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.

The Governor and the Brothers

Judah and Reuben stepped forward and laid down the money. The governor looked at the gold coins and then said something to the attendant in Egyptian. The attendant turned to the brothers.

“The governor says that we are rationing the grain, that only half this much can be bought at a time.”

“Yes, Sir,” Judah answered. “This is to return the gold which was accidently left in our sacks the last time we were here.”

The attendant said something to the governor who looked confused. The attendant then asked them, “When was the last time you were here?”

“Our brother Simeon was thrown into prison the last time we were here, a year ago.”

The attendant said something to the governor, who said, “Ah,” as if he realized something. Then he started into some kind of speech with which the attendant was obviously having difficulty keeping up.

“The governor says that you… this won’t buy your brother… only the payment of the youngest brother will purchase the elder… this money is no good.”

Judah and Ruben divided apart and Benjamin stepped forward between them. The young boy looked bewildered. He hadn’t ever seen anything like the governor before, wearing gold on his head and sandals and all over his linen clothes.

The governor pushed back the gold and spoke. The attendant translated. “You’ve held up your end of the bargain. You don’t need to buy your brother out of prison.”

“Yes, Sir, but you misunderstand. When we left a year ago, this gold was in our sacks. We think there was some kind of mistake and we are returning it,” Ruben clarified.

The attendant translated. The governor said something, and the attendant repeated himself. The governor looked suspiciously at the brothers and said something under his breath.

The attendant cleared his throat and adjusted his tunic. “The governor asks if you are admitting to theft.”

“No no no no no,” Ruben and Judah said I’m unison. “We think it was a mistake,” Ruben said, trying to talk over Judah.

Then Judah spoke louder, “Your attendants must have put the gold in the wrong sack by accident.”

The attendant did his best to convey the thought to the governor, but the look on the governor’s face grew more and more confused. Finally, he clapped his hands and said something. Moments later, large books were brought out to him.

Several attendants looked over the books with the governor. Periodically the governor would point to something and grunt a syllable, and one attendant or another would pound his chest and speak defiantly to the others. Soon, everyone was taking over the governor, who looked more and more confused. Finally he shouted something and the din of the attendants subsided. The governor spoke to the brothers again, and the interpreter just smiled. “There has been no mistake. Our records are clear. There was no lost gold that day. You did not steal this from Egypt.”

“Sir, we did not steal it at all!” Ruben objected. “It was in our sacks when we left!”

The attendant translated, but the governor waved and said something in a smug tone. The attendant looked agitated and replied to the governor who just laughed. The attendant looked back at the brothers and said in Hebrew, “You had best leave off on… whatever this is. The governor has accused me of making things up because I can’t understand you. I’m not losing my head over your practical joke or whatever this is.”

Ruben reached out and grabbed the gold slowly, then counted out the price for eleven sacks of grain.

The governor counted out the money and called for eleven sacks to be delivered. Then he stood up and made an announcement. The jaws of all the attendants present dropped. The translator just stared at the governor and the ten brothers just stood, waiting. Finally Judah spoke up. “What did he say?”

The translator turned back to the brothers. “You must have impressed the governor. You have been invited to be reunited with your brother at the governor’s house this evening, at dinner, at the governor’s expense.”

The brothers exchanged glances. Judah spoke to the attendant again. “Sir, if it is all the same, we would like to get moving towards home. If our brother could be returned to us now…”

The attendant interrupted. “You seriously want me to tell the governor that you’re turning down his offer after you played that joke on me and made the governor think I don’t understand you? What do you think he’ll think of that?”

Judah nodded. “I’m sorry. Tell the governor that we will be happy to join him this evening.”

The brothers weren’t sure what to expect when they came into the governor’s house. They greeted Simeon with a hug and then asked him how he had been. He laughed. “If I had known how comfortable Egyptian prisons were, I would have run away from home years ago!” he joked.

They might have guessed that the governor would have his own seat, but seeing two tables set up apart from him was a little strange. Benjamin was the one to notice the little clay slabs on the table. “Look, it’s my name!”

It was at the foot of the table. That made sense. Benjamin was clearly the youngest. They looked to the next seat to see whose name was there. Naphtali. Alright, that kind of makes sense. Next was Asher, then Zebulon, then Judah, and at the head of the table was Ruben.

Ruben stopped. “How could they tell I’m the oldest? You’ve got more grey in your beard than me, Judah.”

Judah gave a huff. “I just don’t see why I’m at your left. You and I have been the spokesmen this whole trip. I think I should be at your right hand.”

Simeon looked at the next slate. “Judah, I’m at his right hand.”

Judah stood up to look at Simeon’s name plate, and Levi next to it. “Is Issachar next?” he asked.

Issachar nodded. “I am. What’s going on here?”

Judah went back to his seat. “That means that the last two are Gad and Dan. Someone knew how to put us in order. Who told these Egyptians what the order of our birth was?”

The brothers each took their seats, looking at each other. When no one fessed up, Ruben got impatient. “Oh come on! It’s not that big of a deal! One of us said something, I just want to know who.”

Dan shook his head. Then Benjamin. Then one by one each of the brothers chimed in saying, “It wasn’t me.”

Judah slumped in his seat. “Something strange is happening on this visit. We’re being tested. God must be at work here.”

The eleven each said a quick prayer.

A trumpet sounded and food was brought into the house. Course after course of the best bread and honey and fruit that the brothers had ever tasted. It was clear that the attendants had a special place for Benjamin. They always served him first, and a couple times there wasn’t anything left by the time they got to Ruben.

And the wine! It followed like water. None of the brothers ever learned what the bottom of their cups looked like. A sip or two and an attendant would refill the cup. It made it hard to keep track of how much they were drinking. In the end, it was no surprise that the next thing that any of them remembered was waking up the next morning in their rooms.

They packed their bags and loaded up their donkeys, each one nursing their hangover. They left the city, headed for home at a leisurely pace.

The sun was setting when the Egyptian horsemen caught up to them. The governor jumped off his horse. He started yelling and screaming at them in Egyptian.

Judah approached the governor. “Can we help you, Sir?”

The governor kept yelling in Egyptian. He pointed back at the city and waved his hands in the air. Judah just shook his head. “I can’t understand you!” He repeated louder and louder, hoping that eventually the governor would get it.

Finally another horse came up. The translator yelled, “I’m here! I’m here! Just a moment!” as he jumped off the horse.

The attendant ran up to the pair, listening to the governor spew hateful word after hateful word.

“The governor would like to know why you have stolen from him,” the attendant said calmly.

The governor kept repeating a couple of syllables over and over that the attendant ignored.

Judah put his face in his palm. “Not again,” he said. “I meant to check our bags before we left. I swear that we didn’t steal anything.” Judah opened his bag and, sure enough, there was the gold that they used to buy the grain. Judah grabbed the coins and took them back to the governor and knelt down. “Tell the governor that his servant made a mistake. We will return all the gold that he finds missing.”

The attendant translated, and the governor’s nostrils flared as he knocked the coins to the ground. He started screaming again.

The attendant cleared his throat. “The governor is well aware that you brought extra gold. He wants what was stolen.”

Judah started picking up the coins. “We haven’t stolen anything. It was a misunderstanding. And this is more gold than I brought.”

The attendant translated it to Egyptian, and then the governor kicked the coins out of Judah’s hand as he was picking up the last coin. The governor yelled again. The attendant bit his lip, then said, “The governor thinks that you know which item he is referring to.”

Judah shook his head as he stood up. “Item? What item? I don’t understand.”

The attendant translated as the governor stepped into Judah’s face. Venom dripped from the governor’s lips as he closed the distance. The attendant tried to keep calm as he translated. “The governor says there was a cup.”

Judah shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sir, but…”

The governor yelled inches from Judah’s face. The attendant, struggling to keep up with the conversation, said, “It was gold with a mother-of-pearl design…”

Judah interrupted right back. “I don’t even know what mother-of-pearl is! I didn’t steal any…”

The governor interrupted again, screaming. The attendant was really struggling now. “No more words, Hebrew! Get the cup!”

“We don’t have a cup! Search our stuff!” Judah yelled back.

The translator stuttered as he tried to keep up with the two interoculators. “We will search everything until we find it, you thieves.”

“We aren’t thieves!” Judah yelled back. “So help me, if you find it, then whomever’s donkey you find it on, they’ll be your slave!”

The governor said something that the translator didn’t repeat. They cut open Judah’s sack of grain. Ruben stepped forward to object, but Judah put out his arm. “Let them. They’ll refill our sacks when they don’t find his ugly cup.”

Ruben’s sack was emptied next. Then Levi’s. And down the list until only Benjamin’s donkey remained.

Two guards pulled the sack off the donkey and Judah turned to face the governor as they started dumping out the grain. “I think an apology is in order,” he said as the Egyptians chattered behind him.

The translator didn’t say anything. So Judah said a little louder and in the direction of the attendant, “I said I think an apology is in order.”

The translator just tilted his head towards Benjamin’s supplies. For Judah, the whole world stopped. He spun on his heels to see one attendant holding up what had to be the world’s ugliest cup. It was glowing gold from top to bottom, with a disgusting swirling white pattern that was the brightest white Judah had ever seen. Ugly, disgusting red and clear stones studded up and down the body of the cup. Worst of all, there were images of gods and men carved into the white on the sides, giving the people who appeared there a glow that only served to turn Judah’s stomach even more sour. Two Egyptians grabbed Benjamin and started to bind his hands behind his back.

Judah threw himself on the governor’s feet. “My Lord! Please, no! Don’t take the boy!”

The translator translated. The governor didn’t move. Judah’s tears flowed freely from his face. “Not the boy! Take me! This boy is the youngest son of our father, and I swore to our father on my own life that this boy would return safely. I have done evil! I sold his brother into slavery, and now God is punishing me! Leave the boy, and I will serve you as your slave happily for the rest of your life! I’ll eat crumbs and drink rainwater for my master’s entertainment! Just let the boy go free!”

The governor barked something at the Egyptians, and they released Benjamin. Then the Egyptians all rode or walked back a few hundred yards. Once they were out of earshot, the governor started crying, leaning down and embracing Judah. The whole company of brothers looked from one to another trying to make sense of this development. Then, in perfect Hebrew, the governor started to speak between sobs. “It’s me! It’s Joseph! My brothers! Is our father well?”

Families and Generations — ancient and modern

Have you ever thought about the words “pants?” Strange that it’s always plural, isn’t it? All the different ways to talk about the same or compatible clothing are similarly plural: shorts, trousers, slacks, pantaloons, and so on. The reasons for this are obscure. It probably comes from a time when each leg of the ancient forerunners of the clothing items were two separate pieces of fabric. Regardless of how, now the English language has evolved and then solidified with no singular version of the word. For my part, I can’t even imagine what a singular “short” or “pant” would look like.

English isn’t the only language with this oddity. Hebrew has a word like this, too. תֹּלְדוֹת is the Hebrew word often translated “generations.” It only appears in the plural form anywhere in scripture. You can see why. There’s no way it can really be singular, is there? By the time you’ve got one person and either their child or their parent, you’ve got two. It’s got to be plural.

It comes from the verb ילד, which is worth taking a second look at by itself in just a bit. It’s worth noticing that the ancients didn’t think of conception the same way we do today. Today we have a very clinical view of conception: the mixing of genes at a moment of fusion. Genes weren’t really discovered until 1865. Before that, there was no concept of genes when you said someone was your father or your mother. Ideas about conception ranged from seeing the woman as essentially a sterile vessel in which a clone of the man grew, to women and men contributing something to the health of a divinely inserted seed, to both contributing something and the parts being mingled like an alloy of metal. Objectively, we now see that all of these were wrong, but the ancients didn’t have microscopes. All they really knew was that nineish month after a couple got to a certain level of intimacy, a baby joined the community. Everything else was just conjecture.

Humans are nearly unique in the animal world in that our infants are basically helpless for the first decade of their life and the care that the mother is required to provide is more than what’s possible in most environments to sustain both herself and that infant. If any kind of hunting, labor, or forethought is required in the gathering of food where they are, then all children under ten will starve without nearly constant adult care. A mother that leaves her toddler alone to go hunting in a subsistence culture will most likely not have anyone to feed when she gets home.

We can imagine the first tribe having come to an area where farming and hunting were absolutely required. After the first few babies die because the mothers can’t care for the infants and themselves simultaneously, we can imagine the elders getting together and trying to figure out who is going to be responsible for giving food to the mother and infant. When they identify the presumed father of the infant as the one responsible, he’s going to ask why he’s responsible: sure, they were intimate, but what’s that got to do with anything? That other guy over there spends a lot of time with a lot of girls and none of them are taking his hard earned resources. If you’re just going to expect him to hunt for three instead of one, and that other guy is only hunting for himself because no one can prove he’s any particular child’s father, then that gives a clear path to financial freedom (if mildly dishonest.) Just be more sneaky next time and ensure no one can prove it’s yours.

And remember, this is the Bronze Age. It takes all summer for a person working the field to make their food. A person can easily make enough to feed themselves and their family on a good year, but in times of famine it’s harsh. No one can produce enough to support anything analogous to our modern, professional, full time, non-military police force. (A police force in the modern sense wouldn’t be practical until the population density reached the seventeenth and eighteenth century.) What can the leaders do? The only power the lawgiver really has is the power of peer pressure. They serve as a diplomat more than anything, making rules that everyone will agree to because of what they get out of it for themselves. They know that when a woman gets pregnant, there’s a man involved somehow, but they don’t actually know the mechanism.

I think that the primitive communities did pretty well with what they had. That doesn’t mean that I always and in every case think that the solutions they came up with are the only solutions we should enact in a digital age community. (That’s a question for sociologists and psychiatrists, which I am not.) However we’re going to solve these problems now, it’s worth remembering what the problems were that were being solved then.

The solution of the ancients was genius, if you think about it. The ancients recognized that something about the father became part of the child. They recognized that none of us are just randomly placed, but that we are connected. We’re a part of something, and whatever that something is that we’re a part of, our parents are part of the same thing. They recognized that our father and our mother are each a part of something but not each other’s something, and that somehow we are a part of our father’s something and our mother’s something. So the joint care of our father and mother would be called upon to protect and provide as a new something grows, starting with the two and their child, and then on and on. In modern English we call that something “family.” In Hebrew, they called it מִשְׁפָּחָה.

There was a linguistic component to this solution as well. The verb for what a woman did when she became pregnant, ילד, was applied to men as well. Of course, no one is really this stupid. Whenever a husband tells their family, “We’re pregnant!” only a fool thinks that this is literal and not metaphorical. It really was a leap for our Bronze Age ancestors to recognize that the man did anything at all, let alone notice how closely the male contribution to the genetics of the child mirrors the female contribution. My children really are just as much mine as they are my wife’s.

And so there are both male and female versions of ילד, and this is the verb upon which the noun תֹּלְדוֹת is built. So when you give someone’s תֹּלְדוֹת, you’re telling us what family or מִשְׁפָּחָה they belong to. You’re giving a record of people who have contributed to this person being who they are. With ילד in the mix, it was the same statement to say, “וְהָאָדָם יָדַע אֶת־חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד אֶת־קַיִן” (And Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived and she begat Cain — Gen 4:1) as it is to say “וַֽיְחִי אָדָם שְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה וַיּוֹלֶד בִּדְמוּתוֹ כְּצַלְמוֹ וַיִּקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ שֵׁת” (And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years and he begat in the likeness of his image and he called his name Seth — Gen 5:3) The only difference between the word used to describe Eve begetting and Adam begetting is that Eve’s is feminine and Adam’s is masculine. Whatever ילד means in the minds of the ancient Bible authors, it means the same thing for men and women, but it also isn’t the modern concept of mixing genes.

That’s why I like to keep the word “begat” for this concept. It’s not a word we use much anymore. Using a modern word to translate an ancient idea feels wrong to me. It’s not clear which idea the Biblical authors attached to the idea (or if various biblical authors attached various ideas to it) but it is clear that they didn’t have microscopes or DNA tests, so their ideas weren’t the same as ours.

