Will God Destroy Our Bodies?

That’s what several standard Bible translations would have you think. The verse in question is 1 Corinthians 6:13a, and it turns out that a decision of punctuation makes all the difference in two contrasting understandings of Paul’s attitude toward the human body. Let me illustrate by showing you four different translations of this one verse. Pay close attention to the quotation marks included (not by me but) by the translation team.

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”– and God will destroy both one and the other (ESV).

You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them) (NLT).

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. (NRS)

You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.”  (TNIV).

Did you catch that? Each of these translations agree that Paul is quoting a slogan original to the Corinthians, but they disagree on the extent of the quotation. The first three close the quote before the assertion that God will destroy both stomach and body; the fourth closes the quote after that claim. To their credit, the translators of the NRSV include a footnote saying that “the quotation may extend to the word other.” But the question remains. Whose view are we faced with? Should the claim that God will destroy the body be attributed to Paul or to a group of Corinthians?
The problem arises because the Greek in which Paul wrote did not have quotation marks; so the translators have to decide where to close the quote when rendering it into English. To make this decision they must consider the verse in its immediate context and in light of all Paul’s letters. In this case, the decision about punctuation is really a decision about interpretation and how we understand Paul’s anthropology. What does Paul believe to be the destiny of the human body? Punctuation matters.
In this case, I would argue that the TNIV gets it right. The next verse tells us Paul’s view of the future of the believer’s body, “God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power” (NRSV). For Paul, the future resurrection of the body is an argument against the libertine attitude of appetite indulgence among some of the Corinthians. The body (and its parts) will be resurrected in a manner analogous to that of Jesus. That means that physical (though certainly transformed) bodies will arise from their graves. The corpse of someone who is in Christ will not be destroyed; it will not even remain a corpse. To the contrary, it will be made alive again by the power of God. It seems to me unclear how we can describe that as destruction.

Paul has more to say about death and resurrection in chapter 15 of the same letter, where the language of destruction comes up again, but not with regard to the body. Paul says that, at the coming of Christ, death is the thing that will be destroyed when the bodies of believers are raised from the dead (15:26). Death is the enemy of Christ, and Christ will destroy his enemies. The final enemy that Christ will destroy is death itself. We might say that, as the nails spring loose from the coffins of those who belong to Christ, the final nail will be hammered into death’s own coffin. 
Paul fills in the picture later in the same chapter by saying that the presently mortal and perishing body will be overcome with immortality and imperishability (see especially vv. 50-55). The body will be transformed, not destroyed.  I see no way that this transformation could plausibly be construed as destruction; it is the opposite of destruction. 
This evidence weighs strongly against an interpretation (or punctuation!) of 6:13a that attributes to Paul the belief that God will destroy our bodies. Destruction is defeat. Resurrection is victory. Destruction is what happens to death. Resurrection is what happened to the body of Christ, and it’s what will happen to the bodies of those who belong to Christ. 

A Perfect Translation? Reading Philippians like Wesleyans

I’ve got a new post up at Seedbed on Paul’s self-description as “perfect” in Philippians 3:15. Here’s the intro:
The third chapter of Philippians is important to Wesleyans for a variety of reasons, not least because Paul includes himself within a group he calls “perfect” (v. 15). Now that statement is probably surprising enough that you are already flipping through your New Testament to fact check my claim. Let me tell you what you’ll find. Unless you have the old King James or the New American Standard Version, you are unlikely to find the word “perfect” in your English translation of Philippians 3:15. It will most likely be rendered along the lines, “Let those of us then who are (spiritually) mature…” The nearest use of perfection language is a few verses earlier in 3:12 where Paul unambiguously insists that he most certainly has not been perfected. But here’s the thing: the Greek adjective that is typically rendered “mature” (teleios) in 3:15 has the same root as the verb rendered “perfected” (teleioō) in 3:12. So, in verse 12 Paul declares that he has not been perfected, and in verse 15 he places himself within a group he describes as perfect. Have I got your attention? Let’s talk about what’s going on in this passage and why I prefer the language of perfection over maturity when translating Philippians 3:15.
Read the rest at Seedbed.

