Friday, May 20, 2011

Party at the End of the World

So, this has been knocking around in my head for a little while now, and I figured I'd better go ahead and write it before it became another one of those posts I didn't get around to writing until the occasion for it had past (there are literally DOZENS of these; I'm such a horrible blogger it isn't even funny).

So, as you may or may not have heard, there is a small group of Christians, led by one Harold Camping, who believe that tomorrow, Saturday, the 21st of May 2011, is the end of the world. More precisely, the Rapture (wherein God takes all the faithful to heaven prior to the Tribulation) is tomorrow; I gather the final end won't be until sometime in October.

Pretty much everybody on the internet - at least, all the bloggers I read - has drawn attention to several significant weak points in Mr. Camping's theology. That's not really what I'm interested in. Leaving aside the question of whether a Rapture of the sort expected by Dispensationalist theology is actually Biblical (I'm convinced it isn't), leaving aside the fact that the New Testament explicitly and repeatedly warns against attempts to know the timing of the Second Coming, leaving aside that every single prediction of said Second Coming has been wrong, and leaving aside the fact that Mr. Camping himself made such a prediction in 1994 that was, of course, wrong; leaving all that aside, there is one aspect of Biblical teaching that Mr. Camping has ignored, but that really ought to keep him up nights. The Bible - Old and New Testaments - has strong words of caution for those who would teach, and harsh words for those who teach falsely. God, from what the Bible tells us, is highly concerned that those who lead His people lead them rightly, and gets particularly angry with those who lead them wrongly.

In Deuteronomy 18 the people are warned to look out for prophets whose prophecy does not come true. If such a person appears in their midst - someone who claims to speak for God but whose prophecies do not come true - that person is to be put to death, because he has tried to lead God's people astray. Jesus in Matthew 23 speaks harshly to those whom he calls "blind guides" - teachers who claim to lead God's people yet teach wrongly. James 3 opens with an admonition that "Not many of you ought to become teachers," because "we will receive greater judgment."

Now, I'm not suggesting that we stone Mr. Camping (tempting as it may be) for claiming to speak for God when he really doesn't and for claiming to know what the Bible explicitly says is unknowable. The point is that in addition to being, frankly, a fool, he also plainly cannot take his position as a teacher of God's people seriously, else he would be far more cautious about spreading this nonsense.

Frankly, I find the whole thing rather depressing. I feel bad for the people who follow him. Some of these people have left everything to follow him and spread his silliness, and they're headed for a potentially catastrophic disappointment. How many of them will have their faith irreparably damaged? How many of their children will grow up to scorn Christianity? Should they (the adults, at least) know better? Yeah, they should. But there are always people who will follow any ridiculous path set for them. The fact that Mr. Camping has found them and fooled them so thoroughly is his fault, far more than theirs. What will be really interesting to me is what he says on Sunday morning. Will he repent and recant, as he should, or will he come up with some ridiculous explanation as to why he wasn't really wrong? My money's on the latter.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Quick Review: OtterBox Defender for iPad

Over the weekend I discovered that AT&T was selling certain iPad cases (first generation iPad only) for $5. So I bought three (and with a coupon code from DealsPlus, got them for $3.75 each). The first to arrive was the OtterBox Defender.

I've had OtterBox cases on two different iPhones now, but but they've both been the mid-level Commuter line. I love the Commuters, but The Defender series is much thicker and more robust, and has always seemed a bit much for a phone, I thought.

The first thing I noticed when I unboxed the iPad case was the weight. The thing is heavy. Since the first gen iPad is a bit weighty, too, this makes a pretty significant difference. Conversely, it's also extremely sturdy. The install was easy, though it took several steps. Now that it's on, though, I feel a lot better about how safe my iPad is than I did when all I had on it was the Apple-manufactured folio case.

Pros: I'm pretty sure my iPad is bullet proof now.

