Thursday, December 20, 2012

Taste of Home

Coming back to California is always a unique experience. Among other things it is something of a shock to see the availability of goods, to hear English all the time and to drive a car. This often requires some period of adjustment.

There are a few things that I regularly notice when we return. One is that I have a heightened awareness of the faults in my home culture. I tend to be judgmental and critical of the things I consider deficiencies in the culture. Another is that I usually overindulge in foods I have not eaten in a while. Another thing I notice is that in some ways I feel very much at home and in other ways I feel very much out of place. Living almost 10 years outside the US has changed my worldview, my habits, my values and even on some levels my language. Also, while we are away, many things connected with California change. We don’t always have regular contact with friends so we are sometimes not up to date with their lives, fears and struggles. This gives rise to feeling like an outsider in your own culture. I accepted this long ago and it has actually served as a reminder of where my true home is. When I feel like a foreigner in Odessa, I am reminded that my true citizenship is in heaven. When I feel out of place in California, I am reminded that I am ultimately an alien and exile on earth. Someday I will see my true home and be welcomed home by my true Master. This gives me great peace and hope.

This time, I am experiencing many of the same feelings. As usual, I feel at home and out of place at the same time. However, there has been something unique. This time, we have returned on medical leave. That means that we have probably received more attention than usual. Because we are missionaries, there is an unwritten requirement to live out things like this in public. Our friends and supporters (those that read our newsletters) know that I have cancer. They know that we have returned to have it treated. They are concerned for us, they pray for us, offer advice and help. This is great and provides us with a lot of prayer and emotional support. We have experienced a profound sense of love, grace and support that can come through the body of Christ. It also means that at times I find myself getting medical advice from or discussing personal medical issues with people I really don’t know very well. That can be awkward. Sometimes we call this the fishbowl effect.

The unique thing I have found this time is that I have experienced short times of a profound sense of home. As I listen to a song or sit in a service listening to a sermon in English, I know what to do; I easily and clearly understand the humor, nuanced cultural references and idioms. I don’t have to intellectually put them in a cultural or historic context.  I just get it. What I am realizing is that there is perhaps a “flavor” to your home culture and this flavor produces a sense of connection.

One special connection was when some of the elders, deacons and deaconesses prayed for us. They took our whole family to a side room in the church. I kneeled down, they anointed me with oil, they laid their hands on me and prayed. Many of these men and women we have known for years. They have been our teachers, friends, encouragers, pastors, leaders and supporters. Some of them we only really know about. But we respect them all. Through their actions, the Spirit brought us great peace and a sense of belonging and acceptance. It was the body of Christ in action. It was a taste of home – our true home.

In these moments, when I get the joke – when the idiom makes perfect sense, when the saints sincerely pray for us, I get a feeling of belonging in a way that feels like home. It feels like acceptance. It only comes in glimpses, but I like it that way. It is the same lesson as before, but from the other side. When I feel out of place, I am reminded that I am not home and someday I will be home. When I get that glimpse of acceptance and belonging that feels like home, I am reminded of a future home where the feeling will not fade. God is granting me a taste – a glimpse of what is yet to come. For that I am thankful.

Monday, November 26, 2012

About - From - With

In his book, Cross-Cultural Servant hood, Duane Elmer, gives practical advice on preparing to minister in a cross-cultural setting. He explains in clear and simple terms that when moving to a new culture, there are three important types of learning. The first is “learning about” the new culture. When moving, almost everyone does this. We read books, look at statistics on the internet and maybe pay attention to news stories about the culture we are moving to. This is necessary and good. It helps us adjust our expectations and gives us valuable information to help us adapt culturally. However, information about a culture is often presented in broad strokes and with little nuance. Cultures do have characteristics, defined behavioral patterns and values, but people in the culture tend to live and act inside a range of the limits set by these cultural norms. So when we learn about, we learn the broad strokes. Sadly many stop here and consider themselves to be experts. Elmer says that this is just the beginning or even the preparation for the deeper learning. The deeper learning is “learning from” the new culture. Learning “from” happens when you are living in the culture. We take what we know about the culture and observe, ask and adjust. We learn from the people we meet and interact with. This gives us a deeper understanding and appreciation of the culture. The third is “learning with” the culture. This is when we develop friendships that are reciprocal. With these friends we explore each other’s cultures, share our lives and in a Christian context learn from God’s word and minister together.

