December 31, 2007

Lampstand

Category: Bible - NT - Luke :: Permalink

Something interesting from Peter Leithart:

In Luke 8:16-18, Jesus says that a lamp is made to be set on a lampstand. In context, He is talking about the Word that He preaches, and the fact that it both illuminates and exposes. A light on the lampstand means that “nothing is hidden that shall not become evident, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light” (v. 17). I suspect that there is some allusion here to the most famous lampstand in Scripture, the tabernacle menorah (Exodus 25). The lamp was set up to shed light in the holy place, but in a real sense the lamp was covered over in a container and put under a basket (the tabernacle). It was hidden. But nothing is hidden that shall not be revealed, and the light of the menorah is going to shine out once Jesus has torn the temple veil. There’s a link here with Jesus’ claim that He brings judgment on earth: Jesus came to expose things to the light, so that nothing can hide in dark corners anymore.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:21 pm | Discuss (0)
December 20, 2007

Who Calls the Tune?

Category: Bible - NT - Luke :: Permalink

An exhortation from Peter Leithart in connection with a sermon on Luke 7:

The word of God always divides. It always evokes hostility as well as faith. That is what Jesus says about John’s preaching and ministry in our sermon text this morning, and it was also true of Jesus’ preaching. Both John and Jesus divided Israel by their words, by the sharp sword of their mouths. We can see it right here in the text: When Jesus commends John’s ministry, part of the crowd, the people and tax-gatherers, justify God; the other part of the crowd, the Pharisees and lawyers, the churchmen, show that they rejected the will of God for them.

One of the reasons the word of God evokes hostility and opposition is that true prophets and true believers do not respond to the tempo or tune of the times. Jesus tells a little parable about the Pharisees and lawyers who did not accept John’s baptism. The men of this generation, He said, are like children playing in the streets, who call out different tunes to one another. And they accuse John and Jesus of not keeping in step with their music. They called for dance music when John appeared, but he would only talk about repentance and judgment. Now they are in the mood for a funeral dirge, and Jesus does nothing but eat and drink with tax gatherers and sinners. Neither of these prophets was willing to follow the lead of the “men of this generation,” and so, eventually, the men of this generation killed them.

There are always people outside the church who want to dictate what the church says and determine how Christians should live. And there are false or misguided teachers in the church who want to dictate the tune. These tunes are played on every possible media outlet — in popular music, in TV sitcoms, in magazines and books. These tunes are institutionalized in Supreme Court decisions and local toleration ordinances. And these tunes are called out by those who are closer to you — friends and sometimes members of your own family.

Wherever these tunes come from, stop your ears. The word of God should call our tune. There is a time to dance and a time to mourn, but we determine which to do by listening to Jesus. That means we will encounter the opposition and hatred of the world, but that is the only way to be a disciple.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:55 pm | Discuss (3)
December 18, 2007

David & His Agent

Category: Christian Life,Ethics :: Permalink

Another parable by Doug Wilson from a few years back:

When David was preparing to meet the Philistine giant Goliath, we are fortunate that he did not have his marketing agent with him.And David said, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

And his agent said, “David, I really do not think that this language is suitable for an already polarized situation. Being uncircumcised — that is merely their custom. And although his language is perhaps provocative, it becomes us as Christians to rise above this. We need to be building bridges, not walls.”

But David ignored his marketing agent, just as he had ignored his brothers, and went and selected five, smooth stones from the brook. Goliath advanced out into the place between the two armies, his armor bearer with him. David walked out toward him, his agent tagging along behind, plucking worriedly at his sleeve.

“David, remember your musical and literary gifts. How can you expect to finish all the psalms that God has given you if you put it all at risk in this way? I am concerned not only that you may die, but also that, if you live, you may have quenched that gift by your pugnacious behavior.”

And then Goliath taunted David once more, saying that he would feed him to the birds. “Now, David,” said the agent hurriedly, “remember to let your speech be gracious, seasoned with salt.”

But David said that he had come in the name of the Lord of armies. “This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will use your carcass to feed the birds and all wild beasts.”

“O dear,” said the agent, “that is essentially the same thing that Goliath said. You are returning evil for evil. We are called to be peacemakers, David. Remember the oil in Aaron’s beard. Think of what you are throwing away!”

“A stone,” David said. “Watch this.”

Posted by John Barach @ 10:28 pm | Discuss (2)
December 12, 2007

Psalm 48

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

A song.
A psalm
By the sons of Korah.

Great is Yahweh and exceedingly praiseworthy,
In the city of our God,
His holy mountain –
Beautiful in height,
The joy of all the earth –
Mount Zion, the sides of the north,
The city of the great king.
God is in her palaces;
He is known as a high place.

Indeed, look!  The kings gathered.
They passed through together.
They themselves saw.  So they were astounded.
They were terrified.  They hurried away.
Trembling seized them there,
Writhing like a woman giving birth.
With an east wind
You will break ships of Tarshish.

Just as we have heard, so we have seen,
In the city of Yahweh of hosts,
In the city of our God.
God will establish her unto eternity.  Selah.

We have pondered, O God, your loyalty
In the midst of your palace.
As your name, O God, so is your praise to the ends of the earth.
Full of righteousness is your right hand.
Mount Zion will rejoice, the daughters of Judah will shout for joy,
On account of your judgments.

Go around Zion and encircle it!
Count her towers!
Set your heart on her bulwark, examine her palaces
So that you can recount it to a generation following,
For this is God, Our God forever and ever.
He will guide us unto death.

Some comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) In line 6, the word translated “sides” may refer to the farthest part.  It’s not clear to me what this verse means.  Some take it to mean that Zion is being compared to Zaphon, a Canaanite mountain, but that seems pretty unlikely to me.  Others take it to say that Zion it in the far north.  That isn’t literally true, but Eden was a mountain in the north from which the rivers flowed south to the rest of the world, and so this psalm may be identifying Zion as symbolically a new Eden.  That’s possible.

(2) In line 9, when it says that God is “known as a high place,” it means that he is known to be a refuge for his people, an elevated place out of the reach of the enemy.  As in connection with Psalm 46, “high place” isn’t the best translation and I’m still hoping for a good suggestion that captures both the sense of protection (“fortress, refuge”) and height (“high place, elevation”).

(3) In line 30, the word “examine” is a guess, given the context, since this Hebrew word doesn’t appear anywhere else and no one knows for sure what it means.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:51 pm | Discuss (0)
December 10, 2007

Yeti

Category: Language,Miscellaneous :: Permalink

In his introduction to Fragile Things (p. xxv-xxvi), which, by the way, contains only a few stories I enjoyed, Neil Gaiman writes:

And on the subject of naming animals, can I just say how happy I was to discover that the word yeti, literally translated, apparently means “that thing over there.”  (“Quick, brave Himalayan Guide — what’s that thing over there?”

“Yeti.”

“I see.”)

It makes me happy, too, although I see that this etymology, which is presented here is not accepted here.  It reminds me of the story, perhaps apocryphal, about the missionary who was trying to learn a particular African language.  He pointed at something and said, “What do you call that?” and the African responded with a word.  The missionary pointed at something else.  “And what do you call that?” he asked.  The African responded with the same word.  No matter what the missionary pointed at, the response was always the same.  Eventually, the missionary discovered that the word meant “finger”: no matter where he pointed it, it was still called “finger.”

What seemed obvious to the missionary, namely that you point with your finger and name the object you’re pointing at, wasn’t at all obvious to the African.  In his tribe, you point with your chin and indicate the distance of the object with your pitch, deep and low for something up close but high and squeaky for something far away.

It strikes me that we take a lot of things like this for granted.  Augustine thought that children learn language by having people point at something and name it over and over again (“Chair … chair….”).  That seems to be how it works for some nouns, but what about pronouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs?  And what about this pointing gesture anyway?  How come our kids know that when we point at the chair and say a particular word over and over again, we’re naming the chair and not our finger or the gesture or something else altogether?

Language-learning, as Wittgenstein pointed out in his response to Augustine (if I recall what Fergus Kerr says about it) is much more complex and much more mysterious than Augustine thought.  Perhaps he should have observed some children more closely.  My daughter, for instance, has grasped participles sooner than verbs.  She doesn’t say, “Papa, hold me.”  She says, “Papa, holding me.”  Odd, but true.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:33 pm | Discuss (1)

Classical vs. Christian

Category: Classics :: Permalink

An interesting observation from Peter Leithart:

Yeats said that the classical world was fundamentally tragic, with the Oedipus myth as the founding myth — the man kills his father and marries his mother. Yeats would have been better off pointing to the myth of Zeus, for that truly is the founding myth of the Olympian order, and it too involves the slaughter of the father by the son — Kronos by Zeus. Christianity is founded on the event of the Son’s utter obedience and submission to the Father, His willingness to allow the Father to slay him. The opposition of classical and Christian civilizations grows from those two stories.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:11 pm | Discuss (0)
December 5, 2007

