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