Academic exegesis

Academic exegesis is that form of interpretation which copies academics or authority figures.  The Lord Jesus Christ cut through this in His teaching.

Academic exegesis is seen in the translation of several biblical passages.  Bible versions are the product of teams of academic translators pooling their collective knowledge to produce a final decision on the translation of particular texts.

It is easy to demonstrate that when a significant translation, such as the New International Version, makes a break from a traditional translation, then subsequent versions will follow, on the principle that new research has identified an improvement.

However, these are not always improvements but such is the bias of academia that academic exegesis kicks in to cement the new translation as the new standard, inhibiting independent thought and establishing a new paradigm.

Those who are unfamiliar with translation may think that this criticism is too strong. So it might help to give an example of academic imitation.  For a long time it has been recognized that Jn 5:39 is not a command ‘Search the Scriptures’, as the King James Version suggests, but a comment ‘You search the Scriptures’, meaning that in spite of their searching of Scripture they did not realise that the Scriptures spoke about Jesus.  The variations in translation can be viewed by clicking here.  So far, so good.

However, what about Jn 5:31?  A quick review of twenty versions, old and new, shows that there is little variation among them.  Yet most commentators know that there is a difficulty with this text and there are various attempts at explaining the verse.  The point is not which interpretation is correct, but that in spite of all the academics pouring over this verse none of them have translated any version as a rhetorical question.  The proper translation is: ‘If I bear witness of Myself, is My witness not true?’ which makes much more sense than the statement ‘My witness is not true’ – the uniform translation in all versions I have consulted – especially when the standard translation contradicts what the Saviour says in Jn 8:14.

Why is this?  Bible translations are produced by teams of academics, so how have they not analysed the Greek text for themselves and discovered this?  Have they been so busy studying the commentaries and weighed up the opinion of other scholars that they have not done their own exegesis?  If so, this is not exegesis of the text, but relying upon academia, the very thing that Jesus exposed.

This appeal to authority is what the scribes did in Jesus’ day – so when He cut through their academic exegesis and explained the proper meaning of Scripture, ‘the people were astonished at His doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes’ Mat 7:28-29 and Mk 1:22.  This mistaken emphasis is similar to modern theology, which is not ‘the study of God’ theos-logos but ‘the study of theologians’.

Proper exegesis of this passage would have yielded the result that the negative statement of all extant English translations cannot be correct, even before analysising the Greek text, which like Jn 5:39 has legitimate alternative translations.  So why have so many teams of translators followed each other along only one of these alternatives?  The answer is either that they have not considered the alternative or that they are too frightened to break out of the consistent consensus of academic opinion.  Neither option is commendatory.

Why call it academic exegesis?  1. because it is not exegesis, which does not need any qualifying adjective.  2. when something goes wrong with exegesis, there must be a reason for it.  The commonest error is eisegesis, which is the very opposite of exegesis.  3. in this case, the error arises because of an overweaning fear of breaking out of the academic consensus, so that ‘academic’ exegesis is an appropriate adjective.

This is only one of many examples of academic exegesis in Bible translation, in which academics are controlled by their peer group and too frightened to do their own exegesis, resulting in academic imitation, which Jesus broke through in His time, and which we must continue to assess in our time.  God willing, I hope to return to this subject with more examples as time permits.

Update:

10 Jul 2017: Ps 125:3: the NIV translates this with ‘the land’, which: 1. is not the Hebrew word, 2. does not make sense; 3. is not true; but 4. it is followed by many modern versions.  So why is this so?  They are copying each other – not exegeting the text.  Only some versions notice that another of the Hebrew words in this text is ‘wickedness’ and not ‘wicked’.

25 Jul 2017: Ps 104:4: ‘angels spirits’ has been translated as ‘messengers winds’, copied by current translations.  I happened to exegete this Psalm in my Bible commentary a few days ago specifically on this subject about the angels and today I discovered this article in the Trinitarian Bible Society Quarterly Record Oct-Dec 2016, pp. 17-21 on this very subject.  There is providence for you!

Biblical mnemonics

Ps 117: the shortest chapter in the Bible.
Ps 119: the longest chapter in the Bible.
Ps 118: the middle chapter in the Bible.

Ps 118:8 “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.”

1188/2 = 594.

There are 594 chapters before Ps 118 and 594 chapters after it if one includes the whole New Testament.

These are rather uncanny coincidences in view of the relatively late formulation of the chapter divisions in the Bible.

The Hebrew Bible has a different order of books, so these statistics apply only to the English Bible with its order of biblical books, but this is where it gets complicated and loses the simplicity of the above mnemonic.

Strictly speaking the middle chapter of the English Bible is Ps 117, but this is Ps 116 in the Hebrew Bible.  However if the English Psalms were numbered the same as the Hebrew Psalms, the middle chapter of the English Bible would be Ps 118, as in the simple mnemonic above.

So, one can remember 1. the middle chapter in the English Bible is also the shortest chapter in the Bible, but 2. to remember how many chapters are involved the mnemonic above carries more information.

There is greater disparity in calculating the middle verse of the Bible because of the different numbering of verses in the Psalms, where the Hebrew Bible sometimes makes the title of the Psalm a separate verse, whereas the King James Version incorporates the titles into the first verse.  Some websites claim that Ps 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible, while others claim that the King James Version has an even number of verses and, on this reckoning, the two middle verses are Ps 103:1-2.

The shortest verse in the English Bible is “Jesus wept” Jn 11:35.  The Greek version of this text has three words, and the Hebrew version of Job 3:2 “And Job spake, and said” has three words also.

The Old Testament has 3 – 9 = 39 books

The New Testament has 3×9 = 27 books = 66 books in total.

  1. there is one God.
  2. there are two natures in Christ: His divine and human natures.
  3. there are three Persons in one Godhead: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
  4. there are four Gospels and the four corners of the Earth – north, south, east and west – suggest comprehensiveness.
  5. there are five books of Moses and five sections in the book of Psalms.
  6. six is reckoned to be the number of imperfection – and 666, the number of the beast Rev 13:18, is the apotheosis of religious imperfection.
  7. there are seven days in the week, and seven is the biblical number for perfection.
  8. eight is the biblical number of new beginnings: circumcision was on the eighth day and Christ’s resurrection was on the eighth day.

The Hebrew Old Testament has three sections; there are four Gospels in the New Testament, and the prophecy of Isaiah in the Old Testament is sometimes called ‘the fifth Gospel‘ because it has so much of Christ in it.

 

Titles in the book of Psalms

Are the titles in the first verse of many of the Psalms part of Scripture?

Frequently one finds people omitting the titles when reading the Psalms publicly. Presumably they do not think that these titles are part of Scripture. This arises because in many versions of the Bible the title is made a separate verse, and in many modern versions it is separated from the body of the Psalm as a title, or put in brackets as though it is not to be read.

Bible verses are not numbered in the earliest manuscripts of the underlying, authoritative Hebrew text, and there is no distinction between the title and the remainder of the Psalm. The verse numbers were added in the 16th century. The first Bible in English to use both chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible published in 1560.

The verse numbering in the Hebrew Bible, which is followed by the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew, completed about 132BC) and the Statenvertaling (the Dutch translation in 1637), sometimes gives the title a separate verse number (e.g. Ps 12 and 13; indeed, the title in Ps 60 takes up two verses) and sometimes does not (e.g. Ps 11, 14 and 15). However, the King James Version of the Bible does not follow this inconsistency, and it always includes the title as part of verse 1 of the Psalm. This discordant numbering of verses between the Hebrew and the English Bible is complicated further by the LXX, in which whole Psalms have discordant numbering from each of the other versions.

The King James Version thus makes it easier to see that the titles of the Psalms are part of the inspired text of Scripture and ought to be read as such. The titles have not been put into metre in the Scottish metrical version of the Psalms, just as Ps 72:20 has not been versified for singing. Just as we read Ps 72:20 and consider it to be part of inspired Scripture, so ought we to do the same with the titles. This does not apply to the additional information added to the end of the epistles of Paul, which are not reliable and are not part of the inspired text.

It is not easy to remember the verse numbering in the Hebrew, LXX and DSV version in comparison with the KJV. Consulting Ps 72-90 in each version will quickly demonstrate the inconsistency in these other versions, the only consistent one being the King James Version. If one wishes to cite a Psalm in the Hebrew Bible or LXX, it is safer to look it up rather than rely on one’s memory from the KJV. However, as a rule of thumb, if there is no title, the verse numbering will be the same in the Hebrew and LXX; but the Psalm number in the LXX will be different because the LXX joins Ps 9 and 10 together, and splits Ps 147 in two! Even if the title is short, the Hebrew and LXX may or may not have an additional verse number. This shows how confusing it is, and it is safer simply to consult the relevant version.

17 Jun 2017: this variable numbering of the verses in the book of Psalms makes it difficult to be dogmatic about the middle verse of the Bible.

The People’s Bible

The People’s Bible was an initiative to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the publishing of the King James Version of the Bible by re-writing it nationally using the technology of digital pens and ipads.
The project journeyed through most of Britain to give the public the opportunity to write two verses of the Bible each, which are now available for anyone to read on the internet.
It was in Inverness on 5/8/2011. Sequential verses were allocated to people as they arrived, in order to cover the whole Bible. Elizabeth’s verses were 1Sam 25:2829 – Abigail’s words to David about his fighting the battles of the Lord – and my verses were 2Sam 8:23, about David’s victories over the enemies of Israel.
The Scottish Bible Society returned to Inverness today to present the results to those who took part in it. 54% of the all the verses of the King James Version were written in Scotland. Inverness wrote 386 verses.

Thee and Thou – You and Yous

If you want an accurate translation of the Bible, you need a version which distinguishes the singular of ‘you’ by the use of thee/thou.

Almost all languages have this distinction between the singular and plural, but English has lost it in common speech.  Indeed, a new plural ‘yous’ is beginning to emerge in slang culture among the young, and perhaps this will develop so that English may recover this essential distinction between the singular and plural.

In the meanwhile, the King James Version is one of the few Bible versions in current use which shows the reader the difference between the singular and plural.

A godly person wants to quote Scripture in prayer, not least because we wish to bring God’s promises before Him and to plead: “Do as Thou hast said” 2Sam 7:25.  If he wants to use an accurate version, this means using Thee and Thou in prayer to God.  Some people object to  these archaic forms, but they are happy enough to use them in their hymns.

An example

One example of the value of noticing the singular and plural is in the Saviour’s warning to Peter about his impending denial.  There are many lessons drawn from Peter’s denial of his Saviour, but one that is frequently overlooked is the primary one in the passage.

“The Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you (plural), that he may sift you (plural) as wheat: but I have prayed for thee (singular), that thy (singular) faith fail not: and when thou (singular) art converted, strengthen thy (singular) brethren.”  Lk 22:31-32.

Many preachers major on Peter’s failure, while they fail themselves to notice the Saviour’s primary teaching.  Satan desires to have all the disciples.   How many sermons on this passage open up this thought?  Usually only Peter’s denial is mentioned, but “they all forsook Him and fled” Mk 14:50.  So Jesus prayed for Peter that Peter, when he is converted and restored, will strengthen the other disciples.

Both Satan and Jesus knew that Peter was the spokesman, and if Satan could get his faith to fail, it would affect them all.

Peter was in Satan’s sieve like the others, but in his case it would equip him for helping the other disciples.  The Lord planned to use Peter to strengthen the others.  So all the disciples had to hear the Saviour’s words, and not simply Peter.  Nowadays, many Christians would not listen to such a ‘failed’ preacher, thinking that he is the last person to tell others what to do.  So they should listen again to what the Saviour said to Peter.

Two significant deaths

There have been two significant deaths in the past three months – Christopher Hitchens and Steve Jobs.

I feel sorry for Christopher Hitchens, an intelligent atheist, who died yesterday.  He had a powerful intellect, like Richard Dawkins, but this is nothing if one is spiritually blind.  The smallest child can see the sun which a congenitally blind person cannot see.  No amount of reasoning can convince a congenitally blind person that there is a sun in the sky and a Universe to see.  They can only be convinced of it by belief of testimony – the very thing that Richard Dawkins erroneously calls blind faith.

I admired Hitchens’ forthright talk, but he trusted his rationalism which is an insufficient foundation upon which to trust.  The pity is that he never met his theological match, and thus, left to himself, he failed to find God.  He never humbled himself enough to ask God to reveal Himself to him.  The intelligent find it very difficult to humble themselves before God.  Rupert Murdoch spoke of the most humble day of his life; the day, not he, was humble.

I feel sorry for Steve Jobs.  The foremost entrepreneur of our age, who was born only two days after me, he had a profound influence upon our generation.  In one sense, he gained the whole world, but as the Lord Jesus Christ said: “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mk 8:36-37.

I know that neither of these men would want my sorrow.  It is too condescending for them.  Well, I consider that attitude condescending.  It is part of the pride of intellect.  So it doesn’t change my mind.  I feel sorry for such wasted lives, such wasted intellect.  Must I change my feelings to please such secularists?  Do they want to control my feelings as well as my thinking? That is how I feel, and it is not only true humanity that feels it, but it is also true spirituality.  “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.  Turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die?” Ezk 33:11.

Jesus said: “If you do not believe that I am God’s appointed Messiah, you shall die in your sins” Jn 8:24.  No wonder Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  “He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”  Lk 19:41-42.  I feel sorrow for such people.

They are now in eternity and learning more than they ever knew here in time.

The Rage Against God: a book written by Christopher’s brother, Peter Hitchens, “describes Hitchens’s journey from the militant atheism of the far political left and bohemianism to Christianity, detailing the influences on him that led to his conversion. The book is partly intended as a response to God Is Not Great, a book written by his brother Christopher Hitchens in 2007.” Wikipedia accessed 24May2013.

 

The first hard copies of Scripture

We are familiar with electronic and hard copies of documents, the former being stored as electronic medium and the latter being the physical tangible version.

What and where is the first hard copy of Scripture?

Moses wrote the Pentateuch on manuscript and copies were made from it. In Deu 17:18 we read that the king was to have a copy of his own to read and study, copied from a copy which the Levites had. The copying process was carefully controlled by the Jews, so where could the ordinary Israelite read the Scripture? He was to teach them to his children in the domestic situation Deu 6:2,7-9. They learned the Scripture off by heart but where was the hard copy from which they could revise?

The first hard copy of Scripture was so hard that it was engraved on stone. The honour for the first hard copy goes to the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God on both sides Ex 32:15-16 of two tables of stone Ex 31:18; Deu 9:10. Moses broke these Deu 9:17 and God replaced them with another set Deu 10:4. So the Lord gave us our first hard copy, and it was really hard!

What about the rest of the Mosaic law? Evidently Moses’ manuscript was the first hard copy although he probably drew upon other records. These records were not Scripture until Moses incorporated them in the Pentateuch by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In Deu 27:2-4 the Lord gives instructions through Moses to copy out the Mosaic Law on plastered stones beside the altar in Mount Ebal. Keil and Delitzsch in their Commentary on the Old Testament think that this was probably not the whole Pentateuch, but the legislative statutes. I wonder if this ‘hard copy’ is the source of the 613 commandments the Jews say are in the Pentateuch. This public hard copy was available for the ordinary Israelite to consult when they came to worship God at the altar. I wonder if any archaeologist has ever attempted to find it.