Articles for the Month of October 2011

Study Bibles are cursed: let’s all join the chorus

Photo by unaesthetic

David Lamb has a fine rant: I hate Study Bibles. Here’s the heart of it:

Study Bible comments are kind of like stuff on the internet. Sometimes the information is good, sometimes it’s junk. But at least when you go to the internet, you know you’re going to find some junk. You don’t expect to find junk in your Bible. At least you shouldn’t.

Some Study Bibles are relatively harmless, and even helpful at times. The notes are limited and just provide context and background that most typical Bible readers just don’t know.

The curse in Rev 21:18 is fairly explicit:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.

A charitable interpretation would be that the curse only applies to Revelation (“this scroll”) in which case I suppose a “study bible” with ZERO additions to Revelation escapes the curse. But friends your trusty NIV Study Bible is cursed with all the plagues described in Revelation!


Biblical understandings of human gender: Part Five: Corresponding

Bookends (photo by Kevin Grocki, and in honour of Jim West)

In previous posts in this series I have been critical of Wayne Grudem’s interpretations of Gen 1-3:

It is pleasant therefore to write a post in which we largely agree.

The KJV rendered the last word in  Gen 2:18 knegdo as “meet for him” giving rise to the neologism “helpmeet” to describe women and their role with respect to men. The KJV translators did not create this neologism, they merely placed together the two words “help” and “meet” meaning “appropriate”, thus (as we’ll see) accurately rendering the Hebrew. The new conjoint word “helpmeet” was however in use before the end of the 17th century, and rewritten as “helpmate” in the next century.1

The misappropriation of the KJV’s “help meet” to present a subservient role for women has led to a backlash, which Grudem’s book presents as typified by Aída Besançon Spencer’s claims in her 1989 work Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry. Spenser (a New Testament scholar who ought therefore to have known better) translated “I will make for him a helper as if in front of him“. Then she leaped from this over-literal monstrosity to claim that “[f]ront or visible seems to suggest superiority or equality” the second is clearly true of any sensible rendering of the phrase, the first is evidently false, as Grudem notes.2

But on the other hand, and again as Grudem recognises knegdo does mean “corresponding to” and so implies equality and complementarity (i.e. mutuality) rather than some hierachy. In the second half of this sentence Grudem and I begin to part company, but since the reasons concern our understanding of “helper” ‘ezer rather than “meet” I’ll save that discussion for another post.

While it is true that knegdo is a rare construction found only in this chapter the core of the expression neged meaning beside or in front of, so here over-literally something like “as beside him” the implication of “corresponding to him” or “fitting for him” is fairly clear and the choice of all commonly accepted Bible translations in English.

The conclusion of this post is that knegdo means corresponding and implies that men and women are both equal and complementary (in the sense that we can fill out what the other lacks). It is in how these two truths can be held together without one in practice denying the other that the complexity of our topic lies. My next post on “helper” ‘ezer will begin to explore some aspects of this.

Spencer, Aída Besançon. Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry. Baker Academic, 1989, 23-25.


  1. See Oxford Dictionaries Online. []
  2. Her appeal to nagid prince or leader to support her claims is disingenuous from a NT scholar, as Grudem notes.  []

E/egalitarian and/or C/complementarian?

Herd of goats (photo by AlMare)

On Facebook yesterday I was prompted to reflect on the oddities that our herd mentality imposes on humans. We often signal words that name these “herds” linguistically (rightly or wrongly)1 by giving nouns that name human herds capital letters. Thus I am catholic but not Catholic in my tastes.2

Capitalisation to indicate herd membership is a handy tool. But it can make life complex.

Am I egalitarian or am I complementarian? Surely the answer has to be yes. As a Congolese student replied when my American colleague (who liked things to be precise) asked if he spelled his name with or without a hyphen – he did, he spelled it either way! I am egalitarian, I believe that God created men and women equally and of equal worth and with equal “inalienable rights”. I am also a complementarian, I am delighted that God made men and women different, to return to teaching classes comprised (as they were 20 years ago) almost entirely of men would be horrible!

