And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart and you shall teach [the lessons of the Scriptures] diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Redirection Explanation

I apologize, but my new site, http://thussaidthelord.com, is under repair. I expect it to be back online shortly. In the meantime, you may want to browse some of my older posts.

Blessings to you and yours,

Site Admin

Monday, October 10, 2011

Migrating to Another Site

I am moving this blog to a new site of the same name.

The new blog has a number of features I've wanted to incorporate for some time such as podcasts and static web pages for longer articles.
Please take a look at the new Thus Said the LORD.  You might be interested in several new entries:
  1. God to Parents: Teach Values Not Rules
  2. My New translation of the first creation story, Genesis 1:1-2:3
  3. Faith, Salvation, and Holiness
  4. The Still Small Voice of God?
  5. Do Not Covet Thy Neighbor's ..."
  6. Male Homosexuality and the Bible: It's not what you think
In addition, I have a new podcast available on iTunes or on the new website, here. And, an updated translation and commentary on the first creation story, Genesis 1:1-2:3.
Blessings to all,

Michael

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reflections on the "still, small voice"

In 1 Kings 19:12, the story of the mighty Yahweh speaking to His prophet Elijah in a "still small voice" in the aftermath of a great storm has stirred the imaginations of squishy clergy of all traditions. Much has been made of the contrast between the gentle God quelling Elijah's fears on Mr.Horeb, with the imposing God revealing himself to Israel on the same mountain. But to some, what is literary contrast is inconsistency and, where not explained, triggers skepticism. And nowhere, in neither the verse nor its context is this inconsistent view of God explained. As a consequence, the story has become an empty vessel into which countless clergy, Bible study teachers, and readers have read their own meaning into the story.
Let's take a closer look at this verse, 1 Kings 19:12, and see what's really going on. The RSV translates the verse as follows:
and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice
First some context. In this verse, the prophet Elijah is hiding in a cave hoping to escape Queen Jezebel who is out to kill him. Upon hearing the voice in the cave, Elijah runs to the entrance of the cave where God asks, "What are you here for, Elijah?". Elijah answers that he is hiding because his "zealousness for the LORD" as angered Queen Jezebel and much of Israel who now seek his death.

But is this how God intended this text to be understood? Does He really want to leave us with the impression that He sometimes presents Himself quietly, modestly, with subtlety. When we look at the Hebrew from which "a still small voice" is translated, qol d'mamah daqqah, we learn that the normal translation is problematic, to say the least. Consider:
  1. While the Hebrew word 'qol' can mean 'voice' or 'sound', it can also mean 'thunder' or 'thunderous voice' depending on context. When qol is used elsewhere in the Bible, notably in the context of a storm theophany (God appearing during a storm) qol is always translated as "thunderous voice" or "roaring sound". (e.g., Exodus 19:16). How reasonable is it that this text, a direct parallel to the storm theophany of Exodus, be translated as "small or quiet"?
  2. What about the other words? The Hebrew word mamah, translated as 'quiet', 'whisper', or 'still' actually stems from the Hebrew word damim meaning 'roared'. Likewise daqqah is often interpreted figuratively to mean small. But, the literal meaning of daqqah is to crush - which, of course, is a way of making big things small.
With these facts in mind, a better translation should surely suggest images of thunder, roaring, and crushing - anything but still, small, or quiet!  So, instead of a "still small voice", I would argue that the divine author meant for us to understand that upon hearing a roaring, thunderous voice Elijah covered his head in fear and ran out of the cave (1 Kings 19:13).  Here, now, is the new translation:
"and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a roaring, thunderous voice."
But, if this is all there is, so what? What theological difference does this make?

In this story, Elijah is (was) competing with the worshippers of Baal.  Where Baal speaks thunder, i.e., his voice is the thunder, God speaks thunderous words. The divine author is drawing a very clear, sharp contrast between Baal (thunder) and God (the maker of thunder). Where Baal was (is) the storm, God is the maker of the storm. Storms and fire and earthquake are gods to the worshippers of Baal, but these 'gods' are depicted in the Bible, and here in 1 Kings, as preceding our God. Moreover, our God speaks words and we listen, learn, and obey. Baal is simply thunder from which we flee or take cover. What a difference between worshipping the storm and the Maker of the storm - between worshipping the creature and the Creator!

Now, go and study

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Is God Moral, Immoral, or Amoral?

An assistant professor of religion at Augustana College, Dr. John Anderson
deals with a spate of new books that have recently been published that asks
this question. The comments are pretty good, also. I strongly urge you to
read his post
<http://hesedweemet.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/is-god-moral-immoral-or-amoral/
> .

