Purpose:

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.

Jun 24, 2016

Preparing to teach NT Biblical Theology: Resources and Decisions

In the early stages of my doctoral studies, I had the privilege of taking "Biblical Theology" with Dr. Andreas J. Kostenberger at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. My first of two papers for that class (on a Petrine theology of prophecy), with the encouragement of Dr. Kostenberger, was submitted for publication and eventually ended up in the Bulletin for Biblical Research, vol. 21.2 (2011). Consequently, I am very passionate about the subject, and now, for the first time, I have the opportunity to teach the entire class at the seminary level here in Menomonee Falls, WI.

The first question is, obviously, "What is biblical theology"? It is not, contra the name, "theology that is biblical as opposed to unbiblical." In fact, it is very possible to conduct "biblical theology" that is in antithesis to the Christian faith. On the other hand, biblical theology is most definitely not "systematic theology." While I am still working on my own definition for the class, I would strongly view the former as allowing the text to give us theological categories rather than starting with theological categories and seeing what the text has to say about them. In other words, systematic theology says "I wonder what the Bible has to say about angels," having already made up its mind which topic to investigate. Conversely, biblical theology says, "I wonder what theological topics are important to Jude and how does he develop them?" The difference is significant. Both are essential, (systematics is necessary to see how all the pieces fit together and show what relevance they have to everyday belief), but biblical theology must precede systematics if we wish to avoid a sort-of "conservative rationalism" that places our opinion of what topics are important over the text's opinion of what topics are important. 

A plethora of resources on biblical theology exist. Indeed, simply settling on a textbook is causing me grief! (In a pleasant sort of way; much like a child "grieves" over having to choose between two competing flavors of ice cream). Option one will be Frank Thielman's Theology of the New Testament, which from what I understand conducts biblical theology the way I want it done (not that I'm the authority on "how it should be done!"). Once it arrives in the mail, I shall proceed to analyze it. The second option will be to have the students purchase (but only read part of) the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP Academic), and then supplement their reading with a book of their choice from one of the many excellent series out there, e.g., New Studies in Biblical Theology (IVP), New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology (B&H Academic), Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Zondervan), etc.

For the required paper, I am planning on allowing two approaches: 1. focusing on how a particular theme is developed in a particular book or author (e.g., Atonement in Hebrews; Kingdom in Matthew; etc.) or, 2. Tracing a major theme throughout the entire New Testament, either from a canonical or historical perspective (e.g., tracing the theme of the Parousia in the NT); the latter, of course, requires enough knowledge of the NT to know what themes are most important to the majority of the NT and will require 
acknowledging tension when necessary (key point: tension does not mean contradiction; there's a difference).

Finally, there's a series of articles that I intend to have them read. Foundational to understanding the entire discipline are, I believe, the articles by D. A. Carson ("Current Issues in Biblical Theology: A New Testament Perspective,"  BBR 5.1, 1995) and Andreas J. Kostenberger ("The Present and the Future of Biblical Theology," Themelios 37.3, 2012). These both provide an excellent overview of the state of the field of study today.

I'll also force them to read my own article in BBR on Petrine theology (just because very few people write on Petrine theology, a noticeable exception being Larry R. Helyer's excellent The Life and Witness of Peter). After that, there's a few articles I've taken a fancy to that I consider to be good examples of biblical theology: Torrey Seland, "Resident Aliens in Mission: Missional Practices in the Emerging Church of 1 Peter" (BBR 19.4, 2009); Josh Chatraw, two articles in JETS (vol. 54.3, September 2011; and vol. 55.2, June 2012), the first of which refutes Bart Ehrman on "contradictory theologies" when comparing the Synoptics, and the second of which provides a needed balance to N. T. Wright's corporate view of repentance in Luke. In addition, I liked what I saw in Robert L. Plummer's "Imitation of Paul and the Church's Missionary Role in 1 Corinthians," JETS 54.3 (Spetember 2011), so they'll probably read that as well.

Finally, I'm thinking of having my students read a brand-new article in a top-tier journal: Jack Levison, "A Theology of the Spirit in the Letter to the Hebrews," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 78 (2016).
In this fascinating article, Levison attempts to correct the assumption a la H. B. Swete, Barnabas Lindars, et al, that there is no "theology of the Spirit" in Hebrews. Although I do not agree with everything Levison writes (mostly the first half--I think he's over-reacting to areas where Hebrews diverges from the LXX, and also his approach to the warning passages), I'm nevertheless thinking of having my students read this article because Levison provides an excellent example of how to correct a dearth of scholarship on a biblical-theological theme. His five concluding points are well-thought out (and I would only really quibble with how he develops the first one): in Hebrews, 1. "The Holy Spirit is the interpreter of Scripture," 2. "In the push for perseverance in this letter, the Holy Spirit plays a central role," 3. "The Holy Spirit is essential to the process of salvation," 4. "The theology of the Spirit communicates the currency of salvation," and 5. "This theology of the Spirit communicates the currency of salvation."

So that's the plan for "biblical theology" at Baptist Theological Seminary! There's a ton of resources out there, but I would advise the reader interested in dipping his or her toe into the ocean of biblical theology to start with Carson's and Kostenberger's articles, both of which are available for free online.

May 31, 2016

From Narrative Text to Preaching: Some Thoughts on Abraham Kuruvilla's "World in Front of the Text"

A few months ago I had the privilege of attending (and presenting a paper) at a regional ETS meeting in Grand Rapids, MI. One of the plenary speakers was Abraham Kuruvilla, from Dallas Theological Seminary. Since I teach Hermeneutics twice a year (Spring and Summer School), I was very intrigued by a concept he explored, and ended up sharing it with my students. That concept is "WIFTT," or "The World in Front of the Text." (Though I haven't read it yet, I believe Kuruvilla explores this idea in his book Privilege the Text).

I believe this concept Kuruvilla develops is extremely helpful for bridging the gap from narrative text to practical outworking in the Christian life. Basically, Kuruvilla challenges us to ask, "What is the ideal world implied by this text." In the presentation I heard, Kuruvilla cited two examples: In Aesop's fable of the dog and his bone (where the dog looks into a river and sees another "dog," his own reflection with a bone, and barks it at), the "idea world" of Aesop is "one where nobody leaves present blessing for the "lust of the ephemeral." Similarly, in a situation where you step on your friend's foot and he yells "you're on my foot," the "ideal world" of your friend is "one where friends do not go around causing pain to one's lower extremeties."

This concept of the "ideal world" (the "world in front of the text") becomes immensely helpful in handling descriptive texts, i.e., biblical narrative. Christians are all to quick to take a verse out of context, or wish to emulate a biblical character, without asking, according to the narrative, does this event or character portray God's ideal world? I will stress, sometimes the narrative is giving you what is not part of God's "ideal world."

Three examples (my own) from Judges:

1. Gideon and the fleece.
Now, I don't have a problem "laying out a fleece" to a certain degree if Christians are truly unsure of what God's will is and humbly seeking it (though even this can be problematic). However, read Judges 6:36-40 and ask yourself this: is God's ideal world one where we consistently demand "proofs" from God about His will when He has already explicitly stated what it is? Now  don't get me wrong, Gideon's faith is exemplary, and I would say, borrowing Kuruvilla's language, "God's ideal world is one where His servants manifest faith in His Word." However, not every part of Gideon's life lives up to that ideal. In other words, we must understand that biblical narrative often tells us what's the opposite of God's "ideal world" just as often. Indeed, the second half of Gideon's story (which, sadly, I don't believe I've ever heard preached) shows us how not to live (see Daniel Block's excellent New American Commentary for the best treatment on this story, and the following stories).

2. Jephthah's "devotion"
Granted, per Hebrews 11:32, there is a part of Jephthah's story that does exist in "God's ideal world," namely his faith in defeating Israel's enemies. However, Judges is not about "Israel's mighty heroes" so much as "God's deliverance of Israel through imperfect instruments because of His grace." Jephthah is a case in point. In God's ideal world, men and women do not make rash vows (Prov 20:25b), and they certainly do not perform human sacrifices (Judges 11:31, 39, "will offer it up for a burnt offering" . . . "did with her according to his vow" make it pretty clear that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter). Jephthah is not a role model; despite his faith, in general his actions do not belong in God's ideal world.

3. Judges 18-21
The "darker" parts of Scripture are just as inspired as the happier parts, and they are there to teach us a lesson. The lesson of the last four chapters of Judges is simply this: "There was no king in Israel, and look what happens when there isn't!" In God's ideal world, men and women do have a king, and that King is Yahweh Himself! Consequently, virtually everything that happens in these chapters does not belong in "God's ideal world," and pastors need to preach these chapters as the sad and horrible consequences of what happens when we fail to make God our King and His world our world (Block's commentary does an excellent job in pointing out that it is the women, especially, who suffer in these chapters--in other words, when Yahweh is not King, men demean and abuse women).

So some food for thought. Next time you look for the application in a text, ask yourself, with Dr. Kuruvilla, what is "The World in front of the text?" I.e., what is "God's ideal world?" It may be that the text you are reading is meant to portray the opposite, namely a world where "everybody does what is right in their own eyes." Don't emulate that type of world!

