Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

". . . in ways wonderful to behold."

I have been reading a book that originated as a set of lectures by A. T. Robertson, delivered at Princeton Seminary nearly a 100 year ago.  The Pharisees and Jesus is a worthwhile read--so far anyhow.  Over the course of my ministry I have read a good bit about the Pharisees.  I am always amazed at their hermeneutic and ethical gymnastics.  Robertson made me aware of one routine I hadn't seen before (or had forgotten) Is it acceptable to eat an egg that a hen laid on the Sabbath?  One doesn't have to go farther than the New Testament to observe the contortions Robertson speaks of:  "They either read all the oral law into the written law (eisegesis) or twisted it out of the written law (exegesis) in ways wonderful to behold."* (emphasis added)  Just look at Matthew 23 and Mark 7:9-13 for some examples.
Another good read on Pharisaism is Extreme Righteousness, by Tim Hovestol.  He points out that 21st Century (Well it was still the 20th when he wrote.) Conservative Christians bear a closer resemblance to the Pharisees than they (we) may care to admit.  This premise has been born out in my reading of Robertson, thus far.
One of the similarities of 1st Century Palestinian Pharisees and 21st Century American Evangelicals is our faulty hermeneutics (principles of interpreting scripture).  I hope to explore this concept over the next few posts.  I would welcome your input.

At this point indulge me, and perhaps be amused, while I use humor to make a point.  There are several versions of this joke.  If your version is better, please share it.  A Fortune 500 executive had an important decision to make.  He needed some data.  He called in his lawyer, the head of public relations, an accountant, and an economist.  After explaining the gravity of his situation he told them he needed their best answer to a question.  Each of them were to report separately on, "How much is 2 + 2?"
The accountant was sure that he knew the answer, but had been recently accused of bean-counting and not understanding the nuances and complexities of business, so doubt began to creep into his mind.  He spent a sleepless night wrestling with formulas, and running calculations on several different computers.  The next morning the strain was evident on his face when he fearfully reported, "Four."

The PR guy and the economist likewise stayed up all night plying their trade.  The PR specialist shared various surveys.  "If women spend $2.00 for one item, and $2.00 for another, they consistently report the sum to their husbands as "about $3.00."  On the other hand surveys show that when a fisherman catches two fish each weighing two pounds he reports the total to his fishing buddies as "about five pounds."  With a possibility of error of +or- 3 my research indicates 4."  
Fine the exec said and dismissing him, called in the economist, who after displaying an office full of charts declared that he was comfortable with a range of three to five with things in (insert state of choice) trending toward six."
Giving him time to gather his stuff the decision-maker thanked his employee and sent for his lawyer.  He had stopped off on his way home the evening before for a few games of tennis, after a sumptuous meal he had enjoyed time with his family, and slept soundly.  Tanned and fit he strode into the room, pulled down the window shade, and made sure the door was locked.  Satisfying himself that no one was listening he leaned across the bosses desk and in a low whisper asked, "How much do you want it to be?"

Too often that is the approach that we take in our interpretation of scripture.  We already have a conclusion then we go to the Bible to justify it.  Here are some ways that I have seen this happen:

  • The "Which Translation?" question:
    Those of us who are English speakers are blessed with a number of good translations of the Bible.  Generally they say the same thing--perhaps one doing a better job of it than another.  Sometimes though they don't.  I ran into this with the text I was dealing with last Sunday.  In Luke 18:11 some translations indicated that the Pharisee prayed to himself.  Others have him standing by himself praying.  I'll let those more capable than me weigh in on the Greek grammar, etc.  The fact of the matter is, I want the passage to say he prayed to himself, because that translation fits my sermon better.  I came to the conclusion that that is the best translation, for reasons that, no doubt, some of you would regard as inadequate, but the fact of the matter is that I need to restrain the "What do I want it say?" question, (I hope I did.) and work hard (2 Timothy 2:15) to answer the only question that really matters--"What does the text say?"
    Here is a yellow flag for laypersons.  If a book, sermon, or study sheet, quotes from a number of Bible translations, it is fair to ask, "Is the author picking translations that agree with him, or is he using the translation that best captures the sense of the original?"
    Sometimes "things wonderful to behold" take place in this regard.
  • The "How Do I Want It To Turn Out?" question:
    Stay tuned.

No comments: