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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Doctrine vs Theology


Sometimes the simplest idea can be the most profound.



ἔσται γὰρ καιρὸς ὅτε τῆς ὑγιαινούσης διδασκαλίας οὐκ ἀνέξονται, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας τὰς ἰδίας ἑαυτοῖς ἐπισωρεύσουσιν διδασκάλους κνηθόμενοι τὴν ἀκοήν.
2 Timothy 4:3


I first mentioned Michael Rood on this blog back in January after watching his video series about the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew entitled Raiders of the Lost Book. I’ve been watching a lot of his videos on Youtube since then and have to say that I’m mightily impressed. Although I’m still a bit skeptical about Rood’s extreme Judaizing (most notably revealed in his misinterpretation of Colossians 2:8 in his two part video Let No Pagan Judge You), for the most part, I find his Hebraic perspective on the Scriptures enlightening.

In Episode 3 of his Prophecies in the Fall Feasts series, Rood said something about how the Hebrews understand doctrine that, despite the matter-of-fact way it was put, struck me as terribly significant (slide to the 06:50 mark):



So, basically the Hebrew way of thinking is to consider doctrines to be commandments on how to act, rather than as theological instructions on how to think, that doctrine teaches how to do what God wants, not why it should be done. In other words, when considering biblical instruction, doctrine, the first consideration is to ask how one puts it into practice.

The profundity of this distinction wasn’t apparent to me immediately, but the more I thought about it, the more amazed I became. It was the first time I’d ever really given a thought to the distinction between doctrine for works and doctrine for theology, and I began to see a wonderful utility in calling the former “doctrine” and the latter “theology”. I now believe it is essential for preachers and teachers to make this distinction (whether these terms are used or not), because until it is understood and made clear to believers, an essential element will be missing from the Lord’s instructions—practical application!

Currently, doctrinal exhortations and commandments from Protestant pulpits are heavy on the theology and light on the doctrine; or, if you will, heavy on the why and light on the how. After getting people all fired up on why they need to do something, they neglect to tell them how to do it; thereby leaving the people in a state of confused frustration.

As an example, take the sermon I heard last Sunday at Church. Taking Romans 12:1 as his cue, the Pastor spoke stirringly about the need for us to be an example to the world by heeding the Apostle Paul’s call to become a “living sacrifice”. He completely convinced us that this was indeed our “reasonable service”. The only problem was that he didn’t tell us how we were to do this. He gave us all the why’s, but none of the how’s.

This lack of practical instruction (henceforth to be known as “doctrine”) in sermons has been a criticism of mine for quite some time now; which probably explains why Rood’s simple distinction had such an impact on me. All the way through the sermon I kept thinking, “Tell them how. Tell them how! TELL THEM HOW!” All he had to do was cite a couple of the following Synoptic Gospel verses werein Jesus tells us how to be a sacrifice:
Matt 10:38—And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

Matt 16:24—Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mark 8:34—And when he had called the people [unto him] with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mark 10:21—Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

Luke 9:23—And he said to [them] all, If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Luke 14:2—And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

So, clearly, to be a living sacrifice, we must first deny ourselves (act contrary to our flesh), then pick up our crosses (to which we are condemned by the world by bearing true witness), and follow Him (to His self-sacrifice for the Kingdom). See? Easy!

Now that's doctrine you can sink your teeth into.



Upon reflection, it occurred to me that so little practical doctrine is given in sermons these days because of a fear of overdoing it and becoming legalistic, or worse, works-based. In the Reformation, we were taken from the desiccated works of the Roman Catholics into the dry wilderness of Faith Alone-ism; all the while forgetting the warnings of the Apostle Yaakob (see James 2:20, 26). Now we are in a place were it is seen as dangerous to tell the flock too specifically what Jesus told them to do.

Okay, I'm going to leave that thought there for now and give this whole doctrine/theology distinction a long think. In particular, I'm going to ruminate on the possible relevance to this post of the two different Greek words in the NT that have been translated “doctrine”: διδασκαλία [didaskalia] and διδαχή [didache].

Oh, and I guess I'm also going to have to reconsider the wording of my Deconstructing Doctrines series.


Right.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Who is the θεος of this World?


Bible Study rule #2: Be aware of translator eisegesis.



3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4


As a student of the original languages, whenever I'm reading the Bible in English, simultaneously, in the back of my mind, I'm wondering how the original text looks; which is why, while reading 2 Corinthians 4:4 in the KJV last night, the phrase “god of this world” virtually jumped off the page at me. My first thought was, “Oh-oh, is this another example of wildly misleading translator eisegesis in the English New Testament?” A quick look at the verses in the Greek NT had me thinking it was.
3 εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔστιν κεκαλυμμένον τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν, ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις ἐστὶν κεκαλυμμένον· 4ἐν οἷς ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου ἐτύφλωσεν τὰ νοήματα τῶν ἀπίστων εἰς τὸ μὴ αὐγάσαι αὐτοῖς τὸν φωτισμὸν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τῆς δόξης τοῦ Χριστοῦ ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ.
I then checked the readings in other English versions on Blue Letter Bible—the NKJV, NIV, ESV, YLT, ASV, DBY, WEB, HNV—as well as the Spanish RVR (Reina-Valera) and the Latin Vulgate, and, yep, they all showed a small-g god of this world. The NLT (New Living Translation) went so far over the cliff of eisegesis as to helpfully include the word “Satan” into their translation.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don't believe.
For those who might not get what all the fuss is about here, I should explain that the original Greek texts of the Bible were written in uppercase letters. In fact, there were no lowercase or cursive letters when the NT books were first penned; these were a later scribal development.

This means that there was no literary convention whereby proper nouns were capitalized to distinguish them from common nouns—as with God and god—so there was no way to know from the morphology alone whether a proper noun or common noun was intended.1

Even now, in lowercase Greek texts like the one above, you can see that there is no distinguishing capitalization on the two occurrences (in red) of the word θεός [theos], which is translated “god” in English. In these modern Greek texts, you will find proper names capitalized, but not common nouns, so there’s never a capital theta (Θ) on θεός.

Given that, you can now see that the translating of the first θεός in this verse as “god” and the second one as “God” is a function of translator interpretation. It all hinges on who the translator believes the Apostle Paul is referring to as the “god of this age” (the use of the word “world” is another interpretation rather than translation. The Greek word αἰών [aion] is closer in meaning to the word “age”, and is used to refer to an unbroken, therefore eternal, perpetuity of time.).

There are arguments on both sides of this question, but I am convinced, by the context, as well as the whole counsel of Scripture, that the Apostle Paul meant the God in 2 Corinthians 4:4. Sam Shamoun on the Answering Islam website has a great post about this very thing here. Conveniently, all my arguments (and more) are there, so there’s no need for me to detail them all now.

No matter which side you eventually fall on, however, it is still important to realize that there are many instances like this where the translators (and those who employed them) have taken it upon themselves to interpret the words of Scripture, rather than just translate them. In fact, the same capitalization decisions made with θεός were made regarding the word πνεῦμα [pneuma], which is translated as “spirit”. In the absence of the adjective “holy”, the translators decided when the Author meant uppercase-s “Spirit”.

Of course, interpretation is impossible to avoid entirely when rendering one language into another, but it is my firm belief that, especially with Scripture, in order to keep interpretation down to a minimum, a word for word translation should be done as consistently as possible, regardless of how odd it might look in English (E.g. if there is no first letter morphological distinction in the Greek text, then don’t capitalize the English text ever!). Any great amount of interpretation that a translator thinks might be needed could easily be done with foot or margin notes. That way, the reader would be given a purer text that he can either interpret or query for himself, without being forced to accept the questionable doctrine of an insular ecclesiastical or academic gate-keeper.

Herr Professor Brooke Foss Westcott II

But, of course, this has not happened with our English Bibles. Right now, the only way a believer can truly know what the Word of God said is to study with the original texts. However, to do this effectively, he will first have to acknowledge that doctrinal eisegesis has occurred in our English Bibles, and that even his most foundational belief might be in error, wholly or in part. One of the greatest tools used to corral Christians away from truth and the authority of the Bible into ignorance and dependence on church leadership has been English-only instruction.

καὶ γνώσεσθε τὴν ἀλήθειαν καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς—John 8:32

Indeed.









Footnotes:
1. I am aware of the scribal custom of abbreviating certain holy names like ΙΗΣΥΣ [IESUS] and ΘΕΟΣ [THEOS] as ΙΣ and ΘΣ respectively, but this too was a later development and every bit an example of eisegetical translation as proper name capitalization.



Friday, February 10, 2012

When is a Union a Marriage?


If God doesn’t care what hellish unions the ungodly forge, why do we?



καὶ εἶπεν ἕνεκεν τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ προσκολληθήσεται τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν.
—Matthew 19:5


Although I’ve finished the Bible study God Hates Divorce? I’m still researching what the Bible actually teaches about marriage. And the more I look into it, the more astounded I am at just how unscriptural all our marriage doctrines are. It seems that the false belief that God hates divorce was simply a tiny tip of a very large iceberg of error.

