Friday, December 30, 2011

Holy: Understanding It Better Through the Classic Argument

I think I finally understand one of the classic biblical arguments for holy meaning whole.  By biblical, I mean that it tries to argue from the context of Scripture rather than from an extra-biblical source or from some form of derived etymology.  The argument may even be central for earlier scholars, who believed that holy in the original languages meant whole.  It primarily is a grammatical argument and also seems to follow a simple logical form.  It moves from the nature of personal names to the nature of the word holy as a character trait or quality.  That is its primary logic or argument. 

The argument is that a name is a comprehensive word for a person.  That is the nature of a name.  From this nature of a name, it is argued that its substitute also has that same nature.  That becomes the point of comparison in the metaphor of "holy is his name" in comparison to "Yahweh is his name". 

The key here is how "holy" can replace the name "Yahweh".  How can it be put in a parallel location to Yahweh?  With a parallel location as a substitute, what is the meaning that God's name and God's character have in common?

No other word that functions as a ethical or moral quality is substitued for the personal name like holy.  In grammar, many learned that a noun replaces a noun.  That is one reason why the parts of speech are taught.  It is because what is learned is what can substitute for another and what cannot.   So it is a kind of figure of speech to substitute an adjective or quality for a noun or name.  The question that then follows is what is the point of comparison between these two that they share in common that makes the comparison possible? 

A name like Yahweh is generally placed by grammar in the category of nouns.  The particular characteristic that is assigned to a name is that it is considered a way of expressing some quality or characteristic or descriptive in this case of a person.  To put a quality like holy in the place where we would normally would expect to find a name would highlight the comparison of quality or character. 

One of the character traits of a name is that it is a way to speak comprehensively about a person.  If someone calls me by the name "Jon", they are usually referring to all or everything about me.  They would not refer to my my leg amputated from my body as "Jon".  They would instead call it "Jon's leg" or a part of who I once was.  My name speaks to my whole person. 

This comprehensiveness appears to be the quality that the classical argument sees as the primary point of comparison between a name and the quality of holy.   In other contexts, the point of comparison may be different.  This is not the only kind of comparison that is possible, but rather what past writers have considered made the most sense based on the context. 

I am not making here an evaluative judgment on the effectiveness of this argument, but only a statement that I think this is how they arrive at holy being compared to a name at the point of wholeness or comprehensiveness.  I do, however, think that the argument has merit and deserves to be tested as one possible biblical argument for the meaning of holy.  Combined with other arguments it may be helpful in confirming the meaning of holy, provided we truly understand the nature of names. 

From everyday speech, we might say:

Kermit (the frog) is his name.
______ is his name. (points out a placement for a possible substitute)
Green is his name. (could be a point of comparison for trying to make a point of a character trait of Kermit)

The statments in Scripture that make the point of comparsion both consist of those where God's name is explicitlyYahweh and where we find a substitute where we would expect to see the name Yahweh.  So in Scriptue we read:

His name is Yahweh.
His name is _______.  (points our where the substitution happens)
His name is holy.
Holy (hallowed) be his name. (another similar statement where a quality replaces a name)

Interestingly in contrast we do not read:

His name is righteous (and just).
His name is true.
His name is loving.
His name is good.

These qualities are not put in the place where we would expect to find his name.  The point of comparison cannot be made to work with them.  Certainly God is righteous (and just), true, loving and good according to the Scriptures, so they must lack the point of comparison where holy succeeds.  Since each of these character traits are distinct from each other, the reason they may not work is that they are not comprehensive like God's name of Yahweh or like the character trait of holy which might include them all under its single heading.  Here I am evaluating the possible merit of the argument. 

So finally the point in the classical argument for the meaning of holy is that holy and God's name must share some common characteristic.  What earlier biblical scholars (like Johann/John Bengel) determined was that the common point of comparison was that of being comprehensive.  I think this argument was one of the classic supports for the idea that holy means whole.  This is pershaps why you see John Howe or Jonathan Edwards later calling holy "an attribute of attributes".  We might call it the "quality of qualities".   I leave it up to you to decide or comment on the merits of their argument and I hope you understand that the type of argument that they made has determined the way I have written this entry.  I could not use a lot of stories or narrative in the case of an argument that depends a lot on grammar and simple logic.  That is why I remained quite logical in trying to make their case:

His name (for the whole person) is Yahweh. 
His name (for the whole person) is ______.  (a substitute or parallel to fill the blank)
His name (for the whole person) is holy. 

That is how I think they saw it.  A name was the way to speak of the entire or whole person.  It was once said about a person: "The criteria for being a person ... are designed to capture those attributes which are the subject of our most humane concern with ourselves and the source of what we regard as most important and most problematical in our lives".   Notice the concern that the criteria of a person be made up of attributes or qualities.  Certainly being holy as an attribute of a pesron ranks as one of the most important concerns. 

The chief merit in the classic argument is that it is an attempt to use the context of Scripture to determine the meaning of a word from an exact parallel.  This is one basic argument in its starkest or simplest form.  Now the big question is, how do you see it?  Do you agree with their argument? 

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better Through One Word Versus Many

I don't like confusion and I would guess you don't either.  Recently, I ran across an explanation that I never heard before for why there are so many words that translate the one word in Hebrew and the corresponding one word in Greek that are usually translated as holy.  Desiderius Erasmus, of Reformation fame, understood copiousness to be a distinct advantage in rhetoric or persuasive communication.   What he meant by copiousness is saying one thing in many different ways.  This is probably the best explanation for why translators translate one word in Hebrew and its corresponding one word in Greek by so many words. 

The one root or word in Hebrew can be translated in English by saint, sacred, sanctified, sanctuary, consecrated, hallowed, hallow, Holy One or holy.  Someone could easily see a Latin influence here, but the bigger question is why those words were kept alongside the more Anglo-Saxon words.  In some recent translations, the list gets even longer with set apart or separate.  In some older translations there was also halig and wholly.  Then you can add to this the theological vocabulary of sanctification or holiness.  Then to make matters more confusing saint can be replaced by santa in more popular usage.  At Christmas time it is interesting to realize this last connection. 

For clarity's sake, I would argue that it would have been far more effective to have used one word like holy each time for the one word in Hebrew and its corresponding one word in Greek.  Clarity is there in the original that simply is lacking in many translations because one word is replaced by many words. 

The way to create clarity is to have just one word for one word, where clearly the basic context is the same.  The way to create confusion is to have more than one option, when the context does not demand a different basic meaning.  This is more likely to cause connections to be missed by the average reader.

My own favorite example of this is my missing the connection between holy and "hallowed be Your Name" in the Lord's Prayer.  "Holy be your name" would be much clearer for showing the connection between that statement and "Yahweh [His name] your God is holy." 

I used to think the variety in words for one word came from William Shakespeare and poetic influence.  Maybe some of it did, but Desiderius Erasmus now seems to me a better explantion for an influence on translators.  So while I greatly admire Erasmus for most of what he contributed to scholarship, I think his idea of copiousness for persuasive speech or writing may have been applied inappropriately and it may have created unnecessary confusion in the ordinary English reader's mind. 

So I hope, if nothing else, by understanding this tendency in translation, you will be able to realize that in the majority of cases, the many words for "holy" are really one word.  The most common one word in English translation is holy.  I'd love to see a translation that used only this one word in its different forms, like the original did and like the Greek translation of the Hebrew did in the New Testament.  I think this would eliminate some, but not all, of the confusion out there over what "holy" means, because the connections between different parts of Scripture would be clear.  This would be a small step forward. 

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Monday, October 31, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better Through Expertise

It is very important to understand my expertise in writing on the definition or meaning of holy, because it helps you to know whether you can trust what I say is true or not.  It is also important to understand both what I can contribute to the discussion, and also what I cannot contribute. 

