What Does It Mean to Call the Bible “Inspired”?

“St. Paul Writing His Epistles,” by Valentin de Boulogne (17th Cent.)

 

I preach from the Bible whenever I preach. God spoke through and to humanity by the Word. My primary goal as a preacher is to create a space where we can hear God speaking to us today again through that Scripture that is “living and active.” And that we would respond faithfully.

Rare, however, is the full sermon I preach about the Bible: what it is, how we got it, what it does, and how we can respond. I had that privilege this last Sunday, as I preached on the first of five parts of our church’s vision: Scripture guides us. To say Scripture guides us invites reflection on at least two questions: (1) what is Scripture and (2) why should that be what guides us? (Not to mention: how would we know, months and years from now, if Scripture actually were guiding us?)

Despite 40+ years of my life steeped in the Bible, despite memorizing whole books of the New Testament as a kid, despite reading the Bible through multiple times, and despite reading it in Hebrew and Greek… I found it surprisingly challenging to concisely share about, “What is the Bible?” and the follow-on question: “So what?”

In the end I broke it down broadly into two -ations: Revelation and Invitation. God’s Word is revelation. God’s word is an invitation.

To call the Bible revelation means that it is a received word. It is a given word. It is not something we went looking for and figured out by pure reason or emotion or will—in contrast to starting points in other disciplines, like philosophy. All the world’s Pulitzer Prize winners combined couldn’t conjure up God’s Word if they tried. Scripture is God’s self-revelation, and we have it, available to us. Deuteronomy 30:11-14 says:

This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, and it is not beyond your reach. It is not kept in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will go up to heaven and bring it down so we can hear it and obey?’ It is not kept beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear it and obey?’ No, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.

Notice who is doing the work, so to speak, in finding “the message”—not you! Not me! God says the people of Israel already have it—on their lips and in their heart. Not because they set it there, but because God put it there. In the 21st century, we might add that we have God’s Word at our very fingertips—just a search string and a click away.

The more specific word Scripture uses for revelation is inspiration. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Maybe a better English word (or at least a more literal one) for “God-breathed” would be theo-spired. God breathed his words into the Bible. Just as he breathed life into Adam and Eve and created them in his image, he breathed himself into Scripture, showing us even more of his image. Scripture is not just humans guessing at who God is; it’s God himself telling us who he is.

Millard Erickson, in his wonderful Christian Theology, puts it this way:

By inspiration of Scripture we mean that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the Scripture writers that rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or that resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.

Just how does inspiration work? If the Bible was both written by God and written by humans, what percentage of each author is at play in each passage, or across the whole Bible? Or is that the wrong way to think about it? Is it more like the incarnation: fully divine, fully human, both at once?

I think the best answer to this question is: we just don’t know. Erickson says it more articulately:

It is our contention here that inspiration involved God’s directing the thoughts of the writers, so that those thoughts were precisely the ones that he wished expressed. At times these thoughts were very specific; at other times they were more general. When they were more general, God wanted that particular degree of specificity recorded, and no more.

I suppose Erickson’s claim could be seen as a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc , where someone infers causation (or intent) just because one thing chronologically follows the other. In other words, “We have it how we have it, so God must have wanted it that way.” But I believe he’s right, and so do millennia of interpreters.

Speaking of philosophy, Erickson tells this story about Edmund Husserl:

Edmund Husserl, the phenomenologist, had a devoted disciple and assistant, Eugen Fink. Fink wrote an interpretation of Husserl’s philosophy upon which the master placed his approval. It is reported that when Husserl read Fink’s article, he exclaimed, “It is as if I had written it myself!””

So, too, God’s relationship to Scripture.

That’s all revelation. But this revelation of God calls for a response: it’s also an invitation. I’ll write more about this in a future post.

François Fénelon on Not Knowing What to Pray

Quite some time ago I purchased this little book by François Fénelon from a used theological bookstore:

 

Meditations and Devotions by François Fénelon (book cover)

 

The first section of the book has meditations on some sentences of Scripture. Here is one I appreciated reading yesterday:

 

Image from text is reproduced below

 

Here is the text from the image above:

Teach us to pray.–ST. LUKE 11:1.

LORD, I know not what to ask of Thee. Thou only knowest what I need. Thou lovest me better than I know how to love myself. O Father, give to Thy child what he knows not how to ask. I dare not ask either crosses or consolations. I stand before Thee. I open my heart to Thee. Behold my needs that I know not of; behold and do Thou according to Thy mercy. Smite me or heal me, depress me or lift me up: I adore all Thy purposes without knowing them. I am silent. I offer myself to Thee. I yield to Thee. I no longer have any desire but to do Thy Will. Teach me to pray. Pray Thou Thyself in me.

 

Treasure Trove of a Website for Bible Translation (or just richer Bible reading)

 

I just learned about this fascinating Website intended for Bible translators, which is also useful for preachers or anyone who wants to better understand the Bible. It’s called TIPs, which stands for “Translation Insights and Perspectives.” Here’s the site description:

God’s communication with humanity was intended from the beginning for “every nation, tribe, and language.” While all languages are equally competent in expressing the message of the Bible, each language has particular and sometimes unique capacities to communicate certain biblical messages in exceptionally enriching ways that other languages cannot. The Translation Insights and Perspectives (TIPs) tool collects these outstanding translation insights in the form of stories so they can be made available to everyone in the church as well as researchers and other interested parties.

There’s a great explainer video here.

You can search the site by word or phrase or even language.

Here’s just one of many insights at the TIPs site. Revelation 3:20 says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (NIV). Searching the TIPs site yields this translation anecdote:

For the translation of this verse into Maasina Fulfulde Doug Higby tells this story:

“[We] had the word for ‘door’ and also a word for knocking or ‘hitting’ a door. But as I thought about it, Jesus was coming to visit! The Fulani don’t even have doors on their traditional huts, and they certainly don’t bang on the reed coverings used to keep the dust out of the doorway. If Jesus came, he would go to the entrance of the courtyard and say, ‘Salaam Alaikum.’ This would announce his presence in the same way that knocking on a door would in Western contexts. But I was concerned… the Greek text says ‘door’ and I wanted to be faithful to the original. Yet, I felt the Fulani customary greeting was exactly what Jesus would do in this context, so I continued. To my great surprise, the next part of the verse went: ‘Anyone who hears my voice and opens the door…’ Voice?! Who said anything about Jesus speaking, I thought he was knocking… So now the Fulani greeting makes even more sense with the cultural version which goes like this: ‘I stand at the entrance (to your courtyard) and greet (in peace). Whoever hears my voice and lets me in, I will enter and eat together with him.’ (Hettina, miɗo nii darii e damal miɗo salmina. Neɗɗo fuu nanɗo daande am so udditi, mi naatan galle mum, mi ɲaamda e mum.).”

You can access the site here.

“I’m not really a scholar”–the Late J. Alec Motyer

I realize that–without really meaning to–I’ve developed an affinity for Anglican priest-scholar types. To name just a few: R.T. France, Fleming Rutledge, N.T. Wright.

Add to that list the late J. Alec Motyer. I can hardly imagine studying Isaiah without Motyer’s work. And his commentary on Zephaniah is a model of scholarship that praises God.

I recently came across this great quote from him:

I’m not really a scholar. I’m just a man who loves the Word of God.

J. Alec Motyer

I’m not sure I’m in danger of being called a scholar. All the same, his words resonate deeply with me, as what I aspire to.

Praying “Thanks in Advance”

“Thanks in advance” is a funny phrase.

“Thanks in advance” is what you say when you thank someone for something they haven’t done yet.

You: “Hey, here’s 10 bucks.”
Me: “Thanks; I’ll pay you back.”
You: “Okay, thanks in advance.”

Or, I might say to my spouse, “Honey, I have had A DAY. Thanks in advance for doing the dishes and putting the kids to bed while I watch random YouTube videos.”

Psalm 100:5 says, “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

The Psalmist models a prayer that looks ahead with confidence, knowing that we will see God’s “steadfast love” and “faithfulness to all generations.”

For his love and faithfulness we can give thanks in advance, because their existence in the future is guaranteed.

Mark Twain is supposed to have said: “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” I guess a lot of it was in his head. We worry!

Another writer says that “Anxiety is experiencing failure in advance.”

If we spend time worrying about the future, why can’t we spend time giving God thanks for the future? If we let ourselves experience failure in advance, why not let ourselves experience something much more certain in advance, namely, God’s steadfast love and faithfulness?

Even Job can say with confidence, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25-26).

Our prayers, then, can include the envisioned experience of God’s future faithfulness. So we can say with confidence, “Lord, thanks in advance!”

A Review of T. Muraoka’s “Fully Fledged” Septuagint Lexicon

Introduction

Takamitsu Muraoka’s work is a gift to all who would read the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

When I first began to love reading the Septuagint, T. Muraoka’s Two-Way Index was my most valued resource. I reviewed it here.

So of course it has been with great interest and appreciation that I’ve used his “fully fledged lexicon” (X) of the Septuagint, titled A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (GELS). I review it here, with gratitude to Peeters for sending the review copy, with no expectation as to the content of my review.

The Approach of This Lexicon

First a word about the book itself: the binding is sewn and the cover is cloth. It is built to last. There could be no shoddy construction for a work of this magnitude and price, but even the publisher Brill sells multi-hundred-dollar books with glued bindings.

Why GELS?

The importance of the Septuagint does not lie merely in its value for historians of Early Judaism, but also in the fact that it embodies quite a sizeable amount of texts witnessing to Hellenistic, Koine Greek. Some of the current lexica such as Liddell, Scott and Jones, and Bauer do make fairly frequent references to the Septuagint, but their treatment, by universal agree­ment, leaves much to be desired. Furthermore, the last several decades have witnessed remarkable revived interests in the Septuagint, not only on the part of scholars interested in the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible, but also those who study the Septuagint as a Greek text with its own interests and perspectives, not necessarily as a translated text. (VII)

Consider the reader of an English translation of the New Testament. They may not know the original languages. If they don’t, they’ll be reading in translation, thinking of the text as it is in front of them. The one reading only in translation reads the text-as-received, not necessarily with an interest in the translation and production of the text. In the same way, I enjoy reading Bonhoeffer but know barely any German. I read him in English translation and except for the occasional footnote, don’t really consider the German or the particular decisions the translators made.

Here, then, is how Muraoka approaches the LXX:

Following a series of exploratory studies and debates, we have come to the conclusion that we had best read the Septuagint as a Greek document and try to find out what sense a reader in a period roughly 250 B.C. – 100 A.D. who was ignorant of Hebrew or Aramaic might have made of the translation, although we did compare the two texts all along. (VIII)

This is not, Muraoka is quick to note, the same approach as the so-called interlinear model of the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS). Besides, for more comparison between Greek and the Hebrew it translates there is the Two-Way Index.

How does Muraoka approach words and their definitions? Meaning is derived from how a word is used in its context: “Thus we started from the actual text, the whole text” (X). (This lexicon has evolved over time. He began with Obadiah and then the rest of the 12 prophets, to be exact.) Here it is worth quoting GELS at length:

A word is hardly ever used in isolation and on its own, but normally occurs in conjunction with another word or words. Such collocations help to establish the semantic ‘profile’ of the word concerned. Two words which are closely related may not wholly share their ‘partners,’ each thus gaining its individuality. Such in­formation about collocations a given word enters provides important clues for defining its senses and deter­mining its semantic ‘contours.’ It concerns questions such as what sorts of adjective a given noun is qualified by or what sorts of nouns or nominal entities a given verb takes as its grammatical subject or object. In ad­dition to these semantic collocations, the question of syntactic collocations is equally important: which case (genitive, dative or accusative) and which preposition a given verb governs.

Different translations and lexicons may have their different approaches, but I appreciate how clear Muraoka is about his. I greatly value his approach. For those wondering, he uses Göttingen critical editions, where they are available, then Rahlfs, with “occasional use” of the Cambridge LXX.

The Structure of the Entries

Perhaps the two most welcome contributions of this lexicon are that:

(A) Muraoka provides definitions and not merely glosses or translation equivalents.

(B) Lexicon entries not only cite but also excerpt relevant LXX passages… even including an English translation of the quoted Greek. In this, Muraoka says, “we have decided to err on the generous side” (XI)—indeed.

There are 9,548 head-words—and I thought learning New Testament Greek was a challenge! Each entry has three primary sections:

  1. The headword (lexicon entry) in bold, followed by a “morphological inventory” so you can see the lexeme in other forms (this is great for language learning). There is also an asterisk that signifies a word “not attested earlier than the Septuagint” (XIII).
  2. The “main body” of the entry, “defining senses of the headword and describing its usage” (XIII). If there is “more than one distinct sense” of a headword, Muraoka marks them off by bold numerals.
  3. A surprising but helpful inclusion: “a word or group of words semantically associated with the headword” (XV). This is reminiscent of the Louw-Nida NT Greek lexicon, and a welcome addition. There are also references to secondary literature, when Muraoka deems them relevant to understanding the word.

Muraoka’s humility and sense of humor are here, too—qualities I might not have anticipated shining through in a lexicon. He says, “(?) is a symbol of despair, indicating our inability to establish any relationship of equiva­lence between the Greek word concerned and the supposed Hebrew original of the translator” (XVI).

Entries, Compared

Here is a comparison of entries between Muraoka’s GELS and Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (“LEH”=Johan Lust, Erik Eynikel, and Katrin Hauspie). The word is μακάριος, the first word in the Psalms and in the Beatitudes in Matthew. One immediately begins to appreciate the depth which Muraoka treats a word.

LEH (via Accordance):

Muraoka:

I especially appreciate that Muraoka not only defines the word, but helps the lexicon user see how it is used:

With a limited number of exceptions (see below), μ. opens, as in the Beatitudes (Mt 5.3-10), a generic, typological statement in the form of a nominal clause without a copula with the fortunate character of the subject—a human, never a divinity—formulated by means of a relative clause or a participial clause….

While I appreciate Muraoka’s in-depth definitions, I wondered if he couldn’t have also included more translation equivalents as part of the entry. While the LEH entry is rather sparse, it gives the expected “happy” and “blessed” in its entry (though GELS does list “fortunate” right away as a translation equivalent). “Blessed” doesn’t come in Muraoka’s entry until further down, and only then as a translation of a Greek example. So too with φιλέω. LEH gives “to love” and “to kiss” right away in its few-line entry. Muraoka (whose entry is much more detailed) gives the first meaning as “to find agreeable, feel attracted to,” which is comparable to BDAG’s lengthy “to have a special interest in someone or someth., freq. with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.” But if it’s often (and appropriately) translated “love,” why not indicate that earlier in the entry?

This may just be personal preference, and it would be unfair to evaluate Muraoka’s lexicon on something it doesn’t set out to do—namely, to provide translation equivalents at every turn. (He does say, “Occasionally, when we saw fit, we added a translation equivalent or equivalents….”)

So perhaps the best workflow is to consult Muraoka first to really understand a word, then go to LEH for a translation equivalent if needed. No one lexicon can do it all, and Muraoka really fills a large gap with his extended treatment of words.

Typographers, Shield Your Eyes?

Typographers, shield your eyes? Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. And may God bless and prosper biblical language typographers!

Still, for those looking closely, there is a bit of a distraction with how the font is vertically aligned in places, both in Greek and in English. See here:

In “and” and “unmarried,” the letters appear not to be totally flush with the baseline. The letters r and n and a seem to be the most frequent offenders. And there are issues with kerning (consistent spacing between letters):

Is this picky? Maybe. Could I do better? No way. I can’t imagine how hard it is to typeset a multi-language book like this. It is a little distracting, though, so I just try not to notice it.

Ordering Info

My only wish now is that Peeters would consider licensing this lexicon to Accordance Bible Software, where I would find it immensely useful. However, the bound edition is beautiful, and I do actually appreciate leafing through a print lexicon, just like I did in the olden days.

Any of the above critiques are far outweighed by the impressiveness of this lexicon. Kudos and thanks to Prof. Muraoka and others involved for producing such a fine resource.

And thanks again to Peeters for the review copy. Find the book here at their Website, and here via Amazon (affiliate link).

Expect, God willing, more Septuagint resource reviews in the weeks ahead.

C.S. Lewis on Deception

Is it possible to gaslight oneself?

Here is a profound insight on what self-deception (and then deception of others) looks like:

No man, perhaps, ever at first described to himself the act he was about to do as Murder, or Adultery, or Fraud, or Treachery, or Perversion; and when he hears it so described by other men, he is (in a way) sincerely shocked and surprised. Those others “don’t understand.” If they knew what it had really been like for him, they would not use those crude ‘stock’ names. With a wink or a titter, or in a cloud of muddy emotion, the thing has slipped into his will as something not very extraordinary, something of which, rightly understood and in all his highly peculiar circumstances, he may even feel proud.

A Preface to Paradise Lost, by C.S. Lewis

We rationalize our actions, even if we might rightly balk at the same actions, were it somebody else. Hard a pill as this is to swallow, I think it’s an important truth to acknowledge—and confess to God.

Yeah, But He’s *Our* Hananiah: When the One Who Misleads Is One of Us

The Prophet Jeremiah, by Gustave Doré (1832–1883)

I keep coming back to this arresting passage in Jeremiah:

For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,”
when there is no peace.

— Jeremiah 6:13-14

Any declaration of peace calls for discernment. Anyone can say there is “peace” in a place when there’s really not. In fact, folks with positions of power (formal or informal) have a vested interest in “saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

That way they can preserve the status quo (from which they benefit). They can avoid “conflict” (or taking a long, hard look at reality and themselves). They can curry favor with those who love to hear that there is peace (don’t we all?).

In Jeremiah it was prophet and priest who were “dealing falsely,” saying “Shalom!” when shalom was decidedly not God’s word for the people. Shalom did not reflect the hard realities.

I find it sobering to remember that prophet and priest are appointed, sacred offices, established by God.

Yes, even sacred communities are susceptible to the abuse of lying leaders who declare peace where there is none.

A hard truth, but I think the even greater challenge is to think about how these verses might apply to our own settings.

It’s easy to call out Jeremiah’s Hananiah, his nemesis who persuaded the people “to trust in lies.” It’s easy to point at pastors, priests, and bishops who have lied and misled people in other communities. It’s easy to call for the resignation of a deceitful and unrepentant church leader in another faith community (or president of a country). Indeed, we should.

But what about when the false prophet is my false prophet? What about when the fake peace proclaimer is our fake peace proclaimer? What about when the deceit is coming “from inside the house”?

We might try to minimize:

  • Yeah, but she’s been a huge part of our community for decades!
  • Well, he thinks there is actually “peace” here, and he’s prophesying sincerely.
  • They’re doing the best they can under the circumstances; how about some grace?

Or the even more insidious: “Who can even know what peace is?”

It’s harder to navigate when Hananiah is one of us… when we have worshiped with Hananiah… when we have shared meals with Hananiah… when we have done mission together… when we celebrated birthdays and holidays and baptisms together. We might even think that Hananiah has somehow earned the right to be wrong, the right to (occasionally?) misrepresent God to the people. Jeremiah’s Hananiah is clearly in the wrong but my Hananiah gets a mulligan.

Jeremiah 6:16 goes on:

Thus says the LORD:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.

Instead of an uncritical acceptance of our Hananiah’s lying, instead of asking, “How can we even know?”, God calls the people to stand and look and ask. (“Seek and you shall find.”) And then to walk in “the good way.”

And then there is the last line of Jeremiah 6:16—indeed, it often goes unquoted:

But they said, “We will not walk in it.”

May God have mercy on us, for all the times we choose not to walk in God’s good way. And may God give us the discernment and the courage to acknowledge the truth about Hananiah and his prophecies, even when he’s “one of us.”

New Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) Volume: Leviticus!

978-1-68307-403-8Who needs a Leviticus video game when you can now have the book as the newest BHQ volume?

BHQ (Biblia Hebraica Quinta) is meant to supersede the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) as the scholarly, critical edition of the Hebrew Bible.

It’s been a few years since I wrote it, but here I describe the BHQ and its use in Accordance Bible Software.

Here’s a bit more from Hendrickson:

At the beginning of each volume, there is a table of accents, a glossary for the Masorah parva, a list of the definitions and abbreviations used to characterize the readings, and a useful sample page that illustrates the features of the layout. Each volume ends with a detailed yet succinct discussion of the textual witnesses for each biblical book that contains a wealth of helpful information, and the manuscripts and critical editions of the texts are clearly annotated. The volumes read right to left.

And a bio of the editor of this volume:

Innocent Himbaza is a Rwandan-born evangelical pastor, theologian, lecturer, Hebrew language expert, and Bible researcher. He is currently a professor at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and in partnership with the German Bible Society in Stuttgart, he participates in the compilation of the Bible Hebraica Quinta. He lives in Switzerland with his wife, Swiss-born Liliane Mouron, and two daughters, Sarah and Esther.

I recently read Leviticus through in English and wondered how that book got its reputation as the most tedious in the Hebrew Bible. (That honor, with all due respect to God’s holy, revealed Word, belongs to Numbers, I think.) And the Hebrew isn’t as difficult as other books of the Hebrew Bible.

You can check out Leviticus BHQ here. For the rest of today (Friday), Hendrickson is offering 45% off with the code LEVI45.