Saturday, December 27, 2008

In the Beginning: The Need for Theological Exegesis

Just a taste of the kind of exegetical comments I will be making in 2009 as we read through the Bible.

The traditional rendering of the opening verse of the Bible is, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." But a number of newer translations have challenged that rendering by offering other possible renderings. The NRSV offers three possibilities, one in the text itself, and two in the footnote. The text version is, "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth," (note the comma). The first alternative is, "When God began to create the heavens and the earth," (again, note the comma). The second alternative is the traditional rendering. In his commentary on Genesis (Word Biblical Commentary series), Gordon Wenham discusses four possible ways of taking the text (pp. 11-15) though in the end he prefers the traditional rendering. Barry Bandstra in his Genesis 1-11: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text, pp. 41-49 also discusses various options, from a technical linguistics/discourse analysis approach. Again, he prefers the traditional approach, but recognizes the viability of the other options.

The purpose of this comment is not to call into question the traditional rendering, but to note that a detailed understanding of Hebrew grammar and syntax will not tell us which rendering is the correct rendering. All of the options are grammatically and syntactically possible. In addition, linguistics/discourse analysis cannot solve the problem, because all of the options are again possible. The question can only be answered theologically, and each of the options represents different theological assumptions: about God, about the text, and about what the text is to be understood as teaching in its larger context. The NRSV, for example, is influenced by a late medieval rabbinic understanding, as well as by the assumption that Genesis 1 has certain commonalities with an Ancient Near Eastern "creation" text known as Enuma elish. This text is titled from its opening words, which mean "when, on high." It then goes on to tell the story of "creation" from a polytheistic perspective.

Another way of putting all this is that words have their meanings in contexts, but, particularly with Biblical texts, those contexts include the theological context. Is the text part of a much larger collection of texts that constitute the Word of God written? Or is the text part of a compilation over time of ancient Israelite religious texts, written from a variety of theological perspectives? How you answer those questions will affect not only your exegesis of texts, it will also affect your translation of texts.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reading Through the Bible

Okay, you've tried it before. Maybe you've succeeded, maybe you haven't. But if you're interested in trying to read through the Bible in 2009, you can find a reading schedule here:

I plan on giving you some help along the way.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bible Humor and Translation Issues

If someone ever asks you if the name "Ed" is a biblical name, the answer is yes. In Josh 22:34, the KJV reads, And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God. Most modern readers of English probably find a touch of humor in that verse, thinking about an altar named Ed. Now the KJV does give the marginal reading "witness." The difference between "Ed" and "witness" is that the former is a transliteration of the Hebrew word that means "witness," while the latter is simply a translation. Most modern versions have gone with the latter.

But this is a real problem for translators: what to do with names. Should the name be translated, or should it be transliterated? That sounds like it should be an easy question to answer, but it is not. Biblical names often have meaning that are significant to the context. So it might seem to the reader that the thing for the translators to do is to simply translate the name. But if that is done, the fact that the word is a name may then be lost. When faced with such a decision, whether to translate or to transliterate, translations usually do the following. They put one version of the name in the text (for example the KJV putting Ed in the text of Josh 22:34) and then put the other version of the name (in this case "witness") in the margin. But it seems that most translations take this issue on a case-by-case basis.

A great sample text here is Is 62:4, because the verse seems to have four names in it. The ASV translates the first two, and transliterates the last two, as does the NIV. The ESV translates all four as does the NLT and the NRSV.

In any case, when it comes to naming children, remember that Ed is a biblical name.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Head Coverings: Part 2 Calvin

The view of Calvin on this matter is set out briefly but clearly in his comments on 1 Cor 11:3, where he says, "it is an unseemly thing for women to appear in a public assembly with their heads uncovered, and, on the other hand, for men to pray or prophesy with their heads covered." That certainly seems to settle the matter. What is curious about this fact is that the Geneva Bible, which appeared a relatively short time later, and under the influence of Calvin, held to a different view, as was shown in the last post. Hence, it is profitable to take a closer look at Calvin's comments in the ensuing verses.

In commenting on vs 4, Calvin says, "For we must not be so scrupulous as to look upon it as a criminal thing for a teacher to have a cap on his head, when addressing the people from the pulpit." He goes on to say that Paul's point of concern here is decorum, and "If that is secured, Paul requires nothing farther."

In his comments on vs 5, Calvin insists that women must have their heads covered, to show their subjection. He goes further to insist that it must be a covering in addition to her hair, because some want to argue that it is a woman's hair that is her covering.

According to Calvin, the entire section is concerned with decorum or propriety in the church, and as long as decorum is preserved, the end is accomplished. However, he then seems to become inconsistent, by saying that the man may in fact have his head covered, as long as it is not intended to be "an emblem of authority intermediate and interposed." But the woman must have her head covered. The covering is a sign of her subjection, and apparently for Calvin this was not possible without a visible covering over the woman's hair.

This seeming inconsistency may account for the difference between Calvin and the Geneva Bible on this matter.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Head Coverings: Part 1 Geneva Bible

I was asked by someone recently where the current emphasis on head coverings for women in Reformed churches is coming from. For those who don't know, head coverings for women were standard in Catholicism until Vatican II. I remember as a child most women in our UPCUSA church wore hats. What I don't know is whether that was more because of theology, or because of style. I suspect the latter, but cannot prove it. After all, those were also the days when men wore hats all the time outdoors, but always took them off indoors, unlike today when the "gimme" ball cap is ubiquitous. But I had always mentally associated the "head coverings for women" with certain of the more sectarian fundamentalist groups than with Reformed churches. So over the next few posts, I'm going to attempt an unscientific examination of the issue through various Reformed commentaries. I'll start with the notes of the Geneva Bible, which has recently been reprinted, thanks to the commitment of the folks at Tolle Lege Press.

The Geneva notes on 1 Cor 11:4-5 read as follows: Hereof he gathereth that if men do either pray or preach in public assemblies having their heads covered (which was then a sign of subjection) they did as it were spoil themselves of their dignity, against God's ordinance. It appeareth that this was a political law serving only for the circumstances of the time that Paul lived in , by this reason, because in these our days for a man to speak bareheaded in an assembly, is a sign of subjection. And in the like sort he concludeth, that women which show themselves in public and ecclesiastical assemblies without the sign and token of their subjection, that is to say, uncovered, shame themselves.

Interpreting these terse notes, I think the following may be fairly said. First, the signs of subjection were a part of the political economy of the day, and these signs may change, and in fact have changed. In Paul's day, a man wearing a head covering in a public assembly showed himself to be in subjection. In the days of the Geneva Bible, a man appearing in a public assembly without a head covering showed himself to be in subjection. Hence, women ought to appear in public assembly in such a manner as to show themselves in subjection, consistent with whatever the common practice is at the time. It does not appear that the Geneva notes can be read in such a way as to argue for a perpetual necessity for women to wear head coverings in public worship.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 6

This is the last in this series, unless I can come up with something for the 9th and 10th centuries. For the 18th century, my suggestion is Jonathan Edwards' History of the Work of Redemption. I would recommend that you buy the Yale University Press edition, but I also realize that it is out of reach for most of you. So read it in the Banner of Truth reprint, or read it online at or download it from Google Books. There is an edition on Google Books that is just the History of the Work of Redemption. I think any Reformed pastor should have read at least some of Edwards, and this work is more accessible than some of the more philosophically oriented works.