I have to remain humble.  There are many experts in the scholarly world that I cannot compete with on their terms, because their type of expertise is better than mine in their specialty area.  Yet, I think, I still have something to contribute that is significant to the discussion. 

The way to visualize what I contribute is to imagine that most scholars on the meaning of holy contribute along a vertical axis of depth at the same time I contribute along a horizontal axis of breadth.  Our strengths can be complementary in that I can rely upon them for depth, while I am more of a generalist, who can spot parallels between the different specialists.  These parallels are where I get most of my insights on the topic of holy. 

Let me explain all of this further.  In Matthew 7:15-20 in the NIV, we read: 15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Here the non-prophet can recognize or know a "false prophet" from a true one through "bad fruit."  These instructions are not just for specialists in the field of prophesy during Jesus' day.  Everyone in his day needed to know how to recognize the true from the false.  Likewise I think the analogy of the tree can be used by everyone to discern false experts from true ones.

Let's look at ourselves through Jesus' analogy.  We are not all tree experts or good tree growers, yet we can know a good tree from a bad one by the fruit we eat from the tree.  So we are not all technical experts, but we are all friendly users of apples for food.  We all can recognize user-friendly "APPLE" technology, even if we cannot create a high tech "APPLE" gadget to speak of computer technology in the same way. 

My educational experience allows me to be somewhat of a technical expert, but I do not claim to be a technical expert on the level of some of the experts that I rely upon for their expertise in Hebrew, as one example.  I have abilities in the area of preaching, translating, teaching and transferring; but I do not have the depth that those who only preach or only teach, etc. have.  What I am able to do is to discern across these specialities certain parallels that help me discern what translators or teachers, etc. I can trust.  One of the primary areas to rely upon is that of preaching, because the primary measure here is its effect or fruit. 

I am a preacher (though not on the level of Warren, Keller and Swindoll, etc.) and so from the beginning of my work on the meaning of holy, I have been concerned about the fruit in ministry from the popular meaning of holy in the last 100 years versus the fruit from the popular meaning of holy in the prior 600 years (and the combined prior 1900 years that I am more recently investigating more thoroughly).  From the prior 600 years up to about 1900, the massive effect of the preaching of Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Wesley and Spurgeon is something to weigh against the effect or preaching by Warren, Keller, Swindoll, etc.  I first became aware of this as a young child under the preaching of Lowell Anderson.  I witnessed the fruit of his preaching as compared to other pastors.  As a college student, I was introduced to the major Protestant reformers by John S. Piper (now a preacher himself) and James E. Johnson, who helped me broaden Piper's perspective.  Warren W. Wiersbe's book Walking with the Giants took me a step further.  It was primarily through them that I was introduced to the fruit of preaching in the past.  The fruit, or what we now call effect, matters.  The effect can be something as simple as being friendly in the case of user-friendly technology.  I take exception to those who make the exception the rule in biblical history, when people do not respond to a preacher (like in the case of Jeremiah).   I am well aware of the danger of not seeing the exception, like some ear tickling preachers do not.  Luther's broad definition of holy as tied to whole or Spurgeon's were not from ear tickling types of preachers.  Nor is the prior 1300 years before the reformers from preachers of that kind.  (I will be developing this material more in the future after the enlightening teaching of Steven A. Peay).  So some of my blog entries do raise the question of whether less effective results from the now popular understanding of holy should not be part of the test for whether we have the meaning of holy correct.  These entries usually pull in the views of people like Luther, Calvin, etc. in their headings, because of the effect of their preaching with a different understanding of holy.   The effect or fruit is after all, how you tell a good tree from a bad tree. 

I am a translator in a limited sense, and by no means to be compared to the great translators or translation team members on earth.  I have not published a translation like J.B Phillips nor am I associated with a team of translators like those that worked on the NIV.  Instead, I value their expertise.  Most of my acquaintance with translation is through the materials of Wycliffe Bible Translators, but I have not served overseas on a translation team.  In the English tradition of translation, I value the views of John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, James Strong and many translation experts including those who worked on the King James Version as well as those who come much later right up to the present.  What distinguishes my views on translation comes from Nehemiah 8:8, where there are the twin qualities of clarity and meaning.  From these twin quality principles, I discern my choice of translation.  That means I am not only a meaning for meaning or a dynamic equivalence translator, because I place clarity as a principle that is equal to meaning.  That means I balance these two qualities in discerning what is a good translation.  I also think that the quality of clarity is being compromised by the multiplicity of translations as opposed to one translation.  In addition, I think the use of the word "holy" in its day was a wise choice by the older translators for its clarity and meaning.  Yet from the beginning of its use in English, if there was a problem with this choice, it was a problem of clarity.  In the English language, the one word in Hebrew and its one word Greek replacement was replaced by multiple words in English translation like holy, sanctify, hallow, consecrate and saints, etc.   This copiousness ("many ways to say the same thing"), pushed perhaps by the influence of Erasmus or maybe still later Shakespeare, made things complex rather than simple.  The word also was understood to have a dual meaning that was broadly defined as whole and narrowly defined as set apart.  Clarity is best achieved through one word as was done by the Greek for the Hebrew, when the sense of the original word is not changed.  The more options that are available, then the less is the clarity.  To illustrate, if everyone in a room of 99 people shouts yes together, then you can hear clearly what they say, if equally among them some also say no and others say maybe, then the message is less clear.  So you will see that some of my entries deal with translation principles, as they relate to holy.   I try mainly to clarify things from the complex of confusion that has developed due to differing translation conclusions.  I didn't create the lack of clarity, I only try to point it out, and I try to argue that we need to replace it with the clarity of one central meaning.  Clarity and meaning are the qualities of a good translation like an expert on trees can assign the primary qualities of a good tree. 

I am a teacher in some measure.  Usually people say I have this gift along with others.  Yet I am not a teacher, like some of those who I have had as teachers in seminary or who I had in my undergraduate years.  They are true specialists in teaching.  I think of Walter C. Kaiser, Allen P. Ross, Gary V. Smith, Daniel P. Fuller, etc. here.  They are expert teachers, who know what things are being referred to by a word in a foreign language or know how to precisely pronounce it.  They know their original languages on a higher level than I do.  Yet I do not stop with their insights, as valuable as they are and as much as I value their direct teaching of me in the classroom.  I also have sought out other experts like them, who are members of top ten research universities.  I am thinking here of Ronald S. Hendel, University of California, Berkeley; (Margaret) Mary (Tew) Douglas [now deceased], Oxford University; Saul M. Olyan, Brown University; Ralph W. Klein, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago [that I think is connected with the University of Chicago]; and Gordon J. Wenham, Trinity College, Bristol [formerly a student at Cambridge] and others.  All of these people mentioned in this list have either past or current associations with a top ten research school  I think research is very important and the very best of research is important.   So that is why in some of my entries, I bring up the expert teachers out there, who work at some of the best research facilities.  I am considering the possibility of finishing up my post-graduate studies at one of the top ten schools myself, if necessary and helpful.  If I avoid their work, then I think I am shrinking from the challenges of the best teachers.  Likewise I would never ask a fruit taster for their mastery of tree science or tree farming. I remember my dad going to the eperimental [research] farms to get his soil tested. He knew that a tree or a garden plant needed their special nutrients in the soil depending on the type of plant.

I am a missonary of sorts, but certainly not on the level of a foreign missionary with overseas experience.  Some might say I am a home missionary.  I am able to transfer things from one place and time to another.  My directional orientation is going out and is not coming in.  I enjoy moving from one culture to another.  Yet what I am doing is examining the move from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek culture into English culture.  In many ways, my steps on the meaning of holy are re-tracing the work of the earliest missionaries to the English-speaking world and asking questions about how the transfer from one culture to the next went.  Has it gone well or has it gone not so well in connecting Hebrew culture to the nations that speak English?  I was deeply influenced in this specialty by specialists like William A. Smalley, R. Daniel Shaw, Paul G. Hiebert, Tom Correll, James Hurd, Donald N. Larson, Betty Sue Brewster, Kenneth L. Pike, etc.  Through their direct influence, I read also in the areas of anthropology and worldview study.  This includes again Mary Douglas among others.  I also studied under David A. Rausch, E.William Bean, Larry R. Brandt, Avi Snyder (occasionally) and Daniel Lancaster (D. Thomas Lancaster) to better understand Jewish roots.  This latter list drew from rabbinical literature.  All of the people in my earlier list have direct experience as missionaries in foreign contexts.   They all taught me about the relationship of transferring from one place and time to another place and time.  How does one connect in a new place and time?   That was their pursuit and they taught it to others like me as they moved from practitioners to mentors.  In Nehemiah 8, this transfer referred to the transfer of regulations or culture from one place and time to another.  This is the ability to connect with others across the cultural barriers of place and time.   When it comes to Hebrew, are we allowing that place and time to speak for itself or are we bringing in outside influence, when it is the root and we are the branches grafted into the tree?  Sometimes supposed Hebrew scholarship lets a later time speak for an earlier time as in the case of some later Hebrew rabbinical writings.  Sometimes supposed scholarship also allows another culture like Arabic culture to speak for it.  I am more concerned to let Hebrew culture from the most ancient time of then and there, when it was penned, to speak for itself and then let it speak to us in the here and now.  Then it is going from then and there to all the nations including those speaking English.  So that is why some of my entries deal with cultural connections, as I am concerned that the going is coming from the that place and time to our place and time.  That is why the etmology arguments also get my attention, since some of these arguments that are only probable are treated as definite and sometimes the significance of the letters in the original word for holy are undervalued.  We have to know the truth of whether our understanding of holy is connected to the past and place assigned found in Scipture, not elsewhere.  The test here, as it is for trees, is to know the truth or falseness of claims.  Is there a connection or not between the fruit and the tree or between the text and the claims? 

So now you know more about my general expertise as compared to the special deeper expertise of others that I rely upon.  Somehow through the course that God has set for my life and sometimes despite me, I have become the kind of broad expert that I am.  The deeper experts above are not responsible for all my views, since sometimes I use one speciality to correct another through a parallel point of view whether it be from preachers, translators, teachers or missionaries.  Those parallel insights I have to take responsibility for, but the experts I learned from do get a major portion of credit that I can never take.  You cannot trust me, if I am not humble in this way.  You also can only trust my insights on holy as far as it fits with the idea that "a good tree is known by its fruit".  A good tree can be known by a fruit eater. 

What I am eventually hoping for from this blog or maybe from an eventual book, Lord willing, is an impact from the definition or meaning of holy that makes a real difference.  The impact word for Luther was righteousness and likewise holy is another quality word that may be the word that is needed to really turn things around for the church.  The same was true in the case of Calvin where his measure was that of humility as a sub-set of the quality of being true.  He focused like Luther on another quality term.  That is one of the reasons for why I think "holy" is so important.   The same goes for the other major Reformers in the last 600 years all the way to Spurgeon.  We need a new announcement like was made in their respective times.  Could the meaning of holy be that quality that makes the difference the church needs?

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Friday, September 30, 2011

Holy: Understanding its Definition better Through Using a Process

This entry in my blog steps back from directly defining holy to talk more broadly about my views on methods to define holy.  In my view the weakness of some of the writing on holiness is a lack of awareness on how important their method is to determining the outcome of their definition of holy.   

My point is to say that the process we use to determine the meaning of holy is very important.   Our methods have implications and can cause us to draw either correct or incorrect conclusions.  My other point is that biases can get in the way of accepting relevant methods for defining it. 

The process is important to the effect or outcome, whether it is the process for determining a meaning for a word or whether it is a process for shooting a basketball.  The "how" is relevant alongside the "why".  If making a basket is my motive, my reason why, then the method, my how I shoot, is relevant.  It is the same in determining the meaning of holy. 

Now using the basketball analogy, there is room for differences in the method, but not differences that are dramatic.  It  is one thing for the best shooters to have subtle stylistic differences, but it is far different to violate the four basic fundamental parts of shooting.  Whether you take Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan or LeBron James; they all share the same fundamental strengths in the art of shooting.  However, all of them do not shoot exactly the same. 

Next, it is important to understand some of the attitudes we carry to the table, when it comes to method.  I remember this from my days as a coach and I see the same thing in the arena of being a pastor.  There are certain biases against method that are even greater in the church than they are on the basketball court. 

The first bias, I will call the Holy Spirit objection.  It is very simple, we don't need a method, because we have the Holy Spirit.  To me, this response lacks balance.  I like what St. Augustine said once about prayer and about balance: "Pray as though everything depended on God, work as though everything depended on you."  I think the same applies here.  I believe wholeheartedly that everything depends on God's Holy Spirit when it comes to interpretation, yet I don't believe this excludes method.  The reason I don't think it excludes method is because in the book that records things that people like David said by the Spirit, there methods are described.  We are told actions to take. 

I cannot live by the Spirit and not do what the Spirit has spoken.  I believe in Nehemiah 8, the Spirit has given us a process: teach, translate, total, train and transfer.  I believe balance is needed which means having regard for this process that was outlined by the Holy Spirit.  By the way, the five words that begin with "T" are my simple way of remembering the HolySpirit's process.  The Spirit uses other specific words for these ideas.  See my earlier blog that deals with this process for greater detail. 

The second bias, I will call the historical objection.  It is very simple, we don't need a method, because we have freedom.  To me, this method also lacks balance.  Many people are trapped in the formerly relevant rules or freedom of a previous period of history.  Sometimes the emphasis of some of our ancestors was right on for their time, but not right on for our time.  I think our time needs balance in its process as compared to an overemphasis to correct an imbalance to only one side.   

This means I find the biases toward a process for defining a word irrelevant at times.  I have found a lack of balance between rule and freedom.  St. Augustine once wrote three books to define his process for understanding the biblical text.  He saw the need for rules.  I think we need to think through our process as well and yet allow freedom for improvements in our process.  In other words, we need to keep things in balance.  I don't think using Nehemiah 8 as a basis for a process is either  too restrictive or too free.  It can keep a balance. 

One of my teachers once said he was overemphasizing his point to correct something.  While that may have been a good teaching method at one time, I don't think it is helpful at our present time.  Now I think we have to keep a balance to make our point, because otherwise things veer off to one extreme or the other, because of our present times and context.  We now have twin dangers to avoid that maybe were not present earlier like they are now. 

So I really think we must keep a balance in our process to define words based on the need for relevance.  I think the rules of 1) teach, 2) translate, 3) total, 4) train and 5) transfer are very helpful.  These rules have a relevance to move things in a helpful direction from the prior processes, like those of Augustine, to determine meaning that are often too limited by rules or too free to be useful. 

I wish I had time to develop the full argument here, but I thought I should at least let people know that my method in defining holy is intended to be a balance Spirit & method and rule & freedom.  It takes relevance very seriously.  It recognizes the dangers on both both sides of its method, because of what is happening in our contemporary times rather than what has happened in the past. 

In my next entry, I want to again step back a little bit and talk about my expertise.  This will also be relevant to explaining the different kinds of entries you will find on this blog.  It will help you understand both what you can hope to find here and what you will not find here.  The point is that I want to contribute what expertise I have to defining holy, but also I do not want to mislead people either as to what my expertise is.  Thank you for taking a few minutes to read this entry. 

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better Through Overcoming Barriers to Understanding

For my post-graduate studies I am writing on the definition of holy, but as part of that I have to present my method for discovering the meaning of holy in the Bible.   This turns out to be more critical than might be imagined.  Like a car's suspension that effects the outcome in terms of a car's ride, so the method for defining a word can effect the outcome in terms of the definition arrived at by myself or anyone else.  So what is my method?

In discussing methods to use for my thesis, I found that the discussion got very complicated.  It was too complicated for anyone who does not have my educational background.   But it also got too complicated for those who have my level of education.  There simply was not a lot of common ground between different methods and I felt that any choice would limit who would read what I had to say, because of the divisions over the method to use.  So I needed something better.

I think I have found a better method.  I want to first state it, then where I found it and then I will demonstrate some of its usefulness with regard to defining holy in a beginning way.   The method consists of five steps (not necessarily locked into this order): 1) total, 2) translate, 3) teach, 4) train and 5) transfer.   

I found this method in Nehemiah 8.   In Nehemiah 8:1-7, I find the idea of 1) total - "all" the people and "the book" of the law of Moses."  The total of the people who could understand and the total of the book of the Law.  Neither part of the process was less than the total of it.  In Nehemiah 8:8, I find the keys to 2) translating - clarity and meaning.   Something is clear when it is one rather than many.  Many causes confusion.  Imagine many voices saying a differen word in the same room.  Now imagine everyone in unison saying one word.  A one to one correspondence in translating is clearest, if it is possible.  Moving from a dead language, like Hebrew was in Nehemiah, to a livinglanguage like Aramaic gave meaning in translation.  In Nehemiah 8:7, 8:9-12, I find 3) teaching in the idea of  "instruct" which I have understood as teaching to keep a pattern of T's going for memory's sake.  I also think it is important to understand teachers as skilled in recognizing a time of joy and a time of sorrow.  They are wise to time and place.  In Nehemiah 8:13-17, I see 4) training because the people's inability to understand is replaced by their ability to understand.  Understanding is an action, so it requires training.  We see many actions performed by the people in this section that reflect their ability to undrestand.   Finally, in Nehemiah 8:18, I see 5) transfer because they did things in accordance with regulation.  It is important with regulations to transfer the same things rather than different things.  Witness as an example the difficult case of circumcision in the New Testament in relationship to Gentiles. 

So to communicate across barriers effectively, like in this example in Nehemiah, a method needs to involve not just a few or parts of a book, but the total of both.  A method also needs to give clarity through keeping things simple or singular and through using a live language that has meaning.  A method needs through instruction to make a bad situation better like a move from weeping to joy as appropriate for the time.  A method also needs to replace inability to understand with ability through training.  Finally, it must transfer the things in accordance with regulations, not extraneous things nor with things left out. 

Let's look at this method's usefulness when dealing with defining holy.  The implications for defining holy are many, but here I would like to scratch the surface.   

First, I think it is unfortunate that many of the people involved in defining holy are left out of the discussion.  Most writers on the topic do not think it is important to address what the total of God's people think on this word.  They especially don't address the thoughts of many in church history, even though they are people who had the ability to understand.  They do not take seriously those who would disagree with them.  They also limit the contexts from which they define the word.  Actually parallel passages where the word is used and close synonyms are found in separate parts of the Law are significant.  So to limit oneself to just Deuteronomy or just the immediate context can be misleading.

Second, I think it is unfortunate that in the argument among translators and translations over form and meaning, few stopped to take seriously the balanced counsel of Nehemiah 8:8.  We need to consider not just meaningfulness, but also clarity.  Often meaning is greatly enhanced through a meaning to meaning translation, but at the expense of clarity.  I think it is possible to keep a balance.  In the case of holy, clarity has been compromised in the past by the use of many words for what is one word in Hebrew and one word to translate it from Hebrew into Greek.  It is expressed not just through holy or holiness, but also through sancification, sanctify, saint, holy one, hallow, wholly, consecrate and set apart.  It is hardly clear to the average reader that these all express the same basic word in both Hebrew or Greek.  Also holy, if it does mean set apart should be replaced, since it does not carry meaningfulness like set apart.  If on the other hand it means whole, it coud be retained because the close relationship is visible through their respective similar spellings. 

Third, I think it is important to understand that teaching is important in terms of a change of place and time.  Holy was not hard to understand in its own day.  It is a change in time and place that partly explains the possibility of misunderstanding it in our day.  These issues need to be addressed like Nehemiah and the others did, so that the opposite understanding does not occur on this word.  Should we maybe be more joyful than sorrowful when we hear this word?

Fourth, I think it is important to train people in the method of understanding.  We must replace the inability to understand with the ability.  The test of our training is the ease with which someone can perform a task before or after training.  Training does not mean that everything is equally easy.  It does mean that after training, a task should be easier rather than harder.  Nehemiah 8 should be heavily mined for its insights on understanding.  This is only a beginning in what I am writing now. 

Fifth, I think we need to be sure we are transferring the right things.  Each word refers to a referent and while our translation of words is significant, so is the issue of whether the things transferred are the same as the things in the Word of God.  Holy may be the translation, but does it refer to the transfer of wholeness into our lives or does it refer to the separateness of our lives from those who are sinners?  Which fits in accord with God's regulations?  Have we transferred the right things.  One of my professors referred to this as transculturation, something different from just translation. 

These are the tips of the iceberg in terms of implications.  Over time, I will develop each of these separately more in-depth along with showing other angles on the vital topic of what holy means.  I am convinced it must mean one of two things.  Either holy means whole or it means separate.  This method from Nehemiah 8 will help me and you sort this out.  We face barriers to understanding holy, but so did they face barriers to understanding in their time.  These barriers can be overcome through 1) total, 2) translate, 3) teach, 4) train and 5) transfer. 

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better in Terms of Wholistic Communication

I want to challenge a tendency of method in defining holy.  It is that we assume that our method in defining the word holy is entirely sound, healthy or wholesome.  Each of these descriptions, by the way, are translations for the same word in the book of Titus.  I think that before we claim to have a sound method, we need to insure that is it comprehensive or that it is wholesome. 

Wholesome or wholistic (to sometimes be distinguished from holistic) communication means looking at holy from four major angles of method: 1) logical, 2) rhetorical, 3) grammatical and 4) scientific.  One of the problems is that these issues are often not addressed, because of the atomistic tendency of some of the educational world and some of communication theory.  What I mean by atomistic is that they keep delving into smaller and smaller details of parts rather than rising to the level of looking at things in terms of the larger whole.  This is like looking at the parts of bikes without also examining a fully assembled bike and the method of using it or its usefulness and benefit as a whole. 

In other words, holy is often examined through just one of these four angles or some small part of a angle, rather than addressing it through all four angles.  Each of these has to do with the method used to determine the meaning or definition of holy.  It is not just a matter of the word holy itself, but also the method we use to determine its meaning. 

This particular piece of writing will look at the things we learn in the classrom by studying more than by the things we learn in daily life through the real world.  This is because we are looking at things called words that suit a classroom setting pretty well.  I will look at some of the starting points for our methods of defining words.  I will not in this blog attempt to give evidence or proof so much as lay out problems and potential solutions.  What I hope to accomplish is to lay out at a higher level where the problems and potential solutions for method are located.  .

