The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Aug 15, 2015

The Revised and More Realistic "Priorities of a New Professor"

Well, I've officially survived my first year of teaching at BCM! About a year or so ago I wrote a post entitled "Priorities of a New Bible Professor" where I focused on my academic writing priorities. Let's just say it was a bit too ambitious, by far! Teaching always has to be the first priority before writing (and "teaching" includes "availability to my students").

Nevertheless, I did get some accomplished. I began working on my second book (slowly!), submitted two articles to journals for consideration, presented a paper at the 2015 "Bible Faculty Summit" (more on that later) which is in the process of being revised to submit to a third journal. Also, I did make a bit of progress on working through Oscar Cullmann's Christology of the New Testament in German.

Surprisingly, the summer was way busier than I thought it would be. Having said that, I laid the groundwork for two more articles--we'll see if anything becomes of them!

Most of us profs will never be D. A. Carson or Andreas Kostenberger as far as publishing goes (I doubt I'll ever get a publishing sabbatical), but that's ok! What's important is continuing to be a beyond-competent teacher who's always open to my students while at the same time trying to make an occasional contribution to scholarship.

So, for the next year, what are my priorities? #1 is creating three new classes from scratch--General Epistles and Intro to NT Exegesis for the Fall, and NT Intro for the Spring (really excited about those!) while not slacking off on my Hebrew, which I'll be teaching again in a year.

My #2 priority is a particular article on Hebrews. #3 is making significant progress both on my book on Revelation and the book my father and I are co-writing on Bible translation.

#4 is an article on the last chapter of John that I've done significant research for, and perhaps another article on the Greek imperative.

Finally, not really a separate priority, but rather an ongoing one, is to keep my German up, and continue working through Cullmann's Christology.

One more very important priority that will be ongoing: I've been asked to develop a Bible study on 1 Peter for Sunday School at my church, Falls Baptist. Christian academics should be serving the church with their writing, as well!

As far as reading, this Fall I really hope to tackle both Constantine Campbell's new Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament and Daniel Block's For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship; the first book, which I've heard great things about, will be important for my intro to exegesis class, while the latter may just be all-around important.

Once again, teaching is a blast, and I'm grateful for the opportunity! [and the students here have been awesome]

Jul 30, 2015

Maybe December 25th actually is the day of Jesus' birth? Some thoughts on the recent article by Kurt Simmons in JETS

One of the strengths of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (a peer-reviewed, academic journal second only to Tyndale Bulletin in evangelical circles) is its diversity of topics. Consequently, I was extremely interested to see, in the latest issue, an article by Kurt M. Simmons entitled "The Origins of Christmas and the Date of Christ's Birth," JETS 58 (June 2015): 299-334.

Most of us are familiar with the prevailing "conventional wisdom" that December 25th was an accommodation by the church to pagan practices--since nobody knew when the Christ was born, why not just take a pagan holiday and let Christians party? [ok, that's a bit of an unfair simplification] An article from Bibliotheca Sacra over 150 years ago takes this position (Joseph Thompson's "Christmas and Saturnalia," BibSac vol. 12, January 1845). For some Christians, this is enough to prevent them from any celebration on this date. Another theory advanced by scholars is that 12/25 or 1/6 (depending on if you're the Eastern or Western church) is connected to the date of Jesus' conception, which would have occurred at the same time of the year as his crucifixion (a recent Biblical Archaeological Review discussed this theory, I believe).

Simmons examines both of these theories (the "history of religions" theory and the "calculation" theory, respectively), and finds them wanting. He then provides a somewhat complicated yet interesting discussion of the chronology of Jesus' life.

One of the more significant points that Simmons' thesis hinges on is that Herod actually died not around the lunar eclipse of 4 BC, but rather around a lunar eclipse which occurred on January 10, 1 BC. (NASA records confirm that there was a lunar eclipse on that day; click here and remember to add a +1 to the 0). This, personally, would be a calculation that I would appreciate, and here's why: as argued elsewhere (click here), I believe that Jesus' death took place on Friday, April 3rd, 33 AD. (Friday afternoon is the first day, Friday night would be the second day, and Saturday night through Sunday would be the "third day"--this theory is hardly new with me). Nevertheless, Luke says that Jesus began his ministry when he was "about thirty years old" (Luke 3:23). If this were AD 30, and if Jesus was born 4 BC, then he would actually be 34, which would be stretching it a little (I took heart in the fact that 34 would be much more likely than 35 to be called "about thirty"!) However, if Jesus were actually born roughly BC 1, then suddenly Luke is not at all stretching the bounds of approximation to say that Jesus was "about 30"!

Now it's quite possible that Simmons is trying to cut things just a bit too fine with his chronology (I'm especially skeptical of page 317 and his discussion of Jesus' baptism). Nevertheless, this is a thesis that deserves consideration, and time will tell how other evangelical scholars interact with it. Also, Simmons' article passes the two big tests of original scholarship: good interaction with primary sources and citation of foreign-language sources.

Whether or not to celebrate Christmas is a personal matter that every Christian must deal with At the very least, caution must be taken not to forsake the Infant in the manger for the man in the red suit. The latter, in this day and age, calls us to glitz, glamour, and material possessions (the real Saint Nick is turning over in his grave). The former, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when He calls us, calls us to die. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that the old "Saturnalia" argument is historically inaccurate and thus insufficient as an excuse to exchange gifts, remember the poor, and sing "O Holy Night" every December 25th.

Jul 16, 2015

Choosing a textbook for a brand new "General Epistles" class

For a two-week block at the end of September/beginning of October, I have the privilege of teaching BI 429 "Introduction and Theology of the General Epistles" (minus Hebrews). This is the first time ever Baptist College of Ministry has offered the class (it's not even in our official catalog yet), and will be an upper-level class consisting of a mid-sized research paper and some other smaller projects.

I'm immensely excited for various reasons, not least because the class will naturally include 1 Peter. Also, the general epistles are the "generally neglected" portion of the canon (when was the last time you heard a sermon on Jude, 2 Peter, or 2-3 John?) However, until just yesterday I didn't have the time to choose a textbook. Good books covering all the General Epistles are vary rare, and in the end my choices boiled down to two books: Karen Jobes Letters to the Churches or Brandon Crowe's The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption.

While both books are worthy of purchase, and while Crowe has an easy-going, accessible style, I nevertheless had to go with Jobes for a couple reasons. First of all, Jobes' book is a true introduction. Whereas Crowe mostly covers theological themes, Jobes covers that and everything else (this means, however, that Crowe would be good supplementary reading at the undergrad level). Secondly, Jobes offers the reader a better introduction to the scholarly literature out there, which is what I want for my upper-level college students. Also, Jobes' book has pictures! (Any NT textbook is better with pictures! Best example of this is Burge/Cohick/Green's The New Testament in Antiquity).

One other minor note: since he teaches at Westminster, Crowe's Reformed theology does play a major role in his book. This means that it's simultaneously slightly less desirable for a Dispensational classroom but obviously an easy choice for a a Reformed one. Also, I do have to admit that Crowe's writing style is very accessible, even for non-college students, and might make a good choice for a church Bible study (even a non-Reformed Baptist church could benefit from it).

My specialty is first Peter, and I've blogged about it before, but let me quickly mention what I consider the top commentaries on 1 Peter:
1. Confessional:
Karen Jobes, Baker Exegetical--best, period, end of story.
Wayne Grudem, Tyndale--would be my pick for undergrad or a church Bible study on 1 Peter
Douglas Harink, Brazos theological--very provocative and practical!
Ben Witherington, Socio-Rhetorical--Witherington is always a good read for literary and sociological background
2. Broadly academic
Paul Achtemeier, Hermeneia--This is considered by scholarship at large to be the best ever.
John Elliott, Anchor Bible--I prefer Elliott slightly to Achtemeier, partially because I've bought into most of his argument re.: the background of the recipients.
Leonhard Goppelt, Kritisch-exegetischer--This is the foreign-language commentary to own.
Reinhard Feldmeier, Theologischer Handkommentar--A bit more accessible than Goppelt.

