Gender analysis and the silly season

It’s the silly season, I’ve nearly finished the marking, but only “nearly”. So I needed some silliness. In an effort to demonstrate “scientifically” that Ruth was written by women I submitted the first chapter in various translations to the Gender Analyser. The results were uninspiring, it reckons with varying degrees of confidence that the chapter was written by a man. But then I guess all that proves is that the translators were (almost) all men. So to cap off the silliness I asked about this blog. Aparently my previous post (like my entire Repentant Carnivores site) was written by a woman.


Silhouette of a womanWe have strong indicators that is written by a woman (93%).

So, what I want to know is, who has been writing guest posts without telling me!?



The everyday spirituality of marking!?

Photo by liber

Back in 2004 on the 15th of November I was also bogged down in marking (is there nothing new under the sun?) so i posted this little gem:

Blame Steve Taylor for this post, that or the end of the year has finally got to me… But Steve’s post “everyday spirituality of ironing” which reads:
| One of the neat things about ironing,
| is the chance to pray for those who wear the clothes,
| in a whole range of life and work situations.
made me think of marking, it’s the boring chore that I do most often. Barbara does the ironing, I do the cooking (and I love cooking, little time to think or pray though – when the flame hits the pot!) I suppose I could pray while mowing, but that does not work as well, I’m no St Francis to pray for the Mynas and the Thrushes, or even the cats that prey on them!

But marking, like the huge pile of exam scripts on my desk right now, that I do lots of, and it is boring (largely, though with the occasional gem) and it needs breaking up… So, I’m going to try praying for each student as I finish their script!

Nice one Steve!

I did, and it worked well for a few years, deepening the experience of marking and enriching my prayer. it works less well now though since Carey (unlike the University) does not always show a student’s picture in the LMS when I upload the mark. I need pictures I can’t recognise who is who as well with just names :(



Cohesion and coherence

Fig rolls stuck together (photo by fsse8info)

Rick Brannan has a really interesting post in which he begins to explore James and Cohesion. Most interesting to me was that he uses the Louw-Nida semantic domains rather than just lexical repetition (this first post was only concerned with the area of cohesion mediated by lexical or semantic repetition – or “semantic chains”1

This is something I must follow up, once the present rust is over. In the meanwhile, I’ll contribute one reservation on a point of detail to Rick’s post. He writes:

lexical and semantic cohesion has to involve more than simple repetition and clustering. That might help identify areas of cohesion, but it does not define them.

This is to some extent true, examples like those he mentions of repetition from within the few huge semantic domains perhaps do not contribute much to even cohesion. And yet, a distinction between cohesion and coherence can be helpful. So “cohesion” refers to the features of a text that promote or create its sense of being a linguistic unity, what Crystal in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language called “the ties that bind a text together”, while “coherence” implies meaningful attraction and unity (“the underlying logical connectedness of a use of language”2 ).
A cohesive text may be thoroughly incoherent:

The creation account in the chapter takes seven days, but every day some one feeds the parrot. Since they don’t like me, let them take it. Then my account will be in credit. For credit takes six days and parrots create chapters.

Is a pretty cohesive text, in terms of the language used it “hangs together” yet it is incoherent.

I will return to this topic :) but for now I must pack, it’s our annual denominational “Gathering” and Barbara and I are doing a workshop on “Teaching the Faith to Children” (not our choice of title but nevertheless a topic dear to both of us).

  1. An interesting term for which he cited: O’Donnell/Porter/Reed’s paper “ the problems and prospects of working with ancient discourse”. []
  2.   Crystal, 417. []



Seeking the Peace of Jerusalem

There is a lot of knee-jerk Christian Zionism around. This perversion of Evangelical respect for Scripture is even common in NZ. So I am delighted that Bethlehem Bible College (a fine Evangelical seminary where a colleague of mine recently spent a sabbatical) are organising a conference “Christ at the Checkpoint” which aims

to provide an opportunity for Evangelical Christians to prayerfully seek a proper awareness of issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation in the context of the realities on the ground in the Palestinian Territories. It will also provide a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism and an open forum for ongoing dialogue between all positions within the Evangelical theological spectrum.

These aims are good, carefully worded, and full of peace. Although I have deep respect for my Jewish fellow students of the Hebrew Bible (a disproportionate number of the most sensitive and careful, as well as knowledgeable biblical scholars are Jewish) and affection for the Israeli Jewish families at whose tables I have eaten, their governments have and are acted cruelly and unjustly towards the Palestinian people.

This conference should be supported, even without the Blogging Contest! We should all be linking to Christ at the Checkpoint, and seeking to generate support for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ, who are seeking understanding and peace.

Hope in the Midst of Conflict from Christ at the Checkpoint on Vimeo.

HT: Jim West



In which I agree with Carson and Piper!

My ex-boss has been reading John Piper & DA Carson’s The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor. These two are among the most prominent poster-boys for Conservative Evangelical (with very big Cs and Es) views. I have more sympathy for what I’ve read of Carson, but neither really connects with the things that interest me most of the time. Yet Paul’s summary of their ‘twelve lessons for the scholar as pastor with brief quotations includes this gem:

Fight a common disjunction (the ‘critical’ vs the the devotional reading of Scripture)
“My response, forcefully put, is to resist this disjunction, to eschew it, to do everything in your power to destroy it … when you read ‘devotionally’, keep your mind engaged; when you read ‘critically’ (ie with more diligent and focused study, deploying a panoply of ‘tools’), never, ever forget whose Word it is. The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it.” (91)

That is SO true. One of the biggest problems with theological education in the last fifty years is that too often we have failed to help our students to “get” this. We’ve allowed them to develop schizophrenic lives where intellectual understanding and lived faith fail to meet. And that has been killing churches.

I’d disagree fundamentally and at almost every turn with Carson and with Piper on the conclusions of critical reading, but I agree 100% with this quote. It (together with Paul’s other extracts) is so good, it almost makes me want to read the book!



Massive traffic: help!

Over the last few months and especially in the last few days I have been getting very heavy traffic all aiming at one particular file on another of my sites. The hits are geterated by multiple GET commands for the same file. This results in considerable bandwidth leaching. I have begun using IP Deny for those IP addresses, but they seem to change from day to day. I tried to contact my hosting company but they are a cheap one and seem uninterested. If anyone has an idea what is happening or has noticed something similar I would be glad to hear from you. The IP addresses I traced were all in China, but in several different cities…



Here be elephants (part one) struggling students

By English 090 CC-BY-SA-3.0 -, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the interesting results of nearing retirement from Carey is that I find myself becoming more aware of “elephants in the room”. Somehow while I was still counting my remaining teaching at Carey in multiple years they remained, by and large, unnoticed.

In this post I’d like to address the “elephant” of struggling students. Like many, perhaps most, theological institutions in Western traditionally English-speaking countries Carey has an increasing number of students whose origin or previous education have been in non-Western contexts. Some of these students, picked for intelligence and ability, perform excellently. Others, despite their intelligence, diligence and other qualities frankly do not perform well.

Their difficulties are varied, but often some or all of these elements are present:

  • poor command of English, or at least of that strange dialect of English used in the academic world:
    • this sometimes leads to complex sentences with strange (to a native anglophone teacher) word-choices or uses
    • on other occasions it results in a student who fails to understand something, but who the teacher assumes does understand because they can echo the “right” words and phrases (often it is only in more complex situations like a final essay where the misunderstanding becomes clear)
  • some students, believing that education is about the ability to know and repeat certain key information and ideas, will “plagiarise” copying the words or ideas of a perceived authority (which may be a textbook, academic article or item found through googling – for such students are often not well-equipped to judge the quality of material they access)
  • poor quality work produced with good intentions after a hard struggle by the student leads teachers (and not only the erroneously soft-hearted teachers ;) to award a passing grade (just) to work which ought to fail.

Our standard procedures and mechanisms would lead to either a poor pass for a student who should be getting good or excellent results, a mention on the institution’s plaigiarism register, or a fail. Because teachers workloads (in terms of numbers of student-classes and assignments) have roughly doubled in the last twenty years1 we do not have enough time to provide sufficient help to assist the student to overcome their difficulty (or, e.g. in the case of language knowledge, we do not have the skills needed to help).

This situation is not new, but I think it is getting worse. The result is students who receive diplomas but who do not really exhibit the qualities and understanding that the institution’s graduate profile would suggest.

A quarter of a century ago in another place we used to sometimes refer scathingly to certain European and American institution’s habit of granting “African Doctorates”. Such awards, given with the best of motives, do not help the “developing world” or minority cultures. They are dangerous lies!

  1. This is a very rough figure, and is based only on my experience and observations, but I believe is at least approximately representative at least of the situation in NZ. []



Jesus and talk of God as father (part two)

Photo by sean dreilinger

See also: Jesus and talk of God as father (part one)

When thinking about Jesus’ talk of God as father it is useful to examine how, in fact, he pictured God the Father. What did he mean by calling God ‘father’? To set this question in context it is helpful to consider the cultural stereotypes of father that were common in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean and the Roman Empire. Authority and discipline (especially the disciplining of male children) were strong and frequent overtones of father-language in the ancient world. Pilch explained the cultural stereotypes of parents in the biblical world like this:

Clearly, the father is viewed as severe, stern and authoritarian; the mother is viewed as loving and compassionate. Children respect and fear the father but love the mother affectionately even after they are married.1

Such an understanding of the stern authoritarianism is almost absent2 from father-talk in the Gospels. Rather, in Jesus’ speech, fathers feed and clothe their children (Matt 6:26-32; Luke 11:1-2, 13; 12:30; John 6:32 cf. Luke 24:49; John 6:27); give gifts to both good and bad children (Matt 5:45); are forgiving rather than punishing (Matt 6:14-15; 18:35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:36 though the father does judge, in John 5:45; 8:16 but cf. 5:22); God as father deals with “infants” and “little ones” (Matt 11:25; 18:14; Luke 10:21). This divine “father” acts in ways which often fit the ancient world’s cultural stereotype of the mother more closely than they do the expectations of fatherly behaviour.


1 John J. Pilch, ‘Parenting,’ in John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina (eds.) Handbook of Biblical Social Values (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998), 147.

2 Mat 21:30f.; John 14:28 may be exceptions.



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.  []