Thursday, 9 March 2017

The name of [the] LORD

Followers of this blog should by now be aware that there are some interesting translator problems and choices behind the words rendered in English Bibles as "The LORD". We have reviewed on several occasions how the definite article - the "the" - implies that this was more of a title than a name. We should therefore expect to find:

* "the LORD of"
* the definite article in Greek

Generally speaking, neither are true. Why only generally? Because on the second point, the "the" is sometimes present in the Greek. However, as we have previously noted on several occasions:

- this is required sometimes by Greek grammar
- after the Septuagint was translated in the third century BC, subsequent translators began to slip a bit, forgetting in some less self-evident scenarios that the original Pentateuch translators had attempted to preserve the name aspect of Yahweh.

On the first point, some explaining might be necessary (and this for the first time on the blog) of the rather famous "the LORD of hosts". This sounds a lot like a title, right? Well, it depends which translation you read actually. The traditional KJV (King James Version) rendering goes this route, and, peculiarly so do my usually more-trusted-translations of the ESV and NET. The NIV opts for "the LORD Almighty". What's going on behind the scenes here?

The first thing to note is that, strangely enough, although the Hebrew יְהוָ֨ה צְבָא֜וֹת - Yahweh ṣəḇā’ō-wṯ - occurs 223 times as "the LORD of hosts" according to the ESV (I have not checked all references, so some slight variations in Hebrew are possible), 


Why do I put that in such a scarily large font? To me it seems of genuine significance to note that the first translators of the Hebrew books only had to deal with Yahweh as a true name, and did not have to deal with this "of hosts" business. Others have obviously noticed this. Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon states that: "this appellation of the most high God, is very frequent in the prophetical books, especially in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Malachi; never found in the Pentateuch [nor in Joshua] nor Judges [nor in Ezekiel, Job, or Solomon]". While the usage of the square brackets here is something of a mystery, we do gain some valuable insight into the various usage - and non-usage - of this notion of Yahweh of the hosts.

Second point: τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου τῶν δυνάμεων (LXX 2 Samuel 6:2), which in English means "[by, to, ...] the name of [the] LORD of the hosts". My first square brackets, [by], refers to the fact that the definite article τὸ is the accusative form of the article, which naturally has to match the noun, onoma, which it does. The second square bracket is different. By it, as I have done for some time now, I am referring to the presence in English of the definite article, which is absent from the Hebrew and the Greek for reasons already described. What it is important to note is that although we are now necessarily outside the scope of the first translators of the Hebrew, the nameness of Yahweh is preserved in and against "the hosts", which conspicuously do receive the definite article. It strikes me as a strange combination for the second generation Septuagint translator, but he seems to be doing the best he can in a difficult scenario.

Sorry, I don't yet have anything that satisfying on this usage other than that this is a second-generation translation scenario. It strikes me as most unlikely that in Hebrew the name of Yahweh could have slipped toward some sort of title, such that it could be used to describe other persons or gods of high standing. Since in Greek the distinction is still made between anarthrous Kyrios and arthrous dunameon, I don't think we have a strong case for any significant exception to the fact that anarthrous Kyrios and Kyriou, when applied to the God of Israel, is intended almost 100% of the time as a name.

Yahweh is the name of the God of Israel.

[anarthrous] Kyrios is the name of the God of Israel.

Hmm. So how does that change our understanding of an ever-so-common phrase: "in the name of the Lord"? I hope that having read this and given it some consideration you will at least give it considerable likelihood that what is meant is not:

In the name (=Name) of the Lord (=holder of the name). 
Surely what must be meant by "in the name of the Lord", given that this is consistently translated without the article, is "in Yahweh's name" or "in LORD's name". There's nothing else. Yahweh is the name! And that name is preserved in the anarthrous translation into the Greek.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Christian origins video, and asking the question of the Christian departure from Judaism

Dr. James Carleton Paget, from Cambridge University, looks here at current methodological trends in Biblical Studies and Christian origins. It's a fairly follow-able condensed summary of where studies have been going in the last few decades regarding the origins of the Christian faith. Of particular interest to my own work are two points that Dr Paget draws out.

Firstly he is going to insist that of the departure of "Christianity" from Judaism, the literature is increasingly emphasising a fragmented and gradual process, which re-frames, re-directs or simply questions the relevance of questions like "was Paul really a Jew?"

