Archive for the ‘Exodus 25’ Category

The Vibes of Translations: A Case Study Invoking John 1:14a   Leave a comment

Above:  The Hebrew Tabernacle in the Wilderness

Image in the Public Domain


A Biblical translation has its vibe.

Years ago, at the Episcopal Center at The University of Georgia, I was participating in a Bible study one night.  The passage was the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  The study method was the African Bible study, by which the group heard the same passage read aloud three times, each time in a different version, and asked a different question each time.  After Carrie read from The Living Bible (New Testament, 1969), all of us present sang,

I’d like to teach the world to sing

in perfect harmony.

I’d like to buy the world a Coke

and keep it company.

The Living Bible is of its time.  That is the most polite evaluation I can offer of it.  My opinion of The Living Bible is so low as to be subterranean.  If I were to represent my opinion of that version numerically, I would use a negative number on a scale.  But I would still rate The Living Bible higher than The Message.

To my main point now….

The Prologue (1:1-18) of the Gospel of John is one of the most profound sections in the Bible.  That Prologue is theologically rich, like the rest of that Gospel.  And John 1:1-18 is one of the portions of scripture I read when evaluating a translation.  If a translation botches the Prologue to the Gospel of John, I read no more in that version.  Literary quality and theological subtlety are standards I apply to that evaluation.

The Revised Standard Version (New Testament, 1946; plus Old Testament, 1952; Second Edition, 1971) provides the standard English translation of John 1:14a:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth….

Two translation choices stand out in my mind.  First, “dwelt” is literal from the Greek, according to commentaries I have read.  Second, the Greek text reads, literally, “in,” not “among.”

Other versions offer similar readings.  For example, The Revised English Bible (1989) tells us:

So the Word became flesh; he made his home among us,….

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) reads:

And the Word became flesh

and made his dwelling among us,….

And The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) tells us:

The Word became flesh,

he lived among us,….

Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) hit the proverbial nail on the head in her Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924):

And the Word became flesh and tented with us…

William Barclay (1907-1978) also translated John 1:14a well:

So the word of God became a person, and took up his abode in our being….

Barclay picked up on the literal meaning of a particular Greek word meaning “in,” not “among.”  He also tied John 1:14a to the theme of indwelling that runs throughout the Fourth Gospel.  Jesus dwelt in YHWH, YHWH dwelt in Jesus, and followers of Jesus dwelt in him, and, therefore, in YHWH.

The reference to dwelling or tenting is to the tent of the Tabernacle, as in Exodus 25:8d.  Literally, in John 1:14, the Logos of God pitched a tent.   The Greek verb meaning “to tent” resembles the Hebrew root for “to dwell” and the Hebrew word from which the noun shekinah (divine presence) derives.

The meaning pertains to Realized Eschatology in the Johannine Gospel:  God was fully present among human beings in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Father Raymond E. Brown‘s extensive and extremely detailed and verbose commentary (1966) on the Gospel of John makes the connection between John 1:14 and Revelation 21:3:

“Behold the dwelling of God is with men….”

Revised Standard Version

According to Father Brown:

Thus, in dwelling among men, the Word anticipates the divine presence which according to Revelation will be visible to men in the last days.

The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (1966), 33

However extremely few merits Eugene Peterson’s The Message (2002) may have, literary grace is not one of them.  Consider this rendering of John 1:14a, O reader:

The Word became flesh and blood

and moved into the neighborhood.

Now I return to the question of the vibe of a translation.  “…moved into the neighborhood,” in my North American context, carries a certain connotation.  I hear that phrasing and think of a scenario in which a prosperous, professional Latino or African-American family has moved into a conservative White suburb, and the White bigots have started fretting about the possibility of declining property values.  Peterson’s translation of John 1:14a leads my mind far away from what is really happening in that verse in the Fourth Gospel.  The unfortunate wording in The Message makes me think of White upper-class bigots bemoaning,

“There goes the neighborhood!”

