Gold is from the heavens

You may have heard of reports of gold dust, as well as precious jewels, falling from from the sky during times of worship, in recent years. Like me, you may not know what to make of such reports – or you may simply reject them as fabrications.

A burst of meteorite impactsBut it is interesting to read in a BBC report that scientists now believe that almost all the gold in the earth’s crust has fallen from the sky – quite literally, in the form of meteorites. The scientists date this fall of gold and other precious metals to 3.9 billion years ago – a date which young earth creationists are unlikely to accept. But, even though we don’t believe that the home of God is literally up there, there is something symbolically interesting and possibly significant in the heavenly origin of all our gold.

N.T. Wright: Paul doesn't direct women to teach

N.T. WrightAt the new BLT blog Theophrastus has posted about Deduction and Tom Wright’s Translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and Suzanne McCarthy has responded. Yesterday I also responded to Theo, but only to one thing which he wrote, the UK publication and title of N.T. Wright’s The New Testament for Everyone. Now, as I promised yesterday, I want to discuss the main substance of Theo’s post, Wright’s take on 1 Timothy 2.

This, according to Theophrastus, is Wright’s rendering of verses 11 and 12:

They [women] must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God.  I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed.

Compare this with NIV 2011:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

ESV differs mainly by reading “exercise authority” rather than “assume authority”, for the Greek authentein. And it is that one word difference which has been the focus of huge controversy over the last few years, and indeed has provided the main grounds on which Denny Burk has rejected and condemned NIV 2011.

The innovative part of Wright’s translation is something different, in his rendering of the Greek ouk epitrepo not as “I do not permit” but as “I’m not saying that … should”. In other words, he understands epitrepo not as “permit” but as something like “direct”. But is this a plausible translation of the Greek? Theophrastus quotes Wright’s “rather extensive discussion of his reasoning in translating the passage this way”, but at least in the rather extensive quotation Wright offers no justification for his rendering of the Greek. Well, this is a commentary “for everyone”. But he does offer an interesting alternative paraphrase of verse 12:

I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.

So perhaps here Wright is suggesting that epitrepo means something like “appoint”.

But what does this Greek word mean? The gloss in Barclay Newman’s Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament is simple: “let, allow, permit”, and that seems to fit with the 18 New Testament occurrences of the word. But the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon of classical Greek gives a rather different picture of the meaning of this word, within the Greek language as a whole. Here is a summary of its definitions:

A 1. to turn to or towards; to overturn upon.
2. turn over to, transfer, bequeath.
3. commit, entrust to another as trustee, guardian, or vicegerent; also a son for education; refer a legal issue to any one.
4. c. dat. only, rely upon, leave to ; refer the matter to a person, leave it to his arbitration.
5. Med., entrust oneself, leave one’s case to; also, to entrust what is one’s own to another.
6. Pass., to be entrusted.
B 1. give up, yield; later c. inf., permit, suffer: abs., give way.
2. intr., give way.
C. command.

Senses A5 and A6 don’t apply here as the verb is active. Sense A4 “rely on”, which might fit Wright’s interpretation, is attested only from several centuries before the New Testament. The “later” version of sense B1 corresponds to Newman’s “let, allow, permit”. But this was not the only sense of the word in Hellenistic Greek, as LSJ cites two second century AD papyrus examples as evidence for its sense C “command”. I note that in many, but not all, of the other New Testament occurrences “command” fits just as well as “allow”; in Mark 10:4 epitrepo is used where the parallel in Matthew 19:7 is entellomai “command”.

So can the controversy about 1 Timothy 2:12 be resolved by understanding epitrepo as “command” or “direct”? Wright seems to think so. But if he is to convince people of this, he needs to offer an explicit scholarly exegesis of this Greek word in its context, and not rely on what people might infer from his renderings of the verse. And there is bound to be strong resistance in certain quarters to even the strongest of arguments which might undermine deeply entrenched patriarchal understandings of the church.

I'm 99.97% atheist!

Atheist symbolIn a post The atheist delusion Gez quotes the following from David Nicholls, President of the Atheist Foundation:

We’re … people who have realised there’s absolutely no evidence for any of the 3000 gods …

In a comment Robert J. Wilson, himself an atheist, makes a point which I was also going to bring up before I saw his comment:

As Mr. Nicholls rightly points out, there are over 3,000 gods throughout history. Christians are 99.9% atheist in that they disbelieve in all but one. We (atheists) simply go one god further.

I could have responded by noting how completely Wilson misunderstands, or misrepresents, what the one God means to us Christians. We don’t so much believe in his existence as have a relationship with him. Even if I didn’t believe that Solomon’s thousand wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3) existed, that would bring me no closer to disbelieving in the existence of my own one wife – I know she exists because I know her! And the same with my one God.

But the reply to Wilson I in fact posted, pointing out his mathematical error, was more on the level his argument deserves:

Interesting statistic, Robert. Perhaps you think we Christians are 99.9% atheist in that we disbelieve in all but THREE of the 3000? But the three are one, so I go with 99.97% atheist. ;-)

Wright's NT for Everyone: Not the Kingdom in the UK

In May I wrote about The Kingdom New Testament, the new title for N.T. Wright’s new version. As I noted in an update two days ago, the former Bishop of Durham’s translation is now scheduled for publication on 25th October, by HarperOne (a Murdoch company) and can be ordered from Amazon.com – but not from Amazon.co.uk.

The New Testament for EveryoneI thank Theophrastus for the information, at the new BLT blog, that apparently the same version has been published in the UK under a different title, The New Testament for Everyone. This is presumably why the American title is not on offer in the UK. The UK version, published by SPCK (nothing to do with the Murdochs), is already available – it was published in July. I presume that US readers can order the UK version from Amazon.co.uk, as Theophrastus, at least, has a copy.

I wonder why yet another title has been chosen for this UK edition, after “The King’s Version” and “The Kingdom New Testament” were both rejected. It seems perverse that a title including “Kingdom” is acceptable in the anti-monarchist United States but not here in the United Kingdom.

But how suitable is this version “for everyone”? As I haven’t seen the text I cannot judge it. But in the past (the link is to a 2005 comment which I found from Google, but my criticism dates back to a 2002 paper) I have been critical of the claims made that ESV is “one Bible for all of life”, and of similar claims for other versions. I don’t agree that any Bible version is suitable “for everyone”, even for all English speakers, as different people need different kinds of translation. For this reason Wright and SPCK would have done better to stick with the title “The Kingdom New Testament”.

Theophrastus also discusses this version’s interesting rendering of 1 Timothy 2:11-12. I intend to discuss that in a further post.

Jesus didn't mean 'nation-state' – nor does Wagner

When I was working as one of a Bible translation team in a former Soviet republic, one of the local team members questioned the use in an Old Testament draft of a word meaning “nation”, referring to Egypt. She told me that she had learned, no doubt in her Soviet era political classes, that the concept of “nation” was a modern one. I asked her what she thought were the characteristics of a “nation”. She mentioned such things as a single ethnic group and language and secure and stable borders. I could truthfully point out to her that ancient Egypt had all of these characteristics for thousands of years (in fact for longer than any modern nation state except possibly Japan). She withdrew her objection.

The first part of the title of this post, “Jesus didn’t mean ‘nation-state'”, comes from a comment by Joel Watts on one of his own posts, and refers to these famous parting words of Jesus:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV 2011)

The United NationsIndeed the “all nations” of which we are called to make disciples are not to be identified with nation-states in the modern sense, or with the currently 193 member states of the United Nations. This is clear when we note that the modern “Westphalian system” in which land areas are divided into nation-states dates back only to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – and so after the word “nations” was used in the 1611 King James version (and probably in earlier versions) of Matthew 28:19. In the ancient world there had been some nation-states, even more or less according to modern definitions, such as Egypt and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, but well before the time of Jesus these had been swallowed up by larger empires. So Jesus certainly didn’t mean “make disciples of all nation-states”.

But Joel, in the same comment, referred to

the urinating-poor translation of that section of Matthew.

He didn’t specify exactly what his objection is to the translation, nor for that matter which translation he was objecting to. But clearly at least part of his issue is with the word “nations” in verse 19, used in 22 of the 27 English versions at Bible Gateway. He seems to suggest that Bible readers will understand “nations” in this verse as a reference to modern nation-states. Well, perhaps some might. But the Google definition of “nation” does not imply the political organisation or single government characteristic of a modern nation-state:

  1. A large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory
    – leading industrialized nations
  2. A North American Indian people or confederation of peoples

Joel’s problem with the word “nations” seems to stem from a quote in his post from Peter Wagner:

Formerly, I thought my task was to go to as many nations of the world as possible and save as many souls as possible and plant as many churches as possible. Now I take the Great Commission more literally when it tells us not to make as many individual disciples as we can but to disciple whole social groups—such as entire nations. This is kingdom theology.

Joel’s fellow-blogger RODOFA (aka “Rod of Alexandria”) commented on the latter part of this quote:

See, this is exactly the problem with reading our views of the nation-state into scripture; its just not there.

C. Peter WagnerBut who exactly is “reading our views of the nation-state into scripture”? Certainly not Wagner, who is not at all referring to states or governments, but explicitly to “social groups”. The problem here seems to be that Rod and Joel are reading their views of the nation-state into Wagner’s words, whereas Wagner, a Bible scholar with an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary, was using the word “nations” in the same sense that Jesus was using it. And he surely knows very well that Jesus didn’t mean ‘nation-state’.

Joel blames bad translations for Wagner’s supposed misunderstanding of “nations” in the Bible. I blame Joel’s and Rod’s misunderstanding of the English word “nations”, as always meaning “nation-states”, for their misunderstanding of Peter Wagner’s theology, and their culpable misrepresentation of him as a “dominionist” with an interest in taking over governments of nation-states.

