1. Standard memberblakbuzzrd
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    04 Jun '07 19:40
    I've been asked to present a few of the questions that I found troubling as an evangelical xian, and which ultimately contributed to a loss of faith in that form of xianity. This post represents one such question. I'll present the issue as I perceived it at the time, outline the possible responses as I saw them, and then describe my response. Feel free to jump in at any point.

    This question has to do with the language used in the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John, and the extent to which we can rely upon the account as factually accurate.

    John 3 details Jesus's meeting with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin. The linchpin of this narrative is a play on words. When Jesus tells Nicodemus in verse 3 that he must be born of the Spirit, Nicodemus understands him to mean that he must physically be born again. The Greek word used in the passage ("anothen"😉 can mean either, and the point is that Nicodemus initially misunderstands Jesus. This gives Jesus the opportunity to do some 'splainin'. There's a parallel story in John 4, which also turns on a Greek pun. This is the story of Samaritan woman at the well, who confuses Jesus's description of "living water" with "running water."

    The problem in both stories is that while the Gospel of John is written in smoove Greek, Jesus, Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman would probably all have been speaking Aramaic. In Aramaic the words for "born again" and "born from above" are nothing alike, and there would consequently be no play on words in the original conversation in John 3.

    In other words, it appears likely that the incident didn't happen in the way described.

    This is hardly a new observation for biblical scholars; the question for me as an evangelical believer was what do I do with this problem? Here are the options I saw:

    1. Find an explanation that accounts for the historical problem without sacrificing the tenet of basic factual accuracy. In this case, it's been noted that Nazareth, where Jesus is said to have grown up, is a scant three miles from Sepphoris, a burgeoning trade town at the time Jesus would have been growing up. Jesus would very possibly had the opportunity to learn Greek growing up there, as it continued to be the lingua franca of the Roman Empire. It's also been noted that the word used to describe Joseph has been traditionally translated as "carpenter," but in fact would more rightly be translated as "laborer," and some have gone so far as to say "architect." That is, Joseph might have done anything in the construction line, and thus might have been even middle class. It's not beyond the realm of possibility, then, that Joseph worked in Sepphoris from time to time, or even regularly, as jobs were available. If Jesus was in the family business, he very well might have been involved in activities that required him to learn Greek in order to help out in the family business.

    2. Consider the proximity of these two stories and their parallel narrative structure a signal that they are primarily literary vehicles for theological expression. This would be more in keeping with a typical Greco-Roman biography, wherein stories are told about the main character in order to portray some aspect of his or her character. This requires letting go of the tenet of biblical inerrancy as it is conceived of by evangelicals; it does allow the believer to continue to believe in the overall truth-value of the story, and of the Bible as a whole.

    3. Discount the truth-value of the stories on the basis of factual inaccuracy. They couldn't have happened as described, which means somebody fudged some of it. That makes them suspect, and not to be relied upon. If the intent of the storytelling/embellishment is to portray the life of Jesus reliably to 1st-century believers, it has exactly the opposite effect for 20th-century evangelical believers, for whom fact and truth are usually inextricable from one another. This option results in the implosion of the concept of biblical inerrancy, as the believer must hold the Bible to factual accuracy, but is faced with apparently direct evidence to the contrary in the Bible itself. The believer's theological insistence on inerrancy comes into direct conflict with his or her perception of factual problems.

    4. Decide not to think too hard about it, knowing that better informed people have done so and that they continue to assure believers of the reliability of the Bible. This is usually the position taken up by the everyday believer, for whom such questions of historicity matter far less than their personal faith as they practice it.

    So what did I do, and why?

    Because I'm literate, curious, and something of a snob, I discounted #4. I figured that if God gave me a brain, I should use it.

    #1 was my first recourse, and there's a tremendous amount of energy expended by xians on similar efforts. Much of it centers proving that what is written could in fact have happened. Unfortunately, apologetics tends to stop short of making solid cases for what probably happened. I think theological presumption gets in the way of making such a qualified statement. The casual evangelical approach as I experienced it is first to assume that the Bible is free of any error, and then to show how it could be factually correct in individual cases. If the event/detail can be shown to have the possibility of being correct, then it is given the benefit of the doubt for theological reasons.

    The historian, on the other hand, grants the Bible no special exemption when considering its reliability. After a while, continuous responses from my fellow xians along the lines of "it could have happened like this" began to lose their persuasiveness in the face of secular explanations along the lines of "here's what probably happened based on our best guess." It's difficult not to be impacted eventually by the sheer number of apparent problems in the Bible, and at some point I had to ask, "Why do I keep performing mental/logical gymnastics in order to show the possibility of the story? What is my motive? What convinces me of its probability, outside of my personal theological convictions? How did I come to form those convictions?" The answer was that I believed in the inerrancy of the Bible because it was part of the xian tradition I received from my friends and family. It was an a priori assumption, and making it forced me to try to reconcile the factual problems.

    Could Jesus have known Greek? Sure. Is it probable? Maybe.

    But is it the most likely explanation? That is, is it more probable than the idea that the author crafted strikingly parallel stories using double-entendre and set them apposite one another for increased literary and theological effect? My answer was eventually a pained "no."

    #2 is a comforting option, in that it allows faith to remain intact, and perhaps even be deepened by an appreciation of the literary figures in the books of the Bible. Unfortunately, it begs the question as to why do we believe what we do in the first place. Why did xians start believing what they did? If the basis for original belief is shown to be unreliable, shouldn't the basic question of belief be revisited?

    That left me in the uncomfortable position of not wanting to go with #3, but not seeing much else for it.

    What would you do?
  2. Joined
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    04 Jun '07 19:57
    Well - since you asked. What I would do is pray about it. I have done that on different questions I have had. I prayed for a greater understanding and have received the understanding I needed at the time. It's entirely up to you. I'm just answering your question
    :-)
  3. Donationkirksey957
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    04 Jun '07 20:52
    Originally posted by blakbuzzrd
    I've been asked to present a few of the questions that I found troubling as an evangelical xian, and which ultimately contributed to a loss of faith in that form of xianity. This post represents one such question. I'll present the issue as I perceived it at the time, outline the possible responses as I saw them, and then describe my response. Feel free to ...[text shortened]... ut not seeing much else for it.

    What would you do?
    I would ask Vistesd. Aren't you glad you play on this site and are exposed to such scholarly help. I meant Vistesd, not me.
  4. Hmmm . . .
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    05 Jun '07 01:142 edits
    Originally posted by kirksey957
    I would ask Vistesd. Aren't you glad you play on this site and are exposed to such scholarly help. I meant Vistesd, not me.
    Don’t know any Aramaic.

    In traditional rabbinical discussion, Nicodemus could be seen as giving J a kind of “high lob.” However, the rabbinical discussion would not have been shut down so quickly—and, in fact, would still be going on as people like me tried to explore every possible understanding (not just the so-called “right one” for everyone). The oral tradition in Judaism (even as recorded in the Talmuds) is an ongoing tradition, with “new Torah” being created in every engagement. (The written Torah is not the real Torah—just the textual fabric from which new Torah is continually woven.)

    Given such things as the proximity of Nazareth to Sepphoris, the Galilean versus Judean implications in much of the stories, etc., it seems likely to me that J would’ve known at least passing Koine Greek. He and Nic discussing religion in Greek in Judea—and Nic a Pharisee—well, that seems a bit unlikely. The author/translator changing Aramaic/Hebrew puns for Greek ones? Maybe. Making it up in Greek for a Greek-speaking audience? That I think likely...

    The author of the Gospel of John’s adept use of Greek, careful and repetitive phrasing, unusual variations of verb-tense, and “midrashic” playful citings of quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures belie the notion that he (she?) was any kind of “simple” fisher-type person writing plain stuff in plain language. This is really high literature—not simple biography. This may be the most artful fusion of Hebraic and Hellenistic (especially Stoic) streams in the NT, unfortunately marred by some anti-Judaic polemic that is likely post-83 C.E. stuff.

