Sunday, August 23, 2020

What is the Meaning of Life?

Who among us, at one time or another, has not pondered what the meaning of life is, or asked: Why am I here? What’s life all about? These latter two questions are asking about the life of the individual. This essay, however, looks primarily at the issue from the “perspective” of Life itself.

The dictionary gives two definitions for “mean” used as a verb: (1) to mean is to have in mind as a purpose, to intend; (2) to mean is to intend to convey, to show or indicate, to signify. These definitions lead me to the question: what does Life intend or signify, if anything? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to the question. Here is what I think.

According to scientists, the first stirrings of Life on earth were humble:

In those early days lightning and ultraviolet light from the sun were breaking apart the simple hydrogen-rich molecules of the primitive atmosphere, the fragments spontaneously recombining into more and more complex molecules. The products of this early chemistry were dissolved in the ocean, forming a kind of organic soup of gradually increasing complexity, until one day, quite by accident, a molecule arose that was able to make crude copies of itself, using as building blocks other molecules in the soup.1

This description of origin distantly echoes elements of the Genesis account of creation:

The earth was without form and void, darkness was upon the face of the deep…a firmament in the midst of the waters…separate the waters from the waters…earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed…waters bring forth swarms of living creatures… (Gen 1:2, 6, 11, 20 RSV) 

When no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up…a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground…formed man of dust from the ground. (Gen 2:4-7 RSV)

The biblical account of creation is a hypothesis and the scientific account is a theory. A hypothesis is a “working hunch or single tentative guess”; a theory is “a broader, more definitely established conceptual scheme. The difference between theory and hypothesis is a matter of degree.”2

However Life on earth may have happened, from inception it must have been self-programmed to survive, continue, and progress—judging by the fact that our earth continues to thrive with Life of all kinds. We Homo sapiens joined this great stream of Life millions of years later.3 Our species emerged from the great stream of Life without being consulted and I doubt we will be consulted about life’s ending or the fading away of our species.

One does well to ponder the meaning of Life, even though there is no definitive answer providing insight into our own personal living of Life. Initially, we pick up a little guidance from the influence of parents, and from that beginning we must make do. The simple truth is we live, and Life will become whatever we make of it.

These observations lead me to think of Life as a spectrum; at one end of the spectrum the meaning of Life is simply the living of it; that is to say: staying alive, or simply existing. At the other end of the spectrum the meaning of Life is living it well, or poorly. Within limits we get to decide which of these three options it will be. Living Life well is whatever one decides “well” is. It might be, as many believe, serving God (if God there be) or helping others; or it might be selling more beer than one’s nearest competitor. Living it poorly translates into frustrating the aggressiveness of life. Life aims at constant movement and improvement. Anything that one does to frustrate or block that intention is living Life poorly. Suicide, war, poverty, ignorance, racism, and other anti-life initiatives all frustrate the bountifulness and progress of Life.

For conscious life-forms4 what to do with life becomes an existential choice; non-conscious life-forms5 progress over time, or not, by means of natural selection, the process by which organisms change based on genes provided by “parents” and natural circumstances. Life’s prime directive for both life-forms is staying alive and progressing in the great stream of life. It is interesting to me that this areligious directive is not unlike that reflected in Genesis: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…over every living thing that moves upon the earth (Gen 1:28).6

Perhaps Life’s prime directive will become clearer if one asks oneself what is the meaning of life during a world-wide pandemic? The answer can only be: staying alive!

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Carl Sagan, Cosmos, 30-31. Here is another description of life’s origins:,and%20are%20classified%20as%20inanimate.

2Louise B. Young, Exploring the Universe (2nd ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 23.


4Conscious life-forms: capable of thought, will, design, or perception.

5Non-conscious life-forms:

6This prime directive is repeated to Noah with some significant differences (Gen 9:3-7). The formula, “Be fruitful and multiply,” is also found at: Gen 28:3; 35:11; 48:4; Lev 26:9; Jer 23:3.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Greek New Testament is a Virtual Text

The word “virtual” means that a thing “is so in essence or effect, although not formally or actually.”1 Thus, the Greek New Testament (GNT) that a scholar pulls off the shelf is a modern construct comprised of readings derived from over 5000 ancient manuscripts, which have been critically compared to each other and evaluated in order to determine what the original author’s copy (the autograph) of an ancient manuscript might have read, according to the scholars who made the GNT. Our modern GNT never existed as such in antiquity in any one gathering of ancient manuscripts. It exists only virtually in that its readings are from different ancient manuscripts. There can be any number of GNT since different groups of scholars evaluate the data differently.

Frequently translations of the GNT used by translators differ from the critical text they are translating. Luke 22:42-45, the prayer of Jesus on the Mount of Olives, is one such example: Verses 43-44, however, are omitted by the Revised Standard Version and an American Translation, both of which read:

“Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will but thine, be done.” And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow. (RSV, Luke 22:42, 45)

The following translations, however, include verses 42-43 in their translations: New International Version, James Moffat translation, New American Bible, The Berkeley Version, the New Living Translation:

“Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. (NIV, Luke 22:42-45)

            The Nestle/Aland text (28th revised edition of the GNT) includes Luke 22:42-43 in the text in double square brackets. Double square brackets indicate that the enclosed words are thought not to be a part of the original text, but they are rather very early insertions into the text. The rationale of the Editorial Committee that established the Nestle/Aland GNT was as follows: The absence of these verses in ancient and widely diversified manuscripts, as well as their being marked with asterisks and obeli (signifying spuriousness) by scribes in other manuscripts, and their having been transferred to Matthew’s Gospel (after 26:39) in a few manuscripts strongly suggests that they were not part of the original text of Luke. The presence of Luke 22:43-44 in many manuscripts, some ancient, and as well as their citation by Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Eusebius, and many other Fathers of the church is proof of their antiquity. The Committee did not think it probable that the two verses were deleted by scribes who felt that the account of Jesus being overwhelmed with human weakness was incompatible with their belief that he shared the divine omnipotence of the Father. The Committee thought it more probable that they were added to Luke from an early source, oral or written, of extra canonical traditions. In view of the evident antiquity of the two verses and their importance to the textual tradition a majority of the committee decided to retain the words in the text but to enclose them in double square brackets.2

            Specifically, how is the GNT a virtual text? The readings of the original author’s copy, the autograph, may exist somewhere among some 5000 Greek manuscripts dating 3rd century3 and later, but the best that scholars can do is make an intelligent guess at what the autograph might be, based on reason and logic. As this instance shows, however, even logic and reason are sometimes unable to achieve a definitive solution. One cannot look at the apparatus4 of the GNT without recognizing the relative value of the scholarly reconstructions and the challenge they present to the popular epithet of the New Testament, that it is the Word of God.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus

Missouri State University

1Oxford English Dictionary, Compact Edition, s.v., virtual (4th definition).

2This description is adapted from Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (4th ed. rev.; United Bible Societies, 2000), 151.

3There are a few manuscripts dated 2nd century: P52 (John 18:31-33. 37-38); P90 (John 18:36-19:1; 19:2-7); P77 (Matt 23:30-39); P98(?) (Rev 1:13-21); P104 (Matt 21:34-37; 21-43-45 [?]); *0189 (Acts 5:3-21). Two of these are dated 2nd/3rd century: P77; *0189.

4The apparatus of the GNT is the data listed at the bottom of the page noting the significant differences in readings between the ancient manuscripts.