Contend Earnestly: Discovering True Conversion: Part II

Friday, March 19, 2010

Discovering True Conversion: Part II

Yesterday, I gave you the first part of this paper by Mark Siljander, here is the second part. Enjoy.

Discovering True Conversion: Surrendering/Discipleship© : Part II
By Mark Siljander

Use of “Conversion” in the Bible

The King James Version of the New Testament uses the word “convert” eleven times and in the Hebrew Old Testament four times. Surprisingly, the meaning in the Semitic languages is very different than the English construct of the word “conversion.” This misunderstanding of the language has earth-shattering implications for Western Christian “conversion” strategy. While many Christians use newer English translations of the New Testament text, the study of the King James is helpful in that it highlights an extended period of time where it was the supreme English translation and thus shaped our cultural understanding of the word and verses that were translated into the English “convert.”

Below are uses in the KJV (and a few others from the Lamsa translation from the Peshitta) where the English “convert(ed)” is used and the corresponding Aramaic word and its meaning is given. (20)

10:23 (Lamsa) -Shelem - surrender, finish, complete, fulfill (21,22)
13:15 - itpisen - return, turn [self] around, restore
13:52 (Lamsa) - talmed - instruct, make disciples
18:3 - hepak - turn, return, change, overturn
28:19 (Lamsa) - talmed - instruct, make disciples . . . followed by
- yilep - learned, instructed

4:12 KJV - itpisen - return, turn [self] around, restore

22:32 KJV - itpisen - return, turn [self] around, restore

12:40 KJV - itpisen - return, turn [self] around, restore

3:19 KJV - tawoo - turn back, change mind
6:7 (Lamsa) - semay - heard, obedient, compliant
10:45 (Lamsa) -aha geizara - circumcised brothers
15:3 -Punaya "turned around [to serve God]" (23)
28:27 KJV - tawoo - turn back, change mind

5:19 KJV - itpisen - return, turn [self] around, restore
5:20 KJV - hepak - turn, return, change, overturn

While these words above have different roots, the word for turn and surrender is heavily emphasized in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. Here is a rough summary of roots:

SheLeM - surrender, finish, complete, fulfill & of course peace
PiSeN - return, turn [self] around, restore
TaLMeD - instruct, make disciples
HePaQ - turn, return, change, overturn
TaWoo - turn back, change mind
SeMAy - heard, obedient, compliant

It should be clear that every use of Aramaic words by Jesus and/or his followers later translated to the word “convert” is simply incorrect. Fortunately, these instances are more accurately rendered in more recent translations. But over time, the West and the East adopted their own notion of conversion, despite the lack of solid scriptural evidence that a religious “conversion” was necessary. It is very difficult to argue linguistically or historically that Jesus or the writers of the New Testament, told us to make “converts” in the traditional understanding of changing/denying one's culture, traditions or "religion" (defined as institutional, hierarchical, forcing man made traditions and doctrines on others in order to be member of the club/religion).

A real “convert” in the New Testament is a “learner,” a disciple and follower of Jesus, nothing more, nothing less. The Bible more correctly reflects that this real “convert” is a person who “submits” to the will of God through a process of “turning back to” and “completing” what the Lord told us in Deuteronomy and Jesus reiterated in several Gospels: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.” Moreover, since Jesus is (in both the Qur’an and Gospels) the Messiah, Word of God, Word of Truth, Spirit of God and the “straight path” (way) to God, he is undoubtedly the one God is commanding us to follow. Bringing this perspective to our understanding of the “Great Commission” can change the way we look at the strategy of Jesus and the way Christians view Muslims and vice versa.

The bridge building possibilities in bringing better understanding that all three faiths have equal desire to be spiritually surrendered (mu-salems) is staggering. The radical “convert or perish” theology is undermined since many who once were “infidels” can now be viewed as surrenders/converts, opening a new era of common ground and shared mission.


End Notes

20 These word transliterations and definitions can be supported by a review of the Peshitta as well as standard lexicons, e.g. Jennings and/or Smith. Note the richness of meaning in the passages when the words are translated in their pure Semitic form.
21 Lexicon to the Syriac New Testament; Jennings p. 224
22 Old Testament Light by George Lamsa, says “shalama “peace” also means to surrender; that is, to give up hatred and enmity, and become reconciled. Peace becomes a reality through recompense, which brings harmony between man and his adversary. The worshiper is required to make peace with his God and his fellow men.”
23 Dr. Eldon Clem Semitic language scholar in Israel says: “In the entire NT [Acts 15:3] is translated by the Peshitta NT as “punaya” [“turning around, conversion”].” Sometimes the Greek verb “metanoeo” is translated in English as “to convert,” but all the reference in the Peshitta NT were translated by the Syria “TUV” (“repent”). A quick check of a concordance reveals that this verb never has the meaning “to convert” in the Peshitta of the Pentateuch. I also checked Kiraz’s (also a Syriac Christian, from Palestine) concordance to the Pesyriac New Testament and discovered that it also never is used in the sense of “to convert.” “Shalem” literally means “to be complete,” and that is how Kiraz translates it in his concordance of the Syriac NT. The verb “shalem” may have come to mean convert in later Syriac.


SnatchedFromTheFire said...

You gotta jump at least on the phrase, "since Jesus is (in both the Qur’an and Gospels) the Messiah, Word of God, Word of Truth, Spirit of God and the “straight path” (way) to God". Seriously?!? Jesus is the Messiah in the Qur'an? Messiah in our reformed, Son of God, third member of the trinity, revelation of the fullness of God?!?

This is the kinda stuff i'm talking about: unqualified statements that say a lot of good stuff but do not prsent the whole picture. It's reductionistic at best and deceptive at worst.
I'd like to ask Siljander to forget the term "convert" (which is little more than swapping religious practices it seems in his mind) for 10 seconds and talk about what the Bible says about regeneration and justification. All this discussion about Christians and Muslims has truly made me see we have more in common than i first thought - true - but we also have much less in common than Siljander and others would have us believe and it is those DIFFERENCES that will make all the difference eternally, however nice and neighbourly they make us feel here on earth.

Jonspach said...

It's no secret that the KJV didn't nail the Greek to English translation perfectly.

Some of the verses he mentions aren't translated "convert(ed)" in the KJV, though.

I think we do well to remember that God inspired the authors to write in Greek,so according to the doctrine of inspiration the words they chose were what they meant to convey. There were times when the authors specifically used the Aramaic words (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46, Romans 8:15), but the primary vehicle the Holy Spirit used was these men writing in Greek.

I know you didn't write this, but this seems like a very poor hermeneutic. Pretty sure that favoring a language other than the one written in the book shows up in Carson's Exegetical Fallacies book.

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