Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Response to Steve Hays on Deuteronomy 30

Steve Hays continues to question the way translators have rendered Deuteronomy 30:14.  (link)  His primary reason seems to be the flexibility of the Hebrew, not some problem with the translators’ contextual analysis and selected rendering.  That’s like questioning most translations simply because they are translations. 

I had said: Other translations render it “so that you may do it”. While may sometimes means permission as in “mother may I” or uncertainty, as in “it may rain”, neither of these senses make sense of the verse. It’s not as if God is now removing sanctions against morality, or guessing if they will obey or not. Rather, may is equivalent to “can” and expresses ability or capacity.

Steve responded: "May" doesn't have the same nuance as "can."

Agreed, but I already walked through why this usage of “may” expresses ability rather than uncertainty or permission.  You can’t destroy the building in front of you by saying buildings have to be built.

I had said: No doubt accessibility and intelligibility are part of why the Jews are able to obey, but they are not the only factors. In particular, when the passage says the word is in their heart, it teaches the enablement runs deeper than having the written law. Men love darkness rather than light; so the issue isn’t just in our understanding, it’s in our desire or heart. So when God enables His chosen and redeemed people to obey, the enablement is internal rather than just external.

Steve responded: That it's in their "heart" is just a picturesque way of saying they know it. Bible writers often favor concrete images over abstract nouns. The "heart" stands for man's mental life. So that's still about accessibility and intelligibility rather than enablement.

Once the statement about “ability” has been overlooked, no doubt the rest of the analysis of the verse will suffer.

Steve said: As I demonstrated, the text isn't about individual choices, but the aggregate choices of a corporate body (Israel), where the majority effectively chooses for the minority, in spite of the minority.

This goes well beyond Steve’s previous statement that, “The passage isn’t confined to individual blessing and bane, but primarily concerned with collective blessing and bane”.  While it’s true that the passage has a collective aspect; it’s wrong to deny it has an individual aspect.  Steve’s one good step here was a springboard into a mistake.

God often singles out individual sinners for punishment, or individual righteous for reward like  Joshua and Caleb entering the promise land, or God’s allowing Lot to escape or Rahab. Also group punishments are not always based on a collective choice or a vote.  Take original sin or Akin as examples; one sinned, yet the majority suffered.  This shows we should not confused collective rewards and punishment, with collective choices, since individual choices can have ramifications for one’s whole family or nation.  So while Deuteronomy 30 may have an aspect of national blessing or curse, it does not discuss a vote. 

Also, Paul’s use of this passage in Romans 10 shows the passage has an aspect that runs deeper than national Israel.

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