Sunday, 29 April 2018

"T.L.:D.R." The Genesis Question Part one

Hi, Everybody!


And bonecrusher86 is the name to know...

So Dave sent this in:
1 April 18

Hi Matt!

You must be running out of my Biblical commentaries along about now. So…
courtesy of

2 February 14
Groundhog Day
SuperBowl Sunday

Hi Troy and Mia:

Okay, while you were watching the SuperBowl:

Commentary on
"The Genesis Question"  Chapter One 
As is usually the case with my reading Christians writing on Christian Scripture (or, to me, "Scripture" in the case of those writings external to the Gospels, Acts and John's Apocalypse), I think it sensible to go back to the Koine Greek to see what was actually said and compare that to what has come to be popularly believed to have been said.

Mr. Ross' notes for this chapter cite 2 Timothy 3:16 (as The Bible making for itself the claim that it is divinely inspired). I'm naturally suspicious of texts which I consider non-canonical vouching for canonical texts.  The King James Version of 3:16 reads

All Scripture given by inspiration of God & profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction for instruction in righteousness Even with the word "is" interpolated between "Scripture" and "given by inspiration of God"; and between "&" and "profitable" 3:16 seems to me pretty much an incomplete thought -- and intended as such even in the KJV where the translation of that verse ends in a comma.  The tendency of Christians to use individual verses like fortune cookies whereas I see 3:16 as  continuing the thought begun in 3:14 and concluding in 3:17:

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned.  And that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture given by inspiration of God & profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect (marginal suggested alternative: perfected) thoroughly furnished unto all good works
 The Interlinear translation from the Koine Greek has it as:

You, however, be  remaining in what you learned and you were persuaded to believe
 "You were persuaded to believe" -- evidently a single compound Greek term! Amazing language that Greek! -- has a very different sense to it from "hast been assured of".  The Greek philosophers and semanticists in particular would be appalled at translating the one as the other since they revered so highly the ability to persuade through argument. Add to that that Paul is addressing a student with a Greek mother and I think it's even more important to keep what is being said "coherently Greek".

having known beside of whom you learned "of whom" and "beside of whom" are differently nuanced.  The compelled inference of "of whom" directly suggests a single teacher whereas "beside of whom" could imply the teacher while also suggesting a companion student or an invisible presence assisting you:  Jesus himself or an angel or God being a distinct possibility.

Hair-splitting?  Well, yes, but where else are you going to split hairs?  We're talking about the Word of God (if, as a Christian, you believe that Paul's commentaries ARE the word of God).  It seems to me a bad place for a "close enough for government work" translation. And, this being addressed to Paul's own student/apprentice I would be especially careful about excluding a specific forensic accuracy -- and a fellow student/apprentice we are not specifically aware of  (Titus, maybe?) is definitely a potential forensic accuracy.

and that from infant sacred writings you have known the ____s being able you to make wise into salvation through faith the in Christ Jesus Sacred writings can be "holy Scriptures" depending on what category in which the writer puts those writings.  Unless you know, specifically, what parts of the Torah Paul thought to be sacred -- and what besides the Torah he thought to be sacred -- I'd be cautious in translating this as "holy Scriptures".  Particularly for Christians who have evolved away from a wide-ranging inclusiveness over the centuries, while indulging in canonical peculiarities like the elevation of Ruth and Esther to prophethood.  If you're going to evolve away from a perception, then you should make sure that your translation evolves in the same direction and have Paul saying "that from infant writings perceived to be sacred you have known…" so you can remain non-specific about what those writings are while acknowledging that you quite possibly differ from Paul in your modern perceptions of what is sacred and what isn't.

I also wouldn't translate "THE in Christ Jesus" as "in Christ Jesus".  "THE in Christ Jesus" suggests it as a species of faith whereas "faith in Christ Jesus" limits the idea to suggesting that there is ONLY faith in Christ Jesus and that that's what Paul is saying -- that all other faith is false.

