Archive for ‘Bible’

October 12, 2010

God as Holy

When we say God is holy we struggle with what holy means. We define terms intensively and ostensively. Ostensively we point to examples of a thing to define it through these examples. For example, when talking to a child or someone who speaks a different language we can point to the color red as we say “red” to convey the meaning of the idea of “red.” Or we might define “tree” ostensively simply by pointing to a maple or poplar tree and saying “that is a tree.” Ostensive definitions work because although there may be some type of struggle in defining the term – be it comprehensiveness or different languages – we have a common starting point to work from. While every tree is different from every other tree in the world, there is enough similarity in the trees we all come across to know that we can come to a common understanding as we point ostensively to a tree as we say “tree” knowing that we each can to an understanding then. This is exactly why ostensive definitions are so important – because it is the simplest way to define things as we experience them, by simply pointing to them. Ostensive definitions rely on human experience to work.

Intensive definitions are the lexical definition of a term, which give a precise explanation of the idea behind the word rather than simply pointing to it. A way to think of these two types of definitions is to think of your dictionary. The intensive definition is the explanation written on the page. The ostensive definition is the picture next to it.

But when we define holy our struggle is that we combine an intensive and ostensive definition, not to point to what we mean when we say “God is Holy,” but to point to the boundaries of our understanding and to say “God being holy means something infinitely beyond these boundaries.” That is the best we can do. God is so holy! Or in Biblical language, God is Holy, Holy, Holy!!!

Here then is me pointing to these boundaries. God is holy in that:

  1. God is Good: He is wholly perfectly pure in every detail of his being and attributes.
  2. God is Great: He is supremely excellent above all others.
  3. God is Grand: He is transcendent and other. He is separate. He is different. He is one of a kind. There is none like him. He is infinitely and majestically supreme. He is the ontological king.
  4. God is God: Holy points to the all-encompassing synonym for God and is a constant reminder that we can only understand the things about God which he has revealed. Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us that “The hidden things belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.”
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June 16, 2010

A Commemorative Psalm

Last week as we celebrated our anniversary one of the things Rachelle and I discussed was which Bible verse had become our motto in our first nine years of marriage. We wondered what tomorrow will bring for our next chapter in life, which verses would we turn to for strength, comfort, guidance, wisdom, instruction, disciplining, rebuking, edification and the maturing process in general. It will be fun in ten years to turn again and consider the landscape. But for now I offer a psalm (which we did not discuss) that gives me great comfort as I consider the last mountain range of our life. I wonder why God doesn’t just call it “Israel & Rachelle’s biography.” Of course I know the answer. The answer is it is every Christian’s biography.

So with my precious lady primarily in mind I translated this psalm and edited it in a way that reflects the poetic nature of wisdom literature. Unfortunately, WordPress is not letting me insert all my formatting wants, but for what it is – Enjoy!

Psalm 31

1To the director, a melody of David.

2In You, O LORD, I seek refuge.
Never let me be ashamed;
in Your blameless ways deliver me.
3Turn Your ear toward me!
Quickly rescue me!
Be to me –
– a boulder of refuge
– a mountain fortress
to save me!
4For You are my rock
and my fortress so that for Your Name You lead me,
and  You  guide me.
5 You bring me out from the net they hid for me
for You are my refuge.
6Into your hand I entrust my spirit;
You ransomed me, O LORD God of truth.
7 I hate those who regard empty vanities,
But I trust in the LORD.

8I will shout
And rejoice in Your faithful love for You see my affliction
And You know the distress of my soul.
9 You have not delivered me to the hand of my enemy;
You set my feet in open spaces.
10Show me unearned favor, O LORD, for I am hard pressed;
I am weak from grief –
– my eye
– my spirit
– and my bosom.
11 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years in sighing,
my strength staggers because of my guilt,
and my bones waste away.

12Due to all my enemies I have become
a reproach even to my neighbor,
A great dread even to my friends,
Passersby on the street flee from me,
13 I am forgotten,
Like I am dead,
Out of thought,
I am a ruined vessel.
14For I hear the malicious whispers of many,
terror all around,
as they sit united against me.
as they purpose to take my life.

15But I, I trust in You, O LORD.
I say, “You are my God.”
16In Your hand are my times.
Snatch me from the hand of my enemies
and from my persecutors!
17 Cause Your face to shine upon your slave!
Deliver me by Your faithful love!
18O LORD, let me not be ashamed for I call upon You!
Let the wicked be ashamed!
Let them be struck silent in Sheol!
19 Let the lying lips be mute of those who speak arrogantly against the righteous in pride and contempt.
20How great is Your goodness which You stockpile for those who fear You.
And You work for the refugees who come to you,
which the children of man witness.
21 You hide them with the covering of your face from the plots of man.
You store them in shelter away from the strife of tongues.

22 Blessed be the LORD for He wondrously displays His faithful love to me while in a city under siege.
23I had said in my alarm “I am cut from Your presence.”
But you heard the sound of my supplication when I cried out to you.
24Love the LORD all you His saints!
For the LORD preserves the faithful ones
but he repays in abundance the one who acts in pride.
25 Be strong! Let your hearts be bold, all you who wait upon the LORD!

March 22, 2010

Great Exegetical Tool

At church we are finishing a section on how to do Bible Study. As we come to a close I am reminded of the tools I value most in my hopes of the Holy Spirit illuminating Scripture to me.  The top of my list looks like this:

1. The Holy Spirit
2. Prayer
3. Greek New Testament or Hebrew Old Testament
4. Wallace’s Greek Grammer Beyond the Basics or Waltke’s Biblical Hebrew Syntax – both syntax books.
5. Propositional diagrams to understand relationships between propositional statements.
6. Sentence diagramming.

read more »

February 15, 2010

The Harsh Taskmaster in Galatians 3:24

Most Mondays, Bill Mounce – a NT Greek expert, does an article dealing with biblical interpretation in respect to NT Greek Koinonia. This week’s article deals with the law as our “tutor” in Galatians 3:24. Since HRC’s Men’s Group is currently studying Galatians and our adult Sunday School class is taking a snapshot of Galatians 3:22-24 as we go through the steps of “How to do Bible Study” then this week’s post from Dr. Mounce is most timely.

To Metaphor, or not to Metaphor? (Monday with Mounce 61)

That is the question of Galatians 3:24. I was reminded of this question this morning as I listen to my nephew preach a good sermon on Galatians 3.

Dave preaches from the NIV, so in v 24 he read, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” “Put in charge” is a colorless phrase that conveys a very basic meaning of authority, but it does convey meaning to almost any reader.

The NASB (also NKJV and ASV) has “become our tutor,” which defines a little more closely what the NIV means by “charge.” It is probably meant to reflect the KJV “schoolteacher.” The problem is that the Greek term παιδαγωγος evidently does not contain the sense of “teacher.” BDAG defines the word as, “the man, usu. a slave … whose duty it was to conduct a boy or youth … to and from school and to superintend his conduct.” They offer the gloss “one who has responsibility for someone who needs guidance, guardian, leader, guide” and specifically states that the word does not include the nuance of “teacher.”

The RSV had “custodian,” which was changed to “guardian” by the ESV (also in the NET); I am sure “custodian” sounded too much like the person cleaning the halls of a school after the children have gone home. The NLT typically splits the difference by including both, using “guardian and teacher.”

As you can see, the word is hard to translate. The NJB (New Jerusalem Bible) has what may sound at first like an odd translation: “serving as a slave to look after us,” but in fact it is getting much closer to the actual meaning of παιδαγωγος.

Boice defines the παιδαγωγος as this. “The pedagogue was a slave employed by wealthy Greeks or Romans to have responsibility for one of the children of the family. He had charge of the child from about the years six to sixteen and was responsible for watching over his behavior wherever he went and for conducting him to and from school” (EBC).

In other words, Paul is using not a general term for someone in charge, or a tutor, to define the relationship of the law to the Jewish people. He is using a very specific social role with very specific meanings and nuances that the native readers of the epistle would immediately understand.

George adds even more background to our understanding in his New American Commentary. “No doubt there were many pedagogues who were known for their kindness and held in affection by their wards, but the dominant image was that of a harsh disciplinarian who frequently resorted to physical force and corporal punishment as a way of keeping his children in line. For example, a certain pedagogue named Socicrines was described as a “fierce and mean old man” because of his physically breaking up a rowdy party. He then dragged away his young man, Charicles, ‘like the lowest slave’ and delivered the other troublemakers to the jailer with instructions that they should be handed over to ‘the public executioner’ ” (pp. 265-266).

And hence the problem of translation. If you are committed to translating metaphors, or perhaps it is better to call this an issue of historical backgrounds, then “guardian” is too hard to process. But if you are committed to trying to reflect ancient customs and requiring your readership to study the Bible, then using a colorless phrase like “in charge” significantly under-translates Paul’s use of παιδαγωγος.

The law was not a gentleman who kindly led its children into the ways of God. It was a harsh taskmaster, almost cruel, who identified sin and enticed the Jewish people to sin, and then by grace pointing them to the coming Christ, the only one who could make them right with God.

The Law was truly “holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12). But it was not a tutor, and the Jewish people did not simply function under its authority.

Which brings us to the final question, and that is when does a translation stop being a translation and become a commentary? And what side of the dividing line do you want your Bible to stand?

May 26, 2009

Tomato Praise vs. Redwood Praise

Psalm 56:4 “In God, I will praise in His word, in God I trust. I am not afraid. What can flesh do to me?” [my translation]

We have lofty aspirations in our praises to the Lord. We desire for our praise to be like the branches of a tall redwood which reaches heights close to 380 feet. Oh, to exult in the glory of God! Can there be a greater honor?

Yet, praise that is not entrenched in Scripture and saturated with a love of God’s Word is more like a tomato plant, which seems impressive in its growth and has fruit. Grab a tomato plant by its stem and pull and you will find a lackluster root system that cannot support the weight of the plant for which it endeavors to grow. We gird it with poles and strings for support; it cannot hold its own weight.

When we praise God absent of a passion for His revelation of Himself we find our praise shallow – and though it will produce fruit – it will be of a sort that is derived as much from our conceptions and manipulations of heart and mind as it is representative of the sovereign God of the universe.

Turn to God’s Word and find the proper root system to support the esteemed praise that God is worthy of both producing in our hearts and receiving from our mouths. Then your praise will indeed sing with the redwoods in the wonder and grandeur of the Creator.