Friday, 16 December 2016

The Death of Christ - part 3

There are a couple more details I'd like to set straight. When I first saw Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion, I thought that he had overdone the bloody whipping scene, which is horrendous. Flesh literally flies off Jesus' back. As it turns out, Jesus may really have suffered like this. Think for a moment - why would Jesus die so quickly on the cross? Sometimes it took people days to die once crucified, for Jesus, it only took a few hours - even Pilate was surprised. Notice how in the whipping scene there are a gruesome variety of whips that the Roman soldiers could use. It was their job to mess up the convict, but absolutely not to kill the person. Doing that removes all the benefits for the Roman regime (and in this case, the Jewish opponents as well) of the humiliating death and body disposal that awaited Jesus.

Remember as well how the evangelists were keen to point out how the soldiers were keen to grab and keep his clothes, which could be traced back prophetically in the Jewish Scriptures. This implies that Jesus was probably doing ok physically up until this point. He had clothes that were worth inheriting - so this also is a confirmation of just how brutal Jesus' beating before the cross would probably have been, placing fresh emphasis on the fact that he not only died for his people, but suffered and died.

This is not always immediately apparent. If we were to only remember the event according to Luke or John, we might think that Jesus went pretty calmly to the cross, maintaining some sense of transcendental peace and divine authority throughout (see my point about Luke 22:43-44 and the bloody sweat). Mark especially, however, does not spare us the desperateness of Jesus' situation.

Let's return to the issue of Jesus' dead body. Here is Luke 23:55:
The women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.

And Mark 15:47:
Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

And Matthew 27:61
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

And John 19:42
Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they [Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus] laid Jesus there.

I have two major gripes with Bart Ehrman. The biggest one is about the inconsistent way in which he describes John's gospel's Jesus. I have tried to question him over this, although as yet to no avail. However, a close second gripe with his historical reasoning is quite how he sees Crossan's proposal for a criminal treatment of Jesus' body. Somehow, he has managed to come around to the common historical view that the women and the disciples did indeed find an empty tomb, the same empty tomb in which they knew Jesus to have been laid - without giving up his former view. I simply cannot see how he can hold on to both these views. All four evangelists demonstrate continuity of the body's location, some of them even to the point of saying that Joseph of Arimathea actually took the body down, although I have no idea how he would have done that.

For there to truly be an empty tomb, one that certainly set the scene for Jesus apparition visions, how are we to believe that Jesus' closest followers (making up a testimony of multiple witnesses) to have made it up, when they are supposedly so convinced his body had been laid there?  The tomb has a central role to play in this event and it is very difficult for me to see how it could possibly be a sheer fabrication. Christianity developed on the foundation of God raising Jesus back to life. The empty tomb does not directly bear witness to that, skeptics are indeed correct to point this out, however, it does directly set the scene for the witnessed encounters with the resurrected Christ because of the continuity of location of Christ's body from cross to tomb.

I'm quite enjoying this rare moment of apologetics, so I may continue on to do a part 4!

Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Death of Christ - part 2

In yesterday's post I demonstrated a strange archaeological lack of crucified skeletal remains: to this day only one archaeological find confirms the ancient practice of crucifixion inflicted on thousands for a period extending across multiple centuries. A key explanation for this is that the bodies were not commonly granted decent burials.

Like the case of Yehohanon ben Hagkol, for Jesus to be buried in a tomb would have required very special circumstances, without which his body also would have been subjected to the same humiliating and inhumane conclusion : animal scavenging by dogs,  birds etc. That would provide ample motivation for Joseph of Arimathea to request a much more suitable solution for Jesus' body. So yes,  for Jesus to be buried in a tomb following public execution absolutely necessitated Joseph's intervention.

In fact, one interesting question to ponder would be quite what Jesus expected to happen to his body. The evangelists retelling the Jesus stories are keen to remind readers (and listeners) that Jesus would have been in no way surprised at his resurrection, but nowhere does he seem to assume that this resurrection would take place in the confines of a tomb - all he is alleged to have specified was that he would arise "on the third day". Indeed he would have been well aware of the brutal treatment of such renegades. If he really did to and fro from Jerusalem as John recounts then he may well have seen others crucified and their usual body-dump zone.

The fact that special extenuating circumstances would have been necessary in no way diminishes the possibility of Jesus receiving a decent burial.  I have not yet had the courage to wrestle with Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (that day may never come - some of what I have heard of his history-writing appears to be nothing short of contrived speculation), but it would be a typical Bauckham argument to speculate that since Joseph of Arimathea was a follower of Jesus, that they might have discussed this arrangement prior to his execution. For my part, I would be quite skeptical of any such proposal, which would imply that Jesus was a bit hazy on the details in his own mind about quite where he would resurrect from, but we could reasonably imagine that he envisaged being raised from around other rotting corpses rather than from a quiet respectable tomb.

There are a couple of other details I still want to hash out, so there will probably be a Part 3 to this mini-series on the death of Christ.

Alternatively,  you can check out Part 1 to this mini series here.  

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Death of Christ

As Christians, we are very excited about the resurrection of our Lord. Sometimes we are in a bit of a hurry to imagine the empty tomb of the first Easter Sunday - perhaps not unlike the resistance of many to talk of Jesus as fully man without quickly rushing on to reassure themselves and their listeners that Jesus is also "fully God".

We need to stop sometimes, and not rush.

It is important to take note of what some scholars have been saying about the death of Jesus in their attempts to reconstruct what really happened that day. It is good not to be in the dark about this because if well known, liberal or simply atheist scholars are allowed to expand credibility of alternative theories, then the faith is undermined. Before I continue, I want to make it plain: I take Jesus' insistance on truth very seriously. Any faith founded on sand not only will be shaken, but should be shaken - the sooner the better. But here - after hearing again Bart Ehrman (atheist scholar) citing John Dominic Crossan (liberal scholar, whose book I am currently reading on the birth of Christianity), I feel a responsibility to respond.

Ehrman cites research - including that of Crossan - which indicates that enemies of the state were not granted decent burials. One of the whole points of crucifixion was that it was as painful and as public as possible - sending the strongest message possible to anyone else thinking they might have it in them to rebel against Roman rule. One argument that is particularly striking (although these two don't seem to make too much of it), is our near-total lack of skeletal evidence for crucifixion in the ancient world: the following image depicts the only known example, whose name is given as Yehohanon ben Hagkol:

It remains, however, something of a mystery as to why we do not have more, given the thousands of people that were crucified for centuries, even if we account for most bodies being left for scavenging animals and dumping in shared graves. Returning to Jesus, however, it is important to account for this evidence. In the Biblical accounts, a certain Joseph of Arimathea requested the dead body of Jesus in order to give it a decent burial. The evidence provided above does not discount this story - it simply provides interesting context for this story repeated in all four of the gospel narratives...

*** part 2 tomorrow! ***

Monday, 12 December 2016


I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah

This morning I woke up much too early because of congestion. My stuffy nose had meant that my breathing had been entirely through my mouth, completely drying it out. However, it got me pondering about the neurological authorities involved in the incredible breathing apparatus with which we are all endowed. Think about it for a moment. You can take total control of your breathing. Speed it up, slow it down, make it shallow, make it deep, breathe through your mouth, breathe through your nose (or even do both) or even stop it entirely to consume food and drink or take a plunge underwater; most importantly, while exhaling, manage your breath past your vocal chords in such a way as to make distinct sounds that we call "talking". And yet: 99% of the time (my made-up statistic), we are totally unaware of our own breathing and it is operated from an unconscious neurological location in a similar way to the beating of our hearts - to which we have no access whatsoever. In sum, not only is breathing amazing, but its authority distribution is seamless.

It then occurred to me that there could be some theological mileage in this as a helpful way to understand God's kingdom. The book of Revelation, right at the back of our Bibles, paints the clearest picture of all the New Testament of this coregency dynamic at work. God's kingdom has been entrusted to his Messiah, to whom he has given full authority for actual rule. This is not me trying to twist an interpretation into today's post, it is simply me trying to give good credence to the above passages. Coregency is what allows both regents to graciously assert that it is their kingdom. Some people today, including in the world of Christian apologetics, would like to temporarily suspend the possibility of concepts like co-ownership and coregency, before continuing with their lives in which such power-sharing practices continue to shape the fabric of our societies.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Fuzzy science Mike

One of the podcasts that I really enjoy listening to is Ask science Mike. At the moment he is doing a speaking tour in the United States, to promote his new book Finding God in the Waves - which I like by the way.