I also find it interesting that the Hebrew word for a child is much more closely related to this term. יֶלֶד or יַלְדָּה, depending on if we’re talking about a boy or a girl. It almost feels like יֶלֶד should mean “son” and יַלְדָּה should mean “daughter,” but that’s not right. בֵּן and בַּת are much closer to what we would call “son” and “daughter.” I can call Carson בְּנִי and Annie בִּתִּי, but to do that to a random child running down the street needs more context. These words imply a relationship, a connection, that something about me has influenced them. Not strictly genetics, but something. That’s why you identify a person’s age by saying how many years they are a son or daughter of: every year they have experienced has contributed to who they are. But a יֶלֶד is only the product of ילד. It’s a child. So when a couple beget, they are doing the verb form of a child. They’re “childing,” to coin a word. The man “childs” and the woman “childs” and when they both “child” together the result is a child.

I think that for my purposes, I’m going to keep תֹּלְדוֹת plural when I translate it. We have the perfectly suitable English word “generations” to match that. No one will be confused if they stop and think for a moment about that, and to move it from plural to singular means sometimes changing pronouns and moving the clause around, and frankly it’s more work. However, I fully support anyone who does put in that work to go from plural to singular in their own translation.

I Wanna be a Rockstar

If I had a nickel in my back pocket for every time I was told that I could be whatever I wanted, I would be rich. If only it were so easy. I know that this isn’t something that you expect from a religious blog, but I think for most of us it’s foolish to underplay the draw of money. Most of us have something we would love to have that’s just outside our price range. It’s different for everyone, but most of us have something.

For example, I’ve never been big into clubs like some people. I’m just not a people person. Somehow, not wanting to go to a club doesn’t make me feel like I’ve won at life when I stay home and others go out, though. When I’m home alone, writing my next blog post, listening to lectures, and thinking deep thoughts, I’m exactly where I need to be. Regardless of where I need to be, I still wish there was someone that wanted to be there with me. For me, that would be winning.

I know that this isn’t the thing for everyone. For a lot of people, they want the kind of place that is going to wow any visitors. In fact, there’s a whole television show called Cribs dedicated to that idea. I’ve only seen one episode of Cribs. You know what? That looks like a lot of pressure to me. I’m really pleased with my tiny home with my tiny family. Less to clean when I’m ready to clean and less to fix when I’ve got things to fix. I’ve been in houses that have huge bathrooms and bedrooms and offices, and I end up wondering what the purpose is. It’s just more work, more pressure, more stuff to take away from my time with my kids.

There are some nice things that do seem nice to have. A hot tub does sound nice, but I think I’d rather visit a hot tub than own a hot tub. They take a fair amount of maintenance and I’m not sure it’s worth the time and energy for just me.

It always amazes me that people are willing to go deep into debt to get that kind of house and the fancy car and all those other things. I’m glad to have reached a point in my life where all my debt is paid off. I don’t want to go deep into debt again. I mean, maybe for a newer car, but I can’t imagine the people that go out of their way to get a jet or a giant bus or even a van to live out of if it’s not absolutely necessary.

One of the things that surprises a lot of people that know me is that I’ve started moving as much of my library as possible to my Google Books and Kindle accounts. Even if I had an opportunity to, for example, get my hands on an original New Testament manuscript or a Kosher Torah Scroll, I wouldn’t. I’d leave those for the proper museums and libraries and I’ll get scans for my phone so that it doesn’t take up too much space in my home.

But we all have something we want. Sometimes it’s something with a straightforward price tag, others it’s more nebulous. Recognition is something that I crave. I’ve reached a place where I’m pretty sure God hasn’t placed that in my future, though. The pursuit of recognition and community has led to some of the worst episodes in my life. I’ve learned to be content to write a blog that no one will read and books that no one will buy and audit lectures online from the comfort of my home for no credit.

I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I did get the recognition I crave. I mean, the kind of people that you’re going to recognize walking down the street usually end up hiding behind bodyguards and fences. There’s got to be a good reason for that, right?

I’ve never really wanted a bodyguard, but I can kind of understand the necessity. For my part if I were ever approached by a “fan” (but at this point I can’t even really imagine what that would look like) then I would love to just talk to them. I can’t imagine hiring someone for whom it was actually their job description to keep people away that wanted to talk to me. I can’t imagine the list of people who want to talk to me ever getting long enough to be any kind of problem. Fire some people it goes beyond just wanting to talk with them, though. They just want proof that their life touched the person they admire: a souvenir, a picture, or a signature. They would pay good money for that kind of proof. I would love to be the kind of person that someone wanted to touch in that way.

If my signature was ever actually worth anything, that would astound me to no end. I once heard about a little bank that a lot of stars keep small accounts in. The stars would write checks from that account, but they were rarely cashed. You see, the check, with the signature of the star, ends up being more valuable than the amount on the check. So these stars, just for being famous, get things literally for a signature. But stars don’t want the routing number and account number of their main account showing up on an auction site’s photo log or website for obvious reasons, so this bank has special protections in place for just such a purpose.

Even the richest eventually fall, though. Did you hear that the Playboy Mansion sold a few years back? How many people once wanted their life to intersect with Hugh Hefner, but the Playboy mansion ended up dropping in price before it sold. I guess it’s owned by the owner of Hostess now. I wonder if he’s decked it out in Hostess themed decorations or if he’s kept the Playboy theme. Then I think about what changes I’d want to make if I were in that position. My fandom is Avatar: The Last Airbender. Wouldn’t that be something, to see the former icon of erotic entertainment repurposed to highlight a children’s show about honor and integrity.

Fundamentally, I’m a shy, socially awkward introvert that spends too much time reading my Bible and reading and listening to other people who spend too much time reading their Bible with hearing damage and mild amusa with no poetic skill. Despite all that, I still want to be a rockstar. I want to walk into a room where everyone that’s there actually signed up just to hear me. I want someone to be excited to see me. I want someone to cancel other plans because they have a chance to hear me. I want someone to be nervous because they want to impress me. But I’ve come to a place where I realize that isn’t for shy, socially awkward introverts that spend too much time in deep study. I tried for a few years being something else, and it almost killed me in the end. So now I’ve accepted that this is who I am, whether I like it or not. I’m never going to be a rockstar. I may not even ever get back to the place where I have friends that I see more than twice a year.

But I can make the best of the life I’m in. I can study my Bible and raise my kids. There’s advantages to being alone. I don’t really answer to anyone except God anymore. Every so often I fall back into the trap of trying to write something that will be clickable or shareable, but after a few months I finally get back around to reminding myself that this just isn’t for me. Then I can just go back to posting what I want. I’m not really in this for fortune and fame. That’s why I’m not afraid to post in my own name. I’m just me, and that’s all I try to be.

When does life begin?

One of the questions that comes up often in the abortion debate is, “When does life begin?” By this, we don’t just mean when does cellular activity start, but when does a person start and stop being a real person.

Maybe we should back this up just a bit to make the question clearer: if I died, and then my kidneys were donated to another person, cells with my genetic code would continue to respirate for years, perhaps decades, after I was gone. But I would be dead. I am not my kidneys, and my life is not defined by how long my kidneys live. So it takes more than cellular respiration with my genetic code to define the limits of my life.

On the other end of the spectrum, the difference between a child who is about to be born and a child who was just born is just a question of location. There’s nothing magical about the birth canal. While I’m not comfortable identifying the moment when I start being someone and when I stop being someone with cellular respiration, I’m equally uncomfortable with it being set by situation.

We already have a word for those who ascribe value to a person based on their ability: eugenicists. The long term on any particular eugenics project has not been good. Even going as far back as the Spartans, selecting who lives and dies based on their ability ends up weakening rather than strengthening the community.

As I’ve investigated the question of when a person starts being a person, I’ve come to a very simple solution: (when dealing with higher mammals) if the heart beats, it lives. This position sometimes puts me at odds with other pro-life advocates, who prefer to define the beginning of life with fertilization. It means that oral contraceptives and physical barrier methods aren’t ethical issues for me. It does mean that I need to give a robust defense of my position, though.

First, consider the case of identical twins. If we start with the assumption that the embryo has a soul from the moment of conception, then a fertilized egg destined to split into identical twins must have two souls. Except the embryo doesn’t always know its destiny: they can be artificially split. And it can be artificially split three, four, or five times. This is done in the sheep and cattle industry sometimes. We don’t do it in people because the more often the embryo is split the more long term health problems the resulting individuals will have, and we’re far less concerned about the retirement plan of slaughter animals than people. Still, if some mad scientist split an embryo five times, that’s sixteen souls packed into that initial fertilization event. And what if the mad scientist starts with the intention of splitting five times and instead gets shut down before he can do the first? Do those other fifteen souls just disappear? How is that not murder? If the intention to split it creates the souls, then shouldn’t stopping the split destroy them?

If you back it up and say that only one soul is created and then when the embryo splits a new soul is created, then you’re already admitting that not all souls are created at fertilization. Which twin gets the initial soul? Many identical twins only have one implant and we never know anything about the second twin. Under this theory, the chances of getting the twin who was the “original” is 50/50. So there are millions of people walking around that are actually the second soul and therefore didn’t come into existence at fertilization… and you could be one of them. I could be one of them. And there’s no way to know.

This is why I think that making fertilization the beginning of our lives has complications and inconsistencies that are difficult to overcome. Occam’s Razor implies we find a moment for our life to begin that’s consistent for everyone. Which brings me to the second angle: how do we determine that someone is dead? We don’t measure someone’s death by cellular activity. Otherwise, as discussed above, someone who donates organs can live for decades after their family has buried them. We say that someone is being “kept alive” when there is no brain activity and a machine is pumping their heart for them. Someone “was dead” for ten minutes, an hour, or three days when their heart wasn’t pumping in that time. If the presence of a heartbeat defines the end of a life, it seems to me an adequate way to define the beginning of a life. Note, I say heartbeat and not heart, there is a Ship of Theseus problem in identity and organ transplant but that’s a whole ten volume set on its own that I’m not digging into here. I am taking the moment to acknowledge that there’s more to consider, though.

Finally my third angle: the Bible says that life is in the blood. If there was nothing else to consider and I hadn’t already found two other angles I would be happy to consider this poetic rather than literal. Is the weakest case and that’s why I put it last. Be that as it may, life is in the blood. Gen 9:4, Lev 17:11, John 6:53, 1 Cor 10:16. A fertilized egg has no blood. Blood doesn’t develop until your cells differentiate, right around the same time the heart starts pumping. Which makes sense, blood that stays still becomes stagnant and a heart that pumps without something to move just wastes energy. So when the blood is moving in your body, you are alive. When it stops (because there’s no heartbeat) you’re dead. It works well to identify the end of a life and is very consistent with the other two angles.

As I said, there are still edge cases that deserve careful consideration: do conjoined twins with a single heart share a life, etc. And this is a blog entry, not a bioethics journal. I’m not getting into everything, but note I say heartbeat, not heart, and I say that it is the movement of blood that tells us that there’s mammalian life, not that said life is actually centered on, in, or around said heart. I would actually be more inclined to place the center of that life in the brain, but that’s another six to ten paragraphs that only lightly touches the subject at hand so I’ll leave that there.

When dealing with individual cases, I would rather err on the side of caution. For example, if you’re watching under a microscope and trying to end embryos’ development just before the heart starts, you’re bound to miss sometimes. So instead of setting that point where we will begin protection at the first heartbeat, I’m all for protecting someone that’s not quite there yet. The human body has several mechanisms that will allow fertilization but stop implantation. For example, hormones such as prolactin released when some women are breastfeeding don’t prevent the release of an egg but do sometimes interfere with implantation. Are you going to call every husband that has unprotected intercourse with his wife while she is breastfeeding a potential but accidental murderer? Are you going to start lobbying to have women separated from their husbands while breastfeeding to prevent accidentally killing these embryos? I think that identifying what we’re actually protecting is helpful. It keeps us from going too far.

Some people like to point to Jeremiah 1:5 as evidence that God sees life beginning at federalization. The biblical authors didn’t really have a concept of fertilization. Jeremiah 1:5 is a statement of God’s foreknowledge. The word translated “before” there is בְּטֶרֶם. It can only be used to mean “prior in time.” The only way we can use this verse as an indication of the soul’s beginning is if we believed in the pre-existence of the soul, and I don’t. I do think that if we exclude the idea of pre-existing the language used in Jer 1:5 (“formed,” “came forth,” etc) implies that there is a moment when our existence began and that this moment is normally associated with the womb, but it doesn’t tell us when that moment is. It doesn’t say anything that would be more compatible with fertilization than heartbeat. Either works just as well there. I’m not aware of any biblical passage or concept that is more compatible with the soul starting at conception rather than the heartbeat.

Dying From an Overactive Imagination

Son: “Daddy, look!”

Me: “Oh, do you like that commercial?”

Son: “Yeah! I remember when I used to do that!”

Me: “Do what?”

Son: “I can’t remember what it’s called. But I used to do it with my friends.”

Me: “Oh! Swimming!”

Son: “Yeah, that thing I can’t remember what it’s called.”

Me: “I just told you, it’s swimming.”

Son: “Daddy, do you remember that thing? I can’t remember what it’s called. I used to do it with my friends, back when I had friends. Do you remember when I had friends, Daddy?”

There are a lot of things in this world that I don’t feel qualified to comment on. Politics, medicine, and economics are on that list. It’s a part of my philosophy known as The Wisdom of Socrates. It’s about knowing my limits. Sadly, this wisdom seems foreign to so many people in the world today.

It has been fascinating to watch events unfold on the news this year. Months ago, there were protests condemned by half the nation. They calling to defund the police. Then just a few weeks ago, the United States Capitol building was stormed by people from that half of the country which condemned the first riots. The people who were calling for dismantling the police were now wondering why the Capitol Police weren’t ready to respond. I’ve already commented on the hypocrisy of both sides, though. I really don’t understand military deployment or the politics behind all that, so I’m not going to comment on it.

In cases like this, I tend to look to the experts in the fields of study and get their opinions. But what if the experts have an agenda? So the first thing we need to get out of the way is a little discussion about conspiracy theories.

Conspiracies are real. They actually happen. Anyone who ever says that there aren’t any conspiracies is either lying or naive to a point of delusion. But the old saying seems to hold: two can only keep a secret if one of them is dead. Conspiracies happen, but once one domino falls it isn’t long before the patterns of deception and pain begin to reveal themselves, falling one after the other. The reason we know about conspiracies is because they’ve cracked. Very few conspiracies have survived the generation that spawned them.

These truths are very comforting and all that, but that does still mean that conspiracies do happen, and they sometimes make it weeks, months, or even a few years before notable cracks start to show up. So how can you know if you’re in the midst of a conspiracy? If there’s a conspiracy happening right now, what is the evidence for it?

I’m going to give an operational definition of a “conspiracy theory.” A conspiracy theory is one where a lack of evidence is seen as confirmation that there’s a conspiracy. A conspiracy theory isn’t automatically wrong. It might be that the conspiracy does go that deep. However, it is more often true that there will be cracks in the logic. As you dig into the data, the data will reveal something that contradicts the data, and there will be a reporter somewhere interested in digging deeper and making their career by exposing this conspiracy.

There have been a lot of claims this year of conspiracy. One of the things that bothers me is that a lot of these conspiracy theories are carried by the friends who are most explicit about calling themselves Christians. That kind of bothers me. I’ve read the Bible a lot, but I haven’t anywhere read that being gullible is desirable. Quite to the contrary, the Bible calls for wisdom and discernment. It should be Christians who are the most skeptical of conspiracy theories, not the most taken in by them. At least, Biblical Christians, as opposed to Cultural Christians.

Unless the conspiracy theories are right. Then Christians should be the first to realize that they’re right and be right at the forefront of exposing them. If there is a conspiracy out there and we know it, it is our job to expose it.

