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Letters from our readers - Issue 118
Encouraging Communication among the Churches of God
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Letters from our readers

The BBC phoned the other day

It may interest you to know that the BBC World Service Radio phoned me recently asking whether it could broadcast the short piece below on its program Outlook. It was sent in response to their request for items on why one is positive about taking a stand on some issue. Here is the information I sent:

“During the early 1960s, all young white males in South Africa--like myself--were compelled by law to register their names for a ballot to determine who would do compulsory military training.

“Several years earlier a mentor who understood the Bible better than my senior Sunday-school-teacher father--or anyone I've known in the 50 years since--showed me that Jesus forbade His disciples from military duty--in this life--with these and other words: 'My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight . . .' (John 18:36).

“The army sent me call-up papers. I wrote back pointing out that Jesus also taught that, at His Second Coming as the unconquerable Messiah, He would establish the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem--and that then His servants would fight all nations in order to bring about world peace and the end of war--at the time when 'swords will be beaten into plowshares.'

“But in the meantime, as a truly dedicated disciple of Jesus, I could not be a part of their worldly army--in a system that demanded a loyalty till death that only God is worthy of.

“I was only the second person in South Africa after World War II to be arrested for 'conscientious objection' and taken to Voortrekkerhoogte, the harshest military prison.

“During my six months' incarceration I was subjected to five military courts, including a court-martial, was locked in dark cells on three occasions and subjected to the usual psychological trauma and physical hardship that military warders love dishing out.

“By consistently holding onto principles I was sure were correct, despite difficult circumstances and provocation, the longer they knew me, the more respect the warders showed me.

“I have since met men who hate the army, and themselves, for being made to kill people years ago.

“I've never regretted the stand I took. It opened doors to me that took me places literally and spiritually that I would never have otherwise afforded or experienced."

Geoffrey R. Neilson
Cape Town, South Africa

The other side

Have you ever noticed that most theologians and preachers always give their side of the story and never the other side?

For example:

  • If their side about baptism is to sprinkle, they never explain the other side: baptism by immersion.
  • If their side believes that Sunday is the day that people should attend church, they never explain the other side: the Sabbath.
  • If their side is to believe that people should tithe, they never explain the other: that the tithe has been eliminated.
  • If they tell their side as to what they think hell is, they never tell the other side, whatever it may be.

Many other examples could be cited.

Why do religious leaders not want to give the other side of the story?

One reason is that they are not interested in growing in spiritual knowledge because if they learn something different from “standard beliefs" they are afraid to teach them to their followers lest the members turn away and leave their group or denomination.

If this were to happen, the church income would drop and thus affect the leaders' income, job and security.

Can you add to this? Is there another side?

Paul and Micki Herrmann
Metairie, La.

'Eart or science?

Luke Przeslawski's letter in the January-February edition (“The 'Eart of the Matter") discussing the shibboleth tale repeats an old error. Sorry, Luke, but the letter h in the word has nothing to do with the point you are trying to make.

The problem is that someone in our history seems to have looked at the spellings of shibboleth and sibboleth and assumed that the sound s is obtained by dropping the letter h from the sound sh. This person seems then to have concluded that the ancient Ephraimites and modern English are the same simply because some English dialects tend to drop the h sound in speech. Nope.

The sounds s and sh are both produced in much the same way, except mainly that for sh the tongue is domed upwards at the palate. The sound h is produced by expelling air through a partially constricted back of the throat. (To be technical, s is a voiceless alveolar sibilant, sh a voiceless postalveolar fricative and h a voiceless glottal fricative.)

Now, you won't ever produce the sound we spell as sh by saying s and then h.

Try it for yourself, pronouncing “shibboleth" as though it were “s-h-ibboleth." What you get is what you see, two separate sounds. They don't add up.

Where did this misconception come from? I suspect it's because someone didn't know that in English the letter h is often used in digraphs, combinations of letters used to represent a single sound that doesn't correspond to the combined written letters.

Examples of English digraphs include sh, ch, th, kh, zh, ng, qu, wh, ea, ou and aw. Now, except you had been taught, would you have known what any of these combinations sound like? It's not at all obvious from the combinations of letters.

Furthermore, different languages have different letter values and di/tri/tetragraphs. English s, sh, ch; Hungarian sz, s, cs. English ts; German z, Polish c. English x; Polish ks. English ch; French tch; Polish cz. English sh; French ch; Polish sz; German sch; Norwegian sj usually, but also sk and skj. You get the picture.

The Hebrew alphabet has single characters for sh, kh, th and ts. English doesn't. English needs di- or tetragraphs to represent what in the Cyrillic alphabet, used in Russia and other countries, are elegant, individual letters: zh, kh, ts, ch, sh, shch.

English, French and Norwegian all spell sibboleth the same way, but the other word is spelled shibboleth, chibboleth and sjibboleth respectively. To a Norwegian the idea that sjibboleth becomes sibboleth by removing an h makes no sense. Sjibbolet?

In Hebrew, shibboleth is spelled shin-beth-lamed-tau, sibboleth samek-beth-lamed-tau (ignoring vowel pointing). It's a different first letter: no h (hay) involved anywhere. Finally, in Anglo-Saxon, the precursor to English and a language about 1,000 years closer to the events, shibboleth is spelled scibboleth. No h here either.

In conclusion, there are no grounds for connecting ancient Ephraimites and the modern English on the basis of a modern English spelling convention.

Oh, while we're at it, this would be a good place to deal (again) with another misconception running along similar lines.

Some people reckon that the word British comes from the Hebrew words for “covenant man," namely berith (covenant) plus ish (man), making berithish, eliding to “british" over time.

Hebrew doesn't work that way. In combinations like that, the substantive goes first and the qualifier is placed second.

Consider, for example, bar mitzvah, literally “son commandment," or el tsaddik, literally “god righteous"; i.e., righteous God. Or eretz yisrael, “land Israel"; i.e., land of Israel. So “covenant man" would be ish berith. Not really much like “british," is it?

Walter Steensby
Canberra, Australia

Video quite helpful

[Regarding the video mentioned in “Look, Heed and Listen," “Notes and Quotes," page 24, The Journal, January-February 2007, which, according to Tony Contos of Knoxville, Tenn., might “help with the church's position" on the ordination of women as elders (see the video at]:


Reg Killingley
Big Sandy, Texas

Video not all that helpful

I don't see how that video [at and mentioned in “Look, Heed and Listen," in “Notes and Quotes," page 24, The Journal, January-February 2007] would have helped the church with the subject of should women be ordained as elders.

Paul Shaw
Tyler, Texas

What I wrote

I am probably no different from any other would-be writer who appreciates feedback, even when that feedback amounts to disagreement with my half-baked ideas.

But, while I thank John Sash for his rebuttal of my editorial, “Do You Preach Politics From the Pulpit?" [in the November-December 2006 issue of The Journal], I can only wonder if he even read what I wrote.

Mr. Sash [in “Bible Doesn't Ban Politics From Pulpit," in the January-February 2007 issue] writes that I strongly advocate not talking politics from the pulpit.

He says I seem to want nothing spoken from the pulpit that has to do with abortion, the war with militant Islam or the culture war.

My editorial never made any such statements. Those positions were taken by fictitious caricatures. Moore Wright Thnu epitomized inconsistent self-righteousness. Faith N. Googuv demonstrated bureaucratic intolerance. Wes White was the typical, gullible church member who finds it difficult to say no.

The purpose of my article was to illustrate that, once a congregation covenants with the federal government by obtaining a 501(c)3 [nonprofit corporation] status, that congregation needs to understand the rules it must obey. Many members of 501(c)3 congregations are ignorant that there are restrictions on what they can preach.

Mr. Sash advocates doing away with the tax-exempt status for churches. I don't disagree with this position. It is the responsibility of each congregation to make its own decision as to whether it will make a pact with Caesar or not.

In the meantime, I have to wonder if Mr. Sash played hooky on the day his English-lit class studied satire and symbolism. He might consider boning up on these literary devices by reading George Orwell's Animal Farm and a collection of the writings of the late Art Buchwald.

Wesley White
Big Sandy, Texas

Save the puzzle

I noticed in the November-December 2006 issue of The Journal you are not putting the puzzle in any more. Please keep the puzzle coming.

V.B. Hohn
Brighton, Colo.

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