Idiosyncratic to Koine Greek, evidently, is the plural form of "the" and I always see a problem there.  The safest translation always seems to me to be "these" because it's the only non-specific plural pronoun available to us in English.  Or, better yet, "the (plural)".  Or, better yet (in my view), "the ____s" because it more clearly establishes that there is a specific term or concept missing which shouldn't be inferred without specific evidence:  in this case, what Paul thought of and didn't think of as "sacred writings".

all Scripture God-breathed and beneficial toward teaching, toward reproving, toward straightening up upon toward discipline the in righteousness This is translated in the KJV as
 All Scripture given by inspiration of God & profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness This seems to me to confirm my point, "God-breathed" -- invoking as it does the animating of Adam in Genesis 2:7 --  a rather higher level of divine inspiration than the merely sacred -- suggesting that it would be incautious to decide "after the fact" and without evidence what Paul did and didn't consider to be "God-breathed" sacred writings.

"Beneficial for teaching" being translated as "profitable for doctrine" seems to me, again, to "de-Greek" the meaning.  Which, to me, is sad because I'm pretty sure that Koine Greek was selected by God -- and created by God -- for its specificity and its simplicity as THE Mediterranean lingua franca.  The fact that the Romans had adopted Greek teaching methods and expressions confirms this.  Compound nouns which convey a very specific meaning, coupled with the most advanced philosophical concepts (which the Greeks were miles ahead of anyone on at the time) are "beneficial for teaching" and so resonate with what Paul is saying.

"Profitable for doctrine" is certainly the direction in which the Christian church evolved (or, in my opinion, DEvolved), but it's an entirely contrary view to "beneficial for teaching".  It's institutional in form, looking at increasing the number of followers as a "profit-based" proposition.  The more persuasive your "doctrine" the more "profitable" it becomes:  you get more followers.

Unfortunately, this "philosophy" also leads to misapprehensions like The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition which were certainly "profitable" in the sense intended by "profitable for doctrine" but were entirely wrong-headed (and wrong-hearted) and, over the long term, far more detrimental to the good of the Christian church in seeking that which is "beneficial for teaching".  The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition were not, to say the least, "beneficial for teaching" the ministry of Jesus.

"for reproof" is also differently nuanced than "toward reproving", the latter suggesting that "reproving" is a direction you want to move "toward" rather than just outright "reproving" everyone who disagrees with you ("reproving" definitely having been the dominant characteristic of Christian teachings as they have evolved since the time of Paul).  Again, "toward reproving" is more aligned with the Greek method of "teaching through persuasion" rather than just overtly denouncing people. If you believe in persuasion you can always yourself be persuaded by a superior argument.  If you just "reprove" the odds are small of your accepting reproof.

"toward straightening up upon".  Again, conveyed through a single compound Greek term. Again, a far more benign way of expressing an idea as a means of teaching and persuasion than the KJV's "correction".  "Toward straightening up upon" suggests moving towards a more preferable structure through basic "organization out of disorganization", something that will benefit the listener personally, while not directly impugning the listener's own philosophical foundation, implicitly.  Quite the contrary.  It suggests that the listener's foundation is solid but that there is required a "straightening up" -- like forming a disorganized pile of cards back into a deck of cards -- "upon" the listener's own foundation.

 "Correction" -- and I see this as a Christian vice -- can only be inferred one way:  you are "incorrect" and my doctrine will "correct" you.

"for instruction in righteousness" seems to me to partake of the same vice, having only one compelled inference:  "you are NOT righteous. I AM righteous, so I need to instruct you in how to become righteous AS I AM".  It also seems to me to be a poor substitute for the original:  "toward discipline the in righteousness".  "Discipline" can be "instruction" but "instruction" is not always the same as "discipline".  It seems to me particularly true that SELF-discipline is a central component of righteousness.  And in the case of SELF-discipline, instruction is a raw material, not the finished product.  And the original sense conveys that:  "TOWARD discipline".  The sacred writings point TOWARD discipline, but they don't IMPOSE discipline.  I also think the translation misses the central "flavour" of "the in righteousness" because there is no direct English analogue.  To the English-biased mind, it looks like "pick one": "the righteousness" or "in righteousness".  Okay, we'll pick "the righteousness".

But, I don't think you can get too far, successfully, with "translation by omission" -- dropping out inconvenient words that don't reflect your own views.  I think you have to look at it in terms of "how do I have to change my perceptions of what is being said so that all of the words can be included in my perceptions?"  ("straightening up upon" my own views, in a sense).

To do that, I think you have to have "toward discipline" as one concept and then look at what "the in righteousness" does to amplify that concept.  The inclusion of the definite article "the" suggests to me, immediately, that what we are discussing is a very specific, individual species of discipline.   "Discipline THE [insert 'kind of discipline' here]".  And I think what Paul is specifically referring to is a species of discipline which exists as an inherent component not only OF righteousness but WITHIN righteousness, inextricable from righteousness.  "Toward discipline: the discipline IN righteousness".  That is, not SELF-righteousness, the idea conveyed by "instruction in righteousness" -- I am righteous and you aren't so I'm going to instruct you in how to be righteous like me -- but rather another form of "toward".  The sacred writings are TOWARD teaching, TOWARD reproving, TOWARD straightening up upon, TOWARD discipline (qualified by: the discipline found in righteousness). Go TOWARD the direction the sacred writings are pointing and see what you find there.

in order that fit may be the of the God man, toward every work good having been fitted out completes the thought nicely.  You align yourself TOWARD all of the TOWARDS indicated and you become fit (more I think, in the sense of appropriateness than physical strength -- in the same sense that "survival of the fittest" is more about appropriateness to the environment than who is stronger.  Many species that aren't strong are still fit.).  This seems a world away from the KJV's:
 that the man of God may be perfect  (marginal suggested alternative:  perfected) thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
 I think Paul would have found this appalling to suggest that what he was teaching was that the man of God, by following his teachings could become perfect.  If for no other reason than it suggests that Paul thought himself to be perfect and that his mission was to go out into the world in instruct people how to become perfect like him.  It seems to me another example of Church excess:  to take a very explicit roadmap of what sacred writings point you TOWARD and suggesting going TOWARD those things (ultimately concluding that this will lead you TOWARD every good work) and changing that into a de facto declaration of perfection -- a perfection "thoroughly furnished" -- by belief in God.

Now, to be fair, Mr. Ross is using THE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION of the Bible and only mentions the KJV as a secondary source, so I don't know what THE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION says, specifically, because he only cites the verse and doesn't quote it.  My experience has been that each updated version of the Bible tends to modify each successive one in the direction of "what we want The Bible to say" instead of "how close can we get in English to what the original Koine Greek texts say?"  And I have to admit that my conclusion is always to stick with the word-for-word translation since -- when I analyze what is being said, specifically, I find no way to translate the passage differently without losing the specific flavour of what is being said.  At least not without stretching every phrase into a paragraph.

Okay, well that's as far as I got this week.

Next week 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

Hook 'em, Horns!


Michael Grabowski said...

Sometime between Rick's Story and Chasing YHWH I started attending church, became a believing Christian, and read the Bible (NIV). I disagree with pretty much every one of Dave's interpretations and conclusions, but I find his thorough, if narrow and idiosyncratic, dissection of the text and the way he picks at these points to be really fascinating. I'm glad to read these on AMOC, Matt.

For what it's worth, the 1970s-80s NIV editors claim to have consulted the oldest extant Greek texts to produce what is colloquially called a "thought for thought" (as opposed to "word for word") translation. I can imagine what Dave would make of that phrase for this purpose. Since that 30-40 yr. old modern version has been revised in the last ten years (and the earlier version pulled from sale, circulation, and online usage) in order to neutralize some of the gender-specific language and make other adjustments, I can really imagine what Dave might say about that.

In any case here's the current NIV rendition of the passage Dave's working with here.

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Michael Grabowski said...

Just noticed that v. 17 above uses "servant of God," where the previous (1984) NIV said "man of God."

Tony Dunlop said...

The apostle Paul is notoriously difficult to translate. He was, by his own admission, not a very good writer - there's already no punctuation in ancient Greek, and Paul wouldn't have had much use for it if there had been...

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Huh! What a coincidence. My experience has been that each updated version of Dave's thoughts about the Bible tends to modify each successive one in the direction of "what Dave wants The Bible to say".

Michael G.: I agree that this stuff is interesting. It's always interesting to watch man create god in his own image.

-- Damian

Tony again said...

And we *still* don't know whether Dave prefers Gabriel or Collins. He's just building suspense.

David Birdsong said...

Hold on there Demon Tee, these letters date back four or five years. They are not a recent update. You try way too hard to find things to criticize Dave Sim for. He must occupy a lot of space in your head.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

David B.: Thank you for directing my attention to the post I was commenting on. "A lot of space"? Allow me to point out that, on a blog dedicated to Dave Sim's work and writing, you may find comments about Dave Sim's work and writing. Try not to be shocked.

-- Damian

Tony again said...

My take is very simple: Dave Sim is just another in a very long line of cranks who think that they are the only ones who have ever *really* understood the Bible.

Jeff said...

The bible, the Book, is full, chock full (certainly in the New Covenant) of people's--very dead people's--opinions about God, or YWHW, or Jesus, and, um, people.

I don't agree with everything in the bible--I disagree with a lot of it. Some old, rich, dead (now) guys decided to let King James (the version Dave utilizes) have his monks or other guys translate it from the Latin, which was translated from the Greek, which (in the case of some of the Gospels) was translated from the Aramaic.

The bible (book) is rich with excellent writing. It is full of great biographies, and autobiographies, and even hagiographies.

Tony? Damian? I don't pretend, I don't even begin to pretend, that I understand the full account of what the various contributors (let alone what King James' scribes) believed it said, as they "transcribed" it, but...

I do believe it is a beautiful manuscript which has, somehow, managed to avoid the wastrel tides of time.

FIW, I think that Dave Sim's work may, just barely, in perpetuity, barely avoid those same waves, perhaps even to rise on a following one.

Just guessin'.

My point is this: Let us, in the spirit of comity, allow *everyone*, should they choose so to do (even, [gasp!] Dave), express their religious views.

Agreeing to disagree is a major part of life, but no one should be silenced by innate enmity.

I could very well be wrong.

But, in the interim, how 'bout we let each scholar, novice, or "crank" have her (or his) turn at the podium, while we (quietly, on our own) see what we think about that?

As my favorite preacher, the Reverend James Buskirk (R.I.P.), used to preach to us at ORU, when I was matriculating, "Don't take *my* word for it; look it up for yourself." ( The chapter and verse were always announced.) (And I always did try to interpret or understand it on my own, as he advised). God rest his soul for being the truest godly man at O.R.U.

I may have digressed a bit, but I think I may have made my point.

Nighty-night. I look forward to your comments.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jeff employs two tactics (as he frequently does) that mark him as either comprehension-challenged or intellectually dishonest. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he's an honest fellow who simply can't read.

1) Jeff, nobody here has even suggested that anybody in the world should be prevented from expressing their religious views. Whoosh! go the goalposts as they speed past!

2) Jeff, you are confusing criticism with censorship. Nobody here is being "silenced by innate enmity."

Jeff, you have indeed made your point. It's just that your point is dumb or dishonest. Which is it?

If the purpose of this blog is that readers "quietly, on our own" think about the posts, there is a simple way to ensure that: turn off the commenting function. That's a one-click effort on the platform. I think that would make the blog less interesting, but Dave has always preferred that communication be a one-way street, from him down to his audience.

I'm not completely certain what you mean when you say that The Bible has "managed to avoid the wastrel tides of time." Perhaps you would concede that the foundational text of much of Western civilization might enjoy some protection that Harold Robbins novels or Cerebus might not.

(As for your paragraph after that: longtime readers are aware that you believe that in a just world Cerebus should occupy a position only slightly below The Bible. This is not, shall we say, a widely-shared or even supportable opinion -- but, let me be clear for comprehension-challenged individuals such as yourself, you are entirely welcome to hold, advance, and argue for said opinion; you certainly don't need my or anyone's permission.)

And speaking of intellectual dishonesty: Jeff, is your degree from Oral Roberts University (!) the one that you failed to earn from the institution and thus awarded yourself, or is that your other one?

-- Damian

Tony again said...

Hey, I think Dave Sim the scripture interpreter is a crank, just as surely as I think Dave Sim the cartoonist is a frickin' genius - but as this is a blog about Dave Sim and his creations and thoughts, by all means keep the commentaries coming.

By the way, I'm a deeply convinced Christian, but if the Bible has avoided the "wastrel tides of time" (???) then I think the same must be said about the Upanishads, the Baghavad Ghita, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and no doubt other profound spiritual literature I haven't read yet.