Friday, March 29, 2013

Concerning Isaiah 7:14 (ALMA/ALMAH)

I wrote this post over ten years ago. It has been slightly edited to make sense for this blog.

I have been reviewing John Meier's work entitled A Marginal Jew and I am trying to share thoughts with you while working my way through the book. On pp. 221-222, Meier writes:

"We have no clear evidence that the famous passage of Isa 7:14 cited by Matthew ('behold, a virgin shall conceive') was ever taken to refer to a virginal conception before NT authors used it. The Hebrew text refers simply to a woman called an 'ALMA^, a young woman of marriageable age. Even the [LXX] of Isa 7:14 need not refer to virginal conception. While PARQENOS, the word the [LXX] uses to translate 'ALMA^, does often mean 'virgin,' it can also carry the more general meaning of a young girl of marriageable age and is so used at times in the [LXX]."

Admittedly, one has to look at the extensive footnotes in Meier's monograph to comprehend his line of thought fully here. Is there solid linguistic evidence for rendering Isa 7:14 with the term "virgin"? Frankly, I have no objection to the NWT rendering of Isa 7:14 ("maiden"), but it seems that 'ALMA^ could very well refer to a virgin.

I think you make a good point about the Hebrew word OTH ("sign"). OTH is often used to delineate wondrous works (i.e., miracles) of YHWH in the OT. The appearance of OTH in Isa 7:14 is thus a good indicator that something was unusual or supernatural about the "maiden" conceiving ('bearing a son').

I guess the only problem with translating it "virgin" is the historical circumstances surrounding the prophecy of Isaiah. It is quite possible that a married woman, namely, Isaiah's wife, fulfilled the prophecy in ancient Judah. We cannot be dogmatic about the identity of the "maiden" in ancient times, but the point is that she probably did not conceive and give birth to a son while a virgin. Nevertheless, I think the semantic range of 'ALMA^ certainly allows for the translation "virgin." The prophet could have actually used the term 'ALMA^ in an ambiguous way since his words were ultimately propleptic in nature. That is, he could be talking about a young girl of marriageable age in the minor fulfillment and a literal virgin in the antitypical fulfillment of this prophecy. But I tend to lean toward the "virgin" shade of meaning for the word 'ALMA^.

To be fair to Meier, PARQENOS does not necessarily refer to a virgin. But the synchronic evidence suggests that the LXX translators had a literal virgin in mind when they used PARQENOS. LSJ has this information on PARQENOS:

parqe/nos, Lacon. parse/nos Aristoph. Lys. 1263 (lyr.). h(, maiden, girl, Hom. Il. 22.127, etc. ; ai( a)/qliai p. e)mai/ my unhappy girls, Soph. OT 1462, cf. Aristoph. Kn. 1302 ; also gunh\ parqe/nos Hes. Th. 514; p. ko/ra, of the Sphinx, dub. in Eur. Phoen. 1730 (lyr.); quga/thr p. Xen. Cyrop. 4.6.9 ; of Persephone, Eur. Hel. 1342 (lyr.), cf. S.Fr.804; virgin, opp. gunh/, IDEM=Soph. Trach. 148, Theoc.27.65.

2. of unmarried women who are not virgins, Hom. Il. 2.514, Pind. P. 3.34, Soph. Trach. 1219, Aristoph. Cl. 530.

3. *parqe/nos, h(, the Virgin Goddess, as a title of Athena at Athens, Paus. 5.11.10, au=Paus. 10.34.8 (hence of an Att. coin bearing her head, E.Fr.675); of Artemis, Eur. Hipp. 17 ; of the Tauric Iphigenia, Hdt. 4.103 ; of an unnamed goddess, SIG46.3 (Halic., v B.C.), IG12.108.48,au=IG 12.108.54=lr (Neapolis in Thrace); ai( i(erai\ p., of the Vestal Virgins, D.H.1.69, Plu.2.89e, etc. ; ai( *(estia/des p. IDEM=Plu.Cic.19; simply, ai( p. D.H.2.66.

4. the constellation ti=D.H. Virgo, Eudox.ap.Hipparch. 1.2.5, Arat.97, etc.

5. = ko/rh III, pupil, X.ap.Longin.4.4, Aret. SD1.7.

II. as Adj., maiden, chaste, parqe/non yuxh\n e)/xwn Eur. Hipp. 1006, cf. Porph. Marc.33 ; mi/trh p. Epigr.Gr.319 : metaph., p. phgh/ Aesch. Pers. 613.

III. as masc., parqe/nos, o(, unmarried man, Apoc.14.4.

IV. p. gh= Samian earth (cf. parqe/nios III), PMag.Berol.2.57.

Acts 1:8 Read As An Imperatival Sentence

Acts 1:8 reads:


While studying the NT use of the future tense, I ran across something I had not thought about before. Daniel B. Wallace says that Acts 1:8 is an example of the predictive future. But he goes on to point out that the second future in the passage, namely, LHMYESQE DUNAMIN EPELQONTOS TOU hAGIOU PNEUMATOS EF' hUMAS KAI ESESQE MOU MARTURES, may be imperatival (Wallace, GGBB, 568). In fact, John Polhill contends that the future tense in Acts 1:8 does have "an imperatival sense" (Polhill, Acts, 85). He words the passage: "you will [must] receive power" and "you WILL be my witnesses."

Morphologically, the futures in Acts 1:8 could be construed as predictives or imperativals.

The Denotation of the Biblical Term for Soul

The word "soul" (Hebrew nepes and Greek psyche) apparently has three primary meanings in the Bible:

(1) A human person.

(2) An animal.

(3) The life enjoyed by a person or animal.

Genesis 2:7 describes Adam becoming a "living being" (Amplified Bible) or a "living soul" (New World Translation). The apostle Paul also invokes this account when reproving some in the Corinthian ecclesia (1 Cor. 15:45). Furthermore, animals are called "souls" in Numbers 31:28; Ezekiel 47:9; Revelation 8:9; 16:3. For an example of psyche denoting "life," see Matthew 16:25; 20:28.

Technically, I do not believe that there is any dichotomy between the body and the soul in the OT or NT. A number of biblical commentators have also noted this point:

"The Jewish origin of the word [YUXH] is determinative: NEPES is the living quality of the flesh. The soul belongs to man's earthly existence. It does not exist without physical life. It is not, say, freed by death, then to live its untrammeled purity. Death is its end. The word YUXH can also mean the person, and this is related to SWMA, SARX and PNEUMA (Rom. 16:4: hUPER THS YUXHS MOU 'For my life')" (Conzelmann, Hans. An Outline of the Theology of the New Testament, 179).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Next Few Days (Memorial)

I'm not going to be blogging much for the next few days because of the Memorial of Christ's death (Nisan 14) and I also have a talk dealing with Jesus' resurrection this week. So, those of you who observe the Memorial, have a wonderful observance. Everybody is invited. Our observance will be tonight, starting at 7:30 PM.

All the best,


Friday, March 22, 2013

Edited Review of Daniel B. Wallace's Greek Grammar

I have to laud and simultaneously criticize Daniel B. Wallace's book Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996). If I have ever written an ambivalent book review, this is it.

Wallace's grammar merits a five star rating in terms of what it teaches about biblical Greek. It is probably one of the best New Testament Greek grammars on the market. The author is to be commended for his scientific approach to Greek grammar and linguistics in general. For the most part, past decisions about what constitutes a subjective genitive or an objective gentive, an ablative of separation or a dative of reference in a particular Bible verse have been highly subjective. Wallace tries to improve the process and he should praised for his efforts.

A laudable aspect of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics is Wallace's ability to implement recent works on aspect and Aktionsart. He also gives plenty of examples throughout his grammar that illustrate Greek voice, mood, and aspect. The author is generally level-headed in his approach and anyone reading this work cannot help but improve his or her proficiency in Greek. The professor's discussion on demonstrative and relative pronouns is excellent and the section concerning the Granville Sharp Rule is probably one of the most enlightening and lucid treatments of the subject, although I disagree with Wallace's conclusion on the famed rule. Overall, Wallace's work is a welcome addition to any scholar's library. The only drawback to this grammar is his failure to interact fully with the many possibilities of the New Testament Greek text.

At this point, I do not want to sound like a broken record, but I must object to Wallace's dogmatic assertions about the Witnesses' understanding of John 1:1c; 8:58 and Titus 2:13. Despite his "learned" protestations to the contrary, Jehovah's Witnesses are on solid ground regarding their understanding of the aforesaid passages.

For example, Margaret Davies poses the question: "Is Jesus' remark, 'Before Abraham was, I am he' a reminder that he is the eternal LOGOS?" (Davies 86). She concludes that this reading of Jn 8:58 "is neither an obvious nor a necessary reading" (86). She also writes: "We should conclude, therefore, that the Johannine Jesus' use of the 'I am' form draws on Wisdom declarations from its Scripture, and does not assert Jesus' divinity" (Davies 87).

Lastly, I think Wallace also overlooks some key information when he analyzes the demonstrative pronoun hOUTOS in 1 John 5:20. The bias appears to shine through clearly in this case: he dismisses the alternate view too hastily. While I do not necessarily fault Wallace for taking a doctrinal stand based on how he reads the Greek of the New Testament, I think he needs to let his readers know (more fully) that there are other ways to understand the text.

In A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament written by Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, they say regarding 1 John 5:20 and hOUTOS:

"the ref. is almost certainly to God the real, the true, op. paganism (v 21)."

Overall, despite the few shortcomings that I believe Wallace's grammar contains, I can still recommend it with a clear conscience. As with any work, I suggest reading it critically and trying to research the examples he gives, for yourself.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Are Christians Still Under the Mosaic Law?

Concerning Eph 2:14-15:

The International Critical Commentary on Ephesians and Colossians (T. K. Abbott) has this to say:

"The Mosaic law as such, not merely certain aspects of it, has come to an end in Christ. He is the 'end of the law,' Rom 10:4. Faith having come, we are no longer hUPO PAIDAGWGON" (page 64).

Abbott adds:

"NOMOS here is not to be limited to the ceremonial law; there is nothing in the connexion to show such a limitation, which on the contrary, would make the statement very weak . . . The moral law retains its obligation, not, however, because the Jewish law is only partially annulled, but because its obligation was independent of the law and universal (Rom 2:14)" (64-65).

He goes on to show that Christians now fulfill the "moral law" of the Mosaic Code since a life governed by the spirit is in direct conformity with the moral precepts of the ancient Jewish Law mediated by Moses. Abbott makes an astute observation when he also notes the Pauline contrast between works of law and fruit
of the spirit. We also do well to recall the apostle's words found at Gal 5:18: "Furthermore, if you are being led by spirit, you are not under law" (EI DE PNEUMATI AGESQE OUK ESTE hUPO NOMON).

If THN EXQRAN is in apposition to NOMON TWN ENTOLWN EN DOGMASIN, which I think it is, then Eph 2:14-15
indicates that the entire Mosaic Code was made inoperative via the death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I must therefore reject R. Schnackenburg's suggestion (The Epistle to the Ephesians. T & T Clark: Edinburgh, 1991) when he contends that only the ceremonial aspects of the Law were abolished by means of Christ's death. Paul, on the other hand, clearly teaches that Christians are not under Law, but serve God under the loving assurance of His manifested and benevolent unmerited kindness (Rom 6:14-15).

Richard Longenecker (in his Word commentary on Galatians) likewise writes that Paul delivers the 'coup de grace' to the Judaizers whom he theologically opposes since he teaches that the Law "no longer has validity as a PAIDAGWGOS regulating the life of [Christian] faith" (149). No longer are Jewish precepts (moral or ceremonial) required for Christian faith. So Longenecker observes, when commenting on Galatians 3:25.

I find that James Dunn also has to concede this point in some way, namely, that Paul teaches the Law has been fulfilled and rendered inoperative through Christ. While he apparently wants to avoid a type of dualism that is evidently posited by Lutherans, Dunn has to treat Paul's letter to the Romans with a certain amount of scholastic integrity. He thus believes that the traditional antithesis between law and grace (undeserved kindness) can withstand scrutiny, but "not in the overdrawn terms of the classic Lutheran formulation" (Romans 1-8. Dallas: Word Books, 1988, pp. 340-341).

Regardless of how Dunn exegetes Rom 6:14-15 and other such texts, I think the Pauline teaching on Law is quite clear: Christians are no longer bound by the Torah, although they conduct lives in harmony with its moral precepts. Paul wrote: "So, my brothers, you also were made dead to the Law through the body of the Christ, that you might become another's, the one who was raised up from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God" (Rom 7:4).


"For Christ is the end of the Law, so that everyone exercising faith may have righteousness" (Rom 10:4).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Peter van Inwagen on God's Maleness or Lack Thereof

Professor van Inwagen (University of Notre Dame) writes:

"Before leaving the topic of the personhood of God, I should say a word about sex--not sex as the vulgar use the word, not sexual intercourse, but sexual dimorphism--what people are increasingly of late, and to my extreme annoyance, coming to call 'gender.' We haven't yet officially said this, but, as everyone knows, God does not occupy space, so he can't have a physical structure; but to have a sex, to be male or female, is, among other things, to have a physical structure. God, therefore, does not have a sex. It is literally false that he is male, and literally false that he is female" (The Problem of Evil, page 21).

Although van Inwagen does not think God is male or female, he uses the third-person singular pronoun "he" to avoid calling God "it."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What Makes Language and Consciousness Possible?

Concept-formation can be explained without appealing to non-physical factors. I am not arguing that perceptions are conceptions. But what I am suggesting is that conceptions are possible representations of percepts by dint of natural language and neural networks. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (based on the work of Eleanor Rosch) have argued that we categorize things (e.g. birds, chairs, tables, and teapots) according to fuzzy prototypical characteristics (cf. Metaphors We Live By). However, the prototypes by means of which we classify various objects emanate from our somatic experiences. For example, although I had never seen a Highland Cow until the year 2002, I knew that it was a cow upon first sight. Yet the Highland Cow was unlike any cow I had ever seen before.

Lakoff and Johnson would say that I was able to associate the Scottish cow with my prototype of such animals based on past somatic experiences. But my concept of cowness is nothing more than the result of what I've perceived with my sense organs (inter alia) and how my brain represents the usual properties of bovines which it derives from distal and proximal stimuli. There is no need to posit a soul in order to account for concept-formation, language or consciousness.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why I Developed the Father as Metaphor Argument

My dissertation is entitled "Metaphor and Divine Paternity." I started forming the ideas for the work after talking with a friend about the possibility that God might be an emblematic father rather than a literal father.

The research that I undertook moved me in the direction of God's metaphorical fatherhood. The divine metaphor "Father" is old and it seems to harmonize with other figures used to reference God. But I also believe that the metaphorical view undermines the eternal generation idea. If Jehovah is a symbolic father of the Son as opposed to being a literal father, then the eternal generation idea loses its force. If Father is a metaphor for how God relates to his Son or to creation, then the Son's eternal generation becomes a moot point since Jehovah has not literally fathered anyone.

2 Sam 7:14 teaches us that God fathered the Davidic line of rulers in ancient Israel. Did Jehovah literally sire those men? I think it's not hard to see how the use of Father within the text is metaphorical.

We've been discussing this point for a little while now. I'm going to move on soon, but just wanted to provided a fuller description of my viewpoint.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Repost of How the Term "Father" is a Metaphor

Since the issue of God's paternity is the subject of my dissertation and has been a recent topic for discussion on this blog, I want to direct our readers to this blog entry. Thanks everyone.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Acquitted from Sin (Romans 6:7 NWT)

The passage in Romans 6:7 is an arresting text.

"For he who has died has been acquitted from [his] sin" (NWT).

"for he who has paid the penalty of death stands absolved from his sin"

"For he that is dead is freed from sin" (Webster's).

"for a dead man can safely be said to be immune to the power of sin" (Phillips).

Certain scholars and theologians understand the language of justification/being declared righteous to signify that God has actually made a Christian righteous, whereas most would probably say (including Jehovah's Witnesses) that worshipers of Jehovah are imputed righteous upon the basis of Christ's sacrifice (not actually made righteous). To quote Romans 4:4-8:

"Now to the man that works the pay is counted, not as an undeserved kindness, but as a debt. On the other hand, to the man that does not work but puts faith in him who declares the ungodly one righteous, his faith is counted as righteousness. Just as David also speaks of the happiness of the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 'Happy are those whose lawless deeds have been pardoned and whose sins have been covered; happy is the man whose sin Jehovah will by no means take into account'" (NWT).

Paul apparently teaches that Christians are accounted righteous--they are reckoned as being righteous in this life (not actually made righteous by the divine act of justification). Furthermore, in order to maintain a right standing in the sight of God, one must produce works that show evidence of his/her faith.

Romans 6:7 also indicates that one who has already been acquitted of his/her sin has undergone a symbolic death whereby imputation of guiltlessness has been effected (brought about). See Hebrews 10:14.

These words from Acts 13:38-39 might bear on the matter at hand:

"Let it therefore be known to YOU, brothers, that through this One a forgiveness of sins is being published to YOU; and that from all the things from which YOU could not be declared guiltless by means of the law of Moses, everyone who believes is declared guiltless by means of this One" (NWT).

"As a man that is dead is acquitted and released from bondage among men, so a man that has died to sin is acquitted from the guilt of sin and released from its bondage" (Henry Alford on Romans 6:7).

Friday, March 01, 2013

Christian Materialism, Neuroscience and Personal Identity

I have been reading various works on consciousness, from both the substance dualist and materialist perspective. Psychology usually teaches us that consciousness is simply awareness: it involves awareness of one's thought and feelings. Consciousness involves visual awareness, auditory awareness, gustatory awareness, olfactory and tactile awareness.

Charles G. Morris (Understanding Psychology) defines consciousness as the human awareness of mental processes such as making decisions, remembering, daydreaming, concentrating, reflecting, sleeping, and dreaming. It is also good to remember that consciousness evidently obtains on a graded continuum such that a person in a vegetative state or a young newborn may be aware, even though both entities experience awareness at different places on the graded continuum.

There are also two books I'd like to mention that you might find interesting. One is Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are by Joseph LeDoux. This work is very challenging to read because LeDoux writes in a somewhat technical manner at times. However, he makes a profound point about the "self" in the opening portion of his work.

LeDoux does not deny that an aesthetic, moral or social self possibly exists. However, he contends that one's feeling of self-awareness or one's ability to reason morally is rooted in the neural or synaptic self. In his own words, "My notion of personality is pretty simple: it's that your 'self,' the essence of who you are, reflects patterns of interconnectivity between neurons in your brain . . . Given the importance of synaptic transmission in brain function, it should practically be a truism to say that the self is synaptic" (LeDoux, Synaptic Self, page 2).

The other book I have in mind is The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul written by Francis Crick. This book is even more difficult to read because of its demanding content. Nevertheless, it is of interest that Crick believes the notion of a "soul" (an immaterial aspect of humans) which gives us a sense of self-awareness or feeling of subjectivity is superfluous, redundant or pleonastic. Most scientists now think that the brain takes care of all things that were once attributed to the soul. Crick thus maintains:

"The Astonishing Hypothesis is that 'You,' your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules" (The Astonishing Hypothesis, page 3).

Yes, it seems that experiences, heredity and memories make us what we are. Long-term memories probably are coded and stored in the hippocampal area of the brain. Other parts of the brain play their role in storing and retrieving memory. Nurture and nature wire our synapses; our synapses, in turn, make us who we are.

But does the foregoing mean that the same brain must be placed in an individual, who is deemed worthy of the resurrection? In view of what we now believe as Jehovah's Witnesses, the answer cannot be in the affirmative. Firstly, those who receive an earthly resurrection will have new bodies, including presumably different brains. Yet, we believe that resurrected Job (supplied with a different body) will be the same PERSON that we read about in the OT book bearing his name. And what about those who will be granted immortal and incorruptible life in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). Once again, they will have or already have different bodies of a spiritual nature. But it seems reasonable to suppose that Paul, Peter, and John are the same persons they were in the first century. Hence, restoring personhood to S1 or S2 (with S representing a subject/person) does not appear to be dependent on providing S1 or S2 with their original brains. What seems most important in this case is the memory of God rather than man. Even if God gives someone a different body or brain, he can still bring it about that the same person rises from the dead on the "last day." Nancey Murphy skillfully explains how personal identity is fulfilled by a various number of distinct criteria. In other words, not just one criterion determines personal identity or the persistence conditions for human personhood.