Apr 28, 2016

Why I had my "Intro to NT Exegesis Students" translate from the Septuagint

Introductory note: 
For those who would deny that the Septuagint even exists (as I read once in a KJV-only journal), I would point to the following: 
1. We have LXX manuscripts that predate the Incarnation and the time of the Apostles (e.g., the Rylands 458 papyrus on Deuteronomy, dated to the 2nd century BC) 2. Plenty of passages exist in the Greek NT (whatever text-type you prefer) that actually agrees with LXX manuscripts against the Masoretic (e.g., Romans 15:12; in addition, simply go through the book of Hebrews, which is predominantly LXX, including both where it is similar to the Hebrew MT and where it isn't). This rules out the possibility that the Apostles were simply creating their own translation on the fly (at least in some cases).
End introductory note.

I recently finished teaching an excellent "Intro to New Testament Exegesis" class for the seminary here at Baptist College of Ministry. My focus on the class was twofold: 1. To provide a basic introduction to all the essential elements of exegesis, including lexical semantics, blog diagramming, some discourse analysis, and a little bit of textual criticism; 2. To push them towards expertise in handling Koine Greek.

To the latter end, I threw a "competency" exam at them the last day of class where they had to translate from a chunk of the Didache (approx. 100-130 AD, give or take a few decades). However, throughout the semester, I gave them "translation and parsing" quizzes taken straight from the canonical Septuagint (by "Septuagint," a.k.a. LXX, a.k.a. "Old Greek," I mean the version of the Old Testament translated in Alexandria over a period of many decades before the birth of Jesus. There were other Greek translations that came later).

The Septuagint is, to a significant degree, the "Bible of the early church." The average Gentile Christian (and perhaps many Hellenized Jewish Christians) would not have been able to read Hebrew. Consequently, the LXX was used by the apostles quite often (though not always) when quoting the Old Testament. Consequently, the LXX is a key part of New Testament studies. By default, the LXX usage of a particular word should be considered before (though not in exclusion of) the usage by Josephus, Philo, or secular Greek authors. Case in point: "hilasterion" in Romans 3:25 (the word only occurs twice in the NT) is used in the LXX Torah to refer to the physical Mercy Seat in the tabernacle (quite frequently!) This would obviously be in the back of the mind of the majority of Greek-speaking Christians reading Romans 3:25, at least Christians with even a cursory familiarity with the Old Testament). In other words, the LXX is in one sense the "lexical currency" of NT writers (some more than others).

How the LXX should be viewed regarding inspiration, canonicity, etc. is an open question within certain areas of Christian scholarship (which is why Augustine had his infamous debate with Jerome over the latter's new translation). Yet the most that can be said is that the NT writers viewed a translation as an adequate vehicle for conveying God's word, even if it differed somewhat from the originals.

This is hardly the tip of the iceberg, of course! LXX research is an exciting, ongoing field of study (for what it's worth, I recently had an article accepted for publication that suggests Peter "corrected" the LXX in 1 Peter 2:6 for various reasons). For the reader who's interested in this topic, I would recommend as the essential starting point the book Invitation to the Septuagint by Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silva.

Mar 25, 2016

Some positive thoughts on Stanley Porter's new Romans commentary

To give this a bit more weight, I'll confess that I'm not the greatest Stanley Porter fan: whenever he and Daniel Wallace go head to head on Greek grammar, verbal aspect, etc., I generally side with 
Wallace (plus, my one Filologia Neotestamentaria article [2010, vol. 23] pushes against Porter's views a bit). Having said that, I do appreciate much of his work: for example, I have my NT Exegesis students read his article "Why the Laodiceans Received Lukewarm Water" in Tyndale Bulletin vol. 38 (1987).

Having said all that, his new commentary on Romans is fantastic (The Letter to the Romans: A Linguistic and Literary Commentary, New Testament Monographs; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015), and here's why. 
1. First of all, it highlights what Porter is best at, namely Discourse Analysis. Consequently, Porter does not go "verse-by-verse" as most commentaries but rather "discourse unit-by-discourse unit." This is a little bit of a down-side for those who wish to use it like other commentaries, but the trade-off is worth it in this case. Porter is able to give you a better picture of the progression of Paul's argument than most traditional commentaries.

2. Secondly, to my surprise, Porter's commentary does a fantastic job grappling with the theology of a passage (following K. Barth's exhortation!), and more often than not he's very quotable. For example:
Page 96, on Rom 3:21-26--"The sense of propitiation--no matter how unsettling to the refined modern mind--is no doubt suggested here. Christ Jesus is seen as the sacrifice, whom God himself offered, asa means of eliminating his righteous wrath, which is to be justifiably meted out upon humanity for its clear rebellion against God's standard. . . . Rather than wondering, however, how it is that God can or would want to offer a sacrifice to himself, the picture Paul paints, when viewed from another angle, is a more profound one. He depicts a God of both love and righteousness. A God of righteousness must hold true to his own character as his righteousness is exemplified and enshrined in his laws, whether written or not. Yet at the same time, he also offers the solution to the violation of his standards by a sinful and rebellious humanity, since he is a God of love. God's love and righteousness are the two faces of the same coin" (emphasis added).

Another example: Porter's discussion of Romans 5 and the theological implications of "reconciliation" (the focus of ch. 5) is excellent. Porter points out how that up to this point, Paul has only dealt with the legal side of the solution, yet the problem confronting humanity extends to the relational/personal side as well. Thus, "More than simply breaking God's legal code got humanity into trouble; it was a personal matter too (see Michel 1957:136). That personal dimension is what makes sinful humanity into God's enemies" (122). The solution, contra what one would expect, is that "it is God who initiates reconciliation with humanity" rather than vice versa (121).

This is a side of Porter I haven't seen much of before, and I feel he does an excellent job. If Porter's next project were a "Theology of the New Testament, I'd pre-order it (I was less pleased with his handling of the "I" passages in Romans 7, since I'm thoroughly convinced by Chang's article [see below], but oh well).

3. Thirdly, Porter's commentary is, for the most part, very up-to-date and well read. He has a few key omissions (Chang's article), but nevertheless may be the best re-searched commentary since Douglas Moo and Joseph Fitmyer.

Despite all those positives, it didn't replace Moo as my textbook for seminary exegesis on Romans (which I'm teaching this semester), since Douglas Moo's NICNT does a much better job presenting various viewpoints side-by-side, and ultimately a traditional "verse-by-verse" commentary is probably more helpful for a pastoral library. Also (no disrespect intended), Porter is still Porter (i.e., tough to read), as this one quote demonstrates: "Paul utilizes the interpersonal semantics of his language to express the tenor of his discourse, in which he engages in hypothetical dialogue with his hearers or readers" (p. 62).  

Nonetheless, his book would make excellent supplementary reading for any seminary class. Furthermore, if I were to teach a doctoral module on Romans (unlikely, since I've contributed nothing to scholarship on Romans), the students would be required to read three commentaries in their entirety: Moo (NICNT), Joseph Fitzmyer (AB), and Porter.

For the interested reader, here's some recent articles on Romans that I've found immensely interesting:
1. Hae-Kyung Chang, "The Christian Life in a Dialectical Tension? Romans 7:7-25 Reconsidered," Novum Testamentum 49 (2007).
Some readers may be aware that I had a mini-debate with philosopher and theologian Steven Cowan in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. In his rejoinder to my original article, Cowan argued that Romans 7 indicates a believe does not possess libertarian free will (click here for my original article; here for Cowan's response; here for my rejoinder). I had no strong opinions on the "I/ego" in Romans 7 at that time, and was forced to study the matter out. It was Chang's article that convinced me of the following: 
"In Rom. 6 and 8, respectively, Paul makes it clear that “being free under sin” and 'being free from the law of sin and death' are conditions that are true for every Christian. If one is a Christian, then these things are true; if one is not, they are not true. This means that the situation of 'I' depicted in Rom. 7:14–25 cannot be that of the 'normal' Christians, nor of an immature Christian. Nor can it describe the condition of any Christian living by the law because the Christian who is mistakenly living according to the law is yet a Christian and is therefore not 'under sin' or a 'prisoner of the law of sin'" (Chang, p. 268).

2. Jackson Wu, "Paul Writes to the Greek First and also to the Jew: The Missiological Significance of Understanding Paul's Purpose in Romans," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 56.4 (2013). Though much ink has been spilt on the purpose behind Romans, Wu's article is an excellent new perspective on the significance of Paul's use of the term "Barbarian," etc., in light of his proposed mission to Spain. This is a highly theological article and quite the enjoyable (and spiritually challenging) read, especially the last few pages. Consider this excellent quote as a sample:
"The danger of individualism cannot be understated here. The gospel does not merely concern individuals; it saves all nations (cf. Gal 3:8). When we think about the church’s ministry, whom do we prioritize and why? How do we partition our world, city, and church? These are gospel questions" (Wu, p. 777).

3. Finally, because lately I've become obsessed with Wisdom literature (including Wisdom of Solomon), the following article has fascinated me: Jonathan A. Linebaugh, "Announcing the Human: Rethinking the Relationship Between Wisdom of Solomon 13-15 and Romans 1.18-2.11," New Testament Studies 57 (2011). Linebaugh's basic thesis is that Paul, in Rom 1:18-2:11 specifically reacts against a Jew arguing from Wisdom of Solomon and pushes back against the basic thrust of Wisdom 13-15 (the contrast between non-idolatrous Jew and idolatrous Gentile).

Well, I trust that is some food-for-thought for any of my readers interested in deeper studies of Romans (this post having barely scratched the surface, of course!). In closing, it's worth noting that, finally, the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) on Romans has just come out, authored by Richard N. Longenecker, though I have not been able to check it out yet.

Mar 12, 2016

Symphonic (corporate) Prayer

Normally I post academic material, but this week's post will be a bit more on the practical-pastoral level.

A week ago my church (and college where I teach) finished its annual "Victory Conference." This year's theme was "Prayer" (both individual and corporate), and was very beneficial spiritually. I'd like to briefly talk about how "corporate prayer" can resemble an improvised symphony (the "symphony" terminology is not original with me).

Note: very little of this material is original with me as far as concept. I am grateful especially to Dr. Jim Van Gelderen and the rest of the conference speakers.

Instead of "going around the circle" in prayer, a "symphonic" corporate prayer meeting involves members speaking up in prayer as the Spirit leads. The benefit is that nobody is "forced" to prayer, and this then leaves open the possibility for the Spirit to lead particular people to pray at a particular time. Here's how it can resemble a symphony, at its best:
1. There can be distinct "movements" where different members reinforce each other in prayer. For example, the first half-dozen people may be led to pray about a the sicknesses plaguing the church, and they build off of each other's previous prayer. Then somewhere we "switch" movements and begin praying about missions. There's no "rule" about who can pray about what, at what time, but quite often you can spot distinct "movements" of the symphony.
2. There is a unity to the prayer service: nobody is praying against their will, they all have a common goal in mind, and they usually end up complementing each other's role nicely. We have a couple rules: don't make this your private prayer time (i.e., "praying through your list," etc.); 2. be brief (this allows more to participate); 3. don't turn this into "preaching"; etc. The goal is to complement/build off of each other in prayer.
3. In theory (and, generally in practice, I believe), the Holy Spirit acts as the conductor who guides each person to contribute when they ought to. There are, of course, discordant notes (when two people unintentionally start praying at the same time), but usually somebody backs off and awaits their turn. Naturally the one thing that could derail the "orchestra" is when church members have bitterness towards each other that is not dealt with and manifests itself in their attitude.
4. Praise via song plays a major role, as well; anybody is free to start out with a song that everybody knows, and then everybody joins in (so it's not a solo! Also, one's ability to hold a tune has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they can start us all in a song).
Anyways, corporate "symphonic" prayer has been a blessing to me both in my current church and in my previous church in NC.
For more information on last week's focus on prayer, click here to take you to the "Bended Knee" conference homepage.
Also, for an academic discussion of corporate prayer, see Grant R. Osborne, "Moving forward on our Knees: Corporate Prayer in the New Testament," JETS 53.2 (June 2010).

Feb 25, 2016

Recovering the scandal of the Resurrection, part 2: The resurrection of believers

In a previous post I suggested that we (pointing a finger at myself) have occasionally managed to force Jesus' Resurrection into the backseat, failing to recognize that it holds an equally valuable position with his death on the cross in our proclamation of the Gospel, Scripture is clear: not only is the Resurrection an essential part of the Gospel (you have no good news if all you offer is a dead Messiah), the response to the question "how do you know he lives" is: 1. the OT foretold it, and 2. multiple eyewitnesses reported it (the correct answer is not "he lives within my heart," pace that classic song; see Luke 24:27, 34; Acts 2:32; 1 Cor 15; etc.).

Now I wish to suggest that the concept of "heaven" as "a place up there above the clouds" has unbiblically replaced the resurrection and life on a New Earth and in a New Jerusalem as the true eschatological hope of the Gospel.

Nothing I saw here is new; all of it has been said by smarter people in a more scholarly format (the starting point should be N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God, which deals with both Jesus' resurrection and ours).

Now, if your definition of "heaven" is "wherever God dwells," then I agree with you--we will spend eternity in heaven, specifically the New Earth and New Jerusalem where God will dwell with us. As an evangelist at my church and college said last semester, "It's not about us going up to heaven, It's about heaven coming down to us" (see Revelation 21-22).

Yet American culture generally speaking thinks of heaven as "that place above the clouds." As such, it is potentially unbiblical to tell people "you'll spend eternity in heaven"; at its best, this is incredibly misleading. At its worst, this is latent gnosticism, and here's why.

First off, creation. In Genesis 1 God pronounced all his creation "good" and, despite the corruption of sin, Scripture clearly indicates that God will redeem/re-create his creation (e.g., Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1, etc.). Furthermore, Psalm 115:16-18 indicates a clear contrast between heaven and earth. The former is God's abode, not humanity's, while the latter was meant for humans. For God to not restore earth to her original purpose as the habitation of humanity in God's service would mean defeat, the idea that sin could permanently alter God's plan (which it cannot).

Secondly, we have various clues that the afterlife is not yet all it could be, e.g., the very morose attitude in Psalm 6:5, Isaiah 38:9-11, etc., and even the Lament of those in Revelation 6:10. Now, granted, it's not like "heaven" is a bad place, but it's not what God intends for believers, especially in a disembodied state (consider--the only reason we float around in heaven after death is because of sin in the first place; had Adam never sinned, we would not even be talking of "going to heaven").

Thirdly, as briefly touched on above, the "End Game" of Scripture is not "hanging out in above the clouds," as is pop-culture's view of heaven (and countless "gospel" songs, many with, anemic theology--with all due respect, here's looking at you, last verse of "Sweet Hour of Prayer"--"this robe of flesh I'll drop and rise/to seize the everlasting prize" is misleading at best, bad theology at worst). Rather, the End Game of Scripture is the New Jerusalem coming down to the New Earth where we will serve God with resurrected bodies, and God will forever dwell with his creation (Revelation 21-22; 1 Cor 15; Rom 16:5; etc.). Thus, to quote once again the evangelist I mentioned above, it's not "us going up to heaven" but "heaving coming down to us" (on the New Earth!).

Consider, then, the practical ramifications. Contra the libertarian proto-gnostics that the Apostle Paul was probably countering (1Cor 6:13-20), the body is not an evil entity that can thus be used for anything we wish without ramifications. Rather, the body is sacred! God will someday resurrect it (because he created it in the first place, and everything God created is good, corruption notwithstanding). Thus, how we treat our own bodies now (especially in regards to immorality) will truly reveal our attitude towards the resurrection God has planned. If we truly look forward to the Resurrection, with new physical bodies free from the taint of sin, we will consider that our current "robe of flesh" (to quote that gospel song again) is not something that is evil but is a member of Jesus Christ himself (1Cor 6:15). We will not long for some disembodied existence, floating around "up there," which is not what God ever intended for us. We will look forward not to "heaven" (if by "heaven" we mean "that place above the clouds") but rather the final resurrection.

Yet the very concept of resurrection remains a scandal for North American culture, conjuring up images of zombies or worse (in contrast, "heaven" is generally culturally acceptable). It's time to proclaim the Resurrection of our bodies, for those who trust in Jesus Christ, as the true hope that lies within us. The Apostle Paul proclaimed this and was mocked by the Greeks (Acts 17:32) and opposed by the Sadducees (Acts 23:6-8), yet he continued to proclaim this counter-cultural truth. So maybe, just maybe, instead of asking people "Do you know for sure if you'll spend eternity in heaven?" we should be asking "Do you know if you'll be resurrected someday?"

Feb 11, 2016

Which candidate would make fulfilling the Great Commission easier (or harder)? (A very rare political post)

Slight update on 3/4/2016 for clarification

I very, very rarely post political material here; while my own views on church and state have definitely trended more Anabaptist-ic and Hauerwas-ian in recent years, I generally prefer to focus this blog into a resource for Bible students rather than a discussion of current affairs

I do wish, however, to raise a very important question in regards to politic candidates and the reasons a Christian should vote. We do have, of course, Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:2 that we should pray ". . . for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." I do believe that if the Apostle were alive today, he would apply that, to a certain degree, to voting.

However, I want to make a different point here: namely, what about the fulfillment of the Great Commission? The "End Game" of the spread of the Gospel is seen in Revelation 7:9-10, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." We, as Christians, have the awesome privilege of participating in God's incredible plan that is even now creating a "holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9) made of up all races and nationalities. One blessed feature of America is that, as the "melting pot," one does not necessarily have to go overseas to take part in reaching all races and nationalities.

So, dear Christian, my question is this: will the candidate you vote for make it easier or harder to fulfill the Great Commission? You see, as citizens of heaven, our primary concerns should not be about "what makes America stronger" but rather, as a citizen of heaven first and foremost, what assists me in fulfilling my duties to the King of Kings? 

In other words, would a candidate that desires to keep Muslims from coming to America and build a wall to keep other people from coming north--would that type of candidate make it easier or harder to reach Muslims, etc.? Furthermore, would it help or harm evangelical Christians to be associated with a man who has a foul mouth and often speaks hateful comments?

There are, of course, other legitimate political issues, though abortion is the only one that I consider of primary importance, since actual beating hearts are in the balance. If I felt that a particular candidate would make it more difficult for at least late-term abortions to occur, I would vote for that candidate. If this is not a factor, however, then for the first time in my life, in a presidential election, I am seriously considering voting democrat instead of republican [clarification: I'm not voting for Mrs. Clinton!], because I am more concerned about possible repercussions for Christian testimony and ability to reach others with the Gospel than I am about economic policies! (More likely I will vote for a third party candidate--I have no problem "throwing my vote away" if it's the only way to avoid harming my conscience).

