Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Glory to God in the highest!

The angels sing to shepherds to tell them of the Messiah’s birth. Luke 2.14records the multitude of heaven’s army in Greek as:

Angels and shepherds from Cambodia

Angels and shepherds from Cambodia

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ
καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη
ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.

There has been a little trickle from Jim West’s blog via clayboy about how best to translate the song. Continue reading


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Maranatha!

'Maranatha' in Greek, Aramaic square-script with Tiberian vowel points and Syriac, in its two divisions.Advent is well come nigh! A truth calendrical and etymological. So, I thought I might delve into one obscure word in this season’s vocabulary. 

The word ‘Maranatha‘ appears in I Corinthians 16.22 and Didache 10.6. Respectively:

εἴ τις οὐ φιλεῖ τὸν κύριον, ἤτω ἀνάθεμα. μαράνα θά.

If anyone does not love the Lord, let them be anathema. Marana tha.

ἐλθέτω χάρις καὶ παρελθέτω ὁ κόσμος οὗτος. Ὡσαννὰ τῷ θεῷ Δαυείδ. εἴ τις ἅγιός ἐστιν, ἐρχέσθω· εἴ τις οὐκ ἔστι, μετανοείτω· μαρὰν ἀθά· ἀμήν.

May grace come and this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If anyone is holy, let them come; if anyone is not, let them repent; maran atha; amen.

It is an Aramaic phrase (although Luther tried to twist it into a totally different Hebrew phrase — מָחֳרַם מָוְתָה māḥăram mothâ, ‘devoted to death’). It was once thought to be a curse word, associated to its preceding anathema in the I Corinthians verse, but is clear that the ancient authors who promoted this interpretation had a rather hazy understanding of the phrase. However, that verse is part of Paul’s concluding prayer for the Corinthians, and forms a rather disjointed collection of prayed aphorisms:

  • All the brethren send greetings.
  • Greet one another with a holy kiss.
  • I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.
  • If anyone does not love the Lord, let them be anathema.
  • Maranatha.
  • The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
  • My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus. Continue reading


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Doing liberal theology well

I once thought that many theological positions can be grounded in Jesus’ life and teaching, even fundamentalist ones, but that one could never call Jesus liberal. I thought that because I misunderstood liberalism (and perhaps fundamentalism too). I had thought that liberals were those who make the Bible say what they want it to say by twisting and manipulating God’s words. Of course, they are morally corrupt too. And it’s almost generous to describe this position as wishy-washy.

Of course, liberals don’t want to listen to the criticism. It’s far too easy to retort ‘Pharisee’ than begin the painful task of removing the English oak rafters from our eyes. From bishops to Sunday school teachers, convenient claptrap is peddled because it’s easy to digest. They are the fast food snacks of theology: McDoctrine. It’s a McDoctrine to explain away difficult gospel passages by saying that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said, as is introducing a discussion on church teamwork by describing the Trinity as Team. These things are superficial in that they have no place in the Christian tradition, biblical interpretation or rational understanding. Saying that God’s love is your first and last principle is good and right, but the theological imperative from this is not one to cosy niceness. Continue reading


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The name, fame and shame of Bartimaeus

Yesterday’s Gospel was Mark’s pericope of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho (Mk 10.46–52; synoptic parallels Mt 9.27–31, 20.29–34, Lk 18.35–43). It struck me that passing characters in the gospels, especially recipients of healing, are anonymous (Luke’s version does not name the blind man, and Matthew makes him two anonymous men). Most of us treat ‘Bartimaeus’ as a straightforward name, but I think it’s unusual for a couple of reasons.

He is introduced as “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus” (ὁ υἱὸς Τιμαίου Βαρτιμαῖος, ho huiòs Timaíou Bartimaîos). This is often read as if Bartimaeus is his name, and his father is Timaeus. However, the simple fact that ‘bar’ is the Aramaic for ‘son of’ suggests that ‘son of Timaeus’ is the partial translation of ‘Bartimaeus’. It’s always interesting to see what the Syriac Peshitta does with such translations of Aramaic, seeing as there is usually no need for a gloss on Aramaic (Syriac being a variety of Aramaic). The Peshitta translates the name as ܛܝܡܝ ܒܪ ܛܝܡܝ (Ṭimai bar Ṭimai). Although this suggests once again a proper name ‘Timai bar Timai’, this still does not make a great deal of sense.

Continue reading


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Alphabet soup of Bibles

My first serious Bible was a pocket New International Version (NIV), soon followed by a heavyweight NIV study Bible. That translation from 1978 has shaped my knowledge of scripture, and will probably always have a ring of correctness for me because of that. I’m sure many a Bible student would consider my NIV background as something to be ashamed of, even scandalous. I’m no great advocate for the NIV; it’s just my biblical first love. But English-reading Bible students are so often divided and derided over which version they use.

Wikipedia lists 123 English Bible translations, or more, seeing as some are grouped under a single entry. I haven’t heard of a lot of those, and some sound like they are intended for a specific niche in the Bible-reading market. There are clear trends in that list. There are the ‘messianic’ versions, translated by/for Christians who are, or feel like they should be, Jewish. There are the translations that are desperate to be as literal as possible. There are translations linked to particular churches or ‘ministries’, and there are those that pride themselves on interdenominational cooperation. There are the paraphrases that attempt to get to the gist of the meaning, but sacrifice formal equivalence on the way.  There are versions that use a particular rendering of sacred names (Jehovah, Yahweh, YWH, Yeshua etc.). There are those that aim to use gender-inclusive language (like my second love, the NRSV). I’m sure that a lot of these Bibles are good, the fruit of hard labour, but I’m sure there are some that are plain awful too. I wonder if there is a special kind of Moses/God complex that drives a pastor/scholar to do a lone Bible translation: this one will be the God’s honest truth. Continue reading


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Ad fontes of Christian humanism

I’ve recently updated my What page, so I thought I would also copy it here as a post for comment.

GarshuniAd fontes is a Latin phrase meaning ‘to the sources’, a favourite motto of Renaissance humanism. I am particularly thinking of Erasmus of Rotterdam with this phrase, recalling his invaluable biblical scholarship. Renaissance humanism both laid the groundwork for the Reformation and re-engaged with the writers of the early church.

The term ‘humanism’ is only applied retrospectively to this movement. The Oxford English Dictionary dates its earliest meaningful occurrence in the French humanisme of 1765, with the meaning of ‘love of humanity’, with a German reference to Humanismus from 1808 being used to describe the classical syllabus of the gelehrten Schulen (‘learned schools’, grammar schools). Our universities’ humanities divisions and faculties are named after this understanding of humanism. It didn’t take long for the term to acquire two more widely applied senses: the intellectual movement of the Renaissance and a philosophy oriented toward the human. There are a few sparse uses of the term ‘humanism’ to refer to a doctrine that Jesus Christ has a merely human nature (adoptionism, ebionitism and perhaps unitarianism), and Schiller used the term as a name for pragmatism; these are not my doctrines, nor my intended meaning. Continue reading