As we recently prepared to leave for the States for cancer treatment, one of the things we had to do was tell people why we were unexpectedly leaving. This is difficult for me because my pride makes it difficult for me to appear weak. Our friends had various reactions. Some were shocked, some were sad, some were encouraging and most said they would pray. This was very encouraging. One of my best friends is Igor (pronounced like the English word “eager”). He and his family live close to us. He is a fellow professor at the seminary and a pastor at the church we attend. He is one I often learn with and from. As we prepared to leave, I got a lesson from Igor in pastoral ministry that was also a great personal blessing. We had some friends over and Igor stopped by for a visit. We enjoyed some tea and fellowship. After a while, Igor said, “Alfie, I wanted to come say good-bye by encouraging you and praying with you.” He opened his Bible, read me a short passage and simply pondered out loud for a few minutes how Paul’s struggles might give us insight into our own struggles. He invited me to share my thoughts with him and we thought sublime thoughts together for a few minutes. Then he said, “Let’s pray in the Slavic style”. So we got on our knees and prayed together. After the prayer we stood, hugged and Julie took a picture. My dear friend’s actions were a lesson in simple sincerely friendship and pastoral care. It is truly a privilege to learn from friends like this.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife.....Fragment?

An approximately 4cm by 8cm fragment, which reads “Jesus said to them, my wife” in line four of eight was unveiled by Harvard Professor Karen King at a congress of Coptic Studies in Rome on September 18, 2012.  The language of the fragment is Sahidic and  the text is thought to be from the 4th century. 

Dr. King’s actual research paper  is scheduled to be published in the Harvard Theological Review in January 2013.  At the congress, King only made an official announcement, gave a brief overview of the document and explained that the official research will be published in January.  However, the rhetoric and, in some cases, panic has already started.  On the basis of this fragment, some are already claiming that Jesus did indeed have a wife.  Others are claiming that this is more evidence that the early church Father’s suppressed other early legitimate Christian beliefs in favor of what we today call “orthodox belief”.  Others are claiming the fragment is a forgery.  My purpose here is to add my thoughts in an attempt to minimize the propagation of extreme claims.  The fact is that all the evidence is not in.  Professor King has clearly stated that she thinks the fragment is authentic but even she says that more testing is necessary.  Even if it is authentic, she also clearly states that “this new discovery does not prove that the historical Jesus was married...But the fragment does suggest that 150 years or so after Jesus’ birth, Christians were already taking positions on such questions.”  In my view, this is a fair analysis.

Nobody has made the claim yet, but I have a suspicion that as time goes on, this fragment, in the eyes of some, will be given the same authority as the four canonical evangelists.  I base this suspicion on two things.  First on the scholarly perspective of Dr. King and second on the name she gave the fragment.  She calls it “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”. 

In an interview, King emphasized that this new discovery does not prove that the historical Jesus was married and at the same time gives her opinion about the canonical Gospels. She says, “This gospel, like others dated to the second century which make opposing claims—that Jesus was celibate, for example—are too late, historically speaking, to provide any evidence as to whether the historical Jesus was married or not...”

This quote tells us at least two things about King’s presuppositions.  First, she does not think the canonical gospels have much historical value.  She says that they (both the canonical gospels and the fragment) are too late to provide, “historically speaking, any evidence as to whether the historical Jesus was married or not.”  Second, she seems to give this fragment the same authority or even historical value as the canonical gospels.  She calls the fragment “this gospel” and, historically speaking, puts it on the level of the four New Testament gospels.  This suggests that in her eyes, they have the same historical and documentary value.

Even though I don’t agree with King’s first presupposition that the gospels have no real historical value, I can concede that she probably has some well thought through reasons for her position.  However, calling this new fragment a gospel on the level of the other Gospel’s seems like a bit of an overstatement.

We have many full copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that date back to the fourth century and fragments that arguably date back to the late first or at least the early second century.  That is a significant amount of manuscript evidence.  By calling this credit card size fragment of a document a “Gospel”, on the level of Gospels that are preserved in whole or in part over a widespread geographical area and even in several different translations, King is making “category”  mistake.  We have many ancient full copies of the New Testament Gospels.  We can read a passage of these documents in the context of the author’s intent by also reading the entire document.  We cannot do that with “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” fragment.  This is a fragment of a document we know nothing about.  We must admit that without knowing the context of the document from which this fragment comes, it is nearly impossible to assign any real meaning to the content of this short passage.

To illustrate this point, I have decided to try an experiment.  Thanks to the Sinaiticus Project we have access to the ancient Greek manuscript – Sinaiticus through the internet.  The Manuscript is just as old as the “Jesus Wife fragment” but in much better shape.  It includes the entire Bible and additional material.  I decided to use the Gospel of John in my experiment.  John himself clearly tells us the reason he wrote his Gospel, “But these have been recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and so that through believing you may have life in his name.”  John 20:31 (ISV).  I decided to pretend that the world knows nothing about the Gospel of John and one day a fragment of an unknown Gospel (The Gospel of John) was found.  This fragment happened to be from a manuscript like Sinaiticus – good text in four columns.  I chose a page of Sinaiticus that included Mary and Martha.  I measured an approximately 8cm by 4cm rectangle (same size as the Jesus’ wife fragment), imposed the rectangle on the page in Sinaiticus and pretended that the fragment inside the square was all we had of John (see illustration below).  The fragment included part of column 3 and a section of column 4.  This preserves part of John 11:52 and 53 and almost all of John 12:2. Like the “Jesus’ wife fragment” it includes about 8 lines of text as follows:

1.      ν υπερ                    ΙC εκ νεκρων  ε           1. n for                         Jesus from the dead.

