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Aren’t Translations All We Need?

Dr. Jon Laansma, Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis, considers the question, Aren’t translations and computers all we need to interpret the Bible?ZZZ Jon Laansma

Cut and paste the following URL to your browser:

http://exegeticallyspeaking.libsyn.com/arent-translations-all-we-need

or click here.

Tongues Speaking in the Early Church (pt. 2)

Here is part two of an article I wrote a few years ago for The Biblical Illustrator.   Make sure you read part one!

Even if the origin and practice of glossolalia in early Christianity remains obscure, Paul’s stance on the matter could hardly be clearer.  He addresses it straight on in 1 Corinthians 12-14 in response to a question raised by the congregation. .  We can read Paul’s “answer.”  The problem is: we don’t know the exact question.  What we do know is that Paul offers a corrective to the abuse and misuse of the gift of tongues in the church.

Above all, the apostle is concerned to order the worship of the community.  Because of its significance worship must be protected.  Disordered worship had led to disunity within the fellowship.  Tongues apparently is at the heart of that disorder for some tongue speakers valued their gift above all others and possessed an elitist attitude which excluded rather than included the otherwise gifted.  For Paul ecstatic experience and what appeared to be inspired speech is no guarantee of spirituality.  Indeed the pagans practice ecstasy and forms of prophecy.  The true test of inspiration is a confession, that is, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:1-3).  For the apostle this meant that Jesus is the God of Israel manifest in human flesh and now exalted to the highest rank in heaven (Phil 2:6-11).

To those who ranked tongues first as the most important spiritual gift, Paul counters by mentioning it last (1 Cor 12:4-11; see also 12:28-31).  In fact it is Paul’s point to highlight the diversity of grace gifts sovereignly distributed on the church by the Holy Spirit and to downplay tongues.  It is also crucial to his argument to point out that the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each believer for the common good (1 Cor 12:7).  Although tongues is a legitimate gift which Paul himself used, it is good for the church only when it is practiced decently and when there is an interpretation.  Gordon Fee states it well when he says that for Paul there is an absolute need for intelligibility and order in worship.[5]  Otherwise the church is divided.  Intelligibility is provided when there is an interpreter (1 Cor 14:4-5).  Order is ensured when tongues speakers wait their turn (1 Cor 14:26-33).  Evidently Paul believes that their ecstatic experience and speech is under their control for he writes that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets and God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor 14:32-33).

If any gift should be sought, according to Paul, it should be the gift of prophecy.  Whereas those who speak in tongues speak to God and not to men, those who prophesy speak  to men words of edification, exhortation and consolation (1 Cor 14:1-3).  Whereas the one who speaks in tongues build up only the self, the one who prophesies builds up the entire congregation.  Prophecy therefore is the better gift (1 Cor 14:1, 5) because it is already intelligible to any who hear it.   Though Paul did speak in tongues, he preferred five intelligible, prophetic words to ten thousand unintelligible words in a tongue (1 Cor 14:18-19).  The Corinthians should follow his example.

If prophecy is the greatest gift, love is the surpassing way.  In the midst of Paul’s discussion of spiritual endowments he places a beautiful bit of prose to signify that all the gifts must be practiced in love.  First Corinthians 13 is certainly one of the most memorable chapters in the entire Bible   Paul begins: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal” (13:1).  The rhetoric is unmistakable.  Tongues speaking is nothing but noise when carried  out without.  When it comes to the church and its worship, love for one another will make all the difference.  Paul then celebrates the qualities of love (13:4-8), concluding with the observation that “Love never ends.”  In contrast, prophecy, knowledge and tongues will end “when the perfect comes” (1 Cor 13:10).  The question arises: what is “the perfect”?  Some have concluded erroneously that “the perfect” refers to the Bible, in particular, the full revelation of the New Testament.  They say when it is complete, tongues and prophecy cease.  According to these interpreters, the New Testament was complete around the end of the first century.  Therefore, they conclude, tongues cease with the close of the apostolic age.  The problem is this; no where in Paul’s writings does he anticipate the completion of our New Testament nor would the Corinthians have been able to understand that..  Furthermore, there is no perfection for Paul in this present age.  The “perfect” quite clearly refers to the time when God’s purposes are fulfilled, namely, at the second coming of Christ.  What Paul means is rather straightforward.  The spiritual gifts, including tongues, prophecy and gifts of knowledge, are for the present time.  They edify the church until the second coming of Christ.  When he comes, what we have seen and heard and known “in part” is fully realized.  Prophecy, tongues and gifts of knowledge—to name only a few—become obsolete when we see Christ face to face.  Love, therefore, is of a higher order.  It never ceases.  It is a permanent part of the life of the church on both sides of his appearing.  For Paul the truest manifestation of the Spirit’s work was not inspired speech but love.pentecost 3


[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 111.

