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Showing posts with label #Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Bible. Show all posts

13 June 2018

The interlinear bible.

For those who want the illusion of being able to read the original.

INTERLINEAR BIBLE /in.ter.lin.e.er bi.bel/ n. Bible which presents the same text in different languages printed on alternate lines.

First time I stumbled across an interlinear bible was back in high school. I was killing time in a Christian bookstore. (Remember those?) This one happened to have an interlinear Old Testament mixed in among the bibles. Never knew such a thing even existed, but I wanted it immediately: It had “the original Hebrew”—the Masoretic text of the scriptures, in a language I couldn’t read at all, ’cause I hadn’t even learned the alphabet yet. But its secrets were unlocked with a word-by-word translation, displayed beneath every Hebrew word. Looked like yea:


Acts 2.42-44 presented interlinear-style. Oak Tree Software

Wanted to buy it immediately, but the sucker was expensive. (A lot of interlinear bibles are. Low demand, y’see.) Something like $80 in 1980s money.

Ten years later I bought the NIV interlinear Old Testament, which was still a bit expensive: I paid $50 in ’90s money, plus shipping. Also got the NIV interlinear New Testament to go along with it.

Then I went to university, minored in biblical languages, and my Hebrew professor told me I had to get rid of my interlinears.

What? Why?

Because, he explained, it’s a “cheater bible.” Every time I pick it up to read Hebrew, I’m not really gonna read the Hebrew. My eyes are gonna drift down one line to the English translation. It’s like having an answer key: I wouldn’t have to practice my vocabulary. Wouldn’t have to remember any word-prefixes or word-endings. Wouldn’t have to remember a thing. The interlinear would be my crutch, and as my memory of Hebrew decayed—as it will, when you don’t practice—it’d become more and more of a crutch. I’d go right back to reading English instead of Hebrew. Yet I’d imagine to myself, “But I know Hebrew.”

Yeah, I had to admit he was absolutely right. Whenever I open up an interlinear text, that’s always what I catch myself doing. That’s why I’ve gotta turn off that software or close that book, and go back to a Hebrew-only text.

But that’s me, and anyone else who can read biblical languages. If you can’t—if you know a few original-language words, but certainly can’t read Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, and wish you had more access to those languages—that’s what an interlinear bible will do for you. It erases some of the barrier between you and the original languages.

But there is still a language barrier. So don’t get overconfident.

23 April 2018

Slavery: How God mitigated and abolished it.

Being in the bible is not the same as endorsement, y’know.

Back in bible times, people had slaves. Slavery was legal.

This is a weird and troubling idea for a lot of Christians. In the United States, slavery is illegal, and we consider it immoral. So it’s troubling to read about slavery in the bible as if it’s normal or okay.

Especially considering our history with slavery. We fought a whole war over it, y’know. Many southerners are in denial about that, and claim the War Between the States was really about states’ rights and local sovereignty… but history doesn’t bear ’em out at all. Confederate politicians and generals proudly declared they were fighting to retain their peculiar institution of slavery—because unlike southerners today, they didn’t consider slavery to be immoral. Hey, it’s in the bible!

Thing is, American slavery wasn’t at all like biblical slavery. What Americans practiced was chattel slavery, in which slaves were considered cattle—a word which evolved from chattel. What the folks in the bible practiced, for the most part, was penal slavery, in which people were enslaved because they broke the law, got themselves deep into debt, or lost a war. What Americans did was try to find excuses to claim what we were doing, was what they had done—then claim the bible permitted, even endorsed, their behavior. They pretended there was no huge difference.

But there was, and Americans were in fact guilty of violating a biblical command:

Exodus 21.16 KWL
“Anyone who steals a man and sells him, anyone found with the victim in their hands:
They’re dead. Put them to death.”

Slave traders, slave buyers, slave owners, their descendants, and every northerner who looked the other way and permitted the southerners to do their thing: All of them were complicit in the divinely-condemned capital crime of kidnapping. As Abraham Lincoln speculated time and again, our Civil War was likely God’s judgment upon us. Southerners who pretend the war wasn’t about slavery and racism, who claim it was really about heritage and self-governance and a noble lost cause: Their pride and willful blindness is just risking more judgment upon them and their people.

Because chattel slavery is kidnapping. It’s entirely immoral. God said so. Had American slaveowners properly interpreted their bibles, they’d discover every last one of them deserved to die. The Civil War is still the bloodiest, deadliest war in American history—and we got off light.

So yeah, keep in mind American slavery isn’t at all what the bible’s depicted. It’s far closer to what we do with our prisons—’cause convicts aren’t free either, and sentenced to various forms of forced labor. Well, in bible times they didn’t have anything close to our prison system. How did convicts serve their time after they committed a crime? Slavery.

20 April 2018

The meaningless virtue of literal bible versions.

Only monolingual people think a literal translation of the bible is valuable. The rest of us know better.

There’s a discussion group I belong to. Every so often, one of the newer members of the group will ask us our favorite bible translations. Happens every other month. Y’see, the newbies don’t know we already had this discussion, so they bring it up again. And again and again and again.

Predictably some of us are ESV fans, NIV fans, NKJV fans, NASB fans, and so forth. I like to announce I’m a KJV fan, ’cause KJV fans should represent—but I feel obligated to include the disclaimer I’m not a KJV-only kind of fan. ’Cause those people are awful. And every so often one of the KJV-only folks see this, object, and wind up proving my point about them being awful.

Oh, speaking of awful: We also get a few people who wanna mock the bible versions they don’t like. Somebody’ll disparage The Message, loudly denounce The Voice, or mock the NLT. Won’t just be the KJV-only folks either.

My advocacy for the KJV aside, the new members who bring up the what’s-your-favorite-translation question don’t really care about, nor care to use, the KJV. They’re only interested in recent translations. They wanna know which of them the group considers good and reliable. Especially if they already have a favorite translation, and many of ’em totally do, and are hoping we’ll justify their selection.

Plenty of the group’s members don’t just state their favorites, but defend and advocate for their favorites as the best bible translation. I run into this behavior particularly among NASB fans. They love the NASB. Because it’s so literal.

How do they know it’s so literal? Did they learn Greek and Hebrew in seminary, compare the original languages to the NASB, and come away impressed by its literalness? Not even close. Somebody told ’em the NASB was the most literal. Usually that “somebody” is the person at Thomas Nelson Publishers who wrote that on the book jacket. And hey, the NASB is frequently so wooden and stiff, it has to be because it’s a literal translation, right?—it can’t simply be because the translators at the Lockman Foundation, the NASB’s sponsors, suck at English.

In any case they’ve swallowed the marketing spiel whole, and love to burp it up for anyone who’ll listen.

And for those of us who know multiple languages, it makes ’em sound naive and ridiculous.

09 March 2018

Mistakes we might make in our word studies.

You saw what I did there, right?

Last month I wrote about how to do a word study, and in that piece I largely emphasize how not to go to the dictionary first. ’Cause that’s how you do a word study wrong. Instead of drawing from the bible how its authors define a word, y’wind up overlaying the dictionary definition on top of the bible—whether it fits or not. (Or to use scholars’ words for it, y’wind up doing eisegesis instead of exegesis.)

When people are overlay a definition upon the bible, they’re rarely looking at the context of the passage. (Yep, I’m gonna harp about context again. It’s important here too.) The few who do bother to look at context, often try to bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate it so it fits their new definition.

Fr’instance a fellow teacher of mine was trying to tell his kids about making plans for the future, for “where there is no vision, the people perish.” Pr 29.18 KJV Except he couldn’t find that verse in his NIV, because they translate khazón as “revelation.” See, khazón means revelatory vision, i.e. something from God. Not our hopes and wishes for the future, but his. That’s why the second part of the verse, the part everybody forgets to quote, is “But he that keepeth the Law, happy is he.” Pr 29.18 KJV Context explains what “vision” means. But my fellow didn’t give a sloppy crap about what “vision” properly means; he wanted to correct his kids who had no goals, and wanted to use the bible to help him smack ’em on the head. Context shmontext.

The same thing happens when Christians fixate on the dictionary in our word studies. We start with a word we like; one which we already sorta know the definition of. We find a dictionary which gives us the definition we like. We dig out a bunch of verses and paste that definition over them, then try to interpret the scriptures by them, then marvel at all the new “revelation” we’re getting.

If Christians take the bible out of context in their regular, day-to-day bible reading, better than average chance they’re gonna take it out of context in their word studies. They’re just trying to cruise through their word study; they don’t think context is important, and don’t care. But if we’re planning to live our lives based on these bible verses, context is always important. When Jesus said “Love your neighbor,” he proceeded to spell out in detail just who our neighbors are, lest there’s any mistake in our minds. Lk 10.25-37 But when we skip context there’ll be plenty of mistakes in our minds. How many people presume “neighbor” only means the people in our immediate neighborhoods? Is that how Jesus defined it? Not even close.

08 March 2018

Why the Dead Sea Scrolls are such a big deal.

Other than being our oldest copies of the Old Testament.

Round 1947—most likely some years earlier—Muhammad edh Dhib, a Bedouin goatherd, was chasing a stray goat through Khirbet Qumran, ruins near the Dead Sea. Checking the nearby caves in case the goat was hiding in there, he threw rocks into the blackness to scare out the goat. Instead he heard a pot break. So he went in to check that out. He found pottery which contained scrolls written in first-century Hebrew.

Figuring they were worth a sheqel or two, he sold them to an antiquities dealer. In November 1947, the dealer sold ’em to Eliezer Sukenik of Hebrew University. Word spread. Hundreds of Qumran caves were searched. Eleven were found to contain tens of thousands of scroll fragments, which altogether make up about 875 books.

Popularly they’re called the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sometimes they’re called the Qumran scrolls. They’re the writings of an ancient religious commune in Qumran, Jews from Jesus’s day who considered themselves neither Sadducee nor Pharisee. (In fact they had a lot of condemnation for the Judean leadership.) Other ancient writers never mentioned this group, but since Flavius Josephus and Pliny the Elder mentioned a denomination called the Essenes, various people claim the Qumrani sect was Essene. But there’s zero evidence for this theory. (Same with the theory John the baptist was Essene—or Qumrani.)

The Dead Sea Scrolls are significant ’cause among them are the oldest known copies of the Old Testament. Before they were found, the oldest known copy was a Greek-language Septuagint (originally copied between 250–100BC). Then a Latin-language Vulgate (from 385–420). Then a Hebrew-language copy of the Old Testament (from the 900s). It’s not good when your translations are older than your original-language texts; you’re always tempted to take the translations more seriously than maybe you oughta.

Well, now scholars have a Hebrew Old Testament that’s 10 centuries older than the previous version, ’cause some of the Dead Sea Scrolls date to 100BC. Arguably it’s the very same Old Testament read by the Pharisees, Jesus, and his students.

So they’re kinda important. For even more reasons than their age.

16 February 2018

How to do a word study.

Our definitions of the bible’s words ideally need to come from the bible, not the dictionary.

WORD STUDY /'wərd stə.di/ n. Learning the scriptures’ definition of a word through its use in the text.

In the churches where I grew up, when people talked about “doing bible study,” they really meant doing a word study. They weren’t actually studying the bible—by which I mean read a story or section of the scriptures, look at its literary and historical context, analyze the original language, determine what it meant to the people who originally wrote and read it, and determine how this info is relevant to us today. Much as you’d study any work of history or literature—but somehow the definition of “study” got changed in church into looking up all the instances of a word in the bible.

Well you are using a bible, and you are studying.

But properly they were doing a word study: They chose an individual, significant word, found in the bible. Like grace. Or gossip, redemption, repentance, longsuffering and any of the other fruits of the Spirit; any words which have a particular importance to Christians. They’d try to dig out that meaning and understand the word better.

And that’s good! We should understand those words better. You’d be surprised (or annoyed) at how many Christians don’t know the definitions of words we use all the time. I already told the story of a pastor who didn’t know what a soul is. He’s hardly the only Christian who should know better, doesn’t, and has resorted to guessing. A little word study would help such people.

Problem is, few Christians are taught how to effectively study a word. They think the process solely consists of looking up a word in the dictionary. (If they’re feeling daring, they’ll look it up in a Hebrew or Greek dictionary. Like the dictionaries in the back of a concordance.) Then they read a few verses with that particular word in it, so they know “what the bible says” about that word. They read the dictionary definition into those verses, and maybe get some “insight” as a result. And now they feel all knowledgeable, profound, and spiritual.

Outside of Christendom, only schoolchildren will claim they “studied” when all they really did was look up a word in the dictionary. Come on, Christians. Let’s do some actual study, shall we?

07 February 2018

Can’t hear God? Read your bible!

’Cause sometimes God holds back his answers when he’s already given them in the scriptures.

So I’ve written on how prayer is simply talking with God. It’s not a one way-monologue where we do all the speaking, but God communicates back through omens, signs, coincidences, and other natural revelations which we can easily misinterpret. We talk; he talks back. Once we get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy to hear his responses whenever we pray.

That is, till we don’t.

’Cause sometimes we can’t seem to hear him. Much as we try, we can’t detect what he tells us. Maybe he’s talking and we’re too stubborn to listen; maybe he’s not, ’cause he’s waiting for us to finally act upon the last thing he told us to do. (Oho, didn’t think of that one, did you?)

Or maybe it’s time we stop putting off reading our bibles.

’Cause once we learn how to hear God, too many of us Christians get into the bad habit of not reading the bible. We figure why bother?—God already tells us everything we need to know! So we don’t read the scriptures and find out what else we might need to know. If it really is a need-to-know deal, God’ll tell us. Right?

Yeah, it’s immature behavior. And God’s training us to be better than that. You think Jesus, just because he is God, has godly wisdom and character in abundance, figured it was okay to give the scriptures a pass? Nuh-uh. He made darned sure he knew ’em better than everyone. Jesus read his bible, and we’re to be like Jesus.

So from time to time, when he feels we need to crack our bibles and get back into ’em, God stops talking. Or he straight-up tells us (as he has me, many times), “I already answered that in the scriptures; read your bible.”

Hence that’s become my go-to response whenever somebody tells me, “I haven’t heard from God lately,” or otherwise complains God feels so distant, or the heavens feel like brass when they pray. Dt 28.23 My usual advice: “Read your bible.”

Okay, maybe you already do read your bible. Good. Keep it up. I’ll explain why.

22 November 2017

The bible: An inspired anthology.

God got people to write ’em. And God gets people to understand ’em.

Inspire /ɪn.spaɪ(.ə)r/ v. Breathe in (air); inhale.
2. Fill with a positive, creative feeling; encourage.
3. Fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something; provoke.
[Inspiration /ɪn.spə'reɪ.ʃən/ n.]

Whenever we Christians talk about inspiration—inspired prophets, teachings, and writings—it’s assumed God did the inspiring. He’s the one who breathed into us. One word we regularly translate “inspired” is theó-pnefstos/“God-breathed,” which is how the NIV prefers to treat “God-inspired” in this verse:

2 Timothy 3.16 KWL
Every God-inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,
for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.

It’s more than just “I was so excited about my thoughts of God, I decided to create this for him.” It’s God involved with, and behind, this creation process. The Holy Spirit, living within the teacher, prophet, or author, pointed ’em God-ward. Got ’em to describe God with infallible accuracy.

This is what Christians tend to believe about the books and letters which make up the bible: It’s inspired. The Holy Spirit got its authors to describe God with infallible accuracy.

Some of us believe it’s not true of anything else: God inspired the bible, but he’s not inspired anything or anyone since. Which is bunk; of course he has. But Christians aren’t universally agreed about anything other than the bible. (And not all that universally on the bible.) God inspired the bible… but whether he inspired anyone since, is kinda left up to our best judgment… which ain’t all that consistent.

In any event, those who think the bible is inspired, but nothing and no one else is, tend to wander into bibliolatry, which is a whole ’nother problem. And it’s downright weird to hear continuationists, Christians who believe God still speaks to his people directly or through prophets, unthinkingly repeat the claim nothing but the bible is inspired. It stuns ’em when I point out how their beliefs contradict one another. (People aren’t always aware of how much bad theology they have floating around in ’em.)

Fact is, if human beings can’t or couldn’t be inspired, we wouldn’t even have a bible. ’Cause inspired people wrote it, inspired Christians compiled it, and inspired Christians uphold it. True, these inspired people were and are fallible humans. But as people follow the Holy Spirit, he guides us to truth, Jn 16.13 and steers us clear of sin and error. In the moment, we can (and do) write and prophesy infallible stuff. Once done, we might (heck, do) slip up, sin, and make mistakes, and fall right back into fallibility. But the stuff done by the Spirit’s power is still good. The writings in the bible are still authoritative. So we kept ’em.

01 November 2017

Bibliolatry: When Christians straight-up worship the bible.

