Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to John Wesley (Sort of)


Here is an extensive quote of John Wesley from his comments on Revelation 4:8. The portions that I have italicized are the portions where Wesley brings out the meaning of holy as having to do with being the whole. The quote reads:

4:8 Each of them hath six wings - As had each of the seraphim in Isaiah's vision. Two covered his face, in token of humility and reverence: two his feet, perhaps in token of readiness and diligence for executing divine commissions. Round about and within they are full of eyes. Round about - To see everything which is farther off from the throne than they are themselves. And within - On the inner part of the circle which they make with one another. First, they look from the centre to the circumference, then from the circumference to the centre. And they rest not - O happy unrest! Day and night - As we speak on earth. But there is no night in heaven. And say, Holy, holy, holy - Is the Three - One God. There are two words in the original, very different from each other; both which we translate holy. The one means properly merciful; but the other, which occurs here, implies much more. This holiness is the sum of all praise, which is given to the almighty Creator, for all that he does and reveals concerning himself, till the new song brings with it new matter of glory. This word properly signifies separated, both in Hebrew and other languages. And when God is termed holy, it denotes that excellence which is altogether peculiar to himself; and the glory flowing from all his attributes conjoined, shining forth from all his works, and darkening all things besides itself, whereby he is, and eternally remains, in an incomprehensible manner separate and at a distance, not only from all that is impure, but likewise from all that is created. God is separate from all things. He is, and works from himself, out of himself, in himself, through himself, for himself. Therefore, he is the first and the last, the only one and the Eternal, living and happy, endless and unchangeable, almighty, omniscient, wise and true, just and faithful, gracious and merciful. Hence it is, that holy and holiness mean the same as God and Godhead: and as we say of a king, His Majesty; so the scripture says of God, His Holiness, Heb 12:10. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. When God is spoken of, he is often named the Holy One: and as God swears by his name, so he does also by his holiness; that is, by himself. This holiness is often styled glory: often his holiness and glory are celebrated together, Lev 10:3; Isa 6:3. For holiness is covered glory, and glory is uncovered holiness. The scripture speaks abundantly of the holiness and glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And hereby is the mystery of the Holy Trinity eminently confirmed. That is also termed holy which is consecrated to him, and for that end separated from other things: and so is that wherein we may be like God, or united to him. In the hymn resembling this, recorded by Isaiah, Isa 6:3, is added, The whole earth is full of his glory. But this is deferred in the Revelation, till the glory of the Lord (his enemies being destroyed) fills the earth.

You should note too that Wesley has reversed Bengel's understanding that holy means properly whole and only secondly separate. Wesley has reversed the order of primary and secondary. He has however, kept the meaning of "all his attributes conjoined." That is what I mean by whole.

So here again is proof of another major Reformer of the church who recognizes that holy means whole, in some shape or form. This was something I was not taught growing up and probably you were not taught as well.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to the Same Reference

The greatest genius I ever met educationally was a gentle giant intellectually. He once told me that Kenneth Pike would have been better known than Noam Chomsky in the linguistic field, if it were not for Pike's humility. I could say the same for him.

I sat under some educational giants or people who are better known by others than he was. The list includes people like Dr. John Piper, Pastor Tom Stellar and Dr. Dan Fuller. Then there is Dr. Paul Hiebert, Dr. Betty Sue Brewster and Dr. Eddie Gibbs. I also was at Bethel when they had Dr. Wayne Grudem, Dr. Scott Hafeman and Dr. Bob Stein in addition to Piper and Stellar. These are some educational giants, who I benefitted from in many ways.

Yet none of them taught me how to read the Biblical text in the way my least known mentor did. Piper got me motivated in reading classic theologians and in his method of arcing the relations in the text. Yet this man gave me the bigger picture on communication. His name is Dr. William Smalley. He outlined how communication worked in way that stirred my larger imagination and sent me in the direction of learning a great deal from Wycliffe Bible Translators and later, Dr. Dan Shaw.

What I learned that most benefitted me is a basic understanding of words and their meaning. Yet I also learned more built upon that same foundation. I learned the larger picture of what creates meaning.

He structured his class outlines somewhat around what I am about to offer. I have added to his material, yet without his work, I could not have created the outline below for how communication and meaning work.

His outline (with my additions or changes from his material) for what words signify is:

Sense and Non-sense
Continuity and Change
Bond and Barrier
Rule and Freedom
Reference and Non-reference

For Dr. Smalley, though I have changed his outline slightly, words were seen to signify these kinds of meanings to people. I think his outline offers a broad insight into the way language works and the kinds of meanings it communicates to us.

What I am concerned with today is the last in this series or outline. This is because I think it is being overlooked that the so-called conservatives are claiming to preserve the same reference for the meaning of holy as that of the Protestant reformers of the past and this is simply not accurate.

For a reference to be the same, it must be a reference to the same thing. And for the reformers like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Wesley and Spurgeon; the reference is to some version of the whole as the primary meaning of holy. It is not primarily a reference to some version of separation.

Luther refers to the "entire work of the Holy Spirit" as the "broad" and for him, primary meaning of holy. Calvin uses it in the context of addressing "whole man." Cranmer uses it in the sense of "wholesome" or "comprehensive." I read at one time that Richard Hooker's focus on being comprehensive was derived from his understanding of holy. Wesley used the phrase "entire sanctification" in reference to Thessalonians. Yet this does not tell us how he defined the word holy itself. I think everyone acquainted with Wesley knows how much he relied on Johann Bengel and Bengel summarizes the meaning of holy as the "summary of all God's attributes." Spurgeon in one of his sermons says that he told his congregation "many times that holiness is wholeness."

So how does the current reference to separation fit with the past reference of wholeness? I don't think it does, except in the sense of the secondary reference for holy in the Protestant Reformer's thinking. They did see separation as a secondary meaning at the most and it was entirely dependent upon the context. As Luther described it, the context determined when we are looking at the "narrow" meaning of holy.

Yet now reference to the whole or summary of God's attributes is gone, not only from the liberal side of the fence, but also from the conservative side of the fence. To change the wholeness reference into only an adjective for separation is not to have the same reference as the Reformers.

When I say I have put together the whole bike, that is a far cry from saying that my bike is separate from your bike. Those are two different references or things. I am sure Dr. Smalley would agree with me on this!

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to Hitting the Target

In sports, as in hunting for food, it is important to hit the target. Nearly everyone of us has heard "ready, aim, fire!" in a movie or in real life. One thing that is very important to add is "at the target." We need to know what the target is.

When God speaks to us from His word, the target is not so much the words as the reality behind those words. I like to simplify it this way. It is not me, but God that is the target in my vision of reality. I want to know that He says it, not that I say it. In reverse, He and His word hopefully are the source, in contrast to me being the source, for the views I am sharing concerning holy.

My concern is not the word holy by itself. My concern goes beyond that. It goes to what is the target of this word, that God has spoken to us. What is the thing God is trying to express to us about Himself?

When God spoke skillfully to us using words, what is it that He is aiming at? And specifically, when God used the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek words for holy, what is His target or reality? This is my paramount question. I want to know the reality, or my use of the word may point to something quite irrelevant to what God intended.

One position out there is that holy means separate. There is no question in my mind that Scripture clearly points out the ways in which God is separate from us. My question is whether the use of the word holy was meant to communicate that reality to us. I lean toward Andrew Murray's explanation that there are other words that clearly make that distinction. God's separateness is part of my vision of His reality.

The danger in the case of making a mistake about the meaning of holy is that we are talking about a thing that is a very high priority. "Holy, holy, holy" clearly points in that direction. While separation may be clearly taught in Scripture, it may not be taught as our highest priority for character. This has big implications that I cannot go into here.

My focus instead is on defining this word, so that the reality that God targetted is now the reality that we target. If I understand the vision of many churches, I do not see a focus on being whole, except in the loose sense of being healthy. This is no small matter, if God sees holy as meaning whole.

So I want to suggest focused attention in determining our target. Otherwise, we may be guilty of a lot of "ready, aim, fire!" instructions without hitting the right target. This could have disasterous conquences that are hard to fathom, because irrelevance is no small mistake when we are talking the highest priority for our character and God's attributes. May God bless your day!

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to Being More Biblical

I grew up with a saying in my family that is great in principle and yet very hard to live by. It is: "chapter and verse." What this meant in my family is that if you have an opinion on something debateable, then you had better be able to back it up with chapter and verse from the Bible. Since that time this principle has grown for me into the principle of being biblical.

I have striven to be that very thing for a lot of years and yet I find that there are still areas where I discover I am less than biblical. This could be a reason for despair. Yet the vision I have for a new church plant is: "To strive to be more biblical, while owning our errors and removing harmful compromises."

The reason I stay optimistic is that being biblical is a matter of degree and not a 100% degree. Let me illustrate. I think the degree or measure is this. What is big and what is little? When it comes to communication from God, what is big to you? Is it an oral communication you heard last Sunday? Is it a written communication in the latest popular Christian book? Or is it the written communication from a book commonly referred to as the Bible? Is that in fact what is big for you? Is it bigger than everything else?

