Miracles & modern translation

From: <mrb22667@kansas.net>
Date: Tue Oct 25 2005 - 00:11:06 EDT

Quoting gordon brown <gbrown@euclid.colorado.edu>:

> On Mon, 24 Oct 2005 mrb22667@kansas.net wrote:
> > George Murphy states it well. There is an absurdity in our preoccupation
> with
> > this. But it is an archetypal concern touching on the surface of
> increasingly
> > significant questions. E.g. how far are Christian scholars willing to go
> to
> > maintain concordance – or at least a non-contradictory relationship
> between
> > Biblical understanding and modern scientific sensibility? The pi question
> is
> > probably a “safe” place to gently play this argument out since it is such
> a
> > minor detail with no large theological ramifications. Other questions
> would
> > encroach in a more threatening way -- “Did the sun really ‘stop’ in the
> sky for
> > 24 hours for Joshua?
> It is difficult to ascertain exactly what happened in the account in
> Joshua. Does it really say that the sun stood still? Translators have
> interpreted it this way as far back as the Septuagint. However the Hebrew
> word that they translated as stand still is not translated that way
> anywhere else in the Old Testament. Its literal meaning is to be silent.
> In many cases it is translated as meaning to cease, which is probably
> correct. If one asks the sun to stop, does that mean to stop moving or
> stop doing something else? What is most like being silent?
> There are some inconsistencies with the popular interpretation. First of
> all, this incident happened early in the morning. The Israelites had
> marched all night from Gilgal and probably came upon the enemy before
> daybreak, which gave them the advantage of surprise. The enemy then fled
> into a hailstorm. When Joshua spoke to the sun and moon, the sun was over
> Gibeon, which was in the hills to the east of the battle site. Why would
> Joshua have thought about extending daylight hours when it was so early?
> Why did he think it necessary to address the moon? The moon doesn't
> provide much extra light during the day. As for the sun not hastening to
> go down for about a whole day, the original does not say down, and a day
> often means the period between sunrise and sunset. Finally, it is
> interesting that when the text says that there was no day like it before
> or since, it is not because of a unique celestial or meteorological event
> but rather because the Lord listened to the voice of a man.
> Gordon Brown
> Department of Mathematics
> University of Colorado
> Boulder, CO 80309-0395

I'm not a scholar of greek or hebrew but I have cause to wonder, at least, about
the motives of those who would translate this text with this much divergence.
Did the scholars who challenge the traditional interpretation (of the sun
'stopping') know something that the scholars for the NIV & other modern versions
didn't? Our modern ears would certainly find the alternate (sun didn't really
stop) explanations more credible. So I naturally suspect that a desire to
translate it this way might come from an attempt to artificially make incredible
events sound more scientifically palatable to us. But if you are correct that
the original hebrew doesn't really render that meaning, then that would be a big
blooper for most of our Bible translations. The feat may have been repeated in
II Kings 20:9-11, although the sun is not specifically mentioned here. A shadow
not only stops, but goes backward, and we are to presume that this was an
amazing event because of its intended purpose as a sign to Hezekiah. I think
that we can credit these ancients with enough intelligence that they would not
have been amazed if this had been some simple trick as of manipulating an
artificial light source. So what might this have been? Optical atmospheric
phenomena would certainly be vastly simpler than the straightforward, but
fantastic interpretation that assumes a wayward sun.

But delving into all this may be to miss a deeper point that is common to all
these (possibly interpretational) challenges. The question at the heart of this
seems to me to be: Does God at times suspend what we call natural laws to do
things we call miracles? Or not? And is there really any difference between
"violating" them in a spectacular way vs. in small "insignificant" ways? If God
could perform the indetectable miracle of making a single atom bounce a
different way from the course it would naturally have followed, thereby causing
a hurricane to hit Florida rather than Texas several years later (Chaos theory &
the butterfly effect), then is that single unnoticeable atomic "diversion" any
less spectacular than suspending the inertial laws of an entire planet? It's
only an arbitrary few dozen magnitudes of ten difference -- the effect is just
as incredible either way -- just not as easy to see in one case. We probably
all agree that God CAN do it regardless of where on the logarithmic scale the
feat happens to reside. But the question is really: DOES God do it that way?
Perhaps there is no violation of natural law, and our understanding of that law
is merely incomplete (I think this might be C.S. Lewis' position -- although
it's been a while since I read 'Miracles'). Or the more traditional position
posits that the "supernatural" intervenes and overrides the "natural". This
gives a dualist picture neatly locking science out of the ultimate
investigation. I'm not sure the Bible helps us discern these questions.
They're more of a philosophical curiosity.

And another question facing us is whether all of this falls in the category of I
Corinthians 3:20 ..."The Lord knows the reasoning of the wise, that it is
worthless."... and Prov. 3:5 ..."lean not on your own understanding." Or do we
rather appeal to Peter's exhortation to add to our faith, goodness, knowledge,
.. (2 Peter 1:5), and encouragement from Proverbs to seek understanding and
knowledge, not to mention Paul telling us to be prepared to give answer for the
hope that we have. I need help with the paradoxes!

Well -- this may have exceeded protocols for ramble length, I'll work on
brevity. Meanwhile the Francis Collins post deserves some good discussion, but
that will have to be for other posts.

--merv bitikofer
Received on Tue Oct 25 00:15:02 2005

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