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.

Continue reading

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…
Continue reading

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?
Continue reading

yabt (yet another bible translation): the common english bible

The Common English Bible has been completed, the result of an impressive array of scholars, with admirable goals. A page comparing it with the NRSV and NIV is available here. Some brief and very initial observations based primarily on a few passages I like to check follows.
Continue reading

“is a word-for-word translation unbiblical?” — part 2

Another illuminating example is Deut 6:5 — the greatest commandment. Again there’s little substantial difference evident between the MT and the DSS:

ואהבת את יהוה אלהיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך

These reflect a tripartite division of “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (NASB). The LXX follows this quite literally, preserving the tripartite division of heart, soul, strength:1

καὶ ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς δυνάμεώς σου.

However, when we look to the NT the words are translated differently. Here are the final words of each instance:

Matt 22:37
ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς δυνάμεώς σου
Mark 12:30
ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς διανοίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος σου
Luke 10:27
ἐξ ὅλης [τῆς] καρδίας σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ἰσχύϊ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου

As you can see, there are slight variations in each instance. Most significantly, Mark and Luke specify four parts against Matthew’s (and the MT’s and LXX’s) three. There is, unsurprisingly, considerable discussion over the source and significance of these variations, much of it speculative. What we do know, however, is that these each represent translations from the original (perhaps through Aramaic if they recall Jesus’ words). As such, they provide a further point for examining the translation methodology endorsed by the NT.

So what can we say? Many commentators agree that these texts all express a merism for the entire person. Today we might translate “body, mind, and spirit” (if not for the new-age overtones). Furthermore, the variations between versions do little to diminish this impression. Instead, they likely cater to different audiences and their understanding of the constituent components of a human being.

But what of the significance of the variations for our understanding of translation methodology? First, it is clear that Mark’s and Luke’s versions cannot easily be reconciled with a “word-for-word” or “formal equivalent” approach. Both these examples can be considered more “dynamic equivalent” translations of the Hebrew than “formal equivalent” (although these exist on a spectrum), and yet both are authorised by the NT. This has some significance for arguments about inerrancy, for it undermines claims that the text must be transmitted at the word level rather than at the level of meaning (a claim which I suspect is confused by the frequent translation of the nouns דבר and λογος by “word” in English when context frequently requires a meaning something like “message”).

In the end, the expectation that an accurate translation reflects the very words of the original in a thoroughly formal equivalent manner is spurious. The oft-cited claim that dynamic equivalent translations “change” the words of the original is nonsensical, for a translation changes every word of the original from the source language to a target language. What the examples cited here indicate, however, is that the NT authors and the LXX translators were often happy to preserve the meaning they saw in the text more than merely the form of the words, and sometimes even at the expense of the form of the words.

So is a word-for-word translation unbiblical? No, there are too many examples of the NT adopting word-for-word translations of OT texts. The NT does not reflect a consistent translation methodology, undermining any case that one particular modern approach or translation is superior to all others when such is assessed only on the methodology employed. Consequently it is not possible to claim that a dynamic equivalent translation is unbiblical either!


1. Some manuscripts record διανοίας in place of καρδίας, a variation reflected among the NT quotations (see Paul Foster, “Why Did Matthew Get the Shema Wrong? A Study of Matthew 22:37″ SBL 122.2 [2003], 319).

“is a word-for-word translation unbiblical?” — part 1

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps...

Image via Wikipedia

OK, that’s just a catchy title for this post, but let me explain the issue I want to highlight. There are great debates about which translation methodology is best all over the web (including on this very blog, see here and here). Is a literal “formal equivalent” translation better, or is a “dynamic equivalent” translation better? Or perhaps even a foreignising translation! What is generally lacking, however, is an examination of whether a particular translation methodology is endorsed in Scripture itself.

The Christian Bible, uniquely among religious books, does actually tell us something about translation. The reason is that the NT was written in Greek while the OT was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the NT quotes the OT in translation. This means that it is possible to analyse the type of translation methodology which finds approval in the NT. This, in turn, may allow us to draw some inferences about modern translation methodologies and how appropriate they are!
Continue reading