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."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In which I indulge in a bit of whining

If you pay any attention at all to my Twitter feed (conveniently viewable on the right hand side of your screen), you likely know that I've been taking Krav Maga since early summer, and you may know that in last Thursday's class I bruised the bejeebers out of my left shin (long story short, I blocked a roundhouse kick with my shin bone instead of my calf muscle). Thanks to that little bout of stupidity, I now know the difference between a regular bruise and a bone bruise. The chief differences being that a bone bruise is a)on the bone, and 2)a helluva lot more painful. As in, it hurts to walk. Still. Over a week later. And as if that wasn't bad enough, when I was at the doctor's office on Tuesday I asked him to look at it, which apparently meant "push really freaking hard on the very painful bruise," and I think he must've messed something up, because now my entire left leg from knee to foot is stiff and sore, and my ankle is rather grotesquely swollen. Also, some blood from the bruise appears to have run down my leg (under the skin, mind), and pooled around my ankle, which, apart from looking gross, is just freaking weird, man.

So yeah, that's really all I've got for tonight. For your sake I hope you didn't read this far hoping for I would close with some sort of deep thought or insight about life or anything. 'Cause I really just felt like a bit of whining 'cause my leg hurts. That's it. If you were hoping for something more profound than "never block a roundhouse kick with your shin bone" and are disappointed, I'll be happy to refund the price of your admission.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

"To apply what Paul said to his churches to our own circumstances today requires more than simply reading words on a translated page of the Bible; it requires understanding the principles those words were meant to evoke for the first readers. This is the only proper way to respect the author's inspired message, as opposed to constructing an entirely new meaning based on a naïve modern reading of an ancient text."
-Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives.

On iPads and Productivity

So, as both of my readers likely know already, I recently acquired an iPad. I'd been planning to hold out for the the second generation, likely due out in April, but I just couldn't wait anymore. It actually turned out to be a win for everybody, though, because I raised the funds for the iPad by selling a bunch of junk that was just sitting around my house, unused and collecting dust. I cleared out a bunch of old books and CDs and all three of my old video games systems (a Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and N64). I also sold my NOOK e-reader, intending to read on the iPad (this I did with some trepidation, as I was worried about eye strain from reading on a backlit screen instead of the very lovely e-ink display of my NOOK, but so far, so good). So I effectively traded a bunch of crap that was taking up space for something I would use often and would take up considerably less space. Win all around.

The interesting thing is that I really thought I was just buying myself a toy. I figured I'd surf the web, maybe watch some videos, play some games, and read books on it. And in fact I do all those things, even more than I expected to. What I didn't expect - apart from the Spanish Inquisition - is how much of a productivity tool it would become. I do read for pleasure on it, in fact I'm working steadily through Brandon Sanderson's excellent The Way of Kings right now (well, not right now; you know what I mean). Additionally, though, I find myself doing a good bit more school-related reading than I expected. When researching for a paper a couple weeks ago, I collected several journal articles in PDF form. With the help of Dropbox (which I highly recommend, by the way) and an app called PDF Expert, I was able to get these PDFs onto my iPad and annotate them. Of course, you can read PDFs in Dropbox or iBooks, but PDF Expert makes it easier to mark them up, which is usually a necessity for me when I'm reading something for school - I have to have either some way to make separate notes or to mark up what I'm reading. Once I started writing said paper I was able, thanks to Scrivener 2's external folder sync feature and Notebooks for iPad, to work on it even when I not actually at my computer (not extensively, though, as Notebooks only edits plain text files - which means no italics or footnotes - and until iOS 4.2, there's no Greek keyboard on the iPad). Now, if I could only get the good people at Accordance to get it in gear and release their iOS app, I'll be set.

So, long story short, it turns out the iPad is actually more useful than I expected. Though if I were really interested in just being productive with it I would not have downloaded Plants vs. Zombies. Or Angry Birds. Or Fruit Ninja. Or Cut the Rope. Or Solitaire. Yeah.

P.S. If anybody's curious about my take on the various e-reader iPad apps, here it is: iBooks has the best user interface by far. The Kindle app is a distant second, only just marginally ahead of the NOOK app. Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble, though, have a vastly larger selection of books than the iBookstore (and I'm finding Amazon's selection to be better than B&N's in some respects, most notably books related to my field of study). Most of my reading is done in the NOOK app, since I built up a not-insignificant library over the course of nearly a year owning a NOOK reader.

P.P.S. Pretty much everything Apple tells you about how spectacularly awesome the iPad is is true. What they don't tell you, however, is how much harder it is to keep an iPad's screen clean than an iPhone's. Especially if a certain grubby-fingered four-year-old likes to play with it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Test, part trois

Trying the email route one more time, to see if the tags work now, as it still seems potentially more convenient, especially if i think i might have to stop working on a post and come back. So...


Sent from my iPad.

Test, part deux.

Oh, well, then. Don't I feel stupid. Looks like i can, after all, post from the Web instead of email, as long as I have it in "Edit HTML" mode. Isn't that nifty. So let's try some stuff again...


Link to my Twitter feed

There, now. That should work.


This is mainly a test to see how well emailed posts come through. For whatever reason, Blogger won't let me write or edit posts from the web on my iPad. But if I can use HTML tags in emailed posts, I might start blogging this way. Assuming I can find the time to do so, which, let's be honest, is hardly guaranteed.

So anyway, commence the testing:


Hrm. I'd include a link, but i can't remember the exact HTML tag off the top of my head. Well just see if this works before we try anything fancy...

Sent from my iPad.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Excuse me, *tap tap* is this thing on?

He blogs! I don't know if April 28-November 8 (which is... *counts on fingers*... 6 months) is a record for silence on this blog, but it's got to be close. What's worth, I've probably lost both of my regular readers in that time. Anyway, what brings me back to the blogosphere is the a post by Denny Burk on the NIV 2011's translation of 1 Timothy 2:12.

For those unfamiliar with the issues, a few years ago the Today's New International Version (TNIV) translation of the Bible was released. On the whole it is an excellent translation and should have replaced the older NIV, as it was intended to do. It was severely hampered, however, by a)a lack of adequate marketing by Zondervan, and b)a significant amount of controversy over some of its translation choices. It was marketed as "gender accurate," which basically means that it replaced "man" (ἄνθρωπος) with "human," "humanity," or "human kind," and "brothers" (ἀδελφοί) with "brothers and sisters" when a mixed-gender group was in view. It also regularly employs "they" as a gender-neutral third person singular pronoun, which is a common feature of modern American English. These and other choices made the TNIV a major point of contention in the complementarian-egalitarian debate (again, for those unfamiliar, this is basically the debate over whether women ought to be allowed leadership roles in the church; complementarians say nay, egalitarians say yea; that's an oversimplification, but it works to be going on with).

One of the most significant controversies dealt with the TNIV's translation of 1 Timothy 2:12. This verse is extremely significant in the comp-egal debate, as (depending on how it's translated) it provides a significant bit of evidence for the complementarian side. In the NIV it reads "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." Complementarians take this verse as a universal declaration that women are never to be allowed positions or authority over men within the church. Egalitarians (of which I am one, it should be noted) counter that what Paul has in view here is women - who are, perhaps, accustomed to having a place of importance in the local cults in Ephesus - who are taking assuming positions of authority without having the proper training to fulfill the role, and that as such the prohibition on women teaching is limited to the situation in Ephesus at the time the letter was written.

The TNIV seems to support the egalitarian view: in it this verse reads, "I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet." The switch from the NIV's "have authority" to "assume authority" is taken as evidence of an egalitarian bias in the TNIV.

