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.

Jul 8, 2020

N. T. Wright: The Day the Revolution Began--a Mini-review and interaction

N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion (HarperCollins, 2016).

N. T. Wright is a noted theologian and Anglican bishop, one of the most prolific Christian writers of the 21st century, and key representative of the conservative wing of the "New Perspective on Paul." Wright's work is so significant, that there is an entire monograph (full of prominent Pauline scholars) that is devoted to critiquing his work (click here).

Now, just a heads up: what I tell my seminary students is that N. T. Wright is absolutely golden when dealing with the Resurrection and when skewering liberals, but not helpful when dealing with the doctrine of justification. Thus I have my "New Testament Introduction" students read Wright's essay "Five Gospels but No Gospel--Jesus and the Seminar" (published in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus), as well as his three articles on the resurrection in the Sewanee Theological Review, vol. 41 no. 2 (1998). However, to balance that out, I also have my students read Thomas Schreiner's response to N. T. Wright in his article "Justification: The Saving Righteousness of God in Christ" in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 54. no. 1 (March 2011) [for the record, I also have them read Michael Bird's article in the next issue, just because Bird is always a treat to read].

The Day the Revolution Began (TDRB) is a well-written book meant more for the "average Joe" or "average Josephine," so to speak, not the scholarly guild (Wright excels at writing theology that the average church-goer can understand). The purpose of TDRB is to reorient the reader towards the significance of Jesus' death on the cross, properly understood within the social-political-historical climate of 1st-century Palestine under Roman rule. In other words, Wright wishes us to rethink, to ponder anew, the scandal of Jesus' crucifixion, not diminishing it to a simple transaction for our sins (though he never denies that it was that, either; imo he downplays it, though).

The chapters are, I believe, a bit less structured than some of Wright's other books, but here's a quick, general summary.

Chapter 1 introduces the key question about the significance of the cross and "how it works" (with some references to classic hymnology). Chapter 2 discusses the theological theme of the cross within the theology of the Reformers and modern Western interpreters. Here in chapter 2, Wright also introduces his objection to the standard "all sinned, Jesus took our punishment, and we can go to heaven by believing in him" presentation of the Gospel (see esp. pages 38-40), and Wright also pushes against any presentation of the Gospel that seems to focus on the idea of an "angry, bullying God" (p. 44). Chapter 3 focuses on what, exactly, caused the cross to be a scandal in the 1st century setting (and is one of the more valuable chapters, in my opinion).

Part Two (chs. 4-7), "In Accordance with the Bible--The Stories of Israel" deals generally with Old Testament theology, especially the narrative of Israel, and how it's relevant for Jesus' crucifixion.

Part Three (chs. 8-13), "The Revolutionary Rescue" then develops Wright's theology of the cross, his focus on the kingdom, and a form of "New Exodus" theology (see pages 180-184, esp.) to describe what Jesus was doing. Here, as elsewhere in Wright's works, he focuses on the corporate: Jesus' deliverance of, and offer of salvation to, the world. 

Thus I believe the general theological thrust of Wright's message in TDRB is exemplified in a paragraph from page 387:
"One of the greatest achievements of the cross is routinely overlooked by modern Christians. We tend to think of the early mission to the wider non-Jewish world as simply a good piece of news to be shared as widely as possible: 'Jesus died so you can go to heaven--seize the chance while you can!' But even when we have revised that formulation to focus on new creation rather than 'heaven,' we are missing something deep that stands behind and underneath it. Because of the cross, the world as a whole is free to give allegiance to the God who made it." 

In keeping with that emphasis, he then states on page 391: "The gospel was--and is--the powerful announcement that the world has a new lord and the summons to give him believing allegiance. The reason the gospel carries this power is that it's true: on the cross Jesus really did defeat the powers that had held people captive. For the early Christians, the revolution had happened on the first Good Friday."

Part Four (chs. 14-15), "The Revolution Continues," then focuses on demonstrating how this theology of the cross is relevant for Christianity today.

Now, there are elements of this book that I can commend. Anytime Wright pushes back against the "go to heaven" aspect of our Gospel presentation, I offer a hearty "amen" (Newsflash!! Dear Christian, you will never, ever, see anywhere in Scripture the idea that "believing on Jesus" means we will "go to heaven for ever!" [and the closest we might come, John 14, "I go to prepare a place for you," is most likely a reference to the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven]. The eschatological hope of Christians is not "heaven" but rather the Resurrection and the New Heaven and the New Earth. Thus Wright does well to focus on the "Renewal of Creation" (e.g., pages 267-8)  In addition, although I would certainly disagree with much of what Wright has to say about Israel, I greatly appreciate [and cited positively in a recent BibSac article] his focus on Israel's "Covenant of Vocation."

A few critiques. I feel that, in his zealousness to offer a more corporate model of the cross, he caricatures those who focus on individual salvation (e.g. page 265 contains a caricature of the Romans Road). In addition, he swings the pendulum too far to the other side, downplaying individual salvation (this tendency of Wright vis-a-vis repentance has been well-critiqued by my former classmate Josh Chatraw in an article in JETS vol. 55.2--click here). Imo, Wright basically commits the "either-or fallacy" on page 234 when he states that "Galatians is not about 'salvation': . . . The central argument of Galatians has nothing to do with 'how to get saved.' . . . The letter is about unity." Since Galatians is dealing with precisely the sort of problem that was going on in Acts 15, which most definitely dealt with "how people are saved" ("is circumcision necessary?") as well as the unity of the Church (and also sanctification, what is "needful"), this is a major lapse on Wright's part. 

On a minor note, there are other places where I felt Wright creates something of a caricature and/or strawman of those he disagrees with, e.g. page 201.

Secondly, Wright downplays the (very important!) theme of God's wrath to the point where huge swaths of Scripture are rendered irrelevant. For example, a statement on page 147 encapsulates, in a nutshell, both my appreciation of and my frustration with Wright's work. He states,
"In much popular modern Christian thought we have made a three-layered mistake. We have Platonized our eschatology (substituting 'souls going to heaven' for the promised new creation) [I would "amen" that part!] and have therefore moralized our anthropology (substituting a qualifying examination of moral performance for the biblical notion of the human vocation), with the result that we have paganized our soteriology, our understanding of 'salvation' (substituting the idea of 'god killing Jesus to satisfy his wrath' for the genuinely biblical notion we are about to explore."
This immediately follows Wright's objection that "Some versions [of Christian portrayals of salvation] are closer to the pagan idea of an angry deity being pacified by a human death than they are to anything in either Israel's scriptures or the New Testament."

Now, the problem with this is that the wrath of God, and its need for satisfaction vis-a-vis justice and punishment of sin, appears all throughout Scripture, featured prominently in the story of Phinehas in Numbers 25 (see esp. v. 11--Phinehas actually turns aside God's wrath by killing the sinner!) and Romans 1:18, 24, etc. In my opinion, Wright downplays this to a dangerous degree (though to be fair he never denies it).

I would like, in conclusion to bring in a point made by Stephen Westerholm in his [so far] excellent Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013). When dealing with Krister Stendahl (of whom Sanders, Dunn, and Wright are all theological heirs to one degree or the other) and Stendahl's claim that "How am I to find a gracious God?" was not a question for which Paul sought the answer, Westerholm begins with Paul's Thessalonican correspondence and moves through the corpus, demonstrating conclusively that rescue from divine judgment (and wrath) was most definitely a concern of the average recipient of Paul's Gospel. Thus we see, for example, in 1Thess 1:10, that the Thessalonican believers' acceptance of Paul's proclamation necessarily involved the idea that Jesus Christ is the one rescuing us from the coming wrath. Consequently, Westerholm aptly states, "With or without an introspective conscience, anyone who takes seriously a warning of imminent divine judgment must deem it an urgent concern to find God merciful" (Kindle Loc approx. 120). Thus Westerholm offers a healthy corrective to Wright's work in multiple areas, pointing out that the Apostle Paul's presentation of the Gospel should naturally deal with a wrathful God and how to make peace with him (cf. also John 3:36; Rom 5:9; Eph 2:3; Eph 5:6; Col 3:6). This is not a minor theme in Scripture, but significant to our understanding of Christ's death.

In conclusion, then, TDRB is a well-written, provocative book with some good thoughts but a tendency to occasionally caricature and "throw out the [theological] baby with the bathwater."

Jun 17, 2020

Thomas Hudgins on Luke 6:40 and "Likeness Education"

I had the privilege of graduating alongside Thomas Hudgins at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2013. He lent me his tassel, since I had foolishly misplaced mine! At that point Thomas was graduating with a doctorate in education, but he would soon go on to pursue a PhD in textual criticism under Spanish scholar Jesus Pelaez at University of Cordoba (Thomas' dissertation is on the Complutensian Polyglot).

Thomas' D.Ed. dissertation was published a few years back as: Thomas W. Hudgins, Luke 6:40 and the Theme of Likeness Education in the New Testament (Eugene, OR: Wipf&Stock, 2014), and I'd like to give it a little plug (click here for the Amazon link).

The basic thrust of the book is to use Luke 6:40 as a springboard for discussing "Likeness Education" in the New Testament. Hudgins focuses especially on Luke 6:39-49, but also the general biblical theology of Luke and Acts, before focusing on other NT themes such as "Conduct in 1-2 Thessalonians," "Conduct, Imitation, and  παιδαγωγός in Galatians," etc. The material on pages 216-220 is especially helpful for summarizing some key points from Luke 6:40 and context.

Hudgins' purpose, however, is not primarily academic but rather pedagogical. He lays out his main concern on page 223--"The temptation in Christian circles is to associate the mental acquisition of content with successful instruction. Rote memorization is far from the holistic transformation that God intends for Christian believers. That is called intellectualism. God's plan since before the creation of the world is to make believers into the image of his Son (Rom 8:29)." Hudgins argues that true Christian education must be more than "teaching"; it must also involve "faithful modeling of Christ-like character" (223-224). Consequently, "When the faithful exposition of the word of God is matched by the faithful embodiment of Jesus's teachings and actions, believers will continue to grow into the likeness of God's Son (2 Pet 3:18)" (224). May Christian educators of all stripes heed these words!

Luke 6:40 and the Theme of Likeness Education in the New Testament

May 30, 2020

Some words of praise for Wayne Grudem's new book on God's will (a mini-review)

"Finding God's will" is a phrase that automatically evokes a reaction in many people, often fear or negativity. Furthermore, many in broader evangelicalism have (in my humble-but-opinionated opinion) bought in to the decidedly un-biblical view that God generally does not specifically direct people in such things as vocation, marriage, etc. (though to be fair, that view is, itself, reacting against another unhealthy view).

Enter Wayne Grudem's new book, What the Bible Says about How to Know God's Will (Crossway, 2020; Amazon link here). Grudem is a professor at Phoenix Seminary, widely-published in the realm of theology, though also with a rather decent commentary on 1 Peter in the Tyndale series (for the record, I defend Grudem's underappreciated position on what kata prognosin in 1Pet 1:2 modifies in my monograph Foreknowledge and Social Identity in 1 Peter; please forgive that slight rabbit-trail).

Grudem's book is rather short but accomplishes its goal of providing a solid overview on the variegated nature of decision-making (at one point he focuses on the "four dimensions of every action") and the acquisition of Wisdom for decision-making (he has a section on "Nine Sources of Information and Guidance"). Grudem also discusses "The Danger of Making This Process Too Complicated," a point neglected in many books! 

However, it is Grudem's appendix that I want to focus on, an excellent (though polite) response to Garry Friesen's influential book Decision Making and the Will of God. Friesen has downplayed "specific" divine guidance when it comes to the Christian's life (i.e., that we are to seek out God's specific will for us, personally, in specific areas). I had always been uncomfortable with this perspective since it seems to downplay the incredible amount of biblical texts, both Old and New, which stress direct, personal leading by God regarding individual Christians. Grudem stresses this point (the over-abundance of such biblical texts), but takes it one step further with a brilliant theological observation I had never thought of before. He writes,

"From beginning to end the Bible tells us of a God who relates individually and personally to his people. And now Friesen tells us, contrary to the experience of God's people throughout all of the Bible, that God no longer communicates personally and individually with any of his people except through the written words in the canon of Scripture. . . . This is quite strange in light of the fact that the new covenant in which we now live is seen to be better in every way (see 2 Corinthians 3; Hebrews 8-9)" [Kindle Loc approx. 702]

If I may expand on that: what's the big deal of having the indwelling Holy Spirit if we actually get less personal guidance from God than believers in the rest of the Bible?

Now, Friesen and others were reacting, in their day, to a very real issue: an over-emphasis on subjective experience in seeking God's will, along with the danger of being paralyzed with doubt and fear as to whether one has "guessed" right about God's will. However, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Grudem provides an excellent guide to (1.) understanding that God does guide each believer individually, if they ask, through a variety of ways, (2.) without leaving the believer in a morass of doubt and fear.

Grudem could have said a lot more on prayer in the role of seeking God's will. However, that and the fact that the book is slightly over-priced for its size (though $10 is hardly unreasonable) are my only critiques. This is an excellent book that I would recommend to any Christian, especially young college students.

Apr 24, 2020

"Did Jesus Quote the Apostles?" (Latest issue of Southeastern Theological Reivew)

The latest issue of the Southeastern Theological Review is out (the official journal of my doctoral alma mater, SEBTS!), and I am grateful that I have an article published in that issue:
Paul A. Himes, "Did Jesus Quote the Apostles? The Possible Intertextuality and Significance of Revelation 2:24," STR 11 no. 1 (Spr 2020): 31-52.
The journal is open-access, and can be read here.
Here is the abstract:

This article examines the significance of the phrase “no other burden” (οὐ . . . ἄλλο βάρος) in Rev 2:24, including its relationship to ὡς λέγουσιν shortly before it. A full analysis of these phrases has been mostly lacking in modern commentaries, which has not prevented many from taking dogmatic positions on whether or not Jesus might be alluding to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. This article defends the possibility that ὡς λέγουσιν is meant to point forward, thus making an allusion to Acts 15 highly probable. This article then explores the theological significance of such an allusion in light of the situation in Acts, and then closes by briefly discussing the practical significance of this thesis.

Key Words: Acts 15, Bible translation, intertextuality, Jerusalem Council, New Testament ethics, Revelation 2, Thyatira

Mar 18, 2020

The God of all comfort . . . so that we can comfort others! (2Cor 1)

"Clusters" fascinate me. A "cluster" in Scripture is when the inspired author, in the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, uses the same word, or a word and its cognates, multiple times within a limited space. For instance, in Romans 3:20-28 the Apostle Paul famously "clusters" dikai* (righteousness) language: the verb, noun, and adjective occur a total of 9 times within 9 verses, including, at one point, 3x in one verse (v. 26); similarly, the same thing happens in Rom 10:3-6 (the dikai* language occurs 6x). In other words, Paul intensifies the "righteousness" theme at these points in Romans.

Practically speaking a "cluster" indicates to us that something is weighing heavily on the author's mind, and he wants to let us know about it, even if it means almost "going overboard" by repeating the same or related words.

