Monday, January 21, 2019

"Three Dimensions of a Complete Life" by MLK, Jr.

On April 9, 1967, almost exactly one year before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, King delivered a sermon at New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago titled "Three Dimensions of a Complete Life." Those three dimensions are length, breadth, and height and refer to loving oneself, loving others, and loving God.

Dexter Ave. Baptist Church, MLK's church in Montgomery, AL

Here's an excerpt from that sermon dealing with the third dimension: love of God.

Now a lot of people have neglected this third dimension. And you know, the interesting thing is a lot of people neglect it and don’t even know they are neglecting it. They just get involved in other things. And you know, there are two kinds of atheism. Atheism is the theory that there is no God. Now one kind is a theoretical kind, where somebody just sits down and starts thinking about it, and they come to a conclusion that there is no God. The other kind is a practical atheism, and that kind goes out of living as if there is no God. And you know there are a lot of people who affirm the existence of God with their lips, and they deny his existence with their lives. (That’s right) You’ve seen these people who have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. They deny the existence of God with their lives and they just become so involved in other things. They become so involved in getting a big bank account. (Yeah) They become so involved in getting a beautiful house, which we all should have. They become so involved in getting a beautiful car that they unconsciously just forget about God. (Oh yeah) There are those who become so involved in looking at the man-made lights of the city that they unconsciously forget to rise up and look at that great cosmic light and think about it—that gets up in the eastern horizon every morning and moves across the sky with a kind of symphony of motion and paints its technicolor across the blue—a light that man can never make. (All right) They become so involved in looking at the skyscraping buildings of the Loop of Chicago or Empire State Building of New York that they unconsciously forget to think about the gigantic mountains that kiss the skies as if to bathe their peaks in the lofty blue—something that man could never make. They become so busy thinking about radar and their television that they unconsciously forget to think about the stars that bedeck the heavens like swinging lanterns of eternity, those stars that appear to be shiny, silvery pins sticking in the magnificent blue pincushion. They become so involved in thinking about man’s progress that they forget to think about the need for God’s power in history. They end up going days and days not knowing that God is not with them. (Go ahead) 

And I’m here to tell you today that we need God. (Yes) Modern man may know a great deal, but his knowledge does not eliminate God. (Right) And I tell you this morning that God is here to stay. A few theologians are trying to say that God is dead. And I’ve been asking them about it because it disturbs me to know that God died and I didn’t have a chance to attend the funeral. They haven’t been able to tell me yet the date of his death. They haven’t been able to tell me yet who the coroner was that pronounced him dead. (Preach, preach) They haven’t been able to tell me yet where he’s buried.

You see, when I think about God, I know his name. He said somewhere, back in the Old Testament, "I want you to go out, Moses, and tell them ‘I Am’ sent you." (That’s right) He said just to make it clear, let them know that "my last name is the same as my first, ‘I Am that I Am.’ Make that clear. I Am." And God is the only being in the universe that can say "I Am" and put a period behind it. Each of us sitting here has to say, "I am because of my parents; I am because of certain environmental conditions; I am because of certain hereditary circumstances; I am because of God." But God is the only being that can just say, "I Am" and stop right there. "I Am that I Am." And He’s here to stay. Let nobody make us feel that we don’t need God. (That’s right) 


As I come to my conclusion this morning, I want to say that we should search for him. We were made for God, and we will be restless until we find rest in him. (Oh yeah) And I say to you this morning that this is the personal faith that has kept me going. (Yes) I’m not worried about the future. You know, even on this race question, I’m not worried. I was down in Alabama the other day, and I started thinking about the state of Alabama where we worked so hard and may continue to elect the Wallaces. And down in my home state of Georgia, we have another sick governor by the name of Lester Maddox. (Yes) And all of these things can get you confused, but they don’t worry me. (All right) Because the God that I worship is a God that has a way of saying even to kings and even to governors, "Be still, and know that I am God." And God has not yet turned over this universe to Lester Maddox and Lurleen Wallace. Somewhere I read, "The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, and I’m going on because I have faith in Him. (Oh yeah) I do not know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. (Yes) And if He’ll guide us and hold our hand, we’ll go on in. 

The entire 40 minutes sermon is worth reading, or watching.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Best Bible Translation - Part II


Last week, I wrote about translation theory. That can be a boring and somewhat tedious subject, but I felt it was necessary background before talking about Bible translation. After all, we can’t really talk about a “best” translation unless we have some idea of what the goals of the translation are.

