Christian Unity

Andrew Wilson published an article on the theology matters blog explaining why need to understand how to interpret the Bible properly and why principles of proper biblical interpretation are often ignored today. As Andrew points out, good men genuinely seeking to understand Scripture do frequently come to different conclusions about its interpretation in specific areas but those differences are far less significant than the general agreement that they all share. The Christian faith of godly Christian men throughout history is far more easily characterized by its unity than by its differences. When we begin interpreting the Bible by seeking to understand the message that the author intended, we end up arriving at amazingly similar conclusions. But when we begin by looking for the message we want to see in Scripture, even interpretations that are in opposition to the author’s intent become possible. In the latter case, it is no longer God’s inspired word that is authoritative in our lives; when we ignore the authors intent, we have deluded ourselves into believing that we alone decide what is good and what is evil and we have believed Satan’s lie that we too can become like God. (Ge. 3:5)

If you would like to read Andrew Wilson’s article, it can be found here.

A biblical and scientific Adam

adam0518As the battle between Darwinism and the Bible rages, some evangelicals have backed away from maintaining that Adam and Eve were real, historical individuals created in the way Genesis 2 relates. In a just-published article from the Westminster Theological Journal, Westminster Theological Seminary professor Vern Poythress brilliantly explains why such a surrender is wrong biblically and scientifically. Poythress, with both a Th.D. and a Harvard Ph.D. in mathematics, is well-positioned to write about both theology and evolutionary theory.

Adam versus claims from genetics

Did Adam and Eve exist? Does science say otherwise? The human genome project has produced voluminous data about the information contained in human DNA. Various news media and scientists tell us that this information demonstrates our ape ancestry. How do we evaluate these claims? Evaluation is important for theological reasons. As the claims based on genetics have mounted, the theological discussion about Adam has heated up. From people with biblical and theological training we hear the argument that we must revise our understanding of the Bible and theology because we have to accept that evolution is an established fact.[1] In response, we hear the opposing argument that the Bible and theology call on us to retain the conviction that Adam was a historical individual whose fall into sin resulted in guilt and sin for all his descendants.[2] On both sides, people with training in biblical studies have understandably avoided discussing in detail the character of the scientific claims, and yet these have obviously greatly influenced the side that has abandoned the traditional understanding of Adam.[3] It is important to undertake a theologically informed evaluation of claims coming from genetics.

We cannot within a short compass examine all the claims and all the evidence in detail. But we can summarize some of the main points, and direct readers to more extensive information.

I. Ninety-nine percent common DNA

We may begin with a commonly cited statistic, the 99 percent identity between human DNA and chimp DNA. In 2005 the Cornell University News Service reported: “Chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor, and even today 99 percent of the two species’ DNA is identical.”[4] In 2010 the University of California at San Francisco News mentioned the same figure: “The genetic codes of chimps and humans are 99 percent identical.”[5] In 2005 the National Institutes of Health News reported, “Our closest living relatives share perfect identity with 96 percent of our DNA sequence.”[6]

But assessing these claims is more challenging than it may appear. Note that the NIH report mentions 96 percent instead of 99 percent. Why? The same NIH report also includes the figure of 99 percent further on in its description, so none of the figures is an error. It turns out that the 99 percent figure arises by using a number of restrictions: (1) ignore repetitive portions, (2) compare only sequences that can be aligned naturally with one another, and (3) consider only base-pair substitutions, not “indels” (see below).

Comparisons of this kind get technical, because there can be several kinds of correspondence and noncorrespondence between DNA strands. Let us lay out briefly some of the issues. At the level of molecular structure, DNA contains a “code” composed of four “letters,” namely, ACGT (the letters stand for four distinct bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine). The DNA code uses a particular sequence of letters, such as ATTGTTCTCGGC, to specify the exact sequence of amino acids that are to be used to construct a protein.[7] Human DNA and chimp DNA align when one finds the same sequence of letters in both kinds of DNA:

001adam.jpg

A variation is called a “substitution” when there is a different letter at some one point in the sequence:

002adam.jpg

(The T does not match the G in the middle of the sequence.) A variation is called an “indel” (short for insertion/deletion) when one of the sequences has extra letters:

03adam.jpg

If the comparison focuses only on substitutions within aligned protein-coding regions, the match is 99 percent. Indels constitute roughly a 3 percent difference in addition to the one percent for substitutions, leading to the figure of 96 percent offered by the NIH.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Does ‘Abba’ Mean ‘Daddy’?

The Gospel Coalition recently published a “fact check” article that attempts to answer this question. The article contains a lot of good information on this topic but unfortunately reaches its conclusion before fully exploring all of the questions that need to be asked. The article includes the opinion of some scholars but fails to describe the evidence they relied on to support their conclusions. Here are some additional questions that, in my opinion, should have been asked before coming to a conclusion:

1) How much did Hebrew influences affect how these Aramaic / Hebrew speakers understood this word?

While it is true that “abba” in Aramaic is the most frequently used form for “father” in almost every context, this form is an informal form in Hebrew; it is the form used by Hebrew speaking children. First century Palestinian Aramaic spoken by the Jewish people had very strong Hebrew influences and it is not uncommon to read Jewish writings from that time period that contain a mix of both Hebrew and Aramaic.