Furthermore, Peterson’s translation of John 1:14a functions as another example of my main criticism of that version:  It commits the sin of being kitschy.  No Biblical translation should be kitschy.

I have decided to read Helen Barrett Montgomery’s Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924).  She had the Word pitching a tent, consistent with the meaning of the Greek text.  I like the vibe of her translation.









Exploitation III   Leave a comment

Above:  Moses, by Edward Peck Sperry, 1897

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-31841


For the Second Sunday in Lent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970


Lord Jesus Christ, our only King, who came in the form of a servant:

control our wills and restrain our selfish ambitions,

that we may seek thy glory above all things and fulfill our lives in thee.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 121


Exodus 34:1-9

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Matthew 7:24-29


When I was a boy, I had a collection of Arch Books.  Each volume, a thin paperback book, told one Bible story in words and pictures.  This was a wonderful way for a child to learn Bible stories.  The Arch Book for the parable from Matthew 7:24-27 has lodged itself in my memory.

Jesus likened himself to a rock.  Moses was atop a mountain in Exodus 19 when he received far more than ten commandments from God.  (The commandments fill Exodus 20-24.)  Moses was atop a mountain again, to receive more commandments and stone tablet versions (Exodus 25-31).  While Moses was away, impatient Israelites broke the covenant.  Moses, in anger, broke the first stone tablets (Exodus 32).  Then Moses interceded on behalf of the people (Exodus 32-33).  God restored the covenant in Exodus 34.

We are supposed to read Exodus 34 in the context of the rest of the Torah narrative and of the Hebrew Bible more broadly.  We know of the unfortunate habit of murmuring and of relatively short memories of God’s mighty acts yet long memories of Egyptian leftovers.

I am not a psychologist, but psychology intrigues me.  Therefore, I listen and read closely in the field.  What we remember and what we forget–and why–indicates much about our character and about human nature, for good and for ill.  Often our minds work against the better angels of our nature; much of remembering and forgetting is a matter of the unconscious mind.  As rational as many of us try to be and like to think of ourselves as being, we tend to be irrational, panicky creatures who forget that, when we harm others, we hurt ourselves, too.  We also forget the promises we made recently all too often.

How we behave toward God and how we act toward others are related to each other.  Do we recognize God in others?  If so, that informs how we treat them.  Although I do not see the image of God in Mimi, my feline neighbor whom I feed outside my back door, I recognize her as a creature of God, an animal possessed of great dignity and worthy of respect.  Returning to human relations, the Law of Moses teaches, in terms of timeless principles and culturally specific examples, that we have divine orders to take care of each other, and never to exploit one another.  That commandment applies to societies, institutions, and governments, not just individuals.

Societies, institutions, governments, and individuals who forget or never learn that lesson and act accordingly are like a man who was so foolish that he build his house on sand, not on rock.  The rain will fall, the floods will come, the winds will blow, and the house will fall.








Good Liturgy and the Covenant Written on Our Hearts   1 comment

John the Baptist in Prison

Above:  John the Baptist in Prison, by Josef Anton Hafner

Image in the Public Domain


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Exodus 25:1-40

Psalm 73

Matthew 11:1 (2-11) 12-15 (16-19) 20-24 (25-30) or Luke 7:18-35

Hebrews 8:1-13


But for me it is good to be near God;

I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,

to tell of all your works.

–Psalm 73:28, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)


Hebrews 8 speaks of an internalized covenant, the law written on human hearts.  This is an echo of Jeremiah 31:31-34.  It is a covenant not written on the hearts of certain Pharisees and scribes in Luke 7.  When one reads the entirety of Luke 7 one realizes that the Pharisees and scribes in question were guilty of obsessing over minor details while twisting the law to accept financial donations that impoverished innocent third parties.  Thus these particular religious people were guilty of violating the principle of the Law of Moses that prohibits economic exploitation.  One also learns that a Gentile woman had the covenant written on her heart.  Likewise, those who criticized St. John the Baptist for his asceticism and Jesus for eating and drinking were seeking excuses to condemn others.  They did not have the covenant written on their hearts.

There is no fault in maintaining sacred spaces and beautiful rituals.  We mere mortals need sacred spaces that differ from other spaces and rituals that inspire our souls.  Good liturgy should make us better people.  It if does not, the fault is with us.  May it inspire us to recognize and serve God in each other.  May good liturgy, in conjunction with the covenant written on our hearts, help us find ways to act as effectively on divine principles, for the maximum benefit to others and the greatest possible glory to God.  May we refrain from carping language that tears others down and seek ways to build them up, for we are stronger together in the body of faith.







Adapted from this post:


Discipleship and the Mystery of God   1 comment

Holy Trinity Icon--Andrei Rublev

Above:  Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain


The Collect:

God of heaven and earth,

before the foundation of the universe and the beginning of time

you are the triune God:

Author of creation, eternal Word of creation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide us to all truth by your Spirit,

that we may proclaim all that Christ has revealed

and rejoice in the glory he shares with us.

Glory and praise to you,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37


The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 9:15-23 (Monday)

Exodus 25:1-22 (Tuesday)

Psalm 20 (Both Days)

Revelation 4:1-8 (Monday)

1 Corinthians 2:1-10 (Tuesday)


Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we will call upon the Name of the LORD our God.

They will collapse and fall down,

but we will arise and stand upright.

–Psalm 20:7-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


The doctrine of the Holy Trinity contains much mystery, as it should.  No single passage of scripture teaches the entirety of the doctrine, which theologians cobbled together from verses and interpreted (with much argument) long ago.  Some details remain contentious.  For example, does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son or just from the Father?  (This is a difference between Eastern Orthodoxy and most of Western Christianity.)  The answer to that question is irrelevant to me.  Nevertheless, my muscle memory directs me, when reciting the Nicene Creed (even when the ecumenical text omits “and the Son”, to say, “and the Son.”  I am, at least for the purpose of habit, a filioque man.

Perhaps the main purpose of the doctrine of the Trinity (the closest human thought can come to explaining the nature of God) is to discourage explanations.  Maybe the proper response to the doctrine is to accept the mystery inherent in it and to admit that we will never comprehend God fully or anything close to it.

That sense of the mystery of God exists in most of these days’ pericopes.  Although Abraham and God were on a first-name basis in Genesis, according to that book, the depiction of God changed later in the Torah.  In the Book of Exodus God was remote and the holiness of God was lethal to people, according to that text.  We read of God appearing as a cloud and as a pillar of fire.  The Ark of the Covenant, which a pseudo-documentary on the History Channel argued without proof was probably a nuclear reactor, was, according Hebrews scriptures, deadly to anyone who touched it.  And the mystery of God is a topic appropriate for the Apocalypse of John, with its plethora of symbolic language from the beginning to the end.

Jesus, the incarnate form of the Second Person of the Trinity (however the mechanics of that worked; I am preserving the mystery), was approachable, interacting with people and dining in homes.  There was nothing secret about that.  There remains nothing secret about that.  Yet the wisdom of God, manifested in Jesus, remains a secret to many.  Furthermore, many people, including a host of professing Christians, misunderstand that wisdom frequently.  The main reason for this reality, I suspect, is that we humans often see what we want or expect to see, and that God frequently works in ways contrary to our expectations.  The fault is with us, of course, not with God.  Also, the radical message of Jesus, inflammatory nearly 2000 years ago, remains so.  It challenges political, economic, social, and military system.  Many professing Christians are found of these systems and depend upon them.  Following Jesus can be costly, then.

We can know something about the nature of God, but mostly we must embrace the mystery, or else fall into Trinity-related heresies.  Much more important than attempting to explain God is trying to follow God and to act properly in relation to our fellow human beings.  Throughout the pages of the Bible we can find commandments to care for the vulnerable, refrain from exploiting each other, welcome the strangers, love our neighbors as we love ourselves, et cetera.  How human societies would look if more people pursued that agenda is at least as great a mystery as is the Trinity.  We are more likely, however, to find an answer to the former than to the latter in this life.





Adapted from this post:


Exodus and Luke, Part V: The Tabernacle of God   1 comment


Above:  The Calling of Saint Matthew, by Caravaggio


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 25:1-22 (12th Dayof Easter)

Exodus 31:1-18 (13th Day of Easter)

Psalm 47 (Morning–12th Day of Easter)

Psalm 96 (Morning–13th Day of Easter)

Psalms 68 and 113 (Evening–12th Day of Easter)

Psalms 50 and 138 (Evening–13th Day of Easter)

Luke 5:17-39 (12th Day of Easter)

Luke 6:1-19 (13th Day of Easter)


Some Related Posts:

Luke 5-6:


Exodus 25 begins a section of that book which contains detailed instructions regarding the Tabernacle, the priestly vestments, the furniture, the curtains, et cetera.  The mental images which fill my head every time I read those verses are far from a plain vernacular church building, the kind of structure which is ubiquitous in rural Georgia, USA.  The Tabernacle is supposed to be and look holy.  And I agree; a church building ought to be beautiful.

Then, in the context of the Tabernacle, we find instructions to keep the Sabbath, even to execute anyone who works on that day (31:14).  As a matter of law, one reserves execution for offenses considered especially serious and dangerous.  It is true that the Sabbath was a mark of freedom, but was the command to kill those who worked on it necessary?  I have worked on my Sabbath, Sunday; I had little choice.  And I have worked on Fridays and Saturdays.  I know people, such as health care professionals who have to work some Sundays.  Although I try to avoid needless shopping in Sundays, I do not advocate executing people who do anything other than rest on them.

Laws such as this one give ammunition to militant Atheists and fuel the imaginations of ruthless theocrats and would-be theocrats.  And, minus the killing, they remind me of old Puritan New England laws and more recent Southern U.S. “blue laws.”  Once, in South Carolina, it was illegal to buy a light bulb on a Sunday.  And it used to be illegal to hum to oneself in public in Puritan New England.  Yet I take the passage in its historical and cultural contexts, thereby softening its brutal blow.  The main idea is that the Israelites were supposed to be a holy people, a people set apart by God to witness to others.  They were to be the main tabernacle of God.

In Luke 5 and 6 Jesus healed a paralytic and a man with a withered hand.  He dined with Levi/Matthew, his new Apostle, and some of Levi/Matthew’s fellow tax thieves for the Roman Empire.  People with physical deformities were marginalized in the Law of Moses.  A blind man could not serve as a priest, for example.  Physical deformity or major malfunction carried with it stigma and spiritual second-class citizenship.  And dining with collaborators!  How dare he?  Actually, why not?  The tabernacle of God, defined as God’s people, included the physically deformed and disabled plus the notorious sinners who knew of their spiritual deficiencies.

We–you, O reader, and I–despite our spiritual deficiencies, are invaluable parts of the tabernacle of God.  It is a spectacular place, would not be same without us.  May we, by grace, live up to our potential.






Adapted from this post:


Love, the Final Arbiter   2 comments

Above:  A Corn Field


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Hebrews 6:10-20 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed us for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.  And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the same assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

For when God made a promise to to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore to himself, saying,

Surely I will bless you and multiply you.

And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.  Men indeed swear by a greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.  So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he interposed with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, and a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Psalm 111 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):


I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the deeds of the LORD!

they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor,

and his righteousness endures for ever.

4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered;

the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

He gives food to those who fear him;

he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works

in giving them the lands of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice;

all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever,

because they are done in truth and equity.

He sent redemption to his people;

he commanded his covenant for ever;

holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

those who act accordingly have a good understanding;

his praise endures for ever.

Mark 2:23-28 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  And the Pharisees said to him,

Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?

And he said to them,

Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him; how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the showbread, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?

And he said to them,

The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.


The Collect:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The Pharisees (most, not all of them) are among the bete noires of the canonical Gospels.  These very publicly pious people criticize Jesus, his Apostles, and even some people he healed again and again.  In all likelihood these critics did what they understood righteousness to require of them.  I prefer to extend to them the benefit of the doubt; they were wrong, but sincerely so.  They did not wake up each morning and plot how to be difficult spiritually, although much of what they did and the Gospels report to us constituted such.

Indeed, I think that we need to check ourselves for signs of being contemporary counterparts of the Pharisees.  Christian denominations have built up traditions over thousands and hundreds of years.  Many of these are functional and constructive, even beautiful.  Yet even something useful and beautiful can become an idol, if we transform it into that.  And ossification of tradition can occur easily, rendering us inflexible in the habits of our minds.  The stories of Jesus teach us many valuable lessons, including the importance of avoiding such ossification.

Consider this day’s reading from Mark.  Jesus and his Apostles violated many sabbath laws observant Pharisees kept.  There were many arcane sabbath laws, which split hairs more finely than any Philadelphia lawyer.  Taken together, the sabbath laws permitted preventing an emergency situation from getting worse yet forbade making it better.  For example, one could apply a plain bandage but not ointment to an injured finger on the sabbath.  So you should not be surprised to learn that plucking and eating corn was illegal on the sabbath.  Doing so remedied hunger, but that meant making something better.

This is a twisted way to think about the sabbath, is it not?  It transforms the sabbath, which is supposed to a gift and a marker of freedom (slaves did not get days off) into a burden and something to manage with the help of a very long checklist of forbidden activities.  Puritans did it too, and many observant self-professing Christians and Jews continue to treat the sabbath in this way.  We should not neglect the sabbath, of course, but we ought not treat it like a burden and an occasion of legalism, either.

Back to our story….

Jesus reminded his critics of scriptural precedents for what he had done.  In 1 Samuel 21:1-6, Exodus 25:23-30, and Leviticus 24:9 we find the relevant information about David and the showbread.  Mentioning David, the revered king, was powerful rhetorical tool, although it certainly did not impress hyper-critical Pharisees.  It did, however, point out the hypocrisy of Jesus’ critics, who were not the intended audience for the Gospel According to Mark.  So the comment finds its target even today, at least some of the time.  I wonder, though, how often well-intentioned Christians miss the power of this story, perhaps more out of a “I know that story already” attitude, if nothing else.

William Barclay, in his insightful commentary on the Gospel reading, points out that

Religion does not consist in rules and regulations


The best way to use sacred things is to use them for men.

In other words, it is sinful to refuse to apply religious laws to prevent starving and very hungry people from eating–sabbath or not.  This principle applies to physical realities beyond hunger; it pertains to helping people with whatever distresses them.  Barclay concludes his section of the reading from Mark with this sentence:

The final arbiter in the use of all things is love and not law.

I could not have said it better.

We have a loving God and Lord.  The works of God are marvelous and utterly spectacular.  And Jesus became not only our priest but our passover lamb.  That demonstrates love, does it not?  So we ought to display love, as well, and not hide behind laws which reinforce self-righteousness and make excuses for oppressing people and not helping them.   We have a mandate from God to care for others and to love them as we love ourselves.  God has commanded us to care for the vulnerable among us.  We might make excuses for why we fail to do this, but that does not erase our sin in the eyes of God.

One of my favorite deceased people was the actor Andreas Katsulas (1946-2006).  He played the one-armed man in the film version of The Fugitive.  He also portrayed Commander Tomalok on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Ambassador G’Kar on Babylon 5.  Katsulas was a practicing Greek Orthodox and an excellent chef.  Part of his Sunday ritual involved cooking meals for homeless people.  This would have violated the Pharisees’ sabbath codes, but it did demonstrate love.

May we compete with one another in demonstrating love for our fellow human beings every day of the week.  Let us lay aside tendencies toward one upsmanship, self-righteousness, and public displays of piety meant to make us look good.  May we listen to one another more and more often, and shout at each other less and less often.  May we love one another in attitudes, words, and deeds.  May that be our law.





Adapted from this post: