tag:qohelet.io,2013:/posts Qohelet 2022-11-27T05:03:27Z Dan tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1909151 2022-11-27T05:03:26Z 2022-11-27T05:03:27Z A "literal" English Bible translation is inherently anglocentric

When we translate from a source language into a target language, there is no such thing as “keeping all the words”. Greek words are not English words and ruling that only specific translational glosses can be used, does not constitute keeping all the words. The English word ‘ears’ isn’t “all the words”. Translating ὦτα as ‘ears’ isn’t translating the words. It’s still translating the meaning. ὦτα is gone. If you choose that as a gloss, all of the original words are still gone. Literal translation prioritizes English over Greek by assuming that English words have some bizarre one-to-one correspondence to the original language that doesn’t actually exist.

This is the hidden lie in the English Bible tradition. Literal translations only exist in languages that already have a translation. A literal translation is the product of a community conventionalizing a set of target language glosses as authoritative over and against any other glosses. It places the authority of those conventions over the authority of the original text itself. It is, thus, for the English Bible tradition, inherently anglocentric. Without an existing tradition of translation, the idea of “keeping all the words” wouldn’t exist. All the words are Greek.

Mike Aubrey, "On literal translation: He that hath eeris of heerynge, heere he." From Koine-Greek blog. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://koine-greek.com/2020/04/22/on-literal-translation-he-that-hath-eeris-of-heerynge-heere-he/.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1907930 2022-11-24T05:56:54Z 2022-11-24T05:58:08Z Cosmetic piety

The vast majority of Christianity has been concerned with "churching" people into symbolic, restful, and usually ethnic belonging systems rather than any real spiritual transformation into the mystery of God....

... I am convinced that most of our ministries have legitimated the autonomous self and even fortified it with all kinds of religious armor. Religious people are even harder to transform because they don't think they need it.... I find much more openness and response at the county jail than among the typical group of churchgoers....

Much of what is called Christianity has more to do with disguising the ego behind the screen of religion and culture than any real movement toward a God beyond the small self, and a new self in God. Much of our work feels like cosmetic piety, and often shame or fear-based at that, rather than any real transformation of the ego self, or what the Eastern churches rightly call "divinization...."

Richard Rohr, Andreas Ebert, and Peter Heinegg, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective (New York: Crossroad Pub, 2001), vx.

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tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1875363 2022-09-01T19:39:33Z 2022-09-01T19:49:45Z Never stop learning and growing

As long as you are green, you will grow; when you are ripe, you will rot.

Source unknown

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tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1864200 2022-08-04T20:55:16Z 2022-08-04T20:55:16Z Whose recipe is it anyway?
The sad state of American Christianity has as its basis, a constant attempt to conform to an ever changing society, and with each change, there is less and less of authentic, ancient Christianity to be seen. It could be compared to using an old family cake recipe, dropping one ingredient, or changing another, with each passing generation. In the end, is it really great great grandmother’s cake recipe, or is it something else?

Abbot Tryphon, "Doctrinal Teachings." The Morning Offering blog. Posted August 4, 2022. Retrieved from https://abbottryphon.com/doctrinal-teachings/

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1838565 2022-06-05T03:47:47Z 2022-06-05T03:47:47Z Evil exists like holes in Swiss cheese
Evil exists in the cosmos like holes in a Swiss cheese: the holes are there, but they are only as noncheese and have no existence apart from the cheese. As one cannot eat a cheese and discard the holes into a box, one cannot remove good and put evil into another category. Evil is merely the absence of good.
Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1993), 205.]]>
Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1826633 2022-05-05T21:41:56Z 2022-05-20T02:11:11Z The miracle of human clay bearing divine fire

... Orthodoxy is expected to do something. It's not just a matter of having the right theology, or the right ecclesiastical institution (though I believe it does have those things). It's that there is an innate dynamism. This faith is expected to accomplish something—to enable a person to grow in union with God....

The Eastern Christian Way includes the elements we'd associate with any spiritual path—prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and so forth—and they fit together organically, like the parts of a diet-and-exercise program. Somebody who doesn't actually do the work and put it into practice won't see any benefit (another way it's like a diet-and-exercise program). But for those who do, transformation takes place. It happens in ways that are notable and recognizable, and even, in some cases, miraculous....

Wherever the faith is taken, this Way takes root and bears fruit....

The goal of this healing path is union with God. This is called theosis, which is usually translated "deification" or "divinization...." We can dismantle the Greek word and see that it is composed of theos, which means "God," and the suffix –osis, which indicates a process. As red dye saturates a white cloth by the process of osmosis, so humans can be saturated with God's presence by the process of theosis....

We can see this transformation in the Gospel story of Christ's Transfiguration. He took Peter, James, and John aside and led them up a high mountain. "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as light.... A bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.' When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise and have no fear'" (Matt. 17:1–8).

This was not a change in Jesus; he had always been filled with glory. It was a change in the disciples' ability to perceive.... The Orthodox hymn for the Transfiguration says that Christ revealed his glory "as far as they [the disciples] could bear it...."

The light of the Transfiguration is not ordinary earthly light, but the light of God's glory, the light that was before the universe was made, called the "Uncreated Light" in Orthodoxy. God made us like himself ("image and likeness") so that we could take on this light as a lump of coal takes on fire. This is the destiny we were created for: participation in the light and glory of God. This expectation is the catalyst of Orthodox spirituality….

The miracle of human clay bearing divine fire is foreshadowed in the burning bush (Exod. 3:1–6). God's presence wholly irradiates a dry desert shrub, but does not destroy it. Miraculously, the bush remains intact, remains itself. God's presence doesn't obliterate or replace us, but helps us to become ourselves—each of us the real self he has always intended us to be....

Theosis is not something we achieve by trying really hard. We require a more radical kind of surgery; in fact, we must die. As we die to self and get out of the way, Christ's life can fill us. "You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3).

Frederica Mathewes-Green, Welcome to the Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity (Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2015), 67–71.

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tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1809194 2022-03-20T14:55:06Z 2022-03-21T06:00:06Z On humans comprising 1/3 of the divine council

The New Testament authors and the Fathers—most famously St. Athanasius—speak of our becoming sons of God. When St. John bears witness to the worship of heaven near the end of his life, in addition to the angelic hosts seen in similar previous apocalyptic visions, there are glorified human members of the divine council. These are represented by the twenty-four elders (Rev. 4:4, 10; 5:5–14; 7:11–13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4). These elders are seated and wearing crowns, sharing in Christ’s rule over the creation (4:4)…. [T]he divine council is composed of seventy/seventy-two members. This means that human saints in glory constitute one-third of the divine council. This is the precise proportion of the heavenly host that had joined the devil in rebellion by the time of the birth of Christ, according to St. John (Rev. 12:4). Saint John is not saying that there are only twenty-four demons or twenty-four saints. Rather, he is using these numbers symbolically to indicate the replacement of the fallen members of the angelic host with the saints in glory.

Fr. Stephen De Young, The Religion of the Apostles: Orthodox Christianity in the First Century (Chesterton, Indiana: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2021), 129.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1808941 2022-03-20T06:00:04Z 2022-03-20T06:00:04Z Grace and peace to you

Paul's first hint to us that he is addressing a transnational church comes in the greeting he offers in the beginning of all thirteen of his letters. "Grace and peace to you" is a remarkable combination of a Greek salutation charis (grace) and the ancient Hebrew blessing shalom (peace). Grace expresses the joyful fullness of the gospel and peace expresses the fullness of well-being that God desires for us. In this unique greeting, Paul addresses Gentile and Jewish believers together, as members of one church.

Notice that Paul does not write, "Charis to you Greeks and shalom to you Hebrews." Grace is not just for Gentiles and peace is not just for Jews. God desires the whole body of Christ to receive his grace and to experience his peace. Paul writes with respect for his readers' own ethnic and cultural backgrounds, yet he points to a new countercultural reality—a community in which the barriers between Jews and Gentiles is broken down and eliminated.

Writing to congregations that were often divided and torn by factional strife, Paul's greeting is a concrete reminder to believers that they are called to be a "new creation." While affirming the diversity of every part of the church, Paul transcends their differences to forge a new identity. The church is not a congregation created simply by linking Jews and Gentiles together but a united body of Christ, a transformed people made new in the risen Lord.

Stephen J. Binz, Panorama of the Bible: New Testament (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016), 65.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1808934 2022-03-19T20:56:03Z 2022-03-19T20:56:04Z The work of "making it so" is always an act of violence

We can indeed make things happen, and, in a limited way, control their outcome. But we soon discover (and have proven it time and again) that our ability to control is quite limited. Many, many unforeseeable consequences flow from every action. If I am working in a very, self-contained environment, then the illusion of total control can be maintained for a very long time. If, say, I am building a watch, my actions and their results can remain on a desktop. However, when the scale of action begins to increase, the lack of true control begins to manifest itself. Actions on the level of an entire society or culture are beyond our ability to manage. A culture is not a very large watch.

But we think it is. That delusion lies at the very heart of the philosophy of modernity....

The work of "making it so," is always an act of violence. We take what is not so and force it to be otherwise. Whether it is the violence of a plow making a field suitable for planting, or the violence of creating a parking lot, human beings have formed and shaped their world by "making it so," throughout our existence. The field and the parking lot, as innocuous and innocent as they may be, also create consequences that were not part of the plan. The only means of dealing with these consequences are to employ more violence to alter things yet again (requiring yet more violence, ad infinitum), or to treat the consequences as an acceptable change.

In this sense, to be an active part of the world is to employ violence....

This picture of the modern world can, in the modern Christian mind, provoke an immediate response of wondering what can be done to change it. The difficult answer is to quit living as though modernity were true. Quit validating modernity’s questions. Do not ask, "How can we fix the world?" Instead, ask, "How should Christians live?" and give the outcome of history back to God.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, "The Violence of Modernity." Glory to God for All Things blog. June 1, 2020. https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2020/06/01/the-violence-of-modernity/

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1806719 2022-03-14T00:49:53Z 2022-03-14T00:49:53Z Man seeks to become "one flesh" with woman to regain a lost part of himself

Concerning the creation account in Genesis 2 and God's statement that "it is not good for man to be alone:"

Eve has been promised. She is then withheld for two carefully framed verses while God allows the human creature to perform his unique function as the bestower of names on things. There is implicit irony in this order of narrated events. Man is superior to all other living creatures because only he can invent language, only he has the level of consciousness that makes him capable of linguistic ordering. But this very consciousness makes him aware of his solitude in contrast to the rest of the zoological kingdom. (It is, perhaps, a solitude mitigated but not entirely removed by the creation of woman, for that creation takes place through the infliction of a kind of wound on him, and afterward, in historical time, he will pursue her, strain to become "one flesh" with her, as though to regain a lost part of himself.)

Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, rev. & updated ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 34.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1585075 2020-08-20T05:41:26Z 2020-08-20T05:42:19Z The transmutation of faith into some surrogate

... [T]he modern demand for total, factual, and impersonal objectivity presents serious difficulties for one whose object of study is the faith in which one puts one’s trust and to which one has dedicated one’s life....

... [A] Christian might stay in academe and dissimulate belief. Such people are no doubt more numerous than those who get out of academe for ascetical purpose. They remain in academe and are worn down by it. Being worn down is often imperceptible in its slowness; it usually involves a transmutation of faith into one or more surrogates such as scholarship for its own sake, ideological distractions, or some form of involvement in activist causes of a political nature. The transmutation of faith into some surrogate is often accompanied, furthermore, by symptoms typical of transitions from one mode of life to another—symptoms of release, exhilaration, and freedom, a sense of new power, and feelings of having been “reborn.” The transmutation is thus easily perceived as a conversion. And so it is, for conversion is a two-way street; whichever direction one takes produces largely the same feelings in the moving subject. One often encounters students who came to a seminary seeking less ordination than faith, only to discover counseling or social action as faith surrogates. One even encounters colleagues who at some point rise, as it seems, above faith only to vanish into therapy, eastern religions, another marriage, or some new ideology. Such folks, worn down by the unmanageable welter of modern academe, and dissimulating faith all the while in order to appear respectable, finally succumb to the lure of works which occupy but do not save. As Walker Percy says, they began by blowing their minds and end by blow-drying their hair. They leave us with neither insight nor faith, but with trivia of a certain passing interest.

Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 12-13.

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tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1584290 2020-08-17T14:21:45Z 2020-08-17T14:21:46Z The cross as the kingdom come
The cross ... loom[s] not as a ritually prescribed instrument of propitiation but as the political alternative to both insurrection and quietism.... The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come.

John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 36, 51.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1572538 2020-07-13T01:53:39Z 2020-07-13T01:54:32Z Bearing a little shame

It seems to me that we have acquired the spiritual habit of making our salvation into an abstraction. We speak of being “crucified with Christ,” or of being “baptized into his death,” language that holds a prominent place in the lexicon of the New Testament, but we tend to treat these as though they were happening in a manner somehow distinct from our experience. Neither crucifixion nor death should have an association with things that seem pleasant. Christ himself constantly makes reference to very unpleasant things: forgiving injustice towards the self, the loss of what is rightfully due, giving what is not deserved or merited. These are all things that we seem to instinctively loathe. The shame we encounter through such acts of self-emptying is invariably painful—but this is the Gospel.

It is in this vein that the Elder Sophrony speaks from within the Tradition saying that we must learn to “bear a little shame.” There is much that must be said in this regard. First, bearing shame can only be voluntary; involuntary shaming is always toxic and leaves very deep wounds. The experience of such wounds, which underlies and provides the vast source of pain associated with forgiveness, surrounds the entire experience of forgiveness. To be told, “You must forgive…” in such circumstances is tantamount to saying, “You must endure the shame.” This can easily be nothing more than an invitation to more toxicity. So, the “moral” use of the commandment, “You must forgive,” can inadvertently be another tool in the hands of others to drive the pain and burden of shame ever deeper....

In our communion with Christ, and in the bosom of the Church, it is possible to know the safety sufficient for forgiveness and bearing its shame, but, again, it needs to be voluntary, the acceptance of Christ’s Cross, in union with his own joyful acceptance and not through some moral compulsion. One enemy at a time, we make our way into the love of God, learning step-by-step the joyful way of Christ’s self-emptying.

St. John of the Ladder wrote, “You cannot escape shame except by shame.” It is one of the great paradoxes of the faith, a paradox resolved only in the Cross of Christ.

Fr. Stephen Freeman. “Justice, Forgiveness, and Bearing a Little Shame” [podcast] (May 31, 2017). Retrieved from transcript available at Ancient Faith.

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tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1534426 2020-04-23T00:48:02Z 2022-01-16T18:43:24Z The Word isn’t a book

Growing up entrenched in a sola scriptura environment (that assumed verbal and plenary inspiration), historical criticism shattered where I looked for authority. At some point I shifted to a more empirical approach, seeking authority in experience. But in fact, I am often self-deceived and led astray by my own emotions or those of other passionate people around me. Eventually I found myself in a quixotic pursuit of the early church, at various points succumbing to (fashionable) anti-hegemony, but eventually landing at a crossroads between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism through (misguided) study of (romanticized) history. I opted to cross the Bosphorus rather than the Tiber, but I think in reality I was seeking a new authority—and there are plenty of institutions who are happy to provide that. Trusting an institution is easier; it means there is no burden on me to figure it all out.

But what am I looking for in such an authority? Something to appeal to in order to be right? Something that will make life simple again? A better fire insurance policy? A way to shirk responsibility and assuage guilt over ignoring vocational paths I’ve felt called to in the past (that offer far less safety)? Something else?

But the way, the truth, and the life in the Christian faith is a person, not a collection of texts (John 14:6). And this person is called the Word; He taught that the Scriptures point to Himself, and He invites me to come to Him to have lifenot to get answers.

“‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’” (John 5:39–40, ESV).

Instead of pursuing creation, I am invited to pursue the Creator. And my healing (or salvation) is bound up with that of my neighbor.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1524140 2020-03-26T21:48:15Z 2020-03-26T21:48:15Z No longer a space of common action but rather a space of mutual display

While fashion is a medium of expression for my individuality, it is also inescapably relational, almost parasitic: "The space of fashion is one in which we sustain a language together of signs and meanings, which is constantly changing, but which at any moment is the background needed to give our gestures the sense they have" .... This is no longer a space of common action but rather a space of mutual display—another way of "being-with" in which "a host of urban monads hover on the boundary between solipsism and communication" .... This breeds a new kind of self-consciousness: "My loud remarks and gestures are overtly addressed only to my immediate companions, my family group is sedately walking, engaged in our own Sunday outing, but all the time we are aware of this common space that we are building, in which the messages that cross take their meaning" .... In other words, we all behave now like thirteen-year-old girls.

It is these spaces of mutual display, Taylor argues, that are most prone to being colonized by consumer culture, so that "consumer culture, expressivism and spaces of mutual display connect in our world to produce their own kind of synergy" .... "The language of self-definition is defined in the spaces of mutual display, which have now gone meta-topical; they relate us to prestigious centres of style-creation, usually in rich and power nations and milieux. And this language is the object of constant attempted manipulation by large corporations" .... Indeed, this construction of a consumer identity—which has to feel like it's chosen (consider the illusion of noncomformity in the case of the suburban skater kid whose mom buys him the $150 board blazoned with "anarchy" symbols)—trumps other identities, especially collective identities like citizenship or religious affiliation. "One could argue that for many young people today, certain styles, which they enjoy and display in their more immediate circle, but which are defined through the media, in relation to admired stars—or even products—occupy a bigger place in their sense of self, and that this has tended to displace in importance the sense of belonging to large scale collective agencies, like nations, not to speak of churches, political parties, agencies of advocacy, and the like"....

James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 86–7. Smith is citing Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 2007).]]>
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tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1523248 2020-03-24T18:20:35Z 2020-03-26T21:32:46Z Utterly dissolved

Coming himself into our realm, and dwelling in a body like the others, every design of the enemy against human beings has henceforth ceased, and the corruption of death, which had prevailed formerly against them, perished. For the race of human beings would have been utterly dissolved had not the Master and Savior of all, the Son of God, come for the completion of death.

Truly this great work supremely befitted the goodness of God. For if a king constructed a house or a city, and it is attacked by bandits because of the carelessness of its inhabitants, he in no way abandons it, but avenges and saves it as his own work, having regard not for the carelessness of the inhabitants but for his own honor. All the more so, the God Word of the all-good Father did not neglect the race of human beings, created by himself, which was going to corruption, but he blotted out the death which had occurred through the offering of his own body, and correcting their carelessness by his own teaching, restoring every aspect of human beings by his own power.... For since through human beings death had seized human beings, for this reason, again, through the incarnation of the God Word there occurred the dissolution of death and the resurrection of life....

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Popular Patristics Series, no. 44a), trans. John Behr (New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2011), 69–72.

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tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1518488 2020-03-10T05:50:06Z 2020-03-10T21:59:34Z Approximating the will of God

... [M]an in his everyday life is confronted with an endless complexity of situations, and very often does not see what to do to comply with God’s will.

The man who has the love of God in his heart, prompted by this love, acts in accordance with dictates which approximate to the will of God. But they only approximate: they are not perfect. The unattainableness of perfection obliges us all continually to turn to God in prayer for understanding and help.

Not only perfect love but complete knowledge is out of our reach. An act performed, it would seem, with the very best intention often has undesirable and even evil consequences because the means employed were bad, or simply mistaken. People are often heard to justify themselves by saying that their intentions were good. But good intentions are not enough. Life abounds with mistakes of this kind. That is why the man who loves God never ceases to ask Him for understanding, and has a constant ear for the sound of His voice.

Archimandrite Sophrony, Tr. by Rosemary Edmonds. The monk of Mt. Athos: Staretz Silouan 1866-1938 (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989), 51-52.]]>
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tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1474363 2019-11-06T01:46:40Z 2019-11-06T01:48:03Z What convinces us our knowledge is so final?
If I called myself an atheist at twenty, and an agnostic at fifty and sixty, it isn’t because I’ve acquired more knowledge in the meantime: just more awareness of ignorance. How can we be sure that we know enough to know? As twenty-first century neo-Darwinian materialists, convinced that the meaning and mechanism of life have only been fully clear since the year 1859, we hold ourselves categorically wiser than those credulous knee-benders who, a speck of time away, believed in divine purpose, an ordered world, resurrection and a Last Judgment. But although we are more informed, we are no more evolved, and certainly no more intelligent than them. What convinces us our knowledge is so final?
Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened Of (London: Jonathan Cape, 2008), 23-24.]]>
Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1452483 2019-09-06T15:48:44Z 2019-09-06T15:50:46Z The forgotten frontier

For those of suburban Christian faith, developing the capacity for spiritual consciousness tends to be the forgotten frontier. At least that's true in the Protestant tradition in which I grew up and which I, for the most part, still inhabit. The kingdom of God belongs to the busy, to those who know how to work, to the spiritual entrepreneurs. The highest compliment to pay a young woman from the rural culture in which I was raised is: "She's a hard worker (and a good cook)." My suburban neighbors are a bit more sophisticated: "Mary is on the traveling soccer team and has the lead in the school play, and she has three hours of homework every night! Oh my God, can you believe it?"

Add to that the suburban environment of security, efficiency, and opportunities—and the overindulged self, which desperately needs all three—and spirituality morphs into activities: Bible studies, small group meetings, reading yet another best-selling book on the key to victorious Christian living, even serving at the local homeless shelter. It's the reverse, through, of what should happen. Such activities or practices should open our eyes to the larger world. Instead, they obscure it. I've always felt cheered by the comment a friend made about his prayer life: he said he didn't really like the actual act of praying much, though he loved the open space that praying created in his life for God to work.

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Pulitzer prize-winning writer Annie Dillard writes that "the mind's muddy river, this ceaseless flow of trivia and trash, cannot be dammed, and that trying to dam it is a waste of effort that might lead to madness." The muddy river of suburban life cannot be stopped. It simply is. The muddy river of illusion cannot be escaped, really. There's not much use in moralizing about it, mocking it, thumbing your nose at it, treating it with light disdain—or sacrificing your way out of it (I'll drop everything and become a missionary or move to a Wisconsin cabin to live the simple life)....

You can try to slow down your life, adjust your lifestyle downward, give more, pray more. Another study group, another stint on a church committee, another year as the nursery coordinator, another mission trip to a Third World country—all good things—but not necessarily superhighways to the deeper life....

For centuries, the classic spiritual disciplines and practices enlarged the capacity of ordinary people to engage the Sacred. Spiritual practices are not really a direct route to an awakened God-consciousness. Some days, they seem stupid, quite worthless, even just one of the many activities that keep me from God. Yet over time they awaken us to a brave new world that is, ultimately, more satisfying and true to who we are than is what we encounter without them....

... [But] [d]oesn't Jesus require something more radical? Doesn't Jesus demand immediate results, fresh sacrifice, more doing?....

But more what? More sacrifice? More church activities? ... The Protestant tradition loves the heroic call to sacrifice all for the kingdom of God. But the call to sacrifice often feeds, ultimately, mostly the ego.... The kingdom of God often appears plain, ordinary, small, in the moment.

David L. Goetz, Death by Suburb: How to Keep the Suburbs from Killing Your Soul (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2006), 14–17.]]>
Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451954 2019-09-05T00:41:48Z 2019-09-05T01:14:11Z The pursuit of happiness

Medieval people believed with great seriousness that final happiness lay on the other side of death. They did not expect it in its fullness on this earth. But the methods of modern science provide no grounds for belief that there is anything beyond death. Hence, the whole freight of human happiness has to be carried in the few short and uncertain years that are allowed to us before death ends it all. The quest for happiness becomes that much more hectic, more fraught with anxiety than it was to the people of the Middle Ages.

There is a further implication of the emergence of the concept of human rights.... [T]he concept would have been meaningless in an earlier age. "Rights" only exist where there is a legal and social structure that defines them. Anyone can, of course, assert a need or express a wish apart from such a legal or social structure. But a claim to a right must rest upon some juridical basis. Asserting a right where there is no such basis would be like writing a check on a nonexistent bank. Therefore, if the right of every person to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is asserted, one has to ask, "Who is under obligation to honor the claim?" In the Middle Ages the answer was found within the network of reciprocal rights and duties. The man farming the land had a duty to provide troops to fight his lord's battle and a corresponding right to his lord's protection. Duties and rights were reciprocal. One could not exist without the other, and all were finite. But the quest for happiness is infinite. Who, then, has the infinite duty to honor the infinite claims of every person to the pursuit of happiness? The answer of the eighteenth century, and of those who have followed, is familiar: it is the nation-state. The nation-state replaces the holy church and the holy empire as the centerpiece in the post-Enlightenment ordering of society. Upon it devolves the duty of providing the means for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And since the pursuit of happiness is endless, the demands upon the state are without limit. If—for modern Western peoples—nature has taken the place of God as the ultimate reality with which we have to deal, the nation-state has taken the place of God as the source to which we look for happiness, health, and welfare.

Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 26–7.

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tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451951 2019-09-05T00:13:48Z 2019-09-05T00:13:48Z Books are carefully folded forests
Books are carefully folded forests
void of autumn
bound from the
sun
Saul Williams, , said the shotgun to the head (New York: Pocket Books, 2003), 8.]]>
Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451665 2019-09-04T04:32:38Z 2019-09-04T04:33:26Z Only a prehistory
[In] natural science and technology, the history of their discoveries is not an essential part of themselves, but only a prehistory. Only the datum is significant, not how it came to be. In much the same way, the history of exegesis has degenerated for the [contemporary] exegetes into a prehistory with which their own efforts are not directly concerned.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), Part 1, Section 2 E, p. 133 (emphasis added), as cited in Mary S. Ford, The Soul's Longing: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Biblical Interpretation (Waymart, Pennsylvania: St. Tikhon's Monastery Press, 2015), 165.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451664 2019-05-19T17:00:00Z 2019-09-04T04:23:31Z Following instructions

My oldest daughter just turned four. In preparation for her birthday party, we instructed her that if someone gave her a gift containing something she already owns, she should simply say thank you (and not point out that she already owns it).

At the party, someone gave her a few books and she already had all but one of them. She began to speak but caught herself, then I could see the little gears in her head turning. She then said, “Mommy, I don’t have this one!”

She followed our instructions to the best of her ability, and it was hilarious.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451663 2019-05-03T17:00:00Z 2019-09-05T01:31:08Z We are living through a moment of extreme irrationality

“To some extent, of course, politics has always played out, even in the most enlightened times, through visuals and suggestions, through hints and insinuations, and has always gone to work on us at an affective level. But new tools for carrying this work out, tools that combine both creative imagination and technical expertise, have ceded an outsized responsibility for our political destiny to the technologically literate but argumentatively sub-literate, to the meme-makers, to online subcultural insiders. It should not be altogether surprising that these sectors of society were not necessarily prepared to wield their new, tremendous power in a responsible way.

“We are living through a moment of extreme irrationality, of fervency and ebullience, of destabilization and fear. An important part of the story of how we arrived here seems to be the collapse of traditional safeguards for the preservation of rational procedures and deliberation.... Again, there are many people who evidently welcome this turn. It is rather those who value caution and reserve who feel suddenly as if they belong to another era, and have woken up to find their concerns, their habits—in short, their world—simply gone. It is those who have a weakness for legitimation from a crumbling establishment, from what will soon be the ancien régime, who have the most to lose, those who seek to preserve the old way of doing things: maintaining subscriptions to print media, publishing books, getting humanities degrees, supporting mainstream candidates in mainstream political parties, listening to well-reasoned arguments. These are the people who likely feel the sharpest disappointment at the seizure of the internet by the forces of aggression and chaos, at a moment when we can still hear echoing, from the most recent past, the grandest claims about its power to serve us as an engine for the rational ordering of human life in society....

“... we have most recently discovered the irrationality at the heart of the algorithm, or at least the impossibility of applying algorithms to human life while avoiding their weaponization by the forces of irrationality.”

Justin E. H. Smith, Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason (Princeton University Press: 2019), 17-18.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451662 2018-06-11T17:00:00Z 2019-09-04T04:18:57Z Myths about capitalism Check out Dr. C. Clark Carlton's podcast entitled, "My Two Cents on Capitalism". Both the audio and a written transcript are available.]]> Dan tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451661 2018-06-10T17:00:00Z 2019-09-04T04:17:13Z Discerning the Messenger

Western thought frequently examines messages independently of their messengers (even insisting on the inherent value of such an "objective" approach). But in the spiritual life, discerning the identity of the Messenger is of utmost importance, regardless of any abstract merits of the message itself.

"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but not all things build up.1

I'm frequently guilty of this when interpreting Scripture. Having been trained in the methodology and tools of historical criticism, I turn to my own reason and the interpretations of the academic guild before seeking the voice of God and listening to the Church Fathers.

Humanity's interpretative choice

This is an ancient problem that precedes East and West. It goes back to the foundations of humanity:

And the Lord God commanded Adam, saying, "You shall eat for food of every tree that is in the orchard, but of the tree for knowing good and evil, of it you shall not eat; on the day that you eat of it, you shall die by death...."

And the snake said to the woman, "Why is it that God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree that is in the orchard'?" And the woman said to the snake, "We shall eat of the fruit of the tree of the orchard, but of the fruit that is in the middle of the orchard, God said, 'You shall not eat of it nor shall you even touch it, lest you die.'" And the snake said to the woman, "You will not die by death, for God knew that on the day you eat of it, your eyes would be opened, and you would be like gods knowing good and evil." And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasing for the eyes to look at and it was beautiful to contemplate, and when she had taken of its fruits she ate, and she also gave some to her husband with her, and they ate.2

Dr. Mary Ford offers a great perspective on Eve's decision:

In this account, Eve is faced with two interpretations of reality.... One interpretation of this fruit and why it was forbidden was given by God, Who created Eve and everything else, and another one was given by the serpent, a fellow creature....

Eve, we could say, at this point decides that all that matters is the "text" alone—the two interpretations or statements made—along with how things look on the surface to her own eyes, which is only the superficial, physical reality. Apparently she doesn't stop to consider who it is giving each interpretation, and what her relationship is with each interpreter. Like many modern-day commentators, she thinks that interpretation can be impersonal, "objective." "Don't ask God about this," the serpent implies; "He is not trustworthy. He doesn't really love you. He doesn't really want the best for you." Then he implies, "And don't ask Adam, either. Judge for yourself—you don't need others to help you discern the truth."

The fruit really is beautiful. It looks good to Eve, and what the serpent says seems reasonable to her "unaided reason," so she decides to accept the interpretation he offers, and to act on his statement—an action which the serpent implies she can make completely independently. However, Eve doesn't realize that in choosing the serpent's interpretation, and in acting with her supposed autonomy, she in fact chooses communion with the serpent over, and instead of, communion with God and her husband.3

Dr. Ford goes on to quote St. Gregory the Theologian:

...[T]he tree of knowledge was not planted originally with any evil intent, nor was it forbidden in a spirit of jealousy. Let not the enemies of God make any such suggestion or think to imitate the serpent. On the contrary, it was good if eaten at the right time; for as I understand it, the fruit was contemplation, which is only safely attempted by those who have attained a more perfect state. But it was not good for those at a lower stage of development, ... just as mature food is not profitable for those of tender years who still need milk.4

She then notes:

...[I]t was entirely right for Eve to want to be godlike—that was God's plan all along. What was wrong was wanting this apart from God, and on her own terms and timetable.5

Humanity chose the creation over the Creator, independently evaluating the interpretation of the snake without considering our relationship with the interpreters.

A short story

     Faysal had never experienced a vision from God, but he believed such things were possible. He found it perplexing that his friend Roya claimed to have had one. She seemed so confident the vision was from God, but Faysal wondered if she was mentally ill or otherwise being deceived. His pastor had never dealt with this before, but encouraged Faysal to practice discernment by comparing the message of the vision to the Bible. But the message seemed so personal and didn't really conflict with any Bible verses Faysal could find.
     He knew of an old hermit at a local monastery who daily sought God in prayer and decided to ask him for help the following morning. Perhaps he might have some guidance, Faysal hoped.
     The next morning, Faysal went to visit the hermit, and asked how he could discern whether his friend's vision was from God or not. He explained how he had looked up various Bible verses related to the message of the vision but wasn't sure if any of it applied. After patiently listening to Faysal's concerns, the hermit asked him, "Does Roya know God?"
     "Well sure, she's gone to church her whole life," Faysal replied.
     The hermit smiled and said, "It seems you've been focusing solely on the contents of the vision, rather than on the identity of the messenger. If the vision is from God, then there is no reason for concern."
     Faysal objected, "Well, surely some messages would clearly conflict with God's Word and be evidence of deception."
     The hermit paused for a moment. Then he asked, "Do you have any children, Faysal?"
     "Yes, a son," he answered.
     "If God spoke to you in a vision, and in that vision told you to murder your son, would you say that vision is not from God?"
     Faysal shot back, "Of course that vision wouldn't be from from God! It violates God's commandment not to murder!"
     "And yet," the hermit replied gently, "Abraham obeyed God's voice when given this very message as a test, and God blessed him because of his faith and obedience." He continued, "Wouldn't you agree that the messenger, and the recipient's relationship with him, is of utmost importance?"6

Footnotes

1 1 Corinthians 10:23.

2 Genesis 2:16–17; 3:1b–6, NETS (LXX).

3 Mary S. Ford, The Soul's Longing: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Biblical Interpretation (Waymart, Pennsylvania: St. Tikhon's Monastery Press, 2015), 50–51.

4 Oration 45:8 on Easter; excerpt given by Panayiotis Nellas, Deification in Christ: The Nature of the Human Person (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1987), 204; as quoted in Ford, 51.

5 Ford, 51.

6 This story was inspired by Ford, especially the above-quoted paragraphs and pp. 53–55. Full disclosure: I don't write fiction. I apologize for the wooden dialogue.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451660 2018-06-09T17:00:00Z 2020-03-25T12:04:23Z Irrational residue
For St. Basil, not the divine essence alone but also created essences could not be expressed in concepts. In contemplating any object we analyse its properties: it is this which enables us to form concepts. But this analysis can in no case exhaust the content of the object of perception. There will always remain an 'irrational residue' which escapes analysis and which cannot be expressed in concepts; it is the unknowable depth of things, that which constitutes their true, indefinable essence. In regard to the names which we apply to God, these reveal his energies which descend towards us yet do not draw us closer to his essence, which is inaccessible.

Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997), 33.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451659 2018-06-02T17:00:00Z 2019-09-04T04:10:56Z Hermeneutic of love

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for the building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception. For there is involved in deception the intention to say what is false; and we find plenty of people who intend to deceive, but nobody who wishes to be deceived....

Whoever takes another meaning out of Scripture than the writer intended, goes astray, but not through any falsehood in Scripture. Nevertheless, as I was going to say, if his mistaken interpretation tends to build up love, which is the end of the commandment, he goes astray in much the same way as a man who by mistake quits the high road, but yet reaches through the fields the same place to which the road leads. He is to be corrected, however, and to be shown how much better it is not to quit the straight road, lest, if he get into a habit of going astray, he may sometimes take cross roads, or even go in the wrong direction altogether.

For if he takes up rashly a meaning which the author whom he is reading did not intend, he often falls in with other statements which he cannot harmonize with this meaning. And if he admits that these statements are true and certain, then it follows that the meaning he had put upon the former passage cannot be the true one: and so it comes to pass, one can hardly tell how, that, out of love for his own opinion, he begins to feel more angry with Scripture than he is with himself. And if he should once permit that evil to creep in, it will utterly destroy him. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Now faith will totter if the authority of Scripture begin to shake. And then, if faith totter, love itself will grow cold. For if a man has fallen from faith, he must necessarily also fall from love; for he cannot love what he does not believe to exist. But if he both believes and loves, then through good works, and through diligent attention to the precepts of morality, he comes to hope also that he shall attain the object of his love. And so these are the three things to which all knowledge and all prophecy are subservient: faith, hope, love....

And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces. So that in their case, I think, the saying is already fulfilled: “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” Yet by means of these instruments (as they may be called), so great an edifice of faith and love has been built up in them, that, holding to what is perfect, they do not seek for what is only in part perfect—of course, I mean, so far as is possible in this life; for, in comparison with the future life, the life of no just and holy man is perfect here. Therefore the apostle says: “Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity:” because, when a man shall have reached the eternal world, while the other two graces will fail, love will remain greater and more assured.

Augustine of Hippo, "On Christian Doctrine," in St. Augustine’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), Book I, Chapters 36-9, pp. 533-4.

You can read this work beginning at Book I, chapter 36, for free on CCEL by clicking here.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451657 2018-03-31T17:00:00Z 2020-03-24T19:39:17Z Strong's Concordance is a great resource, but it's not a lexicon

Strong's Concordance is a helpful tool that lists every Hebrew and Greek lemma (root word) present in the King James Bible (and it has been edited to conform to other translations as well, albeit usually with the original numbering system). Along with listing these, the tool also generally gives a 'gloss' for each word (some tools actually link Strong's Concordance to lexicons such as Thayer's Greek-English lexicon). The tool is popular because it is free on many Bible-related websites. With that said, I'd like to give some advice (and caution) to anyone who relies on this tool for original languages research in the biblical texts.

Using a concordance as a lexicon is problematic

It's like trying to hammer a nail in using a screwdriver—it's simply the wrong tool for the job.

A lexicon gives an inventory of all of the lexemes in a given language; Strong's Concordance is based only on a specific English translation (the KJV). Lexicons also function as dictionaries in that they define lexemes from the original language using English words that best capture their meaning, explaining any relevant grammatical features that impact their translation.

While Strong's Concordance gives a gloss for each lemma, this is not the main purpose of this tool and as such should not be used as a lexicon nor as a dictionary (a collection of glosses is rightly called a 'glossary'). Here are a few reasons why it is problematic to use Strong's Concordance as a lexicon:

  • Lexical ambiguity: Consider the following sentence: "She is looking for a match." Is the subject trying to light a candle or find a romantic partner? The 'gloss' definition here is ambiguous and gives us no help disambiguating the meaning in this context. Grammatical features should also be examined, which Strong's Concordance offers no help with.1
  • Nuances of meaning: Sometimes there is more than one meaning listed for a term (this is often the case for prepositions, but there are also verbs that change meaning depending on their voice and other grammatical features). Strong's Concordance offers no help when determining which (if any) gloss is most appropriate in context. Often knowledge of the original languages is required to determine what grammatical and contextual features are present in order to determine the correct gloss (if any). Also, authors can use the same word differently in various contexts.

The meaning of a lexeme is that intended by the author using it. Strong's Concordance often sheds little light on what this meaning is in context. Therefore, providing the meaning of a specific word in a given context on the basis of the Strong's Concordance is not a reliable claim, nor is challenging an existing English translation solely on the basis of a gloss from Strong's Concordance.

Etymological fallacies

I often see folks try to determine the meaning of words in specific contexts using their root lemmata. The problem here is that etymology and the later meaning of a word are often orthogonal concepts. Here are some examples:

Etymology is not the primary tool for understanding the meaning of a word in a specific context, and it is often meaningless when making such a determination.

What if Strong's Concordance is linked to a lexicon?

Several free online tools have linked Strong's Concordance entries to lexicon entries. Unfortunately, most of them use either Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon or Smith's Bible Dictionary for definitions, both of which were published prior to 1895. These resources are now considered to be obsolete by scholars (and contain much inaccurate information):

"...in 1895, Adolf Deissmann published his Bibelstudien - an innocently titled work that was to revolutionize the study of the NT. In this work (later translated into English under the title Bible Studies) Deissmann showed that the Greek of the NT was not a language invented by the Holy Spirit (Hermann Cremer had called it "Holy Ghost Greek," largely because 10 percent of its vocabulary had no secular parallels). Rather, Deissmann demonstrated that the bulk of NT vocabulary was to be found in the papyri.

The pragmatic effect of Deissmann's work was to render obsolete virtually all lexica and lexical commentaries written before the turn of the century. (Thayer's lexicon, published in 1886, was outdated shortly after it came off the press - yet, ironically, it is still relied on today by many NT students.)"2

Smith's Bible Dictionary was last updated in 1893 and is therefore subject to the same limitations as Thayer's lexicon.

These are so popular because their copyright expired and so they are generally free to use, but unfortunately they are now largely obsolete.

How to properly use Strong's Concordance

Strong's Concordance can be used effectively as an index of the occurrences of a lemma in the original languages of the biblical texts (at least in those manuscripts used by the King James Bible, which is a limitation of this tool, although some later revisions of it have addressed this to some extent). It's a great tool for identifying other occurrences of a lemma by using it's number (as this does not require that you can actually read the alphabet of the original language). This makes an original languages concordance accessible to those who cannot read those languages.

The gloss definition given by the concordance (or even a definition given by an outdated lexicon) can be helpful here in giving a general understanding of the lemma's meaning, but this should not be used as the sole source to justify the meaning or definition of the word in a specific textual context. However, it can help you see how the word has been translated in its other occurrences, which can give you a broader understanding of its semantic range and how it is generally interpreted in similar contexts (using multiple English Bible translations will help catch differences and nuances of meaning, which can lead to good questions about the meaning of lemmata in specific contexts, where someone versed in the original language can assist you in better understanding the passage). Pay close attention to differences in grammar, author, audience, genre, and historical setting as these can all influence the meaning of a lemma in a specific context.

Concluding warnings and encouragement

Strong's Concordance is an index of occurrences of a lemma in the original language of the biblical texts, it is not a lexicon/dictionary (and thus is not a reliable source for the meaning of a lexeme in a specific context). However, this tool is a great resource for those who wish to better understand how a lemma has been understood by English Bible translators in its other occurrences, and biblical study conducted using Strong's Concordance can provide the impetus for many good questions about the biblical texts where someone trained in the original language(s) can assist you further with understanding the meaning of a lexeme in a specific text of interest (perhaps your interest in these questions will even drive you to study the original languages for yourself!).


Notes

This article has been adapted from one of my posts on the Biblical Hermeneutics Meta Stack Exchange site. Stack Exchange user contributions are licensed under cc by-sa 3.0 with attribution required.This article was heavily influenced by a series of blog posts that address this superbly on the Armchair Theology site.

Footnotes

1 I took a course on the Bible during my undergraduate program where a classmate argued that the woman in Luke 8:43-44 had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) on the basis of the King James Version translation and corresponding Strong's Concordance gloss. The relevant text in the KJV translation reads, "And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years ... Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched." She understood 'issue' to refer to a 'problem in' the woman's blood, rather than as (the correct understanding of the Greek text which is) 'the flowing or coming out' of blood from the woman's body, i.e. hemorrhaging (likely a medical condition related to menstruation).

2 Daniel B. Wallace. The Basics of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar. Zondervan, 2000, p. 21.

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Dan
tag:qohelet.io,2013:Post/1451656 2018-03-29T19:00:00Z 2019-09-04T04:04:16Z Tradition vs. Traditionalism
Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.

Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 65.

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