Cons: I'm also pretty sure you could tie it to somebody's leg and throw them in the river, and they'd drown. Also, it only props up at one angle, which is great for watching a video, but not for typing.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Inability to understand a phenomenon or a concept is not necessarily a criterion of its truthfulness."
-Richard Carlson & Tremper Longman, Science, Creation, and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Creation.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Sign of Authority

So, I'm currently reading an interesting little book by Craig Keener (who'll be coming to Asbury to teach this summer; very exciting), Paul, Women & Wives, in which he discusses various passages relating to gender roles within the church. In chapter 1 he works through 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which discusses women wearing head coverings in the church. Several times in the discussion he makes reference to verse 10 demonstrating that a woman has authority over what she wears on her head. This is a fairly striking claim if you read, well, pretty much any translation of this passage ever, because they all say something along the lines of "therefore a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head" (NASB). So, being a good little Bible student, I flipped open my Greek New Testament. It turns out that there is nothing in the Greek text corresponding to "sign" or "symbol." The translations all get "symbol/sign of authority" from the word εξουσια [exousia]

The weird thing about that is that, unless I am very much mistaken, εξουσια never means "symbol of authority." Rather it just means "authority." So far as I am aware, if it means "symbol of authority" here, this is the only place in all of Greek literature where it has that meaning. So, as Keener points out, the most natural reading of the Greek in this verse is "a woman ought to have authority over her own head."

Now, I'm not the type to just assume that I'm right and those responsible for every English translation (and one French!) I was able to lay hands on are all wrong. But. The way I read the Greek text, the "symbol of authority" translation is awfully difficult to defend.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Let's Keep X in Xmas!

(Warning: there will be Greek in this post.)

Every year at Christmas it is common to see or hear, among all the hustle and bustle and various trappings of the season, assertions that we ought to "Keep Christ in Christmas." Now, insofar as this means we ought to recognize that Christmas is a primarily Christian holiday meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus, that's all well and good. I certainly affirm the right of non-religious people to keep Christmas in their own way if they choose, but I do find the excessive secularization (and commercialization, Charlie Brown) of the holiday a bit bothersome.

All too often, though, the phrase "Keep Christ in Christmas" is said in reference to the abbreviation "Xmas." Now, there are all sorts of reasons to use this abbreviation: "Christmas" isn't a particularly long word, but when one is, say, sending a text message or writing a shopping list or the like, it can be useful to shorten it. But shortening it to "Xmas," so the thinking goes, removes "Christ" from the holiday, and is cause for varying levels of frustration and anger among believers who understand "the reason for the season." In fact, all too often such anger and frustration is expressed in a manner that is, shall we say, less than consistent either with the Christmas spirit or with Christian charity. But what are we to do? Should we just accept this (apparent) attack on our faith during one of the two most important holidays of the Christian year? How should we handle this?

Well, maybe we don't need to do anything about it. In fact, upon further examination, all the hoopla over the use of "Xmas" instead of "Christmas" is what the apostle Paul called "zeal without knowledge" (Romans 10:2). In fact, a little digging shows that the use of this abbreviation is not a exctly modern practice. In fact, it is at least 250 years old, and is actually of Christian origin. You see, "Christ" in Greek is Χρίστος (Christos). See that letter at the beginning that looks like an X? That's a chi, which is usually transliterated ch. In fact, a great many English words wherein a "ch" makes a "k" sound are of Greek origin, "school" for example (from σχολη, schole). That means that the X in "Xmas" is actually meant to be a chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ. And so, consequently, using "Xmas" does not "take Christ out of Christmas." It just substitutes the first letter for the whole name.

People who live in or near cities with long names actually use much the same practice all the time. I grew up near Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Very rarely does anyone in that area actually say (much less write) "Elizabethtown." It's nearly always "E-town." Functionally, using "Xmas" for "Christmas" is the same thing, except the replacement letter is Greek instead of English.

Now, some will no doubt point out that most people who use "Xmas" don't know anything about how Christ's name was written in Greek, and so they're still "taking Christ out of Christmas." And that's completely true, after a fashion. But to that I say two things: first, the majority of people who use this abbreviation have no malicious, anti-Christian intent in doing so. They're not trying to dodge the Christian origins of the holiday, or any such thing. They're just people who, for whatever reason, find it convenient to knock a few letters off of a 9-letter word. The point is, it's a person's motivations that matter. It's wrong - preposterous, really - to assume that someone is somehow denigrating Christ and Christmas just because they abbreviate the word. Before you judge them, have a look at their Christmas decorations. Or their holiday traditions. Or just have a conversation with them. How a person does Christmas is much more important than how a person writes it. Completely apart from all that fanciness with the Greek, we as Christians really ought to know better than to lambast people for how they write a word if we know nothing else about them or how they celebrate the holiday.

Secondly, though, there are people who use "Xmas" because they are specifically trying to de-Christianize the holiday. There are even people who write "Xian" and "Xianity" for the same reason. How, you may ask, should we deal with that? Quite apart from whether it's our place to deal with it at all, my response is to be amused, for two reasons. First, I'm amused because it's an attempt at cleverness that really winds up just being rather childish and petty. Second, it's amusing because it's ironic. Precisely because of the origins of the abbreviation, using it to take Christ out of Christmas is a non-starter. They're trying to use a Christian abbreviation to de-Christianize an inescapably Christian holiday. Either way, it's basically the rhetorical equivalent of this guy:

So, the moral of the story is this: just because a person uses "Xmas" for "Christmas" doesn't necessarily mean they're taking Christ out of Christmas, because the abbreviation itself is of Christian origin. And even if it wasn't, there are a whole lot of ways to "keep Christ in Christmas" that have nothing to do with how we write the word. Also, using Xmas because you do want to take Christ out of Christmas is like fouling a baseball off your face.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 29, 2010

"So what does the Greek say here?"

I'm guessing most seminary students/graduates get this question a lot in a church setting. I for one get it with some regularity in our Sunday school class. When we get to a tricky passage or verse in the text, people's heads swing my direction, and someone will ask, "So Shaylin, what does the Greek say here?" Now, don't misunderstand: I'm certainly not complaining. I'm perfectly happy to share any insight I can, and sometimes a look at the underlying text can be helpful. Unfortunately, however, there are a lot of times when my answer is fairly anticlimactic, because most modern translations of the Bible are made by people who know Greek a heckuva lot better than I do, and are therefore quite good, even where they differ from one another. That doesn't mean I don't reserve the right to disagree - I've even been known to cross out translations I don't like in my English Bible and write something better in the margin. But most of the time when I get asked that question, the passage in question turns out to be fairly straightforward, and the translation a good one.

The problem is, there's a tendency to view the Greek text as a sort of interpretive panacea: whatever problems or questions we have can be solved by looking at the Greek (or, of course, Hebrew; in fact, any time you read "Greek" in this post, assume I've also said "or Hebrew"). This idea usually doesn't last past the end of one's first (or maybe second) semester of Greek study, but among those who lack the special kind of mental instability that makes some of us want to spend our time reading dead languages, the idea persists.

The reality, though, is that learning Greek does not, of course, answer all our questions. All it really does is show us which questions are the important ones. The places where the Greek text is trickiest often don't get asked about, precisely because the translators have done their jobs well: they've rendered a difficult verse or passage in such a way as to make its meaning clear.

Where it gets really interesting, though, is passages where the text seems straightforward, and may even have been translated in a certain way for a very long time, but a deeper look shows it to be trickier than originally thought. I stumbled upon an example of that this morning in a post over at Joel Hoffman's excellent blog, God Didn't Say That. The post in question (direct link here) deals with the translation of Matthew 5:32. I won't rehash the whole post, but here are the highlights: The forthcoming 2011 edition of the NIV - a project I'm watching with great interest - translates this verse differently than previous translations, including the 1984 edition of the NIV, and the TNIV.

Most translations of the verse read something like this: "but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (NASB). The NIV2011, however, has "makes her the victim of adultery" rather than "makes her commit adultery." The difficulty, as Dr. Hoffman points out, is that of the two instances of the verb moicheuo (μοιχευω) in the verse, the first is in the passive voice, the second in the active, which means that what the woman does is in some sense different than what the man does in this verse. He concludes that neither the simple active translation of the NASB, NRSV, NIV, etc., nor the "victim" translation of the NIV2011 is acceptable, and I tend to agree.

Apart from the translation issue at hand - which I find intensely fascinating - Dr. Hoffman's post drives home the point I tried to make earlier. Sometimes looking at the underlying text of a difficult passage does provide us the answers we seek. But sometimes, as here, digging deeper into the text of a verse the meaning of which is widely agreed upon ends up raising questions we hadn't even thought to ask.

I suppose some, perhaps especially those just embarking on their seminary careers, might find that discouraging. Personally, I find it exciting. If we could get all the answers just by learning Greek (or, of course, Hebrew), then understanding the Bible wouldn't be as much of a challenge. It wouldn't be as fun. And it wouldn't present nearly the same opportunity for growth.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I read in a periodical the other day that the fundamental thing is how we think of God. By God Himself, it is not! How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except insofar as it is related to how He thinks of us."
-C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory."