How not to read (2)

27 08 2009

Of course, you can get things wrong the other way…

NB Before you read this poem, it helps if you know Byron’s The Destruction of Sennacherib – or at least the first two lines of it, which are:

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;


Very like a Whale

by Ogden Nash

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and metaphor.
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can’t seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to go out of their way to say
   that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn’t just one Assyrian, it was a lot of Assyrians.
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and thus hinder longevity.
We’ll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a wolf on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy there are great many things.
But I don’t imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple and gold cohorts
   or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I’ll believe that this Assyrian was actually like a wolf
I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red mouth
   and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?
Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say, at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian cohorts about to
   destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn’t fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he had to invent
   a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers to people they say Oh yes,
   they’re the ones that a lot of wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
That’s the kind of thing that’s being done all the time by poets, from Homer to Tennyson;
They’re always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,
And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket after a winter storm.
Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of snow and I’ll sleep under a
   half-inch blanket of unpoetical blanket material and we’ll see which one keeps warm,
And after that maybe you’ll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.


Posted by Rick Creighton

Speaking of hip preachers…

26 08 2009

Check this out.

Posted by Con Campbell

How not to read

25 08 2009

I recently stumbled across an old favourite of mine – it’s lengthy, but it’s worth every word…


It is approximately the year 2790. The most powerful nation on earth occupies a large territory in Central Africa, and its citizens speak Swahili. The United States and other English-speaking countries have long ceased to exist, and much of the literature prior to 2012 (the year of the Great Conflagration) is not extant. Some archaeologists digging in the western regions of North America discover a short but well-preserved text that can confidently be dated to the last quarter of the twentieth century. It reads thus:

Marilyn, tired of her glamorous image, embarked on a new project. She would now cultivate her mind, sharpen her verbal skills, pay attention to standards of etiquette. Most important of all, she would devote herself to charitable causes. Accordingly, she offered her services at the local hospital, which needed volunteers to cheer up terminal patients, many of whom had been in considerable pain for a long time. The weeks flew by. One day she was sitting at the cafeteria when her supervisor approached her and said, “I didn’t see you yesterday. What were you doing?” “I painted my apartment; it was my day off,” she responded.

The archaeologists know just enough English to realise that this fragment is a major literary find that deserves closer inspection, so they rush the piece to one of the finest philologists in their home country. This scholar dedicates his next sabbatical to a thorough study of the text and decides to publish an exegetical commentary on it, as follows:

We are unable to determine whether this text is an excerpt from a novel or from a historical biography. Almost surely, however, it was produced in a religious context, as is evident from the use of such words as devoted, offered, charitable. In any case, this passage illustrates the literary power of twentieth-century English, a language full of metaphors. The verb embarked calls to mind an ocean liner leaving for an adventuresome cruise, while cultivate possibly alerts the reader to Marilyn’s botanical interests. In those days North Americans compared time to a bird – probably the eagle – that flies.

The author of this piece, moreover, makes clever use of word associations. For example, the term glamorous is etymologically related to grammar, a concept no doubt reflected in the comment about Marilyn’s “verbal skills.” Consider also the subtleties implied by the statement that “her supervisor approached her.” The verb approach has a rich usage. It my indicate similar appearance or condition (this painting approaches the quality of a Picasso); it may have a sexual innuendo (the rapist approached his victim); it may reflect subservience (he approached his boss for a raise). The cognate noun can be used in contexts of engineering (e.g. access to a bridge), sports (of a golf stroke following the drive from the tee), and even war (a trench that protects troops besieging a fortress).

Society in the twentieth century is greatly illuminated by this text. The word patient (from patience, meaning “endurance”) indicates that sick people then underwent a great deal of suffering: they endured not only the affliction of their physical illness, but also the mediocre skills of their medical doctors, and even (to judge from other contemporary documents) the burden of increasing financial costs.

A few syntactical notes may be of interest to language students. The preposition of had different uses: casual (tired of), superlative (most important of all), and partitive (many of whom). The simple past tense had several aoristic functions: embarked clearly implies determination, while offered suggests Marilyn’s once-for-all, definitive intention. Quite noticeable is the tense variation at the end of the text. The supervisor in his question uses the imperfect tense, “were doing,” perhaps suggesting monotony, slowness, or even laziness. Offended, Marilyn retorts with a punctiliar and emphatic aorist, “I painted.”

Readers of Bible commentaries, as well as listeners of sermons, will recognize that my caricature is only mildly outrageous

From God, language, and Scripture, by Moisés Silva (p11-13)


Posted by Rick Creighton

The trouble with hip preachers

24 08 2009

This isn’t a rant or a rave against preachers who are hipper than me. I like hip preachers. I think they’re great at shattering stereotypes and people’s preconceived ideas about what a Christian is. I like it that they help Christians to see that you don’t need to be a dag or a Ned Flanders. I like it that it’s easy to invite friends to hear someone who won’t make them cringe. There’s lots to like about hip preachers. As long they faithfully teach the Bible and glorify Jesus rather than themselves, cool.

But I do have one niggling concern about hip preachers. Let me start a bit further back. One of the things that really drew me to Christianity was that real Christians loved everyone, even the complete dorks and dags that everyone else treated as outcasts. I was never a complete dork, but I didn’t always feel like I fitted in while growing up. The witness of faithful Christians who loved and accepted me in spite of my weirdo music tastes, obsessive perfectionism, and introverted shyness got me in the door. And once I was in the door, I was continually impressed by the way the dorks and the dags were treated as real human beings.

Now, I don’t think that hip preachers jeopardize that at all. In fact, it’s all the more powerful when the hippest dude you’ve ever met has a genuine love and care for the nerd/geek/social outcast. Cool. But—and here’s my concern—I think the phenomenon of hip preachers does affect the acceptance of less cool preachers. Let’s face it, there are plenty of uncool preachers. Many of them faithful and genuinely loving servants of Jesus. But because they ain’t so hip, they don’t get the kudos, platform invitations, and facebook friends that the hip preachers do. I don’t really care if preachers don’t get those things (and neither should other preachers), but I do care if preachers are made to feel inadequate because they’re not hip. Let’s face it, there’s plenty of evidence that suggests that average Christians think that such preachers are inadequate because they’re not hip. They don’t talk the hip talk, they don’t wear the hip jeans, and they use sermon notes. Yes, sermon notes.

So I think that my concern is that, while we’re pretty good at loving unhip Christians, we’re not currently good at accepting, valuing, honoring, and thanking God for the unhip preachers. I don’t remember hipness being a requirement in 1 Timothy 3. I don’t remember hearing that Simeon was particularly hip. Nor Spurgeon. Especially not Edwards. And yet God used these great preachers to proclaim the gospel to thousands of people, hip and unhip alike.

Anyway, there’s my thing. Keen to hear your thoughts.

Posted by Con Campbell

God as Patron?

15 08 2009

In his excellent book of 2004 “Reconceptualizing Coversion,” Zeba A. Crook argues that most people in the first century saw God (whichever god they followed) as the great patron and benefactor.

The best picture of this today is actually the Mafia, where the godfather sits at the top of the tree demanding trust and loyalty from his clients, distributing protection, security and belonging in return. But the moment such a parallel is made it causes people to (rightly) cringe. A bit like the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16) – we balk at God ever being paralleled with an ugly figure.

David deSilva has recently given other reasons why 21st century westerners may not like this idea:

People in the United States and northern Europe may be culturally conditioned to find the concept of patronage distasteful at first and not at all a suitable metaphor for talking about god’s relationship to us. When we say “it’s not what you know but who you know,” it is usually because we sense someone has had an unfair advantage over us or over the friend whom we console with these words. It violates our conviction that everyone should have equal access to employment opportunities (being evaluated on the basis of pertinent skills rather than personal connection) or to services offered by private businesses or civic agencies. Where patronage occurs (often deridingly called nepotism: channeling opportunities to relations or personal friends), it is often done “under the table” and kept as quite as possible

Are these good reasons to reject this picture? Actually they are very good reasons to be extremely cautious if choosing to reject this picture. There are a lot of ulterior motives kicking around, which may make us blind to seeing the importance of this idea in the NT.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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It seems my secret identity has been revealed…

12 08 2009

…thanks to Jim West.

Posted by Sam Seaborn

Galatians 1.11

10 08 2009

Γνωρίζω γὰρ ὑμῖν, ἀδελφοί, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον

↑τ εαγγελισθν (ὑπ᾿ ἐμοῦ)

ὅτι οὐκ στιν (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον)·

This verse continues the thought of 1.10, in which Paul reveals his God-ward orientation: as a servant of Christ he does not seek to please people. Here in 1.11 we see Paul make a similar point about the gospel he preaches: it is not according to man (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον). The origin of the gospel is of great significance for Paul, and underscores why he does not seek to please people (1.10): the gospel he preaches is not from a human source. This is the sole point of this verse, and its positive answer lies in the following verse—the gospel was received by revelation from Christ (1.12).

The verse also connects to the discussion of 1.6–9, and in particular 1.8. The measure there of what constitutes a false gospel is any message that strays from what we have preached to you (1.8). While 1.8 suggests that the integrity of the gospel message is bigger than Paul’s apostleship in that even if he were to get it wrong, the gospel would trump his authority, here we begin to see why the gospel as originally delivered by Paul is the benchmark: its origins are not human. It is not, strictly speaking, Paul’s gospel; and yet, on the other hand, it is so described because it was entrusted to him.

In fact, the adjectival participial clause τὸ εὐαγγελισθὲν ὑπ᾿ ἐμοῦ (proclaimed by me) is of crucial importance in this verse because it once again stresses the fact that the true gospel is the one originally proclaimed by Paul. The perfective aspect of the aorist participle implies antecedent action (proclaimed), even though its function is adjectival.[1] This means that Paul is referring to a previous event: the gospel as proclaimed is the benchmark, regardless of whatever is currently being proclaimed. In the unlikely hypothetical situation of 1.8 in which Paul allows the (however remote) possibility that he might get the gospel wrong at some later point, the past proclamation of the gospel is fixed and serves as an anchor for the Galatians should they become confused by alternate versions of the gospel.

This participial clause also serves as a counterpoint to the last phrase of the verse. While the final phrase expresses the main point of the verse—that the gospel is not according to man—the mention of Paul’s proclamation of that gospel highlights the fact of human activity as servant of divine agency. While the gospel does not have human origins, it is proclaimed by human servants of Christ. Of course, this apparent tension represents no problem for Paul, even though it may do so for the Galatians. In fact, this apparent tension has been running through this first chapter so far: while Paul’s apostleship is from God and not man (1.1), his authority as an apostle does not supercede the authority of the gospel (1.8). While it is Paul’s apostolic proclamation of the gospel that makes it authentic, this does not preclude the apostle Peter from error. Indeed, it is this apparent tension between divine and human agency that leads to the Galatian problem: how can those whom God has called turn away to a false gospel (1.6)? The answer is the same that says that the divinely appointed apostle Peter can be wrong about the gospel, and that says that the gospel is not from man, yet was proclaimed by Paul.

Posted by Con Campbell

[1] See my Verbal Aspect and Non-Indicative Verbs, 37–44, on the discussion about substantival participles and relative temporal expression; the same point may be applied to adjectival participles.