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.

Mar 8, 2018

Introducing the new Master of Arts in Bible Translation at Baptist Theological Seminary

I am pleased to report that Baptist Theological Seminary (Menomonee Falls, WI), where I teach, is now officially offering a 40-credit "Master of Arts in Bible Translation."

On the one hand, this could be viewed as a variant on our Master of Arts in Bible, since we retain the theology classes, NT Intro and OT Intro, etc. So this is not a MA focusing exclusively on translation.
We have essentially added on four classes, however:
1. Bible Translation Theory and Practice
2. Morphology and Syntax
3. Translation Linguistics and Discourse Analysis
4. Translation Issues in Greek and Hebrew
Each student also has to have 1 year of Hebrew (Grammar and Syntax/Exegesis) and one semester of Introduction to New Testament Exegesis (basically 3rd year Greek; 2 years of Greek is required to to start seminary here).
Also, we require "Language Acquisition I and II" (or similar 3-credit courses in linguistics) as pre-requisites to take the MA.

I feel our teaching crew for this MA is just the right blend of academics and hands-on work.
1. My father was a missionary for 30+ years in Japan, at one point was teaching Koine Greek to Japanese students in Japanese (how many scholars can brag they taught Greek in a language other than their native tongue?), and, most importantly, has spearheaded a new translation of the Greek NT into Japanese (rough draft has been out for a while; final draft of John and Romans is being distributed right now). My father has a  master's from Maranatha Baptist University and is currently working on his D.Min. He is teaching "Bible Translation Theory and Practice" and splitting the class  "Translation Issues in Greek and Hebrew" with me (I do the Hebrew, he does the Greek).
2. In addition to assisting my father on his new translation, I have a PhD in New Testament from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (under NT/Greek scholar David Alan Black) and have had articles published in a variety of journals, including The Bible Translator.
3. Kathy Birnschein is finishing up a Master's in linguistics from the prestigious Summer Institute of Linguistics (her specialty is Hmong), teaches Spanish in our academy (as well as language acquisition in our college), and will teach: 1. Morphology and Syntax, and 2. Translation Linguistics and Discourse Analysis.

Now, BCM (and and our seminary, BTS) is somewhat of a niche school, with a very specific philosophy of ministry and a preference towards a formal-equivalence translation philosophy (i.e., KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB), with a strong preference for a TR or Byzantine text-base (personally, I am a follower of Maurice Robinson's Byzantine approach). Anybody interested should check us out here.

Feb 17, 2018

Did Markus Barth anticipate the NPP in his Ephesians commentary?

[Warning: much of what is posted here is a bit of an over-simplification, but space precludes a fair treatment of all of the issues involved in the NPP!]

In the New Testament Intro seminary class that I teach, we spend a significant amount of time discussing the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). My take is mostly negative, i.e., I disagree with most of what the NPP brings to the table (I was there for the 2010 ETS debate in Atlanta and, in my humble but opinionated opinion, the best response to N. T. Wright's take on the NPP and his view of justification is the address delivered by Thomas R. Schreiner, revised and published here)

However, having said that, there are a couple places where I believe the NPP is correct. For example, the NPP rightly showed us that Judaism in the Second Temple period was, at the least quite often, a "religion of grace" (dear reader, please take a look at the "Prayer of Manasseh" sometime--it's an absolutely beautiful plea for forgiveness hinging on nothing more than the pure grace of God!)   In other words, to say that Judaism, as an entity, was legalistic is to build a straw man (now, the NPP does swing the pendulum too far to the other side, because some of Second Temple literature [e.g., Tobit 12:9; Mishnah Avot 3:16] did give us the sort of "works-righteousness" that Paul [Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5] and the Reformers opposed).

To reiterate, then: the NPP is at its strongest when it is pointing out that we should not build a "strawman" that characterizes all of 2nd Temple Judaism as legalistic/works-righteousness-oriented.

So, imagine my surprise when, while reading Markus Barth's magisterial Anchor Bible commentary on Ephesians, vol. 1, page 248 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974), a book which predates Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism (generally considered to mark the beginning of the NPP) by three years, I found the following statement by M. Barth:

"Therefore, it is misleading (and probably nothing less than slanderous) to consider 'justification by works of law' a doctrine that is distinctly and typically Jewish and basically maintained by all Jews. Jews are not, as it were by definition, Pelagians. Augustine's and Luther's deep insights into Paul's doctrine of grace and the successful use they respectively made of Paul's anti-'Judaistic' utterances when condemning Pelagius and medieval concepts of meritorious works have led Paul's interpreters to a caricature of 'the Jews' which is not supported by historical and literary evidence. 'The Jews,' including the early Judaeo-Christian congregation, have been falsely accused of representing a doctrine of salvation in opposition to Paul's. If Paul really intended to strike at the Jews in the polemical excursus of Eph 2:8-9, it is inconceivable that he could speak as positively of the reconciliation of Israel and the Gentiles as he does in 1:11-14; 2:11-22; 3:6." (emphasis added)

Now, in so far as this paragraph goes, it is golden, and represents the strongest point of the NPP, even before the NPP truly began: "Jews are not, as it were by definition, Pelagians." Markus Barth's words should warn us not to broad-brush an entire group so carelessly, especially when the NT writers themselves were (almost all) Jewish. Interestingly, on page 248 Barth cites the Tübingen School (e.g., F. C. Baur) as representing the school of thought that sees "all Jews (except Jesus and Paul) guilty of the teaching repudiated by Paul." To the extent that the NPP is pushing back against that, I believe the NPP is correct (though as I noted above they swing the pendulum too far to the other side sometimes!) Also, for the record, I disagree with Barth's view that "works" in Eph 2:9 is"works of the Law" like in Galatians (p. 244). Surely a generic "works," without contextual qualifiers, is broader than "works of the Law"! But I digress.

On a closing note: I have a much higher opinion of Markus Barth than his father Karl Barth. Markus' message to us about a husband's duty in Ephesians 5 is something his father, apparently, did not always live up to (i.e., as we see in the recently translated correspondence). Also, Markus Barth's Acquittal by Resurrection remains one of my favorite books, as it absolutely demolishes the  idea that one can be truly Christian without the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Feb 6, 2018

Can Christians eat sushi? A serious question in light of the Noahic and Apostolic prohibition of blood.

In both my undergrad Hermeneutics and seminary NT Intro classes, I like to focus on the authoritative Apostolic Council of Acts 15--specifically, how it responds to the issue of the Gentiles and whether or not they have to keep the Torah. The Apostolic Council answers with a definitive "no", through James' official "krinō de",  to the question of whether or not Gentiles need to be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:1) and whether or not Gentiles need to follow the Torah to be in good standing with God (15:5). In other words, Gentiles do not need the Torah (defined as the body of laws given specifically to Israel as a nation) for either salvation or sanctification. Paul reinforces this theological principle in much of his writing, especially Galatians.

However, James makes clear there are certain transcendent principles wrapped up in the Torah that Gentiles need to be aware of and obey (v. 20): clearly, anything thats smacks of idolatry or immorality (porneia, all immoral sin, not just adultery--what a counter-cultural thought in the 1st century!) need to be avoided. He also, however, mentions "things strangled," and "blood." [It's worth noting that there are a variety of interpretations regarding the significance of these 4 prohibitions being lumped together; no time to get into that today! I will mention, however, that all are probably closely linked to pagan idolatry, though David Instone-Brewer has made an intriguing case that "pniktos" refers to infanticide via "smothering" rather than strangling; you can read his article here] In my opinion, the prohibition of blood is a transcendent principle, since it goes all the way back to the Noahic commands in Genesis 9:1-7, given before Abraham was ever born.

Now, fortunately, the red juice in a "medium rare" steak or burger is apparently not blood (see this article). However. blood sausage and other dishes that actually contain blood are out of the question for Gentile (and Jewish) Christians. Once again, this prohibition against eating blood (which I assume is what James means by "blood" in v. 20) has existed from the very beginnings of when the Lord allowed humanity to eat meat. I do not deny that "blood" in Acts 15 is linked to pagan idolatry (though that was not the context in Genesis 9), but this does not mitigate the broader principle any more than "fornication" (porneia) in the same context would be limited strictly to cultic prostitution or other idolatry-linked immorality.

However, one of my NT Intro seminary students, James, raised an interesting question: what about sushi? Technically, fish has blood, and technically, the blood is not drained in real sushi (from what I understand). Does this mean that raw fish, as generally prepared, is prohibited for all Christians, Gentile and Jewish?

I honestly don't know the answer to this. From the modern Jewish perspective, apparently raw fish is ok, as this Rabbi states (with thanks to another of my students, Alonso, for sharing this link). This is addressed in Jewish commentary here (from what I understand). However, whether or not this would represent a biblical (as opposed to traditional) reading, I don't know.

Once again, I see no way of getting around a full prohibition of intentionally eating blood at least in regards to land animals, so blood sausage, etc. is out. Nor does the prohibition apply strictly to when it's linked to pagan idolatry, in my opinion, in light of the fact that it originates with the Noahic Covenant. So, there is one huge issue that needs to be grappled with:
What constitutes a biblical definition of "blood"??
In other words, would Moses (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) and his original audience naturally think of "fish" when writing the words of Genesis 9:3-4?

There's a hint in the Torah itself that he may not have been thinking of fish. In Leviticus 7:26, the prohibition against blood is apparently clarified by the preposition l attached to two nouns: "ōph" ("bird") and buhēmah ("beast"). The word for "fish" (dagah) does not occur here (though that is actually a rare word), nor do we see any of the key terminology describing "fish" from, e.g., Leviticus  11:9. So although in a modern scientific sense fish have "blood," as far as Moses is concerned it's not close enough to count.

Unfortunately, being a New Testament specialist rather than an OT guy, I'm totally out of my depth here (pun not intended!). I can only conclude with four thoughts:
1. We Gentiles are not under the Torah (i.e., the body of Laws meant specifically for Israel), and thus we can enjoy our barbecue pork (so long as we do not cause our brother or sister to stumble).
2. However, the Torah is still applicable to us and is meant for our instruction (for one of the better discussions on this, see  William Combs' article in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal here).
3. There are, however, transcendent principles going back to the pre-Abraham era that still apply to us, especially when reiterated at the Apostolic Council of Acts 15. This includes the prohibition against eating blood (all meat that we eat should have been subjected to a reasonable effort to remove the blood).
4. Whether or not sushi would fall under that prohibition is, in my opinion, still an open question and needs to be addressed by an Old Testament scholar (to my knowledge none have done so yet; please point me in the right direction of I'm wrong!)

With thanks to my seminary students Alonso and James for their dialogue on this, as well as my friend Alex in North Carolina!

Jan 11, 2018

Lexham Bible Guide: 1 Peter (a Research Commentary)

I am excited to announce the Lexham Bible Guide: 1 Peter. This has been my first project for Lexham Press/Logos (though hopefully not my last). Up until this point, my published work on 1 Peter has consisted of Foreknowledge and Social Identity in 1 Peter (published by Wipf&Stock), "Peter and the Prophetic Word," an article attempting to develop a Petrine theology of prophecy  (Bulletin for Biblical Research), and an article on 1 Peter's use of Isa 28:16 in 1 Peter 2:6, also in Bulletin for Biblical Research, vol. 26.2 (2016); I also have a forthcoming article in Evangelical Quarterly on the intersection between social-scientific criticism, biblical theology, and ethics in 1 Peter.

