Holy Roar is not a great book part 2

Part 1 is here.

I come home from work and, from the driveway, the first thing I hear is Chris Tomlin music. My wife is blasting it loud inside the house. She is playing some Tomlin tunes with a worship band this upcoming Sunday, as many other musicians will (and as I used to regularly). I enjoy many of Chris Tomlin’s songs (or at least, I like that one about resurrection). Others, I’ve heard too many times. But this post is about chapter 2 in the book Holy Roar. The ethics of leading worship is for others to discuss.


Some folks have taken exception to my speculations as to why Tomlin and Whitehead would publish their book with Bowyer and Bow, a “publisher” that exists in the same physical address as a music industry CPA office that doesn’t seem to have published anything else. It’s true: I have no idea why the authors have chosen this route. Perhaps it has nothing to do with taxes. Perhaps it has to do with wanting to keep all sales profits for themselves (a route I encourage for all creative people who want to own their work). Or perhaps it has to do with the backwards Hebrew which would never make it past stage 1 of proof-reading. Who knows?


The point is that people buy this book. On Amazon, people currently pay $12.47 per copy. You can get them for as low as $11 per copy if you buy in bulk of 150 copies. That bundle is ready-to-go at holyroar.com. It will cost you $1,650. And no doubt, some budget dollars from church education ministries have likely already spent $1,650 for 150 copies of a book with incorrect information, presented as fact, and backwards Hebrew, presented as ancient insight. People spend this kind of money on resources that help folks read the Bible better because they believe it comes from a trustworthy source. They believe that the source is trustworthy because they see it has been published. They believe publishing a book creates a credible resource because publishing entails proof-reading procedures. So, if a book has not been proof-read, it has not actually been “published” in the way that competitor books have been. Rather, it has simply been printed. To present a self-printed book to the public as if it has indeed undergone the procedures of publication when it in fact has not is dishonest and deceptive.


One way to avoid accusation of misconduct is for authors to self-publish. This is when authors disclose that their book has not been published by standard means of publication, but rather one that they have financed themselves. There’s nothing wrong with this. People do it all the time. But some feel there is a stigma attached with self-publication.


So, we know that the authors self-published this book in a manner that does not disclose self-publication, and might (reasonably) speculate that perhaps this is to avoid this stigma or perhaps for various financial reasons. Who knows?


Still, there is a break in a relationship here, even if not tax-related. And that break is financial in nature. Someone bought this book under the salesmanship of it being one thing, and then it turned out to be something else, something that didn’t even go through typical checking stages. It even has a logo for the “publisher” on the spine of the book, like legitimate book publishers have. This is reason for people to feel tricked or duped by this book’s publication. Because it hasn’t really been “published” in the way people think when they say “published”. Neither has it been acknowledged as self-published. This breaks the trust between author and reader in a financial way. An act of good faith on their part (and very minimal) might be to stop selling the book in its current form and wait until corrected copies can be printed. A larger gesture might be to also reconsider the mistakes they have made based on mishandling Strong’s Concordance.


The second Hebrew word that the authors misprint is הלל /hillel/. The authors transcribe this word as /halal/, but they are mistaken there as well. The root form here is /hll/. And just as in the previous chapter, this is also a case of exploited etymology run amuck. (What they actually have printed here in Hebrew is “/lalah/”, which is not a word in BH.)


The word for praise in Hebrew that comes from the root הלל is never pronounced /halal/, but rather always a form of /hillel/. This is because this special word from which the authors rightly note we get the phrase hallelujah is always (100% of the time) in the derived stems of Piel, Pual, and Hitpael. It never occurs in the Qal stem (and for that matter, it never occurs in the Polel, Poal, or Hitpoal stems either).


And yet, just as with chapter 1, the authors insist that these “praise” usages of הלל should be understood by other usages from other verb stems. The authors here insist that “praise” should be “foolish” or to celebrate in a “foolish” or “reckless” way. Their claim is that הלל means both “praise” and “be foolish/senseless”, and so modern worshippers should praise God in celebratory ways that might not be considered appropriate behavior in other settings. The authors explain their view on ancient Israelite worship, saying, (p36) “…to the outside observer, they might have appeared drunk or foolish.”


