I thought that I’d be blogging more since I’ve been on quarantine. Not so. The more things change, the more they stay the same…
I thought that I’d be blogging more since I’ve been on quarantine. Not so. The more things change, the more they stay the same…
Priest John Mikitish & Hieromonk Herman:
Before the age of print, each prayer book was necessarily customized to the needs and tastes of the individual user. But even today, when books are massed produced and uniform, no prayer book is printed in order to dictate what everyone must pray, any more than a cookbook imposes a menu!
In the years when I was educated, books were the conspicuous consumption of an intellectual. And by books I mean the paper product, bound between covers with its distinctive textures, colors, and aromas.
Not to be hidden under the bushel of an electronic device, they once lined floor-to-ceiling shelves in the homes of professors and authors. The spines were delectable in their variety of colors and stoutness.
My own consumption bordered on the gluttonous. In those years before online databases, I haunted library sales, yard sales, and garage sales. I sent off postcards alerting rare-book dealers to my “wants.” When I traveled for business, I routinely spent my meal allowance on books, which I devoured in between meetings, on public transportation, in waiting rooms—wherever, whenever. I would forgo sleep and still read more.
The word sobornost’ is derived from the word used in the Slavonic version of the creed to translate katholikos, ‘catholic’. It appears that some of the older texts in the Slavonic Creed simply transliterated katholikos as katholichesky, as did the Latin version and virtually all European versions, but in (or maybe by) the fifteenth century katholichesky was replaced by soborny.
It is often said that soborny is derived from the word for a council in Slavonic, sobor, but I suspect the truth is more interesting. In replacing katholichesky, the Slavonic translators went back to the root meaning of katholikos, which is formed from the Greek kath’ holon, ‘according to the whole’, and took the word to mean something like ‘taken as a whole’, ‘gathered together’. So they used the word soborny, an adjective derived from the word sobrat’, ‘to gather together’. The word for council or synod, translating the Greek synodos, meaning a ‘coming together’, a ‘gathering’ and hence ‘council’, is sobor, so the use of soborny in the creed suggested that it is in a council that the Church manifests its nature.
In a remarkable way, then, the word soborny makes a link between the Church as catholic and the Church as conciliar: between the Church as proclaiming a truth that concerns everyone, and the Church as constituted by being gathered together by God.
Scholars agree that some books are literal translations and others are paraphrases, much like the Living Bible. Given that Greek manuscripts are the earliest witnesses to the Hebrew Old Testament, a more literal manuscript can be helpful for textual criticism. The non-literal translations, however, may shed light on the theology, philosophy, or religious practices of the Jewish faith in the late Second Temple period.
Ryan Reeves, “What is the Septuagint?.”
The above-quoted statement is common in popular literature on the Septuagint (LXX). The idea is usually undergirded by a presupposition regarding the texts that the LXX translators had to work with, in many cases assuming something like the Masoretic Text (MT) as the exemplar. Take note of Reeves’ comment on the helpfulness of “a more literal manuscript” for textual criticism while the alleged “non-literal translations” shed light on things other than the text.
But what if these non-literal translations weren’t as non-literal as one might initially suspect? Could they then be helpful for textual criticism? In other words, rather than assuming that a supposedly non-literal rendering is an example of the translator assuming a certain freedom in their translation, why not ask if there might be another text serving as the foundation for their translation?
After referencing Rudolf Kittel’s comment that the “LXX is not a real translation but a theological commentary,” Natalio Fernández Marcos assures us that:
Once we get into the actual text, as a general rule the translation of the Pentateuch is faithful to the Hebrew text, more than was thought at the beginning of the century. And in the light of recent discoveries at Qumran, the great divergences in the historical books between the LXX and the Hebrew have to be interpreted more as a witness of the pluralism of the Hebrew text before its consonantal fixation at the synod of Yamnia, c. 100 CE, than as the result of the exegetical preferences of the translators.
Natalio Fernández Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Versions of the Bible (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 23.
Laying aside the reference to the mythical council of Jamnia, this is an important point to note. We cannot presuppose that the LXX translators had something like the MT before them, nor can we assume that they were all working with the same text. We have to allow for divergent Vorlagen and then assess how strict or free they were in their translations.
James Barr has an instructive essay called “The Typology of Literalism in Ancient Biblical Translations” in which he expounds on what I’d call the limits of freedom. Around the same time that Marcos’ volume appeared in its original Spanish edition, Barr said:
Thus, in general, where new evidence has become available it has on the whole increased our conviction that, at least in many books, the LXX worked fairly literally and elements in their rendering stand for something that was actually there, rather than being free invention or fancy.
James Barr, “The Typology of Literalism in Ancient Biblical Translations,” (MSU XV, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979), 286.
Barr follows these comments with a quick reference to Ben Sira, which contains a number of “Hebrew variants semantically grossly diverse from one another” (286). So where one thinks that the LXX translator is offering a free rendering of one variant, it is quite possible, even likely, that they are offering a literal rendering of another. But what of a case where there is no known textual variant? Barr uses Sir 5.1 as an example. The Hebrew reads:
אל תשען על חילך ואל תאמר יש לאל ידי
The LXX translates this to say:
Μὴ ἔπεχε ἐπὶ τοῖς χρήμασίν σου
καὶ μὴ εἴπῃς Αὐτάρκη μοί ἐστιν.
Barr says that this appears to be an “excellent free rendering” before asking whether or not it was possible that the final word in the Hebrew text was read as יד rather than ידי (see also W. Bacher, “The Hebrew Text of Ben Sira,” JQR 12/2 , 283) in which case the LXX translator would have been translating quite literally. It is also noteworthy that the Syriac translation of Ben Sira understood the Hebrew in the same way (see W. Th. Van Peursen, Language and Interpretation in the Syriac Text of Ben Sira: A Comparative Linguistic and Literary Study [SSVBTCC 16; Leiden: Brill, 2007], 29, 42), which could indicate that the Syriac version is dependent on the LXX, or that the translators of the LXX and Syriac version had the same or a similar Hebrew text that has been lost, or finally “polygenesis,” that is, each translator read the Hebrew text in the same way independently of one another as Van Peursen suggests.
The point here is that it’s not always necessarily the case that the translator is offering a paraphrase of the source text even if there is no known variant to explain the difference. In this example, the translation itself could be thought to serve as a variant reading of sorts, which gives the reader pause to think about how this reading could have arisen. In this case it’s not difficult to imagine our translator missing the final י in the line. It is, after all, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
So in closing, I want to say two things: First, the LXX translators should be given more credit than they sometimes are for the translations they provide. They’re not like those who produced the Targumim nor are they the Eugene Petersons of their day. There was a limit to the freedom they could exhibit. Second, Barr’s essay is brilliant and says much more than I’ve hinted at in this short post. It should be required reading for anyone working with the LXX.
Happy International Septuagint Day!
I’ve been teaching through various fundamental doctrines in Bible study at my church and right before the New Year we started in on the Trinity. The first class was an introduction, noting differences between the Trinity (who/what God is) and the doctrine of the Trinity (how we speak about who/what God is). The second class started in the beginning, in the book of Genesis, noting how God creates through his Word and Spirit. We noted features of the text that make sense for Trinitarians but not so much for non-Trinitarians. The third and fourth classes looked at the Angel of the LORD and the ways in which he is identified both as the LORD and as distinct from the LORD. Again, this is something that makes sense for the Trinitarian and not the non-Trinitarian.
But in all of this I’ve been hammering home the point that I reject the idea that there is no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible as such. I’ve read that innumerable times throughout the years. The idea is that we don’t find fourth-century Trinitarian terminology in the Bible so we don’t have the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. Some are more generous and say that we find a doctrine of the Trinity in the NT because the NT was written after the Incarnation of the Son and the pouring out of the Spirit, but it was only hinted at in the OT at best. I reject these sentiments. Vehemently.
I don’t take fourth-century articulations to be the standard by which we judge everything else. I take the fourth-century for what it is, and likewise the NT for what it is, and before that the OT for what it is. In every instance we have a particular view of God, but if God is Trinity–and God is Trinity–then every witness to God in the Christian Scriptures is a witness to the Trinity. I can’t fault the OT for not saying what the NT says any more than I can fault the NT for not saying what the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers said. We don’t fault the early fathers for not saying what the medieval scholastics said, do we?
