Sunday, 13 January 2013

The importance of the Septuagint in Biblical studies

Interest in the Septuagint has grown dramatically during the last few decades. The main reason for this is that Septuagint manuscripts, as well as Hebrew texts of the Bible which correspond with the Septuagint, were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Since this discovery the text of the Septuagint, which differs in important ways from the Masoretic (Hebrew) text which have traditionally been used for Bible translations, has gained credibility.  Many Christians do not know that the authors of the New Testament typically use the Septuagint when quoting from the Old Testament or that the early Christian church used the Septuagint as Scripture.  Both scholars and laymen interested in the Biblical text should take note of the importance of the Septuagint in Biblical studies. The Septuagint impacts not only on our understanding of particular verses, but also on our understanding of the Biblical text as a whole.

My interest in the Septuagint started during a preaching tour to Holland a few years ago. I was familiar with the Septuagint, but did not recognize the importance thereof for Biblical studies until then. During a visit to a local theological seminary I spend time in the library where I saw the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Vol 2, eds Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. Van der Kam, Oxford University, 2000). One of the sections focus on the relation between these scrolls and the Septuagint. It lists the Septuagint manuscripts found among the scrolls in the Judean desert as well as the readings of the Hebrew scrolls that support the Septuagint. I was amazed to discover that some of the oldest known Hebrew texts of the Bible support the Septuagint and not the Hebrew texts that are used for present day translations of the Bible.

Origin of the Septuagint

What is the Septuagint? Let me quote the encyclopedia just mentioned. "The Septuagint is the collection of ancient Greek translations of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament, by a number of different Jewish translators over the course of the third, second, and perhaps early first centuries BCE. Some later, systematically revised versions for certain books or sections have been substituted for the originals, making the collection even more diverse" (p 863). The name Septuagint is abbreviated from interpretatio septuaginta virorum which means "the translation by the seventy men". This reflects the legends about the seventy-two Jewish elders who were brought from Palestine to Alexandria in the time of the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-247 BC) to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek.

The Septuagint is of great importance to the study of the Bible since it represents (ie in translation) the oldest Hebrew text of the Bible known to us - even predating most of the Hebrew texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It takes us back to a version of the Hebrew Bible that existed in the third to second centuries BC.  Not only have copies thereof been discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, internal evidence also seem to confirm that the Greek of the Septuagint, when compared with other dated Greek papyri from that period, are from that period.  The Pentateuch was translated during the third century BC, followed by the translation of the Prophets during the second century BC.

The reason why the Hebrew source-text (called the Vorlage) on which the Septuagint is based is so important, is that it differs in various ways from the Hebrew text that evolved into the later Masoretic text (the standard Hebrew text used in later times, named after the scribes who copied the texts during the seventh to eleventh centuries AD). This implies that the Hebrew source-text of the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew text used for modern translations of the Bible.  It differs in two ways, namely in sequence and subject matter. There are a few places where the material is arranged differently, namely Exodus 35-39 where the building of the tabernacle and its ornaments are discussed, 3 Kings 4-11 (our 1 Kings) concerning king Solomon's reign, the last half of Jeremiah and the end of Proverbs. As for subject matter, there are many small and a few more striking differences.

Among the Biblical texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, some correspond with the Septuagint while others are proto-Masoretic texts.  It seems that at that stage various forms of the Hebrew text of the Bible existed.  Although we cannot affirm that the Septuagint was the more authoritative of these texts, there are some things to be said in its favor.  If the legend about the Septuagint being produced under the patronage of the Egyptian king Ptolemy II Philadelphus is correct, we would expect that the translators had access to some of the oldest and best manuscripts, and that they took care to do a very precise translation from the originals (this is especially true for the Pentateuch). This is in part confirmed by fragments discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of the oldest manuscripts found between the Dead Sea Scrolls correspond with the Septuagint and not with the Masoretic text.

In his book The Septuagint as Christian Scripture (2002), Martin Hengel mentions a Hebrew text of 1 and 2 Samuel found in cave 4 at Qumran, which exists in three manuscripts. He writes: "One, written in paleo-Hebrew script seems, since it dates far into the third century, to be the very oldest biblical text we possess. The author of Chronicles already had this form of text. Since the Masoretic text is significantly inferior here to the LXX [Septuagint] exemplar, the LXX [Septuagint] acquires special significance in relation to some of these fragments from 4Q, especially since the translators worked very precisely" (p 84). The paleo-Hebrew script pre-dates the well-known Hebrew script.

Another important Hebrew text discovered at Qumran is a fragment of the book of Jeremiah. As is mentioned in the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this Hebrew fragment displays the same shorter and rearranged text known from the Septuagint translation of Jeremiah: "The fragment preserves text from Jeremiah 9:22-10:21, but it is not the Hebrew text as found in the Masoretic Text, but the type of Hebrew text from which the Septuagint had been translated. This fragment demonstrates clearly that part of the Septuagint, and presumably the full Septuagint, text of Jeremiah is faithfully translated from an ancient Hebrew text from which the Masoretic text differs. Further analysis leads to the conclusion that the Jeremiah-Septuagint text is a more original, short edition of the book with an intelligible order, and that the Masoretic text contains a later, longer edition of the book based on that earlier edition, but amplified and rearranged such that the major sections occur in the same order as they do in the Books of Isaiah and Ezekiel".

The Septuagint and the Masoretic text

During the first century AD the Septuagint became the basic Old Testament text used by the early church.  We can see this from the fact that most quotations in the New Testament (even of Jesus' words) comes from the Septuagint (although I do not believe that Jesus in his interaction with the Jews used the Septuagint). Beginning with Paul, it is the rule to use the Septuagint.  This continued for the first few centuries (until the fourth century) during which time the Septuagint was used as Christian Scripture.

When the Septuagint became established as the Christian Old Testament, the Jews started regarding it with suspicion.  The Christians used the Septuagint readings to support their claim that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah (especially Isaiah 7:14 was of importance in this regard because the Septuagint referred to the "virgin" who shall be with child; a reading later disputed by the Jews).  In reaction to this, the rabbinical school based in Jamnia (where they went after the destruction of Jerusalem), with Rabbi Akiba (95-135 AD) as chief representative, revised the Hebrew text, probably establishing an official text for use in the Jewish communities.  They also established strict rules for textual interpretation as well as a new commentary (Targum).  Aquila used this Hebrew text to produce a Greek translation which became the text used by all Greek-speaking Jews in their synagogues all over the world.  During the early middle ages the Masoretic scribes copied the Hebrew text accepted at Jamnia, which is used as ground text for all our Bible translations.

The rabbinical scholars from Jamnia preferred a Hebrew text (the proto-Masoretic text) which differed from the Septuagint to establish some distance between them and the Christians. They also revised this text.  It has been argued (see Dan Gruber's book Rabbi Akiba's Messiah) that some of the Jewish revisions of the text included the removal or rewriting of certain verses found in the Septuagint and used by Christians to argue in support of Jesus as the Messiah. For example, in the Letter to the Hebrews there are some quotations from the Old Testament that does not appear, or are different, in our Bible. Hebrews 1:6 read: "And again, when God brings his first begotten into the world, He says: 'Let all the angels of God worship him'".  This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 32:43 which does not appear in our Bible. It does, however, appear in the Septuagint as well as in texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, where we read: "Rejoice, ye heavens with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him". (See also Heb. 10:5, quotation from Ps. 40:6, which is Ps. 39:6 in the Septuagint).

There were some early scholars like Origin who was of the opinion that the accepted Hebrew text was the text originally used for the translation of the Septuagint.  When he produced his Hextapla ('six-fold'), in which he compared the Hebrew text with the various existent Greek translations (including that of Aquila), he produced his own revision of the Septuagint (using the Hebrew text as basis) in one of the columns. Although such revisions of the Septuagint towards the proto-Masoretic text were common since early times (as is demonstrated by texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls), Origin's revision resulted in a major contamination of the Septuagint text. Contemporary scholars are still working to reproduce the original Septuagint.

Today the Masoretic text is used for all translations of the Bible.  The substitution of the Septuagint with the Hebrew Bible in the Church occurred in the fourth century when Jerome's Latin translation of the Bible, which used the Hebrew text as basis (called the Hebraitas), was accepted in the Church.  Jerome believed, as did Origin before him, that one should go back to the original language of the Bible for all translations - especially since significant differences exists between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text. At that time it made sense: why use a translation as basis if one can use the original? What he did not know, and what only became clear since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, is that the translators of the Septuagint used a very old Hebrew text which in many ways is superior to the Masoretic text.

The use of the Septuagint today

Given this background, one can understand why there is renewed interest in the Septuagint today. When I did the research for my latest book on Abraham and his God (Op soek na Abraham en sy God, 'n studie oor die historisiteit van die Genesis-verhale), I made extensive use of the Septuagint. One of the differences between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint which impacted on my study, concerns numbers. One often find that the numbers in the different texts are not the same.  Already in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 differences occur.  In the Septuagint the ages at which the fathers begot their sons are consistently (with a few exceptions) one hundred years later than in the Hebrew text (there are also some differences in the other numbers). Some argue that the Greek translators added this100 years to the genealogies in the Hebrew text, but the occurrence of this same feature in the Hebrew text of Gen. 5:18-31 (three times) could imply that the original text contained this feature throughout.

The overall effect of this difference is that the dates of the flood and Adam differ considerably between the two texts.  There are also differences in the number of years given for the period from Abraham to the exodus (Ex. 12:40) and from the exodus to the building of the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6:1).  We read in the Septuagint: "Now the sojourning of the Children of Israel, and of their fathers, which they sojourned in the land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt, was 430 years".  The part given in italics does not occur in the Hebrew text. So which text is correct?

Both the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, XV:2) as well as Paul (Gal. 3:16, 17) refer to this verse and both use the Septuagint as reference.  I demonstrate in my book on Abraham and his God that the dates for Abraham which are based on the numbers given in the Septuagint are confirmed by historical evidence.  Using archaeological evidence for two important events mentioned in the book of Genesis, namely Abraham's visit to Egypt (Gen. 12) and the Elamitic incursion that took place at that time (Gen. 14), I show not only that these events did happen, but also that the numbers given in the Septuagint are in accordance with the so-called "high chronology" dates for ancient Mesopotamian history as well as the Sotic dates for the twelfth dynasty in Egypt.  The flood date given in the Masoretic text (2348 BC) can also not be correct - this period is very well researched archaeologically and there is no signs of any flood. At that time both the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations were at their peak after a long period of uninterrupted development. 

Another interesting difference between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint concerns the names of God. Although the translators of the Septuagint used Greek words for the names of God, for example "God" for "Elohim" and "Lord" for "Yahweh" (a practice also find in modern translations of the Bible), it seems that the occurrence of the names in the Vorlage differed from the Masoretic text.  It is already clear in the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis that the names of God are not always used in the same way. 

In the Masoretic text the name Elohim is used from Genesis 1:1 to 2:3, after which the name Elohim Yahweh is used from Genesis 2:4 to 3:24. This change in the occurrence of the name of God between the two parts of Genesis 1 to 3 has lead to the hypothesis that two different creation stories written by two different authors were recorded.  In the Septuagint the name "Lord God" (Yahweh Elohim) is, however, not consistently used in Genesis 2:4 to 3:24. The name of God is sometimes given as "God" (Elohim). This could have an impact on the mentioned hypothesis.

Of special interest is the use of the word "God" (Elohim) in Genesis 3:23 where we find that God speaks in the "us" form: "And God said, Behold, Adam is become as one of us, to know good and evil".  We find the "us" form also in Genesis 1:26 and 11:7. This could imply that Genesis 1-11 were written by the same author. Furthermore, it is possible that the original author understood the word "Elohim" as referring to some type of plurality in God and that he wanted to distinguish it from the name Yahweh Elohim, who takes a more personal role in his relation with Adam and Eve. The Masoretic text, which uses the name Yahweh Elohim instead of Elohim in Genesis 3:23, do not allow for this possibility.

It is quite interesting that we read in Genesis 2:4 (where the name Yahweh Elohim first occurs in the Bible) that it was Yahweh Elohim who "made the earth and heaven" (the Septuagint gives the more traditional reading: "heaven and earth"). I cannot help but wonder whether John had this passage (among others) in mind when he gave his summery of Genesis 1:1-2:4 in the beginning of his gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (Joh. 1:1-3). John refers not only to the plurality in God as we find in Genesis 1-11; he also states that God made the cosmos through Jesus - and later explicitly assigns the name Yahweh (I am) to Him (Joh. 8:58 etc.) .

The differences between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint are clearly of great importance for Biblical studies. It not only impacts on the reading of particular verses, but also on our understanding of Scripture as a whole. Today many Christians believe that only the Masoretic text represents the inspired Word of God. Christians in the early centuries of this era, however, believed that the Septuagint was the divinely inspired Word of God. The question is: What does inspiration mean? Does it mean "down to the very words in the original"? The problem is that we do not have access to "the original".

Since early times editors worked on the texts and sometimes we have to accept the existence of different source texts. As mentioned before, the Vorlage (source text of the Septuagint) and the proto-Masoretic texts sometimes differ substantially, for example in the case of the short (Vorlage) and long (proto-Masoretic) versions of Jeremiah. It is possible that different versions go back to the time of Jeremiah (see Jer. 36:27, 28, 32). In my opinion this does not negate the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, but it forces us to acknowledge the complexity of the issue. My own view is that we could, in spite of this, affirm the integrity of the text. The differences does not bring the integrity of the text into question. I give my view on this issue in more detail in the appendix to the book on Abraham and his God ("Bybelse inspirasie in 'n postmoderne wêreld"). 

Conclusion

The discovery of Septuagint fragments or Hebrew texts that correspond with the Septuagint among the Dead Sea Scrolls has reignited interest in the Septuagint. It proofed that the Septuagint is not an erroneous version of the Hebrew text of the Bible. No, it represents a very old Hebrew text that differs in many ways from the Hebrew text (the Masoretic text) that is used today for all translations of the Bible. In some ways it is clearly superior to the Masoretic text. The authors of the New Testament used it in their quotations from the Old Testament. The early church used it as Scripture. It is important that the broader church of today also take an interest in the Septuagint and start using it alongside the Masoretic text. Every scholar and Bible student should have one on their shelves or computer. Let us start reading the Septuagint.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud. Ref. www.wmcloud.blogspot.com

Read also: Biblical inspiration: in a postmodern world

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Middelgrond in die geloof

In hierdie skrywe praat ek oor die redes vir my deelname aan die kontemporêre godsdiensgesprek en wat ek uiteindelik daardeur wil bereik.  Ek begin ook om my betoog vir 'n middelgrond in die geloof meer eksplisiet uit te spel.  As die Christendom relevant wil bly, sal hulle die middelgrond moet betree. Verder skets ek my visie vir die toekoms. 

"My volk gaan ten gronde weens gebrek aan kennis" - Hosea 4:6

Daar is 'n lewendige godsdiensgesprek wat nou al vir 'n aantal jaar in Suid-Afrika plaasvind. Ek het my deelname by hierdie gesprek in Julie 2011 op my blog aangekondig met 'n skrywe getiteld "Hoekom blog jy, Willie?" (op www.wmcloud.blogspot.com).  Sedertdien het ek op verskeie terreine aan hierdie gesprek deelgeneem.  In 2012 is ek nogal deur die gesprek meegesleur - veral in gesprekke wat in die Nuwe Hervorming gesinde tydskrif Markplein plaasgevind het.  In hierdie verband het my nuutste boek Op soek na Abraham en sy God, 'n studie oor die historisiteit van die Genesis-verhale (Griffel, 2012) heelwat reaksie uitgelok.

Oor die laaste aantal jaar was daar sekere dinge wat my opgeval het.  Een daarvan is die geweldige impak wat modernisme op die ouer generasie (en sommige van die huidige generasie) Suid-Afrikaanse teoloë gehad het.  Een van die artikels wat ek daaroor geskryf het is "Om te glo of nie te glo nie..." wat ek op 15 April 2012 op my blog gepos het.  Hierdie artikel het ook in die tydskrif Pomp 12 (Griffel, 2011) verskyn.  Hierdie modernistiese aanslag bou voort op die foutiewe aanname dat daar in teksstudies ("Bybelwetenskap") op een of ander wyse "wetenskaplike" uitsprake soortgelyk aan die ander empiriese wetenskappe gemaak kan word - wat dui op 'n totale misverstaan van die "wetenskaplikheid" van hierdie dissipline.

Teksstudies is in werklikheid slegs maar 'n hermeneutiese (interpreterende) dissipline wat altyd vanaf sekere veronderstellings werk en waar ander interpretasies altyd moontlik is. Hulle vertrekpunt dat gebrek aan "genoegsame" argeologiese vondse bewys dat daardie gebeure nie plaasgevind het nie dui op 'n baie simplistiese en verouderde konsep van argeologie as empiriese wetenskap.  Ek bespreek hierdie problematiek in my artikel getiteld "A critique of archaeology as a science" wat op 19 Augustus 2012 my blog gepos is. Die invloed van modernisme op die ouer geslag akademici is na my mening een van die belangrikste redes waarom daar oor die afgelope 40 jaar so 'n skeptiese inslag in Suid-Afrikaanse teologiese kringe ontstaan het. 

Ek is verbaas oor die onkritiese wyse waarop daar by die modernistiese paradigma ingekoop is (soos daar weer deesdae by post-modernisme ingekoop word).  In verskeie van my artikels het ek die lesers aangemoedig - in navolging van 'n skrywe deur die bekende moderne filosoof Immanuel Kant - om vir hulleself te dink. Om wyer na te lees en uiteindelik self dinge te beoordeel.  Om nie maar net die "geleerdes" na te loop soos mense voorheen die priesters nageloop het en te dink dat hulle al die antwoorde het nie.  Om nie maar net een verouderde paradigma vir 'n ander te verruil wat nie veel beter is nie.  Alhoewel ons baie by die gedissiplineerde studie oor die Bybel kan leer, het akademici nie al die antwoorde nie - daar is wel sommige van hulle wat baie arrogant dink dat hulle by die bron van kennis gearriveer het.  Ons moet ons nie veel aan hulle steur nie - hulle beïndruk eintlik net hulleself.

Ek het ook probeer om 'n gebalanseerde beskouing vir gesonde geloof uit te spel. In hierdie verband het ek artikels oor wetenskap en geloof (07/11/2011), geloof en rede (01/05/2012) asook Bybelwetenskap en tradisionalisme (31/10/2012) geskryf.  Wat my hier bekommer, is dat baie tradisionele Christene in 'n anti-intellektuele raamwerk vasgevang is.  Hulle staan baie wantrouig teenoor die wetenskap, rede en teksstudies.  Hulle vergeet dat Jesus self geleerd was (Luk. 2:47; Joh. 7:15).  So ook die persone wat die grootste impak op die geskiedenis van die Christendom gehad het - Paulus, die kerkvaders, Martin Luther, Johannes Calvyn, John Wesley en baie ander.  As Christene nie sinvolle voorstelle op die tafel plaas nie, sal ander stemme daardie intellektuele gesprek oorheers en sal hulle mettertyd die aanvaarde norme van die samelewing bepaal. Dit is ons verantwoordelikheid om aan die gesprek deel te neem en te toon dat die Bybel vandag nog relevant, betroubaar en geloofwaardig is.  Hoe kan mense die Bybelse boodskap van verlossing glo as hulle nie ter self ter tyd oortuig is van die relevansie van die Bybelse teks vir vandag nie? Dit is waarom ek my blog as 'n intellektuele eerder as 'n geestelike gespreksforum ingerig het.

Wat ek voorstel is dat Christene na 'n middelgrond in die geloof beweeg.  Wat bedoel ek hiermee? Gewoon dat hulle probeer om 'n balans tussen die uiterstes te vind.  Dat hulle gesonde interpretasies nastreef. Dit is egter nie maklik nie.  Sommige staan vas by die tradisionele paradigma van denke en sien ander interpretasies as die waaraan hulle gewoond is as kompromie.  Sodra 'n mens na die middelgrond beweeg, dink baie tradisionele Christene dat jy nou "liberaal" raak - al staan jy by die beginsels van die evangeliese Christendom.  Hulle sien jou as deel van die "ander" groep terwyl jy hoegenaamd nie enige liberale sieninge onderskryf nie.  Dit is moontlik een van die redes waarom baie behoudende Christene te bang is om regtig te sê wat hulle dink.  Andere in die geleerde milieu kyk weer neer op die eenvoudige evangelie sonder dat hulle enige belewing van die lewensveranderende krag daarvan ondervind.  As jy nie deel van die "Bybelwetenskaplike" denkgroep uitmaak nie, dink hulle dat jy sekere simplistiese opvattinge het wat hulle met die tradisionele groep vereenselwig. 

Ek kan hierdie probleem met 'n paar voorbeelde illustreer.  Neem byvoorbeeld my nuwe boek Abraham en sy God.  In hierdie boek argumenteer ek dat daar genoegsame rede is om die glo dat Abraham 'n historiese persoon was en dat die verhale in Genesis 2-11 saam met hom van Sumerië na Kanaan gebring is waar dit later deel van Israel se oergeskiedenis uitgemaak het.  Ek voer ook ander aspekte van Israel se tradisie soos hul geloof in die God El asook hul wêreldbeskouing na daardie wêrelddeel terug.  As my argumente aanvaar word, maak dit 'n baie sterk saak dat die bronmateriaal vir die boek Genesis deur vroeë profete soos Abraham (Gen. 20:7) in Israelitiese kringe oorgelewer is en nie in die tyd van die ballingskap uit Babilon ontleen is nie.  Sommige Christene het dadelik aanstoot geneem - volgens hulle kan ons nie die inligting in die Bybel na Sumerië terugvoer nie.  God het dit aan Moses geopenbaar.  Maar hoe het dit gebeur? Het God dit by die berg Horeb aan hom gedikteer?  Hulle het geen begrip vir die milieu waarbinne die Bybelse teks ontstaan het nie.  Ons moet tog die sosiale en historiese konteks waarin die Bybel opgeskryf is ondersoek.  Sommige van hierdie Christene is net met drie bronne bekend: wikipedia, creation.com en The Two Babylons (eerw. Alexander Hislop, 1916).  Nie een van hierdie bronne het enige gesag in akademiese kringe nie.

Ek het 'n tyd gelede met Lynette Francis op RSG se Praat Saam program oor die antieke Bybelse konsepte van die hemel en die hel gepraat (op 13 September 2012).  Daar is baie Christene wat nie besef dat die Bybelse mens 'n totaal ander wêreldbeskouing as ons gehad het nie.  Die tema sluit aan by 'n bespreking oor die antieke wêreldbeeld in my nuwe boek Abraham en sy God.  Sommige luisteraars wat met die konsepte onbekend is, het dadelik aanvaar dat ek nie in die hemel of die hel glo nie!  Ek was nogal verbaas om te sien dat iemand op Facebook skryf dat hy na my geluister het en dat ek nie in die hel glo nie. Hy het selfs die skakel na die gesprek gepos.  Wat ek wel in die gesprek gesê het, is dat daardie mense 'n baie gesofistikeerde siening gehad het (in stryd met die uitsprake van sommige hedendaagse Bybelgeleerdes) en dat hulle daardie domains in die onsigbare deel van die kosmos geplaas het - wat ek met die hoër dimensionele struktuur van die kosmos vereenselwig.  Ek glo dus dat daardie domains bestaan - maar dit is beslis nie in die raamwerk van die wêreld wat ons ken nie.

Aan die ander kant is daar weer diegene uit tekskritiek kringe wat in beginsel enige historiese basis vir die Genesis verhale verwerp.  Hulle wil gewoon nie aanvaar dat Abraham - of enige van die persone wat in die oergeskiedenis in Genesis 2-12 vermeld word (Noag, Henog ens.) - gelewe het nie.  Volgens hulle moet die teks nie op daardie manier gelees word nie - so asof hulle verstaan van die teks die enigste geldige interpretasie is!  Een van die resensente uit hierdie geledere het dadelik die afleiding gemaak dat ek nog deel van die pre-wetenskaplike (tradisionele) paradigma is.  As hy die moeite gedoen het om die boek met 'n oop gemoed te lees sou hy gou agterkom dat dit nie die geval is nie.  'n Ander resensent het veronderstel dat ek iemand is wat die Bybel "letterlik" vertolk en dat ek dus die siening onderskryf dat die kosmos sesduisend jaar gelede in ses sondae geskep is.  Nou ja, nodeloos om te sê, dit is nie die geval nie.  Soos ek reeds genoem het is daar nie by hierdie geleerdes 'n begrip dat hul vakgebied 'n hermeneutiese dissipline is wat gewoon nie finale uitsprake kan maak nie (hulle staan tipies in die modernistiese paradigma waarna ek vroeër verwys het).  In der waarheid is ander interpretasies as hul eie nie net moontlik nie; dit maak selfs beter sin.

Die middelgrond is dus 'n moeilike terrein om te betree omdat die opponerende groepe jou tipies by die ander groepeer sonder dat hulle werklik hoor wat jy sê.  Maar die tyd het gekom dat ons as Christene wat ons in die middelgrond bevind openlik sê dat ons nie gemaklik is met 'n simplistiese anti-wetenskaplike lees van die teks soos ons dit in tradisionele kringe vind of die sekularistiese benadering wat in Bybelwetenskaplike kringe gevolg word nie. Ons kan nie wonderwerke prysgee of aan die inspirasie van die Skrif twyfel nie.  Ons kan nie twyfel in die krag van God om lewens te verander nie. Die middelgrond is 'n breë terrein waar daar vir verskeie interpretasies en dus gesonde gesprek ruimte is.  Ons moet egter nie ten alle koste die middelgrond nasteef nie - alhoewel gesonde interpretasies ons wel daar sal uitbring.

Ons kan beide 'n intellektuele benadering tot die Bybelse teks volg en ter self ter tyd glo dat die God van die Bybel vandag nog steeds in en deur mense in die geskiedenis werksaam is.  Ons kan daarna streef om sinvolle interpretasies van die teks voor te staan wat sin maak vir die mense van ons tyd.  Ons kan ook daarna streef dat God ons in hierdie tyd as werktuie sal gebruik om die wêreld deur ons te bereik.  Soveel Christene wat intellektueel ingesteld is raak vervreemd van die geestelike krag van God wat in ons lewens werk, terwyl soveel Christene wat daardie krag ervaar mettertyd vanweë hul anti-intellektuele ingesteldheid vervreemd raak van die samelewing waarin hulle lig en sout moet wees. Ek het vroeër in 'n ope brief die kerk in Suid-Afrika uitgedaag om vandag relevant te wees.

Ek het oor die afgelope tyd by verskeie geleenthede voorgestel dat ons interpretasies van die Bybelse teks moet voorstaan wat vir die ingeligte mense van ons tyd sin maak.  Ons moet die teks op 'n sinvolle wyse herinterpreteer soos Jesus self in sy tyd gedoen het. Was dit nie Hy wat gesê het: "Julle het gehoor dat aan die mense van die ou tyd gesê is... Maar Ek sê vir julle...".  Dink aan sy radikale nuwe verstaan van die Sabbat en hoe kwaad die tradisionele groep hieroor was. Hy het dramatiese nuwe interpretasies van die teks aan die skares voorgehou wat 'n groot impak op hulle gehad het.  Ons moet dieselfde doen.  Ons moet ook interpretasies voorstaan wat wegbreek van daardie "oorlewering van die ou mense" wat uitgedien geraak het.

Dit is teen hierdie agtergrond dat ek beplan om in hierdie jaar voorstelle op die tafel te plaas.  Daar is 'n artikel oor die Septuagint (die Griekse vertaling van die Ou Testament wat deur die Bybelskrywers en die vroeë kerk gebruik is) waaruit die waarde van gesonde tekskritiek duidelik blyk - in hierdie geval het tekste wat tussen die Dooie Seerolle gevind is belangrike implikasies vir ons verstaan van die teks.  Daar is 'n artikel oor die skeppingsnarratief van Genesis 1 waarin die problematiek rondom die sewe skeppingsdae aangespreek word - die teks ondersteun nie sieninge wat teen die wetenskap indruis nie.  Ook die vraag of Adam die eerste mens was word in 'n artikel aangespreek. Verder is daar 'n artikel waarin die filosofiese basis vir geestelike intuïsie (wat Christene "God se stem" noem) beredeneer word.  Ek beoog om hierdie artikels op my blog te pos en ook - saam met goeie artikels deur ander skrywers - in my ebrief "Undertanding the World" in te sluit.

Ek hoop dat daar uiteindelik al meer Christene sal wees wat openlik en gemaklik die middelgrond van geloof betree. Dat daar gemeentes uit verskeie kerkgenootskappe asook verskillende bedieninge sal wees wat rondom so 'n middelgrond sal hande vat om die mense van ons tyd met die evangelie te bereik. Dat daar 'n netwerk van Christene sal ontstaan wat nie alleen die dinamika van gesonde intellektualisme onderskryf nie, maar wat ter self ter tyd die krag van God op 'n nuwe en lewende wyse in hul eie lewens ervaar.  Ek vertrou dat hierdie stroompie uiteindelik tot 'n magtige geestelike stroom sal groei wat oor kerkgrense heen sal saamwerk om op nuwe maniere en met nuwe metodes na die mense van ons tyd uit te reik. Wat die evangelie op so 'n wyse aanbied dat dit nie alleen vir die mense van ons tyd sin maak nie, maar dat hulle ook hul lewens deur geloofsvertroue aan die God van die Bybel sal wy.  Dat ons opnuut soos 'n stad bo-op 'n berg sal wees vanwaar die helder lig vreemdelinge en ronddwalendens uitnooi om nader te staan.  Dat ons 'n oase sal wees waar menigte siele se dors geles sal word.  Dat ons in die tyd waarin ons lewe 'n verskil sal maak. 

Om 'n verskil te maak moet ons waag. Ons moet bereid wees om op te offer. Ons moet bereid wees om uit ons gemaksone te beweeg. Ons moet bereid wees om met 'n oop gemoed dinge te ondersoek. Ek het gedurende die tyd waarin ek die boek Abraham en sy God geskryf het baie met Abraham se lewe geïdentifiseer en later vyf geestelike oordenkings daaroor op RSG se godsdiensprogram gedoen. Abraham het in gehoorsaamheid aan God sy vaderland - die land van die bekende, Sumerië - verlaat en na 'n onbekende land getrek.  So moet ons ook soms die land van die bekende - die paradigma waaraan ons bekend is - verlaat om na die middelgrond van relevante en geloofwaardige interpretasies van die Bybelse teks te beweeg.  Interpretasies wat steeds die evangeliese beginsels onderskryf. As ons dit nie doen nie, gaan die Christendom al meer irrelevant word.  Ons kan na Europa kyk vir 'n toekomsblik op ons eie land - dit is 'n godlose plek waar die evangeliese Christendom bykans uitgesterf het.  As ons niks doen nie, sal ons land waarskynlik ook oor 40 jaar ook so lyk.  So die vraag is: Gaan ons die pad aandurf? Ek het besluit: Ek trek die land binne. Almal wat wil saamtrek, is welkom.

Skrywer: Dr Willie Mc Loud Ref. www.wmcloud.blogspot.com