Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday school - the next lesson

It was a fun time this morning - and one I was not quite prepared for with my usual set of handouts...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Latest Review of Biblical Literature

When I see this name, after reading even one sermon by him, I sit up and take note:

Joseph B. Soloveitchik; David Shatz, Joel B. Wolowelsky, and Reuven Ziegler, eds.
Abraham's Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch

Reviewed by Dan W. Clanton Jr.

“Wherever they see contradictions, I see harmony. And wherever they see conflict between two views, I see uniformity”
the Rav
implicitly places himself among the masorah community of Jewish interpretation and education, a community in which “personalities communicate throughout the ages; minds that are thousands of years apart address themselves to each other; heartbeats merge into the historic sound”
Not that I clearly would not agree with some of his assertions:
He writes that the error of Christianity in this regard is that “Christianity thought in terms of an instantaneous, metaphysical, transcendental, supernatural redemption of man—not through destruction but somehow through sacrifice. Judaism does not believe in the spontaneous redemption of man”
Instantaneous? Hardly. But proleptic, anticipated both by the binding of Isaac and in the rite of circumcision of the firstborn male. Not to mention the importance of Abraham to the Gentiles (Romans, Hebrews).

Concerning Lot:
his main question is why the angels would have been so concerned with these women in 19:15. His answer is that these women were ancestors of the coming Messiah through their offspring, who would one day lead to Tamar, then Ruth, and then David. Based on this exegetical connection, the Rav does not condemn the actions of Lot’s daughters: “The plan per se was reprehensible, but their motivation was imaginative, noble, and heroic.”
Some conclusion! (David the Messiah?)

The book may be worthwhile reading. The review is mixed but worth the read.

A substantial comment

Scott Gray has left an essay length comment on this post on law and faith. He has a skill at spinning out a tale of judgment and how we might respond more creatively.

the good shepherd would respond to a judgement he’d made by first engaging in a relationship with the object of his judgement. and so should we.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The SnowBirds over Victoria

And here are a few still shots:

Measure of success

What are your criteria for knowing whether an experiment is successful or not. John Hobbins has weighed in with some $10 words on a post here at Exploring our Matrix. He uses the words 'success' and the phrase 'not going well'.

I wrote this question and quartet 15 years ago.

What do we value?

life over death but one death over all life
pleasure over pain but accepting pain to preserve life
joy over sorrow but sorrow showing the value of life
peace over war but at war with values that prefer death
Now - how do we measure it? Surely not by adjective, nor by prejudice... When is it that we will be satisfied?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Law and Faith

Well, one has to be foolhardy to take this subject on - don't you think?

This is a short essay on the 'therefore' of Romans 8:1. David has asked the usual difficult question. What if someone 'came out' to you...

If David weren't who he seems to be, I would not bother responding. Wait a minute! Is any of us who we seem to be? Why do we judge each other so - whether for good or not? Hear again that verse, Romans 8:1, with which we have ended for the moment a long conversation on the preposition 'in'.

1: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

That there is no condemnation does not mean there is no work to do. But the work is done in a different context from the assumption that we know what is right before we start. The different context is in the 7 chapters that precede the 'therefore' of this verse.

Notice that I have not put law and grace in my title - but law and faith. Note the pattern of 'condemn' throughout the first 8 chapters - with only a brief reminder in the paranetic sections (12-15). [update: this pattern is dubious since I don't do much Greek - but I notice a serious concentration of judge (part of the same word condemn) in chapters 3 and 14.]
Romans 2:1 you condemn yourself
Romans 2:27 they will condemn you
Romans 3:7 why am I still being condemned
Romans 3:8 Their condemnation is just
Romans 5:16 judgment following one trespass brought condemnation
Romans 5:18 one human's trespass led to condemnation
Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation...
Romans 8:3 he condemned sin in the flesh
Romans 8:33 It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?
Romans 14:23 But the one who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because one does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
I have been reading the work of C.H. Dodd on Greek and Hebrew words. I won't cite his chapter and verse, because scholarly authority is not what I am looking for here. I am looking for that authority that I have reflected on before. Do we hear the voice of the Shepherd in our understanding of law? Torah, teaching in Hebrew is a much richer word than the Greek for law implies. The Greek for law, I understand is much richer than the notion of legal and can include custom in its view. Whether these are true statements or not, Paul has set up the fear of law in the first 7 chapters of Romans, because that's how we meet law, teaching, and custom as children and as adults anxious to be acceptable to others. Not because that sort of fear is a wholesome response to reality. Then in chapter 8, Paul uses law in a completely different sense:

2: For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.