When reverence for God’s word crosses a line.

Christianity is based on the person and work of Christ Jesus.

I hope you knew this already. Most of us do. But you’re gonna find a strain of Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, who consider Christianity to be based on the bible. As a result they’ve exalted the bible to a really high position in their belief system. Nearly as high as God. Sometimes even higher, and we call that bibliolatry. They call it all sorts of other things—a “high view of scripture,” or love and respect for God’s holy word, or Christian apologetics in which they argue for the bible’s centrality and preeminence. But Jesus is meant to be center and preeminent, and if you put anything else there, it’s idolatry. Even when it’s the bible.

In my experience, bible-worship tends to happen most often among cessationists. No, they’re hardly the only ones who do it. But once you insist God turned off the miracles, and won’t talk to us anymore, what’re you left with? Well, your bibles. And this is why they exalt their bibles: It’s the only thing they have left of God. It’s like if your mother abandoned you as a child, but left you a note saying she loves you: You’re gonna cling to that note, and make it the most precious thing you own. (Or you’re gonna bitterly throw it out, but I’m not discussing apostasy today.) It tends to become a substitute for your mother—and for cessationists, the bible’s become the substitute for their Father.

Or the Holy Spirit, ’cause they imagine his only job nowadays is to give ’em a warm fuzzy “inspired” feeling whenever they’ve correctly understood the scriptures. Or Jesus, ’cause they argue the only way to have a relationship with him is to read about him—as opposed to talking with him, obeying him, getting empowered by him, and all the stuff which constitute the actual Christian life. Nope, if they reject such experiences ’cause they imagine they don’t happen anymore, they won’t know him. Just about him.

So insult the bible, or show it what they consider a lack of respect, and they figure we’ve committed blasphemy. They’ll even call it that; as if we could slander a bible. It must be treated with nothing but the greatest reverence. Never set your bible on the floor. Never doodle in it. Never toss it onto a table. Protect it in the biggest, thickest bible covers. To treat it as an ordinary book, is as if we treated God with anything other than majesty.

Heck, some of ’em aren’t even hiding their idolatry. They’ll actually say God and the bible are equivalent.

11 October 2017

Apocrypha: The “extra books” your bible may lack.

Well, unless you’re Catholic, Orthodox, or Ethiopian.

Apocryphon /ə'pɑk.rə.fɔn/ n. (plural apocrypha /ə'pɑk.rə.fə/) Writing or book not considered part of the accepted canon of scripture.
2. Story of doubtful authenticity.
3. Story that’s obscure or little-known.
[Apocryphal /əˈpɑkrəfəl/ adj.]

One of my favorite stunts with new Christians used to be, “Turn in your bibles to the book of Wisdom, chapter 4.”

Well, they’d try. They’d flip around their bibles, then give up and look at the table of contents… then realize the book wasn’t in there. “Well it’s in my bible,” I’d tell ’em, and hold it up to show them, confusing them all the more. ’Cause my bible included apocrypha.

“Oh, you mean a Catholic bible,” you might be thinking. Nope; it’s a Protestant bible. Some Protestant bibles have apocrypha. I own two others.

I can’t pull this stunt anymore, ’cause nowadays people look up the bible on their phones or bible apps. Hence they can sometimes find Wisdom in there. Spoils my little joke. Oh well.

But I did this joke on purpose: I wanted to introduce newbies to the fact not every bible includes all the same books. Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican bibles are gonna have books in them which your average Evangelical bible will not. Evangelicals call these books apocrypha. Catholics call ’em deuterocanon, and Orthodox anagignoskómena.

Contrary to popular belief, they’re not merely “extra books.” For four centuries before Jesus, Greek-speaking Jews had these books in their bibles. For 17 centuries thereafter, Greek-speaking, Latin-speaking, and English-speaking Christians had ’em in their bibles. Got quoted in the New Testament. Got quoted by the early church fathers. Got translated and included in the Geneva Bible and King James Version. Seriously.

So when people ask me “Why do Catholics have extra books?” I gotta point out the proper question is why we Evangelicals don’t have these books. ’Cause a majority of Christians in the world do have ’em. And Evangelical Protestants had no problem with including ’em in our bibles… well, for about two centuries. Wasn’t till the Puritans began purging apocrypha from bibles that they even became an issue.

And now? Now we have some Protestants who insist not only should apocrypha not be in bibles, but that they’re devilish. Doesn’t matter that Martin Luther called ’em nützliche, aber nicht heilige Schriften/“useful, but not holy writings.” To these dark Christians, not only are apocrypha not useful, but they (and Roman Catholics) are part of Satan’s evil plan to corrupt the bible.


Here’s what conspiracy theorist Jack Chick had to say on the topic. The Attack, 8

So, according to these cranks, if you read apocrypha, they’ll corrupt you too. Flee the scary books!

Well, let’s put aside the loopy paranoia and get to what apocrypha actually are.

06 October 2017

The gender-inclusive bible.

Because the scriptures weren’t only written to men.

Psalm 8.4 KJV
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalm 8.4 NLT
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?

If you grew up with a King James Version, as I did, you’ll notice lots of verses refer to “man,” “men,” “sons,” “fathers,” “husbands.” They address men. Talk about what men do and what men oughta do. Refer to the promises God made to men—curses upon evildoing men, blessings upon God-fearing men. Men men men.

With some exceptions (and I’ll get to them in a bit) most of us Christians are agreed these verses don’t only refer to men. They refer to anyone who follows or seeks God; anyone whom he interacts with. Or not.

Unless a verse refers to specific men, like Abraham or Moses or David or Simon Peter, or unless a verse refers to the specific male-only duties of husbands and fathers, it should rightly be interpreted as gender-inclusive: These commands, proverbs, promises, and instructions apply to both men and women.

So when the LORD commanded, as is phrased in the KJV

Leviticus 19.3 KJV
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.

—this doesn’t mean, even though it clearly says ish/“man,” we gotta assume it only applies to men… and women are exempt from this command. And if a woman so chooses, she can dismiss her parents and skip Sabbath.

Properly, ish refers to any human being, whether ish/“man” or ishá/“woman.” God expects the same of women as he does men.

Well if that’s what it properly means, why not just translate it “person,” and clear up any doubt? And in fact this is what most bible translations do.

Amplified: “Each of you shall respect his mother and his father, and you shall keep My Sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
CSB: “Each of you is to respect his mother and father. You are to keep my Sabbaths; I am the Lord your God.”
ESB: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
ISV: “Each of you is to fear his mother and father. “Observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
MEV: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you will keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
NASB: “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”
NET: “Each of you must respect his mother and his father, and you must keep my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NIV: “Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.”
NLT: “Each of you must show great respect for your mother and father, and you must always observe my Sabbath days of rest. I am the LORD your God.”
NRSV: “You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”

Believe it or don’t, a lot of these translations do not consider themselves gender-inclusive. You can tell: They still insist on using the masculine pronoun “his” to describe “every one of you,” figuring it’s more accurate than “their”—and generic enough. Yet even so, y’notice all of ’em translated ish as “everyone,” instead of the literal “man”—because the verse does apply to everyone. Not just men.

The gender-inclusive translations want to make this crystal clear, so they drop the pronoun “his” in favor of gender-neutral ones. They swapped singular for plural: “They” instead of “he.”

Psalm 1.1 KJV
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Psalm 1.1 NLT
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

Or “you” instead of “he.”

Leviticus 5.5 KJV
And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing:
Psalm 1.1 NLT
When you become aware of your guilt in any of these ways, you must confess your sin.

Whatever makes it most obvious that the scriptures are addressed to all.

26 September 2017

Hyperbole. So I don’t have to explain it a billion times.

You saw what I did there, right?

Hyperbole /haɪ'pər.bə.li/ n. Deliberate exaggeration: A claim not meant to be taken literally.
[Hyperbolic /haɪ.pər'bɑl.ək/ adj.]

You may not be so familiar with this word, but you’ve seen examples of it all your life. And that’s not hyperbole.

Humans use hyperbolic language to get attention. You might not think much of the statement, “I had to clean a lot of dishes.” You pay a little more attention to, “I had to clean a truckload of dishes.” The exaggerated image gets attention. May even inspire a mental image of a literal truckload of dishes. May even strike us as funny, horrifying, sad, irritating; like most acts of creativity, it runs the risk of pushing the wrong buttons.

Of course some hyperboles are so overused, they get no reaction anymore. They’ve become clichés. “I worked my fingers to the bone” probably horrified someone the first time they heard it—“No, really? Ewww”—but nobody bothers to flinch at it anymore. Not even if people claim, “I literally worked my fingers to the bone.” Usually no they didn’t.

Humans have always used hyperbolic language. Nope, that’s not a hyperbole either: We really have. We find it in every culture. We find it in the bible. Even God used it.

Amos 2.9 KWL
“I destroyed the Amorite before their very eyes,
whose height was like that of cedars, strong like oaks.
I destroyed their fruit above, and root below.”

So, do you imagine the Amorites were literally as tall as cedar trees? After all, God said so. And surely God doesn’t lie

See, that’s the problem with hyperbole and biblical interpretation. Too many people take the scriptures literally. They figure if God’s word is nothing but truth, Jn 17.17 the scriptures oughta be absolutely valid in every instance, and contain no exaggerations whatsoever. ’Cause liars exaggerate, but God’s no liar. Tt 1.2 And if these two ideas (“liars exaggerate” and “God’s no liar”) are equivalent, it logically follows God doesn’t exaggerate. Ever.

Neither does Jesus.

Luke 14.26 KWL
“If anyone comes to me yet won’t ‘hate’ their father, mother, woman, children, brothers, and sisters,
or even their own soul, they can’t be my student.”

See, I put “hate” in quotes, ’cause Jesus doesn’t literally mean hate; middle easterners used that word when they spoke about things which took lower priority. Top priority was “loved.” Lower priorities might’ve also been loved, but in comparison to that top priority, they weren’t loved as much; so “hated.”

This is one of those examples, like “working my fingers to the bone,” where the exaggeration is such a cliché, middle easterners thought nothing of it. Problem is, our culture doesn’t. To literalists—particularly members of cults—this means they’re to cut themselves off from their families entirely. Divorce spouses, abandon children, have nothing more to do with anyone from their past. Don’t honor parents; Ex 20.12 hate them. In so doing, the cult can gain greater control over their followers.

This is why I had to add quotes. The NLT went with, “You must hate everyone else by comparison.” Lk 14.26 NLT That works too.

18 August 2017

Bible “difficulties”: The passages which won’t do as we want.

Usually scriptures which appear to contradict other scriptures.

Whenever you hear Christians refer to “bible difficulties,” you’d think we meant scriptures which’re hard to translate, hard to interpret, hard to understand, or hard to follow. Often we do. Certainly I do.

But why do Christians consider these scriptures difficult? Three reasons.

  1. We believe the bible contains no errors—but these passages appear to be in error, or appear to contradict other scriptures. Like Jesus’s two different genealogies.
  2. We have certain beliefs, doctrines, traditions, or assumptions—and these passages appear to violate them. Like Christians who don’t wash feet, Jn 13.14 or Christian men who don’t kiss one another hello. Ro 16.16 We don’t wanna say these passages don’t apply anymore… but honestly, we don’t wanna follow ’em either.
  3. These passages actually are obscure, and Christians throughout history (and Jews too) have found ’em hard to interpret.

The most common reason would be the first one: Discrepancies. Scriptures which appear to contradict other scriptures… or reality itself.

Nearly every Fundamentalist believes the bible has no contradictions. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Have these guys ever read the bible?” Tried to line up the resurrection stories, or Jesus’s aforementioned genealogies? Plus several orthodox Christian teachings—based on bible, I remind you—are kinda contradictory as well. Like how God’s kingdom is here, yet not yet here; like how God is one yet three. Fundies know all this stuff, but regardless: One of their fundamentals, one of their non-negotiable beliefs, is that the bible has no errors. And contradictions would be errors. Therefore no contradictions.

Hence Fundamentalists have written big giant books of bible difficulties. In which they try to explain away any discrepancies, plus any other problem scriptures, as best they can. Sometimes reasonably, ’cause these passages only look like discrepancies but aren’t really. Other times not so well.

16 August 2017

The Deuteronomistic history.

How some of the books of the Old Testament share a theme—and likely an author.

When I was growing up, I was a little curious about who wrote the books of the bible. Supposedly Matthew wrote Matthew and John wrote John and the three letters named for him (plus Revelation) …but Timothy didn’t write Timothy, and since Samuel was dead way before the end of 1 Samuel, it stands to reason he didn’t write 2 Samuel. Naturally I wanted to know who did write the books, but none of my Sunday school teachers knew. One of ’em speculated it was Solomon.

Fact is, people back then people didn’t put their names on their writings. Even David didn’t put his name on his psalms: Whoever compiled the psalms together, added his name to the psalms which had traditionally been ascribed to him. It’s a safe bet David did write ’em. But the other anonymous books of the bible: We don’t know who put them together. They felt the story was way more important than the authors’ names.

Anyway. In 1981, bible scholar Martin Noth theorized the books which Jews call the “former prophets”—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—and more than likely the book of Deuteronomy along with them, are all part of one large history, edited together by one person. Or one group of people. Noth named it “the Deuteronomistic history,” named of course for Deuteronomy.

It was a very short period of time before a lot of bible scholars signed on to Noth’s theory. It makes perfect sense. Though many conservative scholars (myself included) don’t agree Deuteronomy oughta be included in the Deuteronomistic history. Even though Deuteronomy does repeat a lot of commands found in the previous three books. There are good reasons Deuteronomy is bundled together with the Law, not the Prophets; and good reasons the Deuteronomistic history is inspired by that book, and not just prefaced by it.

People tend to refer to its author (or group of authors) as “the Deuteronomist.” Since—for no good reason—Christians have traditionally assumed Samuel wrote Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, if not half 1 Samuel, I’ll call the Deuteronomist “Sam” for short.

02 August 2017

Connect-the-dots interpretation: Stop that.

Just because your brain sees a connection, doesn’t mean it’s real.

Your brain is designed to recognize patterns.

It’s how the brain stores data. It takes a memory, breaks it down into “what I know already” and “what’s new,” stores what’s new, and stores links to the memories we know already. And they don’t have to precisely be memories we know already; just stuff that’s close enough. If it sees a similarity, or pattern, in what we experience, that’s close enough.

That’s how we pack 50-plus years of experiences into a 100-terabyte brain. And explains why some of our memories are kinda sloppy: Our brains were pattern-matching things which weren’t accurate matches.

Our brains pattern-match inaccurate things all the time. Sometimes for fun: Ever played the game of “What does that cloud look like?” Or had to put up with your mom insisting that so-and-so looks like some celebrity, but you can’t see it at all? Or been startled by a shadow which kinda looked like a stranger was in your house, but turns out it wasn’t?

Psychologists call this tendency apophenia: Your brain’s making a connection which isn’t really there. Happens all the time, and a lot of the time we realize this and are amused by it.


This person is pretty sure the word “love” is written in his cat’s fur. I see more of an “HXICVW,” but you know how people tend to see what they wanna see. Reddit

But other times we’re deliberately looking for connections. Like detectives trying to solve a case, like mathematicians looking for a statistical trend, like gamblers looking for a lucky streak, like conspiracy theorists searching for a cover-up. They wanna find a connection so bad, they’ll jump right on top of anything. Including all the bad matches our brain makes.

Yep, we Christians do it too. When we want a sign from God badly enough, we’ll settle for anything; we won’t even bother to confirm it. Or when we’re scouring the bible for truths and revelations, and find coincidences… and if we wrongly believe nothing is meaningless, we’ll insist these can’t be coincidences; they’re revelations!

Happens all the time. Generates a whole lot of really bad bible interpretations. So it’s something I gotta warn you about, lest you stumble into this trap yourself. Or be led into it by an overzealous preacher.

End Times preachers in particular; many of ’em are just the right combination of conspiracy theorist and connect-the-dots misinterpreter.

14 July 2017

The bible’s genres.

It’s not all written in just one style of literature.

Genre /'ʒɑ(n).rə/ n. Type or category of literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, and subject matter.

Our word genre originates from the Old French word gendre/“gender.” ’Cause while men and women are both human, we’ve still got some important, distinctive differences. (Not as many as our culture dictates, but still.)

There are many types of literature. Stop by the local public library, and you’ll notice how the books tend to be lumped into categories so we can find them easier. Whether your library uses the Dewey system or the Library of Congress system, you’ll notice the gardening books are on one shelf, the photography books on another, the legal books on another, the biographies on another.

Now when the average person picks up a bible, they assume they’re picking up one category of literature: Non-fiction religious instruction. After all, that’s where we’ll find bibles in the library.

Thing is, the bible’s an anthology, a book collection. Yes, it’s religious. Yes, it’s mostly non-fiction. (You know the parables never literally took place, right? Jesus was just making ’em up to illustrate his lessons? Hope you knew this.) But within its pages are several books and letters of several different types: Commands and instructions. Logical arguments. Wisdom. Parables. Histories. Creation stories. Gospels. Poetry. Prophecy. Apocalypses.

Christians who figure it’s all one genre, and try to interpret the whole of it literally, are gonna get the bible wrong.

Problem is, even though many Christians know there are multiple genres in the bible, they figure these differences really aren’t that great, and don’t entirely matter. One part’s prose, one part’s poetry; this bit is prophecy, that part is history. But all they really care about is religious instruction, and figure they can be instructed by all parts equally.

After all, didn’t Paul say so?

2 Timothy 3.16 KWL
Every inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,
for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.

Every inspired scripture. All the bible. Every bit of it can be used for instruction in rightness, so they’re gonna try to pull that instruction right out of it. After all, the bible’s our “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” our guidebook for life, with all the answers to all our questions—if we analyze it just right.

So to them, genre doesn’t matter. We can find instructions in the wisdom writings or the gospels; doesn’t matter whether we quote the apostles or Moses. It’s all bible. It’s all inspired. All good. Right?

Well, let’s take apart these claims a tad.

07 June 2017

Adultery, concubines, and marriage, in the Old Testament.

Adultery has a whole different definition in the Old Testament.

Years ago one of my eighth-grade students asked me what a concubine was. ’Cause he wasn’t familiar with the word, and it was in his bible. It’s in everybody’s bibles: Pylegéš/“concubine,” which Strong’s dictionary defines as “concubine; paramour.” I just went with the 21st-century term for paramour: “It’s a girlfriend,” I told him.

Later that day his mother called me to complain. She heard the story, spoke with her pastor, and he assured her a concubine is a wife. Not a girlfriend. What sort of morality was I attempting to teach her son?

Um… it wasn’t a morality lesson. It’s a definition. The morality lesson comes from whether you think the bible’s references to concubines is prescriptive or descriptive: Whether because the patriarchs did it, we can; or whether the patriarchs simply did it, but Jesus calls us to be better than they. (I’ll save you the guessing game: It’s nearly always the second one.)

The patriarchs had concubines. These were, as my Oxford dictionary defines ’em, “a regular female companion with whom a person has a romantic or sexual relationship.” Our English word comes from the Latin con cubaré/“to lie down with.” A patriarch would lie down with one of the women in his household, making her his concubine. Not necessarily have sex with her, as was the case with King David and his concubine Abishag. 1Ki 1.1-4 (And if you wanna argue Abishag wasn’t a concubine, then it doesn’t make sense why Solomon freaked out when his brother Adonijah asked to marry her. 1Ki 2.13-25 Claiming your father’s women meant you claimed your father’s kingdom. 2Sa 16.20-22)

Why do some Christians insist a concubine isn’t a girlfriend, but a wife? Simple: It’s a culture clash.

When we read the Old Testament, we’re looking into an entirely different culture with an entirely different worldview about sex and marriage. We don’t realize this: We figure since they followed God, and we follow God, we share worldviews. And in our culture, a married man with a girlfriend on the side is an adulterer. Well, all these God-fearing OT saints with concubines, like Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, or King David: We’ll can kinda, grudgingly accept they had multiple wives. But multiple wives plus girlfriends? Beyond the pale. That’d make them, to our minds, adulterers.

So to clear them of the charge of adultery, “concubine” can’t merely mean “girlfriend.” It has to be some ancient kind of wife.

27 April 2017

Textual variants.

’Cause sometimes the bible’s oldest copies won’t agree.

Textual variant /'tɛks.tʃ(əw.)əl 'vɛr.i.ənt/ n. Form or version of a document which differs in some respect from other copies or editions of the same document.

Before the printing press was invented in the 1400s, books were copied by hand.

Sometimes this was done carefully and conscientiously. The Masoretes, fr’instance, were Jewish scholars who wanted to be certain they got exact copies of the scriptures, with super-duper anal-retentive precision. So they invented a very careful procedure, including a system of checksums, to be sure every copy of the bible was an exact replica. It’s why, when you compare the first-century Dead Sea Scrolls with 10th-century copies of the Old Testament, you find astonishingly few differences. Dudes knew what they were about.

Other times, not so much.

Even when they knew this was a very important book. (Heck, back then most books were considered important. Hand-copying meant publishing was crazy expensive.) Copyists had a bad habit of duplicating books in a rush. Popular books were occasionally copied in a group: You get a roomful of scribes, one of whom slowly dictated the “original,” and the rest of whom wrote it down en masse. Naturally mistakes would happen.

Which was no surprise to any literate ancient: People make mistakes. An ancient Christian would assume if this was a verse they’d never heard before, or one they’d learned differently, it must be some scribe’s mistake. Fr’instance the Egyptian commentator Origen (185–254), in his commentary on John (my translation):

203 “These things happened in Bethbara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” Jn 1.28 204 Yes, it’s indeed printed in all the copies, “These things happened in Bethany.” We’re not ignorant it’s like this, and got this way long ago: We’re well aware it’s “Bethany,” according to Irakléon. But we’ve come to the conclusion it shouldn’t be “Bethany” but “Bethabara”—we’ve been to these places, following the history of the footsteps of Jesus, his students, and the prophets. 205 This evangelist declares Bethany is the hometown of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, about 15 stadia [2.8 km] from Jerusalem. There isn’t any same-named Bethany in the area of the Jordan. They pointed out Bethabara, by the Jordan’s banks; our inquiries found that John baptized there. Origen, John 6.24  

Yep, Origen went to Judea, and his tour guides told him there wasn’t any Bethany near the Jordan, then pointed him to Bethabara, convinced him this was the right place, and probably sold him a few souvenirs. I once had some folks in Israel try to similarly convince me about the location of Jesus’s sepulcher, among other “biblical” sites they built churches atop.

So was Origen right? Nah. Thanks to archeology, we know there was another same-named Bethany on the east bank of the Jordan. (Today it’s called al-Maghtas, Jordan.) Hence our current editions of the Greek NT stuck with the Vitanía/“Bethany” which Origen groused was in all his copies of John. Most of our current translations follow suit.

The few who don’t are going off the Textus Receptus, which has Vitavará/“Bethabara.” That’s because Origen managed to convince some folks he was correct—and the editor of the Textus, Desiderius Erasmus, was one of ’em. Since the King James Version used the Textus as its baseline, that’s what we find in the KJV and NKJV. Jn 1.28 KJV

So there y’go: Two ways variants happen. Copyists, in their haste, slip up; and know-it-all interpreters rejigger the original to suit themselves.

26 April 2017

Do you know your bible quotes?

After centuries of influence, stands to reason some phrases from the scriptures are kinda familiar.

Generally if you’re gonna call yourself biblically literate, you oughta at least know these quotes from the bible. Probably already do; you just didn’t realize they were from the bible.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Or “come short” in the KJV. Comes from Romans 3.23; means nobody measures up to God’s standard of perfection, but God graciously forgives us and grants eternal life. Ro 6.23

All things to all people. Or “all men” (KJV): Paul’s claim he adapted his circumstances so he can find common ground with everyone, and share Christ with them. 1Co 9.22 Y’know, “when in Rome.” Certain Christians are quick to point out Paul didn’t compromise his beliefs or behavior in so doing.

All things work together for good. In context, “to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Ro 8.28 Various Christians pull it out of context and claim everything always turns out for the best. I remind ’em to read Ecclesiastes sometime.

All we like sheep have gone astray. Isaiah’s warning to his people: They turned away from God, like sheep who disregard their shepherd. Is 53.6

Am I my brother’s keeper? Cain’s excuse to God for not knowing where Abel was, Ge 4.9 though in fact he just murdered him. The phrase gets used to claim we’re not responsible for one other. In reality we often are.

Ask and it shall be given you. Jesus’s teaching that the Father wants to give good gifts to his kids. Mt 7.7

Be fruitful and multiply. God’s directives to his animals after creating them. Ge 1.22 Including to the humans. Ge 1.28

Be sure your sin will find you out. Moses’s warning to two tribes who promised they’d fight with the other ten; that if they broke their promise they’d get caught. Nu 32.23 Christians sometimes use this verse to claim every sin eventually gets found out. And many do… but some don’t.

Beat their swords into plowshares. A prophecy about future peace—or not—found in multiple books of the prophets. Is 2.4, Mc 4.3, Jl 3.10

10 April 2017

Passover: When God saved the Hebrews.

And how Christians observe it. Or don’t. Or do, but medieval-style.

“Why don’t we celebrate Passover?” asked one of my students, when I once taught on the topic.

“We do,” I said. “Christians call it Pascha or Pascua or Páques. But in languages with a lot of German words mixed in, we call it Easter. And obviously we do it way different than you see in the bible.”

So different, English-speaking people routinely assume Easter and Passover are two entirely different holidays. I can’t argue with that assumption. Christians don’t bother to purge our homes of yeast or leavening. Don’t cook lamb; nor do we practice the modern Jewish custom of not having lamb, and emphasizing it ’cause there’s currently no temple to sacrifice a lamb in. Don’t put out the seder plate, don’t tell the Exodus story, don’t have the kids ask the Four Questions, don’t hide the afikomen and have the kids search for it. Although both holidays have eggs, and we do have the kids look for eggs.

Well, some Christians observe Passover as a separate holiday. Some of us do it Hebrew-style, as spelled out in the scriptures, in Exodus and Deuteronomy. More often it’s observed as practiced by Jews today.

The Messianic Jewish movement wants to emphasize the Jewish origins of Christianity. As they should. But many Messianic Jews aren’t all that solid on their history, and wind up teaching medieval rabbinic Judaism instead of the stuff Jesus and his first-century followers actually experienced. So when they observe Passover, their haggadah—the order of service—is nearly always adapted from Orthodox or Conservative Judaism. Which means it dates from the 10th century. Not the first.

Yes, some of its customs are in the Mishna, so they do date back to the first century. Still, these weren’t standard practices; not even in the 10th century. Just as Christians celebrate Christmas every which way, Jews then and now got to choose their own customs. Hence families have unique traditions, and various synagogues emphasize various things. Medieval Jewish communities in eastern Europe, north Africa, Spain, and the middle east, all individually came up with their own haggadahs. (As did the Samaritans.)

The point of the haggadah is to teach the Exodus story to the children. But remember, Jesus’s students weren’t children. Teenagers certainly, but still legal adults who knew the Exodus story. If they hadn’t heard it at home, Jesus would’ve taught it to them personally. So, just as some families don’t tell the nativity story every Christmas after the kids get older, don’t be surprised if Jesus skipped the haggadah’s customary Four Questions (why matzot, why bitter herbs, why roasted meat, and why the food gets dipped twice) as redundant.

Christians don’t always realize this. So whenever they attend a Passover seder, or ritual dinner, and hear whatever haggadah the leader came up with, they routinely think it’s so profound how Jesus “practiced” and “brought such meaning and fulfillment” to these customs. Even though it’s highly unlikely he practiced any of these customs. It’s pure coincidence his ministry “fulfilled” them. But y’know, not every Christian believes in coincidence.