One of the theories that the Christians I know have been propagating is the theory that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election. The theory is that there have been votes counted for Biden that were intended for Trump, fictional votes counted for Biden that never existed, or votes for Trump that were never counted for one reason or another. Lawsuits have been brought to courts for many of these issues. Presumably these are the strongest cases with the best evidence. All of the lawsuits have been dismissed. Many of these have been dismissed by court appointees that Trump himself appointed. If there’s a conspiracy against Trump in this way, it goes deep. Now, if I wanted to, I could look up every case that was brought to court and dig into the evidence for each one of them. That turns into a game of whack-a-mole, and I’ve got other things that I actually enjoy studying that this would take away from. Besides, as I’ve already mentioned in a previous post, I don’t have a dog in this fight.

There is another theory spread by the same Christian friends, though. This one does interest me. According to these friends, COVID-19 is an attempt to destroy the Church or cast distrust against Trump or something similar. The basic idea is that COVID-19 doesn’t exist. This theory interests me on two levels. First, I have an immune compromised son. If COVID-19 is real, I need to do everything possible to protect him. If it’s a hoax, it’s no longer necessary to take steps to protect my son and can get him back into the swimming pool, where he can be with his friends that he misses so much. The other level that I’m interested in this for is that I’m a Christian. If this is really some sort of first-volley attack on Christians, I want to know that. I’m not sure how that would work, but even if it’s a bad attempt I want to know the attempt is being made.

It also occurs to me that this conspiracy can serve as a sort of proxy for the other conspiracy, since they both seem to stem from the same source. If the one is reliable, then maybe the other is reliable as well. Conversely, if the one turns out not to be a conspiracy, then maybe those who are spreading these just aren’t all that good at discernment. Maybe those who peddle this theory are unreliable and can be safely ignored unless and until actual evidence is presented that convinces the experts in that field.

So how could we know? I mean, people die all the time. Some of them are sick. How are we to speculate which ones are dying from COVID-19 and which ones are dying from some other source? If there is some kind of conspiracy which hasn’t started to unravel yet, we can’t just trust people to give us the information. They can just claim that everyone who has died this year has died of COVID-19, and then where does that leave us?

There is more to the claim, though. The claim is that more people are dying from COVID-19 than are dying of the normal, seasonal flu. If that’s the case, this increase should be detectable. There should be some way to tell that more people are dying now than have died ever before. However, if we simply trust those who claim this death or that death for COVID-19, we are engaging in a logical fallacy called Begging the Question. It means that we assume that there’s such a thing as COVID-19 in the attempt to prove that there’s such a thing as COVID-19. So what else can we do?

If more people are dying from COVID-19 than normally die from the seasonal flu, then shouldn’t there be more deaths over all? I mean, if normally 1000 people die from the flu, then shouldn’t there be 1001 or more deaths if COVID-19 is real? So I decided to check the data for total number of deaths in the United States.

It turns out that there’s a lot of data available on this from the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. You can get the number of deaths in the United States for every month from 1999 to 2018, then the number of deaths by month in 2019 and 2020. And if you plot that data, you can start to see something.

So looking at this data, we can see that in general, the number of deaths has been rising overall for the whole twenty two year period, and that in general there are more deaths in the winter than in the summer. Also, we can see that the winter of 2019 was unusually low, and that things get kind of chaotic in 2020. However, with this it is really hard to get a sense of what this means. The somewhat steady increase in deaths could be a function of the increase in population. So I ran the data again, only this time it’s a percentage of the total population.

You can see that this kind of evens out the data a little. When viewed as a percentage, 2019 is again a low year, but in general you see the same characteristic spike every year in the winter and then drop in the summer. (Apparently humans like heat more than cold. Go figure.) And again things go crazy in 2020, but it seems apparent to me that 2020 is in general higher than any previous year.

But we can do a little better. There’s a statistical trick you can run on data like this. When the data has a known cycle, you can do a running total over the course of that cycle. It evens out the data even more. So that’s what I did. I ran a twelve month running total on the number of deaths by month by population. Because my data starts in 1999, I couldn’t get a twelve month running total until January of 2000. I think in the end, the data is striking, though.

As you can see, the data indicates that things meander up and down for a decade, and then all of a sudden when 2020 hits the number of deaths starts to skyrocket. There’s a little bit of recovery in March and April (when we started the lockdown) but as we grew tired of it we  fell back into the patterns that resulted in people dying.

Now, I want to make one thing clear: this data does not presume the existence of COVID-19. This is strictly the number of deaths. This counts deaths by car accident the same as deaths by COVID-19. As such, this data cannot prove the existence of COVID-19. What this data does tell us, though, is that people really are dying of something. They’re not dying of overactive imagination. I don’t give any data to indicate what. As such, it’s entirely possible that the people in charge have identified the wrong virus or whatever and that this vaccine that’s being rolled out won’t do anything because it’s curing the wrong cause. Be that as it may, those who say there are people dying are the ones telling the truth. It’s the people who say that this is an attempt to remove our rights and that only the normal number of people are dying that are lying or mistaken.

That’s enough for me. I don’t actually care if they’ve identified the correct virus or not. I’m not losing another child if I can help it. If you’re comfortable losing your parents or children because you want to believe it’s a hoax, then I’m not sure what kind of person you are. I closed a box on a baby boy lost to a disease after doing everything we could to avoid it. It’s not something I care to repeat. If they’ve identified the wrong virus and we’re getting vaccinated against the wrong thing, then I’m keeping my kids home until the number of deaths start to drop. There’s something out there killing people, and it won’t get to my kids. Maybe it’s a virus, in which case all I have to do is protect my kids. Maybe it’s a plague of car accidents, in which case all I have to do is protect my kids. Maybe it’s a demon, in which case all I have to do is protect my kids. And part of me protecting my kids is convincing you to protect your kids. My kids won’t die from their own overactive imagination, but as ironic as it sounds, if you fail to acknowledge the truth, they may die from your overactive imagination.

So let’s circle back a little. The same people who are telling us that this is a conspiracy to take down the church are saying that the election was stolen in order to take down the church. Even though the two claims are unrelated in content, they do all seem to spring from the same source. Now that we’ve fully evaluated one of their claims, that source seems to be tainted. What’s worse, it’s tainted in a way that demonstrates that the source doesn’t care about our children. People are dying, and they deny it. That source is willing to throw our children into the fire in order to further their agenda, whatever that may be.

How is that any different from abortion? If the reason we oppose abortion is because we are trying to save innocent children, why is it suddenly important to believe a political position which puts innocent children in danger?

Which brings us back to an interesting question: what is this source? Listening to the news, I always hear vague references to “Christian leaders” that are saying this. What Christian leaders? I’ve listened to a lot of Christian leaders. Ligonier Ministries said to respect the guidelines of your local and national authorities. The Roman Catholic Church said that this is not a persecution of Christians. The United Methodist Church released guidelines that recommend social distancing. I think that whomever says that “Christian leaders” are suggesting that we ignore social distancing guidelines has a different definition of “Christian leader” than I do. So who was saying this? There have been individual, small churches that have fallen for this, but where is it coming from? What is the source of this false narrative?

One of the things that I’ve realized this last year is that too many people who call themselves Christians don’t get their authority from well studied Christian scholarship, don’t get their authority from the Bible, and don’t get their authority from well considered Truth. I don’t know where they do get their authority, but it’s not anywhere that Christ said to get their authority. This isn’t the first time that this has been a problem in the Church. In the past, people have tried to solve this by creating a new title: Evangelical, or Fundamentalist, or something else. Eventually these movements always get taken over. Maybe that isn’t the answer. Maybe breaking off and claiming to be “the true ones” with a new name or a new set of rules isn’t the way to fix this. Maybe there’s another way to fix this. Maybe the answer really lies in dropping the titles and the slogans and the pretense and the posturing. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you call yourself. In the end, are you standing for Truth, or are you falling for lies? When you fall for lies, is it because they’re actually convincing, or is it because it’s convenient? Are you following the real Christian leaders, or just rumors disguised as Christian thought?

The Value of my Translation

I have never been the kind of guy that likes only reading one Bible translation. One of my earliest memories of Bible study was struggling to read a verse only to be told that it’s not right, then being directed in how to find that same verse in another version. I don’t remember what verse it was. I don’t remember what the difference was. I don’t remember why it was important to get it right. I do remember how it felt hearing that one version said one thing and another said another thing and how those differences came about.

The more different my translations can be in style and function, the more I like it. There are some advantages to Ecclesiastical English. There are also advantages to more modern language translations.

In my personal translation process, one element that has been a matter of deep prayer and study has been seeking out the right text to translate from. I could be wrong about these decisions, but it’s been important to me to seek the best sources to the best of my abilities. I have detailed my reasons for preferring the Majority Text to either the Critical Text or Textus Receptus as the default for the New Testament. I’ve explained my reason to prefer the Hebrew edition of Matthew and the Aramaic edition of Paul’s letters. I’ve explained why I prefer the Hebrew Old Testament, except in the cases of the deuter-canonical books from the Septuagint. Those I default to the most common Greek text, except for Tobit which I draw from the Aramaic.

There are a few inspired texts where I don’t have a rigorous expansion. Tobit I mostly draw from the Aramaic to be controversial, and neither study nor prayer have left me with confidence about the best sources for Chronicles, 1 Peter, or James. Prayer led me to tentatively accept the Tanak as a unit, so that includes Chronicles. Prayers hinted in the direction of choosing Aramaic for 1 Peter, but I decided to go with my default Greek for James when the answers to my prayers are completely inconclusive and my studies gave me no firm standing to build from independent of my default.

I compared the King James Version against my sources and made changes where my source and the King James source disagreed. I’ve released this as the Corrected King James Version.

There’s another translation out there that uses the Majority Text as it’s base text for the New Testament and includes the Apocrypha: the World English Bible. The World English Bible is a modern language translation, primarily the work of Michael Paul Johnson. (With some volunteer help online.) The World English Bible has been released in the public domain.

I’ve also recently learned that George Lamsa’s translation of the Bible from the Aramaic version of the Bible has entered the public domain. And it occurred to me that, with that, the only text I’m confident about my source that didn’t have a public domain modern language translation was Matthew.

When I first started looking into the Hebrew Matthew, one of the things I needed was a translation. My Hebrew wasn’t (and still isn’t) good enough to just sight read. I’m an amateur, so I don’t get a chance to practice every day. So I made a translation of Matthew from Hebrew to English. It took me about a year. That was roughly twenty years ago. Along the way, I’ve made a few minor updates and corrections as they’ve come up. I’ve decided to release that translation to the public domain as well. At the time I was using the World English Bible as my standard modern English text Bible, so I think my translation fits into the mold rather well.

This brings up a vital question, though: why release that to the public domain and reserve my Corrected King James behind a copyright? Which one is more valuable, anyway? The answer is that the Corrected King James is more valuable. The reason is easy to explain. My translation of Matthew is the work of just one person: me. That doesn’t make it automatically wrong, but it does mean there’s no one to check me and propose alternative readings. When the King James Version was originally translated, it was made by a committee. I simply added my voice to the tail end of that committee, metaphorically reminding them to bring their text back in line with the sources I selected. I place myself simply as a humble secretary.

I’m updating my sources page to include links to my translation of Matthew and Dr. Lamsa’s translation of the Aramaic Bible. With these and the World English Bible I already had linked, it is possible to build an entire public domain modern English Bible drawing from my preferred sources for everything except Tobit.

A meditation on being unconvinced

Did you know that the history of Mathematics is full of intrigue and murder? There’s an old story about a math proof. The details are disputed, but the basic story goes something like this:

Once there was a man named Hippasus. He was a Pythagorean, born and raised. He had been taught from the time he was a child that all was number, and number was all. He had been taught that every number could be expressed either as a whole number, or as a fraction with both a whole numerator and a whole denominator. But a problem plagued the Pythagoreans since their founder: if you have a square that is one inch by one inch, what’s the length of the diagonal from one corner to the opposite corner?

The Pythagoreans had been zeroing in on the ratio for decades before he was born. The obvious answers had been eliminated: it was less than one and a half, less than one and a quarter, more than one and three eighths. They had demonstrated that whatever the length was, a square with that length of side would have an area of two square inches. There was hope that this information would help lead to an answer. In a backwards way, this hope wasn’t completely unfounded.

Hippasus was working on this problem. He knew that you could calculate √ω as ω × ω and the length of the diagonal was √2. So if √2 = α/β, then (α/β)×(α/β)=2. So if we assume that α/β is in its lowest form, there are no common factors. That means that either α or β has to be odd. If they’re both even, then it could be reduced. With a little bit of basic mathematical manipulation, he got that (α×α)/(β×β)=2. Which means that (α×α)=2(β×β). That’s only possible if α×α is even. You can only make α×α even if α is even. Any odd number squared just gives another odd number. But if α is even, then α×α is divisible by 4, because any even number squared is divisible by 4. This is because if we assume that α is even, then it must be γ×2. Therefore, α×α is really (2×γ)×(2×γ) which is the same as 4×γ×γ. But if 4(α×α)=2(β×β) then 2(α×α)=(β×β), which then told him that β is also even. But if both α and β are even, then it couldn’t have been in lowest form. But isn’t that what we started looking for?

Hippasus took this to the leaders of the Pythagorean community. They argued with him for days, trying to wiggle out of this proof one way or another. Solutions were proposed, then rejected. No one could find a way to disprove this proof. It was ironclad. So then they decided to take Hippasus fishing, and then they left him there so that he couldn’t infect anyone else with his heresy. The damage was done, though. Others had heard. Soon, everyone knew. Even the innumerate general community now knew that there were irrational numbers.

Something similar happens in Plato’s dialog Meno. In that, Socrates teaches a slave how to create a square that has double the area of an initial square, but when the slave starts the investigation, he has the wrong method in mind to double the area of the square. In the kids’ show Square One TV, they had a skit called “Suds,” where a popcorn distributor explains that doubling the width, length, and depth of a box actually increases the volume by eight times, much to the disbelief then later amazement of the movie patron. Before the patron is definitively shown that the larger box can and does indeed hold eight times the volume, he is insistent that the larger box must be double because the dimensions are all doubled. If you’re honest and you have a good memory, you probably remember your personal incredulity when you learned that yourself. (If you ever learned it. The state of our math education in this country is abysmal.)

There are a number of things to draw from this, but right now I want to focus in on the feelings created by the proof that Hippasus proposed. Doesn’t it feel kind of like cheating? I mean, how do we know that this applies to the ratio in its lowest form?

Of course, there is an answer: this proof should apply to every version of the ratio, including the lowest form if there is one. You can add the fact that known squares don’t come up with these contradictions. For example, if we simply substitute 4 for two in the above example, since 4 is not a prime number the fact that α×α=4β does not imply that α is divisible by 4, only that it is divisible by 2. If α were 2, then β could be one and satisfy the requirement. 2×2 is divisible by four but 2 itself is not. Therefore it doesn’t require that β be even. β could be 1. And in fact, in the case of 4, they are 2 and 1 respectively.

You can see where Hippasus’s elders were coming from, though, can’t you? This proof feels incomplete somehow. The feeling remains until you run out of ways to fight against it. Surely there’s a fraction that’s not represented by this proof… except there’s not.

It takes a certain amount of mathematical training before this proof feels emotionally appealing. In fact, there are people who express concerns with this and closely related proofs on math.stackexchange.com. Ashley asks if you need to somehow prove that an even number that is cubed has a base that is even. Jostein Trondal is concerned that you can’t just assume that a fraction is in lowest terms. Each of these things have been explored by mathematicians and the proof stands as logical and complete even after thousands of years of testing. The square root of two is irrational, and Hippasus proved it. Those who are not convinced by the proof are not demonstrating that they are more intelligent than Hippasus. Quite the opposite: they demonstrate that they are closed off to logic in favor of their emotional appeal.

This is different from saying that I don’t understand where they are coming from. How often have people been taken in by someone who plays fast and loose with their words? With a smile and a nudge, they subtly say something which makes no sense when you try to analyze it later, but it sounds convincing at the time. This proof sounds a lot like the same kind of friendly double-talk that salesmen engage in to get husbands to buy their wives that new, fancy vacuum cleaner instead of the rice cooker she asked for or that shirt that has her favorite television characters on it. (Not that I would ever have fallen for such a ruse myself, just… I’ve heard stories… it could theoretically happen to anyone…)

The same resistance to logical conclusions isn’t restricted to mathematical proofs. We have the same problem with investigative pursuits. This is why particle physicists prefer an evidence level known as 5 Sigma in order to declare something discovered. Particle Physics is inductive, not deductive like Mathematics. Yet it is subject to nay-sayers and concerns just the same.

Einstein was himself one of these nay-sayers at one point. Have you ever heard of the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment? I’m not going into the details here, but this thought experiment was proposed because Einstein could not believe in what he called “spooky action at a distance” and other quantum phenomena suggested by Quantum Mechanics. Even as the evidence in favor of Quantum Mechanics started to build up, Einstein resisted accepting it.

Of course, we also see the same thing in theology. A few months back, I saw a debate between Inspiring  Philosophy – Michael Jones and Matt Dillahunty. In that debate, Mr. Dillahunty tried to pass off changing his personal feelings on the evidence Mr. Jones offered as the one and only goal. Mr. Jones pointed out that Mr. Dillahunty’s feelings were not at issue, the Truth was. Mr. Dillahunty never did offer any evidence to contradict, explain, or take away from the evidence that Mr. Jones presented. If Mr. Dillahunty had been an elder in Mr. Jones’s Pythagorean community, I think the debate might have ended with an invitation to go fishing. Just as the proof that Hippasus discovered proved to be inconvenient for the Pythagorean elders, the evidence that Mr. Jones offered was inconvenient for Mr. Dillahunty. And just as the elders tried to simply ignore Hippasus, Mr. Dillahunty just tried to ignore Mr. Jones. That’s fine if you don’t care about the Truth. If you are interested in the Truth, though, you need to consider all the evidence, especially the evidence that is inconvenient to your position.

A meditation on compound statements

I believe that the stars and planets are inanimate. By that, I’m not saying that they don’t move. I’m saying that they don’t make decisions. They move, but their movements are determined externally by the laws of physics. They’re basically giant rocks.

I also believe in the divine. Even though I’m not a fan of the term “supernatural,” I believe there are immaterial elements that have wills and make decisions.

Look back on those two paragraphs. Do you see any conflict? I’m not asking if you agree with either statement. I’m asking if you see any conflict. You can disagree with either of these two statements and still not see them in conflict. I would venture a guess that you don’t see a conflict in these two statements.

I’m not alone in believing both of these things. Not only would my Christian neighbors agree with these statements, I have yet to meet a Muslim or a modern pagan that denies either statement. Even if you, dear reader, do see a conflict, there are lots of people who do who affirm both statements with me.

That this wasn’t always the case. There was a time when these two paragraphs would have been seen as incompatible.

In Plato’s Laws, he says, “Well, there is no difficulty in proving the being of the Gods. The sun, and earth, and stars, moving in their courses, the recurring seasons, furnish proofs of their existence.” This was kind of par for the course in his day. The idea of divinity was tied so closely to the study of astrology that you couldn’t easily separate them in the minds of most people.

We’ve reached a point, however, when we can say definitively that the two claims aren’t tightly connected. You can actually believe that the planets and stars are alive without subscribing to the idea of divinity, and you can equally think they are giant rocks and have firm convictions about the nature and existence of divinity.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t fall into the same traps in the modern world. Over and over, I hear people assert that this or that idea is inextricably tied to some other idea, but I fail to see the connection. The list of common themes for these is extensive: religion and political commitments, nationalism and denial of human driven climate change, immigration and gun control, etc etc etc.

There was a famous survey where a statistician asked people which is more likely: that a particular woman with a flower dress is a librarian, or that she is a librarian that crusades against GMOs. From a purely logical point of view, the first is not only more likely, it’s a superset of the second. There’s no way to be the second without also being the first. But many people would think that the second is more likely. It’s also been demonstrated that even seasoned mathematicians will get math questions wrong when they challenge their political identity.

There’s actually a formal name for these things when they come up in a debate: non sequitur. It has been my experience that non sequiturs are very common in political and religious discourse. People will say something like, “I’m Christian, so of course I’m Republican.” It turns out that there is a whole organization of Christian Democrats of America, to say nothing of those like myself who prefer to identify as centrists or those who prefer the title of independents. Likewise gun control or health care or even abortion.

One of the things that I’ve tried to make an intellectual habit is breaking down claims before I examine them. Sometimes what feels like one claim is actually several claims that don’t depend on each other. When you break these claims down, you need to examine each claim individually in order to get the Truth. This is why, for example, I have examined each claim in the deuter-canonical books individually rather than simply accepting them or rejecting them entirely. This is why I can say that Matthew was likely written in Hebrew without falling for the idea that the whole New Testament must have been. I examine each claim individually. That’s also why I’m not impressed by people who try to lump the whole New Testament or Old Testament into one package and say, “Well it must have been…” Each book is its own document with its own history, and needs to be evaluated individually.

A First Taste of the Deutero-Canon

When I was a child, I used to love going to parades. At a parade, they would often throw candy from the floats and all of us children would run out to gather as much as we could before the next float came. As a child, I didn’t pay much attention to which float was throwing the candy, except one time. Once, the float that was throwing the candy was a frozen treat dispensary. I was quite young at the time, but I remember that feeling very strange. Why would a place whose whole purpose was selling sweets give sweets away for free? So I asked my father, who explained that their hope was to give me just a little bit and that this would wet my appetite and later I would be back to buy more. It worked.

I’ve had a similar experience when dealing with the additions to the Roman Catholic Bible from the Septuagint. The first book that I read was The Wisdom of Solomon, because it had such a catchy title. After I read that book, I had to look up the history behind it. It was clearly Christian teaching, but I needed to know if it was written by a follower of Christ or a predecessor of Christ.

The primitive church didn’t have a canon as we’re used to thinking of it today. Each local bishop would have a list of books that they would read from, and sometimes that list would stretch or shrink as though breathing a little. As time went on, and people began to challenge each other on doctrine, the lists began to tighten up a little, with less breathing in an obscure reading and less letting go of books that were valuable. The lists began to standardize.

This didn’t just happen in Christianity. Judaism had its own stretching and flexing of their canon from time to time. It seems that Ruth was actually one of the last books to be recognized as part of the Jewish canon. There was a period of time when Daniel was challenged as well, since it has large sections that are written in Aramaic and not Hebrew. Ultimately it was decided that Aramaic is a close enough cousin to Hebrew to be worth keeping.

But respected books, such as I Maccabees, that were not written in Hebrew or Aramaic were not kept in the Jewish canon. There’s a slight irony in the fact that Jews have set a holy day because of events described in the books of Maccabees, but won’t consider them canon because they were written in Greek, whereas Christians accept books written in Greek but ignore Maccabees completely because the Jews reject it.

There are nine writings that were widely read by the early church. These were I and II Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and Theodotion’s three additions to Daniel. When you look into the histories of these books, the only difference between them and the books accepted into the Jewish canon is that these were not primarily written in Hebrew. But if you get a little closer to one of them, something else becomes really clear. Some people call these nine writings “the apocrypha.” Some people get offended by that term and call them “the deutero-canon.” I’m not offended by either name, so long as you don’t mean it to be offensive. Some people get very upset at the term “apocrypha,” because the term was originally created to indicate something that was hidden from the Jews. As I’ve already discussed, if it was hidden from the Jews, it’s the worst kept secret in the world since they have a holiday based on one of them. Regardless, as long as we all know what we’re talking about and are speaking with the appropriate levels of respect towards one another, one name is as good as another.

The Wisdom of Solomon, sometimes just called Wisdom, was never widely confused with an actual writing of Solomon. It was written sometime late in the first century BC or early in the first century AD, so its author was probably contemporary with Jesus as a child. If it’s part of the Old Testament, it’s the last book in the Old Testament. It was written just before Christ founded his Church.

And it has a very clear prophecy of the crucifixion. The prophecy spans chapters 2 and 3. It describes wicked men conspiring to destroy a righteous person. This conspiracy has a lot of parallels with Jesus’s betrayal.

Wisdom 2 & 3 ProphecyFulfillment
2:12 Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education.Luke 11:53-54 And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: Laying wait for him, seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.
13 He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord.Luke 22:67-70 Art thou the Christ? tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe:And if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go. Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God. Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, Ye say that I am.
16 We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father.Matthew 23:24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.Matthew 5:10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
18 For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies.Matthew 27:40 And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
19-20 Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected.Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
3:2-5 In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery, And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace. For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality. And having been a little chastised, they shall be greatly rewarded: for God proved them, and found them worthy for himself.Hebrews 1:1-3 In many ways, and many forms, God anciently conversed with our fathers, by the prophets: But in these latter days, he hath conversed with us, by his Son; whom he hath constituted heir of all things, and by whom he made the worlds; who is the splendor of his glory, and the image of himself, and upholdeth all by the energy of his word; and by himself he made a purgation of sins, and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

And it might have been something if I were the first to have noticed this, but St. Augustine comments on this in his masterpiece, The City of God. In Book XVII, Chapter 20, he writes, “But it has been customary to ascribe to Solomon other two, of which one is called Wisdom, the other Ecclesiasticus, on account of some resemblance of style — but the more learned have no doubt that they are not his; yet of old the Church, especially the Western, received them into authority — in the one of which, called the Wisdom of Solomon, the passion of Christ is most openly prophesied. For indeed His impious murderers are quoted as saying…” and then what follows is the passage from Wisdom that I’ve alluded to above. Then after discussing something similar from Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach) he goes on to say, “We see this prophecy in the form of a wish and prayer fulfilled through Jesus Christ.”

I don’t know if the apostles knew about Wisdom. It’s entirely possible that it was new enough to only have a limited audience before the apostles were rounding the end of their ministries. It does bring up a question, though. In Protestant circles, there’s a lot of talk about “the four hundred years of silence,” also known as the intertestamental period. Except, if a prophecy of Christ was made this clearly so close to Christ’s actual death and resurrection that it’s possible copies of it hadn’t reached him before they were fulfilled, then God can’t have been as silent as so many like to say he was. Maybe it’s not that God was silent. Maybe it’s that we stopped listening.

For these reasons, and the routine use of these works among the early church in defining doctrine, I’ve decided to include these books in my Corrected King James Version of the Bible.

This post also serves as an announcement that I have completed a project the Corrected King James Version of the Bible, a project that I began five years ago. I’ve learned a lot and clarified even more along the way. But I consider this the beginning, not the end. The purpose of the Corrected King James Version was to clarify and establish my sources for making my own translation. I have one more project to complete in the sources: I need to transcribe the Aramaic version of Tobit. As I complete that project, I can also start working on my own translation.

God in C++

Friend: “Do you believe in The Trinity?”

Me: “I do.”

Friend: “I don’t.”

Me: “Okay.”

Friend: “Aren’t you going to try to convince me?”

Me: “No.”

Friend: “Aren’t you an apologist?”

Me: “Not really. I’m an amateur theologian and philosopher, but that doesn’t often coincide with apologetics. Sometimes it does, but a lot of times apologetics is as much about comforting as it is about logic. I’m not very comforting. So I leave that to the professionals.”

Friend: “How can you believe in The Trinity, though? Isn’t that a pagan belief?”

Me: “No. It’s actually less pagan than simple monotheism. Not by much, but if you’re stacking things up by attributes strict monotheism has one more thing in common with paganism than Trinitarianism does.”

Friend: “No it doesn’t!”

Me: “Yes, it does. Both paganism and strict monotheism regard the divine as instances rather than substances, but Trinitarianism regards the divine as a substance rather than an instance.”

Friend: “That’s a lot of words that don’t have any meaning.”

Me: “They do have meanings. Which are you having trouble with?”

Friend: “That whole substances and instances thing. What does that even mean?”

Me: “Okay, sure. You’ve done some programming in C++, haven’t you?”

Friend: “I have.”

Me: “Okay, instance is something you should be familiar with, then.”

Friend: “Wait, what? It means the same thing?”

Me: “Basically. In the philosophical term it applies to a physical instance as well.”

Friend: “Okay, what about substance then?”

Me: “Think classes.”

Friend: “Except they can be physical as well?”

Me: “Well, no… they can by prototypes of something physical. So, here, there’s two kinds of tables in this room. There’s a plastic table over here and we’re sitting at a wooden table. Right?”

Friend: “Yes.”

Me: “So there’s a ‘wood’ class and there’s a ‘plastic’ class and there’s a ‘table’ class. And our table uses multiple inheritance to be a wooden table and that one over there is a plastic table the same way.”

Friend: “Oh, I see. So the class gives the material sometimes and the function of form other times.”

Me: “Yes, just like in C++.”

Friend: “So you think there’s three instances of the ‘God’ class.”

Me: “You’re getting closer, I think. Keep going, there’s still a few ways you can go wrong from here.”

Friend: “Okay. So I say that there’s a God class but there’s only one instance of it, but you say there’s a God class and there are three instances of it.”

Me: “Good so far. I think I still sense a misunderstanding, but keep going.”

Friend: “So I pray to my one God instance and you pray to any of your three God instances.”

Me: “Ah! There it is! So, yes, and at the same time no. Their ‘receive prayer’ function is a static function. You don’t pray to an instance, you pray to the class.”

Friend: “Okay, I think I see that. But I still don’t believe it.”

Me: “Okay.”

Friend: “If we were supposed to believe that, don’t you think that Jesus would have said more directly that he is God?”

Me: “Oh, that. I think that there’s a sense in which Trinitarians need to be more cautious about saying things like that.”

Friend: “Things like what?”

Me: “Things like, ‘You should believe that Jesus is God.'”

Friend: “But if it’s true…”

Me: “It is true, and yet to have the wrong thought of what that means can cause a worse error than believing that he’s not.”

Friend: “I’m sorry, what do you mean?”

Me: “Take you, for example. Just a few minutes ago, you were thinking of God as an instance instead of an essence. I think you still are. If you start saying that there are two instances that are God, you are probably still thinking of a struct that has a Father member, a Son member, and a Spirit member.”

Friend: “Well, isn’t that what you think?”

Me: “No, not at all. I have a God class, a human class, and a spirit class. The Father is the only object that is of the God class only. The Son is the only object that has multiple inheritance from the God class and the human class. The Holy Spirit is the only object that has multiple inheritance from the God class and the spirit class.”

Friend: “So they’re not in a struct called God?”

Me: “There is no struct called God. No instance called God. It is a class, not an object.”

Friend: “Okay. I see now.”

Me: “And some of it will depend on how you define ‘God.’ I’ve heard the definition thrown around that ‘God is the uncaused first cause,’ and that would only apply to The Father. But if you define God as self-sacrificial love, then all three are God.”

Friend: “How come no one has ever explained this in English before?”

Me: laughs “How many people do you think are going to call this English? I didn’t explain it in English, I explained it in C++, and there’s not a lot of people who speak C++ as fluently as you do or as I used to.”

Friend: “But I still don’t believe it.”

Me: “That’s a whole separate issue. Now I think you’re closer to understanding what you don’t believe. Now that you understand, regardless of whether you believe it or not, which of us shares with paganism that the divine are instances: you or me?”

Friend: shifting uncomfortably “That would be me.”

Me: “And is there anything that you think I share with the pagans?”

Friend: thinking “Yes. You share with them that there are multiple instances that are divine.”

Me: “No, I just said that there is no instance called ‘the divine.'”

Friend: “Yes, that’s a difference between you and them. They have a struct called ‘the divine,’ but they also have a divine class, just like you and me. I only derive one instance from that class. You derive three instances from that one class with no struct. They derive lots from it and put them into one or a few arrays called ‘gods,’ or ‘gods’ and ‘demons’ depending on their system.”

Me: “I… I think you’re right. So maybe I’m not actually further from paganism than strict monotheism. But I’m as far.”