Monday, August 6, 2012

Derek Leman Rejects Plain Meaning of "Epistrepho": Question #13

On a recent blog of Derek's (http://www.derekleman.com/musings/2012/08/02/whynottorah4christians/)

I tried to engage him by asking the question:

"To what religion were the uncircumcised gentiles converting in Acts 15:3 when it talks about their conversion?"

His response:

"Well, Peter, I don’t know much about the compound Greek word epistrophe (translated in most as “conversion”). But it is used only once in the NT.  I do, however, understand the basic sociology of Jew vs. Greco-Roman in the first century. The word does not mean “conversion from one religion to another” in a modern sense (like switching from Buddhism to Judaism)."

Derek then disabled comments and poor James was left holding his popcorn in the dark:

James wrote:  "(Takes a seat with drink and popcorn in hand…prepared to watch the Peter/Derek debate over the “epistrophe” issue). ;-)"

Ha!

So let's discuss:

Epistrepho means to "turn" and it's the same as the Hebrew "teshuvah" used of converts who are turning to follow Torah.  It literally denotes changing your orientation so that you have a completely different identity, an identity that, in Judaism, has always meant becoming part of Am Yisrael.

Oh, and, big surprise, it's used several times in Acts 15.  Verses 3 and 19 I believe.  

I'm gonna post a few scholarly quotes on epistrepho and teshuva and then ask my question:


" [tois apo ton ethnon epistrephousin epi ton theon] [those among the Gentiles who are turning to God] could be said by a Jew of Gentile converts to Judaism; to a Jewish Christian the Christian conversion of Gentiles must have had to a considerable extent the same appearance.  Gentiles were turning from whatever heathen gods they had previously worshipped to the God of the OT, the God of the Jews.  It was this fact that gave strength to the requirement that they should behave like converts to Judaism, that is, should be circumcised and thereafter keep the Law.  [epistrephousin--which is teshuvah or turning] could be used to describe what was required of Jews (3.19). [Acts 3:19 says "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord"]" pg. 728 of A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles by C.K. Barrett

The term...(epistrophe) refers to a change of thinking, a 'turn' in orientation, and so a conversion; this is the noun form of the verb...(epistrepho, turn).  It is the only place the noun is used in the NT, although the verb is frequent in Acts (3:19; 9:35, 40; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19, 36; 16:18; 26:18, 20; 28:27)." pg. 495 of  Acts: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament by Darrell L. Bock

"Teshuva, a different definition of one's identity, can change one's whole world..." pg. 415 of Change & Renewal by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

ON TO THE QUESTION...

QUESTION 13

Is Derek Leman correct that epistrepho does not mean to change your religion?  




30 comments:

  1. The basic meaning of Epistrepho is "to turn", as in to "turn to G-d" and away from idols. It fits Acts 15:3 perfectly, unless one has an agenda to read something else into it.

    "Teshuva", in Jewish religious context, means to "REturn", as in to return to G-d and to the way one himself once walks or one's ancestors once walked.

    It's not surprising that some Supersessionist (the default mode, unfortunately) Christian scholars and Bible translators choose to translate "Epistrepho" as "conversion". Even Paul the Apostle is said by many of these same sources to have "converted" from Judaism to Christianity, even from "Saul" to "Paul" (in case anyone doubted his conversion).

    Also, NT is quite consistent in identifying Gentile converts to Judaism as "proselutos".

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    1. If they were converted, why did they keep calling them proselytes? Wouldn't plain "Jews" suffice?

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    2. Dan, you'd have to ask them that when you see them.

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    3. So, maybe you should ask me why I call Derek a proselyte and not a Jew?

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    4. Well, technically he IS a "proselyte". I have no problem identifying him as such.

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    5. Thanks for agreeing with me that he is not a Jew...I knew there is some hope with you....

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    6. "Thanks for agreeing with me that he is not a Jew..."

      That's wasn't me... that was that voice in your head, my friend.

      Interestingly, most traditional siddurim have no problem calling converts to Judaism proselytes:

      "May Your mercies be aroused, L-rd our G‑d, upon the righteous, upon the pious, upon the elders of Your people, the House of Israel, upon the remnant of their sages, upon the righteous proselytes and upon us. Grant ample reward to all who truly trust in Your Name, and place our lot among them; may we never be disgraced, for we have put our trust in You. Blessed are You L-rd, the support and security of the righteous."

      Weekday Amidah
      http://m.chabad.org/m/article_cdo/aid/867674

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    7. So what exactly did the gentiles convert too?

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    8. "So what exactly did the gentiles convert too?"

      They turned from worshiping idols and to the G-d of Israel. They became "Christians".

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    9. "They turned from worshiping idols and to the G-d of Israel. They became "Christians"."

      But the Apostles were first called Christians in Antioch, so the gentiles can't be Christians, they need a another name or religion. Maybe you can invent one?

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  2. Gene,

    Epistrepho can be rendered as "to return." Check this out:

    http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/epistrepho.html

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    1. Strangely enough, your source above is mum about "Epistrepho" also meaning a "conversion".

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    2. Yet you know very well that it's translated that way in your Bible. Hmm, I wonder why they translated it as "converted"? Did they just make it up? Honestly, Gene. : )

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    3. Peter, what's is stranger is that you didn't bother to read my explanation addressing the issue of using the word "convert" in Christian translations (the very first comment on this post).

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    4. I suppose you'll need an exhaustive list of citations verifying the meaning of epistrepho. I'm up for it. I'll put it together for tomorrow.

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    5. Peter, one of your own choices above, http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/epistrepho.html did not use "conversion" as one possible solution translation for epistrepho. Why not? Since this source didn't support your agenda, with that in mind, I am pretty sure you can find whatever you are looking for if you look hard enough elsewhere. But, you are straining gnats at this point, my friend, fighting over varied and disputed meanings of this or that word.

      Theologies don't rest on hagling over meaning of a few words. It's tiresome and unimpressive when you have to do that to support a whole theology.

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    6. Gene,

      Have you read the latest blog entitled "Evidences of Gentile Obligation to Follow Torah"? Lexicological evidence is just one type of evidence out of many. So your statement that my Theology rests on mere words is manifestly inaccurate for all to see.

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    7. Peter, I didn't say it was your ONLY technique. Just your favorite and most headache-inducing one.

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  3. "Theologies don't rest on hagling over meaning of a few words."

    But you will let them slide if they push your agenda.....

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    1. "But you will let them slide if they push your agenda....."

      My theology does not rise or fall on a meaning of a few disputed words, so I can't say I ever had chance to test this. However, if it ever does come up, I am sure you will be the first to alert me about the offending party.

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  4. Does anyone else get the impression that Derek thinks that gentiles do not share the same religion of the Apostles?

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    1. "Does anyone else get the impression that Derek thinks that gentiles do not share the same religion of the Apostles?"

      You mean that the apostles were Hebrew-roots Protestant Evangelicals too?:)

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    2. So you believe that the Apostles created a new religion for Gentiles?

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    3. "So you believe that the Apostles created a new religion for Gentiles?"

      Yes and no. It was certainly an outreach of Judaism to the nations and was never meant to be divorced from Judaism or become antagonistic to it (like it is today, either in much of Christianity or with many "independent messianics"). However, nothing quite like this has ever existed in the past for the Gentiles, so in this sense it was a new religion as far as Gentiles were concerned (since they were not told to convert to Judaism), with many requirements unlike those of Jews and with their own communities.

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    4. Gene,

      So for Jews it was the same old religion but for gentiles it was a completely new religion? How did that work exactly in the mixed congregations of the first century with Jews following the old religion and gentiles being taught a new religion in the same Messianic synagogues?

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    5. First Gentiles were G-d-fearers, so they were naturally part of synagogues to begin with, with whatever limitation on Gentile participation that existed at the time. Jewish believers continued to worship in existing synagogues (or the Temple, when it still stood) and meet for fellowship in homes, which likely included Gentiles at a later time. As the movement grew and Gentile participation increased and spread out into the Roman world, we see appearing communities made up wholly of Gentiles ("churches of the Gentiles" Romans 16:4). And the rest is history.

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    6. Also, Jews indeed continued to participate in Judaism. Gentile requirements were different as they were exempt from conversion to Judaism. Still, the Yeshua movement among the Gentiles (Christians, as they came to be called) was indeed connected to Judaism, and yet it was something unique at the same time. Perhaps an Abrahamic faith passed to the world through the Jewish people.

      This is why Jews believes must work hard to reconnect Christians to the Jewish people.

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    7. Gene,

      So you're saying that what is true for one must be true for all. That's the fallacy of composition. The presence of gentile congregations doesn't imply that that was the rule for the entire Body of Believers. On the contrary, gentile congregations were the exception to the rule in the beginning and required a great deal of apostolic attention in order to make sure that they did not revert to pagan customs.

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    8. "The presence of gentile congregations doesn't imply that that was the rule for the entire Body of Believers."

      Neither does this imply that Gentile believers are to be absent from Jewish congregations today. Clearly, lovers of the Jewish people will find their home alongside their Jewish brethren, worshiping in the few Yeshua-following synagogues that exist.

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    9. "Neither does this imply that Gentile believers are to be absent from Jewish congregations today. Clearly, lovers of the Jewish people will find their home alongside their Jewish brethren, worshiping in the few Yeshua-following synagogues that exist."

      Actually it does, because Gentiles have a different religion according to you. Gentiles in Gene's view, should follow the Popes, while Jews should follow the Rabbis.

      By the way Gene, I have never considered something so funny and absurd at the same time, thanks for the laugh.

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