So, now we get to the above blog post. As it turns out, the new NIV 2011 (another revision of the (T)NIV) follows the TNIV in its handling of this verse. In the post, Professor Burk argues that this is a distinctly egalitarian reading, and that it consequently casts doubt on the NIV 2011 as a whole. In the course of his argument (as you'll see if you read the post) he quotes Wayne Grudem's statement that the TNIV's "assume authority" is a "highly suspect and novel translation."

In point of fact, the Greek word underlying the translation - αὐθεντέω - is quite problematic. It may mean simply "to have authority," but most likely it has other, less pleasant connotations. More significantly, however, the TNIV and NIV2011's handling of this verse is far from "novel." The King James Version, published in 1611, has "usurp authority" here. Many very early English translations handle the verb similarly. Which means that what Dr. Grudem derides as "novel" is in fact supported by some of the very earliest English translations (and several Latin, French, and German ones as well, including the Vulgate) ever produced.

The fact that Grudem, Burk, et al ignore this fact is frustrating. Even more frustrating, however, is this: I personally have posted two comments on Dr. Burk's blog, pointing out the error in Grudem's statement. Neither of these comments - both quite reasonable and respectful in tone, if I may say so myself - have made it past moderation. Now, anyone with a blog is within his or her rights to enable comment moderation, and to refrain from allowing whatever comments he or she wishes. What's disappointing to me is that Dr. Burk, a New Testament professor at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville and dean of Boyce College (which is part of Southern), has chosen to eliminate not only my comments, but every comment that offers objection to this post (except by Douglas Moo, a notable scholar and one of the translators of the NIV 2011; Moo also falls on the complementarian side of the debate). Again, that is his prerogative - bloggers are not required to allow the free exchange of ideas in their comment sections. Yet I would have expected better, especially in a professor and dean who would, I'm sure, have sharp words for a student who similarly disregarded contrary evidence.

UPDATE: After a third (somewhat strongly worded) comment addressed directly to Dr. Burk, he sent me an email assuring me that his intent was not to suppress objection, but to keep the flow of the conversation focused tightly on his and Dr. Moo's interaction. Interestingly, though, apart from comments by Drs. Burk and Moo, the only comments that have made it through are those supporting Dr. Burk's position.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Raiders of the Lost Ark

No, not that ark. The other one. Noah's. Apparently a group of Turkish and Chinese Christians claims to have found it.

See this article for more details.

I'm intrigued by this. Not because I think it might actually be Noah's ark (I suppose it's not impossible, but I'll need some convincing), but because of the sheer number of times Noah's ark has supposedly been found. It's rather like all those Crusaders who returned to Europe with various relics - bones of saints, and the like. I mean, if all the supposed pieces of the True Cross that were brought back from the Crusades were put together, you'd probably have enough wood for Jesus' cross, the crosses of the bandits crucified with him, and a couple of spares. Sometimes it seems that we modern Christians, who so often revile our Medieval brethren for their backwardness, are not so far removed from them as we might like to believe.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On Productivity

So, I'm really making a liar out of myself by even writing this right now, because I really should be attacking the mountain of reading I've got to do this week (my workload this semester is pretty much all reading; only a couple papers to write, and a little Greek translation, but mostly reading). But I've spent yesterday and this morning getting about half sick, so reading about ancient Babylon, Egypt, and the Hittites isn't really grabbing my attention today, and this has been knocking around in my head for a couple days, so I'll write for a bit, then get back to reading, I guess.

This is the third year of my Ph.D. program and I am taking right now, God willing, the last three courses I will ever be required to take. Ever. I know, right? It's crazy. Now, there's still miles to go before I sleep - exams, dissertation, defense, and so on, all of which I expect to take two more years, but still, it's pretty awesome. But I digress. Anyway, the first two years of my Ph.D. work were a real struggle, both in terms of self-confidence (in a there's-no-way-I'm-actually-smart-enough-to-be-doing-this sort of way), and in terms of actually doing the work. Jenny works full-time (more than full-time, really), which left the primary care of our son (and now our foster daughter) to me. So for the first two years of my Ph.D. work, I was both a full-time student and a stay-at-home-dad. This meant taking G* to a sitter while I was in class, and working around his sleep schedule when I was at home. I worked all through naptime, and for several hours after bedtime. This, as you might imagine, became wearing. It got a little better when he started half-day preschool last year. This year, though, things got much more complicated when we were given a newborn foster daughter. Suddenly (literally, in the span of about four hours) we went from having one child to having two.

I realized very quickly that this wouldn't work: I couldn't manage being the stay-at-home-dad to two kids and being a full-time student. I was, in fact, at the point of starting the necessary proceedings to take a year off from school, when we hit upon the notion of putting G in school all day and M in care for the day. This allows me to effectively treat my schoolwork as a a 9-5 job (usually more like 9-3 or 9-4, depending on circumstances), with the result that I am much more productive, and much happier with the situation overall. I even have my evenings and weekends relatively free - meaning I don't usually have to bring work home, and can spend my evenings doing other things. This usually means cooking and keeping the house in general running order, but it also means that I have some time for more entertaining activities that usually had to just go on hiatus during the semester - video games, reading fiction, and so on.

To be honest, I'm not really sure what the point of all this is, except to say that an academic career is best treated like an actual career (i.e., a job), at least at the level where I currently am. Trying too hard to juggle what amounts to two full-time - and more than full-time - jobs (stay-at-home-parenting** and Ph.D. work, in my case) ultimately doesn't work well. So my advice: if you're a Ph.D. student (or thinking about becoming one), try to get yourself into a situation where you can focus on school with the attention it deserves: namely, as though it were an actual paying job, because it's at least that much work. Also, if you're the friend or loved one of a full-time student, don't hate. We work our butts off. The fact that we're still "in school" and may not earn any actual income for what we do doesn't change that - and can even make it more frustrating.

*Being as this blog (and my Twitter feed) are completely open to the whole wide internet, I refer to my kids by their initial, rather than their actual names. It may seem silly and paranoid, but I'm okay with that. So if you see G and M, that means my son and foster daughter, respectively. (Also, it saves me a few characters when I talk about them on Twitter.)

**Most people have probably heard me say this before, but it bears repeating. I've never been one to disrespect the stay-at-home parent. I remember all too well what royal pains in the butt my brother and I could be at times to take the all-too-common attitude that it amounts to just sitting around the house doing nothing all day. But after a couple of years of doing it myself, somebody who tried to tell me "I wish I could just stay home all day and do nothing," would probably not be able to finish the sentence until after they'd spit out a couple of teeth.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I had to add word verification to comments. Because apparently spammers are too stupid to realize that month-old posts on a blog read by about ten people are not a good place to try and drum up buyers for their snake oil. (Have I mentioned I hate spammers? 'Cause I do. Mostly because I find their sales pitches insulting.) So anyway, no big deal, so long as you're a human and not a spam-bot. You'll just have to do the word verification thing before you can comment. That is, before you comment on the posts that I rarely make. Anyway, that's all for now. Have a lovely evening.

Monday, February 01, 2010

On Blogging

I was looking through some old posts on my old Xanga blog the other day, and I was struck by how much of my previous habit of blogging has been replaced by Twitter/Facebook updates. I was also reminded, though, that I quite like blogging, and really feel I should do it more often. So that's what I'm going to try to do. I've got the seeds for several posts bouncing around in my head, on a wide variety of topics, ranging from academic/theological stuff to a review of the shiny new Nook e-reader I got for Christmas (because my wife rocks).

So anyway, I guess this is the occasionally obligatory "I don't post very much but I'm going to try and start posting more often" post. Of course, my final semester of coursework starts next week, so how much time I'll actually have for blogging is anybody's guess. But I'm going to try.

Quote of the Day

"A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of benefactors. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all."
-Aristotle, Politics Book I

This jumped out at me when I read it this morning because it fits nicely into my views of human nature and my cynicism toward politics and politicians, which stems from my views of human nature, and which I was thinking about earlier this morning.