[2] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 598.

[3] Johnson,  113-4.

[4] E. Andrews, “Tongues, Gift of,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon), 4:671-2.

[5] Fee, 571.

Tongues Speaking in the Early Church (Pt. 1)

Here is an article I wrote a few years ago for The Biblical Illustrator.   

In 1 Corinthians 12-14 Paul provides the first record of the Christian practice of speaking in tongues, or glossolalia.  Those who study Scripture and early Christianity find the practice a bit baffling for a number of reasons.  First, the earliest, firsthand description of speaking in tongues depicts a church divided over the practice with Paul urging restraint on the part of those who do and tolerance by those who don’t.  In the final analysis to forbid tongues speaking is no better than flaunting it (1 Cor 14:39).  Second, it is not at all clear how pervasive the practice is.  pentecost_crossAlthough Paul wrote thirteen letters in the New Testament, the practice is mentioned only in 1 Corinthians.  Moreover, in the two other places where Paul catalogs spiritual gifts–Romans 12 and Ephesians 4—tongues fails to make the list.  Some have concluded the practice is so widespread it is hardly worth mentioning except when there was a problem (as at Corinth).  Others read the evidence to say there was little or no tongues speaking going on in Paul’s other churches.  Third and perhaps most puzzling, it is also not clear whether Luke’s account in Acts of the disciples speaking in tongues is of the same sort as what we find happening in Corinth.  In Acts 2 Luke recounts the coming of the Spirit on the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem during Pentecost after Jesus’ crucifixion.  When the Spirit comes, they see visions and begin speaking in tongues.  Those Jewish pilgrims who have come to Jerusalem for the festival hear the disciples praising God in their own languages (Acts 2:1-11).  Some interpreters have understood this not so much a miracle of speaking as it is a miracle of hearing for the pilgrims say: “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” (Acts 2:7-8, NASV).[1]  Despite this way of reading the text, it may well be that Luke meant to describe miraculous speech.  Therefore, let the reader understand that Galileans began speaking the native languages of Parthians, Medes, Cappadocians and many others although they had never studied or learned those languages.  The other accounts in Acts which describe speaking in tongues (Acts 10:44-48; 19:1-7) occur with the newly converted but no mention is made whether these “gifts of the Spirit” should be understood as real, human languages.  Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 12-14, on the other hand, points to the fact that tongues speaking does not involve a known, human language; rather it is Spirit-inspired speech directed toward God not other people (1 Cor 14:2).[2]  For these and other reasons, the origin and practice of tongues speaking in the early church lays shrouded in mystery.

The situation is complicated to some extent by the fact that similar practices are found in other religions.  The Old Testament records that some early Hebrew prophets experienced episodes of ecstasy and inspired speech which may border on glossolalia (1 Sam 10:5-13; 19:18-24; 2 Sam 6:13-17; 1 Kings 20:35-37) although not all are agreed on this.  Perhaps more to the point is the pagan phenomenon known as mantic prophecy.  In mantic prophecy a divine spirit so possesses a prophet (known as a mantis) that the person falls into a trance-like state and speaks messages from a god.  Evidence suggests the language used was inarticulate and had to have an interpreter to be understood by the one seeking the oracle.[3]  Similar phenomena appear in the ancient cults of the Dionysius and Cybele.[4]  The relationship of early Christian glossolalia to any parallel phenomona is not self-evident.

 

 

pentecost 3


[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 111.

[2] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 598.

[3] Johnson,  113-4.

[4] E. Andrews, “Tongues, Gift of,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon), 4:671-2.

[5] Fee, 571.

Larry Hurtado’s Blog

One of the blogs I like to follow is by Larry W. Hurtado, retired Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins from the University of Edinburgh.  He is one of the most adept readers of the New Testament text that I know.larry-hurtado1

Recently, he reviewed favorably a paper I wrote for conference at the University of Edinburgh.  Unfortunately, I was not able to be there to give the paper, but it was still discussed anyway.

Here is a brief summary and review of my paper by Professor Hurtado:

Cut and paste the following URL:

https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/capes-on-yhwh-texts-and-jesus/

or click here.

 

 

The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated

A few years ago I published a brief review of an important book for scholars of second temple Judaism. I think it is worth another look.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English.  Edited by Florentino García Martínez.  Translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson.  Second edition.  Leiden: E. J. Brill; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996, 519pp., $30.00 paper.Florentino Garcia Martinez

Florentino García Martínez is a member of the international team of scholars working on the Dead Sea Scrolls and heads the Qumran Institute at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.  He has authored numerous books and articles on subjects related to the Scrolls and serves as editorial secretary for Revue de Qumran.  As his credentials reveal,  he is uniquely qualified to pull together a volume such as this.  The first edition appeared in Spanish under the title Textos de Qumrán.  E. J. Brill published the first English edition translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson and has agreed to joint publication with William Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Others have published English translations of the scrolls, e.g., Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin, 1987); Theodor Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (Doubleday, 1976); Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (Penguin, 1992).  Though valuable, these books do not contain the number of manuscripts which this volume makes available.  As advertised, García Martínez has provided the most comprehensive one-volume English edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls on the market.

Scholars believe the eleven Qumran caves have yielded between 800 and 850 documents.  Of these 225 or so are biblical manuscripts.  Another 275 to 300 are too brief and fragmentary to warrant inclusion in a volume like this.  So García Martínez has published about 200 of the most important non-biblical manuscripts so that interested readers, without any knowledge of Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, can appreciate the riches of this vast collection of Jewish literature dating from the late Second Temple period.  He offers the reader a literal, neutral translation of the Scrolls and admits he is hesitant to reconstruct the text in lacunae except when parallel passages or formulas render the conjecture nearly certain.  Since he does insist on a such a literal translation, at points the English does not flow well and readers may be left uncertain as to the meaning of the texts.  For ease of reading some may continue to prefer Geza Vermes’ The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, but for serious study of the texts García Martínez’s labors provide the greatest fruit.

One useful feature of this book is that the editor includes multiple copies of the available documents so students may compare the tradition history of the most important documents.  For example, chapter one contains not only the cave one copy of “The Rule of the Community,” but also eleven, more fragmentary copies of it from caves four and five.  To assist students in comparing the English with the Hebrew or Aramaic texts, García Martínez adds column and line numbers to his translation.  Because he anticipates the publication of a companion volume, Introduction to the Literature from Qumran, in the near future, the editor proffers little comment on the meaning or significance of these documents in the present book

García Martínez begins the book with an “Introduction” which details the history of the manuscript discoveries and publications.  He provides a brief and sober account of the intrigue which has surrounded the Scrolls since their initial discoveries.  He covers matters relating to the excavation of Khirbet Qumran and concludes the Scrolls were copied and preserved by the sectarians who inhabited this desert settlement.  He is a proponent of the “Groningen hypothesis,” namely, that the sectarians should not be simply equated with Essenes.  He theorizes that the Qumran community originated in a split among Palestinian Essenes over matters relating to the calendar, feasts, purity laws, worship, temple practices, among other things.  Led by the Teacher of Righteousness, the community which deposited the Dead Sea Scrolls withdrew to the desert to prepare for God’s eschatological visitation.

García Martínez classifies the scrolls into nine chapters: (1) “Rules,” including the Rule of the Community and the Damascus Document; (2) “Halakhic Texts,” including 4QMMT and various purification rules; (3) “Literature with Eschatological Content,” including the War Scroll, 4QFlorilegium, 4QTestimonia and 11QMelchizedek; (4) “Exegetical Literature,” including the Temple Scroll and commentaries (pesharim) on OT books like Isaiah, Hosea, Habakkuk and Psalms; (5) “Para-biblical Literature,” including the Genesis Apocryphon, Books of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees; (6) “Poetic Texts,” including the Thanksgiving Scroll and various wisdom poems; (7) “Liturgical Texts,” including prayers, hymns, blessings and curses, and Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice; (8) “Astronomical Texts, Calendars and Horoscopes;” and (9) “The Copper Scroll.”  The book concludes with an extensive bibliographic appendix of biblical and non-biblical manuscripts from Qumran.   By-in-large the chapter divisions make good organizational sense, and readers will find them helpful.

With the release of many documents previously monopolized by the small, elite Scroll team, specialists and non-specialists have rediscovered what W. F. Albright called the greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth century.  García Martínez has labored extensively and expertly to provide what is destined to become the standard textbook of primary resources of Qumran’s non-biblical collection.  For those who teach and those who want to study the Dead Sea Scrolls in translation García Martínez deserves our gratitude.

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