For the 19th century, I recommend Archibald Alexander's Thoughts on Religious Experience. It is useful treatise, though not as penetrating as Edwards on religious affections. Nonetheless, it it well worth the time to read.

For the 20th century I recommend R. C. Sproul's The Holiness of God. 20th century evangelicalism especially lacks much appreciation for this divine attribute, and Sproul does an excellent job of making clear its importance for the Christian life.

Monday, November 17, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 5

Moving to the 14th century, we move from theology per se to theology and social criticism posing as poetry. That is the Divine Comedy of Dante. A great work of literature, thoroughly informed by the theology of the day. I recommend the Penguin Classics edition translated by Dorothy Sayers, but probably any annotated edition (and there are many available) would do.

For the 15th century, I recommend In Praise of Folly by Erasmus. Yes, I realize that technically this is 16th century, since it was published in 1511. However, it imbibes the spirit of the 15th century, since it shows forth all the various strains of revolt and protest that were beginning to bubble up in the 15th century. There are a number of editions available, both online and in print, and I don't have one to recommend above the others.

For the 16th century there is an embarrassment of riches, and no choice I make will receive any universal approval. However, I recommend Luther's Commentary on Galatians. Kregel Classics has published a nice edition of it in paperback, or if you have Kindle, it is available for $3.19. I recommend this in part because it is the contrary to Erasmus. In part, I also recommend it because it reminds us, if we need reminding, of why there was a Reformation, and why it is still important. You will probably learn more about Luther than about Galatians, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Finally, for this post, the 17th century. Again, an embarrassment of riches, because this was the age of the Puritans. However, as an one who enjoys Tolkien, recognizing that that Lord of the Rings is really a tetralogy (including The Hobbit), I recommend what I call the "sin" tetralogy by John Owen. These are the four works that make up volume 6 of Owen's collected works: On the Mortification of Sin, On Temptation, On Indwelling Sin in Believers, and Exposition of Psalm 130 (on forgiveness of sin). In this day of both legalism and licentiousness, every minister ought to read these by Owen and put them into practice. He will grow in holiness, and avoid many dangers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 4

The 9th and 10th centuries seem to have been difficult days for the church, at least as far as memorable works go. Theological and intellectual investigation had not died, but the published remains of that period seem not to have made it into English form. There are, of course, references to various authors and works from that period in the standard histories, and in secondary literature about the debates. But primary sources translated into English are in short supply. So I will hold off on these two centuries until I have solidified some selections.

For the 11th century, I am tempted to suggest Abelard's Historia Calamitatum (The Story of My Misfortunes), which is available in paperback (you can find it at Amazon). Or you can read it online at But instead, I recommend Anselm's Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). It is a far more important work, and is probably not much read any more, nor required much in seminary curricula. It is available online, as well as in a variety of print forms. Of these, I recommend the Oxford World Classics edition, since it contains most of Anselm's major works.

For the 12th century, I recommend Bernard of Clairvaux's essay "On Loving God." This can be found online as well as in print. Of the latter, I recommend the edition in the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics series. This is devotional writing of the finest sort. It enables us to see a love for God through the eyes of a man from a world very different from ours. The reader of this column are mostly Reformed Protestants; Bernard was Catholic. We are not monks; he was. We live with all the advantages of modern technology; the technology of Bernard's day was little different from that of Jesus' day. But the love for God that we share with Bernard can break down those barriers, and draw us together as members of one church.

For the 13th century, I cannot but recommend Aquinas. More vilified than read in our day, especially perhaps among Reformed types, he nonetheless deserves to be read. I cannot in good conscience recommend reading the entirety of Summa Theologica, but I do recommend a work titled Aquinas's Shorter Summa, published by Sophia Institue Press, and available at a very reasonable price. I think you will find Aquinas much different than you imagined him to be.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 3

As we move into the 6th century, we start moving into difficult territory. The names are much less familiar, as are the works. Here, I would suggest Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. The most accessible edition is probably that published by Penguin Classics and edited by Victor Watts. It is also available online at Google Books in an 18th-century translation by Philip Ridpath, or an early 20th century version by W. V. Cooper at Boethius is late-5th, early-6th centuries, having died in 525 or so. But the book was written in the 6th century.

For the seventh century, I recommend Isidore of Seville (570-636) and his work De Ecclesiasticis Officiis. It is available in the Ancient Christian Writers series from Paulist Press. It is an important early work on church offices, both liturgical and ministerial. His best-known work is the Etymologies, which became a standard textbook for the Middle Ages, but I think the smaller work may be of more interest.

For the 8th century, I recommend Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. It is by far the best known of his works, and perhaps the best-known work of the 8th century. It is also important for our history as English-speaking Christians. Again, I would recommend the Penguin Classics edition. Earlier translations are available online at Google Books, and at

I will return with recommendations for later centuries, but the 9th and 10th centuries are particularly short of important works that are still readily available.

Monday, November 03, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 2

We move now to the third century and beyond. For the third century, I suggest Origen On Prayer. This is a relatively short work. It gives a more positive side of Origen than we are used to seeing. And it is considered one of the classic treatises on the subject. It is available in a variety of forms, some of which are: Origen: An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer, and Selected Works, published by Paulist Press in their Classics of Western Spirituality series. This seems to be an abridgement. There is also the unabridged form in Prayer; Exhortation to Martyrdom in the Ancient Christian Writers series, also from Paulist Press. It can also be read online at

For the fourth century, I suggest Athanasius On the Incarnation. As with the other works from the fathers, it is available in a variety of formats, both in print and online. One edition, reprinted by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, has a nice introduction by C. S. Lewis.

For the fifth century, I suggest Augustine's The City of God. Augustine was the giant of the late fourth and early fifth century. He was a voluminous writer and had a towering intellect. Most people recommend people to read his Confessions. I don't disregard them, but The City of God was written as the Roman Empire was falling apart. It is part apologetics, part systematic theology, part ethics, part biblical theology, part theology of history. It is available in abridged form, but I really think that any minister ought to work through the whole thing. Though many editions are available, my recommendation is the edition published by Penguin Classics and translated by Henry Bettenson.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

An Eccentric Reading List, Part 1

This and the following series of posts contains a suggested reading list that I first proposed to incoming students at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I suggested that it would be helpful to read broadly through the history of Christian writing, and I intended to give them a list of books, one from each century of the history of the church, as a starting point for that broad reading. I never actually put the list together until now.

Some might expect such a list to focus on "devotional" reading. Over the last couple of decades Paulist Press has published a series called "Classics of Western Spirituality." For those interested in devotional reading, I would direct them to that series. I intended my recommendations to be more eclectic, and also intended more for pastors and would-be pastors than for laymen. The choices are mine, and I will be giving reasons for the choices. Some of the choices have been suggested by friends and colleagues, but ultimately it is my list, and therefore as eccentric as I am.

Through the history of the church, there have been hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of books published by Christian authors. Hundreds of these have survived, and those that have survived, especially from the church's early centuries, are probably all worth reading. However, no one has that much time. So starting with the second century, I am choosing one work from each century to recommend.

