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

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.

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?

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.

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.

16 March 2017

Preaching the dictionary.

How to keep from misusing the original languages in your bible study.

Six years ago I was visiting a family member’s church, and the pastor had just started a series about home-based small groups. His proof-text came from Acts 2, where Luke described the actions of all the brand-new Christians in Jerusalem:

Acts 2.42-47 KWL
42 They were hewing close to the apostles’ teaching,
to community, to breaking bread, and to prayers.
43 Reverence came to every soul,
and many wonders and signs happened through the apostles.
44 Every believer looked out for one another, and put everything in common use:
45 They sold possessions and property, and divided proceeds among all,
just because some were needy.
46 Those who hewed close unanimously were in temple daily,
breaking bread at home, happily, generously, wholeheartedly sharing food,
47 praising God, showing grace to all people.
The Master added saved people to them daily.

He was using the NLT, I believe. Its verse 46 goes like so:

Acts 2.46 NLT
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity…

“They met in homes,” he pointed out. “The Greek word for ‘home’ is oíkos.” (Yep, just like Dannon’s brand of Greek yogurt. See?—knowing Greek comes in handy.) “And according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, that means ‘a dwelling; by implication, a family.’ So what that verse really means is that they met as families.”

Um… no. It means what the NLT rendered it as: “They met in homes.” If “They met as families” would’ve been a better translation, that’s how they would’ve translated it. It’s how I would’ve translated it. It’s how any translation would’ve translated it, but check out all the different English translations on Bible Gateway, and you’ll find not one of these translations decided, “Y’know, oíkos really means ‘family,’ so we’re going with that.”

But the pastor had a point he wanted to make: That the Christians of his church oughta meet together in one another’s homes, and be family together. Which isn’t a bad idea. In fact it’s precisely what church oughta be. It’s just he was trying to prove it from Acts 2.46, the misuse of a Greek dictionary… and the wow factor of a secret, cryptic meaning which you never really knew before, didja? “Home” really means “family.” Wow!

Okay yes, in certain contexts, oíkos can mean family. As when Paul told the Corinthian guard that he and his whole house/family would be saved. Ac 16.31 But all translation depends on context. If it doesn’t—if every instance of oíkos means family—then explain to me Jesus’s story about a wise man who built his house on rock and a foolish man who built his house on stand, Mt 7.24-27 and do try not to sound ridiculous.

01 December 2016

Apocalypses: Those freaky visions in the bible.

Short answer: No.

Apocalypse /ə'pɑk.ə.lɪps/ n. Vision meant to reveal heavenly secrets through representative or parabolic images.
2. Any supernatural revelation.
3. [uppercase] Destruction or damage on a tremendous scale, particularly the end of the world.
[apocalyptic /ə.pɑk.ə'lɪp.tɪk/ adj.]

When people talk about “the apocalypse,” they typically mean the end of the world. “It’s the apocalypse!” means “It’s the End”—and we’re f---ed.

Not even close to the original meaning of the Greek apokalýpto/“to uncover.” It’s just our last book of the New Testament, Apokálypsis Yisú Hristú—or Apokálypsis for short, Apocalypse in Latin and many other languages, Revelation in English—is about the End. So people have come to mix up apocalypse and the End. Stands to reason.

Our word Revelation defines it best. It has to do with revealing. Uncovering. Telling us what’s gonna happen in future. Except… well… not literally.

See, an apocalypse is a type of prophetic vision. Y’know how Jesus tells parables, and explains his kingdom with weird things which represent the kingdom, but aren’t literally the kingdom? Like mustard seeds which grew into huge trees? Lk 13.19 Like yeast which infuses flour? Mt 13.33 Like seed which grows on its own? Mk 4.26-29 Now imagine actually seeing these parables. Not just as a mental picture, like we do when we picture Jesus’s parables. You look in front of you… and there’s one of those images, clear as day.

Zechariah 1.7-11 KWL
7 On 24 Šebát of Darius’s second year [15 February 519 BC]
God’s word came to the prophet Zechariah ben Barukhyahu ben Iddo, to make him say,
8 “I saw this at night. Look, a man preparing to ride a red horse!
He stood between the myrtles in the valley. Behind him, red, speckled, and white horses.
9 I said, ‘My master, what are these horses?’
Giving me the word, the messenger said, ‘I’m letting you see what these horses are.’
10 The man standing between the myrtles answered, ‘These are the horses
which the LORD sent to walk round the land.’
11 The horses answered the LORD’s messenger standing between the myrtles:
The horses said, ‘We walked round the land. Look, all the land sits, and is quiet.’”

The horses answered? Sure. Most translations simply go with “they answered,” and leave it to us to deduce who “they” are. They don’t wanna look dumb by making the very simple logical leap. Ain’t no other group of people there to answer.

Talking horses, man. But that’s the sort of thing we see in apocalyptic visions: All manner of weirdness. Deliberately weird, ’cause God’s trying to grab our attention. You know how you’ll have some freaky dream, and the images in your dream bug you for a good long time after you’ve awakened? (Happened in the bible a bunch of times too.) It’s for the same reason God shows his prophets bizarre apocalyptic visions: He wants this imagery to stay with us, and burrow into our minds. Mere words, even God’s words, won’t stick with us like these visions do.

That’s why so many Christians are fascinated, even obsessed, with Revelation’s imagery. Weird chimeric creatures with multiple heads. Women with strange names. Angels and bowls and trumpets and declarations. Prophets being obligated to eat books which, while tasty, upset their stomachs.

Now. Jesus says the reason he uses parables is to inform those who are really listening, and go over the heads of those who really aren’t. Mk 4.11-12 This is just as true of apocalypses. Those who are truly seeking God will recognize their meaning and importance: What God wants to reveal through them—and just as importantly, what he doesn’t want to reveal through them. Not yet.

In contrast, there’s those who truly aren’t seeking God. Really, they figure knowledge is power, and covet some degree of control over an uncertain future. But their interpretations of these apocalypses don’t produce good fruit. Oh, they sell books, and definitely help Jim Bakker sell loads of overpriced supplies for your End Times bunker. But they don’t spread love, peace, gentleness, patience, and hope. Just more panic and worry, and God knows there’s far too much of that in the world already.

25 August 2016

Prophets in the bible: Read their books!

Wanna know what prophecy sounds like? Read what God’s prophets wrote.

The Prophets /ðə 'prɑf.əts/ pl.n. Biblical writings by and about God’s Spirit-inspired messengers.
2. [In Christian bibles and book order] Books in the Old Testament primarily consisting of prophecies. Usually Isaiah through Malachi.
3. [In Jewish bibles and book order] The second major grouping of the Hebrew scriptures: Books written between 1000 and 400BC; Joshua through Malachi.

Sometimes I refer to “the Prophets,” and I admit this can be confusing to Christians who grew up Jewish. To Jews, “the Prophets” are the middle part of their bible—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the 12 minor prophets.

But to Christians, “the Prophets” are the prophetic literature. Isaiah, Jeremiah (and Jeremiah’s book Lamentations), Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Some of us throw in the New Testament book of Revelation, and others throw in the apocryphal book of Baruch.

And for too many of these Christians, these are flyover books.

Yep. Just like snobs on the east and west coasts assume the middle of the United States consists of irrelevant “flyover states” which one needn’t bother to visit, many Christians figure these books needn’t be read. ’Cause they were written to the ancient Hebrews, not us. And they’re too confusing. Too filled with hard-to-interpret visions. Too weird. Not relevant.

The Prophets, they figure, have only two functions; only two reasons why we bother to publish bibles including them. First of all, they’re full of predictions that Messiah was coming. So they point to Jesus. So we keep ’em for the Messianic prophecies, in case anybody isn’t sure the Prophets did foretell Jesus’s first coming.

The other is because they also foretell Jesus’s second coming. They foretell the End Times. So “prophecy scholars” mine ’em for their End Times prognostications, for stuff that fill in the blanks in their timelines.

Otherwise, these books are considered a hard read. So Christians don’t read ’em. We read the books we consider relevant: The New Testament. The Old Testament origin stories, or tales of great biblical heroes. The psalms, for the poetry. Proverbs, for the wisdom. Song of Songs, for the smut.