Secondly, he is going to insist that there is a substantial lack in "takeaway" value. "So what?", he wants to ask, about different perceptions in history about Paul, for instance.

So, since I am in the process (a highly stop-start process) of writing a manuscript on the Trinity for an interested publisher, I want to self-assess Mutated Faith and the Triune Hub according to these trends that Dr. Paget identifies. On the first count, do I allow for a less simplistic, monolithic understanding of Christianity and Judaism? How will I frame "the departure"? Since my decision is to address readers like me, with little formal training but a keen interest in Christian origins and what we are to do with some of these creeds, I don't think I need to tackle it with the same academic depth or vocabulary. However, since one of my takeaways is that there was a radical shift of Jewish focus within the Jewish followers of Jesus to a threefold centre of their faith in the first century, it would be beneficial to remember that the Christ cult fold in the tapestry of first century Judaism would not have been known by all, and would certainly not have stood out to all among the throngs of other cults and Jewish groups out there throughout the Roman empire. I would nonetheless like to suggest that in addition to the other reasons developed for increasing distance, that the Triune Hub is a major issue and identifier for the early movement (and as such, required enshrining in subsequent times via the 3rd century middle-platonic ideas available at the time) that may have been repugnant for non-Christ-following Jews, many of whom would have been expectant of a Messiah, perhaps an eternal one, but would not be ready to connect all of that to his departure and subsequent commissioning of God's Spirit as the Third, through whom (or which) all else is identified, enriched, empowered, directed to recruit collaborators for the Kingdom that God entrusted in its entirety to his Son, appointed Lord in his stead. This is not the "be-all-and-all" of separation, especially in light of the weight of research pointing toward fragmented separation, however, it should certainly add some hefty weight to the increasing burden of distinction.

As a small aside, I have been doing some thinking about distinction and separation. Not the same thing at all. If you take conjoined twins - they are clearly not separated, by definition! But they are two distinct persons. One might laugh, the other sulk. One might sleep, the other be awake. And so on - in fact, one could conceivably (or theoretically) die and the other live. Indeed, that is what has happened, I am certain, during various attempts to surgically separate such twins. Interesting that the surgical intervention is to provide separation to that which is distinct. This difference, between separation and distinction, has applicability for both the case of the Christian sect - apparently cast out of synagogues even by 60s or 70s in some cases - and the question of the emergence of the Triune God. For the Christians that were cast out of synagogues, their distinction of followers of a resurrected and exalted Messiah, Jesus, did not require their immediate separation. However, there can be a pressure that results from sustained distinction, like with the conjoined twins, that eventually pushes apart and separates the two. A counter example exists, however, in the development of the Trinity dogmas, wherein the man Jesus is increasingly associated with God, whom he prefers to call his Father, that the blinding glory with which he is drawn into at God's right hand binds them so closely together that for some, with separation now forever defeated, the distinction can also come under threat. For those that know me, they know what I will say next: to their great peril! 

So will Mutated Faith also tackle the takeaway problem? I think it should. It aims to, at least. Since it is only semi-academic will mean that the non-academic half needs to be relevant anyway. My key takeaways are that the new threefold hub, Father, Son and Spirit, is a first century Jewish phenomenon (and shouldn't shackle modern individuals and who knows maybe one day churches on a wider level to fourth century interpretations requiring talk of essence and substance), and is especially necessary for the modern evangelical church to re-adopt: for collective worship and prayer, for individual discipleship and consecration, and finally for understanding the church's role as key (but not sole) collaborator for the advancement of the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Le problème du problème du mal

Ouéé enfin un article en français, cela fait une éternité, et j'en suis désolé puisque mon souhait de ce blog est quand même d'avoir cette articulation entre les deux langues et cultures face à l'autre articulation encore plus importante, entre les écritures de la Bible et la foi d'un chrétien.

Aujourd'hui je ne vais pas prendre beaucoup de votre temps (ni du miens!) puisque je voudrais juste attirer l'attention sur un problème du problème du mal que, lorsque j'écoute des débats sur ce problème philosophique et théologique, ne reçoit pas l'attention dont je pense il est digne....

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Moral Arguments

I feel finally inspired to write something down after an informed but friendly debate held by Unbelievable on Christian Premier Radio on the legitimacy of the moral argument - or at least a certain form of it. You can listen to the episode here, and watch Craig's fun animated video presentation of it here. I'm not convinced by either Cranman or Craig's versions. I do agree, however, absolutely that discussing premise 2 first makes more sense.

It seemed to me that there was at least one more voice that needed to be heard, that of Christian - and why not, atheist - evolutionists and also a specialist in anthropology and sociology wouldn't have gone amiss either! I guess I'm aiming a bit high asking for a whole panel, but yet it is an important topic, so why not state the ideal conditions? :)

The keyword for my own response and argument is going to be "cluster". I think it can and should be argued that there is a phenomenon of clustering that takes place with regard to moral behaviour choices.

So we can observe that most people believe that it is "wrong" to kill but also, sadly, that war is sometimes necessary and will almost certainly involve killing. In the same way, a police officer might have to kill a crazed gunman. Even though killing is wrong, there is some kind of justifying principle at work: the greater good (or the least harm). I note how this word "greater" operates. It presupposes that degrees of goodness and wrong can be identified in order to make the moral decision possible and indeed to make the moral decision itself.

Here is a question that made an alternative argument seem necessary for Christians (like myself, who don't think you can easily get to the Christian God by apologetic argumentation) to have another way into the debate: Can a theist imagine a functional intelligent society in which individuals, groups and the species as a whole could thrive without "God"? What would the minimum contents be of that God?

It's difficult to imagine, but this may depend on our definitions of God.

We accept that consciousness is a spectrum. Awareness varies according to the complexity of the life-form, and even self-awareness in humans can vary from non-existence to heightened (and back again, e.g. in a fit of rage). The moral code that says don't harm my own species is necessarily built into every species for it to advance.

Could we imagine a mass-mutation of a species away from that moral law? Yes! Unfortunately, it would also involve the self-destruction of the species.

As the species that is human, our accumulated knowledge continues to increase and our legal systems inevitably complexify in accordance with that knowledge, and the clustering process continues in new moral scenarios either hitherto unforeseen (e.g. medical ethics) or better understood (e.g. LGBQT).

So it is probably pretty clear that I find the presentation of John Cranman's (and WL Craig's) moral argument untenable in its current format. But I also don't think it shouldn't be abandoned altogether either, despite my previous doubts. It is simply that some tighter and also some looser definitions must be properly integrated. I also think it is useful to break the argumentation into two halves, as I have attempted below, to cater for intelligent and less intelligent species.

Here we go:

1. For a species to thrive at any level of intelligence requires ingrained knowledge of the behavioural norms necessary for the survival of any given individual's offspring, of the individual itself and of the individual's group.

2. Human beings are a species.

3. For humans to thrive requires their ingrained knowledge of the behavioural norms necessary for the survival of their offspring, themselves and of their group.

4. Such ingrained knowledge in humans can be aptly described as moral values and duties.

5. Although not strictly universal, moral values and duties can be observed to cluster around certain norms that transcend a given human social group.

6. That which transcends can be aptly described by an observer from within that species as equivalent to objective reality.

7. Moral values and duties are at least equivalent to an objective reality.

And so, at last, we arrive, as in the podcast episode, at the second premise first. Note that thus far an appeal to God has not seemed to be necessary for the flow of this argument.


8. Moral decisions can be complex, such as those involving conflicting moral values, and in such cases require more knowledge about likely outcomes in order to imagine and assess the "greater good" (or benefit) and the "greater harm".

9. Such an increased need of knowledge vastly exceeds the speed at which humans can evolve, and may even require total knowledge, letting us then assert such decisions require perfect knowledge on the part of the moral navigator in order to be made safely.

10. Only "God" has perfect knowledge (be he real or imagined).

11. Therefore God or an unrealised ideal knowledge is necessarily sought for complex moral choices to truly enhance the human race.

12. The Christian God is a perfectly legitimate solution to complex moral problems.

13. Non-theistic models of improving knowledge are also perfectly legitimate solutions to making better complex moral choices.

On the basis of the moral argument alone, we cannot state which offers the best explanation.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Allegory of a Triune model

Is this a poem? I'll let you judge, but I have a feeling it might be... :)

God makes everything excellently.

God decides to share ownership of his people with his Son.

