Thursday, December 22, 2011

Matthew 1:18-25

1:18-25Now Jesus Christ’s origin was of this sort. After his mother, Mary, had been betrothed to Joseph, before they lived together, it was found that she had a pregnant belly (from the Holy Spirit). Now Joseph, her husband, because he was a righteous man and because he did not wish to disgrace her publicly, wanted to divorce here quietly. But after he had reflected on these things, Look!, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take into your home Mary, your wife, for the child that has been begotten in her is from the Holy Spirit. And she will give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And this whole thing has happened in order that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying: “Look! The virgin will have a pregnant belly, and she will give birth to a son, and they will call his name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” And Joseph got up from sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and he took his wife into his home, but he continued not knowing her sexually during the time before she gave birth to her firstborn son, and he called his name Jesus.

In verse 18 the Greek literally says, "before they came together." Some have interpreted this as referring to sexual relations but given the customs surrounding betrothal and the use of the phrase in other parts of the Scriptures, it seems more likely that it means "before they lived together" as the ISV and NAB translate it.

The KJV/ESV/NIV/NASB and others say that Mary "was found to be with child." The NLT says "she became pregnant." The Greek literally says "she was found having in the belly." "Having in the belly" is a euphemism for being pregnant. In context, the ideas seems to be that those aroud her noticed that she was pregnant because her belly was growing. It sounds a little clunky but I've decided to translate it as "she was found to have a pregnant belly."

I put "from the Holy Spirit" in parenthesis because in context Joseph and others were not aware that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit. At this point, Mary does not seem to have revealed to others what the angel revealed to her. Matthew is telling us that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph would find out later.

In verse 25, most translations say that Joseph did not know Mary "until she gave birth." In English, the word "until" carries connotations with it that the Greek does not. "Until" implies that after the birth Joseph did have sexual relations with Mary. But the Greek doesn't imply that. Matthew is making it very clear that Mary and Joseph did not have sexual relations before or during the pregnancy because he wants to make it very clear that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. However, he is silent on the issue of whether or not Mary and Joseph had sexual relations after the pregnancy. I'm not completely happy with "he continued not knowing her sexually during the time before she gave birth" but it's the best I could come up with for the time being.

I look forward to suggestions for improvement.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Matthew 1:1-17: A Translation


Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah and his brothers, and Judah begat Perez and Zerah from Tamar, and Perez begat Hezron, and Hezron begat Aram, and Aram begat Aminadab, and Aminadab, and Aminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, and Salmon begat Boaz from Rahab, and Boaz begat Obed from Ruth, and Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David the king.

And David the king begat Solomon from the one belonging to Uriah, and Solomon begat Rehoboam, and Rehoboam begat Abijah, and Abijah begat Asa, and Asa begat Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat begat Joram, and Joram begat Uzziah, and Uzziah begat Jotham, and Jotham begat Ahaz, and Ahaz begat Hezekiah, and Hezekiah begat Manasseh, and Manasseh begat Amon, and Amon begat Josiah, and Josiah begat Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian deportation.

And after the Babylonian deportation Jeconiah begat Salathiel, and Salathiel begat Zerubbabel, and Zeruabbabel begat Abioud, and Abioud begat Eliakim, and Eliakim begat Azor, and Azor begat Zadok, and Zadok begat Akim, and Akim begat Elioud, and Elioud begat Eleazar, and Eleazar begat Matthan, and Matthan begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom was born Jesus, the one who is called Christ.

Therefore, all the generations from Abraham until David are fourteen generations, and from David until the Babylonian deportation fourteen generations, and from the Babylonian deportation until the Christ fourteen generations.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bible Translation

I haven't found the time to read the New Testament in Greek as much as I would like to lately. So, I thought it would be a good idea to get back into translating. I plan to start with the Gospel of Matthew and post sections as I complete them for critique. Some of you may be familiar with translation work I have done in the past but I plan to completely start over.

The Greek text I will be using is the 1904/1912 Antoniades edition. I believe the Antoniades edition to be the best example of what could be called a "Received Text" or "Textus Receptus" or "Eccleasiastical Text." The text is the result of the Greek Orthodox Church's desire to create a standard Greek lectionary. It's very similar to the Greek text behind the KJV and NKJV but free from the poorly attested readings. I plan to also make note of those places where Robinson/Pierpont deviates from the Antoniades edition. The Robinson/Pierpont text is very similar to Antoniades but based on continuous text manuscripts rather than lectionaries. There are a couple of translations of the Antoniades text already including this one but I'm not completely satisfied with the translation.

