Posts tagged ‘Hebrew’

ABC Extra – The Danger of Loneliness

Loneliness is epidemic.  An old Gallup poll from 1990 found that 36% of Americans report feeling lonely.  And yet, study after study has shown that the feeling of loneliness and physical isolation are not always interconnected.   Three social scientists from the University of Chicago, the University of California, and Harvard University recently conducted a study which noted that there is a “discrepancy between an individual’s loneliness and the number of connections in a social network.”  These researchers concluded that loneliness is, at least in part, contagious.  They point to a 1965 study by Harry Harlow on rhesus monkeys.  Harlow noted that when an isolated monkey was reintroduced into a colony of monkeys, the monkey was driven away from the community.  The researchers then noted, “Humans may similarly drive away lonely members of their species…Feeling socially isolated can lead to one becoming objectively isolated.”  The idea, then, is this:  Subjectively feeling alone leads to objectively being alone.  But this is not a good thing.  Indeed, the researchers open their study with this sobering statement:  “Social species do not fare well when forced to live solitary lives.”

What three social scientists spent many years and thousands of dollars to study and discover, the Bible already knew.  From the very beginning of creation, immediately after God created the first human being, Adam, God knew, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  As I mentioned in ABC, in a twist of cross-phonological irony, the Hebrew word for “alone” is bad.  And when this word is applied to human beings, this is indeed the case.  It is bad for a human being to be alone.   And yet, at least at first glance, the case seems to be somewhat different with God.

“You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship You” (Nehemiah 9:6).  “God alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). “I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by Myself” (Isaiah 44:24).  In each of these instances, the Hebrew word for “alone” is bad.  And it is used, quite proudly I might add, of God.  But when this word is used with regard to God, it is not so much used to describe God’s isolation as it is used to describe God’s uniqueness.  It is God alone who created the earth and can use His creation as He desires.  No one else has this privilege and prerogative.  God is unique, but He is not isolated.  Indeed, God’s very Trinitarian nature is evidence that He is not alone in the reclusivist sense, for He is in perfect communion with Himself.

As a reflection of the communion that God has within Himself, He had designed us to have communion with other people.  For a human being to live life alone is indeed bad – in the English sense.  This leads us, then, to some questions.  Do we have deep, meaningful relationships where we know others and are known by others?  If you are married, is your marriage strong and is your spouse you first and finest earthly companion, or are you merely two individuals who happen to be living in the same house?  For those who do suffer from loneliness, do you seek to befriend others in Jesus’ name?

God is not alone.  And we should not be alone either.  This is why Jesus’ final promise was not one of isolation, but of presence:  “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  In Christ, we are never alone.  And that’s a good thing.

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May 16, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Resurrection! It’s Not Just for Jesus

One of my favorite parts of Holy Week is the music.  Last night in Maundy Thursday worship, we sang of Christ’s body and blood, given for us sinners to eat and drink.  I’ve been singing the words to this hymn this morning:

God’s Word proclaims and we believe
That in this Supper we receive
Christ’s very body, as He said,
His very blood for sinners shed.

Today, as we reflect upon the cross of Christ, we will sing another of my favorite songs:

Mighty, awesome, wonderful,
Is the holy cross.
Where the Lamb laid down His life
To lift us from the fall.
Mighty is the power of the cross.

And then, on Easter, will come this powerful anthem:

I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever-living head.

The words of this final song, of course, are taken from the book of Job where, even after Job has lost everything, he declares his faith in God and his desire for an advocate to plead his case to God:  “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me” (Job 19:25-27)!  These words have long been taken by Christians as a foreshadowing of Christ’s resurrection.  Hence, the reason we sing these words on Easter!  Interestingly, however, it’s not just Christians who have found hints of a resurrection in Job’s story, the ancient Jews did too.

In the third century BC, a Greek translation of the Old Testament was commissioned.  Because of the rampant Hellenization of the ancient world, many Jews could no longer read Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament was originally written, and so this work  of translating the Bible into Greek was undertaken so that people could read the Bible in their language.  The Septuagintal translation of Job is especially interesting because whoever translated it seems to have a love for resurrection!  Consider these passages:

  • Job 14:14:  Hebrew – “If a man dies, shall he live again?”  Greek – “If a man dies, he shall live!”
  • Job 19:26:  Hebrew – “After my skin has been thus destroyed…” Greek – “And to resurrect my skin upon the earth that endures these sufferings…”
  • Job 42:17:  The Greek Septuagint adds a line to this verse not in the Hebrew text:  “It is written of Job that he will rise again with those whom the Lord will raise.”

Clearly, the translator of Job believed in the resurrection!  Thus, the book of Job not only foretells Jesus’ resurrection in that famous line from Job 19, it foretells the resurrection of Job and all the faithful as well.  For because Christ has risen, we will rise!  In the words of the prophet Daniel:  “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).  For those who trust in Christ, we will be raised to everlasting life.  Because Christ has risen, we will rise.  The translator of Job knew and believed this.  I hope you do too.  For if you know and believe that your Redeemer lives, you can know and believe that you will live…forever.

April 22, 2011 at 7:36 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – So Many Translations, So Little Time

This past weekend, we reflected further on the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture in part two of our series “Inspire!”  In an effort to better understand the Bible we read, in ABC, I talked about some of the different philosophies which undergird different Bible translations.  I identified three different major types of translational philosophies:

  • Word-for-word translations seek to translate the ancient Hebrew and Greek of the biblical text word-for-word into English as far as possible.  They also try to translate the same Hebrew or Greek word consistently throughout the Scriptures, even when the context of a given verse might encourage a different translation of that word for the sake of style and ease of reading.  Indeed, word-for-word translations can often read clumsily since Greek and Hebrew syntax and sentence structure can vary widely from English syntax and sentence structure.
  • Thought-for-thought translations seek to take phrases or even sentences from the Hebrew and Greek biblical text and translate them according to the intent of the biblical authors using smooth, readable English.  This is helpful for understanding, but can also lead to misunderstandings because sometimes the biblical syntax, no matter how convoluted and confusing it may appear, is important to understanding the argument of a biblical writer.
  • Paraphrases consult other English translations of the Bible, along with some Greek and Hebrew texts as well, and then they paraphrase these other translations into contemporary, readable English.  Paraphrases are dangerous because they often explicitly, and sometimes even recklessly, reflect the theological biases of their paraphrasers.

With this brief review of translational philosophies in mind, I wanted to offer a couple of additional thoughts with regard to translating Scripture.

First, it is important to note that Bible translating is more of an art than a science.  Oftentimes, people will ask me what the best translation of the Bible is. The fact of the matter is, there is no one translation that I can recommend wholeheartedly as the “best” because, finally, Bible translating is an art!  This means that there are some translations of the NIV that I prefer while, in other places, I prefer an ESV or an NASB rendering.  In a couple of instances, the old KJV still carries the day for me!  This is why, rather than simply recommending a single translation, I encourage people to compare several translations, giving the benefit of the doubt to the word-for-word translations over the thought-for-thought ones, and then consulting a commentary to shed further light on the text.

Second, it is important to note that there is no such thing as a “literal” translation of the Bible.  Whether it is a word-for-word or a thought-for-thought translation, every translation involves some level of translator interpretation, especially when an ancient biblical text is especially ambiguous or when its idioms are unintelligible to the modern reader.  The example I gave in ABC last weekend comes from Acts 20:37 where, after Paul says his farewell to his beloved Ephesian congregation, and with much weeping and sadness, the Ephesians, according to a word-for-word translation of the Greek, “were throwing themselves upon the neck of Paul.”  Whoa!  I know the Ephesians were sad to see Paul leave, but they didn’t have to try to break his neck!  But this misunderstands the idiom.  Even the NASB, considered by many to be the most faithful word-for-word translation available, translates this verse, “They embraced Paul.”  And indeed, this is an appropriate translation.  For even if the NASB does not translate woodenly the ancient idiom, it does faithfully reflect the author’s intent in using the idiom.  Thus, to find a “literal” translation is neither possible nor is it always necessarily helpful.

Finally, I want to say a word about the use of inclusive language in many of today’s more recent translations.  There is a move afoot to replace traditional translations of words like “brothers” or “men” with more gender inclusive language like “brothers and sisters” and “people.”  Though this is certainly fine in some places (e.g., Matthew 5:19 in NIV 2011:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” rather than in NIV 1984: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”) it is dangerous in others.  One prime example comes in Psalm 8:4-6.  Consider the translation of NIV 1984:

What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; You put everything under his feet.

Here the Psalmist extols how God has made humankind the crowing glory of His creation and how He has given them dominion over the earth.  Notice that the Psalmist describes humankind collectively using the masculine singular pronouns “him” and “his” (see italics above).  In NIV 2011, because the Psalmist is referring to humankind collectively, the translators opted for the more generic plural pronouns “them” and “their.”  Two problems arise with this translation.  First, the Hebrew of the Psalm employs masculine singular pronouns.  Thus, it may behoove us to translate the pronouns as singular collectives since that is the way the Psalmist wrote his Psalm!  Second, the preacher of Hebrews picks up on the masculine singular pronouns of this Psalm and applies these pronouns to Jesus:

There is a place where someone has testified: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.”  In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:5-9)

Thus, the preacher of Hebrews sees this Psalm as referring not only to humankind generally, but also to Jesus singularly!  The Psalmist, writing some 1,000 years before Christ, prophecies concerning Christ!  To discard the masculine singular pronouns, then, in favor of more generic plural inclusive pronouns, obscures the Messianic character of this Psalm.  And that is a tragedy.  For Christ is the center of the Scriptures.  Thus, I tend to caution people against translations that commit themselves to inclusive language at the expense of Greek and Hebrew grammar and syntax.

So where does all this leave us?  To use a phrase coined by President Reagan, we should “trust, but verify.”  I advise people, with few exceptions, to generally trust the translations they read and not worry about missing a huge theological theme because of a faulty translation.  Reading any major translation, you will still discover the gospel that Christ has come to die on a cross in your place for your sins apart from anything you do.  No major doctrine of Christianity is compromised by any major translation.  However, I still encourage people to verify confusing or disputed passages by consulting other translations, commentaries, and their pastor.  This can help bring clarity and orthodoxy to some sticky passages.

So get to reading!  The people have God have spent a lot of time translating the Word of God.  And they’ve translated it so that the Word of God can be read and believed by you.

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March 7, 2011 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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