When God Spoke Greek… Did We Forget Who “God” Was?

I find myself conflicted when it comes to the Septuagint. I’m sympathetic to recent arguments in favor of the Septuagint’s importance, particularly in light of the early Christian community [see Timothy Michael Law’s excellent book When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Hebrew Bible]. However, I don’t know what to make of the ways in which the LXX seemingly whitewashes some of the more robust (read: not-Hellenized) theological descriptions found in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.

A few examples:

Genesis 6:6
The LXX usually translates the Hebrew nhm (repent, change one’s mind, regret) with the Greek term metanoeo or metamelomai, but here it avoids both of these verbs and reads “And God considered that he had made man.” As Wevers observes in his Notes on the Greek Text of Genesis, the author “obviously softened the anthropopathic metaphors of the Hebrew and has God, rather than reacting emotionally to man’s evil condition, concentrating on what he will do to rectify the situation.”

Exodus 32:12, 14
A similar phenomenon happens in another classic “divine repentance” text – Exodus 32. Verse 12 changes from the Hebrew “repent of the evil against your people” to the Greek “be merciful concerning this evil” while v. 14 changes from the Hebrew “YHWH repented of the evil which he spoke to do to his people” to the Greek “the Lord was propitiated concerning the evil he said he would do to his people.” (Translations from Victory P. Hamilton in The Book of Genesis, NICOT)

Job 13:15, 14:14
The LXX of Job contains significant interpretive revisions from the Hebrew text (see D. Gard, The Exegetical Method of the Greek Translator of the Book of Job). Job 13:15 transforms from the Hebrew “He may well slay me, I have no hope” (NJPS) to the Greek “Though the Mighty One lay hand on me, since he has already begun, I will speak and plead before him” while Job 14:14 transforms from the Hebrew “If a man dies, will he live again?” to the Greek “If a man dies, he will live again!”

Should Christian theological reflection take the Hebrew texts seriously?
More seriously than the LXX texts?

Meet Jimmy…

Well, I finally convinced my husband Jimmy (@fakejimmy) to be a guest contributor here at Cataclysmic!  While he won’t be one of the regular Cataclysmic bloggers, he will be posting every now and then on his favorite subjects: linguistics and Biblical Greek.  Below is a short bio to help you get to know Jimmy:

jimJimmy Parks is a graduate of Houston Baptist University (MA in Biblical Languages) and will be pursing a PhD in the near future.  Jimmy currently works at a Maternal-Fetal Medicine office where he spends his lunch breaks reading Septuagintal Greek.  He also works as a student grader and occasionally substitutes for Greek, Hebrew, and Linguistics classes at HBU and SWBTS. During the summer he enjoys teaching Greek grammar classes at a local prison.  He is a deacon at First Colony Christian Church (Sugar Land, TX).  Jimmy is married to Jessica and they have two dogs – Charlie and Parker.

Jimmy is interested in Biblical Languages and Linguistics.  He loves reading books about language and the brain and is especially interested in how humans process language.

His first post will be up later this week so stay tuned!

Biblical Studies Carnival XCIV: December 2013

‘Twas the night before the new year when all through the house,
not a creature was stirring… except me and my laptop’s mouse.
Smart phones and iPads were set by the nightstand with care,
with hopes that the Biblical Studies Carnival would soon be there.

The bibliobloggers were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of end-of-the-year top ten lists danced in their heads.
And professors, students, bloggers, and more,
had just settled their brains for a two-week to month-long snore…
except for grad students because everyone knows we never sleep.

Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2014, the year we all finally keep our new year’s resolutions… here’s hoping! Before we take a look back at December and all the bloggy goodness it contained, I wanted to remind you of the most exciting thing happening in 2014:

Houston Baptist University is hosting a conference on “Paul and Judaism” on March 19-20, 2014. Our keynote speakers include N.T. Wright (St Andrews University)Beverly Gaventa (Baylor University), and Ross Wagner (Duke Divinity School).

In addition to the keynote speakers, we are inviting papers in the area of Paul and Judaism, representing a variety of approaches from scholars and graduate students. Participants will have 30 minutes to present papers (inclusive of Q&A). Please submit a 200-300 word abstract to Dr. Ben C. Blackwell at bblackwell[at]hbu.edu by January 15, 2014, and you should receive notification regarding acceptance by January 31. Registration by February 15 is required for those who will present at the conference.

For more info: www.hbu.edu/theologyconference

This conference is going to be AWESOME so be sure to get your paper submissions in by January 15th and/or register for the conference!  Hope to see y’all there.

Now, on to the feast of December blog posts!

Advent, Christmas, and the Incarnation
Since this month’s carnival covers December it seems natural to start off with a sampling of Christmas-themed posts.

“One item of folk religion is the belief among Christians that the incarnation was temporary—a mere interim and perhaps even a charade in the life of the Son of God, God’s Word, the Logos. For many evangelicals (and others, I suspect), the incarnation was simply the Son of God ‘putting on human skin’ for thirty-some years in order to teach us how to please God and then to die for our sins. Either at the moment of his death or at his resurrection or at his ascension he shed that human skin and returned to his glorious pre-incarnation existence as God’s purely spiritual Son in heaven who also, somehow, dwells in every Christian’s heart.

This is, of course, an informal form of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. It is a docetic Christology. Most of the time I find that people who believe the incarnation was temporary don’t really believe in the incarnation at all! That is, they tend to think of Jesus’ humanity as an act, an outward performance, not a real human nature and existence like ours. To many Christians ‘Jesus’ was Clark Kent to the Son of God’s super-human glory.”

ANE, Hebrew Bible, OT Theology, and More

LXX, DSS, Apocrypha and More

New Testament, NT Theology, and More

Early Christianity and Patristics

Hermeneutics

Language, Linguistics, Textual Criticism, and Translation

“I say to my students, ‘Check your sources.’ I tell them,
‘Look up the works in the footnotes and read them.’ I warn them to get beyond the slogans and labels of ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ or ‘evangelical’ or whatever and to discover the substance of the argument. In this day of uncounted online ‘“news’ sources (not to mention on air news sources), many of which are propaganda for various positions and/or sensationalism, some of which being not just junk but worse than junk, this admonition is even more important than it has been in the past.

Archaeology

The “I wasn’t sure where to put it but you should definitely read it” Category

“One of the differences between ‘theology’ and ‘religious studies’ is that theology is carried out from within the perspective of the believer, while religious studies takes a strictly historical/sociological perspective. I am enrolled in a theological program: perhaps this is why my immediate response to learning of this theologian’s persistent sinful patterns of behavior was to question whether and how it reflected on the value of his theology. It seems a screamingly obvious question to me.”

Book Reviews
Good heavens, December was the month of book reviews!

The Biblical Studies Carnivals of 2013
Since it is the end of another year, I thought I’d include a link to all of the previous Biblical Studies Carnivals of 2013 compiled by The Biblioblog Top 50.

Peter Kirby has the Top 50 Biblioblogs Winter Report at his blog and Abram K-J has the Septuagint Studies Soirée #5.

And of course, Jim West is hosting his ‘Wright Free Zone’ carnivalat his blog… but is a carnival without Wright really a carnival at all?  We here at Cataclysmic love us some N.T. Wright… well, most of us (wink, wink)… so to start off the new year with lots of joy, here’s Tom-foolery: 12 Epic Facts About N.T. Wright from Out of Ur.

The next Biblical Studies Carnival (Jan 14, Due Feb 1) will be hosted by Brian Renshaw at NT Exegesis.  See y’all ’round the blogosphere!

In Which I Disagree With Mark Driscoll (and it has little to do with women)

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill recently posted a blog over at The Resurgence on Why Mars Hill uses the ESV Bible. He starts with 6 theological reasons behind choosing the ESV (or why the ESV is the King of all Bibles).

I have my own qualms with the ESV (one of which he mentions, although he sees it as a plus) but I do own an ESV bible and use it at times when I need to read an English text. I consider it to be one among many readable translations. However, I found Driscoll’s six theological reasons for choosing the ESV highly problematic from a linguistic perspective.

What Driscoll puts forward as obvious truths I see as common misconceptions concerning Bible translation, interpretation, and hermeneutics that I hear quite often in the church.  The original post is rather long so I won’t quote it all here, but I did want to take a look at Driscoll’s third point and his reasoning behind it.

“The ESV upholds the truth that words carry meaning

Some scholars will argue that thought-for-thought and paraphrase translations do not change the meaning of Scripture, just the words of Scripture in an effort to clarify the meaning of Scripture. But this reasoning is misguided because meaning is carried in words. So when we change the words of Scripture, we are changing the meaning of Scripture.

There are a couple of problems with Driscoll’s reasoning here.  For one, linguists and other language scholars have argued the very opposite — that meaning is not carried in words.  I learned early on in my language studies that “words don’t have meaning.”

Fellow HBU graduate Kris Lyle has a great post (go read it!) on this very subject – Do words have meanings?  Kris points out the importance of CONTEXT in determining meaning because words do not come “pre-packaged” with meanings.  Linguistic research, particularly in the areas of semantics and pragmatics, has corrected this false idea that “meaning is carried in words.”

Kris provides a great excerpt from an article by linguist Vyvyan Evans (Evans, V. “Lexical concepts, cognitive models and meaning-construction,” Cognitive Linguistics 17:4 [2006], p. 492):

“That is, the ‘meaning’ associated with a word in any given utterance appears to be, in part, a function of the particular linguistic context in which it is embedded. Put another way, word ‘meaning’ is protean, its semantic contribution sensitive to and dependent on the context which it, in part, gives rise to (Croft 2000).

To illustrate consider the following ‘meanings’ of fast.

(1)   a. That parked BMW is a fast car.

b. That car is travelling fast.

c. That doddery old man is a fast driver.

d. That’s the fast lane (of the motorway).

In each of these examples the semantic contribution of fast, what I will later refer to as its informational characterisation, is somewhat different. In (1a) fast has to do with the potential for rapid locomotion. In (1b) it has to do with rapid locomotion. In (1c) it relates to ‘caused’ motion beyond an established norm: a speed limit. And in (1d) fast concerns a venue for rapid locomotion. Examples such as these show that the view of open class words, as possessing fixed meanings, is untenable on closer scrutiny. The precise semantic contribution of any word is a function of the utterance context in which it is embedded, and, moreover, the sorts of (conceptual) knowledge these lexical entities provide access to, as I shall argue in detail. In other words, words don’t have ‘meanings’ in and of themselves. Rather meaning is a function of the utterance in which a word is embedded, and the complex processes of lexical concept integration, an issue which is developed below.

Second, Driscoll argues that thought-for-thought translation changes the words and meaning of scripture by adding additional interpretation and commentary whereas a word-for-word translation does not.  Earlier in his post, Driscolls writes:

“A word-for-word translation (like the ESV) best enables this to occur by seeking, as much as possible, not to insert interpretive commentary into the translated text of Scripture.”

The problem here is that there simply isn’t an exact one-for-one correspondence between languages.  What I mean is, there isn’t one word in Greek that is perfectly and always represented by another word in English.  It is inaccurate to say that δικαιοσυνη means ‘righteousness’.  What we can say is that ‘righteousness’ is one of the English words that we can use in some instances to represent the Greek word δικαιοσυνη (depending on the context!)  Choosing a word from one language to represent a word from another language always involves a choice.  The truth is all translation involves interpretation, whether you employ a formal equivalency method (which Driscoll assumes is almost completely devoid of interpretation or commentary) or a dynamic equivalency method.  Formal equivalency translation seeks to represent as closely as possible the grammar and syntax of the original Greek or Hebrew while dynamic equivalency is concerned with representing the meaning or intention behind the original Greek or Hebrew as closely as possible.  (It’s interesting to see that both methods were employed by translators of the LXX throughout different books of the Hebrew Bible!).

In many conservative circles formal equivalency is often seen as ‘pure’ and ‘more accurate’ while dynamic equivalency is seen as ‘muddied’ and ‘less accurate’.  The truth is both methods have their strengths and weaknesses and both methods involve interpretation.

I imagine Driscoll’s post could generate a lot of discussion on Bible translation and the nature of language and it’s unfortunate that the blog does not allow comments.  What about you?  Did you find Driscoll’s reasons convincing?  Why or why not?  Is a word-for-word translation better than a thought-for-thought translation?