Daughters of Heth, Hittite Women, … Whatever

I say again that the ESV is about as good as you can do for a modern English translation.  (Though the KJV beats it for accuracy at almost every point of disagreement.)  So my ESV rants in this series express my puzzlement and disappointment when the ESV translator makes what I view as the wrong choice.  Especially when the choice breaks a connection or obscures an antecedent in the Biblical vocabulary.

So Rebekah’s disappointing son Esau marries a couple of the local Hittite girls, and Rebekah complains to Isaac about these “daughters of Heth.”  Heth, as I’m sure we all recall, was one of Canaan’s two sons listed in Genesis 10.  Heth becomes the forefather of one of the Canaanite tribes known as the Hittites.  “Heth” and “Hittite” have the same Hebrew root.  So sometimes the text calls the Hittites “Hittites”, and sometimes it calls them “sons of Heth.”  The Hebrew has two different ways to say it.  Does it make any difference?

Maybe.  And my point all along has been that this is not a call that the translator should be making.  Translators just translate, and leave interpretation, explanation, and cultural accommodation for the preacher and teacher.  (Yes, yes, yes, it is not always that simple … but in these rant posts, I’m citing cases where I think it IS that simple.)  At least I think we should pause before we just flatten out the text and change all the Bible’s “sons of Heth” into “Hittites.”  Isn’t it possible that in some cases the Bible says “sons of Heth” to communicate a nuance or suggest a connection that “Hittite” doesn’t?  A good translation does not obliterate those connections.

So, no surprise.  KJV says “sons of Heth” where the Hebrew says “sons of Heth.”  But ESV wobbles.  When Rebekah complains about these “daughters of Heth,” ESV, for some reason, (WHY??!!), decides that “Hittite women” is better.

Guess what.  I disagree.

(I wonder if this is a bias danger for the kind of guys who get put on the translation teams.  Most of them are classroom professors, who always have one foot in the original language and the other foot in the classroom with a bunch of sleepy pastoral candidates who are just trying to survive the academics in order to go do gospel ministry.  Most of these guys could not care less about parsing Hebrew verbs, so the prof always has to pull the Hebrew idiom into the modern world and dress it in skinny jeans and tattoos before their students’ eyes begin to open.  That probably helps in the classroom, but is not the model for translation.)

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Hey ESV, it’s “the fathers,” and “a son”

Hebrews 1.1-2 in the ESV reads:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, (Heb. 1:1-2 ESV)

There is no “our” and there is no “his” in the Greek.  But translators just can’t resist inserting the personal pronouns.  The Greek has “the fathers”, and “a son.”  I’m trying to imagine why the translators feel like our poor English brains just would not be able to understand:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to the fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,

Why not that?  Really.  And this time, it’s not just the ESV.  Even KJV can’t quite get it.  KJV has “the fathers” and “His son” — but at least they put the “His” in italics to show that it is supplied and not original.

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Best Opening Line in Shakespeare

The best opening line in any Shakespeare play is in Antony and Cleopatra.

Nay, but this dotage of our general’s / O’erflows the measure:

That’s all you need to know about the whole play.  For the next two hours you will suffer along watching general Antony dote on Cleopatra so far beyond any measure that in the end, everything is ruined and everybody dies.  We could all be spared two hours of frustration and grief if they would just bring down the curtain after the first line.

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melchizedekIn seminary, I had to read all the scholars.  There were some good, believing Christian scholars.  But so much of the academic Biblical “scholarship” is profoundly ridiculous.  Useless, wrong-headed, faithless, … an absolute wasteland.  (Although in spite of themselves, sometimes they do get a helpful insight or see a true connection; God’s word cannot be completely shrouded, even by the most stiff-brained puff bags.)

I tremble to think that at one point in my life, I imagined I might pursue the teaching/academic life.  Now I am sooooo thankful I didn’t get to go that way.  Because to do respectable, “serious” academic work, you would have to wade in that dreck all. the. time.   At what toxic cost to your sanity and health?  Without a special covering and protection from God, it would be jibbering hell.

I am reminded of this even during my current studies and preparation for sermons and lessons.  Bibleworks, my primary study sofware, includes some respectable encyclopedia and dictionary resources of some pedigree.  It is very nice to have those tools, and I am generally very glad of them.  Nevertheless, some of the stuff in there is ridiculously foolish.  Today I saw some stuff on Melchizedek that is just facepalm terrible.

It reminds me of an exam I had in seminary.  Good old Doug Moo gave us a question about what so-and-so wrote in his commentary about the interpretation of a certain verse of James.  Not having read so-and-so’s commentary, but knowing so-and-so to be one among the worst kind of Biblical academics, I looked at that verse in James and asked myself, “what would be the worst possible misreading and misunderstanding of this verse?”  I put that down on the exam paper.  Moo did not mark it wrong.

“Claiming to be wise …”

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What is it with the ESV and “flesh?”

From time to time I gripe about translators who shy away from the Bible’s own vocabulary to accommodate some perceived issue in the target language.  The ESV is about as good a choice as you can make (that is, if you won’t read the KJV), but once in a while I see something in the ESV that disappoints, as I have complained in this space before, here, here, here, here, and here.

So here’s another.  “Flesh” is a loaded term theologically.  Leviticus loads that term with all kinds of associations of human infirmity and uncleanness.  We are walking decay factories, and all manner of death and corruption erupts from within and prevents us from approaching the holy, living God.  But all that “flesh” theology is lost when translators imagine that poor, stupid English readers will never be able to remember or understand such difficult matters.  So they choose to substitute other things for the “flesh” word.  This they do in an effort to simplify and clarify, but it also completely breaks the rich connections that are supposed to inform and feed our thinking.

As in Romans 6:19

  • KJV I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh:
  • NKJ I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.
  • NAS I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.
    But alas,
  • ESV I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations.

“Natural limitations?”

No.  Okay, yes, “natural limitations” are part of what may be in view here, and that may even be the main thing Paul is saying, and that may even be what the teaching and preaching point should be.  HOWEVER, that translation eliminates the possibility of any reader making connections that the Bible’s own vocabulary establishes.  So are we really too stupid nowadays to learn and understand what “flesh” means?  Unhappily, the ESV doesn’t even give us the chance to think about it.

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Saul and Gibeah and Jabesh Gilead

saulSaul is from Gibeah, and Gibeah is effectively the capital during his reign. At least it continues to be his residence.  Remember that Gibeah is the town that committed the outrage against the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19-20), which led to the near-annihilation of the whole tribe of Benjamin. For the 600 surviving Benjamites, 400 wives were supplied by sacking Jabesh-Gilead, which hadn’t shown up for the fighting. And then 200 wives were kidnapped at the Shiloh dance.

Well, that creates some bonding, some ties of kinship between Gibeah and Jabesh-Gilead, right? So there seems like there would have been some extra motivation for King Saul, in his first act of kingly war, to muster an army to go fight Nahash the Ammonite, who had Jabesh-Gilead in his snakey coils.

Saul would have been all like, “Hey! that’s where grandma is from!”

And of course, it’s the men of Jabesh-Gilead who come retrieve Saul’s body from the Philistines after he’s killed on Mount Gilboa. … J-G practically brackets the Saul narrative.

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Nebuchadnezzar Baptised

nebNebuchadnezzar was baptized by the dew of heaven: καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς δρόσου τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τὸ σῶμα αὐτοῦ ἐβάφη (Dan. 4:33 BGT).

So there it is: the Greek “baptw” word in a circumstance where it clearly cannot mean “dip” as some Baptists say it always does. Nebuchadnezzar was “baptw’d” by the dew of heaven. Basically Presbyterian style.

Just FYI.