When I say I am a biblical Christian, I don't think I am so in a 100% way, but in a way that the Bible represents the written or oral communication that is bigger than all else. For me the Bible is not exclusive in communicating helpful things to me as opposed to harmful, but it is the greatest by far in communicating those helpful things which I need.

I think this is the right measure the Bible deserves. It is not that there are not lesser lights in books written by Christian authors or others. It is that it is the greatest and not to be surpassed as an authority. Nothing is its equal. This is what is right and just.

My argument for holiness is wholeness is my attempt to be more biblical and not hold even Christian or other authors above the Bible. This is a hard saying for many people who look at being Biblical as though the biblical person can never be wrong about something as big as holiness.

I think it is rather possible to be wrong and still be right in the bigger sense. I also think that unless you hold that view, you are liable to defend what should not be defended. A pastor friend of mine recently told the story of his son getting in trouble at school. After his son told the story to his dad, he asked his dad if his dad's response meant he could never sin. His dad responded that "Mistakes happen, compromises continue."

I think it is important to correct the wrongs of the past and not fall into continuing compromise. It appears to me that some of the church fathers and reformers made an error with regard to the meaning of holy. They could not solve whether it meant whole or separate, so they settled for an intermediate position of both meanings with the context determining which one was valid. When the 19th century came to a close new data on other Ancient Near Eastern languages indicated that this was no longer valid. One possible root of meaning pointed toward separate. The other pointed toward whole. It was now clear that the previous position was now a compromise and no longer just an error that happens to all of us.

The question became whether or not the error would end or whether a compromise would continue. The problem is that there are harmful and harmless compromises. Half a loaf of bread is a harmless compromise, if the alternative is no bread. Half a baby on the other hand is a harmful compromise, if the alternative is a living baby (even in the wrong hands) as Solomon and the child's actual mother realized.

Unfortunately, the effort to end a compromise on the meaning of holiness may have resulted in having no bread at all or in cutting a baby in half in such a way that we were left with a corpse. By some deciding to end any compromise and rather settle for none, they lost wholeness. This seems to be the more conservative side. On the other hand, by some deciding to cut the baby in half and settle for something dead, they also lost wholeness. This seems to be the more liberal side. Both sides of argument over error seemed to have been a little overzealous and destroyed something that was helpful in trying to remove compromise and error.

With holiness meaning wholeness, there is still plently of support for separation. But without holiness meaning wholeness, there is very little support for wholeness. We lost something in trying to remove error. Half a loaf was better than no loaf and a living baby was better than half of a dead corpse.

I want above else to be biblical. Genesis 2:1-3 supports the idea of wholeness. Exodus 31:13-17 supports the idea of wholeness. So does even Luke 10:27 in principle, "`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, ....'" Aren't these parts that make up the whole of the self? What word in Scripture brings together the parts of the whole better than holiness?

I want to finish by saying I strive to be a biblical Christian with the Bible bigger than any other book in my influences. I get support for the wholeness idea mostly from within this book itself. Unfortunately, I cannot supply all this support in one big gulp. But is it not acceptable to admit our errors so that in the end we might be right, but even more God right about what our world needs? Our time needs wholeness, health and soundness. May God get the glory!

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Friday, August 29, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to Sound Scholarship

C. H. Spurgeon once said that “holiness is wholeness” and so did a host of other great theologians, yet that is not enough to convince many people in our day, because of the weight of scholarship saying otherwise. There is no way I can ignore scholarship, when it comes to saying that holy means whole. I must have scholarship on my side. I do, though I cannot demonstrate much of it in this one piece, but I can draw a clear distinction between unsound scholarship and sound scholarship.

I see the difference between unsound and sound in the analogy between a bike that lacks some of its basic parts and a bike that has all of its basic parts. The bike without some of the basic parts is not entirely useless, if we use it for parts, but it also is not entirely adequate by itself.

The word sound is also translated healthy in our Bible. I have said elsewhere I think that whole means healthy in the sense of its most important implications, and I also said elsewhere that wholeness is the key to being healthy above all else. So let’s examine scholarship in terms of whether it is whole or not to determine whether it is then healthy and sound or not.

But before we examine scholarship, we must also understand another major factor in why some define holy as separation. The argument that holy means separate is based on two major factors. The first is scholarship that began largely in the early 1800s to challenge the idea that holy had any dual meaning with whole being primary and separate being secondary. The second is that when Charles Spurgeon separated from the Baptist Union in the late 1800s, separateness became a major focus. If we zoom forward to our time, scholarship is why liberalism maintains the idea of holy meaning separation and the idea that there are secular and religious realms that are distinctly separate from each other. Actual separation historically is why conservatism maintains the idea of holy meaning separation, because of its importance in justifying the actions of Spurgeon and other separatists after him. While Spurgeon clearly taught that holiness is wholeness, he also clearly taught by his actions that its secondary meaning of separation was perhaps even more important. I hope you can see the irony in this, because it has aligned liberals and conservatives together on this one issue of scholarship.

The greatest irony in all of this has been the attempt by Christians to create a distinction in scholarship. It is odd to see the descendants of fundamentalists aligned with names like Gesenius, Brown, Driver, Briggs, James Strong, J. Henry Thayer, Vine, Liddell, Scott, Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Kittel and many others. You can read of Christians who to this day refuse to use these authors in their study of Scripture, because they are seen as corrupt. Yet on the word holy, they see no problem.

I think that the idea that holy means separation is what creates the entire uneasiness with using scholarship that does not originate from the Christian community. In addition, when anyone crosses that line in studying Scripture, they work hard to prove how they can avoid corruption or they try to prove that corruption is not there in some places. If separation is the most critical character trait we must possess, then corruption or impurity is a real problem when you use scholarship outside the Christian community. Mixing with others becomes a real possibility for losing one’s purity. Yet there is another option that upholds separation, yet not separation as what is most important about Christianity or religion or even the secular realm.

If being whole or wholeness is primary, there might be room for benefitting from scholarship that is not of the faith, while still maintaining the distinction of Christian and non-Christian in its proper sphere. What could benefit the Christian community and the non-Christian community is an exchange in areas they agree, without saying that they agree on the whole.

Samuel Lee, D.D. authored a Hebrew Lexicon in the late 1800s. He recognized some of the problems faced by Christians in using lexicons developed by those outside the faith. Yet he cautioned against accommodation in the face of realities, just to advance what Christians consider orthodox. He points out that: “This would be dishonest on the one hand, as the practice proscribed above is faulty, partial and unjust, on the other.” I could not agree more as Dr. Lee is beginning to define what it is to be sound or healthy or whole. He recognized an entire set of principles that must be upheld. He also concludes that valid interpretations in his view are “the most easy, natural, judicious and acceptable. “ Again, he is laying out principles in his preface of his scholarly lexicon that make up a set of things and are not singular. I think this provides our way out of the problem of struggling to discern what is sound scholarship.

If being sound is being healthy and if being healthy is primarily being whole, then Dr. Samuel Lee has provided an avenue to both benefit from other scholarship, whether it is Christian or not, and he has also provided us with a different place for separation to avoid corruption or impurity. Let me take his principles one step further.

As a Christian, my primary principle is my first moral trait to be whole. What primarily makes up that whole are the moral traits of justice, truth, love and good. These are then the foundation for how I discern sound scholarship from unsound scholarship. By analogy, it is how I separate the whole bike from the partial bike.

Notice I said separate, yet without that being the primary principle. If I function as a stereotypical fundamentalist or conservative, then I have a real problem when I use lexicons not written by Christians or better yet anything not written by God. There is that possibility of corruption and impurity lurking everywhere, but in God's inspired Bible. I live in constant fear.

On the other hand, if I need to separate things that are sound from things that are unsound and if I come out from among fellowships that are unsound, then I have less fear and more hope in this world that I might benefit from even others who are unsound. This is because part of what they do, may make up part of what is sound. That is, they may love justice and define that well, even while they are not sound or healthy and they are even opposed to what is true. I can benefit from what agrees in principle as a part, even though I cannot benefit as a whole. So I have to separate myself at that point, rather than from all the parts that come from an unsound or unhealthy source.

Remember my analogy earlier. The bike without some of the basic parts is not entirely useless, if we use it for parts, but it also is not entirely adequate by itself. I clearly can separate a complete bike from an incomplete bike, but that does not make the parts useless. Likewise, I can use parts of scholarship to make whole or sound scholarship.

I am also able to use the scholarship of the past, based on whether I think it is sound or not, not based alone on whether it is from a Christian or not. Stereotypical forms of conservatism make this mistake. I am also able to use past Christian scholarship, because I do not think soundness is defined correctly, when it requires me to give up parts of what makes me sound to be sound. I also am not biased against the past, because I think this violates the healthy principle of truth. Stereotypical forms of liberalism make this mistake when it favors the latest in scholarship.

The truth is that scholarship without wholeness will continue to struggle. I think what scholarship has amounted to is as important, as what scholarship has to say about holy’s definition. It needs to both have something worthwhile to say and it accurately must say what holy is. These are both parts of being whole.

Every day I see the productiveness of the idea of wholeness and the ineffectiveness of separation. I also see that sound scholarship, which is more than just having a degree or being part of the right contingent, favors wholeness over separation. That is because so much of scholarship today is simply repeating the unsound scholarship of stereotypical liberalism or the lack of scholarship of stereotypical fundamentalism, rather than reading the word holy in context.

Let me touch the tip of the iceberg of practicing actual sound scholarship. Holy is right there in the context of things like justice, truth, love and good. The commandment is holy, just and good according to Paul in Romans 12. Does it seem so impossible that the commandment is whole and that part of that is not just being good, but also being just? Doesn’t that also fit the context well?

Let’s examine every use of holy in terms of being healthy and sound in our scholarship. I think the definition of separation is given an unfair advantage. I think it is not truthful to not mention that separation as the meaning of holy is controversial, based on arguing from etymology. I think it is not appropriate to do no further research in this particular area of scholarship, when love requires action. And I think it is inexcusable to not test past conclusions for accuracy to determine whether they are good. Right now separation is the presumptive good guy. This is a unsound approach.

So big name scholars do not scare me, unless I can draw out some parts from their work to make scholarship that is sound. I am convinced we can do this and maintain healthy separation from unsound scholarship. And big name members of the separatists do not scare me, unless they can take seriously the need for sound scholarship in order to be biblically accurate. I am convinced that scholarship can be taken seriously and produce fantastically accurate results from the Bible. The last I heard, it is my job to be healthy in my scholarship and not just separate from the scholarship of others, in order to demonstrate my worth in challenging scholarship. I want to please God above all else. I hope you desire the same.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Monday, August 11, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to C. H. Spurgeon

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the greatest Baptist who ever lived, was one of my college favorites. He had this and other things to say about the meaning of holy:

"In a word, we must labor for holiness of character. What is holiness? Is it not wholeness of character? A balanced condition in which there is neither lack nor redundance. It is not morality, that is a cold, lifeless statue; holiness is life. You must have holiness; ...." He said this in a sermon titled "Forward!" You can access this at: You can also access other things he has said through the links I provide on the right margin of my blog.

He also had other things to say about holiness. He connects holiness with a sense of separation or being separate in other sermons. I would never deny this. This should not surprise us, since he felt such an affinity with the Puritans and their sometimes separatist cause. I don't want to misrepresent Spurgeon.

It is likely that Spurgeon followed the Protestant scholarship that preceded him that saw holiness as first wholeness and as second separation. Yet it also remains to be studied as to whether he may have forged a path connecting holiness and wholeness more strongly and more clearly than Protestants before him. He was as a Baptist very committed to knowledge and to discernment, after all is said and done. That is a core value of being a Baptist.

The thing that is very relevant for our time is how much minds forged in the twentieth century missed out on hearing Spurgeon's connection between holiness and wholeness. For all the talk of fundamentalists saying that they preserved faithfully the faith of our fathers, they clearly failed on the subject of holiness. Instead, they either in their eagerness to separate from critical scholarship fled to the meaning of separation exclusive of wholeness on their own or they bought into liberal scholarship's conclusion that holy means to be separate. I imagine more the former than the latter, though the latter later backed them up ironically.

Yet in the minds of many people, wholeness makes no sense as being connected with holiness. It instead carries with it an uneasy sense of resistance. I think it is important to understand how the brain works to understand this mental resistance.

According to some experts, the mind works in in four realms. It consists of the memory of things, the language of action, the thought of ideas and the emotions of clarity. All of this together weighs against the introduction of even reality.

First, many have no memory of hearing that holiness is wholenes, if they grew up in the twentieth century. Second, a person may never have used holiness that way in their use of language. Third, ideas of holiness would all connect with separation, but not with being whole. Finally, a person's emotions are tied up in all of this, because it seemed so clear that holy means to be separate.

Yet, if you go back to the memory in the minds of the Protestant tradition and likely other traditions too, then you must also consider that you are not dealing with just with your memory, but also with the other aspects of your mind. You don't just need to reconsider what you were taught and what you remember. You need to deal with more than that to change your mind about something.

To persuade your mind that it is right to say that holiness is wholeness, you will also have to deal with your emotions which thought previously of only the one definition of separation. Now, by nature of having two possibilities for the definition of holy rather than just one, things will not be so clear and your emotions not quite so settled.

I am warning you that if or when you consider that holiness is wholeness, then you may experience a roller coaster ride of sorts for some time period. Clarity is built on one option versus many options and emotions are built on top of those in our nervous system. The sequence proceeds from one (versus many) then to clarity and then to emotions. So be prepared for an emotional reaction or resistance.

Yet in the end, I have felt a peace of mind and emotions that I have never felt before. It is not a starting point for proving my point. But I am saying that there is peace on the other side of a sometimes fearful questioning of what your mind once considered settled. I began writing this blog to jog people's memories. Now I realize I have more to do, because I also have to deal with the emotions of the mind and nervous system as well. May God richly bless your day.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to a Possible History for Holy's Loss of Meaning

People have asked at one time or another, the question of "What happened?" to the meaning of holy, that it is so controversial to say it has to do with wholeness. I can only speculate, yet I think real history may eventually show real merit to these ideas. I think I have found a possible explanation in the problem of inaccuracy in communication. I think also that a friend has hit on the best interim solution to persuade people of the importance of being whole, since his point of communication does not suffer from this very problem, but is a great example of the reverse.

In healthy communication you need four major things: clarity, ideas, words and things. To put it another way, a person needs to strive for these qualities in communication: clearness, fidelity, naturalness and accuracy. What makes all this happen is these relationships: continuity and change, bond and barrier, rule and freedom and reference and non-reference. And finally, this means that we must use our whole selves to communicate well. We must use our: heart, soul, strength and mind.

What I think first fell apart is accuracy. I say this because in Exodus 31:13-17, God gives the Hebrews the thing called "My Sabbaths" as their reference point for the meaning of holy. My Sabbaths is a very specific reference to God's days of rest. The very first day of rest He blessed and made holy.

What I am convinced has shifted, leading up to our time in history, is the substitution of the thing called rest in contrast to the thing called work, for thing of God's day of rest. The reference point has shifted from a thing called a day (the part) to an action called rest (the whole), or maybe better stated from the thing of a day of rest together to just the thing of rest. The part of day has been separated from the whole of rest and now rest is the thing that is the reference point by itself. When this happened our minds were likely the first part of ourselves that were compromised. It is like saying the word computer, while someone in the room is looking at the computer on a desk and another is looking at the map on my wall. One says the referent is this and not that referent. Another points to something else as the referent. This all turns the mind to mush and makes it hard for people to decide.

This leads then to further compromises in healthy communication. It is likely that the next thing to fall apart is naturalness because scholarship believes that the Pharisees started to use another Hebrew word for the original Hebrew word. Evidently, the original Hebrew for holy was no longer recognized as natural for the person on the street and the Pharisees likely saw an opportunity to say we have a better Hebrew word for what is its natural meaning. To illustrate, this is like me still using the word groovy with a sixteen year old, when someone else has now substituted the word bad. The rules of language are now tough to grasp and freedom can be misused. This dissipates strength, because actions are pulled in two directions.

The next thing to fall apart in healthy communication would likely be fidelity, since now another word is linked to the meaning for holy rather than the original. The argument would now be that of people arguing over who best preserved the meaning originally intended in the Bible. One side would say that they had bonds to those traditions of the past and another would argue that they do. To illustrate, this is like me saying that is my Hot Wheel, while my brother claims it is his. The question is which one really has a bond to that of the past and what is really a barrier to that past. This tears the souls of those, who do not know who is demonstrating fidelity.

Finally, clarity would be compromised, because clearness is best preserved where there is only one option versus many options. Unfortunately, with at least two options, things became complex and no longer simple and unified. Clarity is now compromised, because of the change in meaning and a lack of continuity in meaning. This is where change becomes dangerous. It can also be helpful, if it is balanced with continuity. But in this case, the change did not preserve continuity, but destroyed it. To illustrate, if I give you only one option for an ice cream flavor, it is a lot easier for you to decide, than if I give you fifty flavors. If there has always only been one choice, it is more likely that there is a unity in choosing. This lack of unity rips the heart out of people.

I think this is a healthy summary of what went wrong. I know it is speculative, but like I said earlier, historical inquiry may later prove it to not be far off the mark. I think it is by restoring the part of accuracy, that the whole can be restored. This will take some time. I think people know this.

In the meantime, Luke 10:25-28 gives us the best chance of restoring wholeness to its right place and convincing people to then later look at how they define holiness. There is no chance of inaccuracy, because the text provides the parts of ourselves in such a way that accuracy is there. "Yourself" is made up of: "heart," "soul," "strength" and "mind." That these are equally parts of one’s self is seen in the communication marvel of parallelism. This text has been preserved down to our day in such a way that it is a communication marvel even in translation.

It possesses accuracy, it possesses naturalness, it possesses fidelity, and it possesses clarity. It is not a tough text like some others that are found inside books with the titles that include "Difficult Words." So a good friend has given me a great idea. The wholeness of ourselves is a great starting point for promoting wholeness, even if it would be weak as an ending point. We will need holy in the end to show the importance of this attribute in the character of God. I am looking forward to that day when God's character is seen rightly and so is the reference to the God's day of rest rather than to only God's rest. God bless your day.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to Linguistic Insights and Probable Etymology

The etymology of holy is controversial. Yet I want to work with one of the two possibilities without settling the controversy directly. I will show how what I wrote in the previous piece is relevant to understanding a possible connection with holy. I want to follow up now, so I do not have to repeat much of what I said there. One possible root for holy is that of another Hebrew word which has to do with the idea of shine.

I will follow the order of the components of the chart I showed the last time I wrote. The chart is:






The attribute for this possible root of shine is brilliance. White light can have the character of being bright. The character of other colors is that they are not as bright as the bringing together of all of them into a whole. This is how the idea of shine would be understood in the sense of an attribute like the idea of holy.

The quantity is the entire or full spectrum of light versus the portion of light represented by a color or less than full combination of colors from the full spectrum. White light is the full spectrum. Red light would be a portion of the entire spectrum. This is how the idea of shine would be understood in the sense of an amount.

The possessive is that the sun’s light is white light and this light possesses different colors that are related or connected to each other. These colors can also make up the different colors that are together and form a rainbow’s spectrum of colors. This is how the idea of shine would be understood in the sense of relationship.

The agency is that the white light comes from the sun and is given off by it. It can also be given off artificially. But sunlight is the most complete light in terms of its action for our health and for other living things. The agency for the other colors, besides white light, is that of the prism or in the case of a rainbow the ability of water to refract light. This is how the idea of shine would be understood in the sense of agency (or action).

The constituents of white light are the colors of a rainbow or the colors that appear with the use of a prism. The constituents or parts are called colors. They include colors like red or yellow. A combination of colors is recognized as the parts of white light. These are the visible components we can see and that we can identify by name. This is how the idea of shine would be understood in the sense of constituents or its physical components.

I say all of this to bring out some of the different ways that the idea of “to shine” plays out in its own right, and how it might tie into the idea of wholeness. It makes a very apt illustration of holy, assuming it has the meaning of wholeness. Remember, I am not trying to prove etymology here, but simply looking at the implications from one of two options. I am convinced that the root idea of shine receives some explanation for why different authors, who recognize this same root, might use different words to explain the same thing or use a different slant on the same word, when you view the word through the prism or chart above. Shine can be a good illustration for the meaning of holy as whole from these many angles. May God bless your day.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to Linguistic Insights into Parts and Wholes

I have confidence we can solve problems that have not been solved in recent history. I get a lot of this confidence from John Beekman and John Callow, both of whom I have never met. Yet I have read their books over and over, and they have had an immense impact on my confidence. Dr. William Smalley first introduced me to their book, Translating the Word of God, back in the early ‘80s. At the same time, I was taught to observe things over and over in order to gain new insights. I learned this principle from Tom Steller and he learned it from Dr. Daniel Fuller’s hermeneutics syllabus. Without this lesson, I doubt that Beekman and Callow’s books would mean as much to me. Through reading their book yet another time, I discovered some brilliant insights on the subject of parts and wholes that have inspired me in the quest to better understand holy in the context of the story of this world’s beginnings, found in the book of Genesis.

In Beekman and Callow’s book they mention that there is more than one way of speaking of parts and wholes. I am going to rely on their scholarly insight. This means I am not going to elaborate on what they wrote, but I am going to expand their treatment beyond their initial insights. I’ll leave reading their insights up to you, since it is easily found in their book under the subject of genitives.

What I got from their insights, in outline form, is that you can speak of parts and wholes under the following subcategories, which I have expanded from other parts of their insights. The categories are:






Let me define each one a little bit, as to how I am using them, before developing how these apply to Genesis 1:1-2:3. I will handle them in the order they are introduced in the Genesis 2:1-3, rather than in the idealized systematic outline form above, for ease in our treatment of the text. For example, the attribute of holy comes up last.

Attributes are things that sum up the whole of something. My favorite example is the traditional theological phrase, “the sum of all His attributes.” Each attribute is a summary or whole like the examples of righteousness and justice that apply to a whole set of things within their domain.

Quantities are where we quantify parts and wholes numerically in some way. My favorite example has to do with eating pumpkin pie. We may say he ate some of the pie, or he ate the entire pie, or he ate a portion of the pie, or that he ate a quarter of the pie. In each case it is measurable numerically, even if some measures are more imprecise.

Possessives are concerned with a connection between a person or something and another person or another thing. There is a relationship. We might say that is Joe’s sword. We might also say it is Sally’s TV. We might say in theology that love is one of God’s attributes and does not belong to someone else. It belongs to Him and so is a part of Him relationally. The focus is on God relationally.

Agencies are concerned with actions. Actions can be partly done, incomplete, or they can be wholly done, complete. My favorite example comes from the work place. Very often a boss will ask us, if we have done what he asked. What he usually is asking is whether we completed the action he requested. This is very important in discussing work and rest.

Constituents are something that is a part of a whole. My favorite example comes from the animal kingdom. A tail is part of a cat. In the physical world in general, a leg is part of a chair. They are physically seen as connected as parts of wholes. This is where children begin to learn the concepts of parts and whole at a very young age.

The place to begin is to begin where children first begin, when their teachers are their parents, with the constituents. This is very important because we use language to speak about things and to communicate that meaning to someone else. In the Genesis story, one of the major mistakes is to lose sight of what constituents or things are in focus as a reference point. We sometimes read back into a story what the referents or things we think are in focus, when they are not the focus in a story. This is because our brains are wired to seek out what is relevant in a story and we sometimes carry too much of what is explicit in our minds into what is explicit in the story.

The example of this in Genesis is that sometimes the two actions of create and of rest take priority in our minds over these days “in the beginning.” The reason for God making holy “the seventh day” is that “in it” He did the action of rest. It is not because “He rested,” but because “in it He rested.” The thing that is in focus as being blessed is the seventh day, not the action of rest. The way we know this, is that parts and wholes traditionally fall in the order of the part being first and the whole following. We, for example, will say, “This is the tail of the dog.” We know that the dog is the whole and the tail is the part. Sometimes the whole is shifted to the front, but this is still easily identified. We might say, “The dog’s tail.” In Genesis, this shift in order is similar to what we have with dog and tail.

We have that “in [the seventh day] He rested.” We can state it another way to identify the parts and the whole. We could say, “He rested in the seventh day.” God could have done the part of work or the part of finished or the part of rested, but he only part he did on the seventh day is rested. The seventh day is the whole in this context, as it naturally follows rested, when you reverse them based on the word “in” which indicates the part-whole relationship. The only shift in meaning, in reversing the order, is that the emphasis or focus is not as strong on “in it.” By moving that to the front the writer and the translator is trying to demonstrate focus.
It is also critical and in focus that the rest occurred “in [the seventh day]” from a similar angle. The relationship of time is the major referent. Genesis, as an entire book, is focused on relationships of genealogy and on relationships in time, not on actions, yet they are still part of the story.

Another time example is that often the mention of the seventh day adds the implicit information of a week to the story. The problem is that this is not the focus of the story. The focus is not that seven days make up the parts of a week. It is that the “evening and the morning” make up the parts of each “day.” There is no denying that these seven days make up the unit of a week, but there is no reason to see the focus on the quantifying of a week, when the week is not explicit in the context. The constituents that are explicit are more likely to be the ones in focus, and that would be “evening and morning” as constituents or parts of a day, rather than week and seven days as quantities or parts of a week. Another thing here is that the primary unit of time in focus is not the week, but “in the beginning” and “the seventh day” is specific, because it is related not so much to a week, but to the beginning as a quantity.

The reason this matters is that there is a danger in shifting the meaning of the story, when the focus is shifted. The danger in making the week a focus is that then the idea of separation is given inexplicit support, because the one quantity or part of the week, the seventh day, is seen as separate from other parts or quantities of the week, the six days. It is dangerous to change the focus of the section, even if the week will later be a relevant subject in Scripture. As Dr. Fuller would say, let each passage stand on its own before making any connections with something outside of it. Keep your focus on “evening and morning” being the constituents or parts of each “day,” rather than on “the seventh day” being a quantity or part of a week, when it receives no explicit mention in the context.

Next, let’s deal with quantities. Here we will handle the topic of seven days. Quantitatively, there are seven days mentioned in this section of Genesis. Each day is numbered off up to “the seventh day.” Numerically one day out of seven represents one seventh of the entire seven days in the beginning, but again without mention of the week. It is pretty clear that we can talk about these days quantitatively, like we can talk about a quarter representing one quarter of a dollar. There is also mention of “all the host of them” and to “all His work” which indicate a quantity of all versus some. Finally, we also have the action of “blessed,” which is a great word in any culture, whether it be a hunting and gathering culture or a wholistic culture. For a farmer in the agricultural age, it indicated being fruitful versus fruitless, an amount on a tree; multiply versus fail to multiply, important to a seed counter and fill versus don’t fill, important to the size of a field. These quantities are all significant. The quantity or part of ”seventh” is very important in understanding which part or quantity of the seven days God rested in.

It makes sense to deal with agency next since “blessed” is one of the actions. The completion of blessed involves not just being fruitful, but also multiplying and not just those together, but also filling versus incomplete filling. Yet even before this action in the seventh day, God “finished,” then He “ended” and then he “rested.” He did this because His action of “work” was “done.” He had “created” and He had “made.” His action was completed, as shown by all the past action references to the work of created and made. Then with all this complete, he also “rested.” He then completed the action of rested “in the seventh day.” That is when He completed His action of “rested,” somewhat like His action of “finished.” The whole of completed action was very important in the context. So the whole of completed action versus the part of incomplete action is very important when it comes to God’s rest. It shows again the significance of parts and wholes, only this time in terms of action rather than on another level of our outline earlier.

We must deal with possessives, because it is significant that the work that is done is “His work,” not the work of another. Three times in Genesis 2:1-3, it is repeated that it is “His work.” I like to turn possessives into this form, “work of Him,” or explicitly “work of God.” Work is related to God as a part or extension of who He is. Yet it is far from all the parts of who God is relationally. So God is related to work of creation as its sole or whole author.

Finally, it is important to deal with attributes, because we are told that God “made holy” [my translation] the seventh day. We also see that God created things and attributed to them that they were “good” in Genesis 1. Both of these are obvious attributes, because they are qualities that sum up the character of someone or something. That could be why “good” falls in the position of summing things up at the end of some of the days.

What is it that God attributed to “the seventh day” when He “made it holy?” Did He give the day the character of being separate from the other six days, because of rest versus work? Or did He give the day the character of being whole, for resting both evening and morning, as opposed to resting for part of the day, either evening or morning alone? Or did He do both? How can we make it clear?

I think the key to clarity, goes back to our topic of quantities earlier. I always say things are clear or simple when there is only one thing and they are unclear or complex when there is many. So here we have to figure out what is the one thing that is in focus or if there might be two things in focus which means holy is a complex word. If there were not plausible reasons for each position on it’s meaning, then it would all be simple. But unfortunately translators in the English-speaking world have not made it that simple. So let’s simplify things.

Let’s begin with a very short digression. Let’s start with a simple history for the meaning of holy in translation. For many years going back to at least the 1500s, it meant both whole and separate. Whole was primary and separate was secondary. Following this time period, beginning in the late 1800s, it meant separate. Then as a part of this same tradition of meaning in the early to mid 1900s, whole was added to separate as a modifier, so that the idea was that of wholly separate or wholly other. Separate was now primary and whole was secondary. Then, in the tail end of the mid 1900s, whole as it’s meaning became primary, sometimes without a recognition of the meaning of separate. There are a host of other meanings, but we will not cover those. So all of these meanings seem to at least have plausibility, but that muddies the water of clarity.

Let’s try to reach clarity. There are tools to produce clarity. One technique relates to the awareness that one thing is always clearer than many things to an audience. It is not a good idea to introduce to an audience more than one central idea at a time. One meaning is clear. Without options, it is said, “The choices are clear.” Multiple meanings are confusing. With many options, it is said, “The choices are not clear.” It could be even overwhelming. That is why some avoid holy as a word. They choose something simpler like love that we know is an action. So let’s narrow the options.

A central idea is usually obvious from what gets repeated over and over or from what comes first. In this case, the relationship of time, is a central theme. Genesis begins with “in the beginning.” You could say it this way, “God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning.” As I have said before, the part normally comes before the whole, and also that a shift is made for emphasis on the whole. That is what we have in this case. “In the beginning” is the whole that forms the context. God created the heavens and earth is the major part in this beginning. God is greater in terms of reality than time, yet time and relationships can momentarily be in focus, because the purpose is not a systematic treatment of a subject, but a focus on the story and relationships.

Because relationships and time are central, I believe that the constituents of time are the primary referents that must be noticed in reference to the day, rather than the events. If I was reading from Exodus, then the events would be the focus, but it is not so, if I am reading in Genesis. “In the beginning” is relationally important. So is, “So the evening and the morning were the nth day,” which is repeated many times. And so finally is, “the seventh day.” An attribute, by its nature, tries to sum up the quality or character of a person or thing. I think what easily sums up the seventh day is bring together the whole of the constituent parts of “evening and morning.” They are even related together by the word “and.”

A further extension of quantity related to clarity is that it is helpful to avoid change and keep continuity, because one theme enhances clarity and many themes diminishes it. Let me illustrate, using as an everyday example. On the day of my birthday each year, I am seen as continuing to be the same person and yet at the same time I am identified as having changed, because I am now a year older. Quantitatively, I am no more or less than I have been, and yet at the same time in terms of years I have quantitatively changed. To distinguish the seventh day from the other six together, in any unique way, requires a shift in focus from the quantity of the day and from days themselves. By staying with things related to a relational focus, rather than shifting to events like work and rest, the author keeps things clear. If there is a shift suddenly to a focus on events, then this change can introduce an element of confusion, resulting in a lack of clarity. The exception to this would be to explicitly point out or signal this change and I do not see this in the text.

I also consider it a major change to think that to sum up the seventh day is to say that it is separate from the other six days. Attributes like love sum up other things. That is why love is greater than either faith or hope is, because it sums up actions together, including both of them besides others. Being true also sums up things, including things like humility. Truth is not a kind of humility, but humility is a kind of truth. Holy is generally recognized as an attribute, and I am not sure what there is about this day to sum up the seventh day as separate from the other six except by appealing to action as primary. There is no way to make it truly separate except to appeal, not to the continuing referent of the seventh day, as a theme, but instead to a changed referent of rest, as a new theme. To me, this introduces confusion. Why not stick with the theme of time, as in the seventh day and see it as summed up by holy? It could then mean making whole the relational parts of evening and morning. To express it relationally or possessively, we would call it the evening and the morning of the seventh day. This is what it would mean for the day to be whole relationally and in reference to time rather than in reference to events.

So reading Beekman and Callow over and over has paid off in realizing that there are multiple ways of expressing wholes and parts. Through reading their book just one more time, I have been able to better understand holy in the context of the story of this world’s beginnings in the book of Genesis. I see Genesis as treating days relationally, like it treats genealogy relationally. It does not treat primarily events and agency. That shift is what has caused confusion. Maybe it is because sometimes we try to think systematically, outside of the times it applies. We think that if someone like God or something like an event is greater, then it must always be the theme in a context, and this misleads us. But if for a moment, we can consider time as a focus, I think we can see that God wanted to make the day relationally whole, so that the event of rest did not happen on just part of the day, but the whole of the day. He wanted to make sure we kept tied together the relationship of “evening and morning” in “the seventh day.” May God bless you and make you whole relationally.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Monday, June 30, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to a Meaningful Translation June 30, 2008

I recently heard a person, whom I consider a friend, slam the New King James Version (NKJV), while I was in attendance. They also praised the New International Version (NIV). They apparently were unaware how much I, and the general public, like the NKJV translation. Not too terribly long ago, I know that the New International Version and the New King James Version were about equal in popularity. So how are we going to settle this disagreement among friends? More importantly, how are we going to settle the disagreement among friends about the meaning of holy?

I think these two issues are closely related, so I am going to treat them together. I think the principles of a meaningful Bible translation in general apply to the principles of a meaningful translation in particular for a single word like holy. So let's try this idea out.

I have to confess that I got distracted not long ago, and was drawn to a quote in an article about art, that came from Jonathan Edwards. He was quoted as seeing beauty in “the clarity of things.” Edwards seems to have thought, in the larger context of his comments, that things themselves bring clarity in God’s and our communication with one another. This idea got me thinking about the whole question of meaningful communication. So please allow me to quickly digress into my upbringing and learning about communication before applying it to both the translation of the Bible and the translation of holy.

I was brought up in the classical understanding of language under Dr. John Piper and Tom Stellar, before Dr. Piper left Bethel College and became Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This understanding of language was mainly taught in my Greek classes and in my classes focused on a book of the Bible. In addition to this understanding of language was a deeply felt inductive approach to the study of the Biblical text that really got students like myself excited. It was that deep feeling of excitement and humility before the text that was the primary benefit of sitting under Dr. Piper and Tom Stellar. They were both students of Dr. Dan Fuller, who taught at Fuller Theological Seminary, who fanned this flame of excitement about the Biblical text even hotter. I later sat under him directly and benefited immensely.

What did not make my flame even hotter was the classical understanding of language. Certain parts of it are nearly incomprehensible and unbeneficial. Unless you are a scholar, you will reach a ceiling in your understanding that you cannot get past. What got me past this ceiling was sitting under the teaching of Dr. William Smalley, Lois (Malcolm) Smith and Dr. Don Larsen at Bethel College. Dr. Smalley was my primary influence. Dr. Smalley’s two primary sources for his understanding of language were Kenneth Pike and Michael Halliday. Through Dr. Smalley, I was introduced to the writings of both Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Later, Dr. Dan Shaw, at Fuller Theological Seminary, gave me the practical know how to use the tools of both organizations much more effectively. This entire approach effectively enlarged my basic understanding of the universals of language. The failure of the classical school was in its basic universals of language that created a ceiling that I originally could not get past. I am referring here to the dreaded eight parts of speech.

For many years, I also was stuck at a ceiling in understanding as to what makes a healthy or sound translation of the Bible. Part of the problem was the argument over form and meaning. On the one hand, there was a more literal (form) approach, as reflected in John Piper’s preference for the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New American Standard (NASB). On the other hand, there was a more dynamic (meaning) approach, as reflected in Dr. William Smalley’s preference for the Phillips translation and the Today’s English Version (TEV), sometimes referred to as the Good News Bible. Dr. Smalley was sometimes critical of the TEV, but he still preferred it to the NASB. I am convinced now that the argument over form and meaning is a little bit misguided, because of a recent breakthrough in my understanding.

Let’s go back now to the article in which Edwards was quoted. He saw three things in communication that stand in connection with each other. This view is not entirely unique. The three things are: things, words and ideas. What is unique is that he regarded things as superior in clarity to the other two. What led to my breakthrough, is that I decided to continue Edwards’ three things, I also decided to change his assumption that things are greater in clarity and instead I made clarity a separate part of communication alongside Edwards’ other three. So this is how I first came up with: clarity, ideas, words and things.

I then decided to bring in the aid of John Beekman and John Callow, who I first learned about through Dr. Smalley. I also decided to bring in the aid of Katharine Barnwell, who I learned about through Dr. Dan Shaw. From them, I had previously summarized the principles of what makes a good, or said better yet, a healthy or sound translation. For them, it came down to a preference for meaning over form, because a translation must be meaningful, and it came down to the qualities of: accuracy, clarity and naturalness. I decided to continue and bolster their preference for meaning over form and I decided to change the need for only 3 qualities and instead add the quality of fidelity, as something separate from accuracy. So this is how I came up with the quality of a meaningful translation overall. This is the only reason it should be preferred over form. It is the whole point in translation or communication. In reverse, translation cannot be meaningful without form. As I perceive it, form is essentially an expression of the quality of naturalness. Form then is a major part of the whole. So the qualities for being meaningful expand to be: clarity, fidelity, naturalness and accuracy.

There are some clear parallels, but what really clinched the deal was the reading of Dr. Smalley’s material that organizes language around: continuity and change, bond and barrier, rule and freedom, and sense and nonsense. I decided to bolster his view by adding his own views on reference and non-reference, based on the need for accuracy and I decided to also bolster his view of sense and nonsense by making it equivalent to the need for a translation to be meaningful. So I came up with sense and nonsense being the whole of translation’s purpose. Then I came up with the parts being: continuity and change, bond and barrier, rule and freedom and reference and non-reference.

So, in the end, I was left with these parallels:

clarity ideas words things
(Jonathan Edwards)

clarity fidelity naturalness accuracy
(John Beekman, John Callow, Katharine Barnwell)

Sense & Nonsense
Continuity & Change Bond & Barrier Rule & Freedom Reference & Non-Reference
(William Smalley)

Each of these parallels helps clarify the meaning of the others and helps to make each of them more meaningful. You could say it this way, combing the first two sets of understanding, we need meaningful communication, clear clarity, trustworthy ideas, natural words (or forms) and accurate things. What underlies these is that to have meaningful communication, it must have sense; to have clear clarity, it must have continuity; to have trustworthy ideas, it must have bonds; to have natural words, it must have rules; and to have accurate things, it must have reference. Obviously, when I listen to a House Wren sing, some of these elements are missing, so to that extent their communication is nonsense to me, while it make total sense to another House Wren.

So a meaningful translation must be clear, it must be trustworthy, it must be natural, and it must be accurate. The problem in the past has been that when people argued meaning against form, they were unaware that they were arguing for the whole against one of its essential parts. A part is less than a whole, yet it is not optional or unessential. If people understood form as a discussion of what is natural and what are the rules, then I think the discussions would have been more productive. There is a lot of evidence for this in one of Kenneth Pike’s books. What has happened in discussions is that form did not have a chance against meaning, yet it was by nature and everyday example an unfair battle of the whole versus just one part. Also many times translations then tended to downplay form against meaning, as though it was optional rather than essential. This, of course, caused many people to practically feel uneasy. And sometimes this uneasiness happened for good reason. So part of the problem was that people did not see that they were preserving form in naturalness and in words. Rather even worse, they were often fearful of losing accuracy, because they joined accuracy to form rather than referent. This led to even greater fears and stronger disagreements. So the other part of the problem is that rather than coming down the escalator of fear and anger, people instead went up the escalator of fear and anger.

We’ve had similar problems with the meaning of holy. If you look at the word holy, you must ask yourself if it is meaningful language. I would argue that in many ways it is no longer meaningful by itself or in context. It seems to always require substituting another word to explain it. That is not to say it was not very meaningful at one time. We need to be very meaningful, when we talk about the most important character trait that God and we are supposed to possess. The word holy is very important, so it needs to be very meaningful.

Let’s examine it in regard to making it a word that is meaningful, because it is: clear, trustworthy, natural and accurate. I will deal with each of these separately, because each part is essential to making holy meaningful again.

First, let’s look at how clear it is. Something is clear when it has a history of continuity rather than change or when we are talking about one thing versus many things. When you look at me you see both continuity and change. I have been who I am since I was born, so people see continuity, even while they see a change in my age every year. They see me as one person with many years. One person is clear every time I meet a sibling, even if how many years may be unclear. Holy through time has been one, even with its predecessors that were spelled slightly differently, but its definition has changed over time. If you asked the earliest English translators, they would have said it had a primary sense of wholeness and a secondary sense of separation in the context of the church and translations of the Bible. In the English language itself, it likely had only a sense of wholeness, as many etymology people argue. So its translation usage was likely the first change to this word’s meaning, because the idea of separation was added. The second change came at the end of the 1800s, when scholarship said you must cut the loaf of bread in half and choose between wholeness and separation. Scholars largely choose to keep the definition of separation and drop the meaning of wholeness. Then still later it modified this position by bringing back wholeness to describe the degree of separation. Still more recently, wholeness alone has been promoted as it’s meaning. These changes have made holy less than clear to people because there hasn’t been just one definition for holy, but at least four. So this has clearly muddied the waters.

Second, let’s look at how trustworthy it is. For many years it bonded together the definitions of whole and separate. Now that bond has pretty much been broken and there is a barrier between the two meanings, because of scholarship beginning in the late 1800s. There is also a new bond between the two, but it is not the same as the first, since now wholeness is just descriptive of separation. My understanding is that before our times, the context determined pretty much whether wholeness or separation was emphasized in a particular biblical text. Sometimes a commentator like John Albert Bengel would sing the praises of God’s beauty, because holiness summarized the sum of all God’s attributes. Another time it was seen as thundering the message of God’s separation from sin. It bonded these two ideas together that otherwise have a barrier between them in our language. Wholeness and separation have no common bond in our language. You can also add to this that when a translator goes from the original foreign language to the latest native language, there is supposed to be a bond between the ideas in the original and the ideas in the translation. The translator is trying to find the links between the two languages and avoid the breakdowns between them. This is why I continue to look at the original language for holy and I look for possible links with either wholeness or separation. So I see a fair amount in the breakdown of bonds within our own language, when it comes to the idea of holy, even if I cannot go into depth on the translation process here. So there remains the inherent problem of bonding together two ideas like whole and separate which have a barrier between them in our language and possibly also in the original languages.

Third, let’s look at how natural it is. Holy was once a very natural word in our language, as it enjoyed ties to halig, hale, hal and healthy. Of these, only healthy is still commonly around along with holy. It is a little less natural now, because holy no longer has natural ties to healthy, but rather we are taught it is connected with separation and sanctification, which is not natural in English. I think this is one of the reasons that pastors are constantly telling people, depending on which meaning they see, to substitute either wholeness or separation. I think it would be a very practical rule to remove much of the unnaturalness of holy, sanctification, and saints and either go with words related to wholeness or go with words related to separation. For historical reasons, this list of words could be tied to these natural words and forms, but they should not be front and center in a natural translation for today. You must remember God spoke to Abraham in Abraham’s language of Hebrew, then He spoke to His Jews in Babylon in their natural language of Aramaic, and then He spoke to His Jews under Roman domination in their natural language of Greek, even while He spoke periodically in Hebrew too. It is what comes natural to us that is the rule, and to use language foreign to people, even if it is English, is not the rule of Scripture itself.

Fourth, let’s look at how accurate it is. Holy is very accurate, when I understand its historical English reference to be wholeness. In English, its central focus referred physically to a thing that is whole. For example, a healthy body was a whole body. But let’s talk about the thing of separation. Separation is the idea of physically cutting something. For example, you can take a knife and slice a belt in two. That is physically what is meant by separation. These are the two things that one or the other substitution for the word holy is referring to in English.

In the Bible, what is assumed sometimes, is that in the creation story, you are to cut in two the doing of work and the doing of rest. They are both actions, but they are different kinds of action, separate from each other. My problem is that work and rest are not what are blessed and sanctified (a Latin term brought over into English for holy) as the things referred to in the context, but the day is what is referenced and it is what is blessed and sanctified. We must be accurate. It says, “He blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.” He rested “in it,” yet the rest is not what He chose to bless or sanctify. Nor is it accurate to say that He blessed and sanctified it “because … He rested.” No, he blessed and sanctified it “because in it He rested.”

Also in the Bible, is the fact that there is also not a reference to a day being separate from the other days, because referring to a day as “the seventh day” does not separate it so much from the other six, as it refers to the fact that it is “the seventh” day “in the beginning” of days, pointing out that it is quantitatively one part of the first seven days. There is nothing in the context to point out a focus on separation, but rather a focus on a part of a whole, when it comes to the days mentioned. It has to be that the word holy itself would have to refer to separation without any added support from the context. It is important to note that you cannot refer to it simply as a day of rest where the focus is on rest. It is more accurate to refer to it as rest in the seventh day or the rest of the seventh day. In each of these the focus is on the whole of the seventh day, rather than on the part of day referring to the whole of rest that occurred on that day. The other days likewise were not just days of work, but were rather seen as the work of the first day, etc., since time was so much in focus. Remember God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. The part that He did was that he created the heavens and the earth. The whole of when He did this particular work was “in the beginning.” So the right focus in reference must be maintained.

Yet another thing related to reference is that the seventh day, like the other six, would have had an “evening and morning” that made up that day also. So it is very likely that these would be the parts of a day that would make up a whole day in the case of the seventh day. So parts and wholes are clearly in the context for the word holy to refer to as a possibility.

So a meaningful bible translation and a meaningful translation of holy share the same qualities, when it comes to making sense. I think that due to these qualities of: clarity, trustworthy, natural and accurate, I would go with whole over holy at this time in history. I would have gone with holy against words like sanctification at an earlier time in history. I would also choose to go with whole over separate at this time in history, because of the concern of accuracy in understanding that the thing that is referenced in the section is that God “rested in [the seventh day],” rather than saying that it was a day of rest, where the focus is on rest. Accuracy in reference is critical, but more important is this, that without accuracy, our words are not meaningful. We need to communicate meaningfully. May God bless your whole day.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Friday, May 30, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to Anthropology and Mary Douglas

The famous anthropologist, Mary Douglas, reached the conclusion, from examining certain biblical texts, that one of the two meanings for holy is whole. Her other definition was that of separate, but this was not based on her own work, but on the scholarly lexicons, which I doubt she felt qualified to challenge. What she was qualified to challenge, as an anthropologist, was any conclusion that came from an outsider's view of a culture as opposed to an insider's point of view of a culture. When it comes to a culture or a religion, anthropologist's try to find out the insider's view.

I find it very exciting that Douglas concluded that the insider's view, from certain biblical texts, is that holy means whole. One of the reasons this is interesting is because science and natural revelation have been speaking, even if science from sometimes strange views of wholeness, to a general need for wholeness. It sees that addressing the partial man is not enough, instead we must address the whole man.

In my undergraduate education, I had the privilege of sitting under former missionaries, who tried to apply the insights of anthropologists to their work in the field of reaching others for Christ. One of their major focuses was on arriving at the story as told by insiders versus a story told by outsiders. They even had technical terms for the difference. What other cultures wanted was to be able to tell their own version of their story from an insider's point of view. Once the missionary would grasp this story or point of view, often doors of evangelism would open up, because now the outsider was no longer seen as a threat, but as a friend.

The danger for scholars and pastors in interpreting the biblical text is imposing our ideas onto the biblical text. It may be that separate is just such an imposition on the biblical text. It may be that we are not listening to it, but to outsiders from Arabic culture, from Roman culture and from German culture. We must be careful to not impose outsider ideas on the insider point of view.

The etymology for separate is not conclusively from an insider point of view. In fact, by open admission of prominent scholars like Norman Snaith, it is controversial. The roots for separate come from Arabic. Also the history of Roman culture produced the idea of sanctification, which may not be the best interpretation of holy or may have itself changed meaning over time, due to cultural change. But last, many of the scholars, who did the work on holy in the late 1800s through early 1900s, arose out of German culture, that sometimes gloried in its separation or superiority over other cultures. Could these outsider's points of view been imposed on the interpretation of the Bible? Let us hope not! We do not want to be a threat to biblical culture or worldview, but a friend to it!

The idea of whole is the reverse of things falling or being torn apart. Please with me, let us test the idea of separation to see, if it makes or fails the test of being from an insider point of view. We owe to the science of anthropology and to the natural revelation of God's creation to test this point of view. Maybe Mary Douglas' work points us toward a very helpful insider's point of view. May God bless your day!

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Holy Means Whole: According to Blessed and Sanctified in Genesis 2:3

Two key words are joined together in the Bible, yet are so far apart in historical controversy! You could summarize many theological struggles, as between those committed to fruitfulness and those committed to faithfulness. I grew up in a family clearly committed to faithfulness and yet I also grew up exposed to athletic and educational fruitfulness.

There are people who have a critical eye for things fruitful. Likewise, there are people who have a critical eye for things faithful. The problem is that these two camps usually cannot join forces together.

Those focused on being blessed or fruitful look for what is blessed. They shy away from situations in which they know people are going to struggle. They might discourage those who are very different in age from marrying, because of the struggles they might face that would keep them from being blessed with children, as just one example. These people see with a keen eye that the marriage or another situation might not be blessed. Some people have an eye for something blessed or not.

Those focused on being holy or faithful look for what is separate. They shy away from things where faithfulness is questionable. I ought to know, I grew up with it and fed from this theological vine very strongly for one year. Faithfulness means holiness and holiness means separation, in their view. When marriage questions arise, it not a concern for fruitfulness, but for separateness and godliness that takes front stage. The questions are about the possible spouse's separation from the world or whether they are not separate from the world. Excessive beauty might be one thing that would be questioned. Some people have an eye for faithful or not.

When I talk about holy means whole, it scares some people in either camp, yet it should delight both camps. They need to be patient and realize that their concerns are addressed fundamentally. Let's look at each in biblical order.

First, comes "blessed." I do think blessed is the rule and norm, though there are obvious exceptions. I disagree with those, who conclude we are in the midst of an exceptional time in future history, rather than a time reaching for the rule. I don't think I or we can know, if our time is blessed or cursed, until it has happened. Like the end of time, the future is full of unknowns. I humbly recognize an unknown future, either blessed or cursed. So I seek things blessed by God.

Holy means whole, though not obviously fruitful, has potential for growth that makes holy is separate look like stunted growth. I believe holy means separate has run its full course and has produced a wealth of weeds, rather than a garden of healthy plants. The word blessed means fruitful, multiply and fill. I want to go along with the Bible and side with a concept that means fruit on the tree, multiplying through seeds from the fruit and the filling of entire fields with new plants. I am not satisfied, even as an athlete or coach is not satisfied, with poor productivity. Like an athlete or farmer, I am for changing our approach to holy means whole for reasons of fruitfulness.

We have not begun to see the healthy fruit, the biblical fruit, the historical fruit, the practical fruit and the theological fruit to come. Things will come together as wholes like we have not seen. We will see continuity, we have not seen. We will see bonds between groups, we have not seen. We will see rules that work, we have not seen. We will see things that make sense, we have not seen. It is going to be exciting and fruitful. I've begun to see a small tip of the iceberg or some of this already.

Second, comes "made holy" or "sanctified." This norm is the norm of all norms. The question is what it means, if we are to be faithful. For a long time, faithfulness and holiness have both meant separation from this evil world and age. I agree with separation. So I seek things faithful to God.

Holy means whole, though not obviously faithful, has potential for faithfulness that many have overlooked and in fact faithfulness that surpasses that of separation by itself. The danger with holy means whole is not that separation in the Bible goes away, but rather that it's excesses go away. Separation is a many splendid thing, but it is not equal to the glory of God summed up in all His attributes together. Traditionally and faithfully, this is the first meaning of holy historically, for many in the Protestant tradition and other traditions. But this meaning suffered verbicide equal to any crime of homicide. I want to remain faithful, not to a momentary interpretation, but to the original biblical text. I want to side with this biblical concept that provides faithfulness and separation that will blow people's socks off. This is not some worldly wholeness that I seek, it's a biblical wholeness that will glorify God's most incredible attribute, His holiness in all its full orbed array!

We have not begun to see the sound faithfulness, the biblical faithfulness, the historical faithfulness, the practical faithfulness and the theological faithfulness to come. Things will come together as wholes like we have not seen. We will see continuity, we have not seen. We will see bonds between biblical texts, we have not seen. We will see rules and practices, we have not seen. We will see theological stuff that makes sense, we have not seen. It is going to be faithful and sound. I've begun to see the tip of iceberg here as well.

I seek both fruitfulness and faithfulness. Or to put it another way, I seek "blessed" and "made whole." Do you? May God bless and make whole you and your day!

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Holy Means Whole: According to Past Connections, Not According to the Present Connections and According to Future Connections

Other people matter. Connections past, present and future matter. One of the supports for holy means whole is the connection with Christian people through time. At one time it was not so strange to hear this meaning. When I was growing up it was very strange or very unlikely you would hear this meaning. In the future, this may all change. So let me share a summary history lesson on the meaning of this word.

In the past, going back to at least the time of Luther, the meaning of the word connected two ideas. The primary meaning was that of whole. The secondary meaning was that of separate. Which of these two distinct ideas was present in a Biblical text was determined by context. I could quote many on this, but you have access to these quotes in other pieces I have written. This definition of holy lasted until the late 1800s, when there was an explosion of scholarship due to the new status of education.

In the present, going back to the late 1800s scholarship, the meaning of the word had just one meaning. It's meaning was that of separate. This was essentially because of the study of etymology and the discovery that one had to choose one of the two meanings based on which view of etymology was favored. There were some who still stood up for whole, but their scholarly opinion was in the minority. Each view, the majority or minority view held to the idea that one of the two definitions was alone the meaning of holy. Separate clearly moved to being primary and even exclusive.

The majority view did develop also the idea of wholly other, but this idea essentially was still focused primarily on separation. Whole was now just a modifier on the primary stance of separation as the definition of holy. I suppose a person could argue that this is a separate position from the stance of defining holy as only separate, yet I could go either way on that point. In any case, separate is clearly now primary and whole is at best secondary, as now only a modifier of the first.

Also in the present, there is a very small minority, who called for a change from this view altogether and who thought that in every place one sees holy, a person should substitute the idea of whole. I have found only two major people, who would have fallen into this category, in the latter part of the 1900s. I am sure there were other voices, like possibly C. S. Lewis, but this will require more research.

In the future, there will be a change, because the past and the present can't coexist without a solution to their differences. I think the future favors the idea that holy means whole. Time and good biblical study are the only things that will tell, if I am correct. But I base my view on what I already have seen in my study of the Bible. So I believe the future favors whole only, rather than a both-and solution that favored whole in the past or an either-or solution that favored separate in the present.

I think both parts of history contribute something that the other does not. The first contributes a preference for the meaning of whole that I think is biblically correct. The second contributes the need to decide between the meaning of whole and the meaning of separation. I think the future will be very instrumental in working out a solution from both contributions to biblical teaching. May God bless your day.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Holy Means Whole: According to Language Itself in the Bible and Elsewhere

Prepositions are one of the parts of speech that people love to hate. I wish instead we would hate those who taught us to hate them and the things that taught us to hate them. Prepositions are the most loving part of speech, when we learn their universal meaning.

The major reason we learned to hate them is that they are defined differently by different teachers. Another reason we learned to hate them is that it was very difficult to identify them in a sentence, unless we memorized long lists of examples. The final reason we learned to hate them is that classmates, who saw these two problems, heaped a great deal of scorn on these innocent bystanders in speech. Why not learn to love them, rather than hate them?

Let me tell you the reasons we should love them. The first is that they have only one universal meaning, not the multiple meanings we were taught in school. They express in their universal meaning the idea of a part of a whole. Let me give you one example. The sentence, "Sally drove her car to the school," could be changed to "Sally walked to the school." The part of "Sally drove her car" was changed to the part of "Sally walked." The whole of "to the school" stayed the same. There is a variety of ways to get to school that are all parts of how a person could get to school. If time allowed, I could produce a host of examples here. Instead, I would recommend going to my link shown on the side of this blog, where I will treat this more extensively. Second, with this one universal meaning, there is more meaning behind the statistic that this is the most frequently used part of speech that there is in all languages combined. I know this has been studied by linguists and I don't know anyone who would contradict their status as number one. There is also a good chance that this same pattern of frequency would be found in the Bible. In linguistics (the study of language), the reason frequency matters is because it is linked to importance. It is like comparing an elephant to a mouse. The bigger one gets, the more one gets attention at the zoo. Third, with this level importance, it may be dangerous to hate them, because you normally want to deal with the most important things first, if you know anything about time management and the principle of focus.

That brings me to the link with holy means whole. Holy is the only word in the Bible that describes God's character that receives the repetition of "Holy, holy, holy." It does this in both Isaiah and in Revelation. This never happens with love, though the Beatles tried to give it that importance in one of their popular songs. Holy receives distinction in that it gets repeated together the most times of any word.

If holy means whole, then whole would receive this distinction of importance. And if prepositions are connected with dealing with parts and wholes, then they would support this special distinction of importance for wholeness. Language itself, even taking away the word holy to support it, suports wholeness as being of major importance in our lives.

Don't you think the God of the universe would clearly communicate this importance as well? Wouldn't He chose one word to point out the importance of impact of many words combined? Does His revelation in the Bible contradict the revelation of what He created in nature in the form of language? I doubt it. That is why I now love prepositions after I must confess I used to hate them. I owe them an apology, if they were living. May God bless you and your day.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Holy Means Whole: According to the Etymology Flaws for the Meaning of Separate

Etymology is controversial by its very nature. It relies sometimes on hints of connection rather than actual historical reports of connection to establish the meanings of words. That is the case with holy. In Hebrew and in Greek, there is no historical statement that explicitly says that what scholars have determined is the etymology of the words for holy, is in fact the etymology of the words we translate as holy. Not only that, but scholars who have chosen between whole and separate, like Norman Snaith, admit their choice is controversial. He is not the first one to recognize this. Andrew Murray, a great Reformed pastor, admitted the same, when he made his choice. So what are we to do? I think we are to keep moving forward.

Sometimes to move forward, you have to move backward. That is sometimes good in the game of Monopoly and in the real game of life. So, in this case, in order to move forward, we need to move backward with regard to the idea that holy means separate, when scholars examine the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. It would be nice to just remain certain that holy means separate, but sometimes the only way to attain true certainty is to allow uncertainty to enter into the picture. Then we can attain real certainty.

The first step backward, before moving forward again, is to admit that the idea that holy means separate is controversial. This is seldom or maybe never mentioned in lexicons (technical dictionaries) for Hebrew and Greek. We have to deal with the fact that Gesenius, who became seen as an authority in his Hebrew lexicon in the late 1800s, which meant many lexicons are just copies of his views, rather than further research of his views. But Snaith and others are telling the truth, when they admit their conclusions are controversial and not without some uncertainty. This admission though does not have to undo us.

The reason that it does not need to threaten us is, because it then frees us to look at the whole process of etymology in a way that is renewing to our minds. 1 Chronicles 1:24-31 outlines what we know is a genealogy of human beings, though not the geneology of words, as is the case of etymology. What we learn is that there is a history moving from Shem (Semites/Semitic people) to Abraham (the first known Hebrew) to Isaac (Abraham's promised son) that is continuous. Yet from Abraham to Ishmael, there is a break in that continuity, as Ishmael and his mother are sent out from Abraham's household. I learned to pay attention to these kinds of details from my grandmother's analysis of family trees. I grew up hearing all about genealogies.

This is significant, not just in terms of human genealogy, but also in terms of the geneology of words. In the etymology of holy, it is as though we are following what I will call reverse history, because the movement is not from predecessor to descendant, from Hebrew to Arabic, but from Arabic to Hebrew. Or maybe more accurately, as though Hebrew and Arabic came from the same generation. But human genealogy says that history moved from Abraham, whose family tree speaks Hebrew, to Ishmael, whose family tree speaks Arabic, rather than history moving backwards to Abraham. The current view of etymology is problematic, based on what we know explicitly about history. And this history is not uncertain, but certain. What can be added is that not only is it dangerous to proceed backwards from descendant to predecessor, but it might be safer to go back further to another predecessor. We know that in Babylonian, a predessor to Hebrew, there appears to be a word that is very similar to the Hebrew word for holy, that has the meaning of shine, which is the basis for the meaning of wholeness. There is also another Hebrew word that clearly has this same meaning, that is a possible predecessor for the word we translate holy.

The other thing that explicit history tells us is that Ishmael's influence would no longer be that of an insider, but that of an outsider. If Hebrew can be known from what we know in Arabic, then we want to be sure there could not be any outsider corruption. The danger is that when Ishmael moves away, the probability of language change increases. There is now a greater possibility of outsider influence. This problem I would describe as outsider borrowing versus insider inheritance. I wish we knew the meaning of holy from Isaac's descendants rather than from Ishmael's, because language change increases with geographical distance, as a general rule. Leaving and going out geographically is significant to the process of change and the loss of continuity. This I learned when studying linguistics as an undergraduate.

Yet that is not all that I learned. I had the good fortune of studying under Dr. Don Larsen, a linguist, who was working on language continuity related to geographical location. Unfortunately, he never published his material. But I was lucky enough to analyze his material before he would consider publishing it. I recommended he publish it, but I don't think he wanted to get laughed at, like happened to Galileo and to Copernicus in the history of science. His enthusiasm for his material did not get away from him, like it might have for Galileo, but instead something was holding back his enthusiasm.

What Larsen developed was a history of core words, from the perspective of demographic data. His method is that he plotted the relative locations of languages, based on their relations on a map, rather than using the idea of oldest in terms of dating by what was called glottochronology. This is why Larsen's 5 phyla (large language families) are different from the linguist, Morris Swadesh's 5 phyla. I think Larsen feared he would be laughed to scorn like Swadesh was, even though his method was quite different. What is significant for etymology, is that Larsen's work points out that change is greater with geographical distance and less with closer proximity.

So though uncertainty may threaten to undo us, when we say that there are flaws in concluding that holiness is separation, not all hope is lost. We can begin renewing out minds by examining etymology, like we examine genealogy. And we can also realize through languages all around the world, that geography is a factor in language change. So what comes directly before in history is more certain to give us back our confidence and what stays in close proximity is more certain to give us back our confidence in what a word means. That is why I trust the etymological possibilities from Hebrew and from Babylonian, more than I do the possibilities from Arabic. It just makes better sense both in terms of time (genealogy) and place (geography). The relationships seem tighter. Our steps backward into uncertainty can make it possible to take steps forward that lead us into certainty. May God bless you and your day.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon