Saturday, June 29, 2013

Holy: Understanding It Better Through Understanding Another Biblical Concept

[Please note that due to time constraints this piece needs lots of editing with citing sources and it is likely to be divided into parts, but I think this first half of part one is valuable, as it stands alone.  I will eventually be adding more source references, citing them and Scripture, and I will finish the part on meaningful.  I expect it to be very helpful when complete.  Thank you for your patience.   Glean what you can for now.]

There are only three primary possible meanings for holy as the English translation of qadosh (Hebrew), qad …. (Aramaic), and hagios (Greek) in the Biblical text.  They are: 1) set apart, 2) pure, and 3) (moral) wholeness.   I find that those who have resolved it down to one definition are a bit premature at this moment in time (we still have to wait for a better resolution) and that those who keep coming up with more definitions outside the main three (twenty plus) are a bit post-mature (I hope the resolution to the meaning of qadosh, etc. is not as far off as they make it appear).  But before we define a biblical term by any of these English words, we need to also make sure we understand these popular English ideas in their Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek biblical context.  In this blog entry, I am going to start with looking into the meaning of wholeness, because it is such a hot topic in popular education and in the realm of worldview discussions among philosophers, anthropologists, futurists, theologians, and church planters.   So here is the opening question: “How is the concept of being whole viewed in the wider biblical context outside of the words qadosh, qad …, and hagios?”  

The first thing to note is that wholeness or the whole in English translation appears to be quite infrequent in the biblical text, when viewed through an English translation.  This is despite the fact that current worldviews like that of Integral theory, or an integrative vision, or a spokesperson like popular philosopher Ken Wilber indicate that it is a very important aspect of worldview.   Wilber in particular is expressing a form of holism or wholism as opposed to atomism or reductionism in his “theory of everything”.   It is also surprising that it does not show up in the biblical text more frequently, because of the views of Christian writers like Pastor Rick Warren, who see healthy as the theme for the next Great Awakening of Christianity.  I see a little influence on the central theme from his mentor, Peter Drucker, who was a pretty good futurist besides being a management guru.   So does the Bible not address the issue of wholeness as a significant part of worldview or is it not as central as some holists or wholists think?

I think this is a great question.  I was troubled by this question myself.  If wholeness is important and I believe that Yahweh God is the Bible’s primary author, then God would not miss its importance.  So what is going on in the biblical text and in our understanding of the world?  Are they out of sync with each other or not?   Is here a problem with the worldview or the Bible  in relation to reality?  Is there yet another place where the deficiency in addressing the issue of wholeness might arise? 

Since I know Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek well enough to at least spot check the major words in translations, as I read them; I elected years ago to go to an interlinear bible for reading the Bible in my devotions.   This helped me begin to notice that the Hebrew word kol that properly means “whole” according to Strong and others, is not translated as such into English, except infrequently.  So the question arises as to why is it not translated as “whole”, except infrequently when that is its proper meaning?  This also holds true to some extent also for the Greek word holos that means primarily whole.  You might also note that holism or holistic are derived from this Greek word holos. 

So why is “whole” found infrequently in English translations of the Bible?  The answer I found to this question is very intriguing for two reasons.   First, it begins with an historical difference between Eastern and Western languages.    I am not sure this can be placed on a worldview level, but there does appear to be a difference of some kind in speech with regard to tendencies or starting points.  In language or speaking at least, the West seems to begin from the parts making the word “all” as in” all of the parts” central, while the East, in the Hebrew language at least, seems to begin from the whole as in the “whole of the congregation”.  We must, however, be careful and stick to language and not make broader conclusions on worldview quite yet.  Second, the Hebrew word kol (especially) and the Greek word holos are not infrequent words in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek biblical text and in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, so the implications for translation could be significant for addressing worldview concerns.   So the biblical text and the worldviews that say holism or wholism is important may not be deficient except in translation, but not in the original languages.  The problem with not finding texts dealing with the whole in an English translation might have to do more with the loss of total communication, beginning with various English translations. 
The first clue for me on a translation level that something might be amiss came from Gesenius’ Hebrew and English Lexicon.  In it, he points out: “In Western languages it [kol] has to be rendered by adjectives”.  He is also implying by this that in Eastern languages, that this is not the case, and that Hebrew would be included as part of the list of Eastern languages.   Note especially his choice of the words “has to be”.   That is significant, because he is suggesting it is a rule of Western languages including English.  He explains this further in terms of when it is used for one continuous thing and of English in particular: “… in English this has to be expressed either by the whole preceded by the article or by all followed by it; when the noun is made definite by a pronoun suffixed, it must be rendered in English by all without the article, or else by the whole of….”.   This quote is a bit technical, but it caught my attention, because I had begun to substitute “of the whole” in place of “all” in my devotions based on the Hebrew word kol.  I started to do this substitution, because I knew that kol properly meant the” whole, totality” according to Gesenius and not just James Strong.  This substituting process of “the whole of”, worked seamlessly hundreds of times with occasional exceptions due to change in context.

Now I want to go beyond just this first clue and just the process of translation and look at the total communication involved.  I believe translation gets its prominence from the fact that it is the starting point for total communication.  But I also believe that one of my mentors, Dr. William A. Smalley, who was a brilliant translator and teacher, saw that translation of the Bible and the church go hand in hand in the case of communication.  So I want to organize what I refer to as total communication around the following steps, as related to the biblical concepts of the Hebrew  word kol, the Aramaic … or the Greek word holos.  They are the 5 T’s: 1) translation, 2)transfer, 3) total, 4)train, and 5)teach.  We need all five of these for total communication!  Anything less on a fundamental level is less than adequate.  Just think of this process as “Mr. T”, as a memory tool.  He after all regarded himself as the total package.  The five T’s are the total package for communication.  As an aside, I found all five of these in Nehemiah 8, the chief text in the Jewish tradition for the Ezra school of exegetical method. 

So looking at wholeness from a translation standpoint.  The very best way to translate it is to produce clear meaningful communication.   There are two parts to this.  The first is addressed through quantity and the second through quality. 

We arrive at the goal of clear communication through minimizing the quantity of options.  Let me illustrate.  Imagine you enter a room filled with one third of the people shouting “yes”, another thirds saying “no”, and another third saying “maybe”.  Is it likely to be clear what they are saying assuming all voices equal?  The simple answer is “no”.  Now imagine walking into a room filled with all of the people saying “yes”.  Is it likely to be clear that what they are saying assuming all voices equal?  The simple answer is “yes”. 
So now let’s approach the biblical text with the question:  How many? 

In the Hebrew context there is one word used in many contexts.  It is clear to the original audience that it means properly “whole” unless some of the many contexts are clear it is otherwise.  That is how kol can have more than one meaning.  It borrows the clarity of another word or other words in the context.    So the “one” remains clear even with more than one definition in a supposed dictionary, because some other word makes things clear.  That is how I speak to others everyday with near effortlessness and the majority of times my communication is clear. 

In the Greek context of the Septuagint and the Hebrew Scriptures in a synagogue, things get less clear in one sense.  Kol , one Hebrew word, is now translated by two Greek words, pas and holos.  This is where the beginning of clarity can become less clear.  Without the knowledge that Gesenius possessed about the rules of Western languages, some begin to assume that pas is the primary meaning of kol and then say that kol means primarily “all”.  Eugene Nida rightly points out that one language’s glosses (ways of translating a word) are not themselves definitions within the primary or other language.  A word must be defined in its own language system and not in the context of the language it is translated into.  Gesenius and Nida, though separated by time are largely agreeing with each other.   The other key here is to realize that Moses and so the Hebrew was still present in the synagogues to correct any misunderstandings due to translation.  The original continued to keep things clearer. 

In English translation things get less clear and so a little more complicated.  Kol, one Hebrew word , is now translated by three or more.  Kol in the Hebrew is translated by “all” (majority) or “whole” mainly depending on the Septuagint’s Greek translation influence.   In the New Testament the Greek pas and the Greek holos are both used where kol would appear in Hebrew.  Pas is mainly translated as “all” while holos is translated by “whole” or “all” adding another layer of complexity and lack of clarity.  It is now as though kol primarily means “all” and holos means primarily “whole”, but this meaning is further diminished in English translation. 

A concession must be made here so that no one understands me to think that a wooden (without context) literalism (proper meaning) is in order.  The statements above apply to primary contexts mostly.   As the contexts become more marginalized then the use of “holos” or “whole” in English, etc. becomes less acceptable.  In English, “any, every, etc. are very appropriate in the more marginal cases of meaning or definition. 

I hinted at this earlier, but one of the main things translators should consider is the bilingual or even trilingual context of the 1st century.  There are advantages here because the original has more explicit influence than it does in a context today in which most only access an English translation based on their monolingual status.  The proper meaning of “whole” for kol would have had an easier way of sticking around and the people could have known about the difference in rules or tendencies as Gesenius suggests.  Translators or commentators today frequently quote “all” as the first or proper meaning of Hebrew kol.  This betrays their monolingual spectacles.  So how should the word kol be translated now for clarity? 
I personally think clarity would be enhanced by adjusting to two contexts.  The context of the 1st century and the 21st century.  First the two are not the same, kol’s presence would have kept the proper meaning of whole more in focus.  So now I think we must translate kol and even pas and holos with the English word “whole” where appropriate to the Hebrew context and our own.  There is no bilingualism in churches to balance both “whole and “all the parts”.  We might as well realize that Hebrew is not likely to be read out loud at church.  It might still be read at synagogue, but not many (basically none!) Christians know that!  For clarity’s sake, we do not need to follow the wooden rules of Western languages of old.  English is now adaptable to either and “whole” would give greater clarity.  This whole discussion matters because of the goal of clarity.  So what about being meaningful? 
                Change information load
                From three languages to one language
                                Explicit when bilingual and even implicit.
                                Unknown to monolingual. 

 How much? (high quality)

                Kol – poor quality (transliteration) for an English speaker
Holos/holistic/holism – holistic carries a great deal of extra meaning beyond whole.  So this option may have to be tempered. 

All – while necessary in a Western language only context (Greek, Latin, English), in a wider one context of both West and East, it may no longer be the best.  In the latter, it may be more paramount to address wholeness directly in translation following the hippie movement especially. 

Whole – the best understood by English speakers in the context of a debate between wholism (wary of holism overstatement) and atomism, reductionism and fragmentism.  It is also possible because it is not necessary any longer to only speak from the tendency or angle of “all the parts” as opposed to the “the whole of it”.  I think the rules equally allow the latter and to better understand the biblical text it is now superior. 

 Why it matters?  Meaningfulness!  From meaningless (“all [of the parts of the] of the congregation”= the whole congregation) to meaningful “the whole of the congregation”).  The latter is better understood in terms of making everything explicit and of addressing current issues that people understand due to the topic of wholeness being a hot topic of debate.

In Christ,