Monday, September 29, 2008

Who's who: Arius

Arius had been trained at Antioch, with which city Alexandria had long been in dispute, notably about the way Scripture should be handled. About 318 Arius accused Bishop Alexander of Alexandria of subscribing to Sabellianism (the view that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were merely roles or modes assumed in turn by God). Though Alexander had probably been guilty of no more than an incautious use of language, Arius was concerned to emphasize the oneness of God.
Unhappily, he went to the other extreme. If the Father was absolutely one, where did the Son come in? Arius explained it thus: "The Father existed before the Son. There was a time when the Son did not exist. Therefore, the Son was created by the Father. Therefore, although the Son was the highest of all creatures, he was not of the essence of God."

This was no mere exercise in semantics, but an attack on the doctrine of God and a challenge to the very foundation of Christianity, which holds that Jesus is really and truly God. Alexander, who until then had had a high regard for Arius as an expert logician, brought him to meet with some of the diocesan clergy. Alexander himself chaired the discussion. Arius defended his position, but the others (joined belatedly by Alexander) contended that the Son is consubstantial and coeternal with the Father. The bishop commanded Arius to receive this doctrine and to reject his former opinions.

Arius was not prepared to do so, and in 319 he was officially anathematized, as were all others who made "shameless avowal of these heresies." There the matter might have rested, but Arius was cunning and persuasive. The emperor Constantine had been at first inclined to dismiss the theological differences as "of a truly insignificant character," but he was less concerned about the unity of God (which he imperfectly understood) than about the unity of his empire. The churchmen persisted, however, and Constantine convened the first ecumenical council of the Church, held at Nicea in a.d. 325.

Almost three hundred bishops were present, predominantly from the East. Arianism was the major item on the agenda. Arius and his supporters were given every opportunity to make their case and seemed confident of success. To their dismay, both Arianism and a compromise viewpoint were rejected, and the council produced a creed that upheld the orthodox position. Its crucial point was its insistence on Christ's being of the same essence with the Father, rather than of similar essence (a view the Arians would have accepted). The difference in Greek centered around the presence or absence of the letter Greek letter iota (i) ó i.e., whether it should be homoousios (of the same essence) or homoiousios (of similar essence). The orthodox at Nicea, notably the young Athanasius who was an invaluable aide to Bishop Alexander, rightly saw that this was not merely a battle over a letter, but that true Christian doctrine was at stake.

At the end of the council Arius was excommunicated, but within two years he deceived Constantine into thinking he was orthodox at heart. Athanasius, who became bishop of Alexandria in 328, would not have Arius back in the city, and this became a source of unrest, fully exploited by Athanasius' enemies. Even when the exasperated Constantine sent Athanasius into exile, Arius was refused Communion in the diocese and returned to Constantinople, where he soon died. Arianism was not dead, however, but persisted (often among the highly placed) until its final condemnation at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

J. D. Douglas in Who's Who in Christian History. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Every people group of different cultures brings their preunderstanding to the biblical text they are reading. But we could not help it, it just the way we are. However, we should never allow our culture to dictate the meaning of the Word of God. But if we talk to Christians from different cultures it is evident that their understanding of the scripture varies from one another. We judge the correctness (or the wrongness) of their interpretation from our own culture (more often western which more often than not is also based in our preunderstanding).

Presunderstanding like culture is not inherently bad. But it is a baggage that we bring to the text that causes us to color our interpretation and leads us to the path of misinterpretation. We could not abandon our preunderstanding and throw it into the trash when we encounter biblical passages that contradict it.

Duvall and Hays say that what we do want to do is to submit our preunderstanding, throwing all of our previous encounters with the text, placing it under the text rather than over the text. We must be able to identify our preunderstanding and then be open to changing it in accordance with a true serious study of the text. That is, after we have studied the text thoroughly, we must then evaluate our preunderstanding and modify it appropriately in the light of our current study.