But not the Prophets. Otherwise you’d have to learn about the historical context these prophets were talking about, and that’s way too much homework for your typical Christian’s taste. Plus they’re a bummer, ’cause they’re full of condemnation and God’s wrath. So, as I said, they’re skipped. Mine ’em for proof texts, but otherwise skip ’em.

This attitude is incredibly short-sighted of those of us who wanna hear from God.

These prophets heard God. You wanna know what God sounds like? Read the Prophets. You need to hear what God’s legitimate messengers sound like.

12 May 2016

Literally.

The way a whole lotta Christians like to interpret the bible.

The word literally has two definitions. And they contradict one another.

Literally /'lɪd.ər.əl.li/ or /ˈlɪt.rəl.li/ adv. In a most basic and exact sense, without metaphor, allegory, exaggeration, nor distortion.
2. Used for emphasis or strong feeling, though not precisely true.

I know; plenty of people insist the second definition isn’t the proper definition, and anyone who uses the word like that is wrong. Problem is, words are not absolutes. I know; plenty of people wish they were, and insist they are. (It’s why people still buy the original edition of Noah Webster’s dictionary, instead of something more recent.)

But words aren’t defined by historical precedent—like laws, treaties, or biblical doctrines. They’re defined, and regularly redefined, by popular vote. It’s why we need to keep re-translating the bible; why we need to look up the original definitions of the King James Version’s words when we interpret that translation. Once enough people use a word “wrong,” the wrong definition evolves into another definition. (But if it makes you feel any better, the “right” one still comes first.)

Anyway. The reason I bring up the evolution of language, is because plenty of Christians insist they interpret the bible “literally.” By which they think they mean the first definition: In its most basic sense. In reality they mean the second definition: They interpret it seriously.

I remind you: The first definition means without metaphor, allegory, exaggeration, nor distortion. But the bible is full of metaphors, allegories, exaggerations, and distortions. You knew this. If you forgot, I’ll remind you.

  • Hebrew poetry is full of metaphor and simile. “The LORD is my shepherd,” Ps 23.1 obviously. Not a literal shepherd; like a shepherd. And the psalmist is like a sheep.
  • Jesus’s parables are allegories. Certain prophetic demonstrations, like when Ezekiel built a little siege around a brick with a drawing of Jerusalem on it, Ek 4.1-2 are allegories. Apocalyptic visions are allegories. God used ’em all the time to grab our attention, and teach lessons. Again, not literal.
  • Jesus himself exaggerated. Fr’instance:
Mark 9.42 KWL
“Whoever trips up one of these little ones who trust me:
It’d be even better if you tied a donkey wheel round his neck and threw him in the sea.”
  • Anybody planning to drown kids to rescue them from false teachers? Nobody? Good. I’d be worried. Yet when certain interpreters come across exaggerations—like when David said he could fight a troop by himself and leap over a wall, 2Sa 22.30, Ps 18.29 meaning one of those 30-foot city walls—I kid you not, they’ll claim he literally could. ’Cause some interpreters are just that dumb.
  • If you’ve read the gospels, you’ll notice they don’t always sync up in the order of events. Fr’instance Matthew and Luke have a different order for Jesus’s temptations in the desert. For the authors, timeline didn’t necessarily matter: Sometimes they wanted to bunch Jesus’s teachings together. Or bunch his miracles together. Or show how the Pharisees were getting more and more peeved at him. For various reasons, they moved the Jesus-stories around. Not to decieve—but if timeline is really important to you (and it is to some Christians), you’re gonna find these alterations really irritating.

There are plenty of instances where we can’t interpret the bible literally.

31 March 2016

Strong numbers. Or Strong’s numbers. Whichever.

Don’t know biblical languages but wanna look up an original-language word? Strong has you covered.

From time to time I refer to Strong numbers or Strong’s numbers. I suppose I need to explain ’em before people get the idea I’m introducing them to numerology.

A concordance is a list of every single word in a book. People make ’em for the bible so they can use it as kind of an index: You might remember there’s a verse in the bible about “the meek shall inherit the earth,” but not remember where it’s found. (And you might live in 1987, when you couldn’t just Google it.) So you bust out that concordance, flip to “meek,” and find out where it’s hiding. Seems it appears 17 times in the King James Version.

Nu 12.3 the man Moses was very m., above all the men H 6035
Ps 22.26 The m. shall eat and be satisfied H 6035
Ps 25.9 The m. shall he guide in judgment H 6035
Ps 25.9 and the m. shall he teach his way. H 6035
Ps 37.11 But the m. shall inherit the earth H 6035
Ps 76.9 to save all the m. of the earth. H 6035
Ps 147.6 The LORD lifteth up the m. H 6035
Ps 149.4 he will beautify the m. with salvation H 6035
Is 11.4 reprove with equity for the m. of the earth H 6035
Is 29.19 The m. also shall increase their joy H 6035
Is 61.1 to preach good tidings unto the m. H 6035
Am 2.7 and turn aside the way of the m. H 6035
Zp 2.3 Seek ye the LORD, all ye m. of the earth H 6035
Mt 5.5 Blessed are the m.: for they shall inherit G 4239
Mt 11.29 for I am m. and lowly in heart G 4235
Mt 21.5 Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, m. G 4239
1Pe 3.4 even the ornament of a m. and quiet spirit G 4239

So check it out: The meek inheriting the earth comes up twice, actually. In Psalm 37.11, and in Christ Jesus’s “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Mt 5.5

Some bibles have a mini-concordance in the back, to be used as just this sort of index. They don’t include every word. Really, not even an exhaustive concordance does: There are 64,040 instances of “the” in the KJV. (More instances of “the” than there are verses.) When people are trying to track down a verse, they don’t use “the.” Too common.

Anyway. Dr. James Strong wasn’t the first guy to produce an exhaustive concordance of the KJV, but his was powerfully useful for one reason: His numbers. When you looked up any word in his 1890 concordance, you’d find it provided a number. In the back of the book were his Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary of the Old Testament, and Greek Dictionary of the New Testament. Don’t even have to know the Hebrew or Greek alphabets: You look up the word by its number, and there you go: The original-language word behind the KJV’s translation.

Wanna know the original word for “ass” in 2 Peter 2.16? Strong’s concordance will point you to number 5268, and once you look up that number in the Greek dictionary, you find this:

5268. ὑποζύγιον hupozugion, hoop-od-zoog'-ee-on; neuter of a compound of 5259 and 2218; an animal under the yoke (draught-beast), i.e. (specially), a donkey: ass.

Nice, huh? Wanna know the original word for “buttocks” in Isaiah 20.4?

8357. ‏‏שֵׁתָה shethah, shay-thaw'; from 7896; the seat (of the person):—buttock.

Yes, I’m twelve.

02 March 2016

How to study your bible.

’Cause every Christian should. And should know how.

When I was a kid, I went to a Fundamentalist church. Say what you will about those folks: They’re big on studying the bible. Not all of ’em know how to do it properly—and they definitely didn’t teach me how to do it. (Man alive was I over-dependent on my Scofield Reference Bible notes!) But I gotta give ’em credit for making a serious, earnest effort just the same. They really wanted to know what was in there, and rightly believed every Christian should.

But even while I was in that church, I discovered I knew way more about the bible than the average Christian. Not ’cause I’m a genius or anything, although I have a really good memory: I knew more because I read the bible, read the notes, read everything about the bible I could get access to: I studied. And most Christians honestly don’t.

Most humans don’t. When we get out of school—whether that’s high school, university, or grad school—we figure we never, ever have to study again. And don’t. We quit. We’re done. We might make exceptions for something important, like our contractor’s license; but we’re done. Study the bible? Nah. We’ll leave that for the experts. Pastors can study the bible. When we wanna get something profound out of the scriptures, we only expect to get ’em one of three ways.

  1. Somebody else has to say it. Like a favorite preacher or author, whom we trust to say reliable things. (Trust based on what? Well, that’s another discussion.)
  2. It’s gotta be a clear, obvious statement in the bible. Something anyone could find, like a penny on the sidewalk.
  3. It’s a God-inspired idea which unexpectedly pops into our heads, like a bolt of lightning from a blue sky, as we’re reading the bible. Illumination, some call it.

But study? Go digging out truths from the text? Never gonna happen.

There’s a common but false assumption that God’s kingdom, because it runs on grace, arrives by grace: We don’t have to make any effort. Just take the talent God gave us, bury it in a field, and it’ll grow like an acorn into a tree filled with shiny metal discs. Wisdom will just come to us naturally. After all, there’s no shortage of people posting pithy platitudes on Twitter.

Here’s the quandary: Which of those platitudes are true, and which of them are merely clever… but wrong?

’Cause I’ve heard loads of platitudes. So have you. I’ve been a Christian for four decades, and listened to sermons every Sunday morning, many Sunday and Saturday and Friday and Wednesday evenings, many mini-sermons by bible study leaders and prayer group leaders and college professors, many sermons in chapel at schools I’ve gone to or taught at, and of course sermons on the radio or podcasts. I have no idea how many Christian books I’ve read, both before and after seminary. Or how many posts on Christian blogs.

There’s a lot of advice out there. Most of it looks like good Christian advice. But it only looks good: Much is junk, is misinformed, is misleading, is foolhardy, is ignorant, is dark Christianity, is heresy, or is hypocrisy disguised under thick Christianese.

And some of it is pure Christianism: It’s pop psychology, godless politics, Mammon worship and social Darwinism, ulterior motives disguised as devout Christianity. It’s totally wrong—but sounds good. Sounds wise, familiar, benevolent… and totally appeals to our bratty inner child, so we repeat it.

How do we know the difference? Well, unless we have the supernatural gift of discernment (which in my experience, the Holy Spirit uses to point out false teachers, not bad theology), we gotta discern stuff the old-fashioned way: We gotta know our bibles. And not just superficially. We gotta study our bibles. We gotta buckle down and do our homework.

But we don’t wanna.

03 February 2016

What, you thought there were only 10 commandments?

God’s 613 commands, and how Christians treat them.

Most Christians are familiar with the fact there are 10 commandments. Ex 20.1-17 Not so familiar with the actual 10 commands, but we do tend to know there are 10 of them, and it wouldn’t hurt to live by them. In fact the politically-minded among us think it’d be a good idea for the whole of the United States to live by them… although it’s a bit of a puzzler how we might simultaneously enforce “You’ll have no other gods before me” Ex 20.3 and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Amendment 1

Some of us have also heard the idea there are 12 commandments. Where’d the extra two come from? Well, someone once asked Jesus his opinion on the greatest command.

Mark 12.28-31 KWL
28 One of the scribes was standing there listening to the discussion.
Recognizing how well Jesus answered the Sadducees, he asked him,
“Which command is first of all?” 29 Jesus gave this answer:
“First is, ‘Listen Israel: Our god is the Lord. The Lord is One.
30 You must love your Lord God with all your heart, life, purpose, and might.’ Dt 6.4-5
Second is, ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’ Lv 19.18
No command is higher than these.”

Since these two commands aren’t among the 10, certain Christians tack ’em on at the end.

But there’s far from just 12 commands. There’s 613.

Technically there are even more than 613. But when you combine redundant commands—namely all the commands repeated in Deuteronomy, like the 10 commandments Dt 5.1-21 —you get 613 of them. Or at least that was the conclusion of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon of Spain (1135-1204, also called Maimonides by westerners, Rambam by Jews). Moshe listed them in his book Sefer Hamitzvot/“Book of Good Deeds.” He had slightly different priorities than Jesus, which is why he put loving God at 3 and 4 in his list, and loving neighbors at 13.

These commands are mostly for everyone. There are many priest-specific commands, which don’t apply to the general population. (Although Pharisees customarily practiced ’em anyway, figuring all Jews ought to be as ritually clean as priests.) There are also many gender-specific commands, which apply to men and not women, or women and not men.

And let’s be honest: There is a double standard in the Law. Women and men may be equal in Christ, Ga 3.28 but not under Law. Fr’instance there’s a test for a wife’s faithfulness, Nu 5.11-30 but no such thing for husbands. ’Cause under patriarchy, men could have sex with any woman in their household. The Law abolished many of patriarchy’s customs—no they couldn’t have sex with just anyone they wished. But though abolishing patriarchy was God’s goal—with men in leadership or service practicing monogamy 1Ti 3.2, 12 and loving their wives like Christ loves his church Ep 5.25 —he didn’t do it outright in his Law. Though certainly the test of a wife’s faithfulness under the Law is considerably better than the previous patriarchal custom: Kills her without any trial. Ge 38.24