Sunday Morning Greek Blog

November 22, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity: Part 3

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 10:15 am

In this third and final post in this series, I want to look at the New Testament view of tax collectors in general, and specifically at one chief tax collector, a wee little man named Zacchaeus.

The Tax Collector Stigma

For the Jews, the occupation of tax collector was at the bottom of the barrel socially. It was right down there with slopping pigs, prostitution, and leprosy. In order for the Roman government to collect taxes, they needed people in every district who knew the people (and the culture) of those around them. For the Jews, this meant that their own people had to serve a Roman government that at best tolerated their belief in the one true God and that considered their emperor a supreme divinity worthy of worship. In fact, everything about the Roman pantheon and worship sickened devout Jews, so to work for that government was essentially an act of treason against one’s own people. In fact, they were often called “sinners” by the Jewish people.

The process of tax collecting was a rather inexact science as well. Rome didn’t really give their tax collectors a salary. The norm was that the Roman government expected a certain amount of taxes in the aggregate from a district, and it was up to the local tax collector to decide how much to tax people. There were no forms to file and no concept of a “personal” income or wealth tax. If the tax collector wanted to get “paid” for his services, he would often add a “hidden” surcharge to each bill. (It wasn’t really hidden, though; the people knew how the tax collectors operated.) Anything the tax collector collected over the aggregate amount the Rome demanded was kept by the tax collector for his compensation.

Rome was organized well. They had a hierarchical structure in their government that allowed them to effectively rule a large territory. As you might expect, then, the local tax collectors in the various districts would report to a regional “chief” tax collector. If Rome told the chief tax collector, “We want 100,000 denarii from your region,” the chief tax collector would add his own cut to that, divide it out among his subordinates, and demand that amount from the subordinates. So for Rome to get its 100,000 denarii, it was possible that as much as 200,000 denarii was collected from the people. In other words, they were taxed twice as much (or more) as what Rome demanded.

Zacchaeus, the Chief Tax Collector

And so we come to the story of Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, in Luke 19:1–10. It is apparent that Zacchaeus has a fascination with Jesus and his teachings, so much so that the short little rich man climbed up into a sycamore-fig tree so he could catch a glimpse of Jesus over the crowd. As Jesus is walking along with the crowd, he sees Zacchaeus, calls him out of the tree, and says, “I’m having lunch with you today.”

Now we don’t have to imagine the reaction of the crowd here, because Luke tells us how they responded. They were a bit disgruntled. After all, I’m sure there were a lot of good Jews in the crowd who had some very pressing needs: sick relatives to heal, spiritual questions to ask, and relationships to restore. But out of that whole crowd, Jesus pays special attention to a man, known by the crowd, who was considered one of the worst sinners in Israel for his collaboration with the Roman government. Wouldn’t you feel a bit put-out as well?

But Zacchaeus, perhaps realizing his own fallen nature, doesn’t even give Jesus a chance to come to his house. In fact, he announces something astounding to Jesus and the crowd that probably caused a few of them to swoon and faint: “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Because salvation is not just an assent to a belief but evidence of a changed life, Jesus responds: “Today salvation has come to this house.”

The Lesson for Today

As I said in the first post in this series, high taxes are considered sinful in Scripture. Zacchaeus himself seems to have been a good man, but he had become slave to a system that in the end did not set well with his conscience. The recent revelations about the U.S. IRS showing bias against conservative and religious groups for tax-exempt status is evidence of just how corrupt that particular organization is. But do you think they’re going to return four times the amount those organizations got cheated out of? Not a chance. Yet if we make a mistake and shortchange the IRS, well you’d better be prepared to pay the penalties. That’s not equitable in the least.

As with the Medicare & Medicaid regulations I mentioned in the previous post, the IRS tax code is a behemoth that needs to die a quick death. With a 2016 budget of $14 billion (and about 40% of that spend on enforcement), it’s easy to see how we could reduce spending by simplifying the code and reducing the out-of-control bureaucracy. I think all Americans understand this, and that is why the political candidates who are pushing for a simplified tax code have the most traction right now.

As an update to the previous post, the new report on Medicare and Medicaid overpayments came out last week; Medicaid improper payments alone have nearly doubled in the last two years! The 2015 figure: 9.78%, or $29.12 billion. That’s twice the IRS budget for 2016! Officials continue to blame the second increase in as many years on the States’ failure to catch up to new provider enrollment requirements. Well, can you blame them? With the regulations and size of these programs far exceeding the capacity to effectively manage them, and with States already strapped for cash for being practically forced to expand Medicaid and foot the bill for other unfunded mandates, it’s no wonder the States can’t keep up. They’re in the same boat as the populace at large.

Paul says in Romans 13 that we’re to be subject to the governing authorities. Of course, he was speaking to people who lived under the rule of a king, so they didn’t exactly have a voice. The government that God has instituted for America is a democracy, rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. As citizens, then, we do not “rebel” when we demand a change to systems that we find unfair or oppressive. In fact, in a democracy, it is our civil obligation to not only say something, but to actively work to promote policies that improve the general welfare of the people. Unfortunately, in an increasingly selfish and fragmented society, government is working to promote the specific welfare of specific classes of people, and all for the purpose of enslaving those people to dependence on the government instead of reliance on themselves.

The views expressed herein are my own. Period.

Scott Stocking

 

 

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July 14, 2015

Rejoicing with the Truth

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 6:13 pm

Introduction

June 26, 2015, was a sad day for American jurisprudence. On the political side, the “Supreme” Court of the United States (SCOTUS) failed to recognize the plain language of the Affordable Cafe Act, inartfully and carelessly crafted as it was, and upheld the economically unsound premium subsidies for those who work 29 hours or less per week. Paying people not to work or to work less: that’s the government’s way (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

On the moral side, SCOTUS declared gay marriage to be the law of the land, which is beyond the scope of their constitutional powers. Now I admit to being somewhat torn on the issue. On the one hand, I tend to be Libertarian when it comes to the issue of marriage. I don’t think the Federal or State governments have any business declaring anything about marriage. That is between two people and whatever supreme being they worship (whether it’s the Supreme Court or the only one true God).

The Dilemma

I realize I can’t force people to accept God’s teaching about marriage, that it’s the God-ordained union between a man and a woman who aren’t confused about their gender. But if two same-sex people want to live in a union, that’s their choice, and they have to come to terms with God about it in the end. (Note that I believe an ultimate encounter with God is both necessary and inescapable, so that underlies my whole worldview.) I can be happy that they’ve found happiness here on earth, but always in the back of my mind I wonder about their eternal destination. I have friends, family, and coworkers I respect who live that lifestyle, so I have to have some peace about the issue to get along with the rest of the world.

On the other hand, I cannot abide SCOTUS’s decision, because it is, in reality, a moral statement about marriage that undermines the freedom of association the First Amendment should guarantee us. It puts churches in a position of obeying God or government, and I pray they will obey God. Even worse, it strengthens the argument of the thought police that speaking against a homosexual union borders on a hate crime, which further diminishes our freedom of speech. King George must be laughing in his grave that the American Constitution is failing.

Political Coercion, not Divine Truth

Why any gay or lesbian couple would want to compel a church that doesn’t share their beliefs to perform their wedding or a baker who doesn’t share their beliefs to bake them a cake is beyond me. The only motivation I see is political coercion, and that has nothing to do with freedom at all. Most homosexuals, like most of the rest of us, just want to live their lives peaceably, and I’m not complaining about them. The radical 1% of the 1-2% in this country who are homosexual are imposing their beliefs on the rest of society. Good luck with that in the long run. It’s as if the radical homosexuals have become the elite ruling class imposing their agenda on the rest of society through fear and intimidation. There’s bound to be a reaction against that sooner or later, just as there was against King George 239 years ago.

The Biblical Perspective

So forgive me if I don’t celebrate SCOTUS’s imposition of a moral imperative contrary to God’s law. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:6: “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” Evil is what God opposes, proscribes, or finds detestable. It’s pretty plain in Leviticus 18:22 what God thinks of homosexuality. But lest anyone argue “That was the Old Testament!” look back at 1 Corinthians. In chapter 5 verse 1, Paul chides the Corinthians for tolerating a man who is violating Old Testament sexual ethics. The specific reference is to Leviticus 8:8, same chapter as the prohibition of homosexuality.

The problem for the Church, that is, the believers that are members of the body of Christ, is that most don’t understand this connection. Old Testament sexual ethics are still relevant in 2015. I’m not asking the church to go Westwood Baptist on homosexuals. Far from it. Love should still rule the day, but love for the people, not for the sin. Acceptance of the individual, not tolerance of the behavior.

Fallout

As for the fallout of this decision, again, it’s a blow to First Amendment rights. It compels people and businesses to spend their money on things they don’t believe in. The ability to make a decision on based on conscience has been taken away from the individual. The ability to speak one’s mind now becomes a criminal offense. Sorry, but I’m inclined to exercise some peaceful, civil disobedience if it comes to that. And don’t expect me to keep quiet, especially when the militant radicals and their political sympathizers try to terrorize me into compliance with their beliefs.

Scott Stocking

May 12, 2015

Why SCOTUS Should Favor King in King v. Burwell

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 5:40 am
Tags: ,

I feel very strongly that, as Christians, we need to take an active roll in our government. That’s why I’m going to hijack my own blog for political purposes.
If you’ve been watching the news at all, you have probably heard about King v. Burwell, the case before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) regarding whether the health insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act can qualify for tax credits if they weren’t “established by the State” (42 USC 1396A(gg)).
At question is the definition of “State” in the law. The Affordable Care Act allows the Federal government (through the Secretary of HHS) to establish a State Exchange if States fail to do so themselves. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act allows a credit or refund of part of the premium for those who purchased insurance through the Exchanges, but only if the Exchange was  “established by the State.” The issue is that, in the 34 States that did not establish their own exchange, the Federal government issued these credits when they shouldn’t have. In its brief to the Supreme Court, the US government argues that, under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, they essentially acted as a surrogate of the State when they established federally run Exchanges. The Feds also argue that “established by the State” is a “term of art,” a construction that was intended to be understood as “by the Federal government for the State.”
The problem is that the Affordable Care Act throughout makes frequent distinctions between the role of the Feds vs. the role of the State. Add to that the fact that the Affordable Care Act itself directs readers to the definition of “State” intended for the law (sec 1551, codified at 42 USC 18111, which refers to 42 USC 300gg-91). At paragraph 14 of 42 USC 300gg-91, we find the following definition of “State”:

“The term ‘State’ means each of the several States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.”

So according to Law, “State” must be understood in the Affordable Care Act as referring to the individual States, and “established by the State” can NOT mean “established by the Federal government.”
Affordable Care Act supporters argue that taking away the credits from federally established exchanges would cause a death spiral for the Affordable Care Act. I think a death spiral is in the works, but that will happen to our entire legal system if SCOTUS defines “State” broadly to mean the Federal government. This would cause many of our laws that give States powers to be reexamined in light of this new definition. States that are struggling financially could dump their unfunded mandates back on the Feds! In my mind, such an expansion of the definition of State would be the beginning of the end for States’ rights.
This issue isn’t just about purportedly cheaper health care coverage. We’ve already seen it’s not cheaper. This issue represents a fundamental struggle between State autonomy and Federal coercion. I hope and pray that SCOTUS sides with King.
Scott Stocking

October 14, 2014

An Eventful Year

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek — Scott Stocking @ 9:54 pm

I’ve been away from the blogosphere far too long. A number of things have happened since my last post on 7/22/13. I continue to monitor the statistics for my blog, and am humbled that I’m over 9300 views in the nearly four years(!!) I’ve been doing this. My most popular post continues to be my word study on “seer” in the Old Testament. The hits on that post alone, of the 80+ I’ve done, represent over 11% of the total views on my site. I suspect that, since I get large spikes on that one (the last spike was 121 this past July, and it averages about 40 views per month), someone out there has made it required reading on their syllabus. I wish I knew who that was, because I would love to thank them for the traffic.

Another thing that happened is, the day after my last post, I had a first date with someone I graduated from high school with. That turned into a second, third, and many other dates, and this past April, Jill and I got married. We’re quite happy, even though my adjustment to living in a house with her and her two teenage daughters (oh yeah, and the psycho pug dog) is a bit of a challenge at times. She’s a beautiful woman of God and has been encouraging me to get back to writing the blog. I’m need to be more intentional about that, and this post is my way of getting back into that.

In my post on June 9, 2013, I mentioned several projects I had been working on that had consumed much of time to that point. Well, they continued to consume even more time while building my relationship with Jill, and a couple of them have come to fruition now. I’d like to share those with you.

The first is that the study Bible I was working on has now been published, and I was honored to be listed as a contributing writer for the project. The (Dr. David) Jeremiah Study Bible (NKJV) is now available in print. I contributed notes, insight, and background for the following books: 1 Kings, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ezekiel, Matthew, Acts, 2 Corinthians, and 1 Thessalonians. I found it very rewarding to work with and get feedback from a team of writers who have had my respect over the years (and whose text books I’ve used in classes I’ve taught), including David Veerman.

Another project I took on, one that nearly consumed me, was to develop a concordance for the new Modern English Version of the Bible. Over the past few years, I have taught myself Visual Basic for Applications as a needed tool for my day job, and I was able to adapt some of my work with that to develop a program that searched all 66 Bible books to find terms for the concordance. The concordance has 5000 Scripture references (I think the publisher added more after I got done). I have a new-found respect for both James Strong and Goodrick & Kohlenberger. Strong developed his KJV concordance without modern technology, of course. Goodrick & Kohlenberger used modern technology to develop their NIV concordance, but since I had rather short context lines, I found it nerve racking at times to try to figure out what meaningful part of the context line to keep. I have not seen the MEV on the retail shelf yet, but I know my local Christian bookstore has it on order. The MEV is more of a literal translation, in the tradition of the KJV/NKJV.

I had also mentioned I was working on a stand-alone concordance/lexicon, but as of this post, I’ve not heard whether that has gone to press yet.

I can’t make any promises about my next post, but I do know I’m itching to write again. I learned much from my two Bible projects that I want to share, so I’ll have to go back through my notes to spark my memory. Thank you all for your continued readership, and thank you to the new readers who find me by whatever search engine picks up on my key words.

Peace,

Scott Stocking

June 15, 2013

Rushmore Mashup

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 12:15 am

Rushmore Mashup

“I cannot tell a lie,” “when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” “our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation” to “walk softly and carry a big stick.” That’s why we build monuments: so we don’t forget.

January 23, 2012

Take Heart! (θαρσέω tharseō, Matthew 9:2, 22)

(Note: All Greek words are linked to www.blueletterbible.com.)

As I begin my fiftieth trip around the sun this year, I’ve determined to make several difficult choices that quite frankly have me scared and stressed. I took our congregation’s “401” class last week on spiritual maturity, which emphasizes acting out of love and faith, only to be confronted with the fact that the first major decision I made in 2012 was one out of sheer desperation, fear, and resignation. I started taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University this week at our church, which means I’m committed on Sunday afternoons for the next 12 weeks, but the opening session gave me a little hope. Personal relationships are looking up as well, and things at work are on a more or less even keel. In addition, I hope to be able to go see my kids a little more often this year. Still, that first difficult decision overshadows the positives I am anticipating.

Courage!

So when I saw Jesus’s encouragement Θάρσει (“Take heart!”) twice in Matthew 9 the other day, I had to sit up and take notice. Matthew 9 comes in the heart of Jesus dealing with many who come to him or are brought to him for healing. Jesus, of course, meets their physical needs, but he is ever mindful of their spiritual needs as well. In Matthew 9:2, Jesus declares that the paralyzed man’s sins are forgiven, which incites the teachers of the law to accuse him of blasphemy. Unfazed, Jesus proceeds to demonstrate he has the power to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man. After the woman who suffered from a bleeding disease for 12 years touched Jesus’s garment, she was healed and greeted with the same word of encouragement.

The word is found five other times in the New Testament. Six occurrences are in the Gospels, and one is in Acts. Two of the occurrences are found in story of Jesus walking on the sea (Matthew 14:27, Mark 6:50) when the disciples are so terrified in the storm that they think Jesus is a ghost. John begins a major section of his Gospel with the phrase: “Do no let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (14:1 NIV). John teaches in chapters 14–16 on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the troubles that his followers would face in the world. He ends that section with the word of encouragement: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (16:33 NIV). The two other occurrences of the word are found in Mark 10:49 and Acts 23:11.

Compassion

But that word by itself was only the tip of the iceberg that day as I was reading Matthew 9. When I got to the end of the chapter, verse 36 really hit home, because I felt like part of the crowd: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion [σπλαγχνίζομαι] on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (NIV). The words for “have compassion” and “compassion” are two of my favorite Greek words, not only because you have to expel about a pint of spit to say them, but because they are so descriptive of the literal meaning: “bowels.” Yes, that is where the phrase “bowels of compassion” originates. Compassion comes from the gut in the Hebrew worldview, much deeper than the heart.

But leaving that word aside, the thing that really struck me was the condition of the people who came to Jesus: “harassed,” “helpless,” “shepherdless.” I’ve not forgotten I have a shepherd, even when I may wander off at times, but I’ve certainly felt the first two in the last few years. The shepherd has guided me through those times, but I often have to wonder what I’m supposed to be learning in the school of hard knocks.

The fact that I have a shepherd was reinforced even more when I came across an OT passage last week as a friend and I were reading through Six Battles Every Man Must Win by Bill Perkins, where he reminds us of the story of another shepherd, David. Before David secured his place on Israel’s throne, he was a fugitive running from Saul. During that time, however, he was not alone. Those who would become David’s “mighty men” gathered around him early in his fugitive life: “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him” (1 Samuel 22:2). That sounds very much like the people who were gathering around Jesus in Matthew 9. And it sounds very much like my life currently. My life-résumé is a pretty good match for the “qualifications” of a mighty man.

Contentment

I know I don’t have the strength to dig myself out of my own problems. Some days, I wear my weakness on my sleeve, but only because I know that it is only through my weakness that Christ can perfect his power (2 Corinthians 12:9). I need my shepherd, Jesus, to guide me through. The path is mountainous and treacherous at times, but I know he’s got my back.

I remember going on a horseback ride as a teen through Chadron State Park in NW Nebraska. We had about 15 people riding single file along the trail, and we were going along a high ridge with a 45 degree slope that dropped about a thousand feet to my right (at least, it seemed that steep and deep). My horse decided to take his own route, and instead of staying on the main path, he moved to the right a bit and went between a tree and the slope. The path between the tree and the slope was no wider than the horse, but when I started to panic a bit, my dad reassured me that the horse knew what he was doing. It was only a short little detour, only ten feet or so, but I had to duck a bit to avoid the lower branches of the tree. The horse was sure footed though and got me safely back on the path.

That detour is a microcosm of what I’ve experienced in the past few years, poised precariously on the brink of disaster. But God has seen me through it, and for that, I am grateful. The road ahead still has its challenges, but I can be content knowing that my Savior holds me in the palm of his hand and will put me on the straight path in his own timing.

Conclusion

So my word to you is the same as Christ’s to the paralytic and the bleeding woman: Take heart! Know that his promise that he would never leave us nor forsake us holds true, even when we have trouble seeing the end result.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

January 21, 2012

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 1:50 pm

Reposting this because I’m teaching a class on Jehovah’s Witnesses Sunday, January 22, at church.

Sunday Morning Greek Blog

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Download the link to this post for your smart phone or smart pad so you can have a ready reference for Jehovah’s Witness encounters.

I have sensed the anticipation of the masses (in my mind, the 15–20 of you who read this blog each week are the masses; humor me pleaseJ): “The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been beating down my door. I’m tired of debating John 1:1 with them. I never get anywhere. When will I get some help from the Sunday Morning Greek Blog?” (Again, humor me please.) Well help has finally arrived!

Before I begin, I want to give credit where credit is due. Daniel Wallace is the “go-to guy” for us Greek scholars when it comes to issues of Greek grammar. Some of what I will write today comes from his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, published by Zondervan and also available for the Logos…

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January 13, 2012

Who Is, Who Was, and Who Is Coming (Revelation 1:4, 8; 4:8; 16:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11)

I’m feeling kind of rusty. It’s been over three weeks since I’ve posted anything, but then, in those three weeks, I had my kids for the holidays, the holidays themselves, three repairs on the car, two round trips to Illinois, my dad and step mom both in the hospital at different times, and a partridge in a pear tree. Life has been pretty hectic. Things are getting back to normal, though, and after getting reacquainted with my Civilization IV game, I’m ready to get back in the blogosphere.

For those of you who aren’t on my Facebook friends’ list, I did in fact accomplish my 2011 resolution: I read through the entire Greek New Testament. I realized I haven’t written anything about Revelation yet, so I think I’ll take the next few posts to do that. In the meantime, I’ve started reading through the Greek NT again, so I will continue to post on other topics as well in the coming year.

There’s No Future Like the Present

One of the things that struck me almost right off the bat in Revelation was the Greek version of the phrase “Who is, who was, and who is to come” (NIV; ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος). At first glance in the English translation, this looks like a present tense verb (“Who is”), a past tense verb (“Who was”; 4:8 switches the order of the first two), and a future tense verb (“Who is to come”). But ὁ ἐρχόμενος is not future tense! It is actually a present tense participle, so it should imply the continuous aspect, that is, the action is currently underway. While “who is to come” does signal Jesus is coming, it doesn’t reflect the emphasis of the present tense in Greek. A better translation might be “Who is already coming.” Yes, he’s on his way, and he’ll be here soon.

But this isn’t the only place the NIV and many other versions imply a future tense that isn’t there in the Greek. We find the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, where Paul says, “You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” The verb there is ἔρχεται., present tense. So the early church didn’t look at as Jesus’s second coming as something in the distant future. They thought of it as something under way even as they wrote and read the New Testament.

When Is He Coming?

Now I can hear the anticipation out there: What is Scott’s millennial view? Well, I won’t beat around the bush. I lean toward being a post-tribulation amillennialist. (I hope WordPress’s server is ready for the barrage of comments I’ll receive on that little revelation!) When Jesus died and rose again, he established his kingdom, the body of Christ, on earth through the preaching of Peter and subsequent missionary activity of his disciples and other followers. The church represents the “millennial” (I take the term to be figurative for “a long time”) reign of Christ. I also believe we are in the time when Satan has been let loose to deceive the nations and the elect, so I think we’re beyond the millennial period now and waiting for the final consummation of history in Jesus’s triumphant return.

I can hear some of you shouting at your computers and iPhones: “But what about the rapture? Isn’t that supposed to happen before Satan is let loose?” First of all, let me say that the word “rapture” (or any Greek equivalent) is never found in the New Testament. The events described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11 are commonly referred to as the “rapture.” But these events I think could more appropriately be called a resurrection. After all, the dead bodies are raised first in that passage. Those of us who are alive will be “snatched up” (ἁρπάζω) as a resurrection from our mortal flesh. This is the same word John uses to describe what happens to the child born of the woman in Revelation 12:5. It’s also the word used in Matthew 12:29 (NIV): “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.”

This makes a nice segue to when I think Jesus’s second coming will happen. The watershed verse in my mind that tells me when Jesus is returning is Revelation 16:15: “Look, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to walk around naked and have others see his shame.” First of all, we have another present tense form of the word for “come,” so that aspect is reemphasized. Second, and more convincing in my mind, is the language of coming like a thief. I think this ties directly in with passages like Matthew 24:43, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10, and Revelation 3:3. No less than four different New Testament authors (Matthew, Paul, Peter, John) use this imagery of Christ’s return. But also notice when Jesus says he is coming: just before the final bowl of wrath is poured out. Since Paul connects the “coming” with the “snatching” in 1 Thessalonians 4–5, I have to believe that the body of Christ will remain on the earth during the entire tribulation of scrolls, trumpets, and bowls.

If You’ve Got Ears, Listen Up!

Don’t think you’re going to avoid the tribulation just because you’re a Christ follower. I don’t think God has ever let believers off that easily. Noah had to endure a flood; Abraham nearly sacrificed his own son; Moses spent 80 years in the wilderness; David spent years running from Saul. We Christ followers are going to experience (and may already be experiencing) the tribulation. Otherwise, why would Paul and Peter put such emphasis on being found holy, spotless, and blameless (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Peter 3:11–14)? Why the emphasis on “being ready” if we’re not going to live through it (or die in it!)?

Conclusion

Christ is on his way. We don’t know when: no one does. It may be 2012; it may not be until 2512. But we know he is true to his word, patient with the lost, and that he will come at the appointed time to win the final battle over sin and evil. Eternity with him will be glorious to say the least. I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are too.

Peace

Scott Stocking

January 1, 2012

2011 in review

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 10:54 pm

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

December 14, 2011

The Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7–8) and the Reliability of Modern Greek Texts

Filed under: 1 John,Authorship,Biblical Studies,Greek,New Testament,Textual Criticism — Scott Stocking @ 7:29 pm

Note: Some of the information herein is taken from Bruce Manning Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (2nd ed., New York: Oxford, 1968) pp. 95–106, 209–10.

Introduction

One of the most fascinating things to me about the history of the transmission of the New Testament is the diligent scientific method developed by scholars to judge not only the quality of a particular manuscript (MS, plural MSS), but also to trace the historical influences on and predecessors to a MS. With over 5000 MSS of the Greek NT (in whole or in part), it was inevitable that scholars would develop a system for classifying and dating them. The process is called textual criticism, but don’t be turned off by the word criticism. Don’t think of this as negative assessment (e.g. “Her criticism was insulting”), but as scholarly judgment (e.g., “Her initial critique provided valuable insight”).

The modern Greek texts like the United Bible Society’s 4th edition and the Nestle-Aland 27th edition are sometimes called critical texts, because they weigh the value and quality of all MSS and make a judgment when MSS conflict about what the original text was. When MSS have different text in the same chapter and verse, these differences are called variants, or variant readings, (sometimes abbreviated v.l. for Latin varia lectio), or spurious. The science is not exact (there are four levels of certainty with which they weigh variants), but we can be fairly certain that modern critical texts are extremely accurate descendants of the autographs, the versions originally penned by the biblical authors.

The Johannine Comma

One familiar passage that exemplifies the importance of textual criticism is 1 John 5:7–8, known also as the Johannine Comma or Comma Johanneum. If you grew up reading the King James Version (or its various successors), you may know the passage as:

7 For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth], the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one (1769 Authorized Version, italics mine).

Stephens 1551 version of the Greek text, the primary text of the 1611 King James and a predecessor to the Elzevir (official) textus
receptus of 1633 (more about that later), has the following Greek text (italics mine):

7 οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες [εν τω ουρανω ο πατηρ ο λογος και το αγιον πνευμα και ουτοι οι τρεις εν εισιν

8 και τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες εν τη γη]
το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν

But most modern English translation reject the outright statement of the trinity here, because there are no early Greek MSS (sometimes called witnesses) that have the phrase represented in brackets and italics. In fact, the earliest witness to the spurious passage is not even a biblical text. It is found in a fourth-century treatise, and it is believed to have been a commentary on the shorter passage, by way of analogy, that somehow made its way into the text. The earliest biblical text inclusion of the passage is an eighth-century copy of the Latin Vulgate, that is, it’s not even Greek.

When Erasmus was preparing his Greek text in the early sixteenth century, which would eventually lay the foundation for the Stephens text, he was not going to include the variant reading in 1 John 5:7–8 (and didn’t in his first two editions), because he could find no Greek texts that had the reading. However, according to the history Metzger relates, Erasmus promised to include the passage if a Greek text could be found that had the variant reading. Sure enough, one was “produced” for him, but Erasmus suspected it was a forged copy. (In fact, no Greek text prior to the fourteenth century has the variant.) True to his word, he included the variant passage, but with numerous footnotes and disclaimers questioning the authenticity of the passage. Nonetheless, it survived into the Stephens text and the textus receptus, and it was included in most Greek texts up to the late 19th century until modern-day critical texts began to gain prominence. Even though the stewards of the King James tradition know the passage is not original, they still to this day include the words in the main text in the New King James Version.

How Do Scholars Decide which Variant Reading Is the Best?

I may have mentioned the premises for textual criticism before in my blog, but they bear repeating, especially for my new blog readers. Scholars look at two types of evidence when examining the quality and accuracy of a MS—external and internal.

External Evidence

One piece of external evidence includes the date of the MS and the style of writing it uses. MSS that use lower case letters (minuscules) are thought to be more reliable than those that use all capital letters (uncials), even if the latter is older. MSS are also classified by geographical distribution. Without going into too much detail, there are three main “families” of MSS based on this distribution: Byzantine, Western, and Alexandrian. The Alexandrian family of MSS is generally considered to be the most reliable, and includes the fourth-century Aleph (א) text discovered at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai and the fourth-century Vaticanus (B) text.

One final piece of external evidence is that the relationships of the MSS to one another can often be traced as well. Some scholars count the number of variant readings and simply select the reading with the most “votes” among the witnesses. This results in what some call the “Majority Text.” The problem with this is that later MSS tend to be more common, and they are copies of copies. Consider the following analogy. Which would you consider more accurate: a handwritten reproduction of the Declaration of Independence by someone for whom English is a first language, or twenty copies made by those for whom English is not their first language who only hear the Declaration of Independence and write down what they hear? That is essentially the difference between how ancient scrolls were copied. Some were reproduced by careful editors, while others were mass produced by those who only knew the correspondence of sounds to letters. In the latter case, often only one copy of the text was available to read, so there was not much double-checking of the scribes’ work.

With respect to the Johannine Comma, the external evidence is pretty clear that the passage was never part of the original text penned by the apostle. But internal evidence is also weighed in deciding on the authenticity of a variant, so I turn now to that.

Internal Evidence

The evaluation of internal evidence takes two forms, that which relates to the words on the page (transcriptional) and that which relates to the broader contexts in which the text is found (intrinsic). The latter concern, context, is something that every Bible college student learns early on. Those of us who teach hermeneutics often joke with our students that if we call on them in their lifestyle-induced, classroom slumber to answer a question, they have a 50 percent chance of being right if they answer “Context!” In addition to the immediate context of the passage and the larger context of the book or the author’s collection of writings, historical considerations such as the Aramaic background of Jesus’ teaching and the influence of the Christian community on the transmission of the text play a role in the decision to accept or reject a variant.

Transcriptional considerations can be just as tricky, especially when some seem on the surface to contradict each other. Scribes had a tendency to simplify difficult passages by adding or changing words, so on the one hand, the most difficult reading of a passage is preferred as the original, while on the other hand, the shorter passage is preferred on the assumption that the longer passage contains more explanation. Especially relevant to the Gospels is another tendency of the scribe to consciously or unconsciously bring parallel passages into harmony. The scribe may be familiar with Luke’s version of a parable, so when he comes to that parable in Matthew, he assumes it needs to be corrected, so he “fixes” the text. But this involves much speculation, so the passage that has a greater verbal difference with parallels is preferred. Occasionally, a scribe may have inadvertently skipped a line based on seeing similar words or endings in successive lines of a Greek text. If you’re a wordsmith, this phenomenon is called homoioteleuton (also homeoteleuton, lit. “similar ending”) or parablepsis (lit. “see alongside”). Homoioarchton happens when text is skipped because of words with similar beginnings. We’ve all done those things when reading, so it shouldn’t surprise us that it happened with ancient texts.

Again, returning to the Johannine Comma, we see that the shorter passage is indeed preferred, and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the longer variant was indeed an attempt by a scribe to explain or allegorize a passage that was, perhaps, a little more difficult to comprehend. One final note: if you look at a copy of a United Bible Society Greek NT, you will see that the critical apparatus (essentially the catalog of where all the variants are found) weighs the certainty with which the Greek NT committee felt they had restored the original text. The shorter reading of 1 John 5:7–8 gets an A, because the committee was certain the original text had been restored. By contrast, the choice between “weigh anchor” (περιελόντες) and “circle around” (περιελθόντες) in Acts 28:13, a difference of one letter, gets the worst grade, D.

Conclusion

And so concludes my brief foray into the world of textual criticism. I hope you found it fascinating to discover that scholars have taken great care throughout history to maintain the integrity of God’s word, especially the New Testament. Talking about how the Jews preserved the Hebrew text is another blog post of its own.

I started in Revelation this week, so I’m in the home stretch of finishing up my read-through of the Greek NT. I’m toying with reading through the Hebrew Bible, but I may have to give myself three years to do that, and I’m not sure that would be the most profitable for me. I have been boning up on my Hebrew vocabulary, so it’s still a possibility, but I might return to my first-year Hebrew textbook and read through Esther to refresh and sharpen my Hebrew before tackling the whole OT. My other idea is to read through the Greek NT again, focusing a little more on vocabulary development personally and writing on topics I didn’t cover this year.

As always, if you have a topic you’d like to see me cover, don’t hesitate to ask. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. Peace on earth and good will to all humanity.

Scott Stocking

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