Random Blog Clay Feet: November 27, 2007
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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Spin or Insight?

As I continue to ponder over the last few paragraphs of Romans 9, I still feel that there is much to understand here. There are a number of very important and main points of enlightenment that Paul wants to convey to us and I don't want to be put off by the clutter that has gathered through centuries of wrong assumptions and repeated translations through filters of prejudice. The light is still in here even though it may have become more difficult to discern easily.

One thing that has made me look more carefully is when I compare Paul's “translation” of Isaiah 10:23 with how the Bible reads that same verse from the Old Testament. At first glance they hardly seem to be referring to the same concept. It is almost to the point where Paul could be accused of rewriting Isaiah to say what he wants it to say. Or is it a case where Paul perceived what God was really saying in Isaiah and the translators failed to carry its true meaning into the English words they used in our current Bibles? I find repeatedly that the pervasive assumptions about God being an angry deity needing to be placated and appeased leak into much of how translators interpret many of the texts in the Bible. There seem to be very few people willing to challenge those assumptions but instead spend much time and effort building complex rationalizations to explain why God is arbitrary or mad or supposedly does things inconsistent with His own character.

Here is the passage from Isaiah that Paul quoted from in Romans followed by how Paul phrased those same thoughts. I added an extra verse at the beginning of the Isaiah quote for some important context.

Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord GOD of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land. (Isaiah 10:20-23)


The way these two passages read seems to me to convey quite different concepts that are nearly unrecognizable to each other in the last verse quoted. Is Paul simply trying to put his spin on this text and forcing it to say something he wants to see there, or does he have a better version of Scripture than we have to work from? Or maybe the Holy Spirit that inspired Paul to write large portions of the Bible opened to his mind to what that same Spirit inspired Isaiah to convey originally and Paul simply made it clearer in his quoting of it.

I find today that whenever someone wants to go back and examine the “original” (as far as reasonably possible this far distant from the actual originals) text and “second-guess” the assumptions of the translators, there is sometimes a feeling of scorn on the part of some academia and a discounting of insights put forward by anyone daring to question the collective decisions of the “experts”. This is not to say that there is complete agreement among the translations or that good insights cannot be gained by checking out a number of translations on any given verse. But I have been more and more amazed at how much is simply dropped or glossed over in nearly every translation of the Bible due to apparent discomfort with either the intensity of intimacy revealed in the original languages, or the words the translators choose reflect too many of the deeply ingrained lies about God embedded in the psyche of the human race.

What is really amazing is that in spite of the inherent problems faced by the writers of the Bible of condensing the thoughts and feelings of God and men into words and then further muddling things by converting them into different languages with all the inherent pitfalls that that entails, God's light is so powerful and His love so intense that in spite of all these problems the Holy Spirit can still pull the truth out of these various versions and apply it to the hearts of anyone willing to be open and guided by the true Spirit of God.

I went back and looked up some of the original words from Isaiah that are quoted here to see what I might find. Again, I am working with an untrained mind that has never taken a day of Greek or Hebrew and that is relying wholly on using the somewhat faulty or at least limited resource of Strong's research. I freely admit that there is much more outside of my present ability to see here. But even with my very limited ability and resources I can see that there are always alternative ways of phrasing passages when I look at the definitions of each word from the earlier text. The various potential meanings of each word usually contain alternatives that if applied in the translating of the passage would give it quite a different flavor.

The one main criteria that I use for looking at the various options in a word's meaning is the growing knowledge I am gaining about the real truth about what God is like and how He feels toward us. I find that if I use that framework as a filter or paradigm from which to select which part of a definition to use in a text that there is always very exciting things to be learned and much clearer ways to express the thoughts contained in many verses. I believe that Paul's version of Isaiah 10:23 is a perfect example of this very thing.

There are a lot of things I notice in these verses that I don't have time right now to explore. I would like to point out that the original words used for “destruction” in the last two verses quoted from Isaiah are not the same word in Hebrew. The second reference especially seems to convey the idea of “completion” more than destruction and I think that is supported by Paul's version of this verse. He quotes that as “executing His word on the earth thoroughly”, which is how he sees the meaning of the word from Hebrew translated “destruction”. This is a classic case of the danger of our blindly accepting notions of an angry, destructive God that can so easily be deduced from reading certain passages of Scripture without exploring deeper. We need to look beyond the surface and compare what we are reading with the much clearer revelation about what God is like in the life and teachings of Jesus, the perfect demonstration of what God is really like.

There is one more thing I would like to note before I quit. The first verse in the Isaiah quote has a very interesting and insightful truth. We know that the emotional relationship between an abuse victim and the abuser after an extended period of time becomes one of dependency by the victim on the abuser. It seems bizarre and ridiculous, but it is how our brains are wired. Even when the victim becomes free physically from the abuser and may be angry and resentful about the previous abuse they experienced, they are ironically still enslaved to their own anger and bitterness if they do not embrace the healing power of real forgiveness.

This is a real but very controversial truth of the mind and the universe, just a real as gravity. If we refuse to forgive (and we really need to learn what that really means which is not very common) we are still in bondage to the one who holds a spell over our hearts and minds. But in this verse God is foretelling the truth that those who accept their role as His children and experience redemption will be free of that psychological phenomenon through their true reliance on the Almighty Redeemer Himself, the ultimate example of forgiveness. Unfortunately it is also true that only a small number, a remnant, will be willing to enter into this transformed relationship and enjoy the intimacy with God's heart that we were all designed to live in.

This is the context of what Paul is trying to get across in Romans 9 and the surrounding passages. In fact he tries to make it very clear in the last few verses of this chapter. He emphatically declares that we do not come into harmony with God (righteousness) by working hard on getting there but through a relationship with the One who came to reveal God to us – Jesus our Savior. If we refuse to see and believe the love of God in Jesus then He becomes the stumbling stone which blocks us from receiving real life and all the good things associated with eternal life in God's presence.

He who believes in Him will not be disappointed. (Romans 9:33)

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