Theology: December 2005 Archives

A little while back, Jollyblogger responded to my criticism of Sabbatarianism. His general view seems to be that the 10 Commandments are part of the moral law, while other laws were abrogated. Jesus then must have been talking about only this segment of the law (a segment the Bible never isolates as such) that he calls the ceremonial law. I think it's much more obvious that Jesus really was talking about the whole law as fulfilled. One might wonder why he felt free to break some but keep some of the law, if all of it will never pass away. Well, it's important to remember that the one part of the law that he kept not keeping was the Sabbath command. He allowed his disciples to gather grain on the Sabbath. If that doesn't constitute doing something that the law would prohibit, I don't know what does. This signals that he didn't see the Sabbath command applying. So there's no biblical distinction between ceremonial and moral law, with some abiding and some not (rather all is fulfilled in Christ, and some moral truths that formed the basis of some of the Torah continue on). And even if you did have such a division, the moral law part of the Torah is one thing Jesus kept going against.

David also tackles my discussion of the weaker brother of I Cor 8-10 and Rom 14-15. He doesn't think I'm accurately characterizing the Sabbatarian as the weaker brother in these passages, even if my view is correct that Sabbatarianism is wrong. His reason is that Sabbatarians wouldn't be likely to stumble by violating their own conscience simply because they see believers they respect not keeping the Sabbath. They would be more likely to judge their brother or sister, and David says that's not the problem of the person Paul refers to as the weaker brother. Actually, he's right but only about I Cor 8-10. The danger the weaker brother in that passages faces is doing something the weaker brother considers wrong (but that isn't really wrong), but it's wrong to do what one believes wrong. I can't see how a Sabbatarian couldn't have this happen. Any time someone believes a regulation is morally obligatory, they can be tempted to violate it because they see someone they respect doing so. But even ignoring that, Romans 14-15 gives further problems facing the weaker brother. "Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?" For we will all stand before the judgment of God" (Romans 14:10, ESV). Judging is certainly a worry for the weaker brother. "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother" (Romans 14:13, ESV). So I think these terms do apply.

Does the ESV Have an Agenda?

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My brother responded to my post about Ben Witherington and the ESV via email, saying that the ESV most definitely arose from an agenda, and I thought it might be worth clearing up what I'm saying and what I'm not saying. I was aware of the ESV agenda he refers to. He's right. They had a deliberate agenda in initiating the work that led to the creation of the ESV. That agenda had nothing to do with inclusive language translations, however. I wasn't thinking in that direction, because my focus was on gender translation. The ESV agenda was to make a more conservative-friendly RSV. They wanted a translation much like the RSV but without some of what they viewed as liberalizing tendencies in the RSV. The two most notable of those were the Isaiah 7 "virgin/young woman" issue and the removal of any reference to propitiation, which the ESV was designed to fix. By the time they had a translation, though, it had ended up being much more than a straightforward conservatizing of the RSV with updates in style. As I noted in my previous post, they paid a good deal of attention to recent developments in text criticism, comparative linguistics, and all the usual factors that would influence a new translation to improve upon an older one. It became a new translation in its own right because of the work of some very good scholars who insisted on revising a lot more in the RSV than the original agenda had in mind.

I want to stress that, while I'm admitting that they had an agenda, this agenda was not primarily to do with gender. That's something a few people who were involved later made an issue. This was only after the TNIV issues become hotly debated, and it mostly was about how some people were promoting the ESV, not primarily about how they went about translating it. Most or all of the translation work had already been completed when the TNIV issue exploded, and the ESV people began their efforts to promote the ESV as a non-inclusive language alternative. These efforts had the immediate effect of convincing some people (including a friend of mine) that this was Grudem's own translation, and they dismissed his arguments against the TNIV on the grounds that he was saying it merely to promote his own translation. No, the arguments are to be dismissed because they are bad arguments, not because the ESV is Grudem's translation. He might have had some influence on how it came to take the form it took, but it's not his translation, not all the translators share his views, and the agenda of the ESV committee was not about this issue at all during the actual translation process. At best, that was a promotional agenda taking advantage of the irrational mass hysteria against the TNIV. A number of its translators did favor non-inclusive translation in general when they translated it, but that wasn't the initial reason for the ESV, as Witherington suggests, and that view isn't necessarily as extreme as Grudem's even on that issue. For some it is. For some on that committee it isn't. For a few on that committee, even the moderate opposition to inclusive translation is wrongheaded. So Witherington is claiming that he knows how the ESV originated, but these statements just sound to me as if he doesn't in fact know very much about how it originated. That's why I think he sounds just like those who claim that the TNIV stems from radical feminists who want to impose an ultra-feminist agenda on the Bible in their translation. Both claims are simply false.

There's been a little bit of outrage lately among Christian bloggers about some megachurches that aren't holding meetings of their congregations on Christmas. Not having a meeting on Christmas isn't usually a big deal for some congregations, because they never have Christmas services. Except there's one thing different this year. Christmas is on a Sunday. That means these people are canceling their one main meeting of the week. (That actually isn't true of all these churches, since some of them have their main meeting(s) elsewhen, but it's probably true of most of them.) Jollyblogger takes this on from a Sabbatarian point of view. I'll say up front that I'm not primarily interested in the issues of canceling your main meeting of the week or whether your main meeting should be on Sunday. What struck me in David's post is that he holds on to a view of the Sabbath that I think is extremely difficult to maintain biblically. Leave aside the assumption that if Sunday is the Sabbath then we ought to have our main time of worship on Sunday. I'm interested in whether Christians should observe the Sabbath at all. I think there's a clear biblical case against seeing Sunday or Saturday as a Sabbath for Christians.

The Sabbath command was, as stated, only really for Israel as a nation and an old covenant community. My main reason for thinking this is that Paul seems to remove all reliance on special days or times in Colossians. David's post interestingly includes a response to that argument, one he takes from Peter O'Brien's excellent commentary. I found O'Brien's alternative interpretation of the relevant Colossians verse intriguing and quite plausible absent other considerations. I won't focus on it, because I think there are reasons to think Paul means something stronger than merely not relying on Sabbath observance for salvation. I think Paul really treats it as no longer an obligation in any sense, and I think he sees those who see it as a moral command as in the same category as those who see circumcision as a moral command (which isn't to say that it's the same category as those who think circumcision is required for salvation).

First off, I want to recommend two books on this subject that have seriously affected my thinking, both edited by D.A. Carson. The first is From Sabbath to Lord's Day, which collects a number of scholars' detailed academic work on the history of the subject, the exegesis of the biblical texts, and the theological reflections on how this should shape our view today. Probably half the book is written by Richard Bauckham. Carson, Andrew Lincoln, and Max Turner, are among the four or five other contributors. The second is Worship By the Book, a book primarily about worship, including a biblical theology of worship written by Carson that takes up maybe a little less than half the book. This book is much more geared toward ordinary readers than the more scholarly first book. It doesn't directly touch on this subject, but there's one argument in it that I will be spending the bulk of this post on, so I wanted to mention it at least for the sake of giving credit to Carson for the general argument I'm giving.

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