Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Does God Really Hate Divorce?

Just uploaded the second installment of the Deconstructing Doctrines Series. It's titled DD2: God Hates Divorce? and to find it, either click on the Pages tab above this post, or click here. I still have a final tidying edit to do, but nothing drastic should change.

If you've got any questions or comments about this instalment (or the series), you can email me (click the Email Me link on my profile page) or leave a comment below the instalment itself or this blog post.

Enjoy & God Bless!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

“Angelic Messenger” is Redundant

τῆς φιλοξενίας μὴ ἐπιλανθάνεσθε, διὰ ταύτης γὰρ ἔλαθόν τινες ξενίσαντες ἀγγέλους.
—Hebrews 13:2

It never ceases to amaze me how radically different the Bible is in the original languages. Whether Hebrew, Chaldee or Greek, the more I learn, the more I realize just how the actual words of God have been hidden by our English translations. Nearly every day some new, clearer understanding of a verse or doctrine, given to me through study of the original texts, highlights the extent to which modern Christian thinking has been lead astray by the hermeneutics of translators.

Sandy and I were discussing an example of this just this morning. I was reading 2 Corinthians 8:23 aloud from the KJV when I came across the word "messengers". Supposing this to be a translation of the common Greek word for "messenger", ἄγγελος [angelos], I began to wax theological on the problems stemming from the unfortunate habit of Bible translators to sometimes translate a word, and other times transliterate the same word.

In the KJV ἄγγελος is translated "messenger" 7 times; transliterated "angel" 179 times.

And, as with the transliterated "angel" for ἄγγελος, the general rule seems to be that the meaning of the transliterated form gets the full ecclesiastical treatment. So many additional church meanings get attached to these transliterations that entirely new words are created and their actual meanings as they appear in scripture are forgotten or ignored.

There are many other words treated the same way. Here's a couple:

μάρτυς [martus] is translated "witness" 29 times; transliterated "martyr" 3 times

διάκονος [diakonos] is translated "minister" 20 times, "servant" 8 times; and transliterated "deacon" 3 times.

Interestingly, the Bible translators liked the transliterated form of the Greek word ἄγγελος so much, they decided to use it as a translation for the common OT Hebrew word for "messenger" מלאך [mal'ak]!

מלאך is translated "messenger" 98 times, "ambassador" 4 times, and "angel" 111 times (!)

Now, just imagine how different our Bible exegesis would be if the translators had simply translated ἄγγελος and מלאך as "messenger". Then, in many of the instances where these words occur, the context would indicate what is being referred to, rather than a translator thousands of years after the fact. After all, a messenger might be a prophet, a person bringing God's message, or any believer with a word of Scripture. Imagine how differently you would think about Hebrews 13:2 if the people you might be "entertaining unawares" weren't heavenly, non-human creatures, but simply other Christians who hadn't identified themselves as such.

Well, as it happens, the word translated "messengers" in 2 Cor 8:23 was not ἄγγελος but ἀπόστολοι [apostoloi]. This is the word "apostles" (lit: "appointed away ones"). And that's a topic for a whole other post.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

On the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew

At some point in your journey through Koine Greek and the Greek New Testament, you will hear that the Gospel of Matthew was originally penned in Hebrew and then translated into Greek. The argument for such a claim is fairly compelling, and more and more Biblical scholars are giving it credence, but it does rest largely on cultural and linguistic textual insights rather than strictly archeological evidence. That is by no means a comment as to its veracity, but rather a caution against any absolutist statements proffered by the (almost exclusively) Messianic apologists. In the case of the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, the only thing we can know for certain is that, as yet, we cannot know anything for certain.

Here is part 1 of 10 of an exellent presentation on YouTube about the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew called Raiders of the Lost Book, from self-described Messianic Jew, Michael Rood. The greater and by far the more fascinating part of the presentation is given by Nehemia Gordon, a Karaite Jewish textual scholar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and author of The Hebrew Yeshua vs the Greek Jesus.

As for me, I'd be delighted if it were true. For far too long Christian scholarship has ignored the Jewish Jesus (Yeshua). Anything that helps us recreate the cultural milieu in which the Gospel was written would be a blessing to Biblical exegesis.

However, let me state for the record, that a Hebrew Matthew would in no way shatter my trust in the Greek text; which is, I think, the hope of far too many of the Hebrew Matthew's proponents.

And there's the rub. There always seems to be this underlying implication that, if the Gospel of Matthew was originally Hebrew, then it's possible that other Gospels might've been, too—particularly John's. And if that's true, then, really, Paul's epistles probably were written in Hebrew as well. Before you know it, the idea of the original NT being Greek would be utterly abandoned and a massive historical (and textual) revision would take place. Hebrew, rather than Greek, would become the primary language of New Testament scholarship. And, in my opinion, that would be a disaster.

Those who want Hebrew to eclipse Greek because they think it is the Holy Tongue are ignoring a very important fact and a very important theological insight.

Fact: God preserved the New Testament record of Christ's earthly Mission in Greek. He arranged things so that Greek would be the lingua franca of the Gentile world at the moment in time when He took exclusive access to His Word from the Jewish nation and gave it to "all flesh", to any Jew or Gentile who would believe that Jesus was the Savior of the World.

Theological Insight: As with the confusion of tongues after the tower of Babel episode, God punished Israel by changing the language through which He chose to speak to them. Their understanding was darkened in large part through the demotion of their language. In this way, as Joseph was hidden from his brothers by being dressed as an Egyptian, the Messiah was to become unrecognizable to them after they "killed" Him.

As well, with the revelation of Spiritual Israel that came with the advent of Messiah, there was a need for a language that could reveal the spiritual aspects of the Hebrew Scriptures. Biblical Hebrew is a simple, naturalistic language suited to expressing concrete thoughts. Greek, on the other hand, is a complex, conceptual language, highly adept at expressing abstract and esoteric thinking. In chosing Greek as the language of ἀποκάλυψις [apokalupsis], of "taking off the cover", and not Hebrew, God fulfills even more of the prophetic elements of the Josephine story. Here is the "famine" that the brothers had to go through before they finally, and humbly, approached their Savior. Jesus is the Word (John 1:1), which is the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48), and the Word was the Spirit of Truth (John 14:6) hidden within the letter of the Law (2 Cor 3:6). Access to this spiritual Bread is now gained through the Greek language, a Gentle language.

A humbling thought for Jewish Believers, no doubt, but one I'm sure they'll eventually embrace once they realize that even if they themselves speak Hebrew, they now think like Greeks, rather than ancient Israelites. They, like Joseph's brothers, have also come around to the Messiah's way of thinking.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Strait is the Gate

13 Εἰσέλθετε διὰ τῆς στενῆς πύλης, ὅτι πλατεῖα ἡ πύλη καὶ εὐρύχωρος ἡ ὁδὸς, ἡ ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ἀπώλειαν καὶ πολλοί εἰσιν οἱ εἰσερχόμενοι δι᾽ αὐτῆς· 14ὅτί στενὴ ἡ πύλη καὶ τεθλιμμένη ἡ ὁδὸς, ἡ ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ζωήν, καὶ ὀλίγοι εἰσὶν οἱ εὑρίσκοντες αὐτήν.
Matthew 7:13-14

We are all familiar with the gate and the way that lead to life in Matthew 7:13-14—or, at least, we think we are. For most of us over 30, the words of the KJV are the standard:
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate...14because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
I wonder if I was the only one to grow up hearing the word strait but thinking it was straight, of thinking of the gate as upright and regular, without any warping. Reading it, I just supposed the spelling was archaic. For years I imagined the narrow way was a long, one-person-at-a-time path heading straight for the horizon, like a single rail of track heading for the rising sun. These ideas naturally lead me to believe that Jesus was telling us that the way to Heaven was restricted to straight-laced, upright people, who kept their eyes forward, focused on the goal—Eternal Life—all the while eschewing the temptations on either side.

Of course, even if you were one of the more astute among us, who realized that strait meant confining, as in straitjacket, it is still likely that you were mislead into thinking the straitening was to come from your own conscience and the restricting of your own behavior, that you forced yourself to lead a life of self-abnegation in order to stay on that thin road running right through the middle of the wide way of the heathens. Unfortunately, however well that idea might appear to mesh with the Doctrine of Self-denial, it isn’t what these verses are saying.

