What Has the Nile To Do With the Withywindle? Reading Isaiah Attentively
Guest post by Emily Varner of AcademicPS.com.
When my devotional Bible reading landed me in the book of Isaiah, I decided to take the opportunity to read it alongside the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Isaiah. Since the material on Isaiah now exists on its own—separated from its grouping in the hefty hardcover volume that covers multiple books—it finally seemed like the right format for helping me slow down and pay better historical attention to the text without feeling like I was preparing a research paper.
This exercise has startled me, not merely with nuggets of understanding about Isaiah, but through conviction about how lazy my Bible reading has become. Rather than dig deeper into textual elements I didn't understand, I had perfected the skill of skimming over them.
Prophetic literature in particular can start to feel like the Lord of the Rings books—especially their longer poetic portions—except that finding a foothold through prophetic literature can prove even more challenging than keying into the
next plot element of a great story. And readers miss so much in the process. I
don't regret much allowing the words of Tom Bombadil wash over me, to be
forgotten as soon as I read them. But applying this reading strategy to the
Bible is a setup for trouble.
On one hand, I will gladly promote glossing over as a preferable error to asserting mistaken assumptions about a text. But reading Scripture in this default mode for too long stunted my ability to understand Isaiah's profound message about God's ways and work long ago: God simultaneously aligned with the military conquests of pagan nations while calling God's chosen people to hope, to difference, and to submission to God's ways and will.
And though I still have questions about exegeting prophetic literature in relation to the future, failing to consult historical background resources undoubtedly brings overly ahistorical, apocalyptic, or futuristic visions of God's word rushing into the void. Be very frightened when your Bible reading suggests an interpretation with little relevance to people in much different political, economic, and cultural circumstances than your own. I knew this much, but had been avoiding the cure.
John Walton – Asking the Right Questions of Job
Wednesday Giveaway – Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller
Jesus often spoke in parables, telling stories to share his message of the Kingdom.
Unfortunately, the meaning of these stories is often lost to readers in a very different historical and cultural context.
In this week's giveaway, Jesus, The Middle Eastern Storyteller, Gary Burge uncovers the culture that gives the parables their deepest meaning.
His expert, illustrated guide shows in everyday terms how the customs, literature and values of the ancient world can help us to understand the stories of Jesus, and to follow him more faithfully.
To enter this week’s giveaway simply answer this question in this comments: If Jesus taught so often by parables, why do we so rarely teach by parables today?
*If you are reading this via Facebook, email, or RSS, please visit the blog to enter. Two winners will be determined by Random Integer…
Wednesday Giveaway – Old Testament Today
In this week’s giveaway, Old Testament Today, John Walton and Andrew Hill continue the tradition of the NIV Application Commentary series by providing a bridge from the original meaning to our contemporary context.
The books of the Old Testament are studied by their genre, and each section is supplemented by a wide array of sidebars, callouts, and full color pictures.
There is one copy of Old Testament Today available, and this giveaway will run through Thursday.
To enter simply comment below with your answer to this question:…
Wednesday Giveaway – The Essential Companion to Life in Bible Times
When we open the pages of the Bible we are stepping into a world far removed from our own. While we bring our own contextual biases to the text, the stories we read are in fact shaped by a very different experience of life. The meanings of these stories are wrapped up in ancient realities of family and government, of work and worship.
Wednesday Giveaway – NIVAC Romans
Few books of the Bible have become so central to Christian thought and practice as Romans. From Augustine, to Luther, to Barth, many of theology's most influential figures have been shaped and transformed by Paul's longest epistle.
Of course, so much emphasis on Romans has also led to some confusion. There are many questions about what it meant in its original context, and just as many about what it means for the church today.
In today's giveaway, the NIV Application Commentary on Romans, Douglas Moo attempts to address both sides of that equation, examining the historical context of Romans, its theology, and how this message matters to our contemporary context.
Moo is a something of an expert on Romans…
How Would a Fisherman Respond to Someone Yelling, “Children?” – John 21:5 (Monday with Mounce 104)
My pastor preached his last of an 80 part sermon series on John today. (Now I don’t feel so bad about preaching for 2 1/2 years on the Sermon on the Mount.) There were so many interesting things in John 21, I am not sure where to start.
John 21:5 has a couple. The ESV translates, “Jesus said to them, ‘Children, do you have any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’“ ”Children” is an awkward translation of the vocative plural of παιδίον (see the ESV, NASB, NRSV, NET, KJV).
Now, there is no way that a grown man would yell out “children” to another group of grown men, and fishermen to boot. How would you (if you are an adult) like to be called, “Hey kid”? So by translating “literally,” the words mislead. It could be argued that the translators’ job is simply to translate the words and let the readers figure out what they mean. But to call grown fishermen “children” comes into English only one way — demeaning — and hence misleads the reader. Other translations use “friends” (NIV, NJB), “fellows” (NLT), “young men” (TEV), and “men” (HCSB). Nothing really works here.
παιδίον means “a child, normally below the age of puberty” (BDAG). The entry in BDAG that includes our passage is, “as a form of familiar address on the part of a respected pers., who feels himself on terms of fatherly intimacy w. those whom he addresses” (citing 1 John 2:18 and 3:7 v.l.). The problem here is that the 1 John 2:18 passage is a pastor speaking to his church who knows him, and in our passage the disciples haven’t recognized Jesus yet. It must have been really strange to their ears.
Is the Sword the Spirit? – Eph 6:17 (Monday with Mounce 103)
– the breastplate of righteousness (τὸν θώρακα τῆς δικαιοσύνης),
– the shield of faith (τὸν θυρεὸν τῆς πίστεως),
– the helmet of salvation (τὴν περικεφαλαίον τοῦ σωτηρίου),
– and the sword of the Spirit (ρὴν μάχαιραν τοῦ πνεύματος).
The question was asked, can the last genitive be appositional, which would mean that the Sword is the Spirit, and it is the Holy Spirit that we are to take up in battle. If not, then the idea is that the sword is supplied or empowered by the Spirit.
Whenever you have a string of modifiers like, I think the default position is to see them as the same type of grammatical construction. It appears that the writer is on a kind of a roll, and is thinking in parallel structures.
So could it be the breastplate, which is our righteousness in Christ, the shield, which is faith, the helmet, which is our salvation (or, the hope of our future, full salvation), and the sword, which is the Spirit? Sure. This is a standard well-attested use of the genitive. But there are a couple problems.
Was Jesus’ Burial Cloth Folded or Rolled? – John 20:7 (Monday with Mounce 101)
Having heard the the resurrection story today at church, I reminded of the translation issues in this verse. Peter ran into the tomb and saw “the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen” (NIV 2011).
This is a change from the NIV 1984. “The burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.”
The ESV has the cloth “folded up” (also HCSB, NLT). The RSV has “rolled up” (also NRSV, NASB, NET).
There are differences of where the cloth was. Most translations have it in a separate place by itself (i.e., not with the other grave clothes, see NASB, ESV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NET, NLT). Some commentaries talk about the face cloth being separate from the other linens the same distance as the head is from the chest, but all the Greek says is χωρὶς … εἰς ἕνα τόπον “apart … in one place.”
ἐντετυλιγμένον generally means to wrap something around an object (BDAG), such as linens wrapped around dead body (Lk 23:53; Mt 27:59). But BDAG give a second meaning of “fold up of a σουδάριον. (Jn 20:7). These are the only three uses of ἐντυλίσσω in the New Testament.
This illustrates one of the challenges of translation. When a word occurs rarely, it is hard to be precise in its meaning. It is a compound word of ἐν and τυλίσσω, and the later means “to twist up, to bend.” That doesn’t help much.
Can You Put a Ring on Your Hand? (Monday with Mounce 99)
Many translations translate this as “finger” (NRSV, NIV, HCSB, NET, NLT, NJB), while some go with "hand" (ESV, RSV, NASB, KJV); after all, where else does on put a ring? (Notice the change from RSV to NRSV.)
If you look at the entry in BDAG, it gets a little interesting. It gives three basic meanings:
2. “an acting agent” in the sense of the authority or power to do something
3. “distinctive prepositional combinations”
Wait a minute? Where is “finger”? No specific entry? O, there it is, buried at the end of #1. “Whole for the part: finger Lk 15:22.” But notice something very important. There are no other references. No acknowledged use of χείρ to mean “finger.” How does BDAG know that the part is used for whole? NIDNTT doesn’t list “finger” as a possible meaning of χείρ.
To make it even stranger, there is a specific Greek word for finger: δάκλυλος. If Jesus had meant “finger,” he could have said so. But why use a metaphor that is not in evidence elsewhere in Greek literature, in a passage where a metaphor makes no sense?
Wednesday Giveaway – Zondervan Atlas of the Bible
The Biblical stories are deeply contextualized, and so understanding them thousands of years later requires us to study ancient times and places.
Today's giveaway The Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, is perfectly suited for that task. Filled with historical and cultural data, beautiful maps, and pictures of biblical artifacts, this atlas is a valuable companion as you work through the text.
To enter today's giveaway please comment below with your answer to this question: If you could spend a week anywhere in the ancient world where would it be, and why?
Wednesday Giveaway – Encounters with Jesus
“What can you do, or think, or believe to make yourself 'untouchable' to Jesus? The answer, according to Gary M. Burge, is nothing. In this insightful, well-researched book, Burge examines Jesus’ biblical encounters with everyday people and concludes, 'Nothing in our lives or situations will be an impediment to him … all are welcome'"
Sometimes we treat our academic studies of Jesus as if he was not a real person. By that I mean we study his socio-historical context, the way the Gospel’s frame his story, the theological implications of his words and deeds, but then act like his personal relationships are the territory of less weighty inquires. But how someone acts towards the flesh-and-blood people they encounter…