Friday, September 08, 2006

Mundane, Potent, and Holy

The blog Out of Ur recently had an interesting article about a generation gap. I'll reply to one particular bit:
Boomer Christians tend to divide the world into three categories: the holy, the secular, and the downright sinful...The new generation of Christians, however, tends to see only two categories: the holy and the sinful. This means things that previously fell into the "secular" category are now open for consumption and experimentation without judgment. Take, for example, tattoos.
If Christians studied Hebrew a little more then this argument would disappear. In Biblical Hebrew words for "ritually potent" and "ritually impotent" are tahor and tamay. Something tahor may be set apart for God. Something tamay may not.

In other words, God created some things with the intention that they were simply mundane. Other things could be devoted to him, but might not be until the Messiah's reign (Zechariah 14:20-21).

The word for "set apart" is kadosh. Most English translations have "holy" or "sanctified", which sounds overly abstract. If I own a pair of candlesticks and decide that from now on I will only use them for Shabbat, I have set them apart. It's not complicated.

Most English translations render the words tahor and tamay "clean" and "unclean", which totally misses the point and sounds like God is talking about cooties.

In Greek the parallel words are akatharton and ekathaizen. This clears up Acts 10:14-15,28 and Mark 7. People cannot be ritually impotent. Vices, not dirt, make us distanced from God. (So all food is ritually potent, as Leviticus 11 taught. This is totally different from a common Christian misunderstanding of Mark 7 that claims Yeshua was trying to teach Jews that for them "all things are food".)

I know some readers will not let me end this without commenting on tattoos. I'll simply cite what I've written to two young Christians who had e-mailed the congregation wanting to know about Hebrew words for a tattoo they wanted. After providing them with the Hebrew they requested, I said:
If you Google "Leviticus 19:28 tattoo" you can get some information about a big debate. That verse literally says, "And cuttings for the dead do not make in your flesh, and letters of incision not put on you; I am the Lord." The problem is that the word translated "incision" (see Strong's H7085) only appears that once in the Old Testament -- it is thus somewhat guesswork about what that word really means, and whether this verse only prohibits cutting the flesh, or if any marking of the flesh (including tattoos) is contrary to God's intentions. Doing a search on the internet will show you a plethora of different opinions, many with conflicting scholarly support. I'll recommend prayer above scholarly consensus on this ambiguous issue.