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Issue and Interchange

Reynolds Responds

In reply to my worthy opponent, Mr. Gentry, I must begin by stating that I must insist that the debate should be decided on the basis of the Bible, the Word of God revealed in the original languages in which God chose to make Himself and His plan for mankind known to our finite minds.

I repeat and insist upon it that no translator subsequent to the closing of the canon of Scripture has been granted the gift of inerrancy, and I am very insistent that I claim no such gift for myself, although Mr. Gentry seems to suggest that I think of myself as inerrant. My scholarship has many flaws, but when God gives me the ability to see the truth and reject errors I must take my stand as Luther did at Worms. I cannot do otherwise.

Let us honestly and zealously attempt to solve the alcohol problem by searching the Scripture (John 5:39; Acts 17:11). This searching, if it is to be sound and effective, must be done in the original languages. Patient exegesis is the only way, and for this debate to be very meaningful, Mr. Gentry should seek to destroy my arguments and not waste his readers' time and take up space in Antithesis pointing out that my studies may have led me to be innovative. Innovations which attack the unity and harmony of Scripture should be opposed, but mine are based on a sound principle which is to determine what the inspired authors meant readers to understand. As a basis for making a decision, I seek, by using legitimate tools of exegesis, to relieve the reader of the idea that the Bible is a confusing book. As commonly translated, the Bible in speaking of yayin says it is a mocker (Prov. 20:1), is poisonous (Hos. 7:5 if translated correctly) and is not to be so much as looked at. No suggestion is made in these passages that if used in moderation it is an approved drink. The Holy Bible as commonly translated says this same substance may be purchased by a religious person under certain circumstances with the money he would otherwise give as a tithe and that he may give it along with another intoxicating beverage to the fatherless and other needy persons (Deut. 14:26-29). Nothing is said about moderation or withholding the dangerous drug from children. The implication is that they would be invited to drink freely.

What would we think about a mere human teacher who would speak so confusingly? If we did not reject him there would be something seriously wrong with our judgment. I protest that Mr. Gentry's attempt to refute me because I don't follow a well worn but delusive path should be utterly rejected. Innovations are not necessarily evil. If they discover long hidden truths and reveal the Bible's unity and harmony they should be accepted, unless they can be proved to be linguistically and philologically wrong.

Translators, when indulgence in alcohol or being self-indulgent in other ways is not in view, have been very properly willing to translate a word in different ways to uphold the unity and harmony of the Bible. For example, the Hebrew word `elohim when used with a singular verb regularly means the one true God, and when used with a plural verb, it usually means pagan, false deities. But in Genesis 20:13 and 35:7, `elohim is construed with plural verbs, but translators are united in rendering it as singular. Why do they do so? Apparently in the case of Genesis 20:13 it is more comfortable to assume that Abraham did not deceive Abimelech, a polytheist, by giving the impression that he too was a polytheist. Yet Abraham was not always guiltless of deception. If we did not have Genesis 35:7 and Joshua 24:19, it would be natural to assume that this is another example of Abraham's deception, but since we have these other passages, it is possible to say that what appears to be a rule of Hebrew grammar has a few exceptions. This being established, it is proper to ignore what otherwise would seem to be a grammatical rule and translate the passage in Genesis 20:13 as "God caused me to wander."

This point is made to show to what lengths translators have gone to preserve the unity and harmony of the Scriptures. They are right in doing so. Many words are translated in different ways when the translator thinks the unity and harmony of the Bible demand it. If grammar can be overlooked for this reason, ought not scholars to admit for the same reason that yayin, shekar, tirosh, and oinos all have two possible meanings, one a forbidden alcoholic beverage and the other a harmless, permitted drink?

In a prescientific age it would be natural to name drinks from their principal ingredient, regardless of their alcoholic content or lack of it. In English we have an example of this in the word "cider" for apple juice, whether alcoholic or not.

Gentry makes a point of the fact that the phrase yayin ki yith'addam is used only once in Scripture. He implies that because it is used only once the prohibition connected with it may be safely ignored. He thus appears to be telling God how to teach. God only needs to command once, and after that one command is given, He expects to be obeyed. An officer in modern warfare may make one rule, perhaps by prohibiting something, and then go on to something else and finally close his instruction without repeating the prohibition. One under his authority cannot disobey the order and then try to shift the blame to his superior saying, he only said it once. That one act of disobedience may cause the whole battle plan to fail, and no one is to blame but the one who disobeyed.

Gentry suggests that the prohibition applies only to the winebibbers of verse 20 and the drunkards of verse 29 and 30. But no command at all is given to these winebibbers and drunkards. They are treated as a group. All the prohibitions in this chapter are in the singular. In verse 20 one individual (standing for all mankind as in the Ten Commandments) is prohibited from being in the company of such as are accustomed to drink. Even if he abstains, he is still not to be in their company. We must treat Scripture seriously. Are the winebibbers and drunkards addressed and told not to drink? No; the command not to look at yayin ki yith'addam is addressed to a single person, and he is not included among the drunkards previously mentioned. To mean what Gentry thinks it means, the passage would have to be phrased differently.

The arguments Gentry proposes for translating yayin in Isaiah 16:10 as wine are unconvincing. He proposes that as a poetical figure of speech Isaiah was calling grape juice wine as "wine as the product sought in treading." This is an example of making the Bible mean what the interpreter wants it to mean. He cannot know what the Moabites sought. The passage shows that they were starving. There were no grapes to press, but if there had been they would have eaten them at once. Hunger was their problem and even if they were alcoholics they would have to satisfy this need first. Hebrew poetry brings the reader's mind to the current situation in vivid language; it does not distract the mind with an alleged, far-off goal. Mr. Gentry's idea that "joy and gladness" suggests wine is contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture. Alcoholic wine, a dangerous drug, is painted in Scripture in the darkest colors. In Psalm 104:15, that which causes gladness should be interpreted as a happy grape harvest festival when the yayin (grape juice) is drunk by the joyful harvesters as it comes fresh out of the press.

It is not question begging to propose that certain words in the Bible have more than one meaning. If it were, every translator would be guilty.

Gentry seems offended that I am critical of Bruce Waltke for defending the grossly improper rendering of Micah 2:11 in the NIV which introduces a word (plenty) not in the original. Dr. Waltke's defense of this innovation (that it is an example of constructio praegnanas)is totally without merit, and he has as yet not attempted to defend it in private correspondence with me. Instead of seriously dealing with the problem, Gentry holds me up to contempt for even venturing to be critical of Dr. Waltke. This is not the way a debate ought to be conducted. I believe it is not irreverent for me, a humble servant of Jesus, to quote what He said in John 18:23: "If I have spoken evil, bear witness to the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?"


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