Hebrew Roots? Think again

From Evangel University professor Bill Griffin:

Here’s are some tell-tale signs that people who claim to have “special insight about Hebrew secrets” have no idea what they are talking about:

1. They treat Hebrew as a code to be deciphered, rather than as a language.

Ancient Hebrew was a _language_. People did not wonder about the mystical meanings of various letters when they were engaging in ordinary speech, making contracts, arguing, or trading with other people.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, not because the language is inherently holy, but because that’s what the people spoke! It is basically the language of Canaan, and anyone who knew Hebrew could talk with their Moabite neighbors who basically spoke a variant of the language (the difference between “Hebrew” and “Moabite” is the difference between how people speak in Iowa and Arkansas). When Moabite King Mesha had an inscription written, in which he brags about defeating Israel, he is not talking about Jesus when he exalts Chemosh over Yahweh and uses the aleph-tav in his inscription.

2. They cite Strong’s Concordance as an authoritative Hebrew resource.

Strong’s Concordance has a “dictionary” in the back which can give a little extra information about Hebrew and Greek words to the English speaker. However, it is not designed for someone who knows Hebrew, and it lacks the precision of a “real” Hebrew lexicon (that’s a fancy word for “dictionary”)–a precision which only someone trained in Hebrew can use.

3. They show you an interlinear and claim that certain words are not translated and therefore have a special meaning.

An “interlinear” is a text which has Hebrew or Greek words with English equivalents written below. Many people who use interlinears are unaware of the word order differences between Hebrew and English, and they also do not know or understand Hebrew _syntax_. (Syntax is the relationship between various words and the meanings which combinations have which might not be the same as what one would expect from individual words–context is quite important.)

Humans convey meaning by combinations of words, rather than by arbitrary definitions of individual words, and a context is needed to figure out what someone means.

For example, take the English words “put” and “up” or “down”. “Put” implies placing something somewhere, and “up” is a direction which is the opposite of down. But “put up” can mean “tolerate” or “place somewhere above”, depending upon other words. Thus “He put up with John’s speech” means he tolerated John’s speech, while “He put up a painting on a wall” means he hung a painting on a wall. “He put his cup down on the floor” (placed it on a low place) is different from “He gave John a put-down” (insulted John).

4. They assign mystical meanings to Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew alphabet is based on the Phonecian alphabet, and those letters are basically pictographs of ordinary objects. There is no spiritual significance to a house, door, throwing stick, camel, ox, or water.

5. They convert Hebrew letters to numbers and make mystical claims.

During Old Testament times, letters were not used to represent numbers. Instead, they wrote out words to represent numbers, just like we use “three”, “two thousand”, or “seventy”. The practice of (think in terms of English) having A=1, B=2, C=3 (but w/Hebrew letters) did not begin until after the Old Testament was completed.

6. They cherry-pick Hebrew words (such as names) and string them together to make an English sentence which is supposed to have spiritual significance.

Even if it was legitimate to pick a word here or there and put it together (and it is not), Hebrew word order is quite different than English word order. If you have studied _any_ human language other than English, you are aware of the differences between the order of one language and another. Biblical Hebrew likes to put verbs at the beginning of sentences, before the “whodunnit” (subject). We put the whodunnit before a verb. When people extract a bunch of Hebrew words, put them together in an English order, and then claim that God intended a particular meaning in the original Hebrew, the level of irrationality in which they are engaging and which they are promoting is difficult to quantify.

William P. Griffin, Ph.D.

Yoder QOTD on ministry

“The transformation that Paul’s vision calls for would not be to let a few more especially gifted women share with a few men the rare roles of domination; it would be to reorient the notion of ministry so that there would be no one ungifted, no one not called, no one not empowered, and no one dominated. Only that would live up to Paul’s call to “lead a life worthy of our calling.”” (From Yoder’s Body Politics, p 60.).


Guest post: No room in the Inn?

My friend Justin Evans – soon to be missionary to Europe – has written a good post about what it meant that there was no room in the inn and that Jesus was laid in a manger.  He wrote that post on Facebook.  I asked if I could post it here because posts like that tend to get “lost” on Facebook so I wanted to share it here.

I’ve been doing some extra thinking about the birth of Jesus lately–every night during Advent, we rehearse the details and discuss the significance of Christmas with Toby and Savannah. Most nativity stories paint a picture of Joseph and Mary in a barn outside the village of Bethlehem, surrounded by animals.

The actual event probably looked a bit different. If you’re interested, read on! (Just beware, I will discuss two Greek terms.)

The setting of the nativity is largely influenced by how we interpret Luke 2:7, which reads: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (NASB)

I’m not going to unpack everything going on here, but want to focus on just two key terms that dominate our interpretation: “manger” and “inn”.

Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth, and only are in Bethlehem to participate in a Roman-decreed, mandatory census. The word “inn” helps us to imagine a modern-day inn with a neon sign in front that reads “No Vacancy”. The Greek word translated as “inn” is κατάλυμα (kataluma). This term is used only two other times in the New Testament: in Luke’s and Mark’s accounts of the Last Supper.

Luke 22:11 reads: “And you shall say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room [kataluma] in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”” (NASB; see also Mark 14:14).

Jesus and his disciples eat their Passover meal in the guest room of a private home. This indicates that the kataluma which was full in Luke 2:7 is not the local Best Western, but the guest room in a private home (probably owned by Joseph’s relatives). Someone was already occupying this room when Joseph and Mary arrived.

EXCURSUS: Why didn’t the occupants of the kataluma make room for a young, pregnant woman about to give birth? I can think of two reasons: 1) the room was inhabited by elders, who had priority, or 2) there was a measure of scandal surrounding Mary’s pregnancy. These are, of course, speculative. The text does not address that question.

The term “manger” refers to the feed-trough used for animals. However, the home owners did not send the young couple off to a barn. Houses in the first-century often accommodated a small number of the flock in a ground-floor room (the kataluma would have been an upper-room). The manger was kept inside the house.

The Greek word translated as “manger” is φάτνη (phatne). The meaning of this term is fairly clear: it is a hollowed-out rock used for feeding livestock. Aside from Luke 2, the only other place the term is used in the New Testament is Luke 13:15 where it appears to be a suitable object to use for securing livestock. (The picture in the first comment is an actual manger that archaeologists have excavated from Megiddo in ancient Israel.)

The basic sense of this term is a carved-out rock (leading some to suppose that it might be referring to a cave hewn from rock). You can see in the picture that feeding troughs were carved from rocks. In some ancient texts, the term is appropriately translated as “socket” (even used to describe a tooth socket). In Luke 2, the term is referring to a feeding trough that would be found in the ground-level room where livestock were kept at night.

When you imagine the nativity in your mind’s eye, do not think of smelly barns, cold and outside of town. Instead, imagine Joseph and Mary in the house of relatives, staying in the only available room in a crowded house. The livestock had to give up their regular sleeping quarters to make room for family from out of town.

Are you still reading? If I haven’t lost you yet, I’d like to share just a little more.

Jesus was born on the ground-level where animals were kept, inside a private home. There was no room in that kataluma. Just before his death, He would have an opportunity to occupy the kataluma during the Passover meal.

When He was born, He was placed inside a hewn-rock (phatne) as a crib. Just after He observed Passover in the kataluma, He was crucified and once again placed into a hewn-rock. This time, His lifeless body was placed in a tomb.

In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, he foreshadows Jesus’ death and burial. This puts a somber note on the Christmas story. Then again, we would do well to remember that the cross was planned before the event of the incarnation. In the words of one Christmas hymn: “Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free.”

Here’s a couple photos of mangers:

Myths about Missions and Calling

The world we live in, it’s a funny one.  Especially when it comes to gossip or communicating mistruths, halftruths and other kinds of myths and pithy sayings that when heard sound great but when looked at closer we often find out it is just a misconstrual of something being taught in the Bible or a misrepresentation of God’s character and person.

What might be an example?  Here is one:

“If God has truly called you then…”

I’ve come up with a saying lately: “There’s too many “if”s in that sentence.  Many times “if” is used appropriately but a lot of times it is not.  Used appropriately it might look like “if you arrive at the theater early you might be able to get a good seat for the movie.”  Used inappropriately I think it a means to condescend someone or manipulate them (though not always).  The example above, I think, applies. Here is it again:

If God has truly called you, then…

In Moraeu et al.’s book Introducing World Missions (Baker, 2004, 2015) they have a section on “misunderstandings about the missionary call” (151-153).  They cover several areas (that I plan to do a blog series about) and one of them is the “If … then” misunderstanding.

