Exegetical Etymology

I’ve been reading with great profit James Barr’s The Semantics of Biblical Language. He uncovers so much bad exegesis that it’s safe to say that the landscape of preaching would look very different if his work was read in all seminaries.

He also takes on the contrast between Hebrew and Greek thought, at least the origin of the differences as they are commonly explained.

Or, to put it another way, the fact that Hebrew words are derived from different origins, have a different past history behind them, from the Greek words, demonstrates a different mental approach to reality. That this argument is in general a dubious one is clear when we take seriously the historical nature of etymological study. But in particular it is not the case that the past semantic changes which can be traced for Hebrew words are in any overwhelming number without analogy in the Indo-European or other groups, and a fairly large number of cases can be shown where  Hebrew semantic development has been fairly closely parallel to cases in Greek and Latin or other Indo-European languages. (p. 118)

This is not to say there aren’t differences between Greek and Hebrew cultures and ideas. Afterall, Zeus is not Yahweh, and it’s true that Plato describes the body as prison while the Song of Solomon pictures it as a marital fun-house. But this can’t be determined by circuitous etymologies that the original writers would not and could not have known about.

Addressing Adultolescence

Social scientists have noticed that more young adults (those between eighteen and thirty years old) are putting off the responsibilities of adulthood. Adultolescence is the term that best describes this postponement of adulthood into the thirties. This phase is characterized by identity exploration, instability, focus on self, feeling in limbo, and a sense of limitless possibilities. These characteristics are accompanied by transience, confusion, anxiety, obsession with self, melodrama, conflict and disappointment. Others have called this the “Peter Pan Syndrome” because these kids just don’t want to grow up. The percentage of American children, or “kidults,” in their mid-twenties living with their parents has nearly doubled since 1970. Some never leave.  . . . One survey reports that only 16% of mothers and 19% of fathers say their children (ages eighteen to twenty-five) have reached adulthood. Even more alarming is that their kids don’t dispute it: only 16% consider themselves to be adults.  (You Never Stop Being a Parent, Newheiser & Fitzpatrick, pp. 46-47)

More and more parents are dealing with adultolescent children who eschew responsibility. Some would protest that the economy isn’t helping, but the issue isn’t circumstantial but attitudinal. Parents love to help children who are wise, hard-working, and responsibility-assuming. When theses qualities are absent, unwise assistance can easily exacerbate the problem; it might have created it in the first place.

So how do you handle your son or daughter who refuses to grow up? Newheiser and Fitzpatrick have written a helpful book where they lay out criteria for young adult children living in the home, whether those children are faithful to Christ or wayward:

1. Expect them to be productive.

2. Expect them to be financially responsible.

3. Establish reasonable moral standards (prohibiting drunkenness, substance abuse and sexual immorality whether in or outside of the house).

These standards foster good relationships when parents bestow honor, respect and refuse to micromanage their (adult) children. This means some sort of accountability system will have to be established and the burden for keeping it ought to fall on the child since they’re enjoying the free or cheap rent. Once agreements and methods are in place, it is essential for Christian parents to follow through:

Most parents with wayward adult kids have made many threats, but few have carried them out. They have backed away from ultimatums, allowing the pattern to continue and their kids to never reach adulthood. . . . An adult child who will not live by our rules cannot be allowed to stay in our home. Sometimes your child will try to make you feel like the bad guy for forcing him to leave. Or she may protest that she doesn’t feel like being treated as a child. You should make it clear that every adult has choices to make. As the parent you have the right to set standards for your own home. Your child has a choice of whether or not to stay. (pp. 80-81)

The Missional Hail Mary

Being “missional” is all the rage these days. Are you missional? Is your worship missional? Do you sing missional songs? All words are prey to sloganeering, and it appears that this one is in a bear trap. The more places I see it, the more it’s becoming obvious that those promoting it are the least missionally minded–that is, willing to confront unbelief with the Gospel of God’s grace.

My most recent encounter occurred at a “Reformed” church where the pastor talked (I can’t say preached) about his pet gerbil and lessons he learned about God from his weightlifting. In doing so, he robbed me of hyperbole. I just can’t top it. It’s funnier now. At the time I whispered to my wife that we need to come up with a point at which we leave the service. When does blasphemy lite become too much? Continue reading

Thimble to Bathtub

In June’s Wired, Nicholas Carr writes about the effect the internet has on our minds. It’s an “interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it.” I would comment further, but I need to flit to another web page.

The depth of our intelligence hinges on our ability to transfer information from working memory, the scratch pad of consciousness, to long-term memory, the mind’s filing system. When facts and experiences enter our long-term memory, we are able to weave them into the complex ideas that give richness to our thought. But the passage from working memory to long-term memory also forms a bottleneck in our brain. Whereas long-term memory has an almost unlimited capacity, working memory can hold only a relatively small amount of information at a time. And that short-term storage is fragile: A break in our attention can sweep its contents from our mind.

Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in moving information from working memory into long-term memory. When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by varying the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer much of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of knowledge and wisdom.

On the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from tap to tap. We transfer only a small jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream.

Pornographic Impotence

G. K. Chesterton once said that free love was the first and most obvious bribe of a slave master. It turns out that pornography is exactly this–the shackler of real sex. Naomi Wolf writes that porn does “not [make] men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.” Wolf’s entire article is worth reading.

It’s true that porn does sometimes lead men down a path to greater and grosser sexual perversions. Ted Bundy talked about the shaping influence it had on him from an early age. But mostly what we ought to think of when we see pornography is impotence, and this should be a protection to men who are tempted by it.

Supreme Injustice

Elena Kagan not only supported partial birth abortion, also known as killing-a-baby-as-he-or-she-being-born, she did it outright dishonestly. But who would doubt lying when murder is openly embraced? From Worldmagblog:

When Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was a domestic policy adviser at the Clinton White House, she wrote a memo in the midst of the debate over Congress issuing a ban on partial-birth abortion. Her 1996 memo cites a statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a medical group that eventually opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion, which reads: Continue reading

Open it up

The book of Ecclesiastes is an enormous freight train driving toward a glad station: “Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved your works” (9:7). How contrary this is to the beret-clad, cigarette-flared brooder who takes it all for meaninglessness!

Young men, in their insecurity, are prone to doubt and question, and thus waste their years of strength. So Solomon drives it home for them in particular: “Rejoice, O Young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheers you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (11:9).

What am I supposed to be doing? Rejoicing. Having fun. Doing what your heart desires. How? Remembering that God is everywhere and will judge. If your heart is clean and your eyes are filled with light, your desires are trustworthy to bring true delight without destruction. What gets in the way of this? Over-thinking: “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (12:11-12). Continue reading


Leon Kass on the scrounger:

A buffoon in classical Greece is a bomolochos, from bomos, “altar,” and lochos, “one who lies in wait.” The bomolochos was, in its original meaning , a fellow who lurks about the altar, the place of sacrifices to the gods, looking for the scraps of food one can get there–that is, a beggar. Metaphorically the term was  applied also to that fellow who would do any dirty work or say any outrageous thing to get a meal–a lickspittle, a low jester, a clown a buffoon. Though such men live by their wits, they are in their speeches and deeds usually ribald rather than witty, coarse rather than fine, bumptious rather than deft. For these confident demythologizers, a bone is a bone and meal a meal, containing no possibility of anything high–neither mental nor sacred. Indeed for them a meal is not even a meal–an integral unit–but merely an aggregate of scraps, a heap rather than a whole (analogous to the view of the anatomized human body that is often the butt of their coarse humor). (The Hungry Soul, p. 179)