Sunday, September 22, 2013

Teaching tense, mood, voice, and aspect in a 3rd language

My Greek exegesis students see a lot of me this semester, thanks to exegesis of Luke being 4 credit hours. I set aside one hour just for Greek language revision, because despite a course in Greek grammar, they are not extremely capable masters of the Greek language.

I have been working on the challenge of expressing the four concepts of tense, mood, voice, aspect in Mongolian. There are several challenges.

1) Mongolian has no middle voice, so there is no easy correlative. This is a subset of the fact that Mongolian lacks a number of features that would easily correlate to Greek, especially it lacks an article, and it doesn't use relative clauses at all (it replaced them with adjectival or object clauses).

Anyway, I don't really believe there are true 'deponents' in Greek anyway, so I tend to treat all 'deponent' verbs as just another pseudo-conjugation. You don't meet that many middle voices (in the sense of distinct from passive), so I've kind of sidestepped that issue. Actually I work with a dichotomy of active/subject-reflexive

2) Mood is also a concept that is not easily correlated to Mongolian, since verbs do not undergo morphological change in subordinate clauses. The best I could find to correlate was 'conditional mood', but it is, more strictly, applied only to if- clauses. Indicative and Imperative are more easily explained. But the idea of 'mood' in general can be tricky.

3) Tense. Of course, tense is where you get the most overlap, except that current scholarly opinions about how temporal 'tense' really is in Greek is divided. My own short-hand approach is that epsilon prefix is a temporal marker, the perfect 'tense' is not perfect and not past, and that tense-forms outside the indicative generally only indicate aspect.

But of course my students are taught grammar with a traditional textbook, which means they have tense drummed into them. Generally I try and provide a on-the-fly Mongolian translation to make the sense of the tense clear. This usually works, except the perfect can be tricky.

4) Aspect.
This is probably the hardest. For a start, my students have not really been taught anything about aspect in general. Secondly, the idea is not clear within Mongolian grammar, so far as I can tell (and, coupled with this, I have a more technical understanding of Mongolian grammar than some of my students anyway). Thirdly, I haven't worked out how to translate 'aspect' in a strictly grammatical sense.

I suspect the way forward here is to start explaining what perfective and imperfective aspects 'look like', in terms of considering an action in a wholistic way versus a progressive sense. Then to talk about how, in the indicate, this is seen in the present, imperfect, and aorist. Then to give some terminology, and lastly to talk about the perfect tense. Learning to read the perfect tense as imperfective and presentinstead of perfective and past is somewhat counter-intuitive, but actually makes a great deal of sense of the Greek verbal system, and has some parallels with Mongolian tenses.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jesus didn't save me from the curse of the Law

I'm a Gentile.

A few years ago I took an MA subject on Galatians, and our teacher made the suggestion that the plural we/you pronouns and verbs in Galatians might actually be read, for the most part, as referring to Jewish-background believers, and Gentile-background believers. Try it - pick up Galatians, and everytime Paul says 'we', think of Jewish-background believers, and everytime he says 'you' think of it referring to Gentile-background believers in Galatia.

Lately I have been reading Brian Rosner's fine work, "Paul and the Law". Rosner makes a very clear and persuasive case that for Paul, Gentiles were never under the Law.

If that's so, that I was never under the Law, then how does salvation work for Gentiles?

I have heard countless sermons, and probably preached a few myself, that apply the Law to Gentiles, either for conviction of sin, or to show the need for salvation, essentially based on the assumption that Christians who are Gentiles should have fulfilled the Law, didn't fulfill the Law, and are under judgment for not fulfilling the Law. And yet, if Gentiles were never under the Law, this is not true. We are very clear that Gentiles who become believers do not come under the Law of Moses, but we act as if Gentiles who become believers also become pseudo-former-covenant-members who failed to keep the Law. Do you see how odd this is?

Of course, if I was never under the Law, I am not under the penalty of the Law. But I don't need to be under the penalty of the Law, because in the sphere of the Old Testament to be outside the Law, outside the covenant community, is already to be under judgment. We don't need to do mental gymnastics here - all Gentiles in virtue of being sinners and outside the covenant, were already under judgment.

Preachers often struggle with applying Galatians - there is only a (thankfully) small subsection of Gentile believers today who are tempted by Judaising - by going back under the Law (though we do see this - Christians who want to be more 'Jewish' and get back to more 'Jewish' roots, often uncritically adopting OT practices and worse, pseudo-OT practices). But perhaps a more telling application is right in front of us - we keep applying the Law to Gentiles as if they should have been keeping it and weren't and so need to repent of this and find righteousness in Christ. Actually it is we, preachers and teachers, who are putting Gentiles under the Law in order to bring them out of the Law through the Gospel. What??

 Preach the Gospel so that Gentiles who are judged outside the Law may be saved through Christ, and don't be tempted to preach the Law in such a way as to falsely impose it on Gentiles. Otherwise, ironically, it is we, not the Judaisers of Galatians, who are 'leading people back under the Law'.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: The Psalter Reclaimed

I also just finished Gordon Wenham's The Psalter Reclaimed. Here are some more general thoughts on this book.

Obviously, like non-violence, the psalms are something of a soap-box issue for me. So, again, I am warmly disposed to the general topic of this book. The book is 8 chapters long, some of the chapters are papers written or presented elsewhere, but gathered together in this volume. This gives the book a slightly disjointed nature, as some of the structures of the individual chapters could have used more revision in being worked together into a unified volume. I found this particularly the case with the later chapters.

Here's the contents:
1. What are we doing singing the Psalms?
2. Praying the Psalms
3. Reading the Psalms Canonically
4. Reading the Psalms Messianically
5. The Ethics of the Psalms
6. The Imprecatory Psalms
7. Psalm 103: The Song of Steadfast Love
8. The Nations in the Psalms

I particularly felt like the last two were just kind of "things related to Psalms I'd presented that would go well in this volume", while the first four chapters form a much more tightly-connected unit. Wenham gives us a very good treatment of what's going on when we read/sing/pray that psalms, including a discussion of speech-acts and so forth. Chapters 3 & 4 complement this nicely by giving us a framework in which to read the psalms, which is ever so necessary if one is to sing and pray them! The broader 'resurgence' of canonical criticism is to be warmly embraced.

I found chapter 5 especially engaging, since as Wenham recognises this is a significant lacuna in both readings of the psalms, as well as treatments of Old Testament Ethics. Highlighting the predominance of hesed language in the Psalter was something I did not know and brought a moment of illumination.

Very recently I blogged off the back of chapter 6, which complements 5 nicely by dealing with what seems, on the surface, with the most difficult topic in the Psalms.

Overall a quite excellent contribution to the field of Psalms, from a respected OT author. 4.5 stars.

Book Review: Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence

I just finished reading Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence by Preston Sprinkle and thought it should get some kind of a review.

This is just the kind of book I think should have been written, and I have almost no disagreements with the author throughout, so it's no surprise that I think it's a great book. So let me tell you why it's a great book on this topic.

Firstly, the author is aiming to bridge a gap and write for a more popular level, which is something I wouldn't have done in this book, but it is much needed and very welcome. His writing style is warm, personable, and skilled at presenting complexity without being overly simple.

Secondly, he offers a solid biblical-theological treatment of the topic, giving adequate attention to the development of the theme through scripture, while also spending time addressing church history, practical theology, and objections.

Thirdly, the author is putting forward non-violence within a context of broad reformed/evangelical thought, which is (sadly) not its usual home, but agreeably is my own context, and it's one in which I think actually the strongest theological case for non-violence can be made.

If I had any criticism of the book it would only be that it's not the book I would write, but actually I am thankful for that because at least it means there is still a place for my book! What I would like to see is a much more thorough-going development of a biblical-theology of violence and of non-violence as an ethic, written at a more academic level. This fine volume has re-inspired me to do some writing and research towards such an end.

Anyway, all to say that (a) you should read this book, and (b) I would give it 5 stars.

10 questions for better Bible study

1. What does this passage tell me about God? (Theology)
2. What does this passage tell me about myself/humanity (Anthropology)
3. How does this passage fit into the story of the Bible/the story of God redeeming His people? (Redemption History)
4. How does this passage lead me to Jesus? (Christocentric reading)
5. Based on this passage are there things I need to repent of?
6. Based on this passage are there things I ought to do/change?
7. How does this passage reveal the beauty of God and his gospel, and lead me into worship and adoration?

Bonus questions
2.5 Are there things I don't understand in this passage that I need to ask about/research further?
6.5 What can I do today to apply this passage?
7.5 How can I share the attractiveness of Christ in this passage to people in my life?

Lamenting the lack of laments

The lack of a computer has meant more time for other things, and I have been trying to finish off reading Wenham's The Psalter Reclaimed. Wenham has a very good treatment of the imprecatory psalms, i.e. psalms like 109 and 137 that call upon God to bring devastating vengeance to the wicked. He draws particularly on Zenger as he does this.

Zenger is particularly interesting because he is a R.Catholic monk reacting to the Vatican II changes that saw 'difficult' parts of the psalms omitted during the monastic reading/singing cycle. This, naturally, goes to the heart of the question of how the Psalms can and should be read as Christian scripture, and as songs and prayers for today. Obviously Christians have long had trouble with these verses and how they mesh with the NT teaching.

In Zenger's view these psalms represent the idea of longing for justice in a world full of injustice and suffering. Psalms of lament and imprecation "address situations where injustice cannot be righted", they are the cries of the utterly crushed and weak for whom only God can be their avenger, only God can bring true justice.

The absence of such psalms, of lament-type songs in general, in the church is in fact an indictment upon us, for our weak theology, rather than the expression of our more sophisticated morality. Our lives are so suffering-free, our difficulties so minor, our accommodations and compromises so pervasive, our complicity with unjust authorities so ubiquitous, that we have nothing to lament, and our songs so banal they offer nothing but more stupifiers to dull the edge of life. We do not long for justice, but comfortability. We do not express solidarity with the church in chains and under persecution in other places, we wish them well, like James 2:16.

Zenger writes:

Those who sing these songs sing them as a cry for change and a melody of longing for a world without tears, usually in melanchly because this worldwill never exist without tears. Therefore they sing them as songs of protest and struggle. All of this harmonizes as a powerful song of resistance against the thin melodies that sing of a life of indifferent self-satisfaction and idyllic surrender to God.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Three online language sites actually worth your time

1. Bliu bliu

Bliu bliu is a fledgling startup out of Lithuania that is showing a great deal of early promise. Basically it sources texts for you in your target language, and you read through them and click on each word for whether you know it or not. It tracks your words for you, and gives you other options for drilling down on words or exporting them for use in other programs.

Bliu bliu's advantages include a very easy to use interface, it works well at providing content appropriate to your reading level, and is looking at implementing more features. I look forward to more recordings of audio especially (and making some of mine own once I get that computer fixed).

2. Tatoeba

I didn't know about tatoeba until quite recently. It's a project that aims to provide whole-sentence translations between languages. So, given an example sentence, users provide a translation of that sentence into whatever other languages they can. This is not mere 1-to-many though, as each sentence in whatever language exists as its own node, so users can then translate that sentence again. This creates an intricate web of corresponding sentences.

How to use Tatoeba? I have only just started on it, but it's a great place to do translation in a language you consider yourself high-advanced/fluent in, and it's a great place to find sentences in your language that you are learning. And recently bliu bliu seems to be sourcing tatoeba into its texts, which is great (the tatoeba database is CC-licensed)

3. Forvo

I haven't used forvo that much myself, but forvo is basically a site collecting recordings of words of every language. This is a great tool if you want access to native speaker recordings of words individually. Combined with the above two tools, the ability to look up any word and find out how it's said should be excellent.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reasons for silence

I try and avoid blog posts that are mere apologies for not writing more blog posts, but there are genuine reasons things are slower than usual here.

1. Visa issues have been on our minds lately. You can read about some of the to- and fro-ing of our current status over at Macdonalds in Mongolia.

2. I've been without my own pc for about 2 weeks now. All my data is backed up, but I don't have a system to run off, and when I do have time on my wife's computer, it's taken up with lesson prep (in fact, right now I'm uploading files for classes). It's difficult enough to get work done without a computer, let alone write interesting blog posts.

2a. If you're wondering, I'm waiting on a GPU to try and fix my computer. The problem of computer failure here is that anything that is remotely decent is unable to be fixed here because the tech market is 2 years behind the SOTA curve, and it doesn't appear worth replacing my computer here for the same reason.

3. Teaching is consuming most of my time. It would consume less if 1 and 2 were solved.

4. Most of my thoughts are off topic for this blog. Occasionally I thought about writing something political related to the recent Australian election, but generally I try and steer clear of those kinds of political posts.

So no promises, and no apologies per se, just some reasons. Looking forward to these issues being resolved and returning to some creative outputs.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The death of marriage




Marriage is a heroic ideal that is ultimately unsustainable. That’s why it’s lived a long life of being honoured in the breach, and is rapidly unravelling in the west. Marriage asks more of us than we can give, life-long fidelity is not in our nature, but it’s in our dreams.

For Christians, marriage is sustained only by faith. Faith in a saviour who was himself faithful to the point of death, committed in love to a bride who has been consistently unfaithful all her life. Paul expresses this brilliantly when he tells us that marriage is patterned on Christ and the church, bringing forth a theme of scripture that has long OT roots.

The current debates over marriage are, as many have said, about changing definitions. We live in an age of radical plasticity. We believe, as a generation, that what we wish defines reality around us and now we are extending this autonomity to social constructs as well. Marriage was too heroic an ideal to sustain without faith, so lifelong, public, sexually faithful unions are now as-long-as-they-last, private, sexual-exclusivity-is-negotiable expressions of fleeting emotion and sensibility.

Homosexual ‘marriage’ is just the next station on this line. Although it does brilliantly expose some of the contradictory thinking of post-moderns. If everything is fluid, everything is self-definable, why is sexuality sometimes ‘innate’ (the major position of the homosexual lobby), and sometimes ‘fluid’ (the minority position)? And why are social constructs fluid and sexuality is undeniable?

What we will see is a shift in the meaning of the term ‘marriage’. In fact, we have already seen that shift, but the connotation of the term drags its heels. When Christians vent and rant about this loss of meaning, they have at least half a point, but I suspect the linguistic battle is already lost. What is more important is whether Christians have the wherewithal to accept the linguistic shift and be prepared to hold out an ongoing alternative.

The linguistic and political changes have this very danger, that of muddying what we think ‘marriage’ is. We will soon live in a world where the idea of lifelong, public, sexually faithful, heterosexual unions is strange, absurd, and ridiculous. We will soon live in a world were no-one outside the church is entering into any kind of relationship that has that kind of ideal. And then suddenly we find ourselves with something unique, something we always had, something the world has been trying on for size for a long time and not doing very well with. A heroic ideal of faithfulness that is only achieved by faith. A way of life that daily models death to self and reveals the glory of the one who was faithful in our place, even unto death.