2) How much did the use of this form by small children affect how this word was understood?

While it is clear that the form “abba” was not exclusively used by children, it is almost certain that this is the form that would have been also used by children. It is very unlikely that this term would have been understood as excluding the idea of “daddy”

3) What was the reason that “abba” was transliterated into Greek in Mk 14:36, Ro. 8:5, Gal 4:6?

In all of these examples, the reason for this transliteration appears to be to emphasize the intimacy of the father/child relationship. A relationship that Jesus had with his father and a relationship that we enjoy because of our adoption into God’s family.

While I believe that the “fact check” article is correct in concluding that “abba” means more than just “daddy,” I believe they failed to consider that this is one aspect that the Aramaic speaking Jews of the 1st century would have understood.

*Notes:

  1. While “abba” was the primary way of communicating “father” in 1st century Palestinian Aramaic, the article is incorrect in asserting that it was the only way.
  2. Open syllables are more common than closed in the speech of young children, and in infant directed speech. (Child Phonology: Volume 1, Production, Volume 1, edited by Grace H. Yeni-Komshian, James F. Kavanagh, Charles A. Ferguson; Stressed and Word-Final Syllables in Infant-Directed Speech, Drema Dial Albin and Catharine H. Echols, University of Texas at Austin.)

 

 

 

 

Hidden in plain sight!

baby JesusThroughout history, Isaiah 9:6 has been considered Messianic in nature; however, its declaration that the Messiah would be called “wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace” has long challenged those who reject Jesus as the Messiah because it so accurately reflect the teaching about Jesus found in the New Testament. One of the most interesting translations of this verse is found in the translation produced by the Jewish Publication Society. It reads “For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Pele- joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom;” (Isa 9:6 JPS). Rather than dealing with the theological implications of these titles, they just stopped translating when they got to this part of the verse. Pele-Yoez-el-gibbor-abi-adi-sar-shalom are the Hebrew words themselves that convey these wonderful titles that describe our Messiah but, to those who do not read Hebrew, they are completely devoid of meaning. This is a good example of truth that is hidden in plain sight.

Confused about “with” in Hebrew

Some missiologists have claimed that Ge. 16:12 should be translated as “Ishmael is with everyone” but this demonstrates a serious misunderstanding regarding the usage of the prepositions ב and עם in Hebrew. While it is true that “with” can be a proper translation of the preposition ב, it is never valid to translate it with the sense that missiologists are suggesting should be conveyed in this passage. This relational understanding of “with” is not conveyed by the preposition  ב. If the author had wanted to convey this relational aspect of “with” he would have used the term עם instead. No popular translation agrees with this rendering of this verse because it requires one ascribe a meaning to the preposition ב that is invalid. Like many other choices being made in Muslim Idiom translations today, the driving force behind these translation changes is not based on new scholarship regarding our understanding of the biblical texts; the motivation for these translation changes is motivated by a desire to contextualize the text in accord with Islamic beliefs, unfortunately, even when these changes fundamentally alter the meaning of the text itself.

 

Background:

One of the most common grammatical mistakes among modern Hebrew speakers is confusing the prepositions עם and ב when trying to express the idea of “with.” In biblical Hebrew (and grammatically correct) Modern Hebrew these terms are not interchangeable. עם is used to express the relational aspects of “with” i.e. “I am walking with my wife” or the “The plate is with the cup on the table” but the prefix ב expresses the idea of “in” in phrases like “fruit with its seed in it,” “in a house or town,” or “at a place” or the idea of “with” when used with an understanding of “by means of” i.e. “to shoot an arrow with a bow” or “to cut a tree with an ax.”  In general, if you cannot substitute the phrase “by means of” for the preposition “with” in a translation, then it is likely an incorrect translation of the preposition ב.

As an example, the correct way to express “I wrote with a pencil” is “כתבתי בעפרון” but a common grammatical mistake would be to try and express this as “כתבתי עם עפרון”. Correctly translated the latter expresses the idea that “I wrote [something] and Iparon* who was there with me was also writing [something].” In Modern Hebrew there is often confusion over how these prepositions are distinguished from each other because Hebrew is not the first language of many modern Hebrew speakers. Modern Hebrew speakers often began speaking a first language other than Hebrew and other languages frequently have a semantic understanding of “with” that encompasses both meanings using a single word. The Biblical Hebrew writers, who were not influenced by these foreign languages, did not make this modern grammatical mistake.

*Note: Iparon is the transliteration of עפרון and “pencil” is the translation of עפרון. Proper names are typically transliterated, as it was in the translation I provided, and not translated.

 

While the NET bible notes and the NIDOTTE do not directly address the grammar of the preposition, their notes do provide some insights into the contextual issues that lay behind the translation of “against.”

NET bible notes:

36 sn A wild donkey of a man. The prophecy is not an insult. The wild donkey lived a solitary existence in the desert away from society. Ishmael would be free-roaming, strong, and like a bedouin; he would enjoy the freedom his mother sought.

