Saturday, February 28, 2015

Whence the view that words have innate power?

"According to a number of biblical scholars the spoken word in ancient Israel 'is never an empty sound but an operative reality whose action cannot be hindered once it has been pronounced'" (Thiselton on Hermeneutics, p. 53; the quoted material is from Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament, 1958). He provides a list of authors, including Jacob, von Rad, Zimmerli, Eichrodt, Ringgren, Knight, even Bultmann!

I don't know about you, but that list includes most of the people on my Old Testament Theology bibliography from when I took it in 1983. No wonder I adopted the idea that words have innate power! It was in the air I breathed. But that doesn't make it right...

"What are we to say about such an attitude towards language and words? Von Rad implies that this primitive outlook offers a positively richer view of language than that found in modern Western culture. He comments, 'One could ask whether language has not become impoverished because it has lost functions which at an earlier cultural level had once belonged to it.' (von Rod Old Testament Theology 2:81)...But the verdict forced upon us by modern general linguistics since the work of Saussure is that far from being 'richer', such a view of words is simply wrong." (Thiselton, 56–57)
Thiselton proceeds to lay out four criticisms (58–66), but I'm only going to mention two of them: the second and third. You'll have to read the article/chapter for yourself to get the other two : )
The nature of the second problem has not, it seems, been clearly recognized. Arguments are put forward about the nature of words in general on the basis of passages which speak not about words as such but about words which have been uttered usually by a god or sometimes by a king or a prophet. But such arguments break down if words that have been spoken by Yahweh, or by Marduk, or by Atum or Khnum, are in practice regarded as 'power-laden' not because of the supposed nature of words in general, but precisely because these words proceed from the mouth of a god. We suggest that a generalizing argument has misleadingly been put forward on the basis of selected paradigms of a very special nature. (p. 60, emphasis original)
Did you catch that? Most of the examples usually cited for the innate/magical power of words in the ancient world and the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament were spoken either by gods or by people in authority who could give substance to the words. Yep, that's right. They had the power to make them stick. The words had a derived authority, not an innate one.

The third criticism has to do with what is called speech act theory (you'll have to look that one up on your own; it's way too involved to explain right now!). Here's what he says about blessings and curses specifically, since that is what triggered this whole excursion in the first place:

First, most writers stress that the effectiveness of blessing and cursing depends in a large measure both on the strength and status of the speaker who pronounces the blessing, and also on the receptivity of the person who is being blessed. In other words, the 'power' of the pronouncement is by no means automatic. Indeed, Murtonen believes that the reason why Isaac did not try to recall his blessing from Jacob was not because of word-magic, but because, on the one hand, he believed that Jacob rather than Esau had 'ability to hold what was promised to him', and on the other hand, already 'God himself was called upon as the final authority.' Thus Murtonen convincingly argues that a supposition about word-magic 'does not seem necessary' (Murtonen, VT 9 [1959], 158–77). (Thiselton, p. 63)
I'm not sure I buy Murtonen's explanation, but that isn't the point, as Thiselton says. What matters is that falling back to the magical power of words isn't necessary. Here's another extended quotation:
Seen from one viewpoint, a blessing is supposedly power-laden if and when it is the blessing of God. But even if we leave theological beliefs in Israel out of account, we are still left with the concept of blessings and cursings as performative utterance which do things on the basis of conventional procedures in which the appropriate persons take part. Pronouncements by prophets or kings may now be seen in this double light. They are effective because they are spoken by someone in authority, and may often take the form of performative utterance. (p. 64)
And a final parting shot, "The words themselves effect an award, a sentence, or a commitment. But they no more depend on primitive notions of word-magic than a modern judge and jury do when their words actually consign a man to prison or to freedom." (p. 64, emphasis original)

I think that last line sums it all up. Words do have power, no doubt about it. But they do not have innate or magical power. Their power is because of who spoke them and context in which they were spoken.

Friday, February 27, 2015

I like this

I'm editing a discourse handbook right now and ran across this little gem:
James provides an important qualification to the type of faith he is referring to with the phrase ἐὰν μὴ ἔχῃ ἔργα (if it does not have works). Though one could argue that this qualification is unnecessary—since he goes on to say "faith … by itself"—the nature of the content is not completely redundant: it adds more precision and leaves no room for mistaking which type of faith he is talking about. It is important to note—and though perhaps often overlooked—that James does not compare faith and works. He compares two different types of faith: on the one hand "a faith with works", and, on the other "a faith without works."
<idle musing>
An often overlooked fact...I know I'm guilty!

No, I can't link to the book right now because it doesn't have one!
</idle musing>

Name it! Claim it!

Wow! James was a real Word of Faith preacher (2:15-16a):
ἐὰν ἀδελφὸς ἢ ἀδελφὴ γυμνοὶ ὑπάρχωσιν καὶ λειπόμενοι τῆς ἐφημέρου τροφῆς εἴπῃ δέ τις αὐτοῖς ἐξ ὑμῶν· ὑπάγετε ἐν εἰρήνῃ, θερμαίνεσθε καὶ χορτάζεσθε...

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill” (NRSV)

What would a real Word of Faith preacher say as the final apodosis? Of course, he would say, νόμον τελεῖτε βασιλικὸν κατὰ τὴν γραφήν· ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν (2:8)

[You] fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (NRSV)

Right? Isn't that what you expect? I've heard it. So have you.

But what does James really say? Not that! Here it is:
μὴ δῶτε δὲ αὐτοῖς τὰ ἐπιτήδεια τοῦ σώματος, τί τὸ ὄφελος;

and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? (NRSV)

Personally, I would prefer to translate it, "What's the use?"

Yep. James was a real Word of Faith preacher...

Such a choice

In order to counteract problems of this type [a curse being directed against you], a person had two management options. First, he or she could consign the rābiṣu to an associate demon that is equally “evil.” Because two negative beings, both hostile to life, naturally nullify each other, then the result enhances existence. It cuts off the evil and creates a blessing. A “medical text” from the same period affirms the notion…

The second strategy petitioned a deity who had power over these beings. The suppliant in the above “medical text” prays to Dumuzi: ‘Separate me from the Sentry, an evil demon who has attached itself to me to cut off my life’. A petitioner in another Neo-Assyrian text pleads with Marduk to eliminate a stalking ghost in the following manner: ‘Drive it away from my body, cut it off from my body, remove it from my body!’ Here a positive force, Marduk, is to attack a negative force, the ghost, by severing it from the victim’s person.— Cursed Are You!, pages 334–35

<idle musing>
Not exactly my idea of great options. No wonder Christianity had such an appeal...
</idle musing>

Speaking of marriage

For our marriage, God’s grace is there when we need it. We have both changed so much in the last 35 years that I can only thank the Lord. Forgiving each other helps. Forgiveness is the key to building and maintaining a healthy relationship. God gives us the grace to survive the many difficulties.— This Day We Fight!, page 103

<idle musing>
Disclaimer: This book is full of bad theology and American Exceptionalism. I don't recommend it at all! It was written shortly after 9/11/2001 and reflects the reigning sentiments of that time (when the church failed dramatically to stand up for peace and reconciliation, sadly). But, it does have a few good lines, so I'll be putting those up over the next few days.
</idle musing>

As much as it might hurt...

I have had lively debates with friends over questions like “Should a cheating spouse tell their spouse what they have done if they have the help they need? Won’t it preserve the family if the spouse doesn’t know?” The reality is that the truth must be told, not just to a pastor or accountability partner but also to the spouse whose trust was betrayed. Without honesty, the trust in any relationship isn’t real! Confessing our sins allows us to build authentic trust that leads to true intimacy.

Some might reply: “But I will create a huge mess by letting the wronged parties know about my sin. Aaron, your Swatch story is child’s play compared to the mess I would make and the people I would hurt.”

The key is to understand that, as Andy Stanley said, “confession doesn’t hurt people, sin and concealment hurt people.”—What’s Your Secret? pages 68-69

<idle musing>
As much as it might hurt, he's right. There was a line by Billy Crystal in City Slickers. His macho buddy was giving hypothetical situations where sex outside of marriage might be ok. He creates a real whopper: some alien comes to earth and wants to have sex with him. No one will ever know; the alien will step off the spaceship, then back on without detection. Billy Crystal's response was excellent, "I'll know." That sums it up.