They want to transform the world back to where love and justice are the authoritative principles in all matters.

Their tools for the job, the owned people, are ineffective, running on empty and they know it. They want and need sharpening to be their agents of love and justice.

The Father sends his Son and makes of his dearly beloved the greatest agent - where the Son is, there the Father is also by the constant partnership through the Love-Justicer Spirit.

Finally, the beloved Son aligns his will to that of his Father and abandons himself to him, in desperate trust, in the face of the greatest horror, intended for the greatest victory of God's love-justice Rule.

The Son dies. The Father weeps. The people weep.

The Father powerfully raises the Son back to life in the power of the Spirit, gives him his own Name and all his own authority - an authority so great, the Son is even permitted to further grant that authority to his people, and all that great goal of restoring his cosmos starts to become a reality through an incredible partnership. But the people need the love-justicer.

So the Son sends his Father's love-justicer to his people, those who pledge their allegience to him and his kingdom, and the people are truly loved and "justiced" in and through the Holy Spirit Love-Justicer, so the exact same love and justice can be advanced in the people's spheres of life to the glory of their owners. 

Although he is at the heart of the whole operation, the Son still operates in loving obedience to his Dad, and guarantees him final glory when we get to the last of the first hurrahs.

Monday, 6 February 2017

My Proposal

The book project I have been working recently reached sufficient shape for me to want to bounce the idea off potential publishers. So far I have only contacted a couple, using the text below. Both have since responded with some interest and want more content. So now I have a lot of work to do, which is daunting for me as I am finding looking at screens for too long really tires me out. So, in the meantime before my big day, whenever that'll be, here's the proposal (please feel free as a reader to my blog to recommend contacts and offer any support you might feel prompted to give).

For the last couple of years a book has been taking shape that started as something of a major career risk, and concerns someone really quite special: the Christian God.

This book should weigh in at around the 90000 word-mark and tracks a remarkable theological journey that took me to the brink of my career, my faith, my church, to interact with specialist materials that I had no idea existed, and to finally assert and lobby for a full-scale allegiance to a threefold religious centre to the Christian life and vocation: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Christian market – predominantly evangelical – is worth $1.2 billion, approximately 10% of the wider US publishing market, with Christians spending more money on books than the average reader. While evangelical Christians are indeed the intended audience for this work, we can, however, also identify a number of sub-groups who will identify with various chapters to varying degrees:

-          Disenchanted Christians who are dissatisfied with the chasm they may be experiencing between what they receive in church and what they read in their bibles.
-          Professional Christian organisations, particularly HR departments.
-          Biblical teachers and apologists for the Christian faith.
-          Unitarian believers who strongly deny that “God is three persons”.
-          Some scholars and historians of early Christianity.
-          Those involved in the Evangelical/Charismatic “worship scene”: worship-leaders, religious songwriters, pastors.
-          Also, unaffiliated atheistic or agnostic readers who are curious about religion may be interested to see the unique nature of this exploration and any controversy that it could generate (see the large amount of media attention on Wheaton College professor, Larycia Hawkins).

Reason for the book’s existence: Part by part

The unique selling point of this three-part book is its element of risk to be seen as a worthy price for Truth. Tantalisingly, the framework of Part 1 reflects closely the content of a paper I submitted to my employer in 2015 in which I basically state the reasons (contemporary, historical and biblical) that compelled me to no longer “sign off” on my organisation’s Statement of Faith. An interlude between Parts 1 and 2 will relate in nail-biting detail the “What-Happened-Next”, as I (bravely? foolishly?) dismissed for the last time the opportunity to just let the whole thing blow over and get on with my career and my life. As readers follow the journey, which was incomplete in 2015 and is still ongoing in 2017, some should start to question themselves about their own beliefs and that for which they too are willing to stand up and take a risk. Doing so is scary, but can make a big difference: by end 2015, my organisation, present internationally wherever Christians are persecuted, refined their Statement of Faith. This outcome was beyond my wildest expectations.

As the book moves into Part 2, its second unique selling point becomes more obvious: an allegiance to the Truth trumps any theological partisanship. While Trinitarian evangelicals may find some of the contents of Part 1 quite scandalous, Unitarians may find the flow of Part 2 to be even more alarming as I home in on the key theological offering of this book, namely that the church of the first century was utterly trinitarian in focus. This “Trinity”, however, is not, at least according to first century Judaeo-Christian paradigms, not a “trinity of essence” but a “trinity of design” – God’s design. Various scholars of Christianity in antiquity have adopted the language of “mutation” to describe how it was possible that the Christian faith was birthed from within the Jewish faith, and not in opposition to it. Once I have documented those key offerings (taken from Larry Hurtado, the mutation of dyadic worship; from N. T. Wright, the mutation of an inaugurated, two-stage eschatology through Christ’s surprisingly early resurrection; and from John Dominic Crossan, the mutation of a “participative eschatology”, which I slightly correct to necessarily require the Holy Spirit’s central status), I am ready to make my core theological claim, which stands squarely on top of these accepted mutations. 

This book’s fundamental theological offering – laid out in Part 2 – is that the ultimate first century mutation now requires the new Judeo-Christian faith to hold at its core a threefold “hub”. All else must turn around and is expressed through those three. If electronic books could have animated covers, this book cover would attract potential readers’ eyes with a solar system in which the centre was occupied by three suns, themselves rotating around one another, and around which all the dependent planets also rotated. The word “mutate” is thus crucial to this book, so much so that it would be fitting to assign a title like “Mutated Faith”. This title plays on the parallel between my own faith’s fragile process of mutation and that of the early Jewish Christians. Finally before heading for the more hands-on applicability of Part 3, Part 2’s allegiance to Truth seems to have had a substantial payoff: nearly all of the conflicting criteria examined under the two lenses in Part 1 are now largely satisfied under the lens of the Triune Hub model. In other words, the Triune Hub provides a much more harmonious reading of the New Testament texts once liberated from more interpolative approaches.

Part 3 of Mutated Faith now asks the question: so what? What does this mean for the Church? Here, my own previous role as a worship leader helps to “land the theological plane” in the “Fields of Worship”. It is plainly evident that the state of charismatic Christian song-writing is in a state of confusion and discrepancy with respect to the Triune Hub model developed in Part 2. The point is that human beings don’t learn so much through theoretical exposition (to which the book can be associated), but through their experience (research for this chapter is primarily along the lines of James K. A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Cultural Liturgies), Baker Academic). Song writing thus becomes a crucial component because it is precisely at that point of religious, sacramental and spiritual surrender and practice that our core beliefs are truly formed. The preacher can heartily preach the Trinity from the pulpit and yet if the songs with which the congregation actually relate to God are fundamentally modalistic in nature, he will constantly be under the impression of being a poor communicator. Thus, while worship launches the landing sequence of Mutated Faith, the book has two last ports of call down here on terra firma: personal application of the Triune Hub, and applying the Hub to the church’s vocation to advance the loving and just rule of God’s Son – the kingdom of God – in the power of his Spirit.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Response to Unblievable! debate this week on mystery religions

On this week's show of Unbelievable, Justin Brierley held a difficult debate between Richard Carrier vs David Marshall. Quite frankly, I don't think Brierley will be uniting these two again. Here was my response:

Having just finished listening to this episode, I have to agree with Carrier's summary of the apologist vs scholar. The flying sparks were quite frankly off-putting to the actual arguments being made (I am still unclear as to what the grounds are for peripheral or central features of mystery religions, although why not follow up Carrier's invitation to check out his book?)

I agree with Carrier that Marshall - from what I could make out in this debate - does not seem to have properly engaged and his personal history with Carrier seemed to favour what quite frankly seemed like embarrassing blunders (e.g. fables of Aesop). Remember, his book his based on Carrier's, he should know it really, really well. He really doesn't seem to. Sorry Marshall, you didn't sell it to me and I am in theory on your side. But presenting one side of the debate with too much emotion and not enough research I found embarrassing.

Thanks Justin for the usual excellent hosting in a difficult interview.

UPDATE: Got a reply from David Marshall!
How can you make such a claim about a 300 page book chock full of evidence, by listening to a few minutes of Carrier's on-air attacks? Sorry, but you are being gullible. Carrier simply fails to understand my argument, or what it is based upon. And I tried to be polite, but his notion of scholarship is badly defective. See point 6, in particular:

Back to me: I am not going to get drawn into a debate with David Marshall on this, he's way too loose with his tongue and life is too short.