A Wondrous Realization

My Michigan license plate, which I’ve had for a year now, has the following configuration:


P37 is, of course, the designation for a III/IV century manuscript containing the text of St Matthew 26:19-52, and housed at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

This unforeseen Michigan connection is surely a sign that I must focus my academic efforts on textual criticism, and especially on the text St Matthew 26:19-52 with particular reference to this manuscript.

Now the reason why I’ve had occasion to notice the configuration of my license plate is that my registration is due this coming Sunday, August 29. That, of course, is my birthday, which makes this a most auspicious season for the sign above to be revealed. “I am struck with great awe and wonder,” you say. “This is truly a wondrous occurrence. How can I fittingly respond to it?” I quite understand your reaction, my gentle snowflakes, and it is only because I know full well that an adequate response is essential to the integrity of such an experience that I dare to suggest:

My Amazon Wish List

There you will find a wholly appropriate outlet for your outburst of preternatural emotion, and the six convenient categories listed on the left side of the page effectively allow you to, as they say, pick your poison. Often a single purchase is sufficient, but more fervent types have suggested that sometimes two or even three purchases of this sort are necessary to sufficiently respond to the magnitude of the experience. But whether it’s one, two, or three, I sincerely hope that my wish list, humbly offered to you in an effort to help, will certainly accomplish the purpose for which I present it.

Book Update

I

I am pleased to announce that, in spite of the fact that Wrightianism invariably leads to serious moral impairments, our friend Mark Stevens appears to have retained a modicum of decency and justice and consequently has chosen me as the winner of his book giveaway. Many thanks to him! Upon arrival, my shiny new copy of  The Resurrection of the Son of God will join the following titles by N. T. Wright already in my library:

That is, from left to right: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, Paul: In Fresh Perspective, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (with Marcus Borg), Scripture and the Authority of God (=The Last Word), and Colossians and Philemon (TNTC). Tragically missing is my copy of the first book by Wright I ever read, What St Paul Really Said, which must have shared the fate of the other mysteriously lost titles from my collection. I have thought about replacing it, but then it will surely become redundant when Wright’s “big book on Paul” is finally published.

(N.B.– I am well aware that the above is bound to chill our friend Jim West‘s blood. That, frankly, is part of the point.)

II

Readers will undoubtedly recall the entirely uncharacteristic apologia I posted several weeks ago. In it I mentioned a book by Protopresbyter James Thornton, The Œcumenical Synods of the Orthodox Church: A Concise History, whose absence from my collection I offered as a definitive refutation of the calumnies brandished against my person by certain lewd fellows of the baser sort. In a surprising turn of events, some kind soul alerted Fr James to my post, and in a comment he kindly offered to send along not only an inscribed copy of the book in question, but also a copy of his most recent homiletical compilation, Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy: Sermons on the Lives and Works of the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament (Etna: CTOS, 2010)!

Needless to say, I am profoundly grateful to Fr James for his kindness. I regret that I have not yet had the time for anything but a limited perusal of the book on the Œcumenical Synods, but in general I have found whatever sections I have read to be at once carefully nuanced and uncompromisingly traditionala rare feat indeed. With his homilies on the lives and works of the Old Testament Saints I have, happily, been able to spend more time, as they tie directly into my daily reading of the Old Testament. These fine homiletical jewels beckon the reader to the warm Christian piety they evince, and to the faithful embrace of the Tradition they exemplify. I wholeheartedly recommend this book as an Orthodox companion to the reading of the Old Testament.

III

Looking back on earlier posts, I realized that I have not yet posted the second part of my Annual Book Report for 2009 (!). This exercise, I will admit, is undoubtedly more useful to me personally than to anyone else, but perhaps it will alert someone to a publication they may have missed, or else encourage them to finally purchase a title they may have momentarily forgotten. In any case, I expect to post the second part of the report before the end of the week.

In Which I Attempt to Win a Book from Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens is giving away a copy of N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), andmiserable sadist that he ishe has required all participants to offer their considered opinion on the final outcome of the contest that led to the giveaway in question.

You see, Mark (who apparently depends exclusively on televised talent shows for inspiration) recently decided to organize a little showdown by pairing off various biblical scholars and asking his readers to vote in a number of successive elimination rounds. After fudging with the numbers in various ways, he eventually arrived at three (obviously predetermined) finalists: Ben Witherington, Gordon Fee, and N. T. Wright. Witherington, of course, was only on the list because Mark has sold his soul to him for a string of endorsements. Fee made it because Mark did not wish to be accused of merely filling every valley and bring low every mountain and hill for the former Bishop of Durham.  It is clear, however, that his intention all along was to adoringly proclaim Wright the princeps invictus of contemporary biblical scholarship.

Of course, I saw this farce for what it was and boldly cast my vote for our Infallible Hero, Moisés Silva. My courageous vote was roundly ignored, however, so I decided to realign my vote with Fee in the end. Needless to say, Mark’s manipulated process yielded the expected result, and N. T. Wright was predictably crowned as Winner, Vicar of Christ, and Head of the Papal States. Yet in spite of the natural revulsion that Mark’s Wrightianist sycophancy might provoke in sensible people, I’m afraid that his assessment has a certain ring of truth to it. Surely Wright has a wider sphere of influence than the other two, and his work has effected what, in many ways, amounts to a paradigm shift in the discipline. I have no doubt that when the next edition of Stephen Neill’s The Interpretation of the New Testament sees the light of day, its erstwhile reviser Wright will feature prominently in it.

I suppose, then, that I find fault not so much with Mark’s conclusion as with his reprehensible methods.

Anyway, I hope that my shiny new book won’t take too long to arrive here. I have put myself through both The New Testament and the People of God (vol. 1) and Jesus and the Victory of God (vol. 2) in the past, since reading Wright’s “Christian Origins and the Question of God” is the unavoidable chore of New Testament students of our generation. I have been remiss, however, in reading The Resurrection of the Son of God (vol. 3), and I’m running out of time: the fourth volume, Wright’s mythical “big book on Paul,” was originally expected at the end of the yearbut even if it does not arrive on time, it can’t be too far away.

On the Transfiguration of the Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Yesterday, August 6/19, we celebrated the bright Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ (St Matthew 17:1-13; St Mark 9:2-13; St Luke 9:28-36; cf. II Peter 1:17-18). Two thoughts occurred to me as I heard the following sung in Church yesterday morning:

Тамо где Израиљ победи Сисару
Изволи се тамо и Небесном Цару
На молитве поћи и на ноћна бдења,
Да покаже славу Свог Преображења,
И утврди веру својих следбеника
У победу трајну Њега – Победника.
Ту светлост божанску Он из Себе пусти
Па обасја Тавор, мрак разагна густи;
Светлост што ј’ у Себи дуго задржав’о
Од које је свету по мало раздав’о
Пустио је сада лучама обилним,
Лучама радосним, лучама умилним.
Небу да открије блесак човечанства,
Земљи и људима истину Божанства.
Нека небо види Посланика свога,
Нека земља позна Спаситеља Бога.
Where Israel defeated Sisera,
There also did the Heavenly King deign to go
To pray in nightly vigils,
To manifest the glory of His Transfiguration,
And confirm the faith of His followers
In his eternal victory as Victor.
There He shone forth with divine light,
Dispelled the thick darkness, and illuminated Tabor.
The Light, long concealed within Himself,
Which He had shed upon the world in brief flashes,
Now burst forth in abundant rays–
Joyful rays, sweet rays–
To reveal to heaven the brilliance of His humanity,
And to reveal to earth and men the truth of His Divinity.
Let Heaven see its messenger,
Let the earth recognize God the Savior.

Firstly, as some of you may already know, this is the “hymn of praise” for yesterday’s entry in the Prolog of Ohrid. English speakers who only know these from the two-volume edition by Sebastian Press may not realize that these are not only sacred poetrythey are spiritual songs (duhovne pesme), many of them with well-known melodies that are often used in liturgical and paraliturgical settings. It is therefore not unusual to hear the “hymns of praise” from the Prolog sung on various feast days. I have searched to no avail for a recording of the above hymn, but there is a recording of the Prolog hymn for St Thekla (whose feast, incidentally, is my Krsna Slava) available from Svetigora Radio.

Secondly, the opening lines of this hymn strike me as an excellent example of how the Church reads the Bible. At once Mount Tabor, the place of the Transfiguration, is recognized as the place of the victory of the children of Israel over the armies commanded by Sisera (cf. Judges 4-5). And it is in this place of victory that the Lord was transfigured, revealing to his disciples before the Passion his victory over death and hades in the Resurrection.

“Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name” (Psalm 88:13, LXX).

Silva on the πίστις Χριστοῦ Debate

It has come to my attention that the current issue of Themelios carries a review of Michael Bird and Preston Sprinkle (eds.), The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical and Theological Studies (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010), by none other than Moisés Silva. [H/T: Rod Decker.] The journal is available online, and our Infallible Hero’s review may be accessed here.

Allow me, if you will, a bit of an extended quotation:

With regard to the debate as a whole, I happen to believe, naively perhaps, that the evidence is not all that ambiguous—or to put it more accurately, that the ambiguities in the data are plainly resolved by Paul’s many unambiguous statements. If by pistis Christou (which in isolation can indeed signify any number of things) the apostle had meant either “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness,” it would have been ridiculously easy for him to make that point clear beyond dispute. Among various possibilities, he could have, for example, indicated—in the same contexts—one or two ways in which Jesus believed and how those acts of faith were relevant to the matter at hand. Or he could have told us—again, in the same contexts—that his message of dikaiosynē (“righteousness, justification”) is true because Christos pistos estin (“Christ is faithful”). What could have been simpler? And considering the theological importance of this issue, one would think that he might have made a special effort to clarify matters.

Instead, if some scholars are to be believed, Paul did not have enough sense to realize that the phrase pistis Christou is ambiguous. And to make matters worse, he unwittingly misled his readers by using the verb pisteuō with Christos as direct object again and again in the very same passages that have the ambiguous phrase! His bungling proved spectacularly successful, for in the course of nearly two millennia, virtually every reader—including ancient scholars for whom Greek was their native language—understood the phrase to mean “faith in Christ” and gave no hint that it might mean something else.

Of course, the full review bears reading, not least of all because it offers a helpful summary of a book some of us have had our eye on since it was published earlier this year. Interested parties might also wish to revisit a previous installment of “Sundays with Silva” dedicated to πίστις Χριστοῦ and the witness of the Greek Fathers.

When Your Bible Goes Clunk: Isaiah 50:1

Anyone who regularly reads the English Bible knows the joys of those magical times when even your favorite and most cherished translation goes clunk. “Oh no!,” you cry. “Does that really say what I think it says?” You work up the courage do a double take, and to your great sorrow, you realize that you really did read something awful like “the one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places” (St Matthew 13:20, NASB) right there in God’s Holy Writ.

To honor the fallen victims of such tragedies, and to offer a space for communal catharsis, I have decided to inaugurate a new occasional feature entitled “When Your Bible Goes Clunk.”  In this first installment we shall take a look at Isaiah 50:1, which reads as follows in the English Standard Version:

Thus says the Lord:
“Where is your mother's certificate of divorce,
     with which I sent her away?
Or which of my creditors is it
     to whom I have sold you?
Behold, for your iniquities you were sold,
     and for your transgressions your mother was sent away.

Er, say what?

My heart sank when I read this, because I knew that this impossibly convoluted bit must have been carried over into the ESV from its parent translation, the Revised Standard Version, which happens to be one of my favorites. A little research revealed that the situation was far worse than I had expected: this jarring little rendering was indeed present in the RSV, but it had actually originated in the KJV, and it has inexplicably survived every one of its revisions to date (ERV, ASV, RSV, NKJV, NRSV, ESV, and WEB). The sole exception to this is the NASB, which has, horribly, “To whom of My creditors did I sell you?”another embarrassing grammatical fail for the beknighted translation.

I made another discovery that transfixed my heart with grief: what is perhaps my favorite English translation, the Revised English Bible, has “Which creditor of mine was there to whom I sold you?” I must admit that at this point I doubted myself. Perhaps there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this rendering, some sophisticated point of English syntax that I was missing. I quickly discarded this line of reasoning. For one thing, the REB’s predecessor, the New English Bible, has “Was there some creditor of mine to whom I sold you?” here. The change in the REB was clearly for the worse. And even if some obscure syntactical justification could be produced, this would still be no excuse for what amounts to sheer Bible clunk: when the obstinately latinate (and therefore often impenetrable) Douai-Rheims Bible is clearer at this point than the REB, we’re looking at a real problem.

So, which translations got it right? Well, the NAB and JB/NJB have the wonderfully laconic,”Or to which of my creditors have I sold you?” The NET and NIV/TNIV renderings are nearly identical, except that they have “did I sell” for the NAB and JB/NJB’s “have I sold.” That, and the entire tradition of English Bibles before the King James Version seems to have rendered this verse more clearly by comparison:

Wycliffe: ether who is he, to whom Y owe, to whom Y seeld you?
Coverdale: or who is the vsurer, to who I solde you?
Bishops’: or who is the vsurer to whom I solde you?
Geneva: or who is the creditour to whome I solde you?
Douai-Rheims: or who is my creditour, to whom I sold you?

Now that was a fun ride, wasn’t it? I will post new installments from time to time, as I encounter instances of Bible clunk in my own reading of Scripture. However, I will gladly accept submissions gleaned from your own reading and bathed with your tears, so feel free to send them along!

On Matters Biblical, Translational, and Silvanical

I.

Readers will undoubtedly recall my previous notices of Michael Asser’s excellent KJV-LXX Psalter, which is happily now available both online (here and here) and in a beautiful printed edition from CTOS (albeit with some notable modifications). Mr Asser, it will be remembered, set out to conform the Old Testament of the venerable King James Version to the ecclesiastical text of the Greek Old Testament, hoping “as far as possible . . . to make a translation such as King James’ translators might have made had they been working from the Septuagint.” This, I believe, he has achieved with a remarkable degree of success. It is therefore with a great deal of enthusiasm that I note the completion of his Old Testament project, which is now available in full at the Orthodox England website. I encourage one and all to download these files and make frequent use of them, with due gratitude to the reviser for the priceless gift he has given the English-speaking Orthodox Church.

I have read somewhere that Mr Asser has tentatively started to work on the KJV’s Gospel of St Matthew in order to bring it into conformity with the 1904 Patriarchal Greek New Testament. While he has not committed himself to a full-fledged New Testament project, I, for one, hope that he does carry out a full revision of the KJV New Testament to supplement his KJV-LXX Old Testament. In this way we would have, at long last, an accurate and stylistically consistent English edition of the entire Church’s Bible suitable for use at the Divine Services.

II.

Of course, the appearance of a fine edition of the Church’s Bible in what may be described as hieratic English does not at all remove the need for an accessible Orthodox translation of the Scriptures into contemporary standard English. While I have high hopes for the EOB in this regard, I have often wondered why an Orthodox edition of at least the RSV New Testament was never produced, especially in view of the fact that the Roman Catholics prepared just such an edition for themselves in 1966.  I was therefore thrilled to learn through a comment in our friend Kevin Edgecomb’s blog that a diglot edition featuring the 1904 Patriarchal Greek Text and an Orthodox revision of the RSV New Testament is in the works and will be published by the American Bible Society. I have often recommended to others the RSV-CE for the purposes of private reading, study, and memorization, and I’m simply delighted to know that in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future there will be an Orthodox edition of the RSV New Testament to recommend instead. The fact that the Greek text will be printed alongside the English translation only makes this forthcoming publication all the more appealing!

III.

In other matters, I would like to direct your attention to an excellent interview with New Testament scholar Gordon D. Fee in which he discusses rather at length the interpretation of the book of Revelation. [H/T: Near Emmaus.] I do not often watch interviews with scholars, as I tend to find them tedious and contrived; frankly, this is not a natural medium for most academics. I had therefore expected to skip around the interview and perhaps catch a soundbite or two worth hearing, but I ended up committing my undivided attention to the video for the entire 32 minutes of its duration. I fervently recommend that you do the same. Fee’s commentary on Revelation for the New Covenant Commentary Series is set to appear later this year.

(It should be noted that my ringing endorsement of this interview with Fee does not in any way suggest that I condone his odd and often unwarranted antagonism to the infallible Moisés Silva’s published views on the interpretation of Philippians. The rather astonishing exchange may be read throughout Fee’s 1995 commentary on that epistle for the NICNT, with responses in the second edition of Silva’s commentary on the same epistle for the BECNT.)

IV.

And speaking of our Infallible Hero, it is my solemn and glorious duty to inform you that Westminster Theological Seminary has made available through their Audio Archive, entirely for free, eighty-one MP3 files containing various sermons, lectures, and even complete courses delivered by Silva at that institution from 1977 to 1996. These include his courses on New Testament Introduction, the Gospel of St John, and the Epistle to the Galatians, the CDs for which otherwise sell for a combined $300 (!).  Use of the Westminster Audio Archive only requires a quick and painless registration, which is really nothing to ask for access to such a massive repository of absolutely first-rate resources. Enjoy!

I have yet to download all of the recordings of our Infallible Hero, but I have been listening to his New Testament Introduction course, which is also available through Westminster’s iTunes U page. In the very first lecture of this course, there is a line at the 10:00 minute mark that I know could give rise to doubt in the hearts of weaker brethren, for which reason I have decided to discuss it here. Silva says:

“I don’t try to give you every bit of information, and some may get garbled; not everything that I tell you is absolutely infallible.”

But of course, we know that Silva is infallible. How then can we reconcile this with a propositional statement from our Infallible Hero himself in which, of all things, he seems to claim that he is not?  The crucial thing to be remembered by those troubled weaker brethren who may be tempted to abandon Silvanic infallibility is that, above all, the wise pedagogue is here offering his students a tremendous lesson in humility. But note that his statement above is very carefully worded so as to avoid any formal contradiction: in stating that not everything he says is “absolutely infallible,” he is in fact implying that most everything else he does say is. And when one remembers that even this quite limited protestation is born of the noblest modesty, one can easily discern that our Infallible Hero did not actually contradict the fact of his infallibility here.

(For some reason not at all clear to my mind, after the foregoing I feel compelled to tell you the following apocryphal story. It is well known that, in addition to the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience common to all Roman Catholic religious, the Jesuits profess a fourth vow of special obedience to the Pope of Rome. Legend has it that, immediately after the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI communicated to the Jesuit General Congregation of 1965-6 his desire that the this fourth vow be abolished, but that the Jesuits politely declined to do so.)