Is the Bible the best way to promote Christianity?

I have posted on my own blog Gentle Wisdom a two part series Is the Bible the best way to promote Christianity? – part 1, part 2. In this I discuss issues about the perspicuity of Scripture, and the barriers to understanding it, which lie behind many of the discussions we have been having here at Better Bibles Blog. It is good that we don’t discuss at BBB the theology underlying Bible translation. But these issues are important, and so I offer my blog as a place where I would welcome an appropriate discussion of them.

27 thoughts on “Is the Bible the best way to promote Christianity?

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    toros? Spanish bulls? Papal bulls? Or divine ones? 😉

    Theophrastus, though you write ten thousand comments, they are alien to me. That’s not a criticism, it’s just that our approaches to the Bible and to the things of God are so different that I don’t think we will ever agree.

  2. J. K. Gayle says:

    Peter,
    You say, “It is good that we don’t discuss at BBB the theology underlying Bible translation.”

    If that’s really true, then why is it good not to discuss at BBB your theology? To me, it seems that at least you have been willing to broach the subject of your theology. In your previous BBB post, at length you quoted Bishop N.T. Wright’s translational imperative for accuracy of “at least two sorts.” I’m not sure how clear it was to all of us, your readers, that Wright, in your quotation of him, was riffing off of the often preached Mark 8:36 and Matthew 16:26; Wright says, “It is possible, in translation as in life, to gain the whole world and lose your own soul.” Now, I would say that there is not much perspicuity here in Wright’s statement at all. I’d also very quickly add that I don’t see much perspicuity at BBB in the use of the English word, perspicuity. (Is this a word you’d use in a better English Bible translation?) There’s not much perspicuity at BBB, that is, unless you’re “in the know.” There are outsiders to what this all means. Then there are the insiders. Growing up in a family where it is was paid occupation and profession of my father to “promote Christianity,” I think I get just a little of what’s at stake. At issue is not necessarily perspicuity, but a perspicuity of a particular sort. And, I think we all may want to see, that “to promote Christianity” in the “best way” is not really the end at all. You quote William Tyndale in your first “Gentle Wisdom” post, to stand with him, to “cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!” But is “to know” the Scriptures is really the theological or translational end at all? If something like Relevance Theory is co-opted for evangelical Christian world-wide Bible translation, is it really just perspicuity that the translators are after, or is it perspicuity of a particular sort? And so at BBB why not discuss the theology and the linguistics as really one not so much underlying the other but as both being after the same end? Isn’t it? Or should we move the discussion now over to your other blog?

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, thank you for your comment. Yes, I should have explained “perspicuity” with the near synonym “clarity”, as I did in my Gentle Wisdom post. I think we have agreed that here at BBB it is OK to mention theological issues in passing, but not to get into detailed discussions of them. That is one reason why I would prefer to discuss these issues at Gentle Wisdom.

    I made explicit the end I had in mind for Scripture reading: to promote Christianity. That is not of course the only valid reason to read the Bible. But it is the one I was discussing here.

    As for the perspicuity of Wright’s writings, somehow I don’t think they are always as clear as a well translated Bible should be.

  4. Theophrastus says:

    Toros is Hebrew, plural of torah.

    Before Ezra, what we now call Scripture largely existed as a set of individual toros, many legal. II Kings 22 describes the discovery of a particularly important torah that discovered during the reign of King Josiah (621 BCE). During repairs on the Temple buildings in Jerusalem, this torah was found buried in the foundation or hidden in the walls of the sanctuary.

    Today, we call that torah by this name: Deuteronomy.

    These anecdotes (Hosea 8:12, II Kings 22) are simple examples of many anecdotes in the Bible that benefit from some additional explanation, even for a highly fluent reader. This is not a question of theology, but rather a questions of pedagogy.

    Can it really be a surprise that the most famous Bible of the English Reformation was the heavily annotated Geneva Bible? Can it really be a surprise that even today, the most rapidly growing segment of Bible sales is for annotated study Bibles?

  5. Wayne Leman says:

    Theo. asked:

    Can it really be a surprise that the most famous Bible of the English Reformation was the heavily annotated Geneva Bible? Can it really be a surprise that even today, the most rapidly growing segment of Bible sales is for annotated study Bibles?

    No, it is not a surprise. There are many parts of the text, which, if translated just with what is “said” in the text, requires more to be said by a teacher, footnotes, commentary, or other help that gives background information to understand what was said.

    One of the debates we have on BBB is how much clarity should we have in translations? If we want the same clarity that the original audiences had as they heard the biblical texts, then either we need to increase clarity in the translated text itself to equal the clarity the original text had for its original audience with the background they shared with the author, or we need to have heavily annotated Bibles.

    I’m not talking now about “adding” any information to the original text that was not already there in its author-hearer context with their shared backgrounds. I’m only suggesting that one way of translating accurately enough so that translation audiences can get the same meaning from the text that the original hearers did (no less and no more) is to clarify what the “foreign” text cannot communicate to its new audience, without additional information.

    Difficult questions these are! Now I have to run, 3 medical appointments in a row coming up as soon as we can chow down our breakfast.

  6. J. K. Gayle says:

    Theophrastus,

    You say, “This is not a question of theology, but rather a questions of pedagogy.” Your sentence here reminds me of something David Rosenberg has said in a longer paragraph:

    Pursuing the question in adulthood, I came across an essay, “Wit and Mystery,” by Walter J. Ong, an esteemed Catholic writer of our time. Ong was explaining the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas, for whom “Christian theology and poetry are indeed not the same thing, but lie at opposite poles of human knowledge. However, the very fact that they are opposite extremes gives them something of a common relation to that which lies between them: they both operate on the periphery of human intelligence. A poem dips below the range of the human process of understanding-by-reason as the subject of theology sweeps above it.” These “opposite poles” of poetry and theology were, in fact, reconciled in the Hebrew Bible long ago.
    (–page 636, A Literary Bible: An Original Translation)

    Rosenberg is interested in how the Hebrew Bible “dips below the range of the human process of understanding-by-reason” and thereby requires as you’ve put it, “some additional explanation, even for a highly fluent reader.” But he’s also interested in the theology of the Hebrew Bible, and how that Bible reconciles its theology and its poetry.

    BTW, the question he’s trying to find an answer to is “What do we have to lose by not knowing the authors [of the Hebrew Bible]?” Rosenberg is interested in how an author’s life, education, personality, theology, poetry manifest in the text and in the text of the translator. Perspicuity is just one issue, whether it’s the need of an academic explaining a text or an evangelical Christian translator of the Bible hoping the fundamentals for doctrine-based salvation comes through loud and clear.

  7. J. K. Gayle says:

    Wayne,

    Rosenberg some challenges this assumption you’ve made: i.e., “the clarity the original text had for its original audience with the background they shared with the author.” Rosenberg sees that the Hebrew Torah authors engaged generally in telling that was more creative re-telling; that the Hebrew “visions or dreams of prophets” or “prophetic books that make up the second part of the Hebrew Bible were written down or retold in various poetic genres by professional writers, just as was the Torah.” And the writers of the third part of the Hebrew Bible would “produce poetry and prose that complicates the boundary between the fictive and the truth.” This complication was hardly a move toward total simplicity in communication, toward clarity if you will between original author and hearers and readers.

  8. Theophrastus says:

    JK: As you may know, Rosenberg’s Literary Bible got quite a few mixed reviews, such as this one by Frank Kermode.

    I found Kermode’s example from Rosenberg of the suffering servant portion to read a lot like The Message:

    now all the world’s kings reside
    In their own plush tombs
    and sleep at prominent addresses
    But you’ve been kicked out of the mausoleum
    you’ve been clubbed like
    a Nazi collaborator. . . .

    Rosenberg seems to be writing a reaction to the Bible, not actually translating it.

  9. J. K. Gayle says:

    Theophrastus,
    Yes, I know that Rosenberg’s project hasn’t received rave reviews (and I myself think his attempt at mirroring the Genesis writer’s wordplay is over the top, with “Hava: she would have all who live.” Kermode is actually too kind when reviewing that bit). But Rosenberg’s understanding of author, audience, text, and literary issues is more compelling, and it speaks to the question of whether the Hebrew Bible is theology also, and then whether that theology is clear and clearly a promotion of Christianity.

  10. Theophrastus says:

    Rosenberg’s understanding of the author, audience, text, and literary issues is atomic — he is a disciple of Wellhausen, and he views the Bible as fundamentally a non-Jewish work:

    When I first discovered Higher Biblical Criticism, I thought that it was really neat. I imagined them all smoking joints and getting high, but then as soon as you start to read them it really brings you down….

    The first one that I discovered, which changed my life, was a scholar by the name of Speiser [who wrote the Anchor Bible Commentary]…. In his commentary, he’s constantly making these connections between Sumerian poets, Sumerian texts, and biblical ones. That’s the first time I really knew for sure that we had to get back to the original poets, the original authors of the Bible….

    The Anchor Bible Genesis by Speiser, it will blow you away because it is so much smarter than Robert Alter. That’s why Robert Alter never mentions Speiser. They try to pretend he never existed.

    Not my approach to the Bible.

  11. Wayne Leman says:

    Kurk wrote:

    Rosenberg some challenges this assumption you’ve made: i.e., “the clarity the original text had for its original audience with the background they shared with the author.”

    Sorry I wasn’t clearer, Kurk. I was not referring to the Bible being clear. I was trying to refer to the *degree of clarity* that the original texts had for their original audiences. That same degree of clarity is deserved by audiences of translations of those texts.

    I have no problem recognizing lack of clarity in many parts of the Bible. I do have a problem creating less clarity for translation users than the degree of clarity that original audiences had. We should not create artificial barriers to communicating the messages of the Bible through translation. The Bible is often difficult enough to understand without introducing additional barriers during the translation process.

  12. J. K. Gayle says:

    As you likely know, Theophrastus, there’s no love loss between Alter and Rosenberg. Both are just wrong, I think, to have disparaged one another’s work so publicly. (Alter doesn’t care much for Everett Fox’s translation either, and has done his own translation work from the Hebrew much in reaction against Rosenberg’s and Fox’s respective wild, poetic flairs with their English.) However, while it’s true that Rosenberg’s approach has been influenced by the theories (or hypotheses) of Wellhausen and Speiser, it’s hardly fair to say that Rosenberg himself views the Bible as fundamentally a non-Jewish work. He more than hints at their egregious anti-Semitism: “Modern biblical scholarship arose in European universities, yet in religion departments from Geneva to Oxford, Jews were prohibited. The professors of Bible were of Christian belief or education. The nineteenth-century German scholars who developed the Documentary theories known as Higher Biblical Criticism were charmed by their natural Christian superiority into primitive misunderstandings of the Hebrew… since they could only read through the filter of their primary source, the New Testament.” Like Fox, Rosenberg is after an understanding of the Hebrew (Rosenberg more by imagining the author) by translating in such a literary fashion into English.

    So without derailing Peter Kirk’s question here, might we not listen also to Rosenberg to ask whether the Hebrew Bible – in “clear” translation – is the best way to promote Christianity?

    Wayne,
    You said: “I do have a problem creating less clarity for translation users than the degree of clarity that original audiences had.” Thanks for clarifying. 🙂 I would agree.

  13. Peter Kirk says:

    Kurk, just to clarify, I did not suggest that “the Hebrew Bible – in “clear” translation – is the best way to promote Christianity”. I was referring to the whole Bible, including the New Testament. When I wrote that “Obscure parts can be understood by comparison with simpler parts”, in terms of implications for salvation etc I would consider the Hebrew Bible to be mostly obscure and so understood only by comparison with the New Testament. That is one reason why I am ignoring comments about translations of only the Hebrew Bible.

  14. Theophrastus says:

    No, I think you are factually incorrect: Alter has praised Fox’s translation; although he considers it to be alien to English.

    Many people criticized the Bloom-Rosenberg (not just Alter) Book of J which claimed to accurately identify the so-called J-source of the Pentateuch, isolate it, translate it, and determine that it was of female authorship. This was done, in somewhat typical Harold Bloom fashion, more for shock value than as a serious scholarly claim. I am sure there must have been some favorable reviews, but I can only recall the negative ones now.

    I do not think a JEPD reading of the Bible is particularly helpful, and it certainly does not reflect Jewish tradition, but if one must do it, it would be better to do so with something like Friedman’s color-coded system, which actually accounts for all the verses, rather than simply deleting the verses one does not like.

    Rosenberg is simply doing the equivalent of what Jefferson’s cut-and-paste Life and Morals of Jesus purported to do — remove verses that he doesn’t like. The only difference I can see is that while Jefferson farmed tobacco, Rosenberg clearly prefers to grow another plant.

  15. Theophrastus says:

    I thought Mark Minster’s review in The Forward of Rosenberg’s book had some good observations:

    The more troubling problem with Rosenberg’s premises is that they are also his conclusions, which eliminates the bother of evidence. They’re unfalsifiable claims, circular logic. J is an authentic poet because that is how Rosenberg remembers her. If a scholar disputes her authenticity, Rosenberg retreats to his assumptions. Or he lashes out. Rosenberg tells us that in “How to Read the Bible,” Harvard scholar James Kugel “felt it necessary to write more about himself than the biblical authors.” Berkeley literary critic Robert Alter is “so consumed by his writing style that he ascribes lesser ambition to the biblical writers.” One of Alter’s translations is dismantled and chided for its “scholarly grandiosity.” These attacks are frequent, petty and baseless. . . .

    The poetry itself, however, is not contemporary, modernist or romantic. It’s closest to an imitation (an “epigone,” Bloom might say) of Ginsberg, without Beat gusto. At its best, it is quirky, with constant, almost willful tense shifts and questionable decisions about what to exclude — his David story leaves off the crucial ending of the succession narrative, in which Bathsheba manipulates a senile king into naming her son Solomon as heir. Shir ha-Shirim is robbed of some of its most haunting lines (“You are beautiful, my love,” “your eyes are doves”). Other passages suffer from a bewildering indulgence in frothy abstractions that seem alien to the concrete beauties of biblical poetry. . . .

    Rosenberg mentions that he studied with Robert Lowell. Lowell was a scrupulous reviser, with a reputation as a stern critic of his students’ work. One of my teachers told me about a poem a student once brought to Lowell, a poem of 16 lines or so, about which Lowell said, “Cut 15 lines and go from there.” It’s good advice.

  16. JK Gayle says:

    Peter,
    Thanks for clarifying that you are considering a more inclusive Bible. Is there something in the Greek language Bible (i.e., LXX and NT) that makes it more likely to promote Christianity when in clear translation into English and other modern languages?

    Theophrastus,
    You give valid points about Rosenberg’s many weaknesses and offenses. You know he has even turned on Bloom now, his one-time co-author. So I’ll only add – now somewhat in jest – at least he resists Alter’s tendency to turn to the Greek Bible for English translation when it is clearer than the Hebrew Bible.

  17. Theophrastus says:

    at least he resists Alter’s tendency to turn to the Greek Bible for English translation when it is clearer than the Hebrew Bible

    To the contrary: Rosenberg heavily relies on the Septuagint. For example, look at his translation of Nephilim (p. 69 in Book of J; p. 16 in Literary Bible) as “giants.” That is a reading from the Septuagint; the likely Hebrew reading is “ones who have fallen”

  18. J. K. Gayle says:

    Rosenberg heavily relies on the Septuagint… his translation of Nephilim … as “giants.”

    Your one example, Theophrastus, is quite a stretch. Rosenberg explains the metaphor in the Hebrew (J, not the Greek LXX) as his choice for “giants”:

    Only J would have the dark wit to have the spies say, gazing at the Nephilim, that the Israelites looked like grasshoppers to themselves, and that such they must have appeared to the giants.” (Book of J, pages 263-64)

    While the LXX translator(s) would use γίγαντ* for the Hebrew term, even Alter sees the concept as pre-Septuagint, perhaps pre-Greek: “… in Numbers Nephilim … touches on common ground with Greek and other mythologies.” (Five Books of Moses, page 39)

    And Fox, whose translation of the Hebrew avoids the LXX like a plague in Egypt, has giants for Nephilim in Genesis and then – for English emphasis it seems – twice in Numbers. (pages 33, 723)

    Rosenberg elsewhere indirectly quotes Brevard Childs as “precise” in his thinking that “from the Septuagint … there is a consistent toning down of … the directness” of the Hebrew of J in a particular text. Rosenberg appears not to like that and wants the directness to come through (page 257). That’s neither some accidental “heavy reliance” on the LXX nor some intentional reliance on the Greek.

    In stark contrast, Alter regularly sees the Greek translation as having more perspicuity than the later constructs of the MT:

    “The Masoretic Text is not really intelligible at this point, and this English version [of mine] follows the Septuagint for the first part of the verse [Genesis 49:26]”

    “The Septuagint reading has a slight advantage of syntactic completeness [in Genesis 27:6]”

    “…the Septuagint corrects this [i.e., Psalm 91:2]”

    “In my own translation [of 1 and 2 Samuel], I have resorted to the Septuagint … because careful consideration in many instances compelled me to conclude that the wording in the Masoretic Text was unintelligible or self-contradictory.”

    “The translation [of mine] adopts the Septuagint here … instead of the Masoretic [Text for Proverbs 19:27]”

  19. Peter Kirk says:

    Is there something in the Greek language Bible (i.e., LXX and NT) that makes it more likely to promote Christianity when in clear translation into English and other modern languages?

    Kurk, I said nothing about LXX. But I would have thought it obvious to someone like you, the son of Christian ministries, what I am talking about. The New Testament, appropriately translated, presents clearly the message that, to paraphrase just one verse of it, God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that anyone who believed in him can have eternal life. That message may be implicit in the Hebrew Bible but it is not clear. So that is why the New Testament is necessary.

    The rest of this comment thread, about Jewish translators of the Hebrew Bible, has gone so completely off topic that I am ignoring it only because I can’t be bothered to moderate it.

  20. J. K. Gayle says:

    someone like you, the son of Christian ministries,

    Dear Peter,
    I asked you my question precisely because you “said nothing about LXX.” And I also asked because you’d said: “just to clarify, I did not suggest that ‘the Hebrew Bible’ – in “clear” translation – is the best way to promote Christianity’.” How you have answered the question, focusing on the “New Testament, appropriately translated,” makes sense given your theology, as hinted at here but as expounded more at your other blog. I didn’t want to presume or assume what Bible text(s) might be in focus as you discuss translation into English for clarity and possible promotion of Christianity.

    While I’d agree that, to you, on the one hand, it must seem that the “rest of this comment thread, about Jewish translators of the Hebrew Bible, has gone … completely off topic,” on the other hand, I’d like to say that, to me (maybe mostly because I’m a missionary kid), the discussion of the Hebrew Bible and the Hebraic Hellene Bible is very critical to viewing the translated NT as some kind of promotion of Christianity of the missionary or generally evangelical sort. So, even if you “can’t be bothered” with the wider conversation, thank you for tolerating it.
    Sincerely, Kurk

  21. Theophrastus says:

    When you quote from The Book of J on pages 263-4 and page 257, you are quoting Harold Bloom not David Rosenberg.

    As you pointed out earlier, they have independent opinions, and
    Rosenberg has now criticized Bloom.

    In contrast David Rosenberg relied on Speiser, and Speiser notes explicitly LXX borrowings; this being clearly marked as one.

    Your quote from Alter on page 39 supports my comment that the origin is Greek (as opposed, for example, to the mythology presented in the Book of Enoch. Your other quotes from Alter do not support “perspicuity” at all; rather they support Alter’s reliance on the LXX in places where he finds the Masoretic text unintelligible.

  22. J. K. Gayle says:

    Well, Theophrastus, are you interested in “issues about the perspicuity of Scripture, and the barriers to understanding it, which lie behind many of the discussions we have been having here at Better Bibles Blog”? I am. This seems to be one of the purposes of Peter’s blogpost. And this makes me interested a little more in what you’re trying to say.

    Your syllogisms, however, are a bit (as my kids would say) “sketchy.” What if, following the logic, Rosenberg suddenly criticizes Speiser? Will you then want us to agree that “they [also – i.e., Rosenberg and Speir] have independent opinions”? Could you agree then with me, further, if I concluded, “That is Speir’s borrowing from the LXX, not Rosenberg’s! The two think for themselves”? The fact is that Bloom is Rosenberg’s co-author, where the one quotes Childs as suggesting the LXX isn’t fair to the Hebrew language’s directness, which both Bloom and Rosenberg at the time of writing seem to love. Both appear to agree with Childs and both would oppose a loss of J’s directness that he argues is caused by the LXX. And then, yes, Alter does find the MT unintelligible in places, also self-contradictory, and incorrect, and incomplete with respect to syntax. Another couple of examples (and how many do we need?) also do show Alter’s turning to the LXX to make clear what the MT misses: first – “The Masoretic Text lacks these words, but the next phrase, ‘all the LORD’s bounties,’ preceded by the accusative particle ‘et, clearly requires a verb, and the appropriate verb is reflected in the Septuagint” (fn on I Samuel 12:7). and second –

    The Masoretic text says ‘in his death,’ bemoto, which is problematic theologically and perhaps grammatically as well. The translation [into English by me, Robert Alter, therefore] follows the Septuagint and the Syriac, which read betumo, ‘in his innocence'” (fn on Proverbs 14:32b)

    That Alter looks to the Greek translation of some lost Hebrew is interesting enough. That he looks to it to make the English text of his own translation clear, perspicuous, is fascinating. That he looks to the Septuagint to solve a theological problem is nearly incredible!

    This begs the question of which theology of the Bible Alter wants to make clear, and for what purpose? It is a theology of Judaism? Of Christianity?

  23. Theophrastus says:

    JK —

    I’m just trying to stay on track here. You raised the topic of Rosenberg out of thin air; and I have been trying to point out since then that he is an unreliable source. If he now repudiates Speiser (who he admires in interviews and in the Literary Bible) that simply goes to support my argument further. How is fickleness evidence of constancy?

    The question of the merits and demerits of the LXX is a favorite topic of yours, but I do not see the relevance to the question of Rosenberg, except to further illustrate his unreliable and mercurial nature. In fact, he did use the LXX.

    A factual correction: The Book of J is very delineated, so that each section is independently marked as being by Bloom or Rosenberg. I am not aware that they have jointly authored any substantive material in the book, and await your evidence to the contrary. They are no more co-authors than Isaiah and Mark are “co-authors.” The degree of separation even extends to covers on both Grove Press paperback and the Vintage Books hardcover.

    For all the reasons stated above, I do not think that the Rosenberg quote you gave here is a cogent argument, and I think that the quote by Hosea on the futility of distributing Scripture is more apropos.

  24. J. K. Gayle says:

    Theophrastus,
    I brought up Rosenberg not out of thin air, but in response to your statement above, “This is not a question of theology, but rather a questions of pedagogy.” That reminded me of how Rosenberg turns to Ong’s explanations of Aquinas, saying “Christian theology and poetry are indeed not the same thing, but lie at opposite poles of human knowledge…. [the one] below the range of the human process of understanding-by-reason… [the other] above it”; then Rosenberg, not a Christian as is Ong and Aquinas, brings in the “Hebrew Bible” to claim it long ago reconciles “poetry and theology.”

    Peter had already posted here to say, “It is good that we don’t discuss at BBB the theology underlying Bible translation.” Alter had already written something else I’d read, that “The Masoretic text … is [in places] problematic theologically and perhaps grammatically as well,” and he’s shown his theological, translational solution to what’s problematic by turning to the LXX for his English translation.

    What I’m interested in is how Bible translation ties in with poetry, with language, with linguistics, but also with theology and its “promotion,” whether that’s the theology of Christianity or of Judaism or both. (I regret I haven’t been clearer, and that there are tangents with respect to your specific thoughts about Rosenberg, and mine.) I’m happy that Peter is tolerating our discussion because (despite our digressions) there is still a good bit of relevance, I think, to the question of perspicuity in translation as perspicuity in theology. To try to ignore the LXX in this discussion, when you bring in the Hebrew Bible (quoting from it) while Peter wants to focus, instead, on the Greek NT, seems odd to me. The clarity, the perspicuity, of the LXX seems important for the theology not only of the Hebrew Bible but also of the New Testament as well. And I do hope that is clear.

  25. Theophrastus says:

    Well, then, my original comment must not have been clear, because as I indicated, I don’t see how “theology” plays a role in the question of whether a reader understands a text. In other words, I was disputing Peter’s original thesis.

    (For example, Peter claims: Yes, the final barrier to ordinary people understanding the Bible is a spiritual one. As the Apostle Paul wrote, . . . whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 2 Corinthians 3:16 (NIV 2011). . . . How can this barrier be overcome? Only through prayer, I would suggest. There are many stories going around, including some from personal friends of mine, of people in Muslim majority countries who have become Christians . . . . Christians have been praying for those countries for a very long time, and these prayers are being answered as some people’s blind eyes are being opened to the light of the gospel.)

    The theology here is that prayer can act as a substitute for study, and that, indeed, study alone without prayer will always result in misunderstanding.

    Despite your finding a quote where Alter used the word “theology,” he is not actually talking about any mystical understanding of the Bible, but rather talking about an internal inconsistency in the content.

    In particular, I believe that theories which posit that divine revelation is an efficacious method for comprehending obscure Hebrew texts rank somewhere with Christian Scientist belief that prayer is an acceptable substitute for medicine. I’d rather stick with doctors and scholarship.

    I am unsure of what your position is, except that you seem to like the word “theology.” Do you believe that the Bible is magically made clear through prayer and proper belief (the “theological” position), or do you believe that it can be understood through academic study? That is the question raised by Peter’s post.

  26. Peter Kirk says:

    Theophrastus, I will jump back in here to clarify and defend what I said. I did not suggest that prayer was effective or necessary for understanding any Hebrew text, or Greek for that matter. I suggested that the biblical texts contain teachings which are hard for people to accept for spiritual reasons. Perhaps you would find that easier to accept if I talked instead about psychological reasons, although I do think these are different things.

    For example, Jesus teaches people to sell all their possessions and follow him. The words are I think very clear, and the human intellect can understand them apart from prayer. But many people complicate the whole matter by arguing that Jesus meant this only spiritually or symbolically or as teaching only for a special group of disciples. Much of the reason for that is that those people are psychologically and perhaps spiritually not prepared to accept the plain meaning of the text. I must say I am not either.

    Now you may not agree, but I hope you would at least accept that I am not crazy to suggest that prayer might help in overcoming such psychological and spiritual barriers to accepting the plain teaching of the Bible.

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