Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A 2 Timothy 2:15 parable

You are undergoing a very complicated bit of major surgery. The outcome could help you a lot. Or, if it goes wrong, it could leave you paralyzed, in constant pain, severely crippled, or dead.

Due to the unusual nature of the procedure, you remain conscious but immobilized and mute throughout the surgery.

All the shaving and daubing and anesthetizing has been done, and you are wheeled into the theater. A team awaits. There is the surgeon.

"You're in excellent hands," a nurse says. All the other attending professionals agree.

The surgeon leans over you. "Nothing to worry about, nothing at all," he says, and begins.

All is virtually silent, apart from occasional beeps and clicks. Then:

"Oops," the surgeon says.

Then, "Oh well."

Oh well?

A few minutes later, you hear, "Nurse, hand me that... that thingie. That whatsis. You know, the bogotron. I think that's what I'm looking for."

Bogotron? You're pretty sure that's a made-up word. You hear some unsettling slicing and sloshing... then a sudden splip!

"Hunh," the surgeon says in a bemused tone. "Ah... I don't think we needed that anyway."

After which you hear a swoosh and a splop!, as something moist lands in a can off to your right.

"Okay, I think this is what I'm looking for," the surgeon murmurs. "Or... wasn't it supposed to be smaller? This looks big. Janitor, does this look big to you?" Someone mutters incomprehensibly. You think English probably wasn't his native language. There's some rough laughter. The surgeon joins in. When he leans back into your field of vision, he's wiping mirthful tears from his eyes.

"Ah me, I've never had so much fun!" he exclaims, then hunches back over your abdominal area. "Let's see... where was I? Oh crud, that thingie's sunk back in there. Crud crud crud, I'll never find it now. Well, this one probably is just as good. I don't like its color, anyway. Nurse, hand me that... that... that shiny sharp dealie. No, not that - well, never mind, that'll do, I'm pretty sure. I've wanted to use that anyway, see what it does. Now's as good a time as ever."

How do you feel about your surgery now?

(This parable tags on to this.)


DJP said...

It is a parable.

I realize that it's impossible to construct a parable whose point is impossible to find an inventive way to evade — or, at least, it's beyond my ability.

So, anyone who wants to find a way to try to miss the point, certainly can do so.

But I think the point is obvious enough, will stand, and most honest readers will know it.

David said...

Let's see ... something to do with socialized medicine? No.

1 Timothy 2:15
Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

A botched cesarean section?

I think you meant 2 Timothy 2:15. Unless I'm really clueless.

DJP said...


I made that mistake when I first looked it up. Then I corrected the mistake. But obviously not enough.

Thanks for catching it. I won't attempt any lame "face-save" by saying that the surgery was obstetrically-related, since I didn't disclose the sex of the subject.

I'll just say it was inevitable that I make some mistake in connection with this line of argument, and that I'm glad it's over with.

Aric said...

I think the key is found in the first 3 words of the ESV translation: Do your best. The surgeon in the parable was obviously not trying to do his best.

To connect with the Pyro post, teachers/elders/pastors who carlessly (or sometimes intentionally) approach the word are not trying to to their best.

As a non-Greek-Hebrew-reading-speaking person, I can find grace for those attempting to be better and use the original languages to teach better, even though it may not be to the expert level. Trying to do the best is the key.

DJP said...

Yep: none is perfect, but the aim and the trajectory are crucial (cf. 1 Timothy 4:15 — and I do mean First Timothy).

danny2 said...

i've appreciated your thoughts, dan. and this probably has more to do with your pyro post than this parable, but here are my two questions:

1) i was taught by my greek professor that since koine is a dead language, we're not really sure how words were pronounced. (same basically for hebrew since vowel markings came after the fact.) is this not true? did i probably completely misunderstand what my professor was saying? is there a place to go that is a trustworthy standard for how words should be pronounced in the original?

2) you can be fluent in another language, yet people can pick up an accent you bring. though i dearly love both of their ministries, i seriously doubt that danny akin and d.a. carson are going to pronounce hebrew/greek words identically because of the influence of their native languages. what are good tips for overcoming the fact that many sounds used in the original language are quite unusual for my "overly-appalachian" dialect.

[btw, you and frank seem to have a disturbing attraction to clowns. entertaining, but disturbing.]

DJP said...

I'm a bit more restrained on clowns than Frank, but sometimes you just gotta get you one.

As to the other, I respond in these comments from the other meta:

6:12 AM, July 07, 2009
7:34 AM, July 07, 2009
5:28 AM, July 08, 2009

Unknown said...


So, what led you to write about this topic yesterday at TeamPyro and again today at your blog? Were you recently subjected to an egregious butchering of a Greek word in a pastor's sermon?

I do believe that it's an important topic to bring up. When I lived in another country for a few years, I attended a church that was planted by American missionaries. They came from a church movement (they claim not to be a denomination) with churches that are led by men that sometimes do the very thing that you are speaking about. Interestingly, one of their main tenants is a commitment to biblical teaching. They are also very active in church planting and evangelism.

I can remember several instances of sloppy references to Greek words, where it would have been SO much better to just leave them out altogether. Then there was the verbing of agape...

While in that country, I was asked to teach on Sunday or Wednesday services a number of times. After the first two, I refused all other requests. The responsibility was too weighty and I felt that I needed more study and tools to even consider it again. When I shared to one pastor about wanting to do some online classes in biblical studies, it was met with suspicion and a concern about the potential for my faith to crumble in a seminary-like environment!

To be fair, leaders in that "movement" would most certainly agree that serious preparation is important. However, in practice, it works out that many who are given opportunity to preach in or (wincing) pastor the churches are simply not qualified. They love the Lord and mean well, but they really can be quite sloppy with the English text, let alone the original Greek or Hebrew.

Exegesis isn't a rephrasing of the text with a few stories and applications and a pinch of sloppy Greek references.

DJP said...

Oh, it's not at all a brand-new topic with me, Dave. I've swung at it one way or another several times. This has been percolating.

Yes, one of the two examples was heard fairly recently in a recorded sermon from years ago. That was the immediate provocation to compose the Pyro post.

Anonymous said...

That IS scary and it's not souls we're talking about here, it's just the flesh. Point well made!

Aaron said...


you were actually discouraged from taking Bible classes? That's amazing. My Pastor is going to have a two year course that he's going to give to select men who have expressed interest in leadership positions. I feel like I need some Bible courses just to prepare for his course.

The Squirrel said...

Dave - "When I shared to one pastor about wanting to do some online classes in biblical studies, it was met with suspicion and a concern about the potential for my faith to crumble in a seminary-like environment!"

Probably a valid concern, considering the rank unbelief that exists at many seminaries and "schools of divinity." Deciding on the right seminary is every bit as important as deciding to attend seminary in the first place.

I've talked to people who've left the faith during seminary after exposure to documentary hypothesis and Bart Ehrman style radical textual criticism.

While I don't believe that seminary "destroyed" their faith (they never had it - 1 John 2:19,) I do believe that we (the church, especially the eldership) need to do a better job, overall, of teaching our faith.

Sloppy, slap-dash handling of the Word of God is not the way to accomplish that.


(NOTE TO ANY WEALTHY READERS OF DAN'S BLOG: Please consider sponsoring a scholarship at Master's or Southern in Louisville or another seminary that holds to the truthfulness of the Scriptures.)

Unknown said...

First to Dan,

Thanks for sharing. I could tell that this is an issue that you care about. I just had a feeling that something fairly recent had caused you to bring it up again at TeamPyro.


A couple of clarifications:

1) I was not discouraged from taking classes in the general sense. The issue was that I wanted to take classes from an institution that could actually teach me about languages, church history, sermon prep, etc.

With this particular group, they can sometimes get a little uncomfortable if you start reading books from authors outside of the denomination, er, "movement" or talk about formal academic instruction. They have established some Bible schools, but honestly I think they allow some instructors who haven't had much training (formal or otherwise) and thus have limited info to offer. How can I have any confidence in the instruction of those who simply look up a Strong's definition and think they have the sense of the Greek?

2) While I believe that concerns about seminaries can be valid, in this case there was no follow up about what seminaries/on-line programs I was considering. Maybe there are only 2 solid institutions for every 100 bad ones, but they aren't all bad.

3) I think it would be fantastic if that particular church in the other country had a well trained pastor (and one or two elders) who could instruct young men in the church in languages, doctrine, history, etc. However, none of the leadership has had anything other than two years of Bible school where they were taught by men with two years of Bible school...