2.      ους και ου              ποιησαν ουν αυ           2. ous and                    Therefore [they] made him

3.      ου εθνου                τω δπενον εκει            3. ou nation                  dinner there.

4.      αλλ ινα                  και η μαρθα διη           4. but so that                and Martha

5.      κνα του                  κονι ο δε λαζαρος       5. kna the                     served but Lazarus

6.      σκοπις                   εις ην  εκ τωνα            6. scattered(?)              was one of the people

7.      ν αγαγη                  νακειμενων συ           7. gathered                    reclining with

8.      εκεινης                  ν αυτω:                        8. of that woman/one   him.


Now if this fragment was all we knew about the Gospel of John, what could we concluded?  Line one seems to have something to do with Jesus raising from the dead or being raised from the dead.  So perhaps this is an event that took place after Jesus’ resurrection.  From the right column I might conclude that after Jesus had just risen from the dead and Mary and Martha prepared him dinner.  At the dinner Martha served while Lazarus reclined with him.  From the left column I might guess that they were possibly discussing something about the role of women in gathering the scattered nation of Israel.  I could call this fragment, “The Gospel of Jesus’ dinner party”.  Of course, when we compare these conclusions with the actual Gospel of John, I would be completely wrong.  This is a far cry from, But these have been recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and so that through believing you may have life in his name.”  I would also be wrong to call this “The Gospel…..”.  It is a fragment and nothing more. 

We must employ the Joe Friday principle…Just the facts.  The facts are that we might have a fragment of a larger document that includes the name Jesus (a very common name by the way), some disciples, a woman named Mary and probably a reference to the afore mentioned Jesus’ wife.  We don’t know with reasonable certainty if the text is even talking about the Jesus of Nazareth or some other Jesus who had disciples.  We don’t know which Mary.  We don’t know who wrote the document, to whom he or she wrote or for what reason.  My primary point is this.  In my opinion, Dr. King is jumping the gun a little and possible stacking the deck by calling this fragment “The Gospel of Jesus’ wife”.  In my view, the most optimistic statement that can be made, while being faithful to the facts, is that we possibly (all the testing is not complete) have a fragment (not a Gospel) of an ancient document that may have a reference to Jesus of Nazareth and a woman named Mary who could possibly be his wife.  That is about as much certainty and clarity as we can expect from a credit card fragment of an unknown document.

My suggestion is to be patient and to wait for all the evidence to be in.  When more evidence is uncovered, if the fragment is authentic, it should be given proper weight.  I suggest that the proper weight now is not the weight of the canonical evangelists but the weight of a fragment of an unknown document.

Source of “Jesus wife fragment” photo:
Source of Sinaiticus illustration:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Evolving Logic of Bill Nye

I like Bill Nye.  We have watched his “Science Guy” videos for years and have learned much from them.  Who doesn’t love the hardboiled egg analogy or the “Blood Steam” song.  Recently, Nye made a video for "Big Think" called “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Deny Evolution.”  Many have commented on the content.  For example, Dr. David Menton, PhD Biology, Brown University, and Dr. Gerogie Perdom PhD Molecular Genetics, Ohio State University from “Creation Museum” produced a video answering some of the claims in the Nye video (  Again, I like Bill Nye and I don’t mind if he disagrees with me or anyone, but I was saddened to see how well he presented such uncritical arguments.  I think he can do much better.

I am not a scientist so I will not address the science content of Nye’s video, however, I would like to support my claim that his arguments were less than critical with the following examples.

Bill Nye says that when people claim to not believe in evolution, his response is the following.

“Why not?  Your world becomes fantastically complicated when you don’t believe in evolution.  I mean here are these ancient dinosaur bones or fossils.  Here is radioactivity.  Here are distant stars that are just like our star but are at a different point in their life cycle.  The idea of deep time.  The idea of billions of years explains so much of the world around us.  If you try to ignore that, your worldview just becomes crazy untenable…itself inconsistent.”

He says this beautifully. He says it with confidence and authority.  However, as pretty as it is, this response is a combination of at least two fallacies.  The first is a fallacy of simple ambiguity.  Mr. Nye seems to have a very narrow view of what it means to not believe in evolution.  His comments seem directed specifically toward young earth creationists.  He offers four arguments against “creationism” and each argument is connected with time – “dinosaur bones or fossils…radioactivity…distant stars and deep time.”  There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with young earth creationists or attempting to refute their beliefs.    However, the term “Creationism” does not necessarily mean “Young Earth Creationism”. It includes that view, but the position is actually much more complicated.  A man of Bill Nye’s education and confident voice should know that before speaking authoritatively on the topic. 

The second fallacy is the fallacy of composition.  This fallacy assumes that what is true or untrue of the parts must necessarily be true or untrue of the whole.  In this case Mr. Nye assumes that if he can counter young earth creationism (the success of his arguments is questionable), then he has countered all creationist views.  On the surface, this is clearly not the case.  The creationist worldview is simply more complicated than Nye assumes.  The mistake here is that he seems unaware that there is more than one species of creationist.  There are at least two other genus.  There is “Old Earth Creationism”, sometimes called “Progressive Creationism”.  There is “Fully Gifted Creationism”, sometimes called “Theistic Evolution”.  Within these worldviews there are also more nuances.  My point is that by attempting to refute young creationism, many aspects of old earth creationism or theistic evolution are not even touched.  Then having used a couple of pithy statements to not fully address the issue at hand, Nye dresses this poor logic up in a serious, confident face and authoritative voice, claims victory and goes on to advise parents not to make their children believe in the views he has not refuted.  As a scientist and teacher he should, and I am sure he does, know that arguments are more complex than he presented them and often need many qualifiers.

At the end of his video Bill Nye advised parents not to make their children believe in creationism, “…because we need scientifically literate voters and tax payers.  We need engineers that can build stuff (Minor point:  Engineers do not build stuff, they design stuff.)  and solve problems.”  This is simply a non sequitur – it doesn’t follow.  His argument assumes that belief in divine creation precludes critical thinking, literacy and the ability to do engineering.  This is clearly not the case.  To refute an argument like this, only a single counter example needs to be presented.  I am sure there are many but I can offer the first hand example of myself.  I am currently a missionary in Odessa.  However, for eleven years I worked as a computer draftsmen and then an engineer.  As an engineer I was paid well for my designs.  Most everything I designed was built and served its purpose or is still standing today.  The kicker is that I am currently a creationist and I was a creationist while I was an engineer.  I also have been and currently am an active voter.  I may not agree with Mr. Nye’s politics, but I read the positions of the candidates (I am literate), read the propositions, listen to the debates and make the best choice I can.  Finally, I am sure that the government is more than happy to take tax money from literate, illiterate, creationists and evolutionists alike.  If illiteracy was an excuse for not paying taxes, I am sure that many of our most financially successful people would suddenly lose the ability to read.

As I watched the video, it was obvious that it is well shot, edited and nicely produced.  It is clear that some thought and work went into it.  I don’t know if Nye’s thoughts were scripted or he just thought, spoke on the topic and then edited it together later.  Either way, there was some thought and work put into this production.  If this were an impromptu interview, we could almost excuse Nye’s poor logic, but it is clear that some preparation was put into the production of this video.  A man of Nye’s education and experience should know better than to not do his homework when speaking as an authority.  He was speaking against a worldview without really understanding the complexities of the world view.  When I took debate in college (yep went to college), my professor said that the first rule of debate is “know your opponents position.”  Nye does not understand the complexity of his opponent’s position.  This much is clear.

In conclusion, I would like to use some of Mr. Nye’s last argument as a counter argument.  In the end I agree that in the US we need literate voters, tax payers and good engineers.  However, in my view, these qualities are more connected with the ability to think critically than with a belief in creationism or evolution.  I would charge parents to teach their children to think critically and reason well in opposition to the way Nye reasons in his video.  This is not an attack on Bill Nye.  I did not say that he cannot reason well and think critically – actually I am convinced that he can.  What I am saying is that he did not reason well in this video.  This is too bad, because if a man of Nye’s intellect and knowledge were indeed to look into the claims and arguments of the various families of creationists, I think he would find a rich milieu for debate and lively intellectual interaction.

(Rebuttal warning:  If you say, “Nye is a scientist, not an expert on the Bible or religion or creationism or philosophy or logic.”  My response will be something like, “If that is so, then why does he feel the freedom to speak authoritatively on the topic.  This is not a false dilemma.  Either he did not do his homework or is speaking as an expert where he has no expertise or he is ignorant of his lack of expertise.  In any of these circumstances, he should not be giving advice to parents.”)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

When You Disagree with the People’s Translation – Part III of III

Old Church Slavonic (18th Century)
Now that I have convinced myself which text is original, I see a more daunting task before me.  If I am to teach this in a Russian or Ukrainian context, how do I teach the text without undermining the authority of the people’s Bible?  If I simply tell them to trust me, I am undermining the authority of their Bible and making myself their authority.  I don’t want to do that.  If I try to explain how I came to this conclusion, I will lose most of them and bore the rest to death.  So how do I teach/preach what I am convinced is the original text and at the same time support the authority of the people’s Bible?

Here are some suggestions.  The following suggestions are given under the assumption that the teacher/preacher prayerfully and humbly prepares his messages with a desire to communicate God’s truth in a way that will bring glory to God and transform the hearts, minds and lives of his listeners.  A high standard I know, but the calling to teach/preach God’s truth should, in my view, always be approached with awe, fear and trembling.

First, do your homework.  To the extent that God has given you the ability, study the issue.  This is also an opportunity to perhaps increase and improve the exegetical skills God has allowed you to develop. 

Second, study the issue from different points of view.  One way to do that is to read people you don’t agree with and even learn their position well enough to defend it.  One professor used to say, “You are not ready to debate an opponent until you can skillfully defend your opponent’s position.” 

Third, be able to explain your view in terms that the non-seminarian can understand.  This is not easy.  Not everything can be explained in simple terms.  This will take time and may require a willingness to further educate those who ask.  You should think this through as part of your message preparation.  You should be prepared to define terms and point people to resources for further personal study.
Fourth, consider your audience, your verbal genre and your explanation.  For example, if your preparing a sermon that includes Romans 8:1, you are going to have to say something about the textual issue.  If your audience is a small congregation of elderly people living in a village in rural Ukraine, it is probably a bad idea to go into a lot of detail about the study of textual criticism.  However, it may be helpful to say a few words about the nature of translations.  There is sometimes disagreement on how to translate certain Greek or Hebrew terms.  Always humbly affirm that there are good reasons for the decision that the translators of the Russian Bible (for example) made and while you respect their scholarship, on this one point you don’t agree.  Explain your conclusion and then offer to explain further after the service if someone has more in depth questions.  I think this is enough.  It affirms the usefulness of the people’s Bible while at the same time reminding them that it is a translation and in all translation something is lost.  It also indicates the humble possibility that you could be wrong (and it’s true, you could be wrong) and the translation could be correct.  On the other hand, if you have an audience of seminary students and staff, it may be useful to spend a little time on the textual issue and show how the discipline can be used in the exegetical process.  I think it is a good idea to try to include, on some level hermeneutical and/or exegetical principles – directly or indirectly in every sermon.  It may also serve as an opportunity to stretch and inspire your hearers to further study.

Finally, consider your time constraints.  The textual issue is important, but you don’t want it to obscure the more important truth that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  Remember, if some have questions, there is always time to have a mini seminar or informal discussion group after the sermon.

It is my sincere hope and desire that these musings help some better study, understand and communicate the Word of God.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When You Disagree with the People’s Translation – Part II of III

Before making a final conclusion about Romans 8:1, we must consider the internal evidence.  These are sometimes called Transcriptional Probabilities and Intrinsic Probabilities.  I will consider four points with respect to internal evidence. 

·         Prefer the shorter reading. Reading 1 is the shorter reading.

·         Prefer the more difficult reading.

·         This is obviously a bit subjective but in a passage that emphasizes walking in the Spirit and the abiding presence of the Spirit in the believer as a sign of belonging to Christ, reading one seems to be the more theologically difficult.

·         Prefer the reading that best accords with the authors style and vocabulary.

·         This could be either reading one or three because the exact same phrase is used in 8:4.  Below, this becomes a powerful argument for reading one.

·         Prefer the reading that best fits the context and the author’s theology.

·         This is a real debate.  Is Paul saying that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus or no condemnation for those in good standing in Christ Jesus?  This does not give us much help because one could make a theological argument (highly nuanced of course) for either position.

Second preliminary conclusion:  The external evidence points to reading one as original.  The internal evidence seems to me to be a little ambiguous.  Reading one is shorter and more difficult, however, the longer readings could accord with the author’s theology and style.  So at this point I am leaning toward reading one, but I am not entirely convinced.

After considering the above evidence there is one more “watershed” principle that needs to be considered.  In my experience, this is often the principle that convinces me which reading is original.  Prefer the reading that best explains the origin of the other readings.

Reading one seems to best explain the rise of the others.  It is easy for me to imagine why a scribe would add the words “who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  Without that phrase, it could be understood that Paul is saying that character change is not important with respect to salvation.  Of course that is not what he is saying, but, if someone wanted to make it clear that Paul is not talking about “fire insurance”, I could see how adding this phrase would solve the problem.  I can also see why a scribe would think himself justified in adding the phrase.  The exact same phrase appears in 8:4.  In taking the phrase from the near context of verse 4, the scribe could see himself clarifying the meaning without violating the writing style of the apostle.  Early scribes tended to clarify the text rather than make them more ambiguous.  In the same line of reasoning, if the phrase were part of the original text, it seems hard to imagine why a scribe would remove it.  Removing the phrase makes the meaning of the passage more ambiguous.  If we accept the premise that scribes tended to clarify texts then it would be highly unlikely that a scribe would remove either phrase two or three if they were original.  Therefore, based on the above arguments, I conclude that reading one is original.
Now that I have convinced myself which text is original, I see a more daunting task before me.  If I am to teach this in a Russian or Ukrainian context, how do I teach the text without undermining the authority of the people’s Bible?  I will offer my musings about this question in part III.

Monday, August 27, 2012

When You Disagree with the People's Translation - Part I

When you are convinced that a passage in a popular translation of the Bible is incorrect and the truth is seriously altered by the decision of the translators, how do you teach/preach that passage without undermining the authority of the people’s Bible?  Romans 8:1 offers a good example.

When dealing with textual variants in the New Testament, one of the first questions I like to ask is this.  “Does the variant reading seriously alter the meaning of the text?”  In many cases the answer is no, so there is no need to do a detailed textual analysis and we accept the judgment of the translation committee.  However, there are some variants that do significantly alter the meaning of the text.  Romans 8:1 is one of those texts.  According to the UBS 4th edition apparatus, Romans chapter 8, verse 1 has three possible readings.

·         The first reading is the text accepted by most English translations.  “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (NASB)”.  The sentence ends with the words εν Χριστω Ιησου …in Christ Jesus.”  This is the choice of both the UBS 4th and the NA27 editors.  The UBS 4th edition gives this reading a “B” rating.  That means that there was probably one dissenting voice on the committee.

·         There second reading contains the additional phrase “…μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν …who are not walking according to the flesh.”

·         The third reading contains the additional phrase “...μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν αλλα κατα πνευμα…who are not walking according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  This is the majority text reading and the reading found in translations like the King James, Russian Synodal and some Ukrainian translations.

Either of the additional phrases found in readings two and three significantly changes the meaning of the sentence.  If the first reading is the correct reading then it is simple a fact that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  I realize that the theology of reading one needs to be developed in the context of Paul’s argument in the entire letter.  I understand that this is more than a proverb or pithy statement.  However, that is a question of exegesis and here I am focusing on the textual question.  If either reading two or three is original, Paul is saying that freedom from condemnation is dependent on our spiritual walk and obedience.  In other words, the truth is conditional.  If we are walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh then there is no condemnation for us.  But if we are walking according to the flesh, then there is condemnation waiting for us.  By implication, as we live our lives and struggle to follow Jesus, we enter into and fall out of favor with God and have no assurance of final salvation.  That is what I call a significant difference in mean.  Reading one, there is no condemnation.  Readings two and three, there is condemnation.

Since the variant has a significant impact on the meaning of the text, we must determine, as best we can according to the gifts God has given us, which reading is original.  How do we do that?  This is a debate about methodology, but I recommend and try to practice the “Reasoned Eclecticism” approach.  This approach tries to take in to account a wide spectrum of evidence (for example, the manuscripts we posses, the dates and numbers of those manuscripts, the quality of the manuscripts, the date of the reading, the geographical dispersion of the readings, early translations and versions, patristic quotations, the author’s style and argument, etc.) and analyze it in a reasonable and balanced way.  Below is my attempt at a reasoned eclecticism approach to this reading. 

We start with the external evidence.  We look at the manuscripts, their dates, quality, geographical distribution, text type, etc.  Table 1 below shows the manuscripts we posses, categorized by text type.


Following the methods of Metzger, Black and others, I will highlight four points with respect to the external evidence.
·         Prefer the reading attested by the oldest manuscripts.

·         Since we have no papyri, the oldest manuscripts are the uncials Aleph and B.  Both date to the fourth century.

·         The second hand of Aleph is represented in the third reading.  That means that sometime after the fourth century copying of the manuscript, a scribe “corrected” the manuscript and added reading three.  So reading three could also be very early.  However, thanks to modern technology and the Codex Sinaitics Project, I was able to see a digital reproduction of the page.  At first I could not find the correction.  The text seemed to be a clear witness to reading 1.  But it seems, it is difficult to read, that the correction is located at the top of the column in a different hand (see photo below).  This could be a correction or simply a scribal note.  This seriously weakens the witness of the second hand of Aleph.

Siniaticus folio 263b, Romans 6:23-8:5 from
·         Prefer the reading supported in the most widely separated geographical areas.

·         This is no real help.  All three readings are represented by manuscripts that were spread across the Roman Empire.  Therefore, all three readings enjoyed early acceptance in different geographical areas.
·         Prefer the reading supported by the greatest number of text types.