Although John Elliott once famously quipped that 1 Peter was the "exegetical step-child" of the New Testament, I can happily say that is no longer the case. I had a wealth of material to draw from, including a plethora of solid commentaries. 1 Peter is neglected no more (which is more than can be said for 2 Peter and Jude . . . .).

The publisher's website describes The Lexham Bible Guide series as "The starting point for study and research," and I believe that's an apt description. The books in the series are, in a sense, commentaries, but not verse-by-verse. For my own contribution on 1 Peter, I would suggest it would be appropriate to see it as a research commentary that pays special attention to the specific, controversial issues within 1 Peter and to 1 Peter's intersection with theological themes elsewhere in Scripture, while functioning as a guide for the reader regarding the best secondary sources (both available in Logos and those outside of Logos) for studying this epistle.

This commentary/guide breaks up 1 Peter into discourse units (with justification) and then for each unit generally covers the following (though not all sections have extended word studies or background overviews): 1. Overview, 2. Structure, 3. Place within the book (i.e., its role as a discourse unit within 1 Peter, structurally and theologicaly), 4. Place within the Canon (i.e., how 1 Peter's theological intersects with the theology of the rest of Scripture), 5. Various key issues (where I lay out the various positions and make some comments on each; occasionally I'll have a strong opinion and put in my "two cents worth," but usually the point is to provide the reader with the data and the arguments, and let them come to their own conclusions), 6. word studies (in which I make it a point to not rely on lexicons, but rather focus on a word's use in the LXX and 1st century literature, especially Josephus; not all sections contain word studies), 7. background studies (not all sections contain background studies), and 8. application overview (this latter section, I believe, sets the Lexham Bible Guides apart from most commentaries).

In this research commentary, I cite somewhere between 300-350 sources. Seventeen of those were published in 2016, and three of those were published in 2017 (including Dennis Edward's Story of God Commentary on 1 Peter and my friend Timothy Miller's recent BibSac article on 1 Peter 3:1-17). I especially cite those sources that are easily accessible to the Logos user within the Logos system: needless to say, the commentaries by Karen Jobes, Peter Davids, Paul Achtemeier, and John Elliott feature prominently, as well as (to my pleasant surprise, since I had been previously unfamiliar with it) Catherine González's recent theological commentary. However, I don't stop there, since the point of this research commentary series is to introduce the reader to all (or almost all; I doubt that I caught everything!) significant publications on a particular issue (including foreign language sources). Consequently,  I introduce the reader to important resources outside of Logos, such as numerous significant articles by Travis Williams and David Horrell, the work of Reinhard Feldmeier, etc.

In summary, this is meant to be a starting point for research and a general overview of the content and controversial issues within first Peter (and yes, I spend a lot of space discussing "Christ preaching to the spirits in prison"!). I hope the reader will consider adding it to his or her Logos library.

Dec 29, 2017

My favorite new book of 2016-2017

Although it's my job to read broadly in biblical studies to keep up with theological trends (the good, the bad, and the ugly), every once in a while a book comes along that actually changes how I teach, a book that causes me to focus on something that I had been neglecting before in my own theological reflection

Such is Larry Hurtado's Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016). Hurtado was most recently professor of New Testament Language at the University of Edinburgh (he retired in 2011). Destroyer of the gods is about what made Christianity stand out like a sore thumb and, ultimately, become the recipient of so much hatred in the Greco-Roman world. I highly recommend Destroyer of the gods as my "book of the year" (well, "book of the last two years").

Here, especially, is what Hurtado's book is helping me reflect on and stress more in my teaching:
1. First, Christianity's religious exclusivism was unique in the Greco-Roman world outside of Judaism itself (which got something of a "pass" from the Romans because it was tied to ethnicity). The Romans had no problem with the worship of Jesus, as odd as they might have considered it. The worship and reverence of Jesus alone, however, at the exclusion of all other gods and the Roman Emperor (and, for some, the goddess Roma) was unique, and caused hostility (imagine the Anatolian boy who comes home from a long trip, announces to his parents that he is a Christian and can no longer worship the local gods--the next earthquake that occurs will be blamed on him!). Indeed, this is something missionaries would do well to remember: our job is not tell people simply to trust in Jesus and worship the one true God. Rather, our job is to tell people to trust in/reverence Jesus and worship the one true God at the exclusion of all others (1Thess 1:9), whether they be the emperor, dead ancestors, spirits, or various deities. There can be no "plan B" for either faith or worship. Many young person in Asia even in this modern era has been forced to make that choice and lost their family as a result (but gained Jesus).

2. Secondly, Christianity quickly became a trans-ethnic religion, solidified as such once the Jerusalem Council decreed that the Torah was not a necessary element of Gentile Christianity (Acts 15). This threatened to "create a nation within a nation" (to quote Reinhard Feldmeier) which repulsed the inhabitants of the Roman Empire (thus, for example, Tacitus is able to call Christians "a class hated for their abominations"). To become a Christian was, often, to give up both one's family and one's ethnicity in favor of a "holy nation" linked together not by DNA or nationality but by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2).

Some quick theological reflection. Christianity is an "all-or-nothing" religion. If Jesus Christ cannot save me, I have no "plan B," no Buddha or dead ancestors or good works that might come through in the fourth quarter of my life. There is no back-up quarterback. Every one of us, then, has come to the point where we declare with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Christianity is not "Jesus + whatever" but rather "Jesus alone, without all others."
Happy New Year!

Dec 15, 2017

The difference between American exceptionalism and "seeking the welfare of the city"

In the past decade or so I've more-or-less ended up trending towards an Anabaptist, Hauerwas-style ecclesiology in regards to the attitude of the church towards the state and society (though I've actually only read one book by Stanley Hauerwas; for the record, I much prefer his ecclesiology to his soteriology). I've become very suspicious of too much patriotism within a church setting, and I unapologetically did not vote for President Trump (with all due respect to my many, many beloved friends who did!), simply because "the lesser of two evils" is not, in my opinion, the best guide for Christian ethics (I did vote, just not for President Trump or Hillary Clinton).

So, on the one hand, although I am totally okay with July 4th celebrations outside of local church corporate worship setting, or singing "The Star Spangled Banner" with my hand over my heart at a ballgame or other non-ecclesiastical setting, I am very uncomfortable with the singing of patriotic songs or displaying the US flag within corporate worship, as I think that can lead to a very flawed ecclesiology that neglects the fact that we are foreigners on earth, but part of God's holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). In other words, it is not America, but the Church, that is the true "Christian nation," and we must always keep that clear. I have more in common with a Christian from Iraq than I do with an unbelieving US citizen living in Wisconsin--sometimes, if we're not careful, a church service can call that fact into question.

Having said that, it's important we don't through the baby out with the bathwater. I own and appreciate Bruce Winter's book Seek the Welfare of the City: Christians as Benefactors and Citizens, which suggests that Jeremiah 29:7 is the backdrop for some of 1 Peter's ethics (I am less convinced by the rest of his thesis, which argues that 1 Peter has in mind "civic benefaction"; I believe this has been at least partially refuted by Travis Williams and Torrey Seland, though there is no doubt some truth to Winter's suggestion, since there were certainly at least a few rich Christians in Asia Minor who could at least contribute towards "civic benefaction"). Anyways, my point being, even if we Christians should consider ourselves as "in exile" (a very Hauwerwas-ian way of putting it, but one which I am fond of), we can still seek for ways to be a blessing to society at large, so long as this does not conflict with our allegiance to Jesus Christ or our Great Commission mandate.

Here's a positive example: my local church annually hosts a "Veteran's Day Banquet." This is not part of corporate worship, but rather an outreach event whereby we honor veterans in the US military (we even have some WW2 vets that come, and those are getting rarer!). After a free meal, good music by our college students, and an honor guard by active military members, we have a chaplain preach a Gospel message. This outreach event brings in lots of veterans (we pack out our "fellowship hall") and, I believe, has the effect of contributing to the welfare of society (a society were the veterans feel honored would be, I believe, more stable than one where veterans are disrespected).

Since our Veteran's Day Banquet is not part of our corporate worship, I do not believe it conflicts with biblical principles (in contrast to, say, a worship service that reverenced the flag on July 4th; I've seen some of those). To the contrary, it is simultaneously both an outreach event that annually sees veterans come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and it has the benefit of "seeking the welfare of the city [i.e., the state]."

Other possibilities for a local church to "seek the welfare of the city" and thus be a "do-gooder" community that 1 Peter speaks of would be such things as: feeding the poor, picking up trash, helping pregnant unwed mothers, etc. Indeed, the argument should be made that it is individuals through the local church, not Christians apart from the local church, that should be doing these things (see the discussion in Scot McKnight's Kingdom Conspiracy--McKnight appropriately critiques those who think that a good deed done in isolation from the local church is "kingdom work").

This does not, however, mean that the church pursues a "social gospel" whereby seeking the physical/economical welfare of others in society becomes the primary goal of the church. To the contrary, Acts 2:41-47 and Matthew 28:18-20 (among other texts) represent key purposes of the church, purposes that can be subverted both by politics and the social gospel. However, properly performed, "seeking the welfare of the city" can simultaneously silence the naysayers and provide opportunities to proclaim the Gospel which, I believe, is a key point of 1 Peter 2:15 (Along those lines, see one of my favorite articles on 1 Peter, Torrey Seland, "Resident Aliens in Mission: Missional Practices in the Emerging Church of 1 Peter").

One final note: I would even acknowledge that informed voting equals "seeking the welfare of the city," and thus voting in elections is important for a Christian who is both a good steward of God's gift a democratic republic and somebody who cares about his country. However, the minute a Christian exalts a particular party to the level of theological dogma (as if unbelievers in the Republican [or Democratic] Party were somehow capable building the Kingdom of God!), or the minute that political issues (no matter how important) became the key to the expansion of the kingdom, then we have misunderstood how, exactly, God's Kingdom is truly built (and may I remind my dear readers that the church in Acts was built just fine, thank you, without the benefit of Ronald Reagan's conservative America?)

Nov 10, 2017

Papers Delivered at the "Bible Faculty Summit" (August 2017)

Every year I try to attend the "Bible Faculty Summit" held for those professors and academics more-or-less identifying themselves as moderate-fundamentalist (this includes more than just Baptist). I've been meaning to give a brief description of this year's papers for my audience (however, if you want a copy of any of them, you will have to contact the individual authors).

This year's Bible Faculty Summit was held at the absolutely gorgeous Appalachian Bible College (seriously, this has to be one of the most beautiful settings in North America for a Bible college). The theme for this year (no surprise!) was "The Reformation" (and for the first time in my life I got to research and write a paper on the Anabaptists! Many thanks, by the way, to the "Mennonite Historical Library" in Goshen, Indiana, for facilitating my research).

