Thursday, July 7, 2022

Troublemakers in the Church, by Mark Atteberry

 I was not encouraged by this book. It really comes across as a toolkit for preachers to keep their congregations in line.

There is a pathology in churches today in which the focus of ministry is to get churches to toe the official church narrative; and when someone thinks outside that box, preachers desire a way to smack that churchman back in line. If the churchman doesn't repent and properly place himself under the eldership like a good little sheep, then there's the door; and I'll leave my boot print on your butt so you have something to remember me by.

There are many troublemakers described in this book. I can summarize them all as church members who get under the skin of the preacher. The preacher cannot just get rid of those members for getting under his skin. Now, with this book, there are new excuses that make the preacher appear to be taking the spiritual high road.

There are several types of troublemakers described in this book that are especially easy to apply in a wide variety of situations.

THE PHARISEE: This one boils down to identifying church wolves. The offered solution is by addressing sin. But when a preacher is looking to get rid of someone, he can drill down on something quite rare in the person—such as that time when the individual lost his temper after a long period of badgering from the narcissistic preacher. Now the churchman is labeled as quick tempered and the preacher plays the innocent victim. If Atteberry's solution is to effectively root out Pharisees, the identified sin had better be chronic. If it is an outlier incident, it's not a church problem.

THE FALSE TEACHER: Atteberry advocates that teachers teach "without any denominational bias or personal agenda" (p. 89). He also says, in what I believe to be in direct self-contradiction, "Every attempt should be made to insure that every person ... holds views compatible with the church's positions on those issues deemed nonnegotiable" (p. 92). In practice, that means the preacher is in charge of identifying those issues and determining the correct church position on them. Elderships can easily be swayed to agree with the preacher. This teaching churchman is just another example of someone getting under the skin of the preacher and the preacher wielding his strong personality to convince the elders that the churchman is a false teacher who must be censored.

In the section titled, "Chose Your Leaders Carefully," Atteberry recommends a review period for recently appointed elders. I agree, by the way; but his suggested details concern me. Firstly, Atteberry suggests the elders police one another internally. What?! The church should be a part of the review process. If elders select new elders and discipline existing elders, the eldership becomes a good-ol boys club where nobody disagrees with anyone else. Everything is unanimous. If not, the minority view holders will be dealt with. Again, preachers are good at swaying elderships to their personal way of thinking. After a few years, the eldership becomes the preacher's elders. He is the mouth of the elders.

Secondly, recently appointed elders are evaluated according to whether they are "supportive of the church's vision" (p. 132). Who dreams up the church's vision? In practice, it is the preacher's job to lay out the vision. This process guarantees that the eldership eventually becomes a powerful squad of yes-men for the preacher.

This book is all about increasing the preacher's power is a congregation. That's a problem.

Monday, June 13, 2022

1 Kings 4:24 in NRSVue

The New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (NRSVue) shortened NRSV reading of 1 Kings 4:24. We cannot spy into the scholarly discussions and learn why they made this change, although I am certain somebody kept minutes of those meetings. I decided to look into what I could with respect to scholars' thoughts on the verse. Perhaps I could get a feel for what the NRSVue revisers might have been thinking. I think I found something. In the end, however, I still strongly desire to know how the conversation went in that closed room of NRSVue scholars who were revising the NRSV at 1 Kings 4:24.

Comparing Translations

Here is the new reading of the NRSVue:

For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates, and he had peace on all sides.

And here is the verse as it reads in the NRSV:

For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides. (my bold text indicates the additional information not included in the update)

NRSV does not have a footnote; but NRSVue has this at the word "Euphrates":

Gk: Heb adds from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates

We would read note this as, "This is the way the Greek (LXX) reads. The Hebrew (Masoretic Text) includes the text, from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates."

This note is rather interesting partly because the NRSV is one of the translations that tends to favor the Greek over the Hebrew when there is diagreement between the two. I have noticed this tendency especially when the Greek is the longer text. In this case, the Greek is shorter. Let's look at the other two translations that tend to favor Greek over Hebrew when there is disagreement.

New American Bible Revised Edition:

1 Kings 5:4 He had dominion over all the land west of the River, from Tiphsah to Gaza, and all its kings, and he had peace on all his borders round about.

(Some translations mark 1 Kings 4:24 at 1 Kings 5:4 because the Hebrew starts a new chapter at 1 Kings 4:21). NABre gives the longer reading although it does not repeat the phrase "west of the River."

Revised English Bible:

For he was paramount over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, ruling all the kings west of the river; and he enjoyed peace on all sides.

REB also gives the longer reading.

This decision on the part of the NRSVue scholars seems to go deeper than merely resolving a difference between Hebrew and Greek.

Scholarly Points

Dr. M. J. Mulder observes:

Two cities are mentioned: (1) Tiphsah and (2) Gaza, names which are missing in some Hebr. MSS and also in LXX(B, Luc); either by homoioteleuton or because it concerns an even later addition in certain Hebr. MSS LXX does have this addition in 2:46f. (Dr. M. J. Mulder and translator John Vriend, 1 Kings: Vol. 11 Kings 1-11, Historical Commentary on the Old Testament, 1998, p. 192)

In other words, some Hebrew manuscripts contain the shorter reading and two specific Greek texts, "Codex Vaticanus (and its recension)" and the Greek text "The (proto-)Lucianic recension," give the shorter reading. Either the additional text was added so late that it came into the text after the LXX was translated from the Hebrew, or it was dropped from the Hebrew text that was used in the LXX translation by homoioteleuton. Homoioteleuton has to do with a series of words that end the same. If it happened in this text, some Hebrew scribe was copying the text (I'll quote the NRSV):

For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides.

When he finished writing in the new copy the first occurance of "west of the Euphrates," his eye returned to his master copy but he located the second occurance of "west of the Euphrates" and continued copying. The information between the two instances of "west of the Euphrates" was lost.

Mulder also mentions that the longer text does apper in 1 Kings 2:46. Indeed, in the LXX, much of the information in chapters 4-5 is documented, although not in quite the same order.

1 Kings 2:46 (NRSV) Then the king commanded Benaiah son of Jehoiada; and he went out and struck him down, and he died.
So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.

Compared with the LXX:

And King Salomon commanded Banaia son of Iodae, and he went out and did away with him, and he died. (4:20) And King Salomon was very prudent and wise, and Ioudas and Israel were very many as the sand which is by the sea in great number, eating and drinking and being happy, and Salomon was chief among all the kingdoms, and they were bringing gifts, and they were subject to Salomon all the days of his life. And Salomon began to open the resources of Lebanon, and he built Thermai in the wilderness. And this was (4:22) the midday meal for Salomon: thirty kors of choice flour and sixty kors of ground meal, (4:23) ten choice calves and twenty pasture-fed oxen and one hundred sheep, besides deer and gazelles and choice fatted birds. (4:24) For he was chief everywhere across the river from Raphi to Gaza, among all the kings across the river, and he had peace on all his sides round about, (4:25) and Ioudas and Israel lived in confidence, each under his vine and under his fig tree, eating and drinking, from Dan and as far as Bersabee, all the days of Salomon. And these were the officials of Salomon: Azariou son of Sadok the priest and Orniou son of Nathan chief of those in charge and Edram, over his house, and Souba, scribe, and Basa son of Achithalam, recorder, and Abi son of Ioab, commander-in-chief, and Achire son of Edrai over the levies and Banaia son of Iodae over the main court and over the brickworks and Zachour son of Nathan, the counselor. (4:26) And Salomon had forty thousand brood mares for chariots and twelve thousand horsemen. (4:21) And he was chief among all the kings from the river and as far as the land of allophyles and to the borders of Egypt. l Salomon son of Dauid reigned over Israel and Ioudas in Ierousalem. (New English Translation of the Septuagint. My italics: additional text contained in LXX. My bold: The additional text that contains the text missing in LXX at 1 Kings 4:24)

Simon J. DeVries ("1 Kings," WBC, Word, Waco, 1985) gives this translation of 1 Kings 4:24:

For he exercised dominion over all Eber-hanahar, from Tipsah to Gaza, over all the kings of Eber-hanahar, and he enjoyed peace on all the borders surrounding him; ... (64)

 So DeVries keeps the text in question. he notes that the text,

"from Tipsah to Gaza, over all the kings of Eber-hanahar,"

is missing in the Greek. His technical note is,

"MT. G(BL) omits (homoioteleuton)." (66)

Which means: This text is present in the Masoretic Text but is missing in the Greek text "Codex Vaticanus (and its recension)" and the Greek text "The (proto-)Lucianic recension." This note is similar to that of Mulder except DeVries is certain that the text was dropped by homoioteleuton (copiest's mistake).

DeVries says linguistic evidence indicates that 4:20-24 and 1 Kings 10:1-10 are extremely late (76). The evidence, he explains,

It is stated that Solomon controlled "all Eber-hanahar" (RSV: "the region west of the Euphrates"); this designation describes Syro-Palestine from a point of view eastward from the Euphrates and was actually the official name of this region in the Persian empire, hence a very late date is certain. Tipsah lay on the upper Euphrates and Gaza is the leading town of the Philistines, situated on the Mediterranean. Within this territory Solomon is said to have enjoyed perfect security; no one on any of his borders ventured to attack him. Thus "Judah and Israel dwelt safely." The fact that here and in 4:20 "Judah" precedes "Israel" is another clue to extreme lateness, for the reverse order is found in early documents where the two entities are mentioned together (in the post-exilic period, "Judah" began more and more to assume precedence because the returnees from exile were almost all Judahites). 4:20 has two superlatives respecting the people's happy condition: (1) they were too numerous to count and (2) they did nothing but eat, drink, and rejoice. 5:5 (4:25) has two superlatives likewise: (1) the entire land was safe ("from Dan to Beersheba") and (2) this lasted as long as Solomon lived. Here the image of eating, drinking, and rejoicing is kept rather modest in the familiar locution, "every man beneath his vine and beneath his fig tree," as if to suggest that privacy, quiet, and the simple needs of lite are enough to keep a man happy. (72-73, bold text mine)

My Thinking

It looks like much of the data about Solomon's administration came from legend and was added to the text by redactors at a very late date in the Persian period. The date may have been so late that earlier versions of the text were still available for the LXX translators. On the other hand, the late redactions could have been added to the text before the book of Kings was properly canonized and the missing text was dropped shortly afterward by the copiest of the manuscript. The copy with the dropped text became the source text for the LXX translators. I can see why the NRSVue team might have favored the LXX reading over the Hebrew Masoretic Text. The longer text may have been introduced into the Masoretic text long after the translation of the LXX. On the other hand, even in English, the missing text looks like an obvious haplography (homoioteleuton). A sleepy copiest dropped the text because of the repeated words "beyond the river."

End Comments

Incidentally, the reason this verse is even on my radar is because "west of the Euphrates" is a bad translation. It should read "beyond the River."

I was real impressed with what I read from Simon J. DeVries' commentary on 1 Kings. I obtained these resources through inter-library loan because I cannot afford to buy them. That said, DeVries' commentary is worth owning.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Forming Resilient Children, a book review

Forming Resilient Children: a book by Holly Jeanean Allen, IVP, 2021.

Holly Catterton Allen (the author's pen name) has produced a very helpful book about raising children to be spiritually healthy. The book is obviously born out of detailed research and observances in her project leadership at Lipscomb University. She and her students worked with children who were experiencing major personal trauma in their lives. She and her students found that lecturing these children and pressuring them to face their troubles was not useful. Instead, children benefited through relationships, particularly, relationships with self, others and God. Children grew stronger and took more control of their plights (rather than stewing in their victimhood) by gently expressing themselves in art, wonder and times of quietness when they can ponder God. The roles of the adults in their lives is to gently listen, express support and provide opportunities to think inwardly and outwardly. These activities build relationships and they offer hope. Allen aptly quotes Vaclav Havel, "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."
While Allen collected most of her data from troubled children, she observes that everyone experiences personal trauma in their lives. It is a good thing to have friends and God, and a way back to the self-relationship, to provide meaning in those circumstances. "Every generation faces some form of upheaval and loss," she writes, "and this generation can take its place alongside those who have survived earlier crises, perhaps making connections that can contribute to their own resilience" (174).
I am 59 years old and I found a lot of personal benefit from the pages of this book. I am able to understand how my own childhood, with all the difficulties and losses, forged me in large part into the person I am today. I did not have anyone guiding me through those circumstances; but I can see that I found my way through them. Particularly, my relationship with God was critical to my coping.
I appreciated Allen's observance that children are often shuffled to the side when there is trauma in their lives. Instead of attending funerals of loved ones, for example, they are often shuffled off to baby sitters. A better treatment of the children is to provide space and opportunities for them to grieve along with the adults in their lives. If they are not afforded these opportunities, their loss will likely go unresolved. They may have not been able to go through the necessary process of grieving.
Allen did not mention it; but I know that children who do not have support in their losses often develop personality disorders and grow up to be narcissists. Those children are much better off having a community of good relationships with friends, God and self.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Being faithful in your relationships (Genesis 39)

Genesis 39:8-9

But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (NRSVue)

Potiphar explicitly put his wife off limits to Joseph. Otherwise, Potiphar's wife may have had the power to give this order. Joseph's intention to avoid Potiphar's wife was connected with the covenantal relationships he had with Potiphar and with God. As John Goldingay says,

First, there is a relationship of trust between him and his master, which he cannot betray. Second, having sex with Potiphar's wife would be something very bad; it is a common evaluation of adultery in the Middle East. And third, it would involve doing wrong against God or offending God or falling short of God's expectations. ("Genesis," Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Pentateuch, 2020)

Relationships are important and it is important that we be totally faithful to our relationship partners.

Genesis 39:3-4

His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.

What did Potiphar see?
How does God's presence make things happen?

Here are some thoughts from Teranct Fretheim ("Genesis," NIBC, Abingdon, OliveTree e-book).

It probably presupposes that Joseph’s presence “in the house of his Egyptian master” entails theological conversation, or at least sufficient knowledge of Joseph to make the connection between his God and his words and deeds.
There are implications here for how God works in the world: not in overwhelming power, but in and through the ambiguities and complexities of the relationships of integrity God has established.
God also works with Potiphar, so that Joseph finds favor in his eyes. Thus God appears active, not only within the lives of the family of promise, but also within those who do not confess the name of God.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022



I finally finished the book Discovering Biblical Equality. It works as a valuable compilation of current issues and debates within the topic of Christian egalitarianism. If you have not delved into the debate, this book is a good reference that speaks for the egalitarian perspective.

It contains contributions in areas of history, biblical interpretation (from the perspective of a high view of scripture, by the way), theology, hermeneutics and church community.

This text is probably now out of print as it is replaced by the update (Third Edition, copyright 2001, IVP). The update reprints several of the better and still-relevant articles from the previous edition, updates at least one (Kevin Giles, "The Trinity Argument for Women's Subordination") and offers new chapters that address more recent sectarian attacks against Christian egalitarianism. The update is on my self-assigned reading list.

Probably the best, most refreshing and also frustrating article that appears in both editions is by Alice P. Mathews "Toward Reconciliation: Healing the Schism." Mathews explains why it is so difficult to change one's mind about any conviction one has held for a long time. It is actually difficult to even understand the perspective of someone who thinks differently. In my humble opinion, if you want to argue persuasively for your perspective and against someone else's perspective, it would pay dividends to invest a lot of time to understand your opponent well enough to be able to effectively argue FOR his/her perspective to his/her satisfaction. But I digress.

Some quotes from Mathews:

Those who have spent their lives in service to Jesus Christ bring theological assumptions from their early training that continue to determine what they can and cannot see. Moreover, they are convinced that their assumptions are grounded in Scripture. Yet the history of the church should serve as a cautionary tale about assumptions that in fact were based at times more in political or social realities than in the core teachings of Scripture.

Whether we are egalitarians or hierarchicalists, there are people who hold things against us. In the process of acting to defend their paradigm, people hurt other people within the body of Christ. In the pursuit of truth we demonstrate an un-Christian priority system when the idea becomes more important than the people holding the idea.

All Christians defending or forwarding one of the competing paradigms face the temptation of devoting their time to shoring up their own arguments while giving little attention or respect to the arguments of their opponents. We must adamantly resist this temptation.

Every paradigm has its anomalies. Until we have explored the anomalies threatening both paradigms, we have not completed our task.

Does this begin to explain how something that is intuitively obvious to one remains opaque to another? In view of this tendency, how can we maintain an awareness of the chasm between the two paradigms even as we embrace those whose ideas we reject?

The pursuit of truth con never be a substitute for nurturing relationships within the body of Christ.

The book is outstanding and Mathews' article is especially outstanding. But it is also frustrating. Two people cannot find reconciliation unless both agree to try (Amos 3:2; Matthew 18:15-20). I know of two congregations that have successfully handled a division regarding a different issue: Women covering their heads in worship. Most often, churches just divide over these kinds of issues; but in two cases, churches actually organized open forums, with articles and verbal presentations, arguing for both sides of the dispute. Everything was documented and available for church members to reference in the future. Once everyone understood the perspective of their issue opponents, they respected the other perspective to the degree that they continue to worship together as church families. Some women covered their heads. Others didn't. Everyone respected everyone else's convictions on the head-covering issue.

Those two stories―two different churches on the same issue―give me positive feelings for the future of the church populated with people who hold differing convictions on the egalitarian/complementarian question. Unfortunately, churches most often censor one side of the debate and proclaim their own side as the official narrative. That method just drives away everyone who has questions. And church members wonder why all the Millennial and Zoomer generations have left the church.

The church is a long story of division over issues. Through a major part of its history, Christians executed their brothers and sisters in Christ for having different answers to doctrinal questions that church leaders wanted to consider settled issues.

Even in the first century, with all of Paul's preaching about Jew and Gentile Christians keeping their own convictions but still respecting the convictions of others in the interest of Christian fellowship, the Jewish and Gentile Christians formed their own homogeneous churches and no longer fellowshipped across the divide. This divide was complete before the end of the first century! This long history combined with my own experiences of division and character assassination of God-loving Christians over piddly issues that should not divide Christians, turns my optimism into pessimism. Nobody likes a change agent. That is what hung the Lord on a cross. That is what got most of the great believers in history killed.

At my age, it is probably time for me to step aside and let the next generation figure it out. It probably won't be in the churches of Christ. That little denomination (yes, denomination) is trying really hard to die.

My copy of Discovering Biblical Equality is an OliveTree e-book.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

First Impression of the NRSVue

In this article, I will mostly compare the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (NRSVue) with the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which is the basis for the NRSVue.

I have been looking forward to the publication of the NRSVue. The earlier NRSV has been my primary translation for a lot of years. I love it. I expect the update to do nothing but get better. I think that is what has happened. In this article, I have collected a bunch of verses that are... interesting to me in the NRSV. They are the passages I have most anticipated comparing with the NRSVue.


Things that were fixed

1 Kings 8:16

NRSV: Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city from any of the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.

NRSVue: Since the day that I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city from any of the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there, nor did I choose anyone to be a ruler over my people Israel. But I have chosen Jerusalem in order that my name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel. (italics mine)

The NRSVue greatly improves the translation of this verse by incorporating information gathered from research of the Dead Sea Scrolls and comparing the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 6:5-6. The NRSVue alerts the reader to the variant with a footnote that reads, "Cn Compare Q ms and 2 Chr 6:5-6: MT lacks nor did . . . be there". We would read that note to say, "This is a correction derived from a comparison of the Qumran texts and 2 Chronicles 6:5-6. The Masoretic Text lacks nor did . . . be there." I do believe the NRSVue to be the first mainstream translation (I hope) to correctly correct this verse. This verse is probably a shining star example of scholarly improvements that readers will encounter in their studies with this translation.

Isaiah 3:12

My people—children are their oppressors,
and women rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you,
and confuse the course of your paths.

My people—their oppressors extort them,
and creditors
rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you
and confuse the course of your paths. (bold text mine)

NRSVue provides a footnote at the word "creditors" indicating the translators favored with the Greek (Septuagint) over the Hebrew. There is no note explaining the change from "children" to "oppressors." However, the change is probably closer to the original. The literal reading of the first two lines of the verse, out of the Hebrew, is something like, "My people, his oppressors, he deals severely, and women rule over them." Either "oppressors" needs to be corrected to "children" or "women" needs to be corrected to "creditors." The verse either pairs children and women (NRSV, KJV, NKJV, NABre, CSB, NASB, NIV), indicating that Israel's rulers are the least qualified to rule; or it pairs oppressors and creditors (NET, REB, CEB, NETS, LXX, and now NRSVue), indicating that the rich oppress the poor. In my humble opinion, the Septuagint (LXX) is a pretty good witness for this verse.

Isaiah 9:3

You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

You have multiplied exultation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder. (bold text mine)

This verse is famous among Bible text scholars. At the time of the preparation of the NRSV in the 1980s, the scholarly consensus favored "exultation" over "nation;" but there were a few scholars who did not want to make the change. They pressed hard against the change—so hard that some of the other scholars backed down and, rather than push back against their colleagues, conceded to keep the RSV rendering. It was one of those moments in scholarly circles that became noteworthy because strong personalities prevailed over actual scholarship.

Incidentally, the Revised English Bible gets this verse right.

You have increased their joy
and given them great gladness
1 Corinthians 11:10

NRSV: For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of angels. (bold text mine)

NRSVue: For this reason a woman ought to have authority over her head, because of angels.

Almost all standard translations screw up this verse by adding "a symbol of" to the text. It does not exist in the Greek. Most translations assume headship in this chapter to mean authority and that Paul means a husband's authority over his wife. However, headship does not mean authority. Paul means to say that a woman has the power to make her own choice to do what she wants with her own head. There is no need to add (coff coff) clarifying... verbiage to the text.

1 Peter 3:5

NRSV: It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. (bold text mine)

NRSVue: It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by being subject to their husbands. (bold text mine)

"Authority" does not belong in this verse. The Greek, in a non-military context, should be understood as cooperative submission. Translations that insert language that puts husbands in authority over their wives do violence to the meaning of this verse. The Bible does not sanction a husband's authority over his wife (excepting 1 Corinthians 7:4 where the authority goes both ways).

Jude 5

NRSV: Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (bold text mine)

NRSVue: Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, once and for all, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (bold text mine)

NRSVue changes "the Lord" to "Jesus." It provides a textual note that "Other ancient authorities read informed, that the Lord who once for all saved." This is one of those texts in which there is a lot of variation amongst the ancient witnesses. The ancient witness for "Jesus" in this verse is strong; but some variants also give "Lord" (kurios) and "God" (theos). One interesting witness says "God Christ" in that place. Even if the witnesses were evenly divided, scholars should favor "Jesus" here on the basis that it is the more difficult reading. It is most likely original to the hand of Jude. Christian scribes were more likely to make slight modifications in their copies in order to make the text clearer—than to make slight changes that make the text more difficult. It is more difficult to accept that Jesus was personally involved in the Exodus than that God was the divine power behind the Exodus. Because of the way Christian scribes made their copies, translations should generally favor the more difficult readings as more original. The English Standard Version (ESV) also made this correction of the Revised Standard Version (RSV).

I am intrigued by the relocation of "once and for all." NRSVue does not provide a footnote regarding this change. RSV does not include the phrase at all and ESV kept the RSV reading there. The witness for either location is somewhat complicated; but wherever it goes, the meaning of the verse changes. The phrase's location in NRSV does not have a lot of force but it may be conscripted to support the Calvinist doctrine of Once-Saved-Always-Saved (Preservation of the saints). Its location in the NRSVue points to the nature of the readers' knowledge. The readers already have solid knowledge that Israel was divinely saved from Egypt.

Things that should have been fixed but were not

Exodus 4:23

NRSV=NRSVue: I said to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me." But you refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son."

This statement is obviously conditional. The older RSV reading is preferable:

and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me"; if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your firstborn son."

Leviticus 10:9 (for example)

NRSV=NRSVue: "Drink no wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons, when you enter the tent of meeting, that you may not die; it is a statute forever throughout your generations. ..."

The rendering of "sekar" as "strong drink" in the NRSV is also famous among textual scholars. The translating committee of the NRSV strongly agreed to translate "sekar" as "beer" in every occurrence of the word; however, the editorial committe (consisting of three persons for the Old Testament: Bruce Metzger, Robert Dentan and Walter Harrelson) changed all those beers back to "strong drink" against the wishes of the whole translating committee. I am a bit bewildered that the NRSVue scholars did not go with "beer" in the update.

Numbers 21:14

NRSV=NRSVue: Wherefore it is said in the Book....

NRSV got rid of all the "wherefores" from the RSV; but this one escaped the scholars' notice. It is just an oversight on the part of the NRSV scholars. The NRSVue scholars kept the oversight.

1 Kings 4:24 "West of the Euphrates" is a bad translation. It should read "beyond the Euphrates." Correctly translating that phrase betrays the location of the writer of 1&2 Kings: Babylon. There is no alternate reading notice about "west" in a footnote. The NRSVue team obviously looked at this verse because they made another change.

NRSV: For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides. (bold text mine)

NRSVue: For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates, and he had peace on all sides.

There is a footnote in the NRSVue indicating that the shorter reading comes from the Greek while the Hebrew provides the longer reading. When I compare the two readings, the longer reading looks at first like a haplography where text could be easily dropped between the two instances of "west of the Euphrates." I am really interested to learn why the translators chose to exchange the longer NRSV reading with the shorter version.

John 9:3-4

NRSV=NRSVue: Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work."

The NRSV is terrible here! and the NRSVue kept the terrible reading of these verses. Knowing that Greek has no punctuation yet English does, translators should take care how they supply punctuation. The two verses should read something like

Jesus answered, "Neither this man sinned nor his parents; but so that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me(/us)—as long as it is day. Night is coming when no one can work."

Not very many translations get John 9:3-4 right.

Galatians 3:16, 19, 29

Galatians 3:16 (NRSV=NRSVue) Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, "And to offsprings," as of many;[/,] but it says, "and to your offspring," that is, to one person, who is Christ.

NRSV and NRSVue should translate all occurrences of "spora" in this chapter as "seed." As in English, "seed" can mean a single seed or a large quantity of seeds. The word "seeds" generally refers to a small, countable number of seeds. Paul's argument is based upon the Septuagint translation of Genesis 22:18. Either way, Paul is playing with words in Galatians 3. He knows that "seed" can be either singular or plural. In fact, he uses the word as a plural in verse 29. So, he is stretching Genesis 22:18 to apply to Jesus since there is no Old Testament passage that directly addresses the identity of Jesus. Whether or not Paul's argument is convincing is not the point. Editorializing "seed" to "offspring" confuses Paul's point. Translations should just say "seed" and leave the interpretation to the reader. The problem is, NRSV already translated all the seeds in the Old Testament as "descendants" and "offspring." When they did that, they kind of backed themselves into a corner in Galatians 3. To their credit, the NRSVue team did not take the bait and editorialize Psalm 89:4, 29, 36 as did the ESV team.

1 Timothy 3:2

NRSV=NRSVue: Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher,... (bold text mine)

"Married only once" is overly interpretive. The problem with it is that the (literal) "husband of one wife" has to do with faithfulness to his wife rather than whether or not the candidate has been scripturally remarried. The case for faithfulness over "never remarried" is made by looking at 1 Timothy 5:9.

