Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category
I’m always suspicious of interpretations that directly contradict scripture. All right, I’ll be honest, I’m not simply suspicious, I’m absolutely outraged. Harold Camping and Family Radio’s prediction of a May 21 judgment is appalling and contemptible. If common sense doesn’t prevail, I recommend these two basic rules for interpreting scripture:
First rule: What does scripture say?
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only… [Y]ou also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” — Matthew 24:36,44
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” — Mark 13:32
For context, one would do well to read Matthew 24 and Mark 13 entirely. Jesus could not be more emphatic: people will say they know, they will lead others astray, but we are not to listen to them. Jesus does indicate that there will be signs and wonders, but not of a nature that reveals the precise day or hour. Instead, we must be ready. (Really, folks, could his meaning be any more clear?)
Second rule: Don’t look for “work arounds.”
Harold Camping writes –
Nevertheless, there is a very striking statement in the Bible. It is recorded in Ecclesiastes 8:5. There God declares:
Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth [better translation: will know] both time and judgment (source).
First, Camping points to ONE verse in all of scripture as his authority for reinterpreting Jesus’ words. One verse! Second, that one verse says nothing about Judgment Day. Third, that one verse is not presented in the best translation (which he admits!). What does this passage actually say?
Here, the teacher addresses a contemporary issue, writing, “I say: Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him” (Ec. 8:2). The teacher calls upon people to approach kings cautiously, and with good judgment, for the king has absolute authority. Verse 5, Camping’s proof text, says, “Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way.” That is remarkably different from what Camping suggests.
The passage speaks to how we are to live our lives (even in an age where there are no kings). Law-abiding citizens have little to fear, for their ways and judgments are true.
A theological “work around” is a cruel trick. It creates disorder (cognitive dissonance) in the mind of the hearer; it creates doubt. “Work arounds” are not from God. He does not play tricks with our thoughts. He does not set out to confuse his people.
Camping’s “work around” presupposes “buy in” — that is, everyone accepts that the Bible teaches about ages, and that God changes how he operates in these ages. (Camping apparently adheres to some form of dispensationalism.) In consequence, Camping’s “work around” is two removes from scripture.
A Leap in Logic
Read those passages in the gospels of Matthew and Mark again. When does Jesus say people won’t know the day or hour? Well? In the age (whatever that age is supposed to be) when the son of man actually appears. “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light… they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:24,26). To leap from stated words to interpreted words is dangerous, and, in this particular case, heretical.
Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury once related a story about how he and is brother had heard that the end of the world was coming on such and such a date (this was back in the 1930s). A preacher on the radio was very certain about the time and hour. So the two boys prepared a picnic basket and planned to watch the end of the world on a hill overlooking the town where they lived. Shortly after midnight, disappointment set in: no trumpet blast, no brimstone, no mighty appearance of Jesus. The two sleepy boys headed home, heads bowed.
Driving around town, you may have noticed the “May 21, Judgment Day” billboards, promoting Family Radio’s assertion that the end of the world in knowable. Prepare yourself for disappointment. Granted, Jesus could come May 21 — or any other date — but, in the end, this prediction will be a disappointment. The “disappointment” lies not in the date itself, but in setting the date. It’s really such a shame.
Listening to Harold Camping, founder of Family Radio, preach about the End Times is actually quite inspiring. The end is coming soon. People are called to repentance. It’s just that when he attaches a date to Judgment Day, Camping demeans the gospel message and his ministry. He isn’t preaching the gospel, but a gimmick. And it’s a poor gimmick given Camping’s tentativeness: “The Holy Bible gives several additional astounding proofs that May 21, 2011 is very accurate as the time for the Day of Judgment” (source). NB: Camping leaves open the possibility that the date may not be absolutely accurate!
No, no man knows the time or hour. It is enough to know Jesus. And, no, the Holy Spirit did not leave the church — Jesus is the church.
Why are Christ’s teachings so meaningful? Because there is power in his words: power to change the world, power to change and transform lives. Lately, I’ve preached two sermons on the “Sermon on the Plain” –
Part 2, Aug. 15, 2010 — http://mountainbible.com/?page_id=162&sermon_id=109
Part 1, July 4, 2010 — http://mountainbible.com/?page_id=162&sermon_id=106
Contemplate this idea, that there are different levels of theology: essentials and non-essentials. Many fundamentalists, of whom I number myself, find themselves in an untenable situation by insisting that, as the Bible is wholly true, all statements about it must reflect absolute certainty, i.e. whatever I say about it must be the final word. This makes fellowship with other Christians difficult, and, frankly, impossible.
The attitude commonly is, “God said it, I believe it, that’s it.” The problem, of course, with such statements — often found on the back-ends of our cars — is that they inadequately handle the truth: they don’t tell the whole story. Certainly, anything God says is to be believed. But we must ask ourselves several things:
I cringed some years ago when I read about the Jesus Seminar, a group of liberal scholars who voted on which of the words of Jesus were “authentic.” Not many of the New Testament quotations won their approval. I’m cringing now, hearing reports of a conservative “Jesus Seminar,” which aims to purge the New Testament of its “liberal” elements (see story).
Stop messing with the Bible!
Translation, no doubt, is a process of interpretation, but it is also a science. Changing or redacting the texts to suit your theological interests is vulgar and profane. It is frankly intolerable.
The Conservative Bible Project unabashedly explains, “[This] is a project to render God’s word into modern English while removing liberal distortions.” This includes redacting so-called disputed texts, giving preference to gender-specific terms, using “powerful conservative terms,” and preferring “conciseness over liberal wordiness (source). What is at issue here, however, is not their method (which is questionable), but their motives. First, these “scholars” must decide which passages are “liberal;” then they can “improve” the texts. This is not translation, but speculation.
Their approach is entirely misguided. For example, they say modern translations of Matthew 4:19 reflect a liberal bias. Instead of “I will make you fishers of people,” they argue the text should read, “I will make you fishers of men.” However, even their own notes point out that the disputed term is gender-neutral in the Greek. Yet, because the conversation is between men, they argue Jesus must have meant “men.” Are they not inserting a conservative bias into the text?
Ironically, “people” is derived from a masculine term! Thus, the English word should be entirely suitable. File under: Much ado about nothing.
People (men and women) might ask, “Why not just translate the Bible word-for-word? Wouldn’t that settle things?” Problematically, language does not lend itself to word-for-word translation. Not all languages employ the same rules of syntax (i.e. word order); vocabularies between languages vary (some are large; some are very small — finding terms that are exactly comparable can be difficult); also, words of common origin might actually very different meanings in the receptor language (“pharmacology” in Greek implies witchcraft, not medicine as in English).
This is to say nothing idiomatic expressions. How might one translate “this is cool” into Chinese or Arabic? If the meaning is “this is great,” do you really want to tell people the temperature of a given object is relatively cold? How would you convey the sense of the expression? In Bolivia, if someone says, “Bueno,” they don’t mean simply good; they mean “good morning.” Is a word-for-word translation tolerable in this instance?
Consider the Gospel of John. Jesus repeatedly addresses his mother as “woman” (cf. John 2:4, 19:26). If an American child, speaking in English, addressed his mother as “woman,” that would be regarded as the child being disrespectful. Such is not the case in Greek. In Greek, the meaning is neutral (note Mary’s response to her son in chapter 2); perhaps, as F.F. Bruce suggests, the term has the sense of “my lady.” Invariably, English translators stick with “woman,” as it is just too difficult to find another suitable term (“my lady” sounds very upper class).
All this is to say that translation is a difficult process, one that must be handled scientifically. Because one thinks there are biases in modern translations does not give one license to make wholesale changes to the scriptures. Such methods are intolerable.