I may be wrong, and if anybody wishes to politely disagree with me, you are more than welcome to do so (limit your posts to a few paragraphs or I might not post them). Just answer this question: since Jesus Christ alone holds our ultimate allegiance, should we not be first and foremost concerned with how our vote could facilitate our service to Him over whether or not our vote benefits America?

Quotations from the King James translation unless otherwise  noted.

Feb 1, 2016

Recovering the scandal of the Resurrection (Jesus' and ours): Part 1 (Salvation)

I've become a bit obsessed about the resurrection recently, ever since getting a copy of Acquittal by Resurrection by Markus Barth and Verne H. Fletcher (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964). I've come to realize that quite often we tend to relegate the Resurrection to a footnote in our preaching, our witnessing, and our theological meditation, not considering the fact that without the Resurrection, we actually do not have a "Gospel" (good news). (I'm preaching to myself here as well--I've been sloppy with this in the past). 

In other words, statements like "Jesus died for your sins and if you trust in him, you can go to heaven for ever," if simply left on their own, are missing a core piece of the Gospel, for a crucified Messiah who does not rise again does not equal "good news."

This, then, is why in 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul makes it explicitly clear that the Resurrection is an essential part of the good news. In fact, verses 14-19 declare that Jesus Christ - resurrection = "vain faith" and "no hope."

This, then, is why the vast majority of speeches and sermons in Acts have some emphasis on the resurrection at some point. Thus Peter, in his Pentecostal Sermon (Acts 2) goes to great length to prove that David prophesied of the Messiah's resurrection. In Peter's second recorded sermon twice (Acts 3:15 and 26) focuses on the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. The Apostle Paul was mocked by the Greeks and persecuted by the Jews for preaching the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:18-32, 23:6, and 24:10-21).

Dead messiahs do not start world-changing movements. This can be amply illustrated throughout history. In approx. 132 AD, a Jewish military leader named Shimon Bar-Koseva, under the name Shimon Bar-Kokhba ("Simon, Son of the Star"), also called Nasi ("Prince"), both names loaded with Messianic implications, of Davidic lineage, led a revolt against Rome. Not only did he manage some incredible early success and field approx. 400,000 troops, he forced the Roman Empire to allocate one-third of the entire Roman army to put him down, in the process possibly decimating the Legio XXII Deiotariana. However, in the end, the great Roman general Julius Severus managed to put down the rebellion, and Shimeon Bar-Kokhba was killed at the final battle in his headquarters in AD 135. (For more information about this revolt, click here, here, here, and here).

My point is this: after Shimeon's death, you did not see people going around declaring that they believed he was the Messiah, or that they believed "Shimeon was in their heart" or that they believed Shimeon would some day come back to judge the world. His death eliminated the possibility. As N. T. Wright aptly states, " If, after the death of Simon bar-Giora in Titus’s triumph in Rome, or if, after the death of Simeon ben-Kosiba in 135, you had claimed that Simon, or Simeon, really was the Messiah, you would invite a fairly sharp response from the average first-century Jew.  If, by way of explanation, you said that you had had a strong sense of Simon, or Simeon, as still being with you, still supporting and leading you, the kindest response you might expect would be that their angel or spirit was still communicating with you—not that he had been raised from the dead" ("Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem").
This is why, then, the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 were rather downhearted, assuming that Jesus' death actually ruled out the possibility that he was the One they were waiting for. Only seeing and talking with a literal and physical Jesus (not "Jesus in their hearts") gave them cause to rejoice.

This also completely rules out the Resurrection of the Messiah as a personal spiritual experience, i.e., "I feel Jesus in my heart" a la the liberal theology of Rudolf Bultmann and Gerd Ludamann. As Wright has pointed out, it is one thing to feel that a man you admire is now in the presence of God, or that you feel a special emotional bond with him. However, this is not what people in the first century meant by "resurrection"! Indeed, as Wright states, " If you had said to a first-century Jew that you had had a wonderful experience of the forgiveness (or the love and grace) of God, she or he would have been delighted for you.  But if you had gone on to say that the kingdom had come, that a crucified leader was the Messiah or that the resurrection had occurred, they would have been deeply puzzled if not downright offended.  This language is simply not about private experiences, even communicable private experiences, of forgiveness.  It is about eschatology, about something happening within history that resulted in a world being now a very different place" ("Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem").

In other words, if all Peter had experienced was a "warm and fuzzy" feeling, the other disciples would have tried to comfort him and encourage him and share their own "warm and fuzzy feelings" about their leader who had led a good life and died in betrayal. Yet they would not have gone around claiming that a Resurrection had occurred. They would have disappeared into the woodwork like all other followers of failed messiahs. 

My point is this: we must emphasize a literal, physical Resurrection for the Scriptural data to make sense--indeed, the description of Jesus' burial both in the four gospels and 1Cor 15 makes it explicitly clear that this is a physical resurrection, not a "spiritual" resurrection (I am indebted to Anthony Thiselton's New International Greek Testament Commentary on 1 Corinthians for stressing this point).

One side note--it is precisely for this reason that I am very uncomfortable with the last two lines in the chorus of the otherwise great hymn "I serve a risen Savior"/ "He lives" (with all due respect to Alfred Ackley). When asked, "How do I know He lives," the biblical answer is not "because he's in my heart" (shades of Ludamann, though no-doubt unintentional). Rather, the correct answer according to Scripture (Luke 24:27 and 34f; 1Cor 15:4-8; etc.) is the two-fold testimony of OT prophecy and contemporary eyewitnesses.

Thus the Resurrection is essential to the Gospel. In fact, Paul states in Romans 4:25 that we are justified by the Resurrection. This lies in the fact that the Resurrection represents God the Father's declaration, via resurrection, that Jesus is indeed Messiah and Savior of the World. Had Jesus lain in the grave, this would have been evidence that he was not who he claimed to be. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, "in the light of Old Testament texts . . . is an act of vindication which was performed by God, and which could be performed by God only!" (Markus Barth, Acquittal by Resurrection).

Consider, then: we ourselves can only be justified (and resurrected) before God because Jesus Christ Himself was declared righteous and resurrected by God the Father. The former cannot exist without the latter. If Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Son of God, was not resurrected by the Father, then it was all a lie. Yet we can thank God that rather than staying dead, Jesus was indeed "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). Amen and Amen!

Make no mistake, the Resurrection is a scandal. If Jesus' body was physically raised and infused with life, this means we cannot be content with a tame "Jesus the good teacher" who simply dies for being a good teacher or, for the more "spiritually-minded," a cosmic-guru Jesus who becomes one with the "Life-force" upon his death, remaining as a sacred memory with his disciples. Not only that, but "Jesus as an immortal soul" doesn't even cut it. As
Markus Barth points out "Resurrection and immortality of the soul are not the same. The resurrection of which we intend to treat is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was from the beginning not a welcome equivalent to the immortal soul of some philosophers, but a laughingstock to both Stoics and Epicureans. By resurrection we understand the bodily resurrection of the one Jesus Christ" (emphasis added).

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a footnote to the Gospel, and we need to stop treating it as such in our proclamation to the Gospel. The Resurrection and the Crucifixion go hand-in-hand as the foundation for our hope that Jesus saves us from the penalty of our sins. It remains an essential part of the good news, for if Jesus was not physically and bodily raised from the dead, we cannot be saved. Period. End of story. Eternal thanks to God the Father, then, for raising the Son and thus procuring our salvation.

 Next post I will discuss the other side of the scandal, namely our own physical and bodily resurrection, of which Jesus Christ was the first-fruits.

Direct Scriptural quotations taken from the King James version unless otherwise noted.

The article by Wright cited above, available here, is N. T. Wright, "Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection as a Historical Problem," Sewanee Theological Review vol 41.2 (1998). I highly recommend it.

Jan 21, 2016

What my New Testament Intro seminary students have to read

Starting this  coming Monday, I have the privilege teaching "New Testament Introduction" to the seminary students here at Baptist Theological Seminary (Menomonee Falls, WI). Since this is my "bread and butter," so to speak (my doctorate was in New Testament), I'm immensely excited at the opportunity. While I did get the opportunity to teach the class in a "hybrid" format while I was at Southeastern (part of the class was online lectures by a resident faculty, and about 12 hours of the class was my own "face-to-face" lectures to about 20 some students), this is the first time I've had the class all to myself.

My own interpretation of the topic is going to be less "book-by-book" than many treatments. While there will be plenty of that, the first half of the class will deal with broader issues, including 2nd Temple history and literature, the "quest for the historical Jesus," the historicity of the Resurrection, the Synoptic problem, the New Perspective on Paul, textual criticism, etc. 

In light of that, my textbook is not going to be the classic New Testament Introduction by Carson, Moo, and Morris (oddly, Morris' name dropped off in later editions--I still haven't figured out why that is), Rather, our textbook is The Cradle, the Cross, the Crown: A New Testament Introduction by Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. Granting my bias (two of the authors were my professors), I feel Kostenberger and co. do a way better job of working with both the background of the NT and modern theological issues (such as the so-called "quests" for the historical Jesus).

I'm requiring my students to read a couple chapters from Richard Bauckham's fantastic Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, considered one of the most significant books for defending the veracity of the Gospel accounts, as well as a chapter from Reinventing Jesus (Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace) that completely demolishes the "resurrection as an imitation of the Osiris myth" argument (to paraphrase one part of the chapter, the "Osiris" story is actually closer to "Frankenstein" than to the biblical concept of Resurrection). On the other side of the spectrum, I'm having my students read two chapters from Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities. I'm deliberately exposing my students to pop-culture liberalism, the kind of book that the average man or women on the street is most likely to read, so that they are better prepared to deal that sort of material (if this were a class devoted strictly to textual criticism, I'd probably have them read some of Ehrman's more scholarly work).

Finally, my students will read a number of journal articles dealing with a variety of topics. N. T. Wright has some fantastic articles in the Sewanee Theological Review vol. 42 on the Resurrection (available online here). In addition, his essay "Five Gospels but No Gospel," originally published in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (eds. Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans) is a humorous and masterful demolishing of "The Jesus Seminar." In the other hand, I'm also having them read Thomas Schreiner's article against the New Perspective on Paul (and against N. T. Wright) in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 54.1, March 2011 (click here). The article is entitled "Justification: The Saving Righteousness of God in Christ." Right after that, my students will be reading the ever-enjoyable Michael Bird's article "What Is There between Minneapolis and St. Paul? A Third Way in the Piper-Wright Debate" (the very next issue of JETS). 

[Side note: Somehow Bird always manages to inject humor into his academic writings. I've tried to imitate that, and failed miserably! I had a very dry article (though hopefully a worthwhile one) accepted for publication recently, but a different article, in which I tried to inject some humor, was rejected by a different journal with one of the comments being that my attempt at levity was "inappropriate." Oh well. :( ]

Anyways, looking forward to this class! The students are great, the reading material is great, and we'll see if the teacher is up to the challenge!













Dec 31, 2015

Why I'm thinking of having my Hermeneutics students read an article in the NSA Technical Journal

Language is rarely logical! That's one of the mantras I occasionally try to drill into my students, and one of the key examples of that is how words usually have multiple meanings. Consequently,very rarely is there a 1-to-1 correspondence between two words in two different languages. While occasionally this can lead to humorous consequences, in many cases the results are tragic. Shortly after the Potsdam Declaration, July 1945, Japanese reporters stood waiting to hear a comment from Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki. His one-word response was "mokumatsu," which can be translated as either "no comment" or "not worthy of comment" (big difference). Ten days later, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima.

My father John R. Himes, a former missionary to Japan, uses this incident as an opening illustration in his essay "A Translator Takes a Linguistic Look at Mark's Gospel" in the book Digging for the Truth: Collected Essays Regarding the Byzantine Text of the New Testament--A Festschrift in Honor of Maurice A. Robinson. Today, I found (surprisingly, via Wikipedia) that a short article in the (now partially declassified) NSA Technical Journal is devoted to this one word and its consequences. The article, by an unknown author (his name is the only part of the document that is classified), is entitled "Mokumatsu: One Word, Two Lessons," in volume 13.4 (Fall 1968) of the NSA Technical Journal. The full text of the article may be accessed here.

While the article is hardly what you'd expect in a "technical" journal, it is an excellent piece of writing (occasionally humorous) that drives home an extremely  important point: words have multiple meanings, and the resultant ambiguity can cause problems if we are careless. Surprisingly, the author discusses Bible translation in passing, including the now famous (though perhaps apocryphal) stories about translating "Lamb" as "Seal Pup" in an Eskimo dialect and translating "I stand at the door and knock" (Rev 3:20) as "I stand at the door and call" (in an African cultural context). 

From a military and diplomatic perspective, the author's point is that careless translation, or the assumption that we automatically know what a word means without further clarification, can have extreme consequences. Furthermore, when precision is required, one must avoid ambiguous words at all cost! The author chastises both politicians and newspaper reporters for exploiting words that are so ambiguous that they can be made to mean almost anything. Regarding Prime Minister Suzuki, the unknown author states, ". . . the fault for the mokusatsu incident is not entirely the translator's. Believe it or not, the real culprit is no less a personage than Kantaro Suzuki, the Japanese Prime Minister himself! After all, there would have been no translation problem if he had not used an ambiguous word for such an important statement" (p. 98).

The reason I am thinking of requiring my college Biblical Hermeneutics students to read this article (sans the one swear word, which I shall "classify" and edit out) is not for the discussion of Bible translation (personally, I believe that when translating Scripture, words that are ambiguous in the original languages should keep their ambiguity in the target language as much as possible, within reason. This is not always possible, of course, but often it is). Rather, the value of this short article lies in its clear illustration that words have multiple meanings. This is a point on which many would-be Bible translators are woefully ignorant: you cannot automatically translate a word in the original language the same way every time in the receptor language! 

Furthermore, the article underscores the difference between "word" and "concept"--the same word may, in different contexts, point to totally different concepts. As I have explained to my past Hermeneutics classes, the verb "fire," in English, may point to the concept of "discharge a firearm" or "dismiss somebody from their job." Conversely, as has been pointed out by many biblical linguists, studying a concept (e.g., "love") in the Bible must not be limited to just a single world. Multiple words (e.g., both agapaw and philew) and phrases must be included in the study, or one's study of "the Biblical concept of love" remains incomplete.

As a side-note, Bible translation remains a high-priority task for those who take the Great Commission seriously. For those of you who have shown evidence of skill in languages, why not consider this ministry? English, of course, has more than enough translations (though in my opinion there's room for a Byzantine-based translation); however, many languages are starved for the Word of God in their own tongue based on the original languages of Scripture (translations based on English are only a stop-gap measure, though they're certainly better than nothing!). The school I teach at, Baptist College of Ministry, has been emphasizing Bible translation more and more these past couple years, and my doctoral alma mater, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, was at one point considering offering a master's in Bible translation (not sure if they've gotten around to it yet). Currently, I have the privilege of assisting my father in translating a new Japanese New Testament based off of the Greek. Nevertheless, this is still a neglected (and not as glamorous) field that is essential to the Great Commission task!

Dec 17, 2015

Rethinking Esther

The discussion below does not question the divine inspiration, the accuracy, or the place in the canon of the book of Esther. Indeed, as Randall Bush points out in his Bulletin for Biblical Research article (vol. 8, 1998), it is a shame that Esther has by-and-large been neglected (click here to read Bush's article). What I'm asking below is not whether Esther belongs in the Bible and in our pulpit, but whether or not it has more in common with Judges than Joshua--i.e., not "look at the awesome faith-filled hero/heroine" but rather "God saving Israel in spite of her disloyalty to the Torah." Much of my thinking in this post was stimulated by the excellent An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke and Charles Yu, though I do not quote or paraphrase from it directly. In addition, I draw some from the fascinating article by Ronald W. Pierce, "The Politics of Esther and Mordecai: Courage or Compromise?" also in Bulletin for Biblical Research vol. 2 (1992). Click here to read Pierce's article.

Without a doubt (lack of direct mention notwithstanding), the hand of God is evident throughout Esther. Bush, in his BBR article puts it best: "The book nonetheless predicates the providence of God, as does the rest of the OT, for the deliverance of the Jews is effected not only by the loyalty of Mordecai and the courage of Esther but also by the series of truly remarkable and dramatic coincidences with which the story abounds" (Bush, 49). 

Yet as to the human protagonists, evangelical Christians generally have a "rosy" view of queen Esther--heroine, faith-filled, persevering in the midst of adversity, savior of her people, etc. Indeed, the courage of both her and Mordecai cannot be disputed. Yet doubts persist, and these doubts persist not because some of us are evil revisionists, asking with forked tongues "Has God really said?" Rather, these doubts persist because of the centrality of the Torah in Old Testament theology. In other words, when Daniel and his friends refuse to eat the king's meat, they do so because of their loyalty to the Torah and the God who wrote it. The problem with Esther, then, is first and foremost that she violates the Torah, and this is the center of the wheel around which the entire plot revolves around.

To be clear, Haman is a villain of horrible proportions (though I doubt he was seeking divine worship when he demanded others bow to him)--seeking the genocide of an entire race puts him on a level with Hitler and other modern tyrants. Furthermore, clearly the Jewish people are the "good guys" [and gals] of the plot--we are meant to root for them, and we rightfully breathe a sigh of relief when they are delivered.

However, this is no different from the book of Judges (it's not as if a reader/listener during the first century AD would be rooting against the people of Israel in Judges!). Yet the protagonists in Judges (with the exception of Deborah), at least those with an extended section, are not role models! (For any pastors reading--please, someday preach the "second half" of the Gideon story; it's just as much inspired as the first half, but greatly neglected). The point, then, is this: the author can make a negative point about the protagonists while still making a positive point about the graciousness of God.

This, indeed, would seem to me what is happening in Esther. As  Pierce states in his BBR article, "It is not the book of Esther that is secular, but its characters" (page 77). That Esther is secular, or at least does not revere the Torah, is seen in the fact that she is violating it by marrying a pagan--remember, this is the very point that was such a big deal at the end of Ezra and Nehemiah! 

It is, of course, possible that Esther was dragged away against her will and had no choice in the matter, in which case she is a victim and blameless in this matter. While this is possible, it does not follow from the tone of the narrative (see Pierce, 83-84). Furthermore, I firmly believe that most pious Jews, men and women, would have said, "It is better to die (and be tortured) than to violate the Torah" (This is the whole point of 4 Maccabees, after all!) I need not point out that "marrying a non-believer" is hardly a minor issue in the Torah (remember: the issue was never inter-racial marriage, but inter-"faith" marriage. I.e., as seen with Moses, Boaz, etc., marrying somebody of a different ethnicity, nationality, or skin color is not a problem if they are a believer in the one true God. Marrying somebody who is not a believer is a huge deal, however).