No one in Christ should consider themselves alive on their own terms. All of us and each of us has died to the flesh - if we are in Christ. This includes homosexual and heterosexual alike. I doubt we have done this well. But if it is done, there will be less doubt about God's ability to deal with our whole selves, whoever we are. And for anyone, the fact of the matter (to read and hear the Shepherd's voice) is that it is done (John 19:30). Whether we did it well or not or even not at all, he did it well and completely, and we are 'in him'.

3: For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sin offering, he condemned sin in the flesh,

It is finished. And we are invited into its completion and the new creation that is at the place where we meet God, where we know God's presence to us in the Spirit, that is, in the Holy Place where Jesus died. We are all invited and encouraged to enter. There are no conditions. In that place, do you think God does not know how to deal with sex? This is after all the Bridegroom we are talking about.

4: in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The just requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who belong to Christ, who have put on Christ, who are in Christ. Do we judge who belongs or who has put on Christ by their dishonesty? Do we not accept those who tell us the truth about themselves? In David's words - who 'come out of the closet'.

5: For those according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

We do judge within limits. What hurts or destroys others is not of the Spirit. We don't do things that way. Not by might nor by power. But we do not judge by what we do not know. Suspend your judgment in case you are judging in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. Suspend your judgment by the power of the cross for you. Say, I cannot judge, for I have died - I cannot do anything. Then you will begin to know because the Spirit who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead will inform you. And he will similarly inform the one who has 'come out'. And that - as Jesus said in the case of the youngster who threw himself in the fire - is a matter for prayer, not for the judgment of condemnation.

6: To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

This verse applies to all in Christ. To set the mind on the condemning view of the law is death. There is no condemnation - that means those of us who think we know better do not condemn and do not judge, and those of use who are weak are not condemned or judged by those who think they are strong.

7: For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot; 8: and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Does it come as a surprise that these verses must also apply to the one who judges? It is not the righteous who need salvation. If we already knew the answers then why did Christ die?

So what am I to do for the one who says to me - "I believe what God has done for me in Christ. I am in Christ. I stake my claim. I have been truthful with you. I have revealed the depths of my heart and I am going to live my life according to what I know of myself in Christ."

If I have heard these words - can I still condemn this person? (I admit I have added to David's statement, but those who are not in Christ are not who I am considering here.)

If I want to please God, then I will listen to this verse and I will not condemn this person. I will in the words that follow 'put to death the deeds' of my own body so that I too can live. I will crucify my desire to tell this person that they can't possibly be right and think the way they do.

What have I done to the law? Have I denied the reality of God's condemnation of sin? Not at all! I have established God's teaching in a way I could not imagine outside the work of the Spirit in me. How do I know it is God's Spirit working in me? Because I have done this through the death of Jesus. I have crucified more than this imaginary example. Once I see the work to be done in Christ more clearly, then in my joy, I will know that my earlier understandings were incorrect and incomplete and I can trust that my friend and brother or sister who came out to me will similarly find completeness in him.

So David, do I judge you for your judgment against me or against your friend? No. But I invite you to take the harder path and to restrain your condemnation in case God has more in mind than you think.

(I see I am not alone in responding to David. I may be alone in basing my response on Paul!)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Faith and Consistency

If the original stuff of the universe had been of a completely balanced consistency, well stirred rather than lumpy, then as the theory goes, there would have been no stars, no galaxies, and of course no us. We are made of the carbon that supernovae give off. No clumpiness, no stars, no stars, no supernovae, no supernovae, no carbon, no carbon, no us.

I am writing this post in response to a concern over consistency in translation. You can read the gloves-on-lowdown here. It is quite a complex post and the comments cover both agreement and disagreement. I think my fundamental disagreement is that explanation is not desirable. A translation should not be a circumlocution. Too bad if I don't get it first time. I will just have to ask the Ether. Maybe it's not asleep.