As you read his post and the comments, keep in mind that distinction between
what is moral and what is ethical. We often conflate the two. Here's the
bottom line:

Suppose God establishes truth as a moral value. An immoral
person is one who rejects truth as a moral value. Now, suppose Jim believes
in, and values, truth. If Jim were to lie, that would make him unethical,
but not necessarily immoral.

Ethics is simply a list of accepted behaviors that reflect
underlying moral values. However, in the presence of competing moral
values, there is no ethical solution possible if the values are not
prioritized. In the Bible, life is valued more highly than truth. That is
why it is both ethical to lie in order to save the life of another and that
is why it is unethical to tell the truth knowing you are condemning an
innocent person to death.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

PART I: Michelle Bachmann and Ephesians 5:21

During the Republican debate Thursday evening, Michelle Bachmann had this exchange with Byron York (Washington Examiner):

York:
[In 2006 you remarked that your]  "husband said you should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea. And then you explained, 'But the Lord said, 'Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands. As president, would you be submissive to your husband?"

Bachmann:
"Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10. I'm in love with him. I'm so proud of him. What submission means to us, it means respect. I respect my husband. He's a wonderful godly man and great father. He respects me as his wife; that's how we operate our marriage," she continued. "We respect each other; we love each other. I've been so grateful we've been able to build a home together. We have wonderful children and 20 foster children. We've built a business and life together, and I'm very proud of him."

She was probably referring to Ephod 5:21-22. Here's how the NRS renders these verses:

(21)Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. (22) Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the LORD.

In the NLT, NIV, NAS, NET, and the NKJ  the word in question is rendered as submit as, for example, in the NIV's version

(21) Submit to one another out of reverence for the Christ. (22) Wives, submit to your husbands as to the LORD.

In Ephesians 5, the word in question is ὑποτασσω  -- is literally translated as  "subjecting yourselves" (ASIDE: In verse 5:22 the Greek word in question does not appear in some Greek manuscripts. However, most (all?) Bible translators believe the word is implied and add it to the text anyway). Further, in 1 Peter 2:18, slaves are admonished to ὑποτασσω to their masters – even when their masters are cruel and inhumane. Finally, 1 Cor 14:34 seems just as harsh in that women (not just wives) are to keep silent in the churches "for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says.

I have two questions for you:  Is Ms. Bachmann correct -- would ὑποτασσω be better translated as 'respect' rather than 'submit'? Is there a meaningful difference between 'respect' and 'submit' in these texts?

I'll provide my own thoughts in a subsequent post.

Now, go and study.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Achieving Holiness

Reflect on this syllogism
  • Faith is necessary for salvation.
  • Faithfulness is the proper expression of faith.
  • Obedience is the proper expression of faithfulness.
Therefore, obedience is necessary for salvation.

Obedience

Obedience is  amoral. It is neither good nor bad. Rather, obedience  is a means to an end. When the guards at the Nazi death camps obeyed their orders to slaughter thousands of Jewish men, women, and children their obedience led to an indescribable  evil. On the other hand, obedience to God’s command to help the poor leads to righteousness (2 Cor 9:9 as quoted from Psalm 112:9).  In other words, when, at the end of days, we stand before God, the Judge, He doesn’t ask “Did you obey me”. Instead,  He asks, “were you faithful to me?” This is very close to what consumed St. Paul in Romans. According to St. Paul, obedience in the service of God’s will is the proper expression of faith.

What many of us forget is that the Hebrew word for faith, aman and its derivatives, was understood by the Jews of Jesus’s day to mean trust.  To Jesus faithfulness meant abiding by the tenets of the faith.  I remember when I taught my daughters to swim, I first had to gain their trust. When I asked them to jump into my arms from the side of the pool, they only did so because they trusted (had faith in) me. Were I not to have caught them their faith in me would have been compromised. I would have broken their faith.

In Jesus’s day faith and obedience were largely inseparable. Jesus and His contemporaries viewed a person’s outward behavior as the expression of the person’s interior faith (Matt 7:16, James 2:14-26). This is not the case today. western philosophy has largely disconnected faith from obedience. To we moderns, faith has become  an interior, spiritual quality more related to piety and less related to fidelity. This is especially true in much of contemporary Christianity where faith connotes a relation to God  contingent largely on His saving grace. Thus, Many Christian pastors spend an enormous amount of time talking about faith in God and little or no time about being faithful to God. This is regretable, because being faithful is what merits God’s grace.

Just to be more specific: faith in God means being faithful to God. To be faithful to God is to live by God’s rules, not our own.  Thus, St. Paul was correct. We are not, strictly speaking, saved by obedience. We are saved by our faith in God as demonstrated by being faithful Him. According to all the great teachers in the Bible -- Moses, the prophets, Jesus, St. Paul and the Apostles --  being faithful to God means that you strive to obey His commands! Thus, to consciously disobey a divine command is to break faith with God (Numbers 5:6, Deut 32:51, Ezra 10:2, etc.,). On the other hand, to fall short of God’s standard is not a sign of faithlessness, it’s a sign of humanness – Remember, God will not ask you on judgment day, “Did you obey me?”. He will ask,  “Were you faithful to me?”.  In other words, trying to live by God’s ethics and moral values is what counts because it is faithfulness  to God that counts.

Holiness
Finally, it turns out that there is are two purposes behind the LORD’s requirement that we be faithful to His commands. The first is to perfect the world (Micah 6:8). The second, and the subject of this essay, is to achieve holiness. Now, holiness has nothing whatsoever to do with piety, reverence, and high liturgies,  or  shouting hallelujahs so that all might hear. In God’s view, to be holy means to be “set apart” or “sanctified”.  Being faithful to God was, and still is, the path to holiness. This idea was well understood by Jesus and His apostles. As St. Peter wrote (quoting God in Lev 11:45)

For it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)
For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy (Lev 11:45)

Here, St. Peter meant to remind the faithful they were to set themselves apart from the rest of the surrounding  pagan cultures. To accomplish this command, believers were to conduct their lives in ways faithfully to the law, the prophets, and most importantly, to Jesus. Faithfulness was (and is) the path to holiness.

Now, go and study,

Thursday, May 19, 2011

To Covet

The word 'covet' is probably best known from the Biblical commandment "Thou shalt not covet ...". Or, in more contemporary terms, "Do not envy your neighbor's possessions".

But is this what it really means?

In Hebrew the word, translated as 'covet' is tach'mode (sounds like 'ch' as in Bach), the meaning of which is closely related to ‘take’ or ‘choose’. Moreover, whether tach'mode is good or bad depends on how or what one tach'modes. For example, tach'mode can be used in a negative sense…
  • to use-without-permission or to use-surreptitiously (Exodus 34:24)
  • to take-, to borrow-, or to command-without-authority (Proverbs 12:12)
... or in a morally neutral sense
  • to choose (Psalm 68:17)
To better understand the meaning of tach'mode, let's examine the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:17) without translating the word in question:
  • Do not tach'mode the house of your neighbor. Do not tach'mode the wife of your neighbor or his servant or his house-maid or his oxen or his donkey or anything that belongs to him.
In Holladay's "Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament", tach'mode is described as "try to acquire", i.e., an overt, active attempt to take possession for one's personal use. This is quite different. According to Holladay, tach'mode describes an action, not an emotion.   For example, let's look at two contemporary examples of prohibited tach'mode:
  1. When the parents go away for the weekend, the teenage son invites his friends over for a kegger (Do not tach'mode thy parent's house).
  2. When the husband of an attractive woman leaves on a business trip, his friend invites the wife over for dinner with the hopes of seducing her (Do not tach'mode thy neighbor's wife).
In the first example, tach'mode refers to using the parent's house against his parent's wishes. In the second example, tach'mode refers to a willful act in the hope of satisfying a [lustful] desire. We see this acted out in the story of David and Bathsheba.  David violates the ninth commandment when he invites Bathsheba to his palace knowing she was married. The invitation violates the 9th commandment and he subsequently violates the 8th commandment when he has sexual intercourse with her. But, in neither example is the motivation behind the wrongful act in view.

How did this mistranslation come about? One possible explanation (and there are many) might be because of the way in which the Hebrew was translated into Greek when the Septuagint (LXX) was written. In the LXX, the Hebrew words  tach'mode and ivah are translated with the same word, pithymeo. However, unlike tach'mode, ivah really does mean covet, lust after, or strongly desire. In other words, ivah is the motivation for committing tach'mode, but only tach'mode is prohibited.
In this case, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text makes no distinction between acting on one's strong desires and the strong desires! And, since the LXX was the Bible used by the earliest Christians (and all the Greek Jews) including Paul and the Apostles, it's little wonder that this [mis]understanding was carried forward in virtually all of the English Bibles we have available to us today.

Here, then, is my translation (what the ancient Hebrew listener would have understood) of the ninth commandment:
  • Do not use the house of your neighbor without his permission. Do not command the wife of your neighbor. Do not command his servant or his house-maid or his oxen or his donkey or anything that belongs to him without his permission.
More generally, this commandment can be enlarged to an admonition against taking advantage of those who are not in a position to refuse. To do so is akin to theft.
As the late Paul Harvey used to say, "Now you know the rest of the story."

(Full credit to Dr. Joel Hoffmam for a  much more detailed explanation of this (and other) mistranslation(s), in his book, And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning)