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.

Feb 9, 2021

How to Stock your Biblical Studies Toolbox (guest post by David Stark)

David Stark is a professor at Faulkner University and a fellow graduate from Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. Indeed, we began the doctoral program together, and a number of us early on, myself included, considered David the cream of the crop of new PhD students! His career has lived up to expectations, as he has published his dissertation with the prestigious T&T Clark, along with articles in multiple journals, including Bulletin for Biblical Research. He also has an entire blog devoted to making the study of Scripture much easier (see the link to "Work Better in Biblical Studies," to the right). I am honored to have him publish a guest post on the Paroikos Bible Blog.


Plumbers, electricians, and carpenters all have specific tools they use for their trades. As they hone their skill in those trades, a good part of that development means improving their skill at using the tools of their trade.

If you had a plumber who ended up being able to use his or her tools only as well as a weekend “do-it-yourselfer,” you’d probably find someone else next time. (I’ve seen this recently. It wasn’t pretty.)

A Problem with Biblical Studies

The same dynamic plays out in academic biblical studies. But academic biblical studies has a huge disadvantage to “blue collar work” like plumbing.

That’s because biblical studies is a kind of “knowledge work.” As such it shares a deficiency with other kinds of “knowledge work” in precisely an area that “blue collar work” recognizes as important—how good you are with the tools of your trade.

Biblical studies pays attention to some of these tools, things like biblical languages, historical criticism, or effective writing. But it often wholly overlooks more fundamental tools and skills that make it possible to develop expertise in these areas.

If you’re turning a wrench on a pipe and your mind wanders, your subconscious will probably keep your hand turning. But if Facebook beckons for your attention while you’re studying Greek vocabulary or writing a journal article, your attention’s going to go down the drain.—And once it’s gone, even the best plumber can’t help you get it back out of there.

Why You Need a Toolbox

This illustration shows up two reasons you, as a knowledge worker in biblical studies, need some specific tools:

1)    Tools allow you to do things you otherwise can’t. That might be joining pipes or cutting wire. Or it might be tracking dozens of secondary sources for a major research project so that you can recall what’s in each.

2)    Tools allow you to not do things you otherwise would. Sure, you can try to pound a screw with a hammer. But the work is a lot easier to use a screwdriver. It’s still easier if you predrill the hole. Similarly, you could try to manage all of your obligations in your head and not drop any of the plates you’re supposed to be spinning. But it’s a lot easier if you put all of that somewhere that will surface the information you need when you need it and let you forget about the rest to focus on something else.

And just like plumbers, electricians, and carpenters, a good part of honing your craft in biblical studies depends on developing skill with the tools of your trade.

How to Stock Your Toolbox

Exactly what are these tools for biblical studies? The specifics will vary from one person to another. They also have various forms (e.g., paper versus electronic). Or they might take the form of a process (e.g., going to a specific location).

Precisely which variety of a specific tool you have is less important than having and getting the most out of what works for you—just like having a drill is vastly more important to making a hole than whether the drill says “Ryobi” or “Kobalt” on the side.

In that light, I’d suggest there are 8 basic types tools you need in your toolbox as a knowledge worker in biblical studies.

1. Attention Management

In biblical studies, if you don’t have control over your attention, nothing else gets done. Everyone’s attention is prone to wander, and you need a tool to help you put your attention where it needs to be.

2. List Management

There’s a lot of “stuff” that comes at you. That might be a paper to write, a language to learn, groceries to get, or meetings to prepare for. Long term, trying to keep all of that in your head will cause more stress and lead to poorer outcomes than if you have a tool to put the stuff into to help you keep track of it all.

3. Calendar

You schedule meetings with others. But you can take that up a notch by scheduling meetings with yourself when you’ll put your attention on and plug away at a specific project. Keeping a calendar can also help you with long-term planning as well as seeing things like how accepting that meeting means you won’t make it to your kids’ soccer practice.

4. Biblical Studies Resources

You need biblical texts, monographs, commentaries, journal articles, etc. Tools in this area that are maybe the most obvious.

5. Bibliography Management

What was that book you read that had that argument about that phrase you’ve now started pouring over? Research is great. Re-searching …repeatedly … again and again?—Not so much.

6. Notes

You might have notes from a meeting. You might have notes on reading a journal article. Unless you want to continually reread the article or ask another attendee about some point of the meeting you can’t quite remember, you need a tool to keep notes for yourself.

7. Word Processing

You need some way of putting your work into words. You can do it orally in theory. But most often in biblical studies, putting your work into words requires writing that produces an electronic file.

8. Communication

And once you have your work written up, how are you going to get it to others? Again, you could read the paper to them. But you also really need to be able to communicate the written text of your work, as well as to interact with others over any number of other questions, academic and otherwise.

Conclusion

From the tools I’ve described above, you’ll notice not everything is strictly “academic.” Being at your kids’ soccer practice isn’t going to be a graded assignment in your course syllabus. And it’s not going to show up on tenure review.

But being a biblical scholar is a particular way of being human. As such, honing your craft in biblical studies means improving how you handle your whole life. And that’s not to mention that you’ll be more productive in better ways if you’re not also preoccupied with the costs of under investing in key relationships or other aspects of your life.

Embracing all of that well into a single whole is a process, not a state. But there are tools that can help like those that I’ve mentioned above.

What works best for you may be different from what works best for me or, indeed, from what will work best for you in a year or two’s time.

Still, it can be helpful to not have to start picking out tools from scratch. So, if you want to have a look inside my toolbox, just let me know.

I’ll be more than happy to send you a free downloadable of the main things it contains, as well as a further bonus category that isn’t a core tool but definitely proves helpful.

Jan 15, 2021

A word of praise for Robert Alter's The Art of Bible Translation (and a note on Hebrew literary style in Bible translation)

Here at Baptist Theological Seminary, I have the privilege, along with my father (30+ year missionary to Japan) and Kathy Ann Birnschein (graduate of SIL, with her thesis on the Hmong language) of spearheading our Master of Arts in Bible Translation. With that in mind, I would like to offer a word of praise for Robert Alter's recent book, The Art of Bible Translation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), which now is one of the required textbooks for our class "Translation Issues in Greek and Hebrew."

Dr. Alter has just finished his massive, 3-volume The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, and he "gets" discourse and literary style, especially in Hebrew (to be fair, one of the downsides is that the book has virtually nothing on Greek). Consequently, Alter's discussion of translating the Old Testament in The Art of Bible Translation definitely favors a more literal style (I realize the word "literal" can be overdone; but this does not invalidate the basic idea it represents--a topic for a later post). In fact, sometimes I felt Alter was  perhaps just a bit too harsh on modern translations in general, and his own translations can occasionally trend towards the wooden side (think NASB on steroids), but this is due to his zealousness for reflecting the literary style of the Old Testament. His book provides and excellent discussion of alliteration, chiasm, and puns, all relevant elements of Old Testament Hebrew that are generally neglected in modern treatments of the topic. In a nutshell, Alter's biggest beef with modern translation theory is that "Literary style is never studied, and the translators consequently proceed as if the Bible had no style at all, as if a translator were entitled to represent it in a hodgepodge of modern English styles" (12).

I remind the reader: literary artistry is inspired by the Holy Spirit just as much as individual words. Any translation that does not adequately reflect such artistry has not adequately reflected the actual text the Holy Spirit inspired. It may, of course, be impossible (try creating a translation that starts each verse of vv. 1-8 of Psalm 119 with "a", each verse of vv. 9-16 with "b", and so on, without tampering with the meaning of individual words). Consequently, this underscores why there can be no such thing as a "perfect translation": no translation, no matter how dependent it is on godly men and women, can perfectly translate the literary artistry of Hebrew into a different language. And so long as there is even a solitary literary effect (e.g., deliberate alliteration in a verse) from the Hebrew that is not reflected  in the English (or any other language), then by definition that translation cannot be perfect, for to claim that translation is perfect would be to deny that the Holy Spirit's literary artistry at a particular point possesses any significance.

