Does anybody in New York listen to classical music? The closest we got was Sinatra! (Or Terry Gross, I suppose.)
HT: Jason Kottke
HT: Alan Jacobs
“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” All modern translations render that last phrase with another word: “who suppress the truth.”
In contemporary English, to “hold the truth” means to believe it, to establish it as a tenet for oneself. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
The Greek word translated hold (κατέχω) means exactly that in 1 Cor 15. “I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”
So the KJV translators certainly have some justification in using the word hold in Rom 1. But what do they think this verse means? There are ungodly people who hold fast to the truth, who take it as a personal tenet—but they do so unrighteously? I suppose that’s possible. But suppress makes much better sense.
My post on Puritan names brings up an incidental point. I have heard preachers and laypeople alike trip up many times over the pronunciation of obscure Old Testament place and people names. I myself recently flubbed “Kibroth-hattaavah” in Sunday School. Who can blame us? These words just aren’t normal!
People often say, however, “I wonder how this word is supposed to be pronounced,” and the impression I get is that they believe the answer comes from a true knowledge of Hebrew or Greek. If I can find out how people in Bible times pronounced a word, I’ll know how I should pronounce it.
But we’re very unlikely to pronounce many ancient names the way they were pronounced by ancient people (and some of them even disagreed!). Our language does not include some of the sounds they commonly used. Pronouncing certain words “correctly” could actually be offensive; people might think you were getting ready to spit.
There’s a better way to pronounce Bible proper names. It starts with recognizing that Kadesh-Barnea, Kiriath-Jearim, and Maher-shalal-hashbaz are now, effectively, English words. It doesn’t matter—for purposes of preaching in English—how they were pronounced by ancient Jews or Greeks. The “right way” to pronounce them is determined by all the Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and—dare I say it—Catholic speakers of English who read the Bible today. What do most of them say? Usage determines pronunciation.
In a section of my dissertation critiquing the view that God has no emotions, I wrote the following:
If God is impassible, Zephaniah 3:17 is puzzling: “[The Lord] will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” God would have no reason to pile up these emotional descriptives—rejoice, love, gladness, exult, loud singing—if His emotional life had no correspondence with the one He gave to the human race. He gives explicit indications in Scripture that He has no body, and that descriptions of “His mighty arm” are therefore anthropomorphisms; but there are no such explicit statements to override the straightforward meaning of Zephaniah 3:17.
[The concept of] anthropomorphism suffers the same deficiencies as anthropopathism. It confuses literalness with physicality. Anthropopathism runs into difficulties when you move from jealousy to love, hate, joy, etc. Anthropomorphism runs into difficulties when you move from arm to mouth, eye, or face. Spirit is not the same as “no body parts” (how would we know?), just no physical body parts. In any case, God does not give explicit indications in Scripture that descriptions of Him are anthropomorphisms. That is a theological construct.
Well. That persuaded me, at the very least, to drop my comment about anthropomorphisms in Scripture. No time to give this full consideration now, and I do wonder what a non-physical body part is. But I can’t deny that such a thing exists. This issue will have to go into the hopper; as I read the Bible it will come up now and again for evaluation.
I have long enjoyed reading about the globe-trotting adventures of Nick Kristof, arch-liberal and New York Times columnist. Whatever his political ideology, he has literally given his own blood to save lives and shelled out his own cash to buy two girls out of sexual slavery. Sure, he did all this in front of the cameras… but I’m not that cynical. I think he has a heart of real compassion for oppressed people, a heart that conservatives should have, too.
But Kristof is indeed driven by an ideology, and it is nowhere more clear than in a recent column, a “Religion and Sex Quiz.” He buys all of the liberal arguments on sexuality in Scripture—and even some ugly innuendos against Bible characters like David and Ruth. This is simply irresponsible coming from an internationally renowned journalist writing for the “newspaper of record.” His regurgitation of liberal theology (he cites this book by Jennifer Wright Knust as his source) was not fit to print.
I’ll quote each of his points and then provide some brief evaluation. Note that I make no public policy recommendations in this particular blog post; my argument is about faithful interpretation of the Bible.
“The Bible’s position on abortion is…never mentioned as such.”
The “as such” reveals the problem with Kristof’s argument here. Identity theft is never mentioned as such, but theft is. Aborting unborn babies is never mentioned as such, but unjustified killing of humans is. The Bible at times makes general statements meant to apply to the always changing human situation. This is not a surprise to any mature Christian.
“The Bible suggests ‘marriage’ is… a.) The lifelong union of one man and one woman. b.) The union of one man and up to 700 wives. c.) Often undesirable, because it distracts from service to the Lord.” Kristof says it’s all three, A, B, and C. He points to the example of Solomon (1 Kings 11:3) and, of course, Paul’s words encouraging singleness in 1 Cor 7 and Jesus’ words about men who are eunuchs for the kingdom in Matt 19:12.
