Thursday, March 16, 2017
John 1:1 -- one more foray
I suppose I am a bit obsessed with the meaning of the first verse of the gospel of John. I have written enough on it (e.g. here and here). But it bugs me that a simplistic bit of translation has totally distorted the meaning of the passage.
In English Bibles, John 1:1 is normally translated as: "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God".
But that's nuts. How can you both BE god and be WITH god? It's logically self-contradictory. By saying you are WITH someone you imply that you are NOT that someone. So what gives? Was the holy apostle John talking nonsense? He was not. What he wrote in the original Greek of the New Testament was quite different from what we read in most English Bibles.
But I can't altogether blame the translators. Translating it literally does make for ponderous English. So why not do it the simple way?
To show you what I mean, here is the closest I can get to an exact translation: "In a beginning was the word and the word was with the god and the word was of god-substance." You see what I mean. It sounds a bit weird. Note "THE god".
As I mentioned recently, it all goes back to the way holy Jews long ago stopped referring to the name of their god -- which was YHWH ("Jehovah" in English). So they referred to him by generic terms such as "Gods" or "Lord" ("elohim" or "adonay" in Hebrew).
YHWH tells us most emphatically that he is very proud of his name, wants it used reverently and wants it known worldwide that he is supreme. See the Ten Commandments and Psalm 83:18. He is so emphatic about it in Psalm 83:18 that even the King James Bible renders the name as "Jehovah" rather than with their usual practice of substituting "the LORD" for YHWH. So it is a huge irony that the worshippers of YHWH do exactly the opposite of what he clearly commands.
And that confusion carried on into New Testament times. Because the Jewish god had no name, the New Testament writers couldn't identify their god very clearly either. They referred to him as "the God" ("ho theos") -- which is how Greeks referred to the local god, whoever he may be. In the ancient world there were lots of gods and it depended on where you were to find out which god you most likely worshipped. So right from the beginning, John 1:1 was going to have some ambiguity
A non-Jewish speaker of Greek would have taken the text to be very vague indeed, amounting to a claim that a mysterious someone was with the local god of the writer at some beginning and that the mysterious someone was made out of the same stuff as the local god was. And that is EXACTLY what it means. We see more in it than that because we know its religious context
Most Christians go in for vagueness there too. They see it as justification for their theological "Trinity" doctrine -- and that's as vague as it gets -- saying that Jesus and God are the same yet different -- which is also logically self-contradictory.
I note that even the latest Zondervan Study Bible (using the latest version of the NIV) concedes in its notes that the meaning of "with god" is, "The word is distinct from God the father and enjoys a personal relationship with him". That is pretty right -- but how you get a Holy Trinity out of it is the mysterious part.
I am not going to start mentioning anarthrous predicates and the fine points of the Greek grammar involved. I have done that on several previous occasions. Suffice it to say that my rendering of what the passage actually means now seems to be mainstream among textual scholars. See e.g. here.
And nor is it a modern translation. Another Bible translation is the old Geneva Bible, a translation even older than the KJV. It was the translation that the Pilgrim Fathers mainly used. And in their footnotes they interpret the passage to mean that the Word was of "the selfsame essence or nature" as the creator, which is pretty fair.
Note: I might in passing recommend the latest Zondervan study Bible. It is a massive tome with huge amounts of information. It is a worthy successor to the old Companion Bible. They are going for $33.99 at the moment from Christian Book -- JR.
Is This the End of 'Liberalism' in the USA?
Militant leftist extremists have taken over a large swath of the Left
Have you noticed how unhinged many liberals have become since Donald Trump won the presidency? Of course you have; you can’t miss something as extensive and crazy as Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Many leftists, perhaps most, reside moderately to the left of the political center; but we’ll focus here on the radicals who hang on by their fingernails to the left-most fringe of the political spectrum, about to slip off into undisputed madness.
These leftmost folks — let’s call ‘em what they are: militant leftist extremists — have disentangled themselves from the general rules of common courtesy and civility where some may properly disagree with the ideas of others in a polite and accepting manner. These radicals aren’t just disagreeable but are becoming more militant and demanding. They want not to persuade others to their ideas, but to force their acceptance.
Protesting is protected speech in the U.S., and we honor that right. But increasingly these militant leftist extremist protests turn to assault and destruction in their infantile temper tantrums, and then they have the gall to name-call and demonize the rest of us. Demonstrating the character of those radicals, a Trump golf course in California and his Washington hotel were recently vandalized. And if leftists think some group deserves special consideration and you don’t agree, you are called racist, misogynist, Nazi, fascist, immigrant-hater, etc.
And now, things are happening that are so bizarre as to be accurately described as deliberately dishonest. California Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters actually said on MSNBC’s “Hardball” four days before the inauguration that Trump ought to be impeached. She implied that Trump received campaign information from Russia, such as the names he called Hillary Clinton and others, and therefore he should be impeached after he becomes president.
On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” David Wright attributed the timing of Trump’s U.S. Attorney purge to Fox News host Sean Hannity, noting the purge occurred one day after Hannity called for it on TV. These requested resignations are standard operating procedure when any new president is of a different political party than his predecessor. Bill Clinton and Janet Reno fired 93 attorneys compared to Trump’s 46. Any network news reporter worth his salt knows this. Yet somehow because Hannity mentioned it on his show shortly before it occurred, it was Hannity who “ordered” the action, and Trump wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Fake news anyone?
And it’s much worse than those examples. Some leftists have sunk to a level below mere opposition. It’s anti-Americanism — not the loyal opposition, but the disloyal political enemy. Among the more serious infractions is that appointees and holdovers from the previous administration apparently have leaked sensitive information to the media, which have eagerly reported these things, potentially breaking more laws and even committing treason.
While this behavior has been on the increase for a while, the election of Donald Trump has been like a dose of steroids, as if his election lifts the barriers to illegal and unethical behavior. People seem to have forgotten that, like him or not, Trump is the duly elected president, and while much of the opposition merely makes things more difficult for him, some of it puts the nation’s stability at risk.
Shelby Steele, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, evaluates these changes in liberalism as follows: “The recent flurry of marches, demonstrations and even riots, along with the Democratic Party’s spiteful reaction to the Trump presidency, exposes what modern liberalism has become: a politics shrouded in pathos.”
Steele remembers how things were during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, “when protesters wore their Sunday best and carried themselves with heroic dignity,” and bemoans today’s leftist marches, which he described as “marked by incoherence and downright lunacy — hats designed to evoke sexual organs, poems that scream in anger yet have no point to make, and an hysterical anti-Americanism. All this suggests lostness, the end of something rather than the beginning. What is ending?”
He continues, “Our new conservative president rolls his eyes when he is called a racist, and we all — liberal and conservative alike — know that he isn’t one. The jig is up. Bigotry exists, but it is far down on the list of problems that minorities now face.” Reaching back into his own experiences, he notes, “I grew up black in segregated America, where it was hard to find an open door. It’s harder now for young blacks to find a closed one.”
Calling current militant leftist extremists “an anachronism,” Steele goes on to explain that what we have today is not liberalism, but “moral esteem over reality; the self-congratulation of idealism.” And he concludes with the post mortem: “Liberalism is exhausted because it has become a corruption.”
But that corruption can still win if it’s not thoroughly opposed and stopped in its tracks.
Liberty Is Not for Wimps
By Walter E. Williams
Most Americans, whether liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican, do not show much understanding or respect for the principles of personal liberty. We criticize our political leaders, but we must recognize that their behavior simply reflects the values of people who elected them to office. That means we are all to blame for greater governmental control over our lives and a decline in personal liberty. Let me outline some fundamental principles of liberty.
My initial premise is that each of us owns himself. I am my private property, and you are yours. If we accept the notion of self-ownership, then certain acts can be deemed moral or immoral. Murder, rape and theft are immoral because those acts violate private property. Most Americans accept that murder and rape are immoral, but we are ambivalent about theft. Theft can be defined as taking the rightful property of one American and giving it to another, to whom it does not belong. It is also theft to forcibly use one person to serve the purposes of another.
At least two-thirds of federal spending can be described as Congress' taking the rightful property of one American and giving it to another American, to whom it does not belong. So-called mandatory spending totaled $2.45 trillion in 2015. Thus, two-thirds of the federal budget goes toward Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food assistance, unemployment and other programs and benefits that fall into the category of taking from some and giving to others. To condemn legalized theft is not an argument against taxes to finance the constitutionally mandated functions of the federal government; we are all obligated to pay our share of those.
Many say that government spending guarantees one right or another. That's nonsense. True rights exist simultaneously among people. That means the exercise of a right by one person does not impose an obligation on another. In other words, my rights to speech and travel impose no obligations on another except those of noninterference. For Congress to guarantee a right to health care, food assistance or any other good or service whether a person can afford it or not does diminish someone else's rights — namely, their right to their earnings. Congress has no resources of its very own. If Congress gives one person something that he did not earn, it necessarily requires that Congress deprive somebody else of something that he did earn.
Another area in which there is contempt for liberty, most notably on many college campuses, is free speech. The true test of one's commitment to free speech does not come when he permits others to say things with which he agrees. Instead, the true test comes when one permits others to say things with which he disagrees. Colleges lead the nation in attacks on free speech. Some surveys report that over 50 percent of college students want restrictions on speech they find offensive. Many colleges have complied with their wishes through campus speech codes.
A very difficult liberty pill for many Americans to swallow is freedom of association. As with free speech, the true test for one's commitment to freedom of association does not come when one permits people to voluntarily associate in ways that he deems acceptable. The true test is when he permits people to associate in ways he deems offensive. If a golf club, fraternity or restaurant were not to admit me because I'm a black person, I would find it offensive, but it's every organization's right to associate freely. On the other hand, a public library, public utility or public university does not have a right to refuse me service, because I am a taxpayer.
The bottom line is that it takes a bold person to be for personal liberty, because you have to be able to cope with people saying things and engaging in voluntary acts that you deem offensive. Liberty is not for wimps.
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Posted by JR at 1:27 AM