The Rhodes family acquired a new dog about four months ago. It had been about a year and a half since Whiskey died and Mary declared it time.
Pixie is a 15 month old Lab mix. We got her from the Hayward Animal Shelter after a couple of weeks of to-ing and fro-ing.
It turns out you can’t just walk into the dog pound and ask for a dog anymore. Now you have to fill out a three page application and go through an interview of everyone in the house, and only then will they tell you whether you are allowed to rescue the dog or not. (Here I thought we were doing THEM a favor by rescuing a dog!)
Well, this dog, they said, is not suitable for small children, and it’s true. She’s a 75 lb. bundle of energy. We give her 2 hours of walks every day. One of the places we take her to run is county owned land above Lake Chabot. From the hills you can look out over the bay and see San Francisco.It’s positively gorgeous. There’s a lot of open land, and we let her run off the leash to burn off some of that energy.
Plenty of dog owners in the area use this same space, and the dogs romp and roughhouse and generally have a great time.
As I said, Pixie is a mix. She’s very much the Lab in looks. Beyond the body type, she has webbed feet and an otter tail, although the hair is a little shaggy on her tail. She certainly acts like a Lab in many respects. Birds engage her complete attention. She points. She has a “soft” mouth — she doesn’t clamp down hard when she carries things. But then she doesn’t instinctively retrieve, and she has ambivalence about water. So we wondered what the other part of Pixie is — which brings me to Thursday three weeks ago.
As I said the land above Lake Chabot where we run Pixie is county land. It’s open for agricultural use, so there are horses and cows that graze there from time to time. But if we get too close, Pixie will bark at them. The horses mostly just ignore her, but she can get to the cows. It isn’t pleasant and it takes a few minutes to get her attention back once she’s locked onto a large animal. So I don’t let her off leash unless we’re far away from them. (Besides, the park rangers can cite you for harassing the cows.)
However, two weeks ago she spotted cows on the other side of the creek, a good quarter mile away, and bolted down the hill, across the bridge, right to the cows. Pixie had discovered her inner collie. She rounded up the cows that were scattered across the hillside during the time it took me to run down the hill, across the creek, and up the other hill to get to her, and she then proceeded to herd them back and forth for about 10 minutes with me trying desperately to disengage her while avoiding being trampled by a moving herd of cows.
You can see the problem.
And we play in the house, too, sometimes for 30-45 minutes. It takes a lot to keep her interested and occupied. We can’t do anything nowadays without taking Pixie into the calculation — a fact which, in the wake of the previous Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 6:19-34, led Mary to observe that for us it has become: “Seek ye first the kingdom of dog.”
That got me to thinking. That phrase rolls off the tongue if you’re churched. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” And if you were around in the right segment of the charismatic movement in the 70’s, there’s a Scripture song of that passage that has one of those too simple melodies you can’t get out of your head. It all makes the expression sound so natural, when, in fact, it’s hard-core Biblish. Without further reflection, it wasn’t entirely clear to me what it might mean to “seek first the kingdom of God”.
ζητεῖτε δὲ πρῶτον τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν (Matt. 6:33)
It turns out this is an non-trivial question. Even if you factor out the Elizabethan English word order there still is a problem, and it goes right to the heart of how trustworthy the various Greek lexicons are.
Long time readers may remember I have posted in the past that we cannot simply assume that lexicons have the correct translations for words in them. Even the most reliable lexicons, Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingerich(1) and Liddell, Scott, and Jones(2), are often 50 or a 100 years behind in English usage. But now, with the advent of internet access and extensive search capabilities, we can now do our own research into how words are used in context so we can work out for ourselves what they mean. So that’s what I’ve done for ζητέω and for seek— unfortunately, it has taken weeks.
There are two problems that my searches revealed. One is that the English word seek is an unusual and specialized word in today’s usage, but ζητέω was a common and ordinary word.
I regularly point out that meaning is more complex than we tend to think. Words not only refer, they also frame — direct you to look at a situation in particular ways.
Elizabeth I had her cousin Mary killed.
Elizabeth I had her cousin Mary murdered.
Elizabeth I had her cousin Mary executed.
Beyond that they can also have status as formal or informal words and more generally connect to the contexts they are used in, both linguistic and otherwise.
So it is with seek. Part of its meaning arises from the fact that it is used in special contexts. Google it and you get 10’s of millions of hits, but start looking at them and patterns appear immediately. For example, it is a headline word. It occurs in headlines, but not in the story, where a more general — or more specific — expression is used.
Robber sought after failing to return
State police in Pittsburgh are looking for a convicted robber who escaped from a Braddock corrections center last night. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Monday, February 09, 2009)
Habitat protection sought for one of America’s most endangered: Woodland Caribou
Bush Administration Ignored Request to Identify Species’ Critical Habitat for 6 Years
SPOKANE, WA – Conservation groups filed a complaint today in the U.S. District Court in Spokane to compel a response to a 2002 petition for woodland caribou critical habitat which has been ignored for over six years by the Bush Administration. (Defenders of Wildlife, January 15, 2009)
It occurs very frequently in connection with lawbreakers on the lam.
Semi Driver Sought After Bicyclist Run Over
Richmond County Bank Robbery Suspect Sought
Cop impersonator sought in York County
It’s also often used in reference to formal or official actions.
Major U.S. banks sought government permission to bring thousands of foreign workers into the country for high-paying jobs even as the system was melting down last year and Americans were getting laid off, according to an Associated Press review of visa applications. (Banks Sought Foreign Workers as System Crashed AP, 01 Feb 2009)
… Paul Yetter of Houston, lead counsel for the Amegy claimants, says to his knowledge, Amegy Investments Inc., et al. v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc., et al. is the first arbitration that an “innocent downstream [local] broker” has sought against a national brokerage firm in the wake of the [auction rate securities] market’s collapse. (Arbitration Sought in Auction Rate Securities Fight, Law.com, Feb. 10, 2009.)
And then there’s the famous — and appropriately Jedi sounding:
“These are not the droids you seek.”
The point is that seek is not a good translation for ζητέω, even though it’s the standard gloss given. The problem is that the English word seek brings along baggage that isn’t there in ζητέω. It’s an example of something added in translation. Ironically, the very specialness of seek makes it sound so right for the Bible. It’s almost mystical. This is my ongoing complaint about Biblish. To the ears of the original audience, the Bible was not in Biblish. Sure, it contained passages in Biblish, but they were quotes. The bulk of it was plain speak.
If you want to get to the very ordinariness of the Greek of Matthew 6:33, then you have to rephrase the whole thing.
Make God’s kingdom and the righteousness that comes from him the most important thing in your life, and all the rest will follow.
(1) Danker, Frederick W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. Based on Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der fruhchristlichen Literatur, 6th ed., ed. Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, with Viktor Reichmann and on previous English editions by W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
(2) Liddell, H. R., R. Scott, and H. S. Jones, Greek-English Lexicon 9th edition. Oxford University Press. 1996