You will know. It will haunt you and overshadow your life. Unconfessed sin always does... (No, I haven't sinned against my wife sexually, but I've done sinful and hurtful things against her and tried to keep them secret. It doesn't work...)
</idle musing>

The Messianic age

Righteousness and faithfulness, peace and security: these are the traits of the Messianic age. In 11:10–11 Isaiah extends these benefits beyond Israel to the Gentiles; he internationalizes the messianic peace.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 158

Reality begs to differ

The clash of the prophets was between the ideal and the actual. The people to whom they brought the message believed they were okay. They bought into the idea that if they had pleasant thoughts everything would be all right. Indeed, such is the case today. If you keep positive thoughts in your mind, so we are told, you will have a positive outcome in your life. Nobody wants a prophet to come and bring reality into his or her life.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 181

Wow! Just wow!

Wow! I just saw an abstract of an article by Udo Schnelle about early Christianity, with thanks to Evangelical Textual Criticism for the link. Unfortunately it is behind a pay wall so I can't get the full details, but it is sure to stir up a controversy.

Here's the extract. The article is entitled Das frühe Christentum und die Bildung (roughly translated Early Christianity and Culture):

Early Christianity is often regarded as an entirely lower-class phenomenon, and thus characterised by a low educational and cultural level. This view is false for several reasons. (1) When dealing with the ancient world, inferences cannot be made from the social class to which one belongs to one's educational and cultural level. (2) We may confidently state that in the early Christian urban congregations more than 50 per cent of the members could read and write at an acceptable level. (3) Socialisation within the early congregations occurred mainly through education and literature. No religious figure before (or after) Jesus Christ became so quickly and comprehensively the subject of written texts! (4) The early Christians emerged as a creative and thoughtful literary movement. They read the Old Testament in a new context, they created new literary genres (gospels) and reformed existing genres (the Pauline letters, miracle stories, parables). (5) From the very beginning, the amazing literary production of early Christianity was based on a historic strategy that both made history and wrote history. (6) Moreover, early Christians were largely bilingual, and able to accept sophisticated texts, read them with understanding, and pass them along to others. (7) Even in its early stages, those who joined the new Christian movement entered an educated world of language and thought. (8) We should thus presuppose a relatively high intellectual level in the early Christian congregations, for a comparison with Greco-Roman religion, local cults, the mystery religions, and the Caesar cult indicates that early Christianity was a religion with a very high literary production that included critical reflection and refraction.
<idle musing>
Wow! Fifty percent literacy?! Most scholars think that literacy was under 10%, and closer to 2–3% (at best) if you want anything more than a bare functional literacy the equivalent of being able to read street signs.

I can't wait to see the responses. And maybe even grab the article itself, although my German is so bad right now that it would be a painful process to read it...
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Take no chances

Esarhaddon is inclusive in his anxiety and describes two ways a malediction is rendered impotent. First, a curse could be ‘turned back’ (târu, lines 377, 379). Undoubtedly, this refers to the procedure of returning a curse to its source. Second, a curse could be ‘undone/released’ (parāšu, lines 378, 379). Both of these strategies are mentioned in the next phrase, turtu turri māmīt pašāri taḫassasani teppašani ‘you shall not (even) think of or perform (a ritual) either to reverse or undo the curse’. The statement could not be more explicit. Certain rites could nullify maledictions. In all likelihood, these are the rituals vassals performed to extricate themselves from the treaty’s chafing constraints.— Cursed Are You!, pages 322–23

Stay humble

The key is staying humble. I don’t believe most people intentionally hurt each other, but it does happen. I sincerely do not want to hurt her [his wife] or my children in any way. If we can remove the hurt, we can cultivate the love.— This Day We Fight!, page 101

<idle musing>
Disclaimer: This book is full of bad theology and American Exceptionalism. I don't recommend it at all! It was written shortly after 9/11/2001 and reflects the reigning sentiments of that time (when the church failed dramatically to stand up for peace and reconciliation, sadly). But, it does have a few good lines, so I'll be putting those up over the next few days.
</idle musing>

Double ouch

The Bible talks more about confessing to others than it does about confessing to God. We must not forget the need to confess to God as a step toward repentance, but we must also tell someone else. Much of our Christian culture advises us to tell God and be forgiven, or maybe even just tell a spiritual leader (such as a pastor or priest); but the Bible teaches us to go to a much more demanding and uncomfortable place. … God knows that His people will disobey the law and hurt one another, so He tells us to confess to Him, confess to the one who was wronged, and also to give back what was taken … and more.—What’s Your Secret? pages 66-67

<idle musing>
Double ouch! Yesterday's was tough, but this one is even tougher. Especially in our easy-believism culture.

Yet, when I read about some of the revivals in the 19th century, they preached restitution and going to the one you wronged. I remember reading where one revivalist was told to stop preaching restitution by the local shipyard because they now had too many tools! People had brought back all the tools that they had stolen over the years and the shipyard didn't know where to put them all! Not likely to happen after any of the current revival services I attended...

When I was at Asbury Seminary, I had the unique privilege of studying for a semester under Dr. Kinlaw. He was the president of Asbury College during the famous revival of 1970. He told us during one class about sitting in the back of the chapel in awe at what God was doing. A young co-ed approached him, asking for advice. She was under conviction for how she had treated some of her classmates. Kinlaw wisely advised her to go to each of them and ask for forgiveness.

A few days later, he saw her on campus and she shouted out to him, "Number nineteen and I'm finally free!" Can you imagine preaching that in some places today? Can I imagine doing that in my own life? Kind of humbling, isn't it? Lord, set us free!
</idle musing>

Messianic age

The phrase “Peace and righteousness (or justice)” is frequently shorthand for the eschatological or messianic age in both the OT—including Isaiah specifically—and in at least some Second Temple texts. Paul both knows this slogan and develops it, as Rom 5:1, 14:17, and several other texts make clear.

For Paul, then, Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace, the one through whom God has made and is making the messianic shalom a reality, the covenant of shalom to which the scriptures of Israel bear witness.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 160

Wisdom from Tozer

I do not like the kind of evangelism that gets people in by cards. I think there ought to be a cry of pain. There ought to be a birth within. I feel there should be the terror of seeing ourselves in violent contrast to the holy, holy, holy God. And if it does not go that deep, I do not know how deep our repentance will ever go. And if our repentance does not go deep, our Christian experience will not go deep.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 171

<idle musing>
Indeed! Maybe we should reintroduce the anxious bench?
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


The problem is that too many Christians have confused peace with passivity. They have hollow peace instead of hallowed peace. Their lives are prayerless and they live in perpetual compromise with heaven’s enemies. This is not peace; it is bondage.— This Day We Fight!, page 44

<idle musing>
Disclaimer: This book is full of bad theology and American Exceptionalism. I don't recommend it at all! It was written shortly after 9/11/2001 and reflects the reigning sentiments of that time (when the church failed dramatically to stand up for peace and reconciliation, sadly). But, it does have a few good lines, so I'll be putting those up over the next few days.
</idle musing>

It's the fine print that will get you

Apparently, the ever-cautious Esarhaddon assessed a conditional self-curse on the citizens of Sippar. Yet the character of this particular malediction is very ominous. It is an arrat la napšur ‘a curse that cannot be released” (N of parāšu). Because Esarhaddon felt it necessary to include this statement, then we may read between the lines and conclude that, unless otherwise qualified, most imprecations were able to be undone in one way or another.— Cursed Are You!, page 321

<idle musing>
We're always looking for the escape clause, aren't we? Esarhaddon closed that one, but I'll bet somebody found another one. Remember that the Assyrians would sometimes adjust the calendar to avoid an ominous day...of course we would never do that! That's why there's so few 13th floors in public buildings...
</idle musing>

This is tough

This is going to require soul-searching courage. Not only the courage to face it yourself but also the courage to show someone else. By keeping the secrets of our hearts locked behind closed doors, we think we can avoid what lurks in the depths. Maybe we try to avoid it because we’re scared that we won’t be able to bear the pain or shame of its revelation. Maybe we want to avoid it because we’re concerned about what people will think. Our avoidance can even be so powerful that we don’t see ourselves as we really are, living out of what we wish we were instead. As appealing as this might sound, it will only give greater control to the very thing we are trying to avoid.—What’s Your Secret? pages 44-45

<idle musing>
Ouch! This is a tough one, isn't it? We think we can hide—but we can't...this is really a tough one, but true. Lord, may I have the faith to do this always and trust you with the results...
</idle musing>

A strange Messiah

As we have examined the practices of faithfulness and love that the predictions of Jesus’ death generate, and that are the essence of participation in that death, we have seen that these practices are all counterintuitive and countercultural. They are also inherently political, if we define that word as referring to the public life of a community. Moreover, these practices also clearly represent a politics of nonviolence, of suffering and of suffering love. This politics would support neither a theology of Roman, imperial domination nor a theology of messianic hatred and violent overthrow, since the “Lord” and the “Messiah” of the passion predictions, and of the New Testament writings more generally, is the Lord who willingly dies at the hands of the imperial authorities after subverting their theology and practices in his life and teaching. A strange sort of Lord and Messiah indeed.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 131

True repentance

One of the things wrong with us today is that we do not repent enough. The reason we do not have more repentance is that we repent for what we do instead of for what we are. The repentance for what you do may go deep, but the repentance for what you are goes deeper. It was the sharp contrast between what God was and what Isaiah was—the absolute holiness of the deity, and the spotted, speckled impurities of Isaiah’s nature—that brought this feeling of being absolutely profane to this man of God.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 167

What's with this translation?

I read the NIV2011 of Prov 3:5–6 yesterday that made me do a double take. Here it is; tell me what's wrong with it:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Hint: it's in verse 6a. Maybe this will help:
Here's the Hebrew:
‮בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶ֥יךָ דָעֵ֑הוּ וְ֝ה֗וּא יְיַשֵּׁ֥ר אֹֽרְחֹתֶֽיךָ׃

and here's the Greek (first half of the verse):
ἐν πάσαις ὁδοῖς σου γνώριζε αὐτήν

Just for fun, here's the Latin:
in omnibus viis tuis cogita illum

And just to complete it all, here's the Syriac:
ܕܥܝܗܝ ܒܟܠܗܝܢ ܐܘܪ̈ܚܬܟ (that font is so small I can barely read it, so it might not have pasted correctly...)

Any of those say "submit"? Hardly! For those of you who can't read the languages, here's a bit of help:
The Hebrew דָעֵ֑הוּ is an imperative from ידע which means "to know" with the object of knowing attached at the end, "him." The Greek is a bit different, coming from the root γνωρἰζω with a meaning of "make known, reveal" which causes some to think the the LXX translator read the Hebrew as a Hiphil (causative) instead of a Qal and that wisdom is what you make known (wisdom is feminine in Greek and the pronoun is feminine) Here's what Fox says in the HBCE volume:

[The LXX translator] uses γνώριζειν only for the H- and A-stems of ידע (or a synonym), never for the G-stem, and there would be no reason for דעהו to throw the translator off track. Once he understood the verb in 3:6a as “make known” rather than “know,” he took the direct object to be wisdom (hence the feminine αὐτήν). The result, “In all your ways, declare [or ‘teach’] it,” accords with G’s assumption that the wisdom mentioned in 3:5 is of the virtuous sort. Proverbs, pages 98–99
What about the Latin? Jerome gets the Hebrew right, using the standard Latin word for "know," cogito. That just leaves the Syriac, which uses the same root as the Hebrew, yd`, which means "know" in Syriac as well. The Targumim in Proverbs are just a translation back into Aramaic from the Syriac, so they are no help.

So where does the NIV2011 get "submit"? I checked my handy old 1978 version of the NIV and it says "acknowledge"—just like almost every other translation. But, when I checked the TNIV, guess what? Yep, here's what it says: "in all your ways submit to him." So where did the TNIV get it from?

That I don't know, but it certainly wasn't from any of these versions...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Which are you?

God calls us to be prayer warriors, not prayer worriers!— This Day We Fight!

<idle musing>
Disclaimer: This book is full of bad theology and American Exceptionalism. I don't recommend it at all! It was written shortly after 9/11/2001 and reflects the reigning sentiments of that time (when the church failed dramatically to stand up for peace and reconciliation, sadly). But, it does have a few good lines, so I'll be putting those up over the next few days.
</idle musing>

The web of words

From the ancient Near Easterners’ point of view, a spell’s sturdiness and effectiveness would find additional reinforcement through similes that compared its “string” of words to the strings of a net or twine. As the twined threads of a net are twisted and knotted together, so are the words of an incantation. As a net can be “cast,” so can an incantation. As a net can be laid out as a trap, so can an incantation. As a net can ensnare someone, so can an incantation. As a net can be a divine weapon, so can an incantation. As a net can entangle birds or fish in its fine mesh, so can an incantation snare demons and other malevolent forces.

When such an incantation needed to be reversed, then the ritual practitioner would merely unravel it like twine and dispose of its individual parts. Specialists could also annul the “spell” by untying the “knots” of the incantation’s net. Should speed be a factor, then the expert could rip apart the twine or tuft of wool. Throwing it into fire would assure its complete destruction.— Cursed Are You!, page 291

Just try harder

Notice David’s blunt honesty and decision not to sugarcoat the truth. He doesn’t deny, deflect, minimize, or rationalize. David lets it all hang out. He calls himself sinful and evil and admits his inability to fix the problem. David’s honest confession is a model for us. When we’re caught doing something wrong, most of us will quickly promise not to do it again rather than repent for what we’ve already done. Chastened by discovery rather than conviction, we buckle down and determine to work harder.—What’s Your Secret? page 36

<idle musing>
But isn't that the way it's supposed to be? Pull myself up by my own bootstraps. Or, maybe more accurately, try harder to figure out how to conceal the sin so it won't be discovered next time : (

I pray that the latter isn't true of me—or anyone else, for that matter. Lord, send you cleansing fire upon us!
</idle musing>

Imitation falls far short

To pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus in suffering, generosity, and love (the essence of the three passion prediction-summonses) is not to imitate as much as it is to participate.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 124

Thought for the day

Man craves that which is holy and tries to manufacture it to satiate his thirst.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 165

Monday, February 23, 2015

Vowel changes

A morphological oddity that is evident in all I-E languages is the alternation of the vowel e with the vowel o. This is not a sound change but a morphological marker of Indo-European: thus the Greek verb pherō “I carry” has an e in the stem pher-, but the related noun phoros “tribute” has an o (stem phor-): the same process in the same root can be seen in English bear versus burden.—A Brief History of Ancient Greek, page 9

<idle musing>
I didn't know that. Interesting, isn't it. I put the book on order from interlibrary loan (I read the first chapter on the link above).
</idle musing>

Let's be honest about it

So in this case [the letters of Ignatius] one is actually dealing with eleventh-century manuscripts witnessing to a second-century writing which often loosely cites the text of the NT in the (vain?) hope of trying to glean insights into the state of the text of various NT writings prior to, or contemporary with, the earliest hard evidence of actual texts of these writings. From the outset the potential of this approach to yield decisive results should be judged for what it really is—extremely limited. Rather, at best, the quotations in these writings, if cited accurately rather than loosely, if transmitted faithfully rather than freely, if randomly preserving units of text that are known to preserve variation units that allow a differentiation between text forms, may then at best provide corroborative evidence to supplement observations about the state of the text in the second century. The probability that anything decisive may be adduced is incredibly low.—The Early Text of the New Testament, page 283

<idle musing>
It makes looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack seem easy! Interesting book, by the way. It certainly doesn't lend itself to excerpting, though—too many charts and tables. But, you really should read the fourteenth chapter: "'In These Very Words': Methods and Standards of Literary Borrowing in the Second Century" by Charles E. Hill (available here). Well worth the effort. I was trained as a Classicist, so nothing he said was new, but if you are unsure about the stability of the text of the New Testament in the second century, this article will reassure you. Check it out!
</idle musing>

Baptism symbolism

I'm working on a project for ASOR and ran across this:

"[The new life of a baptized believer is] symbolized in many ways, both in ritual and text, this is also illuminated through the octagonal shape of baptisteries and fonts, as the number eight indicates the first day of the new creation."—ASOR blog (unfortunately, you have to be a member to read the whole article)

<idle musing>
I never noticed that before, had you? So much to learn...
</idle musing>

It's cold!

Separation as curse. No. Wait. This is wrong

What is most curious about the Exodus account is the disjunction between the traditional interpretation of separation due to heavenly malediction and affiliation due to benediction. Typically, what is cursed is banished from the deity, and what is blessed is kept near the deity. It is peculiar that the “blessed” Israelites are expelled into the wilderness in a manner synonymous with those who are “cursed.” As we have seen, the feature of separation associated with expulsion into the wilderness is synonymous with two fundamental precepts related to curses: (1) divine absence and (2) advancement toward death. In this case, the opposite occurs. The Israelites not only find life in the wilderness but they also encounter Yahweh himself in the very place where deities are thought to be absent.

The Exodus account has turned a conventional maxim on its head. The Israelites, whom the Egyptians believed were cursed and whom they treated as such, turn out in fact to be blessed. This flies in the face of ancient customary wisdom, which held that the target of divine curses, the Egyptians, should have been expelled and not the Israelites, who were the object of heavenly blessings. One might classify this narrative as an exceptional example of positive separation, because it ultimately benefited those who were dismissed.— Cursed Are You!, page 244

Tolerance/intolerance in perspective

[T]o say that we should be intolerant of Acts’ intolerance is simply to replace one scheme of life with another (tolerance, remember, always gets its meaning from the larger schemes in which it occurs). What then is the justification for this intolerance? Presumably it would be the truth of the scheme. But that of course is just the point at issue. Acts confronts its readers with a claim to a total scheme. To confront Acts with a counter-claim is not to be more “tolerant” (this is an illusion) but to be intolerant in a different way, and to claim (a) that Acts is wrong, and (b) that the different scheme is right (the possibility that neither one is right is but a subset of (b)—you are right that Acts is not right, even if you are wrong about your own alternative). So it seems that we are left with the decision that Acts wants to enjoin us to make.—World Upside Down, page 264 n. 91

<idle musing>
Food for thought, isn't it? The book of Acts is trying to get us to decide whom we will serve. It's either Jesus Christ as God or Caesar and Rome as god. No alternatives. One or the other. And we are still being called. Either Christ as God or our culture as god. One or the other. You can't have both.

What a great way to end a leaves you thinking and considering the ramifications. I hope you enjoyed the excerpts from it and will consider reading it.

By the way, I ran across a good post late last week about the kind of missionary the world needs. Here's an extended quotation:

Christianity in so many parts of America has been blended together with American, nationalistic culture to the point that the Jesus many believe they are following is just a false American caricature of the real thing. In many ways, the tradition of Jesus has become a civil religion that is able to exist in complete harmony with American ideals instead of being something that was designed to turn culture on its head– showing those within culture a totally different way of living and being.

This week my heart feels particularly broken for this obviously unreached people group. Case in point: I issued a call to love our Muslim neighbors in our communities– loving neighbors being what Jesus called the second greatest commandment– and it was met with outright hostility, and even calls for acts of violence against Muslims. One Christian minister said that telling people to love their Muslim neighbors was a “slap in the face” and that we should do no such thing. Others said it is impossible to exist with Muslim neighbors. And, even some “Christians” said that the only approach to Muslims is to kill them before they kill us.

Or, there’s the response I get when I suggest that we should actually love our enemies (a core aspect of the message and life of Jesus): outright disgust, and immediately objections that surely, Jesus didn’t really mean that. Better yet, there’s the times when I suggest that Jesus invites us to give our loyalty to God’s Kingdom instead of earthly nations, and the Christian response is quite predictable. “Go somewhere else” I’m often told, or as one internet commenter said recently, I’d do better to just “shut my mouth and pay homage to our soldiers.”

Day in and day out, I am faced with the heartbreaking reality that perhaps the last unreached people group has been sitting right in our very pews– those who have succumbed to an Americanized, civil religion, that is only loosely based on Jesus.

Heartbreaking, isn't it? We've elevated culture above the words of Christ...Lord, forgive us!
</idle musing>

Condemnation, conviction, what's the difference?

Condemnation comes from the enemy, is all about guilt, and asks the question, What good are you? or, How could you? The end goal of condemnation is to draw you away from God.

Conviction comes from the Holy Spirit, is all about redemption, and simply asks the question, What did you do? This is the same question that God asked Adam and Eve in the garden after they had sinned (Gen. 3). The end goal of conviction is to draw you back to God.—What’s Your Secret? page 33

The way of discipleship

[D]iscipleship forms an alternative way of life to the quest for power and position, the domination and defeat of others, that characterizes “normal” human life, particularly existence in imperial mode.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 116

Tozer on a cold Monday

What a peculiar and confused theology buzzes in and out of the heads of people today when God has been reduced to a good-sized man! We become offensively personal and intimate in our dealings with God; we joke about Him and call Him our business partner, our copilot, and what have you.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 156

Who needs an army?

Then I called for a fast there at the Ahava River so that we might submit before our God and ask of him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions. I had been ashamed to ask the king for a group of soldiers and cavalry to help us in facing enemies on the way, because we had told the king, "The power of God favors all who seek him, but his fierce wrath is against all who abandon him." So we fasted and prayed to our God for this, and he responded to us.

Then I selected twelve of the leading priests, Sherebiah and Hashabiah and ten of their relatives with them. I weighed out to them the silver and the gold and the equipment, the offering for the house of our God that the king, his counselors, his officials, and all Israel present there had offered. I weighed out into their keeping six hundred fifty kikkars of silver, one hundred silver containers weighing a certain number of kikkars, one hundred kikkars of gold, twenty gold bowls worth one thousand darics, and two containers of highly polished copper, which were as precious as gold. I said to them, "You are holy to the Lord, and the equipment is holy; the silver and the gold are a spontaneous gift to the Lord, the God of your ancestors. Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in Jerusalem before the officials of the priests, the Levites, and the heads of the families of Israel, within the rooms of the Lord’s house." So the priests and the Levites received the silver and the gold and the utensils as they were weighed out, in order to bring them to Jerusalem, to our God’s house.

Then we left the Ahava River on the twelfth day of the first month to go to Jerusalem. The power of our God was with us; he saved us from the power of the enemy and ambushes along the way. (Ezra 8:21-31 CEB)

<idle musing>
OK, how much money were they carrying, really? Well, those "kikkars" are the same as "talents" in other translations, so they were carrying about 3.75 tons of gold and 24 tons of silver—not including the other gold bowls and other stuff. You can't hide that much stuff in you luggage!

I would say this is probably a robbery waiting to happen, wouldn't you? And Ezra doesn't ask for an armed escort! Crazy man! And they are on the road for 4 months! In wilderness. With no policemen or soldiers in sight. And they get there with nothing lost along the way. Because "The power of our God was with us."

That, my friends, is what faith looks like.
</idle musing>

Friday, February 20, 2015

Quick! Duck!

The ancient Near Easterners also assumed that once an angered deity departed, he or she would do so using a flurry of curses. Since this is a typical reaction among outraged human beings, there is no reason to believe that the deities behaved any differently. Accordingly, like their human counterparts, if a deity did utter imprecations, it was more than likely that he or she delivered them in a gust of multiple expletives. True anger never allows for only one malediction. A deep seated fury is hot and vociferous. It naturally produces many curses.— Cursed Are You!, page 227

<idle musing>
And, as always, we reason from the given—what we see around us—to the divine. The given is what we know, so we figure that the divine must be like what we already know. Makes sense, right?

Well, it does unless there is divine self-revelation, that is. No wonder we see curses thrown at us in Genesis 3. No wonder we end up with a mad god who needs to be placated. No wonder we can't fathom a doctrine like theosis. No wonder we can't fathom the incarnation as emptying. No wonder we can't imagine any method other than coercive violence and war to be effective. No wonder...and the list goes on and on.

We end up huddling in our little walled city, scared to death of everything. We use any means we can to protect ourselves. Any means that is except embracing a loving God who willingly died so that we might really live. That is unfathomable, too good to be true. But it is true...

Well, that rabbit trail went a long way from the angered deity throwing curses, but I think it illustrates the radical difference between a monotheistic viewpoint with an all-loving deity and a polytheistic outlook that by necessity is always looking over its shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to fall...
</idle musing>

Yes or no?

Those who want to speak of polytheisms must at least acknowledge that whatever it would mean to speak of polytheisms, it would not mean that they could—together or individually—incorporate a metanarrative that would mean their extinction. In this sense, they are unified, and we may be justified in speaking of polytheism. With respect to their intolerance of the Christian way of life, they are all united. They oppose it. What this turns out to mean is that the true/false distinction cannot be eliminated without making a true/false judgment about Christianity—that it is false.—World Upside Down, page 262 n. 73

<idle musing>
As you probably have gathered if you read this blog much, I am not a fan of the "culture wars." But what Rowe is talking about here is much deeper than what the people waging the culture wars are talking about. What Rowe is talking about is the philosophical foundation of the whole system. He is not talking about moralism or certain practices. He is talking about the very ideas that undergird the system. And in that respect, there is a culture war—and there always has been.
</idle musing>

It's above our pay grade

Confessing our secrets to God takes the sin and shame out of our hands. We are not capable of getting rid of our own messes— that process belongs to the Lord.—What’s Your Secret? page 32

<idle musing>
Amen! As much as we'd like to think that if we created it we can fix it, it just isn't true. We can't fix our mess. Only God can. And to acknowledge that is the beginning of wisdom...
</idle musing>

Downward mobility

Cross-shaped discipleship has a Christological, counterintuitive, and countercultural character that is marked especially by hospitality and service to those without status, which implies a decisive predisposition toward the weak rather than toward the powerful. The normal path to greatness—to power and honor—is replaced by a path to “lastness,” a path of downward mobility that takes one, paradoxically, both to greatness and to God.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 109

It doesn't work that way

[W]e have overlooked one little thing. Along with man’s strange and wonderful ability to take the forces of nature and combine them to make modern toys to make life easier, we have been led to believe that along with our progress in scientific subjects we should also have advanced in moral matters. That notion is our greatest failure.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 147

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Capricious, that's what they were

In general, the ancient Near Easterners believed that deities withdrew because they were angry. The cause of this divine ire could be due to a wide variety of human offenses: sin, insult, error, crime, curse, and so on. Although intentionality is occasionally mentioned, it played a rather small role in the overall scheme of things because the divine response was always the same: anger followed by abandonment. So in the end, it really didn’t matter whether one intentionally or unintentionally exasperated the gods and goddesses.— Cursed Are You!, page 226

Missing the forest for the trees

Yet we would misread the nature of the Christian mission according to Acts were we to think only of the individual “heroes” of the story as the icons who best figure forth the missional identity of the church (e.g., Peter, Stephen, and Paul). Though Acts obviously focuses much attention on these characters, the modern individualism that has long ground the lenses of our interpretive perception can all too easily blind us to the fundamental importance of the communities and established networks that finally make sense of the main characters lives in the first place.—World Upside Down, page 252 n. 210

The cost of a secret

A secret in its simplest form is merely information. However, it is keeping this information hidden that gives control to the enemy. The enemy of our souls uses secrets to destroy us from the inside out. Secrets of any kind can lead to the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences all too familiar in our society. Sins of commission or omission, family secrets, secret thoughts, and even feelings can quickly attach to shame, fear, lack of value, and a myriad of other barnacle-like emotions, slowing us down and causing loss.—What’s Your Secret? pages 24-25

<idle musing>
But it's really nothing. Just a little thing. Nobody needs to know about it. After all, everybody's doing it. It will just go away if I ignore it.

You've heard that before, haven't you? The problem is, they are all lies. If it's big enough to keep secret, it's big enough to bring out into the light for healing and cleansing...
</idle musing>

So what's changed?

Children in antiquity had little status and significance, especially outside the Jewish world. although Jews valued children as real human beings who should be cared for, in Greco-Roman culture and law children were not persons but possessions, without legal rights, and were often victims of abortion, infanticide, exposure, and other forms of mistreatment that Jews, and then Christians, condemned. Even Jews, however, did not equate children with adults but ascribed to them a subordinate status and significance. Throughout the ancient Mediterranean world children were most often seen as immature, intellectually weak, and of far less significance and status than adults.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 107

<idle musing>
So what has changed in 2000 years? Not a whole lot, I would say...
</idle musing>

Thursday's thought

People are perfectly willing to go along with God as long as God will be good and conform to their pattern.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 144

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why use a participle?

In other words, the net result of choosing a participle over a finite verb is to have the main verbal action of the clause receive primary attention. Had two finite verbs been used, attention would have been equally split between the two. In this case, judgments about the importance of one action relative to the other would have been based on content and context.—Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, page 248.

<idle musing>
In case you hadn't noticed, I reading Steve Runge's book again. I started rereading it a while back, but then got sidetracked on reading a whole bushel of linguistics books. I'm still reading some—right now Analyzing Grammar, but decided to return to Steve's book again. Good stuff. Highly recommended. Food for thought on every page.
</idle musing>

Quick, get a guardian angel!

When the deities depart, bad things happen. Every ancient Near Easterner knew this regardless of the time period or culture. An Old Assyrian Lamaštu text from Kaneš (ca. 1920–1840) describes why the demoness is able to target someone: 18a-na be-el la2 i-li-im 19i-ša-ru-um 20ate2-še2-er ‘She heads directly toward the person without a deity’ A Sumerian inim inim ma dingir udug-ḫul-kam ‘incantation against an evil demon’ states that the demon šul dingir nu-tuku gaba rig8-ga ‘confronts the youth who has not acquired a deity’. Without the protection of the divine realm, all sorts of hostile beings could attack an unsuspecting individual.— Cursed Are You!, page 225

<idle musing>
Yep. And we still think that, why else would be be so huge on guardian angels and "spirit guides" (or whatever you want to call them)?

The first step in a curse was to either get the person's personal deity (dLamma) to abandon them or to get a more powerful deity to endorse your curse. Once the person's personal deity was neutralized, you could do whatever you wanted to them; they were helpless.

But you don't see that stuff in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, do you? What happened? Why not? Think about it and take a shot at it in the comments.
</idle musing>

Roman government

The system of control employed by the imperial government was in its general lines the same as that invented by the republic—to maintain the ascendency of the wealthier classes. As before, the constitutions of the cities were so arranged as to give the control to the rich, and any attempts to upset this arrangement were severely checked. Left-wing politicians found themselves relegated to the islands. If the assembly proved too active its meetings were suspended. Above all the formation of clubs which might organize the voting power of the lower orders was strictly supervised and often prohibited.—Jones, The Greek City, 134 as quoted in World Upside Down, pages 248-249 n. 180

<idle musing>
The more things know the rest. Reminds me of The Who's "Won't be Fooled Again." Except we are. Always.
</idle musing>

New book

We're starting to excerpt from a "new" book today—What’s Your Secret? I hope your enjoy it.
We may think that we are keeping a secret, but the truth is that the secret is actually keeping us. What we thought we controlled, slowly and subtly grows.—What’s Your Secret? page 21
<idle musing>
Yep. It will eat away at us until it consumes us...and those around us, too. And that's the saddest part; we don't just destroy ourselves, but we destroy those around us as well. We need to bring things into the light—as much as we are scared to death to do it, it is the only way to freedom. Let's see how the book handles this in the coming days.
</idle musing>

A different measure

The task of a witness is to speak courageously in word and deed, testifying to the truth of God and prophesying against all falsehood that distorts and parodies divine truth. Witnesses offer testimony to the vision of God given them in the hope that others will repent from error and turn to the truth, but their success is measured, not by the quantity of their converts, but by the steadfastness of their testimony.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 104

The burning bush

The bush was just a scrub thorn bush, and I imagine there were millions of them there. Maybe there were hundreds of thousands of them scattered over the broad face of the wilderness, and they did not amount to anything. The flame, however, transfigured this particular bush until it became the most famous bush in all of history. However, its glory was not on its own but was derived from the indwelling fire. It took on a glow, a glory, and it has held that glory all down these years.

Men talk about the burning bush; artists paint the burning bush; we preach about he burning bush. Why? Because it was a great bush? No, because it was a great fire in the bush.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 128

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Love that participle

The participle is used much more widely and diversely in Greek than in English. It is the workhorse of the Greek verbal system, with participles being used for more actions than would be acceptable in English. This mismatch in usage has significantly impacted the participle’s grammatical description. Remember, our goal is to understand the Greek usage first, and only then should we worry about translation. The participle is one of those areas where it is imperative to think about Greek as Greek.—Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, page 243 (emphasis original)

Say what?

Mytho-poetics is what those who think they can think, think those whom they think cannot think, do in place of thought.—JoAnn Scurlock in Creation and Chaos, page 265, n 50

It's all interrelated

[Here is] a helpful analogy between linguists and medical doctors. The human body is a very complex system. Each part can affect the others in various ways, and a single symptom (e.g. a fever) can have several different underlying causes. Similarly, the grammar of a language is a very complex system. Just as the doctor looks for the diagnosis which will best account for the various symptoms, so the linguist tries to find the best “diagnosis” of the data, i.e. the hypothesis about the underlying patterns of the grammar that best accounts for the observable facts.—Analyzing Grammar, page 60

<idle musing>
And you can easily misdiagnose in both cases! So take heart, language students! At least in the case of grammar, you usually don't kill someone if you misdiagnose—although I once had a person try to conjugate a Latin noun and I almost died : )
</idle musing>

Is it ever complicated...

Curses cause disease. An Akkadian incantation against sorcery makes the following observation: u2-ša-aṣ-bit-an-ni GIG-su lim-nu ša2 ṣi-bit ma-mit ‘She (the kaššaptu) has imposed on me her evil disease caused by the attack of a curse’. Other texts also show that diseases caused by supernatural agents, which strictly speaking cannot be killed, are readily managed with maledictions. The idea here is to separate and then dismiss both the disease and the supernatural agents to the correct place and make sure that they stay there.... The use of a peg (Sum., gag, line 197) is instructive. According to lines 207/208, this is the vector that will carry the disease into the earth. One suspects that in order to achieve this outcome the peg was nailed into the ground at the conclusion of the ritual.

Due to the verbal shift from the second person (207/208) to the first person (209–10), we may additionally speculate that the closing curse was uttered as the incantation specialist pounded the peg into the earth. Such an act as this would constitute the formal transferral of the disease demon into the ground but not necessarily its departure from the created world. The malediction “May you leave!” still depends on the cooperation of the “great gods” to coerce the diʾiu disease to depart. The reference to KI as the underworld would make an infinite amount of sense because disease demons cannot die. Even so, they can be expelled to the Netherworld, which is of course equivalent to “death” for these supernatural beings. It still remains that, in order for these hostile forces to get there, they must be disengaged from the victim, attached to a vector, and finally dispatched to a place where they will be restricted so that they can no longer do harm. Separation is consequently a necessary intermediate state that must be fully achieved before the harmful powers can even be sent to the underworld.— Cursed Are You!, pages 216-17

<idle musing>
Wow. Talk about complicated. No wonder Jesus said that the truth would set you free! He takes care of all that because he is Lord of all (to borrow from the other book I'm excerpting from, World Upside Down).
</idle musing>

Define sin

If the concept of “sin” means an awareness that there are dire problems in the world that need addressing, or that human beings are complex entities with competing and frequently injurious desires, then—other than a few naves—it would probably be hard to find people who were not aware of sin.—World Upside Down, page 247 n. 165

Participation in Christ

At the same time, it is imperative that we be clear that participation in Christ (or in his death) is not a vague, purely “spiritual” term. New covenantal, participatory love for God and neighbor manifests itself in concrete practices, some of which we have already considered in general terms. It is also worth remembering at this point the poignant words of Augustine: “Anyone who thinks they have understood the divine scriptures, or any part of them [such as texts about atonement], but cannot with this understanding increase in the twofold love of God and neighbor has not yet understood them.”— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 76

It's the life we live

To respond to the Sermon is not to respond to an ethical vision. To respond is to respond to Jesus. The proper response is to declare who he is by the way we live.— Sermon on the Mount, page 277

<idle musing>
That's the final excerpt from the book. I hope you enjoyed it—maybe even enough to read the whole thing : )
</idle musing>

Keep the bugs out!

Some people think holiness is something you get and that you take out with you and carefully guard it lest you lose it. Holiness is nothing else than the holy God dwelling in a human being’s heart. The heart will be holy because God is there, and God is holy. The bush had no purity of its own; and if the fire went out of the bush, as it probably did after God had given His demonstration to Moses, the bugs soon came back.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 127

<idle musing>
I love that description. We are holy because of Christ in us. To the degree that Christ is allowed to shine through us, the bugs have to flee. But as soon as we think the holiness is our own, the bugs start to devour us. What a great picture that is—especially to a gardener like myself.
</idle musing>

Monday, February 16, 2015

Not a lot there

The curses that we have in Hebrew from ancient Palestine do not attest to the complex genre of curses that we find in many civilizations. There is no practice such as the Greek and Roman defixio or binding curse, with its attendant manipulation of material or dolls (also attested in Assyrian and Egyptian sources), or the long and complex curses found in Greek magical papyri, or Christian Coptic texts. But words denoting ‘blessing’ and ‘curse’ in Hebrew are a recurring feature, and even though the curse did not develop for many centuries into a sophisticated system (and even then perhaps under cross-cultural influence), that does not mean that it or blessing did not have great force and significance for the people of the time. Indeed, the long exposition of blessing and curses in some texts (e.g., Dt 27–28 and 5Q14) is indicative of the importance placed upon them.— The Semantics of Blessing and Cursing in Ancient Hebrew pages 4–5

<idle musing>
I just finished reading the entire book. It was a very interesting read. I'll be posting more on it soon (I hope). He dealt with the whole issue of words having innate power—he even went into the history of where the idea came from. Good stuff. I've got another article coming via ILL that he referenced; once it arrives, I'll post from it. All very enlightening...
</idle musing>

The Internet really is great

Wow! The Internet is great, isn't it? You can see all the cat videos you want or waste your time on Facebook. Or, you can view some of the greatest manuscripts in the world. In fact, the Vatican just put one of the most important ones for the New Testament (and Septuagint) on line—named, appropriately enough, Vaticanus. Enjoy!

You can see another great manuscript, Sinaiticus, here.

Enjoy! Oh, and you can still watch those cat videos if you want. Me, I'd rather lose myself in a bit of wandering through the manuscripts...
</idle musing>

But in a variety of ways

All curses seek one goal: death. Even though the realization of this goal can be articulated in a wide variety of ways, the harm in a curse generally operates within a range of increasing effects. Thus, the scope of the injury can move seamlessly from a strenuous life, to a premature death, and finally to extinction. In a manner of speaking, all of this has to do with a degree of permanence.— Cursed Are You!, page 214

Little tidbits of information

It is worth noting that Luke himself does not employ κὐριος [lord] for any pagan divinity.—World Upside Down, page 237 n. 69

Not imitation

This transformation takes place, not by imitation, but by indwelling, being “in him.” for Paul this indwelling is not a one-way relationship but mutual: we in Christ, Christ in us; we in the Spirit, the Spirit in us (see, e.g., Rom 8:1–17). The new-covenant promise of interiority has been fulfilled but also altered, as in John, to become mutual indwelling.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 61

In summary

The fundamental aim of the Sermon is to present Jesus and his kingdom vision for his kingdom people, and the only acceptable response to this Sermon is to embrace him, to accept the challenge; that means to do what he says. Sermon on the Mount, page 276

<idle musing>
Boom! Too easy, isn't it? : )

Of course, you can only do it through the power of the Holy Spirit, but the good news is that that power is available...
</idle musing>

Monday's thought

The Bible was never given to be an end in itself. The Bible was given to be a path leading us to God; and when the Bible has led us to God, and we have experienced God in the crisis of encounter, the Bible has done its work. It is not enough that you should memorize Scripture. Some Christians memorize the Word of God but never meet the God who wrote the Word. They can quote whole chapters but have never been inspired by the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Word.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, pages 125–26

<idle musing>
Amen! Good preaching! I've run into this far too often. Too many people see the Bible as an end in itself—and consequently will fight to the death to defend it. But far too often they miss the point...Lord, deliver us!

As an aside, this is the reason Tozer is so fresh and inspiring; he met the God of the Bible, and being dead yet speaks (to paraphrase Hebrews).
</idle musing>

Saturday, February 14, 2015

It's a blob

Since the notion of a point seems to preclude internal complexity, a more helpful metaphor would perhaps be to say that the perfective reduces a situation to a blob, rater than to a point: a blob is a three-dimensional object, and can therefore have internal complexity, although it is nonetheless a single object with clearly circumscribed limits.—Aspect, page 18

<idle musing>
You've got to love a linguistics book that calls the perfective aspect a blob!

And, actually, the book is very readable—and concise. It's not even 140 pages, just a bit longer than his book on Tense. Refreshing! Especially after struggling through almost 400 pages of a cognitive linguistics book that in the end could have been 150 pages...<sigh>
</idle musing>

Baby it's cold outside

We've reached our predicted high for the day...

I just looked again, and we're on the way down...

What/who got cursed?

Although Adam is culpable for eating the fruit of the tree, Yahweh does not curse him directly. Yahweh curses rather the soil with an unconditional malediction and simultaneously links the harm to Adam: 'Cursed is the earth because of you’. Basically, Adam’s hardship in life is a secondary consequence of the principal curse targeting the soil.— Cursed Are You!, page 202

<idle musing>
Yep. That's something I've been saying for years now. People are under the mistaken impression that God cursed Adam and therefore them. What that results in is a mad god who is out to get them if they don't do what he wants.

That is most assuredly not the God of the Bible! It is not the portrayal of Jesus that we see in the Gospels.

Now, don't go the opposite extreme and create a Santa Claus god. God is still righteous and holy, but he is first and foremost love. I like to tell people that the attributes of God include holiness and righteousness, but his essence is love.
</idle musing>

Nope, not that way. This way:

Thus the truth claim about Jesus’s Lordship does not lead in Acts to a narrative blueprint for the need to coerce others for their own good but to a form of mission that rejects violence as a way to ground peaceful community and instead witnesses to the Lord’s life of rejection and crucifixion by living it in publicly perceivable communities derisively called Christians.—World Upside Down, page 173

<idle musing>
Would that we would recover some of that! Even so, make it happen Lord Jesus!
</idle musing>

Read carefully

Notice carefully what Paul actually says here: not “so that we might know about the righteousness of God.” not “so that we might believe in the righteousness of God.” not “so that we might proclaim the righteousness of God.” not even “so that we might be justified by the righteousness of God.” rather, he says, “so that we might become the righteousness of God.” our commission from God is that we as a community are called to embody the righteousness of God in the world—to incarnate it, if you will—in such a way that the message of reconciliation is made visible in our midst. And of course reconciliation made visible is something that can appear only in practices that show unity, love, mercy, forgiveness and a self-giving grace that the world could not even dream of apart from Christ. Richard Hays, quoted in — The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, pages 60-61

Saved, but what for?

Far too many think because they have “prayed to receive Christ,” they are safe and secure. I don’t want to dispute the all-sufficiency of Christ or the importance of faith and God’s grace, but far too many today are trusting in a onetime decision but with no marks of discipleship. Yes, some emphasize works so much one has to think they are saved by what they do. We are saved by Christ, but Christ saves us into discipleship.— Sermon on the Mount, pages 264-265

<idle musing>
Amen! Good preaching! Being afraid of works salvation (and desiring large numbers) has caused many to embrace an antinomian gospel (look it up!).

As Scot says, we are saved by grace, but we are saved in discipleship. Or, as Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls someone, he bids him come and die."

No cheap grace in the real gospel...
</idle musing>

Still lonely, 50 years later

Modern medicine and technology can help make people live longer but cannot make them live happier. Regardless of all the advancements in our society, the world is pretty much a lonely crowd. It is not the presence of others that cures loneliness; it is the presence of God.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 116

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Take your pick; they're both wrong

The ketiv and the qere are “equal” insofar as 19:7c is incomprehensible by either variant.—HBCE Proverbs, page 272

<idle musing>
I laughed out loud when I read this...OK, after so many hours of proofing a text, anything can be funny... : )
</idle musing>

It's the journey that counts...

Most imprecations focus on the “how” of the injury rather than its final goal, which is generally presumed. This is the core of its power. Death inevitably comes to all things. But it is how this final aim is achieved outside of life’s natural course that makes curses truly terrifying. Accordingly, it is the barrage of ailments in the first curse that really matters. They overpower life. The disembowelment malediction is more then just the death of the vassals’ offspring. It also seeks to extinguish the family name and the demise of the underlings’ immortality. For the vassals, however, the injury is a slow, pitiable demise. Death, therefore, is the definitive goal of all curses against living beings. It is only the means of how it is to be achieved that differs.— Cursed Are You!, page 201

Inherently theological

Plainly said, all political thinking is inescapably theological. Our theological judgments may of course be hidden by a limited range of vocabulary that attempts to eliminate explicit theological terms from “pure” political discourse….”politics” cannot help but to take particular positions on the question of God, on God’s relevance to world mechanics, on human nature, on our place in the cosmos, on the significance of our existence, on the telos of human community and so on—in short, on the whole range of issues that must be engaged in order to think intelligently about life together.—World Upside Down, page 169

Vertical? Horizontal? Yes!

Paul assumes the inseparability of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and he assumes the inseparability of the vertical and the horizontal in the atonement. some may be tempted to say, “Paul is talking about ethics, not atonement.” Therein lies the kind of problem that Paul addresses; ethics is not a separate category! ethics is atonement in action, not as a supplement, but as constitutive of atonement itself. The horizontal is not the result of atonement, it is one of the principal components of atonement.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 55 (emphasis original)

What exactly is the Sermon on the Mount?

Jesus here isn’t calling someone merely to a better moral life. Rather, his own presence looms in the entire Sermon as the one through whom God speaks, through whom God redeems, and through whom God reigns.— Sermon on the Mount, page 263

The last one chosen

We are a tricky crowd, and if we can find anything human to lean on, we will lean on it. If we can find anybody to help us short of God, we will hunt everywhere else, and God is usually the last one asked.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 115

<idle musing>
When I read this I thought of a bunch of kids on the playground, choosing teams. You remember that, don't you? Always afraid that you would be the last one chosen—or worse yet, not chosen at all and just taken because you had to be...

Why do we treat God that way? As if he were the one you dreaded to have on your team because he's a loser. Rhetorical question in some ways, but still one worth pondering...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

By whose power?

As noted in ch. 3, the judgment of the governing deities looms large in the successful fulfillment of a curse. Certainly, the supernatural realm must weigh in first and determine the validity of the request before any curse can be executed. There is no need to suppose the process behind a malediction that depends on an agent operates any differently. Just as one presumes that Šamaš evaluated the petition before he dispatched Girra, so Yahweh must have ruled that Elisha’s request was pertinent. Subsequently, Yahweh sends forth the bears to execute the curse’s punishment. The idea that Elisha “performed” the malediction out of his own supernatural power without divine patronage is hardly supported by the text. If he harbored any such puissance, he would not have had to curse in Yahweh’s name. A direct command would have been all that was needed.— Cursed Are You!, page 191

<idle musing>
Ooohhh...that's good. It's mediated power, mediated faith—mediated by the power of YHWH. It's his divine prerogative to fulfill or not. And it still is. We don't have power in ourselves and we can't strong arm God into doing what we want—even if we say "in the name of Jesus." God is still bigger than we are—sure you know that in your head, but do you live that way?

Of course, there is the opposite extreme, which is just as bad: God is way off there and I'm responsible to live as best I can on my own power. Wrong!

It is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to live a holy life. Period. And we need to listen to him and live by him—theosis, adoption as joint-heirs with Christ...
</idle musing>

Circular reasoning

Tolerance and diversity, that is, can never of themselves produce tolerance and diversity or work as centrally organizing conceptions or principles precisely because they cannot of their own conceptual resources answer the questions, what will we not tolerate? what kind of diversity is unacceptable? Answering these questions invariably requires recourse to a more comprehensive pattern of thought, one in which tolerance and diversity receive meaning and explication.—World Upside Down, page 166

Praxis counts

Disciples benefit from the servant-Jesus’ death as cleansing from sin and imitate it as loving care for others. Both Jesus and John see these two aspects of his death as inherently inseparable. The gift is also demand. There is no cleansing without discipleship, no vertical relationship without horizontal relationships, no atonement without ethics..— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 46 (emphasis original)

A high calling

So the gate is not just a mild association with Jesus or some kind of general affiliation, but a radical commitment to Jesus as the one who is King and Lord who shapes all of life for us.— Sermon on the Mount, page 261

How did you get there?

I firmly believe that if you are where you are now because of your ingenuity and maneuvering, you are probably not where God wants you to be. The call of God is a divine moment that is impossible to replicate.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 111

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


It is one of the peculiarities of biblical text criticism that we will emend the ancient level of the text while holding the medieval level sacrosanct.—HBCE Proverbs, page 21

<idle musing>
I dunno; it struck me as funny...
</idle musing>

Final proofs!

I received the final proofs last night for HBCE Proverbs! I have 4 days to turn them around and get them back...

That means it should be published in the next month or so.

She's having babies!

Although the number of the first two verb forms are somewhat lost behind the dab (ṣabātu) and us2 (redû) logograms, it is clear that the noun māmūt is singular. She is the active agent. She seizes and pursues. In the next line however one verb is written syllabically, ušaḫḫaḫū, a D durative from šaḫāḫu, a masculine plural verb. The tense of the second verb GUB- zu, izuzzu, is more difficult to place. It could be a G preterite or durative, although the latter is most likely. Even so, the syllabic complement -zu clearly indicates that it too is a plural, izzazzū. Here, māmītu has become “pluralized,” so to speak; she is now the leader of a pack of beings that consume flesh and stand ready to “cut off” life. Once released, māmītu multiplies and spreads. She readily expands into a variety of ills so that, by the time she reaches the victim, she has become a collective. At this point, māmītu and her nameless minions have become nothing other than the harbingers of death itself.— Cursed Are You!, pages 180-181

<idle musing>
That's part of the scariness of curses; they multiply and have babies! Faster than mice or rabbits! They become a screaming mob that brings death and disaster to their victims—and yes, grammar matters!

Are you beginning to understand why those who could afford it had professionals watching out for them? The kings had legions of scribes reading the entrails (guts) of the sacrificial animals, watching the skies, listening for strange portents. All in an attempt to turn away curses and keep the gods happy.

The common person couldn't afford that, so they hoped they could keep their personal god (lamassu) happy and avoid the attention of the greater gods.

Totally different world from a benevolent God, isn't it? (And understand the significance of the singular—God, not gods...)
</idle musing>

A word to the wise

In practice—and in principle—ancient polytheism cannot be read as religiously systemic tolerance; to do so is to engage in political fantasy.—World Upside Down, page 165

<idle musing>
He isn't afraid to step on toes, is he? But he's correct...that's why Christianity couldn't be tolerated. It tore the fabric of polytheism apart at the foundations...
</idle musing>

Renewed covenant

The forgiveness of sins is certainly important; it is an integral sign of the new exodus and new covenant. But forgiveness is only part of the larger purpose of God in the Messiah’s suffering and death; the larger purpose is to create a new people who will both be and bear universal witness to the new covenant—which is really a (re)new(ed) covenant—that means salvation for all.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 39

<idle musing>
I'm still trying to digest the ramifications of what he is saying...probably a life-long process!
</idle musing>

The law of double love

Jesus himself was law observant, but what distinguished his praxis was that he did so through the law of double love. To do the Torah through love is to do all the Torah says and more.— Sermon on the Mount, page 249

<idle musing>
I like that. The "law of double love."
</idle musing>

The wind blows where it wishes

God takes that which is nothing and makes it something. People who always know where they are going are not following the Lord, because He cannot be predicted quite so perfectly as that.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 106

Monday, February 09, 2015

A radical call

The call to cruciform discipleship is, in fact, a call to covenant faithfulness, a summons to embody, simultaneously, the two tables of the Law. we see this clearly in the story of the encounter of Jesus with the man who wanted to know what he had to do to “inherit eternal life” (10:17–22, shortly before the third passion prediction). After Jesus replies with a recitation of the requirements of the second table of the Law and the man claims his compliance with them from his youth (10:19–20), Jesus informs him that he lacks one thing, and that to fulfill that one thing the man must sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus (10:21). The promise that the man would thereafter “have treasure in heaven” suggests that the thing he lacks, and will now gain, has something to do with his relationship with heaven, with God, and therefore with the first table of the Law. The fulfillment of that table takes place by following Jesus, as if Jesus functions in the role of God, the proper focus of life’s commitments and direction. At the same time, this radical love for God is not separated from love for others; in fact, the two are inextricably interconnected, as giving to the poor and having treasure in heaven are here two sides of the same coin of discipleship. In fact, we could say that following Jesus is the way to simultaneously fulfill—really fulfill—both tables of the Law: love of neighbor, especially the poor, and love of God.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 34

It's complicated

The polytheistic world of Mesopotamia and Anatolia put its inhabitants at a great disadvantage when it came to managing curses. With so many deities to prevail on, any means of circumventing and/or undoing a malediction would have been arduous. With this in mind, we might consider the possibility that the development of elaborate ceremonies such as the Akkadian ritual series Šurpu arose in response to such situations. Because the victim of an activated malediction may not know the precise circumstances surrounding the violation of a conditional curse (māmītu), the Šurpu ritual coped with the predicament by naming every possible divine agent, situation, and method associated with a māmītu. Without the identity of the initiating divine agent, undoing the effects of a māmītu or any curse could only be onerous and extremely complicated.— Cursed Are You!, page 173

<idle musing>
Indeed! If you ever read some of the Greek prayers, it is enlightening. They invoke the various names of the deity, the various locations the deity is known to frequent, finally ending with a catchall "or whatever else you wish to call yourself wherever you may be..."

As Christians, we don't need to labor under all of that. Of course, we are generally so atheistic in our outlook that we don't even acknowledge the supernatural at all—except that we call on "chance," "luck," "fortune," and associated concepts. And we go through little rituals to guarantee the safety of our loved ones (and sometimes the misfortune of our enemies—real and imagined). Oh, you know you do it, you just either don't realize it consciously or you don't want to acknowledge the ramifications of it...

Lord, make us truly Christian!
</idle musing>

We need a better perspective

Despite common interpretive tendencies in contemporary American Christianity, salvation is not, according to Acts, oriented solely toward the internal aspects of the human being (soul, heart, etc.). Against all spiritualizing tendencies, Luke narrates the salvation that attends the Christian mission as something that entails necessarily the formation of a community, a public pattern of life that witnesses to the present dominion of the resurrected Lord of all. If, after the unavoidable impact of the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and our contemporary consumerist culture, we have trouble grasping this point, we would do well to remember that the ancient pagans did not.—World Upside Down, page 155


I am convinced that many of us, while we affirm that God is good and that God listens, do not act as if God cares and listens. In other words, we wouldn’t be caught dead not affirming God’s care for our every moment, but we act as if God is up there not all that bothered with us and our world, let alone something so small as our next putt on the golf course or our next answer on a test, or our next conversation with the one we love.— Sermon on the Mount, page 247

<idle musing>
In other words, practicing atheists...
</idle musing>

Thought for the day

I never could figure out why ministers feel they have to pat and paw over everybody to get them in, why they have to dilute and edit and modify and amend and trim down the gospel. It does not work this way. A trimmed-down, diluted, edited religion is not the religion Christ died to establish.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, pages 90–91

Friday, February 06, 2015

That sums it up

I'm in the process of reading How Words Mean right now. I must admit that it is a tough go. I thought maybe it was because I wasn't overly familiar with Cognitive Linguistics. But, just in case, I decided to check out what others were saying...
Although the book is not an introduction to cognitive linguistics (which E has published in another book), many chapters are devoted to reviewing and explaining, often repetitively, the principles, major figures, and, in excruciating detail, the theoretical terms and apparatus of cognitive linguistics. This is unfortunate, because I believe the readers most interested in the novel content of the book would be cognitive linguists who need no such review and might not get to the final chapters where the author's view of word meaning and interpretation is finally explained. For other cognitive scientists (another target group), the book is too detailed and ponderous in the early going for them to get through. Furthermore, it does not provide an overview of the phenomenon it is attempting to explain, although such an overview could have been of great interest to cognitive scientists. Finally, I suspect that the general linguist would be able to get through the book well enough but would find the amount of linguistic insight to be small compared to the time and effort of reading it. In sum, I think that there is a shorter, more focused potential book—or perhaps multiple potential books—inside the present one, trying to get out. Instead, the author seems to have been afraid of omitting anything important, thereby making the book less useful for most audiences.—George Murphy in Language 87 (2011), 393
Yep. That's pretty much what the other reviews were saying, too. And I concur...but I'll finish it anyway. But I sure am glad I got it via interlibrary loan and didn't buy it ($55.00 for the paperback, $145 for the cloth)!

New creation

To become more Christlike will be simultaneously to become more Godlike and more human. The new covenant will therefore mean a new humanity and a new creation; the image of God will be restored, not just in individuals, but in a people.— The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 31

They linger on and on...

The freedom to utter maledictions was open to all human beings. Ordinary people could curse, people such as Jotham, Job, and Enkidu. And certainly it was not a liberty restricted to ritual specialists such as Baalam or the cultic priesthood. But the efficaciousness of curses uttered by mortals was another matter. According to Judges 9, unregulated human maledictions lingered in a dormant state for an extended period of time, three years or beyond. Apparently, during that interval curses enjoyed a weak form of existence. They remained available to the divine world to strengthen should the deities ever wish to do so. In a polytheistic context, this type of situation is alarming. It means that any deity of high or low rank, benevolent or malevolent, could energize any such latent curse whenever the moment suited. This is what made all curses so dangerous.— Cursed Are You!, page 168

<idle musing>
This is the key section: "They remained available to the divine world to strengthen should the deities ever wish to do so. In a polytheistic context, this type of situation is alarming. It means that any deity of high or low rank, benevolent or malevolent, could energize any such latent curse whenever the moment suited."

Praise God that YHWH is the only one who can activate such things! And Praise God that he is benevolent! Otherwise we'd all be wearing good luck charms and checking the astrology charts and having our palms read and going through certain rituals that seemed to work the last time and...hmmm...doesn't that sound familiar? Or have I gone to meddling now?

Just an
</idle musing>

A higher allegiance

Where the narrative of Acts clearly rejects any hint of the notion that Jesus is a rival for Caesar’s throne—that he competes with the emperor for the title κύριος πἀντων [Lord of all]—it does so on the basis of a more startling claim: Jesus, the bringer of peace, simply is the Lord of all, the mode of being that is Caesar’s represents a violent refusal of this universal Lordship. Differently said, Caesar is the challenger, not of course because Jesus wants to rule the empire, but in the sense that the self-exaltation necessary to sustain Caesar’s political project is inevitably idolatrous. Dominus et deus noster [our lord and god] pays the imperial bill, but for the Christians it claims an allegiance—a form of devotion—that belongs only to another: the true Lord of all.—World Upside Down, page 152

<idle musing>
Nothing like turning things on their head, is there? That's probably why the apostles were accused of "turning the world upside down!" Would that Christians today were accused of that! Even so, Lord Jesus, may it come to be!
</idle musing>

Ask not...

“But, for most of us, the problem is not that we are too eager to ask for the wrong things. The problem is that we are not eager enough to ask for the right things.”—N.T. Wright as quoted in Sermon on the Mount, page 242

<idle musing>
Maybe because we don't really believe we will get them? Or maybe because we don't think we deserve them? Either way, it is because we don't really understand who God is...
</idle musing>