Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hebrew and cheese: the pragmatic necessity of the biblical languages

So, here is a not so surprising confession: I love Hebrew almost as much as I love cheese, which is a lot. One of my overarching purposes in life is to promote the value of utilizing the biblical languages for the task of ministry. This means that I am committed to reading the Bible in the original languages and proclaiming the gospel based on an understanding and close and reading of the Bible. You may or may not be convinced that the biblical languages are that important. You may be of the position that only specialists and scholars should concern themselves with the languages, whereas is sufficient for the pastor and the layman to understand the gospel from an English translation. I would suggest that it is certainly necessary for the layman, but not sufficient for the pastor. Why?

This morning I would like to make my case merely from church history. Luther was able to recover a clear understanding of the gospel on the basis of a first-hand reading of the Scriptures in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic. This made the Reformation possible. In other words, his rediscovery of the gospel may have been the spark that ignited the Reformation, but that spark needed thrown on kindling before turning into a bonfire. There were other pre-reformers who make similar rediscovery of the gospel, which did not result in a all-out reformation of the church. Think of John Huss among others. So how was the Reformation brought about? (I realize that this is a large question, which can be answered from a wide variety of factors such as socioeconomic conditions, political climate, technological advance, historical precedent, the sovereignty of God, etc.). I would suggest that the publication of a Bible in the language of the people published the Reformation. In other words, a Bible translation spread the Reformation throughout Germany. This means that the Reformation was humanly speaking contingent upon two things: a first-hand reading of the Scripture and the readable translation of the Bible.

So why not merely and continue to rely on a good readable translation? I would suggest that we should not do this because a translation is subject to ambiguity and change over time. A translation can capture the meaning of the text of Scripture, but it will only do so as a snapshot. Over time as languages change and evolve, then the meaning of certain words terms and even grammatical constructions become subject to misunderstanding. This is essentially what happened with the Latin Vulgate. In other words, we must be constantly vigilant about the meaning of the Bible in relation to published and readable translations of the Bible. This is not the responsibility of the average churchmen, but the responsibility of church leaders, pastors, missionaries, and Sunday school teachers.

If we wish to continue the work of the Reformation, then we must do the work of the Reformation. We must continue to publish the Bible in a readable and accessible language, but we must also continue to correct and edit those translations as we become subject to error, which is an inevitability.

For those of you who are completely convinced of the value of Hebrew, here's an interesting blog article I happened across yesterday:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Does Jonah talk about the Messiah?

The theme of kingdom in the book of Jonah is not very prominent or explicit. However, this does not mean that it is completely absent. I would suggest that the theme of kingdom can be interpreted broadly from the book of Jonah. God is the righteous and the compassionate King over all the nations, presence cannot be constrained by the Temple. Let me demonstrate this thesis. First, it must be noted that Joseph fled from the presence of the Lord after he received his prophetic mission. This fact is noted on three different occasions (1:1 – 3;9). Jonah has a very small view of God. He falsely believes he can flee from his presence.

Second, Jonah places great confidence in the fact that his prayer is received in the holy Temple – the place of divine presence – even though far removed from the Temple (2:7 – 9). So, when push comes to shove and his own life is on the line, Jonah gladly admit that he can access the divine presence from anywhere – from the bottom of the ocean! In other words, Jonah falsely believed he could flee from the divine presence at the beginning of the story, but one he is thrown into the ocean and finds himself in the belly of the fish a radically reorient this theology – of course, God's presence is everywhere! This is why Jonah can pray with full confidence knowing that his prayer has been received in the Temple. The Temple is not something that constrains God.

Third, after Jonah washes up on the shore and finally carries out his mission to proclaim judgment to Nineveh, Nineveh repents. In fact, Nineveh offers up prayer and repentance to God without any apparent knowledge of God divine presence in the Temple. Surprisingly, God answers their prayer and avert his judgment. After this turn of events, Jonah offers a prayer which acknowledges that he knew that God would extended lovingkindness to the people of Nineveh and he petitions God to take his life. How ironic! In the midst of danger, Jonah cries out to God for his life. In the midst of complete safety, Jonah cries out for death.

Fourth, there is a theme of idolatry. The irony in the book of Jonah is that idolaters turned Yahweh – and the one who should be worshiping Yahweh is running from him. In effect, one could say that Jonah is the idolater in the story because he is trying to disobey/stymie the will of God. The overall conclusion is that Jonah's Idol – a small constrained perception of Yahweh – demolished in the face of a great and compassionate true God who exercises mercy on the nations (4:10). God is a just and compassionate God is not constrained by the Temple, but his presence and blessing is extended to all who call upon him and turn from their evil (3:6). So, although there may no mention of a covenant King, Davidic King, or even a future messianic King, the overall point about the supremacy of God's great, extensive, compassionate kinship remains. Yahweh is the great King escalation point

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Language Learners Beware

Okay, so you may say, "Phil, I love the biblical languages and deeply desire to them in my personal ministry." You may further add," in fact, I love Greek and Hebrew so much because they are superior languages to my native English!" To this I would reply: is this good? In other words, is it good for someone to love Greek and Hebrew so much that they despise their native English? I would suggest that this is unhealthy because this is an attitude that falsely prizes one's acquired language and falsely despises one's native language. This is a condition that I would like to call: Reverse Linguistic Prejudice (RLP). There are several reasons why RLP is less than desirable for a student to maintain.

First, the student does not understand the nature of language. Language is a form of communication, which can be expressed through voice or manuscript by way of an intentional structuring of words used in convention. In other words, language is a way in which humans make intellectual contact with other humans. The way we make contact is through words, which represent our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and intentions. These words are used in structured ways. That is words are situated in intelligible patterns, which we would commonly referred to as sentences. These words are also conventional, which means the words we use have a shared sense of meaning. Now, certainly and without a doubt there are many languages, which express communication through many different means. However, the simple fact is all humans use languages to accomplish largely similar tasks. Languages differ in their particularities – the way they structure sentences, the way they express sounds, the way they tie certain sounds to particular referents – languages are united accomplish various tasks. All humans need to express their distress, their desire, their ideas, their reactions, etc.

Furthermore, language is a necessary component for any given society to continue to exist. Therefore, it could be said that any society that exists, has managed to find effective ways to communicate. This does not mean that every language community contains the same ideas of every other language community. What it does mean is that every language community has the potential to acquire new ideas and ways of expressing those ideas. A language community can coin a new term from previously existing word, it can take in a new term, it can create a new term by translating a word bit by bit. The idea being stressed is that – there is no such thing as a language that is superior to another language. Certainly we can say that there are language communities, which may lack a given concept at a given time, but this says nothing about the deficiency of the language itself. This is only a true about the status of a given language community. All this to say, it is not truly desirable to love the biblical languages while despising one's native language because this is a personal judgment based on a false reality. One can love the biblical languages but one need not despise the native language.

Second, if one continues to love the biblical languages [or any language for that matter!] While despising the native language, then one will be unable to learn and make accurate progress in one's knowledge of the language. This is because one is living out a false worldview. This will result in coming to false conclusions about a given language. For example, some people prize certain biblical words over and against English equivalents like words for love, justice, etc. an aspiring student may say something like – "this is the word in English "love" but the word in Greek is "agape" and agape means selfless love. This is not what the word means in English." (I realize I'm trotting on a well worn example, one which DA Carson as thoroughly critiqued, but I can't think of a better one at the moment). However, the problem with this so-called philological comparison is that it simply not true. There are cases in which agape can refer to the concept of selfless love, but this is not always the case. Furthermore, this is a misunderstanding of the nature of the way language conveys meaning. The word "love" in English can mean a wide variety of things, but it does not necessarily exclude the idea of selflessness. The meaning of the word is dependent upon the context (i.e. it's pragmatic function – what a given speaker is trying to accomplish by using in a meaningful sentence). All this to say, when a student prizes the biblical over the native, then she positions herself to make mistaken judgments about specific languages.

Furthermore, this attitude hinders the student to learn anything new about language and specific languages. If one person is in a position of Prizing/despising, then one cannot further advance in the field of language learning because language acquisition is contingent upon one's ability to find connections and similarities between one's native language and one's newly acquired language. The optimal language attitude is one of gratitude and openness. One must acknowledge the value of one's native language and remain open to learning new possibilities and concepts from the other language. For example, the task of learning foreign prepositions can be exceedingly difficult because prepositions rarely have a one for one correspondence in relation to any other language. Furthermore, prepositions in any language can function to indicate temp oral relations, spatial relations, conceptual relations. This can be very difficult because the overlap is rarely or easily perceivable. However, the task of learning prepositions can be ameliorated, if the student first learns the many meaningful possibilities found within prepositions within English. If one can appreciate the ambiguity in English, that one can grow comfortable with the ambiguity in other languages.

In conclusion, Reverse linguistic prejudice is an unhealthy attitude whereby the student falsely believes the newly acquired language is superior to one's native language. The way to overcome Reverse Linguistic Prejudice is by first recognizing the uniform possibility for all languages to communicate the same ideas. Second, the student must exercise gratitude for one's native language will remain open to conceptual possibilities discovered from another language community. The important distinction here is the difference between language and language community – it's not the language that teaches but is the instrument of instruction. Finally, the student can benefit by looking for ambiguity is present in one's native language. In other words, a new language can look more sophisticated to a student because she is initially overwhelmed by the complexity and ambiguity of that the language. However, ambiguity and complexity are present in every language. Therefore, learn about and get comfortable with it. Reverse Linguistic Prejudice is an attitude, which every serious student of language should seek to avoid.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Davidic Hope and the book of Amos

My next step in the research project is to survey the book of Amos. I will be looking for anything that seem to connect to the idea of royalty, Royal throne, justice, Royal power. I will also be attending to possible themes of messianic deliverance, human Kings, divine agency, and Davidic covenant. Stay tuned as I work through this. Feel free to offer any comments or criticisms along the way.

Joel and the kingdom

The book of Joel is interesting with regard to the theme of Royal throne. There is no explicit mention of a human King in the book of Joel. Predominantly the book is a book of vindication – the prophet is declaring future hold for God's people in terms of a vindication over and against Judas enemies and a right recompense for what they have suffered (3:19 – 21). God is depicted as a warrior and a judge. The locus of judgment is from Mount Zion and in the city of Jerusalem. These are places of Davidic significance. My theory is that the final form of the text draws together the agency of Yahweh and the royal functions of the covenant King. Covenant Kings were to administer justice executively and judicially. Although the author does not explicitly mention a coming future human Messiah, Yahweh is depicted as somebody that brings about all the proper conditions of a messianic age. In other words, the author does not say that the Messiah himself will be divine, but he certainly draws a strong connection between what God does and what God will bring about. Here we have a subtle hint at the fact that the Messiah must be conceived in some sense as divine.

Davidic Hope in The Minor Prophets

Okay, so my current research project concerns the idea of the Davidic throne in the corpus of the Minor Prophets. I would like to explore the connection between the prophetic indictment against Israeli and Judean kings in relationship to the idea of Davidic Hope. At this point in my research, I am aiming to carve out the broad contours of a biblical theology with in that given corpus. In other words, I'm going to explore the themes broadly without necessarily giving exhaustive attention to how these themes were within the context, although I will attend to the immediate context. Presently, I have worked my way through the book of Hosea and now I'm going to begin to work through the book of Joel. Stay tuned and track of my progress as I work through this corpus. Feel free to comment or contribute to this discussion. I welcome any feedback or criticism along the way.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Good Teachers Don't Tell the Truth

Okay, so there are two circumstances when a teacher should not tell the truth. First, a good teacher will not tell the truth when he is seeking to maintain confidence. In other words, a teacher can and should cultivate a relationship with the students. These relationships should be characterized by trustworthiness in secrecy. A teacher interacts with students both in the classroom and outside the classroom. Teachers should seek to remain respectful of the things that need to be kept secret from public view. In other words, if a student says something that is private or personal, then the teacher should not broadcast it. This may sound mind numbingly fundamental, but the simple fact is some teachers are prone to public broadcast. A teacher may not name names, but he may manifest an attitude in front of the students that expresses impatience or anger at his students in general. For instance, I once had a teacher that spent a good 5 to 10 min. castigating the class for their hypothetical absence. In other words, he was trying to warn us from not using out on class. This is certainly good advice. However, he proceeded to talk about how he's had students in the past continually abstain from showing up. When he said these things he said very angry. In my judgment, this is a lack of self-control. It is good to talk about the importance of class attendance, but it is unnecessary to express anger in the presence of a class that has yet to violate teachers rules. The teacher should have merely expressed the importance of attendance and lay down the consequences for lack there of. He should have kept his anger a secret. The consequence of this lack of secrecy demonstrates a lack of self-control and trustworthiness.

Second, a good teacher will not tell the truth before the student is ready. In other words, students only learn what they are ready to learn. Generally speaking, most classroom will be full of a handful of people that are ready to learn, but you must always take into account the students that are not fully ready to learn. For example, I once attended a class that concerned broadly the topic of pastoral leadership. The teacher began his lecture with a quick survey of vocational interest. He said, now raise your hand if you are going to be a pastor. Most of the class responded by raising their hand, but I was among the few that did not because do not have the vocational goal of becoming a pastor. The teacher then proceeded by saying, "good, then a great many of you need to understand the importance of pastoral leadership…" The teacher continued to only address those that were going into pastoral leadership. The mistake that he made was that he failed to make an argument for why others should also be concerned about this topic. The beginning of every lecture should be concerned with establishing the necessity and importance of the topic. But the importance of the topic should extend as far as I can go to as many people as I can go. The teacher could have strengthened the force of his topic by arguing why many more people than just pastors should be concerned about this topic. Those that are aspiring pastors have already bought in. The people that need the sold are the ones who do not believe or may not believe the subject is pertinent. If you can make an argument for your topics importance to those people, then you will certainly win over those that are readily concerned. In this case, the teacher failed to uncover a secret. He neglected to tell the truth to those who did not know how to be ready for the truth.

Learning readiness can also manifest itself in terms of antagonism. If a student is antagonistic to a topic, then quite frankly you need to disarm him before you can inform him. There's no sense in trying to get information that he strongly believes is irrelevant or perhaps untrue.

In conclusion, a teacher must not just be concerned with the art of proclaiming what is true, but he must also be concerned about discretion and reference. He must learn to discern when to tell the truth and when not to tell the truth. He must learn to demonstrate reverence for his topic and his students. Above all he must work hard at extending trust both in the classroom and outside the classroom.