Daily thoughts on aesthetics and theology, and the entire world in between.

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The believing ones: how language hinders faith

The Greek sentence, if directly translated, goes something like this:

But the Scripture consigned all things to sin, so that the promise out of faith of Jesus Christ might be given to the believing ones.

It reads a little bumpy, because it is not how we normally speak English. So, in contrast, here is the translation from the popular New International Version (NIV):

But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

This sounds more "normal."

But let's do something. Let's imagine standing in relation to the transaction described in the first sentence, the one that is more of a direct translation of the Greek. Where do we stand in relation to the action?

Well, we see something (the promise of faith of Jesus Christ) being given to a group of people (the believing ones). Neither the promise, nor the group of people, have anything to do with you and me.
We do nothing, nor do we feel any suspense, in observing the action of the first sentence. Neither do the group of people -- the group called the believing ones -- need to do anything nor feel anything. They are merely the recipients of this promise. The giving of the promise to them is a done deal; nothing prevents it from happening.

But now imagine us standing in relation to the action described by the NIV translation. Read it again above. What do you feel? If you are like me, you feel some doubt as to whether or not the promise would be given, don't you? Why? Well, because, first of all, that promise needs to be given through faith IN Jesus Christ.

What faith IN Jesus Christ? The English language is ambiguous about where this IN is. Is it my faith that I need to place IN Jesus Christ? Is that what needs to happen before the promise is given? Well, then, I'd better drum up some of this faith so that I can place it IN Jesus Christ.
But ... what if I'm not up to the task?

And what about that group of people? In the NIV translation, they are no longer "the believing ones". Instead, they are "those who believe."

Those who believe? Well, what if they don't believe? What if, today, they believe just 75% of what they believed yesterday? How much do they have to believe ... before the promise can be given?

You see how the NIV translation -- which is far and away the more common "take" of this passage in English translations -- makes the entire transaction something of a "maybe" situation?

There is no faith IN Jesus Christ in the original. There is only faith OF Jesus Christ in the original.

And never mind "the whole world" and "prisoner to sin." None of these phrases are in the original Greek. The NIV translators were just moved to put them in -- just so, in their view, the English can read a little more smoothly.

The original language of the sentence tells us that, if you are indeed a Christian, you are among THE BELIEVING ONES
-- and that is independent of whether or not you feel like you believe today. It's a done deal. The promise is yours.

This is the scandal of the gospel.


Galatians 3.22
ἀλλὰ συνέκλεισεν γραφὴ τὰ πάντα ὑπὸ ἁμαρτίαν ἵνα ἐπαγγελία ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοθῇ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν.

ensuing and glomming

Now that football season is here, we'll all be hearing this word ad nauseum on ESPN or approved equal:

" ... with 15 seconds left, he fumbles the ball! And on the ensuing play ...blah blah blah..."


I guarantee you'll hear this word an average of 3.5 times for every 20 seconds of replay footage this football season.

It's not simply: "... and on the next play ..."

No. It has to be: "...and on the
ensuing play."

What a heady word! These guys must be taking a correspondence course.

Ensue. Get used to it. Take a bite of the chips and salsa every time ensue is uttered. You'll need to give up on Weight Watchers.

I noticed this out of the corner of my awareness several years back.
Ten years ago, no play ensued after the previous play. For crying out loud, it was just the next play.

I bet it was Chris Berman who started to use
ensue; it wouldn't surprise me. Berman of the "back-back-back-back" coinage. That's another one: back-back-back-back -- although this one is so unique no one else could use it except Berman.

But everybody now says, "and on the ensuing play ..."

It really is a study on language: how a word becomes fixed in usage, and what it describes somehow becomes wedded to that word so that no other word would quite do.

Another such word is glom, meaning to latch on to somebody or something, as in: "She really glommed onto him during the trip." Ten years ago, nobody was glomming on to anybody. Now, teenyboppers glom all the time.

(Nobody's ever glommed on to me that I know of; shucks).

Another emerging word is meme. Watch out for this one; I think it has a future. Meme means the thrust of a general narrative someone wants you to believe in. As in, "The Obama Administration's meme is that it's all Bush's fault..." Meme is roughly equal to spin, although I would say meme is the germinal concept for which spin is the action.

Am I getting just a little too OCD about this stuff?

OCD ... that's yet another one. More and more people are somehow OCD ... as in: he's just a little too OCD about that stuff ...

Ten years ago I wasn't OCD.

But now, hey, I am.


An early example of collaboration

From Augustine:

They [the Romans] decided that responsibility for the land should not be entrusted to any one god; they put the goddess Rusina in charge of the rural countryside; they consigned the mountain ranges to the care of the god Jugatinus; the hills to the goddess Collatina, the valleys to Vallonia.

They could not even find the goddess called Segetia adequate on her own, to the responsibility for the crops from start to finish. Instead, they decided that the corn when sown should have the goddess Seia to watch over it as long as the seeds were underground;

as soon as the shoots came above the ground and began to form the grain, they were under the charge of the goddess Segetia;

but when the corn had been reaped and stored the goddess Tutilina was set over them to keep them safe.

Would not anyone think that Segetia should have been competent to supervise the whole process from the first green shoots to the dry ears of corn?

But that was not enough for men who loved a multitude of gods -- and so much so that their miserable soul disdained the pure embrace of the one true God and prostituted itself to a mob of demons ...


City of God, Book IV, Section 8. Translated by Henry Bettenson (Penguin, 1984), 143-144

When CNN and FOX agree ...

... there must be a hurricane coming.

They do the same thing:
Hey, let's send our reporters down there and have them talk into a mike while getting blown sideways:

"Shep ... this is Geraldo ... I'm ... I'm ... wait ... whoa ... [picture jiggles as cameraman dodges a falling palm tree] ... you can see ... you can see Earl ... is picking up steam ... wait ... Gotta send it back to you ..."

Yes I can see. I'm seeing it on MSNBC, CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, CBS. It's probably on the Shopping Network...

All other news stop: it's 24/7 hurricane coverage.

(Note to Congress: now's the time to spend even more money we don't have; nobody will ever know).

But what they say about Chinese people -- which isn't true-- is definitely true with hurricanes: they all look alike.

Wind. Rain. Waves.

Reporters blown sideways.

And it's on 24/7.


Ecclesiastes 1.6
The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.


You don't really see them while they happen.

Of course most barbershops have the mirrored wall, but I bet most people (at least the guys) don't spend their time on the chair looking at the progress. I usually have my head down, thinking about the next paper I'll write that nobody will read.

And there, with my head down, askance off both sides, I see the snips of hair falling to the floor.

I've seen that sight for over fifty years.

Haircuts are one way you can mark time.

"You have a
lot of hair," is a remark I've heard over the years from barbers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and now Washington.

When I was a kid living in Ohio, I'd bike down to the barbershop, next to Avellino Drugs. Afterwards, the barbershop floor would be covered with black hair.

It was different yesterday.

While sitting on that chair, askance off both sides, I saw tufts of white fall to the ground.

Oh there was still some black. But mostly I saw white.

When I left, it was all over the floor, like clumps of dirtied snow on a trafficked street.


Luke 12.7 But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.