Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Men Ruling over Women? How Has That Worked?

Bible translation is much more a rough art than an exact science. It breaks down into three domains, each of which presents major problems for translators:

1. The Accuracy of the Starting Texts. The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew (and a small part in Aramaic); the New Testament was written in Greek. We do not possess any of the original manuscripts, but only copies -- of which we have tens of thousands, but which are an unknown number of generations removed from the originals. Added to some 5,800 Greek sources for the New Testament, for example, are ten thousand or more manuscripts and fragments of the NT translated very early into another language, such as Latin. Although we thus have many, many more such fragments (and in some cases, complete books) to work from than is the case with any other ancient document, and although there is agreement (consensus) as to practically 90% of its text, there are still many variant readings as to which scholars differ. Most of those are trivial or minor, but some are major, such as in the case of John 7:53-8:11, which does not appear in several manuscripts. Moreover, the discovery of older fragments, such as those found at Qumran, continually reshapes our views of what particular reading in any given case would be closest to the "original." So the first problem in Bible translation is to decide on the starting text (and avoid the trap of "garbage in, garbage out").

2. The Meaning and Context of the Words in those Starting Texts. Language dictionaries are only a very recent phenomenon. The Hebrew words of the Old Testament in many cases remain the same today, but their meanings have changed; the same is true of the Koine dialect of Greek in which much of the New Testament was written. In many cases, the recovery of lost meanings is pure guesswork, as in quite a few instances, particular words may occur only once or twice in the entire NT (or OT). And even when we have a pretty good idea of how a word was used in the first century (or earlier), we have to put it into the context intended by its author, which was aimed for the most part at hearers or readers who were alive at that time. We have to beware of anachronistic interpretations.

3. The Meaning and Context of Words in the Target Language. As just noted in the last paragraph, language is not static, but changes continuously with time. To put the Bible into the English of 1611 was a wholly different task from putting it into the English of today (and whose English -- British, American, Australian, Canadian, Scottish, or Irish?). The process of translation thus presents a continually moving target. While the meaning and context of the original words may have been fixed at the time they were written, the same is not at all true of any given target language into which they may be translated. And no translation can at the same time be one that is word-for-word and is also suitable for reading aloud to a congregation. A balance must be struck, and in each case it is different, depending on the goals of the translators.

It comes rather as a surprise, therefore, to learn that the publisher of the respected English Standard Version of the Bible has decided, in conjunction with its Translation Oversight Committee, to make just a further 52 changes in its official text, and then no more, forever and ever, amen. It will thus join the King James version (last changed in 1769) as a fossilized text: those in the far future who wish to use it will first have to master the vocabulary of English as it stood in 2016, and not as it may have further evolved in their own day.

The decision has been strongly criticized, and with good reason. I shall not add to the general criticism here, but I do want to take issue with some of what the Oversight Committee thinks are necessary and advisable changes to make before the text becomes "permanent." For in my view, the changes they have adopted to the ESV's translation of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 are going in the wrong direction -- please have a look:
Permanent Text VersesPrevious Text Verses
Genesis 3:16
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
Genesis 4:7
Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.
The words in each case are spoken by God -- to Eve in verse 3:16, and to Cain in verse 4:7. In both cases the change involves the translation of a Hebrew preposition, 'el, which normally has a spatial element of motion to or toward an object or destination. Thus as previously translated, verse 3:16 conveyed the thought in English that Eve would experience a desire for, or toward, her husband Adam; verse 4:16 expressed the notion that sin would likewise approach Cain if he did not curb his anger.

Changing these expressions from "for" to "contrary to" in each instance is not just a subtle shift in meaning, but introduces (in my view) a whole new social context that is foreign to our traditional reading of these verses. To see this, let's focus on Gen. 3:16 more closely.

As is well explained in this post, there are two differing exegeses of what God is saying to Eve in verse 3:16. The first is that God's statement is a prescription, both for her own future and for that of all women who come after her -- it lays down a principle of what her nature will cause her to do.

The second is that God's statement is simply descriptive of what the fallen world after Eden will be like for women.

So in the first case, the ESV translators are in effect saying that God has willed it that men and women should be always at odds with each other. And in the second case, well, He may not have willed it so, but it will always be so.

Either way, the ESV choice simply underwrites current feminist theology without any warrant in the Hebrew text for doing so, since "to go against" is not one of the normal or usual senses of 'el in the Hebrew Bible. And drawing on Genesis 4:7 for support of that context is, as Sam Powell says in the post I cited to explain the use of that preposition, "pretty sketchy exegesis." (I have always believed that the Devil was not content merely to act contrary to us; he would far rather entrap us. So saying that his desire is "contrary to" man is like saying that a policeman just wants to act differently from a thief: it may superficially be true, but it by no means tells the whole story of their respective roles.)

Both Sam Powell and Scot McKnight, in the posts cited above, point to the use of 'el in the Song of Solomon, verse 7:10, to derive the proper understanding of its use in Gen. 3:16. The ESV translates that verse as follows: "I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me" (my bold emphasis). No sense of "contrary to" there -- and yet it is love's desire that is being described in each case. So why does it have to be one sense for Eve, and another one for the Song of Solomon?

And moreover, why does it have to now be permanently so? (Actually, I note that although the changes have been incorporated into the online ESV version, they provide the alternative translation of "toward" in a footnote reference to verses 3:16 and 4:7.)

The move to make the change fixed forever in stone bespeaks a pride or even arrogance that does not become a "Translation Oversight Committee", no matter what is their underlying theology. Pastor Powell has added to his exegesis of Gen. 3:16 cited above some further remarks on the topic of men versus women and women versus men in this post, entitled "Headship is not Hierarchy." I commend it to your careful attention.

Husbands, love your wives. Wives, love your husbands.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Bishop Bruno -- the Hypocrite par excellence

This blog has on previous occasions taken to task the Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles for, as stated, speaking "with a forkèd tongue." Thus, those few Episcopalians who still bother to follow this blog written by a-no-longer-Episcopalian might be comforted to know that Bishop J. Jon Bruno continues in top form. And for this once, since the hypocrisy of Bishop Bruno on this occasion is so outlandish, I will forego my resolution to write no more about the apostate Episcopal Congregations of the United States of America, i.e., ECUSA -- yes, that rapidly disappearing group that has now endorsed collective blasphemy every time they celebrate a same-sex union.

As I previously reported, Bishop Bruno was the recipient of Title IV disciplinary charges filed against him by various Episcopalian members of St. James the Great, the choice parish in Newport Beach, California built upon donated property worth millions in today's real estate market. Prior to filing those charges, the same group had filed a civil action against Bishop Bruno in the Superior Court for Orange County. I discussed the background and the gravamen of the civil and canonical charges against +Bruno in this previous post.

Bishop Bruno rejected all efforts at mediation or conciliation under the Title IV disciplinary canons, and simply refused to recognize that he had violated any canons as to the remnant congregation of St. James the Great -- whom he eventually locked out of their church, and forced to hold open-air services in a nearby park. Meanwhile, his attempt to sell the property on which St. James was built met with a roadblock filed by the original donor of the property, who had imposed a condition that the property be used only for church, and not real estate development, purposes. (Unfortunately for the donor, California has a statute that eradicates any such limitation after a stated period of years, unless the donor files a renewal -- so the condition may turn out to be unenforceable, after all.)

Thus the fate of the civil proceedings is currently uncertain, although the original prospective buyer long ago withdrew its offer. The disciplinary proceedings under Title IV, however, are now headed (after time allowed for any discovery on both sides) for a hearing.

Comes now Bishop Bruno, he of the forkèd tongue, and for a response to the charges files a motion to dismiss the Title IV proceedings against him in their entirety. His reasons stated are twofold:

(1) The complainants violated the confidentiality provisions of Title IV by disclosing the substance of their charges, and of ECUSA's responses to them; and

(2) [Now get this] The complainants violated Canon IV.19.2 by resorting to a proceeding in the secular civil courts before filing their charges against +Bruno under Title IV.

Note that while +Bruno is technically correct that the earlier stages of the Title IV proceedings against him were confidential, the violation of that confidentiality by the Complainant (i.e., the members of St. James the Great) does not furnish canonical grounds for a dismissal of the charges. Under the Canon he cites (IV.13.9[a]), it is only misconduct "that the Hearing Panel deems to be disruptive, dilatory or otherwise contrary to the integrity of the proceedings" on the part of the Respondent (i.e., Bishop Bruno) or the Church Attorney that can provide grounds for the imposition of sanctions -- which, by the way, do not include the dismissal of all charges, as +Bruno requests.

And now that the proceedings have reached the Hearing stage, the Canons provide that all proceedings (except its private deliberations) "shall be open ... to persons from the public." (Canon IV.13.6.) So this blog is not violating any confidentiality of the proceedings by publishing Bishop Bruno's hypocrisy for all to see.

Hypocrisy? Why, certainly: as is typical of ECUSA's bishops in these matters, they ignore the language of the Canons, and proceed as though the Canons said what they want (for the moment, at least) them to say. (ECUSA's former Presiding Bishop made a career out of so misreading the Canons, and is mostly at fault for the current trampling of the Canons that has led to ECUSA's institutional blasphemy, and its disqualification to be considered any longer as a Christian church.)

Most notably, the other Canon cited by Bishop Bruno as grounds for dismissing the charges against him -- Canon IV.19.2 -- is so regularly ignored by ECUSA bishops in bringing civil lawsuits, that I have previously had occasion to write about their hypocrisy in ignoring it, in this post, for example -- where you may read just what it says.

Thus Bishop Bruno demonstrates a par for the course by invoking that Canon as grounds to dismiss the proceedings against him. For in doing so, he blithely and supremely ignores the fact that in suing the original congregation of St. James the Great for their property, and in eventually forcing them to go elsewhere, he himself violated that Canon. What is sauce for the goose ...

To state a tautology: hypocrisy, thy name is ECUSA -- or in this particular case, +Bruno.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bishop Barron on Morality, Character and Relationships

I've had such good feedback from the previous post with Fr. Robert Barron, a Roman Catholic bishop who publishes regular short video talks in a series he calls "Word on Fire", that I am posting another favorite of mine from that series. In this talk, Bishop Barron zeroes in on the relationship between morality and character, and illustrates beautifully the false dichotomy behind the Gnostic fallacy (that our mind may keep itself pure even if we corrupt our body):

For those whose browsers will not display the video above, here is the link to it on YouTube. Enjoy!