Consistency is a slippery term. Too often it really means reductionism of some sort. In system design, consistency is often touted as the end all for user interface. This is simply untrue. Even in the world of systems, differences are critical and often lead to creative ideas. Consistency of style and treatment evolves into things we thought were the same but in the end turn out to have been different.

There are a host of consistency issues in Bible translation. For example, the Hebrew word nephesh, translated 'soul' in many versions, doesn't always mean 'soul' and almost always cannot be identified with what soul has come to mean in Greek thought. In my thinking, the Hebrew nephesh means the whole of one's life: what one is, was, did, and suffered, joyed, and walked from end to end - all dimensions included. It's me, it's me, it's me O Lord, standin' in the need of prayer... It is inseparable from the body. In the Greek dualistic world, the soul is immortal and the body mortal. The two can separate and supposedly do at death. In Hebrew thought - at least in Ecclesiastes, it is the breath and the flesh that separate - and he says 'who knows if we are different from the beasts'? I have avoided the word 'soul' entirely because it has come to mean something that it isn't.

So when I come to translate nephesh in the psalms, I usually choose a word like being, or life, or even self. Subjectively, I prefer 'life'. But I can't use life in a psalm where the Hebrew for life also occurs. (E.g. Psalm 146) So across psalms I am inconsistent, but necessarily so within the bounds of the approach to translation that I have chosen.

The issue on the Better Bibles Blog is the translation of the phrase 'in Christ'. Is the question 'what does x mean in English' the right question for a translator? No, it isn't. In the case of this fundamental reality - or unreality if you prefer, the question is - why did Paul (and John) use the preposition in this way? What is normally a preposition of location is used as a preposition of incorporation.

The question is never - what does this mean. Even understanding is to be avoided if this means answering the wrong question. The question in reading and translating is 'what is going on here that the author chose this form of words'. And how do I respond to the perplexity. When you bring up children, you give them puzzles and games to play. The difficulty of the puzzles is graded and you chose what is at the right level for their development. But you never explain the puzzle or the child loses interest. You end up being a know-it-all and the child looks elsewhere for the possibility of growth.

So when translating, recognize and keep the puzzles. Do not even attempt to explain them in the translation.

I do not say there are no 'answers' for your ultimates, only that I would not want you or me to stop too soon. The gifts of God in Christ are too good for such a solution. So forget consistency and go for the lumps - that's where the flavour of the redemptive created order resides. When your mouth is filled, you will find his fruit sweet to your taste. The joy is in his knowledge of you. Your knowledge of him will change and grow.

Grow your servant
and I will live and keep your word
Give sight to my eyes
I will see wonders in your teaching
Guest I am on the earth
do not hide from me your commandments
Ground down is my being
for longing at all times for your judgments
Giving rebuke, you have cursed the presumptuous
erring from your commandments
Get from me ignominy and contempt
for I have observed your testimonies
Great princes sat and spoke against me
your servant will meditate on your statutes
Grand are your testimonies and my delight
they are my human counsels

Friday, September 12, 2008

Praying for enemies

Here is how you pray for enemies (Psalm 143)

and in your loving kindness put an end to my enemies
The 'loving kindness' is what one might call Extreme Covenant Love. I think it has been done.

A little more on Help

Nowhere in the ancient texts can I find a reference to b`ezrat HaShem.

The three texts in the Psalter with keyword like 'B`ZR%' are
from Psalm 35:2 - a petition: Rise to my help וְקוּמָה, בְּעֶזְרָתִי
and Psalm 118 - a statement of assurance: יְהוָה is to me as my helper יְהוָה לִי, בְּעֹזְרָי
and Psalm 146 - a statement of hope: אַשְׁרֵי--שֶׁאֵל יַעֲקֹב בְּעֶזְרוֹ Happy is the one who has the God of Jacob for his help

(`ZR is used 40 times in the Psalter.)
Not only is the ayin lost in transliteration, but any conditional sentiment (if the Lord will help) is not there. While God as Help is definitely in the text, it is always as promise - The Lord will help us and speedily, or as prayer - O Lord make haste to help us, or as failure (Lamentations). There is nothing passive that I can find that corresponds to the opportunism or even fatalism implied in Deo volente. Rather faith is active by urgent petition or confidence, and God promises to be present to faith whatever the outcome. Help is never conditional.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

VI. SERMO IN MONTE, Occasio, Beatitudines

We will come to the answer later in the Lord's sermon. Beloved, I promised this to you some time ago, but my duties in the fields and in the city have prevented me from continuing my translation. Now here is an earlier part of the sermon, the beginning. Matthew and Luke record it. You can see the rest of his record in the coloured threads as before. We do not yet see the answer to the question of how to cut off our limbs without blood, but there are hints.