However, nobody can approach bible study in a neutral manner. Total objectivity is impossible when we study the Bible. I remember being taught at the Seminary that we could only have unbiased and truthful interpretation if we approach the text with total objectivity. As Christians we serve the living God and we have the Hoy Spirit living with us. Our relationship with God is the most important aspect when we read the Bible and this relationship is what greatly impacts our interpretation of the text.

Duvall and Hays call this inherent quality among Christians as presuppositions. Presupposition is not something we want to renegotiate as we read the text. It is different from preunderstanding that need to be changed. Presuppositions should not change at all. We have several presuppositions about the Bible itself that develop out of our relationship with Christ.

Several presuppositions about Scriptures that evangelical Christians generally hold are as follows:
First, the Bible is the Word of God. Although God worked through people to produce it, it is nonetheless inspired by the Holy Spirit and is God’s Word to us.

Second, the Bible is trustworthy and true.

Third, God has entered into human history; thus the supernatural does occur.

Finally, the Bible is not contradictory; it is unified, yet diverse. Nevertheless, God is bigger that we are, and he is not always easy to comprehend. Thus the Bible has tension and mystery to it.
Though there are other presuppositions about the Bible that we Christians have. These are the most central ones. And I agree with Duvall and Hays that “these presuppositions have to do with how we view the entire Bible and serve as foundations on which to build our method of study.”

Duvall and Hays, Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, pp. 94-95.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Which translation is best?

Duvall and Hays suggest guidelines for choosing a translation. This is a direct quote from their book, Grasping God’s Word, which I find to be readable and practical and at the same time scholarly.

First, choose a translation that uses modern English. The whole point of making a translation is to move the message to the original to a language you can understand. History teaches us that languages change over time, and English is no exception. The English of John Wycliffe’s day or of 1611 is simply not the same as the English of the twenty-first century. There is little to be gained by translating a Greek or Hebrew text into a kind of English that you no longer use and can no longer comprehend. For that reason, we recommend that you choose among the many good translations that have appeared within 50 years.

Second, choose a translation that is based on the standard Hebrew and Greek text. The standard for the Old Testament is the Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). For the New Testament the standard text is reflected in the latest edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (GNT) or the Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece. Along with the majority of scholars, we much prefer an ecletic original text rather than the Textus Receptus used by KJV and the NKJV.

Third, give preference to a translation by a committee over against a translation by individual. Translating requires an enormous amount of knowledge and skill. A group of qualified translators will certainly possess more expertise than any one translator possibly could. In addition, a group of scholars will usually guard against the tendency of individual scholars to read their own personal biases into their translation.

Lastly, choose a translation that is appropriate for your own particular purpose at the time. When you want to read devotionally or read to children, consider a simplified, functional translation such as the New Living Translation or the New Century Version. If you are reading to nontraditional or unchurched people, consider the Contemporary English Version or The Message. If you are reading to people with English as a second language, consider the Good News Bible. If you are reading to a “King –James-only” church, consider the New King James. But for your own personal study, we suggest the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, Today’s International Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the English Standard Version, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, or the NET Bible.
English-speaking people have rich resources before them to compare different translations and have better opportunity to look at the best possible meaning of a particular passage according to its context. Bible translations in other languages remain limited to one or two translations. Only those who know English could point out the nuances and the discrepancies of the Bible’s translations in their own language. This makes it necessary to teach the students to learn at least English if not Hebrew or Greek. This is one of the many struggles of a Bible teacher trying to teach the local people to interpret the Bible.

Friday, September 12, 2008

King James Only?

I believe that the King James Version is the only trustworthy English translation. I found this declaration in many statement of faith I browsed in the Internet. They think that other versions of the Bible especially the modern ones are perversion of the word of God. They doggedly hold to this belief that trying to explain to them that KJV translators worked from an inferior Greek text constructed from a few late Old and New Testament manuscripts and that the later versions are based from older manuscripts that more likely reflect the original text would more likely to be ignored.