But rewrite the question: Am I a Complementarian? and I have to answer “no”. For to answer “yes” to that question would imply agreeing with the lunatic posturings of those insecure human males who seem to think that if women are allowed to be really equal they will outperform them. On the other hand, I am not too keen to label myself as Egalitarian. For then I’d be tarred with the brush of those stupid enough to pretend that there are no consistent gender differences, and while Barbara can and did bear and birth babies I cannot, and I like to respect such brute facts.

So, on this issue am I a E/egalitarian and/or C/complementarian? Yes I am if you wish to label me and my views on issues of gender please refer to me as an E/egalitarian and/or C/complementarian !

  1. All you orthographic pedants can have a field-day discussing which ;) []
  2. Though actually this statement, made by way of example, may not be true, I suspect in many things I’d be both, though I am not at all a member of the Catholic “herd”. []

Jesus and talk of God as father (part one)

At present I’m thinking and talking a lot about Jesus’ talk of God as father, and whether this naming of God means that Christians cannot think of God as (also) motherly.

The Old Testament used both father and mother-language to speak about God, but it used both seldom. Language such as shepherd, kinsman-redeemer, king, rock, lion and other pictures were preferred, perhaps because they were less likely to require that God had a partner. A father can only be a father if someone else is a mother, and the reverse. Such language therefore presented a greater danger of a descent into polytheism. Neither rocks, kings or lions need some other being to define them as such. While shepherds need a flock, the relationship is not reciprocal, as it would be for mothers and fathers. Sometimes therefore the Bible uses language which describes an undefined parental caring (like in Hos 11:1ff.) without naming either parent, and on other occasions imagery which mentions both parents provides a balance (like in Job 38:28f. cf. Jer 2:27) also helps avoid this danger. As we have seen there was also explicitly motherly language most notably in Isaiah 40ff. (Is 42:14; 43:1ff.; 42:2, 21ff.; 45:8ff.; 46:3f.; 49:13-21; 50:1-3; 66:7ff.) The New Testament, from the gospels onward, seems to contrast with both this reticence and balance. Father-language becomes common, and indeed ‘Father’ becomes a name for God.

This use of father as a name for God, first in the New Testament and then in Christian tradition until today, presents perhaps the most significant barrier to wide acceptance of the thesis of this book. For, the claim that the Christian God is as much like a mother as a father, sits uncomfortably with this New Testament use of “father” as a name for God. This discomfort is heightened if we recognise that Jesus own talk of God stands as the basis for the later naming of God as “father”. It is therefore important to examine this New Testament usage carefully.

Some German scholarship from the middle of the last century represented the father-language of the New Testament as a unique contribution made by Jesus. It was, they said, unlike both his Jewish forebears and his Early Church followers, because it was more frequent, personal and intimate than either. Much was made of Jesus’ use of ἀββα abba(Mark 14:36 cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15),which was presented as being a baby-talk (and so more intimate and personal) version of ‘father’. They claimed in the light of this that there was a link between Jesus’ special intimacy with God and his and then the church’s subsequent use of father-language.1

A more careful look at the evidence has questioned these claims. More recent scholarship asks whether Jesus himself was as clearly the beginning and driver of this father language as had been argued. Jeremias himself was aware of a striking feature of the Gospels’ father-talk for God on the lips of Jesus.2This usage seems to show a clear pattern (as argued by Hofius in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology)3 suggesting that talk of God as father in the gospels increased as the distance of the memory from Jesus himself increased.

To put this claim in context before examining it further, father-language is used commonly across the New Testament to speak of God. In his response to an earlier publication of mine making these arguments Keown cited twenty three such references “in the undisputed Paulines”4 and a further eighteen in letters of disputed authorship,5 father language is especially common in the Johannine writings (1, 2 & 3 John and Rev)6 and in 1 Peter, but is also found in Acts, Hebrews, 2 Peter and Jude.7 The phrase “the God and Father of our lord Jesus” (Rom 15:6; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:3; 11:31; Eph 1:3, 17; Col 1:3; 1 Thess 1:1; 1 Peter 1:3) and the fact that God the father and Christ as son are correlated (by mention together) very frequently.8 Indicate clearly that the earliest Christians found the pairing of thought of God as father and Jesus as the son of God to be productive. For one of the key concerns of the New Testament writers was to make sense of, and to explore ways to talk about, who Jesus was and what his life, death, and resurrection mean.

There are traces in the New Testament of what is likely to be an earlier attempt to understand who Jesus was by likening him to divine personified Wisdom who in the Old Testament was pictured as the first-born of creation (Pr 8:22), existing before the earth (Pr 8:23ff.), with God at creation (Pr 8:27ff.) and who could say: “whoever finds me finds life and obtains favour from the LORD” (Pr 8:35). The earliest strands of the New Testament, and in particular Paul (and what are sometimes claimed to be pre-Pauline hymns) make the most use of the figure of Wisdom to understand Jesus in relation to God. ‘What pre-Christian Judaism said of Wisdom, and Philo also of the Logos, Paul and the others say of Jesus. The role that Proverbs, ben Sira, etc. ascribe to Wisdom, these earliest Christians ascribe to Jesus.’9 However, Wisdom Christology was not adequate to their understanding of Christ and his work, for Wisdom was neither human, nor truly divine. Talking of Father and Son enabled these things to be protected, especially when it took place in the context of Jesus’ designation as also “Son of Man”.

Considering the memories of Jesus’ use of father language to speak of God, Hofius’ quotes these figures for the use of such language in Jesus’ remembered words

Mark: 3
Material common to Matthew and Luke: 4
Material special to Luke: 4
Material special to Matthew: 31
and John: 10010

In an earlier work I used this evidence to claim “The further removed from the historical Jesus the more likely a writer is to talk about God as father.”11 Those figures and my interpretation of them have been questioned by Mark Keown, though his presentation of the evidence seems to show an even more pronounced pattern:

Mark: 5
Material common to Matthew and Luke: 9
Material special to Luke: 5
Material special to Matthew: 18
and John: 117

Interestingly as well as the high usage in John, and in the material particular to Matthew, Keown notes that Matthew five times adds the term “father” to material which is also found in Luke but where this term was missing there (Matt 5:45 cf. Lk 6:35; Matt 6:26 cf. Lk 12:24; Matt 7:21 cf. Lk 6:46-7; Matt 10:29 cf. Lk 12:6; Matt 18:14 cf. Lk 15:7). Whichever the order of composition of these two gospels this suggests that Matthew’s tradition was significantly more likely than Luke’s to remember Jesus as having used this name for God. This suggests the question: Is it more likely that Matthew remembers this name, which became typical Christian usage, where it had not in fact been present, or that Luke forgot it? In both the gospels and in the rest of the New Testament “father” is used of God most often in John and the Johannine writings (11 times in 1 John; 3 in 2 John; and 5 in Revelation).12 So there is clear evidence for differential preferences for father-god language, with the Johannine writings, Matthew and 1 Peter showing the strongest tendency to use such langauge and Mark and Luke among those who use it least.

These usages suggest that: (a) Jesus did call God father, but that (b) he may have done so less than he was remembered as doing, and less himself than the early Christians did. Mark and Luke have only a few examples each, while Matthew remember him as doing so in sayings were he may well have used “God” or the “Most High” as Luke suggests. John develops a strong theology of the Father/Son relationship. In general this father-God language is more frequent in the New Testament in general than it is in quoted speech of Jesus (except in John, and it is often suggested that John reconstructs Jesus’ speeches theologically more than the Synoptics did).

If Jesus called God father (as indeed Jewish usage in his time sometimes did)13 and early Christians made significant use of both the image of Christ as the “son of God” and of Christians being invited into sharing such sonship “in Christ”. The fairly frequent usage of “father” of God in Paul also fits with this a picture of father language about God being more common in the early church than it was on Jesus’ own lips.14

The expression ‘Father in heaven’, and other use of father-language to speak of God was becoming more common (than the sparse Old Testament usage) in Palestinian Judaism by Jesus’ time. In the Old Testament such language was almost exclusively used in relation to the nation or community as a whole, while by the First Century the use had begun to extend to individuals having God as father as well.15So it would seem that the earliest witnesses to Jesus’ speech remember him as using language about God as father in ways which would not have seemed abnormal in a Jewish teacher of his time and place, while in the Early Church such language becomes a distinctive practice.

Pointing out that use of Father as a name for God was probably remembered in Jesus’ speech more often than he in fact used such language, does not deny that Jesus spoke of God as a ‘father’ or even used Father as a name for God. However, it should caution us from making too much of the supposed origin of this language in Jesus.

1 Jeremias is still sometimes cited in support of this claim, although he wrote: ‘One often reads (and I myself believed it at one time) that when Jesus spoke to his heavenly Father he took up the chatter of a small child. To assume this would be a piece of inadmissible naivety.’ J. Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus (SBT 2/6; London: SCM) 1967, 62 (translated by John Bowen from Abba: Studien zur neutestamentlichen Theologie und Zeitgeschichte, (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966).

2 Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus, 29ff..

3 O. Hofius, ‘Father’ in Colin Brown (ed) New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 619-20. Hofius gives: Mark: 3; Material common to Matthew and Luke: 4; Material special to Luke: 4; Material special to Matthew: 31; and John: 100

4 Mark Keown, “The image of the invisible God: A response to Tim Bulkeley” in Myk Habets and Beulah Wood (eds) Reconsidering Gender: Evangelical Perspectives (Eugene, OR: Pickwick) 2011, 44, n.14: Rom 1:7; 6:4; 8:15; 15:6; 1 Cor 1:3; 8:6; 15:24; 2 Cor 1:2, 3; 6:18; 11:31; Gal 1:1, 3, 4; 4:6; Phil 1:2; 2:11; 4:20; 2 Thess 1:1, 3; 3:11, 13; Phlm 3.

5 Ibid., n.15: Eph 1:2, 3, 17; 2:18; 3:14; 4:6; 5:20; 6:23; Col 1:2, 3, 12; 3:17; 2 Thess 1:1, 2; 2:16; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Tit 1:4

6 Ibid., 45, n.23: 1 John 1:2, 3; 2:1, 14, 15, 16, 22, 23, 24; 3:1; 4:14; 2 John 3, 4, 9; Rev 1:6; 2:28; 3:5, 21; 14:1

7 Ibid. Acts 1:4, 7; 2:33; Hebrews 1:5 (2x); 12:9; 1 Peter 1:2, 3, 17; 2 Pet 1:17; Jude 1.

8 Indeed in the epistles father language of God and son language of Christ are rarely separated.

9 James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry Into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 167.

10 By comparison Paul uses such language about 40 times only.

11 Tim Bulkeley, “The image of the invisible God: (An)iconic knowing, God, and gender” in Myk Habets and Beulah Wood (eds) Reconsidering Gender: Evangelical Perspectives (Eugene, OR: Pickwick) 2011, 20-37, the quote is from 34.

12 Mark Keown, “The image of the invisible God: A response to Tim Bulkeley” in Myk Habets and Beulah Wood (eds) Reconsidering Gender: Evangelical Perspectives (Eugene, OR: Pickwick) 2011, 44-45.

13 Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus, 15-29; Alon Goshen-Gottstein, ‘God the Father in Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity: Transformed Background or Common Ground?’ Journal of Ecumenical Studies 38 (Fall 2001), 470- 504 (for a more recent and critical Jewish perspective).

14 I am unconvinced by Jeremias’ claim that since it is used in Jesus’ prayers it was necessarily his own usage, since Jesus’ prayers like his other speech comes to us remembered by others, whose own patterns of prayer may influence the wording they remember. We know that this usage was common in the earliest church.

15 Ibid.

Giving up on church

Image used by Barna to illustrate the article being commented on

The Barna group have a new book reporting a five year project on why the young are leaving church.

The study of young adults focused on those who were regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.

From this study theyextract a brief summary of  Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church. The six reasons they give are:1

  • Churches seem overprotective.
  • Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  • Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  • Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  • They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  • The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

I’d see a clustering in these reasons, especially in the light of the comments they make in the article below each. Together they describe a mindless defensive faith. Several express a sort of mindless, anti-science, be afraid of Harry Potter because the stories have “magic” in them… Christianity. This tendency almost caused me to “lose my faith” back when I was a teenager. Things have changed but not for the better, “Evangelical” churches today are even less healthy places to be young, intelligent and questionning :( But it’s not just the young who have difficulty with that, it’s anyone with a brain who enjoys using it!

Five answers for church leaderships:

  • Churches seem overprotective.

If Christianity is true, and good, if it helps one to be in communion with the maker of everything then loosen up!

  • Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.

OK, it’s true that no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of a TV audience. But churches are not (whatever the latest multi-mega-pastor tells us) in the business of bums on seats, or entertaining… If you offer your congregation milk instead of steak and chips with broccoli don’t expect them to find this pablum spiritually nourishing!

  • Churches come across as antagonistic to science.

The world was made in seven days in 4004BC it says so in the Bible, the sun goes round the earth otherwise Joshua could not have stopped the sun… Duh! Scripture is richer, deeper and not at all limited to being a “how things work” manual. Wake up and see the beauty of the poetry, the meaning in the stories, the God behind the marvelous everything we inhabit!

  • Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

Let me get this straight… Divorce is OK, serial polygamy is fine, even the odd case of sexual abuse of children can be quietly hushed up, but if hormone crazy kids do more than kiss the sky falls in? Why can’t we start to be consistent, honest and welcoming of sinners, as well as clear on what is sinful?2

  • They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

Frankly I don’t think this one is expressed well. The post says:

Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).

This is more of that ghetto mentality, fearful of the big bad world outside the church doors. It is not a confident understanding that Jesus is the answer to the brokenness of the world, that God is the maker of everything and that the Spirit is the Lord the giver of life that the kids dislike, it is seeing their elders hiding together in a cupboard in case the evil monsters get them that turns them off church.

  • The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Unfriendly? The defensive ghettoised narrow-minded strand that is so vocal in Evangelical Christianity is not just “unfriendly” to those who doubt, it’s so terrified that it will wage total war, with no holds barred… the only answer is to open up, trust the God who made you, who loved the world so much he became flesh and dwelt among us and even died on a cross, who empowers and inspires all who seek him. If you trust such a God perfect love will cast out your fears.

  1. BTW the study was done entirely with a US “national” sample, but I guess you can quickly get a feel for how/if things are different where you live. My take in for NZ the differences are less marked than one might expect. []
  2. BTW homosexuality is not the one sin against the Holy Spirit that will condemn people, without hope of redemption. If narrowminded, back-biting gossips can be held in God’s love, then people who have sex the wrong way probably can too, at least they don’t hurt others as deeply []

Biblical sense and sensibility

Open Bible has a fascinating on post Applying Sentiment Analysis to the Bible.

Sentiment analysis involves algorithmically determining if a piece of text is positive (“I like cheese”) or negative (“I hate cheese”). Think of it as Kurt Vonnegut’s story shapes backed by quantitative data.

The post started with a plot of the data for the whole Bible, which for anyone interested in the “big picture” of the Bible’s story is fascinating. But the data, calculated using available software on an English translation based on the calculated probability of a verse being positive or negative in sentiment, allows a closer look, and running a five verse running average gives really striking and thought provoking “pictures” of each Bible book.

While Jonah goes from bad to worse ;)

Ruth moves from negative to positive

Which both seem intuitively “right”. However, Esther needs some thought:

Esther: is the beginning really the happiest part?

I’m currently teaching the Song of Songs, and last week was Ecclesiastes, so these are interesting:

They both fit common preconceptions pretty well...

…but is it as simple as that? ;)

Biblical Studies blog and podcasts of September

The biblical studies carnival(s) is(are) up at Scotteriology. Scot provides both smaller and larger versions, illustrating the dearth of nominations, and the work required to produce a good carnival from all the now huge number of blogs and podcasts dealing seriously with the Bible.

Enjoy both the results of nominations: September Biblioblog Carnival: The “Lesser”

And Scotts own selections: September 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival: The “Greater”

Either and both will point you to interesting material you’d have otherwise missed :)