Archive for biblestudy

Honoring God’s Name

In the book of Malachi (Malachi 3:16) we read that “a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name.”

What is the honor of God’s name? What does it mean to think about it?

I suspect that many of us have our own ideas about what would honor God’s name in different circumstances.

The first thing I noticed is that this is a continual rethinking: you can’t simply act as if you always know what brings glory to God’s name, as if it never changed in different circumstances.

The second thing is that our ideas are suspect, because we are the fallen people. The only trustworthy way to think about God’s name and what brings it honor, is by study of the Scriptures, and especially the example of Christ.

For example, we can honor God’s name by thinking what the name is. In the Hebrew Scriptures the name of God is YHWH, the Tetragrammaton. It means the living God: the God who is not a dead idol, but who acts.

In the New Testament the name is Jesus. Joseph is told to name the child Jesus … why? Because he will save his people from their sins. His name is the name of salvation. It is in his name that we are taught to pray—not our own name and our own merit, but his. It is his name that we are to gather in. It is his name that we are to baptize in. It is his name at which every knee shall bow, and which every tongue will confess. It is his name that is superior to the names of the angels.

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Habakkuk – a Good Question

In verses 12–13 of the first chapter of Habakkuk, the prophet affirms that God is sovereign. Israel’s troubles are not because God is unfaithful or weak. Rather, the Babylonians are tool God is using to punish Israel:

O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,
and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.

The prophet poses this question:

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you are unable to look at disaster.
Why would you look at the treacherous
or keep silent when the wicked swallows one who is more righteous?

There’s an unstated assumption at the end, that Israel’s sin is less than Babylon’s. This is shaky ground. Who can say whether one sin is more offensive to God than another? Is religious pride and idolatry less offensive to God than violence and cruelty?

If we can find a way resolve that matter, however, there is a great question here: does the end justify the means? Is it right for God to use an evil tool to achieve a good result? That’s a great question even for us frail mortals, who work in a world where everything is tainted with evil. How much better a question is it for God? On the one hand, God can see everything clearly, and will not be overcome by the tools he uses. But for him not to stand off and watch, but to engage evil directly in order to use it: how can he do that?

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Korax

Raven
Accretion Disc | Flickr

“Consider the ravens,” says Jesus (here).

Ravens are popular in Alaska, and for much of the year, they’re the bird we see the most, possibly because their obnoxious croaking attracts one’s attention.

That croaking may be how they got their Greek name. The Greek word for “raven” is korax, –akos. If you’ve heard them, you have to wonder if their Greek name is onomatopoeiac. (From a Greek word that means what Greeks mean when they say echomimetico, which would probably be a better word than onomatopoeia.) I don’t know that, and BDAG is silent, but it seems likely to me.

Raven Chow

Certainly, Jesus is right that God feeds them. Ravens in Alaska are huge, like our deer and bears. I routinely see ravens as big as chickens—or maybe turkeys. What I’ve seen them eating isn’t very appealing, however. In the zoo (pictured right) it’s revolting, but in a parking lot, it’s worse.

Scavenging carrion may be one reason ravens were unpopular (judging from the Hebrew Scriptures) in ancient Near Eastern culture. Leviticus declares them unclean, Proverbs points to them as a caution, and Isaiah uses them in a curse. Only two references to ravens are neutral or positive: Noah initially sent out a raven, but we hear no more about it. Subsequently, Noah used only doves. In the Song of Songs, the woman compares her lover’s wavy hair to a raven.

But Jesus probably wasn’t thinking about that when he mentioned ravens. (Luke records Jesus saying “raven” specifically, rather than just “birds,” as in Matthew; Luke 12:24 and Matt 6:26.)

Two references in the Hebrew Scriptures suggest that Jesus was alluding to proverbial wisdom about ravens’ foraging ability: Psalm 147 credits God with feeding them. Job 38 uses this idea to illustrate how far God’s wisdom is above men’s.

But as Jesus’ audience considered ravens, they would surely have remembered how God provided for Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 17). Not only does God feed the ravens, but sometimes, God uses ravens to feed people. That was the point Jesus was making, that you don’t have to be anxious, since God will take care of his children. Maybe even by means of ravens.

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Navigation in Accordance 10

Something jumped out at me in my last posting, where I mentioned the “QuickTip” about the Accordance 10 auto context slider.

In that tip, they say,

many people use the top search bar as a navigational tool.

That suggests there is another way to navigate. And what might that be? I looked at their help to find out. Accordance help is a web page, but it’s local to your system, which is great when you’re offline, but makes it hard for me to link to it here.

Anyway, it turns out that Accordance offers several ways to navigate.

The first is using the Scroll bars. Since Apple ruined the scroll bar in Lion, that’s useless. (Sure. Use a scroll bar to move around among 37,000 verses. Just give it a flick like you were on your iPhone. Yep.)

The second is the navigation buttons, shown in the blue circle here:

Navigation in Accordance 10

Those are great for fine-tuning your location, but not all that helpful if you’re trying to to a specific location. Quick: find Psalm 119 with those buttons.

That leaves the “Go To box” (in the green circle). That gives you all the functionality of the “verse search” feature. Unfortunately, it gives you the same problems as well. It shows you context whether you want it or not. If you ask for Psalm 117, you’re going to get 118 too. It offers a drop-down, but the drop down is based on your text, not the portion you’d like to limit it to. So if your text includes the Apocrypha, which the NRSV does, then your Navigation will include that. The book after Malachi is Tobit, even if you’ve tried to wish it away using the Range feature:

Navigation - Accordance 10

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Accordance Auto Context

As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of the Accordance 10 “auto context” slider, but YMMV. Accordance publishes an email newsletter (not repurposed on their web site, apparently, or I’d link to it) describing the use of the context slider. In the article they explain some of the logic that is supposed to make the “auto context” feature intelligent:

  • Romans 10:1: For this verse search, auto-context will set the Context slider to All. This is because many people use the top search bar as a navigational tool, and when searching for an individual verse, users often intend this to be a starting point for further study.
  • Romans 10:1-5: For this verse search, auto-context will set the Context slider to 0. Since you set a specific range of verses, auto-context assumes you only want to see the versers in that range.
  • Love: For this word search (and all others), auto-context will set the Context slider to 0. This allows you to quickly scan through your search results and add context as desired.

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Accordance 10 Nano-Review

I’ve been a user of Accordance Bible software for a decade, and last week I upgraded from Accordance 9.x to 10.x.

I’d sat on my wallet these past several months because I just didn’t see anything new in 10.x that would make it a compelling upgrade for me. However, they were running a promotion that enabled me to “buy and save” (both! at the same time!) so I went ahead and bought the upgrade.

So coming from the perspective of a semi-reluctant purchaser, here are my first quick impressions:

The new look is more Mac-like, but still pretty idiosyncratic. For example, you can still only resize windows using the widget in the bottom right corner, but you do get to have the new despicable, vile, thoroughly rotten and utterly useless Lion/Mountain Lion scroll bars.

Some of the changes are to my liking and others are not.

A change I mostly like is how the redesigned search window makes it easy to cascade search criteria. Here I’m doing a search for “David” and “Abraham” in the NT, and I limit it so they have to appear in the same verse.

Accordance 10 Search

You can see the little drop-down list (with “verse” selected above) that lets me change that to paragraphs, chapters, etc., as you can see here.

The reason I said “mostly like” instead of “like” is that when I work with the NRSV, I normally limit my searches to the Protestant Bible — a preset I made for Gen-Mal and Matt-Rev — and this search criteria widget is less accessible than before, and takes up more vertical screen real-estate. So it’s better, but not a 100% win.

However, not all the changes to Search were to my liking. In particular, I was unhappy to learn (the hard way) about “Auto Context.” What it does is add supporting context to all your searches. There’s a little knob (at the far left of the search bar, right above the search results window) you can use to reduce the amount of context.

The problem is that by default it doesn’t give you additional context in a search, even when the search doesn’t provide much information. When I did the above search for David and Abraham, it (sensibly) assumed I only wanted to see the matching verses.

But when you search for verses, Accordance shows you the context. I can barely see a use for that when you’re searching for a specific verse and you can’t remember what it was. Suppose you couldn’t remember where John 3:16 was and you searched for John 3:17 instead. Here’s what you get:

Accordance 10 Search

You get a ton of context, and it’s all unhelpful, because it starts where you told it to start. You miss the only thing that would make it helpful. The context includes 37415 verses, but it doesn’t display a single verse prior to the one you searched for. Note how the (horrible useless vile rotten OSX) scroll bar shows that your window really has all 37K verses there for your browsing pleasure. You even get the Apocrypha as “context” despite having limited the search to the Protestant Bible.

Why isn’t the smarts in auto-context smart enough to do for verses what it did when I searched for words like David and Abraham, above? Beats me. What I did was turn it off. Here’s how:

Accordance 10 Search

(I whined about this “feature” yesterday on Twitter, and was delighted that someone at @AccordanceBible who monitors Twitter tweeted a tip about how to turn it off. Social Media-savvy companies FTW.)

For blocks of text larger than verses, though, why would you ever want to see more context? The context of chapter 3 is chapters 2 and 4. Duh. The context of Romans is Acts and 1 Corinthians. The context of Malachi is…, well, that’s actually kind of complicated.

But there’s a greater problem. Accordance thinks its users “search” for verses. But who does that? John 3:16 is always located in the same place. I want to navigate there, not search for it.

But what (you say) if you want to find that place in John 3 where God sent Jesus into the world, but you can’t remember if it was God or Father, or Jesus or Christ or the Son, and all you can remember is “world.” Wouldn’t it be helpful to search for verses then?

Sure. You just can’t do it when you’re “searching” for verses. If you add words to a verse search, you get an error message telling you “There are extra characters after the verse reference,” and offering to fix it by adding a colon. (Which doesn’t fix it.)

But that kind of search is useful. That’s why Accordance lets you add a range of verses when you search for a word. Like this:

Accordance 10 Search Word in Range

(Note how the auto-context feature is automatically narrowing the search to exclude the context. If only it was smart enough to do that with verses!)

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Fresh Year!

Happy New Year!

The writers of the New Testament used two different words for “new.” One of them, neos, is more familiar to English speakers. It’s where we get our prefix neo-. Some hospitals, for example, have a special unit to care for neonates, or newborns.

The other word, kainos, is less familiar to us; the only English word related to it is a technical word used by geologists. In the Bible, however, kainos occurs more frequently in the Bible than neos.

What’s the difference between these words? Neos has strictly to do with the age of something. For example, in Luke 15:11-32, the story of the prodigal son, the younger brother is the newer one, the neoteros brother. His brother is presbuteros, is older, than he. (That word for “older”, by the way, is where we get our term Presbyterian, which is used to describe a church governed not by clergy but by elders.)

Kainos has less to do with the actual age of a thing than neos. It refers instead to something’s freshness. When Jesus taught, people marveled not at how young his teaching was, but its revolutionary novelty: “They were all amazed, and kept on asking each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority!'” (Mark 1:27)

The distinction between new/young and new/fresh is a useful one. Not everything new is fresh. In a world of knock-offs and derivative ideas, the easiest thing of all is to come up with something that’s new but not innovative. Look at Hollywood: there are new movies in the theaters every week, but how many of them are tired retreads of the same old stories?

Even in the Old Testament, we hear God alert us that he is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). In the New Testament, we learn its newness is the kainos type: not young but fresh. Jesus brought a new teaching. Paul tells us that those who are in Christ are new creations, and when he proclaimed Jesus, people were eager to hear his new teaching. Near the end of the book of Revelation, John has a vision of the new heaven and new earth, and he records Jesus’ words: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'”

Our God is a God makes things new. He does so not by making those things younger, however: how could even God do that? Instead, God makes things new by refreshing them and giving them renewed vitality.

Which brings me back to “Happy New Year!” 2012 is a new neos/young year, but will it be a new kainos/fresh year? Will the year 2012 be filled with novelty and innovation, or with another twelve weary months of the same-old, same-old? The Bible gives us reason to believe God desires to do new things in us and through us. My hope that 2012 is a new year for you in the very best way.

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Pat Robertson and Alzheimer’s Ethics

Well. Pat Robertson says it’s okay to get a divorce when your spouse has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. (To be fair, he does say there is an obligation to ensure that custodial care is provided.)

Now here’s the thing: I appreciate he isn’t just responding with a knee-jerk “God said it / I believe it / that settles it.” It’s a tough problem. I see people in church struggling to do what’s right when their spouse has dementia.

But “disability is vocation.” We believe that God is sovereign, and if the road we walk is a tough one, we should walk it nonetheless, because if God didn’t want us to, he wouldn’t have made the road that way. We say the road can be walked because God is with us on the way, and, if it comes to it, God will carry over the worst parts. We say that if (or when) we fall down, God will pick us back up and set us on our feet.

Difficult circumstances aren’t license to sin, they are our calling. Slaves are to obey their earthly masters, even when the master is cruel (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, 1 Peter 2:18).

That’s what we say to teens who are tempted to premarital sex. It’s what we tell homosexuals about any kind of sex. It’s why women should submit to their husband’s authority, and why men should should give their lives for their wives.

But do we believe it when the tough circumstances are our problem, or just when they’re other people’s problems?

(A separate observation is that Robertson seems to be using worldly wisdom here. How does the Gospel of Jesus Christ change the equation? I know a non-believer who is taking care of their spouse partly from residual affection and partly from a stubborn unwillingness to break their marriage vows. What are they to make of Christianity when a popular preacher holds them not to a higher standard, but a lower one?)

Finally, let me answer an obvious question about vocation. Must we bear up under whatever our circumstances, or may we seek to change them? If I’m born with poor eyesight, am I forbidden to wear glasses? If there’s a medical breakthrough that cures dementia, can I use it? I’d answer those questions no, no, and yes.

The hardest Scripture on this subject is probably 1 Corinthians 7:20, which says:

Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

Here’s how John Calvin and I interpret that:

Now it were a very hard thing if a tailor were not at liberty to learn another trade, or if a merchant were not at liberty to betake himself to farming. I answer, that this is not what the Apostle intends, for he has it simply in view to correct that inconsiderate eagerness, which prompts some to change their condition without any proper reason, whether they do it from superstition, or from any other motive.

Farther, he calls every one to this rule also — that they bear in mind what is suitable to their calling. He does not, therefore, impose upon any one the necessity of continuing in the kind of life which he has once taken up, but rather condemns that restlessness, which prevents an individual from remaining in his condition with a peaceable mind and he exhorts, that every one stick by his trade, as the old proverb goes.

If you’re not a fan of Calvin, here’s what Wesley said:

Wherein he is — When God calls him. Let him not seek to change this, without a clear direction from Providence.

(It’s amusing that the Armenian says to do nothing except if God directs you, and the Calvinist says you’re free to act. But that’s a completely different topic for another day.)

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Truly Dead

Usually when I read the crucifixion and resurrection accounts in the Bible, I notice how they are at pains to show how the risen Lord Jesus was truly alive and not a phantasm. Today, however, these verses leapt out at me:

When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.Luke 24:48-49.

What are they there for? To be sure, they allows us to share in the pain and loss of the people who grieved, particularly the women. But is that the only reason Luke told us that those who stood at the cross were “all who knew him”? I doubt it. Those verses remind us it was truly Jesus who was crucified, not someone else. Then the crowd left as soon as the spectacle was over. But the eyewitnesses, who knew him well stayed longer — long enough to eliminate any idea that he might have “fainted” or “swooned” or any such nonsense.

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A famous preacher

Buried amid all the stewardship material in 2 Corinthians 8-9 is this little tidbit in verse 18:

With Titus we are also sending one of the Lord’s followers who is well known in every church for spreading the good news. (CEV)

Some thoughts that passed through my mind reading this:

Who is this preacher? Apollos? Apollos was apparently an excellent preacher, but the Corinthians knew him by name. Timothy? Luke? Someone else?

Why isn’t he named? Fame is fleeting: this preacher was famous in his time — remember, this is Paul describing him this way. But today we don’t know who he was. Which is fine, because the only fame that really matters is that God approved of his preaching.

We still need preaching. We could have become a Christian 30 or 50 or 75 years ago and still need to hear the gospel preached. Not because we haven’t heard it, but because we need to hear it again. C.S. Lewis says, “We need to be reminded more than instructed.” Paul (Paul!!) had nurtured this congregation for 18 months, and was still corresponding with them to help them grapple with tough doctrinal matters. There aren’t many churches that have heard the gospel as well as this one. But they still needed to hear the gospel, so Paul sent them a famous preacher.

We can hear preaching just as excellent. I’m assuming it was excellent preaching, because Paul endorses it, so it was done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Who is still at work today.

If, like most people, you attend a church that doesn’t have a famous preacher, don’t worry about it. Fame isn’t important. Instead, ask yourself if the Holy Spirit is speaking through them.

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