Recall, that there is a spectrum of translation methods. On one end of the spectrum is the “formal equivalence” translation method, a stilted, mechanical rendering of the source language into the target language, but gives the audience a good sense of how the original was spoken. On the other end of the spectrum is the “free” translation method, a smooth, conversational rendering of the source language, but remotely distances the audience from the original style.

Before Bible translators begin the process of translating Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into English, they need to decide how they will do it. Will their version be more formal, more free, or somewhere in-between? Here’s a chart of where several modern English Bible versions fit on the scale of translation method:



There is a common misunderstanding regarding the nature of the formal equivalent and free translation methods. These are often mislabeled as “word-for-word” and “thought-for-thought,” respectively. But, this doesn’t adequately describe the process. In fact, both methods are “thought-for-thought,” since words only have their meaning in a context.

Let’s look at two examples.

The Hebrew text of Prov 7:2 literally reads, “Keep my commandments and live, and my law like the little man in your eyes.” Both the formal equivalent translations and the dynamic equivalent translations recognize that the phrase “the little man in your eyes” is a Hebrew idiom that is equivalent to the English “apple of your eye,” which in itself requires some interpretation. Rather than leave the Hebrew idiom intact, even the formal equivalent translators decided that “little man in your eyes” was too foreign for an English audience. By contrast, translators on the right end of the spectrum determined that “apple of your eye” was, itself, too idiomatic and would leave some readers in the dark, so they translate it with the idea that the command in the second half of the verse is to guard the law with “your own eyes” (e.g. NLT, NCV).

Another example helps illustrate the various positions on gender-inclusive language. In John 3:19, the Greek says “men loved darkness.” The NASB, which is the most formal of the modern English translations, translates it exactly that way. However, most other translations, including the ESV, NIV, CEB, and NLT, recognizes that John not only meant the male population, but all of humanity, so it translates anthropoi (men) as “people.” These translations are not adapting “the truth of the Bible to man’s fickle and sinful ways,” as I’ve heard some say about gender-inclusive language. Rather, they are accommodating the intent of the text with the appropriate English translation.

While discussing his own translation of Hebrew into German, Martin Luther said, "What is the point of needlessly adhering so stiffly and stubbornly to the [Hebrew] words, so that we can't understand it at all?...Once he has the German words to serve the purpose, let him drop the Hebrew words and express the meaning freely in the best German he knows" (Luther’s Works 35:213–14).

Or, more recently, Douglas Moo (Wheaton College) echoed these sentiments, saying, "The principle that meaning resides in larger clusters of words means that we should no longer talk in terms of ‘word-for-word’ as a translation value. To suggest in our discussion of translations among a general audience that ‘word-for-word’ is a virtue is to mislead people about the nature of language and translation." [Douglas Moo, We Still Don’t Get It: Evangelicals and Bible Translation Fifty Years After James Barr (Zondervan, 2014), p. 10].

In short, for Luther and Moo, the best Bible translations would be anything to the right of formal equivalent on the spectrum. However, for students who want to dig more into the original languages or the history and culture of the ancient world, formal translation might be preferred as they can “see” or “feel” the original language behind the translation and it gives them the freedom to ask questions and draw their own conclusions based on their own study.

Addendum:
I should add, that no translation is perfect. The late-18th century/ early-nineteenth century Jewish poet Hayyim Nachman Bialik wrote, "He who reads the Bible in translation is like a man who kisses his bride through a veil." Of course, few people have the time, energy and resources for the years-long investment of learning a biblical language, let alone three! So, the next best option is to read from many Bible translations. Don't just pick the one that you like or has the same theological bent as you. Mix it up. Compare translations and ask why version X goes in one direction, while version Y goes another. Let the different translations inform you of the complexities of the biblical world. Let their languages expand your vocabulary. Let their theological diversity allow you to appreciate the Bible's theological nuances. In other words, let the word of God speak to you, rather than the other way around.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Best Bible Translation - Part I: Ich Bin ein Berliner


Once people figure out that I’ve had some Bible learnin’, it’s typically not long before I’m asked, “What’s the best Bible translation?” It seems simple enough, but I’m not always exactly sure what they mean. Does the King James still reign (catch that?)? Is the NIV still reliable post-1985? What about the Message? Without learning Hebrew and Greek (and throw in a little Aramaic, for good measure), what translation will get me closest to what God really said?

If you’ve ever taken piano lessons, or guitar lessons, or voice lessons, your instructor probably tried to get you to learn “music theory.” Sounded boring, right? You just wanted to learn to tickle the ivories like Chopin or Billy Joel, make the guitar gently weep like the George Harrison or riff like Jimi Hendrix. But, your teacher insisted, because if you wanted to create music, not just copy musicians, you needed to know how music is made.

So, let me tell you a little about translation theory…in very general terms.

The language that is being translated is called the “source language,” while the language that something is being translated to is called the “target language.” Take, for example that famous quote by John F. Kennedy during the Cold War, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” The source language is German. The sentence translates easily into English (target language) as “I am a Berliner.”

However, anyone who is bilingual or has ever studied a foreign language knows that sometimes things are “lost in translation.” What do we really mean when we say “ jump on the bandwagon,” “I smell a rat,” or “It jumped the shark.” When translating these idioms, translators have to decide whether they are going keep the idiom as it stands, or reformulate the idiom into a comparable idiom into the target language that captures the meaning of idiom, not the vocabulary of the idiom.

This leads us, then, to the two end of the translation theory spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is a “formal equivalent” method. According to this method, translators try to maintain the same vocabulary, syntax, and style (“form”) of the source language. This method expects the reader/hearer to have some knowledge of the culture and language of the source language, leaving it to the reader/hearer to understand idioms and smooth out syntax and style. The advantage of this method is that it allows the target audience to decide for themselves how to interpret the translation. The disadvantage with this method is that can lead to a stilted, unnatural reading in the target language.

On the other end of the spectrum is the “free” translation method. According to this method, translators have a greater interest in the target language, with little or no expectation for the reader/hearer to comprehend the culture, background and language of the source language. So translators provide as many helps as necessary to get the message across. The advantage with this method is that it makes for smooth and natural reading, but it puts the target audience at the mercy of the translator for interpreting the source language properly.

Formal equivalent: the attempt to replicate the structure and vocabulary of the source
language, leaving idioms intact; translators make few interpretive decisions on behalf of the reader.
Free Translation: the attempt to translate the source language into its equivalent
meaning (structure and form) in the target language; translators make all interpretive decisions on behalf of the reader.

As I said, these are the ends of the spectrum. Translators can “interpret” to varying degrees along this spectrum. We’ll talk about this more next time when we specifically look at Bible translation.

Let’s apply these two methods to JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner.” The translation I provided above, “I am a Berliner,” is a formal equivalent translation. It follows the syntax and style of the source language. Ich = I; bin = am; ein = a; Berliner = Berliner. However, this translation makes some assumptions from its target audience. It assumes the audience has general knowledge of European geography, that Berlin is a city in Germany, that “Berliner” means an inhabitant of Berlin, and that JFK was attempting to capture the essence of the Latin civis romanus sum (I am a Roman citizen) to capture the idea of a common humanity. This formal equivalent translation is literal according to vocabulary, but not necessarily literal according to its meaning.


On the other end of the translation theory spectrum is the free translation, that assumes very little from the target audience. In German, the definite article (ein) is not used when a member of a group is stating they belong to the group. So, a Berlin resident would simply say, “Ich bin Berliner.” By adding the definite article, JFK was clarifying that he was not a resident of Berlin, but identifies with West Berlin residents who, unlike their, East German counterparts, were free citizens. So, a “functional equivalent” translation might render “Ich bin ein Berliner” as “As an outsider, I identify with the freedom enjoyed by these residents of Berlin.” In terms of vocabulary and style, this translation is nowhere close to that of the source language. However, it more adequately captures the meaning for an uninformed target audience.

Tune in next time when I show how these translation techniques are applied among the various English translations of the Bible.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Mission Accomplished, Part II: Fill-in-the-blank


In part one, I tried to make the case that when the New Testament authors spoke of “fulfilled” Scripture, they weren’t saying the OT predicted the events of the NT, but that God’s mission was accomplished in Jesus. Jesus saw it this way himself, when on the cross he said, “It is finished,” perhaps better translated “it has been accomplished” (Gk tetelestai; Jn 19:30).

Prediction in the NT
Greek actually has a specific word, proeipon, that can be translated as “predicted.” It’s only used 12 times in the entire NT. But, even then, proeipon usually doesn’t mean to predict, as in to declare ahead of time the unfolding of specific future events. You can see from the chart below just how infrequently the verb has the connotation of “prediction.”


NAS
ESV
NRSV
NIV
CEB
NLT
Matt 24:25
told in advance
told beforehand
told beforehand
told ahead of time
told ahead of time
warned ahead of time
Mk 13:23
told in advance
told beforehand
already told
told ahead of time
told ahead of time
warned ahead of time
Acts 1:16
foretold
spoke beforehand
foretold
spoke long ago
announced beforehand
predicted long ago
Rom 9:29
foretold
predicted
predicted
said previously
prophesied
said the same thing
2 Cor 7:3
said before
said before
said before
said before
already said
said before
2 Cor 13:2
previously said
warned before
warned previously
gave a warning
already warned
already warned
Gal 1:9
said before
said before
said before
said before
said before
said before
Gal 5:21
forewarned
warned before
warned before
already gave warning
already warned
already warned
1 Thes 4:6
told before
told beforehand
told beforehand
told before
told before
solemnly warned before
Heb 4:7
has been said before
words already quoted
words already quoted
passage already quoted
in the passage above
words already quoted
2 Pet 3:2
spoken beforehand
predictions
spoken in the past
spoken in the past
foretold
said long ago
Jude 17
spoken beforehand
predictions
predictions
foretold
spoken beforehand
predicted

As you can see, among the 12 occurrences of the verb across six modern English Bible translations, “predict” occurs only 7 times (8 if you include “prophesied”), which works out to approximately 10% of the time. In other words, it is very, very rare for the NT writers to suggest that the OT predicted the NT.

Fulfillment in the NT
On the other hand, the word for fulfill, plēroō, occurs 86 times in the NT. The chart below shows its distribution in the NT and Greek Apocryphal books.

The basic meaning of plēroō is “to fill”, as in to fill a container. It is the word most commonly  used in the Septuagint (over 70 times) for the Hebrew verb mālē’, “to be full, to fill.”


The article on the word plēroō in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament can be summarized here:[1]


This also attaches to πληρόω (→ 291, 3–9, 10 ff.), but the particular content of this word in the NT is determined by 2.–5. (→ 291–298): “to fulfil a norm, a measure, a promise,” “to complete or achieve” something, and in 1. the idea of “totality” or “fulness” is decisive. Senses 2.–5. are prepared, or at least intimated, in non-biblical Gk. (→ 287, 4–23) and further developed in the LXX (→ 288, 1–21). The multiplicity of nuances does not always permit us to integrate individual passages into a firm lexical schema. Lit. the term means “to fill something completely,” a place, Ac. 2:2 (pass. Jn. 12:3; Mt. 13:48; Lk. 3:5), a material lack, Phil. 4:19; in a transf. sense Ac. 5:28: “You have filled all Jerusalem …”

In short, plēroō simply means to fill something. In the case of the NT’s understanding of the OT, it means something along the lines of “to fill in the blanks.”

So, what blanks needed filled in? God’s mission was to bring redemption to the world (as discussed in Part I), beginning with the call of Abram in Gen. 12. Exactly how God was going to accomplish that mission was not always clear. But, the NT authors are convinced, and they wish to convince us, that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus answered that concern. He was the answer to the fill-in-the-blank question.

Conclusion
In summary, the NT writers rarely suggested that the OT predicted the events of the NT. Frequently, though, they stated that the mission of God was accomplished through the signature NT event—the Christ event—and this event filled in the blanks in terms of understanding how God’s plan would unfold.



[1] Gerhard Delling, “Πλήρης, Πληρόω, Πλήρωμα, Ἀναπληρόω, Ἀνταναπληρόω, Ἐκπληρόω, Ἐκπλήρωσις, Συμπληρόω, Πληροφορέω, Πληροφορία,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 291.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Mission Accomplished, Part I: Prophecy Predicted or Prophecy Fulfilled



There’s a common misconception about what Old Testament prophets do and how their message was understood in the New Testament. Simply stated, prophets were preachers, not predictors. They came with a message, often one that involved some sort of dire warning if their words were not heeded. But they also came with words of comfort and a promise for better things ahead. The prophets themselves were often eccentric characters who did weird things like laying on their side for over 400 days (Ezek 4:4-8) or marrying a harlot (Hos 1:2) to get their message across.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the way the Christian Bible is laid out, is that the context takes some work. The events into which the prophets were speaking are spelled out half a testament earlier in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. If you’re reading canonically—that is, reading straight through from Genesis to Malachi—by the time you get to Amos, you will have read fifteen other OT books since reading about the pertinent events in 2 Chronicles (seventeen books since 2 Kings). As a result, many readers make the false assumption that the words of the prophets only had a future audience, rather than a present audience.

Part of the confusion for Christian readers is that the New Testament looks back to the Old Testament and sees Jesus as the fulfillment of not only the prophets, but all of the Old Testament. Eighty-six times NT writers comment how the OT has been “fulfilled.” Since the OT has been fulfilled, that must mean the OT predicted certain things to come to fruition at some point down the road, right? Not quite.

There’s a big difference between predicting an event, and an event being fulfilled. A meteorologist offers a daily prediction of the weather forecast. Investors try to predict how the market will respond to unemployment rates. A major league hitter predicts he’s going to see a fastball on a 2-0 count.

However, OT texts rarely make predictions, at least not long-term predictions. For example, Isaiah predicted that a young woman would conceive and give birth to a son who would be called Immanuel as a sign to King Ahaz that he should trust the Lord in the midst of political turmoil. In fact, that prediction was realized in short order with the birth of Isaiah’s son, whose name was Maher-shalal-hash-baz, recognized a few verses later as Immanuel (Isa 8:8, 10). This son would be a reminder to Ahaz that in the midst of those tumultuous times, God would be with the people of Judah.

So what does it mean that the OT is fulfilled in the NT? First, we have to recognize that the overarching theme of the OT is not about discovering the hidden mysteries of embedded messianic secrets, but the revelation of God’s plan to bring all of humanity into covenant relationship with himself. When that plan reaches its culmination, we could say it’s been fulfilled. Or, put another way: mission accomplished.




When Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Egypt, Matthew wrote, “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son’.” (Matt 1:15). Matthew is not saying that Hosea 11:1 predicted that Jesus be taken to Egypt by his parents, and then called back to Judea following Herod’s death. In fact, Hosea 11 is explicitly about how God rescued Israel from Egyptian bondage, yet they rebelled and even sacrificed to idols. It would be theologically unwise to equate idolatrous Israel with holy Jesus! What Matthew is saying is that the plan to deal with Israel’s rebellion has been fulfilled: Mission accomplished!

At every turn in the NT, the authors saw God’s rescue plan fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection and Jesus. The details were not predicted, at least not in unmistakable clarity. Nonetheless, with 20/20 hindsight the apostles could look at the person of Jesus and confidently proclaim: Mission accomplished.





Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Paris Accord


My wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this past summer…in Paris! It was awesome! We only had about 7 days, but we were able to take in all the major sites.

It just so happened that we arrived to the festivities of Bastille Day. What's more, France was making quite the run in the World Cup. And with the U.S.A. not even in the tournament, we were pulling for “Le Bleus.” And they didn’t disappoint, bringing home the Copa du Monde!

Paris was electric for days after the French team was crowned “Champions du Monde.” Parisians adorned themselves with French flags, strangers hugged (and kissed), cars honked their horns in celebration. People lined the Champs Elysees to get a glimpse of their futbol heroes. The nation was one because the nation had won! Everyone was of one accord.


Eventually, lives returned to normal for the French. They went back to work. They raised their children. They dreamed of what had been and what can be. And they paid their taxes. Lots of taxes. Lots and lots of taxes. And riots erupted. The nation was no longer in one accord.

I make no claims to fully grasp what’s happened in Paris between late July and early December. Surely there are some complicating factors that I, as an outsider looking in, just won’t get. But what I’m able to see is a country that was recently at peace is now not at peace.

This past Sunday marked the second Sunday of the Christian Advent season, the Sunday of “peace.” This gave me reason to reflect on Paris, particularly, but on peace more broadly.

In the Middle East today people greet each other by saying “peace.” Don’t think hippies in tie-dye holding up the “V” sign. They’re saying shalom (Hebrew) or salaam (Arabic). In the Semitic languages, “peace” doesn’t simply mean tranquility; it means complete, whole, fully operational. When they greet each other, they are basically saying they hope that your life is fully ordered. That you are healthy. Your relationships are whole. Your business is thriving.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt 5:9). He wasn’t just saying “Can’t we all get along?” Instead, making peace is “an active involvement that confronts the problem and works through to a satisfactory reconciliation.”[1]

I don’t have to look hard to find problems in the world, in my government, in my employment status, in my family, or with myself. Being a peacemaker isn’t avoiding the problems and pretending they don’t exist. Being a peacemaker means being a healer—not necessarily by leading, but by serving.






[1] Robert H. Mounce, Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary 1 (Hendrickson, 1991), 41.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...


After nearly a year's hiatus, I'm hoping to re-up Kyleinschriften. If you've been here before, you'll notice a different, cleaner look.

Stay tuned...