Narratives don’t have to come out and say explicitly what their morals are; the results of Solomon’s choices will show the moral of the story. In this case, however, the Bible does give the moral explicitly. And all Kristof had to do was read to the end of the very verse he cites: “And his wives turned away his heart” (1 Kgs 11:3b). And this is exactly what Deuteronomy 17:17 warns against: “[The king] shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away” (Deut 17:17).
As for Jesus’ and Paul’s praise of singleness, there are difficulties, but there are answers. Liberals often criticize conservatives for using “gotcha” arguments from Scripture without being more aware of context. And sometimes conservatives are indeed guilty of this sin! But here Kristof is the one who fails to read sympathetically. He wants to find contradictions; he wants to find confirmation of his worldview. It’s no surprise when his Bible-trotting journey ends where he always planned for it to go.
“The Bible says of homosexuality…. a.) Leviticus describes male sexual pairing as an abomination. [&] c.) There’s plenty of ambiguity and no indication of physical intimacy, but some readers point to Ruth and Naomi’s love as suspiciously close, or to King David declaring to Jonathan: ‘Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women’ (II Samuel 1:23-26).”
If there’s plenty of ambiguity and no indication of physical intimacy, why imprint on ancient Jewish culture our culture’s suspicion that same-sex friendship has to be erotic (at least in a repressed way)? Are resolutely heterosexual male friends allowed to love one another in some respect surpassing their love for their wives? The words of Anthony Esolen in his article “A Requiem for Friendship” have rung in my ears ever since I read them:
What do the [homosexual] paraders achieve, with their public promotion of homosexuality? They come out of the closet, and hustle a lot of good and natural feelings back in. They indulge in garrulity, and consequently tie the tongues and chill the hearts of men, who can no longer feel what they ought, or speak what they feel.
“In the Bible, erotic writing is… exemplified by ‘Song of Songs,’ which celebrates sex for its own sake.”
Amen! God created sex to be enjoyed. And I’ll admit something Kristof seems to imply, that the Song of Songs does not specifically say that sex is reserved for married couples—even though other parts of the Bible do say this. As someone who presupposes by faith that the Bible is a unified document I see no contradiction here. As someone who presupposes by faith that adults should be allowed to do in their bedrooms whatever they mutually want to do—and that no god should be allowed to intrude—of course Kristof will read the evidence differently. But it’s our presuppositions that determine our respective perspectives (!) on the Song of Songs, not merely the text itself.
“Jesus says that divorce is permitted… [both] b.) Never. and c.) Only to men whose wives have been unfaithful.” He explains that “Jesus in Mark 10:11-12 condemns divorce generally, but in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 suggests that a man can divorce his wife if she is guilty of sexual immorality.”
I would say that these passages are complementary, not contradictory. Again, I’ll admit that we have some difficulties here. But again I’ll say that Kristof presupposes that harmonization is impossible—and, for him, undesirable.
“Among sexual behavior that is forbidden is… a.) Adultery. b.) Incest. c.) Sex with angels.”
Kristof is trading on our culture’s materialism: the enlightened people who read the Times don’t believe in supernatural beings like angels. But I will say that C. is obscure. It isn’t even clear that the two passages Kristof cites, Genesis 6 and Jude 6, are talking about the same thing. Genesis 6 doesn’t say “angels” but “sons of God.” As a Bible believer, I am not committed to saying that all of God’s word is equally clear to everyone; the Bible itself says that parts of it are difficult to understand (2 Pet 3:16)—and that some people, even if they do understand, won’t accept what they read until they are enlightened by God’s Spirit (1 Cor 2:14).
“The people of Sodom were condemned principally for… lack of compassion for the poor and needy [not homosexuality].”
Kristof cites Ezekiel 16:49, which indeed indicts Sodom for sins other than homosexuality. But the very next verse, 16:50, says that they also committed “an abomination” before God. A straightforward reading of the Genesis text (Gen 19:4-5) leaves no doubt that the men surrounding Lot’s house were driven by homosexual desire. Just because Ezekiel does not make this explicit does not mean that God (or later Jews) had a change of mind about homosexuality. Kristof again fails to make genre distinctions: narratives make their points implicitly, prophetic passages explicitly.
Kristof writes of the book from which he drew his column,
Professor Knust’s point is that the Bible’s teachings about sexuality are murky and inconsistent and prone to being hijacked by ideologues (this quiz involves some cherry-picking of my own). There’s also lots we just don’t understand: What exactly is the offense of “arsenokoitai” or “man beds” that St. Paul proscribes? It is often translated as a reference to homosexuality, but it more plausibly relates to male prostitution or pimping. Ambiguity is everywhere, which is why some of you will surely harrumph at my quiz answers.
I could say that these arguments have been answered again and again. And they certainly have (try this scholar, for starters). But Kristof is an opinion writer; he’s not required to read the other side—even if on a hot-button issue like this it would behoove him to do so.
But there’s a deeper issue here. Kristof has an agenda, and so do you and I. Each of us is going to read Scripture in line with that agenda. Kristof’s presuppositions turn the Bible into a rhetorical tool for him to unsettle Christian conservatives. He has a pragmatic goal he wants to achieve. He doesn’t personally care what the Bible says. Holy writ is, for him, only a bludgeon to be picked up when needed.
God forbid that Christians would use it the same way. We should not wield Scripture as merely a tool to help us do things we want; instead, through Scripture God stands over us with absolute authority. If the Bible really does not condemn homosexual behavior, it would be best for Christians to admit it now. Many American Christians were wrong about issues of race and only too late repented of their sin.
But if the God of the universe says homosexuality is morally wrong—just like all other forms of sexual activity outside monogamous heterosexual marriage (and just like gossip, lying, and numbers of other sins; cf. Rom 1)—then we will have to endure and patiently answer Religion and Sex quizzes at the New York Times.
Sometimes the principled reasons people give for taking a position are just window dressing, good for public display but only incidental to the heart of the matter, which is the state of their hearts.
—Stanley Fish, The Trouble with Principle (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 33.
I’m still reading God’s Secretaries, and I’ve arrived at a section in which Nicolson details the umpteen rules the KJV translators were supposed to follow. The second is this:
2. The names of the Profyts and the holie Wryters, with the other Names in the text to be retayned, as near as may be, according as they are vulgarly used.
I agree with that, but it would seem hardly worth saying. Why translate “John” or “Timothy” or, for that matter, “Jesus” with “Ioann,” “Timotheus,” or “Yeshua”?
Well, apparently there was a reason:
Some Puritans maintained that the names of the great figures in the scriptures, all of which signify something—Adam meant “Red Earth,” Timothy “Fear-God”—should be translated. The Geneva Bible, which was an encyclopedia of Calvinist thought, including maps and diagrams, had a list of those meanings at the back and, in imitation of those signifying names, Puritans, particularly in the heartlands of Northamptonshire and the Sussex Weald, had taken to naming their children after moral qualities. Ben Jonson included characters called Tribulation Wholesome, Zeal-of-the-Land Busy and Win-the-fight Littlewit in The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614), and Bancroft himself [Archbishop of Canterbury, in charge of the translation effort] had written about the absurdity of calling your children “The Lord-is-near, More-trial, Reformation, More-fruit, Dust and many other such-like.” These were not invented. Puritan children at Warbleton in Sussex, the heartland of the practice, laboured under the names of Eschew-evil, Lament, No-merit, Sorry-for-sin, Learn-wisdom, Faint-not, Give-thanks, and, the most popular, Sin-deny, which was landed on ten children baptized in the parish between 1586 and 1596.
Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (HarperCollins, 2003), 74.
Eschewing the culture’s accepted canon of names is a way of rejecting that culture and, to some degree, setting up one’s own. In a 17th century England that valued passing on its ways from generation to generation, this was a “half-mad denial of tradition” (p. 74).
Years ago, Kevin Bauder’s address “A Fundamentalism Worth Saving” was helpful and influential for me.
Admittedly, high culture—and especially academic culture—can provide an occasion for arrogance. People who invest years of their lives perfecting their mastery of an art or a learned discipline tend to become a bit testy when critiqued by dilettantes. Furthermore, they sometimes assume that their study grants them authority outside their areas of expertise. Even within those areas their competence may actually be less than they imagine.
Yet avoidance of high culture is not exactly a prophylactic against pride. Ugly as pride of intellect may be, it is not noticeably less sinful than pride of ignorance. Who, after all, is more arrogant: people who believe that they have a right to express an opinion because they have invested years of effort in the study and mastery of their subject, or those who believe that they have a right to express an opinion simply because they occupy space?
As for the objection that one had better spend his time winning souls, it supposes that those who spurn high culture will actually employ a comparable amount of time in witnessing or other spiritual pursuits. The fact is that they rarely do. People who refuse go to the concert hall or the art gallery do not simply go to church. They also go to the ball game. Those who reject education rarely give themselves only to evangelism. They also watch television or go fishing. That is not necessarily a problem: ball games and fishing are enjoyable and legitimate activities, but they are hardly more spiritual than hearing Mozart or looking at a Rembrandt.
David Instone-Brewer of Tyndale House offers some resources for studying Jewish documents.
I have found it frustrating a few times to locate and translate Jewish documents relevant to NT study. Looks like this page will be a help.
Be sure to submit your e-mail address at the bottom of the page—or subscribe to the blog, or both. Instone-Brewer’s posts are always worth being aware of.
Mark 13 admonishes readers against attempts at constructing timetables and deciphering signs of the Parousia. Disciples are admonished to be alert and watchful (vv. 5, 9, 23, 33, 35, 37), reminded that they do not know the time of the end (vv. 33, 35), and warned not to be led astray by even the most obvious signs (vv. 5, 6, 21, 22), for the end is not yet (vv. 7, 13). No one is either encouraged or commended for attempting to be an eschatological code-cracker. That is folly, for even the Son of Man is ignorant of the End (v. 32). The premium of discipleship is placed not on predicting the future but on faithfulness in the present, especially in trials, adversity, and suffering.
James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, PNTC, (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 2002), 386.