Bags of Bran

John Calvin vs. Seeker Churches
November 19, 2016, 2:06 pm
Filed under: Bible

John Calvin, on those who come to church to be entertained:

Consider how bad is the honor shown to God when people seek out vain curiosities in Holy Scripture, as when Ezekiel reprimands the Jews. (Ezek. 33: 31-33)   They came to him pretending to want to learn doctrine, to sit at his feet, saying, “We come here to be taught from the mouth of God.”   It was a wonderful thing to see their devotion, but God told them that they had come there as a man goes to hear a performer play a harp or flute, only to feed his ears with a pleasant song.   So when they did this they were only trying to mock God and profane his word.   Therefore, let us learn that God does not want temples here to play around and laugh in, as in a theater; but there must be a majesty in one’s words by which we may be moved and touched and receive profitable instruction which leads to salvation.   We must be nourished with this spiritual food so that we may feel that God does not speak to us in vain.

John Calvin’s Sermons on 1 Timothy (Kindle Locations 641-647). Kindle Edition.

In case you are busy and can’t look it up, here is the text to which he refers, Ezekiel 33:31-33:

“They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. “Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them. “So when it comes to pass—as surely it will—then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst.”

On Contentment
November 9, 2016, 2:57 pm
Filed under: Biography

Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 128:

There was a notable saying of a philosopher who lived on mean fare: as he was eating herbs and roots, someone said to him, “If you would but please Dionysius, you need not eat herbs and roots’; but he answered him thus, ‘If you would but be content with such mean fare, you need not flatter Dionysius.’

From Beowulf
November 8, 2016, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia

Interesting passage from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, lines 170-188:

These were hard times, heart-breaking
for the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counsellors,
the highest in the land, would lend advice,
plotting how best the bold defenders
might resist and beat off sudden attacks.
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
offerings to idols, swore oaths
that the killer of souls might come to their aid
and save the people. That was their way,
their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts
they remembered hell. The Almighty Judge
of good deeds and bad, the Lord God,
Head of the Heavens and High King of the World
was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he
who in times of trouble has to thrust his soul
in the fire’s embrace, forfeiting help;
he has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he
who after death can approach the Lord
and find friendship in the Father’s embrace.

You Know, a Qesitah
October 20, 2016, 4:02 pm
Filed under: Bible

The Holman Christian Standard Bible is the in-house translation done by the Southern Baptist convention. Like any translations, it has its eccentricities. For example, we could have anticipated that they would translate the word βαπτίζω as “immerse” because they are Baptists, and doing so would be consistent with their presuppositions. Instead, they went with the accepted transliteration, “baptize.” That’s not confusing, but I think they missed an opportunity.

In Job 42, they went with the transliteration “qesitah” instead of the near-ubiquitous “piece of money” (or “piece of silver”) as rendered by all of the other major translations. Is this an attempt to be consistent with some other presupposition? It does nothing to clarify the meaning of the passage for the reader who doesn’t know extremely obscure Hebrew vocabulary.

HCSB | ‎Job 42:11 All his brothers, sisters, and former acquaintances came to his house and dined with him in his house. They sympathized with him and comforted him concerning all the adversity the LORD had brought on him. Each one gave him a qesitah and a gold earring.

You know, a qesitah. Maybe it’s like a quesadilla.

“And the things of earth…”
August 24, 2016, 11:30 am
Filed under: Bible

In the world where Job lived, turning your eyes upon God did not result in “the things of earth growing strangely dim.” In fact, the opposite happened: when people turned their eyes upon God, the things of earth became significant.

See 28:23-28; 36:13-37:24; and all of 38-41 for examples of this.


Bibles for Casual, Disinterested Readers
August 10, 2016, 11:57 am
Filed under: Biography

Bill Mounce, author of THE Greek grammar that I didn’t use (and which omits principal parts of irregular verbs), wants to set the record straight about accuracy in Bible translation. When translating Greek into English, or when discussing translation, he argues, the accuracy of the translation has to do with the meaning, not the form of the words. It’s quite complicated.

Question: How is meaning conveyed to the reader? Through something other than the forms of the words?

I won’t slog through Dr. Mounce’s entire apologetic for freer, more paraphrastic translations (for such it is), except to say that he’s really arguing for something like this: “accuracy of a translation has to do with the capability of the reader.” An accurate translation, he would say, is the one that people (a plurality? a majority?) understand. It is the one that places the slenderest demands on the reader

What he misses here, and I think badly, is the matter of the will. Yes, readers in their natural state may be somewhat illiterate, and perhaps poorly motivated to become better readers, or to look up unfamiliar words like ‘propitiation.’ But we don’t read the Bible in isolation, either from reference materials or from other people. Neither do we train people to read the Bible isolation: we teach them that help is available FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT HELP. Qualified people, living and dead, are standing in ranks to assist the reader in his understanding.

This is why his complaint about “propitiation” is such a poor example. Yes, it’s a technical term; insider language even, but that is far from ‘meaningless,’ as he calls it. Sure, a first-time reader will not have encountered this word unless he reads old things; but then, the Bible is an insider book. “Propitiation” is our word. Translating ἱλασμός as “propitiation” may need some explanation to first-time readers, but that is one of the several fringe benefits of “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.”

The Bible is not written for the most casual, disinterested reader, but for people who intend to hide it in their hearts that they might not sin against God. It is written for people who intend to be doers of the word and not hearers only. People like that are generally willing to look words up. One wonders if Dr. Mounce objects to the way that some of the NT authors wrote: even if you get rid of the specialized vocabulary, you would be hard pressed to tame all of the big ideas in the New Testament. If Paul intended to be understood by casual, disinterested readers, his letters would look very different. How would the author of Hebrews present his argument concerning the priesthood of Melchizedek to casual, disinterested readers?

I can appreciate Dr. Mounce’s concern that the Bible be as transparent as possible, but removing or smoothing rough pieces simply because they are difficult is not a solution. The Bible is not for casual, disinterested readers looking for light maxims to pad their saddles for the bumpy trail of life. It was written for people who are committed enough to become literate, learn new vocabulary, puzzle through poetry, detect allusions to other Scriptures, and think through difficult doctrinal conundrums. The Bible, in other words, is for disciples.

Neighborhood Century
July 27, 2016, 11:43 am
Filed under: Bike, Biography

Until July 25, 2016, I had never ridden a century on my road bike before.

I know!

This has largely been a matter of oversight on my part: I seldom ever thought about it, and when did think about it, I thought to myself “Who has that kind of time?!” Then there was the elephant in the room: I enjoy enjoying bike rides. Six hours (or whatever) on my bike would make being on my bike (as well as many other activities) unpleasant or miserable. Who wants to be miserable? Furthermore, I don’t think that God gives us recreation to destroy ourselves but to re-create things.

In the past I’ve done a half dozen metric centuries on my mountain bike (those are harder, BTW), as well as some solo road rides in the 70-80 mile range. These days I tend to ride for two hours or less, sometimes vigorously. Anything more than that and I have to start making unwise tradeoffs with real responsibilities in life. Never a hundred.

I live on the margin of two worlds: one world, consisting of fellow cyclists, would be shocked that I made it to forty years old without ever having ridden a century. The other world could not conceive an otherwise stable human being would set out to do such a thing except as a cry for help. Five and a half hours on a bicycle, depending on who you ask, is either de rigeur behavior or something that could only be justified by the self-congratulatory wearing of a commemorative t-shirt.

On Friday, I mused with the Mrs. about perhaps riding a century on Monday. She grimaced. “Why?” she asked. “Because I’ve never done it before,” I said. She sagely agreed that that was sufficient reason, and at that point I was honor-bound to do it. I began planning. I figured out a route where I could do multiple laps near home rather than wander off to some savage land away where the natives bore ill will toward outsiders, such as St. Croix County. I settled on a loop of just over twenty miles on familiar roads, one of which, importantly, went right past our house, which, as is typical of houses, contains a refrigerator.


The advantage of this route is that I could stop at the house on every lap for snacks and cold water bottles, as well as hugs from my daughter. That turned out to be a wise move because not only was it hot and humid, it was also psychologically wearying to step into an air-conditioned house and open up a refrigerator, then step back out into the corn sauna and ride the shadeless roads. The hugs were like whatever it was that the angels fed Elijah that he was able to go for forty days.

Was five laps of the same roads monotonous? Not really. I like these roads, and I like having landmarks to navigate by. For example, the big hill on the route was about five miles from home. We call it Mount Despairagus because there is a little farmstead at the bottom where they sell despairagus and other joyless produce. Mount Despairagus hits you in three waves: the first wave is about fifty feet tall; round a corner to the second, a hundred and fifty at about 13% grade; and the third is another fifty, but into the searing ridge-top winds filled with the smells of whatever it is that the cows happened to be doing at the time.

But after that, it’s almost all downhill for four and a half miles.

Additionally, there were dogs. I was chased by four different dogs. Thankfully, their earnestness was inversely proportional to their size: the only one that got anywhere near me was comparable in layout to a ferocious loaf of bread. I had to admire his technique as he burst efficiently from the tall grass along the road, teeth bared and snapping, with a baleful snarl venting his considerable malice. The larger dogs seemed more interested in what I was doing and whether I might have food than in ripping out my throat. In fact, I think I came to a positive understanding with one black lab that engaged me every lap. By the final pass he was simply coming up to the edge of the grass to show his solidarity and bid me safe travels down the hill upon which he served as sentry.

I won’t lie: the last lap felt gratuitous. About five miles in, I started having cramps and feeling weak, with flickers of nausea. My hands hurt. I was starting to curl my toes when riding uphill and stiffen my arms on the flat sections. The long, merciless stretch of sun-blasted incline on County O still loomed ahead, not to mention the cruel slope of Mount Despairagus. “All downhill from there,” I told myself, trying to down another gulp of unsavory electrolyte potion.

I made it. I felt like it was a good compromise between milestone achievement and not abandoning my family on my day off.

I don’t think I need a commemorative t-shirt. If I forget what it was like, I’ll just do it again.


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