In any event, I was looking for a scan of a book chapter I sent someone a few years back and I found it in an email where I said the following:
I guess the standard answer to the question you raise would be an appeal to progressive revelation. It took the Incarnation of the Son and the giving of the Spirit to the Church for us to have all of the pieces in place to then formulate a formal doctrine of the Trinity. Plenty of folks suggest that God didn’t completely reveal himself as Trinity in the OT because of the rampant polytheism that surrounded Israel. It would have been all too easy for Israel to mess up God’s multi-personality and fall into worshipping multiple gods, or so the argument goes. I’d say that the OT gives us plenty to ponder concerning God’s multi-personality. The way that his Word and Spirit are depicted; or the enigmatic Angel of the Lord that is at once YHWH and an agent of YHWH; and those seemingly out of place plural pronouns and verbs that refer to God. Taken cumulatively it’s enough to get us asking some good questions.
And that’s where I’d differ from the standard answers usually offered. I think the OT forces us to ask questions that can only be correctly answered by speaking of the Trinity. We’re only able to get a doctrine of the Trinity in the NT because the OT already contains it. The NT simply assumes, builds upon, and makes clear what is already there. One thing that I often remind people about is how the Patristic writers’ arguments for the Trinity were exegetical. These early Christians formulated what most people consider “the doctrine of the Trinity” (i.e., Nicene Trinitarianism) from a close examination and interpretation of the Scriptures (especially the OT).
So I’d say that it was both hinted and revealed in the OT. We just have to allow for it to have been hinted and revealed in precisely the way that it was and not impose a later doctrine as the standard by which we judge the OT revelation. In other words, it doesn’t work to set 4th century Nicene Trinitarian theology as the standard and then say that the doctrine of the Trinity is absent from the OT (or even the NT) because they don’t use the language or arguments of 4th century theology. Likewise, I’d argue that the Son was revealed before the Incarnation in the NT. He was revealed in various theophanies; in God speaking to the Israelite King; as the Word through which God created; etc. This is why Jesus can walk with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and explain to them all of the things that the Scriptures said concerning him. They were prophetic, to be sure, but not merely in the sense of foretelling future events. They also spoke to a present reality in Israel’s life.
It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Bible begins with the story of God creating the heavens and the earth and all that is in it. On the sixth day of creation God makes man (both male and female) in his own likeness and image and blesses them and then immediately gives them the command to be fruitful and multiply so that they can fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it (Gen 1:26–28). This delegated authority was second only to God and we should immediately recognize the prominent position that God placed them in because once we realize how high they were it exposes just how far they fell. God goes on to tell the original man and woman that he has given them every plant and tree that yields fruit for food (Gen 1:29), which may seem like a trivial statement at first but is actually quite important for understanding the events that follow.
The second chapter of Genesis gives a more detailed account of the creation of the first man and woman and their original home in the garden of Eden. The text says that “out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:9). We’re told shortly after this that “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen 2:15–17). Their temptation and subsequent fall was documented for us in Genesis 3.
The Fall (Genesis 3:1–13)
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Much could be said about this passage but we’ll limit ourselves to a few important observations. First, the serpent (who will later be identified as the devil in Revelation 12:9) began his deception by twisting the command of God.
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
God said that they could eat from every tree but one while the serpent changes this to any tree. The woman (Eve) responds by twisting the command herself in saying that they couldn’t eat of the one tree nor could they touch it or they would die. Yet God never said anything about touching the tree. It stands to reason that touching the tree would have been a part of their duty to work and keep the garden (Gen 2:15).
But notice how the serpent tempts the woman. He begins by denying the consequence that God promised for disobedience. His second line of attack is to point out that the woman lacks something that God has. Let’s look at the text again:
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
He doesn’t focus on how good the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil looked. He doesn’t focus on how good it would have tasted or the fact that it was good for food (these things were already obvious from Gen 2:9). He focuses on the fact that eating it would open her eyes and make her like God in knowing good and evil. It wasn’t simply the allure of being like God that drew the woman in. She was already created in his image and likeness (Gen 1:26). It was the allure of being like God in knowing good and evil that was the ultimate temptation. This desire for knowledge and wisdom is what ultimately drew the woman and her husband into disobedience.
The Knowledge of Good and Evil
This raises the question of what exactly the knowledge of good and evil is and what it means to know or to have knowledge. How do we come to know anything? We know through:
Now remember the serpent’s sales pitch. He tempted the woman with being like God in knowing good and evil. So how exactly does God know? Does God learn? That is, does God acquire knowledge through someone else telling him? It doesn’t seem so. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah saying:
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isa 46:9–10)
God “declares” the end from the beginning. “Declaring” in this context means to “make known” or “announce.” In other words, God can make the end known from the beginning because he knows the end from the beginning. He doesn’t acquire knowledge of things as they happen. This is also not an instance of God simply looking into the future to see what will happen and having a passive knowledge of what will occur. He “declares” or “makes known” the end from the beginning because he determines the end from the beginning. This is made clear when he says that his counsel shall stand and he will accomplish all his purpose (cf. Eph 1:11).
Job asks the rhetorical question, “Will any teach God knowledge, seeing that he judges those who are on high?” (Job 21:22 cf. Isa 40:14). This type of question expects a negative answer. Of course no one will teach God knowledge! But the clearest statement comes from the First Epistle of John when he says, “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).
If God doesn’t learn then he certainly couldn’t have had the knowledge of good and evil through someone telling him what good and evil were. Is it possible that God acquired the knowledge of good and evil through experience? John again tells us that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Darkness is often used as a metaphor for evil in Scripture. This is certainly how John used it throughout his writings. For example, he says that “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). Darkness and evil are synonymous in this passage. He records Jesus saying, “the light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going” (John 12:35). So when John tells us that there is no darkness in God he means to communicate that there is no evil in God.
Later in his first epistle John says that “everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). Again, God is pure, and thus not tainted by evil. In Mark’s Gospel a man runs up to Jesus and calls him “Good Teacher” (Mark 10:17) to which Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Goodness rather than evil is attributed to God. It stands to reason that since God is without darkness, pure, and good that he does not experience evil. And yet God has the knowledge of good and evil, so if he doesn’t gain it through learning or experience, then how does God know good and evil?
God knows through determination, that is, he determines what good and evil are. Returning to the First Epistle of John we read that “everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). The “lawlessness” here is specifically a disregard for God’s law. Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament we read of people doing what was “evil in the sight of the LORD.” This phrase has reference to various sinful acts, namely:
God explicitly forbids such practices (Exod 20:3–5; Deut 18:10; Lev 18:21; 26:14–46), so in committing them one does what is “evil in the sight of the LORD,” which is to say that God is the one who determines what evil is.
So was the allure of being like God in knowing good and evil a desire to acquire knowledge through learning or experience? No. It was a desire to determine what good and evil were as God had already done. The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck said, “The knowledge of good and evil is not the knowledge of the useful and the harmful, of the world and how to control it, but… the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own” (Reformed Dogmatics, 3:33). We see this play out immediately after they eat the fruit of the tree.
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Once their eyes were opened they knew they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Gen 3:7). But why? The text tells us that when God went to meet them they hid themselves from his presence and when he called them Adam answered and admitted that he hid himself because he was afraid and he was afraid because he was naked (Gen 3:9–10). When and where did God tell them that being naked was a problem? God created them naked and called that act of creation “very good” (Gen 1:31). They determined for themselves that their nakedness was something to be covered.
Immediately after pronouncing the curse for their disobedience (Gen 3:14–19) God clothes them in animal skins and says that “the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:22). In other words, it’s not that they now recognized that their nakedness was evil and had been all along, it’s that they determined that this was so. God was saying that the man and the woman had become determiners of good and evil like him although in their case they didn’t have this by right.
This was the beginning of the disordering of God’s creation. Once sin entered the world everything was out of alignment. The “original sin” was a desire for autonomy. Autonomy comes from the Greek words “autos,” which means “self” and “nomos,” which means “law.” A literal way of understanding autonomy is as a “law unto one’s self, or self–rule.” A standard dictionary defines autonomy as “freedom from external control or influence.” Humanity in general now wants to call the shots and determine the parameters of good and evil. The repeated references to doing “evil in the sight of the LORD” that we find in the book of Judges can be paralleled with another phrase that we see repeated in the same book, namely that “in those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 17:6; 21:25).
Centuries later the prophet Isaiah cried out:
20 Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter! (Isa 5:20)
This woe is reserved specifically for those who deny God’s pronouncements and substitute them with their own and unfortunately we have all at one time or another gone astray in the same way as our first parents.