Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 24 November 2018

Peter Ormerod The Guardian God isn’t gender-fluid exactly, but Justin Welby does have a point

Natalie Collins Church Times A haven for the victims — not the perpetrators
“Churches must do more to understand and respond to acts of violence against women”

Colin Coward Unadulterated Love Equal Marriage – present reality in the Church of England

Sam Gibson St Mary Magdalen School of Theology Should clergy learn New Testament Greek?

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Will Richards
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Will Richards

Sam Gibson’s excellent article should have included a fourth reason why NT Greek should be compulsory for all ordinands: it is an antidote to fundamentalism. In particular, it stops us approaching scripture with the lazy assumption that it speaks from – and to – a 21st Century Anglophone mindset. Learning the ‘native’ language of the NT is not just about grammar: it enables you to inhabit the topography and culture from which scripture emerged. Too much preaching today betrays this basic cultural and linguistic illiteracy, where passages from the Bible are wrenched from the Classical (and Semitic) world and the… Read more »

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

I agree but with the caveat that it’s very difficult for those of us with dyslexia to learn, and read in, a different alphabet. I, like many dyslexics, read by the shapes of the words. I really struggled with Greek for that reason, and gave it up as soon as I’d translated Ephesians 1. I’m grateful for the Greek I did do because, as you say, it helps you realise you’re dealing with a different time and culture. But I’ve never really been able to read it.

Simon Butler
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Simon Butler

I’m not an expert but surely the techniques for learning how to read English are the same for reading another language? Are they not transferable skills?

Richard
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Richard

We should allow Janet Fife to be the expert on this, as she says she is dyslexic and made an honest attempt to learn Greek. It sounds like learning Greek would mean learning the shape for words for an entire vocabulary, a difficult (but presumably not impossible) task.

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

The alphabet would have to be learned to the point where it was second nature, and only then could we begin to learn words by their shape. Richard is right that that’s presumably possible – but not within the time span allotted during ordination training, and commenced when over 30. Two or three of us were dyslexic and we all gave it up. If you’ve never read words letter by letter, piecing them together in a different script is a big challenge. I wouldn’t have managed with phonetics either, and am very glad reading wasn’t taught that way in my… Read more »

CRS
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CRS

My mother was one of the very first specialists in the school system working with a new ailment called “dyslexia” — partly because I and my younger brother had the challenge. I found learning Hebrew easier not harder because of the dyslexia, and I have learned latin, greek, german, akkadian, aramaic and french. My dutch struggles. I guess there must be lots of reasons why people find languages a struggle. In general I do agree that a side benefit of learning biblical languages is creating a certain level of humility amongst theological students. Jerome said as much in his homilies… Read more »

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

Jerome had a lot to learn about humility himself! And it was Marcella who did some of his translating for him, and got none of the credit. As for learning foreign characters, there will be various factors. One is the type of dyslexia; mine is scotopic syndrome. The teacher (ours was unsympathetic) and the time frame will make a difference, as will your age when learning a new set of characters for the first time, and the amount of other new stuff you’re expected to deal with simultaneously. I suspect the font in the textbook didn’t help – it was… Read more »

CRS
Guest
CRS

I have read a good deal of Jerome’s close commentary work; and of course he was irascible…like most bright people. Reading his homilies is an interesting exercise. He actually comes across as kindly toward the monks in his charge. It was not an easy life there in Bethlehem.

(I leave to the side the idea that he needed lots of help from Marcella…).

When one is dyslexic, there are advantages as well as challenges. Some semitic languages wrote right to left and left to right both (“as the donkey goes”)…writing was a specialized art and the scribes played their games…

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

Have you read Jerome’s epistles? It’s not surprising there were rumours about him and the devoted virgins who followed him. I’ve refused to call him ‘St.’ ever since I read them.

And yes, Marcella did help with the translations and should be credited with that, not left to one side.

I agree that dyslexia has its pluses. I gained a lot from reading The Dyslexic Advantage – it really makes sense.

