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>Herod's slaughter of the innocents

2009 December 22 2 comments

> National Geographic did an article on King Herod last year. I didn’t find the writing style particularly riveting though it was variably informative. The article started with this comment about Herod.

An astute and generous ruler, a brilliant general, and one of the most imaginative and energetic builders of the ancient world, Herod guided his kingdom to new prosperity and power. Yet today he is best known as the sly and murderous monarch of Matthew’s Gospel, who slaughtered every male infant in Bethlehem in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the newborn Jesus, the prophesied King of the Jews. During the Middle Ages he became an image of the Antichrist: Illuminated manuscripts and Gothic gargoyles show him tearing his beard in mad fury and brandishing his sword at the luckless infants, with Satan whispering in his ear. Herod is almost certainly innocent of this crime, of which there is no report apart from Matthew’s account. But children he certainly slew, including three of his own sons, along with his wife, his mother-in-law, and numerous other members of his court. Throughout his life, he blended creativity and cruelty, harmony and chaos, in ways that challenge the modern imagination.

The claim that Herod is innocent of this crime because there is not further documentary evidence of the event betrays an unjustified anti-biblical bias.

That Herod was capable of commanding the murder of infants is mentioned in the paragraph above: 3 sons, a wife, etc.

Herod had these people killed,

  • Mattathias Antigonus
  • Several leaders of Antigonus’ group
  • John Hyrcanus
  • Aristobulus (brother-in-law)
  • Kostobar (brother-in-law)
  • Alexandra (the mother of Herod’s wife Mariamme)
  • Miriamme (wife)
  • Alexander (son)
  • Aristobulus (son)
  • 300 military leaders
  • Several Pharisees
  • Antipater (son)

Many of these were killed to prevent a perceived challenge to his kingdom.

And if these examples do not suffice to document Herod’s paranoia and blood-thirst, Josephus records a well known story how Herod had many men imprisoned in Jericho shortly before his death with instructions they be executed when he died. The reason? So there would be mourning at the time of his death. This was not carried out.

So it is apparent that Herod was capable of ordering the death of children if he perceived a threat to his throne.

However the bigger issue here is the illegitimate implication that documentary evidence from the Bible has second class status. Or even errant status. Not only is any other contemporary (or not so contemporary) document held up as the primary standard that the Bible is judged by, the Bible is often assumed to be in error when it touches on aspects of history that no other historian has mentioned.

Matthew was roughly contemporary with these events. He wrote of Herod earlier than Josephus did.

There is documentary evidence of Herod slaughtering the children. It is recorded in Matthew 2. There is no evidence that Herod did not do such an action. There is no good reason to exempt him of this crime.

Categories: bias, Bible, history, testimony

>The Books of The Bible

2009 July 21 5 comments

>International Bible Society released The Books of The Bible in 2007. It is the Bible in a modified format. It has been released in Today’s New International Version (TNIV).

I think this is a good idea, though I am uncertain it is as revolutionary as it suggests.

My thoughts on the features.

1. They have removed the chapter and verse divisions.

This is probably the main feature. The goal of this is to encourage people to read the Bible in books (ie. The Books of the Bible), or longer passages rather than a few verses. I already do this and do not find the verse numbers affect my ability to do such. Though this can be an issue for some people. I had a Bible that has many of the words indexed to translation numbers within the text, which didn’t bother me; but a friend found it very difficult to read.

My thoughts are that the verses should stay and the chapter numbers should be reduced in size (and bolded) and removed to the left of the text; Psalms excepted. ESV places the verse numbers in a different font to illustrate they are not part of the text, but they also bold them which highlights their presence.

2. They use paragraphs

They comment that verse and chapter divisions are not part of the text and were added later, which is true, but of what significance. It is also commented that the text is formatted to reflect the author’s intentions. Presumably that means paragraphs for prose and stanzas for poetry. The use of paragraphs is the best advance in biblical format and significantly improves readability while removing reliance of verse format. But this is hardly new! And traditionally verse formatted versions such as the NASB and the NKJV are now formatted in paragraphs. I am not certain what is meant by author’s intentions other than this. There were no paragraph breaks in the (Greek) autographs, or punctuation, or even spaces between words. Hebrew had white space but I would be surprised if they follow this format (the Transparent English Bible does).

3. They remove the translators section headings and relegate footnotes to endnotes.

Reasonable on the section headings. I use them for reference and finding passages, though electronic searches are better for that. I would leave section headings in a study Bible, but shift them to the right of the text.

Endnotes are to prevent flow interruption. Whatever your preference I suppose. Footnotes are similar to verses, though perhaps more likely to affect flow, I am liable to check the footnotes. But I would probably anyway and footnotes are less disruptive than endnotes. I really don’t like endnotes (save webpages where footnotes are endnotes).

5. They alter the book order.

No big issue. The books are separate and the order of several is somewhat arbitrary. I believe the Protestant and Catholic order of the Old Testament follow the Septuagint. Books of The Bible has its own order for both Testaments with the Old similar to the Hebrew order.

I don’t like the New Testament order though. The gospel of John is located with his letters. Mark with Peter’s letters, presumably because Peter was a source for Mark. The only good modification in book order is Paul’s letters seem to be chronological, or as best as can be ascertained; I believe there is uncertainty on the dating of Galatians for example.

5. They join some books together.

It is true that Samuel was split into 1 and 2 Samuel, presumably for ease of use in scroll form. I think joining some books is a positive, though minor change. I am not certain of the legitimacy of joining Samuel and Kings into a single book. I wouldn’t join Chronicles to Ezra-Nehemiah. And though I understand the joining of Ezra-Nehemiah, I think the internal evidence is these were written as separate books.

But Luke-Acts? Sure, have them follow each other but Acts clearly documents these were written separately.

My understanding is that the gospel order reflects the sequence they were written in (traditional belief). This may be correct, although the current consensus is that Mark antedates Matthew. I would shift John to the beginning of the New Testament; the parallel to Genesis is appropriate; and then Luke would be followed by Acts. Then the letters in chronological order (with or without Pauline subgrouping), then Revelation.

6. They display the text in a single column.

Reasonable. Not the first Bible to do so. It depends on the size of the page I think. Narrow columns are quicker to read; and newspapers use columns so the format is familiar. I would use a single column in a study Bible, as I note the ESV Study Bible has also done, because of other formatting considerations.

7. They include book and book grouping introductions.

This is completely reasonable and I think introductions can be quite helpful if well written. This is because the Bible was written in a variety of genres and within a different culture. I do note the irony though: of removing verses and translation footnotes because they affect the text; then adding in significant interpretative advice.

My comments seem mildly negative. Probably because I have explained where I depart but only mentioned where I agree. The concept is reasonable and I would consider buying one if I didn’t already have Bibles in the double digits. I don’t own a TNIV so it may still be a consideration. Note also that I have not actually read it. Perhaps doing so will make evident that verse and chapter numbers affect reading more than I am aware. And if it gets people reading more of their Bible….

I have included the book order below as the link is a 3MB pdf. At only 2 pages long, this size is a little excessive.

First Testament
Covenant History
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
Samuel-Kings

The Prophets
Jonah

Amos
Hosea
Micah
Isaiah

Zephaniah
Nahum
Habakkuk

Jeremiah
Obadiah
Ezekiel

Haggai
Zechariah
Joel
Malachi

The Writings
Psalms
Lamentations
Song of Songs

Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Job

Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah
Esther

Daniel

New Testament
Luke-Acts
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
Galatians
Romans
Colossians
Ephesians
Philemon
Philippians
1 Timothy
Titus
2 Timothy

Matthew
Hebrews
James

Mark
1 Peter
2 Peter
Jude

John
1 John
2 John
3 John

Revelation

Categories: Bible, formatting, literature

>Why doesn't the Bible address X?

2009 July 3 4 comments

>A not infrequent complaint raised by theism sceptics is that the Bible does not address many issues the sceptics think it should address; if indeed the Bible is a divine book and not merely a human one.

There are several problems with this demand

  1. It assumes the critic’s concerns are the same as God’s
  2. It assumes the Bible is written for the sceptical
  3. It assumes that God should dictate Scripture rather than use his servants to author it
  4. It ignores that Scripture was written into a culture
  5. It ignores what is contained within Scripture
  6. It ignores that the issues may be addressed indirectly
  7. It places an unreasonable burden on the size of the resultant text
  8. It suggests that if such was included the sceptic would be convinced of the truth of the Bible

Whose concern is important?

