October 18, 2012

Words Tyndale Invented

Update (10/18/12): A helpful & courteous web-surfer just alerted me to the following examples, apparently from David Daniell's introduction to a 1989 republishing of Tyndale's New Testament (with updated spellings). Google Books doesn't show me the page with the list, but here are some words from the list my new friend just sent.

Beautiful, Fisherman, Landlady, Seashore, Stumbling block, Taskmaster, Zealous, Jehovah, Passover, Scapegoat, Atonement, Modesty, Mediocrity, Industrious, Long-suffering, Peacemakers

When I had only heard *that* this occurred, my original interest was to wonder which *kinds* of words Tyndale had coined. In particular, I wondered if we owed many theological terms to his personal creativity. The list here suggests these were mostly common words, and generally seem to innovate along the lines of creating new compound words or word endings.

Other than passover, scapegoat and atonement, I don't see anything particularly theological on the short list here. From the number of words (I have heard) Tyndale supposedly coined, there may be much more. Among the phrases my new friend also passed on: gave up the ghost, salt of the earth, salt of the earth, and Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us. Again, none of these seem to be more than straight and common sense translations of phrases which had supposedly not appeared in English before... which makes me wonder what Wycliffe had written in these places. (?!?!?) Or does Wycliffe's language somehow count as middle english, whereas Tyndale came in right before Shakespeare, making the whole topic at hand little more than a (somewhat artificial) category distinction?

At the very least, my new friend confirms that David Daniell's work is the place to begin looking for more information. Obviously, I still don't have time to pursue this any further, but hopefully the next person who googles this page will be encouraged, knowing where to look next. If so, please send back some information. I would love to know more.

The original post I wrote, in September of 2009, now follows:
The contribution of William Tyndale is inestimably great, and I feel a great personal devotion to his poor, still confounded ploughboy. But I have one nagging suspicion about Tyndale. I was told once - and don't know if it's true - that he invented thousands of words in doing his translations. So far, I can only verify the word 'scapegoat', but wondering what else he made up sometimes bugs me, just a little.

Someday, I would like to find a list of other such words, but it may not exist. Leading Tyndale scholar David Daniell may know. If anyone knows anyone at University College in London, somebody should ask him. But now that I think about it, my interest is probably broader than Tyndale. I want to know, from Wycliffe to Webster, what words entered the English language simply because someone needed to translate scripture in a new way they thought would be more accurate, or more helpful.

I guess someone could computer scan the OED and cross reference it with early English translations, but Daniell said "the great Oxford English Dictionary has mis-attribued, and thus also mis-dated, a number of [Tyndale's] first uses." Sounds like it would actually be a pretty complex research project. Has anything like this been done? Or is anyone working on anything like this at all? If you know, please do tell...

October 16, 2012

Our Incoherent Jesus(es)

The Gospels paint him well, but the church has re-mixed their parts into chaos. I've grown to appreciate that having four perspectives on Jesus should be helpful, but I was never taught to read each account as one presentation, with integrity. I know I wasn't alone. For new readers, especially, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John come across like an unorganized encyclopedia of general information.

It's tragic and fixable, but as of now this is generally true. The four Gospels appear to most readers as one giant hodge-podge of Jesus stories and Jesus sayings... which of course helps explain why cherry picking our favorite bits and baking them into our own personal Jesus(es) has become so commonplace.

However, the print formatting isn't the root of the problem, but a symptom. Evidently, those editorial headings and breaks have remained popular because they must be performing a function that works, at least for someone's purposes. A similar phenomenon is the christian lectionary, also a tool that works precisely as designed. The lectionary doesn't only serve the needs of liturgy. Pre-selecting manageable portions of Gospel text in advance also serves the needs of sermon preparation very well indeed. And sermon prep, for at least seventeen centuries, has been primarily aimed at one thing: keeping people in check. But lest you think I digress...

Here's my point: The cacophony of Jesus views, which we find ourselves with today, is both the direct and indirect but entirely the unintended consequence of the heavy handed manipulation of scripture which has gone on for centuries - by the church!

In other words, we have chaos in our printed Gospels because the publishers mimicked the lectionary, and yet the lectionary faithfully served the needs of church fathers since late antiquity, whose conscious intention was to use scripture as proof texts for sermonizing moralizing - very much like Greek orators had long since employed proof texts from Homer, Hesiod, Plato or Aristotle before speechifying whatever point they believed needed to be driven home, on a given occasion.

My apologies. That was one very long sentence. Let me sum it up in much simpler terms.

Religious leaders have often preferred bite-sized Jesus. He's easier to use.

Now, please note: I'm not even saying the churches' interpretation has necessarily (or ever) been wrong. That's a different discussion. What I'm saying is that the early fathers simplified things for utilitarian purposes and the institutional christendom maintained the tradition for centuries because it worked really well. (Not in my opinion, you gather. But for moralizing and crowd control, it worked amazingly well.) Nevertheless, the usefulness or (un)righteousness of what they did isn't the point at the moment.

This one gigantic, destructive, unintended side-effect is what I'm trying to comment on, today.

The lectionary led to the chaotic format (and our general mental approach) to the Gospels. It isn't that modern scholars and liberal protestants suddenly came along and started spinning their own views of Jesus, based on selecting bite sized chunks of the Gospels. It's that the church taught them how to do this in the first place!!!

It is western christendom which first chopped Jesus up into manageable snippets. Maybe the orthodox (theological) views of Jesus are entirely fair, and maybe they're not, but (again) that isn't my point at the moment. This is: when bite-sized Jesus began to dominate christian interaction with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I'm telling you, the very integrity of their fourfold witness began to disintegrate, in our perception of them.

Thus, we don't often read Matthew from start to finish, and appreciate his unique view. At least, that's not the standard way to read Matthew among christians at large. And we never go on to (w)holistically combine the four Gospel perspectives into something completely integrative. It's an undeveloped and misguided instinct that attempts to find the solution in Gospel Harmonies, as I once did. But some combination is necessary.

Let me say that again. Combination is necessary.

What's ironic is that, although I keep on repeating this desperately, the western church (officially) does not disagree.

The church has long had its own program(s) for combining the four Jesus portraits in scripture. Anthony Le Donne recently pointed out that we do it in hymns! In more formal writing, Christian Theologians of all stripes are encouraged to draw source material from across all four Gospels when they write about Jesus. Doctrines about Jesus were, are and will continue to be constructed (and refined) from statements and implications found in various parts of the New Testament. So yes. Combination is helpful, apparently. For Theologians, but somehow not for Historians?

Today, churches and individual christians across christendom-at-large have created multiple views of Jesus because theological combination is too susceptible to creative and subjective interpretation, and theological conclusions are too easily justified by scriptural proof texting and romantic literary imaginations. The main reason why churches get away with such obvious cheating is because of Tradition. When new strains of christianity crop up, the charismatic founder simply creates new Tradition, and the succeeding generations of his/her followers reinforce the 'new view'. Still, tradition enforces the problems of subjectivity.

Thus, when someone like Scot McKnight protests against historians by saying "The church has a Jesus", it sounds to me like what he's really saying, "Let the religious authorities deal with this stuff and don't make it more complicated. We're barely holding onto things now as it is!"

Of course, Scot's not hardly wrong about most historians, as it stands.

For the past centry or three, it's become well known that most historians' Jesus(es) are heavily (notoriously) critical (unaccepting) of much (most) of the Gospels' testimony. Thus, the liberal critics have clearly "cheated" in constructing their revised Jesus pictures. And they've done so as the church taught them to do, by picking and choosing which parts of the Gospels to privilege.

Okay. So this is the part where I'm supposed to present you with *my* solution. Afterwards, of course, you'll all (rightfully) ask, "Why does a critique about too many Jesuses end with yet one more plan for discovering "the real Jesus"? At least, you *would* ask that, if I had my own 'new' or 'secret' solution to offer. But I don't. At least, I don't have a 'new' one, and it's not much of a 'secret'.

The secret is that I actually agree with McKnight. The church *does* have a Jesus. Where I disagree with McKnight, however, is that I don't think we're viewing that Jesus holistically enough, and standard religious/theological practice is one of the main causes for this.

The secret is that I actually agree with the critical historians. The "real" Jesus has been obscured by the church. Where I disagree is that this distortion wasn't caused by the Gospel writers, but by centuries of authoritarian manipulation since then.