Second Corinthians 1:3b-4 gives us a very intense "cluster," one that is very important to keep in mind in the midst of the panic over COVID-19, the Coronavirus.

Here, the apostle Paul intensifies "comfort language." Utilizing the noun parakalēsis and the verb parakaleō, which in this context mean "comfort" and "to comfort," Paul declares that God is "the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (paraklēsis), the One who is comforting (parakaleō) us in the midst of all of our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort (parakaleō) others in every affliction, through the comfort (parakalēsis) by which we ourselves are comforted (parakaleō)."
[My translation, utilizing Stephanus' 1550 TR via Accordance software]

Now, in the Greek, beginning with the second half of verse 3 ("the Father of . . ."), that's a total of five "comfort" words within just a verse and a half! In other words, out of 34 words in Greek, five are either parakalēsis or parakaleō, accounting for 14.7% of the total word count.

There is a powerful theological and practical message here. Paul is intensifying a theological theme: 1. God is a father who comforts, 2. He comforts us in our distress, and 3. the purpose of that (eis + an infinitive) is so that we might comfort others with that same sort of comfort.

So, my fellow believer: are you prepared to channel the comfort of God the Father to others? Are you prepared to be an instrument of comfort to those that need your help? If you pray for that opportunity and embrace it, God will indeed allow you to be a comfort to others in the name of Jesus Christ.

Mar 10, 2020

Hebrew History: three fascinating facts I learned from Adrian Goldsworthy's biography Caesar

Bible teachers should constantly study history, especially that of the Ancient Near East. To fail to do so is to deny oneself an important tool of biblical interpretation. Since both God's written word and the Incarnate Word located themselves within specific times and places, ignorance of ANE history equals ignorance of the very context of God's Word.

Here at BCM, every Fall I have the privilege of teaching Hebrew History (from Abraham to AD 70 according to the syllabus, though I also feel the necessity of briefly lecturing on the Bar Kokhba Revolt), and the class has grown on me! Slowly but surely over the years I have been adding more information and different angles to how I tackle the subject (e.g., inspired by the work of Larry Hurtado, I now also discuss the uniqueness of early Christianity and Judaism in the midst of the Greco-Roman pantheon of religions).

Now, Adrian Goldsworthy (PhD, Oxford) is one of the foremost scholars and experts on the ancient Roman Empire, and an excellent writer (not quite on the level of David McCullough or Neil Bascomb, but more measured and thorough). I recently finished reading Caesar: Life of a Colossus, his excellent biography of Caius Julius Caesar. In addition to much improving my general knowledge of the rise of the Roman Empire, the book provided me with three key points that have assisted me in revising my Hebrew History notes:

1. Although I knew that Pompey had basically waltzed right into the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem (not a good omen of future Jewish-Roman relations!), I had assumed this was due to mere curiosity. Goldsworthy explains it better, situating this act within the ambition of Rome's commanders and politicians: ". . . the gesture, as was intended, provided a new tale to tell at Rome of the unprecedented deeds of Rome's great general" (p. 186).

2. I had no idea that Jewish forces actually fought for Julius Caesar against Pompey. When pinned down in Egypt, a relief force came to Caesar's aid, but "It was a force of allies rather than Romans, and included a contingent of 3,000 Jews contributed by the High Priest Hyrcanus II and led by Antipater, the father of Herod the Great, as well as various Syrians and Arabs. The involvement of Hyrcanus encouraged the Jewish population of Alexandria to become far more sympathetic to Caesar" (p. 539). In addition, "Hyrcanus the high priest and Antipater were both rewarded for their part in the Egyptian campaign" (p. 543).

I knew, of course, that during the early stages of the Roman Empire (before it was technically an empire) there were some strong pro-Roman sympathies among Jews--thus the highly ironic eighth chapter of First Maccabees (highly ironic in light of our knowledge of 1st century events!). Nonetheless, I did not know that:

3. There was a significant number of Jews in Rome who publicly expressed grief over Julius Caesar's death (p. 621).

In addition to these three points, I also benefited from a deeper understanding of the Roman army and politics, the Imperial Cult, and the rivalry between Caesar and Pompey, all of which touches on both Hebrew History and New Testament Introduction. I reiterate my opening point: Bible teachers should be history readers!

Hardcover Caesar : Life of a Colossus Book

Jan 25, 2020

Facilitating a class-wide "rolling review" of John Barclay's Paul and the Gift

Once every four years I have the incredible privilege of teaching "Reading and Syntax in Romans" here at Baptist Theological Seminary (Menomonee Falls, WI). Since the last time I have taught it, I was privileged to have an article published in Bibliotheca Sacra (on "Israel and Her Vocation" in Romans 11; see BibSac vol. 176.701, March 2019), and I have completed my own personal study of both the "righteousness of God" theme and the meaning of "out of faith-into faith" in Romans 1:17 (I highly recommend the articles by Charles Quarles and John Taylor in Novum Testamentum and New Testament Studies, respectively).

More importantly, since the last time I taught the class, a significant new book has been published, John M. G. Barclay's Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017). I remember how the blogosphere was abuzz when it first came out, and it has quickly solidified itself as one of the most significant books on Pauline theology in decades. I have been reading it (almost done) and have benefited greatly from it, even while not always agreeing with everything it says. The book is, essentially, a very helpful look at the various ideas of "grace/gift" in ancient Greco-Roman and Jewish society, and in what ways the Apostle Paul's epistles (specifically Galatians and Romans) reflect or differ from the ancient perspective, and how Paul incorporates the concept of the "Christ-gift" into his theology. Especially significant is how Barclay discusses the various "perfections" of the concept behind what constitutes a "gift" or "grace" (Greek Charis) and how these may differ among ancient authors.

Consequently, I have decided to incorporate this book into my Romans class; not as the textbook, of course (Douglas Moo's 2nd edition NICNT still retains its special place, though I was also very appreciative of Richard Longenecker's recent NIGTC on Romans). Rather, I will require my students to do a "rolling review" of the book in class.

Here's what I mean by a "rolling review." I will have two copies of Paul and the Gift floating amongst the students (my own copy and our library's copy). Each student (I have 9) is assigned a certain number of pages in the book, and a certain date on which to present on the pages they read and thus facilitate class discussion. Since obviously we do not have time for all the students to read the whole book, each student is required to produce a handout when they present, summarizing the portion of the book they read. This way each student can build off of the previous student's work as we seek to analyze and discuss Barclay's significant contribution to Paul's theology in Romans.

This is an experiment; I've never done a "rolling review" before in class (and I cut out the weekly quizzes from the syllabus to make room for this), but I'm excited about the possibilities!

Dec 11, 2019

Max and Moritz in Biblical Greek: A new, fun resource for Koine Greek students

I am pleased to announce the publication of a very unique resource for students of NT Greek (or Koine Greek in general): Max and Moritz in Biblical Greek, edited by Brent Niedergall and Joey McCollum, with Dave Massa and Steve Young contributing (Wilmore, KY: GlossaHouse; volume 3 in their Agros series for Greek pedagogy). As a testament to its quality, Greek scholar John A. L. Lee is thanked for providing "constructive feedback," and NT scholar William C. Varner and OT scholar Martin Rösel provide endorsements.

For those of you that don't know much of German culture, in the mid-1800s Wilhelm Busch wrote and illustrated Max and Moritz: Eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen, which tells the story (in verse!) of two total hooligans who play the worst sorts of pranks on people before "getting their just deserts," so to speak, in a rather gruesome death. This book has gone on to become a staple of German culture, frequently referenced.

So, anyways, Niedergall and co. have done us all a favor by re-writing this story using only New Testament and Septuagint Greek words. The book is a "reader's edition," providing definitions for any words that do not occur at least 50x in the Greek New Testament.