Wright Interview

Category: Bible,Theology :: Permalink

Here is a recent interview with N. T. Wright by Trevin Wax at Asbury Seminary.  Here’s a snippet, but the whole thing is really worth reading:

As I’ve said before, God is going to fix the whole world. He’s going to put the whole world to rights. But actually, the advance plan for that is to put human beings to rights in advance. And when that happens, which is what happens through the gospel, it isn’t just, Phew! I’m okay now so I’m going to heaven! It’s I am actually being put right, in order that I can be part of that ongoing purpose.In other words, it’s both conversion and call, which as it was for Paul… converted to see that Jesus is the Messiah, which he’d never dreamt of before, called simultaneously ipso facto to be the apostle to the Gentiles. And in the same way, when the gospel reaches an individual, it is so that they can take part in God’s larger kingdom project.

You can listen to the interview here, if you prefer.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:13 pm | Discuss (0)
December 4, 2007

Depression

Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

Some pastoral counseling from Paul Buckley:

N.T. Wright tells an instructive story at the beginning of a lecture given at Wycliffe College in Toronto. A minister friend in England, before he sought ordination, was working in a rough area of London. The experience was trying, and he became very depressed. The warden of the hostel where he stayed told him he should read the letter to the Romans every day for a month. As in a chapter or half-chapter a day? No, the warden said. Read the whole letter, every day, after work. He did, and he says it changed his life and transformed his views of all sorts of things.

The Christian psychiatrist John White tells a similar story, about himself, in The Masks of Melancholy.

Years ago, when I was seriously depressed, the thing that saved my own sanity was a dry-as-dust grappling with Hosea’s prophecy. I spent weeks, morning by morning, making meticulous notes, checking historical allusions in the text. Slowly I began to sense the ground under my feet growing steadily firmer. I knew without any doubt that healing was constantly springing from my struggle to grasp the meaning of the prophecy. (202-03)

The Gideon Bibles you find in hotel rooms usually have an index of passages to read when you’re fearful, guilty, doubtful, or otherwise beset. It’s a perfectly legitimate approach to fear, guilt, doubt, and the rest. But there’s something to be said for what Wright’s friend and White did, immersing themselves in a couple of whole books of Scripture. I suspect it “worked” in part precisely because Romans and Hosea didn’t address their depression head-on, at least not in any obvious way. Repeated exposure to the letter and the prophecy kept drawing their minds away from themselves and pushing them toward other concerns.

Maybe there are times when we don’t need another comforting passage to read or another Christian book on suffering; we need something that will open our minds to the big picture, and a work such as Romans does nothing if not present a big picture. Ditto a stretch of Scripture such as Isaiah 40-66. Ditto the Gospel of John. Ditto (if you want something much shorter) the letter to the Ephesians.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:49 pm | Discuss (0)
December 3, 2007

Psalm 47

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms,Uncategorized :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

For the director.
By the sons of Korah.
A psalm.

All peoples, clap hands!
Shout to God with a voice of exultation,
Because Yahweh Most High is to be feared,
A great king over all the earth.

He will subdue peoples under us
And tribes under our feet.
He will choose for us our inheritance,
The loftiness of Jacob whom he loves.  Selah.

God has ascended with a shout,
Yahweh with a sound of a trumpet.

Psalm to God!  Psalm!
Psalm to our king!  Psalm,
Because the king of all the earth is God.
Psalm a maschil!

God reigns over the nations.
God sits upon his holy throne.
The nobles of the peoples have gathered,
The people of the God of Abraham,
Because to God belong the shields of the earth.
He is exceedingly exalted.

Some comments about the translation of this Psalm:

(1) In line 8, the word “loftiness” is sometimes translated “pride.”  It can refer to pride or to any kind of exaltation.  The “loftiness of Jacob” may be the Promised Land or, more generally, all the privileges Israel has received.

(2) In line 10, the trumpet is specifically a ram’s horn, which is what the word means.

(3) In lines 11, 12, and 14 there is a summons to sing praise.  The word here is the verb form of the word we translate as “psalm,” and so to get that across I have translated this word as a command to “psalm” to God. A “psalm” is praise with voices and instruments, and to “psalm” means to praise God musically, with singing and the playing of instruments.

A maschil is a type of psalm (see, for instance, the titles of Pss. 44, 45).  It may refer to a teaching psalm and may have something to do with wisdom and understanding, which is why some versions of the Bible have “sing praises with understanding” here.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:15 pm | Discuss (0)