The secret is that I actually agree with the Theologians. We need to reach across the four Gospel accounts and combine content from all of them them into forming a coherent view of Jesus, for all our sakes' (God and Jesus included!) Where I disagree is that analysis toward forming this combination shouldn't begin with the mind of a poet or a philosopher, but with the basic and common sense inquiries of a historian, or a journalist.

The secret is that I trust the Gospels, but I did not personally find a coherent picture of Jesus in them until long after I started reading the Gospels historically, and long after I began focusing primarily on the types of questions a journalist would ask ('who?', 'what?', 'when?', 'where?', 'how?', and 'with whom?') instead of starting first with a theo-philosopher's interest ('why?', or 'what does this mean?') or a moralists ('what does this tell us about how to behave?').

A theologian will tell me we can't answer those journalist questions with any kind of certainty. The same theologian will most likely also tell me how certain the trinity is, or the nature of destiny, or how salvation depends on sincerity (but not really), or on doing good works (but not really), or what Jesus meant by any given passage, plucked at random, from the four perfect accounts we've been given of the Good News about Him.

Ahem. So much for all that. Let me sum up and conclude.

The problem isn't the Gospels. The problem is how we approach them.

Christian views of Jesus are generally and often wildly incoherent. And yet, HE is right there, in the Gospels.

What are YOU going to do about that? What am I?

Let's find out together with diligence and humility. Let's pray that God will show us how to quit cheating in constructing a combined view of the fourfold witness to Jesus. Let's stop trying to use such reconstructions to help us promote today's ecclesial or political agendas. Let's take on the best qualities of everyone I just criticized, and take on none of their faults. Let's take the faith of a Theologian and the critical mind of a Historian. Let's take a long, slow, painstaking, historical look at the Gospels. Let's take the rest of our lives doing it.

Let's allow the Gospels to be what the Gospels actually are, and let's allow the Past to be what the Past actually is: not what we wish it to be.

The Gospels reveal Jesus. The "real" Jesus is right here, in their pages, but some combination is necessary.

May all readers (& writers) take care... and may the Lord reveal himself to those who would see.


October 8, 2012

Scot McKnight's infuriating Jesus-Bubble

I was not angry with Scot's opinions on Jesus & History until this instant. Oh, I've been disappointed before. Scot said things in 2010 that made me cheer, and then left me puzzled. And it's no stretch to say his book, Jesus Creed, was a lot more like something from Max Lucado than David McCullough. But I really am trying to quit expecting Theologians to be Historians. I'm about to try even harder, too. But in Scot's contribution to the Ledonne'r Party's new Jesus book, from the #JesusCriteria Conference , called Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity... well, first read it for yourself. Then read on to see the (unexpected?) reason it made me so angry.

From the penultimate paragraph of Scot's chapter, which was apparently supposed to be crushing:
[T]he historical Jesus enterprise is no use to the church [because] studies shift and change, from generation to generation, and that means the Jesus offered changes, and that means the church, if that Jesus is of value to the church, would be asked to re-do its Christology every generation. Whose Jesus will we trust or follow or worship? Reimarus's? Strauss's? Weiss's? Schweitzer's? Bultmann's? Kasemann's? Bornkamm's? Jeremias's? Dodd's? Montefiore's? Cadoux's? Ladd's? Meier's? Borg's? Crossan's? Levine's? Hengel's? Allison's? Bock's? Wright's? These are not the same Jesuses and that means we have to choose. Who will do the choosing? The local pastor? If so, do you realize how many more Jesuses we have? The denomination? Can you imagine that happening on a denominational floor? Nicea happened once. Or should we vote on it, a thoroughly Western approach to knowledge if ever there was one?
Now, reading this, can anyone guess why that made me mad? 

It's not because of the voting. Not that I understand why Scot thinks a denominational floor (convention?) is a bad place to discuss finer points about Jesus' identity and life story... or why he seems to think it's a good place for anything else. Or why Scot thinks Nicea was good, but that voting is bad. (Did the Nicean bishops just smile and nod to the Emperor? And is that what Scot wants?) Yes, western individualism has brought us quite the cacophony of purported Jesus-es, and given the ridiculousness of many such Jesus-es, I absolutely agree with Scot that this is not an ideal situation. But, right there, that's the point.

Do you see yet? This is what kills me about the quote: Scot writes as if he's describing some preventable but dystopian future, within christendom. But it's not hardly a yet-to-be situation. We are already thick into this chaos!!!!!

Dear Scot, all due respect completely aside, what kind of bubble are you living in? Do you really think all the christians with whom you worship in Chicago share the same view of Jesus? And if so, Scot, are you under the further deluded impression that this particular shared view somehow aligns with the "one" officially sanctioned view handed down by "the church"? Which church is that, again? Yours? Rome's? Constantinople's? Luther's? Calvin's? John Wesley's? John Darby's? Watchman Nee's? Billy Graham's? John McArthur's? Francis Chan's? Mark Driscoll's? Rob Bell's? Frank Viola's? (Etc.)

Again and again, Scot writes of "the church's Jesus". Academically, he refers to the "one" Jesus we have in our four canonical Gospels. On paper, perhaps. But which Jesus do you wake up and pray to, dear Scot? Matthew's Jesus? Mark's Jesus? Luke's Jesus? Or John's Jesus? Do you change your mind every day, sometimes preferring to pray to the shining Jesus of Revelation? I trust you don't go as far as Ricky Bobby, the character Will Ferrell portrayed as preferring to pray to the "eight pound, six ounce, baby Jesus", but Ferrell was laser honed into this issue 

It's like Richard Bauckham said at Baylor last year, in a group conversation after the lectures: we cannot wake up and decide to call on Luke's Jesus today. Therefore, some combination is inevitable. And that, Scot, is what the work of HISTORY, actually, does.

Neglect that... deny that... ignore that... avoid that... and you only wind up perpetuating the chaos.

For worse, and perhaps not often for better, we each already have our own personal Jesuses. It happened a long time before we had Matt Mikalatos or Depeche Mode to show up and observe that we did.

In 2010, Scot tried to make clear that "the HJ enterprise" was his target. Not "historical" work in general. But now he's gone farther, and the fact that he's against all historiography on the Gospels is only slightly less infuriating than the fact that - apparently - Scot believes christendom is currently insulated from such chaos and can remain so if we just ignore the academic Jesus-es.

Our people perish for lack of knowledge. We have the Gospels. But how can we understand what we read if we have no one to explain it for us?

We need Christian Historians, not to defend the Gospels (like Bock & Wright), but to build a coherent portrait of Jesus through performing competent historiography on top of the Gospels.

We need this very badly. And I confess, the real reason I get mad at disinterested scholars like poor Scot McKnight... honestly... is because I still deeply and desperately wish the academic version of this were going to be pioneered by someone other than myself. But if it is to be, it may be up to me. And I'll have to stop complaining about others failing to do what only I seem to care about doing...

Either way, we need Christian Historians to do Historiography on the Gospels.

One way or another, dear God, hasten the day...

October 6, 2012

How old was Paul of Tarsus?

The question came in my g-mail this morning and a quick response grew into this blog post.

The Question: "How old do you think Paul was - at any given time - let's say his death?"

My answer: The only educated guess I can make on Paul's age would be as follows, based on the most likely dates as I've worked out Paul's timeline:

Paul died in 64 AD, and met Jesus on the Damascus road in 34 AD. I don't know how long Pharisaical training used to take, but I don't suppose we should imagine Paul was less than 20 years old at Stephen's death. At Paul's own death, untimely as it was, being caused by execution and not by old age, it wouldn't be very reasonable to imagine Paul living past age 60. Kings and Emperors lived to 70 sometimes, but they had the best of comfort, health, medicine, etc. Common folks very often didn't live to age 50, which may help a bit to explain the remark about Jesus' age in the Gospel of John. Today we think of 100 as an age most people don't reach, but the few who do are considered really old, and it seems to me '50' had that same relevance then.

So, then, here is one possible reconstruction: If it was possible to become "a Pharisee of Pharisees" by age 20, then we're safer putting Paul's age at Stephen's death much closer to age 20 than to age 30. On the road to Damascus, then, Paul would be in his early to mid twenties. At his return to Tarsus, only 3 to 4 years older than that. At the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), Paul would be in his mid to late 30's. At his death in Rome, Paul "the aged" would indeed be around 50 years old, but probably not much older.

