Future Church, Future Bible

Upheaval. Chaos. Questioning. Fear of Future. Disregard for Tradition. Distrust of Experts. Dismissal of Science. Alternative Facts and Truths.

A negative appraisal of the current situation in American politics and social life sees elements of all of these descriptors in play today. It is easy, however, to see these things confined to cable TV news, internet news sites, and Washington, D.C. We believe our lives are insulated from such turmoil, at least for the most part. Questioning? Haven’t we always done this? Don’t we have a right to question authority? Fear of Future? Who wouldn’t be afraid after living through 9/11 and the Great Recession? Disregard for Tradition? Isn’t it about time we jettisoned some of the archaic traditions that hold us back? Should we let our past control our future? Distrust of Experts? Can’t I look up anything on the internet and find a source I like? Aren’t we all experts these days? Dismissal of Science? Scientists don’t agree on anything, do they? And aren’t the answers of science always changing? Didn’t they tell us at one time that menthol cigarettes could heal our lungs? Alternative facts and Truths. Isn’t there a lot of fake news out there? Haven’t the major news agencies we trusted in the past shown themselves to be purveyors of an agenda I don’t like? Isn’t Walter Cronkite dead?

Where does this fearful and questioning environment come into the church? We are long past the days when we could believe the church was a “Fortress of Solitude” untouched by raging conflicts in the cultural and social world. Whether we admit it or not, our religious identity is at the core of this situation. As Ravi Zacharias has said, “Religion is the essence of culture and culture is the dress of religion.” What are the religious elements behind our cultural upheavals?

In a series of blogs over the next few weeks, I would like to explore a specific aspect of this, the religious identity of the church as expressed in current culture. What lies behind the cultural expressions our society experiences in the church today? More specifically, I want to look at the role of the Bible in the church’s religious identity. Then I want to play the role of a futurist and project a little. What will be the relationship between the Bible and the future church?

My father was a medical doctor (M.D.) and had been drilled about a couple of things in medical school that were essential to his profession. One was that he always was to sign his name with “M.D.” at the end. So he wasn’t “Charles E. Krause.” He was “Charles E. Krause, M.D.” His degree conferred upon him a unique status that he should take pride in and publish whenever he could. A second thing he was taught was that other medical people who claim to be “doctors” but were not “M.D.” were suspect, probably quacks. In my family, visiting a chiropractor would be grounds for disinheritance. These and other things were drawn from the culture of medical schools when my father was being educated, an effort to define an elite identity for medical school graduates at the top of the medical world’s influence hierarchy. This culture (from the 1950s) would be aghast at the idea that medical information could be accessed from the internet, that a person with a medical degree from a place like Pakistan could be a real doctor, and that (of all things) a person could receive a flu shot in a Target pharmacy given by a pharmacist (as I did last week). In the end, this wasn’t so much about competency and certainly not about consumer value. It was about “protecting the shield,” insuring that medical doctors were highly competent and appropriately respected.

I’m afraid my field of expertise, biblical studies, has some of these same tendencies. We distrust and dismiss opinions on the Bible coming from anyone who does not have at least a master’s degree from a reputable school. We cringe at the misinformation about the Bible and its interpretation that can be found on the internet. We are aghast at preaching that largely ignores the Bible, and misinterprets it when it is used. We, too, have been “protecting the shield” of our guild, PhDs who know the original biblical languages and talk to each other in terms no average church person could understand or appreciate. When we look into the future of the church’s relationship to the Bible, are we part of it? Are we part of a new synthesis or a lingering part of an old problem?

Here are the topics I want to look at in the next few weeks:

  1. How did the Bible come to have a place of authority in the church and what is the nature of that authority?
  2. How did the assumption of this authoritative role for the Bible form part of the essence of the Evangelical church, and how was this essence dressed in popular cultural expressions of evangelicalism?
  3. What is the “realpolitick” role of the Bible and biblical experts (like me) in the evangelical church today?
  4. What is the likely future role of the Bible and its experts in the future church.

I hope you are along for the ride!

Mark S. Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

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“Everything Happens for a Reason” Redux

My pastor today deliberately called out some “bad theology” that cripples us and causes misunderstandings of the Christian life. I appreciate it.

If we are not discerning, one person’s bad theology is another person’s favorite doctrine. I try to use biblical concepts to form my theological concepts. I am not infallible. I make mistakes and learn more as I go. I hope my theology is progressing toward purer truth all the time.

A persistent saying in Christian circles is “Everything happens for a reason.” This has the ring of faith and of yielding to the mysterious will of God. But I think it is bad theology in the way most people view it.

I have heard this from people who have experienced great tragedy, or by those who are trying to console victims of life’s horrors. The unstated logic of the statement goes something like this:

  1. God is in control of all things, therefore of everything that happens.
  2. God has a plan for all things and this plan is continually unfolding according to his will.
  3. Therefore, when bad things happen, God is the ultimate cause.
  4. When we suffer tragedy, saying “Everything happens for a reason” is a polite way to blame God.
  5. Our hope is that God’s reasons will favor us in the future.

I just don’t think it works this way or that the Bible teaches this. I will admit there are places where the Bible authors seem to attribute life’s good things and life’s terrible things to God. Perhaps most famous are the words of Job:

 Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:10)

Not all tragedies have a simple, easily explained cause. But many do. Many are the result of sinful behavior, especially injustice at the hands of greedy and unprincipled individuals. Sin causes pain for us and for others. Yet the Bible does not teach us to passively accept injustice. We are to fight it, to champion justice.

In the end, God’s control of his creation is not in question. He can bring good from catastrophe. But this does not mean he brings catastrophe to cause good. So let’s replace “Everything happens for a reason” with “God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting.”

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The State of Evangelicalism 2017, Five Issues, Part 1: Biblical Authority

evangelicalism-2017Rapid change is the norm for now. This includes politics, economics, social standards, and ways of communicating. Irony abounds. Distrust of the “mainstream media” is countered by the proliferation and acceptance of “fake news.” Social media is hated and loved by the same audience.

What about the evangelical Christian world? Where does it stand as we begin 2017? Is it in a period of rapid change?

The modern evangelical movement came out of post-WWII reactions to the modernist-fundamentalist controversies of the early part of the 20th century, battles somewhat suspended during the Great Depression and the second world war. One of its enduring post-war expressions is the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), founded in 1949 to define and defend the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and to do biblical and theological research among a community of scholars who accepted this doctrine.

I have been member of the ETS for over twenty years and have attended a dozen of the annual meetings. As a Ph.D., I am a full voting member of the Society, one of about 4,000. Since I joined, I have been fascinated by the social aspects of the ETS: the influence of certain members, the uneasy alliances, the method of dealing with those seen as threats, the integration of new generations of scholars, and the growing influence of publishing houses (among other things). My analysis of the current state of evangelicalism is based on the shifting tides of the ETS as well as other personal observations. Here are five things I believe define evangelicalism in 2017.

1. Biblical authority is an increasingly empty claim for evangelicals.

The ETS stream of evangelicalism was based on two presuppositions concerning the Bible. First, the Bible spoke with God’s authority and was therefore the final word in all matters for humans. Second, the Bible was without mistakes in any and all matters (inerrant). Therefore, churches, families, and society itself should be ordered around teachings of the Bible.

Of course, the rub is that the Bible must be interpreted in order to be used. This has always been a weakness in evangelical scholars (see #3 in two weeks), for proof-texting and systematizing were widely used. The problem with proof-texting in particular was that it allowed the choice of some texts and the ignoring of other texts when one wanted to use the Bible as an authoritative guide.

On the congregational level, this picking and choosing is more evident than ever. Some large churches avoid teaching on the prohibitions and expectations of Scripture so as not to alienate congregants and (especially) visitors. God is love, not justice or judgment. Even when biblical standards are taught, they are widely ignored by members. Example: there is little difference in rates of divorce or premarital sex between evangelicals and the general population.

A few years ago, I was “working” at a Starbucks and overheard an interesting conversation between two young mothers who had just dropped off their children at school. One said, “I hear you and your family have been attending _____ Church. Do you believe all that stuff they teach? They are radicals in so many social issues, so out of step with modern society!” Answer, “Well, we don’t believe any of that stuff, but they have good programs for our kids.”

This is certainly no endorsement of biblical authority in the lives of members of a very large and well-know evangelical church.

Next week: 2. Separation of politics and faith is increasingly difficult.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and in no way are intended to speak for his employer.

The Name of God, Part 3

tetragrammatonWhen did the divine name of God, the tetragrammaton, revealed to Moses at the burning bush, begin to be avoided in speaking Scripture? When did Jewish people choose to lose the “transparent” meaning of the name (יהוה= YHWH = “I am”) in favor of a seemingly more respectful word substitute (אדני = Adonai = “my Lord”).

We left our discussion in 3rd century BC Alexandria, during the great project to render the recognized books of Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language being used by the Jews of that city. Although the dating and even the scope of this project may be somewhat uncertain, the general result is the Greek Old Testament we call the Septuagint, abbreviated as the LXX. The LXX was the primary Bible of the early church in the first century, becoming even more so as Greek-speaking Gentiles enter the church.

The LXX translators chose to transliterate Hebrew names rather than translate them. Thus רעואל = Ραγουηλ = Reuel, not the translated meaning of “friend of God” (Exodus 2:18). But the LXX translators chose not to do this for the divine name, יהוה, YHWH, instead using the circumlocuted translation of אדני, Adonai. In Greek, this is κύριος (or ὁ κύριος) = kurios = Lord. Why not transliterate יהוה as was done with the rest of the Hebrew names?

One reason is that YHWH is not easily rendered into Greek, since the language has no equivalent for the Hebrew yod (“y”) or the Hebrew waw (“w”), nor is it normal to have internal “h” sounds in Greek (Hebrew he). Thus all the letters of YHWH pose challenges for transliterators. However, other difficult Hebrew names are transliterated anyway. Judah (יהודה) is nearly the same name as Yahweh as far as spelling goes, having only the additional letter of dalet (“d”). The LXX renders this name as ιουδα. There are traditions of transliteration of the divine name in some ancient Greek versions as ιαβε (Yabe or Yave) or ιαω (Yao), but these are rare and inconsistent.

The second reason is that the translators of the LXX and their community had already ceased speaking the divine name aloud. By the 3rd century BC, the Jews of Alexandria avoided saying YHWH. It made sense to them to offer a Greek translation suitable for reading in public, therefore they chose to write what they would say, κύριος = kurios = Lord. By the 1st century AD (the Christian era), consensus seems to be for Jewish Scriptures in Greek that κύριος was the appropriate equivalent for the divine name.

As I said in the first of these blogs, transliteration is the source of all sorts of mischief. In this case, a word substitution also has unique issues. Foremost among these are the various meanings of κύριος, even in the New Testament. Let me offer three:

  1. Sometimes κύριος is used as a title of respect, something like our use of “Sir” or “Madam.” This is surely what the Jewish leaders mean when they address the Roman governor, Pilate, as κύριος, not that he is a divine being (Matthew 28:63). This is also the intended meaning in the address of Jesus as “Sir” by the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:11). At this point in the story, she has no idea that Jesus is God in flesh.
  2. The word κύριος is also used to define the superior party in the master/slave relationship so common in the ancient world. The slave in the parable of the great dinner feast addresses his master as κύριος and this is not a recognition of his deity (Luke 14:11). κύριος is also the master of a slave in Paul’s advice to slaves in Ephesians 6. Paul goes so far as to distinguish these κύριοι as the “earthly masters,” literally “masters according to the flesh” (τοῖς κατὰ σάρκα κυρίοις).
  3. The third use perhaps embraces #1 and #2 in some ways, but is the frequent title for God the Father, the Lord. In this, it is the dynamic equivalent of the Hebrew יהוה= YHWH. This is clearly seen in quotations from the LXX where we would expect to see κύριος (e.g., Acts 2:25). We also find examples in which κύριος is used in the Greek Old Testament sense to refer to the divine name (see Hebrews 12:6, James 3:9). This is especially seen in references to the “angel of the Lord” = the messenger of YHWH (Matthew 1:20, 28:2, compare Genesis 16:7).
  4. I know I said there were three usages, but let me offer a fourth closely related to the third, the term κύριος attached to the name Jesus or Jesus Christ. This is a favorite expression of Paul, occurring 48x by my count in the letters of Paul (e.g., Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 15:57, Philippians 3:20). Does Paul use κύριος in these instances in the sense of “master” or “divine one.” Probably both, as in St. Francis’s use: “O Divine Master …”

So how should we render into English the Hebrew Bible’s יהוה= YHWH, the LXX’s κύριος, or the NT’s κύριος? Are we bound by the traditions of the ancient Jews concerning the divine name, or even by the traditions of the early church?

I believe this was settled by us by the New Testament authors’ choice to use the word κύριος to refer to God in the YHWH sense. We should translate this as “Lord.” Admittedly, this can be confusing, but to import Yahweh into the New Testament makes no sense to me, nor does a transliteration such as kurios or kyrios.

Furthermore, the transliteration of יהוה to Yahweh in the Old Testament makes little sense to me as a Christian. Translation intends to communicate. Transliteration tends to obscure.

Therefore, I prefer one of two options for the Old Testament:

  1. Follow the ancient tradition of the Adonai circumlocution and render it as “the LORD.” Indicate that this comes from the Hebrew word יהוה by using all capital letters. This is the choice of most English translations.
  2. Try to translate יהוה into English. “I am” is a possibility here, but seems impersonal to me. This reminds me a little of the “celebrity” who calls himself “The Situation.” I think we can do better than that. One possibility is found in the recent translation/production from Thomas Nelson, The Voice Bible. It renders יהוה/YHWH as “The Eternal” or “The Eternal One.” This seems to me to be getting at the idea behind the “I am” or the “I am Who I am.”

Thus at Exodus 3:15 in The Voice Bible:

This is what you are to tell Israel’s people: “The Eternal, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is the One who has sent me to you.” This is My name forevermore, and this is the name by which all future generations shall remember Me.

Or at Psalm 1:1:

O Eternal, our Lord,
Your majestic name is heard throughout the earth;
Your magnificent glory shines far above the skies.

Maybe not 100% satisfying, but better, I think, than יהוה = Yahweh. Even better than יהוה = the LORD.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The Name of God, Part 2

%d7%99%d7%94%d7%95%d7%94In the previous blog, I tried to show that names in most languages have easily determined meaning, what we call “transparent” meaning. Determining the meaning can be tricky, however. Consider the name “Frank.” This originally meant one from the nation of the Franks = Frenchman. If we are historians, we may recognize this, but the more common meaning of “frank” is to be honest, to be open, to be direct. This does not make the meaning of the name “Frank” to be “Honest One,” however. It doesn’t work that way and the search for a name’s meaning can go down the wrong path if we are not careful.

Nicknames are more reliably transparent. By a “nickname,” I mean an acquired name other than the birth name given to a child by parents. For example, there was a man in my church when I was growing up named “Shorty.” I didn’t realize until I was in junior high that his real name was “Glenwood.” But guess what? He was pretty short. The nickname was both transparent and fitting.

The Hebrew name for God (יהוה= YHWH) has a long history in translation before it gets to us. I would not characterize it as a nickname, but it is not a “given” name either in the sense of having been bestowed by parents. We could say it is a given name given by God to himself, but it is more than this. It is a name with meaning and therefore is a way of God revealing himself to us. As my teacher, Carl F. H. Henry emphasized, God is a self-revealing God who tells us about himself. We only know things about God he has chosen to reveal. No hacked emails. No private recordings released. We know no more about God than what he reveals to us (humanity) about himself.

A tradition arose among ancient Jews that avoided speaking the divine name. The origins of this practice are somewhat murky and disputed, but a common explanation for it today is that such non-speaking is the ultimate cautionary practice to avoid violating the third commandment. If we are to respect the Lord’s name by never taking it in vain (Exodus 20:7), we show ultimate respect by never uttering it at all. (See this explanation by an Orthodox Jewish rabbi.) Instead, a Jewish person who follows this avoidance tradition will substitute a term like Adonai (אדני) which means “my Lord” (see Exodus 4:10). How ancient is this practice?

In the 3rd century BC, beginning about 250 BC, the Jews of the great city of Alexandria began a project to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The result was the Greek Old Testament, commonly called the Septuagint and given the shorthand designation of the LXX. This is not the place to rehearse or dispute all the historical questions concerning the project, but taking a big picture view of the results shows us three things:

  1. The project itself is called into being by the needs of the Jewish community of Alexandria. Remember, Alexandria, while in Egypt, is largely a Greek city, founded by Alexander the Great. The language of the community was Hellenistic Greek, a living tongue that was evolving at this time. The Jewish community in Alexandria, perhaps as many as 100,000 people, needed Scriptures in the language they read, wrote, and spoke, and this was not Hebrew. Scripture in Greek was a practical necessity for the synagogues of Alexandria and other Greek-speaking cities with Jewish communities.
  2. Any sense of “inspiration” attached to the books of the Hebrew Scriptures was understood to be transferred to this new version in a different language. Christians are especially aware of this because the Christian New Testament authors, writing in Greek, primarily use the LXX for their quotations of Scripture.
  3. When it comes to translating names, those who produced the LXX chose transliteration over translation. So, “Daniel” in Hebrew (דניאל) becomes “Daniel” (Δανιήλ) in the Greek version.

What about the divine name, the tetragrammaton (יהוה= YHWH)? Stay tuned for the next blog to discuss this.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

This blog does not reflect official views of the University, only opinions of the author.

The Name of God: Part 1

burning-bush-stained-glassNames have meaning. Here, I don’t mean sentimental attachment, although this can certainly be true. I mean that most names are related to other words within a language. Their background is often transparent, meaning it is obvious to those who take time to notice.

What we consider to be a family name or surname will have a background. This can be easily seen in a whole group of English names that refer to occupations. Here are a few examples: Carter, Fisher, Baker, Draper, Butcher, Painter, Waterman, Cook, Fletcher, Driver, Weaver, Smith, Potter, Miller, Gardener, Tanner, and Shepherd. (I’m sure you can think of many more). We rarely think of this transparent meaning with these names. President Carter was never evaluated on the basis of his name referring to the occupation of carting goods from one location to another.

Bible names also have meaning. They are often descriptive, a little more like Native American names: Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Black Elk, Standing Bear. Such names might be given as part of manhood rites and involve visionary experiences, but they are easily decipherable for us. So it was with biblical names, particularly in the Old Testament.

A small knowledge of Hebrew helps here. For example, any Bible name ending in -el refers to God, because the word “El” (אל) in Hebrew means “god” or “God.” (Just as in English, context determines whether this is the God or a god, although Hebrew has no system of capitalization to help us.) Therefore, Samuel (שמואל) means “name is God” or “his name is God.” This is a declaration of allegiance to the God of Israel, the answer to a question. Whom do you serve? His name is God. In the context of the story of Samuel’s birth, it is also an answer from his mother, Hannah, as to whom has heard her prayers for a child: his name is God. Similarly, Daniel (דנאל) means “God (אל) is my Judge,” Ishmael (ישמעאל) means “God (אל) hears,” Uriel (אוריאל) means “My light is God (אל),” etc.

Those of you who have followed my blog know that when it comes to translation practice, I generally abhor transliteration. Transliteration is the abdication of the responsibility of the translator to render a word in the source text’s language into a word in the target language. It is the source of endless mischief in theological work based on translated texts. The famous example from my church tradition is the Greek word baptizo (βαπτίζω). In Greek, this is an unambiguous word that means “dunk” or “immerse.” If we translated it in Acts 2:38, we would have “repent and be immersed …” and all controversies over the mode of baptism would be resolved (maybe). But transliterating it as baptize obscures its meaning. In effect, this creates a new word in English, and such a word is disconnected from the original Greek word by English speakers. New words take on a life of their own and meanings may change, so the English word “baptize” may take on meanings the Greek word baptizo does not have. Such is the danger of transliteration, a cowardly type of translation practice in many cases.

This brings us to consider the divine name of God used in the Hebrew Bible. In the dramatic encounter between Moses and the Lord in the burning bush, God reveals his personal name to Moses in three ways. When Moses questions the Lord as to what name he should use for him when he confronts the elders of Israel, the Lord first says אהיה אשׁר אהיה (ʾHYH ʾŠR ʾHYH), which translates as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). Later in the same verse, the Lord reduces this name to just  אהיה (ʾHYH), translated “I am.” The third variation follows immediately in Exodus 3:15: יהוה (YHWH), perhaps translated as “The One who is.”

These three variations must be taken together. The first two use the Hebrew verb for “being” (היה = HYH) with a first person singular form, thus meaning “I am.” In this context, we are intended to see the third variation (יהוה= YHWH) as more than a simple verbal form. It is a proper noun, a name, based on this Hebrew verb. But like the English names Smith or Carter, it is transparent to a Hebrew speaker and means “The One who is.” Why is this important? Because the first two are never used as a personal name for the Lord elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. The verbal form אהיה (ʾHYH) is used many times, often in connection to God. Two frequent examples are when the Lord assures someone “I will be with you” (e.g., Judges 6:16) and when God affirms the promise “I will be their God” (e.g., Ezekiel 11:20). But bald “I am” is not used as a name for God again.

So we are left with the third variation (יהוה= YHWH), which occurs over 5,000 times in the Hebrew Bible, the revealed and designated personal name of the God of Israel. How should we translate this word?

Stayed tuned for part two.

Theological Mistakes: God Died

Celtic Cross ChurchI realize that correct theology is not much valued in the church any longer. With deep-seated biblical illiteracy having found a home in congregations and increasingly among church leaders, it is no longer surprising to find things in worship songs or sermons that are askew of what has been considered the traditional teachings of the church. We now receive our theology as “sound bites,” short statements that seem clever and edgy, but often are confusing or misleading to new Christians.

One that I have heard three times in recent months is “God died on the cross for you.” Really? If we follow this logically, it means one of two things. First, it might mean that God is dead, permanently and eternally. Death is death after all, and the only one who could raise someone from the dead (God) is dead, so there is no possibility of overcoming death, even for God. Second, it might mean that God didn’t really die on the cross. The body crucified on the cross may have ceased to function in a living manner (no pulse, breathing, or brain function), but the person (God) retained the power to bring this body back to life.

Either option denies cardinal, foundational principles of the Christian faith. If God is dead because of the crucifixion, there is no one to raise us from the dead and our faith in the resurrection of the dead is futile. If the person on the cross did not fully die, then he was not fully human. In this case, no one has actually died for our sins and we remain in them.  The doctrine of the atonement doesn’t work.

The Bible never teaches that God died on the cross. It tells the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dying on the cross for our sins. Because he was fully human, he died completely. This is why early creedal statements always include the detail of Jesus being buried. You only bury dead people. Jesus was stone cold dead in the tomb for parts of three days. The human Jesus was dependent upon God the Father to raise him from the dead, to restore him to life. The doctrine of the Trinity is admittedly difficult, but we don’t make these difficulties disappear by abandoning a distinction between the Father and the Son. The early church did not see Jesus’ death on the cross as a negation of his divine nature.

So to say, “God loved you so much he died on the cross for you” is a distortion of biblical teaching. To say, “God loved you so much he sent his Son to die on the cross for you” reflects what the church has believed and taught for nearly 2,000 years.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The views expressed in this blog post are solely those of its author and not necessarily those of his employer.