Thursday, September 24, 2009

More Translations

A friend asked me to compare the NASB, MKJV and NKJV. I have to first state that the reason I didn't touch on many of these types of translations is that they weren't released for the Catholic market and don't contain the Deuterocanon. I only included the KJV in the previous post due to its wording's wide familiarity. Anyway, here's my response for my friend:

I'll get the MKJV out of the way, because I know almost nothing about it. I note it uses Jehovah for the name of God, but aside from that I'd have to sit down and flip to different passages to see how it handles this or that Greek phrase.

The NKJV I am more familiar with. I have a Gideon's New Testament and Psalms, and the Gideon's use the NKJV almost exclusively. The NKJV revised much of the spelling and grammar to make it more contemporary while keeping the same flow and as much of the same aesthetic quality as the KJV. This caused some problems, because in correcting they altered some well-loved passages to conservative Protestants. One that immediately comes to mind is Acts 17:22. The KJV says "Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious." Whereas the NKJV says "Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious;" Conservative Christians balked, thinking this was an error. Actually, the NKJV got it right. The KJV translators couldn't possibly imagine Paul praising the Athenians for paganism, but that is exactly what he was doing. He was getting behind them before he threw a curve at them (he says, mixing his metaphors).


1 A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

My only fault with it is twofold. One ... no apocrypha/deuterocanon ... That is a show-stopper for me. Two, it, like all KJV derivatives, is too slavish to Textus Receptus. At the time of the KJV that was the best text anyone could use. But more recent scholarship, and by recent I mean from the 18th century onward, has shown that Textus Receptus is serious deficient in some areas and has bits and pieces in others that were not in the original. I also find it ironic that so many Conservative Christians cling to TR, when it was largely an invention of a Catholic Priest, Erasmus of Rotterdam ... yes, that Erasmus.

As for the NASB. It's an extremely literal version of Scripture, to the point where it is nearly unreadable at times in English. Indeed, a criticism of an earlier version than the NASB applies also to the NASB itself: Strong in Greek, weak in English. Psalm 23 won't show this very well, and so I will try to hunt down a passage that is so slavish to the older languages' syntax as to be virtually unreadable in English.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Translations Compared

My friend Ros raised the issue of which version of the Bible to buy. Another friend remarked "the one you will read" a la Billy Graham. But I hope to offer some additional guidance.

First, a warning, two of the translations actually spell out the name of God. This might cause offence.

Second, an explanation. I think it makes it easy to see the differences by comparing how each translation treats a common and well-known passage from the Bible: Psalm 23

The King James Version, more properly the Authorised Version, is probably the loveliest of all the translation. It is not without problems. I think of the end of Isaiah 13 almost immediately where the KJV translators translated dragons and satyrs. But for sheer aesthetic value, the 1611 version of the KJV (with Apocrypha) is the pinnacle of aesthetic and literal consideration.


1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

But the KJV, for all its beauty, is not a Catholic translation, per se. For its contemporary we turn to the Douay-Rheims. It is not nearly as lovely all of the time. The below quote is proof. The D-R translators were as slavish to the Latin as the KJV translators could be the to the Greek of the NT. And that's important. The D-R is a translation of the Vulgate, and although Bishop Challoner revised it to be closer to the original languages it still suffers from an over dependence on the Latin.


1 (22-1) A psalm for David. The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing. 2 (22-2) He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment: 3 (22-3) He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for his own name’s sake. 4 (22-4) For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me. 5 (22-5) Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebreateth me, how goodly is it! 6 (22-6) And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.

Many years later the Revised Standard Version, one of a long line of updates to the KJV was produced with a version made available for Catholics. It is among the best permitted for Catholics, and is an even better translation than the Protestant version. The Protestant version has numerous problems in the New Testament (Holy Spirit is an it; the Pericope Auldterae, i.e. John 7:53-8:11 is in a footnote, and so on). The Catholic version could not obtain the imprimatur until these were fixed. It suffers from several problems still though. The RSV still uses thees and thous when referring to God, even though Hebrew does not contain this distinction, and it is one of many translations to not translate Is 7:14 as virgin. Still many conservative Catholics prefer this version or its revision by Ignatius Press for its overall fidelity to the original languages. It also still maintains a high aesthetic style.


1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; 2 he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

More recently the RSV has been updated with a version again prepared for Catholics and another for Orthodox. The NRSV suffers from a number of translation problems, not least of which is its decision to often impute politically correct and gender neutral readings on a text where to do so obscures the meaning.


1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

The official Catholic Bible in the United States is the New American Bible. This is the version all the readings at Mass are drawn from. So far all the versions I have cited have maintained a high aesthetic style, and the NAB is the first to have very pedestrian and sometimes even ugly lines of text. Psalm 23 is almost not up to the task of showing this. But if you've been reading along then you know this Psalm has a natural rhythm, not unsurprising for poetry. The NAB merely makes these declarative statements with no eye for aesthetics.


1 A psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
2 In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;
3 you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.
4 Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.
5 You set a table before me as my enemies watch; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.

Outside the United States, like in Britain and Ireland, the Mass readings are taken from the Jerusalem Bible. While in fresh, modern text, the translators very consciously tried to maintain a literary quality. They retained J.R.R. Tolkien has a translator, although he demurred in later years as to the extent of his contribution. Nevertheless, his influence is clearly evident. This version is still quite controversial for, among other things, deciding to spell out all of God's names. Usually the name of God is obscured by The LORD and so on. Here it is spelled out, although with the popular conjectural pronunciation. Interestingly, in the Mass readings these are returned to The LORD. Also, this version is one of few to split the difference in Is 7:14 by translating almah as "maiden."

Also, its footnotes and introductions were enormously controversial, because they advanced the then still new High Criticism approach. Nowadays you can't actually get the version with those notes. The only version of the JB available is called the "Rearder's Edition."


1 Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 In meadows of green grass he lets me lie. To the waters of repose he leads me;
3 there he revises my soul. He guides me by paths of virtue for the sake of his name.
4 Though I pass through a gloomy valley, I fear no harm; beside me your rod and your staff are there, to hearten me.
5 You prepare a table before me under the eyes of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup brims over.
6 Ah, how goodness and kindness pursue me, every day of my life; my home, the house of Yahweh, as long as I live!

In the 1980s, the JB was revised. The notes were no less controversial, and they joined the chorus of translations that translate almah as "young girl." Moreover, much of the literary quality was sacrificed under the pretense of increasing accuracy. It also introduced more "inclusive language" although not to the extent of the NRSV. The result is a now uglier and less accurate translation of Scripture.


1 [Psalm Of David] Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 In grassy meadows he lets me lie. By tranquil streams he leads me
3 to restore my spirit. He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name.
4 Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for you are at my side. Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.
5 You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup brims over.
6 Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life. I make my home in the house of Yahweh for all time to come.

The next two translations are firmly in the camp of "thought for thought" translations.

The first one, the Good News Translation, which until the 2000s was called Today's English Version, is very easy to read with simple language. It has a kind of aesthetic quality all its own. The simplistic language is intended for all ages, especially children and people who do not Speak English as a first language. One of the benefits of a version like this is that people who come to it not knowing what predestination or justification mean, are not necessarily going to be put off by these versions. Te Word is thus more accessible. The problem is that the simplicity can also allow the biases of the translators to get in the way. One other thing to note is that the GNT, when they changed the name also introduced inclusive language, abut again, not to the extent of the NRSV.


1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. 2 He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. 3 He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised. 4 Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd's rod and staff protect me. 5 You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim. 6 I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live.

Finally is the Living Bible. I include it because Our Sunday Visitor sells a Catholic version where they received permission from Tyndale to paraphrase the Deuterocanonical books and include them. The Living Bible is not a translation, it's a paraphrase, what one man (in this case) says each line means not what the line says. It too has a style all its own, and was quite controversial in its day, no less because he had an individual in the Old Testament cuss.


Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!
2,3 He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He restores my failing health. He helps me do what honors him the most.
4 Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.
5 You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You have welcomed me as your guest; blessings overflow!
6 Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.

As you can see there's a wide variety, but none of them are perfect. Some are much less worthy than others. And I haven't touched on the versions where the Church has given approval to only the New Testament and Psalms versions (which I could have done since my example is Psalm 23).

I hope this helps to give an idea of the ups and downs, and I of course will answer any questions in the combox.

Monday, September 21, 2009

More on the Development of the Canon

Before continuing with my history of the development of the canon, I feel it somewhat important to answer a basic question. If we say that the period of the Councils, like Carthage, Hippo and Rome, defined the OT and NT canons, we do have to answer "which OT canon?" Alexandrian or Palestinian? The Alexandrian canon is also called the Septuagint (often abbreviated LXX for the Seventy translators who supposedly translated it) and the Palestinian is the 39 books no one disputes.

This is an important question, because many of the Fathers considered the LXX to be inspired. Justin Martyr and St Cyril of Jerusalem come immediately the mind as advancing this view. St Cyril even goes so far as to say that it was not done by the agency of human wisdom but entirely as inspired by the Holy Ghost. He explicitly says this.

This helps to explain why the Eastern Churches accepted the LXX entirely, including all four Maccabees, all the Esdrases, Odes and so on. The West, as I said, adopted the Alexandrian canon only to an extent. As I said before, they had a two-tiered system. Of the 39 books, they largely accepted those as being canonical without exception. But they also inherited some books from the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers and for this reason called the second tier Ecclesiastical. St Cyril, whom I mentioned before, in saying the LXX was inspired, also tells the people to whom he wrote that not to gainsay the books handed down by the Apostles, because "Children of the Church" should not question their "Fathers." But again, this all had to do with the context of what was read out in the churches. As an aside, and to bring Jerome back into this, he was widely criticised for his new Translation into Modern language. People had gotten to like their old translation that sounded very archaic and could only be appreciated by some, especially those with an education. Sound familiar?

By the time of the aforementioned Councils, things had changed enough that the distinction was dropped.

What resulted was a text that could be used to settle disputes, but the important thing to note is that it wasn't Scripture that ultimately settled the disputes but the Ecumenical Councils making use of Scripture. The Canonisation of Scripture was meant to serve the needs of the Church, not the Church serve Scripture.

This served the Church well for centuries. Scripture inspired a rich prayer-life of recitation of the Psalms, Proverbs, and so on. The pericopes of Scripture became so well known as to inspire art throughout the ages. And of all the books, when the Printing Press came about, what was published first? The Vulgate Bible.

Then came the Reformation and the first challenges to the canon in 1100 years. Why? Well, to an extent there's a very simple and logical reason. Suppose you have determined that no institution of Man, no matter how Divinely instituted can be free from the Fall. So you decide that something immutable and outside the structure should be the element to which you appeal. Hence sola scriptura. Since Fallen Man could not be trusted, but the Word of God was unchanging, so now it was the Word of God itself that held the final Authority. But if you're going to have a final Authority, you need to decide which one that is.

Now, cynics charge that the Reformers removed the books that they found disagreed with their position. Exploring that charge is another post entirely. But suffice it to say we can presume their sincerity. If they looked back throughout time they found that the only books of the canon that never met with any resistance in the Old Testament was the Palestinian canon. The New Testament is a different and sometimes fascinating story. Suffice it to say, if we went with some of the first reactions, our New Testament would be a lot smaller. But again, another whole post, and one filled with nuance upon nuance.

But this invites the question "Who gets to decide?" In all previous times it was the Church who decided. So Trent took up something never before deemed necessary. See in the Patristic period the Ecumenical Councils thought it went without saying that the Councils of Hippo, Carthage and Rome had sufficiently dealt with the question. Nowadays we'd liken it to the Supreme Court of the US determining that the lower courts got it right and see no need to take up the question. But with Trent it was different. We had a huge portion of North Europe saying that some books were not to be read with equal reverence and accepted as equally inspired. The position since the Patristic period had been, if not de jure, at least de facto the opposite.

So Trent took up what all its predecessors had seen unnecessary to do and it issued its now famous decree that all of the books in the Vulgate were to be accepted as equally inspired etc. In essence the Council of Trent finally put the seal of an Ecumenical Council to decisions taken and accepted in the Patristic period. Although the Vulgate was held in reverence by the Council, what they really said is that it was not the Vulgate for the Vulgate's sake, but the Vulgate because it was a correct representation of the correct canon. And thus the differences today between the Protestant and Catholic Bibles (and indeed the Eastern Bibles which I touched on earlier).

Some of my friends lament the fact that the Apocrypha has been somewhat disregarded nowadays. The Reformers, trying to ape the Fathers, considered the Apocrypha in a high place although not canonical per se. But there was a difference between the Reformers and the Fathers. The Fathers never had sola scriptura. And so their two-tiered approach could survive. But under sola scriptura if it's not canonical it eventually will be excised as "extra-biblical". And thus the eventually leaving behind of the Apocrypha and even the naked hostility to it as a collection of "Romish books" are perfectly understandable. Obviously I don't agree, but it is a logical consequence of what the Reformers did.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Development of the Canon of Scripture

To understand the development of the canon, which I touched on a little in the previous post, we have to understand what the Fathers saw as important and how that changed.

Before the Council of Nicaea, the Fathers (the Ante-Nicene Fathers), especially the Apostolic Fathers (those Fathers who knew the Apostles personally) had an interesting way of approaching this subject. For them, what was important about Scripture was which ones were to be read in church. But what we learn is that many churches allowed a wide variety of works to be read in church that later did not make it into the canon: like the Shepherd by Hermas, Pope Clement's First Epistle to the Corinthians, and the Didache to name a few. Some that did make it into the canon of Scripture were contested from the earliest days, this is why some Churches in the East -- to this day -- do not have Revelation in their Bibles. The doctrinal/dogmatic argument-ender for the Ante-Nicene Fathers was "the Apostolic Witness." If anyone could demonstrate conclusively that the Apostles taught X instead of Y ... end of discussion! Scripture was used to corroborate the Apostolic Witness, especially the Pauline Corpus. After all, Paul was an Apostle, and if he taught it, it confirmed the other Apostles taught it, since he learned from them. If Papias or Polycarp claimed that John taught X, that was that. Scripture, while important for educating churchgoers, especially catechumens (they spilled a lot of ink debating which books and which pericopes should be shown to the catechumens) the doctrinal discussion-stoppers were the Apostolic Witness.

But by the time of the Council of Nicaea, indeed the whole reason for it really, the Apostolic Witness was becoming harder to discern from spurious accounts. All of those who knew the apostles and those who knew them were dead. So the Church needed to come up with a way of maintaining right belief (orthodoxia) in union with the Apostolic tradition. This spurred them to determine which Scriptures were canonical and which writings were merely inspired. They would know the canonical Scriptures because they agreed with the Apostolic Witness.

Here are the criteria they used. First and foremost, these Scriptures had to be read by all of the churches and not just some. This seems to affirm a congregationalist polity. But in reality this was a simple, common sense rubric. If all of the churches read these Scriptures it is because they were either taught to do so by the Apostles or they conform to the Apostolic Teaching. The Gospels are a good example of this concept. Not only did they have to deal primarily with Jesus (some contemporary Gospels dealt with other people as well. Luke is the closest to this of the canonical Gospels. He spends quite a bit of time on Jesus' relatives. Other Gospels that did not end up being considered canonical spent more time on others than Luke), and they had to agree completely with what the Apostles taught about Jesus. So the synoptics and John got in, but Gospels were Jesus elevated Mary Magdalene above the Apostles or where Judas was the Good Guy did not, because they disagreed with the Apostolic Teaching.

There was also another consideration that was very important to the Fathers. Nowadays we'd consider this silly superstition, but they took it seriously. Basically, the number of books in the OT had to equal the number of Hebrew letters, and the number of NT books had to equal the number of Greek letters. Here's one example:

There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the Epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

-St Athanasius, 39th Festal Letter

Indeed, in the same Festal letter, Athanasius describes what then went on in their minds when they realised they had books left over. Essentially, they had three designations: Canonical, Ecclesiastical, and Apocryphal. Nowadays, we'd call them Protocanonical, Deuterocanonical and Pseudopigriphal. In this second category they included the Old Testament Deuterocanon, of course, but they also included a NT variety, which often included the Shepherd, Clement's Epistle, and so on. They called it Ecclesiastical, because the Apostolic Fathers had ordered them to be read in church. This is behind Jerome's remark in his prologue in my previous post.

By the Councils of Hippo, Carthage, Rome etc it was decided, with respect to the OT, to leave off the artificial designation of canonical and ecclesiastical, and instead to include them altogether. The New Testament fared differently. After much debate certain disputed works were excised and others included.

The purpose for doing all of this though was simple. If the Apostles and their immediate successors are not present to ask about certain points, we need a base text upon which we can debate. Then when the Arians and Nestorians make their claim, we'll have one work to consult. If what they claim is not therein, they're wrong.

(continued tomorrow)

Jerome and the Deuterocanon

I have recently been studying Kevin Edgecomb's translation of the Prologues to the Vulgate.

I find these very interesting for a number of reasons. For one, they tell us a little about how Scripture was viewed in the 4th and 5th centuries. We also see the role of Bishops, and what role they played in this, not least of whom was Pope Damasus I. And we also see the role that Council of Nicaea played.

We also learn a lot about Jerome himself and his translation methodology. All of this is very instructive. But the real reason these are so helpful has to do with why I was looking at them in the first place.

Several days ago I spoke to a friend, B.D., and he (a Protestant) repeated to me the oft-repeated line that Jerome disdained the Apocrypha. He can be forgiven for repeating this line, as it is many quite respectable sources. My Good News Bible, the one with the Apocrypha in a middle section, has this in the intro to the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon. And I have seen it elsewhere. Now, the motivation for this line originally (not B.D.'s per se, or the GNB either, but earlier than they) was to sort of poke fun at us Catholics. The Tridentine Council declared the Vulgate the official Catholic Bible. And so, snicker snicker snicker, isn't it funny you Catholics like this Bible's canon when even its translator rejected the Deuterocanon? Snicker, snicker, snicker.

The truth is much more complicated than that when it comes to Jerome's views himself. I wanted to find the actual Latin of his letters, but it seems I'll have to buy the Biblia Sacra Vulgata, 5th Edition myself to get them, but you see how expensive that is. So I stumbled on Kevin's translations. He does a great job, and shows via footnotes where he got certain translations.

If we just read his prologue to the Solomonic literature, we see the famous line, famous to the Reformers anyway: "Therefore, just as the Church also reads the books of Judith, Tobias, and the Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical Scriptures, so also one may read these two scrolls for the strengthening of the people, (but) not for confirming the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas." That would seem to be pretty damning wouldn't it? Kevin, in his introduction to this prologue on his blog points out that you could say the same of many canonical Scriptures too. I would be interested, for example, to see what dogma is served by the genealogies at the beginning of 1 Chronicles. Still, in this we see what might be termed at worst naked hostility and at best ambivalence.

So it is then interesting to read the prologues to other more specific books. In his prologue to Tobit, we see Jerome at his most petulant. He complains to the Bishops that they want Tobit translated, when Jerome reminds them the book is not found among the Hebrew canon. But then he says ""But it is better to be judging the opinion of the Pharisees to displease and to be subject to the commands of bishops" (emphasis mine). We again note his surrender to authority in his prologue to Judith: "But because this book is found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures, I have acquiesced to your request ..." There are some interesting tidbits in these two prologues. In the Tobit one he notes that "I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words." Quite amazing really. And in Judith he notes "Among the Hebrews the Book of Judith is found among the Hagiographa" which is his word for the Ketuvim, the Writings, the third section of Hebrew Scripture. That's remarkable that Judith was considered canonical by some of the Jews even in Jerome's time.

Some might point to his letter about Daniel, which contains this line "Therefore, I have shown these things to you as a difficulty of Daniel, which among the Hebrews has neither the history of Susanna, nor the hymn of the three young men, nor the fables of Bel and the dragon, which we, because they are spread throughout the whole world, have appended by banishing and placing them after the skewer, so we will not be seen among the unlearned to have cut off a large part of the scroll." (emphasis mine). But what we see here actually is something subtle. I bolded a particular part to show what's going on under the surface. Here Jerome is imitating Origen, who placed bits he couldn't find in the Hebrew after an obelus, a skewer. What he is saying here is that he accepts that since the rest of the Church accepts these, rather than be accused of destroying Daniel altogether, he's imitated Origen and placed these stories after the obelus. This is important because many sources I have read say that Jerome placed Deuterocanonical parts in appendices. But in reality placing them after an obelus in imitation of Origen's Hexapla speaks more for their canonicity than relegating them to an appendix.

One could go on. What is interesting to me is that Jerome never, apparently, took up the issue of the New Testament Antilegomena. These books -- Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude, and even Revelation -- were all contested in the same way as the Deuterocanon of the OT was contested. I would have been fascinated to see him tackle these and provide his take on them. Jerome's views are often fascinating, like his assertion that Wisdom was written by Philo Judaeus. We do have his prologue to the Gospels, and they are also quite interesting. First, because he admits he's glad the Pope (St Damasus I) was the one to make the request of him, since if anyone objects to his translation, the Big Boss is the one who asked for them: "Against such infamy I am consoled by two causes: that it is you, who are the highest priest, who so orders..." But also for the reverence shown to the Eusebian system of tables for linking all the Gospels together. The Gospels were divided into pericopes, sections intended to be read in Church, and then each pericope was numbered. The tables (ten in number) showed which pericopes are similar to which other pericopes, and which pericopes occur in one, two, three or all four Gospels, and so on. This is due to the fact that the Fathers saw the Gospels are really one interwoven work, and not as four books with no points of intersection as the modern scholars tend to assert (or their common point of intersection is some mythical document named Q. But more on that later).

What this all tells me is that Jerome had very strong personal views about the Deuterocanon. But in the end, he always bowed, sometime petulantly, to higher authority. And my next post will detail why.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What's Coming Up

A few posts I am working on are not ready for publication yet, but here is what they will be about:

  1. Jerome on the Deuterocanon (much different from what people have been told).

  2. More from Jerome, this time on Matt 2:23

  3. Some Musings on the Pericope Adulterae

  4. A request from a friend to discuss Qumran

The Long-Awaited Rom 11 Post

First let me apologise for going silent. There have been some crises in my life that left me feeling decidedly unwilling to do much writing. Enough of the crises have subsided that I feel I can finish this post.

In order to understand the eleventh chapter of Romans, it's necessary to understand much of the preceding discussion of Romans. Paul discusses the Law and its inability to save, because, by human nature, we pervert the law such that rather than save it teaches us sin and thereby condemns us. He stresses the Law is not unholy by this, but rather our Fallen nature is to blame for what appears to be the Law's shortcoming. So only the atoning sacrifice of Christ can and does save.

Romans Chapter 11 is a logical following-on from this discussion, and that helps us to understand its tripartite structure. The first part of Romans 11 is a direct answer to the logical question the preceding discussion provokes: namely, if the Law doesn't save but only Faith in Christ, has God then abandoned the Jews? Paul's unequivocal that this is not the case. He says that God has not abandoned anyone he has chosen. Then he gives an example from God's dealing with Elijah in 1 Kings 19. I am actually reminded also of Jeremiah 24, which to me serves as the unwritten segue into the second part of Chapter 11. In Jeremiah 24, God says that it is actually the people punished with Exile whom He will show His favour to and bring back. That seems to play into verses like verse 12 and verse 15, which speak of God returning the Exiled Jews of today. Indeed, Paul exclaims that this act will be more like the resurrection itself than the salvation of the Gentiles.

And that's the heart of the second part ... The salvation of the Gentiles. But it is interesting to note that we are but grafted onto the Jewish tree here. It is Jewish roots and a Jewish foundation upon which our Faith rests. He points this out to remind Gentiles that we have nothing to boast of over our Jewish brothers and sisters, for if God has dealt with His own people in such and such a way, how much more will He deal harshly with us who have been grafted on? And then this segues into a reminder that just as it is joyous for us to be gifted with this act of grafting, how much greater and more natural a gift will it be when God grafts the original branches back onto the tree again.

The third part then transitions from a statement that God will reclaim all of the Jews once He has claimed all of the Gentiles to an explication of the a paradox, what Paul calls a "mystery." That on the one hand, by rejection they seem to be enemies, but by virtue of God's "irreovocable call" they are still beloved "for the sake of the Patriarchs" (It is not lost that God always described Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Something Jesus noted points to the fact that God is a God of the living. Paul's mentioning of the patriarchs is almost certainly an allusion to this).

But the paradox is beyond even Paul's abilities to understand, so just when you'd expect him to land the coup de grace, he actually appends an epilogue to the 11th Chapter that is a hymn to the Sublime, Ineffable Mind of God. In other words, Paul doesn't know how this will all work out, but He is overcome with expressing His joy and trust in this Sublime Will.

So, Chapter 11 should stand as a warning to us, that in reality we have nothing to boast about, and God's plan for the Jews, far from one of rejection, is one instead of future grafting back onto the tree, a tree that has not withered or died. Indeed, it is still very Jewish. But like Paul I don't have any answers as to how or when, only trust. And that should be enough.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Update on my Romans 11 piece

Posted by Ogden (I am doing it this way, because I realise not everyone is going to go all the way to the end of the post to see who posted. And I have tried everything to get this template to let the author's by-line appear at the top. This will have to do until I can figure that out)

I'm completely rewriting it. Now that Pr. Lehmann and I have made peace, it seems petty to do a yeah-boo piece. So instead I am rewriting it to show forth my methodology in reading the Pauline Corpus in general (with the chapter being the specific instance). Fear not, copious reference to Scripture abounds.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Let us have an end to Dispensationalism

Among Protestants, there has arisen a dangerous and foolhardy school of thought known as dispensationalism, which has morphed from a known radical theology accepted only by the most radical anti-tradition, anti-clerical, anti-denominational versions of protestantism into a a cause celebre of the non-denominational-loving, pithy worship music playing, cheesy pre-school like slogan using, and soon to be all tongues-speaking "evangelical" movement.

Dispensationalism consists of meaningless speculation on past events, combined with downright dangerous speculation of future events. It originated with the Plymouth Brethren, a group that, like most dispensationalist groups that followed, lacked historical perspective and theological grounding. The Plymouth Brethren were a restorationist group, believing that they could, somehow, recreate the atmosphere of the 1st century church by ignoring everything but the Bible, believing that a 1st century book could be understood by an 18th and 19th century people without any kind of hermeneutical training. The restorationists quite frequently devolved into heresies, often similar to heresies that were already discussed and defeated.

They rejected salaries ministers, meaning that their teachers lacked theological training. It is out of this atmoshphere of ignorance that dispensationalism(and later Pentecostalism) arose.

Let us then, take up (rhetorical) arms against the dispensationalists, infiltrate their schools and places of learning, and teach them theology that makes sense! Let us remind them that the book of Revelations was written, largely in code, to the Christians of the 1st century, not as a guidebook for believers in some sort of apocolyptic future, that the antichrist referred to is Nero, not Nicolai Carpathia.

Protestant opponents to dispensationalism typically fall under what is called covenant theology(although I believe Anglicans and Lutherans have slightly different beliefs), but this is not emphasized in Reformed churches the way dispensationalism is in "Evangelical" ones. Covenant theology is not some complex order of things, but simply an acknowledgement of the different pacts that God has made with various human beings and groups of human beings throughout time. It is not supersessionist (belieiving that the church has in effect replaced Israel), but instead simply teaches the truth that Rabbinical Judaism is different than Old Testament Judaism, as there is no atonement, no shedding of bloods and thus no communion with God.

It is long past time for the Evangelical movement to reject the influence of the semi-heretical radicals and embrace the church's rich tradition, reason, and a more thorough reading of scripture.

Some verses, their context, and what that means

Passages discussed: 1 John 2, especially 1 John 2:22-23; and John 8, especially John 8:44; and others

Anyone who reads this blog will know that recently there was a huge bust-up over whether or not Scripture claims that Jews (indeed any non-Christians) worship Satan. Now anyone who reads the combox will know I utterly reject that. But several passages of Scripture were used to justify this view. So it makes sense to consider them in context, and to scrutinise them carefully to see if the cited Scriptures really do say this.

The main verses cited are 1 John 2:22-23:

22 Who is the liar? Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist.

23 No one who denies the Son has the Father, but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well.

and John 8:44

44 You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

These are by no means the only ones that are damning in this vein. On the face of it these two verses, and similar ones seem to say that the Jewish people are Satanic in the Gospel verse, and worshiping a false God in the Epistle (since they don't even have the Father).

But is that what these are really saying? Let's discuss 1 John and its second chapter in detail.

1 John was written to the Churches of Asia Minor, who were under the jurisdiction of the Apostle John. This letter was likely written around the same time as the Gospel, because they use so many of the same ideas and turns of phrase as to be indisputably by the same hand. And one of the purposes of the Gospel of John was to dispute the notion of that Christ was not Divine and consequently belief in Him was not essential to the Faith. The letter was similarly addressed to this theme, among others. In the second chapter John discusses these people who were clearly in the Asia Minor community and sought to lead people away from believing in Christ. In verse 19, just a few verses before the verses in question, John mentions that these deceivers proved they were never truly members of the community to begin with.

Then he goes on to explain that the reason he is writing is to help explicate the lies that were recently in their midst, not because they are ignorant, but because they are in fact knowledgeable. And now we come to the verses themselves. In helping them to see this then he gives a rubric. What was the lie? In its nutshell, it sought to deny Christ, and since the Father wouldn't be a Father without the Son, by denying the Divinity of Christ they also denied the Divinity of the Father! Thus they were true enemies of Christ, even though they said that they were not. A few verses later (verse 26), just in case people forgot, he reminds again that he's speaking specifically of the lie that was dividing them.

When we read it in context we realise there's nothing about the Jews, Muslims, Hindus or anyone else. This is about people trying to undermine Faith from within. The letter discusses the idea that sin can be deadly, can cut us off from the Salvation offered by God. Thus warning against the Deceivers is critically important, because if their deception is believed, they cut the believer off from Salvation. But, and again John says it twice, these are the lies of people who were within the community, not people from any other Faith. So this verse cannot safely be used to accuse the Jews or anyone else of worshiping Satan. What these verses can be safely applied to, even today, are the sorts of people who say Jesus was the founder of our religion, you know, if he even existed, but if he did he was most likely a hippy communist revolutionary, or something...but God? Rose from the dead? We're too educated for that! ... Those are the people today against whom these verses can be applied. Because their denial is considerably more pernicious.

But what about the verse from John 8? It says that Jews have Satan for a father! That's much more damning, isn't it? Is it?

The 8th Chapter of John, after the Pericope Adulterae, is a long argument Jesus has with people the Gospel identifies simply as Pharisees; it's not more specific. But during the course of this argument, Jesus rather deliberately explains that He is the same God they have always worshiped. These people to whom He is speaking cannot claim invincible ignorance, since they know the Scriptures. They know the prophesies, they know the signs, and here Jesus explicitly tells them repeatedly, at least three times, that He is the I AM of the Theophany to Moses (aka the Burning Bush). Just as in Chapter 6, Jesus does not back down from the incredulous, instead He becomes ever more specific. In Chapter 6, the people became indignant that Christ would command people to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Cannibalism they cried! But rather than reassure them it's all just symbolic, He presses on and uses term like "gnaw" that He really means it/ It's so hard a teaching that people reject Him. Well, the same thing goes on in Chapter 8. He slowly but deliberately gets more and more forceful in His language. When verse 44 has come around, it is at the point where, in spite of their constant word-plays and rejection, He is offering them one last chance, but to shock them into understanding this, He accuses them of being no Sons to Abraham (who looked for and would rejoice in the sight of Christ), but rather they have handed themselves over by their rejection to being "Sons of the Adversary."

What is important to understand about this passage is that nowhere does it say that the people simply called Pharisees were ever deputised to stand in for all Jews then and now. Jesus says this shocking thing to the people He's speaking to, because this group of specific people rejects Him (they actually make to stone Him in the last verse of the Chapter). But it cannot be inferred that these people to whom He specifically addressed were made by God to speak for all Jews ever. The only Sons of the Adversary were these specific people. Why? Because they should have known better, but they hardened their hearts and refused to see what was before them. Out of sufficient knowledge and consent of the will, they rejected Christ. So, this verse too, cannot safely be used against the Jews of today or anyone else. It can however be used for those who have sufficient knowledge and are presented with Christ and then reject Him.


I think one of the reasons this view is "necessary" for some people is the fear on their part that my view somehow is a slippery slope to Universalism. It isn't. My affirming that the Jews of today worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not in any way a soteriological statement (soteriology is the theology of salvation). It is simply a statement of fact. Nor is this meant to imply that Christ is not the way to salvation, and that belief in Him is essential to that. Nothing that I affirm takes anything away from this. Finally, nothing in what I have said is meant to exonerate people from being saved or hindering missionary mandates, etc. In fact, in my next post, I will discuss how this view of mine is little different from St Paul's in Romans Chapter 11.


Before I close, I want to say a few things about this practice that so annoys me about certain Christian approaches to Scripture; the penchant to slice out verses completely absent their context. But hold on! Isn't St Paul a repeat offender on this front? It only appears that way. In fact, the common practice at the time was to use certain verses as a kind of short hand, a code if you will. By citing a single verse, they intended their interlocutor to reflect in his or her mind on the whole passage from which it came.

A good example of this is Romans 9:8-13:

8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants.

9 For this is the wording of the promise, "About this time I shall return and Sarah will have a son."

10 And not only that, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one husband, our father Isaac -

11 before they had yet been born or had done anything, good or bad, in order that God's elective plan might continue,

12 not by works but by his call - she was told, "The older shall serve the younger."

13 As it is written: "I loved Jacob but hated Esau."

If one looks at that, or even in the wider context of Romans 9 (which I urge you to do), you see that it doesn't really flow very well. What do these verses really have to do with his point in and of themselves? Well, that's the point, they by themselves do not. Rather, one is supposed to consider the whole episode from which each verse is excerpted. Another more famous example of this, by the way, is Christ's "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" which is the opening line from Psalm 22. If one reads and reflects on the whole Psalm it is a song of suffering that leads to later triumph and vindication. That is calling us to reflect on, and when we see it like that, the words themselves take on a much different meaning, don't they?

Therefore, it irks me to no end when people take verses out of context, because this whole idea is not just poor exegesis, but is also alien to the very authors, under the Inspiration of the Holy Ghost, who are so abused by this methodology. They didn't do it, and neither should we. When they cited verses, they expect you to know the context (although sometimes the contemporary exegetical understanding of that context is not always immediately apparent). We should be doing the same.

Friday, June 05, 2009

On Teaching the Trinity

This post is dedicated to Pr. Charles Lehmann

Trinity Sunday is coming up, and I do not envy the task of those who intend to preach on the topic for two reasons. One, the Trinity isn't the easiest of concepts to explain. And two, having explained it, it isn't that easy to apply that lesson to one's congregation.

Now I should stop and say I have no right to tell anyone how to preach, of course. But in musing about this, I think there might be an elegant and rather straightforward way of solving both. And I offer it as a suggestion to consider.

First, let me step back and tell you my own experience with this annual exercise. Most priests, with a few very notable exceptions, begin by explaining that understanding the Trinity is very hard and it's ok if we don't get the Trinity as many Saints didn't. Ok, fair enough, but after a while this sounds like a cop out.

It is true that the Trinity over the years has developed very specific terminology. This partly because we began to really understand the Trinity by telling Arius, Nestorius and others what the Trinity is not. Indeed, Eutyches got so carried away with his passionate defence that his defence itself slipped into heresy. So very specific terminology has been developed to describe the Trinity. This can make the subject intimidating to the people in the seats, as well, I am sure, to those doing the edifying.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a wonderful section on the Trinity, and this is certainly one approach to teaching it:

The dogma of the Holy Trinity
253 The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the "consubstantial Trinity".83 The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: "The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God."84 In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), "Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature."85

254 The divine persons are really distinct from one another. "God is one but not solitary."86 "Father", "Son", "Holy Spirit" are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: "He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son."87 They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: "It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds."88 The divine Unity is Triune.

255 The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: "In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance."89 Indeed "everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship."90 "Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son."91

256 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, also called "the Theologian", entrusts this summary of Trinitarian faith to the catechumens of Constantinople:

Above all guard for me this great deposit of faith for which I live and fight, which I want to take with me as a companion, and which makes me bear all evils and despise all pleasures: I mean the profession of faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I entrust it to you today. By it I am soon going to plunge you into water and raise you up from it. I give it to you as the companion and patron of your whole life. I give you but one divinity and power, existing one in three, and containing the three in a distinct way. Divinity without disparity of substance or nature, without superior degree that raises up or inferior degree that casts down. . . the infinite co-naturality of three infinites. Each person considered in himself is entirely God. . . the three considered together. . . I have not even begun to think of unity when the Trinity bathes me in its splendour. I have not even begun to think of the Trinity when unity grasps me. .92

Some of the best ways I have heard priests preach the Trinity is to start, essentially, with this and perhaps put it in simpler language if necessary (although I do think that sometimes things are too simplified at times.)

The next step is to proceed with the Catechism and highlight the Trinitarian Mission in the world.

In other words, this is a good and adequate way of proceeding; no one could find fault with it unless is strayed a little too far into technical jargon.


All of this though, it seems to me, can be even more easily summarised (perhaps after one goes through a similar exercise as above). God is love and God is koinonia. There has never been a time in which those statements have not been true. And they are not two separate things in so far as, in many ways, they are true because of each other. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit exist completely and entirely in a perfect communion (koinonia) with one another, because they are all the same God (think of the implications of 2 Cor 13:14: "the grace of Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the koinonia of the Holy Spirit be with you all"), and it is a koinonia of love, because God is love (1 John 4:8). The most powerful homily I ever heard was delivered by a visiting Dominican priest on this very line.

The strength of this summary is that it is then easy to apply to the congregation. We were all created in God's image. What does this mean? Well, the implication is clear, we were created to be creatures of His Love and to seek out koinonia, koinonia of love. The Trinity is therefore something we should seek to emulate in our lives: the perfect love the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have for each other, and the perfect communion/fellowship that exists between the Persons because they have the same ousia, that is, because they are all equally God, the God who is Love.

UPDATE 1: As I was on the bus home tonight I realised that I had completely forgotten other important elements.

1. The Catechism's approach before those quotes is important too:

234 The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith".56 The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men "and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin".57

236 The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). "Theology" refers to the mystery of God's inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and "economy" to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life. Through the oikonomia the theologia is revealed to us; but conversely, the theologia illuminates the whole oikonomia. God's works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.

2. And this then brings to mind the necessity of the Trinity. A good teaching moment is to point out that this economy of the Trinity in Creation is a necessity, and not just for belief. If we seek to emulate the love and communion of the Triune God, we must also appreciate the way in which this love and communion turns into the economy of Creation, and especially the Economy of Salvation.

UPDATE 2: Pr. Lehmann, to whom this post is dedicated, asked me in the combox (and in before that when I was musing but not posting) to assess his sermon. Now, normally I read Pr Lehmann's sermons as they are posted. But this time I did not. I am even more glad of it now than before, because my post would have devolved into a "response" to his sermon rather than a general statement.

I do quibble with one thing rather stridently. I am sorry Pastor, but the God the Jews worship is not a false god. For this would mean that Christ was presented to a false god in the Temple, and when he celebrated the Passover, He did so in the name of a false god and so on. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is my God too. Now, I happen to believe their understanding of Him is incomplete, but that doesn't mean they worship Baal, or Odin, or Amaterasu or anyone other than the same God I do.

I also find it a little sad that he must explain "catholic" to Confessional Lutherans. Now, while I have my own view on their "catholic" status, it is a fact that Luther taught that their movement was, literally, more catholic than the Pope. I'm sorry, Pastor, but I couldn't help but pick up on that.

I also think he spends too much time dwelling on things that are "off-topic," such as his long footnote on the deeds of which we will be asked to make an account. It seems to me that while the Athanasian Creed is by far the greatest explication in prayer form of the Trinity, it might not be doing all the job he wants it to, if a good third of his sermon is devoted to defending it.

As an aside, I pray the very same Creed at every Mass during the Offertory.

If I seem to be saying his sermon was bad, forgive me. There is much to admire in his sermon when he actually gets back to talking about the Trinity itself. Against this rubric he seems to do a pretty good job of explaining the Trinity. There's also an application to the lives of his congregation by way of love. And so, I think, as I said, when it gets to the actual point, he does a good job.

I end this update by apologising to Pastor Lehmann for my harsh words. But I hope he will understand that in order to give him my assessment it must be honest. Still, at the end of the day, who am I to assess anything of his? He's perfectly free to answer correctly: nobody.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Acts: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit?

This post is dedicated to my good friend KeyStroke

At Mass on Sunday I was struck by the reading on Pentecost. I began to think a great deal about Acts as a whole. I realised that Acts is to the Holy Spirit what Luke's Gospel is to Christ; it is Luke's Gospel of the Holy Spirit, if you like.

What struck me most about the pericope is that it forms the real beginning of Acts. There's a transitional bit where Christ ascends, and then the Apostles pray together. Before the Holy Spirit can descend on them though, they have to do one more preliminary thing, let the Holy Spirit pick Judas' successor. The the Spirit descends on them, and then the rest of Acts narrates the effects on this descent; the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Church as a whole and individuals in the Church.

Reading Acts it is clear the Spirit is present from the very beginning. Christ speaks of Him, Peter refers to Him as having moved the prophet David to predict things about Judas. He obviously dramatically comes upon them at Pentecost. He is almost always depicted afterwards as prompting, leading, and filling up the various different people mentioned in the bible. The Protomartyr Stephen is filled with the Holy Spirit when he gives his apologia. An angel is sent by the Holy Spirit to lead Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch, and it is the Holy Spirit who whisks Philip away. It is interesting that in the episode before this, when Philip goes to Samaria, the other Apostles go to Samaria after him to Lay Hands (the primitive way of describing what we call Confirmation in the West and Chrismation in the East) on the baptised. This is repeated later in 19:2ff Why? So that they could be completely filled with the Holy Spirit. I'll discuss some ramifications of this in a moment. The Spirit also prevents Paul from going places, instead directing him to other places (such as in 16.7, 20.22, and 21.4). When the Apostles hold the Council of Jerusalem and dispatch their letter, they make very clear that their decision is in reality the decision of the Spirit, much as all subsequent Oecumenical Councils have done.

Sometimes the Spirit's role is subtle. Consider the very troubling and striking episode of Ananias and Sapphira at the beginning of Chapter 5. Here the role of the Holy Spirit seems a little less obvious. They commit fraud, lie about it and are struck dead by Peter? The scene strongly reminds me of the story of Susanna and the Elders. In that too, the elders are tricked into admitting the truth they would have concealed even before God. But what this story really illustrates is that in doing what they did, sinning against the Holy Spirit, they have committed a sin "that leads to death" (cf 1 John 5:16-17), and that by sinning against the Spirit who gives life (cf John 6:63) they demonstrate they have no life in them ... and so they die. Not that Peter killed them, but that they killed themselves by rejecting the life given them by the Spirit.

It is clear that while the Spirit leads individuals, He is also intimately connected with the Apostolic mission of the Church. When Paul comes to the believers in Ephesus (Chapter 19), he found that hey had become believers, but like in Chapter 8, their baptism needed to be accepted by the Apostolic Witness on behalf of the Church, in effect the Church endorsing and sealing their belief in the Spirit. Paul, as Peter and John before him, lays hands on the believers and completes the action of the Spirit by conferring Him completely. Thus it is not enough for the believers to have come to Christ on their own, they had to receive the Confirmation of the Church, of the high Apostolic Witness to complete the action of the Spirit.

And this brings me to the action of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles. The Spirit both works in the Church as a whole and on individuals, but at the same time and not in contradiction to one another. That is by working on individuals and working on the Church the same action of the Holy Spirit is evident. We see plenty of evidence of the corporate action of the Spirit. Consider the three transitional paragraphs 2:43-47, 4:32-37 and 5:12-16. These transitional paragraphs are also examples of the Spirit's subtle work. Th reason all the people share their possessions and so on, again, is because they are filled with the Holy Spirit who is helping them live out the Gospel. Their sharing of possessions isn't a political statement of some embryonic communism, but rather evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. We also see it in the Council of Jerusalem. As I said before the Council Fathers make it clear it is the decision foremost of the Spirit that they relay to the believers. We also see the work in individuals, such as Philip and Stephen.

And when we get down to it, the Acts of the Apostles is proof beyond question that Christ really did give a discourse or discourses on the Paraclete (i.e. the Holy Spirit), because everything Christ promised about the Holy Spirit didn't come true slowly over time, but were immediately realised in the Earliest Church. Christ promised that the Spirit would give us the words to speak when the time was right, now read Stephen's martyrdom again. Christ promised that the Spirit would lead the Apostles to all truth. Read the Council of Jerusalem again. And on and on it goes. rather than some made-up discourse years later, as some scholars allege, these promises clearly were made by Christ before Luke wrote Acts, because Acts clearly lays out how these promises were fulfilled.

In any case, this idea of how present the Holy Spirit was in the Church, and the fact that Pentecost is not just the birth of the Church, but the beginning of the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church and our lives. But it is important to learn the lesson of Acts. The Spirit is not just for individuals acting alone. The Spirit gives His gifts to people because He is at work in the Church. The gifts are for our Good, sure, but that Good is not in isolation, like John Donne's "island;" it is for our Good, so that it can also be for the Good of the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ (cf Col 1:24). This is the lesson of the Holy Spirit and the lesson of Acts.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Interjection on Footnotes and Introductions

I'm sorry for the lack of blog posts recently. I was ill. It's no excuse though. I should push myself. So enough about that, and onto the post itself.

In talking about translating, it occurred to me to discuss one of the more controversial "helps for the reader:" footnotes and introductions. Most modern Bibles have them to one extent or another. General Bibles in the Protestant tradition have very few footnotes, and these only show variant readings like "Cn. Hbr rejoice" to indicate that the text has been corrected, because the underlying Hebrew word would be nonsensical or at least not be as good a choice. I'll discuss that whole issue in another blog post. For now, the question is about the utility and efficacy of footnotes. Protestant Bibles tend to keep footnotes to a minimum for a variety of reasons. One is that they don't want to push a Calvinist or Arminian interpretation on the reader (this was one of the criticisms of the Living Bible, which has extensive footnotes. Calvinists objected to Kenneth Taylor's Arminian take.) There is also a fear of trying to do too much of the Holy Ghost's work for the reader. And there is also the issue of the trouble history that Protestant translations have had with footnotes. The Authorized Version (aka the KJV) was, in part, created because the Geneva Bible (the popular version at the time) had extensive notes of a staunch Calvinist bent that offended many of the high church types in the CofE. There was a huge bust up over the notes, and one of the goal King Jimmy had was to create a Bible translation that wasn't encumbered by the notes. Thus, most translations in the AV tradition (e.g. RV, NASB, RSV, NRSV etc) have very few footnotes to speak of.

Bibles in the Catholic tradition tend to have more footnotes, and often more detailed. This is due to long history of requiring the notes (I'm currently looking for the exact reference, but I don't have it at my finger tips). These notes range from the highly polemical of Bishop Challoner's 18th century notes to the more "higher critical" of the New American Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible. A good blend of the two approaches can be seen with the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. The footnotes on the pages are the sparse footnotes about translation issues, and relegated to end notes at the end of each testament are longer explanatory notes about the theological significance of certain passages. Relegating them to endnotes is not ideal and flipping to the back certainly disrupts the flow of the reading. Still, when compared to other modern translations they are much more orthodox.

Introductions are more common among both traditions. The Good New Bible, the New Living Translation and other Protestant translations have them, and of course the major modern Catholic Translations have them too (as did Bishop Challoner's revision of the Douay-Rheims). Introductions can have many of the same pitfalls and benefits as footnotes. Sometimes they can be used to advance a polemical or doctrinal understanding of the whole book or groups of books. And just like footnotes they can be used to push the higher-critical stance as being the only stance. Ideally, introductions should guide the reader to seeing an overall structure to the book under review and point out major themes. When one is used, as many Christians are, to quoting various Scriptures out of context, it can be valuable to call the reader's attention to work as a whole from which these verses have been excerpted.

Of the Bibles to which I have ready and frequent access, the New American Bible's introductions and footnotes are generally poor. It is clear to me that there were several footnotists, a few seem to have been closet orthodox Catholics, but for the most part the introductions and the footnotes portray Seventies higher critical scholarship as definitive and authoritative. Of course, that also betrays one of the pitfalls of footnotes and introductions, especially that try to shill for the higher critical side: they become hopelessly dated. Also rather than being faith-affirming, they can be faith-denying. One of the footnotes that caused my palm to impact my forehead each and every time I read it is, is the footnote to Jhn 15:26. The footnote rather amazingly reads "Whom I will send: in ⇒ John 14:16, ⇒ 26 the Paraclete is to be sent by the Father, at the request of Jesus. Here the Spirit comes from both Jesus and the Father in mission; there is no reference here to the eternal procession of the Spirit." Alas for the translators, but this is not how this verse has been understood by the Fathers up until the present day. It is true that it does speak of the granting of the Paraclete at Pentacost, but that does not mean it has zero reference to the eternal procession, because specific instance can be done with reference to, in accord with, or because of the more general instance. In his masterly treatment of Pneumatology, St Thomas Aquinas frequently quotes the Fathers who in turn frequently quote this verse (among others) to show the eternal procession. A better footnote might have been to the effect "While this certainly is Christ's promise of the Paraclete on Pentacost, it has also been seen by the Fathers and others as affirming the eternal procession." And then perhaps some salient quotes from the Fathers would be helpful too. The NAB is also too easily enamoured of the documentary hypothesis with respect to the Torah. They also are enamoured of a similar approach to Samuel and Kings.

A better system, but by no means perfect, can be found in the New Jerusalem Bible. They are also somewhat enamoured of these approaches, particularly the documentary hypothesis, but they generally do a much better job of acknowledging that this or that approach us not the only, and that other solutions to, for example, the synoptic problem exist. Unlike the NAB, the NJB doesn't seem to think that much of the evidence for Luke and Acts being of late authorship is any stronger than early authorship. The NAB takes Christ's references to the Temple's Destruction as proof positive that the books had to be after the Seventies AD. But the NJB points out that there's no detail in the predictions that could not have been seen in the Thirties with even a modicum of historical awareness. The footnotes and introductions though still do try to present a higher critical approach, although not as stridently and not as if it is the only approach. The NJB is better in regard over all other translations: explaining the translation choices. They discuss the problems with the Masoretic text and discuss many of the main variants, and usually show by means if vowel changes or different division of words how they arrived at their translation choice.

Of particular note, when it comes to introductions, is the Oxford Catholic Study Bible. I admit I have not yet seen the Second Edition, but I found the first edition to be of mixed blessing. For really exploring things like the structure of the Pentateuch and such it was fantastic. But it was even more deficient in "faith destroying" ways too. For example, there was an article in it about the need to revise the Scriptures and the Lectionary to excise troubling passages from a Feminist and Marxist perspective (e.g. Eph 5:22 and its ilk). Again, palm intercepts forehead.

As I stated earlier, the RSV-CE has generally orthodox notes, but they are too few in my opinion and relegated to the end. As I said, endnotes are not ideal as they disturb the flow of reading. Still, of all of the footnotes, they are the best.

Of the more Protestant translations, the GNT is decent when it comes to introductions. Although I often detect a subtle phenomenon. The sort of .... "I am being diplomatic here about higher criticism; in reality, I believe it, but I am going to couch my words so as not to upset you."

As a segue into my next post, I will do a little aside about the penchant in some translations to move bits of scripture around. I will discuss this a bit more in the next post, hence the segue. But take Job 24:18-24. I'll discuss the passage more in the next post, but the NJB moves this passage into Bildad's speech (placing it at the end of Job 25). I find this very annoying, because it is not always clear where various sections came from or why they were put there. The footnotes are spotty at addressing this. The GNT does a better job by putting a little note and saying "the text isn't clear who is speaking in this section, but it is often assigned to Bildad."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Translation Part I

First, I do not have any great claim to translation mastery. My Hebrew and Aramaic are awful, and my Koine is ... well, what it is. Still, I do have some experience translating French to people, although there too, I can hardly consider myself an expert.

I had occasion to think recently about translation as a general concept. Recently, I discovered all of my Biblical translations, as well as a few scholarly tomes. And I compared all of these translations to each other, sometimes finding surprises. I also found my grandfather's Bible, he the Lutheran Pastor. I believe this one he used to prepare his sermons. And this had me thinking about the value of translations especially when we consider sacred texts.

Before I talk about translating the Bible, we have to consider translation itself. When I translate from French to English, or vice versa, it's usually a pretty simple task to simply tell the auditor what the other person said or wrote. But what happens where one comes upon an idiomatic statement? Does one translate it word for word, or convey the meaning? In spoken language the latter is preferable. But what about sacred texts where the words will form the basis of doctrinal and dogmatic assertions? Now the task of the translator is much more difficult. Precision is key, obviously, because the precise words in the original languages become the basis of doctrinal assertions.

A famous example of this, and the usual test to see if a translation is going to be more orthodox than heterodox, is Is 7:14. Most older translations translate the inexact term of almah as "virgin" after the Greek term, parthenos, found in the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX). This is because Matt 1:23 quotes the LXX and sees the Virgin Birth as fulfilling this prophecy. But more recent translations translate it as "maiden," "young girl.," or words to that effect. That's because the word Almah isn't more specific.

Let's look at this more closely to get inside the head of translators and to try to figure out what's going on. Read Chapters 7 through 9 of Isaiah to understand the context, especially the introductory narrative and the parallelism at the beginning of Chapter 8. Then also read Matt 1:23. Now, this text presents us with numerous choices if we're a translator. Do we consider Matt 1:23? The trend lately is to say no ... we're only going to consider each book as a separate work in the Bible. In that case, it becomes a little harder to tell what the prophecy is. Who is the young woman? Some have seen this as a prophecy of Hezekiah, whose mother would have been quite young at the time of the prophecy. But the parallelism of Chapter 8 makes it seem like the prophetess is the "young woman" since Maher-shalal-hash-baz is said to have some of the same characteristics as Emmanuel (especially the reference to "before he is old enough to say "Mommy" and "Daddy," and the references to Emmanuel being connected to his birth). In fact, none of these works perfectly. Obviously, all the prophecies about Assyria don't seem to fit with Christ all that well without stretching them into obscure allegory. What value would they be to Ahaz who was being admonished for turning to Tiglash-Pileser instead of God? This was a specific admonition to which Ahaz was to take a specific lesson. But if Hezekiah is intended, why does he not get a mention at all during the specific verses where Emmanuel is referenced? If Maher-shalal-hash-baz, then this seems unlikely, because is mother had already had a child, and so we'd really have to stretch the value of the word almah to encompass her. Now, one technique is to adopt the thinking of the New Jerusalem Bible and basically cop-out and say that none of the prophecies really belong to one set of prophecies but is a mishmash thrown together because they have similar turns of phrase, but are otherwise unrelated. This seems to me to be an intellectual cop-out. We can't figure it out, so there's nothing to figure out.

We also need to consider how the words were understood by their audience. Although the LXX was translated about 500 years after Isaiah, it does represent an understanding of the text that is important, because it clearly was fulfilled in Christ's birth. It seems to me that a number of things are going on here.There is an immediate meaning that Ahaz was meant to take away: most likely the birth of Isiah's son. While it might seem to stretch almah, almah itself is a rather flexible word. In Psalm 46, it's a musical term. In Songs 6:8 virgins is almost certainly intended a meaning. And in Prov 30:19 I actually think generic "woman" is intended, since there's no special reason why it should mean anything more specific in the verse, and indeed if it did, would break up the parallelism of the other three images. Not to put a fly in the ointment, but parthenos is equally versatile. After all, the LXX calls Dina a parthenos after her violation. So, Maher-shalal-hash-baz's mother, the prophetess could be intended in a proximate way. But Christ is also clearly intended as an ultimate sense. Both are intended here.

Now, how to convey this? That's the real challenge. Most translations have to resort to footnotes. But this can be unsatisfactory. Many dislike the concept of footnotes or notes of any sort in Sacred Scripture. I don't have an answer here, although probably the best method is the one adopted by The Living Bible which is to use the word virgin in the text and then explain the fact that multiple senses are intended here.

Tomorrow I'll talk about other choices in these and other passages that translators are faced with.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Justice, Mercy and Job

This is one of those posts that I will likely never manage to articulate what's on my heart, at least not well.

As I said in my previous post, Job intrigues me. Much like Ecclesiastes, it asks a hard question about God's justice. How can God allow bad things to happen to good people? Now, some or many of you will say "But Oggie, all have fallen short." Yes, yes, yes. But that's not the point here. In the text of Job especially, Job is considered the quintessential "good" man. In the context of the book, he does not deserve his sufferings. The prologue makes clear that God permits Satan to punish Job not for any sin, but so that God can prove that nothing will cause Job to falter from his devotion and obedience to God. How can God permit Job to be punished like this, when (in the context of the story) he doesn't deserve it?

As the work unfolds we have some of the finest poetry not just in Scripture, but in all ancient literature. All of Job's friends argue as some of you might "Job, you are a sinner, you must have deserved this. Just confess your sin and God will stop the suffering." But Job is at a loss for what he did. None of them understand suffering. To them it is only a punishment. If someone is rich, it is because they were good and deserved it. If they suffered, they were sinners ... and deserved it. They cannot understand there might be other points to suffering.

Elihu provides a close glimpse at this. I find Elihu's interjection fascinating. No one seems to take any notice of him, not even God whom he introduces. When God doles out punishment to Job's friends, He never mentions much less praises or condemns Elihu. Job never responds to him. He walks on, says his peace, and as far as I can tell, never has any impact on the narrative at all. But he is the only character to talk about other uses to suffering.

Isaiah gives us a hint too, although obviously not in this book. I think of course of the paradoxical poetry-prophesy of "by His stripes we are healed." And it is in Christ that we see this played out, of course. Suffering can be redemptive. When we imitate Christ, especially by suffering vicariously, we help His salvific sacrifice continue to bear fruit in the world (cf Col 1:24 - my favourite Bible verse, btw).

But what of Justice and Mercy? Before I go further, I want to say something about these concepts. Sir Philip Sidney wrote Arcadia he, and many others besides, saw Justice and Mercy as being in opposition. One can either be just or merciful.

But I don't think this is true. It seems to me the real lesson of Job is this ... God is both just and merciful, because God is love (1 John 4:8). And what we understand as Justice and what we understand as Mercy are actually the same thing ... Love. This explains Elihu's purpose. He's not in the story for anyone in it, he's in the story for us. He's supposed to alert us to the notion that suffering has more than just the binary purposes the characters seem to think it does. He points us, subtly, to Christ. And the epilogue is more explicit. God did not, ultimately, let his servant falter because of both His Justice and His Mercy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What I'm working on: Justice Teaser

So, I have been somewhat quiet on my blog, partly because I am wicked busy IRL with budgets and the like, but also because I have been making my way once again through Job. I love the Book of Job. It is some of the best poetry in any poetic tradition, and I likely would hold that view were I not a believer. I get a strong urge every so often to delve back into Job, and swim about in its rich language.

This time around I have noticed that it has a very interesting bit to say about Justice, and it does this by omission in my opinion. But I shall say no more until I have had a little while more to formulate my thoughts on this.

Monday, April 20, 2009


It is interesting to me that the Psalm for Divine Mercy Sunday (also called Thomas Sunday and Quasimodo Sunday) was Psalm 118. What is interesting about this Psalm is that it contains the Hebrew word chesed, which is so variously translated. Sometimes it is loving-kindness, sometimes mercy (as in the KJV, the Douay and the NAB), sometimes love (as in the TEV) and sometimes steadfast love (as in the RSV) and so on.

The appropriateness of certain translation choices is not the aim of this post though. The idea that I wish to discuss is that this word is the focal point around which the other three readings revolve.

Consider the first reading (Acts 4:32-35). Now this passage has been used a lot by some to impute a modern left-wing context on a first century occurrence. I think that completely misses the point. The earliest community of believers wasn't socialist or Marxist or even proto examples of these. No, the way we are to understand this passage is completely in the light of chesed. They lived this mercy, this love. That is what it meant to do so. They shared of their provender. They shared of themselves. Not out of political will, but out of devotion to this very Godly love.

And thus the Epistle (1 Jn 5:1-6) is on point. Consider that this brief little snippet is a very dense exegesis on the word chesed. The first and second verses naturally flow into one another. And as you can see, that is the pericope from Acts acted out this Johanine exegesis. But for John this has more implications. If we truly love God and His children, then we will not just passively love them but go out and actively conquer the world with and in Faith. John ties the pericope together with the last verse, which makes it clear that this is part and parcel of our baptismal mission. The waters of baptism didn't just wash us clean, they conferred upon us a mission to go out and make disciples of all the world ... for love.

And finally we come to the Doubting Thomas pericope (Jn 20:19-31). It is not hard to see then that this is a perfect example of Divine Mercy, when we understand that word to be same as in Psalm 118. Christ isn't in this story like the Roman spectators holding a thumb up or down, passively exercising mercy in the sense of withholding wrath. Instead, Christ comes back to Thomas and subjects Himself to the humiliating and degrading spectacle of Thomas' scientific/empirical analysis. Thomas performs an experiment on Christ, and Christ not only does not balk but practically encourages it. But He also mildly, and it must be said lovingly, rebukes Thomas. It is good that he believes for having seen and touched, but so much better for those who will not or did not have the opportunity Thomas had and still believed. Thomas rightly acknowledges Christ's Divinity, but I put it to you it was because Thomas realised that his empirical analysis was unnecessary, rather he was moved by the Divine Mercy He was shown.

Friday, April 17, 2009

On the Road to Emmaus and the Liturgy

In another conversation with Pr. Lehmann, we discussed the Road to Emmaus pericope. I want to just touch briefly on a few of the things he and I discussed.

In the case of the Road to Emmaus pericope, it seems obvious to me that we have a very plain Eucharistic exegesis by Luke. Luke of all the Evangelists is concerned with the Liturgy. After all, he is the one who lets us catch a glimpse of it in Acts 20:7-12 (I believe I am right in that I remember Chrysostom pointing this out). In both the Road to Emmaus and this shorter pericope (where Paul raises Eutychus from death) we see that the liturgy of the earliest Church followed a similar pattern as today. The first part, where the pair converse with Jesus and He quotes to them the Scripture closely mirrors the Liturgy of the Word, what used to be called the Mass of the Catechumens, because the uninitiated had to leave after the proclamation of the Word and the preaching. In the same way, the two on the road with Christ are similarly unenlightened. It isn't until the next phase, with the very important aspect of Christ breaking the bread and sharing it with His own hands that they see. He disappears from their midst, from their senses shall we say, but the lasting effect of this koinonia experience with Christ remains in their hearts.

The next pericope we discussed immediately follows this. It is Luke's recounting of Christ's appearance to the Apostles in the Upper Room. Here, and I think Pr. Lehmann agrees with me, Christ's eating does not have as much to do with "table fellowship" and the like. The symbolism is all wrong. Christ takes from the apostles and eats. There is a practical reason here; Christ seeks to demonstrate that He is not a ghost, and so eats regular food.

Having said that, I remember my Tertullian when I say that it is not insignificant that the apostles give him fish to eat ...

John 19 and Christian Doctrine

Pr. Lehmann, a contributor to the comboxes and a dear friend of mine, mentioned something a few days ago. He said something to the effect of whether Jn 19 contained all Christian Doctrine and then stopped himself because it does. I am not doing his statement justice, and so I hope he will correct me. But I decided to use his observation as an impetus to reflect deeply on this Chapter. In so doing I noticed something that Pr. Lehmann might not have considered in his statement.

I was struck by verses 26 and 27. Now, I know as well as the next person that more ink has been used to talk about these verses in defending our views on Mary. But that's not what struck me about it (although I don't think that what I am about to say takes anything away from those observations). It occurred to me that if no one told us John wrote his eponymous Gospel we might not know who did. And I began to wonder why even here at the foot of Cross John did not mention himself. And then I began to realise that his omission might be the point after all.

It is a well known and ancient technique that certain characters, about whom we know very little even at the conclusion of the work, are inserted into the text so that we can see things from their point of view (like the two clowns in Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress or their spiritual cousins the droids in the Star Wars saga). John does not call himself by name not only out of humility, but because he intends for us to be part of the story. We see what he sees. It is why he mentions, alone of the gospels, that he was known to the power structure and thus allowed to accompany Christ. Like the other Evangelists he could very easily just report what Christ said and did before Caiaphas or Annas or Pilate for that matter. But the point isn't just to report facts, but to tell us so that we will believe. That's the point of the whole Gospel, of course, as it says. But one way to do this is to bring the reader (or the congregant as the pericope is read aloud) into the drama of our salvation. We reclined at Table with Christ (and do every time the Sacrament is confected), we stood at the cross, we were given the Mother of the Saviour, we went into the tomb, etc. We were witnesses to this so that we might believe, for "whosoever believeth in [Christ] may not perish, but may have life everlasting." And after all, this most famous of Scriptures was noted down in whose Gospel?

The Tale of the Resurrection Narratives

I have been under the weather recently, so I have not been blogging as I ought. But even while I was recuperating, I was still ruminating. So, now that I feel a bit better, I am going to post the three main topics on which I had focused my attention.

The first of these is a kind of general observation about the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels and we might also say Acts and Paul's own writing. At first glance there appears to be significant divergence in the different tales. People like Bart Ehrman make a great deal of how many women actually went to the tomb, did Peter alone or with John go into the tomb itself, was there a single angel or were there two, etc.

I think it prudent to take a step back and consider the general structure of the Gospels themselves before approaching this question. We can general say that the Gospels all portray the Public Ministry of Christ differently. There is material found in Luke not found anywhere else, like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. The order between Mark and Matthew is often different. And John portrays a very private Christ, especially during the Farewell Discourse. Then when we get to the Passion Narratives they come together and tell almost essentially the same story with only very minor variation. And then with the Resurrection Narratives they appear to diverge again. Now some people might look at that and say that the reason for this is that the only thing that can be definitively pointed to as being historically true is the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The stuff that came before is attributed to Him, but might not necessarily have been really said or done by Him, and the stuff after is just fancy. We certainly know people who advance this argument.

But I think that the Public Ministry material and the Resurrection material are structurally different, and that this partly explains their appearance of divergence. I'll briefly touch on the Public Ministry side to make clear why the Evangelists, in my opinion, wrote them the way they did. Since each Evangelist had a particular lesson about Christ to convey they portrayed Him in that light. So, when we think of it like this, it becomes clear that if Matthew wants to show Christ is the New Moses, mentioning the Flight to Egypt makes sense, to drive home the parallelism that both Moses and Christ came to lead their people from out of Egypt, so to speak. If one's job is to show a new teaching perhaps alien to a Gentile like Theophilus, telling a much different infancy narrative is thus important. And so on. Really treating this in detail is clearly for another blog post. But the point to make about the lead-ups to the Crucifixion is that they tell us a great deal about the Evangelists and the points they were trying to make.

But the Resurrection Narratives are different animals altogether. They essentially tell the same story. Whether there were two or one angel is perhaps not the point, or rather missing the forest for the trees. The point can best be described by looking at Mark and Luke. Both mention the Road to Emmaus, but only Luke looks at it in detail. Why? Because the point of this difference, and indeed the point of all the divergences is how we encounter the Risen Lord. You see, we all encountered the Saving Victim on the Cross together as Fallen Human Kind Redeemed. But we encounter Christ Risen individually. Consider how the major stories that differ between the versions of the Gospel are about Christ coming to individuals and little groups. He is the one who for some journeys to Emmaus and rebukes them because they should have known the Scriptures. For others He comes to them in the Room and submits to The Twin's empirical analysis. It is why Christ called Peter a second time and asked him three times whether he loved The Lord. Our encounter with the Risen Christ is individual to draw us together into His body.

It seems to me then, that in this regard it becomes clear why the Resurrection narratives are as divergent, such that they are.