Logically, there is a mathematical inconsistency between rhetoric and grammar that is not resolved.   You could say that between the basic classical foundations of learning; grammar, logic and rhetoric, there remains an inconsistency.  Rhetoric, in dealing with the larger components of language, recognizes five major parts (or four major parts with one of its aspects functioning as the whole).  Grammar on the other hand, in dealing with the smaller components of language, recognizes eight major parts plus the whole of speech with its total of nine (including speech as a whole).  Logically, five does not equal nine.  This mathematical inconsistency should be resolved.  Why five and nine or four and eight?  Why are not the larger and smaller parts of communication mathematically parallel with each other?  The solution to this inconistency could be through the universal or basic classes of meaning recognized in the literature dealing with semantics.  If we can resolve this inconsistency, it would give us a better idea of what class of meaning best fits with the usage of holy in the Bible. 

Rhetorically, persuasion is concerned with connecting with others.  The problem is that the higher critical views of history have pushed aside taking seriously rhetoric for a number of years.  Rhetoric got buried under scepticism about the honesty of persuasion.  It as though Plato's sceptical view of rhetoric prevailed once again in history.  Notice how the word rhetoric is usually used in our language today in negative sense.  So a whole new branch of learning called speech communication was developed with little connection to rhetoric.  This caused the insights of rhetoric to be ignored far too often in approaching the Biblical text.  What I am finding is that understanding the methods of honest persuasion using rhetoric helps in better understanding the contexts surrounding holy, because now ideas like parallelism in speech seen as legitimate ways to try to communicate in order to persuade.  This actually is very critical to understanding the false and true arguments from context for the meaning of holy.  Too often context is examined too broadly without any sense of whether there is a connection to the word holy through a method of parallelism or otherwise or whether a word just happens to appear next to holy in a context.  There has been too much guessing.  This can be solved through better understanding classical and Hebrew rhetoric in its own right. 

Grammatically, the problem is that too much of the material written on holiness depends solely on traditional or on structural grammar, for those who still care about rhetoric.  Then add to this the problem that people have lost interest in the topic, because of the way it is taught.  To many people it bears no relation to how they learned language before they arrive at school.   So people fail to see any relevance for it.  The traditional (not necessarily the classic) approach largely points to etymology and the structural approach largely points to usage or context.  While these are both valuable, they do not measure up to the explanatory power of transformational grammar with its recognition of rules that capture an unending activity of communicating.  The technology of transformational grammar must be fully used, even as the technology of the computer should be harnessed for good rather than evil.  So the inconsistency of not using the insights of transformational grammar and yet using other technologies like the computer for its advantages needs to be corrected.   Grammar also needs to be made relevant so more people care.  That may be the greater problem. 

Scientifically, the problem is that what I have found to be the greatest insight of linguistics (the study of language) is not being used, when it comes to understanding meaning and how definitions should be written.  Whether it be the insights of archaeology and what we have learned about 6th century B.C. grammar in India, or it be the insights on universals because we have such a larger base of languages to examine today as opposed to the classical past or it be the insights into the human brain and how it works in psychology, we need to use natural knowledge to its full explanatory capability alongside of supernatural revelation.  Both kinds of revelation should matter.  My graduate studies in the area of the philosophy of science taught me a great deal about the importance of natural revelation alongside of supernatural revelation in the Bible.  You ignore either one of these sources of revelation or knowledge or what was previously hidden at your peril.  The most important insight for me from linguistics has been the core classes of meaning which also have a lot to do with the ability of search engines to work so effectively.  Understanding language at a very fundamental level can really set the stage for what the various alternative meanings of holy really mean in terms of actual significance.  So the inconsistency of not using the latest insights from linguistics or from the philosophy of science needs to be corrected for the linguistics we are using to be considered soundly scientific.  

These four areas make up the wholesome or wholistic approach I would like to see pursued in defining holy.  It would help in making sound its definition beyond its current shaky status, regardless of which definition is arrived at through effort.   Again, all of this sketch is broad and not in detail.  This is all very preliminary to the work that still must be done and is being done.  There is a lot more that must be fleshed out for these insights to be seen as truly effective.  I hope though that at least I have gotten you thinking in the some new sound directions. 

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better Through 2 Chronicles 5:11

In 2 Chronicles 5:11, it reads in very literal translation: "And it happened as the priests were going from the sanctuary - for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves without observing divisions."   This translation demonstrates the possibility of a contrast between "sanctified" and "observing divisions."  In that case, holy's or sanctified's basic meaning would be that of whole.

You could understand it this way " ... for all the priest who were present were themselves the whole without observing any divisions [among themselves]."   This is at least plausible and the contrast with "without observing divisions" would make its meaning also contrast with being set apart or separate. 

So this verse at least demonstrates what is at stake in terms of understanding a great number of passages throughout the Bible.  By itself, the evidence is not earthshattering, but a number of passages with this same plausibility would be.  Please think about it. 

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better Through the Minority and Majority Views

Since biblical times, the meaning of holy has been understood in different ways.  An argument over its meaning may even be hinted at during the time of Jesus and in the biblical record itself.  At any time there are usually minority and majority views on a topic.  At the present time, the majority view is that holy means separate or to be set apart.  Also at the present time, the minority view is that holy means whole.  There are also other meanings out there as well, yet I consider these two meanings to be the most hopeful correct meanings.  The problem is that people treat the majority view as a consensus view.  The solution is to understand the actual status of a majority view and to understand the requirements for a minority view. 

One of the purposes of this blog is to ensure that the minority view is not overlooked because of the majority view.  My reason for this is that the might of supporters is not always right.  If that were true, then historically holy means whole might be right.  Before the 20th century, holy means whole was the primary definition for holy in Protestant circles at least.  Set apart was another meaning for holy, but oversimplifying some, it was the secondary definition. 

Yet a minority view must always understand its status and realize that it must earn the right to be the majority view.  It has to be humble.  It has to be meek.  It has to work harder in order to change its status.  It also must accept its status, if it fails to provide evidence for its position.  Being the underdog doesn't make a position right. 

So the majority cannot impose a tyranny with its status and exclude the minority view from consideration as though it enjoys a consensus status.  Likewise the minority cannot impose anarchy with its status and by force rather than ballots impose its view on others.  Each must remain diligent in proving its case to legitimately hold a majority status. 

I hope you will consider both points of view in your quest for the meaning of holy.  As I present more and more evidence, I hope you will be swayed by the evidence more than by the number of supporters.  Yet in the end, the number of supporters does matter.  Let's just hope the current majority is based on evidence and not on peer pressure.  That is my serious quest. 

In Christ,


Friday, May 06, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better Through the Options

If you want the simple answer for the meaning of holy, then it would consist in a one word answer.  One is the essence of simple.  In that case, I might say it means whole.  But that may not be a satisfactory answer for you, when you consult other sources that say it means set apart.  You are likely to want an explanation in that case.  Why isn't the meaning of holy simple like some other words?

Have you ever made adequate plans that allowed you to avoid the loss of an item?  In contrast, have you ever lost an item and tried to recover it?  I mean, for example, that you didn't leave your cell phone charger at a motel room, because you double-checked your room and took it with you before you left.  Contrast that with the time you did leave it behind, because you had to rush to catch your shuttle service and so you left the charger behind.   Double-checking for the charger and taking it with is a lot less complex than trying to recover a cell phone charger you left behind.  It also can take a lot of time to recover it when you call the motel, they search for it. they get back to you, you pay postage, they send it to you, you wait for it to arrive or you decide to go purchase a new one and it is not in stock, etc.  You get the idea. 

Unfortunately for holy, we are dealing with a recovery process.  Let me illustrate the complexity of its recovery through the example of a multiple choice test. 

If I was to give a multiple choice test on the meaning of holy, there would be a lot of options.   Over the long period of trying to find its meaning, many have claimed to find it and found different meanings or different clues to its meaning.  If I list the possible multiple choices in historical order, then there would also be a further lesson to learn. The choices are not only more than one or two. They  have also grown to many options over time.

My ultimate desire is to arrive at the one meaning intended in Ancient Hebrew, Ancient Aramaic and then later in Greek.   My purpose right now is to show that the recovery of the lost meaning of holy means that the problem is complex and that fixing the problem also takes more time because the simple meaning of holy was lost.   You could say that the many possible multiple choices proves it was once lost.  This could not have been case in the ancient text.  There is no indication of such an expansive list of meaning nor of the need for so many clues outside the text. 

The multiple choice question and its options might look like the following:

What is the ancient meaning of holy in other English words? (Please choose only the best possilble answer for the present time.)

a. whole/sum of all his attributes/complete/fully prepared
b. set apart/separate/set apart from/set apart to
c. pure/clean
d. both a and b (a is primary, b is secondary)
e. together a, b and c
f. either a or b, based on possible roots (but not both)
g. either a, b or c based on possible roots and biblical context (but not more than one of them)
h. b modified by a (ex. wholly other, wholly set apart)
i. treasured/unique/not common (sometimes tied to b)
j. fully prepared (sometimes tied to a)
k. deity (a synonym for god)
l. b and f together (possibly b only, yet boldly eliminate the other possibility)
m. a and f together (possibly a only, yet boldly eliminate the other possiblity)
n. a and f, yet possibly b (based on favored probability, yet without eliminating the other possibility)
o. b and f, yet possibly a (based on favored probability, yet without eliminating the other possibility)
p. any one of the other possible meanings not listed, but none of the above (etc.)
q. righteousness, truth, love and goodness combined as four quadrants of the whole of character

Among these options, I have chosen different answers at different times. But perhaps the best answer at this moment (not for all time) for me is: n. whole, but still possibly b. set apart.  The ultimate goal would then be to arrive at a. whole.

It is the best to me, because I think the combined evidence leans the evidence in the direction of a. whole, but it also recognizes two advances in trying to recover the meaning of holy. First, it recognizes that there was strength in the past in the answer whole and set apart, but also sees an advance in knowledge from the late 19th ct. that says it must be one of these two meanings and not both. So "yet" must take the place of "and" until there is a further advance in our recovery process. 

The recovery of possible meanings before the 19th century and then joining them together in similar fashion is no longer possible. Also q. might be true, yet it remains largely unproven until texts like Psalm 33 are more thoroughly examined.   I plan on doing this in the future. 

So when you are next searching for the definition of holy, please remember that the recovery of its possible meaning makes the multiple choice options much longer than what you will find in a standard dictionary or lexicon (a technical foreign language dictionary).  Holy's simple meaning got lost and now we have to recover it.

I guess it all boils down to two general points: (1) recovery is complex and prevention is simple and (2) recovery is longer and prevention is shorter.  We should not be shocked by the amount of complexity that has been created nor by the large expenditure of time on the meaning of holy by scholars and translators. 

Yet also recall that not all the answers are equal ("best") and sooner or later, one answer will emerge that will convince a great number of people that it is the one and only best answer.   I believe eventually we will arrive back at a simple answer like that of a. whole or b. set apart.  I look forward to that day and I keep looking for the lost item and clues to the simple (one) meaning until that day arrives.

In Christ,


Holy: Understanding it Better Through a Healthy Process

Health is taked about a lot lately. My observation as an athletic director (a part time occupation) is that most of the time the process given to attain health is not complete. So by default the promoted process cannot attain the health it claims. For example, a diet may be promoted, but there is no mention of exercise or dealing with past illnesses, etc. Likewise the discussion in this blog must be complete or it will not examine the meaning of holy in a healthy or complete way.

The major prongs of the fork aimed at looking for the meaning of holy in this blog are:

Priority -- this is concerned with the theological perspective that holy is chief among the moral virtues. Unfortunately, other moral virtues like love, etc. were allowed to supplant it in the 20th century. I have a separate blog for this subject. It is among my links on the side bar of this blog.

Recovery – this is concerned with the historical perspective that holy’s meaning must be recovered once lost. Prevention of the loss of meaning is not an option right now, but only in the future. This was my focus in the early going, though not as intentionally as I wish I could claim. It is the focus on this piece of writing.

Certainty – this is concerned with the rhetorical perspective that saying holy means something is stronger than saying that holy seems to mean something. This perspective avoids skepticism where there is ample evidence. It also tries to avoid presumption where there is controversy rather than certainty. It recognizes the current controversy and hopes to overcome it.

Discovery – this is concerned with the biblical perspective that is very high among my concerns. This summer, I am taking a graduate course that I hope will greatly improve my efforts on this prong. Research following a process I have layed out previously for decipherment is critical to this part of the complete process.

This particular entry in this blog is mainly concerned to highlight that it is no small thing to say that we are in a place of recovery rather than of prevention, when it comes to the meaning of holy. If prevention were always the rule, then continuity with tradition would make the enterprise of this blog obsolete. But as is so often the case, people rather than doing their due diligence in preparation and prevention are guilty of having to rely instead on cure and recovery. That means sometimes change (transformation) and the renewing of the mind of Romans 12 are essential.

Such is the case with holy. Even during the last 500+ years, the meaning of holy has not been without controversy. The common practice was to preserve at least 2 meanings together. You could say one meaning, wholeness, was central or primary and the other meaning, separate, was marginal or secondary. But in the last 100+ years, the controversy has now a higher risk attached to it.

The risks now are much higher than they used to be, because one meaning is used exclusively without the other, even though based only on a marginal (slightly higher than 50%) probability. The reason is because of a great level of boldness or recklessness on the part of late 19th century scholars, depending on your perspective.

The way that the meaning of holy as whole came to be no longer taught in the last 100+ years in most circles is due to a recognition that it could not be both meanings. In other words, a choice had to be made based on the root words for each meaning, because neither of the two possible roots supported both meanings. This was an advance in scholarly knowledge.

What may not have been an advance was eliminating the appearance of probability and substituting a sense of dogmatism, where it does not exist. This is referred to as presumption. We read the following in the preface to the 1611 KJV:

For as it is a fault of incredulitie, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no lesse than presumption. Therfore as S. Augustine saith, that varietie of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversitie of signification and sense in the margine, where the text is not so cleare, must needes doe good, yea is necessary, as we are perswaded. (I did make one minor obvious correction to quote)

So I think a big part of what I am doing in this blog is recoverying a meaning that goes against what a judicious translator should do. I believe strongly in the no longer understood virtue of prudence that shows caution, when uncertainty exists. Not the kind that is excessive, but the kind that avoids simplicity and naivete. I wish I could say that the loss of the meaning of holy and the need to recover it does not exist, but the history of the definition of holy says otherwise. That is why many of my older posts dealt with historical biblical scholars and leaders and their understanding of holy. I hope I have in some ways helped recover what might prove valuable at the end of a healthy understanding of holy's meaning.

Please watch especially this coming summer for a great development of the biblical data and for concrete evidence of what holy means. I am excited what the Lord may do through a class I hope to take this summer with a highly regarded Hebrew scholar.

In Christ,


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better Through ALL the Evidence

When it comes to evidence, I am committed to it. What stands in its way are: the suppression of evidence, inconclusive evidence and hearsay evidence. The way to break through any of these is to: ask, seek and knock. It is like when you want to travel from one place to another. You ASK directions from your current location to your destination, you SEEK or travel according to the directions you are given and you KNOCK upon your arrival at your destination.

Hearsay evidence happens when we ask directions from someone, who does not know the way to our destination. They give us bad directions. Inconclusive evidence is when we are seeking or traveling, yet we are not yet in a position to knock on the door. There is the danger of getting ahead of ourselves in our claims. Suppression of evidence happens when we have arrived at our destination, yet we fail to disclose what we found, when the door is open. In my experience, I have asked a lot of questions and received some great directions. Yet I feel that too many scholars are guilty of reaching a final conclusion from inconclusive evidence, when they ought to see themselves as still seeking and not yet having knocked at the door. They fail to seek all the way to the final destination.

Here are some examples of where seeking means that we have to watch out for inconclusive evidence. Both of these scholars, Rudolph Otto and Norman Snaith, admit as much in their primary books on holy yet too often this is forgotten, because the majority the pages in their books imply a final destination on the meaning of holy.

I want to present the evidence that suggests seeking rather than knocking as my and our current position on the defintion of holy. These are pieces of evidence that could be called inconclusive, indirect or inferred. This does not mean they are faulty. In fact they are refreshingly honest. It only means that seeking is distinguished from knocking.

They are:

Translation evidence - it is important to understand that in many European traditions there is a history of understanding the ancient Hebrew as related to the idea of wholeness through the choice of words like the English word holy. This word was not chosen because of its relation to set apart. This evidence by itself is not final, yet it is indirectly helpful.

Decipherment evidence - the process of decipherment for languages that are unknown at the time of discovery is now an organized process. This evidence is still inconclusive, yet only because it has never been fully applied to the ancient Hebrew word for holy. I am only beginning to work out this process. This is process that promises an arrival at a door.

Language evidence - the multitude of languages around the world have words that indicate parts and wholes as well as words for set apart. What would be worthy of detailed study would be to look at the prominence of each of these concepts. One linguist's study suggests that words having to do with part-whole are the most prominent in the languages of the world. It would be indirect evidence, but still get us further along the way.

Part-Whole evidence - this is a topic that is very hot in some circles as a philosophical or worldview starting point. It is always important to understand a worldview in terms of its strengths and weaknesses and potential pitfalls. This is very indirect, yet still helpful.

Concrete evidence - this is really a sub-set of decipherment evidence and yet it deserves separate mention, because of the importance of both learning and studying. It is important to study words and learn concrete objects in real life. This could yield very direct evidence, if a link between a picture of a concrete object and a worded text can be shown on some ancient object or in some ancient manuscript. This approach is also seen in the work of the now deceased Mary Douglas, the great anthropologist. This is not suprising since anthropologists are more aware of the concrete than many language experts or biblical scholars. Her primary insight is on the idea of whole stones for an altar and the holy altar text of Deuteronomy. Some scholars began working on this, yet haven't finished the work that needs to be done here.

Etymological (letters) evidence - this evidence has a lot of its weight relying on the connections between letters and knowing the history of letters (or alphabets). This evidence becomes more reliable as you dig deeply into it. Yet it's reputation has been damaged by quick conclusions rather than deep digging. Seek before you knock should be written on all this work! So far, this evidence is by scholarly admission inconclusive, but still valuable.

Contextual (cognates) evidence - this is perhaps the most popular among pastors and second-rate scholarship. The quick conclusion is that because something is in a context, then it indicates the meaning of something else in the context. Again, not so quick! Is it parallel? Is it significantly limiting? Are there any other possibilities? This evidence increases plausibility, yet again it is only conclusive when we know its status as a parallel or otherwise and when we know all the possibilities and can see that a word in the context makes a significant limit on what the word we are trying to define means. This option is very important evidence, yet not for amateur linguists!

Dictionary evidence - this is very indirect, but it gives laypeople access to what past translators were thinking, when they chose to use a translation like the English word holy for a word in the Hebrew text. The path to holy is traced and it comes through words clearly connected to whole. Now when you turn to the Latin language and start digging there, then things get more complicated. That needs more digging or seeking.

Lexicon evidence - this one falls into the idea that we know a lot already or we know it all category. When people see 7 lexicons that agree, they assume that the knock on the door of arrival has occured. Again, not so fast! In the field of evidence, it is not how many say the same thing, but how many are eyewitnesses. You don't want to follow the many just repeating the words of just one. In the late 1800s a corner was turned on the meaning of holy in Hebrew and in Greek. For Hebrew, Gesenius seems to be the popular lexicon compiler that others follow. They rely on his witness. For Greek, Cremer seems to be the popular lexicon compiler that others follow. They rely on these two witnesses. From one witness for either the Hebrew or the Greek, spring many witnesses. Few after them seek further. They do not seem to seek out earlier lexicons for further questioning of witnesses. Neither is the search into other texts very significant. I found an unsearched set of "texts" yesterday. I think this is a very worthwhile project in which I have sought a little bit. It is time consuming however.

Impact evidence - the evidence of world history and life change is important. At the time of past transformations of the church by the renewing of minds, there has been a large world impact. In my church's broad background, there is the impact following the transformation of Martin Luther when his mind was renewed through his renewing understanding of righteousness. This is repeated many times all the way through the time of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and his renewing understanding of goodness. So far, the meaning of set apart despite having 100 plus years on the central stage has resulted in no such impact. This is indirect evidence, but it is evidence from outcomes and benefits. Whole also seems to have not had the same impact as there other words in the last 500 + years, but it has never been freed from a dual meaning depending on the context of holy in Scripture. So it remains untested as a singular idea. 

Ancient culture evidence - every day there is new evidence from ancient cultures around the globe being unearthed. I saw another example last night. While these cultures are not linked to ancient Hebrew culture directly, they are part of the ancient world. I think we can get clues as to possible meanings for holy and the closer the culture is to that of Hebrew culture, the more significant a finding it may be. Yet all these ancient cultures should be studied for the range of possibilitites, so we are not blinded by our singular worldview from the present. I have seen very indirect evidence from as far away as North America that could be significant when combined with other evidence, since it would never be better than indirect.

Communication evidence - there is a heavy bias in our education system towards communication theory built on classical grammar rather than on classical rhetoric. Let me only say this much. It is very eye opening, when one starts from the underlying concepts behind rhetoric rather than grammar. These classical views are not entirely out of sync with each other, but I believe one is superior to the other and gives indirect evidence on the meaning of holy that is significant. Eugene Nida, despite other weaknesses in the field of translating, carried forward the insights of rhetoric very effectively. That is his real genius, not his dynamic equivalence theory.

Psychological evidence - very indirect is all the work on the workings of the brain and the work on what it takes for transformation to happen. Nevertheless people who are stuck emotionally on the inside, can learn a lot about the renewing of the mind through this literature. Very indirect, but still helpful.

Original Language Speakers evidence - sometimes it is assumed that because a Jewish speaker of antiquity compared to ourselves gives a defintion for holy, it must be correct. That is a dangerous assumption, because they are not contemporary with the texts, even if they are Jewish. So sometimes the definition of holy is determined by this kind of indirect evidence way too quickly. Seek rather than knock are the watchwords.

Finally, I want to say this is not all the evidence that can be given, but I leave it up to you to add some if you like. Yet I hope it does summarize some important ways to "Ask, seek and knock."  Together we can avoid the pitfalls of hearsay evidence, inconclusive evidence and suppressed evidence by following this entire process to reach our final destination of one central meaning for holy.  Happy asking, seeking and knocking!

In Christ,


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better Through Continuous Learning

John Wooden was not just a great basketball coach, but also a great teacher. He once said: "When you're through learning, you're through." When I hear some scholar's comments about the meaning of holy, I can tell "they're through." They have stopped learning.

The problem is that the job is not done. The very best scholars admit there is more work to be done. These scholars go beyond just copying the work of previous lexicons. But it is far easier to feel the comfort of being "through learning."

For pastors and for lay people this is also a temptation. The work can seem daunting, but it is not. The course has already been mapped out by others, who have solved far more difficult problems. The problems of deciphering Linear B, the Mayan glyphs or the Egyptian hieroglyphs were far more daunting. But certain individuals working on each of these languages didn't believe they were through learning. It was their failed colleagues who imagined that.

Just remember this: "When you're through learning, you're through." Maybe we need to go beyond the business world's "continuous improvement" to also promote "continuous learning" among scholars and Christians.

In Christ,


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Understanding Holy Better: Concrete Things and Abstract Words

I firmly stand on the principle of Scripture alone in the sense of what is in Scripture has a unique quality of truth compared to the writings outside of it. I think this is terrifically relevant to the discussion on the meaning of holy. The danger though is that we limit not just truth to being found only there, but also we limit ourselves to only one biblical principle.

A valuable principle in addition to Scripture alone and the broader principle of truth is the principle of concrete things and the broader principle of good. Recently, in watching a DVD about the Aztecs and one of their monuments, the narrator said that at one time the majority of their evidence for the chief monument buried under Mexico City was documentary evidence, but now that had changed through archaeological evidence in finding the ancient monument itself.

I don't think that the shift from documentary evidence to the actual thing itself as evidence is harmful. In fact, it is a concrete good. When I defend the principle of truth in Scripture, I hope I do not turn a blind eye to the principle of good in the evidence of real things.

This is why finding a picture of holiness in some text next to the word for holiness would go a long way toward solving our problems with its definition. Likewise, better yet would be to find the concrete objects themselves as described in both a text and the picture. This would nail the definition of holy to the wall for good.

On the flipside, in the last few days I was searching commentaries on Romans for the authors' definitions for holy. It was a sad state of affairs. They all took a slightly different angle on the word. Their meanings were not the same, though in some cases they did overlap or agree.

We can find the concrete evidence we need and still uphold the principle of Scripture alone. Abstract documentary evidence is not passe. It is not a thing of the past. It still contributes truth. What is also a present concern is the matter of a targeted quest toward concrete evidence that should be available somewhere. I pray God will help us all find it. He's already helped me find a concrete biblical picture in a verbal description of righteousness and justice. The same can happen again for all of us on the meaning of holy.

In Christ,


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better Through Concrete Objects

You may not be aware previously that the meaning of holy is uncertain. There are many words in the Bible whose meanings are not difficult to determine. Holy does not fall into that category. So in light of this uncertainty, I have decided to work on the issue from a position that is certain.

Holy in the bible means either whole or separate. I would rank the meaning of whole at 70% and the meaning of separate at 30%. Many would reverse those two percentages, yet I have the advantage of a great deal of unpublished material these other people have never seen. I am doing my best to get all of this unpublished material on the internet, but my time is limited at this point in the course of my ministry.

Only in the face of uncertainty, do I think it is wise to hold onto two definitions of holy. I believe we live in one of those times. So it is wise, to "not throw the baby out with the bathwater", but to be sure you've separated the two of them first. This same sage advice is foolish, when no reasonable uncertainty exists.

I am also aware that these promising definitions for holy are polar opposites. So my goal is to remove any reasonable uncertainty about the meaning of holy and to then introduce a definition with a reasonable amount of certainty to support it.

There are four keys to solving any issue of decipherment for an unknown language or for an uncertain word in a language according to the experts in deciphering unknown languages:

· There should be a large enough database and texts of the language (Amount)
· There should be a connected cultural context of the language (Relationship)
· There should be understood parallel or bilingual inscriptions of the language (Action)
· There should be pictorial or concrete references with the text of the language (Thing)

This is where the proof must be gathered to prove the meaning of holy. Fortunately, we are able to find evidence for all four of these keys. For our limited purposes in this blog, I would like to look at the last key of finding a pictorial or concrete reference for the word of holy.

In a concrete sense, for something to be "cut" (the root idea behind separate) or "uncut" (an analogy for whole) is very pictorial. It is easy to separate the two of them visually. Just take out your steak knife and cut a carrot. You have a very good visual of cut. Now magine another carrot that remains uncut. They are picture perfect polar opposites.

When we look at the concrete objects closely associated with holy, we find these as a beginning list: days, stones, ground, moutain, sacrifice and body. I will later talk about the more abstract concepts of self, name and morality as extensions of these concrete or literal meanings of cut or uncut.

If holy means "to set apart" or "to separate", then its literal or concrete idea is as follows for each concrete object:

  • a day cut off from six other days (Geneis 2:1-3)
  • altar stones cut off from other stones (Deuteronomy 27:6)
  • ground/area cut off from other ground/area (Exodus 3:5)
  • a mountain cut off from other mountains or land (Exodus 19:3, Deuteronomy 4:11)
  • a sacrifice cut off from other sacrifices (Leviticus 1:3, Romans 12:1-2)
  • a body cut off from other bodies (Leviticus 21:15-20, 1 Corinthians 6:19)

If holy means "to make or to keep whole", then its literal or concrete idea is as follows for each concrete object:

  • an uncut day of evening to evening (Genesis 2:1-3)
  • an uncut/whole altar stone (Deuteronomy 27:6 )
  • an uncut ground/area (Exodus 3:5)
  • an uncut mountain of the entire thing (Exodus 19:3; Deuteronomy 4:11 )
  • an uncut/unblemished sacrifice (Leviticus 1:3; Romans 12:1-2 )
  • an uncut/unmaimed body (Leviticus 21:15-20; 1 Corinthians 6:19)

If we extend the literal or concrete meanings of "cut" into more figurative or abstract meaning, then the idea by implication in various contexts (even where it is not used directly):

  • a self cut off from other selves (Luke 10:26-28)
  • a name cut off from other names (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2)
  • a morality cut off from immorality (Romans 7:12 and all contexts dealing with holy, righteous, true, loving and good)

Every single one of these concepts is biblical, the question is whether they are biblical through the use of the word holy. If they are not, then by adding the instances of holy to the list of even a correct biblical idea, increases the magnitude of importance beyond the importance the bible assigns to them. In other words, we distort the message of the Bible. On the flip-side, we also diminish the importance of being whole in relationship to each of these things. That may be the great crime.

If we extend the literal or concrete meanings of "uncut" into more figurative or abstract meaning, then the idea is by implication in various contexts (even where it is not used directly):

  • an uncut self - heart, soul, strength and mind are all essentials (Luke 10:26-28)
  • an uncut/corporate/comprehensive name - no word is more comprehensive of personality (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2)
  • an uncut morality - righteous, true, loving and good are all included (Romans 7:12 and all contexts dealing with holy, righteous, true, loving and good)

Every single one of these concepts is also biblical. The problem is the same as we see with the other meaning of separate, if it is not biblically accurate in its understanding of holy. We distort and diminish the other concept in a way that is not biblical.

In either case, the implications are large because holy is such a large concept in the bible. That is why we cannot afford to get it wrong. If it were a minor concept, then there would be no serious implication from error.

I hope these concrete objects in the context of holy help you make sense of the two ideas of "set apart" and "whole." They are diametrically opposed to each other in concrete meaning and the weighty importance of the meaning of the word holy potentially distorts things in a large way. This is not a small thing because decipherment is only the beginning. The implications are far greater because they effect our view of the world.

In future pieces of writing, I will further develop the other important pillars for deciphering the definite meaning of holy. It is the combination of them that I believe will give us reasonable certainty about what the word means. But for now I hope you are able to make sense of things in terms of meaning, because that is an important first step.

It is paramount that every real Christian take this very seriously. It has grave or momentous consequences, because biblical words have big implications far beyond any other words on this planet.

In Christ,