September 2008


D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, second edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 142 pp. + indeces.

D.A. Carson’s wonderful little book, Exegetical Fallacies, is a brief survey of some of the most common interpretive fallacies that exegetes face when they look at scriptural texts. While the subject matter of the book may make it seem negative, if one takes it for what it is, it is a very useful survey. 

Carson organizes his survey into four categories of fallacies: 1) word-study fallacies, 2) grammatical fallacies, 3) logical fallacies, and 4) presuppositional and historical fallacies. 

The first category is probably the most prevalent and the one that this author is the most guilty of. Carson recognizes the need for context and usage as the most important factor for determining meaning of a word rather than etymology. This section is a great introduction to biblical semantics if one has not read the more substantial works of Barr, Caird and Silva.

The second category recognizes the possible fluidity of grammar in actual usage and cautions against making too much of grammatical constructions. Thus for example, though the aorist tense in Greek is usually described as a point verb emphasizing that an event happened once it is a stretch to suggest, as commentators have, that the use of the aorist in 1 Cor. 5:7 (‘for Christ our passover lamb was sacrificed‘) means that his sacrifice was a ‘once for all’ kind of deal. While, theologically, this might be true, it cannot be argued on the basis of grammar.

In surveying logical fallacies, Carson recognizes the tendency to demand an either/or solution where a complementary view might be better suited.

The final category deals with historical and presuppositional fallacies. While it is here that the book reaches its highest ‘evangelical peak’ in that it is critical of views that do not accept the historicity of the Bible or who hold their presuppositions as above the Bible. It is also very helpful in that it recognizes the usefulness of the postmodern critique of the modern arrogance of interpretation. The recognition that we all bring our own presuppositions to the text can help us to make allowances for them an be even more true to the text.

All in all, there is nothing truly groundbreaking or profound in Carson’s book. But it is a very helpful introduction to the most common fallacies interpreters face.

And no, I don’t mean God. We had the opportunity to hear the Oregon Symphony and Portland Symphonic Choir perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in in D minor. If you are unfamiliar with this symphony it is widely considered one of the greatest symphonies ever written and contains the very famous ‘Ode to Joy’ which we know from the Gospel hymn ‘Joyful, Joyful’ and countless commercial’s and movies. 

In 1817 Beethoven wrote these words:

Before my departure for the Elysian fields I must leave behind me what the Eternal Spirit has infused into my soul and bids me complete.

This symphony, particularly its 4th movement, which contains the ‘Ode to Joy’ was what he was talking about. If you have not heard the full symphonic and choral presentation of the ‘Ode to Joy’ I highly suggest you do it. It is an experience that every human should experience. I suggest that there are things about the nature of God, salvation and what it means to be human that are communicated through these glorious notes that cannot be written into a book. 

Another note that amazes me is that Beethoven never heard his 9th Symphony because by 1722, when he began to write the bulk of this material, he was completely deaf. Some people just have a gift.

For this Septuagint Saturdays I decided to do something different. Since I recently attended TWU’s Septuagint Conference I wanted to interact with some of the proposals I encountered there. Unfortunately, interacting with the present proposal turned out to be a much more convoluted study than I was anticipating so it will have to be in two parts: 1) a summary of Professor Joosten’s proposal, followed by 2) an interaction with his thesis. So here is a summary of Professor Joosten’s thesis.

Professor Jan Joosten of Universite Marc Bloch, France gave a fantastic paper at the Septuagint Conference that I recently attended. His topic was how the LXX translators handled Hebrew Idioms. He proposed that there are three ways that the LXX translators handled Hebrew idioms. First, they often translated the idioms literally, with a word for word equation with the Hebrew. Second, they rendered them freely, decoding the meaning of the idiom for their readers. Third, they used a combination of free rendering and literal translation. One example of the various handlings of idioms that he used came from Exod. 35-36.

Literal Technique Ex. 35:21: Heb – ‘everyone whose heart stirred him up’ (‏אשׁר־נשׂאו לבו) vs. Gk – ‘every one whose heart carried them’ (ὧν ἔφερεν αὐτῶν ἡ καρδία)

Free rendering Ex. 36:2: Heb – ‘every one whose heart stirred him up’ (‏אשׁר נשׂאו לבו) vs. Gk – ‘all those who freely desired’ (τοὺς ἑκουσίως βουλομένους)

Combination Ex. 35:26: Heb – ‘all the women whose heart stirred them up’ (‏אשׁר נשׂא לבן) vs. Gk – ‘all the women to whose mind it seemed good’ (αἷς ἔδοξεν τῇ διανοίᾳ αὐτῶν) 

The third option renders the idiomatic ‘lifted up’ freely but maintains something of the Hebraic thought by translating לבן (heart/mind) as διανοίᾳ (mind) and maintaining the basic Hebraic syntax of the statement.

Prof. Joosten’s conclusion from his study is that the LXX translators learned their trade on the job. His survey of the varying ways that the translators handled idiomatic phrases showed him that there was not an established translation technique that they followed and they ad libbed as it were.

In a conversation over coffee, I asked him if it were not possible that there were other contextual factors contributing to the varying translation techniques that he found. His answer was that he believed the translators translated small sections at a time, so larger contextual pictures may not be a major factor, though it was not an element of his study and something that should probably be looked at. 

In a subsequent post I will examine this section (Exo. 35-36) in more detail to see if there are other factors informing the LXX translator’s technique for rendering these idioms in the various ways that they do.

What does the phrase ‘breaking news’ really mean? According to the wikipedia article on the phrase, breaking news ‘is a current event that broadcasters feel warrants the interruption of scheduled programming in order to report its details.’ This may be the definition in theory, but I question its actual use on the news networks. Let me ask this: when was the last time you saw a story on the news that was not ‘breaking news.’

Let me give you an example. And this is just one, there are many, many others I’m sure. Yesterday, at the gym I saw the following headline: Breaking News – ‘President Bush Hosts Bailout Talks.’ Now this strikes me as not so much breaking news as slowly unfolding news. Bush announced Wednesday night that he would be hosting talks with lawmakers and the presidential candidates about the current bailout package. Then, Thursday afternoon, while the previously announced talks were going on, it somehow became ‘Breaking News.’ Maybe it was ‘Breaking News’ but if so, to be honest, the tagline should have read this:

BREAKING NEWS:

President Bush Hosts Bailout Talks Just Like He Said He Was Going To Do Yesterday.

Is anyone else concerned that when we actually have ‘Breaking News,’ no one will notice?

This last weekend I had the chance to attend Trinity Western University‘s Septuagint Conference celebrating the recent release of the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS). The event was hosted by TWU’s Septuagint Institute and featured many of the translators of NETS as well as representatives of the two other major LXX translation projects: the French La Bible d’Alexandrie and the German Septuaginta Deutsch. It was a fantastic, if heady conference.

For me the highlights were: a paper on interlinearity by Albert Pietersma (University of Toronto), a discussion over coffee with Jan Joosten (Universite Marc Bloch, France) about his view of the LXX translator’s translation technique, a paper from Wolfgang Kraus (Universitat des Saarlandes, Germany) on Amos 9:11 and Hab. 2:3 in Acts 15, a conversation with Melvin Peters (Duke University) about the process and life of academia and an interesting paper by Cameron Boyd-Taylor (University of Cambridge, England) on the impact (or non-impact) of the LXX on Greek lexicography.

It was a great time and I hope to interact further with some of the things I learned, but for now the highlights will have to suffice.

1 John 1:1 – We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—

The above translation of 1 John 1:1 comes from the NRSV and is fairly typical of modern translations (the NIV, NASB, NET, ESV, NKJV, TNIV, and KJV all reflect the same translational technique). My issue here is the translation of the four Greek Verbs: ακουω, οραω, θεαομαι  and, ψηλαφω.What the vast majority of modern translations miss is the difference in form between the first two verbs, ακουω (‘to hear’) and οραω (‘to see’) and the second two verbs, θεαομαι (‘to see’) and ψηλαφω (‘to touch’). 

The complete Greek text is as follows:

Ο ἦν ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς, ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν, ὃ ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν, ὃ ἐθεασάμεθα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς _

The first two verbs (ακουω, οραω) are in the perfect verb form. The perfect verb form in Greek is typically described as ‘a past action with present significance.’ Prefective verb forms are rare and very often emphatic or at least a “deliberate choice on the part of the writer” (Wallace 573). Moulton goes so far as to call the perfect “the most important, exegetically of all the Greek tenses (Moulton, 140). The second two verbs (θεαομαι, ψηλαφω) are aorist verbs. An aorist verb form is typically described as a ‘past action.’ It is a ‘snap-shot’ kind of verb describing an action that happened in past time without reference to present significance (see Wallace, 554-65). Contra to perfect verb forms, aorist verb forms do not emphasize any present significance of the past action. 

While many commentators claim that the shift in verbs from perfect to aorist in 1 John 1:1 is of no significance (cf. Marshall, 101, n.8 and Brown 160 and the literature cited there) I am inclined to see significance here. The elder seems to be very aware of his varied use of Greek tenses. For example (more…)

There are a lot of stories about evil in our world right now but this one hits me particularly close to home. The story is about a 28 year old man who apparently went on a rampage and killed 6 people and wounded several others. This story is like something out of a too-violent movie, the guy apparently killed people at random, including shooting motorists on I-5.

Growing up in Bellingham, WA, I drove through Alger everytime we went south on I-5. This story is extremely troubling to me. Last night, I was watching the movie Ronin and one thing that struck me about that movie is how many innocent bystanders get killed. On the one hand this is much more accurate than most action movies that show big shoot-outs or car chases where no one gets killed. On the other hand it made the movie much harder to enjoy because there was so much senseless violence.

All violence is deeply troubling but when it hits close to home like this it makes one pause and consider. Thus, today, my heart goes out to those whose loved ones were taken so senslessly but my prayer and my hope is for the day when violence and evil will be defeated. Here is my prayer for today:

 LORD, God of vengeance,
         God of vengeance, shine forth! 
    Rise up, O Judge of the earth,
         Render recompense to the proud. 
    How long shall the wicked, O LORD,
         How long shall the wicked exult?

He has brought back their wickedness upon them
         And will destroy them in their evil;
         The LORD our God will destroy them. (Ps. 94:1-3, 24)