In other words, if you have finished first-year Greek, you can probably read this. 

The book includes the original illustrations, which add to the (admittedly dark) humor. This is probably not the sort of book you will read to your child as a bed-time story (in Greek, English, or German!), but the book serves its purpose: a fun little exercise whereby you can experience a cultural classic of German literature (well, sort of) in biblical Greek!

The book can be ordered on Amazon or the publisher's website: here and here.

Here is a sample of the prose, for your pleasure (from the prank where the two evil boys pour gunpowder into their teacher's pipe while he's away at church): 
Καὶ ἅμα ἀναβαίνει Μωρηδ
καὶ λαμβάνει τὸ κέρας τοῦ μίγματος τοῦ νίτρου. καὶ ὁ κακοποιῶν ἐπίχει
εἰς τὸ σκεῦος τοῦ καπνίζοντος.
τότε λέγει αὐτῷ Μωχα, Σιγάτω καὶ σπεῦδε
ὅτι ἤδη πέπαυται ἡ λειτουργία τῶν ἁγίων.

Nov 9, 2019

Studying Colossians part 2: Two Themes

I have the privilege of currently working on Sunday School material for my church, Falls Baptist Church, from the book of Colossians; I have personally benefited greatly from this study. In Part 1 I discussed key resources (I reiterate: David Pao's commentary is the overall best commentary). Now I will discuss two key themes that really stood out to me.

"Vision for the Cosmos with Christ as center"--these words by Scot McKnight (2018 NICNT commentary) provide, in my opinion, an excellent summary of Colossians' greatest theme. Indeed, the supremacy of Christ in all things resonates throughout the book. Michael J. Gorman (Apostle of the Crucified Lord) well states that Colossians "exalts Christ as the cosmic sovereign, the preexistent Wisdom of God in whom God's fullness dwells, whose death has liberated those who believe from the hostile powers of the universe, and whose resurrection has raised them to sit with him above the defeated powers."

Consequently, the first major motif in Colossians is nothing more than "in Christ." Notice how consistently this expression or a related one occurs in the epistle: 1:2 ("in Christ"), 1:4 ("in Christ"), 1:14 ("in whom we have . . ."), 1:16 and 17, "by Him" (Greek en autō), 1:19 ("in Him"), 1:28 ("in Christ Jesus"), and that's all only in the first chapter! In addition, we have the amazing rhetorical reversal in 1:27, that Christ is in us!

In Jesus Christ dwells deity (2:9), "in Him" we are complete (2:10), and "in Him" we are spiritually circumcised, precisely because Jesus Christ's entire body was "circumcised" (i.e., "cut off," meaning "killed") on the cross for our sake! Consequently, Jesus' death and resurrection (2:12-15) have demonstrated that the entire universe revolves around Him, and that we can be participants with His glory.

This lays the foundation for the Apostle Paul's attack against the false teachers threatening the Colossian (and Laodicean) believers. [In the paragraphs below I am borrowing some general ideas from Pao's commentary, McKnight's commentary, and Köstenberger/Kellum/Quarles NT Intro The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown] The second key theme of Colossians is related to the first but develops as a reaction against the false teachers, namely, that spiritual maturity is unattainable without being "in Christ."

The problem with the false teachers was that they were striving to attain to the "heavenlies" by "earthly" means. For them, spiritual enlightenment could be attained by personal self-discipline, mystical-spiritual experiences ("worship of angels" in 2:18 is probably a subjective genitive, i.e., the angels' worship of God; the false teachers thought they could attain to the heavenly realm and worship alongside angels), combined with strict Torah-observance. In other words, the key to being spiritual was "Torah + self-discipline + mystical spiritual experiences."

All of this the Apostle Paul vehemently rejects, simply because they are based on "earthly" things (2:8, 20; ironically enough, since the false teachers wished to attain to "heavenly" things!) They all miserably fail, and are even ineffective in countering the temptations of the flesh (2:23, "no value when faced with the indulgence of the flesh").

Consequently, Colossians gives us the key to evaluating all teaching, good and bad. As Pao writes, "Any teachings that challenge the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ are to be unmasked to reveal their true nature as personal spiritual forces that threaten the Christian community."

The question we ask must be, "Does this teaching exalt Christ above all others?" For the false teachers, Christ was merely a footnote to spiritual maturity, which was attained through self-effort. With this in mind, we are in better shape to analyze various doctrines in the world:

·       To the heretics trying to seduce the Colossians, the Apostle Paul says, “Why are you seeking in the Torah and self-effort what is abounding over in Jesus Christ?” 
·       To the Roman Catholics of today we might say, “Why are you seeking in Mary and church tradition what can come only from Jesus Christ?” 
·       To the Mormon we might say, “Why are you looking for ‘another revelation’ [Book of Mormon] when Jesus Christ has already revealed Himself to us?” 
·       To the hyper-charismatic we might say, “Why are you seeking spirituality in tongues when true spirituality can only come from listening to Jesus?”
·       To the Buddhist we might say, “Why are you seeking enlightenment from meditating in search of a higher spirituality when He Who is true Enlightenment has robed Himself in the flesh to come seek you?”

·       To ourselves, we might say, “Why am I rooting my own identity and value in what have or have not accomplished, or what other people think of me, when my value and worth come from being rooted in Jesus Christ?!” (Col 2:10). 

Oct 17, 2019

Studying Colossians part 1: Resources

Here at my church (Falls Baptist) we have recently begun a Sunday School series focusing on Colossians. I have definitely been edified and challenged by this study, particularly the role of the phrases "in Him/in Christ" throughout Colossians, a repeated theme that should cause us to focus on the supremacy of Jesus Christ above everything else. I appreciate how Scot McKnight articulates it: Colossians is about "Vision for the Cosmos with Christ as Center."

In part 2 I will discuss some of the key themes in Colossians. Here I want to introduce the reader to some of the best resources.

First, commentaries:If you can only afford one commentary on Colossians, buy David W. Pao, Colossians and Philemon, in the series Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. This is turning into one of my favorite NT commentaries, period. Pao combines solid conservative scholarship (which is not so hard to come by) with theological and practical insight (which is hard to come by!) In other words, Pao actually cares about the theological and practical significance of the text of Scripture (see, for example, his excellent discussion of the Wheaton revival on page 179). Whether or not this is or will be a hallmark of the ZECNT series as a whole remains to be seen!

The most recent conservative commentary of significance is Scot McKnight's Letter to the Colossians in the NICNT series (replacing the older volume by Fee). It has much to commend it, though his treatment of baptism rubs me (a Baptist!) the wrong way. In addition, the commentaries by Douglas J. Moo (Pillar) and F. F. Bruce (older NICNT) are both worth getting. For a commentary more practically oriented and easier to read (though still scholarly), see David Garland, Colossians, Philemon, in the NIV Application Commentary series (dear reader of a more KJV-oriented perspective, please do not let the title of the series turn you away from its value. By the statement of the KJV translators themselves [read the preface!], the NIV should still be considered the Word of God, "be it not fitly translated for phrase . . .")

Finally, an "oldie-but-goodie" would be J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon, which can be obtained quite cheaply on Amazon (and might even be public domain). Be warned, though--Lightfoot expects you to be able to read all the Latin he quotes! Nonetheless, if you're willing to dig, you can find nuggets of gold in Lightfoot's works.

Now, as for other resources:
It's always good to have a solid "New Testament Introduction" or two in your library, since these focus on matters of authorship, background, provenance, setting, date, etc. of each New Testament book. The classic evangelical NT Intro is by D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (inexplicably Morris' name dropped off in later editions). However, I much prefer The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles (I require this for my seminary students). Granted, I'm biased (the first two authors were professors of mine at SEBTS), but this book is superior in its treatment of the background of each book and the current theological controversies in NT studies, in my humble-but-correct opinion. In addition, The New Testament in Antiquity by Burge, Cohick, and Green is very helpful in its discussion of the background of each NT book, including Colossians.

Finally, for serious study you should have access to a "New Testament Theology" book or two, which will focus on the theological themes of each book of the New Testament (or the New Testament as a whole; the methodology will vary). Frank S. Thielman's Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical Approach is what I require my seminary students to read in the class "New Testament Biblical Theology," and it has a chapter devoted to Colossians. In addition, Michael J. Gorman's Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters has some excellent material devoted to Colossians.

Sep 12, 2019

Debunking academic urban legends (some quick comments on a recent NTS article)

Believe it or not, there are actually "academic urban legends" out there which we professors repeat because we heard it told by our professors, etc. Sometimes they actually turn out to be true, or at least probable (Karl Barth probably said something similar to how his theology can be summed as "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so"; see Roger Olson's interesting discussion here).

On the other hand, sometimes they turn out to be either false or unverifiable. One such example is how supposedly Erasmus, who most definitely did not have the Johannine Comma in his first edition TR (this part is true; it is common knowledge, and I personally verified it with my scanned digital copy of Erasmus' first edition), promised that if anybody could produce just one Greek manuscript with the Johannine Comma in it, he would include it in his next edition, and viola, such a manuscript conveniently appeared! It is not true, however, that Erasmus made such a promise, as demonstrated by Henk Jan de Jonge ("Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum," ETL vol. 56.4 [1980]: 381-9). The reasons Erasmus added the Johannine comma in later editions are a bit more complicated, but that's a story for another time.

Another "urban legend" is that Origen did not have a strong opinion on who wrote Hebrews. He is often quoted as saying, "Who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows." As Matthew J. Thomas has recently demonstrated in a New Testament Studies article (you can read it here), that quote, within its immediate context and the broader context of Origen's writings, does not indicate that Origen had doubts about Paul's authorship. To the contrary, ". . . while Origen suspects Hebrew's composition to involve more than Paul alone, his surprisingly consistent testimony is that the epistle is indeed Paul's" (quoting from the abstract).

Now, to be fair, my Doktorvater, Greek scholar David Alan Black, has been making exactly this point for quite a while. (You can read his book on the Pauline authorship of Hebrews here), and Dr. Black's reading combines accessibility with solid scholarship. Still, the NTS article is well-worth reading as well.

As for myself, despite my having been influenced by Dr. Black to a minority position on other issues (let's hear it for Matthean priority!), I will have to cling to my preferred view of Apollos as author, granting that a major weakness of my view is that nobody thought of this until Martin Luther! Still, I acknowledge that many of the arguments we tend to use against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews are a bit subjective. The theology could either be Pauline or influenced by Paul, and the argument from "style" is inconclusive--compare Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" to his "Speech to the One Hundred Sixty-sixth Ohio Regiment" for an idea of how widely personal style can very! Also, the fact that the early church almost universally attested to Pauline authorship when they considered the epistle (sermon, actually!) canonical is nothing to sneeze at. For me, however, it all comes down to the fact that I just can't get around Hebrews 2:3 and the idea that Paul could have considered himself a generation removed from "those that heard [Jesus]." (There is the possibility that "those that heard" is referring to the Old Testament prophets beginning with Abraham, but I would think that v. 4 would make the reference more likely to be the Apostles in the early church).

Aug 8, 2019

Book Recommendation: James Edwards' Between the Swastika and the Sickle

I'll confess that one of my pet peeves in books is "hagiographies," those types of biographies that paint an unrealistic, un-human portrayal of Christian leaders and pioneers as saints who never have the same struggles as us mere "mortal" Christians. (As a side-note, may I suggest that Christian leaders generally speaking should not write auto-biographies, precisely because we Christians are not capable of honestly portraying our own faults and failures?!) A better model for biography is provided in inspired Scripture. When  James refers back to the story of Elijah to encourage us, he does not say, "Elijah was a super-Christian who never made mistakes, so watch and learn!" To the contrary, James states, "Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are . . ." and then goes on to state what Elijah accomplished despite his flaws (James 5:17-18). Whether it be David or Jehoshaphat, Jephthah or Moses, Scripture does not gloss over the (often tragic) failings of its heroes. Consequently, the Lord is glorified even more: "Behold what I can accomplish," He declares, "with even flawed men and women!"

Enter the story of Ernst Lohmeyer, Protestant New Testament scholar in Nazi-era Germany. Lohmeyer provides a model of conservative scholarship that simultaneously opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime, contested the popular liberal theology of his time, and also befriended and stood up for Jews (such as Martin Buber) at the risk of academic persecution and even personal harm. He was arrested on trumped-up charges and executed after WWII's end by the Soviet NKVD (precursor to the KGB), tragically leaving behind a wife and daughter.

Yet on the other hand, Lohmeyer's life provides a cautionary tale of what happens when scholarship, even conservative scholarship, becomes an end in of itself, an idol. Lohmeyer's marriage and spiritual life suffered as a result of his academic devotion, and as Edwards' book makes clear, Lohmeyer was not able to fully come to grips with his failing until shortly before his execution. Lohmeyer's story is both inspirational and cautionary, and thus very human.

When I first began teaching Hebrew History at Baptist College of Ministry, I found an excellent quote by Lohmeyer (of whom I really did not know much about at the time): "The Christian faith is only Christian so long as it has in its heart the Jewish faith," a quote which I incorporated into my Hebrew History syllabus and even study guide. 

Yet now I have just finished reading James R. Edwards' excellent book Between the Swastika and the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer, and I now have a better context for that quote I include in my Hebrew History syllabus.

I highly recommend the book (click here for the Amazon link). James R. Edwards was professor for many years at Whitworth University and has written an influential commentary on Mark (in the Pillar series), as well as Is Jesus the Only Savior?, an excellent defense of the exclusivity of Christianity's claims in a post-modern world.

Between the Swastika & the Sickle is mostly about Lohmeyer's life, but also devotes significant portions to Edwards' own attempts to pierce the veil of forced obscurity that had descended down upon Lohmeyer's legacy due to the work of the Soviet NKVD. Consequently, Edwards' book is one part biography, one part a gripping story of research in once sealed-archives, and one part reclamation of a legacy, both the exemplary and the cautionary elements of that legacy.

The exemplary side of his legacy is illustrated by Lohmeyer's friendship of, and defense of, his Jewish friends and colleagues. For example, when Gerhard Kittel published his The Jewish Question, supporting Nazi ideology, he sent a copy of it with an open-letter to Jewish scholar Martin Buber. In response, on August 19th 1933, Lohmeyer sent a letter to Buber expressing his solidarity with, and support of, Buber against Kittel and Nazi ideology in general. Edwards well notes that "Lohmeyer's letter was one of the earliest and most definitive protests against Nazi anti-Semitism to be heard in Germany" (121).

Another example of the positive: Lohmeyer strongly rejected Rudolf Bultmann's theological "demythologizing" of Scripture; indeed, he called it an "existential philosophy that is no more than a secularized form of Christian theology" [trans. R. H. Fuller], and thus a threat to true Christianity (192).

The cautionary side of his legacy can be illustrated by Lohmeyer's relationship to his wife and his devotion to academia at the expense of his marriage (see especially ch. 17). Lohmeyer himself, in his last days before his execution, came to the following [radical!] conclusion: "It is now clear to me that for more than twenty years I have followed the wrong course" [trans. Edwards; p. 268] Lohmeyer, in his last letter, further admits to how his devotion to scholarship caused his love for his wife to be relegated to "second place," all the while immersed in a "stony bitterness." As Edwards writes, "His work became not merely the first thing in his life but virtually the only thing, separating him from other things, including Melie [his wife]." His arrest by the NKVD thus functioned as a spiritual wake-up call, one that allowed him to see his failures and reach out in love once more to his wife.

Edward's book Between the Swastika & the Sickle is a solidly-researched, well-written story, sad yet stirring, of a lesser-known New Testament scholar. For all his comparative obscurity, though, the tale of Ernst Lohmeyer has a lot to teach us about both academic courage and academic obsession.

Jul 9, 2019

Translating from Hebrew into Japanese: Challenges and Issues

Last spring my father and I had the privilege of teaching "Translation Issues in Greek and Hebrew." In preparation for that class, I translated Genesis 15, two Psalms, and the whole book of Obadiah from Hebrew into Japanese. There's a whale of a difference between translating from Hebrew into one's native tongue (English, in my case) and translating from Hebrew into a language that is not one's native tongue!

I have posted those files on Academia.edu (click here and scroll down to "teaching documents"), not because this is meant to become an "authoritative" translation or replace or correct the Shinkai-yaku (which is currently the best complete Bible out there in Japanese, in my humble-but-correct opinion), but rather to give you, dear reader, a glimpse into the challenges and issues that face a translator going from Hebrew into a language other than his or her native tongue. The notes include discussions on the Hebrew as well as Japanese. 

My father (far more the expert on Japanese than I am) graciously reviewed my translation and offered critique as needed (his comments are in a different font).

As a side-note, although the Shinkai-yaku is currently the best complete translation in Japanese (imo), my father has completed the rough draft of a New Testament, the "Lifeline Bible", which will be able to be freely distributed without cost. (Note that it will be the first New Testament in Japanese not based on the critical text in almost 100 years, specifically, since the 1935 Nagai-yaku, which was written in classical Japanese and thus not the easiest version to read!). There is a plan to distribute the John-and-Romans of the Lifeline Bible during the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Any questions on the Lifeline Bible can be e-mailed to phimes@gmail.com, and I will forward them on to my father.

Jun 15, 2019

Book Recommendation: Chester, Reading Paul with the Reformers

At Baptist Theological Seminary, I have the privilege of teaching New Testament Intro every two years and Exegesis of Romans every 4 years. As such, my job demands that I have a solid grasp of the New Perspective on Paul (really "New Perspectives," but that's a different story) and all the issues surrounding it. In light of that, I am happy to recommend Stephen J. Chester's book Reading Paul with the Reformers, which I just finished reading in its entirety (Amazon link here).

The point of the book, in a nutshell, is to moderately push back against NPP caricatures of Reformation theology while also providing an in-depth examination of what, exactly the Reformers (especially Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon) believed about Pauline theology. 

The key term here is "exegetical grammar," i.e., what Luther meant about the term "justification" compared to his Catholic opponents, etc. Chester focuses a lot on the debate between Luther and Erasmus, including how they appropriated Augustine differently.

The last section of the book focuses on facilitating a dialogue between between a theology of the Reformers and the New Perspective on Paul. To be clear, Chester does not give the Reformers a free pass, and offers clear criticism of Luther, etc., when necessary. However, he generally argues (fairly, I believe) that the NPP has misunderstood Reformation Pauline theology; thus, for Chester, the NPP has "thrown out the baby with the bathwater," so to speak.

I believe Chester has written an extremely important book that offers an appropriate but irenic corrective to some of the excesses of the NPP. This book helped me understand both Reformation theology and the NPP much better. The one main downside of this book is that if historical theology, specifically Reformation-era theology, does not interest you, it takes a long time to get to the point where Chester dialogues directly with the NPP, and so some readers might lose interest. Those readers only interested in a critique of the NPP should skip to chapter 8.

For the interested reader: the best and worst of the NPP is, I believe, adequately summed up by Chester on page 361:
"The NPP does represent a very significant advance in its portrayal of Judaism. Former descriptions of Second Temple Judaism as a religion centrally concerned with earning righteousness were a distortion and the exegesis of the Reformers lay at the historical roots of this distortion. Their interpretation of Paul's contrasts between the law and his gospel almost exclusively in terms of self-achieved works-righteousness is unconvincing. . . Yet NPP scholarship simply perpetuates the opposite error. A theoretical acknowledgement that the phrase the 'works of the law' denotes the whole complex of conduct required by the law is coupled with an actual insistence that Paul's concern is always with the boundary-defining function of such works. This boundary-defining function is indeed important, but the exclusive emphasis upon it does not do justice to the multi-faceted and all-embracing nature of the conduct required by the law. . . . To say that justification does not result from human ethical achievement coheres with and is an inevitable consequence of saying that it does not result from Jewish ethnic identity. Paul is not always concerned with human ethical achievement, but in those texts where it does arise (e.g., Rom 4:4-5; 9:10-13; Phil 3:6) he means what he appears to say."

May 25, 2019

Israel's Vocation in Romans 11 (new article in Bibliotheca Sacra)

I am excited to announce that my article "Israel and Her Vocation: The Fourth Stage of Romans 11," has been published in Bibliotheca Sacra vol. 176 (January-March 2019): 35-50. I have just acquired my own digital pdf copy, so if anybody is interested in the article please e-mail me at phimes@gmail.com. Here is the abstract:

“Some scholars speak of three stages of Israel’s salvation history in Romans 11. A closer examination, however, reveals that Paul delineates four stages in Romans 11, with the fourth stage representing the bountiful harvest reaped as a result of Israel reclaiming her vocation and mission to the world. Attention to this four- stage scheme may help mitigate the stereotype of dispensationalism as a gloomy doctrine portraying each era as a failure, since both the church and Israel will, in fact, complete the mission to which God has called them.”

Apr 15, 2019

The KJV-Parallel Bible resource: A Hearty Endorsement

I am pleased to announce the completion of the KJV Parallel Bible project by Logos scholar Mark Ward. The website can be found here, and I am putting it up as a permanent link on my sidebar for this blog, in addition to sharing it with all my students. Check it out!

The resource, in a nutshell, is the complete side-by-side comparison of the King James Version with what the KJV would look like if it were based on the Nestle-Aland critical text.

Thus all students, pastors, and laymen and laywomen can see for themselves what difference the differences make. This is a remarkable and highly useful resource for those of all textual views. I would agree with Mark that what stands out from this project is how much both sides actually agree rather than disagree (check out 1 Corinthians 15, for example: there is no difference until verse 20!!). 

Now, I speak as a broadly-based "Byzantine" text guy (which, I would argue, includes the TR as a "branch"; thus I generally prefer the TR over any critical Greek edition of the NT); however, I would also remind any KJV-only advocates that claiming that the critical text omits doctrine is a double-edged sword: please examine, for example, John 1:18 (the critical text clearly says Jesus is God!) and Acts 4:25 (the KJV omits the Holy Spirit). Now in both cases I actually prefer the Byzantine reading (which is the same as the KJV reading), but my point is that it is circular reasoning to accuse the critical text of "heresy" while ignoring such passages where the critical text contains something the KJV omits.

Ultimately, the Gospel is still the Gospel in both the critical text and the KJV (once again, check out 1 Corinthians 15). In fact, I would suggest that the devil, when attempting to harm the Christian faith, makes less headway with ancient scribes and copiers than he does with cults like the JW. For example, the heresy in the New World Translation's John 1:1 is not the result of textual variants, but of a theologically-oriented faulty translation meant to reflect JW christology (for those who can read Greek: read through the entire chapter and note the inconsistency of the NWT when translating an anarthrous theos).