Let’s chip-off and examine another miniscule piece of that giant iceberg…

One thing that Christians invariably do whenever they think about marriage is to equate whatever they call a marriage with what the Bible calls a marriage. For some strange reason, in their promotion of lifelong matrimony, or in their denunciation of no-fault divorce, it never occurs to them to ask whether the marriages they’re getting all exercised over are even real marriages in the first place; that is, marriages in the sight of God.

This failure to question their definition of marriage is partly due to enculturation and partly due to tradition. Most of us have grown up in countries where the culturally approved definition of marriage was identical to the predominant religious definition of marriage. This is not surprising, since our societal form of marriage was informed by our religious traditions. Just like the term “family”, there was never any reason to think that what we call a marriage in everyday speech might not be the same thing the Bible calls a marriage.

Well, let me be the first to say it: They are not the same.

Before I go any further, though, I should acknowledge that officially the Church of Rome has always treated marriage as a Holy Sacrament and viewed Catholic marriages as the only true marriages. In theory, this meant that the Catholics viewed all non-Catholic unions as pagan couplings and the children of these unions as bastards. In practice, however, the Catholic Church has been its typical hypocritical self and, whenever it was politically or ecumenically convenient, granted all sorts of exceptions and special dispensations of Bishops and Cardinals (or whoever) to allow the parish priests to avoid applying the Church’s rules.

In any case, the Catholic doctrine on marriage is no more biblically legitimate than those of other Christian Churches, although their basic concept of unions being marriages only when they are sacred is spot on.

All of which then begs the question, “When is a union a marriage?”


The answer to this question can be found in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. The main thrust of this epistle is to call the believers in Corinth (and, by extension, all believers) to doctrinal unity. In Chapters 6 & 7, Paul is expounding on the proper way to view and deal with marriage.

I’m not going to flesh out the entire doctrine of marriage right now, I just want to draw your attention to a very important distinction Paul makes with regards to the marital status of three categories of believers in his letter (Remember Bible Study General Principle #1: The Bible is written for and to believers only!).

Now, let's take a look at 1 Corinthians 7:8. As you do, please keep in mind that the Greek word translated “wife”, γυνή [gune], means “woman”, and the Greek word translated “husband”, ἀνήρ [aner], means man (as in male, not human). Therefore, in ascribing titles to these people that might or might not have been implied by the author, whenever the translators wrote “wife” or “husband”, they were interpreting the text, not simply translating it.
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows...
So the first category of believer Paul is addressing is made up of those who are currently not married or widowed.

Next, in v.10, he addresses a second category of person he calls “the married”:
And unto the married I command, [yet] not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from [her] husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to [her] husband: and let not the husband put away [his] wife.
The “advice” to eschew separation Paul gives to both the men and women of this second category is an exact echo of the Mosaic Law on divorce as written in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 and clarified by Jesus in Matthew 19:3-9. Which is why Paul is careful to note that this commandment comes from the Lord, not him. This is clear evidence that Paul considers the unions of those he calls “the married” to be subject to the Law of God, meaning that their unions are sanctified. In short, he calls them “the married” because they have actual marriages.

This is made abundantly clear by the next category he addresses in v.12.
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
What? “The rest”? Who are “the rest”?

Well, it has to be all those believers who he has yet to address, those he doesn’t categorize as unmarried, widowed or married; believers, male and female, who have partners that are unbelievers.

By the way, this is why it is important to know what the translators have done here in using the titles “wife” and “husband”. The Apostle clearly doesn't consider the believers married, so why would he call their unbelieving partners “wives” and “husbands”? He didn't. He called them “women” and “men”. The translators eisegeted their misunderstanding of this text into their translation and ended up contradicting the author and misleading the reader.

So, by implication, those who the Apostle calls “the married”, who have sacred, biblical marriages, are pairs of believers. Therefore, a union becomes a biblical marriage when both partners are believers.

This is why Paul doesn’t offer the Word of God to these believers with unbelieving partners, but instead offers his own advice. This is because their unions aren’t biblical marriages—they haven’t been, as Jesus put it, joined together by God (Matt 19:6)—and can be dissolved without any spiritual consequences, as we see in v.15.
But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such [cases]: but God hath called us to peace.
This all makes perfect sense, when we remember what marriage really is: The union between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32). Spiritually, a mixed-marriage, one between believers and unbelievers, is a mixture of the holy and the profane.

Just another hellish union of the ungodly.

Coming to the full understanding of the biblical distinction between a sacred marriage and a pagan union, one immediately realizes that our civic and ecumenical definitions of marriage are entirely irrelevant to God. This, in turn, should help us see that, what unbelievers choose to call a “marriage”, whether same-sex or common-law, has no bearing on the true, universal Church.

So, all the stress and agitation by Christians over things like epidemic divorce or gay marriage is completely unnecessary. As far as God is concerned, if both couples in a union are not believers, then there is no marriage there.