Saturday, 23 April 2022

Updated NRSV

 Ben Witherington’s blog post Why the NIV, NRSV and NET Bible are the Best Translations Available prompted me to check the Updated NRSV on the passages he cites. I had previously checked a few chapters in Deuteronomy which impressed on me how few the changes were.

In Luke 2:7 the updated NRSV corrects “the inn” to the guest room (fn Or their room). The inn does not even make it into a footnote. Perhaps the tide is really turning on this particular misunderstanding. (The NIV had already rendered “guest room”.)

John 3:16 remains unchanged with a rendering that focuses on how much God loves the world rather than how God loves the world, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Witherington’s ‘superman’ verse Philippians 4:13 also remains unchanged, I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

In Romans 3:22 the updated text speaks of “the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ” (fn Or through faith in Jesus Christ), thus reversing the preference of the previous edition.

The manuscript evidence for the ending of Mark 16 is treated subtly differently. The NRSV appeared to offer two alternatives: ‘The Shorter Ending of Mark’ and ‘The Longer Ending of Mark’. NRSVue uses the headings ‘The Intermediate Ending of Mark’ and ‘The Long Ending of Mark’ which corresponds better to the footnote (already in NRSV) which notes that some of the most ancient authorities end with verse 8, i.e. before the passage formerly headed ‘The Shorter Ending’.

John 7:53–8:11 is treated in NRSVue the same as in NRSV, as one would expect.

First impressions confirmed: the changes are few but usually for the better.

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Leviticus 20:13 Again

 An anonymous blogpost hosted by Ian Paul asks Are there Two Types of Men in Leviticus 20:13? questions the answer given to this question by David Instone-Brewer in an essay of the same title.

I agree with the author of the blog post and commented to that effect: David Instone-Brewer offers a highly speculative and implausible solution to a non-existent problem.

It is worth noting that îš is never the object of the active verb škb (to lie with) or the subject of the relevant passive stems of the verb (nifal, pual) in any ancient Hebrew text known to us. While the same is true for zākār, when it comes to the verbal noun derived from the root, we do find miškab zākār (Num 31:171835Judg 21:11-12) but never miškab îš. In other words, the activity of ‘lying with a man’ is elsewhere expressed by using zākār, not îš. This would seem to favour the use of zākār as the object of the verb škb. (By contrast, the verb ydʿ can be used for sexual knowing of a man with îš as the object.)


In addition, if Lev 20:13 (which Instone-Brewer identifies as the verse on which Lev 18:22 is dependent) had been phrased with îš as the verb’s object, the result would have been quite some mouthful: wəʾîš ʾăšer yiškab ʾet- îš miškəbê ʾiššâ. For purely euphonic reasons, an author might want to use zākār alongside îš.


In the light of this, and the similarity of îš and iššâ, David Instone-Brewer’s premise that ‘if the purpose of the law was to forbid sexual activity between two people of the same sex, we would expect two identical terms for “man” to emphasise their similarity’ is unfounded.

Reading both zākār and îš with their standard meaning in such contexts (‘male’ and ‘man’) works perfectly well to describe sexual activity between two people of the male sex.

Instone-Brewer notes that ‘Millard has suggested that zakar may indicate “male of any age”, in distinction to ’ish which is normally used only for adult men, so that the force of law is to prohibit pederasty as well as same-sex activity between adults’ and acknowledges it as ‘an intriguing possibility.’ He objects to it on the grounds that ‘zakar is used of children only when there is a clear emphasis on maleness’ but maleness is an issue in Lev 20:13 and Millard rightly does not claim that the law has only pederasty in view.


While I consider Millard’s suggestion unnecessary, it would distinguish between zākār and îš, if one were to insist on a distinction, in a much more straightforward manner than Instone-Brewer’s attempt to postulate a new meaning for zākār.

Cf. my 2015 posts Men, Bed, Woman - Analysing a Hebrew Idiom and Why Male-Male Sexual Intercourse is Prohibited in Leviticus

In a comment on the blog post Wolter Rose points out that 'evidence is slim for the idea that Mesopotamian figures like the assinnu were sexually active with same-sex partners as part of the cult of Ishtar' and that this view has been abandoned by scholars who had previously been open to it. See, e.g. Nissinen (2018, 397) and Peled (2018, 59). 

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

What's the matter with Holy Communion?

Why do we celebrate Holy Communion? First, because our Lord and Saviour has instructed us to do so which is why we also call it the Lord's Supper and within the Church of England have historically celebrated it in close accordance with Christ's instructions rather than allowing for the withdrawal of one of the elements (as in the Roman Catholic church) or mixing the elements (as in the Orthodox churches).

But is it not pure and blind obedience that motivates us. We expect to benefit from partaking in Holy Communion. What is the benefit that Holy Communion conveys? It is of course Jesus Christ. There is nothing of substance offered to us in Holy Communion that is not offered to us by other means of grace as well.

Both Word and Sacrament offer us the same: Jesus Christ. Why, then, do we not confine ourselves to Services of the Word during a pandemic?

But if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, or for want of warning in due time to the Curate, or for lack of company to receive with him, or by any other just impediment, do not receive the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood: the Curate shall instruct him that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and stedfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefore; he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul's health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.

These words are from the Book of Common Prayer (1662) order of service for the Communion of the Sick which make it plain that the spiritual benefits conveyed by receiving the Sacrament can also be received without receiving the Sacrament. But in the same place the importance of receiving the Sacrament is stressed:

the Curates shall diligently from time to time (but especially in the time of pestilence, or other infectious sickness) exhort their Parishioners to the often receiving of the holy Communion of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ, when it shall be publicly administered in the Church; that so doing, they may, in case of sudden visitation, have the less cause to be disquieted for lack of the same.

The rubric links such reception with readiness to die and suggests that notwithstanding the fact that nothing is offered in Holy Communion that is substantially different from what we can receive without the Sacrament, there is nevertheless benefit to be had from partaking of Holy Communion.

How might we go about defining this benefit? If the Sacrament offers us nothing different from the faithful preaching of God's Word, it nevertheless offers us the same Jesus Christ differently. And this is perhaps where one of the great Reformation disagreements kicks in. While some might say that Christ is offered to us in a different form (materially rather than spiritually), others might say that Christ is offered to us in a different manner (by eating and drinking rather than hearing).

Such and other fundamental disagreements seem to lie behind the current controversy within the Church of England on the mode of administration of Holy Communion during a pandemic.

Some, stressing that the physical reception of Holy Communion does not offer us anything different from what can be received without Holy Communion, were content to suspend services of Holy Communion altogether for a while.

Others, focusing on the (alleged) benefits of the Sacrament for parties who do not partake of it in analogy to verbal intercessory prayer, were content to celebrate the Eucharist without a congregation.

Those who believe that Christ is offered in a different form in the Sacrament were keen to offer Holy Communion to the people but where the doctrine of concomitance was added to (something like) a doctrine of transubstantiation, priests were content to deny the cup to the laity on the grounds that it offers nothing in addition to what is offered in the bread. It is in effect superfluous, at least as far as the consumption by the people is concerned (consecration and consumption by one is still necessary, even if its benefit cannot be explained).

Those who believe that Christ is offered to us in a different manner in the Sacrament are not happy to have this impaired by a mode of administration which compromises the instructions of our Lord and Saviour to eat and drink and point out that in the Book of Common Prayer instructions for the administration of Holy Communion both kinds are to be separately offered into the hands of the people.

If we do not receive a different matter / substance in Holy Communion, the benefits of the Sacrament must lie in the different experience which is why we should ensure that all the faithful are offered the experience of eating from the one bread and drinking from the one cup.

See also my posts on Celebrating Holy CommunionReceiving Holy Communion.and The Distribution of the Elements among others or search for the label Holy Communion.

Nov 2021 General Synod 2

 The Bishop of Lichfield’s reply to question 43 claims that

There is long precedent, from the time of the Book of Common Prayer onwards, for communicants receiving Holy Communion in one kind by reason of medical necessity

Two things deserve to be pointed out here. First, the relevant rubric in the Book of Common Prayer speaks of what is sometimes referred to as ‘spiritual communion’ in which for reason of medical necessity (or, indeed, lack of preparation) the ‘communicant’ receives neither of the two elements. This is different from partaking of one but not the other. I am not aware of any instance of Church of England communicants receiving one but not the other of the two elements at Holy Communion prior to the 20th century.

Secondly, there is a difference between communicants receiving one kind only and being offered only one kind. As was already pointed out at the General Synod Meeting in Feb 2010 (by the Revd Dr John Hartley, Bradford): ‘although the individual communicant may decline to accept both kinds, the priest may not decline to offer both kinds.’

The Bishop of Lichfield further claims

No theology of the consecration of the elements or their reception accepts that the benefits conveyed by the sacrament (spiritual or otherwise) are impeded by reception in one kind. There is, therefore, no ‘inequality’ of benefit from communion between president an communicants, though there may in some circumstances be a difference in their experience of participating in the action of eating and drinking.

The language of ‘benefits’ (plural, ‘spiritual or otherwise’) is unhelpfully unclear. What we are offered in Holy Communion is Jesus Christ. In this sense, drinking from the cup offers us nothing in addition to eating from the bread. Indeed, eating from the bread offers us nothing in addition to trusting God’s Word. Does Holy Communion convey any benefits that cannot be conveyed by the faithful preaching of God’s Word? And is there no benefit in the experience of drinking?

There have been a good number of Anglican theologians who considered the difference in experience between those who eat and drink and those who are not allowed to drink to be of greater significance than the current Bishop of Lichfield allows. I have a few quotations here which demonstrate that there are those whose theology would claim an inequality of benefit. As I have come to expect in the current Church of England, such voices are ignored, and sometimes their very existence denied, rather than being thoughtfully engaged with.

Nov 2021General Synod 1

 It is good to hear from the  Bishop of Lichfield in reply to the Nov 2021 General Synod questions 38, 39, 40, and 41 regarding the use of individual cups at Holy Communion that the House of Bishops ‘recognises that different ministers and churches have in good conscience adopted a variety of forms of administration of Holy Communion while Covid-19 continues to circulate in the general population.’

It is also good to see a tacit acknowledgement that the claim that the use of individual cups is ‘not lawful’  is disputable.

It is interesting to learn that apparently ‘many churches have been discovering fresh insights into the meaning of Holy Communion’ and I wonder what will emerge from this. But I note that as regards the use of individual vessels it had already been noted at the General Synod Meeting in Feb 2010 (by the Revd Dr John Hartley, Bradford) ‘that there is now considerable experience of this question up and down the country.’

Given that pertinent questions were asked in the wake of the swine flu pandemic, after the cup had been denied to the laity (apparently for the first time since the Reformation), it remains disappointing that the House of Bishop continues to rely on opinions whose apparent flaws have long been pointed out without offering a more comprehensive treatment of the matter.

We can hopefully agreed that ‘Whatever approach is taken, ministers and churches should be guided by the symbolism and ideal of “one bread and one cup”.’ But I would add that in our tradition it is of the essence of Holy Communion that this ‘one bread and one cup’ is shared.

Saturday, 30 January 2021

On the third day

The Gospel according to John begins with allusions to the creation story at the beginning of the Bible: “In the beginning...” So when the Gospel reports that the first event through which Jesus revealed his glory took place “on the third day” (John 2:1), it is perhaps worth asking what happened on the third day of creation.

On day one God had created light and thereby time. On the second day, he had created the firmament to divide waters below and above, thus making space by differentiating what had been before just one unified matter.

On the third day God did, for the first time, two things. First, he let waters gather together so that dry land would appear, then he summoned earth to produce grain and fruit trees. I find this interesting for two reasons. 

(1) For the first time God works with what already exists. On the first two days it was “Let there be...(light, a dome)” but now we hear “Let the waters...(be gathered)” and “let the earth...(put forth vegetation)”.

This is of course also what happens in the miracle at Cana. Jesus did not snip his fingers over a few empty jars to let wine materialise out of nothing. He first asked for those jars to be filled with water. And then he turns the water into wine.

God does sometimes have to create ex nihilo (out of nothing). But he LOVES to be creative with what is there. We see this in Jesus many times. He feeds thousands from five barley loaves and two fish – why, when he could have fed the multitude by creating food out of thin air (I mean from nothing)? Because he loves to be creative with what is there.

The glory of God is not simply his power. God’s glory is his love and his generosity. We see in this story that Christ came to bring life in all its fullness (wine, not just water) and we get a glimpse here not only of his creative power but his desire to get others involved in his work.

(2) The second thing that impressed itself upon me when I reflected “on the third day” in Genesis and in John’s Gospel is that the third day is the creation of grain and fruit which, among other things, with human co-operation will one day become bread and wine. Before the third day there was only water!

Psalm 104 speaks about how God provides grass for the cattle and crops for people to cultivate and “wine to gladden the human heart” (v15). How does God give wine? God gives the fruit, the sunshine, the water and human ability to cultivate the vine stock and to turn grapes into wine. God loves to co-operate with us.

Christ reveals his glory to make something new and beautiful and enriching out of the ordinary stuff of life.

Looking beyond the creation story, it is quite common in the Bible, and especially in the book of Genesis, for something new or exciting to happen on the third day:

·         On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. (Gen. 22:4)

·         On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. (Gen. 31:22)

·         On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males (Gen. 34:25)

·         [Having put his brothers in custody] on the third day Joseph said to them, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God: (Gen. 42:18)

The third day comes up in only one chapter in the second book of the Bible, namely in Exodus 19:10–17 which is the day on which the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai “in the sight of all the people” – surely a potent text to have in the back of one’s mind when reading about the revelation of glory in John 2.

The third day is truly a special day. It deservedly made it into our creeds.

Is there a message to “the third day”? Well, let me hazard a guess. The third day is not straight away, immediately. Not like the day of repentance which is always TODAY. “Today, when you hear his voice, harden not your hearts!”

The third day is not straight away but it is before the week is half way over and in this sense sooner rather than later. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of our need for endurance, For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay” (Heb. 10:37), alluding to Habakkuk’s vision.

If something is said to happen “on the third day” it does not happen straight away but neither does it happen in the distant future, say “the eight day” – the beginning of the new creation.

A “third day” attitude to the revelation of the glory of God in Christ may be one which is both content to wait (something may not happen immediately) and expectant in the knowledge that Jesus can sue the ordinary, even embarrassing circumstances, to reveal his glory in the middle of the week, as it were.


Saturday, 23 January 2021

Quincunque Vult

A few years ago I gently updated the English translation of the so-called Athanasian Creed, also called Quincunque Vult (Whoever wishes) after its opening words in Latin for a sermon preached at All Saints Highgate. Here it is, formatted for greater ease of understanding.


Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all, retain the catholic faith [= the faith held by the whole Church].

Whoever does not keep it whole and inviolate will doubtless perish eternally.

Now the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in trinity, and the Trinity in unity;

neither confusing the persons, nor divid­ing the substance [= divine being {what makes God God}].

For the person of the Father is one, that of the Son another, and that of the Holy Spirit another,

but the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is one ― equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

What the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.

The Father is uncreated; the Son is uncreated; the Holy Spirit is uncreated. 

The Father is unlimited, the Son is unlimited, the Holy Spirit is unlimited. 

The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Spirit is eternal

― and yet there are not three eternal beings but one who is eternal,

just as there are not three uncreated or unlimited beings but one who is uncreated and unlimited. 

In the same way, the Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, the Holy Spirit is almighty

― and yet there are not three almighty beings but one who is almighty.

Thus, the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God

― and yet there are not three gods but one God. 

Thus, the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord―and yet there are not three lords but one Lord.


For just as we are compelled by the Christian truth to confess that each distinct person is God and Lord,

so we are forbidden by the catholic religion to say that there are three gods or three lords. 

The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten by any­one. 

The Son is from the Father alone, not made or created but begotten. 

The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son, not made or created or begotten but proceeding

Therefore there is one Father, not three fathers;

one Son, not three sons; 

one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits. 

And in this Trinity there is no before or after [as to duration], nor is there greater or lesser [as to degree, power, dignity], but all three persons are in themselves coeternal and coequal,

so that (as has been stated above) in all things the Unity in trinity and the Trinity in unity is to be worshipped. 

Therefore, who wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity. 


But it is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully [with integrity] believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Therefore it is the right faith that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at once God and a human being.

He is God, begotten from the substance [being] of the Father before all ages, and a human being, born from the substance of his mother in this age;

perfectly God and perfectly a human being, composed of a rational soul [mind] and human flesh;

equal to the Father with regard to his divinity, less than the Father with regard to his humanity.

Although he is God and a human being, nevertheless he is not two, but one Christ. 

However, he is not one by turning deity into flesh but by taking humanity into God,

truly one, not by mixing humanity with deity, but by a unity of person. 

For, as [by ana­logy] the rational soul [mind] and the flesh is one human being, so God and the human being is one Christ.

He suffered for our salvation, descended into hell [Hades], rose from the dead, ascended into the heavens, is seated at the right hand of the Father, from where he will come to judge the living and the dead. 

At his coming all human beings have to rise again with their bodies and will give an account of their own deeds. 

Those who have done good will go into eternal life; those who have done evil into eternal fire. 

This is the catholic faith; everyone must believe this faithfully and firmly, otherwise they cannot be saved. Amen.