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Translation Principles

For those of you who are a little more familiar with the terminology of Bible translation, I’m going to start out with this: I’m trying for a formal equivalence, single source, and non-scholarly translation of the Holy Scriptures.

Formal equivalence is probably the hardest part of this to explain to the uninitiated. The two directions in terms of translation style are formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. This has to do with how you translate a given phrase from one language to another. I like to think of this in terms of a scale of one to ten, with the smaller numbers being more dynamic, the bigger numbers more formal equivalence. So if you take the Hebrew sentence, “נֹחַ בֶּן־חֲמֵשׁ מֵאֹות שָׁנָה” a 1 might translate it as “Noah was 500.” A 3 might translate as “Noah was 500 years old.” A 5 might translate as “Noah was five hundred years old.” A 7 would translate it as “Noah was a son five hundred years.” A 9 would translate it as “Noah [was] a son five hundred years.” A 10 would be an interlinear along the lines of “Noah (נֹחַ) [was] a son (בֶּן) five (חֲמֵשׁ) hundred (מֵאֹות) years (שָׁנָה).” Using this scale, I aim to be somewhere in the five or six range.

Single source is a little easier to understand. In every place where I make a translation of God’s Holy and Inspired Word from a source language into English, or an interpretation of any sort, I assume one single source to be correct and preserved in absolute and trust it above all others. However, I do not use a single source to the exclusion of other sources input. I assume one source to be correct, but other versions or translations or interpretations which agree with that source can be used to extract nuance or clarity not found in the original. In Book 18 of City of God, Augustine of Hippo discusses some of these same matters in relation to the Hebrew Scriptures compared to the Septuagint.

In selecting a source, I’m going to start by saying I try to select God’s source. To explain this, I need to start out in a way that, even to those who agree with me in believing there is a supernatural realm, might sound superstitious, but trust me, where I land I’ll be pretty concrete and down to earth.

The Holy Word of God is God’s Own Self. It is immortally immutable. It has no beginning, no end, and no alteration. It forms what we know as reality, although it is more real that anything we can experience with taste, touch, hearing, sight, or smell. This immortally immutable word both formed the world, and entered the world. It entered the world in flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In parallel to this (because to this word, there is neither before nor after nor during) it entered this world through the tongue and hand and ear and eye and nose of those whom God would call to deliver a message. In special cases, God would enter through his word in a special way, which he would through his purpose preserve in his way through his people. In such a case, each transcriber would, in a sense, be freshly inspired to copy what he had before himself. The result is that there are copies that accurately reflect what God says. The power of each new transcription comes from the immortally immutable Word of God which is God’s Own Self, transferred from the previous copy, and so on. I think for some of it, it might be helpful to read Plato’s Ion. His rings are in one aspect a well description, with the single exception that in the case of a transcription each new transcription holds all the power of the previous.

I must be careful when I say this to say what I mean. I do not exclude the possibility of mistakes. However, I do deny the ability of these mistakes to compound over time. Mistakes will be limited in scope, and in the cases of these inspired copies, they will be of a nature akin to a typo. It is not these copies which I seek to understand and connect with. It is the immortally immutable Word of God which is God’s Own Self I hope to connect to.

Now here is where things start to get tricky, so try to follow me. This theory does not exclude the possibility that a translation might be preferred over the original. In some cases, for example, I might choose a Greek translation of an Old Testament book. If I do choose something odd or obscure, I’ll try to say why.

It does mean that the source I use will have to represent a source which has been available through men of God (as opposed to the craft of men.) The source should also represent, for the most part, what people have understood God to have said. If I have a translation that radically alters some tenant of the Christian faith, I’d be concerned about my own salvation, and check it very carefully before choose to an alternate translation, switch to another version, or some more drastic action.

As to the non-scholarly in my translation principles, I’m a layman. I didn’t go to school for this. I’m doing this for one simple reason: I intend to strengthen my own connection to God through a deeper understanding of his Holy Word. For example, I’m not capitalizing pronouns unless other grammar rules require it. (You may already have noticed this, dear reader.) It has been variously explained to me that the reason people capitalize pronouns in relation to deity is because it is what they used to do for kings and such, or because they wish to emphasize the difference between God and others. In the original text, there is no difference between “he” when referred to God and men, so I will not render it differently. I live in the USA, we don’t have a king, and I use a lowercase “he” in relation to the president, so I guess that means I should use a lowercase for God as well.

I am not trying to say I’m “better” than any other. If anything, I’m trying to inspire others to seek original language studies of the scriptures because I believe pretty much anyone can do it. God is a great guy, and the closer you get to his original words, the better off you’ll be in understanding his purpose for your life, in my opinion.

Luke 19:49-75

49 Jesus threw his whip aside as he stormed out of the Temple. 50 In front of him stood a defiant young man, his sheep in tow, ready to make sacrifices. 51 “Who do you think you are?” the youth asked. 52 “Our forefathers have sacrificed in this Temple for countless generations!”

53 Jesus faced the boy and smiled. 54 “Our ancestors have, but our descendants will not. 55 It is time for our people to learn what it means when Our Father says, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'”

56 Incensed, the young man stood his ground. 57 “You are not the only one here that can quote prophets. 58 I’ve heard of you. 59 You are Jesus the Nazarene. 60 You think that you alone understand the prophets.”

61 “Not I alone.” Jesus answered. 62 “I tell you this: the day is coming when you will stand before the people who have come to know me, 63 and you will speak Truths to them that even I have been unable to convince them to believe.”

64 The young man shook his head. 65 “When I tell them the Truth, it will be that you are a false messiah and that God is not with you.”

66 Jesus smiled. “You will tell them that. 67 Then you will pursue me with sword and with authority, and then you will speak the Truth.”

68 “Then killing you is the right thing,” the young man retorted.

69 “My death is necessary,” Jesus confirmed. “But you will never kill me.”

70 “You speak in riddles!” the young man complained. 71 “The words of Moses are clear! 72 The one who says something and it does not come to pass is not a prophet of God!”

73 Jesus smiled. “Then know this: I go to my Father and your Father. 74 After that, I will come again for you.”

75 And with that, Jesus turned to leave, with a stunned and bewildered Saul of Tarsus watching him walk away.


The above story isn’t found in the Gospels. Which is kinda strange, if you think about it. I mean, we do find all kinds of stories that place historical figures next to each other that we’re pretty sure didn’t actually meet: Alexander and the gymnosophist, for one prominent example.

There is a claim out there that the Gospels and Acts were edited and changed and possibly even originally written not to give a historical account, but to serve as propaganda for the Apostles. The idea is that the sayings of Jesus are altered in order to provide a better view of the emerging Church movement in the first century, rather than intending to tell us the actual events as they happened.

Yet one Apostolic figure emerges from the biblical narrative almost suddenly and seemingly without precedent. Saul, who would later go by Paul and author many New Testament letters and become the main focus of the second half of the book of Acts, doesn’t exist in the story before Acts 7:58. Which is strange. Certainly the actual man existed before the stoning of Stephen. Acts doesn’t give us a lot of information to deduce a timeline, but if we accept that Stephen was stoned before 40 A. D, then it follows quite naturally that someone old enough to have waged war against the church in 40 A. D. would have been at least a late teenager in the 30’s when Christ was preaching. Doubtless on a visit to Jerusalem in order to fulfill his yearly duty, Saul would have at least heard of Jesus.

How much would it have bolstered Saul’s claim if Luke had just added a little prophecy into his gospel about Saul? Maybe a little meeting between the great minds where Paul receives a blessing? Yet nothing like that exists.

My personal understanding of inerrancy wouldn’t be harmed if Luke had included such a fictional moment. I believe that there was a literary understudying that such mild exaggeration was expected among those in the budding field of historical studies. Yet Luke doesn’t include anything like it. It’s enough to make one ask, “Why?”

I think the obvious answer has to be the right answer: Luke didn’t create historical events for his record. He worked according to his own best understanding of the events that actually transpired. If events were fabricated to aid historical understanding, then something like Luke 19:49-75 would make sense. The text would lie in place very naturally. But it doesn’t. The idea of fabricating an event doesn’t seem to have been on the mind of the Apostles. So maybe there is good reason to believe that the events recorded in the Gospels, and particularly in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts, are actually a reliable source of historical data.

What is the Unforgivable Sin?

I don’t talk about it much, but I believe in substitutionary atonement. Christ died the death we couldn’t, in order to pay for our sins, because we begin life in debt, and can’t die for our own sins, and therefore can’t save ourselves through our own deaths. One of the reasons I don’t talk about it much is because there are others who thoroughly explore that aspect of Christ’s sacrifice, and God has been leading me down a path to explore another aspect of his salvation for the past few years.

When others read my blog and see that I don’t discuss substitutionary atonement, it highlights two problems in our society. There are those who have read my blog and listened to my discussions with others, only to bring me the Gospel of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. And so I say, “Yes,” and I nod, and occasionally I’ll correct a figure out speech or a technical term, but I’m generally on their side. Because they haven’t heard me mention it, they think that I don’t believe it. Turns out that there’s a lot to say about the Gospel, and it’s entirely possible to say a lot of things about the Gospel and not say everything about the Gospel.

Occasionally, I do get someone who asks me directly, “So what’s your thoughts on substitutionary atonement.” And I answer honestly, “It’s not something I’ve studied in depth, but it seems to me that something very close to it needs to be true. If Christ didn’t die for my sins, then I’m still in my sins and there is no hope for me.”

The other problem that comes up is that, as I said, I’ve been exploring another aspect of the Gospel under what feels and acts very much like the direction of the Holy Spirit for several years. There are those who have, under the direction of the same Spirit, been probing the depths of substitutionary atonement or are part of traditions that were founded by those who probed the depths of substituent substitutionary atonement, and they think that’s all the Gospel is. So when they hear me talking about how God is Love and Love is sacrifice and we can live God, they think I’m preaching another gospel. It’s not another gospel, it’s just a part of the Gospel that they don’t get to get often in their studies and/or is not where the Holy Spirit is leading them right now.

Really, when you come down to it, saying that God is sacrifice and Christ sacrificed himself for the forgiveness of our sins actually fit together very nicely. I’ve even said that I think substitutionary atonement feels like the logical outgrowth of the exploration I’m currently on, but if it is I haven’t gotten that far down this road yet.

There is one thing that both the exploration I’m on and the substitutionary atonement struggle to understand, though: the thought of the unforgivable sin. Approaching it from the angle of Christ’s sacrifice, how can there be a sin so grievous that an infinite sacrifice can’t cover it? Or if I come at it from the angle of Christ being God’s Love and Truth in human form, what is the sin so great that Love would stop loving and forgiving us?

To be clear, I’m not saying that damnation (in whatever form that takes) is beyond the grasp of Love or eternal sacrifice. True Justice and Mercy express Love, and so there comes a point where a person has rejected Love by refusing to give Mercy or submit to Justice. They’ve made a statement by their action that they don’t want to be where Love is if it means submitting to Justice or showing Mercy. In the case where one wants nothing to do with Justice and/or Mercy, the only loving thing one could do would be to send them to where there is no Justice and there is no Mercy. To do otherwise is to force Love on them.

That’s not an unforgivable sin, though. That’s a choice. In theory, that one could have been forgiven if they wanted it. I mean, really wanted it. If they wanted to be a part of a world where Love reigns, they would have shown it by submitting themselves to Justice and displaying Mercy and then they would be wrapped in Marcy and given Justice. But they choose to forgo Justice and withhold Mercy and the results are that they live without them.

The unforgivable sin sounds like something else entirely.

  • Matthew 12:24-27, 31-33 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
  • Mark 3:22-30 And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.
  • Luke 12:1-3, 8-12 In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.
  • 1 John 5:16-17 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

In the Gospel accounts that tell us about where this is coming from, it’s clear that these unforgivable cases are where the Pharisees were claiming that Jesus was not acting according to righteousness, but according to demonic purposes. As Christians looking back on this, it’s easy to claim that this is silly. Before we’re done here, I think we need to ask if we are doing the same thing today, but this tells us what blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is, what the unforgivable sin is, and what the sin unto death is. They’re calling the activity of the Holy Spirit demonic.

Notice there’s never a consequence or a special name for mistakenly calling something demonic something holy in the New Testament. I’ll have to come back to that again later as well, but I’m sure a few of you are way ahead of me there.

So now we come to the point: couldn’t this be an honest mistake? Might the Pharisees have honestly thought in their heart of hearts that the activity Jesus was performing was in fact from Beelzebub?

In a way, yes, they could have thought that. If they did, then they had the wrong idea about God. The Pharisees that honestly thought that Jesus was healing through the power of Beelzebub thought that Yahweh was just another divine being. He was the most powerful divine being, the first divine being, and the divine being from which all other divine brings ultimately sprang. Being first doesn’t make him different, though: he’s just another demon to their way of thinking, like Beelzebub, but bigger. They see him as capable of being overcome and succumbing to his own passions. They don’t follow Yahweh because he’s right, they follow him because he’s powerful. The Yahweh they believe in can just sit back while good things happen under Beelzebub’s influence.

That’s not how it works, though. Whenever something good happens in the world, Yahweh is manifest in it. No one is healed, either by medical science or supernatural involvement without the Holy Spirit being manifest by it. When you take these good things, these healings and these improvements, and you assign them to the forces of evil, what you’re really saying is, “I don’t want to believe in a God that is goodness. I want to believe in a god that is impassioned.” Often the reason to believe in an impassioned god is so that you can appeal to those passions.

This kind of thing definitely happens today. We have Christians today that claim that healing work is evil, that loving work is of the devil. They claim this because the one healing or loving hasn’t appealed to their god’s sense of pride. This healer has ridiculed the church, and their god would never support someone who ridiculed the church that proclaims his glory. After all, his passions seek glory.

In reality, God works through Love. God’s true identity and true name are expressed whenever one acts according to Love. So even that one that ridicules the church, rightly or wrongly, and proclaims true Love, true sacrifice, willingness to give of oneself to the benefit of others, has really proclaimed God’s good name. God doesn’t need our praises. We praise God for our benefit, not his.

What about going the other way, though? What if you assign what’s holy to the demonic? Often, it seems, this has a similar motivation to what I described above: it puts divine power in the hands of impassioned demons that can be manipulated by appealing to their passions. If we were to divide the Bible in two and say that the second part deals with blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, the main thrust of the first part would be to deal with this assigning of divine gifts to the demons. This is, of course, the essence of idolatry. The kind of idolatry we see in the Old Testament and in other ancient cultures is also about finding ways to secure control of the divine by assigning them the passions of humanity. The idolator asks Zeus to destroy our enemies not because we’re right and not because they’re wrong, but because he likes our food better and because we make him a bigger statue and because we tell his name louder. Those of us who seek the True God know that he doesn’t care about the statues or the food or how loudly we shout his name. We know that the True God seeks what’s right and true, and that he will stand with us when we are right and true, even if our statues are small and our food isn’t all that great and all we can manage is a whisper.

When God Isn’t Loving

Anyone who has a good sense of how I deal with Theology knows that I place 1 John 4:8 at the center of my biblical interpretation. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”

(Ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν οὐκ ἔγνω τὸν θεόν· ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν.)

I want to take a moment to focus on the last part of the l that. “God is love.” And yet, we hear that God hates things.

  • Deuteronomy 12:31 — Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
  • Deuteronomy 16:22 — Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which the LORD thy God hateth.
  • Psalms 45:6-7 — Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
  • Malachi 2:16 & Hebrews 1:9 — For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

Can Love hate?

This is where I think we miss a fundamental level to what John is saying. So often, people try to say, “A loving God would never let a world like ours exist, with all the evil that is out there.” Leaving the truth or falsehood of that idea to one side for now, so what? No one ever said that God is loving. Search the Bible. You’ll never find a verse that says that God is loving.

This is where some people fundamentally misunderstand what God is. They’re imagining something more or less like a human mind. Maybe a disembodied, limitless mind, but still like a human mind in that it has compulsions and emotions that drive it according to data that it processes. This is a useful analogy at times and definitely fits a phenomenological description of God quite often. However, what it lacks in precision it makes up for in lack of precision.

I think that John saw something that Jesus had communicated to him. God isn’t loving, God is Love.

When you look at the verse above, in both Greek and English, God and Love are both nouns, neither one is an adjective. God doesn’t have the quality of loving, he is the object Love.

Maybe an analogy will help. We are all familiar with the adjective “smiling.” It means that a person has a happy expression on their face. So if we say you’re smiling, we say that you have a smile. But the noun “smile” is separate from the one who is smiling. The expression is a smile, not smiling.

Hate is really a lack of love or the feeling that replaces love when love is not present. When we hear that God hates something, what we mean in a way is that God withholds himself from it or is withheld from it. In the same way that a frown is the expression that replaces a smile once the smile is removed. If the smile removes itself from the face, the face is left to frown. If the smile is removed from the face by some other means, then the face is left to frown.

God is Love. Hate is the absence of Love. If God removes himself from someone, it is left with only hate. If he is removed from someone, then that one is left with only hate.

If God applies himself or is applied to something, then that thing is loved (if he is applied to it as an object) or loving (if he is applied to it as a subject.) And this is why we can only be Christ’s followers if we are loving: the God that is Love is only our God if we apply him. What could you possibly call it other than God hating someone or something when God is not applied to that person or thing?

And that, dear brothers and sisters, is how the God that is Love can hate.

How do I understand Genesis?

I don’t interpret the first half of Genesis. Some people say this and mean “I stick to a literal interpretation of Genesis.” But notice the expanded explanation includes the word “interpretation.” I don’t do that. God has always spoken to me through deep study and cross comparison between different areas of study. I haven’t found any particular view of Genesis as overly compelling when I’ve looked into the various interpretations of the first half of Genesis.

There are always at least three things that need to be considered when you’re looking at a Biblical passage. First, and in some ways most important, it’s always relevant to ask, “What is God saying to me in this passage right now.” There’s a sense in which every other interpretative framework is just an attempt to help answer this question. It’s also a question I don’t get into much in this blog. I’ve seen God use things in his Word that are “out of context” and “using the wrong understudying” and yet the fruit they produce could only come from God himself.

That kind of thing can be difficult to bottle. While I’m perfectly confident that the friend I once had who read the parable of the prodigal son to learn that his child would eventually outgrow their wild ways was given peace from God, I’m equally confident that’s not the message that everyone should take from that parable. In that one case with that one friend that one time, it worked out and it helped repair their damaged relationship and it came with signs of confirmation. I can’t put that in a blog post.

The next most important thing is what God is saying to all people in all times and places through this text. There’s a mistake that some people make in thinking that this is the only message that scripture has, but I’ve already mentioned that I’ve seen scripture taken out of context and in bizarre linguistic directions to produce the works of God, but that message cannot be the message for all people. That message can only be for that individual. And yet, if God is speaking directly to you by whatever verifiable means, what could you do except put that message first? The most common mistake I’ve seen is for someone who sees one of these private messages to think that it applies to everyone. This stems from thinking there’s only one meaning to the text, and since they’ve “found it.” When the results are undeniable in their life, then it must be the message for everyone. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to me to work like that.

The final most important thing to ask when looking into a passage is what it meant to the original author and audience. This is often a clue to what God intends the message to mean for you here and now and for all people in all times and places. If God already meant for the text to mean something, he might mean for it to mean that again. If it’s never meant something to the people of God, the chances are less that it will actually mean that to you now. Not impossible, but less likely. It has not been my experience that God generally hid a message from his scribes. It has been my experience, as I get deeper into the text and the original languages, that the inspired scriptures really are written by men moved by God, not by empty men dispossessed by God.

When we examine the interpretation of any passage of scripture, it’s important to clarify which meaning we’re trying to pull out. Something like a blog post or an academic journal is poorly equipped to answer the first. I mean, I suppose you could write to me and ask for help with what feels like the interpretation, and give me the things that are going on in your life, and we can make sense of it all together. But that’s not my interest and frankly sounds exhausting. That’s what pastors are for. Go see a pastor.

So that leaves two levels that are left to discuss: what God means for all time and what he meant for the original audience. It’s easy to think these are always the same, but I’ve shown elsewhere that they are not always the same. So it’s important to distinguish which one of these we are answering when we provide an interpretation of a passage of scripture.

For the first half of Genesis, I haven’t yet found a model that either unifies or divides the intention toward the original audience and the intention of all time. So for that reason, I don’t even feel equipped to begin the process of interpreting these scriptures.

But it’s a hot button, controversial topic, and when I can legitimately and truthfully throw fuel on the fire of controversy, I will. So don’t think for a second that I haven’t tried my darndest to find the “right” interpretation of Genesis. At one time, I did a deep dive into four different interpretations of Genesis. These were The “Plain Reading,” The Gap Theory, The Day Age Theory, and Genesis as Apocalyptic Literature. Since then, I’ve also read The Lost World of Genesis 1. I’m going to give a brief overview of my thoughts on each of these. I don’t think this is an exhaustive list of interpretations, but it’s what I’ve been exposed to and been able to put real thought into. Please leave comments to other interpretations that don’t follow these models and I’ll add my thoughts on those as well.

The TL;DR

The “Plain Reading” has a deep respect for the text, but it isn’t as traditional as some try to pretend it is and tends toward conspiratorial thinking. The Gap Theory takes both the science and the text seriously, but there’s not really a good place to put the gap. The Day Age Theory also takes both the text and the science seriously, but it isn’t clear what kind of age is intended or how to apply the text to a study of geology or archeology. Reading the first half of Genesis as apocalyptic literature has the advantage of disconnecting the text from scientific pursuits completely, but it’s not clear how to separate the apocalyptic views from the historical narrative. Dr. Walton’s Lost World of Genesis 1 does a good job of connecting the story to its time and place, but still has a lot of unanswered questions.

The “Plain Reading”

The Good

No matter what else you say about the plain reading of Genesis, there’s a certain harmony and simplicity to it. If God is not the author of confusion, then there’s a sense in which we expect the plain reading of all scripture to have a real and important message for everyone at all times, or at least to the people in their own generation. A day can mean a lot of things in both Hebrew and English, but let’s face facts: the plain reading strongly implies that the days of Genesis are more akin to our current 24 hour day cycle than anything else. Days as ages don’t have mornings and evenings and don’t get numbered in quite the same way.

The Not-So-Good

It’s commonly asserted that no one would ask the question about the first half of Genesis if modern evolutionary theory weren’t on the table. This is very clearly not the case, if you’ve ever read history. Great church thinkers such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas noticed “blips” in the text. On the fifth day, God blesses the sea animals and birds to be fruitful and multiply, and they’re shown to have populated the Earth by the seventh or eight days. I don’t know about you, but if God showed up on my doorstep and told me and my wife to fill the Earth and he’ll be back in three days to check my progress then I’ll be willing to give it the ol’ college try, but without some serious divine intervention I’m pretty sure we’re coming up short. There’s also the mirror of events between the first three days and the second three days: that which is prepared on day one is filled on day four, that which is prepared on day two is filled on day five, and that which is prepared on day three is filled on day six. This is a very obvious literary technique that’s used in other places in scripture.

Also, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 seem to describe creation differently. It’s unclear if Genesis 2 is a separate creation event or retelling the first creation event in a different way.

These and other “blips” in the text have caused deep thinkers to suspect that God has something else going on in the text for centuries. So it wasn’t just evolution that sparked these questions. Long before evolution was thought up, the text inspired these questions alone. However, a dedication to this particular plain reading or that particular plain reading (because there’s more than one “plain reading”) has gone the other way. It’s associated with beliefs in conspiracy theories and distrust of science.

As a father of a son who has been saved by modern science multiple times, and as someone whose first adult job was working with technology, I have very little patience for distrust of science. If you don’t want to trust the current science, then make something more trustworthy. The problem with believing that science is full of conspirators is the sheer number of scientists with conflicting interests. As the old saying goes, the only way two people can keep a secret is if one of them is dead. Don’t believe me? Look up the story of unkillable Iron Mike Malloy. If a barroom full of men with money motivating them to keep their secret couldn’t keep their mouths closed, I find it hard to believe that an international network of thousands of scientists could do it for no good reason.

The Gap Theory

The Good

The Gap Theory and The Day Age Theory both have something in common: they both try to take the text seriously and take the science seriously. The Gap Theory tries to find a place to squeeze in a million years or so at some point in the text of Genesis 1. This is a way of trying to take the text seriously, of envisioning the days as days, the evenings and mornings as evenings and mornings, and yet allowing for the millions of years between creation and today that would be necessary for all the stuff we see in the ground and sky.

The Not-So-Good

The biggest problem with The Gap Theory is that there’s no place to put the gap that answers all our problems. If you put the gap after Genesis 1:2, then you still have the sun and stars made less than a week before humans, which doesn’t seem to match the geological record. If you put it after day three, all of life is made in half a week. If you put it after day six, then we have prototypal humans wandering the Earth for millions of years, but everything is made in a week. The gap just doesn’t fit anywhere nicely.

The other problem that I have is that the text never hints at a gap. This may not be a problem among dispensationalists, but I’m not a dispensationalist. If you’re going to take the text that particular kind of seriously and yet add in an unmentioned gap, then I start to question your motives. I’d definitely be willing to accept the unmentioned gap as a reality if it was hinted at by other data such as the geological record or something, but it’s not. I think Occam’s Razor supplies: if there’s no evidence for the gap in the text and there’s no evidence of the gap from other sources, then the gap may not be the solution you’re looking for.

The Day Age Theory

The Good

Like The Gap Theory, The Day Age Theory tries to take both the text and the science seriously. There’s a lot of variation in theories that fall under this general heading. Some of them are essentially multi-gap theories, others are true theories that apply multiple millions of years to each “day” of the text. In either case, the strengths and weaknesses are kind of the same.

So, to make my next point, I’m going to say something that will confuse some who are even less well versed in taxonomy than I am, so I’ll go on the justify it afterwords, then I’ll apply it. If you accept the next statement, then you can skip a paragraph. Monotremes are to placental mammals what crocodilians are to birds.

This is not an unfiltered acceptance of evolution. This analogy works by whatever means you think we are able to group animals into groups. Monotremes have a lot of chemical and functional mechanisms in common with placental mammals. They also have a number in common with basal reptiles. In a similar way, crocodilians share a number of features in common with birds, others in common with reptiles.

With this in mind, if we look at the order of animals created in Genesis 1 and consider that crocodilians and dinosaurs were birds, then a bunch of things make a lot of sense in the order of creation compared to the order of things in the fossil record. I mean, it’s not a tight fit, but it’s not a bad fit, either.

The Not-So-Good

If each day represents an “age,” where do we get the boundaries for these ages? These boundaries aren’t present in the geological record. You wouldn’t reconstruct the day model from the geological record. And what does “evening” and “morning” refer to? If the problem with The Gap Theory is what it adds to the text, the problem with The Day Age Theory is all the stuff it ignores. Why do some separate creation events, such as the creation of dry land and seed bearing plants, happen on the same day? Why not put an evening and morning between them? What is the event that evening and morning represent? They don’t seem to be fixed lengths of time. So what are they? Answers evade us.

Genesis as Apocalyptic Literature

This category is actually quite broad and covers a lot of different interpretations. Sometimes I’ve heard that the seven days of creation are actually seven periods in history and that we are currently in the fifth, sixth, or seventh. Sometimes I’ve heard that the seven days of creation correspond to the history supplied in Kings and/or Chronicles. Sometimes I’ve heard that they actually describe things yet future. I’ve heard that the creation events in Genesis 2 and 3 actually explain the crucifixion. The interpretation that Genesis 10 is actually a map of the region more than a literal genealogy is pretty well established. All of these would fall under this category.

The Good

This method takes the text seriously. It ignores the science by saying that putting science into the question is a wrong approach from the start. To the one reading Genesis as apocalyptic literature, asking how long each day lasted makes the same kind of nonsense as asking if the coin that the woman recovered in Luke 15:9 was minted under Augustus or Tiberius: it takes the text seriously in the wrong way.

One clear point that this has in its favor is that some of the story elements really do fit well with apocalyptic literature: the cataclysmic changes, the talking animal, the angelic imagery. Another is that it sidesteps the scripture vs. science issue altogether. Another is that we know God speaks through apocalyptic poetry: Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel. Even if this method of interpreting Genesis isn’t the only right way to interpret Genesis, it’s found a lot of utility in understanding Genesis 10 and 11. So it’s definitely not “wrong.”

The Not-So-Good

Even though we know that this method isn’t “wrong,” it doesn’t immediately follow that it’s automatically the one and only right and true way to read the first half of Genesis.

For one thing, Genesis transitions from “maybe apocalyptic” to “probably historical” right about Genesis 12. Why the change? Is it an abrupt change or a gradual change? Might there be historical elements a few verses back? A few chapters? Right to the beginning?

The other obvious problem with this is that it’s not really falsifiable. I could claim that Genesis 1 and 2 are actually describing the establishment of a chicken farm and another guy could claim that they describe a particular cattle drive, and there’s no way to look at one or the other and say, “No, that’s not it. Must be the other one.”

So I think that if you’re working with a pastor who says that maybe you’re personally getting guidance in this direction, reading Genesis in some apocalyptic way, then that may be helpful for you. But if you’re going to put out a way to read the first half of Genesis this way and expect everyone else to as well, then you’ve got to get a bit more specific and find a way to ground your interpretation.

The Lost World of Genesis 1

Up until this point, I’ve just been rehashing thoughts that I actually put into the text almost twenty years ago. I had no kids back then, and of course I was way smarter back then and thought I could crack any intellectual nut over the weekend. Categorizing the different views of Genesis was a good first step for me, and I thought that the four categories that I had created encompassed all of the interpretations available for the first half of Genesis.

Then I started hearing rumors about a book by Dr. John Walton that finally answered the question. The first description I heard of the book was to claim it was “just the gap theory rehashed over again.” This turned out to be from someone who thought that there were only two interpretations, The Plain Reading Theory and The Gap Theory. Which, if you haven’t gathered by now, isn’t a very helpful way of looking at the problem.

More robust descriptions made it sound like an apocalyptic interpretation, but the people I listened to that had actually read it never used that language.

Finally, I accepted that there might be a fifth interpretation of Genesis and read the book. And you know what? There’s a fifth interpretation. I mean, I could wrangle this in under apocalyptic literature in a way, but not really.

The main thesis seems to be that Genesis 1 (and to a lesser extent Genesis 2 and 3) describe creation as the construction of a temple. The difference between this reading and more typical apocalyptic views is that it makes no attempt to connect the creation story to historical events. It would be as if I said, “Writing a blog post is like building a house: first you lay the foundation, then you build the frame, then you establish the walls, and finally you decorate.” You’re not really going to use that as a guide to build a house, nor are you going to be overly concerned with how much of the outline and how much of the rough draft are “laying the foundation” and how much is “building the frame.” It’s okay to be flexible.

John Walton’s view has a lot of merit to me. It seems to sidestep the whole scripture vs. science question at least as well if not better than the apocalyptic views, and it’s definitely more grounded and testable than other apocalyptic views. It’s based on the idea that we can cross reference with other creation stories in the area and get a sense of how these things lay out to get a deeper sense of their meaning.

But being falsifiable also means that it runs the risk of being falsified. So far, all I’ve seen from Dr. Walton or those following his views is a general hand waving in the general direction of understudying what the text might be saying. To be fair, this view is very much the new kid on the block and it may just take another genius to pull it together or another turn of the archeological spade to turn over the other Ancient Near East tablets containing similar creation stories to help us really make sense of the meaning. For now, when I ask what the creation of light on the first day means, all I get is, “It might mean a few things: organizing the temple ground, lighting a candle, or offering the first sacrifice. We don’t know enough about the construction methods of the time to really answer that.” Which means we don’t know enough to really say what this interpretation is saying, which means we don’t know if it’s right or wrong.

Even if it is completely right, it also doesn’t rule out the possibility of another, historical based approach. God can say more in the text than what the original author and/or audience realized. So even if we do make the connections that Dr. Walton would need for this to become the mainstream interpretation, it wouldn’t exclude the possibility of a literal six day creation or a day age or even an accurate description that added a gap. As the old saying goes, more research is needed.

When Money is Love

I had a friend once that used to drive me crazy. Wherever we went, he would duck into small stores or other open businesses to use the restroom, and then leave. He used to tease me, because if I went in to use the restroom, I always made a point to buy something. In one case, I was disappointed to discover that the business didn’t have items open for the public to buy. It was a private club, and the only items for sale were available to club members. They did have a public restroom for guests of the members, which made good business sense given the nature of the business. But I was neither a member, nor the guest of a member. I was driving by. I could potentially have stayed for dinner (they had a kitchen and cafeteria) but was in too much of a hurry to wait for dinner to be cooked. So I left without paying for anything.

Years later, I took over a Kung Fu school. I was in a variety of spaces over the ten years I ran the school. Some of them were public spaces, and I always felt that the restroom was open to the public even though I was renting the space for an hour or so. Some of them were places I leased exclusively but the restroom was a part of a larger facility, in which case I would do my best to honor the overall policy of the larger building. For a while, though, I was in a building that I leased exclusively. In that case, I had to put more thought into the bathroom policy. This was particularly important when I had a day job with an inconsistent schedule, and needed to leave an attendant with instructions for when I was absent. Ultimately I decided that having an open door policy towards the restrooms was the best business decision for my school. Yes, a few times it meant staying a little longer than I intended past the end of the last class because there was someone in the bathroom that wasn’t a paying customer, but this was so seldom a problem that I never second guessed the decision.

Then I met me. Well, not “me,” but someone who shared my conviction that a trip to the bathroom in a for-profit business should include support for that business. Except, I had literally nothing to offer him. I sympathized with his position, but I wasn’t set up to take donations. (I had custom built my payment processing software, and it would have meant building in a whole new mechanism to accept his donation, which was hardly worth the $5 he was offering.) Everything I offered was directly related to the practice of Kung Fu. I could sell him a uniform or a pair of shoes, but they were priced such that I could keep tuition low, not to be transactional items. I sympathized and agreed with his position in principle, I just didn’t have a way to accommodate him.

To rub salt in that particular wound was the fact he was the first one I was staying late to let him use the restroom. I was just getting ready to close up the shop and head out when he and his girlfriend stepped in, asking, “Do you mind if I use your restroom? It’s an emergency!” Talking with the girlfriend while he was occupied, she explained that he had never done this before. He was always the one getting after her for using a restroom without paying for any service. That sounded familiar. I didn’t know (nor care) what in particular had brought about his distress, but I was glad to be there to offer my facilities in this case. And then he came out, asking if he could buy a pack of chewing gum or handful of M&Ms or something. I had nothing to offer him. I suggested he could sign up for classes, but they were from out of town and the drive would be more than they wanted to do.

After that, I opened up the snack bar that I had been considering opening anyway. It had a variety of items, ranging from 50¢ to $5. In the end, that was one of the most successful business decisions I ever made, and I have joked that if I were ever to reopen I would consider offering classes for free and sell uniforms and offer a snackbar to make the money.

After running a business for so long, my conviction that someone should do their best to buy something when using a for-profit business’s restroom is all the stronger. I get criticized for this conviction, and sadly the reasoning behind it resists a small, momentary conversation.

The closest I’ve ever come to explaining it is to repeat the mantra that my grandmother would say when she explained why she always gave cash for birthday and Christmas presents: it’s always the right color, always the right size, always the right edition, never the wrong flavor, never out of stock, and it never clashes with the collection you already have.

Don’t misunderstand me: some of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten have been things money can’t buy. Even among the things that money can buy, there are times when people get me things that I appreciate, but I would never have bought for myself. There was a point in my life when every birthday and Chrstmas, those who were closest to me and knew me best would get me decorative M&M dispensers. At that point in my life, they were something I really looked forward to. When I got married and moved out of my parents’ house, I didn’t have room for them in my house, and was so glad that I could take them out of storage and put them up on display when I leased a building for the Kung Fu school. I mean, it was hard explaining that they were all always empty until I opened the snack bar, when I included a pump on one of the dispensers for 50¢. But to be totally honest, the last two years of getting M&M dispensers was kind of tedious. I was living in a small house that didn’t have room to display them, and I had more than I could keep stocked even if I had tried. Through the years, all except a few have ended up broken, given away, or sold at garage sales because I no longer have a place for them.

But the only reason that people would know to get me M&M dispensers at the time I was “collecting” them was because they knew me well. I’m not generally a collector. I never bought an M&M dispenser. Never. Not even once. They were never worth the money. Not even the 50¢ ones. But I do love creative creature-characters (like the M&Ms) and creative artistic displays and cute mechanical devices and chocolate. If someone knew me well, knew which M&M dispensers I had, and which were my favorites, could easily find an inexpensive gift that I was going to appreciate. They knew that it wasn’t worth my time running through the selection of dispensers available to find the right one, and they could relieve me of that burden. I only had the joy of appreciating the plastic mechanisms in action.

I don’t know anyone that works at the local grocery store well enough to make that kind of declaration of my appreciation for their services when I need to use the restroom. I don’t know the owner well enough to do that. All I know is that they sell groceries. As someone who has been both a worker and an owner, I know something else: they’d rather be home with their families.  I don’t mean that they don’t enjoy their job and see their place in the world. I mean that if the grocery store charged admission on the way in instead of providing a paycheck on the way out, they would be perpetually understaffed. I mean that they are not merely objects that exist solely to provide services to me. The people that are working there — including the people that are cleaning the bathrooms and the managers and owners that administer their schedules — might in theory still do some sorting of groceries and cleaning of bathrooms even if no one appreciated their efforts. It’s possible (unlikely, but possible) that the entire staff is doing for a living the very thing that they would do for a hobby if they had the chance. They would still do less of it, though, and they would do it when they wanted to, not when I needed them to. And that’s in the ideal circumstance, where everyone there is doing the thing they love. Far more likely, if the owners and managers limited their staff to those who did what they love, they would be understaffed. Too often, I think people forget that there are real people behind the business facade, and that both the employees and owners are people too.

In economics, there’s actually a term for this: opportunity cost. Economists consider this the real cost of anything. The cost of going to work is that you spend less time with your kids. At a certain point, I actually reached a point where it wasn’t worth it any more. I had my bills covered for the foreseeable future, and decided that finding a job would take time away from my children and my active pursuit of an associate’s degree that I couldn’t replace any other way. The conversations that came from that led to my wife and I trading, and I became the stay-at-home parent and she went to work.

In a small community, managing your appreciation for different groups is relatively easy. We humans have fairly large and sophisticated brains. If we’re only keeping track of a hundred or so relationships, we are pretty good at acknowledging which people are doing right by us and which are hurting us and which don’t do good or bad by us. In some cultures, this is exactly how large segments of the economy are or have been managed. In many Native American cultures, someone who amassed a lot of material wealth was expected to invite all of their friends to give away as much of their worldly goods as they could. But they would give away to others according to their social rank, and in hopes of elevating their own social status. In Roman culture, Senators and Emperors would hold large parties. Even if you look at the Atlantic Slave Trade, even though they measured the value of their cargo in gold or silver, they rarely ever exchanged gold. They would trade slaves for sugar, sugar for guns, then guns for slaves, always bartering up.

Whenever a culture gets to a point where it needs to manage connections between people who don’t know each other well, some kind of money materializes. Among the Aztecs, cacao beans were used as commodity currency. In the Pacific Northwest, the Native Americans were using shells. On the East Coast of America, they used beads. In the Pacific Island of Yap, they use large stone rings. At some point, it becomes necessary to tell someone you barely know, “I appreciate what you did here. Take some social power from me for yourself.” You don’t know if they collect M&M dispensers, swords, or computer parts, but you know that with these small slips of paper and metallic disks, they will be able to get whichever of these they prefer at whatever rate they would prefer to get them.

Money is, of course, more than this. Money is a measure of value, a way to store value, and lubricant for trade. Money is power, and those who get too attached to money end up either abusing that power or being abused by that power. But it’s hardly a surprise that money is power if what I’m saying is right. If God is Love, and money is a means to transport, store, and extend Love, then it stands to reason that what we are really transporting, storing, and extending is a little bit of the power that God has given us. We are given the chance to give or withhold Love with every dollar we have.

Why was Mary a Virgin According to Legend?

The world of serious Bible study is an interesting place. Whenever you think you’ve heard every possible interpretation of a passage, someone will come up with something new. Eventually, you do start to see patterns: the same people who see Christ’s declaration that Peter is the rock also see Jesus’s declaration to eat his flesh as literal. Those who see Christ’s declaration that Peter’s statement is the rock also see Jesus’s declaration to eat his flesh as symbolic. These interpretations tend to clump like that for historical reasons. You can track the genealogies of churches the same way you can track the genealogies of people or animals: the Eastern Orthodox churches all have more in common with each other than with Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have more in common than with Protestants. Baptists and Presbyterians have more in common with each other than Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox.

This same extension can seen going back into the three major Abrahamic religions: there are things that Islam and Christianity share that Judaism doesn’t, and things that Judaism and Christianity share that Islam doesn’t. Painting in broad strokes, Jews and Christians share a multivolume canon with many authors spanning centuries. Islam and Christianity share an almost militaristic view of the end of the world that Judaism doesn’t. When you get to that broad in your categories, you have to say, “not all Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” but the same is also true in taxonomy: not all mammals give birth to live young, not all reptiles lay eggs. But in broad strokes, most mammals give birth to live young and those that don’t share more in common with the majority of mammals than with the majority of reptiles and vice versa.

One of the distinctive interpretations that separates Christians from Jews is Isaiah 7. In this case, the divide is rather sharp and very complete. Christians interpret this passage in light of Matthew 1:23, pulling the idea in from the Septuagint that the young woman in question is a virgin and the prophecy is messianic. Jews, not seeing Matthew as authoritative, see the text as referring to Isaiah’s own time and not declaring anything in particular about the young woman’s marriage or lack-thereof or her virginity even if she were unmarried.

One of the problems that the typical Christian interpretation has is that the case for the Jewish interpretation is so strong. It’s so strong in fact that many Christians have come to accept that there must be something to both interpretations. Jews have not found the Christian interpretation to be nearly as compelling. Without appealing to Matthew as an authority, it takes multiple leaps of logic to get from the text of Isaiah 4 to a messianic prophecy or a virgin birth. A lot could be said about the words עלמה and παρθενος, but it’s already been said in other places and I don’t feel I have anything in particular to add to that except that the Hebrew edition of Matthew that I draw from uses the word עלמה just like Isaiah does. Yet the Hebrew edition makes it clear that Jesus was born before Mary and Joseph had consummated their marriage by saying, ולא [יוסף] ידע אותה עד ילדה בנה הבכור. 

Why was it important to Matthew to explicitly say that Joseph wasn’t the father of Jesus? Luke’s narrative is even more explicit and even more dependent on the idea of Mary being a virgin. Even if I’m right and Matthew wrote a Hebrew text that is reliably represented by the Hebrew manuscript I’ve chosen, you can tell that the Greek understudying was ringing in his ears as he wrote his account of Jesus’s life. There are hints in John’s gospel that some kind of narrative like this was known about Jesus. You can feel the sting that the Jewish leaders were trying to inflict with statements like, “We were not born of fornication.”

Contrary to popular belief, the ancients weren’t stupid. They were surprisingly insightful about the origins of children. It’s amazing that they realized fathers contribute anything to the makeup of the child. As it stands, even the ancients were skeptical of claims of human parthenogenesis.

I remember once, before I was married, I had a friend introduce me to a girl. We talked over a messenger service, as this was the days before social media. We had some interests and goals in common and decided to meet. We agreed to meet at 7 at a particular restaurant. Except she had been raised that you always arrive twenty minutes early for a date. When I arrived at 6:55, she was just finishing off a $200 bottle of wine. As a lifelong teetotaler, this was an upsetting sign for me. The fact that I was almost twenty minutes “late” was an upsetting sign to her. We tried to be friendly at the beginning of the date, and as such we may have shaken hands when we first met. I honestly don’t remember. If so, that was the full extent of our physical contact. For me, the lynch pin on the whole thing was when she wanted me to pay for the $200 bottle of wine that I didn’t order, I didn’t drink, and I didn’t want. I agreed to pay for the food, but not the wine, and I made sure to lose her contact information as soon as I left the restaurant. Then a few weeks later, she contacted me through the messenger service again. She was pregnant, and she was convinced that the child was mine. At the time, having not grown up in a family that uses much alcohol, I didn’t understand how she could not realize that there was no way for me to be the father of her child. I mean, that kind of thing seems pretty memorable. Later friends would hear me explain the date and help me understand that the level of her ability to conduct herself wasn’t directly correlated to the degree to which alcohol would impact her memory. (Living a life of moderation must be very complicated. That’s why I don’t drink.)

So when Jesus told his followers and enemies that he was born of God, they were understandably skeptical. But we know of at least one case where a girl that was definitely a virgin became pregnant and gave birth. As I’ve said in another place, I’m less interested in whether it could have happened then whether it did happen.

In the case of Mary, we lack the kind of medical history that would like to have to make such a claim independent of the Gospel accounts. But why would Matthew and Luke make these claims? When you look into the Jewish communities for which we have texts from that time, for example the Dead Sea Scrolls, there’s no sign that anyone was expecting the Messiah to be born of a virgin. This was something that Matthew and Luke added to their messianic interpretations independent of any other Jewish influence and also apparently independently of each other. Isaiah. The sources for Matthew and Luke regarding the early life of Jesus seem to have been very distinct from each other, yet they have this one element in common.

Matthew and Luke also seem to have taken an epic approach to Jesus’s life. It’s clear when you read these that they fit in well with other Jewish/Roman biographies, such as those written by Josephus. This includes writing in allusions to the lives of ancient Jewish heros. This doesn’t mean that they were inaccurate, it means that they were telling their story in a specific way that was well understood. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that the Slaughter of Innocents or journey to and from Egypt in Matthew 2 or the meeting between Gabriel and Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Mary in Luke 1 might be legendary additions, embellished by the authors at those points to make their point rather than to record history. I’m not. If that’s how the Holy Spirit led these great men, then I trust that he knows best. I generally regard those things which are recorded in two Gospels to be the more reliable historically. After all, at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. (Deuteronomy 19:15)

But as I’ve pointed out, the virginity of Mary at Christ’s conception is clearly spoken of by two authors. To me, the most probable reason for both sources to have that detail is because Mary and Jesus were telling people that this was a historical fact. And when you come down to it, Jesus and Mary do seem to be reliable sources for information like this. Even if the only one saying it was Mary, who are we to question her testimony on something that only she would know? Since we already know that Jesus was able to rise from the dead, accepting that he was conceived without a human father should be easy.

Why Didn’t Jesus Call Himself God

Jesus didn’t call himself God because he wasn’t a linguistic prescriptionist. Which, if he weren’t The Truth incarnate, would have been weird, because linguistic prescriptivism seems to be what we’re wired for, even though careful study of linguistics shows it not to be true. Actually, the study of linguistics doesn’t even have to be that careful. Plato figured out that language isn’t set in stone, and Western philosophers have kinda run with that ever since without ever looking back.

Somehow, highly religious systems have often failed to get that memo, though. Even though the gods of the Greek, the Hindus, the Norse, and the monotheist are radically different from each other, the preaching on any given Sunday over the last almost two thousand years would have you think that the word “god” always refers to the same kind of thing. Yet even in a small subset of that, like the monotheists, there are stark disagreements about what exactly the word “God” designates and if it matters whether we capitalize that first letter or not.

Jesus knew this before anyone else seemed to have figured it out. What’s more, there are definitions of the word “God” for which Jesus doesn’t apply.

One of these definitions takes a little care to unpack: “the uncaused first cause.” Aristotle identified four different meanings for the word “cause.” There’s the material cause, the efficient cause, the final cause, and the formal cause. I’m not sure that Aristotle’s system actually allows for anything to exist without a material cause, in the case of the divine community the material cause would be the divine substance. If we say that God is without efficient cause, that wouldn’t apply to Jesus, as the Father is Jesus’s efficient cause. If we say that God is that without final cause, then Jesus does not apply: the reason that Jesus exists is to fulfill the will of the Father. Like material cause, I’m not sure that Aristotle’s system allows something to exist without a formal cause.

This is where someone is going to chime in and call me a heretic. We’ve so many centuries in the shadow of philosophy that defines God as the uncaused first cause and theology that identifies Jesus with God that we can’t extract these things from each other. There’s nothing wrong with either one in isolation, but when they get combined in a particular way it leads to a false image.

The philosophical underpinning that defines God as the uncaused first cause is not a steady part of Christian theology, however. Especially when explaining and defining the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed, for example, includes the following lines: “The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.” The Athanasian statement of faith includes the lines: “But just as a river, produced from a well, is not separate, and yet there are in fact two visible objects and two names. For neither is the Father the Son, nor the Son the Father.” Even the Nicene and Constantinoplian Creeds calls Christ, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,” where the word “from” that appears there translates the Greek word ἐκ, which most often refers to something extracted from something else. For example, in Mark 5:2, ἐκ refers to both leaving the ship and leaving the tomb. So right from the beginning the Fathers that worked so hard to define the Trinity for us already made it clear that the idea of an uncaused first cause applies only to the Father, not the Son.

The Son was begotten out of the uncreated, self sustaining, divine substance without dividing it or making more of it. The Son is what the Father is. The Spirit is what the Son and the Father are. What they are is Truth, Love, Justice, Honor, or any of a host of other names we could find or invent to define the morally perfect author of morality. Yet morality was not defined by committee, but by replication: morality isn’t so much doing what God said, it’s being what God is.

Jesus did exactly that. He wasn’t just following God’s commands. He was and is what God is. Some people have a very particular view of who and what God is, though. That isn’t to say that they more or less accurately understand who is in the Trinity. It’s just to say that they’ve fixed upon another definition of the word. Jesus, in his infinite wisdom, was able to say, “They’re not wrong.” They were appealing to the wisdom literature of Plato to learn that God is that which exists with no source. That definition applies to the Father, but not the Son and not the Holy Spirit.

However, if we were to take the ancient ceed from Deuteronomy 6:4, what was Yahweh? I think that in another place I’ve shown that the Angel of Yahweh is Yahweh himself and the Holy Spirit. By that same logic, the Son is Yahweh with the Father and the Spirit.

In short, I think that Christ is God and is Yahweh, but I think he was very wise to not apply such a slippery and hard to define word to himself.

Truthism and Christianity

When I was working technical support, I often had customers that would complain that it was impossible for whatever thing had broken their software or connection to have changed. I adopted a saying which often defused these situations: “Regardless of whether it could have happened or not, it did.” If they objected, then I would add, “Okay, but my explanation that includes that thing you think is impossible was part of fixing the problem. You’re welcome to believe whatever you like, but the way I believe allowed me to fix your problem.”

I’ve found this way of thinking has often aided me in deeper understanding of the world. I’m far less interested in what could have happened than what did happen. Sometimes we’re wrong about what could have happened. After all, no one is right all the time. So if we start looking into the claims of a religion, starting with a presumption regarding what we knew happened or didn’t happen because it’s possible or impossible seems to me like a strange way to approach the question.

Christianity, like most religions, is both a culture (actually a bunch of cultures, but that’s another topic) a practice (actually a bunch of practices, but that’s another topic) and a series of claims. Truthism doesn’t have much to say directly about culture or practice, so I’m going to leave those two topics to one side for now. That leaves the claims of Christianity.

Christianity has a number of flavors out there. So many that it is difficulty to pull out one set of claims as the one and true right and legitimate set of claims that are the Christian claims. So I’m not going to try. It doesn’t matter, anyway. No matter how many claims there are, each one of them needs to be evaluated independently. This is one of the reasons why defining who is and who is not a Christian can become so difficult. Many groups are seeking an exclusive claim to the title. With that said, I don’t know if you or your pastor would consider me a Christian. My allegiance is to the Truth, even if the Truth is at odds with what you call Christianity.

This gets complicated by the fact that not all the ideas we are accustomed to grouping together in our artificial systems actually go together. Often I will be associated with beliefs I don’t have because I hold particular claims often associated with Christianity. I do believe in the inspiration of scripture. I do not believe in the traditional solae of the Protestants, nor do I believe in the sacraments  in quite the same way the Catholics and Orthodox seem to. So what does that make me?

For a lot of the claims that go into various forms of Christianity, there’s a certain point that two sides agree: in a debate between a Reformed Calvinist and a Strict Provisionist, they both agree that whichever Christ taught, that’s the right one. They disagree about what Christ thought, but they agree that whatever Christ taught, the thing that Christ taught is right. I agree with that sentiment. I have been convinced to change my mind on a subject by nothing more than being convinced that Jesus taught something different than what I was teaching. Other times, I reach a point in a debate where I will say, “I do agree that Christ is right, I just don’t agree that you agree with Christ on this point.”

What makes Christ so important in this way? Of course, in answering that, I speak only for myself. There may be other approaches to this. For me, as a Truth seeker, knowing that he is Truth taken human form means everything.

Is that even possible? Can the Truth really just step out of Eternity into time and take human form and live a life? Wait, that’s the wrong question entirely. Regardless if it’s possible or not, it happened. So let’s change to the right question: How can I be so sure?

There is a belief about Jesus out there that is on the far extreme. It’s called “mythicism.” It uses a particular definition of “myth” that I don’t like. I’m perfectly happy to call Jesus a myth if we’re using something more inline with the tag-line of Extra Mythology: “Myths are not stories that are untrue… Rather they are tales that do not fit neatly into the historical record… Which serve as a foundation to a culture.” Although like the myth of John Henry, I do believe that Jesus does fit neatly into the historical record. Jesus also stands as the foundation to several cultures.

Even skeptical historians agree with me that Jesus fits neatly into the historical record. Dr. Bart Ehrman has a book that details exactly why this is the case in more detail than I intend to go into here. Briefly, though, we can compare like to like and come to conclusions about Jesus as a historical figure by what we think about historical figures with similar documentation. If we compare the documentation related to the teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus to the documentation related to the escape, rebellion, and death of Spartacus barely a hundred years earlier, we see a surprising number of similarities. For example, Spartacus is only recorded in a few sources. For Spartacus, these are only Plutarch, Frontinus, Florus and Appian. Although Dr. Ehrman gives a good reason to count several more sources for Jesus in his book “Did Jesus Exist?” this maps well to the four gospels. It’s unbelievable that a runaway group of slaves could have taken on the vast Roman army and held their own for so long, and yet no matter how believable it is, the records are clear. Spartacus left almost nothing in the archeological record, which is similar to Jesus. The wars which Rome fought with runaway slaves were recorded in other sources, and the Church serves the same purpose as the aftermath of these wars to prove Spartacus. Simply put, if you’re going to reject Jesus as unhistorical due to lack of evidence, then Spartacus and many other well accepted historical people and events will have to go as well. I’m not eager to throw away the historical method that has served so many historians so well, and those historical methods bring us to accept that Jesus was in fact a real person.

Yet the only reason we have documentation on him at all is that many of his followers claimed to have seen him alive in the month or so following his crucifixion. Their stories of seeing him alive weren’t the stories of grieving students that saw him just going around a corner or out of the corner of their eye when they were fishing. They claimed to have had complete conversations with him in person face to face in groups, all interacting with him as though he were there.

Which is strange. I mean, I’ve seen death in person, and in every case I’ve thought I heard a heartbeat that wasn’t there or saw an eye blink that stayed shut or whatever. But no one else saw or heard the things I imagined. And because no one else saw them or heard them, they faded quickly. This seems to me, from what I’ve read, to be compatible with most people’s grieving experiences: fleeting and unshared visions. You just don’t hear stories about how a group shared a hallucination of the one they have recently lost. In fact, it is a common trope in stories to demonstrate that a dream was something more than a dream to have it shared by two or more people, because we all know that what’s in our head doesn’t spontaneously migrate to another person’s head unless and until we tell them. It’s worth exploring the fact that miracles do happen to feel how plausible this really is.

Before his crucifixion, Jesus claimed to be the living Truth and offered his upcoming resurrection as the evidence that he was honest. How can that be? Can something metaphysical like Truth become physical?

To this point, I think that a blog post makes an excellent example. A blog post exists in a form without matter on the web. Yet if someone takes that blog post and prints it, then it becomes material. You can hold it in your hand. What you hold in your hand is certainly the same blog post, but physical instead of metaphysical. There are questions for which the answers we have so far feel unconvincing for some, such as how words and ideas are connected and how words and paper are connected, but we know that even if we don’t understand all the details of the process, the same blog post is both online and on paper.

In a way, it makes sense for Truth to sacrifice for us, if Truth is the same thing as Love. There is a point where the natural Truthist, exposed to Christianity and the doctrine of the Trinity for the first time, might end up saying, “No, actually that tracks.” After all, if the Truth is alive, and Truth and Love are ultimately identical, and Love is manifest through self-sacrifice, then Living Love would need to sacrifice itself in order to truly be love. I’m not like some theologians where I think an incarnation is the only way it could have played out, but it’s certainly an option that’s in play. Since we have a historical event that lines up so well with something we might expect for that very circumstance, the pure yet innocent Truthist is left to say, “Oh, so that’s how he decided to do that. Good to know.” Since we’re already on the topic of myths, for a legendary approach to Christ’s incarnation, I recommend the Gospel According to Matthew.

There are those who are fixated on a physicalist understanding of the universe. They are quick to say, “That can’t have happened that way. The Truth can’t have taken physical form. A man can’t die and then come back to life.” To these, all I can say is what I said to my customers: “Regardless of whether it could have happened or not, it did. My explanation, which includes those things you think are impossible are based on the best methods available to determine what’s historical and what’s not. You’re welcome to believe whatever you like, but the way I believe is based on a consistent approach to understanding history and the world around us.”

Truthism Axiom 12: Truth Seeking in a Subject Requires Placing the Subject at the Center of the Conversation, Not Individuals

I love being a parent. There is no one I would rather spend the majority of my time with than my children. My children are my whole world. My son is creative and loves to tell new and inventive stories, often borrowing characters or situations from his favorite shows and combining them in new and interesting ways. He comes up with  surprisingly insightful stories. My daughter is intelligent and thoughtful and often finds connections in things that most people, myself included, miss. Hearing my children and playing with them and talking with them are genuinely the highlight of my day.

Everything gets to be a little much if you give it enough time, though. Spending time with them is my favorite thing, but I need a break from them every once in a while. This is fine, most of the time. My children are understanding and they know that I set a lot of time aside for them. They don’t need me every moment of every day. There are times, however, when they are feeling an acute need for Daddy Attention at the same moment that I’m feeling an acute need for space or adult conversation.

Being children, they don’t always handle this in the most responsible and mature way. They will interrupt conversations I’m having with other adults, or they’ll request snack after snack without eating anything, or they’ll make a fuss about not being able to do some very simple task that I know they normally accomplish very easily. When I start to recognize these signs, I’m able to lower to a knee, bring our faces together, and say, “I understand you need some Daddy Attention. How about if I finish this up, and then in twenty minutes we will do something just for us?” Since my children are mature and responsible and know they can trust me to live up to that promise, they will often agree.

We all have those moments when we want to be the center of attention. Sometimes this is much more urgent than simply feeling a moment of loneliness. Sometimes we’re in pain or in danger (or we legitimately think we are in danger). We find ourselves in a moment that, if our immediate needs are not addressed, there will be repercussions in our personal, professional, or emotional lives. On some level we want to be patient and mature and reasonable and understanding, but it isn’t prudent. In those situations, it is not patient or mature or reasonable or understanding to expect us to carry ourselves in a way that is patient or mature or reasonable or understanding.

I think there’s a value in recognizing that hypocrisy. It’s okay to say, “I get that you want me to be mature, but the mature thing for you to do would be to answer my request. You’re not in a place to dismiss my request as immature without calling hypocrisy down upon yourself.” There are also times when you honestly feel this way, and your personal experience has incorrectly bolstered those feelings, but we’re wrong. We and everyone else would be better off if we just dropped our little problem and listened to others. I worked telephone based technical support for seven years. I distinctly remember one time that a caller called in, wanting to order a pizza. The caller would not give me any personal information and was not a customer of the client I was supporting. But he knew what kind of pizza he wanted. After a few minutes of suggesting that he try calling a pizzeria, the caller was so upset that he demanded to speak to a supervisor. I knew that a supervisor was not going to be able to help him order a pizza, and I told the caller this. I told the caller that he had dialed the wrong number, and that his best course of action would be to hang up and call a pizzeria. He then demanded not only to speak to a supervisor, but to be expedited to that supervisor. Once he was speaking with a supervisor, the supervisor also recommended that he call a pizzeria.

All of his hurt, and his anger, and his feeling of being unheard wasn’t helping him solve his problem. When I told him that I was located in Oregon, I was accused of lying. (I never did find out where he was from.) When I offered to look up pizzerias in his local area and get him some phone numbers, he assured me he would get me fired for directing business away from my boss. (I wasn’t fired, in fact the supervisor told him that this was above and beyond the call of my duty and that he should appreciate what I was offering.) His anger and frustration grew and focused with everything I offered to do that was not making a pizza. He felt completely in the right: he was sure that I was a lazy pizza boy that was just trying to get out of helping a customer by ignoring his request. He had placed his feelings at the center of the conversation instead of placing the conversation at the center of the conversation. If he had stopped and listened to me, his problem would have been resolved much sooner. If our policies had been different on that contract, my best course of action both for his benefit and my own might have been to hang up on him.

It took me decades to find the way to determine whether I’m the one being unreasonable or the other person is the one being unreasonable. Making this discovery was tied into the study of logical fallacies. When you get to looking at what most logical fallacies do, they can be broken down into two broad categories. Either it’s circular, or it’s distracting. Circular fallacies always come back to the same point, one way or another. This can be a small circle or a large circle. To use my favorite example from when I was a teenager: “Do you know why ‘because’ is the perfect reason? Because.” (That’s the smallest circle in a circular argument that I’ve ever encountered.) Circles are usually a little bigger. “It is illegal to own tigers in the city because it’s wrong to keep tigers in the city. It’s wrong to keep tigers in the city because it’s illegal.” Sometimes they get very large and very elaborate. “The book is a modern classic. It’s a modern classic because so many people read it. So many people read it because it’s assigned in a lot of schools. It’s assigned in a lot of schools because it’s a modern classic.” You would be amazed how big some of the circles get. I’ve followed the logic around in circles for twenty steps at times.

The other thing that logical fallacies can do is distract you from the topic at hand. I always used to tell people, “Don’t make excuses for me. I can make excuses for myself, and I’m better at it.” Most excuses really are trying to distract from the problem at hand. This is where pointing out that there’s a hypocrite in the mix often comes into play: if you’re too busy pointing out hypocrites, then you can’t actually deal with the problems. Worse yet, if there isn’t actually a hypocrite in the mix, the accusation means that we need to stop dealing with the problem long enough to determine if there’s a hypocrite in the mix. After all, if there’s a hypocrite, that does legitimately alter the urgency. 

The goal should always be to put the discussion at the center of the discussion. When the thing that’s at the center of the discussion is not the discussion itself, you run a risk of being the one who is being unreasonable. The data needs to drive the discussion, not the discussion driving the data. Two clear examples highlight this: the difference in the way CFC caused ozone depletion was handled in the 1980’s, and the way that carbon based climate change is currently being handled. I don’t feel remotely qualified to address what should be done regarding carbon based climate change, but those who are qualified to comment on it are saying that we are doing it wrong. Instead of following the advice of those who are in the know of that subject, we are distracting from the data with emotional outcries that the way things are is the way it needs to be or has always been.

Sometimes emotions are a part of the data, but the emotions need to be treated as the data they are, not more not less. There’s nothing wrong in saying, “This policy change will hurt my brother, and then I will be upset.” But then when several other people stand up and say, “While this policy change will hurt your brother, it will save our brothers,” you need to listen to that with every bit of the intensity you expected them to listen to you.

Political discourse is always trying to take the data out of the conversation. Political discourse builds circles within circles, and brings emotion and passion to the conversation, all in an effort to silence the experts in any given field. When the Affordable Healthcare Act was rolled out, several states had websites created to help manage subscriptions to state provided health care. In Oregon, Cover Oregon was intended to provide the resources for those who needed help. The service was never well established and ultimately failed. The system was supposed to be developed by Oracle, but instead it became a financial hole into which the state of Oregon dumped money over and over without any gains.

When I was an associate trainer teaching others how to do technical support, I had a catch-phrase that many of my students found helpful: tech the problem, not the solution. If your diagnostic test can’t run, rather than spending ten minutes trying to fix the diagnostic (teching the solution) try to get as much information as you can and fix what’s wrong (teching the problem.) Oregon fell into the trap of teching the solution: they poured more and more money into Oracle asking them to fix the website rather than realizing that they weren’t going to and moving on. They had political dealings with Oracle, and honoring those political commitments distracted them from solving the problem.

Whenever you confront a problem or a discussion, and you find yourself dismissing data that doesn’t support your narrative, that’s an immediate sign that you’re not really an ally of Truth. You’ve abandoned Truth and have put something else at the center of the conversation that shouldn’t be. Then you are in not in any better off a position to make demands than your political or emotional rivals on the other side. If you want to have the right to demand change, you need to look every moment at the available data and say, “These data indicate I was wrong, so I’m changing my mind.” It’s only once someone has mastered this that they can truly start to call themselves a Truthist.

Truthism Axiom 11: True Love and True Truth are Ultimately Identical

In the movie The Majestic, actor Jim Carrey plays Peter Appleton, a man who has lost his memory. He settles into a town where Harry Trimble, an elderly gentleman, believes him to be a long lost son. Believing he has his heroic son back brings Trimble joy and satisfaction in a way that he had previously thought impossible. Then suddenly Appleton remembers his true identity, and is confronted with a conundrum: does he tell Trimble the truth, or lie to him? To add cinematic tension, just after Appleton discovers the truth, Trimble suffers a catastrophic health failure and Appleton is forced to decide what to tell his adopted father as he dies, even before he has fully processed it himself. As Trimble dies, the last thing he hears is an imposter impersonating his son.

Another Jim Carrey movie has an interesting take on truth telling. In the movie Liar Liar, Jim Carrey’s character Fletcher Reede is a lawyer cursed to be brutally honest for twenty four hours. Once he realizes that he’s unable to lie, Reede needs to find a way to get excused from his duties at court in order to expedite the conclusion of the curse. He manages to request a bathroom break, and beats his head against the wall until he looks like he’s been in a fight. In court he describes himself to the court as his assailant, without mentioning that it is in fact himself. Unfortunately for our protagonist, this isn’t enough to get him excused.

The Tao Te Ching by Lou Tzu begins with a line that says, “The Dao that can be stated, is not the eternal Dao; The name that can be named, is not the eternal name.” Chapter 25 gives more insight into the author’s thought on the subject: “Mired into existence, Before the conception of heaven and earth, Tranquil! Desolate! Independent and undeterred, Cyclical and not circumvented, As being the mother of all nature. Its name is unbeknown, I call it the Art of the Dao And arbitrarily describe it as great.” While there are hints of linguistic determinism and cyclical history that I disagree with in these sections, there is also a complexity expressed here that Lou Tzu and I both struggle with. There is an Ultimate to which I aspire, for which any word I ascribe quickly hints at another meaning which is incompatible with my intention. I want to call it God, but for some this brings up the images of divine statues of ancient days or cartoonish caricatures never intended by their original inventors to be understood as any serious intent. I want to call it Truth, but the linguistic determinists of our day envision the Liar that deceives with true statements rather than the Majestic Hero that only withholds what would hurt without cause, whereas my vision is more compatible with the Majestic Hero than the Lying Lawyer.

It may be counterintuitive to hear one who honors the Truth above all else say that there are times when an untruth is the right thing to do, but it’s true. In philosophy, greater Truth is often discovered through the use of thought experiments, which are at their core untrue stories that illustrate Truth. I have often marveled at the fact that many of the greatest truths are found in fiction. In Christian literature, both Dante’s Divine Comedy and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress are certainly fiction, and yet great truths are revealed in their pages. Jesus’s parables are not retelling the planning of specific gardens or building of specific houses or deaths of particular people. They tell a different kind of Truth. When Jesus told Mary and John to regard each other as mother and son, he didn’t rewrite their DNA to make them related. He was telling a different kind of truth.

The Truth that I seek is not just a collection of facts with objective values. It is that, but it is not only that. So maybe Truth is the wrong word for some people, because all they can envision with that word is a collection of facts with objective values. The Truth I seek doesn’t just see that there is a collection of objective values, but also that there is an objectively right way to pursue these facts and their implications. As Paul says in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, “If there should be in me the gift of prophecy, and I should understand all the mysteries, and every science; and if there should be in me all faith, so that I could move mountains, and love should not be in me, I should be nothing.”

It’s not enough to be right if you don’t do right. Since we’ve turned a corner from being right to doing right, any discussion of doing right only makes sense in terms of doing right in relation to someone or something. Theologians have a term for doing that which is good for another: Love.

However, just like Truth, the word “Love” gets manipulated. Love, in the Theological sense, absolutely should be present in romantic partnerships. However, often romantic couplings are formed at least initially out of a desire for the other person rather than a desire to do right in regards to that other person. How many fairy tales would have ended at the first line if the prince or princess had respected the desire of the object of their affection to be left alone?

Consider Romeo and Juliet. It’s common to hear someone exclaim, “They loved each other so much!” As a linguistic descriptionist, all I can say is, “The kind of love that desires to obtain even at the expense of the object of your desire’s life isn’t what I’m talking about.” If we were to rewrite Shakespeare’s play to conform to my vision, to express the kind of Love I’m discussing, it would be far more boring. A brash young Romeo crashing a party would have met a young and beautiful Juliet, recognized the danger in getting closer to her, and out of Love and respect for her well-being, he would have stayed away. If he didn’t, then a young Juliet, at first taken aback by the brash and brave behavior of Romeo, would have realized the danger a relationship represented to his life and well-being, and in hopes of protecting him would shoo him away when he appeared beneath her window.

I’m reminded of a time when I was working retail and a woman I was working with asked if I had given out her last name to a customer. I hadn’t. She explained that she had promised to allow the customer to add her as a friend if he could find her on Facebook, and then somehow he did. This was a problem because her boyfriend was likely to rightly learn that part of the way she earned such good commissions was by being flirtatious with male cucumbers. That included never saying “No” directly to requests for her social media. So when a man would ask to add her as a friend on Facebook, she would say, “Only if you can find me.” Many men got the hint. This one didn’t. There was obviously a communication problem there, but it seems to me that the right answer in this case might have been as simple as saying, “I don’t add people I’ve only just met.” When I suggested that, she complained that her commissions would suffer, that guys would be less likely to buy things from her if they weren’t trying to get her contact information.

This kind of self-focused, purposely bad communication is almost considered necessary for dating. I think of my grandmother’s observations about the evolution of sweethearts, to dating, to girlfriend, to friends, to seeing each other, all in an attempt by some to avoid overly committed language in public but convincing the object of desire that there was commitment in private. So often, the language we use in our pursuit of our desire is built on that fear that we will fail to obtain, whereas the Love that is discussed by New Testament theologians would be built on the desire to benefit. In evolutionary biology and psychology, they’ve actually invented a term which has had the staying power to express this idea: prosocial behavior. Sadly, this term has remained stuck in the fields of animal studies and has not worked its way into the common vocabulary.

So I find myself facing the same dilemma as Lao Tzu: whatever term I try to use to express this, it gets corrupted by those seeking to manipulate. I fear that even if I adopt the term “prosocial behavior,” people will use that to manipulate. The Romeos and sales girls of the world will say that they are simply socializing, and that’s prosocial. While such manipulative language is technically correct, they aren’t doing it because they’re being prosocial in the way I intend it, they’re doing it to obtain even if it’s at another’s expense.

More often, if we were to error on the side of being too honest, too data driven, and too careful to conform our words to reality, we would find that this is best for those we meet everyday. However, there is a deeper Truth which reminds us that there is a point where this is no longer helpful. There’s a time when you speak into the understanding of your conversation partner even though you know that understanding is wrong because you know it’s what’s best for them. Appleton did the right thing when he lied and told his adopted father that he was a long lost son at the moment that Jim Carrey had nothing left to gain. Reede did the wrong thing when he described himself as his attacker in the attempt to distract the court and to avoid doing what was just and right. An adherence to facts is not always the Truth, and a deliberate departure from the facts isn’t always against the Truth. Somehow, when we triangulate between Truth as matching the reality of the situation and Love as doing what’s right by the object of our action, we end up finding that they focus on something deeper, more profound, and possibly unnamable. Or at least unnamable until we all approach it truthfully.