Friday, November 26, 2010

Psalm 100: Happy Thanksgiving!

A very Happy (albeit slightly belated) Thanksgiving to all the Americans out there! (I’m an American who is currently writing from Canada, so we already had the Canadian Thanksgiving. It was nice.)

So I thought I’d take a look at Psalm 100.

Psalm 100 is often called the “Thanksgiving” psalm, and with good reason. Below is the Psalm in its entirety:

A melody for thanksgiving:

Cheer for YHWH, all the earth.

Serve YHWH in gladness,

Come in before him in joy.

Know that YHWH is God,

And he has made us.

We [belong] to him [as] his people

And [as] sheep whom he shepherds.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

His courts with a song of praise.

Give praise to him—bless his name.

For God is good—his graciousness [lasts] forever.

And his faithfulness [lasts] to generation to generation.

(Note: The consonants YHWH correspond exactly to the four Hebrew consonants in God’s divine name, יהוה—the consonants, read from right to left, are yod hey vav hey. The best guess scholars have as to how this name may have originally been pronounced is “Yahweh,” but no one knows for sure if that pronunciation is correct. The name יהוה probably comes from the root היה, which means “to be” or “to exist,” as in “I am that I am” in Exodus 3:14.)

The psalm is labeled with an introductory title of sorts: מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה (mizmor l’todah), which can mean “a melody with respect to thanksgiving” or “a melody for thanksgiving.” The prepositional prefix לְ (l’) attached as the beginning of תוֹדָה (todah, which means “thanksgiving”) can be translated with either “with respect to” or “for.”

So which option is most likely here? Is it a “melody with respect to thanksgiving” or a “melody for thanksgiving”? If it’s a “melody for thanksgiving,” then the לְ preposition is likely what Hebrew scholar Ronald J. Williams calls a “לְ of purpose.” That is, the melody would be for the purpose of thanksgiving to YHWH. See Ronald J. Williams, Williams’ Hebrew Syntax (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 110. (Although Williams says these typically accompany “an infinitive construct”—and this isn’t in an infinitive construct—the context here would nevertheless allow for this meaning to be the one intended.)

If, however, the correct translation of מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה is “melody with respect to thanksgiving” (or a “melody about thanksgiving”), then the לְ is what Williams calls a “לְ of specification” (ibid., 108)—that is, the לְ specifies the kind of melody. It would be a melody about giving thanks to God.

It’s ambiguous, but I like to think that it’s a לְ of purpose. The psalms were all songs set to music at one point, so they all had different intentions. It’s possible that it’s both a preposition indicating purpose and specification. (After all, the word תוֹדָה, pronounced todah, meaning “thanksgiving,” appears not only in the introductory line but also in the body of the psalm itself—“enter his gates with תוֹדָה” in verse 4.) In any event, the author of this brief psalm wanted to highlight that this psalm had to do with thanksgiving and praise to YHWH.

The content of the psalm probably served to remind Israel (and now reminds us) that serving our God, YHWH, is a joyful task. Not only has he made Israel, but he takes them as his own people.

This is similar to what God has done to those of us who believe in Jesus, the one whom he has sent. He has gained us for himself “with His own blood” in the person of Jesus, as Paul tells the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:28). That’s our biggest reason to be thankful. In his everlasting faithfulness, God came down to earth to dwell among us and to be crucified on our behalf so that he might bear the punishment for our sins.

Truly, God’s חֶסֶד (khesed, “graciousness,” “kindness,” “goodness,” “favor”) does indeed last forever, as the psalmist says. And one powerful way he embodied his characteristic חֶסֶד was by coming down and dwelling among us to sacrifice himself on our behalf, rising again so that death will have no final victory and that we too may have life.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New NIV 2010 Online

Just discovered something. Apparently, the 2010 edition of the NIV is now on (As far as I know, it’s currently not in print, but it is available online.)
If you have time, here are the translators’ notes (where they describe what changes they made):
Compare the older (1984) edition of the NIV’s translation of Romans 3:27 to see a sample of one of the changes:
  • · 1984 NIV translation of Romans 3:27: “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.”
  • · 2010 NIV translation of Romans 3:27: “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.”
I highlighted the biggest difference between the earlier NIV and the later one. The 1984 NIV committee translated the Greek word νόμος (nomos, literally, “law”) as “principle” in the phrase “On what principle?” But the 2010 NIV committee translated νόμος as “law” and used “because of” for the Greek διὰ (dia, which literally means “through” in this case—they’re interpreting what “through” means with the phrase “because of”).
This is significant because Protestant scholars have long had anxiety about the word “law,” and they felt that Paul’s theology discarded the law and embraced the new “law-free gospel.” There are still many scholars today who do not hesitate to describe Paul’s theology as “law-free.” In one sense, it is “law-free” in that we cannot be saved by the works of the law, but if you read on to Romans 3:31, it is clear that Paul is not interested in disposing of the law.
Perhaps the 1984 NIV translators were worried that if they translated it as “law,” then readers would conclude, “Oh, the law of faith must still somehow be ‘works-based’—because it’s a law.” But I don’t think there’s any reason to introduce the word “principle” into the text. That’s a reflection of someone’s theological editing of the text, in my opinion. But I think the new 2010 NIV brings out what Paul means well and therefore fends off any such potential confusion when they rearranged the 1984 rendering to say, Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith” (emphasis in bold mine).
By νόμος or “law,” Paul is referring to the תּוֹרָה (Torah, or the Mosaic Law, the first five books of the Bible— תּוֹרָה can be translated as “instruction”). It is not in our ability to keep the instruction or תּוֹרָה, but it is in the faithfulness of God and our faith in him that justifies us (this is the thrust of the argument of Romans 3:21-31). That is, in the תּוֹרָה, works are required, but first and foremost is faith. (Works are evidence of our faith or trust in the One who is faithful.) As Paul later argues in Romans 4, Abraham was justified by faith and not by works (circumcision came after God declared Abraham righteous, not before!). In the book of Exodus, God was faithful to Israel by delivering them from Egypt even before he gave them the תּוֹרָה! Grace preceded commandments.
So I think that תּוֹרָה was never intended to justify the ungodly. In fact, the whole point of the argument Paul gives in Romans 23 is that all are under sin and that no one is righteous. Furthermore, no one can sin against the law of God and then claim to be able to use the law of God to redeem herself (or himself). If you are truly guilty of murdering someone, you cannot say to the judge, “But Your Honor, I paid my taxes and obeyed the law tons of other timessurely, that will save me, right?” So the law is not the problem. We are.
Thankfully, God sent his Son to redeem us, so that we might believe in the One who justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5 NIV). That is the beauty and power of the gospel.