By way of illustration: Psalm 119, which I mentioned above, in the Hebrew, begins every single line (verse, in English) with the same letter for clusters of 8 lines. So for Psalm 119:1-8, each line/verse begins with the Hebrew "aleph," verses 9-16 each begin with "beth," etc. As anybody who has ever tried alliterative poetry knows, this is much easier with some letters than with others. When we get to verse 49, and each line starts with "z" (the Hebrew letter zion), we have reached an incredible level of creativity, creativity that is inspired by the Holy Spirit and yet does not exist in any English translation (including the King James). Each verse in Psalm 119:49-56 in English does not start with "z," and for good reason! Doing so would have disrupted at least some of the sense of the verse itself. Yet I reiterate my point: no English translation can be perfect if it has not perfectly reflected the Spirit-inspired literary artistry of the Hebrew. To claim a perfect translation that does not alliterate in the same way is to claim that certain elements of what the Holy Spirit inspired actually do not matter, which would consequently mean that a perfect Bible can be obtained by human effort only while neglecting at least some of the Spirit's work. It's worth asking: what's the point of the Holy Spirit's inspiration in the first place if a perfect English Bible could be obtained that does not reflect all that the Holy Spirit has perfectly inspired in the Hebrew?

So back to Alter's book. My word of praise is that, ironically, this scholar from Berkeley, California cares more about the literary artistry of the Hebrew than many King James Only-ists, even though one of the strengths of the King James and other "essentially literal" translations is that they have paid attention to the literary artistry when possible (indeed, I will go a step farther: the King James, at least for its particular era, possesses the best balance of reflecting the Hebrew literary artistry when at all possible without obscuring the meaning of the verse in English; again, though,  it cannot be claimed to be perfect without downplaying the work of the Holy Spirit). Alter masterfully shows the importance of bringing out the discourse and artistry of the Hebrew into English translation; while I feel he goes too far sometimes, and is a bit too critical of others, nonetheless the book is a masterpiece, and excels in showing that meaning does not just reside in individual words.

Nov 28, 2020

"Loving Wisdom" (John 21:15-17 as an allusion to Proverbs): my new article in BBR

For some reason, Bulletin for Biblical Research is my "lucky" journal, in that I am "3-for-3" with them (three attempts to publish and three times accepted, in contrast to a few other journals! However, for my last two paper submissions the reviewers have been split over them, and the article had to go to a tie-breaker). BBR just published my article "Loving Wisdom: The Agapao-Phileo Exchange in John 21:15-17 as an Allusion to LXX Proverbs 8:17." Click here for the JSTOR link (though if anybody wants a PDF of the article, just e-mail me at phimes@gmail.com)

Here is the abstract:

Though the majority of scholars argue against semantic distinction between ἀγαπάω and φιλέω in John 21:15–17 (recent articles by Shepherd and Böhler being significant exceptions), the oddity of the double juxtaposition of the two terms does not so easily vanish away. But rather than arguing for semantic distinction, this article proposes a neglected intertextual solution to the anomaly: John 21:15–17 is an allusion to the Old Greek version of Prov 8:17, and the significance of the two verbs lies in their discourse function, not difference in meaning. “Parallelomania” can be avoided due to the relative rarity of a juxtaposed ἀγαπάω-φιλέω in the LXX and the fact that the context of Prov 8–9 contains similar themes to John 20–21’s context, namely, the “banquet,” “seeking-and-finding,” and “mutual love” motifs, increasing the possibility of deliberate intertextuality (especially in light of potential Wisdom allusions elsewhere in John). The final section of this article examines both the theological role played by such an allusion to Prov 8:17 and how this coheres with the rest of John’s Gospel.

Ironically, this article came about as a result of a conversation with my students in the Hebrew Syntax class I teach. Also, this article was my first attempt to publish in a Tier-1 journal, which did not succeed, though JBL and JTS gave helpful feedback (in contrast to NTS, which gave me nothing, just a rejection). So I 'm grateful it got published in a solid second-tier journal (a journal which, in my humble and biased opinion, has risen in the ranks in the last decade).

For those wishing to know which journals are out there in biblical studies, I have ranked over 100 journals, according to 3-tiers, here.



Oct 20, 2020

Peer-review: Why it's important for Theological and Biblical Studies (Prov 27:2)

As I reel from yet another journal rejection, I take solace in the fact that: (a.) my batting average is still above .300 (is that good, bad, normal? I don't know!), and (b.) my "lucky journal," BBR, is about to publish an article of mine on John 21. Yet even so, for every acceptance e-mail by a journal editor, I still see two rejections, and rejections are not pleasant! (For me, the temptation after a rejection is to drive to Pick'N'Save, purchase a "family-size" bag of potato chips, and not share it with my family, if you get my drift). 

Never fear, dear reader, this post is not meant to be a "pity-party," but rather to answer the question, why go through peer-review (for both journals and books) when it's much easier to self-publish?

The peer-review process is not perfect, of course (click here for a helpful Scholastica post on the topic), nor do I wish to suggest that "peer review" is a monolithic entity, equally applicable or beneficial in all circumstances. Furthermore, there are occasionally legitimate reasons for self-publishing, or publishing "in-house" by a small organization (I'm thinking especially of missions or niche works that would only be of interest to a small group of people).

Nonetheless, I can stress three good reasons why peer-review is important for theology and biblical studies. First, Proverbs 27:2--"Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips." In other words, affirmation of the worth/value of something I have accomplished should come from others. When I self-publish, generally speaking, I am affirming my own work. I expect others to purchase my book only because I wrote it (and probably convinced a few good friends to say nice things about it on social media, people who would say nice things about anything I wrote!). In contrast, when I publish through an organization  that has to make choices about what they publish, the fact that it gets published at all is a testament to its potential value. This is even more so when my article or book is vetted through a blind-peer review process, where an established scholar(s), without knowing who I am, determines whether my paper is worth publishing or not. 

Secondly, accountability. If I self-publish, I can make any claims I want to, utilize twisted logic, and still expect a whole bunch of people to believe what I say. Case in point: when I was in college, an popular e-mail was being circulated, sent out to distribution lists, about how "NASA scientists, using a supercomputer, have discovered Joshua's missing day!" It was, of course, pure malarkey, and could not be traced to a reputable source. [For the record, I believe that whatever happened in Joshua 10 was a miracle; but I highly doubt that it's the sort of miracle that could be "proved" with a supercomputer 3,000+ years after the fact!] Despite this, the story continued to circulate as a "legitimate" piece of Christian apologetics.  The point is, the peer-review process is meant to weed out untested postulations or, worse, tall tails (i.e., "lies"). If somebody is careless, they don't get published, at least in theory.

Thirdly, respectability. Precisely because an article in Tyndale Bulletin has gone through a rigorous peer-review process, it is more likely be worthy of my attention. Precisely because a book published by Eerdmans had to have convinced an experienced and intelligent editor of its value (an editor who quite possibly has a PhD herself), that book is more likely to be worthy of my attention. Exceptions exist, of course. If somebody I personally know and respect writes a book and self-publishes it, I'll probably respect that person's book as well (and perhaps even endorse it for them). But I would not expect it to make any ground-breaking contributions to my understanding of Scripture. 

Now, all this does not mean that garbage never gets published via peer-review, or that reviewer bias never impacts acceptance or rejection of an article or book (after all, wouldn't a reviewer naturally gravitate towards those articles that prove something he or she already believes?) Nonetheless, the peer-review process is helpful for those reasons listed above. Those who truly wish to contribute to theology at a higher level than "99-cent Kindle specials" or "personal blog" (like this one!) should keep that in mind.



Aug 20, 2020

1 Peter: The Essential Scholars

 I just completed a first for me: recording, via a translator in a professional studio, lectures on 1 Peter in a foreign language for Christians in a Restricted Access Nation. More details are withheld for obvious reasons.

When lecturing in such a setting to such an audience (some of whom are probably new Christians), obviously you do not want to be overly-technical or bore the audience with surveys of scholarship. Citation of sources has to be cut down significantly, especially since the audience is guaranteed to have no clue whom you are talking about.

Having said that, it is utterly impossible to completely eliminate secondary sources with a clear conscience. The development of my own perspectives on 1 Peter owes too much to various scholars for me not to mention them. Lecturing in this manner, however, helps you boil secondary sources into what I would call "the essentials." [Forgive me, but I am focusing on English resources here, though I do mention two German scholars that easily retain their value even across the Atlantic]

Now, I generally stuck to conservative evangelical sources, since this is an audience that really needs the basics of 1 Peter, not critical scholarship. Having said that, one or two non-evangelical scholars occasionally made it in to my notes, though I don't think I mentioned any by name in the lecture itself (something like "as one scholar said" can protect you from oral plagiarism well enough; preachers take note! It is better to say "As one scholar said . . ." than to make your congregation think you came up with that nifty quote).

Here, then, are the scholars that I absolutely could not live without in the formation of my notes. 

First, for general scholarship on 1 Peter: Karen Jobes, Wayne Grudem, and John H. Elliott. To that I might have added Paul Achtemeier, except that I didn't have access to him when I was making my notes, though I have cited him frequently in formal academic publication. I think any evangelical pastor with just Jobes and Grudem has enough material to preach through 1 Peter, but of course we academic lecturers need more (and reading Elliott was, probably more than anything, formative in the direction of my own dissertation and subsequent monograph). Also, if this had been a more advanced graduate-class instead of for young Christians in an RAN, I would have probably incorporated more work by Reinhard Feldmeier (though I believe I used him at least once or twice anyways).

[I would like to add as a side-note that for those who would like to publish more popular level work on 1 Peter, Catherine Gonzalez's "Belief" commentary on 1-2 Peter and Jude is extremely quotable. Although not "essential" in the same way as those above, it's probably more enjoyable!] 

Secondly, there are a number of scholars whom I consider essential in regards to a specific point or two, who also found their way into my notes. These are Travis Williams (especially on persecution in 1 Peter and the interpretation of 1 Peter 2:13), Leonhard Goppelt, because of his magisterial quote on Jesus as the Rock (though this may have to do more with John Alsup's translation; I have tried and so far failed to locate that quote in the German), and David Horrell's article in NTS on ethnic language in 1 Peter 2:9, all of which are essential to my own understanding of the second chapter of this epistle. The interested reader should note that Williams and Horrell are teaming up on the revised ICC on 1 Peter, which I am looking forward to greatly! Also, William Dalton has written what is probably the definitive examination of the infamous "spirits in prison" passage (1 Pet 3:19) and is able to show us how that passage can be viewed vis-à-vis the theme of the suffering Christ triumphant over spiritual powers and glorified, as comfort to suffering Christians.

Those are, more-or-less, the essentials, imo, though there were a number of other scholars whom I cited just because I liked something they had to say: my friend Tim Miller on apologia in 1 Pet 3:15; Dennis Edwards, who in his Story of God commentary noted the thematic contrast between humility and pride as the devil's sin in 1 Peter 5; Selwyn, who makes an interesting point about the purifying effect of suffering (and to be fair Selwyn is considered the "classic" commentary of the first 75 years of the 20th century!). Other scholars (Witherington, Kelly, Helyer, Davids) also found their way into my notes, but nobody plays as important role for me as Jobes, Grudem, and Elliott (with Williams coming in a close fourth).

Jul 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Jun 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr 24, 2020

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

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


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


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

Mar 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Mar 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hardcover Caesar : Life of a Colossus Book

Jan 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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





Dec 11, 2019

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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


Nov 9, 2019

Studying Colossians part 2: Two Themes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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