Re: [asa] philological notes on randomness

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Mon Nov 16 2009 - 01:36:36 EST


The short answer to your question is: "No". The basic themes of the Bible
are accessible to anyone who has normal human sensitivity to written
literature. We don't need priests or experts to get the main drift.

However, the case here concerns the attempt to seize on a particular phrase
in a translation, working on the assumption that the original author meant
what we mean when we say "at random". The average English reader would
suppose from such a rendering that the ancient Hebrews had the concept
"random", and that the English translator had simply rendered the word into
English, as he rendered the words for "horse" and "sword" and "king" into
English. The average English reader would never suspect that in Hebrew the
original is a three-word phrase which translates literally as "to his
wholeness" or "for his purity" or "for his perfection" or something like
that. And if the phrase *had* been translated literally, 99% of English
readers would never have inferred that "to his wholeness" or "for his
purity" actually meant "at random". Nor would the average English reader be
aware that the Alexandrian Jews, who had access to older Hebrew manuscripts
than we have now, translated the phrase as "with good aim". A difficulty
both conceptual and syntactical has been concealed by the translation "at
random". The average reader of the Bible, or the average Christian
believer, cannot be expected to sort this out, not knowing anything about
ancient Hebrew language or thought. So expert help is needed.

No Christian needs an expert to understand the gist of the Ten Commandments,
or the Sermon on the Mount, or the Two Great Commandments, or the point of
having the disciples wash each other's feet, etc. But the moment a
Christian feels the urge to rest some important theological, philosophical,
historical or scientific argument on a single word or phrase or verse of
Scripture, that Christian had better have an internal "caution light".
Translations of single words, phrases and verses can often be very


----- Original Message -----
From: "Dave Wallace" <>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Cc: "ASA" <>
Sent: Sunday, November 15, 2009 6:05 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] philological notes on randomness

> Cameron Wybrow wrote:
>> The
>> intellectually proper thing for Richard and/or Randy to do is to
>> acknowledge
>> that perhaps the text in question has been mistranslated or
>> over-translated,
>> to withdraw it from the argument, and to look for evidence from elsewhere
>> in
>> the Bible to make the point -- and then to get someone like myself or
>> George
>> Murphy or Pete Enns to check out the translation before applying it to
>> any
>> argument. But based on my experience, it would not be wise for me to
>> hold
>> my breath waiting for such a retraction or such a change in modus
>> operandi.

> If I generalize what you are saying and maybe I am misreading this but it
> sounds to me as if you are proposing a return to a time when only the
> clergy and experts were able to read the bible and understand it??? This
> is not to say that in this particular case the translation in our Bibles
> could well be wrong. Having verbally translated for people into a Semitic
> language and back I know it is not easy.
> Dave W

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Nov 16 01:37:42 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Nov 16 2009 - 01:37:42 EST