In his most recent podcast he is as interesting,  witty, thought-provoking and yet fuzzy as ever as he does a live show from Portland, Oregon.

Atheist question, would God exist if we didn't? He "thinks" no. He hopes, comtemplatively and mystically, "yes". The reason for this apparent dissonance is because there are ways of understanding and experiencing and expression that cannot be explained by empiricism. I have a feeling that Mike might need to de-fuzzy a bit what he describes as "existence". At one point in the Portland show, he clearly states that Superman and Batman don't exist. Not "don't exist in the real world", they simply: "don't exist". What about his psychosocial models? Do they exist? What about the inexpressible mystical experiences? Do they exist? Does his memory of what happened to him on the beach exist? Does my idea of Batman exist (in my mind and in millions of minds)? Surely the answer is "yes" to all these examples? The problem then is that there are things that exist - most things in fact - that exist about which no-one has any idea, like each individual blade of grass in the field or photon of light that goes anywhere except towards our tiny planet. God, according to Mike's confessed pantheistic definition of God, cannot exist without the universe he sustains.

Funnily enough, and I would be surprised if he knew it yet as he probably is not as insanely interested by the Trinity as me, this role reversal has been attempted in theology quite a bit already. In recent times, various theologians have attempted ways of understanding the Trinity or the cross of Christ in such a way as to make God dependant on his creation and its failure - even on man's sin. People have asked the question: is God essentially a saviour, or did he incidentally become one when his creation got itself into a pickle? There is then a popular current that says yes, voluntarily so, God has submitted himself in a sense to a state of dependence on what he has made. Science Mike's conclusions are remarkably in sync with that Trinitarian movement.

He speaks with surprise at his popularity among Calvinists. He really is not a consistent Trinitarian though, so I'm not sure what he is criticising when he says that "God who sends his son to be murdered as a sacrifice to himself, and that sacrifice is himself to himself", when the alternative of incarnational love sounds like a pure, no-distinctions modalism! A couple of times in the past, he has attempted an answer to his audience about the Trinity which does not come close to satisfying me that he is really engaging with it - except that it is mysterious, and mystery is good. For instance, in this episode he states (4'20" approx.) that "God is a [one] being" (my emphasis), yet when discussing the Trinity elsewhere, I have heard him go to a completely different extreme and say that God is three beings. To be honest, I don't think he knows what he really thinks about the Trinity, which to be fair, is probably the position of most folk.

Answering a question about Otherness: I didn't like the way he dealt with this. Followers of this blog know that I love distinction, the ultimate one of which is that between the Father and the Son. If there is no space between those two, then there is no room for love between them. It is love that binds persons distinct in their personhood together. But all too quickly, because of our experience of conflict through difference and intolerance of difference, Mike wants to immediately go for pure unity. He cites research done on even the most introverted of folk, who must have contact with others, as we are social animals. This research is only half the story, however. We are also made for distinction. Fusional relationships have been shown in the social sciences to be harmful in child-parent relationships to the child's sense of autonomy and responsibility.

Finally a hilarious moment in this episode that made me laugh out loud: Science Mike prayed as a kid Satan would accept Jesus into his heart. Solved problem of evil! Actually, that reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents taught me about the existence of the invisible Satan character, and I threw him a punch! Great how as kids we already want to kick evil in the teeth.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

A couple of trinitarian quotes

1. God inspired and required a remodeling of his people's faith into a new trinitarian shape, now including two others.

2. God is now working in his multiethnic people through his messiah Son and his promised Spirit, and they advance his kingdom and righteousness in the world through his people, the church.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Rattrappage sur la traduction du Nom Saint et Personnel et Retour à la Trinité

Cela fait un bon bout de temps que je n'ai pas publié en français, je m'en excuse! Je voudrais toucher deux mots à ce qui m'a intéressé ces derniers temps et puis le focus pour le mois à venir.

Exclusivement en anglais j'ai entrepris sur le blog une enquête sur le modus operandi des traducteurs grecques de l'ancien testament, travail réalisé pendant une siècle à peu près à partir de l'an 250 avant Jésus Christ. La tâche devant moi est vaste: tracer les particularités des divers traducteurs pendant ce siècle vis-à-vis la traduction du nom personnel de Dieu, "Yahweh". En grecque, cela a été décidé que ce serait bien de traduire et non seulement le transcrire dans la nouvelle langue. La traduction donné est: SEIGNEUR. Notons bien, il s'agit bien de SEIGNEUR, et non de LE SEIGNEUR. La traduction françaises de la Bible représentent une particularité très intéressante. Contrairement aux pratiques anglosaxones voire d'autres langues européennes, les versions françaises ont été réticentes à adopter cette traduction SEIGNEUR, en préférant L'Eternel. Il y a une traduction en particulier qui a capté toute mon attention: La Darby. La Darby est la seule traduction en français ou en n'importe quelle langue que j'ai trouvé jusqu'à présent à essayer de tracer le Nom Divin dans le Nouveau Testament, écrit et non traduit en grecque. A la place de simplement traduire le mot pour Seigneur (Kyrios) par Seigneur, Darby met un astérisque devant Seigneur - *Seigneur - lorsque le context induit fortement que le Nom Divin est en jeu. Cela, pour moi qui serais fier d'une étiquette "antimodaliste", représente un choix excellent, car cela permet une distinction légitime entre la désignation humaine du titre Seigneur et une traduction très spécifique du nom Divin, Yahweh.

Je vous ai dit qu'il fallait noter bien que la traduction grecque donnait: "SEIGNEUR" et non "LE SEIGNEUR". Ce qui est très particulier donc de cette traduction c'est qu'elle manque, dans une majorité des fois, l'article définit. Ce que cela veut dire c'est, plutôt que de dire des phrases telles que "l'ange du Seigneur", on dit "l'ange DE Seigneur". Seigneur comme traduction est en effet une mélange entre titre et nom personnel. Le jouet de Stéphanie: Stéphanie est un nom personnel, donc il n'y a pas d'article. Pareil pour Seigneur dans l'ancien testament. Plus ou moins. Mais personne jusqu'à présent a vraiment étudié l'ensemble de ces traductions du Nom Saint. Une des raisons pour cela est qu'elles comptent à plus que 7000! Mais j'ai bien démarré, en réalisant jusqu'à présent les Psaumes et le livre prophétique d'Ezekiel (ça doit faire à peu près 1200).

Mais j'ai dû appuyer sur le bouton "pause".

L'année dernière j'ai écrit un thèse sur la question de la Trinité. J'ai toujours eu le désir de compléter et améliorer ce travail, et maintenant cela devient une réalité. Cela représente aussi un très grand travail, et j'ai déjà fait des milliers de modifications, éclaircissements, références depuis la version de 2015. Le titre va aussi être modifié. Je pense utiliser le titre "Trinitarian Interpretations: Mutated Faith" (Interprétations Trinitaires: Une foi métamorphosée). Dedans je vais proposer deux solutions au problème posé par la doctrine imposée du quatrième siècle du Dieu Trinitaire. Cette doctrine qui veut un Dieu en trois personnes a des soucis logiques et bibliques, mais s'assoit sur une effective évolution de priorités des convertis au Christianisme. L'objet de la foi est devenu, pour de vrai, une question de Père, Fils et Saint Esprit. Comment exprimer cela et s'assurer à ce que cela ne soit pas corrompu?

Dans la nouvelle version nous verrons que cette nouvelle configuration mérite plus d'attention que jamais, mais aussi que la doctrine du Dieu Trinitaire a effectivement des soucis qui seront mis en évidence. En terme logique, nous avons le problème de trois "il"s vaut toujours un "il", ce qui n'est pas possible. Dieu le Père est un "il". Il aime son Fils, Jésus en l'offrant en sacrifice. Ce dernier est aussi un "il" car il aime son Père son Dieu et il s'est offert en sacrifice. Le Saint Esprit est aussi une personne, un "il", à part entière selon la doctrine qui doit aussi être magnifié et loué. Mais en même temps, il est très rare de parler de "ils" au pluriel pour ces trois là, car nous les Chrétiens nous avons une foi monothéiste, n'est-ce pas? Donc on préfère, largement, parler toujours de "il". Dieu, IL t'aime. Dieu, je T'aime, TU es bon. Je pense que tu capte le truc. Le problème biblique est la difficulté de vraiment trouvé des preuves que dans Dieu en retrouve trois personnes.

Trinitarian Interpretations va cette fois-ci tenter un travail plus constructif à proposer deux solutions au problème. La première a déjà été décrite et ne vient pas de moi: Chad McIntosh parle de "group persons", à savoir des personnes groupales si je peux me permettre! Pour moi de toutes les théories et justifications des doctrines d'un Dieu réellement Trinitaire, c'est celle qui tient la plus la route. La deuxième que je vais proposer va se concentrer sur la reconnaissance de ma part de l'inclusion du Père, Fils et Saint Esprit au centre de la foi chrétienne, que leur présence au coeur de la communauté représente une évolution importante et intrinsèque à cette nouvelle configuration, ce qui permettrait j'espère à l'ajouter à d'autres évolutions telles que les six proposés par NT Wright, la septième que Wright a accepté par John Dominic Crossan, et puis la modification donnée par Larry Hurtado.

Ah oui, en réponse à la question de langue de cette nouvelle publication de mon thèse, malheureusement je ne projète pas de le traduire en français. Cela représente plus que 50000 mots donc ce sera trop de travail pour moi de le faire. Merci pour votre suivi et votre intérêt!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

YHWH to... Yahweh?

It is sometimes noted that we really don't know how the Hebrews first pronounced the divine Name. Was it Yohwih, Yuhiweh, Yahweh, Yahovah or something else? There are complex explanations along the lines of the interchangeable Yahweh and Adonai and the sharing of their sounds.

But today I want to ask (as I am sure it must have been asked by others), can the Septuagint not help us? It was translated in the mid third century before Christ and does include vowels. True, we have few extant manuscripts dating close to this time, but there are a few before the common era. From what we know of Hebrew and Greek translations at this period, especially since the Dead Sea scroll discoveries, is that there was considerable flux in times prior to text standardisations. This would likely have included variations around pronunciation for some names. With all of that in mind, we can look to the best critical editions of the Septuagint for clues on pronunciation. 

Take for example the name Joel, an Old Testament prophet. Pronunciation of the Greek gives something like Yo el, and it comes from Yahweh is God. Here, Yo seems to stand for Yahweh and El for God. In contrast, in the Psalms (and also in Revelation), we have Allelujah! Which is the Greek transcription of praise be to Yahh, the contracted Hebrew form of Yahweh.

The latter example seems to suggest that the first vowel of the divine Name, before it was rendered "unpronouncable", might indeed have been "aa". But if that is true, where does the "oo" sound come from in JoEl?

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Craig's minimum salvation criterion questioned for its consistency

From time to time on this blog I have shown some of the small interaction I have been privileged to have with important biblical scholars, including Dale Tuggy, Larry Hurtado and Bart Ehrman.

One Christian writer I really respect is Dr William Lane Craig, whose work I only really know through his podcasts. With my friend Reinald, we wrote him a question based on an important comment he made during a Q&A in his Defenders class. Before I get to our question to Dr Craig, I would also like to point out that I am on the look out for written reference material to Craig's view on the Trinity, which is a unique and interesting view. The reason for this is that I'd like to update my chapter in my paper on the various and conflicting trinity theories. FYI Dr Tuggy is in the process of writing a whole book on trinity theories and is going to devote a chapter to Craig's view, which like all trinity theories, will enjoy its own particular set of problems. Here's our question to Dr Craig:

Dear Dr Craig,

We've greatly enjoyed your last series on Trinity. It's been a subject of great discussion between us friends in Marseille, France, and of deep thinking about God - and how the NT authors described Him in the 1st century. Near the end of your Defenders 3 class: Doctrine of God: Trinity (Part 11), you received a question about the necessary understanding of Trinity for salvation. In response you perform three quite remarkable logical steps.

1) You recount a story in which you were personally impressed with the personal faith of a oneness pentecostal, for whom there were no real or personal distinctions between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

2) This person was quite clearly saved despite this confusion, because Christ's divinity was absolute in that person's mind.

3) You provided textual support for this from Romans 10:9, where Paul states that "if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

How does 3 follow from 2? You clearly imply that the distinction of persons requirement is secondary to the divinity requirement, yet Romans 10:9 has distinction at its exegetical core (GOD raised HIM), and "divinity" more contingent on subsequent catholic interpretations of Kyrios (we agree with Hurtado that the Kyrios-ship conferred upon Christ by the Father, according to a few NT passages, is absolute).

In light of how you connect your experience with this oneness pentecostal and Romans 10:9, we would also be interested to hear how you would respond to a recent posting by Dr. Larry Hurtado, who - as we are certain you will be aware - is most reluctant to import or assume fourth century ontological system of categorisation on first century thought:

1) "My own plea is that we respect the historical particularities of those earlier statements and texts, and try to avoid anachronism in our historical task of engaging them.

2) "The Christological claims in NT writings are remarkable enough in their own terms and setting, and even more so the programmatic place of Jesus in earliest devotional practice." 

We look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for this most engaging discussion,

Reinald and John

As of yet, we have heard no response from Craig.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The Moral Argument: is it any "good"?

I hate what appear to me to be bad arguments for Christianity - I always think it's such a bad mistake for apologists to get too excited about logical "proofs" for God that short-circuit actual belief and faith. The worst ones of course are the God of the Gaps arguments, that I have already discussed, which also touches on what is often called the "fine-tuning" argument for the existence of God. Before I look a little more into the moral argument for the existence of God with you, let me just spell out again why I think defending the faith in this way is most unhelpful - even destructive.  The whole project and approach, in my view, is off base. The apologist often wants you to feel required - by logic and reasoning alone - to believe in God's existence (or Christ's resurrection, or whatever theological point is in view). Sometimes the more careful ones may employ might use words like "compelling", but even in using such vocabulary as this, two things are at play: the apologist believes, and belongs to a tribe that believes, that the arguments she presents are compelling... to her! Secondly, despite the relativistic language these rare, more careful apologists use, the posture and theological commitment behind the presentation belies the apparent care.

If you can assess these arguments critically as I attempt, and find them wanting, you might actually feel your faith is being undermined. That, at least, is my feeling in both the instance of the fine tuning argument and the moral argument (I do not have much to say in criticism of the cosmological argument, mainly because I take refuge in it as the others "fail" me). It is not that the arguments themselves are bad, although they could be framed quite differently, it is that their goals of proving God precede their presentation, and thus skew it. Rather, why not say: let's try and see how God could have given us morality! The apologist says: let me show you how God miraculously downloaded morality into human brains.

William Lane Craig for me is definitely one of the more careful apologists, and I enjoy his work. In this debate with Shelly Kagan, however, I find even this high-level debate just confirm the points I have just made. Here's the debate if you want to watch it, with a few comments below.

One of the views expounded by Kagan is "Contractarianism": perfectly rational beings would be able to come to an agreement about what the common rules needed to make a functional society. Or something like that.

Another naturalist view (although my point is of course not limited to naturalism): it is necessary that rational beings would reason about what is normal interactions between themselves.

Still others: where there is a command, there is a commander; where there is a law, there is a law-giver. Things don't come from nothing (a nod to the cosmological argument, really). But not necessarily. E.g. no-one needs to lay down a rule of non-contradiction for that to be necessary as a practice. But in morality, we could agree, says Kagan: the law-giver is all of us, says philosopher Shelly Kagan.

"Given the finality of death it really does not matter how you live", says William Lane Craig.
Only on theism can you make choices that are altruistic.  Ultimately no difference to the heat-death of the universe.