Let’s take a look at the words translated strait and narrow in the Greek NT; these are στενός [stenos] and θλίβω [thlibo] respectively. In Matthew 7:13-14 stenos is an adjective; thlibo is a perfect passive participle: στενος is from the root στεν—, as in στεναζω, “to groan,” στεναγμος, "groaning"; as well as στενοχωρεω, “to be straitened, compressed”; and στενοχωρια, “narrowness, anguish, distress”. θλιβω means “to press (as grapes), press hard upon, or compress”. The noun form θλιψις is the word translated as “tribulation” throughout the KJV.

The singular impression both of these words give is of a great difficulty pressing you in on both sides, as though you were being funnelled through a gradually narrowing channel. They are not words denoting the physical dimensions of the gate and way, per se, but rather the experience to be found there. In much the same way, in the poetic expression “they met at a dark hour”, the word dark is not used so much to describe the lack of light, but rather to convey the unsavory nature of the meeting. In the strait gate and along the narrow way you are like a grape being squeezed out in a winepress—a common Biblical metaphor for the operation of God’s wrath (see Lamentations 1:15; Joel 3:13; Haggai 2:16; Isaiah 63:3; Jeremiah & Rev 14:19-20, 19:15 et al) and, more significantly, because God's Word is written for Believers, His method of getting the best of the fruit (Numbers 18:27, 30; Deuteronomy 15:14; Isa 5:2; Matthew 21:33).

By the way, another small note on the translation in the KJV: The Greek preposition translated in at in the phrase “Enter ye in at the strait gate” is διὰ [dia] which actually means “through” or “by means of”.

So, now we can see that these verses, in telling Believers to “enter through the painful gate”, not the easy one, then describing why—“because painful is the gate and tribulation the way which leads unto the Life Eternal”—they are, in actuality, encouraging us to stay the course, rather than exhorting us to change. Jesus is telling us to recognize that we are on the right road when we are beset on both sides, that we are not cursed but blessed when being persecuted, and to know that, contrary to appearances, those who are persecuting us are the ones destined for ἀπώλεια [apoleia], destruction.

Persecution is necessary; there must be no doubt of this in the Christian’s mind. From our daily cross (Luke 9:23), to the hatred from our families (Luke 12:51-53), time and again the Lord tells us of the price we will pay in this world to be His disciples (Matthew 10:38). And, without fail, the means by which God beats (Deuteronomy 8:5; Hebrews 12:6) and persecutes us is at the hands of the ungodly. He lets our enemies persecute us and subject us to fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12) in order to refine us. He beats the Hell out of us; and fills the space left with Heaven (1 Peter 4:1).

Further to this, look carefully at the following screen-capture of the Thayer’s Lexicon entry for στενός found at Blue Letter Bible. Notice what it says about the Septuagint (abbreviated Sept.):

So, the equivalent word for στενός in Hebrew is צר [tsar]. Interestingly enough, this is the basis of the Hebrew name for Egypt, מצרים [mitsrayim]. Here’s Jeff A. Benner, of the Ancient Hebrew Research Center, unpacking the word מצרים in his e-magazine’s Name of the Month section:
The Hebrew word for Egypt is מצרים (mitsrayim / meets-rah-yeem). The first occurrence of this name is in Genesis 10:6 - And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim (mitsrayim), and Phut, and Canaan. (KJV). Mizraim is the grandson of Noah and evidently settled in the land that came to be known as Mitsrayim to the Hebrews and Egypt to us today.

The root to this name is צר (tsar Strong's #6862) meaning "pressed in" and can be translated several different ways; "enemy" as one who presses in; "trouble" as a pressing in; "strait" as a canyon with the walls pressing. A common method of forming nouns is to add the letter "mem" to the front of a root. In this case the "mem" is placed before the root forming the noun מצר (metsar Strong's #4712). The prefixed "mem" can be understood as "what is...", hence metsar means "what is pressed in" and is usually translated as trouble or straits. The suffix of the name mitsrayim is the masculine plural suffix ים. The normal pronunciation for this suffix is "eeym", usually a multiple plural, but can also be "yeem" and is the double plural as in the name mitsrayim.

The name mitsrayim can be interpreted many different ways; two straits (possibly referring to the two sides of the Nile river), double straits, two enemies, double pressing, or even double trouble. While we cannot determine for certain what this name originally meant, we can see some interesting parallels between Egypt and their relationship with the nation of Israel.
Incidentally, the English name “Egypt” comes from the Greek Αἴγυπτος [Aiguptos] which, according to the site, was the Greek transliteration of the Ancient Egyptian Hwt-ka-Ptah (Ht-ka-Ptah, or Hout-ak Ptah), meaning “House of the Ka of Ptah”; Ptah being one of the pagan Egyptians’ earliest gods.

With that, here’s another interesting screen grab from Thayer’s Lexicon entry for Αἴγυπτος found at Blue Letter Bible (Αἴγ. is the abbreviated Αἴγυπτος “Egypt”):

As with the entire Book of Revelation, there is a marvelous circularity to this idea of the inhabitants of physical Jerusalem being as hostile to the inhabitants of spiritual Jerusalem as the Ancient Egyptians were to the Israelites. As Moses literally lead the genetic Chosen of God out of the physical bondage of Egypt, so too does Christ lead the spiritual Chosen of God out of the bondage of spiritual Egypt. Likewise, both deliveries are through strait gates and along refining roads of tribulation!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

On Tolerance

There is a hell of row going on in Israel right now between Orthodox and Secular Israelis. The epicenter of the conflict is in the ancient city of בית שמש [Beit Shemesh], meaning “House of the Sun”, where there is an “increasingly intense confrontation” going on between חרדים Charedim (ultra-Orthodox) and the authorities over (primarily) religious gender-segregation. Several highly-publicized outrages committed by the Charedim against women and young girls have spurred large demonstrations by secular (and some Charedi) Israelis, which, in turn, have prompted a counter demonstration by the Charedim.

Over on Bethami Gold's The Mommy Guilt Blog, there is a helpful list of links at the bottom of the post Tonight in Beit Shemesh that will handily bring you up to speed on the controversy.

Actually, it was the following quote from Bethami’s post that got me thinking about the whole issue of tolerance:
I do still believe (although belief is wavering, I’ll admit) that everyone has a right to be as extreme as they want in their private lives...But they should let everyone else make their own choices as well. They should strive to raise healthy, confident daughters and sons who take pride in both their bodies and souls.
The inherent contradiction leapt out at me immediately. As with most post-modernist progressive unbelievers, Bethami adheres to the high, secularist value of universal toleration—the idea that people only need to be tolerant of each other, let everyone do whatever they choose to do, and human society will be free of all discord and disharmony. Of course, if she were to think about it for a moment, she would see that this social philosophy is as fundamentally flawed as the belief that the solution to poverty is making everyone a millionaire. What happens when my doing what I want involves stopping you from doing what you want?

Right. No wonder she admits her belief in it is “wavering”.

I captured that thought in a comment on her post. After citing the same quote above, I wrote:

This is not "letting everyone else make their own choices as well"; it is forcing your morality on others. It is, in a word, hypocrisy (albeit unconscious). No matter what action you support to "fix" this problem, you have to admit that you are elevating your preferences over those of others. No one who does anything other than submit to the will of another has the right to claim intellectual or moral neutrality. Tolerance is by definition unlimited. A completely tolerant human society is a utopian myth.

Where groups are concerned, strength and/or numbers will always rule. It was ever thus.
All of this merely underscored for me why we Christians are not to involve ourselves in secular politics or social engineering. There is simply no way for us to honestly govern or manage non-Christians without forcing our beliefs on them.

It’s a lesson Pastor Steven Anderson has yet to learn:

No. The only legitimate posture for us to take “in the world” is one of submission to the wishes of the greater society. Not that we are to do everything they order us to do (like fight in their wars), but that we are to defer to their authority and obey their laws, both of which include accepting the prescribed punishment for any law which we cannot obey (like killing their designated enemies for them). In short, we must always “turn the other cheek” (Matt 5:38-40); even if we are imprisoned, persecuted or killed in the process.

That, I’m afraid, is real tolerance.

UPDATE: My comment--the only one there as of this writing--has been removed from The Mommy Guilt Blog (no surprises there; I mean, one of her links is to Huffpo! So Bethami's clearly not a big supporter of self-reflection).

For three English-language Israeli news reports on the trouble there, see this post over at the Rosh Pinah Project.

An interesting view from another secular Jew living in Israel can be found at Melchett Mike. The comments are enlightening, too.