Let the widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband,... (ESV)

Whatever the widows list was, each candidate for the list had to be the "wife of one husband." Noting that Paul wanted to deny enrollment to younger widows, encouraging them to get married (1 Timothy 5:14), it would seem unfair if these twice-married women became widows again in their sixties and were denied enrollment in the widows list because they had been remarried when they were younger widows. Obviously, "wife of one husband" refers to how faithful the widow was when her husband was alive. That's what "husband of one wife" means in 1 Timothy 3:2.

NRSV and NRSVue probably favored the "married only once" language to show that they believe the qualification is gender inclusive. It also means "wife of one husband." "Husband of one wife" gender inclusive. If Paul meant to say "husband or wife of one wife or husband, respectively," he would just use the masculine language by directing the qualification to husbands. I offer just two (of many) examples of where similar masculine language is really gender inclusive: Luke 14:26; Exodus 20:17.

I would favor "being a faithful spouse" at 1 Timothy 3:2.

1 Peter 1:20

NRSV=NRSVue: He was destined before the foundation of the world but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.

All of the appearances of "foundation of the world" in the New Testament are mistranslated in almost all standard translations. Foundation (katabolee) is a really difficult word to translate; so English translations from the Geneva and KJV forward followed the Latin word meaning "foundation." The word literally means to throw something down. Somewhere along the line, someone (Jerome?) decided the word means to lay a foundation. But it also means to fall. The meaning "foundation" seems to denote the point of the first day of Creation. The meaning "fall" would indicate a point in time when there was a falling—as in the generation before the worldwide flood that had a great moral fall. Instead of "foundation of the world," a better reading is "disintegration of human society."

Furthermore, in NRSV (=NRSVue), the word "destined" is pretty bad. The Greek word here is usually translated "foreknown." I'll set aside the rationale for translating the word as "destined" in NRSV. Since "foreknown," means "known" in some contexts (Acts 26:5 and the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon 6:13) and "knew" means "loved" in others (e.g., Matthew 7:22-23; 1 Corinthians 8:3; 2 Timothy 2:19), "foreknew" could be understood as "known" or "foreloved." A good translation would say,

He was known before the.... (c.f., ESV, NASB, NET Bible, GW, WEB, Young's Literal)

Gender Inclusiveness:

There is a handful of passages that suffer in meaning from the gender inclusiveness of the NRSV and NRSVue. In particular, when the biblical passage is intended to overtly target individuals, gender inclusiveness moves to a plural pronoun in order to keep the gender neutral. Sometimes, the pronoun "they" substitutes for "he." Today, we are almost accustomed to hear "they" as a singular pronoun referring to both a "he" and a "she." It still gives me Forest Whitaker eye. Some passages that I think suffer from the gender inclusiveness (but NRSV and NRSVue can't help it) include

Psalm 1:1

John 4:14

John 14:21, 23

Psalm 68:11 This one is quite interesting in both translations:

The Lord gives the command;
great is the company of those who bore the tidings.

This "company" is actually a "company of women." What is wrong with "women" announcing this news? Is it because whatever they were doing in their announcing is too stereotypically women's work? Whatever.


Hebrews 2:6-8 special case

NRSV: But someone has testified somewhere,
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under their feet.”
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,...

This one is actually pretty good in both NRSV and NRSVue. (NRSVue says "humans" rather than "human beings"). Most translations apply the quote from Psalm 8 to Jesus. NRSV and NRSVue apply it to human beings. Nevertheless, the word "control" in verse 8 is problematic. "Control" used to mean "authority" which is the correct meaning; but with the rise of New Calvinism, "control" means "irresistible control." The theological meaning of "control" has changed and therefore the modern meaning of the word in Hebrews 2:8 is now incorrect. The revisers of the NRSVue should have altered the language to mean "resistible authority."


Some either/or passages:

Isaiah 53:10

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. (bold text mine)

"Crush" is probably not the best translation. Everybody translates it that way; but "purify" would be better than "crush."

Romans 1:4

NRSV=NRSVue: and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord....

Not capitalizing "spirit" here looks like a mistake; but it can go either way. It changes the meaning; but either meaning is acceptable.

Ephesians 5:32

NRSV=NRSVue: This is a great mystery, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.

The meaning of this verse is kind of in the gray area. Applying marriage to Christ and the church may not be the point. Paul may be applying Christ and the church to marriage. It is possible that Paul is using the unity of Christ and the church to describe the unity of husband and wife, not the other way around. The difficulty for translators is to not take sides in this gray zone. Tough call.

James 3:15

NRSV=NRSVue: Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.

"Devilish" is not a good translation. Demonic is better; but the meaning may be the same either way. James said "daimoniodes" (demonic, influenced by an evil spirit) and not "diabolos" (devilish, slanderous). Is this verse about supernatural influence or a human character flaw? "Devilish" is easily a reference to a character flaw. "Demonic" denotes influence from a supernatural being. Demons inflict harm but they do not tempt. So, "demonic" may still refer to a character flaw but it is unusual to say it that way. To say that someone's actions are demonic may mean that those actions inflict harm upon someone else. Either/or.

Final Thoughts:

Sometimes NRSVue softens language that I think was better in the NRSV. For example,

Hosea 1:2

NRSV: When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits whoredom by forsaking the LORD."

NRSVue: When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go take for yourself a wife of prostitution and have children of prostitution, for the land commits great prostitution by forsaking the LORD."

I am conflicted over whether or not NRSVue is an improvement in this example. 

I'll add that the NRSVue comes with a pretty good set of crossreferences. It may be the same set the NRSV has. The older version was rarely published with crossreferences. Or with red letters.

I am excited about the NRSVue. Before its release, NRSV was the greatest English translation ever! Further study in the NRSVue may endear me to it... or not. That sentament will take a lot of time.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Genesis 38: What is righteous?

What is righteous?

Genesis 38 takes a temporary break from the Joseph story to document a bit of family intrigue in Judah's little circle.

 In the account, Judah gives a Canaanite woman named Tamar to his oldest son Er. God finds something objectionable about Er and acts in some way that results in Er's death. Judah gives Tamar to his next oldest son Onan who, by family custom, should sire a son to inherit Er's birthright (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Ruth 4). Onan thought about it and decided that he would have Er's inheritance if he failed to sire a son through Tamar; so he used Tamar for sex but he practiced coitus interruptus so that his seed would not go into Tamar. This behavior also displeased God and the result was Onan's death as well.

(Incidentally, there is no basis here to suggest that every death is God's will. Nevertheless, God evidentially reserves the right to sometimes work toward the death of certain persons).

Judah told Tamar that he would give her to his next younger son when he is old enough to take a wife. He then, conveniently, forgot about it. Tamar, on the other hand, was forced into permanent widowhood without any freedom to remarry or to inherit.

Tamar took matters into her own hands. She disguised herself and had sexual intercourse with Judah. She got pregnant. When Judah found out the whole story, he called Tamar "righteous" (Genesis 38:26).

The end result of Tamar's actions is that Judah's lineage was preserved. He became the ancestor of David and Jesus through Tamar. In typical patriarchal fashion, the younger of Tamar's twins is the father of this lineage.

The big question that comes up here and in other places is, What, exactly, is "righteous?" Is morality a long list of DOs and DON'Ts? Is everything that is stated as a rule in scripture the end-all of right behavior? We need look at Jesus' repeated violations of the Sabbath to see that we can focus too closely on the rule at the expense of treating people right.

Is there gray area between right and wrong? If morality is that fluid, how willy-nilly can we be about switching them around? I am reminded of Romans 3:7-8.

But if through my falsehood God's truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), "Let us do evil so that good may come"? Their condemnation is deserved! (NRSV)

 Addendum, for clarity. A paraphrase.:

If by my unrighteousness I glorify God then my unrighteousness is God's will; so I should have a reward rather than a condemnation. We don't do that. Those who say we do are condemned and deserve it.


Consider the dishonest actions of the Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1:19-21), Rahab (Joshua 2:4-5), David's spies (2Samuel 16:16-19; 17:7-13, 20) and Michal (1 Samuel 19:14; 20:28-29; 19:17). There are good Christians who operate as spies and undercover agents. How do they do it without feeling like they are sinning in their dishonesty? It probably boils down to the fact that being right is less important than love and the good welfare of people.

Fretheim ("Genesis," NIBC) has this to say: [Tamar's] action cannot be universalized so as to be declared righteous wherever it is committed; at the same time, such action may be righteous in another time and place if it becomes the way of doing justice to a relationship. It may be necessary to go beyond the law in order to fulfill the law, which should enable life and well-being to a community (see Deut 6:24; Jesus’ sabbath-breaking, Mark 2:27). Here the OT narrative gives especially high value to the future of the community, in view of which individual acts, which might be normally condemned, are viewed positively. Relationships are more important than rules; faithfulness may mean going beyond the law. We cannot help wondering whether this story has informed Jesus’ saying that “the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matt 21:31 NRSV) as well as his open response to the woman who was a “sinner” (Luke 7:36-50). We should not “secularize” this note about righteousness; in v. 10, God is explicitly involved in judgment regarding this matter. Hence, Tamar has been truer to her relationship with God than Judah has.