Psalm 123

Ps123-11QPSa

a song of David for the accent[i]

 

It is to you that I carry my gaze[ii],

to the one who dwells[iii] in heaven.

As surely the eyes of servants look to the hands of their masters,

or the eyes of a servant girl look to the hand of the Lady of the house[iv],

We will direct our eyes to the Lord our God

in anticipation of his favor[v].

Lord be gracious to us, be gracious to us

because we have had our fill of contempt

Our souls cannot bear[vi] any more mockery from the arrogant,

or contempt from the prideful.

 


[i] 11QPSa attributes this Psalm to David “דויד למעלות[שיר ]”

[ii] Lit. “I carry my eyes”

[iii] The construct form of ישבי is grammatically difficult and, while treated as a singular in parallel to “you” from the first part of this verse, is plural in form. It likely reflects a copyist error because the form (היושב) in 11QPSa is grammatically correct.

[iv] Lit. “her Lady,” this is most frequently translated as “her mistress” but “mistress” has become increasingly understood in English as “the other woman” in an adulterous affair which is almost completely opposite in meaning to the word used here.

[v] Lit. “Thus our eyes to the Lord our God until he will show is favor on us.” This is a continuation of the thought begun in the prior verse i.e. as a servant or a maid looks to their employer as the source of their provision, we should eagerly expect that our God will provide for us.

[vi] Lit. “our souls have been greatly filled with it.”

10 Things Every Christian Should Know About Islam

Islam is a fast-growing religion, especially in the Western world. Christians increasingly need to be aware of Islam and, most importantly, how to engage its adherents with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here are 10 things I learned about Islam during my 20 years as a missionary in a Muslim-majority country.

1. “Muslim” and “Arab” are not the same thing.

“Muslim” is a religious term. A Muslim is someone who adheres to the religion of Islam. “Arab,” on the contrary, is an ethno-linguistic term. An Arab is a member of the people group who speak the Arabic language. It is true that Islam originated among the Arabs, and the Qur’an was written in Arabic. However, some Arabs have historically been part of the ancient orthodox Christian churches. On the other hand, Islam spread far beyond the Arab world, and today most Muslims are not Arabs. This includes the Turks, the Kurds, the Iranians, the Pakistanis, other South Asian Muslims, the Malaysians and the Indonesians, almost all of whom are Muslim but none of whom is Arab.

2. The word “Islam” means submission1.

A Muslim is someone who submits to God. The Islamic conception of who God is, and how he is to be worshiped and served, is based on the teaching of Muhammad. Thus the Islamic creed is: “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

3. There are two major denominations of Muslims.

The two major denominations of Muslims are Sunni and Shi’a. Sunnis are the vast majority, at 85 percent of all Muslims. The split occurred in the first generation after Muhammad’s death and was based on a dispute over who should succeed him as leader of the Islamic community.

4. Islamic theology could be summarized as belief in one God, his prophets, his books, his angels, his decrees, and the final judgment.

Islam teaches that humans are born spiritually neutral, perfectly capable of obeying God’s requirements completely, and that they remain this way even after they’ve personally sinned. The need of humanity, therefore, is not salvation but instruction; hence Islam has prophets, but no savior.

5. Islam teaches that Jesus was a great prophet.

Islam affirms that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he lived a sinless life, that he performed mighty miracles, and that he will come again at the end of history. It even calls him a word from God. However, it explicitly denies the deity of Christ and repudiates the title “Son of God” as blasphemous. It also (according to the majority view) denies he died on the cross, claiming that Jesus’ visage was imposed on someone else, who was then crucified, and that Jesus was taken up into heaven without tasting death. Islam explicitly denies the possibility of substitutionary atonement.

6. Islamic practice can be summarized by the Five Pillars of Islam.

These are composed of the confession of faith (“There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet”), prayer (the ritual prayers said in Arabic five times a day while facing Mecca and performing the prescribed set of bowings, kneeling, and prostrations), alms (taken as a tax in some officially Islamic countries), fasting (the lunar month of Ramadan, during which Muslim believers fast during daylight hours but can eat while it’s dark), and pilgrimage (the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, which every Muslim believer should make once in his or her lifetime).

7. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists.

In fact, normal Islamic religious law forbids the intentional killing of non-combatants in battle. It also forbids suicide. It’s a small minority view that allows these things, and it’s a small minority who engage in terrorist activities.

8. Muslims can be some of the friendliest, most hospitable people on earth.

They make great neighbors and great friends. No Christian should be afraid to build a relationship with a Muslim.

9. Muslims need salvation through Jesus Christ.

They are lost exactly like any other non-Christian—neither more nor less than anyone else. Furthermore, Muslims do come to faith in Jesus Christ. It usually takes time, and extended exposure to the Word of God and the lives of Christians, but more Muslims are coming to faith today than at any other point in history.

10. God loves Muslims, and so should we—even those few who are our enemies.

We should love them enough to befriend them, love them enough to make them welcome in our homes, and love them enough to share the gospel with them.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine and was republished at the Gospel Coalition.

Zane Pratt lived and worked for 20 years in Central Asia before returning briefly to the United States to teach at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife Catherine are currently in the process of returning to overseas service in Asia.

 


1.The word “Muslim” is derived from the common Semitic root S-L-M which means “completed, whole, intact.”  The idea that Muslim means “submitted” has recently become popular in missiological circles, especially those promoting “Insider” methodologies, but it is an idea that is not supported by evidence. More importantly, the etymology of a word does not dictate its common understanding in any language.  Etymology may give us hints about how a word is understood but understanding current usage is far more important when trying to understand the meaning of a word in contemporary culture. In our contemporary cultures, “Muslim” doesn’t mean “completed” or “submitted”; it is understood only as a designation for those who follow the Islamic religion. This is important to recognize because some missionaries today are suggesting that the name “Muslim” is religiously neutral and can be used as a designation for genuine followers of Christ.

Note: I have no reason to believe that Zane Pratt has accepted these “Insider” ideas about Muslims coming into the kingdom of God but the claim about the meaning of “Muslim” repeated in his article likely originated with other missionaries who do. While Zane was inaccurate on this point, overall, his article is an excellent presentation of the realities of Islam.

American arrested for preaching homosexuality is sin

“I was asked if I believe homosexuality is a sin. I was asked what portion of the Bible I was reading. I was asked that if a homosexual was hungry and walked up to me, would I give them something to eat.”

arrestedTony Miano, a retired deputy sheriff from Los Angeles County, Calif., was arrested in London, England, earlier this week for preaching on abstaining from sexual immorality, both heterosexual and homosexual, in downtown Wimbledon. He was found to be in violation of Public Order Act Section 5, for “using homophobic speech that could cause people anxiety, distress, alarm or insult,” Miano said in a YouTube video posted on Wednesday.

Preaching from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Miano spoke about sexual sins for 25 minutes before being cut off by Metropolitan Police officers who said that although preaching in itself is not an offense, the specific part of the Bible he was preaching from was interpreted as homophobic by the woman who called to complain.

Miano told police officers that he doesn’t hate homosexuals, and then reiterated that he was preaching about all forms of sexual immorality – lust, fornication and addiction to pornography. He said that he “loves homosexuals enough to bring them the truth of the Gospel.”

Read the rest of the article here

A full transcript of the police interview can be found here

 

Psalm 122

A song of the Ascent for David

 

Ps122-11Qpsa

11QPSa Col. III. Psalms 121:1-8, 122:1-9, 123-1-2

I was happy when they said to me

“we will go to the house of the Lord.”

Here we stand[i] at the gates of Jerusalem

(Jerusalem, a city built for fellowship[ii])

It was there that the tribes go up

the tribes of the Lord

As a testimony for Israel

they confess the Name of the Lord

There sits the seat of judgment,

the throne of the house of David[iii]

Ask for the peace of Jerusalem

those who love you will be at rest[iv]

There will be peace within your walls[v],

tranquility within your towers

For the sake of my brothers and my friends

I will declare peace in you

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God

I will seek what is good for you

 


[i] Lit. “our feet are standing…”

[ii] The phrase “יְרוּשָׁלִַ֥ם הַבְּנוּיָ֑ה כְּ֜עִ֗יר שֶׁחֻבְּרָה־לָּ֥הּ יַחְדָּֽו” is difficult to interpret. A literal translation would be “Jerusalem was built as a city united to it[self], together.” While a number of translations have understood this to be a physical description of Jerusalem, this does not seem to fit well with the context of this Psalm which seems much more focused on the intangible qualities of this city i.e. as a place that brings joy (vs.1), a place where the tribes of the Lord come and worship (vs. 4), a place of justice and of David’s throne (vs. 5), a place of peace and tranquility (vs. 6-8), a place of goodness (vs. 9). The verb חבר (joined/united) can refer to both people and things and the noun form of חבר means friend. There is a word play in the Psalms Misdrash draws out this relationship, it says this verse is describing a time “when all Israel will be friends” (עוד שהיא עושה כל ישראל חברים).  The LXX translation reads “Jerusalem is built as a city whose fellowship is complete.” Both of these sources suggest that the focus of this verse was much more upon the uniting of the people within Jerusalem’s walls than it was on the physical aspects of the city itself.  The NET translation notes suggest that this is “a reference to Jerusalem’s role as a city where people congregated for religious festivals and other civic occasions” or in other words a place of “fellowship” which seems far more fitting to the context of this Psalm.

[iii] In the MT “seat” is plural but it is singular in the 11Qpsa; unfortunately the singular or plural designation of the seat(s) of judgment cannot be determined in 11Qpsa because the text in near the margin was lost. In its singular form there is a strong picture of Jerusalem as the place where our final king, judge, and Messiah sits on his throne.

[iv] To be at rest (שלה) is used here synonymously with being at peace (שלום). This parallelism is again repeated in the following verse.

[v] The Hebrew word חיל can refer to a stronghold, like a walled city, the army that defends the city, or even the wealth of the city. In this usage, it refers to a place of strength paralleling the reference to the towers which are also a reference to a physical stronghold.

Is Allah the God of the Bible?

AllahIt is becoming increasingly common to hear Evangelical Christian missionaries suggest that “Allah” is the name we should be using for “God” in Islamic contexts and many bible translation organizations are now frequently using “Allah” in the translations they produce for Islamic contexts.  Because there has been so much misinformation from both those opposing and those supporting this practice, trying to evaluate this practice has often proved to be very difficult for those on the outside who are trying to understand this issue. The difficulty in evaluating the claims being made has often lead people without direct knowledge of the issues involved to simply defer to the “experts,” leaving the door open to some very troubling practices in the mission’s field today. It is my hope to bring some clarity to the questions surrounding this issue so that we can better understand when this is the right practice, when it is wrong, and when the answers are not as clear as we would like them to be. It is important to recognize that anyone who tells you that the practice of using ‘allah’ as the word for ‘god’ in the bible is always right or it is always wrong either does not himself understand the issues or he is being deceptive; the answers to these questions are not quite that simple. With that background I would like to evaluate the following common arguments used in this debate.

  1. Allah is a generic noun used to describe a divine being and is the proper word to use to describe God.
  2. Allah comes from the same root as Elohim in the bible and is the proper word to describe God.
  3. Allah was originally the name of the pagan moon God and should never be used in a bible translation; it is Satanic.

Is “allah” really a generic noun for divine being?

Missionaries who advocate using “allah” as the word for “God” in Islamic contexts tell us that the word “allah” is simply a noun used to describe a divine being just as the word “god” is a noun used to describe a divine being in English. These missionaries will point out that “allah” is the word used for “god” by Arabic speakers in most religious contexts including Christian contexts and just as we properly use the word “god” to describe the Hindu god, or Mormon god, or Buddhist god, etc…, those in Arabic speaking countries use “allah” in a very similar way. These claims are all true and these answers seemingly suggest that the claims made by these missionaries are valid. However, there are many more questions that still need to be asked before coming to that conclusion and if we stop here we will have made a tragic mistake.

In order to understand the real issues involved in this controversy, it is important to understand that there is almost zero concern by anyone with experience in Arabic cultures about the appropriate use of ‘allah’ in Arabic bible translations. Georges Houssney has been a vocal critic of missionaries and bible translators who have inappropriately used the word ‘allah’ in bible translations and yet the modern Arabic bible translations produced under his direction use the word ‘Allah’ for God. Obviously, this question is not “should ‘allah’ should be used in translations of the bible?,” the question is “when and where should it be used?” In an Arabic bible translation, ‘Allah’ is the appropriate word to use when translating the Greek word ‘theos’ (god), the Aramaic word ‘elah’ (god), or the Hebrew words ‘el, eloah, or elohim’ (god). However, in other languages, like Persian, Amharic, French, English, etc… the word ‘Allah’ is not a generic noun, it is a proper name. In these contexts, the name ‘Allah’ brings to mind only the deity of Islam.The Al-Kitab English translation of the bible demonstrates this issue quite well. In this translation, Duet. 6:4-5 is translated as 4Hear, Israel: Allah is our God, Allah is one: 5and you shall love Allah your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” In the original Hebrew text, ‘elohim’ is the generic noun used for ‘god’ and it is twice translated as the generic noun ‘God’ in the Al-Kitab translation but the proper name ‘Yahweh’ is translated as the proper name ‘Allah.’ Clearly the translator of the Al-Kitab understood that, in English, ‘Allah’ is a proper name and not a generic noun. His translation1 demonstrates that he believes that Allah (of the Qu’ran) and Yahweh (of Scripture) are one and the same and it is this point of confusion about Christian theology that we should be careful to avoid. As was done in the Al-Kitab, some missionaries are now proposing that we use ‘Allah’ in languages where there has already been a long history of bible translations that uses other words to describe God. Within these cultures, these new translations are raising as much alarm with the local churches there as would be raised in our own churches if we were given the ‘Al-Kitab’ version to use in our English speaking churches. Our Christian brothers and sisters are rightly concerned about these new ideas in bible translation and we who are funding much of this translation work should stop and hear their concerns.

 

Does Allah really come from the same root as Elohim?

Missionaries supportive of IM will often point out that the word “allah” is derived from the very same Semitic root as “elohim” (The word used for God in the Hebrew bible) and while this is correct, it is also misleading. Unfortunately, this too often becomes the bases for the claim that these are essentially the same word and therefore interchangeable and that is incorrect. Looking at the words for god in Arabic (“allah”), Aramaic (“Elah”), and Hebrew (“Eloah”) written in a Hebrew script it seemingly confirms that these are in fact the exact same word and it is easy to see how someone could be easily confused.

Here are all three words in Hebrew:

allah-elah-eloah

If you cannot tell the difference, you are not alone. Without knowing the vowels or the context even a native Hebrew speaker would not be able to tell these words apart; they are truly identical. However, that does not mean that a Hebrew speaker would be confused about which word is being used in daily speech. When we speak, we always include the vowels and when written with the vowel markings, the differences between these words is very easily discernible. See below:

allah-elah-eloah-pointed

While it is true that these words are derived from the same root, it is simply not true that they are understood the same way. A Hebrew speaker who hears the pronunciation “allah” will always assume that the speaker is referring to the Muslim god. Here is how “allah” is defined in Abraham Even Shoshan’s Hebrew dictionary (The Hebrew equivalent of Webster’s English dictionary):

Allah-milon-ivrit

This dictionary reference reveals two interesting facts. First, the word “allah” is understood specifically as the Muslim god by Hebrew speaking people despite its common root. Second, the word “elohim” is understood in Hebrew as a generic noun for “god/gods;” this form is used almost identically to the way ‘allah’ is used in Arabic. While both Arabic and Hebrew are Semitic languages that share a common root for the word “god,” in Hebrew “allah” is used only in reference to the Muslim “god” and “elohim” is used as a generic word for “god.” In Arabic we have the exact opposite situation; the word “elohim” is used only in reference to the Hebrew God and “allah” can be used to refer to any “god.” The idea that words derived from the same Semitic root are themselves the same cannot be supported when we examine how these words are used in real life situations.

 

Is ‘Allah’ really the name of a pagan moon god?

No, it is a word used in reference to many different deities (including a pagan moon god) in the same way that the English word ‘god’ can be used in reference to many different deities. In the title of this section the word ‘god’ is itself used in reference to a pagan moon god; however this does not mean that the word ‘god’ is the “name” of a pagan moon god any more than a similar use in Arabic confirms that ‘Allah’ is the “name” of a pagan moon god. Confusing proper names with generic nouns is something that is, unfortunately, frequently done in arguments presented by both sides and it is always wrong. On the other side, it is not uncommon to hear those proposing that we use ‘allah’ in Islamic contexts suggest that the Greek words ‘theos’ and ‘kurios’ were “names” of pagan gods, or the Germanic word ‘gott’ (from which the English word ‘god’ is derived) was the “name” of a pagan deity. Confusing proper names and generic nouns is one of the quickest ways to cause confusion because it is often difficult for those who do not understand these foreign languages to recognize the difference. Arguments, on both sides of this debate, that begin with the claim ” the word __fill-in-the-blank__ is the name of a pagan god” are almost always in error. When you hear these kinds of arguments it should cause the alarm bells to start ringing!

 

Another consideration

Sometimes ‘Allah’ has been used to translate words other than ‘god’ and that is always wrong. When it is used as a translation for words like ‘father’ it is the wrong word to use (even in Arabic translations) and is a reflection of serious compromise. Islam teaches that god has no familial relationships and some translators have attempted to resolve this conflicting claim between Islam and Christianity by replacing familial language in Scripture with alternative words that lack a familial understanding. In some cases, the word chosen for the translation of ‘father’ has been ‘Allah’ and this mistranslation obscures one of the most important truths in scripture i.e that God is our Father! Even in contexts where ‘Allah’ is the correct word to use for the translation of ‘god’, using ‘Allah’ to translate other words like ‘father,’ ‘lord,’ ‘Yahweh,’ etc… is never correct.

 

Sometimes the answer isn’t quite black and white

When a different cultures interact with one another it is common for one culture to adopt words from another. In English we use the words like ‘hors d’oeuvres’ (French), ‘angst’ (German), ‘pro bono’ (Latin), ‘tour’ (Hebrew), sometimes without even recognizing the foreignness of the word itself. Adopting words from other languages is an extremely common practice that affects every spoken language. In languages that have been heavily influenced by Arabic cultures this can create a situation where questions about the use of ‘allah’ are not nearly so easy to answer. For example, due to Arab influences, Turkish adopted many Arabic words including the Arabic word for God. Turkish was originally written in the Arabic Script and the very first bible translations were translated by Arabic speaking Muslims beginning in the 17th century; these translations were then used by Christians for centuries. These early translations used the word ‘allah’ for ‘god’ and its “Turkishized” plural ‘ililar2‘ for ‘gods.’ So while this was not a Semitic language, it had adopted this Semitic term and used it to describe many different deities. However, Turkish also has its own Turkish words for ‘god’ and ‘gods’ i.e. ‘tanri’ and ‘tanrilar’ and, because of the history of the Turkish language, modern translations of the Bible typically use these Turkish words for god. In the 1920’s and 30’s the president of Turkey instituted a series of language reforms in an attempt to create a pure Turkish language. As part of his reforms, he changed the Script used to write Turkish from its historical Arabic Script to its modern Latin Script. He prohibited the use of many Arabic loan words (including the word ‘allah’) and ordered that translations of religious texts like the Qur’an and Bible use the Turkish words for God. As a result, today in Turkey both ‘Allah’ and ‘Tanri’ are understood and used as generic and equivalent words for God. Because of this unusual linguistic history, it is not unusual or unreasonable for Christians in Turkey to use the word ‘Allah’ in reference to God but it is also not the only choice and it may not be the best choice to use in a modern bible translation. This is one of the few cases where there is a considerable amount of gray area to consider when trying to answer questions about the use of ‘allah’ in Christian ministry and/or Bible translation.

 

Concluding thoughts

While in some languages ‘Allah’ is the correct word to use when speaking about the God of Scripture, it is never correct to say that the god of Islam is the same as the God described in our Christian Scriptures. The picture of God presented in Islam is very different than the picture of God that is presented in our Scriptures and trying to harmonize these divergent ideas about who God is can only lead to confusion. So as we evaluate specific instances where ‘Allah’ is used in bible translation or Christian outreach, we need to be asking primarily whether this usage is likely to cause people to associate the God of Scriptures with the god of Islam? Because the stakes for misunderstanding who God is are so high, we need to be diligently ensuring that we and the missionaries we support are making good biblical choices in these areas and that takes a little bit of diligence on our part. Here are some questions we can ask that can help us understand whether using ‘allah’ as the word for ‘god’ is appropriate in the contexts that we, or our missionaries, are involved.

  • Is there and established history of bible translation in this language?
    • When there is already a history of bible translation in a particular culture, the words they have already chosen to describe God are the words that should typically be used. Alarm bells should be ringing when a translator chooses to ignore the traditional terminology used in existing bible translations.

     

  • How has the local Christian church received these new translations?
    • In many cases, the strongest objections to these new translations has come from the local Christian churches in the countries where these bibles have been produced. If local Christian churches are opposing these newer translations because they are concerned that the terminology being used has been chosen to harmonize Islam with Christianity, we too should be concerned. Too often our Christian brothers and sisters abroad have felt abandoned and powerless to intervene when our western missionaries have begun ministries and bible translation projects that use terms that have created confusion about the differences between Islam and Christianity. It, unfortunately, is becoming more frequent for missionaries to be working in opposition to the local church instead of working with them.

     

  • In the language of this culture is ‘Allah’ a generic noun or a proper name?
    • There are many questions that should be asked in order to make this determination. Are there other words for ‘god’ that are commonly used? What terms have religions other than Islam used? Is there a plural form of ‘Allah’ that can be used to describe ‘gods?’ If possible, ask a native speaker that does not have a stake in this debate because their understanding will almost be certainly better than the missionaries (on either side of the issue) that are not native speakers of the language. If the answers to these questions suggest that ‘Allah’ is a proper name, then it almost certainly is the wrong word to use for God in bible translation or Christian ministry.

     

 


Notes:

1. The Al-Kitab includes a translation of the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Qur’an.

2. As a result of the Turkish language reforms, the cultural understanding of ‘ililar’ as a plural form of ‘allah’ has been almost completely lost. It is found in old Turkish bible translations but this form is not used in modern Turkish.