Written Before the Foundation of the World? Translation Matters

I got a few interesting comments on Facebook and Twitter recently when I wrote that I find it increasingly humorous to run across what seem to be theological biases in published standard translations of the Bible, and I must say that it’s not always so humorous. Some questions of translation could go either way; others should not be handled so poorly. So, I thought I would point to another verse where there is almost always an unhelpful discrepancy between the original and the published translations.
The ESV renders Revelation 13:8b like this: “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” This translation suggests that the action of having one’s name written (or not) in the book of life took place “before the foundation of the world.” The NRSV, NAS, and NLT each handle this verse in a similar way. This translation has a certain Calvinistic odor about it suggesting that one’s fate is unconditionally predetermined before the dawn of creation. Arminians (like myself) don’t appreciate that too much precisely because we think it maligns the character of God. Why would a good God condemn any of his creatures, if he has the power to save them without doing harm to their will? Arminians insist that he would not. In the case of Revelation 13:8, the Greek text does not support the Calvinist view.
In the Greek syntax of Revelation 13:8, the prepositional phrase does not modify the verb rendered “has not been written” (γράφω); instead, it modifies the substantive participle translated “who was slain” (σφάζω). So, a proper translation would read: “everyone whose name has not been written in the book of life of the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world” (cf. the NIV). You can easily see that the Greek makes no comment on the timing of when one’s name is or is not written in the book of life. The emphasis is altogether different. The emphasis is on God’s eternal commitment to reveal himself as the one who is self-giving sacrificial love in the person of Jesus, the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8 says nothing about individual or unconditional predestination; it says that God is unconditionally committed to the cross, and he is committed to it from eternity.

Was Jesus Really Homeless?

There is a common notion around that Jesus was homeless during his time of public ministry. You don’t have to look far to find the idea. It shows up on t-shirts and has been promulgated by Shane Claiborne, among others. But is the suggestion that Jesus was homeless accurate? Is there evidence in scripture that might indicate otherwise?

The suggestion that Jesus was homeless is typically drawn from Matthew 8:20 where a scribe declares his intent to follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus responds by saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The statement by Jesus is plainly a pithy saying intended to memorably make a bigger point about the cost of following Jesus and was probably intended to communicate to the scribe that he didn’t really understand that to which he was committing himself. It may or may not mean that Jesus was literally homeless.

There are several passages in the gospels that suggest Jesus was not homeless. In Mark 2:1, when Jesus returned to Capernaum, it was reported that he was “in house” (Gk. en oikō). That the text doesn’t specify which house suggests that it was Jesus’ own house. The NRSV, ESV, NASB, NIV, and NLT all legitimately translate this verse with something along the lines of “it was reported that he was at home.” That means the scholars on the translation committees of five major translations with varying translation philosophies all agree that this was Jesus’ own home and not that of someone else. It was probably his own home.
Only a few verses later, we find Jesus sharing a meal with a tax collector named Levi. The meal is said to take place “in his house” (Gk. en tē oikia autou). But whose house is it? To answer this question we must find the antecedent of the possessive pronoun? In the immediately preceding verse, Jesus calls Levi to follow him. We then read that “having risen, he (Levi) follow him (Jesus).” Verse 15 then begins with another personal pronoun, “As he sat at dinner in his house…” The antecedent of all the pronouns in v. 15 would seem to be Jesus himself. The NIV, NRSV, and NLT translate this in various ways to say that Jesus is having a meal at Levi’s house, but this would mean taking the first pronoun to be Jesus and the second pronoun to be Levi. The ESV gives a fairly literal translation, “he reclined at the table in his house.” It seems unnatural to me to force these two pronouns to be referring to two different people. And the clearest and closest antecedent is “him” (Jesus) in v. 14. All that to say, the most natural reading of this text would put the meal in Jesus’ own house with Levi and the many other sinners and tax collectors who followed Jesus.
What are we to make of the relationship between these passages in Mark and the saying of Jesus in Matthew 8:20. It seems most likely to me that Jesus probably used his family home as something of a home base during his travels. When he was at home, he stayed there and hosted people there. When he was on the road, he likely stayed where he could find a place, perhaps with friends or supporters of the ministry. But there was no guarantee during those travels that he would have a place to lay his head. This doesn’t make Jesus homeless. It makes him a traveling preacher who found lodging where he could when away from home for a time.
Now let me be clear. That Jesus was probably not homeless in no way means that we should not minister to and with homeless people. We certainly must! The foundation for ministry with the homeless comes not from Jesus’ own alleged homelessness. It comes from his mandate to care for the least of these. Even if Jesus did have a home, he cared for the poor and the outcast. And if we are to be his followers, then so must we.