Jul 11, 2015

Apologies! Correcting a statistical mistake (footnote 45 of my FilNet article), plus some more thoughts on verbal aspect theory

Of all the peer-reviewed journals that focus on the New Testament, Filologia Neotestamentaria has pride of place for focusing on the technical details of the New Testament, namely Greek studies (grammar, lexicography, the verb tense debate,) and textual criticism. A few years ago I had the privilege of having a paper of mine published in this excellent journal; it wasn't until just a few days ago that I realized I had committed a rather glaring statistical error in a footnote--since it's obviously too late to correct it in print, I shall offer my mea culpa here in the blogosphere.

"The Use of the Aorist Imperative in the Pastoral Epistles," Filologia Neotestamentaria vol. 23 (2010), page 83, footnote 45, makes the very odd (and incorrect statement) as follows: "The reader should note that 1 Tim only has a total of 4 aorists, regardless of mood (Accordance search, command line [VERB aorist] <AND> [VERB 2aorist]) as opposed to 203 occurrences of the present tense (command line [VERB present]). If anything, one could almost argue that the present tense is functioning as the background tense rather than the foreground tense." The mistake is in saying "4 aorists."

Now anybody familiar with search syntax can spot my embarrassing mistake. Instead of <AND>, I should have used <OR>. In other words, I ended up looking for only those verses that contained both Aorist and 2nd Aorist!

So my apologies to the editors of FilNet and any readers of my article (all 5 of you! :). This was sloppy.

Fortunately, my main point still holds, and I was not guilty of such sloppiness in the main data on page 81 (since I looked at every single imperative, regardless of tense).

Furthermore, I do believe my point in the footnote is valid, because when I used the <OR> in the command line, I found that present tense, regardless of mood, occurs 370 times in the Pastoral Epistles, roughly twice as many times as the Aorist and 2nd Aorist combined (182), which raises my original question on whether or not the "Aorist" functions as background while the "Present" functions as foreground, since I would think that the "foreground" would lose its "foreground status" by virtue of outnumbering the so-called "background" tense (though one could argue that this is a matter of idiolect of the PE, not general Koine or general NT usage). I do agree that the Aorist is the "default" tense (and I argue as much in this article), but in my opinion that's a different matter from calling it the "background" tense in contrast to "foregrounded" and "frontgrounded" tenses.

My curiosity was piqued, however--the Pastoral Epistles are definitely an anomaly in their ratio of Present to Aorist verbs (2-1). Within the NT as a whole, all Aorists number 11651 (both 1st and 2nd),while present tenses of all moods number 11547--so almost a 1-1 ratio. Likewise, in Josephus, 34,621 Aorists versus 35363 Present tense verbs, almost 1-1 again. Surprisingly, in the LXX, these translators used the Aorist much more, for a ratio of 49,410 to 21,888, so over 2-1 in favor of Aorist verbs!

So what does that tell us? Not sure, actually! But at least it's food for though. I still maintain that the Aorist is the default tense, the tense you use when you're not trying to make a point (building off of Stagg's key article "The Abused Aorist"), so preachers beware! (I.e., the Aorist tense does not in of itself mean "once-for-all" action. It may, if context indicates so, but it does not have to).

The Verbal Aspect debate still continues to rage. Recently Steve Runge launched a challenge against Stanley Porter in one of the newest issues of Novum Testamentum. Various authors continue to put verbal aspect theory to the test in a variety of journals with a variety of results. At this point, what is probably the main factor holding me back from going over to Dr. Porter's side on VAT is an excellent article by Jody A. Barnard, "Is Verbal Aspect a Prominence Indicator? An Evaluation of Stanley Porter's Proposal with Special Reference to the Gospel of Luke," in Filologia Neotestamentaria vol. 19 (2006), available here. For articles that can introduce you to the whole debate, click here and here. The one by Naselli is more readable, but Picirilli offers a better critique and dialogue with the literature out there.

One final note: an error that actually was not my fault! On page 73, footnote 2 of my article, it states, "Except for the statistics in the first parafraph . . ." Now "parafraph" sounds like something you'd order at Starbucks ("I'd like one hot caramel parafraph please!"), but this one was not my fault, and I have the article proofs to prove it! Still, misspelling a word is much less significant than giving the reader faulty statistics, so once again, mea culpa.

Jun 20, 2015

Resources for Studying and Teaching Biblical Hebrew (by a Greek specialist)

The Lord has a sense of irony! After 5 years in doctoral studies focusing on Greek under one of the premiere NT Greek scholars in America (in my humble, biased, and totally correct opinion), one of the first things I was asked to teach at Baptist College of Ministry was Biblical Hebrew. It has been a fantastic and very rewarding experience, yet I sincerely wish that I had not neglected my Hebrew during my years at Southeastern. Despite the fact that I had a solid array of credits in Hebrew (and also took Aramaic), nevertheless I let it slide (though, in my defense, I did read through the Septuagint during those years). Let this be a lesson to you, potential doctorates! You never know where or what you'll be teaching, so retain at least basic competency in all areas of your field. Hopefully, I've learned my lesson and now try to incorporate a little Hebrew a day into my personal Bible study (along with my English, Greek, and German Bibles).

The old cliche is true: you really haven't learned a subject until you have to each it. A lot of things have started clicking with me now, including the discourse structure of Hebrew narrative (and its stark contrast with Hebrew poetry, with the relative lack of conjunctions in the latter); in addition, I've begun to engage more with the scholarly literature and more technical issues (e.g., is the "preterist" the third tense along with perfect and imperfect?)

For  our first semester textbook (in addition to the Stuttgartensia Hebrew Bible, Holladay's lexicon, etc.), we used Pratico and Van Pelt's Basics of Biblical Hebrew along with the accompanying workbook. I almost went with Allen Ross' Introducing Biblical Hebrew, but felt that Pratico/Van Pelt was more user-friendly to beginners. 

For second semester, the required textbooks were Arnold and Choi's handy A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax and Chisholm's excellent and very practical From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew [Waltke and O'Conner's syntax is still the modern standard, of course, but way too expensive in my opinion for a textbook; our library has it, fortunately].

In addition, in my own personal study and lecture prep, I have grown very fond of C. John Collins' work. His Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary is absolutely fantastic and just what I needed to challenge me both exegetically and theologically. For class, I made my students read both C. John Collins' article "A Syntactical Note on Genesis 3:15: Is the Woman's Seed Singular or Plural?" in Tyndale Bulletin vol. 48 (1997), as well as the necessary supplementary article by T. Desmond Alexander, "Further Observations on the Term 'Seed' in Genesis," the very next issue. Alexander deals with some texts that Collins did not cover, but I agree with the overall point of both of them (I would state, however, that in order for Genesis 3:15 to refer to the Messiah, it's not necessary to demonstrate that every occurrence of a singular pronoun in reference to zerah necessarily refers to a single person--only that the substantial majority do). Finally, I have worked through (with a bit more difficulty), Anson F. Rainey's influential article on "The Ancient Hebrew Prefix Conjugation in the Light of Amarnah Canaanite," Hebrew Studies (1997), a very influential article (viewable for free on JSTOR, though downloading a pdf is a bit expensive).

Finally, for a little bit of fun. If you haven't yet listened to Josh Tyra's famous "I am the very model of a Biblical Philologist," then click here, and you're welcome (warning: it's only funny if you like Hebrew or are familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan).

May 22, 2015

"If the foundations be destroyed . . ." [DON'T SAY THAT!!] Or, why context remains indispensable for legitimate Bible study

 For both the Spring semester and Summer School (which just concluded today at BCM), I had the privilege of teaching Hermeneutics to a total of 25-30 students. I had a fabulous time! The student's were very engaged with the topic, and I can think of only one other class that I could possibly be more excited about (1 Peter). Our main textbook was Duvall and Hayes' Grasping God's Word, with Sire's Scripture Twisting as also required reading.

As I stress with my students, properly studying the context of any passage remains essential. Even Proverbs—possibly the one book in the Bible where you could grab a couple verses and not be too concerned about what precedes and follows—even in Proverbs the reader must understand the ongoing conflict between "Lady Wisdom" versus the "Strange Woman," as well as how the entire book must be read in light of 1:7.

A perfect example of the importance of context is in how well-meaning Christians quote Psalm 11:3—"Boy, this country [or church, or society, or local coffee shop] sure is going downhill fast! You know, if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Indeed, how many messages have been preached with that as the tagline, generally focusing on what the "foundations" are and how we need to get back to whatever they are?

Friend, if we truly pay attention to what Scripture is saying, you'll understand that true believers are not supposed to be saying "if the foundations be destroyed . . ." Consider the entire Psalm. In verse 1, we have the basic theme: David trusts in the Lord. Then, immediately following, we have discordant voice introduced: that of "Naysayers," the ones who wish David to abandon hope and join them in their doom and gloom philosophy.  "Flee to the mountains," they say. With parallelism in verse 2—"The wicked are bending their bow, they're getting ready to shoot!" Why? "To shoot at the righteous."

Here's the key—the "Naysayers" are still talking in verse 3! In other words, verse 3 is not the theme of the Psalm, the message we should take to heart. Rather, verse 3, "If the foundations be destroyed . . ." is the very statement David (and the Psalm) rebukes!

The (perhaps well-meaning) "Naysayers," then, are bemoaning the fact that everything's crumbling, and they've thrown up their hands in despair—"It's too late! The foundations are destroyed! What can good people do about it?"

Listen to King David's rebuke—"The Lord is in his holy temple, his throne is in the heavens, God's eyes are quite aware of what's going on, and God will take care of things!"

My friends, when you state (whatever the circumstances), "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?", quite possibly you have allowed yourself to join the side of the "Naysayers" and are seriously questioning the Sovereignty of God! So long as the Lord is in His sacred temple, so long as God reigns from heaven, the question is absurd at best and dangerously close to sacrilege at worst.

This is not to downplay or in any way minimize true, Biblical Lament. I have made it a point to introduce legitimate Lament to my students as an under-neglected genre (with thanks to Dr. Heath Thomas of Southeastern who radically changed my thinking on this matter). True Biblical Lament cries out to God in despair, even questions God, yet does so from the perspective of faith.

Psalm 11:3, however, is not Lament; rather, it is whining, a "woe is us" attitude that focuses on the deterioration of society (or whatever) and forgets God has called us to a sacred mission to be the light to the world. In other words, when we bemoan the fact that the light seems to be going out in the world, we are actually bemoaning our own failure with the suggestion that God himself has not adequately equipped us.

Context, then, remains essential to any legitimate study of the Bible. Yet many preachers and teachers strip verses out of their context as if it didn't matter, as if those verses could appear anywhere. Folks, the Holy Spirit has inspired location just as much as content! As an example of the absurdity of being able to conduct legitimate interpretation without context, I play a little game with my Hermeneutics students: I have them divide up into teams, then try to guess the location in the Bible, the significance, and the application of the following passages (#6 is especially difficult—no student has successfully guessed or interpreted it yet!) Also, one of these is not actually from the canonical books but from the Apocrypha (Brenton's translation; all others are in KJV English); can you guess which one? Some of these are actually kind of easy, some are tough.

Let's Play: Guess that Context!

1. And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels.

2. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:

3. Thy disciples fast not

4. Insomuch as God hath delivered us from great perils, we thank him highly

5. The mountains were not found.

6. bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth

7. And thy meat which thou shalt eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day: from time to time shalt thou eat it.

8. So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley.

Apr 30, 2015

Academic Ghost Writing and Teacher-Student Interaction

Yesterday, I read for the first time two fascinating articles by a former "academic ghost writer," i.e., the professional guy (or gal) who writes papers for desperate (or lazy) students, for a fee. The two articles, by David Tomar, are "The Shadow Scholar: The Man Who Writes Your Students' Papers Tells His Stories" (on the Chronicle of Higher Education site: click here) and "Detecting and Deterring Ghostwritten Papers: A Guide to Best Practices" (on The Best Schools site: click here). The former article is under a pseudonym of Ed Dante (but both articles are by the same author). Academic ghost-writing, unlike plagiarism, is virtually undetectable since each paper is custom-tailored to an individual student's needs (for a price, of course). Based on his own account, I'm quite prepared to hail Mr. Tomar as the most scholarly guy alive! Who else can boast that they written papers, on various levels (yes, including the doctoral level) on history, philosophy, psychology, sports management, theology, sociology, maritime security, and, ironically enough, ethics?!

The saddest part of his article "The Shadow Scholar" is this statement here:
"I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked." 
(by the way, on a related note: ghost-written sermons have been advertised in magazines from the time before the internet, so let's not assume preachers always do their own work, either)

Those of us who teach theology or biblical studies should not be so naive as to assume the temptation isn't there, or that Christians can't fall into that trap (while a grader at Southeastern, I once caught a student blatantly plagiarizing; on a book review assignment, they had basically just cut and pasted text from a blog that was reviewing the same book).

 In his article "Detecting and Deterring," Tomar categorizes his clients into 3 major groups: 1. "English Language Learners" (those whose native tongue is not English and often can find nobody to help them learn), 2. "Composition/research deficient students" (those who, in Tomar's words, represent the " tragically overlooked prevalence of students at the undergraduate and even graduate levels who simply lack the skills or knowledge to produce university-level writing or research"). The 3rd category is simply the "lazy student."

So what's the solution? In his second article, Tomar provides a number of helpful hints for both preventing and spotting such papers. It's the "deterring" part I wish to focus on. I have no wish here to diminish the theological significance nor dismaying irony of a Bible student cheating. Yet part of the problem is most likely a disconnect between teachers and students, including a lack of awareness concerning which students are struggling and how to help them. While we can't necessarily help the third category, the "lazy student," for the first two categories the faculty of a school should have a system in place for detecting and assisting those students most likely to struggle (Southeastern, my doctoral alma mater, has a dedicated "Student Writing Center" staff to assist just that type of student as well as anybody who just needs another person to look over their work). These students can easily be detected early on in college or seminary and directed towards resources that will help them improve. 

Furthermore, a teacher's enthusiasm for his or her subject may very well translate into willingness on the part of the student to actually study. As Tomar notes in "Detecting and Deterring," "I have also generally observed that students are more motivated to cheat in contexts where professors aren’t particularly motivated to teach." Indeed, "When the professor demonstrates passion for the material, this helps to create a moral dilemma about cheating that has more to do with the student/teacher relationship than with the notion of academic integrity. In reality, this relationship weighs heavier on the conscience."

Also, here's a thought (quite the radical one for Christian educators!): perhaps teachers should be willing to go the extra mile with their students, taking extra time to give them some pointers on their papers? (especially in undergrad) I'm not suggesting that teachers do their students' work for them, but our job is, after all to teach (and, biblically-speaking, to mentor). Yeah, spending 30-minutes with a student explaining the difference between a "devotional" commentary and an academic one, or why calling those of other theological persuasions an "idiot" is unacceptable in their paper, may take away some valuable time from writing my next killer article on "Social Scientific Perspectives on the Allegorical Interpretation of St. Ronald of Wendysia," but which activity, ultimately, is going to matter more to the Master?

At the methodological level, I have an idea I might start implementing. Instead of just requiring students to turn in their paper, I may require, from now on, that students turn in their research notes as well (I know, I know, some students, as well as major scholars, prefer to research as they write, so this might not work; differently people are wired to write in different ways).

