why all is not fleeting in qohelet/ecclesiastes

Translators and scholars have long debated the best translation for the term הבל (hebel, traditionally “vanity”) in Qohelet (Ecclesiastes). The term refers to vapour, something intangible, but is almost always used metaphorically in the Hebrew Bible.

Now rather than discuss all possible meanings, in this post I’d like to examine one particular proposal: that הבל means ‘fleeting’.1 I’ve come across this a couple of times recently, first at The Briefing, and second from Gary Millar who’s recently taken up the post of Principal at Queensland Theological College and who spoke at Katoomba Men’s Convention.

For why “fleeting” isn’t an adequate translation of הבל, read on…
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is agape (ἀγάπη) love specially divine?

This last weekend I heard a talk in which it was claimed that the word ἀγάπη (agapē) was little used prior to the New Testament in Greek and was infused with new and special meaning by the writers of the NT, a meaning that reflects a divine, selfless, love. This is not a new claim, and any search for the term “agape” across the internet will uncover many making exactly this claim. Indeed, if you venture to view the Wikipedia entry on the term agape you will find some similar claims.

From what I can tell, however, the special divine meaning for the term ἀγάπη (agapē) is spurious.
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god and suffering part 2 — individual sin

For previous parts of this series, see:

The supposition that individual sin lies behind suffering pervades a great deal of both biblical (e.g. Ezek 18) and extra-biblical thought. More often than not, however, the biblical material reflects upon the inadequacy of individual sin as a viable explanation for one’s sufferings. The prime example is Job: his friends assume that his suffering is related to some transgresssion and encourage him to confess and seek forgiveness from God, but the prologue is at pains to point(!) out that, whatever the real reason is, individual sin is certainly not the reason for his suffering.
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deut 32:8–9 and the ancient israelite pantheon?

During a recent online debate the question of the meaning of Deut 32:8–9 was raised as evidence of the Bible’s affirmation of polytheism and the subordinate status of the God of Israel, Yhwh. The essence of the claim is that the version of this passage preserved in the DSS identifies El Elyon as head of a pantheon who assigns nations to various subordinate deities, and Israel is assigned to Yhwh in this process.

The argument rests upon the alternate reading found in a fragment from cave 4 at Qumran (4Q37 or 4QDeutj).1 This fragment only preserves a few words from these verses.

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god and suffering — introduction

Small scream

Image via Wikipedia

Some time ago I heard a sermon entitled “How could a good God allow suffering?” There’s not much that can be covered in the brief time allocated to a sermon, but while (or perhaps “instead of”) listening I set about thinking of reasons offered in the Bible for suffering. This introductory post is simply to list those I could think of before (hopefully) examining each one in more detail. So here are reasons which came to mind:

  1. Human sin in general (e.g. Gen 3; Rom 1; 8:22);
  2. Individual sin (numerous places, particularly in the OT);
  3. Character building (Rom 5);
  4. Discipline (Heb 12);
  5. Preventative (Job 33);
  6. Glorification of God (e.g. John 9:2–3);
  7. “Completing” Christ’s afflictions (Col 1:24);
  8. Persecution (2Tim 3:12);
  9. Escaping evil (Isa 57:1–2)1;
  10. Mystery (Job).

If you can think of other reasons offered for suffering by the Bible, I’m happy to expand on this list.

A couple of brief introductory comments are warranted. First, the items on the list are not all mutually exclusive. Second, aside from (1) and perhaps (3) and (6), it is not really possible to be sure these apply to any specific situation without direct divine revelation (and, conversely, it is not always possible to be sure these do not apply).


  1. This isn’t really an explanation for suffering, at least for those “taken away,” but those left behind would suffer loss.

the silence of god

On a recent Q&A one of the viewers asked about God’s silence:

My question is: why has God gone so quiet? Just a few thousand years ago he appeared to people quite regularly. He turned rivers to blood, he parted seas, he flooded the world etc. He provided us with people like Moses, Jesus & Mohammed who had direct lines of communication. These days the only time you hear from God is through TV evangelists. You know, it’s almost as though the more educated we get, the less God wants to do with us. So, why has God gone so quiet?

John Lennox suggested that the problem was not that God was silent, it was that we aren’t listening. Now, of course, there’s something to this, but it got me thinking about Elijah’s encounter with Yhwh in 1Kings 19 again. It is a fascinating passage and the source of the “still, small voice” which prompted generations of preachers to proclaim that God’s preferred mode of communication was this mysterious whisper.1

They were, however, wrong. Read on for more…
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biblical pronouncements

There’s a new app for iOS called “Biblical Audio Pronunciations” (also available in “Lite” version) which aims to offer “correct” pronunciation of biblical terms. The web page claims:

We carefully researched and recorded the pronunciations of important terms, names, and places, to help you embrace the Word of God more easily.

Does it live up to its claims?
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