John T. Willis

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Worshipper Petitions Yahweh to Deliver Him for His Enemies--Psalm 17

Many prayers in the Psalter deal with enemies. Often it is impossible to know who these enemies are. As we turn to Psalm 17, it is apparent that the enemies are personal enemies, probably in Israel. The superscription is very short: "A Prayer of David." This superscription identifies this psalm as a "prayer." There are different types of prayer. But Psalm 17 is clearly a petition. Whether David is the real author of this psalm is unknown, because many superscriptions over Psalms are later additions. No one really knows or not. Psalm 17 falls naturally into two parts.

I. The Psalmist declares that He has striven to be faithful to Yahweh. Psalm 17:1-7.
    a. The psalmist immediately petitions Yahweh to HEAR a just cause in behalf of the psalmist and against his enemies. He uses three verbs of petition: "Hear," "Attend to," and "Give ear." The psalmist states emphatically that he has not used deceit in speaking to Yahweh or others. 17:1.
    b. The poet continues to petition Yahweh to vindicate him and see the right. The poet is certain that his view is correct, and his enemies are incorrect and wicked. 17:2.
    c. The composer implores Yahweh to "try" his heart and "test" him. Then, Yahweh will know that He will find no wickedness in the psalmist and his mouth does not transgress. The verbs "try" and "test" occur often in the Bible. They are based on the practice or trying or testing precious metals like gold, silver, and copper. Refiners put these metals taken from the ground in a hot furnace to separate the pure metal from the alloys (see Jeremiah 6:27-30 for this process). Yahweh tests or tries the heart and life and human beings to purify their hearts and lives. 17:3.
    d. The psalmist continues that he has avoided the ways of his enemies, the "violent," and held his steps fast to Yahweh's paths so that his feet have not slipped. Life is a journey. We are all on a path or a way. We must devote our feet to God's path. 17:4-5.
    e. Finally, the poet beseeches Yahweh to "answer" his prayer, "incline his ear" to the psalmist's words, and thus to show his steadfast love. He declares that Yahweh is the savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries. 17:6-7.

II. The Psalmist describes the Sinful Ways of His Enemies. Psalm 17:8-15.
     a. The psalmist begins by imploring Yahweh to "guard" him as the apple of the eye, to "hide" him in the shadow of his wings from the wicked who despoil him and surround him as deadly enemies. Here there are two important metaphors. The apple of the eye is the retina, the most important part of the eye. At all cost, the psalmist wants him to protect him as one would protect the retina of the eye. The psalmist imagines Yahweh as a bird: an eagle, a hen, a vulture, etc. The mother bird protects her chicks, and the psalmist beseeches Yahweh to protect him in a similar way. 17:8-9.
     b. The poet asserts that his enemies are relentless. They close their hearts to pity. Wicked actions come from a wicked heart. His enemies speak arrogantly. They pursue the psalmist to destroy him. They surround him. They set their eyes to cast him to the ground. They like a lion and a young lion to tear lurking in ambush. The psalmist is well aware of the nature of his enemies, their power, and their determination to destroy him if at all possible. 17:10-12.
     c. Since his enemies are more powerful and far outnumbers the psalmist, the poet implores Yahweh to "Rise up," that is, swing into action. (The same term appears in Psalm 10:12 and often in the Psalter). He implores Yahweh to overthrow his enemies and deliver the psalmist from the wicked. The poet recognizes that he is but a mortal, and thus desperately needs Yahweh's intervention and help. 17:13-14a.
     d. Finally, the composer beseeches Yahweh to fill the bellies of his enemies what Yahweh has stored up for them and their children will have more than enough. It is not clear WHAT these disasters might be. The psalmist is leaving this totally to Yahweh. At any rate, the psalmist is certain that he will behold Yahweh's face in righteousness and be satisfied, beholding Yahweh's likeness. 17:14b-15.

Share YOUR ideas and questions and beliefs and experiences and shortcomings with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, August 08, 2014

English Versions of the Bible

When I first began teaching at David Lipscomb College in 1956, the only English Versions available were the King James Version published in 1611 and the American Version published in 1901. The Revised Standard Version [RSV] was published in 1946-1952. Since then, numerous versions have been produced.

People in Churches of Christ are always VERY FEARFUL of changes. There was a period of time: in the 1950s-1970s, many people declared that THE ONLY RELIABLE English Translation of the Bible is the King James Version. All other versions are condemned and should be avoided at all cost. Obviously, those who took [take] this view know nothing at all about Hebrew and Greek, the REAL EVIDENCE of the ancient manuscripts and versions, and the history of the English [and other] language[s].

If one REALLY wants to learn about the history of all this, MANY good books and articles are available in English. Only two examples are:

Donald L. Brake, Sr., "Versions, English," The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 5, Nashville: Abingdon, 2009, pages 740-760. This contains excellent charts and explanations. This is easy reading, and very well informed.

Jack P. Lewis and Ernest S. Frerichs, "Versions, English," The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 6, New York: Doubleday, 1992, pages 816-838. This is easy reading, and very well informed.

The very best translation of the entire Bible in English now is The New Revised Standard Version [NRSV]. Other versions like the NIV are okay, but do not measure up to the accuracy of the NRSV. I personally like and use The Message, but I would NEVER defend a point on biblical truth. The Message is not intended to be a scholarly translation of the Bible.

A very few scholars have spent their lives in learning and understanding the ancient versions of the Bible, and to help us understand the Bible in English today. We are deeply indebted to these people for their devotion and commitment.

It is embarrassing when any church takes a position about the Bible without any foundation whatever. No one is in a position of criticizing modern English Versions like the RSV and the NRSV without knowing Hebrew and Greek over several decades. We need to REPENT about our fears, and to respect the hard work of those who were and are responsible for producing the Bible through the centuries.

One note is important. The English language, like all languages, constantly evolves. No one can doubt or prevent his reality. As the English language changes, it is inevitable that new English Versions of the Bible must be produced to be current about the message of God in the Bible.

Share YOUR fears and questions and shortcomings and successes and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Yahweh's Pleasures--Psalm 16

There are many kinds of pleasures available to human beings in life. One well-known is worldly pleasures. In the Parable of the Sower [or Soils], Jesus said that "as for what [seeds] fell fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature" (Luke 8:14). James 4:1-3 says: "Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from YOUR CRAVINGS that are at war within you? You WANT something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you COVET something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on YOUR PLEASURES."

Fortunately, there are pure PLEASURES available from God. The composer of Psalm 16 emphasizes this truth. The Superscription says simply: "A Miktam of David." No one knows for certain what "miktam" means. Check the commentaries for various views. Psalm 16 naturally falls into three brief paragraphs.

I. The Psalmist delights in Yahweh and True Holy People. Psalm 16:1-4.
   a. The poet begins with the prayer, Protect me, O God, for in YOU I take refuge. All human beings are vulnerable. We are all very frail and fragile. We desperately needs God's constant protection. The term "refuge" as a metaphor for Yahweh occurs often in the Psalms. Psalm 46:1, 7, 11 provides this theme in Psalm 46. 16:1.
   b. The poet declares that apart from Yahweh he has no good. True worshippers depend totally on God, not on themselves or anyone else. 16:2.
   c. The poet "delights" in holy ones in the land. But people who choose another god rather than Yahweh multiply their sorrows. Thus, the psalmist refuses to participate in their ungodly practices. 16:3-4.

II. The Psalmist praises Yahweh as his Counselor and Teacher. Psalm 16:5-8.
     a. Yahweh is the psalmist's chosen portion and cup, and holds his lot. The psalmist does not depend on things or possessions, but only on Yahweh. 16:5.
     b. The psalmist declares that Yahweh has put him in a good place. He is satisfied with Yahweh's presence as he works on planet earth. He says his "boundary lines" have fall in "PLEASANT PLACES." 16:6.
     c. The psalmist praises Yahweh because Yahweh gives him "counsel;" Yahweh "instructs" him in the night. Yahweh's counsel and instruction may come from the Law of Moses and from other sources not stated or known. 16:7.
    d. The psalmist keeps Yahweh first in his life at all times, and therefore he will not be moved. 16:8.

III. The Psalmist rejoices in Yahweh's Presence. Psalm 16:9-11.
      a. The psalmist's "heart" and "soul" and "body" rejoice. It would be a huge mistake to try to distinguish between the heart, the soul, and the body. Instead, these are common terms in the Bible, Old and New Testament, for the entire person. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 is an excellent example of this. 16:9.
     b. The psalmist rejoices because Yahweh does not give him up to Sheol or the Pit, symbols for death. Of course, all of us will die physically, but Yahweh sustains us into eternity. 16:10.
     c. Yahweh shows the psalmist the path of life=the way to live; in Yahweh's presence there is fullness of joy; in Yahweh's right hand are PLEASURES forevermore. 16:11.

Share YOUR prayers and doubts and reversals and successes and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Thou or You?

Let me remind the readers that I am reporting my own experiences about religious matters in Churches of Christ for over 65 years. Undoubtedly, many other events occurred during that same time in other parts of the world. So I would encourage anyone to go far and wide to find as much information as possible.

As a teacher at David Lipscomb College in 1956-1971, one issue that emerged is that a writer in the Gospel Advocate in Nashville, Tennessee argued that when we pray in church, we must use "thou" and "thee" when we address God in all of our public prayers. He made this a doctrinal issue which everyone must follow if that person is to be a true Christian. This is obviously a misinformed view. I sent an article to the editor of the Gospel Advocate to explain that it is fine to address God as "you" and "your" in prayer. The editor never responded, but sent my article to the first writer, and the first writer published a second article refuting my article which no one ever read. I learned an important lesson in that situation. Church is dripping with CHURCH POLITICS. We CLAIM that we are open to listen to all views and to weigh all arguments. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!! Those who have money and power often control positions in Churches of Christ, just as in all churches. During that same time period, the Firm Foundation, at that time edited by Reuel Lemmons, allowed Jack Lewis at Memphis, Tennessee publish an article to present this issue in an informed manner. The view of the man who wrote the two articles in the Gospel Advocate is laughable and deeply embarrassing to the church and to anyone else who knows the English language, to say nothing of those who know Hebrew and Greek.

The truth about all this is: THE SECOND PERSON PRONOUN, ADJECTIVE, and IMPERATIVE is problematic to English speaking people BECAUSE it can be singular or plural, depending on the verse under consideration. Here we will briefly give examples of each.

1. The Second Person Pronoun.
     a. The second pronoun is "you." In the evolution of the English language, when the King James Version was published in 1611, people made a clear distinction between the singular and the plural. "T" stood for the singular, while "Y" stood for the plural. That is, "thou, thine, and thee" are singular, and "you, your, and yours" are plural. Thus, "thou" is NOT a holy term for God, but simply refers to the singular. As a clear example, in Matthew 16:23, Jesus said to Peter according to the King James Version, "Get THEE behind me, Satan!" When Jesus addresses Satan as "thee," is Jesus honoring him or exalting him or worshipping him? I hope not. Satan is one personality, and thus one MUST use the second person singular to address him.
      b.  The correct interpretation of many texts is dependent on "you" whether it is singular or plural. Here is only one example. Luke 22:31-32 says:
           verse 31: Simon, Simon, behold the Satan demanded to sift YOU like wheat. The KJV has "YOU" correctly, meaning "all you disciples of Jesus." However, many people, naively unaware that "YOU" is plural here, assume that "YOU" here means Peter. That is totally incorrect. During the trial of Jesus, ALL his disciples forsook him. Peter denied Jesus three times, but even then, Peter was closer to Jesus than any of the other Twelve. The NRSV makes this clear by translating: "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift ALL OF YOU like wheat." BUT "ALL OF" is NOT in the Greek. "ALL OF" is unnecessary UNLESS people do not know the difference between the singular and the plural.
           verse 32: But I have prayed for YOU that YOUR faith may not fail; and YOU, when once YOU have turned back, strengthen YOUR brothers." Throughout verse 32, "YOU" and "YOUR" is singular, referring to Peter. Jesus knew that Peter was the strongest of the weak, and thus Peter will repent, and then Peter is responsible to encourage his spiritual brothers to repent and turn back to Jesus. The KJV uses "thy" and "thee" throughout verse 32 because in ancient English, "thy" and "thee" is singular.
   2. The Adjective.
        a. An adjective specifies or describes a noun. A person can be a GOOD person or a BAD person. "Good" and "Bad" are adjectives of "Person" in this context. But there is a problem when the adjective does not have the accompanying noun. One MUST learn whether the adjective is singular or plural.
        b. A good example of the importance of this is in Hebrews 12:23. This verse says: "You [plural] have come to Mount Zion . . . , to the assembly [church] [here the Greek word is ekklesia] of the firstborn [Greek--prototokon] who are enrolled in heaven . . ." Anyone who knows Greek sees immediately that "firstborn" is PLURAL, NOT SINGULAR. I have heard sermons and seen articles arguing that Hebrews 12:23 is a clear example of the true name of God's people, "Church of the Firstborn," and the "Firstborn" is Jesus. How wrong that can be. This text refers to the church or assembly of "firstborn people," that is, all Christians, all true followers of Jesus.

    3. The Imperative.
        a. The second imperative can be very tricky for English hearers. If a teacher says to the class: "GO" to the restaurant, NO ONE knows whether the teach is thinking of the whole class or one designated person in the class or two or three students that teacher has just named. "GO" is an imperative and can be singular or plural, depending on whether this is singular or plural.
        b. A good example of the importance of this is in Matthew 5:14. Jesus says to his followers: "YOU ARE [Greek humeis este] the light of the world." YOU here is PLURAL, NOT SINGULAR. Yes, like you, I love the little song, "This little light of mine, I want to make it shine." But that is NOT what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about ALL OF GOD'S PEOPLE IN UNITY--as a GROUP OF PEOPLE. All of YOU are the light of the world. When we are not united under God through Jesus Christ, we are NOT the light that Jesus envisions.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Let us all be much more careful about what the Bible actually SAYS, NOT what we assume. Take the time to find out what a text really means.

Share YOUR insights and experiences and works and losses and reversals with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis