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