Archive for the ‘context’ Category

Koipaint1 (2)

Being Koi, Oil on canvas. Christopher MacDonald.

As the class winds down it seems I am getting to learn, or at least hone some skills in my Gospels class. 

Our professor had prepared a long document outlining the differences in content between the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark an Luke) and John’s Gospel. It was a pretty good general list, and probably the thing I took issue with was just a part of some list he inherited (let’s give him the benefit of the doubt). 

My purpose in repeating my reply is simply to educate you about so-called “double stories” in the Gospels and the sort of (in my view) less than sensical assumptions some “scholars” can make which defy common sense, the texts and clear reason.  

In this case it has to do with the two miraculous “fish stories” of Luke 5 and John 21 where nets are cast over the side of the boat and a huge haul of fish is drawn in. Luke’s account takes place at Gennesaret on the first day that James, John and Peter become disciples, the nets tear and it is after Jesus does some teaching from the boat. Only Peter is in the boat with Peter – who essentially freaks out.  In John’s acount, it is after the resurrection when the boys have become men and been with Jesus for years. These men (seven of them) have been out all night fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee), when they obey a stranger (they do not know it is Jesus) the nets fill but do not rip. Peter has the presence of mind to throw on his outer garment before throwing himself into the sea, but the others (including James and John) come along with the fish and they then have the world’s quietest big fishing haul breakfast. 

Now some scholars would have you believe that these two stories are the same event.

It gets worse – they have tenure.

So I am “calling them out.”

Having spent a great deal of time in John 21 for my final assignment I am very familiar with the story of the miraculous catch of fish both from that chapter and from Luke 5 (4-11).

and keep insisting, contrary to the real possibility over a few years time – that Jesus may have given a hundred such sermons (heck, there may have been a “sermon in the ravine” Think of the acoustics!

I appreciate the hard work our teacher put in preparing this list of distinctions between the Synoptics and John’s Gospel. I want to add before I comment on the two miracle fish stories that:

  1. I have never felt any need or desire to reconcile or harmonize Gospel accounts or “smooth off the edges” of supposed contradictions one way or the other. I simply don’t care. There is never any real fallout of any real import and the long debates about inerrancy/infallibility etc..have always seemed to me a great away to avoid either real work in the texts, or actual service in the field. What a waste of time. It bored me at 19; it super bores me at 59. (And for those who feel like “well there is a contradiction so I don’t have to believe the Bible. Good. Don’t. Now, moving on…”
  2. Just because two things are vaguely similar on the surface does not mean they are the same event.

On point two this is especially pertinent when it comes to men and women with no imagination at all, for they cannot imagine that Jesus, for example, having given a sermon on the “mount,” might also give a very similar one on a “plain.” Now you would think they might have a clue as some of the content is different as well as some of the demeanor. But no, they do not make this possible connection at all – at least not many of them – and keep insisting, contrary to the real possibility over a few years time – that Jesus may have given a hundred such sermons (heck, there may have been a “sermon in the ravine” Think of the acoustics!)

And so we come to our fish story, where the fishermen, after a night of getting “skunked” simply obey the stranger on the beach (that is odd) and don’t get upset when he asks about their fishing in a less than diplomatic way (“Caught any fish boys?” is one possible translation) but they just do it. And then when the fish swell the net John is the first to realize – then Peter.

Is it possible that it is because it has happened before — say the first day they became disciples— these two?

The differences in the story are not just when they occur. Naw…It is ALL different…contexts, nets ripping, not ripping (and that being called into attention), two different responses by Peter…one with others…the other with Peter alone…two different locales. I mean, seriously, other than fish and nets what is the same?

So I would be happy to sign off on an obvious “same” story just slotted in a different place if there was evidence and a good reason to suppose that was so. But to do it here is to take away from the meaning and depth of both stories and minimize them both.

map_002It’s poor attention to detail and basically – sooner or later – insists that you subsume one story into the other. Why? Is there any good reason for this?

I’ll buy into each Gospel writer picking and choosing what they want for their own theological ends – quite comfy with that. But that is not the same as grabbing a story and re-engineering it. And that is always the underlying aspertion. No one actually comes out and SAYS this – but it is there.

Well I am calling that stuff out.

If anything it seems evident that every embarrassing detail has been left in, as well as no few incidental ones which seemingly have no purpose at all.

This just adds to my laundry list of why modern scholarship is out of touch in many regards: no imagination or common sense.


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CB022240When I wrote the previous article on reading and studying the Bible as “Splashing or Scuba” I left off at an intermediary state: “skin-diving”. From there came the nationwide news story of “Conservapedia.com” and their attempt to rewrite the Bible thousands of years later from a biased point of view and from the 1611 KJV.

That was an example of attempting to scuba-dive with no tank, regulator, BCD, octopus, and certainly no depth computer.

So, in fact, we were able to see, in the previous article how not to do it, and in the meantime some of the serious work that needs to be done if you want to go deeper in scripture.

I did a commentary on Paul’s letter to the Colossians which I am preparing for free download here at The Grand Book. It is incomplete (it ends at 4:6, but attempts to hit the meatier parts of this profound Christocentric letter).

It took me at least 6 months to write it, mostly because I had to do all of the work myself, which could be tedious. But  hey, try reading seven commentaries on one book (in detail), then doing the additional Greek word study when necessary. Then you have to type it all up (this included my creating my own Greek character font for my Mac…and NO, the “symbol” font will not work).

BCDI’ll stop whining. Point is, you at your church or small group have a tremendous opportunity.

Without trying to be critical, have you often found small groups to deal in a general, even cursory way with passages in question?

I have been to many small groups, and the idea is necessary because churches need “Church beyond Church”. So we have small group Bible studies, but are we really studying? Are we really exploring the texts of God’s Word, or are we answering pre-canned questions looking for the “right” answer, or afraid of speaking the wrong one?

Admittedly, I am not the norm. I was built to both teach and to go deep. This is not required of everyone by ANY stretch of the imagination. But wouldn’t you like to have other biblical images and passages that you understood come to mind as your preacher or pastor delivered their message on Sunday mornings or at a weekly study?

Let me use a silly example. I bought an old Volkswagen bug. It’s a 1969 classic and beat up in some ways. The windshield wipers don’t work (which is lots of fun this time of year!) the sunroof leaks water (talk about full immersion…this is not sprinkling after a good Arkansas rain), and up until recently the hood and right front fender looked like that part of the ship in Aliens that is all corroded and looks half eaten. The carburetor in back sometimes spurts/leak gas. I keep a fire extinguisher in the passenger side of the car.

Now where would I be without a toolkit, or just standard American sockets instead of metrics?

But what if two friends from the local “Bug Club” come over with their ramps, their tool boxes, a fresh look and some experience? We can talk about the best way to really handle the “issues” at hand and think and work things through. It is also a lot more fun!

So my suggestion, along those same lines, is not that you have a master teacher (unless your pastor or biblical education teacher) but rather a facilitator who feels so led and who knows how to keep things moving and let everyone speak and be heard.  Then comes a simple, yet radical idea.

Scuba-Diving-Courses What about assigning a commentary each to people in your small group. For those more academically inclined it could be an English translation of a Greek commentary for the passage in question.

This is not as hard as it sounds. A Young Life leader taught me (a high school C- student) how to do this at age 19. So, let’s say one member shells out $25 for the complete four volume hardbound set of Vincent’s commentaries. That’s a start.

The group decides to study, say Colossians.  It is small, and written to mostly uneducated Gentiles living in what is now Turkey (Asia Minor). It shouldn’t be too hard. Next you ask your pastor or a good teacher what good commentaries are available on Colossians?

ten_plagues_puppetsSadly, these books will NOT be available at your local Christian bookstore, or very rarely. Instead, however you mtestamintsay yet be able to get either these “testamints”  ; or the Ten Plague finger puppets. Hours of fun, but they will not help you make friends or help your kids (or adults) understand the Bible (but you will have the fresh scent of mint on your breath).

So you will have to go to Amazon or CBD.com. Even at CBD you may find it hard to actually find the commentaries (it was not always so). But they are there. For individual commentaries I suggest Amazon. They may be able to get you a very affordable used copy of an important one.

Let’s say there are ten people in your small group, which means 7-8 show up (this is very good) weekly. They are more apt to show up and simply DVR or TIVO House, or Lost, or CSI whatever if they actually have something ahead of time to share. (Note: I am not being cynical. I would show up to, but would DVR  some of those programs, especially Fringe or Fast Forward) . They may also invite friends, as a small group with coffee and snacks is a lot less intimidating than church may sometimes be at first.

N.T. Wright on Colossians and Philemon

N.T. Wright on Colossians and Philemon

Divide them up as you wish, or trade off every once and awhile since you are studying the same passage together ahead of time before you meet.

For Colossians, I would get a number of commentaries: N.T. Wright’s book ($12), and F.F. Bruce’s commentary (pricey at $30 but anything by Bruce is nearly priceless). The Bruce book will be the most detailed, but still accessible (give it to a nerd like myself).

If all this seems a bit over-intellectual (I could barely write an English sentence at 19), then also add these: Max Lucado’s commentary, or  J.B. Lightfoot’s commentary updated by J.I. Packer (this may be a bit heady too, but if you can figure out Facebook apps, you can get this).

I would steer you away from good books by good men like Bill Hybels and John MacArthur because they are both somewhat “pre-processed” and that misses the whole point. Who wants to see snapshots of someone else’s scuba dive when they can dive in themselves?

No, you want to study personally, then come together to discuss what you have learned, what questions you have , and share personal reflections that relate.

51nCQ9Q9guL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_But also, a good devotional book like Sam Storms Hope of Glory, may really add a whole new devotional angle on Colossians. You may find (if someone plays music) that one or two of these reflections  take the study and frame them more personally, naturally leading to worship. Or, perhaps someone, has been assigned to find a song to play from a  CD that covers some of the issues of the passage.  Be open to letting people’s natural and spiritual giftedness come out in this!

C.S. Lewis one commented that every good piece of theology should also lead into worship.

batfish-and-scuba-divers-1Other suggestions. Create a Facebook fan page where each of you can blog in relevant passages from what you are reading ahead of time. The  key to this is to explore the depths of God’s Word together and enjoy that exploration together.  Add what you like. Journal individually, or not.

If you hit a problem or an argument breaks out about a passage talk with your pastor (though those who scuba together are taught over and over to protect and look after each other!). You can even write the author (in the age of email this is not always impossible).

Of course you can write me as well. But I prefer you first do it in your small group under your pastor’s care and encouragement. I can guarantee, that as long as you keep a humble and teachable attitude, your pastor and others will be delights, no…inspired by your studies as a group.

You will experience real connection with what you are studying and will find you are thinking about it throughout the week. I believe this is part of God’s intention in protecting and providing the Word to you and I.

As always, please leave comments and questions. If you feel you want to do this and want further advice you, or your pastor can email me and thereby get my phone number.

I am in the Greater Little Rock area to assist. Why? It’s what I do.

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Topics from the Conservapedia.com front page.

Topics from the Conservapedia.com front page.

Stringent note: Almost everything said here about this Conservative group and it’s flagrant fouls has been done is spades by Liberal groups in equal or worse measure. This is not about politics Left of Right. It is about messing with or changing the Word of God. Get it? 


Well, it seems certain that the new Bible “translation” by the folk at Conservapedia will not be translating the words of Jesus in red. In fact in many cases they will not be translating the Bible at all, but changing the meanings of specific passages to 1) remove anything they deem supportive of American Liberalism); and 2) to accentuate any passages that can be made to seem more Conservative, free-market and down-right Republican.

We are not talking about a commentary on the Bible by Conservatives. Nothing wrong with that except it would not be based grammatically or linguistically. We are talking about literally changing or deleting words from legitimate translations.  Here is their agenda verbatim:

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
  • lack of precision in modern language
  • translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one.

Of these three sources of errors, the last introduces the largest error, and the biggest component of that error is liberal bias. Large reductions in this error can be attained simply by retranslating the KJV into modern English.[1]

As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:[2]

  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]
  4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[5] using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”

Thus, a project has begun among members of Conservapedia to translate the Bible in accordance with these principles. The translated Bible can be found here.

Now let’s be clear. If suddenly there appeared a “Liberalapedia” with their translation using a similar, but Liberal, approach in this way the objections would be exactly the same.

In previous posts I have talked about the difference between “exegesis” – “reading out of the text” and the dangers of “eisogesis” – “reading into the text”. This is far worse. This is actually changing the accurate  translation of the text itself.

I’ll give you an example tomorrow, but let’s  look at the basic presuppositions of “errors” found by Conservapedia.

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ

Lack of precision? The Bible translations we have our the most rigorously studied and researched documents of any collection of works in human history.  If you want the definitive work on this in English read Bruce Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. It is not only a primary source of scholarship (that is readily accepted and used by Liberal and Conservative theologians alike), it is a great cure for late night insomnia.


  • lack of precision in modern language

The very reason we have so many translations is because there are variances in time sand places when it comes to the English language. But the meaning between the easier to read NIV does not alter the meaning that is found in the more literal (and therefore more “choppy”) translation like the NASB.  The very need for a translation to replace or stand alongside the KJV (1611) is how English has changed between 1611 and 2009. I have a fine library of English puritan literature from the 1700s, some in the original English of that time. It is damned hard to read!

To be sure, the etymological meaning of specific words from the best manuscripts can bring out richer meaning, especially when added to First Century cultural studies and archeological finds. This is not what these folks are talking about. They mean to ignore the plain meaning of these words in their original context and superimpose not only an interpretive grid over the texts to change their meaning, but actually mistranslate  words.

This is no different than our friendly, but textually misguided Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have also “changed” the meaning of the text to fit their beliefs (more on this in articles on what James Sire calls “Scripture Twisting”. )  [Note: and by the way, the next time Mormon Missionaries or JW’s show up on your door, do NOT be mean to them or shine them on. It’s a tough gig, and they are trying, in a sense, to “earn” their salvation. I invite them in for water or tea and offer to pray with them together (they can lead). Sure, as a former apologist I could rip their arguments to shreds, but what’s the point of that? They more than not, really want God. I find that noble and at times brave.]

The  last “error” they state is the most absurd. For a moment I thought I was reading an article on The Onion.

  • translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one.

Of these three sources of errors, the last introduces the largest error, and the biggest component of that error is liberal bias. Large reductions in this error can be attained simply by retranslating the KJV into modern English.

Why in the heck would you EVER do a translation of the Bible from an earlier English version from 400 years ago when we have Greek manuscripts that we can use that are 1900 years old?

Now the King James Bible is a remarkable translation. Given the manuscripts they had at the time (1600s) compared to the massive number of manuscripts we now have (and which date back to within 30-50 years of the original autographs), you could argue that the translation they came up with is almost “miraculously” accurate.

It was assumed that with each new find (manuscripts dating back closer and closer to the First Century) that major errors would be found. Some “strains” of slight errors were found and could actually be traced as they ran their course through later copies. They were in consequential.

Anyway, not to bore you any further (or at least at a later time), the  question is still “why in the heck would you take a translation in English from 1611 and use that as the “Textus Receptus” (the starting point) for a new translation over Greek, Coptic and other early manuscripts much closer to the originals? That would be like choosing an English translation of Caeser’s Gallic Wars that was derived from 3 manuscripts written 800 years after the originals instead of starting over with the newly found  300 manuscript copies, written in Latin that dated back to within 100 years.

Are they insane?

The answer is pretty obvious. But in case you are as slow as these Conservapedia guys are, you would only opt for that if you could only read English, had no idea how to deal with Latin, manuscript evidence or would be let within two miles of the manuscripts because they don’t recognize your credentials in Electronics from the University of Phoenix (apologies) online.

Just to give you an example (and I will NEVER ask you to do this yourself unless you write me and really REALLY want to learn how).
Let’s say I am studying a passage that uses the word “peace”. In Greek that is “eirene”. Of course the context is important (that’s all the other words that happen to also be in the sentence, paragraph and chapter). But let’s say I want to know what the word “peace” means to a First Century Colossian when his village get’s a letter from Paul.

First, I go to an Interlinear. That is a word for word translation with the Greek words on top, the closest English word below. It reads very choppy because word order is different in Greek than English. The verb can be the last word of a very long sentence!

Some are not so bad…like the end of Colossians 1:2 “Grace    to you   and   peace   from   God   Father   of us.”

But let’s say you want to know what the word “peace” meant (and by the way, this group wants to strip that word out by some accounts) in that time and culture (and language). From there I have to get my Analytical Greek lexicon (as I am not brushed up on my Greek declensions and am lazy)  that will tell me the root word (as it may be in a plural, possessive…blah blah form here).

From there I can consult some Greek Commentaries (some written long before this idiotic culture war in America) for someone that has already done the work. But maybe they are tired of doing it because Paul almost ALWAYS uses this in his opening salutation.

So from there, knowing the root word in Greek I have to crack open the correct volume (one of ten) of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (translated from the German) which is about $400. But I have them.

From there, I can look up “eirene” (sorry no Greek fonts)  and read the uses of it prior to New Testament times (including the Inter-testamental period), its usage in other documents of that exact time, its use in the early church times and even beyond. Pages and pages of information done by the best Greek scholars the world has ever seen (no one is racing to replace this set).

From this we learn interesting things that, while held in check to some extent (nuances), can help us gain a greater understanding of how those Colossians Gentiles would have understood Paul’s letter to them that we now call “scripture”.

For example, one core meaning of the word “eirene” was “right relationship in every sphere of life”. That is part of Paul’s wish for this young church, and for us as well.

The Bible, particularly the New Testament, has very little to say about government. The only “government” it is interested in is the “Kingdom of God” as outlined on the Sermon on the Mount and the other Gospels.

In a sense, theological Liberals have done the same thing with the “Jesus Seminar” which I object to on the same essential grounds. Even the term “The Jesus Seminar” is deeply ironic. It is an attempt to strip out the actual words of Jesus from the Gospels because they do not agree with the “Seminars” presuppositons (read opinions).

They don’t like what Jesus has to say any more than those at Conservapedia. In some ways The Jesus Seminar may be worse because they hide their agenda behind a veil of pseudo-scholarship.

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