37 tn Heb “His hand will be against everyone.” The “hand” by metonymy represents strength. His free-roaming life style would put him in conflict with those who follow social conventions. There would not be open warfare, only friction because of his antagonism to their way of life.

38 tn Heb “And the hand of everyone will be against him.”

NIDOTTE, vol 2, pg. 403:

“The metaphorical use of yad(hand) covers a wide range of the concept of “power.” In this respect there is no essential difference whether the word is related to God or humankind.”

Here is the phrase from Ge. 16:12 “ידו בכל ויד כל בו” very literally translated it is “his hand [is] in/against all and the hand of all [is] in/against him”

Here is how this phrase is translated in several different English versions:

his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him (Gen 16:12 ESV)

He will be hostile to everyone, and everyone will be hostile to him (Gen 16:12 NET)

his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him (Gen 16:12 NIV)

His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him (Gen 16:12 NASB)

with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him (Gen 16:12 NRSV)

His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him (Gen 16:12 NKJV)

God’s plural names

In Hebrew, a verb and its subject always match both in gender and number. One glaring exception to this rule is seen when certain nouns are referring to God. Elohim (אֱלֹהִים) and Adonai (אֲדֹנָי) are both plural nouns but when they refer to God they are almost always used with singular verb forms. The uniqueness of this grammatical feature (limited only to verses that speak of God and unknown in the languages of other ancient near eastern literature) leads many to believe this may have been one of the first glimpses God gave us of his triune nature. However, some scholars argue that this cannot be reflection of the plurality of the Godhead in the trinity because that concept was, as far as we know, unknown in the ancient near east; they suggest that this was merely an indication of “majesty” just like the royal “we” used many centuries later (a concept that was, as far as we know, also unknown in the Ancient Near East); others have suggest that this was a remnant left over from an earlier polytheistic understanding of God (an idea that cannot be reconciled with biblical inerrancy). Still other scholars recognize that God’s divine inspiration often allowed the authors of Scripture to describe ideas they did not fully understand. Additionally, one unique exception to this grammatical rule is found in Ge. 1:26; this verse begins with the singular verb+plural noun combination that is normally used when speaking of God but then dramatically changes into a grammatically correct plural in the remainder of the verse. The very dramatic change in this verse has generated much discussion throughout history about who the “we” is; the royal “we” explanation doesn’t appear to work well very well here. That being said, I think it is important to recognize that we truly do not know why this peculiar aspect of Hebrew grammar developed and, while curious, we have insufficient knowledge to make a dogmatic assertion about its association with the triune nature of God. It alone is not enough to “prove” his triune nature but it really is sufficient to make us stop and wonder.

 

Does the use of ברא (bara) in Genesis 1 prove ex-nihilo creation?

While I firmly believe that Scripture and science both support the idea of “ex nihilo” creation, I must reject the suggestion that the use of the Hebrew verb “bara” alone proves “ex nihilo” creation because the arguments advanced to support this proposal can be easily shown to be inaccurate. The arguments are:

1) “bara” is used only when God is creating something out of nothing.

2) “bara” is only used when God himself is the subject of the verb.

One of the strongest arguments against the idea that the Hebrew verb “bara” only conveys the idea of creating something “ex nihilo” can be found in the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1:27 the verb “bara” is used both to describe God’s creation of man in his image and to describe God’s creation of man as both male and female and this use of “bara” is repeated identically in Ge. 5:1-2 and Duet. 4:32. However, in Ge. 2:7 we are told that God created man, not “ex nihilo”, but from the dust of the earth, and in Ge. 2:21-22 we are told that God created woman, not “ex nihilo”, but from the rib of the man. Van Leeuwen notes that “The root br’, Genesis 1, or creation by the word cannot explicitly communicate a doctrine of creation ex nihilo” (Ref. NIDOTTE vol 1, page 732).

The strongest argument against the idea that “bara” is only used when God is the subject of the verb is seen in the verses in Scripture where a subject other than God is used with this verb. One could possibly make the argument that the verb is always used with God as the subject in the Old Testament Scriptures with a sense of “to create” as English speakers would understand that concept, but even this argument breaks down when we examine the relationship between usages where the verb is used with God as the subject and usages where men are the subject from a Semitic perspective. Westermann and F. Delitzsch note that “the semantic development from “cut” to “create” is a natural one. By “cutting,” a particular shape is given to an object, as it were, comes into being.” This kind of semantic development of Semitic roots is quite common and similar patterns of development can be seen a great number of Hebrew verbs. The following is one example where this verb is used in the OT and God is not the subject of the verb.

 

And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” (Jos 17:15 ESV)

  (Joshua 17:15) וַיֹּ֙אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֜ם יְהוֹשֻׁ֗עַ אִם־עַם־רַ֤ב אַתָּה֙ עֲלֵ֣ה לְךָ֣ הַיַּ֔עְרָה  וּבֵרֵאתָ֤ לְךָ֙ שָׁ֔ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ הַפְּרִזִּ֖י וְהָֽרְפָאִ֑ים כִּֽי־אָ֥ץ לְךָ֖ הַר־אֶפְרָֽיִם׃