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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accessing scholarly articles

I must admit I do not understand the publishing world. Aside from the astronomical prices for books from some publishing houses, there are some even more perplexing pricing models out there. Today I followed a link to a four page book review in Dead Sea Discoveries which took me to ingentaconnect where I can purchase this review for a “mere” $35.00.

By way of contrast, I can buy the entire book which was reviewed — Fitzmeyer’s 248 page A Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls and Why Do They Matter? The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Short History, for around $20.00 (including delivery) from a number of major book sellers.

Now Robert Holmstedt is an excellent scholar, but I have to draw the line at paying more for a short review than for the entire book under review! It is difficult to see how organisations like ingentaconnect are serving the scholarly community.

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.
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heavy stuff

Big Crunch overview

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been reading up on gravity for a bit of a diversion and came across this interesting quote from David Toback of Texas A & M University:

General relativity can predict what would have happened in a slightly different universe. For example, if the universe had the right mass back then it would give us the critical density now. However, if a short time after the bang the mass was tiny fraction larger, just 10–50 percent larger, the outcome would have been starkly different: the extra mass in such a universe would have caused a big crunch long ago. If the density were smaller by the same amount, the universe would have expanded so quickly that galaxies and stars would never have formed. This is troublesome. It suggests that the early universe had to be set up exactly correctly for us to come to be the way we are now.

10–50 is 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001, a fairly small number! Alternatively, it amounts to the addition or removal of a single chlorine atom to the mass of the Earth.

“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).

don’t buy from apple’s mac os x app store in australia

At least not if you can avoid it. Why? Simple. Apple’s pricing will cost you. For example, Mellel currently costs $41.99 AUD on the App Store. The non-App Store price is $39.00 USD. Now that the Australian dollar is worth more than the US, buying it direct works out to something like $37.00.

Unfortunately, while iOS App Store suffers the same disparity, it is more difficult to get around the Apple version of the exchange rate.

“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!
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lead light on early christianity?

The Australian media has started picking up the story of the lead codices which purportedly relate to early Christianity. Since the media coverage is typically inadequate (Adam Spencer on ABC local radio in Sydney this morning certainly didn’t offer a particularly probing interview of David Elkington), I’m just offering a link to a more detailed discussion which itself contains more links for anyone interested in the “discovery.”

In short, there are good grounds to be sceptical of the authenticity, and even if authentic, there are grounds for doubting their relevance for our understanding of early Christianity. The find has to be subject to far more rigorous scrutiny than it has thus far.

Anyway, for more, read here.

are children always a blessing?

Let me begin with a warning. What I’m about to suggest is probably to be perceived as sacrilegious to many and tantamount to heresy.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard/read/been told that children are only and always a blessing in the Bible. The assertion is frequently made, but rarely demonstrated. The statement gives the impression that the Bible is full of affirmations of the blessings associated with children.

When pushed, however, the number of references provided is very small. In fact, people usually turn to Psalm 127 and are hard pressed to offer further substantiation for the claim (so the “only and always a blessing” starts to sound somewhat hyperbolic). But does Psalm 127 really say quite as much as is often claimed for it? I think not!

Let’s take a look at the Psalm:

שיר המעלות לשלמה

אם יהוה לא יבנה
בית שוא עמלו בוניו בו
אם יהוה לא ישמר עיר
שוא שקד שומר
‎‏שוא לכם
‎משכימי קום
‎מאחרי שבת
‎אכלי לחם העצבים
‎כן יתן לידידו שנא

‎הנה נחלת יהוה בנים
‎שכר פרי הבטן
‎כחצים ביד גבור
‎כן בני הנעורים
‎אשרי הגבר אשר מלא את אשפתו מהם
‎לא יבשו כי ידברו את אויבים בשער

A song of ascents. This is Solomon’s.

1If Yhwh does not build a house,
pointless is the toil of its builders.
If Yhwh does not protect a city,
pointless is the watchfulness of the protectors.
2It is pointless for you
who get up early,
who stay out late,
who eat the food of hard work,
thus he gives to his beloved sleep.a
3See, sons are an inheritance of Yhwh,
a rewardb is the fruit of the womb!
4Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
are sons of [one’s] youth.c
5Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them,
They will not be ashamedd when they argue with their enemies at the gate.


Notes:

(a) It seems likely that verse 2 closes with שנא because of the similarity with the repeated שוא in the preceding material. Without Yhwh all is pointless yet arduous, with Yhwh one can rest.

(b) The term שכר can mean “wages” but points to a reward in a tangible, material sense. The sons born will bring material well-being.

(c) The expression בני הנעורים, translated “sons of [one’s] youth” implies that the particular blessing of sons is associated with those born while the parent (father) is relatively young. The implication is that when the father is old, his sons are old enough to help him. The focus is on what they can do for the parent in a tangible way, not in some intangible, feel-good manner.

(d) It is interesting to ponder a minor emendation in verse 5b:

לא יבוש כי ידברו את אויבים בשער

i.e. change יבשו to יבוש and read “he [the father] will not be ashamed when they [the sons] argue with their [the family’s] enemies at the gate.” There’s no support for such a change in the DSS nor in the LXX, and the unaltered reading does make sense as well, indicating that the sons will prevail in legal disputes (presumably by weight of numbers). OTOH, the emended reading implies that the father’s honour stands unchallenged through the actions of his sons. This perhaps fits better with the thrust of the preceding verses.


What is clear about this Psalm, however, is that its view of children as a blessing is heavily culturally conditioned. For one, the focus appears squarely to sit on “sons” not children (see the note in the NET Bible on this point).

Second, that they are a blessing is founded on a couple of caveats — their value is greater if the father is young. This is likely to be a cultural consideration because once the father is older his sons will themselves be of sufficient age to support him rather than need to be supported by him. This is reinforced by verse 5 where the value of these sons of one’s youth is tied to their ability to contend for the family in disputes at the city gate (in the modern world you’d probably be better off hiring a good lawyer).

Ultimately, if you want to argue that children are always a blessing, this is not the text for you. The strongest argument for seeing all children as a blessing is to be found in Gen 1:28 where God’s blessing is linked to filling the land.

What is more, the claim that children are only and always a blessing is further undermined when we look at what is said about children in the book of Proverbs. For example:

Prov 17:25

A foolish son is grief to his father,
and bitterness to her who bore him!

Prov 19:13a

A foolish son brings destruction to his father.

Furthermore, Proverbs implies that children are born without wisdom and hence need training to make them wise:

Prov 22:15

Folly is bound to a child’s mind,
A rod of discipline will remove it from him.

(See also Prov 13:24; 15:5; etc.)

Then it would also be helpful to explain how Absolom was a blessing to David (2Sam 15–16).

Finally, the transition from OT to NT presents another consideration: do Jesus’ words about families (e.g. Matt 12:46–50) suggest that the same consolation found in sons in Israel (and Ps 127 implies the blessing comes from adult sons, not toddlers or infants!) can now be found in our relationships within the people of God? Was a large family seen as a blessing because it meant the growth of God’s people? If so, the NT offers a different perspective where all can become children of Abraham. In the OT, becoming a “great and numerous people” was a sign of God’s blessing, and this was largely achieved through reproductive means. In the NT, the expansion of God’s people is through evangelism: not once in the NT is having children described as a blessing although many other things are so described. The categories do change.