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Called to be Saints: a Holy Convocation

HazardousZoneIt is easy to run right through Romans 1:7 where Paul tells the Romans that they are “called to be saints” and just tell ourselves that the Christian life requires holy living: no stealing, no adultery, no killing, and love one another.  That kind of thing, right?  Live a separated, holy life, okay?

However, there is much more going on here.  The words Paul uses for “called saints”, κλητοῖς ἁγίοις, have a strong specific referent in the Pentateuch.  Thirteen times in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, those “called” and “holy” words are used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer specifically to Israel’s holy convocation, the κλητὴ ἁγία.  Particularly in Leviticus 23, on each of the calendar feasts, Israel was to have a κλητὴ ἁγία.  Every weekly Sabbath was a κλητὴ ἁγία.  The first and seventh days of Unleavened Bread were κλητὴ ἁγία.  The day of Pentecost was a κλητὴ ἁγία.  The first day of the seventh month, the beginning of the feast of Trumpets, was a κλητὴ ἁγία.   The tenth day, the Day of Atonement, was a κλητὴ ἁγία.  On the fifteenth day, the first day of the feast of Booths, was a κλητὴ ἁγία.  On the eighth day of Booths, the closing day of that feast, was another κλητὴ ἁγία.

So here is Israel, in it’s most Israelish, elect, special, holy, separate, priestly nation, core observances, gathered in the restricted holy zone around the altar and the tabernacle, defining what it means to be κλητὴ ἁγία.  If you are not in the Holy Nation, you do not have access.  So it is a Big Deal for Paul to open his letter to the Roman, gentile Christians, and tell them that now they are κλητοῖς ἁγίοις, the assembly of the sanctuary people.  That which formerly was for one nation, is now for all nations in Christ.  That which formerly only Jews could do, assemble in a κλητὴ ἁγία, now happens in every assembly of the Jew + Gentile church.  That which was formerly restricted to a few, is now in Christ, open to all.

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The Just Shall Live by Faith

jerusalemPaul famously quotes Habakkuk in Galatians 3 to clinch his point that it’s no good going back to Torah.  The false teachers were telling the Galatians that in addition to believing in Messiah Jesus, they needed to be circumcised and enter Israel and live by Torah.   Paul says, no, Torah is over, Israel no longer has a separate role in the world, the old world of sacred days, foods, and places has passed away, and now Jew and Gentile alike approach God directly in Christ.  In fact, the expiration date on Israel will soon be manifested to the world, as the people would be slaughtered and driven away, and the temple, priesthood, and sacrifices all disappear once and for all in 70 A.D. in the destruction of Jerusalem.

The Habakkuk quote is especially apt.  It is much more than a proof text of faith vs. works.  Habakkuk faced much the same circumstance as Jerusalem did in Paul’s day:  a corrupt priesthood, national apostasy, and looming judgment.  The armies of Babylon were just over the horizon, and they were running the table, capturing city after city, conquering kingdom after kingdom.  Israel was on their list, and faced the impending slaughter and taking away of the people, and the loss of the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices.

But God’s message to the prophet is, “when I take away the temple and the city, all is not lost.  The just shall live by his faithfulness.”

Same to you, Galatians.  You do NOT need to be circumcised and get into Israel and commit to Torah.  That is over in Christ, and soon will disappear completely from history.  Believe in Jesus: his faithfulness has satisfied God completely, and in Christ, you have everything.

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Saul was Elect

Well, he wasn’t elect, but he was elect.

When the Gibeonites come to terms with David, they refer to the town of Gibeah as “Gibeah of Saul, the elect of the Lord.”  (2 Sam 21.6)  All the English versions say “Saul, the Lord’s chosen“, but the Greek LXX uses the word ἐκλεκτοὺς, elect.

I’m just pointing out yet another place where the Bible uses the word “elect” differently than the way it is used in Reformed systematics.  And my follow-up point is that we should be okay with recognizing that fact, and with thinking in ways that allows that “elect” sometimes means “elect“, but sometimes it just means “elect,” because we should want to think like the Bible thinks and be able to use words the way the Bible uses words.

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