However, this claim is based on a lack of competence in BH. Following the imprecise linguistic descriptions of Strong’s, the authors conflate 3 different words which more thorough Hebrew lexicographers (like HALOT, DCH, and Gesenius 18) separate from each other with 3 different entries in their dictionaries. The first entry for /halal/ is a usage that only exists in the Hifil stem in the Hebrew Bible. It means “to flash light” or “to shine” (Isa 13:10 for example). The second entry for /halal/ (actually, /hillel/ because this one never exists in the Qal stem) is the verb of praise “to praise/eulogize”. Again, this usage is mostly restricted to the Piel stem (this is what we find repeatedly in Psalms). And finally, the last entry in a dictionary for /halal/ is “to be infatuated, be foolish/senseless, act like a madman” (Jer 51:7). These are not one word with 3 different meanings. These are three different words that do no overlap in their patterns of verb stems and so are presented as three separate words in a good BH lexicon (despite that they all share the same root).


To treat one of these three as informative of what the other means would be like making a similar mistake with the English word “bank”. Imagine if someone said, “Better not put your money in the bank because it might get all wet!”. That is either a pun on the two main usages of “bank” in English, or it is from someone who does not really understand English. English speakers do not walk around with unrelated meanings in our heads as if we were dictionaries. In the same way, ancient Hebrew speakers did not walk around with etymologies in their heads. Just like we don’t walk around knowing the historical reasons for why we use bank in two unrelated ways, ancient people also did not carry around unrelated usages of word together in their minds as though they were related. To claim then that “praise” means to “praise in a foolish manner” because /halal/ is a root for 3 different words is wrong and misleading. In fact, there’s an argument that it is actually an offensive notion to ancient Hebrew culture.


There is a case of worship before the Lord being mistaken for drunkenness. It’s in 1 Samuel 1 with Hannah, the yet-to-be mother of Samuel (yet to be in ch 1 through at least v16). She is childless and desperate to have a baby. One day, at Shiloh, in the presence of Eli the priest, she is praying so desperately that she does not speak when she prays (whereas Hebrew custom was to use your voice when you pray). The priest Eli mistakes this for intoxication and advises her to stop drinking. She says that she had not been drinking but had been pouring herself out to God. Indeed, sometimes we need to pray with desperation and in ways that might seem foolish to others, just like Hannah. But it would be incorrect to say that this is a good thing for all occasions, after all, Hannah was in a desperate situation. It would also be incorrect to say that this kind of seeming foolishness is what the word /halal/ means when it is translated “praise”. That simply is not true. In fact, the idea of worshipping in a way that looked intoxicated was offensive to the priest Eli. The notion that proper praise of God in ancient Israel would have seemed foolish or drunk does not have any evidence. It lacks cultural awareness and sensitivity. If you are trying to worship as ancient Hebrews worshipped, it’s the wrong idea to have.


This is why all of the Scripture references that the authors provide exclusively come from /halal/ 2 lexical entries (or, the second entry in a dictionary for /halal/). All of these are the Piel stem uses of /hillel/ that are only ever used as “praise” (Psa 69:30; 22:22; 109:30; 149:3; 150:6).


If the authors used examples from the “foolish” use of /halal/ (/halal/ 3 in the dictionaries), it would be clear for readers that these are unrelated. Check out Job 12:17 or Psa 102:8 for examples of those. It is clear that they are not near the same.


Rather than investigating these different references and considering whether or not they are related, the authors copied and pasted from Strong’s imprecise and inaccurate descriptions. On the page with the misprinted Hebrew for this chapter (p32), they conflate all three different forms of /halal/ and mislead readers to think that /halal/ means “To boast. To rave. To shine. To celebrate. To be clamarously foolish.” Actually, those different meanings are reserved for different patterns in different verb stems, which is why they are kept separate in good dictionaries. The authors even missed out on investigating further into hallelujah. They simply say (p34) that it is an “exuberant expression of celebration, a word that connotes boasting, raving, or celebrating. It carries with it the notion of actin in a way that is ‘clamorously foolish’.” No, it does not. Even with hallelujah, an expression so formalized that we transliterate it instead of translating it (New Testament included), the authors make the age-old mistake of conflating unrelated meanings, as if hallelujah were a bad pun.


Hallelujah is not a word. It is a whole sentence. It’s an imperative sentence. But most importantly, it speaks the divine name, or at least part of it. Hallelu is a Piel imperative second person masculine plural verb in BH. That means it’s a command to a group of people to do something. The command they are to do is to /hallelu/ “you all praise”. Praise what? You all praise Yah (or perhaps Jah if you wanna be Rastafarian about it). Yah is a short form of the divine name Yahweh. The ancient Hebrew people spoke the name of God in this call to praise.


This is incredibly important for Christians. The New Testament uses hallelujah also, but there in reference to Jesus. Look at hallelujah in places like Revelation 19. What does it mean for early Christians to say hallelujah about Jesus? What does that mean about how they understood “Yah” in the Old Testament? Often, the Bible leaves us with exciting questions like this to think about. So, if someone tries to satisfy you quickly with a cheap answer, keep asking questions.




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Holy Roar is not a great book

A friend of mine sent me a copy of Holy Roar by Chris Tomlin and Darren Whitehead. He asked me to write a review of it. My friend is a worship leader and his church has been using Holy Roar as a guide for their worship. My friend did not feel comfortable with the way the book was being used to make claims about Scripture. Those claims were being used to encourage a more participatory worship event. Participatory, in this case, was measured by the number of uplifted hands during the worship music. I’d be willing to bet that Chris Tomlin agrees that this would qualify as a superficial use of a book he co-authored. I’ve never met Chris Tomlin, but that’s what my imagination suspects.


I’m gonna review each of the chapters of Holy Roar, focusing only on the claims made about the Hebrew word that each chapter covers. My specific concern is how Scripture is handled in supporting the views espoused in the book. So, get out a Bible or open up Biblegateway in another window to follow along. We will be doing lots of sword drills.


But before we get to the first word, I’m gonna state 3 things I like about this book.


  1. I like that this book gets people interested in the Hebrew Bible. Bible readers often use multiple Bible translations in their Bible study, hoping to catch some nuance into biblical languages. This book serves people who want to know more about biblical languages. I’m glad those people are out there and I hope those people feel encouraged to take their time and learn biblical Hebrew (=BH) for themselves. There are many free resources on the internet to get folks going.


  1. I like the discussion sections of this book. Rather than laying out a certain view, the discussion sections give a handful of Bible verses and questions that a group can study together. These kinds of open-ended prompts often make for great conversations at a Bible study with friends.


  1. I love this. This is worth the price of the book alone. On page 118 in the conclusion, the authors have a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. meant for discussion within a group:

“Worship at its best is a social experience with people of all levels of life coming together to realize their oneness and unity under God. Whenever the church, consciously or unconsciously, caters to one class, it loses the spiritual force of the ‘whosoever will, let him come’ doctrine, and is in danger of becoming little more than a social club with a thin veneer of religiosity.”

This is a very important thought that we will revisit at the end of this post. On to the Hebrew…kind of.


First, it must be confessed, that the Hebrew is all wrong in this book. I mean orthographically. 100%. Wrong. All of it. This is embarrassing for Bowyer and Bow, the book’s publisher. It is common for pastors to be unfamiliar with BH and simply copy and paste from their favorite Bible software (Logos in this case, as indicated in the Notes section of the book). But, I find it unforgiveable in the publishing world to print a book meant to introduce English speakers to BH concepts and yet print 100% of the Hebrew words completely backwards! There is not one Hebrew word in this book that is typeset or printed correctly. One can only assume that Bowyer and Bow did not arrange for a proof-reader who is competent in BH. This is unprofessional and sloppy. I’m sure there are students who would have loved the chance to proof-read a Chris Tomlin book for free. Now imagine all the young or hip Christian readers who will take this book to their local tattoo artist and get incorrect Hebrew inked backwards onto their bodies. While the MLK quote is enough to justify the price of the book, this mistake is enough to justify a full refund.

I was suspicious about the publisher Bowyer and Bow. I’ve never heard of them. Their address listed in the book (109 Westpark Dr. Suite 400, Brentwood, TN 37027) is an approximately 10 mile drive from Darren Whitehead’s church, according to Google Maps. When I enter that address into Google, Google tells me that this is actually the location of an accounting firm called Curtis and Company. If you click their link for “published articles”, you will find a number of documents about entertainment law and finance. I suspect that the authors’ accountants made a dummy publishing company and used their own address to register it. Readers should know then that Bowyer and Bow is not a respectable publisher of Christian education materials who uses industry-standard practices of proofreading. Its simply a name on a tax document that does not attempt to do real publishing. I can appreciate authors who want to self-publish, but this kind of self-publishing seems like its trying to hide the fact that it is indeed self-publishing. That lack of transparency is unsettling coming from authors who make (incorrect) claims about what the Bible says. (I talked to friend about this. Neither of us are lawyers. But he tells me this is a strategy for evading taxes. That might not be the case here. Perhaps the authors wanted to self-publish but not have the book look like its self-published. But, if the authors did not want the success of the book to bump up their taxes, then creating a publishing company in name could be one way to reduce that risk. It is also possible that the intention was to bury losses in this “publisher” if the book sales did not do well.)


Ok, now on to the Hebrew for real.


The first Hebrew word that Holy Roar prints backwards is יָדָה /yadah/. Hebrew moves right-to-left (not left-to-right like English). So the /y/ sound comes first in this word and so is placed all the way to the right, symbolized by the consonant י /yod/. In Holy Roar, the yod is placed at the end (on the left) as if the authors were trying to read Hebrew as one would read English, left-to-right. So, while the authors want to talk about /yadah/ in this chapter, the Hebrew word that is printed is /haday/, which is not actually a word in BH.


The authors use a number of Bible verses to show what /yadah/ means. Unfortunately, not all the examples they cite are actually the same word. Here, each verse that is cited in the chapter is discussed.


“Take up your battle positions all around Babylon,

all you soldiers who are armed with bows.

Shoot all your arrows at her! Do not hold any back!

For she has sinned against the LORD.” Jer 50:14

This is not a good verse to use as an example for /yadah/ because it has textual variants. Some manuscripts have /yarah/ here and /yarah/ means “throw, cast, shoot” in the Qal verb stem. Many commentators accept /yarah/ as the correct reading.


“They shut me up in a pit

and threw stones at me.” Lam 3:53

This verse is also not a good example of /yadah/ as “praise” because this verb is in the Piel verb stem. Also, the directionality of this verb is not upward, as the authors suggest this position symbolizes. Rather, in these cases with the Piel verb stem, /yadah/ means to “cast/throw down”. The example from Lam 3:53 is a good example of this downward motion.


“All he has made will give thanks to the LORD.

Your loyal followers will praise you.” Psa 145:10

The book claims that this verse is an example of this verb used when “the Hebrew people were so overcome by the glory of the Lord that their hands shot upward in response” (22). However, there is nothing in this verse (or this psalm) that specifies upward hand motions. The only hand mentioned in this psalm is God’s hand in v16. Leslie Allen writes in the NIDOTTE theological dictionary (made by Zondervan as an educational compliment to the NIV as the NI in NIDOTTE symbolizes), “The verb primarily refers to an acknowledgement…Usually the acknowledgement is one of praising God; less often it is one of sin. The praise may be of a general type, but it tends to be specific, the giving of thanks for resolution of a recent crisis. This occurs mainly in the Psalms, but the prayers of thanksgiving in 1 Chr 29:13 and Dan 2:23 are comparable” (NIDOTTE Vol 2, 398). In this way, Bible readers might ask themselves what specific kind of praise is being offered in each usage of /yadah/ across Psalms.


For BH nerds, note that this verb exclusively occurs in the derived stems of Hifil and Hitpael. This is a reason why more thorough lexicographers (HALOT, DCH, Gesenius 18) have separated /yadah/ into different words: /yadah/ 1 and /yadah/ 2. The first usage of /yadah/ sits on sparse BH data. The Qal example from Jer 50:14 is likely actually the verb /yarah/ and the other examples (Lam 3:35; Zech 2:4) are in the Piel verb stem and symbolize downward motion. However, /yadah/ 2 is the verb of praise and confession reserved only for the Hifil and Hitpael stems. This suggests that Hebrew Bible readers may rightly interpret these as two distinct words that do not share in any pattern in the verb stems. One word is only in Piel. The other word, with the same root spelling, is only in Hifil and Hitpael. They are not the same word.


However, one would have a hard time learning this if one relied exclusively on Strong’s Concordance for BH information. Strong’s Concordance is a great tool that has started many people’s interest into biblical languages. It now serves as a database in digital platforms that matches translation words in a Bible translation with the original Hebrew or Greek word. The right way for non-biblical languages readers to use this information is to then take that Hebrew or Greek word that Strong’s matched with the translation word or phrase and then look up that Hebrew or Greek word in a reliable Hebrew or Greek lexicon, like HALOT or BDAG. The database that Strong’s Concordance has built up is very useful. However, the linguistic information recorded in Strong’s Concordance is simply not reliable for exegesis. We must have higher standards and use better tools. If you are a pastor and you rely on Strong’s for biblical languages information, you are doing exegesis poorly and unreliably. It is telling that 100% of the information cited in the notes of Holy Roar is from Strong’s Concordance. Pastors must be expected to use better methods. (Rant: There was a time when seminaries took Scripture very seriously and insisted on high standards of competency in biblical languages. Those days have passed for the most part. In many seminaries, one can obtain an MDiv with zero experience in biblical languages (often “gifting” is used as an excuse). So perhaps we should blame ourselves within our own denominations and churches for insisting upon and funding the dumbing down of exegetical education.)


“Let the nations thank you, O God!

Let all the nations thank you!” Psa 67:3

This is a great example of how praise means giving thanks. In the context of this psalm, all people groups will show their thanks to God for being just and saving people. Note how many translations render this usage of /yadah/ as “give thanks”. There is also nothing in this psalm regarding hands or one’s posture during worship. Rather, the focus is on being expressing thankfulness/praise.


“In God I boast all day long,

and we will continually give thanks to your name. (Selah)” Psa 44:8

Again, in this verse, the context is God’s power (deliverance from enemies in the previous verse) and so /yadah/ is the response of praise/thanksgiving, not a position for one’s hands.


But this is not to say that hands aren’t important in giving thanks. Just in the psalms, “hand” (/yad/ in BH) occurs 94 times over 89 verses. Most of these usages of hands refer to God’s hands (symbolizing his power). Many other times, “hand” in Psalms refers to the hand (or power) of an enemy. However, only 5 times (by my count, please double-check me), does /yad/ refer to the worshiper’s or psalmist’s hands. These cases are Psa 28:2; 77:2; 143:6; 18:34; 144:1; 134:2. Psa 28:2; 77:2; and 143:6 refer to hands asking for help. These cases are desperate situations where outstretched hands are a sign of weakness and need for a savior. Psa 18:34 and 144:1 refer to the psalmist’s hands being trained by God for battle. While these two categories of one’s own hands in Psalms are indeed related to one’s relationship with God in each of those contexts, this is not “hands of praise”. There is only one explicit “hands of praise” reference in Psalms: 134:2. In this verse, the psalmist commands (with an imperative verb) worshippers to raise their hands toward God’s Temple and bless the Lord while doing so. This is not a context of desperation. This is not training for battle. This is the only example of “hands of praise” in the book of Psalms. It is surprising that the authors did not use it as an example. It should be noted that Psa 134 is one of the Ascent psalms. These were psalms that were used for Temple celebrations. Given that formal setting for ancient Israelite holidays, it would be legalistic (and anachronistic) to use this verse as a command for modern worshippers to raise their hands during a worship service. If “hands” occurs in Psalms over 90 times, but only 5 of those refer to the hands of a worshipper (and those 5 are of 3 different kinds), then “hands of praise” cannot be reliably suggested as an important theological category in Psalms. Rather, the “hands” we should praise are God’s own hands and we can do that with or without raising our own.


We would do well to learn the words of Dr. King, as the authors suggest, and practice worship with a focus on community. That means making sure everyone is included in the service. It does not mean that everyone participates in a prescribed way. If we are to really learn the “whosoever will, come” doctrine that Dr. King describes than we must be more concerned with establishing relationships with everyone whom we worship with than we are concerned with the congregation’s physical posture during worship. We should be more concerned with people being there rather than how they use their hands when they are there. Most of the time, as in Psalms, our hands in worship are to be extended laterally, toward another in making a relationship. That makes worshipping God truly a community experience.


Next chapter later this week.



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