My wife Debbie and I are planning to plant a church here in Greenville, North Carolina. When one decides to pursue God’s calling in one’s life, there is going to be resistance. Resistance is often a sign of unbelief.  Some will not believe in your or your pursuit of God. They are going to say things, like “If God has truly called you to plant a church then….” “if God has really called you to (the ministry / mission field, etc you name it), then….”

In reading through Moreaeu, my wife wrote:

There are no “if’s” when God calls. God’s call is no more mysterious than the Spirit’s voice that persists to constantly draw you closer to Christ, day in and day out. It is the dream that you cannot shake, the vision you cannot unsee, the driving force behind all you do. Therefore, the “burden of proof” is not on you, but it is a joint effort of the Spirit’s outworking in your life. Any failure to provide this “proof of concept” is never truly failure, but an outworking of the Spirit building character in you. The only failure you can truly have is a failure NOT to pursue God’s call. If you do not “measure up,” it is not because God did not call you, but perhaps a lack of support, insufficient training, a re-direction, or a tough field. God’s call is more than one moment of time. It is a process in which His Kingdom purposes are always at work.

This is surely something to think about….


QOTD: Gospel of the Kingdom

Wanted to share a great quote here from chapter three of George Eldon Ladd’s little book The Gospel of the Kingdom:

God’s Kingdom means the divine conquest over His enemies, a conquest which is to be accomplished in three stages; and the first victory has already occurred. The power of the Kingdom of God has invaded the realm of Satan—the present evil Age. The activity of this power to deliver men from satanic rule was evidenced in the exorcism of demons. Thereby, Satan was bound; he was cast down from his position of power; his power was “destroyed.” The blessings of the Messianic Age are now available to those who embrace the Kingdom of God. We may already enjoy the blessings resulting from this initial defeat of Satan. Yes, the Kingdom of God has come near, it is already present.

This does not mean that we now enjoy the fulness of God’s blessings, or that all that is meant by the Kingdom of God has come to us. As we said in the previous chapter, the Second Coming of Christ is absolutely essential for the fulfilment and consummation of God’s redemptive work. Yet God has already accomplished the first great stage in His work of redemption. Satan is the god of This Age, yet the power of Satan has been broken that men may know the rule of God in their lives. The evil Age goes on, yet the powers of the Age to Come have been made available to men. To the human eye, the world appears little changed; the kingdom of Satan is unshaken. Yet the Kingdom of God has come among men; and those who receive it will be prepared to enter into the Kingdom of Glory when Christ comes to finish the good work He has already begun. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Intermediate Greek Grammar – Mathewson/Emig (Gupta)

so I guess things really have improved – I too learned intermediate Greek from Wallace (Machen was my ‘baby” Greek) – I need to check this one out. I recently got Rob Plummer’s Going Deeper with Biblical Greek and that one is pretty good too.

Crux Sola


Truth be told, Dan Wallace taught “intermediate Greek” to a generation of students including myself with his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. It was well-organized, and pretty much the only book of its kind. It was a natural follow-up to Mounce.

In 2016, times are different. While many of us cut our teeth in Koine Greek on Mounce and Wallace, Biblical Greek studies has interfaced significantly with the study of linguistics in recent years, and it is time to bring those insights to the classroom.

In comes Dave Mathewson and Elodie Ballantine Emig with Intermediate Greek Grammar: Syntax for Students of the New Testament (Baker, 2016). It is intended to be relatively succinct, clear in presentation, and bring cutting edge discussion of NT Greek to the classroom, especially related to verbal aspect theory and discourse analysis.

I am teaching NT Greek this year for the first time in seven…

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Walter Hollenweger Memoriam

Sad News: Pentecostal Scholar and Historian Walter Hollenweger has died.

W.onderful W.orld of W.adholms

foto_hollenwegerIt is with a heavy heart I announce that the Swiss Pentecostal scholar Walter Hollenweger passed away August 10, 2016. His contributions to Pentecostalism are profound. One finds him footnoted throughout Pentecostal journals, theses/dissertations (including my own) and monographs. His vast publishing contributions fill 47 pages (a complete bibliography up to 2005 can be found HERE)! He was truly a global and ecumenical theologian worthy of emulation.
Hollenweger taught and promoted Pentecostal/charismatic (P/c) studies globally (and ecumenically) as a part of the University of Birmingham beginning in 1971 where he also later founded the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies as a resource and training centre for such interests. His scholastic namesake, the Hollenweger Centre of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, has also provided significant resources and supervision for many research projects and PhD students within P/c studies. While he has specifically contributed to P/c studies within the European…

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