    Given BB’s stance in the “truth versus fact” thread, I am surprised at his easy relinquishing of #2. Story—as a vehicle for presenting spiritual truth-claims—was far more recognized and appreciated back then. That’s why such phrases as “merely myth” or “only a story” hardly ever cross my fingertips. As Reb Reuven put it: Torah is story; we are all stories; the first word of the Torah (b’reisheet, generally translated as “in the beginning” ) really means “once upon a time.” The NT authors understood midrash; so did the early church “fathers.”

    J in this Gospel speaks/acts mostly as the incarnate logos tou theou, the Christ, by which all things have from the beginning been “begotten” (egeneto). Analogous (braces to be slapped for the sin of religious syncretism) to Siddhartha Gautama speaking as the Buddha. That’s a clue...

    It took me a long time to realize this, but for literalist/historicist Biblicists, John’s Gospel is pretty subversive. So, by the way, is the whole rabbinical midrashic approach, which pre-dates J. And which I think represents the highest art, in terms of reading the stories...

    As I think BB pointed out elsewhere, there is no reason to think that the authors of these texts expected them to be read in any other way than metaphorically, allegorically—midrashically—since that is what the authors themselves understood; whether such stories are woven around historical events or not.

    EDIT: Re the “comfort” of answer #2. I take it as challenging, rather than comforting. I cannot escape my own authority/responsibility for making philosophical/theological (or moral) decisions by transferring that authority to some putatively inerrant text. Such questions become fundamentally existential.

    EDIT 2: Since, thus far, I’ve been pretty much in agreement with BB’s posts regarding textual matters, I probably have little to offer here—which is probably what I’ve offered: little. I’ll just boringly reiterate that rabbinical Judaism (with regard to the Hebrew Scriptures), and early church thinkers (with regard to both “testaments” ) were not / are not Biblical literalists. It’s actually a quite impossible position vis-à-vis the Hebrew, which does not offer any support to the “idolatry of the one ‘right’ meaning” (Marc-Alain Ouaknin).
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    05 Jun '07 01:16
    Originally posted by blakbuzzrd
    I've been asked to present a few of the questions that I found troubling as an evangelical xian, and which ultimately contributed to a loss of faith in that form of xianity. This post represents one such question. I'll present the issue as I perceived it at the time, outline the possible responses as I saw them, and then describe my response. Feel free to ...[text shortened]... ut not seeing much else for it.

    What would you do?
    You have a problem! And so do I. As a matter of fact I have alot of problems. But being too smart isn't one of them.

    Thoughts are a function of the spirit. Thinking is a spiritual process.
    Being "born again" and "getting saved" are not the same thing.
    If in fact you had ever gotten saved you wouldn't have this problem right now. You would have a regenerated soul and spirit. And then instead of "seeing" what you think is wrong with the word of God you would have the "mind of Christ."

    "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."
  6. Donationkirksey957
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    05 Jun '07 02:21
    Originally posted by josephw
    You have a problem! And so do I. As a matter of fact I have alot of problems. But being too smart isn't one of them.

    Thoughts are a function of the spirit. Thinking is a spiritual process.
    Being "born again" and "getting saved" are not the same thing.
    If in fact you had ever gotten saved you wouldn't have this problem right now. You would have a regener ...[text shortened]... angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."
    You should have become a preacher.
  7. SubscriberAThousandYoung
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    05 Jun '07 03:20
    Originally posted by josephw
    You have a problem! And so do I. As a matter of fact I have alot of problems. But being too smart isn't one of them.

    Thoughts are a function of the spirit. Thinking is a spiritual process.
    Being "born again" and "getting saved" are not the same thing.
    If in fact you had ever gotten saved you wouldn't have this problem right now. You would have a regener ...[text shortened]... angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."
    In other words, if you were a good Christian, you'd have mastered doublethink.
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    05 Jun '07 04:559 edits
    Originally posted by blakbuzzrd
    The problem in both stories is that while the Gospel of John is written in smoove Greek, Jesus, Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman would probably all have been speaking Aramaic. In Aramaic the words for "born again" and "born from above" are nothing alike, and there would consequently be no play on words in the original conversation in John 3.

    In other words, it appears likely that the incident didn't happen in the way described.
    Well, it appears that you have us all at a distinct disadvantage here. After all, I don't know many people who speak Aramaic, do you speak it? In fact, not even Vistead speaks Aramaic? Are you kidding me!!! Having said all of that, I would love to hear the Aramaic translation, that is if you are able.

    I would just like to add that had I rejected my faith everytime I did not understand something or every time there appeared to be an apparant contradiction, I would not still be a person of faith. No one would. In fact, Biblically our faith MUST be tested. Look at Job who served God yet had his entire world fall apart. Why would God let "bad" things happen to "good" people? Why would Job even choose to serve a God that let horrible things happen to him, especially in light of Job faithfully serving him all the days of his life? Yet Job stayed true to his faith and was blessed 7 fold in the end. Look at Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son. Why would God ask him to do such a thing? Was not Isaac given to him as a fulfillment of the promise of being in a long line of men who would inherit the promised land? Why would God kill what he has promised to him? Is God bloodthirsty? We all thought God was a God of love but how could he be if he asked such a thing? Yet Abraham stayed faithful depsite all of this and was blessed as well as the rest of humanity as Abraham have birth to a long line of men who brought about the Messiah and we all know how important he was. In fact, it seems that the harder our faith is tested while we continue to stay true to our faith in God, the greater the blessings that are bestowed upon us and the rest of humanity in the end. Could you even imagine coming close to staying true to your God in either Job's situation or Abrahams situation? I highly doubt it. If you know anything about your Bible you will know that God requires faith. Although I do not think faith is blind, I do think we are put to the test at times in which we are asked to bypass our intellect as was Abraham and Job. Perhaps instead of God asking you to sacrifice your son he asked you to sacrifice the pride you have in your intellect? Not to give you a bigger head than you probably already have, I can tell you are a highly intelligent individual. Therefore, your greatest weakness is your potential arrogance and pride in such intellect. Had you ever considered that?

    The Bible is perhaps the most attacked book in all of human history. It has been laughed at, it has been relentlessly scrutenized and scorned to tears, it has been rewritten a thousand times over with its words twisted or changed altogether, as well as having been burned to ashes a thousand times over and yet......it is still here. Go figure?
  9. Territories Unknown
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    05 Jun '07 22:15
    Originally posted by blakbuzzrd
    I've been asked to present a few of the questions that I found troubling as an evangelical xian, and which ultimately contributed to a loss of faith in that form of xianity. This post represents one such question. I'll present the issue as I perceived it at the time, outline the possible responses as I saw them, and then describe my response. Feel free to ...[text shortened]... ut not seeing much else for it.

    What would you do?
    This question has to do with the language used in the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John, and the extent to which we can rely upon the account as factually accurate.
    I'm trying to figure out why you consider this passage a problem. Please be very specific about the contradiction, as you say, of John 3.
  10. Standard memberblakbuzzrd
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    06 Jun '07 16:21
    Originally posted by FreakyKBH
    [b]This question has to do with the language used in the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John, and the extent to which we can rely upon the account as factually accurate.
    I'm trying to figure out why you consider this passage a problem. Please be very specific about the contradiction, as you say, of John 3.[/b]
    Contradiction? I didn't say at any point that there is a contradiction.

    What I said was that the event narrated probably did not happen as described: specifically, this gospel's Greek account of the exchange with Nicodemus is predicated on a confusion over single Greek word with a double meaning, and since that pun isn't possible in the Aramaic probably used by the speakers, the account is most likely not a word-for-word record of what was actually said.

    I wouldn't thus characterize the problem as a contradiction; instead, it's a matter of incompatibility between the above observation and the evangelical tenet of biblical inerrancy. What's in the text appears to be in conflict with xian tradition, in other words.

    Moreover, the similar structure of the conversation in the next chapter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman suggests that the puns were consciously employed literary devices.
  11. Standard memberknightmeister
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    06 Jun '07 18:531 edit
    Originally posted by blakbuzzrd
    I've been asked to present a few of the questions that I found troubling as an evangelical xian, and which ultimately contributed to a loss of faith in that form of xianity. This post represents one such question. I'll present the issue as I perceived it at the time, outline the possible responses as I saw them, and then describe my response. Feel free to ut not seeing much else for it.

    What would you do?
    Sorry to sound dismissive brother and I understand where you are coming form but if this is the main source of difficulty for your faith then you are doing Ok . I can think of many more troubling things to keep you awake at night regarding faith in christ. If all I had to struggle with was a loose translation or two I would eat my own right arm.
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    07 Jun '07 09:49
    Originally posted by whodey
    After all, I don't know many people who speak Aramaic, do you speak it? In fact, not even Vistead speaks Aramaic? Are you kidding me!!! Having said all of that, I would love to hear the Aramaic translation, that is if you are able.
    A thought you didn't speak Aramaic, so what use would a translation in Aramaic be to you? The text in question is in Greek. Or are you asking for it to be translated to Aramaic and then to English in the hope of loosing all meaning?
  13. Territories Unknown
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    07 Jun '07 14:53
    Originally posted by blakbuzzrd
    Contradiction? I didn't say at any point that there is a contradiction.

    What I said was that the event narrated probably did not happen as described: specifically, this gospel's Greek account of the exchange with Nicodemus is predicated on a confusion over single Greek word with a double meaning, and since that pun isn't possible in the Aramaic probab ...[text shortened]... and the Samaritan woman suggests that the puns were consciously employed literary devices.
    "Contradiction? I didn't say at any point that there is a contradiction."

    "...it's a matter of incompatibility..."


    Boy, oh boy. This is going to be painfully slow-going at this rate. By my plain understanding of the word, contradiction is used when a person means any of the following:

    3. a statement or proposition that contradicts or denies another or itself and is logically incongruous.
    4. direct opposition between things compared; inconsistency.
    5. a contradictory act, fact, etc.

    According to your information on the availability and/or use of certain aspects of the lingua franca, a specific Greek phrase had no equivalent in Aramaic, yes?

    ...suggests that the puns were consciously employed literary devices.
    Hate to break it to you, BB, but each and every letter, book and narrative of the Bible is a direct result of consciously employed literay devices. The Bible is said to be God-breathed. This does not mean that God the Holy Spirit in any way shape or form altered the personality of the various writers.
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    07 Jun '07 16:012 edits
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    A thought you didn't speak Aramaic, so what use would a translation in Aramaic be to you? The text in question is in Greek. Or are you asking for it to be translated to Aramaic and then to English in the hope of loosing all meaning?
    The accusation is that the original conversation more than likely occured in Aramaic rather than Greek because the word used in Greek could have been used interchagably. However, the words in Aramaic could not have been used interchangably. Therefore the conversation could NOT have been originally been in Aramaic. My question was simply what words were used in Aramaic and how are they translated? By what source are we BLINDLY acceptiing the fact that the original conversation could not have occured in Aramaic? I think this is a reasonable request. However, if BB does not know the original Aramaic words and how they are accuratly translated then the entire post is suspect. Forgive me for not merely taking his word for it.
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    08 Jun '07 14:46
    Originally posted by blakbuzzrd
    2. Consider the proximity of these two stories and their parallel narrative structure a signal that they are primarily literary vehicles for theological expression. This would be more in keeping with a typical Greco-Roman biography, wherein stories are told about the main character in order to portray some aspect of his or her character. This requires ...[text shortened]... position of not wanting to go with #3, but not seeing much else for it.

    What would you do?[/b]
    Maybe you can clarify a little, because I don't see what is wrong with #2? And I don't see why it involves letting go of biblical inerrancy.

    John expressly says why he is writing his book and it isn't to construct a 100% accurate history. So if he uses a literary device to make his point stronger to the audience his book is intended for then how does that make his book errant even if he did change the word for word quote?

    I suspect that the group of evangelicals who believe in the complete word for word literal interpretation of the bible must be very small and very incorrect because they are putting God in a box that doesn't allow Him any poetical expression at all. And it greatly reduces the beauty of biblical literature.
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