Consequently, the divinely-inspired point of Esther is not "may our daughters be like that faith-filled heroine [who just so happens to be named after the Babylonian goddess of love, Ishtar]," but rather, "God rescues the Jewish race in spite of their failure to honor him; behold the graciousness of God!" I close with this excellent quote from Pierce:
"Sometimes it is easy to take as normative situations that in fact require immediate and radical change. So it was with the secular direction in which the Jewish people were heading at this time in their history. The events in the Book of Esther are carefully structured so as to communicate not only such a failure on the part of Esther and Mordecai, but also the providential activity meant to shake them from their lethargy and to make them more fully aware of their calling as God's people" (Pierce, 89).


Nov 14, 2015

"Parse That Verb!" (the hit, new gameshow sweeping my Greek Exegesis class--and how to play it)

Note: this game could probably be played by any group of students that has completed 1st year Greek.

"All study and no play makes your average Greek student hate the original languages," said a wise sage once (I think it was Yogi Berra). Completely concurring with that philosophy, I have introduced a fairly sophisticated (if I do say so myself) team-based competition into my seminary-level Greek Exegesis class. Almost every Thursday we engage in head-to-head battle in a game I like to call PARSE THAT VERB! [notice the snazzy and completely original-sounding name!]

The premise is simple: I divide up the class into three teams of 3 or 4 students each. We'll call them "teams A, B, and C." And I, as the professor, make up "team D" on my own. Each team has to parse one verb randomly chosen per round, and is given points based on the percentage of parsing data they got correct (lexical must be perfect to count, and this includes hapax legomena and other words nobody has actually learned).

To choose words to parse, I load up my copy of Accordance, then do a search for every verb in the New Testament. I have my Mac hooked up to a projector, so all students can see. When all is ready, we begin.

First, the previous team picks out a book of the Bible for the next team, then I as the professor choose a word at random (doing my best to maintain the same level of challenge for each team). So Team C chooses "Revelation," and I look for a difficult word in Revelation, expand it on the screen, and give them a time limit to come up with their answer (all members of the team consult and come up with their best shot together). If it's an indicative and they get everything correct except the lexical, they get 83% points (5/6 instead of the 6/6 pieces of data needed for a 100% parse). If it's a participle and they get the tense, voice, and mood correct but miss the gender, number, case, and lexical, then they only get 43 points. One bad parse can allow the 2nd place team to pass the 1st place team (which is exactly what happened last Thursday).

Now, here's the twist. If any other team (whoever's quickest) suspects that the current team has not parsed perfectly (and only if they haven't parsed perfectly), they can CHALLENGE the other team and attempt to get a perfect parse. They risk 20 points by challenging, but they can gain 30 points for perfectly parsing somebody else's verb (the original team still gets  credit for the points they've earned, though).

Let's say team A parses an infinitive correctly except for the lexical (they then get 75 points for getting 3/4, regardless). Before the answer is revealed, team B challenges and parses the verb perfect, netting a bonus 30 points before their turn has even come around yet. If team B had failed, they would have lost 20 points (the only way you can lose points in the game).

One more twist. I, as the professor (my own team), has to parse verbs from Josephus (one of the students is designated to find me a difficult verb each round from all the verbs in Josephus).

Currently we have four teams of 3, 3, 4, and 1, respectively, in my class. "The Daniels" (two Daniels and one Luke with the middle name Daniel) , "The Scholars" (the humblest students in the class :)  ), "The Packer-backs Under Protest" (one of the students was not a Packers fan!), and finally "The Prof." Initially "The Scholars" was running away with the prize, and "the Prof" was in 3rd place (trust me, it's tough to parse a verb from Josephus perfectly when you don't know the lexical!) but "the Daniels" passed them, and then "The Professor" got a bit of help in the form of the 2nd year Greek teacher who just so happened to have an hour to spare, so currently "The Prof" is in first, and "the Daniels" are in second! [hey, I have my image to protect]

Needless to say, all contestants have been tested for performance-enhancing software.

So, anyways, we've been having a lot of fun with this game, and the fact that a team can "challenge" at any time means that all students stay busy during every part of the round. Granted, it won't replace "Settlers of Cataan" or "Ticket to Ride" anytime soon, but it's about the most fun you can have in Greek class with just a projector and Accordance software. [Always open to suggestions on how to improve it]


Oct 24, 2015

What I'm requiring my "Intro to NT Exegesis" students to read

I'm grateful for the privilege of teaching the grad class "Intro to New Testament Exegesis" this year at Baptist College of Ministry and Baptist Theological Seminary (10 students in the class). At the seminary level, I'll be alternating between Biblical Hebrew and NT Greek Exegesis classes every other year. This semester is a bit of an experiment, but here's what I'm having them read:

First off, the following three textbooks: 
1. Richard J. Erickson's A Beginner's Guide to New Testament Exegesis, which I felt was overall the most accessible, user-friendly, and well-rounded (narrowly beating out Gordon Fee's classic work), despite the fact he gives credence to "Q" (sort of).
2. Secondly, to give them a basic intro to textual criticism, they need my own Doktorvater's book New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide.
3. Finally (and this is the more experimental choice), I'm requiring them to read the brand new Discourse Grammar of the New Testament by Steven R. Runge. I like what I see in this book so far, and discourse analysis is extremely important, but this might be a bit too much for them to chew for now. We'll see. I might replace it next time around with the fantastic Advances in the Study of Greek by Constantine R. Campbell (though this book also is a bit heavy).

I'm focusing on a number of topics in this class, including background, lexical semantics, textual criticism, and the debate over the verb tenses.
1. For the verb tenses, I'm making them read Andrew Naselli's "A Brief Introduction to Verbal Aspect in the New Testament Greek" (Detroit Seminary Journal vol. 12), since it's a decent overview of the topic (though I suspect I'm less swayed by Porter's views than Naselli). In addition, I'm making them read both Frank Stagg's classic "The Abused Aorist" (JBL vol. 91) and Charles Smith's "Errant Aorist Interpreters" just to get the point across that they should not be basing a theological point on the Aorist tense! (the other tenses, maybe, but not the Aorist!)
2. For background studies, I have them read Stanley Porter's "Why the Laodiceans Received Lukewarm Water" (Tyndale Bulletin vol. 38). I stress repeatedly, in multiple classes, that a knowledge of the background of Laodicea (the problem with the water supply) helps avoid misunderstanding Jesus' point in Revelation 3. Of course, common sense helps a bit too: imagine you're living in Asia Minor, as a farmer, before the advent of the air conditioner. Why in the world would you think of "cold water" as a bad thing. Jesus' point is that, unlike refreshing cold water or therapeutic hot water, the Laodiceans, like their lukewarm water supply, are worthless and vomit-inducing. A failure to stop and think has caused many a pastor to preach this as if "cold" = "opposed to God" and "hot" = "on fire for God," with the odd theological result that somehow God prefers unbelievers dead-set against him to "lukewarm" believers. (I was delighted, however, to recently hear an excellent sermon by an evangelist that "gets it," referring specifically to the background of the city in his sermon; I believe this was the first sermon on this passage in 10+ years that I've heard that "got it right." Naturally the Holy Spirit can use even a relatively poor/lightweight sermon, provided it's not heretical, but I do believe He's grieved when we don't do our homework in our sermon prep!)
3. For lexical semantics, I have them read an excellent (and in-depth) article by Eckhard Schnabel on "The Meaning of Baptizein in Greek, Jewish, and Patristic Literature" in Filologia Neotestamentaria vol. 24. Schnabel, by giving us an extensive survey of the word in Greek literature, once for all puts to rest the idea that that baptizw is somehow a "technical" term that needs to be transliterated instead of translated.
4. Finally, I bring in some of my own textual biases and introduce them to the textual work of Maurice Robinson, specifically his "The Case for Byzantine Priority" in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism vol. 6 and his "Rule 9, Isolated Variants, and the 'Test-Tube' Nature of the NA27/UBS4 Text" in Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology, eds. Stanley E. Porter and Mark J. Boda (Eerdmans, 2009).

There are, of course, quite a few more sources I would recommend for exegetical study, not least of which would be some helpful background resources such as the classic work by Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity and Burge, Cohick, and Green's The New Testament in Antiquity. In choosing a textbook for this class, I was actually very disappointed in how few good options there were. I felt I was limited pretty much to Erickson, Fee, Guthrie/Duvall (Biblical Greek Exegesis: A Graded Approach . . .), and Blomberg/Markley (A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis), and none of them felt "right," though I ended up going with Erickson. Hopefully there are some enterprising and budding scholars out there that would rise to the challenge! Specifically, I'm looking for something that focuses on block diagramming and the interplay of various clauses. Guthrie/Duvall deal with that, but in their own way, with what I consider a more "advanced" discourse-centered style of block-diagramming. That's all good and well, but I'm looking for a more "basic" system of block-diagramming.

Ultimately, for this class, the building blocks for New Testament Exegesis are (as I see it) a solid competency in Greek, a humble yet informed perspective on textual criticism, and understanding of words and their meanings (meaning is determined by the interplay of context and semantic range, not etymology), carefulness with the tenses, ability and desire to research the background of a text, a basic understanding of the flow of the discourse, and, most importantly, a love for the Word of God!

Anyways, a great class, with great students, and a great topic: the New Testament in Greek! More the Lord bless the teacher and the students!

Oct 1, 2015

Divinely Inspired Puns? You Bet!

These past two weeks I have had the privilege of teaching "General Epistles" (minus Hebrews, which deserves its own class) for the first time in the history of Baptist College of Ministry (textbook is the excellent Letters to the Churches by Karen Jobes). In the process of researching for this class, I found out something: the Apostle Peter likes to "pun."

Well, ok, technically it's a wordplay, since I don't think Peter was looking to get a laugh, but close enough. Wordplays are, of course, nothing new in the Biblical text (especially in the Hebrew), but 1 and 2 Peter have at least 1 wordplay each (or, if the reader will indulge me, puns); there is also a fantastic "inter-textual pun" between 2 Peter and Jude (if 2 Peter comes first, then Jude makes the pun; if Jude comes first, then Peter claims credit to 3 puns).

First off, in the first few verses of 1 Peter 2, the apostle has been describing how we are to put off sin and pursue the "rational, pure milk," Jesus Christ (I follow Karen Jobes in arguing that the "milk" refers to Jesus Christ, not the Bible per se; for a thorough discussion of this context, see her article in Westminster Theological Journal vol. 63 (2002) entitled "Got Milk? Septuagint Psalm 33 and the Interpretation of 1 Peter 2:1-3." Peter, continuing the metaphor of a newborn infant craving its mother's milk, then quotes Psalm 34:8 (LXX 33:8)--the concept of "tasting" that the Lord is good. In Greek, Peter writes, Chrestus ho Kurios. The pun, of course, is that there is only one letter difference between "good" and "Christ." Consequently, by quoting the LXX Chrestus ho Kurios ("Good is the Lord"), Peter is also saying Christus ho Kurios--Christ is the Lord!

For a discussion of the next two puns, one of the best sources is Richard Bauckham's Word Biblical Commentary on 2 Peter and Jude.

Secondly, in 2 Peter 2:15, Peter speaks of "Balaam son of Bosor." Now everybody knows that Balaam is actually the son of Beor, not "Bosor." This is why a small handful of manuscripts actually have a textual variant here, "Beor" for "Bosor." Yet the answer is that Peter makes a pun off of the Aramaic (and Hebrew) word b's'r. Balaam is, in fact, "the son of the flesh" (basar is the Hebrew and Aramaic word for "flesh"). This idea of Balaam being the "son of the flesh" fits well with Peter's overall tirade against these false teachers who do indeed follow the way of the flesh.

Finally, a much more subtle pun that involves reading Jude and 2 Peter side-by-side. As conservative scholarship acknowledges, there is a lot of inter-textuality between these two books. One of them is borrowing material from the other (this is not a problem for inerrancy: it's not like the Holy Spirit can plagiarize from Himself, after all). In fact, as an exercise I had my students compare 2 Peter 2:1-3:3 with Jude and notice all the places that overlap. Now, most scholars believe that Jude came first, though I beg to differ (among other things, it makes more sense for Jude to combine the "water-less wells, tempest-carried clouds" of 2 Peter 2:17 into Jude 12's "water-less clouds" rather than the reverse, that Peter would split up Jude's metaphor). However, that's another issue altogether.

So the pun is this: in parallel verses (2 Peter 2:13 compared to Jude 12) covering the exact same topic, with remarkably similar language, Peter says "Reveling in their own deceptions while feasting together with you"; Jude says "These are spots [or: dangerous reefs] in your love feasts." Remember, either Jude or 2 Peter is borrowing concepts and terminology from the other (under the perfect inspiration of the Holy Spirit). Interestingly, Peter prefers the verb "feasting together"; the word for "deception," however, is apatais. Significantly, rather than using the verb for "feasting together," Jude uses the plural of agaph as a technical term for a (weekly?) feast of charity. Thus Jude uses agapais to mimic Peter's apatais! Result? Sophisticated inter-textual pun!!

One more thought. In regards to the pun in 2 Peter 2:15, I am dismayed at how so many modern translations, in an attempt to "harmonize" Peter with the Old Testament, prefer to go with a mere handful of manuscripts (and not even the Alexandrian "heavy hitters") with the reading "Beor." This includes the ESV (which I normally really like!), the NLT (with a note that says "Some manuscripts read Bosor"--how about, like, "Almost every single manuscript in existence reads Bosor??!?!??!"), the NASB, etc. On the plus side, the NET, Holman Christian Standard, and KJV all read "Bosor," as they should. On the other hand, to my unfathomable disappointment, the New King James inexplicably has "Beor" (extremely disappointing to me, especially since I've been telling folks that it was basically just an updating of the King James; I still really like the New King James, mind you, but this is disappointing). In summary, this may be one of the few places that the NET and the KJV are going to agree against most other modern translations (including the NKJV)! [For the record: The superiority of a reading is not determined by what any translation has, but rather by whatever is determined to be the superior Greek manuscripts; and that, of course, is a different debate for a different time!]

Sep 17, 2015

Evangelical New Testament Commentaries: A Short and Totally Biased Guide

First off, a shout-out to my friend Joe Greene who has re-entered the blogosphere with his newest post, "10 How-To Steps of Biblical Interpretation" (click here). By the way, for those interested in pneumatology in Biblical Studies, see his article on "The Spirit In The Temple: Bridging The Gap Between Old Testament Absence And New Testament Assumption," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 55 (Dec. 2012): 717-742.

The other day I had the privilege of addressing the seminary students here at Baptist Theological Seminary, a fine, strapping group, if I do say so myself! I was asked to create a "commentary guide," so I obliged by sharing with them my top 2-5 commentaries on each NT book (the OT list will have to wait, though I will say I'm very found of C. John Collins' Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary and Daniel I. Block's New American Commentary on Ruth.

The following list is, ultimately, my own creation, but it has been heavily influenced by my own biases (some of the authors were profs of mine), various reviews I read, and Daniel Akin's massive "Building a Theological Library" document (revised, 2011). The 2013 update, which I have not read, is here:
http://www.danielakin.com/building-a-theological-library-2013-update/

At the end, I list 20+ books that should be in every seminary student or pastor's library (eventually).
Please note that some parts of this list are more competent than others! My list on 1 Peter, for example, actually counts for something because I've actually published in that realm (and just had a new article on 1 Peter 2:6 accepted recently, my first article since finishing my doctorate!). Conversely, my section on Mark is woefully ignorant and inadequate, but hey, I'm posting it anyways and if you object you can get your own blog! :) Or, better yet, make suggestions in the "comments" section.

This list is subject to revision, especially if I get any good comments.

Matthew
      1. D. A. Carson, in volume 9 of the revised Expositor's Bible Commentary (2010).
 This is probably pound-for-pound the best commentary on Matthew, even though I'm normally not a fan of the Expositor's series.
      2. David L. Turner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2008).
      3. John A. Broadus, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (no specific series).
 This is the classic conservative work, still highly regarded today (was reprinted
 in 1958, but probably public domain).
     4. R. T. France, New International Commentary on the New Testament (2007).
     5. Also worth having, D. A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical
 Exposition of Matthew 5-7 (1978).

Mark
     1. James R. Edwards, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2001).
     2. R. T. France, New International Greek Testament Commentary (2002).

Luke
     1. Darrell L. Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2
volumes, 1994)
     2. Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (2007)
     3. I. Howard Marshall, New International Greek Testament Commentary (1978)

John
     1. Andreas Köstenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
(2004). I'm a bit biased on this one, since Köstenberger was one of my teachers,
 but it really is an excellent source. For a more entry-level source, see
Köstenberger's Encountering John.
      2. D. A. Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary (1990). Carson was
 Köstenberger's mentor, so you no doubt you'll see some of the same emphasis, but both are good commentaries in their own right..
     3. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Word Biblical Commentary (1987). Usually the WBC
 series is daunting and rarely the most conservative; however, Beasley-Murray's
 work is a golden exception (and Beasley-Murray was a Baptist pastor and
 scholar).
     4. Leon Morris, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1995).
 Almost anything by Leon Morris will have significant value.
     5. Note: the premier commentary on John for broader academia (not conservative
 but with some value) is Raymond Brown's Anchor Bible commentary (2 vols,
 1970)
     6. Also, the two-volume commentary by Craig Keener (stand alone, I think, but published by Baker Academic)--Dr. Keener puts the "epic" back on commentary-writing (see acts, below). Thanks to my friend Joe Greene for this suggestion.

Acts
     1. Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (3 volumes; stand-alone, no
 series; 2011-2014). It is not an exaggeration to say that this is the most epic
 commentary ever written on any book in the New Testament (and I do not use
 the term "epic" lightly!). While all three volumes will cost you a pretty penny,
 this pretty much represents "almost everything you wanted to know about the
 book of Acts" by a conservative scholar.
     2. Darrell Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2007).
     3. I Howard Marshall, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (2007).
     4. C. K. Barrett, International Critical Commentary (2 vols., 2000).
     5. In addition, the ministry student should be interested to hear that the "lost"
 commentary on Acts by J. B. Lightfoot has just recently been published: The
 Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary (2014), ed. by Ben
 Witherington III (who personally discovered Lightfoot's notes in the Durham
 Cathedral Library, collecting dust).

Romans
     1. Douglas Moo, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1996).
     2. Grant R. Osborne, IVP New Testament Commentary (2004). Osborne is
 probably the most Arminian on the list, while Schreiner is probably the most
 Calvinistic, but both have value.
      3. C. E. B. Cranfield, International Critical Commentary (1979). 2 vols.
      4. Thomas Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
 (1998).
     5. Leon Morris, Pillar New Testament Commentary (1988).
     6. F. F. Bruce, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (2nd ed., 2007).

First Corinthians

     1. Gordon D. Fee New International Commentary on the New Testament (1987).
     2. Anthony C. Thiselton, New International Greek Testament Commentary (2002).
A bit intimidating, and some parts are overly technical, but still good.
     3. David Garland, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.

Second Corinthians
      1. George Guthrie, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2015).
 Brand new, and Guthrie was one of my profs one summer, so I can personally vouch for his
 solid conservative scholarship.
      2. David Garland, New American Commentary (1999).
      3. Mark A. Seifrid, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2014)

Galatians
     1. Douglas Moo, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2013).
     2. F. F. Bruce, New International Greek Testament Commentary (1982).
     3. Timothy George, New American Commentary (1994).

Ephesians
      1. Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (stand alone, no
series; 2003).
      2. Peter T. O'Brian, Pillar New Testament Commentary (1997).
      3. F. F. Bruce, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1984;
 includes Colossians and Philemon).

Philippians
      1. Gordon Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1995).
      2. Peter T. O'Brian, New International Greek Testament Commentary (2005).
      3. Ralph P. Martin, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (2007).

Colossians and Philemon

     1. F. F. Bruce, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1984;
 includes Ephesians).
     2. Douglas J. Moo, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2008).
     3. David E. Garland, NIV Application Commentary (1998). Please don't let the
 series title turn you away; this series has some excellent resources, makes a
 genuine effort to be practical and relevant to the Christian life (without
 neglecting scholarship), and will correct the NIV when the author feels it to be
 appropriate.

First and Second Thessalonians
     1. Gordon D. Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament (2009).
     2. Gene L. Green, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2002).
     3. Charles A. Wanamaker, New International Greek Testament Commentary
 (1990). A bit odd in that Wanamaker thinks 2 Thessalonians was written first,
 but still a helpful resource.

Pastoral Epistles
     1. William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary (2000). This volume is a bit
 intimidating, but very thorough, with probably the best defense of Pauline
 authorship you will ever see.
     2. George W. Knight III, New International Greek Testament Commentary (1992).
     3. Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (1990). The most
 accessible volume on this list; use it when you're in more of a hurry. The "big
 three" for serious study are really Mounce, Knight, and Towner.
     4. Philip H. Towner, New International Commentary on the New Testament
 (2006).
     5. I. Howard Marshall, International Critical Commentary (1999).

Hebrews
     1. Peter T. O'Brian, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2010).
      2. George H. Guthrie, NIV Application Commentary (1998). The NIVAP series is extremely practical, one of the rare series that seems to care about its readers spiritual health. Guthrie's represents  one of the better books in the series.
     3. David Allen, New American Commentary (2010).

James
     1. Douglas Moo, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2000).
     2. George H. Guthrie, volume 13 of the revised Expositor's Bible Commentary
 (2006).
     3. Peter Davids, New International Greek Testament Commentary (1982).

First Peter (my area of expertise)
      1. Karen H. Jobes, Baker Exegetical Commentary (2005). Being a specialist on 1
 Peter, I would like to strongly stress that this is flat-out the best commentary out
 there (with some good theological observations as well).
      2. Douglas Harink, Brazos Theological Commentary (includes 2 Peter; 2009). This
 is one of the most quotable commentaries you'll find, packed with excellent,
 challenging discussion. It does not, however, deal with the minutia of the text
 like others on this list.
     3. Wayne Grudem, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (1988). Entry-level,
 more accessible than others on this list. I would use Grudem if teaching a college-level class, but Jobes for grad school or beyond.
     4. Peter H. Davids, New International Commentary on the New Testament 1990).
     5. The premier commentaries in broader academia (i.e., not necessarily
 conservative) are John H. Elliott (Anchor Bible) and Paul J. Achtemeier
 (Hermeneia). Also, John Elliott's A Home for the Homeless, a social-scientific study of 1 Peter, had a huge impact on my first book (for what it's worth, my first book is Foreknowledge and Social Identity in 1 Peter, published by Wipf&Stock).
     6. Larry R. Helyer, The Life and Witness of Peter (2012), is an excellent book for
 broader studies on Peter, his writings, and his theology.

Second Peter and Jude
     1. Peter H. Davids, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2006).
     2. Gene L. Green, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2008).
     3. Thomas R. Schreiner, New American Commentary (2003). Also includes First
Peter, but I prefer other commentaries for that epistle.

1, 2, 3 John
     1. Colin G. Kruse, Pillar New Testament Commentary (2000). Superior to Akin's book
 when dealing with difficult passages.
     2. Daniel L. Akin, New American Commentary (2001). I'm slightly biased, since
 this author gave me my last diploma, but if you want a solid conservative work
 written by somebody with both pastoral experience and scholarly credentials,
 this is probably the best. Also has three helpful appendices dealing with the term
 antichrist, "Welcoming False Teachers into your Home," and "Homiletical
 Outlines."
     3. I. Howard Marshall, New International Commentary on the New Testament
 (1978).
      4. Robert W. Yarbrough, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
 (2008).

Revelation

     1. Grant R. Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2005).
 Though not a dispensationalist, Osborne's commentary is still, in my opinion,
 the best for your money (especially on background matters). [Yes, my theological biases are revealed here]
      2. Robert Thomas, Revelation: An Exegetical Commentary (1995; 2 volumes;
 stand-alone, not part of a series). This is the most scholarly dispensational
 treatment. Though a bit dry at times (and weaker on the background), still a
 must-have for dispensational pastors.
     3. John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (1966; stand-alone, not part of
 a series). The classic dispensationalist commentary, valuable for theology (in my thoroughly theologically biased opinion) but
 somewhat weaker on background matters and as an introduction to the book as a
 whole.
      4. Also highly recommended: Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches
 of Asia in Their Local Setting (1989). Note to the student or pastor: Revelation
 was written to seven distinct locales, each with their own rich history that Jesus
 Christ, in his address in chapters 2-3, draws on (e.g., the Laodiceans and their
 sickening water supply). The expositor who wishes to be true to Jesus' message
 should study the background of these churches and their geographical locations.
    5. Also (with thanks to Joe Greene), G. K. Beale's NIGTC volume.

Note: For the biblical theology of individual NT authors,, Zondervan is in the
process of producing a fantastic series (called "Biblical Theology of the New
Testament," ed. by my former professor Andreas J. Köstenberger). Published
volumes so far include Peter H. Davids, A Theology of James, Peter, and Jude, and
Köstenberger's A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters.

Other New Testament resources that can benefit graduate students and
pastors (not in any particular order):

     1. D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed.
 (2005).
     2. Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle,
 the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (2009). In
 historical and background matters, I believe this is a superior introduction to
 Carson and Moo.
     3. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 4th ed. (1990).
     4. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd ed. (1955).
     5. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (1993). If you can
 only afford one backgrounds book, let it be this one!
      6. Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, Gene L. Green, The New Testament in
 Antiquity (2009).
     7. Larry R. Helyer, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A
 Guide for New Testament Studies (2002).
     8. David Alan Black, New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide (1994).
 An entry-level, easily readable guide to textual criticism.
     9. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy
 (2010). If you find yourself needing to refute the works of Bart Ehrman, the
 "Bauer thesis," and the like, this is one of the better books.
    10. J. Ed Komoszewski, J. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing
 Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular
 Culture (2006). A fantastic book that refutes all the pop culture (and liberal
 scholarship) views on Jesus, including alleged parallels between the
 Resurrection and the "Osiris myth," etc. Much more readable than
 Köstenberger/Kruger and more suitable for the average Christian.
    11. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of
 the Old Testament (2007). A massive tome that can quite easily repay your
 investment. Comprehensive examination of every (or almost every) New
 Testament use of the Old Testament, from the hands of capable conservative
 scholars.
    12. James R. Edwards, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (2005) A fantastic treatment of
 Jesus Christ as the only Name under heaven by which we are saved! An
 effective refutation of pluralistic liberalism.
    13. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (1997). If you can only
 afford one Greek reference book, this should be it.
    14. Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament
 (2012). An surprisingly useful resource!
    15. Peter Cotterell and Max Turner, Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation (1989).
 A fantastic book dealing with discerning appropriation of the biblical
 languages in exposition.
    16. D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (1996). This is an extremely helpful
 resource, a good safeguard against certain excesses in preaching.
    17. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On
 Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, 3rd ed. (2012). In
 my opinion, the best book on hermeneutics. As a bonus, it has what other books
 on hermeneutics too often lack: an entire chapter on the Holy Spirit.
    18. F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (latest edition
 2003; one of the most significant and best-selling books in conservative
 scholarship).
    19. David Alan Black, Using New Testament Greek in Ministry: A Practical Guide for Students and Pastors. A very practical book that shouldn't scare anybody away!
    20. Tom (N. T.) Wright and Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1986. This is, in my opinion, probably one of the best books for preparing for further studies in NT beyond a master's degree.
    21. Any kind of "Reader's Lexicon" of the New Testament that assists you in
 reading through your Greek NT (a "reader's lexicon" will go verse-by-verse
 and supply rare words, e.g., that occur less than 25 times in the NT; you can
 have it open as you read through your Greek NT and not have to look up
 individual words).