One more final thought: In the second article, Mr. Tomar states, "When I worked as a ghostwriter, lazy students helped me to make my living but it was the lazy professors that made my life easier. The task of pretending to be a student in somebody’s class is greatly simplified when the professor takes no special steps to differentiate the course, its content, or its assignments from the many millions of other courses that have been taught on the same exact subject from time immemorial." Based on that, I have to conclude that someday, Mr. Tomar's former job may be outsourced to robots. No joke! Already a medical researcher, using a random text generator website, was able to get an article accepted by 17 medical journals! (click here for the story, and thanks to my Dad for sending me the link) Now, all 17 of those journals were "Pay-to-publish" journals that prey on those who are desparate; but that's precisely my point! Some teachers (or grad assistants) may pay as much or less attention to the papers they get than the editors of those "journals" do! Coupled with the superior capacity of computers to research the internet (let's not forget that recently IBM's "Watson" computer beat two champions at Jeopardy), the dawn of "AI Writers" may very well be upon us. Very soon "HAL2016" may be able to generate a B+ paper for next year's freshman . . . (and, personally, I'm looking forward to the first Baptist sermon written by a robot)

Note about peer-review journals

Apr 16, 2015

Guest essay by John R. Himes--An Alumni Reflects on the Closing of Tennessee Temple University

I have asked my father, John R. Himes, to post some thoughts on the recent closing of Tennessee Temple University, his college alma mater. At one point TTU boasted an enrollment in the thousands and was a premiere Baptist school. As of a few years ago, it was down to a few hundred, and now it has completely closed its doors, sending its students to Piedmont International University (click here for the news story). Why the drastic change? My father shares his thoughts.

The Demise of Tennessee Temple: A Cautionary Tale of a College

By John R. Himes

In 1976 when I graduated with my BA in Bible, Tennessee Temple College was a wonderful bastion of revival, soul-winning and fundamentalism. Sure, it had its problems. I’ve wondered many times why I did not have to take a course in Baptist history or polity, since it was ostensibly a Baptist school. But overall it was a very exciting place to be spiritually. At its peak, it had an enrollment of 4 or 5 thousand.

The governing church, Highland Park Baptist (HPBC), was large (at one point one of the largest churches in the U.S.) and promoted revival. Its pastor and the president of the school was Dr. Lee Roberson, a man unparalleled in his devotion to holy living and revival. We heard famous sermons such as “Prayer, Asking and Receiving” by John R. Rice, and “Payday Someday” by R. G. Lee, and saw revival with hundreds of students and others crowding the aisles.

Temple also had a wonderful emphasis on world evangelism. There was a missionary conference every Fall, sometimes attended by over 200 missionaries. It was through a missionary from Japan at this conference that God called me to be a missionary. HPBC then supported our ministry for 33 years in Japan, for which I thank God. However, it was through this connection that I eventually began to see a slide in the Christianity of the school and church.

After Dr. Roberson had retired and been replaced by *------* after a short time with another interim pastor, we visited the church on furlough. I thought *------* to be a great preacher, but a strange choice for the job since he was from the GARBC orbit rather than the Southwide Baptist Fellowship crowd with which many Temple graduates fellowshipped. Furthermore, many thought he was a poor administrator, and this turned out to be arguably so.

To me as a missionary the moment that defined the future for Highland Park Baptist Church came when a young missionary from South America showed his furlough slides in a training union and said, “We practice direct evangelism and do not advocate lifestyle evangelism.” Afterwards *-----* rose and excoriated the young missionary for this statement, saying, “All the evangelism we do at Highland Park is lifestyle evangelism.” This not only was rude and dismissive toward the young missionary, but inaccurate, since at that time HPBC was using a robot program to “cold call” people’s homes and deliver a taped salvation message! This event caused me to avoid presenting my furlough report at HPBC for many years after that.

In addition, Tennessee Temple’s treatment of alumni was somewhat cold. It seemed to me that they rarely ever reached out to alumni except to ask for money; twice they offered an alumni directory for sale for $100 (this is in stark contrast to the school I received my MA from, which always keeps me up-to-date and provides a much easier way to keep in contact with other alumni).

As time went on, Tennessee Temple drifted further and further from its alumni, who were largely independent Baptists. One furlough some years ago two friends and I visited the campus and entered the gymnasium where we had spent many happy hours working out. After we exited we were approached by a man who wondered what we were doing there, identifying himself as the new athletic director. When we said we were alumni, and two of us were independent Baptist preachers, he said, “I’m not sure what an independent Baptist is. Please explain it to me.”

That encounter typifies to me the primary reason for the demise of Tennessee Temple. Not too long after that it was announced that the college and church were joining a different ecclesiastical orientation (though still Baptist). Thus, the college left its roots. This process may not cause the demise of a college if it occurs over many years, as witness the fate of a school like Princeton which started out as a conservative Presbyterian school. However, in the case of Tennessee Temple, the process of departing from the positions of the alumni and supporters began shortly after the retirement of its founder, Dr. Lee Roberson.

From the point when the board unwisely hired a man from outside of the base of support of the school, the demise of the school was only a question of time. The final letter to the alumni announcing the news of the “merger” with another school (after said news had been published in the Chattanooga newspaper) sadly noted that in trying to save the school 17,000 brochures and letters were sent to alumni. Less than one percent of the alumni responded.

Apr 2, 2015

A Slightly Expanded Exegetical Discussion on why I Believe Babies go to Heaven

Generally I stay away from controversial theological topics (my desire is for this site to be a resource), but I felt I'd expand a bit on Dr. Danny Akin's brief discussion of why he believes babies go to heaven (click here; and thanks to my Doctorvater David Alan Black for mentioning this on his blog); I'm aware of counter-arguments to some of Dr. Akin's thoughts, so I want to expand a bit more on a few of his statements and mention a couple other relevant verses. (Dr. Akin is a theologian and scholar, president of my Alma mater Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and an excellent preacher)

This is, of course, a highly charged discussion at times, and also one that is not explicitly discussed in Scripture. Theologically, the debate can go either way: the inherent goodness and mercy of God, on the one hand, and the total depravity (however defined) and sin nature of all human beings from the moment they are conceived on the other hand. Furthermore, I cannot discern any theological positions that automatically fall on either side of the debate; both Calvinists and Arminians, for example, could take either position (one could argue, though, that the belief in regeneration prior to faith [which I do not hold to] might make this position a bit easier to defend).

Nonetheless, while Scripture does not directly discuss the topic, there are a few textual hints that seem to imply a certain "age of innocence" where a child may not be held accountable for their sin nature, or rather is held accountable but receives the mercy of God. First of all, we have such general statements as that in Isaiah 7:16, a particular prophecy will occur "before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good" (KJV; NET has something similar, "before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right"). All this proves, of course, is that at a certain stage, a "child"  is clearly distinct from an adult in his or her ability to make moral choices. Nevertheless, keep that distinction in mind as we look at some other verses, and this will play a key roll in our discussion of Revelation 20:11-15. (The Hebrew word for "child" here is na-ar, which seems to be a fairly broad word applicable to various ages, but context seems to indicate a very young age).

For me, 1 Kings 14:13 is also significant. As God curses Jeroboam's line for their wickedness, he declares through the prophet that of all his line, only this little child will be properly buried (Hebrew yalad, much more frequently referring to newborns and young babies; see, for example Genesis 21:8, Exodus 1:17, 2 Samuel 12:21-22; however, Genesis 4:23 may be a counter example, unless Lamech was bragging about killing a child!). Why, then, would this young child (perhaps still a baby) be given a peaceful  and proper burial in contrast to the rest of Jeroboam's line? Because "he is the only one in whom the Lord God of Israel found anything good" (NET; the KJV has "because in him there is found some good thing toward the LORD God of Israel"). Since this is a yalad, it is doubtful that the child or baby has had time to manifest a godly character (though a counter-example might be Samuel). What, then, is the "good" that God has seen in him? Context would seem to indicate the lack of wickedness that characterized the rest of Jeroboam's family, i.e., a sort of innocence. None of this denies the fact of Adam's sin imputed to our DNA (or whatever; I'm a Biblical studies guy, not a theologian, so pardon the inexact language). Rather, this may simply indicate that at a certain level the child was considered innocent. Once again, by itself this does not prove that babies go to heaven, but it's evidence that needs to be taken into consideration.

The most cited passage, of course, is 2 Samuel 12:15-23 where David quits weeping when the child dies and declares to his surprised servants that "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (KJV; the NET has "I will go to him, but he cannot return to me"). Now, granted that David is not necessarily divinely inspired in what he says (in the way that the narrator is), and granted that David is probably referring to the afterlife in general, not necessarily a New Testament concept of "heaven" per se (this is a common counter-argument). Having said that, I see no other way to read the expression other than that David believed he actually would be in the presence of his child someday. The contrast "going to him" vs. "coming to me" seems to indicate this is not simply David saying "just like him  I'm going to die"; furthermore, the total loss of his child (with no hope of seeing him again) would certainly not have given David reason to stop weeping or begin to comfort his wife (and Dr. Akin makes this point in the link above). Regardless of David's own knowledge of the afterlife compared to our own, at the least he obviously did not consider his infant to be suffering in hell. 

In the New Testament, two passages are significant (both of them discussed by Dr. Akin). In Luke 18:15-17, Jesus says that "of such is the kingdom of heaven" (KJV; the NET has "the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these") in regards to little children (or, perhaps, babies or infants, though the parallel passage in Matthew 19:14 uses the broader paideia). Those who have toddlers in the house, of course, may be making an incredulous face right now, but nevertheless Jesus saw something distinct in children and/or babies--a "child-like faith." The counter-argument is that Jesus may not actually be saying "babies enter into the Kingdom of Heaven," but rather "those who have trust/faith like babies/children enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (see verse 17). [note: I will take "Kingdom of Heaven" to broadly refer to the sphere of those who belong to God, including the temporary state in heaven and the eternal state of the New Jerusalem and New Earth] Yet consider the nature of the statement; would Jesus' declaration ring true if, in fact, children/babies did not go to heaven but rather were suffering in hell? This would be akin to saying "You have to be as famous as a football player to get into that club" when, in fact, football players are categorically not allowed to enter a particular club. Would it make sense to say "You have to be like a little child to enter into the Kingdom" when all those who die as a little child cannot possibly enter into the Kingdom? [I am loosely referring to those at too young an age to understand or accept the Gospel; I think the same line of thought might apply to those mentally unable to grasp the Gospel, i.e., mental toddlers, no matter what the age, but that's a discussion for another time] In other words, the effectiveness of Jesus' statement seems to presume that those who die as infants or little children do indeed populate the Kingdom of Heaven.

Finally (and I credit Dr. Akin for bringing this passage up, because I hadn't really thought of it), Revelation 20:11-15 indicates that the basis of eternal torment in the Lake of Fire is the evil works one has done, not the acquisition of a sin nature per se. Since infants, at least, cannot "choose the good or the evil" (remember, we saw that all the way back in Isaiah 7), consequently infants are not included in this group. In other words, here's my logic: 1. Isaiah 7:16 indicates that there is an age before which one can make moral choices; 2. Revelation 20:11-15 indicates that sinners are judges on the basis of their moral choices; 3. Consequently, infants are not included in the judgment of Revelation 20:11-5.

I trust this has been a helpful expansion of Dr. Akin's arguments that takes into account potential counter-arguments. In the end, those of us who are able to "choose the good and refuse the evil" must nevertheless trust in the saving power of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ to save us from our sins; no other hope for salvation exists. For those who have died before they could "choose the good and refuse the evil," I also trust that Jesus' precious blood, through the grace of God, has washed away their old nature and regenerated them. To paraphrase Charles Spurgeon's quote (which Dr. Akin gives in his paper), "Mother and father, if you have a baby who has died, and yet you yourself have not repented and accepted Christ as your Savior, how horrible it would for your child to be enjoying the benefits of eternal fellowship with God Almighty and His Son, Jesus Christ, while you yourself suffer justly for your sins? Repent, and turn to the Resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, trust in Him alone for your salvation, the One who died on the cross for your sins and my sins yet rose again on the 3rd day by the power of God--'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved' (Acts 16:31)."

Dear reader, if you wish to post a comment, whether in agreement or disagreement, please keep it relevant and courteous.

Mar 5, 2015

Some thoughts on prayer from 1 Peter

Generally I prefer to stick to discussing "academic resources" and what not, but who says academic studies can't be practical and spiritual? I recently had the privilege of preaching from 1 Peter 4:7-11 in BCM chapel, as well as teaching a 7-week course at 5pm every Sunday on 1 Peter to many church folk. One major item has stuck out to me in my recent studies: attitude impacts your prayer life!

Consider two passages. In 1 Peter 3:7, when discussing the husband's relationship to his wife, Peter exhorts men to respect/honor their wive's feminine-ness [the word there is not the normal word for "wife"], etc., lest their prayer lives be hindered. Yet the word "hinder" (both KJV and NET) is too wimpy, in my opinion, to accurately render the Greek. The word ekkoptw only occurs three times elsewhere in the NT, Matthew 5:30, Matthew 18:8, and 2 Corinthians 11:12--you can look those passages up and judge for yourself why I think "hinder" is too weak, lacking other semantic data! Thus, men, if you fail to honor/respect your wife, your prayer life will potentially be cut off! 

Secondly, take a look at 1 Peter 4:7. We are to be "self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of prayer" (NET--I agree with the NET here when it translates the preposition eis as "for the sake of"). In other words, proper mental attitude (or, perhaps, lifestyle in general?) seems to have a direct effect on prayer. Thus Wayne Grudem, in his Tyndale commentary, aptly states, "Christians who realize the end of the age could happen at any time should act in a certain way: therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers" [with the idea that this is "to assist your prayers"] (Grudem, p. 173).

In other words, attitude and/or action matters when it comes to your prayers, attitude regarding both the world around you and other people (especially one's wife!).

Feb 19, 2015

Hermeneutics: The Two Great Dangers, The Law of Hermeneutical Authority, and Resources for the Student and Teacher

Of all the classes I've had the privilege of teaching, I am by far the most passionate about Hermeneutics (which, I'm happy to report, is required for all college students here at BCM, both guys and gals, as is Greek). I strongly hold to the presupposition that we can understand God's Word as it was meant to be understood, but that on the other hand it will usually take some work. Thus a little child can understand John 3:16 in any modern translation and trust Christ, while a myriad of scholars will write a cornucopia of academic articles on what in the world "Saved Through Childbearing" means (1 Tim 2:15; and even the Apostle Peter admitted that the Apostle Paul could be difficult to understand--2 Peter 3:16).

The ultimate goal of Hermeneutics is to understand the Word of God. Yet in the process, two great dangers (even sins, if we're not careful) loom in front of us. On the one hand, we must avoid at all costs the devil's trap of asking "Has God really said  . .?" if, indeed, God has clearly spoken (Genesis 3:1). Yet the other side of the coin is that we must absolutely avoid saying "Thus saith the Lord" if God has not spoken! In other words, the danger of Ezekiel 22:28 is just as serious as Genesis 3:1. To claim to speak God's Word on a topic while distorting the actual meaning can be just as serious as outright ignoring what God has said.

If God's Word truly is sacred yet occasionally difficult, we can expect various levels of disagreements on the adiaphora, the non-essentials. Nevertheless, no excuse exists for misinterpreting God's Word through lack of study or exalting one's own opinions over the plain sense of Scripture. The ultimate example of hermeneutical incompetence, and one that I show to my students, is the popular YouTube clip arguing from the alleged Aramaic behind Luke 10:18 that President Obama is the Antichrist (no, I am not making that up).

Bad hermeneutics, though, can have more serious consequences than just another round of "let's name the Antichrist or date the rapture." Second Timothy 2:15-18 seems to imply that a failure to "rightly divide" God's Word leads to the errors of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who began to teach seriously wrong theology. Consequently, I am stressing to my students something I call the "Law of Hermeneutical Authority"—namely "The authority of your claim that 'Thus says the Lord' is diminished in direct proportion to your mishandling of the meaning or application of a passage of Scripture." In other words, dear students of Scripture (and I speak to myself here as well), you cannot make dogmatic claims on meaning or application if you are manhandling the Word of God to suit your needs or opinions. God's Word is authoritative when it is properly understood. Quoting Scripture is cheap; anybody can do that (as does the devil himself, as well as his human minions). The question is: are we understanding this particular passage in Scripture as it was meant to be understood? If not, there goes any claim to authority on that passage. (At this point I will briefly stress the difference between "meaning" and "significance"--the former will always stay the same, while the latter may change to a certain degree from person to person, and sometimes as the Spirit leads, but it will always be grounded on the former).

This does not mean that anybody is perfect! All of us, at some (or many) points in our lives, will definitely mess up in our interpretation. Jesus Christ remains the only infallible interpreter of the Word (after all, he is the Word). Nevertheless, we must cultivate an attitude of respect towards the Bible, coupled with a determination to study matters out.

With that in mind, I'd like to share with my readers some of the resources that have been a great help to me in teaching this class.

First of all, our main textbook is Grasping God's Word, by Duvall and Hays (3rd ed.; Zondervan, 2012). This book is easily-readable, meant for college students--not technical, yet solid and very practical. Unlike the majority of textbooks out there, it actually has an entire chapter on the Holy Spirit! (Definitely a point in its favor). Furthermore, this book truly resonated with a lot of what I personally wanted to stress in class. I do disagree with much of chapter 1 (being a Byzantine-text guy, among other things), but this could not even come close to deterring me from requiring this excellent book for my students.

I am also requiring my students to read all of the fantastic Scripture Twisting by James Sire. This book does a very competent job of exposing the hermeneutical fallacies of cults and extreme fringe groups; the discussion on "Worldview Confusion" is especially helpful.

For my own personal study, I made it a point to purchase both Cracking Old Testament Codes (eds. Sandy and Giese) and A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (eds. Ryken and Longman) since we will be covering a lot of material on genre in the class (as well as backgrounds, language, theology, etc.)

One book that has surprisingly challenged me in an "outside-of-the-box" kind of way is Peter J. Leithart's Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture. If you, dear reader, feel that you have a basic grasp of hermeneutics, and you already own Grasping God's Word or something similar, then go ahead and buy Leithart's Deep Exegesis—it will make you think!

Some other useful sources: Grant Osborne's The Hermeneutical Spiral is considered a classic for seminary-level work.  For those of a more dispensational persuasion, Roy B. Zuck's Basic Bible Interpretation is very helpful (and was the textbook of choice with the previous teacher of BCM's hermeneutics class), while Graeme Goldsworthy's Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics is a bit more of a reformed persuasion, though both Zuck and Goldsworthy would be worthy additions to your library and have their own strengths. Also, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, is a useful book; for advanced studies, I must needs put a plug in for Invitation to Biblical Interpretation by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson.

Though most of the students will probably have taken Greek by the time they get to class (but very few will have had Hebrew, which I also teach at BCM), I will be showing them how to do very simple word studies via Strong's numbers (while stressing that meaning is derived from both context and semantic range, not either in isolation). For backgrounds, I am pointing them to the various excellent sources out there, including Second Temple literature and other primary sources (for secondary sources, I am especially fond of The New Testament in Antiquity by Cohick, Green, and Burge, and Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson).

Naturally, NT use of the OT, a sub-division of hermeneutics, has a whole host of books that you should be aware of; nevertheless, that is another post for another time.

Ideally, a knowledge of Hermeneutics should go hand-in-hand with competency in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Nonetheless, hermeneutics is the foundational class; it will not matter how well you know the original languages if you fail to treat Scripture and its original authors (both divine and human) with the respect and reverence they deserves. Hermeneutics does not give you all the answers, but it does teach you which questions to ask!

Feb 5, 2015

For those thinking they might be interested in a doctorate . . .

The internet abounds in advice for prospective doctoral students in Biblical studies, and some books are bouncing around out there as well (see, for example, the fine work by Nijay Gupta, Prepare, Succeed, Advance). Nevertheless, a couple of conversations I've had with students lately have convinced me to add my own two cents to the mix (keep in mind, dear reader, every experience is different, and my perspective is necessarily colored by my educational background!).

Background--I am very fortunate and blessed. I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and Theological German totally humbled me, but nevertheless I graduated with a Ph.D. in New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary under scholar David Alan Black, had my dissertation published by Wipf&Stock, and today am teaching some bright young kids [can I call them that? Sounds weird, I'm only 34] at a Bible college.

Before we get started, please understand that a Ph.D. (at least in the States) is, minimum, a 3-year degree, but more likely a 4-5 year degree. I took 5 years for mine: 2-3 for the classwork, over half a year for comps and prospectus, and roughly 2 and a half for actually researching and writing my dissertation--I was slowed down a bit by deciding to re-write my prospectus, but that actually worked out for the better.

First of all, pray and seek the Lord's will--I happen to hold to the audacious idea that the Lord actually cares what we do with our life, and that he will lead and direct us. At the very least, we should avoid boasting "Tomorrow I will go to such-and-such a school, write a killer dissertation that rocks the scholarly world, and gain many accolades!" Such an attitude is simply asking for trouble (James 4:13-17). For myself, I began seriously praying about the Lord's will in a teaching career somewhere around my junior year in college. From there on out, the Lord providentially directed me down the right path, for which I am grateful.

Secondly, give heed to your grades. For most of us, our grades probably get better as we go along (studying the subjects we wish to study!). It should go without saying, however, that if you are only getting consistent B's in an MA or M.Div., you need to seriously buckle down and work harder. A "B" is frowned on in doctoral studies (though not unforgivable). At Southeastern, a "C"would result in a meeting, and a second "C" resulted in an automatic dismissal, as I recall. So if you're struggling with getting top-notch grades in either college or grad school (especially the latter), I have just one question for you: "If the footman tire you, what of the horseman?"

Thirdly, schools matter (but not as much as you might think): I went to a small independent Baptist college, then a very small (but accredited) independent Baptist seminary, and by the Lord's grace was able to study under some of the top New Testament scholars at one of the largest Protestant seminaries in America for a Ph.D. Now, I teach at a small independent Baptist Bible college that is not accredited; nevertheless, I work with some bright young souls who love Jesus and for whom a doctorate might open up special avenues of ministry. On the one hand, accreditation matters (I was asked point-blank about my school's accreditation when applying at Southeastern), yet nevertheless it is not the ultimate decision-maker. A good friend of mine is research assistant to a top NT scholar, yet only had TRACS accreditation [which is usually not too highly regarded], though he did have a Th.M. (which helped). One of my old profs did not have an accredited degree, but was accepted to Trinity's doctoral program on the second attempt after putting together a killer application which included, if I remember correctly, a state senator for a reference! (he defended successfully and has taught for 20+ years).

Having said that, to get into a top-tier school such as Duke or Princeton, you will need more than a degree from "Bubba Himes' Backyard Seminary and Garage Sale," no matter how good your referents! In some cases, you might have to be willing to take an extra MA from your target institution just to qualify. A lot of it will depend on denominational affiliation and contacts. Once again, if the Lord desires you to get a Ph.D., he will direct.

If you feel that your M.A. or M.Div. will not be adequate to get you into a good doctoral program (i.e., something other than "Bubba Himes' "Pay-me-by-credit-card-online-and-write-on-a-bunch-of-stuff then-print-out-your-degree" seminary), then consider pursuing a thesis-based Th.M. from a different school to increase the chances of being accepted. This will introduce you to higher-level research while significantly beefing up your application. A Th.M., from what I understand, will probably take 2 years though is doable in less (a year for classwork and a year for writing).

Fourthly, be well read. You should not be considering pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament if you don't know anything about the Verbal Aspect Theory debate. If the Gospels are your passion, make sure you know who B. H. Streeter and J. Griesbach are. Don't expect to study theology at the highest level if you've never cracked open Karl Barth. As a side-note, you should be pouring in a lot of energy into the original languages (at least for Biblical studies majors)--my entrance exam for Southeastern involved sight-translating a passage in Greek and parsing every verb, with no helps at all.

Fifthly, study the schools, and be familiar with the major movers and shakers within each school. Before stepping foot on Southeastern, I had read material by Black, Robinson, and Andreas Kostenberger (and after I got there I was influenced by the other scholars). Do not even think about applying to Duke unless you know who Richard Hayes is (and have read some of his material). If you wish to study New Testament or Greek at Dallas, be thoroughly familiar with the work of both Daniel Wallace and Darrell Bock (among others). Know the strengths of each school--for many, Westminster Theological Seminary is the school of choice for apologetics. Trinity and Wheaton are probably well-balanced in all areas. I felt Southeastern had fantastic opportunities in New Testament (Greek, Biblical Theology, and Textual Criticism), which is why I applied there. If you wish to study Dispensational Theology, then Dallas is probably your best choice. You should also be considering European schools and their strengths (though with a somewhat different model of study--others, including my Doktorvater--blog about this, and they know more than I do)

However, with that in mind, please know that it's the scholar, not the school. At the doctoral level, you must decide who you wish to study under and why! For me, my targets were always either Dr. David Alan Black or Dr. Maurice Robinson. I was privileged to work under both of them: I had Dr. Black as my Doktorvater, and I worked as grader and occasional substitute teacher for Dr. Robinson. Nevertheless, ultimately I was applying to study under a person, first and foremost (though the sad irony is that I never actually got to take a class under Dr. Black, other than official mentorship; nevertheless, what I got was better than a class).

One more small point--have a solid financial plan! I didn't, and it hurt me in the long run (though--news flash!--the Lord always provides and keeps me from starving!)

For those with more questions, feel free to e-mail me, and I'll try to assist from my limited perspective. Hopefully, in the future I'll post on actually surviving the doctoral program itself.

Jan 16, 2015

Some Resources for Studying and Teaching the Pastoral Epistles (and Some Odds and Ends)

How many professors can claim that they co-taught a class with their father? Yet this is exactly what I had the privilege of doing in December. In our 4th block (a two-week block), my father, retired missionary John Rice Himes, and I taught an upper-level college class on the Pastoral Epistles. Below are some excellent resources for studying this trio of books.

But first, some odds and ends! These past few weeks I have been working through two very unique and fascinating books. First of all, Markus Barth and Verne H. Fletcher, a long time ago and in a different era, wrote an under-recognized and sadly neglected monograph called Acquittal by Resurrection: Freedom, Law, and Justice in the Light of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964). The book focuses on, among other things, the primacy of Christ's resurrection within the doctrine of justification (both Christ's and ours). The authors try to make their thesis apply to modern ethics, as well (though the discussion of capital punishment is, I believe, more convincing when applied directly to believers rather than society as a whole). Furthermore, the first chapter or so interacts with various modernistic views of the resurrection and does an excellent job of dismantling them (with plenty of quotable material).

Secondly, in two weeks I will begin to teach Hermeneutics, a class about which I am wildly excited (like a kid in a chocolate factory, I've been telling folks!) My textbooks are Grasping God's Word by Duvall and Hays, together with Scripture Twisting by James Sire. However, in preparation for this class, I've been reading and been greatly challenged by Peter Leithart's Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2009). A couple comments. First of all, Leithart is a very good writer. Not many writers can make reading theological and biblical studies a pleasure, but Leithart does that. Secondly, Deep Exegesis is provocative: it's making me think outside my comfort zone! His treatment of Matthew's "Out of Egypt I have called my Son" citation has really made me stop and ponder. Finally, I really think Leithart takes a few good points and then overextends them. In particular, I think he needs to better nuance "meaning vs. significance" (though it is in the discussion of post-event significance that this book really gets interesting), as well as offer at least some-safe guards regarding personal interpretation. Having said that, I am very, very grateful that I got this book before I started teaching, since it's turning out to be extremely interesting and thought-provoking.

Anyways, on to the Pastorals! My own contribution to Pastorals scholarship is just one article on the imperatives in the Pastorals (Filologia Neotestamentaria vol. 23, 2010). However, I did have the privilege of taking the class at the doctoral level with Dr. Benjamin Merkle, who has published quite a bit on the topic (I especially recommend his article in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 121, "Are the Qualifications for Elders or Overseers Negotiable?") By the way, check out my friend Chuck Bumgardner's blog at this link Chuck is currently doing doctoral work on the pastorals under the mentorship of Dr. Andreas Köstenberger, and he quite often posts helpful material on the PE).

First off, our textbook for these college students was the very accessible Tyndale New Testament commentary by Donald Guthrie. It's a bit dated, but is still an excellent blend of accessible scholarship and theological discussiion, thus suited for Bible college students. I would recommend it to any Christians who do not have a theological degree yet are interested in studying these three books.

In addition, I highly recommended the following three commentaries to my students (these are, in my opinion, the "big three" of evangelical commentaries): William Mounce's Word Biblical Commentary (WBC); George W. Knight III's New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC); and Philip H. Towner's New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT). A close fourth (though possibly more influential) is I. Howard Marshall's International Critical Commentary (ICC). I would also mention Dr. Andreas Köstenberger's commentary in the revised Expositor's Bible Commentary.

As far as articles and monographs, in addition to Dr. Merkle's article mentioned above, I would first and foremost recommend the excellent article by John K. Goodrich, "Overseers as Stewards and the Qualifications for Leadership in the Pastoral Epistles." Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 104 (2013): 77-97. Basically Dr. Goodrich reads the lists of pastoral virtues in light of the role of the overseer in ancient Greco-Roman society. I really think he's onto something here, and I required all of the students to read and discuss it. In addition, I would draw your attention to Andrew B. Spurgeon, "1 Timothy 2:13-15: Paul's Retelling of Genesis 2:4-4:1" in JETS 56 (2013). I know, I know, "not another article on saved-through-childbearing?! When will it ever end!" Nevertheless, this one almost has me convinced. Spurgeon draws heavily from the interrelation of Adam, Eve, and God in Genesis 2 to conclude that "saved through childbearing" actually refers to the reconciliation of Adam and Eve through God's graciousness (i.e., it answers the question--why would a woman ever want to have children after the curse?) I can't do it justice in a short blog post, but it's worth reading (for me, 1 Timothy 2:15 remains "the toughest verse ever," which is why I intend to include it on next semester's Hermeneutics final exam, bwahahahahah!!).

A couple books worth mentioning, very quickly. Entrusted with the Gospel: Paul's Theology in the Pastoral Epistles, eds. by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Terry L. Wilder has a host of helpful articles by various authors. In addition, Ray Van Neste, Cohesion and Structure in the Pastoral Epistles (JSNTSup 280; London: T&T Clark, 2004) has become very influential among evangelical scholars. Finally, I would also mention George W. Knight's The Faithful Sayings in the Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker 1979), an older but very significant monograph.

Dec 18, 2014

Resources for Studying and Teaching the Epistle to the Hebrews

Updated 1/13/15, some corrections made
During my doctoral studies, I had the privilege of taking the Epistle to the Hebrews with George Guthrie from Union University (Jackson, Tennessee). How I have the fantastic experience of going through a directed study with one of the seminary students here at BCM. So, what am I requiring him to read and what should you, dear reader, give heed to for serious study of this great epistle written by Apollos . . . I mean "nobody knows," though my good Doktorvater can make a persuasive argument for Pauline authorship--yes, there is still a remnant! :)

Anyways, at this point in time, it seems the near unanimous consensus of conservative scholars is that Peter O'Brian's Pillar NT commentary on Hebrews is currently the cat's meow, i.e. the best! And so far I've been fairly impressed--so if you have limited funds and can only afford one commentary, this may be your best bet.

However, I'm also partial to my teacher, Dr. Guthrie's own NIV Application Commentary (don't let the series title irk you; this is one of the rare commentary series that actually cares about the spiritual well-being of the reader/student). In addition, F. F. Bruce in the NICNT is considered a classic. Also worth mentioning is Donald Guthrie in the always-accessible Tyndale series. Another notable within conservative scholarship would be David Allen in the NAC series (though I can't speak for this particular commentary, I have a very high open of the NAC series in general--however, one colleague at BCM told me that he felt Allen's discussion of possible Lukan authorship was very persuasive).

For more rigorous study, the three top critical/technical commentaries are (in my opinion): William Lane (WBC), Harold Attridge (Hermeneia), and, for the truly adventurous, Ceslas Spicq's two-volume French commentary.

By the way, I'm requiring my student to read all of O'Brian's, as well as some of Lane's and George Guthrie's commentaries, In addition, my student was asked to do a book review on one of these three worthy monographs: George Guthrie on The Structure of Hebrews: A Text-Linguistic Analysis, L. D. Hurst, The Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Background and Thought, or David Allan's Lukan Authorship of Hebrews. (He chose Allan on Lukan Authorship; looking forward to seeing what he has to write).

Here are some other worthy monographs: David Alan Black, The Authorship of Hebrews [if you want to read a defense of Pauline authorship, you'll have to read either my Doktorvater or Eta Linnemann; but there is still a remnant!]; Albert Vanhoye, La Structure Littéraire de L'épître aux Hébreaux [note: this is an extremely influential text!]; and David DeSilva's The Letter to the Hebrews in Social-Scientific Perspective, which I am currently reading. A book that I would like to get some day is Amy L. B. Peeler's You Are My Son: The Family of God in the Epistle to the Hebrews (currently 100 dollars on Amazon!)

As for articles (many of which are available for free online), I am having my student read the following: 
1. George H. Guthrie, "Hebrews in Its First-Century Contexts: Recent Research," pages 414-443 in The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research (ed. Scot McKnight and Grant R. Osborne; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004)--this essay gives you a good grasp of the history of scholarship in Hebrews. 
2. David Alan Black, "Literary Artistry in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Filologia Neotestamentaria 7 (1994) and David Alan Black, "The Problem of the Literary Structure of Hebrews: An Evaluation and a Proposal," Grace Theological Journal 7 (1986)
3. Harold W. Attridge, "'Let us Strive to Enter That Rest': The Logic of Hebrews 4:1-11," Harvard Theological Review 73 (Jan-April 1980) 
I felt those give my student a decent overview on the various issues involved in the study of the Epistle (and we have barely touched the warning passages yet! Speaking of which, you should be aware of the book Four Views on the Warning Passages of Hebrews, put out by Kregel and edited by Herbert Bateman IV).

This is barely scratching the surface of all the fantastic material out there on a fantastic epistle/homily! And, as a bonus, there's a brand new article coming out in the next JETS by Craig Allen Hill entitled "The Use of Perfection Language in Hebrews 5:14 and 6:1 and the Contextual Interpretation of 5:11-6:3." Looking forward to reading it.

Dec 4, 2014

The Original Languages: Primary Everywhere Except your Local Congregation (or: Some Odd Advice From a Biblical Languages Instructor)

I initially wanted to entitle this post "Take your Greek and Hebrew to Chapel, but not to Church," but that would not accurately reflect what I'm trying to say (I don't actually have a problem with anybody taking their Greek or Hebrew to church). Furthermore, let me just emphasize that Scripture in the original languages, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, is THE final authority, and no translation (no matter what language) has any right to equal authority (though naturally all translations have authority in the believer's life to the extent that they accurately reflect the meaning of the originals).

Furthermore, I have encouraged my Biblical Hebrew students to incorporate their Hebrew into their own personal daily study of Scripture (currently I'm trying to incorporate reading from Greek, Hebrew, English, and German Scriptures into my own study).

Here, however, is my point: the seminary student, within the local congregation, should be available to minister and serve alongside his or her brothers and sisters, and this is most easily done with a Bible in the same language as everybody else. You never know when you'll be called on for public reading of Scripture, or to council, etc. If you're in a Spanish-speaking church, and you can read Spanish, then bring a Spanish Bible and use it primarily. If you're in a South Korean church, bring a Korean Bible (to the extent that you can use it). If I were to visit Japan again, I would take my Japanese Bible and use it primarily anytime I was with Japanese believers. In other words, in that circumstance, the Japanese would trump the Greek and Hebrew, simply because I want to be a blessing to others. Naturally the Greek and Hebrew may be alongside, and I can refer to it as necessary, but I'll read from the Japanese.

We see this principle in the New Testament itself. When quoting the Scriptures, what did the Apostles and other divinely inspired authors use? The Septuagint, the version most likely available to the audience! Some exceptions exist (I'm convinced at one point Peter corrects the LXX to better reflect the Hebrew), but that's a story for another time.

Here's my point: when you are studying Scripture with others, in order to be a better blessing, be willing to read from the same language as them (and long-term missionaries--there is no excuse for not reading out of the Scriptures in the native language if you've been there a few years; may I just brag a bit on my doctoral adviser, mentioning that he's capable of reading Scripture out of what seems like a gajillion foreign languages, and his place of residence is still Virginia?).

Now, some people could translate on the fly, so I'm not necessarily talking to them; if you're called on to read Scripture publicly and it's not obvious that you have a different language in front of you, then this probably does not apply. This post is mostly directed as seminary students.

This is one of those bizarre posts that is less a resource for other Christians and more my own weird opinion. Just a thought, though; be willing to worship and read Scripture with other believers in their own language--take your Greek and Hebrew (they are the final authority for doctrine, after all), but don't be afraid to read along in the plain old English, Japanese, or Spanish!

Nov 20, 2014

Let's not swing the pendulum to far to the other side (or, why downplaying the individual component of the Gospel is a bad idea)

I will be the first to acknowledge, gladly, that the Gospel has an important communal/corporate component to it--we are saved into a new, holy nation (1 Peter 2:9), and we are not saved  for ourselves, but rather to glorify God in good works (Ephesians 2:10). Nevertheless, there has been some "blog-chatter" recently that is a bit critical of Gospel-talk that focuses on the individual. Now, granted, the expression "have a personal relationship with Jesus" is not a biblical expression per se, and reducing witness to a simple "receive your 'get-out-of-hell-free' card" would be a crime against the Gospel.

Having said that, first of all, the individual component of salvation permeates Scripture. For example, the expression "have a personal relationship with Jesus" may, when properly articulated, simply reflect the Biblical teaching about God knowing his children and us knowing [i.e., having a relationship with] him (e.g., Jeremiah 9:24; Nahum 1:7; 2 Timothy 2:19). Secondly, an individual's fear of judgment can indeed play a role in conversion--otherwise there would be significantly less warning of ultimate judgment in Scripture. So we see with the book of Jonah, assuming the conversion of Nineveh was genuine (and I see no reason to doubt the prima facie reading of the text, though the conversion of the city did not seem to have any long-term impact). In other words, "I'm afraid of God's righteous judgment and I want to have a relationship with Jesus" can very much play a role in conversion, though obviously the core understanding of the Gospel cannot be boiled down to that.

My point is this--there is both a personal and corporate component to the Gospel; you, individually, need to be "born again" [not a very "corporate" statement in John 3!], but this is not just about you! (Indeed, not even primarily about you) The Gospel results in joining a new "holy nation" and letting your light shine 
out  (together with a myriad of other lights) so all can see your good works and glorify God. Both the individual component and the corporate component are essential to our theology.

At the academic level of this discussion, let me recommend an excellent article by a friend of mine, Josh Chatraw, "Balancing Out (W)Right: Jesus' Theology of Individual and Corporate Repentance and Forgiveness in the Gospel of Luke," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 55 (June 2012): 299-322. [not yet available on-line]. N. T. Wright, of course, is one of the more well-known evangelical scholars, and has written a lot of fantastic material on the resurrection of Jesus (the one area where I would definitely recommend him, though he's always worth reading regardless of what he's writing on). Chatraw's basic point is simply that, while Wright has a healthy emphasis on "the corporate nature of repentance and forgiveness in the Gospels," nevertheless he has "swung the pendulum to far in the opposite direction with the effect of under emphasizing Jesus' teachings on individual repentance and forgiveness" (p. 300). 

I believe Chatraw's exegesis well supports his thesis, and I would suggest that this is a lesson to carry into the pulpit and the less-academic discussions as well. The Gospel has both an individual and corporate aspect--let's not neglect either!