A Defense of a “Well-Versed” Doctrine of Inerrancy

(Christy Hemphill) #21

I work in minority language Bible translation, so this is something I’ve thought about some.

The modern English versions available to people today are the results of years of work by panels of PhDs with lifetimes’ of expertise. They are some of the best translations available in the world. But best practices in translation say you have to be faithful to the original texts and translate what’s there without biasing one interpretation over another, as far as is possible within the confines of the language. Obviously, some degree of interpretation is required to translate a text but people have different ideas about how much implicit information can be made explicit and still count as a “translation” not a paraphrase or commentary. More and more study Bibles are offering cultural context in the form of notes and articles interspersed with the Bible text. Even the most meaning-based translations (think NLT or NIV as opposed to more “formally equivalent” ESV or NASB) refrain from making too much implicit information explicit. That’s what commentaries are for.

Bibles don’t disciple people into the Christian faith, churches do. I think the problem is that seminaries have traditionally spent a lot of time on things like systematic theology and church history and maybe not enough time teaching future Bible teachers how to read and study the Bible and do (or at least recognize) good interpretation. And many lay people don’t spend enough time in church or good Bible studies to learn how to do it on their own.

(John King) #22

I concur with almost all you say, so I suspect we will find it hard to do battle! It is true that there is too much second-hand, processed, access to the Bible in the lives of most Christians; and the consequences are tribal-centred interpretations at the hermeneutic level. As you say, churches are responsible for discipling, but when teachers who read misleading interpretations are immersed in the same defective culture, churches are going to mis-teach, and produce incapacitated Christians.

Although translators have all the qualifications you could ask for, there remains scope for well-placed caution. It is true that the theological bias of all translating teams is easily diagnosed in their work, and that suggests that there is considerable scope for slanting interpretations. I suspect there are dominant pressures for conformity to the local orthodoxy in most theological institutes; no-one wants to risk being labelled as a heretic, or even holding slightly wobbly theology. And those in authority have espoused certain attitudes for too long to make change easy. Anyway, we should always take note of the one thing on record that Jesus rejoiced over: “I thank you Father that you have revealed these things to babes, and not to the clever and educated”. Education is no guarantee of dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Taking on a biased reading that has held sway for 16 centuries is no mean task. I do not underestimate the resistance that this provokes.

I could give many examples, but if you have time and the inclination for one, I would like to draw your attention to the parable of the widow and the corrupt judge. There is confusion among commentators. Some say that God is like the judge others that he is not. So it is worth investigating. I fully expect that the result of this investigation will teach you nothing new. But my experience is that many without your advantages are led into misunderstanding by what they read in standard versions.

All I ask is that you look at these comments on Luke 18:

  1. v1 There is always the intrusion of weight in the English usage of should and ought. This influences the interpretation of dei throughout the New Testament, when in Greek, the meaning is much lighter.

  2. v2 ekkakeó The rendering of this word here is the most damning in the New Testament. One root meaning is a rather agricultural “in the muck”, ie in difficulties.

  3. v6 It is usual, I am near to saying universal, for legó to precede what is said. Without inverted commas, this would seem to be a necessity for clear communication of speech. Making legó “retrospective” here, has altered the meaning significantly.

  4. v7 The use of οὐ mē in a question hardly reflects its strength. The only other time it is found in one is John 18 11, where the emphasis is dominant (and the construction can be understood as an affirmation, not a question). Making it into a question here obscures the point Jesus is making.

  5. The interpretation of makrothumeó here is unique. Elsewhere it is always used of an antagonistic relationship. Jesus is saying that the relationship between the Judge and the widow was such.

  6. The phrase hémeras kai nuktos usually means for ever .

  7. v8 I can think of no good reason for the second half of this verse to be construed as a question. This is one certainty of the Gospel, consistently stated throughout the New Testament. We have been robbed of this as a ringing affirmation, and a reassurance. It is obvious why legalists would want to burden people with the responsibility of ensuring that Jesus will “find faith” on his return.

All these interventions lean towards presenting prayer as a legalistic obligation. Once disentangled, the message is: God is not like an unjust judge, who has to be badgered to get him to respond. It is his nature as a loving father to hear and respond to our requests immediately.

Jesus says that God, if he were like the unjust judge, has the stamina to resist requests for ever! That is his reductio ad absurdum, just before he says legó… That is the point at which we should always listen.