To ask that the Bible address X, Y, or Z assumes that these are the things God is most interested in recording for his people. The Bible is diverse, though there are several common themes. A major theme is right relationship with God. There is a large amount of material discussing individuals and nations in right and wrong relationship with God and the consequences of such. God is forever calling people to himself and rebuking them for going their own way. The Bible suggests that the biggest problem in men following God is not evidential, rather wilful. All Jericho were in fear of Yahweh after reports of his exploits, yet only Rahab submitted to him.

Related to this theme is reconciliation, especially the focus on God coming to earth as a man to teach us God’s way, to receive our punishment, and to establish a kingdom. Thus, much of Scripture builds up to this event, describes this event, and discusses the consequences of this event.

Who was the Bible written for?

The Bible has information that can be used to defend the truth of God and to rebuke the mocker; that is, it does have apologetic value. However the intended audience includes, and is probably predominantly, those who belong to God’s kingdom. At the time of the Old Testament that was Israel (though admittedly this included apostate Israel). In the New Testament the gospel of Luke (and Acts) are addressed to Theophilus (Friend of God). The letters are all addressed to individual Christians or churches. The biblical “inadequacies” as claimed by the sceptical may be of less concern to believers.

The Bible was written by God’s servants

Scripture, in the main, is not dictated by God. Thus there is freedom for the authors to write in their own style. Christians believe God had the authors include what God wanted recorded. Many also claim that God prevented them from writing error. This at least allows for difficulties in reconciling parallel passages, none of which contain exhaustive information.

The Bible was written into specific cultures

This fact has been misused to limit the scope biblical injunctions. Nevertheless, the authors were writing to the people who lived and thought a common culture. They addressed issues that were pertinent to the people around them. This includes who they perceived as their friends and enemies at the time. Laws related (in part) to their way of life, the types of houses they lived in, the foods they ate. The Israelites were an agrarian society. Many of the specific issues we face in the 21st century were non-existent in ancient Israel, and some of them would have been barely comprehensible. However most issues faced by diverse nationalities have some degree of commonality. Truly new concepts, such as intellectual property, are not that common. To request the Bible address specifically, issues that post-date its completion is anachronistic. The Bible may do so if God wishes, but to complain of these types of deficiencies is unreasonable.

What does the Bible discuss?

The fact is, the Bible does discuss a wide range of issues. There may be questions we have that it is difficult to clearly answer from biblical considerations, but what of that which the Bible does tell us? It tells us a lot about God, a lot about us. It tells us we are broken. It tells us our relationship with God is broken, and better, how to fix it. It tells us how to treat others. It teaches about relationships with one’s spouse and with one’s children. It tells us about honesty in business relationships. It tells us to concern ourselves with the less fortunate.

There is much we are shown about in the Bible. Is the concern about what is lacking actually about us not liking what is not lacking?

The indirect teaching of Scripture

It is not that difficult to apply what the Bible says within an ancient culture to our modern one. Is it really that hard? to go from “build a parapet around the edge of your [flat] roof” to “build a fence around your swimming pool.” Does one really think that if God opposes getting intoxicated with wine that he approves of getting intoxicated with marijuana? Many of the questions we have in our modern technological age are addressed indirectly through Scripture.

How big do we want our Bible?

It is difficult for a finite text to cover all the questions that man is capable of asking. The amount of information now known to man is vast, too much for any one person to know. Yet there are questions I can ask (that are intrinsically answerable) and not one man on earth currently knows the answer. If the Bible addressed in detail the specific answer, along with an underlying explanation of the assumptions of the questioner, of every question raised by a bibliosceptic its size would be enormous, not to mention unsustainable for the ancient scribes. For a hand-written book, the Bible is already pretty large. And even many Christians have not read it thru. How does one gain the overall themes of a book that would take a lifetime to read thru once?

Would a different text alter the sceptic’s position?

My considered view is that the complaint of biblical deficiencies is an empty one. Inclusion of specific issues would only mean that different deficiencies would be raised.

As mentioned above, the problem, as the Bible sees it, is not one of knowledge; rather it is one of the will. Rahab chose to worship Yahweh. Many of those who would be willing to submit to Christ have enough information to evaluate him. If someone has a real stumbling block then it is worth addressing it with him. But there is enough clarity in Scripture for those whose hearts are good soil, and there is enough concealment for the mocker to remain sceptical.

Categories: apologetics, Bible, clarity

>Is all translation interpretation?

2009 May 16 3 comments

>In an article about gender issues and the Bible, theologian Vern Poythress makes some important observations.

Poythress is discussing text that has implicit meaning which translators make explicit.

An explicit semantic content in the original has to be inferred in the translation, while what was only inferable from the semantics in the original becomes explicit in the translation. The shift from direct statement to inference is significant. It is a subtle change in meaning. To appreciate this difference fully, biblical scholars have to shift their point of view somewhat. Many biblical scholars spend most of their time thinking and writing about the theological value and interpretive implications of the passages they study. Their goal is to make explicit the many implications of the text. If two wordings leave the theological implications the same, they are equivalent from the scholar’s point of view.

Of course we are also removed from the authors and readers of the original text by culture and time, so what may be implicit is still more obvious to them than to us, at least until our way of thinking changes. Though this is not quite what Poythress is getting at; rather the sentence construct: what is said and what is implied but left unsaid.

But literary stylists and linguists studying discourse focus on other aspects of the text. They would note that subtle differences exist between explicit and implicated information, direct and indirect address, active and passive constructions, second person and third person discourse. These produce subtle nuances in the meaning-texture of the total act of communication. Translation into another language never succeeds in conveying absolutely all of such nuances. But the faithful translator endeavors to do so as far as possible.

And this is a significant issue to which not everyone may necessarily subscribe. Do we get the main meaning and ensure that this is fully grasped in the translation, or do we carry across as many meanings as in the original. If the original possibly has a double meaning and we can keep ambiguity, do we? Poythress goes for the latter and I am inclined to agree.

Translators console themselves by saying that “all translation is interpretation.” They are right. The most accurate translation can only be accomplished when we thoroughly understand the meaning of the original, including all its nuances in all their dimensions. Only then are we ready to produce a translation that conveys not only the main meaning but all the nuances of the original.

But the motto, “all translation is interpretation,” is turned into another meaning if we then use it as a blanket justification for rewriting the text in the way that an interpretive commentary would do. An interpretive commentary expounds the implications of a text, and makes explicit what the text leaves implicit. Such has not generally been the job of mainstream translation. But the American religious public has become lazy about the Bible and busy with other affairs. So a translator may try to include the extra information in the text explicitly, in order to make it easy for them. He paraphrases. He explains metaphors in ordinary prose. He expands tightly packed theological exposition. By doing so, he provides a commentary through which he hopes to help readers to understand the Bible better. But when he labels his commentary “The Bible” and “translation,” he has blurred the line between translation and commentary in an unfortunate way.

I tend more and more toward literal translations. Sure, they may not read quite as well as dynamic translations, but to really understand Scripture I think this is what is needed.

Dynamic, easy-reading, and children’s Bibles have their place. To pick up the main themes of Scripture it is useful to read an easy-reading, flowing version. Reading a variety of versions allows one to contemplate other possible meanings that may not occur to him when reading his usual translation. But I think it is false when essentially dynamic versions claim to be just as accurate or more accurate than formal versions.

However translation always has limitations. Formal versions need to be aware that some limitations of language cannot easily be bridged. For example the preservation of word order into English is unnecessary and possibly inaccurate. Word order gives meaning more than emphasis in English; best to use normal English word order.

Categories: Bible, linguistics, translation

>Interpretative techniques

2009 April 21 1 comment

> How we see the Bible affect how we interpret the Bible. I have several underlying themes that affect how I interpret the Bible.

Unity

I seek to find an interpretation that does justice to all the passages that touch on a topic. A related concept is that fuller revelation can expand on previous revelation but does not contradict it. The Bible is without error in any claim.

Context

The grammatical-historical hermeneutic says that the meaning is dictated by the underlying grammar and historical context. By historical context it is meaning what the writer intended based on his cultural setting. Concepts that we may hold based on the meanings of words may be irrelevant. This does not mean the ancients were ignorant, rather that they may have thought differently. One must guard against multiplying historical “settings” to justify an opinion, yet one must not ignore the fact. And there may be clues to this in the surrounding text.

Genre

Attention must be paid to literary genre, the type of text being read. For example a proverb is meant to be a general principle, poetry uses hyperbole and figurative language, apocalypse uses symbolism.

Divine authorship

Because God is the ultimate author, there may be truths that God intended yet the authors were not aware of. The Bible is infallible and legitimate conclusions come from its pages are true.

Perspicuity

The Bible is meant to be understood. The general meaning of the Bible is clear to any reader.

Hiddenness

I think this actually applies to God as well as the Bible and merits a post of its own. Briefly, the Bible is intentionally difficult in places. At least one reason for this is to hide meaning from the mocker and reveal meaning to the devout. There are concepts, difficulties, or apparent contradictions that allow a defiant man to scoff and dismiss, but on deeper investigation reveal unity and profound truth.

Prophecy may be a feature of this. Some prophecies seem to be difficult to understand before the fact but obvious afterwards.

Conclusion

Most of these relate to the usual use of language. Meaning is based on what the speaking is thinking. If he translates the thoughts to words well, and the hearer understands the words then he grasps what the speaker is thinking.

In conversation the context of a statement is important, think listening to one side of a telephone conversation; the genre is important, think telling a joke; perspicuity is important, we generally want others to understand what we are saying; and even hiddenness is used, consider talking in the presence of children using euphemisms or pig-Latin. Of the above items only divine authorship and unity do not are not grounded in the principles of language communication. Rather these are theological propositions.

Even if people agree on methodology, there is the scope for them to weight the issues differently, thus disagree on meaning. If others differ on their methodology it may be difficult to find any agreement. For example if one takes an essentially allegorical approach to all Scripture, or a private interpretation to verses.

That being said, I think the Bible has power thru virtue of it being God’s word. For the pious reader, ongoing reading and desire to know God is likely to lead to growing in true knowledge, even if one’s hermeneutic is substandard.

>Bible statistics

2009 March 26 3 comments

>Number of books, chapters, verses and words in the Bible. These are based on the English Standard Version (ESV) 2007 version, main text. Footnotes, chapter and verse numbers, book names are excluded. Psalm titles are included. I realise the chapters and verses are an artificial construct.

Chapters were inserted into the Bible circa 1228 by Stephen Langton.

The Old Testament was possibly divided into verses by Isaac Nathan circa 1448 and the New Testament by Robert Stephanus in 1551.

Book Chapters Verses Words
Old Testament
Genesis 50 36909
Exodus 40 31271
Leviticus 27 23602
Numbers 36 31211
Deuteronomy 34 27845
Joshua 24 18060
Judges 21 18556
Ruth 4 2475
1 Samuel 31 24536
2 Samuel 24 20074
1 Kings 22 23741
2 Kings 25 23088
1 Chronicles 29 18590
2 Chronicles 36 24938
Ezra 10 6915
Nehemiah 13 9902
Esther 10 5519
Job 42 17825
Psalms 150 42420
Proverbs 31 14566
Ecclesiastes 12 5344
Song of Solomon 8 2537
Isaiah 66 35555
Jeremiah 52 40975
Lamentations 5 3286
Ezekiel 48 37524
Daniel 12 11314
Hosea 14 4997
Joel 3 1913
Amos 9 4134
Obadiah 1 606
Jonah 4 1318
Micah 7 3012
Nahum 3 1114
Habakkuk 3 1366
Zephaniah 3 1574
Haggai 2 1096
Zechariah 14 6145
Malachi 4 1769
OT Total 929 587622
New Testament
Matthew 28 23137
Mark 16 14642
Luke 24 25104
John 21 19322
Acts 28 23744
Romans 16 9534
1 Corinthians 16 9316
2 Corinthians 13 6061
Galatians 6 3116
Ephesians 6 3017
Philippians 4 2144
Colossians 4 1936
1 Thessalonians 5 1842
2 Thessalonians 3 1065
1 Timothy 6 2318
2 Timothy 4 1633
Titus 3 927
Philemon 1 457
Hebrews 13 6953
James 5 2333
1 Peter 5 2397
2 Peter 3 1553
1 John 5 2492
2 John 1 298
3 John 1 303
Jude 1 607
Revelation 22 11559
NT Total 260 177810
Bible
Grand total 1189 765432

I haven’t been able to find the ESV summary data on the internet. The ESV exists in database form in various places so the information should be easy to calculate, I just don’t have the facilities. I will repost this if I get the verse data.

This information may be more useful for the Hebrew and Greek text though there would still be disagreement over which texttype or critical text to use.

Greek New Testament ~138000 words.

If I have my calculations correct I note the number of words in the ESV Bible is easy to remember. If the book titles are included the number of words is 765517.

Categories: Bible, statistics