Here is my translation for you - you who are now so distant. I wonder if you remember the estate at Corinth where you delivered your posts to our master Gaius so often.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Beati pauperes spiritu: quoniam ipsorum est regnum cælorum

I wrestle with this word blessed, Beloved. Beati is not the right word in your tongue, but there are so many decisions to make when translating. When I grew up the word was happy. Felicitas would be a closer approximation to the Hebrew I hear behind the Greek and to the Greek itself. If we are happy, then it is the Most High who is blessed.You are to be happy, Beloved. What other prayer could I have for you.

- a company of evildoers have closed in on me
- young lions they are, voracious
- how can I say that I will not lack any good

Why though, does the Master teach such opposites? I have inherited this enormous estate. I am better off than the owner's son who surely was poor in spirit. I remember what Gaius told me about him.
I had dutifully married, but not well. My wife was not gentle in her use of our products. Too much wine filled our house. After our son was born, we drifted away from each other, as if having a premonition of what he would become. We divorced. He grew up on the estate, an affectionate but unruly child. When he reached adolescence, he spent his time at the gaming houses and the temples on the Acrocorinth. I seldom saw him except when he ran out of money. One day at the Pirene springs, he was in a fight. Impulsive, he hit a man much stronger than he, and he was removed from the earth and flung against the rocks. I suspect that his adversary, as impulsive as he was, was also from a womb filled with too much wine as Aristotle has recorded.
What happiness is this? Surely troubles came to this man. Yet later I also came to him as a blessing and almost a substitute for his troubled son. What shall I do who am now rich in this world's goods? Will woes apply to me?

It has not been so, and if it were, if I were to be classed with the wicked, I would have to welcome it as if I were with my Lord himself, for that was his lot. If I were without his correction and judgment, I would worry more. If I were without his consolation, I would worry more. But I do not judge either the one nor the other. I do what I can in the day that the opportunity is given to me.

How could Uncle Mark have left out such teaching? Yet he did, carissime. The single eye that he had did not allow him to distract the reader with anything that would draw attention away from his focus - at least not yet. So also there is little mention of his most recent teacher, Simon Peter, except where his character teaches us our own. This prominence of Peter he leaves to Matthew and John. I say – 'not yet', for Mark has such a sense of humour as we might not imagine if we are very serious. When you get to the young man in the garden and in the open tomb, you will see what I mean. There the distraction is deliberate.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

God willing

This phrase is common in English and as d.v. Deo volente in Latin. Recently I have heard Bizrat Hashem for a modern Hebrew equivalent. Where do you think this phrase has its roots? What is the ancient Hebrew it comes from?

I look forward to someone's helpful response - thank you in advance.

[Update - Yariv Aloni of the Galiano Ensemble here in Victoria provided me with the clue - the word is b`ezerat - clearly meaning NOT God willing, but with God's help - much more positive and less - what is that word - deterministic, fatalistic... At a party at the moment - will do some more research on the origins of this phrase later]

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

An original blogger

Bob cited Sir Francis Bacon - on Studies - a quotation remembered from childhood. I did learn something at school. But until I looked up the essay in my own little book from 54 years ago, c1954!!! (first published 1903) OUP, edited W. Peacock, I was unable to find the quote online. The whole essay is here.

STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability.
Their chief use for delight, is in privateness and retiring;
for ornament, is in discourse;
and for ability, is in the judgment, and disposition of business.

For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best, from those that are learnèd.

To spend too much time in studies is sloth;
to use them too much for ornament, is affectation;
to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar.
Worth the read - just for the rhetoric.

My life is 9's. I am 63, il y a trois jours. A complete set (7) of 9's in this indivisible year.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Harvest time

We were having chicken the other night - sorry to all you vegetarians out there, but I was remembering last year's awesome apple jelly which we made from my son Jeremy's apple tree in Duncan. Jeremy is one special man - almost middle aged at what - 37 years - now. He lives in a little house in Duncan and he loves to care for house and garden. This year he pruned the apple tree and I wondered if he had pruned it too much - but look at these - lots of apples and apple jelly to come. (The cider was not, alas, successful last year.)

We were up to Duncan yesterday on my birthday. Here it is a day later, and we still have not had a piece of the cake Diana made for our September birthdays. (James, the youngest, is on the 13th. Whether we see him or not is always a guess.)

Here is a view from our door that opens on the west: the sun setting at 8:20 pm is another sign that the fall is near.

From Genesis to Chronicles

Some of Gerhard von Rad's essays are in this book in English, collected and published under the editing of K. C. Hanson, Fortress Press 2005. I have read just a couple so far on the Psalms.

He raises some interesting questions - like the one on a doctrine of creation - is it always used in relation to redemption or does it have a stand-alone aspect? His 'answer' is that the apparent stand-alone quality of creation is derived from Egyptian doctrine, but for the Israelite, the doctrine is usually expressed as related to redemption. I have not expressed his conclusions very well, but this is what I 'get' on a second read of the essay.

I think there might be some mileage in the idea - but I think I would explore it from the point of view of creation - Is there any aspect of creation in the 'Old Testament' that does stand alone without a doctrine of redemption? If there is not - and I might accept that this is not an 'obvious' conclusion - to use one of von Rad's favorite words, - if there is not a stand-alone doctrine of creation, it is because redemption was a known requirement in all times, in all cults, and from the beginning. The Omega knew in the Alpha that reality required the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.

The second essay is on righteousness - and it is here that I find his repeated use of the word 'obvious' irritating. What is obvious to him is not to me. I will say more later on the problem of righteousness in the Psalms - a very good question again and he has framed it well and clearly in the essay.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The body's grace (11)

Please note the shared item to the left on this blog from Mike Highton. I left a comment, but such is the difficulty of signing in etc I have saved it here in case it got lost in the ether.

Are comments important? This one is. The debate over same-sex relationships seldom gets to the need for all - gay or straight - to conform themselves to the death of Christ. That means, folks, that you cannot desire anything or act or talk or walk - cause you have died. (In your baptism of course). So whatever is good or bad in you has died - the whole thing. Not just the parts you don't like.

Then - after your death - this is your first death - Then, I say, when the voice of your creator rings in your ears - Well-done, good and faithful servant, you have overcome through my blood - Then I say, - Then you will begin to learn. The kingdom does not come about by our strength or by our morality or by our will. And your 'then' will work backwards and forwards in your time, redeeming it, showing you how your God was leading you before you even knew, discovering grace where you saw only disorientation, finding you awake instead of asleep.

Now - after my short ranting sermon, this was my comment on Mike's very well reasoned essays.

Hi again - no I don't disagree. I don't actually think either you or Rowan go far enough. I agree that our sexuality is far more central than not. Also I agree that 'natural' is a weak argument against same sex relations. I think you have done very well in this whole series of essays. I have shred [sic - I meant shared] them all on one of my blogs. You achieve the highest score when you write in the person of your interlocutor:

>>I want to live in obedience to God; I truly, prayerfully and conscientiously do not recognise Romans 1 as describing what I am or what I want. I am not rejecting something I know in the depths of my being.<<

What then must also be said - is "and I have come to this knowledge of my person through the death of Jesus. It is by him in the Spirit and the unexpected glory of his resurrection that I now begin to know myself. And that knowledge matures and embraces my being - it does not deny it as those who reject my desire out of hand would deny it."

Need it be said that the same consecration of desire must be known by the heterosexual also. If it is so known then I doubt that the heterosexual will apply Romans 1 out of its rhetorical context. This is not a simple slam-dunk argument that Paul is making, but the beginning of a 55 step sequence in 10 parts that does not get to its end till chapter 12. (Some do not like the end of chapter 12 - see my recent translation of psalm 34 for a real life comment from another elder and friend.)