In other words, there hasn't been anyone in that chain that has ever had thorough training. And they don't get access to ongoing training by anyone else who is versed in some of these disciplines.

Does that make sense?

Rachael Starke said...


Your raise a great point, but also give me boldness to say something which I pretty much chickened out of saying yesterday (me being assuredly not a pastor). But Dan threw down the gauntlet so well that now I'll say it and blame him if it offends or I'm offbase. :)

My Phil and I have talked a lot about what the role of the general church body is in raising up men for the ministry, and we both believe that it's the body's job to both affirm young men who are obviously gifted communicators and leaders, and find ways to, um, steer, those who have the desire but more assuredly not the gifts.....

before they ever register for their very first seminary class.

(And we also believe that when God blesses us with young men who are obviously called, we need to help pony up the funds too. It'll bring a better return on investment than a whole lot of other things!)

But the reason I believe we need to do this work before we send them off to schoo, is because, for some reason, there are a whole lot of guy who are graduating from very reputable seminaries, who are then sent off to shepherd congregations,

and they should never have been permitted to leave the building.

Because what happens is - a church is looking for a pastor and takes seriously the need to find someone who will handle God's Word faithfully and with skill. So they say "We will only accept candidates from [X] Seminary, because [x} Seminary believes in the inerrancy of Scripture and the importance of expositional preaching, and so whoever they send will be qualified."

Fast forward to a couple of years into their calling Mr. [X]Seminary graduate. He's butchering the original and his native language, he's taking important verses out of context, he's going off on long tangential thoughts while strolling,

and his people think that the reason they're struggling to keep up is theirfault. "He's got that seminary deegree from that really great school! He quotes all that Greek! It must be us," they think.

And then people start to casually drop hints to one another about whether they're growing or learning, but they're deathly afraid to be seen to be sinfully grumbling against their pastor, being factious, gossiping, etc. (If they're mature at all; if they're not, they won't care and will eventually leave.)

I honestly think some seminaries need to do a way better job of discerning whether or not a man is really called to preach - work with their local churches, have all first year students on some kind of probation, have alternate ministry paths ready for those who need to be kind of let down gently that their gifts are in other areas.

I hope this is a "safe place" :) to say that. But the reason I feel so strongly about this is that we've been in churches where this was a tragic problem. And it's still a problem, even at some really really good churches.

I'm off to Monterey Aquarium with the girls so prolly won't be able to say more, but I am continuing to pray that perhaps one of those kinds of congregations will do some hard praying and start looking around for someone who is truly gifted at preaching, and starts asking around and someone says "y'know, there's this Dan guy on the interweb, wonder if he'd be willing?... "


Aaron said...

Rachael: I can think of a whole lot of alternatives. There seems a lot of people who want to teach, but nobody who particularly wants or can help me replace a faucet at the church or at somebody's home. If you can teach yourself Greek you can learn how to do a little plumbing. It doesn't get as much attention though.

My wife commented to me just the other day: you're becoming the church's handiman! I told her...yeah, it's sad because I have zero talent and pretty much taught myself from books I got from Home Depot.

DJP said...

Rachael...I am continuing to pray that perhaps one of those kinds of congregations will do some hard praying and start looking around for someone who is truly gifted at preaching, and starts asking around and someone says "y'know, there's this Dan guy on the interweb, wonder if he'd be willing?... "

Thank you so much, Rachael. We're in a rough spot. From your fingertips to God's ear.

Unknown said...


And if I could ask for prayer in return, I and the girls are now stranded at a park near the Monterey aquarium because the brakes and wheels on our suv stopped serving their intended purpose. If you all might pause at lunch and pray for a speedy and inexpensive fix to all this, I'd be so thankful.

Jay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky Schell said...

Loved this analogy, loved the original post. Thanks for saying it, Dan. Reading it is actually a relief. Sigh...what he said.

DJP said...

I surely prayed for you all, Rachael.

How'd that turn out?

Rachael Starke said...

Wonderfully, so far (the car is still being worked on and we're waiting with some trepidation for the financial verdict.). But God really went before us the whole day and the girls actually thought it was a great adventure. Thanks so much for your prayers.