Firstly, both debaters make a mistake: they assume that there are only two types of animals: humans and non-humans. That's a serious error when looking at why humans generally agree, regardless of culture, that murder is objectively bad. Although Kagan didn't seize on the opportunity, it is not the case that lions are only spared of being moral murderers when they kill lower animals for food because they are not subject to our moral codes. The argument would only stand if lions went about killing other lions. Guess what: they don't. Some animals do kill other other members of their own species, but still others will lay down their lives for the sake of their offspring - sometimes even systematically as a part of that specie's reproduction process.

Kagan was absolutely right to challenge Craig on the condemnation of holocaust being dependent on an ultimate and cosmic judge. However, he failed to point out an important part of the german regime's dogma. Firstly, those in charge did not really believe that they were doing something wrong. Secondly, the way that they justified this action to themselves and the rest of their tribe was to state that Jews were a harmful and lower race. Lions don't kill lions. Notice that in order for these atrocities to be performed it was absolutely necessary that in the Nazi mindset the victims really occupied a fundamentally different genus - a harmful genus.  

Another thing that was not debated here was how civilisations slowly shift their moral perspectives. While it might seem just really obvious that murder is wrong, war is at least legal and soldiers are generally not considered guilty of murder. The same is true of abortion - although that depends on which country you're in. From a Christian perspective as well, there are stacks of laws that are no longer considered binding despite their presence in our holy book.

So I reject the moral argument as proof for the existence of God. Its starting point is not neutral enough, its goals affect its methodology, and the animal couter-examples are insufficiently accounted for. I happen to believe that morality is of God, but is not necessarily of God in the miraculous way Craig and others will try to present it. As a Christian, it is important to me to pray to ask God to help me and my family make good choices, to reflect back to God more and more my understanding of Christ's character in my own. Christ was not just "good". In fact, as the perfect man, he was what Adam was born to be: very good. That is to say: pleasing. I want my humanity to please God, but I haven't a cat in hell's chance without his help.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Why This Research Matters

In the previous post I presented some preliminary results of my Septuagint study of the divine Name renderings into Greek in the Psalms, noting only around 18% of nominative and genitive occurrences of the hundreds surveyed to include the definite article: the remaining 82% are "anarthrous", lacking the article.

I am now starting to see already why this research matters. Professor Albert Pietersma is the lead translator of the NETS New English Translation of the Septuagint. This is a major scholarly work combining expertise across the Septuagint field, including Larry Perkins, whose paper on Exodus we have already discussed on this blog.

Pietersma includes in the introduction to the NETS translation of the Psalter the following note (p. 546):

Since the Greek Psalter provides no evidence that the translator made any serious attempt at distinguishing between the divine names Yahweh, including the short form "Yah", and Adonai, I have in accordance with NETS policy rendered all occurrences of kyrios, when representing either, by "Lord".

The decision is a difficult one, because even if he is right about this (no serious distinguishing going on), then you still have to work around the Adonai plus Yahweh problem with increased difficulty if both are translated by "Lord" (see Psalm 68:20: Our God is a god to save, and to the Lord Lord belong the escape routes of death).

But I don't think he is quite right about that assumption of no difference, and here're two reasons why.

1. In contrast to the article treatment in Yahweh translations in Psalms (82% are rendered anarthrous in nominative and genitive forms), when Adonai is translated into Greek only half of the translations are anarthrous (53%, that is 9 out of 17 times with respect to genitive and nominative cases - note however that one of these anarthrous instances, Ps 16:2, could almost certainly never have been confused with Yahweh in that it translates a possessive, "my Yahweh" being unheard of). This partial similarity between Yahweh and Adonai translation policy may represent a vague gesture at the sanctity of the Yahweh solution, but nonetheless, a significant difference remains (from an albeit small sampling).

2. Less significantly, but most intriguingly, is a translation of Psalm 130:6, my soul waits for the Lord. Here the Greek reads: ἤλπισεν ἡ ψυχή μου ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον.  Since we are focussing on the more meaningful cases of nominative and genitive, I almost missed this accusative construction, but it rang a bell. As it turns out, "ἐπὶ" before κύριον when translating "to Yahweh" systematically removes the accusative article τὸν: Ps 4:5, Ps 21:7, Ps 22:8, Ps 31:24, Ps 32:10 and 11, Ps 37:3, Ps 40:3, Ps 55:22. Not so in Psalm 130:6 translating Adonai.

So to conclude, I can't help but wonder if Pietersma has considered these two important pieces of evidence when he dismisses the possibility of distinguishing efforts on the part of the Psalter translator. Only a more thorough investigation of the benchmark for anarthrous renderings, the Pentateuch, and the Adonai goldmine of Ezekiel will provide us with more evidence. If it can be shown that the "NETS policy" mi, in fact, be misrepresenting the translation practice of the Greek translators, then that should filter down to less clear-cut cases such as the Psalms.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Kyrios (aka the LORD) in the Psalms: results

Back in August, I focussed closely on the Greek translation of Yahweh (and Yahh), the Israelites' personal name for their God. This was fueled by a steadily growing interest that followers of this blog will have noticed in the notion of Lordship and increased clarity in the usage of those words today among Bible-believing Christians. But why the Psalms? Well, it has also become my favourite book that has been a source of much inner reconnection and spiritual life, to such a point that I am also in parallel preparing a Psalms study of the self that I hope may even make this part of the Bible appealing and useful to non-believers. But the Psalms as a large Old Testament book outside the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) provides a wealth of information about the practices of a subsequent translation period (the Greek Septuagint grew to encompass the whole Hebrew Bible over many decades).

So as a very quick reminder of the grammatical context: the Septuagint translation for Greek-speaking Jewish communities (probably initially in Egypt) had to come up with a solution for God's personal name, YHWH. A complex debate rages about the status of this name by the time of the Greek translation and the extant pre-Christian translations, but by the early centuries of the common era, the standard was to use the Greek word for Lord: Kyrios. This translation has been preserved through the millennia in many modern translations, but with important differences: every since the King James (although maybe earlier, but not Latin, which does not use articles), the article was added, and Lord was capitalised: the LORD (BTW I have an opinion developing within me about this scholarly debate, but let's hold that for another post and a bit more research). Now some scholars had reported that the article-free Kyrios (the technical word for this is "anarthrous") is a more consistent technique in the Pentateuch, and with respect to articles, on a direct par with other personal names, like Moses. In the Pentateuch, occasionally (about 7% of the time in Exodus) you get "the Lord", but absolutely no more frequently than "the Moses". So this "the" is contingent on necessary grammar and by no means requires framing the word as an impersonal title.

Here, then, is what happens in the Psalms:

Some words of explanation are in order!

Since I quickly realised that Greek case was influential (has the Greek translator used a nominative, genitive, accusative, dative or vocative?) to the presence or absence of the article, the main table is a summary of article behaviour for the whole Psalter with increasing "weeding out" of certain cases. Firstly, since the vocative (VMS) κύριε is always anarthrous in LXX Psalms it could hardly be included in research about what I am calling the grammatical "signature" of YHWH translations into Greek: it is totally necessary to exclude them (209 occurrences) altogether. Of the remaining 479 occurrences where a form of Kyrios is used to translate YHWH (a few occurrences of YHWH are not translated that way), 301 are anarthrous. However, since the dative seems to almost always require the article (96% of the time), it seemed necessary to weed that one out too. And once the rather erratic accusative κύριον is also removed, we are left with the only stats that really matter: 18% of the Psalter's κύριος carrying the article and 17% of its κυρίου.

With that task complete, you can see how I was also interested to see if there were notable variations across the Psalter's traditional five volume format, by breaking down these arthrous counts accordingly. This may or may not have been useful. What it shows is when a particular volume strays significantly from the averages above. Since there is variation in both volume length and "YHWH density" (number of YHWH occurrences per verse to translate), it may have been more helpful to simply divide into say 4 or 5 (or more) even sized chunks.

I hope this clarifies the data presented.

I have actually had a little exchange now with Professor Larry Hurtado on this research, which appears to have gained his interest. I am appealing to him for guidance on how I might most usefully develop this research.

One possibility might be to follow Perkins, whose paper I think I previously discussed on the blog. I wonder about doing a similar comparison to that which he performed, to a name like Moses but also a title like theos before proceeding onto some other OT texts.

I am keen to learn from experts also what are the other types of instances that I should be excluding from the data, beyond Greek case? I also have a very rough-and-ready tagging system for some interesting common constructs (like κύριος ὁ θεός: always anarthrous, including a couple of non-nominative cases) that I think could be developed under the guise of "lexical units".

(Updated 25/05/2018)

Friday, 30 September 2016

Let's extinguish the flames of the god of the gaps

".... so how can you explain X, then?!"

And so concludes the unthinking Christian apologist. He thinks he is cleverly guiding folk toward an inevitable fact, that God is the cause of X because no-one can come close to explaining X in his day and age. Approaching the question from the faith perspective seems to make X just so blindingly obvious. X is a Gap in knowledge. Let's hold on to that word "blind" word for a moment. If it were so blindingly obvious, then we can see why the only reason very intelligent - and let's grant them some reasonable moral standing too - people could NOT see that self-evident divine explanation, is that must have been spiritually blinded, right? Here not only does the faith provide a dangerous logic loop (you could literally prove whatever you fancied), but it has  other poisonous side-effects.

All those Christians who are cheering along this methodology are in fact, without realising it, welcoming the highly toxic GOD OF THE GAPS into Christianity. Let's call him GG. GG only **really** acts when he does so directly, working through agents or over colossal expanses of time really is not so cool to be an impressive god. The Bible has stacks of counter examples to that claim, however - thus the apologist appeals to his rubbish logic over and against the far more profound shape of the inspired book he seems to have forgotten about. He blinds believers, and any converts to his perspective, to a god who is God of the Whole, of the Bible and of the cosmos, without whom everything would just collapse. Since the apologist is in the business of blinding, he goes a step further. He unwittingly has an infuriating tendency to label anything coincidental "miraculous". Finally, he unwittingly sows potentially catastrophic seeds of future **doubt** into his listeners, because once scientific consensus affects majority opinion to actually provide credible explanations on a certain point, church stances on those issues inevitably, albeit awkwardly, tend to negotiate their way towards it. I am amazed to see even in the generation transition I have witnessed just how many more Christians do not want to bury their heads in the fossil-filled sand and ignore evolution theory any more. It's not going away.

Multiverse options are also increasing their presence in mainstream consciousness at what seems to be to be an exponential rate. A majority of scientists agree that a theory of this type is correct. The most open and cutting-edge Christian media I listen to is engaging with these ideas, I am glad to hear. But given that GG has yet to be put into extinction, we cannot expect any real openness to how TG (True God) might have gone about his work, proven by some still shamefully brandish their 6000 year-old universe theories, and many more simply wishing this issue doesn't concern their Christian faith.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Phenomenal Podcast week

Hi everyone.
For the last couple of days I have just been marvelling at the quality of some podcasts out there that overlap with the theme of this blog, Faith and Scripture. This week in particular has just been phenomenal. So good, in fact I'd like to share some summaries here and provide you with the links.

* Unbelievable: Live! in California: Ryan Bell & Sean McDowell on ‘Why I am an atheist / Why I am a Christian’. Particularly high-level, well-mannered and good-humoured even by Unbelievable standards, raising many interesting questions.

* Reasonable Faith (William Lane Craig): Questions on the Moral Argument and Animal Suffering. See below.

* The Robcast (Rob Bell): Wisdom part 3: You the Steward. This is phenomenal. If you can only listen to one, listen to this one.

* Trinities: both part 1 and part 2 of the Larry Hurtado interview on his latest book, Destroyer of the gods. I'm a massive Larry Hurtado fan, so I was always going to be lapping this up. He is typically excellent at reconstructing the early societal dynamics affecting and affected by this new aggressively evangelistic religion we now call "Christianity".

Let's start with the second one. As I listened to Craig, I found myself disagreeing with a few of the things that he shared, which is rare.

In this short podcast, Craig answers two questioners (although it amounts to considerably more than two questions). The first question pertains to the distinction between how we acquire moral values & duties, and the fact that there appear to be moral absolutes, whatever our path to discovering those truths. Craig's moral argument on which others lean too (including CS Lewis) is that even the presence of evil in the world points toward the polar opposite, good, which has to be anchored to an unshakable source, God himself.

Another question is: how much knowledge is required about Christ for salvation? Craig admits it's a very difficult question to resolve, which of course reminded me about Trinity reflections (e.g. could Philip have explained the doctrines of the two natures of Christ and the Trinity to the Ethiopian eunuch?). The examples here, however, turn around minor or major description variations of Jesus. Craig doesn't define what is a major or minor detail might be, but does cite Paul in Romans 10:9

If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Another questioner really appealed to me. Here's his questions.
1) How can I know I know? Craig's reassurances about someone who is struggling and grappling does have faith, but needs to be sure of implementation of good spiritual practices. Also: looking at the positive evidence for bolstering faith (apologetics). I liked that response, although I don't think part 2 really applied to this guy.

2) Why are demons allowed to deceive us? Craig: demons also have free will, don't rob us of free will either, except in extreme cases.

3) There seems to be so much senseless suffering in the animal kingdom... couldn't God have made the nutrients we need from non-living things that can't feel pain? Craig now does two things, and doesn't do one other thing. The thing he doesn't do is point out the mega-obvious point that God does not seem to have made us dependent on "animal nutrients"! Of the two points he does make, one is justified. He differentiates the instinctive avoidance by low-level lifeforms, such as ants or amoebas, of harmful stimuli from other creatures, like dears and zebras. These more sophisticated creatures, he claims, do sense pain. Presumably, we have probably hooked up animals to neurological testing on this and compared it to human pain responses and seen a bunch of similarity. The difference, for Craig, is that humans are aware that they are suffering (i.e. they sense that they sense pain). Other animals don't have this developed sense of self-awareness.

In my view, this has to be an unacceptable simplification of the animal kingdom, of which we are most certainly a significant step removed from the rest with regard to general self-awareness - but does pain - or all types of pain - automatically fall into this category? First, it has to be a sliding scale. It cannot be amoeba, zebra, human. Especially bearing in mind that you have young human children and severely mentally disabled or brain-damaged people who probably don't have greater - maybe even less - self-awareness than the most intelligent elephants. Check out this incredible video of an elephant painting an elephant holding a flower! (Please note, however, that this is not pure creative genius)

Second, it is not at all clear to me that in a sudden response to pain, the human is responding in a distanced self-aware manner. In sudden pain, the person will generally emit a "aarrgh", and not a considered or internalised "gosh I am sensing pain right now". It is precisely in moments of severe duress like this that we are less distanced from other creatures.

Craig's "blind sight" illustration is very interesting, but still far too discrete. Unfortunately, he fails to point out that the condition does result from biological defections.

However, it's not clear that there would be no or less suffering if there were only herbivores. Here - and maybe I have only ever heard Craig on his subjects he is more specialist in - he seems to step into a realm of total and unconvincing unknowns. He now asserts that in this other world that God could-but-couldn't-have created, the herbivores would end up having to compete for the remaining vegetation, potentially killing each other. That is ludicrous. Of course God could create a world in which there were a sustainable level of vegetation for the herbivores! Either way, an ecosystem with herbivores only, or a mix with carnivores, if it has demographic expansion, could eventually reach its capacity on a limited planet. But that's an entirely separate point!

That might sound petty. But there is something deeper lurking in Craig's thinking that is worth bringing out: this is the only world that could  have existed. Take it a step further (as he indeed does): this is the only world that God could have created. Somehow, he connects this to the incredible expansion of Christian belief after terrible evils like Tsunamis as some kind of proof of the point he is obscurely making.

I have no comment on the far greater rate of growth of Christianity after natural evils (tsunamis, earthquakes), but it certainly didn't serve to save Craig's weak answer on the animal kingdom.

4) Why did God transmit his message to Moses one way, knowing that after Darwin a more convincing version would develop...
Here Craig is back to his usual excellent self. Is the Genesis narrative literal of figuratively? "There are indications in the text itself wholly apart from modern science that this is not supposed to be taken as a literal 24 hour-day creation week, and we don't know that the ancient Hebrew did understand it literally..."
He then provides fascinating evidence from an equivalent ancient Egyptian creation story, which said that each night the world reverted to the primordial ocean. Did no ancient Egyptian ever notice that actually that didn't literally happen every night?! Excellent point. I'd love to see the reference.
Literalistic reading of the creation timings could be a modern interpolation.
I loved the line: who knows what science will be saying 1000 years from now?! Doesn't that just blow your mind? What about 5000? Or 10000? The point here is though is to ask what is the point of this Genesis passage? It is to point out that the glorious creation - as beautiful as it is - is not to be worshiped, like the surrounding peoples do, for they are created like we are. This remains to be relevant.

5) What would disprove God?
I've heard this several times, yet I am not convinced that this has dawned on most involved in debates on this question, but Craig highlights that the classic "problem of Evil" is recognised to no longer hold sway by both theists and atheists (see here also). You cannot say that God and evil cannot co-exist.

6) If  God could create a world in which a maximum number of people come to him that has evil in it, why not create a world in which there is no evil but that same number come to him?
Apparently: it might not be feasible for God to create such a world (excluding a ridiculous example of a 2-minute universe that Craig gives, but that was hardly the maximum, more of a maximum percentage). Craig disappointed me on this question, for some of the same reasons as he did on the animal suffering question. He reinterprets the question to mean those same people somehow plucked from our world and inserted into another world. The questioner didn't say that.

Grace and peace :)

Monday, 12 September 2016

Beauty and science

Everyone doubts, I think. The strength for me is learning to doubt our doubts, or at least some of them, because they can be fuelled by new information from folk who are, just like us, searching for meaning and truth without having any perfect access to it all.

For a few years, I have also recognised what I often call a couple of "pillars" to help support my faith in times of doubt. The first is the incredible experience for me of the beauty in the world around us. The first words both my children heard as they were born were Welcome to God's world, or something like that. It's breathtakingly beautiful in places, really close up, medium range, and fully zoomed out too. My second pillar has been the experience of God's grace in my life through people who treat me much better than my behaviour or attitude merit. This "Agape" love is pretty indescribable when you experience it. But as much as I still value my two "pillars", we need to be careful, I think, to avoid theologies that go along the lines of "I can't explain something positive, so it's God", the famous God of the gaps problem.

We should remember that so much of what we see God do he chooses to do, according to the Bible, indirectly. Even in my agape love experience, it is unlikely that I could fathom how God loves me in this way without experiencing this same kind of love through others. And let's certainly not go down the "there is no such thing as coincidence" fallacy! But that's probably a post for another day.

For now, I need to think a bit more about the notion of beauty (it's been on my mind for quite some time), because it is obviously unthinkable that the scientific world have no explanation for why we might have evolved to perceive things as desirable even if the pleasure they elicit in us today is of no basic physiological benefit. This neuro-scientist, Anjan Chatterjee, has a good crack at it, and maybe sometime I'll get round to reading his book. I have now removed the embedded video as it was stuck on autoplay. Please enjoy it here.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

The function of the kidneys

On my previous post we looked at the verses in the Old Testament that use the word for "kidneys" as a symbol to express a part of a person that is deep down and central to them. Thus far that might seem a little vague - surely just a synonym for "heart", why must we assume that the Hebrew authors meant anything else? Because we saw that the very word for heart is used in those same verses to mean another aspect of the person. In those instances we noticed two rather strange phenomena.

Firstly, the use of the translation "mind" in English. That is odd because the kidneys seem to be capable of holding strong emotion, which in English would be closer to the heart.

Secondly, the switching of the "heart" and "mind" in English to create (in my view) alignment with action of the Son of God in Revelation, especially if the Old Testament verse includes the action of searching.

So the Hebrew categories are probably different to ours. We still haven't got to the Hebrew word traditionally translated "soul", but let us try and get a better feeling for the heart and kidney categories by looking closer at the supporting language and actions.

So let us round up what "the kidneys" do:
- faint/fail/are consumed (the exact verb used in Job 19:27, כּלוּ - ka lah is predominantly linked with eyes "failing" and smoke "vanishing"). NIV gave yearning. The word has to be closer to this consistent idea of being "finished up" and used more in this way elsewhere. Further, the context needs to allow for it - Job is not expressing his deepest love for his God (or redeemer), but rather that he is being persecuted to an unbearable point by God (verse 22) that goes beyond the physical sufferings.
- are tried/probed/examined (as is the heart) [Ps 7:9 and Jer 11:20, 20:12], although Jeremiah 17:10 has hoker H2713 (searching) for Yahweh's reserved action for hearts while He keeps trying/probing/examining bohen H974 for the kidneys.
- instruct/discipline/chastise (as opposed to Yahweh who counsels) [Ps 16:7]
- are a place in which the person can be pierced/pricked (as opposed to the heart being grieved) [Ps 73:21]
- the person's primitive beginning. I already gave some comments on Ps 139:13 on the previous point, and I remain quite convinced. The psalmist also appears to be using repetition by following up kilyotay with you knit me together in my mother's womb. To begin with when God made the most central parts of me, those parts were all there were of me. This would obviously need to be investigated much more fully, but it could be that this represented the biological developmental understanding of the day. In particular (as gruesome as this sounds), research could examine if any ancient texts use kidney language to refer to miscarriages or stillborn children.
- rejoice [Pr 23:16] (as can the heart, see Ps 28:7)
- an inner place in which Yahweh can or cannot be located, independently of Yahweh's presence on a  person's lips and His role in planting and establishing that person [Jer 12:2]. Compare with the similar formulation in Isaiah 29:13, where the heart (leb) is far from God (cited by Jesus).

How could we combine these kidney references?
For the Israelites, we could say, that the kidneys are the fundamental and primitive organs from which Yahweh creates humans, which He will continue to examine and in which He would like to be - within the human life source. Functionally speaking, my picture thus far of the Israelite perspective is that the kidneys can hurt in a way similar to how we see a human conscience functioning, punishing the person with some guilty feeling about a decision or behaviour, while also able to cause the person to sense triumph and rejoicing - either way, some sort of emotive response about a completed performance.

So there we have our kidneys - I hope it was helpful. Clearly there is overlap with heart and probably with "soul" too, although the preference of some translations for "mind" seems questionable to me as this is too closely tied in our modern understanding to brains. Hopefully I will be able to map the heart and soul too before long.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Hearts and souls... and kidneys!

Yesterday's talk by Rob Bell committed me to looking at the Hebrew underlying our "heart-talk". As I have been preparing my Psalms meditation (hopefully version 1.0 ready by Christmas, in English, French and Arabic), it has been increasingly apparent to me that there is a Biblical tradition that is dying in modern translations. They are tending to lose some of the nuances preserved in Hebrew that express the human condition and composition that is bourn out of a deep process of inner wrestling on the part of the psalmists. As I ran listening to Rob's heart talk (excellent heart talk), I was reminded of this need to look under the bonnet. So here we go, and it's all about kidneys!

kilyah (כִּלְיָה) H3629. This word literally means kidneys, but is used symbolically to mean something approximating the inner man, or some aspect of the inner human being in Job (once), in Psalms (five times), once in Proverbs and four times in Jeremiah. Total: 11. As we will see, there is another word used for heart, that is used much more frequently, so it is really worth trying to see what flavour these symbolic "kidneys" bring to the mix of the Hebrew perspective of who we are. As we go through the 11, we will see that it is probably not a helpful translation to use "heart", which is unfortunately how we will kick off:

Job 19:27 is translated by the NIV with "heart":

I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns [kidneys yearn] within me!

The next concordance entry (Psalm 7:9, but also 26:2, 73:21, Jeremiah 11:20, 17:10, 20:12) of interest to us shows immediately how this kidney thing creates issues when trying to use "heart" to replace it, because kilyah is placed right alongside leb, the main Hebrew word for heart (99 [H3820] + 33 [H3824] = 132 occurrences in Psalms alone)!, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts.

The psalm actually says "... who probes hearts (leb) and kidneys (kilyah)". The issue here is that the same translators who wanted to translate kilyah with "heart" can't do that here, otherwise you end up with a God who probes hearts and hearts. Since the Job author has the kidneys yearning, it seems at first glance that either mind is not the most suitable translation here, that the "yearning" of Job is misleading, or that despite its limited symbolic use, kilyah somehow trumps leb here in Psalm 7:9. In this last scenario, the translators have allowed kilyah to be translated heart, and leb steps aside to become "mind". But that's highly unlikely. So why might translators invert the order if both the Hebrew and the subsequent LXX both have it in the order of hearts then kidneys? The answer, I suspect, is actually in Revelation 2:23 - translators wish to create extra alignment with the word order assigned to the function of the Son of God as expressed in the final book of the Bible. Regardless, Psalm 7:9 shows that both the kidneys and the heart are deep inner spaces into which the God Yahweh has and wants access.

Psalm 16:7 states: "I will praise Yahweh, who counsels me; even at night my heart (kilyah) instructs me." No obvious emotion here, although note that this "instructing" that the kidneys are doing carries more critical, chastising overtones than Yahweh's counselling. If this self-instruction process integrates "feeling guilty" about something, then it could also overlap with what we call "conscience".

Let us now look at Psalm 73:21's use of this kidney word, kilyah:

When my heart [lebab] was grieved and my spirit [kilyah] embittered

Here the NIV may be interweaving the Greek translation of the Hebrew with the Hebrew itself, because this embittering, as far as I can tell is absent from the Hebrew, which has the kidneys being pierced. So what does the LXX say? Along with some of the other research I am doing in the Greek translation of the Psalms, this verse contributes to the sense of professional respect I feel for these translators (even though exegetically speaking, they should be maintained as rigorously as possible in a downstream position with regards to source meaning). In the LXX, it faithfully keeps the word "heart" with the familiar-looking kardia. It then borrows the symbolism from the second Hebrew segment and has this heart being "enflamed" (exekauthē-ἐξεκαύθη) rather going down the "grieved" route. Next, the kidneys are KEPT in the Greek (as nephroi-νεφροί) and their attached verb removes the piercing and replaces with the idea of alteration. There is certainly more going on here, but let us just note with some interest that the idea of kidneys being associated with a place where conscience can be at work is distinctly possible. Where is that place?

Psalm 139:13 is mega-famous, and rightly avoids the kidneys word being translated "heart":

For you created my inmost being [kilyah kilyah]; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Now that's interesting. This repetition has to be significant and reinforces the idea of the kidneys being symbolically stressed, but is it really "inner parts"? I think that's right. The psalmist here is kind of saying to Yahweh: you created that centre of centres (if - that is - we accept the movement of going in). Another plausible alternative to my mind would be the idea of depth. Note that the psalmist is not saying leb leb (the heart of my heart), he is saying kilyah kilyah. Biology in the first millennium BC would not have been amazing, but they knew what and where a heart was and they knew where the kidneys were.

Look where the heart is:

Now look where the kidneys are:

Not only lower than the heart, the kidneys are also deeper down the torso than even the stomach. In perspective of the rest of the body, not only are they more central, they are also lower. Ancient peoples would have had an idea about the role of the heart. But what on earth are those kidney things for? The context of this 139th psalm is Yahweh's greatness with respect to his wonderful creation in man, whom he brought fourth. That bringing fourth obviously happened in the mother's womb. We're left to imagine with the psalmist, looking at the very start of God's creation of the baby foetus, what that might look like, and guess what - kidney language is right there. It's speculation here, but could we not imagine that the kidneys are seen as central and even the source to human life?

Proverbs 23:16 also has a kilyah kilyah repetition (my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right), this time associated with the emotion of rejoicing and exultation.

OK our last port of call for symbolic kidneys is the prophetic book, Jeremiah. 11:20 reads: But you, Almighty Yahweh, who judge righteously and test the heart and mind. And so, yet again, we get the curious inversion of the Hebrew word order, which goes kilyah and leb (see comment above on Psalm 7:9).

Jeremiah 12:2, on the other hand, is really quite sad. You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. That deep inner space represented by the kidneys has become a Yahweh-free zone.

Jeremiah 17:10 could provide further insight into the heart/kidney distinction, but it will probably have to wait until the next blog post: I, Yahweh, search the heart and examine the mind. Jeremiah has Yahweh doing one action to the heart (in Hebrew this searching-action is chaqar, H2713) and a different action to the kidneys (bachan, H974). Fortunately, the word order is respected on this occasion, which provides further evidence of my Revelation 2 alignment hypothesis I mentioned above. The final Old Testament kidneys reference of interest to us is Jeremiah 20:12, which is a copy-paste of Psalm 7:9 - the same comments above apply here too.

Note that there is thus-far no confusion or parallelism with the key word, soul, nephesh in Hebrew. We will see at some future point that this word is much more loaded with feeling and emotion and movement than the metaphysical "soul"-language came to mean in recent times.

Please also note: all NIV citations today, unless otherwise stated, are from the modern revised NIV usually copyrighted 2011, with my substitutions of Yahweh for "the LORD".

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Hearts and souls

I was off running today - gently and off-road in some light-weight shoes. I wound my way through the burnt out remains of a hillside recently gutted by fire. It was quite a liberating experience as with a lot of that destruction, there is also a lot of space to move around in that normally would require runners and walkers to stay closer to paths. It was also liberating because I was listening to Rob Bell talk about the heart, which you can (read: should) check here: Welcome to your heart

Part way through, this triggered this response from me, where I basically feel a need to do some Hebrew-checking on the words underlying "heart" (featured heavily in Bell's teaching) and "soul" (not mentioned once). It's only a couple of a minutes, totally unrehearsed and unprepared, but it's while running, and I love diversity!

Here's a couple of other piccies from the same sortie:

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Another opportunity to push Ehrman on John

Another opportunity has arisen to quiz Bart Ehrman on his confusing presentation of John's Christology. My previous efforts, to which he did not respond, you could read here, but were echoed and encouraged elsewhere. See also another correspondence with him here. You can't help but feel he is dodging the issue a bit. Here's the latest, from his post concerning the plurality of theological perspective in the New Testament, entitled: Different Ways of Describing the Theology of the New Testament (I agree with him that it differs internally more than systematic theologians like to permit, but that's not the point) (sorry, part of his post will not be visible if you are not a subscriber to his blog).

Bart wrote, typically, that for John: "Christ is a divine figure who is equal with God who has come from God to reveal the truth that can bring eternal life". Ehrman likes to contrast John's Christology with a radically different perspective from Mark or Luke, make John's a huge leap toward 4th century doctrinal solutions.

I responded: Dr Ehrman, do you not think it is actually possible that John is addressing a real or potential **misconception** within his community that Christ was equal with God, when he has Jesus saying that he is going to the Father, because he (the Father) is greater than him (Jesus)?

Bart responded: I think instead that it’s very complicated, that John incorporated traditions that emerged at different periods in his community’s history, and these traditions are sometimes at odds, christologically.

I responded: In which case (still thinking about your original statement), would it be more accurate (and wordy) to say that John incorporates a plurality of traditions, some of which affirm Christ’s equality with God and others that refute it? Personally, I would see this as too detached and inconsistent for John whose views I think you would agree are omnipresent.

From my experience, I'd say it is unlikely that he will continue the conversation further. But hopefully you get the point I keep trying to expose. What I meant by this final sentence that is not adequate to retreat back from the initial assertion about John see's Jesus as equal with God (and on previous occasions, Bart has just flat out declared that for John, "Jesus is God", something that even some relatively conservative evangelical scholars are hesitant to express in these terms) with talk of John just incorporating multiple traditions. John is not simply gathering diverse materials about Jesus. Unlike the synoptics that are based on textual sources (or at least Matthew and Luke), John is totally fresh and the content shaped by its strong theological message. Unlike what Ehrman says about the author of John (he knows nothing of the local context and was not at all an eyewitness or connected to any eye-witnesses), I would say some of the specific details in John's gospel show that this is either who it is traditionally connected with (son of Zebedee), or more likely, someone intimately connected with that resulting circle (I actually have a pet theory/speculation that John had recently died at the point of the writing of John's gospel, for the exact and perhaps commissioned purpose of not losing this teaching).

The point is that the author cannot be saying just that Christ is equal with God if he explicitly has Jesus saying that he is not equal with the Father. Logically then it is either

a) Jesus is both equal and not equal (somehow)
b) Jesus is not equal.

The author is not writing a compendium of different traditions. He's going for it and even explicitly writes down why it was written down this way John 20:31.

Let's see if Bart does answer though, maybe he can give the further clarification I and others have found he has often lacked on John.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Asterisked *Lord... in one French translation: DARBY

Yesterday we saw how one European translation of the New Testament makes (in at least one key instance, Mark 12:29) an effort to disambiguate the usages of Kyrios (Lord) in the New Testament. The way this Spanish translation achieved this was by capitalising the Spanish word for Lord, SEÑOR, **in the New Testament**. I also stressed that context has quite a lot to say for the way in which a word was intended and understood, taking the name "Isis" as one good example for context, and a fictional example of disambiguation via grammatical absence of the article of a mayor, who so associated himself with his title that he became "Mayor".

After discovering the La Biblia de las Américas translation, I was also intrigued by the French Darby attempt. What they have done here is recognise that some of the Greek of the New Testament is clearly (or unambiguously) referring to the divine Name of Yahweh, via the construction of the Greek translation Kyrios. The manifestation of this recognition is a very subtle-yet-noticeable asterisk: *Seigneur. When the French-speaking reader sees *Seigneur in the Darby translation, the point is that there is a connection to be made in the reader's mind with the Old Testament's l'Eternel. On that point, I think we can add that French is a particularly interesting translation language of the Bible as it so consistently distinguishes "l'Eternel" (albeit mainly arthrous) from "Seigneur" in the New Testament (thus far I have checked Bible du Semeur (BDS), Ostervald (OST), Martin (MAR), Darby (DRB), Annotée Neuchâtel (BAN), Segond 21 (SG21), Nouvelle Edition de Genève (NEG1979) and Louis Segond (LSG) - all are in 100% agreement on this distinction). Thus for reasons of context (e.g. a New Testament author explicitly quoting an Old Testament text), or for strong grammatical reasons (the Angel of Kyrios, aka the Angel of the Lord), the French Darby translation is able to asterisk 123 instances of "Seigneur", contained within 117 verses. You can see these here.

There is plenty to commend in this effort. A translation that seeks to be simple and "consistent" can save itself a lot of time and probably controversy by simply translating every single instance of Kyrios by "Lord" and hoping that if there is any context available, that the reader will pick up on this, perhaps helped along by the Holy Spirit. But I am sorry to say that this is nonsence. For example, how many Christians realise that nowhere in the Bible does the Hebrew, or the Greek translation of the Hebrew, say "my Yahweh", "our Yahweh" or "your Yahweh", or in their translations "my LORD", "our LORD" or "your LORD"? Because we don't SHOUT "LORD" because it is in capitals, and because Jesus is "our Lord", these issues are quickly confused in believers minds - or certainly were in my mind.

The problem is for the braver translations seeking to go down this harder path - that is to say leaving a clue as to New Testament reference to the divine Name - is that there are instances where it is less clear. Larry Hurtado has published an essay on the ambiguity in Acts that you can consult online about this, and it seems certain that this was quite quicly ambiguous (although I would be very hesitant to say it was amiguous for the writer of Acts) for the later manuscript copyists, who would sometimes add or remove articles in order to attempt to clarify what seemed uncertain to them. The sheer fact that they would seek to do this in the earliest centuries underlines two key points I think we should wake up to:

  1. Disambiguation is important
  2. The issue of article or no article IS significant.

It's not just me harping on about this!

So I would probably agree with most of the French Darby asterisks, but at the same time remain confused as to why other occurrences don't also merit the mental queue - I selected a few to illustrate this in red. Obviously, I was not surprised that my arguments around 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 were not represented here. However, you may recall that my research in Psalms lead me to post about New Testament usage of παρὰ κυρίου (from + anarthrous genitive of Lord). Four of those six occurrences are also asterisked by French Darby: Mat 21:42, Mark 12:11, Luke 1:45, 2 Peter 2:11. As I made clear in that post, of the two remaining instances of παρὰ κυρίου - I am confident about the divine Name reference in 2Ti 1:18 (i.e. if applying the Darby solution, Seigneur should be asterisked in 2 Timothy 1:18). The final less clear reference was Ephesians 6:8, which I admitted needed more work.

So with no further ado, please do check the French Darby roundup for more information.


Monday, 15 August 2016

Who's who?

In this blog we are all about disambiguation! Especially in Christian theology where not all the biblical data is unambiguous, it is important that we do replicate clear distinctions in the texts when they are unambiguous - who wants to worship an ambiguous God or Lord?

I was intrigued to learn that a couple of European translations have recognised that not all usage of Kyrios (Lord) in the New Testament is the same. A lot of the differences behind what people meant in the first century when they said Lord would depend on context, and sometimes that context was even assisted by grammar.

I have a good friend whom I sometimes work with, and his wife's name is Isis. Of course, he regularly talks about her, and also discusses at times the latest events associated with the terrorist group. Unsurprisingly, there is never any overlap or confusion despite the usage of the same word!

Another example regarding the assistance of grammar (this time fictitious): In Dackensborough, the local Mayor was Mayor Terrance Tonner. To his closer friends, he was happy with just Terrance, but generally he was pretty attached to his title Mayor, and, just like his uncle before him, would identify himself so closely with that role - indeed it was life - that "Mayor" was pretty much the name he went by.

One blustery Tuesday morning the Yorkshire town townhall door was slammed open with worrying immediacy. The postman practically shouted: "I've got a really, really urgent letter for Mayor Terrance!" he yelled at the startled receptionist. Before she could reply, another door boomed open, and there he was, the main man himself. "I'm mayor here" (as if to say, only I get to slam doors around these parts). "H...H...Here's your letter, Mayor" he managed to stammer and scarpered.

Later that day, the young postman was not feeling good about his impression up in the Town Hall, and he called up the receptionist, whom he already knew from school days. "Linda, sorry to bother you, but did I leave a bad impression on Mayor?"

Mayor Terrance Tonner in this story became identified with his title Mayor in such a way as to dispose of the article almost completely. If he went to a neighbouring town, where he was not mayor, he might well still have thought of himself as Mayor, because that was now pretty much his name. I could push the parallels still further, but I just want to park that one there for now, in order to get back to the modern translations keen to preserve the disambiguation between what we might call a "local" Lord, e.g. an angel, a human master, our Lord Jesus, and the Greek translation of Yahweh, (predominantly) anarthrous Lord (a bit like Mayor).

A Spanish translation I found to attempt to show something of this was Nueva Traducción Viviente(NTV), which in Mark 12:29 has Jesus quoting the Greek LXX to say "EL SEÑOR" (the LORD, Yahweh). Note the use of the capitals in contrast to the surrounding citation:

El mandamiento más importante es: “¡Escucha, oh Israel! El Señor nuestro Dios es el único Señor.

NTV translators realised that they were in their full rights to fully capitalise SEÑOR because it was an exact quote of Deuteronomy 6:4, the famous Shema.

(Please note I am not strongly praising the NTV choices here, for there are no perfect solutions to the Yahweh problem. It should, however, be clear by now I am not in favour of heavy article adding to LORD given its deliberate exclusion by the Greek translators and its obvious total absence in the Hebrew. Here I like that there is a stylistic and helpful distinction for the New Testament Spanish reader, not that it is prefixed by "el")

A second translation attempting this New Testament distinction I will explore with you more extensively is the French Darby translation - that will be the subject of the next post.

**update** I have updated and developed slightly the above notes about the Spanish translation, as there was either an update to the previously-cited LBLA version, or I simply made a mistake. The LBLA's solution to the divine Name problem is to capitalise SENOR in the OT and capitalise everything the NT cites from the OT.