Patrick’s goal is to provide Catholics with Scriptural evidence for the distinctively Catholic doctrines they hold. Given Patrick’s impressive resume, I expected to find well-reasoned arguments presented in his book “Where is that in the bible?”; however, that was not the case. Patrick begins his book by telling us an anecdotal story about a theological discussion he had with a couple of his protestant friends that forms the foundation for many of the arguments he later presents. He tells us that, as he discussed questions of biblical interpretation with his friends, he convinced them that many different interpretations were equally valid. Armed with this new understanding his friends soon abandoned their protestant faith and joined the Catholic church. The following is an excerpt from the story he tells:
“How can you be so sure that your particular interpretation of Scripture is accurate?” This question hung silently in the air between us for a moment.
Steve said, “Scripture is clear. We don’t have to worry that we don’t understand it. Its meaning is clear.”
“Is it? Are you certain you have the right interpretation?” I asked, eyebrows arched.
They nodded vigorously. So I used this exercise to show them why I as a Catholic look not just to Scripture alone, as they did, but also to the Church and its living Tradition of interpreting Scripture.
Let’s say someone wrote these words a hundred years ago: “I never said you stole money.” As Steve and Mike did, anyone you asked would say he understands the meaning of that sentence. Six short words, nothing complicated. But do you understand the meaning for sure? Perhaps the person who wrote it meant to say: “I never said you stole money.” Implying that someone else said it. Or maybe he meant: “I never said you stole money.” He thought it, he suspected it, but he never said it. Or, “I never said you stole money.” He said your neighbor did. Or, “I never said you stole money.” He meant that you lost the money, or you squandered it, or did something thing else with it he didn’t approve of- but you didn’t steal it.”
While Patrick’s story makes a good sound bite, it fails the most basic rule of hermeneutics i.e. a text must be understood within the context of the passage from which it was taken. Without context most small phrases can be understood in a wide variety of ways. In his example, he has simple demonstrated that taking words out of context can result in a gross misunderstanding of its intended meaning and this is something every scholar already acknowledges. The goal of good hermeneutics is to understand the intent of the author and that often requires hard work. It isn’t simply looking at a text and deciding the meaning you like best (eisegesis), it is digging in and searching for evidence that demonstrates what the author himself intended to say (exegesis). As an example, let’s see what happens when I take the words from the example that Patrick provided, i.e. “I never said you stole money,” and place them within a larger context.
“John allowed his friend Tom, who had been released from prison, to stay with him in his home as Tom began to rebuild his life. One day John came home, and upon seeing that money he had left on the dining room table was gone, he asked his friend about the missing money. In fear, Tom responded, saying “I didn’t steal it!” His friend replied, “My dear friend, I never said you stole money, I just wanted to know what had happened to it.”
Within the context of this passage, the phrase we just read becomes far less ambiguous because the context provides boundaries that limit the possible meanings from which we may choose. And even in this light, there is still much more context that we do not know; context encompasses much more than just the words on the page from which a phrase was taken, and the better we understand the whole context, the more clarity we will have in our understanding of what the author intended to say. The more we learn about the author, his intended audience, their culture, and the circumstances that prompted his words, the easier it becomes to understand his words as he intended them to be understood. While our understanding of the context is often incomplete, and this sometimes prevent us from identifying a single possible meaning, a good understanding of the context, even when incomplete, will always eliminate many wrong interpretations. Understanding any text, including the Bible, is not the free for all suggested by Patrick; there really are good tools we can use to provide boundaries that differentiate between valid interpretations and invalid ones, but it sometimes requires us to put in a little effort.
Let’s now take a look at some of the arguments that Patrick presents in his book. The first argument we will examine is his claim that Hebrew and Aramaic lack the vocabulary used to describe close relatives like “uncles” and “cousins.” Here is what he says:
“In Hebrew and Aramaic languages, as they were spoken at the time of Christ, there was no word for cousin or uncle or some other close relative. All close relatives were referred to simply as “brother” or “sister.” And though in Greek there are specific words for these relationships, it is quite reasonable to assume that the Greek word for brother (adelplios) was employed even in instances where it would be more precise to call someone a cousin or a nephew. This was because it reflected the culture’s use of the word brother in a wider sense.”
In reality, Hebrew does have a word for “uncle” and Aramaic has two. Additionally, both Hebrew and Aramaic describe a “cousin” as a “son of an uncle.” Here are some references from early Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts that demonstrate that these familial relationships could be described by words other than “brother” in all three languages.
או־דדו או בן־דדו (Lev. 25:49 Hebrew)
His uncle or the son of his uncle (i.e. cousin) [English Translation]
או אחבוהי או בר אחבוהי (Lev. 25:49 Aramaic Targums OT “commentary”)
His uncle or the son of his uncle (i.e. cousin) [English Translation].
או דדה או בר דדה (Lev. 25:49 Syriac [Aramaic OT])
His uncle or the son of his uncle (i.e. cousin) [English Translation]
ומרקוס בר דדה דברנבא (Col. 4:10 Peshitta [Aramaic NT])
And Mark is the son of Barnabas’ uncle (i.e. cousin) [English Translation]
Note also that the Greek also makes these relationships clear.
his father’s brother (i.e. uncle) and the son of his father’s brother (i.e. cousin) [English Translation]
Μᾶρκος ὁ ἀνεψιὸς Βαρναβᾶ (Col. 4:10 GNT)
Mark, the cousin of Barnabas [English Translation]
Contrary to the claim Patrick has made, if they wanted to speak of a relationship other than “brother,” the had the words to describe those relationships in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and they used them in other places in Scripture.
