgment. John’s rebuke was an essential part of gospel preaching.

Christians often ping back and forth between extremes. The church of the last generation was often more concerned with a moral majority than with a gospel priority. In our attempt not to fall into that error, we could fall into an opposite, and just as dangerous, ditch. We could assume that all moral norms speak merely internally to the church, and we could fail to speak to unbelievers about such things. Such would be a refusal to love our neighbors, to warn them of what we will face at the judgment seat. But it would also be a refusal to preach the gospel. Without defining sin and justice, we cannot offer mercy. Guilty consciences don’t initially like those words. None of us did, at first. But that’s the mission we’ve been given. Some of us may wind up with our heads on silver platters. Jesus knows how to put heads back on.


Article by Russell D. Moore. He is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Originally posted on The Gospel Coalition Blog

 

Yahoo reveals the problems of inclusive language in bible translation (accidently).

gender neutral2An article published in Yahoo news last week (and the comments made by Yahoo’s readers) may shed more light on one of the biggest controversies in bible translation than most academic papers on this topic have so far been able to do. There has been a raging debate regarding the use of inclusive language (i.e. language that doesn’t identify gender) in bible translation for almost two decades. Some bible translations, like the TNIV, have adopted many of the same kinds of language choices that Washington state has now adopted, choices like replacing “mankind” with “humankind.” Similar choices have been made in translations like the NLT, NIV 2011, NIVI, CEB, etc… Translators of these versions suggest that “gendered language” is no longer understood by the general public and “inclusive language” must be used if we expect the general public to understand the bibles they read. At the time I read this article, there were nearly eight thousand comments on this yahoo news article made by those who represent a good cross section of the general public and hardly a comment could be found in support of the language changes being foisted on the people of Washington state. Rather than having bible translators tell us how the general public understands “gendered language,” maybe it is time for these bible translators to stop and listen to the opinions of the general public themselves.

Here is the article from Yahoo news:

Washington state gets rid of sexist language

In Washington state, the word “freshman” is out. And “first-year student” is in. In total, 40,000 words have been changed as part of an effort to rid state statutes of gender-biased language.The bill, signed into law earlier in the year by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, went into effect this week.

And it was no small task. “This was a much larger effort than I had envisioned. Mankind means man and woman,” Democratic state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle told Reuters.

“Fisherman” is now a “fisher.” “Penmanship” is called “handwriting.” And “manhole cover” is, well, still “manhole cover.” Some words don’t have an easy replacement.

Others do: “His” is now “his and hers.” “Clergyman” is now “clergy.” “Journeyman plumber” is now “journey-level plumber,” according to the Daily Mail.

According to Reuters, Washington is the fourth state to officially remove gender-biased language from the law. Others are Florida, North Carolina and Illinois. Nine other states are considering similar gender-neutral laws.

“Words matter,” Liz Watson, a National Women’s Law Center senior adviser, told Reuters. “This is important in changing hearts and minds.”

France recently officially banned the term “mademoiselle” from official documents. The Gallic term means “miss,” and French officials contended it forced women to acknowledge their marital status.

The French also bid adieu to “maiden name,” which they dismissed as “archaic.” They should know: Paris only recently got rid of a law that banned women from wearing pants.

And here is a representative sample of the comments to this article.

“This is a blatant and ridiculous violation of free speech, no matter how you spin it, guess we as Americans are losing both our freedom gradually, and our minds as well.”

“Oh man this is stupid!”

“This state just gets dumber by the day but my husband doesn’t want to move. I regret ever changing my residency to Washington State. Next they’ll come back and say that I cannot be called a wo-man just as most people here say humankind rather than mankind. It is beyond annoying and I am ready to go. This political correctness #$%$ is getting annoying”

“Are they on drugs? The price of gas is going up, unemployment at an all time high , 2 wars going on and a third on the way and this is how they spent their time. A scene from Nero and the fall of Rome”

“What a sad country we have become..Europe is laughing even harder”

“”freshman is out, first year student is in.” whew! it’s been a long hard struggle for justice. finally i’ll be able to sleep tonight”

“Didn’t Orwell predict in “1984” that language would eventually be used as a method of control by a repressive government? “Hate speech” “first year students” etc. etc. etc. When will the state publish the first “NewSpeak” dictionary? Big Brother is watching…and listening too.”

“How freaking stupid can you get? Damned PC BS is gonna sink the language to an abysmal depth!”

“What idiocy! So mankind is now just kind, I suppose?”

“The bill, signed into law earlier in the year by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, went into effect this week. Are they also going to rewrite the dictionary?”

“hmm… I never knew that penmanship was a gender specific word”

“What do we call manikins now? Stiff wooden person? That describes the people who come up with this political correct garbage.”

Next time you hear someone argue for the necessity of “inclusive language” in bible translation, it would be good to remember how the largely un-churched public reacts to attempts to force them to use “inclusive language” in everyday life.

 

A study in the Psalms

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psalms-11q5The Psalms are a beautiful and majestic testimony of the heart and soul of the ancient people of Israel and God’s never ending love for them but, in order to truly understand that testimony, we need to remember that these ancient people looked at life and understood language very differently than we do today. When we begin to understand the ways in which we see life differently, it allows us to begin to see these wonderful works of poetry through the eyes of the people who wrote them. One of the biggest differences we need to overcome is the tendency to focus on the details of each word. Our modern western languages have very robust vocabularies and there is often as much said by the words we have not used as there is in the words we have chosen to use. In order to really understand the works of modern writers, it is sometimes necessary to grasp minute differences in the meanings of the words they chose to use; however, the Ancient Hebrew writers were far less focused on the minute details in meaning of each word they used and if we he hear their words with our modern ear, we will likely “miss the forest for the trees.” For example, when a modern reader looks at Psalms 1:1 there is a tendency to see three different groups of people (or three different kinds of sin) described by the three different words used in this verse i.e. the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers but the Ancient Hebrew author did not choose these different words to distinguish between different groups (or different sins), he used this repetition to describe one group of wicked people.The ancient Hebrews were focused on communicating the beauty of the whole forest while we too often focus on each individual tree. When we study the Psalms, we need to remember to take a few steps back and not get so lost in the details that we fail to see the beauty and majesty of the whole picture these ancient authors have painted for us.

 

Index to the Psalms

 

Psalm 124

11QPSa-col-IVA song of the assent for David

 

If the Lord had not been for us ….

Let Israel say, if the Lord had had not been for us when men rose up against us

our lives would have been swallowed in their burning anger for us.

the flood waters would have overtaken us,

torrents of water would have passed over us.

raging waters would have passed over us

Bless the Lord who did not make us prey for their teeth.

Our souls were like a bird that escaped from the hunters net

The trap was broken and we escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord

Maker of heaven and earth