Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Biblical Profanity

Over the past few years, I've begun to come to the conclusion that the translators who bring the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English have skewed their results sometimes according to their own sensibilities rather than accurately portraying what the text says.

One such case is in Philipians 3:8, wherein Paul is claiming that in contrast to the value of knowing Christ Jesus, all other things are "rubbish".

This word "rubbish" (skuvbalon) seems to be a sanitized version of what the actual word means. Here's a summary from Daniel B. Wallace:
That skuvbalon took on the nuance of a vulgar expression with emotive connotations (thus, roughly equivalent to the English “crap, s**t”) is probable in light of the following considerations: (1) its paucity of usage in Greek literature (“Only with hesitation does literature seem to have adopted it from popular speech” says Lang in TDNT 7:445); (2) it is used frequently in emotionally charged contexts (as are its verbal cognates) in which the author wishes to invoke revulsion in his audience; (3) there is evidence that there were other, more common and more acceptable terms referring to the same thing (in particular, the agricultural term koprov and the medical term perivsswma); (4) diachronically, the shock value of the term seems to have worn off through the centuries; and (5) a natural transfer of the literal to a metaphorical usage, in which disgust, revulsion, or worthlessness are still in view, argues for this meaning as well. Nevertheless, that its shock value was not fully what “s**t” would be is suggested in the fact that in the Hellenistic period (c. 330 BCE-330 CE) the word was also used on occasion for “gleanings” or “table scraps.”

(From http://bible.org/article/brief-word-study-skuvbalon - Go read the entire article for a fuller treatment)
In other words, it appears that the word which God inspired is somewhere between "crap" and "sh*t".

Offends our sensibilities, doesn't it? But if it's true (and it seems to be), it is what it is.

The Church's Educational Responsibility

A year or so I came across this passage:
He ... must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
-- Ephesians 4:28
More recently I came across this one:
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
-- 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
It seems to me that a fundamental goal of Christian maturity is to have the necessary resources to:

1) not be a burden on other people,


2) to help relieve the burdens other people have.

I think it may be time for the church to start providing its members with the resources to do these two things. That means encouraging young people to finish school and get a college education, and to avoid derailments of those plans (like getting pregnant or dropping out), and to finance education of those who missed their first opportunity while young, and perhaps to even provide career counseling.

Many of my church peers would scoff at such a notion, believing that the business of the church is to "spread the Gospel", and not to get wrapped up in "social issues". But if I'm reading those passages above correctly, I think it may be time to at least start thinking in these directions.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

One nation! Under God! Indivisible?!

There's a lot of discussion about the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. I have no qualm with that phrase. I would, however, be disturbed for it to be removed, for no matter how often the claim is made that "God is dead", I'm convinced He is alive and well and in control, and the nation that acknowledges Him will be blessed above the one that does not.

But I can't recite the Pledge as it is commonly known. I have a problem with the phrase "indivisible".

The very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, which is the basis for the very existence of the United States of America, emphasizes this right to separate. It says:
When ... it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them ... and to assume ... the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, [it's only respectful to say why].
And then the next paragraph states that when government gets too big for its britches,
it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government....
The War of Northern Aggression (aka The War Between the States, aka The Civil War) was fought over this very principle (the issue of slavery was just the trigger). The South had had enough, and had dissolved the political bands with their Northern brethren, but the North illegally forced, at gunpoint, the South to remain.

In this war, the South was doing the exact same thing the original 13 Colonies had done almost a hundred years earlier, and the North was doing the exact same thing the English had done. The only difference was that in the latter war, the captors won and Freedom, Independence, was lost.

History is written by the victors, and so are cultural bindings such as the Pledge of Allegiance; thus we have the phrase. But I'm standing on the founding principles of the United States of America. Thus I recite:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
We're still one nation; that's how I prefer it. But the nation is legally not "indivisible".

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Be One

All Paul is saying is to meet each others' needs. He's not saying no one can ever say "no", or even that your husband has control of your body. He's saying that your body is his, and his is yours, and that you are "one". The Hebrew word behind this concept is "echad"; it's the same word used in the Shema, which observant Jews recite every day: "Hear, Oh Israel! YHWH is God; YHWH is one!" (although they substitute "Lord", Adonai, for the actual God-given textual rendering of YHWH). The first time this word is used, it is used to join the evening and the morning into a complete whole, Day Echad. The next time it is used, it is used to join a man and a woman into an Echad flesh. Yahshua declared himself and YHWH to be Echad.

The ideal is that a husband and wife are Echad, One, and that what pleases one should please the other. If you don't have that with your husband, sex ain't gonna fix it, and the lack of sex ain't gonna hurt it.
Notes in a private message concerning 1 Corinthians 7.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Confess Your Sins One to Another

James 5:16 says:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
Two things:

1) It does not say, "Confess your sins to the whole church", although I believe that when the sin is public, the confession should be public. Rather it says confess your sins "to one another"; perhaps the implication is that we should have one-on-one relationships in which we feel comfortable opening up to each other totally; you can't do that with a large group; you can do that with one, maybe two or three, intimate friends. I think there may be an important psychologically-healthy injunction here.

2) It does not say, "Confess that you have sinned" to one another. Rather, it says, "Confess your sins". It seems to me that we are short-circuiting the Biblical healing process when we go before the church and say, "I've sinned, please pray for me", when what we should say is, "I've sinned by X, please pray for me".

For example, let's say I cussed out the check-out girl at the store as I bought condoms in preparation for a night with a prostitute. The next Sunday morning I go forward and confess, "I've sinned, please pray for me". Should the church assume I'm repenting of abusing the check-out girl, or for fornicating, or both, or neither? For the forgiveness of which sin(s) should the church pray?

Maybe I'm wrong. Wouldn't be the first time.