Patrick also makes the claim that if Scripture had intended to communicate that Jesus had siblings, the author would not have used the definite article “the,” suggesting that the use of the definite article proves that Jesus was an only child. Here is what he says:
“Scripture only refers to Christ as “the” son of Mary, but never as “a” son of Mary, which we would expect if there were other “sons” of Mary.”
Neither in Greek, nor in English, is there any expectation that using the definite article when speaking of a child precludes the possibility that other children existed, and examples we find in Scripture strongly contradict this proposal. For example, we recognize that the Apostle Peter’s brother was Andrew (Matt. 10:2) and yet Jesus says to Peter “You are Simon the son of John. (Jn. 1:42)” Jesus’ use of the definite article doesn’t leave us wondering whether Peter was an only child because we recognize that language doesn’t work that way. Furthermore, Patrick’s argument becomes especially weak when we realize that that there is only one reference to “son of Mary” found in Scripture (Mk. 6:3). In this light, Patrick’s argument is completely meaningless.
The vast majority of the “proofs” presented in Patrick’s book, mirror the two I have presented above. Many of his arguments crumble because they begin with a faulty foundation (as in the examples above). This is a book that will “speak to the choir” as they say, but it is uncompelling for anyone willing to examine his arguments with more than just a cursory glance.
There is a huge cultural chasm between our culture and the cultures of the Old Testament and that chasm is often presents obstacles as we seek to understand the text of Scripture. Translators of the OT face these obstacles in most passages of the OT as they try to communicate its words into English. To overcome these obstacle, translators look at ancient translations of the text, read ancient commentaries about the text, look at archeological evidence, look at variant texts, etc… to better understand the text they are trying to translate. And sometimes they are still left choosing between several possible alternatives. And even when meaning of a text is easily understood, it is still never as precise as our English translations of the text would make it appear. Biblical Hebrew uses a much smaller vocabulary (about 8000[i] words) than does English (about 1,000,000[ii] words). Furthermore, Old Testament Hebrew is a language that is rich with synonyms which further reduces its effective word count. To compensate for the much smaller vocabulary, most words in Biblical Hebrew have much broader ranges of meaning than do their English equivalents. For example, the same word in Hebrew can be translated “to carry, to lift, to support, to forgive, to marry, etc…” Additionally, there are far fewer verb tenses in Biblical Hebrew and they are much more fluid than they are in English. One of the challenges of Biblical Hebrew is trying to understand which verb tense was intended in a given text. For example, most translations of Hosea 1:10b read “And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God”.” Most people would be surprised to learn that the conjugated Hebrew verb for “it was said” and for “it shall be said” are identical in the Hebrew text. The change of tense was a choice made by the translator, and there is some debate about what tense was intended.[iii] The broad range of meaning of Hebrew words, and the fluid use of verb tenses are just a few of the challenges faced by biblical Hebrew scholars.
While Hebrew scholars often hold strong opinions about the intended meaning of the passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures, they also tend to approach scholarly debate with a lot of grace when challenging those who hold differing opinions because they also recognize how many questions are still unanswered. Understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of your own position is critical to honest debate. When looking at the Genesis account, these scholars recognize that many of the questions we have about how and when creation took place are simply not answered as neatly as we might desire and, while they often have strong opinions about how these passages should be understood, they recognize that there is room for an abundance of grace for those who have come to different conclusions. When Hebrew scholars, who have spent a lifetime studying the language of the OT, are unwilling to make the kind of dogmatic assertions that are being made by people who have not studied the language, it should be a red flag that something is wrong.
There are a many good questions that should be asked as we approach the biblical account of creation, and good arguments can be made for a number of answers to these questions. Unfortunately the goal of some “creation ministries” has not been to prove that their answers to these questions are the best answers, but rather to prove that they are the only answers. In pursuing this goal, these ministries have often presented extremely flawed arguments in an attempt to force the text of Scripture into their mold. The problem is not that their suggested interpretation of the biblical text is unreasonable; the problem is that far too much energy is being spent trying to prove that all other interpretations are unreasonable instead of honestly looking at the text itself and recognizing where there is room for honest disagreement. Sometimes these ministries have acted like an overzealous cop who so strongly believes his suspect is guilty that he is willing to cross ethical lines and manufacture evidence in order to gain a conviction of a man who may be innocent. When proving that all other explanations of the creation account are invalid becomes the goal, it can lead to an overzealous desire to convict those who interpret these passages differently of mishandling Scripture. Intentionally or not, their over zealousness has far too often been the catalyst for false accusations that have been leveled against brothers and sisters in Christ.
I would like to examine an article written by Answers in Genesis that demonstrates how easily ethical lines can be crossed when the goal becomes “proving” all other explanations are wrong. The primary question being raised in this article is “Are there gaps in the Genesis genealogies?” This is a good question and there are good biblical scholars who validly disagree on the answer to this question. Answers in Genesis takes the position that there are no gaps in the early genealogies of Genesis, and while their answer is an entirely reasonable explanation of the biblical text, it is not the only valid explanation of the text. Problems arise in their argument, not because of how they understand the text, but because they have over zealously tried to “prove” that all other explanations are invalid. The focus of AiG’s argument is based on how the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ (to begat) should be understood. Some Hebrew scholars do support AiG’s understanding of these early genealogies in Genesis, but none will support AiG’s suggestion about how the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ must be understood. While AiG’s proposal, if true, would preclude any other understanding of these genealogies, it is not a proposal supported by Hebrew scholarship and it marks the point where AiG has begun to cross an ethical line. In order to defend their position, AiG must move farther still beyond a line that they should have never crossed. Let’s take a look at AiG’s six arguments.
Arguments 1 and 3
The genealogical information given in Genesis 46 presents a serious problem for those who suggest that the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ (begat) can refer only to a direct descendant. In trying to defend this position, AiG tells us that “A person needs to read the quoted verse (Ge. 46:15) carefully to correctly understand its meaning. The begat (bare) refers to the sons born in Padanaram. Genesis 35:23 lists the six sons born in Padanaram (those whom Leah begat), who are listed as part of the total group of 33 children in Genesis 46:15. Thus, this passage confirms that begat points to the generation immediately following—a literal parent/child relationship.” There are several serious problems with this explanation.
First, no distinction is made between the six children that were direct descendants and the remaining twenty-seven given in the list. While the qualification “in Paddam-Aram” may indicate that, through the birth of these six children, ultimately Leah bore thirty three children, it is an inescapable conclusion that this usage of YaLaD (begat) refers to multiple generations. It is this kind of usage that many scholars believe may be intended in other early genealogies given in Genesis.
Second, this same pattern is repeated for Zipah (vs. 18), Rachel (vs. 22), and Bilah (vs. 25). In each of these for examples, a list of children and grandchildren is also provided, and then the total number is said to have been born to the woman whose name follows the list. However, in none of the remaining three examples is any qualifying location provided, further demonstrating the impossibility of the very imaginative interpretation suggested by AiG. AiG tells us that “nowhere is it stated that these four wives physically bore the total number of sons listed for each” but the whole point is that scholars see these as examples where the text is speaking of generational gaps, where the text speaks of both children and grandchildren that are born to these women, and the text is very clear on that point. Genesis 46:18 states that “she [Zilpah] bore to Jacob these sixteen persons (NASB)[iv]” but only two were her biological children, the rest were grandchildren or great grandchildren.
Third, this is not the only passage that uses the root YaLad (begat) in a way that indicates multiple generations. Duet. 4:25 tells us that “you will beget sons and sons of sons,” and in Ruth 4:17 were are told that “A son has been born to Naomi.” This son, we know from the narrative, was the direct descendant of Ruth and Boaz. Not only is there a generational gap, there wasn’t even a direct biological relationship between Naomi and Ruth and only a distant relationship between Naomi and Boaz.
AiG’s recognizes that there are skipped generations found in Mt. 1:8 and Mt. 1:11, but AiG tells us that “Here, the Greek word for begat is gennao, which shows flexibility not found in the Hebrew word and does allow for the possibility that a generation or more may be skipped.” Where did the idea that the Hebrew word ‘YaLaD’ is less flexible than the Greek word ‘gennao’ originate? It appears that this idea came solely from AiG. This implied limit to the semantic range of meaning for ‘YaLaD’ is not supported by any Hebrew reference lexicon, and AiG has not referenced the work of any Hebrew scholar that would support such a conclusion.
The Greek NT has been translated into a number of Semitic languages, like Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic. These languages share many common roots, and one frequently shared root is ‘YaLaD’ (to beget). When we examine translations of Mt. 1 in every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translation, we find that ‘YaLaD’ is consistently used to translate the verses with their known genealogical gaps. Some examples are Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut’s 14th century Hebrew translation[v], the Peshitta (an Aramaic 5th century translation)[vi], and the Van Dyke[vii]. If, as AiG contends, the root ‘YaLaD’ (begat) can never be used to refer to anyone other than a direct biological descendant, then we would expect that the translators of these Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translations of this biblical text would have recognized the problem and chosen other words to express the non-direct relationships found in this genealogy; they did not. The universal usage of this root in every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translation alone demonstrates the fallacy of this argument.
AiG tells us that “The Hebrew word yalad for begat is not used in the 1 Chronicles passage (1 Chronicles 7:23–27);” however, it is present[viii] in the very first verse of this passage.
In Luke 3:36, and in most copies of the LXX (ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew text) we have an additional generation that is not present in the Hebrew genealogies found in Ge. 11:12 or 1 Chr. 1:24. AiG contends that this was an error introduced into both the LXX and the text of Luke 3:36. They point to an early manuscript (P75) of Luke which does not contain the additional generation, and suggest that this was the original text and that all other copies reflect a corrupted text. While this, unlike the other arguments, is a possible explanation, it is far from certain.
Most scholars believe the genealogies that include Cainan reflect the original text of Luke and that the basis for Luke’s genealogy is found in the LXX. P75 was found in 1952, and many new English translations of Scripture have been published since its discovery i.e. the NIV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NLT, HCSB, etc…; to date, no translation committee has felt there was sufficient evidence to warrant changing our English translations and every new English translation still includes the name Cainan. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, scholars often presumed that differences between the LXX and the Hebrew text reflected either corruption or mistranslation of an original Hebrew text; however, the DSS have demonstrated that many of these differences were actually a reflection of previously unknown Hebrew variants[ix]. For this reason, scholars today have much more respect for the translation quality of the LXX than did scholars of a generation past. Because this additional generation is found in so many ancient manuscripts[x], many scholars believe that copies of Luke that include Cainan are more likely to represent the original text.
Additionally, witnesses to this genealogy also exist in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, and these witnesses add details that may provide grounds for understanding why Cainan was omitted from the Hebrew text. In the book of Jubilees[xi] we are told that Cainan the son of Arphaxad (and father of Shelah) found a cave with writings about astrology written by the “watchers who lived before the flood.” He copied the writing and then hid this from Noah because he was afraid of Noah’s response. This led to sin that apparently resulted Cainan being sent away. His involvement in astrology and subsequent expulsion may explain why his name was blotted out of the OT record. Additionally, mathematical analysis[xii] of both the Hebrew and Greek genealogies of the OT demonstrate that it is extremely unlikely that this additional generation was due to a simple transcription error because the numbers have been adjusted to provide the same numerical sums in the genealogies that contain this name as are provided in the genealogies that omit it. Whether the name Cainan was part of the original text of Luke is a much more difficult question to answer than AiG has suggested. Regardless of what one concludes regarding Luke’s genealogy, that decision should be made based solely on evaluating the evidences related to this passage. Attempting to use this passage to prove that the meaning of a Hebrew word should be limited is circular reasoning, and something to be avoided.
There is no reason to defend Harold Camping’s argument, so I will ignore it and focus on the errors in AiG’s response. AiG tells us that “These verbs use the hiphil form of the verb” and that the “Hiphil usually expresses the causative action of qal.” While both statements are true, AiG then leaps to the unwarranted conclusion that “God chose this form to make it absolutely clear that we understand that there are no missing generations in chapters 5 and 11 of Genesis. Any other Hebrew verb form would not have been nearly as emphatic as the hiphil form.” This is stated without providing references to any Hebrew scholarship that would support this conclusion, and there is no Hebrew reference lexicon that would suggest the hiphil form would limit the semantic range of meaning for this root in this way. While it is true that the hiphil form USUALLY expresses causative action, they have failed to recognize that the meaning of a verb is not always derived from its form; common usage must always take precedence in determining meaning. For example, if I say “I speak Hebrew[xiii]”, the piel (intensive) form of the verb is used; however, the meaning of this verb is just simple active even though the piel construction is used. There are many Hebrew verbs that “break the rules” when one considers the meaning that “should” be derived from its form. When we look at the interchangeability of the qal (light, active) and hiphil (causative, active) for the root ‘YaLaD’ (to begat) as it is used in the biblical text, we should recognize that caution must be exercised before deriving the meaning for this verb based on its form.
More importantly, AiG’s understanding of causative action is itself flawed. In biblical Hebrew, the causative form is frequently used to indicate the person who was the cause of an action even when that person was not the agent who did the action. When Scripture speaks of David bringing (hiphil) the shields of gold to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 18:7), it does not intend to convey the idea that David personally carried them to Jerusalem, but rather that he had his men bring them to Jerusalem. When it speaks of Solomon bringing (hiphil) the dedicated items into the Temple (2 Chr. 5:1), again the intent is not to convey the idea that Solomon literally carried these items himself, but rather that they were brought to the temple by others following his order. Similarly, when Scripture tells us that God brought disaster on Israel, most of the time that action was carried out by the men of other nations i.e. God was the cause of the action, but not the agent of that action. Additionally, it is clear that this verb can be used in the Hiphil form to indicate genealogical gaps. One of the best examples can be found in Duet. 4:25 which uses this exact form to say “for you will beget sons and sons of sons;” a statement that couldn’t more strongly indicate multiple generations.
Strong vigorous debate is an invaluable tool for learning only when we come to that debate willing to acknowledge the weakness of our own position and willing to hear the positions of those with whom we disagree. Some of the most valuable debates I have engaged in personally are the ones I have lost; they were valuable because loosing meant that I learned something that I had not known before. When we enter into a debate with the idea that winning is more important that learning, too often the result is that integrity is compromised in order to achieve that goal, and no one profits from that debate. It is time we stop coming to debates over Creation with the goal of winning, and start engaging in debates with the goal of truly learning from one another.
[i] Strong’s identifies 8674 Hebrew words, other sources vary slightly.
[ii] The number of words in the English language is: 1,025,109.8. This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor on January 1, 2014. The English Language passed the Million Word threshold on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 a.m. (GMT). The Millionth Word was the controversial ‘Web 2.0′. Currently there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day. Though GLM’s analysis was the subject of much controversy at the time, the recent Google/Harvard Study of the Current Number of Words in the English Language is 1,022,000. The number of words in the English language according to GLM now stands at: 1,025,109.8. The difference between the two analyses is .0121%, which is widely considered statistically insignificant. Google’s number, which is based on the counting of the words in the 15,000,000 English language books it has scanned into the ‘Google Corpus,’ mirrors GLM’s Analysis. GLM’s number is based upon its algorithmic methodologies, explication of which is available from its site.
[iii] Among Hebrew scholars there is a debate about whether the first instance should be translated as “it was said” or whether “it should be said” better communicates the intent of Hosea. The use of the perfect is primarily based on the translation of this text found in the LXX.
[viii] In 1 Chr. 7:23 (the very first verse from this passage) we read ‘וַתַּ֖הַר וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן’ (and she conceived and begat a son). In Hebrew, letters like ה,ו,י,נ are weak letters, and it frequently dropped when verbs containing them are conjugated. In the text from 1 Chr. 7:23 that I provided, both verbs contain weak letters and both verbs have dropped a letter in their conjugated form in this text. The root for ‘to conceive’ is הרה and the final ה is dropped when conjugated as ותהר, the root for ‘to begat’ is ילד and the י is dropped when the verb is conjugated as ותלד. The prefixed ת simply indicates that this is the 3rd person feminine singular imperfect.
[ix] Because the DSS are very fragmentary, every passage found in the LXX cannot be compared to an original text from the DSS collection; this is one example where we our comparison is still limited only to Hebrew manuscripts that centuries newer than the Greek texts of the LXX to which they are being compared.
[x] The NET bible notes that “the witnesses with this reading (or a variation of it( are substantial: א B L ¦1 33 )Καϊνάμ(, A Θ Ψ 0102 ¦13 Û (Καϊνάν, Kainan)”
Today I read a book review about Michael Cheshire’s new book “Why we eat our own” and then an article by Michael entitled “Going To Hell with Ted Haggard.” While both retell portions of Michael’s experience in dealing with the controversy surrounding his involvement with Ted Haggard there is a subtle difference in the tone of these articles that I believe makes a world of difference. I don’t know how accurately this review conveys the content of his book but, after reading this review, I had very mixed feelings about the premise of his book. Afterwards I read Michael’s article and I began to wonder how accurately the book review had conveyed the contents of his book. I truly hope that Michael’s article is the better reflection of the contents of his book.
The book review seems to suggest that leaders who have fallen into serious sin should retain their positions if they repent but the article acknowledges that Ted Haggard’s resignation was a proper step towards repentance; the latter is almost always the proper response. I cannot more enthusiastically agree with the premise of both articles that a person who has sinned and truly repented should be embraced by their church; this reflects the very heart of the gospel message. However, to suggest that leaders, who have fallen into sin, should keep their roles and responsibilities within the church is not biblical. While it is unquestionably true that churches in every age, like the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 2), have frequently mishandled situations after their members repented from sin, in our generation it has become increasingly vogue to accuse any church that dares to confront sin of being themselves sinfully judgmental and unloving and this is frequently a false accusation that is just as damaging and hurtful to the body of Christ. Too often we have mistakenly assumed that “forgiveness” means setting aside all consequences for past sin and we have forgotten that often the most loving thing a church can do, both for the sinner and for the church, is respond to sin within the body with appropriate and just consequences (like a loving father responds with correction to the sins of his children).
Yes, it is true that a repentant sinner should be both loved and embraced by their church but it does not follow that those who have fallen into sin should also continue in their prior positions and roles within the church. In many cases the process of restoration should bring them to a place where they can again serve in their prior roles at some time in the future but a church that fails to remove from leadership those who have fallen into serious sin (repentant or not) is not serving either the fallen leader or the church body. I think we all intuitively recognize that some sinful actions really do disqualify a person from certain areas of service in the church. We would not (I hope) again place a man who had molested a child in charge of our children’s ministry even if he had repented. Such a man should be loved and embraced by his church and be provided opportunities to serve within the church but his sin must disqualify him from some areas of service. If we take seriously the guidelines for leadership in the church given to us (1 Tim. 3), then we must recognize that leaving those who have fallen into serious sin in leadership positions is both unbiblical and potentially damaging to both the one who has sinned and the church body they serve.
Not having read Michael’s new book “Why we eat our own,” I cannot say where his book falls on this issue but it is my hope that it is much more in line with his article than it is with this book review. The difference between these two positions is subtle but it is an important difference that we should understand.
G. K. Chesterton said in his book “Orthodoxy” that:
“the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”
Chesterton well understood where Postmodernism was headed and his description of modern man’s inclination to doubt everything is exemplified in the Emergent church movement today. In Emergent circles it is common to have “question and response” sessions; “question and response” rather than “question and answer” because they believe that there are no absolute answers to any of life’s biggest questions. Rachel Held Evens, who has embraced this kind of postmodern theology, is rapidly becoming one of the most popular voices of the Emergent Church and over and over again in her writing she demonstrates the rebel against everything attitude that Chesterton described so well. Her new book, “A year of Biblical Womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on her roof, covering her head, and calling her husband master” is just one more example. It is rife with examples of poor biblical exegesis, false assumptions, and it appears frequently to be deliberately misleading but, like most of Rachel’s writings, she is consistent in her call to rebel against everything. Trillia Newbell has written an excellent review of Rachel Held Evans latest book and cites many examples from the book itself. She concludes with this thought “This book is not ultimately about manhood and womanhood, headship and submission, or the complementarian and egalitarian debate. At its root this book questions the validity of the Bible.” I believe she has hit the nail on the head.
This article was originally Posted at BPnews.net on Nov 25, 2013 | by Rob Phillips. The article contains a lot of very good information but I think it is important to note that the title “Chrislam” is a title that is typically used only by those who are opposed to the practices described in this article. Those missionaries that promote these practices typically use titles like “The insider Movement,” “Messianic Muslims,” or “Muslim followers of Messiah.”
Christians sharing the Gospel in Muslim-dominated countries take incredible risks. And converts from Islam to Christianity are routinely banished, imprisoned or murdered.
So, how do Christian missionaries teach Muslims about Jesus when Islam denies His deity and death on the cross? And how do new converts from Islam to Christianity worship Jesus without inviting severe persecution?
One attempt is “Chrislam,” the bringing together of Christianity and Islam. Proponents of Chrislam say that because the Qur’an mentions Jesus and affirms certain biblical teachings about Him, Christianity and Islam share at least some common ground.
They further argue that if Christians avoid the offensive term “Son of God” when referring to Jesus and, instead, emphasize His role as prophet rather than divine Savior, Muslims are more open to the Gospel. Once they come to faith in Christ, Muslims may continue to worship at a mosque, pray Muslim prayers and even partake in a pilgrimage to Mecca.
The motives behind Chrislam seem sincere. Believers want to be, like the apostle Paul, “all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). But the problem with Chrislam is that it strips away, or at least masks, the essentials of the Gospel, according to Joshua Lingel, Jeff Morton and Bill Nikides, editors of “Chrislam: How Missionaries are Promoting an Islamized Gospel.”
Their book is a well-researched challenge to so-called “Insider Movements” — Christian missionary efforts that to some extent embrace Chrislam. The premise of their book is that Insider Movements are not a viable strategy for evangelical missions to Muslims.
The authors provide both clarity to the issue of Chrislam and correction to a well-intentioned movement. Christians genuinely want to see Muslims come to faith in Christ. However, the Gospel has always been an offense, and it can be no less of an offense to Muslims than to the Jews and pagans of the apostles’ day.
And, to be sure, Christianity and Islam are incompatible. Consider the following:
First, Allah and Yahweh are different deities. Allah is unknowable and unapproachable; Yahweh is personal, knowable, and invites us to approach His throne of grace. Allah has never spoken directly to a human being; Yahweh has spoken to people throughout history and continues to do so today. Allah reveals his will but not himself; Yahweh reveals Himself in creation, conscience, the canon of Scripture, and Christ — the Word who became flesh (John 1:14).
Second, Muhammad denied the Trinity, the Fatherhood of God, the Sonship of Jesus, the deity of the Holy Spirit, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and many other Christian doctrines.
Third, Christians must not call themselves Muslims for the sake of evangelism. Islam defines a Muslim as one who submits to Allah and Muhammad.
Fourth, Christians must not encourage new converts to Christianity to call themselves Muslims, stay in a mosque, pray toward Mecca or travel there on a pilgrimage. These are religious practices that demonstrate submission to Allah. Rather, new converts should be urged to follow Christ and become part of a fellowship of Christians.
Fifth, Bible translations that deliberately mistranslate the Greek and Hebrew terms for Son, Son of God, Son of Man, or Father should not be used to evangelize Muslims.
Sixth, Christians should not use the Qur’an as scripture. While the Qur’an speaks of Jesus in many places, it teaches another Jesus, a different spirit and a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).
Finally, it is impossible for a person to be both a Christian and a Muslim. Despite an ever-growing trend toward syncretism — the belief that all is one — the Gospel stands apart as the only good news for sinful people, and Christ alone is sufficient for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The differences between Islam and Christianity as to the person and nature of God and his prophets — and what constitutes scripture — are vast and the similarities are few.
Rob Phillips is director of communications for the Missouri Baptist Convention with responsibility for leading MBC apologetics ministry in the state. This article first appeared in The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.org), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Phillips also is on the Web at www.oncedelivered.net.
In his book “In The Beginnings” Steven E. Dill presents his arguments for adopting the “Gap theory” interpretation of the Creation account given in Geneses 1. While I personally do not see the “Gap theory” as the best explanation for the account given in Genesis 1, my criticisms of Dill’s books are unrelated to my rejection of the Gap theory. There are good scholars that present reasonable arguments for the “Gap Theory” and while I would also disagree with their conclusions, I do respect their work. On the other hand, Dill’s book is one that I could not recommend. Dill rarely provides references for the claims he makes, some of which are quite absurd. He often tries to bolster his position by claiming that Hebrew scholars (frequently unidentified) do agree with him and yet he subsequently spends four pages (pages 128-131) trying to explain why all of the leading Hebrew scholars have misunderstood the text of Genesis 1 and why he (without any knowledge of the Hebrew language) was able to determine what they had failed to see. The suggestion is clear, if Hebrew scholars disagree with him, it is because they just didn’t understand the text, but if they do agree with his position then their status as Hebrew scholars adds credibility to his argument. It is a “heads I win, tails you lose” kind of argument. There are many factual errors in the text of this book (both scientific and linguistic). I have highlighted a few of the linguistic errors below.
Let’s take a look at some of the claims Dill makes:
Dill claims that some Hebrew scholars believe that “yom” when modified by a number ALWAYS refers to a literal day. The truth is that Hebrew scholars are divided on the question about whether the word “yom” in Genesis 1 refers to a literal 24 hour day or something else; however, no legitimate scholar would make the claim that every instance of “yom” when combined with a numerical modifier ALWAYS refers to a literal 24 hour day. They don’t make this claim because there are existent texts in both the OT and other Hebrew literature that demonstrate the fallacy of this claim.