·         All three readings have witnesses in each of the text types.  However, reading one seems to have more of a balanced or wide spread representation of all three text types.  Reading two is heavy in Byzantine and Western text types with very little representation from the Alexandrian.  Reading three is almost exclusively represented by the Byzantine text type.  So, while all three have witnesses in each text type, the scale tips toward reading one.

·         Make a distinction between date of reading and date of manuscript and prefer the earliest reading.

·         The earliest reading is represented in Aleph and B, which most agree dates back to the second century.  These two manuscripts support reading one.  However, there are also old Latin witnesses for all three readings.  This means that all three readings were most likely known as early as the second century.  This is good evidence for the early existence of the variant.  However, the Old Latin versions were not professionally copied or checked and therefore do not have the weight of manuscript like Sinaiticus, Vaticanus or Alexandranus.  That said, we do seem to have more Old Latin witnesses for the first reading, thus tipping the scales toward the shorter reading.

Preliminary Conclusion:  Based on the manuscript evidence alone, the agreement of Aleph, B, a number of Byzantine witnesses, Old Latin and early Fathers forms a strong case for the shorter first reading. 
Before making a final conclusion about Romans 8:1, we must consider the internal evidence.  These are sometimes called Transcriptional Probabilities and Intrinsic Probabilities.  I will consider four points with respect to internal evidence in part II.

Friday, June 29, 2012

...but the Lord directs his steps

One of the signs of stress.
A person plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9 (ISV).  So goes the familiar proverb.  June has been a very busy month for us.  We knew it would be busy so we prepared ourselves.  We had lists:  train and bus tickets to buy, supplies for teams, presents for graduates, arrangements for guests, arrangements to be guests, etc.  At the beginning of the month we had all our plans in place and this proverb was ever in my mind.   I expected that even though I had planned our way, the Lord would allow unexpected things to occur that would change our plans and we would have to, by faith, allow Him to direct our steps.  This is how I understood the proverb.  Surprisingly, almost all our plans have gone “according to plan.”  It has been a hard month and I have been waiting and looking for the “curve ball” but it didn’t come. 

The part of our June plan that I was most worried about was our visa situation.  We needed new visas soon.  Through May and the beginning of June we gathered the necessary documents and made “plans”.  We had never gone to Moldova to get visas before, but understood that we could get them in two days.  I talked to the embassy and they said that they work on Mondays, Wednesday s and Thursday.  If we apply for a visa on one of those days, we can get it the next working day.  OK, so here was the plan.

Weekend:  Travel to Kiev, pick up Anya from camp, leave Joseph and Micah at camp.
Monday: Julie, Alfie and Anya travel back to Odessa.
Tuesday: Leave Anya with Brittany and Julie and Alfie travel to Chisinau to apply for visas.
Wednesday:  Arrive early at embassy and apply for visas.
Thursday: Pick up visas and take bus back to Odessa.
Friday: Travel to Kiev to get Joseph and Micah from camp.

We knew that because of the status of our current visas that we may have problems at the border crossing into Moldova.  We also knew that if we had problems in Moldova, that we could not come back to Ukraine without a new visa for 90 days.  We decided to pray and take the risk.  Our attitude was something like, “Here is our plan Lord, please make it work.”  Everything went fine until Wednesday.  The border crossings were no problems.  We thanked God for giving us favor in the eyes of the border guards.  We got a room near the embassy on Tuesday evening.  We found the embassy so we could easily get there the next morning.  We had documents and copies of documents. 

Wednesday morning comes and we arrive at the embassy a half hour before it opens.  There is already a large group waiting.  We add our names to the waiting list, we are 49 and 51.  OK, a little stress.  We should have come earlier, but we have all day to apply.  I pray, “Lord please let the line go quickly and efficiently.”  I walk around to relieve the stress and notice a paper taped to the embassy door.  It is in Ukrainian so it is a little hard to read.  I read it and understand it, but spend about five minutes trying to convince myself that I don’t understand the Ukrainian and everything will be alright.  The sign says that the embassy will be closed on Thursday…that’s tomorrow!  That means that we won’t be able to pick up our visas until Monday!  OK…stress level increases and I start making plans in my head.  I can beg the embassy to issue the visa today…but…but we are number 49 and 50… “Why didn’t we come earlier?”  Stress level increases more.  I’m angry at myself for not coming earlier.  What if we don’t get in before the break at 12:30?  OK…start to pray.  “Lord, please, please, please make all these people go away!”  That was a panic prayer.  “OK Lord, sorry for panicking.  I have two prayers.  Please let us apply in time to get our visas today and help me not to stress and say anything stupid to my wife.  Help me to trust you Lord.”  I think and plan some more.  It is time to put plan B, C and D on standby and began formulating plan E.  I talk to Julie.  “So, what is the backup plan?  Who will pick up the kids if we are stuck?”  There is a plan, but I don’t want to be stuck!  “Lord, I don’t want to be stuck.”  Plan some more…John can pick up the kids and they can stay in Kiev, or maybe he can send them to Brittany or Leah on a bus, maybe Igor is in Kiev and he can drive them down to Odessa.  We will need some more money for the hotel…”Why or why didn’t I come earlier?  How did I miss that tomorrow is a holiday?  Why do these people celebrate so many holidays?!  Don’t they know that there is work to be done?!  Why are there so many stupid holidays?  They only work three days a week and they are taking one day off?  What is the matter with these people!?”  (OK, not very fair...calm down, breath…..breath again).  Stress level increases…I’m on the edge….”Lord help me not to snap and say or do anything rash.  Help me to trust you”…more thoughts running through my head, more prayers….

