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.