The irony here is that their fixation with KJV actually violate the intent of the translators who wanted to continue the ongoing ministry of making the Bible understandable to ordinary people.

They themselves expected opposition from those who refused to break with the tradition. They wrote:

For was anything ever undertaken with a touch of newness or improvement about it that didn’t run into storms of argument or opposition?... [King James] was well aware that whoever attempts anything for the public, especially if it has to do with religion or with making the word of God accessible and understandable, sets himself up to be frowned upon by every evil eye, and casts himself headlong on a row of pikes, to be stabbed by every sharp tongue.

So the church should always be ready with translations to avoid the same kind of emergencies [i.e., the inability to understand because of a language barriers.] Translation is what opens the window, to let the light in. It breaks the shell, so that we may eat the kernel. It pulls the curtain aside, so that we may look into the most holy place. It removes the cover from the well, so that we may get to the water…In fact, without a translation in the common language, most people are like the children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket or something to draw the water with….
Furthermore, Duval and Hays in their book Grasping God’s Word mention two major obstacles contemporary readers are facing when they are using the KJV.

First as I mentioned earlier is that the translators of the KJV worked from inferior Greek text constructed from a few, late New Testament manuscript. Since the KJV first appeared, many older manuscripts have been discovered, and scholars contend that these older manuscripts are much more likely to reflect the original text. In contrast to the Greek text on which the KJV is based, scholars today are able to translate from a Greek text that draws back on more than five thousand New Testament manuscripts, some dating back to the second century.

Second, KJV is using archaic English words and phrases. In addition to the use of obselete terms such as “aforetime,” must needs,” howbeit,” “holden,” peradventure,” and “whereto,” the KJV is filled with out-of-date expressions that either fail to communicate with contemporary readers or mislead them entirely.

Undoubtedly, KJV was a good translation for the early 1600s because it was written for people during that time. But I think that many people who are using this version know KJV was revision. Everybody would have a hard time understanding even a page of the original 1611 version for its archaic English that used different spelling in our modern day English.

People who are using the 1769 KJV edition are unknowingly admitting the necessity to revise a translation. Thousand of changes had been made between the 1611 and 1769 version that they are literally different Bibles.

Why not continue the process of revision by drawing on the latest in biblical scholarship and using language that today’s readers can understand? Anything less seems to violate the intent of those who translated the original King James Version.

Duvall and Hays, Grasping the Word of God: A Hands On Approach to Reading, Interpreting and Applying the Word of God, 163-64.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

True Spirituality

I joined hands with a friend who is openly Pentecostal in starting a Bible school . I am not a Pentecostal myself but I have had spiritual experiences in my journey of faith. However, as a believers I find realy joy by being quiet and meditative. I am more comfortable when I do enjoy quiet moments with God. And I find myself preferring this than the ecstatic emotional experiences of my friends which I also do have from time to time. I just hope that people would see me as less spirit-filled because of this.

Bloesch rightly says that "true spirituality does not involve aspiring after extraordinary experiences of God or the Spirit. At the same time, we should earnestly pray that fruits of the Spirit might be manifested in our daily walk. If we serve Christ and our neighbor in love and diligently hold up the name of Christ before the world, we can have the assurance that we have indeed been baptized by the Spirit into the service of the kingdom of God. If we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33) even before our own happiness and security, we then have firm grounds for believing that we have indeed been born again from above, that the truth of the Spirit resides within us."
Faith must not be reduced to experience, but faith will entail experience--not only of God in his awesome holiness but also of God in his inexpressible joy and abounding love. Yet faith will always point us beyond our experiences; it will finally take us out ourselves into the service of God in the darkness of the world. The evidence of our new birth by the Spirit of God lies in the depths of our devotion to the gospel of God in our daily lives.

Donald Bloesh, The Holy Spirit: Gifts & Works, 16-7

Monday, September 08, 2008

Who's Who: Peter Abelard (1079-1142)

Medieval French philosopher, teacher, and theologian

Born in Brittany, Abelard studied with several of the great teachers of his day—including Roscelin (a rebel nominalist), William of Champeaux (an orthodox realist), and Anselm of Laon—at several locations in northern France, including Paris. Abelard first taught at Melun and Corbeil, and later at Paris. A bold and original thinker, he attracted large numbers to his lectures and counted many of the great minds of the twelfth century as his students, including Peter Lombard, John of Salisbury, and Otto of Freising. Many future leaders of Christendom were in attendance: several popes, twenty cardinals, and about fifty bishops.

While in Paris, Abelard lived at the house of Fulbert, who was the canon at Notre Dame. He fell in love with Fulbert’s niece, Heloise, and a son was born to her. Abelard offered to marry her, but she thought it better to enter a convent since marrying would hamper Abelard’s career in the church. Fulbert in retaliation ordered the castration of Abelard, who then retired to the monastery of St. Denis. The lifelong correspondence of Abelard and Heloise, known especially through her published Letters, has made the two of them classic figures among the world’s lovers.

In 1121 Abelard was condemned by the Council of Soissons for heresy and was forced to seek refuge. He found asylum in the remote monastery of St. Gildas in Brittany, where he stayed for ten years and was abbot until the monks forced him to leave. Returning to Paris, he remained popular with students. New charges of heresy from Norbert of Premontre and Bernard of Clairvaux resulted in Abelard’s condemnation by the church at the Council of Sens (1141) and the order to be silent. After a brief stay in a monastery, he began a journey to Rome to appeal his case. He stopped at Cluny where the abbot, Peter the Venerable, regarded Abelard’s case as hopeless and advised him not to continue. Abelard died shortly thereafter and was buried at Troyes; eventually Heloise was buried beside him.

Abelard’s training brought him into contact with two traditions of early scholastic thought, realism and nominalism. Abelard had difficulties with both and suggested an alternative, conceptualism—a meaningful “halfway house” to some, a heretical compromise to others. For Abelard there was reality both in the particular object and in the idea or universal (concept), although for Abelard the concept had reality only in the mind. His idea of reality caused his view of the Trinity to be regarded as heresy.

Further, Abelard had difficulty with church leaders because of his high regard for reason and its critical use in the study of theology and philosophy. Abelard, however, was not the forerunner of modern nationalism and atheism as some have judged. His own words attest that he was truly a Christian: “I do not want to be a philosopher if it means resisting St. Paul; I do not wish to be Aristotle if it must separate me from Christ.” Abelard sought to evaluate and understand his faith in the light of reason. His motto, “I understand so that I might believe,” reversed the order of Augustine of Hippo and Anselm of Canterbury. Abelard stressed the importance of reasoned experience. He also maintained that all persons should be able to read the Scripture and arrive at valid conclusions on their own.

Abelard’s most important contribution was the establishment of a critical methodology for theology. In reaction against the unreasoning pietism of some of his fellow monks, he stressed the value of a more analytical approach to theology, having been pointed in that direction by Anselm of Laon. Abelard lined up conflicting authorities on both sides of 158 theological problems in his controversial work of 1123 entitled Sic et Non (Yes and No). In an approach less dogmatic than Anselm’s rationalism, Abelard cited contrasting texts from both the Bible and the church fathers without harmonizing them. His collection of alternative views, however, was prefaced with rules for resolving such problems by distinguishing various senses of the words used.

Abelard’s disciple, Peter Lombard, continued that procedure in his Sentences, which became a standard textbook. For the next two hundred years, Abelard’s approach influenced the scholastic method of debating alternative positions and citing conflicting arguments, as seen, for example, in the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

Abelard published a more thorough presentation of his theology as Theologica Christiana in 1123 and 1124. He also wrote an autobiography, The Story of My Misfortunes, as well as other theological and philosophical works. - T. O. Kay & A. F. Holmes

J. D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, eds,Who's Who in Christian History. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.