I look at Julie.  She looks calm.  She turns to me and says, “Do you think we will have clothes in heaven?”  In my mind my head explodes.  My vision blurs.  Time stops as I try to absorb her question and the calm look on her face while our hopes of getting a visa this week slip into the abyss.  Praise God, I hold my tongue.  However, I guess in that instant, my face communicated much to Julie.  She simply says, “Oh, you’re worried about the visa?  The Lord will work it out, but I’ll let you be.”  She is not worried!  This makes me mad and embarrassed at the same time.  “Why isn’t she worried?”  OK…pray…think….plan.  How about walk a little.  …walking… “Lord, this is not the worst thing in the world.  We have friends, we have help.  Help me to accept whatever plan you have for us.”  I walk around a little more.  It is a little after 10:00am and the guard comes out yells, “Who is here for visas?”  What!  That’s us.  I raise my hand and head for the gate.  Julie didn’t hear him.  She is calmly sitting on a bench and reading.  I call her and say her we can go in.  She looks surprised and heads over to me.  As we go in, I notice that we are going in out of order. 

When we get in, we fill out the necessary forms and stand in line.  I have all the arguments ready.  “Please sir; if you could issue the visas today we would be very grateful.  You see our daughter is in Odessa and our other kids are in Kiev.  We can’t wait until Monday.  I know you are not working tomorrow.  Perhaps we could just pick up the visa in the morning….pause…perhaps there is an extra fee to expedite visa service.  We are ready to pay extra.”  We get to the window and the man says, “You want these today…right?”  Time stops...again the vision blurs….sound stops…those words were like manna from heaven.  There is a flash of blue light and I’m back at the window.  “Uhhh….yes, yes of course that would be great.”  “No problem” he says.  “Pay for the visa at the bank and come back after three.”  “Yes, yes, thank you so much.”  We leave for the bank, but the Lord is not done with us.

As we leave the gate, a young man says, “You guys buying visas?”  “Yep”, we say as we pass him to go to the bank.  We pay for the visas and return to the embassy to drop of the receipt.  When we return we start talking to the young man.  He is an American named Ethan who is also trying to get a visa to return to Odessa.  He is an independent missionary who works mainly with orphans.  He has his documents but is number 72 on the list.  We talk.  He asks what the sign on the door means.  I tell him that the embassy is closed tomorrow and will not be open again until Monday.  I watch as he takes the news very well.  He doesn’t seem stressed.  (I’m a little embarrassed at remembering my earlier reaction.) We ask the guard if Ethan can get in to do his visa.  The guard says that he doesn’t know.  There are a lot of people applying for visas.  About 12:45 we are waiting with Ethan and a man comes out and says that is all for today, everyone else will have to come back on Monday.  Ethan is disappointed, but takes the news well…again.  A discussion at the gate starts and intensifies and the guard agrees to take 10 more people and the rest will be first on Monday.  He takes 10 more and that takes him to number 71.  Ethan is disappointed but takes the news well…again.  He has to stay until Monday.  As he is getting ready to leave and another man says, “Come on…Take the American kid.”  The guard asks, “Do you need a religious visa?”  Ethan says yes and the guard motions him in.  We ran into Ethan again later and were able to help him get some extra documents.  We all got our visas and traveled back to Odessa the next day together on the train.

The Lord not only changed our plans, He improved them.  We got our visas faster than we planned and the embassy still got their holiday.  More importantly, through the examples of my wife and this young man, the Lord showed me how little I trust Him.  My instinct is still to fix it myself.  Yes, I pray but my blood pressure still increases, my mind goes to plan B, I try to fix it myself and take over.  I don’t mean that we don’t need to plan, but what I need to do better is “rest in Him when the plan changes.”  Really, I need to rest in Him all the time.  We (I) should still plan our way, but on the road, it is always best to let Him direct our steps.  I am honestly a little embarrassed but thankful for His lesson.