Nooma Blooper

Andy Naselli —  January 10, 2009 — 46 Comments

Rob Bell further undermines his credibility in the Nooma DVD Store | 016:

And then, the Bible says [in Mark 3:5] that Jesus looked around at them in anger. Jesus gets angry. Now this story was first told in the Greek language, and there’s a subtle nuance to this word “anger” in the Greek language. It’s in what’s called the aorist tense, which is a technical way of saying that Jesus’ anger is a temporary feeling. It comes on him, and then it leaves him.

Response:

  1. “Anger” is a noun, not a verb, in Mark 3:5. The participle περιβλεψάμενος (“After looking around at”) is aorist.
    • καὶ περιβλεψάμενος αὐτοὺς μετ᾽ ὀργῆς, συλλυπούμενος ἐπὶ τῇ πωρώσει τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν λέγει τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ• ἔκτεινον τὴν χεῖρα.
    • NET: After looking around at them in anger, grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
  2. Even if Bell had correctly parsed the word he was highlighting, his point is still guilty of the aorist tense fallacy. The aorist tense is not “subtle” or “technical.” It’s the default tense that communicates the very least about a particular action. (See, e.g., D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies [2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 67–73.)

This is not an isolated example. When Bell talks about ancient history, customs, language, etc., he not infrequently undermines his credibility.

Related:

  1. See Greg Gilbert’s thoughtful reviews of Nooma videos 1-19: parts 1 | 2 | 3.
  2. C. J. Mahaney, “Rob Bell, the Pastor’s Task of Discernment, and My Heart
  3. D. A. Carson comments on Rob Bell’s ministry
  4. Pat Abendroth, “Rob Bell makes me angry: a pastoral response to Velvet Elvis
  5. Ken Silva, “Is Rob Bell Evangelical?

Update:

  1. Justin Taylor highlights this post followed by some related comments.
  2. Justin Taylor highlights this post again followed by more related comments.
  3. Kevin DeYoung, “This is Not Good

46 responses to Nooma Blooper

  1. Andy,

    Thanks for this post; it is very valuable to me!

    On another note, if Rob Bell were to refer to the creation account of Genesis 1 as a “creation poem,” would that bother you on any level?

    I forget the number of the Nooma, but it came out last Spring.

  2. Hey, Dave. Sorry to disappoint, but I’d need more context before evaluating that statement.

  3. Wow, that’s really embarrassing.

  4. Not to mention the fact that the aorist tense certainly does not denote an action that is “temporary” or one that “comes on him and then…leaves” as Bell erroneously suggests. Carson is right here: “The aorist, after all, is well-named: it is a-orist, without a place, undefined. It simply refers to the action itself without specifying whether the action is unique, repeated, ingressive, instantaneous, past, or accomplished” (Exegetical Fallacies [2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996], 68). As Carson goes on to argue, context alone is determinative of the function of the aorist in a given clause (72-73).

    On a further note, since περιβλεψάμενος is a participle “the point of reference is the controlling verb,” meaning that “the aorist participle…usually denotes antecedent time to that of the controlling verb” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 614). In this case, the function of the aorist participle is simply to clarify (as the NET correctly renders) that “after looking around at them” Jesus “said to the man” (with λέγει the controlling verb).

    Insightful post, Andy! It’s troubling how many with whom I went to Bible college are enamored with Bell’s style and approach to ministry inasmuch as it falls short of consistently upholding the full glory of God’s work graciously revealed in the gospel of Christ.

  5. I think the worst example of this I saw was when he interpreted the word “holy” in the same way most people do…for which Jews rightfully deride us Christians.

    Or maybe it was the odd definition of “O’lam Ha’ba” he gives. Hard to say.

  6. Andy,

    I trust you attempted to contact Rob Bell to make him aware of his error before you publicly shamed him. I am sure he would have appreciated the opportunity to learn from someone and would have likely done what he could have to correct his mistake. After all, isn’t the Greek aorist tense a clanging symbol if we lack love?

    Grace and Peace,

    James Gordon

  7. “I trust you attempted to contact Rob Bell to make him aware of his error…”

    We really should retire this tired old argument. Bell is a very public teacher and as such his teachings are subject to public correction.

  8. Hi James,

    Of course, I can’t speak for Andy. And I’m not familiar with NOOMA. But isn’t the Rob Bell teaching Andy takes issue with something which Bell himself has publicly taught and/or is publicly teaching? If so, I’d think it’d be within Andy’s ethical purview to publicly correct, &c.

    patrick

  9. James,

    Andy isn’t required to contact Rob Bell before public comments are made. You seem to be implying (although I could be in error about your own thoughts) that Andy must follow Matthew 18. I think Andy’s public comments are warranted before contacting Rob Bell because he is responding to public doctrine. There seems to be a precedence for this in Galatians 2 where Paul rebuked Peter in a public manner before addressing him personally. That is to say, Paul does not appear to view himself as bound by Matthew 18 because Peter’s comments and actions were in full view of the church.

    grace and peace,
    David Wenkel

  10. James,

    I understand your point. However, your rebuke of Andy is as public as his post concerning Rob (i.e. you posted it in the reply on a public blog). Either that’s hypocritical, or you’re purposely striving for some weird irony by publicly rebuking someone for publicly rebuking.

    Just a thought. I’m not sure about all the arguments for or against this kind of post. Personally, I find this kind of thing helpful in discerning what to make of some teaching since I don’t know any Greek and would have a hard time refuting what Bell said.

    Am I off on that assessment? Sorry to beat a dead horse. Seems like a lot of people responded to your statement.

    Will

  11. Thanks for the heads-up on this.

  12. Ken, Patrick, David, and Will,

    It seems that you have all picked up on some sort of Biblical precedent for public correction, which I would certainly affirm as valid under certain sets of circumstances (i.e., public sin, cf. Gal. 2). But I am not sure, however, that a popular level video series meets the same conditions for public shaming.

    Further: Bell’s error, I think, is neither unorthodox nor heretical (let alone sinful). It is an interpretive error; in fact, what Bell actually asserts is quite right: “[His anger] comes on him, and then it leaves him.” What was incorrect, as you all know, is the way in which he handled the Greek text, that is, how he arrived at his assertion.

    Moreover, I would not be caught saying that Andy must contact Rob Bell before posting what he did, but I think Christian charity calls for such actions as generous to those in the body of Christ (that is, unless you think Bell is unregenerate).

    What specifically concerns me is that given Bell’s proclivity towards stereotyping men like us, who are deeply concerned with doctrinal/theological precision, as unloving and merely theoretical, I think it would be wise to steer clear of such unfortunate characterizations.

    We know that we love people and are not merely academics, but I am not sure that Bell does. We should give him no reason to question whether we fall into his misrepresenting categories.

    Finally, for those of you who have not read Bell or watched the Nooma series, it may be helpful to do so in order to put the present critique in its proper context. Needless to say (I would think), the genre of Nooma is not parallel to the sermons we may download from Desiring God (that is not to make light of interpretive error).

    Grace and Peace,

    James Gordon

  13. Wow! That sort of handling of the text is really irresponsible.

  14. If everyone who reads this post goes away and finds Frank Stagg’s “classic”, “The Abused Aorist”, JBL 91 (1972), pp. 222-31, then reads that and takes it to heart, the post will have been worth it. Who knows. Maybe Rob Bell will read it too. :)

    David Reimer

  15. James,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Another guy on JT’s blog had a response that was sort of in line with my thinking but does a better job of articulating some reasons why a public post is necessary. Also, I think JT’s wording was clever and I just didn’t think it was extraordinarily demeaning. I just figure that a person would have to have some very thin skin to get worked up about something like that.

    But I agree. We ought to be charitable, gracious, and patient in our interactions and corrections of other Christians.

    G&P,
    Will

  16. Hi Andy,

    I think there’s merit in the point about contacting Bell before publicly criticizing him, but I know you and know you’ve taken that idea into careful consideration already.

    It does raise another question for me, though. If this had been someone who’s theology, ecclesiology, etc., you tend to agree with, would you have blogged about the same mistake with the aorist? I hear strongly evangelical Christians make all kinds of Greek blunders in the attempt to lend credibility and weight to what they’re saying. Should we similarly call them out? I think this question might be a good motive check.

    Your brother,
    Bryan

  17. Hey, Bryan. Good point.

    Two points in response:

    1. This is not a single blooper. The way I ended the post underscores an important point:

    “This is not an isolated example. When Bell talks about ancient history, customs, language, etc., he not infrequently undermines his credibility.”

    My wife and I recently watched a series of the Nooma videos, and I was appalled how many times Bell says something that is wrong or lacks necessary nuance.

    2. Bell is a prominent, popular, appealing teacher who I think is profoundly wrong on important issues (e.g., what the gospel is). My motive is simply to provide a warning to unsuspecting listeners so that they can be more discerning. I don’t have time for a full review, so I instead linked to Greg Gilbert’s.

    FWIW.

  18. Interesting. I fear for those who take Bell’s musings as anything more than novelty. While I myself found parts of Velvet Elvis to be thought-provoking, for the most part the volume seemed disconnected in my opinion.

  19. Fair enough. Thanks Andy. Yes, I’ve noticed the same mistakes in some of the Nooma videos. I seem to recall some particularly silly handling of, e.g., rabbinical practices (“Take my yoke upon you…”) in one of them.

    I’m praying for Bell tonight, and for me. With the opportunities I’ve had in higher education and in spending time with D to the A, my list of excuses for language and biblical background blunders is far shorter than Bell’s.

    B

  20. James,

    “Bell’s error, I think, is neither unorthodox nor heretical (let alone sinful).” First, most certainly you are welcome to your opinion, and if Andy was restricting his critique to this one errror you’d have a stronger point.

    But he made it clear this was beyond and he’s dead on target. Though my style is very aggressive in warning of Bell’s postliberal apostasy I have read his books and seen his Noomas.

    As did Greg Gilbert of 9 Marks who brings out many of the same things I would in a more gentle fashion. The Lord be praised that the information is out. Rob Bell is deeply into a highly subjective neo-orthodox view of Scripture (at best).

    He is also an ardent practitioner of contemplative spirituality, with its continuing and progressive “revelation,” not too unlike Mormon Missionaries. In fact, as someone who’s been in Comparative Religion for 20+ years Mormonism is a good parallel.

    Mormonism has its phony Melchizedek “priesthood” and since only Mormons allegedly have it, they listen only to those who supposedly have it. Those like Foster and Bell are similar in that they listen only to the “enlightened” ones, it’s a reimagined Gnosticism and a repacked liberalism.

    Modern theology aka liberal theology; postmodern theology is postliberalism. Bell is a remarkably gifted communicator who is so vague (one would have think purposefully) those coming from the outside – as D.A. Carson pointed out – bring their theology into Bell’s vacuousness.

    He is very, very dangerous to evangelical youth.

  21. NOOMA
    N – No
    O – Order,
    O – Only
    M – Mistaken
    A – Aorist

  22. Oh would I wish that were the only blooper in the Nooma video’s!

  23. “He is very, very dangerous to evangelical youth.”

    I would tend to disagree with this bold and demeaning statement. As a current, young (23) theological student, with some background in youth work, I have found Rob Bell’s musings to be of significant use as thought-provoking tools. Granted, they may not be totally sound in all that they say, but when have you ever heard a sermon with which you totally agree, or in which there is not some personal interpretation made by the preacher?
    I think that they are only dangerous to evangelical youth who are not being taught “proper” theology in their own churches. I think we should all be more concerned (myself included) with how we ourselves interpret scripture and teach the young people within our churches (and outside our churches).
    I find that arguments such as this one merely highlight the fact that we all think we know best, when really we don’t!

    Blessings
    Joe

  24. Sam Hendrickson January 13, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    With a slipping grip on things orthodox, Rob Bell’s ideas are often eternally dangerous. By that I mean to the sheep. Several good men in Grand Rapids have tried to change/challenge his thinking, but his public statements continue to indicate a leftward direction. The nooma videos, velvet elvis, etc., contain much that is antibiblical–not gaffs, but cants, directions.

    Rob seems to be a nice guy–but, niceness needs to be paired with an intentional orthodoxy. He has sway over many often because of the unbiblical things he says. This makes his ideas the problem–the danger.

    Thanks Andy.

  25. “I would tend to disagree with this bold and demeaning statement”…

    “I find that arguments such as this one merely highlight the fact that we all think we know best, when really we don’t!”

    Joe, might want to work on not begging the question if you want people to pay more attention to your arguments.

  26. Joseph,
    Your logic is asinine. If Bell’s teaching is “dangerous to evangelical youth who are not being taught “proper” theology in their own churches,” then what good is it? If it’s dangerous for church kids, wouldn’t it be that much more dangerous for non-church kids?

    False truth may indeed be “thought-provoking,” but it’s still false.

  27. What a bunch of screaming hypocrites most of you seem to be.

    It does seem that those who are most critical have not yet produced anything nearly so stimulating, thought provoking or warming as Nooma, almost certainly do not have anything like the talent or understanding of the world in which we live.

    Knowing what the words say is ~NOT~ the same thing as knowing what they mean.
    Please demonstrate the effectiveness of anything you are involved in to me before you stand in a corner on a little soap box proving once more to me that the fundamentalist ‘look at me and how right I am’ brigade have learned nothing of grace in the 40 years I have had to suffer under their burden.

  28. @johnski

    I would assume by “learned nothing of grace” you mean “told the truth.”

  29. Johnski,

    Please demonstrate the effectiveness of anything you are involved in to me before you stand in a corner on a little soap box

    You would be much more convincing if you weren’t standing on that soap-box of your own.

  30. As the pastor of a small, new, church in the mountains of S. Utah, one of my concerns is getting the people, saved or unsaved, in the door so they can hear a clear presentation of the Gospel.

    In the past, or in other more sophisticated locations, what “got ‘em in the door” may have been pipe organs, brilliant parsing of Greek or Hebrew words, singing songs written in the 1700s (slowly), etc. Here, and at this time that doesn’t seem to work as well as it once did.

    A video that is well crafted, with hopefully and almost inevitably, some mistakes we can then discuss, seems to have a better chance to interest people today. So, with God’s leading I pray none of us turn on the dvd player and walk away leaving the viewer to draw their own conclusions! If we can get unsaved, unchurched, unconvinced, etc. in the door we have a chance. I doubt that preaching “Sinners in the hand of an angry God” would pack them in any church nowadays.

    I guess that most of those posting responses on this blog wouldn’t agree with everything presented by someone else. I mean the Baptists won’t agree with the Lutherans, the Methodists won’t agree with the Pentecostal folks, etc.

    So, maybe we could view the NOOMA videos more as a beginning point from which we could present the gospel clearly than as complete systematic theology courses in 10 minutes. If we can bring people to an understanding of God’s love for them, fill in any blanks left in the videos, start a discussion about what Christ did on the cross for them, discuss where we believe the video may have gone astray, etc then they may be a useful resource. If the videos aren’t fresh and edgy enough to attract the curious, then I guess it is on to loud music and theatrical smoke. I doubt if Greek lessons, Hebrew word studies, and arguments over how many times a person must be dunked, if at all, to be properly baptized will have them waiting for seats.

    God bless you all.

  31. OPPS.

    I meant “Sinners in the Hand’s’ of an Angry God. My apologies to all the grammar mavens out there and rest assured I do know the difference between singular and plural. Just want to save you all the trouble of correcting me.

  32. If we really believe the bible to be true and perfect then we trust Jesus when He says that the spirit would lead us into all truth. If Bell is a true believer then God will show him truth. Martin Luther King Jr. turned away from Liberalism later on in his life because God convicned him of truth. God is big enough to do the same for us.

    It’s funny, I gave a Rob bell dvd to an agnostic and he told me that he thought that Bell was too fundamental. Why? Because Bell talked about trusting Jesus by faith. And on this site I read about christians attempting to correct bell for his mistake.

    This is just my opinion and I have been wrong before. But this seems like a waste of time. Critics don’t change the world, people who take action with the gospel change the world. I guess the question we all need to wrestle with is – are we taking action?

    I live in a city where the methodist accuse the pentecostals of being false teachers and the pentecostals accuse the baptist of being false teachers and Everyone accuses the non-denominational churches of being false teachers. And ALL of these churches claim that they believe the bible is God’s word.
    I know, who else? Who else can we rip apart and point out their mistakes? Who else can we correct? What sermon can we pick apart while the little girl who lives next door to us is cutting her skin because her step dad molested her? Could we stop arguing long enough to notice the scars instead of the greek mistakes?

    Critics don’t change the world, people who take action with the gospel do.

  33. Tony, if what you just posted doesn’t make you a “critic,” I’m not sure what would.

    I understand your spirit here, but the position is both unbiblical and illogical.

  34. You are right andy, the one thing that brings the critic out in me is other critics. I probably should not have posted anything. Tonight a young man sat in my office and begged God to help him get off of prescription pain killers. He cried because he felt like he had broken God’s heart. These are the things that drive me — not arguments.

    all things new,
    tony

  35. A lot of people have been commenting here with an attitude of “who are you to criticize Rob Bell” or a “critics never accomplished anything” kind of attitude.

    Well personally, one of my close friends approached me once with Velvet Elvis asking me what I thought of it (he was in favor of it), and I showed him some of the troubling things in the introduction that undermined salvation by faith and he was shocked.

    I gave him a link to fightingforthefaith.com where he listened to some of his sermon reviews on Rob Bell and other things, and he realized how he himself didn’t really understand the gospel, and now he really grasps law and gospel, and trusts Jesus for salvation.

    I really think that it does matter that we refute those who are in error, especially someone with as much influence as Rob Bell. People really do get saved through it.

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