The second-century work that I have chosen is Against Heresies by Ireneaus. A number of reasons went into the choice. The work is fairly easy reading. It is fairly short. It also makes the point that even in the early history of the church there was a significant concern for orthodoxy. In our day, there are many scholars, such as Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels, who consider the rise of orthodoxy in the West to be a primarily political movement, motivated by desire for power and control. Ireneaus is a nice little corrective to that line of thinking. The work is also readily available, either in the Ante-Nicene Fathers set, or online through Google Books, or

Rejoinder on the Reading of Scripture

Adam has pointed out that the PCA BCO 57-3 and 57-4 speak of people when admitted into church membership, or when admitted to the Lord's Supper "should make a public profession of their faith in the presence of the congregation." This he likens to "testimonies." As Chapter 57 of the BCO continues, however, it seems pretty clear that this "public confession of faith" means the response to the membership vows, and not to any sundry "testimony."

Are testimonies thereby excluded? Not necessarily. However, my own sense of this is that the session of the church has the responsibility of oversight on such testimonies. Knowing the human tendency to speak at length when given the opportunity to do so, my preference is for testimonies in informal settings, not in the public worship. That, however, is up to the session of the local church. They may allow such testimonies. I also think that if the person intends to read Scripture during his testimony, the session should formally approve it, so that a woman would not be exercising an authority not properly hers.

The fact remains that the public reading of Scripture in the context of worship is by its nature an authoritative act. It is the responsibility of the session to guard that authority.

This will probably not satisfy Prodigal, but it's as much as he's going to get.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Follow-up Regarding the Public Reading of Scripture

The following question was prompted by my last post: A woman in the congregation shares her testimony during the service. Said testimony includes the reading of a passage of Scripture. Is such a practice allowable?

I'll probably get myself in trouble with my answer, as it will be so hopelessly out of date and so terribly rigid. Neither the Westminster Confession of Faith nor the PCA Book of Church Order include "testimonies" as an element of worship. Hence, I think testimonies ought not be allowed in the public worship of the church. They are fine in any other setting, such as group Bible studies or prayer meetings. By extension, someone reading a passage of Scripture in the context of such a testimony is disallowed.

Further, I think women reading Scripture in public worship is disallowed. The Word of God is authoritative, which makes its reading in public worship an authoritative act. This would be disallowed by the strictures of 1 Tim 2:12

Monday, October 27, 2008

On Reading the Bible to the Congregation

One word--preparation. First, you should look over the passage. Are there any words you doesn't know? Then you need to look them up and learn how to pronounce them. Are there names? Ditto. (On this point, I would recommend that anyone who is going to read Scripture in public should purchase a "self-pronouncing" edition of the KJV and learn how to use the diacritical marks for the pronunciation of names.) Third, look at the punctuation of the passage. Where are the commas, the semi-colons, and the periods? These tell you where the pauses are. Fourth, practice. Read it aloud to someone. Try to follow the rhythm of the text, pausing and stopping where the punctuation indicates, and stressing important words and phrases. Have your listener critique your reading. Then you are ready to read the passage to the congregation.

One further note on names. If you mispronounce them, do so boldly, with certainty in your voice, and without stumbling. The one or two people who know how the name is pronounced will value your lack of stumbling, and the rest won't know the difference.

Amenemope 6 "Literary Dependence"

I realized that I had left my Amenemope posts incomplete. What still needs to be considered is the answer to the question, "What constitutes literary dependence of one work upon another?" Or in other words, on what basis do we determine that one literary work has depended on another for part of its content? Obviously, there would have to be similarity of content. Without that similarity, there would be no reason to consider dependence. But similarity of content, while it might be necessary, is not sufficient. I would think there would also have to be similarity of wording, and similarity of design.

Now we have seen that there is similarity of content between Amenemope and Prov 22:17-24:22. There is also some similarity of wording. If one buys the "thirty" argument, then there is also similarity of design. But is this enough to demonstrate literary dependence?I think not. It seems that one more thing would be necessary to demonstrate literary dependence. That would be that the similarities could not be explainable on any basis other than that of literary dependence.

We have already looked at the similarities of content. To anyone familiar with Proverbs, and with the proverbial literature of the Ancient Near East as a whole, these similarities are found throughout the whole gamut of proverbial literature. There is nothing in the content of Proverbs tying it to Amenemope that would not also tie it to a number of other collections of proverbial literature. Second, the similarity of wording linking Proverbs and Amenemope is not distinctive to the Proverbs-Amenemope intersection. The language used is typical of the whole range of proverbial literature. Finally, there is no similarity of design between Proverbs and Amenemope.

In short, while there are indeed some similarities between Proverbs and Amenemope, they are more likely due to the common style of the literature and the similar cultural contexts out of which the literature arose. It is hardly likely that one was literarily dependent upon the other.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mental Images of Jesus

The answer to Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 109 says in part that the second commandment forbids "the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind . . ." If you are not in a denomination with the Westminster Standards as its doctrinal foundation, or if you are in the the PCA and the OPC but have been living in a fog, you don;t know that many, if not most, men now coming for licensure and/or ordination in these denominations take exception to this statement. Their rationale is usually along the lines that it goes beyond Scripture, or how can we avoid making an image of Jesus when we think about him, or when we pray.

My response is twofold. First, the commandment forbids the making of images as well as it forbids the worshiping of them. Second, tells us that the man who looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery in his heart. That is, the mental image constitutes a violation of the commandment against adultery. It seems likely then, that the making of a mental image of Jesus constitutes a violation of the commandment not to make images.

Second, as any godly man disciplines himself against the entertaining of adulterous images in his mind, so it should be possible for a man to so discipline his mind that he does not create for himself mental images of Jesus. In fact, it should be easier for a man to do this, than to discipline himself against lustful images. After all the particular woman may be right in front of the man, but the Scripture gives us no description of Jesus. Hence one really has to work at constructing an image of Jesus, which we know from the start is idolatrous, because it is false. We have no idea what Jesus looked like, so to construct any image of him is to construct a false image.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Exodus 6:3

This is one of those verses that "proves" the Documentary Hypothesis concerning the origin of the Pentateuch. This verse says, "And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai; and my name Yhwh I did not make known to them." Hence every use of Yhwh in Genesis must be anachronistic.

This strikes me as a pretty literalistic reading of the text; far beyond the kind of literalism evangelicals are often charged with. The name Yhwh appears approximately 144 times in Genesis. Now either the writer of Exodus 6:3 was unaware of that fact, or he means something other than "pronounced" by "made known to." It has been commonly observed that though Yhwh is frequently used in Genesis, it is never explained there. It is not until Exodus 3 that some explanation is given of the meaning of God's name. Hence, the simple reading of the passage is "I did not explain my name to the patriarchs. They primarily knew me as El Shaddai."

Now this, by itself, does not prove the Documentary Hypothesis is incorrect. But it does suggest that such approaches to understanding the Old Testament as that promoted by the Documentary Hypothesis seem unwilling to deal with the Biblical text on its own terms. Rather, the scholars seek to create different terms for a basis on which to read the Old testament text. The Old Testament on its own terms is a dangerous body of literature. It always calls into question our assumptions about God and man, the world and our life in it. It is when we try to read the Bible on our terms that we tame it, and we no longer hear its corrective voice.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Amenemope 5: Thirty Chapters?

Under the influence of the idea that Proverbs 22:17-24:22 was dependent on "The Teaching of Amenemope," scholars have sought to find a thirty-part arrangement that parallels the thirty chapters of the Egyptian work. This is most obvious in the Good News Bible (GNB), which has each of the thirty sections numbered in the text. Most other versions are more subtle, indicating the arrangement of the "chapters" by the spacing of the text. But the difficulty for the translators and editors is to find a consistent division of the text that is really defensible.

For example, the GNB has Prov 22:17-21 serving as a sort of prologue to the entire thing, while 22:22-23 is the first chapter. It ends up with a total of thirty-one sections; the prologue and thirty numbered chapters. The HCSB on the other hand (by following the spacing of the text) has a total of twenty-nine sections--one short of thirty, and entirely absent a prologue. The ESV has only fourteen or fifteen sections (it's difficult to tell if they intend a new section starting at 24:1). It is difficult to tell on what basis one might divide sections, as there is little in the text itself to guide the division. Some sections clearly stand out on the basis of their content, such as the one on drunkenness in 23:29-35. However, much of the material is so generically "wisdom" that no real divisions seem to exist. Further, there seems to be nothing in the arrangement of the Hebrew text, or in word usage that would seem to lay out a clear pattern, let alone a clear thirty-chapter pattern. For example, the adverb of negation ('al) appears some twenty-five times in the text, but not in any way that allows for twenty-five subdivisions. The use of the imperative, and of the negative particle (lo') is even more infrequent.

In short, a comparison of various translations that uses "thirty" in 22:20 shows that there is no consensus in how the text should be subdivided, and most do not even achieve thirty sections. But clearly the attempt to find thirty (or almost thirty) sections in this material is driven by the assumption that Proverbs is dependent on Amenemope. Once again, the question, based on the evidence, becomes, "Is such.a dependence really likely?"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Amenemope 4: "Excellent Things" or "Thirty?"

In the KJV, Prov 22:20 reads: Have I not written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge? The ASV, published in 1901, and the Jewish Publication Society translation published in 1917 say essentially the same thing, having "of" in the place of "in," but otherwise identical. The NASB and the NASB update read the same. The ESV, and most other modern versions, read something like: Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge?

How do the translators get from "excellent things" to "thirty sayings," and is that move legitimated by the text itself? The first thing to recognize is that the word that is so variously rendered is itself something of a difficulty in the Hebrew text. The consonantal text, as inherited by the Masoretic scribes, reads shilshom, but the scribes themselves indicate that the word is to be read shalishim.

The word shilshom literally means "the day before yesterday," more loosely meaning "formerly." However, it always elsewhere occurs as part of the phrase tmol shilshom meaning "yesterday and the day before" but with the general sense of "formerly." One could thus assume that this is simply a case where tmol has been omitted, and translate it, "I have written to you previously." This is suggested by the Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) lexicon.

The word shalishim is the plural of shalish meaning an officer of some sort. This does not seem to fit the context, hence the BDB comment that this is impossible. The older versions seem to have taken the term "officer" as a figure for excellence, hence their renderings of this verse. (A fuller discussion of this view tracing the development of the thinking on the rendering can be found in the Keil & Delitzsch commentary on this verse.

The Septuagint is not helpful in clearing up the difficulty, because it renders the word by trissos, meaning "three times." This seems to be roughly equivalent to the meaning of shilshom. This is also the reading reflected in the Syriac Peshitta and the Targum.

How then, did the modern versions arrive at "thirty?" They arrived at this view under the influence of the supposition that this section of Proverbs was derived from Amenemope. None of the versions done prior to the discovery of Amenemope suggests taking the consonantal shlshwm as sheloshim. But virtually all of the modern versions do so.

One would think that if Prov 22:17-24:22 were in fact dependent on Amenemope that there would be stronger parallels in order and wording of content than there in fact are. One would also assume that one could easily find thirty "chapters" in the Proverbs material, matching the thirty chapters of Amenemope. But is that the case?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Amenemope 3

The previous post deserves a number of explanatory comments.

First, I listed the parallels following the order of Amenemope. The careful reader will note that this does not match the order of verses in Proverbs. If Proverbs really was literarily dependent on Amenemope, why the radical changes in sequence?

Second, Proverbs 22:17-23:11 consists of 24 verses. The full section is actually Proverbs 22:11-24:22, which is 70 verses, but there are no parallels to Amenemope in 23:12-24:22. Amenemope itself runs about 230 lines. If this section of Proverbs were dependent of Amenemope, would there not be more and more frequent parallels. In fact, only about one-fifth of the whole section "The Words of the Wise" (22:11-24:22) is paralleled by Amenemope. Even if one limits the Proverbs material to 22:17-23:11, only about 60% of the material is parallel. This does not make a strong case for literary dependence, or even necessarily familiarity.

Third, even a casual reading makes it clear that some of the parallels are strained. See especially, nos. 2, 5, 6, 8, and 10. More than a third of the "parallels" are at best questionable.

Fourth, you don't see this, and most of the commentators don't mention it, but the Pritchard text of Amenemope lists sixteen parallels between Amenemope and passages in Proverbs outside the bounds of that section supposedly dependent on Amenemope, some of which are parallels to passages in other books of the Bible.

All of this combined leads to the conclusion that Proverbs was not literarily dependent on Amenemope.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Amenemope, Part 2

The first of the three reasons I gave for scholars seeing Proverbs 22:17-23:11 as being dependent on Amenemope is that the Hebrew material often follows the Egyptian source word for word. The only way to show this and evaluate it is to give the Proverbs text and the Amenemope text together. For the text of Amenemope, I am using the translation given in James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East: Volume I, An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, pp. 237-43. I will cite by page and line number (counting lines from the beginning of each chapter). For Proverbs, I will use the ESV. I am using the parallels as they are specified in Pritchard.

First Parallel
Proverbs 22:17-18a Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you.

Amenemope (1st Chapter) p. 237, lines 1-3 , Give thy ears, hear what is said, Give thy heart to understand them. To put them in thy heart is worthwhile.

Second Parallel
Proverbs 22:18b-19 If all of them are ready on your lips. That your trust may be in the Lord, I have made them know to you today, even to you.

Amenemope (1st Chapter) p. 237, lines 8-10 They shall be a mooring-stake for thy tongue. If thou spendest thy time while this is in thy heart, thou wilt find it a success.

Third Parallel
Proverbs 22:22 Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate.

Amenemope (2nd Chapter) p. 237, lines 1-2 Guard thyself against robbing the oppressed and against overbearing the disabled.

Fourth Parallel
Proverbs 22:28; 23:10 Do not move the ancient landmark that you fathers have set. Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless.

Amenemope (6th Chapter) p. 238, lines 1-8 Do not carry out the landmark at the boundaries of the arable land, nor disturb the position of the measuring-cord; be not greedy for a cubit of land, nor encroach upon the boundaries of a widow, guard against encroaching upon the boundaries of the fields.

Fifth Parallel
Proverbs 23:11 for their Redeemer is strong, he will plead their cause against you.

Amenemope (6th Chapter) p. 239, lines 10-11 One satisfies god with the will of the Lord who determines the boundaries of the arable land.

Sixth Parallel
Proverbs 23:4-5 Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When you eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.

Amenemope (7th Chapter) p. 239, lines 17-18 They have made themselves wings like geese, and are flown away to the heavens.

Seventh Parallel
Proverbs 22:24 Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man.

Amenemope (9th Chapter) p. 240, lines 1-2 Do not associate to thyself the heated man, nor visit him for conversation.

Eighth Parallel
Proverbs 22:25 Lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare

Amenemope (9th Chapter) p. 240, lines 13-14 Do not leap to hold such a one, lest a terror carry thee off.

Ninth Parallel
Proverbs 23:6-8 Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy, do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. Eat and drink, he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words.

Amenemope (11th Chapter) p. 240, lines 1-2, 8-10 Be not greedy for the property of a poor man, nor hunger for his bread. The mouthful of bread (too) great thou swallowest and vomitest up, and art emptied of thy good.

Tenth Parallel
Proverbs 22:26-27 Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you.?

Amenemope (13th Chapter) p. 241, lines 8-10 If thou findest a large debt against a poor man, make it into three parts, forgive two, and let one stand.

Eleventh Parallel
Proverbs 23:9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.

Amenemope (21st Chapter) p. 242, lines 11-12 Spread not thy words to the common people, nor associate to thyself one outgoing of heart.

Twelfth Parallel
Proverbs 23:1-3 When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food.

Amenemope (23rd Chapter) p. 242, lines 1-6 Do not eat bread before a noble, nor lay on thy mouth at first. If thou art satisfied with false chewings, they are a pastime for thy spittle. Look at the cup which is before thee, and let it serve thy needs.

Thirteenth Parallel
Proverbs 22:22-23 Do not rob the poor because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.

Amenemope (28th Chapter) p. 243, lines 6-7 God desires respect for the poor more than the honoring of the exalted.

Fourteenth Parallel
Proverbs 22:29 Do you see a man skillful in his work? He shall stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.

Amenemope (30th Chapter) p. 243, lines 10-11 As for the scribe who is experienced in his office, he will find himself worthy to be a courtier.

This is the sum of the parallels indicated between Amenemope and Proverbs 22:17-23:11. I'l make some comments in my next post.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Teaching of Amenemope

It is commonly held that Proverbs 22:17-24:22 is dependent on the Egyptian wisdom text The Teaching (or Instruction) of Amenemope. This view is summarized as follows: "As has long been recognized, the first subsidiary collection (22:17-23:11) is closely related to the Egyptian Instruction of Amen-em-opet, which probably dates between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. The introductory poem (22:17-21) and the ten themes discussed (22:22-23:11) follow--often word for word--their Egyptian source. Even the division of this source into thirty chapters ("houses") seems to have been borrowed by the Israelite redactor for the entire collection 22:17-24:22 (cf. 22:20, where the RSV correctly reads "thirty sayings" for the Hebrew "day before yesterday" or "adjutants"). The redactor was not, however, a mere translator; he used a third of the Egyptian Instruction to produce an anthology that treats the themes in a different order; in 22:26-27 he has interpolated a saying of his own. The borrowing may have taken place toward the end of the Israelite monarchy." (Quoted from Introduction to the Old Testament by Georg Fohrer, Abingdon Press, 1968, p. 321.

The arguments for Proverbs' dependence on this Egyptian source are thus: 1) The Hebrew material in 22:17-23:11 often follows the Egyptian source word for word. 2) The "thirty chapters" of the Egyptian text is reflected in the arrangement of the Hebrew text. 3) The Hebrew word translated "excellent things" in the KJV ought to be translated "thirty." Whether this data is sufficient to support the conclusion will be examined in our next few postings.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

2 Corinthians

For those with any facility in Greek, the contrast between 1 and 2 Corinthians could not be more stark. It is not that there is not affection and love in 1 Corinthians, or that Paul does not care deeply about the church at Corinth. It is more that in 2 Corinthians these things appear more fully in his language. It is as if 2 Cor is a more personal letter, dealing not so much with the issues at Corinth (though these are not absent) as with his heart for the people and their connection to him. The letter outlines as follows:

I. The character of Paul's ministry, chs 1-7
II. The giving heart, chs 8-9
III. The defense of Paul's ministry, chs 10-13

Monday, July 21, 2008

On Proverbs

The Book of Proverbs outlines quite nicely as follows:
I. Introductory discussions, chs 1-9
II. Proverbs of Solomon, 10:1-22:16
III. The Words of the Wise, 22:17-24:35
IV. Proverbs of Solomon copied out by men of Hezekiah, chs 25-29
V. The Words of Agur, ch 30
VI. The Words of Lemuel, ch 31

This makes clear a number of things. First, the majority of the book is from Solomon. Second, the book reached its final form no earlier than the time of Hezekiah (roughly 700 BC). The origins of "the words of the wise" are uncertain, though there is a certain consensus on the matter that I will call into question. As to who Agur and Lemuel are, the older commentators generally took the view that they were pseudonyms of Solomon. Modern commentators generally take them to be otherwise unknown wise men.

Purpose of Proverbs: The purpose is concisely, and poetically, stated in the first six verses of the book. It is a book of instruction, intended to exercise the mind of the reader. Thus, a number of key words for the book show up in those opening verses: wisdom, instruction, understanding, insight, prudence, simple, knowledge, discretion, etc.

Theology of Proverbs: It should be remembered first of all that the proverbs are not guarantees. They are divinely inspired observations on the ordinary course of God's providence in a fallen world. It should also be remembered that they are part of the Old Testament, when the nation of Israel primarily defined the people of God as a theocratic nation. Thus the Christian reader should expect that some of the things that would have been the ordinary course of providence in the Old Testament period, are somewhat different in the New Testament period. For example, the Book of Proverbs says nothing about the persecution of the saints, but the New Testament tells us that "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim 3:12).

Commentaries and such: That by Derek Kidner in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series is invaluable. Of course, in the brief span of that commentary he does not deal with each verse. He does, however, have an exceptionally helpful section in the Introduction that deals with several different themes in the book. The older commentary by Charles Bridges (kept in print by Banner of Truth) is also useful. The modern technical commentary that I would recommend for pastors or those who would be pastors is that by Bruce Waltke in the New International Commentary series. It is a masterful treatment even if I don't agree with all his conclusions.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Answering a Question

WCF 7.5 speaks of the Covenant of Grace being differently administered in the time of the law, namely through prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances all foresignifying Christ to come.

My question is, could not David and Solomon be considered administers of the Covenant of Grace in their function of ruling and defending God's people and restraining and conquering all their and God's enemies?

The reading of the WCF is such that the statement "This covenant was differently administered" refers to God's administration of the covenant, not to the various administrators who would have been part of the covenant of grace. David and Solomon thus fit under the category of "other types." That is, in their role as kings, they typified the work of Christ as king. Likewise, the Aaronic priesthood typified Christ's priestly work, and Isaiah and the other prophets were types of the prophetic work of Christ.

It is true that David, Solomon, Aaron, Zadok and other were administrators of the covenant of grace, as elders are in the New Testament context, but that is not what the WCF has reference to in this paragraph.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Shema Deut 6:4

Any look at a modern translation of Deut 6:4 will reflect the uncertainty that translators have concerning the proper translation of the verse. One rendering is, of course, given in the text, but usually several other possibilities are given in the margin.

A literal translation is: Hear, Israel, Yhwh our God Yhwh one. The verse is made up of three phrases. The first is straightforward, and all translations agree on the proper rendering. It is made up of the second person singular imperative, and a noun in the vocative; thus, Hear, O Israel. The other phrases are made up completely of nouns (not unusual in Hebrew, as a form of the verb "to be" is understood). Several ways of rendering these phrases are possible. One way is to consider them as parallel statements: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one. Another is to consider them as distinct clauses, with the second modifying the first: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone. Another way is to consider them as linked clauses: Yahweh our God is one Yahweh. All of these are grammatically possible, though the second option is usually dismissed, since it requires a use of the cardinal number one in an adverbial fashion, which the standard grammars and lexicons do not seem to recognize. The only standard grammar that gives any particular discussion of this verse is Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bruce Waltke and Michael O'Connor, paragraph 8.4.2g.

However, in an article published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47 (2004): 193-212, and available online at Daniel Block argues convincingly for the rendering "Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone." Arguing partially from the fact of grammatical possibility, but mostly from contextual considerations that this rendering makes the best sense. For those with more than passing interest in the issue, I recommend Block's article.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On Kings vs. Chronicles "Contradictions"

It is often proposed that the material in Chronicles "contradicts" the similar material found in the books of Samuel and Kings. This is usually based on the observation that Chronicles tells us many things about the kings of Judah that are not told to us by the Books of Kings. That, of course, does not constitute a contradiction, merely a difference. Most of the differences between Chronicles and Kings can be explained by a consideration of the intent of the writer of Chronicles insofar as he makes it plain to us. It is clear, for example, that Chronicles is concerned primarily with the Davidic dynasty and the Solomonic temple, the latter attended by the Aaronic priesthood and the Levites. Note, as something of a programmatic text for that theme, 2 Chron 13:1-12.

In brief, the statement can be accurately made that the Books of Kings probably reached their final form during the period of the exile, and were written to demonstrate to the people that the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile itself were the just judgment of God upon a long disobedient people. The Books of Chronicles were written in the postexilic period with a view to encouraging the people that all hope was not lost, and that God was still merciful and gracious.

It is also apparent that the author of Chronicles knew the books of Samuel and Kings, since he drew a great deal of material from them, either verbatim or almost verbatim. Thus, it seems likely that he also supposed that his readers would have known those works, or at least to some extent have been familiar with them. Thus, material in Samuel-Kings, not suitable to the purpose of the author of Chronicles, has simply been omitted, the author knowing his readers would have been aware of the material in his sources. This explains the omission of David's committing of adultery and murder in the affair of Bathsheba. That episode was not pertinent to the author's purpose, and was thus omitted. Likewise, the repentance of Manasseh, found in Chronicles but not in Kings, suits the purposes of the former, but not the latter. The two accounts together give us a fuller view of the events of the period of the Israelite monarchy.

The most substantive discrepancies between the two accounts have to do with the numbers reported on various occasions. For example, compare 2 Sam 24:9 with 1 Chron 21:5. Both accounts treat of David's census. The first says, "in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000." The second passage says, "In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword." There are two possible ways of dealing with this discrepancy. The first is to take the view that we are dealing with textual difficulties in the source or sources used by the authors. That is certainly a plausible explanation. The second approach is to consider that the numbers have references to somewhat different groups of people. So with Israel, the 800,000 would be those who were "valiant men," whereas the 1,100,000 would be the total. For Judah, the 470,000 would be those who "drew the sword," whereas the 500,000 would be the total.

In short, most of the difficulties are more apparent than real. For intersted readers, I would recommend Haley's Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible and Gleason Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Books of Kings

In my daily reading schedule, we have now come to the Books of Kings. The outline of the books is pretty simple:
I. Solomon's Reign, 1 Kgs 1-11
II. The Divided Kingdom, 1 Kgs 12-2 Kgs 17
III. The Fall of Judah, 2 Kgs 18-25

These books are included as part of the Former Prophets in the Hebrew Canon. Once you get past the reign of Solomon, you can tell why. The story from 1 Kgs 17-2 Kgs 7 is devoted to the exploits of Elijah and Elisha. In other words, more than one-fourth of the two books is devoted to the lives of two prophets. As you read through, you will also see references to other prophets playing a significant role in the story. Thus, the books can be understood as the history of Israel from the perspective of the prophets, explaining why the kingdom started out so well, how it lasted as long as it did, and how it came to its ignominious end. This differs from the history in Chronicles, which tells roughly the same story, but from the priestly perspective.

Happy reading!

Blog Use

Dear Reader,

Whoever you may be. I intend this site primarily as a resource for Q & A. So if you have a question regarding the Bible, how should you pose it? My recommendation is that you pose your question as a comment on my most recent post. That way, even if you have questions about an earlier post, or even about something entirely unrelated, I don't have to scroll through all my previous posts in order to get to your question.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A Lament for America, July 4, 2008

Ah, America, what pride, luxury, lasciviousness, licentiousness, wantonness, drunkenness, cruelties, injustice, oppressions, fornications, adulteries, falsehood, hypocrisy, bribery, atheism, horrid blasphemies, and hellish impieties are now to be found rampant in the midst of thee! Ah America, America, how are the Lord’s sabbaths profaned, pure ordinances despised, scriptures rejected, the Spirit resisted and derided, the righteous reviled, wickedness countenanced, and Christ many thousand times in a day by these cursed practices afresh crucified. Ah, America, America, were our forefathers alive, how sadly would they blush to see such a horrid degenerate posterity, as is to be found in the midst of thee! How is our forefathers hospitality converted into riot and luxury, their frugality into pride and prodigality, their simplicity into subtilty, their sincerity into hypocrisy, their charity into cruelty, their chastity into chambering and wantonness, their sobriety into drunkenness, their plain dealing into dissembling, their works of compassion into works of oppression, and their love to the people of God, into an utter enmity against the people of God?

I have adapted this from Thomas Brooks’s The Privy (Secret) Key of Heaven, under heading 16: Consider, the times wherein we live call aloud for secret prayer. The only change I have made is to substitute “America” for Brooks’s “England.”

Monday, June 30, 2008

Romans 11:26

In Rom 11:26-27, Paul writes, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers, a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved."

Some, perhaps many, seem to read this passage in this fashion: The Jews are being hardened now (that is, very few Jews are being saved), but once all of the elect Gentiles have been saved, then the hardening will be taken away from the Jews, and Jews will be converted in very large numbers." However, in the context, that is not what the passage says. Paul is writing about his present situation. That is, the Jews were cut off because of unbelief (vs 20), and the gospel has gone out not to Jews only, but to Gentiles as well. However, that hardening of the Jews was not total but partial (that is, it is not the case that no more Jews are elect). Paul, recognizing that fact (the mystery that though the Jews as a nation had rejected their Messiah, God nonetheless did not cut them all off) works to see both Jew and Gentile saved.

Thus, this partial hardening (that is, some Jews are hardened, others are elect) will continue until all the Gentiles have been brought in as well. Then all Israel (that is , the church, made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers) will be saved.

The reader needs to recognize that Paul does not use "Israel" in the same sense throughout the entire passage (chs 9-11). Note, for example, 9:6, where Paul says, for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel; or, as a more literal rendering puts is, for they are not all Israel that are of Israel. So Paul sometimes uses "Israel" to refer to the physical descendants of Abraham, and sometimes to refer to the descendants of Abraham by faith, that is the church.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Are we to expect a future mass conversion of Jews?

Many Christians, in their discussions of eschatology, hold that there will be, near the time of Jesus’ return, the conversion of notably large numbers of ethnic/national Israel.

First, I am uncomfortable with the terms "ethnic" or "national" Israel. "Ethnic," as it is commonly used, implies a racial/genetic connection. Modern Jews have only the most tenuous racial/genetic connections with Israel as it existed in the first century AD. It is true that there are distinctive genetic markers that those named Cohen (or some variation thereof) share, but that is limited to that particular line. As far as I am aware, there is no indication of other genetic markers that would indicate that someone is “ethnically” a Jew. Likewise, “nation" generally implies a political entity. Modern Judaism is neither ethnic nor national in those senses. I prefer to use the terms Jew, Jews, and Judaism, because Judaism is a religious entity made up of many ethnic groups from many nations.

I do believe that many, many Jews will be converted to Christianity, and that many, many Jews have been and are being converted to Christianity. However, I do not expect that there will be some "mass conversion" of Jews that will occur shortly prior to Jesus' return, and I do not think that Paul teaches that. I also do not find that view to be out of accord with the Westminster Larger Catechism Question 191, which says in part “we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called.” I do pray that the Jews will be called. I just don't have the expectations regarding that calling that my pre- and postmil brothers seem to have.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Why Does the NLT Do This?

The question has been raised (from my last entry) as to why the NLT would do this. The only answer I have is that it fits with the NLT's philosophy of translation. Much ink has been spilled over the last twenty years regarding translation philosophy; whether the translation should take a "formal equivalence" approach, or a "dynamic equivalence" approach. While that is a useful discussion, it does avoid questions about what a translation is supposed to do. If the only thing a translation is supposed to do is to transfer information, then I don't think it makes much difference how that is done, whether "formally" or "dynamically." If "information transfer" is all that is desired, then I don't really see the problem with the "summarized translation" of Numbers 7 as found in the Contemporary English Version. But I think more than "information transfer" should be the goal of Bible translation. I think a Bible translation ought to enable us to "see" the original. Thus, the annoying and extensive repetition of Numbers 7 ought to be presented in its entirety. The casting of Joseph's brothers as "the men" enables the reader to "see" the original in way that casting them as "his brothers" does not. We ought to be able to "see" the difference s between the style of Isaiah and the style of Jeremiah when we read a translation.

Unfortunately, most modern translations don't do that. And, unfortunately, the worst offenders are the "dynamic equivalence" translations. They end up turning the biblical text into generic English mush, where there is no difference between Isaiah and Hosea, no difference between Job and the Psalms, and everything is equally boring to read. No wonder people have a hard time reading the Bible. The translators have succeeded in making it all equally uninteresting.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Words Have Meaning, 2

We left off last time with Joseph and his brothers. We pick up at that same place. Compare the following translations of Gen 43:33-44:3. The first is the ESV, the second is the NLT.

Genesis 43:33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph's table, but Benjamin's portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.
44:1 Then he commanded the steward of his house, "Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man's money in the mouth of his sack, 2 and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain." And he did as Joseph told him. 3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys.

Genesis 43:33 Joseph told each of his brothers where to sit, and to their amazement, he seated them according to age, from oldest to youngest. 34 And Joseph filled their plates with food from his own table, giving Benjamin five times as much as he gave the others. So they feasted and drank freely with him.
44:1 When his brothers were ready to leave, Joseph gave these instructions to his palace manager: "Fill each of their sacks with as much grain as they can carry, and put each man's money back into his sack. 2 Then put my personal silver cup at the top of the youngest brother's sack, along with the money for his grain." So the manager did as Joseph instructed him. 3 The brothers were up at dawn and were sent on their journey with their loaded donkeys.

The first is, to my mind, a much more accurate translation, and a much more informative translation, than the second. Notice, for example, in the ESV, Joseph's brothers are identified simply as "the men" throughout the passage. This reflects the Hebrew. It intends to create a distance between Joseph and his brothers. The NLT removes that distance. Further, the NLT has, "Joseph told each of his brothers where to sit" while it is clear from the context that all Joseph's communication with his brothers is through intermediaries (again, keeping the distance).

In addition, Joseph puts his brothers in a difficult spot. He enables them to drink too much. That is really the meaning of the ESV's "were merry" and the NLT's "drank freely." Then he sends them out at daybreak. The NLT's insertion, "When his brothers were ready to leave" has no foundation in either the Hebrew text or in any of the ancient versions. This goes beyond paraphrase. The fact is, they are not ready to leave. They are hung over, and it is just barely daylight. In all this Joseph is testing his brothers, to see what they will do with Benjamin when they are forced into adverse circumstances. The subtleties of this interplay are at best muted and at worst eliminated in the NLT

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Words Have Meaning

Any translator of any text can tell you that picking an appropriate English word for a word from another language can be a nightmare. It is usually the case that more than one English word can share some connotations with a particular word from another language. Specifically, that is the case when rendering Biblical Hebrew and Greek into English.

The English Revised Version attempted to solve that problem by always rendering a particular Hebrew/Greek word by the same English word. Anyone who has read that version knows that that is not really a solution. On the other hand, rendering for the sense can cause problems as well. For example, in Genesis 4:1, the KJV reads, "And Adam knew Eve his wife." The New American Standard reads, "Now the man had relations with his wife." Both of these renderings are accurate. But the NAS obscures something in the original that the KJV retains. In the opening chapters of Genesis, the word "know" (Hebrew yada') and its variants are important, and each of its occurrences are rendered by some form of the word "know" in the KJV. However, the NAS loses that by rendering the verb yada' by "had relations." Technically, it is accurate, but something is nonetheless lost.

Such losses become more significant when the English rendering is not even technically accurate. On Genesis 43:3, Robert Alter comments, "'The man' refers elliptically to the phrase the brothers previously used in their report to their father . . . Their repeated use of this designation aptly dramatizes their ignorance of Joseph's identity. In the second half of this chapter, there is pointed interplay between the references to the brothers as 'the men' . . . and to Joseph's majordomo as 'the man.'"

To be continued.

On Job

Now that the reading schedule has us most of the way through Job, I thought I'd put forth some information on the book. There are innumerable commentaries and study books on Job, most of them problematic for a variety of reasons. The critical commentaries all assume that the Book of Job was written very late. In addition, they mostly assume that some parts of the book are out of order (the reader can consult such study Bibles as the New Oxford Annotated Bible, or the Harper-Collins Study Bible to verify that much of modern scholarship holds these positions). The problem is that most of these textual relocations occur more in the mind of the commentator than they do in the text.

So the difficulty is first of all to deal with the text as it stands. The second problem, particularly for the layman, is not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. The classic case of the latter (at the risk of offending a number of my colleagues) is Joseph Caryl's Practical Observations on the Book of Job, which is twelve large volumes. Very few readers have the patience to labor through that kind of treatment. I would venture to add that very few of those who do would be able, after having completed the task, to give a synopsis of the development of the Book of Job, or to show how any particular passage relates to the book as a whole. No doubt the work of Caryl is very fine, and the man who reads it will learn much solid theology. He will, however, learn precious little about the Book of Job per se.

So to start, I think the beginning reader of Job needs a guide that will help him make sense out of the book as a whole. In attaining this end, he can do no better than William Henry Green's little book, Conflict and Triumph: The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded. In 177 pages (in the reprint by Banner of Truth Trust) Green takes the reader through the entire Book of Job and helps him make sense of the whole thing.

Once the reader has an overall grasp of the book and its purposes, he can then profitably move on to more in-depth commentaries. To begin here, I would suggest David Atkinson, The Message of Job in the Bible Speaks Today series from InterVarsity Press. Another good work at this point is Francis Andersen's commentary in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Christ and Jacob's "Ladder"

Benjamin Glaser asked what I thought about Jesus' use of this passage. For those who are unaware, Jesus made a clear allusion to the account of Jacob's dream in his response to Nathanael (John 1:43-51). In this statement Jesus identifies himself as the ladder. The reference probably has no better concise explanation than that found in the comment on Gen 28:12 in the Geneva Bible (this is the 1599 Geneva Bible, recently republished by Tolle Lege Press, not the New Geneva Bible, which became the Reformation Study Bible). That note reads: "Christ is the ladder whereby God and man are joined together, and by whom the angels minister unto us; all graces by him are given unto us, and we by him ascend to heaven."

The ladder (or stairway, or ramp) clearly represents the connection between God and man. The fact that angels ascend and descend on that ladder seems clearly to indicate that it is by means of the ladder that the ministry of the angels to men is enabled. The further fact that Genesis 28 is the account of the establishment of the covenant with Jacob makes the covenantal significance of the ladder quite clear. Thus, the ladder represents Christ, through whom the covenant is mediated to man.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Jacob's Vow: Genesis 28

The following is the note on this passage in the new Apologetics Study Bible: "Because Jacob's vision at Bethel was his closest encounter with God up to this point in his life, he was convinced this place was unique. For him it was 'the house of God,' (the literal meaning of Bethel, and 'the gate of heaven' (v. 17). At his stage in God's progressive revelation, he could not see that no earthly spot could play this role (Acts 7:48-50). Like his brother Esau, Jacob had not been a man of faith. But, even though the conditions he states toward the Lord (Gn 28:20-22) fall short of true faith, they represent a step in the right direction."

That is a common understanding of Jacob's vow: He is bargaining with God, attempting to manipulate God into dealing with him to his profit, just as he has dealt with his brother and his father. There are several things about the passage, and the vow in particular, that argue the wrongness of that interpretation. First, when Jacob awoke from the dream, he confessed both the presence of God and his own ignorance. He also stated his own fear, when he said "how fearsome is this place!" (v. 17). Many translations render that "How awesome is this place!" There are two difficulties with that rendering. First, the word "awesome" has been almost completely devalued in modern American English. Second, the root of the word rendered "awesome" is the verb "to fear." Hence my rendering "How fearsome is this place." (The Contemporary English Version has it, "This is a fearsome place!") Jacob was terrified by the fact that he was ignorant regarding the fact that God was there. This does not seem the sort of situation where Jacob felt himself in charge and able to manipulate.

Second, the vow itself has regularly been misunderstood. Any vow has two parts. The first part is called the protasis (the "if" part). The second part is called the apodosis (the "then" part). Though an argument regarding the Hebrew syntax can be made for either of the following possibilities, the second seems more likely, certainly fits the context better, and is more consistent with other vows in the Old Testament than is the first rendering. The first rendering is: If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, if he provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safely to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God's house, and I will give to You a tenth of all that You give me (vss 20-22, Holman Christian Standard Bible). The second rendering is: Then Jacob vowed a vow saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way which I am going, and will give to me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I return in peace to the house of my father, and the Lord will be God to me, then this stone that I have set up as a memorial pillar shall be the house of God, and of all that you give me, I will tithe a tenth to you.

The difference between the two versions is where the "then" occurs. With the first, the then makes Jacob's acceptance of God conditional on God fulfilling the preceding items. In other words, according to this view, Jacob says, God, if you will do the following, I will do you the great favor of taking you as my God, and I'll give you a tithe. The second places the "then" after God, but before the pillar. The significance of that difference is as follows. First, in the wording of the vow, regardless of where the "then" is put, the bit about God is not that Jacob will take God for his own God, but rather that God will take Jacob for his own. It is the language of covenant relationship: "I will be you God, and you shall be my people." Second, the content of Jacob's vow is clearly a response to the promises that God made in the dream (vss 13-15). In other words, Jacob's vow is a response of faith to the promises of God, and to the fact that God has already taken Jacob on, being his covenant God

Friday, January 04, 2008

Long Time Gone

It's been about ten months since I posted anything, so it's time to get back to work. I'll be posting at minimum once a week this year. The posts will usually be prompted by the readings from my daily Bible reading calendar.

I try to read through a different version of the Bible every year, so after thirty years or so of doing that, I've obviously read through the English versions that are readily available. I have not, for example, read through the 1881 English Revised Version. As part of my reading this year, I am reading through Robert Alter's The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, and Willis Barnstone's The New Covenant: Commonly Called the New Testament. The latter is a translation of the four gospels and Revelation by Barnstone, who is a professor of comparative literature at Indiana University, previously professor of Greek at Colgate University. Both of these translations have the strengths and weaknesses of individual translations. Translations of the Bible by individuals can certainly be more interesting than committee translations, because the committee system weeds out the eccentricities of the individual. A translation by an individual can be brilliant and insightful. It can also be pedantic and odd.

Alter's translation is generally quite good, and he makes an attempt to render Hebrew word-play into English. These attempts he usually highlights in his commentary. This is the sort of thing that most translations reserve for marginal notations, and it is nice to see them in the text. Some of them obviously work better than others.

Barnstone's translation tries to bring out the Semitic (Hebrew/Aramaic) background of the gospels. The most obvious way in which he does this is by rendering all the names in what amounts to the modern Israeli transliteration of Hebrew names. For example, Jesus is Yeshua; John is Yohanan; and Zebedee is Zavdai. He also renders John the Baptist as Yohanan the Dipper (Matt 3:1). This is certainly infelicitous. It assigns a meaning to baptizo that can certainly be defended, but probably not in every case. In addition, he then becomes inconsistent about it, because he renders the verb "immerse" in Matt 3:6, but "dipping" in 3:7. Still, it is refreshing to read a translation that makes one think about what the underlying Greek says. On the other hand, it also gives one a fair amount of respect for those early English translators who decided to simply transliterate with "baptize," rather than making an almost impossible choice regarding an English equivalent for the Greek baptizo.

If anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to send them. Although I will be posting only once or twice a week, I will be checking the site every day.