Is the Name “Jesus” Anti-Semitic?

It has been argued by some people in the HRM that the English name “Jesus” is Anti-Semitic. I intend to show that this is false. It is not inherently any more Anti-Semitic than the name would be translated into any other language on the face of the earth. To illustrate the point, I will use a word completely on the opposite end of the spectrum of attractiveness: “nigger.” Some people, for instance, would probably call me racist even for bringing up this word. However, what if I used the word this way: “Anyone who uses the term ‘nigger’ today to describe an African-American is a racist.” I’m using the word, yes, but how am I using it? I am using the term to encourage people not to call African-Americans by that term, which they tend to find offensive. The word is not the same thing as how it is used, and it does not inherently convey a clear meaning all by itself. The word could be used in a racist way by one person and in a non-racist way by someone else.

To use a less charged word, take the word “lie.” There are two main definitions for this word possible, and they are not even remotely related to each other. I could lie down on the sofa, or I could tell a lie. The word is spelled exactly the same in both cases. But it changes meaning completely based on its usage.

These two examples illustrate a common fallacy making the rounds today: the word-concept fallacy. This fallacy (see the excellent discussion in D.A. Carson’s book Exegetical Fallacies) makes words equal ideas and ideas equal words. For instance, just because the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible doesn’t mean that the idea is absent also. Conversely, just because the Greek word “dikaioo” is being used in a text doesn’t mean that the text is talking about justification. Words have a semantic range, and do NOT always mean the same thing everywhere they are used. To argue otherwise shows a lack of understanding of how language works.

In the New Testament, the word “nomos” (law) is an excellent example of semantic range. When Paul says (Romans 7:23), “I see another nomon at work in the members of my body, waging war against the nomo of my mind and making me a prisoner of the nomo of sin at work within my members,” we can see easily that if Paul means Torah in all three uses of the word “nomos” (the differences in ending are only differences in case endings) then Paul is setting the Torah against itself. It would make the passage absolute gibberish. Words cannot possibly mean the same thing in all contexts. This fact makes it exceptionally dangerous to say that we are going to build our theology based on a concordance. If we say that our theology of law is going to be based entirely on the word “nomos” we would be screening out passages that DO talk about the law and including passages that may NOT be talking about the law. It would be to commit the word-concept fallacy. Meaning is not just in words, but in how words are used.

The arguments concerning the Anti-Semitism of the name “Jesus” that I have seen make this word-concept fallacy. That there are many incorrect ideas about Jesus out there is undeniable. He was a Jew, not a Caucasian. This means that He almost certainly did NOT have blond hair and blue eyes, and look like a girl with a beard. This is one (among many) reasons I am opposed to pictures of Jesus. If He was a Jew (and He certainly was), then He almost certainly had black hair and black eyes, and quite possibly swarthy skin. The long hair one usually sees on pictures is also a misrepresentation, since the point about Nazareth is not that He was a Nazarene, but that He was from Nazareth, the town. We do not know how long His hair was. The Bible never tells us.

Be that as it may, the misconceptions referred to in the previous paragraph cannot possibly be attributed to the fact that people use the English name “Jesus.” That would commit the word-concept fallacy. That, in short, is my argument. That some people have such an Anti-Semitic conception in their heads when they use the term “Jesus” is quite likely. The solution is education, not panning the name “Jesus” and labelling those who use it as Anti-Semitic.

We must go further, however, and speak of the nature of translation. Some HRM proponents believe that the NT was originally written in Hebrew. The only book of the NT about which this can reasonably be argued at all is the book of Matthew, and the arguments are slim when set against the vast manuscript collections of Matthew in Greek that we have (in addition to the fact that all the Hebrew manuscripts are much newer than the Greek). The manuscripts support a Greek original. There are no Hebrew manuscripts of the NT surviving in the first ten centuries A.D., to my knowledge, compared to thousands of Greek manuscripts. Almost all NT scholars today agree that the entire NT was written in Greek, even Matthew (notwithstanding the testimony of a very few early church fathers). Are there Semitisms in the NT? Of course. Lots of them. For most of the authors of the NT (being Jewish!), Greek was a second language. They spoke Greek with an accent, if you will. Some, like Luke, have very few Semitisms in their writing at all.

The reason I bring up this issue is that if the NT was originally written in Greek, or any part of it that uses the Greek name “Iesous” (which is a direct transliteration of the Greek letters), then “Iesous” cannot be inherently Anti-Semitic, since then the accusation would have to be levelled against God Himself for inspiring authors to use the Greek instead of the Hebrew name for Jesus.

Lastly, I simply note that older English translations usually translated Greek iota with a “J.” Witness “Jehovah” instead of the more correct “Yahweh.” That gets us to “Jesous” if we use the older transliteration style. It is quite simple to see that only the omission of the omicron gives us the English name “Jesus.” Folks, this is a matter of translation and transliteration that goes back hundreds of years (and therefore predates modern evangelicalism’s misunderstandings about Jesus’ appearance!).

One last word. I have zero problem with anyone saying “Yeshua” instead of “Jesus.” It still communicates to me perfectly well the Person about whom we are conversing. I wouldn’t expect native Hebrew speakers to use any other name than “Yeshua,” unless it be “Yehoshua.” I sometimes wonder if it not used in an effort to be “holier than thou,” but I make no assumption that such is the case. People can come to use that name for a variety of reasons, some better than others. I have a real problem with people accusing users of the name “Jesus” of Anti-Semitism. That is not likely to gain a sympathetic audience, especially among those who, like myself, know that they do not use the name “Jesus” in an Anti-Semitic manner. For just as surely as people can use the name “Yeshua” for a variety of reasons, so also can people use the name “Jesus” for a variety of reasons (just witness taking the Lord’s name in vain for a very negative example!).

Robert’s Rules of Order-Boring or Helpful?

Many people view Robert’s Rules of Order as a boring exercise in being obtuse and rule-driven. I was asked by the stated clerk of Palmetto Presbytery to be a sort of Stated Clerk in Training. Part of that training was to be, according to his recommendation, studying Robert’s Rules of Order so as to become a good parliamentarian. I agreed to that suggestion, and just recently passed my test to become a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians. I found all the caricatures of Robert’s Rules of Order (and the people who seek to know these things) to be woefully wrong.

The first caricature I wish to eradicate is that Robert’s Rules of Order is all about using rules for one’s own advantage, and being able to use tricks to get one’s way in an assembly. Actually, Robert’s Rules has as its agenda the protection of the rights of every member of an assembly, both of the majority and of the minority. Everything I have been learning has been related to this question: how do we treat everyone fairly, and how do we treat everyone’s ideas fairly in a deliberative body?

The second caricature that is wrong is that Robert’s Rules of Order is boring. My hunch is that many people who say this believe that since they cannot understand it, it must be boring. With a little application, and some help understanding these matters (the training for becoming parliamentarian is extremely helpful!), one actually becomes much more confident in one’s participation in a deliberative body. A person can understand the nature of the motions, and how they rank, and what is in order, and what is not. I have found the study to be fascinating. The logic of the ranking of motions, in particular, is a beautiful thing. It is a very useful tool to help a person become productive and useful in a deliberative body.

The third incorrect caricature that I have found is that people who are interested in Robert’s Rules of Order are only interested in rules, not in substance. Now, there is some basis for this accusation, since there definitely are some people out there who study Robert’s Rules in order to be able to manipulate the system, as it were. However, as I have pointed out, that is not the purpose of Robert’s Rules. The purpose of Robert’s Rules is fairness. Furthermore, there is a level of informality allowed by Robert’s Rules in certain areas. There are shortcuts that are allowed. Robert’s Rules actually helps streamline the process: it does not hinder it. It is actually the ignorance of Robert’s Rules that creates enormous difficulties and time wasting, in my experience. I have seen meetings where, because no one knew Robert’s Rules, the result was an absolute mess, when a knowledge of Robert’s Rules would have streamlined the process amazingly quickly. I highly recommend the study of Robert’s Rules or Order to my readers who are involved in a deliberative body. It will save time and embarrassment (since you will no longer make a motion that is out of order). It will streamline the process. It greases the wheels rather than grinding them to a halt. On occasion in the future, I may point out some things that often happen in deliberative assemblies that are incorrect. I will point out why they are incorrect, and what the solution is.

A Word on Debate

Debate is a tricky thing. On the one hand, when we hold firmly to a position, there is a danger to misread our opponents. Then, when faced with strong arguments, we tend to look only for the small items that are weak in what our opponents have said, and attack those things, rather than the strength of the opponents’ positions. I am not aiming this at anyone in particular, mind you. It is merely something about debate that I have witnessed, and no doubt I have done it myself. I would suggest a reorientation of thinking on debate. I’m not making this a rule or anything for this blog. However, here is a suggestion: hunt very carefully for the very strongest things about our opponents’ arguments, acknowledge what is strong about them, and then attempt an answer. What we are so often tempted to do is nitpick, and then think we have answered the opponent, when the only thing we have done is to aggravate them. The opponent likes to know that the strength of his position has been acknowledged. This is a platform for much more helpful and constructive forms of debate. I think that I have at least tried to do this in the past, though with undoubted unevenness as to the results. It is something to which I am going to commit myself, and to which I encourage my readers to commit themselves as well. I know the frustration of unanswered strength. It has happened so many times. I will write a blog post in a debate, and the opponent will nitpick at the argument, ignoring the strength entirely, and only going after the weakest points. This does not raise credibility, but only gives the impression that the opponent is trying to score points. A debate is not a competition.

The other aspect about the nitpicking form of debate that is distressing is that it makes the nitpicker sound a bit desperate. Are we really so unsettled in our opinions, so waffling, so invertebrate, so lacking in confidence, that we cannot face the strength of opposing viewpoints? It is all too easy to brand our opponents with stupidity, ignorance, or muddled thinking, and think that we have therefore answered their arguments. Logic doesn’t work this way. Neither does civilized debate. Why can’t we acknowledge plausibility in our opponents’ statements? Are we so defensive? It has been said that the more unsure we are of our positions, the more voluble and angry we become in defending our positions. I have seen a fair bit of that on this blog. The other possibility, of course, is that some people privilege truth over love. Neither should be privileged over the other, nor should they even be in competition. Unity can only be obtained around the truth. How can two walk together unless they are agreed? However, truth cannot trump love, either. It seems evident that truth is more under attack today than love is. Everyone loves love. Few love truth. But that fact does not give us an excuse to ignore love or sideline it in the interests of truth.

On Bryan Cross’s recommendation (I asked him what he thought the best Roman Catholic books were on the nature of Catholicism, and he gave me quite a good list, which I am working my way through), I am currently reading Morerod’s Ecumenism and Philosophy. One of the fascinating points he makes about ecumenism in that book, and one I think that relates closely to the subject of this blog post, is that ecumenical debate stalls when it talks only about the things that both sides have in common. On the one hand, that might seem like mere common sense. It is a point, however, that most ecumenical endeavors seem to miss. He argues that the only way ecumenism can move forward is to address the differences head on, and actually focus on those, and be honest about them. Only then can mutual understanding happen without the fear that the very real differences are being shoved under the rug. A point I wish to extrapolate from this is the following: why do we engage in debate? Is it to bring out the nature of the differences for the sake of mutual understanding? Is it to prove that I’m right and you’re wrong (and thus to stroke my own ego)? Is it to convince our opponent? Is it a combination of these things? How about a pursuit of the truth? Properly to understand the nature of the difference means that we must listen well. There hasn’t been a lot of that on my blog. Many engage in debate for the purposes of crushing the opponent into the dirt. I would suggest that this is not a very good reason for debate. I want light on the issues more than heat.

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