Anyways, back to my endorsement. Mark Ward and those who helped him deserve our hearty congratulations for this awesome resource, a resource that IMO stands as a testament to the incredible divine preservation of God's Word.

Mar 31, 2019

When do Lament (and protest?) go too far? When do they become accusation?

During my time at Southeastern I had the privilege of taking a 1-credit doctoral module called "Biblical Lament" with Old Testament scholar Heath Thomas (now at Oklahoma Baptist University). This class revolutionized how I thought about biblical lament (to be truthful, I had never really thought about biblical lament before), and I require all my Hermeneutics students at BCM to read an article by Thomas on this topic. My main take-a-ways from that study is that lament is misunderstood (and thus underutilized)  in the church, and lament is biblical when entered in via faith. In other words, in the midst of suffering, when I cry out to God for deliverance and/or justice, I do so in faith, believing that He actually hears me. I must, however, be content with the answer (or lack of answer) He gives, trusting ultimately in His goodness.

Yesterday I returned from Chicago, having attended (and presented) at the regional ETS meeting at Moody Bible Institute. The third plenary address dealt with "A Christian Liturgical Response to Religious Trauma" and had some practical material in it. I am grateful to the presenter for her expertise. However, the session did raise some questions about methodology and Scriptural-centeredness, which leads me to attempt to address some practical and theological questions.

[To be clear, this is not meant to be a critique or engagement with the presenter; that is not the purpose of this blog, and I am not informed enough of the topic of religious trauma or even counseling in general to be able to contribute significantly to the discussion]

To begin with, I affirm once again that lament (and, to a certain degree, cautiously defined, protest) is biblical (e.g., multiple Psalms, even the occasional Psalm that doesn't end on a happy note, such as Psalm 88; the words of Job; Jesus' cry on the cross, quoting Psalm 22; the martyrs of Revelation 6:10).

Yet throughout Scripture, proper Lament seems to have at its heart the profession that God is good and just. For example, the martyrs in Revelation 6:10 cry out, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge . . ." That confession of God's good character seems to be at the heart of biblical lament. "God, I know you are good, so why do the wicked still reign?" Even Psalm 88:11, the darkest psalm, affirms God's chessed [KJV: "lovingkindness"; ESV: "steadfast love"] and his "faithfulness" in the midst of its protest.

Consequently, I feel that lament and protest have crossed a line when they become accusatory: "God, are you really good?" Frankly, I'm not always sure what the line is (the Psalms are more complicated than we would like!), but the fact that there is a line that should not be crossed does seem to be indicated by the ending of Job. While God does affirm Job's righteousness, and certainly his moral superiority over his loud-mouthed friends, nonetheless God does "get in Job's face" a little bit, rebuking him. 

Consider Job 40:2 [which stands in stark contrast to Rev 6:11], "Should the one quarreling with the Almighty correct him? Let the one arguing against God answer Him!" [my translation] The Hebrew word ריב is a fairly common word, often referring to what we call "quarreling" or "fighting" in English (e.g., Genesis 26:20, 31:36). The word translated "arguing" here [יכח] is a bit more complicated, often having a more positive meaning ("decide"; e.g., Gen 24:14), but also often having the negative connotation of opposition (e.g., Gen 31:42, where both the KJV and ESV translate it as "rebuke").

Nonetheless, the Lord obviously feels Job has crossed a line, because Job has become one who "quarrels" with God or "rebukes" God. To quarrel with somebody or to rebuke somebody is to question their integrity. You don't "rebuke" somebody you feel is in the right!

In other words, with no intent of being irreverent, it is one thing to say, "God, you are just and holy, so why is this happening?" and an altogether different thing to say "God, you're a jerk!" We have every right to ask God questions and appeal to His goodness in the face of a world that is obviously not conformed to His goodness. We also have the right to assert our uprightness in the face of unfair attacks, when appropriate (as Job did). However, we have absolutely no right to call God to face trial or to suggest that He has become our enemy, which I feel is where Job begins to cross the line (see especially Job 19, which bears some significant similarities to Naomi's foolish statements in Ruth 1:13, 20-21).

Lament and protest are biblical, but only when infused with faith in the ultimate goodness and power of God. I'd like to see a bit more discussion of the point at where lament becomes accusation, especially when we begin to incorporate it into our liturgy ["liturgy" is here broadly defined: I am, after all, a Baptist!]. Church should be a place where we can weep and honestly ask God why something is happening, but Church must also consistently be the place where God's virtues are proclaimed ( 1 Peter 2:9), not where accusations are brought against Him. Church must always declare that no matter how corrupt the world and society are, no matter how tragic or unfair my circumstances are, God's goodness endures forever.

Feb 28, 2019

Teaching "Translation Issues in Hebrew": Postscript

In our brand-new MA in Bible Translation here at Baptist Theological Seminary, we currently have three students, two gentlemen and one lady. Last Friday was the culmination of the class "Translation Issues in Greek and Hebrew" (co-taught by my father and I), and the three students presented papers on: 
1. Translating Exodus into Mandarin Chinese, 
2. Translating the Psalms into Amharic, and 
3. Translating OT Prophetic Oracle into Fulfulde. 
An excellent job by all of them, with PowerPoint presentations that blew me away! [I would like to mention their names, but there's a chance one or all of them might end up ministering in restricted-access nations, so I will not].

Earlier I had blogged about the "Search for a textbook" for the Hebrew portion of this class. I ended up going with Dr. Ernst Wendland's book Analyzing the Psalms: With Exercises for Bible Students and Translators, 2nd ed., partly because it is one of the few books out there that actually deals with translating Hebrew into a non-English language. I did, however, require a lot of outside reading, including a fascinating essay by Dr. Lamin Sanneh on the social-religious role of Bible translations in Africa.

Reproduced below is a significant portion of our syllabus, with all the required reading (for both my father's and my portions of the class) and the description of the essay the students had to write about translating Hebrew into the various languages (each student was required to choose a non-English language).

Course Description:
 LI 631 Translation Issues in Greek and Hebrew (2 hours)
A study of specific issues particular to the translation of Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, especially addressing syntactic and semantic difficulties. 
Prerequisites: AL 202 and/or satisfactory performance on the Advanced Greek Entrance Exam, AL 522 and/or satisfactory performance on the Elements of Hebrew Entrance Exam; seminary Greek courses are strongly recommended.

Objectives for the Course:
(1) To learn the difficulties inherent in translating the Hebrew and koine Greek languages.
(2) To develop a solid understanding of lexical semantics, not just in relation to Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, but also in relation to foreign languages.
(3) To understand the complexities of transferring syntax and discourse structure from the original biblical languages into a target language.
(4) To develop a personal methodology that will assist in translating from the Bible in its original languages into a foreign language.
(5) To grapple with the role of genre and discourse in Bible translation.
(6) To understand the practicaldifferences between a generally “optimal equivalence” and “essentially literal” approach and a generally “functional equivalence” approach, developing a preference for the former while understanding that sometimes the line gets blurred.

Textbooks and Reading
The student should own the following three books:
1.Constantine R. Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015, 207 pp.
2.Wendland, Ernst R.  Analyzing the Psalms, with Exercises for Bible Students and Translators, 2nded. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2002, 256 pp.
3.Any grammar of a foreign language of the student’s choice (a language that is not native to the      student).

In addition, the student will read the following articles and essays and come ready to discuss them in class when they’re due (digital or physical copies will be provided to the student).
1. Martin Luther, “An Open Letter on Translating,” pages 1-13 (up until the line break).
2. David G. Horrell, “Familiar Friend or Alien Stranger? On Translating the Bible,” Expository Timesvol. 116.12 (2005): 402-408.
3. Paul A. Himes, “Rethinking the Translation of Διδακτικός in 1 Timothy 3.2 and 2 Timothy 2.24,” The Bible Translatorvol. 68.2 (2017): 189-208.
4. Maurice Robinson, “The Bondage of the Word: Copyright and the Bible” (available from the professors). ETS 48thAnnual Meeting, 1996.
5. J. Scott Horrell, “Translating ‘Son Of God’ For Muslim Contexts, Part 1: Tensions And The Witness of Scripture,” BibSacvol. 172.687 (October-December 2015).
6. J. Scott Horrell, “Translating ‘Son Of God’ For Muslim Contexts, Part 2: Historical and Theological Concerns,” BibSacvol. 172.687 (July-September 2015).
7. John Travis, “Producing and Using Meaningful Translations of the Taurat, Zabur, and Injil,” International Journal of Frontier Missionsvol. 23.2 (Summer 2006).
8. Kenneth J. Thomas, “Allah in Translations of the Bible,” International Journal of Frontier Missionsvol. 23:2 (Winter 2006).
9. Lamin Sanneh, “Domesticating the Transcendent, the African Transformation of Christianity: Comparative Reflections on Ethnicity and Religious Mobilization in Africa,” pages 70-85 in Bible Translation on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century, eds. Athalya Brenner and Jan Willem van Henten, The Library of Old Testament Studies (London: T. & T. Clark, 2002).
10. John Rogerson, “Can a Translation of the Bible Be Authoritative?” and Judith Frishman, “Why a Translation of the Bible Can’t Be Authoritative: A Response to John Rogerson,” pages 17-30 and 31-35 in Bible Translation on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century.
11. Everett Fox, “The Translation of Elijah: Issues and Challenges,” and A. J. C. 
Verheij, “A Response to Everett Fox,” pages 156-169 and 170-174, in Bible Translation on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century.
12. Philip A. Noss, “Translation to the Third and Fourth Generations: The Gbaya Bible and Gbaya Language Enrichment,” The Bible Translator69.2 (2018): 166-75.
13. Robert L. Hubbard, “The Hebrew Root PG‘as a Legal Term,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society27.2 (June 1984): 129-33.
14. Lénart J. de Regt, “Sacrificial and Festival Terms in the Old Testament: How Can We Translate Them?” The Bible Translator 68.2 (August 2017): 131-141. [Sadly, I was not able to acquire a PDF of this particular article in time to have the students actually read it].
15. Alexandr Flek, “Between Lying and Blaspheming: Czech Bible21 as a Contemporary Attempt at Communicative Equivalence,” pages 124-130 in Yearbook on the Science of Bible Translation: 13thBible Translation Forum 2017, ed. Eberhard Werner (Nürnberg, Germany: VTR, 2018).

OT Translation Project
Each student will be assigned a chapter from the Old Testament. The student will study that chapter in Hebrew and write an essay on translation issues in that chapter, utilizing the grammar of the non-English language that they chose earlier. The goal of this essay is to provide an introductory discussion on how the Old Testament passage might be rendered into their non-English target language. To be clear, the student does notneed to actually provide a translation (though occasionally the student might need to supply a gloss for a word in his or her target language), but simply a discussion of the issues (lexical, syntactical, and stylistic/discourse) that such a translation would face.
1.Each student will be assigned a chapter from the Hebrew Old Testament.
2.Each student will choose a non-English target language and gain a basic familiarity with that language via the grammar that they chose and purchased before class began.
3.The essay will begin with an opening paragraph discussing the genre of their passage.
4.The next paragraph will provide a basic overview of their target language and the basic characteristics of that language.
5.The remainder of the essay will discuss, verse-by-verse, the issues that the translator will confront when attempting to render the Hebrew into the target language.
6.No minimum or maximum page limits exist for the paper. The professor (P. Himes) reserves the right to have the student rewrite the paper if it bears the marks of “hurried work.”
7.Sources: all types of sources are “fair game” (i.e., the student is not limited to 
academic sources). The student is encouraged to utilize any helpful internet sources that directly deal with his or her target language. While there is no minimum or maximum requirement for sources, the use of the following sources is strongly encouraged:
a. Hebrew grammars and Hebrew syntaxes.
b. Technical commentaries on the Old Testament (esp. Word Biblical).
c. Bible translations in English, butlimited to the following: KJV, ESV, NIV.
d. Any Bible translation in your target language, but only after you have spent some time studying the chapter in Hebrew on your own. 
e. Any resource, written or digital, published or online, that deals with your target 
f. Any lexicons and concordances for either Hebrew or the target language, including online lexicons and concordances.
g. The student may even consult“google translate” or similar software, though the 
student should not rely on it. I.e., the basis of your analysis should not be  translation software; however, translation software such as “google translate” 
(which has improved considerably in the past decade!) may be consulted after 
the majority of your work on a particular verse has been done.
8.Citation: throughout the paper, the student should simply refer to their sources 
parenthetically, in as simple a form as possible. E.g., for a commentary: (Smith, 42); for a lexicon or dictionary: (Ringgren, TDOT, 50); for a grammar or syntax: 
(Suleski/Hiroko, 50). Even websites should be cited simply with the title of the 
website, e.g., (Jisho). At the end of the paper, the student will provide a comprehensive Works Cited page(s) that will include all publication information, including URLs for websites.
9.Formatting should, in general, follow standard BTS format (with the exception of parenthetical citation instead of footnotes). The title of the paper should be something along the lines of “Translation Issues when Rendering [Hebrew passage] into [Target Language].”
10.You are not trying to proveanything with this paper. You are simply introducing the reader to the various issues of translating your passage into your target language.
11.Paper presentation:sometime during the 9-week block, all students will present their findings orally. Both the undergraduate and graduate student body will be invited to attend (as well as BCM faculty and staff). Each student should plan on about 10 minutes of presentation, followed by 5 minutes open to Q&A. The date will be set by mutual agreement with the professor and students. The students are encouraged to utilize PowerPoint or other visual aids or audio aids.
*Sample discussion of a verse*
by P. Himes, on translating Psalm 2:1 into Japanese:
1.This verse in Hebrew has a simple chiasm: “Verb-Subject-waw-Subject-Verb” (though not a perfect chiasm, since the second half contains a d.o.). Sadly, it is virtually impossible, here and elsewhere, to render this structure into Japanese without creating an awkward translation. Certainly it would not sound very “poetic”!
2.The Hebrew רגשׁ is a hapax legomena, thus necessitating reliance on lexicons. 
Holladay has “be restless,” but most versions seem to translate it with more negative connotations, e.g., “rage” (KJV, ESV) and “conspire” (NIV). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament(via Accordance) has “conspire, plot,” more-or-less agreeing with the NIV. In light of the parallelism here with the second half of the verse, I’m inclined to favor the idea of “conspire.” Two good Japanese possibilities exist, I believe. I would suggest takurami, since that word seems to have more negative, sinister connotations in Japanese than hakaru.
3.One is forced here to discuss the nature of style and tone. Since Japanese, merely by its verb endings, can radically alter the tone and style (superior to subordinate, subordinate to superior, equals, enemy to enemy, etc.), deciding what sort of style to use is of more importance in Japanese than, for example, in English. I would recommend a “lower,” more colloquial style here, since the Psalmist is more-or-less sneering at those who oppose God. The tone of the whole Psalm is one of mockery of those who have the audacity to think they can oppose God, and this should, to a certain degree, dictate the style in Japanese.