It's hard to imagine Paul living that long with all the travelling he did and all the beatings he took, but of course one option is to assume divine providence over Paul's longevity. Still, it's more reasonable to put the execution near 50 (than 60). Also, "Pharisee of Pharisees" doesn't sound like he'd attained lofty status. If Paul started training around age 13, he could easily have felt very full of his own knowledge by age 18. On the balance, then, my "possible reconstruction" above could be stretched a bit in either direction, which makes me happy enough to stick with these dates, given the understood "margin of error".

Calendar Year        Paul's Age (approximate, plus or minus 3 to 5 years)
AD 34  --->                         21     (Damascus Road experience)
AD 35  --->                         22     (Unknown activity in Nabatea)
AD 36  --->                         23     (Paul left Nabatea, returned to Damascus, fled to Jerusalem)
AD 37  --->                         24     (Left Jerusalem for Tarsus, this year or late last year)
AD 38  --->                         25     (In Antioch with Barnabas, by this year at the latest)
AD 39  --->                         26
AD 40  --->                         27
AD 41  --->                         28
AD 42  --->                         29     (Approximate year of Paul's "3rd heaven" vision)
AD 43  --->                         30
AD 44  --->                         31     
AD 45  --->                         32
AD 46  --->                         33     (Approximate date of the prayer meeting in Acts 13, plus 'trip prep')
AD 47  --->                         34     (Approximate start of the Gentile mission with Barnabas)
AD 48  --->                         35     
AD 49  --->                         36     
AD 50  --->                         37      (Council of Jerusalem, this year or last; Paul writes Galatians)
AD 51  --->                         38      (Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth; Paul writes 1 & 2 Thess)
AD 52  --->                         39     (Corinth, Jerusalem, Antioch of Syria)
AD 53  --->                         40     (Paul joins Aquilla & Priscilla in Ephesus)
AD 54  --->                         41     (Paul writes 1 Corinthians, before Claudius' death in October)
AD 55  --->                         42     (Paul by this time is said to demonstrate some healing ability)
AD 56  --->                         43     (Paul writes 2 Corinthians, after planting a church in Dyrrachium)
AD 57  --->                         44     (Paul writes Romans, 1 Timothy, arrested in Jerusalem)
AD 58  --->                         45     (Caesarea prison, from AD 57 to 59)
AD 59  --->                         46     (Caesarea to Crete, shipwreck on Malta)
AD 60  --->                         47     (Paul reaches Rome)
AD 61  --->                         48     (Paul writes Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, this year or last)
AD 62  --->                         49     (Paul writes Philippians, this year or last)
AD 63  --->                         50     (Paul released, this year or last; arrested again in Asia Minor)
AD 64  --->                         51     (Paul writes 2 Timothy; Nero persecutes the Roman church)

Note One: I do not entertain the timelines that keep Paul alive after Nero's purge for a number of reasons. For a brief sketch of my Timeline on Paul's activity, see here.

Note Two: I do hope no one is eager to use Paul's age as a comparison for accomplishments, against themselves or against anyone else. For one thing, that's not at all fair. More importantly, the best use of reconstructed data like this is to help us flesh out the details of Paul's story. Hopefully there's a lot we can learn from Paul's life, and not just from Paul's words. Perhaps the best thing a list like this can accomplish is to make us think four-dimensionally about a human being whose living and active engagement with God's mission on Earth was much more than the sum of his collected thoughts put down on paper.

One last thing, just because it's been on my mind.

The work of History, rightfully, is about taking 2 and 2 and coming up with 5. It doesn't give us rules to stand on. It gives us potential realities to consider... and a fleshed-out depiction of actual reality - while understanding that it happens to be an approximate and reconstructed reality - is always going to be much more valuable for real people to consider, and much more enriching for our actual lives, than always focusing merely on extracted principles, taken at random from decades of thought, which are then artificially cut down to a [seemingly] manageable size.

"Paul" is not a system of thought. "Paul" is not a collection of writings.

Paul of Tarsus was a man of God who walked the earth and built the church.

Examine his life, and examine your own. And please, God, be merciful to all of us, after that!
Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget
"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton