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)

1 comment:

  1. The mental picture of people herding cats on the rolling praire... that's fabulous!

    Very good post John!