CRS
Guest
CRS

Janet, I mentioned his name in connection with what was in fact a rare bit of humor in the otherwise austere linguist’s oeuvre, not to get dragged into a side room that has nothing to do with whether ordinands ought to learn Greek and Hebrew. Call him Mr Nasty for all I care. Having worked closely with his serial translations of the psalter with my PhD students it remains hard to imagine how difficult it would have been to learn Hebrew well enough to undertake the task, at that time. Symmachus and Aquila might help a bit, via Origen’s still… Read more »

Richard
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Richard

I recently started to learn modern Greek (at age 65+) because I’m married to a native Greek speaker and it “interested” me. I don’t really have a desire to speak Greek, but what I’ve been learning has intrigued me and it has been fun. There is no time constraint, of course. I speak fluent French, and studied Latin for many years as a student. I know the familiar Bible passages in English and French, and many in Latin, so now that I can read Greek NT passages with ease, the words fall into place. I cannot imagine an ordinand not… Read more »

T Pott
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T Pott

@Janet – you struggled with Greek and gave it up after translating Ephesians 1? This sounds rather like realising one would never make a mountaineer, while 29,000 feet up Mount Everest.

Richard W. Symonds
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“Gilbert Murray (1866-1957) of St John’s College [Oxford]…was to become Regius Professor of Greek and the best-known Greek scholar of his time…Murray’s criticism of Empire were effective because of their fairness…he was haunted by the lessons of Greek history and the memory of how Athens had forsaken democracy, had become corrupted by Imperialism, and gone to its friendless doom. He feared that Britain too would be overcome by hubris”

[Source: “Oxford and Empire – The Last Lost Cause” – Ch. 5 ‘Professors, Prigs and Pedants…’ – Page 92]

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Thanks so much for the Sam Gibson piece. Very nice! Reading it, I thought of the words attributed to St. Theresa of the child Jesus. “If I had been a priest I should have made a thorough study of Hebrew and Greek, so as to understand the thought of God as he has vouchsafed to express it in our human language.” They may be found on the reverse side of the title page of, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament by Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvener (Rome. Biblical Institute Press. 1979)

Kate
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Kate

I am really upset by the Natalie Collins piece and don’t think Church Times should have published it. She portrays domestic violence as perpetrated by men on women. That’s an extreme feminist position but it is at odds with the facts. Statistics show that domestic violence is higher in same sex relationships and highest of all in lesbian relationships. But Natalie Collins’ approach effectively silences men who suffer domestic violence and women who suffer it from other women. Neither fit the model of perfect womanhood victimised by terrible men that Collins’ seeks to peddle.

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

I’m very grateful that the CT published the piece, because we hear so little in the Church about abuse. It’s a subject that needs tackling and which the Church too often avoids (as the chair of a diocesan liturgy committee once said to me, ‘We don’t want to hear about those things in Church’. Well a lot of people do.). The resources Collins flagged up could be useful, too. I agree however, that she might have mentioned that abuse is not always man on woman.

David Rowett
Guest
David Rowett

Some more enlightened premises display domestic violence information on the inside of the men’s toilets as well as the women’s – something we’re intending to do here. Perhaps it’s because female abuse of males is so little talked about that those on the receiving end don’t have much understanding of what’s happening to them: I recall vividly one man of my acquaintance who only realised on watching a presentation about abuse that what was being described was exactly what they’d experienced for some years, but had previously accepted as ‘normal’. And the current (justifiable) #MeToo movement may well have the… Read more »

David Rowett
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David Rowett

Bravo, Sam Gibson! Personally, I think the Church lost the plot when we made optional the study of Coptic, but not everyone might agree with me there….;-) From the utilitarian point of view alone, an awareness of the ‘otherness’ of the language of the NT forces upon us a certain humility in approaching the text in translation and may militate against the simplistic ‘a=1’ understanding of these translated (or twice-translated) texts. If ‘to translate is to betray,’ at least to be aware of that in our preaching and teaching may make us a little less prone to exegetical solipsis. The… Read more »

Barry
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Barry

As someone whose first training was in academic biblical criticism, I agree that ministerial formation should require encountering NT Greek, with some added instruction on the textual transmission of the NT and the formation of the biblical canon (further antidotes against fundamentalism).

However, it is important to remember that the scriptures have the power to stimulate an imaginative engagement with their contents which can also be a path for the Spirit to work within us. Our appreciation of the scriptures can only be increased when we approach them through the genius of Handel or William Blake, to pick but two examples.

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

Great column by Peter Ormerod. And he’s right that English is inadequate when it comes to a personal pronoun for God. “It” for most people would sound too impersonal. Archbishop Welby is right that God is neither male nor female. But, to me, that’s only half of it: God is NEITHER male nor female and BOTH male and female. God is infinite and timeless and has no need to procreate in the physical sense. Therefore God has no need for gender and is neither male nor female. But, God cannot create that which God does not know, and Genesis 1:27… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

“So God is both male and female.” I don’t think that can be successfully argued on the basis of the Imago Dei. I’ve attached a link to an article from, Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae. See there for example, Augustine “Augustine views the image of God in Genesis 1:26-27 as the power of reason and understanding set over all irrational creatures:” or Aquinas, “Aquinas identifies the image of God primarily in man’s rational faculty, intellect, or reason. He points out that rational, intellectual creatures are in the image of God when he says: ‘It is clear, therefore, that intellectual creatures alone, properly… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Elizabeth Johnson: ‘She Who Is’

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/171002.She_Who_Is

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

I have not read Elizabeth Johnson; but I would agree that the feminist project with regard to biblical interpretation is largely on the money. Looking for female images as a way of contemplating the mystery that is The Divine is important theologically, liturgically, pastorally and sociologically. However, God language, whether cast in masculine or feminine imagery is ultimately analogous. One wants to take care with regard the imago Dei and anthropomorphism. One could argue that anthropomorphic language with regard to God runs counter to some feminist insights. The direction in which the question moves is of some importance. What the… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

The argument that God is ineffable divine for whom gender is irrelevant doesn’t stand muster. He incarnated as Jesus. That means He is more similar to us in form than not. The argument that God doesn’t have a Gender requires a belief – and it is no more than that – that He could equally have incarnated as female If so, then equally we have no gender either and could each have incarnated as male or female. Put another way, God’s gender is as intrinsic as our own. The prima face evidence is that God incarnated male. To suggest that… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Oh my, where would one begin?

Jack
Guest
Jack

May I gently say that it is not “orthodox” doctrine to say God “incarnated as Jesus”. That doctrine affirms that God the Word/Logos/Son was incarnate in Jesus. Not that I myself believe we have enough knowledge to say that about our Lord, the truly human, truly mortal, 1st century Jewish Jesus. We can speak of “God” in various ways but “God” is really beyond our understanding. I for one remain an active, agnostic, unitarian, I hope Biblical and Christian parson of the C.of E. but still learning from these debates.

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

Rod Gillis, I am countering “God is male”. God is beyond full human comprehension. But, since God is overwhelmingly referred to in masculine terms in English (“he”, “king”, “father”, etc.) and a lot of other languages, people tend to see God as male. Because humans cannot fully comprehend God, all of our theology about God is an approximation, or analogy. And that is what I am attempting to do. And, yes, I feel the entire theology of the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is one religion’s approximation or analogy of God. God created humanity in God’s image. God… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

“But, I’ll say again: If God created humanity male and female in God’s image, God must contain, God must envelop, male and female principles.”

Totally agree.

I think part of the problem is that those who see male and female as meaningless in our understanding of God are conflating sex, gender and gender identity.

Another Fr David
Guest
Another Fr David

Re. Sam Gibson. Greek and/or Hebrew were mandatory for ordinands when I was in training.. can it really be that long ago? Are languages still taught in the theological colleges ? When did it become an option not to have any Greek?

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Another Fr David: as a former Asst DDO I’m pretty sure that neither Greek nor Hebrew feature for anyone who has trained on a part-time non-residential course – this means an increasing number of clergy. I did such a course (EMMTC 2004-6) – stimulating it was too – but made it my business to get an elementary smattering with a classics teacher friend. There was time in the course for Myers-Briggs and a few other piffling and questionable things, but not for Greek, and certainly not Hebrew. This is also the case for my present asst curate (Queen’s Birmingham 2… Read more »

andy gr
Guest
andy gr

Well, here in Chelmsford I can confirm that Greek is taught to ordinands at St Mellitus College, “part-time” as they may be, because I teach it; they also experience formal evening prayer every week. It isn’t compulsory, but those who do Greek for assessment reach a high standard (all my students last year who entered the assessment got 90% or more). There’s even a “further greek” cohort continuing into curacy. No Hebrew here yet, though I believe it’s a St Mellitus aspiration.

Also: it’s fun, and we make sure that there is extra support if required.

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Delighted to hear it, Andy. Please influence other courses as best you can.

Kate
Guest
Kate

I have been surprised by the support for the study of Greek.

The likely drift between the spoken words of Jesus and the surviving Greek texts likely far exceeds any drift between those Greek texts and a modern translation published by a group of scholars. The importance being attached to the study of Greek therefore seems somewhat spurious to me.

Andy Gr
Guest
Andy Gr

I guess the claim is that God addresses us through the text of the Bible as we have it. This doesn’t commit us to fundamentalism, and it certainly doesn’t mean there is no need for interpretation and friendly disagreement, but if we have to rely on a reconstruction of what Jesus may have said in Aramaic we’re completely in the dark. My testimony is that prayerfully wrestling with the text is what reveals God to me, and what challenges our world’s injustice with a word from outside it.

John
Guest
John

The late Maurice Casey would speak on behalf of Aramaic, the language of Jesus, with which not many New Testament scholars would be familiar. His own expert knowledge of Aramaic adds to the value of his magisterial life of our Lord.

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

Kate, Excellent argument. The time and history that passed between Jesus of Nazareth’s crucifixion and the earliest Gospels had to influence those writers. The Judean War with Rome and the “divorce” between Judaism and Christianity profoundly influenced the writer of the Gospel of John. And — dare I say it? — placed a filter between what Jesus taught and what was written down. I think a lot of scholars believe Jesus of Nazareth spoke and preached in Aramaic. If the Gospel writers spoke and wrote in Greek, then already there is a cultural as well as linguistic translation taking place… Read more »

CRS
Guest
CRS

Is the idea that we somehow worship a Jesus, or otherwise relate to him, absent any human testimony to him? “Directly” — an obviously imaginary or excavative exercise? Jesus himself emphasizes the need for disciples to have been present with him from the beginning, and speaks of their role as testifying to him. Unless you believe that too is made up, or distorted by a greek filtering distortion of the “real Jesus.” (It is doubtful that the canaanite woman who begged for Jesus’ aid did so in aramaic, instead of the greek tongue of her region, but that would be… Read more »

David Rowett
Guest
David Rowett

I’d hope they ALL think Jesus used Aramaic! After all, yer average peasant wasn’t likely to be well up even on Koiné Greek, and the use of Aramaic words (‘Abba,’ ‘Cephas,’ ‘Talitha coumi,’ ‘Ethpathah’ [and perhaps ‘Boanerges’ though that looks more Hebrew] and numerous possible Aramaisms only really make sense arising out of an Aramaic background [the Peshitta, though a back-translation, drops the Greek glosses because its readers knew perfectly well what these words meant]. Paul uses the Aramaic signoff of ‘Maran ‘atha/Maranatha’ too, implying a residual valuing of Aramaic within the Church which would be inexplicable if there had… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Kate “The likely drift between the spoken words of Jesus and the surviving Greek texts likely far exceeds any drift between those Greek texts and a modern translation published by a group of scholars.” How can you possibly know? We moderns are altogether more reliable when we communicate?

Clive Sweeting
Guest
Clive Sweeting

The earliest accessible Christian documents are in Greek the study of which commends itself not only to clergy but to all sufficiently intellectually qualified persons who take their faith seriously.

Will Richards
Guest
Will Richards

Kate, the point of underscoring the importance of Greek is not because anyone imagines that, by reading the Greek, you are getting the ‘real thing’ (or more of the ‘real thing’). But it does allow you to read the NT with more of a sense of what those words might mean in their cultural and historical context, and that can only enhance our understanding of what we are reading in translation. It’s precisely because the ‘drift’ can distort, especially if we imagine the words we read in translation have a contemporary Anglophone origin, that having a secure handle on the… Read more »