Monday, January 15, 2007

First Theology on Offensive Language

Josh posted some thoughts on Philippians 3:8 based on Grudem's letter I posted yesterday. Below is an excerpt and here is his complete post.

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Now I think Grudem has good sensibilities here. He clarifies that there is no explicit command against foul language - which he is right about. He then points out more subtly (and theologically) that the vulgar talk tends to communicate uncleanness - which is a theme repeated in Scripture (he uses specific NT examples to show it continuing applicability today). This is the route by which he suggests that it does not seem wise for a believer to use this type of language. This seems pretty reasonable to me.

The one question that I think is a bit difficult is if Scripture ever uses at least mildly crude language to communicate strong emotion? Piper seems to think you can find such language (albeit infrequent), Grudem is not so sure. The biggie that many folks quote is from Phil. 3:8 where Paul counts all things "rubbish" (the clean translation - ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJ) or "dung/crap" (the more vulgar translation - NET). Grudem comments that while this word can mean either thing (this is called semantic range), he believes Paul is using the more clean nuance of this word in Phil. 3:8. The nuance of a word is determined first by context, then by looking how the author uses the word elsewhere in the NT, and finally by other NT authors & then other extra-NT literature which uses the word (the importance of each is weighted in that order for most folks - FYI: This word is used nowhere else in the NT). On the other hand, the NET Bible has this note:
The word here translated "dung" was often used in Greek as a vulgar term for fecal matter. As such it would most likely have had a certain shock value for the readers. This may well be Paul's meaning here, especially since the context is about what the flesh produces. [my note: which would be seen in contrast to what the Spirit of God produces - so there is a parallel in imagery and maybe some subtle humor... fallen man produces fecal matter literally and in terms of his efforts toward righteousness, but God produces true righteousness thru Christ leading to holiness]
I know this is what my Greek prof. in seminary thought it probably meant (he is the editor of the NET Bible and wrote the "industry standard" grammar for NT Greek). His contention was most translators don't have the stones (to use a more mild euphemism) to translate these kinds of terms with the more edgy/earthy/vulgar connotations he believes they carry in the few instances they are used in Scripture (if that's the case we might say those translators/translations are not as literal as the NET - OK that was a cheap shot on a Bible that prides itself in it's transparent literal translation method... sorry I couldn't resist ESVers).

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