“In my studies of the biblical account of creation, I have discovered that it doesn’t take much effort to find conflicting opinions among the scholars. There are Hebrew scholars who will agree with what I just said. They agree that when one of these numerical modifiers is added to YOWM, it always refers to a literal day.” pg 67
And he then continues with:
“How do I explain the fact that I think they [Hebrew scholars] are absolutely wonderful but absolutely wrong? I can only assume that they base their opinion on extra-biblical Hebrew writings. Apparently YOWM plus a number doesn’t have to mean a twenty-four hour day when you look at the entire history of the Hebrew language. While this may be true in other writings, I still insist that in the bible, YOWM plus a number always refers to a literal day”, pg 67
On page page 68 lists a number of verses beginning in which a number and the word ‘yom’ are used where he claims the meaning is a literal 24 hour day. A quick glance at his list revealed that he had included Zach. 14:7. However, Zach. 14:7 refers to an eschatological day that is unending i.e. this verse actually disproves the very thing he is trying to prove. I did not bother to check the rest of the list, so there may be other equally inaccurate citations included. Included below is the verse in question, in context, and a couple of other biblical references that refer to this same day. Additionally, I have included part of the description of this day given in the New American Commentary on Zachariah.
“On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost. It will be a unique day without daytime or nighttime–a day known to the LORD. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name”. Zec 14:6-9 NIV (a “unique day” is Lit. “yom echad” exactly as it is in Genesis 1:5)
“The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.”Isa 60:19-21 NIV
“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever”Rev 22:5 NIV
“The statement that this unique day will know neither “daytime nor nighttime” continues the thought from v.6 that there will no longer be any light. This absence of light, as stated above, does not necessarily suggest darkness. Rather, any light visible to the people would emanate from the Lord himself. More to the point, no longer would people mark time by the movement of the earth around d various heavenly bodies. The changes in physical phenomena that have delineated days since the very beginning of time could not possibly describe the scope of the changes the Lord will accomplish in his new creation.” New American Commentary, Zachariah.
When trying to describe the function of the conjunctive vav, Dill says that
“Genesis 1:2 begins with the Hebrew word WAW (Sometimes written as VAV)”, In The Beginnings, Steven E. Dill, pg 134.
Here, he did not even get the facts about the conjunction itself correct. The “vav” is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it is not a Hebrew word and the letter itself is used many different ways. In its use as a prefixed conjunction it most commonly carries a sense of “and”, but it can carry a sense of “or,” “but.” Additionally, it can mean “now” in a stylistic sense but not in a sense of immediacy i.e. in English we prefer not to begin sentences with the word “and” but this is quite common in Hebrew. English stylists will often exchange “and” for “now” in English translations to reflect better English style. Below I have included the Hebrew text of Ge. 1:2., beginning right to left, the first letter of the first word is the conjunctive vav, the second letter (also a prefix) is the definite article, and the last three letters form the word “eretz” (land, or earth). In other words, the first “word” of the text doesn’t read “and” it reads “and the earth”
“”The earth” pretty much means “the earth” as far as I can tell from the scholars.”
However, most scholars translate this as “the earth” not because the word generally means “the earth” (it doesn’t) but because it is part of the complete phrase “את השׁמים ואת הארץ” (the heavens and the earth). In this context it refers to the whole earth i.e. the globe on which we live. When these Hebrew words appear alone they are typically translated as “sky” and “land” and take on the expanded meaning of “the whole earth” only when the context itself demands.
On page 75 Dill states that:
“The creation account in Genesis cannot be subjected to twisted interpretations. “Night” always means “night.” “Morning” always means “morning.” “Evening” always means “evening”. All of these words refer to portions of the normal twenty-four [hour?] day.”
Unfortunately Dill didn’t bother even looking at a Hebrew lexicon before making this absurd claim. Even my pocket lexicon includes several definitions for בקר (translated as morning in Genesis 1) i.e. morning, morning-time, dawn; the next morning, tomorrow, early, soon, etc…, and a reference like HALOT provide a great deal more. In Hebrew, context and grammar must drive meaning because most Hebrew roots have a much broader semantic range than do the words used in English translation.
On page 184, he states that:
“Often a special Hebrew construction using the imperfect form of the verb asserts that something came to pass (cf. Gen. 1:7, 9). Less often, the construction is used with the perfect form of the verb to refer to something coming to pass in the future. (Isa. 7:18, 21; Hos. 2:16).”
The “special Hebrew construction” to which Dill refers is called a “vav consecutive” or “vav conversive” and it is frequently used (i.e. thousands of times) in OT narratives with both perfect and imperfect verb forms. When a conjunctive vav is prefixed to a verb (any verb not just HYH) in ancient Hebrew narratives, it changes the sense of that verb from the perfect to the imperfect or from the imperfect to the perfect. The vav consecutive demonstrates a continuance in the flow of the narrative rather and not a change to the action of the verb aside from the shift between perfect/imperfect or imperfect/perfect. The perfect and imperfect sense of Biblical Hebrew verbs very loosely correlates to our past and future verb tenses but should be thought of as complete (perfect) or incomplete (imperfect) actions rather than simple “past” and “future” actions. With or without the prefixed conjunction, biblical Hebrew verbs may be used to communicate a variety of perfect/imperfect tenses and context alone is what determines which tense is best used in translation.
The foundation of Dill’s argument is based on his interpretation of the Hebrew language of Genesis 1. However, Dill clearly does not read Hebrew and, throughout his book, he repeatedly demonstrates very significant misunderstandings of the Hebrew language. Unfortunately his misunderstandings of the Hebrew language frequently lead to grossly inaccurate conclusions. For those who do read Hebrew, this book will often leave you cringing. For example, the section headings for the days of Genesis (in great big bold letters) read “ECHAD YOM,” “SHENI YOM,” etc… (OUCH!). For those who don’t read Hebrew, these should have been “YOM ECHAD,” “YOM SHENI,” etc… This is the equivalent of writing Daymon, Daytues, etc… instead of Monday, Tuesday. If we saw this in a text, we would be pretty sure that the author didn’t speak English. There is very little that is said about the language that can be trusted. This is a book that provides very little value to anyone trying to understand the text of Genesis 1.
Many 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
The following is an excerpt of an interview published on the Gospel coalition website.
Sometimes there comes a book that changes the way we think and talk about a subject. That book generally pushes us into deeper fundamental understanding of a theme and helps us see from there the things we did not know or somehow missed. Such books stir fresh thought, fresh zeal, and renewed efforts to see and act in the world according to truth. We need a book to do that for us and to us because we’re so prone to settle into intellectual ruts and hand-me-down assumptions.
James White has given the thoughtful Christian a game-changer for Muslim-Christian dialogues about the Qur’an, the Bible, and our claims to truth. For too long, Christians have remained largely ignorant and even reluctant toward one of the world’s largest faiths. We no longer have reason for either ignorance or reluctance thanks to White. I know of no other introduction to the Qur’an and Islam that is as technically competent and easy to read as James White’s What Every Christian Should Know About the Qur’an. This book is my new go-to source and recommendation for anyone wanting a thorough introduction to the thought world of the Qur’an and the Muslims who revere it. For irenic, honest, charitable and careful discussion of the Qur’an, this is the best resource I know.
James deals extensively, charitably and clearly with the Qur’an itself. He’s not lobbing rhetorical grenades or wildly flinging accusations and half truths. He’s incisively investigating the history, theology, and transmission of the Qur’an in a way that’s accessible to any intelligent reader.
I had the privilege of sending James a few questions regarding the book. I hope you find this interview helpful and that you’re moved to buy and read this book.
1. You write, “I believe the best, weightiest, most useful refutation is the establishment of the truth of the gospel” (p. 9). Some apologists appear to think all the other arguments are the “best refutation” of Islam. Why and how does the gospel best establish the truth and refute error?
Islam came after the Gospel (despite Islamic belief otherwise), and includes as part of its teachings the rejection of the heart of the Gospel itself (the Person of Christ, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and hence the exclusivity of Jesus the Messiah as the sole means of peace with God). Hence, Islamic apologetics is first and foremost a “gospel” activity, and the goal of the Christian must always be to make sure the Gospel in all its glory and power and grace is made known to the Muslim who has almost never heard it with clarity. Further, given the position of Islam as the “last” revelation, surely the argument is properly made that the Qur’an’s understanding of the faiths it seeks to correct or refute must be accurate, as God is said to be the author of the Qur’an. But when we demonstrate error on the part of the Qur’an in reference to the Trinity, the deity of Christ, or the gospel, we are helping the Muslim to examine the claims of the Qur’an in an objective manner.
2. Must Christians be experts in the Qur’an in order to engage their Muslim neighbors and friends about the faith?
If a believer were to be ministering in an Islamic country, or even in places such as Dearborn, Michigan, a knowledge of the Qur’an at a certain level would be necessary to be effective in the long run, to be sure. The more we know about the presuppositions of those with whom we speak, about their worldview and language, the more effective communicators we will be. One surely does not have to be an “expert” on the Qur’an to engage their Muslim neighbors, but just as having read the Book of Mormon is a great advantage in witness to a Mormon, being able to show the Muslim that you have respected them enough to gather some knowledge of the Qur’an is a tremendous advantage. One of the great problems that exists between our communities is the fact that most Christians know very little about Islam and the Qur’an, and most Muslims know very little about Christianity and the Bible. Both go on what they have “heard,” and that body of hear-say is normally far from accurate, and can be a great hindrance in any meaningful dialogue.
When you say that your study caused you to realize that you had some sins to repent of, what type of things are you talking about?
As I reread the Gospel passages, Jesus’ words are much harsher than I remember. There’s a tone in some of the things that he said that are really difficult to stomach, and he says things in a way that I would not have.
Because we in America read certain passages over and over to the neglect of others, we start to believe that Jesus had a friendly tone all the time. And that there isn’t any wrath or anger or judgment. When you read it all like you are reading it for the first time, you walk away going, “Wow, he was pretty hardcore.”
Here’s what I had to repent of: I had felt the need to soften a lot of Jesus’ statements, because in my arrogance I think, “Okay Jesus, I’m not going to say that like that. Trust me, people will like you more and be more willing to accept you if I say it like this.” Obviously I’ve never said that to God. But that’s the attitude I’ve taken, and it made me sick. Who in the heck do I think I am? To think that I can make God more palatable or attractive if I try and change the tone in which he says some things. I know people say, “Well it’s just cultural this or that.” That’s garbage. People back then had a much deeper reverence for God than we do. Especially the religious community. Yet it’s to those people whom he speaks so harshly.
What in the world would he say to us today? I don’t think it’d be a softer message. I had to come before God and say, “Lord I feel sick.” And I confessed to Mark [Beuving, who edited the book] and Preston [Sprinkle, the coauthor] as we were working on the book, “I confess to you guys, I confess to the church, I know I have backed away from certain things because of my arrogance. I thought I could attract more people to Jesus by hiding certain things about him.” I had to confess my arrogance.