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Tag Archive: Bible

The Common English Bible: Yet another failed attempt at “The Bible for Dummies”

Posted: Monday, May 30, 2011 (8:48 pm), by John W Gillis


A group calling itself the Church Resources Development Corp is preparing to release yet another new English translation of Sacred Scripture, this one being marketed as the  the  Common English Bible (CEB) (not to be confused with the 1999 Common Edition New Testament, or with the American Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version from 1995, which goes by CEV). This “fresh” translation was an interdenominational effort (predominantly by members of old-line, liberal Protestant denominations, it would seem). It was translated from NA27, using various sources for the OT, by 120 translators from 22 different “faith traditions”. The translation philosophy leans (tilts? dives? collapses?) toward the dynamic on the dynamic/formal scale. Perhaps the best news is that it will include a translation of the Apocrypha. The editors call it a “bold new translation”, and I would say, after spending some time with it online this weekend, that they are half right.

The translation aims for a 7th-grade reading level in a “common language”, which it generally accomplishes by producing vague, mechanical, and imprecise substitutions for characteristically Biblical-sounding terms (what associate editor Paul Franklyn calls “Biblish”), such as substituting “human” for “son of man”, “harass” for “persecute”, “contaminates” for “defiles”, “temple equipment” for “temple vessels”, and “rules handed down” for “tradition”. Temple equipment? How industrially banal!

Such a vulgarizing tendency can produce some rather bizarre and stylistically embarrassing results, however, especially when they are motivated by something other than a desire to be as faithful as possible to the revelation. Take for example, Genesis 2:22-23 in the CEB:

With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. The human said, “This one finally is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She will be called a woman because from a man she was taken.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate either the challenge of trying to represent in translation the distinction between adam and ish, or the complexity of mapping linguistic concepts across broadly diverse cultures in a comprehensible manner, but what we’re given here is a comically clumsy and silly example of the ironically designated “inclusive language” produced by a well-worn, widespread academic condescension to paranoid and anthropologically divisive feminist narcissism, which here ends up asserting that the very Word of God in Sacred Scripture informs us that men are human beings, while women are… well, something else, apparently. Groan.

The editors express the conviction that this approach makes their translation more “relevant” than the more “challenging” translations – there being nothing more irrelevant, after all, than Biblish. Fortunately, it is a fairly safe bet that nobody will ever read the CEB once the academics who produced it are finished passing copies around to their friends. However, there are several stylishly relevant gift editions being planned…

Grading:

In my book, the Common English Bible gets an “A” for “Awkward”, a “B” for “Biblishlessness”, a “C” for “Common”, a “D” for “Dynamic equivalence”, but an “F” for fidelity to the Word of God in Sacred Scripture.

Was that grading scheme inclusive enough?

Not the Sort of Divinity One Would Sketch

Posted: Thursday, December 9, 2010 (8:35 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Thursday, December 9th, 2010:

Mark T. Coppenger, from the article The Perennial Challenge to Inerrancy in the Fall 2010 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine:

Whenever I read that someone like Freud or Feuerbach says that God’s a comforting figment or projection of our imagination, I wonder if they’ve ever read the Bible. For our God is not prone to indulge earthly conceits and agendas. Rather, He is insulting, intrusive, inconvenient and insistent – not the sort of divinity one would sketch if left to his own devices.

Amen to that! I’m always baffled by the God-as-crutch sneers that emanate from the depths of unbelief. The God of Biblical (and Christic) Revelation is demanding and challenging – to say the least.

A common corollary to this is the “Jesus was so nice, but you’re so mean” meme (often accompanied by a claim that the “Old Testament God” is not the same as the “New Testament God”).

My favorite? “Jesus invited everyone to his table.” Ummm, Jesus was an itinerant preacher who didn’t own a rock to lay his sleepy head on, never mind a table. Rather, he invited himself to eat at others’ tables, and then told them to stop sinning or they would spend eternity suffering in hell. The only thing he offered at his “table” was his own body and blood- an offer most people found so repugnant they turned and walked away.

Not much has changed in 2,000 years…

Celebrating Christ’s Redemption and Immortality?

Posted: Saturday, December 4, 2010 (8:29 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Saturday, December 4th, 2010:

Handel and Haydn Society Artistic Director Harry Christophers, from the Conductor’s Notes in the program for this season’s performance of Handel’s Messiah:

When listening to our performance, take note of [librettist Charles] Jennens’ amazing contribution. We need only look back to mediaeval carols where texts take us from Christ’s nativity through to his crucifixion and resurrection but Jennens takes us further – his is a unique journey which takes us from prophecies of Christ’s coming through the Nativity to Christ’s suffering, his resurrection, ascension to the Kingdom of God and finally to that amazing and jubilant epilogue celebrating Christ’s redemption and immortality.

Huh? Such palaver is the price one pays, I suppose, when the chattering class wanders into the sanctuary.

My wife and I yesterday took in, for the first time, the Handel and Haydn Society’s annual performance of the Messiah – their 156th consecutive year of performing it in Boston! H&H is a very talented ensemble, and the performance of guest alto Catherine Wyn-Rogers was memorable, yet I must confess to having had a hard time getting comfortable during much of the show.

concert-messiah-smI was haunted all night by the probably well-founded suspicion that most of the assembled – of both performers and audience – were engaging this magnificent musical setting of these sacred texts as if it were some kind of fashionably quaint fairy tale, which could just as well have been swapped out for some Italian opera with a snow-elf intoning candy-cane cantatas.

Not surprisingly, good folk complained back in Handel’s day that the theatre was no place for the presentation of such content. I understand the sentiment: I love the piety of the work, but when the presentation substitutes artistic sentimentality for its inherent piety, it is like salt that has lost its flavor.

In one of his many teachings that sounds too offensive to modern ears to be much remembered or mentioned these days, the Lord tells us: "Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you” (Mt 7:6, RSV). Again, that might sound harsh, but it’s self-evident that Christ was actually being charitable, as he, by nature, always is. Offering strange fire has never worked out well for anyone.

I tried to enjoy the concert, and I am still trying to reconcile the experience into a true satisfaction, but I can’t quite escape the sense that the aesthetic magnificence obscured a careless trampling of the Pearl of the Word. What you mean matters more than the aesthetic form of what you render, needless to say.

Bible Study Software English Bibles Comparison Published

Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2010 (9:36 am), by John W Gillis


Last night, I was finally able to publish on the site a comparison table I put together in January, showing which English language Bibles are available in which Bible Study program, and what the cost is for each. I had struggled with this for technical reasons, because the table doesn’t come close to fitting within the standard content column of the site, and I didn’t want to orphan it.

This is more interesting than one might suspect. Yes, the bigger name translations are generally available in most programs (only KJV, ASV, YLT, and Darby’s are available in all the ones I reviewed, however), but it’s good to know where to find some of the more obscure versions, and some curious traits did emerge from the data. See for yourself.

The chart is intended as a companion to a page I’m working on that will provide an overview of the history of English language translations of the Bible which, given my school schedule in April, will probably not be ready until May. At five or six months per page, I should have this site built out to where I envision it in about another 20-25 years.

Things an Atheist Should Know Before He Tells Christians Things They Should Know Before Talking to an Atheist

Posted: Saturday, November 29, 2008 (10:52 pm), by John W Gillis


I came across a tease tonight on the WordPress.com dashboard for a post entitled “Things Christians Should Know Before Talking to an Atheist” and, having more curiosity than prudence, I bit on it. It turned out to be from a blog called Proud Atheists, written by an atheist who either thought he had some sage advice for Christians who might be inclined to try to convert him, or perhaps he was only looking for pats on the back from his fellow atheists for his cleverness. I would have given him the benefit of the doubt and assumed the former, but his replies to some other commenters later in the night became highly defensive and cantankerous, leading me to doubt his readiness for meaningful dialog.

Hence, since I have little confidence that my rather lengthy and time-consuming response to his post will survive the editorial delete button over at the Proud Atheists blog, I am posting it here on maybetoday.org first. Without the context of the original post, it may not make complete sense, but you can follow the above link to the original, or probably just figure it out. This isn’t rocket surgery.

[Update: Sure enough, the original post has been closed to comments, and the existing comments have, ummm, disappeared – but not before I received at least one reply worthy of an eight year-old schoolyard bully, replete with personal insults, and taunts that sounded eerily like “I’m rubber and you’re glue.” JWG]

[Update2, Dec. 20, 2008: My understanding is that the comments on the other site reappeared (resurrected?) after things died down. Regardless, since I got a decent amount of traffic on this post, and since I can have a do-over whenever I want on my own website, I’ve edited my counterpoints below to clarify both what some of the issues were, as well as some of my responses. JWG]

Since this post is supposedly directed at Christians for their instruction, and since I am a Christian forever in need of instruction, I read it. In doing so,I uncovered more than a few questionable assumptions being made. This, in turn, prompted me to put together what I here offer as a well-intentioned, point-by-point rejoinder, which I suppose I should title:

Things an Atheist Should Know Before He Tells Christians Things They Should Know Before Talking to an Atheist

1.) I’m not sure why your very first assertion is that Hitler was not an atheist. I suppose it must be because you sometimes hear people associating him with your cause, but I think most thinking Christians couldn’t care less whether Hitler was an atheist, a refashioned pagan warlord demigod, or a New Age guru selling a vision of utopia built upon a bloody battlefield. He was an idolater in any case.

However, this raises another point that bears mention: atheists often play flip-flop in their apologetics, arguing one minute against theism, and the next minute against Christianity proper – conflating the two tendentiously. It might, therefore, seem to some Christian apologists to be a case of “turnabout is fair play” to lump Hitler in with the major atheistic mass murderers of the 20th century (Stalin and Mao), since the three of them form a kind of perfect demonic troika of testimony to refute the tired atheistic canard that Christianity’s “wars of religion” in Europe and/or Crusading in Asia are “proof” that religion is the seedbed of humanity’s warring violence.

So, before you protest your disassociation from Hitler so loudly as to call attention to it, you’d do well to carefully examine the actual philosophical similarities and differences – apart from playing “label” games, and name-calling – because he was nothing if not committed to abolishing the Christian religious virtues in Europe, which is precisely the aim of militant atheism. Contemporary atheism may have a much narrower agenda than German National Socialism did, but it can hardly be disputed that they both drink from the same well of modern, anti-Christian thought, such as that of Nietzsche.

2.) Morality is not a “state of conscience” at all, whatever that means. Rather, it is the consideration and accomplishment, in particular circumstances, of the good and/or evil inherent in an act or idea, and a measure of the moralness of an act or idea in terms of its conformance to the good. If you are attempting to claim that morality is not the exclusive domain of Christianity, and that atheism can also produce morality, you are half right, but you have a problem.

The problem is that since morality measures the moralness (or goodness) of an act by its conformance to the good, the good must really exist in order for morality to be rational. Atheism, however, cannot coherently accept the actual existence of either good or evil as real things, as opposed to concepts that are products of either individual people’s preferences, or of collective opinions. Because if there is such an independent reality “out there” as the good, against which the opinions of individuals or groups or even all of humanity can be measured, then “the good” is God (in the most basic, theistic sense).

And if there is not such a reality as the good “out there” to produce the judgment of morality, then there can be no such thing as actual morality, only opinion – meaning that social “morality” would be nothing but the prevailing opinion of the most powerful interest group (=might makes right). This kind of irrational tyranny is not what Christians (or other theists, for that matter) are referring to when they speak of morality.

So, no, atheism cannot produce morality – and atheists cannot even intelligibly engage in discussions evaluating morality. Atheism can produce value systems based on opinions of greater or lessor worth, but in order for such a value system to be judged moral or immoral, there must be some pre-existing standard of the good to be measured against (i.e. the moral order, or the truth) – the very existence of which would prove the inanity of atheism.

3.) Kindly do not tell Christians who or what they can or cannot pray for. Christians are free human beings who do not tolerate such attempts at thought control, especially coming from someone who holds them in such obvious contempt. As for the millions of “ill and starving,” God is not “testing” them; it looks to me like God is waiting for you to go tend to them. Yes, God is testing you. Please be sure to leave us all a note telling us when you’ve decided to put your money where your mouth is. If you’re, you know, too busy, I’m sure God can find someone else.

4.) The “leprechauns” bit really makes atheists look like clowns. It takes a number of forms, but they all basically come down to the accusation that believing in God is no different than believing in (fill in the blank: leprechauns, fairies, Santa Claus, etc.). The problem, of course, is that these are not the same at all. To an atheist, perhaps the existence of a leprechaun might seem as likely as the existence of God, but that does not make God a leprechaun, nor does it follow that belief in one is the same kind of belief as belief in the other. Any time an atheist accuses me of believing in a “sky pixie” or something of the sort, I know he has run out of intelligent things to say – he is ridiculing me on the obviously false premise that I believe in what I do not in fact believe in, all for the sake of asserting that he is justified in his unbelief of that which I really do believe in. That’s pathetic.

An illustration: To a theist, it seems equally likely that there is no such reality as air, as that there is no such reality as God. Now, if theistic apologists started mocking atheists’ unbelief in “invisible things” by claiming that atheists must believe there is no such thing as air, atheists would probably be beside themselves. They would complain: “This is an outrageous accusation. Just because we don’t believe in God doesn’t mean we don’t believe in air. Even though neither God nor air is visible, there are other rational means we have for believing that air is real, which are not applicable to the problem of the existence of God.” This complaint would be 100% valid, of course.

But if the theists nonetheless continued to mock atheists by claiming that their atheism was, at least by extension if not explicitly, a denial of the reality of air, the atheists would have no other option but to eventually come to the conclusion that the theistic apologists were intellectually dishonest. They would be right. Theistic apologists, after all, have an intellectual responsibility to grapple with the best arguments atheism has. To instead sidestep the real arguments, and construct an absurd strawman argument that bears none but the most blatantly superficial resemblance to the view held by the opposition, is really an admission that you don’t have the gonads to tackle the real arguments.

Ridiculing people with lies when you don’t have an intelligent argument to offer against them might make you feel less impotent, but it only makes you look like a clown. You might want to rethink the “leprechaun” shtick.

5.) If you tell a Christian that you think Jesus is an imaginary person, you’re likely to get a bemused look – if not a pat on the head. The historicalness of Jesus of Nazareth is beyond honest dispute. Now, whether he really is God Incarnate might be an open question, but his disciples were not willing to be tortured and killed for the sake of an imaginary person they conspired to pretend existed. Jesus was a real man whom they really loved.

6.) Atheists may think they know the Bible better than most Christians (and some Christians hardly know the Bible at all, so that’s not saying much), but actually atheists generally know very little about the Bible. If they know anything, they know a handful of carefully selected “gotcha” passages, yet even those they don’t know well enough to understand properly. Most Christians would be well aware of that fact, if and when confronted with demands to answer some “gotcha” question or other. In Biblical language, knowledge implies intimacy, which is the one thing that atheists, by definition, can never achieve with the Bible and still remain atheistic. For to become intimately knowledgeable with (or even about) a book means to come to know, in some manner, its author.

7.) While certain Protestants have, admittedly, muddied the water with their self-contradictory Sola Scriptura doctrine, most Christians would look at you with a bit of incomprehension if you tried to claim that the Bible does not “prove” God. The Bible is a collection of stories that reveal God, not argue for His existence. The Bible, being understood as inspired by God, presupposes both the existence of God, and the existence of the knowledge of God. Christianity has produced some philosophical proofs for God (such as those of Anselm and Aquinas), but these have no real bearing on the life of faith – and certainly have nothing to do with the Bible.

The great theological virtues are faith, hope, and love – the implication being that faith and hope are stepping stones to love. But “proof” (or perfect knowledge), when it comes, will obsolete both faith and hope. This is obvious in the very meanings of faith and hope. That is why the Christian seeks “proof” (of what is yet still hidden) within faith and within hope – and not in the Bible as some kind of cosmic trump card or master answer sheet. You’re barking up the wrong tree.

8.) The founders of the USA did not flee Europe, as you assert; they were mostly born here. I live in a state (Massachusetts) that produced some of the finest of them. On the other hand, those folks who did flee Europe to come here did not flee Christianity, they mostly (especially early on) fled to practice Christianity – albeit in the manner they saw fit, which the states they fled were hostile to. When their descendants later founded the USA, they founded it on ideals of political and religious liberty, avoiding the anti-religious zealotry that would, just a few years later, turn the French Revolution into the abomination of The Terror.

The genius of the refusal to establish a national church, protecting the rights of all to practice their religions freely, needs to be extended in our own day to combat the new, modern threat to religious liberty, which is the militant atheistic tendency to attempt to suppress public religious expression through the use of the power of the state to enforce a practical atheism on public life. This is precisely the kind of state interference in the free exercise of religion that the First Amendment to the Constitution intended to protect against.

9.) I agree that evolution is not just for atheists. But evolutionism, as a post-modern intellectual movement, is simply not content with evolution. Instead, it extends incessantly into philosophical (or metaphysical) naturalism, which is indeed, by definition, for atheists only. This all gets very confusing to discuss, since no less than three completely different ideas end up going by the name of evolution. These three can be more precisely called: micro evolution; macro evolution; and philosophical naturalism. It is my contention that this linguistic confusion is intentional on the part of philosophical naturalists, who benefit from the public conflation of their absurd ideas with the simple and provable (micro)evolution observed in particular species by biologists.

10.) Attendance at “God’s judgment day” will not be voluntary. As for you not needing to be “saved,” what Christianity offers is salvation from death, and if you think you are going to somehow slide by that obstacle without Christ, well, good luck to you, but the Christians you announce this to will not be impressed.

11.) If you believe that someone, before Jesus, was born of a virgin, and resurrected from death, I’d be interested in hearing how it is that you believe it. I suspect this is a pointless point, boldface and all…

12.) Regarding proofs and elves, please see earlier comments on proofs and leprechauns.

13.) Love and faith are not, in fact, emotions; they are acts of the will. While there are feelings associated with these, they are at root rational, outward-focused expressions of human freedom, not feelings.

As to the anatomy matter, you are not likely to impress anyone with pedantic biology lessons. We know what a heart is.

14.) I agree that quoting Bible verses to an atheist is a waste of time, but not because the Biblical writers were ostensibly insane. Rather, it is a waste of time because atheists do not accept the authority of the Bible, and have no interest in what it says – with the exception of those things that can be misconstrued for dubious ends. The Bible itself actually boasts wisdom to this effect.

15.) Regarding your claim that not all atheists are intellectuals: I couldn’t agree more. Heck, I was an atheist myself once, as a teenager. But I ended up discovering that my adolescent atheism – as convenient as it was at the time – was even more childish than the childish “faith” of my youth, and I had to give it up.

I’m afraid many of the Christian apologists you will meet will have had a similar experience to mine, and I don’t think it will be a revelation to them that disbelief is running rampant through all the several strata of our society, and not just in the ivory towers of academia. I must admit surprise, though, that you find it worthwhile to distance yourself from the intellectuals of your movement. Perhaps you think that buys you authenticity. Whatever.

You may or may not have some decent arguments to make, but I think you gain little in distancing yourself from the Dawkins and Hutchins of the world unless you have something more civil and substantial than they do to offer in terms of disagreement. I don’t see any evidence of it here.