Jesus is contrasting Christian prayer with pagan practice. (See 1 Kings 18 25-29.) Christian prayer is rooted in the character of God, not in human effort. This is an anti-parable! This insight is revolutionary, and largely contrary to our present Christian culture; I am still finding ways to exercise the faith to rid myself of old habits of repetitious, untrusting prayer.

It is worth noting that the following parable rejects performance religion and asserts prayer that relies on the nature of God. That is the same message here, hidden by traditional imposed legalism, not welcome to legalists, and those who use legalism to dominate others.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #23

I would be cautious about linking “repetitious” with “untrusting”. Yes - there are passages elsewhere to the effect of “not letting your words be many” … (Matthew 6:7) and that God knows how to give good and timely gifts to his own (in Matthew 7). So this call to persistence in prayer can be seen to be in tension with those things. But this strong inclination we indulge in to try to make all tension, all paradox just go away is, I suggest, a strongly modern tendency. Let’s think of it the following way.

Are we heaping onto parables the same kind of “concordism” that so many attempt to heap into creation passages? We think that every component of a story must correspond to (“concord with”) some deep truth that the story-teller is tucking away into each story component for us to decode and find. What if the purpose of the entire story is just to make a singular point? We don’t have to read the prodigal story and decode whether or not God would be such a reckless dad as to just give a wayward son anything he demands; not if the story is instead entirely about God’s reaction to returning prodigals and the resulting attitudes of the self-righteous, “better-behaved” family members. Nor should we need to wonder how God compares with an absentee king who just leaves lesser servants in charge of everything when that parable is instead entirely about what we do with gifts we are given.

In the same way it’s probably not appropriate to get caught up decoding the significance of the misbehavior of the unjust judge when the focus is on persistence in prayer.

Jesus wants to make a point by telling a story. Why does it need to be about other stuff too?

[edited for clarity]

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #24


First of all I cannot tell that you have replied to my post unless you send me the right signal, namely address me as I addressed you above or quote from my post or click on reply under my post.

Agreed, so we need to tell people the right way, whi9ch means emphasizing the Covenantal character of the Christian Faith and the fact that the New Covenant is in Jesus Christ, and not the Law.

The Source is the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

When people substitute the Bible for the Word of God, Jesus Christ, this opens the door for rejecting the New Covenant and making the NT a continuation of the Old. The3 problem is not the Bible, but what people think it says, how they understand it.

The Old Covenant is not the problem. The problem is that many Christians do not understand and thus do not accept the New Covenant. Also some leaders are using Legalism to control their followers, as the Pharisees and Sadducees did. Salvation is forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ, not obedience to the Law.

(John King) #25

@Roger A. Sawtelle
I hope this reaches you easily, Roger.
Yes I agree, in a perfect world we may have ready access to some people and be able to impart true knowledge about Jesus, so they can then engage with him. I am thinking of those who start looking, but find themselves presented with legalistic preaching or are sent down the wrong route when the read legalistic interpretations of the Bible. Casting our net as widely as we can, a legalism-free Bible seems a good idea.

(Christy Hemphill) #26

I don’t know that changing a phrase here or there is going to drastically affect people’s interpretations though. They need to be taught to pay more attention to understanding the cultural conventions of genre and realize that parables are not analogies or allegories (where every character lines up analogically or allegorically with God, sinners, godly people, etc).

They are stories that make a point. If you get that, you don’t try to read yourself into the role of the widow and God into the role of the righteous judge. Like you say, the point is to say something about the character of God. If the wicked judge who neither cares about God nor people can administer justice in an untimely fashion because of persistence, how much more can people have confidence in the vindication of a loving, holy God, who will not make them wait, but will “see that they get justice, and quickly.”

A lot more attention is being paid these days to “discourse level features” in Greek, which is an interesting development in translation. Logos has hired a guy who has a PhD in Koine Greek discourse analysis to help create exegetical helps. This is good, because for a long time the exegesis that preceeded translation was very honed in on individual words and sentence-level structures, not discourse features of the paragraph or text type. Now linguists are paying more attention to higher level linguistic cues, things that condition inferences like information structure and discourse particles. But again, a lot of these things can be hard to “translate,” but they can inform commentaries and other helps.

(John King) #27

Christy, you make my point for me: “how much more can people have confidence in the vindication of a loving, holy God, who will not make them wait, but will ‘see that they get justice, and quickly’”, is the point of the parable. But in our posts, Roger A. Sawtelle wrote of the same parable, “What is the problem here? Faith requires persistence”. That, of course, is the conventional interpretation, the result of medieval legalism.

By untying the distorting strictures imposed on the interpretation of this text and many others, we can rediscover what Jesus, and the others really intended. Not just “a phrase here or there” but the whole message has been messed with. I offered you the resolution of 7 distortions, that unlocked the meaning of a short passage, showing it to be about God not religious observance, not a minor change.

I would not refute that there are “higher” levels of understanding of the text that merit applying, but I would argue strongly that, at the ground level, there is scope for a lot of “earth moving” of the kind I have offered you. The danger, as I see it, is that the “industry” of the establishment would always like it to be complicated; Is God’s communication to us so inept that we need high levels of academic attainment to understand it? In engaging our intellects, I suggest, we have to be guided by, “I thank you Father that you have revealed these things to babes, and not the clever and educated.”

(Christy Hemphill) #28

I guess I’m still confused about how you think translation decisions are going to lead to your interpretation. You said how you would explain the passage differently, but not really how you would translate it differently. How do you think the passage should be translated in English?

(John King) #29

This Is about it, Christy: - John
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them how they could continue to pray without getting into difficulties. 2 He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about people. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent’.

4 “For some time he refused, but finally he thought, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about people, 5 because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me down with her pestering!’”

6 "And the Lord said, " Notice that the story of the unjust judge implies 7 that God would not bring about justice for his favourites, and he would be quite able never ever to respond to their appeals, 8 but I tell you that he sees that they get justice, and quickly.

What is really certain is that when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on the earth!"

(John King) #30

Your points about complexity do not apply to this simple message. The confusion among commentators over this parable is not due to the complexity of the story. After all, Jesus is the best communicator of all time.

All we have to do is look at what follows Jesus’ “lego”; that is always the key. In the light of that, please, at least, try to consider that it might not be about persistence, but is about God’s character.

The parable is about the ready response of God to our petitions. The purpose of the parable is not complex, but simply addresses the pagan idea of prayer. Indeed, it is apparent that this is the default for all religions devoid of an appreciation of God’s grace. It being the placating and appeasing a fickle deity, for which persistence is a must.

Jesus says, in the simplest most comprehensive way, that God is not like that. This is the key; we do not have to persist, because he loves us. Relying on ourselves, and our efforts, is the mistake of the legalist in the following parable, and is no basis for praying to our loving Father. Relying on him is a far better.

The medieval mind, wedded to legalism, wanted the message to be about persistence in prayer; that meant they could foster dependence on the the machinery of the Church, and boost its treasury. That is why the Imperial Church (Jerome?), with its continuing pagan culture, distorted the interpretation of this parable, in ways no conscientious linguist should find acceptable. In my earlier post I identified 7 points of linguistic distortion in the traditional interpretation. Let’s not continue this Pharisaical burden on people, robbing them of this important appreciation of God’s Fatherhood.

(John King) #31

Disappointed to not hear from you again, Christy.

(Christy Hemphill) #32

Aw, shucks. I think maybe I have beaten this horse to death on other occasions and figured people were tired of hearing me talk about it. I’m traveling all day today, but I’ll try to check in tonight.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #33

Well sure. I agree that God’s character is not being impugned here - nor do I see the passage forbidding persistence in prayer (far from it in fact), though other passages might be found that could be more effectively enlisted toward that point. What I really can’t get on board with, though, is your focusing all your fault-finding here on the Catholic Church as if they are the only ones who have ever screwed anything up. Granted, they have had more opportunity than most of the rest of us; but even so, I don’t find persistent Catholic-bashing to be all that credible.

I’m all with you in freeing people from Pharisaical burdens laid on them. If you see me doing that, please let me know where.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #34

I hope this finds you well and safely arrived!

(Christy Hemphill) #35

Well, if I were “checking” your translation, here would be my notes.

I think the NLT makes it clear that the judge is not like God without adding things that aren’t there in the text.
18 One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. 2 “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. 3 A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ 4 The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, 5 but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
6 Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. 7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

The answer to the rhetorical questions in v. 7 is "Yes he will give justice, even the unrighteous judge managed that! No, of course he won’t make people pester him to get justice! God, unlike the unjust judge, cares about his children and wants them to get justice quickly!’

I don’t think it is saying, “Don’t be persistent in prayer.” It’s saying pray without losing heart, without being dismayed, with confidence in God’s character and justice. (That is the kind of faith the Son of Man wants to find in v.8)

There isn’t anything wrong with persistence in prayer. Paul urges Christians to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17), says he has not stopped praying for the Colossians (1:9), and in Colossians 4:2 straight up says, “Be persistent in prayer.”

(John King) #36

It is interesting and reassuring to note how the NLT has adjusted the interpretation. But there remain some interpretative issues, which stand out as poor choices. Eliminating these would further clarify the message.
ou mē (v7) is so emphatic that it is not used in questions, apart from one very emphatic rhetorical usage by Jesus, at his arrest.
The referring back to previous speech in v6, is untypical of Greek usage of legei.
Plēn (v8) is not used to introduce questions.
makrothumeó (v7) is here uniquely translated as “putting off” or the equivalent. And that produces a reading needing an absent contradiction to what the judge said.

I wish you were right, that people do not see prayer as a repetitious performance to show God we are serious in what we are asking for. My experience of church practice does not support your claim.
The other passages about living prayerfully do not support repetitious prayer.
If we look on prayer as a conversation, then we should expect and look for God’s response, promised in this passage, and move forward in our praying, in the light of that.

Thank you for your patience in responding to these issues. The problem in trying to get to the original intentions of the writers, is the lack of skill in avoiding applying eisegesis derived from the familiar interpretation. This points out a serious flaw in most theology training. If we could be more clinical in our analyses of the text, I believe we would find the message is much clearer.

(Shawn T Murphy) #37

I prefer to stick with the direct words from Jesus. He promised to send the spirit of truth to explain everything. (John 14:17 15:26 16:13) This promise does not guarantee that these teachings are in the Bible that exists today since “the world cannot receive.”

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. John 16:13 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. John 14:17

There is no logical error that I see between the “eye for an eye” justice in the OT and Jesus’ call of us repay all of our debts (Matt 5:21-26), Also, Leviticus 20 talks about all these offenses where the person “shall surely be put to death.” This is in line with Jesus’ comment "Let the dead bury the dead.” (Matt 8:22) The OT is saying that adultery leads to spiritual death - distance from God, which is exactly the message of Jesus in the NT.

I have done a lot of work on the gods of the OT, but will not open that can of worms here. I will leave it with Mark 12:27.

He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err. (Mark 12:27)

The KJV capitalizes both uses of God in Jesus’ speech, even though it is completely clear He is speaking of two separate gods, Satan and the Father. It is this mistaken interpretation that is pervasive in the OT. Which god told Abraham to kill his son and, therefore, violate God’s commandments?

(John King) #38

Shawn, I feel comfortable with you indicating John 14 and the direct access we have with the Holy Spirit. But the link between Ex 21 and Matt 5 21 comes over as very strange. But that is outdone by linking Leviticus 20 with Matthew 8 v22; that seems to me to be an astounding out-of-context misapplication. And the idea that Abraham was not in any diffuse, confused, imperfect contact with Yahweh, but some other god is simply distracting. And God’s or the god’s provision of the sacrifice is then of what significance?
Well I have to thank you for your time, but regrettably I feel you have not got near to my issue, of helping people for whom the behavior of Yahweh recorded in the OT is a real problem.

(Shawn T Murphy) #39

You do know how many times the OT was rewritten? The first time was after the Jews spent two generations in the city of the devil, the home of human sacrifice. The obsession with human sacrifice comes from the god of the dead (Matt 8:22) and not from Yahweh who told us not to kill. The concept that Jesus was sent by God as human sacrifice comes from this pagan root. Jesus was celebrated in Heaven for His victory over Death - the king of this world. There is no other way to look at the King of Heaven as victorious, not a burnt offering.

(John King) #40

Shawn, I consider that Abraham was challenged by the pagan practice in Ur of sacrificing firstborn sons to their gods as an indication of true devotion. Did he love Yahweh that much? I view the episode as one in which God laid to rest that conflict, by allowing Abraham to go to the brink, where he showed him the way forward. This is an early part of Israel’s progress from paganism to better understanding of Yahweh’s character and purposes. I see no need to personalise this with a population of gods. We know from Paul that gods are nothing (1 Cor 8 1-8)

Matthew 8 is merely about the spiritually dead, who don’t need help with the funerals of their dead, from those in the Kingdom, who have more important things to do. To say otherwise is an exercise in eisogesis.

As for the element of blood sacrifice: this is firmly embedded in NT theology. It seems you have left any adherence to the principles of biblical exegesis for the enterprise of constructing a speculative model for which there is scanty evidence. You have chosen to wander at will, and I fear that like so many others, you will eventually end up in the wastelands of denial of the supernatural, an anthropologist, not a Christian, missing out on the richness of insight to be gained within the constraints of the Gospel…

That misdirection of effort makes me sad, for you personally, but also for the witness of RL.