Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Baby won’t eat new cat food

by John D Ramsey

This morning before leaving for work, I sat down and refreshed Twitter on my computer. Dad had tweeted, saying, “Baby wont [sic] eat new cat food but keeps crying.” As the day went on, this sounded funnier and funnier to me. “Baby” of course, is the name of one of Dad’s cats. Baby is old and in poor health, and Dad does his best to keep him comfortable. Later in the day, I explained to Dad that his tweets appear on a public timeline. He laughed when he realized that people might not have known that Baby is a cat. He said, “I might be investigated,” and laughed again.

I imagined what a cultural anthropologist from the 40th century might think as he poured through archives of Twitter data using his 20th century English to Esperanto lexicon: “Bebo ● volo ne ● manĝi ● nova ● kato manĝaĵo ● sed ● daŭrigi ● krioadi.” Would he determine that early 21st century American families fed cat food to their young children? Would he speculate whether cat food was food made from cats? Perhaps he reasons that cheese food was a processed dairy product made from cheese and other products; consequently, cat food must likewise be a food product containing at least 51% cat.

After conferring with colleagues, they invite him to a private showing of recovered video fragments featuring men on horseback herding cats across the rolling prairie. At the video showing, he meets a linguist who has several times stumbled upon the phrase, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” The three researchers collaborate on a scholarly publication proving that free-range cat meat was a staple of the 21st century American diet. The purported literal translation of the 21st century tweet reads something equivalent to: “The baby refuses to eat the fresh cat meat but keeps crying.” By now, the tweet has become an outrageous fabrication based loosely upon the original text but distorting the intended meaning.

After collecting a prestigious prize for their research, an anonymous blogger retranslates the tweet and suggests that Baby was merely the cat’s name, and that cat food is corollary to people food and not cheese food. The researchers admit that they have discovered procedural errors within their research; however, they say that based upon an overwhelming consensus, 21st century Americans subsisted primarily upon a diet of cat meat. The media continues to assert and the public continues to believe that 21st century Americans regularly ate their cats.

The researchers achieve their pinnacle of success in sharing a prestigious prize. The prize committee thanks them for the invaluable insight they have provided into the behavior of the ancient 21st century western civilization.

Later, another researcher asserts that “fresh meat” actually meant “live meat” and it was the cat and not the baby who was crying. He becomes a historical consultant for an interactive holographic visual experience titled, 2000 CE.

Nevertheless, regardless of how Dad’s tweet is interpreted and reinterpreted, the translators cannot alter the truth; rather they can only obfuscate truth by their wild imaginations. Baby is a finicky, old, spoiled rotten cat who keeps Dad company.

Modern translations of the Bible all contain inaccuracies introduced by the biases of the translators. Many errors are honest mistakes others are sensational fabrications. Nevertheless, as publishers compete for Bible buyers, they sacrifice accuracy of translation for ease of reading or sensational imagery. They delegate establishing a perception of accuracy to the marketing department. Many Bible translations are not really translations, but rather they are derivative works. They fall somewhere between a remix and a shred. Nor is it only Bible publishers who abuse the Word of God.

I remember sitting through a rather embarrassing sermon by a preacher. He preached on Titus 2:3-4 which reads in the NASB as,
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children.

The preacher noted that the Greek word, which is translated “love their husbands,” is philandros from which the English word philanderer derives. He claimed that Paul was ordering Titus to order to older women to order the younger women to gratify their husbands’ sexual desires. Yet in the next phrase Paul writes, “to love their children” – in the Greek, philoteknos. The construction is the same as philandros except instead of loving their man, women are to love their children. In a broader New Testament context, philos means friendship or companionship. Unlike the word, eros, from which we derive the word erotic, philos never has sexual connotations in the New Testament.

This preacher abused Scripture to make it say what he wanted it to say. Likewise, congregations flock to men who say what they want to hear. Paul warned Timothy saying,
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:2 (NASB)

What do you want to read when you sit down with your Bible? Do you want a derivative work – what some man wants God’s Word to say? Or, do you want to hear what God has to say?

For my own reading, I spend much time in the New American Standard Bible (NASB). I do not think it reads all that well. I prefer the New International Version for reading, yet I find it is a less accurate translation. In general, good translations make poor reading. Yet, the meaning of words is more powerful than merely the meter and tenor of language.

I look at the underlying root words using software on my computer or phone. If words are added by the translators (usually in italics), I try to read the passage without the italicized words. I usually compare the NASB, NIV, and the KJV along with the Apostolic Bible Polyglot. Sometimes I use the Jerusalem Bible 1966. I do not use so-called study Bibles, the ones with companion commentary. I used to have a Scofield Study Bible and a Ryrie Study Bible, but several years ago, I decided that I do not care what Scofield or Ryrie thought. I only care about what the Bible says.

Bible study is a fractal process. Studying word meanings rolls up to understanding the immediate context – a verse or paragraph. Studying a paragraph rolls up to understanding the meaning of a chapter. A chapter is understood in the context of the book, and a book is understood in the context of the entire Bible. As a fractal system, the high level overviews are built upon the accuracy of the component pieces. Likewise, the component pieces decompose most accurately when viewed from the perspective of the high level overviews. Modern translations often attempt to convey the high level overview without honoring the intrinsic detail of the component pieces. They build upon an unstable foundation.

In a literal translation, regardless of the granularity of your observation, certain truths emerge.
1. God is the Creator existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
2. Man rebelled against God and thereby incurred the curse of death.
3. The Creator, the Son of God, became a man in the person of Jesus Christ
4. Jesus Christ bore the penalty of man’s sin upon his body on the cross. He carried sin into the judgment of death.
5. After accepting Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, God raised him from the dead.
6. Salvation and eternal life come only by faith in Jesus Christ
7. God expresses himself through His Word.

In my Bible study, I have found something else to be true: the Holy Spirit is more willing to teach than I am willing to learn. In other words, insight does not depend upon intellect. Rather it comes through interest. Do you want to know what God says? Solomon wrote,

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10 (NASB)

Sunday, February 8, 2009


by John D Ramsey

I sat on the third row Sunday morning, but I missed Mark’s sermon entirely. I do not think I heard him say one word. We read part of Romans 2 from the New Living Translation in unison as it was projected on screen. I stopped reading aloud because the projected words did not sound like Scripture to me. “You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples?” the congregation droned.

No way, I thought. The Apostle Paul did not write that! My mind went blank. I could not remember what I knew I should be reading. Yet, the words from the NLT were very unfamiliar. I reached down, picked up my Apostolic Bible Polyglot, and navigated to Romans 2. I read the interlinear translation and sighed. That makes sense, I thought. I checked the KJV, NIV, NASB, and YLT using Laridian’s PocketBible on my phone. I smiled. Theirs were at least honest mistranslations. While the NLT rendering was just plain fiction, the NASB renders the translation as, “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?”

The Greek word the NASB translates “do you rob temples” is “hierosuleis.” Hierosuleis translates literally to “you rob temples.” Most translations phrase this as a rhetorical question. Of course the secret of the rhetorical question is that the answer is “yes” or “no” and obvious from the context. Asking, “Do you rob temples,” rhetorically is equivalent to saying “you rob temples” emphatically. Readers probably understood Paul’s statement to be a rhetorical question. Yet when we read in the NLT, the rhetorical question is no longer rhetorical. Do I use items stolen from pagan temples? Emphatically, “No!”

Consequently, the translators of the NLT deflect Paul’s accusation into irrelevance. It might have pertained to a subset of Roman Jews in the first century, but it does not pertain to modern evangelical Christians and certainly not to me. Unless, of course, I somehow actually use items stolen from pagan temples, in which case it would pertain. In any case, I can assure you that I do not “use items stolen from pagan temples.”

Obviously, the NLT has added more words than are present in the original Greek. In the Greek text, there is no conjunction, nor is there a verb “use” or a noun “items.” In the Greek text, there is no adjective “stolen” nor does the word “pagan” appear in this passage. The NLT translators have constructed a rather elaborate fiction from one word in the Greek text. They incriminate anyone who uses stolen items from pagan temples by comparing this specific act to the sin of idolatry – big deal, it does not apply to most.

Other translations render “hierosuleis” literally, saying, “Do you rob temples?” Even so, their rhetorical question misses the mark, because my answer is still, “No, I do not rob temples.” Was Paul really accusing the Roman Jews of robbing temples? Not at all. The word “hierosuleo” derives from two words in the Greek: hiero, which means, “temple,” and suleo, which means, “I rob.” However, the idea encapsulated in hierosuleo is abstract not literal.

The linguistic construction of heirosuleo is the same as the construction of the English word sacrilege. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, sacrilege derives from two Latin words, “sacr” and “legere” meaning “sacred” and “steal.” The word sacrilegus then would be “one who robs sacred property.”

When we say someone is sacrilegious, we do not intend to say that they steal sacred items in any literal sense. Rather, we understand sacrilege to mean irreverence toward something holy. For instance, intentionally mistranslating Scripture shows a gross irreverence to God and his Word. Such a translation would be sacrilegious.

The English word “sacrilege” is a linguistic equivalent to the Greek word heirosuleo. Consequently, the KJV, NIV, and NASB translators erred when they chose a literal translation for an abstract term. The KJV, NASB, and NIV Bible translators succeeded in conveying the literal meaning of the word’s components, but they missed the idea encapsulated by the compound word, hierosuleo. Still, their error does not rise to the level of deliberate deception. It obfuscates, but it is not sacrilege.

The translators of the New Living Translation, on the other hand, added narrative that did not correlate to either the literal or abstract meaning of the Greek – the word pagan is neither present nor implied! Had the translators of the New Living Translation rendered Romans 2:22 as “You condemn idolatry; do you commit sacrilege?” instead of fabricating an elaborate work of human imagination, they would not be guilty, in this instance, of committing sacrilege.

Ironical, isn’t it? Even if they had translated the verse saying, “You condemn idolatry; have you ever been irreverent toward God?” they would have been truer to the meaning of the passage.

Paul’s rhetorical question, “Do you commit sacrilege?” hits a little closer to home than the portrait of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that the NLT translators portray. Sacrilege, remember, is irreverence toward something holy.

The Jews to whom Paul was writing were legalistic; they viewed themselves as better than others. They preached the Mosaic Law, yet they did not practice what they preached. Paul was setting the background to prove that the Law could not give life, it could only condemn. The proponents of the Law disparaged God by their own disobedience.

Paul’s first two examples of this phenomenon were those who say, “Do not steal,” yet steal; and those who say, “Do not commit adultery,” yet commit adultery. Certainly, not everyone steals or commits adultery, yet those who do not steal but covet still violate the Law. Likewise, Jesus explained in Matthew 5 that lust is the moral equivalent of adultery. In Romans 2, Paul intended his third example to be similarly inclusive and the most serious offense on his short list: By twisting Paul’s question, “Do you commit sacrilege?” into a specific and unlikely scenario, the translators weakened Paul’s foundational argument. Paul was not trying paint in narrow strokes; he was trying to color all men as violators of God's Law.

If sacrilege is irreverence toward that which is holy, then all men become guilty. Regardless of your reverence toward God, it falls short of what it should be. Condemning idolatry from the basis of Law without maintaining a perfect heart toward God is sacrilege. In fact, presenting the Law as a solution to sin is sacrilege because it no one can uphold the Law ,and only hypocrites claim that they do.

Those who seek justification by the Law accomplish only worthless self-justification. In the recent movie, Appaloosa, Viggo Mortensen’s character, Hitch, contemplates killing a man who had escaped justice, saying, “I shot a man in Tres Piedras years ago . . . Only time I killed that wasn’t legal.” He justifies murder because his killing has been predominately justified. Hitch does not see himself as a murderer. Likewise, when we justify ourselves according to the Law we must first blind ourselves to our violations of the Law.

Paul’s solution to guilt before the Law was not more Law or self-justification, but rather the grace of God imparted to man by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul tells the Romans,

No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

Romans 3:20-24 (NIV)

Paul intended his rhetorical accusation, “You condemn idolatry; do you commit sacrilege?” to convict us of irreverence and hypocrisy. Unfortunately, Bible translators have obfuscated the clarity of Paul’s thought. Rather than convicting, their translations rather invite the reader to assert self-justification – “I do not rob temples. I do not use items stolen from pagan temples.” Rather than justify ourselves, we should realize that our prideful self-justification is sacrilege because it discounts the importance of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. We should cling to the justification that comes from God apart from the Law – the justification that comes freely by grace through the redemption offered by Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Whosoever shall fall

by John D Ramsey

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A popular adage says, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” There is a parallel truism, which might read, “If it isn’t broke, you can’t fix it.” On Saturday afternoon, Lisa and I went to see Tennessee William’s “The Glass Menagerie” at the Kansas City Repertory Theater. While Williams tells the story from the perspective Tom, who tries to forget his family including his sister Laura, Williams holds out hope for a better outcome for Laura.

Tennessee Williams’ writing is poignant because he portrays human nature truthfully. Amanda is overbearing and destructive; yet she has been deeply wounded by her husband, “a telephone man who fell in love with long distances.” Amanda's devotion to her children, if colored by her neediness, is still sincere. Laura is sweet and fragile; but she is also egocentric in her obsessive self-pity. Tom is perhaps the most hypocritical of the three because his selfishness exceeds that of both his mother and sister yet he faults them both for his distress.

At the end of the play, When Tom says to her, “Blow out your candles, Laura – and so goodbye,” Laura’s story has turned a new page. Her heart is broken, but she is more self-aware. The unicorn, which symbolized Laura in the menagerie, has lost its horn and is now a rather normal looking horse. Likewise, Laura’s wounding leaves open the possibility that her healing will erase the self-loathing she learned from her mother. Tom, on the other hand will never be whole; he will always be haunted by his memories as his arrogance sweeps him about with other dead leaves – “leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches.”

The wound unintentionally inflicted upon Laura by Jim, the “gentleman caller” provides her the opportunity to redefine herself. Because she was broken, there is hope she will be made whole. We are no different. If we continue in a prideful spirit, it will eventually destroy us regardless of whether our pride is pensive or pompous.Yet the humility of a broken spirit enables healing.

Jesus spoke of himself metaphorically saying, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner.” Luke 20:17 (NASB) The Pharisees and the Sadducees rejected Jesus. They understood that Jesus was referring to himself when he quoted this prophecy from Psalm 118:22.

Jesus addressed the problem of their pride, saying, “Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” Luke 20:18 (NASB) Either way the pride of the Pharisees would be shattered in the coming judgment. Likewise, we must address our own pride. Have we experienced the brokenness of repentance? Or will we incur the wrath of God which will reduce us to dust?

How do we overcome our pride? We follow the example of the one who came to save us? Ironically, God solved the problem of human pride by demonstrating supreme humility. Jesus Christ, who was God, and the Creator of all things, humbled himself and became a man. As a man, he humbled himself to become the servant of all men by carrying their sin into death upon the cross. God accepted his sacrifice and raised him from the dead. Now we can enjoy his eternal life. Yet our pride will hold us in the bondage of our own fears and imaginations. To obtain life we must die to self. Jesus said, “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:38 (NASB)

Dying to self is the essence of repentance before God. Dying to self and drawing life from Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Christian experience. Responding to God's gift of grace is the essence of faith because we believe that he will raise us up and we live for the day when our transformation is complete.

What is the nature of your pride? Has it been broken, or will it eventually break you?