What is the Righteousness of God?

One of the ongoing debates in New Testament studies is the question of what is meant by the phrase “the righteousness of God” (Gk. δικαιωσύνη θεοῦ). At the center of the debate is Romans 3:21-22, where the phrase in question appears twice. The Greek phrase can be nuanced this way and that, but the two major options for “the righteousness of God” are (1) the righteous status that God grants to believers or (2) God’s own attribute or quality of righteousness. With the first option, δικαιωσύνη θεοῦ would be translated along the lines of “a righteousness from God” (NIV); with the second, it would be “the righteousness of God” (NRSV) or “God’s righteousness.” I’ve wrestled with the evidence for each interpretive option for several years now, often having difficulty settling on one or the other. I now find myself settling into the view that “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:21-22 refers to God’s own attribute or quality of righteousness, and I intend to use this post (and likely a few following posts) to highlight a few of the exegetical matters that have led me to hold this particular view of the righteousness of God (for now, at least).
A key determinant in translating δικαιωσύνη θεοῦ (“the righteousness of God”) is the flow of the argument in the whole of Romans 3. Romans 3 begins with a question: what advantage has the Jew? This question follows logically from the previous material in that Paul has just finished indicting his fellow Jews right alongside the non-Jewish nations arguing that they properly and justly stand under the condemnation of God. So, if the Paul’s Jewish kinsmen are justly condemned along with the Gentiles, then the question is natural: what’s so special about being a Jew?
Paul’s answer is that the Jews are special in that they were made stewards of God’s self-revelation (3:2). The problem is that they did not faithfully steward that with which they were entrusted. They did not proclaim the name of God to the nations. This raises the question as to God’s own faithfulness. God has promised to bless all the nations of the world through Israel; yet if God is to be just, he must condemn Israel for her lawlessness. So, God finds himself in a catch-22: how will God be faithful to keep his promise to bless the world through Israel and still act in righteousness in condemning Israel for her unfaithfulness? What is God to do?
All this is to make the point that the central question of Romans 3 is whether or not God will act according to his righteousness. Paul asserts that God must be proved true, justified in his words, and prevail in his judging (3:4). But how exactly is he going to do that when the law silences the mouths of all and makes the whole world, Jew and Gentile, accountable to God?
If the question of Romans 3 is how God will be found righteous when he must both bless the world through Israel and simultaneously condemn Israel, then the answer to that question comes in Romans 3:21-26. God reveals his own righteousness (δικαιωσύνη θεοῦ) through Jesus. Jesus is both the faithful Israelite through whom the world will be blessed and the one who propitiates (ἱλαστήριον, 3:25) the just wrath of God that condemns sin. He does all this to demonstrate his own righteousness (δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ, 3:25) and to prove that he himself is righteous (δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ, 3:26) by showing himself to be both just (or righteous), in that he condemns sin, and justifier (or the one who makes righteous), in that he blesses the world through Jesus, the faithful Jew.
So, what is the righteousness of God? In Romans 3 it is that attribute whereby God always does what he ought to do. He always does what is right. He keeps his promise to Abraham to bless the world through Abraham’s descendant. He maintains his justice by condemning sin. And he does all this so that he may be justified in his words and prevail in his judging. He does it to reveal his own perfect righteous character. That’s the righteousness of God.

Through Faith & to Faith: Pistis Christou & Redundancy in Romans 3:22?

