A Torch Relay contrasted to a Triumphant Spectacle

So yesterday the torch relay came through our neighborhood on its way to the Olympic stadium to mark the start of the London 2012 games. There was a great buzz of excitement all throughout our neighborhood, as I’m sure there was in every neighborhood through which the torch passed. Essentially, the relay is an extended one person parade as people line the streets to see the procession of the torch as it makes its way to the main show at the stadium here in Stratford (East London). Different people carry the torch as it is passed from one person to another, and there is an excitement surrounding it. These torch bearers are all local or nati0nal heroes, generally selected for outstanding service to the community of the country. It is a unique and interesting, and genuinely exciting, thing to witness.

For some reason, however, the torch relay got me thinking about something else. There’s this theme used in Corinthianian correspondence of a parade. There, it is referring to the “triumphal procession.” It’s not really that related to the Ancient Olympics, despite the fact that Corinth had an early parallel in the Isthmian Games (named for the isthmus that Corinth straddles), but is a very Roman parade. In the parade, a general who had recently conquered new territory for the Roman Empire, was given a huge honor. As part of this honor, he would get to lead a lengthy parade through various parts of the empire. The general would lead the parade, coming as a national hero, followed by his officers and generals and new captives in the back. They would wind their way through most of the major cities finally ending in Rome, the capital, where a fire was lit and they were given an honor by the emperor.

Throughout each of these cities, however, and including up until Rome the general would hold a long chain in his hand. The chain would stretch back throughout the parade, past the officers, and cavalry, and foot soldiers, past most of the captives to the very back. There, at the tail end of the procession, was the conquered leader or king, being led like a dog. Rather than a king, he was a prisoner. At the end of the lengthy procession, once the fires were lit, he along with some of the captives, would be sacrificed

A relief of captives being led by a collar in ancient Rome, via Wikicommons

for the glory of the kingdom (Rome in this instance). The entire process was meant to humiliate the conquered king, who was essentially a walking dead man, and bring honor to the one leading the triumphal procession. With that in mind, let’s look at these two passages, first from 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NIV),

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?

and then from 1 Corinthians 4:9 (NIV).

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.

What is striking is that even though Jesus and God is the triumphant general leading the march, Paul does not consider himself to be among the officers, but among the king who must be killed. There is a real recognition that my own achievements are, as Paul says, rubbish (well that’s the clean translation of Philippians 3:8). He has truly died to himself and his old self is a walking dead man. He mixes his metaphors a bit to talk about the “aroma.” In the triumphal procession, as the captive king approached the stadium, he would begin to smell the fires burning and to him it would be an aroma of death. To the officers and generals, however, it was an aroma of life. For Paul he sees that for his old self it is the aroma of death, but for his new self that is Christ living through him and transforming his very being, it is an aroma of life. At the root though, rather than an honor before people, he sees his service to Christ as a his own humiliation before the entire universe. I’m not saying we shouldn’t give some sort of honor to those who clearly benefit our communities and the world around us, of course we should. I am saying, however, that the Christian should work with no thought for an immediate reward, but only to bring glory to Christ, even if it means humiliation. In contrast to a parade celebrating the honor of human achievement (even if it is for genuinely good work), Paul sees his work as only bringing honor to Christ. So the question, one that we all struggle with, is for whose honor or glory are you working?


Summary of the series: Where did our Bible come from? (part 13)

This is a summary of the posts in this series in an effort to both give a sense of cohesion to it and to provide a reference point for those who may have missed one or two (or more) in the series, but wanted to keep up. I’ve provided links to each of the posts if you would like to follow up. I’ll start by briefly reviewing each post (where you can click the hyperlink) and then give my summative comments at the end.

Part 1: Introduction: In this post I introduced the series and also mentioned that Bruce Metzger’s Text of the New Testament as a good resource. Also I began to refine which version of the bible we were looking at which led into the next part.

Part 2: The KJV only position and its problems: Here I briefly explain what the KJV only position is and why it is wrong.

Part 3: Defining which Bible we’ll use: In this post I finish talking about which bible I was focusing on. We settled on the Christian Protestant version on the bible and reasons for this were given.

Part 4: Introducing the Old Testament: Here I talked about the old theory of the Hebrew Canon and the Hebrew structure of the canon.

Part 5: Settling on the Old Testament: In this post I review the history of the canonization process for the Old Testament, with the recognition that it is ultimately speculative to some degree though certainly affirmed by the New Testament.

Part 6: The Window for the New Testament: In this post I discuss the historical time from during which the New Testament would have been written and canonized, which is considerably smaller in scale than that of the Old Testament.

Part 7: The Marcion Canon: Here I review the history of Marcion’s canon for the Gospels and why it was rejected.

Part 8: The Diatesseron: Here I examine the other early unification of the four gospels which, while admirable, was also rejected.

Part 9: The First Two Criteria: Here I begin to examine the criteria that the early church, either knowingly or unknowingly, used in identifying the biblical canon. This was based on F. F. Bruce’s excellent work The Canon of Scripture which is the other major resource I used. The criteria were apostolicity and early compostion.

Part 10: The Next three criteria: I examine the next criteria, which are Orthodoxy, Catholicity, and Use as Scripture.

Part 11: The Final Criteria: In this post I give a discussion of the doctrine of inspiration of Scripture.

Part 12: The Bible in English: In this final post I talk about the translation of the bible, particularly into English to talk about how we got the bible today.


In Summary: The main thing I wanted to do with this series was, of course, answer the question of how we got to our bible today (meaning the protestant bible in English). Of course I could have been more in depth along the way and even gone farther to talk about things like the Brick New Testament and other non-traditional translations, but I have given what I think is a good general overview of the history of the bible. Primarily, I wanted to demonstrate that the bible as we have it was not decided upon arbitrarily nor was it a single person’s decision. Rather, the community of God over multiple generations recognized that certain writings were of a special character that they could be regarded as authoritative and informative for our faith and practice even today. More than anything, I hope that you can walk away from this series with a certain level of confidence. If there is anything that I brought up, but have failed to address and you are just dying to know what I say about it, please let me know in the comments. I’ll be back, hopefully, with some posts on the Olympics this year not too far from now.


Sermon on Matthew 5:3, the first Beatitude

Ok, this is mostly for family and those who have specifically requested it. This is sermon I gave this past Sunday on the first Beatitude synced with the slides (sorry no actual video of the sermon). If you want to download the audio file only you can find it from St Michael’s Website here. Otherwise here’s the audio synced with slides (I didn’t use a manuscript for it so there’s not one to hand out, and my notes are probably a bit too odd to interpret).

Where did our Bible come from? Part 12: The bible in English

Sorry it’s been a while since the last post in this series (or generally). I’m coming to the close of this series though, just this post and one more to sum it up. It’s my hope that by the end of it, you’ll not only have gained an understanding of how we got from a small tribal group in the mideast to the bible in your hands (or on your phone, or computer, or e-reader, or whatnot), but also be able to read it with a certain level of confidence. With the last post, I had given the last criteria for New Testament Canonicity, inspiration. After going through the reason our bible includes the books it does in the Hebrew and Greek as I did over the past several posts in this series, I though it might be good to talk breifly about how we got from those Greek, Hebrew (and Aramaic) texts to the translated texts, particularly English ones.

The Latin Vulgate

So the very first translation of the bible including both Old and New Testament was into Latin and was called the “Vulgate.” Now the Old Testament had previously been translated into Greek as the Septuagint (which we’ve talked about) and before that as the Aramaic Targums. There was also an earlier Latin translation of the entire Bible (Old and New Testaments), it was actually several independent translations and all of them together were known collectively as the Vetus Latina or sometimes Old Latin. However, it did not have the wide audience that the later Vulgate manuscript did.

The Vulgate was the translation undertaken by Jerome, probably sometime between 380-420. It was not done entirely by Jerome, but he did the bulk of the work including translating the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, the most significant improvement over the Old Latin, which had based its work on the prior Greek translation. In this way, it became apparent how translations from the original source, undertaken with a certain amount of diligence, were superior. In the Western church, the Vulgate became standard.

Early Vernacular Translations

Some of the earliest bible translations were from the Old English and Old German (and later some Old French). I’ll focus on the English ones, since that One of the better examples in English was a translation of the Gospel of John by the Venerable Bede (or at least known and used by him) prior to his death around 735. Around 900, Alfred the Great, one of the first (or arguably the first) king of the Anglo-Saxons, distributed copies of various passages from the bible (most frequently the ten commandments). By 990 an Old English translation of the four Gospels had appeared.

However, once several groups, who had relied upon the biblical text in translation for their views, were condemned as heretics, things began to change. The most notable of these groups (at least as far as contemporary noteriety) were the Waldensees (sometimes Waldensians) who, among other things, believed in a form of reincarnation. Some Landmark Baptist groups like to include the Waldensees in their in their history (such as the somewhat infamous “Trail of Blood” track), which should be cautioned against due to their divisive and simply dangerous theology. At any rate, the result of these condemnations was a ban, put out by Pope Innocent III, in 1199, on any new copies of the bible that were not authorized by the church. Eventually this ban was extended and made more explicit by a later Synod, in 1234, to ban the possession of unauthorized translations and effectively limit, if not eliminate, their use in the common language.

Despite this, by 1383 an English translation of the entire bible, for which John Wycliffe has been given credit, appeared. This (Middle English) version was the first relatively widespread version of the entire bible in English and was based entirely upon the Vulgate. It was banned at the Oxford synod of 1408, but nevertheless persisted in some form or another (though was considered by many to be too vulgar for the text of the bible). Followers of Wycliffe were often called Lollards, a derogatory term coming from the Middle English for “mutter.”

Predating Wyclif, and from whom he may have gotten his ideas, was Jan Hus. A Czechoslovakian monk (though he is also claimed by Germany) who advocated that the priesthood of all believers so extreme that he led a movement to begin again the translation of the bible into the common language of the people (a Czech version of the bible did appear roughly the same time as this). For doing so, however, and violating the clear edict of the Western Church, Hus was burned at the stake.

It should be noted that these moves to have the bible in the common tongue may have been more symbolic than practical. After all, literacy was hardly widespread at the time. Those who did learn to read were generally of the wealthy class and learned to read first, as almost all paid instruction was at the time, in Latin. The Latin versions were widespread enough for these wealthy who could afford them and so it seemed that the move to have the bible into the common tongue was either purely symbolic, or (more likely) was a call to also improve education of all people so that they were able to read it. I might be a little idealistic in that assertion, but that would eventually become explicit after the Protestant Reformation.

Protestant Bibles

The emphasis that Hus had placed upon the priesthood of all believers had its most significant impact following the Reformation and evidence of it can be seen in some of Martin Luther’s works. This is likely one reason behind Luther’s translation of the bible into German. This remarkable feat was accomplished over many years and actually shaped the German language in profound ways. That said, it is likely that other concerns, beyond the idea that everyone should be able to read and interpret the bible, were likely also at play. Luther’s bible, which was one of the first works published on the printing press owned by Gutenberg in 1534, also had a political motivation for it. Since the primary authority in pre-Reformation Europe seemed to be the Roman Church, Luther (and other protestants) needed a way to get the support of the stateindependent of the Roman Church. By translating the bible into German, rather than reprinting a Latin one, a sense of Germanic pride could have been encouraged, eventually allowing Germany to break from Rome and declare itself Protestant (unfortunately this also led to some incredibly bloody conflicts, culminating in the Thirty Years War).

Predating the publication of the Luther Bible, however, was an English translation of the New Testament by William Tyndale. His 1526 translation was met with sanctions, but has survived better than Wycliffe’s translation. A considerable improvement on Wycliffe’s Bible was a return to the original Greek manuscript as the basis for translation instead of the Latin, showing the influence of Erasmus Desiderus of Rotterdam (who had also influenced Luther), likely the greatest biblical textual scholar who has ever lived. Tyndale’s Pentateuch (which may or may not have been done by Tyndale) appeared in 1530 followed by the book of Jonah. Tyndale’s work is notable for being considered somewhat “earthy” in its use of language, since he thought it should reflect the language every day people spoke.

Other English translations of other parts of the bible were also published in the years following and in 1535 the first complete English bible translated from the Original languages was published by Myles Coverdale in Antwerp. While it may seem odd that the first complete English Bible was published in a Dutch city, there are numerous historical reasons for this. Up until 1527, Britain was still secure in its Allegiance to Rome, earning Henry VIII the title of “Defender of the Faith” (a title retained by the current British monarch). However in that year Henry applied to have his marriage to his current wife annulled (in part because he probably genuinely believed God had disapproved of it). Since the Pope had given a special concession for the marriage to occur in the first place, due to the close prior relationship between Henry and Catherine of Aragon, the application was denied. This began a series of events that eventually led to England’s break with Rome (Scotland has its own break with Rome separate from that in England). Although the final break came about in 1536, as a result of gradual changes, the country was far from settled in its Protestantism (that would not come until the reign of Elizabeth) and at any rate would not have been quite as hospitable to such a radical thing as the bible in English.

Additionally, the area around Antwerp and Amsterdam and most of what is now the Netherlands was were the Anabaptists had their strongest impact. The Anabaptists were more radical in their reformation than the other Reformers and that included a radical move toward the priesthood of all believers. This encouraged both to an increase in education (leading to literacy) eventually and to a move to have the bible in the common languages. However, the most well known bible of this period was yet to come (and would be published in London).

Modern Translations

The first of what might be properly termed a “modern translation” of the bible into English would be the King James Bible. By the time of King James reign, England and Wales (and Scotland) had become firmly protestant and was ready to have a more formally approved English Bible. In 1604 work began on the English Translation of the Bible authorized by the King. It would be completed in 1611. This was one of the few times (perhaps the only time) that a work of literature in one language was translated into a literary masterpiece in its own right in another language. The language was probably more formal than that used by the common man, but considering its sponsorship by the King that may have been the point. For a long time, very little translation work was done in English following this. However, once new and better manuscripts began to emerge, and as English continued to evolve away from the high Elizabethan language of the KJV, it became apparent that new translations might be useful.

While I won’t go into the specifics of each version, I am going to sum this up by saying some general comments about English translations. The thing I want to say first and foremost is that you can have confidence in the translations you use everyday. They were (likely) performed by large committees of scholars using the best textual evidence available today. The distinctions between the various translations are rarely, if ever, enough to lead to vastly different theological stances in and of themselves. That usually is a matter of interpretation. I will however, also offer a word of warning. Anytime something is translated it is interpreted. Therefore, any and every bible translation is, in a sense, a commentary on that very bible. While most translators certainly work to minimize this, it can never be entirely avoided. In order to compensate for this, in your own study, just be aware of it. For daily readings, it is doubtful it will change much. However, if you are doing a deep and in depth study, I would merely encourage you to read a variety of different translations that will give you a sense of what these interpretive moves might be. In the end, though, you can have confidence that after a rather lengthy process, the current bibles in English are ones that have emerged as a result of careful scholarship.

Where does your allegiance lie?

Today is July 4. While that doesn’t mean much to my British friends, they know that for our family and for Americans around the world, this is the day of our greatest national pride. I’ve taken the day off to celebrate with my family, in a foreign land as it were, this day of independence. I’d just like to offer a few quick thoughts and questions for you to reflect today.

Jesus came to this world in order to redeem it from its present ruling. In a very genuine way it was a divine rebellion. However, it was not God who had rebelled, but us with our action and inaction. Thus God came to start a revolution and bring us back to him. Although Christ declared that his “kingdom is not of this world,” it seems he came to make a part of this world. More correctly, he came to redeem this world in order to reclaim it for the kingdom that it was always meant to be. God took us, rebels against him that we were, and changed the focus of our rebellion. Instead of against the king of the universe, we began to rebel with the king against the rulers of this present evil age. To be a Christian is to be inherently counter cultural. To be a Christian, genuinely, is to always withhold devoting your fullest allegiance to a secular state, because your truest allegiance is as a citizen of a different kingdom, one that is invading this one. This doesn’t mean we deny our citizenry in a secular state entirely, at least not yet. It does mean, however, that we love our God more than any country or government. It does mean that we are called to keep in mind a wider perspective beyond the politics of this present age. With that in mind, let me ask a few questions for you to keep in mind today.

Do you sometimes devote more attention and energy to politics than you do to advancing the kingdom of God? What would happen if we expended the amount of energy we do on politics on advancing Christ’s kingdom on earth?

If your country (I realize I’m primarily talking to fellow Americans, but it could apply to anyone) was genuinely opposed to the kingdom of God in its policy and action, would you forsake your country to demonstrate allegiance to Christ?

Is the way someone votes of more importance to you than whether or not they are working to advance the Kingdom of God on a personal level?

Where does your primary allegiance lie?

Happy Independence Day, but recall from where your truest independence comes.