Every year there's always one or two papers that stand out in making a unique and fascinating contribution to biblical studies, theology, or church history. For me, I felt this year's best contribution was:

1. Mark Sidwell (prof. of Social Science at Bob Jones U.) on "Did Women Have a Reformation? The Case of Katherine Zell." The reason this paper fascinated me was that it raised an issue that I had never even considered, namely how the Protestant Reformation created a new class of women, nay, even a new type of position in the church, namely the "pastor's wife" (a class of which Katherine Zell is an excellent example). Consider: up until this point in history, clergy were supposed to be single and celibate (supposed to be, of course, does not mean that they always were). However, the 1500s saw the Protestant repudiation of that standard with many clergyman taking a wife (Luther himself setting the example for many). Sidwell does an absolutely fantastic job of discussing what, exactly, that entailed and how Katherine Zell, for one, both embraced her role and struggled with the implications of this hitherto unknown (for 1200+ years, probably!) social concept of "the pastor's wife."

If the reader will pardon a joke on this topic: Two friends, a young catholic boy and a young anglican boy, were walking down the street. Along comes the local Anglican priest. "Hello, Father," says the Anglican boy, reflexively. His Catholic friend turns to him and says incredulously  "He can't be a 'Father'! He's got three kids!"

Other papers were:

2. Scott Aniol, who has produced some helpful publications grappling with church music and worship (including one that came out just recently with Kregel), gave a paper entitled "Polishing Brass on a Sinking Ship: Toward a Dispensational Philosophy of the Church and Cultural Engagement." Here he defends dispensationalism (properly defined) against the accusation that it does not possess any appropriate model to engage culture. In the process he deals with various philosophical positions, e.g., "Two Kingdom Theology," Neo-Kuyperianism, etc.

3. Brian C. Collins, who works for BJU Press, presented on "Soli Deo Gloria or Beatitude: Aquinas, Calvin, and His Heirs on the Chief End of Man." Drawing off the work of Thomas Watson and the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Collins explores how "blessedness" and "God's glory" are potentially interrelated as the telos of humanity.

4. Kyle C. Dunham, who teaches at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, presented on "'For Our Good Always': How the Intertextual Links between Deuteronomy and Ecclesiastes Reinforce Qohelet's Positive Message." As Dunham puts it, ultimately the Preacher of Ecclesiastes draws from Deuteronomy to "commend obedience and joy, but not merely as a means of obtaining superior wisdom. He commends obedience and joy as an antidote to the pain and suffering endemic to a fallen world."

5. C. J. Harris (Positive Action for Christ) wrote and delivered a highly informative paper on "The Huguenot Mission to Brazil, 1556-58," describing for us the trials and tribulations of what was essentially one of the first overseas missionary attempts out of the Protestant Reformation.

6. Troy Manning, who is a language specialist for Bibles International, presented on "Literacy in Bible Times." He noted that, in spite of (1.) the low literacy rate in biblical times, (2.) the fact that literacy itself was never a biblical, "moral obligation", and (3.) the effectiveness of oral transmission, nonetheless writing Scripture down was a necessity for God's community, and that even today,what may be a primarily oral culture will still ultimately benefit from having written Scripture.

7. My fellow Petrine specialist Tim Miller (prof of New Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary; Tim also has a doctorate in theology from Westminster) focused on the "milk of the word" phrase of 1 Peter 2:1-3. He defended the more traditional reading of the phrase as a reference to the Word of God (his primary scholarly foil in this paper was naturally Karen Jobes, who has published some significant material on the topic). Those interested should note that Tim will also be presenting this same paper at ETS in Rhode Island this year (wish I could be there!)

8. Joel Pinter spoke to us on the "Refutation of Saracens by M. Luther Then and Now," i.e. a discussion of Luther's polemic against Islam, based off of Luther's own discovery of a 200 year old book (which has "just recently become available to the English-speaking world") by Dominican monk Riccoldo Pennini (1200s). The modern English version of this book is translated by Londini Ensis.

9. Jon Pratt, professor of New Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, Minnesota) presented on "The 'Israel of God' in Galatians 6:16," an exegetical paper that deals with whether or not the phrase refers to both Gentiles and Jews or only ethnic Jews. He concludes,
"In the end, the syntactical arguments point toward the Israel-as-ethnic-Jews position with the normal use of kai establishing a good foundation for this viewpoint and the use of the genitive providing solid evidence for a connection between Paul's usage of 'Israel' in Rom 9:6 and his use of 'Israel of God' in Gal 16:16, because the limiting function of the genitive requires a larger group (all ethnic Jews) from which the smaller group ('Israel of God') is distinguished. This leads to the strongest argument for the Israel-as-ethnic-Jews position: the consistent use of 'Israel' as referring to ethnic Jews throughout Paul's writings."

10. Mark Ward, who works for Logos/Faithlife, gave us a very practical and informative paper on "New Tools for Teaching Textual Criticism to Laypeople." He focused especially on: 1. "The Exploring Biblical Manuscripts" interactive feature of Logos software itself; 2. "The Lexham Textual Notes on the New Testament," and 3. his own ongoing project, "KJVParallelBible.org" (I might add, this latter one is a very helpful tool especially within Independent Baptist circles; it does not push an agenda, it merely points out all the areas where the King James differs from the standard critical Greek text). Ward also mentioned some helpful "introductory books" (I would especially like to highlight two from his list: David Alan Black, New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide and J. B. Williams and Randolph Shaylor, eds. God's Word in Our Hands: The Bible Preserved for Us). The reader should also note Mark's forthcoming book: Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible (Lexham Press). Mark's purpose is not to push one particular view of textual criticism, but simply to note how the difficulty of the KJV language (in this modern era) can lead to hermeneutical abuse.

11. Finally, my own paper, "A Canonical Anomaly: Why Did the Anabaptists Cite Wisdom of Solomon as Scripture" attempted to grapple with (and solve) a mystery that has bothered me since I took the excellent doctoral class "New Testament Canon" with Dr. L. Scott Kellum at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. That mystery is: why were the Anabaptists (part of the "Radical Reformation") quoting Wisdom of Solomon as Scripture when it seems that the Magisterial Reformation, although occasionally appreciative of the Apocrypha, were not granting it canonical status? In other words, how could the Anabaptists, generally speaking, have the same canon as the Roman Catholic Church even while radically different from them in theology?

Oct 24, 2017

Teaching and Preaching in Kenya!

In September, I had the great privilege of preaching and teaching in Kenya, my first trip overseas in over 12 years, and my first time ministering in any country other than Japan and the USA. A shoutout to Pastor and Mrs. Halstead for their awesome hospitality! (I stayed in Thika, Kenya, mostly, but the college and seminary are in in Nairobi).

Before I give you the highlights of my experience, some photos:

The student body of Independent Baptist College of Ministry and Theological Seminary (chapel service):


Giraffe (no fence between us, or between myself and any of the other animals below. The giraffe wouldn't let me get too close, though):

Impala (I think; with gazelles flanking it):

Zebra and Warthog:

And now, my highlights:

1. Teaching Kenyan theology students to refute the Bauer Thesis! (I was teaching New Testament Intro at the seminary, using my own doctoral advisor's book).

2. Preaching a total of 6 times (I almost lost my voice, since I was sick with a cold entering Kenya but the Lord was gracious!).

3. Meeting Kenyan believers, including pastors, and getting to know them. Also, fellowshipping with and getting to know the American missionaries.

4. Various culinary experiences, with fantastic Kenyan coffee and even more fantastic Ethiopian coffee (the missionary families and I went to an authentic Ethiopian restaurant in Nairobi).

5. Taking a Monday to go hiking in a place with plenty of wild animals!

The Lord was good!

Sep 30, 2017

Looking for a Pastor? Hire a Doctrinally-Sound Teacher! The Potential Practical Implications of my Recent Article in The Bible Translator

I am looking forward to blogging about my awesome ministry trip to Kenya soon (with pictures!). I think I'm just about over jet-lag. However, for now I'd like to focus briefly on the qualifications of a prospective pastor (since I've never been a pastor, of course I have all the answers [note to impressionable readers: that was self-deprecating sarcasm])

I was blessed recently to have an article of mine published in the prestigious journal The Bible Translator entitled "Rethinking the Translation of Didaktikos in 1 Timothy 3.2 and 2 Timothy 2.24" (vol. 68.2, 2017). Although somewhat technical, the article tries to make a strong practical suggestion for ecclesiology and the calling of pastors. 

In a nutshell, my proposal is that "apt to teach/skilled in teaching" (which is what most translations have--that or a similar equivalent) might be missing the point. If the word should be translated "experienced in teaching" or "a teacher" (as I try to argue) then this has the potential to impact how churches evaluate prospective pastors.

Granted, you don't want to hire a boring preacher or teacher for your pastoral staff! However, my point is that I don't think Paul is telling us that we should look at a preacher's skill in teaching, but rather the fact that he has been teaching. Consequently, since the prospective pastoral candidate has a track-record of teaching, it becomes much easier to analyze just what he has been teaching. This then does away with the oddity of didaktikos being the only word in those lists that would not, technically, be a moral qualification.

What would this mean practically? Students in ministry, if you wish to pastor, then start teaching first! Gain experience in teaching and establish a track-record of solid doctrine. Gain a reputation as a solid expositor of God's Word (this will take time, obviously, but why not begin with primary or teen Sunday School?). As for churches: don't be dazzled by raw pedagogical skill! The flashy preacher and teacher you're considering may be hiding a lack of doctrinal soundness or, even worse, heresy.

I should note, however, that there is an alternative interpretation of didaktikos favored by my doctoral advisor David Alan Black, namely that the word means "teachable," i.e., "humble" (although I am not yet fully swayed, I did find support for this view in the writings of Cyprian of Carthage). This view would also solve the conundrum of why didaktikos would seemingly be the only word in the lists that isn't a moral qualification. The practical takeaway here would be that churches should only call potential pastors that have a track-record of humility. There is no place in the ministry for a prima donna!

Sep 4, 2017

Going to Kenya, and my second book is out!

Just a quick note! I have the privilege of heading to Kenya this week to visit, teach New Testament Introduction at a small Baptist seminary there, and preach possibly as many as seven times! (Your prayers are appreciated; I'm not exactly at the "Billy Sunday" level on the "Scale of Preaching Excitement!")

In the meanwhile, I'm grateful to report that my second book is out, entitled Where Is Your Allegiance? The Message to the Seven Churches, published by Energion. Click here for the publisher's link and here for the Amazon link (where you can buy it on Kindle).

Basically, this book is a practical and theological look at the first three chapters of Revelation, drawing heavily on the social and historical backgrounds of the seven cities (a note to the wise; Colin Hemer's The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting is an immensely beneficial source). Also, unlike my first book (which could probably be classified as an academic snooze-fest, meant to be read by scholars and doctoral students), this one is meant for the "average Joe" and "average Josephine," with an eye towards practical application.

I have the privilege of teaching "Revelation" as an elective after I return from Kenya, so I'm grateful the Lord let me get this book out, and thanks to my (hopefully many!) readers (must resist checking "Amazon sales rank" every day . . . must resist checking "Amazon sales rank" every day . . .).

Jul 24, 2017

Trying to Solve a Canonical Mystery: The Anabaptists and Wisdom of Solomon

Though the connection between German, Swiss, and Dutch Anabaptists and the 16th-17th century English Separatist Baptists is not quite crystal clear, most of us who definitely trace our lineage to the latter also see some kind of affinity to the former (who, after all, taught believer's baptism, the authority of Scripture alone, and separation of church and state). Consequently, I'm excited that for the first time in my life I'm doing serious research on the Anabaptists in preparation for presenting a paper at the Bible Faculty Summit.

I am actually trying to solve a mystery that's been bothering me for about 9 years! In 2008, my first full class for the ph.d. at Southeastern was "NT Canon" with L. Scott Kellum. In the process of writing my paper (on a more-or-less unrelated subject), I noticed that the Anabaptists actually continued to quote from the Apocrypha while their "colleagues" from the "less-radical" Reformation had long left the Apocrypha in the dust.  This is not sporadic, either; the Apocrypha seems to be quoted as Scripture across quite a broad swath of Anabaptist characters, not just the main players, but also many of the lesser known characters that were martyred or at least imprisoned. For the former, see for example Conrad Grebel, his "Letter to Müntzer" (Zurich, September 5, 1524), where he argues that children below the age of accountability are saved and makes his defense "on the basis of the following Scriptures," followed by a list that includes Wisdom 12 (by which he means Wisdom 12:19). For the latter, Lenart Plovier (1560), in "A Testament," uses the formula "it is written" to introduce a direct quote of Wisdom 11:1. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Quoting Apocrypha as Scripture was quite common for the Anabaptists.

So what's with this canonical anomaly? So far I've only come across one other article anywhere on the topic (and it was on the Anabaptists and 4 Esdras), so this seems like an fruitful avenue of research. I have a theory, which will be tested today as I research at the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College.

Jun 8, 2017

Which academic journals in biblical studies give the best peer-review feedback? (A subjective, personal account)

Within the past few months, I've highlighted peer-reviewed journals, including what I feel are the top 50 or so for biblical studies. Peer-review has been going on for at least 150 years (see this fascinating article in Physics Today on "What it was like to be peer-reviewed in the 1860s"), and remains essential for the encouraging of cutting-edge research.

For the best journals, blind peer review is key. This means that a paper is sent anonymously to peer-reviewers, without the author knowing who they are and vice versa. This virtually eliminates favoritism, and in theory allows authors to make unbiased decisions based on the quality of the article and its contribution to scholarship. 

Blind peer-review often provides the opportunity for the scholars (or their grad assistants, in some cases!) to give feedback--feedback that may even lead to the article being improved and published in another journal despite being initially rejected (this has happened to me). For us minor-leaguers, such feedback is incredibly valuable, and even bona fide scholars would do well to take notice (for a fascinating account of how Albert Einstein himself would have benefitted from peer-review feedback, see this article in Physics Today).

Now, as a service to the educational community, I'm giving you my own perspective on which journals in biblical studies give the best feedback. This will be based solely on my personal experience (and only includes journals I've submitted papers to), and may not be totally fair to some journals (e.g., if I only submitted a paper one time, 8 years ago). So keep that in mind.  I welcome personal reports from other fledging writers like myself.

Also, for the record, I've submitted a paper a total of 19 times (some of those are the same paper submitted to a different journal after rejection), and 6 of those times the paper has been accepted for publication. So basically I'm batting .316. Not sure if that's good, bad, or totally average! I have yet to be published in a clear tier-1 journal, though I have a couple of high tier-2 journals.

Note: in none of these cases should this be taken as a criticism of the journals under discussion (or "sour grapes" on my part). They have good reasons for rejecting the papers they do. Having said that, there is some subjectivity in journals, as evidence by the fact that in two cases I have had papers rejected by one journal and then published by another journal on an equal tier. Still, I gladly acknowledge that I am not a real scholar, and no doubt sometimes my writing is just not up to the level of the journals I'm submitting to. Also, obviously a journal has the right to not offer feedback, if the editors so desire. My point is simply to help those budding scholars that wish to improve their writing via feedback.

Now, here we go: To start us out, I will acknowledge Tyndale Bulletin as the greatest journal for feedback, in my humble-but-correct opinion. I have yet to be published there (it's a career goal of mine), but each time I've submitted a paper I've received feed back that helped improve it. One of those rejected papers is about to come out in another tier-2 journal, and it was no doubt improved via the feedback I received from the first reviewers in TynB. So Tyndale Bulletin is the clear winner, in my opinion. 

From tier-1 journals, Journal of Biblical Literature is the winner. The feedback was extensive, clear, relevant, courteous, and filled two whole pages (I received a "revise and resubmit" from them: still not sure if I'll do that or revise for another journal). In contrast, New Testament Studies gave me a short paragraph, basically "your writing and research were good, but the reviewers were unconvinced by your thesis." Novum Testamentum gave no feedback, only rejection. Those are the only three tier-1 journals I've had the guts to submit a paper to.

Trinity Journal is a bit of a mystery to me. The first two times I submitted a paper I received some feedback from their committee (even though the paper was rejected); the latest submission (which is being published elsewhere), for all practical purposes I received no feedback. Still, it's a prestigious enough evangelical journal that I'll probably try again some day, but only if I feel my paper is a really good fit. Also, "review by committee" is a bit tough to get by unscathed (and TJ only publishes twice a year, which probably makes it tougher to get published by them. Kudos to those who have!)

If TJ is my "unlucky" journal so far, Bulletin for Biblical Research is my "lucky" journal. Both papers I've submitted to them have been published, and both times with very good, constructive feedback which, without a doubt, made the paper better. Frankly, for young aspiring scholars, I would recommend BBR as one of the best journals to submit your initial paper to (as long as its more in the realm of NT/OT studies than theology per se).

Let me start this next paragraph with a disclaimer: JETS is one of the two top evangelical journals (the other being TynB), and well-worth trying to publish in. Having said that, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society has given me virtually no feedback, regardless of being accepted or rejected (I've had one paper published with them, not counting my rejoinder to a response to my article, and two papers rejected); however, I've seen indication that this might be changing for the better. Similarly, Westminster Theological Journal, in my sole attempt, gave me no feedback, although it's obviously a journal worth publishing in.

I have never received what I would consider "mean" feedback. However, Journal of Theological Interpretation gave me probably the toughest feedback I've encountered; I think I seriously misunderstood what sort of paper would be a good fit with them, so this is not to cast them in a negative light, but it was definitely hard to swallow! (Also, I clearly adopted a too casual style; I need to watch out for that).

Filelogia Neotestamentaria published a paper of mine, but did not give feedback (this was about 6 years ago, though). I submitted a paper to Word&World in a student competition about 7 years ago; it was rejected, with no feedback, but I did get a free year's subscription! 

Bibliotheca Sacra, obviously a very prestigious journal worth publishing in, is also somewhat of a mystery to me. I submitted a paper that directly dealt with a topic covered before in the journal, yet significantly expanded the discussion, and was told the paper was not a good fit for the journal, with no other feedback. They did, however, encourage me to submit again to the journal in the future. I honestly don't know what to make of that: does this mean they liked my writing but not my topic? Or is that simply what they say to all writers that show at least a minimum competency in writing? Regardless, I'll probably submit again sometime, but only after making sure my article is a really good fit. (And Kudos to my friend, you know who you are, who has a forthcoming paper with BibSac!)

The Bible Translator, which accepted a paper of mine within the past few months (after two revisions), gave excellent feedback. In fact, one of the two reviewers actually suggested an avenue of research that I had not considered before, and this immensely improved my paper. Kudos and thanks to BT's anonymous peer-reviewers!

Finally, I had the privilege of publishing a paper in Science & Christian Belief (put out by the Victoria Institute), and received excellent feedback (interestingly, one of the reviewers was clearly a scientist, and the other was clearly a philosopher). I spent about 12 hours revising that paper for publication, but it was worth it! (Note: I had to try to change my spelling to British spelling for S&CB; not sure how successful I was!)

So there you have it: my own limited experience on which journals have provided helpful feedback. Now, dear young doctoral student or fledgling scholar, go out and submit your papers! (And feel free to share your experiences in the comments, so long as you are courteous and fair, with no "sour grapes")

Jun 1, 2017

Bridging the gap from Biblical Theology to Jesus Christ: Some positive thoughts on David Wenkel's book Jesus' Crucifixion Beatings and the Book of Proverbs

I have the privilege of teaching Hermeneutics twice a year at Baptist College of Ministry, and one new concept I introduce them to is "Biblical Theology," namely tracing the theme of a particular book or author. In addition, for each of their hermeneutics papers I require them to demonstrate how they can "bridge-the-gap" from their particular passage to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This can be somewhat tricky. On the one hand, we must respect the original author's intention and not allegorize (and both our textbooks, Duvall and Hays' Grasping God's Word and Sire's Scripture Twisting, do an excellent job of rebuking those who assume their own "spiritual" interpretation trumps the "common sense" reading of the biblical text!). On the other hand, Jesus himself indicated that the entirety of Scripture points to him (Luke 24:27--"in all the Scriptures"). Consequently, we must not be afraid to see a deeper Christological significance in any portion of Scripture (but only after we've grasped the original meaning of the author). We must acknowledge, for example, the "plain sense" reading of Song of Solomon as a (awkward!) celebration of "smooching" (and more) between a husband and wife (avoiding the temptation to "sanitize" it), while at the same time noting that God is the lover par excellence, as evidenced by John 3:16. Indeed, the apostles themselves were not afraid to see even technically 
non-Messianic OT texts "fulfilled" in Jesus Christ (case in point: Matthew 2:15's citation of Hosea 11 which, in my opinion, is basically telling us "Jesus succeeded where Israel failed").

Enter David H. Wenkel's new book: Jesus' Crucifixion Beatings and the Book of Proverbs (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan 2017). Dr. Wenkel, with a ph.d. from the University of Aberdeen, has taught at Moody Bible Institute, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Indian Bible College. The purpose of his book is not to read Proverbs allegorically or without regard to the author's original intent. Rather,  Wenkel seeks to place Proverbs in canonical, Christological context. Thus, he states,

". . . this theme (the physical beating of fools) within the book of Proverbs has meaning related to Christ through its application to him as one who bears the punishments that a wicked fool should endure. This meaning is driven by grammatical-historical exegesis because the Proverbs apply to all sinners for whom Christ was a sinless substitute." Indeed, "The very genre of Proverbs directs the reader to apply them in an infinite number of ways. Therefore, this study argues that there is place for a legitimate application of this theme to Christ when read in a canonical fashion" (Wenkel, p. 8).

After the introduction of chapter 1, Wenkel then explores the various aspects of the "beating of the fool," both in the context of Proverbs and in the theme's broader canonical context. One key insight, for example, is his discussion of 2sam 7:14 and how the son of the Messianic king would be "chastened with the rod of men," and the covenant significance of this statement (Wenkel, p. 74). Wenkel summarizes: ultimately, "it was God's own covenantal promises that ensured his son would be disciplined through the rod" (p. 76).

Thus for anybody interested in the theology of Proverbs and/or its Christological significance (a topic that has not been explored as much as it should be), as well as a good example for how to "bridge" to Jesus Christ from the OT without allegorizing, I recommend David Wenkel's book.