My goal is to create a translation that brings out more of the nuances in the Greek text without overtranslating and without a creating a translation that sounds ridiculous. Most of the major translations do a good job of providing the reader with a good translation of the text but many of them tend to have an evangelical bias to them which can be seen especially in passages dealing with the sacraments and eschatology. Translations produced by more liberal scholars tend not to have the same problems with eschatology and the sacraments but have Christological problems instead. I'm sure I'll fail often in my quest and will make some of the same mistakes found in other translations but plan to revise and revise.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

John MacArthur's Papist Faith

In one of Rod Rosenbladt's lectures on Luther's Commentary on Galatians he pointed out that Lutheran and Roman Catholics have different definitions of faith. The Roman Catholic church believes that having faith means to cognitively arrive at the position that you believe what the Roman church teaches. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines faith by quoting Thomas Aquinas. It says faith is:

"the act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God"
Lutherans define faith as trust in God which is worked in us by God through His Word and sacraments. In previous posts such as this one, I've noted that Baptists think it is absurd that a baby could ever have faith. In MacArthur's recent rant, he talked about how crazy it was that Luther could believe that infants could have faith without ever really explaining why it is crazy to think an infant could have faith. I think the reason he thinks infant faith is crazy is because he's working with a definition of faith that is very similar to the Roman Catholic definition of faith.

Biblically, faith has nothing to do with cognitive ability. John the Baptist lept in faith in his mother's womb. The Psalmist speaks of hoping in God while on his mother's breasts and this Psalm was taken upon the lips of every Israelite and upon the lips of the early Christians. John MacArthur's denial of infant baptism is based upon a definition of faith that is essentially Roman Catholic and completely unbiblical.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Homophobia, Heterophobia, Racism, and Gay Marriage

Recently a church made the news for its opposition to interracial dating. Those who support homosexual marriage will often make comparisons between those who oppose interracial marriage and those who oppose homosexual marriage. But is the comparison valid?

Historically, marriage laws have been written to attach children to their biological parents. This is really the only reason the state is interested in marriage. Attaching children to their biological parents has absolutely nothing to do with homosexual marriage.

The motivation that stands behind homosexual behavior is actually the exact opposite of what stands behind interracial marriage. Interracial marriage involves a relationship between two people who are not just different from one another as far as their gender goes, but also different from one another in appearance. There are often cultural differences as well. There is a healthy attraction that God has given us to people who are different from ourselves. When we only love people who are exactly like us, our desires have become perverted. Incestuous relationships are the result of heterophobia.

Racism and homosexuality are both the result of perverted desires that cause a person to only love people who share certain characteristics. In both cases, the person has become heterophobic. They fear or at least have a disdain for that which is different from themselves. Because of our sinful nature, it is highly unlikely that we actually become homophobic. Talk radio is so popular not because people want to hear someone with opinions different from their own, but because people want to hear other people who have the same opinions that they hold. I've been to churches where people have no real interest in establishing any type of friendship with you unless they find out your are related to someone else in the congregation. Some churches want the younger people to leave during part of the service or only want to cater to a certain segment of the "market." These are all forms of heterophobia or at least a form of narcissism.

When people respond to homosexuals by taunting them or beating them up, even this is a strange form of heterophobia which is directed against another person suffering from heterophobia. The first person is inflicting pain on someone else because he has hatred towards those who have different desires from himself.

The same is true with religious persecution. You can hear heterophobia coming from the pulpit as pastors warn their congregation against visiting other churches and spout off all kinds of slander against other church bodies. There is a healthy curiosity give to us by God that allows us to engage in discussion with people who have beliefs different from our own. If we are primarily concerned for the truth instead of the preservation of institutions we can critically evaluate the reasons people give us for what they believe without fearing their beliefs.

Religious pluralism isn't the answer either. Pluralism is also a form of heterophobia. Rather than engage in discussion and debate over the real issues that divide the heterophobic pluralist tells himself that everyone is pretty much teaching the same thing--unless of course you teach that your beliefs are the only true beliefs. The pluralist has a fear of those who unlike himself believe in absolute truth.

Heterophobia in the church rears its ugly head when people make a common emotional experience the criteria for church membership. Some churches insist that everyone have a dramatic conversion experience and question the salvation of those haven't had one. Some churches are united around being "happy all the day." They fear suffering and so they tell themselves they are happy all the time and avoid anyone who actually appears to be suffering.

In the Scriptures, unity is found around a common confession that centers around Jesus Christ and His work. Those looking for a spouse should look for someone with a common confession as well. The insistence on this one point of "sameness" allows for the greatest overall diversity. There can be great diversity in age and cultural background. There can be a great deal of variety when it comes to personal taste.

Part of the common confession is a confession that we are sinners. We can treat those outside of the church with respect and dignity because we know that we are sinners just like they are and Christ shed His blood for them just as He shed His blood for us.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Every Day Will I Bless Thee: Meditations For the Daily Office by Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.

I used the Treasury of Daily Prayer for a couple of years and really enjoyed it but was looking for something different. For the past few months I've been using Every Day Will I Bless Thee by Burnell F. Eckardt Jr. Use copies are selling for over $100 on Amazon but you can still purchase it new from the Concordia Catechetical Academy for $16 plus shipping and handling.The book is arranged according to the liturgical calendar. It follows the historic one year lectionary for Sundays and Feast Days and uses the suggested New Testament readings from The Lutheran Hymnal for the other days. There is also a Psalm for each week. The New Testament reading is printed in full on the page from the NKJV along with a short meditation. Unfortunately the Psalm of the week is not printed in the book.

The meditations are absolutely wonderful. Their short but profound. They interpret the passage in the same sort of way that the church fathers interpreted the Scriptures. These meditations provide an excellent example of how the Scriptures should be interpreted. They're all centered upon Christ and accurately apply Law and Gospel. Every Day Will I Bless Thee could easily be used with the Treasury of Daily Prayer if you desired more liturgy. With my growing family, I prefer the shorter devotional meditations in Every Day Will I Bless Thee to the ones found in Treasury of Daily Prayers. Treasury of Daily Prayer has some great selections for the meditations but they don't always explain the passage and are often too complicated for my children to understand. Every Day Will I Bless Thee reinforces what the children are already hearing at church. Every Day Will I Bless Thee reflects the spirit of the one year lectionary by really driving home a smaller number of shorter texts.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Precept Upon Precept, Line Upon Line?

In some circles it has become popular to look to Isaiah 28:10 as the key to Biblical interpretation:

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little
Harold Camping, Kay Arthur, Pentecostals, and people with all kinds of different beliefs all point to this text as providing the basis for Biblical interpretation. They seem to understand it to be teaching that the Bible is like a giant jigsaw puzzle that needs to be interpreted by putting different verses together. During Harold Camping's recent apology he seemed to be saying that his methodology was not wrong but that he may have gotten a "precept" wrong and needed to redo the math.

The quotation above is from the KJV but you'll find that the ESV and some others provide a similar translation. As far as I can tell this translation finds its origins in the Geneva Bible. There is actually quite a bit of dispute as to how this passage should be translated. The dispute began before the English language existed. The Latin Vulgate reads differently and so does the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint says:

Expect thou affliction upon affliction, hope upon hope: yet a little, yet a little,
I think there are good reasons for accepting the Septuagint as the authoritative edition of the Old Testament but that's a different topic. Some have argued that the Hebrew in the passage can be harmonized with the Septuagint. Doing so would lead to a nice Law/Gospel interpretation. You can read a survey of the different ways this verse has been translated/interpreted here. The Hebrew transliterated says:

kiy tsav latsav tsav latsav kav lakav kav lakav ze'eyr sham ze'eyr sham.
Some have argued because of the disputed meaning of the words and the way the Hebrew sounds when read aloud that this is sort of the English equivalent of "Blah! Blah! Blah!" or perhaps the way Charlie Brown's school teacher sounds. Others have argued that these words mean "stench" and "vomit."

I do not have the skills required to determine the best translation of the text. But with all the uncertainty as to the meaning of these words, it doesn't seem to be a very good place to go to find an interpretive key to the rest of the Scriptures.

Because I lack the linguistic skills, for the rest of this blog post I will assume that the translation is basically correct. But even then, the verse when read in context does not teach what those who are using it as the key to Biblical interpretation think it is teaching. Here's verses 7-13 from the KJV:

But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean. Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
The end result of receiving "precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" is that "they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken." This is clearly not a positive thing. I found one Pentecost site that tried to find their doctrine of being slain in the Spirit in this text but any reasonable reading of the text makes it clear that falling backward, being broken, and taken is not a good thing.

Through Isaiah, God is judging Judah, particularly Judah's priests and prophets. God accuses the priests and prophets of trusting in the nations instead of Himself. He also says they are drunkards and proclaiming false prophecies because of their drunkenness. They are drunk both on alcohol and power.

"Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:"
The prophets and priests are mocking Isaiah. The prophets and priests think that Isaiah is treating them like babies. The prophets and priests believe that they have moved beyond such childish things as the simple Law and Gospel that Isaiah is bringing to them. They believe that they have no need for Isaiah's simple message.

Because Judah would not listen to God's simple Gospel of rest from their labors and instead searched for secret teachings in the Word of God and believed that the whole point was to treat the Bible like a giant jigsaw puzzle, God said that he would send a people who spoke a foreign language to bring His Word to them. In the immediate context the people of a foreign tongue was the Assyrian invaders which would result in Judah falling into even greater confusion. God would send the Assyrian army to actually bring them what they accused God's Word of being--"precept upon precept; line upon line; here a little, and there a little."

The greater fulfillment of this prophecy is found in the New Testament. The Pharisees interpreted God's Law to basically be "precept upon precept, line upon line." They taught that the Law was doable and came up with a long list of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. When Jesus came along and showed them that they were not keeping the Law and that the Law was designed to drive them to Himself, they had Him crucified. They rejected the message of rest and peace brought by Jesus--a far greater prophet than Isaiah. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Jews continued to reject the rest and peace that only Jesus provides and instead clung to the precepts and lines. Because the Jews had rejected the Gospel of Christ-crucified, God put this message in the mouths of Gentiles--a foreign people with a foreign tongue. As Judaism has continued to develop since the destruction of  the temple, it has become more and more fixated upon the precepts and lines. You can listen to lectures given by Jews on iTunes who have very little confidence that many of the events in the Old Testament actually happened but continue to observe the Old Testament dietary laws rather strictly. They have councils that meet and debate to determine which foods are kosher. It's as if God has punished their failure to believe that true rest can only be found in Christ by causing them to adopt a ridiculous list of rules that looks utterly insane to anyone who isn't in the middle of it.

The Christian church should know better, but since its inception the Christian church has had those who in one way or another want to treat the Bible as a long list of precepts that must be followed and assembled in a giant jigsaw puzzle. The Judaizers demanded that Christians still observe certain portions of the ceremonial law--at least the real important ones. We still find these types in the Messianic Jewish movements. But we find them in the pietist movements as well. We find Judaizers in the heirs of the Puritans. Are you excited about missions? If you're not you might not really be a Christian. If you have a tattoo or celebrate Christmas or receive a blood transfusion or drink alcohol or worship on Sunday or use the NIV or eat bacon you might not really be a Christian. Harold Camping said that if you didn't agree with him on the date of the return of Christ you weren't really a Christian. It would be impossible to list all the rules that people have inferred from the Scriptures by trying to read between the lines.

There have also always been gnostics of one sort or another who try to read between the lines to find the true spiritual meaning. In more liberal circles you find those who deny historical events such as the resurrection but try to find a "deeper" spiritual meaning hidden beneath what the text actually says. It's strange that the "deeper" meaning often seems much more shallow. Jesus living on in our hearts just doesn't seem very deep. Both conservative and liberal gnostics share a general belief that the ancients were basically idiots and poor interpreters of Scripture. Conservatives don't have have a problem with the fact that nobody really questioned the bodily presence of Christ in the sacrament of the altar or denied baptismal regeneration for about 1000 years. We're so much better interpreters of the Scriptures after all. God can't possibly work through matter or be in more than one place at once. They deny those places where God has promised to work faith and instead look for life principles and moral lessons.

If we are not to interpret the Scriptures "precept upon precept, line upon line" then how should we interpret the Scriptures? Jesus already gave us the answer. Jesus said all the Bible is about Him. The Apostles understood this. That's why Matthew takes Hosea 11:1 and interprets it as a prophecy about Jesus. The Apostles found Jesus everywhere in the Old Testament and so did the early church fathers. During the middle ages, many lost their way and began to find little more than life principles and laws. Luther sought to correct this drift into error. But today Protestantism is doing the same thing that Rome was doing. If you took a class on Biblical interpretation and interpreted the Scriptures in the same way the Apostles or the early church fathers did, you probably wouldn't pass the class.

 The law is there to show us our own inability to keep all the precepts and to drive us to Christ. We can only find rest in Christ. If we deny the rest that is found in Christ, we will be driven mad and will precept upon precept, line upon line and be damned in our own self-righteousness.