Saturday, December 09, 2006

Three Reasons Antonio is Wrong

Well, Antonio published this article about saving your souls, ala James 1:21. The specific wording that is under debate here is τὸν δυνάμενον σῶσαι τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν, hyper-literally, "the one being able to save souls your," or in more standard English, "which is able to save your souls." (Quick note here: for ease of discussion, I'll be quoting from the New King James Version, which I believe is the one Antonio uses most often; and as a reference, I have the handy The NKJV Greek English Interlinear New Testament, which is a compilation of the NKJV & The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text.)

Antonio quotes a lot of statistics to make this point. But in the end, statistics alone don't win the argument. I'd like to point out 3 significant issues with Antonio's argument.

1) Where's Jesus?

Antonio says: [The Greek reader] obviously would not consider the meaning “salvation from hell” for the Greek words “soteria” and “sozo” (salvation and save, respecively [sic]) as the first, knee-jerk option when he read it. This would be especially true for the early Jewish Christian readers of James, absorbed as they would have been both in Koine Greek and the Septuagint (which was read in their synagogues). He bases this on the age of James (it was written fairly early on), its audience (which is primarily Jewish), and the meanings of those words in the Septuagint (LXX).

Sounds pretty convincing, except for one thing: Jesus.

The Jews were waiting for the Messiah, the conquering king, to come and deliver them. Over and over, they looked for a temporal deliverance. Yet Jesus teaching about salvation is one of spiritual deliverance, not a physical one. For example, at Christmas, we often hear quoted Matthew 1:21 "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people...". From what? Their oppressors? No--"their sins." Jesus came to seek and to save--not just temporally, but spiritually, and eternally.

Now I am sorry to say that, at the moment, I don't have the resources to purchase the software necessary to do the searches on every occurrence of a word in the New Testament. If someone does, and would like to help, it would be appreciated. Until that time, I will not state the affirmative without knowing it to be true; instead, I will just say that Jesus actually talked about saving in a soteriological sense, and that since James was his (half) brother, I think it is a fair assumption that Jesus' teaching had some impact on his brother, as much if not more than the Septuagint.

The principle of progressive revelation stands with me on this, BTW.

(As a late entry in this category, I'll submit Antonio's post on NT occurrences of σῴζω. You can review all of the instances for yourself, paying special attention to who speaks about physical/temporal deliverance, and who speaks about spiritual.

But don't take Antonio's word for what is what--read the passage and context, and then decide for yourself. For instance, Matthew 18:11, speaking about seeking and saving that which was lost, Antonio puts in the temporal category--the calling of the nation of Israel to repentance. But Antonio ignores the real context of this passage, which in Matthew 18 is talking about the Kingdom of heaven, and he mentions a parallel in Luke 15, about repentance, but again, the context seems, to me at least, to be speaking about spiritual salvation, not temporal.)

2) Lexical meaning of ψυχή

Antonio says: BAGD (2nd Edition, 1958, pg 893), the standard Greek lexicon, gives the entries “of life on earth in its external, physical aspects” and “earthly life itself” for psyche (soul/life).

First of all, BAGD (as the second edition is known) was published in 1979, not 1958. It certainly must be the second edition (the one I don't have), because BAG has the entry on pg. 901. But Antonio's quote here leaves out a lot of context--sort of like if I boiled down the definition of love to "deep affection for someone."

In any case, here's a better idea of what ψυχή means, from BDAG (that's the third edition, published in 2000).

BDAG has definitions separated into broad categories, followed by more specifics within a category. It provides three broad categories for ψυχή (all formatting in the original, unless otherwise noted; for the sake of space, time, and copyright, I'm only including the first three sub-entries for each entry):

1. life on earth in its animating aspect making bodily function possible

In this category, it includes
a) breath of life, life-principle, soul, of animals;
b) the condition of being alive, earthly life, life itself;
c) by metonymy, that which possess life/soul; a living creature

2. seat and center of the inner human life in its many varied aspects, soul

In this category, it includes
a) of the desire for luxurious living
b) of evil desires
c) of feelings and emotions

3. an entity w. personhood, person ext. of 2 by metonymy everyone

It's important to note that the folks that produce this volume don't assert these things in a vacuum; they put references in for each and every entry--giving the lexical reason why they believe the word means what it does.

They list James 1:21 under #2, letter "d," with the following entry:

d. as the seat and center of life than transcends the earthly.

The BDAG folks appear to be on the side of this being more than a merely temporal deliverance.

Alexander Souter, whose small lexicon I consider to be a real gem, despite its age (and is available for free download from this page), has this to add to our discussion:

In the LXX, there is, in general, a lack of sharp distinction between ψυχή (lit. breath [cf. anima], breath of life in the individual), πνεῦμα and καρδία, though ψυχή general refers to appetite and desire; it is there as a rule a translation of the Hebrew nephesh, one of the words for the 'breath-soul', the personal soul; in Paul, soul (ψυχή) and spirit (πνεῦμα) are hardly to be distinguished (yet cf. I Cor. XV 45): . . .The general use of the word in the Bible is in the sense of whatever is felt to belong most essentially to man's life, when his bodily life has come to be regarded as a secondary thing. It comes near the modern conception, self.

I think it's fair to say that if it does mean temporal deliverance in James, it is a marked exception, not the foregone conclusion Antonio makes it sound like.

OK, before we leave #2 here, just one other note here that concerns what we've just looked at.

You can clearly see that a single word can have a variety of meanings. Linguists call this a "semantic range;" if you clicked on the link for the definition of love above, you'll see 21 different meanings.

But perhaps an easier way to understand (and remember) it is like this: I love my wife, and I love blogging. You implicitly know that I'm talking about two different things, even when I use the same word.

It's possible to make an error, especially if what you're reading is not your first language (like when I read that "the Word became meat" in John 1:14); but it may also happen when reading reading a literal translation, if we automatically assume that the same word will always mean exactly the same thing, regardless of the context.

Here's why I bring this up: Antonio says that James 1:21 is the first instance of “sozo” in his epistle, and can give an indication of the type of “saving” he has in mind in the remainder. This is true, up to a point.

But consider here Luke 12:19-20, quoted from the NKJV.

And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’

Is it reasonable to state that both uses of soul here are the same? No. In fact, the NIV renders the first one "myself," and the second one "life." So we must be careful to make sure the context fits what we say it means.

Therefore, we cannot just take it for granted that James is using the word in the same sense each time he uses it in his letter--we must look at the context.

3) Translation of ψυχή in James 1:21

You've already read part of the issue, if you read Frank's Question 4 on Debate Blog.

The bottom line is this: these translators are not dummies, and Frank didn't just use literal translations, which (according to Dynamic Equivalence advocates) have a tendency to under-translate; if they thought it should be "life" instead of "soul," they could and would have put it there. No one translates it "life" because that's not the best fit, in context.

So, while Antonio wants to make this an argument between knowledgeable, linguistic-savvy Free Grace Advocates and Lordship Salvation and Reformed Soteriologists who are unwilling to do careful lexical work and instead import a present-day understanding of "save the soul" into the text, it is actually between well over 400 years of translators from all theological persuasions stacked up against two people with a clear agenda and an interest in making the text say something that supports their assertions.

Update: Unbeknownst to me, Centuri0n was also working on a response to Antonio's post. If I did my math right, he was up almost as late as I was working on part 1.

He has just posted part 2, which includes a scan of BAGD's entry for ψυχή (the paper one is BAGD--the one Antonio quotes from; the BibleWorks one is BDAG--same as the one I quoted above). This is particularly important since Antonio has thus far refused to answer my question about what BAGD itself says about James 1:21. Regardless of your feelings about what I've written in this post, you owe it to yourself to compare what Antonio says BAGD says with what it actually says. Then ask yourself,"Is this the kind of rigorous research that I want to rely on?"


Gojira said...

Hi Gummby,

Good post. I hope that Antonio or another will take the time to look at it and interact with it.

Here is a link to some papers written on James:

Antonio said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Antonio said...

This is interesting.

I show every occurrence of sozo with psyche as its object in the LXX, showing in context, that each and every occurrence nets the same result: temporal saving of the life.

There is not one biblical or non-biblical example of that construction (except you say in James 1:21) where the meaning IS NOT temporal saving of the life.

The lengths that the LS will go to wiggle out of the evidence is striking.

I see that in your whole comment here you don't even mention my lexical study.

Go figure...

Antonio da Rosa

Antonio said...

Furthermore, my BAGD has as its first entry:

1. lit -- a. of life on earth in its external, physical aspects

β. earthly life itself


Gummby said...

Antonio: Where does BAGD list the James passage? Under 1β?

Also, do you have any explanation for why no translator in the history of English translations going back to William Tyndale in 1525 has translated ψυχή as "life" in James?

danny said...

Gumby wrote: Also, do you have any explanation for why no translator in the history of English translations going back to William Tyndale in 1525 has translated ψυχή as "life" in James?

Because they were just men. I agree that context must determine the meaning of psuche. Did you check Antonio's references from the Septuagint? King David was told to save his life (psuche/ Hebrew - nphshk). Obviously, this was a reference to physical life. So is Jeremiah 48:6. In the NT, look at Mark 3:4 and Luke 6:9 as well.

1 Samuel 19:11: If you do not save your life (nphshk/psuche) tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.

The translators throughout history have taken a soteriological view of James 2:14-26. Not wise. No matter how you cut it, the popular view has made eternal life and justification coditioned on works (whether they say works are necessary for justification, or works are the inevitable result of faith).

James acknowledged that his readers were born from above (1:18) and yet they needed to save their souls (1:21). You didn't state your opinion on 1:21 and 2:14. What do you think they need to be saved from in 2:14? What does it mean to save their souls in 1:21?

danny said...

Actually, it is ok that the translators translated it as soul in 1:21. King David was told to save his soul (nepshk), and it is pretty obvious that anyone reading 1 Sam 19:11 would take it as meaning physical life. The problem with the translators and most theologians is that no matter how they see "saving the soul" in 1:21, they attach a soteriological meaning to James 2:14-26.

bobby grow said...


see my response over at Gojira's site to your post here.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Gummby, great thoughts!

Antonio said...

Good questions, Danny.

BTW, gummy, I answered you on my blog.


Gummby said...

Antonio: I didn't see you answer the question about where BAGD puts James 1:21. Did you answer that question?

Gummby said...

Mr. Moorehead: I'm honored by your visit. Thanks.

centuri0n said...

The edition of the lexicon in BibleWorks is listed as "BDAG". The current edition is attributed to Bauer/Danker and not Bauer/Arndt.

To my knowledge, when kletois sent me the scan, he was copying an edition of BDAG later than 2001. Prior to 2001 it was "BAGD".

For the sake of clarity.

Gummby said...

Cent, my good man: I've revised my post to better reflect what I was trying to say.

You're correct about the BW edition--it is #3, BDAG. But the hard copy scan you have is #2, BAGD, the same one Antonio is using. The only reason I know is because I have hard copies of #1 (BAG) & #3, and it isn't either one of those. It's definitely not #3, because it lacks the one of their primary selling features--a major formatting change, making it much easier to read.

Here's the important thing: you've actually posted what Antonio was working from. As I said, I've been trying to get him to answer where the editors put that particular passage. Thus far, he hasn't done so.

But to quote a source as being in support of your thesis but leave out the part where it refutes it...well, it's hard to escape the notion that's either dishonest or negligent.

centuri0n said...

Hey -- like I said, I knew a guy. I was misinformed about the bibliographic data.

That said, I have a suggestion about what problem we can identify with Antonio's work: I think he simply doesn't know how to use the resource, the reference material. What that means is that he is not evil in intention but misinformed. he might honestly believe what he is advocating, and believe his own arguments, but it turns out he is still driving his caar on the wrong side of the road in reverse.

He didn't mean to: it's all he knows how to do.