In fact, as I made clear in my previous post about him, Wagner has entirely repudiated the idea of the church running any nation-state. Rather, I’m sure he would agree, as I do, with Kay Sharpe’s words in a comment on Joel’s post:

Discipling nations starts with people getting saved, healed, delivered, set free – God lays it out there pretty nicely in Isaiah 58 and 61. In order to disciple someone, one must have their heart. In order to disciple nations, we must gain the heart of the nation. We do that by setting individuals free… who in turn set more individuals free… who in turn… until it becomes neighborhoods and people groups and states and then nations.

Wasilla's claim to fame: world record cabbages!

Wasilla's 2011 prize-winning cabbageNot long ago few people had heard of the small town of Wasilla, Alaska. But it was in the news in 2009 for producing a world record cabbage, weighing 127 pounds (57 kg). At this year’s Alaska State Fair the same Wasilla cabbage grower hoped to break his own record with the “behemoth” pictured here, but, as the Anchorage Daily News reports, its weight fell a few ounces “shy” of the 2009 record.

Oh, and Wasilla, in “the Bible Belt of Alaska”, is also the home of an obscure former governor of Alaska called Sarah Palin. But no one remembers her any more.

Kierkegaard: an Evangelical born before his time

Søren KierkegaardRoger Olson has just completed an interesting series Was Kierkegaard an evangelical? – part 1, part 2, part 3. In fact by the final part of the series he has dropped the question mark and changed the title to “Kierkegaard as evangelical”.

The 19th century Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author Søren Kierkegaard has certainly been a controversial figure among evangelical Christians. As Olson notes in his part 2, influential evangelicals such as Francis Schaeffer and John MacArthur have denounced Kierkegaard as “a pernicious influence” and “Adrift on a sea of subjectivity” – apparently on the basis of very limited acquaintance with his works.

Olson, who has studied Kierkegaard’s works in detail, gives a very different picture. He presents a Christian thinker whose views, while provocative, fit within the bounds of modern evangelicalism – although more Arminian (like Olson) than Calvinist. Here is part of what Olson writes in part 3:

My own reading of K. has led me to believe he was what I consider an evangelical–a person of passionate faith in Jesus Christ–even if not a typical one by contemporary North American standards.  …

What made K. an evangelical?  His absolute determination to find and live authentically according to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Now, for those who define “evangelical” in terms of doctrinal orthodoxy, K. never (to the best of my knowledge) denied any tenet of orthodox Christianity.  He did try to show that they are beyond comprehension and are paradoxes–as a sign of God’s transcendence and humans’ sinfulness.  He perhaps over reacted to the dead orthodoxy and rationalistic religious philosophies (especially Hegel’s) of his day.  But that doesn’t make him non-evangelical in my opinion. …

K. was not an irrationalist about Christianity.  True, like Tertullian, he sometimes referred to what Christians believe (e.g., the incarnation) as absurd, but he MEANT by secular standards of rationality. …

K. wrote much about the church and most of it was negative.  That was not because he disdained church but because the only church he knew (in his context) was the Danish Lutheran (state) Church. … But the point is that K. did NOT reject church in favor of a totally atomistic understanding of Christianity.  What he rejected was Christendom–the church as synthesized with society such that belonging to the society made one a Christian and vice versa.

It seems to me that in many ways Kierkegaard, as presented by Olson, was a very modern, or even postmodern, Christian. He took the Bible as authoritative, but was wary of the traditional teachings of the church. Perhaps he should have been born in the late 20th century instead of the early 19th. If he had been, he might have got on well with Rob Bell. But then perhaps today’s Christianity would not have been the same thing if Kierkegaard had not been one of the first to challenge the over-intellectual tradition in theology which is still so strong among “Reformed” Evangelicals.

I can’t help thinking that Kurt Willems might consider Kierkegaard to be an evangelical reject. He has certainly been rejected as evangelical by people like Schaeffer and MacArthur. But, for the same reasons that I wrote in response to Willems I’m an Evangelical – don’t let them steal the name, I agree with Olson that we should accept Kierkegaard, posthumously, as a brother Evangelical.

Meanwhile I still don’t know if the story Flying like wild ducks which I posted here last year is genuinely by Kierkegaard. If anyone reading this can enlighten me about that, please comment on that post.

Online Greek, Hebrew texts from German Bible Society

Two years ago I was very critical of the German Bible Society for their “ridiculous” copyright claims on the original language Greek and Hebrew Bible texts.

BHSI am now pleased to report that these texts are now available online from the same Bible Society, at its English language Academic Bibles website, although the copyright claims have not been dropped. Specifically, the texts available are BHS Hebrew Bible, the NA27 and UBS Greek New Testament, and the Rahlfs Septuagint, as well as the Latin Vulgate.

NA27These online editions do not include the critical apparatus. Also when I looked at a Bible passage I read the following in a sidebar:

Currently you are using this website as a guest. This allows you to read the Bible text, but you cannot run searches and look up linked information. In order to use the additional features, please log in or sign up free of charge.

Thanks to Jim West for the link.