Friday, August 31, 2012

Holy: Understanding it Better Through Success versus Failure

In the past, there were two typical paths toward learning a foreign or second language for missionaries that applies to learning the meaning of holy in three foreign languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  The methods can be applied to ancient languages and to living ones today.  One path in learning a contemporary foreign languages consists of mainly learning in a real life setting, while another consists mainly of studying in a classroom setting.  But more recently, it has come to light that these two paths should be combined.  This is where learning from missionary experiences in learning a foreign language is helpful to understanding Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  It gives us greater insight into the ideal language learning situation and helps us move still closer to it. 

If either of the two paths are taken exclusively, then the more successful is the living language alone path is better than the classroom setting alone path.  But in the ideal world, it is best to have both paths with both settings: learning and studying.  These ways are how knowers and teachers come to be what they are.  The critical point in all of this is that studies show that the highest level of success in learning a language comes from the combination of both, so I would like to apply this to understanding the meaning of holy.  The second critical point is that real life is better than classroom.  The third critical point is that less than the living learning is the classroom option.  Keep in mind though that it is still better than no teaching in a classroom setting assuming real life learning isn't happening either. 

Before I go too far, I would like to picture what the simple combination of learning and studying looks like, then what overall failure looks like,  and then what overall success looks like in learning another language.  Here first is the simple combination:

The first thing to realize is that it is important for the vertical axis to precede the horizontal axis, but that neither is exclusive of the other.  It is like it is in carpentry, if you want a stable wall you need to know both the vertical and horizontal lines using a level to have a stable form of construction.  Well, the same rules follow for learning a language. 

The next diagram is a combination of factors that lead to an overall greater amount of failure in learning a new language. It s a diagram of classroom learning outweighing the amount of real learning.  This is sometimes why the classroom fails.  There is not the ideal of both in equal balance with each other.  So it looks like this:

So too much of the classroom with all four steps versus only two steps for real life learning moves us away from success and toward failure.  I have a real life example of this in that I remember Greek and Chinese better than I do Hebrew, Spanish, and French; because the former were taught with stronger elements from real life than were the others with mainly classroom input.  By the way, my Hebrew has improved mainly through the use of tools that make the learning of it more like learning in a living language setting.  I owe a lot to three people here: Dr. Donald N. Larson, Dr. Betty Sue Brewster, and Dr. William A. Smalley.  They all had missionary experience and use the tools of real life situations to enhance their knowledge of foreign languages.  William LaSor of Fuller Theological Seminary, also introduced some of these elements in the seminary setting which is why my Greek continues to stay with me. 

The next diagram pictures what overall success (the ideal) looks like in learning any foreign languages including ancient Hebrew that does not offer us "native" speakers.  Dr. LaSor from Fuller also wrote a text that balances things better (moving toward ideally) for Hebrew learning and studying and learning.  It looks like:

I do want to make some concessions about these diagrams to avoid confusing their message.  The diagrams are a little misleading in two ways, if they stand alone and a person does not read my comments.  The first is that the column on the right by itself does not mean failure any more than the left column all by itself means success.  The difference is that in a broken world, where these are not balanced, the failure is greater, if you only possess the methods on the right.  The other correction, that I will correct at a later time, is that my Western World bias comes out in placing things moving from left to right.  If I were to follow Solomon's wisdom texts, the columns would move from right to left in terms of preference. 

So I  hope this has been helpful.  When I am studying the word holy in ancient Hebrew I try to keep in mind that I must look at things from both columns and not just one.  For example, I must ask even though I am an outsider coming into the Hebrew language, "How did they learn this?"  "What does the insider see?"  "What makes them speak this with ease?"  "What things are similar between our languages, so I can effectively associate with their ideas?"  Finally, I always need to ask, "How is my balancing act going?"  All of this applies to learning just one ancient word as well,  "Is my view of holy learned the way they did?"  "Am I standing on the inside or can I see what the insider sees?"  "Is this getting any easier or am I making it all more difficult than it is in real life?"  "What things I know are similar to what they know?"  Finally, I have to ask, "Is the balance getting better (more and more toward the ideal and relying less and less either one column)? 

These questions state implicitly my goals.  The real life column is very valuable, so whenever you can, try to learn and study the biblical languages using a method that consists of both ideal columns.  LaSor and others practice this fairly well.   May God bless all of our efforts to understand ancient languages and the critical ancient words for holy! 



Thursday, August 30, 2012

Holy: Understanding it Better By Matching the Method to the Issue

Yesterday, while working in my garage, I used a variety of tools depending on what I was trying to accomplish.  To remove most nails, I was able to use a standard finishing hanmer, but in some cases I had to use a heavier wrecking hammer to remove some of the more stubborn nails from the 2 x 4s..  In one case, I even had to switch to a long crow bar.  But besiders removing nails, I had to remove a few screws and for these I switched to a power drill.  To learn the meaning of words in the biblical text, it is also very important to match the method to the issue.  If I were to try to use the wrong tool, each of these projects would have resulted in wasted effort and time and maybe even failure.  This likewise can happen in biblical study.  One of the keys to understanding the meaning of holy is to use a method that fits the issue.  The issue is that there is uncertainty about the meaning of holy in the original language(s) of the Bible.

When striving to deal with uncertainty as to what holy means, it is a challenge to select the best method to use.  The method needs to address the issue of uncertainty directly or it won't be the very best.  There is not just the problem of people defining the word for holy differently.  The other is the difficulty that there are a number of exegetical (reading and interpreting) methods that different biblical scholars use.  But these difficulties are not a reason for despair.  The uncertainty can be addressed, just like the nails and the screws in my garage wall.  The only question is whether we have chosen the best tool for the project to be able to feel confident about success. 

As an undergrad, I was trained initially in two methods of biblical study: (1) inductive biblical study and (2) linguistic analysis.  My primary method today is a blend of both of these methods.  The inductive method that I learned initially was that of Dr. Daniel P. Fuller, who also was a mentor of Dr. John S. Piper and I had the good fortune of studying under Piper during my undergrad years and Fuller during my seminary years.  I found the inductive method to be very helpful for gathering fresh insights.  Yet I also found inconsistencies between it and the linguistic analysis that I learned from Dr. William A. Smalley during my undergraduate years and Dr. Daniel P. Shaw during my seminary years.  The advance for me today is that I now have brought both these methods full circle to where those inconsistencies are no longer present and the organization of my method is primarily responsible for removing any supposed inconsistencies.  This did not happen overnight!

So lets talk more about matching a method to the issue.   The first thing to realize is that there are not shortcuts you can take, but there is a very real path we can all take.  Besides the authors or teachers above, I have seven very valuable books (and some were also my teachers) on exegesis or Bible study on my shelf.  They are from easiest to most difficult:

1)  Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods:12 Ways You Can Unlock God's Word by Rick Warren, 2006
2)  How to Study Your Bible: The Lasting Rewards of the Inductive Approach by Kay Arthur, 1994
3) Living By the Book by Howard G Hendricks and William D. Hendricks, 1991
4) Methodical Bible Study by Robert. A. Trainia, 1980
5) A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules by Robert H. Stein, 1994
6) Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching by Walter C. Kaiser Jr., 2009
7) Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers, Revised and Expanded Edition by Michael J. Gorman

(The only one that I am really not sure how to rank is Kay Arthur's book.  Somehow it is more complicated than it looks on the surface.)

 The method I am going to use to define holy in my post-graduate studies and for my post-graduate paper is clearly on the level of Gorman's book or should I say has to be on that level.  (In my blog and in this entry, I try to drop nuggets from more than one level.)  I find his method to be very well-organized and that might be his main advance over the others.  I do though think his method needs to be supplemented.

First, he needs to realize that while he outlines a very complete method for interpreting the text, he is not equally complete in his method of laying writing a paper or structuring a sermon.  He leaves that side to be supplemented by the materials written by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. who deals equally with "text" and with "sermon" sides or both sides of the bridge. 

Second, his main strength is in the "elements" of the process of exegesis, but he is not equally effective in putting together the whole.  Related to my last suggested supplement, his outline is not balanced, so that the whole picture gets obscured.  I mainly correct this also through my "Linguistic Analysis" tools that I learned and studied.  For this, I credit Dr. William A. Smalley (and Dr. Donald N. Larson, his colleague) and Dr. Daniel P. Shaw.  They are how I will be able to create a better outline of my exegetical (read and interpret) method. 

The main point I want to make for people on all ewvery levels is that the method that is chosen is not just a matter of ease or difficulty, it is also a matter of directly addressing the issues involved.  A very easy method like Rick Warren's might address the issues or a very difficult one like Michael Gorman's might as well, but the question remains: "Do they address the central issue?"  The central issue is that there is a measure of uncertainty even among top scholars as to what holy means.  (I'll explain later (again) the interim method to follow while the uncertainty exists).

Warren's book could deal with this topic through his section on character qualities.  Uncertainty would likely fall under his banner of negative character qualities.  This would be a great place for the simplest person to begin to understand the issues.  Gorman's more complex book also does address uncertainty, but I am not real happy with his discusion, because in the end he does not aim to reduce uncertainty, but to accept it as somewhat natural or positive (Gorman, p. 131-137).   I think he overstates his case and I think people like Walter C. Kaiser Jr. from my list above would also be troubled by his overstated view. 

To deal with this same issue on the same level as Gorman (no offense to Warren), I have found a supplement in the writings of David G. Ullman who has written a number of articles and books on the subject of "Robust Decisions".  He has this to say about robust decisions:

Robust decision making extends ... to general decision making with uncertainty considered from the beginning: controlling what uncertainty you can and finding the best possible solution that is insensitive as possible to the remaining uncertainty.  A robust decision is the best possible choice, found by eliminating all the uncertainty possible within available resources, and chosen with known and acceptable satisfaction and risk.

What I like is that Ullman sees nothing wrong with the effort to "minimize uncertainty" (while Gorman might) and at the same time he is not ignoring uncertainty from the beginning of a process as though a negative trait does not exist, but rather he faces into it like a robust sailor facing into the wind.  There has been a dual problem in dealing with the meaning of holy: 1) one side assumes the postive quality of certainty and 2) another side assumes the negative quality of uncertainty.  Many biblical exegetical (reading and interpreting) methods assume certainty rather than buidlling it through a process that seeks to minimize posssible uncertainty.  . 

I think uncertainty can be reduced to a very satisfactory level, but it is good to know how this is done.  It is also important to realize the different types of uncertainty.  Ullman outlines four types of possible conditions with information.  It can be: 1) uncertain, 2) incomplete, 3) evolving (I prefer "changing", because it lacks scientific baggage), and 4) conflicting.  If all these conditions are present without any reductions in them, it means the situation is quite risky.

The reason why these types of conditions are important is precisely because we don't want to be taking excessive risks with who it is we worship and whether we have eternal life or not.  We want an alternative with "known and acceptable satisfaction and risk".  This goes beyond Michael Gorman's satisfaction point.  So I will be using a method that addresses the issue: the issue of uncertainty.  I cannot side-step it by simply reading a popular lexicon (foreign language dictionary).  

Finally, the big task in front of me is to finish my thesis or dissertation paper for seminary, because by using that method (largely outlined in Gorman), I can successfully reduce the amount of uncertainty about the three most probable definitions of holy: 1) set apart or separate, 2) pure or 3) whole. 

In the meantime (until I or someone else finishes our scholarly work), as I say elsewhere, do as the ancient Jews did when facing uncertainty as a reality with the precious ancient biblical Hebrew (and Aramaic) manuscripts.  They recorded the most likely alternative in the body of the text and any variants in the margin, until some later time in which new information might later eliminate alternatives. 

That is what I am doing now in order to keep me from prematurely latching on to one alternative without giving the others their just opportunity.  This is one of the great blunders in decision making or in interpreting the meaning of a word.  It is the premature acceptance of an alternative without the testing of others. 

So when working in the garage, you might be able to get the job done using a regular finishing hammer while I may need a heavier wrecking hammer.  It does not matter as long as the tool fits the issue.  So make sure whether you use a simple method like Warren's or a tougher one like Gorman's method that you don't avoid the negative quality of uncertainty, but rather you deal with it.  Method needs to fit the issue(s).  May God grant the entire human world greater certainty on what holy means!  And may we also use the best methods available to us to face the issues! 




Friday, August 10, 2012

Holy: Understanding It Better Through Territory and Map

You may have heard the saying, "The map is not the same thing as the territory".   You also may have heard someone else say: "This sure would be a lot easier, if only we had a map".   Life can be a lot easier, if we maintain the distinction between territory and map on the one hand and if we have a map to use on the other.  We don't want to live like the pre-reformer Martin Luther did for a long time, having to always learn things the hard way, due to his misunderstanding of the Bible as his map.  That is the way he describes his learning until his breakthrough in understanding the map of the Bible and that after having traveled down so many real life dead ends.  We also don't want to live a life of dead orthodoxy that came about after Luther's death, where the map came to mean more than the territory.  The same goes for understanding that key biblical word that is translated as holy.   It is supposed to be a word map that helps us understanding real life territory.   The question is whether the current popular definition of holy as a part of the map does that or not.   Does "set apart" fit the map and the territory?


The picture above is a world map and one of the most incredible things in history is all the changes that have been made to maps and how useful maps are in our smaller much-travelled world,   We have even changed some of the terminology.  If you went to Google Maps you would see different optional boxes in the upper right corner.  For our purposes the two names closest to territory and map would be earth and map.  You could explore the earth using a satellite or you could examine it using a map!

Using the analogy of earth and map (or territory and map) the meaning of holy can be explored in two ways: 1) by using the territory and 2) by  using a map.  You could make the terminology even more comtemporary by using the words from Google Maps: Earth and Map.  Through satellite, you can view the territory or terrain of the earth.  Through its maps, you can use the line drawings of map experts.  The best way to do the exploration of its meaning is to test the possible definitions for holy through both means and not just one or the other.  You could call it a hybrid method.  I am speaking here of testing: 1) the meaning of set apart, 2) the meaning of whole and 3) the meaning of pure.  These are the top 3 meanings scholars, teachers, pastors and lay people suggest for the central idea of qadosh (Hebrew transliteration) or hagios (Greek transliteration), both of which are transalated as holy (or sanctified or hallowed) in an English Bible. 

The first test for our knowledge is the test of the territory.  How do each of these meanings fit with real life territory?   First, we have a consensus that whatever meaning this word carries, it should be a high priority thing in reality.  "Holy, holy, holy" is not said repreatedly for no particular reason.  Rather it is said like that to point to the pinnacle of God's character.  Not many scholars should disagree with that indication in the map of the Bible. 

So then, does "set apart/separate", "whole", or "pure" rise to the highest place in the reality of God's character?   One thing is certain, they all are ideas that fit reality.  What is an unique test is whether these ideas are more significant than others in the face of reality. 

Before we answer the question, let's expand each idea a little bit.  First, some believe that the main thing missing in addressing reality is that there is not enough separation between Christians and sin or Christians and the world.  They believe that is the missing reality.  Second, others believe that what is missing is moral wholeness as opposed to moral reductionism.  They believe that what would change reality is to recognize the importance of seeing the whole of God's character rather tthan reducing it to one trait like for the example of reducing God's character to just love.  Third and finally, some believe that the reality that is missing is that Christians are not pure like they need to be.  They are too intermixed with the sins of the world.  They believe that the introduction of a new level of purity would change the church. 

My loose ends -

exploring the territory with wholeness
knower learner

exploring the map with wholeness
tearher studier

tremendously effective in territory
through streets versus dead ends

tremendously effective in map
through streets versus dead ends
remaining issues only with the map

exploring the territory with set apart (separate)
exploring the map with set apart (separate)

somewhat effective in territory (plausible)
somewhat effective in territory (plausible)

exploring the territory with purity
exploring the map with purity
dead ends versus through streets

somewhat less effective in territory
somewhat less effective in map

Closing illustration since paper maps are becoming more and more obsolete though mapping itself (someone has explored this area before) has not. 

Global positioning devices (mapping)
Tom Tom (territory match due to sufficient updates) vs. Dumb Dumb (not a territory match due to lack of updates)

{This will be completed fairly quickly with some time available hopefully next week - but you can already see some of my direction in these loose pieces}.



Holy: Understanding It Better Through Getting Started Right

The idea of seeing my task on this blog as defining the word in the Bible that is translated as "holy" is misleading.  It is more than that. That is really just 1/5th of a comprehensive set of tasks to make sure the holy is being understood correctly.  What I would like to introduce in this blog entry is the set of tasks that help insure a more reliable understanding of qadosh in the Hebrew and hagios in the Greek. 

In Guidelines for Barefoot Language Learning: An Approach Through Involvement and Independence, Dr. Donald N. Larson identifies 5 steps in learning to process input, when learning another language beyond our first.

He identifies these 5 steps as part of the larger task of "getting started right".  That is why this entry is particularly important.  To define a word is only one part of getting started right.  It is covering one, but one that is important because it is a component of what it means to be getting started right when learning a foreign language (or even more of your own)!

These are his five steps for processing language input or things (with some changes by yours truly):

First Step:  Classifying  (Amount of thing/input)

            Classify words as to their primary major class

 Second Step:  Defining  (Relationship of thing/input)

            Defining words for relationships or
            combinations of the major classes.  

Third Step:   Differentiating  (Action of thing/input)

            Differentiate words so that they can be
            distinguished with ease.

 Fourth Step:  Mapping  (Thing of thing/input)

            Map the range of all the classes that a word
            has based on its associations. 

 Fifth Step:  Establishing Sets  (Whole of thing/input)

            Establish a set by discovering the semantic
            features common to a set of words.

I have not found these steps that Dr. Don N. Larson outlines anywhere else in my reading of linguistics texts.  I know that one of his colleagues describes him as someone who was very good at making the complex simple.  I think this set of steps may outline in a more clear way what Dr. Eugene A. Nida was doing along with Louw in developing a lexicon for New Testament Greek build around what are called semantic domains.  I believe that Larson's "Establishing Sets" is the equivalent of Nida's semantic domains. 

Please note that defining a word is step 2 out of this set of 5 steps toward processing input from another language.  That means that simply defining holy by itself is incomplete.  It is really important that we understand that we naturally do all these steps, when we learned our first language whether conscious or not.  The other thing is that in developing these steps further, I have found that each step helps in understanding the other steps. 

Let me also show you these steps in a more simplified picture format:

It is also true that some of what I have said previously in some of my entries will have to be amended, because I was guilty of mixing these steps together rather than "differentiating" them as in step 3 above.  This is easily done because most of what I have read in both exegesis and linguistics has a tendency to develop some valid points, but the organization is more eclectic than well-organized.  Larson, I agree, had a great ability to organize things well. 

So as I develop my points about the meaning of qadosh, etc. in Hebrew and hagios, etc. in Greek, I hope you will see me following Larson's strategy more closely in the future.  The coming steps are to actually practice what Larson preaches.  For that, I may have to reach out to others to make his theory more practical.  I am thinking that Dr. Betty Sue Brewster at Fuller Theological Seminary might be particularly helpful in that regard due to her connections with Dr. Larson and his influence in the book that she co-authored with her husband, Language Acquisition Made Practical (otherwise known as LAMP).   I recommend their text very highly for knowing how to learn a new language.  And in the end, that is what I am doing in learning and studying Hebrew and Greek.