Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Word for Word

“If you don’t have access to the original language, stick with a word-for-word translation like the NASB ...”

There is a common misconception, usually among those who are only familiar with a single language, that it is possible to translate Hebrew or Greek — or any other language, for that matter — word for word. I used to believe it myself. It is not the case, and the translators of the NASB would tell you themselves that they have not attempted any such thing.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

A Tale of Two Rebukes

One generation and three chapters of holy scripture apart, two powerful men experienced God’s correction. One handled it right. One didn’t.

Both were good men with a notable character flaw. One accepted instruction, while the other became offended and died obdurate.

Perhaps in comparing their stories we may see ourselves in one or the other.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Anonymous Asks (87)

“Are our dreams from God?”

There are all kinds of theories about what dreams are, what they mean, and the purpose they serve for human beings. One theory is that dreams are our brains attempting to derive meaning from meaningless stimuli, attempting to create order out of chaos. Sigmund Freud saw them as a window into the unconscious. Psychologist Rosalind Cartwright says dreams “help us process new, emotionally important information and add it to our conceptual memory system”. Sleep scientist Robert Stickgold says there is “precious little on which dream researchers agree”.

That about sums it up. From a scientific perspective, the answer is that we don’t know what purpose dreams serve, or if they mean anything at all. Where dreams are concerned, we cannot be certain about much of anything.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Tyrants and Pushovers

Nobody likes a tyrant. I don’t imagine anyone ever did even when, as is so often claimed today, tyranny was the defining feature of patriarchal leadership in the secular world, in church government, and even sometimes within families. At least this is what we are led to believe.

I have no doubt a significant number of the horror stories about the abusive leadership of times past are perfectly true, and should serve us well as cautionary tales. But I very much doubt all of them are.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Time and Chance (30)

Much of what we read in our Bibles is not what we might call “inspired”: the choice of English words made by translators; the marginal commentary; beginnings and ends of verses; chapter and passage headings ... all these things were simply not subjected to the same level of divine control which the writers of scripture claim for the Greek and Hebrew text itself.

This being the case, once in a blue moon something done by a translator or publishing house works against our ability to discern the meaning of a text. One of my brothers is fond of pointing out how many times a chapter division in our English Bibles has obscured his understanding of a passage which should rightly flow right on without pause, and did so in its original form. Sometimes the answer to a question posed at the end of chapter 3 (where you probably stopped your daily reading) is to be found three verses into chapter 4 (where you have probably forgotten what it is answering by the time you read it tomorrow).

Friday, April 03, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Rapture and the Wrath of God

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Not too long ago a major news and commentary website complained about “evangelicals’ toxic obsession with the end times”. That sort of thing is to be expected from unbelievers. But more and more, I am seeing the same kind of dismissive language used by Christians.

Tom: “Rapture” is not a term we find in the Bible, but it may be reasonably applied to the events to which the apostle Paul refers in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Matthew Henry, whose eschatology was neither Pre-Millennial nor Pre-Tribulation, used the word “rapture” in his commentary on Thessalonians back in the early 1700s, long before J.N. Darby or others who articulated the Pre-Trib position in their own generations. For most critics of Pre-Tribulationism, the argument is not so much about whether the church will be “snatched up”, but when.

But whatever we may call it, Immanuel Can, it’s my sense that the teaching about a return of Christ for the church prior to the Great Tribulation has never been in greater disrepute among God’s people. Does that seem a fair statement?

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Youth Problems Part 2: Life in Suspended Animation

I grew up a Trekkie.

You remember that word? It was a nerd word. A “trekkie” was a person who loved the television show Star Trek. My daily ritual was to get home and plop myself down in front of the telly and catch whatever rerun was on that day. I think I saw most episodes of the original show a half dozen times or more.

I remember one episode called Space Seed, in which the crew of the Starship Enterprise discovers a ship loaded with sleeping men and women. They’re all in what’s called suspended animation: alive, but asleep and on life support, so that they can endure a lengthy trip through space. The crew revives one named Khan, and he turns out to be a kind of wild superman they’re unable to control. He’s more than a little agitated that he and his people have become the rejects of planet earth.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (6)

We have been talking about brothers and brotherhood. Brothers share DNA, parents, history, culture and sometimes values. Ideally at least, brothers feel a sense of high obligation to one another and always have each other’s backs.

Other than in rare cases of Solomonic excess, one only has a few literal siblings. All others are only “brothers” in a figurative sense. On the basis of the Old Testament, I have compared brotherhood to the layers of an onion, in which the highest level of responsibility lies toward those at the center of our lives and radiates out through the “layers” of immediate family, then extended family, tribe and nation.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (5)

The majority of times the word “brother” is used in scripture, it denotes a male sibling, a family relation, someone swimming very close to another in the gene pool, a son of the same mother, father or both. In Hebrew, the word “brother” is 'ach, in Greek it is adelphos.

In this literal sense, Cain and Abel were brothers, Isaac and Ishmael were brothers, James and John were brothers. Little more need be said about that.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Anonymous Asks (86)

“How can I become more spiritually discerning?”

Great question. Discernment is something to which every Christian should aspire. Maybe the wisdom of Solomon is not a realistic goal, but each one of us can get better at making clear distinctions between things that please the Lord and things that don’t.

Let me suggest five ways we can start moving in that direction.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Inbox: To the Youth Group

Last week, a youth leader we know sent the following email to the young people in his local church. I thought it made a great point, and he was kind enough to allow us to share it here.

Good morning everyone,

Students, your March Break 2020 is drawing to a close. I wonder: if someone had asked you on Saturday, March 7th how you would describe your March Break today on Saturday, March 21st, would your description have been anywhere close to how it actually unfolded?

The dramatic shifts in just two weeks get me thinking that there is probably something in the Bible that can provide some wisdom for us to shape our lives to. Of course there is, so the tricky part is to limit ourselves to just two selections for now.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Time and Chance (29)

Much of Ecclesiastes is observational rather than directly instructive. The Preacher tells us the things he did, the things he has seen, and what he thinks about it all ... then leaves the reader to decide how he ought to behave in light of the information shared with him. The first six chapters of Ecclesiastes contain only three “do” or “do not”-type commands.

These next few verses of chapter 7 are a little more pointed.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Pagans Weigh In

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

You don’t have to spend much time in the company of Christians today before you start to hear questions like these:

“Wasn’t Easter a pagan holiday?”
“Isn’t the concept of a Christmas tree based on Odin’s sacred oak?”
“I read that the wedding ring originated in an old pagan superstition intended to protect a relationship from evil spirits. Should Christians really wear those sorts of symbols?”

Tom: Some of these concerns turn out to be baseless. Other accusations that a particular Christian symbol, practice or holiday actually had its origin in paganism are quite legitimate.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Christian, or just ‘christiany’?

When I was a kid, the local fast food place used to sell a little box of cookies as a sort of quick dessert once we had loaded up on their high-calorie burgers.

One day I was eating out with a friend and happened to notice that on the packet of these little items it said “Chocolaty Chip Cookies.” Not chocolate, “chocolat-y.”

“Why does it say that? What the heck is ‘chocolaty’?” I asked.

“Oh,” said my friend, “it’s not actually chocolate. It’s some kind of chocolate-like thing, and they can’t legally call it chocolate. So they stick the ‘y’ on the end to cover themselves.”