Friday, November 27, 2009

Perseverance of the Saints: Part 1

In the course of research completely unrelated to this entry, I used e-Sword to search the Bible for the word "root".

First item on the list was Deuteronomy 29:18:

Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood;

I immediately remembered that Hebrews 12:15 is similarly phrased:

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

But they are not phrased exactly the same — not in English, at least. To determine whether the author of Hebrews was, in fact, quoting Deut. 29:18, I took a look at the Greek behind both verses1.

Here is the Greek for the verse in Deuteronomy:

μή τίς ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν ἀνὴρ ἢ γυνὴ ἢ πατριὰ ἢ φυλή, τίνος ἡ διάνοια ἐξέκλινεν ἀπὸ κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ ὑμῶν πορεύεσθαι λατρεύειν τοῖς θεοῖς τῶν ἐθνῶν ἐκείνων; μή τίς ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν ῥίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ;

Here is the Greek for the verse in Hebrews:

ἐπισκοποῦντες μή τις ὑστερῶν ἀπὸ τῆς χάριτος τοῦ Θεοῦ, μή τις ῥίζα πικρίας ἄνω φύουσα ἐνοχλῇ καὶ διὰ ταύτης μιανθῶσι πολλοί,

In case you didn't catch it, take a look at the similar phrases in parallel:

μή τίς ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν ῥίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ;

μή τις ῥίζα πικρίας ἄνω φύουσα ἐνοχλῇ

Now, if we remove the phrase "ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν" ("should be among you") for reasons we'll get to a little further down, we see:

μή τίς ῥίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ;

μή τις ῥίζα πικρίας ἄνω φύουσα ἐνοχλῇ

I think by this point we can say with confidence that the author of Hebrews was in fact quoting Deuteronomy. But it's not an exact quote. Why? How is it changed, and is that significant?

Before we continue, we need to pull our train of thought into the station and pick up a few Greek passengers who will help us with the basic Greek vocabulary involved with these verses.

ἐν "en" (prep.)


καὶ "kay" (conj.)


ἄνω "anoe" (adj.)


ῥίζα "hridza" (n.)


πικρίᾳ "pikria" (n.)


πικρίας "pikrias" (adj.)


χολῇ "kholee" (n.)


ἐνοχλῇ "enokhlee" (v.)


Ok, now that they are on board, we also need to do some maintenance on the engine, with the following note:

The English translators of Heb. 12:15 rendered "ῥίζα πικρίας" as "root of bitterness"; but it literally reads "root bitter", or, compensating for Greek word order: "bitter root". This doesn't change the meaning at all; but we do need to note the change from Deuteronomy 29:18 LXX, which literally reads, "root springing up in...bitterness", to Hebrews 12:15, which literally reads, "bitter root springing up".

Ok, now we can fire up the boilers and get this train headed back out on the tracks.

Why did the author of Hebrews make this change?4 I'll give you the answer up front: So that he could make a clever play on words with the phrase "ἐν χολῇ" in the original. Specifically, he has conflated "ἐν χολῇ" into one word and flipped "χ" (one letter), and "ο", producing "ἐνοχλῇ", which literally means "to crowd in". (He dropped the "καὶ", because it was no longer needed, "πικρία" having been moved to earlier in the sentence.) So he has changed "in gall and" to "crowd [you] in."

(Incidentally, this is now the verb of the sentence, which is why "ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν" was removed. (See, I told you we'd get to it. :) But I digress...)

So what does all this have to do with anything? What does it mean? What is he trying to teach with this obviously intentional change?

We'll get to that in part two. :)

In the mean while, I've changed my blog settings so that I don't have to preview the comments before they show up, so feel free to comment. (I will delete any comments that I do not deem apropos, such as profane or advertising comments.)

1"But the OT was written in Hebrew!" Yes, and it was translated into Greek in the form of the Septuagint, or the "LXX". The Greek LXX was the version most often quoted by Jesus and the Apostles. (I need to do some more research before I can confidently write "exclusively quoted".)

Also, the versification is slightly different in the LXX, so Deuteronomy 29:18 KJV is actually verse 17 in the LXX. For consistency, I will refer to it as verse 18 throughout this post.

2"χολῇ" in Deut. 29:18 is the translation of the Hebrew ראשׁ ("rosh"), which refers to poison.

3Third person present active singular of the infinitive "ἐνοχλέω": "to crowd in, to annoy, to trouble." This is just "ἐν ὀχλέω", but as one word. We have already seen that "ἐν" means "in", and "ὀχλέω" means "to mob", or "to crowd", from the noun "ὄχλος", which is "a crowd, multitude, the common people".

4Some might say that this was unintentional — i.e. a copyist's error. However, I would contend that it was intentional, based on the fact that, in order to make grammatical room for the change, the writer 1) altered the word order and part of speech for "πικρίας", appropriately dropping a related conjunction in consequence, and 2) removed an entire phrase, changing the verb of the sentence. If this were merely a copyist's error, such precise changes would not have been made to adjust for the grammatical difference made by the so-called "error".

Friday, November 20, 2009

Something we forget sometimes...

This article from Parchment and Pen is really good.

I particularly like the quote at the end, from Thomas Oden:

Because of piety’s penchant for taking itself too seriously, theology–more than literary, humanistic, and scientific studies–does well to nurture a modest, unguarded sense of comedy. Some comic sensibility is required to keep in due proportion the pompous pretensions of the study of divinity. I invite the kind of laughter that wells up not from cynicism about reflection on God but from the ironic contradictions accompanying such reflections. Theology is intrinsically funny. This comes from glimpsing the incongruity of humans thinking about God. I have often laughed at myself as these sentences went through their tortuous stages of formation. I invite you to look for the comic dimension of divinity that stalks every page. It is not blasphemy to grasp the human contradiction for what it is. The most enjoyable of all subjects has to be God, because God is the source of all joy.

That's good stuff. :)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Great Thought....not original to me, of course. :)

Found this on another blog today:

"A certain merchant in Caesarea sent his servant to the market to buy some provisions. Before very long, the servant returned looking frightened and pale. His master inquired of him the reason for his trembling.

In a trembling voice he said, 'While in the market place I was jostled by a man in the crowd, and when I turned around I saw it was the Angel of Death. He looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Master, please lend me your horse, for I must go to Samaria, where the Angel of Death will not find me!'

The merchant agreed, and the servant mounted the horse and galloped away in great haste. Later that day, the merchant went down to the marketplace, and saw the Angel of Death standing in the crowd. He approached him and said, 'Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?'

'That was not a threatening gesture,' said the Angel. 'It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Caesarea, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samaria.'"

Monday, November 2, 2009

Great Illustration...

A sick man turned to his doctor, as he was leaving the room after paying a visit, and said, "Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side."

Very quietly the doctor said, "I don't know."
"You don't know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?"

The doctor was holding the handle of the door, on the other side of which came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.

Turning to the patient, the doctor said, "Did you notice my dog? He's never been in this room before. He didn't know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing: I know my Master is there, and that is enough. And when the door opens, I shall pass through with no fear, but with gladness."