Readers familiar with the field of Pauline studies will know that the Greek phrase pistis Christou has been hotly contested. Throughout church history the phrase has primarily been translated as “faith in Christ”, though with the publication of Richard Hays’ monograph, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11, the alternative translation of “faith (or faithfulness) of Jesus Christ” has gained a very significant scholarly following. The difficulty comes in the fact that both translations are grammatically possible. As a result, arguing for either translation is a matter of making the exegetical case from the contexts of the texts in which the phrase appears. 
One of those texts is Romans 3:21-22, which reads:
But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God (dikaiosunē theou) has been revealed, being attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in/of Jesus Christ (pisteōs Iēsou Christou) to all who have faith.
The debate is over whether Paul is saying that the righteousness of God (itself a contested phrase) is revealed through human faith in Christ or through Christ’s own faithfulness in his life and obedient death.
One argument to which regular appeal is made claims that to take the phrase as “faith in Christ” would mean that Paul has come quite close to redundancy: faith in Christ for those who have faith. Would Paul make such an unnecessary and superfluous syntactical move here in one of the most dense and important arguments in the whole letter? N.T. Wright argues just this way in his Romans commentary in the New Interpreter’s Bible:
A further reason why pistis Iēsou Christou here is likely to refer to Jesus’ own faithfulness is that, if taken instead to refer to the faith Christians have “in” Jesus, the next phrase (“for all who believe”) becomes almost entirely redundant, adding only the (admittedly important) “all” (470).
But is this appeal to redundancy really a fair reading of Paul’s Greek? There was a time when I would have said yes, but now I would suggest that it is not. The reason is that I have become persuaded that the two prepositional phrases in v. 22 are functioning in two different ways.
The first phrase reads “through (dia) faith in Jesus Christ.” And the preposition dia (through) suggests that faith is the instrument by which God’s righteousness is revealed. That is to say God’s righteousness is perceived or apprehended through the process of coming to faith in Christ. The second prepositional phrase reads “to (eis) all who have faith.” The different preposition eis suggests that Paul is now making a different point which concerns the objects of the revelation of God’s righteousness, namely all who have faith. This distinct point, that God’s righteousness is revealed to all who have faith, is clarified and substantiated by the following statement “For (gar) there is no distinction” (3:22). No distinction between who? The answer is  no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. All people, both Jews and non-Jews, are objects of the righteousness of God. This is the concern of the second prepositional phrase, a concern substantiated in the following sentence, a concern quite distinct from that of the first prepositional phrase which speaks not to the object of the revelation but to the instrument of it. Paul is making the point that people do not qualify to apprehend God’s righteousness because of their ethnic identity but because of faith, which is a related but different point from that made in the first prepositional phrase regarding the instrument by which God’s righteousness is revealed.
So, to sum up, if Paul is purposefully making two distinct points with his two distinct prepositional phrases, then the redundancy argument falls. Paul’s argument is not redundant; it is nuanced. And this is just what you might expect in Paul’s Greek. He is piling up the prepositional phrases (as he is wont to do) to make multiple points. The compact and dense nature of this passage only supports this argument. Paul is packing a very full and nuanced argument into a very compact space. Thus, I no longer find the redundancy argument persuasive. I’m sure others have made the argument this way before, but its been a while since I looked at much of the secondary literature on this one. Personally, I find the argument for nuance to be good support for taking pistis Iēsou Christou in Romans 3:22 to refer to human faith in Jesus Christ.

Let me hear from you! Do you prefer the translation “faith in Christ” or “faithfulness of Christ”? What is the best argument for each rendering? Do you think Paul is writing with nuance or redundancy? Might he be using repetition to emphasize the point?

Will the NIV Lose its Base?

I summarized some of the controversy over the new NIV 2011 in a recent post.  This has prompted some thoughts on whether the primary readership of the NIV will change.  One friend has predicted a massive exodus on the part of Southern Baptists based on what may be percieved as some liberal tendency in the new translation of the NIV (see that previous post for more).  I suspect the NIV probably will lose some of its traditional readers, but I suspect most who use it in the larger evangelical world will probably stick with it for the sake of familiarity and sentimental reasons.  I tend to think the NIV 2011 may pick up some new readers as well, particularly if it seems less biased against women in positions of ministry leadership.  So, even if there are some who bail on the new edition, I suspect that things will probably balance out in the end.  It will likely be quite some time before the NIV is eclipsed as one of the most widely used translations.  What about you?  Will you try out the new NIV?  Or will you leave it behind?